Pelican Bay Security #1
By Megan Matthews
My salvation lies straight ahead.
Exit number six — Pelican Bay.
It took one week and 1,965 miles of driving, but I’ve successfully left my life in Westford, Oklahoma. I’ve had a full week to clear my head and leave my previous poor choices behind me. One hour south of the Canadian border rests the sleepy seaside town of Pelican Bay. The town where I’ll begin my new life.
A smarter life.
A happier life.
A quiet life.
The small, discreet town on Maine’s northern coast sits on rocky beaches surrounded by thick evergreen woods. It’s almost cut off from the rest of the world. It’s also about as far as you can get from Oklahoma while still on American soil. But those are added perks and aren’t included in the reason I’m ultimately here.
A short man in a brown uniform, the name John written on his name tag, delivered the final decision in the form of certified mail two weeks ago.
My great aunt Gertie died.
I’d known that. I didn’t know she left me her two bedroom one bath nine-hundred square foot home in her will. A quick stop at a local lawyer’s office to sign the paperwork and I became a home owner. It was anticlimactic. No one released balloons or took pictures with me holding a set of keys. All those things excited new homeowners do. For my safety I kept my milestone a secret from everyone but my mother. It’s easier to flee if no one knows where you’re going.
Gertie’s house wouldn’t be much to some, but it provided me with an escape exactly when I needed one. Less than seventy-two hours after signing the papers, I loaded my car with four boxes of clothes, two boxes of shoes, and random pictures and other memories.
And seventy-five thousand dollars from Mario’s safe. Hey, a girl needs start-up funds for a fresh new life.
There aren’t many job options in Pelican Bay. The small fishing and tourism town won’t have much use for a twenty-six-year-old with a bachelor’s degree in community service. The four years of live-in-girlfriend status where I occasionally helped out at my boyfriend’s pizza chain is sure to be a resume booster. Or not. Especially when I can’t use him as a reference.
The paved country road curves to the right. A large wooden sign with “Welcome to Pelican Bay” in thick cursive stands on the side of the two lanes, parts of the paint chipped away through the years of tough Maine weather. The town logo, a pelican sitting on a fence post, greets everyone who drives into town, the same symbol I remember from my time spent on the coast as a teenager. “Population, 2,986” painted on a rectangular piece of wood hangs below the welcome sign. They’re proud of the fact the entire town would fit in one apartment building in Westford.
Oh well, 2,987 now, Pelican Bay. Tabitha is moving in.
The road darkens as I drive past the lit up sign. My cell phone beeps three times — the little marker set as my car disappears off the GPS screen. I slow and turn off the now useless phone determined to get to Aunt Gertie’s house from memory. It can’t be too hard.
The coast of Maine is jagged and rocky, the water cuts through the land in harsh divides, creating inlets and bays throughout the area. I’ve spent the entire drive up the coast enjoying the view of each little seaside town. It’s a different world in this part of the country, unlike anything in Westford. I couldn’t be happier; although, it doesn’t take much to beat the concrete jungle I’ve left.
Large patches of evergreens dot both sides of the road, but I spot lights ahead. A sure sign I’m closer to town. The school buildings on the right side of the road are newer, with an addition added since my last visit, but I cross First Street and the scenery becomes familiar — the small combined police and fire department, the last government building before the shops of Main Street consume the view out my front window.
I sigh, happy. Pelican Bay hasn’t changed. Each little shop is its own small, unique building on either side of the main road into town. Small details dot every store front from sloped roofs to the shingled siding you find in coastal towns. Nothing like the rows and rows of similar brick buildings in Westford. There’s Bonnie’s Diner with the large glass windows, the beauty parlor next door, and the small gas station across the street. I cross the Second Street intersection and almost stop the car. Tom’s Grocery and Goodies, my favorite deli, is vacant, the large windows boarded up with ugly sheets of plywood. His classic neon sign above the door is gone.
I guess not everything stayed the same.
The smell of fresh sea water enters the car through the open window and I breathe deeply. It’s been a long time. Pelican Bay’s small patch of beach is another block or two ahead. The beach was always my favorite place to visit when I’d stay with Aunt Gertie. Every summer from the year I turned thirteen until I started college at Oklahoma State University was spent here in Pelican Bay. My afternoons consisted of lounging on the shell-speckled sand and taking in what little sun I could.
