Chapter 1: The Lover
Although Adam ran the cliff top path nearly every day, he rarely got up early enough to have it all to himself. The chilled morning air stung the backs of his bare legs, even as the rising sun warmed his face and forced him to squint. He stretched out his arms wide, like an albatross taking flight, and relished the cold burn as the wind dried the sweat underneath his armpits. Lowering his head, he focused on the path just ahead to avoid tussocks of grass, and any potholes in the dirt, that might unbalance him. A fall had the potential to be fatal so close to the cliff edge. Adam checked his watch. It was still only six fifteen. Plenty of time, he thought, he could reach the lighthouse on Stoney Point and be back and showered before Jenny woke up.
Adam paused when he reached at the tower that marked the end of the headland. He leant against the whitewashed stone for a few moments to catch his breath and take in the view. There were numerous white caps on the waves beyond the shelter of the bay. Beaufort force four, he guessed. The fishing boats were already heading out, seagulls swooping down from the cliffs to follow them in the hope of an easy meal. Feeling his muscles starting to cramp, Adam shook his arms and legs and set off again, retracing his steps.
As he descended the winding slope down into the bay, he could see his own front door. It stood out, painted a bright blue in the row of sea-front terraced cottages. Jenny had wanted a house by the sea, she said she liked to wake up and smell the salt. In reality, they mostly smelled seaweed and, every morning in summer, Adam picked ice-lolly sticks and fish and chip wrappers out of their front garden before Jenny noticed them.
The cat was waiting for him when he reached his garden gate. She threaded her way between his legs and mewed impatiently when he stopped on the pavement to stretch.
“Hey Tubs, I’m sorry,” he scratched the top of the cats head. “I’ll be done in a minute. Did you hear me get up? Have you been waiting for me all this time?” Tubs glared at him, unblinking and settled down on the low stone wall to watch. Adam took his time, if the cat was hungry, that meant Jenny hadn’t yet made it downstairs. The exercise hadn't helped, he could feel his heart beating fast, as if he was still running, and it felt like someone was turning a whisk in his stomach. “Jim wants me to ask her today,” Adam told Tubs, sitting down next to her on the wall. “He says he wants to make the announcement tonight as part of his retirement speech. What do you think she’s going to say?”
Adam fed the cat. Then he showered and dressed quietly so as not to wake Jenny. Downstairs, he took the little velvet lined box out of his pocket and placed it carefully between his cereal and his orange juice. Shafts of morning sunshine streamed into the kitchen through the open window, spotlighting the table and chairs in the centre. He opened the box and rotated it slightly until the diamond caught the light and shone, casting a rainbow onto the ceiling. He ate a few more mouthfuls from his bowl, chewing longer than usual and staring at the vivid yellow design on the cloth whilst he rehearsed his lines. Eventually, floorboards creaked above his head. He sat up a little straighter, put down his spoon and gave the box one last prod into position.
Jenny’s feet clattered on the stairs. The door burst open and she came into the kitchen at a run, tugging a brush through her hair.
“You let me sleep in,” she accused, panting. For a moment, she blocked the light and her brown hair shone copper and gold.
Adam smiled. “It’s the school holidays, you’re not working for another week. I’m surprised you want to be out of bed at all.” She threw him a flustered look and pointed towards the calendar where the 25th of May was circled in red pen.
“I should have been up an hour ago,” she groaned. “There’s still so much to do.”
Adam shifted a cereal packet to hide the box and turned his head so she couldn’t read the disappointment on his face. “I’m sorry. Is there anything I can help with?”
Jenny tapped the toaster as if trying to make it cook more quickly. “I’ve got to go to town to pick up dad’s leaving present from the engravers, then to the caterers to change the order on the food, then to pick up the cake, then I’ve got to help mum in the pub with the decorating.” She thought for a moment. “If you could drop by after work and give us a hand that would be great.”
“I’ll see if I can finish early, the deputy harbourmaster is around this afternoon,” Adam managed a smile.
“You know what dad’s like… he says he just wants a few drinks but he doesn’t mean it. He’ll expect a party.”
Adam grimaced. Jenny took a bite out of a triangle of dry toast. Then, holding onto the rest of the slice, she balanced on one foot attempting to pull her boot on with her toast free hand. She began to wobble. Adam got to his feet and caught hold of her arm.
