The sparkling sun on the ocean greeted the new day. Baby willows were dusted with dew and a gentle breeze was filled with the sounds of life.
Waverly Earp looked out to the horizon, hoping to spot some wildlife. She lifted her binoculars, narrowing in on a small group of puffins enjoying the rise and fall of the waves, occasionally diving deep into the dark waters. Breathing deeply, she leaned her smiling face into the warming sun.
This island escape was just what she needed: A job and a chance to renew. You might say, feeding two birds with one scone. The beach was rocky and uneven, with a row of small buildings and a short dock. Her eyes followed the line of floating walkways out to a deeper spot in the bay, hoping for whales. She walked the length of the beach and looked back to where she started.
It was early, even for Alaska in the summer.
As she scanned the scene, no one else from the lodge was out and about— at least no one that Waverly could see. It was like she had the whole place to herself, a slice of Eden at the end of the world.
She slid her hands into her pockets to walk across the short wooden bridge to the meadow. Gus had warned her to keep an eye out for bears, but frankly she couldn’t wait to see one. She bit her lip and crossed her fingers, still tucked into her pockets for warmth. There was a raised deck a few yards away. She walked over and set down her things, considering this spot for her yoga classes, when needed. From up on the deck, she had a view of the bay with a line of shimmering light from the sun warming her heart.
Yes, this would do just fine.
Waverly couldn’t help herself; her hands pressed themselves together in a heartfelt namaste. She looked to the east and then stretched her body long and lean into a simple sun salutation. The boards creaked as she raised herself up into a downward dog.
Waverly raised her knee and moved slowly to the warrior pose, finally spotting a whale with a spout far off on the horizon. Her heart pounded and her face strained to smile even more than she had the moment before. She held the pose, hoping to magically inspire a second spout to appear. She swore she could see a shape gliding under the water. She grabbed her binoculars and tried to find where her eyes had been only seconds before. Yes, there it was! A long black flipper with dots of white peeked out of the water, causing her heart to pound in her throat.
Waverly grabbed her bag and rushed down to the beach to get closer. All the while, she split her attention between the shadow on the horizon and the uneven terrain at her feet.
Her first whale!
The whale moved closer and then Waverly saw a second spout. She jumped for joy and wished Wynonna or someone were there to experience it with her.
But no. Watching the pair swim into the bay was like a dream. Here she was in Alaska— and it was just liked she’d hoped it would be.
She stood quietly and watched them swim, first moving inland and then fading off into the distance, finally waving to them as they moved around the edge of the cove.
She kicked a rock at her feet and looked at the colors of the wet and dry stones. It was all too good to be real.
Waverly traced her path back to the dock and continued to the opposite end of the beach. All the while she was taking furtive glances at the shorebirds floating in the bay. A mother duck and her babies left little wakes in the protected area of the bay, enjoying the shallows.
The air was filled with birdsong.
Until suddenly, a mechanical buzz cut into the music of the bay.
At first it was a low hum, but as the sound grew louder in the sky above, her serenity was lost.
Waverly turned to see a small seaplane angling overhead and doing a fancy curve along the shoreline, shaking all the birds into the air.
The ducks squawked and rushed off. Everything flew away and in their place was a white and yellow airplane capturing the bay all for itself.
Although Waverly and the rest of the staff had arrived by boat, she knew the routine. Guests would arrive by DeHavilland seaplane. She could feel her spirits sink as the plane navigated its way across the water right to the floating walkway.
Waverly didn’t have this arctic paradise all to herself.
She was here to work. She’d be here as a waitress/bartender/campfire sing-a-longer. No one did just one job and now the hardest job of all would be putting on a friendly face for the group that had just so rudely disturbed her peaceful morning.
She hadn’t expected the plane to be so loud and annoying. As it moved closer, it spewed a puff of exhaust into the pristine morning air that made Waverly wrinkle her nose.
Their first guests of the summer were here.
Time to smile and wave.
A small group from the lodge came out to greet the plane, all in various shades of plaid, denim, and leather.
Waverly suddenly realized she was not in uniform. “Oh, Fudgenuggets!”
She ran back to her cabin to change into her own flannel shirt and cowgirl hat, hoping to make it in time for formal introductions.
Before she could get back to the lodge, the first group of the summer was off to their cabins.
