Island Girl Mystery/ Romance (part 5 rated PG17)

He was awakened by movement and lay silently in bed trying listen. The room was pitch black. He realized it was the slight sway of the bed that had awakened him. She was getting in beside him. He cleared his throat, and said softly, “Hello?” She slipped under the covers and laid down next to him, her hip and legs touching his.

“Jane?”

“It’s okay,” she said, gently patting his arm. “It will be good now.”

She adjusted herself, then didn’t move. He lay quietly, feeling her body heat and listening to her gentle breathing. After a minute, he started to get up, but she held onto his arm and he lay back.

“Don’t,” she whispered.

“But, I –”

“Shhhh,” she said. “I’m almost asleep.”

The gentle patter of falling rain was the only sound now. Occasionally, a drop tapped against the window, like a finger flexing against the glass. Her breathing was deep and regular. He closed his eyes, feeling his body melt into hers. She was small next to him, frail almost, and very hot. He was tempted to slide closer for the heat, but didn’t move. It had been a while since he’d been sober and in bed with a woman. He thought how he may get excited in spite of himself and would want to do something with her. Moving closer would feel like heaven. Then he thought of his wife and how her body felt next to his. This girl’s body was different, smaller. Maybe she was warmer than his wife. He thought about the many times his wife would climb on top of him, in the morning just after waking up, and he would melt into her. She would ride him and always climaxed very easily, she would be right there with him. She had learned how to do that for herself, she had told him, and he was happy for that.

     The girl moved, and the bed swayed a bit. He lay still, not wanting to encourage contact while he was thinking of his wife. Cheating was something he’d never done, and now he felt like a cheater, because he wanted the girl. Her warmth next to him lit a fire he thought was dead. Desire is something for lovers, not drunken fools. The whiskey came into his thoughts and he saw himself taking a huge swallow of the cold sting, savoring it as it burned his throat and warmed his stomach. A wave of unsteadiness washed over him, as if he had actually taken that drink. Then he realized avoiding bad feelings was what brought the thoughts of drinking. Taking a deep breath, he tried to relax, and push the taste of whiskey from his mind.

     Her smell came to him, and he could discern the salty sweetness of her skin. He moved further away from her, and thought he might finally drift off, when she came closer and cuddled up to his backside. His eyes popped open and his heart raced, but he didn’t move. She melted into his back and he could feel her soft breath against his neck. He thought about how it would be if she reached for him. He could feel himself growing, and wanted her to take hold while he thought about her scent, and the softness of her body. After a few minutes of being still, his thoughts shifted to his life and his family, then about his drinking and his writing. He wanted to start a new novel, now that the drinking was at bay. Perhaps the girl would inspire some ideas. Perhaps she was the beginning of a new story. Soon, he felt the weight of his fatigued body, and let his muscles relax. He stopped thinking about writing and the girl and listened to the steady drop of rain outside his window, and soon drifted off into a deep sleep.

     In the morning he was alone in the bed. Light streamed in through the windows, which he never bother to curtain. He could hear the gentle splashing of water coming from the kitchen. He slid into his mocks and T-shirt and walked to the door and peered into the kitchen. She stood at the sink, bare chested, dabbing herself with a wet towel. She wore her jeans, and nothing else. Her back was well contoured and muscled, her youthful skin slightly tanned. She turned and saw him looking at her, but didn’t stop washing.

“I have a shower. The rain barrel should be full after yesterday,” he said.

“You have a rain barrel?”

“Yes, it’s mounted on the roof. It feeds down into the shower.”

“I didn’t notice,” she said, and turned to him, exposing herself. Her breasts were firm, small and white. Tan lines marked her bathing top. Water glistened off her upper neck and ran down onto her waist. He smiled and turned to go back into the bedroom.

He sat on the bed while he dressed, slipped on his mocs and walked to the door. She was already standing there waiting for him.

“I wouldn’t mind a shower, actually,” she said.

“In there,” he said, pointing to the bathroom adjacent to his bedroom. “It’s small and the water kind of trickles out, but it works. You’re welcome to it.” She walked in past him, her eye on the bathroom door.

“Keep in mind, it may be cold, though. No water heater.”

She turned to him. “Why don’t you have a water heater? You have gas, don’t you?”

“I don’t know. Didn’t want to lug it all the way from the mainland, I guess.”

She said, “Cold showers come in handy, here on the island?”

He smiled. She turned and walked into the bathroom.

