LISA BEVIER caught herself in the mirror over her fireplace and pushed her thick auburn hair aside to study her green eyes. She laughed sourly and reached for her remote, shutting off her television. It was the weather reports that twisted her inside. The approaching tropical storm was all the meteorologists had talked of for days, and it had her jittery. She wished they’d let it go. After all, this was September; at this time of year, tropical storms wandered back into the Atlantic in search of their tropical home, and that was certainly wasn’t Boston.
Besides, she had enough on her mind at this point. It had been three years, but the start of fall was still hard for her to take. Tomorrow, September 28th, especially. That was to have been her day. It was still hers after a sense. It no longer put her in a happy frame of mind, but it was still hers.
She had sewn nearly twelve hundred pearls on her dress that September, each one by hand. Her mother had wanted to help, but Lisa had been the one to shoulder the burden of the wedding preparations. Andrew had been worth it. They’d fallen in love on North Haven Island the summer before. He had charmed her during that magical month, unlike when she attended university with him years before. There she thought him a ladies’ man. Andrew Archer-Jones was too polished and too glib with his words.
Lisa didn’t abide gossip, and she’d ignored what she could. Her classes didn’t align with his, and he’d been relegated to background status, put aside in her educational forays into bigger things. She lost track of him after graduation, and she never thought of him again.
Then, that summer, she was invited to North Haven.
It was a dream invitation, a whole month on one of the Fox Islands. One of the families at her place of employment, the Massachusetts Center for Children, was in need of a medical assistant for their son. The Reynolds wanted their boy, fourteen at the time, to travel with them on vacation to the family’s summer home. He needed to be monitored medically, and only by having the school’s nurse accompany them did they feel comfortable in such a remote situation.
The school had adjusted Lisa’s contract, and soon the plans were in progress. Little Josh, actually not so little at fourteen, might have days, she was told, when he would be symptom free, and she was assured by the family that those days would be hers to do with as she pleased. Of course, she would be required to remain on the island, but they would provide walkie-talkies. She could wander as she wished and return if they needed her.
She had felt so lucky.
On the way, they’d traveled to a picturesque Maine town named Rockland to catch the ferry to the island. Lisa was charmed, but she saw one thing she thought very odd. There was a file in the school’s records of notable ex-students who had gone on to lead very successful lives. She had seen one of those ex-students that day.
It was the name of the town that made the connection for her. They were in Rockland, and when she saw the red-haired man walking off the ferry, the name just popped into her head. Rockland Royster. He had matured from the picture in her files, but she could see the strong jaw line and the broad shoulders were the same. The darkly handsome eyes underneath brooding brows hadn’t changed, either.
Her hosts had recognized him when she pointed him out.
“Rocky. Not Rockland. Rocky Royster, the prominent hand-crafted boat-builder. You’ll find his boats in the highest caliber of boathouses. However, he prefers to be left alone.”
Lisa watched him walk away without ever speaking to him, but that small connection gave her a surge of pride. It was as if her school really did make a difference in students’ lives, and she walked a little taller. Nevertheless, she’d been going, and he was returning. They wouldn’t meet again. She would wander North Haven, and she would have the month of a lifetime. If Josh needed her, she would give him her time, and if not, then it would be all hers.
Now, she wished she’d never left the Reynold’s tree-shrouded house wedged in the interior of the island. It was near a rocky cove, and the first time she went exploring on her own, she ran into Andrew.
He charmed her, and that became her greatest downfall.
“ROCKY, COME give your grandmother a hug before you head out.” Bette Royster called to her grandson, waving her arm to get his attention. She adjusted her sweater around her shoulders. It was already crisp outside, and it was still September. The end of summer should bring the lingering aroma of grasses and flowers. However, not this year, even if Bette was determined to push fall away until she had to give in to it.
When he stopped his old four-wheel-drive truck and rolled down the window, waiting without looking up at her, she stood on the front porch for a moment, shading her eyes against the weak afternoon light. Then she pressed her lips together and knew this would have to happen the hard way. That grandson of hers was trying to sneak out without listening to what she had to say, and she planned to speak her mind. He was a good grandson, and she appreciated the way he came up and worked on her bed-and-breakfast. The good Lord knew it’d fall down around her ears if she didn’t have his help. However, there was one thing he wasn’t doing, and his father would turn over in his grave if he knew.
She proceeded to grab the handrail and march down the series of steps that ran from the old Victorian’s porch to the walk below. There was no uncertainty in her movements. There was no frailty, either. At seventy-five, she’d never brooked any of that doctor nonsense. Her knees might bother her a bit, and occasionally she might find it hard to get out of bed, but the good Lord in heaven had given her a good constitution, and the devil take her if she intended to let a few pains snatch away her fine gift of good health.
When she reached the truck, she slapped the bed and called out, “Fish, boy! You get up here and get your ears under my hand. You’re trying to do the same thing as that grandson of mine up in the cab. You sneaking little mutt.”
The big black dog was indeed of indeterminate breed. He was of indeterminate origin, too. Rocky had been out seining one night with that scoundrel friend of his, Tramwick Haggard, and there the dog had been when they’d pulled in the net.
When Bette first heard the story, it was more like they’d tried to pull in the net. It had been a new moon, and they hadn’t been able to see worth the whiskey in one of Tramwick’s bot-tles. They’d tugged and tugged on that net, just knowing they’d hit a mother lode of fish. It wasn’t until they heard a feeble bark that they suspected just what they’d pulled up.
