About Float Plan:
Since the loss of her fiancé, Anna has spent the last year foundering on land, shipwrecked by her grief and inability to move on. But when a reminder goes off about a trip they were supposed to take, she impulsively sets off in their sailboat, intending to complete the planned voyage around the Caribbean that Ben had mapped out for them.
But after a treacherous night’s sail and a brush with an ocean tanker, she decides she can’t do it alone, and hires a professional sailor to help her get to Puerto Rico. Much like Anna, Keane is struggling with a very different future than the one he had planned, and he can’t refuse her offer. Together they find a way to rebuild their lives and the possibility of new love.
Trish Doller’s unforgettable adult debut, Float Plan, reminds readers that starting over doesn’t mean forgetting: you can build a new home, right alongside the old.
There’s a kind of jacked-up happiness that comes when you know your life is almost over, when the decision to end it becomes solid. It might be adrenaline. It might be relief. And if I had always felt like this, I might have climbed mountains or raced marathons. Now it’s just enough to see this through.
I should have left you alone that first night at the bar. If I had, you wouldn’t be reading this letter at all. You’d be walking your dog or watching TV with your boyfriend. You didn’t deserve to be dragged into my shit, and you definitely don’t deserve the pain I’m about to cause. This is not your fault. For two years you have been my only reason for living. I wish I could give you forever.
You are strong and brave, and someday you’ll be okay. You’ll fall in love, and I hate him already for being a better man. Someday you will be happy again.
I love you, Anna. I’m sorry.
-ten months and six days-
I walk out of my life on a Tuesday, two days before Thanksgiving.
Last-minute shoppers are clearing shelves of stuffing mix and pumpkin pie filling as I heap my cart with everything I might need. (Dry beans. Canned vegetables. Rice.) I move through the grocery store like a prepper running late for doomsday. (Boxed milk. Limes. Spare flashlight.) I am quick so I won’t lose my nerve. (Apples. Toilet paper. Red wine.) I try not to think beyond leaving. (Cabbage. Playing cards. Bottled water.) Or about what I might be leaving behind.
My mother calls as I’m wrangling the grocery bags into the back seat of my overstuffed Subaru. I haven’t told her that I won’t be home for Thanksgiving, and she’s not ready to hear that I’m skipping town. Not when I’ve barely left the house for the better part of a year. She’ll have questions and I don’t have answers, so I let the call go to voicemail.
When I reach the dock, the Alberg is right where it should be, the shiny hull painted navy blue and the transom empty, still waiting for a name. For a moment I expect Ben’s head to pop up from the companionway. I wait to see his little fuck-me grin, and to hear the excitement in his voice when he tells me today is the day. But the hatch is padlocked, and the deck is covered in bird shit—another part of my life I’ve let fall into neglect.
Ten months and six days ago, Ben swallowed a bottle of prescription Paxil and chased it with the cheap tequila that lived under the sink, and I don’t know why. He was already gone when I came home from work and found him on the kitchen floor. In his suicide note, he told me I was his reason for living. Why was I not enough?
I breathe in deep, to the bottom of my lungs. Let it out slowly. Step onto the boat and unlock the hatch.
The air is stale and hot, smelling of wood wax, new canvas, and a hint of diesel. I haven’t been aboard since before Ben died. Spiders have spun their homes in the corners of the cabin and a layer of dust has settled on every surface, but the changes leave me breathless. The interior brightwork is varnished and glossy. The ugly original brown-plaid cushion covers have been replaced with red canvas and Peruvian stripes. And a framed graphic hangs on the forward bulkhead that reads I & LOVE & YOU.
“Why do all this work for a trip you’ll never take?” I say out loud, but it’s another question without an answer. I wipe my eyes on the sleeve of my T-shirt. One of the things I’ve learned is that suicide doesn’t break a person’s heart just once.
It takes me the rest of the morning to clean the boat, unload the contents of my car, and stow everything away. Traces of Ben are everywhere: a saucepan at the bottom of the hanging locker, an expired six-pack of Heineken in the cockpit lazarette, a moldy orange life jacket stuffed in the refrigerator. I throw these things in the trash, but even with my spider plant hanging from an overhead handrail and my books lining the shelf, the boat belongs to Ben. He chose it. He did the renovations. He charted the course. He set the departure date. My presence feels like a layer as temporary as dust.
