Ten years later. How did this go so wrong?
The young woman lying out on the dock; Cassie, suddenly awoke. She was alone, and she’d let herself doze off for longer than she’d intended.
She swore. Her skin felt tight, dry, and very warm, and she was thirsty. She’d be as red as a cooked lobster if she didn’t get inside, out of the sun.
She’d heard an outboard motor break the usual stillness where only birds were usually heard, or the gentle lapping of water on the shore or against the piles of the jetty, and she listened. That motor starting up, suddenly revving, was what had disturbed her.
That boat was far away, fortunately, and she was not that visible, lying out, naked, on the jetty.
Where she was, was well hidden from the usual boaters. They hugged the farther shore. She shielded her eyes and looked at her watch, squinting at it. One o’clock. She’d been sunbathing for too long; more than an hour, lying on her back, when she’d intended only to be in the sun as she was, for ten minutes, each side.
She hadn’t bothered with sunscreen; she wanted a uniform tan, and a few ten-minute stretches, front and back, would do it. She could get started on it in the short time she was home for the reading of Uncle Toller’s Will, and checking out a promising job prospect. She already regretted coming back to see her parents after being away for almost ten years.
There were too many awkward memories around here. She should have gone straight over to Mrs. Robertson’s and stayed with her, but she’d arrived very late on the previous night, and besides, she had a lot of thinking to do. She was also apprehensive about other things. Would Malcolm remember her? Would he still feel the same way about her? Would she still feel the same way about him?
People grew apart with distance and time, but the promise had been so strong between them, even though she, and Malcolm Robertson, the son, had never conversed; never even met, face to face, only ever seeing each other at a distance, and fleetingly.
People didn’t fall in love as they had done, and not have been able to talk to each other, to speak about it; but that was the way it had been with them. They had been living constantly… at least for a few weeks, on and off, under the same roof, their paths always crossing, but being kept apart in every other way. They had learned to exchange notes; had even shared in each other’s lives in so many ways… all carefully overseen by his mother, but they’d never met.
There had been five years between them. At eighteen, he would have been a disaster for her. She had been a well-developed, and far too vulnerable girl of thirteen. She would also have been a devastating thirteen-year-old, to a boy like him. She was far too precocious, and not at all shy or backward, and she would have been too willing for trouble of that kind. They’d had to be kept apart for their own sakes and for peace in the house.
There had been no surprises in Uncle Toller’s Will, read earlier that morning. His cottage had gone to her twin sister, with dribs and drabs, of the little he’d had, to the rest of them. That cottage needed a lot of work, so it wasn’t so much of a gift, as a liability. He hadn’t left it to Cassie, not wanting to tie her down to this area. She’d left once, and she should never come back. Her family was toxic to her.
They hadn’t expected anything else. He’d been broke. Cassie had shown up, more out of respect than in any expectation of getting anything, except he’d left her his stamp collection, and his chess set. Stamps were a lesson in history, politics, and geography, all by themselves. They’d frequently poured over them together. She’d often played chess with him. That was one thing he’d been good at. They were now locked in the trunk of her car. She trusted none of her own family.
She felt around for her sister’s bikini top and bottom; daringly small bits of cloth, which Cassie would never have dared wear in public anywhere, and nor had her sister. She’d removed both bits, and put them beside her while she’d lain out in the sun, thinking, before she packed up and drove to the Robertson house on the other side of the lake. Once she left, she would sever all remaining ties with her family.
She’d been very daring, sunbathing nude, but had been cautious about it, ready to grab that bikini and her towel for a quick recovery as she retreated back to the house, except she’d dislodged them both, reaching for them, feeling them falling off the jetty into the water.
She made a lunge for them, suddenly waking up, able to grab them and hang on, but the towel had gone into the water. Her lower body hit one of the jetty supports; hitting it hard, moving it and displacing something from the narrow shelf between the two supports by her, and above her.
There was a sudden ‘crash’ beside her, and the feeling of a thousand pinpricks everywhere, scalp, abdomen, breasts, arms and legs, as though a swarm of stinging insects had descended upon her.
She swept them off her in a panic response, sitting up, ready to run back to the house or to get herself into the water.
At least… she tried to sweep them off herself as she sat up, feeling more pain in her hand and even more across her abdomen, chest, arms, legs, even her scalp. There was an insistent pain in her shoulder behind her when she settled back, stopping her from doing anything sudden. She’d never known such pain. She froze, striving to bite back the cries of pain, and to not make it any worse.
Only then did she realize what had happened. It was not, wasps. She’d knocked her grandfather’s fishing tackle box off that shelf, and had got his collection of hooks everywhere on her.
There were hooks for every occasion; surf fishing, fly fishing, trout, salmon, bass.
He lived for fishing. She’d got dumped on with the murderous three-hook ones, from the now uppermost compartment in the box, as well as a few others, and they’d taken hold in awkward places the moment they’d touched her. Those three-barbed ones would do that.
Her inappropriate instinctive reaction had not helped, and now she had them dug even deeper, especially on that hand which seemed to be stuck to the skin on her lower body, and that, was the source of most of the pain. She was gasping in pain, wondering what she could do to get it to stop. It didn’t stop.
She knew enough to give up, and to stop and think, fighting the pain.
No doubt she’d discover others as she tried to stop doing anything to make it worse... if that were possible in her present, irrational and confused state.
How could such innocent little things cause so much pain? She’d never felt such pain in so many places.
She couldn’t sit up. Couldn’t even move without making everything worse.
She dropped the useless bits of the bikini beside her—getting those onto her would be impossible—and wondered what she could do. She’d better think, fast. She needed medical attention; ambulance, doctor... except... she screamed in her mind with frustration… whoever came, would see her predicament with her fully exposed to the world, laid out like this. It would be another tale about her, making its way around the community, adding to the embarrassment that was already there, because of her sister, and what had happened years earlier.
