The November sky was grey and streaked with long, puffy clouds that masked the gradual steeping of the sun below the horizon; the time was just five minutes after 5:00 and Ostin made his way along the rocky path towards a small unsightly looking wooden dock.
His neck practically shriveled into the upturned collar of his woolen trench like a turtle’s and his hands trembled inside the pockets. His teeth were chattering and he could barely hear himself think over the 40-degree breezes scratching across his face. He could just make out a little white and brown rowboat nestled beside the dock, bobbing gently in the water. There was a faint golden light perched within, and what looked to be a figure huddled with it in their hands.
What in the devil possessed me to pick this god-forsaken place to stay again? He thought to himself. He had been just about ready to give up his journey and head home when he read about a tiny little town called Port Hamilton, Maine, only an hour away from where he was then. He looked up places to stay on Airbnb and figured he’d pick the craziest looking spot just for kicks. He looked up at the tall, shadowy lighthouse looming ahead; its beam slowly rotated and came around to shed an illuminous sheath of light across the dock for just a half a second and kept turning again. In that moment noticed a woman standing now beside the boat where it was docked, reddish brown hair whipping in messy curls around her hooded face. She slowly lifted a hand in a solemn looking sort of wave before dropping it back down.
When he came close the soft glow of the lantern from the boat just barely illuminated her face.
“Good evening,” he greeted. “I’m guessing you’re…Elizabeth?”
She nodded. “That’s me. Ostin?” He nodded back and she gestured towards the boat. “Climb right in.”
He shrugged, heaved his small suitcase up with both hands, and stepped down into the tiny boat. He sat down carefully on the bench opposite the light, nervous he would capsize the thing if he moved too suddenly.
Elizabeth untied her rope from around the dock and carefully lowered herself down into the rowboat. She picked up the light and scooted it over a bit to make room before picking up the rows on either side of her. After gently pushing off from the post and propelling her boat away from shore she methodically began turning the paddles.
“You know, I can get those if you’d like,” Ostin offered, although from what he could tell, she was performing the task near effortlessly.
She glanced up and eyed him, dark eyes glinting as she speculated. “No thanks,” she responded.
“Okay…” He trailed off. “So, how far from land are we then?” It didn’t look too far off to him but then again, it was rapidly growing dark.
“Only about ten minutes,” she responded. She looked off to the side at the water but glanced at him through her peripheral vision. There was something about him that bugged her but she couldn’t quite name. Something that was off-putting and familiar at the same time. Why do I feel like I’ve seen him before? She thought to herself. He had brown scruffy looking hair that just poked out from beneath his hat, mussed by the wind, and a vague looking sort of beard dusted across his jaw. It looked like he was either due for a shave or trying to grow it back out.
“So, Ostin,” she started. “Where are you from again?”
“Oh, I don’t think I mentioned,” he told her. The look in his eyes could only be described as curiosity. “I’m just from a town called Blossom Ridge? It’s kind of small, so you may not have heard of it. About five hours away from here.”
Elizabeth nodded. What the hell. Her mind started whirring like a crazy top. That’s my hometown. She swallowed a lump quickly forming in her throat. I haven’t been there since Sienna… She forced the thought back down, unwilling to think about it there, not now. She simply continued rowing in silence, nothing further she felt she could add.
Ostin had other ideas. “What about you?” He prodded. She looked up at him with a furrowed brow. “Well, where are you from?” She visibly frowned. “Hey,” he chuckled, “It’s only a question. You alright over there?”
“I’m just fine,” she huffed, “and I don’t wanna talk about it.”
“Seriously?” He asked her. “What kind of hostess are you?”
“I’m the innkeeper,” she snapped, looking away from him and back at the water to ensure their course was steady. “Don’t call me a damn hostess.”
“Woah, woah, okay.” He held up his hands playfully, but the snarky grin she spotted on his face betrayed the offended gesture. She returned it with a scowl. “So, Elizabeth, how did you come to own this place?” He continued.
Does this man really not catch any hints? she wondered. She passed him a bewildered look and shook her head. “I kind of inherited it, I suppose,” she sighed. She wasn’t used to her guests asking so many questions, and she didn’t normally come out to greet them like this, but the boatman was feeling ill and needed an evening to rest.
“Well, how’d that happen?” He pressed when she showed no signs of continuing.
She glanced behind her towards the land, which was near enough now it would only take a few minutes longer to reach. This motivated her greatly to hurry up and finish the conversation. “Well, I worked for the original inn keeper for a few years when I first moved to this town, and when she fell sick, she wrote me in her will to inherit the place. She was kind of a mean old lady, but she liked me well enough apparently.”
“Apparently,” he scoffed, befuddlement contorting his face. “You know, your’e kind of a funny gal, maybe you should try talking more often.”
“You’re kind of infuriating,” she snapped back. He only snorted in laughter back.