In the kitchen, he made pancakes from flour, eggs, milk, salt and baking powder. He added some vanilla and a touch of cinnamon. He fried bacon and eggs-over-easy in the big skillet. When he was done cooking, he stacked the pancakes on a large platter and placed it on the kitchen table. He didn’t have any maple syrup, so he put honey and powdered sugar on the table. When the eggs and bacon were cooked, he placed them on a separate plate, and put that down on the table. The coffee percolated and was strong, the way he liked it.

When he finally sat down at the table, she appeared in the doorway of his bedroom. She was fully dressed in her own clothes and held a towel to dry her hair. “Wow,” she said, looking at the food. She sat at the table, the towel wrapped around her neck, and reached for the pancakes. “I can’t believe you made these,” she said. “Do you have any strawberries?” He saw a youthfulness in her manner that he hadn’t seen before. She was from a different generation. She probably saw him as an old man. And he thought he was too old for her, maybe. But why would he think such things now?

“No strawberries. But if you want, blackberries grow on the island. Up on the ridge, just over there.” He pointed to the door. “We can hunt for some later.”

“You’re a forager, huh?”

“Not really.”

She slapped a few pancakes onto her plate and added powdered sugar, then poured herself a cup of the steaming coffee. He was pleased she ate so well and liked his coffee. He took a few pancakes and ate them with bacon and the eggs, runny on his plate. 

When they were done eating, they sat quietly for a few moments. Birds chirped in the front yard. He got up and opened the door. After listening to the birds and the gentle calling of gulls at the shore, he said, “So, these people coming to get you, you think they’ll be here soon?”

“No,” she said, and got up to look out the front door. “I don’t think anyone is coming.”

“Oh? That’s not what you said last night.”

“I feel a lot better today.”

“That’s good, but how does that change anything?”

She looked away. “You’re a good cook.”

“Sometimes, when I try.”

“I can see that. I try and things suck. They never pan out.” She leaned on the doorframe, still listening to the birds. “Do you think that’s where the expression pan-out comes from? From cooking?”

“I don’t know.”

“Or gold diggers?” she laughed.

“From prospectors, maybe.”

She turned to him and smiled. “That’s what I meant. Or the movies. Don’t movie cameras pan out?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I want to know what we’re going to do with you. See how that pans out.”

She held onto the door frame and swung back and forth, like a child. “Oh, clever. How many ways can we use that expression? How about if I pan over here and go out the door?”

She walked outside. He followed her onto the porch. She stared at the trail leading to the center of the island. “That’s the way, right? Up that hill?” She pointed.

“What’s that?”

“Let’s get some.”

“What?”

“Blackberries. Show me where they are.”

“They’re all over. You just go out and find them.”

“What if I pick something poisonous and eat it? What then?”

“Then…I don’t know. You get sick and die, I guess.”

“Great! Remind me not to eat poison with you around. Show me where they are.”

She walked toward to trail, then stopped and looked at him. “Come on. You have to stop me from eating poison berries.” She put her hands to her throat and made a gagging sound.

“Wait,” he said, and went back into the cottage. He returned carrying a small bucket.

“Oh, we’re gonna get a lot them,” she said.

“They’re easy to catch.”

The sun peeked out from clouds, illuminating the bay in bright slips of silver and blue. The wind gusted sharply and cut through the trees clinging to scourged shoreline. Cool air rippled across the bay. The few remaining storm-clouds moved quickly across the sky, as if they in a hurry to get somewhere.

The interior of the island held onto coalescing moisture and heated by the sun. Foliage surrounding the trail released warm vapor into the air. They walked further away from the shore, and the air was still and dense, with fragrances from the plant life. Northern Bayberry bushes gave off a surprisingly strong scent. She broke a small sprig if it off in her hand and smelled her fingers. The sounds of the bay were muffled. The dirt trail that was well worn near the house, quickly diminished as they walked farther into the field. Soon, tall grass and bushes caressed their legs as they walked.

The island was only a mile long and about a half mile wide. The center held tall pine trees that through many seasons, produced thick needle beds and was well shaded by the tall trees. On the outskirts of the woods, partially hidden in the tall grass, they found blackberry bushes.

“So many!” The girl said, with delight, and started to eat the berries.

“Wait. We should wash them first,” he said.

She popped another one into her mouth and laughed. “They’re ripe and delicious.”

They quickly filled the small bucket to half way. “That’s enough” he said. “We can make blackberry pancakes.”

“Or something else,” she said, smiling.

“You don’t like my pancakes?”

“Is that all you make?”

