As I mentioned in my last post (which was way too long ago), I started over. I had a timeline problem. I got a bit over zealous trying to correct that problem and created a few more for myself. So I’ve already decided to scrap this new version, but in the interest of transparency, I figured I’d share it anyway.
Audra found a quiet spot on the dock and set her bag down as the crowds pushed past her. Her stomach was still in revolt from the trip across the bay. She would have to get her sea legs if she was going to fit in here. But for the moment Audra was mostly concerned with the crowds rushing by as she clung to the railing. The people heading toward the island were laden with luggage and smelled like sunscreen. They were here to enjoy the last days of summer on Standish Island—which, until this very moment, Audra had only seen in a picture on a calendar in a bookstore. Heading in the other direction were commuters—the people who lived on the island and worked on mainland Cape Cod. Audra could scarcely imagine making that trip every morning. In fact, she hoped not to have to step foot back on that ferry for a very long time—for more reasons than one. Not the least of which was the beauty of the island before her.
The morning sun was only just beginning to burn the mist off the water, and the island’s little downtown was laid out before her in a neat grid of cobblestone streets lined with brick and clapboard buildings. The buildings closest to the water seemed to be ready to slip off the side of the island and into the harbor where sailboats were moored and lobster boats headed out to haul in the day’s catch.
She picked up her pack again—the same one she had worn to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon with Robert—and walked to the end of the dock. It was heavy with the supplies Audra hoped meant she would not have to go back to the mainland for as long as possible. Maybe never. She stood on the sidewalk and took in her new home—her cellphone vibrating in her pocket, again. She ignored it. Again.
As her stomach began to calm, Audra noticed how hungry she was. Earlier this morning she’d woken up in her motel room to the sound of a child screaming in the next room. She lay in bed staring at a water stain on the ceiling and listening to the hum of a not entirely functional air conditioning until 6 a.m. Then she showered, repacked her bag, and headed to the front desk to check out—where she ignored the stale bagels and tiny boxes of cereal that passed for a continental breakfast at The Whale’s Spout Inn, the cheapest motel she could find near the ferry.
Now here she was, hungry and homeless—at least for the time being. The wind picked up and blew in a gust of fresh coffee. 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. Where there is coffee there is usually breakfast! The source of the smell seemed to be Gloria’s Diner—though it could just as easily have been the coffee shop across the street or the pastry place next to it. But Audra decided on Gloria’s because she liked the look of it the best. It was an old cedar shingled building on the corner of Main Street and Center Street—a prime location. There were two big picture windows in the front, with lace café curtains strung across them. Inside there was a long counter with bright red stools, and a dozen or so booths along the wall.
At that particular hour the place was not crowded. It was still too early for most of the vacation set to be out and about for breakfast. Instead the counter was peppered with a couple of old men hunched over their coffee and toast, while a rowdy bunch of fishermen took up two booths. Audra chose a seat in the middle of the counter, which put the two old men on either side of her, an empty stool between them. She rested her pack against one of the empty stools and the old man on her right inspected it.
“We don’t get many backpackers around here,” he said.
“Oh, I’m not really a backpacker, just a light packer,” she said. The man chuckled and turned back to his toast, on which he began to meticulously spread jam.
“Good morning,” said a cheerful woman with a name tag that suggested she was the eponymous Gloria, and a short, no-nonsense haircut that flattered her elfin features. “Can I get you some coffee?”
“Tea please,” Audra said. “And a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich please.”
“A lady who knows what she likes,” Gloria said with a wink. She hustled away to get a tea bag and some hot water, and dropped off the order with the cook. Audra had always admired good waitresses. She had worked her way through college at a number of jobs, waitressing being one of them—and the job she hated the most. The pressure not to mess up someone’s meal was more stressful than any test she had ever taken. Gloria freshened the coffee of the fishermen before returning to the counter.
“Did you just get in off the ferry?” Gloria asked.
“How’d you know?”
“Your cheeks are a little wind-burned. It’s a sure sign of a new arrival. Where you staying?”
“Actually, I don’t know yet.”
“Order up!” the cook yelled. Gloria left and returned with Audra’s breakfast sandwich and a confused look on her face.
“What do you mean you don’t know where you’re staying?”
Audra thought she heard a hint of concern in the woman’s voice.