It was a hundred pounds of dog that had been near drowned. So had Tramwick, though he’d not had a single drop of water to drink. In fact, to hear Rocky tell the story, Tramwick had dropped right down and put his mouth on that dog’s, and he’d given him resuscitation on the spot. “Seven-Eleven,” Tramwick had cried. When Rocky replied that Seven-Eleven was a convenience store, Tramwick said it didn’t matter. “Get his heart to going. Seven breaths to eleven chest compressions.” Rocky had tried to tell Tramwick the dog was already awake and breathing, just water logged. It hadn’t mattered. That dog got the full treatment, anyway.
Now, Fish worshipped Tramwick, but he lived with Rocky. Bette found that to be a good arrangement. She liked the dog, and when her grandson brought the animal up, Fish had a good place to run on her property. To her way of thinking, Rocky having this mangy dog and her having her property was as good a cause as any for him to come up and see her as often as possible.
After she messed with Fish’s ears for a moment, she reached and opened the truck door. “Climb out of there, Rockland Royster. There’s no boy that’s grown too big to give this grandmother a hug.”
When he clambered mournfully out and left the truck running—readied for a quick escape, she figured—she just reached in and turned it off herself, slipping the key into her pocket. This boy needed a talking to, and she would make sure he got it.
LISA HADN’T recognized Andrew when she first saw him. The morning sun had been gentle, refusing to even burn the dew off the grass; so to avoid the damp paths that wound along the shore, she’d walked to a small dock where she could see out over the Thorofare, and she’d taken time to admire the big houses she could see on the Vinalhaven Island side.
She’d soaked in the weather that day. There was a light fog still floating over the water, just enough to make the landmass across the way seem like something out of a fairy tale. Her students at the school would love this, and she was memorizing the details for when she returned in the fall. With the autistic students she dealt with, sometimes a well-told story could get through when nothing else would. They might not seem to be listening, but there were times when she noticed eyes that followed her hands or repetitive noises that calmed at the most dramatic points in the storyline.
Andrew was rowing a small boat out on the Thorofare. Only later would she learn he’d seen her walking along the shore, and he’d “helped himself” to someone else’s boat, hoping to catch her eye. It worked, and that was what irritated her when she later discovered his thievery. At the time, though, it seemed so romantic when he rowed up; and in his casual island clothing, she’d thought him just a local boy who’d spent his entire life without leaving the isle. He invited her into the boat, and off he rowed, chattering away about his wonderful home far from the mainland, its rocky shoreline wrapped in the grip of the sea.
He told her he lived on the Vinalhaven side and was just over for the day. Would she like to visit his home? Oh, no, she told him. She had to remain on North Haven. She’d even shown him the walkie-talkie. He laughed and rowed off to Vinalhaven, anyway. After a few minutes, he helped her step off at a small float, and holding her hand, they had run up the ramp to the semi-enclosed box at the end of the dock.
It was his parents’ house, he said. He would inherit it as a gift when he married. He couldn’t take her to it, though, or wouldn’t, anyway, he’d laughed. They were having a party inside, and his parents’ friends were very stuffy.
Just then, Lisa’s walkie-talkie sounded. Josh was having a seizure, and could she come quickly? Panicked, she pleaded with Andrew. Hurry, she cried. She shouldn’t have left the island. A little boy at her house needed her nursing skills. He rowed as fast as he could, and at the dock she clambered out, running at top speed to perform her nursing duties.
It was the part she learned later that told the real Andrew. He rowed the small craft back to the dock he’d borrowed it from, having seen the couple who lived there head over to Vinalhaven for the day. Then he walked to the old boathouse he and his mother lived in, all that was left from the estate his father had gambled away. When he walked in, his mother was busy folding other people’s laundry, the only way she could make enough money to keep up the taxes on her ragged remnant of their earlier life of ease. Out the boathouse doors, the ground sloped to the water and a view of the big house where he’d taken Lisa.
BOTTLES clinked in the sack at Tramwick Haggard’s feet. He throttled back his boat as he pulled up to the yard Rocky owned. Through the windows of the boat shed, he could see the outlines of the sleek new craft his friend was building. Idling to the dock, he cut his engine and looped his lines over the cleats, making sure his bumpers were in place to keep his boat from rubbing.
Grabbing the sack, he pulled his hat low on his head and jumped onto the float. Kicking the end of the lines off to one side, he let out a shriek of a whistle, looking for Fish to come running from around the house. He wouldn’t come any farther than the dock, though. That animal would wet himself rather than get near the water.
When Fish didn’t show, Tramwick clambered across the yard and up to the porch. With a fist, he pounded on the door. An old spar lodged in the joists overhead shifted and fell to hit the boards at his feet. He grinned when he looked up at the underside of the porch roof. Everywhere, and he meant everywhere, Rocky kept anything he found that he thought just might make a better boat. There were multiple spars and fittings. Lines, stainless cable, and even an old sail from a boat that had been scrapped were up under his roof. If it had to do with boats, the man hung on to it. There was even a selection of specially grained wood he’d found. The whole mess was hung from brackets, piled on other items, or simply resting over the bare joists. Tramwick had seen him carving some of that wood, too. Rocky could take a chunk of wood, find the grain, and in a matter of days, have a polished work of art in his hands. Bigger pieces took longer, of course, but that’s what good boat builders did. They took their time and did it right.
When there was no answer, Tramwick stepped to the side to look in a window. That was when he saw the calendar hang-ing over the kitchen table. He let out a sigh, hitting himself in the head with his free hand.
“Thursday,” he groaned out loud. “Bette’s. He said he was going up come Thursday.” Whether he planned to return today was less clear. Sometimes Rocky drove back the same day. Other times his trips were overnighters.
Tramwick looked at the sack in his hand. If Rocky was on his way, it’d be late before he got back. That was, if he was returning today. His grandmother lived all the way up in New Hampshire, smack dab in the middle of the White Mountains. Tramwick had been up there with Rocky a few times. It was sure beautiful, but give him the ocean any day. He was happier here.
