By: Emily Engberts
Josie doesn’t want to spend yet another Christmas as the only single adult at the family dinner. So, instead, she books a week long holiday to her favourite island. Ready to spend it doing what she loves doing most, long walks on the beach with her dog and reading novels in front of a fire.
What she hasn’t counted on is running into her old summer fling, the one girl she could never forget.
Sanne is freshly heartbroken, and instead of having to deal with her parents’ pitying looks over Christmas dinner, she decides to still go on the winter holiday she’d booked, even if it means going on her own. She can entertain herself well enough, and maybe some fresh air will clear her head of all the darkness from the last months.
But when she sees Josie at the cafe, she can’t help how her heart beats faster or how much she wants the other woman to hold her.
What starts as a shared meal at a cafe, followed by the first snow of the season, could turn into much more.
They lost their chance of being together when they spent the summers on the island as teens, but can they take it now that they’re adults?
Can they take the chance amid knee-high snow and Christmas decorations?
The sea around the ferry is grey, like the sky. The slow waves roll over the Wadden Sea, much calmer than on the North Sea side of the island, and in the distance I can see the dikes appear as the ferry turns. It’s Friday afternoon, usually one of the busiest times on the ferry, but today the boat feels as empty as I do.
I watch some students as they get their early drink on with cheap beer. Something they’ll probably continue doing at the only bar on the island the moment they’ve dumped their bags at the house they’re renting. And then there are the exhausted looking students, likely on their way home to see their parents and other family members after being away to university for months.
I wasn’t supposed to go on this holiday on my own. It was supposed to be a celebration of being together with my girlfriend of four years, I was going to propose to her. But then, three months ago, she said that she wasn’t feeling it anymore, that the relationship didn’t work for her anymore and that she wanted to start living her own life. It had been such a shock, within days, she’d moved out and left me alone in the apartment we used to share, the apartment we chose together.
I grieved, but then I got over it, I thought so, anyway. Until this holiday came around and cancelling it was not going to happen as it was going to cost me extra money, which I don’t have right now. I also realised that I really did need to get away from everything and a week on Schiermonnikoog sounded like a perfect plan. The holiday apartment was paid for, the boat tickets were paid for and I had blocked off the free days anyway. Not going didn’t make any sense.
So, here I am, sitting in the belly of a ferry, waiting until it arrives at the island so I can get to my home for the week. The excitement hasn’t set in yet, but I’m pretty sure that it will soon. I hope anyway.
There is something special about islands, no matter how non-exotic they are. Just being surrounded by the vast sea, the silence, the emptiness. It clears my head in ways that few things ever do.
I watch people around me stand up, grabbing their things and putting on their coats. The ferry is almost there. I look out the window, the island is so much closer now.
The mudflat side of the island is just a long row of dikes, with some dunes on either side, and I can see the trees and some houses over the dikes. Three buses are coming down the pier, filled with the people who are leaving, and they’ll be waiting to pick up the new travellers.
The ferry bounces abruptly as it finally falls still against the pier and I stand up, grabbing my bags as I get to the exit.
The wind cuts into my cheeks as I leave the warmth and safety of the ferry and get out onto the pier. I drag my bags behind me. The salty air is cold as I’ve never felt it before and it’s almost like my nose is starting to freeze from the inside out. I’ve never been on one of the islands while it was this cold and when I look over at the pier, I can see ice stacking on the side of it. That’s… I’ve never seen that before.
As I locate the bus to the right stop, I pay for a ticket, cash because that’s all they accept, and sit down in a seat. For such a small island, they still somehow manage to have four busses for each boat that arrives. I shiver from the residual cold, only slowly warming up again.
Then I watch over the mudflats as the bus drives onto the island.
* * *
I nod at the lady who gave me the key of the apartment I’m in for the week, not sure what else I can do at her fast words. She seems sweet and she’s definitely trying to be helpful.
I open the door to the apartment, finding it a little… old? Everything looks well cared for, and I’m sure some things are brand new, but the colour scheme is definitely not something you’d still expect these days. So much brown and so many wooden elements, definitely no longer in style.
When I booked this place, I thought it looked charming. I imagined spending a couple of days with my ex here, cuddled up in front of the fake fire and not having to worry about anything. Now it just feels so grandma-y, not as much fun, especially since I’m alone.
I drop my bags in the bedroom, checking the windows for drafts, since it’s a little chilly in here, but I can’t find any. Probably just not heated up yet.
I definitely need to hunt down the thermostat first, get the temperature up a little. And after that, I guess it’s a good idea to get some food in the house and probably go out to the sea.
The thing I’m looking forward to the most right now is seeing the sea, going out onto that beach and walk up to the waves. Only, the stores here close early, so I really do need to get some dinner in before I do anything else.
I remember that the bar here had pretty good food. Although, that may just have been my experience as a broke and drunk teenager. I don’t know. That very easily possible. But I also don’t know if I want to try out another place to eat today. I think I may need some booze with my food tonight, and the Tox Bar seems like a great place for that. It used to be the place to be when I was a teenager. The booze wasn’t too expensive and they stayed open until late. That, and it was the only place on the island where they didn’t look at you weirdly for being under the age of forty or something, at least in the eyes of my 18-year-old self.
