Disclaimers: This is a work of original fiction. All the characters are mine. Please refrain from copying or linking to this story without the author's consent.
"Hello? Anybody here?" Adrienne Pierce called into the open bay of the small roadside gas station.
“Ayah,” a voice replied from somewhere inside the repair area. A thin, friendly looking man in his late fifties, dressed in stained coveralls, came out of the building wiping his hands casually on a grease-spattered rag. He smiled at Adrienne expectantly. "Can I help you?"
“I hope so,” Adrienne replied. “I’m looking for the turnoff to Whitley Point. My directions said it should be near here, but I can’t seem to find it.”
“Not from around here, are you?” he inquired conversationally. His broad New England accent contrasted sharply with her clipped, precise cadence. He busied himself cleaning the road grit from her windshield while he studied her from the corner of his eye. Tall, trim, very elegant. Golden-blonde hair just beyond short, stylishly layered and carelessly pushed back from her face. Casual chinos and cotton shirt that fit her neatly.
Adrienne smiled, a smile tinged with sadness. “I guess that’s pretty obvious. I’m from the West Coast.”
“You’re pretty far from home, I’ll say,” he said, reaching into his pockets for a cigarette. “Got friends on the Point?” he inquired, leaning against the bumper, appearing for all the world as if he were settling in for a long chat.
You have no idea how far from home I am. So far I hardly recognize my life anymore.
Adrienne looked at him, struggling between annoyance and amusement. Obviously he wasn’t in any hurry, and she decided she might as well get into the spirit of his slow easy manner. After all, she had come all this way to relax and leave the turmoil of the last few months behind.
She tried to put a conversational tone into her voice. “I don’t know a soul at Whitley Point. I’m leasing a house there for the next six months, and I’d really like to find it before dark.”
He nodded, gave a last swipe at the spotted windshield, and stubbed his half-smoked cigarette out with the toe of his reinforced boot. “I’m trying to quit, so I only smoke them half way down,” he offered as if he needed to explain. “It’s a real pretty place, Whitley Point. I used to work out there when I was a boy. That was back when Charles Whitley, Sr. was still alive, before the island was developed.”
“I thought the island was privately owned by the Whitleys," Adrienne said, interested in spite of her urgency to get back on the road.
“Still is,” he continued. “The whole north half of the island is the Whitley family estate, but there are some private homes too, on the southern end."
Adrienne had heard some of this before, but she was still impressed. The idea of a family dynasty as powerful as the Whitley empire intrigued her. It was far different than her own experience growing up in a working class family. It was partly that fascination which had prompted her to inquire about the house for rent when she had come across it by chance in a magazine. She had been searching for some graceful way to escape from the overly solicitous attentions of her family, and this had seemed the perfect opportunity. She was grateful to her parents for offering her a refuge of sorts when she needed one, but recently she found their thinly veiled pity too oppressive to bear. They, in turn, had seemed almost relieved when she left.
“I thought the younger Whitley was dead, too,” Adrienne queried, forcing her thoughts back to the present.
“He is,” her companion informed her. “Died almost ten years ago in a freak storm out at sea—they found his body way down the coast days later. Never could understand how he let himself get caught so far out to sea in gale weather. Any native knows how fast those storms blow in—and Whitley was a mighty fine sailor. Maybe it was fate. Anyhow, now his widow manages things on the island, although I hear she leaves most of the business matters to the corporation.” He squinted up at the quickly setting sun and added, “Well, I guess you’ll want to be getting on.”
Adrienne suppressed a smile and nodded solemnly. “Perhaps I should be.”
She finally learned that she would have found the sign for Whitley Point had she driven two miles further down the road. Her new acquaintance informed her that she should, in fact, reach the southern end of Whitley Point in less than half an hour. Adrienne said good-bye with some reluctance. She couldn’t remember the last time she had held a conversation with anyone that hadn’t been filled with embarrassed pauses or awkward silences. It was good to be treated like an ordinary person again. She waved as she pulled out of the parking lot, suddenly eager to reach a safe haven.
Safe haven. Is there really such a place for me?
She had come three thousand miles in search of one.