He glanced at the growing shadows stretching towards the shore. He wasn’t piloting his boat home tonight, that was for dead certain, not after he opened the bottles in his sack, and he would open them. While he might like to tip one back every now and then, he wasn’t stupid. Any good lobsterman knew that to be out drunk was to risk damaging a good and often very expensive hull.
He could go check out the progress on Rocky’s new boat. His friend was building it, although it would eventually belong to someone else. This someone else—in Boston, he thought—had already paid, too. That was the only way Rocky would build. “Keeps them from stiffing me,” he once said. Tramwick knew his friend’s excuse was only part of the reason. Rocky did all his numbers in his head. It was the disturb, no, disturbia . . . . Tramwick shook his head and grinned to himself as he walked to the boathouse. Disturbia wasn’t it. That was the name of a movie he’d seen once. Dyslexia. Rocky had dyslexia, and he had to keep all the numbers in his head.
He also had something else, auto-something. Auto-erotica . . . no, that wasn’t it . . . automata . . . wait. He paused, screwing up his face in concentration. Then he chuckled. Autism. Bette had let it slip once that Rocky was autistic back when he was a kid, even attending a special school in Boston. Despite that—or perhaps because of it—he was a whiz at keeping numbers in his head when he subtracted them.
Adding them? Tramwick was pretty certain Rocky was lost at that. That’s why he needed the money up front. He got it because he built the best handcrafted wooden boats on the New England Coast.
Tramwick laughed. If being autistic could do that for someone, he’d consent to a good case of autism any day.
LISA SAW Andrew several more times that month. She insisted she stay on North Haven, though. He seemed relieved, taking her all over the island, although there was this one cove he never took her to, one that was just across from where he said his parents lived on Vinalhaven. He also had a different boat each time he showed up for their outings. Sometimes they were long and flashy, and other times rough and well used. She commented on it once, and he laughed, telling her he had to take whatever boat was left at the dock. She didn’t remember seeing any other boats at his parents’ dock that first day, but with all the friends they seemed to have, she guessed the others had been in use.
One day she thought she saw him walking on North Haven. He was carrying a large laundry bag like one of the ones her hosts would send to their laundress. She thought that was sweet, that he would come all the way to North Haven to help carry people’s laundry. She called out to him, but he just walked faster, and she wasn’t sure it was really him.
She asked him about it the next time she saw him, laughing about him having a twin brother. He grew red, and he wasn’t in a good mood that day. She never spoke to him about it again.
However, she enjoyed their trips in the various boats he seemed to acquire so easily. He showed her places she could have never walked to, things that were wild and remote, and they’d seen creatures she never thought possible in her short stay on North Haven. She viewed him in a new light that month, and she was glad she’d never listened to all the rumors that had gone around at the university. She liked this Andrew, and she hoped one day she’d see him again.
ROCKY LOOKED back to his old truck, wanting to be inside and away. However, Fish had abandoned him for Bette, and he wouldn’t leave without him.
Bette pulled him up the front steps and pointed to the sign above the front door. It hung unevenly, a bracket coming loose on one end. “See that, Rocky? You look hard, you hear? You see the name Royster up there? Your father built that sign. Your father. You know how?”
Rocky loved his grandmother very much, but he didn’t love being reminded of his father. He’d been Mr. Success, a lawyer at the top of his game. At least until his heart attack. Yet, all the money in his accounts hadn’t been able to stop his runaway car when his heart had started to go.
The insurance adjuster later said the front of the car looked like he’d collided with a large animal—thank goodness it hadn’t been a pedestrian—but no one had known for sure. They found some red streaks and hair, but nothing definitive. His father had reached the hospital, crashing into a light pole just outside, and destroying the front of the car. He’d died before they got him through the door.
It was his father’s money that had gotten Rocky into the Massachusetts Center for Children. If his father had been a dock worker or a fisherman, maybe they’d have spent more time together, and his life would be better. That school hadn’t cured his dyslexia, but then that wasn’t what it was about. His father had forced him to go there because he was ashamed of having an autistic son.
The autism was still with him, too. To Rocky, there hadn’t been much point in the Center.
He looked at his grandmother, knowing she would do this, demanding this answer from him. He reached to the sign, then unhooked it and took it down, running one hand over the end that needed the new bracket installed.
“His hands, Rocky. With his hands. You condemn him because he worked in that Boston office. You forget. He worked with his hands, too. You’re too much like him to understand him.”
“Like anyone could understand my father.” He laughed, and he knew how sour he sounded. It was true, though. He’d never understood him, and he didn’t think anyone ever had.
BETTE GRASPED Rocky’s hands, pressing them tightly around the damaged sign. They were strong hands, too, covered with freckles that were red like his hair. She lifted her hands to his face. His skin was still smooth, although he was nearing thirty. He’d kept his trim shape, too. She knew what did that, working with his hands, just like it had with his father. They were the same, and one day this boy would realize it.
She tapped the sign. “You take that with you. It needs repaired, and you can do that for me. Now, come with me, boy. You need to be reminded, and I have something else to show you.” She moved to pull him around the house.
“Bette.” He sighed. “Grandmother! Don’t you have some people showing up for a late lunch today?”
“Grandson, I was ready for them last night. You just come with me. I’ve got your keys, remember.”
She also knew about the extra set under the seat, but she was satisfied when he let her wrap his muscular hand in her old worn one as he followed her to the back of the house.
She also heard him mutter that he wasn’t sure exactly what she had to show him, but if it was in the barn, he didn’t want to deal with what was out there.
Well, that was just too bad, now, wasn’t it?
TRAMWICK SWUNG the boat shed doors wide.
“God, I love this.” He drew in a deep breath. He enjoyed the fresh wood smell. At least this evening it was a fresh wood smell. Next time, it might as easily be paint or varnish. It was always a surprise. He didn’t care, though. He liked not knowing, opening the boat shed door to discover the surprise he always knew he would find.
