Lindsey Anderson


               Evie watched the late summer sun sink through the sky. She knew that when the last rays of dying light slanted across the pine-strewn summit of Cadillac Mountain, the tourists visiting the park that day would pile into their station wagons and drive into town.
               She didn’t dislike the tourists. They were, after all, the reason she had a job. But she hated the familiar faces she found among them. A former professor at the beach. A classmate in line at the grocery store. Her ex-husband in the bed and breakfast where she worked.
               Evie had been working at the White Whale for nearly six years. She was now an assistant manager and could usually talk about her job around town without a twinge of embarrassment. But when Frankie stepped into the lobby and lifted his sea-glass green eyes to her sandbar brown ones, she wanted to fling her plastic name tag across the room and pretend she was a guest too, pretend that Frankie and his lawyers didn’t already know where she worked and how much she earned each year.
               “Evie,” he said, sidling over to her. “You look good.”
               “Hi, Frankie.”
               They’d met at Dartmouth, in a basement bar not far from campus. She’d spilled some of her scotch onto the tops of her loafers, and he’d insisted that she had to dance with him to atone for the sin of wasting liquor. She’d known as soon as she placed her hand in his and tried to match his toothy grin with one of her own that she’d be going home with him that evening. What she didn’t know then was that she’d spend the next nine years of her life chasing that crooked smile. That she’d turn down a two-year stint in the Peace Corps to live with him in a dilapidated house off the coast of Deer Isle—far from any of her friends—and spend all her free time helping him build an ecotourism company. That she’d come home one gray November day, not long after Greener Pastures had finally started making money, to find that he’d left a stack of divorce papers on their coffee table.
               “What are you doing here?”
               “Looking for a room, of course,” Frankie told her. “I had a meeting in Portland and figured I’d drive up for the weekend. How would you and Oscar like to go out for dinner tonight?
               But whenever she remembered the way he’d kiss her into consciousness in the mornings and tell her that he’d never get tired of waking up beside her, she wondered if she could have avoided loving him even if she’d known.
               “I’ve got soup in the crock pot at home.”
               “It’ll keep better than the oysters I saw being shucked at Sebastian’s on my way here.”
               Eating oysters with someone who had cut her out of his life as neatly as she clipped coupons seemed like a bad idea.
               Frankie was traveling so often now, and her own world had shrunk to the distance she drove between The White Whale, the front gates of the Edmore School for Children with Special Needs, and the single-story bungalow she bought in Ellsworth last year.
               But Oscar liked to see the two of them together, and she hadn’t been out to eat in ages. “All right,” she agreed, finally. “I can put you in a room on the second floor, and see if Oscar’s feeling up for dinner.”


               On his way to his room, Frankie passed Baxter.
               Baxter was the only homeless man who lived in Bar Harbor year-round. He had a habit of climbing up and down the hills of Acadia in all manner of weather, dragging branches as wide as flag poles or pieces of sailcloth behind him. He usually wandered into the White Whale shortly before Evie’s shift ended, for a cup of coffee and whatever was left of the day’s continental breakfast. Sometimes one of the guests would complain about his scruffy appearance, and he’d eat in the alley behind the inn. But usually the guests were more perplexed than perturbed by his tatty clothes, and Evie could let him sit by the fireplace while he ate.
               On those afternoons, he’d tell Evie between mouthfuls of muffin or coffee cake about the boat he’d been working on for at least a year, promising her that he’d soon be setting sail for the warm waters of the South Pacific, to places where the beaches were sandy and you could walk barefoot even in February without getting frostbite.
               “It’ll be ready tomorrow or the day after for sure,” he told her.
               “Oh yeah?” Evie was barely listening. She was wondering whether she should change for dinner. There was a cobalt blue cocktail dress in the back of her closet that she’d been wanting to wear, but Frankie would notice if she changed and probably guess that she wanted to impress him.
               “I just need another bolt of fabric or two to finish off the sail,” Baxter continued. “You think you might have any old bed sheets you don’t need anymore?”
               The clock was striking five, signaling the end of her shift and her cue to pick Oscar up from chess club. She would have about an hour to get ready once she got home. “All right,” she said. “Ask Martha to grab some from the laundry on your way out.”


