posted May 2003
Autumn was around the corner. The ocean seemed darker than yesterday and the sun felt cooler. People had begun to stow away their outdoor furniture and barbecues, preparing for a life under ground. It was like a desperate attempt to hide from the approaching storms.
“Next year, we are going to follow the birds and go south”, they always said. Then when the birds arrived in spring and people crawled out from their hideouts, everything was forgotten and they declared to love what was coming.
Kate wrapped her jacket tighter around her body to keep the cold and darkness away. It had been a good summer - hot and not much rain. Perfect for a small town like Port Baily that bloomed during the warm summer months.
The small restaurant above the harbor is the pearl in Kate's life. For eight years she had built Tavern-by-the-Sea to be a place for assembly in town. Here, families go for Sunday dinner, lovers for a romantic rendezvous and friends for a happy evening. Especially satisfying for her is the diverse crowd she attracts. It is an Italian tavern and she oversaw every detail.
“It has been a good day, Kate.”
Kate turned around and received a warm smile from Fabricio.
Finding Fabricio de Luca had been a stroke of luck when she was searching for a chef. Young and eager to change the world, the second-generation Italian man walked in to the restaurant just a few weeks before opening. Immediately he seemed to understand what she had in mind and her purpose with the restaurant. With his heart in the right place… meaning in his stomach… they became an odd couple but the result was success.
Kate recalled an early conversation with Fabricio.
“My mother is the one you should thank,” was his answer when Kate asked him how he had such a down to earth view on cooking. “For her, dinner was sacred. It was the moment of the day when all of the family gathered and shared what we had and were. It's what held our family together.”
Smiling at the memory, Kate answered, “Yeah, really. And Mr. Carter sends his regards. He and his family were more than pleased with their dinner.”
Fabricio smiled broadly. .
“Mr. Carter is a man who knows what pleasure is. Bringing his beautiful wife and children,” he paused and looked at her with a dreaming look.
“Only a man who knows what pleasure is does that.”
With a raised eyebrow Kate looked at him with a suspicious grin. “Have you been drinking the opened wine? The man simply thanked us for dinner!”
Fabricio laughed and gave her a nod that left Kate's question open in a way she hadn't expected. She shook it off aware that he was playing with her.
“Time to close?” He asked just as Vicky, the waitress, came out from the kitchen. Not more than 23 years old and slender as an elf, the young woman worked harder than people twice her size. Kate had been hesitant when she hired her, uncertain that she would able to carry the heavy trays, but Vicky had soon proven to her that things aren't always what they seem to be. In the small body unforeseen power bloomed.
Kate looked at her staff and felt a sudden sentimental joy pass through her mind. “You two go ahead,” she responded tilting her head and delivering grateful praise to them. “I need a moment before I close.”
“Okay. Good night, Kate and see you tomorrow.”
Kate Jordan watched them leave and heard silence enter the room. For her this was a moment for peace and relaxation. A way of not letting the day end to fast. The restaurant was, in a way, more home for her than her apartment.
This was her family. The apartment, a couple of blocks away was more of a closet for her belongings and storage for the bed she slept in. To be 42 years old without husband or children in a small town where family-life was an important part of the social structure had never bothered her. She enjoyed herself and this short moment, when the guests and staff had left, was precious to her.
Now, it was almost 11pm as Kate sat down at one of the tables by the window. She kicked off her shoes and stretched her legs over the chair next to her. Darkness had closed its arms around the town and muffled the voice of daytime. The only sound still around was the eternal roar of the ocean. Waves hit the pier below reminding everyone that the elements never sleep. The clouds had dispersed and the glow from the moon made the ocean surface glitter like crystal.
A couple of miles from the coast Kate saw the lanterns from a sailboat. Her eyes held the faint light and an unconscious thought made her believe that the boat was heading for Port Baily.
Someone has misjudged the distance, she thought feeling grateful to be inside a warm place.
“I bet the mood is cheerful on that boat” she said to herself sarcastically.
“The wife giving the ‘what-did-I-say' look, the kids are tired and hungry and Papa the sailor is quiet, never admitting he was wrong.”
Kate had seen far to many families entering Port Baily after the truth had reached them when the afternoon breeze and the romance of sailing had flattened into an evil grin.
She sat a little longer, letting her thoughts wander. I must begin planning for the end of season -party. I hardly know what to serve! I will begin tomorrow. I must call mother and tell her I'm not coming home for Thanksgiving. She and father can cook the turkey by themselves. Wonder if I should buy the new knifes Fabricio asked for? I guess he's worth it.
