The first time I saw Chase Thorne, he was shirtless, with little shimmering drops of sweat glistening on his skin. Not a bad first impression, if you haven’t seen the like before, which I have. Oh, don’t get me wrong: I noticed the ropy muscles in his forearms as he twisted the rod holding the globe of molten glass at its end. It’s just that the sight of him didn’t affect me as it might have one hundred and eighty years ago, when I met his great-great-great-great grandfather on my uncle’s schooner.
The North Wind had been a fine ship. Uncle Weston had overseen her every detail, from the angelic—and embarrassingly buxom—figurehead at her bow to the navy blue color of the velvet bed curtains in the captain’s cabin in the stern. And he had taken me aboard her for her maiden voyage from Seal Point to Vancouver. It wasn’t a long voyage, but it was long enough that I became well acquainted with Uncle’s first mate: Tobias Thorne, whose muscles were every bit as tanned and taut as his great grandson’s would be.
But that was before the storm that Tobias survived and I didn’t. Now I spend my days wandering Sandy Port, making up life stories for the tourists and then following them around to see if the stories prove true.
Take the woman Chase assists right now. Her hair is smooth in spite of the humidity, which means her hotel lavatory holds an expensive bottle of something containing keratin, whatever that is. She’s twice Chase’s age, but that doesn’t prevent her from leaning into his chest when he puts his arms around her back to guide her hands in rolling the glass rod. She’s a recent divorcee, or I’m not a ghost. And she’ll be a big tipper.
Or how about that family, over there? The parents look frazzled, but happy. The children look…young. They’ll see the prices and leave before the elder Thorne can convince them to give glassblowing a try.
And there they go.
Oh, here’s a promising pair—but wait, Keratin Woman has finished her green-swirled bowl. It’s not half bad. And she is a big tipper. Big enough that when Papa Thorne turns away and she passes her card to Chase, he accepts it.
The lighthouse is my favorite haunt. In the old days, it was full of cats. Lighthouse keepers knew more about ghosts, back then. But now I have the run of the place. It’s quiet, and it hasn’t changed, except that a big electric light bulb has replaced the oil in the lamp. The kelp flies still keep most people away during the warm months, and the coastal wind keeps them away during the cold months. The only person who is here every day, in spite of the weather, is Elliot Price.
“Hello, Elliot,” I call from the landing of the wooden staircase that leads from the lighthouse down the cliffside to the tide pools.
He glances up, and for a moment, I imagine that he sees me, not the tourists behind me.
“Much to see down there?” a burly man wearing sandals yells.
Elliot grins. “Yes! There’s a chiton in that pool over there, and if you look carefully, you can see four sea stars clinging to the underside of that rock, and—“
“No seals, though?”
Elliot’s smile droops, slightly. “Actually, no. Not this morning. Normally, I see Bonnie and her pup down here, but I haven’t seen them since yesterday. You might try the other side of the point.”
“Thanks!” And the burly man is off, dragging his wife and daughter up the steps after him, ignoring Elliot’s shouted warnings about getting too close to seals.
Olivia, who is on her way down the stairs, moves to the side, one hand clutching the railing and the other holding her sample kit.
The historical society could trade out the lighthouse lamp for Elliot’s face, if they wanted—as long as they employed Olivia as full-time keeper. His grin widens, and he stands.
“Morning, Elliot.” She trots the rest of the way down the stairs. “Am I too late to see the chiton?”
“Nope. He’s in his pool.”
“Great!” She places her kit on the big driftwood log at the base of the cliff and opens it.
“Oh! I…uh…I took the water samples already,” Elliot says.
She pauses and glances over her shoulder. “You did?”
“You didn’t have to do that. But…thank you.”
“It’s nothing. You’ve got enough to do without having to worry about water samples.”
She laughs. “I don’t mind. It gets me out of the visitor’s center for a few minutes.” Straightening, she snaps the lid shut. “Well, I guess if I don’t need to take the samples—“
“Wait! You don’t have to leave yet, do you?”
“Um…I don’t know. You’re in charge. Do I?”