Adrienne crossed the causeway onto the island and followed the narrow coast road that wound north on the ocean side. She marveled at how untouched by the modern world the surrounding shoreland appeared. Only her headlights broke the darkness as she carefully followed the twisting highway. Occasionally she caught glimpses of lights through the trees, but she couldn’t make out any structures from the road. The sea breeze gusted in through her open windows, bringing with it a sudden pang of nostalgia. How she missed the ocean! Despite her melancholy mood, being near the water soothed her, and even after many hours on the road, she felt strangely rested. Her mind was drifting, lulled by the sounds of the sea, and she almost passed the small painted sign that announced the turnoff to Eagle Lane. She braked quickly and negotiated the turn faster than she had intended, feeling the chassis shake under her. Her heart raced as she pulled the big car out of a near spin.
I’d better stay awake if I’m going to get there in one piece. After all this, is it would be rotten luck to die in a car crash.
She drove with all her attention on the road until she found the house, looming up in the darkness, all angles and edges. Adrienne sat in her car for a few moments, staring. It was huge! She could make out a wide porch and what looked like a top floor deck winding around the side toward the rear. The ground level was comprised of a garage and a semi-enclosed storage area. The living space actually started on the second floor - a precaution against tidal floods, she imagined.
She finally gathered her suitcases, maneuvered them up the wide front steps, and set out to explore her new home. The spacious bedroom, she discovered to her delight, was in the rear and adjoined the deck. She immediately opened the sliding doors to admit a breeze. She could just make out the shore a hundred yards below her. It was a beautiful setting, and for a fleeting instant she wished she had someone to share it with. She quickly banished that thought, as she had done so many times in the last year. That too, was part of her past.
Suddenly weary, she kicked off her shoes and stretched out on the bed, fully clothed. Within seconds, she was asleep, and mercifully – she did not dream.
Five miles up the road, Tanner slammed the door of her seaside bungalow and sprinted toward her Jaguar. She gunned the engine and roared from the drive amidst a shower of gravel. She tore down the coast road, her headlights slashing through the night. If she had left ten minutes earlier, she would have passed Adrienne’s car on the road. As it was, she saw no one as she hurtled toward her destination. Despite the chill night air, she had the top down on the sleek convertible and the radio turned up, all six speakers blasting. She drummed her fingers impatiently against the steering wheel, maneuvering the twisting turns from memory. When she pulled into a hidden driveway near the south end of the island, careening to a stop behind a long line of sports coupes and roadsters, the party was already in full swing. All of the windows were open on the second floor of the large house, loud music pulsating into the night. Tanner sauntered through the crowd of people gathered on the wide front stairs and made her way into the house. She nodded as friends called a greeting and moved toward the bar set into an alcove on one side of the spacious living area.
“Tanner!” a young man shouted, trying to be heard over the pounding music and din of excited voices. “Glad you could make it! What are you drinking?”
“Scotch,” she replied. She accepted her drink with a smile and turned to survey the room. Most of the island's young were present, all of them eager to initiate the summer season with abandon. Many of the faces she recognized. For the most part, they were the sons and daughters of the island’s most wealthy families, home for the summer from expensive universities or simply idling away time they had no better use for. Tanner was no different. She had just returned from a six-month tour of Europe that she had found repetitive and boring.
"So, what are your plans?" the handsome blond asked her.
She shrugged, sipped her drink, not really tasting it. She simply waited for the burning to dissolve into a few hours of numbness. She had no plans. She gave little thought to anything beyond the moment. At least, she tried not to. Tomorrow was a lie, a dream that disappeared with the sunrise. And when she couldn't ignore the oppressive pointlessness of her days, she sought satisfaction in the superficial social life of the island. Unfortunately, keeping apathy at bay was a losing proposition.
"Still waiting for Princess Charming?" Todd Barrow prodded good-naturedly. He had known Tanner since they were children. They had even dated semi-seriously during high school. Both their families had assumed that they would someday marry. It seemed like a natural match. They had remained friends even after Tanner had told him she wasn’t interested in anything other than friendship, and why. Todd regarded her now with a mixture of bewilderment and fondness.
She laughed bitterly. "Afraid not. I've outgrown fairy tales." About ten years ago.
“Really? I thought the young and the innocent were your favorite types,” he responded flippantly.
