Here’s the first chapter.
Sunset at the Pink Water Café
It was a small town, cold and quiet. Hard by the Canadian border. The Atlantic yards away, and on most nights she could hear the surf from her parent’s house. She grew up on Summer Street, but growing up there – just the thought of summer was often an unbearable idea. In December, when the snow came fast, summer was a memory hard to find. Something to hold on to when night came. Something far away and warm, something to reach out to when nights got too cold. Like a promise, broken, summer was something far away and out of reach.
She’d run away once, almost thirty years ago, right after she got out of high school. She ran to Boston, and Boston ran all over her. She left after a year, not quite a year, really, and she ended up in New London, fell in with a sailor, a submariner. He left, was gone for six months, came home moody and dark and they split up after that. She moved up the coast to Mystic for a while, worked at the Seaport Museum that next winter, days, anyway. She worked the counter at Mystic Pizza too, at night, and she hoped men would think she looked like one of those actresses from the movie. Didn’t work out that way, but she met a guy with a boat and for a while she thought they had something going. That didn’t work out, either, and she settled in Newport, Rhode Island, working for a lawyer. Secretarial work, for the most part. The lawyer, a girl from Boston, tried to get her to go back to school – maybe because the girl made the mistake of thinking she had ambitions.
But she didn’t. Not really. Her needs were far simpler and, like memories of summer, always just out of reach.
She stayed in Newport, however, for fifteen years, and never missed a day or work. She and the lawyer became close, then closer than close, and she was comfortable for a while, but uneasy. Like she’d found a false Spring and was trapped in a season of discontent. Then one September morning her mother called.
“Your father’s dying,” her mother said, “and you need to come home, say goodbye.”
She hopped a bus the next morning, told her employer – her employer! – that she’d call when she knew more, yet somehow both knew this was the end of their road.
The bus ran through Boston on it’s way up to Portland, and she looked at the city like maybe she’d visited once, but the memories were painful and she turned away from them. She changed buses in Portland, at the little train station, got on the bus that would take her all the way down east, to Lubec, and she sat by a window and watched the coast slip by through veils of blazing trees. In almost twenty years nothing much had changed, yet somehow that bothered her. A part of her was happy to see so little change, it was almost a comfort, yet the closer she got to home the more she wondered what a lack of change really meant. For her.
Trees were turning brilliantly up north, and when she got off the bus she smelled smokey fireplaces in the distance. She walked to her parent’s house and let herself in, but when she called out she realized the place was empty. She carried her little bag upstairs, put her clothes in the same little closet she’d left behind so many years ago, and she turned, looked around the little room where she’d spent so many years. So many little years. Inconsequential years, she thought. Little, like her life. Almost empty, but for a few broken dreams back there, down that dusty road.
She stood by her mother’s side while her father passed, and she stood by her mother’s side when his body was lowered into the ground, and when she went into her mother’s bedroom later that evening to check on her – she had gone too. Died of a broken heart, a neighbor said.
They’d left her everything, of course. The house and enough money to fix the plumbing and replace the roof, and she took a job at a restaurant down by the water to make ends meet. It was a new place, had just opened a month before, and it catered to the summer crowd. It was called the Pink Water Café – because of the sunsets visible from windows out back that looked over the river towards Eastport.
She got along well enough with the owners, two boys from New York City who’d run away in search of true love and fresh lobster, and time slipped by, slowly, like the first snows of autumn.
It was a June morning, May still just a day or so gone. Still a snap in the air, no boats on the river yet, no sailors from Boston or New York. Didn’t matter, they started summer hours on June first, and that was that. She took out some chalk and began putting the day’s specials on the board: fresh poached salmon Hollandaise with orzo and field greens, a tarragon lobster bisque, and, of course, their famous lobster and butternut squash tortellini. And for dessert, a blueberry crisp fresh out of the oven, with mountains of fresh churned vanilla bean ice cream on top.
She put prices by each item and had just placed the blackboard on an easel by the door when he walked by.
Old man, tall. White hair, and not much left on top, and he was wearing khaki shorts and a navy blue windbreaker, but he was walking a dog, black and white and tan, with no leash. Big dog, yet not quite, and the pup was what caught her eye. Gorgeous. Like a movie star reincarnated and now here he was, ready for his next role. She watched them walk down the street and disappear into the hardware store and she sighed.
