When the dog deserted her and moved in with Jeffrey and his new bride, it was, for Phoebe Turlow, the proverbial last straw.
She had weathered the divorce well enough, considering how many of her dreams had come crashing down in the process. She'd even been philosophical about losing her job as a research assistant to Professor Benning, at a time when finding a comparable position was virtually impossible, given recent government budget cuts. After all, the professor had been writing and lecturing on the subject of American History at Seattle College for forty-five fruitful and illustrious years; he was ready, by his own admission, to spend his days reading, fishing, and playing chess.
Phoebe had held herself together, through it all. And now even Murphy, whom she'd rescued from the pound as a mangy, slat-fibbed mongrel and carefully nursed back to health, had turned on her.
She lowered the telephone receiver slowly back into its cradle, gazing at the dismal Seattle rain sheeting the window of her rented house. The glass reflected a hazy, pixielike image of a woman with short chestnut hair, large blue eyes, high cheekbones, and fair skin.
But Phoebe was looking through herself, mentally reliving the phone call she'd just received. Heather, Wife Number Two and widely proclaimed light of Jeffrey's life, hadn't been able -- she probably hadn't even tried -- to suppress the smug note in her voice when she called to relay the news that the hound of hell was "safe and sound" in their kitchen. To hear Heather tell it, that furry ingrate had crossed a continent, fording icy rivers and surmounting insurmountable obstacles, enduring desperate privations of all sorts -- Phoebe could almost hear the theme music of a new movie, rated G, of course. Murphy, Come Home.
Muttering to herself, Phoebe crossed the worn linoleum floor, picked up the dog's red plastic bowl, and dumped it into the trash, kibbles and all. She emptied the water dish and tossed that away as well. Then, running her hands down the worn legs of her blue jeans and feeling more alone than ever before, Phoebe wandered into her small, uncarpeted living room and stared despondently out the front window.
Mel, the postman, was just pulling up to her mailbox in his blue and white jeep. He tooted the horn and waved, and Phoebe waved back with a dispirited smile. Her unemployment check was due, but the prospect didn't cheer her up. If it hadn't been for her savings and the small amount of insurance money she'd received when her mother and stepfather were killed in a car accident years ago, Phoebe figured she would have been sitting on a rain-slicked sidewalk down by the Pike Place Market, with a cigar box in front of her to catch coins.
Okay, she thought, maybe that was a bit of an exaggeration. She could last for about six months, if she didn't get a new job soon, and then she would join the ranks of Seattle's panhandlers. An inspiring prospect, for somebody who was all of twenty-six years old.
Snatching her blue hooded rain slicker from the peg beside the door and tossing it over her shoulders, Phoebe dashed out into the chilly drizzle to fetch her mail. She'd sent out over fifty résumés since losing her job with Professor Benning -- maybe there would be a positive response, or one of the rare, brightly colored cards her half brother, Eliott, sometimes sent from Europe or South America or Africa, or wherever he happened to be. Or a letter from a friend...
Except that all their friends were really Jeffrey's, not hers.
And that Eliott didn't give a damn about her, and never had. To him, she was a trifle, an unfortunate postscript to their mother's life. She wished she could stop caring what he thought.
Phoebe brought herself up short; she was feeling sorry for herself, and that was against her personal code. Resolutely, she wrenched open the door of her rural mailbox, which was affixed to a rusted metal post by the front gate, and reached inside. There was nothing but a sales circular, and she would have crumpled it up and tossed it into the nearest mud puddle, but she couldn't bring herself to litter.
She walked slowly back up the cracked walk to her sagging porch and the open door beyond it. The bright yellow envelope, now sodden and limp from the rain, was addressed to "Occupant," and the street numbers were off by two blocks. Damn, she thought, with a wry grimace. Even her junk mail belonged to somebody else.