The last thing in my trunk is a shoebox filled with photos taken using Ben’s old Polaroid, a dried hibiscus flower from our first date, a handful of dirty-sexy love letters, and a suicide note. I take out a single photo—Ben and me at the Hillsboro Inlet Lighthouse about a week before he died—and stash the box in the bottom drawer of the navigation station. I tape the photo to the wall in the V-berth, right above my pillow.
And it’s time to go.
My only plan was to spend today in bed—my only plan since Ben’s death—but I was startled out of sleep by an alarm. The notification on my phone said: TODAY IS THE DAY, ANNA! WE’RE GOING SAILING! Ben had programmed the event into my calendar almost three years ago—on the day he showed me his sailboat and asked me to sail the world with him—and I had forgotten. I cried until my eyelashes hurt, because there is no longer a we and I’ve forgotten how to be me without Ben. Then I got out of bed and started packing.
I’ve never been sailing without Ben. I don’t always get the terminology correct—it’s a line, Anna, not a rope—and I’ll be lucky if I make it to the end of the river. But I am less afraid of what might become of me while sailing alone in the Caribbean than of what might become of me if I stay.
My boss calls as I’m untying the dock lines, no doubt wondering if I’m coming in, but I don’t answer. He’ll figure it out in a day or two.
I radio the drawbridge at Andrews Avenue for an opening, and slowly putter away from the dock, the engine chugging and choking after being silent for months. The current pulls me downriver as I guide the sailboat between the open bridge spans. Once I’m through, I’m passed by a large sportfishing boat. A guy wearing an aqua-colored fishing shirt waves to me from the back deck. He’s no more than a couple of years older than I am, and good-looking in an outdoorsy, sun-bleached way. I wave back.
I motor past high-rise condos, sleek white mega-yachts, and a grid-work of canals lined with homes so large, my mother’s house would barely fill the first floor. She’s never been one to dream of mansions, but four people occupying a two-bedroom house is at least one too many. Mom says she loves having all her girls under one roof, but moving back home was not something I ever imagined. My life was supposed to be with Ben.
The river widens as it bends toward the Seventeenth Street Causeway, and I have to wait for the scheduled bridge opening. Ben always handled the boat when we had to wait, so I turn tight, timid circles—afraid of crashing into another waiting sailboat—until the cars stop and the bridge decks begin to lift.
At Port Everglades, cruise ships line the piers, their decks stacked like layers on a wedding cake. Cargo ships steam out through the cut into the Atlantic, destined for ports all over the world. The Alberg feels small and insignificant as I navigate between them, and I consider continuing safely south on the ICW instead of braving the open ocean. But the route in Ben’s chart book would have me sail to Biscayne Bay before making the crossing to Bimini. So that is what I prepare to do.
I’ve tried to anticipate everything I might need at arm’s length on the passage. I take quick stock as I slather on a fresh coat of sunscreen. Water. Snacks. Ben’s raggedy straw cowboy hat that I clamp down on my head to shade my face. Cans of Coke. Handheld VHF. Ditch bag in the closest cockpit locker, along with my life jacket and harness. Cell phone.
I’ll be out of range soon, so I finally call my mother. “I wanted to let you know that I’m taking Ben’s boat and going to sea for a while.”
“Going to sea?” She snorts a little through her nose. “Anna, honey, what on earth are you talking about? Thanksgiving is in two days. We are having dinner.”
“Today is the day that Ben and I were going to set out on our trip around the world,” I explain. “I—I can’t stay in Fort Lauderdale anymore. It hurts too much.”
She’s silent for such a long time that I think the call must have dropped.
“This ist crazy, Anna. Crazy.” My mom has lived in the United States longer than Rachel and I have been alive, but German words frequently slip into her speech, particularly when she’s stressed. “You should not be going to sea in a boat you have no business trying to sail. You need to come home und get some help.”
This isn’t the first time we’ve had a conversation about me seeking professional help, but I don’t need a therapist to tell me that I’m the only one who gets to decide how long my grief should last, that it’s not my job to make other people less uncomfortable around me. I am not ready to get on with my life. I am not in the market for a new soul mate. And I’m really fucking tired of sharing a bedroom with my sister and a two-year-old.