He took one of the bottles he had in the bag, and he unscrewed the lid. The smell hit his nostrils like a sledgehammer. It brought back memories of good times he had enjoyed with friends, although what he mostly remembered were the opening credits. The endings he usually forgot, with people telling him afterwards of what had happened, which from time to time was more than he wanted to know. There were girls he sometimes remembered kissing, and he occasionally suspected he did a few other things with them, too. It was the black eyes that revealed even more. That and his perennially empty wallet.
No little ankle biters, though. Thank God for that, and Trojan as well. He grinned at the good times he must have had.
He sauntered over to the boat taking up a good part of the cluttered space. It had good lines. As a seaman, he could see that it would go quickly in the water. Handle well, too, with minimum draft. The keel . . . well, Rocky always had an eye for a good keel. This one would be a humdinger.
He climbed on the partially finished craft and stood in the cockpit. Rocky only worked with the best wood, and even from this angle the boat was sleek with good joints. It would have true speed, unlike the workingman’s craft he owned. His own boat was fast for the design, that of an open-water fishing craft. However, it didn’t have high-end construction, not like this one. His lobster boat was built for rugged, low-end power, giving it functionality in the rough waters off the coast.
“Ah, Rocky, my good friend, if I have the money someday to hire you to build me a boat with no expense considered, this is one I could like. Solid wood. Center keel. Inboard drive. Classic lines. No, instead, my own poor craft must be of affordable, practical fiberglass. It’s a real pissah.” He grinned.
Finding a cardboard box in the unfinished boat, he placed it where the pilot’s seat would be. He smiled to himself. He could sit and see out the doors of the boat shed across the water where the view stretched to the horizon. He squinted, as though looking for Isle au Haut or Swan’s Island, but he knew they couldn’t be seen from here. They were a couple hundred miles north, just off the Fox Islands, and that suited him fine. He imagined himself as the captain of a fine, open-sea yacht with all the money in the world to burn. In his imagination, he headed out to his remote island getaway or perhaps to a tall ships race. He hit the imaginary throttle, and the engine gave a throaty purr. The water stirred behind his sleek craft, and all the girls wished they were his, as he danced the water among all the elegant tall ships.
He took a drink out of his open bottle. As the liquid fire hit his throat, he made a face and involuntarily yanked his head to the side, his eyes open wide. Wicked! That first taste always hit him hard, like a kick in the gut. Whew! It could peel the hair off a sea urchin’s belly.
It was the second and the third taste he really enjoyed. The buzz hit his head fast, and he liked that. What he didn’t like was the drinking alone. Rocky never lifted a glass with him, but he still made convenient company, and as an extra rabbit in the bag, when Tramwick passed out, as he invariably did, there was someone there to make sure he wasn’t sleeping it off in the middle of someone else’s yard. He had done that a time or two, once coming to with a ticket for disorderly conduct stuck in his shirt pocket. Thank God for a good friend like Rocky!
Now, if only he would get here. Tramwick had some really great news for him. His friend’s woodworking skills, the best on the New England coast, were about to be put to the test. His electrical, welding, and boating skills, also. Tonight was all about Rocky’s “secret” application for the renovation of Goose Rocks Light. Well, to Tram, it wasn’t really a secret, was it, Rocky?
“Not much you can keep from old Tram, is there, Rocky?” He took another swig from the bottle. “I met up with Booger Burrows last night. I found out some stuff you want to know.”
Jack “Booger” Burrows was a lobsterman, a fishing competitor, who had been a drinking partner of Tramwick’s the previous evening. Booger’s wife happened to be related to someone on the Beacon Light Preservation Society, the organization awarding the lighthouse contract. While the news wouldn’t become public for several more days, the decision had been made.
Goose Rocks Light was Rocky’s baby, and he could start anytime he wished. The money was already on the way.
BETTE SLAPPED on the old barn door to get it unstuck, and she pushed Rocky inside. She reached to the wall and palmed a switch, causing the old florescent lighting to flicker and glow overhead. The room was large and filled with all sorts of tools. Off to the side was a small wooden boat that looked to be in the final stages of completion.
“I haven’t been in here for years,” Rocky groused, dragging his feet. He had a disgruntled look on his face as if he wasn’t sure he wanted to go any farther in, and he turned as if to make his way back out the door.
Bette pulled his arm, forcing him forward. “No, you haven’t, have you? You haven’t been in here for years, Rockland. That’s exactly why we’re here today.” She looked at him as she narrowed her eyes, her use of his proper name a good measure of her irritation with him. “That’s the whole problem. You haven’t been in here for years.” She walked to the boat resting off to the side, slapping her hand on it and causing dust to fly. “Do you remember this?”
He laughed, but it was sour. “Remember? I helped build it.”
“And,” Bette barked, “you walked off from it.” She watched her grandson’s face. It had grown somber once again, like a stove-up winter sled, tossed in the bushes and left to rust. She was hoping she would get through to him this time. He was so strong and independent, and he couldn’t see that he needed to finish this if he were ever going to move on from that place in his life his father’s death had locked him into. Rocky needed to deal with the undone things in his life.
She continued, “For years, this has been waiting on your attention. You go down to that little boatyard you have, and you build your boats for those rich people who don’t even know what they’ve got when they take delivery of something you’ve put your heart into.”
Rocky muttered, “Some do.”
He looked at the boat while he said it, though, and his grandmother hoped there might be something going on in that head of his, something that meant he was thinking about what she was saying.
“Your father loved you.” She took his hand.
