It was early October and just about all of the summer vacationers were long gone from the islands. The weather had turned and it had been cool and rainy for days. The ferries only ran a few times a day now and if experienced islanders didn't plan their day accordingly they found themselves stranded.
Kyle Worthington owned a thirty year old converted forty foot fishing boat that he used to perform odd jobs around the islands, including transporting furniture, supplies, and other fright between the various islands. He was born and raised on Barrett Island, the largest of the more than two dozen islands in Cobb Harbor and he knew the area like the back of his hand.
Kyle made a delivery to Eastern Island which was the furthest island from the mainland and he was getting ready to head back to Barrett Island hoping to beat the threatening weather that had been forming in the skies when Dock Manager Bob Harkins waved him down.
Kyle noticed a frowning woman standing next to Bob. She was wearing blue jeans and a white sweatshirt with the hood pulled up over her long blonde hair. She had leather boots that went to her knees and made her long legs look even longer. An expensive looking handbag was slung over her shoulder.
"What's up?" Kyle asked Bob above the wind.
"This lady needs a ride," Bob shouted.
Kyle shook his head no. "Storm's abrewin'," he said, pointing to the sky. "Water's too rough."
"I need to get off this damn rock!" The upset woman cried.
"Not until tomorrow, probably," Kyle replied.
"I can't wait that long!" The woman protested. "I'll give you two hundred bucks if you take me in now."
Kyle was intrigued by the offer. He could use the extra cash. He glanced at the sky again and then at his watch. "Are you having an emergency?" He asked.
"Yeah, I want to get the hell out of here!" The woman yelled. "You going to help me or not?"
Kyle glanced at Harkins who shrugged indifferently. Kyle looked out at the angry sea and then back to the equally as angry stranger.
"Get in," Kyle told the woman, knowing by the knot in the stomach that he was making a questionable decision.
She excitedly grabbed two pieces of luggage which Harkins took from her and passed to Kyle who stood in the back of his boat which was named The Working Man.
"You sure about this?" Harkins asked the veteran boater.
"I'll make it in and spend the night at Lucky's," Kyle replied. "That broad looks freaked out."
The woman (who Kyle had never seen before) climbed into the boat with Harkins' help. Kyle gestured for her to join him to the covered cab in front of the boat. He hadn't painted the vessel in a couple of years and the white paint was stained by sea water, mud, algae and weather. She nodded and stepped inside the cubical while Harkins gave Kyle the thumbs up and Kyle slowly maneuvered The Working Man from the freight dock before gunning the boat at full speed into the harbor in hopes of beating the storm.
The boat bounced along the choppy surface with white cap waves smacking the sides of the craft. Kyle's passenger gripped the side of the cabin and she looked slightly green as the boat tossed along the water. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all.
The wind began to pick up even more and the rains came in sheets and Kyle started second guessing his decision to take the woman to the mainland. Mother Nature could be unpredictable and cruel at this time of year.
Kyle knew his way around the harbor with his eyes closed but the rain was blinding now and the screaming wind was tossing the boat around like a bob. Kyle had underestimated the weather and he realized he had made a mistake making this run but was too late to turn back to Eastern Island. Perhaps he could detour to one of the other nearby islands, like West Island, Brenner's Point, Norton Island, or his home Barrett Island.
Kyle opened one of the seat benches and handed the woman a life jacket. "You'd better put this on," he advised, trying not to sound alarmist as he donned one himself.
"Why, what's wrong?" the woman asked nervously as she pinned herself to the side of the cabin and quickly put the jacket on.
"Nothing," Kyle lied as he struggled to see through the near zero visibility.
The storm had suddenly taken on the characteristics of a late summer hurricane or a dead of winter nor'easter and Kyle was more than concerned. He hadn't wasted a lot of money on emergency equipment since he knew the harbor so well. The boat had a compass, a radar, and a radio which he was now trying to use to send his disaster situation but he was unable to raise anybody, including his numerous buddies and contacts on the various islands.
Kyle knew that the winds and current had blown him off course and that he wasn't heading for the mainland now but he was hoping he was close to Brenner's Point or Norton Island, even though he really had no idea where they were.
The now torrential rain combined with the unusually high waves breaking over the boat was flooding the craft and Kyle was worried the inboard engine would conk out and the electrical system would short out, never mind the possibility of the boat capsizing in the rugged surf. He wondered if he had taken them into The Perfect Storm.
Sure enough, smoke and steam began billowing from the engine compartment in the back of the boat and the lights began to flicker. Any hopes of sending out a mayday SOS were dashed when the power went out and the engine died, leaving the craft helpless against the forces of the storm.
Kyle and his pale faced passenger were standing in five inches of water in the cabin and that the boat was at the mercy of the sea. There was a large thump on the side of the boat and suddenly water began spilling into the cabin. They had hit a rock!
Kyle thought he heard the sound of surf crashing against rocks and shore and he squinted out the window, thinking maybe they were close to an island. But the boat was taking on massive amounts of water at total peril to the elements and the craft began to sharply list. Kyle knew they only had a few moments before the boat either capsized or sank. He couldn't believe he had made such a catastrophic misjudgment and that he was about to lose his livelihood if not his life and the life of the stranger with him.
"Come on," he told the woman, grabbing some rope from the wall before taking her by the hand.
"My stuff!" She protested, pointing toward her luggage.
"Frigg that!" He yelled dragging her from the cabin.
Kyle looked through the blur of the rain, surf and wind and he was pretty sure there was land to the right as the ship continued to pitch to the left.
"Do you know how to swim?" He shouted as he tied the rope around her waist and then to his own.
She nodded yes as she clung to the pocketbook slung over her shoulder.
"Come with me!" He yelled. "Jump! Abandon Ship!" He ordered, pulling her with him as he stepped off the side of the boat and fell into the shockingly cold Atlantic.
"Oh my God!" Kyle heard the woman scream, stunned by the cold water.
"Swim!" He bellowed as he swam away from the boat, pulling her by the rope with him.
