Marta wasn’t afraid. Despite town folklore about the sudden spring storms and unnatural phenomena surrounding the infamous Moot lighthouse, she rather liked the beacon and her annual springtime treks to Lake Moot beach. Besides, the last supposed mystical occurrence happened more than 70 years ago with the alleged disappearance of a spinster librarian and a mysterious vagabond, the story of which Marta found heartwarming and quite romantic. It was this fascination with the lighthouse that compelled her to bring her boyfriends here when she was younger; there was something magical yet reassuring to Marta about Moot lighthouse.
Burying her toes beneath the sand, frigid water lapping against her calves, Marta caught her reflection. Frumpy old spinster. That’s what she’d heard some of the teenagers call her whenever she walked down Main Street to the five and dime. What did they know? She wasn’t frumpy, not frumpy at all! She kept her toffee colored hair fashionably styled, even cutting it into the newest rage, a “Farrah Fawcett” at her last visit to the beauty shop. And while not a trend-setter, she wore only the latest styles, and faithfully subscribed to Glamour magazine. So what if she had put on a few extra pounds? It wasn’t much extra, and she was after all, 45. A girl couldn’t maintain a reed thin figure forever.
Marta kicked the water, its ripples disfiguring her reflection and disrupting her pensive thoughts. She looked up the hill to the lighthouse silhouetted against the cornflower blue sky, its enigma alluring, and started walking the lake’s sandy shoreline. Just beyond the beach area, young cattail shoots emerged from the mud.
“Marta!” A voice shouted from behind. “Marta, wait up!” She turned and saw Hank running up the beach.
Hank caught up to her easily, and she felt the familiar pang in her heart at the sight of him. Hank kept himself in shape and still had muscles that rippled and teased her, reminding her of their younger days. He looked dazzling with his bare chest and lean body practically glowing in the sun.
“I knew I’d find you here.” He raised his eyebrows as Marta continued to stare, then smiling shyly, he said, “Miss Marta, I do believe you’re blushing!”
She felt the heat rise to her face, then reached down to the lake and scooped a handful of water, splashing it at Hank. Laughing, she turned and started running away. Hank chased after her, caught up and then pinned her in a playful embrace. She welcomed the comfort of his arms encircling her and squeezed Hank tightly before letting go.
They walked the shoreline, silently at first. Then her nerves kicked in and she started chattering. About the weather, what to plant in the garden, even her pet poodle and his ridiculous urge to pee on her petunias each year. Finally, Hank grabbed her arm and turned her to him. “Marta, you owe me an answer. Let’s go sit under the Oak tree and talk.”
“Fine,” she said, and reached for his hand. “Our Oak tree? Where we carved our initials so many years ago?” Hank nodded.
Marta sat and leaned against the tree. She closed her eyes and felt the warmth of the sun on her face. If she tried hard enough, she could take herself back to a younger time, back when she and Hank were only sixteen. They had been high school sweethearts, inseparable; the couple everyone said would last forever. But when Hank turned 18, he registered for military service as he was legally bound, and when high school ended he was called to duty. He moved away and they promised one another to wait. She still had her promise ring.
And she had intended to wait all right, but when her friends Mary and then Barbara received “Dear Jane” letters, Marta panicked. Then Walter Fairway moved into town, with all his money and high manners. What girl could’ve resisted his charm? Anyway, Hank had returned to learn that Marta was dating Walter, and he left again without even speaking to Marta. He’d returned for visits throughout the following years, but he had Gladys with him. A wife! Marta didn’t think she could ever forgive him.
And now here they were. Practically picking up where they left off and at the very beach where they had spent many a summer day. Hank pulled the ring box from his pocket and opened it for Marta to see. The diamond cluster sparkled in the sunlight.
“Last night you said you needed to think about it,” Hank said. “Well, I’ve given you the night like you asked. Now I’d like an answer.” He held the ring box steady. “Please.”
“But marriage, Hank? At my age? Besides, I don’t understand why you left Moot and came back married to Gladys, God rest her poor soul.” Marta quickly glanced at Hank. “Sorry, I don’t mean to dredge that up. But you were the one that made me promise to wait, and then you didn’t. You know I can’t stand double standards.”
