“I’m going to go down to the beach and see if I can spot him.”
Annabelle looked up from the game board. “Again?” she said, “It hasn’t even been half an hour. Honey, sailboats are slow.”
“That’s the whole damn problem,” he mumbled, not quite under his breath, as he detoured to the refrigerator on his way to the door. Annabelle and Everett were playing Scrabble, sitting around a corner of the table so that both could see out the windows, and Annabelle was winning handily.
“What’s that, dear?” she said over her shoulder. Then, to her son: “That ‘s’ gives me the combined score of these two words, and ‘stymied’ is on a double word score, so that’s thirty-two points total.”
“Nothing,” Paul replied. But he couldn’t stand to be in the cabin with the two of them any longer, sitting on the couch feigning interest in a fishing magazine and wondering where the hell Jeremy was. The kid had called from Islesboro at 8:30 to say that he was leaving. A short beat upwind to Turtle Head and then gravy, the wind aft of the beam the rest of the way. Paul’s eyes fell on the envelope tacked to the bulletin board, a mysterious letter that had arrived two weeks ago, addressed to Jeremy care of “Annabelle Sprauling” in Blue Hill. She had argued that it was easier to save it for him than to forward it on to Islesboro, but to Paul it forebode another complication in his life from Annabelle’s unpredictable older son. It had a California postmark and return address. His instinct had been to throw it away, but Annabelle had kept it and brought it down to give to him.
“If he ever frigging gets here,” Paul said aloud.
“Jeremy’s a good sailor,” Annabelle said. “Don’t worry about him.”
He wasn’t worried about Jeremy. Fuck Jeremy. Paul Bremerton’s worries on this Labor Day weekend centered on the challenge of pulling off a successful, incident-free outdoor wedding within this strange family he had married into. It was his land, after all, and if anything went wrong, his responsibility. The lawyer’s family would all be here, along with people from Blue Hill, the University of Maine, and Old Orchard Beach. At least the weather was holding. Weddings tend to be remembered, and Paul wanted this one to come off well.
“Place looks good, doesn’t it?” he said to his wife, one hand on the doorknob and the other working the tab on a can of Miller High Life.
Annabelle smiled – an actual smile, not the nervous rictus she’d plastered on her face for the previous week. “Yes, it does, dear,” she told him. “It’s never looked better.”
Paul grunted his gratitude, stepped out onto the deck, and opened the beer. He had mowed every blade of grass on the property, trimmed back the blackberry bushes from the sides of the dirt road all the guests would have to use, painted the trim on the cabin (purposely not rented this week), restacked the rickety piles of firewood into neat rows, and cleared a path to the beach between the two dinghies turned upside down above the shoreline.
A large tent had been erected, and underneath it, several long tables for serving food and a scattering of smaller tables for eating and drinking. The kitchen stuff would be here tomorrow, and the sound equipment would arrive with the band on the morning of the wedding. Gretchen would take her marriage vows at noon on Labor Day, in less than forty-eight hours.
The weather forecast was good: sunny, with moderate winds from the west. A brisk breeze blew now, though he had expected it to settle down in the afternoon and it was past five o’clock. As he walked toward the shore he saw that it was still coming from the northwest – the cool, clearing wind of fall. Jeremy should have been here hours ago on a wind like this.
Sailboats had been gliding by all day. Only a few had ducked into the wide but shallow gulf between the point and the islands, and none looked like the 23-foot blue sloop Jeremy had described. Annabelle had made her son promise to arrive on Saturday, so as to forestall any last-minute maritime drama.
That fucking kid, Paul thought. Coming by boat to his sister’s wedding. A boat he didn’t even for Chrissake own. Why couldn’t he just drive, like everybody else? Jeremy had told them that the boat’s owner, the brother of the owner of the camp for which he worked all summer, planned to sail it to its winter home in Portland in late September, and that he, Jeremy, was free to use it until then. Jeremy, according to Annabelle, had made no plans for the winter. He was still living on Islesboro, but he’d found an apartment in Rockland and was now ostensibly looking for a job. Good luck, Paul thought. An astronomy degree and an attitude that the world owes you a living would not go far in the off-season on the coast of Maine.