He looked back and saw that The Working Man was now on its side and half under water. A moment later, it disappeared from view. The surf was pounding them but Kyle was certain they were close to land and he let the waves take them toward the hopeful shore, buoyed by the life preservers around their chests.
Kyle wasn't sure how long they swam but soon the waves were breaking and he saw land in front of them. He was able to semi walk now but the breaking waves were knocking him down and half drowning him. He pulled the rope so that the woman was close to him and he hoped they could reach shore before the elements and exhaustion overtook them. Their soaked clothes felt like they weighed eighty pounds.
Thankfully, Kyle finally found solid ground beneath him and he saw a small beach in front of him. He used the rope to drag the woman to the safety of the shore before collapsing next to a dock that was half submerged from the waves, the woman lying next to him coughing and wheezing.
When Kyle was able to collect his bearings and glance around, he thought he noticed the familiarity of the dock and when he saw a sign on a nearby tree that read 'Sherman's Point' he shook his head with disbelief. They were at least seven miles northwest from their original course.
Sherman's Point was a tiny little rock of an island that was actually part of the slightly larger General's Island about a half mile to the east. Luckily, Sherman's Point had a small cabin on the other side of the tree line.
"Come on," he told the woman, helping her to her feet. He took off his life jacket and hung it on the dock and the woman did the same.
"Come with me," Kyle instructed.
"My purse!" The woman cried when she realized her bag was gone from her shoulder.
"Can't worry about that now," Kyle told her.
She followed him through the rain along an inclined path that cut through the woods and emptied into a small clearing that housed a small cabin. The place had been mostly unused for years although occasionally somebody from General's Island snuck over for a getaway.
Kyle had made deliveries here before and he had also done some caretaker work so he was familiar with the cabin. He reached under the small deck in front of the door and took out a hidden key. The woman took off her boots and dumped water from them before tossing them aside. Kyle kicked off his soaked sneakers and opened the door to the structure.
The cabin was only one large room with a kitchenette and small bathroom. No electricity but there was a gas powered generator out back and a fireplace in the room. One wall was all windows that overlooked the ocean. There was a double bed, a large writing table, and some bookcases in the room but that was about it.
Kyle glanced at the woman and saw that her teeth were chattering as she wrapped her arms around her drenched cold clothes. He realized he was freezing too and that they needed to get out of their soaked clothes. He found some blankets in a small cabinet by the bed.
"Wrap this around yourself and get out of those clothes," he ordered. "I'll start a fire."
Luckily, there was wood piled in the corner along with old newspapers. Thankfully, there was a portable lighter by the fireplace that worked and Kyle was able to get the fire going right away as the woman stripped out of her clothes and stood naked beneath the blankets, huddling close to the fire.
Kyle peeled out of his clothes underneath a wrapped blanket as well. He gathered up the clothes and laid them out in front of the fireplace and they both stood silently in front of the fire thawing out and warming up while trying to collect their thoughts and bearings. The woman's blonde hair was stuck to the sides of her face before disappearing beneath the blanket.
"You okay?" Kyle finally asked.
"I think so," she said quietly. "I thought we were fish food."
"Me too," Kyle admitted. "I'm really sorry about this. I didn't realize the storm was going to be so bad."
"Your boat," the woman sighed.
"I can't believe she sank," Kyle said. "I feel like I just lost my best friend."
"Do you know where we are?" She asked with concern.
"This is called Sherman's Point," he explained. "It's named after a writer who built this place years ago as a getaway but it's not used much anymore. On a clear day, we'd be able to see General's Island which is part of this."
"Will somebody find us here?" She asked.
"Eventually," Kyle confirmed. "But it's not the first place they're going to look. We're pretty far from where we're supposed to be."
"God, this is all so unbelievable," she said with wide-eyes. "We could have been killed."
"I know," Kyle sighed. "It's all my fault. I completely misjudged the weather. Almost a fatal mistake."
"Well, I'm the one who practically forced you to take me," she mumbled. "I was pretty foolish too."
Kyle noticed the expression on her face, a combination of true fright and curious amazement.
"What was the dire emergency that made you want to get off the island so desperately?" he asked as the fire continued to warm them.
She sat on the rug covered floor with a groan, making sure the blanket kept her covered. "It seems pretty stupid now," she admitted.
"Please don't tell me it was for a hairstyle appointment or something dumb like that," Kyle said with a frown as he sat too.
"I'm not that pathetic," she promised. "But maybe I could have waited another day if I knew this was going to happen."
She was a few years younger than him but judging from her luggage, her lost purse, and the clothes she had been wearing (especially those boots!) he got the feeling she was much better off than him. He couldn't believe that he had almost drowned with a complete stranger!
Maybe it was time to stop being strangers given their present situation of nearly dying together and now being naked (under blankets) together.
"What's your name?" he asked.
"Clara," she told him.
"I'm Kyle," he let her know.
"Kyle," she repeated. "Sorry we had to meet under these circumstances."
"Tell me about it," he sighed, thinking about his lost boat, wondering if the insurance would cover the loss and how he was going to make a living without The Working Man. Maybe Jonsie on the mainland would have an extra boat he could use for a while until it all got straightened out.
"I don't suppose you have a cell phone," Kyle said.
"The fish have it now," she replied with a sigh. "You?"
"Nope," he revealed.
Clara absentmindedly took her long blond hair out from underneath the blanket and shook it out some, using her hands to brush it out. The tangled strands fell past her shoulders and Kyle couldn't help but glance at her attractiveness. She had a pretty mouth, brown eyes and a pug nose. The blanket had dropped down enough to reveal a bit of cleavage and while her breasts didn't appear all that big Kyle imaged that they were nonetheless beautiful. There was something refined about her, as if she had style, charm, and a proper upbringing, probably attending quality schools and well educated at some pristine college.
And here he was barely a high school graduate working an unglamorous job as a handy man transporter and off-season property caretaker, renting a run down dump not much bigger than this cabin on Barrett Island's. He hadn't shaved in a few days and his face was weather beaten from years in the elements.
"I wonder if there's any food here," Clara remarked.
"Let me look," Kyle replied, getting up and going to the kitchen area.
