Thetis Island (ebook)
Theresa Parker has waited four years to marry Ron, who finally tells her "it's not God's will." She goes to Thetis Island in British Columbia, Canada, to get over her heartbreak and there meets Shawn Malone. When Ron follows her, full of regret, she realizes her future lies elsewhere.
The past is over. God had collected her tears and turned them into tears of joy.
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A SEAGULL'S SHRIEK WOKE Theresa Parker, but the picture on the west wall was what really brought her awake.
"Well, hello there," she whispered, her voice soft and lonely in the quiet of her first morning back at Thetis Island. She sat slowly, leaning against the pillow and wall and rubbed the sleep from her eyes. The blankets brushed about her feet, and unconsciously she pulled them around her waist to keep off the chill as she stared at the picture. Apparently it was one taken at graduation, and she felt the threat of warm tears. How come she hadn't noticed the picture last night when she'd lugged in her suitcases and plunked them on the floor?
Same old knotty pine paneling, she noted. Same old nicks and scratches. The Pricilla curtains, once the color of summer sunshine, were faded and looked shabby. They were closed, blocking the view and the day. There were the usual summer things scattered about: beat-up paperbacks in a brick-and-board bookshelf, the old popsicle-stick pen holders they'd made as kids. Which one had Ron made? she wondered ruefully. Two driftwood lamps sat on the dresser: the closet door, half open, spilled life preservers and boat oars. The old blue broom she'd bought for Auntie Sue one summer sat in a corner. And there was that picture on the west wall. Theresa couldn't help look again.
Ron Johnson was a handsome man. No other word for it. Handsome, with blue, blue eyes set far apart in a keen, intelligent face. His mouth was what all of her writer friends back in the States would call sensual, with the bottom lip full and curved in a provocative swell. Theresa could feel his kisses, the light touch on her skin. Warm tears grew hot and she had to blink quickly to keep them in.
Suddenly she threw back the covers and jumped out of bed. Yanking a suitcase from behind the door, she slung it onto a stuffed chair that seemed to crouch in the corner of the small room. Dust poofed out of the cushion and danced in the morning sunlight seeping through a crack in the Priscilla curtains. She shivered, popped the suitcase clasps, and began riffling through the neatly folded shirts and shorts to find what she wanted. A bright pink blouse, blue jean cut-offs. Her sandals. Her fingers trembled with the cold as she struggled to push the buttons through the holes.
"You can't make me cry, Ron Johnson," she muttered, wiping her face with the back of her hand. Not anymore. But she did cry. "Oh, Ron! Why?" She flopped back onto the bed, aching with loneliness and, again, turning her face to his picture. "Why did you do this to me? Why did you go off and leave me? Why?"
At last the smell of dust filled her nostrils and Theresa began to remember the tasks that had to be done if she were to be comfortable for the month and a half her aunt and uncle said she could spend here. She had to dust. Shake out the blankets. Sweep the floors. Get rid of the cobwebs . . . .
The seagulls again. If she were still enough, she could hear the sound of the waves. And sparrows chirping. And chickadees.
Quietly, methodically, Theresa finished dressing and pulled back the curtains. Without bothering to look outside, she rummaged through the closet and found enough hangers to hang her clothes.
The bathroom was a lean-to affair, an attachment to the cabin. Daylight found holes in the outside tar paper and came through in shafts of sunlight. When she was fifteen her father had built it the summer before he'd been killed. Two lives ended, her mother's and her father's because someone had gotten drunk and driven their car. And not once in the eight years since had her uncle suggested finishing the bathroom. So it stayed a lean-to, studded in with tar paper and shingles and a creaky floor.
A large spider sat in the bottom of the sink. She swiped a square of toilet paper over him and dumped him into the waste can. Then, lowering her head, she unfastened the three rollers and undid the rubber band that had held her hair on top of her head for the night. Straightening, and tossing it loose, she felt her hair settle around her shoulders, layered and curled and ready to go. Peering into the cracked mirror propped up on the bathroom sink, she dabbed at her blond eyelashes with mascara. Why bother? Nobody out here to notice.
