The island changed when the tourists went home. Shops were suddenly closed until the next season, gaps appeared in the harbor docks as yachts and speedboats were navigated back to their mainland ports, and the streets were mostly deserted by sundown. Within days of the last departures, a mist would slowly materialize. Seeming to roll out of the forest that lined the landlocked borders of town, it gradually thickened into a fog that blanketed the whole island.
For a time all was quiet. Hunters returned to their cabins. Those in town stayed inside, leaving only when errands became necessary. Even the birds in the trees ceased their singing. A sort of hibernation began that would last until the next spring when tourists returned.
It was into this quietness that Meg stepped when she arrived on Decatur Island. Standing on the end of the southernmost dock, she gazed up at what appeared to be a ghost town. A few of the houses had lights on, but she couldn't see any people. The tops of trees, interlaced with mist, rose in a gentle slope behind the row of houses she could see, and spread out north and south until each end disappeared into the fog and water. From what she'd read, the island was not even four square miles, but from where she stood it seemed much bigger.
"Look to your left a ways. You see that break in the trees?" the old fisherman who had given her a ride to the island pointed just above the line of buildings in town. "That's your aunt's inn."
It took Meg a moment, but as she squinted she could make out darkened windows of a green building that rose just above the tops of the trees. Any meaningful details were obscured by distance, but its position added to the intimidating feeling of being loomed over.
"That's the rest of your things," the fisherman grunted as he heaved her trunk onto the dock. "You got anyone to give you a ride?"
"My aunt's attorney said he had spoken to the marshal. I'm supposed to meet him at the police station to get the keys and everything."
"Station's at the north end of town. My truck's here. I can drop you off on my way home."
"That would be great. Thanks."
Meg took another quick look at the town before she turned to help him unload his own supplies from the boat. Most of the buildings seemed to be painted some dull shade of blue or gray, though a few were brown or tan. The mist washed out any vibrancy of color as it seeped around the buildings and down towards the water.
No one else was in the harbor. The only noise aside from Meg and the fisherman's movements was the creaking of the other boats as the tide pushed them against the dock, and the waves lapping against the shore. Metal groaned against wood and rope.
"Take this," the fisherman handed her a medium sized, metal cooler then stepped from the deck of his boat to the dock. "See the stairs? You bring what you can carry to the top and I'll go get my truck then help you with the rest."
He took the metal cooler from her and started towards the stairs. Grabbing her backpack and two suitcases, Meg followed. By the time he had pulled his truck up the harbor gate she had carried everything over except her trunk. They went back for it together and then climbed in the cab. The heat was already running, and Meg held her hands to the vents. Despite the physical exertion, she couldn't shake the chill that spread through her.
There was only one long street that ran through town, and, much like the harbor, it appeared to be deserted. The largest cluster of cars appeared outside a building called, if the neon sign in the window was any indication, The Cannery.
"That's the town watering hole," the fisherman explained. "Most of the young'uns who work at the inn go there to blow off steam. Now that tourist season's over, that's where you'll want to go if you need help with repairs or anything. Plenty of young men there that know their share about plumbing and electric as long as they're not out hunting deer." He saw Meg's face and chuckled, "I know you women think they're cute, but the damned things'll take over if we don't thin the numbers. The men only kill one or two a piece. Gives 'em some good meat and a nice hide for the winter."
The marshal's station was the last building at the north end of the town, just as he'd said. A single story, white washed building just off center so that the road could veer to the left as it started up a slope. A jeep was parked outside, and as the old fisherman pulled up next to the jeep, a middle aged First Nations man in uniform emerged from the large black doors.
Of average height, his jet black hair was pulled into a ponytail. He reminded Meg of the Native American storyteller that her high school English teacher had brought into their class as a guest speaker. She wondered if it was racist to think that all First Nations people looked wise.
"Are you Miss Reed?" he asked, opening the truck door for her.
"Yes, but please call me Meg."