“Innocence is the last thing I want,” she continued in a strangely hollow voice. Let them find out from someone else that dreams don't come true.
“Are you getting cynical in your old age?” he inquired, his tone still light but his eyes serious. It was rare for Tanner to admit she had doubts or reservations about anything. Despite their long friendship, they hadn't talked intimately in years. Tanner had always been an intensely private person, and perhaps the reason they had remained friends for so long was that he never pried. If she wanted people to believe that she was no more than the rich playgirl she appeared, Todd saw no reason to challenge that image. But he remembered the nights lying beside her out on the beach, sharing their hopes, and their fears. Once upon a time, she had dreamed.
Tanner stared into the night. “I don’t know what you’d call it. I just don’t find the chase quite as much fun anymore.”
“Too easy?” He knew from his own experience that it was often his money and status that attracted others, not himself personally.
“Not that so much,” she continued with unaccustomed reflection. “I just don't enjoy winning any more.” She laughed at herself suddenly, shaking her thick, unruly dark hair out of her eyes. “Come on—let’s go find some other kind of action.” She didn’t feel like being serious tonight, and she certainly didn’t feel like thinking about the women that she had left in tears, or the broken hearts she had never wanted in the first place.
“I know just what you need,” Todd said with a grin, slipping his arm around her waist. “Come on!”
They joined a group of women and men in a room dense with smoke. Some people passed a joint, while others sat around a low table where lines of white crystals were carefully arranged. Conversation flowed as everyone sampled the various substances available. Tanner sat down with several friends and returned their greetings as she helped herself. She didn’t know who had provided the drugs and it didn’t matter. They were as much a part of the group’s party offering as alcohol. Tanner stayed a while and then followed the flow of people outside onto the expansive deck. She picked up another scotch on the way and settled comfortably into a lounge chair. She felt re-energized and couldn’t recall why she had been so bothered earlier. Nothing ever really changed.
The starlit sky illuminated the ocean and pristine shoreline, moonlight glinting off the cresting waves. The surf thundered distantly, a steady reassuring backdrop to the rise and fall of voices around her. Even though she had seen it thousands of times, it stirred her still, and for one brief moment, she longed to escape onto the sea.
A young redhead she had never seen before leaned over her and offered a joint. Tanner accepted automatically, then passed it back.
“Great party, isn’t it?” the girl said to her as she exhaled the smoke in a long thin stream.
“Sure,” Tanner replied, her stark features flickering with dark amusement. “First time out here?” The shapely youth looked to be eighteen – maybe.
“How did you know?” the redhead asked in surprise. She rested her hand casually on Tanner's bare forearm, stroking very lightly.
Tanner eyed her trim figure and pretty features appreciatively and grinned. “Because I know everyone on this island, and I’ve never seen you before. I’m sure I’d remember if I had.”
“Well, I know who you are,” her companion responded coyly. “I saw you at the Davis’ beach party last year. Except then you weren’t alone.”
“Really?” Tanner replied, playing the game that was second nature to her. “I am tonight. What’s your name?”
Tanner stared at her for a moment, noting the eager look in her eyes. How easy it would be – and how pointless. She shook her head, not wanting to pursue that thought. But the conquest didn't interest her either, even with such an attractive partner. And that was new.
“You should be careful, Jeanette—sometimes you get more than you bargained for at these parties,” she said as she gently disengaged the fingers from her arm.
“Look me up later—if you get lonely,” Jeanette called as she slipped into the crowd, already looking for the next interesting face.
Tanner closed her eyes, and imagined the sway of the deck under her feet, and the sound of the wind whipping the sails. The water surrounded her on all sides. So beautiful, so peaceful—so deadly.
“Find what you were looking for in Europe?” a low sultry voice very near her ear inquired, stirring her from her reverie.
Tanner looked up, her eyes still cloudy with memory, her speech languid and rich. “What makes you think I was looking for anything at all?”
The woman laughed, settling herself on the chaise next to Tanner. She placed her hand softly on Tanner’s leg. “Because you’ve been looking for something for years. That’s why you never stay in one place for long. And why you never stay with one person either.”
“You make me sound very mysterious,” Tanner said, draining her scotch and tracing a finger along the older woman's palm.
“Just hard to please.”