The refrigerator wasn't working without power, of course, but somebody had left some cans of Pepsi and a couple of beers in there. Warm beer was out of the question but he could tolerate the warm soda.
He found a box of Wheat Thins, a package of Oreos, two cans of soup, three cans of beans, and some Paul Newman's Spaghetti sauce but not much else besides three gallons of Poland Springs water jugs.
"There are some snacks and a few meals," he let her know when he returned to the fireplace. "We won't be here long enough to starve to death."
"What if nobody comes looking for us here?" She worried.
"I saw a canoe on the side of the cabin," Kyle reported as he sat. "We can always paddle to General's Island when the weather clears if we have too."
"Oh, God, a canoe on the ocean?" Clara groaned. "It ate your boat for God sakes!"
"Anyway, we should pace ourselves with the food just in case," Kyle suggested. "Can you wait a while?"
"Sure," she said. "But I've got to pee."
Kyle went into the bathroom to briefly investigate the accommodations. The room had a sink and a small shower stall and a commode, but the water was off.
"Don't flush," he told her when he returned to the fireplace. "I'll see if I can turn the water on later."
"Okay," she agreed as she stood and disappeared into the bathroom which had one of those cheesy wooden accordion-folding shutters instead of a real door and he could hear her tinkling even with the rain and wind outside.
She emerged from the bathroom a moment later.
"I smell like ocean," she complained.
"I always smell like ocean," Kyle replied with a shrug. "Don't worry about it."
He used the bathroom and Clara felt slightly embarrassed that he was peeing into her pee, seeing her pee. At least she hadn't gone number two.
Kyle returned and they both resumed their positions in front of the fire, covered by the blankets which were suitably warm (especially with the fire giving off plenty of heat) but itchy.
Neither said anything for a while. The storm brought dusk early and the cabin got dark quick. Kyle found some kerosene lanterns that he lit to give the room a dim light ambiance while the storm continued to rage outside. Kyle wondered how long it would take for others to realize he was missing. He lived alone and he didn't want to tell Clara that it might be a day or two before his absence was noticed, especially if Bob Harkins thought he was staying at the fisherman's rooming house on the mainland.
"How long before somebody realizes you're missing?" He asked Clara.
"A long time," she answered without further explanation.
Kyle suddenly felt a sense of loneliness about her and a sadness too. He knew she couldn't be anymore lonely and depressed than he often felt ever since Laura left Barrett Island for a new life on the mainland, tired of the long winters and empty promises of Kyle's life but he couldn't bring himself to leave the magical love of the ocean no matter how much he struggled. He chose the islands and the harbor over Laura but a day didn't go by when he didn't question that decision.
"What brought you to Eastern Island?" Kyle asked.
He saw the sour expression on her face and she seemed to be irritated by the question. She glanced away, staring out the window at the storm even though it had become too dark to really see anything out there.
"When I tell you my story you're going to resent me all the more for causing the loss of your boat," she sighed. "This is the dumbest thing I've done in my whole life."
"I'm responsible for my boat," Kyle told her. "I'm the one who made the command decision. It's on me. I threw it all away for two hundred bucks."
"I'll still pay you, by the way," Clara told him.
"That's the least of my problems now," Kyle noted as he got up and threw a few more logs on the fire.
"I stayed at the Wellington for a few days in August," Clara revealed.
The Wellington was a resort hotel on the mainland. Kyle had never stayed there, of course, but he'd been to a wedding reception there once many years ago. It was a plush place and he wondered how Clara could afford a stay there.
"I met a man," she continued, sounding slightly embarrassed. "He told me he had a working artist's studio on Eastern Island. He invited me to stay for a while and I accepted."
"Just like that?" Kyle commented with surprise.
She shrugged. "It seemed like a good idea at the time," she said sheepishly. "I minored in Art at college and this man is sort of famous I should add. He's sold some important art work. He's well known in his profession."
"Wait a minute," Kyle frowned as he gave it some thought, knowing he knew just about everybody in these parts. "Are you talking about that old perverted guy who paints nudes?" He asked. "The guy who got busted for painting two naked thirteen year old girls on his private beach?"
"He had their parents' permission," Clara rationalized.
"Did you sleep with this guy?"
"Of course not," she said. "He's gay and he can't get it up anymore anyway."
"Did you pose for this guy?"
"Sure," she said openly. "He's famous!"
"So what was the big emergency?" Kyle wanted to know.
"He's abusive," Clara sighed. "He drinks too much and gets verbally insulting and physically assaultive."
"Isn't he like eighty?"
"Doesn't mean it doesn't hurt," Clara pouted.
"What the hell are you doing with a guy like this to begin with?" Kyle asked.
"I was flattered he even noticed I existed," Clara reasoned. "I mean he's painted some famous people. I was hoping he could help me with my artistic pursuits."
Kyle tilted his head with confusion. "He sounds like a psychopath."
"I realize that now," Clara replied, sounding slightly humiliated. "We were having lunch today when he threw his tea cup at me because it was ginger instead of mint," she growled. "We got into a big fight again and I suddenly realized that this was totally insane and that I had to get out of there."
"And here we are," Kyle sighed.
"I'm really sorry," she mumbled. "I should have gotten out of there a long time ago but I liked the notoriety and I thought he could help my artistic career."
"What are you going to do when one of your nudes shows up in one of his art shows?"
"Oh, I'll be proud of that," she beamed. "It's everything else I'm ashamed about."
Kyle gave her a funny look but he didn't say anything more.
"I bet you think I'm pretty stupid, huh?" Clara guessed.
"No," Kyle replied. "I just don't get it, that's all."
"You think I'm a fool?" She wondered.
"No, but you spent three months with the guy," Kyle noted. "You must have a lot of free time on your hands."
"I'm not working if that's what you mean," Clara replied. "I have the luxury of doing interesting things."
"I would say this is about as interesting as it gets," Kyle said sarcastically.
She nodded her head in agreement. "It would almost be romantic if we actually knew each other," she laughed. "A rustic abandoned cabin on the ocean in a gale force storm."
"I suppose," he agreed. "But we don't actually know each other."