But Jeremy had told his mother he had managed to save a little money over the summer, and that the camp wanted him back next year, if he was available. She had replied that while that was great, a two-month stint as a sailing instructor was not going to get him through the winter. Paul was heartened to hear this. It was past time for his wife to call out her older son on his bullshit. He wished she had put her foot down harder on this idea of sailing to his sister’s wedding, but the best she had been able to do was extract a promise from him to be there two days early and not to fuck things up.
The tide was falling; it had been high two hours ago. At or near high tide, Paul could turn over the small dinghy and plunk it the water. But the intertidal zone in front of the camp was an expanse of rocks and seaweed and mussel beds, a long slog to get to the water. Why couldn’t the kid at least have had the consideration to arrive at high tide? The public landing, where Paul kept his lobster boat and skiff, was only half a mile away on the paved road. But Paul didn’t want to drive. Nervous about hosting his first wedding, he’d been nursing a bottle of Myers rum since noon, and drinking beer on top of that
He and Annabelle, along with Everett, had been at the camp since the beginning of the week. Joanie and Pilar were still at the house in Blue Hill but would be coming down in the morning on the day before the wedding. Madison, Serena and Wayne planned to arrive sometime Sunday in some sort of a camper. Jeremy had assured everyone he could sleep on the boat. As for the oldest sister and her intended, the father of the groom had sprung for a room at the Salt Farm Inn.
Paul sipped the beer and turned slowly to take in his property. Some day, he knew, it would be worth a lot of money. He owned two hundred feet of shorefront, and a piece of land that expanded inland like a pie slice, totaling just over five acres. The framework of the new house stood against the sky at the top of the hill, perhaps a hundred yards behind the cabin. He could see spruce trees through the empty spaces where the front of the house would be, a massive south-facing wall of passive solar windows that would augment the woodstove in the open living room and keep the house warm in all seasons. The house was a modified saltbox design built out onto the slope, so that the second level could be entered from the ground in back, or from the garage and workshop attached to it. It was aligned exactly with the compass directions, the huge roof just three feet off the ground above the garage on the north side but three stories high, with a cutout for a small lookout deck, on the side facing the sea. On the equinoxes, the sun would rise and set in the end windows. The oil burner heated only the lower floor, half-buried in the hill. It was a well-designed house, and they would get lots of exercise just walking up and down the stairs.
But those two hundred feet where land met sea were Paul’s ticket to a secure future. Wealthy out-of-staters had already pushed up real estate prices everywhere along the coast, even in out-of-the-way places like this. Several of his fishermen friends had sold waterfront homes that had been in the family for generations. They now had to drive to get to their boats, but the money they’d made often secured retirements, medical bills, and college educations for their kids. The longer he sat on this land, the more valuable it would become. And if, in his old age, he wanted to take off to someplace warm, and forget about the Spraulings and their messy lives, well, thanks to this place, he had that option.
He hadn’t seen the sail coming around Hog Island as he inventoried his property and his life. He wasn’t expecting Jeremy to come from that direction, but the little sloop looked like the one his stepson had described. It approached quickly, sails out in front of the wind blowing straight into the wide cove. A long ledge, exposed at low tide, ran parallel to the shore in front of the camp; he trusted that Jeremy knew to anchor out far enough beyond it. And as he thought this, the boat rounded neatly up into the wind, sails fluttering. The lone figure on board threw out an anchor, and a moment later the mainsail came down, followed by the jib.
Paul wandered farther down the beach and waved. The figure on the boat waved back. Jeremy. Finally. He looked at his watch. Quarter to six.
Rather than walk back to the cabin to inform Annabelle and Everett of Jeremy’s arrival, Paul decided to finish his beer and wait for his stepson on the beach. He found a comfortable rock and sat down, as the distant figure out on the water busied itself securing the boat. A small dinghy bobbed off the sloop’s stern. Paul watched Jeremy cast off and drifted toward the public landing until he got the oars in place. He aimed the skiff toward the beach and began to row, rocking from one side to the other in the small, choppy waves. Paul chuckled. Had he been in the dinghy, he might have advised Jeremy to row toward shore at an angle, getting more of the bow into the waves until he got upwind of the beach. He would get to shore sooner and with less effort. But so what? Let the kid figure it out for himself.
