The End... or the Beginning?
Copyright© 2010 by Tedbiker
Romantic Sex Story: Chapter 1 - A journey from grief to joy, with some sailing and some low-key D & S. We meet some new characters, and encounter some old friends. This story stands alone, but does fit in with the other Jenni stories.
He launched the little dinghy at Waldringfield a little before dusk; he had his reasons. The weather forecast was perfect for his purposes, though perhaps not for a sensible sailor. Dressed correctly, he began to don a buoyancy aid before smiling a little and tossing it under the foredeck. He neither needed nor wanted it today.
As he approached 'The Rocks' he let the sails flap in the light breeze, and the current carried the boat slowly down river; James Robinson opened the plastic jar containing his wife's ashes, and began to systematically empty them into the river. He was passing the little, coarse-sand beach as he finished; he'd judged it perfectly, and for several minutes he looked at the beach with its low sandy cliff behind and the fir trees above. His vision blurred as he remembered another dinghy pulled up on the beach there and a picnic one summer's evening ... making love as dusk fell, making love with Esther for the first time. For a while, he was back there and her body was warm and alive, vibrant in his arms.
Reality forced itself in on him as the sails flapped – the wind was picking up. He shook himself, scraped the back of his hand across his eyes to clear his vision and began to sail again, around Pretyman's Point, through the moorings at Ramsholt; rounding Green Point, down to Bawdsey and Felixstowe Ferry – through the moorings – remembering launching at the Ferry, returning long after dark, their picnic over, to recover the boat and go home, deeply, irrevocably in love. Irritably, he brushed tears away again, and continued through the narrows and down Sea Reach, past the Martello Tower.
The wind was veering slightly and increasing as he began to cross the bar; the water was broken and choppy, the boat making slow progress and tossing about but he was too preoccupied to be nauseous. Once clear of the bar, things steadied down, and he headed out to sea in the steadily increasing wind. She was there with him in the boat, a real, solid presence, and she was yelling at him.
"What are you doing, you fool?"
"I'm ... following you!"
"No, you are not! What you are doing is suicide. If you carry on, you'll never see me again!"
Then she was gone, and he began to think as a sailor again.
He furled the foresail and pulled down a reef with the rapid reefing system, then delved under the foredeck for his buoyancy aid and shrugged into it, the dinghy tossing in the rising wind. Taking control once more, he executed a wheelbarrow tack and headed for the entrance to Harwich Haven ... wondering if he'd left things too late.
She was there again. "Don't give up! Don't let go! You've got a lot of living to do yet! James ... I love you!"
"Esther..." but she was gone.
He didn't see the old Thames Barge, sailing towards Harwich Haven, and it wouldn't have made any difference if he had. Her skipper called to her Mate...
"Marty! There's some idiot out in a little Wanderer in this!"
The young man, Martin Peters, looked where his skipper was pointing.
"I see it, Jenni!" He went to the hatch, and bellowed down it. "Beth! We may be needing you on deck!"
Not long later, another, older woman emerged onto the deck, shrugging into a bright yellow jacket over similar overtrousers, buckling on a self-inflating life-jacket.
He might have made it into the shelter of Harwich Haven without help, but man proposes, God disposes ... or perhaps it was just Murphy at work. He was about to perform another wheelbarrow tack to get the mainsail across when a gust hit. You don't need to know why, but a gust is always associated with a sudden veer – change clockwise – in the wind direction. The wind got behind the leach of the sail, the boom slammed across uncontrolled ... the change in the forces, previously carefully balanced, capsized him and he was in the water. Without the buoyancy aid, he'd have been dead for sure, dragged down by waterlogged clothing. Even with it, he went under and was chilled by the water, his body heat leached away immediately.
Jenni Peters, Master under God and Skipper of Sailing Barge Reminder, snapped orders to her Mate, and laid the barge across the wind to give a lee to the little dinghy, but didn't expect her Third Hand to take a flying leap over the side. She watched long enough to make sure Beth was, for the moment, okay, then she and her Mate were reducing sail.
