"Wow, I've never been inside a lighthouse before! Look at that stairway!"
"It's at least four stories high. Come up to the top; you won't believe how incredible it is."
They climbed the spiraling iron stairs together, their laughter echoing like that of eager schoolchildren. The stairway seemed to end against a solid wood plank roof. Brian gave it a sharp push at one end, flipping over a hinged trapdoor to gain access to the lantern room.
"Not much room up here, is there?" Amy said as she followed her brother into the narrow space encircling the lens.
"Technically, no–but just look around you! We can go outside if you want.""The rim. It's called the gallery. You have to be able to go outside, to clean and maintain the glass."
Brian opened a narrow glass door and Amy followed him out, immediately grasping the iron railing that wrapped around the light. The brisk wind forced her hair back away from her face, made her eyes water. Looking over the edge, she was amazed at the elevation.
"If you're wondering, we're about 140 feet above sea level. Cool, huh?"
"What did you mean, it will soon be yours?"
"The CG is selling it to me! I can't wait. Judy and I are going to fix this place up just like when it was new. We'll get the light working again, and refurbish the house, and live here."
"Judy?" Amy practically shouted as the wind threatened to carry her words away.
"My fiancée! Didn't I tell you?"
"I think I would remember something like that! Let's go inside. I don't want to miss a word!"
Amy took her time descending the steps while she tried to prepare herself for Brian's news. Why hadn't he told her before now?
They sat down together at a small wooden table in the kitchen.
"It was built in 1856, and re-built in 1912. Some of this furniture has been here almost that long. Isn't it beautiful?"
Amy looked around at the cracked, peeling paint on the walls, the blackened, fieldstone fireplace that was missing more than a few stones, the rough-hewn wooden floor, uneven and heavily battered.
The sink looked like it had been dripping for a number of years. A long rust plume marred the once-white porcelain. The kitchen windows were fogged from decades of salt spray, a couple of them cracked. The small house harbored an odor of must and mildew that was hard to miss.
"It-it's interesting," Amy said, nodding vaguely.
"I know it needs a lot of work, but over time…"
"Tell me about Judy."
Brian smiled, his lips pressed together comically. "I know I should have called you. I just didn't want to get him on the phone."
Amy nodded, softly biting her lower lip at Brian's reference to Drew.
"She's great, Sis. She's a flight attendant for Trans-Con Airlines. But she's tired of it, so after we're married she'll stay at home and help fix this place up and have babies."
Amy stood up and turned toward the open kitchen door, facing the sea.
Brian stood also and scratched at his forehead with his thumb. "I'm sorry."
"No! No need. It just takes getting used to." Amy forced an over-bright smile. "So when's the big day?"
"December 15th. We're hoping to have this place ready by then. At least partly."
Amy looked at her brother with fondness. Brian, actually getting married! Overcome with a potpourri of emotions, she rushed him with a hug.
"That's just wonderful. Congratulations. I can't wait to meet her."
* * *
Amy was quiet on the drive back to the city. Despite her brother's joyful news, a melancholy spread over her. She knew she should be thrilled for Brian, and yet…there was a sense of foreboding. It all sounded just too good. Too neat. Too happy.
Back in the apartment, Brian peeked into the near-empty refrigerator, dismay on his face. "I've gotta get to the store, otherwise we'll starve. Anything in particular you want? Still love macaroni and cheese?”
Amy turned a bleak smile upon her brother.
"Okay, how about tuna salad? PB and J?"
"I guess your cooking skills haven't improved," Amy said, shaking her head. "I hope Judy's good in the kitchen."
Brian grinned. "So what if I ate 366 granola bars last year. At least I gave up French fries." He began searching through the kitchen cabinets. "Hey, here's some spaghetti. We're saved."
"In a can?"
"Of course. Why, you suddenly allergic to cans or something?"
Amy smiled to herself. Drew would go hungry to avoid eating anything from a can. The closest he ever got to spaghetti was eating pasta Prima Vera at Mario's in the high-rent district.
"It's okay. I was just kidding."
Brian looked closely at the label for a moment before announcing, "Hey, it's got little meatballs in it." But after another glance at his sister's face, he put the can back on the shelf and grabbed his keys from the counter. "I'll be back in awhile. You take a nap or something."
While he was away, Amy read the newspaper. She went directly to the classifieds, hoping to spot an opening for a part time teaching job nearby. Yet nothing fit. Discouraged and unsettled, Amy lay down on the couch and stared at the ceiling.
What was it about Brian's lighthouse that she found so disturbing? She recalled her brother's bright, exuberant smile as he ran his hands along the cracked walls, the chipping paint, the pocked breadboard in the kitchen. Why should she be anything but delighted for him, that he had discovered such an obvious treasure? Surely it wasn't the news of his engagement that depressed her. Brian had to be the most deserving person she knew.
Closing her eyes, she recalled climbing the black, narrow staircase to the top. She could almost feel the crisp wind against her cheeks; feel the stinging in her eyes as she squinted into the breeze.
Amy wasn't even aware that she had fallen asleep until her cell phone roused her thirty minutes later. The sound of Drew's voice had her sitting bolt upright in an instant.
"Why, Amy? Why did you do this? Is there some way we can work this out?"
Amy clutched at her stomach, leaning over it in an attempt to stop the quivering inside.
"There's really nothing to work out, Drew. Let's just leave it at that."
"Are you in the city? I can be there by dinner. Meet me. Meet me at the St. Francis Hotel."
"Don't make this difficult. You-you just stay there on your side of the country and I'll stay here. The duplex is available if you want to rent it out or maybe give it to someone else."
"That place is ours. Why would I want someone else there? Come on, Amy." Irritation crept into Drew's voice.
"You tell me. Or doesn't your new girlfriend like California?"
There was silence on the line. Amy covered her mouth briefly to stifle a sob. "Anyway, I won't be going back. Your credit cards and keys, and wine rack and skis are all there. Your 'A-list' address book of California buddies is there. You won't see any signs that I've ever been there."
"I don't understand any of this."
"Well that makes two of us. Jessie didn't understand, either, when she stopped by last week. To see you. She brought her husband, you know. Or didn't your little friend mention that? Too bad. Jessie always liked you, Drew."
"Jessie? She was here?"
"You've never been very good at playing dumb. Good-bye Drew. I wish things could be different."
Amy pressed her forehead against the phone after hanging up, as if afraid it would rise back up somehow. Hot tears flooded her eyes. At least it was over.