"Marshal Sellers," he shook her hand warmly. "I'm glad you made it safely. Supposed to be a hell of a storm coming our way. You hear about that, Larry?"
The old fisherman nodded, "Said the same thing on the mainland." He pulled a crumpled piece of paper out of the glove box and scribbled something down before handing it to Meg. "That's my phone number. You have the Marshal take you by my place on the way to the inn. My wife and I don't live too far away, so if something happens or you just need some company, don't you hesitate to come over."
"Thank you so much. I will."
Meg helped Marshal Sellers move her things from the back of Larry's truck into his jeep, and waved as the old fisherman drove off.
"Did Larry show you around town at all?" the Marshal asked as they climbed into the vehicle.
"Not really. We came straight from the docks. I think he wanted to get home as soon as possible."
"Once you taste his wife, Vera's, cooking, you'll understand why. Let me show you around." He maneuvered the jeep in a quick turn and drove in the opposite direction that the fisherman had gone. Pointing to each building in turn as they passed, "That's the post office. Those shops will be closed 'til spring. That's the general store. George, the owner, can order anything you need if it's not on the shelves. Your aunt would always order things she needed for the inn there. And then those two offices at the end of the street belong to Dr. Schott. The one closest to us is for humans, and then he has the second space for animals. Most times, he'll have a vet from the mainland come over, but in a pinch he's been known to stitch up a hound and whatnot."
They had reached the end of the row of buildings and as Marshal Sellars turned the jeep around, he nodded towards where the road quickly disintegrated from concrete to dirt.
"That road is the shortest path to the inn. Most of the tourists go up that way, but since we want to take you by Larry's place…All right, that's the road to the Harbor. You came from there."
"Larry told me about The Cannery too."
"In between is the supply shop for our fishermen. That's what most of the locals do. The shops that we open for the tourists don't make enough profit to support their owners for the other half of the year, so they go back to the mainland. Everyone who stays on the island fishes or hunts, to feed themselves and to sell to the mainland or the other islands."
They passed the police station again as he finished his explanation and continued on the path that Larry had driven before them.
"You'll see a couple of dirt roads that branch off. Those lead to people's houses. Folks here know you're coming, and they're friendly to their own, but it wouldn't be a bad idea to go around and introduce yourself. Small island's like a small town. Everybody wants to know everybody.
"Ah, see that stump there? That's the path to Larry's place. He'll expect you to drop in tomorrow for dinner at least. And like I said, Vera's cooking is worth it."
Meg nodded, unused to such a welcome, but grateful that it had been offered. The Marshal lapsed into silence for the rest of the drive. Ten minutes after they'd passed the path to the fisherman's home, the trees suddenly cleared, opening to an expansive green lawn. Leaning forward, Meg took in the full view of her aunt's inn.
The building stood three stories tall, the third smaller than the first two, and was painted in a shade of green that matched the grass almost exactly. It had a covered porch that looked like it wrapped around the entire building. Vines crawled up each post, growing out of a bed of flowers and small bushes planted all around the base of the structure.
A brightly painted sign hung across the stairs that led up to the front door proclaiming it, "The Candlewick Inn." Much of the facade was taken up with dark, expansive windows. If it hadn't been surrounded in mist, it might have been quite beautiful.
"Your aunt always had guests drive up to the front steps like this," the Marshal slowed his vehicle and maneuvered closer to the building. "Then they would follow the path and park over there under the trees," he pointed. "Tomorrow a few of her employees are going to come show you everything you need to know. The keys are in the glove box."
Meg opened the compartment to find a bulging envelope and retrieved it. They climbed out of the jeep, and the Marshal led her up the steps.
"I think this is the one," he pulled out one of the keys and fit it in the lock.
The door creaked a little as it swung open, and Meg followed Marshal Sellars inside, pausing to take in her surroundings. The lobby was decorated simply. Pictures of the town and of various events held at the inn hung on the walls. Just ahead and to the right of where they stood was a mahogany reception desk, and behind that a door which the Marshal pointed to.
