There are phrases that stick in you mind and come to you with the clarity that you see while looking into a murky pool. No quote was more true as the one "It was the best of times it was the worst of times." That's how I can best describe my loving Charlie.
I've tried to recall over and over again when the turning of the road came and when I took the wrong side. I don't know, or perhaps I'm just tired of thinking and all I want to do is sleep. I need to sleep. I know that. But when I sleep my demons follow me there.
All I seem to do is walk around this room in a daze when I'm awake and have nightmares when I sleep. I've lost all sense of time. And I don't care. I feel empty.
With the blindness of youth, I use to think there wasn't anything I couldn't do. I was wrong. I also thought that bad things -- I mean really bad things -- only happpened to bad people. Bad things happen to bad and good people, and I'm sure some would see me on either side of that fence. I don't know when I fell in love with Charlie. I don't know when desire, sex, or love began.
If I had to do over again, even now, I don't know whether I'd run to her or kill her for all the pain she's put me through. I simply don't know. I have loved her with an intensity I never knew possible. I have never known such joy nor such pain, such desire or such need. My need for her is all encompassing. I feel this great ache in my chest when she is not with me. Even now at this moment. I simply just don't exist anymore. Only my need for her lives inside me. Somewhere along the way I stopped. It's that simple. I just stopped. And in a moment, whatever there is left of me will just stop. And I won't be anymore. A choice must be made. Then or now doesn't matter anymore. She's coming up the stairs and I'm tired and I want to sleep and I can't. This gun in my hand feels heavy.
It was a beautiful day. Mark and I were finally going on that vacation we had promised ourselves at least three years ago when we had started the business.
For the past three years we had worked to get our advertising business off the ground and finally it had taken off. Those eighteen-hour days had made us very successful, but they had also taken their toll on our relationship. We needed this vacation and we both knew it.
In the past ten years we had gotten married, had two children and we had a successful and lucrative partnership. Some people would say we had it all; and we seemed to. But, when I turned thirty-five I cried all day and I couldn't understand why. I was overwhelmed with such a sense of loneliness that it had frightened me. All I wanted and needed at that moment was to be held.
I called Mark through the intercom to come to my office. He was talking to one of our clients and asked me to wait. Twenty minutes later I called him again. Two hours later he came into my office with a big smile on his face, we had landed our first million-dollar contract.
He went on and on not even noticing the glassy expression in my eyes. I walked over and stood by the window looking out into the street. I saw a young couple walking holding hands. They stopped to look into a store window and quite suddenly she looked up into his eyes and even though I was far away I could sense the love in her eyes for him. My arms went around my body and tears just came.
All of a sudden Mark realized I wasn't talking. "What's wrong Laura?" he asked. "Did you just hear what I said? We just got the Weatherbee Account," he said excitedly. "Laura what's wrong?"
I rushed into his arms. He held me tightly as my body shook with uncontrollable sobbing. That day we talked well into the night and decided we needed to get away together for a while. Hopefully, a much-needed vacation with Mark would bring us closer together again.
It isn't that I wasn't happy, not exactly. It's that, with time, it had begun to feel comfortable being with Mark. Something between us just didn't seem to be there anymore, and the realization of feeling this need forever inside me is what had frightened me that day. I said so many things to him as we talked. I told him that I wanted more time with him, that we needed to concentrated on each other, that I longed just to be with him. I said all these things and more.
What I really wanted to say was that the business had taken over our lives. Success had become the passion in our marriage. When I saw that young couple it had become suddenly quite clear what I wanted. I wanted to be in love again. It isn't that I didn't love Mark anymore. It's that I wanted to feel the longing and the passion I had felt long ago. Somewhere along the way I think we just stopped trying. I wanted those feelings back. And the thought of not being able to get them back had scared me to death. My whole world was built with him and around him. I could not ever imagine it any other way. But, I couldn't leave it like this. I just couldn't.
It took two long months to set up everything so that we could get away. And leaning over the rail of the cruise ship I couldn't believe we were actually on our way. I was waiving good-bye to our children on the dock filled with an anticipation that I had felt long ago. They would stay with my parents, and Mark and I would go on that much needed vacation together.
"Happy, Honey?" He asked and it seemed as if he were going to say something else but decided against it. "I'm sorry it took so long Laura, but I promise it's just you and me on this trip, just you and me."
I went into his embrace. I waved again to the children with a big smile on my face this time. And as I looked at my dad waving to me I made out the words "be happy." I nodded, blew him a kiss and waved good-bye. Daddy had always known me better than I knew myself.
We had been on the ship for three days before we decided to venture out in public. For the first three days we had dinner brought to our cabin, made love all day and at night we would stroll on the deserted deck, holding hands, finding dark corners to kiss in like lovers hiding from prying eyes.
I was happy. I felt truly happy. It had been so long since I had felt this carefree.
On the fourth night, we decided to dine on one of the ship's dinning rooms and then go dancing in one of the discotheques on board. The main dining room to which we had been assigned was absolutely breathtaking with its hanging crystal chandeliers. This was going to be one of those grand dining experiences by the look of things, like the ones that you saw in the movies. We had been assigned to a table with three other couples.
When we arrived at the table one of the men got up and introduced himself to Mark. "Hello, so glad you could join us", he said as he reached out his hand to Mark. Some of the others on the table broke out in laughter. "I'm John Beckford. They're laughing because they're jealous. This is my wife Pam."
She reached out her hand and Mark shook it. "Hi," she said.
And the others introduced themselves as well. There was a Mr. and Mrs. Albert Forrest, a Mr. Gary Campbell and his daughter Vicky and Mr. and Mrs. Karl Von Steiben. "Your seats have been empty for the past three nights and frankly we were all taking bets. Are you two newlyweds?" asked John.
I think I must have blushed because Gary Campbell and his daughter started laughing. "I guess you could say that. A second honeymoon," said Mark with a big grin on his face. He leaned over and lightly kissed my lips.
The rest of the night was spent on light conversation and laughter except for Karl and Charlotte Von Steiben who were barely speaking with anyone. Toward the end of the evening it was quite obvious to everyone that the conversation among them had gotten out of control. When Karl said in a loud voice that the whole table could hear "You, Bitch!" it had not taken anyone by surprise. He grabbed his wife's wrist and through clenched teeth said, "If you think I'm going to take this you don't know me."
She stood up and pulled herself free from him. "You've been well paid for your services, living off my money, you parasite!" She yelled back at him.
"As usual we are making a scene, sit down Charlotte!" He said mockingly.
"Fuck you Karl! I don't give a fuck!!" And on that, she walked away.
"Please excuse us," said Karl Von Steiben and followed his wife out.
After dinner we went on our usual nightly stroll on deck. We walked hand in hand in silence just enjoying the sound of the sea and one another's Company. A ship's officer interrupted our stroll. "Mr. Cole, you have an urgent land to ship call from a Mr. Ernest Lupbell. If you follow me, I'll be glad to take you there," he said.
"Darling, there is no point in your missing this beautiful moon. Let's not waste it. You continue and I'll catch up with you. You know Ernie, this is probably nothing," he said. "I'll be back in a moment." He kissed me lightly on the mouth and walked away to deal with Ernie.
It was a warm night, incredibly humid. The air felt heavy and salty. As I was getting close to the front of the boat I came upon Charlotte Von Steiben leaning against the rail smoking a cigarette. She was dressed in a white silk gown that clung to her perfect figure and like the moon above us she glowed in incredible beauty.
I didn't really feel like talking but there wasn't any way to pass by without acknowledging her presence. She noticed my approach and she spoke first. "I didn't get your name at dinner," she said, flicking her cigarette at the ocean. As she exhaled the smoke she turned and faced me while blocking my walking past her.
"I'm Laura Cole."
"How is the honeymoon, Laura?" She asked looking directly into my eyes with an odd expression.
"Fine," I answered.
Something about her made me feel quite suddenly uncomfortable. She kept looking at me. She said nothing for a few moments, gave me a quick smile, then turned and walked away.
"Talk about your weird people" I mumbled to myself. Strange, real strange woman, I remember thinking.
Charlotte Von Steiben was apparently very wealthy according to the talk at the dinner table after their departure. She and her husband had been less than civil all the nights that we had not been at dinner as well. She was a woman who apparently had all that most people could want. Incredibly attractive, you could tell that she led a pampered life. She had the perfect tan with beautifully manicured hands. Her hair was the color of golden wheat and her face was like a fine sculpture. She was truly the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, with a body that most women would kill for and she knew it.
It was hard to feel sorry for anyone with all those things. Yet somehow, I felt that there was something sad about her. Somehow, something in her eyes had seemed sorely lacking. An emptiness that I saw in that brief moment she stood looking at me.
I stood there looking out into the ocean for what seemed like a long time thinking about her, when quite suddenly, I felt a chill come all over me and I turned, looking around expecting to see someone. There was no one. I was alone. I shook off the feeling and I went looking for Mark.
I found him in our cabin packing. "What's happened? Why are you packing?" I asked in disbelief.
"There is a problem with the Weatherbee Account, I have to go back and handle it," he said not looking at me. I stood there in silent disbelief.
"Mark, we need this time together you know that." He stopped packing and slowly turned towards me. He looked at me for a moment without speaking.
"Laura, this account is very important to us. I'll be back in two or three days at the most." He tried taking me in his arms but I pulled away from him.
"I need this time with you, Mark." I started pacing, looking at the floor in frustration. "We need this time together, stay, please!" I stopped and faced him. It was true I did need him. There was so much I needed to tell him. So much I wanted him to know.
I wanted more from life than what I had. I wanted a real marriage, with intimacy and the things that most married people did together. I wanted to try to make the little league games that we never had time to go to when our son Josh played. Or the music recital that Ashley, our daughter, played piano in and we could not make because there was an important deal to close. I wanted the family I had, not in appearance but to really be a part of. I thought that Mark wanted the same thing.
I wanted to say all these things but I remained silent. I resented the fact that it was not as important to him. I wanted him to make me fall in love again.
I wanted him to know all this without the need of my having to tell him. That's why I felt hurt and betrayed at that moment. And nothing he could have said about why he was leaving would have made any difference.
"Laura, try to understand. This account can make all the difference to us," he sighed. "I'll make this up to you I promise." On that note, he finished packing and walked out the cabin. A helicopter flew him away.
I spent the next day alone in my cabin. Mark called several times but I chose not to take his calls. I was angry, hurt and scared. I can confess now that I was really scared. I didn't like what was happening to me. I was always in control of my life and now the world under my feet was shaky and it frightened me.
That night I went to dinner by myself. They all asked, of course, where Mark was and I explained he had been called away on urgent business but that he would be joining me later on. They all accepted this explanation, except for Charlotte Von Steiben. I could tell in her eyes. The usual light conversation continued and I joined in. I would catch her looking at me. She never said anything but I knew. As a matter of fact she said nothing through dinner. She spoke to no one. Just like I, she was also alone. Toward the end of the evening acting as if nothing was wrong was more than I could handle. I told them all I had a headache and left the dinning room. I went for a walk on deck.
I spent the next two days in my cabin. Except for the nightly strolls on deck I remained isolated with my own thoughts. Every night I'd stand, leaning against the rail of the ship, till the early hours of the night in a deserted part of the ship; and there was only the sound of the ocean and me. I'd close my eyes and I'd let the soft breeze caress me, envelope me in its embrace and in so doing I would find some peace.
One night the sound of steps broke the silence. I turned my head toward the sound and walking slowly toward me was Charlotte Von Steiben. I resented the interruption and did not bother with pleasantries; I again looked out into the ocean and ignored her approach. I did not want to see anyone never mind have to make polite conversation. She stopped next to me and like me leaned against the rail but with her back to the ocean and her eyes on me.
"How is the honeymoon now, Laura?" She asked in a husky voice. When I didn't answer she turned away from me and was now looking out onto the water as well. "I'm sorry," she said, "sensitivity is not my forte." For a moment there was only silence between us. She started to speak again after a moment. "I need a drink, care to join me? It might cure what ails you."
"Well suit yourself," she said. She started walking away and turned once again towards me. "Well, it seems that we have something in common after all Laura." She seemed to be waiting for me to say something. I looked at her in puzzlement. Then she proceeded to elaborate. "You and I are both alone."
I was too surprised by what she had said to tell her that it was not the case with me. Mark and I would work this out. We were in love, weren't we? We had two children. But before I could utter a word she had gone. And I was more troubled then before she had come to me. Were we in love? No, it was really a question of was I in love, wasn't it? A sense of panic took over me and I rushed to my cabin. I placed a ship to land call to Mark. I was going to work this out with him. I had to work this out. I had the same sense of panic and desperation as I had felt that day two months before. I needed to talk to Mark. He had left the office and was on his way home. I tried the house an hour later. Mark answered the phone and I took in a deep breath of relief.
We spoke for what seemed like a long time. He told me how sorry he was that he had left. That I had been right, the problem that had come up was something that Ernie could have handled. He had tried to get a flight out to me again but there were no flights until the following Tuesday and Wednesday I was scheduled to return. It was Saturday so we agreed that I would try to get a flight back on Sunday when the ship would dock in one of the small islands we were scheduled to visit. He and the children missed me and they wanted me home. We would work it all out together. He promised we would be happy. He promised we would make it work. Mark was solid. He made me feel safe. He was someone I had always been able to count on. As soon as I hung up the phone I went to make the necessary arrangements for my trip back home.
I was informed that there was no airport on the island we were scheduled to dock in the next day. I would have to wait until the next scheduled stop the day after. One more day was too long. I had to find a way. One more day seemed like a lifetime.
Something inside me was driving me on. I sensed that I needed to work this out with Mark. I needed to work this out as soon as possible. I wanted to rush to happiness and in doing so I looked only ahead. I should have looked sideways. My stubbornness and persistence had helped us get ahead. We had kept our eyes on the prize. And in doing so, we had been successful in business. We had been the ideal couple, ideal partners. We had wanted the same things. My stubbornness in never giving up under what seemed like impossible circumstances had served me well. I believed that all I had to do was want it and in not giving up or giving in to difficulties, or as some would say under impossibilities, I would always come in on top because I'd go the distance. I always won. I would win again. Failure was not an option, not then and especially not now.
As soon as we docked in the island I started making inquiries. I was told that I might want to charter a boat to a nearby island. They had an airport. I found out that there was a flight scheduled to leave for Boston with a connecting flight to New York that evening. If I could find someone to take me by boat I'd be able to make that flight.
The ship's director gave me the name of a local man that usually made those kinds of trips. He, however, was fully booked and could not take me. I explained that it was urgent I get home. There had to be a way, I insisted. He thought about it for a second and said he knew of someone with a boat that might be interested in taking me. The man's name was Ralph Burton and I might find him at a place called The Sailor's Inn.
I found Ralph Burton at the bar. He looked scruffy with at least a two-day-old beard. He didn't inspire much confidence, but he had a boat, and a boat is what I needed.
