The rag I hold to my nose, once white, is now completely red. Dark red. Blood-red. Since we followed Vanessa into the lighthouse Duane has asked me if I’m okay three or four times. I’m fine I tell him, it’s just a nosebleed. But I know what he’s thinking: He’s wondering if I’m going to have another seizure - and to be honest I’m wondering the same thing.
Duane finds one of his polos in the trunk. I ask Vanessa if I can use her bathroom. Of course, she says. She really is a nice lady. When I come back out of the half-bathroom she’s sitting in an armchair across from Duane, who sits on the sofa. A tray sits on the wooden coffee table between them with a tea set on top. The tea set’s cute: cups, saucers, tea kettle, all white with blue flower petals blooming along the sides. Duane sips from his tea, listening to Vanessa.
“The lighthouse has been with my family since 1949,” says Vanessa. “It started with my great-uncle and kind of worked its way down to me. The rest of my family lives in Florida, where I’m moving to, and no one else is interested so I’m selling it.”
I look around the living room. Outside the window to Vanessa’s right was a perfect view of the ocean, behind her a fire crackled merrily in the hearth of the fireplace. Next to that, tucked in the corner of a wall, was a beautiful curio cabinet with glass windows. Inside were knicknacks of lighthouses; I resist the urge to go over there and take a closer look, I don’t want to be rude by roaming.
“My partner, Jude here, is very fascinated with lighthouses,” Duane says, taking my hand.
“Really?” she says, looking interested. She doesn’t seem surprised we’re a couple, something I find surprising. I was always under the impression people in small towns were more conservative than they were in cities.
“Ever since I was a kid,” I tell her. “Has anyone showed their interest in it?”
“Surprisingly no,” Vanessa replies, looking pained. “Which is shocking. This little island may not look like much but it pulls in a lot of money with the tourism during the spring and summer months, and the fishing industry. We also have a wonderful private college. I know plenty of residents who could afford it. I’m not asking for much - my family is rather well off - but I don’t want to move to Florida until the sale has been made. ”
“That’s completely understandable,” says Duane.
“So,” Vanessa says, smiling at the both of us, “neither of you have ever seen the inside of a lighthouse?”
We shake our heads.
“Would you like to?” she asks.
The house has two stories. Vanessa starts the tour by leading us through a door into the dining room. The dining room is huge, with a long, sturdy oak table. Above the table is a crystal chandelier. Through another door is the kitchen. The kitchen is large yet simple: Oak cabinets above the sink, gas stove, breakfast nook in the corner by the window with another beautiful view of the ocean, and another curio cabinet with china plates and glasses inside.
A staircase leads to the second floor: three bedrooms on the right, a bathroom on the left. The master bathroom is large enough that it could serve as a library for all the books Duane and I have (we are avid book readers; we have a book shelf of books back home that we haven’t even touched). Vanessa shows us all this as if she’s done it before - and perhaps she has. I’m pretty sure we’re not the first visitors to come to Adermoor Cove who have never seen a real lighthouse much less the inside of one.
After showing us the top floor Vanessa leads us outside. A cobble-stone path leads to the tower which is so big it makes the house look incredibly small. She stands at the door. “I’ll leave you two alone to tour this for yourself,” she says. “Take your time. When you’re finished come back to the house and we’ll finish discussing things.” She tips a conspiratol wink at Duane and begins to make her way back towards the house.
I open my mouth to ask Duane what she means by that but close it - there’s no point, he’s not going to tell me; he’s just going to give me another one of those infuriating shit-eating grins and say, It’s a surprise. He holds the door open for me. “The moment you’ve been waiting your whole life for,” he says.
I hesitate. Something about what he just says has me feeling uneasy. Ever since we stepped off the ferry I’d had this feeling everything was happening like a script. My whole life I’ve always had this feeling, despite what I might say about my spiritual beliefs, that some cosmic force bigger than myself was leading me along a path, that my choices and thoughts were not my own. This is something I’ve only discussed with my therapist. But then the excitement overtakes everything and the uneasiness is forgotten. I step inside and Duane follows, closing the door behind us.
I look up. The spiral staircase winds over our head. The wind whistles against the outside of the tower like a hungry ghost.
I grin, lacing my fingers through Duane’s hand. “Let’s do this.”
Together we begin to climb the steps.
“I’ll be your candle on the water, my love for you will always burn, I know you’re lost and drifting...”
I say the words silently so Duane can’t hear me. Even after seven years of being together, singing in front of my partner embarrasses me. I’m a crappy singer anyway: I can’t hold a note and my voice is too high-pitched. By the time we reach the top we’re both out of breath. There’s no telling how many steps we’ve climbed.
