The tender ride to the island had Claire’s last nerve in shreds. She was very afraid of having her chip taken out today, even though Jamie already tested the safety of the procedure the day before. The four of them split up at the front of the clinic, Darius and Maia would hang out at the back door of the facility just in case the good doctor made a run for it.
Jamie held Claire’s hand and scowled at the nurse during check-in. The doctor saw them and abruptly turned around but was soon escorted back by Darius. The nurse was decidedly unfriendly today which added another layer of stress to the procedure. Jamie just wanted it over with and pulled Claire to the treatment room when they were called.
The doctor thankfully started with a shot of Valium that put Claire out completely. It was a little unnerving. Claire was not a rambunctious mover when she wasn’t sedated, but this complete stop even unnerved the doctor, so he put a monitor on her heart. Jamie held a glass jar out for the doctor to drop the bloody implant into before closing the incision. He knew women had a thing about their upper arms looking nice, so he watched every stitch closely.
Jamie handed the doctor ten one-hundred-dollar bills and they left as soon as Jamie could wake her up. Claire smiled continuously and said hello to everyone they passed. She stopped to pet a lady’s purse and asked what its name was. Jamie was struggling to keep her walking in a straight line and if he stopped she would go off in another direction, so it took multiple attempts to call Darius.
Once Claire was in the tender, he searched for Darius and Maia, hoping they would hurry. The inebriated Sassenach needed to be locked in her room until the Valium wore off. Everything almost went south getting her onto the aft deck when she fell backward. Jamie was able to catch her before she slipped into the ocean. He was so rattled, he put Claire to bed and watched her from a nearby chair. Maia came in with a tray of food and agreed to sit with her so Jamie could get his sketch pad. He was intrigued by the locals, the tone of their skin, their gestures, and facial expressions. While Claire slept, Jamie roughed in the scene he wanted to paint and the remainder of the day was uneventful.
Jamie had given up hope that Claire would wake up that day. He wanted to talk about Danny and the extraordinary things she said and knew about his paintings, even those not done yet. It would have to wait until tomorrow he decided and slid his sketchbook into his bed table.
Claire’s eyeballs peeked out from under their lids at first light. She could hear the rhythmic breathing of her husband next to her, so she knew it was very early and after almost twenty-four hours of sleeping, she needed to get up. Adso had other ideas and did nothing but purr when she stroked him.
Sipping delicious coffee on the foredeck, the sun energized her to feel more alive by the minute. There was movement on Danny’s yacht and she watched the peculiar crewman standing on the foredeck holding a flat of flowers like a statue. How odd, she thought, until she saw Danny’s head pop up and take a handful of young Petunias before dropping out of sight again. She forced herself to stop looking and jumped at the vibrating cell phone next to her. Javier was the only person who called so she picked it up and said his name.
“No darling, it’s Danny, do you remember giving me this number? If not, I’m sorry to intrude. How are you on this beautiful morning?”
“I feel amazing today, and you?”
“Very well indeed, but I could use a hand with these young plants if you have a moment.” She chuckled, “I apologize for being unacceptably straight forward, dear, please forgive me.”
“No, no, I would love to help, plant flowers? On your boat? I love gardening but never considered doing on a boat. Yes! I would love to help you, Danny. I see your tender is out, can someone come and get me in ten minutes?”
Claire left a note for Jamie and got into the tender waiting for her at the aft deck. She was excited to see Danny again and planting small flowers, however weird that was on a boat, was the perfect activity for her energized morning.
Danny smiled brightly when Claire walked onto her deck, removing her gloves to shake her hand warmly. The tender engines screamed away until it was clear of the yacht, then the crewman pulled the steering wheel harshly for a nautical-donut that launched the young man sideways, splashing down about twenty-feet from the tender.
“Oh my God!”
Danny held her arm before she could jump overboard and rescue the man. “Don’t worry about the cub my dear, he has a racer’s heart and can’t help himself. I had the tender engine modified so when someone let’s go of the throttle it stops moving. He’s fine,” she giggled. “Let me show you our chore for this morning.”
Claire followed Danny along the side deck to the other end of the enormous yacht and stepped down to the foredeck. She watched her step descending the six steps and noticed greenery around her feet and heard the most amazing music. Once on the deck, she looked around at the beautiful garden Danny had created. There were large trees, many bushes, vines, trellis clinging roses, a proper rose garden, and planters overflowing with pansies in every color that lent their sweet smell to the air.
