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Note- Stand-alone story but for further enjoyment, please consider Renovator’s Delight, A Delightful Renovation, and A Million to One to expound upon the storyline.
The man reached out and offered his hand as I climbed from the ship onto the dock, his eyes brushing across the pale skin on my ring finger where the wedding band had so recently been. Relieved when he didn’t refer to it.
“Mayhew?” I questioned.
“As far as I can recall,” he laughed, baring a fine set of white teeth, stark, surrounded by such tanned and weather-beaten skin. “Welcome to the island Briggs.”
“Dan’s fine,” I smiled, happy to have my feet back upon terra firma, the two-hour boat trip from Catalina having done its best to dissuade me from taking up a job on the high seas any time soon.
“Then Dan it is,” Mayhew grinned as he set to retrieve supplies ready to be handed from the crew of the ship. I joined the work and after roughly fifteen minutes of labor, Mayhew turned his attention back to me. “Right. Let’s show you the ropes.”
It was, as far as I was concerned at the time, the perfect job. Twelve months as caretaker of a lighthouse on an island off the coast of California. Yes, I was running away. From a job. From an ex-wife. But ultimately from a life that I no longer wanted to live. And where better than an isolated island, away from everyone and everything? Away from the clamor of traffic. The noise of humanity and the constant distraction of social media. And as we climbed the long staircase that led up from the dock and I breathed in the unpolluted sea air, felt the crisp breeze of the Pacific upon my face. I knew I’d made the right decision.
“Right, there She is,” Mayhew gestured toward the lighthouse as we crossed a lawned area between the cliffs and the buildings, needlessly pointing out the towering monolith that dominated the small island. “She’s set and forget now,” he continued. “Basically, runs herself. Not like in the old days. Gets ‘er power from the mains and if that cuts out, she’ll switch herself to the solar battery,” he pointed a wiry but muscled arm toward solar panels at the base of the tower. “That fails, is where you come in. There’s a generator ’round the back of ‘er. We’ll head up after I show you around the residence.”
The ‘residence’ was more than I’d envisaged. Modern inside, though retaining the original heritage exterior, and Mayhew noted my surprise.
“Yep, it’s been renovated,” he divulged. “Couple before me in fact. Brother and sister, if you can believe. Strange they were. Sort of, out of their time if you understand what I’m saying.”
I didn’t but I allowed him to continue regardless.
“Island’ll do that to you if you let it. Change you. Though something tells me they were like that before they came here,” he looked off into space a moment and I could only imagine his thoughts. He was older than me, considerably. But I felt I would’ve struggled to put an age to him accurately if asked. It was then he looked once more at my ring finger. “Just recent, I gather?”
Instinctively I clutched at my left hand, the missing ring and the remembrance of taking it off. Throwing it at ‘her’ in the divorce settlement hearing. Immature I knew. But understandable in response to her calculatedly vicious demands.
“A couple of months,” I admitted.
“So, you’ll be alone here?” He questioned and I confirmed, the information drawing a long intake of breath from the older man, just as slow a release. “Island can be a lonely place,” he revealed, slowly nodding his head as he searched my eyes. “Let’s head up to the light.”
The view from the top was nothing short of awe-inspiring. The whole of the island stretched out below, the vastness of the ocean in every direction, no sight of land only white caps in a field of never-ending blue.
“Yep, she’ll do that to ya!” Mayhew acknowledged my reverence to the beauty, his eyes remaining on me as he frowned. “A year here alone. This island can change a man Briggs,” he repeated his earlier assertion. “Two things’ll either happen. Man finds himself…”
“Or?” I smirked.
“…he loses his mind.”
I was thankful I’d only signed a short-term lease on my apartment back in L.A. Accepting the loss of pre-paid rent a cost of healing my mental health. The few valuables that hadn’t been taken by Linda in the divorce, I intended to store at my mother’s, and it was then, as I packed the trunk with some vinyl records and electronic equipment, that I wondered how I’d indeed tell her?
The correspondence with the Coast Guard and Mayhew himself was conducted over only two weeks and in the intervening time of learning I’d been successful; I’d not talked with Mom. She knew nothing about the job and more importantly the time I’d be away. Just over a year since the death of my father, there was no good time to break the news she’d be losing her son for an extended time as well, albeit in a not-so-fatal manner.
Unsurprisingly, knowing mamak escort her stoic nature, she took the news relatively well.
