What the Tide brings in…

Life, like the ocean is full of beauty and danger. But for everything the tides take away it always bring something else in. The oceans are bound between the love of the Earth and the Moon and in the constant struggle between the two we see what the tides bring in.

PART ONE

The tide was slow coming in today. Yesterday it was in before you knew it, like the hurricanes that erupted from the calm seas and made their way to the eastern seaboard every year. The wind was calm and cool, but the sun was on its way up and the wind would soon offer little relief to the heat of the hottest summer in five years. The wooden walkway that made its way out to the sandy white shore was dry and splintery. A tiny green anole lizard made its way across, attempting to do so without getting crushed by the traffic of tourist and beach combers. At this time of the morning very few people were on the beach, except for those dedicated to their morning jog or walk. There was tourist out for a brisk walk in the morning sun. It was comforting to be here, but after you had spent the last fifteen years of your life at the beach, it was just home.

John walked to the little café on the corner of 5th street. The café was small and clean but old. It still had many of the furnishing from the 1950’s. There was no music in the background or distracting pictures on the wall. Most of the pictures that hung were from local artist who sold their works on consignment or traded out for free food. There were three large ceiling fans that hung from the tall ceiling, they hummed loudly all day, despite the sound of dishes and people talking this was the only sound in the place. He like this, no noise only the words from his books or his paper.

Every morning he stopped in and had breakfast. Some mornings he had the hash browns and then other mornings he had the waffles or pancakes. There were some customers who came in daily to just say, “gimme my regular.” but not John. That was the key to his happy successful life, diversity. Without diversity a person gets bogged down and comfortable with life and this was something that he would not tolerate. He had no right to such pleasures, or so he thought. Those pleasures of normality and relaxation were for those who had no use for pain in their lives.

“You going out there today John?”

“Not now but maybe in a few hours.”

“Well hell, weather couldn’t be better than what you got out there.”

“Yep, but it doesn’t have to be perfect every-time, I like to show every part of the island, every aspect. That’s where the true art is.”

“Yea well that’s why I pour coffee and you take the pictures and write the books ain’t it now?”

“I guess, if you really want to get technical all I do is push buttons. The button on the camera and the keys on the keyboard.”

The red headed waitress laughed and walked through the little door going to the kitchen where she stayed for a minute and then returned to the front with a plate of eggs and bacon. She sat it down in front of a gruff looking man who had four days of prickly stubble covering his weathered face. A thick eyebrow along with a heavy blonde mustache, this man was a barber’s nightmare. He appeared to have one glass eye and his lips were chapped to the point of heavy cracking. He thanked the waitress with his biggest smile and began eating the eggs. He had a small plate of biscuits that he picked at with his grease stained hands. He smeared jelly on them and then bit into them like a hungry shark tearing into its prey. He was stuck in the ’70s and had the Jimmy Buffett look that just said; “meet me at the bar and then we can go back to your place.”

After watching for a while John got up off his stool, leaving his notebook and pens lying on the bar, and walked over to this man’s table. He offered his hand out to shake. The man received it and John introduced himself.

“Hi, names John Carlton, you mind if I sit down?”

“Hell no, go ahead. You ain’t a process server, are you?”

“No, actually I’m a photographer. How about yourself?”

“Well I’m a painter, you know homes, been in the business bout 25 years. My names Russell Byrnes. What can I do for you Mr. Carlton?”

“Well as I said I’m a photographer, and I do some writing from time to time. I would love to ask you some things about yourself, do you mind? It’s for my new book, I’m going to do a combo of writing and photography.”

“I’m going to eat up while you talk. That sounds really interesting you wanna ask me questions now?”

“Really what I had in mind was more you meet me out on the inlet highway and letting me get some photos of you for the book I’m doing, and I can interview you at the same time.”

“Sounds like a date my friend.”

“You look like someone that I want to photograph for my new book. I’m going for people that have a look and a image that really says a lot about the coast and what it really is. I would like to take some photos of you tomorrow if you don’t have any objections.”

“As long as I ain’t gotta get naked or anything sick like that I don’t really care. I see you around with your cameras. Taking pictures of houses and trees and such.”

John couldn’t help but offer a laugh.

“You just wear what you normally wear and don’t change a thing.”

“Alright, just as long as I don’t need to shave and clean up really good.”

The next day the man arrived at the place that they had previously discussed. He drove up in an old Pontiac Bonneville, blue with rusted patches covering the hood. Dust rose from the gravel drive just off the primary road, John had been there for twenty minutes getting his equipment set up.

“Damn son, you sure got a lot of fancy photo equipment.”

“Yea, well it helps me take pictures better cause I’m just really lousy when it comes to those little point and shoot cameras.”

“So, Mr. Carlton, how do you want me?”

“Russell if you will just walk over to the picnic tables and have a seat and I can kill two birds with one stone here.”

Russell made his way through the soft sand that had been mixed with gravel to a sun-bleached picnic table, the sun hung at its early evening position, casting soft shadows against what it touched.

“Okay Russell do you see the tape recorder sitting in the paper bag on the seat?”

“Yes sir, you ain’t got no liquor in that bag, do you? I got busted out here one time for drinking.”

“No but thank you for the warning. If you would just push the record button.”

“Alright, so Russell can you tell me how you got that glass eye.”

“Well sir I was doing some painting with my brother in law at the time and the hose shot off and knocked my damn eye out. I lost it that day, too much nerve damage to it to put it back. I saved up for about a year to get this eye. I went without one for a while working odd jobs, but painting was all I ever did and that was hard with just one eye. I couldn’t get my bearings; the perspective was always off.”

“Russell, what kind of painting did you do, was it homes?”

John was taking photos while he was talking

“Yea, I did house paintings, we did big homes on the coast, five million-dollar homes. We would come in at 5 am and spray that whole house in one day.”

“Have you ever been in jail Russell.”

“Oh, hell yea, only for child support though. I got a daughter in med school. She’s going to be a pathologist. I’ll keep paying on her ’til she graduates, and my other daughters is 11 she’s smart too. Me and their momma is good friends and she was there when the law came to get me for failure to pay. It’s the state that handles it you know. When my ex-wife had that mess wrote up for me to pay, the state they kept up with it all for their percent. They are getting rich off people like me.”

“I know what you are saying Russell why did you and your ex-wife split up”

“It was me, we split up about 5 years ago. I had a motorcycle wreck and tore up my hip, had to be outta work and I started drinking. She just got tired of my butt and left. I got sober for my girls and got back to painting with my brother-in-law and we have been painting ever since. I got a crew on my own now and they are out on some properties today. I want to start my own business next year but with that damn child support, I’m scared that if I get hurt or something happens, I would lose it all. Judge never did care about my eye. He just said I was in contempt, that I needed to serve time for not paying that damn support to her. Then I got even more behind. Hell, everybody loses, when you get thrown in jail for not paying how do they expect you to pay?”

“Damn boy you done taken about 50 pictures of me. What is it you are looking for anyway?”

“Well a lot of things Russell. What I see with you is this worn rugged look that says so much and yet it leaves a mystery about where you’ve been, what you do. It’s how you got so rugged looking over what few years that you have been on this planet. Things take a toll on the body, cigarettes and chemicals and hard living. But you don’t complain, you get up every day and you go do your work and then on the weekends you do whatever and you seem to be content.”

“Yea that’s pretty much it. But I do complain though.”

“If you could do anything in the world Russell what would it be?”

“I have always wanted to sail a big boat, nothing like a cruise ship but a fifty-foot yacht or something. Hell, I had a boy worked for me he was a mechanic for the Abercrombie’s, and he lived on that damn boat for a year. Lived in the motor room, they had crew quarters with little beds, that thing was a hundred foot long. But yea I would like a sailboat and I could just say screw it all and go see the world. I always wanted to go to Asia or Russia or Ireland. You can do it all in them big boats. If I was rich, I think I would get me a crew of well-trained men who knew what they were doing. We would take people to the beaches of Africa and let them see the natives. Hell, I’d just be out there living.”

“Thank you, Russell, you have been very helpful.”

“What’s this other envelope on the table?”

“That’s for you Russell.”

Russell opened the envelope and found $300.00 in twenty-dollar bills, all new. He just laughed and rode back into town to his favorite bar.

