She stacked a few cardboard boxes by the door. They contained the necessities she needed to start over again. She looked around, hands on hips, her cotton t-shirt clinging to her back from sweat, and surveyed the small space she'd called home for the past two years. She'd learned how to ski here, how to take inventory and work a register—which would only add to her resume that consisted of a little bit of everything—and how to roll a joint. She'd met people, but got close to none of them. The guy she'd spent a few nights with wasn't interested in a relationship anymore than she was, so it worked out perfectly. He'd scratched her itch and she'd scratched his.
She blew out a breath and thought, Okay.
Her body was sore from bending and lifting, dusting and scrubbing. She felt like she was sixty-eight instead of twenty-eight, but there was a spark of excitement that thrummed through her, trumping sleepy eyes and stiffened muscles, because today was the day Bella Swan reset time.
Leaving the two house keys atop a note that thanked the landlords, Bella closed the front door and said goodbye to her short life in Boulder, Colorado. She climbed into her Toyota, drove the twenty minutes to the convenience store that sold decent coffee and filled up her gas tank and thermos.
Within 2 days she crossed four states, had barely gotten out of a speeding ticket on I-70, slept in a less than spotless motel, and now sat in a small line of cars awaiting to board the ferry. She was tired and dirty, and her stomach heavy from fast food, but that spark was growing a bit brighter when all that was before her was the Atlantic Ocean and beyond that, Whimbrel Island.
Bella expected everyone she'd come in contact with in North Carolina to say y'all, to have sweet tea at the ready, but so far, that wasn't exactly the case. A large man with thick black hair waved his arm, ushering her to move her car forward. It was May 1, and she had her window rolled down the moment she passed the state line just waiting for that warm, salty air to wrap around her like a welcome, and it did about an hour ago, so when the man said, "Further…stop…right there," without a thick southern twang, Bella was a little relieved, thinking that maybe she really wouldn't stick out like a sore thumb.
The sun was behind her, dipping down and cast an orange glow on Whimbrel. She leaned against the railing, her hands clasped around a Styrofoam cup of lukewarm coffee and let her head fall back. Gulls circled and squawked above, dove into the ocean for their dinner. The ferry ride was supposed to take thirty minutes at best, but still, she didn't know the island, the hours kept by shops or stores and wanted to pick up a few things that weren't made mostly of grease.
A smattering of structures painted in white or steely gray and lush green pines so thick you almost couldn't see those structures grew bigger. Where water met land were rocks and sand and looking to the right, was the uppermost part of the lighthouse.
It stood on the farthest point of Whimbrel which, Bella had read about online, could only be accessed by 4-wheeler. It was the color of rusty blood with a black top and one of the few lighthouses still operated and cared for by a person. It was closed to the public, but Bella thought even though her Toyota was nowhere near capable enough to drive down to see it, she'd figure out a way.
She'd already secured a small house to rent from the aunt of a friend of the guy in Boulder. Mike had only said, "If I'm ever out that way…" and she'd said, "Yeah, sure," though both knew he'd never come to Whimbrel to see her. And that was fine by her; she didn't want him to, because once she'd left a town or a city, she'd left it and anyone's path she'd crossed for good.
Bella had a place to live for however long she would stay on the island, but she needed a job. The aunt of the friend of Mike in Boulder suggested she try the gift shop since summer and the tiny influx of tourists was right around the corner. To outsiders, aside from the festival in August, the island was a novelty, someplace to visit for a day but not exciting or entertaining enough to spend a week. If the gift shop didn't need help, Bella wasn't above doing whatever she had to. The finances she did have would last a couple weeks, longer if she was careful.
The ferry blew its horn and pulled into the dock. By now, the sky was purple and pink and Bella squeezed the steering wheel anxious to unpack. Driving through Missouri and Kansas, she'd romantically imagined herself up at sunrise walking along the beach. She would pick up rocks and wet her toes. She'd keep the windows of the still unseen house open all day and night, and at dawn when she'd left that motel she'd almost felt her skin tighten and sting from the sunburn she was bound to get.
Whimbrel was a bigger place than she thought. It'd taken forty-five minutes and a few wrong turns under darkened roads to find 7 Osprey Street. Her brakes squeaked, sounding louder than they really were, as she pulled to a stop on the grassy gravel driveway.
As promised, the key was under the mat and the electricity, water, and phone were turned on. So, the house didn't have a porch that overlooked the ocean and neither did the back. There was a slight musty smell and the kitchen cabinets were warped, but nothing Bella couldn't get used to. It's not as if she'd lived the past ten years of her life accustomed to wealth and everything that went along with it. The house just needed a little sprucing up, was all.
