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Shifting Sands

By Elizabeth Ludwig

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Chapter One

Priscilla pulled a handkerchief from the jacket of her tailored navy jacket and discreetly dabbed a drop of sweat from her upper lip. Of course, she was happy to see the line of people waiting to get into the lighthouse stretching down the driveway, but with the early August temperatures climbing into the eighties, she wished she had opted for a lighter jacket.

Slipping the handkerchief into her pocket, she pasted a bright smile to her lips and greeted the next visitor, the words rolling rote off her tongue. The museum had been fully renovated since the fire that had damaged the inside a few weeks ago. It looked good as new, at least, as new as a hundred and sixty year old lighthouse could look.

“Good morning. Welcome to the Latham Family History Museum. My name is Priscilla Latham Grant, and I’ll be happy to answer any questions.”

She reached for a stack of informational pamphlets that her cousin, Joan Abernathy had created, and handed them out to the eager people filing past. As the Latham family historian, Joan had filled the pamphlets with fun facts and tidbits of information from the family’s past, including a section Priscilla had only recently learned about her great grandfather’s involvement in the Underground Railroad. She had even included a small section about Priscilla, as the newest owner of the lighthouse and the cottage situated alongside.

The line dwindled, and Priscilla used the moment to catch her breath and sneak a drink from the bottle of water she had sitting on a display table near the door.

“Busy morning?”

Startled, Priscilla pulled the bottle from her lips. Water dribbled over her chin. She wiped them away with the tips of her fingers. “Oh, Gerald. You scared me.”

The handsome Coast Guard captain’s hazel eyes twinkled with humor. He slid a handkerchief from the pocket of his trousers and offered it to her with a flourish. “Sorry about that. I didn’t mean to sneak up on you.”

She shook her head and handed him the bottle while used his handkerchief to dry her hands. “It’s all right. I just didn’t realize you would be stopping by.”
“It was quiet at the station, so I thought I would drop by and see how things were going. No troubles here?”

The Coast Guard managed and maintained the lighthouse, and also leased it from Priscilla, so she was not surprised that Gerald chose to keep a watchful eye on how things were going now that she’d opened the museum on the first floor.
Finished with the handkerchief, she passed it back to Gerald then motioned around the crowded room. “None. I think this is the busiest the museum has been since it opened.”

“That’s good. The Lathams have been important figures in this community for years. I’m glad people are interested in learning more about them.”

“Me too. Of course, I’m proud of my family’s roots, but I’m pleased that others want to know more about them as well.” She paused to smile at another visitor and to hand him a pamphlet. “Enjoy,” she said, and then turned to Gerald. “Hey, you haven’t forgotten about the clam bake that Trudy is hosting this weekend, right?”

He set her water bottle on the table then held up his phone and wiggled it. “Got it on my calendar.”

“Good. After the busy week I’ve had, I’m looking forward to a little fun.”
“Me too.” He pushed his phone into his back pocket and reached out to take the stack of pamphlets. “Here, let me do that for a while. You look like you could use a break.”

Priscilla smiled. She could take that statement in a couple of ways, but elected to see it as the kindness as he intended. “Thank you, Gerald. I really do need to sit for a minute. I’ve been on my feet all morning.”

Relieved to relinquish the hosting duties, Priscilla moved away from the door toward the group that Teresa Claybrook was leading as part of her Premium Lighthouse Tour. Now that the museum was officially open, they had upped the number of tours Teresa brought to two per week, one on Saturdays, and the second on Mondays.

Teresa leaned casually against the polished railing that circled the first floor of the lighthouse. Her golden brown eyes sparkled as she talked, and her hand rose repeatedly to smooth her chocolate colored hair behind her ear. Priscilla paused to listen.

“Now, as some of you already know by reading your pamphlets, the Misty Harbor Lighthouse was built in 1852 by Llewellyn Latham. What you may not know is that the lighthouse wasn’t erected on the site where it currently sits. Due to soil erosion, the lighthouse has actually been moved twice over the years, once in 1886 by Llewellyn’s oldest son Nathan, and again in 1954.”

Teresa raised her brows as she looked over her group. “How many of you remember what happened in 1954?”

There was a general rustling about as people turned to speak to one another in low whispers.

An older, balding man at the back of the group lifted his hand. “Wasn’t that the year that two hurricanes hit the island within a few weeks of each other?”

Teresa pointed to him and nodded approvingly. “That’s correct. Hurricane Carol and Hurricane Edna were both category 3 storms, and they hit within days of each other.” She took a step and gestured to a cluster of photos Priscilla had assembled on the wall. “Together, the two storms caused heavy erosion and flooding to many of the beaches on the eastern seaboard, but specifically to the area we call Misty Harbor. Fortunately, the lighthouse was spared any extensive damage, and was moved to its current location the following spring.”

