A COUPLE ON A CRUISE
a short story by Elizabeth Lemons
The tropical scent of plumeria clobbered my nostrils and I breathed it in headily while slowly rubbing some reef-safe Kokua sun care into my old man’s shoulders. He was starting to turn really red. Vincent was a looker, even in his distinguished years, he was a killer with a knee-weakening smile and a penchant for rum. All women noticed him, even now, as he lay in the sun, his eyes hidden beneath dark sunglasses while lounging aboard this sea-bound vessel. No man should look this fine (at forty years shy of one hundred). Only I seemed to realize lately that his walk had slowed somewhat and he hesitated a bit longer before speaking these days. His mentality remains smart as a tack and quick as a fox, though I can feel the quieter years of his life beginning to alter his aura. Even now, I still sometimes can’t believe that at night he always chooses to go home with me. Yes, he really is THAT fine.
I first met him at Bay Varascio, his family’s ancestral manse located on a secluded Australian beach overlooking turquoise clear blue waters. After a rather brief phone interview, I was hired sight unseen to come and live-in as his personal chef. Vincent Varascio lived alone. He hated preparing meals for himself and could easily afford to pay someone to keep him and his diet on track. His entire family had died in a plane crash one winter’s night long ago after celebrating Christmas together at the villa.. The entire family had flown after Christmas Day in the family jet to New York, where their festive joy would continue as they together planned to share a holiday Broadway show. Regretfully, Vincent had needed to finish a business deal at home, and then his plan was that he would follow them to the Big Apple in his own private plane. He had been a pilot since he was 16. His family’s jet never made it to New York.
Since that time, Vincent had assumed a very subdued lifestyle. He had never married, never lived the life of a playboy, never been a flamboyant spender, though he had the ways and means for both. He was quiet, reserved, and seemed to spend the majority of his lonely, countless hours reading in his library. Vincent was brutally handsome. Oh, I already mentioned that?
I grew up by the sea in a world very far away from Australia. I hail from a tiny beach town in Alabama called Gulf Shores. My dad died when I was young, and my mother still spends her days rocking on a swing on her covered porch that overlooks the Gulf. She very recently has shown some interest in a gentleman who is a rather famous mystery writer. I love watching them together, and enjoyed their company immensely for with them, there was always laughter. With nothing by my mother’s happiness in mind, I recently decided to venture out from the dockside restaurant where I nightly applied my talents. Though I loved my small town life, I needed something new. A change of view.
My only true requirements in life were to have a great place and ingredients so I could cook, a secret plot of ground of my own to garden a bit, and quiet mornings where I could contemplate a little and perhaps write by the sea. My cheating lying former fiance’ had rearranged my heart’s prerogatives, stolen a treasure trove of non-retrievable trust, and all of my girlhood hopes, so this (literally) out-of-the-blue offer was a total dream job for me, for the Master of the Villa ate very little. This transcribed as a lot of time to do whatever the heck I wanted to do in the hours that were my own. He did, however, occasionally host parties, nothing too extravagant. Just tasteful coastal elegance, and usually even then the parties were for his sea-faring mates and rare business associates. Vincent always felt he owed people he befriended the pleasure of enjoying his inherited luxurious surroundings as much as he himself enjoyed and partook of its history. Mornings he would stop into the well-appointed cosy kitchen for a quick cup of dark roast brew and small bite of whatever tantalizing pastry or baked good I had freshly concocted, rarely was he around for lunch, but evenings always found us both together as I served him a dinner that was usually fresh from the sea in the romantic courtyard, which always smelled of the yellow and white frangipani flowers that encompassed the hand-hon long rock table that grandly overlooked the sea. He would sit, barely eat, sip on a cocktail, and with his graceful long fingers, beckon me to join him. He didn’t flirt, but his magnetic blue eyes held much water, Soon he and I had created a little private dinner game which promptly progressed into late afternoon contests of our taking turns to mix drinks we had never tried and make tantalizing, funny beach snacks to share. He even made friends with the huge grill and so that became his cooking “specialty”. Night after night, we together watched the sun set in vivid pinks and oranges and streaks of lavender color as it spilled over our still-as-glass bay while the sun headed off to bed. He was 35 then, and I was 25, or was it 26? Didn’t matter, for over a few years, we had become saturated by the tides, aged by the scorching sun, and forever living life on our own solitary terms. Together.
Every breath we took became filled with our life’s together dream to preserve and rescue all things marine. Even this day, our big cruise on this super luxury yacht (which had belonged to his father years ago) was embarked upon so that we could meet up with some friends willing to spend most of summer’s upcoming weeks beside us, working to clean specific areas of floating plastic and tossed refuse that are detrimentally affecting the coral reefs along Australia’s coast. My husband’s old family money enables us to sponsor a team of others dedicated to doing all they can to try to save marine ecosystems that are being annihilated by careless humans. I look at him, he looks silently at me, and we cannot speak. The harm that has been wrought upon the earth is beyond horrific and terrifying to both marine life and humans. So we don’t talk about it much. We are more the kind of people who are doers. Sure, Vincent writes checks to aid many charities and non-profits, and good comes from that, but today’s cruise is for the purpose of gathering some friends and all of us can organize, and we can clean and we can make some small difference. Vincent and I can and want to physically get out there to help.
