The Oldest Resort
Francie’s apartment on Capitol Hill is ten
long miles from Brian’s West Seattle
waterfront condo. The big question: When
will he ask her to move in? She’s started packing.
Snuggled on his hunter green leather sofa, pretending to watch the second game of the World Series, she opens her eyes wide, forcing herself awake. Brian tips and settles his Dodgers cap, absorbed in the action. Finally, seventh inning, a break while the crowd sings “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
Nuzzling her neck, Brian whispers, “How’d I get so lucky to find you?”
“Beats me.” Francie almost says, If you’re so lucky, how come we’re not living together? In another month his divorce finalizes. Will that get the ball rolling?
Cousin Lisa has been “shacked up,” as Francie’s father calls it, for almost a year. It’s 1978. This happens! Still, Francie’s stomach clenches. The staunch Catholic Shaughnessys all but ostracized Aunt Lorraine every time she, in her words, pulled a “shenanigan.” Now, shaking their heads, they repeat, “Cousin Lisa’s on the same track. Like mother, like daughter.”
Speculating about the family’s reaction to her behavior, Francie blushes recalling last night in Brian’s water bed, him mumbling, “Good to be with someone who likes it.”
Was Suzanne cold and unaffectionate? With remarks like this, she has pieced together an idea of Brian’s marriage.
After the game ends, Francie and Brian stand, elbows propped on the railing of his deck, watching a ferry make its way toward Seattle. “The guys are planning a party weekend. You’ll go with me, right?” His even features lift expectantly.
Francie straightens.”Where?” Dinner and a movie with his friends—fine—but two whole days?
“Todd Caldwell, you haven’t met him, a FIJI.” All Brian’s friends are frat brothers. “He bought a hotel near Westport in a place called, get this, Tokeland. It’s the oldest resort in Washington. We’re having a bash before Todd starts the remodel.” Brian’s dark eyebrows scrunch together. “He left his father’s law practice and Georgie quit selling pharmaceuticals so they could do this together.” Brian works for his father’s construction company.
“Todd’s wife, Georgia McBride...McBride Drugs was owned by her family.” Walgreens has recently bought out this local chain.
Brian studies Francie. “You okay about the weekend?”
“As long as I’m with you, I’ll have fun,” she says. Gray clouds are blowing in from the south. At a distance, the inbound ferry and the outbound ferry meet.
“Great! These guys are like family.” Brian doesn’t have any siblings. “We can stop in Hoquiam on the way back so you can introduce me to your parents.”
“Good idea.” Hoquiam is the last place Francie wants to bring him. Not until they’re on more solid ground. But, what can she say? My parents are on a round-the-world cruise? They never travel.
“Better go.” Brian puts his hand on her waist, meaning head for the bedroom. “Or you’ll get back to the apartment way too late.”
Again! Francie shivers with the first drops of rain.
~ ~ ~
On a recent visit home, her sister, Colleen, like a child wishing to be a princess, said, “Strange outfit but it sure looks cute.”
In Annie Hall baggy pants, suspenders, man’s shirt, and vest, Francie posed, before taking off her slouch hat and giving a little twirl. Thanks to her Nordstrom employee discount, she stays in style.
“You can get away with it, flashing those dimples and big smile.” A wistful pause before Colleen said, “I ran into Darrell. He asked for you…hasn’t married yet.”
“He’ll make someone very happy.” Darrell, with his dirty-blond hair cut in a mullet like every other guy in town, has earnest, blue eyes that show a girl he’ll never treat her wrong.
“He’s a manager at the mill.”
“No surprise.” The Hoquiam Monster, mouth agape, lurked in a corner of Francie’s mind.
~ ~ ~
Next morning, after a mere three hours sleep in her own bed, Francie goes through the motions at work, trying not to nod off. Everything is falling into place. First, her promotion to accountant. Then, meeting Brian.
One lunch hour, shortly after recovering from a virus that almost forced her to move back home, she was in the men’s department choosing a Father’s Day gift. Someone nudged her and a male voice said, “Which do you like?”
Francie turned, expecting to see Jeremy, the only salesman working. Instead, she stared at one of the Italian silk ties she’d dismissed as too expensive and something Dad would only wear to weddings and funerals, lying against a broad chest that sure didn’t belong to skinny Jeremy. Crinkly, brown eyes and thick, brown hair, neatly trimmed, filled in her first impression of Brian Willard. He held a green polo shirt in one hand and a blue in the other. Francie pointed to the green.