A young couple came in and she seated them, gave them menus and she saw the dog again, then the man – and he stopped by the door, read the menu through the glass then poked his head in the door, and the little bell twinkled his arrival.
“Y’all allow dogs?” he asked her.
“Is he trained?” she replied.
“When he feel like it, yes.”
She smiled, shrugged. “If he acts up, he’s out of here.”
He smiled too. “Well, smells too good to pass up. How ‘bout that table in the corner?”
“It’s all yours. What’s his name?”
“Depends. If he’s being good I call him Jimmy.”
“And when he’s not?”
“How old is he?”
“Not quite a year. Still filling out.”
“That’s right. When he wants to be, anyway.”
“They’re bird dogs, aren’t they?”
“Could be. He likes looking at birds, so I guess that counts for something.”
She handed him a menu, pointed out the specials.
“The bisque is crazy good, but really, my favorite thing is the lamb burger. Swiss, steamed spinach and a garlic aioli.”
“Whoa…if I twist your arm, could I get a cup of bisque and that burger?”
“As long as you don’t twist too hard, sure. Anything to drink?”
“What do you recommend?”
“Redcurrant iced-tea. Brewed fresh this morning.”
“Now that sounds good.”
She nodded, walked to the kitchen and handed off the order, then went to take care of the young couple, coming back a few minutes later with his tea.
“You passing through?” she asked.
And he shook his head. “Moving in.”
“Oh, a summer place?”
“Nope. Full time. Retired recently, wanted to be up here, away from it all.”
She laughed. “Well, you’ll be away from it all, alright.” She knelt and scratched behind Jimmy’s ears and he sighed, his stumpy tail started ticking like a metronome. “So, is it just you and the dog?”
“So, let me see if I have this right. You moved up here, alone, to live in the most lonely town in the universe?”
“I’ve got Jimmy,” he said, but he looked at the girl now, maybe for the first time, and he took her in, sized her up in an instant. “Sometimes quiet is a good thing,” he said, looking into her eyes.
And she almost fell over backwards – from the force she felt in his eyes. So blue, like cobalt, but she’d never felt such intensity before – like his eyes were x-rays, maybe, designed to probe the soul. She stood, wiped her hands on her apron…
And he looked her over now, continued his ritual inventory. Tall, red hair tucked in a bun, green eyes, milk-white complexion with buckets of freckles spilled everywhere. Evasive eyes, two fingernails broken, or chewed. Could have been a stunner once, but something like low self-esteem got her – and hard, probably in high school. No wedding band. Maybe fifty. He didn’t think marriage was a good fit for her – probably too unfocused, too ready to take flight for that kind of commitment. Ten years ago he might have been interested in her, but not now.
“How’s the tea,” she asked.
“You know? Not bad…like the mint.”
“Let me go see if your soup’s ready.”
He watched as she turned and walked away…sprayed on Levis, good legs, strong, a little hip waggle going on, trying to flirt a little.
He felt a stirring below, felt Jimmy resettling on the tile floor, trying to find just the right spot and he reached down, rubbed his neck for a minute. He looked down and they made eye contact; he saw curiosity in the pup’s eyes, an unusual willingness to explore. “You think so?” he asked.
Jimmy opened his mouth, into the grin that meant he was interested in the things going on around them, but now they kept looking right at one another – as if they were reading each other’s mind.
He felt her putting the bowl on his table but didn’t break the link just yet, but he saw her legs by Jimmy’s face, watched Jimmy move closer and sniff her ankles…
“That tickles,” she giggled. “Would you like some oyster crackers with that?”
He shook his head. “You wouldn’t happen to have some french bread?”
“Only at dinner. Baked fresh, too. Sorry.”
“Ah, well, you live and learn.”
She looked at him again, looked at those eyes. She wanted to fall inside, naked, and go for a swim – but he looked away just then, turned to his soup, and that kind of startled her, maybe depressed her just a little.
She walked back to the kitchen, unsettled now. By him. By the kinds of emotions he released in her. She knew she was a flirt, that she worked here in part because of the attention she received from older men. She still liked feeling attractive – wanted – and she had realized a long time ago there were times when she really needed to feel wanted…and she got that attention when she worked around men in the café. She had from the first day, and maybe that’s why she’d stayed.
But this guy was something different.