"Well, we almost died together," Clara reasoned. "I guess that means something."
"How come nobody's going to notice you're missing?" Kyle inquired.
She shrugged her shoulders heavily. "Well, the painter's certainly not going to care," she said.
"What about family?"
"I come and go as I please," she said. "I mean, I'm twenty-seven. It's not as if I live at home or anything."
Again, she sounded sad but Kyle knew there wasn't much he could say to cheer her up. He was sad too, even more so now knowing The Working Man was at the bottom of the Atlantic.
"I guess it doesn't say much about me spending the last three months with a gay mental case eighty year old famous artist," Clara sighed.
"If it makes you feel any better, I'm not with anybody either," he offered.
"Why would that make me feel better?" She frowned.
"I just meant to say that you're not the only one who's alone right now."
"Spare me your pity," she said with annoyance, wrapping her arms around her legs and bring her knees up to her chin.
Kyle took in a deep breath of air, feeling slightly offended for her reprimand.
"I'm sorry," Clara said softly. "I don't mean to get so defensive," she said as she softly bounced her chin against her knees. "I'm just pissed of at myself for being such a putz."
"It's okay," Kyle replied. "I wasn't trying to be critical or judgmental."
"It's just that my mother is always after me to settle down, get married, have babies and all that," Clara explained. "I want to explore and experience life a little bit first," she said. "Be independent, meet people, do things."
"I can understand that," Kyle replied, stretching his legs out in front of him.
"You like it around here?" Clara asked.
"It's all I know, really," he answered. "I was born on Barrett Island and I've never really left Cobb Harbor. I think this area is one of the most beautiful places there is. Even on a day like today!" He laughed.
"I liked Eastern Island," Clara admitted. "It felt like you could look out at the ocean and it went on forever. And at night, the stars in the sky were so close you could almost reach up and touch them."
"Well, there's not much out there after Eastern Island except the deep blue sea," Kyle laughed.
"So what do you do for a living here?" Clara asked.
"I run a small one man operation," he explained. "Sometimes I'll hire part time help. Mostly I use the boat to move stuff for people. Bringing stuff out to houses on the islands. Opening up houses in the spring and closing them up in the fall. Caretaking in the winter. It's all patchwork and pieced together and some months are lean and other months are never ending, but I'm on the ocean every day and it's a living."
"What are you going to do now?" She asked. "Without the boat?"
"I'll have to get another one," he said with a deep and worried sigh.
"Can you afford a new one?"
"I couldn't even afford the old one!" He remarked with a self-deprecating laugh.
"Why did you agree to give me a ride?" She wanted to know. "A total stranger. You didn't owe me anything. You could have easily said no."
"It was the way you were holding your purse," he answered with a shrug.
"My purse?" She asked with surprise.
"It was as if that was the only thing in the world you really cared about," he explained. "For some reason I thought of Linus from Peanuts. That the purse was your security blanket and you'd be lost without it. You seemed vulnerable for some reason and I didn't want to take the chance of saying no and having something happen to you."
"Well, thanks," she said with appreciation. "Turns out something happened to me anyway," she said, amused by the ironic reality of her situation.
She had put her legs down now similar to his position and they both stretched their legs toward the fire.
"How many times did you pose for that guy?" Kyle asked.
"Let's just say I was naked a lot," she replied. "He had me up in a tree one time totally in the buff and some guy came by on one of those hang glider things. I thought he was going to crash into the ocean!"
"Did you ever pose nude before you met this famous guy?"
"No, not really," she shrugged. "I mean in college once in art class but that was nothing serious." She peered at him. "Does it bother you?"
"No," he admitted. "I just never met a nude model before."
"Oh, I'm hardly a model," she laughed. "I was just someone new and that intrigued him. I think he likes using real people instead of professional models."
"How much did he pay you?"
"I did it for free!" She laughed. "I was just so thrilled to be around a famous artist I didn't care about any of that stuff!"
"You getting hungry?" Kyle asked, deciding to change the subject before he asked her if she'd pose nude for him – right then, right there! It had been nearly a year since Laura jumped ship and he hadn't been with anybody since.
"I guess," she said. "What did you find?"
"Soup or beans for actual food," he reported as he stood and tossed another log on the fire. "Wheat thins and Oreos for snacks.
"What kind of soup?"
He went to the shelf and peered at the cans. "Chicken noodle and Minestrone."
"Chicken noodle," she decided.
Kyle found a can opener, opened the soup and dumped it in a pan that had a wire handle on it which he hung over the fire. The blanket was getting in the way so he went into the bathroom and wrapped a towel around his waist. He had thawed out and dried enough to still be warm in front of the fire without the blanket.
"It'll take a while for the soup to heat up to a boil," he said.
"I'm not going anywhere," Clara laughed. "So, are your parents still around here?"
"My father died of cancer a couple of years ago," Kyle revealed sadly.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Clara said with sincerity.
"He was a fisherman," Kyle told her. "Spent his whole life on these waters. Taught me everything he knew. I thought I was the Cobb Harbor expert when it came to negotiating this area – until today, anyway."
"Accidents happen all the time," Clara replied. "Don't beat yourself up over it."
"My father never would have taken you off of Eastern Island today," He sighed.
"What's done is done," Clara told him. "Is your Mom still in the area?"
"No, she had enough after Dad died," Kyle remarked. "She returned to the mainland and lives with her sister in New Hampshire."
"What happened to the house you grew up in?"
"Mom sold it for five times what they paid for it forty years ago," Kyle laughed as he stirred the soup. "She wanted to give it to me but I wouldn't let her."
"I couldn't afford it," Kyle sighed. "Just the taxes would have been too much. Plus I wanted to make sure she had plenty of money to live comfortably. She says I'm going to get it all eventually anyway."
"You're an only child?"
"My father used to joke that one of me was more than enough!" Kyle laughed and Clara laughed with him.
"Where do you live?"
"I rent an old fisherman's shack on Barrett Island where I grew up," Kyle replied. "It's not much but it's a roof over my head. Had to give up the apartment we had when my girlfriend left the Island for good."
