The Lady Katie
by Susan M. Keller
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Frank breathed in the smell of the river as he pulled into the marina, parked and climbed out of his pickup. Grabbing some gear, he began his descent to the slip where the "Lady Katie" rocked gently against her fenders. She was a spectacular, vintage wooden vessel. Frank and Katie had bought and restored her 12 years ago. The 1952 47' Chris Craft Buccaneer had sleek, classic lines and slid through the river water like a hot knife through butter.

Whenever he boarded the boat and looked at the spectacular woodwork he and Katie had sanded and varnished over that summer long ago, he couldn't help but think of the freckle-faced redhead who had been at his side for so many years. It had been a year since cancer had taken her. He missed her so.

Frank moaned a little as he climbed aboard. He'd just turned 62 and his old football knee had been giving him more and more pain lately.

He knew if Katie were here she'd be nagging him to get underway. It had always been a game they played when they were going out for a weekend cruise. Frank would take his time, prolonging their departure as Katie pretended to scold him. They'd laugh and tease each other until he'd finally give in and start the engines and release the lines. But her loss had taken a toll on him and he hadn't been able to take the boat out since she'd died.

Through the porthole, Frank saw a pair of long, suntanned legs walking along the dock. The boat moved a little as Grace came aboard. Grace and Ed had been their friends for over three years since they'd moved their cruiser into the marina two slips down from the "Lady Katie."

It had been a tough year for Frank. He couldn't seem to overcome the sadness and depression which haunted him since Katie's death. His usual happy-go-lucky disposition had been smothered by a new grumpy, grumbling persona. He was slipping away month by month and he was the only one who didn't know it.

The boat moved gently as Grace stepped aboard.

Just invite yourself aboard my boat," Frank grumbled. He was instantly ashamed of his tone. He really didn't mean to treat Grace that way. She'd lost Ed only a few months after Katie died.

"You've been coming here every week and just sitting in the cabin doing nothing. Last night I had a dream and Katie told me to get you out on the water. Let's go!"

"Katie wanted me to go out on the boat?" Frank asked, a little startled.

"Yes," Grace said impatiently. "Now let's go! Get a move on."

As time went by Frank became accustomed to Grace's routine. He would show up as usual and she'd nonchalantly step aboard snapping orders.

"Get this thing started! Let's get out on the water." Her commands were always accompanied by those sparkling eyes and a satirical smile. Frank had never noticed but she was an incredibly beautiful woman. Frank would mostly grumble - but he was beginning to enjoy her company. A month later he and Grace met at the marina and readied the boat for their usual Saturday cruise. Grace had brought her grandson, Jason. Frank's daughter, Lisa, came along with his granddaughter, Megan.

After cruising for an hour or so, Frank pulled the big Chris-Craft up to an island so the children could play on the sand. He watched Lisa with the children. He'd been considering selling the boat since Katie died. If Lisa weren't divorced, he'd have given it to her last year. She loved cruising the river and enjoying the sandy beaches with Megan but she didn't want any part of trying to maneuver such a large boat.

Frank was brought back to reality by Lisa standing on her tiptoes to give him a kiss on the cheek.

"Thanks, Dad. It's been a beautiful, fun day for all of us. I'm so happy to see you smiling again."

He looked over at Grace who was lying out on a towel getting some sun. Her eyes were closed and she had an adorable smile on her lips.

Frank thought to himself, "Maybe I won't sell the boat. I think I could get used to cruising with Grace." He remembered how Katie looked when she was smiling. Somehow he knew she was smiling at him now.