Winter arrived early the following year. Sitting on the beach near the spot where she'd first discovered the bottle, Theresa noted that the cold ocean breezes had grown stronger since she'd arrived this morning. Ominous gray clouds rolled overhead, and the waves were starting to rise and crash with greater frequency. She knew the storm was finally getting close. She'd been out here for most of the day, reliving their relationship up until the day they'd said good-bye, sifting through memories as if searching for a grain of understanding she might have missed before. For the past year she'd been haunted by his expression as he stood in the driveway, the reflection of him in her rearview mirror chasing her car as she drove away. Leaving him then had been the hardest thing she'd ever done. Often she dreamed of turning back the clock and living that day over. Finally she stood. In silence she started walking along the shore, wishing he were with her. He would enjoy a quiet, misty day like this, and she imagined him walking beside her as she looked toward the horizon. She paused, mesmerized by the churning and rolling of the water, and when she finally turned her head, she realized his image had left her as well. She stood there for a long time, trying to bring him back, but when his image didn't return, she knew it was time to go. She started walking again, though this time more slowly, wondering if he could have guessed at her reason for coming here.
Despite herself, she felt her thoughts returning to the days immediately following their last good-bye. We spend so much time making up for things we failed to say, she mused. If only, she began for the thousandth time, the images of those days beginning to flash behind her eyes like a slide show she was powerless to stop.
If only . . . *  *  * After arriving back in Boston, Theresa had picked up Kevin on the way home from the airport. Kevin, who'd spent the day at a friend's house, excitedly recounted the movie he'd seen, oblivious of the fact that his mother was barely listening. When they got home she ordered a pizza, and they ate in the living room with the television on. When they finished, she surprised Kevin by asking him to sit with her for a while instead of doing his homework. As he rested against her quietly on the couch, he occasionally sent her an anxious glance, but she merely stroked his hair and smiled at him abstractedly, as if she were somewhere far away. Later, after Kevin had gone to bed and she knew he'd fallen asleep, she slipped on some soft pajamas and poured herself a glass of wine. On her way back to the bedroom, she turned off the answering machine by the phone. On Monday she had a long lunch with Deanna and told her everything that had happened. She tried to sound strong. Nonetheless Deanna held her hand throughout, listening thoughtfully and barely speaking. "It's for the best," Theresa said resolutely when she finished. "I'm okay with this." Deanna gazed at her searchingly, her eyes full of compassion. But she said nothing, only nodding at Theresa's brave claims. For the next few days Theresa did her best to avoid thinking about him. Working on her column was comforting. Concentrating on research and distilling it into words took all the mental energy she had. The hectic atmosphere in the newsroom helped as well, and because the conference call with Dan Mandel had turned out to be everything Deanna promised it would, Theresa approached her work with renewed enthusiasm, preparing two or three columns a day, faster than she'd ever written them before. In the evenings, however, after Kevin went to bed and she was alone, she found it difficult to keep his image at bay. Borrowing her habits from work, Theresa tried to focus on other tasks instead. She cleaned the house from top to bottom during the next few evenings-scrubbing the floor, cleaning the refrigerator, vacuuming and dusting the apartment, rearranging the closets. Nothing was left untouched. She even sorted through her drawers for clothes that she didn't wear anymore, with the plan of donating them to charity. After boxing them up, she carried the clothes to the car and loaded them in the back. That night she paced through the apartment, looking for something-anything-else that needed to be done. Finally, realizing she'd finished but still unable to sleep, she turned on the television. Flipping through the channels, she stopped when she saw Linda Ronstadt being interviewed on the Tonight show. Theresa had always loved her music, but when Linda later walked to the microphone to perform a dreamy ballad, Theresa nonetheless began to cry. She didn't stop for almost an hour. That weekend she and Kevin went to see the New England Patriots play the Chicago Bears. Kevin had been pressing her to go as soon as soccer season ended, and she finally agreed to take him, though she didn't really understand the game. They sat in the stands, their breaths coming out in little puffs, drinking syrupy hot chocolate and rooting for the home team. Afterward, when they went to dinner, Theresa reluctantly told Kevin that she and Garrett wouldn't be seeing each other anymore. "Mom, did something happen when you went to see Garrett last time? Did he do something that made you mad?" "No," she answered softly, "he didn't." She hesitated before glancing away. "It just wasn't meant to be." Although Kevin clearly seemed baffled by this answer, it was the closest she could bring herself to explaining it right then. The following week she was working at her computer when the phone rang. "Is this Theresa?" "Yes, it is," she answered, not recognizing the voice. "This is Jeb Blake . . . Garrett's father. I know this is going to sound strange, but I'd like to talk to you." "Oh, hi," she stammered. "Um . . . I've got a few minutes now." He paused. "I'd like to talk to you in person, if it's possible. It's not something I'd be comfortable with over the phone." "Can I ask what it's about?" "It's about Garrett," he said quietly. "I know it's asking a lot, but do you think you could fly down here? I wouldn't ask if it weren't important." Finally agreeing to go, Theresa left work and went to Kevin's school. After picking him up early, she dropped him off with a friend she could trust, explaining that she was probably going to be gone a few days. Kevin tried to ask her about her sudden trip, but her odd, distracted behavior made it clear that her reasons would have to be explained later. "Say hi for me," he said, kissing her good-bye. Theresa only nodded, then went to the airport and caught the first flight she could. Once in Wilmington, she went directly to Garrett's house, where Jeb was waiting for her. *  *  * "I'm glad you could come," Jeb said as soon as she'd arrived. "What's going on?" she asked, scanning the house curiously for signs of Garrett's presence. Jeb looked older than she remembered. Leading her to the kitchen table, he pulled out the chair so she could sit with him. Speaking softly, he began with what he knew. "From what I could gather from talking to different people," he said quietly, "Garrett took Happenstance out later than usual. . . ."