PART TWO

The island was a peaceful place, except in the summers’ hottest months when alabaster skinned tourists decided to head to the coast and spend a week with their kids. The winter months were the most beautiful to some, they offered cooler days but more than that, they were natures vacation from the summer, and she needed that at times. As with all islands that have a close connection to the shore of the mainland there is a stretch of marshland that surrounds the inside. This area was always thick and rich with life. There were reptiles and amphibians, and bugs galore. Plants came in all sizes and thicknesses and the water was always rich with the nutrients that fed the fish. In the summer college biology students could be seen collecting specimens throughout the marsh during low tide. Kayak enthusiast would journey through the growth during high-tide and get an up-close glimpse at snakes and birds dodging each other’s company.

John was here today with his fly-fishing gear. There were places in the low water that offered good shallow spots from one side of the beach to the other, with beautiful bone fish that loved the dancing flies that played on the water’s surface. The north side of the island was dark and swampy while the south side was clear on most days, but it also was quick to change depths with the tide. This was where John spent his time fly-fishing. The water was clear today and at a depth of two to three feet there was very little activity other than medium size fish. On occasion a juvenile shark would come through and check things out but the most dangerous thing to worry about were the stingrays. It was really that John feared their sting, but he was more concerned about hurting them. In this water the worst thing to catch were eels, and barracuda. But that was very rare, and John usually stuck with the bone fish.

When it came to his personal life John kept this discreet. To his neighbors and friends, he was just a regular guy. He was an acclaimed author, but that was done under a pseudonym, Carl Johnston. However, his true love was photography, it was more of a relaxation for him than anything else, but he had been selling works for several years under the same pseudonym. Sitting behind the camera was a place that he has always found comfort.

It started in high school when he had gotten his first camera for a photography class that was offered by the fine arts academy. He had always had an interest in the arts but his ability to draw fruit and hallways for perspective studies never really did much to excite him. But when the photo class was offered, he jumped at the thought. His father took him to the local Police department where he worked and let John talk to the department photographer. He gave John a Pentax K1000, it was a manual camera with a decent light meter built in. And to make it even better, he gave him two extra lenses, they opened his eyes to more than just what was in his face. He got to use the tele-photo for spying on his neighbors and looking at the moon at night. Out of all the kids in class, John had the nicest photo rig. He did good enough in school that he was able to grab a few scholarships for college. He worked part time at the Police Department doing morgue photos and forensic shots. It was an impressive part of his resume, but he mostly did it to talk to the mortician. She was older than him, but she was beautiful, thick blond hair and big lips. She always wore green, he boldly asked her out twice and she laughed both times, so he took the hint and worshipped from a distance. That was his first crush, but after that it got easier with the women. He grew more and more confident and he felt comfortable with the opposite sex.

John had always visited the coast with his family on summer vacation for as long as he could remember. His parents, and his brother and sister spent at least a week at Seaside Village every summer. His sister would usually go shopping with his mother while his brother spent most of his time with the girls on the beach; he was a real Romeo when it came to the women. But John spent his time with his father, they fished the marsh areas and they took at least one deep sea trip during their stay. John was closest to his father and being the youngest, his parents pampered him more than his siblings.

When Johns parents divorced his mother moved to Seaside Village. She got the kids as with all divorces. The little beach community was an escape from the reality that took place back home in the city and offered his mother a chance at a new life.

In all John had lived on the island over twenty years and he knew everyone that lived there, and they knew him as well. But what they didn’t know was that he had been in involved in a beautiful marriage that turned terrible and was destined for failure. The worst part of the horrible divorce was that it had produced a little girl that he had fallen in love with her daddy, and now she was without that. All the fighting and battles that took place in and out of the courtroom had cost him everything he had. He kept this side of his life hidden from everyone, at first it was hard but as time went by it grew easier to distance himself from his daughter and his ex-wife. In the end he made a deal with his ex-wife, a deal that he regrets to this day. He has always referred to it as the day he sold his soul to the devil, but it’s worse than that, he sold his little girl to his ex-wife for his freedom.

He jumped to another state and moved in with his mother, eventually moving into his own place but the agreement was that he would refrain from ever contacting the child or the mother again. In exchange he was given freedom from the exuberant child support payments and a chance at life. Without thinking and without the concept of pain that he had yet to experience from the loss of his daughter he did what thought was best for the child and himself. His goal was to do what the ex-wanted until he could raise enough money for a good attorney and come back into the picture and be daddy all over again.

But when the day came that he had enough money he was advised that his intervention in his daughters’ life would harm her more than help. He was led to believe that she would be left in mental anguish to find out that her daddy was out there in the world and that he didn’t love her enough to even be there for her birthday parties.

That is how he got here. It’s been said that all roads lead down-island. First it was the divorce of his parents, with his mother moving here to Seaside Village, and then his own divorce. This was where you came when you needed help or maybe you just came here because the ocean calls you and you must answer. Whatever the reason the salt air cures it all. The ocean has always been the center for healing, people have flocked to the oceans edge in search of food and treasure as well as medicine from the Mother of all Mothers. She can cure your cuts and your scrapes and take away the infection that eats away your life. And when you’re sad she will sing you a song.

John sat on the beach outside his own mother’s house. It was evening and the sun was setting in the West, the wind was steady and strong, blowing south. The tide was in and the waves were heavy, pounding on the edge of the sand like a hammer on steel. He sat with his legs up to his face looking out at the ocean, looking to the distant horizon. It’s hard to believe that directly across the water is Africa with its white-sanded beaches. It was as if the world was much too small and the distance was not what it had been in the past.

He had so much going through his head; it was nice not having a job and even nicer not having to depend on a job at least for a while. It wasn’t that he hated his job with the film company, he just preferred going at his pace. He thought about his daughter when she was a baby, how he would be holding her right about now if she were here. She would be sitting between his legs and he would smell her hair. She always smelt so beautiful. He could feel her in his arms, although she wasn’t there. Her arms and her legs, they were so simple and chubby. Her hands were perfect and when she bent her hands back, she had creases from the baby fat that was around her wrist. He loved her fingernails and at times he wondered how anything could be so small, but then again, he was there when she was born. She had been a big baby never a tiny fragile infant she was a chubby cherub. He loved her from day one, the way she squinted because she couldn’t open her eyes and the lips that seemed to pucker without effort. She stole his heart that day in December. She took it all, and he let her go. She loved her daddy and if she were here, she would be clinging to him, holding him like she would fall if she ever let go.

“Why the hell did I do that, what’s wrong with me!”

He looked to the sky as if he could see God.

“How long do I have to pay? How long do I suffer?”

It was starting to hit him hard. It was all starting to settle in. It’s easy to agree to something for a day or two but forever is forever and that’s a long time for a broken heart.

“Was she like that when I met her? Was she cold and harsh or did I do that to her? Did I turn her that way with my sin? I can’t even remember when we met, no, I can. It was after college. I met her at some stupid wedding. I remember it all now.”

PART THREE

John and Patricia Hamilton met right out of college; they had both attended the same college but never met there. John was two years ahead of Patricia and he was an Art major and she was a Business major. Instead they met at a wedding, Johns father knew the groom’s father and Patricia knew the bride. It was a pricey upscale wedding, and John knew everyone on the police force ever since he was a kid. The wedding was a Catholic wedding and John, being Catholic considered it an opportunity to go to mass and count it as actual attendance instead of simply a wedding. The bride and groom were very happy together. His parents were never the happy married couple, they divorced when he was thirteen, and his grandparents had lost their partners to old age before he really was old enough to make the distinction that people grew up got jobs, got married had kids and died. He was of the mindset that you found someone to sleep with and then you get married and argue until you got tired of it and then you divorced and found a girl old enough to be your daughter, screwed her and then moved on to the next one. John had been through a lot of counseling, but it never really helped his anger toward his father’s lying and deception toward his mother. He treated women better than his father ever had. Old Dad was a work of art; he was currently doing somebody else’s secretary at the police department and John had heard she was half his father’s age.

All these thoughts, all these images of his parents floating in his head he was feeling faint. He needed a drink; it wasn’t good to see his dad unless it was necessary. John drifted back to his childhood and one of many arguments that took place in his house between his mother and father. The arguments were usually one-sided and never allowed for a reply from his mother.

“You damn bitch, the only reason I married your ass was because you and I was good in bed and the last thing I need now in my life is a damn rocking chair on the front porch.”

“I still got what it Takes! I could get a nice piece of ass, so you need to recognize this, you hear me?”

“I don’t need a damn wife hounding me twenty-four hours a day about crap and then you keep your damn knees locked like a nun.!”

The image was over, but John could still see his father’s face as he said this to his mother.

She just sat on the couch, curled into a ball, ready for him to strike her with his fist. She had caught him going out to lunch with his partner on his day off and she knew that something was going on or was going to start. She said he had never cheated but he had lost interest in her for quite a while now.

