Jess stood out on the docks for a long time waiting for the single boat to reach the island. She held the radio in her hand and continuously turned the dials, hoping to catch a signal at all. It gave nothing back but white noise. Not the blip of a signal at all. No garbled sounds. Just dead radio silence.
Jess had been around boats her entire life, and she knew them well enough to recognize them. She knew every boat on the island and even recognized the regular visitors. She was certain she’d never seen this one before. It bobbed along in the swells of dark water, relying more heavily on its motor than the sails that had to be secured during the storm. With the way the waves had crashed into the side of the island, she had to admit she was amazed the small boat wasn’t showing any damage at all. But seeing it chug along in the water gave her the hope that her grandfather’s boat had survived too.
Instead of heading for the island’s main docks, the boat headed right for the inn. As soon as it was within close enough distance, Jess did another search through the radio frequencies to see if she could get in touch with whoever was inside. But the radio still couldn’t catch a signal. She waited as patiently as she could before it began to move down the length of the dock.
A man poked his head out of the cabin as she motioned for him to follow her. He was soaking wet, and she wasn’t surprised to see that his hair was sticking to his face. He waved to show he understood, and she hurried to find a place to secure him that hadn’t been damaged by balls of hail.
The boat thumped into the dock once she finally directed him to a safe place. She tossed him a rope and watched him slosh around in the water that had accumulated in his boat as he tied it down.
“Did you happen to see anyone else out on the water?” she asked before bothering to introduce herself. He shook his head. His light brown hair had gone dark from the water and was still stuck to his face. He looked miserable and cold.
“You’re the first human being I’ve seen in days,” he explained as he used the back of his hand to wipe dripping water out of his eyes. “Honestly, I’m so glad to see your face.” He was busy securing his boat but didn’t miss the flash of emotion on her features. “Were you expecting someone else?” he asked. She reached for the edge of the boat and moved it toward the dock. The dock itself wasn’t the best one on the island. It wasn’t meant to hold boats down permanently, and her grandfather’s boat usually stayed in the boathouse at the end of the row. She had to pull it to her to give him enough space to climb out.
“My grandpa headed out this morning. We weren’t expecting the storm,” she told him. He climbed out onto the dock, barely wobbling on his feet and then made sure the boat was secure. She stood back and watched him. He was wearing a t-shirt and no jacket. His arms were tanned from regular sunshine and toned from a life on the sea. His hair had curled to the back of his neck, and he looked so out of place in the cold weather. Like he had come from some place with more sunshine and not nearly as many freak storms.
“I don’t think anyone was expecting the storm,” he said. He stood back up and motioned to the radio in her hand. “It was an electrical storm. Knocked out most systems. My boat included. Luckily, I was an electrician in another life and got it started again.” She gulped, and he felt guilty for being the bearer of bad news. “I’m sure he’s okay,” he tried. “I managed to stay afloat.”
“Yeah, but you’re young. And you knew how to get your motor started again.”
“It wasn’t as bad out there. If he’s been on the sea his whole life, he wouldn’t have had a problem staying upright.” She nodded slowly and looked down at her feet. The ends of her jeans were wet, and the dock was still littered with chunks of ice. He noticed her fingers were turning blue as she clutched the radio in her hands.
“Why did you come this way instead of going to the main docks?” she asked as she kicked a large piece of hail. He could hear the hitch in her voice as she attempted to hold it together. He wanted to tell her to go back inside and not to worry about him, but he knew she wasn’t going to let him go without more questions.
“I was down in Long Beach looking for work. A woman named Naomi told me to head up here. She said the inn was charming.” Her eyes immediately shot to his at the mention of Naomi’s name.
“You know Naomi?” she asked. He nodded slowly and squinted as he looked her over. The swells were still strong enough so that the dock moved up and down. Every once in a while one of them had to shift to stay on their feet, but neither of them offered to move the conversation down the dock or even onto land.
“Not really,” he explained. “I met her while I was working in Long Beach.” She bit her lip and looked away.
“So you’re checking in then?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“C’mon then.” She moved passed him and headed down the dock. He gave his boat one more once-over to make sure it wouldn’t come undone and float away in the churning sea. He scanned the horizon for a sign of her grandfather’s boat but saw nothing at all, which was unusual for a sea friendly city like Seattle. He followed the girl to the end of the dock and up the narrow staircase, wondering if he could say anything to make her feel better, but not really knowing what would help.
“So what’s your name?” he asked as he caught up with her. She seemed familiar with the uneven stairs. Her steps were quick and light, and she knew when to turn and where to step. He struggled to keep up since he was accustomed to life in small spaces and swam more than he ran.
“I’m surprised Naomi didn’t tell you,” she replied. He sensed the hostility in her tone and the mistrust.
“I take it you aren’t friends.” She gave a snort. Something that managed to sound both sarcastic and angry all in one gesture.
“You could say that.”
“I don’t know Naomi. She just answered an ad for work and told me to head this way. I didn’t know I’d be met with hostility by dropping her name.”
“The innkeepers, Art and Georgie, you can namedrop with them all you want. They don’t hold grudges.”
“But you do.”
“You’re damn right I do.”
They made it to the top of the staircase that let out onto the lawn. The hail had done significant damage to the grass, and the inn itself didn’t appear to be in a better state. He stopped at the top and put his hands on his hips, both to catch his breath and take it all in. The girl kept walking and apparently didn’t notice him pause. Or just didn’t care.
“My name is Bosko. In case you were wondering,” he said as he moved to keep up with her.
“What kind of name is Bosko?” she asked once she reached the back door. The canvas awning had been ripped apart, and he had to step over chunks of debris and ice just to reach her. The back door was mostly glass and had shattered from the hailstorm.
“Croatian,” he said. She nodded slowly.
“Jess.” Then she turned and opened the door, letting him into the severely damaged inn.
“I’m assuming that’s your name.”
“You assumed correctly.” She led him down a corridor to the front desk where Georgie was sweeping ice out onto the front porch. She looked up when they approached. She already appeared exhausted. Her short silver hair was messy, and her glasses had slid down to the tip of her nose. She didn’t greet the guest with her usual warmth.
“Grandma, this is Bosko,” Jess said as she motioned toward him standing there, wet and cold. “He wants to check in.” Georgie wiped her palm on her jeans and reached out to shake his hand. Then she turned to her granddaughter to share a look of concern.
“Why don’t you get a room cleaned out for him and I’ll check him in?” she asked. Jess only nodded before disappearing up the stairs.
Enter love interest, who was originally not supposed to be a love interest. But became one so I could use this idea for the contest, which requires the smoochie smoochie.