“This is amazing, Danny! It is the last thing I would expect on a boat. It is beautiful but what happens during a storm?”
“If we can’t outrun it the planters are wheeled into a garage beyond that door. You just lift a bit on the end of the planter and the wheels pop out.”
“Oh! That is so clever! Well, I’m ready, where do I start planting?”
Danny showed her an empty planter and they discussed what levels and colors should be included then Claire got to work. When Danny came to check on her a bit later, the planter was done. She and Danny took turns watering the expansive deck full of flowers and talked as they worked.
“Have you always loved to sale or yacht?”
“No, I bought this yacht to get away from my son who wants to put me in a home. Turns out I really like the freedom, the people, and my crew.” She regarded Claire for several minutes and finally spoke to her about the joys of being nosy.
“My dear, I was raised strictly, trained in social graces at the best boarding schools, I was a debutante, and my family is at the top of the social food chain so to speak. I caught a fever in my early thirties that killed my husband and put me into a coma for a month. I had a lot of time to think before I woke up and I was a changed woman from then on. The first change was I spoke my truth, whatever that was. Let me demonstrate.”
Claire was delighted with her perky and fun attitude and listened closely.
“You, my dear, might spend the entire time asking socially acceptable questions and never get an answer to the question that burns in your mind. Give it a try, what do you want to ask me?
Claire watched Danny encourage her to speak up and she finally blurted out “how can you afford this boat and live-in crew? Oh God, it’s none of my business Danny, please forgive me!”
Danny stood straight and held her head high, “nonsense! When I tell you the answer, we will be friends and I want to be your friend so come inside, out of the sun for some refreshment while I explain.”
Claire pulled off her deck shoes and looked up as a glass wall opened to the formal saloon. She was struck dumb as her eyes took in the exquisite furniture and art in the massive room. There was a double grand staircase that went up to the second floor of living space and the boat seemed to go on for a mile. She was barely aware of Danny talking to her until she felt her hand slip through her elbow, leading her through the saloon.
“I can see that you like my floating home, and now there are two burning questions, are there not?”
“What…what does the rest look like?”
Danny chuckled and led Claire on a tour of luxury and abundance she didn’t know existed. The artwork was exceptional and they chatted about several of the artists. The formal dining room could serve twenty-four people comfortably with another dining room for everyday use. The floor to ceiling windows provided a stunning view with glass doors spaced to provide fresh air and an exit to the side deck. Beyond the double staircase were Danny’s expansive office, sitting room, private atrium, and bathrooms as big as Claire’s bedroom. All the flooring was Italian marble that also lined the walls of the shower, which you could fit a basketball team in.
“I don’t stay in these rooms, too big. I live in one of the staterooms and it’s just right for me.”
“What? Why? My God Danny, this is so beautiful it’s making me emotional.”
Danny showed Claire the private deck with a hot tub, full bar, outdoor shower, and lounges big enough for two. They continued the tour to the upper decks, four of them, a large movie theater, an upper saloon that was a bit more casual with flatscreen televisions that appeared when a button was pushed, a bar that looked fully stocked, and a foredeck with formal dining. Another level was dedicated to a full-sized gym with all the equipment, free weights, benches, a huge screen for watching aerobic videos, two saunas, a huge hot jacuzzi, and a running track that circled the enormous room.
They stepped into an elevator made of glass and went down to the lower deck with a large swimming pool and waterfall. The glass wall in front of the pool opened completely to the aft deck that was set up like a beach party with two bars, outside showers, lounges, and a closet full of towels. Danny pulled Claire’s hand and they were somehow back on the main deck walking through the expansive galley that included four of every major appliance needed for entertaining, four commercial refrigerators, freezers, and dishwashers, a two-hundred bottle wine cellar, and huge tables for food preparation.
Claire was in luxury overload and felt sad she would forget half of what she had seen.
“I wonder if you would accompany me for lunch and the second question you asked?”