*  *  *
It was simply something he had to do. Garrett knew the dark, heavy clouds on the horizon presaged a coming storm. They seemed far enough away, however, to give him the time he needed. Besides, he was only going out a few miles. Even if the storm did hit, he would be close enough to make it back to port. After pulling on his gloves, he steered Happenstance through the rising swells, the sails already in position. For three years he'd taken the same route whenever he went out, driven by instinct and memories of Catherine. It had been her idea to sail directly east that night, the first night Happenstance was ready. In her imagination they were sailing to Europe, a place she'd always wanted to go. Sometimes she would return from the store with travel magazines and look through the pictures as he sat beside her. She wanted to see it all-the famous chateaux of the Loire Valley, the Parthenon, the Scottish highlands, the Basilica-all the places she'd read about. Her ideal vacation ran from the ordinary to the exotic, changing every time she picked up a different magazine. But, of course, they never made it to Europe. It was one of his biggest regrets. When he looked back on his life with her, he knew it was the one thing he should have done. He could have given her that much, at least, and thinking back, he knew it would have been possible. After a couple of years of saving, they'd had the money to go and had toyed with travel plans, but in the end they'd used the money to buy the shop. When she realized the responsibility of the business would never leave them with enough time to go, her dream eventually began to fade. She began to bring home the magazines less frequently. After a while she seldom mentioned Europe at all. The night they first took Happenstance out, however, he knew her dream was still alive. She stood on the bow, looking far into the distance, holding Garrett's hand. "Will we ever go?" she asked him gently, and it was that vision of her he always remembered: her hair billowing in the wind, her expression radiant and hopeful, like that of an angel. "Yes," he promised her, "as soon as we have the time." Less than a year later, while pregnant with their child, Catherine died in the hospital with Garrett at her side. Later, when the dreams began, he didn't know what to do. For a while he tried to push his tormented feelings away. Then in a fit of desperation one morning, he tried to find relief by putting his feelings into words. He wrote quickly, without pausing, and the first letter was almost five pages long. He carried the finished letter with him when he went sailing later that day, and reading it again suddenly gave him an idea. Because the Gulf Stream, which flowed northward up the coast of the United States, eventually turned east once it reached the cooler waters of the Atlantic, with a little luck a bottle could drift to Europe and wash up on the foreign soil she had always wanted to visit. His decision made, he sealed the letter in a bottle and threw it overboard with the hopes of somehow keeping the promise he'd made. It became a pattern he would never break. Since then he'd written sixteen more letters-seventeen, if you counted the one he had with him now. As he stood at the wheel, gliding the boat directly eastward, he absently touched the bottle nestled in his coat pocket. He had written it this morning, as soon as he had risen. The sky was beginning to turn leaden, but Garrett steered onward, toward the horizon. Beside him, the radio crackled with warnings of the coming storm. After a moment's hesitation, he turned it off and evaluated the sky. He still had time, he decided. The winds were strong and steady, but they weren't yet unpredictable. After writing this letter to Catherine, he had written a second one as well. That one, he'd already taken care of. Because of the second letter, though, he knew he had to send Catherine's letter today. Storms were lined up across the Atlantic, moving slowly westward in a march toward the eastern seaboard. From the reports he'd seen on television, it didn't look as if he'd be able to get out again for at least a week, and that was too long to wait. He'd already be gone by then. The choppy seas continued to rise: the swells breaking higher, the troughs bottoming out a little lower. The sails were beginning to strain in the steady, heavy winds. Garrett evaluated his position. The water was deep here, though not quite deep enough. The Gulf Stream-a summer phenomenon-was gone, and the only way the bottle stood a chance of making it across the ocean was if it was far enough out to sea when it was dropped. The storm might otherwise wash it ashore within a few days-and of all the letters he'd written to her, he wanted this one to make it to Europe most of all. He had decided that it would be the last one he'd ever send. On the horizon, the clouds looked ominous. He pulled on his rain slicker and buttoned it up. When the rains came, he hoped it would protect him for at least a little while. Happenstance began to bob as she moved farther out to sea. He held the wheel with both hands, keeping her as steady as he could. When the winds shifted and picked up-signaling the front of the storm-he began to tack, moving diagonally across the swells despite the hazards. Tacking was difficult in these conditions, slowing his progress, but he preferred to go against the wind now rather than attempt to tack on the way back if the storm caught up to him. The effort was exhausting. Every time