Ashokan Falls – 10

They agreed to meet back in the lobby when it came time to go to the clinic for her check-up and Tina left to take care of some errands. Chloe flitted around the room, opened drawers, examined the stained glass, and discovered the fully stocked refrigerator and cabinets. The real delight occurred, however, when she opened the shaded French doors of the balcony to let in some natural light. Her room was situated on the bay side of the hotel, overlooking a long slope that spread onto a wide meandering beach.

But this sight was not what made Chloe gasp and shed a few tears. Jutting out into the water to the far right was a long pier.  Moored at the far end was the graceful lines of the HMS Surprise. Its spars were in tidy order, the yardarms neatly padded with fastened sails, and its sides gleamed in the sun. She could see a few figures moving about the ship and wondered if Jack was preparing to sail. Chloe knew she would have to make sure she got down to the dock to get a closer look before she left the Point.

In the distant horizon, a rim of tall cliffs enclosed the bay like embracing arms, creating a natural harbor that kept the inner waters calm . A few seagulls dipped down to get a closer look, calling out in the hopes that she would throw some crumbs. After she raided the refrigerator and found a cola and some snacks, she returned to the balcony and sat in one of the lounge chairs. Basking in the view was the perfect way to absorb and accept the gift of it all; perhaps, even, to think of a way to pay Tina back.  Apart from a lifelong indentureship in the bowels of one of the Point’s kitchens, Chloe couldn’t imagine how she could ever pay it off, even for one night.

Not knowing what to expect after the checkup with Dr. Girardeau was finished, she opted for casual and changed into jeans, a nice blouse, comfortable shoes, then left the room feeling as if all the worry about the concussion was unnecessary now. When she returned to the lobby, three people had gathered around Tina, all talking and laughing, all of them male.

“Oh, there you are!” Tina said, waving her over with a smile. “Chloe, I’d like you to meet Andy, our head manager here at the Hotel. He’s the one you come to if you need anything during your stay.”

“Sorry I missed you when you came,” he said with a smile, shaking her hand. “I’m usually at the front desk.”

“…and this is Gerry Montgomery, our handy man…,”

“Awrite, lass,” said the towering man next to Andy. He had sparkling eyes, a Scottish burr. and an uncanny resemblance to Gerard Butler. He shook her hand warmly as well. “Don’t you fear what may happen with your lorry.”

“…and Lachlan Curry,” Tina said, indicating the third man, a slightly older incarnation of Russell that stood grinning at them all. He wore a bomber jacket with the cocky air that was unmistakeable for a pilot. “You saw all his lovely planes at the hangar on the way in.”

“She’ll be apples, luv. Word of your situation is already all over the Point and there’s more than one way to sort things out,” Lachlan said.  “If need be, we can go up and look for the Ute. Just give us a ring.”

“You’ll see them in action this weekend during the festival,” Tina added when the three men had parted from them, each going in a different direction. “Lachlan’s going to put on an air show and Gerry’s part of a band that will be playing…when he won’t be running around helping to set things up or keep things in working order. Andy and I will be the ones with our heads missing.”

“Is there something I can do to help?” Chloe asked, still fretting over her debt.

“Drink our wine, eat our food, dance to our music,” Tina said. “Just enjoy yourself! But if you really feel inspired, you can always offer to do something at the retreat itself. It’s by no means finished and the work will continue after the gala. But be very certain you want to say something to Cort. He will put you to work!”

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It was for selfish reasons that Cort pushed the work crew to finish the last-minute details of the Main House a couple of days before the festivities.  He wanted the place to himself, to relish it’s innocence just for a little bit, before party-goers filled it with noise and activity. Maybe that was an indication of his own human pride, he mused, but even God Himself had taken a day to bask in the glory of His work.

Fortunately, his Brothers seemed to understand that need, because they all found other work away from the Retreat to handle today. It was a delight to hear his singular boot-steps echo in the longhouse as he walked its length, a two-story built with thick logs of cedar, flagstone floors, and limecrete walls. A large fireplace of stacked limestone boulders dominated the center of one long wall, and rustic furniture had been collected in one far end, ready to be moved into place the next morning. Outside, a wide porch extended the length of the building, braced by the same thick pillars that framed the interior.  Numerous rocking chairs were set beneath its eaves to look out upon a rugged limestone hill country, shagged in green with juniper, post oak, and mesquite.

The hall sat at the crest of a sloping river bank. Cort stopped at one window to stare out at its shimmering belt, watched a red-tailed hawk float lazily above it all.  He’d had no notion this part of the Point existed until the plans had been laid out and he scouted for a potential spot. A “middle ground,” he’d said, where the Outside intersected with their world. Even then, it was unlike any expectation that had crossed his mind. It was when John and Tina returned from San Antonio that they’d identified its similarity: the Texas hill country. Of course, Cort had never seen it before, but he approved.

