My days settled into a comfortable if not particularly challenging routine. Coffee, meditate, walk the wheel if the weather permitted. Breakfast at Peckerwoods’ most days, followed by four hours of research before a light lunch and a brisk walk. At least two afternoons a week, when the weather was nice, out to the island. Otherwise, some self-edification as entertainment or a couple more hours of research. When 5 p.m. came, regardless of what I was doing, I stopped and made myself a shaker of martinis, lit a fire in the chiminea, and sat on the porch thinking about what I’d learned that day. Or if that wasn’t enough, pondering the meaning of life. When the shaker was empty I’d cook dinner, wash up, and then perhaps some more reading.
I quickly exhausted what few nuggets the web had to offer, while at the same time felt myself drawn more deeply to the siren’s call of fiction. So by the end of the first week my ‘job’ was mostly reading Arthurian novels. Hey, it’s a tough gig, but somebody had to do it.
And the self-edification? Still unsure what direction I wanted to go, I tried both art and writing. The art was a limited success at best, but at least it wasn’t an abject failure. I started off sketching with pencil, using the instructions in a book creatively titled, How to Sketch with Pencils. Following their careful step-by-step guidelines, I drew the face of a pirate that was readily identifiable as a pirate and a collie that may have been kin to Lassie. But when I tried the same thing with a simple composition—a bowl, a wooden spoon, and the oatmeal box—it looked more like an elementary school art project. Well, Michelangelo didn’t paint Rome in a day. I wasn’t discouraged, but neither did I hear bells or see any neon lights proclaiming me a budding art genius.
Needless to say, I was better at writing. After all, I had a diploma that proclaimed for all to see that I’d been deemed qualified to write by the faculty and staff of the University of South Carolina. Plus I’d been practicing for a number of years. But fiction seemed just out of my grasp, although I kept trying to write stories. The characters sort of just sat there, wandering around aimlessly within the outlines of what might be confused as a plot. That didn’t really surprise me—after all, I was a journalist, not a story teller. So I extemporized by writing up what I’d learned at the end of each day. Trying to make it a more entertaining read than the term papers I’d written, but still sticking with the material.
On one of my outings to the island I tried fishing, but with even less success than drawing. I had the opportunity to ask Lucas what I was doing wrong, and he said you had to be pretty experienced to catch fish in December, particularly with the crazy alternating warm and cold spells we’d been having. He offered to take me out for another lesson, and I said I’d figure out a day and give him a call. But by the end of the second week, I hadn’t.
Breakfast was pretty much the high point of my days. Somehow Sabrina’s and my relationship had passed from mere flirting to flirting with a certain yearning underneath. Neither of us ever mentioned it, but there was no doubt—in my mind, at least; can’t say about hers, since we never mentioned it—that something was different. It made our conversations a little edgier. Plus you’d better bring your A-Game if you didn’t want to get smoked, you could be damned sure Sabrina was coming with hers.
Saturdays were spent with Chai, and typically involved meandering conversations with a New-Age bent in between a lot of screwing. In my experience there’s no such thing as bad sex, but sometimes it’s better than others, and these were all way on the better end of the spectrum. Out on the island we were pretty much insatiable; after a day on Avalon, we stuck to the by-now established precedent of Chai going home rather than spending the night. But even at home, in a plain old bed, enough of the afterglow of the island lingered to give sex a spiritual intensity unlike anything I’d experienced before.
In stark contrast, there wasn’t anything in between. We didn’t talk, text, email, or exchange endearments during the week. Our only communication was typically to make arrangements for when and where on the upcoming Saturday. And for better or for worse, no one ever felt any compulsion to utter the L word.
