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Winchester Harbor book cover

Winchester Harbor
Book One of the Full Sails Series
Wes Boyd
©2011, ©2013

Chapter 22

Things started perking up at the Channel Stop about that time. The weather was getting warmer, and we had a few people trailer their boats up to go out and get in some fishing. On top of that, we were starting to see the beginning of the summer migration of boats from their winter quarters downstate, although it was just a trickle this early. Either way, we started pumping fuel again, and better days were clearly on the way.

One day along toward the end of the month Rachel had a day off from school. It happened to coincide with a day that Marge had to go to the hospital in Traverse City for tests and some kind of treatment; we knew the trip would last for two or three days. There were fishing parties scheduled every day solid in there, so Rachel decided to just skip another day of school so none of them would have to be canceled. This was the first time we had to do the trick of me technically being the skipper of the Chinook III, so we spent a little time discussing how we would handle it so no one would get suspicious about the way things really were.

Because I had the six-pack license and she didn’t, I had to meet the party down at Nate’s, rather than the usual method of picking me up at the Channel Stop at breakfast. What the three of us worked out was that I’d tell the group that I was the relief skipper, and that Rachel would be overseeing the fishing down in the cockpit. That first morning I discovered the customers weren’t real crazy about the idea, but when they learned of Nate’s having to take Marge to the hospital they were at least sympathetic, so on that basis we managed to make it work.

As always, we ran down to the Channel Stop and tied up there for a quick breakfast. Debby and Laura had been carefully coached to act as if it was nothing out of the ordinary. While Rachel took the group inside and ordered breakfast for me, I topped off the tanks of the Chinook III and gave everything a final checking over.

After a quick meal we were on our way, with Rachel getting things set up in the cockpit while I steered the boat out between the jetties. It wasn’t the first time I’d done that, not even the first time with no one else beside me on the flying bridge, but it was the first time we’d done it without Nate aboard, and that somehow made it seem like a real milestone. It wasn’t something I wanted to talk about, even with Rachel, mostly because of the reason for having to do it in the first place, but at least I felt a little satisfaction from it.

It all worked out pretty well. After we got out in the big lake a ways I was keeping an eye on the fish finder, of course, and knew that Rachel was doing the same thing down in the cockpit. However, she was preoccupied with getting the gear set up when I spotted a fair sized school in a place, only a couple miles offshore, where we hadn’t often found fish before. Rachel still didn’t quite have the rig ready to fish but finished up quickly while I jogged the boat around downwind of the fish. When everything was ready I headed into the middle of the group.

On the first pass we had two rods go off within a minute or so of each other, so to kick things off we had a double going. I couldn’t do anything down in the cockpit since I was busy keeping the stern of the boat pointed right so the customers could fight the fish, but the other lines got cleared and everything went just dandy. In a few minutes we had two pretty nice lake trout on board, and a couple of happy customers who were quite a bit less dubious about having to be out without Nate.

“There’s more down there,” I called down to Rachel. “I think we need to take another pass through that crowd.”

“Sounds just fine to me,” she replied. “Why don’t you get back downwind while we get everything sorted out again down here?”

It took a few minutes, but we had everything down and fishing when I steered the Chinook III back into the school. We only got a single out of it that time, but it was obvious that this was going to be the hot spot of the day.

We stayed on the school the rest of the morning. By early afternoon we were headed back in with a limit load of fish on board, as well as a bunch of very happy customers, none of who realized that Rachel was really the one running things while I was just steering the boat where she told me to. Since we were back early, Rachel and I celebrated by taking the Pixie out for a spin. It was a nice day for it and we had a very good time, especially as we were already in a good mood.

We had to do pretty much the same thing in the mornings for the next three days. At first people were disappointed but understanding when we told them Nate wouldn’t be going with us, but we managed to get lucky with the fish and a lot of the disappointment faded quickly. Out of the four days there was only one day we didn’t limit out and get back early. We fell one shy, and that was at least partly because a couple of the customers were a little seasick on a rough day. Nate and I had experienced many worse days, and Rachel said she and her father had, too.

Still, I was glad when Nate, Marge, and Barb made it back. It was hard to tell if the treatment had done Marge any good, but it was something that had to be tried. She still was pretty weak, and Barb now spent virtually all the time with her when Nate was out on the boat.

