Two Ships

one: poor little rich boy;

He did not understand the concept of garden parties.

There was absolutely no need for old ladies to get dressed up in pastel dresses and large hats to look at flowers. Actually, it seemed like wearing nice clothes to go look at plants and flowers might do more harm than good, but as Daniel stood in his mother’s conservatory, sweating in a baby-blue linen suit, he observed that most of the women were here less for the garden and more for the party.

At least his mother looked in her element. Dressed in a grey skirt and blazer and wearing a large blue hat, she was laughing with the five elderly women known as The Girls: matriarchs of the town’s five wealthiest and most powerful families, including his own. His grandmother stood, her elbow linked, with his mother.

“Well, look who’s returned, another year wiser, from Yale Law.”

The sarcastic hum of a voice belonged to Emma Windsor, who had spoken, without warning, into Daniel’s ear; much like how a mosquito might buzz next to one’s head, in search of blood. He took a step back and turned towards her. Wearing a tight-fitting yellow sundress, she was athletic and brunette, with the equine features that had belonged to the Windsor family for centuries.

They’d never had an easy friendship, and things had only gotten worse after Emma and Daniel’s best friend, Charles Ryan, had become engaged this past December.

“You love to say that, don’t you? Yale Law?” a steel-faced Daniel answered with a quirk of the mouth. “Just don’t let your Harvard boy hear you.”

Emma gave a mock pout and accepted a flute of champagne from a cocktail waiter, taking what she must have thought was a dainty sip. “I’m sorry you two aren’t talking,” she said, with no sincerity in her voice. “But maybe it’s for the best. Charlie’s got so much on his plate, you know?”

She touched the rim of her champagne glass to Daniel’s scotch tumbler and went to join a group of middle-aged ladies on the other side of the conservatory who were fawning over his mother’s Baronne Prevost rose bush.

He’d made a decision last August not to stay in Boston. Not to live with his family, not to go to his father’s law school. But Charlie, the affable kid with a mop of curly auburn hair, whom Daniel had grown up with like a brother, had not understood. The only thing Charlie understood was that Daniel was choosing something other than the lives that had been planned out for them, a completely foreign idea.

But Yale was just a swap of colors, a change of mascots…a different set of ivy-covered brick buildings. He’d wanted to start over, to be anonymous, but the Montgomery name wasn’t something you just left behind.

The idea of making friends at a new school exhausted him, so he absorbed himself in his studies and remained aloof, perpetuating the stereotype that the Montgomery’s thought they were better than everyone. But being alone so much just made him listless. He’d planned to go home at Christmas, to tell Charlie how fucking boring it was.

But then he’d gotten the engagement announcement in the mail, and realized he didn’t have a place there, either.

A familiar hand was at his shoulder; his mother, Stella Montgomery, had detached herself from The Girls.

“I’m glad you decided to come,” she said, giving him a reassuring squeeze. Her blonde hair was bobbed beneath the large-brimmed hat, and not one hair was out of place. She was every inch the perfect Montgomery, but her eyes gave it away. They laughed too much.

“Of course…but I might skip out soon.”

Stella looked concerned. “I hope it wasn’t because your conversation with Emma Windsor. Was she trying to raise hell about you not going to her engagement party? Because she knew you had finals that week and I swear, she plan–,”

“Mom.” Daniel interrupted her mid-sentence. Sometimes you had to do that to her, she liked to get excited. “Fired up,” was her term for it. “It wasn’t Emma.” It was Emma. And Charles. And all this fucking pastel, and perfume, and flowers. “You know I haven’t gotten to the docks since we got here. I want to put the boat in.” This wasn’t a lie, either.

She always supported his passions. She wrapped an arm around her son and briefly hugged him. “Well I appreciate you making an appearance. At least now all the old ladies can gossip about what a handsome young man you’ve become.”

Stella let him go, and Daniel finished off the scotch in his hand, setting the empty crystal tumbler absent-mindedly down on a nearby table.

It was nearly impossible to make his way back through the conservatory, as he was accosted every few minutes by familiar summer faces. When he finally had reached the door to the house, his skin was damp beneath the breezy linen suit.

Daniel felt eyes on his back as he put his hands on the set of double glass doors that would take him away from the humidity and the noise. Before he pushed the doors open, he turned around to see Emma standing just a few yards away. The expression on her face was indiscernible; she’d always hid behind a well-bred mask, but her black eyes rested on him. It felt like defiance, or maybe even a challenge.

With a roll of his own dark eyes, Daniel turned back to the doors and shoved his way out of the clamor.


When Great-Aunt Lily had gotten too old to make the annual trek down to her summer home, she had left only a few things behind: the two four-poster beds that June and Connor now slept on; a moth-eaten silk chaise lounge that June had immediately brought to the junk yard; an enormous, cherry dining set and brass chandelier; two wicker chairs and a glass coffee table that sat in the three-seasons room; and the piece-de-resistance, an ancient, chugging wood stove that served as her only means of cooking food. Once, the first floor might have been a series of small rooms, but someone – perhaps Lily herself – had knocked down all the walls, resulting in what should have been a beautiful, airy beach home. Its days as an elegant coastal retreat, however, were gone. The empty bottom floor felt cold and uninviting.