Sundays were for Football. Peckerwoods’ NFL Sunday Spectacular had apparently given the Falcons new life and energy. Not that they were doing that badly before. And yes, I know: nothing the fans do at home can have any effect whatsoever on the outcome of a football game. But you also can’t have a fire that burns every Halloween without leave a trace. So that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. The week after the Jets squeaker we crushed Tampa Bay. The following week hosting the Rams was even worse: 45 for the good guys, two measly field goals for the sacrificial lambs. So with two weeks left in the regular season we were 11-3, tied with the Saints for the Division lead.
Now the bad news: we ended with Carolina at home, always dangerous with their hot shot young stud under center, followed by the season finale at New Orleans. More than likely, whoever won that game would win the division and get a 1st round bye, while the loser would be on the road trying to stay alive.
One significant break from the routine happened on Thursday of that second week: Adeline went with me out to the island. I packed a lunch for us and had a somewhat later-than-usual breakfast at Peckerwoods’ en route to the boat ramp at 10:30.
“So now you’re taking another other woman out to your island. You’re a regular cross between Romeo and Robinson Crusoe. When do I get to see this magical place?”
“I’m taking my boss to the island, and there will be absolutely no hanky panky, I assure you. As for when you get to go, about ten minutes after you say when. How about on your next Monday off?”
“I’ll have to check my calendar, but don’t be surprised when I say ‘let’s go.’”
“Oh I’ll be surprised, Sabrina. But it will be one hell of a nice surprise.”
Looking nothing like the carefully coiffed and dressed socialite I’d met for lunch that first day, Adeline showed up dressed for hiking in sturdy shoes, jeans, and a flannel shirt with windbreaker. A touch of lipstick was the only makeup I could positively identify.
“So,” she said with a deep breath as she climbed in the boat. “I’m finally going to see this island that stole Daddy’s heart.” She shook her head before adding, “Or the island home of the mystery woman that stole Daddy’s heart, I guess is more accurate.”
“Well, I don’t know how accurate it being her home is, but yes. You’re finally heading toward Avalon.”
She pulled the hood of the windbreaker over her hair as we picked up speed and didn’t try to talk over the roar of the motor.
Avalon was at her mysterious finest: shrouded in mist, hidden in plain view. When we first came into sight I slowed down and pointed it out to Adeline. It took a minute for her to recognize what I was pointing to.
“That’s amazing. You could ride right by here and never even notice. And there’s none of that fog on any of the other islands. There has to be some explanation, doesn’t there? Geothermal energy, a warm current, something?”
“There’s always an explanation, but I’m not sure this one is something science would endorse. My friend Chai says the island radiates energy, although I don’t think she’s talking about actual energy that would cause warming.”
As we approached the beach, Adeline hugged herself and began to rock slightly. “You OK?” She nodded without speaking, her lips tight. I put the motor in neutral. “You sure?”
“I guess. There’s something a little foreboding about it, that’s for sure. Like a graveyard at night. Your logical mind knows there’s nothing to be afraid of, but your subconscious refuses to believe it.”
“That must be pretty close to how Lucas feels, although he didn’t put it quite that way. He describes it as feeling unwelcome.”
“And you don’t get any of that?”
“Not one iota.”
“I have no idea. An underactive imagination and a visceral lack of belief in anything supernatural is the best I can come up with. Although after everything I’ve experienced, that lack of belief thing is no longer true.”
I put the motor back in gear and we eased up on the beach.
“And from here, there’s no fog. That’s just crazy. I’m tempted to find some meteorologist to come study the phenomenon just to find out what’s going on.”
“You think that would help?”
Adeline shrugged. “I guess I like things to have explanations.”
I laughed. “Before you hired me, I used to as well.”
She stood on the rocky beach for several minutes, staring out at the sea. Then she flipped her hood down, rubbed her hands together, and said, “OK, let’s do it.”
I led the way to the top of the hill. I was about halfway to the circle when I realized she wasn’t with me, but had stopped where the clearing first comes into view and was standing there staring. I walked back to her, but she was so absorbed I’m not sure she even noticed me.
“What are you looking at?” I finally whispered.