The letter was about to join Murphy's kibbles and tooth-marked bowls when an impulse -- maybe it was desperation, maybe it was some kind of weird premonition -- made Phoebe stop. She carried it to her kitchen table, sat down -- wondering all the while why she hadn't just chucked the thing -- opened it, and smoothed the single page inside with as much care as if it were an ancient scroll, unearthed only moments before.
SUNSHINE! screamed the cheaply printed block letters at the top of the paper, which had been designed to resemble a telegram. SPARKLING, CRYSTAL BLUE SEAS! VISIT PARADISE ISLAND ABSOLUTELY FREE! WALK IN THE FABLED FOOTSTEPS OF DUNCAN ROURKE, THE PIRATE PATRIOT!
Phoebe was an intelligent adult. She'd gone through college with zero emotional support from her family and had worked at a responsible job from the day she graduated until two months ago, when the academic roof had fallen in. She had voted in every election, and she was by no means naive -- even if she had married Jeffrey Brewster with her eyes wide open. She knew a tacky advertising scheme when she saw one.
All the same, the prospects of "sunshine" and "crystal blue seas" prodded at something slumbering deep in her heart, behind a bruise and a stack of dusty, broken hopes.
She frowned. And there was that name, too -- Duncan Rourke. She'd seen it before -- probably while doing research for Professor Benning.
Phoebe rose from the table, leaving the sales flyer spread out on the shiny surface, and took herself to the stove to make a cup of herbal tea. Knowing that the promise of a free trip to Paradise Island -- wherever that might be -- was a scam of some kind did nothing to quell the odd, excited sense of impending adventure tingling in the pit of her stomach.
The kettle gave a shrill whistle, and Phoebe poured boiling water over a tea bag and carried her cup back to the table. She read the flyer again, this time very slowly and carefully, one eyebrow raised in skepticism, the fingers of her right hand buried in her short, tousled hair.
To take advantage of the "vacation all her friends would envy," Phoebe had only to inspect a "glamorous beachfront condominium guaranteed to increase in value" and listen to a sales pitch. In return, her generous benefactors would fly her to the small Caribbean island "justly named Paradise," put her up in the "distinctive Eden Hotel for two fun-filled days and nights," and provide one "gala affair, followed by a truly festive dinner."
The whole thing was one big rip-off, Phoebe insisted to herself, and yet she was intrigued, and perhaps just a little frantic. So what if she had to look at a condo made of ticky-tacky, watch a few promotional slides, and listen to a spiel from a schmaltzy, fast-talking salesman or two? She needed to get away, if only for a weekend, and here was her chance to soak up some tropical sunshine without doing damage to her rapidly dwindling bank account.
Phoebe's conscience, always overactive, pricked a little. Okay, suppose she did call the toll-free number and book herself on the next flight to Paradise. She'd be making the trip under false pretenses, since she had no intention of buying a condominium. Her credit was fine, but she was divorced, female, and unemployed, and there was no way she'd ever qualify for a mortgage.
Still, there was nothing in the flyer specifying that buyers had to be preapproved for a loan. It was an invitation, pure and simple.
Phoebe closed her eyes and imagined the warmth of the sun on her face, in her hair, settling deep into her muscles and veins and organs, nourishing her very spirit. The yearning she felt was almost mystical, and wholly irresistible.
She told herself that she who hesitates is lost, and that it couldn't hurt to call, and then she walked over to the phone and punched in the number.
Four hectic days later, Phoebe found herself on board a small chartered airplane, aimed in the general direction of the Caribbean, with her one bag tucked neatly under the seat. The man across the aisle wore plaid polyester pants and a sweater emblazoned with tiny golf clubs, and the woman sitting behind her sported white pedal pushers, copious varicose veins, a T-shirt showing two silhouettes engaged in either mortal combat or coitus, and a baseball cap adorned with tiny flashing Christmas tree lights. The seven other passengers were equally eccentric.
Phoebe settled against the back of her seat with a sigh and closed her eyes, feeling like a freak in her brown loafers, jeans, and blue cashmere turtleneck, all purchased at Nordstrom with a credit card and a great deal of optimism. She might have been on a cut-rate night flight to Reno, she thought with rueful humor, judging by the costumes of her fellow travelers.