Nothing remarkable about her face. A few freckles left over from childhood, blue eyes, a straight nose, her father's smile. A regular face she never gave much thought to except that she didn't like her light eyelashes. But blond lashes generally came with blond hair, so she had to take the good with the bad. She liked her hair.
Theresa remembered the kitchen well. More knotty pine. The turquoise countertops, finished with formica left over from the fifties when her uncle and father had framed the place. The pitted and stained old sink. The stubborn, antiquated hot water heater that sat in the corner, king of the "castle" with its pipes and width and dusty taps. The window with its wide sill full of seashells collected over the years, and an old milk bottle printed with Chehalis Dairy full of Auntie Sue's agates. Theresa glanced quickly about the room, taking it all in, feeling the peace that this room always brought. It was just as she remembered from visiting her aunt and uncle and cousins and Ron, their foster son---and the summers she'd spent here as their own daughter.
Was it a mistake to come here? She pulled the electric tea kettle from beneath the sink. Too late, she was already here. Nothing to be done but stick it out and try to forget the rat. A can of cleanser by the radio fell over and sprinkled onto the blue formica. She'd catch that later and filled the kettle with water, plugged in the cord, and then wandered about touching things, getting to know the cabin after so long.
How long ? Four years? When she was twenty, they'd had a birthday party for her, and Ron had bought her a pearl necklace. Ron again . . .
She sat heavily in her uncle 's living room chair and sighed. Here all was neat and in order. Auntie Sue must have been out here, tidying things up. The wood-burning stove was clean and a stack of driftwood had been brought in: Uncle John must have been here as well. The windows on the east wall faced the cliff and water below---a spectacular view. Curious, she crossed the braided rug and looked past the sharp cliff where she'd fallen head over heels one summer. Uncle John thought she might have broken her neck. All she'd suffered, though, was a small scratch on the top of her head. And people said miracles didn't exist.
A trail began at the foot of the porch steps, leading fifty feet to the edge, dropping quickly down, using with dug-out steps and embedded drift wood to ease the way, finally petering out on the beach. From the front room, she could see the early morning light on the coarse beach below, lighting the barnacles and crushed blue muscle shells. Suddenly Theresa was glad to be back. Uncle John was right. If there was a place to find solace, it was here at Thetis.
The water in the tea kettle hissed and she dashed about trying to find a teacup with no mouse droppings or cobwebs. Then she had to hunt down the tea bags. Where were they? In the Peak Freans tin on top of the fridge? Yes, where they'd always been---predictable yet hard to reach for someone barely over five feet tall.
The cupboards, of course, were empty. Only some stale biscuits and a can of Campbell's tomato soup. She'd have to go down to the marina and get some groceries if she were to enjoy a proper breakfast.
But for now she took her tea and biscuits out to the deck, where she could soak in the morning sun and stare off the cliff to the beach and barnacles and tossed-up logs and darting seagulls. The tide was in and the waves lapped gently. The scent of salt and seaweed wafted up. The birds called to each other. The steam from her still-hot tea dissipated in the breeze, and she held the china cup with both hands to savor the warmth. Goosebumps dotted her bare legs, but she felt oddly comfortable.
Funny, Canada was the only place you'd find china in a summer beach house. Her friends in the States, where she lived now, having followed Ron to Seattle where he was studying at the University of Washington, teased her about her Canadian ways. They laughed at her "Aunties" and "eh's" and her "biscuits" and "serviettes." They'd laugh this morning if they could see her drinking Red Rose out of Old English Rose china at the cabin.
Granted, the china was old, the gold long ago washed off. She held the cup high and peered at the bottom. Yup, Old English Rose. She was right. A sense of satisfaction came over her and she smiled. Then she thought of her own china, the newer Old Country Rose pattern that Royal Albert was putting out, china she'd been collecting for when she and Ron married.