“It’s undoubtedly an opportunity of a lifetime,” she embraced me as I detailed the job. “I’m happy for you, really,” she emphasized before she hurriedly turned away, the rinsing of her coffee mug all of a sudden, a priority. It was then I knew I was mistaken.
“Mom?” I questioned and she refused to look back in my direction. “What are you doing?”
“What? Nothing,” her voice broke and I approached her from behind, reaching out to place a hand upon the arm of her hoodie. “I’m just being silly,” she turned and her eyes had filled with tears.
“Mom,” I struggled to find the right words to placate her.
“I’m just going to miss you is all,” she managed to force a smile, and fighting off sympathy tears myself; I once again took her in my arms. This time the embrace was closer. Possibly too close as I felt her breasts pressing against my chest, the even more uncomfortable feeling of my penis nudging her pelvis.
“It’s only a year,” I stupidly stated and immediately thought of the fact Dad had only a year after his diagnosis. Probably not the best analogy. “There’s a phone line on the island. We’ll still be in touch,” I offered, immediately feeling guilt at how little contact I’d had with her over the previous months anyway. The divorce had dominated my life and even knowing the grieving process she was going through concurrently; I’d chosen to focus on myself.
“I know,” she sniffed as she broke the embrace, lifting a hand and using her sleeve to wipe her eyes. “As I said, I’m just being silly.”
“No. No, you’re not,” I told her, seeing her as a human being for the first time in a long time, not just my mom. “You’ve been through as much shit as anyone over the last year,” I declared. “If anyone deserves to run away, it’s you,” essentially admitting to her I was indeed fleeing my life and problems.
It then came to me, and I was speaking faster than I was thinking.
“I know,” I straightened. “Why don’t you come?”
“Come with me?” I offered before I’d even the chance to think through the proposal. “To the island.”
She was shaking her head, a furrow coming to her brow but I noticed the tears had dried.
“What are you talking about? It’s impossible.”
“No, it’s not,” I disagreed. “They expect a partner to accompany the applicant. There’re provisions provided.”
“I can’t,” Mom declared.
“You can!” I countered, smiling.
“But what about my…” She seemed to be struggling to find a reason to stay. “…I mean I have tennis on Saturday and next week I’m meet…” she abandoned her list of commitments mid-sentence. “I have no reason not to, do I?” She admitted and I shook my head. “Could I?”
“Why not?” I smiled. “It’d just take a phone call to let them know two would be on the boat,” I pulled out my phone. “I could do it now.”
She took a moment. Biting her bottom lip as she contemplated the offer.
“One year. On an island in the middle of the ocean. Just the two of us,” she detailed the reality in three short sentences and I began to wonder if I’d made the right decision. Would it work? I hadn’t lived with her under the same roof in more than fifteen years. We’d be in constant close contact. Forced to share everything, every day, with little to no privacy. Suddenly, selfishly, I wondered if it was too late to take it back?
And then I saw her smile. A brightness I hadn’t seen in a very long time.
“I’ll do it!” She beamed.
“Yes!” She approached and for the third time that morning we were embracing, her arms up around my neck, a surprising kiss beside my lips. Too close to my lips. The scent of perfume in her hair, the softness of her body against my own… I was glad when the hug ended.
I almost didn’t recognize her.
“What’s with the hair?” I smiled as she left the house.
“Oh,” I saw her blush and she ran a finger across her bangs to brush her now short hair behind an ear. “I had it cut. Just to be more manageable.”
The style was unlike her. A short bob that reminded me of flapper girls from the roaring twenties.
“It looks good,” I admitted as I took her last bag from the porch and loaded it into the back of the cab, and again, she blushed. Very unlike her. “Right, all set?”
“Ready when you are Captain,” she smiled and we were away.
Taxi from L.A. to the port. The ferry from Terminal Island to Catalina and the Coast Guard Cutter to take us due west, past San Nicolas to Caster Island. Our home for the next year.
A light rain, more a mist, settled in as we hit the open water and I left the bridge, finding Mom leaning against the railing looking overboard. Her face turning in my direction as I approached, her deathly pale complexion told me she wasn’t handling the waves.
“Not long now,” I touched her back in sympathy and she moaned, mamak escort bayan leaning further over the edge preparing for the seasickness to do its worst.
“Just let me die,” she managed to force a laugh and I joined her mirth.
