tagRomanceA Day in the Cove

A Day in the Cove

byMSTarot©

It had seemed like a good idea.

Sail out to an island I know of, spend the day snorkeling on the reef that surrounds one side of it. A fun day doing something simple. A way of maybe helping my friend Peggy forget some of the pain, the bitter loss, that was making her so depressed that even I noticed it. Not that I'm unobservant.

Take just then for instance. I was blissfully enjoying observing that an older woman's body and a young woman's body were not all that different.

"You coming in?" Peggy asked me. She smeared the inside of her mask to keep it from fogging.

Nodding, I slipped my feet into the fins and grabbed up my snorkel and mask.

"Just let me set the other anchor," I said, reaching for the bail to let it drop.

"You don't need to. She'll ride fine on just the one," she told me. Looking back over at her, I had to resist the urge to ask her if she was sure. But of course, she was. Her husband is a World Cup racer. Sorry...was.

Months had passed since Jason's funeral, yet I still found myself wanting to look around to see if he was watching me. He joked with me that he knew I had a crush on Peggy. He said he didn't mind, after all, he had been a young man once himself and had fallen for her as well. He said I could look to my heart's content ... well, until she caught me anyway.

She never had though and I don't think he ever told her.

As I watched her lean back and slip into the clear water, I sighed. It had seemed like a good idea, this day. My sailboat was finally refurbished after two years of slow, patient work. Work that Jason had more or less supervised step by step. I had planned that he and I would be the first to take it back out onto the salt. Wish someone had told me, life doesn't care about your plans.

Fitting the scuba mask snug to my cheeks, I mouthed the snorkel and dropped over the sides. The rush of bubbles was wonderful; the Caribbean water was warm as a bathtub. No ... more like a hot tub. I surfaced and blew the snorkel out then let my legs rise behind me till I was just surface swimming. I moved over towards Peggy. Together we started to slowly swim the cove. Under us, the water was so crystal clear it felt more as if we were great seabirds skimming above some strange land, than swimming in water.

The little reef below was teeming with life. All shapes and sizes of every type of sea life. Huge fans of living coral drifted to brush the sides of passing fish, lazy with the heat of the day. Colors in every hue lit the seafloor, brilliant reds, and dazzling yellows. Darting flashes of silver, and blue. Then I saw a great shadow cross the bottom as a ray flew past below us.

Peggy dived.

Sucking in a heavy lungful of air, I followed her down. My ears popped, then moments later I felt the pressure pushing my mask to my face double. I was very quickly deeper than I had ever free-dived and still she was going down. Swimming more to the side of the reef than for the top.

Thoughts of how badly her depression had grown lately surfaced then to scare me something terrible.

She turned and pulled at a large shell that was sitting on the bottom edge of the reef. Looking up at me she gestured.

My lungs screaming, I swam down next to her. She handed me the shell then swam further down to fetch a second.

I had to head for the surface or drown! The long fins made my legs burn as I strained for the surface, every second feeling like it would be the one when I would open my mouth and try to suck in air that was not there. I breached into the air like a missile. The water was so clear I misjudged the surface.

What felt like an eternity later, she came up right next to me.

"Put these on the boat. I'll make us a chowder for dinner," she said handing me the other shell she had gone for.

I looked at the shells. "Conch...chowder?"

She smiled. It was the first I had seen on her face in half a year. "Be adventurous, Mark. What's the worst that could happen? I poison you?" She shrugged. I heard the soft mutter under her breath. "You won't be the first man to die because of me."

As I tread water she dived back down into the clear depths.

Knowledge of just how much she blamed herself came at me in a rush. How she could see her husband's death by cancer being her fault, I could not fathom. I drifted over to the boat, and pulled myself up, opened the cooler on the back and dropped the shellfish into the water.

Grabbing several deep breaths, I held the last and dived. I saw her, after a moment of searching; she was all but standing on the bottom. Several small fish were nibbling at her fingertips. She was letting them do it like she had all the time in the world to just stand there. By the time I got down to her, I was well past half my air. I caught her hand, sending the fish to scattering, and pointed towards the surface.

She gave a shrug like she couldn't care less about the surface.