Priscilla smiled. Teresa sounded so poised and professional, just like the guide Priscilla had listened to on her tour of the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum a couple of weeks ago. She eased away as Teresa continued with her discussion of the lighthouse and its many owners. Eventually, she would come to Priscilla, and being the object of so many curious stares always made her a little uncomfortable.

Spotting a smudge on one of the display cases, she bent and used the sleeve of her jacket to wipe the glass clean.

“Excuse me. Are you Mrs. Grant?”

Priscilla straightened. A youngish looking woman with smartly styled hair the color of bright copper smiled at her over the edge of her brochure.
Priscilla nodded and extended her hand. “Yes, that’s me. How can I help you?”

The woman fumbled to tuck the brochure under her arm while balancing a tote bag stuffed with souvenirs. She took Priscilla’s hand, gave it a shake, then stuck out her lip and blew a few stray wisps of hair from her forehead.

“It’s so nice to meet you,” she said, bumping the tote bag onto her hip with her elbow. “My name is Margo Pierce. I’m a friend of your daughter, Rachel. I told her my husband and I would be visiting the Vineyard, and she made me promise I’d stop by.” Her eyes widened as she peered around the lighthouse. She jostled the tote bag strap and let it slide to her feet with a small thump. “Oh, that didn’t come out right. She didn’t make me stop by. This place is awesome. I just meant—”

Priscilla smiled and held up her hand. “It’s very nice to meet you, Margo. And you say you’re my daughter’s friend?”

Margo’s head bobbed, sending more coppery wisps tumbling over her forehead. “Yes, we used to work together in the same telecommunications office.” She smoothed the hair behind her ear and motioned to a tall, broad-shouldered man examining one of the old Fresnel lenses her grandfather had used in the lighthouse. “Jackson, come and meet Rachel’s mother.”

Margo swept her hand out as he approached. “Mrs. Grant, this is my husband, Jackson Pierce.”

“Oh, please, call me Priscilla,” she said, smiling as Jackson took her hand.
He inclined his head graciously. “It’s a pleasure, Priscilla. And you must call me Jackson.”

Pleasure fanned Priscilla’s cheeks at his lilting, melodious tone. What was it about a southern gentleman that always made a person feel giddy?
Priscilla reclaimed her hand with a smile. “You’re not from around here.”

“No, ma’am. I’m from Texas, originally. Margo and I met in college.”

Margo raised her hand, pinkie and index finger extended, her thumb over her middle and ring finger. “Hook ‘em, Horns.”

“Horns.” Priscilla thought a second and then raised her eyebrows. “You went to the University of Texas?”

“You know it?”

“My husband watched a lot of college football.” She smiled. “But you said you worked with my daughter?”

Margo nodded. “Jackson got a job offer in Kansas shortly after we graduated. I moved out there to be with him and got a job at the telecommunications company where Rachel works not long after.”

“But you’re not there any longer?”

Margo shook her head and her hand went to her belly. “Actually, Jackson got a job in Boston and since we’re expecting, we figured we’d wait until after the baby is born before I started looking.”

Priscilla’s gaze dropped automatically to Margo’s hand. “That’s wonderful. When are you due?”

“Not until November.”

“It can’t come soon enough,” Jackson said, pressing a kiss to his wife’s other hand.

Warmed by the loving expressions on their faces, Priscilla couldn’t help but smile. “Congratulations to you both. I’m very happy for you.”

“Thank you,” Margo said, smiling as she tucked herself into her husband’s side. “We’re really excited.”

“Of course you are. Children are a blessing.” For a split second, Priscilla’s cheer dimmed, thinking of the children she had lost to miscarriages over the years. It was instantly replaced with gratitude for the daughter she did have, and with joy for the couple standing before her. She squeezed her hands together tightly and pressed a smile to her lips. “Well, I’m so glad Rachel told you about the museum.”

“Oh, Rachel didn’t tell us about it,” Margo said quickly.

Jackson also shook his head. “No. Actually we saw it advertised on her Facebook page.”

Priscilla blinked in confusion and then remembered Rachel’s promise to create a Facebook campaign once the museum opened. “Goodness, she told me she planned to do that. I guess she must have finished it.”

“It’s pretty impressive,” Margo said. “She used a lot of family photos and pictures of the Vineyard. And since we had planned on visiting anyway, I asked Rachel about it. That’s when she made us promise to stop by. I’m really glad she did.”

“So am I,” Priscilla said, reaching out to clasp Margo’s hand. “How long will you be staying on the Vineyard?”

“A few days. Jackson and I have several things planned. It’ll sort of be our last blast before the baby comes.”