“Can I get you anything? Water?” I offered and she shook her head.
“Just keep doing that though,” she referred to my rubbing her back. “It’s helping.”
She’d abandoned her long black jacket with the fur collar over a life preserver behind us and was down to only a thin, almost transparent linen shirt, my hand encountering the strap of her bra as it ran the length of her spine. Strangely, I wondered if her panties matched the whiteness of her bra and immediately scolded myself for even contemplating the fact. Why would I think that? And what did I care!?
The water calm as we neared the island, I could make out Mayhew awaiting our arrival on the jetty, waving as we approached. As the cutter slowly pulled up to a stop and the crew set to attaching docking lines, I assisted Mom from the ship to a surprisingly pale-faced welcome from the island’s current sole occupant.
He seemed unable to take his eyes from my mother, his mouth and eyes wide in what I would almost describe as a look of shock or fear. Calming somewhat as we neared him.
“Mayhew,” I began, his eyes not leaving Mom and the reaction to her becoming somewhat uncomfortable. “This is my mother, Juliette.”
The revelation, perhaps the name, seemed to draw him from whatever spell he was under and the familiar Mayhew presented himself to us, his infectious smile following.
“Mother? And she’s staying?” he turned to me and I nodded my confirmation, Mayhew quickly turning back to her as he unexpectantly dropped to a knee, taking her hand in his own. “And Juliet? ‘But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks?'” He quoted and kissed the back of her hand.
I was taken aback by his actions but Mom seemed charmed, laughing and begging him to rise.
“Spelled differently I’m afraid,” she referred to his use of the Shakespeare passage. “But thank you anyway.”
It was then Mayhew seemed to fully come to his senses and apologized for any offense he’d caused on our arrival.
“…it’s just you look so much like her,” he cryptically stated and I was quick to question as to whom he referred? His eyes once more cast across Mom, this time squinting as he took in her appearance. “Oh, it’s silly. It’s nothing. Come on, let’s get you settled.”
“I’m happy for you Briggs,” Mayhew stopped as we headed back toward the residence from the lighthouse and a once over as to the workings of the generator.
“What?” I asked, still mulling his behavior on our arrival.
“That you won’t be alone here,” he looked about our surroundings.
“You’re not going to tell me again about how the island changes people are you?” I smiled but he didn’t return my levity, pausing before he once again spoke.
“There are ghosts here Briggs,” he nodded to accentuate his statement.
“I don’t believe in ghosts,” I countered.
“Nor do I,” he surprisingly agreed. “But I don’t think they care,” he searched my eyes, and admittedly, his words caused me to shiver.
“What happened at the dock?” I ventured. “You looked then like you’d actually just seen a ghost.”
“I thought I had,” his voice almost cracked and our attention was caught by Mom heading out of the residence into the bright sunlight. “But I was mistaken,” he added.
Mom surprisingly took my hand as the crew and Mayhew boarded the cutter and the ship slowly reversed from the dock. Mayhew walked to the bow to be closer to us and leaned on the railing.
“You’ll do well Briggs,” he grinned and his white teeth caught the afternoon sun. “Everything you need from life is on this island,” he added. “And the answer is in the books.”
The ship began to turn and Mayhew left his perch, once again to be within talking distance.
“I forgot to mention,” he looked up at the sun. “Few weeks from now an old friend of mine’ll drop by. You’ll know him when you see him. He’s harmless,” he was now shouting as the ship pulled away. “He’ll just want a feed if you’re willing,” he waved and the Coast Guard Cutter was soon powering away into the blue.
And we were alone.
“What do you think he meant by that?” Mom asked as we watched the ship become no more than a spot on the horizon, her hand still in mine.
“What part of it?” I laughed. “What books? Who’s this friend? I haven’t been told of any visitors. Frankly, I don’t want any,” I admitted as we turned and headed back toward the steps, holding hands seeming so natural until it became awkward with the climb.
“I know,” Mom agreed once we’d reached the top and into the sun-bathed lawn atop the cliff. “It feels like we’re the only two people left on Earth right now. I want it to stay like that for as long as possible.”
The season was changing. Winter escort mamak into Spring, and already the air was becoming warmer. I took a deep breath to fill my lungs, the slightest scent of my mother’s perfume.
