Owen DiSimmons grabbed his math binder out of his school bag and ran upstairs to the bedroom he shared with his sister. As he turned the corner in the carpeted hallway, the lanky thirteen-year-old was enthusiastically greeted by his golden retriever, Murray.
Owen laughed, “Glad to see me, eh boy? I can sure understand why—being stuck with Lyla until now!” He groaned and rolled his eyes. Murray whimpered slightly and tilted his head to one side. “Yeah, you’re right buddy, Ly’s usually jumped out at us by now. Wonder what she’s plotting.”
Lyla, his seven-year-old sister, loved to annoy him. Typically, she contradicted the old saying because her bite was worse than her bark. Just yesterday, Lyla had threatened to steal his rare coin collection. Sure enough, when he had gotten home, the lockbox containing his stockpile was missing from his top drawer! It had taken the remainder of the afternoon and his dad’s intervention to recover the treasure. The fact that Owen hadn’t seen her yet today struck him as strange. Where could she be?
“Hey Owen, have you seen Lyla this afternoon?” The deep voice issuing from the stairwell startled Owen. Then he realized that his dad must be home early from work.
“Hi Dad,” said Owen flatly, not in the mood to talk about his sister again. “No, I haven’t seen her today.” Shoving his wariness of an ambush aside, he sat down to finish his math homework. He glanced out of his window at the calm harbor, which nestled his village up against the tall pines. Catching a glimpse of a schooner under full sail, Owen’s thoughts drifted to the open sea. He couldn’t focus on his work right now. Why not walk down to the dock and think for a little while?
Owen bounded down the wide stairs two at a time and pushed open his back door.
“Come on, Murray, ol’ boy,” he called. The fresh fall air welcomed them. Owen and Murray trotted out across the manicured lawn toward the wooden pilings of their pier. Before he reached the boathouse, Owen made an about-face and stared at his prominent Victorian home. Its balconies and spires overlooked the immaculate port of Manchester-by-the-Sea. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, he thought to himself. And no Lyla would make it perfect!
He half-expected Lyla to crawl out from under the pier; it was a very good hiding place. But again, no little sister. Owen felt a momentary twinge of uneasiness. He shrugged it off, though, and continued down to the dock. Across the harbor, he caught glimpses of people setting out for afternoon excursions in sailboats and motorboats. Owen also saw Ash Island, set like a crown jewel in the sparkling sea. His favorite destination, the island had given hour after hour of excitement to him and Lyla. With its small lighthouse set against the deep blue sky, and its sheltered coves, the island called to him even now.
Many years ago, Ash Island had been private property. Back then, there’d been a clubhouse, a saltwater swimming pool, guest cottages, a tennis court, and a nine-hole golf course. Then, a devastating brush fire destroyed the whole island, leaving numerous ruins. People eventually lost interest in the island. The only building now remaining was the broken metal lighthouse which no one could enter.
Yearning to row there this very instant, Owen walked down the gangway connecting his yard to the dock. He untied his sneakers, pulled his socks off by the toes, and sat on the edge of the pier, dangling his feet in the cool salt water. He stared absentmindedly at the rowboats tied up in front of him: each boat carefully supplied with emergency provisions, each boat precisely inscribed with the name of one of the DiSimmonses. Suddenly, Owen realized that one of them was missing! It was the Lyla!
No longer feeling just uneasiness but rather bone-chilling fear, Owen thought, She’s never supposed to row alone, she’s too young! The tidal currents are too strong—she’ll be swept out to sea! Then another thought flitted across his mind: the news had predicted a storm this evening! Owen stood up, taking a deep breath. I know she’s on the island. He hurriedly pulled his shoes and socks on. I’ve got to go find her, Owen thought. He knew immediately what to do.
“You stay here, Murray. I’ll be back.”
Jumping into his polished forest-green rowboat, he grabbed the oars and set off for Ash Island. The shlup-whish, shlup-whish of the oars kept his arms pumping hard as sweat poured off his forehead. As he pulled farther out of the harbor, the water became darker and low-flying storm clouds flew across the sky. Finally, he entered the island’s sheltered cove which he was so familiar with.
Owen shipped his oars and the fine rowboat glided up onto the gray-and-white-pebbled beach. Stepping carefully out of the boat, he tied it securely to a large sun-bleached rock sitting on the sandy pebbles. He walked up the beach, scanning the shoreline for clues. Lyla must be here somewhere. She’d been begging him to take her to the island last week but he hadn’t time with all his schoolwork. She could be so impatient sometimes.
Turning his head to look up-island, Owen noticed a small patch of yellow behind some brambles and branches. He ran towards it and began tearing the foliage away. The brambles scratched Owen’s arms but he didn’t care because what sat in front of him now was Lyla’s rowboat! Suddenly, he stopped. What was that sound? A whimper, a gasp. There it was again. Apprehensively, he followed the noise. Behind a crumbling stone wall, just a few feet from the boat, sat his sister, with her head on her knees. Her shoulders shook with sobs and her hands trembled. Owen took a step forward and laid a hand on her arm. She jumped up quickly and wiped the tears from her eyes.
