Trinity Island – Chapter 2

July 9, 2012 at 11:00 pm (Trinity Island)

The forty-car ferry bobbed along on its way to Trinity Island in the distance. Claire watched as the speck of land that was her home for the first dozen years of her life grew closer. With each small bit of progress the ferry made toward her childhood home, her recent heartbreak receded.

Claire Wallis wasn’t coming home to lick her wounds; she was coming home to make a fresh start after the abrupt end to her pending marriage. An end that had come about because she’d found her fiancé in bed with another woman. And not just any other woman, it was one from her boarding school days. The class slut who had practically worn a path between their all-girls school and the all-boys school just down the road. Claire told herself that it was just as well she’d found out what Jackson was really like before the wedding had taken place. Now she could move on with her life.

Bullshit. She was coming home to lick her wounds. Or bury her head. Whichever worked best. On the little bump of land she’d once called home, the press would be less likely to camp outside her house asking inane questions like how does it make you feel? God, she hated that question. First, because they didn’t give a shit how she actually felt, unless it came with a teary, theatrical confession that she truly had thought Jackson loved her and was faithful to her, and second, because she really didn’t know how she felt.

She’d happened to catch sight of her fiancé in his car as he’d headed for the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. The minute she’d spotted the woman in the car, she’d hopped down from the window in the dressmaker’s shop, bolted outside, and sprinted the four blocks in her nearly completed wedding dress, barefoot. It hadn’t taken much effort to figure out what room he was using and then she’d just banged on the door while her other hand blocked the peephole. Claire had done little more than confirm that he wasn’t alone and she’d called off the wedding and left.

The press had gotten wind of it because some kid with an iPhone had snapped a picture of her on the street. It showed her leaping over a small dog, silky train flying out behind her, and a look of sheer determination on her face. She didn’t know where that determination had gone in the eighteen months she’d been engaged to Jackson. She’d become a shell of herself. Slowly, she’d morphed into the type of woman Jackson had wanted her to be, rather than telling him to accept the woman she was. Now she had to remind herself which persona was the real Claire.

She had a plan for the next phase of her career. The next phase of her life was another story. She’d called to let her caretaker, Roddy “Mac” Macdonough, know when she’d be arriving on Trinity and he’d promised to air out the house for her, but she had decided to tell him of her plans in person. She had a big idea that would require some hefty changes to the land around her family home, but she knew that Mac would approve of her goals.

As the ferry got closer to her home, Claire couldn’t help but remember the first time she’d taken the ferry. Islanders came and went on a regular basis, but Claire had never set foot off Trinity until the day her father had shipped her off to boarding school. Not only had she left the island, he’d sent her all the way to Switzerland. Mac had accompanied her to the airport in Vancouver where she’d boarded the family jet alone. Her first ever flight had been both exhilarating and scary. She’d enjoyed flying, but she’d dreaded what awaited her when they landed.

Looking back on it now, Claire could be objective and say that her upbringing after she’d left the island had been a lot more structured than it had been before. She was told when to wake, when to dine and when to study. If not for the three girls who had taken Claire under their wing, she didn’t know how she would have survived those years at boarding school. The headmistress was a bitter, old woman who didn’t like kids. Some of the teachers were good, others were not. There had been several bullies in the school and they had all focused their attention on Claire. She had been small for her age, not having hit her growth spurt until she was almost sixteen. And she’d behaved like a boy. Claire could laugh about it now, even if the memories caused a small ache in her chest.

From the time she’d understood that boys were different from girls, Claire had known that her father had wanted a son, not a daughter. Now, she recognized that her father wouldn’t have cared either way, but when she’d been six, she had thought that if she behaved like a boy then her father would love her. Mac had taught her all of the things that boys got taught, because Claire had insisted. She’d learned to ride a horse and use a bow and arrow. Mac had taken her hunting in the woods and taught her to skin the animals she caught. She’d hated that part, but figured if her dad could do it then she could do it. She assumed, now, that her dad had never skinned an animal in his life.

