Charlie lets the apartment door slam shut as she yanks her rolling suitcase through it. "Miles? I'm here!" She yells.
From somewhere down the hall, she hears a muffled response. She drops her things and follows the noise. Miles is in his kitchen, pulling a pizza from the oven. "You're early," he says with a grin as he sets the pizza down on the stovetop and pulls his niece into a warm hug. "How was the trip? Where's Danny?"
Charlie slips from his embrace, grabs the pizza cutter and begins to slice up the pie. "The trip was fine even though the bus driver was a lunatic. Danny isn't coming this summer."
"Why not? You guys have spent the summer with me for years."
"Mom told him that if he stayed home, she would buy him a car."
Miles's smile disappears. "She bribed him with a car?"
"Yep. It's a Mustang. Red. He loves it. He said he's sorry for bailing, but, well, he really wanted a car." Charlie shrugs, taking a bite from the steaming slice of pizza. She chews and swallows. "Don't be mad at him. You know Mom knows just how to push his buttons."
"What about you? She gave him a car and sent you here on a Greyhound?"
"Well, uh." Charlie turns to the fridge and grabs a beer. She takes a long drink and then she smiles at him impishly.
"She offered me a car too. Told her to shove that car up her ass."
And just like that, Miles's sour mood evaporates into a stupid grin. "You know you're my favorite, right?"
"Oh yeah." Charlie sits down at the table and grabs another slice of pizza. "So, now that I'm here in Chicago, what do you have planned for our summer?"
"Well, we'll do all the usual. I do have to work quite a bit, but we'll find something for you to do while I'm gone."
Hours have passed. Miles and Charlie are sprawled out on the couch, watching a baseball game on TV. He turns to her. "What is your major again? Something with words."
"Really, Miles? Something with words?" Charlie asks with a smirk. "English Lit."
"And what do you want to do with that? Like for a job?"
"What I want to do and what I will do are not the same thing."
"What do you want to do?"
Charlie sighs. "I want to write. Poetry, short stories, the great American novel…all that."
"Poetry? Oh, Jesus."
Charlie sits up straight and scowls at her uncle. "What's wrong with poetry?"
"My best friend is a sad sack poet. Well, he was. Now he's a has-been sad sack poet. It hurts to talk to him."
"God, you're an ass!" Charlie laughs, punching at his shoulder.
"No argument there." Miles smirks. "So your dream is to be a sad sack poet. What do you think you will actually end up doing?"
She lets out a long sigh. "Teach, I guess. It's every English Lit major's fall back plan."
"You sound really excited about it," Miles teases.
"Shut up," Charlie groans before they both become quiet for a while. They sit in silence for a bit. "Wait. You said you know a has-been sad sack poet? Who is your friend?"
"You wouldn't know him. Wouldn't want to know him. He's a drunken asshole."
"I can see why he's your best friend, then."
"Oh, shut up."
"Seriously, what's his name? If he's a has-been poet, maybe I've heard of him? I do live and breathe poetry. Been reading it since I was a kid."
"Ugh. Doubt you'd know my friend, but whatever." Miles swallows the last bit of beer in his bottle. "Monroe. Name is Bass Monroe. He wrote a book of poetry two decades ago –"
Charlie stares, open mouthed. "Sad Songs by Bass Monroe is one of my favorite volumes of poetry ever! You know him? You personally know Bass Monroe? I mean, you KNOW him?" Charlie stands, pacing back and forth.
Miles watches her curiously. Charlie is usually calm and collected. "What crawled up your ass? It's weird, and unnecessary. I promise if he walked in right now, you wouldn't be impressed. Disgusted maybe…"
Suddenly she stops and stares. "Wait. Is he here in Chicago? You could just call Sebastian Monroe and he'd come over?"
Miles looks skeptical. "Are you absolutely sure we're talking about the same guy? Bass is my oldest friend. He's like a brother, but he's a giant ass. He drinks too much. He gets by on the fame of some woe is me bullshit he wrote twenty years ago."
"You never answered me." Charlie speaks slowly as if he is not terribly bright. "Is Bass Monroe in Chicago?"
Miles closes his eyes. "Shit. Yeah, Charlie. He lives in an old cabin near the lake, but you don't want to meet him. I promise. Even if you think you want to meet him, you don't."
"I've been spending summers with you for years. How have I never met him?"
"Honestly it never occurred to me that you'd want to, Charlie." He stands and heads for the kitchen. "I'm getting more beer. Want some?"
She shakes her head. "No. I'm good." As she sinks back into the couch cushions, she wonders how she can get Monroe's location from Miles. There has to be a way. Knowing that she's just one introduction away from her literary idol makes her head spin.
Monroe is her favorite poet - has been for years. In spite of the fact that he's only published the one book, he's the reason she first became interested in writing. She wants to talk to him. She wants to pick his brain. She wants to get his advice. She wants to get to know him, but first she has to find him.