Moving behind her, I caught her under her arms and kicked off the bottom with all I had. My lungs were screaming for air. I started to slow about halfway there. The fire in my chest had become a cold burn. I felt like my legs were being held by hands. Legends of mermaids came drifting through then as I felt myself simply giving up.

She turned in my arms as we stopped. I saw her eyes go suddenly big then her hand was at my snorkel pulling it from my mouth. Her lips hit mine in a rush. I felt her mouth seal off mine, then air was driven into my lungs. They pulled it in and tried to breathe it back out sending a string of bubbles out between our lips.

Her hands on my sides, she headed for the surface with powerful strokes of her legs. When we broke the surface, I coughed and sputtered as I dragged my mask off my face out the way.

"Mark, for heaven's sake you nearly drowned!" she said, clearly furious at me. She lifted her mask to the top of her head.

I looked at her, blinking water off my eyelashes. "Peggy, you were standing down there trying to kill yourself!"

She gave a half shake of her head in denial then looked away. "Mark, it doesn't matter ... I wouldn't be missed."

I moved the few feet to her and turned her in the water to face me. Her eyes went wide at how close to my face she suddenly was. "You would be! I promise you that! Cause I would ... miss you something terrible."

She looked down at the clear water. "That's sweet of you to say but ... you ... you're young. In time, you would forget about me."

"What the fuck makes you say that?" I was suddenly angry with Peggy. "Do you think I will forget about Jason? He was like an older brother to me. He was there for me when no one else was. Do you think I will ever forget him?"

"No ... but then Jason was special," she said, tears leaking out her eyes to join the rest of the salt water.

"And so are you," I insisted.

Peggy shook her head. "The only thing special about me was him." She looked back to the boat. "I was special because he was special. Now he's gone ... and so is whatever part of him made me special."

I was shaking my head. "No, Peggy. No." I caught her chin and made her look back at me. "Jason would be telling you 'Bullshit' right now and I'll tell you the same."

She pulled her chin from my fingers and swam away. It took a second to realize she was swimming for the beach. I followed. When we got to the shallows, she slipped off her fins and walked a bit shaky legged up onto the black sand. By the time I got there, a line of footprints up the beach and behind some rocks was all there was to see of her. Tossing my fins on top of hers I followed after her tracks.

"Peggy!"

"Go away." I heard her voice drift back to me from up ahead. "Just go away on your beautiful boat and leave me here. I'll be fine."

Walking around the side of a large boulder, I saw her sitting by a clump of tall grass.

"Peggy ... I won't leave you here," I scoffed. "That has to be the most stupid thing you have ever said. This island has no fresh water and nothing for food that you don't have to catch out the sea. Both of which are beside the point. There is no way I would leave you here."

She sighed. "Mark ... I don't want to go back. There is nothing for me back there. An empty house. An empty life. The life I had is gone. Jason was my life, and he's gone"

I knelt down in the sand in front of her. "I know that, Peggy. I know it all too well. But just because that part of your life has ended doesn't mean you can't have a new life. Jason wouldn't want you to spend your years like this. He would want you to move on, to find something new." I took her hand in mine.

Her eyes never looked up from my fingers.

"I wouldn't know where to start. There are too many pieces to pick up. Too much was shattered to even make a start at it." She gave my hand a squeeze then tried to turn them loose. I caught hers back.

"Then let me help. I'm good at picking up pieces of shattered lives. I had to do it with mine twice already. Please, Peggy ... let me help."

"Mark ...." She shook her head. "I don't even know if I want to bother. What would be the point? I'm passed the middle of my life. All that effort for a few more years, then what? To watch another man grow old? Get sick before my eyes? To see it all happen again?"

Reaching up, I brushed a tear from her eye. "Peggy ... that is only one possible future. How about one where you live happily for years and years together. Where you see the world together." She looked up at me sadly. I couldn't tell if I was getting through or not. "Imagine all that you might never see."

"Like what? Huh? Like what? Some building in some strange land where no one understands a word I say. Some bit of nature that man might not have spoiled yet." She waved her hand to the untouched cove surrounding us. "None of it is worth the pain of remembering."

"Love." I leaned down a bit till our eyes met "You could very well fall in love again. True love, heart soaring love. Passion to make you ... well, not forget Jason, but let him rest knowing that you're looked after ... maybe even a bit happy."

She chuckled and shook her head. "Love is for poets."

