Ashley immediately stopped struggling and became silent.
Shelby cupped Ashley’s face in her hands. She looked into Ashley’s eyes. “Ashley, are you alright?” Shelby asked.
Ashley blinked, and then smiled. “Of course I’m alright,” Ashley said. “What’s going on? Why is everyone standing around? Why are we by the water? I thought we were posing in the grass. Did you guys change plans without telling me?”
“Ashley,” Jason said, “do you remember what’s been happening the last few minutes?”
“Of course,” Ashley said. Wide-eyed, she looked at everyone. “We were deciding who is going to pose with Nate and who with Jason.”
“Yes,” Shelby said. “Then what?”
Ashley looked puzzled. “Umm, we decided you two would stay with Jason, and I’d go with Nate. Then... Umm… Then—” Ashley broke off. She looked down at the grass trying to concentrate.
“Then you put on that green sweater,” Jayjay said, jerking her thumb at the crumpled ball of green in the grass.
“Yes, my sweater!” Ashley said, brightening.
Jason was grabbing photos of Ashley’s face and the sweater in the grass when a strong gust of wind, oddly blowing toward Loch Ness, blew up and straightened out the fabric of the green sweater. The sweater lifted in the wind and started tumbling along the grass.
“My sweater!” Ashley said. She started to intercept the sweater, but everyone stepped in front of her.
“Let it go,” everyone said.
“But my sweater—” Ashley said, reaching out helplessly past the group blocking her as the fabric blew toward the loch.
The sweater lifted off the grass and with a gentle splash fell into Loch Ness. For a moment, the wind and waves seemed to tug the fabric along the surface leaving a thin white wake. Then, as the material absorbed water, one edge dipped down beneath the waves. The submerged fabric seemed to catch a current. The whole sweater dipped down into the loch. The current must have been swift, because the sweater dived down quickly, and disappeared at an angle into the dark water.
“My sweater,” Ashley said, again, softly.
Jayjay looked closely at Ashley’s back and shoulders. “Her skin looks okay. I don’t see any rash.”
Shelby frowned. “Allergies sometimes affect the nerves directly.”
“Allergies?” Ashley asked. “What are you two talking about? What’s going on? What happened?”
Shelby and Jayjay linked their arms through Ashley’s. “Come on,” Shelby said. “Let’s go fix our hair and makeup. We’ll tell you what happened.” The girls turned and started back through the grass to their camper parked along the road.
Nate and Jason stood by the water. Jason looked at Nate. “Do we know what happened?” Jason asked.
“Something pretty weird,” Nate said.
“I know what I think,” Jason said.
“What?” Nate asked.
Jason held up his camera. “I’ve got photos of Ashley in that sweater. And I’ve got photos of that sweater being blown by the wind into the water. You know what I think?”
“What?” Nate asked, again.
“I think I’ve got the best damn photos ever taken of the Loch Ness monster.”
Nate laughed. But then he looked back at the cold, dark water where the sweater had disappeared. He stopped laughing and just smiled at Jason.
“You know,” Nate said, “that’s a thought. But if that sweater was the Loch Ness monster, do you think the tabloids will pay big bucks for the pictures? Do you think the tabloids want photographs of a sweater on their covers, with headlines like, ‘Sweater Attacks Supermodel!’ It doesn’t really have that big, bold, life-and-death flavor that sells tabloids.”
Jason exhaled a long breath. “I guess you’re right about that,” Jason said. He scowled at the water, and then shrugged. “We might as well get set up again,” Jason said. “We still have some morning sun left. We can still make big bucks with pictures of supermodels in their underwear. There is always money in that.”
“Those pictures we can sell,” Nate said.
They turned and followed the girls back to the camper.