The day she’d left, she’d packed her Spiderman suitcase and trudged down the stairs, her lower lip stuck out in a giant pout. Her father hadn’t bothered to see her off and Claire’s mother had already left the island several months earlier. Mac was the only one who loved her anyway. His wife had died when Claire was eleven and he’d focused all of his energy on making Claire happy. He was only twelve years older than she was, but he had been the father figure she’d needed.

Claire couldn’t wait to see Mac again. Their brief visits in the past had only given them enough time to chat about the changes in their lives without really getting settled in and getting to know each other again. He was a friendly, popular member of Trinity Island’s community and if anyone could tell her what the island needed, it would be Mac.

The house on the hill had remained empty, aside from Mac’s regular checkups, for the past twenty years. Her father, Reginald, much preferred living in Europe, hopping from one casino to another and one woman to another, over living on the tiny island off the coast of Vancouver. Claire had no idea where her mother was. Where her father had been a careless parent, often forgetting that he had a child, her mother had been cruel. She would pinch Claire hard enough to make her cry and then tell her that blotchy, reddened skin was very unflattering. The few months before she’d been sent to boarding school, when her father had filed for divorce and shipped her mother away, had been the most wondrous of Claire’s young life.

With a resigned sigh, Claire returned to her car to prepare for her arrival. Once the ferry had docked, she bypassed the town and headed straight for the house on the hill. Turning the last bend of the road, her childhood home came into view. She stopped the car where the trees had been cleared, about 200 feet from the front door.The house was over one hundred and fifty years old, but it had been built in a style much older than that. The main entrance to the house led into a grand foyer. Off to the right of the foyer were the living areas. To the left was the turret. The library took up the main floor of the turret, boasting well over ten thousand books that her grandfather had collected. Though the turret itself was over forty feet high, it only had two floors.

The top floor was a bedroom. Claire had always wanted to have the turret bedroom, but her parents refused. She didn’t know at the time, but they’d both used it for their illicit affairs, because it had a separate entrance. People could come and go from those rooms and never be seen by the rest of the house.

The turret bedroom had a thirty foot ceiling, with a peaked roof reaching an extra five feet high. Arrow slits and traditional windows circled the room, letting in an abundance of light. The bedroom had been designed as a loft. She thought it might need a little updating, and she knew exactly what she wanted to do with it. Finally, it would be hers.

Down the hallway next to the turret was the study. It had an excellent fireplace, but it was fairly dark. None of the windows provided much natural light as she recalled. The kitchen was situated at the back of the house, looking out on the stables and servants quarters. Mac’s cottage would be just visible through the trees to the right of the stables, and the second cottage lay about a quarter of a mile beyond that.

Claire let out the clutch and rolled the car around the bend to the front door. The grounds looked perfectly kept, as she’d expected from Mac. Even with the house remaining empty for such a long time, he still made sure everything was in tiptop shape. Claire didn’t think her father had ever returned to the island. She’d stopped asking Mac about him when she was fifteen. It was quite possible that the house hadn’t had anyone living in it since she’d left the island at twelve. Her father, according to Mac, had left the island just two days after she had.

Claire had no idea where her father spent his time these days. She assumed he was in Europe somewhere, living the playboy lifestyle. Drinking, partying with girls half his age and still capable of talking them into his bed. She’d been too young to know for sure, and she could admit now that she had also been a very naive kid, but she felt certain that he’d left the island because he’d worked his way through all of the available women on it and needed more variety. Her father had no compunction about screwing another man’s wife, but he never seemed to repeat. If he’d been with someone and ended it, apparently it stayed ended. An island the size of Trinity, it wouldn’t take her dad long to go through the lot of them.

Claire walked up to the front door of her house and almost knocked. The place was home, but it wasn’t. It hadn’t been hers when she’d lived in it. It had belonged to her father and he’d had certain rules that had to be followed. Now there would be no rules to follow unless she wanted them. Claire reached for the doorknob and twisted it, half expecting it to be locked. She swung the door in and stepped into the foyer. The house wasn’t an open plan concept. She wondered how much it would cost and how long it would take to convert the place over. She’d have to hire a contractor soon, to work out the details of the changes she would be making.