~ ~ ~
Her father has a head like Khrushchev’s and a temperament to match. She absolutely does not want to marry a bald man, even though they’re supposed to be super virile. Francie can’t imagine that with her parents. Maybe thirty years ago before Mom drooped on every square inch of her body and developed a disposition to match. When she used to bring up the idea of a job, Dad would say, “I want my wife right here. Don’t want to go looking for her every time I need a button sewed on or my pants pressed.” As a logger, he didn’t have a lot of call for pressed pants. At barely twenty-six, Colleen lives in Hoquiam with three children and another on the way. Her husband works at the mill. To Francie, the town has become a hungry ocean creature waiting to swallow her alive.
~ ~ ~
Friday the thirteenth, in the dark, they arrive at the Tokeland Hotel. “Good thing you’re not superstitious,” Brian had said. He didn’t know that even making love outside the Sacrament of Marriage could summon up horrific images. As they pull onto the dirt parking strip, Brian expertly maneuvers his green Z-car into place. Francie notices three late-model vehicles in a scraggly row.
Brian pushes open the ripped screen door, which squeaks like a mouse, and strides to the scratched oak counter, where he dings a tarnished bell several times. When no one appears he hits it a few more times. A dusty smell, like the attic at home, makes Francie stifle a sneeze as she checks for rodents scurrying past her platform shoes.
“All right already, I’m coming,” a male voice hollers. Moments later, a big, overall-clad guy bounds in, thunks a wrench onto the counter, and spreads his hands across the wood. “Fixing a leak.” He grins.
“Franceen, the lummox with the tool is Todd, owner of this fine hotel, and a sometimes buddy of mine.”
“We’re always tight.” Todd takes in Francie’s outfit, the same one her sister recently admired. “Here, you can stick this in a pocket of those baggy pants.” He slides the wrench toward her.
“She looks cute.” Brian squeezes her shoulder.
“Just kidding. C’mon, everybody’s waiting.”
Traipsing up the steps and down a dark corridor, ancient floorboards groan accompanied by a distant rock song and faraway voices. They pass several shut doors, aiming for a stream of light at the end of the corridor. Getting closer, Francie picks out words.
“…hell are they?” a male says.
“I told Brian as soon after six as possible,” a female says.
“Probably stopped off at his place for a little party of their own.”
“Oh Aaron, shhh.” Then, stage-whispered, “She’s…interesting. Do you suppose Brian’s found the one.”
“Tricia! You be quiet too,” says another female.
Francie stiffens, clutching Brian’s hand.
“Bunch of jerks.” He laughs.
She follows him into the room, worrying that despite the “cute” remark, her clothes are all wrong. The three other girls wear jeans and sweatshirts. Francie slips off her shoes and hat.
“Where ya been?” demands Charlie Moorhead, a guy with wire-framed glasses who works at his father’s stock brokerage. He often comments that since becoming a father he has to settle down. The baby was left with his parents so he and his wife, Kelly, could have this getaway.
Brian makes an excuse about heavy traffic. He withholds that they did stop at his condo.
An hour later, in what will be their room for the weekend, Charlie and Kelly, still wearing what looks like a maternity top, lean against each other on an iron bed amid a rumple of worn, pink chenille. Everyone else is plopped on battered kitchen chairs or sprawled on the floor. Another joint’s glow circles the room. Open coolers with beer and wine and Dreamsicles sit in a corner, with chips and pretzels nearby. Brian and Francie didn’t take time for dinner, but the loud radio camouflages her rumbling stomach.
“Remember that funky place on Rosarita Beach—spring break—sophomore year?” Brian starts another story. “We dragged booze in right under the manager’s nose.”
“Charlie almost drowned,” says Aaron Petrie. He wears a Yankees cap. Since they entered the room, he’s been rubbing in their win to Brian. Acting nonchalant, he’s also spoken about being “between engagements,” living off a trust fund.
“Never bodysurfed again.” Charlie winces.
“The undertow almost carried him away,” says Georgie. She’s playing hostess to Todd’s host, both of them replenishing snacks. Her apple-patterned apron is similar to the ones Francie’s mother dons when cooking huge family dinners.
After they continue with about the twentieth shared memory, Kelly, who once must have been shapely but still carries extra weight after the baby’s birth, says, “Franceen, are you bored to tears?”
“Not at all. It’s interesting.” With no sorority sisters or adventures backpacking through Europe, she listens to how people who didn’t work two jobs in order to put themselves through college lived. Occasionally, she drops in a remark about her own background, something they find amusing, especially as the evening progresses and everyone gets more high. Besides a couple of light tokes, to not draw attention, Francie has refrained, staying as clearheaded as she tries to be when working on balance sheets. Looking toward Charlie and Kelly, she remarks, “That whole setup—bedstead, bedspread—looks like my parents’.”
“Your mother and father sleep in something like that?” Tricia Petrie tucks her pointed chin.
“Just like it. Back in Hoquiam.”
“Hoq…what a hoot, Hoq…Hoq…,” Charlie says.