Ron. This was the trouble with breaking up, the jerk bows out but keeps popping up in your mind. You can't put him in a closet and shut the door, never to be bothered again. Would she ever be happy? About anything? Angrily Theresa sipped her tea and wondered how long this aching would go on---and for a bum like him.
She'd followed Ron to Seattle and was now enrolled at the U herself as an English major, halfway through her junior year---and, in fact, was here now doing independent study. Two hundred pages of Corrie ten Boom's underground railroad during WWII, a suspense story of her 72 teenagers who rescued children from farms in the middle of the night. She wasn't a great writer, but she had potential--or so said her novel writing professor. But darn hard to write, Dr. McDermot, after getting dumped---after years of waiting around for the man of her dreams to finish medical school. And then the extra years while he specialized in psychiatry only to drop her for another woman. A woman who hadn't put in the years or emotional energy or prayers.
Prayers. Theresa tossed the remainder of her tea out and it arched in a spray of droplets, caught the sun, shone briefly, then splattered to the ground. It depressed her to think of all the praying she'd done for that man. Prayers for money so he could continue his education. Prayers for her own patience while he spent evening after evening and weekend after weekend studying. Prayers for "God's will"... whatever that was supposed to mean. Looking back, it seemed it was all for Ron's will. How foolish she'd been.
"We can't get married." That's what he'd told her after all those years of waiting and foolishly praying, moving to Seattle, collecting china. "It's just not God's will...
"We had an understanding. Ever since I was fifteen. Ever since you came to my uncle's to live. Ever since---"
"We were just kids." he explained, his once soft and understanding eyes now hard and unyielding, mirroring a mind made up. "It wasn't right. Your aunt and uncle had no right to encourage us the way they did. You were just fifteen. I was only seventeen. You were vulnerable, what with your folks' death. And me, kicked from foster home to foster home, never knowing any sort of security or love. We latched onto each other out of dependency, not love."
"So you say."
"No, Theresa, we don't love each other. Someday you'll see that, and you'll be glad I'm doing this. Someday you'll thank me."
Right now she wasn't. That's for sure. All that mumbo-jumbo psychiatric talk. And then she'd found out it was really another woman. Someone who could talk Freud and "family of origin" and schizophrenia. Someone who hadn't sacrificed herself so he could have it all. Someone who hadn't prayed.
His picture stared at her where she now stood in the bedroom doorway. She pulled the covers up over the unmade bed, still looking at him. She plumped the pillow. More dust and she sneezed. I've got a bit of cleaning to do right after I run down to the marina. But not before she stashed the offensive picture into the over-crowded closet, pushing it to the back amongst the sleeping bags. Stay there and rot.
No one locked doors on the island. Theresa skipped down the porch steps, warm with the sun, and picked her way carefully down the cliff. She wanted to go along the beach rather than the road.
The tide was receding and pools of clear seawater, caught in crevices and shallow craters of the barnacle-covered rocks, gave off the perfume of kelp and warm sun. The sea was clear in the tide pools and she peered into them, looking through the glassy mirrors into another world.
Crabs scurried from frond to frond of the algae. Barnacles peered out of their gray bone shells and mussels opened under the water and hordes of tiny creatures grew frantic with activity along the bottom of each pool.
Hermit crabs, like children at Stanley Park, skittered along the bottom of the pools. One came across an empty snail shell. Theresa stopped to watch him creep out from his own shell, become naked and vulnerable for only a minute, then slip into the new and better one. It would be nice to be able to leave Ron behind like that, she thought, and find someone else. But people were not hermit crabs.
Several hundred yards along, she came across a couple of purple starfish planted over the mussels where, with suction cups, they lifted the blue shells from the rocks in a way that only sledgehammers or lye could have done. Quite genius really. Starfish vomited their stomachs from underneath them, from the center where their five legs met, clung to the rocks and pulled their stomachs back in, mussel meat with it, and feasted.