Her mind kept spinning around before she finally rose and prepared to go home.
A last glance around the small place and she switched the lights off and left the building. The chilly air hit her lungs as she entered the street and begun the short walk. As she quickly looked over her shoulder to make a last check of the restaurant, she again noticed the white light from the top of the sailboat's mast.
The stars shone brightly in the autumn sky. It was a cold night and there were no doubt summer was over for this year. Steph corrected the collar of her jacket, tightening it to keep the breeze away from her. Surrounded by the dark ocean, the boat with full sails set, rode with comforting pace through the soft waves towards Port Baily.
A lot of people found the darkness threatening and feared facing what they couldn't see. Steph, on the other hand, found it soothing and stimulating. Navigating the boat with only lighthouses and stars as fix points always challenged her. In moments like this night, her senses were aware of every possible change in the voices spoken to her by the ocean and the wind. With control in her possession she quickly made every necessary modification of the instrument given to her. She hadn't always felt like this though. But after years of training and discovering that she was safe on board and with herself at the helm she had earned the strength.
It had been a long beautiful day at sea. The wind had been perfect for an easy tack southward and Steph, who didn't want this day to end, had avoided the harbors they passed earlier. She knew days like these could be counted on and she tried to hide from the inevitable it was time to find a place to stay for the winter.
This would be the last winter she and Jason spent on board Voyager, something that both frightened and confused her. Jason would begin school next autumn and before that she would have to find a home where they could settle down permanently. She wasn't sure she was ready for any of those events but it was inevitable.
How can he already be this old , she wondered as her thoughts centered on the blond boy sleeping down below.
It feels like it was just yesterday that he slept in my arms – small and defenseless.
Stephanie Harris had, since her father died, spent most of her time on board the boat her father had cared for like a baby. The dark blue Hinckley , over 42 feet in length, was an impressive sight.
Steph's mother had been full of concern for her daughter's choice of lifestyle. After 30 years she knew it did not matter if she begged – the decision was already made. When Steph and Jason, then three, set off from the harbor of San Francisco one Sunday morning in June three years ago, her mother knew they were not coming back. The voyage had begun.
Steph let the mainsail fall against the boom and the roller furl handle the headsail. With the engine in low gear, Voyager slowly entered the port. With a steady hand Steph docked the boat, aft against the bridge and, at the same time, letting the anchor in the stem attach to the ocean floor.
It was way past midnight when Steph jumped ashore. Solid ground, she thought and felt her senses adapting to the new stable conditions. At first glance Port Baily looked empty and the dark windows facing the ocean gave her an unwelcoming impression. Steph shook the unpleasant feeling and quickly scanned the surroundings searching for something to focus on. The harbor office got her attention but, as expected, it was closed. Should have been so for hours. Standing on the gray concrete, hands buried deeply in the pockets of her jacket, she realized there was not much else she could do by this late hour.
“I will come back to you tomorrow,” she whispered to Port Baily and returned to the world she knew.
“Jason! Breakfast is ready!” Steph heard her son poke around in his cabin as she waited for him to join her.
The blond boy entered the salon with a sluggish frame of mind. “Slept well?” Steph asked as he sat down by the table.
“Mm,” he grumped in response. “But I did wake up when someone reversed into the pier.”
“Reversed in to the pier?” Steph eyed him, dubiously discovering the disguised grin on his face. “It was a soft and perfect landing. I would never let my little boy wake up by a rough touch down.” She smiled and messed his silky hair with her hand.
“What are we up for today,” he asked taking a bite of his sandwich.
“Well, first we have to see the manager and pay the mooring fee. Then I thought we would take a stroll, window-shop”, she paused taking spoon of cereal before casually continuing, “then find some ice cream for my little crewman.”
“Ice-cream!” Jason's eyes went wide and his face lit up like a light bulb. “When do we leave?”
Steph smiled without looking at him. “First things first,” she replied calmly. “The fee, remember?”
Breakfast continued in silence. Jason was keen to get off the boat and to the promised treat. Steph knew he looked forward, not only to the ice cream, but getting ashore as well, though he had adapted well to the life onboard.
Actually he knew nothing about life ashore but he was only a six years old and full of energy. Every time they reached solid ground he would run like a wild animal released from a cage. And every time Steph felt guilt. Not that he showed any discomfort on board or got sad when would they take off again but she saw his true joy when he was allowed to stretch out.