She wanted his attention, and in the worse sort of way, yet he didn’t seem to want any from her. Something about those eyes, some weird force. She’d never seen anything like them before, and now? He lived just down the street? Alone? Every single woman within a hundred miles would be making a play for this one, and soon. “So how do I make my play?” she sighed, not aware she was speaking aloud.
“Play for who?” asked Darren, one of the co-owner/chefs.
“Him?” she said, nodding her head covertly to the man at the corner table.
Darren leaned over the counter and looked. “Umm. He looks delicious. Not taken, I take it?”
“No ring, said he lives alone.”
“You’ll have to move fast, Tracy. Maybe you’ll have to move faster than me…”
“I know,” she said, then his words penetrated and she looked at Darren, smiled: “God…you’re taken…so hand’s off, okay?”
“Go get ‘em, Tiger Lilly,” he said, and he handed her a lamb burger, watched her carry it out – and shook his head.
She put the platter on the man’s table. “I forgot to ask, pasta salad or slaw?”
“You know…this is good. Neither, I guess.”
“Okay. Let me know if I can get you anything else.”
More people came in and things got busy, and after he finished she left his bill on the table. The next time she looked up he was gone, he’d left cash on the table and had simply gone, and she sighed. ‘That’s the way it is…’ she told herself as she cleaned his table.
She had a two hour break between lunch and dinner and she walked home, enjoying the sun on her face and the sea breeze in her hair as she walked, and she saw a moving van pulled up to the old Martin place on Washington Street. Saw him directing movers, helping with boxes, and she watched neighbors looking at him through mottled glass and curtains just pulled aside. Sizing him up, perhaps, wondering who he was, what kind of neighbor he’d make. Maybe even what kind of dark secrets lurked in his past…just waiting to be discovered?
He looked over as she walked past.
“Hi there!” she said.
“Howdy. Off so soon?”
“Lunch break. Two hours.”
“Ah. What time do you open for dinner?”
“Five. Open eleven to two, and five to eight, closed Mondays.”
“Good to know. Probably see you tonight.”
“Bringing Jimmy, I hope?”
“Yeah. We’re inseparable.”
She smiled. “Well, seeya.”
The movers were carrying in a baby grand piano just then and that made her wonder: what kind of man is this? She walked on by, walked into her house, went over to the large window in the living room and looked down the hill and through the trees. She could just see him, and her curiosity was more aroused than before. “Who is he?” She said to the empty house and the barren walls, then she turned, went to the kitchen and put on water for tea.
When she walked by an hour or later he was leading Jimmy into an old slate blue Jeep looking thing, a Land Rover she saw as it drove by, and she watched him wave as he passed, and she smiled at him – and she thought about him all the way back to the café. She thought about his eyes most of all. His eyes, looking at hers.
He came in a little after five and as he was the first customer she told him to sit where he liked, and Jimmy walked over to her, sniffed her ankles, and she noticed it then. The pups eyes were milky white now, obscured.
“Can he see?” she blurted out.
“When he wants to be, I think.”
“So…that’s why you’re inseparable?”
She handed him the evening’s menu. “Need a wine list?”
“No, not tonight. Too much to un-pack. Any specials?”
“Yes, a broiled cod stuffed with lobster and morels.”
“Wow…sign me up.”
“Soup or salad? He’s doing a butternut bisque or I can make you field greens with stilton and walnuts.”
“Salad, I think.”
The café filled up quickly after that, and as before she dropped off his check and he left money on the table, walked out unnoticed. She ‘clocked-out’ a little before nine and walked home in the late twilight, and he was standing in his front yard, throwing a ball for Jimmy – and she stopped and watched.
The ball had a bell inside and the pup homed in on the sound as it bounced and rolled, then used his nose to zero in on it, and when the pup picked it up the man clapped, providing a signal to run for. She watched them for a while, then walked over to the yard.
“This is unbelievable,” she said. “I’d never believe it if someone told me.”
“Oh? Well, you have to adapt, but it’s easy for him, I think. He has no other frame of reference, yet his instincts are intact. He wants to fetch, sometimes I think he needs to…” he said as the pup ran up and sat, ‘looking’ up to him for praise. And it came, soft, deep – sincere. She could feel the love in his voice, almost like, she thought, empathy. Like he was blind to things around him too.
“It’s odd,” she said, “playing out here in the dark.”
“Doesn’t make a bit of difference to him, I guess. How was your day?”
“Long. But this is the season, you know? Make it or break it.”
“Looked busy when I left.”