“Of course not,” he said, feigning annoyance. “You saw me eat lobster and corn.”

“Oh, yeah.” She tilted her head and looked at him. “I forgot. When was that?”

He frowned. “You don’t remember?”

“I’m not sure.” She placed a few berries in the bucket and suddenly looked lost, like she was remembering or daydreaming. He saw this and made light of the situation.

“I bet I can beat you back to the cottage,” he said, and started walking quickly back down the path.

“Hey,” she yelled, and laughed and ran after him.

He had seen the small boat approaching the dock as they rounded the corner, closer to the cottage. A ten or twelve-foot whaler outboard. Two men in the craft. The girl didn’t see the boat, and he decided not to say anything. They entered the cottage and he placed the bucket in the sink.

“Why don’t you wash those and I’ll be right back,” he said.

“Where are you going?”

“Down to the dock. I need to check a crab trap. Maybe we can make crab cakes.”

“Blackberry crab cakes,” she said smiling, then frowned. “Sounds awful.”

He was halfway to the dock when he turned and saw her behind him, standing at the trail-head. When the two men climbed out of the boat, she ran back to the cottage.

Island Girl (part 2)

Sunlight streamed in through a break in the curtains and he could see a wall of tiny dust particles dancing in its beams. He thought of vacuuming the rug, but had only a mechanical sweeper. Ever since he brought that rug to the island, he’d seen particles floating above it.

The sound of running water pricked up his ears. He didn’t understand why water would be splashing in the kitchen. Perhaps a bird had come in during the night and was caught in the sink. He lay in bed listening to the faint gurgle and splashing. The gentle trickle of water falling. He sat up and looked toward the sound. His bedroom door was ajar. He got up and looked into the kitchen. A girl stood over the sink, washing her face and neck. She wore a blue plaid shirt, a red sweatshirt wrapped around her waist, blue jeans and dirty white canvas sneakers. Her hair was dark, almost black, but as she pulled at the wet curls it appeared, in the sunbeams from the skylight, a very dark brown color with reddish highlights, and was thick and wavy. When she was finished pulling at her hair, she looked around the counter top for something to dry it with.

“Hello” he said.

She turned sharply, pointing a long kitchen knife in his direction. Her fearful look startled him and he took a step back.

“That towel is dirty,” he said, pointing to the rag by the sink. “I’ll bring you a clean one.”

She took a step away from the sink, her eyes fixed on him. He went to his bed, pulled on his trousers, stepped into his moccasins, then got a towel from the linen closet in the bathroom, and brought it to the kitchen. He stood a few feet away from her and offered her the towel. She slowly reached out with one hand, holding the knife in the other, and took the offering. “Thank you,” she said, in a small voice.

“I have plenty of food,” he said. “I can cook something. Do you want breakfast?”

She smelled the towel, then slowly dried her hair and face. Her eyes very light blue, a color he’d never seen before on a human being.

“You can cook if you want,” she said.

“You can put that knife away. I’m not gonna hurt you.”

She held the towel in front of her chest and slowly slid the knife into the sink.

“Good,” he said. “I generally eat big in the morning.”

She shrugged and turned to look at the fireplace. He followed her eyes and said, “Fire went out last night.”

“I can build one,” she said.

“Okay.”

She walked to the fireplace. He went to the refrigerator to get eggs and ham and bread. He watched her out of the corner of his eye as she stacked kindling on the ashes and fanned the coals. She crumpled up newspaper and placed in underneath and the wood started to burn. She placed a few medium sized logs onto the fire and the flames quickly grew.

He hand pumped well-water into the coffee pot, then put it on the gas stove to percolate. Cracking open the eggs, he placed them in a large, black pan, and laid slices of ham-steak in, and it sizzled and popped from the heat. He placed slices of bread on the old fashioned, pyramid shaped toaster that fit neatly over the gas burner. The eggs crackled and popped and he turned them gently, so as not to break the yolks. While he cooked, she warmed herself by the fire.

“I can tell you’re all right by looking at you,” he said, and wanted to ask why she was there, but decided to let her speak in her own time. Perhaps she was lost or running from something. She cleared her throat and looked as if she was about to speak, but said nothing. “I’ll give you a lift back to the mainland, if you like. Or I’ll give you gas or whatever you want for your boat, but that’s as far as we go.”

 She warmed her hands by the flames. “It’s a good fire,” she said. “I was cold. The wood is dry. Burns good.”