he shifted the sails, it took all the strength he had just to keep from losing control. Despite his gloves, his hands burned when the lines slid through his hands. Twice, when the wind gusted unexpectedly, he almost lost his balance, saved only because the gust died as quickly as it came. For almost an hour he continued tacking, all the while watching the storm up ahead. It seemed to have stalled, but he knew it was an illusion. It would hit land in a few hours. As soon as it hit shallower water, the storm would accelerate and the ocean would become unnavigable. Now, it was simply gathering steam like a slowly burning fuse, getting ready to explode. Garrett had been caught in major storms before and knew better than to underestimate the power of this one. With one careless move, the ocean would take him, and he was determined not to let that happen. He was stubborn, but not foolish. The moment he sensed real danger, he'd turn the boat around and race back to port. Overhead, the clouds continued to thicken, rolling and twisting into new shapes. Light rain began to fall. Garrett looked upward, knowing it was just beginning. "Just a few more minutes," he muttered under his breath. He needed just a few more minutes-Lightning flashed across the sky, and Garrett counted off the seconds before he heard the thunder. Two and a half minutes later it finally sounded, booming over the open expanse of the ocean. The center of the storm was roughly twenty-five miles away. With the current wind speed, he calculated, he had over an hour before it hit in full force. He planned to be long gone by then. The rain continued to fall. Darkness began to settle in as he forged ahead. As the sun dropped lower, impenetrable clouds above blotted out the remaining sunlight, quickly lowering the air temperature. Ten minutes later the rain began to fall harder and colder. Damn! He was running out of time, but he still wasn't there.The swells seemed to rise, the ocean churning, as Happenstance cut forward. To keep his balance, he spread his legs farther apart. The wheel was steady, but the swells were beginning to come diagonally now, rocking the boat like an unsteady cradle. Resolutely he pressed on. Minutes later lightning flickered again . . . pause . . . thunder. Twenty miles now. He checked his watch. If the storm progressed at this rate, he'd be cutting it close. He could still make it back to port in time, as long as the winds continued blowing in the same direction. But if the winds shifted . . . His mind clicked through the scenario. He was two and a half hours out to sea-going with the wind, he would need an hour and a half to get back at the most, if everything went as planned. The storm would hit land about the same time he did. "Damn," he said, this time out loud. He had to drop the bottle now, even though he wasn't as far out as he wanted to be. But he couldn't risk going out any farther. He grasped the now shuddering wheel with one hand as he reached into his jacket and removed the bottle. He pressed on the cork to make sure it was wedged in tightly, then held up the bottle in the waning light. He could see the letter inside, rolled tightly. Staring at it, he felt a sense of completion, as if a long journey had finally come to an end. "Thank you," he whispered, his voice barely audible above the crashing of the waves. He threw the bottle as far as he could and watched it fly, losing it only when it hit the water. It was done. Now, to turn the boat around. At that moment, two bolts of lightning split the sky simultaneously. Fifteen miles away now. He hesitated, concerned. It couldn't be coming that fast, he suddenly thought. But the storm seemed to be gaining speed and strength, expanding like a balloon, coming directly toward him. He used the loops to steady the wheel while he returned to the stern. Losing precious minutes, he fought furiously to maintain control of the boom. The lines burned in his hands, ripping through his gloves. He finally succeeded in shifting the sails, and the boat leaned hard as it caught the wind. As he made his way back, another gust blew a cold blast from a different direction. Warm air rushes to cold. He switched on the radio just in time to hear a small-craft advisory being issued. Quickly he turned up the volume, listening closely as the broadcast described the rapidly changing weather patterns. "Repeat . . . small-craft advisory . . . dangerous winds forming . . . heavy rain expected." The storm was gathering steam. With the temperature dropping quickly, the winds had picked up dangerously. In the last three minutes they had increased to a steady gale of twenty-five knots. He leaned into the wheel with a growing sense of urgency. Nothing happened. He realized suddenly that the rising swells were lifting the stern out of the water, not allowing the rudder to respond. The boat seemed frozen in the wrong direction, teetering precariously. He rode another swell and the hull slapped hard against the water, the bow of the boat nearly going under. "Come on . . . catch," he whispered, the first tendrils of panic unfurling in his gut. This was taking too long. The sky was growing blacker by the minute, and the rain began to blow sideways in dense, impenetrable sheets. A minute later the rudder finally caught and the boat began to turn . . . Slowly . . . slowly . . . the boat still leaning too far to its side . . . With growing horror he watched the ocean rise around him to form a roaring, giant swell that was headed straight for him.