"Love is for lovers," I countered. "Words of love are for poets. Please, Peggy--" I fell silent.

"Please what?" she asked, after a moment.

I swallowed. "Please, realize that someone can love you as much as you loved Jason." I looked at the black sand under my knees, the little shells I felt pressing into my knee cap. "That seeing you like this is an agony."

She looked up at my face, suddenly, hearing the tone in my voice. I saw a surprise in her eyes, then a soft smile. A hint of a blush, and then a sad smile followed.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I hadn't realized that you felt anything for me." Her hand came around to my hair, brushing it back from my face. "It's flattering to know that a man as young as you can look at an old woman like me and think he's in love." She sniffled. "Thank you."

"I don't think I'm in love with you Peggy I kn--"

"No." she placed her fingers over my mouth. "That's all it is, or could be, just a thought. A fantasy of an idea given to a dream." Peggy smiled then, truly smiled. "A very flattering one for me ... but nothing more than that."

"You are beautiful when you're wrong." I said, and then I laughed. "You even more beautiful when you're not wrong. I guess that means you're always beautiful. I've always thought so. Jason knew ... how I felt. How I feel."

She smiled after a moment of surprise. "Did he?" She chuckled. "He was always one for a laugh at my expense. He must have been chuckling in his sleeve the whole time knowing that I had a young admirer."

"I love you, Peggy," I said, softly. I started to say more but her fingers were on my lips again.

"No, Mark! No. I can't hear words of love from another man. Not right now ... if ... ever. I gave my heart to one man. Jason. And even though he's gone he still has it." Her hand tightened in the back of my hair. She gave my head a bit of a shake. "Now listen to me ... my beautiful young man. I want you to put this all away. Just lock it away and let it vanish with time. You need to find you someone your own age. Fall in love with her and live every moment with her like it's your last."

I caught her hand as she moved it away from my mouth. I brought the fingers back to my lips and kissed the tips.

She blinked away her tears. "Because you never know when it may very well be your last," she said, sadly as she watched me kissing her fingers for a moment, and then sighed. She slipped her fingers from my hand. "I'm sorry, Mark. Sorry that you fell in love with someone not worth loving."

Stunned, I felt her leg brush my shoulder as she got up and walked past me. Turning on my knees, I winced as I felt the small shells dig even deeper into my knee cap. I jumped to my feet and went after her. When I caught up to Peggy she was wading out into the water about to put her fins back on. I plunged into the surf next to her and grabbed her by the elbow, turning her to me.

"Mark!"

I pulled her to me. My lips slammed into hers. Feeling her struggling in my arms, I held her tighter to me. My hands caressed her back as I kissed her. The next wave came in and rocked us enough to move my lips from hers.

"Mark, no ... No! I can't do this." Then she was suddenly pulling away from me and swimming into the sea. I tried to follow. After a few feet, she dived under the surf, and I couldn't see her. The next wave slapped me in the chest. I ducked under.

Looking in the clear water, eyes stinging, with the sound of stirred sand a hissing in my ears, I saw her swimming deep. Her powerful legs kicking her down towards the reef. Lifting myself, I body surfed the next wave back to the beach. I grabbed up my fins and mask and stumbling I more or less fell back into the water. With everything my legs could give, I swam out above the reef, till I was over her. Then, turning down, I kicked with all my strength towards the bottom.

As I got closer to her I saw a thin trail of bubbles leaking from the side of her mouth. She was wrapped around the bottom of the anchor chain, holding herself to it as hard as she could.

Her eyes were closed.

When I settled in next to her, her eyes popped open, and she clutched tightly to the chain. I saw her mouth start to open; I pressed mine to hers and kissed my last breath into her lungs. Her eyes wide, they stared into mine as I took hold of the chain and just floated next to her, waiting to drown.

She started to frantically shake her head at me. I softly smiled. As I felt the burning getting harder to take, I looked into her eyes. My lips mouthed the words.

"I love you."

I felt her hands leave the chain and grab onto me even as my mouth opened and water rushed in. I felt terrible panic as my throat closed to keep it out. The world started to drift in waves of panic and chest pain. I felt myself falling into blackness. I tried to claw my way out of it, even as I felt myself being lifted. Then darkness covered my sight.

"Mark! Mark!"