“It’s been in the woodbin for over a year, more or less. I get oak from the mainland. Oak burns best, I think. Dense wood. Not like pine.”

     He placed the eggs, ham and toast on two plates and placed them on the table. He poured two cups of coffee and set one down for her. “Come and eat.” He stood in front of his place and waited. She walked slowly to the table and sat, never taking her eyes off of him. He sat and smiled at her and said, “Best breakfast in town.” She smiled and picked up her fork.

She looked to be about twenty, he figured. Definitely not younger. Perhaps, as old as twenty five, now that he had a good look at her. She glanced at him and he blushed, wondering how she got the eyes of a husky. She wasn’t light skinned enough to be an albino, but she had fair coloring. Her lips were full and her nose was small.

“Where are you from?” he asked. She frowned and poked her food with a fork. “Aren’t you gonna try my coffee? I make strong coffee.” She gave a slight smile and made a show of sipping from the cup, although it didn’t look like she took any into her mouth. “You want some water?” he asked. She vigorously shook her head. He got a large pitcher from the fridge and grabbed a glass from the cabinet and placed both in front of her. She filled the glass and quickly drank it down. Then she dank another, and another.

“I hope you didn’t try to drink that water that runs in the sink. That’s not potable.”

He watched her gulp down a full glass of water. “You’re dehydrated,” he said.

She looked eagerly at him and licked her lips. “Yes, I think I am. I wasn’t thirsty before and now I am.”

“Why would you be so dehydrated?”

“I was at sea.”

“How long?”

“I swam for a whole night.”

“What about your boat?”

“It’s gone.”

He did the calculations in his head. The currents run swiftly through slots between the islands. Either she was a very slow swimmer, or the tidal current brought her in from one of the outer islands. Perhaps, Jewell Island, the last island before you hit the open ocean. That would be about five or six miles to the East.

“It sunk?” he asked.

“Hit a rock or something. Heavy seas. I don’t remember the rest.”

He hadn’t heard about a shipwreck, certainly not nearby. The radio would have been crackling with the news. There had been very stormy weather the day before yesterday, but something wasn’t adding up. “You’re telling me you wrecked and then you swam here?”

“I think so.”

“You had a life vest?” She said nothing.  “Was anybody else onboard?”

“I don’t remember.”

“Was it a ship, like a cruise ship, a private yacht, a sailing ship, what?”

“I…” She stood up. “I don’t think…” She ran outside and leaned over the porch railing. He heard her gagging, and walked over to see if he could help.

“You drank too fast,” he said. “You’ll be okay. Come sit by the fire. ” She turned to look at him and her blue-white eyes sparkled in the morning sun. 

     They went inside and sat in front of the fire. He sipped coffee from a mug. She sipped a glass of water. Her color came back, what little there was in her pale skin, and her eyes were less glassy. “What’s your name?” he asked her. She stared at the fire and said nothing. Then she extended her right hand in front of her, stretching the fingers out. She looked at the back of her hand, then at the palm, and said, “My hand looks the same. Familiar. But I don’t remember my name.” He took that as nonsense and looked at her for a few minutes, noting the sweep of hair across her forehead, the tight, almost pore-less skin of her face. “What do you mean, familiar?”

“I mean, I know it. It’s mine.” She looked again at her hand and smiled, then turned back to the fire.

“What’s the last thing you remember?”

“Coming to this island. Standing on the shore, and watching you…by the fire.”

“Last night.”

“Was it?”

He nodded.

“Oh” she said, in a soft voice.

“I was aware of you in the bush. You should have come to the fire.”

She stared at the flames and tussled her hair. She had a slow, dreamy quality about her now, and she could barely keep her eyes open. She stretched out on the sofa and closed her eyes. He got up and moved her feet onto the cushions, then got a blanket from the bedroom and placed it over her. He watched her breathing as it grew shallow. The flare of her nostrils became less pronounced. Once she was asleep, he walked back into the kitchen to finish breakfast. 

He split wood in the back yard. The stack, dropped off from the mainland a week earlier, was good oak, ready to be split and dried, and he was making headway. As he heaved the heavy blade, he could feel an occasional cool breeze as the afternoon winds shifted. It was sunny and hotter inland, and he removed his shirt when it started to stick to his back. The sea breeze kicked up and cooled his sweaty skin. The ax was heavy and double bladed, and the oak split easily. Wiping his brow, he turned to see her emerge from the cottage. As he strained to scratch an itchy spot behind his shoulders, he felt her hand move in slow circles against his flesh. He stiffened and turned to her. “How are you feeling?” he asked, placing the ax against to the woodpile. 