"Everybody seems to have left except for you," Clara observed. "Why do you keep doing what you do?" she asked. "You're barely making a living."
"I love Cobb Harbor," Kyle confessed. "I know I've sacrificed a lot but I'm happiest among the islands. I feel like I belong here."
"I admire your conviction," Clara replied.
"It's a simple life but it means a lot to me."
"I've been searching for a simpler life for a long time," Clara remarked.
The soup was ready and Kyle found two bowls and a couple of spoons to use. He filled both of them and handed one to Clara, careful not to spill.
"Thanks," she said with a smile.
He realized how beautiful her smile was and how pleasant her voice sounded. Clara's voice was different than most, a mix between a sultry singer and a kindergarten teacher. There was a mystery about her for sure. Why did she have so much apparent free time and what in the hell was she doing with an eighty year old perverted gay artist?
Kyle quietly sipped on his soup wondering what Clara thought of him. Giving her a ride today had not been one of his most intelligent decisions and she probably thought he was an incompetent fool who nearly got her killed. Plus he lived in a dumpy old fisherman's hut barely making a living. She must have thought he was a complete loser. It was humiliating for him to be literally stripped naked in front of her.
"Oh God, I'm pathetic," Kyle thought to himself, suddenly feeling very depressed and defeated, especially when he thought about The Working Man sitting on the bottom of the ocean floor.
He saw that Clara had finished her soup so he took the bowl from her and brought it to the sink along with his. He poured her a glass of water and brought it to her. She said nothing as she drank from the glass, staring into the fire with her thoughts.
Kyle felt exhausted all of a sudden – the physical demands of swimming in the ocean combined with the emotional stress he found himself in had wiped him out.
"You can have the bed," he announced as he put a few more logs on the fire.
"You don't have to do that," she said, watching him work.
"It's okay. I'll just borrow a pillow and I'll be fine right here," he said, gesturing to the carpet in front of the fire.
"Do you think Sherman ever brought women out here?" Clara asked.
"He'd be a fool not to you," Kyle grinned.
Clara smiled and walked to the bed, pulling back the covers and tossing him a pillow. She climbed under the covers still wrapped in her blanket and Kyle sighed as he lay down on the floor.
"Goodnight, Kyle," he heard Clara softly say from the bed.
"Goodnight, Clara," he replied, feeling like a total failure. The only reason she was stuck on Sherman's Point was because of his stupidity.
### ### ###
Kyle got up several times during the night to throw more logs on the fire to keep it going and the cabin warm. Every time he glanced at Clara she appeared to be peacefully asleep.
He got up at dawn and put on his clothes that had dried from the fire although the smelled like the ocean. He went outside and turned the water on so they could flush the toilet and wash the dishes but there was no fuel for the generator so there would be no electricity, hot water, or heat. There was plenty of cut wood stacked in a lean-to so they wouldn't freeze.
The rain had stopped but it was still overcast, windy, and raw. The harbor was choppy and attempting a canoe ride to General's Island would be risky and foolish. The smartest thing to do was to wait until somebody came looking for them. Maybe somebody would see the smoke rising from the fireplace chimney and investigate but right now the harbor looked pretty empty as far as boat traffic went.
He went back inside the cabin and saw that Clara was still asleep looking as though she didn't have a care in the world. Maybe that was her secret! The worse thing about being stranded on Sherman's Point was probably going to be boredom (and semi-starvation!). With the exception of a few uninteresting books and a pack of playing cards there really was nothing on the premises to keep them entertained.
Sherman's Cabin had been built as a working hideaway and nobody had changed the original function in all these years. Sherman's original Royal typewriter was still sitting in the corner although Kyle was sure a laptop computer was probably the mode for writing here now. As far as he could remember the last person to use Sherman's Point was a Master's Program student working on her thesis a few years ago. Kyle recalled bringing her to the cabin with her supplies and taking her back to the mainland a month later.
Kyle stood in the middle of the room watching Clara sleep. She was pretty as she lay in the bed with her hair flopped around her head and he wondered what it would feel like to kiss those glorious lips of hers and he could almost feel his mouth tingle at the thought.
Clara began to stir and Kyle busied himself by going to the bathroom and flushing to let her know it was okay to do so now. When he emerged from the bathroom, Clara was standing in the room still wrapped in her blanket, holding her now dried clothes in her arms.
"There's water," Kyle informed her. "But not hot."
"Well, I guess a cold shower it is!" Clara laughed as she headed for the bathroom.
Kyle took a seat on a stool in the kitchen and listened while Clara hummed in the bathroom. She screamed slightly when she turned the shower on to wash up but she continued humming and eventually she broke out in song and Kyle was surprised that she was in such a good mood considering their situation.
Clara eventually came out of the bathroom dressed in yesterday's now dried clothes while tying back her damp hair in a ponytail. Kyle couldn't help but notice how beautiful she looked although a part of him was actually disappointed that she was no longer naked and vulnerable underneath the blanket which she was holding in her hand.
Clara put the blanket on the bed and made it, putting the pillow Kyle had used back on the bed as well while Kyle refreshed the fire. When she was done with her task, Clara glanced at Kyle and smiled.
"Well, now what?" She asked.
"Maybe we should save another meal for lunch," Kyle advised, not sure how long they were going to be on their own at the cabin.
"Okay," she agreed easily.
"You want a few Oreos to hold you over?" Kyle asked.
"Sure," she smiled. "Although I don't know how I'm going to eat them without milk!"
"There's some warm Pepsi," Kyle told her.
"It's not the same thing!"
Kyle opened the Oreo package and gave her four of the cookies, keeping the same amount for himself. He took a bottle of Pepsi out of the refrigerator and opened it for his morning drink.
"I can't believe Sherman doesn't have coffee here," Clara complained.
"Sherman's been dead for a while now," Kyle pointed out.
"I had a boyfriend in college who was a serious Oreo addict," Clara revealed as she took a seat at the foot of the bed. "He used to drive me crazy the way he dunked the cookies in the milk. He claimed that he was an expert at the art of cookie dunking and he got all bent out of shape when I used a spoon for my dunking.