"Captain Burton, may I speak to you?" He turned and was looking at me.
"Do I know you?" He started looking me over in a most disagreeable manner. "No, If I knew you I would definitely not have forgotten," he finished his drink and looked at me again. "What can I do for you?"
I told him I needed him to take me to the next Island. I needed to make a flight and that Captain Robles had told me that he might be able to help me.
"Only you?" he asked.
"Yes, only me." "
Nope, sorry." He turned away from me and ordered another drink.
"Why?" I asked him.
He turned impatiently towards me. "It would not be worth it to me. It would not be profitable. But would you like to have a drink with me? "
I shook my head. "No, thank you." He turned to face the bar and started on his next drink. "What is you usual fee for a trip?" I asked him.
"Five thousand dollars. Cash," he said not bothering to look at me.
"CASH!" I exclaimed. He did not acknowledge my statement.
As I was about to walk away I heard a voice saying, "I'll pay you ten if we leave within the next hour." Ralph Burton's mouth dropped open as he turned with a surprised expression on his face. "Cash," she added. "I suggest you get your boat ready, we'll want to leave on time. On time means within the next hour." She showed him some bills, and, with not so much as a word, Ralph Burton rushed out.
All I could do was stare at her. She reached out and put a strand of hair from the side of my face behind my ear. "There, that's better. We have an hour to get to the dock," she said to me and turned to walk away.
She looked back at me. "I'm tired of being on that floating palace and besides, I have a divorce to arrange." And she walked away.
Life had a funny way of working things out, I thought. Once again I had won. I was on my way. I rushed back to the ship to pack up my things and cable Mark that I would be home by that night.
I met Charlotte and Captain Burton at the boat and we were on our way within the hour. We had been out at sea for a few hours and from the onset we had all settled into a comfortable silence. I was looking out toward the horizon and Charlotte kept smoking one cigarette after the other. I suppose she had things to think about as well.
She put out her cigarette, and looking at Captain Burton quiet suddenly said, "I think he's plastered."
I turned my head to look at the Captain. "You mean he's drunk?" I said in disbelief. She looked at me smiled, and looked out at the sea again. "When did you notice?"
"When I got on board," she answered in a whisper, still looking at the ocean. I couldn't believe what she was saying.
"Why didn't you tell me!" I exclaimed. She remained silent but I persisted. "Charlotte, this could be dangerous." Still she said nothing. "You should have told me."
"Why?" She looked serenely into my eyes. "Would it have stopped you?" She looked away toward the sea once more.
She infuriated me to no end. There was little I could have said, since I knew that she was right. I don't know what made me angrier the smugness of her statement, that she seemed to know me so well, or the fact that she had neglected to let me decide for myself. I decided it wasn't worth arguing over. Soon we would arrive at our destination and I wouldn't have to deal with this insufferable woman anymore. She was unbearable. If I had to spend any long period of time with her I was sure it would get ugly. As it was, I already found her to be insufferable and impossible to be civil with. And, if we didn't get off this ship soon I'm sure she would drive me to murder with her tactless sarcastic remarks.
I walked to the other side of the boat to put as much distance between us as possible. Within a quarter of an hour, the sea changed completely. Before, it had been calm. Now, from what seemed out of nowhere, we were in the middle of a very heavy storm. The boat seemed to rise and fall with what seemed to be twenty-foot waves. It was like we were riding a roller coaster.
Burton told us to put on our life vests should the boat start to break up. We were in the middle of a raging sea and wrapped in what seemed like a cloak of darkness. The sound of the storm was so loud that it made hearing anything but its fury impossible. Burton staggered towards us, handing over a rope and signaling that we should tie ourselves down so as not to be thrown overboard. We tied ourselves to one of the floating barrels. Within seconds what seemed like a black mountain of water rose before us and it all went dark.
I woke up to a blinding light. I had a splitting headache and I felt utterly weightless. Everything came back to me in a flash. I was surrounded by water. All I could see was water. Next to me was the floating barrel we had tied ourselves to.
"Oh my God." I started turning in all directions. In panic I kept turning and turning wanting to see what wasn't there. I was surrounded by water and sky. Floating next to me was a barrel. Charlotte and I had tied ourselves to the barrel. "Oh my God..." I started to cry out.
In the vastness around me, out of nowhere, I heard a moan. I started looking around in desperation. Once again I heard moaning. I swam around the barrel and there was Charlotte's motionless body. She had a gash on the side of her left temple. It was about two inches long and bleeding profusely. Blood covered the left side of her face. She was so pale that her beautiful tan had disappeared. For one brief moment I thought she was dead and all I could do was stare in shocked disbelief. Then I heard her moan once more and I felt such joy. I wasn't alone.
I pulled her to me and started to caress her face in relief. I whispered into her ear that we were alive and that she must hang on. I kept telling her that someone would find us and we would be safe. I wasn't sure whether she could understand or even heard me but in comforting her, I had a purpose.
She started coming in and out of consciousness through the hours that followed. It was getting dark; and it was getting cold. I had not heard Charlotte make a sound for awhile.
"Charlotte. Charlotte," I said louder.
"I'm still here," she answered.
"For a moment I thought...that?"
"I'm afraid, Laura. We're going to die," she said simply.
"No, don't think like that. They are going to find us," I said, trying to comfort her and trying to convince myself.
"My head feels like its going to fall off." I could hear the pain in her voice.
"Hang on. Just hang on to me. We're going to be okay," I said trying to encourage her.
We clung to each other through the cold of the night and saw a new morning. Never did I know and appreciate the simple fact of just being alive. The rising sun brought with it warmth and hope. As the day progressed however the sun felt hotter and hotter as the hours passed. We were overcome with thirst and exhaustion. Charlotte lost consciousness again. I was afraid. Oh God, I was so afraid. All I could do was cry and speak to Charlotte even though I knew she could not hear.
She opened her eyes finally and just kept looking out into the distance. She did not speak, so I spoke for both of us. I told her about Mark and me, about my children, my business, my hopes, and my aspirations. I even told her how I was going to get a puppy for the kids and how we had argued endlessly about what to call it. I spoke to her until there was nothing else to say.
I was silent for a few moments. I looked at her and her eyes were closed. I panicked. "Don't you to leave me Charlie!" I felt her squeeze my hand. I clung to her with every fiber of my being.
We clung to each other, waiting for a rescue that did not come. That night, we did not expect to survive. But, neither of us said so. In the cold and in the dark, we held on. When the sun rose the next day it was a gift and a torment. We were consumed with thirst and as the hours passed we did not try to speak anymore. We had both accepted in silence that we would die.
I stared out into the nothing and quite suddenly, I realized, that on the distance I saw a shadow etched between the sky and the water. I stared for a moment in disbelief. "My God!" I exclaimed. "Charlie... Charlie look...land Charlie, land." I kept repeating this to her until she seemed to understand. We started slowly swimming towards it.
After awhile she just stopped trying to swim. "Come on Charlie, just a little further."
"I can't Laura. I don't have the strength," she said to me. "Leave me Laura. I'm tired, just leave me, okay?" She moaned.
I got really mad. "Oh no, you are not going to do this to me now! We are going to make it together," I told her. "So, start kicking Charlie, because I'm not leaving you here and I don't plan to die. So move it."
She looked at me with one of her haughty looks and said, "don't call me Charlie!" And she started to kick again.
It seemed like we had been kicking forever. We could now see the beach and the trees. It seemed like a lifetime before we got to that beach. We had made it. Thank God, we had made it. When we finally reached the beach, we put our faces down on the sand and an exhausting sleep took over. I honestly can't say how long we slept; if it had been an hour or a day. But, we were alive and that was all that mattered.
I woke up to the sound of the surf and the taste of sand in my mouth. I looked over to Charlie. She was still breathing. The sun was high we had to find some shade. I dragged Charlie to some nearby palm trees and then collapsed next to her. There was a cool breeze, which made the sunburn we both had more tolerable. We were both red as clams.
Charlie came to. "I'm thirsty," she said barely audible. She looked awful.
"Charlie," I said to her. She seemed disoriented. I spoke to her again. "Charlie," she was looking at me now. "Listen Charlie, stay here. I'm going to see if I can find some water."
I wasn't sure that she had understood me. She just looked at me with a glassy, empty expression. She had lost a lot of blood and she, most likely than not, had suffered a concussion. I had to find some water and I had to find it fast.
"Charlie, do you understand? Charlie, please! Stay here, okay? I'll find you some water, okay? Okay Charlie?"
I needed to know that she understood me. I was afraid that if she didn't give me a sign and I left her there she might be dead when I got back, if I got back. "I need you Charlie. Please, don't leave me alone. Please!"
She then looked into my eyes and gave me one of her half smiles and I embraced her. We clung to each other. "Ouch!" I said and we both pulled away. The sunburn hurt. She actually smiled and I smiled back. We were all we had.
I got myself up slowly and went looking for water. I had to find us some water and I prayed that Charlie would be alive when I got back. I wasn't sure whether she had any other injuries. But water was something we needed and had to have. I don't know how long I wondered around trying to keep the beach to my back; afraid that I'd get lost and I wouldn't be able to get back to Charlie.
It was hard walking. My feet were bare. I sat down on a log completely exhausted. I was so hot. The pain from the sunburn felt awful. I felt like I was on fire. I closed my eyes and leaned my head back, hoping the breeze would give me some comfort. I felt the world spinning around me. My eyes fluttered open and I knew that if I didn't find water soon, I would die.
The calmness that slowly came over me suddenly frightened me. I was going to pass out and if I did I might not wake up again. I shut my eyes and tried to concentrate really hard. I kept telling myself, "hang on, just hang on a little longer."
Slowly, like walking towards a sound in a fog, it came to me, a sound that progressively became clearer. It sounded like a waterfall. I started up again toward the sound. It became louder and louder. I ran toward it stumbling and falling but not giving up on it. Suddenly, there it was -- a waterfall; a magnificently beautiful waterfall. I started laughing hysterically and ran into it. It was drinkable. Thank God! I drank until my thirst was quenched. I laid in the water and the heat seemed to dissipate from my skin.
Charlie! I had to get water to Charlie! I looked around for something to be able to carry it in. I found some dry coconuts and kept hitting one against a rock until it cracked. I filled it with water and I started back to Charlie.
When I reached her and she saw me she seemed genuinely surprised. I knelt down beside her, slowly sat her up and started giving her water. During all this time she did not move her eyes from my face. She leaned back and closed her eyes. " I didn't think you would come back," she whispered and opened her eyes.
She seemed suddenly close to tears. I lightly dabbed some water on the gash over her temple in an attempt to clean her wound. "Why would you think I wouldn't? I said I would, didn't I? Woman of little faith," I said to her jokingly.
And she simply said, "Why should you be any different?" as her eyes looked into mine.
I didn't know how to answer that. I lowered my gaze looking for something to say to her. Quite suddenly, I saw the pain in her. She wasn't made of marble after all. The world saw her like a haughty and over pampered woman. I knew that from the conversations I had heard at the dinner table back on the ship. But, at that moment, I saw how lonely and how needy she was within. She must have seen the confusion in my face and before I could speak she did. "I'm sorry," she said simply and as I raised my eyes to meet hers she looked away.
I didn't know quite what I should say to her. Her hand reached for mine. I sat down next to her with my back to the tree. We sat there in silence. It was getting dark and sleep caught up with us. We both curled up next to the tree and fell asleep.
During the night the sound of whimpering woke me. I turned toward Charlie. She was having a nightmare. I shook her to wake her. She woke suddenly and her eyes, I could see, were filled with tears. I took her into my arms and stroked her hair. "It's okay...SSHHH...It's okay. It's only a nightmare," I whispered in her ear. She clung to me in desperation.
Someday I would fully understand what that moment would mean to the rest of my life. Charlotte Catherine Von Steiben clung to me and I held her tight through the night.
The first order of the day for the first few days was survival. I had found water and as to food, well, there were plenty of fruits. Charlie started feeling better too. What we couldn't understand was why we were still marooned. This didn't happen in this day and age. People were not stranded anymore, for God's sake. These were the 1990's not the 1890's. There were search planes and a coast guard. Surely, they had to be looking for us.
Two weeks had gone by and we were still stranded. Charlie was feeling okay now but all she ever wanted to do was sunbathe and I was getting tired of doing all the work. My temper got the better of me and sparks started to fly one day.
I had been walking back from fetching the water like I did everyday and I cut my foot on a broken shell on the beach. "AAHHH! God dammit! Shit! Shit! Shit!" I remember it had hurt like hell. I hopped around a few steps until I fell on the sand in pain. I remember hearing Charlie laughing her head off. "You think this is funny?" I yelled at her and if looks could kill she would have disintegrated on the spot. She kept on laughing.
"You should have seen yourself," she said. "Hopping around?hahaha!" She wouldn't stop laughing.
I remember taking a handful of sand and throwing it at her. Some must have gone into her eyes because she immediately put her hands up to them and she was stumbling towards the water while she was cursing me out in a bad way.
"You bitch! You fucking bitch! Just wait till I get this sand out of my eyes." She kept splashing water into her face. She finally gave up and totally submerged herself in the water.
When she came up again and she saw me I could tell she was furious. She was trying to run in the water toward me on the beach. I stood up and when she reached me she gave me such a push that I was on my ass all over again.
I got up and I lunged at her. Within a few seconds we were rolling around fighting like two kids. At thirty-five I was rolling around on a beach with a naked woman, fighting like we were in grade school.
I pinned her down. "Enough!" I said to her. She was still plenty mad because she wouldn't stop trying to get me off her. "Enough, Charlie!" I yelled.
This had gone far enough. She hissed at me through her teeth "Get off of me right now!"
I looked at her straight in the eyes and said, "Have you had enough?" She wouldn't answer. So, I asked again putting my face closer to hers. "I said have you had enough?"
For a moment she just stared at me. All the anger was gone from her face. "You like being up there Laura?"
What she said did not register for a few seconds. And as soon as I knew what she meant I got off of her immediately. She turned, laid on her stomach, got up on her elbows, threw her head back and was laughing again.
I started hopping away and yelled back at her. "You're crazy! If you think I'm going to keep on doing everything, you're really crazy." I kept hopping away towards the shelter I had put together. I kept yelling back at her on the top of my lungs. "I've had it! You are going to have to start moving your ass and doing some of the work around here."
As I kept hopping towards the shelter I kept mumbling to myself. "And for Christ's sake, PUT SOME CLOTHES ON!!!" I reached the shelter and just dropped to the ground.
My foot had not stopped bleeding. I kept trying to close the cut with my fingers by applying pressure but it must have been very deep because my hands were covered in blood now too. The sun was blocked by Charlie's shadow standing over me.
I looked up and immediately I could see the concern in her eyes as she knelt in front of me and saw that I was covered in blood.
"My God! What have you done to yourself?" Her voice was warm and tender now with concern.