“I wish you wouldn’t just get up and leave.” The words came out in an unexpected rush, and she looked embarrassed.
“I’d like it if you let me say goodbye, at least.” Then she walked up and kissed him on the cheek, turned and ran off into the night.
“Well, I’ll be, Jimmy,” he said, and the pup turned, sniffed the air – then looked up at him, grinning.
She couldn’t sleep that night and got up the next morning feeling groggy, almost dead on her feet, and when she looked in the mirror she wanted to scream. She showered, slathered anti-wrinkle cream on her face, anti-bags-under-the-eyes cream under her eyes, brushed her teeth – twice – then went down, made some toast and put on water for coffee. She almost jumped out of her skin when she heard a knock on the door.
She saw him standing there, flowers in hand, and when she opened the door he handed them to her, then quickly turned and left.
She stood there, open mouthed, speechless, and watched him walk back down the hill – then realized she’d forgotten to put on clothes before coming down to the kitchen.
She walked down to work an hour later, but she left an hour early – in case he was outside – and he was just pulling in the drive when she passed.
“Hi!” she called out. “Thanks for the flowers.”
“Sorry about the, uh…”
“Don’t be. I shouldn’t have come by so early.”
“Groceries?” she asked. “Can I give you a hand?”
“Sure, if you can spare a minute.” He watched Jimmy watching her, then he handed her a sack with eggs in it. “Could you take these? I think I’ve got the rest…”
“Did you go to Wal*Mart?”
“Yup. Didn’t know where else to go.”
“You want to get in bad with the locals, do your shopping there.”
“Where else can…”
“Monday,” she said, following them into the house. “Be ready early, and I’ll show you the ropes,” but she staggered to a stop when she stepped inside. Everyone had seen workmen at the house for the last month or so, but she didn’t expect what she saw now. The place looked brand new, not a hundred years old, and the kitchen was like something out of a magazine. Muted, but elegant. “Holy cow,” she sighed.
“I was in here a few years ago, but it didn’t look anything like this.”
“Bought it because of the view, but the structure needed some serious work so I went ahead and gussied her up a little while I was at it. I’ve got to get stuff in the ‘fridge, but take a look around, tell me what you think.”
She put down the eggs and walked out to the living room, then to the little den on the other side of the fireplace. He’d turned it into a study and there were dozens of pictures on the wall – and she walked to the wall and started looking at them. One with him and Reagan – on a submarine, another with him and the first Bush, standing beside an airplane, a fighter of some sort. With Jimmy Carter, on the deck of an aircraft carrier. Letters of Commendation, from the Central Intelligence Agency, four of them. A framed note from Gorbachev, thanking him for something he’d done in Berlin. Diplomas, from Annapolis and the Fletcher School, another from the Naval War College.
‘Who the hell are you?’ she thought, then she heard him behind her and turned, looked at him, her eyes full of questions. She shook her head, felt at a loss for words. “Nice,” she said, quietly. “I like what you’ve done to the place.”
“Thanks. Like to sit for a minute?”
“Sure.” She followed him back to the living room and sat on a small sofa; he sat across from her in an overstuffed chair – and looked at her while Jimmy walked up and sniffed her legs again.
“He’s just saying hello, I guess. You get used to it.”
“I don’t mind,” she said, now very unsure of herself around all those letters and pictures.
“Look, about all that stuff in there…”
“Who are you?”
“Well, for starters, I don’t even know your name,” she said.
He laughed, gently, as he looked from Jimmy to her. “Sorry. Jim Taylor. Thought we…but no, we didn’t.”
“Tracy – Collins,” she added, hesitating between names. “What is all that stuff in there?”
“Forty three years,” he said, and when he saw the lost look in her eyes he continued: “Forty three years of my life. And that’s about all I’ve got left to show for it, too.”
“I didn’t see any pictures of…”
“My wife? In the bedroom.”
“How long ago?”
“A couple of years,” he said, turning away.
“It shows,” she said.
“She was your life, wasn’t she? Your best friend.”
He chuckled at that. “Yeah. I guess maybe she was, when all was said and done.”
“You weren’t really supposed to see that stuff.”
“So why put it out on the walls?”
He shrugged. “Memories.”
“I hate to ask, but why did you really move up here?”
“Too many memories. Where I used to live.”
“Do you get lonely?”