“You have to hold my hand until we reach the office,” Steph said when she felt him wriggle as they walked along the dockside.
It was a beautiful little harbor. Steph estimated approximately 100 moorings. She recalled the unwelcoming feeling when they arrived but now, with the town bathed in daylight that feeling was gone. She didn't pay any deeper thought to it but just simply reflected the differences.
Along the waterline a narrow path ran, bordered by autumn colored trees. In front of the docks was a white wooden building where the harbor office and local yacht club resided. The docks and what was attached to it was situated below the city. Above them Steph saw buildings of what looked like a restaurant, a store and apartments.
Nice view , she thought as she put her hand on the doorknob and entered the office. I could live with a view like that.
Jake Larry sat at his desk without doing anything in particular. The day was still young and life had just begun to shape into what seemed to be a beautiful day. He combed his fingers through his gray beard and sent a thought to his wife. It was now 12 years since she'd died but still, every morning, he pictured her sitting in front of him drinking her regular cup of tea. A smile of compassion draped his mind as the door to his office opened. His eyes caught a long pair of legs entering and his eyes landed at the bluest of eyes. The young woman standing in front of him had her blond hair gathered in a loose knot. She was dressed in a pair of blue jeans, a white turtleneck sweater and a red windproof jacket. . Jake got the feeling of youth when he looked at her but the self-confident impression whispered something else. Maybe it was the steady posture or the penetrating eyes focusing directly into his? He didn't know. The small boy next to her did not change the impression – he was a younger copy of the woman.
“Welcome miss,” he said and rose from his chair. “How may I help you?”
Steph took a step forward and tried a smile but it didn't come out well. “Good morning. My name is Stephanie Harris,” she said with a faintly nervous tone. “We arrived during the night and moored at the bridge in the middle. The Hinckley .”
“Ah. I was just wondering who the lucky owner of such a beauty is,” Jake responded with a broad smile and held out his hand to her. “My name is Jake Larry, and I'm the manager of this harbor. I hope you're satisfied with your place?”
“It is adequate, Mr. Larry. We need to stay for a couple of days and I hope it won't cause any problems?”
Why should it be a problem? She thought and mentally cursed herself for being this modest.
“Not at all,” Jake responded heartily. “Stay as long as you like. The season is over and the only thing that's going to happen is our own boats are to be taken to winter storage.” He paused for a beat before he went on.
“You connect the electricity with the cord at your mooring, you take water from the tap and you can wash, take a shower and stuff like that just around the corner of this building. Okay?”
Jake delivered a smile hoping the woman would ease a bit but when he only got complete focus in response he turned to Jason.
“And who are you?” Jake asked curiously and looked down at the boy.
“My name is Jason. My mom is going to buy me ice cream.”
Jake chuckled and patted Jason on his shoulder. “Ice cream, huh? Well you better hurry then. I've heard they almost have run out of it,” Jake said blinking his left eye.
The six-year-old looked with fear on the bearded man in front of him. He then turned to his mother. “We must hurry, mom! Are we done here yet?”
Steph relaxed looking at Jason before facing Jake again. “Thank you for your help Mr. Larry. We better pay the fee and get out of here before he loses his mind.”
Jake smiled again “You can pay some other day, Miss Harris. I usually walk the area a couple of times a day and I can stop by with the bill.”
Steph couldn't see any point in that arrangement but she didn't feel like arguing at the moment. Instead she smiled in approval and simply said, “Till then,” and then left the office.
The day was sunny with a gentle breeze . Autumn is quite beautiful – in its own special kind of way, Steph thought as she with confident strides followed the running Jason up the hill.
On the street above life was in full motion. Cars were passing at an easy pace and people strolled outside the stores with bags full of merchandise. Port Baily, was a picturesque Massachusetts town, located close to big cities like Boston and universities like Harvard. The shore along the coast from New York and northward was scattered with towns like it. In spite of the inhabitant's own belief in being independent, they function as breathing holes for stressed big city workers and neither would survive without the other. Coffee to go, fast food, suites and briefcases are, during weekends and holidays, exchanged for art- and craft, home made apple pie, Dockers and Docksides; symbioses between the elements of a modern world.
Steph got a feeling that towns like these were copied from a movie. Like it wasn't for real but made up by someone hiding in the background. The friendly people facing and greeting each other with a smile, children bicycling up and down the streets, parents working in their gardens. The picture was from another world. Some primal instinct of protection always surfaced within Steph as she came to these places. She had, a couple of times, experienced the truth behind the handmade façade that she didn't like. A creeping intuition that something was not right and then the realization that she didn't fit in. After a while the first welcoming impression changed to suspicion and avoidance.