Tanner regarded her playfully. She was so close her breath warmed the skin on Tanner's neck. Tanner felt her body's automatic response. “I never noticed you had much trouble in that department.”
“I didn’t think you remembered.”
“I haven't forgotten, but my memory could use a little refreshing,” Tanner continued, shifting so that her companion's hand rested on her inner thigh.
The woman searched for a sign of welcome in Tanner's dark eyes, but found them as unreadable as the ocean's depths. She stood, tugging on Tanner’s hand. “Let’s go for a ride. Maybe I can improve your recollections.”
Whitley Point looked different to Adrienne by daylight. She awakened to early morning sunlight streaming through the open windows onto her bed. She showered, luxuriating in the cool stream of water that seemed to wash away more than the after-effects of a twelve-hour drive. She began to relax for the first time in weeks. The ocean beckoned to her, and she looked forward to a walk on the beach. The May morning was cool, and she pulled a sweater on over a tee shirt and jeans. She frowned at the loose fit of her clothes. She had lost weight, and at five-eight she had never had much to spare even when at her healthiest. That's behind you, now she reminded herself, wishing she could believe it.
She followed a well-worn path down toward the water, winding between rippling dunes that separated the beach from the inner island. As she walked, she noticed houses secluded behind clusters of trees that hadn’t been apparent the night before. Even by daylight, they blended unobtrusively with the landscape, and she noted appreciatively how the construction and clean simple design of the buildings preserved the natural beauty of the environment. It was obvious that someone had gone to considerable effort to protect the wild nature of the island.
The sound of the surf led her north, and when she rounded the last dune, she halted abruptly. Stretched before her was one of the most beautiful coastlines she had ever seen. In either direction, the beach undulated between the ocean and the rising sands for as far as she could see. On the seaward side of the island, the waves came in at full strength, cresting and breaking off shore. She stood still for some time, listening to the rhythm of the sea. Finally, she began to walk toward the far end of the island, following the irregular shoreline. The tide was on its way out. Sand crabs scuttled along the wet beach, disappearing into holes in the sand as she drew near. She used to make a game of trying to sneak up on them, but she had never gotten close. They were private creatures.
Now she didn’t impinge on their desire for solitude. She understood it. Lately she had begun to feel somewhat like the shy creatures herself. She avoided people as much as possible, and when she could not, she remained politely aloof. She had withdrawn into herself as instinctively as the little animals did into their sanctuaries in the sand. She was barely aware of her behavior, it had occurred so gradually over the past year. It had become increasingly difficult for her to maintain the kinds of relationships she had once enjoyed. She could sense the change in people's attitudes towards her, and rather than struggle with their discomfort and her own, she had simply adjusted to it.
Such thoughts were far from her conscious mind now, however. The gusting wind from the water invigorated her, and she wished she had worn running shoes. Adrienne smiled at the thought. She hadn’t run in months. It had once been a daily ritual for her—to rise early and run on the beach. It had helped her to face the hours of meetings and indoor obligations with equanimity. This morning she occupied herself instead with getting to know her new surroundings. The East Coast was very different from Southern California, where she had lived for the last fifteen years. The shoreline was lower, less threatening; the ocean somehow mellower. The ever-present power of the raging Pacific was absent here, but the sea nevertheless seemed fathomless, full of secrets.
Adrienne found herself wondering if the answers to her many questions lay hidden on the barren expanse of this shore. She had never felt so alone, so unable to confide in anyone. She didn't know how to voice her deep uncertainties. Almost out of necessity, she had learned to accept her solitude. The loneliness that accompanied it had become a familiar companion.
As she rounded a bend in the island, almost a mile from where she had started, she saw a large dark, shaggy shape rise up out of the ground not twenty feet in front of her. She stopped suddenly, stifling a cry of surprise, and stared at the apparition. After a moment she laughed quietly to herself when she recognized the square head and massive body of a Newfoundland. The dog stood motionless, surveying her with a calm but curious expression.
Adrienne advanced slowly, softly calling, “Hi there, pooch. What are you doing out here so early, huh?” The dog didn’t seem at all disturbed by her presence, but Adrienne was wary. She didn’t relish the thought of an early morning sprint down the beach with an angry dog at her heels.