Johns father was a good cop and had been on the force for twenty-six years, he was a detective in the auto theft division, and the groom was a new recruit fresh out of college. Johns father and the groom’s father were buddies. What a waste, the college education only got him a higher pay scale and first choice at rank if it came open. He majored in political science, which meant that he “could read a newspaper” according to Johns father. What a man, he really said what he felt. Always said what he felt, no matter who or what it hurt.

The service was over, and John came back to the present-day reality of St. Mary’s church, back from his trip down memory lane. It was sad that being at a wedding made him think of the last fight his parents had endured before his father left the house. It was two weeks after the fight that he moved in with some blonde in administration who processed police reports. His mother had been wrong about the person but right about the fact that he was screwing around.

Four weeks after he moved out John’s old man took him fishing and gave him an important talk about life and people. He really felt it was important even though he considered his old man an asshole at the time. It took four weeks before John and his father talked about the argument; it was partially because his dad worked all the time, but it also had to do with his father building up enough strength to talk to his son about the incident. Four weeks to him seemed like a lifetime.

“Son, I know that this mess between your mother and me has been hard on you and your brother and sister.”

“You are the oldest and you’re going to be going away to college in a few years and I don’t want you taking any baggage with you that isn’t necessary.”

“Okay dad I got it.”

“Shut your mouth I ain’t through.”

He cast his line out into the lake, hitting a spot next to an overturned tree. John was busy trolling his rod to the right, not really paying attention to his father. He had learned over the last few years of his life that his dad didn’t mean any harm by his harsh language or his abusive tone. If anything, it meant he really loved you more.

“When I met your mother, she was different and so was I, people are like that…they change.”

“She got more respectable and classier, I got more down to earth, and I became a cop. I ain’t nothing special I ain’t nothing out of no movie that comes in and sweeps her off her feet.”

“Now listen, I messed up. Don’t you ever say anything to your mother about this but instead of trying to fix the damn marriage I went out and screwed everything in sight. I probably had a good thirty women over a year’s time. I thought it would help, you know that Old Italian philosophy about the wife takes care of the kids and the house, the mother takes care of the food and the mistress takes care of the sex, I tried it and it didn’t work.”

“But dad we’re Irish not Italian.”

“Shut the hell up, listen damn it, what I am trying to tell you is that it didn’t solve my problem.”

“Your mother and I needed counseling for our problems, and I was out cheating. I should have been going to counseling and working on my marriage. Now I gotta pay all this money out the crapper for you three brats and I never eat decent meals anymore. It was worth it living with your mother and she’s got her a new man. What a lucky arse.”

“Dad, mom would still take you back. She just needs you to romance her and fight for her. I really wish you would do it. Besides it’s not even a boyfriend he just comes over to talk. I think he’s gay.”

“Son, there’s something you get when you get old. It ain’t hair on your back or damn arthritis, nope its pride. I got too much Irish pride for that. I know it and you know it.”

John had never told his mother that his father was remorseful for his sins, but he did tell her that he spoke with his father and that he was trying to change his ways and be a better man.

After John started college his mother moved to the coast, where she met a nice well-mannered man and remarried. John traveled there when he had the chance; although it was a three-hour drive to their house. He got along with the new man in his mother’s life and they agreed that there would never be any discussion of Johns’ father because John and his dad were close.

John focused back to the wedding party he had zoned out for at least a half hour. It reminded him of school, he zoned out there as well. The wedding was over, but the party was just starting, people gathered around the food and the cake. The bride and groom began the cake cutting rituals and John made small talk with one of his dad’s buddies from the police department.

“John, I haven’t seen you around the station much. Your dad says you’re on the coast taking pictures.”

“Yea, I have been living with mom and working. I sell to a local gallery, it’s not autopsy photos but it pays the bills.”

“How about women, you going to be tying the knot anytime soon?”

“No, I enjoy my bachelor lifestyle too much.”

“John you and I both know you use that as excuse to surf and fish every day.”

“No, I only fish every other day.”

Patricia Hamilton mingled through the wedding party shaking hands, kissing cheeks and trying to remember who people were when they said they “remember her when she was just a little thing.” Patricia had just devoted sixteen years to schooling and now at the ripe age of twenty-two she decided it was time for a break. Her closest friend at the time, Sarah Clark was going to travel to Europe and live off her daddy’s money for as long as she could. Of course, she had been invited along. Patricia was more interested in doing something rebellious and besides her parents would never see going to Europe as rebellious, they would probably even look at it as a cultural event and encourage it. Knowing her father like she did he probably owned a corporation in Europe or something and he would hook her up with someone there to show her the cities. No, she had had a different plan.

The planning pretty much dropped there, she felt that her mind had been through enough and it needed a rest, so she dropped the idea. That was until she met John, then things went in a different direction.

John saw Patricia from the corner of the room just as he was about to leave. He had to speak with her, but he had to think fast, women this beautiful didn’t stand around alone for long. He had to come up with a great pick up line, nothing corny or trashy, this lady was beautiful. He was drawn to her the first moment he saw her, it was the closest thing to love at first sight he had ever experienced.

He made his way through the crowd and casually stepped up beside her.

“Hi. How are you doing?”

“Fine, and you?”

She giggled as she sipped her champagne.

“Listen I am trying to put together a portfolio of photographs for a job in New York and they need twenty shots of a beautiful woman in a bikini. Would you mind helping me out?”

She laughed and smiled at John. Then she pointed across the room to a little old lady slouched over wearing a fur coat and hat.

“I think she’s really pretty. Why don’t you ask her?” Patricia laughed and walked away.

John smiled and went over to the old lady, he talked to her and she laughed, and they began walking toward Patricia. She saw them coming and looked at John as if she was going to fall over in shock.

“Mrs. Jenkins this is…. I’m sorry I didn’t even get your name?”

“It’s Patricia, Patricia Hamilton.”

“Okay, Patricia is a photographer, Mrs. Jenkins and I were just talking about careers. It seems Patricia does nude photography for medical reference books. She was talking about a new book she is working on. Would you be interested in posing for Patricia, she can compensate you.”

“Oh sure sweetie, I don’t have a problem with my body — when do you need me?”

“Well let me get your number and she will call you this week.”

Patricia smiled and held back a laugh as the little old lady walked back to her side of the room and continued her conversation.

“You are bad, very, very bad. What if you see her out in public?”

“Well if you go out with me, I won’t give her your phone number.”

“You don’t have my number silly. You didn’t even know my name.”

“Well I can sit out in the parking lot and wait for you to leave and get your tag number. My dad is the chief detective of the Police Department. He has ways to find out everything about a certain person if that’s necessary.”

“Okay, my name is Patricia, my number is on my card, call me and we can go out sometime. I am dying to hear some of your other stories about picking up girls at weddings.”

John smiled and watched as Patricia walked across the room. She was stunning, long blond hair and dark tanned skin. She was very smooth and young. Her beauty was something that you only saw in magazines or fashion shows. She walked with an attitude, but she was as sweet as anyone could be with the old lady. She had the ability to work people and he saw that right away, that would need to be something that he should be cautious of in the future.

This was the beginning of the beginning of a beautiful relationship. That was at least until life got in the way. Life always gets in the way and things get too complicated. Things went too fast with John and Patricia; they could have seen things and yet maybe they would never have seen anything.

PART FOUR

From the day they met, John and Patricia both needed someone in their lives to be intimate with, to be passionate with, maybe not to the extent of a full-time lover but more than a one-night stand. But as much as that, she was in need of a roommate, but she knew that her parents would never go for her living with a male roommate. But of course, this was the thing she wanted, to be rebellious, to somehow upset daddy.

Their first date was to be a success, dinner with wine and oysters. It was a night of walking around downtown in the moonlight and then passion. He took her to a restaurant that had bought a few of his prints and they sat at a small cozy table with a red tablecloth. He ordered for her, a nice wine and two-dozen oysters and the freshest bread that they had. They finished the oysters and talked over the bread and wine. She loved spreading the butter on the warm bread and washing it down with the wine. He commented on the photo hanging above the table.

“So, tell me, how do you like this piece above the table?”

“It’s nice, I want to go there, it makes me want to go there?”

“Really, it’s not far from here. We can go if you like.”

“Did you take that picture? Is that why you asked”

“What do you think?”

She laughed and looked closer at the print. In the bottom right hand corner, she saw his name and signature. She was very impressed, but she didn’t let it out too much, she didn’t want him to get a big head about him.

