Authors: Courtney Cook Hopp
My plan was to follow behind him, hide in his shadow, assess the passer-byers on the sidewalk before stepping out of the restaurant. But he waited, holding the door open for me, chivalry beating out my paranoid nerves.
My eyes adjusted to the bright light and found nothing. No one waiting or watching. The only abrupt movement was my overly active imagination.
The door swished closed behind us, and Quentin said, “Why don’t we take my car.”
“Um, sure,” not mentioning I didn’t have a car for us to take. I followed him down the street to an army green Range Rover, circa not much newer than my Karmann Ghia. He opened the passenger door and waited as I climbed inside the pristine interior.
My stomach made a series of somersaults at my rash decision to get in a car with a complete stranger. What the hell was I doing? Ignoring my intuition, I pointed him south on Vashon Island’s two-lane highway after he asked which way to go.
I stole glances of him out of the corner of my eye as he quietly manipulated the car per my directions, but he offered no conversation in return. The silence should have been painful, choking, like at home, but it was different, soft in a way I couldn’t quite place my finger on.
We rolled our way down Point Robinson Road to a parking lot that sat above the lighthouse. Glimpses of the tower peaked through the swaying treetops, the soft cawing of seagulls a reminder that water was near.
“The lighthouse is this way.” I stepped out of the car and pointed to a narrow path that vanished into the woods.
He nodded and grabbed his camera case from the backseat.
We ventured down through the dense mini-forest, slow and deliberate. Quentin stopped often to take pictures, never rushing a shot or becoming distracted by my presence as the soft click of the shutter opened and closed to a private view intended only for his eyes. His concentration emanated a deep intensity from his face, etching hard lines across his cheeks. The harshness portrayed a red flag that should’ve had my nerves jumping and my feet moving in the opposite direction, but instead, it left me curious.
“How long have you been interested in photography?” I asked
, as we broke free from the trees. The warmth of the sun embraced us and pushed away the damp chill of the woods.
“Any other photographers in your family?”
He shook his head no while spying something else through his lens.
“How about brothers or sisters?”
He turned his head from the back of his camera to look at me. I could read the hesitation in his eyes. “One of each.”
He stepped away — avoiding my eyes, my questions.
Moving across the clearing, he aimed for the backside of the lighthouse and called over his shoulder, “I’m going to head around to the far side of the tower.”
I picked up my pace. “Is that my cue to follow and protect you from the crazy lady?” I asked jokingly. “I don’t want to be accused of shirking my duties.”
“Loyalty. A rare commodity.” There was no humor in his tone. We walked past a wall of luscious green trees, lined like s
oldiers down to the waters edge. They stood strong, daring the water to try and take over any more land.
“Are they older or younger?”
“Your brother and sister.”
We came to the back of the non-working lighthouse, now owned by the parks department, and walked the length of the building protruding from the tower. “Where do they live?”
“Do you always ask this many questions?”
We rounded the corner of the building, the Seattle skyline visible to the north. “Do you always avoid questions?” I countered.
He stopped abruptly and spun around, his tall frame loomed over me. “San Francisco.” The air pulsed with his dubious stare. “They both live in San Francisco.”
My nerves reared up and my mouth began an uncensored spout of words. “I’m sure you were dying to ask, but I’ll save you the breath. I have one brother.” I lifted my hand to block the glare of the sun as I looked up at his unreadable face. “Foster. Older. He just left for his first year at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.”
He shook his head in bewilderment. “Who are you?”
“You used up that question the last time we met. You need to work on your repertoire.”
Not waiting for a reply, I moved beyond him and focused in on the shoreline.
Tingles. Painful tingles. Up the back of my neck. Rocking me to the core as they marched with purpose over the top of my head, puncturing every pore like the rhythm of a sewing machine’s needle. The pain stealing the breath from my throat.
The colors returned with a burst, displacing the pain as they began their intoxicating dance, spinning and morphing into patterns of brilliance. My body swayed and my limbs softened in response.
“CeeCee?” Quentin’s voice fluttered through the colors, and replaced them with a hail of dark images. One after the other, they fell heavily inside me.
A small rowboat thrashed in the water. Cracks of lightening flashed across the sky. Storm water rose everywhere, threatening to topple the little wooden boat.
“CeeCee, do you want to sit down?” His words were barely a whisper above the roaring silence in my head. Words I couldn’t respond to, react to, my tongue latched down, every muscle in my body forced to focus on the horror unfolding before me.