She gasped in shock, close enough now to see a body crumpled in the sand on the far side of the vigilant animal. Images from a dozen movies -- the faithful companion guarding its master’s dead body --flashed through her head. She steeled herself for the horrible sight she was sure was to come, and advanced slowly, continuing to murmur in what she hoped was a reassuring voice to the dog.
“Oh, Christ!” she muttered when she was close enough to see that the figure, half-turned away from her, was that of a woman. The curve of hip and disheveled collar-length hair left little room for doubt. Instinctively, she looked over her shoulder, wondering if some psychopath still lurked behind the dunes. The beach was deserted except for the dog and the still figure before her.
The dog’s tail was wagging, and Adrienne decided she could risk a closer look. Taking a deep breath, she grasped an arm and rolled the body over. The pale face was framed with tousled black hair, scattered throughout with bits of twigs and sand. Her features were boldly sculpted, with a strong nose and square chin framing full, rich lips. Just as Adrienne reached out tentatively to touch the woman's face, nearly translucent eyelids fluttered open to reveal dark, unfocused eyes. Adrienne stood transfixed, staring down, captured by those eyes. For an instant there was a hint of innocence, and something lost, swirling in their depths. It wasn’t until the searching gaze settled questioningly on Adrienne’s face that Adrienne found her voice.
“God, you frightened me! Are you hurt?” she exclaimed.
“Eternally,” a husky voice replied.
Adrienne leaned back a little as a powerful wave of alcoholic fumes exuding from the prone figure hit her.
“Bull,” Adrienne uttered in exasperation, annoyed now at her earlier fears, “You’re not hurt—you’re just drunk!”
The dark-haired stranger made an attempt to sit up and fell back into the sand groaning. “Right now that amounts to the same thing,” she gasped.
The whole scene was so ridiculous Adrienne had to laugh. “How long have you been here?”
“That depends,” came the weak reply. “If today is still Saturday—a few hours. If it’s not, then you’ll have to tell me.”
“Must have been some party,” Adrienne muttered as she watched the young woman finally manage to attain an upright position. She wore a light cotton shirt that was half unbuttoned, and Adrienne hastily averted her eyes from the full curve of barely covered breasts beneath. She could see that the arms supporting the woman’s bowed head were firmly but sleekly muscled, as were the denim-clad legs. She looked to be in her mid-twenties, a good ten years or so Adrienne's junior. Adrienne was caught staring as deep brown eyes, now clear, suddenly fixed her with piecing intensity, and the pale face lit up with a brilliant smile.
“Hello, by the way. I’m Tanner.”
“Adrienne Pierce,” Adrienne answered somewhat stiffly, annoyed that she had been caught up in this absurd melodrama. All she had wanted was a quiet walk on the beach!
Tanner leaned her cheek on her knee and studied the woman standing ramrod straight before her. Blue eyes like chips of flint met hers coolly. The face seemed flawless except for the signs of strain that showed in the fine lines around her mouth and eyes. Tanner wondered briefly what was bothering her so much, but the thought passed quickly as her pounding headache penetrated her slowly awakening mind.
“Ugh!” Tanner grimaced. “If I look half as bad as I feel, I’m surprised you didn’t run immediately for the body bag.”
Adrienne thought Tanner looked remarkably attractive for someone who had just spent the night in a drunken stupor on the ground, but she certainly wasn’t going to say so. “Well, I can’t say much for your choice of sleeping places,” she commented dryly. “Besides, your dog may be good company, but she isn’t big on protection. She let me walk right up to you.”
Tanner managed a slightly flirtatious grin despite her splitting headache. She wanted to crack that ice-cold facade. She wasn't sure why it should matter – but it did. “Sam probably knew I would be safe with you.”
Adrienne remained impassive. Tanner was lovely to be sure, with her devilish grin and confident charm, but she was obviously trouble. “Now that you’re awake, and reasonably oriented in time and space, I’ll leave you to find your way home when you’re up to it.” She turned to go but was restrained by a surprisingly firm grip on her arm. Tanner had risen and stood unsteadily beside her.
“Wait a minute, please,” Tanner said anxiously. “I don’t even know where you live. I’d like to talk to you sometime when I can make a more civilized impression.”