“Yeah, I agree,” I spontaneously placed an arm around her shoulder. “Come on. Mayhew says there’s a beach down here past the jetty. Let’s go and explore.”
The island wasn’t large and Mayhew had explained the circumference could be hiked in under an hour. Like the other Channel Islands off the coast of California, it had risen from the ocean in the geological process millions of years before and would remain eons after we’d departed. A stand of oaks tempered the winds that lashed the western coastline and the cliffs that circuited the island prevented landfall anywhere bar the jetty and the small sandy cove Mom and I now came upon.
“It’s just like in the movies,” Mom excitedly left my side and removing her shoes when she hit the sand, jogged to the water’s edge, small waves kissing the shore. “Oh my god, it’s freezing!” She laughed as she waded ankle-deep into the water and as she turned, I couldn’t help but smile.
“It’ll warm up over the coming weeks. We’ll be swimming in no time,” I assured her and as she once more turned to the sea, my eyes fell to her body. The faded blue Levi’s hugged her ass hermetically and I wondered when last I saw her in a swimsuit? Picturing her in a bikini, her hair and body wet, dripping. The thought shocked me and I snapped out of my daydream, wondering how long I’d been fantasizing as I discovered the uncomfortable fact, I’d gotten an erection.
Feeling my face instantly blushing and the pants I wore not disguising anything, I dropped to the ground to hide my embarrassment, sitting down on the fine dry sand and only then turning my attention back to Mom. In the action of bending forward inspecting shells, she’d thankfully not noticed anything and I was left wondering why twice in the one day I’d thought of my mother sexually? Her peach-shaped ass presented to me almost animalistically, I smirked as I answered my own question. How could I not?
The residence stripped of Mayhew’s personal items; the simple conjoined kitchen, living, and bedroom now looked bare. It was strangely only then that the fact there was only one bed came to mind, Mom and I both obviously thinking the same thing as we looked at the relatively small double bed.
“I’ll take the couch,” Mom declared, as I noticed a red hue emerging at her neckline.
“You will not!” I refuted.
“But you’re working hard all day. You’ll need the comfort.”
“Well, you’re not going to be idle,” I countered. “There’s the vegetable garden. You can help me with the painting.”
“The buildings, they all need constant upkeep. The lighthouse!”
“The lighthouse!?” You’re not painting the lighthouse,” Mom was aghast and I laughed.
“The inside,” I admitted.
“Oh, thank God.”
“That reminds me, wanna come up and see the view?” I proposed and it was now her that laughed.
“You won’t get me up there for love or money,” she unsurprisingly declined, her fear of heights well known in the family.
“We’ll see,” I grinned. “Mayhew says this island changes people. Maybe it’ll cure your fear of heights?”
“Good luck with that,” she giggled, retrieving fresh linen from one of her suitcases. “Mayhew. Is that a first name or surname?”
“Don’t know. I think it’s just Mayhew. Kinda suits him. That reminds me,” I looked to the small shelf of books on one of the walls of the cabin. “What were those books he was talking about?”
Mom set to making up the bed as I inspected one after another of the hardcovers, perusing the titles and finding nothing of import. A few novels from relatively popular authors. A history of the Channel Islands which could be interesting reading; but it was the second to last that struck me from the moment I lifted it into my hands. A biography of one Delia Caster. The surname that of the island we now stood. Was it named after her? I flicked through the tome to the middle pages and the black and white photographs contained therein, my heart skipping a beat and the breath knocked out of me as I settled on one image alone.
It was my mother.
I mean, of course, it wasn’t actually my mother. The credited photo was taken in 1925 and showed Delia Caster, a little-known silent-era actress, and socialite, standing upon a dock, a steamship in the background. But the resemblance to the woman that was struggling with a fitted sheet not ten feet from me was uncanny. Maybe I was embellishing. She had the same physical stature, bone structure of the face. It was possible many women could’ve shown similarities given the same hairstyle, but it went to explaining Mayhew’s bizarre reaction to first witnessing Mom. She’d been wearing her black coat with the faux fur collar. In the photo, Delia wore a stole around her neck and a long dark overcoat. To Mayhew standing on the jetty with the Coast Guard Cutter in the background, the similarity to the photo would’ve been remarkable. He’d also presumably not seen a woman for nigh on a year, so there was also that, I was quick to add!
“Mom, look at this,” I showed her the book and photo, her curiosity piqued. “Did you know about it?”
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