Author Katie Mettner

Butterflies and Hazel Eyes ~ Chapter Six

*This is unedited*



I was breathless as the boat bobbed in the water, my attention focused on a place off to my left. “This is incredible,” I whispered, as the rock formations glistened in the midday sun. “The Lady of the Lake is an amazing artist.”

He had spun the captain’s seat toward the caves once we stopped the boat. “I figured you would love these,” he agreed, as enthralled by my reaction to the caves as by the caves themselves. “There are more sea caves out at Devil’s Island, but this boat is too small to handle the ride out there. These are the mainland caves, they ice over in the winter and are a huge tourist attraction. In the summer, they’re a favorite hangout of kayakers.”

I twisted in my seat toward him, excitement filling me. “We could go inside them?” I asked in total awe.

“Of course,” he said, chuckling. “They’re caves created by the lapping of Lake Superior. If anyone ever questions the power of this lake, all you have to do is show them the caves and they’ll never question it again.”

I nodded absently as I gazed at the different formations which made arches and keyholes through the rock. “Do you think if I get good enough at kayaking we could explore the caves?”

“I’d love to,” he agreed. “Kayaking isn’t hard. It’s a matter of stamina with your arms. I’ll let you use my kayak for a week or so when you aren’t working. It won’t take you long and you’ll be ready to come out here.” He pointed up to the land at the top of the caves. “There’s a trail up there. You can actually put the kayaks in at the beginning of the trail at Meyer’s Beach. We won’t have nearly as far to paddle versus if we left from the campground.”

I put my hand to my eyes to block the sun. “I didn’t think we had to come far to get here. We’ve only been out for a few minutes.”

He started the motor to putter closer to the caves up along the shore while heading back in the direction of the campground, and the other islands. “It’s not far, but you want to expend your energy exploring the caves, not getting here. Putting in closer to the caves gives you more time and energy to explore them.”

“Excellent point,” I agreed, sitting down in the chair across from his. The boat was bigger than I expected it to be, considering the way Laverne described it. It was a twenty-foot Boston Whaler with a gigantic one hundred and fifty horsepower motor on the back. The canopy over us blocked the sun, and the boat road over the waves of Lake Superior with no problems. It was a beautiful day to be out boating, even wearing the largely uncomfortable life vest. I had to borrow a child size from another camper, since there was no way we were getting the adult ones sized down small enough to keep me from floating out of it if we capsized.

He urged the throttle forward into the open water toward Oak Island and I leaned back into the seat to enjoy the ride. With the wind on my face and the sun on my back, I could get used to this kind of living.

***

I tapped him on the shoulder as he veered off toward the left, away from the campground. “Where are you going?” I yelled over the motor.

He slowed the boat and pointed at a much smaller island than the one we had just left. “I’m going to show you Hermit Island. It has some cool shoreline variations. It’s a small island, we have plenty of time,” he said as he glanced up at the setting sun.

He increased our speed again and I leaned forward as the small island loomed larger. We’d spent the afternoon on Oak Island hiking, staring out over the water, and talking. We weren’t alone, as there were plenty of other visitors on the island, but I took notice of none of them. As we talked, laughed, searched for butterflies, and tossed sticks for Mojo, we were the only two who existed on the island as far as we were concerned. I was sad when it was time to leave, but it was smart to get back to shore. Being on Lake Superior in a boat this size in the dark was suicide.

Once we were across the channel between the two islands he slid the boat toward shore and pointed with his finger. “You see the rock there?” he asked. It was a little hard to miss the monolith off the shore. It was stacked on top of several other tall boulders. “They call it Lookout Point.”

I gazed at it as the sun set, leaving a golden glow across the rocks. “It’s beautiful. I wouldn’t want to climb up there and take a peek, though!” I exclaimed as the engine puttered along. “We should probably head back,” I said nervously, glancing around the big lake. “We don’t want to get caught in the dark.”

He checked the sun over his shoulder. “You’re probably right. As much as I don’t want our time together to en—” The engine interrupted his sentence by making a pop and a hiss, as smoke billowed out from under the black motor cover. He flew into action, turning the key off and grabbing a fire extinguisher. When no flames shot out, he carefully unhooked the cover as the boat rocked in the waves. I steadied him with my hands on his waist as he gazed at the insides of the motor.

“What happened?” I asked, my voice trembling as my heart pounded. “I don’t think smoke is supposed to come from a motor like that. Not to mention the hissing.”

He laughed, but it was more sardonic than amused. “No, smoke definitely isn’t supposed to come from the motor. I think we blew out the electronics. We’re not going anywhere without a tow.”

“What?” I asked, my head going to the setting sun as the moon rose on the other side. “What are we going to do, Gulliver?” I asked frantically.

He spun around carefully and took my shoulders. “The first thing we’re going to do is not panic, okay?” I nodded, though I was definitely panicking. “The second thing we’re going to do is throw the trolling motor in the water and get ourselves to shore. We’re not too far out. We can beach this and wait for help.”