Claire was delighted to spend more time with a woman she was really starting to like. Danny led her out to yet another private deck off the galley that was smaller and more intimate with a small table for two already made up for lunch. She picked up the phone and spoke to someone about a sore ankle, asking questions that made Claire feel she was really concerned about the person on the other end. Then she ordered avocado toast and tuna stuffed tomatoes with several side dishes and iced tea. Claire was overwhelmed by the experience and the calming water around the deck, about thirty feet down she guessed. When the food came, a muscular young man brought the plates stacked carefully up and down his forearms which were transferred to the table with no apparent effort. He limped away.
“You are very quiet dear Claire. Oh, you’re starving, poor thing, I don’t imagine you had much to eat yesterday.”
Claire’s head jerked up to look at Danny, smiling at her cheeks stuffed with food. How would she know about no eating as she slept yesterday away?
“Well, you eat while I tell you who I am and maybe what I hope to be to you sweet girl.”
“My birth name is Sepora Cornelius Meyer. My grandfather immigrated to America from Poland and worked in a small grocery until he learned to speak English. He purchased the store eventually, but I digress. Everything my grandfather touched turned to gold and he reinvested every dime he made in oil, real estate, and steel. The short version is he became rich and celebrated before he died, leaving a son to take his place, my father.”
The young muscular man came out with plates of cheese and fresh vegetables that were bite-sized. While Claire crunched on carrots she looked to Danny with anticipation.
“Things were different then. The household adopted the opinions of the father and never questioned.
They had more money than could ever be spent but an idle life was not allowed, so my father worked, starting at the bottom, learning the business of steel, oil, and real estate. He was quite a man, my hero, never to be replaced.”
Claire waited and crunched celery while Danny took several tiny bites of her avocado toast.
“Before my brother died, poor Alfred, my life was positively glorious! Boarding school in France and Sweden, summers in various countries with my friends, and beautiful parties during the social season where we could be in the same room with boys our age. It was such fun. When we buried Alfred, all that changed. No more school, no more summers away, and parties became a new kind of classroom where I would learn from watching the men. I didn’t like it one bit so I stuck my nose in the air through the first season and won myself a stiff neck and a cross father, more determined to ruin my life.”
“What took the place of school?”
“I spent dreadfully long hours reading communications from my father to other companies, banks, businessmen, and political people. When the steelworkers refused to let me take an active role on the production floor my father set up a small desk and chair and that is where I read stacks of documents. When I could finally wash at the end of the day, I pretended I couldn’t hear my mother saying I was now deaf from the ungodly noise of the production floor. She smiled and told me to set the table when my hearing came back or none of us would eat. I recovered quickly.”
“Did it ever get more tolerable for you?”
“Father planted fake letters, several of them during my second year leaning the business. Brazen mistakes in accounting, materials, even which political party he supported. I missed them all because I was daydreaming of lovely parties or who I would marry. Father became distant and terribly unhappy and one night I heard him talking to mother about his shame over not having a qualified heir to lead the business. He was so sad and it broke my heart hearing his defeated voice. It took about a minute to realize I was an utter failure to the most important man in my life.”
“Oh, Danny, how could you know how important it was for you to learn?”
“He and mother both told me and I didn’t listen, until that night. After that, he would hand me a stack of documents and I ran back to his office for more, asking questions about certain decisions and correcting the math where I found mistakes. It took several days to convince him, but soon I was waiting for him to come down the stairs for our walk to the office and I pumped him with questions along the way. It seemed like he grew three inches but it was the weight of defeat getting off of his back, allowing him to stand straight and proud, beaming his smile to the world. I was never so happy, or relieved, to know I wasn’t a failure in his eyes. And that’s all there is.”
“What? How old were you when you took over? Did your family keep all three businesses? How did you survive the depression? What was it like to be the leader of that kind of fortune? What …”
Danny smiled at Claire and her eyes twinkled. “I would love to tell you more after we discuss my coma.”
“I had become my father when I fell ill. My loving husband had succumbed to the illness and I didn’t know it for over a month as I was deep inside myself. I could see how I distanced myself from real life to free my mind for running the business and such. When I woke up I had a new burden to suffer because I could see things in people. Their happiness, sorrow, who they loved, and who they were deceiving. It was like living in a nightmare that never ended. Young people from the best families would shake my hand and I would see their hands around someone’s throat, choking the life out of them. It felt like I had gone insane, especially when my mother had me committed and took over the raising of my son.”
