It seemed like Thompson and Caroline Gray were living their dream until a brain aneurism claimed Caroline just two short years after they’d bought the Thundercloud Marina. When Caroline died, she seemingly took with her Thompson’s ability to ever love again…until Thompson’s longtime friend and towboat owner Hank Charming tows Garner Holt, a burned out and recently retired doctor and his boat into the marina for repair.
From day one an emotional triangle starts to form and takes all parties by surprise. Since high school, Hank has been secretly in love with Thompson, but Thompson has always been committed to Caroline, even after her death. Thompson and Hank are both drawn to the sailboat captain, but for very different reasons. Will this stranger make Hank drop the torch he’s been carrying for Thompson or will Garner reawaken emotions in Thompson that he thought he’d long ago buried?
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Thompson Gray stood at the end of the dock both hands clutched tightly around his steaming cup of coffee in a feeble attempt to fend off the early morning November chill. The sun was just starting to peak above the barrier islands separating the Atlantic Ocean from the fast moving tide of Savannah’s Intracoastal Waterway. Georgia’s glowing morning sky was filled with hues of reds, oranges, and the slightest hints of fuchsia and pinks seemingly arranged to announce the arrival of another beautiful fall day. But not for Thompson. “Four years,” he said to himself as he fought the tears stinging the backs of his eyes.
He gazed at the brilliant display and thought only of her. This peaceful ritual of coffee and sunrise was one he’d shared with his wife Caroline every morning since they’d bought the Thundercloud Marina just over six years ago. But this morning he stood alone, as he’d done every morning for the last four years, to the day, since Caroline’s sudden death at the age of twenty-eight. He shivered against the chill and took another sip of his coffee hoping the hot liquid might eventually warm his core, but he knew better. On this day every year since her death, he could never escape the icy chills and the impending doom of loneliness and dread that filled his being.
He thought back to that dreadful day, as he’d done most mornings since her death. The brain aneurism that had taken Caroline from him had come out of the blue. She’d been perfectly healthy, or so they thought, with no prior warning except a slight headache when she’d awakened that morning. As was always her way, she popped a couple of aspirin and never complained. She’d taken him by the hand and led him down the dock with the excitement of a child. It was her favorite time of day; but neither of them realized this day was to be their last sunrise together. In a flash, life as he’d known it had changed forever.
They’d been assisting a captain as he docked his boat for the evening. She’d bent down to secure a line when Thompson heard a loud gasp. He looked up to see her grabbing her head with both hands and collapsing in the very spot where he was now standing. In his minds eye he saw her unconscious body lying on the dock. He clearly remembered the fear and panic that had been in his voice as he desperately called her name. He saw himself scooping her limp body into his arms and felt the vibration of the dock under his feet as he ran frantically yelling for someone to call 911.
She’d never regained consciousness and by the time they’d arrived at the hospital, she was already dead.
Thompson tightened the grip on his coffee cup, fighting the memories of that retched day. If the stabbing pain in his heart was any indication, he should be as dead as Caroline, but unfortunately he’d been left alone to exist in his own nonexistence. He lost the fight against the impending tears and wondered briefly if he was crying for Caroline or for himself. With no clear answer, he allowed the tears to slide down his cheeks freely. He closed his eyes and his legs started to tremble so badly he could no longer support his own weight. In an act of desperation, he dropped to his knees and slammed the coffee cup against the dock causing it to shatter like the pieces of his broken heart.
Thompson and Caroline had grown up living just two doors apart, played together with the other kids growing up and from the age of thirteen had spent their summer vacations sitting on the dock watching the boats come and go at the Thundercloud Marina. They’d make up stories about where they were coming from, where they were headed and who owned them. Sometimes when it was really busy, they would help the owner by collecting trash from the boats or delivering newspapers and donuts in the morning. As soon as they were old enough, Thompson and Caroline worked as dock hands and that’s when their love for the marina life really began.
As their friendship progressed, they’d become inseparable and the two of them would get to work just before daybreak, have coffee together while the sun peaked over the horizon and start their day by casting off travelers, or snowbirds as they were commonly called, making their way south for the winter and then eventually north again for the summer.