“Can we use the trolling motor to get back?” I asked, moving aside so he could get to the other side of the boat.

“Not unless you want to be stuck in the middle of Lake Superior in the dark,” he said, the irony not missed on me as we sat in the middle of the lake in the gathering dusk. “It’s an electric motor and it won’t get a boat this size far. It’s just to help you get somewhere safe until help can arrive. Thankfully, it’s a hand tiller motor or you’d be learning about how to beach a twenty-foot whaler with a trolling motor,” he said, winking.

I lowered myself to the seat and grabbed hold of Mojo so he didn’t make any sudden moves. “What do we do when we get to shore?” I asked as he hooked up the motor and dropped it into the water. The wind was forcing us further away from the island, which we didn’t want.

He didn’t respond until he got the motor going to control our drift. “First thing we do is get our phones and see if we can raise Laverne. If we can get signal, we’ll let her know there’s a problem and she’ll send help in the morning light,” he explained, motioning at the console where his phone was. I handed it over as he used the small motor to putter us closer to shore.

“What if we can’t get signal?” I asked, working my phone from my pocket as I held Mojo.

“We’ll make a pan-pan call, but I’d rather get help from Laverne if we can,” he said.

I checked my phone and shook my head. “Nothing. No bars.” I sighed, figuring it would be way too easy to have cell coverage in the middle of Lake Superior.

He held his up and waved it around then frowned deeply. Obviously, he didn’t have a signal either. I could see the concern in his eyes, even though he tried to pretend like he wasn’t. He propelled the boat a bit further down the shore and checked again, so I did too, but I still had nothing. When I glanced back up, he had his to his ear.

“Laverne?” he asked and let out a relieved sigh at the voice on the other end. “We’re stranded,” he explained. “The motor’s electronics are fried.”

I couldn’t hear what she was saying, but he was shaking his head before he spoke. “No, don’t come out in the dark. We don’t have time to get towed back before it’s pitch black out. We’ll get ashore and wait until morning,” he explained. After much discussion and a detailed description of where we would be on the island he fell silent, doing nothing but nodding. “You’re a lifesaver, Laverne. We’ll be ready to go tomorrow morning. Oh, would you call Mathias and let him know I’ll be late? Maybe Chandra, too? Thanks, Laverne.” He hung up and slid the phone into his pocket. “She’s going to send help in the morning. Now we’ll go ashore and camp out for the night. Apparently, there are some emergency supplies on board, so we’ll be fine,” he promised. “There’s no better place to see the northern lights than the middle of Lake Superior,” he said, winking.

We would be okay, it was summer and with a good fire, Mojo by our sides, and a cooler full of food and water we were doing nothing more than camping out under the stars. The getting stranded part didn’t bother me as much as the getting stranded with him part did. I’ve enjoyed our time together more than I have with anyone before. I feared spending an entire night with him in such an intimate setting would cause feelings to lodge in places they shouldn’t. My lifestyle isn’t exactly stable or permanent by any means.

He pointed up ahead as he worked to angle the front of the boat toward a small strip of sandy beach. “There’s only one place slightly accessible on this island,” he explained. “The island was once inhabited by a man they called the Hermit, hence the island’s name. The majority of the shore is rocky, so landing a boat is out of the question around most of the island. There’s a bit of a sandy beach up ahead, but to get there, you have to skirt all the rocks and brownstone in the water. This used to be a brownstone quarry back in the 1800s. They would mine the brownstone and use boats to get it to the mainland. On the other side of the island there are submerged docks left over from those days. The island has a rich and interesting history,” he said as though we were out for a pleasure cruise and not frantically trying to keep from dying in the middle of a lake big enough to cover all of South Carolina.

I bit my lip the closer we motored toward shore as every so often a large boulder revealed itself. Before he started the trolling motor he’d lifted the big engine up and fastened it out of the water, now I understood why. Those rocks would ruin the already damaged motor beyond repair. He slowed the trolling motor and pointed to a paddle alongside the driver’s seat.

“Grab the paddle. Another few hundred feet and I’ll have to stop this motor, too. There are too many rocks. We have to be extremely careful or we’re going to tear a hole in the bottom of the boat. We’ll use the paddle to get us up onto the sand. I don’t want the boat in the water overnight if we can help it. Beaching it will also give us a shelter if it rains.”

“Why can’t we just leave it anchored in the water?” I asked, working at getting the paddle out.

“Rocks,” he said grimly. “A strong gale comes up and the boat has holes in the bottom from banging against the rocks.”

I sighed and held the paddle up. “I get it, but not sure I can do anything with this. It’s bigger than I am.”

He snorted with laughter as he locked the now dripping trolling motor up on the side of the boat. “I’m going to do it, you’re going to steady me,” he explained. Once he was in position next to the driver’s seat, I grasped his waist as he paddled the huge boat closer to shore. He had a trajectory in mind and I didn’t say a word to keep from breaking his concentration. The water was clear as we neared shore and you could see several large rocks we would have to avoid or they would take out the entire bottom of the boat. He used the paddle to brace against the flat rocks on the bottom to avoid the sharp, jagged ones. He managed to slip the boat between the dangerous rocks and shove the front half up on the shore.