Enthusiastic younger folks admire Vincent, especially the teen-age girls. They can’t help it! He is rugged, and he is gentle and is quite famous for rescuing dolphins, turtles and once, even a whale who found itself entangled in an abandoned fisherman’s net. That grateful humpback whale now lives at the Australia Zoo because he was too injured to ever be released again into the wild. Known as Louis, this whale will always need help and supervision, but, he lived. Vincent is a well-studied marine biologist. While we are at sea, I relinquish most of my cooking duties in order to help by recording data, sending texts and using my previous kitchen skills in organizing as we attempt to hold clean-up missions, promote smarter ways to take care of our earth and waters at rallies held on beaches, schools, and even town meetings. Whatever it takes. And we do it together. We sail, and we meet up with friends at nearby 2 different ports. Then we make our last stop to pick up our friend, Jason.
SHIPS AHOY! OH, BOY!
Captain’s Log: June 7 Mid-mission, tonight, we are surrounded on board with our usual 8 or so environmental mates and (despite my cautious warning to my husband), have unwittingly just allowed a few unknown seamen aboard our boat, based on recommendation from one our own crew members. This will prove to be detrimental.
Jason was one of our family. The son of one of Vincent’s best mates, Jason literally had been helping us on every clean-up or rescue mission for the past 8 years. Working sometimes as a bartender, sometimes as a musician, Jason’s youthful, partying ways were always of the parrot-headed, “let’s-share-a-beer” friendly sort, enabling him to being able to make himself at home with anyone he ever crosses paths with. Today, his recent bar buddies consisted of a rather scraggly-looking tri-team of treasure hunters who had just this week had some bad luck when their own boat sank to the depths of the Indian Ocean. Their story was that someone had meant to toss a cigarette butt overboard, maybe. Or maybe it blew back on board bringing flame ignition. Maybe. None of the 3 young men seemed sure of how their boat burst into flames. At least, this non-specific bantering is all they can think of at the moment, and before one could sing “By the Sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea”, their treasure ship went up in smoke and these 20-something “Lost Boys” were floating around in the salty water like crackers crumbled over hot soup.
“They just need a lift, aaaaaaaand, they are willing to clean, sort through plastic debris, bag it, haul it, whatever you want them to do, they will do it, for their passage to Rottnest Island. They are just a bit low on funds, cause, (he laughs) we had a REALLY great time back at the Pelican. These guys are short on buying a ticket for the ferry back home cause they lost a bet to me and had to buy the bar a final round.” “ Aw, come on, it’s just a 30-45 minute ride to Rottnest, not even out of our way.”
When I heard this, I shivered a bit, and looked immediately at Vincent, who fell for it all, hook, line and sinker. He was always so happy when people would offer on their own to step in to help him fight the polluted, and devastated waters. He could only see smiles and strong capable arms. My ears focused on the words “Rottnest”. My womanly intuition kicked into high gear, and I could feel T-R-O-U-B-L-E. I wondered if these guys ever even had a boat, much less one that went up in flames,
“Alright, Jason, I trust you, man”, I heard Vincent say as he waved the newbies aboard. Their luggage consisted of beer cans, one held in each of their hands. “No problem, we’ll just buzz by your island, drop you guys off. I thank you for your help.”
“No worries, mate”, the “leader” passenger, known secretly in my mind as “Toothless”, of the nefarious tri-pack of dudes nodded in agreement, and so, they all climbed up the stairwell. And, with nothing more than that being said, three complete strangers entered our safe water haven. The mean one, and his two pets. Clearly, the two clueless men followed the bolder one into less-than-above-board heists and tricks. There was no light in their eyes. I truly hate to say this, but when he was young, my husband would never have allowed anyone he didn’t know to climb aboard, especially black hearts such as these. It seemed that with age comes a lack of judgment and I was sad to see this. Vincent had always had a great handle on sniffing out insincere people who excelled at taking advantage. Nonetheless, we continued to sail towards night as the setting sun shimmied downward into the now darkening waters. Our naturalist friends, our only TRUE traveling companions, were occupied with taking showers before dinner or attempting to Skype home, or focusing on tomorrow’s clean-water strategy plans at a long table by the stern’s rail. Dinner would transpire in about an hour here on the bow and everyone would gather back together then. Thoughtfully, Vincent had hired a ship chef to keep us fed while we all worked, allowing me some time to relax and enjoy being with him as we sailed.
Like most couples on a cruise, we sipped on some Sangria while enjoying some mango salsa. It had just the right “zang” from added slivered jalapenos. The Lost Boys sat at another close-by round table and they immediately made themselves at home, each of them drinking cold beers while they rumbled on about starvation and how hungry they were as they shoved chips and salsa into their faces and dripped messily onto their table. Raucous laughter and a loud burp ensued, they were downright uncouth, when suddenly, they lowered their voices and began to talking rather quietly amongst themselves, and I couldn’t help but try to get a reading on them from Vincent, who seemed more concerned with some documents he had lain across our table. I kept looking for his eyes to meet mine, (‘look at me, Vincent’, I silently commanded) but, alas, he just kept searching for something that seemed to be tragically missing as he flipped back and forth between pages.
