Between What's Wrong and Rightbydamppanties©
"Ladies and Gentlemen, we're about to begin our final descent to the Norfolk International Airport and will be at the gate in just about 20 minutes. Current weather at Norfolk is sunny at 84 degrees. We have enjoyed having you on board today, thanks again for flying US Airways. Cabin attendants, prepare for arrival please."
Tanya woke up slowly and stretched her stiff neck as the pilot made his announcement over the speaker system. She normally never slept on airplanes; all those slack-jawed people drooling in their sleep were appalling. Speaking of which, she surreptitiously wiped the back of her hand over her mouth, but no, all clear. She tried to shift her tired and cramped body in the small seat. God, she so needed this holiday.
She had purposely booked in one of the most out of the way places and the next few days were going to be nothing but rest and relaxation -- a rejuvenation of her tired body after putting it through the rigorous past few months as she had eased yet another start-up into fledgling growth. It was a job well done and with plenty of satisfaction guaranteed, but maybe she was getting too old for the heavy work and constant late nights, living on caffeine and pre-packaged meals. Maybe she needed to slow down.
The 'slow down' kind of thought had been recurring to her for the past few years, as soon as she started staring forty in the face. Crossing it had depressed her even more. But then, what should she slow down for? Or for whom? There was nothing and no one in her life really, except her job. With all of the pleasure she got out of giving her expertise to smaller businesses and seeing them prosper, it couldn't fill the holes in her life she had worked so hard to forget. The constant working was taking a toll on her body now and she was beginning to feel its effects. Slowly and surely, her body was letting her know it wouldn't take this abuse indefinitely.
So this vacation was her peace offering to her body. Five days of uninterrupted rest and her body would stop its rebellion and she could once again go back to the boardroom, at least until the next few months.
Uninterrupted rest meant completely uninterrupted. No phones, no texts, and no email even, except twice a day in the mornings and evenings, and absolutely no paperwork. She had told her secretary that unless the business consultancy was in immediate danger of going under, she was not to be bothered.
As soon as she got off the plane, she picked up her rental car and set off. Three hours of driving down the scenic east coast to the tip of the Outer Banks, and she felt herself shedding the tightness that seemed to be the core of her role as the CEO of Brant Business Solutions. She felt her joints loosen and her hair fly free in the wind coming in through the open windows. By the time she reached her hotel, she felt like she had shed twenty years.
"Hello, I'm Tanya Brant," she said in greeting to the woman at the front desk as she set down her one bag at her feet. "I have a booking for five days."
"Carly," the woman introduced herself with a smile. "And yes, you do! That's the Captain Oliver Room we have set out for you, Tanya. Let me just print out your receipt then and Brad will take you up there. Brad!" she called out into the room behind her as she finished the formalities of the payment.
A heavy-set man in a beach shirt and shorts emerged from the room behind Carly and extended his hands towards Tanya. "Welcome to Slash Creek Inn!" he boomed.
Tanya took half a step back, half expecting to be enveloped in a hug.
"I might be a bit over-enthusiastic, hmm?" he remarked, laughing, taking her reaction in stride. "I have a really good heart underneath it all, believe me. Don't I, Carly?" He nudged Carly and gave Tanya a wink.
"Yeah, so you keep saying," came the dry rejoinder as the woman worked at printing out Tanya's receipt without even lifting her head in acknowledgement.
Tanya felt her lips twitching into a smile at the byplay as she let her hand be engulfed in a warm handshake.
"Come, woman! Thirty years with me and you should be more than ready to vouch for my sterling character to everyone whenever I ask you to, wouldn't you say, Ms....?"
"Tanya," she supplied.
"Tanya. Wouldn't you agree, Tanya?"
His friendliness was catching and Tanya found herself pulled into its embrace. Her eyes twinkled as she said, "But then, thirty years can make a person immune to good hearts. Too much of a good thing and all...." She trailed off suggestively.
Carly snorted. "Ha! A woman after my own heart. I keep telling him too much excitement is just plain draining but this man could get excited about paint drying."
"Oh, come now, Mrs. You love it," Brad said, giving her a one-armed affectionate hug.
"Yes, yes. Now take this lady's bags upstairs and show her the room, will you? I'll be up in a minute too with fresh towels. That's the Captain Oliver."
