“That makes thirteen.” Jeff, my boss, sets the last of the one-hundred-dollar bills in my hand.
“Thanks, man.” I stuff the cash in my pocket and shake his hand.
“You plannin’ on coming back in May?”
“Not sure. Depends on where winter takes me.”
“No plans?” He folds his arms across his chest, resting them on top of his considerable belly.
“Nah. Heading south before the snow hits too hard, maybe Seattle or Portland.” My skin itches to leave this conversation. Never have been good with small talk. It’s why I don’t stay in the same place too long. You stick around, people start asking questions. Try to get to know you. I have no interest in that.
“All right. Well, take care. You’re always welcome back next season.” We shake hands one more time, and I hightail it off the dock.
I make my way back to my temporary housing, a little motel in the heart of the village, taking in the sights for the last time. I walk underneath the large arch that welcomes you to town. It reads Welcome to Alaska’s 1st City. Underneath that, Ketchikan is in large block letters, and on the bottom in a cursive script is The Salmon Capital of the World.
The business storefronts are all brightly-colored, as if it can make up for all the liquid sunshine this place gets—over a hundred and fifty inches a year. Then add in snow, and it makes for a pretty gloomy climate. If I were to settle anywhere, it would be here. At least then I’d have a reason to be so surly. No one expects you to be nice when you’re deficient in vitamin D.
Ketchikan has been my home for the last few months. It’s longer than I like to stay in one place, but the money was good, and the fishing was better. Earned more than enough to spend the winter doing whatever the fuck I want.
Which is probably a whole lot of nothing, like every other winter.
I thought I’d found a home once. I had friends. Archer, Mason, and I owned a boat catching king crab up north. It was the closest to settled I’d ever felt in my life.
But there was an accident, and now that dream is as dead as Mason is. He and Archer were together, and Archer had even planned on proposing. Then the ocean took Mason, and not long after, I lost Archer to Brigs Ferry Bay, Maine.
Haven’t talked to him in a while. Probably should call him.
I unlock the bright teal door to my motel room and flop down on the bed. This place is a dump. Torn-up carpet, threadbare bedding, a TV as wide as the screen is big, and a lumpy mattress.
The only thing that makes it my own is the duffel I keep my clothes in and the wooden cross lying on the nightstand. Not because I’m particularly religious. It’s just all I have left of Mom and Dad, other than the memories, and I wish I didn’t have those, so I tote it around to remind me of where I’ve been and what I’ve survived.
I pull out my cell phone, some fancy thing I bought since I don’t have a computer and the motel doesn’t offer Wi-Fi anyway. I pull up my contacts, or more accurately, contact.
My finger hovers over the call button as I debate pressing it. Last time we spoke, he was packing up to move to Maine to help his sister out while she went through a divorce.
“Adler?” His deep voice sounds over the line.
“Hey, Archer. How’s it goin’?”
“Good. Really good, actually.” I hear the smile in his voice, and it’s like a balm to my soul. “How are you?”
“I’m fine. In Ketchikan. Just finished up the king salmon season, getting ready to head out.”
“Oh yeah? Good fishing?”
“Fuck yeah. It was a blast. But tell me why things are goin’ so well for you?” I ask in an effort to divert the conversation.
“I met someone.” His tone deepens and slows, guilt dripping from each syllable.
“I know, but it’s been hard.”
“Mason wouldn’t want you to pine over him for the rest of your miserable life.” I try to comfort him. Not sure it works.
“He make you happy?” I ask, curious about the man who could stop my mopey friend from wasting away.
“He does. He actually reminds me a lot of Mason.” He chuckles.
“Found yourself another bubbly son of a bitch, huh?”
“Sure did. Doesn’t look anything like him, though. He’s shorter, smaller, has a great ass.” I hear a scuffle, and then, not to me, he says, “Ow. What? You do.”
“It’s real good to hear you’re doing so well.”
“What about you? Anyone special in your life?”
“Archer,” I warn.
“What? I’m just asking. I thought maybe hell had frozen over, and you were ready to put yourself out there.”
“Not going to happen. And if I was putting myself out there, I wouldn’t tell you.”
“Fine. Have it your way and die a miserable old bastard.”
“Thank you. I will,” I grumble.
“You could always come to Maine for the winter. There’s not much fishing this time of year, but it’s beautiful.”
“I’m a West Coast kind of guy. You know that. Think I’ll head to Seattle or Portland. Hang out with those freaks for a while.”
“You mean sit alone in a hotel room for a while.”
“Maybe. Listen, I gotta go. I’m happy for you. Mason would be, too.” I hope he hears the sincerity.
“Thanks, Adler. Don’t be a stranger. Let me know where you end up. Someone should keep tabs on you.”
We hang up, and I sigh loudly. Wasn’t lying when I said I was happy for him, but something about it makes my belly ache, and I don’t know why.
That’s a lie— I do know. I’m jealous. Not that he’s found someone to spend his life with. I’m jealous that he lives his life in the open.