Yeah, this is it. The perfect evening. My feet are located higher than my hips, which, as everyone knows, is essential for a serious hanging-around position. A cold beer is strategically positioned in my right hand. My eBook reader is lying on the deck at my side, but switched off, just like it should be at such a moment. No input is necessary now, mental or otherwise. Apart from a little bit of beer, of course. This is a much needed moment of serenity. I need to just - be. And most of all - be alone. Solitude is the only acceptable state in my current life. The sun is just about to set and the colors are warm. The sea is absolutely calm, there is no wind and no sound at all. This is as peaceful as it can get.
Halcyon, my sailing yacht, is anchored in a small bay off a Greek island. Well, not really an island. More like a big piece of rock. This rock has two major advantages: a population of zero and an excellent anchoring place. The small bay is deep enough for my 50 ft. yacht and it is quite nicely shielded from the open sea.
Anchoring the yacht was quite a task obviously, since I was alone. I needed a second mooring point because the bay is too small to let the boat swivel freely. But the manual labor was quite welcome after a day of lazy sailing in the Aegean Sea. Now everything is done, the beer is cool and the silence is just perfect.
Then my thoughts return to Julia. They always do whenever I´m not occupied with something. I always fight it and the more I try, the more I fail. I rarely think about the good times we had, because I have reason to doubt those too. I had lived under the illusion of being one gloriously happy bastard. She seemed all lovey-dovey too and it was just a shame that no camera was present to record her performance. An Academy Award would have been a sure thing. Anger starts to overwhelm me again.
No, stop it. The sea. Look at the sun. Beautiful. There are some doves. Very interesting and underrated animals, worth observing. Especially right now. Relax. I suddenly decide that the mooring lines need to be checked again although I know that they are perfect. I just need something to occupy my mind before the damn thing returns to her again. To Julia. To the evening I discovered the truth. No. Stop it. Shit. This is driving me crazy.
On a sudden impulse I jump into the sea, swimming a short distance. It helps to clear my mind. It stops me from getting angry again: from falling into the seething rage that made me avoid other people, especially women. I need to prevent my rage spilling onto innocent bystanders, like it did so often during the last months.
It was my sister Annette who told me I´m a ticking time bomb. She was right, of course. She always is. So I chose to live as a hermit: it´s the best solution for everyone. But instead of living in some damp, dirty cave where I would never see the sunlight, I bought a luxurious sailing yacht. I might be disappointed by humanity, but I´m not dumb.
I climb onto my boat again and decide to keep myself occupied by cooking. Julia never cooked, when we wanted to eat at home that was my task. A lot of things were my task, come to think about it. That bitch. No! Stop. I take the eggs, some mushrooms and proceed to produce an omelet. I´m not really hungry, I just need some defined task to keep me occupied.
Again, I marvel at the silence and solitude of the place. This is really my favorite place in the world right now and I´m just happy that it is public property so everyone is free to stay here whenever they want. I´ve rarely seen other boats around here, which makes it even better.
I sit on my deck and enjoy my simple meal in total silence. The absolute absence of sound is almost deafening now, as it usually is in the evenings when the wind has died down. Perfect.
I love it when the rocks are illuminated by the reddish-yellow last rays of sunlight. It´s nothing short of spectacular. The silence is broken by an engine noise. At first, I think it’s a fishing boat on its way home, but the noise gets louder.
Finally, I see a huge white motor yacht appearing from behind the island. Shit. My silent, lonely night is already history. It will be filled with loud and rude party people and it´s too late and too dark to go to another island now. Damn.
The nearer it gets, the bigger and uglier the thing seems to get. Loud techno music can be heard now. This is going to be just “wonderful”.
The yacht approaches my position until its bow is a mere five meters away. This is not a respectful distance any more. A man in a black suit appears at the bow and looks totally out of place in the Aegean Sea. He hails me.
“Hey mate. Listen, this is Fulvio Brione´s yacht. You know him, the fashion czar.” He has to shout to be heard over the loud music.
I just nod. I have no idea why he´s telling me this and I have no intention to find out.