My life back in Westford wasn’t horrible — far from it. But at twelve my mother remarried. Dan, her new husband accepted me like one of his own, but he wanted kids with his genetic code. My mother’s attempt to fulfill those wishes included her popping out one kid each year for the next three. Summers in Pelican Bay allowed me to escape the dirty diapers and temper tantrums, which took over my daily life at home.
I pull my car into the parking lot at the end of Main Street with beach access and stop next to the Two Scoops Creamery. The small red sided building is now shut up for the winter, and the sign advertises a Memorial Day opening. They used to serve the best raspberry twist ice cream cones. I’m not sure how I’ll wait a month to buy one.
The beach is deserted. Of course, it’s seven o’clock on a Sunday night and the temperatures routinely fall below fifty degrees this time of year. Thank you, Internet, for that exciting bit of Maine trivia.
Regardless, I exit the car and lean against the hood listening to the waves as they batter the rocks along the coastline. A seagull squawks overhead and a mist of cold salt water floats in the air, chilling my exposed arms, but still I stay. My eyes track the dark night sky to catch a glimpse of the seagull, but even with the sweep of the light house’s beam every few seconds, he’s not visible in the night sky.
I’m lost in memories, but also I’m just lost. The large maple tree I use as a marker to turn off Main to Aunt Gertie’s house is missing. Or I missed it. I’m not sure which.
Without a working GPS I’ll be forced to drive through town in hopes I’ll catch another landmark to lead me to Miller Street. I slide off my car hood and turn back toward the vehicles when two people on the street catch my attention. It’s doubtful serial killers concern themselves with Pelican Bay — too many small town gossips. I walk in their direction and we meet on the other side of the ice cream shop.
Closer and with the light from one of the lot lamps, I discern they’re a couple. Both are in their late sixties or even seventies. Long grey hair is tied back in a knot for the tall lanky male, his tie-dyed long sleeve shirt a size too big for him. His companion is a shorter stockier woman with her own long grey hair left untied as it’s carried in the breeze behind her.
“Hi.” I walk up to them and try to present myself in a nonthreatening manner. With my dark brown hair pulled back into a messy bun on top of my head and my five foot four stature, I’m pretty sure I pull it off.
“What can I do for you, young lady?” the man reaches an outstretched hand.
“I’m looking for Miller Street, but I missed my turn.”
“There aren’t many turns in Pelican Bay.” The woman laughs and smiles back at me.
“No, but I’ve always used the big tree on Main.”
“The storm in 2013 took her. Blocked half the street when she fell. Had to divert traffic around both city blocks. A mess it was.”
2013? Has it been so long? I’d once vowed I’d come back to Pelican Bay every year. Of course, those promises were made before I met Mario. Before he swept me away into his lifestyle of fancy parties and what he called the high life. It’s possible Mario didn’t steal my innocent happiness. I merely left it here so many summers ago.
“I’m Pearl and this is Roland.” The woman steps out extending her hand for a quick shake. “Where are you looking to get this late on a Sunday night?”
I wasn’t aware seven thirty was late, but there’s no way I’ll argue the point with either of these two. “Gertie Thompson’s house.”
“Oh, sweetie. Gertie passed away about a month ago. Her house is empty.” Pearl walks to me and lays a hand on my shoulder. Her fingers are at least ten degrees warmer than my cold skin.
“Yes, I know. I’m Tabitha, her great niece.”
Pearl steps back. “We didn’t see you at the funeral. The entire town came. Her sister visited.”
“I wasn’t able to make it. There were things in Oklahoma to finish up first.” My head stays down so she won’t spot my lie. I’ve never been a good liar.
It killed me to miss Gertie’s funeral. My mother added to it with her own brand of grief over each flimsy explanation I gave her. I just couldn’t find a plausible excuse for the large black eye and bruised cheek on the left side of my face. No one would believe I walked into a door.
Mario put me through crap over the years — late nights, lipstick stains on shirt collars, and even the occasional screaming match — but the shiner made me realize I needed to get out. Every piece that fell into the puzzle after that, I considered fate.
Roland wraps an arm around Pearl and leans forward a little, his eyes inspecting me, but for what I’m not sure. “You here to fix up her old place and sell it?”