“I don’t have a plan yet. I just…well, I just kind of showed up. I’m planning on staying for a while. Any thoughts on where I might find a place?”
The man to Audra’s left let out a “Pfft” sound. It was, Audra was sure, and admonishment.
Gloria was only marginally less exasperated, if far more informative. “Honey, if you’d come in another week or two every vacation rental on this island would be vacant, but you’ll be lucky to find an empty couch at this time of year.”
Audra was chewing her sandwich so she simply nodded to indicate that she understood just how stupid she had been.
“If there’s an empty room to be had on Standish, Lorna will know,” said the guy to Audra’s right.
“He’s right. Lorna Muldoon is a realtor. She’s got a little store front at the end of the block.” Gloria pointed in the general direction of Lorna Muldoon. “If anyone can help you, she can.”
“Can’t miss her place. Hideous, really,” said the left-side man.
“It’s not hideous, it’s just pink. Tell her Gloria sent you and she won’t try to convince you to buy some ramshackle beach cottage. I didn’t get your name, sweetie.” Gloria stuck out her hand to shake.
“Audra Lane. Pleased to meet you.”
The old man had been right. You couldn’t miss Lorna Muldoon’s place, but the color wasn’t the giveaway—it was the enormous sign with her name on it. Audra wasn’t exactly sure what she expected from an island realtor but it was not Lorna. The woman was as well coiffed as any Boston socialite Audra had known in her former life. She wore a silk sleeveless blouse and a pencil skirt, and sat behind a desk so big Audra thought it would be more suited to the CEO of her old company.
Lorna immediately invited Audra to sit in the wing back chair that faced the desk. She tapped her manicured nails on the desk as Audra told her how Gloria had sent her.
“Well, honey, I’m afraid Gloria was right. The whole island is booked solid at the moment.” Lorna took a moment to shuffle through the mental catalog she kept. “I’ve got one idea that might hold you over until tourist season dies down. Let me make a call.”
The realtor picked up the phone and dialed a number. “Rachel, it’s Lorna. I’ve got a poor lost soul here who showed up today without a reservation. Is there any room at the Inn for our little pilgrim?”
Lost soul? This lady didn’t know the half of it.
“Oh, bless you dear. I’ll send her right over.” Lorna hung up the phone. “I’ve found you a spot. It’s a little unconventional but it will only be for a few days until a real room opens up.”
Lorna launched into fill sales mode. “The Standish Inn is the best hotel on the island, with a great young couple who just bought the place. They have been doing updates left and right over there. The rooms are all booked for the weekend, but she says there’s a room in the barn you can have.”
“In the barn? Are you pulling my leg?”
“I assure you, it’s quite a nice barn. No animals are currently calling it home—Rachel wants to turn it into a spa—but there’s a room meant for a caretaker. It’s got a bed, and she says it’s clean.”
“I guess beggars can’t be choosers, right?”
Lorna did not bother to answer—her look said it all.
“So how do I get there?” Audra asked.
“Well, it’s around the other side of the island. You may want to get a cab. Or you can go rent a scooter from Cal’s Cycle and Sport.”
Audra considered her monster backpack and decided a cab would probably be the safest bet.
“Thank you, Lorna. I really appreciate your help. If I leave you my cell number will you let me know when a long-term rental is free? I don’t need anything big or fancy, but close to the village would be nice.”
“Your cell phone probably won’t get reception over at the Standish Inn, but I know where to find you.”
It was an imposing clapboard building with a fresh coat of yellow paint. A huge, wide porch wrapped around the ground floor, and freshly planted mums bloomed in the flower beds. A heavy wooden sign swung in the breeze. A tall-ship was carved into the sign and colonial-looking lettering announced that this was the Standish Inn. Well-heeled families in pastel colored clothes headed outside toward the beach across the road—a long, wide stretch of sandy beach that was already filled with sunbathers and children building sand castles.
As Audra walked up the front steps a woman sitting on a porch swing asked, “Are you my lost soul?”
Rachel Klein 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. As she showed Audra around the inn—pointing out the new wallpaper in the dining room and the 150-year-old wide plank floors—Audra was suddenly glad there were no rooms or cottages for rent. It would be nice to have such a friendly face nearby as she settled into her new life.