He turned away again, then looked down. “There’s a big difference between being alone and being lonely,” he said. “I think at a certain age you kind of expect to be alone, at least if…”
“I know what you mean, but that wasn’t what I was asking. Do you get lonely?”
“I guess I’m not sure what you’re getting at.”
“Sex,” she said, nervously.
“What about it?”
“I get lonely. Do you?”
“Like I said…”
“I heard what you said. Look, please don’t make this hard for me, any harder than it already is, but what I’m asking is, well, would you like to sometime?”
“What? Have sex? With you?”
She nodded her head slowly, grinned just a little. “I can’t get you out of my mind,” she whispered. “I haven’t been able to, all night…”
“It’s Jimmy, you know. He has that effect on all the girls I’ve met.”
“Oh? You meet a lot of girls?”
“Well, you’re the first, but yeah.”
“Uh, look, maybe if we knew one another better…”
“Okay, Jim, so get to know me better. I’m not going anywhere, but, well, just know I want to get to know you better. Okay?”
She stood and he stood too, then she walked over to him, put her arms around his waist, leaned in and kissed him on the lips, then slipped away silently – walked right out of the house.
“Well, well,” he said, but Jimmy was sniffing the air, listening to her footsteps receding in the distance. He went over to a window and watched her walk down the street, and he wondered who she was then. What her story was, then he turned and faced a pile of boxes that needed to be unpacked and groaned, but he turned back to the window again, looked at the house next door and nodded to someone watching from a dark window.
He looked at his watch, then at Jimmy.
“It’s almost two, so what do you say? Walk down for lunch?”
Jimmy stood and walked to the door, leapt once and made a sneezing noise. He came over, grabbed the leash and hooked him up, then they took off for the waterfront – but when they got to the diner he saw a line out the door and he sighed. “Better luck next time,” he sighed, so they turned, walked back to the house and got in the Rover, drove out to the West Quoddy Head beach. He grabbed a few towels from the back and they took off down the trail.
Jimmy could smell the sea, hear the surf, and he knew this could only mean one thing. The pup pulled at his leash before they got to the bottom of the trail and he laughed a little, then they stopped and turned into the wind, smelled the sea with it’s arms all around them and he was awash, adrift in memory. The wind, lifting Jimmy’s ears, the fur on his neck feathered by the passage, nose up, scenting, trying to place instinct and memory in the moment, then they walked out onto the stones and down to the water’s edge.
He unsnapped the leash and Jimmy waded out until he had to start swimming, and he kept talking, kept giving the pup a sense of direction, but the water was still icy cold and after a few minutes Jimmy walked out of the water and shook off. He bent and toweled him off, hooked up the leash and they walked a while, letting the wind and the sun dry his fur, then they walked back up the trail to the Rover and he drove home – with Jimmy hanging his face out the window in the slipstream, his nose going a mile a minute.
Once they were back in the house he got Jimmy a fresh bowl of water and fixed himself a glass of iced tea, and a few minutes later he heard someone walking up the steps and onto the porch, then coming in the front door. He saw her walk right for him, and without saying a word she grabbed him by the belt and pulled him to the bedroom. She pulled his pants down and pushed him on to the bed and took him in her mouth, and she worked him over until he was boiling over, and when he came she took him down, every inch of him, every drop, then she stood – breathlessly, on fire – and walked out of the house – having never said one word.
He propped himself up on his elbows and watched her leave, then sat up, pulled his shorts up and stomped out of the house after her. She was still about ten paces ahead by the time she went in her house and he threw the screen door open after it slammed in front of him. He followed her up the stairs to her bedroom, and there she turned, stared at him defiantly as he walked into her room. He pulled off her clothes, pushed her gently to the bed, knelt between her legs and ate her out, hammered her clit until she came somewhere north of a half dozen times, then he stood and walked back down the stairs – never saying as much as one fucking word.
Jimmy was waiting by the door when he came home; the pup came over and sniffed his groin once, then looked up at him, grinning.
He was in the kitchen early the next morning, Monday morning, fixing coffee and toasting an English muffin when he saw her walking down the street, shopping bags in hand. Jimmy heard her tromping up the steps to the front porch and went for the door, and once again she didn’t knock. She came straight in, came right for him in the kitchen, grabbed him by the belt again and pulled him to the bedroom, damn near tore his shorts to shreds trying to get them down and she pushed him down on the bed again, started playing him like a violin with her mouth again, then straddled him, held him firmly then sat down, forcefully, in effect impaling herself on his cock. She leaned forward, put her hands on his shoulders and stared into his eyes while she rode him…
“I couldn’t sleep last night because of you,” she said after her first orgasm, “because of this. Goddamn it to hell…what have you done to me?”