               Oscar’s elementary school was on the western edge of the island, protected from prying eyes by a phalanx of pine trees. She was a little late that day, and she’d assumed that Oscar would be outside waiting for her when she arrived. He wasn’t.
               By the time Oscar finally emerged from the building, fifteen minutes later, most of the kids had already left, and Evie could tell from the set of his shoulders that he was upset. But she knew that he wouldn’t want her to make a fuss, so she waited until he tossed his backpack into the trunk of her car and settled into his seat to ask about his day.
               “I had another accident,” he muttered. “Everyone saw.”
               “I’m sure they understand,” Evie said, noting that the baggy jeans hanging from his slender frame weren’t his. “You’re not the only one at school who has seizures.”
               “Lewis called me a freak.”
               “Ben Lewis is a bully.”
               Oscar pulled his headphones from the backpack and jammed them over his ears, effectively ending the conversation. Evie persisted anyway.
               “Frankie stopped by the inn today. He wants to take us out to dinner.”
               “No,” Oscar said simply.
               “I’m not going.”
               “He’s your father. He wants to see you.”
               “Then he shouldn’t live so far away.”
               Evie glanced at Oscar through her rearview mirror. His mouth was a tight, thin line. “He’s only in town for a few days.”
               “Good. Then I won’t have to see him at all.”
               Evie drove the rest of the way home in silence and padded into her bedroom after Oscar stomped up to his own room, to deliver the bad news to Frankie. “I’m sorry, but he had a bad day at school and just isn’t feeling up to dinner tonight.”
               “I could bring a pizza over there, if he’d rather stay in.”
               “I think he wants to be left alone for a while, to be honest.”
               “I see,” Frankie said softly. Evie didn’t need to see him to know that he was tugging at the fine hairs near the nape of his neck, the way he did whenever he was upset.
               “Maybe we can try again tomorrow, if you’re still free,” she offered.
               “Hey,” he said suddenly. “Why don’t you come out to dinner with me anyway? I’ve already booked the reservation.”
               “Just the two of us, you mean?”
               “Why not?”
               She could think of at least a dozen reasons to turn Frankie down. But she’d never been any good at saying no to men, and there was always something in Frankie worth saying yes to. The easy laugh and long eyelashes. The omelets he made on Sunday mornings. The hundreds of “I love you”s he’d mumbled into her ears over the years. It had been a long time since she’d heard one of those.
               “I’ll see if Karen can babysit.”