Waverly kicked herself for missing her very first responsibility.
Gus called Waverly over to her. “Next time I want you here, on time and in uniform.”
Gus asked Waverly to help unload their guests. As they walked, Gus asked how Waverly was getting settled in. “I know we told you that you could have cabin two all to yourself, but we have a little change in plans. Nothing major, so don’t get too worried about it.”
“Gus, don’t be silly. I’m sure I can handle it.”
“Good. That’s kind of you.”
“Please… I can roll with the punches. Have you met my sister? ”
Gus laughed. “Well, alright. Wynonna’s got seniority, so she’s the queen bee with cabin one’s queen bed all to herself. That leaves you and the girl’s bunk house.”
Waverly nodded and tried to stay close as they quickly walked out to the docks.
Gus continued, “Our usual pilot and fishing guide is a fella. He did somethin’ stupid and got injured. So now we have a last minute replacement. Her name is Nicole. She’ll be here off and on.”
A set of tall shoulders in a leather bomber jacket heaved inside the small plane.
Gus chuckled, “Speak of the devil.” She looked over to Waverly, “This here’s your new roommate.”
With another quick movement, the woman was standing about a foot away, carrying a sturdy-looking green and silver cooler with both hands. Her face was cocky and relaxed, “You think you could give me a hand with this?”
“Sure…” Oomph. Waverly’s affirmation was cut short when the heavy chest was slung her way. Her arms adjusted and the weight slipped as she stepped back on the swaying dock.
Gus grabbed a handle. “Here let me help you with that.”
Waverly used both hands on her end and then she and Gus set the chest off to the side. Out of the corner of her eye, Waverly saw a sticker on the ice chest that started to crack her icy mood. I Love Animals.
Waverly realized she might have been too quick to judge. Maybe Nicole was more than just a loud, stinky bush pilot. How sweet!
Waverly’s eyes narrowed on smaller letters underneath.I Love Animals.They’re Delicious.
No. Her instinct were right. She was a very good judge of character.
The pilot called out from the back of the plane, “Are you guys here to help?Or just enjoy the show?” As she spoke, she had a small stack of bags piling up at the edge of the dock.
Gus stepped inside the plane and called out, “I’ve got things to do, but I wanted to get the mail bag. Waverly here will help you. She’s your new roommate so I’ll let her show you the bunkhouse. It’s not much, but there’s a lock on the door and carpet under your feet.”
Gus backed out. With one foot on the deck she called back to the pilot. “See you!” Gus could see Nicole straddling a large keg in the back of the plane. She looked sternly at Waverly as she left, “You better get in there and help her.”
Waverly ducked her head in the door sheepishly, “Gus said you needed some help.”
“Thank goodness someone here can read my mind.” Nicole rolled the canister out of the corner, “Yes.” She pushed the object towards Waverly, “Can you grab an end? Careful. It’s heavy and let’s try not to shake it up too much.”
Waverly wrinkled her nose, “What is it?”
“Beer. And-- lift!”
Together they maneuvered the long object through the small plane and out the door. “Watch your step.”
Before she could register the warning, Waverly tripped on the duffel and fell back, dropping her end of the keg onto the edge of the dock. It started to slip, but Nicole caught it and jerked back to save it from falling. With the sudden movement, she hit her head, “Fuck!” and dropped the keg inside the plane. She watched it roll, clank and bang its way down the short plane until it hit the center console in the cockpit with a loud thud.
“And there goes my tip! Lost in a mother f-in’ foamy microbrew 500 miles from home.” Nicole held her lips tightly together trying to keep her cool. She rushed to the keg and held it steady for a minute, while she tried to get ahold of her temper. She carefully examined the console for damage from the hard hit.
Waverly leaned in, apologetic. “I’m so sorry. I…”
Waverly stopped. She could see she wasn’t helping.
Out of nowhere came Wynonna rolling a bright yellow utility cart up the dock with a lollipop in her mouth and a devious grin on her face. “What are you two slackers doing? And is there any chance I can get in on it?” She could sense Waverly was in a sour mood and gave her a wink in an attempt to lighten her spirits.
Waverly lifted the bags into the cart and crossed her arms in frustration. Her eyes were down. She could see the stupid sticker, I Love Animals. They’re Delicious. Next to the chest, she saw a small tank of gas and a white bucket with the word BAIT written in black sharpie across the side. Someone was ready to tackle Mother Nature.
