The only problem was, as much as I wanted to be successful with the Rockefeller campaign I really did not want to leave the island. At home, everything was fast paced, requiring immediate attention and aggressive action. The world was different here. Everything was in slow motion: the people, the cars, the animals. This relaxed pace altered my perspective. What once seemed so vital and demanding now seemed trivial and unimportant. I found myself wondering if it really was the end of the world if I lost this account.
But I could lose my job too, not just an account. That was not an option.
Rusty found me sitting on the porch swing a little while later, after I had gotten off the phone with Mr. Peabody.
“How’s it going?” he asked, breaking me from my stunned stupor.
“Oh, fine I guess,” I said. I didn’t really know how I was doing. I was feeling so confused over the difference between these two opposite worlds. I loved how I felt on San Juan Island, at this tranquil little inn. But this was only a vacation. This wasn’t real life. My life was in Seattle, and I needed to succeed with this account in order to pay for my bills. Next month’s rent money wasn’t going to suddenly appear in my bank account. I was going to have to earn it.
“Is there anything you want to talk about?” Rusty asked. After a tentative pause he slid onto the porch swing next to me. We gently swung the bench in unison and the swaying motion was a strange sort of comfort. It was a deep-down root-based comfort, like a forgotten memory that has been hidden since the time that memories were first created. Our legs were touching on the cozy seat but neither of us moved to separate them.
“I am going to have to leave tomorrow,” I said softly. I didn’t want to say it, it was already obvious since Rusty had been in the room when I was talking to Brad. But I felt like it needed to be said regardless.
There was a long awkward pause.
“Let’s go for a walk,” Rusty said, offering me his hand.
Without even thinking about it, our feet seemed to lead us in the direction of the lighthouse, which had become my favorite haunting place over the last few days. We walked along a pathway which wove between red-barked trees until we found a nice place to sit on some rocks. The gentle lapping of the water on the rough rocks below created a soothing backdrop and I tried to breathe in and absorb the tangy air, willing it to calm my shattered nerves.
“Tell me about when you took the picture of the lighthouse, the one hanging in the sitting room,” I said, turning to Rusty. “It’s hard for me to imagine the water ever being that rough. It has only been calm and peaceful since I have been here.”
Rusty leaned back on his hands, his eyes on the lighthouse and the water below. “It was a really stormy evening,” he started. “The wind had been going crazy all day, with immense dark clouds in the sky. It looked like there was going to be a big storm. I was feeling reckless. I wanted to be right in the middle of it, feel what it was like to be surrounded by something so powerful.”
Rusty paused for a moment, thinking about that night.
“At that time, I was being rebellious with my father, with the farm, with our way of life. I felt trapped on this island and wasn’t sure it was where I wanted to be for the rest of my life. My two older brothers had already moved on, one was in the Navy, the other lived with his wife and two kids near Seattle. I felt like it was expected of me to be the one to stay, because neither of the other boys had. I didn’t feel like I had been given the choice, and I resented it.”
Rusty pointed down to a jagged outcropping of rocks close to the foaming water. “I was standing about there when I took that picture. It was dangerous and stupid. The water was coming in so fast, crashing on the rocks around my feet. I knew that at any moment a wave of water could come in and sweep me off my feet. I would either be carried out to sea or bashed against the rocks. But as I was surrounded by the rolling and crashing of the waves, the surprising power and violence, I began to feel connected to the water. I know that sounds funny. I don’t understand it myself, but it was like the water spoke to me. It knew the turmoil and emotions that were crashing inside of my heart. It knew that I had to let go of my fears, the fear of being trapped but also of not knowing what my true destiny was, and the possibility that I was missing out on a spectacular dream.”
Rusty motioned toward the sky above the lighthouse.
“The sun began to set and as it did so the sky seemed to catch on fire. It turned a brilliant orange, with bursts of yellow and red, surrounded by intensely purple clouds. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The water around me was so cold and harsh, but the sky was nothing but heat and fire. Just when I didn’t think the colors could be any more intense, the light at the top of the lighthouse flicked on, a lone little white light in the middle of the storm.”
“Suddenly I didn’t feel afraid or alone. Even though I could connect with the ferocity of the churning water, I could also connect with the warmth and beauty of the sky. I could connect with the solidarity of a little lighthouse that had stood there for a hundred years and weathered more storms than I could count. I could direct my inner passion and warmth, my dependability and commitment toward something I loved: my family. What was important to them was important to me. It was standing out on those rocks when I decided that I was going to stay, and I have never looked back or regretted it, because it was my decision to make.”
I took his hand in mine, wanting to convey to him my appreciation for the significance of what he shared with me, but not knowing what to say.
Rusty looked into my eyes, seeming to search for something. “So tell me, Miss Annie Perkins, why are you here?”
“I…I don’t know,” I said, looking down at our intertwined fingers. “I thought that I knew before, but it is all confusing now. I thought that I wanted just a little vacation, but now I don’t know what I want…”
The sun was beginning to set, casting a warm glow on everything around us. I looked into Rusty’s eyes and watched the green flecks seem to alight with fire. He leaned in closer to me and gently brushed his hand across my cheek until he was winding my hair between his fingers.
“I know what I want,” he whispered. And then he kissed me, pulling me close with a gentle touch. My heart was pounding so loudly in my ears that I could no longer hear or feel the movement of the water and wind around me. As I responded more to the kiss and his touch, his lips became more urgent and we wrapped ourselves in each other’s arms, letting the fire that surrounded us in the sky burst inside with a greedy passion.