Steph, who had no idea where to find an ice cream, let Jason run ahead. “The hunter in him will find what we're looking for,” she mused playfully.
She walked at a moderate pace, gazing through windows to see what the stores had to offer. In the last couple of years shopping had been of secondary importance. With limited space she had found that things weren't so important and what they already had fulfilled their needs. At this very moment she found it difficult even imagining herself with a shopping list, buying big packs of hamburger-meat and wash powder, soil for potted plants and vacuum cleaner bags. Things ordinary people bought. At least she thought they did .
I guess mother will be happy to give some advise in those matters, Steph thought dryly figuring her mother in San Francisco would be pleased when the day of domestication arrived.
Jason, who had sensed the ice cream, increased his speed as the target grew closer. Steph couldn't do anything but smilingly shake her head as she followed him.
“Hurry mom!” he shouted. With his speed aimed forward and his look directed backwards he never saw the woman, loaded with bags, departing from a store. The collision was a fact. Bags with vegetables fell to the ground, the woman stumbled and Jason's light body flew through the air.
“Jason!” Steph cried out loud feeling the hairs in her neck stand up.
Kate had just finished the purchase of the extra vegetables she needed for the soup that was to be served tomorrow. She was pleased to have found everything she needed and could now begin planning for next week's menu with plenty of time to spare.
The boy had appeared out of nowhere and as Kate, who had managed to stay on her feet, now knelt beside the loud shouting boy she realized that her schedule might be revised.
“Easy young man,” she said with a considerable more calm voice than she had expected. A red stream of blood dripped down from his cheek and Kate carefully tried to stop it with her hand. The wound was deep and she quickly realized that he needed a doctor. His trousers were ripped at the knee and Kate hoped he hadn't hurt his knee too.
“Jason, are you alright?” Steph arrived and caught the crying son in her arms. “It's okay, it's okay. Mommy is here now. Everything is going to be alright.” She felt the warmth of blood against her chin and with closed eyes she took a deep but silent breath to regain herself, strengthen herself against the demons attacking her inside. The fear of anything bad happening to him did haunt her although she didn't live after that premise. He had had minor accidents before, like most children, and she knew more would come but how could she prepare her self for them? Was it possible? She did not know.
Steph felt Jason's sobbing ease and his body relax in her arms. Slowly he calmed down and eventually Steph felt safe enough to look up. The first thing she saw was a pair of green eyes on a worried face. Steph had reacted with instincts and taken care of Jason first. The vegetables she had seen should survive. The woman who owned them would also survive. The question is – in what mood would she be?
When Steph's eyes landed in the green ones she suddenly felt safe. It was a serious and determined look but comforting and filled with care.
“Excuse him!” Steph said in a faint voice. “I should have held on to him.”
Kate had her hand comfortingly placed on the small boy's back. With a tender hint of a smile she replied, “Well, I'd be lying if I said I'm not the least bit irritated but that will soon be over. We better let our young ones run and play as much as they will. In time that ambition will vanish.”
Steph didn't disclose any feelings but inside she felt gratitude towards the stranger next to her.
Kate continued. “By the way, neither me nor my things are damaged but you better let someone take a look on that bruise on his cheek. It's bleeding pretty bad.”
With a quick motion Steph swept her hand over her chin and the felt thick liquid stick on her fingers. “We're only passing through Port Baily,” Steph said eyeing the woman. “Do you know of any doctor nearby who can look at him on a Saturday?”
“There is only one in this town,” Kate replied and rose from the now uncomfortable position she had been in. “I don't think he has been outside the city border for the last 10 years, so the possibility he's available today is fairly big. Take a right at the next block and you'll see the sign.”
Steph stood up with Jason in her arms. She looked down on the broken bag and vegetables.
Kate saw her mind race and quickly stepped in. “Don't bother about the vegetables, just get this young man to the doctor.”
She didn't feel comfortable about not paying for the vegetables but there was actually nothing Steph felt like she could do at this moment. With true honesty she said, “Once again – I am so sorry.”
“Can't I have any ice cream now?”
Those were the last words Kate heard as mother and son left her on the sidewalk. She looked after them and studied the tall blond women who, with fast, long strides, left with the injured boy in her arms.