The photo was of an aged lighthouse with a picket fence and tall grass around the edges. It was taken from a low position so that it gave the impression that you were lying on your back looking up at the top on a sunny day.

After three bottles of wine they were both a little drunk. They walked around in the city lights enjoying the little beach town and its coastal shops full of nautical merchandise for the tourist and then they came to a tattoo shop where they watched as a man was getting a tattoo on his back. They joked about who would get what and vowed to come back later when they had decided on a matching tattoo. After an hour on the beach they walked to the lighthouse and feel on the grass in front of the fence that separated the walkway from the dunes. It was more for decoration, a picket fences that made the small houses seem traditional and closer to their time period. They looked at the stars and he pointed out his favorites.

She looked at his profile, he had small ears and a young smooth face.

“I want you.” She touched his cheek.

“You don’t even know me.” He gave a slight smile as his eyes encompassed her face and radiance.

She rolled over and put her hand deep inside his shirt, it was a dark night, and no one was about.

“Kiss me, I want you.” She grabs at his shirt and pulled him closer.

He held her soft shoulders and pulled her over to his chest and with a smile he met her lips with his. He touched her shoulder rubbing his finger down to her hands. He began kissing her, deeper and deeper.

He slipped his hand under her shirt and felt the contour of her bra. She reached behind her and unhooked it. It open falling so that his fingers could explore. He moved his hands up and down her sides touching her ribs, feeling her soft skin.

They made love for the first time in front of the lighthouse underneath the stars that night. She lay on his chest for what seemed like an eternity while he played with her long blond hair.

“Do you like that?”

“Yes, you have incredible hands and you are so gentle to me.”

“I will always be gentle to you; will you always be gentle to me?”

“Okay as long as were together soft and gentle. That’s the way it should be.”

This was the opportunity that Patricia had wanted to get close to someone, but she would never have shared her intentions with John. He was under the assumption that she wanted him for him and needed him for what he had to offer. In a way she did need him for what he was, but she felt safe with him and this was worth its weight in gold. Patricia had never stopped to think about a serious relationship.

Before they moved in together John was living on the coast with his mother. He worked odd jobs, his current being night clerk at a hotel. He spent his off days taking photographs of the ocean and the people around the beach town that had become his home. A local gallery owner sold a fair amount of his work, which were all black and white pieces. He still had not decided how he wanted to pursue his future but that was what being in your mid-twenties was all about.

Patricia lived inland with her family on their estate. It was free and she came and went as she pleased. Her family was of old money and her father had an interest in many types of business. Her brothers were all the successors of the business and her father was very partial to the men of the family. This played a big part in her attitude and inability to accept responsibility even when her father tried to give her the responsibility of some local businesses. Her days were set with shopping, lunch with friends and socializing. She had never held down a real job, she was given a credit card with a spending limit and she ran it to the max every month, but daddy paid it off.

“Trish, do you ever think about working, maybe a career?”

“No, why do ask?”

“Well I just can’t understand how you plan on making it out there in the real world without a job and an income.”

“Hello, my father pays for everything, he always has.”

“What about this apartment you keep talking about. You tell me you want to move in with me and share an apartment. That does include you paying some of the rent, right?”

“I thought you getting to see me naked all the time and sleep with me was enough for the rent.”

“That’s fair, no really that’s fair.”

“I’m joking, I just get daddy to cut me a check that’s all.”

Patricia had decided that the time had come to tell the parents that she had found an apartment on the coast and that she had a roommate in mind. John of course was going to be present for this glorious event, he really would have been happier to stay on the coast but the thought of the opportunity of being with Patricia every night was more than he could handle.

That afternoon they met at a little coffee house in the city for lunch. They had mostly been having rendezvous and talking on the phone, with very few real dinner dates. She wore a navy-blue sleeveless suit with a white sleeveless blouse. She was stunning, and she knew it by the way she walked. He wore his favorite jeans and black t-shirt with black shoes. She loved him in black; it was his color she said.

“Hello precious, I would have dressed nicer, but I have been at the park all morning taking pictures. But of course, you are dressed for us both.”

“Well daddy has me in town today to meet with his new clients from the west coast. I am the official tour guide and I left them with my sister for lunch. She was dying to take them to the new Japanese place that just opened, and you know I hate sushi.”

“Isn’t that outfit a bit sexy for work?”

“Nonsense! A woman is supposed to be sexy all the time, its professional. Look at you in your tees and jeans model look! I saw that same outfit in a fashion magazine.”

“Well it wasn’t intentional; I was just being lazy.”

“Why don’t you come and spend your weekends at the house? Daddy want mind as long as we don’t make out on the furniture or get caught in the same bedroom together. Besides we have 10 bedrooms and they stay empty unless it’s Christmas.”

“Sure, as long as you have at least 10 rooms because I refuse to stay anywhere that has less than that many.” He smiled and kissed her passionately. She responded to his kiss and wrapped her arms around him.

After lunch she left, and he went back to his photography. That afternoon he took some of the best photos of his life, they were to be the very photos that would open him up to the art world as a successful artist, but it wouldn’t be until five years later that he would discover that. He opened up inside and found an inner eye that allowed him to see humanity. Children and people who had no idea anyone was photographing them. He was so excited as he took roll after roll.

That weekend they broke the news to Patricia’s family that she would be getting her first apartment since college and that she would be sharing the financial burdens with a man. Her father went ballistic and flew out of the room and her mother tried to calm the situation.

“You know what’s really sick about all of this?”

“What sweetie?”

“You! You’re getting off on this. You enjoy putting your parents into a flood of anger and they look at me as if I was some hoodlum from the streets who was going to rape their little girl and steal all their money.”

“You are over reacting; daddy always gets upset when it comes to his baby girls.”

“I would too if my daughter came home and told me she was going to live with a strange boy, you could have handled it better. That’s all I’m saying.”

“Okay! Then you talk to him! I’m going to my room and I’ll be down later!”

John knew he was right, and he knew that he was in a very sticky mess; it was never good to be left alone in the middle of a family argument. He just sat in the room that was as big as his mother’s beach house and stared at the pictures that covered the walls. He couldn’t even fathom the amount of money that was in this room. There were Faberge Eggs in the curio and even the rugs reeked of money.

The only member of Patricia’s family that took a instant liking to John was her sister, Ashley. Unlike the rest of the Hamilton’s, Ashley was cordial and friendly with stranger. She would give her last dollar to help a homeless bum if that meant doing the right thing, but she refused to be walked over.

“John, my sister doesn’t mean to yell at you.”

“She had every intention of coming here today and making daddy mad.”

“Thanks for the warning.”

“She gets off on it like you said. She tends to thrive on pissing him off. It’s been her hobby since we were kids.”

“I tried to teach her to play chess last week.”

Ashley laughed and sat down on the sofa beside him.

“I was always trying to offer guidance, but she thought her big sister was a fool.”

It would be a bit before the two were ready to move into an apartment together. They both had some last-minute ends to tie up but were around each other constantly and attached to one another in a way that put a different twist on being roommates. Now they would be questioning themselves about the living conditions, but it was fun and exciting for them both. Patricia was more comfortable with the situation now that John had been living at the estate over the last six weekends. She grew as comfortable as she felt she would need to be in order to live with him. They lived together for a year and told everyone that they were just roommates, but they had passionate sex almost every night and Patricia hardly ever wore clothes in the apartment she loved to tease John. If it remained like this both would have been happy but then again who was to say that it would never have lost its flavor.

It took six months before John thought of asking Patricia to marry him. He had secured a stable job with a film company. His passion had always been in photography and working as a sales representative for the largest manufacturer of photography film was quite an honor. He spent most of his days on the road and this was fine at first, but Patricia grew tired of the constant overtimes and out of town flights. She had yet to decide what to do besides living off Daddy’s money. John couldn’t accept money from her father; he was taught that he had to earn it to keep it. His father worked hard and even now his father was only two years from retirement. If he was going to be married to Patricia, he would have to be able to give her what she wanted without competition from her daddy.

When the time came for John to propose she was as excited as he had hoped. It was good to see that she was still as much in love with him then as she had been the first night, they made love under the lighthouse.

“It will be beautiful John!”

“I don’t care I just want us to be happy, if you want to get married in Vegas or maybe fly to Europe and do a simple wedding with just us then I would love that as much.”

“Don’t be silly, you saw how much daddy lavished Ashley at her wedding and then he bought them a house as a wedding gift. We couldn’t insult them by running off and doing some cheap excuse of a wedding. We need to be as big as the love we have.”