"A spoon?" Kyle asked.
"How can you dunk Oreos into milk without having a spoon to scoop up all the bits that fall off?" Clara asked with a shrug. "That's one of the best parts of the dunk for me but he thought it was scandalous."
"Oreos do break apart," Kyle agreed as he stood in the middle of the room eating the cookies and sipping from the Pepsi bottle.
"There were always crumbs in the bed," Clara complained. "He could polish off an entire bag in one sitting if there was a good football game on."
"What happened to him?" Kyle wondered.
"We ended when college ended," Clara reported with a shrug.
"What have you been doing since?"
"Not much, my parents would be the first to tell you," Clara groaned. "I'm not working, I'm not with anybody, I'm not making babies, so what good am I?" She said, parroting her parents' mantra.
"So what have you been doing?"
"Procrastinating, mostly," she admitted with a smirk. "I told my parents I needed a sabbatical before I went back for my Masters and they bought it. I really didn't want to go back and I figured that would buy me some time."
"To do what?" Kyle asked as he went back to the kitchen, grabbed the stool and brought it closer to the bed where she was sitting.
"Oh, whatever I wanted!" She laughed. "I just wanted the time to do nothing or something or anything, I didn't care. I had done the prep school and the preppy college deal like my parents wanted me to do and I felt it was time for me to do what I wanted for a change. I wanted to travel and enjoy experiences in the moment."
"I can't remember the last time I took a vacation," Kyle admitted.
"You probably think I'm selfish to take so much time off and I suppose I'm lucky to have the luxury to goof off but I'm not going to feel guilty about it," Clara told him. "I've had some meaningful experiences that have significantly changed my life in ways I never imagined."
"That's great," Kyle said.
"Really," she told him earnestly. "I've been to places I've always wanted to go and I got to wake up in places where I wanted to be. I've met people I never would have met otherwise and I've had my perspective changed many times because of those experiences."
"I just try to make enough money every week to pay the bills," Kyle said.
"Well, I took the road less frazzled," Clara giggled. "After graduating from college, I went out to LA for a few months with a friend. Then down to Mexico for a few more months and then over to the Caribbean for an extended visit. I eventually made it back here, hanging out in Florida for a while before heading out to the mid west with a guy I met and living on a farm in Iowa for nearly a year!"
"You were a farmer?" Kyle smiled.
"I've had some once-in-a-lifetime experiences," Clara confirmed. "I met Quinn Blake when I was in LA. I dated a minor league ball player in Mexico. I sailed the entire Caribbean! I took yoga classes in Florida. I learned to Square Dance in Iowa.
I dated a Master Chef when I was in Chicago. I became a bartender when I was in Philadelphia. These are all things I never would have done if I had gone to work as soon as I graduated from college. It felt good to forget about the worries of what I should be doing and get inspired by what I was actually doing instead. I learned to live without an alarm clock. I went to museums. I worked on my art. I did some writing. I worked at a state fair in Ohio! I was a dog walker at a dog show. I went on a religious retreat. I slept in a tree for a week. I lined danced! I drove a car in a demolition derby. I made wine. I went to sixteen different baseball parks. I played in a jazz band. I volunteered on a political campaign. I've made love at the top of the Empire State building, in the penthouse of the Hyatt-Regency, while driving through The Lincoln Tunnel, at a baseball park, on a bus while driving through Texas, inside St. Patrick's Cathedral, and even while snorkeling in the Caribbean, I just finished posing naked for a world famous artist. I'd say that's a pretty good bucket list, wouldn't you?"
"Yes," Kyle replied, trying not to look embarrassed or shocked.
He thought doing it with Laura once in the back of the boat in broad day light was a big deal but after hearing about some of Clara's sexual exploits he felt like he was in the minor leagues. Laura had been the only girl he'd ever been with. They surrendered their virginity to each other when they were seventeen and now at thirty Kyle wondered what it might be like to be with another woman now that Laura was surely with another man.
"What are you going to do now for your next sabbatical adventure? He asked.
Clara shrugged. "I really haven't thought about it," she admitted. "My parents finally figured out that I'm not going back for my Masters and now they just wonder if I'm ever coming home again."
"Maybe after our near death experience yesterday a visit home might be a good idea," Kyle suggested.
"You're probably right," she agreed readily. But then she popped off the bed and slowly walked around the small cabin. "I kind of like the idea of this place though," she said. "Sherman had an interesting idea. You're really one with nature out here, aren't you? Maybe I could do some quality writing or painting out here."
"I can't imagine what this place would sell for," Kyle remarked. "It's small and old but I bet Sherman's Point would go for at least a half mil."
"I'm sure some jerk would buy it, raze it, and build a whole new place," Clara agreed. "But then it wouldn't be Sherman's Point anymore." She stared out the large picture glass bay windows at the choppy ocean. "I bet it's beautiful here in the summer."
"It's beautiful here now," Kyle replied.
She looked over her shoulder and smiled. "It is, isn't it?"
Kyle scratched his chin and stared at her admiringly. Did she really think he was talking about Sherman's Point and the ocean!? She's what made it beautiful right now.
"You want to know the sad thing?" Clara asked with a sigh.
"What's that?" Kyle walked across the room and joined her at the large window.
"If we had drowned yesterday and our bodies washed ashore somewhere I'm not sure it there would be any real tears spilled for me," she said. "Oh sure, my family would be devastated by the news but they'd get over it and get on with their lives fairly quickly."
"I'm sure that's not true," Kyle said.
"You don't know my family," Clara laughed. "I've been gone for nearly five years now and they've pretty much accepted my absence. And after them, who else is there? A long list of boyfriends, lovers, and mystery men who moved on long ago."
"The pervert could have brought your nudes to your funeral," Kyle remarked and that caused Clara to burst out with amused laughter.
"That would have lightened things up!" She giggled. Then she stared out the window again. "So where's the search and rescue party?" she wanted to know. "I thought you were popular around here."
"They might not even realize we're missing yet," Kyle admitted. "That guy who got you the ride yesterday thinks I'm on the mainland so he's not going to notice for a while that I'm not around. Maybe your luggage washed ashore somewhere which could raise suspicion."
