Eagle-eyed busybody Dora, was heading down the sundeck with her cruise companion when she saw something that startled her. She stopped in her tracks. ‘Gracie,’ she whispered, ‘look at that young couple reading books on the lounge chairs. Do you see what I see?’
‘I never see what you see, Dora!’
‘That’s not his wife. His wife is the little ponytail.’
Gracie stared. ‘Are you sure?’
Dora smirked. ‘Of course! I watch them every night in the dining room. And she’s married to the tall, good-looking one. What he ever saw in her, I wouldn’t know.’
‘You are one sharp-eyed lady!’
‘It’s obvious that their spouses have taken the island grotto tour and left these two behind.’ Without another word, she marched up to the young couple like a jail matron. ‘Good morning!’
Natalie looked up, surprised. ‘Hello?’
‘How come you two aren’t on the tour? No interest in the fern grotto or the canyon?’
‘Um, no, I just wanted to relax here in the sun,’ said Natalie.
Dora aimed a long polished fingernail at David. ‘And you, young man, you just want to lie around with her, right?’
David stared at the women silently.
‘I just thought it curious that you’d leave your wife for the day,’ Dora continued. Or maybe it’s just one of those independent marriages.’
‘I beg your pardon?’ asked David.
‘You do what you want to do; she does what suits her. That’s the liberated male and female!’
‘Weren’t we going for sherbet?’ asked an uncomfortable Gracie.
Dora wasn’t budging. ‘So you think it’s perfectly all right to let your wife wander all over the island with a bunch of strange people?’
‘She’s perfectly safe on that tour,’ said David, his temper rising.
‘Well, it’s nice that you trust her.’
David jumped off the lounge chair. ‘Trust my wife? Is that what you’re asking? I mean, are you, a complete stranger, asking me if I trust my wife?’
Dora didn’t budge. She got a wicked gleam in her eye. ‘Maybe your spouses have more in common. Maybe they wanted to take the tour without you two around.’ She grabbed Gracie’s arm and the two marched off.
‘Can you believe the nerve!’ exclaimed David.
Natalie laughed. ‘They’re just two bored old maids. They’re stuck here on an anchored boat for two days with nothing to do but look for a little excitement – even if they have to stir up a little something on their own.’
David sat back in the lounge chair. ‘I guess you’re right. They want something to think about and chew on until it’s time to eat again.’
‘Exactly! Can’t you just see them licking their lips over their dessert? It’s not only sweet, it’s spicy too!’
‘They’d better not run into me again. I’ll give them something to think about!’
‘I don’t feel guilty for not tagging along to see a fern grotto,’ said Natalie, ‘and I don’t love a bus tour like Mark seems to. Had he begged me to come along, I would have, but he didn’t.’
‘Helene made it clear it didn’t matter to her if I went or not.’
‘Did they want us to let them go off together?’ asked Natalie, her heart racing.
‘That’s the question – but what’s the answer?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Mark was my best friend in high school, and you and Helene are still close.’
David was surprised. ‘What do you mean?’
‘We don’t have much in common now.’
‘But you both planned this cruise.’
‘No. Helene planned it all. It was her idea, not mine. She called one day out of the blue and started talking about how long it’s been since we’ve seen each other and how she missed us – and she started talking about how much fun we’d have on a cruise, and you know how compelling Helene can be. I went along with it.’
The two looked at each other for a long moment. Finally, David confided. ‘It’s been miserable between Helene and me.’
Natalie blinked. ‘I’m sorry. I had no idea.’
‘So has it been dandy for you and Mark?’
‘It’s been about the same.’
‘The same. I see. It’s been the same.’
‘David, I think we should stop talking about this. Helene is always full of energy and ready for anything. I’d find it not in her nature if she wanted to lounge around sunning herself when she could be actively doing something.’