Nate was back on the boat for a few days after that, but we knew that Barb was going to have to go down to Grand Rapids for Susie’s graduation the following weekend, so he’d have to stay with Marge while Rachel and I ran the boat again. By now Rachel and I knew we could make the alternative system work, at least as long as the fishing remained good; if we had days when we were skunked it seemed likely that the customers would complain since Nate hadn’t been on the boat.

Barb came to my room the night before she had to leave for her trip to Grand. It was going to be a quick trip, just down and back the same day. “I don’t really want to leave Marge,” she told me while we were lying in bed, just cuddling together after having some fun. “But damn it, it’s Susie’s graduation and I feel like I have to be there.”

“I don’t think Nate or Marge will begrudge you taking off for that,” I told her. “You’ve really been a saint for them the last few months, and I think they realize that you have responsibilities of your own, too.”

“Oh, I’m sure they don’t mind,” she told me. “But still, Marge is my best friend and I want to spend all the time with her while I still can. I hate to say this, but if she makes it through the summer it’s going to be a big surprise to me.”

“Even not being as close to her as you are, I’d have to say it wouldn’t surprise me either,” I told her. “I’m just worried about how Nate is going to take it. Knowing him, he’s going to be hurting.”

“I’m sure he will,” she agreed. “He’s been sort of denying the reality of it, not that there’s much else he can do. He’s doing everything he can to help out and try to keep her happy, but when it comes to an end he’s going to be very broken up. At least I can understand it and help him with it where I can, since I went through it when Sam died.”

“That had to have been hard,” I replied neutrally.

“Oh, Christ, Jake, you have no idea,” she said with a catch in her voice. “Hell, I couldn’t have gotten through it without Nate and Marge carrying me every step of the way. Rachel was big enough to help out on the boat a little, and she helped Nate the best she could while Marge helped me look after the store while she kept me going. I still miss Sam, although I’ll admit that you’ve helped me deal with the pain the last few months. I really appreciate that, Jake.”

“Well, I’m glad I could help you. The fact is, I’ve enjoyed it, too.”

“I know you have,” she said. “The heck of it is, after tonight we’re going to have to give it a rest for a while. Annette is going to be around, and Susie at least for a little while. Debby has agreed to keep quiet about what the two of us have been doing, and as far as I can tell she’s done it, but I’m not going to be able to cover it up with the girls like I can with her. Call me old-fashioned or something, but I’d really rather they don’t know I’ve been going to bed with a guy half my age.”

“I don’t think they’d mind,” I replied. “After all, they’re well aware that I’ve been going to bed with both of them and Debby, and it’s never been any problem. I’m a little surprised about that, but I’m not complaining. We could still probably make it work.”

“Maybe so. But I really don’t think I want to go there. Like I said, it may be old-fashioned of me but that’s the way it is.”

“Well, your call,” I told her. “But if it gets too bad let me know. Maybe we could go out for a picnic at Gull Island or something to make it look innocent. The berth in the Pixie isn’t going to be as comfortable as this mattress, but I’ll bet we could make do.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. We might have to try it sometime. But you know if we do, we’re going to catch hell from Rachel about the two of us going out and not taking her along.”

“We’ll see when the time comes,” I said.

“I don’t know if I’ll take you up on it, but I’m glad for the offer, Jake. But I think that we’d better make good use of the fact that we’re together tonight, because this could be the last time for a while.”

Barb was back the next evening, her car loaded with a lot of Susie and Annette’s stuff. The girls were along right behind her, and this time the Camaro wasn’t stacked clear to the roof. Full, but not packed so tight that one of the girls had to have some of their stuff on her lap, a considerable change from how I had seen it the previous spring and fall. Of course there were the usual hassles with getting everything inside the house, and I was the one doing a lot of the carrying, of course.

Everybody was busy with getting stuff organized and unpacked while a lot of reminiscing and general gossiping was going on, so I didn’t get the chance to talk to either Susie or Annette one-on-one that evening. However, the next evening Susie came to my room while I was sitting out on the balcony, having my evening cigarette or two. She bummed one off me, leaned back on the rail, and said, “You know, Jake, you really are a sweetheart. I’m going to miss having you around.”

“You’re going to head on down to Chicago, I take it.”