"It probably washed up here!" She groaned.
They exchanged looks and left the cabin together, ignoring their still wet boots and sneakers and walking barefooted down the path to the dock. Kyle scanned the beach and shore for a sign of her luggage, expensive purse, or wreckage from the swamped boat. The walked around the edge of the small island but found no evidence from their accident.
"Well, that's a good thing," Kyle concluded. "Maybe it drifted in a different direction and somebody will see it."
"Or it could all be at the bottom of the ocean," Clara reasoned.
"It could," Kyle admitted. He looked up at the sky above the cabin. "Hopefully somebody will notice the smoke from the chimney and wonder who's out here."
"They could assume it's a guest or something."
"People usually tell folks what they're doing to avoid misunderstandings and confusion around here," Kyle explained. "They would have needed a ride out here too so somebody would know about the cabin being used."
They made their way back to the cabin and Clara stopped to study the structure. "A nice deck on both sides would expand the outside use," she theorized. "Winterize the place, get a better generator, install a good furnace and you could live out here year 'round."
"Do you know how much that would cost?" Kyle asked, rolling his eyes.
She shrugged and headed inside. Kyle followed, intrigued that Clara had been drawn by the harbor and islands like him but not taking her very seriously about her staying. She was a wanderer and adventurer and he doubted she would be tamed by the solitary life of something like Sherman's Point.
"Would you come visit me out here?" Clara asked once they were settled back in the cabin.
She was sitting on the bed again and Kyle was stroking the fire which had gone down while they were outside.
"Would you have satellite TV?" He joked.
"And a hot tub," she grinned.
"I'd visit often," he smirked and she smiled too.
"You'd be my ride," she assured him.
"If I get another boat," he sighed, returning to reality and remembering the present state of his struggling life.
Kyle replenished the log supply by the fireplace by dragging in a new load from the lean-to while Clara spent a few minutes cleaning up the kitchen area. They opened the can of minestrone soup for lunch and ate it while watching the ocean harbor from the large windows and then the two spent most of the afternoon playing cribbage at the window while waiting to be rescued although no boats were seen in the vicinity.
Kyle told Clara stories about the harbor and offered a brief history of the area as best he knew it. Clara told him tales about her travelling sabbatical adventures which were funny and interesting but strangely sad in a way because she never seemed to stay in one place with one person very long.
"I suppose I'm a nomad," Clara admitted with a sigh. "I've spent the last five years trying to find myself and sometimes I feel more lost than ever."
"Maybe it's time you settled down and committed yourself to one passion in one place," Kyle suggested.
"I always told myself I'd give it until I was thirty before I gave up this sort of life," she said.
"What about your art?" Kyle asked. "Maybe it's time to settle down and start doing that seriously."
"Maybe," she agreed with some thought. "Maybe almost dying out here is supposed to be a wake up call for me."
"Maybe," he agreed.
They played cribbage until it got dark while keeping their eyes peeled on the water beyond the window hoping for a sign of a rescue but none came. Kyle got the kerosene lamps working again when it became dark and they continued their chatting and cribbage play into the evening, putting off supper knowing all they had to eat now were the beans or spaghetti sauce without the spaghetti. How would the sauce go with wheat thins?
Kyle hadn't spent this much alone one on one time with a woman since Laura left and he would be hard pressed to remember the last time he spent more than twenty-four straight hours with Laura in their relationship. Kyle was on the water a lot during the day and Laura worked as a waitress at Barrett Island's one tavern at night so they were rarely together (awake) for any significant length of time and it was one of the reasons their relationship eventually fizzled.
But you can only play cribbage for so long and Clara finally had enough.
"Waiting to be rescued can get boring," she sighed.
"Sorry," Kyle replied, figuring what she really meant was that he was boring. That had been one of Laura's complaints too.
They decided to forgo beans for supper and snacked on a few more Oreos before Clara excused herself to use the bathroom before turning in for the night. Kyle stroked the fire while she was gone and put a few more logs on. He did a double take when Clara emerged from the bathroom wearing nothing but a towel.
"I don't like sleeping in clothes," she explained and Kyle tried not to blush.
"I don't blame you," he smiled shyly.
There was an awkward silence and Kyle couldn't help but study her appearance. She smiled knowingly and instead of going to the bed Clara approached Kyle where he stood by the fire place.
"Are you as bored as I am, Kyle?" Clara asked.
"I've been bored for a long time," he admitted.
Clara smirked and suddenly Kyle felt uncomfortably awkward, not sure what he was supposed to do next so Clara solved the mystery for him by reaching up and releasing the towel that was wrapped around her torso which promptly fell to the floor.
"I don't mind posing nude again," she giggled.
Kyle's eyes went wide as he stared at her beauty. She had an amazing body and he was memorized by it as his eyes travelled down her body. Her breasts were small but perky with excited nipples and her pubic area was neatly trimmed. Clara's expression was one of amusement and satisfaction and for the briefest of moments Kyle decided the storm had been worth it just for this one opportunity. His boat may have been wrecked but Clara was perfection to a tee.
"I think you make a great model," he said quietly.
"I'm not modeling now, Kyle," she let him know. Her gaze dropped to his chest and below. "Would you like to model for me?" She giggled.
Clara reached out and took his hand in hers, gently squeezing his fingers. He rubbed his thumb across her palm.
"I'd model for you anywhere," he said while lightly rubbing her hand and subtly pulling her toward him.
Clara lifted her arm up and rubbed his chest and Kyle softly rubbed the back of his hand across her face. She felt her cheeks warm and it wasn't because of the nearby fire. She met his gaze but his eyes were focused on her lips as he tentatively leaned in and felt the softness of her lips pressed against his mouth while his hand stroked her hair.
"I don't think I'm bored anymore," Clara whispered as they began to make out in earnest.
"Me either," Kyle grinned through the smooching and tongue exchanges.
He dropped his hands to her naked backside and gave her cheeks a squeeze while pushing her closer to his body.