He wasn't going to make it.
He braced himself as water crashed over the exposed hull, sending up white plumes. Happenstance leaned even farther and Garrett's legs buckled, but his grip on the wheel was solid. He scrambled to his feet again just as another swell hit the boat.
Water flooded onto the deck.
The boat struggled to stay upright in the blasting winds, actively taking on water now. For almost a minute it poured onto the deck with the force of a raging river. Then the winds suddenly abated for a moment, and miraculously Happenstance began to right itself, the mast rising slightly into the ebony sky. The rudder caught again and Garrett turned the wheel hard, knowing he had to rotate the boat quickly. Lightning again. Seven miles away now. The radio crackled. "Repeat . . . small-craft advisory . . . winds expected to reach forty knots . . . repeat . . . winds at forty knots, gusting to fifty . ." Garrett knew he was in danger. There was no way he could control Happenstance in winds that strong. The boat continued to make its turn, battling the extra weight and the savage ocean swells. The water at his feet was almost six inches deep now. Almost there . . . A gale-force wind suddenly began to blow from the opposite direction, stopping his progress cold and rocking Happenstance like a toy. Just when the boat was most vulnerable, a large swell crashed against the hull. The mast sank lower, pointing toward the ocean. This time the gust never stopped. Freezing rain blew sideways, blinding him. Happenstance , instead of correcting, began to tilt even more, the sails heavy with rainwater. Garrett lost his balance again, the angle of the boat defying his efforts to get up. If another swell hit again . . . Garrett never saw it coming. Like an executioner's swing, the wave smashed against the boat with terrible finality, forcing Happenstance onto her side, the mast and sails crashing into the water. She was lost. Garrett clung to the wheel, knowing if he let go, he'd be swept out to sea. Happenstance began taking on water rapidly, heaving like a great drowning beast. He had to get to the emergency kit, which included a raft-it was his only chance. Garrett inched his way toward the cabin door, holding on to anything he could, fighting the blinding rain, fighting for his life. Lightning and thunder again, almost simultaneously. He finally reached the hatch and gripped the handle. It wouldn't budge. Desperate, he placed his feet into position for greater leverage and pulled again. When it cracked open, water began to flood inside, and he suddenly realized he'd made a terrible mistake. The ocean rushed in, quickly obscuring the interior of the cabin. Garrett immediately saw that the kit, normally secured in a bin on the wall, was already underwater. There was nothing, he realized finally, to prevent the boat from being swallowed up by the ocean.
Panicked, he fought to shut the cabin door, but the rush of water and his lack of leverage made it impossible. Happenstance began to sink quickly. In seconds half the hull was submerged. His mind suddenly clicked again.
Life jackets . . . They were located under the seats near the stern. He looked. They were still above water. Struggling furiously, he reached for the side railings, the only handholds still above water. By the time he grabbed hold, the water was up to his chest and his legs were kicking in the ocean. He cursed himself, knowing he should have put on the life jacket before.
Three-fourths of the boat was underwater now, and it was still going down.
Fighting toward the seats, he placed hand over hand, straining against the weight of the waves and his own leaden muscles. Halfway there, the ocean reached his neck and the futility of the situation finally hit him. He wasn't going to make it. The water was up to his chin when he finally stopped trying. Looking upward, his body exhausted, he still refused to believe that it would end this way. He let go of the side rail and began to swim away from the boat. His coat and shoes dragged heavily in the water. He treaded water, rising with the swells as he watched Happenstance finally slip beneath the ocean. Then, with cold and exhaustion beginning to numb his senses, he turned and began the slow, impossible swim to shore. *  *  * Theresa sat with Jeb at the table. Talking in fits and starts, he had taken a long time to tell her what he knew. Later, Theresa would recall that as she listened to his story, it was not with a sense of fear as much as it was one of curiosity. She knew that Garrett had survived. He was an expert sailor, an even better swimmer. He was too careful, too vital, to be bested by something like this. If anyone could make it, it would be he. She reached across the table to Jeb, confused. "I don't understand . . . Why did he take the boat out if he knew there was a storm coming?" "I don't know," he said quietly. He couldn't meet her eyes. Theresa furrowed her brow, bewilderment making her surroundings surreal. "Did he say anything to you before he went out?"
Jeb shook his head. He was ashen, his eyes downcast as if hiding something.
