When my latest relationship imploded on my twenty-seventh birthday, I did the only reasonable thing: I picked up and moved to a remote island in the Pacific Northwest.
It was a blur, really. One moment I was reeling from a breakup when I’d been expecting a proposal; and the next, it seemed, I was in line for the last ferry of the night, my car packed with everything it would hold, crying so steadily that I wasn’t sure if it was rain or my tears that made the windshield look like that.
“Stupid, Cam, stupid,” I chastised myself. I’d vanished again, just when Kevin had asked me to open my heart, to let him in. I’d tried, and when it had gone so sour, I’d panicked and vanished. I always vanished. I couldn’t help it.
I closed my eyes and sniffled. “So now you’re running away,” I whispered in the dark. “Again.” No, I’m running toward, I told myself.
Maybe if I said it enough times, I’d even believe it was true.
It could be true. The caretaking job held promise. And really, Orcas Island is not all that remote. It’s the largest of the San Juan Islands, and there are ferries several times a day. You can get there from Seattle in a mere four hours…or five…or not until the next day, if you miss that last ferry.
Well, I wasn’t missing it. “Now boarding, lanes three and four, with stops at Lopez, Shaw, and Orcas Island.” Ahead of me, taillights flared as people started their engines. We crawled ahead, following the directions of the orange-vested Washington State Ferry employees guiding us onto the huge boat. I’ve never driven onto a boat before, I thought, as my little Honda worked its way up the ramp. I’m here for adventures. Driving my car onto a boat is definitely an adventure.
I shoehorned my Honda into a side compartment, snuggled up behind a black BMW, in front of a ratty blue pickup, and next to a bland sedan with a family of four in it. Once we’d all set our emergency brakes, I saw that most passengers were getting out of their cars. I followed suit. No sense spending the hour and twenty minutes down here in the dark and cold, even if it did perfectly match my mood.
I sidled and squeezed between the tightly packed cars, following people to a staircase leading to the floor above. I emerged into a big seating area, with booths along each side. Huge windows showed only the blackness of night and the rapidly receding lights of the town of Anacortes. I found an unoccupied table and pulled out my phone, opening up Words with Friends. My brother had just scored 57 points, the turkey.
“Kissy?” I muttered. “That’s even a word?”
I thought of Kevin’s kisses and died a little inside.
No, enough of that. I wasn’t going to grieve, I was going to move on. I sent a triple word score and waited. Within ten minutes, I’d lost the signal. So much for that distraction. I put the phone away and looked around the deck. It was sparsely filled, the few other passengers reading or chatting quietly, or sleeping. Not much call for the 9:05 ferry on a Wednesday night in November.
I stared out into the night, thinking about what lay ahead.
I didn’t know the Brixtons well. Okay, understatement: I didn’t know him at all; I knew her in the way a hairdresser knows her client. Selectively, I would say. And yet they had just hired me to caretake their estate on Orcas Island—main house, guesthouse, and five acres of grounds on the water at the far end of West Sound. “You’ll do wonderfully, my dear,” Diana Brixton had said, clutching my hands in her cool ones as she glanced back at her husband, Emmett. I had simply nodded, still reeling, still not believing. “We’re just so relieved you’re available on such short notice. I don’t know what possessed Megan to up and quit like that. After only three weeks.”
Maybe she found she hated living on a remote northern island in the dead of winter? I’d wondered. Even in Seattle, we only had about eight hours of daylight in the winter months—when the sun bothered to show up at all. The islands would be worse than that, being pretty much next door to Canada. But I was used to it. I was looking forward to it, in fact. It’s less upsetting to vanish if you’re already in the dark.
I felt more than heard the shift in the giant ferry’s engines as it slowed, turning gently. “Now approaching Lopez, Lopez Island,” came the crackly announcement. “Drivers, return to your cars; foot passengers, exit from the car deck.”
Lopez looked utterly uninhabited; I saw no lights other than one at the tiny dock. And only two people got up and ambled down the stairs.
Now there’s a remote island, I thought.