Still, June couldn’t help but trace circles around the house in bare feet, holding an oversized mug of steaming black coffee in her right hand. The mid-morning sun filtered through the big bay windows. It was Saturday and Connor wouldn’t be up until 2pm, at least.

It was too empty in here, and too quiet. June hated the feeling of loneliness, the aching fear that she was trapped to pacing this big, bare space for the rest of eternity.

So she scrawled a note for Connor, explaining her sudden departure, and took off in her beat-up Volkswagen towards town.

The road down to the village was lined with beach grass, thickets of bayberries, bushes of rosa rugosa, scrubby, knotted pines and thick white birch trees. With the all the windows down, June could hear the squawk of gulls at sea. She passed bikers, and folks out walking their dogs on this sunny Saturday, and absorbed the new scenery. Who were these people? What were their lives like? Would she ever be one of them?

Up ahead, on the side of the road, June spied a group of white tents and a crowd gathered around them. A sign on the sidewalk read: Farmer’s Market: 9am-2pm. She pulled the car off the road.

The San Francisco Farmer’s Market had been her and her mom’s Saturday tradition when she was young: wake up early, hike up the streets to the enormous park, and go straight to a local bakery’s tent for coffee and croissants. Then, Mom would buy all sorts of fresh veggies, eggs, chicken and beef, and for the next few days, they would cook it all, together, and make delicious meals for their little family.

She remembered walking hand in hand with her mother as she led them towards the wooden crates full of ripe fruit…she could remember picking out fat, sweet strawberries and little, tart blueberries and squealing as the flavor lit up her mouth. Being given a slice of honey-oat bread with a thick, brown crust and slathered with butter. The simple desires of a child, indulged by a mother.

A glisten of gold caught her eye. The sun, now almost directly above her, was shining down on a collection of antique jewelry, laid carefully out on crates covered in burlap.

“These are all pieces collected from shipwrecks,” explained the voice behind the display. June tilted her face up to meet beautiful, almond shaped eyes of brilliant green. The woman, wearing a bohemian, paisley dress and a gold scarf in her thick, black tresses, smiled down at her. “And most of them have fascinating histories.”

June pointed at the one that had originally made her stop, an antique compass with brass hands. There was even a smaller circle inscribed at the top where a tiny ivory clock was inlay. “What about this one?”

“You couldn’t have picked better. This belonged to Captain Richard Wallingford, given to him by his wife Lucretia on their wedding day. They were madly in love – read the inscription on the back.”

June flipped the compass over. In plain serif font, the words: Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. Psalms 63:3 were inscribed.

“In August of 1729, he set sail with his crew aboard his trading vessel, the Anne-Marie,” explained the woman. “It was to be a twelve-week voyage. After twenty-four weeks of waiting, Lucretia finally received word…the Anne-Marie had sunk. Only three men had survived. Her husband’s entire fortune was lost. Three months later, Lucretia gave birth to a healthy baby boy.”

June put the compass down. “How sad…yet romantic.”

The woman chuckled. “This compass has changed hands many times before this. They say that great tragedy follows whoever owns this compass…but also true love.”

Shaking her head, June gave a rueful smile to the woman. “Tragedy, I know about. True love, however…”

In return, the woman only shrugged. “It might just be a story, but it is a good story either way, I think. Anyway, it is ten dollars if you like it. You seem like you could use some romance in your life.”

June laughed and handed the woman a rumpled ten-dollar bill, slipping the compass into her pocket. She thanked the beautiful woman with the scarf in her hair and lifted her hand in a small gesture of goodbye. The compass was a small, yet noticeable, weight in her pocket, and June couldn’t help but think of the story as she wandered through the rows of tents full of produce, plants, and pickles.

She knew plenty about tragedy. And true love…

Well, all she knew was that she had lost the only person who had ever truly loved her, the only person who had ever made her feel safe.

And now she had to figure out how to live life without them, even though they were still a vicious black hole in the center of her heart. A pain that time could never, ever soothe.


Beneath his hands, the wood of his sailboat was smooth and warm. On days like this, with his feet in the warm bay water as he guided the boat into the ocean, Daniel swore he could feel the heart of the ship thumping beneath his palms.

He was joined by a few of the men who worked for the harbormaster, and the harbormaster himself, who was easing the big truck the sailboat was attached to down the ramp, into the bay.

When the ship was floating in the water, Daniel walked back up the cement ramp, preferring the feel of blue, cotton shorts and a clean shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the suffocating linen suit of earlier. Here, the salty breeze whipped through the thin material of his clothes. He loved the feeling of the wind against his skin.

“Well I’ll be damned. It’s my nephew,” came a voice behind him. Daniel turned to see his Uncle James, in a white polo and khaki cargo shorts approaching him with a grin. The two embraced.