Absently Theresa looked around the kitchen. Everything was tidy, as if it had been cleaned moments before she arrived. Through the open bedroom door she saw Garrett's comforter spread neatly across the bed. Oddly, two large floral arrangements had been placed atop it. "I don't understand-he's all right, isn't he?" "Theresa," Jeb finally said with tears forming in his eyes, "they found him yesterday morning." "Is he in the hospital?" "No," he said quietly. "Then where is he?" she asked, refusing to acknowledge what she somehow knew. Jeb didn't answer. It was then that her breathing suddenly became difficult. Beginning with her hands, her body started to tremble. Garrett! she thought. What happened? Why aren't you here? Jeb bowed his head so she wouldn't see his tears, but she could hear his choking gasps. "Theresa . . . ," he said, trailing off. "Where is he?" she demanded, leaping to her feet in a surge of frantic adrenaline. She heard the chair clatter to the floor behind her as if from a very great distance. Jeb stared up at her silently. Then, with a single deliberate motion, he wiped the tears with the back of his hand. "They found his body yesterday morning." She felt her chest constrict as if she were suffocating. "He's gone, Theresa." *  *  * On the beach where it had all begun, Theresa allowed herself to remember the events from one year earlier. They had buried him next to Catherine, in a small cemetery near his home. Jeb and Theresa stood together at the graveside service, surrounded by the people whose lives Garrett had touched-friends from high school, former diving students, employees from the shop. It was a simple ceremony, and though it began to rain just as the minister finished speaking, the crowd lingered long after it was over. The wake was held at Garrett's house. One by one, people came through, all offering their condolences and sharing memories. When the last few filed out, leaving Jeb and Theresa alone, Jeb pulled a box from the closet and asked her to sit with him while they looked through it together. In the box were hundreds of photographs. Over the next few hours she watched Garrett's childhood and adolescence unfold-all the missing pieces of his life that she had only imagined. Then there were the pictures of the later years-high school and college graduations; the restored Happenstance ; Garrett in front of the remodeled shop prior to its opening. In every one of them, she noticed, his smile never changed. Smiling with him, she saw that for the most part his wardrobe hadn't, either. Unless the photo had been taken for a special occasion, from early childhood on, it seemed he'd always dressed the same-either jeans or shorts, a casual shirt, and Top-Siders without socks. There were dozens of photographs of Catherine. At first Jeb seemed uncomfortable when she saw them, but strangely, they didn't really affect her. She felt neither sadness nor anger because of them. They were simply a part of another time in his life. Later that evening, as they sorted through the last few pictures, she saw the Garrett she'd fallen in love with. One shot in particular caught her eye, and she held it in front of her for a long time. Noticing her expression, Jeb explained that it had been taken on Memorial Day, a few weeks before the bottle had washed up at the Cape. In it Garrett stood on his back deck, looking much the same as he had the first time she'd come to his house. When she was finally able to put it down, Jeb gently took it from her. The following morning he handed her an envelope. Opening it, she saw that he'd given it back to her, along with a number of others. With the pictures were the three letters that had first enabled Theresa and Garrett to come together. "I think he would want you to have these." Too choked up to respond, she nodded a silent thank-you. *  *  * Theresa couldn't remember much about her first few days back in Boston, and in retrospect she knew she didn't really want to. She did recall that Deanna was waiting for her at Logan Airport when her plane touched down. After taking one look at her, Deanna immediately called her husband, instructing him to bring some clothes to Theresa's because she planned to stay with her for a few days. Theresa spent most of the time in bed, not even bothering to get up when Kevin came home from school. "Is my mom ever going to be okay?" Kevin asked. "She just needs a little time, Kevin," Deanna answered. "I know it's hard for you, too, but it's going to be okay." Theresa's dreams, when she could remember them, were fragmented and disorienting. Surprisingly, Garrett never appeared in them at all. She didn't know if that was an omen of sorts or even if she should attach any meaning to it. In her daze, she found it difficult to think about anything clearly, and she went to bed early and remained there, cocooned in the soothing darkness for as long as she could. Sometimes upon awakening, she experienced a split second of confused unreality when the whole thing seemed like a terrible mistake, too absurd to have actually occurred. In that split second, everything would be as it should. She would find herself straining for the sounds of Garrett in the apartment, sure that the empty bed meant only that he was already in the kitchen, drinking coffee and reading the paper. She would join him in a moment at the table and shake her head: I had the most terrible dream . . . Her only other recollection about that week was her relentless need to understand how this could have happened. Before she left Wilmington, she made Jeb promise to call her if he learned anything else about the day Garrett had gone out on Happenstance . In a curious twist of reason, she believed that knowing the details-the-why -would somehow lessen her grief. What she refused to believe was that Garrett had sailed into the storm without planning to return. Whenever the phone rang, her hopes rose in the expectation of hearing Jeb's voice. "I see," she imagined herself saying. "Yes . . . I understand. That makes sense. . . ." Of course, deep