“I’ll check in when I get to the Bahamas.” Behind me, a bright blue cargo freighter loaded high with shipping containers closes the distance between us. “I have to go, Mom, but I’m okay. Really. I’ll call you from Bimini. Ich liebe dich.”
I slip the phone into the pocket of my shorts, feeling it vibrate with an incoming call as I hug the edge of the channel near the breakwater. Mom is probably calling back to talk some sense into me, and I suspect my phone will silently blow up until I lose the signal. But I can’t worry about that when there’s an enormous ship bearing down on me.
The freighter rumbles past, gulls wheeling and squabbling over the fish churned up in its wake. Sport fishers speed past. Other sailboats. The high-rise skyline of Fort Lauderdale recedes, and the sapphire Atlantic stretches off toward the horizon. The sea is languid, and the air is light.
It’s a perfect day for running away from home.
Half a mile offshore, I turn the boat into the wind and put the engine in neutral. The mainsail raises easily enough, fluttering as it catches the breeze, but I’m not entirely sure the sail is all the way up the mast. Even after the jib is unfurled and the sails are trimmed, I don’t know if I’ve done everything correctly. But the boat is moving in the proper direction. It’s not on a collision course with any other vessel. Nothing is broken. I consider it a victory as I shut off the engine and settle back against a cushion for the six-hour sail to Miami.
These waters aren’t completely unfamiliar. Ben and I once sailed to Miami and anchored for the night in the old marine stadium basin. Another time we spent the weekend at Biscayne National Park. Sailing to the Bahamas was going to be our first test to see if we could survive long-term living on a thirty-seven-foot boat. It seemed big until I went aboard the first time and saw that it was like a floating tiny house. Could Ben and I have managed living on top of each other? Would our relationship have lasted? The never knowing is lodged in my heart like a stone, a constant dull ache that throbs during moments like these, when I wonder what our future might have been.
A bottlenose dolphin breaks the surface beside the boat, drawing me out of my head. I can’t help but smile, remembering an argument we had about dolphins. Ben called them rapists and murders. “Don’t be fooled by their permanent smiles and happy chatter. They’re assholes.”
“Animals don’t live by a moral code like humans,” I countered. “So maybe you should be more outraged by actual rape than dolphins doing what dolphins do. Humans are the real assholes here.”
He stared at me a long time, then flashed the grin that made my knees go wobbly. “God, Anna, how fucking lucky am I that you’re mine?”
A second dolphin joins the first and they crisscross in front of the boat, playing chicken with the five-knot hull speed. They leap out of the water, showing off for each other, and it almost feels as though Ben sent them to me. Which is ridiculous, but I watch them until they peel away, heading for wherever it is dolphins go.
“You were supposed to stay with me.” My words float away on the breeze. “Why did you go somewhere I can’t follow?”
Not sure if I’m talking to the dolphins or Ben. Either way, I get no response.
Sunset is fading into darkness when I motor the Alberg into a marina on the inside of Miami Beach. Ben circled No Name Harbor as our destination for the night, but I have never dropped anchor by myself, let alone in the dark. Instead I pinball the boat into a transient slip for the night, thankful there are no witnesses to my awful docking skills and badly tied knots.
Wearing one of Ben’s old undershirts, I crawl into the V-berth and open the forward hatch. As I try to see the stars through the light pollution of Miami, I think about the last time Ben and I slept on the boat, one of the last times we made love. Sex is not what I miss most about him, but I do miss it. Before Ben, I had no idea that loneliness could ache in so many different places on a person’s body.
Now I imagine him lying beside me. The warmth of his hands on my bare skin. The touch of his mouth against mine. Except the closer my imagination tries to draw him, the further away he feels.
About the Author:
Trish Doller is the author of novels for teens and adults about love, life, and finding your place in the world. A former journalist and radio personality, Trish has written five YA novels, including the critically acclaimed Something Like Normal. Her women’s fiction debut, Float Plan, will be published in 2021. When she’s not writing, Trish loves sailing, traveling, and avoiding housework. She lives in southwest Florida with a talkative herding dog and an ex-pirate.