It had been a ridiculously long journey; Chloe reclined on the deck of the ferry, her back resting against the cool metal wall that housed the restaurant, her long bare legs splayed out across the walkway. Her chosen seat on the deck of the passenger ferry, was both bathed in glorious sunshine, and also gave a beautiful view of the clear seas of Puget Sound. The boat was so busy that none of the seats on the outer deck were vacant, and it was too warm to sit inside...and then there was the fact that she didn't travel well indoors. The fresh air seemed to beat her sea sick tendencies.
An elderly couple emerged from the lounge door to her right, and she had to retract her legs to allow them to pass. She smiled as they thanked her, then stretched back out again. She was glad that she'd worn shorts; it had seemed hazy when she'd woke this am. But as she was on her holidays in July, there was almost an obligation to wear summer clothing.
Resting her head back she closed her eyes that were already hidden behind her Jackie Onassis style shades, she sighed. Who'd have thought six months ago that twenty six year old Chloe Bridges would give up her job, her home, and go on an extended vacation like this? Not her, that was for sure, or her friends, and definitely David her boyfriend. She sighed again, ex boyfriend. It was amazing what the twisted hand of fate could deal you, and as she relaxed in the sun, Chloe wasn't disappointed, not now, here in this beautiful location.
Not that it hadn't been a mammoth trip. She'd left her home in Bristol what seemed like days ago. After a two hour journey to Heathrow and an eight hour flight to Newark, her eight hour transfer to Sea-Tac was delayed due to bad weather, the intention had been to head to the ferry straight from the airport, but with the time she'd travelled, plus the time difference, she'd checked into an airport hotel instead. After passing out for six hours on an extremely comfortable bed, she’d woken confused and jetlagged. It had taken all her energy to get showered and dressed, then head for firstly Seattle, and then pier 69 and the ferry.
But this was an adventure, and she was determined not to let fatigue ruin a minute for her. Pulling her camera from her bag, she started to snap some photos of her surroundings. The beautiful cloudless blue skies, and azure seas were only disturbed by lush green coast, and the odd spray by a pod of Orcas who seemed to be following the boat.
Her older brother Phil was waiting for her in Victoria, with his wife and two boys. The existence of Phil had been a real shock. Until the age of thirteen, there had only been her and her twin brother Owen. Inseparable, greatest enemies, yet best friends, they'd both been stunned when a significantly older brother, appeared out of the woodwork when they hit their teens. It seemed their father had left a part of him behind in Canada when he'd been posted there with the army before he'd met her mother. Julia, her mother, had taken news of the extra child, the Canadian legacy in her stride, but then her mother was rarely flustered. And then Owen had died and the World had ended for the whole family. Chloe was only now starting to imagine living again. Without her opposite half.
Phil was so different to Owen, where her twin had lived for the moment, fun, crazy and infectious, Phil was safe, staid and a respected government worker. She had little in common with Phil, but he'd tempted her over to the West Coast with stories of good weather and whale watching trips. Chloe laughed, the way that the pod in front of her were performing for their audience, she'd not need another trip. From peaking out of the sea, almost observing the boat, to flicking their tails in a flirtatious manner, their shiny black and white bodies caught the light, and she was mesmerised.
They eventually rounded a headland and seemed to be doubling back on themselves an intricate wind between the headlands, but it was then that Chloe got her first glimpse of Victoria. A beautiful harbour flanked with several apartment blocks, and then the regal Empress Hotel that she'd heard so much about. The engine sounds changed and she knew the boat was about to dock. Gathering her huge rucksack, book and day bag, she joined the queue of people wanting to disembark.
Glancing into the darkened window to the lounge, she saw her reflection, her wayward long blond hair was wrapped up into a scruffy knot, the strappy top she wore over her denim shorts was bottle green. Smiling she wondered what Phil and Didi would make of her, stamping her heavy hiking boots to shake off some of the dust of the trip she shrugged to herself, she knew she looked different, maybe even eccentric, but then she'd always been that way. And since Owen...she gulped, the emotion still raw, the pain still real. No, since that day Chloe did what she wanted. It was her new mantra.
She'd met Phil a few times when he'd come on the scene fifteen years earlier. But twelve years older than her and Owen they hadn't really bonded that much...plus her and Owen were so close there wasn't room for a third wheel. His subsequent marriage, the birth of his two boys had seen her parents travel to this area, but she'd been in University or working and somehow this was her first trip here, and the first time she'd seen Phil in at least eight years...maybe ten.
The ferry emptied into a ridiculously small hall with a security presence that represented customs. Chloe with her minimum baggage glided through to an equally small arrival room. And it was really just a room. Sat on a chair, focused on his phone...a Blackberry? Was Phil. Oblivious to her presence. He had a shock of red blonde hair and a neatly trimmed goatee, dressed in jeans with a t-shirt tucked in and was that a bumbag? They were SO different!
"Yo bro!" she offered, kicking his crossed ankles with affection.
Phil's head snapped up, and his anger gave way to pleasure, standing he pulled Chloe into his arms, "hey little sis, how was the trip? I told you to get a direct flight! You've been days getting here!"
Chloe grinned as she fell into a big brother embrace, "it was SO much cheaper, even with the hotel and ferry. And it was nice to see a bit more of the States. I mean this is my first trip to North America!" Despite not actually seeing each other for the longest time, they'd kept in touch via email and the odd phone call, in fact he'd been a rock when Owen died, and as she stood here enveloped in his affectionate hug there was no awkwardness.