Beth Hanson hadn't expected the shock she received when she hit the water. The North Sea is rarely anything but very cold and this was not one of the rare occasions, but she struck out to swim the few yards to the dinghy, on its side.
James' arm was hooked over the toe-strap webbing, but appeared to be unconscious. At least his head was out of the water. Beth swam round, dragged herself up onto the centre-board, impeded by her waterlogged clothing and inflated life-jacket, but heaved the dinghy upright just as Reminder began to pass them. She used what felt like the last of her strength to get James fully into the boat then sailed her up behind Reminder.
James had coiled the painter neatly ... old habits die hard, even when you're contemplating suicide ... she was able to toss it to Marty at the stern of the old barge. It fell short and she quailed at the thought of trying again, but steeled herself. This time, she unfurled some of the foresail and gained a little speed. Closer, in fact only feet from the barge's quarter she tossed again and this time Marty caught the line and made fast. She furled the jib again, lowered the mainsail and bundled as much of it and the boom as she could under the fore-deck. She raised the centre-board, then turned her attention to the man she'd pulled out of the sea. He was breathing, at least. She found his pulse ... rapid, but reasonably strong. The barge was gathering way again, and she opened the self-bailers ... the water-level dropped rapidly.
Marty hailed her. "How're you doing?"
"Cold. Tired. I'll live. He's breathing, good pulse. What does Jenni think?"
"Easiest to leave you both in the boat until we're anchored off Shotley. You okay that long? Half an hour?"
"Not sure, but probably! We'll need warming up when we get aboard!"
Jenni reduced the delay considerably by rounding-to to anchor on the 'Shelf' off Harwich; a little exposed in the easterly winds that were coming, but nothing the barge couldn't cope with. She and Marty hoisted the man they'd rescued on board using the davit, which meant launching their tender, but made getting his 'dead' weight on board much easier. Beth was hardly a dead weight, but chilled and exhausted as she was, she needed help too.
Marty had the stove going in the saloon, and a mattress next to it with several duvets. Beth was dismissed to a cabin to strip, dry herself and put on dry clothes, while Jenni and Marty stripped, towelled dry and wrapped their patient in duvets. They were a little surprised when Beth emerged in pyjamas rather than day clothes.
"He needs warming up, too," she pointed out. "Wrap me up with him and I think we'll warm each other ... especially if you feed me cocoa or soup or something hot like that."
It was no sooner said than done.
When the gust hit, James had time for a moment's realisation that he was in trouble ... at least at that point he hadn't consciously been seeking death. The dinghy tipped, he was in the water, which closed over his head until the buoyancy aid brought him back to the surface. He began to swim around the boat to start the capsize procedure, but realised if he did he was in danger of losing consciousness and drifting away. He could feel his body losing heat, weakness spreading through his body, his mind drifting into sleep. He hooked his arm over the toe-straps as he lost consciousness.
He didn't know what was real. Esther was holding him, murmuring to him; he felt warm and happy, until the pain began. He couldn't move, his arms and legs restricted by cloth and by someone next to him, holding him close...
"Hush..." It was a woman's voice, but it wasn't Esther's soprano.
His feet and hands hurt, and he was shivering violently, but the body next to him was like a furnace.
After an eternity, he opened his eyes and looked into a pair of startling green eyes, which had the sort of wrinkles at the corners that suggested laughter; at that moment, though, holding concern, not humour.
He jerked round, and saw a young couple looking down at him. He didn't recognise where he was. And he was laying in the arms of a redheaded woman with green eyes; Esther had dark hair and brown eyes.
The redhead spoke, her voice a soft, warm contralto. "Who is Esther?"
He looked at her, memory returning. "She's dead ... my wife is dead, and I wanted to die, too, but she wouldn't let me..."