“So be a nice little nobody and remove your tiny boat from here. We need this mooring spot and we need some privacy.”
I just laugh briefly and shake my head.
“Listen, we want to handle this in a cooperative, friendly way. But this is Mr. Brione´s mooring spot you´re in.”
“This is public property. I got here first, so it´s my mooring spot. You will just have to anchor over there. Or wherever, that´s none of my business.”
“Boy, I´m getting a little pissed here.”
I just shrug my shoulders. His strategy seems to try to piss me off, whatever he hopes to achieve with it. It doesn´t work anyway, I don´t give a shit about this clown.
He goes astern. I concentrate on my beer again until he returns a few minutes later.
“What about a thousand Euro for you if you move?”
These guys are actually funny. “Keep your pocket change.”
I just wave him off dismissively.
He disappears again. After a while, the ship moves backwards, towards the second best anchor place, which is almost in the open sea. They anchor their ship about 30 meters from mine, which is far too close for my taste, but there´s nothing I can do about it.
I try to not get angry by deciding to regard the whole thing a free show for my entertainment. The ship is as brightly illuminated as a circus and some of the persons on her deck can only be described as bizarre. The gaudily dressed men parade around like complete morons. The women all wear high heels and black bikinis. I wonder what kind of deck they have: I certainly wouldn´t tolerate high heels on my teak deck. But they seem to be mandatory aboard this ship, like the general behavior seems to be. Men are busy finding themselves awesome, women are present for decoration purposes. I´m amazed how idiotically these people behave and how great they seem to find themselves. They probably don´t think too kindly about me either. It´s like we are from different planets.
Apart from the peacocks and the bikini girls, there are a few black suit guys aboard, obviously bodyguards. Then there are the white uniform people, probably part of the crew. The bikini girls seem to be fashion models, some of them are merely slim, while others are extremely thin. It´s like watching a conference about malnutrition. My first impulse is to help those poor famished girls by feeding them.
From time to time one of them looks down on me as I relax on my boat and I realize how far apart we are. They are in their glitzy fashion world, probably fighting hard to make a life by brown-nosing and fucking influential people on occasions like this. Probably thinking they are successful and extremely important for humanity. I, on the other hand, am just a lonely, regular guy with a beer in his hand. I´m definitely not a happy man, but I think my life is still way better than theirs.
I wonder about the women on this ship. Maybe they plan to snatch a rich guy to gain some wealth and social status by marrying him before at a ripe age of probably 22 they get too old for their job. I realize that I have no idea about their world. How long can fashion models work? 20? 30? 40? I have no idea.
I think about Julia again and her attempt to get rich by marrying and divorcing some unsuspecting rich dude - namely me. She fooled me completely. I really loved her, finding out the true nature of our relationship and losing her hurt me a lot. It still does. My whole life is still revolving around her, but in an entirely negative way.
Some shouting on the deck of the big yacht brings my attention back to the present. One of the women seems to be in some kind of argument with a small group of men, one of them Brione himself. He´s easily recognizable as he´s the only overweight person aboard. One of his bodyguards is at his side and for a brief moment it looks like he wants to hit her. It looks almost comical as all of their heads turn simultaneously in my direction. Whatever they planned to do with her, they are suddenly aware that they have a witness. I just smile and lift my beer in a salute.
The fat guy and the bodyguard drag her inside for more privacy. Whatever they have in mind for her, it doesn´t seem too good from here. She seems to have come to the same conclusion and fights them tooth and nail. The other girls and a few men watch the scene without any reaction - their lack of compassion amazes me. She´s on their boat, there´s no police around, she´s completely at their mercy. Yet nobody feels compelled to help her.
Suddenly she jerks free and runs towards the bow. Brione and his goon grin and follow her slowly. They know that there´s nowhere she can go. She´s theirs. It´s their ship. They are stronger. They are wealthy and powerful. They can certainly destroy her career. They advance on her like predators, closing in for an easy kill. Watching the situation makes me sick. This is not right. I really have the urge to intervene somehow, but I have no idea how to do it.