“Here, stand still.” He removed her hand from the boot and placed his glass of orange juice into her fingers. Then he pushed on the small of her back gently, until she was in a standing position, before bending down to zip up the boot for her. On his knees, he located the other one whilst she finished her drink and toast.
“Have a nice day,” he handed up her handbag.
With one hand on the door handle, she twisted round to kiss him. “Thank you.” she mumbled into his ear. Then she was gone, the bag colliding with the door frame as she swung it onto her shoulder.
He moved to the window, wiping a few toast crumbs off his cheek, and watched Jenny running up the street towards town. Then, deflated, he picked up the box and snapped the lid closed.
A small radio by the sink picked up the marine stations. He twisted the power button and tuned it to channel 23 for the inshore waters forecast. Then he sat back down to finish his breakfast whilst the coastguard read slowly. “SW 4-5 increasing 7 later, sea state slight to moderate occasional rough later, visibility poor…. It sounded like the bright morning sunshine wasn’t going to last.
In the sky, grey-blue clouds were already gathering when Adam set out on his short commute along the seafront. It looked like the best of the day would be over by lunchtime and then a fresh breeze would likely set in from the south-west, driving the sunbathers of the beach and whipping up the chop round the headland. As he approached the harbour, he saw a familiar figure leaning on the railings above the marina wall. This prime spot offered the perfect vantage point. Here a man didn’t need to be as tall as Adam to see out over the rows of pontoons lined with white plastic yachts, past the solid outer wall topped with the lifeboat station and all the way to the outer breakwater, where fishing boats rafted up three deep. Two stone towers marked the harbour entrance and through them you could view the sweeping curve of the bay, blending from sandy beach, to rockpools, to cliffs and ending with the Stoney Point lighthouse on the end of the headland.
Adam paused a moment beside his would-be father-in-law.
“Happy Birthday Jim,” he said.
Jim turned and frowned at him. “None of that, it’s not until tomorrow. Got to make every day count at my age.”
“Sixty five isn’t old,” said Adam automatically.
“You tell that to the board.” Even Jim, for all his usual bullish optimism, could not keep the slight edge of bitterness from his voice. Jim had been the lifeboat coxswain for as long as Adam could remember, but the upper age limit was a hard red line even Jim couldn’t budge.
“I heard they wanted to keep you involved, make you lauchman?”
“Aye, that’s something. Though I doubt the new coxswain will enjoy me hanging around telling him when he’s allowed to put to sea.”
They stared out over the bay in silence.
“Have you spoken to her yet?” Jim asked gruffly.
“Not yet,” Adam confessed.
“Better hurry up then, you’ve nothing to worry about,” Jim assured him.
“I just need to find the right moment,” Adam explained. He wished he hadn’t asked Jim’s permission. He felt like he had set a clock ticking and now every day that passed marked him out as a coward or a ditherer in Jim’s eyes. Of course they didn’t need Jim’s blessing, it was just a formality right? But Jim was the kind of man that would have reacted badly to not being asked. He would have felt his daughter had somehow been stolen from him, and he would have taken the theft as a personal insult. Things always went more smoothly with Jim onside. Most decisions made in this town passed through Jim before being agreed upon.
“I’ve always liked you Adam,” said Jim, slapping one broad hand across Adams shoulders.
“Thank you,” Adam managed a smile.
“The wind is building,” Jim remarked, changing the subject.
“Not until the afternoon,” Adam replied. “I’ll go round and check the lines, but it shouldn’t get above a force 7.”
“Is there anything else you think needs doing?” Adam asked.
“I’m sure you’ve got it all covered.” Jim said, “Just make sure the new boy knows about the swellies. I can already see boats out there and if they are still there this afternoon when the tide turns a few might need fetching back.”
Adam nodded. The tide ripped around the headland and, when a south-westerly wind met a spring tide on the ebb, wind against tide raised chop that could sink a small open boat. He and Jim had always kept a watch on the fishermen around the headland, as not all of them carried radios. From the gesture Jim made towards the boathouse, the new boy must have arrived already.
“You could call in there yourself on your way home?” Adam suggested. Knowing Jim as he did, he was surprised that he wasn’t down there already, imparting a lifetime's knowledge to the rookie.
“I’m busy,” Jim shifted his arms on the railing. “I’m sure you can do it on your lunch break.”