"That was your aunt's room."
A door to the south lead into a large dining room with bay windows that looked out onto a patio that stretched the length of the dining room and lead to a large green yard. The Marshal explained that the patio was often used to host bigger events or holiday celebrations, weather permitting. On the opposite end of the room were 2 doors leading to the kitchens. East of the kitchens was an empty ballroom, and north of that was the library. Looking at the floor to ceiling shelves of books, Meg knew it would be her favorite room the moment they walked inside, but there was no time to linger and take in the details.
"It's getting dark," the Marshal remarked as they returned to the lobby. "I think it's best we bring your things in now. I had one of my deputies go through the upper floors this morning to make sure all the windows were locked, but I'll do it again myself before I leave. The ones on the upper floor open inward, so if they're not latched tight during a storm they'll bang open. Flora said it damn near gave her a heart attack more than once. You're free to explore, of course, but I thought you might want to wait until the staff gets here in the morning."
Fishing through the envelope of keys, he pulled out another and unlocked the door behind the reception desk. Her aunt's room had been emptied of everything but the furniture, which was sparse as it was. A number of bookcases, barren except for the thin layer of dust on each shelf, lined one wall until they met the refrigerator. The corner made up the kitchen counter, complete with a sink and dishwasher, and the stovetop and oven ended just before the door to the bathroom. Opposite from the kitchen area was a small dining room table and in the far corner, by the door, was a twin-sized bed. Between the two was a love seat and a coffee table. There was no television to speak of, and as she carried her bags in, Meg didn't see a modem or wifi router.
With the Marshal's help, she moved her trunk to the end of the bed and unloaded the rest of her things while he checked the upper floors.
"Everything is locked tight. There should be food in the fridge. Is there anything else you need?"
Meg wasn't sure how to even begin to answer the question, but she shook her head, "I think I'll be fine."
"All right. Let me show you one last thing," he bent down and pulled a metal contraption out from under the bed. "This is a CB radio. Phones work here most of the time, but when a storm kicks up the lines get real temperamental. Electricity too. The inn has a generator, so you shouldn't have any trouble there, but let me show you how to use this."
He showed her how to turn the radio on and find the correct frequency for the police station.
"If you need anything, you call."
"Okay. Thank you."
Meg walked Marshal Sellers to the front door, locking it after him, and retreated back to her aunt's room. The thought of wandering the unfamiliar inn as it got darker outside made her nervous.
"Might as well unpack," she murmured, closing the door behind herself.
The trunk had belonged to her grandmother, and held all of the clothes that she'd brought with her. Her suitcase and backpack held everything else. She used one of her towels to dust off the shelves and countertops, put her laptop on the coffee table, and when she went into the bathroom she found a small closet. Once everything was put away, she grabbed one of her notebooks and a pen and sat down at the dining room table.
She had written poetry since high school. It calmed her nerves, and presently distracted her from the strange noises in her new surroundings. Without windows, she couldn't tell when it got dark, but after the long day of travel, she happily fell into bed and slept deeply until morning.
An insistent knocking woke her the next day. For a moment she lay in bed, paralyzed, then a female voice rang out.
"Hello? Is anyone there?"
"Y-yes," Meg scrambled out of bed, fumbling for her clothes from the day before to avoid answering the door in her pajamas. "Who is it?"
"It's Ruth Bascomb. I helped manage the Candlewick. You must be Flora's niece."
Meg opened the door to find a stout, bespectacled middle-aged woman standing on the other side.
"Did I wake you?"
"Oh, yeah," Meg laughed self-consciously. "I'm not great with mornings."
"I did come a bit early," Ruth leaned forward conspiratorially, "but I thought it might be nice for us to meet before the rest of the staff get here. Why don't I go to the kitchen and make us some coffee while you get ready? You do drink coffee, don't you?"