The girl looks around in panic and yells something at the other passengers, but these assholes just turn around and look away. Just as I decide to get my camera, the girl suddenly jumps overboard. This surprises everybody, including me. The drop is quite high, but she jumps gracefully, looking fantastic in her high heels. A brave move, but it won´t help her. She has nowhere to go.
At least that´s what I think until I realize that she´s swimming in my direction. She still looks graceful, but I can´t appreciate the sight any more. She´s about to invade my privacy. What can I do? Send her back to those lechers? Would I be any better than them? No, that is not an option. I couldn´t live with myself afterwards. The alternative is to take her in, to sacrifice my precious solitude. Worse, I´d have to be around a woman: something I´ve sworn never to do again.
Damn. Just what I need now, a woman around me. Not just any woman, but a fashion model. Probably a spoiled, bitchy brat, whining and complaining all the time, living out her bulimia to the fullest. I can almost hear her. “I can´t possibly eat that kind of salad, it´s not even organic!” “Do you have some decent Evian water instead of this San Pellegrino piss?” “I need my avocado in the morning! Why don´t you have the most basic stuff on this caricature of a boat?”
Aren´t there any places in the world without women? A cloister maybe? Would I be of any use in a Gregorian chant? Are these monk guys really eunuchs or do they just look that way?
She´s still swimming in my direction. Damn, a damsel in distress. Possible female company. I panic.
It´s too late to weigh anchor now and I can hardly reject her if she wants to come aboard. Hell, it looked like she was about to get raped on that ship. Okay, okay. I can take her to the nearest port tomorrow. She has just reached the ladder at the stern. I will help her but that doesn´t mean I have to talk to her much. Women are not good for me; I need to stay away from them. I´m determined that I will never get hurt by one again. I need to keep my distance from this one. This decision helps me to calm down a little. I haven´t spent months to re-gain my mental sanity just to have it shattered by the next bitch.
She looks at me questioningly and I just extend my hand to help her out of the water. No word needs to be spoken, which suits me just fine. I might have a guest for a limited time, but I certainly don´t plan to chatter all day long because of it. The situation is self-explanatory anyway. She knows that I witnessed the scene on Brione´s ship and my extended hand should tell her that I´m willing to help.
Wait, she´s still wearing her high heels and she´s about to step onto my teak deck. I just point at her shoes and she understands immediately.
“Oh, sure, sorry.” She starts to remove them. “I´m Anna, by the way.”
“Mark.” Damn, a few seconds in female company and I´m already babbling like an idiot.
She extends her hand again. Our first handshake doesn´t seem to count as I only helped her aboard. I understand what she means and shake her hand. This is a combined greeting and thank you.
She stands up and looks around, taking her time. It´s obvious that she´s not as much taking in her new surroundings as giving me the opportunity to take a look at my new guest. Maybe she just wants to give me time to get used to her after I´ve opened my home in a less than voluntary way for her. I think that´s a sensitive gesture after having imposed herself on me this way. I wonder what a woman with a sensitive bone in her body has been doing aboard this asshole´s ship. I don´t need to hear this story, but I´m afraid I will sooner or later anyway.
My new guest is a strikingly beautiful woman, as it could be expected for one of Brione´s toys. She´s not as young as I guessed, though. She might be in her mid-twenties, which makes her only a few years younger than me.
Anna is not some kind of attractive girl-next-door type. She´s not cute. She´s not pretty. She is straight beautiful, no sense in denying it. If I just saw a photo of her, I´d immediately assume she´s an arrogant and self-centered bitch. She just has to be with such a face. Well-defined jaw and cheek bones, perfect green eyes, and a perfect straight nose. Not a cute nose, but a thin, perfect model nose. She is a little on the thin side, but she doesn´t look famished like some of the other girls. Her bones don´t stick out and she has small, but shapely boobs. Her hair is still wet and it´s quite dark by now, so I can´t tell what color it is. But it´s long, very long.
