Chapter 1: I Want Your Feedback

Kenneth Garcia, Flickr Creative Commons

Kenneth Garcia, Flickr Creative Commons

Part of this project is about getting feedback from you, the reader. This is a learning process after all. I want to hear from the experts–the readers–about what they like and don’t like. How is the pacing? Are the characters likable? So here it is: Chapter 1.

Let me have it! And, please, remember to share this with your friends. The more feedback I get, the better.

Chapter 1

Audra pulled her jacket close as she stepped off the boat. It was chillier here than it had been on the mainland. Autumn was coming. The lack of a crowd on the in-bound ferry was an even surer sign of the season’s end than the chilly morning air. Beyond the line of commuters waiting on the dock to board the small ferry was Standish Island, which—up until now—she had only seen in a picture on a calendar at a bookstore. But on that early September morning as the mist rolled down off the gentle hills, and lobster boats pulled out of the harbor, the island did not disappoint. In fact, Audra thought it was even more beautiful than the picture.

She walked to the end of the dock and set her pack down. It was heavy because she had stocked up before coming to Standish, hoping not to step back on the mainland for as long as possible. Maybe never. She stood on the sidewalk and took in her new home. Main Street stretched out to her right and left—and ran all the way around the island. In one direction was downtown Standish, a small grid of streets with a collection of clapboard shops and restaurants that would have been bustling with tourists just a few weeks earlier. Now, though, sleepy shop-keepers were greeting each other on the streets, swapping stories over coffee. The morning commuter rush—if you could call it that—had already passed through leaving the bakeries and coffee shops alone to enjoy the quiet morning. In the other direction were the docks, mostly deserted at this hour—the boats that called it home already out on the water.

Audra took a moment to put her golden hair into a sloppy bun, then hoisted the pack onto her back and set off in the direction of the shops. She came across the bakery owner—a chubby man with cheeks that looked like warm rolls—and the coffee shop owner—a slim woman who was so energetic, even at this early hour, that Audra thought it best she stay away from caffeine—chatting at a bistro table in front of the coffee shop.

“Good morning,” Audra said, stopping to put her pack down again. The pair looked up at her and smiled the weary smiles of people whose livelihood depended on tourists but were glad to see them gone. “I’m new in town.”

“I’ll say,” said the baker. “Did you just step off the boat?”

“I sure did. I’m Audra Lane.” She reached out to shake their hands. “I was wondering if you might know of any rooms for rent—long term. I plan on staying a while.”

“Well, I’m Gloria and this is Hank,” said the coffee shop owner. “And you’re in luck…you just missed the tourists. There are empty rooms and cottages all up and down this island. I reckon we’ll need more information to point you in the direction of the right one.”

Within the hour Audra was sitting on the end of her new bed—with an invitation to Gloria’s end of the summer celebration secured—looking out the window over the water. She could make out the shadowy outline of Cape Cod in the distance, and sailboats cut briskly across the water in the foreground. Just a floor below her was an antique shop—the kind of place that was mostly closed in the off-season. The owners were willing to give her a discount on rent if she would get the mail, check the messages, and generally keep an eye on the store while they were away. The apartment was beautifully decorated with the kinds of threadbare antiques she imagined furnished every house on this small island. Even the wood floors seemed perfectly worn. She thought about unpacking but decided that could wait, and headed back out to explore the island.

Audra headed away from downtown and the docks. The wind picked up and reminded her that it was September—wisps of hair that had escaped from her bun whipped the sides of her face—as she walked along the sandy shoulder of Main Street. One side was lined with empty cottages, and the other led down a small rocky slope to a thin strip of sand. Beyond the beach, the dark ocean grew choppy but she was fairly sure she saw a head peeking out of the waves. She squinted and decided she was right. What was it? A seal maybe. Whatever it was it was swimming toward the beach.

For a moment Audra was sure that the universe was conspiring in her favor. No sooner had she gotten here than she had found an apartment and seen a seal. It was a nice change of pace after the month she’d had. She was sure that she would prove everyone back home wrong. Moving to tiny Standish Island was a great idea.

The creature hauled itself out of the water, and Audra was shocked to see it stand up and start running toward her. It wasn’t a seal, it was a big black dog with a white blaze on its chest. It stopped to shake before proceeding to jump all over her, leaving wet, sandy paw prints on her jeans. Audra wasn’t sure what to do. She started to check the dog for a collar, but just then a high pitched whistle rang out. The dog’s ears perked up and darted off up the rocks, across the road, and up a long dirt driveway to a cottage sitting on top of the hill. It bounded gleefully through the tall grass before disappearing behind the house.

Ok, so it wasn’t a majestic sea creature, but it was still a good start, Audra told herself.

# # #

Gloria’s cedar shingled cottage was surrounded by a white picket fence and what passed for grass. Her husband, Paul, was a jolly lobsterman with the kind of ruddy cheeks and gray stubble Audra imagined were a requisite for fisherman of all stripes. There were giant pots boiling over hot coals in the sand on the beach in front of the house, and Gloria and her friends were expertly cracking the cooked lobsters and pulling them apart to eventually assemble into an assortment of entrees.