Elliot stuffs his hands in his pockets. “Take your time. Check out the chiton.”
Olivia smells of fish. Not the smelly bay-side-fish-processing-plant type of fish; she smells of fish dipped in beer batter and fried and served with tartar sauce and a slice of lemon. I’ve never had tartar sauce, but it looks wonderful. Everything looks wonderful when you can’t eat it.
Elliot would adore Olivia whether she smelled of the food she serves at her second job or of fish guts. After she left the tide pools, he nearly collapsed against a muscle-encrusted boulder, only just stopping himself out of his love for the little sea creatures.
“Olivia…” he murmured. “Olivia, Olivia, Olivia…”
She didn’t hear him, of course. Even if she hadn’t already been plugged into her miniature music contraption, listening to the song Chase had recommended to her when he’d come to Fresh Catch on his lunch yesterday, Elliot’s words had been directed only to the ocean and the sky and the plump red chiton.
Keratin Woman doesn’t waste any time. When Chase steps out the back door of Thorne Glass at the beginning of his lunch break, there she is, all expensive perfume and dark glasses and bronze rouge. She glances at the wall of Pirate Pete’s Pastries before leaning against it and runs a manicured hand up Chase’s still-bare arm. He was wise enough to leave his muscles exposed, donning a black shirt without sleeves.
Ten minutes later, with a sunset boat ride planned and yet another tip from Keratin Woman in his pocket, Chase slips into Fresh Catch and snakes an arm around Olivia’s waist. She nearly drops her tray of dirty dishes.
“Can I order a ‘Catch of the Day’ with a side of Olivia?” he murmurs in her ear.
“You’ll get me in trouble,” she replies, but she doesn’t pull away.
“Trouble’s kind of my thing.”
“Yeah, well, it’s gonna have to wait until the bonfire tonight.”
“Yeah…about that. Looks like I’m not gonna be able to come.”
Olivia twists around to look up at him. “What? You said—“
“I know.” He kisses her on the end of the nose. “I’m sorry. I tripped over some kid in the shop and knocked over a whole shelf. Busted a ton of glass.”
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah. I got most of it cleaned up, but then a bunch of tourists came in. You know how it goes.”
“I could come help you after I get off work,” Olivia says.
“Naw. He glances over Olivia’s shoulder. “I better go. Your manager doesn’t look too happy.”
“Well…go sit outside. I can get Mike to rush an order.”
Chase waves at the manager on his way out the door, then settles into one of the wire café chairs that line the bay window on the outside. He greets the crews of several boats as they come into the restaurant, fist-bumps a few deliverymen, and eyes the waitresses, each of whom poke their head out the door to see if he needs anything. When Olivia brings him his Catch of the Day in a white carton, it is to see that he already has a drink and a complimentary bag of Shrimp Nibblers.
Olivia doesn’t mind. She knows Chase can’t help it.
Glass is breaking in Thorne Glass, but contrary to what Chase told Olivia, it’s the first time today that anything has broken. It’s almost like Chase’s father knew about his son’s lie and wanted to help Chase tell the truth for once.
The elder Thorne has the pasty features of the Glidden side of the family but also has the Thorne bulk, so when he hurls another vase against the wall of the shop, it doesn’t just shatter, it explodes.
“There were fifty people on that bus, and you only got five of them in? Five! That’s forty-five too few!”
I’m surprised Wallace Thorne can do that kind of arithmetic.
Chase scowls at his father. “I can’t force them in if it’s junky souvenirs they want.”
Crash! Another vase shatters.
I leave before it gets worse.
Elliot waves his hand at a kelp fly that buzzes around his curly brown hair and leans against the iron railing that encircles the top of the lighthouse. The sun is setting over the water, turning the lighthouse’s white stucco a creamy yellow. Elliot opens the keeper’s leather logbook and begins to write.
Monday, July 28 – Weather sunny, tides average.
The red chiton of the July 25 entry remains in the same tide pool. Internet research leads me to believe that it is nearing the end of its life cycle, and, as is the case with many of Nature’s creatures, has returned to the location where it was born.
