The main village on Akre Island looked very different in February. The roofs were covered in a puffy, pillow-like layer of snow. The streets were narrow, only partially plowed – or shovelled by hand, maybe. The ferry that had dropped her off had even had a hard time getting close to the docks, with the chunks of ice floating around. Cassidy hoisted her backpack and cautiously made her way down the dock.
She had last been on the island the previous summer, when she had arrived to spend some time relaxing in her late grandfather’s cottage. When instead of relaxing and writing, she had uncovered a strange mystery and met a very strange person.
Simon was waiting outside of Bertha’s Bakery, under the narrow awning. He was wearing her grandfather’s old jacket, with the collar popped up to protect his neck from the wind, and a green toque pulled down over his head. He was either cold, or doing an excellent job of pretending to be cold.
He didn’t notice Cassidy until she was standing right in front of him. “Hello, Simon.”
Simon glanced up and his face broke into a grin. “Cassidy—” She had forgotten how much she loved hearing him say her name. He said it with the same slight accent her grandfather had. “I was worried they might cancel the ferry. There’s supposed to be a bad storm today.” He pulled his hands from his pockets and held out his arms. “I can manage a hug.”
‘I can manage a hug’ wasn’t a sentence most people would say, but with Simon it made perfect sense. It may have been a cloudy day, but it was still daytime. Cassidy smiled and stepped into his arms. She wrapped her own around his waist, pleasantly surprised by how solid he felt, and how heavy his arms felt around her.
They had kept in touch since the summer. Sometimes over the phone, but mostly with letters. Simon didn’t do well with phones unless it was dark out, and he had to go into town to use a payphone. He preferred writing letters in the safety of the cottage, and simply delivering them to the post office during the day. Cassidy liked the letters, too. They felt more romantic, and more mysterious and intriguing, than a phone call. Every one of Simon’s letters was tucked into her notebook.
She pulled back from their hug and looked up at him, smiling. “Are you cold or is the hat for show?”
“I am cold, actually,” he said.
Aside from the wind, it was a very nice winter day. But Cassidy was better dressed, with a proper winter coat and boots, a scarf, toque and gloves. “We’ll have to find you some better clothes.”
He nodded. “I guess we will. But that can wait. I bought food yesterday, and I’ve been collecting firewood. Not to mention the piles of blankets we have. So we can huddle in the cottage and wait out the storm.”
Cassidy laughed. “Sounds wonderful. I just have to call my parents and tell them I made it.”
Simon nodded again, and Cassidy left him by the bakery to walk across the street to use the payphone. She assured her parents that she had made it, that Simon—although she called him by his fake name, Steven—had met her in the village, and that they were heading to the cottage. She promised to call them again in a few days. Once they had all said goodbye, she turned to see that the owner of Bertha’s Bakery, a very friendly woman named Bertha, of course, was standing in the doorway talking to Simon.
Bertha beamed when she saw Cassidy. “Cassidy Acres! Mr. Donahue was just telling me you were visiting. Wait here.” She disappeared into her store.
Cassidy shot Simon a glance. “Mr. Donahue.”
“You told her that was my name,” Simon reminded her. “So now I’m sort of stuck with it.”
“You told me that was your name,” Cassidy said.
Bertha swung open the door again, and held out a loaf of bread wrapped in paper. “Your Grandpa George’s favourite, on the house, dear.”
“Thank you, Bertha.” Cassidy swung off her backpack to tuck the loaf inside.
“You kids better get back to George’s cottage before the storm hits,” Bertha said. “It’s supposed to be a bad one. Do you have enough food? You might get stuck out there for days.”
“Steven stocked up on food before I got here,” Cassidy said. “And if it really comes to it, my grandparents had snowshoes we can use.”
Bertha nodded. “All right. But if it does get bad and you want to come back to town, I’ve got a spare room upstairs you can use. My daughter’s on a trip.”
Cassidy smiled. “Thanks. We’ll keep that in mind.”
Bertha finally looked satisfied. “Good, good. Now get walking! You won’t get to the cottage just standing here talking to me.” She chuckled to herself as she stepped back into her shop.
Cassidy slipped her backpack back onto her shoulders. “Shall we, Mr. Donahue?”
They walked side by side along the coast until they found the small trail that led away to her grandfather’s cottage. Cassidy paused from time to time to take pictures of the snow on the buildings, or on the trees. She took a picture of a cheerful snowman wearing a purple scarf. The pictures were inspiration, for the book she was working on writing. That was why she had travelled to Akre Island in the first place.
They only found the trail in the snow because of the footprints. Simon knew approximately where it was, but it wasn’t a commonly used trail, and had not been maintained or flattened down by people’s feet. The footprints, leading off over the next hill, were beautiful in a way. Cassidy crouched to take pictures from a few different angles, and as she did so, she realized something.