When Jeremy at last grounded the dinghy on some rocks in front of the camp, Paul ambled down to meet him and took a line. Jeremy stepped out into ankle-deep water. Paul pulled the boat a few feet up on the rocks. He wore his rubber boots; Jeremy, the fool, was barefoot, his feet in the mud. “Well, you made it,” Paul said, holding out his hand. Jeremy grasped it and grinned.
“Yeah. There’s some nice wind out there. That boat’s awfully slow going to windward, though.”
“But you had a fair wind,” Paul said. “We expected you hours ago.”
“Oh, well, it was such a beautiful day I decided to sail around by way of Stonington,” Jeremy said. “It’s so pretty down there. I flew down on that northwest wind, but then I had to beat up to here. The tide was against me, too.”
“Well, your mother was starting to get worried,” Paul growled. He tried to keep the irritation out of his voice. The fucking kid, as usual, had thought only of himself. He’d told no one he planned to go the long way. He had just done it because he wanted to. And had felt no obligation to let anyone know.
“Oh, that’s just Ma,” Jeremy said airily. “I got here before dark, two days before the wedding, like she said.” He squinted out at the boat, one hand shielding his eyes against the setting sun. “Anchor ought to be good and set, with this wind.”
“You put out enough scope?” Paul asked.
“Seventy-five feet,” Jeremy said. “All the anchor line I’ve got.”
“That should be plenty.” But Paul wondered if Jeremy had any extra line aboard, or a spare anchor. Prudent boaters carried such things. He noticed that Jeremy hadn’t even put a life jacket in the dinghy. Like most lobstermen, Paul didn’t put much stock in life jackets, but he had the sense to comply with the law, even when he was rowing alone from the public landing to his mooring. Enforcement in the waters around the point was scarce, but Paul made his living on the water, and obeyed the rules. Jeremy couldn’t have cared less. So far in his charmed young life, he had gotten away with it.
“You planning on rowing back out tonight?” Paul said. Jeremy had brought a small knapsack ashore, but Paul doubted he had thought to put a flashlight in it.
“I guess so,” Jeremy said. “Although the tide will be out, won’t it?”
Paul sighed. “Your sisters aren’t coming down until tomorrow. There’s a spare room in the cabin. You might as well have dinner with us and stay ashore. We’ll get everything squared away in the morning.”
It was more generous than Paul felt, but Annabelle would appreciate it. If he could get through this gala family gathering in his wife’s good graces, he would put up with a considerable amount of shit from her family, including the bride’s entitled older brother.
Jeremy of course accepted the invitation immediately. “Well, let’s get this boat up on the grass, then,” Paul said. He grabbed the gunwale midway between stern and bow, and nodded for Jeremy to latch on to the other side. Paul took a little perverse pleasure in steering his barefoot stepson over the rocks while he planted his booted feet on bare beach. Jeremy stumbled a couple of times, but he never asked Paul to put the dinghy down until they had it up on the edge of the lawn next to the other two.
Jeremy wiped his muddy feet on the fresh-cut grass. “You might want to rinse off with the hose before you come in,” Paul told him. The kid may have been able to do calculus equations in his sleep, but he didn’t have a lick of common sense. He was lucky his feet weren’t all cut up from barnacles and shells. Annabelle would have had a fit had he tracked the mixture of mud and grass across the freshly washed cabin floor, but it wouldn’t have bothered Jeremy at all.
Paul pointed him to the hose around back, and when Jeremy came in only a few stray strands of grass clung to his feet. Annabelle greeted him with a hug and an announcement that she had made a sausage polenta, which she knew he liked. Paul offered him a beer and he accepted. Everett and Annabelle had finished their game of Scrabble, but the letters were still on the board. Everett sat on the sofa reading a book. The younger brother looked up when Jeremy greeted him, said a perfunctory “Hi,” and went right back to reading.
“That’s a good word,” Jeremy said, studying the board. “Fraught. You use all seven letters on that one?” he asked his mother.