Coughing out water, I tried to turn and get the salty slime from my mouth. Hacking it out, I heard crying. Then I was being hit all around my shoulders and back.

"God damn you, Mark! Damn You!" Then I was being held to her as she cried. I slowly managed to turn into her and hold her. Minutes passed, and then the incoming tide surged around my feet. Resting my head on the top of her wet hair I took a deep breath that rattled in my chest.

"Peggy ... please make up your mind. Are we living or dying? I'm willing to do either one with you today but this back and forth has got to stop."

"Damn you. Why won't you listen?" She gave my chest a little pop, but there was nothing behind it. "I told you. I gave my heart to one man. Jason! I can't give it to you."

"I understand that," I said softly. It hurt to draw the breath to speak. "I do. I understand that because I've given mine to you."

She loosened her grip then sat back looking at me.

"You don't have to love me," I told her. "I can live with that. But, what I can't live without is you." I tried to not flinch as water brushed almost to my knees. I was freezing suddenly. "And I don't intend to. I love you Peggy ... even if you can't love me."

She sat looking down into my face, her expression going through dozens of emotions every second. The next wave came in all the way to our waist. I shivered.

"Come on. Let's go up the breach," she said, getting to her knees. Her hand took mine, and she started to pull me up. When I got to my knees, I was all but in her face. She smiled at me then brushed her face, clearing away the tears. "I guess we're living. For today at least."

I nodded, accepting that.

"Good enough," I said. Getting the rest of the way to my feet, I had to lean on her a bit as we walked up the shore. Settling myself next to a random clump of grass, I watched her as she sat down next to me. I wrapped my arm around her for the warmth, and she leaned into me after a moment.

With my boat silhouetted in front of it, we watched the sun starting to sink towards the sea.

"Mark?"

"Yes, Peggy?"

"What do you want from me?" she asked.

When I looked down at her face I saw it was lit red from the light of the setting sun.

"How do you mean?" I asked reaching up to brush dried sand from her cheek. It was clinging to tear tracks across her face.

"What do you want? A lover? A wife? I'm too old to be a mother to any children you might want. I'm twenty-five years older than you, Mark. When you're my age, I'll be well into my seventies. But, I'll be a wrinkled up prune of a woman long before then, though. With Jason ... with Jason, being only five years older than me, the idea of growing old with him seemed pleasant. But for you? You'll still be young, and I'll be ...."

"Still beautiful. Of that, I have no doubts."

She smiled and then shook her head. "A lover?" Peggy shrugged. "I could be that for you. Till you get this out of your system. It's been a long time since I had a man as young as you in my life."

"Why not a wife?" I asked, looking into her eyes as the light faded.

"I told you why. We can't grow old together."

"Peggy, I'm just hoping to get us through this night without you trying to go drown yourself, with me having to come die at your side ... again."

"Why did you do that?" she asked.

"Because I love you Peggy! I ... love ... you."

"I'm not worthy of that," she said.

"Why the hell not?" I asked with some sudden heat. "Because Jason died?"

"Because I couldn't save the man I loved." She sniffled in the dark. I couldn't make out her face now, just a dark shape. "Because no matter how much I loved him, no matter how much I begged and prayed! No matter how hard I screamed that it can't be happening, he died. Can't you understand that?"

"Yes, Peggy I can. All you wanted was either for him to live or for you to die at his side."

"Yes!" she said, her voice filled with tears. "Exactly that."

"And that's all I want from you."

Except for the pounding of the waves, the cove was suddenly silent.

Then she was in my arms. I held her to me as I felt tears racking her body. Shudders of pain and loss tore through her. Soon screams, denials, and curses come up from her heart to give the night sounds that were different than the crashing of waves. I just held her as she finally gave into her loss. I held her through it all, and my face was not dry for a moment of it. That she had loved someone this strongly gave me hope that, in time, she might return the feeling for me. For I loved her every bit as much as this.

As her pain subsided, I watched the moon slowly start to rise. Still I held her to me.

"Mark?"

"Yes?" I asked, softly.

"Why do you love me?" The question came out the dark.

As I pondered the answer, I saw the moonlight start to give shape back to her beautiful face. "I don't know. Because I do sounds childish, but it's the only answer that I can give. Why did you love Jason?" I asked, still trying to find a better answer.

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