My mind is heavy now.
Age and wisdom have taken their toll, age more than the other I think sometimes but it is just as effective for stealing my memories.
I wanted to tell you about this, before I forget, or even worse, before I believe it never happened.
It was February of 2011, almost ten years since 9-11 and I was alone for the first time in thirty years.
My marriage had been hard, the divorce harder and one is never quite prepared for that particular type of loss no matter how logical it all seems at the time.
The whys and the wherefores, the blame, the guilt all loaded on the truck with what furniture I took with me.
The divorce had taken nearly eighteen months to finalize so I was used to being alone, it wasn't that, but there is a particular kind of aloneness that comes with the holidays and with his new marriage looming on Valentine's Day, I needed to get away.
You have to be careful planning a trip in February in New England, it can blow up in your face if a Nor'easter comes calling so I decided a short two hour jaunt to a quiet Bed and Breakfast just outside of Boston was in order.
I wanted to walk on the shore as the bitter winter wind tore at me, to clear my head, and free my soul so on a cold January Sunday morning with only my coffee to keep me company in bed, I started looking over the Travel section of my newspaper.
Now, as you can imagine the pages were covered with brilliant pictures of exotic beaches in faraway places, all claiming to be the answer to your winter blues, or the cure for your cabin fever. I could have chosen one of them I suppose but then, I wouldn't be here telling you this story now if I had.
I had just refilled my coffee mug and stretched out in my bed again when I saw a small ad in the corner of the next to last page. There was no colorful beach or nearly naked toned bodies in small bathing suits to entice me. There was however, a lighthouse.
It was officially the Light keeper's cottage that was for rent, which you could imagine was nothing spectacular but the lighthouse was another story. Majestic as it stood, withstanding the hard winds of the Atlantic for over two hundred years, a tough old broad, like me, I thought.
I pulled out my laptop and typed in the web address, yes, apparently even lighthouses have their own websites now.
I would be lying if I said it wasn't the pictures that suckered me in. The red and white tower standing guard over the rocky cliffs and water below, the pictures of the lush sunsets as they disappeared over the horizon, the oversized stone fireplace that burned with a warm fire.
It was all of them, partly, if I am being honest, and at my age being honest is all I have left.
Like I said, it was partly those pictures but what caught my eye and my imagination was the picture of a small sign that had been erected in front of the lighthouse entrance.
The sign simply said:
IT IS ILLEGAL TO
TAMPER WITH OR
OF SHIPWRECKS OR
I don't know how long I stared at that picture, my mind was racing, my heart was beating a little faster than normal and the world got a little blurry at that moment. My mind was already walking on that shore and I was struggling to keep up with it.
My hands were still shaking slightly when I emailed the woman and asked about a long weekend getaway in February. I told her a little more than perhaps I should have, casually mentioning my reason for getting away at this particular time and when I hit the "send" button, my heart jumped a little.
It was nearly a week before I heard back and I had nearly given up hope when I saw the reply in my Yahoo inbox. I felt an adrenaline rush as I opened the email and was shaking as I read her instructions for payment and key appropriation. I wasted no time and wrote her back immediately to let her know those terms were agreeable and she would have my check in two days time. I was still shaking when I wrote the separate checks for the deposit and the rental and drove to the post office to hand deliver it to the postman behind the counter.
Did I know something at that point? A premonition of sorts? I think back now and I would have to say no but sometimes, late at night, I wonder if I am just trying to convince myself of that.
I arrived at the Nantucket Lighthouse two days before Valentine's Day, time enough I thought, to forget. The two keys had been mailed to me and as I slipped the bright gold one into the door of the cottage I felt a sharp breeze across my neck. I nearly turned to look but decided I was just being silly and entered my home for the next five days.
It was furnished as you would expect it might be. Comfortable overstuffed furniture, shabby chic we would have called it back in the city, but it was natural here in the tiny rooms. The fireplace was filled with kindling and small logs and the hearth was stacked with larger wood that would last the entire night if I chose to use it. I thought about starting a fire but the evening light was fading and I wanted to see the lighthouse before dark.