The plane lifted off at seven o'clock in the morning, rising into the foggy skies over Seattle, and presently a flight attendant appeared. Since the aisle was too narrow for a cart, the slender young man carried a yellow plastic basket in one hand, dispensing peanuts and cola and other refreshments as he moved through the cabin.
The woman in the battery-powered hat ordered a Bloody Mary and received a censuring stare and a generic beer for her trouble.
Phoebe, who had planned to ask for mineral water, merely shook her head and smiled. She was making the trip under false pretenses, after all, and the less she accepted from these people in the way of amenities, the less guilt she would feel afterward.
She tried to sleep and failed, even though she'd lain awake all night worrying, then pulled an ancient thin volume, purloined from Professor Benning's extensive personal book collection, from her bag. The book, published years and years ago, was entitled Duncan Rourke, Pirate or Patriot?
Phoebe opened it to the first page, frowning a little, and began to read.
Mr. Rourke, according to the biographer, had been born in Charles Town, in the colony of Carolina, to gentle and aristocratic people. His education was impeccable -- he spoke French, Italian, and Spanish fluently and had a penchant for the work of poets, those of his own time, and those of antiquity. He was also known to be proficient with the harpsichord and the mandolin, as well as the sword and musket, and, the writer hinted, he'd been no slouch in the boudoir, either.
Phoebe yawned. Duncan Rourke, it seemed, had qualified as a Renaissance man. She read on.
Until the very day of his death, no one had known for certain whether Rourke had been a cutthroat or a hero. Speculation abounded, of course.
For her part, Phoebe wondered why he couldn't have been both rascal and paragon? No one, after all, was entirely good or bad -- a human being, particularly a complex one, as Rourke must have been, could hardly be reduced to one dimension.
Presently, Phoebe closed her eyes -- and the musty pages of the old book -- and a faint smile trembled on her lips. Pondering Mr. Rourke's morality, or lack of same, she slept at long last.
Paradise Island, the Caribbean
Duncan Rourke sat at the table in his study, full of consternation, affection, and a vast, roiling uneasiness.
The precious letter, penned by Duncan's sister, Phillippa, and dispatched to him months before by devious and complex means, lay before him, slightly crumpled.
"Come home..." the diabolical angel had written, in her ornate and flowing script.
Please, Duncan, I implore you to act for our sakes, Mama's and Papa's and Lucas's and mine, if not for your own. You must return to the bosom of your family. Surely nothing more would be required to prove your loyalty to His Majesty than this. Papa might then cease his endless pacing -- he traverses the length of his study, over and over again, night after night, from moonrise until the sun's awakening -- if only he knew you could be counted among the King's men, like himself and our esteemed elder brother, Lucas...Papa fears, dear Duncan, as we all do, that your escapades in those southerly seas you so love will be misunderstood, that you will be arrested or even hanged...
Duncan sighed and reached for the glass of port a serving girl had set within reach only moments before.
"Troublesome news?" inquired his friend and first mate, Alex Maxwell, from his post before the terrace doors. A cool, faintly salty breeze ruffled the gauzy curtains and eased the otherwise relentless heat of a summer afternoon in the Caribbean.
"Only the usual rhetoric and prattle," Duncan replied, after taking a sip of his wine, swallowing a good many contradictory feelings along with it. "My sister pleads with me to return to the fold and take up my place among His Majesty's devoted adherents. She implies that, should I fail to heed this warning, our sorrowing and much-tormented sire shall wear out either the soles of his boots or my mother's rugs, in his eternal and evidently ambulatory ruminations."
Alex grimaced. "Good God, man," he said with some impatience, turning at last from his vigil at the window overlooking the sultry blue and gold waters of a sun-splashed, temperamental sea. "Can't you speak in simple English for once in your bloody life?"