The lantern is housed in a glass room; I touched the lense as if it was some long lost relic and walked to the edge of the room. I look out the window at the dark blue surf. “I’ll be your candle on the water,” I whisper, “this flame inside me will grow...”
Here it is, I think to myself. The moment I’ve always dreamed of. And to think Duane orchestrated all of this - just for me.
He comes up behind me, wraps his arms around my waist, presses me to him, and sets his chin on my shoulder. Being close to him like this still takes my breath away as if for the first time instead of the millionth. For me the newness never wore off. I close my eyes, just living in the moment, my fantasy come to life.
“We could live here,” he says; his breath tickles my ear.
“I wish,” I say.
“I’m serious. I’ve already talked about buying it from her - I just wanted you to see it first.”
I pull out of his embrace and turn to face him. “Don’t fuck with me.”
“I’m not,” Duane says, curling a lock of my hair around his finger. “This could be ours - our kingdom. Your kingdom.”
He’s being serious I realize, completely serious. He’s never lied to me.
“Could we afford it?” I ask incredulously. Then I silently kick myself - why couldn’t we afford it? Duane’s family came from old money. His father had owned his own law firm in New York and his mother had been an English professor at NYU. I’d never had the pleasure of meeting his parents - by the time Duane and I got together his parents were long gone. I thought it was sweet that Duane ended up following in his mother’s footsteps. From what Duane told me, he’d never got along with his father, but he’d loved his mother to pieces. Not only did he inherit money from his parents, he’d sold his father’s law firm to a loyal family friend, and there’s the pay he gets from his job which in itself is pretty substantial. Then there was the money I’d brought in from the New York Times and the royalties from the book I published recently, a memoir disguised as a roman-à-clef titled Get the Lead Out.
Buying the lighthouse isn’t as impossible as it seems. We certainly have the dough. But what Duane was proposing was...impulsive.
I put my hands on my hips and bite my lower lip. “Are you going through some kind of midlife crisis?”
He scratches at his scalp sheepishly. “I don’t know. I’m forty-eight and I’ve never lived anywhere else but New York City. A change wouldn’t be so bad. And I know you’ve always wanted to live in a lighthouse...so when I saw in a news article that the lighthouse was for sale I jumped on it. It feels like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
So this is why we came out here in the beginning of November instead of waiting until Summer when all the tourist show up, I think. I feel stupid; how could I miss such a big clue? “So what, we leave our jobs, buy the lighthouse and then just pack everything up and move here, to an island where we’re complete total strangers? Just like that?”
He shrugs. “Why not? We can afford it. And I did my research. They have an opening at the college. They really need an English teacher. And they have their own magazine. If you didn’t want to do that then perhaps you could write another book since Get the Lead Out is doing so well. I know you’ve been wanting to write another novel. This could be the perfect place for inspiration. If we don’t like it here we could always move back to New York…or anywhere else we want to go.”
“I don’t know,” I say. “You sprung this on me at the last second. If you’d brought this up earlier I would’ve given it more thought.”
“Let me ask you this?” he says. “Other than our jobs what do we have back in New York? We don’t have many friends except those we work with because we both work too much. My parents have been dead for twelve years and you don’t speak to your Mom...”
When he puts it that way he has a point: We don’t have family and the only friends we have are the ones we work with - the other professors in the English department for Duane, Phillip and Jamie who work with me on the editorial team at New York Times. And it wasn’t as if we were moving to the other side of the world...Manhattan was just a ferry ride and a days’ drive away. As far as I’m concerned Duane is the only family I have; but he’s not just my family he’s my home and I don’t care where home is as long as I have him by my side.
Despite my initial reservations Duane already knows what my answer is, and so do I.
I reach up and bring his forehead down to mine. I breathe in his smell, look into his eyes - into the windows of his soul. “Go for broke, all or nothing, live or die? Is that what you’re telling me?”
He nods. “Go for broke. All or nothing. Live or die.”
I kiss both his eyes, the center of his forehead, his lips. “Then let’s do it.”
We find Vanessa back in the living room. She smiles at us as if she knows what it is we talked about.
“What do you think?” she says.
“It’s breathtaking,” I say.
“Is it everything you’d imagine it would be?” she asks.
“It’s better,” I say.
“We’re interested,” says Duane, offering his hand, letting me know they’ve already had this conversation.
Vanessa shakes his hand. “Great. I’ll throw in the chickens and the china.”