“It’s Ho-qui-am, dummy,” Kelly says. “You’re cut off.” Then, she holds the roach clip to his lips. “I wish you would’ve been with us for those times, Franceen.”
She doesn’t say, You’re more fun than Suzanne, but Francie’s sure that’s what she means.
Encouraged, she continues to regale them with family tidbits.
“Your aunt actually did it with the landlord in order to get a new refrigerator?” Tricia jerks up like a marionette.
“Town gossip says she’d fuck anybody to get what she wanted.” Francie nearly chokes on the word she never uses.
“Ohhh….” Tricia slumps.
Georgie, Kelly, and Tricia wear expressions of fatigued disbelief. The guys are beyond caring, but the girls find Francie as fascinating as a sea serpent dropped into their midst.
About 3:00 a.m., the other couples leave Charlie and Kelly’s room, straggling off to bed. Kelly twiddles her pointer finger “good-bye” through a crack in their wall, bringing on last giggles as the girls trip on by.
Brian and Francie’s room doesn’t have any holes in the walls, but the bed is so broken down that she dozes mid-valley. He sacks out in a sleeping bag beside their door.
They get up early, stiff-limbed. The guys speed through showers and give a moldy-smelling communal bathroom over to the girls for scrubbing and primping. After a quick rinse in icy water, Francie puts on a T-shirt and cutoffs. Dishes clatter downstairs, and a crash sounds like logs falling. Shortly, a tap on the door startles her dabbing lipstick in front of a mirror that makes her brown eyes look right out of a Picasso. She turns the tarnished brass knob to check. Each guy holds a mug of coffee. Brian kisses the top of her head before handing over one.
“God, do I need this,” Georgie takes several gulps.
“Me too.” Francie takes a sip, hating the taste.
Squinting above her steaming mug at the rusted fixtures and stained walls, Tricia, a part-time employee at her mother’s furnishings boutique, says, “This reminds me of bathrooms in the dorms.” She crinkles her narrow nose.
Francie lived in the U’s dorms for two years before moving to an apartment with five other girls. “There’s only one bathroom at home.” She pauses for effect. “With my sister and me and Mom and Dad and lots of visiting family to use it. This wallpaper may even have the same shell design.” She scratches her fingernail over a peeling strip. The pale-pink polish still looks fresh.
“That must have been hard.” Kelly frowns.
Georgie and Tricia look stone-faced. This sort of banter played well with everyone high. Not so, in the bright light of morning, with all of them bummed out.
Todd and Georgie, wearing her apple-patterned apron, serve pancakes. They again apologize for the state of the place, and together say, “Wait’ll next time.”
Goose bumps cover Francie’s bare arms. Looking at the stacked logs in the fireplace, she wishes someone would light them.
“I hope you don’t change too much. It’s charming, and Franceen feels right at home here,” Tricia says.
Brian pulls Francie, relieved as a tadpole darting into protective weeds, close against his chest.
“How kind of you to think of that, Pa-tree-sha,” Kelly says.
While the others drink second and third mugfuls of coffee, plans are made to explore Tokeland. Francie doesn’t say that shirttail relations, who refer to Hoquiam as “the big city,” live close by.
“I got a net and volleyball in my trunk,” Aaron says. “We can play and listen to the Yankees win again.” He picks up the radio.
“No way,” Brian says.
Everyone agrees that the deserted beach, even though it’s overrun with clumps of grass, sounds like a great idea. The golden autumn day, with a smell of ocean in the air, makes them want to stay outside.
Once set up, Aaron, repeatedly throws the ball and catches it, before saying, “We could use a couple of girls.”
Tricia says, “You’ve got to be kidding.”
Kelly offers. “Maybe working up a sweat will chisel off a pound or two of this baby fat.”
Georgie, after looking toward Francie, says, “What the heck. I can play. Our picnic is ready to go.”
Francie could have volunteered. She used to be pretty good. Instead, she chooses to listen to Tricia’s chatter rather than self-consciously stumbling around. Ten minutes into her monologue, with hoots and hollers from players in the background, and Francie yearns for a book. Tricia goes on about another Theta married to a politician in California. After thoroughly exhausting this subject, she says, “Does Brian hear anything from Suzanne?”
Surprised, Francie says, “He never talks about her.”
“She was my roommate at The House. Don’t know why I care. Poor Brian. Such a bitch!”
“In what way?”
“Had an affair with his boss.” A smug smile tightens her mouth. “They’re getting married in a few months,”
“That’s why Brian left the bank. Suzanne’s still there. He’d become a vice president too. Last thing he wanted to do was go back to work for his dad. Hasn't he told you any of this?”