“I didn’t realize you felt that way, your dad really doesn’t need to buy us a house. I have been looking at some great homes on the island and I want to take you out there tomorrow.”

“Alright but I have got to call Ashley and let her know and then I’ll call everyone else. Will it always be this good Hun? Please say it will.”

“You know it will, if not better.”

The wedding was set for the week after John’s birthday in July. It was to be a huge event over 300 invitations and the catering alone was enough to feed the city. This would be first time that Johns parents had seen each other in several years and it was very uncomfortable for both of his parents. John made it a point to speak to them both and he had decided that they were mature enough to handle themselves. John’s best man was Albert Finney from Seaside. They had grown up together and as far as Albert went, he was the closest thing to a brother John had experienced. His own brother and sister didn’t even show up because they had heard that their father was going to be there. Albert owned a surf shop in Seaside and John had worked there many times to help Albert out. Albert’s father had owned it before him, and it was a busy place in the summer but only the diehard surfers came in around wintertime. Albert had decided that it was better to keep the shop closed for a few months out of the year and just enjoy time with his wife and two daughters.

The wedding was a blur to John, he just blinked, and he was saying “I do” and then kissing her in front of hundreds of strangers. There was a party afterwards and lots of dancing, lots of new people and lots of gifts. John’s father-in-law gave him an envelope and a pat on the back.

“Here you are son.”

“Can I open it sir?”

“If you like or you can just walk around with it all day.”

He opened it and there was a picture of a two-story home and by the looks of it the picture was taken at Seaside. There was an address on the back of the picture and a folded piece of paper in the envelope that appeared to be the deed to the house. And deep inside the envelope were two sets of keys, one for John and one for Patricia.

He was speechless, how could he say thank you to a house?

The couple was happy, to the point of perfection. How could anything ever come between them? They were so in-love and they were both the place they wanted to be. That night they left for Europe on a plane.

PART FIVE

God has a sick way of giving and taking in this life. You can be pretty sure that if he gives you a child, he’s going to take someone in their place pretty soon. You can’t fight it, but you can treasure every second with those you love. John found this out the hard way.

Alexis Carlson was born in December, five years after her parents were married. Her father was the happiest man alive and he found sweetness in her touch. The first night she spent with her parents John didn’t sleep at all instead he chose to hold her, letting the mother rest and build up her strength for the long road ahead.

John was very possessive of Alexis and it showed, he carried her everywhere he went. This was fine with Patricia; she really had no intentions of letting a child keep her from her socializing or shopping and although she loved her daughter very much it was easier to let John take her.

“Alexis, can you say daddy?”

“Da.”

“That’s very good, angel! One day you and I are going to travel the world together, would you like that?”

The infant just smiled at her father grabbing at his glasses.

“We can go to Alaska and see the bears and whales, and then we can go to Paris and have a picnic lunch beside the Eiffel Tower.”

“Sometimes I think that your mother is pulling away from me, she is more interested in her friends and her world than her family. It just seems that you and I are for show and she is using us to be someone she isn’t. But it’s alright you and I will always be together baby!”

John bounced the child on his knee, putting her bare feet in the sand. She smiled and a stream of drool ran down her bottom lip. She started laughing, and then John kissed her.

“John! John it’s your father!”

John rushed into his mother’s house handing his mother the baby. He grabbed the phone and listened to the voice at the other end.

Johns’ father had been shot and he was in hospital. The sergeant on the other end didn’t offer much hope. John needed to get there as fast as possible.

John called his friend Albert and told him the news, and then he called in a favor from Albert. Alberts sister was dating a flight instructor and they were real serious, John knew he couldn’t drive the three hours without breaking down from worrying about his dad, if he was going to get there he had to fly and the trip would be cut in half in the air.

When John arrived, there was a police car waiting to give him a ride to the hospital.

“John your dad really came through for us tonight. He put himself on the line and took a bullet for a rookie that has two babies at home with a young wife. Your dad was thinking, and he’s pissed a lot of people off before for being an asshole but man he was the hero tonight.”

“My dad’s always been a hero. You just have to know how to look at him.”

“I didn’t mean anything by it, he just always cussed at me and busted my balls.”

John looked over at the officer and looked at saw that he was a corporal.

“He cussed at you. Did he tell you to shut the fuck up and call you shit head?”

“Exactly, that’s what he did all the time. I never did anything to him but regardless I feel real bad right now.”

“Here’s a little secret about my dad, if he said that stuff to you, he really liked you. Otherwise he didn’t waste his breath on you. He did it to me my whole life to make me tough and it works.”

They arrived at the hospital and John was escorted up to the room where his father laid on a bed with wires and hoses and machines with lights all around.

“Dad, dad can you hear me. I’m here for you.”

He grabbed his hand and touched his palm with the tips of his fingers. It was the first time since he was a kid that he had felt his dad’s hand. He brushed the hair back out of his father’s eyes. They were glazed over and motionless. He just stared at the ceiling breathing mechanically with the machine that was stuck in his mouth and taped with white tape. The noises, they were ungodly. Wheezing and gurgling and the machines, could they not turn the volumes down?

“Dad what are you thinking? You’re supposed to let the rookies take it for you. You only got a little while left until retirement.”

His dad blinked.

“Come on dad, call me an asshole. I came all the way here from the island on a plane to see you. Alexis wanted to come and see her papa. She would make you better right?”

His dad made a noise and tried to smile.

“Yea I know dad she’s great. She’s the best thing in my life. You gotta think about her and hang in there for her. She needs to be able to tell her first grade glass about her grandfather’s bad language.”

The doctor walked up behind John and asked him to step to the side.

“You’re the patient’s son?”

“Yea my brother and sister live out of state and I flew in from the coast.”

“In all sincerity Mr. Carlson I would love to say we feel good about your father’s survival, but he took a bullet into the liver and it bounced around inside before it fragmented. We are trying to control the bleeding, but we may need to get him back into the E.R. if he starts to hemorrhage. If he needs to be on a respirator what do you wish for with that. Does he have a living will?”

“No dad would say some pretty harsh things and go his merry way. He was against that.”

That night John sat beside his father as much as he could, in between the trips to the coffee machine and the calls to his mother and wife. He had the worst pain in his gut, and he didn’t know if it was from hunger, too much coffee or the constant thoughts of his father dying.

He went through so many memories sitting there, mostly all the fishing trips his father took him on. His father believed that fishing was the only way to really relax, he said it gave you time to sit and wait. Johns brother and sister were two years apart in age and they could never understand their father or his attitude toward life. They hit the road as soon as they were through with school and now, they lived three states away. He had called and the only thing they could say was “keep us posted”.

It was ten o’clock the next morning when his dads partner came in to visit. She was a fairly attractive lady in her forties, and she was still in uniform.

“The doctor updated me about your dad. How about you, do you need anything?”

“No, I think mom and Patricia were going to leave this morning with Alexis and drive up. But I have just been sitting here.”

“Has anyone told you about what happened last night?”

“Little pieces here and there nothing really in depth. I know he jumped in front of a bullet for a rookie. But that’s all I know.”

“Let’s go talk outside for a minute okay?”

They walked out into a quite hallway and John found a chair.

“Your dad was working on a case that was pretty big involving a local car dealership and they were getting hit once a week, but we couldn’t put our finger on the perps.”

She should up against the wall holding her duty belt with her hands in front, she was a small framed woman and the belt looked uncomfortable with the big gun and other items neatly stashed around it.

“We staked out the dealership and finally saw the guys getting the cars, they took three really nice SUVs to an old building behind the city park. It was a real bad area, lots of drug dealers on the streets and we had an idea that they were either stripping the cars down for parts or they were lining them with drugs and then painting them so they could get them out of town.”

She crouched down on her knee and held onto Johns leg.

“We had a new guy who a little fast on the trigger, he wanted to prove himself to your dad. The guys a real good kid, he’s got two babies and a wife. He tried to get in too close to soon and see the interior. They must have had lookouts on the streets because they were out of the building in seconds. They cornered the kid and he kid behind a dumpster. Your dad ran as hard as he could to get to him. He never had time to get his vest on, that bastard. He took out three of the jerks before he got to the trash dumpster. I called for backup and your dad was going to try and get Harrelson out of harm’s way. He grabbed him and pulled him into a building, but a guy just popped up with a gun and started firing at Harrelson, your dad jumped in and knocked him down and took two bullets, one in the leg and one in the gut. Your dad blew the kids face off before he had a chance to shoot Harrelson.”