I found the bedroom behind the kitchen and was pleasantly surprised. A mahogany four poster king sized bed nearly filled the small room, and a second stone fireplace waited to be lit. The bed was covered in a thick white down comforter with white lace covered feather pillows that begged to be slipped into and I had to struggle not to dive under them and sleep.
There were several other pieces of furniture in the room, a small nightstand and dresser, an ancient trunk that rested at the footboard of the bed, and an antique rocking chair that had been placed next to the fireplace hearth. It was cozy...and perfect.
I pulled my camera from my overnight bag before stuffing my suitcases into the tiny closet, placed my wine and groceries into the refrigerator and then headed out the door towards the lighthouse.
The shadows were already getting long as I walked the cobblestone path down to the cliffs and I had thought to stop only a moment to take several shots of the magnificent sunset reflected in the cold Atlantic. Just a moment I thought, but before I knew it, I was near the edge of the cliffs and as the wind pushed me about, I could see the jagged rocks that waited below. I stepped quickly back, surprised and a little terrified that I could have been that reckless and turned to look at the lighthouse.
I was blinded for a second, the fading sun reflecting back to me from the lens and I had to close my eyes for a moment. But I saw something in the lighthouse tower before I did. Something or someone.
At first I thought it had been a trick of the light, a glare, a shadow, but now I know better. Now I know better.
Sunspots danced across the lawn as I tried to focus once again, gray and white spots that clouded my vision for a minute or so and I had to close my eyes several times before they finally disappeared. I didn't look directly at the lighthouse again but rather to the side of it and up the shore a bit and it was then I heard the sound of a dog barking.
I didn't see him at first, my temporary blindness still a factor, I only heard him and when I finally saw the yellow fluff of fur, head and chest barreling towards me, it was nearly too late.
I saw his eyes first, big and brown and full of joy as he ran full tilt towards me and how he stopped before plowing me over is anyone's guess. His mouth was filled with the florescent green of a tennis ball until he dropped it at my feet and stood waiting patiently for me to throw it. I picked it up and threw it as far as my arm could manage and if it had been twice as far I doubt it would have been enough for this guy.
He ran as hard as he could, rear legs slipping between the front ones, sending him soaring from the ground in long leaps. I laughed at his excitement and felt the unfamiliar twinge of hope as I watched him.
There is a joy in this that only dog lovers can understand, it lights a beacon in your heart and the world disappears for a while. It had been a long time since I had allowed such warmth in and with the Golden's reckless abandon, I felt alive.
The dog had picked up the ball and turned to come back to me when he suddenly stopped, his head tilting gently to the side, his ears lifted in anticipation. I listened but heard nothing but the shore hitting the rocks beneath me. We looked at one another and he seemed to be torn for a moment when the clear sound of a whistle and a "here boy" made the decision easy for him and he bolted towards the lighthouse.
I glanced towards the tower again, careful to keep my gaze from the lens above and saw him standing there.
There was something about him even then, before I knew, before I understood. He was a large man, tall with broad shoulders and a deep chest. Thick black hair fell across his forehead and I could see deep dark eyes even with the distance between us.
Now, I should have been afraid, alone as I was out here with a stranger but the gentleness with which he ruffled his dog's furry head and the grin he wore as he threw the ball across the lawn gave me a sense of genuine tenderness from the man. He didn't walk towards me but stood still as he said,
"I hope he didn't bother you."
"No, he's beautiful and a perfect gentleman."
His smile widened at my comment. "Yes, Captain is a gentleman if nothing else."
The Golden had returned to his master's feet and was sitting in wait for the ball to be thrown once more.
"He does look like a Captain after all, waiting for his crew to do his bidding," I laughed and said.
"I have often wondered who belonged to whom in our relationship. He does seem to have the upper hand most of the time." He rubbed the dog's head before throwing the ball out across the grass once more.
"I'm Daniel by the way."
He still hadn't moved so I took several steps in his direction, while not getting too close. I looked out over the ocean as I said, "It's very nice to meet you Daniel, I'm Amanda."
