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I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and stuffed my feet into my slippers and switched on my bedside lamp. Beside me the novel I was reading lay opened and facedown.
It wasn't just the blizzard that was keeping me awake. Rod should have called today. We should have heard something one way or the other by now. This was stupid, I thought, yawning and tying my terry cloth robe around me. What could I do right now, anyway? I couldn't exactly phone him at three in the morning, could I? I walked out into the hall, as another wintry blast shook my little house. The storm was worsening, as predicted.
I gathered my hair up off my neck and tried to still my thoughts. This was insane. I was just nervous, that's all it was. This project that Rod and I had bid on was just that—another project. There would be more projects. At least, that's what I tried to tell myself. Never mind that this was the biggest contract to come down the pike in a long time.
I made my way across to Maddy's room to check on her. We both needed the money this project would provide. If I was lucky, the money might just be enough to pay off all my credit cards. There were always unforeseen expenses with Maddy, with her special needs, plus there were all the normalthings she wanted, like a new pair of ice skates. New ones, she kept insisting. Not secondhand ones. If we got the project, brand-new ones would be no problem.
As the wind increased, rattling the panes, I also thought about Rod. He and his wife Jolene were expecting their first baby, a daughter, in just a few weeks. They, too, were relying on this money.
And then there was Mark Bishop—newly hired, specifically for this project. What would he do if we lost it? In the two weeks he and I had worked together, we'd gotten to know each other pretty well—enough to know that we clicked. We spoke the same language—boats and boat design. We'd had many long discussions about sailing in rough weather, racing in light winds and whether Kevlar was better than nylon for small, light wind boats.
But not about personal things. I knew very little about his private life. All I knew was that he wasn't married and that he had moved to Nova Scotia from Florida, where he'd worked at a marina. For all I knew, he could have a girlfriend stashed away somewhere, or even a fiancée. But it went both ways. He didn't know anything about me, either. I have a whole lot of secret places that no one can enter.
So, whenever I start getting lost in his eyes, and start imagining how wonderful it would be to sail around the world with him, I have to call myself back. Even so, Jolene had decided early on that Mark and I were perfect for each other. Sometimes she could be worse than a mother, trying to fix me up with every and any available bachelor.
Why was I driving myself crazy on a snowy night? Mark and I would be working together for a long time. The contract was "in the bag." Those had been Rod's exact words. Yet, why hadn't we gotten any word? We should've heard a week ago.
The smoke detector in the hall chirped briefly, which is what it does when the power surges. I glanced up at it. This was promising to be the biggest winter storm of the season.
"Got your flashlights and candles?" Mark had said to me as we left work that afternoon. The early evening clouds had hovered gray, low and leaden above us.
"I think I'm ready," I said.
"Hey, you want to grab a coffee somewhere?" he had asked. I was momentarily taken aback. In the two weeks we had known each other, he had never suggested that just he and I go out. It was always the three of us, Mark, Rod and me, sitting together at the coffee shop on the corner, talking about budgets, plans or how we would fulfill the contract in the time allotted. Was this a work thing or a date?
"I have to get home to my daughter," I said. "I want to get us settled before it snows."
He knew I had a daughter, but not anything about her or why it was I had to get home early. I didn't date much.
The few men I'd gone out with over the past eight years had run, not walked, away from me when they'd found out about my daughter.
"Well, then," he had said, nodding his head slightly toward me. If he'd been wearing a cap, he would have tipped it—it was that sort of gesture. "We'll see each other on Monday. Stay warm this weekend."
A huge Nor'easter, which had been making its way up the Atlantic coast for days now, was finally reaching us here in Halifax. I had already done all the requisite things; stocked up on flashlight batteries and candles and made sure all my doors and windows were tightly closed. I had also filled the bathtub and containers with water, plus we had plenty of food. One never knew.
Despite the wind tonight, despite the storm, my daughter Maddy was tucked into bed and sleeping soundly, her soft, stuffed yellow animal, Curly Duck, nestled in the crook of her neck. I watched her for a minute before I bent down and pushed a ringlet out of her face. So peaceful. How I longed for that sort of peace in my own life. I ran the back of my finger over the smoothness of her cheek. She flinched slightly, but didn't waken. I pulled the blankets up around her chin and bent down to give her a whisper of a kiss on her forehead.
I rose. For a few moments I leaned against the door-jamb and watched her sleep. She's the only good thing that came out of a one-year marriage to a philandering bum.
I crept downstairs, wiping the sleep more thoroughly out of my eyes. I sat down at my quasi-drafting table in my studio/office. It had started out as a dining room in another life, but now was firmly devoted to my boat designs. My eyes blurred when I looked down at the technical drawings for the boat I was designing. Absently, I rubbed an eyebrow with the end of my pencil.
I looked up and out toward the back of my house. It was too dark to see, but I could feel the wind, fingering its way through the cracks around my windows, snow firmly in its grip.
I checked my e-mail. Nothing yet from Rod. As if there would be. Hadn't I checked it a dozen times before I went to bed at eleven?
Rod and Jolene own Maritime Nautical. Boat builders hire him to design sail-to-keel ratios, rudder length and shape. Rod and I were classmates at Memorial University in Newfoundland and we both have degrees in marine engineering technology.
His wife, Jolene, has been my best friend since high school. She has a degree in Business Administration and runs the business end of the company.