"Ah, the Oliver. One of our best!" he said as he picked up her bag. "Looking out towards the ocean. You'll love it!"
Tanya followed his bulk up the staircase, as he rambled on about the place.
"And we have an unspoiled beauty here. When Carly and I bought this place, our decision was motivated by the natural surroundings as much as the whole owning your own business thing. And the ocean is just a five minute walk away!"
Tanya just wanted to steep her tired body in a hot bath and wash away the fatigue of almost a day's travel. Then she would go out to eat, and maybe she would go for an after dinner walk on the beach to round out the first day of her vacation if she felt up to it.
"Where can I go for dinner near here?" she asked, following Brad. "Any recommendations?"
"Ah, there's the Breakwater Restaurant, a really great place. A little bit of a walk though, or you could drive. There's also the Channel Bass, right next door. They're open late and have fresh seafood in their dinner menu. Good food and reasonable prices; I recommend it to our guests all the time."
Blessedly, the night turned out as she had planned it. After a lovely dinner at the Channel Bass Restaurant and a late night walk over the still warm sands on the beach, Tanya called it a day.
The next morning, Tanya woke up early out of habit, even though she had planned to sleep in. She thought she might as well make use of it, if she was up anyhow, and get out on the beach before a lot of people got there. Gathering her stuff, she drove down and set up her paraphernalia. A beach chair, a towel, water, sunscreen, sunglasses, a floppy hat, a bikini and a good book and she was good until hunger forced her off the beach.
People started arriving soon and in an hour or so, a few families had staked out their places and were enjoying the bright sunny day. The excited shouts of small children mixed with the sound of seagulls above the surf, the briny ocean air in her lungs and the sun shining down on her body, warming every part of her, and Tanya relaxed like she had been meaning to. All the tensions of the past few months drained out of her and she lay back, enjoying herself.
Around mid-day, she snagged a mouth-watering fish taco lunch on the way to the lighthouse. The two hundred and forty-eight stairs to the top were accomplished with a small amount of breathlessness but the view from the top made the effort worthwhile. Tanya spent a good half hour on top of the structure, just looking out over the breath-taking view of the Atlantic Ocean and enjoying the breeze on her sun-warmed body. When she had had enough, she drove over to the nature trail she had looked up. She spent the next two hours on a leisurely walk, enjoying the maritime forest that had captured her interest in her brief internet search about the place. By the time she returned to her car, she was tired, sweaty, hungry, and covered by what seemed like hundreds of midge bites.
She drove back to the inn, intending to take a cool shower, go out to dinner and then fall into bed. Her second day of the vacation had completely exhausted her.
As she entered the inn, Brad called out to her and she went over to chat.
"How was the day?" he asked.
"Good, thank you. But, God, I'm tired! I haven't felt this recharged in ages though so I'll take it. This place is really paradise," she replied with a smile. "And I can't wait to take a shower; I'll feel like a whole new person after that. Speaking of, can I get another towel, please?"
"Sure." Brad got up from his chair and came around. "Come on up with me, I'll get you one from the storage closet upstairs."
She followed him up the stairs, making small talk.
"I loved the meal I had yesterday and now I think I need to try that other restaurant you mentioned."
"Yes. How would I get there?"
"Just follow the main road down and you'll see it. Fifteen minutes if you're walking. I recommend their Blackened Scallops and Filet Oscar -- finest seafood on this island. If you don't believe me, ask this young lady here. They were there last night, right Sweetie?"
Tanya looked up to see who he was referring to... and all color drained from her face. She stood still for a moment, swaying, clutching the bannister for support.
"Brad! She...," the girl's eyes darkened with alarm as she came running towards Tanya. "Are you all right?" the vision asked, concern evident in her eyes and in the frown on her face.
That face. Oval, with high cheekbones, haloed by hair the color of dark chocolate, eyes the color of overcast skies and adorned by dusky rose half opened lips.
Those lips were moving, Tanya registered.
The girl helped Tanya to sit down on the stair and took one of her hands in hers. "What is it? Are you okay? Does it hurt somewhere? Maybe we should take her upstairs to a room? Brad? Maybe you should lie down."
