This is Chapter 22 of the contemporary novel Vacationland, available this summer.  To refresh your memory, Shelly is the 19-year-old summer girl, in love with Donny Coombs, a 35 year-old lobsterman from Lincolnville.  For more information about the book, visit


Chapter 22

In shorts, tank top, flip flops and a backpack, Shelly biked up to the ferry on Islesboro and came across on the 1:30 p.m. boat.  Pot Luck was still out of Lincolnville harbor.  Shelly pedaled up Route 1 and was at Donny’s door at ten to two, time enough to hang the Tibetan prayer flags along the front porch, dress up the shabby house with a little color, more decoration than religious conviction. She stood back and watched the red, blue and yellow patches of cloth flutter in the wind, then thought the yard could stand some attention.

She found the mower in the garage, checked the oil, topped off the tank and started it second pull. It took her 45 minutes to circle the house and beat the lawn into submission, could have used some fill and some seed in places, but it would have to do. By the time she was done, she was covered in sweat and needed a beer.

She found one in the refrigerator, clean and well stocked, nothing curdled or scum covered. She opened the cupboards, poked around the draws and touched the silverware in the drying rack, not much feminine touch, but orderly and comfy in a bachelor kind of way, a blush of dinge across the surface.

She found the bedroom on the ground floor. A comforter had been floated flat across the bed and the room was cool, on the shady side of the house. Tut had a blanket on the floor by the side table. There was a novel by Reginald Hill open upside down and cracked half way through under the lamp.

She took a kitchen chair out to the porch, sat and tilted back against the side of the house. She propped her feet on the rail and settled back to enjoy the lawn and her can of Bud.  Donny’s red truck pulled in the driveway and he and Tut looked over through the open passenger window, both at a loss for words, her sitting there on their porch.

“Hi there,” she said.  She raised her beer and nodded her head.

Tut came through the window and landed with a thump and a grunt and ran up the steps with a stiff gait. Donny opened his side and leaned on the side of his truck. “Come on over. Make yourself at home.”  He looked over the lawn.  “You had time to do the laundry, yet?”

“Woman’s work is never done. It was next on my list, unless you have other plans for me.”

Donny plucked the cooler out of the truck and came onto the porch.  She said, “Grab a chair, come on out and join your dog and me.”

He did just that, tilted back beside her and took a haul off his fresh beer. He looked up at the flags. “Nice touch. Are you moving in?” Tut splayed out flat at the top of the steps.

“Not today, but I thought we could go out tonight, do something fun.” Shelly rested her cool hand on his forearm and it gave him a chill.

“Fun would be nice.”

They drank beer and watched the cars drive up and down Route 1, getting crowded with the beginnings of summer traffic.

“Good fishing?” she asked.

“Fishing was real good. Came across your father out there in the bay. We had a chat, him and me.”

“Anything I should know about?”

“You happened to be the topic. You and me, actually.”

“Don’t imagine it was a pleasant conversation then.”

“You could say there was some tension. He seems to think that us seeing each other is not such a good idea. He wants it to end.”

“He’s said about the same to me.”

“You don’t like taking his advice?”

“Actually, I’m inclined to do the opposite.”

“So, are you making some kind of point by being here? Am I just something to bait your father with, feed your rebellious strain?”

“Not entirely, maybe not that at all.” Shelly smiled and Donny looked at those white crooked front teeth. He leaned over and kissed her lips, leaned back and took another sip of beer.

He said: “According to things said, you could bring me heap of trouble. I don’t know if I can stand much more trouble in my life.”

“I’ll hold your hand.”

“You Payson women sure do like to hold hands.”

“That’s because the men in our lives need hand holding.”

Donny thought on that some, but didn’t comment any further. He ran through fun things, thinking about being a host for fun things, not being very accustomed to the task. He said, “This can be like a test, see if my definition of fun matches yours. They could be totally different seeing as we come from different worlds.”

“Well then, let’s give it a shot. What are you thinking?”

“Pretty much drinking and bowling. It’d be roller skating down to Rockland if it was winter, but it ain’t, so I’d say bowling tonight.”

“I’m not sure about bowling. I’ve always been scared of wrenching my arm out of the socket if I didn’t get my fingers out of those little holes.”