Duncan arched one dark eyebrow. Language was, to him, a toy as well as a tool. He loved to explore its every nuance and corner, to exercise various words and combinations of words, to savor them upon his tongue, as he would a fine brandy or an exquisite wine. Although he liked and admired Maxwell -- indeed, Duncan had entrusted Alex with his very life on more than one occasion -- he would not have forsworn linguistic indulgence even for him. "Tell me, my friend -- are you liverish today, or simply obstreperous in the extreme?"
Alex shoved the fingers of both hands into his butternut hair in a dramatic show of frustration. Like Duncan, Alex had lived one score and ten years; they had been tutored together from the time they could toddle out of their separate nurseries. Both loved fast horses, witty women with sinful inclinations, and good rum, and their political views were, in the opinion of the Crown at least, equally subversive. Physically and emotionally, however, the two men were quite different -- Alex being small and slightly built, with the ingenuous brown eyes of a fawn and, when vexed, all the subtlety of a bear batting at a swarm of wasps with both paws. Duncan's temperament was cool and somewhat detached, and he stood tall enough, as his father said, to be hanged from a high branch without a scaffold. He prided himself on his self-control, whereas his enemies, no less than his friends, credited him with the tenacity and cunning of a winter-starved wolf. His hair was dark as jet, tied back at the nape of his neck with a narrow ribbon, and his eyes a deep and, so he'd been told by grand ladies and whores alike, patently disturbing blue. His features, aristocratic from birth, had been hardened by the injustices he had both witnessed and suffered.
These, given the troubled nature of the times, were many.
"I'm sorry," Alex said with a weariness that disturbed Duncan greatly, turning at last to face his friend. "I don't deny that I've been foul-tempered in recent days."
"I trust there is a reason," Duncan ventured in a quiet voice, folding Phillippa's letter and placing it, with more tenderness than he would have confessed aloud, in the top drawer of his desk. "Or are your moods, like those of the delicate gender, governed by the waxing and waning of the moon?"
"Oh, good Christ," Alex bit out. "Sometimes you drive me mad."
"Be that as it may," Duncan replied moderately, "I should still like to know what troubles you. We are yet friends, are we not? Besides, a distracted man makes a poor leader, prone to grave errors of judgment." He paused to utter a philosophical sigh. "If some comely wrench has addled your wits, the only prudent course of action, in my view, would be to relieve you of your duties straightaway, before someone in your command suffers the consequences of your preoccupation."
Alex's fine-boned face seemed strained and shadowed as he met Duncan's searching gaze, and his eyes reflected annoyance and something very like despair. "How long?" he asked, in a rasping whisper. "How long must we endure this interminable war?"
Duncan stood, but did not round the desk to approach Alex. There were times, he knew too well, when an ill-chosen word, intended to comfort, could be a man's undoing instead. "Until it has been won," he said tautly.
The vast, sprawling house, dating back to the mid sixteen hundreds, seemed to breathe like a living creature, drawing in the first cool breezes since dawn and then expelling them in soft sighs. A goddess of white stone, with the sapphire sea writhing in unceasing worship at her feet, the palatial structure was a haven to Duncan, like the welcoming embrace of a tender-hearted woman. And it gave him solace, that place, as well as shelter.
Alas, he was wedded to his ship, the Francesca, a swift and agile vessel brazenly named for his first lover, the disenchanted wife of a British infantry officer named Sheffield. While the lady had been spurned and sent back to England years ago, where she languished yet in a state of seedy disgrace, the gossips would have it, her husband remained in the colonies, waiting, taking each opportunity for revenge as it presented itself.
Duncan tightened his jaw, remembering even though he had schooled himself, through the years, to forget. He rotated his shoulders once, twice, as the tangle of old scars came alive on the flesh of his back, a searing tracery mapping another man's hatred. He'd been fifteen when Sheffield had ordered him bound to a post in a public square and whipped into blessed unconsciousness.
"Sometimes I wonder," Alex said, startling Duncan out of his bitter reverie, "whether's it's Mother England you're at war with, or the lovely Francesca's jealous husband."
