Handing her ticket to the man on the dock, Chelsea hurried after her sister who was already aboard the ferry, and was heading for the upper deck.
“What’s your hurry,” she panted, grasping the handrail, and using it to pull herself up faster.
With the exception of several overly eager children, most of the passengers were moving at a leisurely pace, enjoying the breezes off the lake, and craning their necks to look at its vast expanse of rippling blue, but not Jamie. Shielding her eyes from the sun she moved swiftly toward the bow, looking to the far horizon.
“It’s funny,” she remarked as Chelsea caught up, disappointment evident in her voice, “I thought we’d be able to see it from here.”
That seemed an odd thing to say, Chelsea thought, glancing from Jamie to the open water and back again.
It had been many years since they had last visited the island as young girls, and both of their memories were a bit fuzzy now that they were adults, but surely she didn’t actually think she could see the island from that distance.
Well, she shrugged, her sister had been super preoccupied the past few weeks, so much so that she, Chelsea, had suggested this get-a-way vacation. One last fling before Jamie’s wedding in the fall.
A whistle blew, bringing her back to the moment, and she nudged Jamie in the direction of the seats a few yards behind them.
Slowly, the ferry chugged out onto the sparkling lake, and Chelsea sat down as the boat cleared the buoys. The hydro engines roared to life and the ferry rapidly picked up speed, clipping through the water, covering them with a misty spray.
The excitement of being back, combined with the adrenaline created by speeding across the lake toward the island, prompted Chelsea to try and draw her sister out of her mood.
“It’s so good to be back,” she shouted above the roar of the wind!
Jamie smiled, a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes, and Chelsea wondered what was up as the wind whipped her shoulder length strawberry blonde hair into her face, but the cacophony of sounds all around her made it nearly impossible to communicate, so she decided to let it go.
Much sooner than she expected, they arrived, and from their lofty perch on the upper deck Chelsea could see glimpses of the town. Despite the early hour it was alive with people walking amongst the shops, the occasional horse and buggy, and bicycles everywhere. The quaint old homes, and the sweeping length of The Grand Hotel, left her feeling as though she had stepped back in time.
Indeed, Mackinac Island was a novelty in that no cars were allowed, other than a handful of necessary emergency and service vehicles, leaving people with the options of walking, bike riding, or horse drawn transportation. Following the other passengers onto the boardwalk, Chelsea smiled and walked up to the nearest Dockporter, handing him their luggage ticket.
“Yes ma’am,” he smiled back, “we’ll have your bags taken straight over.”
She and Jamie had traveled fairly light, but she watched in amazement as piles of luggage were being sorted according to hotel, and several porters began loading up their bicycles with so many pieces, she was left to wonder how they could see where they were going.
“So,” she looked at Jamie, “first stop the fudge shop?”
“Absolutely,” Jamie replied, this time with a genuine smile as she sniffed the air with enthusiasm. Mackinac Island was world renowned for its fudge.
Perky, with short dark hair, Jamie couldn’t have looked more different from her sister, but they had similar personalities, and they both loved fudge.
The process of making this delicacy began in the early morning hours and the tantalizing odors were simply part of the landscape. A trip to the island wasn’t complete without sampling at least three or four different varieties.
Walking up to the shop window, Chelsea couldn’t help stopping to watch. A man wearing a knee length white apron, holding a long-handled paddle, worked over a large copper pot at the back, while another employee was setting up a large metal frame on a marble topped table. Once the frame was secured he walked to the back and together they lifted the pot, carrying it to the table, and pouring the hot liquid fudge into the frame. A deep brown chocolatey mass, they left it to cool, disappearing into the rear of the shop. Alone at a second table, a young woman was working with another batch of fudge, this time a pale golden color.
Constantly moving, never stopping, she walked around and around the table with her spatula scooping it up and folding it over onto the top of the mass. The metal frame had been removed and with her spatula she was scooping and shaping the mixture. Over and over, she repeated this motion until the soft pliable mixture began to cool on the marble, allowing it to begin to hold its shape. Finishing it off, she was left with a 3’ long by 8” wide log of heavenly deliciousness.
"It never gets old, does it,” Jamie whispered in her ear. “Come on, let’s go in and get some.”
As fascinating as the process was to watch, Chelsea didn’t need to be asked twice. Entering the shop, they were overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices.
“I don’t remember having this many to choose from before." Chelsea observed as they worked their way through the crowded shop to get a better view of the display counters.
