Chapter 32 -- If Only
He grabbed for the binoculars hanging next to the wheel, dumping his charts on the deck.
“What is it?” Bree was at his side.
Part of his mind was reviewing what it would take to raise the anchor and get out of the boat’s way. Vividly, the memories of his first night on the water flashed through his mind. Remembered fear caught his throat.
Only when the lights came into focus, and he could see that the ship was clearly moving to the side, not straight at them, did he stop to breathe.
“It looks like a ferry. High speed catamaran.”
“Let me look.”
He held on a few second longer, taking in the sight. Once it came closer, he could read “Lake Express” on the side in large letters.
Bree took the binoculars.
“It’s going fast!”
“Yeah. They can go a lot faster than we can.”
He hesitated. He knew the math, but would Bree understand? “Big engines.” It wasn’t the whole answer by a long shot, but he’d already tried to explain hull speed to Dek, and didn’t have the heart to go over it again. Bree was one of those people whose eyes glazed over when he quoted equations.
He picked up his chart book.
“Here it is.”
“The Lake Express Ferry.” He tapped the sidebar. “They make several runs a day between here and Milwaukee.
“Catch that boat and you could be back there in under three hours -- rent a car and you’d be back to Racine in four.”
The look on her face stopped him cold. He’d been too flippant. The hand waving teaching example, like he’d give to Slab to illustrate a point, was deadly serious to her.
She watched the two hundred foot long catamaran slow and move through the breakwater to its port in the inner lake. She watched it like a child longing for the ice cream man that had missed her street and jingled away into the distance.
Why don’t I feel that way?
There wasn’t really anything calling him back to Chicago. Mom was gone, and when she’d died, the house had become stale -- sterile.
Nick wasn’t there anymore, and in some ways, he’d left when she’d died.
He frowned. Have I walled away my worry about him as well?
With the exception of Kati, there’d been nothing that bound him to high school life. And even that had been an illusion.
Maybe he knew that all along. Maybe that’s why he could never get into the whole college planning bit. Chicago wasn’t his home. He’d left Evansville behind, and the new city never really took. It’d never had the chance.
Thinking back, it was far too easy to walk away from it all. Yes, skipping out during finals week had been a shock, but these decks had become home frighteningly fast.
Had I just been waiting for an excuse to leave?
Bree was crying. She did her best to hide it, but he was an expert at hiding grief, and knew the signs well. He turned his back toward her, casually, giving her the chance to wipe her eyes in private.
He read some more of the details from the chart book. There were listings of details about each port on the Lake Michigan shore. It listed anything that might be of use to a traveler.
“The ferry does forty miles per hour and makes three round trips in the spring and summer, two in the winter months. It’s a hundred and ninety-two feet long and carries forty-six cars and twelve motorcycles.”
“Do they take passengers?” Her voice still showed signs of her distress. She cleared her throat.
“Yes. And offer to rent cars at both ports. Need to run over to the western shore to do some shopping?” He tried to make it sound casual.
“No.” She handed the binoculars back, and he put them on the shelf.
She sat down. He stopped talking. Pretend it didn’t happen. That’s what he’d prefer, if he’d been caught off-guard like that.
He switched the radio from the weather station over to port operations, and turned the volume down to a low mumble.
“Tell me about Kati.”
“Your girl friend. I heard part of your phone call, the other day. You asked her to come away with you, didn’t you?”
He set his pen down, but he dropped it wrong and fell to the deck. A wave sent it rolling -- maybe wake from the ferry finally arriving. He had to get down on his knees to retrieve it.
Dog breath reminded him Bert was curled up in his favorite spot out of sight under the bench, probably listening to all that was going on. What did he think of human antics?
Kati. He felt a swirl of confused emotions.
“I did ask. She was smart, and turned me down.” He was pleased he was able to say it without blubbering.
“Oh. Why?” It sounded like she honestly wanted to know.
Why did the girl I love turn me down? Why did she give me up so easily? A little nagging voice inside he head whispered “Fred”, but he ignored it.
“It was too much for her. None of this sounded real.” He waved at the boat and the sails, but it was the whole situation that he meant. “It was confusing, and I didn’t make it any clearer. Maybe I didn’t want to. Maybe I didn’t know how.”
“Was she like you?”
He felt a little smile on his lips. He could see her in his mind, sitting in her Jeep or across from the lab bench. All the times she’d been there when he was barely functioning.
“Yeah. A lot richer than me. Probably smarter too. She’s going to be an architect. It’s better she stays in the real world. It was stupid of me to even ask. Now she’s probably got some of my confusion in her life, and she didn’t need that.”
“What would you have done if she’d said yes?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know exactly, but I’d have made it happen. She has her own car. Set up a rendezvous somehow. Pick her up.”
The phone was tapped. I’d have had to use a code -- find a way to help her shake the Cleaners.
He sighed. It didn’t happen. It’ll never happen, so why worry about it?
“After that, I don’t know. Either way, I’m committed to getting you to safety. But after that?” He shook his head. “Lake Michigan is huge, but it’s not big enough. I’m sure the company has an alert out for us. Harbormasters, custom’s officials -- it’s a dangerous place.
“In the best of worlds, I’d find a way to go down the St. Lawrence Seaway, all the way to the Atlantic. With the fake registration, I could head to the Caribbean. Getting away from US ports might be a wise thing to do.
“But that’s just dreaming right now.” He tapped the charts. “Reality is getting us all safely to Thunder Bay, one way or another.”
Bree looked off to the lights of Muskegon. “I didn’t even have the chance to ask Keith.”
“Who’s Keith?” The words popped out before he thought about it. Maybe it was better not to ask.
She shrugged. “A guy. A week ago there was like this big blow up. Daddy threatened to call the police. Mom cried, like for two days.
“When Daddy came into my room and told me to throw some clothes into a suitcase and be ready to leave, I thought it was still about Keith -- some kind of ‘tough love’ camp or something where they could brainwash me. I had no idea we were leaving everything behind.”
It was more details than he needed. He could imagine what kind of events had triggered the Valentes to take such drastic steps. It made sense of her parents caution. They had no reason to trust me either.
Tommy felt a question on his lips, but this time, he kept it to himself. Bree hadn’t asked him. It wasn’t a fair question to ask, and it might be far too early.
Do you love him?
Marilu came up on deck. “Isn’t it about bedtime?”
Bree nodded, and got to her feet.
“And how about you, ‘Captain’? I’ve made some cinnamon strips, and we’ve got milk.”
“Sounds good. It’s gonna be a long day tomorrow.” He closed up his books and stowed them out of reach of the dew.
Bree pointed. “Look.” Lights were moving past the breakwater.
“What is that?”
“It’s a ferry, Mom. It’s going to Milwaukee, heading back towards home.”
The big ship gained speed as it exited the breakwater. They could hear its diesels wind up. Marilu watched it, entranced, for several minutes. Bree held her hand and watched it too.
Finally, the lights merged into one in the distance, and Bree said, “Let’s go.”
Tommy followed a few seconds later. He turned back at the hatchway.
“Bert. You can come spend the night below if you want.”
The dog pulled himself out of his nook and led the way down.