I thought of putting my hand out but I didn't want to seem too forward.
It wasn't a question, just a statement and I said,
"No one has called me that since I was a child."
"Do you prefer Amanda?"
I got the feeling that if I had said yes he would have been disappointed and with him, I didn't want him to be disappointed about anything.
"Not at all, Mandy is fine. I just haven't heard it in forever."
"Mandy it is then." And then he fell silent.
It could have ended there, perhaps it should have, but there was something about him that drew me to him and made me stay a little longer.
We stood in silence, watching as Captain chased the ball about the property and waiting for the sun to go down. I forgot about investigating the lighthouse for the day, it was Daniel that held my attention, him, and trying to figure what to say to him.
Night comes early that time of year and as dusk settled in and the cottage behind me began to disappear into the pending darkness, I knew it was time to leave. I told Daniel to have a good evening then turned from the shore, from him, from Captain, and headed towards home.
I held my breath as I walked, waiting for a response from him, but when I received none, I turned back one last time before opening the front door only to discover they were both gone.
It was some time after 6:00 p.m. when I heard the sound at the door.
I almost missed it. My dinner behind me, I lay dozing in front of the fire, sipping a glass of Pinot Grigio and glancing over my latest Odd Thomas novel. My head was filled with ghosts as I dozed and my mind drifted into a gray haze from the wine.
I went to the door and raised up on tiptoe to look through the tiny porthole glass peep hole but saw nothing outside. I started walking back to the couch when the sound came again, this time a little louder and accompanied by a soft cry.
I cracked the door open slightly and was greeted by Captain pushing his way into the cottage. Along with him came a large cloud of white snow that spread a dusty coating across the wood floor. The animal ran into the room and proceeded to plop down in front of the fireplace as if he owned the place.
I wasn't sure what to do, the snow was blowing outside and I wasn't about to leave the dog to freeze so I simply shut the door and figured sooner or later Daniel would come looking for him. I gave Captain some scraps from my dinner which he scoffed up in a second and went back to the comfort of my couch and wine.
I must have slept after that because I don't remember Captain finding his way onto my couch with me, I only realized it when I heard the knock on the door and found my feet were trapped beneath soft golden fur.
I gently pulled out my legs and petted the sleeping beast on his head but he didn't move an inch. I went to the door and opened it for the second time that evening but this time I was greeted by the dark brooding eyes of Daniel.
"Did you lose something?"
Daniel grinned. "Let me guess, he found his way here?"
I pointed towards the sleeping ball of fur on my couch without saying a word and Daniel looked at him with a disapproving smirk.
"He made himself right at home didn't he?"
"Yep. You would think he belonged here. Does he come here often?"
"Every chance he gets."
"Well, he is perfectly welcome for as long as I am here. I enjoy the company."
Daniel gave me an odd look but said nothing and simply nodded when I asked him if he would like a glass of wine.
I poured two glasses this time and when I returned, I found Daniel on the couch next to Captain, stroking his fur and whispering something into the dog's ear.
I never asked what Daniel said to him, but Captain opened his soft brown eyes for only a moment before falling back into a deep sleep. As I recall, he slept there the rest of the night.
Daniel and I spent the remainder of the evening on the couch, me curled up beneath my throw just listening to him talk, taking in every word, remembering every moment. He smelled incredible. His scent was clean and masculine and I imagined if I brought my lips to his I would taste the salt of the ocean upon them and in those hours, I imagined that quite often.
The occasional brush of his hand against my leg sent chills through me and I struggled to stay in control when all I wanted was to be anything but in control.
I had one eye on the clock as the evening wore on, sure that at any moment he would tell me he needed to go home but even as the evening turned into night and then to early morning, he never took his leave of me.
I cannot remember exactly what we spoke of, and for all the hours we spent together I realized later that I learned very little about him. I spoke to him about my family and my marriage and I saw the sharp look of anger as I talked about the abuse I had suffered at the hands of my ex. There were times of silence yet I felt nothing of the awkwardness that can come with the stillness and if he wished for the evening to end, he gave no indication.