He retorted angrily, “My father loved his job. He loved books and standing in court in front of people, and he loved all the attention he could get. I can’t even read the dipstick in my truck, Bette. I’m lucky to get the key right side up when I stick it in the ignition.” He turned to look away from her, his eyes tracing all the familiar things lying around the building, his face red with emotion. “Do you know how many times I’ve had to throw out food because I couldn’t read the directions and prepared it wrong? I’m everything he hated, and he was everything I can’t be. We were never the same.”
With those words, he bolted from the old barn, and when he stepped outside, he called, “Fish. In the truck, boy!”
Through the open door, Bette watched her strong, handsome, red-haired grandson stride around her house, that big black dog at his side. When she heard the truck start up, she knew she’d gotten through to him. He’d used that extra key under the seat, and that meant her little talk had struck a very deep nerve. Otherwise, he’d have come back to demand the set in her pocket. No, Rocky would deal with this. He might not like it, but he would deal with it. She would see to that.
She closed the barn door as she exited, and she stood for a moment in the afternoon sun. The day was turning out to be good, and she was looking forward to the folks who were arriving today. Tomorrow she had guests coming from Texas, and they came every September. They also brought her jalapeno jelly, and it was the only time each year she could enjoy that little treat.
This was going to be a fine weekend, indeed.
ROCKY GROUND his teeth and hit his steering wheel. Bette knew he didn’t like to talk about his father. He had only wanted Fish to run free, and now this. Wasn’t she glad to have him around, anymore? Or was she trying to drive him away because he hadn’t offered to make any repairs on her old place?
He knew better, but this, though. That boat in the barn. He never should’ve walked around the house with that conniving old woman. He’d wasted the day up here, and he still had to drive the entire distance back to Massachusetts.
He wished he’d never come up at all.
His tires caught on loose gravel as he pulled out onto the road. They spun, spewing rocks into the air, and Fish fell in the bed of the truck with a yelp. Rocky felt a pang of momentary guilt at his actions, and he did look up to make sure his dog stood back up unhurt. However, his contrition was temporary, and soon the anger began to flood his veins once more.
Finally, flying down the highway, he glanced down to see his fuel gauge was below the line. It had been full when he’d been at Bette’s, and that made him angry, too.
“Pissant truck.” Someone had siphoned his tank. Why hadn’t he installed that locking cap he’d looked at in the auto store the previous week? Then it dawned on him. It had been on empty all day. It wasn’t the truck’s fault. It was his.
“Pissant dyslexia,” he muttered. “It’s not fair for me to be like this.”
He shook his head to clear his anger. He couldn’t even drive without risking running out of gas. His father was right. He was a loser who couldn’t even read the gas gauge in his truck.
Pulling over at the next station, he sidled up to the pumps and killed his old beater. Holding the bare key in his hand, he cursed himself for being so angry he hadn’t even walked back to get the regular set from Bette. He’d just wanted gone, and that’s what he’d gotten, too. Now, his good keys were back in New Hampshire, and he was on the way home.
He threw open the door and cringed when it hit a concrete-filled steel post that was there to protect the pump from drunk drivers. Like Tramwick, he snorted to himself.
Getting out, he checked his door. The scrape was small, and no one would notice it among all the other infractions that age had lashed upon the old truck. He walked back to flip open the filler door, only to feel Fish nuzzle him on his shoulder. He turned, his anger at Bette melting away in the presence of the dog. Fish might love food and Tramwick and running on Bette’s place, but the dog loved him, too. He reached up and grasped the dog’s face.
“Hey, boy! Did I knock you down back there?” Fish’s tail went crazy with the sudden attention. Rocky laughed. “Let’s just get home, how about that? I need fuel, first. Gimme a minute.” He pushed the dog away and reached for the nozzle.
When he unscrewed the fuel cap and stuffed it inside, he turned to the pump. He knew the order on the pumps he always used at home, where he always chose the bottom button for regular unleaded. Here they were sideways, and he had to think which was which. As he looked at the letters, they seemed to jump. He looked at them a second time, glanced away, and then back again to make sure the letters hadn’t changed places. Then he reached and touched each letter. He had to be sure. It was his engine at stake here.
Only then, he pressed the button and held the trigger until the pump cut off. He took a deep breath at yet another issue. Now he had to make sure the dollar amount really was what it looked like to him.
He turned to open the truck door and leaned inside. He picked up a pad of paper and a pencil, and turning to the pump, he wrote the number he thought the pump showed for the price of the gas he’d pumped. Then he held it to the readout to see if it matched. He changed one number on his paper, then read his new number aloud. Fish’s nails clicked on the rail of the truck bed, and he turned to push him down.
“Stay, Fish. I’ve got to pay.” He tossed the pad into the truck as he walked by, and he stepped up to the cashier. He should be used to this by now, but he guessed he never would be. He didn’t mind filling up at his usual station. He just pumped it full and handed the old man at the window a hundred. He never counted the change, either. The old man had worked there a long time, and Rocky knew he could be trusted. Here, who knew? With resignation, he handed the cashier a hundred just like he did back at home. As he did, he commiserated tiredly about how he should have made sure he had a full tank when he’d left home to go up to Bette’s.
“Son, can’t take no hundred.” The cashier pointed to a sign that said Small Bills Only. “Got any twenties or fifties? I don’t got one of those pens to check a hundred.”
Rocky’s heart froze. He had twenties, but how many did it take? Three, or four? He tried to remember the number from the pad, and suddenly he wished he’d brought it with him. He hadn’t, though. He’d tossed it into the truck. He couldn’t go get it now, not without seeming a fool, and he’d already done that enough in his life.
Perspiration began to run down his back, as he slipped the hundred into his wallet and grabbed the corners of three twenties. Then he knew that wasn’t enough and grabbed a fourth, handing them to the man. He knew he always got one twenty in change, but he couldn’t remember if it was ever two. Just as the man took the money, he knew. He knew. He always got two twenties back, and then some extra. He reached, but the money was gone.