“I got to your dad as soon as I could but he was pouring blood all over the place and I didn’t know what to do but wrap him up and wait for transport, he kept saying your name and how he wanted to come down and go fishing with that new baby.”

A nurse walked up and asked for John to come back.

“He is going back into surgery; he’s losing too much blood and it’s not looking good. You may want to spend a minute with him before they come up for him.”

John held his father’s hand for the last time before he went to surgery, he tried to think of everything to say but he was at a loss for words. The only thing he could think of was “dad, I hope I turn out as good a father as you.”

An hour later the doctor came out and informed John that they had lost his father in surgery due to major blood loss. John left the hospital and walked down the street for what seemed like hours and then he found a small bar with a blue neon sign that blinked off and on.

John sat inside for the next three hours nursing three whiskey and sodas.

“You are getting an early start?”

“No just trying to start early.”

The bartender chuckled and wiped down the bar and then refilled the ice at his bar station.

Over the next year John grew very distant from Patricia, he had started taking days off work and going fishing without telling anyone. Patricia and Johns mother had grown close and they worried over him, but they knew that his father’s death was going to be a tough thing to overcome.

Meanwhile John spent more and more time with Alexis, he would stay up all night on the couch holding her while she slept. In the morning Patricia would find the two cuddled up together on the couch with a tiny baby blanket covering them. John also developed quite the taste for alcohol. He was drinking more and more. At first, he finished off an entire bottle of wine at dinner but when he started with the nightcap of two whiskey and sodas Patricia became concerned.

“I don’t think you need to be around the baby when your drunk, it’s just not healthy for her or you.”

“What? I’m never drunk. I get a little lightheaded but never drunk. Your father gets drunk but I just drink. “

“John just look in the trash cans, there’s a whole liquor store out there!”

“Look I just need a little something to get me to sleep at night and I didn’t want to get hooked on sleeping pills. It relaxes me and helps me sleep. As for being around my daughter, never tell me I’m not healthy for her.”

“John what’s happening here? You are so violent here lately and you have been missing work all the time. I just want us to be the way we were in the beginning.”

“Well then when I come to bed and you push me off remember that, okay. You’re the one turning me down.”

“Excuse me for not wanting to be screwed by a drunk. Half the time when you come to bed, if you come to bed, I don’t know if your even sober enough to know what you’re doing.”

“I am not having this conversation now.”

He left and walked down to the beach where he found solace. The ocean brought him peace, but you can’t bottle that and carry it with everywhere. He thought about his dad and how he was so close to retirement, of course dad never told mom, but he kept on the benefits package after all those years and she got his whole retirement package. She cried and cried; I think for the first time in all those years she really saw how much he loved her. He knew he had to stop drinking but sobriety hurt worse than anything now, this depression was eating him and killing his soul.

It took six months, but John got sober enough to go back to work on his regular schedule. He was spending every other second with Alexis; she had become his focal point in life. Patricia on the other hand was different, he still found her to be attractive and everything a man could want but the deeper feelings he once had were gone. He hated to think that maybe he had fallen out of love with his own wife after just seven years.

There was never a point that he started looking, never a point that he started seeking her replacement. He found the thought of visiting a strip bar revolting and the thought of picking up someone at a bar for a one-night stand was even worse. He just wanted someone to talk to, a female who made him feel good about what he was. Patricia had been that at one time but no longer, it was gone.

It happened in the summer, and it happened in worse possible way. The affair was as innocent as innocent could ever be. He met Jessica through work, and they hit it off right away, she was married and said she had been unhappy for years. He became a listener and he developed sympathy for her situation. Her husband seemed to be a real ass, but John was only getting one side of the story.

She told John all about her anger and frustration at what she called her prison life. She had no children and thought that bringing a child into a marriage of hate was wrong, John agreed. Her husband was angered by this and threatened her physically with violence on several times. It was a friendship that developed between the two and John had felt a passion for her.

He had been sleeping on the couch for months before he met Jessica and when he wasn’t on the couch he was in the bed with his daughter, curled up with her favorite doll. The marriage that Patricia had wanted was gone and she had no desire to pursue it. The many fights drove him into another’s arms, he expended so much anger he had no recourse but to seek love. He never tried to justify what he had done but the pain of being caught in a marriage where you are always wrong, and the other person couldn’t see your side of things was unbearable.

The relationship lasted just two months, she ended it and he quit his job that very day. He felt it would only be right. He had no intentions of putting her position in jeopardy and he knew it would be uncomfortable for both to see each other every day. John was the one who made the decision to ask for a divorce and he admitted everything to Patricia.

Patricia’s family had too much power and too much money. John couldn’t win when it came to a divorce and even when he tried to make it fair everyone shut him down. He tried so hard to be the decision maker when it came to Alexis, but Patricia demanded that she rule the family. She used Johns drunkenness against him, and his lack of a job. She destroyed him in front of the courts. How could a man without an income support a baby and ex-wife?

She caused it, she was never there, she pushed him over the edge. These were all excuse, he knew this. If he had put half as much energy into fixing his marriage as he did destroying it, then things would be better. Or would they, two people had to be in love for a marriage to work and that one person would never cheat if they were happy. John just wasn’t happy.

The first-person John told was his mother. He needed her comfort, but he should have known better.

“Your just like your father. He couldn’t keep it in his pants either and you’re no better.”

“Is that what you think it was? Sex? Well you are wrong about that. It was about being needed and loved.”

“You sound like your father. He said that when he slept with the next-door neighbor, the second time.”

“Mom, Dad wanted to come back to you. He told me so. He told me he had too much pride to ask you to forgive him.”

She stood looking at him with tears on the edge of her eyes.

“I just want out, no more of her running my life or telling me what I can do with my own daughter.”

After the breakup of the marriage Ashley was the only member of the Hamilton family to ever contact John, she knew that friendship and love were not something that could be dismissed in court, they could never tell her that the times she had spent with that man were to be forgotten. Friendship to her was not a thing that her family had ever controlled, but she also knew that what they did not know was usually best for them. Ashley had held the favorable notion that she was not the one to judge others because as a teen she had been addicted to alcohol and spending the glitter years of high school in rehab was truly an eye opener for her now.

She called from time to time and kept John updated on the situation that surrounded Alexis.

“She is doing fine John. She misses her daddy and you can see her more when everything settles down.”

“This is crazy! I’m not allowed to see her but every other weekend. This is killing me Ashley, please try and talk some since into your sister. I cheated on her not on Alexis, this is no way fair.”

He was desperate for a solution, but his attorney assured him everything was going to be all right and that he had nothing to worry about.

The afternoon after the trial John went to the same bar where he went when after his father died. He ordered a whiskey and soda and tried to cope. Ashley found him in the bar an hour later on his fourth whiskey and soda.

“John you can’t do this again.”

“Go away Ashley, I’m not worth the time you spend talking to me.”

“Go ahead with the self-pity John. It worked for me too. I been here, you’ve got to snap out of it.”

“I can’t believe I agreed to that, she was the only thing I wanted out of the marriage. I signed off my on kid, I signed off my baby.”

“You and I both know that you did it so she wouldn’t see you like this.”

“I did it because I thought it was absurd that they wanted a guardian to supervise me the entire time I was with my own flesh and blood.”

“John the best thing you can do is get into a rehab program and stay clean for a while. She needs you to be a strong father not a mess. It’s for her not you, she deserves a sober daddy who can exist.”

“You’re just like them. Did they send you to talk to me? Was this their idea? I’ve already signed the papers. I agreed to have no further contact with my daughter in exchange for release of all financial support.”

“You didn’t have to do that, you could have gone to a rehab clinic, gotten a better lawyer a year from now and taken her back to court. You’re just too damn proud John.”

“You heard Patricia, and the judge and everyone else. I’m a bad influence on my daughter, its unhealthy for her to be around me!”

“They were only referring to the you that’s got an alcohol problem.”

John stood up and threw down a twenty and looked at Ashley with harsh aggression.

“I don’t have an alcohol problem; I can drink just fine.”

PART SIX

“John you going out to the island today?”

“I don’t know, why do ask?”

The red headed waitress poured the coffee and stuffed some napkins in her apron.

“My son wanted to go with you, would you mind?”

“God no, he’s always welcome. He’s such a great kid. “

” You’re sweet John, he’s been asking all week if you were going to go out to the island and take the photos again.”

“Did his dad get him that fishing rig he was asking for?”

“What do you think? Dead beat bastard won’t even pay child support.”

“Tell him I’ll pick him up in an hour, you think he will be up?”

“Oh yeah he’s ready now. He was up and ready this morning watching cartoons.”