“Nope. I’m here to stay.”
“Long way from Oklahoma.” Roland’s eyes do another sweep of my face.
“That’s the point, right?” I fake a laugh. “Pelican Bay holds a special place in my heart.”
“I can’t believe you’re little Gertie’s niece. You’ve grown.” Pearl embraces me in a hug and I brace for a cheek pinch, but thankfully it never comes. I shiver against the warmth of her thick sweatshirt.
“You must get out of the cold.” Pearl rubs her hands up and down my bare arms. “Can’t have you sick on your first week here.”
Roland gives me quick directions while Pearl continues fussing over me like a grandmother. It’s somewhat nice. My mother has taken little interest in my well-being since I moved out at eighteen.
Pearl and Roland stand side by side and watch me drive out of the small parking lot. Pearl waves in my direction until I lose sight of her out the back window. The large woods to the north and south of Pelican Bay cut off most attempts at expansion over the years, and with Roland’s directions I locate Gertie’s house with ease this time.
The house acts as a beacon of happiness. I pull into the loose gravel driveway and shut my car off, but I don’t get out. While Maine’s coast is known for its large traditional built homes that grace magazine pages, inside the small towns and cities a different life is prominent. These homes are smaller and mostly Cape Cods or colonial kinds of buildings. Sturdy designs to keep the cold northern temperatures out while maintaining functionality for a large family.
Gertie never married or had the thirty kids many expected of her. She believed the last thing she needed was a man. Aunt Gertie wasn’t one to listen when someone told her what to do. Today we’d look at her with pride and call her a feminist. Back then… well, they still probably called her a feminist, but they’d have said it with a sneer. Without the husband or large family to take care of, the small two-bedroom Cape Cod at the end of the driveway remained the perfect size for Aunt Gertie. And now me.
A cute little porch covers the front door, the white paint on the steps and railing flaking in certain areas. Too many harsh winters. The light peach color has all but faded to where the low light provided from the neighbor’s front porch makes the house look white.
One thing hasn’t changed since my time here. Gertie’s flower beds overflow with every color bud imaginable, even this early in the spring. She purposely planted flowers to bloom in every season. Together we spent hours each summer pruning her beds so not a single weed remained. It’s sad this is the last time I’ll see it like this. Even with all of Gertie’s teaching, I never picked up her green thumb. I doubt the meticulous landscaping will last a single summer under my care.
The cold seeps past the car windows and I jump out hopeful her heat works. The lawyer in Oklahoma gave me a single key after I signed the estate papers, but not much else in the way of directions on how to do this.
I left Mario the key to his McMansion on the kitchen counter before I drove out of town a week ago. Between my missing stuff, the key, and the simple note I left, I’m sure he’ll get the hint on our breakup situation. Not a grown-up approach, but there wasn’t another way.
The porch light is off, but with the streetlamp I have no problem inserting the key in the lock. I hold my breath for a moment before turning my wrist. It’s a small moment, but it’s a moment that’s all mine. Finally.
I twist the key ready to start my new life and… nothing. It sticks. I try the knob, but the door doesn’t budge.
Okay. No big deal.
It’s possible this key works on the back door.
A cold breeze picks up as I leave the front porch, and I wrap my arms around myself as I walk to the back of the house. My first line of business needs to be unpacking my warm clothing even if it’s April. I can’t handle another one of these nights.
The overstuffed flower beds continue around the house stopping to give up a small section for the back stoop with an overhang to protect against rain and snow. I jam the key in the lock, no longer worried about the memories.
The key doesn’t turn.
“Mother fucker,” I say to no one but my shadow.
I don’t have time to freak out unless I want to lose a toe to frostbite.
There’s a small window to the side of the stoop. If I get the window lifted, I can lean over the rail and squeeze through the opening. I unlatch my hands from where they’re tucked under my armpits, my thin long sleeve shirt completely worthless as the temperature continues to drop. My cold finger tips are numb, but I get a decent grip on the painted window base and jerk.
The window barely budges, the last paint job creating an almost indestructible seal. I jerk hard again and this time the paint releases with a cracking sound. It will take a few more tries to get the window up high enough, but my progress keeps me going.
“Freeze,” a harsh voice demands from the darkness behind me.
Releasing March 2nd, 2017