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It was there when I opened my eyes, that vague feeling of discomfort, the rocking of the boat signaling the receding tide and the wind from the south, blowing upriver, right into the side of the boat.
For a long while I lay in bed, the sound of the waves slapping against the hull next to my head, echoing through the steel and dulled by the wooden siding. The duvet was warm and it was easy to stay there, the rectangle of skylight directly above showing the blackness turning to dark blue, and gray, and then I could see the clouds scudding overhead, giving the odd impression of moving at speed — the boat moving rather than the clouds. And then, that discomfort again.
It wasn't seasickness, or river-sickness, for that matter: I was used to it now, nearly five months after I had left London. Five months living aboard. There was still a momentary shock when my feet hit the solid ground of the path to the parking lot, a few wobbly steps, but it was never long before I felt steady again.
It was a gray sort of a day — not ideal for the get-together later, but that was my own fault for planning a party in September. "Back to school" weather, the wind whistling across the deck when I got up and put my head out of the wheelhouse. No, it wasn't the tide, or the thought of the mismatched group of people who would be descending on my boat later today. There was something else. I felt as though someone had rubbed my fur the wrong way.
The plan for the day: finish the rest of the wood siding for the second room, the room that was going to be a guest bedroom at some point in the future. Clear away all the carpentry tools and store them in the bow. Sweep out the boat, clean up a bit. Then see if I could bum a ride to the store for party food and beer.
There was one wall left to do, an odd shape, which was why I had left it till last. The room was full of sawdust and wood remnants, scraps of edging and sandpaper. I'd done the measurements last night, but now, frowning at the piece of paper, I decided to recheck it all just to be on the safe side. When I had sided the galley, I'd ended up wasting a load of wood because I'd misread my own measurements.
I put the radio on, turned up loud even though I still couldn't hear it above the miter saw, and got to work.
At nine, I stopped and went back through to the galley for a coffee. I filled the kettle and put it on the gas burner. The boat was a mess. It was only occasionally that I noticed it. Glancing around, I scanned last night's take-out containers hurriedly shoved into a shopping bag ready to go out to the garbage cans. Dirty dishes in the sink. Pans and other items in boxes sitting on one of the dinette seats waiting to be put away, now that I had finally installed cabinet doors in the galley. A black plastic bag of fabric that would one day be curtains and cushion covers. None of it mattered when I was the only one in here, but in a few hours' time this boat would be full of people and I had promised them that the renovations were almost complete. Almost complete? That was stretching the truth a little thin. I had finished the bedroom, and the living room wasn't bad. The galley was done, too, but needed cleaning and tidying. The bathroom was — well, the kindest thing that could be said about it was that it was functional. As for the rest of it — the vast space in the bow that would one day be a bigger bathroom with a bath, as well as a true shower instead of a hose; a wide deck garden area with a sliding glass roof (an ambitious plan, but I'd seen one in a magazine and it looked so fantastic that it was the one project I was determined to complete); and maybe a study or an office or another unnamed room that would be wonderful and cozy and magical — for the moment, it worked as storage.
The kettle started a low whistle, and I rinsed a mug under the tap and spooned in some instant coffee, two spoons: I needed the caffeine.
A pair of boots crossed my field of vision through the porthole, level with the dock outside, shortly followed by a call from the deck. "Genevieve?"
"Down here. Kettle's just boiled."
Moments later Joanna trotted down the steps and into the main cabin. She was dressed in a miniskirt, with thick socks and heavy boots, the laces trailing, on the ends of her skinny legs. The top half of her was counterbalanced by one of Liam's sweaters, a navy blue one, flecked with bits of sawdust and twig and cat hair. Her hair was a tangle of curls and waves of various colors.
"No, thanks, not for me — we're off in a minute. I just came to ask what time we should come over later, and do you want us to bring a lasagna as well as the cheesecake? And Liam says he's got some beers left over from the barbecue, he'll be bringing those."
She had a bruise on her cheek. Joanna didn't wear makeup, wouldn't have known what to do with it, so there it was — livid and purplish, under her left eye.
"What happened to your face?"
"Oh, don't you start. I had a fight with my sister."
"Come up on deck, I need a smoke."