In the week that follows, Charlie asks Miles more questions about his old friend – too many, it seems. After the first few days, he starts to change the subject anytime Monroe comes up.
She decides to take matters into her own hands. She scours Miles's apartment for clues. Luckily for her, her uncle is preoccupied with work. Unluckily for her, he hasn't left much for her to go on. She finds a signed hardcover copy of Sad Songs on a dusty bookshelf and takes the book to her room, figuring Miles won't even miss it.
On the back cover is a faded photo of the author. She has seen the picture before, of course. She has a copy of the book at home. Seeing his picture now that she knows he's somewhere nearby sends a jolt through her system. He's gorgeous – or at least he was twenty years ago – with curly blond hair and clear blue eyes. His expression in the photo is serious and more than a little sad. She strokes the image of his clean shaven jaw with her finger, wondering what twenty years might have done to this beautiful man.
The book is full of haunted sadness, every page and poem rife with the pain of profound grief and loss. She's re-read over half of it while lying in Miles's spare bed, when she finds Monroe's name and a phone number scrawled on a scrap of paper that is tucked in the back of the book.
She stares at the number, her heart pounding. What are the chances that this number is still his? She bites her lip as she considers calling him.
The next night, after re-reading her favorite poem for the millionth time, she calls the number. The phone rings for what feels like forever. She's almost ready to hang up when she hears a gravelly voice answer. "What?" The voice demands.
Charlie ends the call, her heart pounding.
The next day she finds a cardboard box full of miscellaneous pictures in the back of her uncle's storage room. Several of the photos are of Miles and a man who is clearly Monroe because he looks just like the author's photo on the book. Most of the pictures are very old. Miles and Monroe are teenagers in some. There is a handful from their early days in the Marines. Two pictures appear to have been taken at a graduation.
Only one photo looks fairly recent. It shows the two friends standing under an unusually shaped tree. The lake is in the background and a weathered private dock that pushes into the water. They are holding beers and smiling drunkenly at the camera. The photo is slightly out of focus, but Charlie can see that Monroe has aged well. His hair is longer than it had been in the book jacket photo. He has a beard. He's lean and tan and his muscled arms are evidence that he stays active.
On the back of the photo is scrawled: 'Miles and Bass - Turtle Beach'.
Finally a clue she can work with. "Gotcha," she says with a triumphant smile.
Charlie sits at the kitchen table in Miles's apartment, typing away on her laptop when her uncle wanders into the room. "What are you doing?" he asks.
She minimizes her search window in what she hopes is a nonchalant move. "Oh, you know..."
Miles laughs and shakes his head. "Well NOW I do. Aren't you a little young to surf porn?"
Charlie chokes back a laugh. "I'm twenty-two so I don't think porn is all that out of the question, but no. Porn isn't my thing."
Miles shrugs. "Probably just haven't found the right kind yet. You will."
"Whatever," Charlie laughs as he heads out of the room.
As soon as she's sure he's gone, she opens her browser window again. Turtle Beach is a small fishing village on Lake Michigan. The land there has been passed down from generation to generation and the residents refuse to sell to developers no matter what price they are offered.
Charlie uses Google maps and census records to narrow down her search even further.
Finally, she sees it. An image of a weathered gray clapboard cabin with white shutters. It has a wide porch and private access to the lake behind. She recognizes the odd tree and the old weathered dock from the photo.
The place is registered to Jimmy King, but Charlie is confident.
She has found Bass Monroe.
The next day, as soon as Miles has left for work, Charlie takes a bus to Turtle Beach and walks to the only business she sees – an old bar. As Charlie gets closer, she looks around with a smile.
A flashing neon sign proclaims this particular watering hole as The Shy Turtle. Beer signs prominently advertise American beers on tap and a Hank Williams Jr. song drifts through the open door. She walks into the cool, dark interior.
The space is mostly empty but clean. A scarred bar lines one wall, and small mismatched tables litter the rest of the space. There is no dance floor, but a gleaming Wurlitzer from a different time is clearly well-maintained.
This isn't a party place. If you come to the Shy Turtle, it is to do one thing: drink.
Charlie walks toward the bar, taking notice of the cute bartender who greets her with a nod and a smile. "Welcome. What can I get ya?"
She settles onto a barstool and flashes the cute bartender a grin. "Whiskey, neat."
He pours the drink and nudges it her way. "Never seen you around before. You up here visiting friends?"
"Kind of." She shrugs, taking a sip.
"I'm Jeff," he says, holding out a hand.
She shakes it. "Charlotte."
"Glad you wandered in here, Charlotte." He smiles, clearly interested. "We don't get a lot of strangers around the village. Mostly I just see the same old crusty fishermen who have lived here most of their lives."
Charlie pulls a picture from her back pocket. It's the one of Monroe with her uncle. "How about this one? He ever come in here?" She taps Monroe's image with a slim finger.
The bartender's smile fades. "We're a private bunch around here."
