By Kevin Symmons
ONE -- JAMES
Friday, August 18, 1995
The afternoon was the kind God envisioned when He’d created the world. Silky blue-gray water shone, sunlight playing off the waves, reflecting from across the river. Overhead, a canopy of high blue sky stretched, sprinkled with the perfect number of snowy white clouds. There was the hint of a breeze, just strong enough to move the eelgrass as he watched her approach.
James Anderson had strong, regular features except for a nose spoiled by a boyhood accident that left it leaning slightly to the right. Sitting in the soft sand that bordered the tall eelgrass, he wore his customary Friday afternoon outfit: faded sweatshirt from Rhode Island School of Design, khaki shorts bleached by the Cape sun and his favorite pair of Timberlands. He never wore a hat, not because of vanity or fear that his dark blonde hair might be mussed. He simply didn’t like them. His face wore the tan of many afternoons spent in the sun. A pair of Ray-Bans shielded his eyes as she approached.
Chores waited on the boat tied up at the end of his dock, but the day was so spectacular he couldn’t bring himself to move. Tomorrow, he, Melissa and his nephews would be occupied elsewhere, but for now he wanted to savor the day, taking in the sights and sounds playing out before him.
Tanned, slim and graceful, the young woman ran laughing, the little dog chasing her through the shallow water on the edge of the sand smoothed flat and firm by the retreating tide. The girl was young. James guessed she was in her twenties, but the sunlight on the river made it hard to tell. She wore a dark blue sweatshirt, cutoff at the arms and waist. James followed the gentle movement of her breasts. Her matching running shorts were fitted and flattering, darkened by the splashing saltwater and her perspiration. She wore a knee brace, but her muscle tone and the rhythmic, effortless way she glided through the water told him she was more than just a casual runner.
The idea of getting up crossed his mind and though vanity was not one of his faults, he looked down at his outfit and thought better of it. He was here at his sanctuary, 75 miles and light-years from Boston and his high-pressure world. No, James would let the young woman and her dog run by his dock while he remained anonymous, concealed by the eelgrass.
Suddenly, the young woman let out a cry as she collapsed in front of him.
He sat, frozen for a moment, watching her fall in slow motion into the shallow water. Her dog stopped short, as surprised as he was. The little terrier hovered around her mistress, barked and stuck her nose into the young woman’s face.
“Damn it...” she cursed as she lay there with water dripping off her, cutting her words short when she saw him stand.
“Are you all right?” he asked, as he rose and ran the few yards to the water’s edge. His sunglasses fell to the sand as James offered his hand. She took it, getting to her feet and looking embarrassed as she shook her head. She stood flexing the knee with the brace on it.
“Thanks. I’m really sorry. I hurt my knee this spring. I guess I wasn’t ready for a run on the sand.”
He smiled and nodded. “I’m just glad you’re all right.”
The girl stood in front of him. She had a deep tan, and despite her clumsy fall, she had the lean, toned look of an athlete. When he’d helped her up, he could smell her perfume mingle with her body scent, its fragrance a pleasant counterpoint to the receding tide.
Her wet hair was curly and almost black, held by a white headband. She had a soft, innocent look. Her eyes were large and deep brown, framed by long dark lashes. The only thing that marred her perfection was a small scar just below her left eye. Her dark tan called attention to it. Despite her casual dress and fall into the water, everything else about her seemed so ideal that for a moment he found himself staring at this one flaw. She caught him. He looked away.
“I’m so sorry we bothered you. This must be your beach and your dock.” Her voice was soft, apologetic.
“Actually, that is our dock and our house.” James gestured toward his yard. “But according to the rules down here, there’s a right of way along the waterfront. You and your friend,” he said, nodding toward the little dog hovering around the young woman, “are welcome here anytime.”
“That’s nice of you. I’m really sorry we bothered you. My family just moved into the Murray place next door.” She gestured in the direction she’d come from. “Gretchen and I,” she said as she rubbed the little terrier affectionately, “needed to get out.”
“No bother. Don’t give it another…”
“I’m sure we’ll see you again,” she interrupted
“I’m sure you will,” he paused, waiting, hoping she’d volunteer her name. Instead she brushed by him, picked up his sunglasses and handed them to him.
“I wouldn’t want you to lose these.” For just a moment their eyes met.
She turned to head downriver, smiling as she did.
It had been a chance meeting. Her smile transformed that. James had never seen anything quite like it. He couldn’t define it. All he knew was that it was the most captivating smile he had ever seen. And having seen it for a moment, he craved another glimpse, wanting desperately to see it again.
Heading back up the beach, the young woman turned, looking toward James. Her tanned young body moved gracefully, the afternoon sunlight glistening on the river behind her. He stood, spellbound, as she climbed the distant wooden steps to her house. She disappeared. The trance broken, James sighed and looked away reluctantly as he headed for the dock.
As he finished readying his boat, James let thoughts of the girl on the beach drift to the back of his mind. He went to the foredeck and opened the small hatch to check the anchor and chain. He hadn’t used them recently and wanted to make sure they’d be ready if needed. The chain looked healthy, and the line was dry and strong.
He threaded his way back along the wooden wheelhouse with an ease born of practice and skill. Checking one last time, James satisfied himself that the cockpit was as well-ordered and clean as he could make it. As he jumped off, James noticed that the forward dock line needed tending. He worked it into a perfect circle, smiling at his handiwork.
His cruiser, The Jessica, was 35 years old. James had restored the classic Pacemaker with loving care. It had served as therapy, something to take his mind to another place after his daughter’s death. He ran his hand along the smooth, varnished mahogany, gave the teak and chrome a last satisfied look and turned, walking back toward the house.
Things were so different since Jessie’s death four years ago. James could see her lovely face, hear the melody of her voice as she teased her friends. She was there, swimming and splashing. And she had so many friends. Melissa always joked that Jessie could walk into a room and know everyone’s name within ten minutes. She was right. And it was more than Jessie’s Scandinavian good looks. It went far beyond anything as superficial as beauty. There was something about her that made people want to be near her - until that dark night in October when fate or God stole her from them… from him.
No one stood witness, but James turned self-consciously and looked back at the river as tears formed in his eyes. He brought his hands up to stem their flow. In some magical way Jessie had brought him and Melissa closer, forged them into a family. The sum of the parts being greater than the whole… something like that. Jessica was the best of them. After her death, nothing in their lives was ever the same.
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I am the President of the 450 member Cape Cod Writers Center, a 50 year-old organization that trains and supports writers at all stages of their career. I teach creative writing at three Massasoit Community College locations in Massachusetts and my paranormal romance novel, Rite of Passage, will be traditionally published by The Wild Rose Press late in 2012. Landfall is my first, as yet unpublished novel, which has been written into a screenplay by award-winning Boston playwright and screenwriter Barry Brodsky.