down, she knew that would never happen. Jeb didn't call with an explanation that week, nor did the answer come to her in a moment of contemplation. No, the answer eventually came from a place she would never have predicted. *  *  * On the beach at Cape Cod, one year later, she reflected without bitterness on the turn of events that had led her to this place. Ready at last, Theresa reached in her bag. After removing the object she had brought with her, she stared at it, reliving the hour in which her answer had finally come. Unlike her recollection of the days immediately following her return to Boston, this memory was still unshakably clear. After Deanna had left, Theresa had tried to reestablish a routine of sorts. In her confusion over the last week, she'd ignored the aspects of life that nonetheless had gone on. While Deanna had helped with Kevin and kept the house up, she'd simply piled the mail that accumulated in the corner of the dining room. After dinner one night while Kevin was at the movies, Theresa absently began to sort through the pile. There were a few dozen letters, three magazines, and two packages. One package she recognized as an item she'd ordered from a catalog for Kevin's birthday. The second, though, was wrapped in plain brown paper without a return address. This second package was long and rectangular, sealed with extra tape. There were two "Fragile" stickers-one near the address and the other on the opposite side of the box-and another sticker that said "Handle with Care." Curious, she decided to open it first. It was then that she saw the postmark from Wilmington, North Carolina, dated from two weeks before. Quickly she scanned the address scrawled on the front. It was Garrett's handwriting. "No . . ." She set the package down, her stomach suddenly tight. She found a pair of scissors in the drawer and shakily began to cut the tape, pulling at the paper carefully as she did so. She already knew what she'd find inside. After lifting out the object and checking the rest of the package to make sure nothing was still inside, she carefully loosened the surrounding bubble wrap. It was taped tightly at the top and bottom, and she was forced to use the scissors again. Finally, after prying off the remaining pieces, she set the object on her desk and stared at it for a long moment, unable to move. When she lifted it into better light, she saw her own reflection. The bottle was corked, and the rolled-up letter inside stood on its end. After removing the cork-he'd corked it only loosely-she tipped it upside-down, and the letter spilled out easily. Like the letter she'd found only a few months before, it was wrapped in yarn. She unrolled it carefully, making sure not to rip it. It was written with a fountain pen. In the top right corner was a picture of an old ship, sails billowing in the wind. Dear Theresa, Can you forgive me? She laid the letter on the desk. Her throat ached, making it difficult to breathe. The overhead light was making a strange prism of her unbidden tears. She reached for some tissue and rubbed her eyes. Composing herself, she started again. Can you forgive me? In a world that I seldom understand, there are winds of destiny that blow when we least expect them. Sometimes they gust with the fury of a hurricane, sometimes they barely fan one's cheek. But the winds cannot be denied, bringing as they often do a future that is impossible to ignore. You, my darling, are the wind that I did not anticipate, the wind that has gusted more strongly than I ever imagined possible. You are my destiny. I was wrong, so wrong, to ignore what was obvious, and I beg your forgiveness. Like a cautious traveler, I tried to protect myself from the wind and lost my soul instead. I was a fool to ignore my destiny, but even fools have feelings, and I've come to realize that you are the most important thing that I have in this world. I know I am not perfect. I've made more mistakes in the past few months than some make in a lifetime. I was wrong to have acted as I did when I found the letters, just as I was wrong to hide the truth about what I was going through with respect to my past. When I chased you as you drove down the street and again as I watched you leave from the airport, I knew I should have tried harder to stop you. But most of all, I was wrong to deny what was obvious in my heart: that I can't go on without you. You were right about everything. When we sat in my kitchen, I tried to deny the things you were saying, even though I knew they were true. Like a man who gazes only backward on a trip across the country, I ignored what lay ahead. I missed the beauty of a coming sunrise, the wonder of anticipation that makes life worthwhile. It was wrong of me to do that, a product of my confusion, and I wish I had come to understand that sooner. Now, though, with my gaze fixed toward the future, I see your face and hear your voice, certain that this is the path I must follow. It is my deepest wish that you give me one more chance. As you might have guessed, I'm hoping that this bottle will work its magic, as it did once before, and somehow bring us back together. For the first few days after you left, I wanted to believe that I could go on as I always had. But I couldn't. Every time I watched the sun go down, I thought of you. Every time I walked by the phone, I yearned to call. Even when I went sailing, I could only think of you and the wonderful times we had. I knew in my heart that my life would never be the same again. I wanted you back, more than I imagined possible, yet whenever I conjured you up, I kept hearing your words in our last conversation. No matter how much I loved you, I knew it wasn't going to be possible unless we-both of us-were sure I would devote myself fully to the path that lay ahead. I continued to be troubled by these thoughts until late last night when the answer finally came to me. Hopefully, after I tell you about it, it will mean as much to you as it did to me: In my dream, I saw myself on the beach with Catherine, in the