Was it only a year ago that he’d first proposed this idea to his Brothers, had laid out his haphazard sketches on a Tavern table? There had been weeks of details and delays, of construction and frustrations, moments when he was certain he’d asked for the improbable, that he’d bitten off more than he could chew. But here he was now, leaning against the window frame, coffee on hand, breathing in the smell of fresh paint, curated lumber, and cool stone. All in all, it was Good.

The words of a psalm of thanksgiving had been running through his mind all morning.

He healeth those that are broken in heart, and giveth medicine to heal their sickness. He maketh peace in thy borders…

Since his arrival, he’d come to see the Point as a place of healing, even in the aftermath of Redemption and the sudden struggle to comprehend a new world full of astounding technology and complexity. He saw the retreat as a way to extend that to the Outside, to offer up the riches of the place. A foray into the neighboring town had brought him to a church mission that tried to rein in the youth of the town, provide them a means of getting off the streets and away from the more predatory elements. It wasn’t hard to feel for their efforts: some things hadn’t changed, it seemed.

He maketh peace in thy borders…

Borders. Now he couldn’t help other thoughts trickle in. Borders had confounded the entry of a new guest. Borders had, in essence, rejected her. He wasn’t sure how he got that conclusion, but in the sleepy hours of the morning, the notion kept repeating itself.

How could an accident become a wholesale rejection? Accidents happened at the Point all the time…but so close to the edge of the known perimeters, and at a time when a number of them would be present? The whole thing nagged like a broken spur.

Even more persistent was the tell-tale zing of connection. It was annoying and electrifying at the same time. It made him think of all the people that had come and gone.  Some of them had departed with pieces of his heart. But that’d been part of the healing in building the retreat, too.  He was sure he’d laid all that to rest and was perfectly happy to not be troubled by it for some time now.

But now…now he wondered if she felt it too, if she knew what it meant.

He wondered if he liked what it meant.

With a sigh, he broke away from the window and walked about a bit more, a bit more agitated than he cared to admit. Past connections had ended abruptly and without explanation, leaving him dry. He was sure he’d laid all of that to rest…and was perfectly happy….

Can’t get into that now, Cort reminded himself. He was in a good place. After the accident, she may well just stay a few days and then go home, never to return. There was no point in letting an obscure hope take hold…again.

So deep in thought was he that it took almost three buzzes on his cell phone to shake him out of it. He saw the ID and answered with a gruff “yeah?”

“It’s a goer for tomorrow. Can you take a sickie?” It was Colin.

“What for?”

“The new sheila’s lorry, mate!”

Then, he remembered. He’d talked with Colin late last night about taking tow equipment out into the forest to try and drag the truck to level ground. From there, they could see what needed to be fixed.

“Oh…yeah, sure, man. When you heading out?”

“Break of dawn. Isn’t that when you cowboys go about?”

“I’m not a cowboy,” Cort replied on reflex. How many times had he said this? “I complain too much. You just need me to lead you there, right?”

“Johnny’s got everything ready. We’ll tie up the ute and haul it. Who’s she riding with?”

For a moment, Cort almost asked ‘who?’ but in the next instant knew his Aussie Brother meant Chloe.

“Wait a sec. She doesn’t need to come along…”

“Fair-go, mate. She has to come. It’s only right, and she’ll have the keys.”

“So just get the keys…”

“Mate, she’ll ride with me.”

Cort tried not to sigh his exasperation into the phone. He had no doubts of Chloe’s ability to handle the trip, but in her state of mind at discovery, there was no possibility that she’d have any idea of how to get back there. Even the best trackers of the Brothers, Terry Thorne and Robin, had difficulty with the perimeters of the Point at times. And the last thing he needed was the distraction of being near her…

“Have you told her yet?” He asked, to challenge Colin from a different angle.

“Uuuh…”

“I thought so.”

“You can do the honors, then. You’re the one that found her.”

“It’d really be best to just let her relax while we do the work that’s needed,” Cort argued. Why was it the instant a new female appeared, his Brothers conspired to involve her in every activity that went on at the Point? Her forlorn expression kept looming in his mind.

But maybe it would do her some good, anyway, said the devil’s advocate. No sense expecting her to pretend it didn’t happen.

“At least ask her if she’d like to go, mate,” Colin urged him.

“Okay. Fine. I’ll go talk to her.”

“She’ll probably be at the Tavern tonight. See you then…”

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