They’d gone to Savannah State University together, married right after graduation and purchased the marina with the help of Thompson’s grandfather.
Until Caroline’s untimely death, it seemed like they had the prefect life and were living their dreams. Then in one instant everything changed. The morning after her death, he walked out to the dock and watched the sunrise alone for the first time and vowed to continue their morning ritual as long as he lived. It’s where he felt closest to his wife. It was all he had left of her.
After the moments of grief and anger had temporarily passed, Thompson got to his feet. He wiped away the tears with his fingertips, looked around and prayed no one had seen his breakdown. He was grateful when he remembered that his only dockhand had quit two days ago and most of the many snowbirds that filled the marina had not yet awakened. He walked to the office to get a broom and dustpan and headed back down to clean up his mess. As he swept the remains of his coffee mug, the mundane chore helped to calm him and he began to regain his composure. His mind again drifted back to that time. During her funeral, so many people had given him words of encouragement. “Time will heal your open wounds,” they’d all said. But for the last four years time hadn’t healed anything. His guilt about being the one still alive had done an excellent job of keeping him frozen in time. Years later he still felt as devastated as the day he’d lost her. Tears threatened to fall again as the emotions and harsh memories all came flooding back.
During the first year after she’d died, he’d turned his back on everyone. Friends tried to stay connected, but he didn’t want their words of encouragement. He just wanted to be left alone. Everyone had meant well, but he just couldn’t bear the “everything will be okay,” speech day after day. It would never be okay. Time would not heal him. Nothing could heal him. Eventually everyone had given up on him. He didn’t blame them. He was sure he’d have done the same thing if the situation had been reversed.
The one person who hadn’t given up on him had been his longtime best friend Prince. Actually his real name was Henry Charming. Some called him Hank, but since high school, because of his striking good looks, most of their friends called him Prince Charming. They’d been his best friends from childhood. More then best friends actually. But things soon began to change when Thompson suddenly brought Caroline into the mix. Prince had slowly begun to pull away from him, but after Caroline died, he’d come back into Thompson’s life and tried to rescue him. He’d had spent the better part of two years trying to bring Thompson back from the darkness that had encompassed him. But a person can only do so much and it all came to a head early one morning.
Thompson remembered the day like it was yesterday. Prince had been trying to convince him that this morning ritual was not helping him and that he needed to give it up. In his usual way, Thompson had ignored him and proceeded down the dock with Prince on his heels. By the time they’d reached the end of the dock, it had been obvious to Thompson that Prince’s patience had finally run out. At the top of his lungs, arms flailing, he’d again tried to convince Thompson he needed to let go of the past and try to start living his life. Prince had finally broken down in sobs when he’d told Thompson that although Caroline was dead, he was still alive and he was doing her memory a injustice by not living his life to the fullest.
Prince’s words weren’t anything Thompson hadn’t already known, but it was a harsh reality to hear them out loud. He’d flinched internally, but had kept his expression blank and had had no response. Eventually Prince dropped his head, turned and walked away for what Thompson instinctively had known was his last attempt to help. On one level, he’d known Prince was his only lifeline, but on the other he was grateful Prince had finally given up on him too. After all he’d given up on himself.
Thompson’s mind drifted back to reality. Was Prince right? By holding on to this stupid ritual, am I holding on to the past and making everything worse?
“No,” he mumbled to himself. “I can’t. Caroline was my life and we were happy until… This is my last connection to her. To not do this would be like erasing the one thing I have left of her. I can’t pretend this moment we shared every morning never existed. Like we never existed.”
But deep down he also knew that Prince had been right. Four years later, he was still solidly stuck in place; sinking little by little with no visible way out. He realized for the first time that he wanted to get out. He wanted a life, but he had no idea how to go about it. Everyone still treated him like a ticking time bomb. He’d been so unreachable in the weeks, months and even years that had followed her death that his friends no longer tried to approach to him.
He poured the remnants of his coffee mug into the trashcan and started walking back up to the office. Caroline. I know I’m broken, but I have no idea how to fix myself.