“You’re not leaving footprints.”
Simon glanced down at his feet. “Oh, right. Snow is strange, I haven’t figured it out yet. In town I just made sure to stay in the cleared spots.”
Simon could stand on the ground. Maybe snow didn’t quite count as the ground. Cassidy cleared a spot with her foot until she saw bits of grass, just to see how deep the snow was. Simon seemed to be standing on the actual ground, then.
“I guess I’ll add that to my list of rules.”
“The longer I do this, the less I believe there are rules.”
He had written the same thing in one of the letters. Cassidy shrugged and began to walk again. “Maybe not. Doesn’t hurt to make note of what we notice, though.”
“Fair enough,” Simon agreed, following her.
The wind continued to pick up as they walked, and gentle snowflakes started to drift through the air. They gathered on Cassidy’s coat, but Simon looked untouched. By the time the cottage appeared ahead of them, the snowflakes had become big, damp clumps falling from the sky.
The cottage looked lonely, with the snow and darkening sky. It was perched on the top of a hill which sloped down to the water. The shapes of the terraced gardens Cassidy’s grandmother had tended to were evident through the snow. Since the path was all but invisible, Cassidy and Simon walked straight towards the cottage, climbing up the terracing like they were wide steps.
“I have the key.” Cassidy pulled of her backpack and started to unzip it.
“I’ll get it.” Simon said.
He didn’t mean the key. He stepped through the door. A moment later Cassidy heard the click of the lock, and the door swung open.
“Show off,” she laughed, stepping into the cottage. Even though Simon lived there, he hadn’t changed much from when her grandparents had lived in the cottage. Cassidy put her backpack on the kitchen table and began to shed her outdoor clothing. “It’s the middle of the day, and I’m hungry,” she announced. “Would you rather make a fire, or make lunch?”
Simon smiled. “I set up the fire this morning. All I need to do is light a match.”
“Perfect.” She walked over to the cupboards. “Soup for lunch?”
“Sounds perfect,” Simon agreed.
When Cassidy turned around, he had already walked away. The jacket and toque he had been wearing were draped on the table. Cassidy hung them up for him before going back to pick out what she wanted for soup. Simon had done a lot of the preparation for this, as well. All of the vegetables she wanted were already chopped and in bowls in the fridge. She pulled everything out, set a pot on the stove, and started the water boiling.
Pretty soon, she had her soup cooking, with herbs, vegetables and pasta shells. She could see light flickering down the hall, which meant Simon had succeeded in lighting the fire. She gave her soup a stir. “Simon?”
“Yeah?” he called back.
“Are you going to be able to eat?”
“I think so.”
She could hear him moving around, so she turned her attention back to the soup and stirred it absentmindedly. Outside, the snow was falling more heavily. It seemed as though they had made it to the cottage just in time.
Simon came back into the kitchen. “It should warm up pretty quickly. You’ll let me know how it feels?”
She turned and nodded. Temperature was hard for him during the day. “I forgot what this was like,” she admitted. “Back home all of this seemed so unreal, like a dream. Your letters kept reminding me it was real.” She left her soup to rummage through her backpack. She flipped open her notebook and pulled out a letter, which she unfolded.
It’s getting a little easier every day, but it still doesn’t make much sense. Today, I’m writing this letter just after lunch. I’m holding the pen. I can feel the paper. It takes a lot of concentration. But sometimes it seems like the less I think about trying to touch something, the easier it is. I guess I’m getting the hang of it, but it’s so much harder than it was to start touching things at night.
I’ve been thinking about dyeing my hair. I’ve gotten more comfortable visiting the village, but I’m still worried about running into my father. I would be harder to recognize with different coloured hair, wouldn’t I? I don’t know. This is all very confusing. One day, I want to try leaving Akre Island with you. Then I won’t have to hide who I am, or use a fake name. I could just be Simon Battle.
How’s school? How’s your book coming along? Don’t forget to bring it along over the winter break, I’d love to read what you have so far! I haven’t thought of any more rules for you. But honestly, the longer I do this, the less I believe there are rules.
I can’t wait to see you again.
I love you.
Cassidy tucked the letter back into her notebook. “Does it ever feel like a dream to you?”
“Every single day,” Simon replied. He stepped closer, and before Cassidy knew what was happening, he pulled her into his arms and kissed her. When they moved apart a moment later, he smiled. “I didn’t think about it that time.”
Cassidy grinned. “You’re incredible.” She wanted to try kissing him again, but then she remembered her soup and rushed back over to the stove just in time to stop it from boiling over. “Can you get out the bowls?”
“Probably,” he replied vaguely, making his way over to the cupboard.
Cassidy smiled to herself. It really was complicated having a ghost for a boyfriend.