‘Actively doing something,’ repeated David. ‘Yes, you’re right. That’s Helene. It’s also her nature to do the unexpected, the unorthodox, the unconventional, and the inexplicable – because that’s her nature, as she’s always told me.’
‘If she has a mild interest in my husband …’
David’s head jerked. ‘What?’
‘I’m saying that any mild interest in Mark will pass, so why get upset about it?’
David jumped up and paced the deck. ‘She’s just a little interested in my friend, your husband – nothing to get upset over.’
Natalie sighed. ‘Temporary flirtations have developed a few times in our marriage. Not with Helene, but with other girls. They pass.’
‘And you stand patiently by, waiting for him to lose his fascination and straighten out his head and be happy he’s married to a swell girl like you.’
Natalie got up and walked to the railing. She looked out toward the island. She could easily see the big hotel and the sandy beach in the distance. ‘Mark is very, very good-looking, David.’
‘He married me! And I knew I could start counting the days before he’d notice he married a nice but very plain girl. Have I been happy? Yes, because I love him. Am I secure? No, because Mark doesn’t know love from a turnip.’
David joined her at the rail. ‘It’s funny you should say that, because you know how I feel? Like a turnip! I think I can say I felt like a turnip from the moment we stepped on board ship. Helene and the turnip. Beautiful Helene and David, the turnip.’
Natalie grabbed his elbow. ‘Stop that, David. We’re sounding like two rejected, pathetic losers. I may not be the most perfect woman in the world, but I’m certainly more than a loser – and you’re certainly more than a turnip!’
David took a deep look into her eyes. ‘You think so?’
‘I know so, and so do you. So let’s cut out this nonsense.’
Natalie moved back to her lounge chair and picked up the day’s schedule of activities. ‘Do you want to see the Brandy Miller movie?’
‘Sure! I love her stuff. When does it play again?’
‘At l:00 p.m.’
‘What do we do in the meantime?’
‘Hang out here, have a Margarita at the bar, come back to doze in the sun, have lunch, and then it will be time to see the movie. Okay?’
‘I’d love that.’
‘So would I,’ said Natalie with a smile. She always liked David and had appreciated his calling her a swell girl when she felt like a ninny. ‘I know I’ll enjoy having lunch with you a lot more than I’ve enjoyed having lunch with Mark so far.’
‘I have the same situation with Helene.’ said David.
The two friends stared at each other.
‘Oh, God,’ said Natalie suddenly.
‘The old maids will be at that movie.’
‘Hey, let’s sit in front of them and make out the whole time.’
Natalie giggled. ‘We should! Yes, let’s! Wouldn’t that be just too delicious!’
‘Yeah! They’d be in hog heaven!’
‘What if they told Mark and Helene? They seem crazy enough to wait right at the dock and tell them when they climb up the ramp tonight.’
‘If they climb up the ramp!’
‘What do you mean by that David?’
‘Are you thinking they may not come back tonight?’
‘It was just a thought.’
‘Good heavens, David, of course they’ll come back. They have to!’
‘No, the boat goes back again tomorrow. They can say they were shopping at the hotel store and missed the boat tonight. They’ll have to sleep somewhere, so they’ll spend the night at the hotel.’
Natalie’s heart sank. ‘You think they’d do that?’ She walked back to the railing and stared nervously at the lovely island hotel in the distance.
‘I don’t think they planned ahead. I think it’s just going to happen,’ said David, joining Natalie at the railing. ‘We’re not that far away. If I had binoculars, I could probably spot them on the beach.’
‘They’re visiting the fern grotto by now,’ said Natalie.
David laughed. ‘If they took the tour. Can you see Helene in a grotto?’
Natalie frowned. ‘No, David, I can’t, but I can see her shopping. Those tourist hotels always have a big clothing shop. I can imagine her walking the isles right now.’
‘Or maybe they’re stretched out on towels in that lovely sand after a dip in the ocean.’
‘In a brand new bikini she bought in the shop.’
The two looked at each other.
