She wiped at the sweat beaded on her forehead, allowing the breeze blowing off the water to cool her a little. The dig was of Ruadh Island, a small colonial settlement off the coast of Virginia. The colonists had been wiped out by an epidemic of some sort soon after their arrival in the early seventeenth century. The actual site sat very close to the beach. Alison couldn’t imagine how buggy and hot it would be without the constant breeze. The thought made her temperature rise even more. Emptying the sediment from her sieve, she climbed back into her designated area again. With the small trowel, she scooped a little more dirt into the screen. In the area she’d dug, a slight discoloration appeared. Her heart pounded, and she took a deep breath. Her brain told her not to get her hopes up. It might just be another rock or bit of broken pottery. Even so, excitement shot through her.
“What is it?” Tim, her older brother, took long steps over the other volunteers’ spaces.
Irritation surged through her, but she pushed it away. Tim always knew things before they happened. Even when she wished he didn’t. Alison dropped to her scraped knees, one finger furrowing into the dirt around the mark. “Nothing, maybe.”
He brushed his fingers over the mark, and his entire body tensed. With a hiss he grabbed her fingers. Hard. “Don’t touch it. Put on some gloves.”
Alison stared, dumbfounded at the force behind the words. Her brother’s face, covered with dirt and a five o’clock shadow even at noon, twisted into a grimace. Some of her surprise must have shown on her face, because he relaxed and released her. “Just to be safe,” he motioned to the greenish spot. “Sometimes there’s lead and stuff. Mom would kill me if she found out I’d let you touch something dangerous.”
She rolled her eyes, but pulled the stained work gloves from the back pocket of her cutoff shorts. “Who says she has to know the truth?”
Tim’s smile faded. His eyes turned back to the marred ground, and he slid his tiny trowel into the ground. “Truth is important, Ali. Even when it hurts.”
“Are you all right?”
“What makes you think I’m not?”
She brushed a strand of hair out of her face. “You’ve been acting weird since I got here. Two days of weird is normal for you. Four is stretching it.”
He didn’t say anything for so long, she didn’t think he would answer. His trowel moved small scoops of earth into her sieve in a steady, calm rhythm. In a few quick moments, he created a shallow hole, at the center of which stood a stained column of dirt. With a few deft movements, he slid the tool under the column. Then he whispered, “Things at this place are shady. You have to be careful here.”
He looked around, then wiggled the trowel, and the column fell into his hands. Tim pressed it into her hands. About the size of a pack of cards, it fit into her hand nicely. Her brother squeezed her hand, and she glanced up. His gaze drilled into hers. “Don’t tell anyone about this find. Slip this in your pocket. Get a drink. Put it somewhere safe in your cabin.”
She slid the clump of dirt into her pocket, stood, and stretched. Tim didn’t look up again. Instead, he continued to dig at the loose soil, though nothing would be there. He dumped another handful of dirt into the sieve.
“I’m just going to take a break.”
He nodded, but still didn’t look up.
With a shrug, she climbed out of the neat square area. She peeled off the gloves and shoved them into the same pocket as the clod of dirt, giving the strange bulge a reason for being there. She shook her head. Tim’s paranoia was contagious.
She stopped at the table where the cooler of water and ice had been set up and grabbed a plastic cup. She filled the cup and gulped the cool liquid. No one even gave her a second look.
His dark, almond shaped eyes watched her from across the field. When he caught her gaze, he waved as he flashed her a smile. Her knees wobbled a little, just like they always did when he smiled. She waved back, refusing to look toward Tim. He’d never let her hear the end of it if he figured out she had a crush on Jason. He was Tim’s buddy from college, and way out of her league. Tan, muscular, and the one who had gotten her brother on the archaeology track.
Jason’s mom was Japanese, and he enjoyed introducing Tim to the culture. Jason, on a trip home with Tim, even made her mom into a sushi junkie.
Alison forced herself to walk away before she made a fool of herself. She headed for the cabin at the edge of the field, tucked beneath the cover of a stand of large trees. The cabins weren’t fancy, but had running water and real beds.
She trudged through the grass, and just when she reached the tree line and convinced herself Tim’s concern was ridiculous, a prickling sensation marched down her spine. Her pulse rose, and she forced herself not to run. Someone watched her.
At the cabin door she turned, but saw no one.