She helped me up and we started back to the water. When we got to the water she started cleaning out the cut. It had gotten full of sand. Once the wound was cleaned she started applying pressure to it. The bleeding started to slow down. I however was feeling a little dizzy.
"Take off your blouse," she said looking at me with concern and gentleness.
"Why?" I heard myself asking.
"I need to wrap your foot tightly and you are the one with the clothes on," she explained.
I started unbuttoning it but, apparently I was too slow and in all honesty I don't think I could have finished, everything started to spin around me.
"Let me do this before you bleed to death," said Charlie, pushing my hands aside in exasperation. She had quickly removed my blouse and wrapped it tightly around my foot.
"It's too tight Charlie," I whispered.
"It has to be tight," she answered curtly. A moan escaped from my lips and I laid back on the sand. I wanted to stop the world from spinning.
I felt myself getting up very easily and I looked around totally disoriented. Charlie's face was right next to mine. How had I gotten up so easily? I felt the support of her right arm behind my back and under my arm.
She was now leading us back to the shelter. Gently, she helped me down on one of the mats lying on the floor. She placed something under my foot to elevate it. My eyelids felt very heavy. Charlie raised my head and tried to make me drink some coconut juice hoping that its sweetness would help my dizziness.
"No more Charlie," I protested and as the liquid overflowed from my mouth. "Are you trying to drown me?" She wiped the excess liquid away from my lips and chin and giggled.
She looked into my eyes and tenderly answered my question with one of her own. "And stay by myself on this island?" I smiled back to her face above me. She pulled me close and my cheek rested on her shoulder and my forehead on her neck. I remember I heard her say very quietly before I dozed off "Don't call me Charlie," as her arms tightened around me.
That incident had changed everything between us. I think we realized that we needed each other and we started genuinely enjoying each other's company.
As soon as I was able to walk again we started to explore the island and found what seemed like an old abandoned dock. The good news about that was that there were nets, some canvas and, thank you God, some pots that we could use to cook in.
After about two months of only eating fruit, finding pots was like finding gold. We were ecstatic. Of course the fact that neither of us had ever tried to actually catch a fish didn't deter the excitement as to the possibilities.
We took our booty back to our side of the island and started making plans for dinner.
I started washing out the biggest pot. I scrubbed it with sand and then rinsed it in the ocean. It took several trips to the waterfall to get enough water to fill the pot. If we had tried filling it and carrying it back it would have been too heavy. Charlie had gathered some dried pieces of wood. After two months of practice we had figured out how to start a fire. We were ready to start.
We went off to get our dinner with our net and total ignorance as to what we were supposed to do with it.
"I think we should go to the inlet," I said to Charlie.
She looked at me and asked, "why the inlet?"
I remembered how when the tides changed we had seen fish there. We must have tried to catch fish for a good two hours. In these two months, I also had come to know that Charlie had a low tolerance level. Patience was not in her nature. So, when she lost her patience it did not catch me totally by surprise.
"Fuck this, I've had enough." She walked away.
"Charlie!" I called out to her. "Don't be like that! Come on Charlie. Hey, if you have a better idea just say so." After all, I was upset too. But you didn't see me quit. I kept yelling at her. "Quitter! You don't see me giving up do you?"
No answer from her, she just kept walking away. "Charlie!"
She quickly spun around and yelled back. "I've told you a million times, DON'T CALL ME CHARLIE!!!" She started walking back to the shelter again.
I sat on the rocks a while longer. I suppose I really couldn't blame her for being frustrated. I started back when it began to get dark.
By the time I got back to the shelter it had gotten considerably darker. Charlie had not started the fire we usually lit every night. It had become a ritual. We would talk in front of the fire about everything and anything. It was a routine that we had both looked forward to, so where was Charlie?
I started walking further down the beach. It was a warm night and there was a full moon. It made everything glow in a silver sheen.
After a few minutes I saw her out in the water. She stood up. The water was up to her thighs. She was running her fingers back through her hair. The glow of the moon seemed to highlight the utter beauty of her naked body.
I considered myself attractive. Enough men had told me I was beautiful. But, Charlie was breathtakingly beautiful. She had continued to sunbathe so her whole body had an even honey golden color. Her hair had gotten lighter, as had mine, from the sun. After a while I had taken to sunbathing with her. But never had I noticed her or looked upon her as I did at that moment.
Never in all the times we had laid side by side totally nude, taking in the sun, had I ever experienced the feelings I felt in that instance. All I could do was stare at her moving around in the water in sheer abandonment.
She cupped her breasts and turned her face up towards the sky. At that moment I understood what she felt. It had been so long since anyone had touched me. I was filled with a sense of wantonness.
I closed my eyes and when I opened them and looked at her I felt desire. The realization hit me like a ton of bricks.
At that moment Charlie noticed me standing at the shore and waved for me to come in. I turned and ran the other way, back to the safety of the shelter.
I can't tell you all the thoughts rushing through my head. I had never experienced such feelings for a woman. I felt uncomfortable, frustrated and the worst thing of all was that I realized, as I was running back to the shelter, that I had wanted my hands to be hers. I wanted to caress her breasts. I wanted to feel her lips on mine. I was shaking with desire and disgust at the same time.
As soon as I reached the shelter I started pacing like a caged cat. I had to find something to do. I started building the fire. I had gotten it started when I looked up and saw Charlie slowly walking towards me from a distance.
She had the rags of what were the remains of our clothes these days in her hands. They barely covered our bodies anymore.
She was slowly walking back. Taking her time looking at the ocean and up towards the stars, all I could do was stare.
After a few moments I went to my mat on the floor and laid down. I turned my back to her as she approached the shelter.
"Hey, why didn't you come into the water?" she asked. I did not answer. "Are you still mad because I left you with that stupid net?" She waited for me to say something. "I know you're not asleep Laura," she paused. "Come on Laura, don't be mad." She must have gotten tired of waiting for me to answer so she decided to go to sleep too.
She laid down next to me like she did every night , and all of a sudden I felt her wet arm graze my back.
I turned to look at her. She was still naked and wet the light from the fire bouncing off her. "Are you going to sleep like that?" I asked her.
She looked at me in surprise. "Yes! It's hot." She turned her back to me.
The next few days we barely spoke. I would get up and head out looking for fruit and fetching the water.
I started doing alone all the things we would do together. And I also kept on trying different things to catch those stupid fish.
Two days later it paid off. Now we had fish added to our diet. I also found a bed of Lobsters near one of the reefs and occasionally I was lucky enough to be able to get some.
The net and the pot we now had made all the difference. I don't think fruit would have done the trick after awhile. All these new chores kept me busy and away from Charlie. I stopped sunbathing with her. I could tell she was hurt. Why shouldn't she be? All of a sudden I was avoiding her company and I'd go out of my way to avoid being near her.
I had intentionally and methodically cut her out of everything I did. This went on for about three weeks. We were barely speaking now.
I missed our talks. I missed walking with her, swimming with her, sharing every day things. I missed all the things I had shared with her before.
She stopped trying to talk to me too. She took to staring out at the ocean for hours at a time and occasionally I would catch her looking longingly at me.
Another few weeks went by and nothing between us had changed. We were stuck on this God forsaken island. They must have given up on us by now. I knew that our chances grew slimmer the more time that past.
I was walking up the beach when I saw Charlie sitting on one of the reefs one day. Normally I would have walked away but I saw her raise her hands to her face and saw her body shaking with sobs. She couldn't see me. I could have walked away. I should have. But, I couldn't walk away from her.
She looked so miserable. My breast was filled with such emotion. I wanted to comfort her.
I walked to her slowly. She could not see me coming. Her back was to me. And as I closed the distance between us I could hear the sound of her crying.
I knelt down behind her and my hand reached out to touch her. As I touched her shoulder she turned and looked at me. Her eyes were filled with more unshed tears. The sadness and the pain in her eyes cut at my soul. I took her into my arms and her arms went immediately around me.
I held her tightly and I could feel every move her body made as she sobbed. I stroked her hair gently and kissed her forehead. I held her closer to me. And rocked her in my arms.
I held her for a long time. She looked up at me and I tenderly caressed her face. Her eyes were looking into mine. Her lips parted. I could feel myself getting closer to her. Quickly and with no warning I pushed her from me.
She stared in surprise. I jumped into the water and started back towards the shore. Charlie jumped in behind me.
She caught up with me, grabbed me by the arm and turned me around to face her.
"Why? Tell me why?" She was screaming at me. "Just tell me, why?" She asked over and over. I tried to pull free from her. "Laura, I need you," she cried. I pulled free.
I started toward the shore once more. I could hear her sobs again. And I stopped. I turned to look at her.
"Charlie?Charlie, don't make it any harder please," I begged her. She just stared at me. "Don't you see Charlie?" I paused. "I can't be around you. I can't be with you." She just looked at me in confusion.
"Why? What have I done?" she asked. "What have I done Laura!" she cried. "I have never needed anyone," she said softly.
A big silence stood between us. I had to tell her. There was something wrong in me, it wasn't right that she should suffer like this. I had to try and make her understand and ask her to forgive me.
"I love you Charlie," I said simply.
She smiled and started walking towards me. Just as quickly she stopped when she noticed I took a few steps away from her.
"All I want to do is be with you," I said to her.
"Me too. I need you too," she said to me with a smile. I took another step back
"No you don't understand. I want you. I want you so bad it hurts to look at you. I've never?I can't be near you! Don't you understand? I can't be with you!" She just stood there staring at me with that blank expression in her eyes that I occasionally saw while I would catch her looking at me and she thought I wasn't watching. I turned and ran from her as quickly as my legs could carry me.
I was running in no particular direction. I knew she was running after me. I kept hearing her call my name. I finally just got tired and stopped. I was gasping for breath. I turned to look back and she was standing about ten feet away from me hunched over trying to catch her breath too.
After a few moments she stood up straight and took a step toward me and I took one back. All I could do was look at her. Her expression again was unreadable. She started walking towards me much slower this time. As I stood frozen staring at her, she stopped a few inches from me. I could feel her breath close to my face.
She was about an inch or two taller than I was. Having her standing so close, my eyes were looking straight into hers. Her eyes seemed to be looking straight into me, holding me in place. I felt like I was in a whirlpool, being sucked into a vacuum, that I had no hope of escaping, not that I wanted to.
Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion. Her hand came up to my face and stroked it lovingly. I was about to say something when she placed her finger on my lips.
She took a lock of hair from the side of my face and put it behind my ear as she had done so many times before. Her hand rested there behind my ear for a few seconds.
I was totally mesmerized and all I could feel or hear was the pounding of my heart. Her hand slipped behind my neck and I felt her pulling me closer. I felt every part of her body pressed against mine, her breath so close to my mouth.
I closed my eyes and I felt her lips lightly touching mine, slowly teasing my mouth to open. I experienced a rush of emotions that I had never known before. I could feel her hands on my back pulling me closer to her and a moan escaped from me. My arms went up and I pressed her closer to me. I wanted so desperately to melt into her.
Suddenly, I tore myself away. There were now a few feet between us. I couldn't seem to catch my breath. I kept staring into her eyes. There were so many emotions running through me but looking into Charlie's eyes I couldn't see anything. Then she spoke very softly to me. "I need you Laura, and you need this." She tried reaching out for me.
I had to look away. God, I felt such disgust for myself. She needed me and I was forcing this on her. A cry escaped my lips and I dropped to the ground and covered my face in shame. Tears started rolling down my face.
She knelt in front of me. I couldn't bear to look at her. She broke the silence. "I've never needed anyone. I don't know what to say to you." I could hear she took a deep breath before she continued. "Look at me! This charade has to stop!" She went on. "Please look at me Laura," she pleaded with me. I raised my tear-filled eyes and I was confused by what I saw.
Her eyes were no longer without expression. "I want to let you in Laura," she said softly. "Into my world, into my life." Her gaze became all of a sudden very serious. "I need this too." She reached out for me and pulled me to her and we both fell back unto the ground.
Half my body was above her. She slipped her hand behind my neck and started pulling me closer to her. Our lips were now touching.
"I want this," she whispered reassuringly. And my lips came down on hers.
We kissed for what seemed like an eternity. Every kiss was more passionate than the one before. I felt her hands going up and down my body.
I wanted her so badly. I couldn't get enough, I tasted her, I felt her. My hands could not get enough of her. I lusted for her as I had never lusted for anyone before.
She pulled away, looking into my eyes, and proceeded to open her blouse. My breathing became more strained. Her eyes kept searching my face for my reaction.
I was afraid, excited, and I wanted her. God, how I wanted her. She took my hand and placed it on her breast. I was overcome with desire for her. My thumb started stroking her nipple. My other hand parted the rest of her blouse away and started stroking her other breast. Her eyes closed and her head went back.
My lips started to kiss her neck. And her lips rushed to join mine. She whispered into my mouth.
"I want to touch you." Her tongue started tracing my lips. And in a very low voice she spoke to me. "Ask me Laura! Ask me to touch you!" She stopped kissing me and was looking directly into my eyes. "Ask me to touch you! Tell me." She held my hands so I could not touch her. "Ask me to touch you! Ask me to caress your breasts like you've caressed mine." I was breathless. "Ask me Laura. Ask me to kiss them, and ask me to make you come with my mouth." With my hands in hers she yanked me towards her. I fell on top of her. Her face was right beneath me. With her lips brushing my face she kept whispering. "Ask me?ask me Laura" and I did ask.
I would have done or said anything. "Touch me, Charlie, please." I began to plead. "Please Charlie! I want to feel every part of you, and I want to feel you touch every part of me."
What followed was so much. It was a storm of one sensation after the other. It was pleasure beyond imagination. I touched and kissed and tasted every part of her. And she gave me such pleasure, as I'd never known.
She made love to me slowly and pleasured me until I could bear no more. We both laid afterwards intertwined in each other, covered only with the perspiration of the aftermath of passion. I held her close and she stroked my hair.
When it started to get dark we headed back towards our shelter in each other's embrace, kissing along the way. Strolling like lovers under a moonlit night. No words were necessary. And once we reached the shelter she pulled me close and we started kissing all over again.
We laid down on the mats and quite suddenly Charlie was above me parting my lips with hers, coaxing such hunger from me that when I closed my eyes and a groan escaped my lips she covered me with her body and her passion for the rest of the night.
With the light of day came clarity of mind. Charlie was still asleep. I went for a walk on the beach. I had to think. My God, what had I done? What was going to happen now? What would I say? How would she act? This was a road totally new to me.
I sat down in the sand and pulled my knees up close to my chest. I just sat there looking out into the ocean. Not knowing what was to happen next.
I asked myself the questions I had been dreading. Was what had happened a one-time thing?
Did it happen because we had both just needed to release all that built up sexual frustration? Or was it more?
Did I still want her? I had finally come to the most important question.
Did I still want her?
"Yes. Oh, yes."