They made their way to the back patio where a few guests still lingered over their breakfasts, and the wait staff dutifully refilled water glasses and coffee cups. There was a green stretch of lawn that led past the most manicured garden beds Audra had ever seen.
“The vegetables were Aaron’s—that’s my husband—idea. Farm to table is so in right now,” Rachel said as they headed toward the barn. “Eventually we want to turn this into a spa.” She hauled back the barn door, revealing a tidy row of stalls. It was surprisingly bright and airy, and Audra was surprised to find that instead of a hayloft above there was a cozy room with a bathroom so small she hit her elbows on the shower when she tried to turn around.
“This is perfect, Rachel, I really can’t thank you enough. Are you sure I can’t pay you for the room?”
“Don’t be silly. It’s unused space—just promise you’ll come down and have a drink with me once in a while. It’s nice to have a non-guest to chat with now and then.” Rachel found a handle in the wall and slid a door back, revealing a beautiful view over the tops of trees to the water. Sailboats cut across the ocean beyond the widow’s walk of a house out on a rocky point that looked like a bad place to live in a storm. Audra dropped her pack on the bed and stood beside Rachel at the open loft door.
“Wow. With this view I may never want to leave.”
“I’ll let you get settled in, but if you feel like coming down for lunch there’s a great cheese plate on the menu. I hope you like cheese—because I love cheese and I can only eat so much seafood, no matter how good it might be on this island.”
“I’m in as long as there is goat cheese,” Audra said.
“A girl after my own heart,” Rachel said and then left Audra to unpack.
There was a small dresser in the room, just enough to fit the small wardrobe Audra had stuffed into her pack. There was a table with two chairs that seemed like the perfect place to set up her laptop, and an old bed with creaky springs and a down comforter. This was one hell of an origin story, she thought. Maybe someday, after she was dead and the masterpiece she intended to write was being taught to kids in schools, people would come here to the Standish Inn to see the room where Audra Lane had lived and worked. She chuckled at the thought and dismissed it.
The beach was mostly empty after dark—except for a middle-aged couple that walked along the surf holding hands. Audra found herself speculating about them. Were they newlyweds? Maybe they weren’t married at all. Maybe they were having an affair, and they were tucked away on the far side of this small island because they didn’t want to be seen. It was unfair to speculate about this probably perfectly nice couple, Audra knew that, but lately it was easier to assume everyone’s love life was a sordid mess than to believe she was special in this way.
The couple was headed toward the jetty at one end of the beach, so Audra decided to walk the other way, toward the dune grass. She had fallen asleep after her lunch with Rachel—which had consisted of more wine than cheese—and woken up feeling a bit hungover. Some fresh sea air would clear her mind. The white caps of the black waves stretched out before her, the faint moonlight lighting up the sheet of motionless glass beyond the breakers.
There was something in the water. Was it just a piece of drift wood? A sea turtle? Did they have sea turtles this far north? Maybe it was a seal? Seeing a seal on her first night would be a good omen, Audra thought. The creature hauled itself out of the water, and she was shocked to see it stand up and run toward her. It wasn’t a seal at all—it was a large 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. Did an island this?small have an animal control officer.
“Barney!” a man yelled as he crested the top of a dune. The dog turned to look at the man but seemed to size up his options, and decided to pick up a stick from the ground rather than immediately return to his master. “I’m sorry, ma’am. Barney is harmless, but he thinks everyone wants to play with him.”
It was dark, but Audra thought she could make out most of the important details. He was tall with floppy brown hair that he ran his hands through frequently, tugging at the roots out of habit. He had broad shoulders, the kind you might see on a swimmer. His flannel shirt flapped in the breeze, revealing the kind of lean, well-muscled torso that doesn’t come from a gym, and he held a pair of flip-flops in his hand. A cute guy with a cute dog, she thought. Not a bad start to life on the island.
“Oh no worries, he’s very sweet,” Audra answered, though it occurred to her that she had taken a beat too long.
“Barney, bring the stick,” the man said and the dog bounded to his side. “Well, have a good night.” He took the stick from the dog and hurled it down the beach in the opposite direction. Barney hurried off in search of his makeshift toy, and the man disappeared behind the dune again, leaving Audra alone with the moon and the sea.