The wind was still whipping, so we sat on the bench by the wheelhouse. The sun was trying to make its way through the scudding clouds but failing. Across the other side of the marina I could see Liam loading boxes and shopping bags into the back of their battered Ford van.
Joanna fished around in the pocket of her skirt and brought forth a pouch of tobacco. "The way I see it," she said, "she should keep her fucking nose out of my business."
"She thinks she's all that because she's got herself a mortgage at the age of twenty- two."
"Mortgages aren't all they're cracked up to be."
"Exactly!" Joanna said with emphasis. "That's what I said to her. I've got everything she's got without the burden of debt.
And I don't have to mow any lawn."
"So that's what you were fighting about?"
Joanna was quiet for a moment, her eyes wandering over to the parking lot, where Liam stood, hands on his hips, before pointedly looking at his wristwatch and climbing into the driver's seat. Above the sounds of the marina — drilling coming from the workshop, the sound of the radio down in the cabin, the distant roar of the traffic from the highway bridge — the van's diesel rattle started up.
"Fuck it, I'd better go," she said. She shoved the pouch back into her pocket and lit the skinny cigarette she'd just managed to fill. "About seven? Eight? What?"
I shrugged. "I don't know. Sevenish? Lasagna sounds lovely, but don't go to any trouble."
"It's no trouble. Liam's made it."
With a backward wave, Joanna took one quick hop step down the gangplank and onto the dock, running despite the boots across the grassy bank and up to the parking lot. The van was taking little jumps forward as though it couldn't wait to be gone.
* * *
At four, the cabin was finally finished. A bare shell, but at least now it was a bare wooden shell. The walls were clad, and the berth built along the far wall, under the porthole. Where the mattress would sit, two trapdoors with round finger holes in the board accessed the storage compartment underneath. The rest of it was pale wood in neat paneling, carved pine edging covering the joins and corners. It would look less like a sauna once it got a coat of paint, I thought. By next weekend it would be entirely different.
Clearing away the debris of my most recent foray into carpentry took longer than I thought it would. I had crates for the tools, but I hadn't bothered to put them away into the storage area since I'd started work on the bedroom, months ago. I lugged the crates forward into the bow, through a hatch and into the cavernous space below. Three steps down, watching my head on the low ceiling, stowing the crates to the side. It was only when I made the last trip, carrying the black plastic bag of fabric from the dinette and throwing it into the front compartment, that I found myself looking into the darkest of the spaces to see if the box was still there. I could just about see it in the gloomy light from the cabin above; on the side of it was written, in thick black marker: kitchen stuff.
I had a sudden urge to look, to check that the box still held its contents. Of course it did, I told myself. Nobody's been down here since you put it there.
Stooping, I crossed the three wooden pallets that served as a floor, braced myself against the sides of the hull, and crouched next to the box. kitchen stuff. The top two-thirds was full of garbage I'd brought from the London flat — spatulas, wooden spoons, a Denby teapot with a crack in the top, a whisk, a blender that didn't work, an ice cream scoop, and various cake pans nested inside one another. Below that was a sheet of cardboard that might, to the casual observer, look sufficiently like the bottom of the box to deter further investigation.
I folded the cardboard top of the box back down and tucked the other flap underneath it.
From the back pocket of my jeans I took out a cell phone. I found the address book and the only number that was saved there: garland. That was all it said. It wasn't even his name. It would be so easy to press the little green button now and call him. What would I say? Maybe I could just ask him if he wanted to come tonight. "Come to my party, Dylan. It's just a few close friends. I'd love to see you."
What would he say? He'd be angry, shocked that I'd used the phone when he'd expressly told me not to. It was only there for one purpose, he'd told me. It was only for him to call me, and only when he was ready to make the pickup. Not before. If I ever had a call on it from another number, I shouldn't answer. I closed my eyes for a moment, for a brief second allowing myself the indulgence of remembering him. Then I put the screen lock back on the phone so it didn't accidentally dial any numbers, least of all his, and I shoved it in my pocket and made my way back to the cabin.
Excerpted from Dark Tide by Elizabeth Haynes. Copyright © 2013 by Elizabeth Haynes. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
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