A man in a suit and tie walked into the café. He was out of place and he knew it. The patrons all looked at him and stared. It wasn’t everyday someone came in wearing a suit and tie.

“John, how are you today?”

“I would have been better if you had been on time, I got to get to the island to shoot and the tides are going out soon.”

“Sorry chief, the traffic was crazy. You know you’re the only client of mine that I actually come to. Everyone else comes to me.”

“That’s because I am the only client of yours that actually makes money and you couldn’t stay in business if it weren’t for me and Armstrong and Miller. We are your life source, so stop complaining. What did they say?”

“Well as usual they loved it, it’s the first collection of photos and short stories that they have ever published. They are going to run a very large first print and a limited hard back series to start.”

“And the money, did we do good?”

“You did good John; I did my percent. I got enough to pay the rent.”

“Jesus’ you complain more than anyone. You got it on you?”

He slid him a check across the table. John lifted it up.

“Holy shit, I can’t believe that. You can have an extra five percent this time, but don’t get used to it.”

The red head came over to the table and sat down a coffee and toast in front of the man.

“Hey sweetie, what would you like?”

“Oh, I’m fine, I’ll be leaving in a bit.”

“Well don’t go to fast, our new waitress has taken a liking to you, she told me to find out your name’

They all turned to look, and a blond headed girl waved and smiled revealing her near toothless smile. John laughed and threw down a ten-dollar bill. He walked out the door and into the morning sun.

It was Alexis Hamilton’s eighteenth birthday and she oversaw the party this year. There would be two events, the first starting at five in the evening for family and friends of the family. It would include a nice dinner, wine, music, chatting by the pool and gifts. This was the boring part; Alexis was humoring her mother by allowing that party. It was more of a social event for her mother to have. At nine at night Alexis friends would come over and have an incredible time. Her mother had agreed that there would be no rules as long as no one was hurt and as long as there were no boys spending the night. Alexis felt this was fair and she felt obligated to agree to this, after all she got a new Porsche convertible for her birthday from her Grandfather.

“Mom did you get the mail?’

“Yes, honey it’s on the table.”

Alexis tore off to the table and went through ever piece of mail she could find, but nothing from her father.

“Honey, he’s forgotten about you. But it’s okay, I love you and your family loves you.”

Alexis just couldn’t accept the fact that she had gone fifteen years of her life and the only one who knew anything about her father was her aunt. She made her way through the family home that was the loneliest place when you were sad.

Patricia Hamilton pulled out a card addressed to Alexis from the drawer and tore it to several pieces and then threw it in the trash. She had done this every year, never caring what that man had to say to anyone. She had carried hate for him for fifteen years and it had grown stronger every day. How anyone could just sign away a child was beyond her. He was trash to her and nothing more.

That night the party had gone over wonderfully and Alexis had been an angel in white for all to see, but the only thing she could think about was her father. She would have given all of this up just to meet him and ask him why he left. Her aunt had told her he did it out of love and out of pride, but she could not even begin to understand.

Later in the evening Alexis’ friends started to arrive and by midnight they were having the best time since prom night. They danced and ate chips and ice cream. They talked about boyfriends and called all the boys they knew and flirted on the phone for hours. It was about one in the morning when one of Alexis’ friend developed a cough. It got worse and she realized that she had forgotten her asthma medicine. Patricia was there to take the girl home and handle the situation.

Aunt Ashley showed up at the house at four to find the girls all asleep in the pool house with the television on. She walked over the girls and found Alexis.

“Alexis baby, wake up honey.”

“What’s wrong? Why are you here?”

“Your mother was in a car wreck and I need you to come with me. We got to get to the hospital.”

“Oh my God, is she going to die?”

The hospital was swarming with a variety of people. There were transients and the poor, as well as well-dressed men and women sitting in the waiting area of the emergency room. They went directly back to the room where Patricia was. There were hoses and lines, tubes and monitors surrounding her. She had caked blood on her face and arm.

“Mom! Oh my God, I’m here mom.”

“Baby, I am so sorry I spoiled your party.”

“No mom, it’s okay we were asleep. Are you okay?”

The doctor entered the room and looked at Alexis.

“You must be the daughter?”

“Yes, is my mother going to be alright?”

“Well she has got to get into surgery now, but she will be a lot better if we can get the bleeding to stop.”

“Alexis come and kiss me; I need to talk to your aunt.”

Alexis kissed her mother and then left the room crying, a nurse came and held her.

“Listen to me Ashley. Johns father died from internal bleeding and I don’t feel that this is going to good. If I die you have got to tell her all about her father. I have been a fool.”

Patricia’s face was covered in pain, she was bleeding heavily inside from the crash. It had been a violent collision and the other driver had been drunk. He died at the scene of head trauma, and Patricia was hit from the side. She had dropped off Alexis’ friend and pulled out onto the busiest road in town. At that time of the morning the last thing she expected was a drunk driver in a pick-up truck slamming into her at fifty miles an hour.

“Trish you are going to be fine. Don’t talk about death.”

“Promise me you will help her find him and tell her that I threw away all his cards over the years and not to be mad at him.”

“I promise.”

Those were the last words ever spoken between the sisters, and Ashley kept her promise. She told Alexis everything a week later after the funeral. It was all different now for the teenager who turned into a woman overnight. She lost her innocence when she heard the new from the doctor that her mother had lost too much blood and that they couldn’t control the bleeding. It was worse than they had thought.

PART SEVEN

Alexis Hamilton had never been on a trip away from home without an adult. She had taken many a trip with her aunt, but her mother’s passing was really too much of a nightmare to stay in town. She needed the love of a parent, having an aunt like Ashley was wonderful but it wasn’t they love she needed.

“He lives in Seaside Village. I heard he changed his name and we don’t know what he does now. He was a salesperson for a film company but that was years ago. When you were three, he left, and I haven’t heard from him since. Your mother destroyed all the cards he sent so we have no return address. There were rumors but we just didn’t want to hurt you. All those years. And you were normal. What would it have been like for you having to go every other weekend to your fathers and live in filth? He was poor until he met your mother.”

Alexis kept replaying her last minutes with her mother to herself. Her brain was on fire, she couldn’t get to Seaside Village fast enough. Her aunt Ashley was going to meet her after she returned from a business trip in San Diego. Ashley had departed right after the funeral to close out some accounts for her sister and she had yet to really grieve. Being strong for someone is like that, you tend to bottle up your own feelings and keep them in a hiding place.

He worked for a film company, she thought to herself. What kind of film? Camera Film? She got the phone book out and searched for film, nothing. How about film processing, there were a lot of companies, but nothing that was just film. Maybe it wasn’t based out of here, how about in the city. I know there is Kodak, and Fuji but did he work for them?

The sun rose steadily over the water’s edge. The wind blew with a bite of chill. It was mid -January and the season still retained its early morning coldness. The breeze blew over the water grabbing the moisture and adding a salting flavor to the wind making everything in its path sticky and rough. The tide was finding its way in and the golden sun peaked into a blue sky. Not much pink was left in the sunrise, mostly orange and gold, he preferred the sunrise with the rose tone and the deep purple edges.

The jetty was fully visible but not for long, at this rate the tide would cover it completely within the hour. He was all along except for an old couple who made their way down the beach picking up shells and remnants of the previous day’s tourist. There was a fisherman visible on the pier in the distance but didn’t count, he wasn’t actually on the beach, merely near the beach. It was better when you were alone. It was easier to think and decide what steps to take.

The only conclusion he had made so far was that he had absolutely no control of anything. There was nothing in his life that he felt he could restrain or secure. Life had become so volatile and, in every action, he took to prevent this there was an attack from the forces of nature. “God doesn’t punish,” they say, “He is fair and just”. At one point in his life he believed that this was a fair statement, but now he felt differently. Maybe God does punish, He did in the days of Moses and He did so with Adam and Eve. Sodom and Gomorrah felt his anger so why not a simple man who sat on a tiny beach off the Georgia coast?

He watched as more and more people made their way to the beach and began their morning walks, mostly the elderly. It was Sunday and the weekend tourist would be heading back to their job’s tomorrow, where they sat at their computers and answered the telephone until five. He had no job, it was gone. It was his decision and a bad one at that; needless to say, it was a rash decision. Pressure can do things to a man; it can break you and make you crazy. Some people hold it inside and let it eat them like a parasite. It’s the worry and anger building and suffocating the hope that you can overcome any obstacle that eventually breaks you.