He kissed her forehead with a smile. "I have a feeling you have a lot planned!"
"Look I'm here to have a break and look after my nephews. No further agenda! Ok?"
Tossing an arm around her shoulders, he led her to the car, a smile still on his face.
It was a reasonable journey around the bustling harbour, past the regal Empress hotel she'd heard so much about, then back out of the City centre and seafront to the waterside suburb that housed his home and as they pulled up, she marvelled that they were almost opposite the ferry port, and as the crow flied they were a few hundred metres from it!
"Pity you haven't got a boat hey? We'd be here in two minutes!"
Phil laughed, "I have thought about that, especially as I don't work that far from the dock!"
Opening the door to his minivan, he jumped out and retrieved her rucksack. She followed him out of the vehicle. The house was a picturesque two story colonial house, nestled at the water side end of a quiet cul-de-sac. The groomed garden was surrounded by a neat hedge, and she smiled as she spotted the small bikes and toys scattered across the lawn.
Phil was retrieving her bags when the door burst open and Didi flanked by their two small boys appeared on the doorstep. Chloe had never met them before and she was all smiles as she met Didi's hug with one of her own.
"Thank you so much for this Didi, this is so exciting!"
She rolled her eyes in response, "you've offered to care for these monsters for the summer, I hardly think that's exciting! Give it a few days and you'll be shattered!"
Laughing she looked down at the boys, Carter a shy five year old hugged his mother's leg, whereas two year old Mikey stood brazenly staring up at her. Squatting down next to him, she smiled, "are we going to have some fun guys?"
Mikey grinned, but it took a little while for Carter's face to emerge from its hiding place, then he bit his lip watching her for a moment, when he nodded enthusiastically Chloe felt she'd made a breakthrough.
Didi was all smiles, her glossy chestnut hair hung in a long bob around her face. But she was also shy, she was bigger than curvy, Chloe knew from conversations with Phil over the years that she'd battled to manage her weight since having the boys, but she was so pretty, and instantly so friendly, that Chloe wished she didn't have the issues he'd told her about.
"Hungry?" Phil asked leading her into their 'den', "or do you want the guided tour?"
Chloe shrugged, "either...both?"
Phil laughed, "Dee, I'll serve up dinner if you want to show Chloe to her room?"
"Wow!" Chloe mouthed at Didi, "he cooks?"
The older woman laughed, "no, he retrieves things, from the oven or freezer!"
The house was lovely, immediately Chloe felt at home; the first floor had a huge bathroom, the Master bedroom and two smaller bedrooms.
"We've put the boys in together, so you can have one of their rooms."
"I thought I was going in the loft? I can't take one of their rooms!"
Didi smiled, "there's no bathroom, and it's not really a proper room!"
Chloe shook her head and reached for the only unopened door, "in here?" When she received the confirmatory nod, she opened the door and climbed the stairs that faced her. Gasping she turned to look at her sister-in-law.
"This is awesome!"
The wood panelled room was a maze of uneven ceilings, gables and windows. The right hand side saw boxes piled high, the usual loft contents; she spotted some Christmas decorations and document wallets. But to her left was a comfortable looking double bed, with a full height lamp stood next to it.
"This is perfect Didi, really!"
Didi flushed in the compliment, but offered, "Phil won't be happy, he doesn't think this is good enough..."
Chloe smiled, "leave him to me!"
The lasagne, crispy garlic bread and salad were all laid out on the table that dominated the kitchen/diner, both kids sat ready for food in their booster seats.
"Ok?" Phil asked loading bottles of dressing and sauce to the table before adding a bowl of potato wedges to the spread.
Chloe nodded, "yep. I'm taking the attic. It is SO cool!"
"It's not really appropriate, it's not decorated..."
She raised a hand, "darling brother, it's a bedroom that doesn't disturb your boys. Honestly. I love it!"
Chloe used the meal to get to know both her nephews and her sister in law.
An hour later she was helping Didi load the dishwasher, her brother was bathing the kids and getting them ready for bed. As they were pouring coffees for the three adults, the two little boys came in to the kitchen.
"Goodnight Mommy!" Carter chirped rushing over to give her a kiss, followed as always by Mikey. After a sloppy kiss that warranted a rub of his hands across his lips, he turned to Chloe. "Goodnight Auntie Chloe!"
As he rushed to hug her, Chloe squatted to his level and struggled to contain the waft of emotion that the gesture brought. With the two kids wrapped around her, she managed to lift them both up and as they giggled waving to their mother, she carried them up to their bedrooms.
"So," Phil was sat opposite her, Didi still potching in the kitchen. "How are you really? I know Dad's been really worried."
Chloe closed her eyes for a moment, this was what she was dreading, the analysing, he dissecting of her behaviour since losing Owen. And to be honest, she didn't want to sully this trip with her admission that she'd gone off the rails.
"I'm good Phil. I know I've stressed out my parents. But I'm good now. I promise."
He studied her for a while, realising that any attempts to counsel her, to get her to discuss what nobody else had managed was a closed door, but he was resilient, and he had a whole month to drag her out of her shell.
"We're both grateful for you helping us out like this Chloe. We were struggling to find emergency childcare for the summer." She'd agreed to look after the two children for most of June and July after their regular child minder broke her leg.
"It's just what I needed!" And it was. A break from the trauma of the last nine months, and a chance to regroup and decide what she was going to do with the rest of her life. Without Owen.