“Audra!” Gloria exclaimed, throwing her hands in the air before wiping them off on her apron and rushing out from behind a table to greet the newcomer.

“I’m so glad you’re here. There are so many people I want you to meet!” She hauled Audra around the party by the elbow, introducing her to the assembly line of women tearing apart lobsters, to the men standing watch over the boiling pots and hot coals, and to an unusually pleasant group of teenagers who were still sporting their summer tans, despite being back at school.

“Most of the town is here,” Gloria informed Audra, and pointed to a young couple who had recently taken over the Standish Inn. But before Gloria could introduce them, a ruckus rose up from the lobster table. The women were yelling and shooing away a huge dog. It took Audra a few seconds to recognize the beast as the dog she’d met earlier on the beach. Dry, the dog resembled a small bear more than a canine.

“Barney!” Gloria snapped and the dog instantly stopped sniffing around the table and bounded over to her. She tousled the dog’s ears and scratched under his chin.

“Where’s your buddy?” Gloria spoke to the dog as though she expected an answer. Audra followed the dog’s gaze to the gate where the sparse grass finally faded completely into sand, and watched as a man slapped Paul, Gloria’s husband, on the back and headed toward the cooler filled with beer brewed by the Standish Tap Room.

“Caleb Cafferty! Your dog is trying to eat all my lobster.” Gloria was yelling but even Audra could tell she wasn’t really mad.

Caleb smiled and raised a beer above his head—a sort of long distance mea culpa.

“Bring a couple of those over here and I won’t kick you out of my party!”

Caleb Cafferty was tall with floppy brown hair that he couldn’t stop running his hands through. He wore a thin flannel shirt and cargo shorts, and had the kind of hazel eyes that, back in Boston, might have caught Audra’s attention from across a crowded bar. Here on this beach, still aching from the worst break up of her life, she tried not to notice how handsome he was.

“Cal, this is Audra. She just moved in above the antique store. You guys are practically neighbors.”

“I think I met your dog this morning,” Audra said. It was all she could muster that didn’t sound flirtatious, or overly formal.

“Probably. Barney considers himself the official island greeter,” Gloria added, but Caleb just nodded and sipped his beer.

“Well, it was nice to meet you. I’m gonna take Barney down to the beach before he eats Gloria out of house and home.” He grabbed the dog’s collar and guided him back out of the gate and let him loose on the sandy beach, where he chased waves and sea gulls while Caleb helped stand watch over the lobster pots.

“Caleb’s had a rough time lately,” Gloria said by way of an apology for the man’s curtness.

Join the club, Audra thought.

“C’mon, you have to meet the Kleins. They just moved here from Boston too.”

Gloria left Audra in the company of Rachel and Aaron Klein—who turned out to be the young couple who had taken over the inn—while she went back to preparing lobster. Rachel instantly reminded Audra of her best friend from middle school. Her pale face was framed by shiny, black curls, and she laughed loudly and often. Aaron was quiet and decided to go check on the lobster pots when the conversation turned toward Rachel’s plans to open a spa at the inn—mostly so she would have a decent place to get her nails done.

“So what brings you to our little island?” Rachel asked, sipping a glass of white wine.

Audra realized she had not thought this far ahead. The whole truth was still too embarrassing, so she decided that a half-truth was best.

“I decided I needed a career change,” she said.

“You thinking about taking up lobster fishing?”

Audra giggled. “No, I’m going to write a book. There are too many…” she searched for the right word. “Too many distractions in Boston, so I decided I thought a change of scenery might help.” Audra left out the part about the cheating fiancé, and the meltdown at work that led to her forced resignation.

“That’s fantastic!” Rachel squealed. “You’re like our very own writer in residence!”

Before Audra could respond, Gloria’s voice rang out through the party, and summoned everyone to come get their food. Audra realized she had barely eaten all day, and that the beer she’d been nursing was already going to her head. A lobster roll, corn on the cob, potato salad, and baked beans tested the structural integrity of her flimsy paper plate as she looked frantically for a place to sit.

Rachel waved her over to a picnic table and scooted down the bench so Audra could cram herself onto the edge.

“Poor Barney,” Rachel said, and they both watched as the big, fluffy dog paced back and forth on the outside of the fence. “He’s a sweet dog, but he’s a food thief. Many a tourist has lost their sandwich to Barney.” The gate squeaked and both women shifted their gaze, and watched as Caleb took a seat in the sand. The dog plopped down beside him, waiting not-so-patiently for a piece of dropped lobster.

Rachel shook her head. “Poor guy.”

“Who? Caleb?”

“You’ve met him?” Rachel returned her gaze to her plate.

“Briefly. He wasn’t exactly chatty.”

“He’s had a rough year.”

“That’s what everyone keeps telling me.” Audra bit into her lobster roll and could not contain the groan of pleasure she emitted.

“Gloria makes the best lobster roll on the island,” Rachel said in agreement. “I’m just glad she doesn’t sell them or the inn’s restaurant would be out of business.”

