Sea Scope Inn, Twenty Years Ago
My brother Glen and I raced up the lighthouse steps. My ponytail swished wildly as my sneakers thumped against the spiraling iron. As usual, Glen pulled ahead and I slowed, my thighs aching. One hundred and sixty-seven steps later I joined him at the rail, hunched over and huffing. Smiling smugly, he stood arms crossed and relaxed.
“Beat you again, Sarah-slowpoke.” He stuck out his tongue.
I straightened. “You little brat. I’ll tell Mom.”
Glen rolled his eyes and turned his back on me as he strolled along the edge of the gallery, peering over the guardrail.
Then he stopped.
“Hey, what’s that?” he asked, leaning over the rail.
I hesitated. The last thing I wanted to do was look down. Glen, however, feared nothing.
“Get away from there, Glen. What did Dad tell us about standing too close to the guardrail?”
“You have to come see this, Sarah. There’s a man down there,” he said over his shoulder, pointing a chubby finger at the ground.
Despite my queasy stomach, I inched closer to the edge and followed his gaze to a man sleeping in the sandy grass. He lay face down and motionless, arms and legs spread-eagle, his plaid shirt ripped.
Long Island, present day
I was planning to leave even before I received my aunt’s letter. The silence between Derek and I had grown too loud, too heavy. This invitation to visit my childhood home came at the perfect time.
I sucked in a cleansing breath and placed the letter on Derek’s desk. He’d ask me about it eventually. Maybe.
I picked up the note and read again.
I hope you are well. I apologize for not being in touch for so long. I’ve been a bit under the weather but that is expected at my age. I plan to reopen the inn, and I wonder if you and your husband would like to spend some time there this summer? You can stay a week or two or the whole summer if you’d like. There will be three other guests. I’d rather not mention them by name, but you know them. I’m sure you will all enjoy becoming reacquainted.
I’ll call you sometime this week for your decision.
Love, Aunt Julie
Sea Scope Inn had once been a family business. It had belonged to my father and his sister, and to my grandparents before them. Aunt Julie managed it after Dad moved Mom, Glen, and me from South Carolina to New York in 1996 when I was ten. She closed the inn to the public that year but continued to live there while she worked at other bed and breakfasts along the coast from Charleston to Hilton Head.
Aunt Julie never married, although there were rumors she had plenty of opportunities. Why she’d chosen to invite me to Sea Scope now seemed strange, but I took it as a sign. Derek and I needed a break. Maybe going to South Carolina would help.
I put down the letter and went upstairs to what Derek termed “my garret,” where I created sketches and artwork for the children’s books I illustrated. Rosy, my red tabby, came out of hiding from behind one of my canvases. She was the inspiration for my current drawing for “Kit Kat the School Yard Cat,” one of a series of books written by author Carolyn Grant, a good friend of mine.
I sat at the easel before my half-completed sketch of Kit Kat, a.k.a. Rosy, but I was inspired to draw something else. I grabbed my sketchpad and tore out a sheet. I laid down the sheet on the art table Derek had put together up here when we’d first moved in and began to pencil an outline of what I remembered of Sea Scope. As I drew, my mind filled in details. I recalled my mother telling me that my grandparents, whom I only vaguely remembered, had called the inn Sea Scope because of its view of the nearby lighthouse. Aunt Julie, an artist like me, had wanted to change the name to Seascape, but our father had insisted Sea Scope was a more suitable name, and so it remained.
The Sea Scope that spread itself across the page as I sketched was huge with several verandas and two floors wrapping around a house that commanded a lovely view of the sea. I recalled the sea gulls circling close to the top floor as Glen and I ran around playing hide and seek. As children with vivid imaginations, we also liked to concoct ghost stories and mysteries about the inn. Glen would scare me with talk of a murder upstairs in the Violet Room, the one I occupied next to his, that featured purple wallpaper and a lavender-crocheted blanket over its brass bed. He predicted that one of the guests would be smoking, even though all the guest rooms were non-smoking, and a fire would start and burn the place down. In yet another scenario, some robbers would break in and steal all the statues (there were a number of beautiful pieces of sculpture that graced both floors). Glen also imagined a time tunnel or a secret door behind the kitchen’s pantry, but I laughed. My younger brother was too imaginative for his own good. How I missed him. A tear threatened to fall, as I continued to sketch. I wanted to add the two children skipping along the path in front of the house to the lighthouse, but I had to return to my work. The Kit Kat sketches were due to Apple Kids Books by the following day.
As I lay down the Sea Scope picture, the phone rang.
I thought it might be Derek, but he never called during the day unless it was an emergency.
“Sarah. So nice to hear your voice,” said Aunt Julie.
“Oh, hi. I just received your invitation.”
“Wonderful. I hope you’ve been well. I’m looking forward to seeing you again. Are you and Derek able to make it?”
I paused. Aunt Julie didn’t know we were no longer a couple, or at least headed for a breakup. “No. Derek won’t be able to get off work. I’ll be there, though. Thanks for inviting us, and I’m looking forward to seeing you again, too. How are you?”
It was my aunt’s turn to pause. Through the line and hundreds of miles, I could see her, a tall woman who appeared even taller because of her fine posture. She’d taught me to practice walking by balancing books on my head.
“I’m well, but a little lonely. I’m so glad you’re coming. I’m giving you your favorite room.”
Aunt Julie, lonely? That was odd. When we lived at the inn, she always had people around her, and I knew she still taught painting and displayed and sold some of her portraits in the town’s art gallery.
