A sharp breeze blew in off the bay, ruffling my dark hair and stinging my eyes. For the most part, it was a warm day. In June, we were lucky if we saw sixty-five degrees, but it was actually almost seventy today. That didn’t stop the wind coming from the north from biting into our cheeks occasionally as my best friend, Ryan, and I stood on the dock of my fishing boat, Seaside Shanty, throwing in lines and enjoying each other’s company. Although I tended to enjoy Ryan’s company more when he wasn’t talking.
Today was not going to be the sort of day where we could stand near one another and toss in lines while stoically enjoying the beauty of Silver Bay without speaking, though. I should’ve known when I stopped by the bait shop to meet Ryan after his shift ended that he was going to want to chat. He had that look on his face, the one that let me know he was feeling particularly inquisitive. I had to wonder when he’d had the chance to smoke up while he was working, but Ryan could always find a way.
“Bay is nice and calm today,” Ryan noted, running a hand through his unruly, dirty blond hair. “Soon enough, all the cruise ships will be coming in, though.”
“Yep,” I acknowledged, casting again and waiting to see if I successfully got a bite this time. It had been a while since I caught a good-sized salmon. I was due.
“Remember last year when that whole family missed their boat, and they begged me to drive them to the next port of call?” He chuckled under his breath, taking a swig of beer while staring at his unmoving pole. “Damn, that was something else.”
“That little girl started calling you Uncle Ry Ry.” It did make me laugh to think about the situation. Ryan was a free spirit and always wanted to help others whenever he could, even though he was irresponsible and spacey to the point that he could hardly help himself most days. When that little girl with the big blue eyes and golden curls had asked for his help, he’d given in. Sucker that he was.
“Well, you would’ve done it, too, if you had a heart, man,” he said with a snicker. “You care more about houses than you do people.”
“It’s my business to care about houses, Ryan,” I reminded him. “This business didn’t build itself.”
“Still, you spend so much time worrying over all of those properties, man. You should put that energy into connecting with people, you know? That’s why I love working at the bait shop. I get to meet all kinds of different people.” A big, goofy grin spread across his face, making me shake my head as I turned away.
“Other than the occasional group of fishermen, who could you possibly be meeting in Sitka, huh? We’re in freaking Alaska, man. It’s not like there are waves of people driving over from neighboring towns on the daily.” Ryan had a way of exaggerating everything, especially when he was excited about it.
“Sometimes, it’s possible to meet the same person in a new way, and then, you’ve got a whole different friend, you know?” He nodded with a twinkle in his eye, finishing his beer.
“No,” I admitted. “As usual, I have no fucking idea what you’re talking about.” I thought I saw my pole move a bit, but it wasn’t enough to start reeling it in.
Ryan laughed. “You’re so honest. God, I fucking love that. It’s okay. The universe will bring the right people into our lives at the right time, and when it does, we will know them.”
“You sound like a fucking shaman,” I muttered under my breath. Once again, it seemed like I might have a salmon playing around on my line, but it was too soon to check to see. I held my breath and waited.
“Anyway, how many properties have you got now?” Ryan asked, plucking another beer from the cooler.
“Forty-five.” I didn’t want to talk too much. I didn’t believe in the universal force Ryan was always talking about, but I didn’t want to jinx anything either. As far as God was concerned, well, I had my questions. A dark shadow formed before my eyes, the flicker of a beautiful face, the memory of a black and white photo that would result in nothing. I pushed it away, shook my head, and refocused on the pole.
“Did you even hear me?” Ryan chuckled again, walking back to his pole. “I think you’re in your own world sometimes, my man.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you,” I admitted. “I was looking at my pole.” And into the past.
“I asked if you are ever going to go visit the one in Maui again. I’d love to go out there with you. I bet it’s gorgeous. Of course, the bright sun might mess with my anti-tan.” He held up his arm, exposed to the elbow in his short-sleeved button-down, and then started to laugh.
He wasn’t as pale as I was, but no one in Sitka was sporting a tan, not even in the summer. Once again, he had me laughing. “I’ll be going out there in the next few months. You wanna come?”
“Nah, I can’t,” he said, negating what he’d just mentioned. “Can’t take time off from the shop.”
“I’ve been telling you for years that you can come and work for me,” I reminded him. “I don’t understand why you like the bait shop so much.”
Ryan made a noise a bit like a goat choking on a tin can. “Are you kidding? I have the perfect job. I get to live out here in the wilderness, following my spirit wherever it leads me and helping my fellow explorers find what they need to live their best lives!” He spread his arms wide, as if displaying to me the beauty of the Alaskan landscape.