“Like I’m dreaming.”

“You need food, and more to drink.” She gave him a slight smile and stared at him, as if she were witnessing something completely new. “How long were out in the water?”

“I don’t remember, exactly. It’s a blur. No longer than a day, I think. And part of the night.”

“Where were you headed?”

“I don’t know.”

“Who was with you? How many onboard?”

She frowned and took a step toward the cottage. He placed a hand on her shoulder and she turned to him. “I want to help, but I don’t know anything about you,” he said. “What’s your name? Do you have family?”

“I don’t feel right,” she said. He release his hand and she walked toward the cottage.

“I only want to help.” He put his shirt back on and followed her inside.

     She was sitting at the kitchen table, her head down. He brought the pitcher of water and filled a glass. She sipped and stared down at the table, her thick hair obscuring her lovely face. He leaned back against kitchen counter and crossed his arms over his chest. “I’m worried you’ve been missing for a while. People are probably worried, probably looking for you. The police-”

“No police,” she interrupted. “There’s no one. I’m alone.”

 “You were alone on the boat?”

“It’s gone.”

“I’m trying to tell you, you can’t just disappear. People will be looking for you.”

Her expression was strangely serene, childlike. He went to the sink and pumped fresh well water into the pitcher. “I live alone. It wouldn’t be right having you here…” He finished refilling the water pitcher and returned it to the fridge. “You understand?” He turned back to her, but she was gone. Her half-empty glass still on the table.

“Hey,” he said loudly. “Hey, kid.”

He walked outside. Everything was as he’d left it. The wind tussled the pines. The tall grass beyond his yard swirled in the gusts. He made his way down to the path leading to the beach. His boat was tied securely to the dock, and bounced freely in the choppy water. Clouds rolled in from the North. The air began to chill. “Hey, kid,” he yelled, against the din of escalating wind. He felt foolish calling her “kid.” She wasn’t a kid. Perhaps, he wasn’t much older than her, he really couldn’t tell. Perhaps, it was her apparent vulnerability that made him call her kid. It could be she wasn’t young at all, but only appeared youthful. What else was he going to call her? And she’d be even more vulnerable in the approaching storm. He wasn’t happy worrying about her, or anyone else for that matter, especially a mixed-up stranger. He had his own troubles. He turned and walked back up the path.

   By the time he reached the cottage, large drops of rain began hitting his head. The precipitation was cold, and sent a chill through him. This caused him to worry even more about the girl. Her infirmity reminded him of his own weakness, and how pained he was at the loss of his family. Simple tasks, like taking out the garbage, or chopping wood, could trigger deep, painful memories, and send him into depression.

     He stood in the storm-darkened kitchen, staring at the open door and the rainy field beyond, and thought of his wife standing in front of him. At first, she was nude. Her strong shapely legs, the pillar of her vibrant body. Then she was dressed in jeans and a pale red T-shirt, the way she was the last time he saw her. She was smiling, her brown hair diffused in back-light, radiating around her head like a golden crown. In his mind, he smiled back. His daughter ran into the room and said something. At first he couldn’t make out the words, but the sound of her voice spun his stomach. He looked at her angelic face, a smear of chocolate outlined her lips.

“Hi Pumpkin,” he said, and smiled, his heart breaking. His throat tightened, and he could feel tears filling his eyes.

What was left of the light in the kitchen succumbed to stormy twilight, as he stared out the open doorway, his mind dull, saturated by inklings of ancient emotions. A feeling of longing made his eyes lose focus, and he stared at nothing for a few moments, floating in the lightness of melancholy. Rain pelted the porch and began wetting the floor where he stood. Blue-black clouds danced and clashed above. A downpour pinged off the metal roof, slowly at first, then more abundantly, enlivening the sounds of gusting wind in sharp staccato rhythms. He stared put at the field and slowly shut the door.  

     He retrieved a box of wooden matches and lit a kerosene lamp. The smell triggered sense memory of the often repeated task, rooting him in the feeling security and home. The smell of the stove, the essence of gas fumes after being lit, the crackle of eggs cooking on the stove, the smell of coffee percolating. He slowly stacked dried kindling, lit the newspapers he’d stuffed underneath and waited until the kindling caught, then added larger pieces of wood, building it into a roaring fire. He sat on the sofa and watched the flames.

A dull ache started behind his eyes, and was exacerbated by the light of the fire.

To Be Cont’d…

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