I wonder who that was? She thought as she saw them disappear around the corner. Remembering the blood on her hand she took out a handkerchief from her pocket and tried to wipe it off. She sighed as she realized all of it would not go away.
I hope every thing works out, she mused looking at her hand as she walked off.
Lunch was, for Kate, the approaching season's most important time of the day. When the summer guests moved back to their regular life in the big cities Port Baily seemed to fall into a long slumber. It suddenly got so obvious how insufficient Port Baily could be. People seemed like they stopped to eat, stopped talking to each other, stopped interacting. Living on surplus reserve they managed through winter and never went out after dark. During weekends business had an upswing. The rumors about Port Baily and Tavern by the Sea were positive all over the region. Winter-gloomy Bostonians loved to spend a weekend now and then here.
Kate used to ponder about the residents' behavior but yet she had no conclusion to the problem. Sure, it could be a bit too hectic from time to time during summer but the dead-season that was coming was too calm. When the world had nothing but cold and darkness to offer, Kate was convinced that it is during such circumstances that we all needed each other. Even if just to socialize, laugh, discuss and argue. Live all the year. It had struck her that she might be the one not living as one should do but she did not intend to fall back on what was expected. She still had hopes that changes would come and she did hope she could be part in that.
Today's lunch served Ribolitta for entrée and Paglia e fieno as the main course. Kate had as a goal not to have burgers and fries on the menu. Unfortunately the world was not yet ready for such a bold maneuver. So far though she had succeeded over her expectations and today's Tuscan specialties - bean soup and noodles with mushrooms and cream – Kate knew would attract the guests.
It was in Tuscany , that Kate had detected Italy was something else than just pizza and spaghetti. There she had discovered beans of all different kinds served in the simplest of ways as a delicious composition. Her passion for Italy was founded during a trip through Europe more than 20 years ago. The encounter with the people, who live their lives in passion, had taken her by storm. The grandiose culture, the extreme design, the beautiful people, la dolce vita. On top of that the most delicate of oils were let to flow – extra virgin olive oil.
She left Europe and Italy with heartache and made herself a promise to return as soon as possible. After three years in college she went back and, in a small tavern outside Florence , she learned the passion of Italian cuisine. She stayed for five years and when she returned to the United States her heart was filled with love of everything the country had given her. The trip home did not hurt this time.
“Kate!” Fabricio stuck his head through her office door. “Kate, the guests are beginning to drop in and Vicky called in a bit late. Can you help with the first orders?”
“Of course!” Kate said and jumped off her chair.
By this time she was pretty certain whose faces she would find out there. This time of the year they were mostly always the same. Despite the fact that she made less money with such few guests it was almost like welcoming family-members to the table. She liked the familiar faces and she had slowly learned what kind of food they liked and how they wanted it. She only wished her “family” was a little bigger.
This day did enlighten her with a surprise though. Mayor John Forsythe sat together with Jake Larry at one of the windows. Jake was a common member around the family table but the mayor's visits were rare, particularly as a lunch guest. He only used to join when investors or visitors of, what he called, great importance was in town.
“John! It's been a while since we've seen you here?” she said smilingly as she approached them. “It is as I believe you have fallen for the temptation of fast food.”
John chuckled. “Well, dear Kate, I have to confess that might be the truth. I don't think I've sat down and had a decent meal for weeks.”
“What kind of a life is it you live?” Jake asked looking at him with troubled eyes but a smirk on his mouth.
John sighed and actually felt tired when he let himself to relax. “Meetings, meetings and, did I say meetings?”
“You have to take care of yourself.” Kate said patting the man's shoulder. “You are the only mayor we have!”
Kate read the tiredness in his eyes and let him ease back to the comfort of being taken care of.
“So Jake. Who are the poor people you have, at this time of year, lured in to the harbor?” she asked as she refilled his glass of water.
Jake's face lit up. “Ah, a charming young couple,” he replied with enthusiasm. “A young woman and her six year old son. They arrived Saturday night and the meaning was they should leave today but the kid has hurt himself and they have to see the doc again in a couple of days. I guess they will leave after that.”
With a wrinkle in her forehead Kate looked questioning at Jake. “A blond woman with blue eyes and a son this high?” She held out her arm in height of her waist.
“Yeah, that's right. Blond and very intense blue eyes – both of them.”
