Rusty was the first one to speak. “I’ve been wanting to do that ever since I met you on the ferry,” he said, wrapping his arms around me again and holding me tight. “Something about you has entranced me.”
“I don’t want to leave,” I whispered, nuzzling my face into his neck. “I’m not ready to say good-bye.”
Rusty stiffened slightly.
“But you are…saying good-bye.”
“I have to, Rusty. I don’t have a choice. I have to get back to work. My boss and my co-workers are counting on me.”
“I know,” he said, pulling away gently. “You have a job to do. And so do I.”
We stood up and brushed the dirt from our pants. I offered him my hand and together we walked back to the inn, but not before I turned one more time to watch the fire in the sky mellow to a luscious violet.
I arose early the next day, planning on catching the first ferry to Anacortes. When I descended the staircase I found Grace waiting for me in the main sitting room, knitting another one of her creations by the fireplace. She got up when she saw me, a sad smile on her face.
“I guess you are off then,” she said, coming forward to take my hands in hers. “I wish that your stay had been longer. You must come back again for another visit.”
A lump was starting to form in my throat. I hated good-byes. I pulled her close for a warm embrace.
“Thank you so much for everything,” I said, wishing that I could convey to her all that I felt, but it was impossible. I turned to leave but hesitated at the front door. My heart sank a little. As much as I hated good-byes I had wanted to see Rusty one last time, even for just a moment. Looking briefly over my shoulder at the empty foyer I realized that it was probably for the best. Our relationship, if you could call our brief encounter a relationship, would never be able to go anywhere. We led such different lives.
I felt like I was walking away from a beautiful dream. It was passionate and sweet, but a dream nonetheless.
I loaded my bags in the car and started the engine. Turning in my seat to back out of the driveway I almost ran right into a man who had stepped behind the car. It was Rusty.
He came over to my window and leaned in. I noticed that his face was already sweat-stained from working on the farm that morning.
“I hope you don’t think that you can leave without saying good-bye,” he said, a smile on his mouth which didn’t quite reach his eyes.
Pushing him out of the way in order to open my door, I practically jumped into his arms, wrapping myself around his neck. He returned the embrace with arms that were solid and warm. I did not want to let go, but he pulled back.
“You better get going if you’re going to catch the first ferry,” he said reluctantly.
“Yes, I know,” I responded, stalling. He leaned in for a final kiss. It was different than our shared kiss the night before. It was light and simple, but with a promise of what could have been.
I re-entered my car and put it into gear to leave, but before I could start backing up Rusty handed me a large manila envelope.
“I hope that you found what you needed here,” he said softly.
I began to ask what he meant but he was already heading toward the house. I looked at the time on my dashboard clock and cursed to myself. I was going to have to scramble if I wanted to make that ferry. The next one wasn’t for another several hours and I needed to get into Seattle as soon as I could for my meeting.
I backed out of the long drive, pausing to look back at the house for a brief moment before I pulled out onto the road. Rusty and Grace stood on the front porch, watching me go. I gave a little wave, which they returned, and then I left.
I barely made it in time. It wasn’t until my car was parked and I was sitting at a window on the top deck of the boat that I pulled out the envelope that Rusty had given to me. I caught my breath as I pulled out what was inside.
It was a copy of the print that was hanging over the fireplace at the inn. The lighthouse in the storm. The package also included a note hurriedly scribbled. “You always have a choice,” it read.