"Sorry. Just looking for him. Just want to talk."
Jeff nods thoughtfully. "Talk to me."
"Okay," Charlie says, forcing a smile. "You live around here? Are you one of the crusty fishermen?"
He smiles, relieved at the change of subject. "My dad is one. I never was very good at fishing. Bartending is more my thing."
"This your place?"
"It's owned by the village. Everyone pitches in, but my dad manages the place. I get paid mostly in beer."
Charlie laughs. "I've had worse jobs, although working with family can be… difficult."
"You worked for family before?"
"Tried. Failed." She shrugs.
"So, you going to be around here long?"
"For the summer at least. Maybe longer."
They watch each other in silence for a few minutes and then her gaze falls to the photograph lying on the bar. She'd really hoped to get some inside information before heading to his place. Miles has been no help at all.
He grumbles something under his breath.
"What?" She cocks an eyebrow as she takes another drink.
He sighs, giving in. "So yeah. I saw him a few weeks ago."
"Who?" she asks, coyly.
He nods to the picture still lying on the bar's surface. "Monroe."
Her heartbeat jumps with excitement. "Really? You saw him?"
"Yeah. Looked like cold hell warmed over, too."
"What do you mean? He was sick?"
"Drunk. Shit faced drunk….and then sick. Had to clean the stoop the next morning. He hasn't been back. He will be eventually, but not yet."
Charlie takes in a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "What's he like?"
Jeff shrugs. "Like I said, drunk."
"Always? He's always drunk?"
"Hell, I don't know. I work in the only bar in the village. When I see him, he's always drunk."
After downing two more whiskeys, Charlie decides to walk from the bar to Monroe's. Jeff tells her that his house is just about a half mile down the narrow road and she figures she can use the fresh air anyway. She puts the strap of her messenger bag over a shoulder and heads out after a quick good bye.
"Come back any time," Jeff calls with a wave.
She smiles without making promises and then heads down the road that wanders through ancient oaks and maples. Sunlight glistens through the branches, casting flashes of light into the cool shadows below. Other than the occasional bird song, the only sounds she hears are her own footfalls on the pavement.
Charlie loves the natural beauty of this largely untouched space, and she can see why the locals hold onto it so tightly, unwilling to let it be gobbled up and developed. The birds and the trees and the abundant fresh air are exactly what she needs to prepare her for meeting her idol.
She's not sure what she's hoping for exactly - maybe some advice from one writer to another, maybe some life wisdom, maybe just a chance to spend time with a truly talented poet.
She stops in front of the house. It looks bigger than it had on Google Earth, but it is definitely the same place. Weathered gray clapboard siding and white shutters. The lawn needs mowed and the porch needs a fresh coat of paint.
Charlie goes to the door, emboldened by the whiskey and her own Matheson stubbornness. She raises her fist to knock on the door when she hears a loud curse from the back. Deciding to follow the noise, she walks around the side of the house.
Lake Michigan is beautiful, and this particular private cove is picture perfect. As she gets closer, she sees something thrashing around in the water. Moving quickly, she is soon on the old dock that protrudes into the softly lapping water.
She scans the water and wonders if she was imagining things. Nobody is here. Charlie turns back to the house but only takes a couple steps before she hears something breaking through the surface of the water behind her.
She turns slowly and there he is.
Charlie sucks in a ragged breath as she watches him emerge from the gentle waves. Bass Monroe is walking out of the lake like some kind of water god. His curls are clinging to his head and his beard drips. Shoulders and toned arms and a perfectly sculpted chest come into view. His wet skin glistens in the sunlight as he emerges. Each step brings more of him into view. He's wearing soggy jeans that hang so low that she can see the vee of muscle that disappears under his waistband. The denim hugs his package and muscular thighs so tightly that she feels confident she knows exactly what he would look like naked.
He's drenched from head to foot and hasn't noticed he has a visitor. All of his attention is focused on the fishing rod gripped in his right hand as he steps onto the shore.
Charlie can't stop staring at the beautiful Adonis exiting the lake. Her heart pounds faster with every step he takes. "Holy shit," she mutters, mesmerized as droplets of water sluice over hard, tanned muscles.
She spoke louder than she intended to, she realizes, because suddenly, he looks up. His eyes are bloodshot as they zero in on her. "Who are you?"
She takes a tentative step forward, praying her knees won't give out. "Uh, I'm Charlotte."
He eyes her up and down and purses his lips. "Nice to meet you, Charlotte. Now, turn around and leave."
A/N Thanks as always to Romeo for giving this a beta review. I didn't get a chance to follow up with her after I made changes, so if anything looks wrong - blame only me.
I had every intention of making this a one-shot, but alas it was not meant to be. I think there will be two more chaps of this, but before I continue it I do have to write chap 7 of Call Me When You're Home (the holiday collab I'm doing with Romeo) and also chap 3 of Taken. Then I'll be back here. You know me. I finish what I start. Just please be patient as I get there.