Flash Fiction #27 – Man on a Dock
I stared at this picture for a long time trying to figure out what to write, and I kept coming back to a secondary character from a novella I wrote called Finding You. So…here’s Jake’s story. Or, at least, some of it.
I don’t know why I still came down here every summer. The resort had been abandoned for three years, now. Technically, it wasn’t actually abandoned. My aunt still owned it, and, in theory, it was even for sale. But so far, she’d rejected every offer anyone had made. And being a prime vacation spot on the western shore of Lake Michigan, she’d had plenty of offers. Plenty of substantial offers. But she’d turned down every last one. Her realtor had finally had enough and bailed. I couldn’t blame him. Aunt Lila hadn’t been exactly cooperative despite claiming she wanted to sell the place.
When I’d checked on her earlier, she’d been napping in Liam’s room. She’d looked so much older than she had the last time I’d been here. So much older than anyone in their forties should. But grief and loss would do that do a person. She’d been on shaky ground the first year after Liam and his girlfriend, Samara, had gone missing in the endless blue-green waves of Lake Michigan. And then when Samara’s sister, Tabitha, had vanished the following summer, Lila had lost it. Guilt twisted my gut the way it always did when I thought of Tabby, and I pushed away her memory and thought again of my aunt.
Liam had been Lila’s only child, and of course, she’d been devastated when all the Coast Guard could find was the listing sailboat with the broken mast. I’d taken care of her as best I could, but the nephew she’d taken in when her deadbeat brother had dumped him on her doorstep as a kid was a poor substitute for the son she’d loved more than life. Not that she’d ever treated me poorly. I knew she loved me, but there were days I wished I’d been the one the lake had claimed. It didn’t help that I missed Liam almost as much as Lila did. He’d never been just a cousin to me–he’d been my best friend.
I’d lost my best friend, and Tabitha had lost her sister. I’d taken Lila to Samara’s funeral. Tabitha had refused to attend. Her mother had rolled her eyes when she’d explained Tabby refused to believe her sister had died. Tabby had come to the resort the summer after Liam and Samara had vanished. Supposedly, she’d wanted closure. But she’d never talked about her sister in the past tense. Liam, either. It was as if she’d still rejected the idea that they’d perished. And now she was gone, too.
The guilt I’d tried to evade earlier was back. I’d promised her that we’d go sailing as soon as I was back from the chartered fishing trip. But the guy who’d chartered the trip had offered to double my rate if I’d stayed out there another hour. I should have known Tabitha wouldn’t have waited for me. When I wasn’t back when I said I’d be, she’d taken The Serenity out on her own. And she’d been missing ever since. Like Liam’s boat, The Serenity had been found capsized with a busted mast.
That news had been what had broken Lila. Losing Tabitha had pushed her over the edge. She’d told me over and over not to blame myself. That if I’d been caught with Tabby in that freak storm, I’d likely be dead, too. I never told Lila that I was okay with that, but I think she knew. As soon as the Coast Guard had called off the recovery efforts and everyone had gone, she’d poured kerosine on the remaining sailboats and set them all on fire. If I close my eyes, I can still see her standing on the shore, watching them burn.
I scuffed the toe of my shoe against a charred spot on the edge of the dock, before moving on. I found myself searching the the almost glasslike surface of the water, trying to peer through the fog. There were times when the lake was still like this when I could swear there were shapes moving in the mist. And who knew? Maybe there were. It was a busy lake–especially in the summer months. But I could never shake the feeling that somehow I was looking through a veil to the past, and if I could just pierce it, I’d find them all there–Liam, Samara, and Tabitha.
That’s all for me, today, but who knows…I may revisit poor Jake in the future. But for now, go check out the other blogger’s stories.