Authors: Courtney Cook Hopp
My dad whispered up behind me like a ghost, stirring the silence in the house. “Where are you going?”
I sighed into the open front door, the words of Jane Eyre dangled in my clamped hand. Up until that moment, I hadn’t decided where I was going. I needed out. Away from the throat closing stillness that always engulfed me on the weekends leaving me to crave Monday’s return. Back to a routine that had nothing to do with the shell of my dad.
“Up to the art room to read.” The half-hearted reply floated off my lips and caught in the breeze, the wind carrying it down the long gravel driveway. From under the rim of my cabbie hat, I stared, believing I could see the letters, the words, the formed sentence, drifting away.
Suddenly, the urge to float away with them tempted my feet to follow.
The low rattle of his tone pulled my eyes back in the house, but he had already shuffled away. Another drop of loss fell inside me, sizzling on flames of nothingness.
I stepped out onto the front porch and yanked the door closed harder than I needed to, setting the porch swing into motion. I’d intended to veer left to my small art room above the detached garage, but my feet crunched on the sharp bits of gravel and picked up speed, propelling me down the driveway and off the property.
Home was no longer home. Not since the accident. Not since Mom died and Aunt Lucy had convinced Dad to move us north to this desolate island, a stone’s throw from Seattle. The conversations, the attempts at niceties, the mundane motions of life, they were thin like a shadow, casting a gray hue over each day, slowly painting over the memory of my mom.
Her face. Her gestures. Her voice.
I struggled to hear her voice. The soft velvet tones that would pour out and wrap around me. Embrace me. Encourage me.
My walk was aimless. One street turned into the next, eventually spitting me out in the throbbing metropolis of Vashon Island — a two-way main street with exactly one blinking red light. I followed the sidewalk south, moving in and out of the long shadows cast down by the indecisive tumbleweed of clouds.
Small town hellos reached out to greet me with soft smiles, their forms shimmering in the storefront windows. They flowed from glass to glass, until one bent into something familiar, distorting like a house of mirrors. Blood roared through my veins, freeing goose bumps to speckle down my arms as I spun around. My eyes darted from one person to the next, trying to register what I thought I has seen but couldn’t define. But there was nothing. Nothing physical. Only a déjà vu that boiled inside me, churning up a kernel of unease. I continued to move, my heart keeping time with my new quickened pace.
I jaywalked across Main Street with a last look o
ver my shoulder, chiding myself and the bristly hair on the back of my neck. This was Vashon Island after all, not some crime infested inner city. Unsure of where to go, I slipped into a dimly-lit restaurant. A non-ringing bell “danked” against the door, announcing my arrival.
“Sit wherever you want,” the guy behind the register called out. He didn’t bother to lift his eyes from whatever he was reading.
The door closed behind me, sealing my decision to stay in the faint smells of fried food and sanitizer.
The diner was nearly empty, except for an overly affectionate couple near the front. With one last glance out the window, I moved deeper into the restaurant and sat at a table near the back, hoping to rein in my delusional thoughts.
The guy from behind the counter ventured out and splashed down a glass of ice water and a menu. “Do you want something else to drink?” he asked, his rolled up sleeves exposing layers upon layers of colorful tattoos.
I looked down at my Jane Eyre book still in hand and back out the front window. I had no purse. No wallet. No cell phone to call Grace to come get me.
“Are you expecting someone?” he asked.
My head snapped back to him. “Um, no. No one else. I’ll just have water.”
Without a word, he turned and walked away.
I tapped nervously on the cover of my book, unsure of how I was going to execute a “dine and ditch.” Or if I was ready to.
I slunk low in my seat and flipped the book open to the dog-eared page, pretending to read about Jane’s miserable life at Lowood School. It could be worse, I reminded myself as my eyes skimmed the page, I could be Jane.
My not-so-friendly tattooed waiter reappeared, interrupting the massive typhus epidemic sweeping through Jane’s school. He re-filled my water glass, managing to spray water everywhere with the forceful stream coming from the pitcher.
“Do you know what you want?”
I picked up the menu and pretended to look it over. “I haven’t decided yet.” The “dank” of the dead bell rang again, admitting someone else into this haven of congeniality.
Tattoo guy called out over his shoulder “sit wherever,” blocking my view of the door. He looked back at me and asked, “Any decisions?”
“No,” I said, setting the menu on the table.
He rolled his eyes and stepped away from the table. Directly behind him were the tantalizing green eyes from my dream. The very ones I pretended didn’t exist.
“Quentin,” my strangled voice rang in disbelief.
His surprise mirrored my own, but quickly dissolved into expressionless lines that rippled an uneasy quiver through my stomach. He didn’t budge. Only the subtle flinching of his jaw, shifting the line of his scar in and out of place, hinted that he wasn’t a statue. It took my mind nano-seconds to recreate an image of me passed out on his lap, instantly shooting flames of heat up my cheeks.
“Um, hello?” I finally said, attempting to break his odd trance.
Nothing, until he muttered something I couldn’t understand. The pause that lingered was brutal, heightening the clanking coming from the kitchen to an overwhelming stream of static.