“Yeah, in a couple weeks or so, I guess,” she replied. “Melanie needs to spend a little time with her folks and look for an apartment for us. That’s going to take her a few days. I need to get my stuff sorted out and pack up what I want to take down with me. I also need to get another car so Annette can have the Camaro, but as soon as Melanie has everything set up I’m out of here.”

“Well, I hope it works out for you. I’m going to miss having you around, Susie. You’ve become a very special person in my life. I just wish things had worked a little different.”

“I’ve come to think that, too,” she replied softly. “You and I, well, we’re a good fit in a lot of ways, but we’re not in others. I hate to say it, Jake, but I don’t think you represent the life I want to lead. Damn, I’m going to miss you in bed. I’ve been looking forward to us getting together again for months now, but I’m afraid it can’t last too long.”

“About all I can say is that I’ll be available if you need me,” I told her.

Just then the balcony door to Debby’s room opened, and she came out. She wasn’t wearing her usual T-shirt and jeans, but looking very good in a shortish skirt and a tight sweater that showed a whole lot of her very ample cleavage. “Jake,” she said without preamble, “I need to use your car.”

This was a surprise. Debby only drove rarely, and then not well, at least partly due to the lack of practice. For her to want to drive somewhere meant that something really important had happened. “Sure,” I said, reaching in my pocket for my car keys. “What’s up?”

“I have to go see John,” she replied. “He and that Karen bitch broke up.”

“Shit, you’ve got to do it,” I replied, understanding her urgency. This was the moment she had been waiting on for years.

“Oh, Christ, don’t I know it,” she said. “Look you know what this means, I have to do it while I can.”

“Did he dump her or did she dump him?” I asked out of curiosity as I handed her the keys.

“Don’t know, I didn’t get the story real clear. Maybe they dumped each other. I’ll know more in a while. I know you’re not going out on the boat in the morning, so could you get breakfast started if I don’t show up?”

“Sure thing,” I told her. “Go for it, Debby. Best of luck.” She was gone in a flash, and in only a few seconds I heard my car starting outside, and I hoped that the next time I saw it that it would still be in one piece.

“God, I hope that works out for her,” Susie said as we heard the car drive off. “She’s been obsessing about John for years. If she can’t make it work, she’s really going to be heartbroken.”

“I hope she can make it work. I don’t think I want to be the one to have to pick up the pieces if it doesn’t.”

Susie flipped her cigarette butt over the railing. “The hell with this,” she said. “Jake, you and I have some catching up to do and we don’t have a whole hell of a lot of time to do it.”

Several hours later Susie and I were lying cuddled up quietly in my bed, just enjoying each other and a shared cigarette while we built up the energy for yet another round. We were both getting tired, but wanted to enjoy each other while we still could. We couldn’t help but notice that a car was pulling up outside, and we could hear voices as two people went into Debby’s room. The walls between the two rooms were pretty thin. We could tell that one of the voices was hers, but couldn’t quite make out what was being said.

We both continued to lie there quietly, holding on to each other, while paying attention to what we could make out through the wall. After only a couple minutes we started to hear a steady tapping on the wall. It took me a few seconds to realize that it was the headboard of the bed lightly striking the wall.

Susie figured it out about the same time I did. “Sounds like it’s working so far,” she whispered.

“Sounds like it to me, too,” I agreed in a similar low voice.

The tapping went on for a while, and then we could quite clearly hear Debby’s voice: “Oh, God . . . John that feels good . . . don’t stop now . . . ”

“It’s definitely working,” I smiled, my voice still in a whisper. “Go for it, Debby.”

“Go for it, John,” Susie giggled.

We lay there listening for a while longer. Occasionally there were breaks of a few seconds in the tapping, but it always started right up again. “You know, Jake,” Susie whispered finally, “That is starting to get inspiring.”

“It got past ‘starting’ a hell of a long time ago for me.”

“Then what the hell are we laying here talking about it for when we could be doing it?”

It turned out to be one of the best times I’d ever had with Susie, and we didn’t pay much attention to the sounds coming from the next room for a while. They may have stopped while we were more involved with each other, but when we finally got quiet again the tapping was continuing. It was still going on when we fell asleep in each other’s arms.