Adrienne laughed softly. “I have a feeling you’re never entirely civilized. Besides, I doubt that we’d have much in common. I’m here on R and R—that’s short for reading and resting at this particular point in time. A sabbatical of sorts from the real world. I’m sure you’d find that dull.”
Tanner regarded her intently, the expression on her face impossible to decipher. “Actually, Adrienne, all of us on Whitley Point are attempting to escape life in one way or another. It seems that you’ve come to the right place if it’s the real world you want to avoid.”
Adrienne was surprised by the thinly veiled bitterness in Tanner’s voice, but she didn’t want to probe for its source. She didn’t have the energy for someone else’s problems. She could barely manage her own. “I didn’t mean it quite the way it sounded,” she said lightly. “I’m just not very interested in socializing these days. Perhaps we will run into each other some time. Take care of yourself,” she finished lamely as she resolutely turned to leave.
Tanner watched the tall, thin figure striding purposefully away for a few seconds and then called to her retreating back, “Good-bye—and thanks for rescuing me!”
Tanner thought she heard faint laughter, but Adrienne did not alter her step. Tanner continued to stare after her until she rounded the curve of the shoreline and disappeared from view. She ran both hands through her disheveled hair and straightened her shirt. Moving slowly in an attempt to reduce the force of the cannon barrage in the back of her head, she made her way over the dunes toward the main house. When she entered the kitchen, the housekeeper fixed her with a stern glance.
“And where have you been? You look like a vagabond!” May said, her annoyance clearly displayed in the flash of her dark eyes.
Tanner held up one hand and gave May a pleading glance. “Coffee, please, and don’t go on at me right now. I’m suffering enough, I promise you.”
“Hmph,” the older woman snorted as she poured the steaming liquid into a mug and set it in front of Tanner, who had slumped into a chair at the table.
May had been the housekeeper for Tanner’s family since before Tanner was born, and she considered it well within her responsibilities to bring Tanner to task for her behavior. In truth, May was often the person who managed to prevent Tanner’s escapades from coming to the attention of her mother. Tanner knew it, and she was grateful.
“Your friend was up here looking for you earlier,” May commented reproachfully. “I had Thomas give her a ride back to the mainland.”
"My friend?" Tanner looked puzzled for a moment, until she suddenly recalled the events of the previous evening.
“Thanks,” she sighed heavily. Now she remembered how she had ended up on the beach. For some reason she hadn’t been able to sleep with Lois in her bed. After they made love, Tanner had risen quietly, pulling on the clothes they had left in a pile on the floor in their eagerness to undress earlier. Lois had not awakened as Tanner left.
“Where’s Mother?” she asked.
“On the terrace. And you had better not go out there looking like that. Go shower and change your clothes.” She looked at Tanner with a mixture of fondness and concern. “Are you all right?”
Tanner smiled wanly and rose to her feet. “Sure,” she said, giving May a quick hug as she left.
An hour later, refreshed from her shower and dressed in a casual white linen shirt and loose drawstring pants, she climbed the winding outside stairs to the terrace. Her mother looked up from her reading as Tanner approached, and smiled.
Tanner stooped and kissed her lightly on the cheek. “Hello, Mother,” she said softly. Tanner was often moved to tenderness at the sight of her mother’s calm, gentle face. Somehow, she always felt soothed in her presence. They rarely spoke directly of personal things. Their relationship was more an unspoken kinship, but nevertheless, they were deeply bonded to one another.
Tanner stretched out in an adjoining chaise and leaned her head back with a sigh. The late spring sun suffused her with warmth.
Her mother rested her hand gently on Tanner’s suntanned arm and said quietly, “It’s so nice to have you home.” When her daughter didn’t reply, she realized she was asleep. She studied Tanner’s face, thinking how young she seemed when she was sleeping. The shadows that often flickered across her features and haunted her deep-set eyes were gone. Her mother recognized that seething unrest very well. It was the same barely contained energy searching for a focal point that had driven her husband for most of his life. It was the thing she had loved—and feared—most about him. It was the kind of passion that brought great achievement, or, when unchecked, self-destruction. She fervently hoped her daughter found some direction before she too became a victim of her own undisciplined desires.
Continue to Part 2