Just a minute later, she rowed them slowly up to another dock, this one in noticeably better condition than the one before. The posts were tall and straight in comparison to the stubby, crooked looking ones from earlier. As soon as she pulled the boat up to moor, Elizabeth stood up and swiftly tied her rope around the dock’s cleat. She picked up the lantern and stepped up onto the wooden dock before turning around and offering a hesitant hand to Ostin. He gratefully accepted and held her gloved palm as he slowly stood up and then clumsily pulled himself up beside her.
To her dismay, he held onto her hand a few more moments and clasped his other one atop it. “It’s nice to meet you, by the way,” he said with a sincere smile. “And thanks for rowing me up here.”
She was glad for the coverage her hood and the darkness provided her, because the unexpected touch and warmth of his spirit sent an unwelcome flush of color to her cheeks. She opened her mouth and closed it for a second, staring up at him a little too long before responding. “Oh yeah,” she finally mustered. “No problem. It’s nice to meet you too.” He finally released her hand and she forced a brief smile. “Alright, let’s go on and get you settled in.”
They walked up a long and winding cobblestone path that twisted up a softly rising hill and came to the doors of Frostwater Inn. How welcoming, Ostin thought as he glanced up at the aged wooden sign, letters etched out green against the brown, that was swinging from above the doorway.
Elizabeth checked him in in the guestbook, pointed out the kitchen where he could order a meal, and briefly directed him to his room before rushing away towards her own. It was all she could do to hold her breath and keep her heart rate steady as she bounded up the stairwell to the third floor, containing only her personal bedroom and bathroom. All the thoughts and emotions bubbling under the surface from her previous revelation were pushing up her throat like a stopped-up spring, pressing, pressing, pressing for sunlight and space to erupt.
She made it to her bedroom and slid through the door before closing it behind her and leaning back against it. She released a long, shaky breath. She could feel the beginnings of a migraine pulsing at her temple, and she squeezed her eyes shut as tight as she could. She brought a hand up slowly to touch the long, wide, and almost silky scar that spanned down from the middle of her forehead and cut through her left eyebrow. She traced a finger along its length, trying with everything she could muster to resist the urge to simply forget what she had heard. He said he came from Blossom Ridge. That’s home. Oh my God. Sienna…I miss Sienna. No no no.
She walked over to her nightstand and snatched the lighter that was resting there, pulled a small metal box out from underneath her bed, and moved towards the window. Her room was on the highest floor of the inn, and when she climbed outside through the window, she was able to pull herself right up onto the ledge of the roof. She gracefully made her way up there and settled comfortably in the slightly curved nook she usually sat on. She pulled the metal box out from under her arm and traced her palm across its delicate floral designs. They were embossed with an aging bronze material that nearly blended now with the grayness of the lid. She gently pried it open and pulled out a half-used vanilla scented candle, a folded-up piece of paper and a longer roll of parchment. She used her lighter to light the candle and set it beside her legs before rolling the parchment out across her lap.
Her sight drifted across the page and with every touch of her fingers to the worn material, every line across the map of the sky she traced, she could feel the weight in her chest shrink a little bit lighter. Her and her sister, Sienna, used to study this map of the stars together and spend hours trying to figure out which star above them matched up with the ones on the chart. She unfolded the smaller piece of paper and looked over the short list of names they had scrawled on there previously. Her gut clenched when she looked over the part of the list where her sister’s handwriting disappeared. They signed each one with their initials. Every time she looked at “V.A.” written beside her discoveries in neat, curly handwriting, and thought of her old name, a small flicker of fear ignited in her chest.
Some nights they would lay on the roof of their childhood home, barely talking, holding hands. Sometimes they would cry together, silently or with loud sobs that racked their whole bodies.
“I don’t understand, Vivienne,” her sister choked between tears. “Why does he hurt us? Why doesn’t he love us?”
Her shoulders trembled as she wrapped her arms around her younger sister. “I’m so sorry, Si, I don’t know. I wish it would stop too. I wish they would stop drinking.”
“It’s so scary,” Sienna whispered. “Sometimes I’m so terrified of him. And mom doesn’t do anything about it.”
“She doesn’t know any better herself,” Vivienne muttered. “But…sometimes I hate her.”
She would almost always look back at the stars, silver and blinking in a way that was both taunting and welcoming. She wished she could catch a flight to one of those stars, and take her sister away forever, never looking back. She wished now she could go back in time and get her sister out of there, whatever it would take.
Elizabeth leaned back and stared up at the stars above, fighting the confused tears pushing at the corners of her eyes. Sometimes she imagined all the hurt locked away was sucked into a vacuum inside of her, like the vast gravity void expanse of space. Maybe someday it will just disappear forever. She thought back to Ostin, the seemingly normal, albeit a little pushy, man who came into her inn that night. She couldn’t seem to shake what he had told her, that he had come from her hometown. There was something inside of her telling her something was wrong, but she didn’t know what. Something about his presence unnerved her, yet she couldn’t keep him out of her thoughts. His face, though she didn’t get much of a clear look, had a certain rugged handsomeness she felt she had seen before. It felt to her like reliving a vague dream from her youth that she wasn’t entirely sure had actually occurred.