It grew dark without Audra really noticing, but as she cleaned the last bite of food off of her plate she looked up at the stars. It had been years since she’d seen that many stars, not since the summer she and Robert took that trip to Bryce Canyon. They were happy then, she thought. She looked out over the water, almost as black as the night sky except for the occasional foamy white top of a wave.

“Hey, why don’t you come by the inn tomorrow for lunch, around noon?” Rachel insisted more than she asked. Audra was happy enough to agree, though she was so full it was hard to imagine ever eating again.

The night went from chilly to cold, and as the party wore down, Audra realized she had not dressed appropriately. She could have used a jacket on top of her light sweater.

“You can’t walk back to town all alone!” Gloria insisted as Audra tried to thank her for a great evening. Audra thought Gloria was being silly. She doubted there was any place on earth that was safer for a woman to walk home alone after dark. But Gloria called after Caleb anyway, who was preparing for his own departure. She dragged Audra over to the gate and insisted that Caleb show the town’s newest resident the way home.

“The way home? All you have to do is follow Main Street,” Caleb said.

Paul, who was standing nearby, elbowed Caleb in the ribs. “Be a gentleman,” he said in an almost cartoonish New England accent—so thick it put the rest of the islanders to shame. Caleb opened the gate to let Audra out of the yard and onto the beach, which they could follow most of the way back to town.

“So, what kind of dog is Barney?” Audra asked in an effort to make small talk with the sullen but handsome man.

“A Newfoundland-lab mix. Can’t keep him out of the water,” he said just in time for Barney to run by splashing in the waves.

“Well, I guess this is a good place for him.”

They passed by a few dark cottages before coming to one with a lamp burning in the window. Caleb informed Audra that this was where Evelyn the schoolteacher lived. Across the road was a cape with dormers, which Hank the baker called home with his wife. Next to Hank’s house there were raised garden beds where his wife grew vegetables, including the corn they all ate at the party. They went on like this for a while. Audra listened as Caleb pointed out the homes of people she barely knew—or had never met—and Barney ran along, splashing in and out of the ocean.

“Did you grow up here?” she asked when they came to another stretch of deserted summer cottages.

“Sort of. I grew up outside of Boston, but my folks had a summer house here. My wife and I moved here full-time a few years ago.” He grimaced a little as he said this.

This was the first that Audra heard about a wife. A hot flame of jealousy washed over her and then faded. She was embarrassed for herself. Why should she be jealous of a woman she’d never met, who had been married to a handsome but uncommunicative man she barely knew? Moreover, wasn’t she still licking her own wounds? None of this stopped her from immediately making up a scenario in her head. The wife was probably a pampered private-school girl who Caleb had managed to talk into moving to the island he loved but she couldn’t hack it. After a long, lonely winter on the island she had high-tailed it back to the city in search of Starbucks lattes and a decent manicure. Audra felt a sudden kinship for Caleb, who was now trying to wrestle the shell of a dead horseshoe crab out of Barney’s mouth.

Audra examined Caleb’s face closely as he wrestled with the dog. He had the strong jaw and straight nose of a Boston Brahmin, and hair to rival any Kennedy. There was a hint of freckles across the bridge of his nose, and a cleft in his chin that could have won him a spot in a J. Crew catalog. But there was sadness there, buried deeper than she could see. Caleb finally managed to get the crab—or most of it—from the dog and he hurled it back into the sea, which he immediately realized was a mistake. Barney plunged into the water after it, going so far as to dive briefly under water in search of his new, stinky toy.

Audra let out a loud guffaw. Caleb turned to look at her as she doubled over with laughter.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I don’t mean to laugh…but…well, it’s kind of funny.”

Caleb cracked a smile for the first time on the whole walk, and Audra noted his perfectly straight teeth—though there was a small chip in one of his incisors. She looked away, suddenly aware of making too much eye contact.

“Isn’t this your house?” she asked, looking up at the hill where a porch light beckoned from the front door. Caleb’s smile faded and he looked at her with suspicion in his eyes.

“I saw Barney run up there this morning,” she told him.

“Oh, right…”

Barney emerged from the water, dragging a piece of driftwood this time.

“We’ll walk you all the way back to your place,” Caleb said. “Wouldn’t want the boogeyman to get you.”

“Everyone here seems very concerned for my safety,” Audra teased. “Is there something I should know about?”

Caleb chuckled, shoved his hands in his pockets, and started up a set of steps that led back up to the road. The town was dark. Even the Standish Tap Room—the only brick building on the island—was closed. They passed by a building that looked like a garage and housed a bevy of rental equipment for tourists, like kayaks and stand-up paddle boards. Next to it was a yellow clapboard building that housed a real estate agency that specialized in selling property to impulsive tourists.

“This is me,” Audra said as they approached the stairs that climbed up to a balcony on the back of the antique shop. “Thanks for walking me home.” Audra found herself disappointed to be back at her building, and she stopped at the top of the stairs to watch Caleb climb the hill to his house. She waited until the porch light went out, and then went to bed alone.

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