"Yeah I do. Thanks."
"All right." Ruth smiled and turned away.
Closing the door, Meg ran to the bathroom. She hadn't showered and dressed so quickly since she was in high school and running late for first period. Leaving her hair wet, she pulled on her shoes and jogged to the kitchen where she found Ruth standing beside the coffee machine with two steaming mugs.
"Flora always kept a few of her dishes in here for us to use. I'll show you in a bit, but first tell me about yourself."
"Oh, um, well I just finished school. I got my bachelors degree in English. I thought maybe I'd be a teacher, but then I got the call about Aunt Flora."
"It was so sudden," Ruth nodded. "But it was good of you to come. We were so worried we were going to get bought by some big company or shut down all together. Would have been a real shame. The Candlewick is a very popular place. I'd say we house almost all of the tourists who visit the island in the spring and summer."
"Wow. I had no idea."
Meg shrugged, "My aunt didn't come to visit very often. I think maybe she and my Mom didn't get along. I only remember her from when I was really young."
"That's a real shame. She was the kindest woman, she really was. My best friend." Ruth's voice grew heavy with emotion, "We ran this place together for years her and me. I just want to keep it great to honor her memory."
Meg nodded, but wasn't sure what to say. She'd never worked in hospitality in her life, let alone managed a business by herself. The only reason she'd even come was because her dad encouraged her to.
"Look at me nattering on," Ruth wiped at her eyes and inhaled deeply. "You probably want to take a look around. Marshal Sellars brought you up here yesterday, is that right?"
"Yeah. He showed me around the ground floor, but that was it."
"Oh, that's hardly anything. Come with me."
For a woman of her stature, Ruth strode around the property with a surprising speed and determination. She lead Meg around each of the rooms on the ground floor, showing her where things were stored and explaining all the different ways each room was used. Meg's brain swam with details halfway through the tour of the kitchen, and she wondered how any one person could keep everything straight.
"Now the staff should be here soon," Ruth continued as they entered the library. "Flora and I always had everybody work for the first week or two after the end of the season. We scrub everything from top to bottom and put it away for the winter. Then everyone goes on their way until three weeks before the season starts again and we all come back and put the place together again. It really will feel like a family. You'll see."
"What does everyone do for the fall and winter?"
"Most go back to the mainland for other jobs. Especially the kids who are still in school. A few of the housekeepers are married to fisherman, so they'll stay on the island."
"And what did my aunt do?"
Ruth sighed and smiled, "Sometimes she traveled. Other years she'd just lock herself away. I don't know what she'd do then, but she always came back looking peaceful."
"Would I…have to stay on the island the whole time?"
"Haven't even been here a day and you're already talking about leaving?" Ruth laughed, but uneasily.
"No. I just mean -"
"It's all right, Dear. You don't have to explain."
Meg started to try again, but the sound of car doors slamming shut and people shouting to one another interrupted them.
"That's the rest of the staff," Ruth started towards the front door. "You might not say anything about leaving to them. With you being an outsider already it'll be best not to start things. Not today."
Biting her lip, Meg suppressed the urge to protest and followed Ruth out the front door. Ten or twelve cars, much more than she'd seen the day before, had pulled up in front of the inn and people were pouring out of them. Some looked to be her age, while some looked even older than Ruth. All told there had to be at least fifteen people assembled in front of her.
She swallowed nervously. Public speaking had never been especially comfortable, and these were complete strangers, standing together and not even attempting to hide the way they scrutinized her.
"Thank you all for coming," Ruth raised her hands to quiet the murmurs. "This is Meg. She's Flora's niece, and she's come to oversee things here at the inn now that Flora's passed on. Now, I know you all know what you're doing when it comes to closing this place up for the summer, so we're not going to tell you to do any different, but as I'm taking her around I expect you all to show her what your jobs entail. It's up to all of us to get her up to speed, understand?"