“Done to you?”
“Yeah…did you cast some kind of spell? I’m serious, Jim,” she said as her legs began to tremble again, her back to arch.
“Don’t stop,” he grimaced, and they both started grinding away, faster now, deeper, and his back spasmed as it arched and he launched her about two feet in the air, cum spraying out his penis and running out her vagina, and when she landed she ground her external lips along the length of his shaft, causing him to slam the mattress with clinched fists.
He reached up, pulled her down and held her close, breathing in her hair, kissing her neck – then he felt her reaching down, slipping him inside again. They started kissing, deep wet tongue kisses, a rolling cascading tympani of beating hearts…and he felt her hands cradling his head, then she was lost again, trembling, clawing, pulling his hair and he didn’t give a damn anymore about anything all he wanted was to feel this way forever and oh my God she’s cumming again and…oh shit I am too…!
They lay panting after, lost in some kind of bliss, some kind of understanding still miles away, then he rolled on his side, rolled her on her back and he looked into her eyes again and he knew whatever was going on between them was getting some kind of serious.
“All night long?” he said, grinning.
“Kiss me, goddamnit.”
They kissed, for a long time.
“I have never,” she said, coming up for air, “and I mean never ever been as horny in my life as I was last night, and all night long. I started playing with myself around two but couldn’t cum. It’s like that part of my body refused to cooperate. Refused – without you. You’re like heroin, you know? And I’m completely addicted.”
And with that she climbed on top of his face again, held him close but she paused, poised over his mouth. “Well? Don’t you have anything to say?”
“I was wondering…if you were a natural redhead,” he said – as he pulled her down.
Four hours later they were headed back from shopping; she’d taken him to a dairy farm for milk and butter, to a poulterers for eggs and fresh chicken, then to the wharf for fresh cod and bugs, which was, he learned, the local’s term for lobster.
“I’m not sure my ‘fridge is big enough,” he said as they pulled in his drive.
“I’m not sure I can wait long enough to get all this stuff in the ‘fridge.”
Jimmy scented the air, smelled grass, and the pup hopped out of the car as soon as she opened his door, and he reluctantly went inside when he heard the humans opening the door. He went to the bedroom and sniffed the bed, then went back to the kitchen and sniffed her legs and he understood. He had been puzzled for a while, but he was pretty sure he knew the score now.
He heard them struggling by the food, heard them rolling on the floor, and he perked up when he heard the heavy breathing again, then her little screaming noises, and he put his head down on the soft thing and let slip a long sigh.
He looked at the bug and scrunched his nose.
It was huge. Like four pounds huge, and the girl behind the counter smiled when he said “I’ll take it.”
“Comes with cobbed,” the girl said.
“That’s corn on the cob,” Tracy translated. “With lots of butter,” she added.
“I’ve never seen anything that big in my life,” he said.
“Lots of people like to get the big ones, but some think they’re tough. There’s an old trick to cookin’ ‘em, and Debbie knows it.”
“What’s the trick?”
“Add wine to the water before it steams. Gets ‘em drunk, they relax. Meat stays tender.”
She grinned. “You try it at home a few times and you’ll believe me.”
“Thanks for all your help today.”
“Right,” she grinned. “Maybe I should thank you.”
“Felt pretty mutual to me.”
“It did, didn’t it? Felt good. So long since…”
“No,” he said, smiling at the memories they’d made today. “Not a one. You?”
She nodded her head. “Wasted a day. Shouldn’t have waited. I knew as soon as I looked into your eyes.”
“You did, huh?”
“Yup. So, you going to tell me why you moved up here?”
He leaned back, sighed. “When I was in graduate school I came up here to walk around Campobello, around FDR’s place over on the island. Kinda decided back then I’d like to move up here someday.”
“What did you study?”
“At that time, history. Naval history, in the war. Mainly FDR’s strategic planning, how that translated into tactical operations.”
“Doesn’t mean anything now, I suppose.”
“School was never my thing.”
“What was your thing?”
“I just wanted to get away from here.”
“For a while. Sometimes, I think…not long enough.”