same spot I took you after our lunch at Hank's. It was bright in the sun, the rays reflecting brilliantly off the sand. As we walked alongside each other, she listened intently as I told her about you, about us, about the wonderful times we shared. Finally, after some hesitation, I admitted that I loved you, but that I felt guilty about it. She said nothing right away but simply kept walking until she finally turned to me and asked, "Why?" "Because of you." Upon hearing my answer, she smiled at me with patient amusement, the way she used to before she died. "Oh, Garrett," she finally said as she gently touched my face, "who do you think it was that brought the bottle to her?" Theresa stopped reading. The faint hum of the refrigerator seemed to echo the letter's words: Who do you think it was that brought the bottle to her? Leaning back in her chair, she closed her eyes, trying to hold back the tears. "Garrett," she murmured, "Garrett . . ."Outside her window, she could hear the sounds of cars passing by. Slowly she began reading again. When I woke, I felt empty and alone. The dream did not comfort me. Rather, it made me ache inside because of what I had done to us, and I began to cry. When I finally pulled myself together, I knew what I had to do. With shaking hand, I wrote two letters: the one you're holding in your hand right now, and one to Catherine, in which I finally said my good-bye. Today, I'm taking Happenstance out to send it to her, as I have with all the others. It will be my last letter-Catherine, in her own way, has told me to go on, and I have chosen to listen. Not only to her words, but also to the leanings of my heart that led me back to you. Oh, Theresa, I am sorry, so very sorry, that I ever hurt you. I am coming to Boston next week with the hope that you find a way to forgive me. Maybe I'm too late now. I don't know. Theresa, I love you and always will. I am tired of being alone. I see children crying and laughing as they play in the sand, and I realize I want to have children with you. I want to watch Kevin as he grows into a man. I want to hold your hand and see you cry when he finally takes a bride, I want to kiss you when his dreams come true. I will move to Boston if you ask because I cannot go on this way. I am sick and sad without you. As I sit here in the kitchen, I am praying that you will let me come back to you, this time forever. Garrett It was dusk now, and the gray sky was turning dark quickly. Though she'd read the letter a thousand times, it still aroused the same feelings she'd had when she'd first read it. For the past year, those feelings had stalked her every waking moment. Sitting on the beach, she tried once again to imagine him as he wrote the letter. She ran her finger across the words, tracing the page lightly, knowing his hand had been there before. Fighting back tears, she studied the letter, as she always did after reading it. In spots she saw smudges, as if the pen were leaking slightly while he wrote; it gave the letter a distinctive, almost rushed appearance. Six words had been crossed out, and she looked at those especially closely, wondering what he'd intended to say. As always, she couldn't tell. Like many things about his last day, it was a secret he'd taken with him. Toward the bottom of the page, she noticed, his handwriting was hard to read, as if he'd been gripping the pen tightly. When she was finished, she rolled up the letter again and carefully wrapped the yarn around it, preserving it so it would always look the same. She put it back into the bottle and set it off to one side, next to the bag. She knew that when she got home, she would place it back on her bureau, where she always kept it. At night, when the glow of streetlights slanted through her room, the bottle gleamed in the darkness and was usually the last thing she saw before going to sleep. Next, she reached for the pictures Jeb had given her. She remembered that after she returned from Boston, she'd sifted through them one by one. When her hands began to tremble, she had put them in her drawer and never looked at them again.But now she thumbed through them, finding the one that had been taken on the back porch. Holding it in front of her, she remembered everything about him-the way he looked and moved, his easy smile, the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes. Perhaps tomorrow, she told herself, she would take in the negative and have another one made, an eight-by-ten that she could set on her nightstand, the same way he had with Catherine's picture. Then she smiled sadly, realizing even now that she wouldn't go through with it. The photos would go back into her drawer where they had been before, beneath her socks and next to the pearl earrings her grandmother had given her. It would hurt too much to see his face every day, and she wasn't ready for that yet. Since the funeral, she'd kept in sporadic contact with Jeb, calling every now and then to see how he was doing. The first time she called, she had explained to him what she had discovered about why Garrett had taken Happenstance out that day, and they both ended up weeping on the phone. As the months rolled on, however, they were eventually able to mention his name without tears, and Jeb would fall to describing his memories of Garrett as a child or relating to Theresa over and over the things he'd said about her in their long absences apart. In July Theresa and Kevin flew to Florida and went scuba diving in the Keys. The water there, as in North Carolina, was warm, though much clearer. They spent eight days there, diving every morning and relaxing on the beach in the afternoon. On their way back to Boston, they both decided they would do it again the following year. For his birthday, Kevin asked for a subscription to a diving magazine. Ironically, the first issue included a story about the shipwrecks off the North Carolina coast, including the one in shallow water they had visited with Garrett. Though she'd been asked, she hadn't dated anyone since Garrett's death. People