Francie shrugs, taken aback at such a horrible aspect of his marriage, and it’s news to her that he doesn’t like working for Willard Construction. The company has almost completed another office building on Third. She thought he was excited about it.
“He’s ready to move on,” Tricia continues. “You’re nicer than Suzanne, and Brian looks a whole lot happier.” Apparently done with gathering information, she hollers, “Hey Georgie, isn’t it time for lunch?”
Francie wishes for this part of the conversation to go on, but Georgie starts to divvy up sandwiches.
In the late afternoon, they head back. Todd says he can’t cook dinner because a wedding party has reserved the hotel’s main room.
“A reception? Here?” Tricia grimaces.
Todd and Georgie exchange annoyed glances.
“Maybe this is a special place for them. It’s got a lot of character,” Kelly says.
When they enter the main room, leaving a trail of sand, Francie sees a table smack in the middle of the cracked linoleum floor. A small wedding cake perches atop, with paper plates, plastic forks, and napkins that look like they came from a metal dispenser spread around it. Lumpy, threadbare sofas and dilapidated rockers have been shoved against the walls. The fireplace, still set to be lit, feels drafty and has the acrid smell of old smoke.
Tricia says, “We should have a mock wedding.”
All of a sudden, no one but Francie seems tired.
“You be the bride,” Tricia points, “and Brian can be the groom since you two aren’t married.” She mouths the word yet, rolling her eyes.
“What d’ya think?” Brian says.
“I don’t care.” Maybe this will give him some ideas.
They line up around the cake. Charlie holds an old logging manual open, like a minister officiating. Behind Brian stands Aaron holding a broom like a shotgun, a scowl on his sunburned face. Rather than doing a fake read, Charlie leers over his wire frames at Francie’s T-shirt-covered chest. She thrusts it out for the camera in Kelly’s hands. If they want to play this game, she’ll give them a laugh. Their fun lasts for several minutes before boredom sets in and they all lumber back to the rooms. Francie fixes the tipped plastic figures on the cake before leaving.
That night they drive to a nearby steak house. Georgie says, “This spot hasn’t heard of medium rare, and most of the locals dump A.1. all over their meat, but we can request it cooked the way we want.” After dinner and dancing to music from the fifties, Todd gives Brian a ring of keys. “Make sure everything is locked up tomorrow when you leave.” After that, he and Georgie take off for Seattle to talk to their parents about further financing.
The shadowed hotel looks solemn when the group returns. A dirty old pickup, that no one but Francie seems to see, has been parked over to the side in order to give their cars plenty of room. The cake and table have disappeared and the main-room furniture shoved back in place. Last flickers of a fire remain. They move on to Charlie and Kelly’s room, where again they play loud music while everyone talks and laughs and smokes and drinks. Going strong after 3:00 a.m., Charlie says, “This can’t end!” Early tomorrow it will be back to Seattle and grown-up lives.
In the midst of Aaron’s next dirty joke, “Then a logger…,” the door across the hall clicks open. A young man and an obviously pregnant young woman duck out. The fellow, in a red plaid wool jacket, smiles uncertainly, sort of an acknowledgment. The young woman burrows her face into his arm as they slink away, his boots clunking.
“The newlyweds!” Brian says. “Todd didn’t mention they were staying.”
“Who would’ve thought they’d spend their first night at the Tokeland Hotel.” Tricia yawns.
“Where will they go?” Kelly says.
Francie doesn’t tell them that, from a glimpse, the groom's ruddy face reminded her of Great Uncle Rudy.
Sheepishly, Charlie says, “I think it’s time we all go to bed.”
Brian’s last words from his sleeping bag are, “I wish we could think of some way to make it up…. I’ll send a check…. Todd can give it to them.”
“Sure,” Francie murmurs to his back. “A check.”
~ ~ ~
The rest of the night, she listens to Brian’s even breathing. With illumination coming in through cracks around the door, she stares, wide-eyed in the gloom, at the many-times-patched ceiling, recalling other patched ceilings.
She’s first one in the bathroom next morning, getting ready to go. During the drive, she stays quiet. Brian carries on about the Series and his frustration with the Dodgers, and then asks, “Are you feeling all right?”
“Understandable. We’ll skip stopping by your parents’ place this time, and get you back to my bed.” He reaches over and rubs her inner thigh. “You have to start staying all the time.”
Passed muster with his friends, Francie thinks.
When she doesn’t say anything, he says, “You know...move in.”
“Let’s talk about it later. I need a night, alone, at my apartment.”
“Okay. And about your parents...I’ll be moving down to Tokeland in the next month. Going into partnership with Todd and Georgie. So, after we get married you’ll be over this way all the time.”
Francie squints her eyes and leans her head against the seat, as the Hoquiam Monster slides closer, wearing a smirk on its slimy face.