Bonnie and her pup, whom the crew have christened “Clyde,” left East Point this afternoon and have not returned, though it is sunset. I will look for them by telescope and on foot tomorrow, and, if necessary, by boat. The Light Skipper needs gas, and the historical society has deemed those funds “unnecessary.” I can spare a few dollars, though.
The crew is in good spirits, for the most part. Jackie got into Yale, and her little sister, Mariah, who graduates from high school next spring, turned in her application to take Jackie’s place. I think Mariah would do well. Jackie tells me she’s got a better head for heights than her big sister, which will be helpful when October comes and it’s time to whitewash the tower. I’ll present Mariah’s name to the historical society next week. We really do need to keep a full staff, even if the society says we don’t. I’m in the process of writing up a possible set of responses to the suggestion that I anticipate the society president will make that Jackie’s position remain unfilled.
Olivia continues to be an invaluable addition to the visitor’s center staff. She’s good with people, which is a relief after that fiasco with Kevin and the tourists from New York (see June 4). Kevin has taken over pamphlet production. He wants to change the present format to a comic book style, and I can’t seem to persuade him to reconsider. I hope to add Olivia to the lighthouse tour schedule, but I haven’t yet broached the subject with her. She’s a fashionable dresser, so she may be opposed to wearing costume. The costumes are pretty hot (as in, over-warm).
Chase wears a black t-shirt, jeans, and a bruise to his sunset cruise date.
“Mom? Are you home?” Olivia opens the icebox and removes a bottle labeled Lemonito’s Sparkling Water. Her mother peers out of her office.
“Hi, Livvy. Just give me a minute.”
Olivia sinks onto a bar stool at the kitchen island and pulls a book from her purse. I can’t see the title, but it must be a good one. I saw her with the same book at Fresh Catch, yesterday, and she wasn’t nearly as far into it as she is now.
Olivia’s mother leaves her office, closes the door, and sits beside her daughter. “How was work today?”
Sighing, Olivia’s mother runs a hand through her hair. “It was okay. We found a home for that little boy I was telling you about. A cousin in Portland wants to take him.”
Olivia puts down her book. “Mom? You okay?”
“I guess I’m just worried.”
“About what? The case?”
“No. Your dad called.”
Olivia rolls her eyes. “I told him I’d let him know by this weekend. It’s like he thinks Oregon State’s the only school that’s worthwhile.”
“If he was teaching somewhere else, he’d want me to go there. He won’t even give the community college a chance. I have tons of friends who go there, and they love it. Nina at work, and—”
“Olivia, listen to me. He’s going in for another surgery.”
Olivia closes her eyes. “More cancer?”
“It looks like it.”
The old woman across the hall raps twice on the wall separating her place from Elliot’s. She has a kind of fog around her, this old woman. It appeared a month ago, when her husband died. I’ve seen this kind of thing before. It means she doesn’t have long.
Elliot rises from the couch, still clutching the letter from the U.S. Navy Research Team Northwest.
“Hi, Mrs. Banks,” he says when she answers the door.
“Did you need something?”
Mrs. Banks widens her eyes, innocently. “No, dear.”
“Oh. I thought I heard you knock.”
“No. But since you’re here, why don’t you come in? My daughter brought by some cookies, and I can’t eat them all myself.”
Elliot glances down at the letter he still holds.
We would be pleased to offer you a position aboard the USNS Pursuit.
Then he folds the letter and tucks it into his back pocket.
“Thanks, Mrs. Banks. I’d love a cookie.”
The old woman smiles and steps aside to let Elliot in.
Okee-doke, folks. That’s it for this one. I had a lot of fun writing it. It feels more like the beginning of a new novel than a short story, and maybe that’s what it will be. I’ve had the idea kicking around in my brain for several years, and it felt like it was time to explore it. I would like to either eliminate the ghost character altogether, or develop her so there’s a reason that she is the narrator. We’ll see what happens. I rarely write contemporary, so this was fun and different for me!