I sucked in a deep breath not yet stolen from me, trying desperately to regain control of my slipping mind. But the images pressed on. Painfully. Demanding my full attention. Demanding I focus solely on the shadowy figure that had emerged in t
he chaos. A figure trapped in the boat, clinging desperately to the sides.
No longer able to stand under the pressure, the pain, my body dropped. A ring of warmth circled my waist, softening the fall.
“CeeCee?” His voice grounded me, a touchstone to reality, pacing my heart as the images raced by.
I drew my legs up and
curled into myself, the dark storm sucking me in deeper and deeper, crossing over the threshold of reality. Water. Everywhere. Rising violently. I gasped for air, wanting to reach out, to rise above the chaos and grab hold of the shadowy silhouette clinging for life in the fragile boat.
And then it was gone, sucked through a vortex, leaving only a wash of gray.
My body sunk into warmth. Exhausted. The last of the piercing needles making a hasty retreat.
“CeeCee? Are you okay? Should I call someone?”
I held completely still as my insides quaked, unsure of what was happening to me. I sucked in a short breath and another, praying when I opened my eyes that the world would still be round, rotating on its even-keeled axis and that the boy with green eyes would vanish before he could confirmed what I wasn’t willing to admit to myself. I was losing it.
“CeeCee. Say something. Two minutes ago you had no trouble forming words.” His rough fingertips brushed my cheek as he pushed back erratic strands of hair that had escaped from under my hat. “You’re face is so pale.”
Unable to avoid the inevitable, I opened my eyes and turned to his face that was inches from my own, my back cradled against his propped up knee. My eyes latched on to his furrowed brows, and I allowed myself to swim in the soft pools of green that lay below them, safely avoiding the hazardous wasteland of my mind.
He blinked, bringing my trance to an end. I looked out across the dock. The endless planks hovered over the gray water, dropping off into nothing. An
overwhelming urge to see what lay beyond welled up inside me.
“Is something wrong with you?” His tone was patronizing, effectively breaking the intimate moment. “Do you have these types of spells often?”
“No!” I blurted at the thought, getting my feet underneath me. I didn’t want his condescending sympathy. “Never. Not once.”
Quentin was quick to grab my arm. “Don’t rush on my account.”
I couldn’t stop. I had to stand. I had to walk away from him. The end of the dock was calling out to me. My steps were small. Babyish. The boards creaking under my weight. I didn’t know what I was looking for, I only knew I had to look. I had to see if anything was down there.
I inched closer, the images in my mind paint
ing a picture before I saw it, before I leaned over the edge and found a small wooden rowboat listing gently on the calm waters. The same boat trapped in my head. My legs wobbled and goose-bumps broke out everywhere.
Quentin grabbed my shoulder and pulled me back. “What are you doing?”
Gently the boat rocked back and forth. Empty. “This can’t be,” I murmured. “How can this be the same boat?”
“The same boat as what?” He pulled me back a few more inches.
“The same boat . . .” I looked back at the spot where I’d been overcome by the images. I looked at Quentin’s face, his eyes returning me to the SAM, to the flurry of images I’d seen that night, almost certain that one had been of this very dock and boat. “How is that possible?”
“How is what possible?”
Unable to stop myself, I said, “I’ve seen this boat before.”
“You’ve been on this boat?”
I was trapped in a bubble of confusion. My words tried to piece together what my mind couldn’t process. “No, I’ve never been on the boat, but I’ve seen it.”
“CeeCee, you’re not making any sense.” His voice hardened in frustration. “When did you see it?”
“Um, right . . . right before I fainted at the SAM.” There. It was out. Like a live wire loose in the air, poised to send people running from me. The truth that something besides fainting had happened. The truth of how normal I wasn’t.
The lull that hung in the air was a familiar
, tense and silent. Painful gears turned, assessments were being made — scales balanced.
“I don’t understand a word you’re saying,” he said, running his hand through his hair. “You saw a piece of art that looked like this boat?”
I didn’t understand what I was saying either, because what my mind hinted at wasn’t possible. The fog inside me began to lift and an uneasy feeling descended down, stalling my verbal processing. “You’re right,” I said, latching on to the only plausible explanation. “I probably saw a piece of art at the SAM that reminded me of this boat.”