I had thought that Julia is beautiful and out of my league. But compared to Anna she´s plain and unremarkable. This woman is so far out of my league that it isn´t even funny anymore. A few years ago the sight of this jackpot in the human genome lottery would have aroused me to no end. But I´ve decided to keep women out of my life and I think I´ve been quite thorough in conditioning myself. With Julia´s evilness as a perfect motivation, of course. I can appreciate this woman´s beauty, like I would a butterfly or a flower, but it doesn´t affect me. At least that´s what I keep telling myself.
After giving me a few seconds to check her out, she looks at me again.
“Thanks for helping me.” She looks a little tentative, almost shy, which surprises me for some reason. Women that look like she does are not supposed to be shy. I expect them to just take what they need and move on. But I realize that she really needs me and lot depends on my reaction.
“Hmm,” I just mutter, nodding. I want to make it clear from the beginning that speaking is not high on my agenda. She looks at me puzzled, shrugs her shoulders and takes the towel I offer her. After a while she smiles and has probably booked me under “grumpy sea dog”, which is totally okay for me as it is not far from the truth.
I look at the grotesquely illuminated ship again and see Brione discussing something with two of his bodyguards. He seems quite animated and points towards my boat from time to time. Perhaps he’s thinking of boarding my yacht to reclaim the girl? An act of piracy in Greek waters would be more trouble than even someone like Brione would want, especially over a woman he can easily replace. He’s probably one of those people who can’t stand to lose at anything, right down to rock paper scissors. But what do I know? Don´t get too curious, old boy or you might get more involved than you want to. Just keep those weirdos out of your life.
I turn around and see that she has watched the same scene, looking worried. She doesn´t seem to be arrogant and stuck up right now.
“I hope the fat bastard doesn´t send his gorillas to kidnap me.”
“Hmm,” I say in a dismissive tone, shaking my head.
“He could, you know. He has four security apes he could send after me. Could we just sail away?”
“Tomorrow.” I try to sound curt to keep my distance.
“Okay. I can´t say that I´m going to sleep well, I´m still a little worried. Thanks again for saving me. They were just about to rape me.” She seems quite unperturbed by my brief answers. But what she says surprises me.
“They?” I ask before I can stop myself. Damn, stop it, this is none of my business.
“Yeah, Brione, his male guests, his bodyguards and the whole male crew. It seems that he has made a bet that he and every other male on the ship will fuck every girl at least once before the ship returns to Italy. All the other girls weren´t looking forward to it, but let them do it anyway. I ... well I suddenly just couldn´t stand it anymore. Suddenly - I don´t know - something snapped inside me. I´ve endured a lot, for very little gain. But today it became just too much.”
“Yeah. I said no to Fulvio Brione, and with one little dive, my career is toast. That part of my life is already history.” She looks a little shaken at her own insight.
I just nod and emit some grunt that might or might not sound sympathetic. For looking so beautiful, this fashion business is totally shit.
“Yeah, you´re right,” she resumed, despite the fact that I hadn’t said anything. “Maybe it´s even better this way. Nothing I can do about it now, right? Leave the old shit behind, try something new. New opportunities will arise. Life is change.”
She seems surprisingly upbeat again. How could she just shrug off something that completely wrecked the life she thought she had? I wish I could. Or did I?
“Seriously? I´m always hungry, it´s part of my job description. I´ve been hungry for ten years now.” She laughs. It’s magical. Damn, what a woman. No, stop this, you fool! Okay? Just stop it.
To distract myself, I go below deck to get some of my omelet for her. She follows me and looks around.
Wordlessly, I offer her a plate with some omelet. Keeping my grumpy mood is surprisingly arduous while she´s around, but it has to be done. No sense letting myself like this woman, I’m quite sure no good will come of it.
“Oh yes, that looks delicious. Thanks. You live alone here?”
I nod, desperately trying to limit my communication with this woman to the absolute minimum, lest I be infected with her upbeat personality.
“Would you have some clothes I could borrow? I didn’t exactly have time to pack.” That smile is back. It’s still fabulous.