Tanya resisted the helpful ministrations of the girl. Her head rose on its slender neck, and she looked into the face that she hadn't seen for twenty-two years. She clutched the girl's hand tightly in her own.
"I don't want to lie down," she said faintly. "Oh, God. I just... Oh, Dear God." Sitting on the soft carpet of the stair, she stretched out one trembling hand to the apparition before her. The face was warm, flesh and blood upon contact.
"Tanya?" Brad rushed to her other side and took up her arm, supporting her with a hand behind her back. He looked truly worried at her appearance.
A fine sweat had broken out on her forehead and she looked like she might collapse at any moment. Her eyes were still on the girl and her hand was cupped lightly over a soft cheek.
"Tanya?" he said again, urgently, trying to snap her out of whatever it was that had made her go into this trance. "What is it?"
Tanya's fingers brushed against the skin under her hand, caressing, her eyes fixed on the face a few inches from hers.
"Maybe we need a doctor?"
The panic in the girl's voice penetrated, and Tanya felt herself slowly floating down into her own body. She took a deep breath, two, and closed her eyes tightly, willing her brain to function normally. "I'm f-fine," she stammered, surprised at the whispery weakness in her voice. "I think it was just a little tiredness catching up to me. I'll be fine."
Her eyes opened and settled back on the face. It was more than twenty years since she had seen that face, but for a few moments there, she had thought she was looking into those same eyes again from all those years ago. Eyes that had the ability to lie and lips that formed words that had the power to cut her heart to shreds, leaving her cold and bereft.
* * *
Twenty-two years ago Spring was just turning into summer when the Tanya's world collapsed, two days before graduation.
Tanya and Christine were packing together, with the uneasy silence of unspoken things between them. Everything they had shared was coming to an end, and Christine was going to go to a place and a life that did not have Tanya in it. Her roommate and best friend for the past four years would no longer be with her.
Or maybe the uneasiness between them was just in Tanya's head. During the past few days, Tanya had thought about how to introduce the subject that was eating her up inside, but nothing had come to mind. In two days, they would be out of college and back to their homes, looking for jobs, for life to go on. Time was running out.
"Tanya, Giles is going to be here for lunch. That's okay?" Christine asked.
What could she say?
"Of course," Tanya managed. "Actually, Christine, I've been meaning to speak to you. About Giles. I mean, about us."
Christine let out a forced laugh. "Oh Tanya, you don't have to worry about that. I'm not one of those people who would change so much in a relationship that I'd go away from you. We're still the best of friends, aren't we?"
"Are we? Is that what we are?"
"Of course," Christine replied, overly cheerful. "Best friends forever."
"And anyway, Giles likes you too. He would never have a problem with us keeping in touch."
"Problem? With keeping in touch? Christine, is that all? I thought that we could, I mean, maybe...." Tanya stopped. She didn't know how she could put it into words. She had thought that they could have a future together that would be much more than just keeping in touch.
Christine stopped working on her packing and came to face her friend. "No, I didn't mean it that way, Tanya. You know I didn't. It's just that now we're going out into the world and we are going to have different lives, not together like roommates here, so we will need to keep in touch, won't we? I mean, we won't be living practically two feet from each other anymore."
"Yes, I know that. But we could still visit each other and maybe get a job somewhere together and room again? Maybe..."
"Tanya, I don't think I'll be getting a job," Christine interrupted.
That stopped Tanya short. "What do you mean you won't be getting a job? What else will you do?"
In the silence that stretched out, Tanya realized painfully, exactly what Christine hoped to do.
"Giles asked me to marry him."
The words exploded in Tanya's brain even though she was expecting something like that.
"And...?" she gasped.
"I said yes."
Tanya's brain stopped functioning. She didn't know what to think. Her mind ran over everything the two had shared. The laughter, the closeness, the love, the days, the nights... especially the nights. Could she have been so wrong about what she thought was love? How could she have been so wrong?
She stood there, hurting more than she ever thought something could hurt. One part of her was immensely sad, and the other angry that Christine could so calmly stand there before her and tell her she was marrying someone else. Just like that.
"You what?" Tanya managed to whisper out of lips gone numb.
"Tanya, you have to understand..."