“You are feeling my pain at the moment because you are an empath, dear Claire, and those that confide in you feel they are truly understood for the first time. It is a rare quality.”
“I think everyone feels the way I do.”
“Wouldn’t that be lovely?”
Claire heard a loud whistle and looked across the water finding Jamie and Darius standing in the tender holding spears up with two large fish impaled. She smiled and clapped a bit in the air, suddenly wanting to wrap herself around her husband.
“Thank you for spending time with me today, Claire. I hope to see you again, but it is time for me to rest. The cub has a boat race later and I will need my strength to endure it.”
Danny walked Claire to the aft deck and was truly surprised when Claire hugged her, thanking her for everything. Jamie helped her into the tender and she waved to her new friend who watched them smiling, until she disappeared into her own boat.
Jamie, Darius, and Maia, were asking about Claire’s morning making her uncomfortable with keeping Danny’s confidence about all she told her. She finally went to her room and drew a bath with bubbles to idle away part of the day.
“Everything alright, love?”
“No.” She looked at Jamie’s handsome face, “I miss you, although I don’t know how that could be.”
“I do, because I miss you too Sassenach. I came to ask you to go to the island with me today. I want to take some pictures of the five lads that will be in the painting. After that, we can play, have dinner, or drinks. But it is a date so look your best, like you do right now, mo chridhe.”
“What, here in the bath?”
“No, that wouldn’t be right unless we stayed right here.”
Jamie smiled and tried to grab her getting a wet sponge in the face for his efforts. Claire pulled the plug and stepped into the shower so Jamie could wash her hair.
When he came back an hour later, Claire was sitting on the deck in a pretty yellow dress that reminded him of something. She had straightened her hair and wore makeup to add the exotic dimension to her eyes. He slid his arms around her waist and asked if she was ready to go.
Once on the island, it wasn’t hard to find the five boys that hung out together. Jamie explained he was painting a picture and they were in it which caused quite a ripple in the calm of the afternoon.
Jamie took several pictures of each of them, close up of the face, one showing some mannerism, the other a body shot. He showed them and they laughed. Once Jamie sat down to sketch, Claire called them to her and when they realized how friendly, and pretty she was, they showed off for her trying to outdo the others. The sun was shining off her hair and shoulders and her smile was like a beacon on her tanned face. Jamie laughed at the playfulness of the boys he guessed to be fourteen to eighteen. Gentle, beautiful boys who had taken over his creative mind. Jamie packed up his paper and tools and they bid the boys goodbye to wander around town.
Jamie could see Claire’s shoulders getting red in the sun and pulled her into a dress shop that had a large section of hats, which he brought to her, five at a time. He chose a wide-brimmed hat and the shop owner was happy to wrap a yellow ribbon around it, tied in the back with the extra length hanging off the brim. They laughed and stole kisses and wandered aimlessly until it was time to find a restaurant and gorge themselves on local cuisine and whisky. Jamie slipped an arm around Claire when they left. If they had been more aware of the people around them, they might have noticed the stares, but they were in their own world.
Claire pulled her shoes off when they reached the sand. Jamie waited to be alone with her on the beach because the full moon provided all the light he would need.
“Sassenach, I have something for you.” He pulled her hand and she turned around with her tipsy smile and sparkling eyes. “God, your beautiful.”
“Do I get some sort of prize for something awesome I did?”
“Something like that.” He pulled a tiny box from his pocket and handed it to her.
She looked excited until she pulled the box open and her eyes fell on the diamond inside. She could not pull her eyes away from it.
“We can take it back and get something you like better. Just put it on, one time, and then decide.”
She handed him the box and never took her eyes off the ring. Offering her outstretched hand she watched him push it onto her finger, and then he pulled her to his mouth for a sweet kiss.
“Thank you, Jamie,” she whispered.
“Your welcome, love.”
Once in the tender, they moved slowly to the yacht, careful to keep the engine quiet as they passed boats and yachts with people sleeping inside. Claire moved to the floor of the tender and leaned against the inflated side and dropped her head back. She was looking up at the moon, directly above her, feeling deliciously happy, slightly buzzed, and ran her hand down her burning nipple. Jamie watched her tipsy arousal and wanted her naked under the moonlight.