James stuck his hands in his pockets and nodded towards the boat, now at rest in the pristine water, the words Ursa Major painted in gold on the side and printed on the back. “I may have noticed you putting her in,” Daniel’s uncle confessed. “But it’ll be awhile before they can get her out, they’ve been putting boats in all day. Why don’t you come into the shop and have a beer?”

Daniel had completely sweated off the buzz of his earlier scotch, and a cold beer sounded fantastic in the heat. He followed his uncle across the marina parking lot, to an old warehouse that had housed Atlantic Supply & Company for the past thirty years. James owned and ran the company, a subsidiary of Montgomery Import and Export.

Atlantic Supply & Co was a mishmash of junk and treasures from around the world, including all sorts of antique collectibles found on the Cape. Thick rope and sharp knives mingled with a discount shoe and clothes section. The back wall was dedicated to outdoor sports, while basement was crammed full of old, used furniture. As a child, Daniel could spend hours poring through each new thing his uncle had picked up.

The building itself was cool and dark inside. Dim light shone from converted oil lamps hanging from the rafters. Near the front door was one of the best attractions: the enormous tubs of penny candy and saltwater taffy.

“Haven’t seen your old man yet since you guys got here, although I can’t say I’m surprised,” remarked James as they walked through the store. Neither was Daniel.

He saw the hair first, then the slope of a shoulder, and an anxious feeling dropped through him, a lead weight in his stomach. It was her. Long, yellow hair and olive skin. She had a soft, curved figure. At the sound of their footsteps, her face turned to them, and Daniel saw a pair of grey eyes, deeply set into a heart-shaped face.

Out of embarrassment, he glanced away before he could tell if there was any recognition in her eyes.

“Anything I can help you with, miss?” Uncle James asked, ever the polite businessman.

The girl – young woman, really – pushed her hair behind her ear and looked around the room. “Well, I don’t know, really, I think I might be just browsing,” she said in an evasive tone.

“Well I’m James Montgomery, I own this place, so if you need anything, please ask. This is my nephew, Daniel.”

Her eyebrows lifted in surprise. “Montgomery, huh? Well that’s an important name around here,” she answered. James chuckled; Daniel put his hands in his pockets and pretended he was somewhere else. “Well I just moved into a pretty empty house, so I’m just looking for furniture and knick-knacks, I guess.”

He didn’t know why he said it. It felt like it just tumbled from his mouth before he had the chance to think about it. “Into The Parker House, right?” For some reason, his tone sounded accusatory. Even James gave him a look. The girl seemed baffled for a moment, then nodded her head.

She focused her attention back on James. “I didn’t know it had a name and everything. I’m June Parker,” she said, holding out her hand.

“I’ll be damned,” answered James, furiously pumping June Parker’s hand in acquaintance. “Lily was a great woman. How old was she again when she died?”

“105,” answered June, a soft smile painted on her face with her pair of pouting Parker lips.

James whistled, then gave a start. “I have something of Lily’s here, actually. She asked me to keep this safe until the next owner came. Hold on just a sec, I know exactly where it is, I’ll be right back.” With that, James disappeared into the back room, and Daniel and June were left alone, together, in the empty store.

Each of them rested their gaze on anything else but each other. Daniel’s feet shifted in a constant sway, and he tapped his thumb against the back of his hand to the rhythm of the song on the store’s speakers.

Say something, at least, he told himself. “You know, The Parker House…it used to be one of the best houses along the coast…the furniture inside…should preserve…the integrity of its history, don’t you think?”

He’d been trying to sound conversational, but halfway through realized that he sounded like a pompous ass. Too late. June flashed him a cynical smile. “Unfortunately, not all of us have the Montgomery fortune to throw at whatever we want.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean--,” began Daniel, but June put up her hand and looked straight at him. The intensity of her stare made him feel like a clown. He could read the thought in her eyes. Poor little rich boy.

Daniel sent a silent prayer to the heavens when James returned a split second later. In his arms he carried a small wooden chest. The box gleamed mahogany; the top, cherry. The curved top was inlay with a pine heart, into which the initials AP & SP were carved. The brass latch on the front of the chest was safely locked, and there was a small opening for an even smaller key.

“Is there a key that goes along with it?” asked June.

James wiped his hands on his shorts. “Lily said that the key was in the house.”

June laughed and rolled her stormy eyes. “Of course. I’m sure it’s tucked away…somewhere I’ll never find. Oh well, at least I’ve got it back for her.” She smiled at Daniel’s uncle. “Thank you for your help. I think I saw a sign pointing downstairs for all the furniture, so if you’ll excuse me…” June hugged the chest closer in her arms and turned her eyes on Daniel. “I’ll be attempting to find furniture that fits into my budget and that will preserve the integrity of the house.”

With that, she left them – left him – to feel like a complete idiot and a terrible excuse for a human being.

“What was that about?” asked James.

Daniel pushed his hair out of his face. “Nothing. You think I could get that beer now?”
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So it's kinda going to be part mystery, part ghost story, part love story.