I got it. We did live in a beautiful place. That was one of the reasons why I’d decided to stay here, even though I could work from anywhere in the world and had the means to do so. Still, the way Ryan spoke, he was some sort of a spiritual leader, helping people to find the best version of themselves. “You sell bait to guys who spend their days farting around on boats like this one, cursing at the bay for refusing to give them any fish. Like I am right now.” Any movement I’d seen on my line was gone now. “Damnit. Can’t get a single bite today.”
“Hey, you can’t minimize what I do, man. I won’t let your bitterness bring me down. What I do is important, not just to the fishermen you speak of, but to the universe. I am a guide, Beau. I help people find true happiness, their lives’ purpose.”
“And you lead worms, minnows, and other small animals to their demise,” I said with a chuckle under my breath.
“I help them to find their true purpose as well. Their essence will live on in the fish they feed, and their essence will live on in the people they nourish.” He spoke like a wise old sage, rather than a dude in his mid-thirties who had a safety pin keeping his jeans up because he was too lazy to sew the button back on.
“Whatever, Ryan. Just know, if you ever decide you want to come to work for me, I will find you plenty of work to do.”
“And I will respectfully decline,” he said, deciding to reel in his line and try it again. Then, he made the one comment I was hoping to avoid—this day and every day. “Besides, once you meet a new woman, she will want to work with you, and I’ll be the third wheel, man.”
A lump formed in my throat. I got so tired of having this discussion with him. “There won’t be a new woman, Ryan. We’ve talked about this.”
He grunted at me, then put his line back in, using a pole holder on the other side of the boat, which was for the best. I didn’t want to look at him at the moment if he was going to force me to discuss this matter again.
The breeze picked up, and for a moment, I thought I heard a high-pitched laugh tinkling along with the wind. But it wasn’t real. Just a memory. Just a ghost sent to haunt me.
“She wouldn’t like it,” Ryan said matter-of-factly, like he was the expert. “She’d want you to move on, find someone else, be happy.”
“You don’t know what she’d want,” I countered, deciding to follow his lead and move my line.
“I do know what she’d want, Beau. You make it seem like I didn’t know her. I did. Kaylee was awesome. There’s no disputing that. You can’t be such a kind, loving soul and wish anything but happiness upon those you’ve left behind, you know?”
I didn’t know what to say. It was true Ryan did know Kaylee. They knew each other very well. In a lot of ways, I thought maybe she knew him better than I did because she just got him on a level I was still trying to figure out. That was Kaylee. She was loving and patient and could see through facades better than anyone I’d ever met.
But I wasn’t going to entertain the notion he was presenting me with, not yet anyway. “I think I might have a bite,” I told him, seeing a slight amount of movement on the line.
“I think you’re fishing for a new topic of discussion,” he told me.
The line moved again, harder this time. “Nope. I’ve got something.”
Ryan came over as I began to reel it in. The weight of the massive fish on the line tugged me forward. I planted my feet and began to reel harder.
“This fish is a metaphor for the woman that will come into your life—soon,” Ryan prophesized. “This fish is your next wife.”
“Not now, man. Let me get this fucker in.” I reeled as fast and hard as I could, putting all of my strength into it. This was a big one. Visions of landing it came to mind, making me reel it faster.
“Put some finesse into it, brother,” Ryan suggested.
I would’ve pulled my eyes off the target to glare at him, but I was too involved. I continued to reel, my breathing becoming slightly labored with the exertion.
A fin surfaced, and I knew I almost had the bastard. He was huge, maybe the biggest salmon I’d ever caught. If I could get him up on the ship, I’d be able to donate his meat to the local food bank and feed Sitka lower-income families for a few days at least. “Come on, asshole,” I muttered, my arm starting to wear out from reeling so quickly.
The salmon began to come out of the water. He was almost there. Just a few more minutes, and I’d have him.
Suddenly, the fish pitched back into the water, diving in as hard and fast as it could. The line stretched from the force, and then, as my eyes widened in horror, I saw it snap. The monster fish broke the line and swam away. He would live to torment another fisherman on another day with his promises of a great catch likely to be shattered like my own.
“Huh.” Ryan folded his arms across his chest. “Guess that means whoever you meet next is gonna get away. Better work on that, my dude. Let nature guide you.” He clapped me on the back and left me standing there with a broken line, a puzzled look on my face, and the regret of knowing I’d let a good one get away.