“No,” Annabelle called from the kitchen. “I think the ‘t’ was Everett’s. But it was a neat word to get in.”
Opening another beer, Paul considered his wife’s lack of compunction in trouncing her young son at a word game. What nine-year-old knew what “fraught” meant? She played to win, often defensively, deliberately blocking opportunities for good words. He rarely let her coerce him into playing.
“How about a game after dinner?” Jeremy said.
“Maybe the four of us could play,” Annabelle said. His beer stopped at his lips and he glared at her. “If Paul wants to,” she added quickly. Everett apparently had no choice in the matter.
“It’ll be fun,” Jeremy said.
Sure, kid, as long as you win. Everett didn’t share his brother’s or his mother’s competitiveness about games. “When Jeremy was nine,” Annabelle had told Paul once, “if I beat him at Scrabble he’d go off mad and sulk for awhile, but then he’d learn some more words and come back and challenge me again.”
Paul played, Jeremy won with Anabelle a close second, and household harmony was preserved. Of such transactions were marriages made. Gretchen, getting married tomorrow, would learn this soon enough.
In the morning Jeremy rowed out to the boat, and when he came back he left the dinghy at the public landing, which meant a longer row and a walk to the house but ensured access at all tides. Shortly after noon, Madison and Serena arrived, in a Ford Econoline van from the 1960s made over into a camper and driven by her new, huge boyfriend. Paul guided him to a flat spot behind the cabin and out of the way of the wedding site. At four, all six of them piled into Annabelle’s car and drove into Blue Hill, where they met up with Joanie and Pilar at the house across from the cemetery, a short walk from the restaurant where the wedding party was to meet for dinner. Though Theo, the father of the groom, was paying for everything, Paul paced himself on the drinks. He wanted to be on his best behavior.
The dinner was the sort of thing that could have dissolved into madness had the Spraulings been in charge. But Theo and his wife Margaret, a statuesque blonde woman of perhaps forty-five who wore a full-length zebra-print dress and her hair piled high on top of her head, orchestrated everything from the seating arrangement to the timing of the appetizers and entrée. Paul and Annabelle sat with the groom’s parents at the head table. Theo and Margaret were gracious hosts, engaging them in conversation about the Maine coast, the lobster business and the school system, but Paul had never been good at social talk and let Annabelle handle most of it. Before dessert Theo got up and made a short speech congratulating Ted and Gretchen (who sat at a table with the their college friends), and making sure everyone knew he was picking up the tab. Paul secretly delighted in seeing the Spraulings cowed, just a little, by a family more elitist than themselves.
He noticed that Jeremy, at a long table populated by relatives of the bride and groom, was paying particular attention to a small, dark-haired girl who looked about seventeen. At a lull in the conversation, Paul got Annabelle’s attention and asked who she was. Annabelle turned to Margaret and repeated the question. “Oh, that’s Elaine Gulliver,” Margaret said. “She’s my sister Pamela’s daughter. Pam couldn’t come, but Ted and Elaine have been thick as thieves since they were little kids. She came up with us.”
“So they’re cousins,” Annabelle said.
The blonde woman nodded. “Pam and I got pregnant at the same time. Ted beat Elaine into the world by two weeks. He’s closer to her than he is to his brother and sister. If they weren’t blood relatives, he might be marrying her instead of your daughter.”
This struck Paul as an odd thing to say. “She looks younger than she is,” he observed.
“Yes, she’s very pretty,” the mother of the groom replied. “The dark hair comes from her father’s side of the family, as you can probably guess.”
Paul glanced sideways at Annabelle; his wife met his eyes and gave him a barely perceptible shrug. Jeremy and the girl continued to talk. At the same table, Joanie and Pilar and Ted’s brother and sister were listening to something Madison’s new boyfriend had to say, while Madison and Everett hovered over Serena, who was starting to slip out of her booster seat and seemed ready to fall asleep at any moment.
The party broke up soon after dessert. In the shuffling of cars and passengers for the caravan back to the point, Jeremy and Elaine ended up in the same vehicle, driven by Ted’s younger brother. They dropped him off at the public landing and he rowed out alone to his boat, Paul watching from the porch of the cabin to make sure he got there safely.