It was by no means new, Alex's propensity for divining the thoughts of others, and neither was Duncan's reaction. "If you will be so kind," he said curtly, "as to keep your fatuous and sentimental attempts at mystical wisdom to yourself, I shall be most appreciative."
Alex rolled his eyes. "I have it," he said in the next instant, feigning a rapture of revelation. "We'll capture Major Sheffield, truss him up like a Christmas goose so he can't cover his ears, and force him to endure the full range of your vocabulary! He'll be screaming for mercy inside half an hour.
Despite the memories that had overtaken him, Duncan clasped his friend's slightly stooped shoulder and laughed "Suppose I recited the whole of Dante's Divine Comedy, he said.
"In Italian, of course," Alex agreed. "With footnotes."
Duncan withdrew his hand, and he knew his expression was as solemn as his voice. "If you want to beat your sword into a plowshare and spend the rest of your life tilling the earth," he said, "I'll understand, and not think less of you for it."
"I know," Alex said. "And I am weary to the soul from this blasted war. I long to settle down, take a wife, father a houseful of children. But if I don't fight, the sons and daughters I hope to sire will stand mute before Parliament, as we do now." He stopped and thrust his fingers through his hair, which was, as always, hopelessly mussed. "No, my friend, to paraphrase Mr. Franklin, if we don't hang together, we shall surely hang separately. I will see the conflict through, to its end or mine, as God wills."
Duncan smiled just as the supper bell chimed, muffled and far off. "You are right, and so is Mr. Franklin. But I must take exception to one of your remarks -- we rebels can hardly be accused of 'standing mute before Parliament.' Our musket balls and cannon have been eloquent, I think."
Alex nodded and smiled.
Again, the supper bell sounded. Insistently this time.
Without speaking, the two men moved through the great house together, mindful now of their empty stomachs. They sat at the long table in the dining room, with its ten arched windows overlooking the sea, watching as the sun spilled over the dancing waters, melting in a dazzling spectacle of liquid light. A premonition touched Duncan's spirit in that moment of terrible beauty, a warning or a promise, or perhaps both.
For good or ill, he thought with resignation, something of significance was about to happen.
"Welcome to Paradise!" boomed a plump, middle-aged man with a crew cut and a Jack Nicholson smile, scrambling out of the van to greet each member of the small party of potential investors with a handshake. They stood on the grass-buckled tarmac, numb with exhaustion. "Don't make any snap judgments, now," he warned, before anyone could express a misgiving. "After all, it's late and you've had a long trip. Tomorrow, in the bright light of day, you'll get a good look at the place, and, trust me, you'll be impressed."
Phoebe didn't want to think about tomorrow, didn't want to do anything but take a quick shower and fall into bed. Jack was certainly right about one thing: It had been a long trip. After leaving Seattle, the plane had landed in Los Angeles, Houston, Kansas City, and Miami to pick up a dozen other weird characters, before proceeding to Condo Heaven.
The motley crew boarded the minibus, yawning and murmuring, and despite her decision not to think, Phoebe found herself studying the others, each in their, turn, out of the corner of her eye. She'd eat every postcard in the hotel gift shop, she thought, if a single one of them could land a mortgage to buy a fancy island hideaway, let alone scrape up the cash to buy one outright.
The young couple who'd boarded the plane in Kansas City were newlyweds, Phoebe figured, because they'd been necking and staring into each other's eyes for most of the flight. Some honeymoon. The man in the plaid pants and golf-club sweater had come along strictly for the ride, providing his own liquor, and the Human Beacon, whose batteries had finally run down, appeared to be the sort who'd try anything as long as it was free.
So what's your excuse? Phoebe asked herself.
The hotel appeared suddenly out of the night, looming like smoke from some underground volcano or an enormous genie rising out of a lamp. Phoebe's breath caught on a small, sharp gasp, and she sat bolt upright on the bus seat. A strange progression of emotions unfolded in her heart.