“Then you ain’t got nothing to worry about.  This here is candlepin bowling – small balls you hold in the palm of your hand and 10 skinny pins.  My grandmother taught me how to bowl, and she was real good.”

“Then I am all yours.”

“I don’t believe a word of it.”

“You can hold my hand, how does that sound?”


They sat on the porch and drank beer and he asked about her rowing and her plans for college. Shelly allowed she was good with a single oar and it had gotten her into Radcliffe, her grades good but not great. She didn’t quite know about the future, but would take it as it came.

In the back of Donny’s mind he wondered about the immediate future, like her plans for the evening. He said, “If we do these fun things, like I got planned, then that puts you here after the ferry’s done for the day.  I’d have to run you and your bike across the bay tonight, wouldn’t be no trouble.”

“You thinking of getting rid of me so soon?  Let’s see how it goes. I’m old enough to stay out at night, weather gets sloppy or the fog comes back in, I get stranded on the mainland. I’d have to call home and tell Mummy that I’m okay.”

“Does your father like to run at night, hand gun in his belt?”

“It won’t come to that. He might offer to come get me, but I can tell him not to bother.”

“Just the news he wants to hear, I bet.”

“Let’s play it by ear. You mind if I use your shower?”

“You sit tight while I tidy up the place. I’m not used to female company.”

Donny left Shelly and Tut on the porch. He peeled the comforter off the bed, found some clean sheets in the closet and quickly remade the bed, putting fresh cases on the pillows.  He straightened up the bathroom, ran a sponge over the sink and got out a clean towel, set it in the rack, looked it over and figured it was the best he could do on such short notice.

“She’s all yours,” he said when he came back out to the porch.

Shelly was sitting on the floor rubbing Tut’s stomach, the little terror flat on his back with his tongue hanging out, best he’d ever been treated. “Normally, Tut wouldn’t put up with that.  You seem to have a way with him.”

“I like pizzazz.  He knows I appreciate him.” She boosted herself up and Tut turned his head and looked like he was shocked the good times were over.

Donny listened to the shower run and thought of Shelly soapy and naked in his bathroom. It was a stirring thought, tempered by a niggling apprehension. Her father’s words came back, and he wondered about how bad an idea this could be. What’s the worst that could happen? Pretty bad, he figured.

Shelly came out of the house in a short light-blue sun dress with straps and her wet hair pulled back, stunning without any extra effort but who she was. Donny felt a hiccup jump in his chest.  “You sure do clean up nice.”

“Oh, what the hell.”  Shelly sat down in his lap and put her arms around his neck and kissed him deep and soft, full attention on their lips. It took their breath away. He held her close and she rested her head on his shoulder. She said, “You smell nice.”

“In a I’ve-been-fishing-all-morning kind of way?”

“No, in a manly kind of way.”

“Well, you best pop off my lap before I get any ideas. I’ll clean up and we’ll head up to Belfast for supper and then I’ll show you the finer points of bowling.”

“Promises, promises.”

“But you best call your folks and let them in on your plans.  I don’t think I’m going to want to take you back tonight, and we don’t need some SWAT team busting the door down to free the hostage, middle of the night.

They sat at the bar at Darby’s Restaurant and Donny was proud to introduce Shelly around, seemed to know most everybody in the place. They kept the drinking down and the banter up and left in a gale of laughter at a joke told by the owner Jerry.

“I like your truck,” she said.  “You don’t often see a full seat all the way across.”  Shelly slid into the middle, lifted Tut across her lap and set him next to the window on the passenger side and sat in close to Donny.

Donny had his hands full at the bowling alley. Shelly was new to the game but she had eye and hand coordination and was smooth on her feet, and they were even until Donny ended the third string with a spare and a strike and tacked on nine pins to finish it off.  He enjoyed tossing the ball down the lane, and enjoyed watching Shelly’s bare legs take her to the line and her bend down to release the ball right down by the wood so you could hardly hear the ball fall.

They got back a little before 10, Donny saying it was awfully late, seeing as he had such an early morning.

“Maybe you could come in late tomorrow morning.”

“Play it by ear.”

“Good plan.”

Donny woke up in the middle of the night with Shelly in his arms. He put his nose into her hair and fell back to sleep.

Nat Goodale has flown planes from Belfast, raised sheep in Montville, and run commercial picnics from Searsport, and now sells Norwegian boats in Lincolnville. He is working on his third book.