The next morning Elizabeth completed her typical routine around the inn, getting up and ready around dawn and bustling around to make sure Angela, the cook, was prepared, and Josie, the young room service woman was ready to begin her rounds and had any help she might need. Then she would go down to the front desk and sort through all the paperwork and payments. She only had three guests staying at the inn currently, which was fairly normal at that time of year, so she finished up her tasks quickly.
Around 9:00 in the morning she was standing at reception checking over the files for her current guests and their intended check out dates. As nobody was checking out that day, she had no one to double check on or ask if they would like to extend their visit. It was always a relief when she had less people to talk to.
She heard a soft rapping against the doorframe between there and the dining room and looked up to see Ostin leaning there with a questionable smirk on his face. As soon as their eyes connected, and she saw him there fully in the light, a switch instantly clicked in her mind. She gripped the counter in front of her as tight as she could because she felt she might fall over.
He was ten years older, and his hair was a lot shorter and more well-kept – but those shining gray eyes with the crows feet wrinkling at the corners – nothing could change her mind now, this man was Ostin Davis from eleventh grade, her first crush and only kiss.
All that happened in one second, in the same time it took for his eyes to flick up to her forehead and his face drop in undeniable appalled shock, She turned her face self-consciously down towards her papers and tried as hard as she could to still her shaking hands. Nothing made sense to her right now, and everything was happening too much, too fast. She felt her cheeks flare up, but not in the same pleasant way they had the night before.
“I know, it’s a little grotesque,” she let out a weak laugh. She was used to joking about the unpleasant trophy adorned by her forehead with tenants, but not used to showing it to her childhood flame.
“No, no, I’m sorry,” Ostin scrambled. He moved rapidly towards the desk, his footsteps firm. She tensed up and continued to look down, too timid all of a sudden to meet his eyes. “Hey,” he said, voice surprisingly gentle. “Can I see?”
She rolled her eyes with a sigh, slammed her pencil down, and reluctantly lifted her head. He reached out a hand and she flinched away. “Woah,” she said, eyes widening at the sight of his fingers approaching her cheek. The self-consciousness immediately fell away with a flare up of indignation. “What are you doing?” She swatted his palm away and gave him a look with one raised eyebrow.
“Oh, sorry,” he mumbled, giving her a weak smile. He scratched the back of his head and shifted on his feet. “Sometimes I just act before I think. I’m assuming you don’t want me to touch it, then?”
She shot him an incredulous stare, blinking her eyes in dismay. “Huh? No you can’t touch it! What are you crazy?” It was so hard to focus on what was happening when the floodgate of her memory was begging to burst open – she could just barely see pieces of images behind that barrier: silly teenage flirting in the halls, nervous secret handholds tucked behind their backs on furnace-hot bleachers, and that fleeting treasured moment buried so far away of a dark gym room and warm arms around her waist. What made it all feel ten times worse and far more confusing was the fact that he had no idea who she was. She didn’t know if this was entirely bad or possibly a good thing in disguise.
His next words ripped her out of her internal standstill. “Yeah, I guess so, I’m sorry. I have a hard time with personal space.” Ostin let out a nervous laugh, quick and quiet, almost like the exhalation of a breath. “Can we just start this morning over?”
She bit the inside of her cheek and shook her head, trying to unfog her brain.
“No?” He asked, voice sounding a bit hurt.
“No, God, sorry, I just-” she slapped her forehead lightly with her palm. “Sorry, I guess I’m just…tired, is all. Uhm, yeah, okay, I guess we can start over.” She pressed her lips into a thin smile and looked at him expectantly.
“Whew, thank you,” he said, pretending to wipe a bead of sweat from his brow. She shook her head but offered a small smirk in return. “Anyways, Miss Elizabeth-”
“Call me Liz,” she interjected, her voice working before she could rationalize her words. A soft blush crept up her neck as she spoke, followed immediately by a lingering sense of shame and queasiness.
“Okay,” he responded with a chuckle, “Miss Liz, I was actually wondering if there was any way you could show me around Port Hamilton this afternoon, I was hoping to get acquainted with all the stores and such, as I’m looking to stay here for a little while longer. Unless you’re busy, of course, I suppose I could ask around here or figure things out myself.”
“Oh, uhm,” Elizabeth looked down at her hands and twiddled with her thumbs. Dammit, I don’t even really have an excuse not to, and if I did I can’t think right now to come up with one. “Well, I guess there’s not much going on around here. Josie is well equipped to handle anything that might come up, so it wouldn’t hurt if I just gave you a little tour.” She looked back up at him and couldn’t help the small hopeful smile that spread across the cheeks when met with his broad grin. There was warmth spreading through her chest so rapidly all of a sudden she felt it was almost criminal.
“Perfect! Thanks so much, I’m just gonna go get ready then. I’ll meet you outside at noon then?” She nodded in reply, and he pressed on, already moving backwards to walk away. “Awesome!” He called out from just outside the doorway. “We’ll grab lunch then too. It’s a date!”
She laughed and rolled her eyes, standing there in stunned confusion for a few moments before the realization kicked in. “What the hell did you just say?!” She called out, but he was already up the stairs.Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in