Everyone nodded and began to disperse. A few cast curious glances Meg's way as they passed into the inn, but most avoided eye contact in a way that made her stomach sink.
"We'll let them get started while you and I look over the accounting for this past year," Ruth smiled at her weakly and turned towards the reception desk.
Meg spent the rest of the morning going over the Candlewick's accounting books. Mercifully, the records were electronic, when asked Ruth showed her that the modem and wifi router were actually under the desk, though Meg's distaste for math still ensured that time crawled by. Various employees walked by, some chatting amiably as they carried cleaning supplies or furniture from room to room. None even glanced at her.
When they broke for lunch, Meg retreated into her aunt's - now her - room and called her girlfriend.
"Hey you," hearing Dani's voice instantly brought tears to her eyes. "Did you get there okay?"
"What's wrong, Babe?" She could always tell. One of the things Meg loved about her.
"I'm sorry. It's just weird to be here."
"Are you by yourself?"
"No. I met the Marshal of the town and this old guy gave me a ride here from the island that I flew to. Then this morning the woman who helped my aunt run the place came in and was talking about how afraid everyone that works here was that I would sell or close the whole place down, and now everyone is here. I haven't really gotten to talk to any of them because I'm having to learn about the financial accounts or whatever. There's just so much information! I don't know how I'm supposed to remember everything."
"Well, you don't have to, do you? That's what the manager lady is there for. Do you actually have to stay there, even? Like couldn't you just let her run it? Or you said something about selling it?"
"I don't know," Though Ruth had mentioned the possibility that morning, Meg hadn't really considered selling the Candlewick before. Then again, being left the inn had been so unexpected that she hadn't had much time to think about what she might or might not want to do with it. "I guess that's true. It's just kind of overwhelming."
Dani paused. "You know I can fly up there if you want me to."
"No, you should stay. Your work needs you."
Meg loved her for offering, and a part of her wanted to take Dani up on it more than anything, but she'd just gotten a promotion at her job. It wouldn't look good for her to leave now. Especially when Meg didn't even know how long she intended to stay.
"Well if you change your mind, you know how to reach me, okay? Call me tonight after everyone leaves and let me know how the rest of they day went."
"I will. Thanks for letting me complain."
"Things'll get better, Babe. Hang in there. Love you."
"I love you too."
Someone knocked on the door just as Meg hung up. Expecting to see Ruth, she was surprised to find a young man standing outside the door.
"Hey, you didn't come to lunch with the rest of us, so I thought I'd bring you food," he held up a tray.
"Oh. Thanks. Do you want to come in?"
He hesitated for a moment, looking over his shoulder, "Sure."
They sat down at the dining room table. Meg watched him open the bag of chips on his tray, then turned her attention to the sandwich in front of her. Only as she took the first bite did she remember that she'd skipped breakfast.
"I'm Joey, by the way," the boy extended his hand after swallowing a mouthful of food.
"Meg. Thanks for the food. That was really sweet of you."
"I remember when I first came here. No one really talked to me for the first day. Everybody's really nice. It's just you're - y'know - the new boss. And Ruth keeps going on about how she doesn't know if you'll close the place down or sell it to new owners. Stirs everybody up."
"Yeah, she mentioned that to me too."
Joey asked carefully, "Are you? Going to shut us down, I mean?"
"I honestly don't know. I only just found out that Aunt Flora left me this place a couple of weeks ago."
"Do you have a job back where you live?"
"I was working at Starbucks, but it wasn't anything permanent."
"So you could move here to run the place if you wanted?"
Meg started to shake her head, "My girlfriend has a really good job in graphic design at this ad company. I know she'd move if I decide to stay here, but that seems so unfair."
"Nice. Or...you know...whatever." Joey nodded, chewing thoughtfully and they lapsed into silence.
"Do you live on the island, or do you go back home after the season is over?"