A faint embarrassment surfaced within Kate. “Well, then I guess I'm the cause for their delayed departure,” she hummed looking out though the window and the harbor below. “The boy and I ran into each other outside the vegetable-store Saturday. “
Kate thought back to the incident. The young woman who had comforted her son with strength and firmness, love and tender, the blood on her hands that still was visible as she got home that night. She wondered where such a young woman had gotten such strength, as she somehow seemed to have? Kate didn't know what it was but there was something in that slender shape that radiated safety.
“It is a big boat. Not bad for a woman to handle by herself?” Kate said after a brief pause and looked at the two men.
“Ah, a Hinckly Sou´wester 42!” Jake answered. “A boat to dream about. She's equipped with all imaginable toys – autopilot, GPS, radar, furling. A bit too much for my taste but if she's to be single-handed required. Miss Jordan , she's not a beginner, going out with a full-blood like that.”
“Can I sense a bit of impression, Jake?” The mayor asked knowing Jake wasn't one who was easily impressed. According to him there were far too many people with lots of money and too little knowledge that owned boats. “Boats are made for the extreme elements, to live with the waves, not being tied up in the ports,” he used to say when he saw the owners leaving the boats after a couple of hours at sea.
Jake shrugged his shoulders and eyed his playful friends. “Ah, what is there not to be impressed of? Two strong and beautiful women in my harbor!”
Kate and John laughed at the boyish glimpse in his eyes. “You're not getting old my friend?” Kate asked as with a grin.
“Me? Never!” He answered disguising the unexpected feeling that he indeed was feeling old with an offended quirk in the corner of his mouth.
“You can't be serious?” Steph felt a headache sneaking up behind her eyelids and she pressed her palm hard against her forehead. “Is there no other option?” She knew the question was unnecessary but she took a chance – just for the sake of it.
It was the day before their departure southward. They should sail for about a week down to Chesapeake where they would stay the winter. Before dinner Jason's stitches had been removed. The wound had heeled beautifully and he had gotten a tiny, small scar just across the tip of his chin. There was something charming about the, still red, mark. A proof of history she always would remember.
The day had continued with bunkering and other preparations before the take off. It wasn't an extraordinary trip. They had been out for weeks in a row and this one, hugging the shore all the way, would be a nice ending of a great season.
She had seen the water trickle over the floor inside the salon when they arrived back from shopping. Heavy load on the rudder axle had, somehow, caused the hull to crack. The cracks were small and for how long they had been there were impossible to say. It didn't matter – it had to be repaired now.
The man from the shipyard lay deep inside Voyager and came to the same conclusion Steph had made when she earlier had followed the water backwards.
“I'm sorry miss, but we have to take her out of the water,” he said wiping off his hands on a small piece of cloth. “There are probably cracks in the gelcoat and if we don't fix that, the glacefibre will soak up the water and the damage will be massive.”
Steph got her self-possession back. She had already known, from the first sight, what needed to be done but when she heard the words it was a shock. “How long will it take and for how long does she has to be out from the sea?”
“Two, three weeks I hope.”
“Two to three weeks!” Steph burst in response.
“Well, I'm sorry miss, but I must get the spare-parts first and the plastic work will take time.”
Steph was well aware that things like this took time, especially if the job was to be done properly, but it did feel like a lot of time at this moment. Where on earth were they going to sleep? It would almost be November before they should have Voyager back .
I can't take Jason on a sail this late in the season with a boat I don't know will hold, she thought . We are stuck here in port Baily! It was too much to think of and she suddenly felt a need to sit down and focus on the situation. She turned to the man from the shipyard.
“Take her up as fast as you can,” she said in a demanding voice. “I can't let the damage continue. Give us a couple of hours so I can secure a place for us to stay.”
Jake Larry, who had stopped by during one of his several walks around the area, saw how Steph tried to gather her thoughts. “Come with me to my office, miss Harris. I'll call Maggie at the hotel and see if she has a good deal to offer.”
“It is very kind of you Mr. Larry,” Steph replied weary. “But I don't want to cause any trouble.”
“Nonsense young lady,” Jake commented with cheerful joy. “There're almost no guests this time of year so she will be pleased. It is the least Port Baily can do for you. You've had two accidents and that's two too many.” He leaned closer to Steph nudging her arm. “It's not good for our PR.”
Steph fought an inner battle. She always hated when she was stuck in a situation where she couldn't handle things herself. Losing control was an enemy she always had feared to face. She pulled her hand through the blond hair and, once again, pressed it against her forehead.
“Okay,” she sighed before facing Jakes eyes. “Thank you.”
