Chapter 1 Bode
FROM GOING ALL INN
Among the raised voices, one speaks louder than the others. “Hershel, as mayor of this town, it’s your responsibility to come up with a solution.”
Mayor Hershel Young raps his gavel on the podium until the crowd quiets. “That’s why we called this meeting to discuss our options.”
I lean against the back wall of the hall with my arms crossed, listening to my family and friends debate the town’s needs. The emergency town meeting was called when one more family, fourth-generation islanders, packed up and moved off-island with their four sons. That gave our population count a huge hit. Not to mention, we no longer have a bakery in town. I’m going to miss my weekly fix of chocolate cannoli. And where are we supposed to get birthday cakes now? Order them from Wilmington and ferry them out, I guess. Which is a pain and puts a lot of faith in the cake being delivered in the same condition it left the bakery.
Faire Island is dying out. What had once been a thriving town of over three thousand now has less than six hundred permanent residents. Just a walk down Main Street is a perfect example of how times have changed. For every business you find open, there are three others closed.
My father, Blake Murphy, stands. “All of our businesses are hurting and we have nothing to offer tourists. We don’t even have accommodations anymore since the Inn closed. Where would people stay?”
Steven Harrison, the pharmacist, adds, “Tourists are the answer to our situation. The root of our problems stems from our population leaving to find better opportunities on the mainland.”
Wyatt Donahue, a farmer, stands and removes his cap. “That’s not our main problem. We have no women of marriageable age. I have three sons and after Suzie Bradshaw and Melissa Hart married, there’s nobody left for them to marry. My daughter Brandy was the last single woman and she’s been married for two years.”
At this point, I can’t keep up with who says what, the responses are coming so fast. “Yeah, that’s right. We need women. But not just any women. We need women that are easy on the eyes and aren’t married.”
Another voice pops up and adds, “And they need to move here, not just visit. Long term is the only way we can match her with an islander husband.”
I laugh out loud; this meeting is becoming more ridiculous with each passing minute. The murmuring of the crowd stops, every head turns, and all eyes narrow on me.
Hershel speaks up, “Bode, do you have something to say? You and your brothers are in the same predicament as the rest of the single guys.”
My eyes travel around the room over the people I thought I knew. Desperate times and all that, I suppose. “Don’t you hear how crazy you all sound? Faire Island isn’t an app where you swipe right to find a bride. I’m not even sure what you are talking about is legal.”
David Caldwell, a guy I went to school with, comes to his feet. “How are we going to repopulate the island without wives?”
Olivia, the mayor’s wife, says, “We need women, but what can we offer them as an incentive to move here, stay long enough to fall in love, and then marry?”
Agatha, the wife of the president of the Merchants Association, points out, “The only thing this island has a surplus of is empty buildings and closed businesses. That’s not much of an incentive.”
Olivia shoots from her seat. “That’s it! Hershel, you’ve been trying to get rid of the Inn that the McMillians donated to the city. Why don’t we have a contest? We can advertise the Inn at a reduced rate to the winner of the contest.”
Hershel scratches his scalp in thought. “It would have to be significantly reduced with the condition it’s in.”
Homer Brockton laughs and says, “I wouldn’t give you more than a buck for it.”
Agatha stands. “Olivia has a good idea there. Anyone interested can fill out a questionnaire that we would come up with in order to lead us to the right type of woman. I imagine we’d have to weed out more than a few.”
“But you are only talking about one woman.” Homer shakes his head and frowns. “We need dozens of women to make a difference.”
Hershel snorts. “We have dozens of empty buildings. If the first one works out, we can do it again and again. It’s like a renewable resource.” That gets a chuckle from the crowd.
I think the town has really lost it when eighty-year-old Dexter Long raises his hand. “I say we form a committee. I need a wife before I’m dead.”
Hershel raps with his hammer until there is silence. “All those for an Inn contest, raise your hand.”
Everyone in the building raises their hands, all except one sane man at the back of the room—me.