               Dinner with Frankie was going surprising well. The restaurant was quiet, and the wine good. They talked about Greener Pastures over their first glass of wine. She admitted to him over their second that she’d been toying with the idea of opening a business of her own, a bed and breakfast near her sister’s home in Norfolk, Virginia—she’d stayed there for a few months after the divorce, while her parents looked after Oscar, and dreamt of going back.
               “You should do it,” Frankie told her.
               “Running an inn is different than owning one, though.”
               “Not that different. And you helped me get Greener Pastures off the ground. That counts as experience too.”
               “Oscar probably wouldn’t like it there.”
               “He might, though. And I could look after him more. You’d be a lot closer to Baltimore.”
               “Maybe,” Evie allowed. Maybe she’d let Frankie be the responsible one for a change, the practical one, and she’d let herself do something a little impulsive.
               She drained a third glass of wine while Frankie ordered them a slice of chocolate cake. And when he invited her back to his room, on the pretense that his air conditioner wasn’t working properly and maybe she ought to check it out, she only hesitated a moment before agreeing.
               “I like what you’ve been doing with your hair,” he told her as he fumbled with the key to his room. “It suits you.”
               “Thanks,” Evie said, taking the key from his hand and turning it in the lock. “And I like what you’re doing with yours too. Even if I’m a little sad to see you don’t wear that old flannel jacket everywhere you go anymore.”
               Once inside, they poured themselves more wine from the bottle in the mini bar—the air conditioner already forgotten—and sat, side by side, on the king-sized bed that filled most of the room. Frankie let one of his hands rest lightly on the mattress, inches from Evie’s thigh.
               “Remember the weekend we spent in Acadia our first year in Maine?” he asked suddenly. “We had to sleep along the side of the road, because all of the cabins in the park were booked, and there was no way we could have afforded a place like this.”
               “I remember.” They’d spread out their sleeping bags along a soft stretch of grass near the southeast entrance of the park grounds. “I bet you that there were more than a thousand stars in the sky that night, but we only managed to count a couple hundred before we fell asleep.”
               “We didn’t fall asleep. We just got a little distracted,” Frankie said, edging his hand closer to her leg.
               “That’s right. I think we got distracted a couple of times that night, actually.” She reached across him to pour herself another glass of wine, and he suddenly leaned toward her and pressed his lips against hers. They were just as warm and as soft as they’d been that night in Acadia so many years ago, before they got married, before she got pregnant, before he left. She remembered that when they woke up the morning after their evening under the stars their faces were wet with dew and their bodies were dotted with constellations of bug bites every bit as impressive as the ones they’d been counting the night before.
               Frankie was attempting to unhook her bra when her phone rang. It was the sitter, Karen. “I’m really sorry, Ms. Robichaud, but Oscar’s having another seizure. A small one, but still. I think maybe you need to come home.
               Evie swore softly and told Karen she’d be right there.
               “What’s wrong?” Frankie asked, still stroking her back hopefully.
               “Oscar needs me. I’ve got to go.”
               “I can pull my car around.”
               “I’ll take a cab. See you later, Frankie.”


               Evie let herself into the lobby of the White Whale a little earlier than normal the next morning. She’d kept Oscar home from school to rest, and she wanted to finish as much as she could at the inn before he woke up, in case she needed to head home again to look after him. She actually liked waking up early anyway. She liked sitting alone in the lobby of the inn, where she could watch the newly risen sun struggling to warm the frigid waters of the Atlantic. Frankie used to tell her while they were living on Deer Isle that the sun lit up the mountains of the Maine coast before it hit any other part of the country, that it rose for them first.
               Frankie talked like a poet. He spoke in pretty turns of phrase. But he had too many hopelessly romantic ideas in his head to ever settle for the reality of life with a thirty-four year old woman whose son would probably always need her a little more than he did, who would always have to choose practicality over romance.
               By the time the first guests were waking up and wandering down to the lobby for fresh fruit or one of the blueberry muffins Martha had baked the night before, Evie had decided that, if Frankie asked her to spend another evening with him, she would say no. She’d be better off not getting involved with someone who lived so far away, someone who would never be able to understand that the world wasn’t all stars and sunshine and trips to Europe, that sometimes a person had to make tough choices, do what they had to instead of what they wanted to do. Her life wasn’t a sonnet, and she shouldn’t expect some sort of fairytale ending for herself in Virginia.
               She poured herself a cup of coffee and walked over to the bay window, where she could stare at the open sea across the rim of her mug. The familiar schooners and sailboats were bobbing up and down on the water, their owners preparing for a day of fishing or sightseeing. An unfamiliar boat was in the harbor that morning too, a small skiff gliding along the white-capped sea, skipping from wave to wave. Its hull was hewn from several dozen strips of thick, rough wood. And its sails had been sewn and patched together with many pieces of fabric, with scraps of sailcloth and at least one bedsheet.
               Baxter had built his boat after all, she realized. He’d stayed in Bar Harbor as long as it suited him, and then he’d moved on, trading rocks and pines for sand and palm trees, for the Florida Keys, maybe, or the Caribbean, to see the parts of the world that he and Evie had always hoped to visit.

Lindsey Anderson is an Ohio-born, Wisconsin-based journalist who covers art and entertainment in her adopted state. In a previous life she was a semi-professional burlesque dancer and roller derby skater. Her fiction appears in The Brasilia Review, Shirley, Vine Leaves, Litro, and Chicago Literati.
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