"Understand? You don't know him enough, Christine!"
"I know him enough."
"Really? You've known him for just a few months! And you're marrying him? Just like that?"
"We've been going out for a while now. You know that. And there's nothing wrong with him."
"So you're marrying him? I can't believe this."
"Tanya, please don't be like this."
"Like what? Am I supposed to be happy for you? I'm confused Christine. I thought... I mean...," she took a deep breath and started over. "What was it when you were with me, Christine? Was it just... nothing? You know what I'm talking about, don't you? All those nights..."
"Tanya, please. I don't think we should discuss this."
"No? Why not? We have never talked about what happened between us. Maybe it's time."
"No. I will not talk about it. I will not," Christine said fiercely.
Tanya stared at her friend. The girl she loved, standing before her and telling her everything between them was something that could not be talked about.
"I love you," Tanya said. "You know that, don't you?"
There was no answer.
"Why would you want to be with Giles, Christine? Do you love him?" Tanya asked softly.
"That's a strange question."
"No, it's not. Please answer me."
"Stop this. I'm marrying him, for God's sake!"
"You said so, but do you love him, Christine? Does he make you feel like I do? Will he love you like I do?"
"Tanya, stop it. Stop trying to make this what it's not. I've been going out with him for a while now and I know what I'm doing, all right? What you're saying is... it's just ludicrous. I can't even think what gave you the idea that I..."
"You don't know what gave me the idea? Why are you lying to yourself?"
"Look, I've said yes to Giles and that's all there is to it."
Tanya placed a hand on either side of the face that she had fallen in love with, cupped it in her hands, and looked into grey eyes carefully blanked of any feeling. A damp sheen glittered on the surface though. The body had its own way of communicating.
"Giles Fortier can go to hell, Christine. You and I have something special here. You and I... we love each other."
"Tanya, no," Christine said calmly. "We don't. This," she waved a hand between them, "all this was just... it was not serious." Her eyes shifted away. "It was just a... a college fling."
Tanya's felt like she had taken a blow that left her breathless. "A fling?"
"Tanya, please, don't make a big issue out of it. Don't you see what you're talking about is impossible? I'm from... my family... my mother would die. And I'm not... I am... look, I like Giles. I want a marriage and kids and everything a girl ever dreams of. Tanya, please understand, this is... you and I... we're friends. Just friends. Anything more between us was just... it's not something I can do."
Everything that Tanya had dreamed of shattered and fell like so many broken dreams around her feet. Her breath caught in her throat and she felt like she would suffocate if she couldn't breathe through the sorrow that was clogging her chest.
"If you don't want to be with me, that's different, but don't get into something that doesn't have love in it, Christine," Tanya said, tears blurring her vision.
"How do you know there isn't? I love Giles and he loves me," Christine said, turning away.
"He does? Does he make you feel like I do? Tell me, Christine. Has he loved you like I do?" Tanya lost all sense of gentleness as she continued, "Has he made love to you like I did?"
"Yes, yes, he has!" Christine almost shouted. "Is that what you wanted to hear? Yes, he has made love to me and yes, he loves me. He asked me to marry him and I am going to marry him, Tanya. I'm sorry you feel the way you do about it but don't make this about yourself. It's not. Giles and I love each other."
She stood there, her chest heaving, magnificent even in her anger.
"Christine, please listen to me. You and I... I love you. It's not too late. We can still..."
"Tanya... no. Please, no. Don't."
Grey eyes met blue ones in a gaze that was painfully honest.
The world as Tanya had known it collapsed.
"My mind is made up and nothing you can say will change it, Tanya. Please don't make it hard for me or for you. I'm marrying Giles this summer."
Tanya realized then that in her effort to secure happiness for them, she would end up hurting Christine. Her mind was made up and changing it would change her to such an extent that perhaps she would not be the girl Tanya loved anymore. Perhaps she had already moved irreversibly away from the girl that Tanya had loved. It was too late. To go back would require courage to be what Tanya was asking of her. And sacrifice too -- of family, friends, society -- all of the people who would not accept what Tanya was proposing. Sacrifice of a child and a family Tanya had set her mind on. And maybe a relationship based on the ashes of something else never could flourish. So Tanya did the only thing she could.