Close to the tide line, waves licked the rocks and splashed over and into other tide pools. For a moment the glassy mirrors bubbled and churned, then became soft and clear again.
The farther south Theresa walked, the narrower the beach became until at last she had to abandon the tide pools and rocks and edge along the thin strip of sand strewn with old logs and the remains of log booms. Rotted flip-flops and cracked fishing floats were wedged between the debris, and already flies had begun to furiously fuss along the seaweed strings left behind by the receding tide.
She rounded the spit and there was the marina. Sailboats and motor boats sliced through the water. The place seemed busier than she remembered in years past. Excitement bubbled up inside and she hurried across the sand, caught up as always in the thrill of boats and the smell of creosote and spilled gasoline and the sound of yoo-hoos and laughter.
Her eyes quickly scanned the docks. Shielding her eyes with one hand against the rising sun, she squinted into the tangle of ropes and sails and bowsprits. A huge mast towered above the others. Hand still guarding, she stepped onto the main dock and headed toward what looked like a fifty-foot sailboat. Picking her way over coiled ropes and ice chests and buckets of fresh fish, she was approaching what had to be the grandest, most elegant boat she'd ever seen.
The Groet Bear swayed majestically in the small swell of the sea, its bowsprit hanging out fifteen feet in front, the end capped by a hand carved bear with an open mouth---as if to growl at the wind. The mast was at least eighteen inches thick and towered into the sky. A double door led from the back deck into the cabin. Hand carved fish made up rails. She stood on the dock, heart pounding away, awed by the sheer majesty of this ship. She wasn't aware of the commotion until it was too late---a dog, barking and shaking water from its coat, lunged into her and knocked her sideways.
"Bear!" bellowed an angry voice.
Too late. Theresa toppled off the dock and felt a sharp whack to her head on her way down. The next thing she knew she was in the water, dog barking furiously up on the dock above, and people were rushing over to see what the fuss was. Someone had hold of her, keeping her head above the surface of the salty sea.
"What? What---" she sputtered.
"That dumb dog. Hey, it's okay. I got you. Can someone help me haul here up?" he shouted.
Through splintered rays of light she saw his face and was about to protest, she could climb out herself, when an explosion of pain ripped through her head.
"You're not Ron..."
"Should I be?"
The man looking down at her smiled, his face fuzzy in the ringing world she opened her eyes to.
She tried to sit, but seemed to be held in someone's lap, both of them sitting on the dockside. It hurt to open her eyes. Who was this? Not Ron. Not here. But where was she? She shook her head to clear the fuzziness from her eyes, a mistake. Zigzagging pain rippled behind her eyes.
"Hey, there. Take it easy. I got you. The doctor's on his way. Just sit still."
Who was this? Again she tried to open her eyes and, with vision, came clarity. The sounds, the smells, the tumble into the water. And the dog! She swung around and stared at the man who held her. "Who are you?" she demanded.
He smiled, but peered anxiously into her face.
"Let me go," she said, quite embarrassed and suddenly very aware of people standing about. "Please," she added.
"Just a petite thing, aren't you?" He ignored her, and brushed away some wet strands of her hair. "You can't be more than five feet tall."
She winced and pulled away. "Five-foot-two."
"It's a nasty blow to your noggin." Someone lay a blanket over her and she found herself leaning against the stranger.
"Five-foot-two, eyes of blue. That better'?" he asked, tucking the blanket around her neck, his voice deep and resonant behind her. Propped against his shoulder she could feel the vibrations deep inside his chest. "Are you comfortable?"
He laughed, a quiet, slow chuckle that surprisingly delighted her. "Of course you are. You fell into the drink, remember?"
"No. I mean, you're wet. You're shoulder. I'm making your shoulder---"
He bent down to hear better. She felt his breath on her face, not altogether unpleasant, and almost without knowing it, found his hand and drifted back to where it was comfortable again and where no one stood around gawking and Ron held her.
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