Story by Alanna Rossi, Illustrations by Jaclyn Simon
The ferry arrived in Victoria Friday afternoon. Jake had agreed to take Lucy to visit his grandmother and Lucy was looking forward to meeting her and asking her some questions. Max was going to come with them, but had to work so it was just Lucy and Jake in his truck. They sat in a comfortable silence, Jake occasionally talking about his grandmother and what it was like growing up in Victoria. Lucy hadn’t been to Victoria in a long time so Jake took a detour through downtown and Lucy watched out the window at the crowds of tourists taking photos in front of the harbour and the Empress hotel. Victoria was a beautiful city and Lucy was happy to be back, even just for a couple of days. Jake’s grandmother, Iris, lived in a quiet neighbourhood just outside of downtown Victoria near Beacon Hill Park. Her house was like most houses in the area, built nearly a hundred years ago when the neighbourhood was first starting out. It had a picket fence and a beautiful garden full of flowers out front. Iris was out front gardening when they pulled into the driveway. She got up, removed her gardening gloves and waved excitedly at them.
“There you are! Hello! I thought I’d do a bit of gardening while I waited, the weeds are taking over.”
“Hi Grandma,” said Jake as he walked over to her and gave her a big hug. “It’s good to see you.”
She put her hand on his face and smiled up at him. “It’s been too long, you should come visit me more. You know I won’t be around forever,” she said with a chuckle.
Jake smiled. “Grandma, I’d like you to meet my friend, Lucy. She’s from Vancouver.”
Lucy walked over and Iris gave her a hug as well.
“It’s so lovely to meet you dear,” she said warmly. “Jake told me all about you when he called.”
“Grandma…” said Jake, and Lucy swore he was blushing.
“Oh, all good things my dear, don’t you worry. Come on inside, I made a pitcher of iced tea and some sandwiches. I thought you might be hungry.”
They followed Iris inside with their bags and were ushered into the kitchen where the table was set. Lucy smiled at the warm gesture. Iris knew how to make someone feel right at home.
“This looks great, Iris,” said Lucy, gesturing to the spread on the table. “Thank you for having me this weekend, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.”
“It’s no problem at all, I love having visitors. Please, sit!”
Lucy and Jake took their respective seats at the table and Jake promptly took a ham sandwich from the platter.
“How long have you lived here? Your house is wonderful by the way,” Lucy asked as she put a chicken salad sandwich on her plate. It looked delicious.
Iris smiled “I’ve lived here sixty years. This was our first home after my late husband and I married. It’s full of wonderful memories.”
“That’s amazing. Jake said he spent a lot of time here when he was growing up, I can see why he loved it so much.”
Iris looked at Jake. “Yes, Jake did spend a lot of time here when he was a young boy. I loved having him around though, never a dull moment as you can imagine. So, Lucy, Jake told me that you had some questions about my sister?”
Lucy swallowed her iced tea, not expecting to have that conversation so soon. “Um, yes. Yes! Gwendolyn. I don’t know how much Jake told you, but I’m working on a project in Salt Spring and I came across your sister’s name in a journal – our friend Max’s grandfather’s journal actually – and I believe she’s somehow connected to a plant I’m looking for.”
“Jake told me about your project and the plant you’re looking for. The Phantom Orchid? Right?”
Lucy nodded yes.
“I don’t know much about that plant specifically, but I do know that my sister was passionate about conservation and protecting the trees and plants on the island.”
“I had no idea that she was a conservationist!” exclaimed Lucy.
“Oh yes,” said Iris. “Gwen loved that island and everything on it. She worked hard to protect it while she was alive. Fought every logging project and was a huge pain in the butt to a lot of people. She gained quite a reputation unfortunately, and not a very nice one. It was a different time then.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. I’m sure the community was less accustomed to people like her. Outspoken and passionate.”
“Yes, they were,” said Iris sadly. “People wrote her off as a crazy woman, despite the good she did.”
“Grandma, you should show Lucy Auntie Gwen’s diary,” chimed Jake.
“You have her diary?” asked Lucy. “I would love to see it, if that’s alright of course.”
“Of course! I’ll go and get it, just one sec,” said Iris and she got up from the table and wandered down the hallway.
Lucy looked over at Jake who was watching her, smiling.
“What?” asked Lucy, smiling to herself.
“Nothing, “said Jake. “You just look really happy. My grandma is thrilled to have you here, I can tell.”
“I’m thrilled to be here. I love hearing about your great Aunt and seeing where you grew up. Your grandmother is so sweet.”
“She’s the best,” agreed Jake.
A sound indicated that Iris was making her way back into the kitchen. “Here we are!” she said, holding a ratty looking diary in her hand. “I pulled it out the other day after Jake called, I had a feeling you might want to see it.”
Lucy took the diary from Iris and placed it on the table. It’s cover was a faded red and the initials “G.W.” were embossed on it. When Lucy opened it, some of the pages were stuck together and most were water damaged. It was an old diary, clearly used and loved.
“This is incredible,” murmured Lucy. “Do you mind if I read through it? I know it’s private.”