But first she needed to find Mac. She closed the front door behind her and wandered through the rooms of the first floor. Everything was clean and free of dust. She could smell lemon-scented cleaner and air freshener. Heading down the main hall to the kitchen at the back of the house, she realized that she’d forgotten how dark the place was. The rough stone of the exterior was carried through into the main walls of the interior. Some had been dry-walled over, but most were left as they were. She’d definitely have to change the overall layout of the place. It needed more natural light coming in.

The kitchen was empty, though spotless. The stainless steel appliances looked serviceable, if a little dated. Claire stepped up to the windows and looked out the back. The stables and the barns were just as she’d remembered them. Mac had made sure the wood wasn’t rotting, though the barns could use a fresh coat of paint. She made a mental list as she went, noting how the roof on one of the outer buildings was in need of repair and the cobbles in the stone path needed to be weeded. Claire recognized that Wallis House was a very large property for one man to keep up on his own. Even hiring local help from time to time, Mac would have had his hands full.

Claire walked out the back door and headed into the woods towards the first cottage. Mac had lived there since she was seven. He’d come from Scotland with his new wife and they’d accepted work at Wallis House. Mac saw to the grounds, and his wife, Lottie, had ruled the kitchen. Lottie had died when Claire was eleven; she’d had cancer and by the time they’d found it, it was too late to help her. Lottie had died just two months after the diagnosis. Mac had taken her back to Scotland to see her family and he’d buried her there.

Claire knocked on the door, but no one answered. She hadn’t thought to check the garage to see if Mac’s truck was there. She assumed he’d gone into town for supplies, as she hadn’t told him which ferry she’d be catching. Claire detoured back towards the barns and the other buildings beyond it. When she was a child they’d had a staff of ten. Mac was foreman to the yard workers and Lottie had run the household. Those who hadn’t had a place in town had stayed in one of two guesthouses beyond the barns.

She intended to turn them into bunkhouses for the kids who would come to her retreat. With a little upgrading, they’d be a perfect place for the underprivileged youth to retire to after a long day spent working with the horses. She’d spent the past few years building a similar program in California, which ran ten retreats per year. Each program brought a group of kids to the retreat for a month-long stay. Claire wanted to improve on the original idea in several ways. One, she wanted the stays to be longer, and two, she wanted the program to be self-sufficient.

The California program relied heavily on donations to keep the books in the black. When the recession hit, donations had dried up. Claire and a few of her closest friends had subsidized a fair portion of the program. She could do the same with the Trinity program, but a few changes made at the beginning could offset a lot of the costs later on. She still had to build the business plan, but she’d needed to see the land before she fully committed to the idea.

Her memory had been kinder to some parts of the land than it should have been. The house would likely require more structural work than she’d anticipated, to make it a workable facility for the retreat. The grounds were in good shape and the barns needed little more than a coat of paint. The stables would have to be expanded in order to house all of the horses she’d need. Currently, it was designed to keep eight animals.

The first guesthouse was a two-storey structure similar in style to the main house, but without the turret. It had five bedrooms, a den and a small library, a moderately sized living area, large kitchen at the back overlooking a small garden, and four bathrooms. Claire walked up the path, but couldn’t go inside to check the state of the structure because it was padlocked. Assuming Mac had done it to keep intruders out, she made a mental note to get the keys from him later.

The second building was larger than the first, with eleven bedrooms and no kitchen. It was styled more like a boarding house than a guesthouse, where boarders were expected to get their meals from a communal kitchen, which Claire’s grandfather had torn down long before she was born. The kitchen in the smaller building wasn’t large enough to handle the needs of the retreat, so she would have to build a mess hall. The second building was also padlocked.

Turning back to the main house, she decided to get started making her To Do list while she waited for Mac to return. She had thought that opening the retreat in the late spring would give her plenty of time to see to any repairs and upgrades. Now, looking at all of the structural work that would have to be completed, she thought that perhaps her spring goal was a little on the ambitious side. Still, with a solid design and an organized plan, as well as a few prayers to the construction Gods for no major hiccups, Claire was determined to make that goal.

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