Recognition, for one. And that was impossible, because she'd never seen the building before. Nostalgia, for another. And a strange, sweet joy, as if she were coming home after a long and difficult journey. Underlying these emotions was a sense of poignant and wrenching loss, threaded through with sorrow.
Tears sprang to Phoebe's eyes.
"Here's the Eden Hotel now, folks," the bus driver announced, with relentless goodwill. "It's a grand old place. Belonged to a pirate once, during the Revolutionary War, name of Rourke, and before that, to a Dutch planter who raised indigo." The minivan's brakes squealed as it came to a sprightly stop under an ugly pink and green neon palm tree affixed to the wall. Two of the fronds were burned out. "Near as we could find out, the house was built in 1675, or thereabouts."
Phoebe sniffled, dried her eyes with the back of one grubby hand, and got off the bus, staring at the shoddy hotel in mute grief. She'd read a brief description of the place in Professor Benning's book about Duncan Rourke; that explained her complicated and overwrought reactions. The odd sensations lingered, though -- Phoebe felt certain that she had known every nook and corner of this house once, had loved it when it was grand and elegant, and taken refuge within its walls when storms swept in from the sea. She had come home to a place she had never seen before, and she had arrived too late.
Like the foul brew in a witch's cauldron, the storm roiled and grumbled on the horizon, shrouding the rolling waves of the deep and blotting out the light of the moon and stars. Duncan stood on the balcony outside his room, the wild wind playing in his hair and catching at the loose fabric of his shirt. The Francesca, always his first concern, was safe at anchor, in a sheltered cove some two miles down the shore. He would go to her all the same, and had no explanation to offer for delaying even this long, save the eerie certainty, imprinted in the marrow of his bones like a seal pressed into warm wax, that his life was about to change for all of time and eternity.
Behind him, in the shadows, stood Old Woman. If she had any other name, Duncan had never heard it, though he considered her a friend of sorts and had heeded her advice on more than one occasion. The servants and other islanders feared and revered her, believing she had magical powers, a notion Duncan privately scorned.
"Come inside, Mr. Duncan," she said. Although she spoke in a tranquil voice, he heard her distinctly over the noise. Beyond the terrace, earth and air and water met to spawn the tempest, and the birthing shrieks rode the wind. "It's dangerous out there."
Still unsettled, and with regret, Duncan turned and obeyed Old Woman's summons, closing the heavy shutters and then the French doors themselves.
She stood in her regal robe, a seamless garment woven of some fabric Duncan did not recognize, holding a candelabra high, so that it shed a thin, shadow-streaked mantle of light over the both of them.
"She's on her way," Old Woman said. "At last, she is coming to us."
"Who?" Duncan demanded impatiently, taking the candelabra from the strong, wrinkled hand and starting toward the inner doors. "Mother England? She won't be an amicable guest, I fear. No need to brew tea and bake sugar cakes."
Old Woman caught at his arm and stopped him with easy strength, even though she weighed no more than a bird and the top of her grizzled head barely reached his breastbone. "Not the soldiers, with a whip for your back and noose for your neck," she said firmly. "The woman. She comes from a world very far away and yet" -- with ancient, withered fingers, she reached out and plucked at nothing -- "so close that you might touch her."
Duncan felt a chill trickle down his spine, like a droplet from a northerly sea, but he was not a fanciful man, despite the strange, glorious, and unnamed fear stirring in the pit of his belly, and he put no stock in spells and enchantments, and invisible worlds near enough to touch or otherwise. "Superstitious rot," he grumbled. Then, somewhat unchivalrously, he shoved the candelabra into her grasp and muttered, "Here. Take this and go on about your business, whatever it is."
She thrust the exquisitely wrought piece of sterling silver, candles wavering, back into Duncan's hand with an insolence none of the men under his command would have dared employ. It was no accident, either, he thought, when hot wax dripped onto his wrist in stinging splotches. "Old Woman see fine," she said. "It is Mr. Duncan who has empty eyes."