All seemed secure for the big day. Everyone went to bed before midnight. Paul set the alarm for six so that he could be up, showered, breakfasted and ready to greet the caterers and the band and any early-arriving guests.
The day dawned clear, with a moderate breeze. Early mornings on the coast were often calm, but the calendar had turned to September and the wind felt chilly on his skin as he surveyed the tents, the mowed lawn, and the view out toward the open sea beyond the islands. The tide was in and the water sparkled. The little blue sloop bobbed on its anchor. With a start, Paul realized that the dinghy was not attached to the boat’s stern. Had Jeremy failed to secure it? But no, there it was now, with Jeremy at the oars, heading shoreward. “He’s up early,” Paul muttered aloud. The breeze was onshore, pushing Jeremy along. And was that a car coming down the driveway?
Maddie and Wayne and Serena had not yet emerged from their mini-camper, but the car pulled right up beside it, and a young man and woman got out. Paul recognized Ted’s younger brother, whose name he had forgotten, and the small, dark-haired cousin, Elaine.
They smiled and waved. Paul approached them. They wore matching navy sweaters and red windbreakers. Elaine carried a small canvas bag; Ted’s brother had a blue backpack slung over one shoulder.
“Didn’t expect guests to start arriving so soon,” he said.
“Jeremy’s taking us sailing,” Elaine explained, flashing a smile. “I’ve never been out in anything bigger than a Sunfish.”
Paul tried to show no reaction. Jeremy beached the dinghy and hauled it up onto the beach. Elaine waved at him, and he waved back.
The civilized thing to do, he thought, would be to invite all three of them in for a cup of coffee and try to convince them that this was a bad idea. But Elaine and Ted’s brother were already walking to the shore to meet Jeremy. Paul hastened to keep up with them. They must have cooked up this plan the previous night at dinner. Jeremy stood by the dinghy. Paul saw that the kid had brought three life jackets.
“Jeremy,” he said, “your sister’s getting married at noon, and people are going to start arriving well before then.” He looked at his watch to emphasize the point.
“Oh, we’re only going out for a couple hours,” Jeremy said. “Don’t worry, we’ll be back in plenty of time.”
“I don’t like it,” Paul said.
“It’s not even eight,” Jeremy replied.
“And by the time you get out to the boat, and get the sails up, and hoist the anchor, it’ll be eight-thirty. Then you’ve got to re-anchor and close up the boat when you get back. People are going to start arriving around ten or so, and you’ve got to get dressed for the wedding. You’re cutting it a little close.”
But the damnable grin remained on the kid’s face. “I’m not going to pull the anchor,” he said. “I’ll put the dinghy on it. All we have to do is pick it up.”
“I still think you should do this another day,” Paul said.
“Elaine and Tom are going back to southern Maine after the wedding,” Jeremy said. The two guests nodded. “Come on, Paul, we’ll be back in plenty of time. We’ll take a couple of quick tacks out around Hog Island, and come right back in. They just want a chance to get out on the water.”
Their eager faces told Paul he was in a no-win situation. He had no real authority over Jeremy, and obviously, an appeal to common sense was lost on the kid. His two new friends would think he was an asshole. It was his duty to ensure that nothing went wrong on this day. And perhaps nothing would. But this morning sail was a wild card.
He looked hard at Jeremy. “You just make sure you’re back on that anchor by ten o’clock,” he said. “No later.”
“Sure thing,” Jeremy said.
Paul wanted to punch that self-assured grin off the kid’s face. But he held onto the dinghy as Jeremy’s passengers got in, Elaine in the bow and Tom in the stern, and pushed it off until it floated. “Ten o’clock,” he repeated, as Jeremy dipped the oars and began rowing out to the boat, slower than he had rowed in, with the additional weight of two people.
He was scowling and muttering to himself when he returned to the cabin. But when he told Annabelle, she said, “Paul, don’t worry. It’s a beautiful day, and Jeremy knows what he’s doing. Besides, don’t you think Elaine’s kind of cute?”