The elderly couple made their way to the jetty where the old man poked at a jelly fish with a stick. The old lady appeared to be scolding him and tugging at his arm. He ignored her and kept on poking. It was amusing to watch the couple as they argued over the creature’s ability to resurrect and sting anyone who poked it with a stick. This couple must have had plenty of arguments in their time. They came from a time where people didn’t divorce, and people kept their problems to themselves. Who knew if this old man had ever had an affair on his wife, the important thing was they were together now? Regardless of his or her happiness they were together arguing over a dead jellyfish.

The sun was warming his arms and his cheeks, he felt the sleepiness begin to rise. Getting up at six o’clock was becoming a habit, but in the old days he slept until noon. How long would it take to make these decisions, there was no set time for answering life’s questions but every day that passed, felt wasted. For one thing being in love with someone who didn’t want the same thing as you were not productive and losing your children in a bitter divorce was destructive. There needed to be goals, he had to feel in control of it all. The reality was that control was an illusion and he could never have anything more than a chance.

The elderly couple stood pointing at a pod of dolphins swimming thirty feet out. He imagined his daughter’s eyes seeing her first dolphin in the wild. It was a sight to behold, nothing expresses freedom quite like it. In the early days he spent every Sunday morning surfing this beach and occasionally dolphins would visit him. They were very curious, much like the elderly couple. Dolphins are innocent creatures, and although they can be rough at times, they are for the most part gentle and forgiving. They refuse to acknowledge the scarlet letter that you wear that is permanently tattooed into the forehead of the evil father who had the adulterous relationship causing pain and suffering for the whole family.

Alexis woke early and looked out her hotel window. The sun was bright and thick spilling out over the ocean. It was a little past six thirty and she was supposed to meet with the man named Roger at seven thirty. He had told her to meet him at a café on the beach.

They met at the café on 5th street down by the ocean.

“Are you Russell?”

“Yes mam, I knew you’d find me when I said look for the man with the glass eye!”

“Yes, well listen I am trying to find my dad, he is supposed to live down here and the people tell me you know everyone in town.”

“Pretty much, how long has he lived here?”

“Well about 15 years now, but he would have lived some of that time with my grandmother.”

“No that doesn’t sound familiar.”

“See, my mother died, and she had always kept my name as her name, but she destroyed the birth records and I just can’t wait for the hard copies to come back from the state repository. She said he was a photographer and that he used to write a lot. Do you know any photographers?

Russell laughed, and took a drink of his coffee. After telling her everything he knew Alexis went on her way. She had a time and a place. Not much to go own, just some beach and a time the next morning. He had given her a description, but it could have been anyone really.

Bitterness was never a strong quality for most people and being on the coast, being at this beach helped. This was a much-deserved escape. Others would never understand and would accuse him of running away or enjoying himself when he was needed the most but none the less these were remarks that would be used regardless. Home had become an arctic circle and this place was a spiritual Mecca of love and forgivingness that awaited him anytime he needed it.

In the early days he attended college twenty minutes away in the historic district and he made the daily trips here to go surfing. Most days the waves were not even worth the money it took to drive the distance, but it was an excuse to chance a swim with the dolphins. The first time he had ever met them he very nearly had a heart attack as the bull jumped clear over him in a show of territorial playfulness and dominance. It was set, the line had been drawn. The cow was off limits and the bull was to be first when it came to play at least until it was determined whether or not this human would be safe. The inlet and marsh area surrounding the island provided excellent feeding conditions for dolphins as well as some very large fish otherwise known as sharks.

His biggest fears were always being the sharks that prowled the area for food, the largest of these sharks being the tiger shark. There had been the rumor of great whites off the coast of North Carolina but to actually see one was rare. The water along the islands shore was brown and murky; visibility was at most two or three feet. The dark mud around the marsh was an oyster haven and a bare footed ventures nightmare. The oysters stuck halfway out of the mud with their razor-sharp edges touching one another, forming an army of mollusk that awaited attacking tourist. Very few people ventured from the main island to the little island, mainly because there were no roads but mostly because it was unscathed. He had ventured the sandy shore that faced the far east but the inlet side that was north west was off limits due to the strong tide pull and the chance encounters with sharks looking for food. The best time to get from the main island to the small island was low tide, timing yourself correctly so that the outgoing tide was not too strong you could paddle your surfboard from one side to the other without much effort.

On one occasion he had miscalculated the tide change and paddled at the end of low tide and was stuck overnight on the island awaiting the high tide to go out. Fear played with him at first but the thought that staying overnight on an island was quite exciting and he relaxed enough to count the stars and fall asleep.

Alexis arrived that morning about seven thirty. She pulled up in the parking lot in her rental car. She parked it and got out. There was a large parking lot full of cars, strange for a Saturday morning this early. Most tourist didn’t come out until later in the morning especially in the winter. She looked around and she could see that everyone from the restaurant was there. The red headed waitress was sipping a cup of coffee and there was Russell leaning up against an old van. Something was going on and she felt weird about it, but if this was what it took to find her father then so be it.

She walked down to the beach and saw mostly towels spread out on the sand, she glanced into the ocean and for the first time noticed that there were at least twenty or so surfers all huddling in one area. A wave would swell, and they would all chase after it, yelling curses and threats until one had it and the others waited for another. She turned and looked at Russell, he pointed to the surfers.

“Oh my God, my dad is a surfer bum.”

“I am so excited this is the sweetest thing!”

The red headed waitress held on to Russell’s arm.

“Yeah that boy he deserves this, he seems so sad all the time.”

“You know his dad was cop, got killed on duty.”

Russell was knowledgeable on everyone’s life; it came from being a painter.

John looked in toward the shore from his position just outside the line up next to the local gynecologist and a twelve-year-old kid who was riding a banged-up board with duct tape.

Why were so many people on the curb? He could see some familiars out of the crowd and wondered even more.

“Hey doc check that out.”

“What is it?”

“Looks like everyone from the café came down here this morning.”

“Is there a competition that I don’t know about? I don’t think I’m going to win.”

John started paddling for a little swell and cut off a spiked haired twenty-year-old as he got up on his nine-foot-long board. He slid down the face of the wave and turned at the bottom, spraying the air with a morning mist. He rode back up the face and hit the top hard and then came back down, showing out a little for the locals standing on the curb. He pushed his board forward, pumping into the shallow water and then laid down to where he could paddle in.

He walked up the beach and passed by a stunning young girl, she smelt sweet and looked almost familiar. Maybe she was from town and was here for her boyfriend. He took his board up to his towel and laid it down, he grabbed the dry towel and started to dry off. The girl turned to him and smiled.

“Hi!”

“Hey yourself, are you watching your boyfriend out there?”

“No. I’m just looking for someone that was supposed to be out there”

“Really who is he, I know just about everyone around here.”

“Well I don’t really know his name; we haven’t seen each other in a long time and I’m kind of at a disadvantage.”

“Oh okay. Hey, listen I’m a photographer and I would love to take some pictures of you sometime. Don’t take that wrong, please. I’m not some sick old man trying to pick up teenage girls on the beach. I’m a legitimate artist, you can ask all those crazy people over there. I do black and white portraits and scenery with people in everyday scenes.”

She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “Was this him? He was beautiful, curly hair and such a sweet face. What was mom thinking?

“Oh my. You don’t say. A photographer.”

She was sweating, her hands became moist and she started to shake.

“What’s wrong? Did I say something to upset you? Why don’t we sit down?” He was beside himself, what had he done to this angel she was on the verge of tears?

She sat down on a towel and he sat beside her. They faced the ocean, watching as the surfers battled for the waves.

“Can I ask your name? Please I just want to know your name.”

“John, its John Carlton.”

“John, um, did you, were you ever married?” She trembled at his answers.

“Yea, but that was a long time ago.”

“Oh, but did you by chance have any kids?” She was trembling, her eyes and her lips were both puckered fighting back the tears.

“Yea, but I was forced to give her up. Only kid I ever had. She was the most beautiful, gorgeous baby. She had blond hair and blue eyes with fat hands and the sweetest face. I could have held her forever, you know. God was she beautiful, truly beautiful. I don’t talk about that much though; it hurts too much.”

“So, John, your baby girl was beautiful? Tell me some more about her.”

He was lost in a daze looking out to the sky like he was staring at the child’s face. He was on the verge of tears himself.

“She was my whole world, my moon and my sun. She stole my heart the day she was born. She looked like an angel when she slept. I’ll never forget how she looked.”

Alexis put her hand on her dads’ leg, and he looked at her.

“How do I look now, dad?”

Copyright 2020 James Heaton – All Rights Reserved

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