Then, the man looked at the bills and back to the register. He glanced up at Rocky and grinned. “Too many bills, son. I only need three of these.” He peeled one of the twenties off and handed it back. “Just a minute, and I’ll get you the rest of your change.”
Rocky’s head spun. He hated this. He hated this. He was stupid, stupid. The only time he wasn’t stupid was when he was working on his boats. Then, he could forget the world and all the problems it caused him. Time would fade away, and his boats would grow in his hands to whatever he wanted them to be. He hated to let them go when they were finished, but they were what paid his bills. He had to have money. He knew that, so he would agree to the next boat, and the cycle would start again.
For no good reason he could imagine, he thought of Bette, and he felt his head pound. She didn’t understand. When he ran away, he ran for survival, and he hid for the same reason. His boats made him good money, but they were survival for him. Otherwise, the storm that swirled just out of his reach would drown him, and he had to be able to survive.
One other thing came to his mind, also. Tramwick and that lighthouse application. Tram had hounded Rocky about that.
“Apply, Rocky. It’s a lighthouse. Think of the skills you could use there. You’ll also be all alone. You’ll love that. Then, I could stop by with some fresh lobster and a couple of fifths. What do you think?”
Rocky had listened, too. He’d liked the alone part, and in a moment of anticipation, he’d applied for the project. He hadn’t told Tram, either. Now, he hoped it just disappeared. All Rocky wanted was to go back to his little boatyard and work on his boats. The rest of the world could disappear, and he’d be perfectly happy about that.
THE DAYLIGHT had faded quickly, and Rocky pulled his truck into low gear as he approached the turnoff to his home. He’d have to get that one headlight replaced. It was shining off to one side. Or maybe it was going out altogether. This winter, the days would be short, and he’d need good lighting. His drive today had shown him that.
The items he’d stopped and picked up on the way rattled in the bed, as the truck’s tires hit the rough spots just at the start of his driveway. Those were the rocks that had heaved out of the ground last winter. He couldn’t ignore them any longer. Some of them would have to be dug up, if he wanted to continue to keep all his teeth in his head. When the soil began to freeze again, they would keep pushing up until he lost his transmission.
Pulling ahead until he could just get his hand into the mail-box, he slipped the shift lever into neutral and released the clutch. He flipped the interior lights on and felt to see what might have been delivered while he was gone. A check, he hoped. Bills, if he was right.
Then he saw the thing he dreaded most of all. Bette had told him it might be coming. He tossed the envelope on the truck’s seat before flipping out the interior light. There were the hated words on the outside. Massachusetts Center for Children. He sat at the wheel, and in the darkness, he picked up the sealed envelope. Bette had received this—and forwarded it to him—even though he’d told her he didn’t want it. He’d moved on past that part of his life. He was no longer Rockland Royster, bedraggled teen of dyslexic and autistic attributes. No, that boy had endured having his spirit beat down by the ever-helpful teachers and staff who had encouraged him endlessly, while never offering him the cure that would let him measure up to his father’s impossibly successful standards.
Then, his father was gone, dead in the car accident, and no matter what Rocky did after that, no matter how successful he became, there was no way to prove himself to his father. The boy who had been Rockland would always be inside him, a lonely, insecure mote struggling to shine in the light of his father’s brilliant accomplishments.
He’d learned to compensate, though. Rockland the autistic boy had become Rocky the successful boat builder, and the Center failed to understand. Even the envelope made that clear. It was on the address. Rockland Royster, care of Bette’s bed-and-breakfast in New Hampshire. His grandmother had marked through the address and added his in Massachusetts. Now, the postman had thoughtlessly delivered it, as if Rocky really were this Rockland he had cast aside a decade earlier.
Bette hadn’t opened it, telling him they’d left a message on her machine. They wanted to do a follow-up to track the success of their top ex-students. Rockland had been their best. They really wanted him to come in for an interview. Bette had encouraged Rocky to go see them. After all, it wasn’t far, and the teachers and staff had adored him.
Rocky hadn’t adored himself, though, and Bette couldn’t understand. She was much too practical. Love heals all wounds, and all that stuff. Gird up your loins. What you don’t get done today will still be there tomorrow. He could quote a dozen, and that wouldn’t even break Bette’s ice.
He slammed the clutch to the floor and roughly forced the shift lever into first. This was the end-all to a humdinger of a day. Releasing the clutch too fast, the truck’s tires flung dirt and gravel, as the rear end fishtailed before catching and bouncing down the driveway over the rocks that had forced themselves through the soil during the previous winter’s freeze cycles. He snorted disgustedly as he heard a rough scrape underneath the truck. The beater’s one good headlight caught the lower tree branches as the springs bounced down the drive, and the scene ahead finally opened to the clearing that included his home. Past that, it stretched to his shorefront boat shed and dock. Everything was quiet, just as he expected it to be. The house would be cold, though, even in September. It was almost October, after all. Summer didn’t last forever this far north, and although the days might try to fool the populace by teasing them with the remembered warmth of languid summer afternoons, the nights were precursors of the winter days to come.
Then, his heart thumped in his chest. His boat shed. He never left lights on in the shed. Never. However, there was a glow there now, and that meant something was not as it should be. He pulled his truck behind the house. He would need to unload his supplies in case it rained overnight, but more importantly, if someone was in the boat shed, Rocky wanted to be the surprise that person would never forget.
Opening the truck’s door, he reached and grabbed Fish’s collar. “Shush, boy. Not a sound. Stay.” Then he felt his way in the darkness along the back of the house. Pulling the screen door open slowly, knowing just where it liked to squeal its complaints, he jiggled it against the hinges at the right spot. Its concerns pacified, he moved forward and opened the door. It wouldn’t be locked. It never was. Anyone he knew—Tramwick, to be precise—would know to just go on in.
