Nineteen year old Joni is loving life as an adult—living on her own, dealing with grown-up things like jobs, hook-ups, and doing her own laundry. Best of all: after finishing her first year at ASU, she will never again be called a freshman.
But when her brother is suddenly killed in a car accident, Joni’s adult life is turned upside down. Struggling to cope with loss, guilt, and anger—not to mention the meddling of friends and family trying to “fix” her—Joni is relieved to be presented with an escape in the form of a sailing trip her brother had been planning for months before he died.
Back on the docks, lost in the middle of a maze of boats and pilings and light posts, I watched painted numbers pass by. I was surprised at how many of the boats showed signs of occupancy. Wet towels hanging to drip-dry, or lights on in tiny windows just above the water line, or a radio playing softly. All the boats had names, of course. Some creative, or dignified, others just silly. Endless Summer. Serenity. Windsong. Yes Dear. Sea Monkey. Get Her Done. My favorite was Breaking Wind; very classy.
I was passing a shiny black yacht with the moniker Obsession, when a sudden commotion startled me. With a thrashing of water and a high-pitched shrieking came a half-naked body from under the boat. Elbows planted on the dock’s edge, a surfer-bodied guy levered himself up and flopped onto his back with an exaggerated yowl and chattering teeth. A headlamp was strapped to his forehead; its powerful beam blinded me as he leapt to his feet. “Sorry ’bout that. Didn’t get you, did I?” He turned toward Obsession. “Eva! All good now, yeah?” I moved to continue on, but he stopped me. “Hold up. Did I get you?”
“No, I’m good.” I squinted against his light.
“Oh.” He ripped it away and tossed it onto the deck of the boat. “Eva! Try it now!” Back to me: “What slip number?”
“What?” He’d caught me in mid-guess about his age. I’d have estimated mid-twenties and gorgeous. No, he was handsome, which is a word I thought only grandmas used anymore. I mean, guys are cute or guys are hot, but this guy…yeah, he was hot, but in a classic way that wasn’t intimidating. His looks didn’t say Hey baby, like what you see? They said—
“What slip number are you looking for?” He took great handfuls of each leg of his shorts and wrung the water out. His entire body was covered in goose bumps.
“Thirty-one,” I answered, and before I could follow up with the boat’s name, he said…
“Lady Marguerite.” And he cringed with a smile. “Uh-oh.”
He glanced sideways at me as he pushed excess water down his legs. “Uh, you’re young and beautiful, that’s what.” He said it with a laugh, like Duh, silly girl, didn’t you know? He could have shoved me in the water and I’d have been less surprised. “Nah, the guys are gonna love it, is all.”
I was so confused. Was he warning me or complimenting me? Should I be scared or flattered? “Okay, thanks.” Again, I turned to leave.
Again, he stopped me. “You ever been sailing?”
“What would you guess?”
He smiled, dark eyes sparkling. “Want me to walk you down there?”
I wanted to say You can walk me anywhere you want. Which, after passing through my filter, came out, “Nah, I can find it. You look really cold, so…”
He hugged himself, shoulders hunched, and his smile broadened as he considered me with a look I could only describe as thoughtful, and the kind of intense eye contact that makes your blood race.
A woman’s voice interrupted: “Yeah, that did it. Reading fine now.” From a tall, buxom supermodel standing on the back deck of Obsession with a glass of wine in hand. She swished it around with an eyebrow cocked at me.
The guy gestured down the pier. “You’re nearly there. Down toward the end, look for two guys drinking beer.”
I murmured some sort of thanks and hurried away, embarrassed by the obnoxious clack-clack-clack of my suitcase. I couldn’t help a glance back: The guy was toweling off; the supermodel had taken a seat to admire him above the rim of her wine glass. For a fleeting moment, I allowed myself to marvel at the incongruity of lifestyles in this world. Most of us have to trudge through life, get jobs, go to school, and get sunburned, while others are blessed with naturally-tanned Maxim bodies and live on rich yachts with gorgeous, muscled, goose-bumped handymen.