I nod, and go to my stern cabin to get her some sweats. I don’t know how long I can stay grumpy in the face of that smile.
“Take one of the forwards cabins.” I hand her the clothes.
“Thanks. They´re all available?”
I just nod again.
“Why is a man like you living all alone? How have you managed to keep the women away?”
“What?” The total shock on my face brings on that musical laugh again. Then she takes pity on my confusion.
“Never mind. I´ll get changed. It gets kind of cold in this wet bikini.” There is far more warmth in that smile than a stuck up fashion model should have, as she turns and heads forward. I watch her for a moment; she’s just as gorgeous from the back as from the front. I shake my head and try to puzzle out what she was talking about.
Julia told me time and again over the years that I was “just a guy,” completely ordinary, with nothing special or attractive about me. I was lucky to have her, she told me, and I had come to believe her. Now this incredibly beautiful woman, an actual fashion model no less, was asking me how I kept the women away? I figure I have some time while she’s changing, so I try to figure this out.
Two minutes later she’s walking toward me, making my ratty old sweats look better than they have any right to. Of course, she´s a fashion model. So she´s supposed to change quickly and to look good in everything. Still, my only comparison is Julia, who could take half an hour to change her shoes. I could get used to a quickly dressing woman, I think, chuckling a little.
“Hey, you can have a friendly face. I think you´re not as grumpy as you try to be.”
I’m trying desperately not to smile back at her. It works, sort of. Her hair is drying and it becomes obvious that she´s a brunette. It doesn´t matter, she would look good with any hair color. Damn, stop this, Mark. All it will bring you is trouble and heartache.
“Would you mind if I stayed below deck? I don´t want to remind Fulvio I’m here.”
“Hmm,” I say in an affirmative tone. My attempts to stay monosyllabic are starting to sound ridiculous, even to me.
“Okay. See you tomorrow. Would you mind if I borrow your eBook reader?”
I nod again and retreat into the safety of my cabin, feeling relieved to be alone again.
Early morning on deck. I’m always grumpy in the morning. The cup of coffee that is my only companion doesn’t mind. I could stay in bed, but then I’d just lie there and think of Julia. That’s no good. I’m thinking of her anyway, so I guess it doesn’t matter.
She hated my morning grumps. Now that she’s not here to grouse at me, I’ve come to like this mood. I can sulk all I want to about how life (really, Julia) treated me, and there’s no one to tell me not to.
The noise and commotion from Brione’s Floating Whorehouse finally stopped around 4 am. Now it looks and sounds like a ghost ship. I’m betting they won’t be up until noon. Good.
I hear shuffling below decks. My uninvited guest seems determined to break out of the ‘fashion model’ mental box I created for her. She’s over 20, she’s not bulimic, she’s not stuck up or bitchy even when I’m almost rude to her, and now she’s an early riser? What’s next, she’s a certified diesel mechanic?
“Morning.” Her head emerges from the hatch.
“Morning.” I’m sure my grumpy mood is obvious.
She disappears down the hatch. It seems she’s just as terse as I am in the morning, though a lot nicer looking.
I turn back to look at the sea. The smooth surface of the bay is painted with images of Julia and her lover, intimately joined, smirking at me. Shit.
I hear my unwanted guest coming up on deck. Now that she’s had her coffee, she’ll be all perky and happy and want to talk, about stuff I either don’t care about, or don’t want to talk about. And she’ll smile that fashion-model beautiful smile, don’t forget that. Shit. I don’t want anyone to cheer me up. I want to mope. Alone. Don’t I have the right to do that?
Anna (now I remember her name) surprises me again. She doesn’t say a word. She sits on the deck next to me and gazes at the calm sea. The air is still fresh and crisp, and the intense Greek sun hasn’t yet begun to scorch everything in sight. Strange: all I see now is the sea. Julia has disappeared. The silence stretches comfortably between us.
“So what´s the deal?” she suddenly asks.
“You rescued me. What do I have to do?” She looks a little tense now, almost as if expecting bad news and not wanting to hear them.