“Thank you.” The Violet Room had always been my favorite, and I looked forward to the beautiful view of the sea from its windows. I could arrange to do some of my artwork there. One of the perks of my job was that I could do it anywhere.
“When would you like me to come? I’m still preparing the inn for guests, but I’m telling everyone to arrive on the fifteenth. Is that good for you?”
“That’s fine.” Two weeks was more than enough time for me to pack up and go.
“Perfect. I’ll see you then.” She was about to hang up when I asked, “Aunt Julie, why did you decide to open Sea Scope this summer?”
My aunt was known for a sixth sense. I could almost believe she’d opened the inn because I needed a place to escape.
“I thought it was time, Sarah. Thank you for joining me. I look forward to having you back.” Her reply was not what I expected. For some reason, I didn’t believe it.
“Can you tell me something about the other guests?” I was curious about the people she’d invited to Sea Scope along with me.
“That would ruin the surprise. All I can say is that you’ll be in good company. Now let me get back to work. I’m creating a portrait of Glen.”
My heart sank at her words. The hurt was still raw. “I’ll see you on the fifteenth, Aunt Julie.”
“Wonderful. If you run into any problems with airline tickets, let me know. My friend, Karen, still works for United.”
I couldn’t remember Karen, but I thanked Aunt Julie again and said goodbye.
Rosy meowed at me, and I remembered I hadn’t fed her. Derek would need to care for her while I was away. I was worried about how I would explain the trip to him, but I knew he wouldn’t argue with me despite a few rehearsed protests. This was best for both of us, a way to prepare before the real split. In my heart, I hoped things would be different when I returned, but I didn’t believe that absence made the heart grow fonder.
By the time Derek came to bed, I was almost asleep. He slid in next to me as quietly as possible. It hadn’t always been this way, our moving around one another like strangers. It seemed to have started two years ago with Glen’s death, but it probably went back to the day he told me he wouldn’t try any fertility treatments and we had to accept the fact we weren’t going to be parents.
I kept my breathing steady as he turned away from me. We weren’t that old. I had turned 30 back in the fall. Derek was 35. My parents had me at those same ages and Glen two years later, but they’d only been married a year before I was born. Dad’s family thought he was a confirmed bachelor until Mom came along and swept Martin Brewster off his feet.
Derek began snoring. Up until two months ago, we were still making love occasionally but not with the fervor we had while trying to conceive. The doctors assured us we were both healthy. “Unexplained infertility” was the explanation that wasn’t an explanation for our problem.
It was true I’d used birth control regularly until we decided to try for a family, but I hadn’t taken a pill for three years. Glen’s death made our situation more desperate, or at least I was desperate. The doctors said we could try in vitro, but Derek thought that was crazy. He knew our insurance wouldn’t cover it and believed it was possible we could still get pregnant the old-fashioned way. Then he stopped making love to me.
I wondered if all the time he was putting into his classes and taking on extra workshops and intensives, attending teacher conferences and seminars, was his way of coping or whether he was seeing someone else. I hid my pain behind my paintings. Not the cute cat sketches, but a bunch of others I had hidden upstairs—paintings of us when we were happy—on our honeymoon riding a tandem bike, painting the rooms when we first moved into the house, lying on the beach at sunset with champagne glasses to celebrate our first anniversary. Memories that could’ve been in a diary but were composed on canvas instead. I’d never shown them to him, and as I respected the privacy of his office, he never set foot into my art studio unless invited.
There were a set of other paintings, too. I started them after Glen died. They were paintings of my brother and me as kids at Sea Scope inside, around, and on top of the lighthouse. There was only one of Glen as an adult the last time he’d visited me before leaving for California and his death. In the darkness of the bedroom with Derek snoring beside me, I pictured it. Glen shared many of my features in a male version. He was fair and wore his hair shoulder length. I’d always been after him to cut it, but I had to admit it looked good on him. The only fault in his face was a scar on his cheek he’d gotten in a bar fight over Dad. That was the year Martin Glen Brewster shot himself and didn’t even leave a note of explanation.
I pushed these thoughts aside and tried to sleep. If Glen was around, I could confide in him about Derek, something I couldn’t do with Mom or Carolyn even though I knew they both suspected we were having difficulty in our marriage. Glen had a special way of listening, and that’s probably why he became a psychologist. I laughed to myself at the thought of him in his leather jacket riding his motorcycle around L.A. In his office, he provided a safe ear to drug addicts, those struggling with their sexuality, wannabe movie stars, and pregnant teens. He’d sit there with his hands cupped together, give them a deep appraising glance, and make them feel, during an hour on his couch, that they were still worth something, still had something to live for, unlike his own father.
I wasn’t surprised when I finally fell asleep and dreamed of Glen and me at Sea Scope. There was no calendar in my dream, but I knew what day it was. I’d dreamt about it for years until Glen suggested I see his psychology professor who also had his own practice. I had two visits before I quit. Talking about the dream did nothing to eradicate it because it wasn’t a dream. It was the memory of what happened that summer nearly twenty years ago. The day my brother and I found Michael’s body under the lighthouse.
My consciousness took over, and the scene began to fade. I woke with a start. I was sweating and had thrown the blankets off. My stomach also felt queasy.
Derek stretched beside me but didn’t wake. I glanced at the alarm clock. Two a.m. I didn’t want to go back to sleep. I was afraid of having another dream. I lay in bed trying not to think of anything and then decided to go up to my garret and draw, hoping it would relax me.