‘So what are we saying, Natalie?’
Natalie took a deep breath and plunged ahead. ‘You know something, David, over the phone, Helene talked about the great food and the movies on this cruise, and us all having fun in the sun. She never said a word about the ship stopping for two days and the Fern Grotto Tour and the hotel and the shopping and the sandy beach. I guess she saved that as a surprise, but David, it wasn’t a surprise.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘It was all spelled out in the brochure. She just didn’t mention it in the phone call. David, that hotel will be filled with people who want to be right on the sand when they do the fireworks display and then spend a night on a real bed and not a bunk.’
David stared at her. ‘A night on a real bed? Who are you talking about?’
Natalie shrugged. ‘Don’t listen to me. I don’t know what I’m saying. That woman put a nasty thought in my brain that hadn’t been there before. I’m sorry, David.’
David returned to his lounge. ‘We can watch the fireworks from here. The question is where will they be watching it from.’
‘Good question,’ said Natalie. ‘Wish I had the answer.’
‘Those busybodies sure took the shine off the sun today,’ muttered David.
‘Somebody took it off.’
‘What do you mean by that?’
Forget it. Let’s read.’
David looked thoughtful. ‘It’s too late. I can’t stop thinking about …’
‘About what, David?’
David braced himself. ‘About if they don’t come back tonight, we could take the ride to the island tomorrow. Would you like to spend the day at the hotel with me?’
Natalie gaped at him. ‘ What did you just say?’
‘You heard me.’
‘David, I’d love to but I know you’re not serious.’
‘Maybe I am.’
He sighed. ‘I know. It was just a thought.’
‘If those busybodies hadn’t said what they did, we wouldn’t be talking nonsense like this now,’ said Natalie.
David’s voice quivered as he spoke. ‘It’s not nonsense, Natalie. From the time we came on board, I’ve had a knot in my stomach. And it’s been hard for me to relax in the sun when all I could think of was how those two looked this morning when they walked down the plank – each with a packed shoulder bag – so happy, so full of energy, so beautiful together!’
‘I know,’ said Natalie softly. ‘I saw them. I have to say they looked like two supermodels in a magazine ad.
‘Yeah? What would they be selling?’
‘I don’t know. A dating site probably.’ She put her book down and walked to the railing.
David followed her. ‘You know something, Natalie? There were a few times when I wished you and I were married instead of the way it turned out.’
Natalie would have said something similar but Dora and Gracie were coming down the deck.
Suddenly, with one swift movement, David took off his wedding ring and tossed it overboard. Dora and Gracie gasped in shock. Natalie’s jaw dropped, but a moment later, her own wedding ring was overboard as well. ‘Goodbye, Mark,’ she whispered to the waves. Immediately David’s arms were around her, drawing her into a tight embrace.
‘David! What are you doing?’ she whispered.
‘Hush!’ he said, giving her a long kiss right on her mouth that left her breathless. She had felt more passion in that kiss than she had ever felt with Mark.
‘Was that for real?’ she gasped. ‘Because it was for me.’
David smiled. ‘For me too,’ he answered, pointing to the sky. ‘See that?’
Natalie looked up. ‘What?’
‘The sun – it got back its shine.’
Dora and Gracie broke out of their trance. ‘Oh, Gracie, dear,’ said Dora, ‘I think I had the situation a little backwards. Guess which two wanted to be alone for the day?’ She marched down the deck with Gracie rushing after her.
‘I guess we gave them something to think about,’ said David.
Natalie gave a half giggle, half cry. ‘I suppose we did! But they started it. They just put a silly thought in our heads – but it took off! I guess I’m not sorry though. Actually, David, I think we should thank them!’ Her nerves made her laugh but she was shaking.
‘Are you going to be all right?’ David slipped his arm gently around her shoulders.
‘I don’t know. Are you?’
David gave a crooked little smile. ‘I don’t know – but I never felt less like a turnip!’