She climbed the stairs. Two bedrooms and a bathroom in between. She decided to take the room with what she'd hoped was a partial view of the ocean, something she'd find out come morning. Bella opened the window and although she couldn't see it, she heard, just barely, waves crashing. She pulled out the screen and leaned out as far as she could. There were a million stars and about once per minute, a white flash from the lighthouse.
Bella had never been able to sleep well that first night in a new place. The mattress was thin with springs poking her back in her apartment in Boston, and the sounds of New Orleans had kept her up all night until she'd acclimated herself to the music that had poured out of the bar down the block. It had been too quiet in Wyoming to do anything but think, and thoughts were sometimes louder than any New Orleans band could ever be.
But here, Bella hadn't slept well because it was nearly too comfortable, and that was something Bella did not want to happen.
The owner of the house, Sue, had bought Bella a basket of fruit, a half-gallon of milk, a tub of butter, frozen waffles, and a bottle of gourmet syrup. She'd put a few bottles of water in the refrigerator, too, since "island water is something that never tastes good to newcomers." Sue's note also read: Welcome to the island. A few things for you to get started. Rent's due by the fifth of the month—we're very happy to have you.
Sue had washed the sheets and a blanket, which were folded neatly on the bed. On top of the pile was a new pillow still in plastic. She had placed two fresh towels in the bathroom, but the best part was the coffee beans and grinder that sat by the pot on the kitchen counter.
I'll stay for a couple months, Bella thought. Maybe more, maybe less.
While the coffee brewed, Bella made her bed. She stuck her head out the window one more time, and she was right. The scene was totally different than what she'd seen last night. Instead of black dotted by white, the sky was crystal blue. She could still hear the waves, but the trees blocked any possible view of the ocean. If Bella's house sat higher or if there happened to be a crow's nest, like some vacation homes had, it'd be perfect. As it was, she decidedly settled for the smell and sound.
Bella brushed her teeth and scooped her hair into a ponytail. She threw on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt then slid her feet into an old pair of flip-flops. After applying some sunscreen and pouring her coffee into a mug, she set out toward the beach. Later, she'd venture into town or wherever the gift shop and store were. Right now, she wanted to feel the sand beneath her feet.
There was a barely worn path off the road, and though Bella had no idea if it led directly to the beach, she took it anyway. Thorny brush scraped her calves and sharp rocks penetrated the soles of her flip-flops. Ten minutes in, she was already sweating and wondered why the hell didn't she bring a bottle of water. On its hottest day, she didn't remember Boulder ever being this humid. New Orleans, probably, but that was a long time ago.
The sounds of gulls and waves grew louder, and she knew it wouldn't be much farther. Her heartbeat quickened; she hadn't seen the ocean up close since she was a little girl.
Pines thinned out and the thorny brush had stopped where tall grass began. There were fewer rocks and more sand. Bella climbed the dune and finally, there it was. These waves were small, so unlike First Beach. Blue-black water capped by white and trails of froth ran up the sand only to chase the water back into the ocean. She made her way down the dune.
Bella walked to the edge of the water, immersing herself up to her knees. It was ice cold, but she didn't care. She could feel her feet being sucked further into the pebbled sand each time the water pulled back and adjusted then readjusted so as not to get stuck. She shielded her eyes with her hand—why she hadn't thought to wear sunglasses she didn't know. It's not like she was an amateur to the unfamiliar.
To the right, the island appeared straight, all short beach and sea grass and dunes. A few houses sat up on stilts and Bella wished she'd been able to rent one of those. But to the left it curved out toward the ocean. For miles it was, too, short beach and sea grass, but at the tip stood the lighthouse. It looked run down, not at all like others she'd seen online.
Maybe it was the rusty color, she didn't know.
She pulled herself out of the ocean and flopped down in the sand and lay on her back. Bella closed her eyes and just listened. She lay there for an hour or so, until her skin felt tight and hot.
And then she'd grown bored.
By the time Bella had made it back to the house, showered and found the gift shop, it was nearly noon. The owner, a tall slender woman, was probably in her late forties, early fifties. She had bright red, curly hair with strands of silver running through it.
"Name's Vicki," she said, and rounded the glass counter full of nautical tchotchkes to shake Bella's hand. "Sue said you'd be stopping by. Have you ever been convicted of anything? Ever done anything you should have been convicted of?"
"Ah, no," Bella said and smiled, unsure if Vicki was joking or not. She ran her hands down over her skirt.
Bella marked an X over her chest. "Cross my heart."
