The man flinched and spun around, his hands raised up as if in surrender. His eyes were wide and startled, and slightly covered by his light brown bangs. His reaction confused Cassidy and somehow calmed her, because it was clear he had not been lying in wait for her. Why someone would be waiting for her, she didn’t know, but it had been the first thing that came to mind at the sight of him standing in the kitchen area.
Cassidy crossed her arms across her chest and stared at the man. After a moment he slowly lowered his hands, but very deliberately kept them where she could see them. Cassidy let the silence draw out a little longer as she looked him over. He appeared to be a few years older than her, maybe around twenty-five. He was wearing dark pants and a white t-shirt. His pose, although he had lowered his hands, still very much reminded Cassidy of a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car.
“Well?” Cassidy broke the silence, making an effort to sound as authoritative as she could. After all, it was her grandfather’s cottage and he was the intruder. She didn’t feel particularly threatened by him, but still she wished she was closer to the kitchen, where she could easily find a weapon just in case.
He stared back at her, meeting her gaze steadily and not saying anything until another silent minute had passed by. “George Acres,” he said slowly, almost cautiously. When Cassidy nodded he continued. “I knew him. He went to my father’s restaurant about once a week. We ended up talking. He always had a story to share, and I learned a lot from him. We became friends. He started to help me with problems I was having in my life. He once told me that if I ever needed to leave the village for some reason, I was welcome at the cottage. He said I would always be welcome at the cottage.”
Cassidy thought over the story for a moment. She felt that he was telling the truth, and he had described her grandfather quite accurately. She suddenly felt a lump raise in her throat and she had to struggle against tears briefly before she felt like she could speak again. “He was my grandfather,” she admitted quietly. “You know he’s…”
“Yes, of course,” the man replied sadly. He quickly glanced off into the living room area, where her grandfather would have probably sat looking out the large windows that faced the sea. When he looked back at her, he spoke again. “I should have seen it, you have his eyes. I’ve never seen anyone else with green eyes that dark.”
Cassidy nodded; ever since she was little she could remember her family telling her that. “What’s your name?” she asked.
He seemed to hesitate for a split second before replying “Steven.”
“Steven what?” Cassidy prompted.
“Donahue… Steven Donahue,” he replied. “What’s yours?”
Cassidy quickly wondered if she wanted to tell him her name, but then she decided that she might as well. “Cassidy,” she said briskly. When a cool draft blew against her hair she realized that the cottage door was still open, and she turned around to close it. She shrugged off her backpack, placing it on the small coffee table to the right of the door. Then she picked up her two grocery bags and walked past Steven into the kitchen. She dropped the bags onto the table in the middle of it, and began to put things away.
Without a word, Steven reached into one of the bags and started to help her. There was an awkward, but strangely companionable silence between them until they had empted out both bags. Cassidy stuck the two plastic bags into a drawer, in case she would need them later. She walked over to the sink and turned the knob, glad to see water pour out. It looked clean, but she knew that it was from a well system and therefore she would have to filter it. Her grandfather had always boiled it before using it. Cassidy glanced around until she saw an old kettle sitting on top of the fridge. She walked over to grab it, only to find that it was pushed back a little too far and her fingers barely brushed the handle.
Steven reached over her and picked up the kettle, which he handed over to her. “Acres?” he asked suddenly.
“Is your last name Acres?”
Cassidy nodded and returned to the sink. She filled the kettle with water and placed it upon the stove. The stove looked old, but as she turned the dial there was a click and little blue flames appeared. Satisfied, she left the kettle to boil and continued to look around the kitchen.
“But George only had a daughter,” Steven said. “So shouldn’t you have your father’s last name?”
“I do,” Cassidy replied, unsure of why she felt so comfortable telling him about her life. “My dad’s last name is also Acres. My mom used to joke that the only reason she married him was because she didn’t have to change her name.” She looked through drawers and shelves, trying to remember where everything was so that she wouldn’t have to search again later. Luckily her grandfather had kept a very organized kitchen, she was sure it was just because he had continued her grandmother’s habits. On the counter there was a knife block and a small spice rack. The dishes were all in the cupboards above the counter, and the pots and pans were in the cupboards below it. Everything else was neatly placed in drawers. The pantry and fridge were empty of everything but what she had just bought, and she knew she would need to stock up on some new food fairly soon.
The kettle whistling startled her. She turned off the stove and removed the kettle, where she put it in the sink covering the drain. She filled the sink with cold water in order to more quickly cool the water within the kettle. It was one of her father’s tricks for cooling down soup. Cassidy left it there and wandered out of the kitchen. She walked down the short hall and entered the living room. The floor was creaky, and she could hear Steven following her, though he didn’t say anything.
Once in the living room she stopped to look around. There were couches against the wall facing the large windows. Through them she could see the sun disappearing into the water, which cast everything in the room in a warm orange tinged light. There were bookshelves, a coffee table, and in one corner a desk. There was no TV or computer, but Cassidy hadn’t been expecting them. Instead, where one might expect a TV stand to sit, there was a bricked fireplace. There were still some charred logs sitting within it, and Cassidy once again felt the lump in her throat as she pictured her grandfather lighting a fire there.