"I –" she started to say but he was kissing her too hard for her to say anything more.
Clara relaxed against him and she worked her mouth against his, inspired by the intensity of his kisses. When their lips finally parted, Kyle smiled with contentment and long awaited happiness. He knew this was the woman he had been waiting for as he gently caressed her skin from her rear all the way up to her neck until he slid his arm around her waist and led her toward the bed. Clara gladly lay on her back and she waited while he undressed himself and lay next to her in his modeling costume.
"You could definitely be a model," she told him but all Kyle could concentrate on was her soft and warm inviting body and soon both were a tangle of legs, arms, mouths and moans as they felt, and groped, and explored each other before they finally began to make love.
### ### ###
The fire died during the night but their passion and body heat kept Kyle and Clara warm underneath the covers of the bed and if Kyle had his choice he would have stayed in bed with her all day making naked passionate love on the private and secluded Sherman's Point. It had been a fantasy and dream come true for Kyle and while he figured he was just another sabbatical conquest for Clara he really didn't care because it had been the most memorable night of his life. Clara was uninhibited in her lovemaking while Laura had been modestly routine most of the time. Clara did things to Kyle that Laura never would have dreamed of trying and having a new and bold sexual partner had opened Kyle's eyes to a whole new experience he never would have known had his boat not sank. He half-believed the loss was tolerable given the night he just enjoyed.
Kyle crawled out of the bed, wrapped Clara's discarded towel from the night before around his waist and rekindled the fire in the fireplace. Clara decided she wanted to rekindle their lovemaking once Kyle had the fire going and they ended up having sex on the carpet in front of the fireplace which was a great way to start their second morning on Sherman's Point.
The couple had just finished getting dressed and they were complicating whether or not they wanted to have the beans for a late breakfast when there was a knock on the door. Kyle and Clara exchanged surprised looks before Kyle opened the door to find Harbor Patrol Master Len McCarthy standing on the step.
"Jesus, Kyle, thank God!" An obviously relieved McCarthy said when he saw that Kyle was alive and well.
"Where've you been?" Kyle joked although he was truthfully disappointed to see the Harbor Master after the night he just had with Clara.
"Bob Harkins just figured out this morning you were missing," McCarthy explained before he dug his portable hand radio out of its holster. "This is Mac," he said into the machine. "Stand down. I found them. I'll bring them in." He clicked off the radio and then nodded to Clara who was standing behind Kyle looking on with interest. "You must be the lady who needed the ride," McCarthy guessed.
"I am she," Clara confirmed. "I guess we'll be going now." She threw Kyle an almost pained sorrowful look before retreating into the cabin.
McCarthy waited patiently while they tided up their mess and tried to leave the cabin as close to the way they found it as possible. Kyle went outside and turned the water off and when they were done locking up the place, Clara put on her damp boots and Kyle put on his sneakers and they followed Mac to his boat tied to the dock.
Kyle and Clara didn't say much as the Harbor Master brought the two survivors ashore. Their two day adventure had come to an abrupt end and there wasn't much to be said. Suddenly, Kyle felt more depressed and lonely than ever, the high of the night before quickly disappearing into the reality of the present. He had no boat and his livelihood was in peril.
"I'd like to call my family," Clara told Mac when they arrived at the Harbor Master's Office.
Kyle filled out the accident report and wrote a statement and he was just finishing when he saw the cab pull up in front of the building. He saw Clara being escorted toward the front door and he realized the cab was hers.
"Goodbye, Clara," Kyle called out to her.
She looked pained when she saw him and she rushed across the room to give him a hug. "This was by far the best part of my sabbatical," she whispered and they embraced. "Thank you."
And with that she was gone and Kyle figured he'd never see her again.
The insurance process went surprisingly smoothly and quickly for Kyle. He had been told by friends that it might be up to a year before the boat could be replaced but by January the insurance company delivered a boat that was newer, bigger, and more expensive than The Working Man.
"What's going on?" Kyle asked with confusion when he saw the boat for the first time. "This has got to be a mistake."
"There was an underwriter who wanted to make sure you were duly compensated for your loss," his insurance agent explained, but he refused to offer any more information or background on the case.
Kyle named the boat "Clara" out of memory and sentimental nostalgia although he was convinced that the real Clara was long gone and never coming back. He learned that the Farnsworth Family had purchased Sherman's Point and was renovating the cabin which annoyed him but he knew there was nothing he could do about it.
The Farnsworth family was one of the oldest, wealthiest and most involved families in New England with interests in a major bank, a fishing empire, a large logging business, and considerable property throughout the region. The family also had a foundation which awarded scholarships, grants and low-interest loans throughout New England with a focus on conservation, education, human rights, community development, and the arts.
Kyle tried to get his life back into a routine. His boat Clara was one of the best in the harbor and came with state of the art equipment to avoid another disaster like what happened with Clara and as grateful and relieved as Kyle was to have a boat to work the harbor with he had been strangely sad and morose since Clara left the Harbor Master's Office that day. Some of his friends razzed Kyle about his two days with a pretty stranger and although Kyle went along with the laughs deep down he was miserable missing Clara, knowing he'd never meet a woman like her again.
It was April when Kyle received a call asking that he deliver some supplies to Sherman's Point. He had vowed never to return there but a job was a job so he motored to the main land, loaded up the boat with the supplies destined for Sherman's Point, and transported the load to the small island.
Nobody was waiting for him at the dock when he arrived at Sherman's Point so he walked up the familiar path and he stopped dead in his tracks when he came through the trees and saw the remodeled cabin, complete with the wrap around deck Clara had fantasized about when they were together.
The door opened and Clara stepped out of the cabin in blue jeans and a yellow sweater to greet the dumbfounded Kyle who stood gawking at her.
"Did I ever tell you my last name our first day together?" She asked.
"No," a confused Kyle replied.
"Oh, well, it's Farnsworth," she informed him. "And as I recall, I still owe you two hundred dollars for that first ride."
"What are you doing here?" A disbelieving Kyle asked.
"Painting," she said with a shrug as she handed him the two hundred dollars. "Do you still want to be my model?"