Cade suggested we meet at a place he was familiar with, and luckily it wasn't very far away. Jimmy's was a cheerful-looking place relative to its gray surroundings near the docks. I had never been inside before, since it was frequented by the fishing caste, but today I took a deep breath and pushed open the door. Dark wood paneling was draped with old fishing nets and shellacked, taxidermied fish, and a few obligatory neon beer signs glowed from the wall behind the bar, but it was otherwise well-lit and unintimidating. The strains of Patsy Cline emanated from a jukebox as I scanned the room. Not seeing Cade, I approached the bar and gingerly took a stool.
While the bartender was busy with another customer, I checked my phone. No messages from Cade, so he would probably be on time. I had arrived a little early, just to play things safe.
As I was tapping on my phone, a burly man a couple stools down asked, "Company around here too boring for you, Miss?"
I suppressed a sigh. If men knew how tedious and predictable they were, would they still behave the way they did? "I'm waiting on my date," I said, not so much to be polite but in case the guy knew Cade. It wouldn't do to have any of his acquaintances telling him I was rude, when I was enough things already.
"Well, no point being lonely. If he doesn't show up, I'll keep you company."
"I'll remember that." I returned to my phone and pretended to be texting, even though I was only looking at my web browser.
Not two minutes later, the bartender walked over and slapped a coaster in front of me. "What can I get you?"
I hesitated. If I ordered a beer, would Cade think I was an alcoholic, arriving early to start drinking? But if I ordered nothing, or only water, would I look like I had no confidence he would show up? My dilemma was solved by the pub door opening, and Cade walked in, wearing faded jeans, well-worn boots and a brown leather jacket. He suggested we get a table and I gratefully followed him to a quiet corner, where a rough-looking woman brought us a basket of pretzels and took our beer order.
"I really didn't think I was going to hear from you," Cade said with such genuine pleasure in his eyes that I was as overwhelmed as the first time I saw him.
"Well, it would've been rude not to return the favor..."
"And here I thought it was the pleasure of my company you wanted, and not just good manners."
In spite of myself, I smiled. "That too, of course."
We spent the next half hour in idle chat about the safe topics of food, fishing, and what passed for society in Cold Haven. I was feeling relaxed and happy that I had called him, when he broke my mood with a single remark.
"So how did you end up here, Judith? You clearly aren't enjoying it much, but I don't see any chains holding you down. It's a big world out there."
I forced a smile. "I'm still planning my next move."
"I'm glad you do."
A long silenced passed between us and I was wondering what to say next when the awkward moment was broken by the waitress asking if we wanted another round. Instead of answering her, Cade turned to me. "Want to see my boat? It's not far from here."
All fishing boats looked alike to me, but it was a chance to stay near him without the pressure of a conversation that might drift into dangerous territory. I agreed, and Cade paid for our beers over my objections. Then I followed him out into the weak gray light of early evening.