Agreeing that it would be impossible to pick just one or two, they settled on a variety pack which included family favorites such as Maple Walnut, and Rocky Road, while trying out the newer Chocolate Caramel Sea Salt, and Traverse City Cherry.
Nibbling their unconventional breakfast treats, they wandered down Main St. until they had reached the quieter, more residential part of the town. Glimpsing the lake between the neat rows of Victorian style homes Chelsea sighed.
“There are times when I wish I could stay here forever.”
Jamie nodded, “There are times when I wish I could disappear.”
Glancing toward her sister, Chelsea tried to gauge her level of seriousness. “Is everything okay,” she asked?
Jamie took a small bite of her fudge, sighing, her shoulders slumping slightly as Chelsea waited patiently for an answer.
“Oh, you know,” Jamie finally answered with the air of one trying to shake off a feeling, “pre-wedding jitters I suppose.”
“But you’d tell me, wouldn’t you,” Chelsea faced her sister, “if something was really wrong.”
Jamie nodded her head, giving Chelsea a tight, half smile.
“No, I mean it,” Chelsea continued. “You don’t have to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders, not like last time.”
Chelsea’s veiled reference to Jamie’s previous fiancé made her wince, and Chelsea imagined the flashback it must have caused.
“I’m sorry,” she apologized, “I didn’t mean to dredge all of that up again, I just don’t want to see you suffering. That’s over now, it’s in the past— he’ll never hurt you again.”
Hugging her sister, Jamie brightened considerably. “The porters must have gotten our luggage to our room by now, let’s unpack and go down to the water.”
The next few days were an excellent mix of sightseeing, browsing the shops and trying out new restaurants. Watching her sister relax and enjoy herself helped Chelsea to let her guard down also.
After lunch on their third day, they had settled down on the lawn behind their condo to read, eat fudge, and watch the boats on the lake.
“I think I’m going to check out the bookstore,” Jamie decided as the day wore on. I need something new.”
“Okay,” Chelsea replied from under her floppy hat, “I’ll see you in a bit.”
Settling back down in her Adirondack chair she marked the progress in her own book, allowing herself to be lulled into a state of half sleep by the rhythm of the waves lapping at the shoreline.
Several hours later, she woke, realizing it was nearly dinner time. Turning to her right, expecting to find her sister engrossed in her new read, she was surprised to find the chair empty.
Oh, she thought, checking the time on her phone, she must be back by now. Getting up she headed back up the hill to their condo and opened the door.
Stepping in, her eyes adjusting bit by bit to the dim light, Chelsea found Jamie curled up on her bed, book in hand, staring at the wall.
“Hey,” she cried, “are you feeling alright?”
Jamie mutely nodded her head.
“It’s getting late,” Chelsea began, trying to get a feeling for what was going on. “We should probably decide where we want to eat.”
Going to the wardrobe, Chelsea picked an outfit, and walked to the bathroom. “I’m going to take a quick shower and get this sunscreen off.”
Jamie nodded, rising off the bed, and going to the chest of drawers.
When Chelsea came out, Jamie was dressed and ready to go.
Seemingly back to her normal self, Jamie chatted throughout dinner. Chelsea decided against bringing up her concern. She would trust Jamie to tell her if there was a problem. In the meantime, they had agreed to take the horse drawn wagon tour of the island the next day.
Jamie had been restless most of the night, not really falling asleep until well past midnight, and Chelsea, not wanting to risk waking her so early, wrapped up in the blanket from her bed and tiptoed out to the patio.
Sitting quietly, she mused over the events of the past few days. Jamie was definitely not herself, and Chelsea felt certain it was more than a simple case of pre-wedding nerves, but what it might be she couldn’t put her finger on.
When she had suggested the trip, Jamie had jumped at it enthusiastically, maybe a little too eagerly for someone who had a wedding to plan, and a fiancé to spend time with, but who was she to say. Perhaps this was normal behavior before a wedding. Never having been engaged herself, she wasn’t exactly an authority on the subject.
Chelsea slowly stretched as golden ribbons of light infused the gray morning sky, the tide lapping against the shore, while the twittering of birds, waking up in the dusky tree line at the edge of the property, surrounded her.
Shadowy skies gave way to shades of pinks and blue, gradually banishing the dark shades of night, and that’s when she saw it. The outline of a man standing in the shelter of the pines. An inky shadow, for it was too dusky in the gloom of the trees to determine if he was looking out at the water, or watching the house.