“Did everyone that helped you in the past wanted something in return?” Damn, I didn´t want to talk that much and I certainly don´t need to learn anything about her past, but her question has surprised me.
“Yeah, pretty much.”
“Well, your life must be pretty shitty, then.” Yeah, right. Any woman as beautiful as she is would have men lining up to beg for the privilege of doing her a favor.
“It is.” I look at her. She is serious; her beautiful face looks completely forlorn. I turn away, not knowing what to say. This silence is not comfortable.
It occurs to me that getting out of here before Brione and his fellow revelers wake up is a sound idea.
“Is there anything on that ship that you need?” I’m surprised how gently I ask her.
“No.” She says it firmly, as if she’s renouncing her high fashion life and everything associated with it.
I nod and prepare for getting under weigh. I hope she won’t follow me around and try to ‘help.’ She doesn’t: she stands at the rail, silently gazing at the sea. Is that just how she is? Or has she figured out that’s what I would like? Either way, she seems to know me far better than I’m comfortable with.
I stow our coffee cups in the galley and get to work. I bring in and stow the mooring lines; fortunately, I can do it without using the dinghy. Getting the anchor in with the winch motor will take a while and be noisy toward the end, but there’s nothing I can do about that. Anna looks anxiously toward the Floating Whorehouse as the noise increases.
There isn’t much wind, so I fire up the diesel. I’d like to put some distance between myself and Brione just in case the anchor winch woke someone up on the Whorehouse. Halcyon has a nice turn of speed if I need it, but I’d prefer to just disappear.
I can almost see the tension leaving Anna as Brione’s yacht grows smaller and finally disappears from view. She looks even more beautiful, which I hadn’t thought possible. She sits next to me, quiet and happy, as I stand at the wheel.
With Brione out of sight, I’ve had enough of the diesel’s noise. I set the sails and kill the engine. Ah, blessed silence! Only the wind, the waves, and the sails can be heard. I trim the sails and return to the wheel. The companionable silence falls between us again.
I look over at her from time to time as she sits quietly, gazing at the sea. With Brione out of sight, she seems relaxed and serene. She doesn’t seem to have a care in the world. This is odd, I think. She doesn’t look like a woman who’s just thrown away a career most girls would kill for.
If Julia had done that – not that she would, but if she had – serene is exactly what she wouldn’t be. Nervous, shrill, demanding, yes. Serene, no. Unless...
What if this Anna is thinking of me exactly as Julia did? What if she’s decided that since I let her come aboard, I must be the sucker who will support her in the style to which she’s become accustomed? Is that why she hasn’t a care in the world? Oh, shit, I thought, here we go again. Henry Higgins was right: Let a woman in your life, and your serenity is through. I was finished with that forever.
I look at her. She has turned her face away from me, gazing over the port rail at the sunlit ocean. She looks completely innocent. Of course, I remind myself, she’s a model. Ex-model, that is. They can look like anything they want to. I look upward to check the sails, then off to starboard.
“What did she do to you?” My reverie is broken. Wait, how did she know that? I stare dumbly at her.
“Well?” Damn, the morning has been almost perfect and now she has to ruin it.
“Nothing. I´m just a guy.”
“Sure. A handsome guy, obviously well off, sailing alone on a gorgeous boat, trying to cover the fact that he´s nice by being grumpy.”
What, handsome? I´ve found the first flaw in her: she definitely needs glasses.
“You need to talk about it sometime; we’re all alone here, and I’m a good listener, but I don´t want to press.”
Damn. Am I that obvious?
“Yes, you are.” My head snaps around and she just chuckles. I can´t help but smile. Shit, keeping my defenses up is not really going well.
“Okay, I´ll bite. What will I say next?” She actually blushes a little.
“I don´t know what you will say. I do know you try to keep your distance by being silent.
She takes a deep breath and looks me in the eye. Her face registers determination, though I think I see sympathy in her eyes. Or do I imagine it?