She was matchmaking for her son on her daughter’s wedding day. But he said only, “Yeah, I guess. But I still don’t like it.”
“Everything’s fine,” she said, as a truck rolled up onto the lawn. “Look, the caterers are here. Half an hour ahead of schedule.” She smiled at him as she went to greet them. “Try to relax, will you?”
Paul would relax only when this day was safely over.
But at precisely nine-fifty, the sail of Jeremy’s boat reappeared, and he breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe it was going to be okay after all.
Everybody else was up by then; Gretchen had arrived, and Annabelle and Madison were helping her prepare in one of the back bedrooms. Wayne watched Serena on the front porch. A few members of Ted’s family walked along the shore in their dress clothes; Joanie and Pilar pestered the members of the band as they unloaded their equipment. Everett bounced a tennis ball against the side of the cabin, which would have annoyed Paul under normal circumstances. But he let it go, and kept his eyes on the sailboat.
And now what was the kid doing? The boat passed the dinghy and tacked, and Paul watched as it sailed between the anchored rowboat and the shore. He could see the people on the boat waving; a few of the wedding guests waved back. The boat tacked again, and Paul saw that Jeremy, showing off for his audience, intended to take another close pass by the cabin, barely skirting the ledge that ran parallel to the shore and emerged at low tide but now lurked beneath the surface. Though he had eaten a full breakfast, Paul’s stomach gurgled.
Ted’s parents walked down the hill from where they had parked their car. Paul saw that Ted’s mother had her hair down but still pulled partially back against the nape of her neck. Theo Addington wore a light blue suit and a tie with diagonal maroon and yellow stripes. The two men shook hands. “Couldn’t have picked a better day for a wedding,” Theo Addington said.
Annabelle emerged from the cabin to greet the groom’s parents. “Joan, Pilar,” she called. “Go in and help your sister get ready.”
The girls reluctantly obeyed, with a lot of shoulder-shrugging and lip-pouting for effect. The members of the band looked relieved to be freed from the distraction.
Annabelle came up to him and squinted out at her son in the sailboat, raising a hand to her eyebrows. “Isn’t he awfully close?” she said.
“Too close,” Paul growled.
And then, just like prophecy, the boat lurched to a sudden halt, and the wind spilled out of the sails. He saw one of the people on the boat stumble forward. The boat swayed but remained stuck in place. He heard an inarticulate shout from out on the water.
“Oh, Jesus,” Paul said.
Ted’s parents heard this and looked at him sharply. “What happened?” Margaret Addington asked.
“He hit the fucking ledge,” Paul said. He quickly added: “Pardon my language, but he’s in trouble. The tide’s going out.”
Paul watched as Jeremy went out on the bow, grabbed the forestay, and leaned hard to first one side and then the other, trying to tilt the boat free of the rocks. It didn’t budge. Paul could see him exhorting his passengers to rock the boat. They ran from bow to stern, but the boat remained stubbornly stuck. “Take down your sails and turn on the motor, you idiot,” Paul muttered. A moment later, Jeremy heeded half of his unheard advice, for Paul saw him go to the stern and begin tugging on the cord of the outboard motor. It roared into life on the third or fourth pull. Jeremy gunned the engine. The boat surged forward about a foot with a terrible scraping sound that made Paul wince.
He cupped his hands. “Put it in reverse!” he called out, realizing at the same time the futility of yelling over a revved outboard engine at this distance. All three people on the sloop were yelling now; the girl, Elaine, waved her hands above her head at the people on the shore.
“Paul, you’ve got to go help them,” Annabelle said.
“Jesus Christ Almighty,” he said. “Of all the days…”
He looked at his watch. Five after ten. If Jeremy hadn’t been fucking around, he’d be on the anchor now, as they had agreed. But Annabelle was right – he had to move fast. If the sloop did not get off the rocks in the next few minutes, it would be stranded as the water seeped from beneath it, and would remain there until the tide floated it again in six to eight hours.
