Looking around the lobby for a distraction, he decided to check for a soda behind the bar. Finding nothing, he decided he was better off. Caffeine and sugar would only amp him up more. He sat on a barstool. That didn’t feel right so he crossed over a sofa. His butt was barely on the seat when he thought that Maggie might think he was trying to get her to sit with him on the sofa and that would make him look like a total creeper. Finally, he settled himself into one of the leather easy chairs—only room for one unless she wanted to sit in his lap. Really? It’s like that? Just chill.
He clicked on the tall, antique floor lamp beside the chair, but nothing happened. The power was still out. He spotted a copy of the Cape November News on the table next to the chair. It was a few days old, but it would still be news to Michael.
Absently he leafed through the sections, but he couldn’t focus. Maggie had said something about when a lady does this, a gentleman should do that. He wondered whether she was expecting him to pick her up at her room. She just said to get changed. And then she basically slammed the door in my face. Stop being so emo.
Reasoning that the whole mansion was technically her house, he decided to stay where he was. If it were a normal house he would be waiting in the living room, not going up to her bedroom. Just keep waiting. She’s coming. Eventually.
She was taking her sweet time. Weren’t they just going snorkeling? It’s not like she needed to do her make-up or whatever it was that women did that took forever getting ready for stuff. He and Dad had to wait in their tuxedos for hours before Mom and Alison finished getting dressed for cousin Rebecca’s wedding. But Maggie didn’t seem like she was into all that girly stuff. That was one of the things Michael liked about her. Anxiety suddenly clawed at him. She’s upset in the bathroom. I should see if she’s okay. Maybe that’s what she wants. This might be some kind of test. Forget it. I don’t need to get with some head case who’s into games.
Chill! What did Doc O’Brian say all the time in physics? Appreciate the now. It’s all we got.
A headline caught Michal’s eye: “Cape November News Closing Its Doors After More Than a Century.”
Propping his sunglasses up on his head, Michael read the article. Cape November News was only a small local paper. There wasn’t enough staff. Readership was way down. There it was. All the reasons Mr. Rajai said that cause local papers to close. Then he noticed something else. Another reason for the closure was the disappearance of staff reporter Elizabeth Bromley Denton.
Way to bury your lead, guys. That’s no way to sell papers. Michael reread the article and saw that it referenced the other front page story: Cape November News Reporter and Husband Missing along with Editor in Chief.”
Elizabeth Bromley Denton, staff reporter for the Cape November News for the past fifteen years, has been reported missing along with her husband, Stephen Denton, a local graphics designer. Also missing, the paper’s editor in chief Jose Peraira. Leading the investigation is Sheriff Charles McGill.
Michael held the paper up to get a better look at the photo. It was the same cop who pulled Mom over on the highway. The coincidence made Michael’s skin crawl. Take it easy. Probably not that many cops down here.
Curious, he kept reading.
Denton is best known for her syndicated exposé: Lost in Cape November. Denton explores the strange disappearances occurring in or around Cape November during the last decade and possibly stretching into the last century. Denton’s exposé was considered controversial by some for implying a connection between these disappearances and The Church of New Enlightenment in Cape November. (See Lost, Cape November News Archive Vol. 8 May Issue 16).
That’s why Maggie freaked out when Dad asked about mass murders. There were no murders, but there have been these strange disappearances.
Michael read on.
When asked whether there was a connection between these three latest disappearances and the CNE, McGill said, “Right now, the worst thing I can do is speculate. Look, last month there were a number of murders in New York City. The president was also visiting the United Nations. Are all those events connected? Did the president kill those New Yorkers? Maybe you reporters should go check it out.”
Except they wouldn’t check it out. The paper was out of business and a reporter, her husband and the editor in chief were all missing.
The sudden slap of Maggie’s flip-flops behind him startled him. He gave a little cry, and she laughed. In spite of his very conscious effort to be mature and not to act like a total creep, Michael’s eyes kept getting pulled like paperclips to Maggie’s magnetic curves and smooth, tanned thighs peeking out from the opening of the white wrap that covered her from her chest to her knees. Under her arms, she carried two large towels and a small beach bag.
Her long, chestnut hair was in a braided ponytail like silk rope. Grinning, she popped down the sunglasses that had been propped up on her head. “Ready?”
Nearly jumping out of his seat, Michael knocked into the antique floor lamp that probably cost more than his parents’ minivan. Catching it before it hit the floor, Michael laughed nervously. “Good thing I have cat-like reflexes.”
Struggling to straighten the lampshade, he glanced over at Maggie. She looked like she was holding back a laugh. She let it go when Michael yelped and jumped back as the light bulb flashed. There was a sizzling spark, and the lamp went dark, sending up a tendril of gray smoke. Michael smiled sheepishly at Maggie. “I guess the power’s back on.”
Maggie laughed. “Now I have to add a light bulb to that bill you’re working off.”
When she led him past the stable, Michael noticed the open door and the bikes lying on the grass like sleeping cows.
Maggie must have noticed him staring at the bikes. “Would you rather go biking?”
The promise of Maggie in a swimsuit was too close. “We already got changed for snorkeling,” he said. “Plus, I can go biking anytime.”
Maggie smiled warmly. “You’re the guest.”
Out on the jetty, the blue-gray stones of the lighthouse towered like a giant’s sandcastle rising majestically over the yellow sand of the beach and the stately procession of blue-gray blocks that shaped the jetty.
Michael would have been the first to admit that he knew nothing about architecture, but there was something unusual about the lighthouse. Like somebody plucked it out of some Aztec rainforest. “So how old is this lighthouse?”
“The top part that used to be a lighthouse was built by the Navy during World War I. That’s the part that blew up.” Maggie looked down at the sand. “That was the accident. The night my parents died.”
Maggie was so matter-of-fact about it. Michael stopped walking.
Noticing, Maggie stopped, too. “What?”
“Yeah?” Maggie nodded. “What about them?”
“It’s just…before you sounded more…”
“Upset?” Maggie almost sounded like she was going to laugh. “I know. You know, grief is weird. I mean, my parents died ten years ago. Sometimes it feels like it was a hundred years ago, like it happened to somebody else and not to me. And if you think about it, I’m so different from that nine-year-old girl, it might as well have been somebody else. Other times it feels like it’s happening now. Sorry if my grief doesn’t meet your expectations.”
Michael felt stung. “I didn’t mean—you can feel however you need to feel.”
“Gee, thanks. I didn’t realize I needed permission.”
“That’s not what I meant.” He thought about jumping on a bike and catching up to Alison. “Maybe we should forget snorkeling.”
Maggie’s angry expression broke into a grin. “Why are you so uptight?” The grin warmed into a genuine smile. “I don’t talk about it that often.”
“Are you ever going to tell me what’s really going on?” Michael said it firmly.
Maggie looked a little startled. “What do you mean?”
“About your parents. About this place.”
She looked out at the ocean. “That’s a lot to tell.”
Michael watched a wave roll and splash against the rocks. “We’re going to have a lot of time.”
“You’re right.” Maggie started walking again. Michael was happy to stay and watch her walk for a moment before he followed.
“I come out here all the time.” Maggie spoke over her shoulder. “I feel closer to my parents when I come here. Like I’m visiting them.”
Talking with Maggie was like walking through a funhouse. Michael never knew what would pop out next. It was a little scary, but he liked it. And he really wanted it to be okay to like her.