Leah Keegan was positive she was not meant to be a superhero. Or an alien. Or whatever other life-form came in a peculiar shade of near-fluorescent lime green. A disturbingly large amount of her skin was sporting the lurid tint at the moment, proving that this was not her color. Besides, the last time she had seen this particular shade on a humanoid, the poor thing was being pursued by one Captain James T. Kirk, and no thank you to that. The green had to go.
She plopped down on the narrow boards ringing the inside of Ward Peterson’s tiny, rustic bare-bones boathouse, just the right size for a small motorboat and nothing more. The interior was now painted said screaming alien-green, solely so Ward could more easily locate it and navigate his boat back in after a long day of fishing. His eyesight wasn’t so good these days, he had told her, especially at dusk. Leah preferred not to speculate on how much his eyesight was affected by how many beers he had indulged in on any given fishing expedition.
Leah picked at the dried paint that had somehow managed to cover almost as much of her as it had the inside of the boathouse. But doing that tugged on the fine hairs of her forearm, which just plain hurt, so she let it be for now and admired her handiwork instead. Seventy-five dollars and flights of fancy about being a different sort of creature. Not bad for a day’s work.
Now it was time to pack up the paint and brushes and rollers, haul her butt out of the boathouse, and get home to a cool shower. She forced her tired bones to move but paused mid-boost, a wash of melancholy knocking her back down to the boards. Except for the siren song of that shower, there was no need to rush home. She kept forgetting. It was a strange thing to get used to, and she hadn’t succeeded just yet. It would come. In time. She knew that—in her head, at least. Her heart was still catching up.
She sat quietly, leaning back against the coarse boards of the boathouse, watching the gentle flow of the water. From here all she could see were other docks, other modest properties huddled up along the inlet. Follow this stretch of water, however, and it soon opened out onto the vast, powerful St. Lawrence River, moving northeast to the Atlantic Ocean. Beyond the huge vessels in the shipping lanes and the various small bits of land in the river that gave this part of New York State its name, the Thousand Islands, lay Canada. On this side of the river, the lush green flatlands gave no hint that the Adirondack Mountains would poke up, ancient and imposing, less than a hundred miles away.
But here, in this boathouse, on this inlet, a bit of peace—from the tourists, who were starting to wrap up their summer vacations as each day grew progressively cooler and shorter, from the river traffic, from the thoughts that filled her head day and night.
Leah took a breath. This was okay. This was good. By tonight she’d have money in her “gettin’ outta Dodge” jar and food in her stomach. She’d scrub the alien tint off her skin, wash her paint-spattered clothes—er, throw away her paint-spattered clothes—and spend the rest of the night watching trashy TV. But for just one minute she closed her eyes, relaxed her aching muscles, and listened to the soft blipping sound of the tiny waves lapping the wooden posts under the boathouse.
“Aren’t you going to miss this place?”
The voice was so close Leah almost answered the question.
But it was just a trick of acoustics, sound bouncing off the water’s surface and funneled straight into the boathouse. Whoever it was wasn’t talking to her. Nobody could even see her in here unless they were out on the water, pulling into the boathouse or cruising past it, and there wasn’t much more to the inlet past the Petersons’ property. In a few hundred yards it dissolved into a weedy marsh, just past the—oh, the bridge. Someone was on the bridge.
“Come on, admit it. You are.”
The voice was measured, smooth, and deep, almost musical, but with an energy underlying it. The guy was tense, even though he sounded like he was joking, and it made Leah stiffen as well.
Another person responded with a tolerant sigh. “Of course I am.”
A woman this time, also tense. Leah wondered if these two were wound up about the same thing.
“I wish you didn’t have to go,” the man said.
“It’s just a sabbatical, Eli.”
Eli. She wondered who he was, whether she’d seen him around. In a small town like Willow Cove, knowing nearly everyone was expected. Unless you were a hermit, and Leah had to admit she had been one for quite a while.
“Sure you don’t want me to come with you?”
His tone was playful and sexy and Leah squirmed uncomfortably. This was obviously a private conversation, and she really wished she could teleport out of the boathouse without them seeing instead of hiding in here trying not to listen … and failing. But she was here and they were there and the only way out was past them, so she was going to have to wait until they moved on.
In the same intimate tone, Eli said, “You are going to miss me, right? Call me with all the news, text me at weird hours when I’m sleeping and you’re drinking your morning espresso in some piazza in Rome?”
He was probably bumping his shoulder against hers, Leah thought, his forehead touching her temple, as they leaned on the bridge railing side by side, watching the dimming sunlight on the water.
The woman laughed softly. “Sure. That is, if I ever get to Syracuse to catch my first flight.”
“Okay, okay. Hang on,” Eli said, drawing out the words, and Leah pictured him throwing an arm over the woman’s shoulders and pulling her to him. Obviously she was anxious to get going, and not just because of her flight. Eli, on the other hand, wasn’t exactly ready to let her go. “There’s something I want to say first.”
“Victoria, just listen, okay?”
Victoria did not, in fact, want to listen; Leah was sure of it. Leah didn’t either, because she had the feeling Eli was about to say something very private.
“I want you to know I’m going to miss you, and the next ten months are going to be torture—”
“We’ve been over this already, I know. It’s only … I—I love you. I do. So much. You’re going to say it’s too soon, and I get that,” he rushed to add, probably because Victoria was moving to protest again. “Most people would probably say it’s too soon for a lot of things. I mean, four months, right? But I say when you know, you know. So…” After a moment he added, “It’s not a diamond or anything.”
Silence from the bridge. A long, heavy silence.
Leah dropped her forehead to her bent knees. Oh no, Eli. No, no, no. Don’t do it. She could practically feel the resistance radiating from Victoria right through the boathouse planks at her back.
Despite Leah’s silent pleas, he went and did it anyway. “I hunted down the jewelry maker you liked so much from the arts festival and had him make this. Consider it a, you know … okay, promise sounds a little high school. What’s the equivalent for thirty-year-olds? Commitment? Anyway, I’m ready to commit. With you. I’ll be here when you get back, and then we’ll—”
Copyright © 2022 by Jayne Denker