I push off the wall and clearly state, “I think this is a terrible idea that is going to blow up in your faces. I want no part of it.”
David looks down his nose at me and seems pleased. “Fine, that will be one less man vying for the first woman.”
I brush my hair back with one hand and pull my ball cap on with the other as I turn to leave, muttering, “It’s a damn fool idea.”
A month later as I walk into the town hall with the mail run for the day, I hear, “What do you think of this one, Livie?” Agatha hands the applicant’s folder to Olivia.
After perusing the page, Olivia shakes her head and hands it back. “No. She’s a bit long in the tooth, wouldn’t you say?”
I roll my eyes, glad neither lady sees me doing that. They are both older than my mother and wouldn’t hesitate to rap my knuckles. That’s one problem with growing up in a small town. Agatha and Olivia have known me since I was in diapers. “Ladies, I’ve brought you a new box of applicants.”
Olivia looks up and over the top of the glasses perched low on her nose. “Oh, dear. More? We’ve already gone through two thousand.”
Whereas Olivia looks weary at the idea of more, Agatha’s eyes shine with eagerness. “Who knew there would be so many to apply?”
I set the box on the table and give them a pointed look. I know there has been more than that. “Only two thousand?”
Agatha nods and explains. “Well, two thousand women. We sorted the men out.” Olivia at least looks ashamed.
“You know that’s all types of wrong, don’t you?” I still can’t believe the people of Faire Island are actually following through with such a harebrained idea. Even my own parents are excited at the prospect. I did shut down any idea they had of me marrying the unfortunate woman. I pulled myself off the marriage market long ago. I have three brothers they can harass.
“Well, we may be fudging a little. We’re only narrowing the field; the decision of the top ten will be made by the town council,” Agatha explains like that makes it okay.
“And then the town will vote to decide the winner. There is nothing fairer than that. And who knows, Bode, she may be the love of your life.”
I snort, head to the door, and call over my shoulder, “That, Agatha, is never going to happen.”
Two weeks later, I’m back in front of the town hall.
“Here ya go, Bode.” Mayor Hershel says as he hands me a red ticket. “Just drop the ticket in the box in front of the picture of the woman you want to vote for.”
I grimace at the offending ticket and hand it right back to him. “No, thank you. I just came to help my mother carry stuff for the refreshment table.”
Hershel puts his hands in his pockets without taking the ticket back. “We are asking every citizen of Faire Island to vote. You can’t be the one holdout.”
I take the ticket and stuff it in my pocket without any intentions of voting. Carrying a box of my mother’s offerings for the meeting, I glance at the pictures as I walk by them. How degrading to only put up pictures instead of each woman’s educational and business background. That would be much more vital than how she looks.
I stumble and stop by the next to last picture. She’s gorgeous. A riot of blonde curls and shining blue eyes that say she’s a confident, intelligent woman who knows what she wants. All of the other photos look like a professional headshot, but this one isn’t staged and looks like it had been snapped by a cellphone. She has a cute upturned nose and full, pink lips that are pulled upward into a secret grin. I want to know what caused that comfortable, carefree look on her face.
“Ahhh, I see you like Kimberly,” my mother says from beside me.
“Hmmm.” I shrug, unwilling to admit just how interesting I find Kimberly. I’m not giving Hannah Murphy any hope. She’d have us married before the summer’s end.
My mother goes on to explain, “She has a degree in business and marketing and her grandmother ran an inn for over thirty years. Her job history is impressive too. She’s worked for the past seven years managing a very successful non-profit organization.”
My eyes widen in stunned disbelief. “She’s actually qualified?”
My mom’s laugh rings out and a few heads turn our way. “Of course, dear. Every one of these ten women meet the qualifications we feel would make a success of the Inn. The fact that they are single and available is just a bonus. Now, hurry up, I need those cookies and cakes.” I turn back to Kimberly’s picture as my mother walks away. I don’t want to be a part of it, but Kimberly is qualified. With a shrug, I dig the ticket out of my pocket and drop it in Kimberly’s box.