“It’s okay dear, you go right ahead. Gwen would have loved knowing someone was interested in her life enough to read through her diary,” Iris said, patting Lucy’s hand.
After lunch, Iris showed Lucy to her room for the weekend. A small guest bedroom near the back of the house. Jake took the third bedroom which was across the hall. Iris suggested they head out for a walk down to the beach before dinner. It was a beautiful day and Lucy walked beside Iris and listened to her stories about her life in Victoria. She told Lucy about her husband and what their life was like. She told stories about houses they walked past and the people who used to live in them. Jake followed along behind them quietly and when they arrived at the beach, he helped his grandmother down the steep steps to the rocky shore where they watched beachgoers in the late afternoon sun. Later that night when they were back at the house, Lucy was sitting in the living room with a cup of chamomile tea reflecting on the day. They had stopped for dinner at the pub up the street and had fish and chips. They laughed at stories of Jake as a teenager and Lucy told them about growing up in Vancouver. It was a pleasant evening and when Iris padded off to bed when they got home, she hugged Lucy and Jake goodnight which made Lucy feel warm inside.
“Hey,” said Jake as he walked into the living room. He took a seat in the chair by the window and let out a long sigh. “I have to say, that was a really great day.”
“Wasn’t it?” said Lucy. “I honestly can’t remember the last time I had so much fun. Your grandmother is such a wonderful person. I love it here.”
“I love it here too. I really should come visit more,” said Jake.
“Yes, you should,” teased Lucy.
“I’m heading to bed. I think tomorrow we’ll do some good old fashioned sightseeing with Iris, how does that sound?”
“Sounds perfect,” said Lucy. “Goodnight Jake.”
They spent the rest of the weekend with Iris playing tourists and it was the most fun Lucy had had in a long time. They went to the Empress Hotel for high tea, and checked out the Royal BC Museum. They took photos in front of the parliament building and visited China town. Jake took Lucy out on Saturday night to one of his favourite haunts and they spent all night sitting at the bar drinking local beer sharing stories. Jake even dragged her out to the dance floor where they both made fools of themselves.
When they left Iris’s house on Sunday night, Lucy hugged her for a long time and promised to come visit again soon. When they drove away, Lucy felt a lump in her throat, but was comforted by Jake, who reached over and took her hand.
Back in Salt Spring, Jake drove Lucy home. It had started to rain and Lucy felt tired from the weekend but wasn’t ready to let it end just yet. Jake shut off the car and they both sat quietly for a moment, listening to the rain against the roof.
“Do you want to come in for a drink?” Lucy asked, feeling her cheeks burn slightly.
Jake smiled and looked over at her “I’d love to.”
They ran from the car to the house, laughing at the absurdity of trying not to get wet in a downpour and when they got inside, Lucy immediately went to get a fire going. The house felt cold.
Once the fire was going and lights were turned on, the house turned into a cozy oasis from the storm outside. Lucy stood in the kitchen, smiling, thinking about the weekend and Iris and her stories of Gwendolyn. She felt giddy with excitement at her next steps and wanted to share with Jake what her plan was. She poured two glasses of wine and headed over to the window where Jake was standing looking out at the rain.
“Here you go,” she said, handing him his glass. “Cheers.”
“Cheers,” he said and they clinked their glasses together.
“I know I’ve already said it, but thank you for taking me to see Iris. It was such a great weekend. I loved getting to know her.”
“You’re welcome,” Jake said. He put his glass down on the table. “Lucy, listen…”
Lucy looked at Jake who had moved closer to her. Thunder sounded outside, followed by a flash of lightning. The lights flickered. Lucy couldn’t help but think of every romantic comedy she’s watched at that moment and wondered what would happen next.
Jake continued. “It’s been a while since I’ve done something like this so you’ll need to forgive me…”
Lucy swallowed hard. “Um, okay…”
“I like you. I know we don’t know each other all that well, but in the time we’ve spent together, especially this weekend, I know that you’re pretty special and I’d like to get to know you better,” Jake said, blushing. His eyes met hers and he reached out and took her hand in his. She could feel calluses but his skin was soft and her hand fit comfortably inside his.
“I like you too,” she said without any hesitation. She had known for a while that she was developing feelings for him, but never imagined that he would feel the same way. He was so quiet and reserved. He squeezed her hand gently like some form of silent agreement.
They smiled at each other as another giant clap of thunder sounded outside making Lucy jump. The lightning flashed and the lights went out, leaving them in near darkness, except for the fire.
“Oh my god!” laughed Lucy. “Of course this happens. Hang on, I know I saw some candles in one of these cupboards.”
“Wait,” said Jake. He moved his hand to her waist and pulled her in closer to him. She placed her hands on his chest and felt a wave of calm wash over her. He looked at her and she smiled letting him know it was alright and he leaned in and kissed her. It had been a long time since Lucy had been kissed and it was perfect. When they finally parted, grinning like idiots at each other, she felt a part of herself come to life again, a part she had been ignoring for some time.
“Candles,” she said “and I think dinner too?”
Jake kissed her on the neck.
“Sounds perfect,” he said.