Vicki shrugged. "I don't really need anyone now, but I will in the next couple of weeks. Maybe then? In the meantime, I'll give Carlisle a call. How do you do with blood?"
"Um…" I don't.
"Squeamish? Yeah, me too. He's the island's doctor and I'm pretty certain he needs a new office assistant. Last one got married and moved down to Charleston. Anyway, occasionally someone will need some stitches or minor stuff, sunburn mostly." Vicki lifted an eyebrow, pointing to Bella's shoulder. "Nothing crazy happens around here, and if it did, they'd be taken to the mainland. I think the worst thing that has happened since I've lived here was a broken arm…and that was me!" she said and laughed.
While Vicki made the call to Carlisle, Bella looked around the shop. There were wreaths of dried eucalyptus, wooden yard signs with the rusty lighthouse and a long-beaked bird on them that read Whimbrel Island, est. before the Outer Banks. There were pre-packaged chocolates and weathered-framed mirrors and newly painted buoys to make them look old. It was quaint and nothing at all like the things Bella would purchase if she'd had a home.
"He said to come by after three today, Bella," Vicki said, and then gave her directions.
"Thanks. If it doesn't work out, I'll see you by the end of the month?"
"Absolutely, but I'm sure it will. Carlisle's not the most organized of people. But come back in a couple weeks—believe it or not it can get busy on the weekends."
"Yeah, okay. Thanks again, Vicki."
Bella pushed through the door, out into the heat. She'd parked her car across the two-lane road in front of a mini-mart. The actual grocery store, she'd discovered, was a ferry ride away. Tomorrow, she thought, I'll get everything I need.
It felt good in here. The air conditioning was blasting and Bella's skin was covered by goosebumps. There were only two or three other people in the store and each of them eyed Bella like the stranger she was. She offered a small smile and continued down each aisle, tossing things into her basket.
Bella walked up to the register and unloaded a can of soup, peanut butter, Aloe, a six-pack of Coors Light and tampons onto the counter. She grabbed a few Snickers, putting them with everything else.
"You wouldn't happen to be Bella, would you?" the man asked, scanning each item. Her eyes shot up at him. "Well, are ya?" he said and laughed.
"Yes?" she said.
"Thought so. I'm Harry, Sue's husband. You're renting from us. Good to meet you face to face," he said.
"Oh!" she said. "Yeah, I am. It's a great house."
"We think so. Everything okay with it? I know Sue was planning on coming over later, make sure you got settled and all."
"Yep, everything seems to be fine. I was going to unpack today, and I'm meeting Carlisle about a job this afternoon...what time do you think she was going to come?" Bella asked, the bell jingled on the door behind her, but she didn't turn around. She couldn't believe Harry didn't flinch about her not having a job yet.
Harry placed her things in a bag then leaned against the counter. "Oh, I don't know. Give us a call later, whenever it's convenient, alright?" She nodded. "There are a couple of quirks I want to point out," he said, his eyes flicking behind her.
Someone cleared their throat, tapped their shoe then sighed, clearly annoyed. Bella glanced over her shoulder.
He held a gallon of water in each hand. His brows were knitted and he wore jeans and a holey shirt, both covered in grease spots. His hair was long, messy, darker than the ratty reddish beard on his face. His skin was tanned which made his green eyes seem brighter than what they probably were.
"Could you hurry up?" he snapped at Bella, then looked at Harry. "I have to get back." Bella just stared at him. "What?"
"Nothing. Sorry," she said, and he rolled his eyes. She paid Harry, told him she'd call after her interview. Bella picked up her bags and swung around.
The guy stood about a foot taller than she, didn't move when she almost ran into him. "Jesus Christ," he muttered, and slammed the water onto the counter.
"Asshole," Bella said under her breath, and walked out the door. But as she tossed her bags onto the passenger seat, she remembered she'd forgotten something. So, she sat in her car and waited until he came out.
He ran down the steps of the mini-mart and jumped into his truck, nearly hitting Bella's car when he backed out of his space. She wanted to yell at him, call him a dick and everything else she could think of, but since her landlord would probably have heard her, she decided to not say anything at all.
Harry smiled when she walked back in. "No need to be intimidated by him," he said.
"Oh, I wasn't," she said, and grabbed a loaf of bread.
"No? Edward usually scares the shit out of everyone. We all just leave him be."
"Is that his name?" she asked, and Harry nodded. "I'll be sure to do the same."
"Shouldn't be a problem. He usually doesn't come in very often anyway."
Bella paid Harry for a second time. "Come in from where?"
"The lighthouse. He lives out there."
Thank you for reading.