“Lyla,” he said quietly, “what’re you…?”
“I thought you’d never come!” she interrupted angrily, a sob catching in her throat.
Owen was caught off-guard by this lessthan- cordial welcome and could only stutter. “I… I came as soon as I figured out where you were. Why’d you come alone? What’s up?”
“Well… we got our report cards today and… and mine wasn’t that good and I didn’t want to show it to Dad and I thought he’d be mad so I just wanted to run away and… and…” Lyla started crying again.
“Calm down, Ly,” he said soothingly, “it’ll be OK.”
Just then, Owen heard a distant rumble, and a sharp breeze rustled through the trees. He smelled the rain approaching. They’d never get home tonight. Why didn’t I leave a note for Dad? As the first big raindrops spattered against the top of the stone wall, Owen grabbed Lyla’s hand.
“Ly, come on,” he shouted over the gathering storm. “We’ve got to get to the cave!”
Lyla whined, “Why can’t we go home? I’m hungry!”
“We can’t beat the storm.” Owen turned to look in her eyes. “Just do what I say,” he finished, facing into the rain.
Owen and Lyla ran helter-skelter through the tightly packed trees whipping violently in the wind, toward the cave they had discovered earlier in the summer. When Owen reached the mouth of the cave, he quickly grabbed some of the birch wood they had neatly stacked on a previous visit. The wind and rain howled through the woods, chasing them into the cave. Lyla and Owen crouched, shivering on the cold, dusty floor. The emergency kits, Owen thought to himself.
“Ly, don’t go anywhere,” Owen said. “I’ll be back.”
“Don’t leave me alone. Where are you going?” Lyla cried.
“To get the emergency kits Dad made us keep in our boats.”
“Matches,” he explained patiently. “I want to build a fire to keep us warm tonight.”
He dashed out of the cave, heading towards Lyla’s boat, which he remembered was beached on the shore straight ahead. Owen was shocked to find that the small craft was gone—swept away in the high tide. Without thinking, he sprinted down the shoreline, rain slashing against his face, to his own boat. He splashed out to the craft, now floating in knee-deep water but thankfully still secured to the rock. Owen reached in to grab the kit. Got it! Drenched to the bone, Owen turned and made his way back to the cave. As he entered, he found Lyla huddled on the floor, sobbing.
“W- will we ever get home?” She looked up pleadingly
“Yeah, ’course we will,” Owen said, not too sure of his own answer. “At least we’ll be warm.” He then set about making a fire with the matches he found inside the emergency kit, along with a blanket and flashlight.
Darkness soon fell on the small island with the rain still pounding on the roof of the cave. Owen wrapped Lyla in the thermal blanket as she laid her head in his lap. Softly, she cried herself to sleep. Owen’s head was overflowing with questions and he couldn’t stop worrying. What’ll we do in the morning? Is Dad looking for us now? Eventually, Owen dropped off into a troubled sleep, waiting anxiously for morning.
Owen awoke to the sounds of the waves still crashing against the shore. The storm had blown out to sea, leaving a gray sky and drizzling rain. Lyla was already awake, sitting underneath the blanket, staring at what was left of the fire.
“Hi O’,” she said in a small shivering voice. “What now?”
“Well…” said Owen, “I think we should go see what happened to our boats, see if they’re still salvageable…”
“What? Why wouldn’t they be?” Lyla asked incredulously, her eyes widening.
“The tide was really high last night and the rough seas might have swept them away.”
Lyla responded with a very soft “OK” as they walked out of the cave together.
When they arrived at the shore, Lyla gasped, “Where’s my boat?”
“I don’t know,” Owen said. “I saw that it was gone last night, but I didn’t want to worry you. We can always get you a new one.” Owen held her hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. “I think mine’s still here though… somewhere!”
They continued walking down the beach to where Owen had tied off his boat. As they got closer, they saw a green shape bobbing in the waves. While Lyla stayed safely on dry land, Owen waded out into the water to pull his boat in. He caught hold of the bow line and turned back into shore. Once back on dry land Owen’s heart sank. His oars were missing. What are we going to do now? There’s no way to swim back. Look at the waves! He hung his head in defeat.
Just then, Owen heard the chugging of a motorboat’s engine and a horn sounded. He and Lyla lost no time running back to the water’s edge. They had to flag down the boat. The boat! It was the Manchester harbor launch! It was headed towards them and their dad was standing in the bow. Owen took a deep breath.
“Ooh… it’s Dad, it’s Dad!” Lyla shouted, jumping up and down. “And look what the boat’s pulling!” Owen smiled as he looked up and saw the launch towing Lyla’s yellow dinghy behind it.
Sure enough, their dad leapt out of the boat, calling their names. Lyla rushed to him and threw her arms around his knees. A wave of relief rushed over Owen. Then, as Owen ran to join them, he knew finally that they were safe and would be home again soon. Tying his own rowboat to the launch, he thought, Family is the greatest treasure in the world.