“Marta, that’s not fair. When I came back you were dating Walter. How was I to know it wasn’t serious?”
“You could’ve asked,” Marta answered.
“Yeah, I reckon. But you could’ve waited.”
Marta gazed out over the calm lake. In only a matter of months, the beach would be crawling with kids and their mothers seeking refuge from the blistering summer sun. Boats would populate the surface of the lake, forcing swells to the water’s edge as fishermen and beachgoers searched for the perfect spot, and Lake Moot would no longer offer the peace and solace of today. She hated the lake then.
“So, whatever happened with Walter?” Hank finally broke the silence.
“He asked me to marry him, but I said no. I thought long and hard, but I realized I didn’t love him.” She picked at some grass by her feet. “I would only want to marry for true love.”
“Of course,” Hank leaned towards Marta and added, “Well someone as beautiful as you must’ve had lots of suitors. Why didn’t you ever marry?”
“Well, I don’t mean to brag, but I was courted all right,” she said. “Do you remember Fred Perryman? From our class? The school janitor’s son?”
“Yeah, I remember Fred.”
“Well, I nearly gave my hand to him. He tried everything to sweep me off my feet. He brought me flowers and candy, and left me little notes professing his love. He used to take me to the drive-in movies almost every Friday night, even though I knew it cut into his weekly pay. Yeah, he was something else, he was.”
Marta knew part of her problem was that she was never sure of herself and always second guessing, always wondering if there wasn’t something better, or someone better just around the corner. She figured when the time came, or if the time came, she would know it. There was bound to be some kind of sign, a portent of bliss and rapture.
Hank leaned down and grabbed a long grass weed and stuck it in his mouth. He looked at her quizzically and said, “You gonna tell me? What happened with Fred?”
“Well, I liked him and all, but I just didn’t think he was the one. You know, the one to spend the rest of my life with, so I called it quits and moved on.“
They sat quietly, and a light wind began to blow. The tall grasses flowed with the breeze, and the once-mirrored lake stirred. Marta watched as the blue sky turned gray. “Is it going to rain?” she asked.
“Yep, looks like it. Wanna take cover at the lighthouse or wait a little to see if it passes?”
She sat up straighter and looked towards the darkening sky. “There wasn’t any rain forecast, so maybe it’ll blow over. I don’t mind waiting.”
Hank reclined onto his elbows and looked skyward. Marta tried not to stare, but he was so handsome and rugged, and she wanted to spend her future with him if she could just be sure. He caught her looking, and she felt her face get warm. She hated how easily she blushed.
Large pellets of rain began to fall, dotting the lake top and speckling the sand. Hank grabbed Marta’s hand and pulled her up to her feet. “Come on,” he said, “let’s make a run for it.”
They ran up the hill like young lovers, hand-in-hand and laughing. Drenched and out of breath, they reached the top of the hill and the lighthouse. The tea room at the base of the lighthouse was closed, as were most of the businesses in Moot on Sunday, and they took cover under the restaurant awning.
“I love this place, but I always wondered why they put a lighthouse out here in the middle of nowhere, and one that doesn’t even work, mind you. What gives with this place anyway?” Marta asked. The storm intensified. Thunder boomed loudly, rattling the restaurant windows as brilliant streaks of lightning flashed across the sky.
“Dunno,” Hank said. “But there’s lots of interesting stories. I know it’s not true, but I like the one that says if a guy and girl enter the lantern room during a storm, they will disappear to paradise and be together forever.” Hank chuckled, then became serious and pulled Marta closer. “Wanna try it, Marta? Wanna see if that one’s true?”
Marta freed herself and walked out from under the awning. Rain pounded her, but she didn’t care. She looked at Hank, then up the tower to the lantern room, its windows dark save for the bursts of lightning reflecting against the glass. She fairly did believe the stories, and she didn’t think inside the lighthouse was the place to go.
“Well?” Hank said. “Are you gonna stand out there and get drenched all day long, or you gonna come up to the lantern room with me?” He smiled, his dimples giving him an even more youthful appearance, and he held out his hand.
Marta looked up at the lighthouse again, but this time the windows were aglow from within, the beacon light luminous. She watched in awe. A happy augury for the future, she didn’t have to wonder anymore. With a nod of decision, she reached out and took Hank’s hand.