I looked back towards the shelter and I saw Charlie standing there staring at me with that expressionless stare of hers. I knew she was waiting for me to make the first move.
I don't know how long she must have been standing there. But, the next move would have to be mine and she was waiting patiently for me to make it.
I stood up and walked slowly towards her, my eyes never leaving her for a moment. I was standing a few inches from her and my mouth sought out hers.
The outside world simply did not exist. We did all the things that lovers do. Out here in the middle of nowhere, morality was not an issue. We would work side by side. Take long walks on the beach, swim together, argue, and make up. We had been on the island for about six months now. And the last three with Charlie had been the happiest I had ever known.
I was going to see if I could get us some lobsters for dinner and she had gone to fetch the water to boil them in. I realized that this had been the first time I had been alone since that morning on the beach thinking about how I'd handle my new relationship with Charlie. It caught me by surprise. She wasn't there filling every moment with a question, a thought, a caress.
Inevitably, I started thinking about the life that had been before her. I missed my children. I longed to hold them and tuck them in at night. Ashley would be in second grade now. She had wanted to join the girl scouts this year. And we had planned to do that together when she got to second grade. Josh, my baby, somehow he could manage to get himself into some kind of mischief without even trying. And the realization that I might never see my children again filled me with such sorrow that without realizing it tears rolled down my face.
My arms felt empty and I wrapped them around me. I looked out beyond the ocean where the water and the sky meet. It was so far. Just as they were far from me. They must think that I had died. So little, to think that their mama was gone. Who was taking care of them? Those few years together filled with work and juggling schedules. I should have just loved them. I should have made the time to be with them. What did my success matter now? I must have stood there a very long time. Looking out there. Where were they? Where were they without me?
I felt Charlie's hand on my shoulder. She was standing right next to me. I don't know how long she'd been there. Or, if she'd been there long at all. I turned my face and looked into her eyes. And there, I was met by the emptiness that had been present other times. She sensed my need. And her wall came down. I saw tenderness and a question. I went into her arms and I shed the tears that had welled up inside me.
She held me close to her and only asked one question, "What don't you have that fills you with such longing?"
I felt her body becoming tense waiting for my answer. I pulled away from her. I wrapped my arms around myself. I felt a sudden shiver go through me. My eyes went back out there, far out there, where the ocean met the sky. The place they were. That's where they were for me now. And for a moment, I forgot that Charlie was there, waiting for my answer.
"I miss them Charlie," I took a deep breath. She just listened. "I miss my babies," I tried to suppress a sob. And then I sought the comfort of her embrace. I sat down on the sand. She sat down behind me and held me close against her. And we both looked out to the water. I spoke for a long time. I told her how it had been when they were born. Their first steps. Their first tooth. And telling her about them made them more real to me. Out here, nothing seemed real anymore. She listened, she held me closer to her and never said a word. After that moment, Charlie never left my side again.
We had been in the island for a total of about eighteen months, give or take a day. I had lost all hope of being found. I had accepted the fact that we would spend the rest of our lives there. I had made a life with Charlie in that idyllic place. There was no job to keep me away for all hours. There were no outside interests that we did not share. We had all the time in the world and we spent it together. I would be lying if I didn't acknowledge that the time I spent with Charlie on the island were the happiest I've ever known. Before or after. The days just slipped by.
One day we were out exploring the island and we decided to head to that old abandoned dock again. Perhaps, we had overlooked something that we could use. We were walking out towards the clearing when all of a sudden she shoved me hard down onto the ground. I turned over and she laid on top of me covering my mouth with her hand. She signaled me to be quite and pointed towards the dock. She rolled off me and I turned over. We were both looking towards the dock and then I noticed them. They looked scruffy. My God, they were men. We were going to be rescued.
In my excitement I started to get up and Charlie pulled me down hard again. She bade me to be quite. I whispered to her. "They can rescue us Charlie." I couldn't understand why she was acting like this. "We can go home. Don't you understand, they can take us home!" I exclaimed.
"Be quiet," she said to me. "Look at them Laura," She pointed at the sailors. "Look at them and tell me that they are going to take us home." I looked. She continued. "The only thing they'll do to us I won't bother to describe to you."
I looked at her in confusion. "They are pirates of some kind. They are not men. They are wild animals."
I tried to convince her and to convince myself. I wanted to get rescued. "Charlie, you don't know that."
She interrupted. "Yes, I do." She looked at them and continued, "they are predators, I recognize the breed."
I looked in their direction. I started to be afraid. "Do you think they'll go around the island and suspect that we're on it?" I said to her. She just kept staring at them in silence.
"Let's go," she said and we gradually started crawling away. We started back towards the shelter. We traveled quickly.
"We should go hide in that cave we found on the other side of the island," I said to her.
She just kept walking. I stopped. "Charlie, we would be safer in that cave!"
She just kept walking. I caught up with her, and turned her around. I was looking into the eyes of a stranger. My hands that were holding her in place just slipped off her.
"We have to go back to the shelter and dismantle it. We'll take what we need and go to the cave. You're right, we'll be safe there," she said grabbing my arm and her grip was strong. "They can't suspect we are here or they won't stop searching until they find us." She started to walk and dragged me along with her.
She was acting crazy. I knew she was afraid for us. Her grip was becoming increasingly painful. "Charlie let go of me. You're hurting me Charlie!"
She looked down at my arm and let go. "Hurry up, move quickly."
We made it back to the shelter in record time. We grabbed what we could. The most important things: the mats, because the cave would be cold to sleep on the ground there, and all the food we had. We had used the old canvas we had found on the dock to keep water from coming in from what we called a roof of our little hut. We tore it off and took it should we need protection from the elements. After making sure that there was no sign of anyone having been there recently; we went towards the cave as quickly as our feet could carry us.
Charlie had become a stranger. It was getting dark out. The cave was cold. Charlie and I were seating on opposite sides of the cave. She was moody and I sensed that she was angry. She kept standing up, walking to the mouth of the cave, looking around and walking back and seating back on the same spot. I felt as if she didn't even realize I was there.
She reminded me of a big cat in captivity. The way she would pace resenting the confinement. There was a sharpness in her eyes, and the way she moved was feline like. I was seeing a side of Charlie that I knew quite suddenly very few people were ever allowed to see.
I shook from the cold and my stirring got her attention. She walked over to me and slowly knelt down in front of me. There was a savage wildness in her eyes. But, her voice, when she spoke was low and melodic. She was completely in control.
"You are cold!" It wasn't a question but a statement.
She walked to where the canvas was, brought it to me and covered me with it. When she was satisfied that I was properly covered she looked straight at me. Her expression was unreadable. Her hand took the lock of hair that always was out of place on the side of my face and put it back behind my ear. And very intently looking into my eyes said to me, "I won't let anything hurt you...EVER"
She got up and went back to the mouth of the cave to look out and see if anyone was about. That's how we spent that night. I was afraid we were going to be found out and I was also afraid in what I saw in Charlie. We ate the food we brought in silence. And spent the next day very much the same as we had spent the night before.
It was again now dark. I broke the silence. "Charlie," she didn't let me finish. She put her finger on my lips and proceeded to caress them. She didn't let me speak. Her mouth took mine. Her passion was demanding that night. Her hunger was insatiable. I was lost in the abyss of that passion.
Two days later we ventured out of the cave cautiously and went towards the dock. They had gone. We looked throughout the island to be sure. There was a great relief when we finally accepted that in effect they were gone. And we were alone again as we had been before. But something inside me told me everything had changed.
We had been alone on the island for a week now since they had gone. Charlie, however, was still moody. It was time we put this behind us. "What's wrong Charlie?" I asked.
She had her back to me. And she did not appear to be going to answer me. "Charlie, has what you feel about me changed?" She still said nothing.
I didn't need an answer. I walked away from her.
"Wait," she called out to me.
I kept walking. And she yelled. "I can't do this. I don't want this!" I didn't understand. I turned around to look at her. She seemed genuinely upset. "I don't want to care about you," she continued. "I can't afford to care." She started pacing.
I was frozen and frightened. I was afraid she had stopped loving me. I had to let her speak at her own time. I waited expectantly.
She finally stopped pacing and faced me. "I have never needed. I've always had more than what I've needed and all that I have wanted." She paused for a moment and continued. "I've never loved a woman." I lowered my gaze. I felt ashamed and still she went on. "That day in the cave the thought of losing you terrified me." I could hear her breathing getting deeper but I could not bear to face her. "And I felt RAGE...RAGE as I've never felt before."
I mustered up the courage and looked up at her. "I don't understand what you are trying to tell me Charlie." I shook my head in frustration and asked her. "What are you trying to say, that you don't love me anymore?" I was about to break into tears.
"You idiot," she said, walked to me and pulled me into her arms. She held me tight and said "You fool, I'm trying to tell you how much I do love you and I'm doing a terrible job."
I cried hard and she held me tight. And we both laughed afterward. Things went back to the way it had been before. I loved her. And I believed her when she said that she had loved no one before me. It made me glad and also very sad that there had been no one person there for her in her life. I could not imagine existing in a golden cage. And this endeared her ever so much more to my heart. I wanted to love her for all those that had not. I wanted to make her feel the most important person in someone's life, mine. I wanted to show her all the tenderness that she had never had. I succeeded. One day those who stood between us would feel her wrath. I gave myself to her on the island. And she took me as her own. Loving Charlie was easy then. I thought I knew her. She was nothing of what people thought of her.
I remembered the talk over the dinner table a lifetime ago on the ship. They had described her as someone hard and cold, unmoveable and unshakable with a streak of cruelty that could frighten you. She took what she wanted without impunity; that's what they had thought of her. They didn't know her. They didn't know her as I knew her. She was my Charlie, soft, loving and needing. She needed so much to be loved. She was tender and clever. And I could imagine her as a child, soft and delicately sad. Needing so much to be loved and feeling lonely. I saw her as a sad and lovely child and imagining her like this made me love her all the more. She needed me and I needed to feel wanted. I asked her to tell me about when she was growing up, but she never really wanted to speak about her past much. Knowing the real Charlie, like perfection, was a moving target.
One day I got upset with her. "You never want to tell me anything about yourself." I stormed.
She got mad very quickly "I've told you everything about me. What the fuck do you want from me?" She was furious.
I just stared at her in surprise. She had her back to me and went on. "Stop interrogating me. You won't know anything I don't want you to."
A few moments of silence passed between us. I couldn't understand her reaction and her words had hurt me. This is the part of Charlie that I grew to hate. She would feel uncomfortable about something without explaining or asking about it she would blow up. Of course, she was always sorry afterwards. She would beg me to forgive her. And of course I would and we would make love for the rest of the day.
Today would be no different. I didn't say anything else to her and walked away. She caught up with me and blocked my retreat. She was still mad. "Why do you want to know so much? Why won't you leave well enough alone?" She yelled.
She grabbed me and started to shake me in frustration. "Let go of me," I exclaimed and I pushed her away from me and proceeded to walk away. She grabbed me and pulled me to her. She started to savagely kiss my mouth. Her kisses were a struggle for power. "Don't...not like this," I gasped.
In our struggle we fell to the ground. "No Charlie, not like this. I don't want it like this," I pleaded.
Her hands were roughly traveling through my body. "I want to make love to you," she growled and proceeded to kiss me even harder. My lower lip started to bleed. I think when she noticed the blood it shocked her that she had hurt me. She released me and I turned my back to her.
"That isn't making love, Charlie," I whispered. She said nothing. The apology did not come. I could feel her breath getting heavy as it did when she was excited. I turned towards her. "All I want to do is love you," I said. She inhaled deeply.
Her breathing was getting heavier and her eyes were becoming smoky with passion. "Nothing that came before you matters to me. You are what will always matter. What I'll never give up." And she covered my lips with her mouth. Her kisses were passionate but tender at the same time. She licked the blood off my mouth and said. "Your blood is in me. You'll be inside me forever." Her kisses were as they had never been before. We rolled naked on the sand. Loving Charlie had become the reason why I existed.
Somewhere along the way, our relationship had changed. Ever since we had to hide in the cave she had taken over. She was stronger, and yes at times she could be cruel. But I never doubted her love for me. And there came a point that her passion for me frustrated her.
Loving Charlie was like riding a roller coaster; the fear was as exciting as the anticipation. Our lovemaking had become tumultuous and at times brought about by an aggressive passion inside her that she could not control. That's how David first saw us. Rolling in the water, both nude making love on the beach. I was on top of her, kissing her, savoring her lips while my hand was cupping her breast. That's how I noticed David walking towards us on the beach.
I jumped up in shock and fear. I just stared in muted silence. Charlie got up too but she didn't seem frightened at all. What he must have thought. What we must have looked like, with swollen lips. A tell tale sign of our lovemaking.
He kept walking towards us with a half smile on his face. Charlie stood there staring back. I kept looking from her to him in confusion. The outside world had come back for us. She was ready to meet it. I was not. We were going home.
I wasn't prepared for the looks and the curiosity or about the unspoken understanding of my relationship with Charlie. I was uncomfortable, silent, and I could not look at David in the eye. None of this escaped Charlie's eyes.
David had been sailing and had decided to explore some of the smaller islands off the beaten path. He offered to take us back with him once he knew we had been marooned on the island. He and Charlie discussed the details and in view of his being there we had put on the remnants of what once upon a time had been our clothes. He was very kind and offered to give us some of his own and asked us to come with him to show us were the boat was.
I had still not spoken a word to him. I think he figured out why I was acting so strangely and made an effort for some reason to start up a conversation. And I must confess it was not easy. I just asked him one thing. "When can you take us back?" I was looking at him anxiously.
He smiled understanding and replied promptly. "We can leave in a few hours if you like."
I smiled and looked at Charlie. "We are going home Charlie. We're really going home."
There was nothing to pack, but we went back to the shelter anyway to see if there was something we might want to take with us. David would wait for us on the boat, getting it ready to leave.
We walked back in silence. So many things rushed through my head. I would see my children. I would hold them in my arms again. I smiled to myself. I would get a big scoop of chocolate ice cream. I wanted a slice of pizza with extra cheese and a diet coke. And out of nowhere Mark invaded my thoughts. I stopped in mid stride and faced Charlie.
She looked back at me and said "Yes I know," she started tenderly caressing my face. "You're mine now and no one else's. I won't give you up," her eyes had that look of wildness like that night at the cave. "I'll be patient. You love me. You know you do," she said and as she spoke her hand did not stop caressing my face while her other arm pulled me closer to her. "You're in my blood, remember? You need this as much as I do," and she pulled me to her and kissed me softly and slowly. She was right I did need her. Ten hours later we reached the island nearest to us.
We contacted the local authorities upon our arrival. David was so kind. He checked us into a hotel and immediately after that Charlie got on the phone. Within less then two hours she had managed to transfer money to a nearby bank. The next day her identity would be verified by fingerprint and she would again have full access to all of her money.