Look for two guys drinking beer. My feet kept walking, but my heart wanted to turn around and hurry back to ASU. For the billionth time that day, I felt the panicked certainty that I had made a monumental mistake getting on that airplane. Two guys drinking beer. I imagined a couple of thirty-something hipsters drinking Andrew’s homemade moonshine. I mean, what else had I expected from my brother? Like he was going to do anything normal, with normal people?
Near the end of the dock was an enormous vessel with a luxurious open deck. On a sofa lounged two women, zipped up in designer jackets lined with fur, conversing softly. They quieted, eyeing me with mirth. One of them asked me if I was lost, and when I told them I was looking for number thirty-one, their Juvéderm smiles gleamed with fake hospitality. They gestured—next one down—and their suppressed titters followed me to a less impressive boat with simple, dark script across the back: lady marguerite.
I wasn’t a boat person. Hull and mast—that was the extent of my knowledge. This boat had two masts. It seemed big. Big-ish. I wouldn’t call it a yacht, but this wasn’t just some fishing boat you take out on the lake, either. It would take maybe two or three seconds to run the length of it full sprint, like halfway from home plate to first base. I think I was at the back of the boat—was that the bow or the aft or something? Oh hell, I really hoped I wouldn’t be expected to speak sailor.
A gravelly voice called out, “Who’s that?” Followed by an eruption of violent death-rattle been-smoking-for-eighty-years coughing, ending with an irritated, “Dammit!”
In the middle of the boat was an area for passengers to sit. There were two figures there. Thing is, hardly-any-clothes hot handyman had said to look for two guys drinking. What he should’ve said was to look for two of America’s Founding Fathers. I was pretty sure these guys were waiting for buddies to show up and help them throw a bunch of tea into the harbor.
“Who’s that?” he called out again—the one who seemed less really-really-old and a little more lively than his bingo partner, who sat hunched over, mouth-breathing badly, still oblivious to my presence. Though there was plenty of empty seating, they sat nearly on top of each other—a mutual propping up, perhaps.
When I still hadn’t responded, he shook his head with an exasperated “Dammit” and said, “Can’t hear ya.” He called out louder: “Can’t hear ya! Can’t hear ya!”
I pulled my roller across a narrow gangplank spanning from the dock to the back of the boat.
“Can’t hear ya,” he continued, not even looking at me now. He had a block of wood in his hand, whittling at it with a pocketknife. His friend was content to watch him work. “Can’t hear ya!”
“Hi,” I said, mostly just to shut him up. The boat swayed. I grabbed a railing to steady myself.
“One hand for yourself, one hand for the ship. Them’s the rules at sea.” He was watching me now, with eyes alight and a not-so-subtle elbowing to his buddy, like Are you seeing what I’m seeing?
The other one had indeed finally noticed me. He perked up with a gentle smile and rasped, “Welcome aboard!” Then chuckled, as if what he had said were absurd. I noticed a plastic bag hanging out one of his pant legs. It was filling with pee.
“Come on in,” the woodcarver said. “My cockpit is your cockpit. Beer?”
“Can’t hear ya,” he nearly shouted.
I raised my voice. “No, thanks.”
He frowned. “Not twenty-one?”
“So I’m guessing you ain’t the morning entertainment, neither.”
Laughter flared up from the ladies in the neighboring boat. Deaf to them, the old guy continued with a spark in his eye. “The morning entertainment. The exotic engineer. The pole-slider.”
“Burlesque artist, striptease, two-dollar holler.”
“Stripper, yeah, I got it.”
By now the pee-bag guy had caught up to the conversation. His eyebrows flew up.
“No, not me,” I said. “I’m not a stripper.”
The awkwardness scale was tipped. With some lame excuse about needing to make a call, I stepped up and out of the cockpit, hoping to make a silent exit. I would feel guilty ditching, but guilt is no match for fear when put on the spot. The gangplank to the dock, however, was in use—the way was blocked by a figure boarding the ship.
The woodcarver’s voice warbled with exertion: “Skipper on deck!” He tried to stand, but couldn’t.
The “skipper” was half-naked, shorts dripping from his dive beneath Obsession, and he was still covered in goose bumps.
And I was in much less of a hurry to leave.