“Well, then you must let me treat to you both to lunch. If you’d like, I can even take you on a private tour of the lighthouse.”

“Would you?” Margo’s eyes sparkled as she looked up at her husband. “Jackson, would it be all right?”

Jackson looked hesitantly at the line of visitors stretching to the door. “Are you sure, Priscilla? You look pretty busy.”

Priscilla waved her hand. “That’s because the lighthouse is only open a couple of days a week. Why don’t you stop by tomorrow, say around 10:30? I’ll show you around the lighthouse, and then we’ll grab lunch at one of the café’s in town.”
Jackson’s smile widened. He nodded and slid his arm around his wife’s waist. “That sounds wonderful. We’ll see you tomorrow.”

“That is so sweet of you, Priscilla,” Margo said, reaching out to give her a quick hug. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Enjoy the rest of the lighthouse, and I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Priscilla sent them off with a wave and then surveyed the scene in the lighthouse, her hands propped on her hips. Across the room, a young boy with a mop of unruly blond hair crouched on his knees, his face angled toward the floor, and one hand shoved elbow deep into a grate. Priscilla hurried over to him.

“Excuse me, can I help you with something?”

Sweat rolled from the boy’s temples, dampening his hair. He puffed out red cheeks as he strained to reach something in the grate. “I’ve…almost…got…”

Priscilla cast a quick glance around the room for the boy’s parents. No one appeared at all interested in his antics, and his arm was turning white where his elbow squished against the grate. She crouched down next to him. “Listen, I don’t think you should be doing that. You could get your hand stuck.” When the boy refused to pull his arm out, Priscilla tapped the grate. “Did you lose something down there?”

“Alex, what on earth are you doing?” A tall, slender woman with hair the exact same blonde color as the boy’s hurried over. She snatched his free arm and yanked him to his feet. “Look at you, Alex. You’re covered in dust.”

As if to prove her point, she held her finger to her nose and let out delicate sneeze.

“But, Mom—”

A man, Alex’s father Priscilla guessed, strode toward them, a look of consternation twisting his handsome features. “There you are, Alex. What did your mother tell you about running off?”

Alex stuck out his finger and pointed toward the floor. “But I saw something.”

“Anything you saw in there is going to be worthless, dirty junk,” his mother scolded. She grabbed the collar of his shirt and let it go with a sigh of disgust. “Just look at you, Alex. You’re covered in filth.”

“Beatrice.” The man directed a warning glance at his wife and then inclined his head to Priscilla. He turned to her, his hand extended. “Todd Marshall.”

Priscilla accepted his hand and gave it a shake. “Priscilla Latham Grant.”

Beatrice’s eyebrows rose. “The owner?”

“That’s right.”

Todd waved toward his son. “We’re awfully sorry about causing a stir. Alex is just a little rambunctious at times.”

Hearing his name, the boy squirmed from foot to foot and tugged at the collar buttoned up to his throat. “Can I go outside? There’s nothing to see in here.”
Priscilla hid a smile at the look of horror that crossed his parents’ faces.

“Alex!” they scolded in unison.

“Absolutely not. You’re staying with me,” his mother added.

“That’s probably a good idea,” Priscilla said gently, giving the boy an understanding wink. To Todd and Beatrice she said, “It’s a long way down to the beach, and I would hate for him to fall and hurt himself.”

Her words seemed to startle Beatrice into motion. She grabbed Alex’s arm and tugged him protectively to her side.

“Anyway, it’s almost time for lunch,” Todd said, glancing at the shiny gold watch on his wrist. He shook his sleeve into place and then tipped his head to Priscilla. “Again, we’re very sorry about the disturbance.”

“It was no trouble,” Priscilla said. “I hope you’ll come back again soon.”

But maybe next time without Alex, who seemed bored by the entire trip? She shook her head as they pulled him away, his voice raised in a whine that drew several stares.

“What was that all about?” Gerald stopped next to her, his eyebrows lowered in disapproval as he watched Alex being dragged through the door.

Priscilla chuckled and crossed her arms. “Those parents certainly have their hands full.”

“I’ll say.” He motioned toward the floor. “What was the boy doing down there?”

“I’m not sure. He said he saw something.” Priscilla bent and strained to see down into the grate’s murky interior.

“Here.” Gerald took a slim flashlight from his pocket and handed it to her. “Use this.”

Flicking the On button, Priscilla pointed the narrow stream of light into the grate. A ways down, a small object glinted. What she could see was long and narrow, but dust obscured the largest part.

Gerald crouched next to her. “Do you see anything?”

Priscilla nodded and handed the flashlight back to him. “Uh-huh. Alex was right, Gerald. There’s something down there.”

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