He thrust an accusatory finger at the lifeless boat. “CeeCee, there are no works of art at the museum that look like this boat.”
I pulled free from the spell the tiny boat had cast over me, too tired to understand, too embarrassed to try and explain. “Your photos. You should get the rest of your pictures before you lose the light.”
I could see a debate slide across his eyes as he held mine. “The photos can happen another day. We should get you home.” Abruptly, he turned and headed back to the car, the out of balance scale sending him rocketing from the island. Away from the crazy girl.
My brush stroke was tense, the bristles bending awkwardly under the pressure of my fingers. I focused all of my energy on the hue of crusted amber, determined to keep my mind clear of the garbage it continued to regurgitate. I forced the brush down the canvas, my wrist bent just the way Mom had taught me. Hours she would spend with me, her patience endless, stroke after stroke.
I dropped my hand and stared at the line of color. It wasn’t right. Nothing felt right. I threw my paintbrush onto the pallet of colors, leaving the floodgates of my mind open to be inundated with the images I’d tried to suppress. Quentin. The lighthouse. The boat. The shadowy figure clinging for life as the storm waters attempted to thwart their efforts.
Was it supposed to be me? Drowning?
I shoved my balled fists against my eyes, trying to rub out what lay behind them. Every free moment of the past couple of weeks I’d spent holed up in my art room. Hidden, as I waited and wondered, when and if my mind would turn on me again and make another painful strike, leaving me stripped of all rational explanation.
The sound of tires crunching on the gravel driveway announced a welcome distraction. I shuffled over to the dormer window, twisting my out of control hair up into a knot
before shoving a paint brush through it. Grace and Avery stepped out of Grace’s car and headed toward the house. I hesitated before rapping on the window, unsure if I had it in me to be social.
Acknowledging me with a wave, they altered their course to the stairs that led up the side of the garage.
They disappeared from view as my forehead came to rest on the cool glass. I closed my eyes and sucked in a deep breath, mentally preparing myself for Grace’s intense level of social banter. As my lids fluttered open, a slow moving car passed the end of our gravel driveway, spiking a surge of adrenaline through my veins. An old green Land Rover, like Quentin’s. It couldn’t be.
I blinked. Shook my head. Looked again.
Nothing. It was gone.
I rubbed my tired eyes, unsure if I’d imagined it or not. Of course I did. I turned from the window, unwilling to fall victim to my mind’s pranks.
I was becoming delusional. It was no different than the figure in the boat, or the images I saw the night at the SAM. Maybe I was the deranged lady that needed to be locked away.
The thump of feet on the stairs brought me back to reality. I shook off my misguided sight and returned to the canvas, trying to brush in some final details.
“Okay, Cee,” Grace said as the door flung open and she and Avery stepped in. “Let’s see it.”
I squinted, brushing wisps of highlights to the dark hair on the canvas. “Hello to you, too.”
“Hello is a formality we’ve moved way beyond,” she chirped and gave the door a back-kick closed. “Although, with your recent MIA status, maybe formal greetings are back in order.”
I knew it was true. I’d been in full avoidance mode, embarrassment of possibly fainting keeping me out of the public eye.
“And you look like crap,” Grace commented, her eyes giving my disheveled
appearance a once over.
“You can ignore her,” Avery chimed in. “She’s a bit bent by a stupid rumor floating around.”
“It’s not stupid.”
“It is stupid,” Avery retorted in her usual black and white tone.
“What’s the rumor?” I looked up as they neared. They both looked crisp against the fuzziness of my mind. Bold and put together, swimming through my world of gray.
“Sean’s interest has been caught by a little, you know,” Avery said as she leaned in and whispered, “T and A.”
“Well, which is it?” Glad to have someone else’s problems to focus on. “A ‘T’ or an ‘A’?”
“She’s got both,” Grace grumbled. “Big boobs and a nice curvy ass.”
Avery giggled. “Chelsey.”
Their approaching critique set a flutter of nerves loose in my stomach. “She hardly compares to your curves.”
“I know I got it in the trunk,” Grace replied, her hips swinging wider, “but her perky double-D’s are a visual stimuli even I can’t compete with.”
Avery and I did a simultaneou
s eye roll as I moved to the sink, distancing myself from the canvas and their reactions.
They both took it in at the same time and went silent, the ticking wall clock suddenly the loudest mechanism in the room. My palms turned damp. I plunged them under the spray of cold water, along with the brushes. Of all the art lessons I took in San Francisco, the one I never mastered was putting my art on display for public opinion.