When the motor shut off, she looked at him like he was all she needed for the rest of her life. Jamie crept toward her and pulled off his shirt and shorts. He wanted her to remember this night. The dress came off, as did the tiny thong she wore and he pulled her leg up and over the inflated side of the tender. He pushed into her body placing greedy kisses on her face and neck. He wanted it to last but seeing his naked wife and the way her breasts bounced with every thrust was his undoing. He couldn’t help himself, he let it go when her orgasm started and pumped his warm love into her body while she clung to him.
They laid in each other's arms and talked quietly, about love and what was ahead.
“Jamie, I want to buy a new tender. This is like an inflatable raft, so I suppose the previous owner had little use for it. It doesn’t feel safe, but it was a marvelous bouncy thing to make love on.”
“Of course, Sassenach.”
Jamie raised up on an elbow and looked around the tender in all directions. He pulled Claire up with a worried look and helped her dress before getting them back to the yacht. He held Claire with one arm and drove the tender with the other.
“Did you just turn completely around?”
“That I did Sassenach. Lay against me and rest, we’re almost home.”
When Jamie turned again she started giggling. “Sweetheart, are we lost?”
The motor started to sputter and lurch as the last of the gas was consumed. Claire could not stop giggling which calmed Jamie more than she would ever know. Claire dropped to the soft bottom of the tender and held her arms out to him.
“Come here, my darling man, and rest under the stars with me.”
Once she had twisted her arms and legs with his and laid against his chest, Jamie smiled at the moon and decided to relax. When they were dropping into sleep a huge noise woke them up and they clung to each other.
“What the fuck was that, Jamie?”
“It’s gone love, whatever it was. Rest now.”
Claire wasn’t relaxed and buzzed anymore, she was panting with fright and suddenly felt something very large push against her from under the water. Before she could say anything the horrendously loud noise was back and slimy cold water rained down on them.
“Jesus Christ, Jamie, what is that?”
Jamie suspected it was a whale that surfaced near them but had not formed a word before he felt something bump the tender. Claire started screaming as the bump came again, harder this time. Jamie pulled out his cell phone and prayed Darius would answer.
“Darius, thank God. We have a bit of a problem here.”
Something under the surface pushed on the tender again and kept pushing it until they were spinning around clinging to each other. Claire was screaming for all she was worth, and Darius was trying to sound calm for both of them.
“Do you see any lights, anywhere?”
“No, Claire sweetheart please don’t scream.”
“Do you have a flashlight? If you point it at whatever is beneath…”
They were spinning in the tender pushed by something massive under the surface. Darius was running down the stairs as fast as his legs could go, worried they had drifted into the shipping lanes where they would never be seen before a gigantic cargo ship plowed over them, dragging them underneath it.
“Darius searched the water and saw nothing. “Jamie look up and tell me if you can see…”
“The sky is full of clouds now Darius, I can see nothing, it’s pitch black out here and something under the water is pushing us in circles. We need help!”
Darius noticed the lights coming on all over Danny’s boat and two bright searchlights swept the water for as far as he could see. He heard a tender approach and jumped in pointing a direction for the crewman to go. He had his phone on speaker and the young man was getting rattled by Claire screaming. He moved away from the throttle and told Darius to drive.
Claire was screaming the boat was going to tip over and Darius did his best to calm them down.
“Jamie! Hold onto Claire really tight and ask her to stop screaming, I’m in Danny’s tender and I’m coming to get you!”
When it was quiet Darius took a deep breath and played the only card that might save them.
“Be calm and don’t blow this, my friend. There is a flare gun in the water-tight compartment under the steering whflareIt is the only chance I have of finding you so ask Claire to sit perfectly still, take aim at the sky directly above you, and fire.”
A minute later the crewman pointed to a brilliant purple streak climbing into the sky, in the other direction.
“Did you see the flair from the water level?” The boy shook his head no, which meant they were very far away and Darius had only seconds before the flair extinguished.
Darius pulled back on the throttle and the dual engine tender launched in the direction of the flair. He noticed both searchlights were now directed at the ocean under the flair and hoped they could see the lights and know help was on the way.
Talking at that speed was impossible because the wind snatched your words away. Darius dropped the speed enough to tell the crewman to keep sight of the flair and then watch the smoke if it went out, then tap his leg when they were close. The tender jerked alive again, like a bullet shooting across the water. Darius was feeling frantic when the boy tapped his leg and he pulled up on the throttle. It was black as pitch above and below them and he knew his friends must be terrified. The boy put something in his hand, it was a flare gun!