She started at my voice. “Rick, I’ve never felt anything like this in my life. It’s fascinating, and yet I can’t really wrap my brain around it.” Suddenly she put her arms around me and clutched me tightly, face buried in my shoulder. Her body was trembling slightly, but gradually stopped as I held her. I wondered if this is what Lucas would have been like had he overcome his revulsion and landed on the island. Suspect he wouldn’t have been nearly as nice to hold.
After a couple of minutes Adeline took another deep breath and let me go. “Thanks. I’m OK now. Let’s go see.” She took my hand and let me lead her toward the depressions. After a few steps she unlaced her fingers and let her hand nestle inside of mine. I didn’t think of Adeline as a small woman, but her hand was small and soft.
Her hand stayed nestled inside mine as I showed her the depressions for the standing stones and the altar and the sacred wheel we’d built, but when we stood at the altar she put her arm around me. And of course I reciprocated. Strictly as a dutiful employee, of course. Mr. Lust, who’s had a thing for Adeline since the beginning, started making noises of optimistic joy, but I stomped him down hard.
But standing there holding Adeline, I realized I knew absolutely nothing about what she was thinking. I assumed the island was a place that intensified feelings, but there was nothing to say I was right. One of the other possibilities, totally supported by the evidence so far, is that it really could be a place that focuses sexual desire. And while I didn’t think so, Adeline could be standing there trying to think of a way to seduce me and not have it destroy the primary boss-subordinate nature of our relationship.
If so, I hoped she was realizing how impossible that was.
And if Sabrina actually came with me? What then?
As my mind was racing through these crazy thoughts, Adeline knelt down before the altar hole and bowed her head as if praying. I thought briefly about joining her but thought better of it. After a couple of minutes, she stood up and took my hand again.
“I think Daddy’s dead.”
“Whoa, lady. Let’s not jump to any conclusions yet. What makes you say that?”
“I don’t know. It just feels like it standing here. Can we leave now?”
A half hour toward home I broke out the sandwiches and we ate without speaking.
Adeline followed me back to the cottage and invited herself in. She walked from room to room, looking at everything as if seeing it for the first time. The paintings of the woman and the island, the studio, the books. She even spotted the volume of Erotica from Lacey, pulled it from the shelf, read the inscription. Mr. Lust noted that we were standing in my bedroom; some ‘people’ never learn.
“Safely back in his cottage, I don’t feel like Daddy’s dead anymore. But it was so real out there. What do you think that means?”
“My theory is that the island intensifies and focuses your feelings. You had a sense of dread going out there, as well as anxiety about what you would discover. Your own subconscious provided the images and the fears; the island just made them more intense and more real.”
“So, if I should somehow find some intense happiness, I should immediately go there and convert that into euphoria?”
I shrugged. “Sounds like a good plan to me. I’ll be on standby; just give me a call. Do you want to visit your father’s wheel before you go?”
Her first comment on seeing it was, “It looks just like the one on the island.”
“Not unexpected, since I modeled the one out there exactly after this one. I figured your father knew a lot more about it than I do.”
“How does it work?”
I explained what I knew and we ended up walking it. Afterwards, standing there by the chiminea, she told me that she’d held her father in her thoughts while she walked and was pretty sure he wasn’t dead, that was just her fears amplified like I’d said.
“I’m pretty sure he’s alive as well. And I’m actually optimistic about finding out more come Beltane. Maybe even sooner.”
I walked her to her car. She fastened her seat belt and started it up, then rolled the window down and turned the ignition off.
“You probably could have had me out there.” She was looking down as she spoke, and didn’t see the shocked look on my face. Not to mention my distraction at Mr. Lust’s I told you so. “But you already knew that. So thanks for not taking advantage. I guess.”
Whoa. Scrambling for a way to say no without hurting her feelings, the best I could come up with was, “You’re certainly a temptation, Adeline. But right now I need a boss more than I need a lover.”
She started her car before looking up at me and nodding.