“Good!” Jake smiled comforting, putting one hand on Steph shoulder and the other one on Jason's he lead them back to his office.
Kate just exited the kitchen as the young woman and her son entered the restaurant. She immediately recognized them and changed direction to go and greet them.
“Welcome,” she said in a professionally cheerful voice looking at the woman first and then down at boy. The band-aid on the boy's cheek sent a twinge of guilt though her body and she once again had to shake of the image of her bloodstained hands.
With a thoughtful smile Kate returned to Steph. Holding out her hand she said, “There was never time to introduce our selves last time we met. My name is Kate Jordan and I am the owner of Tavern-by-the-Sea.”
“Stephanie Harris,” Steph replied taking the slender hand in her own. It was soft but firm and Steph felt hours of hard work behind the grip. “Call me Steph though.” She smiled and let go of Kate's hand. “This is my son – Jason,” she continued and turned her attentions toward her son.
“Hello Jason,” Kate said looking at the boy with motherly eyes. “That is quite a mark you have there. Does it hurt?”
Jason was uncertain who the woman in front of him was and turned to Steph for support before answering. His mother faced him and in her eyes Jason found what he always knew to find - safety. Confident he turned back to the unfamiliar woman and said, “No Mrs. Jordan. It doesn't hurt.”
Kate chuckled - both because of his sincere appearance and for her own sake. If he'd said he still was in pain Kate didn't know what she would do. There was something about the boy that made her heart thump with unfamiliar beats.
“You are a tough one,” she said brushing her hand over the blond hair. “And it is Miss Jordan but you can call me Kate.”
Steph let communication between Jason and Kate live its own life and instead she let her look wander over the small restaurant. What a charming little establishment, she thought
It wasn't big, 10 tables with room for about 40 people. The tables were dressed in light blue tablecloth and the ones by the windows had a small lamp standing at the edge. The windows were big and, when necessary, they could be opened like doors something Steph thought was appreciated during the hot summer months. Outside, now covered in darkness, was the ocean. Steph could imagine how beautiful the panoramic view must be during the days. The harbor, the boats, the ocean and the sky – all painted on the same canvas.
Steph returned her focus towards the two others and faced a pair of green eyes and a wide smile.
Kate led them to a table further into the room.
“I guess the view is magnificent in daytime?” Steph said looking out through the window.
“Hypnotizing!” Kate answered. “You might think you would get used to it but, never.”
Steph looked into the dark night outside the window. “I know the feeling.”
Kate smiled and gave Steph a menu. She turned around to leave them but changed her mind and stopped in her step. “I've been thinking about the accident the other day,” she said slowly looking at Steph. “I just wondered how it went with the doctor?”
Steph smiled and looked at Jason. “It went well,” she replied with a faint pride in her voice.
The doctor appointment had really gone well. Jason had held Steph's hand in a steady grip when they entered the large, white room. Dr Wilson had been considerably younger than Steph had expected. For some strange reason she had depicted him as an older man with gray hair, round glasses and a short legs. She had absolutely no idea where that picture came from but it certainly didn't fit in to the well-built man with dark, a bit curly hair, and a well-founded tan.
Jason had begun to cry again as the doctor cleaned the wound and told Steph that a few stitch were necessary. Wilson had been soothing and talked to Jason about ice hockey, baseball – things that distracted him from fear of the unknown. Steph had been fascinated about the way Wilson handled the situation. There was something about what occurred before her that shut her out, a connection between the doctor and her son that had nothing to do with her.
She smiled as she thought back to the moment where the stitches were done and Wilson somewhat playful had patted his head.
“He has a good hand with his patients,” Kate said touched by the emotions in Steph's voice. She turned to Jason and met his blue eyes. Smiling she reached out and touched his head again. A mental emptiness passed through her mind and she enjoyed the moment a little longer than appropriate before she turned to Steph again.
“A rumor told me that the blue sailboat with mother and son should have left us today,” she said casually.
Steph's face immediately turned troubled. It was like a dark cloud floating in over her head. “If the gossip moved a bit faster you also should have known that my boat is leaking,” she responded grumpy. Steph didn't like the tone of her own voice but she was irritated over the situation and, for the moment, didn't bother with manners.
“Leaking?” Kate said her eyebrows surprisingly shoot up.
Steph sighed. “Yeah. We're taking in water and it has to be repaired right away. She has to be at the shipyard for more than two weeks.”
“Thank God you detected it now and not when you were under way.” Kate said with a concerned voice.
