“We’ve got enough space for only one more person. Hurry. We don’t have much time.” He scratched his three day old beard and stretched dirty, battered knuckles towards her. She had seconds to make a lifetime decision.
“Take her.” Two words tore the remainder of her heart
“Aunt Janet, are you sure you won’t change your mind and join us? The weatherman says it will be sunny all day.” Three pairs of eyes focused on hers. She lowered her own to avoid the pity she recognized from past attempts.
“Go ahead. I’m alright here on the dock. Have fun.” Janet smiled and patted the air with her fingers. “Thanks for asking,” she added so that her nieces and nephews would know she was fine. She didn’t need them reporting back to their parents that Aunt Janet was losing it again.
When she was sure the tiny boat was safely launched from the rocky shore, she picked her way to the tiny cottage she rented that summer. The wide porch beckoned her to join it in a worn oak rocker. Every summer, she reserved one of the twenty cottages situated along Lake Mary in Maine. It was as close to water that she could come and still remember.
Her fingers stroked the photo album she kept nearby. There were only two pictures to hold. The rest were afterthoughts.
Her thirty year old memories cried with her.
“Aunt Janet. Wake up. There’s someone at the door.” Janet’s niece knelt in front of her tapping the spot where the sun’s heat warmed her bare leg. “Are you awake? Some people want to talk with you.”
She struggled to pull herself to the present. “You’re back already?” Prickly limbs slowed her progress. “I must have dozed.” Searching the porch, Janet noticed two strangers pressed against the open doorway. The female was watching her movements like an owl about to prey on a cat left out at night too long.
“I’m Janet.” She rose carefully still fighting her numbed legs. “How can I help you?” The woman continued staring while her partner stretched his own arm to meet hers.
“Are you Janet Weston?” he asked. “Formerly of Biloxi, Mississippi?” Her army of young relatives closed the ranks behind her. She swallowed and held her eyes steady.
“May I ask why the question? Who wants to know?” Janet succeeded in narrowing the woman’s eyes a fraction of an inch. She gripped the smooth finish of the rocker separating each grain with her nails.
“I apologize for the intrusion. We would have called but we were afraid you might not have let us in.” With calloused fingers, he slid open a manila envelope. “My wife and I have been at this a long time. We were hoping this might be the end.”
“I’m sorry. You just aren’t making sense. How do you know me?” She begged her heart to slow its rapid pounding.
He pulled a yellowed newspaper from the pouch. Grainy black and white images jumped from the pages.
”What’s this all about? My aunt doesn’t need anyone bothering her with junk from the past. She’s already been through enough.” Tom, her eldest nephew, rested his hand on her shoulder.
“Please…” The woman’s eyes lost their stare. She stepped in front of Janet and held out her hand. “I’m Cassie.” Her fingers slowly opened to reveal a tiny plastic bracelet with the letters ‘Cassie’ painted on pink and white beads.
The roar of the wind tore into Janet’s ears. She could still hear her voice screaming through a long dark tunnel. “Save us Lord! Please don’t let us die here like this!” Drenched hair clung to her young shoulders as she struggled to climb the narrow stairway to the attic. Fevered cries competed with hers in the dark space. Only a fear of certain death guided her to the top…to possible safety. She gripped her cold arms tightly around her bundle and prayed for help. Crack! The weathered roof planks above her head split open allowing a strong hand to reach through to them.
Carrie wiped the streaks tearing down her face. “Mother? Have I found you?” Carrie’s words found the crack in Janet’s heart. She searched Carrie’s blue eyes. The very same eyes she searched every morning in the mirror.
“Cassie?” A stirring deep in her soul fluttered to be set free.
The space between the force of the hurricane and her broken heart was closed in seconds.
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