She swore. What a memorable homecoming this would be, for all of the wrong reasons! She should have stayed away. But she hadn’t.
To hell with worrying about what anyone might think! She was in pain and she needed help. No point in being slow, or stupid… or even shy, at a time like this.
She was alone for a couple of days now that the rest of the family had gone to Ogden, and the boozy festival there. No one else that she knew, lived close, so she couldn’t expect to get help there, and wasn’t sure she wanted help from them, even if she knew their phone numbers. She didn’t know anything about them, other than that she didn’t want to know about ‘them’, and didn’t want ‘them’, to know about her. They were others, just like her own family. Dysfunctional.
They’d just love to come across her in her present state and make fun of her while they photographed everything, before putting it on the internet for all to see. There was no point in shouting, or even waiting for someone to come by and see her like this. She was on her own.
She could be stuck here for hours. She closed her eyes and counted to ten, trying to bring her feelings under control. If only there wasn’t the pain.
Then she remembered that she had her sister’s phone.
When Megan had gone that morning, rushing out with the rest of the family, she’d picked up Cassie’s phone by mistake from the sideboard, and left her own behind. It had not been intentional, or her sister would have taken both phones with her so that she could snoop on her sister’s calendar and call list.
That mistake had become obvious to Cassie, only after she’d got down to the dock, had looked around to make sure she was truly alone, undid her bikini, pulling it out from under her, and had laid back in the sun.
That phone she had with her, hadn’t stopped ringing for the first ten minutes of her lying out (some boyfriend or other), so she’d turned it off, rather than answering it to face endless questions from people she didn’t know and didn’t want to know. She and her sister’s circles of friends were very different.
She and Megan might be identical twins, but any similarities beyond that point, soon stopped. It hadn’t been friendly competition between them since they were twelve, so much as a feud, once her sister had taken an interest in boys, and especially in those boys that seemed interested in her sister.
The telephone was up near her head or it would have followed her bikini and towel off the edge, then she’d really have been stuck. There was no land line in the house. There was her car, but she was not capable of driving it with her in this condition and unable to move or dress. There was an Italian type scooter in the lean-to, but she couldn’t have handled that either, in her present state, and as naked as she was. The nearest inhabited place was about a mile. She was stuck, but for that phone.
Phoning the emergency number was out of the question. She didn’t want any burly ambulance men ogling her predicament and joking about it afterward; about her lying out, stark ballocks naked on the jetty, with fishhooks everywhere and her not able to hide herself.
They’d just love that. Then they’d haul her into the hospital for the nurses to snigger at her, and then for the doctors to look at. It would-be all-over town after that, just like when those boys had stolen her and her sister’s clothes when they’d been bathing up by the water tower in one of their brief moments when they’d agreed how to cool down. Those boys had been… so-called… friends of her sister. With friends like that...? Her sister had probably encouraged them to do that. She’d had no shame.
Then there had been that party that the police had raided. Cassie had left before that had happened. She’d swum across the lake to Mrs. Robertson’s house… both her elementary, and her junior high, teacher. She’d lived with that family for the next few years, as a daughter, and had made something of herself.
Cassie had left town a few years after that, after finishing high school; moving in with a distant aunt in another town, after she’d got a job, while deciding what she could do with her life, but far from this place, although there was so much that would always draw her back. No matter where she went it would never be far enough from her own family, but would always be too far from Mrs. Robertson, who had been a better mother to her than her own. And then there was Mrs. Robertson’s son, Malcolm, just five years older than Cassie.
You never shook off, some memories. Malcolm, was one of those. That memory would never leave her. She’d come back to find him, somehow. Mrs. Robertson had had a hand in that too, with that job offer.
That phone was the only way out of here. Old Doc Robertson was someone she could trust at a time like this. He was the only one who could help her, and he was someone she could trust not to laugh at her embarrassing predicament. He and his wife… her favorite teacher, always helped her through the rough patches. They’d known what her family was like.
She struggled with her sister’s phone. Everyone was listed, except the one number she wanted. However, there was one name she knew.
She punched that button and waited.
Peggy McMillan answered almost immediately.
“Hi, Peggy. Cassie, here.... not Meg. She left her phone for me, by mistake this morning.” She waited to get all of the questions out of the way as she tried to hold back from swearing at any delay. The pain was making her impatient.
“Yeah, I’m okay. I wound up with Meg’s phone by accident and she got mine. The reason I called you is simple. Can you tell me doc Robertson’s number?”
She listened, then lied. “Yes, I’m okay. I thought I’d set up an appointment for a tetanus shot.”
Peggy just wanted to talk, so she had to stifle her impatience and answer the usual dumb questions: where do you live? What do you do? Haven’t heard from you for a few years. What do you work at? Not married are you? Any kids? Me neither. No Boyfriend?
Cassie answered as briefly and as politely as she could, impatient to make that call.
“Peg, I’ve got to go... another call coming in. Could be my sister wondering where she left her phone. Get you later.”
She felt guilty about that lie, but what else could she do?
She rang off, and immediately phoned the number Peggy had given her before she forgot it.
The doctor had better be there. He was the only one she trusted, but it would still be embarrassing. If he wasn’t, she would be in the suds when she called Peggy back and told her more about what had happened to her, and what she needed. Half the town would trek out to see her. Peggy was another one like her sister.
An ambulance might be wiser, than to have that happen. None of the options were good.
It would have been better if she’d stayed away and had never come home for that funeral. This town was nothing but trouble for her and she couldn’t wait to get shot of it again.