Cassidy then looked to her right and saw the doorway which led into her grandfather’s bedroom. She wanted to go look into it, but she felt that it was more personal than the rest of the cottage and she didn’t want Steven following her in. Suddenly, a thought occurred to her and she spun around to stare at him. “How long have you been here?”
He briefly took on the deer in headlights look again, startled by her question. “Just today.”
“You haven’t been staying here? You haven’t gone into his bedroom?”
Steven shook his head. “No.”
“Good. Don’t,” Cassidy brushed past him and walked back to the kitchen. She checked on the water, and decided it was cool enough to drink. She opened the cupboard to pick up a glass, but paused before her fingers closed over it. “Do you want some water?”
“Yes, please,” Steven replied quietly.
Cassidy pulled out two glasses and poured water in each other them. It was still a little warm, but that didn’t bother her as she rose her own glass and gulped down most of it in one go. Steven was slower with his, just taking small sips. Cassidy put her glass down on the counter when she was done. She watched him for a moment, which seemed to make him uncomfortable.
“So, Steven Donoghue,” she said. “What do we do now?”
He looked a little confused by her question, but only for a moment. “I’ll leave. I have no right to be here besides George’s words, but you’re his granddaughter and of course the cottage belongs to you now. So I’ll leave.” He put down his empty glass and began to walk towards the door.
“Wait,” Cassidy said, without thinking it through first. “If he really did tell you that you would always be welcome here, and I believe that he did, then it would be horrible of me to turn you away.”
Steven turned back around to face her, looking both shocked and hopeful.
“So you can stay here,” Cassidy continued. “On the condition that you follow my rules… and you sleep on the couch.”
Steven nodded. “Oh yes, of course.”
“Well,” Cassidy paused to take off her coat and drape it over a chair at the kitchen table. She walked closer to the door and kicked off her shoes before picking up her backpack. “Lock the door and turn off the light.” Without waiting to see if he’d listen to her, Cassidy walked back to the living room. She flicked on the light in there and waited for him to catch up. When he appeared at her side she motioned towards the couch. “There’s a blanket folded up on the armrest there, and the cushions will work as pillows. Is that all you need?”
“Yes, thank you,” Steven replied gratefully.
“Goodnight then,” Cassidy said. She walked away from him and paused at the entrance to her grandfather’s bedroom. Then she made up her mind, reached in to flick on the light, and walked in. Her eyes quickly took in the room, the furniture and the items left just the way he had probably left them. She gingerly dropped her backpack on the bed and walked around it to the dresser. Shells and stones were spread across it, just like her own dresser at home. Mixed in were multiple picture frames. There was one of Cassidy’s parents on their wedding day, and more of Cassidy’s mother. There four pictures with Cassidy at various ages. The most recent one Cassidy instantly knew was from her high school graduation ceremony. The rest of the pictures were of her grandparents.
Cassidy picked up one of them. It was of her grandparents sitting in the two rocking chairs which sat in front of the cottage. Her grandfather looked exactly like Cassidy remembered, although a little younger. Cassidy couldn’t remember her grandmother, having only met her when she was very young. She gently put the picture frame back down and went to her backpack.
She hadn’t brought much with her. The backpack was stuffed, but it was meant for camping so it was bigger than average. She had packed some changes of clothes, pyjamas, her small bathroom travel kit, her wallet, her camera, and her notebook. Everything else she would need she assumed she could find somewhere on the island. She pulled out her pyjamas and quickly changed into them before grabbing her travel kit and going to the bathroom.
The bathroom was back near the kitchen, so she had to walk past Steven to get there. She glanced at him quickly as she passed, but his back was turned as he rearranged the cushions on the couch. Cassidy got to the bathroom and quickly finished getting ready for bed. She tied up her hair in a messy ponytail so that it would stay out of her face when she slept. She left her bag in the bathroom as she walked back to her room, making only a quick stop in the kitchen to pull her grandfather’s note from her coat pocket. She also decided to take her phone out of its pocket and keep it with her, as a precaution. Although cell service was scarce on the island, she wanted to keep all her valuables near her. At least until she had gotten to know Steven more.
This time, when she walked through the living room, he was sitting on the couch. He made eye contact and nodded as she passed, but neither of them said anything. Back in her grandfather’s bedroom, Cassidy took her notebook from the backpack and then put the bag back on the ground near the dresser. She picked up a pen she had noticed earlier, and sat down at the head of the bed, where she could lean against the headboard. She opened her notebook to the first page and clicked the pen.
After a moment of thought, she quickly jotted down some details of the island, in case it would be a good setting for the story she hoped to write. She still had no idea what the story might be, but she was hopeful that more exploration would spark some ideas. She slipped her grandfather’s letter into the notebook and put it and the pen on the bedside table next to an old alarm clock. There was also a novel on the table, so Cassidy picked it up and began to read.
A few hours passed without her really noticing. She returned the book to the table, switched off the bedside lamp, and lay down to fall asleep. It didn’t take long once she was settled and comfortable, and she lost herself to dreams.