Beth looked up at Jenni and Marty. Jenni shook her head slightly.
"What's your name?" She asked, quietly.
"My name?" He paused, as if searching his memory for the answer. "I'm ... James. James Robinson."
"Well, James, I'm Jenni, skipper of SB Reminder, and this," indicating the young man next to her, "is Marty who is both my Mate and my husband. You are lying in the arms of Beth, who is our Third Hand, and who went for a swim to pull you out of the drink. Right now, we need to get something hot into you; we've got some soup that's both warm enough to be helpful and cool enough for you and Beth to drink without burning your mouths. Marty, I think we're going to need some clothes for our guest."
Her companion nodded and left the room, returning shortly after with an armload of clothes. James was somewhat embarrassed by his nakedness, but pulled on the layers of soft, dry, warm clothing provided as Beth added a couple of layers to her pyjamas. Once dressed, Marty insisted he wrap himself in a duvet again and sit on an old sofa at the side of the saloon, not far from the stove. Beth did the same, wrapping herself in a duvet and flopping next to him on the sofa.
Looking at Beth, James said, "I ... owe you my life, I think; thank you. Thank you very much."
Jenni handed them both mugs of soup.
"I won't say 'it was a pleasure'," Beth smiled, "but I'm glad I did it". And sipped her soup.
They emptied the mugs quite quickly, and Marty replenished them with some soup that was hot enough to slow them down. By the time they'd finished that, they felt as though they were glowing.
"Do you want to talk about it?" Beth looked at him, radiating sympathy.
"I certainly owe you that much..." he sighed and, looking into infinity, he began.
"We met at school. Hit it off right away. Her parents didn't approve ... But we managed to stay friends and do things together. We had to be devious, though. I left school at sixteen, trained as a plumber. It meant I had a little money, and when I turned eighteen I bought an old sailing dinghy; I learned to sail in the Sea Scouts, you see. She wasn't sure, but ... well ... we were friends, so she gave it a try, and she loved it." He stopped and swallowed hard. "Do you know, we hardly thought about sex? Quite enjoyed kissing, though. One day, we arranged to sail up the Deben for a picnic. It was late in the day. There we were, on the little beach at 'The Rocks', no-one around, it was gathering dark. We kissed, one thing led to another ... we were pretty clumsy. We made love there ... didn't think about the consequences." He was silent for ages, but the three listening left him to his thoughts.
"She got pregnant, of course. Her parents ... went ... I think the current term is 'apeshit'. Forbade her to have anything to do with me. So she walked out on them. My family took her in and we were married shortly after. She miscarried ... it's just unreal to me, the first time we made love, she got pregnant, but you know, when we were married, she never got pregnant again? But her parents never spoke to her again. What does that say about them?" He paused again.
"We carried on sailing, weekends, holidays. We were married for just shy of twenty years. Today would have been our twentieth anniversary. You see, she was killed by a drunk driver. Would you believe, her parents wouldn't come to the funeral. They responded through a lawyer. 'We have no daughter.'"
He buried his head in his hands and his shoulders shook. Beth slipped her arm round his shoulders and pulled him against her; it seemed to breach a barrier, because he began to weep then in full earnest. She just held him and eventually his tears stopped.
"I planned it, you see; everything came together, even the weather. I scattered the ashes, you see, right by 'The Rocks', then I headed out. I was going to let the weather and the sea kill me and I'd be with Esther again." He looked round at them. "I didn't put a BA on, didn't take down a reef. There I was, clear of the bar and heading out into the weather ... You're not going to believe this ... Esther was there in the boat with me. She yelled at me that I was a fool, that I was committing suicide, that if I carried on, we'd never be together again. She disappeared, and I took down a reef, and put on the BA, and headed for shelter. Nearly made it, too."
Beth asked gently, "are you sorry we pulled you out?"