“Shall I go fetch your reading glasses, darling?” I offered. Vincent hated to wear them in public, but the sexy old man was blind as a bat!
“Umm, no, that’s alright. I am just trying to understand why this contract doesn’t seem to clarify the parameters of how this detrimentally hazardous ancient floating palace is to be re-purposed, I want it removed from out of the water, and I need to be sure each condition I have specified is completed before I finalize this sale of the Mother O —-WHOMP!
One of the Lost Boys had silently stood, then walked over behind Vincent, and used a weighty copper lantern he had picked up off another table to knock out my dear Vincent before I even realized he was beside us. Vincent slumped over the table, a tiny trickle of blood began to run down his face. I screamed as I simultaneously jumped out of my seat at the same time, looking for any thing I could use as a weapon. Vincent was face down in his paper work as I snatched a small but heavy, carved mermaid figurehead off the wall and tried to swing it towards the assailant. With my first swing, I missed and the bastard just stood there and laughed at me as the weight of the mermaid caused me to fall onto the hard wooden deck. As I scrambled to get back up, he grabbed for the papers beneath Vincent’s face. “Rich sod with no brain,” he laughed heartily again with his deviant but dumb mates as skimmed over the printed papers. “Says here, “Deed of Sale…hmmm, and it’s for this monstrosity of a boat. Ain’t THAT convenient!” Maniacal laughter pursued as the nasty, nosy man picked at his rotten teeth and he flipped to the back page. “Aw mates, get this..this dumb shit trusting bugger done gone and signed off on it. We’re rich! “, he said as he confidently turned towards his sitting-in-a-befuddled-daze crew to boast some more about what he actually believed was his newly acquired ship. By this time, two of our own shipmates had managed to run across the far side of the boat deck towards our table, in full-blown protection mode. Jason was running with a speed I had never witnessed before.
The second swing of the mermaid had me sitting once again in the floor, but this time I used my whole body to whip that hunk of wood around and I walloped that vile man right in his pillaging-ass kneecap. It snapped with a loud bone CRUNCH! As soon as “Toothless” wailed in excruciating pain, Jason arrived, looking a bit like Aqua man, brandishing his weighty muscles as his sexy long dark hair swung in the breeze. He was holding both a pistol and a knife. And, he knew how to use them. But, he didn’t. Instead, he called the Australian Maritime Border Command (they were on their way). More members of our own original crew had come running at the sound of my scream and had now tied all three of these horrible men to the lower bar foot rails until help could haul them away. Curse words cascaded and were as abundant as the worry for the ship’s captain. The sea air was solemn.
I rushed to rouse Vincent, poor sweet trusting now frail man, who was attempting to get his bearings and sit back up in the chair. He was not succeeding. “I’m sorry, honey”, he stammered. “I should have known better. I am just an old man, I made a mistake. I should have never jeopardized this voyage or your safety, my darling. It was to be our final cruise aboard the “Mother Ocean” for I had decided to get rid of this opulent water tub for a smaller more Eco-friendly boat that would enable us to work and dock more easily. Now it seems, my hesitation in selling what is obviously an unnecessary outdated luxury has, indeed, become our final cruise together.” One single tear crept down my left cheek as I held Vincent’s dear face, and gently wiped away the blood from his temple.
I held him close, and must have been rocking him back and forth, even as the evil Lost Boys were being taken away. I wailed. I kept sobbing and crying “No! Come back. Come back, Vincent! You are NOT an old man! You are NOT an old man”, I kept saying it, over, and over and over, even as Jason peeled me away from my beloved’s limp body.
SWEET DREAMS ARE MADE OF THESE
Later, I lay on my back, encompassed cozily beneath soft cotton sheets, with my head deeply pressed into a lush pillow. My eyes opened as I heard Vincent’s sweet voice, “ Ashe, Ashe!…Wake up, now, Ashera!” (pronounced Ugh sheer ugh). “Darling, we have arrived at our first port and Megan and Toshi await!” He took my hand, pulled me close to his chest and kissed my hair and neck. “What a dream you must have had, come back to me, Ashe!,” he softly said to me as I made my way back to now. He kissed away my tears. I blinked, then opened my eyes once more.
Oh, God, there he was again. What a gorgeous man! My blue eyes sparkled from my sleepy tears where I had been holding so tightly to my older, fallen love, but now, I found I held nothing but complete adoration for the sea god who sat beside me on the bed. But, what? How could this be? I shook my head back and forth. Vincent looked to be 35 years old. He was young again, just a few years older than when we first met! No grey, no wrinkles, no decades of times past shared together. This was just my husband. And we were just a happy couple, on a cruise.
Captain’s Log: After this day, there will be no more Bacardi 151 for me
while shipboard lounging out in the hot, hot sun…
while cruising with my baby…