Cursing, Paul power-walked up the hill to his truck, which he had parked beside the house-in-progress so as not to be in anyone’s way. The keys were in it, as always, but someone had blocked him in. It took five precious minutes to find the owner of the late-model Toyota Corolla, and another three to get Paul headed out the driveway, carefully squeezing by the cars along the side. By the time he got to the public landing, rowed to his boat, got the motor started, and cast off his mooring, Jeremy and his crew had been on the rocks for at least a quarter of an hour.
Paul turned on his depth sounder and headed out toward the stranded boat. Beyond it, Jeremy’s dinghy bobbed at anchor, mocking them from deep water. When the depth dropped below ten feet, Paul cut back the engine and eased in. Eight feet, six, four and a half… “Do you have a line?” he called to Jeremy. The kid cupped a hand to his ear. “A line,” Paul yelled again. “Throw me a line.”
Jeremy nodded and hustled back to the cockpit. He opened one compartment, then another. Finally he came up with a coil of rope and scampered back up onto the bow. As Jeremy tied one end off on a foredeck cleat, Paul slowly backed toward him. Four feet, five again, three and a half… close enough. “Throw it,” he yelled to Jeremy.
The kid gave him a lousy throw, but Paul was just able to grab one end of the line as it sailed past him. He tied his end to a cleat on his stern quarter. “Hang on!” he called back. He aimed the lobster boat’s bow as directly as he could toward deeper water, putting himself at angle to the sloop. Slowly, he goosed the throttle. The line went taut. The sailboat lurched, scraped, move a couple of feet, and stuck again with a hideous grinding sound. Paul felt his own boat tugged backwards. He eased back on the throttle and slipped in into neutral.
“Gonna try it from another angle,” he called back. But the sailboat would move no more. It had lost the race with the tide. Paul feared he might seriously damage the boat if he kept trying.
He signaled to Jeremy that he was throwing back the line. Then he motored out to Jeremy’s dinghy and tied his own boat to the anchor line, cursing all the while, hoping that Jeremy had something substantial on the bottom. He got into the dinghy and rowed back to the sailboat.
“For God’s sake, lower your sails,” he said, as he drew alongside. “And cut the engine. You’re not going anywhere.”
Jeremy cut the engine, and he and Tom pulled down the sails. Elaine stood in the cockpit, arms folded, her eyes like the blue ice that forms in the winter on the faces of roadside cliffs. She aimed them at Jeremy’s back like steel blades, and even in the midst of this disaster, Paul was pleased to note that his stepson had lost his chance with this one.
“You got any bumpers?” Paul asked.
“Get ’em out. Get any extra life jackets, too. We’re gonna have to pad her as she settles. I’ll take these two ashore, and come back. Tom, you get into the stern. Elaine, you take the bow.”
Elaine got into the dinghy gratefully, flashing one last poisonous look at Jeremy. “Elaine, I’m sorry,” Jeremy said from the tilting deck. She tossed her dark hair back and looked in at the shore, her eyes glinty blue slits in the sunlight reflected from the water.
As Paul rowed, he contemplated leaving the kid out there on the boat to fend for himself. It would serve him right. But what would he say or do if a rock poked a hole in the hull because Jeremy hadn’t padded it properly? It wasn’t even the kid’s boat, for Christly crying out loud. But it was a boat in distress, and his disgust with Jeremy did not abrogate his obligation to assist.
The wedding went off almost exactly one hour late, after Paul and Jeremy had braced the boat and padded the places where it would rest against the rocks and rowed ashore and cleaned up. The small sloop had a forgiving shape. Its full-hull keel and wide beam allowed it to rest at an angle; unless a stiff afternoon westerly whipped up a choppy sea, it would float without further damage.
But the damage to the day was done. By the time Paul took his place next to the bride in preparation for the ceremony, Gretchen was fuming. “Well, he did it,” she said. “He managed to make himself the center of attention at my wedding.”
“Yeah, he has a talent for that,” Paul said. A remarkably restrained response, he thought, given that what he wanted to do most at the moment was strangle the kid. “But you’re the center of attention now. Smile, your husband’s waiting.”
The band struck up a bridal march, purportedly composed by one of the couple’s college friends, Annabelle had said. It was upbeat and pretty at the same time, and Paul offered Gretchen his arm. They walked toward the aisle of grass between the folded chairs, at the end of which Ted, Tom and the priest stood waiting. Paul saw the corners of Gretchen’s mouth creep upward.