“I don’t know. Not bad, more like none at all. Nothing much happened, I guess. I can remember a few Christmases, when my folks had money, anyway. Graduating high school was kind of a big deal, but not much else.”
“No one special?”
She looked away, thought of her, working in her office, the time they spent together – away from the office. “Nothing ever really took, I guess.”
“So, you came back?”
“Yeah, my dad got sick, my mom died a few days later. The restaurant had just opened and I’ve been here ever since.”
“No wild summer romances?”
She shook her head, looked at him again – then the girl at the counter called his name and he went up, picked-up their plates and carried them to the picnic table. His bug was about the same size as his forearm and he sighed, looked at the vat of melted butter on the side and cringed.
“My cholesterol is going to go through the roof,” he chuckled.
“This ain’t low-calorie grub. Here, let me show you how to get at that thing.” He watched her move, her hands swift and strong, her demeanor precise yet almost bored, then she tore apart her bug and they ate quickly.
“So, no romances?” he asked again. “That means you’ve been…”
“Alone. Lonely. Waiting. For someone like you.”
“When I looked at you it was like my thighs started to, no, they caught fire. No one’s ever done that to me, I’ve never reacted like that to no one before.”
He wanted to correct her English, but then again, he didn’t. She was what she was, and what she was was cute. Not too young, not too old. Just cute. Not fat, not skinny, not educated but not stupid. She was just cute and that was just alright with him. He watched her fingers as she ate…long, thin fingers, red nail polish in need of some work but overall very…cute. Her copper colored hair was out of it’s tightly coiled bun now and it hung to the middle of her back, parted down the middle, framing her impossibly white skin. And those freckles…a fine spray of them – so cute. Cute enough to get his attention and hold it long enough to get his mind back to her eyes. Huge, luminous eyes, almost wet looking but clear, free of guilt, not quite free of pain. He’d not paid much attention to her lips before, yet now they struck him as perfect. Perfect, and cute. Neither full nor thin, and they seemed to have settled into a light smile a long time ago, and when she wasn’t talking it looked like she was smiling a little, at him.
The girl behind the counter came over and gave Jimmy a few treats and asked about him, fell totally in love with him after a minute or so, then told them they had some fresh blueberry pie coming out of the oven in a few minutes.
“You don’t want to miss that,” Tracy said. “Debbie’s pies are the stuff of legend.”
“I will die if I eat a ten thousand calorie dinner…you do know that…don’t you?” he moaned. “How ‘bout a small slice?”
“You want one Tracy?”
“I’ll have a bite of his.”
The girl raised an eyebrow. “Okay.”
“Small town,” Tracy whispered as the girl walked off. “News’ll be around town in five minutes.”
“I would think,” he whispered back, “after your yodeling this morning that would be old news.”
He winced inside on hearing the word and tried to smile it off. “That was a big critter. I will say he did not give his life in vain.”
She smiled at his awkwardness, finished her Coke. “How’s your beer?”
“Cold. Not bad. What did she say this is?”
“PBR. Pabst Blue Ribbon.”
“Never had it. American?”
“Yup,” she sighed, “think so.”
The door opened and a yellow lab walked in, took one look at Jimmy and growled. Jimmy stood and wheeled around, growled about 400 decibels louder, started foaming at the mouth while the hair on the back of his head stood on end – and the lab darted behind it’s owner’s legs.
“It’s okay, easy boy,” he cooed, and Jimmy shuffled around, sniffed his hand then sat – but still ‘looking’ in the general direction of the counter.
“I wouldn’t want to piss him off,” she said – and he winced at her language again, inside, anyway, but he smiled.
“He’s very protective.”
“I’ll say…hope he never gets mad at me.”
“Are you kidding? I think he’s in love with you.” They looked down, saw his chin resting on her foot and he shook his head. “I’ve always suspected he had a foot fetish.”
She grinned at that, but turned serious. “Your wife passed before you got Jimmy?”
“Yup, almost two years before. A friend of mine took me out to a breeder, outside of D.C. Jimmy chose me.”
“That’s the way it goes sometimes. My father had newfies, took them out with him on the boat.”
“Newfoundlands? Big dogs.”
“Big hearts. Lot of love, big love.”
“Your father was a…?”
“A lobsterman, yeah. His boat is still here, he passed on his buoys to a friend.”
“You grew up in that house?”
“And you left, right after high school? Nothing here to keep you, I take it?”