He thought about that. "No, I'm not sorry. I'd have been sorry if you'd been hurt because of me. If I'd drowned, some poor character would maybe find my body, it'd have been rotten for them. Not to mention my parents. I ... didn't ... give ... them ... a ... thought. No, I've got to try to find my life again."
The rest of the evening was much lower key, talking about ordinary things. He learned that Beth wasn't married; she just said she'd had a long-term relationship but they'd split by mutual agreement. From what she said he worked out she was within a few years of his own age. Jenni and Marty ... he only learned they'd been married a few years, that he was a teacher, and she was working on a Doctorate ... in mathematics. He told them he was a plumber and worked for himself and they insisted on taking his phone numbers and address.
They pointed out that he had to make a decision about his dinghy.
"If the weather is fit," he said, "I think I'd like to leave at low water and sail back round and up to Waldringfield. That's where my car and trailer are"
"An alternative," pointed out Jenni, "would be if we gave you a tow up to Levington; we're on our way up to Ipswich anyway."
"That's a possibility, thank you, if the weather doesn't improve, but I'd rather get back to the car if I can."
"Um..." Beth interjected; he looked at her. "Perhaps you'd like a crew for the run round? I'm a spare part here. I don't mind being a spare part, but maybe I'd be more useful sailing with you."
"Do you have any experience?" James asked; it was not a challenge, he said it in a tone of genuine inquiry.
Marty snorted loudly, then laughed. "Does Beth have any dinghy experience!"
Jenni poked him hard, which just made him laugh more, but she was smiling too.
"Beth placed several years in a row in the Wayfarer class Nationals ... when was it, Beth?"
"Longer ago than I care to think about, anyway. Yes, James, I do have some experience, though not in Wanderers. Lasers, Wayfarers, Enterprises, GP14s ... but not Wanderers."
"Good enough. A Wanderer is a lot easier to sail than a Laser; for that matter, I never did any racing. Yes, please, if you'd like to, I'd appreciate it."
"Very good, then," Jenni said, "Beth, if you'll give me a hand, let's have something to eat, and ... Marty, I think we've earned a glass of wine apiece."
A supper of grilled sausages, mashed potatoes and baked beans may not be exactly gourmet, but it was satisfying and when James lay down in one of the cabins, wrapped in a duvet, he wondered, only for a few moments, about the way things had changed for him in just one day ... then he was asleep.
"East-north-east, three or four," Jenni announced over breakfast.
"It's not going to get much better than that," declared James. "Beth? Are you still up for around four hours in a fourteen-foot dinghy?"
"Absolutely! I don't suppose you've got a spinnaker with you, have you?"
"I don't have one at all, let alone with me!"
"Pity ... I thought we might reduce the time a little. Never mind ... I'll make some sandwiches and put up a flask. Got any water in the boat?"
"I always carry a four-pint bottle, but it probably needs fresh water in."
They set off with the last of the ebb, taking just under an hour to cover the two and a half miles to the Outer Ridge buoy, then tacking and crossing the deep-water channel at right-angles. In a small boat, making maybe three or four knots, five at the most, it is nerve-racking crossing an expanse of water with some of the biggest ships in the world driving through. All you can do is listen to the VHF (if you've got one) and look out very carefully. They travel a great deal faster than a small sailing boat; unlike crossing the road, you can't break into a run. So, you minimise the exposure.
That went without incident and they were well clear of the fairway when the 'Cat' – the high-speed ferry – passed the spot on its way into Harwich. They changed places and James surreptitiously watched Beth at the helm. It was clear to him that, experienced as he was, she was in another league entirely. They couldn't lay a course directly for the Woodbridge Haven buoy ... he recognised the expertise of an experienced racer as Beth chose the perfect compromise between making the most of each tack while keeping the boat moving well, and the smoothness of her hand on the helm at each tack ensuring the minimum loss of speed as they went about. It still took just over one-and-a-half hours to cover the two miles.
At the Haven buoy, she asked him, "Want to take over to cross the bar?"