Steph nodded grimly, “That is true but we really needed to leave . I don't know if we are going to make it south now.”
Steph felt, inside, that the truth was that they were stuck here in Port Baily. She knew that taking Jason out on the Atlantic in November wasn't an option. The decision had been made for her, without asking her, when she had felt the water under her feet.
Kate felt for the young woman and knew her mind was in turmoil. “You live aboard in winter as well?” She asked curiously.
Steph did nothing but nod in response.
A short silence fell as Kate's mind reacted to what she had been told. “Well, when you're cold, claustrophobic or …. just bored” Kate said eventually gently putting her hand on Steph's shoulder. “You're always welcome up here. Take a book with you, whatever you want or just enjoy the view. You don't have to order anything.”
“Thank you,” Steph answered too weary to let her inner demons take over. “That's very nice of you.”
Kate suddenly felt embarrassed. She didn't know why but the small words of appreciation sank in to her gut, leaving a much larger feeling of joy inside her. She couldn't hold on to it though, didn't want to and, as she turned around to leave her guests, waved her had nonchalantly.
Looking over her shoulder back at Steph, she said in a deep register, "I don't know how nice I am, but come over whenever you feel for it."
During their meal Steph tried to assemble her thought of today's happening. The conclusion was that she had made the correct decisions. To ignore the damage would have been far too dangerous. She couldn't do anything about the two-three week repair. The only thing she still was uncertain of was if they should leave or not. If she had been alone she would leave without any question, but with Jason onboard? No, she couldn't, it would be irresponsible.
Does it matter where we stay? She thought. It will be, well a lot colder but does that matter?
“Aren't we going to sleep at home tonight?” Jason asked as he let a straw of spaghetti slip into his mouth.
Steph leaned her head and read his somewhat confused look. “No, not for a couple of weeks,” she replied gently. Poking her fork in the pasta on her plate she felt that she had to get a grip on her self. Get away from the swamp she all of a sudden had ended up in. She sat up straight again and looked Jason in the eyes. “We have to stay at the hotel until Voyager is repaired.”
“I'm going to miss my bed.” Jason said and looked sad.
“I know sweetie. So will I.”
It had become pretty late and Steph saw Jason try to hide a yawn.
Nothing else to do than return back to the hotel, she thought. She looked over at the counter, seeking contact with Kate who was occupied with something behind the oak desk. She couldn't see what.
“I hope it tasted well.” Kate said as she walked up to them.
“It tasted very good.” Steph responded and gave Kate three 10-dollar bills. “We will come back. Especially since the alternative is a hotel-room.”
Kate didn't know where the idea came from but it was without hesitation. “Why don't you two stop by here for breakfast? The coffee at the hotel is tasteless and Maggie will only serve you donuts. If you join me you will have cappuccino and croissants.”
Steph, who wasn't used to being spoiled, didn't know how to take the offer. “Don't you have more important things to do than serve us?” She asked as she and Jason stood up.
“Who said anything about being served?” Kate replied with a smug expression. “I'm usually here around nine o'clock and start with my first cup of coffee. It's no trouble at all.”
“I will think about it.” Steph said still feeling a bit embarrassed.
“Well, don't think too long – the croissants will not stay warm or last for ever.” Kate had on several occasions eaten more of the deliciously sweet pastry than what was healthy for her. She knew that if Steph and Jason didn't show up, she would eat all of them herself. “I might blame you if I gain weight.”
Steph gazed at the older woman in front of her and judged her to weigh around 120 lb. “In that case you haven't been without breakfast-guests in a long time?” Steph said amused by the silly conversation.
“I could have had a bad appetite?” Kate responded.
Steph held on to her answer as she and Jason walked for the exit. She turned and faced Kate who stood by the counter, resting her arm against it.
“Something tells me you don't have a bad appetite but we better come and see for our self.” Steph smiled, seeing Kate's warmth flow over the unfamiliar face who just seemed to turn in to something familiar. ”Till tomorrow.”
“Till tomorrow,” Kate replied in haste. “Good night you two.”
The door shut behind the mother and son. It was suddenly silent. Kate continued to look at the door and wonder if they had taken the sound of people with them? Through the window she could discern the contours of Steph just before she and the boy rounded the corner of the building.
The sounds slowly returned and Kate looked at the man calling for her attention. She cast a quick glance at the door again before turning back to her duties again.
"Be right there, Mr Lawrence!" She called and corrected the smile on her face.
Continue to Part 2