“Not much here but the sea. Still some farms, some dairy, but those families are moving on now. Used to be three, almost four thousand people here. Down to about a thousand now. Wal*Mart’s the biggest employer around here, but their customers come over from Canada.”
The pie came; the ‘slice’ was not quite the size of a football and weighed, he guessed, about fourteen pounds – without the three scoops of ice cream that came as standard equipment – and he groaned, again.
“I’m not sure I can do this.”
“Sure you can. I’ll help ya out.”
“Nope. Can we get a box, perhaps?”
“Nope. This won’t keep. Be a solid pile of goo in five minutes.”
“I’ll be a solid pile of goo, in two minutes, if I eat that thing.”
He settled up and they drove back to his place and she followed Jimmy in like it was the most natural thing in the world now. He fixed tea and put a fire on in the wood stove, then they settled in for a talk.
“What was her name?”
“How long were you…?”
“Not quite forty years.”
“My father, too. What did she do?”
“Government work, like me.”
“You don’t like to talk about it much, do you?”
“That was then, this is now. One time ended when Claire passed, another began.”
“Just move on? Simple as that?”
“Nothing about our life was simple, Claire.”
She paused, wondered if she should correct him but decided to let it go.
“If she was a ghost and you could talk to her, what would you say to her now?”
He looked at her for the longest time, not quite sure what to do, what to say, but the first thing that popped into his mind was ‘that’s none of your business,’ – but he stopped himself, thought about the past 24 hours – and all she might bring to his life – and he leaned back, tried to think.
“I wish we’d spent more time together,” he said softly. “Just the simple things, really. Holding each other, more than anything. I loved holding her hands. Just the feel of her skin on mine. I would tell her that, I guess.”
When he looked at her now she was crying. Softly. And nodding her head.
“I never had that, but…” she whispered, but a loud buzzing cut her off and he got up out of his chair, went to the study and shut the door behind him – and as she watched this she was stunned by the change in him. When he heard the alarm, or whatever it was, he had changed in an instant. The alertness, the physical agility of his response. From relaxed to hard and sharp, like he was walking a knife edge between…
She heard other sounds: beeps and more alarms, maybe on a computer, then his voice, subdued, calm, and she went to the door, tried to listen.
“Yessir,” she heard him say, then “I understand.” More beeping, his chair scraping back, his footsteps and she turned –
And Jimmie was standing there, staring at her with crystal clear eyes, snarling, foaming at the mouth, then she heard the door opening, felt him standing behind her.
“You like listening through doors, I assume?”
She jumped back, almost into his arms, then stammered “I need…where’s the bathroom?” she said while she tried to gather her wits about her.
“Right where you left it, earlier today – I seem to recall.”
The look in his eyes was dangerous now, vaguely predatory – and now, suddenly, she felt deep fear when she looked at him. Like she was in real danger, and like he was a very dangerous man used to doing very dangerous things.
She walked to the bathroom and sat for a minute, then washed her hands and walked back to the living room – yet all was as it was before. He was kneeling by the fire, putting a little log on the embers, then shutting the iron door and taking his seat again. And Jimmie, too, was sitting quietly by his feet again – as if nothing had happened.
“Would you like me to leave?” she asked.
“Not at all,” he said, but then he looked at his watch. “Unless you need to go home now.”
“I think I should let you get some rest.”
“I’ll let myself out,” she said, walking rapidly to the front door. “You don’t need to see me out.”
He watched her leave, and Jimmie never took his eyes off her.
She felt it as she walked up the street. She was being watched, and she turned her head slightly, saw two men kneeling in the shadows. Dressed in black, carrying guns, talking on a radio.
‘What in God’s name have I gotten myself into?’ she said to herself as she hurried up the hill.
When she got to her house she turned and looked down the hill – to his house. All the lights were off now, and she hurried inside, bolted the door behind her and ran upstairs to her room.
Her hands were shaking as she went to her dresser and, with her hands out, leaned on it, looking at her face in the mirror on top. Splotches of red, a bead of perspiration under her hairline, and she could see the fear in her eyes now and she wondered what had happened.
She went to the bathroom and brushed her teeth, changed into her night clothes and pulled down the sheets, was going to get in bed but she went to the window and looked down into the yard, saw Jimmie looking up at her, then the pup walked over to a tree and lifted it’s leg, grinning all the while.
WIP © 2017 Adrian Leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com | and so here ends Chapter One. More soon, as it comes to me.