"Only if you're tired," he responded, "I recognise superior ability when I see it."
"Flatterer," she laughed, "I'm really enjoying this. Haven't been in a boat this small for too many years. The smaller the boat, the better the fun!"
"Well ... whatever floats your boat." That was worth a giggle. "Seriously, carry on. I'm happy like this."
The bar was not as bad with wind and tide not competing, and they were soon close-reaching towards Bawdsey.
(Skip this bit if you know, or aren't interested ... a boat heading into the wind can only sail at an angle of between 50 and 35 degrees to the wind. When the angle is as small as possible, the boat is said to be 'close-hauled'. A little 'off' the wind is 'close-reaching', while sailing with the wind from the side is 'reaching', and is the fastest way to sail, and the easiest. With the wind from behind 'abaft the beam' the boat is said to be 'running'. Any 'point of sailing' except close-hauled, is said to be 'free' as the helm has more flexibility to manoeuvre. End of lecture.)
He took over once they were past the moorings and heading towards Ramsholt.
"Hungry?" He asked Beth, "I'm thinking of stopping at 'The Rocks'."
She looked at him, unsure of what his expression connoted. "Sounds like a plan," she agreed.
He ran the little boat ashore on the little beach and they pulled her well up, tying the painter to a large log half buried in the sand, which provided them with a convenient perch to eat their sandwiches.
They'd got as far as sipping coffee when he was aware of a third presence; he felt an arm round him, was sure he felt warm breath on his ear. "Everything is going to be fine," Esther's voice whispered in his ear, "don't reject those who want to be your friend, don't rush, but don't throw away a chance of happiness. Oh, and don't look for me; you're not allowed to do that."
The presence left – he put his mug down on the sand and mopped at the tears streaming down his face. He felt another arm around him – Beth's – and her voice said,
"She spoke to you again, didn't she? That was why you wanted to stop here?"
"Yes, she did," he replied unsteadily, "and no, not deliberately. I just thought it was a good idea to come here, somehow."
He felt, rather than saw, her nod.
"Perhaps we'd better be on our way," he added, getting to his feet, her arm falling away from him, but then turned and extended his hand to help her to her feet too. Her hand was warm in his – the palm calloused from handling coarse rope. He thought of her jumping into the cold water the previous evening, warming him afterwards, her steady presence, competence ... all in all a very remarkable woman ... He experienced a moments' confusion before releasing her hand and going to the boat. Together. They slid it back into the water, pushed off and headed up river on the last, short fetch to Waldringfield.
Getting a small boat out of the water and onto a trailer doesn't usually take long, but unbending the sails, unstepping the mast, strapping the boat down to the trailer and securing everything so nothing is damaged by bumps, is tedious and time-consuming. Eventually though all was set, the lighting board in place and working, and they set off. James parked the boat in his drive, and then insisted on driving Beth home to Ipswich. She tried to insist that she was fine catching a bus, but he shook his head firmly.
"When someone saves your life ... particularly when they were seriously at risk of losing their own in the process ... I think the least one can do is give them a lift home. Besides, perhaps I may be able to persuade you to have dinner with me some time. Maybe a party with Jenni and Marty?"
She'd been about to deflect his invitation, though she couldn't have said why, but thought it would be safe enough with her friends in a party ... but why was she thinking like that? She was quite sure he wasn't any sort of predator, yet ... something was holding her back. As they hummed along the A14 toward Ipswich she had a thought.
"Marty and Jenni will be leaving Reminder in Ipswich Wet Dock and going home to Felixstowe. If they haven't already left, perhaps you could pick them up and take them home."
"Good idea! How about giving them a call?"
Beth did just that. James left her outside her house in Nacton Road and continued down to the docks to collect the other two. It worked well, as it meant they could take Beth's kit back to Nacton Road on their way back to Felixstowe, which they did, at the same time arranging to meet for a meal together ... on James' insistence, at his expense.