I just sat out in the balcony looking out onto the ocean. Our identities had been verified and inquiries were being made about Captain Burton and his ship. We apparently had been way off course according to the sail plan that he had filed on our departure. He had been drunk. That could have accounted for our being off course. More likely than not that had been the reason. Captain Burton and his ship had not been found. He was as we had been presumed lost at sea. We would now have to notify our loved ones that we were alive. It had been two years. Not a lifetime but it felt as if it was. Everything had changed. I had changed. Knowing Charlie had changed everything. That was the only thing going through my mind sitting out there on that balcony.
The island had a small airport. There were no planes flying out until that Thursday and the day we got there was Monday. Things like days of the week that people took for granted. Out there on the island we weren't even sure we knew what day of the week it was; we just counted. Charlie came out to me.
"I've arranged for the store to stay open for us downstairs. Let's go shopping. And tomorrow we are moving to another hotel." she said. "David wanted to join us for dinner but I told him that perhaps tomorrow," she paused to look at me. She was so excited. "After we finish shopping perhaps we can go for a walk," she paused, not giving me a chance to answer, she continued. "Or perhaps we could go to a nightclub. What would you like to do?" She was looking at me with that expression that was her own now; betraying nothing of how she felt.
"Charlie, I have to call Mark," I said. By her reaction I knew it was exactly what she didn't want to hear. She turned her back to me so I could not see her face or her reaction. "Charlie, I have to let my parents know I'm alive. Please try to understand, please. I have to deal with this Charlie," I said to her.
She didn't say a word. I got up and went to stand behind her. I leaned against her and pulled her back towards me with my embrace. We both looked out at the ocean and not at one another. I felt the tenseness of her body although she did not pull away from me. I though I had grown to know Charlie. She was just concerned where we were heading. She loved me. She didn't want to loose me. I told myself all these things. This was so unfair to her. We had a life together. We were lovers. I had no doubts that she loved me. Just as I knew that it had all been born out of my need for her. I was responsible for this. She had never approached me. She had not changed the rules of our relationship. I had. I was the one that had come on to her. I was the one that had probably pushed her into being my lover. I was full of guilt. And now I was the one causing her this pain.
"I know you're upset about Mark. I don't know how to handle this Charlie. I love you. I don't want to hurt you." I took a deep breath. "I can't even conceive of being without you for one moment." I felt her leaning back into me and caressing my hand in front of her. "Be patient Charlie, please don't be hurt." I kissed her neck and she turned in my arms. Her lips met mine.
I decided to call Mark in the morning. Charlie wanted me to contact him when we arrived in the states. She argued that there was nothing that could be done until Thursday anyway. A doctor was flying in to give us a complete check up. And besides, why frustrate the children into having to wait four whole days. And this would give us the time we needed to make some kind of arrangements to do with us. She pleaded and I felt I owed her at least that. I agreed and her face was radiant. I'd made her happy and she was right there was nothing that could be done until Thursday.
She dragged me down to the hotel shop. I had never in my life seen anyone spend so much money in one hour. She bought out the store. She had gotten us every stitch of clothing that she thought appropriate. Her taste I had to admit was impeccable. But after awhile I got tired.
"Charlie, we don't need any more clothes. We couldn't possibly wear all this in a year." She looked at me. I could see that she was disappointed.
"I want to give you everything." She said looking very intense. "We can live anywhere you want. We can buy anything you want. I can give you anything you need."
My God, my poor Charlie, I thought to myself. This is the way it had probably been her whole life. I brushed her lips with mine, there in the hotel shop. The woman that had been helping us was coming out of the storage room with more dresses and stopped flat on her tracks. Charlie saw her too. This moment for some reason I realized was very important to her. I could see it in her eyes. So, instead of pushing her away I pulled her into my arms slowly and kissed her passionately. The shopping attendant disappeared.
"I don't want anything Charlie. All I want is you." I was rewarded with a radiant smile.
"I'm going to charge this to our room and have them deliver all these things upstairs. Why don't you go up?" She smiled and continued. "Go on, I know you're dying to get in the Jacuzzi. I saw your face, remember?" She was right, a real Jacuzzi sounded wonderful.
"Okay, I'll meet you upstairs." I headed for the elevator. As I was waiting for the elevator I could see Charlie, she was having a heated conversation with the salesgirl in the store. I saw her hand over what seemed like a lot of money. The elevator doors opened and I got in. I had probably misunderstood what I saw she had said that she was charging everything. For some reason it had seemed odd. I put the incident out of my mind and proceeded to thinking about the Jacuzzi waiting upstairs.
I had forgotten how wonderful a real bath in a real tub felt. The hot water and the jets made the water a hot relaxing whirlpool. I laid my head back on the rim and just enjoyed the sensation. I lost track of time; my muscles relaxed. I felt like I was melting, floating away into a soothing darkness. I was swimming. I was swimming underwater in the island with Charlie. The water was dark and I was loosing my breath. I kicked and kicked but I couldn't reach the top; God I couldn't breathe. All of a sudden Charlie was above me and pulled me out.
"Laura......Laura, my God.....Laura can you hear me?" She was in the bathtub with me, shaking me hard. "You could have drowned. My God." She held me close to her. She was holding me tightly to her, rocking me back and forth. "You could have drowned." She kept repeating over and over while she kept rocking me like a child and stroking my hair. The cobwebs in my head started to clear. I was still in the tub and Charlie was fully clothed in it with me. Holding me tightly still. She then let go of me a little and started patting my face. She helped me out of the bathtub and wrapped me in a toweled robe. I realized I must have fallen asleep in the tub.
She helped me into the bedroom. I was seating on the bed and all of a sudden she was really mad. She started ranting and raving. "What the hell do you think you were doing? Trying to kill yourself?" She paused. "If I hadn't come up when I did you would be dead by now." I didn't have the strength to answer her. I just kept looking up at her. She was still angry but I knew it was because she was really scared. I reached out for her
"I'm sorry sweetheart, I'm so sorry." She flew into my arms and wept. I whispered to her. "I'm sorry baby, I'm sorry." Charlie took off her wet clothes and we laid down together on the bed hanging on to one another and fell asleep. That was our first night back into the real world again.
The light coming through the window woke me up. Charlie was awake already holding her head with her hand propped up on her elbow. She was just looking at me with that expression of hers. She just kept staring. "How long have you been awake?" I asked her. She gave me one of her half smiles. Her eyes searched my face and ended in my eyes.
"I've been looking at you sleep," she said as she traced my nose and then my lips with her finger. "I wanted to engrave every part of you in my mind." And as she said this her hand reached into my robe and her hand cupped my breast. "You're so warm," she whispered sensually. She didn't say anything else after that for a moment. And then she asked the question that had probably been haunting her since we had left the island.
"Will you stay with me?" I knew what she was asking, but I couldn't answer a question I didn't know the answer to. She closed her eyes and a tear rolled down her cheek. She was looking at me now, waiting for me to say something. I had to decide.
And at that moment I did. "I'm calling Mark today and I'm going to ask him to meet me in Miami on Thursday." She didn't say a word so I continued. "I'm going to work things out with him and the children, and then Charlie when I sort all those things out, then I'll come back to you." Her eyes went blank and I felt I had seen a wall rise between us.
She got out of bed and went to stand near the door leading out into the balcony. "I've never lied to you Charlie," I said. "I love you more than I ever thought possible. I want to spend the rest of my life just loving you. But the reality of it is, I had a life before we met. A life that I have to deal with." Still she did not answer. "I have to settle the situation with my children," no comment still from her. "You said you would wait for me," then she turned around to face me.
"I want to believe you. I want to believe you so much." There were tears rolling down her face. I held my hand out to her and she took it. She sat down next to me.
"You and I will always have each other Charlie. I promise you," she looked away from me and I turned her face towards me again. And I emphasized to her. "I love you Charlotte Catherine Von Steiben, and I always will." Somehow, I would work everything out. I was the strong one between us, I told myself. How naive. How naive I was then.
Charlie's doctor was Charles Arthur Schaefer. He had flown in a moment's notice. She didn't seem surprised. She was used to getting her way. We were waiting for him in the local infirmary when he walked in and saw Charlie; he was visibly moved. He walked over to her and was about to embrace her when she turned and walked towards me. She stood next to me and said, "give her the tests first." She looked angry, for some reason I didn't understand. He just stood there staring at her. "Didn't you hear me? I want to make sure she's all right, I can wait until you're done. Give her the tests first." She finished insisting and all of a sudden he looked at me.
I was now in the room to him. It seemed as if he suddenly realized that I was there. He looked back at her then at me again. He picked up his bag and started examining me. He ran the necessary tests and everything considered we were in very good health except for a touch of dehydration he said. We were supposed to check in with him again once we were back in New York to make sure that all was well and perhaps take a few more tests just to play it safe. I left Charlie talking to Dr. Schaefer. I would meet her back at the hotel.
From the beginning there had been tension between them. With Charlie, I had learned it was better sometimes just to walk away. I found the walk back to the hotel incredibly pleasant. It felt odd to be walking down streets, the noise of traffic and the people. There were people everywhere. We had been alone for so long. I had gotten used to the quite tranquillity of the island. I was bombarded with smells, noises and a world I felt no longer a part of. How would it see me now? Could I ever be a part of it again?
I called Mark that afternoon. I had forgotten how I used to love hearing his voice until I heard it again. He was crying and I tried to console him. He told me a little about the children and that he would tell them right away. He would meet me in Miami and we would fly home together. We had talked and talked. I had missed him I realized suddenly. We had met in high school, gone to the same college, gotten married and had two children. How could I have forgotten all that? I had loved him once. He was all I had ever wanted at one time.
But there was Charlie. I couldn't give up Charlie. As I hung up the phone and looked up I saw her and she asked. "Have you changed your mind?" And I answered her perhaps a bit too quickly.
"No...no." I walked over to her and smiled as I took her in my arms. "Let's go for a walk on the beach," I said. She smiled and we went for a stroll.
The next two days we went sightseeing, and explored the island. We would stroll on the beach like we use to do in the island and we'd make love all night. On Wednesday, we had lunch with David. He lived in New York and had been here for a few weeks sailing the Caribbean he told us; we agreed we'd get together when we were all in New York. David was genuinely a nice guy. I liked him, and so did Charlie. He gave us his address and we promised we'd call him once we were in New York. He was sailing to a nearby island in the afternoon so we said our good-byes after lunch.
That night, we went for our usual stroll on the beach. We had spent such a wonderful day. We walked in silence not having to say a word, we stopped and just looked out into the ocean. Charlie stood behind me and pulled me towards her and enclosed me in her embrace. We both looked out there. Out there were we had met. Out there we had been happy.
"I wanted to give you something, here, next to the water," and I turned to look at her. She took a box out of her pocket. She opened it and inside were two rings. They were identical. The design was that of a rose made of diamonds and light pink amethysts.
My eyes met hers. She took one of the rings and placed it in my finger and gave me the other to put on hers. "I wanted something to connect me to you while you're away from me. When I think that I can't stand it anymore, being away from you, I'll look down on my ring and think that you are looking at yours at that same moment, and it will make missing you more bearable." I was overwhelmed with such tenderness for her. "Don't be too long Laura. I will miss you every moment," she added.
I looked down at the ring in my hand and I looked into her eyes and said. "I won't miss you because I'll have you with me. You're in my heart Charlie," I said. We walked back to our hotel.
We arrived in Miami the next day at 5:oo pm. As the passengers were starting to get off the plane Charlie reached out for my hand and I gave her a light squeeze to reassure her. I leaned over and kissed her on the cheek close to her mouth and we both started walking towards the exit doors.
As soon the exit doors opened I saw Mark. Ours eyes met and we stood frozen in place for a moment then he rushed to me and took me in his arms. He was crying as he was holding me tight. He pushed me a little away from him to look at me as tears were rolling down his cheeks. He started to laugh; picked me up and whirled me around in glee. He put me down and proceeded to kiss me passionately. He released me and held my face with both hands.
For a moment he just looked and then said, "you're so beautiful. More beautiful than I remember if that's possible." He took me in his arms once more; and whispered in my ear, "I have been incomplete without you," and he kissed me again.
I felt his lips and I remembered when he would kiss me and how it made me feel. He was looking into my eyes again and like the cobra his eyes were pulling me in. Into memories and a life we had shared and then I saw the reflection of Charlie behind me from a pane of glass. And I gradually pulled away from him.
"We have a lot to talk about Mark. My children?" I asked.
"I've brought you pictures and there is a lot to talk about you're right," he continued. "A lot has changed but not my feelings for you," and he stretched me in his arms again; and he repeated. "Not my love for you. Never my love for you! Oh God, Laura how I've missed you."
I could see Charlie talking to two men from the glass and now she was walking quickly towards us. I had to control this. I pulled away from Mark, gave him a smile, and turned around and spoke before she reached us. "Mark, this is Charlotte Von Steiben, my friend," and he extended his hand to her in greeting. Charlie took it with a smile, but I knew her. "Mark, if it hadn't been for Charlotte I would have surely died or gone mad."
I put my arm around her waist in a gesture that he would see as friendship but I knew that by being close would pacify Charlie. "I'm so grateful to you Mrs. Von Steiben," he said to her totally ignorant of how explosive the situation we were in was. "Laura is one of a kind and totally irreplaceable," he told her looking lovingly towards me. I felt her arm going possessively around my waist as she said.
"Yes she is Mr. Cole. There will never be another to replace her," she said this with a smile and looking at her you would have seen a beautiful woman with a lovely smile being very charming. But for her eyes. I knew by looking at her eyes at that moment that she would never let me go.
She turned to me and handed me an envelope and said. "Here is where I'll be in Florida, my address in New York and a telephone number that you will always be able to reach me in." She embraced me, kissed my cheek and whispered in my ear before she released me. "I love you! Don't be long."
As she released me I saw her eyes welling up with tears. Without saying another word she turned around and walked away quickly. Oh God, how I wanted to go with her. "You two are going to miss each other a great deal," said Mark as he was watching her walk away. Then he looked back at me and brushed my tears away with his hand. "Don't cry sweetheart. You'll see each other again," he said to me and as he embraced me I could still see Charlie walking away at a distance; with the two men that had met her walking behind her. I closed my eyes and the tears just came.
Mark had made reservations for us to fly to New York the next day. We went to the hotel he was staying in. We had a lot to talk about. Being with him felt familiar but my life with Charlie was there between us.
I walked to the window and was looking out when he came and stood behind me. He pulled me back to him. I felt his hard body pressed against me. It would have been so simple to just give in to this. He was my husband. The man I had loved. But, there was Charlie, there would always be Charlie and I pulled away from him.
"Mark, you said you had pictures of Josh and Ashley may I see them. Please Mark. I can't wait to see how they look now."
