Authors: Chelsea Heights
SAIL WITH ME
A Novel by Chelsea Heights
Dedicated to the love of my life.
You know who you are.
“Push, Caroline, push!”
Beads of sweat flowed down her face as she clenched the hospital bed with both hands.
She never experienced pain like this before and thought she would surely die.
With her chin pressed into her chest and her legs elevated in stirrups, she lifted her gaze and saw the midwife raising her baby from between her bloody thighs.
Suddenly the agony of childbirth was gone and replaced with the overwhelming joy of becoming a mother.
Warm blankets were plopped onto her swollen belly and Andrew Thomas was placed on top of them, looking directly at her with his huge brown eyes meeting hers for the first time.
“I’ve waited so long to meet you,” was all Caroline could say before she saw those beautiful eyes roll to the back of his head exposing nothing but whiteness for a few brief seconds and then closing.
The violent seizure started immediately and her perfect baby boy went from pink to blue in a matter of seconds.
Caroline’s baby was taken away from her and rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit by a team of nurses and doctors.
She had no idea she would never hold her newborn again.
Detective Delaney Davenport sat in the comfort of her home behind her Ethan Allen desk tapping a pencil against her third can of Diet Coke.
She couldn’t stop reading her most recent work e-mail, the one declaring she was again passed over for senior detective.
The rejection she felt wasn’t new; being the only woman officer in a notoriously redneck police department of forty-five, she was accustomed to the animosity she felt from the other officers.
Before taking the assistant detective position, she had been moving up the ranks of the Philadelphia Police Department quickly.
Moving from the hustle and bustle of a big city and returning to where she grew up in southern New Jersey had been a surprise to everyone, but at the time love made her feel invincible and clouded her judgment.
“What a bunch of crap,” she said out loud to herself.
She closed the cover on her Apple MacBook and reached for her running shoes.
She stretched on the porch, allowing the overhanging roof to protect her from the sun.
New Jersey was experiencing a heat wave, breaking one-hundred-year-old records.
It was only 7 a.m. and the thermometer hanging from her oak tree was already reading in the low 90s.
It had a red cardinal on top, with a chipped wing.
The broken bird was the only reminder left of her husband, if you didn’t count the anonymous letter and photograph she had stuffed away in the bottom of her beloved Coach bag.
When he left, Delaney had chased after him, tearing the thermometer off of the great oak and cracking him across the head with it.
She didn’t know if the wing broke from his thick skull or the fall to the ground.
It didn’t make a difference; she had grown tired of his lies and broken promises and threw him out of her life.
The Mullica Township municipal complex was one level of brick and stone overlooking the Little Egg Harbor Bay.
Architecturally it was nothing spectacular to look at but it was surrounded by natural beauty.
The city council had the foresight to leave as many natural trees and plants as possible, making it a very unassuming building in a town with barely one thousand residents.
The weeping willows loomed over the structure, their long whip like branches gently swaying in the breeze.
The native sea grasses wrapped around the foundation, providing homes to a variety of small creatures.
Every spring, members of the ladies auxiliary club planted large groupings of annuals in varying colors, heights, and textures along the brick walkway leading to the main entrance of the complex.
Wood benches were randomly scattered across the lawn, each having an engraved plaque in memory of a loved one.
Having a bench with a family name became a status symbol in the small town, and it seemed relatives were coming to pay the one hundred dollar fee for a plaque and a bench before their family member was even buried.
The whole thing made Delaney uncomfortable and she wondered if she should place a special request with the town hall not allowing anyone to put her name on a bench when she was dead.
In the back was a moderate-sized patio area, made of New England slate in shades of gray and brown.
Three round concrete tables with curved benches were placed in a triangle formation, each having its own yellow umbrella.
Off to the side was a pergola which had been overtaken by a family of trumpet vines.
The vines had become so invasive that you could barely distinguish where the pergola was once painted white.
Now its posts and beams were wrapped tightly by the thick green vines with their bright red flowers hanging down forming a natural barrier from the sun.
If you looked at the pergola long enough, you would question whether it was the nails holding it all together or the strength of a thousand vines.
The patio backed up to the bay, where kayakers and children with fishing poles could be spotted any time of the day.
On the opposite side of the bay was a sandy beach with an old steel swing set and slide.
A white lifeguard stand with a slanted roof was perched in the center with a teenager sitting all day listening to his iPod and texting while watching children as their mothers gossiped with one another.