But at this precise moment, someone out on one of the islands kicked a chainsaw into life. Gretchen scowled. “Oh, great.”
“Gretchen, it’s all right,” Paul said. “You can barely hear it over the band.”
But the whining buzz continued over the priest’s brief speech, and when he spoke the requisite words that anyone objecting to this union should speak now or forever hold their peace, the distant saw jumped to a higher pitch and volume. It quit suddenly just before the actual vows, though, and Gretchen resurrected her smile and kissed Ted with real passion.
Paul participated in the champagne toast and then grabbed a beer as the reception got under way, reminding himself to have only three or four. He watched Jeremy try to approach Elaine at the food table and saw her stalk away. The hired wedding photographer weaved among the crowd, taking candid shots and posed pictures of assorted groups. At one point he overheard Gretchen say to him, “Make sure that damn boat isn’t in the background.”
The boat began to stir at around four-thirty as the tide oozed back in. Jeremy and Paul excused themselves from the party, still going strong, and after about an hour of nudging and leaning and pulling, they were able to get the boat off the ledge and back onto its anchor. There was one short scratch above the water line, but no appreciable damage. The kid had gotten lucky, again.
By the time they returned to shore, many of the guests, including Elaine, had left. Gretchen and Ted departed shortly thereafter. Neither of them spoke to Jeremy. The kid got a big plate of food and another beer and found two empty chairs, one for his plate and one for his butt. He sat alone and ate and drank as the party wound down.
“I’d like to kill him,” Paul muttered to his wife.
“I know, Paul, he can be awfully exasperating sometimes,” Annabelle said. “But don’t you think he feels bad enough about it already?”
“I don’t care what he feels. His stupidity and carelessness ruined a perfectly good day.”
“Well, I don’t think the day was ruined, do you?” his wife said. “It was a beautiful ceremony. People enjoyed themselves. And Jeremy isn’t stupid.”
“Maybe not,” Paul conceded, “but he is careless and self-involved. And he thinks it’s everybody else’s duty to save his bacon when he gets in trouble. He put two people in danger today, and threw a big fat monkey wrench into Gretchen’s wedding. Look at him. You think he gives a shit? If you don’t kick his ass off this property in the next five minutes, I will.”
“Paul, that’s ridiculous. Where is he supposed to go?”
He nodded toward the shore, at the boat bobbing once again safely on its anchor.
“Right now?” She arched an eyebrow. “You mean it.”
“You bet I do,” he said. “It’s taking every ounce of willpower I have not to beat the shit out of him.”
She took a long, slow, deep breath. “Jeremy,” she called.
He turned toward her, plate in hand. “What, Ma?”
He set down the plate and walked over to them. “It’s time for you to go out to your boat,” she said.
“How come? There’s still three hours of daylight left, and plenty of tide.”
“Because I can’t stand the sight of you, you little shit,” Paul said evenly. “Go back to your boat, sail it away first thing tomorrow, and don’t come back for a long time. I suppose you can come ashore to take a dump in the morning, but I don’t want to see you.”
“Look, Paul, I’m sorry about grounding the boat. And thank you again for helping me. But I…”
“Get out of here before I punch your preppie face in.”
He was pleased to see a hint of fear cross Jeremy’s features.
“Okay,” Jeremy said. “I’ll just get my stuff and say goodbye to everyone.”
He stood by silently as Jeremy spoke briefly to his sisters and Everett and a couple of the guests. Just as he was ready to go, Annabelle darted inside, and came back out holding an envelope. “Wait, Jeremy,” she said. “I almost forgot. This letter came for you.” She handed it to him midway between cabin and shore. “Who do you know in San Diego?”
He watched Jeremy open the letter. A stricken expression appeared on the kid’s face, more of a reaction than he had shown to all the trouble he had caused that day. If Paul punched him now, he would crumble like a sand castle.
Paul didn’t know who had sent the letter. But he was right about one thing. Jeremy would not return to the point for a long, long time.