I dig in my bag and pull out a nicer pair of jeans and then a warm wool sweater in black with dark grey elements, which I know suits me well. Even if I don’t need to impress anyone, I can at least look nice, just for myself. I pull my hair into a ponytail, and then check myself in the mirror. I look a little red, probably from the cold wind as I came here, but for the first time in weeks, I feel like there is a spark in my eyes.
Coming here was the right idea. Definitely!
I slip into a sturdy pair of low heels, zipping the boots up, and then put on my long jacket. I get cold so easily, some people, like my ex, used to joke that I should live in a warmer climate, not in the Netherlands, but I also don’t deal with heat well, so I don’t think it would work out.
I grab my wallet, a small bag and the key of this place. Then I step outside and pull the door closed behind me. The wind is icy and cuts into my cheeks even more than when I stepped off the ferry, so so cold. The forecast said that it’s going to get even colder this week, that we may even be able to ice skate during Christmas, which hasn’t happened in years. I don’t often go ice skating, but I still love it and I know that there is going to be a rink not too far down the road. Important research.
I pull my jacket around me tighter as I walk down the road into town. The place I’m in is about halfway between the town and the beach. Which is great when you want to go to the beach, but when it’s cold like this, it’s not as much fun to brace the cold to get something to eat from town.
As I walk past the houses, the Christmas lights are on in some of them, though many of the houses are dark, probably not rented out for the winter. Which seems to be common. I walk past a large and very impressive looking hotel, and then an ‘evening store’ which means it’s open until nine in the evening. On the island, that’s seen as an evening store, and for a place where shops close at five or six the latest, it’s open quite late. To go from a city to an island like here, it’s an interesting experience.
As a teen, I thought it was annoying that stores weren’t open late enough, and that the only real bar around here didn’t let people in after two in the evening. But that was in the summer months, and I’d spend my days between being drunk and being hungover for not an insignificant number of weeks every year. At the time, I thought that that was the best way to spend my summer holidays, and looking back, I don’t disagree. Although, maybe not being that drunk would have been a good idea too…
I come to a three way crossing and take the turn to the right, in front of me is one of the three clothing stores that the island has. Although, I’m pretty sure this is one of those ‘living place stores’ where you can buy clothes and also buy things for in your house and such. I don’t know, all the stores here seem to be like that, they’ll have like two or three different elements to them. They’ll sell clothes and home things, or clothes and being the local drugstore, or they’re the local book store, but they’re also the only toy store around. I guess that with an island this small, which mostly depends on the holiday seasons to keep surviving, this is a sensible thing to do. But I still find it odd, and you never know where to find things.
On my right side is the church behind a large hedge, which is bare without its leaves, as I take another left turn, walking into the ‘main street’ of the island. This is the main road where the only supermarket is at, and the tourist information office, and, of course, the place I’m going for, the Tox Bar. The place of many a drunk night and interesting teenage experiences.
First I walk past the whale jaws that are right across the street from the supermarket. The big blue whale jaws as impressive as ever and I stop to look at them for a few moments. I’m pretty sure there are pictures of me kissing some summer fling under them, the booze and warm summer nights making us do silly things. With how drunk most teens were during the summers, I guess that the lack of cars on this island really helped with there not being too many deadly drunk accidents. There’s only so much damage you can do with a bike…
I walk on, finally slipping into the Tox Bar, my eyes scanning the large tables and then settling on a seat that isn’t too out in the open and is pretty close to a window, so I can distract myself by looking outside. I’m with my back to a wall and can see everyone coming in. I put my jacket over the back of my chair and then make myself comfortable, rubbing my hands together, trying to get some sensations into them. I blow into my hands, trying to get them to warm up again.
A smiling waiter comes over, holding a writing block in his hand as he hands me the menu. “Do you know what you’d like to drink?”
“I’d like a gluhwein.” Mulled wine, tacky, maybe a little, but I’m cold and in the mood for doing something a little silly.
“One gluhwein coming up.” He walks off again.
When I open the menu, looking at the different items on it, trying to figure out what I’m in the mood for, my eyes catch movement over the top of it and I don’t know why, but I can’t help but look up.
Sitting down a few tables over is a woman who looks somehow familiar. Her long brown hair is caught under a black knitted hat, which she’s taking off right as I’m watching her. She’s all dressed in brown, which could be dull, but not in this colour. This is the brow-red of fall, the colour of chestnuts and fallen leaves. A colour you’d want to wrap yourself in in front of a fire with a cup of hot chocolate, or maybe some cheese and gluhwein.
Then the woman looks up and I’m caught in her pale blue eyes, pale blue eyes I’ve seen very close up before and I immediately know who she is. Josie, the girl with white hair with streaks of every rainbow colour possible. Josie, the girl who’d wear super short shorts with army boots and a t-shirt that would show off her smooth stomach. Josie, the girl whose freckles I’d count and who I secretly kissed in the dunes.
That Josie had just sat down at a table and she’s looking right at me too.