It was Grace who finally broke the silence. “Couldn’t you have at least distorted my boobs bigger?” she said of my version of Picasso’s cubism using the two of them as models.
“I could have.” The cold water bit at my hands as I cleaned the brushes. “But you both knew portraits weren’t my thing before I asked you to model.”
“It was a stupid class assignment,” Grace spit out.
Done with her 30-second scrutiny, she snagged a magazine off the art table and flopped herself down on the old couch along the wall. “But, as usual, yours turned out much better then my interpretation of the Seattle skyline.”
Avery continued her thoughtful study of the canvas. “I don’t get it.”
“That’s because it doesn’t involve numbers or symbols,” Grace quipped back to our math genius, whose interest in art ran just deep enough to put up with Grace and me.
My cell phone beeped as I dropped my brushes on the drying rack. I dried my hands and walked back to the art table, pushing around the clutter to find it. “So who’s your source about Chelsey?”
“Jenni,” Grace pouted.
“Unreliable,” I said and moved up behind Avery who was still studying the canvas. “You don’t have to look at it any longer,” I whispered over her shoulder. “You’ve fulfilled your friendship viewing quotient.”
“It’s fascinating.” She cocked her head left, than right. “I can see hints of me the longer I look at it, even though it looks nothing like me.”
My phone beeped again.
“Girls. Focus. We’re discussing me. What makes her unreliable?” Grace asked, stretching her legs out and flipping through the magazine. I knew she was trying to act disinterested, but she wasn’t fooling anyone.
“She’s one of Chelsey’s closest friends. She’s just stirring the pot to see if anything floats to the top.” I grabbed my phone and looked down at the screen. A text. From a number I didn’t recognize.
“I agree,” I heard Avery say as I stared at the number.
Finished with her analytical scrutiny, she moved over to the arm of the couch and added, “If you want an answer, you need to flush out a direct contender. Ask Chelsey.”
“Or better yet,” I said pulling up the text message, “you could ask . . .”
R U free Thursday night?
“I could ask who?” Grace’s voice drifted into my scrambled confusion.
I reread the text, my heart hammering double-time in my chest. “You, um . . . could . . .” How did he get my cell phone number? I looked up at Grace, the only other person who knew Quentin existed. I wouldn’t put it past her to prank me.
“What?” she asked.
“Where’s your cell phone?”
She did a half roll and pulled it out of her back jean pocket. “Here. Why?”
“Girl, you are losing it.” She shoved her phone back in her pocket. “Are you going to answer my question?”
Staring at the text, I asked, “What question?”
“Focus, Cee. Focus. Who should I ask about Chelsey?”
“What? Oh, Sean.” Distracted, I moved to the little bench seat in the window and hit the reply button, the dampness in my palms back. “You could ask Sean directly.”
How did you get
“What do I care? Sean can date whomever he wants.”
I shook my head, because I knew she did care. My phone beeped again, startling me.
If you’re free on Thurs,
I’ll tell you.
“CeeCee? Hello?” Grace’s exaggerated voice catching my attention.
“What?” Annoyance seeped into my tone. I could easily sneak out, but to meet him? I looked out the window, picturing the car I saw drive-by earlier. I knew I needed to say no. I should say no. Every logical thought screamed no.
Grace lowered the magazine and shot me her best offended look. “Don’t get uppity with me for asking you a friggin’ question. Who’s texting you, anyway?”
“Oh, um. Foster,” I lied. “Complaining about his school work and lack of social life.”
“It’s his own fault,” she shot back with her typical answer for everything. “Did your brother think he would be able to skate through an engineering degree?”
“Engineering’s a great field,” Avery added in.
“Whatever,” Grace said, going back to her magazine. “But in my book, it’s just another form of island isolation.”
Island isolation. I was tired of isolation. Tired of this room. Tired of my own mind. Tired of gray. In a moment of irrational thought, I typed one word and hit send.
“Not everything has to be about isolation,” Avery added. “It could just mean . . .”
The next beep seemed to have doubled in volume.
“CeeCee, I know you two are close and all, but you’ve got to cut him off.”
I tuned her out to read the text.
Catch the 6:40 ferry.
I’ll meet you on the other side.
I didn’t reply. Unsure of what I
’d just agreed to.