Once inside, he stepped to the sofa and felt carefully behind it until he could feel the rifle he kept there. He gingerly removed the mandatory safety device all stored guns in Massachusetts were required to have affixed to them. Before going back outside, his heart pounding, he reached to a drawer in the end table and felt at the back until he found several loose shells. He loaded the gun and heard it click sharply in the quietness of the room. With a deep breath of pending tension, he moved to the front of the house. Peering through a window, he could see the light still on in the shed. It was jumping, too, almost as if someone was having a party out there.
“Pissants,” he whispered. “What sort of leaf peepers would party in my boat shed? I might shoot them just for fun.” He’d been through a very long day, from Bette’s forced confrontation with his father, to the heaving stones in his driveway. Now this. He had no more patience.
He opened the front door, and stepping off the porch, he heard singing. As he silently moved through the door yard, he could tell his intruder was as drunk as a loon flying over a Vermont pond in mating season. Great sunken ships, this person was no leaf peeper. A certified imbecile was in his boat shed.
Then it occurred to him. The voice carried a familiar lilt in the slurring of its words. It was one that reminded him of . . . of . . . Fish! Fish and a certain night of torturous rescue—as well as mouth-to-mouth resuscitation! He reached to the chamber of his gun and released the ammunition, dropping the shells into his pocket. That was Tramwick in his boat shed, and if the moon were brighter, Rocky would be able to see his lobster boat tied up to the float or at one of the buoys out in the harbor.
A mischievous grin crawled across his face. He glanced down at the gun he held in the darkness. The ammunition was out, and it might be good to put a bit of fear into that drunken friend of his, if he could even call him a friend, what with him being intoxicated in the boat shed. Didn’t that man know that Rocky’s livelihood was under construction out there? Tram’s behavior while drunk wasn’t predictable, either. He was as likely to drink the kerosene Rocky kept by the jug, as remember it went in the portable heaters’ fuel tanks.
A short whistle came from between Rocky’s teeth, and after a moment, a large, black dog stood at his side. Rocky put his free hand down to work his fingers into the dog’s fur. He knelt and whispered, “Boy, let’s go and have some fun.” With a chuckle, he stood and began to walk towards the glow he could see dancing through the boat shed window.
AT THE BEACON Light Preservation Society offices, senior management were gathered around a table.
“We can only close the lighthouse for a year, you know.” John Remington, the speaker, tapped one of the packets lying in the middle of the table. “Are you sure one man can handle this amount of work?”
“John,” another man, Rand, looked up at him and chuckled, “have you ever been out on a Royster yacht? His motor yachts are fabulous. His sailing yachts are hand-built works of art. We’re fortunate to get him on this project.” He pulled the folder to him. Opening it, he flipped through the application inside. It was hand written in the blocky format of someone who didn’t work well with letters. It was almost discarded when the selection process started, then Rand had deciphered the name. Lightning had flashed in his brain, and he had known.
It was a tightly held secret that Rand had his own name on the waiting list for a Royster-built boat. He just hoped he could convince his wife to let go of the money when it came time. It would be a lot. Then, when the boat came, he’d have to spend even more to have an engine installed, along with tons of electronics. However, it would be worth every dollar he spent . . . that he and his wife spent. A chuckle escaped him, although the others at the table didn’t understand what it was for. He knew, though. It was his wife’s money, and she would be the one buying the boat, not him.
A third man cleared his throat. “What do we say? We’ve already decided, then? We want him to start immediately. He’s said he can do so. There’s no wife or other family—other than a grandmother in New Hampshire. She runs a bed-and-breakfast out of the old family place, I understand. Rand, you’ve stayed there.” He glanced that way to see Rand’s acknowledgement. “According to this form, Royster helps his grandmother with maintenance issues at the old B-and-B. If he has time to travel back and forth between Massachusetts and New Hampshire, does that mean he has the necessary time to devote to the light-house?”
“I was thinking about that very thing. To do maintenance on a business in New Hampshire could be very time consuming, in travel time, alone.” Another of the men, one with a balding head, seemed concerned. “You are sure he has time for our lighthouse? What if he has to travel inland to help his grandmother? How much will that eat into his time for us?”
“I think we’ll be fine. If he has to be away from the Goose Rocks renovation site to maintain his own projects, he’ll still be relatively close by. This looks good to me. Besides, it’s late, and I have my wife’s pot roast waiting for me at home.” John turned his gaze on each of them in turn.
The other men chuckled. They’d heard of his wife’s pot roasts, and they understood his desire to get there as quickly as possible. They all had their own reasons to be gone, too, and with a series of nods, John picked up where he left off.
“Good. This goes out tomorrow. He’ll be able to access the funds immediately. Any other concerns? None? Good. Good evening, men, and have a great weekend.”
Within a matter of minutes, even before the chairs had finished spinning, the room was emptied, and the lights were off. Rocky had his lighthouse, and the lighthouse had its retrofit on the way. Both were perfect for each other, too.
ROCKY TORE into the boat shed, his gun at his shoulder and his voice hard.
“You thieving scoundrel, whoever you are! My finger’s on the trigger, and I’m firing now.” He danced the barrel of the rifle across the room as if looking for anything that moved, as though the slightest motion would incite a rain of fire from the unloaded weapon. “Only the lowest dog would break into a man’s shop and steal his livelihood. Drop to the floor, or I’m firing now.”
He froze the swinging barrel of his gun directly at Tramwick. Just then the sound of breaking glass shattered the silence. After a moment, a voice quavered in broken words, “Oh, my poor bottle of Scotch.” With a hiccup, the voice continued, “I think I just peed myself.”