The snow fell for most of the night and as dawn began to creep through the blinds and curtains, my eyes became heavy and sleep finally got the best of me.
It wasn't long, I don't believe, when I felt the warmth and softness of the bed beneath me and the heat from the bedroom fireplace filling the small room. I was still in a slight haze both from the wine and the heat, although I shall not use that as an excuse, so it took me a moment or two to realize Daniel was sitting in the rocking chair, staring into the fire.
I raised up slightly and realized I was wearing nothing but my panties and camisole yet I had no memory of getting undressed. I stared at Daniel for a couple of minutes, saying nothing, just watching him as he got lost in the thought in the firelight. I was nearly asleep again when Daniel noticed I was awake and came to my bedside, said goodnight, and kissed me gently.
I felt no hunger in that first kiss, it was the kiss of a gentleman, warm and gentle, but when I kissed him back my body betrayed me and my lips told him more than my words ever could.
In a instant he was on top of me, his full weight filling the emptiest parts of my body, the portions that I had long forgotten. I was a whole once more and if I never knew this feeling again for the rest of my life, I knew what it felt like at that moment.
My arms and legs wrapped tightly around his chest and waist, like a drowning woman clinging to the last visage of hope for survival. Could he have known how much I needed him then? Perhaps, but I have always wanted to believe he needed me as well.
I have never known a lover like Daniel, so much strength in his hands but such tenderness that could draw the heat from me in a constant slow burn. He made love to me for hours, my pleasure his only concern and even as I slept against his chest, I still felt the hardness of his desire against my belly.
I know we ate at some point and we talked until I slept again. Later that day and for the five days that followed, we spent every moment together. Captain crept in and out of the cottage as we came and went, we walked on the shore, explored the lighthouse, and spent hour after hour in each other's arms beneath the thick covers of the large bed.
On Valentine's Day Daniel woke me to breakfast in bed then made love to me until dinner time. He wrote our names in the snow as I watched from the window and surrounded them with a gigantic heart. I managed to take a photo of his gift to me before Captain ran through his homemade Valentine, sending our names into the wind. Daniel nearly scolded him but I wouldn't allow it and instead called them both back into the warmth of the cottage.
The snow came and came again and finally on Wednesday, the day before I left, the sun reappeared for the first time.
I awoke that morning to see Daniel staring out the window, a sadness in his eyes that I hadn't seen before. I asked him to come back to bed and when he did, he simply held me for a long time. I knew something was wrong although I couldn't have guessed then what it was.
I was either too blind to see or too much in love with him at that point to think clearly or to understand. You can take your pick, but I believe it was probably a little bit of both.
We tried to eat but did little more than pick at the food on our plates and Captain enjoyed the bounty of the day's meals. We made love throughout the afternoon and evening and although Daniel was still as fervent as always, I felt as if he wished mostly for the feeling of my arms around him.
It was wonderful still but melancholy had joined us in our bed and in the darkness of the room late that night, I felt sorrow join us as well.
It was sometime that night, I would be merely guessing if I said it was this time or that but I felt Daniel sit upright in bed. He was staring at the fire and even when I touched his arm, he refused to look at me.
Perhaps I should have asked him what was wrong, or perhaps I should have told him I was in love with him then but I did neither. Maybe it would have made a difference, somehow, but even as I write this story, I have my doubts.
I tell myself this anyway, when I remember. It even helps sometimes.
Daniel never spoke and I finally fell back into a fitful sleep. The dreams that came were cold and empty and when I awoke a few hours later I felt as if I hadn't slept at all.
My room was quite chilly, the fire long out and Daniel was no longer in my bed. It was still dark and the clock next to the bed said it was still hours before dawn.
I rose and pulled my robe on, my bare feet cold on the hardwood floor as I made my way into the living room. He was not on the couch or lighting the fire as I had hoped and as I looked around the remainder of the cottage, I realized I was alone. Daniel had gone.