I’d set the alarm a little early since I figured I was going to have to go get started with breakfast, when it went off I still was holding onto Susie tightly, with my face all but buried in her long black hair. There were not many better ways to wake up.

Susie was the kind of person who normally is a little slow to wake up, but not this morning. We had a long, intimate kiss and a few other intimate things that ended up leading to some morning action to top off what we’d enjoyed the night before. After it was over with, we lay together just collecting our thoughts when Susie observed, “I don’t hear the noise from next door anymore.”

“Now that you mention it, I don’t either,” I smiled. “I wonder if they’re just sleeping, or if they killed each other?”

“Neither one would surprise me,” she grinned, then added, “Jake, I’m sorry, I really am.”

“Why should you be sorry?”

“God damn it, that’s just like you,” she shook her head. “The odds are that you lost Debby last night, and you’re going to be losing me in a few days. That’s two of your girlfriends almost at once, and that’s not very fair to you.”

“Hey, we knew it was going to happen,” I pointed out, not mentioning that it was really three, instead of two, what with Barb and I still taking a break. “It’s not like it’s a big surprise.”

“Yeah, but still,” she said. “There’s a big part of me that’s telling me not to go to Chicago. Unfortunately for you, there’s a bigger part of me that’s saying I have to take the chance.”

“It’s like I told Debby last night, ‘Shit, you’ve got to do it,’” I told her. “Susie, I’m really going to miss you, but I don’t think either of us would like it very much if we tried to make something work between us.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right,” she sighed. “I guess maybe we’d better get dressed and get started on breakfast.”

Even with setting the alarm early, our little morning delight caused us to be running a little late on starting breakfast, but not real late. It was not surprising that there was no sign of Debby. We had the door open for the first customers while the grill was still warming up, so I don’t think we lost a lot of time. Susie helped with the prep work in the kitchen; it wasn’t like she hadn’t done it before, clear back to when she’d been a little girl. By now we’d started to see the return of some of our seasonal regulars, summer residents who had wintered in Florida, so Susie helped out Laura as a waitress, too.

The morning rush was dying down when Debby walked into the kitchen, dressed for work. I don’t know if Susie noticed it, but somehow it seemed to me like Debby was walking a little funny. “Thanks for the use of your car, Jake,” she said. “John took me over to the golf course so I could pick it up.”

“No big deal,” I told her. “I take it that it went all right?”

“Pretty much, but everything is still a long way from being settled. I hope we didn’t disturb you last night.”

“Again, no big deal. I knew there were things you had to do.”

“Yeah, well, so long as it’s OK with you,” she replied without a hint of embarrassment.

“So tell us,” Susie said. “What happened?”

“It went about like I thought it would,” Debby replied. “John was a little beat to shit over that Karen bitch, but I think I’ve got him on the way to getting over it. From what he said, I guess they each were making their own plans, and they had a big blowup over it right after the graduation ceremonies. I mean, it was a big, knock-down, drag-out, hissy fit of a pissing match, with their parents all around making it worse. He’s still pretty pissed at her, and I think I managed to get to him at just the right time.”

“Sounded like it to me,” I said with a snicker.

“Yeah, we had a good time, and I think that’s going to help. He didn’t say much, but I got the impression that Karen bitch was pretty straight in bed, so I had to show him again what he was missing.” She yawned and went on, “I don’t know that I got all the way through to him yet, but I worked on it some last night.”

“We heard,” Susie grinned.

“Yeah,” I said. “If you’re going to work on that some more, maybe I’d better go over to your room a little later and put a board between the bed and the wall so I can get some sleep.”

“Good idea.” She yawned again. “I’d like to say I was a little concerned about bothering you, but honestly, it never crossed my mind.”

“Understandable. First things first. I take it that means you’re going to be doing it again tonight?”

“If everything goes all right,” she said. “He has to work at the golf course today, but we’re going to get together tonight and see how it goes. John doesn’t want to do it right under his parents’ noses, so I guess we’re going to be doing it here for a while. Don’t be surprised at seeing John’s truck parked outside, or any noises you may hear coming from my room.”

“I have to ask,” I said, “did you flush your pills this morning?”

“Not yet. I don’t know if we’re quite there yet, but it doesn’t matter at this time of the month anyway. I decided to be safe and give it a few days.”

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