Reaching down into her bag she felt around for the field glasses she had brought for bird watching. It had only taken a moment, but when she looked back up, he was gone.
Was he merely a tourist who, like herself, had gotten up to watch the sunrise, or was he watching the house for some reason. Unsettled by the event, she went inside and locked the door.
Picking up her book, she walked into the kitchen and sat down to read, but she couldn’t focus. Pulling out her phone she began scrolling her social media accounts, anything to take her mind off of the creepy sensation she’d had that they were being watched.
When Jamie woke up, Chelsea said nothing. After all, this was Mackinac Island. The odds of it being anything other than a resident out for an early morning walk, or a tourist enjoying the view, was so remote she was embarrassed to admit her concerns.
After breakfast, they walked into town for the island tour. Climbing onto the wagon they took seats not far from the driver, listening attentively as he outlined the tour’s agenda.
The wagon jolted as the horses stepped forward, while a sharp intake of breath beside her caused Chelsea to turn in her seat. She was just in time to take in Jamie’s expression and the figure of a man wearing a fedora, dodging behind a building on the other side of the street.
“What’s wrong,” she whispered, as her sister forced her features to return to normal.
“Nothing,” Jamie countered, “I just wasn’t ready when the horses started, and for a moment I thought I was going to fall over the edge.”
Chelsea sensed this was a lie, that man had looked suspiciously like Jamie’s ex-fiancé but her sister’s expression had warned her not to pursue it. Okay, she thought, there are too many ears around us right now, but we will talk about this later.
“How could you not tell me that you thought you saw him three times,” Chelsea demanded, as they stood facing each other in their living area later that afternoon,
“I’m not sure it was him,” Jamie countered, her arms folded tightly across her chest, “only someone who looked like him. And you— didn’t you think I’d want to know if some creep was hanging around the place at odd hours?”
“I wasn’t sure who it was. It might have been a neighbor,” Chelsea defended herself, “I mean they live here year-round, and are free to watch the sunrise if they want to.”
“Look,” Chelsea continued, taking a tentative step closer, “I didn’t want to overreact and put you on edge for no reason.”
Turning away from her, Jamie stared out the window for several minutes. “Alright,” she slowed her breathing in an effort to regain her composure, “I have been a little bit tense, and you’ve been reading more into it than you might have if I had been more open with you, so this is the situation.”
Chelsea listened as Jamie told her about the threatening notes she had been finding on the windshield of her car, and tucked into her coat pocket at work. How she was sure it was Bruce, but she hadn’t been able to catch him at it.
“He has no idea where I am.” she assured her, “how could he?”
“True,” Chelsea reasoned, “and though it was unsettling, we’ve never seen this other man up close.”
“Right!” Jamie concluded. “We’ll put it behind us, and enjoy what’s left of our time here.”
But Chelsea couldn't put it behind her—the man in the shadow of the pines that morning had also been wearing a fedora.
The next day passed without incident, and Chelsea was pleased to see Jamie relaxing once again, but the next morning when she stopped by Jamie’s room to ask her how she wanted to spend the day, she couldn’t find her anywhere.
She stepped out to the patio, and ran down to the water, but she was nowhere in sight. Returning to the condo she went through it searching every room, and was about to text her when she noticed Jamie’s phone on the bedside table.
That was peculiar. Jamie never went anywhere without it. Glancing about the room her eyes were drawn to a crumpled paper in the waste basket. Pulling it out and smoothing it between her fingers she realized it was another threatening note, talking about how he knew she was on the island, and declaring that there was nowhere she could run.
Oh no, her mind began racing to the worst possible scenarios. Had he forced his way in while she was sleeping and taken Jamie against her will? She realized now that he was insanely jealous of Jamie’s relationship with David, and it was clear he meant to stop the wedding if he could. But where were they?
No, she refused to believe it. Jamie was smarter than that. There was no sign of a struggle, and her phone was left on the table, not dropped on the floor. She was probably concerned that if she had her phone he would be able to trace her. Indeed, that must have been how he had found them in the first place.
“Think,” Chelsea chided herself, pacing back and forth.
“She must have found the note and slipped out while it was dark,” she continued, talking out loud to herself. “We spent the summers here as kids. She would know places where Bruce would never think to look!”
And so do I, she thought triumphantly.
Preparing to set out around the island in search of her sister, Chelsea kept telling herself. “I will find her— I must find her. And I will find her first.”