"I live here. Help my dad with his fishing boat when I'm not working at the inn, so I guess at least I have something to fall back on if this doesn't work out."
"Do you like it? Fishing, I mean."
Joey shrugged, "It's all right. I want to save up enough to go to film school on the mainland."
"Like you want to be an actor?"
"Probably a writer or director at this point. I like acting, but I'd be starting my career too late."
"Oh okay. That's cool though."
After another pause, Joey put down his sandwich and looked at her squarely.
"Don't tell anyone else I said this, but you're probably going to get a lot of pressure to keep the Candlewick open, without selling it, over the next couple days. Ruth can lay on a guilt trip like nobody's business, and the once the others get used to you they'll start bugging you about it too. Just don't let anyone else make the decision for you, okay? Do what you want to do."
Meg smiled nervously, "Thanks. That's nice to hear."
Joey nodded as though he had made some kind of decision, and picked up both of their trays.
"Come with me to the kitchen. I can introduce you to everyone else."
Meg followed him through the empty lobby to the dining room. The employees were sitting in small groups at various tables. Their animated conversations died down almost instantly when she and Joey entered the room.
"Don't let it bother you," Joey whispered to her before leading her over to another table of people who looked to be their age, "Hey guys, this is Meg. She's cool, so don't be dicks."
The six young adults at the table looked thoroughly unconvinced by his directive. As the heat crawled up her neck to her face, Meg glanced quickly at each of them while trying to avoid eye contact.
"Way to not make that awkward," a black girl with hair that sprung out eagerly from every side of her scalp rolled her eyes at Joey before turning to look at Meg. "I'm Tasha."
They introduced themselves in a counterclockwise circle. Tony looked like a stereotypical jock with spiky black hair. Jaime and Lucy were both petite blondes, and Collin looked like someone who would have been happier in a science lab than at a summer resort.
Meg waved shyly, "It's nice to meet you all."
"So you're the new boss, huh?" Tony scooted to the side and beckoned for her to sit down.
"What do you think of the place so far?"
"I mean it's weird to see it without anyone else staying her, but Ruth said it gets really busy during the summer."
"Sure does," Tasha nodded. "But it's a good time. Almost everybody here works hard. You'll pick up on the slackers if you pay attention, and let me just say that if you want to fire their lazy asses you'll have my thanks."
"Flora got so attached to everyone she didn't like to yell or fire people," Collin explained.
"Don't get me wrong, your aunt was great, but she was also a big old softy, and I don't like having to do other people's jobs. We're all adults here, let's act like it."
Meg wasn't sure what to say, so she nodded in agreement.
"We all work outside," Joey added. "Helping people who want to rent boats and leading hikes. That kind of thing. So we're cleaning and putting away all of the equipment."
"That table is all the people who work in the gardens and clean the rooms," Tony pointed to the far corner of the room.
"The other tables are mostly people who work in the restaurant," Lucy piped in.
"So you all kind of hang out with the people you work with directly?" Meg asked.
"Not always, but mostly."
"And how many people in all work here?"
"Thirty when we're fully staffed," Tasha replied. "The more guests we had, the more people Flora hired. I think only about half of us are here today. You could meet a few more of the outdoor staff if you came to The Cannery with us tonight. We're meeting at 9:00."
"That sounds fun, but I don't have a car or anything."
"I can pick you up," Joey volunteered.
"Okay. That would be really nice. Thanks."
Before much more could be said, Ruth clapped her hands loudly and sent everyone back to work. For the rest of the afternoon, she took Meg around and introduced her to the lead workers in each area. Every detail of what equipment would be put away and where and when was relayed. Meg felt a rising panic at the prospect of trying to keep it all straight.
By five o'clock everyone had departed except Ruth.
"We'll all be back tomorrow at 9 a.m. sharp. I know you can't tell, but things really are coming along well. It would be nice if you could let everyone know about your decision to leave before the end of the week. People ought to have time to prepare if they need to start looking for new jobs."