at work, with the exception of Deanna, tried repeatedly to set her up with various men. All were described as handsome and eligible, but she politely declined every invitation. Now and then she overheard her colleagues' whispers: "I don't understand why she's giving up," or, "She's still young and attractive." Others, who were more understanding, simply observed that she'd eventually recover, in her own time. It was a phone call from Jeb three weeks ago that had led her back to Cape Cod. When she listened to his gentle voice, quietly suggesting that it was time to move on, the walls she'd built finally began to collapse. She cried for most of the night, but the following morning she knew what she had to do. She made the arrangements to return here-easy enough, since it was off-season. And it was then that her healing finally began. As she stood on the beach, she wondered if anyone could see her. She glanced from side to side, but it was deserted. Only the ocean appeared to be moving, and she was drawn to its fury. The water looked angry and dangerous: it was not the romantic place she remembered it to be. She watched it for a long time, thinking of Garrett, until she heard the growl of thunder echo through the winter sky. The wind picked up, and she felt her mind drift with it. Why, she wondered, had it ended the way it had? She didn't know. Another gust and she felt him beside her, brushing the hair from her face. He had done that when they said good-bye, and she felt his touch once more. There were so many things she wished she could change about that day, so many regrets. . . . Now, alone with her thoughts, she loved him. She would always love him. She'd known it from the moment she saw him on the docks, and she knew it now. Neither the passage of time nor his death could change the way she felt. She closed her eyes, whispering to him as she did so. "I miss you, Garrett Blake," she said softly. And for a moment, she imagined he'd somehow heard her, because the wind suddenly died and the air became still.The first few raindrops were beginning to fall by the time she uncorked the simple clear bottle she was holding so tightly and removed the letter she had written to him yesterday, the letter she had come to send. After unrolling it, she held it before her, the same way she held the first letter she'd ever found. The little light that remained was barely enough for her to see the words, but she knew them all by heart, anyway. Her hands shook slightly as she began reading. My Darling, One year has passed since I sat with your father in the kitchen. It is late at night and though the words are coming hard to me, I can't escape the feeling that it's time that I finally answer your question. Of course I forgive you. I forgive you now, and I forgave you the moment I read your letter. In my heart, I had no other choice. Leaving you once was hard enough; to have done it a second time would have been impossible. I loved you too much to have let you go again. Though I'm still grieving over what might have been, I find myself thankful that you came into my life for even a short period of time. In the beginning, I'd assumed that we were somehow brought together to help you through your time of grief. Yet now, one year later, I've come to believe that it was the other way around. Ironically, I am in the same position you were, the first time we met. As I write, I am struggling with the ghost of someone I loved and lost. I now understand more fully the difficulties you were going through, and I realize how painful it must have been for you to move on. Sometimes my grief is overwhelming, and even though I understand that we will never see each other again, there is a part of me that wants to hold on to you forever. It would be easy for me to do that because loving someone else might diminish my memories of you. Yet, this is the paradox: Even though I miss you greatly, it's because of you that I don't dread the future. Because you were able to fall in love with me, you have given me hope, my darling. You taught me that it's possible to move forward in life, no matter how terrible your grief. And in your own way, you've made me believe that true love cannot be denied. Right now, I don't think I'm ready, but this is my choice. Do not blame yourself. Because of you, I am hopeful that there will come a day when my sadness is replaced by something beautiful. Because of you, I have the strength to go on.. I don't know if spirits do indeed roam the world, but even if they do, I will sense your presence everywhere. When I listen to the ocean, it will be your whispers; when I see a dazzling sunset, it will be your image in the sky. You are not gone forever, no matter who comes into my life. You are standing with God, alongside my soul, helping to guide me toward a future that I cannot predict.
This is not a good-bye, my darling, this is a thank-you. Thank you for coming into my life and giving me joy, thank you for loving me and receiving my love in return. Thank you for the memories I will cherish forever. But most of all, thank you for showing me that there will come a time when I can eventually let you go.
I love you, After reading the letter for the last time, Theresa rolled it up and sealed it in the bottle. She turned it over a few times, knowing that her journey had come full circle. Finally, when she knew she could wait no longer, she threw it out as far as she could. It was then that a strong wind picked up and the fog began to part. Theresa stood in silence and stared at the bottle as it began to float out to sea. And even though she knew it was impossible, she imagined that the bottle would never drift ashore. It would travel the world forever, drifting by faraway places she herself would never see. When the bottle vanished from sight a few minutes later, she started back to the car. Walking in silence in the rain, Theresa smiled softly. She didn't know when or where or if it would ever turn up, but it didn't really matter. Somehow she knew that Garrett would get the message.