Two sisters, one stranger
Imagine you are a teenage girl living in a very remote place and you only have one sibling, a sister, who is also your best friend. And then into your banal life comes a stranger with a smile like no other, with tales of adventures you can’t get enough of, and a way about him that is just breathtaking. You and your older sister are both captivated. What do you do?
This is the beginning of Seldom Come By. My first draft was pushing 230,000 words – way too many – and so to improve pacing I cut the point of view of different characters and in lots of places reduced two pages into one paragraph. One such section explored Rachel and Rebecca’s growing feelings for Samuel. You can read it below. (Also thanks to Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism for the above photograph.)
The summer of her fifteenth year was a summer of many firsts for Rebecca. And for Rachel and Samuel too. In what was undoubtedly the busiest time of the year, the presence of Samuel buoyed and energised Rachel and Rebecca like nothing else. Neither girl had ever spent such time in the presence of a man so clearly different from the one they knew so well. Without even trying, Samuel was warm, friendly and helpful. He was easy to be with – never solemn or withdrawn or grumpy. He was just himself. And at times himself was extremely playful.
Throughout these long summer days, Morna’s ‘keep them busy, keep them apart’ stance had mellowed into a ‘keep them together; there’s safety in numbers’ approach. After all, two’s company, three’s a crowd. But even she in the end was swayed by her growing ease with Samuel, her faith and her belief that his gratefulness towards them would prevent him from doing anything to upset them.
Besides who had time for mischief? That year Newfoundland was a summer wonderland and it did not disappoint with its ample abundance. The earth, the sea and the sky were laden with nature’s bounty And to add to their haul, care packages had started to arrive for Samuel from his mother and brother after he had written advising of his intention to bide out the summer with the Crowes.
Her father had spent a Saturday showing Samuel how to work some of his seldom-used lobster pots so Samuel could bait and check them every day or two in his absence. Rachel had taught him the fine art of jigging for squid in between cooking meals and preparing the smokehouse. Smoked fish made a pleasant change to the salted variety they got from the Deception Coop as part of Silas’s haul. Meanwhile Rebecca and her mother had single-handedly prepared a hay field so they could harvest at the end of the season to feed their stock over winter.
In the midst of their growing friendship with Samuel, neither girl would give voice to the fluttering of her own heart. For Rachel delighted in Samuel’s company. She became more relaxed and flowing and for the first time in her life felt like a woman, ready to be a woman. She would lie in bed at night thinking of his bare shoulders and wanting to run her hands across them, wanting to know how that would feel and what changes might happen inside her, inside Samuel if she could do that, if she had permission to do that and to look inside his eyes for meaning there. She would toss and turn trying to settle her imaginings. It seemed to her that Samuel also delighted in drawing her out, in watching her rediscover her own playfulness. Yet Rachel still wore the mantle of maturity and protocol, bound by religious rights and wrongs, hoping and waiting and praying for the day when Samuel would drop the playfulness and share with her the yearnings of his own heart – the yearnings for her heart? For in Samuel she had found a companion and confidant, one she would like to claim for her own, yet it wasn’t her place to do so. She was neither brave nor sure. She was only hopeful and amazed that she could spend so much of her waking day thinking of him and concealing these thoughts from everyone. What had occupied her mind before him, she wondered?
Rebecca’s world was in a spin. She’d oscillate between wanting to gaze upon Samuel’s face, but not wanting to catch his eye, as then the hollow, sickening feeling would start up again in her stomach and she’d barely be able to breathe. To steady herself, she plotted a raft of questions to ask him as his strong sonorous voice would calm her and his replies would always entrance her. How long do you think icebergs last for? Where would you like to travel to next? How many ships does your Uncle have in his fleet? And whenever her interest was piqued she was never afraid to gaze into his animated face, to ask every question, to tap every last ounce of information and experience his body had to offer and his soul too, though she did not know that at the time. She had no notion of possession. And she was no copycat either. She was someone who wanted to live her life fully, as fully as possible. And she saw in Samuel her best opportunity to do that. He was her closest ally in mind and spirit.
But every so often in their conversations, Samuel would pause and stare at Rebecca, almost as if he was wanting to ask her a question, something entirely different to the topic at hand. Unknowingly she would hold her breath, and before long she would part her mouth and breathe through it, then Samuel would swallow before continuing. At times like this she couldn’t handle looking into his eyes. Instead, she would lower her gaze and stare into his mouth, at his teeth and his tongue and watch the words as they came out, listening to the rich deep timbre of his voice. And that was something else about him that stirred her; how someone who was only nineteen could possess the most masculine soothing voice she had ever heard.
No one noticed the subtle changes in Rebecca’s behaviour. Everyone was so preoccupied with their own business and their own version of Samuel that none noticed her ingrained eagerness giving way to teenage tremoring and the wonder of her own awakening.
As time marched on, the girls formed an unspoken pact where neither would talk about Samuel or the time they spent alone with him. Each was stockpiling their own treasured memories, not wanting to know or invade or upset the motives and dreams of the other.