"How am I even supposed to make a decision when I've only been here for a day," Meg wanted to snap back, but instead she bit her the inside of her cheek.
When Ruth realized she wasn't going to get a response, she smiled weakly and patted Meg on the shoulder, "You have a good night. Maybe get to bed early so that it's not so hard to get up on time."
Meg slammed the door behind her pointedly, and pulled out her phone. Before she could dial anyone, a knock on the door made her jump. She steeled herself for more of Ruth's false sincerity, but opened the door to find Marshal Sellars and Larry, the fisherman, standing outside.
"Evenin'," Larry tipped his head.
"Hi Meg," the Marshal smiled. "Your dad asked me to check in on you while you're on the island, and when I got here I found Larry."
"I was wondering if you'd like to join my wife and I for dinner tonight. You too, Marshal."
Remembering the Marshal's words from the day before, Meg accepted and ran back to her room to change into a nicer blouse and skirt before joining Larry in his truck. They pulled out of the gravel driveway after the Marshal.
"You look very pretty," he smiled at her warmly. "How'd you get along with your aunt's employees?" Her facial expression provided enough of an answer and he laughed. "Newcomers tend to get that kind of welcome from the island. Once they've felt you out a bit, they'll come around I'm sure."
"I do. You seem like a smart girl, and your aunt wasn't a careless person. If she left the Candlewick to you, she had a good reason."
Vera was as welcoming as her husband, and her cooking was everything Marshal Sellars had said it would be. The meal and conversation reminded Meg of visiting her aunts and uncles, mostly centering around Meg's day, and she was happy to accept when Larry suggested she visit them regularly. He drove her back to the inn just before 9:00, where she found Joey waiting on the front steps.
"I'm sorry. I would have texted you, but I don't actually have your phone number."
"No worries. I'll put it in your phone tonight. You ready to go?"
The Cannery was filled with more people than Meg had seen during her entire time on the island. Much like lunch that day, the patrons were separated into different groups. Tasha and Lucy both waved when she followed Joey in.
"Hey, you made it," Tasha stepped to the side, making room for Meg to stand next to her. "What do you drink?"
Meg looked over the list of beers and wine. Aside from the low quality, brand names there wasn't much she recognized, but after a moment she ordered a blonde ale.
"Good girl," Tasha winked. "The guys were betting you'd order a cocktail. You just made me five bucks."
Meg laughed, sipping her beer to hide her discomfort, and listened while the rest of the group chatted about the inn. They seemed to have a short-hand, and much of the conversation didn't make much sense. The nearest she could tell, they were talking about what work they had left to do.
"Is it weird that we're talking about this in front of you?" Jaime turned to her suddenly.
"I don't know. I don't think so."
"It's kind of weird to be having drinks with the boss," Tony grinned from across the table. "I don't think Flora ever came to the Cannery did she?"
No one seemed to be able to say for certain, but the consensus was that if she had, it had been before any of them worked there. As the conversation came to a lull, Meg realized that no music was playing and most of the conversations were being carried on quietly.
"It's nothing like the bars back home," Meg began the thought, but halfway through it she was jostled roughly from behind.
Her beer sloshed over the edge of the cup, splattering both her and Tasha's feet. Before she could apologize a gruff looking older man glared at her.
"Hey, watch it!" he growled.
Meg wanted to object, to point out that he was the one that bumped into her. But before she could say anything he shook his head in disgust and started to walk away. The next moment, he was on the ground, lying at her feet.
"I think you owe her an apology."
"Joey, don't." Lucy bit her lip nervously.
Her plea had no effect. Tasha pulled Meg out of the way as they all watched Joey haul the man back onto his feet and punch him again. Drinks clattered to the floor, the noise of Joey's landing blows drawing the attention of the other bar patrons.
"What is he doing?" Meg turned to the other girls in alarm as Tony and Collin moved to grab Joey's arms.