Wynonna gave her lollipop a little attention and then turned back to her baby sister, “I’d love to help but there’s an emergency related to the generator that’s calling me. And then some quick YouTube tutorials on stick and poke tattoos. How hard could it be, right? My work here is never done. See you after lunch for the survivalist training?”
Waverly grunted, “Yeah, yeah. I’ll bring the camo make-up.”
Waverly sighed as she watched the grumpy pilot roll the keg back to the door. She dreaded trying to help her get the blasted thing out of the small door and into the lodge, but inhaling deeply through her nose, she gave it her best go, “Listen, if you’re willing to give this another try, I think we can work it out.”
Nicole was at the door, leaning on the keg with a dubious but friendly look on her face. “Are you sure you can handle it?”
“I’m sorry. I swear. I’ll make it up to you. I pour the drinks and I’m an expert at controlling foam. They’ll never know about this little snafu.”
Nicole considered the proposition, “Interesting. Any chance you want to back-up all the bragging with a wager?”
“Good. The only reason I’m so invested in this damn doppelbock is for a little extra cash. A girl’s got to bring home the bacon, if you get my drift.” Nicole leaned forward and smiled right at Waverly.
Waverly got her drift alright. Bacon, my ass.“Alright. I’ll take you up on that, with one correction: I’ll be bringing home the bagels. No meat for me. Thank you very much.” Waverly spoke slowly trying not to be distracted by the pilot’s cleavage, just hanging out there in the broad daylight. She cleared her throat as she re-gained focus, “No more than an inch of foam on any beer and you owe me half your tip.”
Nicole objected, “Let’s set a limit on this. I’m taking these fellas on two full day trips. I’ll give you half, but only up to three even.”
Waverly swallowed hard. Three hundred dollars! Try to act cool. She extended her hand, “Sounds good.”
Nicole refused to shake. “Not so fast, missy. If the beer fails or more likely, if you fail the beer, what do I get?”
Waverly couldn’t match the cash. She tried her best, “A month’s worth of yoga sessions and my best vegan cheesecake.”
Nicole was at a loss for words, trying to contain a contemptuous smile, “Let me think about that.” She clicked her tongue and looked off into the horizon, running her fingers through her hair. “Do you have anything else to offer?”
Against her core sense of right and wrong, Waverly blushed. She did not appreciate being flirted with by this gas-guzzling carnivore! Besides that, she knew she wouldn’t lose the bet. She blurted out, “I can get you into the sauna.”
Nicole was intrigued, “Go on…”
“For the rest of the summer.” Waverly was feeling competitive. “And, I’ll wash your towels.”
Nicole extended her hand to shake on the deal, “For the rest of the summer?”
Nicole lifted the keg from the plane and set in onto the deck with a not-to-subtle thud. She made an innocent face in Waverly’s direction, “Oops! My bad.”
Little did Nicole know, Stack Bay Lodge didn’t even have a sauna.
Before dinner Waverly walked back to the bunkhouse, unsure of how she could stand this part-time roommate, this Nicole Haught, who was so tall and cocky. And tall.
It was just not what she had planned out for this summer.
She wanted quiet walks with her toes deep in a carpet of dew-kissed salyx. Birds chirping and cottonwood floating in the wind. Whales and willows. Eagles and sweet little otters swimming on their backs.
She did not want the incessant pounding of an axe, echoing into the wilderness OR airplanes spewing exhaust and scaring off wildlife, faster than a gunshot.
She rounded the corner to see who was making such a racket. Pound, pound, pound and was not at all surprised to see her new favorite person busily destroying nature’s bounty.
Some might call it splitting wood.
Others, of weaker moral fortitude, might have been distracted by the way Nicole swung an axe, her classic white tank top, or the glistening of sweat off her shoulders and arms.
A handful of folks might find it charming the way each swing was accompanied by a short heave of air from the woman’s lungs.
A few might notice the way Nicole tried and failed to blow the hair from her face.
But not Waverly.
She was too strong a woman to be distracted by all that.
And luckily, she was fast enough on her feet to hide behind the same corner, before the world’s sexiest lumberjack saw her staring. And drooling.