“You’ve been hurt, badly. Your reaction is to curl up in a ball and keep everyone at a distance, because you’re afraid you’ll get hurt again. That’s okay, it’s natural; even animals do that. Sooner or later, though, you have to uncurl and start moving again. You’re walking and talking, but you’re still afraid of being hurt, especially by women. I get that. But you’ve chosen to cut yourself off from humanity, with only your pain for company. What you don’t see is that every time you choose to think about your wounds instead of other things or other people, you let her hurt you again. Your pain gets worse instead of better. You don’t even get any sympathy, because you’ve cut yourself off, so no one’s here to see you.”
I pictured myself as suffering in noble solitude, insulating myself so that no one, certainly no woman, could ever again do to me what Julia had. What if all I’m doing is sulking? I decide to give her the basics; maybe she’ll stop talking and I can think. Or sulk, or whatever.
“Okay, I was married to the woman who’d been my best friend since we were kids, but it crashed and burned.”
“Yeah, and at the end all she wanted was my money. So you see why I’m a little gun shy, especially when it comes to women.” There, that should hold her for a while. But it doesn’t.
“I’m sorry, I thought it must be something like that. But now you’re letting her continue to hurt you, and keep you away from happiness. It’s a shame that you give her that power over you.
“Look, you’re going to have to talk about it sometime. You can’t just lock all of that up inside, it’s not good for you. And who better to talk to than someone you’ll never see again?”
I look at her in surprise. I guess she isn’t making a play for me, after all.
“Don’t worry, I already knew you planned on getting rid of me at the next port. So your secrets are safe with me.” She paused. “Would it help if I told you my story?”
I think for a moment. If she’s telling me her story, she isn’t asking about mine, and trying to make me move past the pain of Julia. That scares me. But what if she’s had it worse than I have, and handled it better? Then I’d have to open myself up to this beautiful stranger whose world is completely different from mine. What would become of me then?
She interrupts my musing. “Back to the silent treatment, then?” She has this infectious grin, like a mischievous little girl. I’m about to smile back at her, when I catch myself. No attachments, I remind myself; don’t let her get to you.
“Too late,” she’s still grinning. Damn, she caught me again. I’d better watch myself around this woman.
Slowly her smile fades, and her eyes focus on the far horizon.
She speaks in a flat monotone, as if she’s reciting.
“I grew up in a small town, where everyone knew me. Other kids were smarter or more talented, but I was the one who was expected to go out into the big world and do something. Be famous, you know. When the only thing you can do is look beautiful, that means modeling.
“I soon found I was at the bottom of the food chain: quite a change from being the princess in my little town! For the first time in my life, I was told I wasn’t good enough. Time after time, and in the crudest and most hurtful terms.” She turned toward me, her eyes pleading for understanding.
“Mark, when you do something -- a project, a report, or something -- and you’re told it isn’t good enough, that’s bad enough. When you’re told it’s you, yourself, that isn’t good enough, nastily, again and again, it really does things to you.” She paused and turned back to the horizon.
“Like a lot of models, in self-defense, I began to think of my body as something that wasn’t really part of me. It was almost like a tool box or a skill set. I did my best to keep it up: I worked out, I ate right, all those things. I still wasn’t good enough: I was never chosen.
“Then I noticed that the directors chose girls they already knew: girls who had partied with them, or with someone even higher up the food chain. Partied, of course, was a euphemism for sex. It didn’t matter whether the director was a man or a woman, it seemed that was what you had to do.
“I resisted for a while, but the pressure of not getting any jobs was too much, and I gave in. It wasn’t all that bad: most of them were considerate, even nice. I had gotten used to considering my body separate from myself anyway; I was just using it to get the job as well as using it on the job. I began to get some work.
“Everyone in my little town was overjoyed every time they saw me in some catalogue or advertisement. It was as if I carried the hopes and dreams of the entire village. So I kept doing it, even though I knew I would never reach the top, and I was beginning to hate my life. I knew several girls who were in abusive relationships, and I began to understand them better.” She sighs.
“I’m not sure what finally made me change my mind. I’d been on Brione’s cruises before, and knew pretty much what was expected of me. For some reason, whether it was the bet or the gangbang, I’d had enough. I hid in my cabin until the goons dragged me out, and you saw what happened after that.” She stops and looks at me.
