the boat .

Autumn 1873

“I have a surprise for you.”

I look up at him, and smile. “What is it?”

“You’ll see. Come with me.” He offers his hand to pull me up off my seat, but I’m already up. I shift away when he tries to take my hand. Maybe I’ll let him, if the surprise pleases me.

“Where are we going?” I ask, but he only smiles back and darts forward. Knowing that I wouldn’t run to keep up, he stops a few seconds later, turning to face me.

“Come on, Isabel.” I shrug, pretending I don’t care. But his excitement draws me in, making me more curious as each second passes. I walk a little faster.

“Where are we going?” I ask again. But there’s still no answer.

We walk quickly, with him always running ahead of me, setting the pace, pushing me as fast as he knows I’d go. I become confused; what surprise could he give me on my father’s beach? Although we had always played there as children, we were never allowed to swim; the adults told us that the water was filled with terrible creatures and it was too dangerous for someone as precious as me. I had always wanted to know what was on the other side of the island which encircled the beach, making my father’s stretch of the beach almost harbour like. No one ever let me.

He stops right before we reach the sand, and tells me to close my eyes. “I’m not walking across the sand with my eyes closed,” I tell him, rolling my eyes. He frowns for a minute. I know what he’s thinking; “Too precious.” So we walk across the beach together.

I smile when I see it. “Jake! You bought me a boat?” But he shakes his head. Of course not. Where would he get the money to buy a boat?

“I made you a boat. Now we can see what’s on the other side of the island. It’s your birthday present.”

The little wooden boat floats in the water, tilting side to side with every wave of the current.

“Thank you,” I smile, hugging him. He tenses, so I quickly let go.

He pulls the boat out on to the beach so I can get in, and then pushes it out again, walking in the water so that even the top of his shorts get wet. I scream when he jumps in, making the boat tilt so furiously that we could have capsized. But he steadied it, and pulled an oar out from the floor of the boat. And then we sailed.

The clouds held out on us for the entire day as we navigated our way across the water and around the islands surrounding my father’s beach. It turned out to be a perfect autumn day with no unbearable heat and a soft breeze that pushed us slowly and gently.

When we got back my father was waiting. The look on his face told me that something was wrong, even though he was suppressing the entirety of his thoughts. He was always so controlled, but once in a while even I could read him. I take a deep breath, smile, and bounce up to meet him.

“Daddy!” I say, putting on my sweetest voice. “You’ll never guess what we did today!”

He gives me a forced smile, and leading me inside, heaves a sigh as he lands in his office chair; the chair he uses to conduct all his serious business. I frown and wait for him to begin.

“You’re eighteen now.” He pauses, and looks at me with an inexplicable sadness in his eyes. “You will have to be married. I have received many offers, and I have chosen…”

What?

“You’re marrying me off?” I shriek.

He closes his eyes for a moment, setting his jaw line so that I know his decision won’t change. “It’s for the best. Everyone will benefit from this.”
I want to argue, but I know he won’t shift. Somewhere in his mind he has decided that it’s best for all of us. He doesn’t realise that I…

I walk out of his office slowly, confused. That I what? That I don’t want to marry the son of some rich man and secure my future? Even though this was the possibility my whole life had been building up to? That I had fallen…

Jake comes up to me, an anxious and worried air about him. “Isabel? What happened? Is it about the boat? We’ll tell him it was all my fault, okay, and it had nothing to do with you…”

But I shake my head. “It’s nothing,” I say, “Daddy just wanted to talk to me about, you know, getting married and stuff.”

He flinches; I look down at my feet. “I suppose it’s time.”

“Jake… I’m sorry.”

“What are you sorry for? For the fact that your father is rich, so you’re going to marry a rich man’s son? For the fact that my father is a servant? We can’t help any of those things, Isabel, so there’s no need to be sorry for them.” He says the words almost angrily. I look up at him, knowing there was nothing I could do to make it better. This man, my best friend, the person that had guided me through my childhood, would soon come to hate me.

Deep breath.

“Jake, thank you. For the boat, and for everything. Really.” It was all I could say. But it wasn’t enough. He shakes his head.

“When you get married, you’ll have many more boats. And not just little row boats that were made by hand, you’ll have real boats. You have my best wishes.” And he turned to go.

I didn’t have the nerve to yell out after him, or tell him what I was feeling.

When I walked to the beach the next day, the boat was gone.

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