He smiled and walked over to his briefcase and removed an envelope. He walked over to me and handed the envelope over to me. I pulled out the photos. And looking back at me were the faces of my children. My God, they had grown so much. I don't know how long I was looking at them, every picture gave me a story. I noticed their hair, what they were doing. There was one picture with a puppy. I looked up at Mark and asked, "What did they call the puppy?"
He smiled and said, "Binky, they called him Binky," and my eyes filled with tears. Mark came over to me and put his arms around me. "They remembered that you wanted to call him Binky," he continued. "Laura, there is so much I have to tell you," he said. And he started telling me all that had happened while I was away. All about the children the puppy and the business. And then he looked very serious and told me about himself. He had mourned me and thought he would never love anyone again. But, he had met a woman that he had liked and the children connected with. She had moved in with them three months before. He then looked into my eyes. "Laura, I still love you! I thought you were lost to me forever." He was waiting for me to speak.
I suppose I should have expected that there would be someone in his life, after all I had Charlie, didn't I? But this woman was living in my house with my children and from what Mark said, they had connected with her. So where did that put me? I looked at him with a question in my expression.
"I love you Laura," he repeated.
And I walked again to the window and while looking out onto the ocean I said. "It's not you and me anymore Mark," I said. He just stood silently and waited for me to speak. "I should have known that you would find someone. I understand, this is an extraordinary thing that has happened. People just don't get marooned on an island and come back two years later," I said with a touch of sarcasm.
"Give me time honey, I'll make it right" he said.
I turned to face him. He looked very distraught. I understood how he felt more than he could imagine. I walked over to him and I put my hands on his chest and I tried to keep faith with Charlie and with him. I should have told him about Charlie then. If I had, perhaps everything would have been different. I failed them both; I played it safe, and I sealed my destiny when I said, "For now I just want to see my children Mark. Everything else time will take care of."
We had agreed to let time show us how to proceed. As to the children, we would take it slow. They had to get used to the idea of having a mother again. The situation had to be handled right for their sake. We decided to go out to dinner instead of eating in.
Right from the beginning I knew Mark felt guilty about Sarah. That was the name of the woman he was living with. He had told her about me and she knew he had come to meet me. This was the Mark I had fallen in love with. He was honorable; he had told me the truth right away and he had also spoken to Sarah. I had always admired this quality about him.
I should have been just as honest with him but I was cowardly. I didn't know how he would handle my relationship with Charlie or how he would react. Would it affect his decision to let me see my children if I were to tell him about her? I wasn't sure. It would have been difficult enough if I were to leave him for another man. But, this was not an ordinary situation. I wasn't sure how Mark would handle learning that his wife had become the lover of another woman. I couldn't risk loosing my children I told myself. They had been so small when I had last seen them. I would almost be a stranger to them now. If he chose to fight me for them he might win. I was caught in a web I didn't know how to get out of.
We had decided that the best thing to do would be for me to gradually become part of the children's life again.
We talked extensively about how to best handle things. I realized I couldn't live under the same roof with Sarah being there in the house. I told him I would stay with Charlie in New York and I would take the children on the weekends. He thought that was more than fair under the circumstances. It was late, so we went back to the hotel.
It felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders. I got into the shower as soon as we got back to the hotel room. I just stood under the water and let it run down my body. I wanted to let the hot water wash me clean. I felt emotionally unable to take another step. Charlie! I thought. What was she doing? Where was she?
I didn't hear Mark come in. God, how I missed Charlie was all I could think of. I had my eyes closed and I wished she were there with me. When I felt a hand on my shoulder I just turned and met the lips waiting for me. I needed her and wanted her so badly. I met passion but the body and the lips pressed against me made my eyes fly open in shock.
He took me in his arms and his kiss dug deeply. For a moment only my desire seemed to exist. My arms went around his neck and I pressed my body against his. His body was so familiar; I could feel every muscle pressed against me. I needed comfort; I wanted Charlie. I wanted to be held by her.
I opened my eyes again. I realized I couldn't do this so I pushed him away. "No, Mark I'm so confused, I can't," I said as my hands were pushing him away from me.
He lowered his head, then looked back at me and walked out of the shower. I was filled with such desire that I could have found pleasure with him as I had done before. But, he wasn't the one I wanted. I couldn't use him like that.
After a few minutes I walked out of the shower and back into the room. Mark had a robe on and was smoking a cigarette looking out one of the windows. I know he heard me walking in. He had his back turned to me and said, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done that."
He stayed staring out the window for a long time and when he turned and looked at me I knew that something was very wrong. He took a deep breath. That's when he told me my father had died.
Daddy died shortly after I had disappeared, of heart failure. My mother had taken my presumed demise very badly and when dad past away she had to be hospitalized for a long while. It had all been too much for her. My mother who had always been so strong had a breakdown. Loosing her only child and her husband had been too much for her.
Mark said it had taken a long time for her to come back to reality. He said that when he first called her with the news she had not believed it. When she finally accepted that her daughter was indeed alive, she broke into tears. She had not wanted to speak to me on the phone. She wanted to see me when I got home. He thought she needed to see me with her own eyes. She could not bear the grief that would follow if it were all a mistake. I was to call her when I was ready, she would be waiting for me.
She was now living in a small house she had shared with my father in Cape May, New Jersey. When they thought me dead, my father had retired and gone to his beloved Cape May to be close to the ocean he had always loved. He had gone to be close to the very sea that had taken his child, he had said.
I started to cry. Mark tried to hold me, but I didn't find any comfort in his arms. I pushed him away from me, crawled into bed and cried myself to sleep that night.
The next day we took the 9am flight out of Miami and arrived in New York in a little over two and half-hours. The drive home seemed to last forever. After what had happened the night before we both played hard at being polite.
My mother had told Mark that she wanted me to go to my children, that she had already had her miracle and that my children needed theirs. I was to call her when I had seen them and she would come to me. I needed to be strong for her and I wasn't. How could I be strong for her when I couldn't even be strong for myself? She would need me and I needed my father. For the first time in my life I realized how much I needed him. He had been there when I took my first step and he had been the one to catch me before every fall of my life. Mother and I had always seen things in a different vane. Daddy had always been there to smooth things out between us. Now we would have to make it work on our own. And, I didn't know if I could.
There were moments that I would catch Mark looking at me and I knew that he was still in love with me. I wish my feelings for him were as clear. I couldn't deny that I had feelings for him after all, we had been happily married once.
He broke the silence. "Your hair is lighter and the tan suits you. You have never been more beautiful," he said.
"Thank you," I answered.
"I always thought you had the most delicious body, but after seeing you last night I must say you are even more desirable now," he finished saying.
"Mark, don't, please."
He looked embarrassed and then sadly said, "I'm sorry about Stuart, Laura. He loved you so much."
We drove in silence until we were about two blocks away from what had been my home two years back. He smiled and looked ahead, then he looked back at me again and said, "I'm going to get you back " and looked ahead again, not saying anything else until we arrived.
He reached for my hand and gave me a smile. "It will be okay Laura." He was being so patient and loving. I remembered how much I had loved him in that moment.
The front door opened and out walked my children. Behind them walked a young woman with black hair. I got out of the car and started to walk over to them. I wanted to take them in my arms and never let go. As I got closer to them Josh ran behind the woman's legs and I froze on the spot. I had frightened him. I looked at Ashley; she didn't run but she seemed confused too.
Mark came behind me placed his arm over my shoulder and walked me closer to them. By the expression on the other woman's face, I could tell she did not like it. This was Sarah.
"Josh, Ashley say hello to mom," Mark said to them. Josh stayed behind Sarah, but Ashley said hello.
"Laura, this is Sarah."
I said hello. I wanted to hold them so much, but I had to take it slow. We went inside the house, into what use to be my living room. There were some changes and new pictures along with the old ones. Pictures of my children, Mark and Sarah.
Sarah went to get us some ice tea and Mark went to help her. The children sat opposite from me on the sofa. I broke the ice. "I've missed you both so much." I continued, "Daddy says you named the puppy Binky to remember me." I looked from one to the other.
Ashley spoke first. "We named him for mommy," she said.
"I'm mommy," I replied.
"Why did you go away?" asked Josh.
"I didn't want to. I was in an accident and I couldn't get back until now." They thought I had abandoned them. "I love you both so much, all I wanted to do was come back to you, and it made me very sad that I couldn't, but we're together now," I said.
"Will you live here now?" asked Ashley.
I wanted to say yes; I wanted to sleep under the same roof with them, make them breakfast, put them on the school bus. Tears started rolling down my face.
"Don't cry mommy," said Ashley and she ran into my arms.
"Oh baby, my baby!" I held her close to me. I never wanted to let her go again. All the tears that had been welling up inside me just came. Josh just stared.
At that moment Mark and Sarah walked in and just stood in the doorway. Josh started walking slowly towards me. I had to be patient, he would have to go at his own speed. I put my hand out to him and he placed his small one in mine.
We spent the rest of the afternoon talking. They wanted to know all about the island. How had I lived? What did I eat? We played games and we went for a walk just the three of us. Mark stayed behind with Sarah. We made plans as to what we would do for the weekend when they would go to visit me.
"Now that you are back will Sarah have to go away?" asked Josh. He was not happy about the idea of losing Sarah. Ashley didn't say anything but she was listening too.
"No, my coming back means that you have a mommy to love you now too."
We walked back to the house to have dinner. I offered to help Sarah with dinner and she accepted. We were alone. "I love Mark. I'll fight you for him," she said to me in complete honesty.
I looked back at her and said the only thing I could say. "I want to get to know my children again. They seem to love you. I have no reason to hate you Sarah."
She took a deep breath and started to cry. "I love him so much." She continued, "I see the way he looks at you. I know how much he loved you, and now I..."
I walked over to her. "All I want Sarah is to get to know my children again. That's all I want."
She looked at me with tear filled eyes and nodded.
After dinner the children and I played Monopoly and at bedtime, after two years, I got to tuck them into bed and kissed them goodnight.
I remembered the envelope that Charlie had given me and pulled it out of my pocket. I opened the envelope and found, along with the addresses and the phone numbers, twenty, one hundred-dollar bills. I was surprised with the money but glad for it. I wouldn't have to ask Mark for any money to get back to Manhattan.
I went downstairs. Mark and Sarah were having coffee. It was time for me to go. Mark offered to drive me and I accepted the ride, but only to the train station. I would take the train into the city.
Mark suggested I stay, but under the circumstances that was out of the question. Besides I had so much to take in. I had to get in touch with mother too. At this moment she needed me. She like me would probably want to take her child into her arms.
I would take a cab from the station to a hotel and I would go to the address that Charlie had given me in the morning. If she wasn't back from Florida I would try and reach her at the number she had given me and we would make plans.
Mark helped me onto the train, held me close to him, and kissed me good-bye.
It was late when I checked into a hotel. As soon as I got up to the hotel room I called mom. She kept crying on the phone. She wanted me to stay close to the children because she knew I would need them now more than ever. Her thoughtfulness touched me more than I could say. This was the closest I had ever felt to her. She wanted to do what she thought I needed instead of her need for me. She would come to me. She would close the house and be with me in a few days. We had all the time in the world now. She said daddy had never stopped hoping. He would look out to see where the ocean and the sky became one and he would say that I was there.
I tried sleeping after talking to mother. That was impossible. My children, I couldn't stop thinking of my children. My father was dead! The tears just came.
I got up late. I had cried most of the night and then stayed up the remainder of it thinking about all the plans I had made with the children. I ordered breakfast from room service, showered and dressed.
I tried calling Charlie but was unable to reach her in Florida so I just decided to take a change and go the address she had given me. I called a cab and headed out. The cab took me to Trump Towers.
I walked into the lobby and the place was breathtaking. It was a building encased in gold, filled with glass and hanging chandeliers. I went to the front desk. I said I wanted to see Charlotte Von Steiben.
As soon as I said that, the clerk's head immediately looked up. "Your name please?" the young man asked.
"I'm Laura Cole."
He gave me a big grin. "Yes Miss Cole, we have been expecting you. I'll take you up personally." He called someone over and promptly took me up. "Miss Von Steiben left a key and said that the moment you arrived we were to take you upstairs personally."
The elevator stopped on our floor, he put a key into the side panel and the doors opened. He then gave me the key and left. I stepped into Charlie's world.
I had never seen such a beautiful room. I walked in slowly and I called out for Charlie, but there was no one home. I would wait for her, I said to myself. I needed to see her. I needed her to hold me and fill the hollow ache I felt so deep inside me.
After waiting a long while I decided to look around the apartment. The so-called apartment consisted of two full floors. It was a house within a building. Everything in it was exquisite. Room upon room of beautiful furniture and priceless paintings. Somehow it was all Charlie. Every room had her mark.
After satisfying my curiosity I walked back to the living room and waited for Charlie to come home again. It seemed like I waited forever.
I called the children after school and spoke to them about how their day had been. I told them that I loved them and that I would see them on the weekend.
It was getting late. It felt odd being alone in an empty apartment. Suddenly, I felt the walls closing in on me. I needed air. I went for a walk and decided to go back to my hotel. I would call Charlie later. I had no anchor; I had to keep moving.
Once I got there, I spoke with mom again to make sure that she was really okay. I felt tired. I laid down for awhile and fell asleep.
I woke up around ten that evening. I had slept so much. If Charlie had gotten back and knew I had been there and left, she would be upset. I wanted to see her.
I picked up the phone to call her but then just decided to head out instead. I took another cab back to Trump Towers. I still had the key so I went straight up. When the elevator doors opened I was met with chaos. What had happened?
Everywhere that you looked everything was broken or tossed on the floor. The room that earlier that day I had found so beautiful was now in shambles. Dear God, where was Charlie?
I walked further into the room and looked around. That's when I saw her leaning against a corner of the room.
Staring at me, she took a drink out of the glass in her hand and then threw it into the fireplace near the wall. She then threw a bottle and you could smell Vodka all over the place. She was drunk. Her eyes told me she was angry too. She walked towards me very slowly, like a predator going in for its kill.
That was the first time I felt afraid of her and I took a step back. She noticed immediately and caught up with me. Holding me by the arms, she backed me up to the wall. I just stared. Roughly, she pushed me up against the wall and her face was close to mine. Her eyes were blank. I could feel her breath on my face. I went to touch her face and she quickly took my hands and pinned them up against the wall above me. She was frightening me. Her lips brushed mine.
At that moment I don't know who was more out of their mind. I needed her. I needed so much to feel close to her. That's when I said, "Love me Charlie," and she started teasing me, rubbing her body up and down mine. She released my hands and tore open my jacket. I heard the buttons hit the floor. Her eyes didn't leave mine for a second. Tearing open my bra, she started stroking my breasts.
"Charlie..." She silenced me with her mouth. While her left hand stroked my breast, her right went down to my leg and pulled up my skirt. After a moment she found the place she was seeking and a moan escaped my lips. We slid down to the floor and we let the hunger guide us. We later slept in front of the fireplace with cushions for pillows.