And still he didn’t reply. He closed his eyes, as if in pain, murmuring almost inaudibly, “…worst luck…seriously, can’t be here…”
Of course he didn’t want to be here, with me, the strange girl who stares at half-naked Picasso paintings before passing out.
“Unfortunately, you are here,” I said, stating the obvious, the flames on my cheeks moving deeper into my hairline. “You’ve landed on the island of peace, love, and happiness.”
His eyebrows furrowed deep over his sunken emerald eyes, the tired black circles
from the night of the Picasso show, all but gone. He remained silent, the odd moment turning stranger by the second. I broke the intense stare and pretended to look for my place in my book.
“What are you doing here?”
My head popped up at the sound of his full voice. “Um, I stepped in for . . .” Honestly, I had no idea what I was doing in here. My eyes darted to the window, unsure if the nonsense I had felt fifteen minutes ago still lingered outside. His head cocked slightly. “Um . . . I was thirsty?”
He eyed the glass of water
on the table before returning his intense gaze back at me. “I meant the island. What are you doing on the island?”
was making me nervous. Not the freak-me-out nerves of whatever was outside, but the I-should-have-combed-my-hair type of unfamiliar nerves. I began to ramble. “The story in its entirety is long and tedious, but if you skipped to the last page, you would discover I live here. Well, actually, ‘live’ might be too strong of a word. The house I reside in is on the island, but the hours I’m not sleeping are spent plotting my island escape.” I reached for my water to stop the spew of words from my mouth. It was too much information. I knew it the minute he pushed his hand through the clean, tight waves of his dark hair.
I was about to refine the story when tattoo waiter came back and placed a second menu on the table. “Can I get you something to drink?” he asked, assuming Quentin was with me.
Quentin’s eyes did a barely distinguishable scan of the room before he slid the strap of a camera bag he’d been holding off his shoulder. “A Coke.”
I closed my book and sat up straight, my stomach a sudden mess of nerves. He was staying? Why was he staying?
“Jane Eyre — for school?” He nodded to the book as he sat down across from me. “Isn’t she the one who falls for a guy hiding his deranged wife in the attic?”
I looked down at Jane’s coquettish smile before my eyes found his again. “Doesn’t everyone have a deranged someone whispering around the
“I believe that makes you the exception.”
His eyes darkened. “Maybe. But if an island evacuation is what you’re planning, doesn’t that guarantee a fateful demise for the deranged person locked up at your house.”
“Death cannot be stopped,” I said harsher than I’d intended.
“But it can be buffered.”
“No, actually, it can’t,” I challenged. “Death does not take hostages, only members.” My words hung between us, the surreal conversation floating a cloud of confusion through me.
Tattoo guy walked up, and set down Quentin’s Coke. “Are you guys eating?”
“No,” we both spouted at the same time. He shook his head and walked away again.
I watched Quentin take a long sip of his Coke, his unhurried movement somehow settling, soothing over my ragged lines of tension. When he set his drink down, he asked, “How do you know Evelyn?”
Caught of guard by the question, I blurted, “I don’t.” I was in no way prepared to have a long-lost grandma discussion with a complete stranger.
“But she knew your name.”
“Knowing someone’s name doesn’t mean you know them. I know your name is Quentin Stone, but I don’t know the first thing about you.”
“You know I’m not currently housing a deranged person. That’s more than most people know.”
I shifted and tucked a loose piece of hair back under my hat. “Lucky me.”
“And I know you have a propensity for fainting while viewing Picasso.”
“Hardly the fault of the paintings.”
“Then what caused you to faint?”
I had yet to answer that question myself, so I asked, “How do
“Everyone knows Evelyn.”
I lifted an eyebrow. “Everyone?”
“She’s a collector. I met her through my mom a long time ago, but she’s also one of the top donors at the SAM, part of the President’s Circle.”
“Is that a big deal?”
“It is if you want a presence in the art world.”
“Ah,” I said, more confused than ever about Evelyn and why Dad wanted nothing to do with her. “And what exactly is your job at the SAM, aside from heaping opinions on unsuspecting viewers?”
“That is my job,” he said arrogantly, “when I’m not shooting my own photos.”
“Are you a student?” My face crinkled as I tried to picture him strutting around the University of Washington campus with a camera in hand.
“A student?” he said, mulling over my words. “
Um, of photography. Today, I’m in search of long, creepy shadows.”
“If it’s long, creepy shadows you’re
wanting, you should go down to Point Robinson Lighthouse. The place is loaded with them,” I said off-hand, offering my best tourist guide information in hopes he might take the bait and leave. “And, if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the deranged woman they keep locked up at the top of the tower.”
“Okay.” He stood abruptly and pulled cash from his pocket, tossing it on the table. “You’ll come, show me the shadows, and protect me in case the deranged lady plans a sneak attack.”
His quick movements and what I think is an invitation, throw me off. “And why should I risk my life for yours?”
“Because you owe me.” His tone was unwavering, persuasive, sending all common sense fleeing from my mind. Noting my hesitancy, he added, “I did, after all, keep you from cracking your head open at the SAM.”