In silence, he watched her move away into the shadows with sure and unhesitating steps.
"Poppycock and bilge water," Duncan said under his breath, but he found himself thinking, as he made his way down the wide, curving staircase, carrying the candelabra in one hand, of the odd, inexplicable noises he had heard in that house on rare occasions. Music, sounds he did not recognize from instruments he had never seen. Footsteps where no one walked. The muted laughter of invisible men and women, and the melodic chime of glass striking glass.
He supposed he was going mad. He considered confiding his terrible secret to Alex but, after long and hard deliberation, decided against the idea. He wasn't sure his friend could be trusted, if confronted with such a confession, to show the proper degree of surprise.
Phoebe's room was roughly the size of a phone booth, and the bed looked as though it had been designed for a doll's house, but she could hear and smell the sea, singing softly in the night. When the sun came up, she would have an ocean view, and the promise of that lifted her spirits.
She took a shower under a spindly trickle of cool water, causing a rusty rumble in the pipes, brushed her teeth, pulled on an old T-shirt and a pair of cotton boxer shorts, and crawled into bed. Her last conscious thought was that the sheets were clean; she sank into the depths of her mind and slept without dreaming.
It was still dark when the music awakened her, its sad and beautiful strains twisting and turning through the profound silence like ribbons.
A tiny muscle leaped, somewhere deep in Phoebe's middle, and then subsided into a steady quiver. She listened harder, groping for sounds she had heard earlier and barely noticed -- the clamor of the old-fashioned elevator, creaking and rattling along its shaft, the shrill, metallic moan from the plumbing, the ponderous drip-drip-drip of the faucet in the bathroom -- and heard only the swelling, heartbreaking eloquence of the music.
Phoebe bit her lower lip and settled into her pillows, listening, reaching for memories that eluded her, but just barely. Her face was wet with tears she could not have explained, even to herself, and she wondered fancifully if the hotel might be haunted. The notes of the harpsichord surrounded her, caressed her, and finally lulled her back to sleep.
The next time she woke up, tropical sunlight was spilling in through the window, full of dancing diamonds snatched from the sea, bathing her in a dazzle of gold and platinum. But the music had stopped.
Phoebe stood on her bed, grasping the windowsill in both hands, and gazed out at the blue-green sea and the white sand, stricken to the heart by their splendor. It was worth it, she thought, as her soul stirred, painfully at first, like something long frozen. Here and there, in the uncharted regions. within, a dream trembled into wakefulness and reached for the light.
Someone hammered at the door of her room, startling Phoebe so thoroughly that she nearly toppled off the bed.
"What?" she demanded, annoyed.
"I got your costume," answered an unfamiliar adolescent voice.
"What costume?" Phoebe asked, after wrenching open the door to find a teenage girl standing in the hallway, chewing gum and holding out a pile of cheap muslin.
"There's a party tonight," the young woman said, orchestrating the words with a series of crisp snaps. "After you've seen the condos and stuff, I mean." She smiled, revealing enough braces to set off the metal detector in an airport. "My name's Andrea," she said wistfully. "I wore that outfit last time we had a batch of investors out from the mainland. It was kinda fun to dress up."
Phoebe frowned. This, she thought, must be the "gala affair" the brochure had mentioned.
She decided to feign a headache that night and sneak out to walk on the beach. "Great," she said without conviction.
Andrea waggled her fingers. "Don't worry," she said. "You'll make a great wench."
Phoebe stepped out into the hall, not caring, at that point, that she was wearing a T-shirt and boxer shorts. "Wait a second," she called. "I'll make a great what?"
"Wench," Andrea replied blithely, without slowing her steps or looking back. "You know, one of those chicks who served rum and grog and sat on pirates' laps."
Phoebe closed the door and leaned against it, holding the muslin dress against her bosom and gazing into the murky mirror on the opposite wall. "You deserve whatever happens to you," she told her reflection.
Copyright © 1995 by Linda Lael Miller