Every day the Jack and Jill ice cream truck would visit and the sound of Mike ringing his bell would bring all the children racing from the water to get their daily treat.
Ice cream sandwiches were four dollars and character popsicles five dollars.
Mike the ice cream man was making a small fortune in cash and was known to make a second showing on the especially hot days.
Mike was a local kid who had joined the Marines at the tender age of eighteen.
When he was nineteen he was deployed to Afghanistan.
At twenty he returned home a man missing his left arm.
Now in its place was a prosthesis with two metal hooks on the end which he could somehow maneuver by using the muscles in his shoulder.
The town had one traffic light and a general store, not so creatively named the Town Store, where you could purchase a sandwich, have your chainsaw sharpened, get horse feed, or mail a package all from the same person.
It was the epitome of one-stop shopping. The upscale homes were spread over acreage, each on the minimum one-acre lot required by a city ordinance which had been in place for over fifty years.
Over half the homes were on parcels of fifty acres, with horse stables and gated entrances.
The majority of the townspeople were professionals, working at the University Hospital in neighboring Egg Harbor City.
Most were employed as physicians, researchers, or upper management administrators.
It seemed everyone else in town made a living off of these people by cleaning their homes, landscaping, and caring for their horses.
Many of these families could be traced back for generations, their great-great-grandparents immigrating to this rural community from Ireland.
These forefathers built the only church in town, the Methodist Church, which stood solitarily on a green hill overlooking the water.
Around the church were acres of rolling emerald hills with gentle slopes displaying concrete gravestones with dates as far back as the 1800s.
It was a traditional clapboard built white church, with huge stained glass windows from floor to ceiling.
The bottom of each window was inscribed with the name of an original member, the husband’s name always being listed first and more prominently followed by the name of his wife who was always displayed on the bottom and in smaller letters, as if an afterthought.
Colorful images of Jesus and crosses surrounded the interior walls of the church, and no matter where you sat, it felt like Jesus’ eyes followed.
The building was filled with the original hand-carved wood pews, each engraved with the carvers’ initials on either side.
The back of each pew held several bibles and hymn books, all in memory of passing loved ones.
Atop the church was the traditional steeple, adding an additional thirty-five feet of height from the rooftop.
On a clear night the illuminated steeple could be seen from a mile away.
Wallace Drummond, a sixty-four-year-old with a tall slender body and a slight but off-centered hump in his back was the groundskeeper and historian for the church.
He had large sun damaged hands, appearing to be more like aged brown leather than skin.
His face looked its age and his sparkling blue eyes carried a heavy sadness. Wally had prominent ears, which only became more obvious as his white hair thinned.
When he was young he was self-conscious of his big ears and would unsuccessfully attempt to push them up under a baseball hat.
He wore his hat now not because of his ears but because he didn’t want his bald spot to burn in the midday sun.
His polyester pants and white buttoned down cotton shirts were beginning to hang from his thinning frame, and just last month he added a new hole in his belt.
His left breast pocket always held his reading glasses and a long thin cigar wrapped in a white handkerchief, even though he had stopped smoking over twenty years ago.
Sometimes when the urge to smoke would hit he would walk the grounds with an unlit cigar hanging from his lips, and Wally swore just having the taste of the tobacco leaves in his mouth was enough to satisfy his desire without having to light up.
In his pants pocket he carried a personal pack of Kleenex, not for himself but for grieving people whom he would often see during his course of the day.
Next to his tissues was his pocket watch, a gift given to him on his tenth birthday from his grandfather Samuel Drummond.
It was sterling silver, smooth, and shiny on the outside with a simple inscription on its cover, “Love, Grandpa.”
Every morning he would open the watch to wind it but mostly to see the faded black and white photo of his beautiful wife Sara holding their only child, an infant named Gracie Anne.
They died only hours apart, Gracie in her mother’s arms, and then Sara in his arms.
He long ago stopped trying to figure out why he survived the flu epidemic while the two people he loved the most spent days struggling for every breath before leaving him.
Wally spent three days digging their shared grave, having to break through the frozen ground.
Plenty of men came with their own shovels and picks to help, but Wally refused all of them.
He wanted to feel the earth in his own hands, and take out his anger with each swing of his shovel.
He had no inhibitions, and openly sobbed with every heave of dirt onto the oak coffin.
The frigid air carried the sounds of his grieving soul throughout the town.