She woke me with a kiss. "If you hadn't come back I would have gone mad," she said to me.
I caressed her face. "What happened here Charlie?"
She looked around. "I was angry," she simply said, her eyes now tenderly looking at me. "I thought you weren't coming."
I kissed her. Charlie could be so aggressive one moment and so gentle the next. She started caressing my face. "You have circles under your eyes," she said.
I looked away. She took my chin and turned my face towards her gently.
"What is it?" She asked.
My eyes filled with tears. I told her about my father and she held me tightly. I cried in her arms and I found comfort there. Her words were warm and tender. She held me for a long time rocking me gently. I felt like a small child after being told that their loving parent had died. She took care of me. I had fallen and Charlie was there to catch me.
Later, she prepared a bath for me filling the tub with bath oils. We went in together. She bathed me and lovingly wrapped me in a warm robe. I had never felt so cherished.
We sat in front of the fireplace again and in her arms I slept and found some peace. I never said anything to her about how I had found her or how she had started to make love to me.
It was around one o'clock in the afternoon when we went out to lunch. She made some phone calls and said someone would come and deal with the mess. I borrowed some of her clothes and we went to Le Cirque for lunch.
Le Cirque was a statement of international wealth and notoriety. Lunch was wonderful. I told her all about Josh and Ashley and that I would spend the weekend with them. Immediately, Charlie said she would have special rooms made for them.
"Charlie, when they are with me I...we must be careful."
She looked at me very seriously and said, "We'll have a room just for you when they are here."
I didn't want to hurt her but this was very important. "Nothing must endanger your relationship with them. I'll help you," she said, her hand reaching for mine.
I also told her about mother and her plans to come and be with me. We would work everything out, were her words. She would make sure that it would all work out.
We decided to walk back instead of taking a cab. We strolled and window-shopped. When we got to the Tower, as I referred to it, and the elevator doors opened I couldn't believe what I saw. Everything was as if nothing had happened. The furniture, the paintings... I just stared and looked at Charlie. She had walked up to a small table near us and was eyeing the mail. She wasn't surprised at all.
"Charlie, look...look how?"
She looked around and smiled. "The only thing I can't buy is you," she said and went back to looking at the mail. This was normal to Charlie. I found that thought disturbing.
"Charlie..." I tried to say something in reference to her actions but I wasn't sure exactly how to explain it to someone that was obviously used to this.
She was looking at me again. "You should see your face. What are you trying to tell me?" She asked with a smile.
"Charlie, you just can't do this when you don't get what you want, exactly when you want it." I said. She didn't answer so I just continued. "You act as if this type of behavior is normal and it's not."
She just stared and made no comment. This was the moment to talk to her about the pain I knew she carried inside her. I had to make her understand that love didn't always hurt. "You have to take a chance sweetheart. Take a chance Charlie, trust me!"
Her eyes softened but she remained quite so I continued. "No more tantrums, okay? I want to love you. I know you love me." I walked over to her.
"I have a surprise for you," she said and walked to a closet and pulled out a huge box.
She called me over to the sofa and I started to open it. It was a sable coat. I pulled it out of the box in silent astonishment. It was the most beautiful coat I had ever seen. I carefully put it back in the box. I sat down next to her and took her hands into mine. By the expression on her face I knew this was not the reaction she had expected.
"Charlie, no more gifts. No more clothes. All I want is you. I love you! You don't have to do this." I finished saying.
She got up and turned her back to me, her arms around herself. "I don't know how to act in this situation Laura. I've never been in love before."
I went to her and took her into my arms and said. "Just love me, Charlie. Just love me."
Later that night I called my children. I wanted to start an ongoing relationship with them again by making contact with them everyday. I told them I would pick them up in the morning and we would do a lot of special things. I also told them I missed them and that I loved them.
After speaking with them, Mark got on the phone. We agreed on a time that I could pick up the children and when I would bring them back. He wanted to meet me during the week. We had a lot to discuss he said, and I agreed that we did. There was a moment of silence on the phone. He said goodnight and that was the end of our conversation. I had agreed to meet him in his office, or what had been our office, Wednesday of the following week. I wanted my children and I didn't know what Mark's plans were. This was something that we'd have to work out.
I was sitting in the living room staring out into the city when Charlie came in from the library.
"I just got off the phone with the designer that I often use. Everything will be ready by the time you come back tomorrow with the children," she said.
I smiled and walking over to her. "You didn't have to do that Charlie, but I'm really touched that you did." I leaned over and kissed her lightly on the lips and then I walked over to the window again.
She followed me. Leaning on the windowsill, she looked at me. "What's wrong?"
I couldn't really put into words what I was feeling. I knew Mark well enough to know that he meant what he said. He would fight for me. If he were to find out about Charlie and me, I would never have access to the children. I was beginning to think and as things stood now, they wouldn't even care, not yet anyway.
"Mark wants me back," I said simply. "We are meeting on Wednesday to discuss the children. I must be careful Charlie. I know him. If he were to suspect about us he would make it impossible for me to get my children."
She took me in her arms. "That will never happen, I promise you." She kissed my temple and held me close. "I promise you, you won't lose them," she said it with such conviction that I believed her. I wanted to believe her.
We agreed that I would go and pick up Ashley and Josh on my own. A chauffeured Rolls Royce drove me there. Sarah asked me in and offered me coffee. I refused. She was being polite and I didn't see the point in making things worse between us. I must admit now to my shame that at the time I also thought that if Sarah had little contact with me and she didn't consider me a threat she would help my cause without even realizing it. Perhaps she would help me with Mark. She might help convince him to share custody of the children with me. That way she, and especially Mark, would see less of me. And of course she would have more of him. Mark was not there that morning. An unexpected early business meeting had called him away.
The children loved riding in the car. They found every gadget in it fascinating. We went to the Bronx Zoo, had lunch in a wonderful little Italian restaurant and went to the movies. There was a new sci-fi film that they were dying to go see.
It had been a perfect day. We headed for the Tower and when we got there, they were in awe of the place as I had been. When we got off the elevator they walked in slowly, staring at everything.
All of a sudden, Charlie walked in. She rushed in like a summer breeze. Immediately her enthusiasm won them over. They liked her. She never ceased to amaze me. She talked to them so easily. She walked us all to their rooms.
Josh walked into what seemed like a barn. It was amazing. The bed was made of logs and the murals on the walls were incredible with horses and streams. He had the latest video games. There was a TV, a CD system and a model of a train station with trains, towns and small lights. Smoke even came out of the engine. It was incredible and he was ecstatic.
Ashley's room was like walking into a fairy tale kingdom. The walls were delicately painted in pastels with castles and knights on horseback painted on them. The bed was carved to look like a swan. Lace and silk were to be my daughter's sheets. The most beautiful dolls I have ever seen were everywhere. And on the far corner was a white baby grand piano. Ashley was speechless.
Charlie and I walked back to the living room together. The children stayed exploring the wonders of their rooms.
"How did you manage to do this in one day?" I asked in sheer astonishment.
"Because I wanted to. Because I knew it would make you happy." Then she continued, "And well, are you happy?" I didn't have to say anything she knew I was happy.
I prepared the kids' baths, helped them with their pajamas, gave them warm milk and put them to bed. That day, I can now honestly say, I was completely and truly really happy.
My room and Charlie's room were connected by a door. I was changing when she through that door. She walked to the door that led to the hallway and locked it. "I wanted to kiss you goodnight, without any surprises," she said and I kissed her.
Our kisses always resulted in combustible passion. One kiss was never enough for Charlie and I needed her so much then. Her mouth found its way down my neck and her hands knew just how to touch me. Within a few moments, my negligee was hanging from my waist. My breasts were completely exposed and my body was surrendering to pleasure. We were interrupted by a knock on the door.
"Mommy? Mommy?" It was Josh.
The realization of what I was doing was like a bucket of cold water at that moment. I quickly covered my nakedness and shame was written all over my face. "I'm coming sweetheart." I looked at Charlie at which time she turned around and walked out of my bedroom and into hers. I rushed to the door and let Josh in. "What is it sweetheart?" I asked.
He looked a little embarrassed but finally said, "Can you stay with me a little till I fall asleep?" I smiled and walked with him back to his room. I laid down next to my child and he fell asleep in my arms that night.
About an hour later I went back to my room after checking in on Ashley. She was sound asleep. I went to bed and I laid there looking at the ceiling, making plans of things I would do with them. I would let nothing stand between my having them with me. I couldn't bear to lose them, not again. I couldn't loose them too.
While I was deep in these thoughts I heard the connecting door between Charlie's room and mine open. Charlie came to me and found me with my eyes closed. She stood close to my bed for awhile and then just as quickly walked out of my room and into hers. When she left I looked at the closed door behind her. I felt myself spinning out of control and I was afraid. When you are afraid, the road is no longer clear.
We all had breakfast together and planned to go explore some of the city. It was incredible to me how things looked through the eyes of those two precious little people. Everything seemed so wonderful to them. The park, the streets and just sitting on a bench feeding the pigeons seemed so important.
We spent a wonderful day and had already planned what we would do the following weekend. But, as the late afternoon arrived, I started feeling melancholy. Soon I would have to take them back. It would be days before I could see them again. Charlie took my hand and squeezed it in understanding. She invited us all to this place that according to her made the best ice cream in the world. Later that night, we drove the children home.
The ride back to Manhattan took place in silence. We arrived back around 9pm. When the elevator door to our floor opened, I walked in and immediately saw my mother standing there in the middle of the room. She held her open arms out to me and I ran into her embrace. "Mom! Oh, mom!" And that was all I could say.
Charlie had spoken to her when she had called before, when I was with the children, and it was Charlie who had given her the address and invited her to stay as well. We talked for hours. She looked so frail. She didn't look so tough now. Her eyes said the things she would not allow herself to say. My mother looked old. She asked what my plans were. She knew about Mark and Sarah.
I told her I was supposed to see him in a few days and that we would try to make more permanent arrangements.
" You and Mark were always so in love," she said reminiscently. "I know he still loves you," she added.
Charlie was sitting on a stool having a drink in the bar on one side of the room. She kept looking into her glass but I knew she was listening to every word.
"Mom, I--" she interrupted me.
"Sarah is nice enough, but you are still his wife and the children should be with both of you." I remained silent. "There is nothing more important than a father and a mother to a child," she finished saying.
"But mother, things are different now?" I could not finish the sentence.
"Yes I know, Sarah. But he loves you! " She said.
"But I don't love him!" I got up and walked to the window. I felt Charlie's eyes on me. I knew she was waiting, and I could almost see her unreadable expression burning holes on my back, waiting to hear what I would say or not say.
Mother was standing next to me, also silent. She looked at me and started to speak very gently. "Mark was lost in grief. The children kept him going. When he met Sarah, I didn't judge him. He was lonely. When he brought her to meet me one weekend with the children he said to me that he loved her as much as he was capable but that you would always be in his heart."
I closed my eyes and tears rolled down my cheek. "Don't cry Laura, I know he still loves you." She didn't understand. She wouldn't understand. And I didn't tell her. I felt when Charlie walked out of the room. She did not come to my bed that night and I did not look for her. When I woke up, I found a note on the pillow next to mine. It simply said -- I'll see you for dinner. C.
Mother and I had breakfast together. We spoke about dad and his passing away. She wanted me to come and stay with her until I decided what I'd do. "I'm going to be here with Charlie for now." I couldn't look at her in the eye. "I'm closer to the children here mom," I said to her. I knew she wanted to have me close.
"Will you come and spend some time with me?" she asked.
I hugged her and said. "Of course mom, I want to be with you too. I?I just have to settle this thing with Mark, and of course there's Charlie--"
"What about Charlie?" She interrupted. "I'm sure she understands that you have to put your life back together again."
I got up and tried to explain away what had escaped my lips. "She has problems too mom. We were together for what seemed like a lifetime, dependent on each other for our own sanity sometimes." I continued. Somehow I had to make her understand without her really understanding. "I just can't walk away like that and neither can she. We depend on each other because no one understands what it was like. We were alone mom, all we had was each other."
"Well you're not alone anymore," she tried to comfort me. "You have people who need and love you, and we are never going to let you go. We are not going to lose you again, not ever!" She took me in her arms and cried.
Charlie did not come home for dinner. It wasn't like her just to go off like that. I was the one who seemed to be perfecting that art these days. She only acted like this when she was very upset.
I went to bed but I could not sleep. I kept tossing and turning. I finally decided to get up. I went down to the living room. I was restless. Where was Charlie? I kept asking myself.
In the darkness, I saw her silhouette etched against the glass door that opened to the balcony. She stood on the other side and then she turned and was looking at me through the glass. She came inside, walked past me and went to stand in front of the fireplace. Her back was to me and she was angry. I hated it when she got like this.
I put my hand on her shoulder and turned her to face me. My hand went up to her face and I caressed her. She was going to say something and my finger silenced her tracing her lips. I took a step closer to her. My lips brushed hers and I whispered into her mouth, "I'm sorry" and I kissed her.
Her reaction was almost immediate. Her hands went to rest on my thighs as she was responding to my kiss by pulling me against her. There was a noise from the shadows. We both turned to look and found my mother staring in shock.
I took a step towards her and froze when she took a step away from me. I felt Charlie holding the side of my arms from behind me, keeping me steady. I had begun to shake. "Mom," I said in a low voice.
She started walking slowly towards me but she was looking at Charlie behind me. "You've done this to her. What kind of sick game are you playing with my daughter?"
Charlie was silent and mom continued yelling. "You are to blame! My daughter was normal!" She said in disgust.
"Mom don't, please."
She did not listen as she continued. "She was always weak, just like her father, easily led, easily manipulated. You took advantage of her," she said accusingly.
Charlie was no longer holding my arms. I felt like I was going to be sick as I felt the nausea in my stomach. My mother was looking at me now.
"We are leaving! You are not staying here," she was saying. "Laura, this is not normal. This is not you. Are you so far gone that you don't see that?" She started to shake me.
I pulled away and turned my back to her. I could hear the tremor in my voice as I spoke. "I'm not leaving mother. I can't," I said.
There was silence and I turned to look at her. We both stared at each other. Charlie broke the silence. "Mrs. Wallis--" But before she could continue, my mother lashed out at her.
"I don't want to hear anything from you! You've perverted my daughter!" She spat out.
Charlie said nothing and then I spoke. "No mother I was the one that came on to her."
She stared at me. "I don't believe you," she said in shocked disbelief. "If your father were alive he would know how to handle this. I can't." As she finished saying that, she sank down on the sofa. "He would never have approved of this. You know that, don't you Laura?" She was looking up at me now. "What about the children? Do you think that Mark would allow you to have the children if he knew what was going on here?"
She got up and tried again to convince me. "You're confused. What happened between the two of you doesn't have to ruin your whole life. Let's go. He never needs to know, no one ever has to know."
"Mother, I love her," I said to her in barely a whisper.