“Holy shit, you just saved the day my man!”
“Jamie, are you there?”
“Well, I was about to hang up but decided to stay on a little longer,” said sarcastically.
“We have flairs, shooting one now, watch it for my direction.”
The bright red flair went shooting to the heavens. “Starboard, maybe half a mile.”
The crewman found an emergency box stored inside the bench seat at the back of the tender. There was a light that plugged into the battery port and it almost blinded them both. He held it high above his head and Darius shot another flair.
“Talk to me brother!”
“Portside, same distance.”
“We aren’t spinning anymore, it’s pushing us, a bit rough I might add.”
Darius could not wait. They had to take a risk if they were going to find them before the boat sank from something underneath.
“I’m Darius. It’s only right I know your name before risking your life. How do you feel about that..Ethan?”
“It’s what I came for, sir.”
Darius aimed the light a foot above the water and about 500 yards ahead. Once Ethan took the light, Darius pulled back on the throttle and kept his eyes glued to the direct path ahead.
Claire was on the edge of sanity after being bumped, spun, and pushed, by something large underneath the little tender. She couldn’t see anything in the dark black night except maybe a two-foot space that was lit by Jamie’s phone. She watched that space while Jamie talked to Darius and when an unexpected shape came up out of the water, caught by the dim light, Claire’s scream shattered the night and she fainted.
Jamie looked up at a large head shaped like a torpedo with an eye that regarded him before slipping back under the water. He held Claire on his lap and patted her cheek, begging her to wake up. Jamie was aware of another flare shot into the sky and realized he heard the gun go off this time.
“Darius! You’re close! Starboard and close!”
“Can you see my light, Jamie?”
Suddenly, there it was, like a hand reaching through the dark night to save them. He watched it until the white teeth of Darius’s smile materialized. Claire was rubbing her eyes and crying, waving at Darius in her filthy yellow dress.
Jamie pulled her to him, “thank Christ.” He reached for the rope and tied it tightly to the tow ring at the front of the tender. Darius heard the song of the Humpback whales in the distance and smiled at Claire.
“There’s your tormentor. Probably a female with a calf who had a bit of fun playing with the tender.”
Her ghostly white face peeked out from Jamie’s chest and he could see her shaking and teeth chattering. Jamie asked if she wanted to ride back on Danny’s boat. She moved to the side of her boat and looked down at the water before launching back into Jamie’s arms.
Darius slowly turned Danny’s tender around and moved the boat forward very slowly until the rope was taught and they were pulling the other boat. He turned toward them and asked them to lay on the floor of the tender and hold onto something. They were right in the middle of a shipping lane and Darius wanted to get them out of there pronto. He told Ethan to watch for bodies flying out and picked up speed gradually keeping the tow rope taught. Soon they were flying across the water until he gradually slowed down when the yachts were in view. Darius circled the boats twice, letting his wake provide resistance to slow the towed tender. Danny was waiting on Claire’s boat with Maia and helped bring Claire on board with teeth chattering and pasty white skin. The women helped her into bed and covered her with a quilt.
Danny sat next to her and pushed her hair out of her eyes. “I can’t imagine how terrifying that was for you. Luckily, your man is strong as an ox and would have beaten the sea thing off to save you.” Danny’s voice was soft and caring and Claire was so grateful for her help. Jamie is coming to warm you up and I hope you rest tonight dear. Goodnight.
Jamie and Darius thanked Danny repeatedly, not finding the right words to convey she had saved them tonight. Danny looked at Darius with a sleepy smile.
“You are rather good at what you do, don’t ever doubt that Darius. I saw your brave heart tonight and felt your relief when you found them. Quite extraordinary. Goodnight.
“Thank you for everything tonight ma’am.”
Darius helped Danny into her tender and watched until she was safely on board, the tender was resting in the garage, and the lights flicked off one section at a time. He knew the chance of finding them in time was zero without a fast boat and he felt the gratitude down to his toes.
Small arms circled his waist and he looked down at the incomparable Maia with her head tilted and her chin raised in a healthy come fuck me pose that threatened his very sanity. She would pull him back to earth and make him right again. He gave himself over to her.