When I went to Newfoundland to study marine design, she stayed in Prince Edward Island and went to university there. Halfway through my last year at Memorial, Jolene came up to visit me. As soon as she and Rod met, sparks flew, and they've been together ever since. They were married shortly after Maddy was born, and have been trying, almost from the beginning, to have a baby.
About ten years ago Rod, Sterling Roarke and I, all engineering classmates, decided we'd go into business for ourselves. I ended up marrying Sterling. Within a year I was pregnant and Sterling was running around. It was only after we divorced that I learned the extent of his affairs. He also ran the business into the ground by not getting proposals ready on time, promising things and not following through and lying to me and to Rod. Nine years ago, Rod, Jolene and I decided to let him go and strike out on our own. I was eight months pregnant at the time.
We moved the business to Halifax, despite my misgivings about living here. After Maddy was born, I knew I couldn't work full-time. I've been taking the odd contract here and there, working from home. And then, of course, there is my own little sailboat that I've been fine-tuning and tweaking forever. I rested my forehead in one hand as I studied my sketchbook.
The project I was so worried about on this stormy night was a biggie. It would mean going back to full-time work. This was my chance, and I was ready, really ready. Maddy was doing well these days—remarkably so. When Rod called me two weeks ago, I figured fate or God was handing me a gift. Maybe things were looking up for me, finally.
The contract was to design from the keel up, a twenty-foot day sailer/racer for one of the foremost boat builders in Maine. It had to be fast. It had to win races. I looked down at my preliminary sketches. If I shaved a bit off the front end of the keel And then the worries nagged again. Could I do this? What if I fail? What if they hate my designs? Even though I'd tested it on a million computer programs, there was no guarantee. The best computer program cannot totally duplicate what a real body of water does.
And then there was Maddy to think about. What if Maddy needed help in school and I wasn't there? I was feeling a vague unease and I wasn't quite sure why. I glanced at the time readout on my computer. Three-ten. I really should go back upstairs and try to get some sleep.
I've had insomnia for as long as I can remember. It goes back at least to when Maddy was born and I realized that I would be raising her on my own. It intensified ten months later when I learned the extent of her disabilities. Maddy is profoundly deaf.
A blast of storm hit the side of my house. From the dining room there was a door to a large wooden sun-deck, and the wind came at it with such a ferocity that it seemed personal. I hugged my arms around me while the drapes quivered. I could feel the storm from here.
I turned up the thermostat. Then I walked around the first floor of my small house, touching things as I passed them; my glass model boat, the newest sailing mystery from the library, a pair of Maddy's gloves, her stuffed teddy bear, the framed picture of my parents. I don't know why I was doing this pacing. Nerves, perhaps?
Then I sat down in front of my drawing, picked up the remote and aimed it at the little television I keep perched on a wobbly end table. Maybe there would be news about the storm. Or maybe the sound of it would keep me company on this uneasy, lonely night.
On the all-news channel, a weather announcer stood in front of a map of the east coast and indicated with a sweep of her hand, the track of the storm. It would gain in intensity throughout the night, she said, and peter out by late morning or early afternoon. Scrolling along the bottom of the TV screen in red were the words, "Severe weather watch for all of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and parts of New Brunswick. Stay tuned to local broadcasts for more information."
Scrabbles of snow hit my glass windows and slithered down like ghostly spiders. The cups in my kitchen cupboard rattled slightly against each other. I rose and stood beside the window and looked out. Snow swirled sideways underneath the streetlights.
"Please, God," I found myself praying, "Watch over us." I chided myself for praying. A long time ago I gave up on God. Yet, at times like this, I pray.
The news channel switched to another item and suddenly my attention jerked abruptly to the television screen. There I found myself looking into the face of the very person who had kept me looking over my shoulder all these years.
Something like lead settled in my stomach. Larry Fremont is the reason I am no longer a Christian. Larry Fremont is the reason I gave up on prayer. I sat down at my table and watched the screen. Another gasp of wind made my house shudder.
One of the richest men in Halifax, Larry Fremont's name has been linked to more than a few shady dealings down through the years. My fingers trembled. It's not like I hadn't seen his face in the newspapers or on posters, billboards or TV before. He'd run for mayor of Halifax a while back. He didn't get elected—maybe the people were too smart. He was one of those rich entrepreneurs who manages always to be in the public eye. Just like his mother, I thought. Something deep inside me groaned and I felt a rising nausea.
I ran a hand through my hair and swallowed. Most of the time I can forget what Larry Fremont did to my family. Most of the time I can follow my father's advice to put it behind me. Or my mother's when she says, "Some things, Alicia, are best left buried." Most of the time I can do that, not turn over the slime-covered rocks of the past. But tonight, with the winter storm battering my home and my thoughts, it all came back to me in crystal clarity. I aimed the remote at the screen and cranked up the volume, wondering if it would wake up Maddy. If it's loud enough she can feel the vibrations through the floorboards.
Even though Larry and I lived in the same city now, we had never bumped into each other on the street, which was a blessing. Had I been crazy to move to the same city in which he lived? Sometimes I thought so.
One thing I had done was keep my married name. Maybe that gave me an edge of protection. Or maybe I was only fooling myself.
I kept my eye on the television. There had been a death. His personal accountant or lawyer, someone named Paul Ashton, had been found dead in his hotel room in Portland, Maine. It was believed that Ashton had a heart condition.
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