The shouting escalated as more men attempted to break up the fight. Joey continued to shout at the first man about an apology, only to be met with an unending string of expletives. With a great deal of effort, Tony and another man dragged him outside, while the other patrons tried to calm the man he'd been beating.
"We should probably go," Tasha said quietly, fishing a number of bills out of her pocket and laying them on the bar.
Meg followed the others out, bewildered to see Joey still pacing the streets angrily outside.
"Dude, you need to calm down." Tony tried to reason.
"Frank's always full of shit," Joey spat. "He should know better than to treat someone like that. I'm sick of it!"
"I know, but you've gotta let it go. That's the fourth fight you've picked this month. If you don't watch it, Robin's gonna ban you."
"Not to mention the rest of us," Tasha added. "Come on, Meg. I'll take you back to the inn."
"I can take her," Joey snapped.
"No, you need to cool off."
Tasha didn't give him another chance to object, and Meg followed her down the street to her car. They climbed in in silence and it was only after they'd pulled away from the Cannery and were heading down the road that Tasha spoke.
"I'm sorry about Joey. He just…"
"Does he get angry like that a lot?"
Tasha sighed, "It's not a regular thing, and none of us can figure out why it happens. It's not like he drinks and picks fights, you know? But it's been happening a lot more lately. You won't fire him or anything, will you?"
It hadn't occurred to Meg that she could fire anyone.
"I…guess as long as it doesn't happen at work. Or with any of the guests outside of work. It's just weird, I guess."
"Yeah," Tasha pulled up to the front door of the Inn. "Well, like I said, sorry you had to be there. See you tomorrow."
"Thanks for the ride."
Meg heart began to pound as she fumbled with the keys. There was still something unnerving about being alone in the building after dark. She wondered how her aunt had ever gotten used to it.
Being inside, even once she'd locked the front door and the door to her room, didn't make her feel much better. Pacing in front of the couch she shook her hands, as if trying to shake off the feeling of uneasiness. After a moment, she pulled out her phone.
"Hey Honey, it's kinda late."
"Sorry, Dad. I got invited out to a bar with some of the other kids that work here."
"Oh? That's good. Did you have a good time?"
"It was…okay." She couldn't imagine what he would say if she told him about Joey and the fight.
"So, what do you think of the place?"
"The inn? It's okay I guess. The woman who helped Aunt Flora manage it went over the finances with me today. Everyone else was cleaning things up and putting them away for the winter."
"Did you understand what she was saying?"
"Some of it."
"I'll be honest, Honey, I talked to Aunt Flora's lawyer about the inn when we found out she left it to you. He says it makes a tidy profit every year."
"Okay…" What was he saying?
"Do you think you might like working there?"
"What? Dad! I wouldn't even know what to do. And what about Dani? I can't ask her to quit her job and there wouldn't be anything for her to do here."
"Meg, I just wish you would consider it. Your mother and I were happy to let you live with us while you were in school, but you've graduated and you don't make enough at Starbucks to live on your own. This could be such an opportunity for you."
She shook her head with disbelief. How could he expect her to uproot her life so entirely? And for what?
"Look, Dad, I need to go. I'm tired."
"Just think about it, Sweetie. Try to see the good in the situation."
She hung up feeling worse than she had before she called. Tears gathered in the corners of her eyes, threatening to spill over as she plopped down on the couch and hugged one of the threadbare cushions. Staying on the island didn't make any sense to her. Yes, it was a steady job, and she wouldn't have to pay as many bills, she supposed. But she didn't know the first thing about running a business, and she missed her friends.
Meg sat on the couch for another hour, staring at the empty bookcases as vague thoughts drifted through her mind. Eventually, she climbed into her aunt's old bed and closed her eyes. Falling asleep seemed to take forever. One moment she was thinking about how she might as well give up on the idea, and the next her alarm was jangling loudly next to her ear.