“They never thought I would have the nerve to jump. I probably wouldn’t have, except your boat was there, and I’d heard you stand up to them earlier in the day. I was terribly afraid last night, that Brione would send his goons after me. Believe me, that was one time I was glad to be just another replaceable pretty face! I wonder if I broke up their bet.” The corners of her mouth turn up as she imagines it; I smile back to encourage her. I still can’t get used to the idea that anyone would think that she’s just another pretty face.
“Now I’m done. That’s all over. The village will have to find someone else to be famous for them. So what if I have no job and no money: I’ve been there before and survived. I won’t sell my body, nor let people tell me I’m not good enough, ever again. I don’t know what’s coming next, but whatever it is, I know it will be better, because I’m free!” She smiles at me. I had thought she couldn’t look any more beautiful, but I was wrong again. The animation in her face makes her radiant.
“So now you think I’m a whore.” She’s still smiling, and her eyes twinkle like stars. What the hell do I say to that? Fortunately for me, she’s probably used to men losing coherent speech when she gives them her Grade A Treatment. I mutter something about choices and honesty and stuff that I’m sure makes no sense, until she rescues me.
“You know, in a way, I’m a virgin.” My mouth falls open, and she laughs again. I was right: I could definitely get used to hearing that laugh.
“Remember, I told you I had come to think of my body as separate from my heart -- the real me. So yes, men and women have used my body, and yes, I enjoyed it sometimes, but I’ve never made love. I’ve never shared my heart.” She looks at me seriously for a moment and continues.
“All I ever really wanted is what my mother has: a quiet life with a good man, and a house full of love. I lost my way for a few years, but not anymore.” Then the smile is back.
She is so determined and optimistic that I feel weak and whiny in comparison. I excuse myself to go below where she can’t see my feelings, and return with two glasses of chilled Sauvignon Blanc. We toast to her future, and I suddenly realize it’s not just her face and her body that are irresistible: it’s her. I decide to tell her my story, to avoid thinking about her.
“Yes, I still want to hear your story.” Still with that smile. Am I really that transparent?
“Yes, you are, but I still want you to tell me the story.” Damn, how is she doing that? Oh, well, something else to figure out later. I begin.
“I met Julia on my first day of school. She was a cute little thing, and a couple of bullies were pulling on her pigtails, and I made them stop. From then on, I was her protector, and she helped me with my homework and kept me from being stupid. My family had money and hers didn’t, but that doesn’t matter when you’re six. We were inseparable.
“Then she grew into a pretty and popular girl, and she didn’t want me fighting off the boys any more, she had other things to do with them. We were still friends, but everyone including my mother told me she was out of my league. I was just too ugly.”
“Your mother?” She sounded horrified. “That’s pretty brutal. Not to mention totally wrong.”
“Maybe, but I still have trouble with that, even today.”
“Your mom needed glasses, or else she was drunk. She was confusing you with two other guys.”
“Hey, don’t talk about my mother like that!” I scowl at her. For just a moment, Anna thinks I’m serious, then she bursts out laughing. I smile at her, then continue my tale.
“We ended up going to the same University. She got in touch with me and wanted to talk. She’d had some bad experiences with stuck-up assholes, as she called them, and remembered how safe she felt with me back in grade school. She hinted that I might have a chance with her after all. Of course I was all over that, and before I knew it, I proposed, she accepted, and we were married. I was the luckiest guy in the world, until I came home and found her in our bed with another guy. I didn’t even confront them; I just locked myself in my study and licked my wounds.”
She nods, as if that’s what she expected I would have done.
“She cried a lot, begged forgiveness, and promised to remain completely faithful, to never do this again. I resisted for a while, but I really wanted her back, so I agreed.”
“You forgave her, then?” I nod.
“I think I would have forgiven one mistake, too, but she obviously didn’t keep her promise.” Anna looks thoughtful for a moment. “Did she have money when you married?”
“Well no; why?”