“Tram, you’re in my new boat.” Rocky dropped the butt of his gun and set it aside, now really irritated. He walked up to see a dark stain spreading across his friend’s crotch. “Get out, man, before you ruin the wood. I’ve already been paid for this boat, and I won’t have it smelling like your sour, used whiskey just because you can’t take a joke.” As he reached to stand his friend up and get him out of the unfinished craft, his eyes caught sight of the shattered bottle off to the side. He muttered, “At least you threw the bottle out of the boat before letting it break.”
Tramwick wrapped his arm around Rocky’s neck, as he let himself be helped up. He kissed his friend roughly on the cheek, and Rocky groaned in disgust. The next words he spoke were blended so smoothly with his whiskey that they were hardly understandable.
“I enjoyed my boat ride, Rocky. I want one just like this, you know. Just like this.” His hand paused and slapped the gunwale as he stepped to the floor of the shed. “Can I borrow the john, old Rocky, my friend? I got more to go. Your gun just scared a tiny bit out, you see. There’s a bunch more where that came from.”
Rocky shook his head with resignation and grabbed his friend’s face in one hand. “Are you mine for the night, Tram?” At Tramwick’s uncomprehending stare, he released the face. “I shouldn’t even ask. You can’t go anywhere like this, anyway. At least I’ve got a washer in the house. You can thank Bette for that. Phew, this stinks!”
Tramwick stumbled and grabbed Rocky’s shirt. With thick words he complained, “Thought you’d be here. Got some news for you, old Rock. Then I remembered it was Thursday. Thursdays, right? You go to Bette’s, that’s right?” He reached clumsily and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “You came home, though. We can party some more.”
“News?” Rocky looked at his friend. Tramwick was usually upfront, saying things right out. He was really drunk, though, and Rocky guessed he’d never find out what he’d come to tell him if he didn’t press him. “What news, Tram?” He wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to know.
Tramwick hiccupped. “News? The . . . the light . . . no . . . the lighthouse, Rocky.” He grinned, apparently pleased with himself.
“Lighthouse?” Rocky stumbled as Tram leaned hard against him, and he spit out, “Help me out here, Tram.”
“Yeah,” Tramwick slurred. “Lighthouse.” As if that said it all, he grinned and nodded several times in a row, almost upsetting his fragile balance.
Rocky shook his head. That made no sense to him, and he adjusted his friend on his shoulder and began to walk him to the door. He let out a sharp whistle. Before they could get outside the boat shed, a big black shape came bounding inside.
“Come on up to the house, Tram,” Rocky encouraged his friend. “I’ve got a bathroom, and you need to use it—in more ways than one. Besides, Fish misses you.”
Tramwick dropped to his knees and wrapped his arms around the dog’s neck. “Hey, old Fish. I thought you drowned in the sea. What are you doing here?” He looked up at Rocky, and he slushed his words out, “Fish? This is Fish, right? You didn’t go and get a different dog just to fool old Tramwick, did you?” His expression was one almost of pain, as if Fish were already dead and gone.
Rocky just laughed. “You’re too soused to know your own dog, Tram. I should leave you here to sleep it off. I won’t, though.” His voice turned suddenly sharp. “Fish! Bite, Fish. Bite hard!”
Rocky hooted when Tramwick quickly clambered up with a look of terror on his face. That rapidly faded, though, when the big dog jumped up on him and began to lick his face. Tram finally recognized the animal, and he dug his fingers into the thick fur around the dog’s neck.
“Fish, it is you. You’ve been brought back to life by a miracle.” He turned to Rocky, and there were tears on his face. “He’s back alive again, Fish is. I thought I’d never see him again. Thank you for saving him, Rocky.” He sniffled several times, and then his eyes started to close as he stood. When he began to sway, Rocky grabbed his shoulders and shook him.
“No, you don’t, Tram. You’ve got a tub coming up. Plus, those clothes have got to go in the washer. Tonight! C’mon.” It took a while, and it was dark navigating through the door yard and into the house. However, before too much time had passed, Tramwick was installed in the tub, and his clothes were sloshing up a storm in the washer. Rocky put in extra soap, too. After all, he would eventually want to wash other things, once Tramwick’s twice-processed whiskey was cleansed in the machine. Rocky wanted every bit of the residue from the filthy clothes thoroughly gone.
It was when he returned to the truck to unload it and get his mail that he was reminded of the letter. Once he stepped inside the house, he opened it, too. He saw the date they had scheduled for him to come in to meet with one of the school’s nurses. Bevier. Miss Lisa Bevier.
He imagined this Nurse Bevier. She would be haughty and reserved, and her hands would be cold when they shook in greeting. That would be Lisa Bevier. Why, even the name sounded standoffish. He’d attended that school for more years than he wished to remember. He should know.
Glancing at the calendar above the table, he tapped the red diagonal crosses on each box, matching up the latest unmarked date with the one on the letter. Saturday. The meeting was Saturday morning. The Center may have sent this out long ago, but the letter had been forwarded to him. There was no telling how long it sat at Bette’s place. She could have at least asked them when the meeting was set up while she was nosing into his business. Now it was here, two days away, and that caught him up short. His head throbbed with the pressure of traveling to the Center. Filling out a piece of paper to return to them would have been bad enough, but they wanted him in person. They’d want to run some sort of test, or check his responses, or something. As a student there, he’d endured that for years, and he didn’t want it done to him anymore.
Bette did, though.
He placed the letter on the table. For his grandmother, this one last time he’d go. For his father, too, although that reason wasn’t out of love. Rocky still had something to prove to the old man who’d said he loved him, then locked him away for nearly half his life.
He’d prove it, too. He’d show them he’d overcome all the problems they’d claimed he’d once had, even if it meant he had to lie on every test they put him through.