“I can’t do much more as far as beaching it,” he said, checking each side of the boat and the back. “The back is floating nowhere near rocks, and the sides are clear of anything bigger than a ping pong ball, so we should be okay. When we get off the boat we’re going to throw the anchor line into the brush,” he said, pointing straight ahead into the fading light. “Just an extra precaution in case the wind does pick up tonight.”

I leaned over the edge of the boat and inspected the terrain. “This isn’t good, Gulliver. Now I see why Laverne told me to avoid the island. She said it would be too difficult for you to navigate here without a dock. I’m not sure how I’m going to get onto the sand either,” I fretted.

“I’m not crippled, Charity!” he exclaimed, throwing his hands up. “It might appear I am, but I can manage to get us in and out of a damn boat without dying. Laverne worries too much and so do you,” he said, slamming the bench down on the back of the boat. He’d yanked out a couple of bundles from inside it and rolled them toward the front of the boat. I remained quiet, holding onto Mojo at the front of the boat as he was doing things I didn’t understand. He flipped on all the lights on the back of the boat and tossed everything, but the cooler, onto the sand to the left us. He tossed the anchor line into the sand and lowered the cooler over the edge using an extra line from the emergency supplies. Once it was on the ground he stood up and brushed off his hands.

“Can Mojo swim?” he asked, staring at the gigantic dog. “I’m assuming you can’t lift him.”

I laughed sarcastically. “He weighs more than I do, Gulliver, but yes, he can swim.”

He pointed to the back of the boat. “I’m going to put him in the water and get him to swim to shore once you’re waiting on the beach. It’s the only way.”

“Not a problem, he loves to swim and if he sees me he’ll know to come to shore,” I answered meekly. I didn’t want to say or do anything more to upset him. We were both stressed, but I was hurt he would think I considered him unable to take care of us. I wasn’t questioning his abilities. I was questioning the intelligence of getting off the boat.

“It’s not as far down as it appears, but since you’re so short we need to be careful so you don’t twist your ankle,” he said motioning me to the side of the boat. He flipped something over the edge and I was surprised to see a rope ladder. It wouldn’t be easy, but I would do it. “I’ll help steady the ladder as you climb down. You’ll only need a few rungs and you’ll be on the sand. Just go slow.”

I nodded, throwing one leg over the rail and onto the first step, grasping the railing tightly. He helped get my second leg over and once they were both on the ladder, he held it while I climbed down. His grumpy frown had twisted into an encouraging smile as I jumped to the ground. I did a fist pump when I landed safely. “I’m good!” I called and he gave me a thumbs up.

“Mojo coming to you,” he said, prodding the dog to the back of the boat with his crutch. He sat on the bench on the back and somehow lifted the monstrous dog into the water. As soon as he splashed in, I whistled and called his name. He doggy paddled around the side and in short order got his feet on the rocks and ran through the water. I took three steps back as soon as he hit the sand. If I didn’t, I’d be the one wet when he finished shaking the water off. I laughed as he shook for seconds, the water spraying through the air the way a sprinkler does on a hot, sunny afternoon. Once he was done spraying water everywhere, he set off to explore the patch of sand we’d call home for a few hours.

I glanced up and Gulliver was leaning over the boat. “If I hand you the crutches will you hold them until I get down?”

“Of course,” I agreed, taking each one as he handed it to me. “I’m going to hold the bottom of the ladder.”

He shook his head, a grim smile forcing his lips into a line. “The ladder isn’t happening,” he explained. “I’m going to throw my shoes and take the same route as Mojo did. I can’t climb, but I can swim.”

I didn’t say anything, even though I was scared to death. If he fell or got hurt I was never going to forgive myself for coming up with the idea of going to the island this morning. We should have been happy with seeing the sea caves.

“Stand back,” he called and I followed his orders. Before I could blink, two shoes were sailing through the air and they landed softly in the sand. His head disappeared and I understood he was probably crawling to the back of the boat, since his limb difference is too great to walk without the shoe. Surprisingly it wasn’t but thirty seconds until he swam easily to shore. “Wow, a swim in Lake Superior is always refreshing,” he joked jovially. He sat in the rocks on the bottom of the lake and crab walked with one leg to shore. “Grab me a towel and my shoes or I can’t get up. Towels are in the blue one,” he said, pointing at a blue plastic tote.

I unsnapped the buckle and unrolled a beach towel, running back to him on the shore with the towel and shoes. Once he had zipped the bottom of his wet pants off and had dried off the best he could, he tied his hikers back on and stood, accepting his crutches from me. “Thanks. Now, we only have a little time to make camp, and you’re going to have to do most of it. Are you up for it?” he asked, one brow lowered.

I nodded once. We were here because of me and I’d do whatever I had to in order to make sure, come morning light, he still wanted to hang out with me. If I was being honest with myself, I just wanted him to still like me when this was over.



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