Safe Haven

1

As Katie wound her way among the tables, a breeze from the Atlantic rippled through her hair. Carrying three plates in her left hand and another in her right, she wore jeans and a T-shirt that read Ivan’s: Try Our Fish Just for the Halibut. She brought the plates to four men wearing polo shirts; the one closest to her caught her eye and smiled. Though he tried to act as though he was just a friendly guy, she knew he was watching her as she walked away. Melody had mentioned the men had come from Wilmington and were scouting locations for a movie.

After retrieving a pitcher of sweet tea, she refilled their glasses before returning to the waitress station. She stole a glance at the view. It was late April, the temperature hovering just around perfect, and blue skies stretched to the horizon. Beyond her, the Intracoastal was calm despite the breeze and seemed to mirror the color of the sky. A dozen seagulls perched on the railing, waiting to dart beneath the tables if someone dropped a scrap of food.

Ivan Smith, the owner, hated them. He called them rats-with-wings, and he’d already patrolled the railing twice wielding a wooden plunger, trying to scare them off. Melody had leaned toward Katie and confessed that she was more worried about where the plunger had been than she was about the seagulls. Katie said nothing.

She started another pot of sweet tea, wiping down the station. A moment later, she felt someone tap her on the shoulder. She turned to see Ivan’s daughter, Eileen. A pretty, ponytailed nineteen-year-old, she was working part-time as the restaurant hostess.

“Katie—can you take another table?”

Katie scanned her tables, running the rhythm in her head. “Sure.” She nodded.

Eileen walked down the stairs. From nearby tables Katie could hear snippets of conversations—people talking about friends or family, the weather or fishing. At a table in the corner, she saw two people close their menus. She hustled over and took the order, but didn’t linger at the table trying to make small talk, like Melody did. She wasn’t good at small talk, but she was efficient and polite and none of the customers seemed to mind.

She’d been working at the restaurant since early March. Ivan had hired her on a cold, sunny afternoon when the sky was the color of robins’ eggs. When he’d said she could start work the following Monday, it took everything she had not to cry in front of him. She’d waited until she was walking home before breaking down. At the time, she was broke and hadn’t eaten in two days.

She refilled waters and sweet teas and headed to the kitchen. Ricky, one of the cooks, winked at her as he always did. Two days ago he’d asked her out, but she’d told him that she didn’t want to date anyone at the restaurant. She had the feeling he would try again and hoped her instincts were wrong.

“I don’t think it’s going to slow down today,” Ricky commented. He was blond and lanky, perhaps a year or two younger than her, and still lived with his parents. “Every time we think we’re getting caught up, we get slammed again.”

“It’s a beautiful day.”

“But why are people here? On a day like today, they should be at the beach or out fishing. Which is exactly what I’m doing when I finish up here.”

“That sounds like a good idea.”

“Can I drive you home later?”

He offered to drive her at least twice a week. “Thank you, no. I don’t live that far.”

“It’s no problem,” he persisted. “I’d be glad to