Adam raised an eyebrow but didn’t press him. “No problem,” he said. Obedience learned as a boy was hard to shake off and even now, past thirty, Adam still felt himself deferring to Jim.
A shout from the seafront path made both men look up. Bounding towards them, Adam identified Johnny, who reminded him instantly of a golden retriever. There was something about his hair, his temperament and his gait. Johnny was one of ‘Jim’s boys’, as most of the town referred to those that volunteered on the lifeboat. Adam wondered what they would be called tomorrow.
“Alright Jim.” Johnny started to hum ‘Happy Birthday’ tunelessly.
“Morning Johnny,” Adam. “You’re up early.”
“It’s a nice day,” he smiled. “Hey have you, you know, with Jenny?”
“I haven’t asked her yet.” Adam flushed. “Who told you anyway?”
Johnny glanced at Jim who shrugged, as if to indicate that it didn't matter, he considered the result a foregone conclusion.
“Lucky bugger...” Johnny shook his head.
“Don’t say anything, will you? She’s not said yes yet.”
“Worried I’m going to ask her first?” he grinned.
“Hell no, your missus would string you up.”
“Oh yeah,” said Johnny, his ears turning pink. Adam knew they were both remembering the time Krissy had caught him making eyes at the Anchors new barmaid. Now the whole town knew about the handcuffs under her bed.
“Where are you off to?” Jim asked.
Johnny looked sheepish. “New guy’s turning up today, I want to see what he’s like,” he shuffled his feet as if asking for permission.
Jim made a noise like a grunt.
“Not that anyone could ever replace you… of course...” Johnny called over his shoulder as he strode away.
“What are you up to today then?” Adam asked, when Johnny had disappeared through the door of the boathouse. “Other than staying out of Jenny and Carol’s hair?”
“The Provident is heading out, I’ve come to wave her off.” He indicated the biggest boat in the harbour, a wooden schooner, a heritage sailing ship maintained for the use by the town’s teenagers, to keep them out of trouble.
“I should probably say hello before they head out,” mused Adam.
“Too late,” said Jim. “They’re ready to slip. Besides, you get a better view from up here.”
Sure enough, the large wooden schooner was already letting go of her lines. Onboard, teenagers giggled and some of them turned to wave to parents standing on the pontoon. The Provident was owned and operated by a local charity, taking young people from the area out to sea, in the hope of passing on some life and social skills. Jim, who as a matter of course was on the board, hoped they would glean a little of the town’s maritime history as well but, for the most part, they just saw it as a holiday. They watched as the vessel motored out of the harbour hoisting its sails in the flat water and then leaning gently as she picked up speed and set a course to clear the headland. Adam could just make out the red life jackets as her crew scurried around on deck. “Beautiful,” Adam muttered. He, like everyone else who grew up in a 10-mile radius, had been crew on the Provident a couple of times whilst at school. Since then, he’d spent more time volunteering at fundraising events around the town. The Provident was always on the brink of bankruptcy, as the old boat needed a lot of work.
Once the sails looked set, Adam wandered away from the rail. He took out his mobile and spoke for a few minutes with the boat’s skipper before wandering back to Jim.
“There will be some green faces by lunchtime,” Adam commented.
“Of course but that’s part of the fun. Will they be back here this evening?”
“No, the skipper says they are heading east towards the Solent to make use of the west wind.”
Jim and Adam leant on the railing, side by side, watching the tan coloured sails.
“The new boy must have been in.” Adam remarked. “Johnny’s not come back out.”
They both looked out towards the boathouse. It housed Helena-Mary, the Tamar Class lifeboat that Jim had skippered from her conception until his retirement, this afternoon. Johnny had disappeared inside and hadn’t yet emerged. That wasn’t surprising as the boathouse had become the unofficial hang out for any of Jim’s boys with nothing much to do. Half the over 17s in the town wanted a key to that building, but Jim had strict criteria for acceptance and he could afford to be choosy. Jim’s boys had learned to swallow their vomit before admitting to him that the lifeboats rolling motion had got to them, and to stuff heat packs down their drysuits before Jim could see them shivering. At eighteen, Adam and Johnny had made the cut.
“You’re going to be late,” Jim said, in dismissal.
“Right, see you tonight,” said Adam, taking his cue and leaving Jim to his …