As I finished saying this I felt her hand strike my face. She was about to strike me again when her hand was stopped midway. Charlie now stood between us. "No more!" She said very quietly through her teeth. She released my mother's arm but stood between us.
"I wish you had never come back! It would have been better if you had stayed dead!" My mother said this and left the room.
I stood there, staring into the emptiness. The nausea that I had felt before overtook me. "I feel sick Charlie." I felt as if the blood was draining from my face.
Charlie rushed me to the bathroom. I barely got there when I started to vomit. The nausea was so strong that the force of the vomiting was making me tremble. Charlie was on the floor next to me, holding my forehead. She got a hand towel and soaked it in cold water and started wiping my face. Holding me close, we leaned back against the bathroom wall. She stroked my hair and held me while sobs racked my body. She kissed my forehead and then held my chin up so as to look at me and she started kissing the side of my temple and my eyes. I don't know how long we sat on that floor before Charlie walked me back to our bed. When I woke up in the morning mom had gone.
Charlie had a house in the Hamptons. She ordered the car and it took us to the airport. We did not discuss the incident with my mother. It was as if it never happened and yet it changed everything. We took a private plane to a small airport. Later that day, we reached the Hamptons. Nothing much was said between us. I wanted to desperately forget it all. I wanted to close my eyes and wish that it had all been a bad dream. Charlie did not pressure me.
The house was on a cliff overlooking the ocean and I could hear the soothing sounds of the surf. I took a wrap and went for a walk. I felt overwhelmed. I needed the fresh air to clear my head. There was so much confusion and pain.
I knew that the reaction I had gotten from my mother was the confrontation I had been dreading. The realities that I did not want to see. My feelings for Charlie were considered an anathema. That's how they would see us. That's how my children would see it if they found out. My God, what was I going to do?
The sea air did not help. When I walked back I was as troubled as before. I walked around the house. The majesty of the place was inescapable. The grounds were immaculately kept. Everything was so beautiful; so many flowers. Your eyes were overcome with the beauty all around. There were surprises upon surprises of color combinations, but I noticed there were no roses.
Charlie must have seen me in the gardens and was now walking over to me. I suppose she thought I had been left alone long enough. She put her arm over my shoulder and pulled out a pansy from a pot nearby and gave it to me with a smile. We started walking back to the house.
It was such a beautiful day that Charlie decided we should have dinner out in the verandah. We were having dinner on the verandah overlooking the ocean when an old man in overalls came over to us.
"Hello Miss Charlotte, it's so nice to have you back," he greeted Charlie.
"Hello Mike, the gardens are perfect as usual," she replied and then continued to eat, ignoring his presence. I had begun to notice that Charlie could be quite insensitive sometimes. Her staff went out of their way to please her and it meant nothing to her. She expected perfection and she usually got it. These people simply did not matter to her so they simply did not exist. It was that simple. She could replace them at any time and not think about it for an instant. Sometimes I had begun to think I really didn't know her at all.
The old gardener then looked at me. "This is for you, miss." He handed me a beautiful lily. Its color was white with a touch of mauve. It was exquisite. His kindness brought a smile to my face.
"Thank you Mike," I said, as I smelled it and I asked, "Mike, are there any roses? I didn't see any."
He gave me a big grin. "You like roses, miss?"
"They are my favorite flowers. No color in particular, I love them all."
Charlie was listening intently to our conversation now.
"I'm sorry miss, we don't have roses. We did have a beautiful rose garden once, but that was many years ago."
When he finished, Charlie spoke. "Mike you just got your rose garden."
We were both looking at her. She had spoken to him but was looking at me. "You managed to get a smile from Miss Laura, that's worth a rose garden."
I gave her a smile from my heart. Mike gave her a big smile. "That's wonderful, Miss Charlotte. I'll get to it right away."
As he rushed off, Charlie called out to him. "And Mike have another greenhouse built. I want to be able to have fresh roses for Miss Laura all year round."
He smiled at me and went off. I looked back at Charlie and met her eyes. I was about to say something when she spoke first. "Let me do this for you. I can't seem to be able to give you anything that you want. Let me give you the flowers that you love so much." Her hand reached for mine.
My eyes filled with tears and they rolled freely down my face. "No! No! The last I wanted to do was upset you!" She kneeled down next to my chair and took my hands into hers. "If you don't want the roses then I'll tell Mike to forget all about it." She started to wipe my tears away.
I stood up and went straight into her embrace. "Oh Charlie, if you only knew how much I love what you've just done for me!" I held her tightly and she consoled me with her embrace. Why couldn't the world just leave us alone? How could I help but love her when she showed such tenderness and love for me. The only sure thing in my life now was that Charlie loved me. That I was sure of.
After dinner we helped Mike find the sight where the rose garden should go. We then went for a drive. It was late spring so the days were long and the sunlight seemed to last forever. Charlie wanted to show me a little of the surrounding areas. Everywhere you looked was beautiful. We saw ostentatious new houses and grand elegant old ones. We stopped in one of the points that overlooked the ocean.
I looked out at the sea and it looked so vast. Surely, in the large scope of things, two people were not that important. Why didn't we have a right to love each other? No matter how unjust the reality was we would not be accepted. I might loose my children. That was a real possibility. I had already had a horrible confrontation with my mother. I closed my eyes and my head leaned back.
"Let's go home, you look tired. It's starting to get dark anyway," Charlie said. We walked back to the car in silence. Charlie drove back to the house and said nothing but held one of my hands.
We walked in silence into the house and upstairs. Charlie opened the door to the bedroom we were to share and turned on the light switch. The light was dim and it gave the room a dreamlike quality. I walked in and was met with cascades of roses. There were roses everywhere. It was like stepping into a dream world, my senses were intoxicated with their sweet perfume.
I looked at Charlie and I went to her. Standing in front of her, I searched her face. I saw in her eyes love -- so much love -- and I embraced it.
She traced my shoulder with her fingers and teased my face with her lips, not quite making the connection. I could feel the warmth of her breath on my skin and I felt myself melting into her body. She kissed my mouth and teased me with the promise of more. Her mouth was trailing down my neck and I could feel my blood burn. All of a sudden my blouse was on the floor and her hands were caressing my breasts. I started to unbutton her blouse. I longed to feel my skin next to hers. Her kisses trailed down my stomach and she undid my slacks and helped me get out of them.
As she started to stand, her hands caressed my thighs upwards. I was burning with desire for her. She removed the rest of her clothes and slowly walked me over to the bed. And as I laid down on it, I felt the coolness of the rose petals all over the sheets. I was consumed with love for her. She laid on top of me and loved me with such gentleness that I was overcome with tears which intermingled later on with those of overwhelming pleasure.
The next morning, we went into town and started to look through the shops. Buying some sunglasses and broad rimmed hats for the beach, we just walked. We ended up in a wonderful restaurant called Basilico. It was decorated in a beautiful blend of sage and cream, with terra-cotta tiles and tall green plants. Everything on the menu sounded wonderful.
"Let me order for you," Charlie requested. "I'll order a few different things that I know you'll like." She reached for my hand and squeezed it with a big smile.
"Okay," I said smiling back.
The waiter appeared out of nowhere, as they do in most places when the prices are out of this planet. Charlie ordered an appetizer of mushrooms stuffed with crab meat and Gruyere cheese sprinkled with parsley. Then they brought a Caesar salad and lunch consisted of grilled mahi mahi with a splash of lemon, and linguini alfredo with crab meat on the side. We drank chilled Coronas with a ring of lime. Charlie took the lime and traced the rim of the glass then let it fall into the ice cool beer. It gave it an interesting taste and when combined with the seafood it was intoxicating.
Everything to do with Charlie was different from anything I had ever experienced in my life. The things that most people would never, ever consider important were the things that made her more extraordinary. Like the combination she put together for lunch. Everything about her was bigger than life. She was different and exciting. Everything around her was beautiful and yet, she needed me to make her happy. Someone that had everything, needed me to be happy, and never lost the chance to show me how she felt. Why should it matter that she was a woman? Why should it matter?
But it did. I looked away from her. She had a strength that I did not have. I could lean on her and I knew she would not falter. Charlie was willing to show the world that she loved me. She didn't seem to care what people would say.
While I acted ashamed, she accepted it all. How could I be so selfish? She was willing to take all of the condemnation and I wouldn't even acknowledge my love for her. Everyday I felt more ashamed and more guilty. I had told my mother because the choice was taken away from me. She had seen us. I was failing her and she still loved me. I felt her hand in mine and I looked into her eyes.
"What's wrong?" she asked in almost a whisper. You could hear the concern in her voice and see it in her eyes.
"I'm so sorry Charlie. I don't deserve you. You don't ever let me down, while I..." She looked down and I could not see the reaction in her eyes.
"You shouldn't feel bad for me. Never feel guilty because of me," she said very seriously. She looked up into my eyes again. Her eyes were serene and unreadable. "I will always love you and I'll never stop loving you." She hesitated for a moment "I want you to forgive me!" She said very seriously. She seemed to be holding her breath for my answer.
"Charlie, I have nothing to forgive you. All you've ever shown me is how much you love me."
But she was not satisfied and asked again. "I want you to forgive me!" It seemed to matter to her so very much, as if she had ever done anything to hurt me. She was the only person that had ever loved me unconditionally. Only daddy had loved me like that. Thank God, now there was Charlie.
I would have forgiven her anything and I told her as much. "I would forgive you anything Charlie. I will love you till the day I die." My answer seemed to have the desired affect. And once again the clouds were gone from her eyes. She asked for the check and we went back to the house.
The first thing we saw when we got to the house was a 1935 candy red Dussenberg. It was the most incredible car I had ever seen. As soon as we saw it Charlie said, "Lyle must be here. It's just like him."
We went in and I found myself looking at a man in a clown outfit. As soon as he saw us he opened his arms and went to embrace Charlie. "Lyle, whatever are you dressed up for?" She wasn't amused. I was trying not to crack up with laughter.
"Was I suppose to be at my best behavior for your new friend in tow?"
Charlie looked like she was going to strike him. As soon as he realized that he was not being amusing, his attitude changed immediately but Charlie spoke before he could open his mouth. "You've gone too far Lyle!" She said menacingly.
He broke in. "I didn't realize?" he said to Charlie and then, looking at me, spoke very seriously. "I'm Lyle Crawford and I'm afraid I've been a boor. Charlotte is my oldest?my only friend and I've offended her. My apologies." He held his hand out to me.
"I'm glad to meet Charlie's oldest friend. My name is Laura Cole." I said to him.
He looked at Charlie with a mischievous grin. "Charlie???"
She gave him a menacing look. "Don't even try it Lyle!" She said to him and he broke out in a loud laughter.
When he stopped laughing he looked at Charlie. "I'm impressed," he was saying while again looking at me. "No one would ever dare to call her Charlie. I'm incredibly curious?"
"Behave Lyle or you're going to be out on your ass," she said. At times it was hard to tell whether they were serious or playing their own private game.
"You're right, you're right," he said good-naturedly.
We went out to the verandah and spent a pleasant few hours. Lyle was one of those charming people who would talk a lot but really said nothing. He seemed pleasant enough but there didn't seem to be anything behind the exterior. I couldn't understand this so-called friendship with Charlie. But then again, there were a lot of things I didn't know about Charlie then.
Lyle invited us to go on his new yacht, which he had called Christabel. "She is the most beautiful boat I've ever had. 'Beneath the lamp the lady bowed, and slowly rolled her eyes around; the drawing in her breath aloud, like one that shuddered, she unbound....The cincture from beneath her breast:....her silk robe, and inner vest, dropped to her feet, and full in view, ....Behold! Her bosom and half her side----- A sight to dream of, not to tell! Oh shield her! Shield sweet Christabel!!'" He recited. I stared in amazement. Charlie just looked furious. "That was a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge." He smiled. He was going to put her in the water the next day and was insisting on our going on the Christabel on her virgin voyage.
I had to meet Mark to discuss the children the next day. It seemed that Charlie was looking forward to going but she spoke before I did. "Take her out on Thursday and we'll go with you!" She was looking at him and was waiting for an answer.
Lyle was about to say something, then decided against it. He looked at me then back at Charlie and said, "If that's the way you want it," and it was settled.
We got into Manhattan the next morning in plenty of time for my lunch meeting with Mark. Charlie dropped me off at Mark's office just outside the city. She was heading for Elizabeth Arden and we were supposed to get together for dinner and a play later that day.
Walking into the building was like walking back in time. Nothing had changed. I went into the elevator and pressed the 12th floor like I had done so many times before. Before my life turned upside down, that is.
I got to the front door, turned the knob and walked in. Inside, everything was different. The business must be doing very well. Everything was redecorated and it promoted the allure of wealth and power.
I was met by a tall, blonde, immaculately dressed receptionist. "May I help you?" she asked politely.
"I have an appointment with Mr. Cole," I said.
"Your name, please?" She asked walking over to her desk and looking at her appointment book.
"I'm Laura Cole."
She looked up immediately. "I'll tell him you're here," she said and went into Mark's office.
Mark came out before her. "Laura you don't have to announce yourself. Come in."
The receptionist stepped aside and I walked into his office. I looked around. It had been redone too. Mark must indeed be doing very well. He must have noticed the questioning looks because with a big grin, he said, "We're doing so well it's unbelievable."
I looked at him and I was really happy for him. He had worked so hard to build the business. "I'm so glad Mark. You seem to be doing very well indeed."
He guided me to one of the elegant wing backed chairs and he sat opposite from me. "Remember the Weatherbee Account?" He asked.
"Vaguely. It was the account that you had landed before our trip."
He nodded his head. "Yes, it made all the difference. I just met with them a little over a week ago and they have tripled our budget. It's so big that to service them we really can't take any more clients for now." He was really excited. I remembered that smile of his. I would always tell him that when he smiled like that he looked like the cat that had swallowed the canary.
"Mark, suppose they lower your budget? If you're not developing other clients, what would happen then?"
"No Laura, you don't understand they're interested in including us in all their other projects." This was a reaction that the Mark I knew would never have thought wise.
"Mark, if this fails you could lose everything!"
He was displeased at my observation. Clearly, looking back on it, he was trying to impress me and I was questioning his judgment. "No, that won't happen. I've been dealing with them and they are a solid commitment." He tried changing the subject. "You look beautiful by the way. I tried calling you but they told me that you were away from the city." It was a statement and a question.
"Charlie had to see to some business at her house in the Hamptons and invited me to accompany her," I said looking away from him.
"I see. I know that you call Josh and Ashley everyday. They enjoyed being with you. All they could talk about was their rooms in their mommy's house." He said looking at me, expecting me to elaborate. When I didn't, he asked right out. "What's going on Laura? You show up in a chauffeur driven Rolls Royce, you're living in Trump Towers and the rooms that the kids describe are rooms out of a kid's dream book." He was waiting for an answer.
"Charlie has offered to let me live with her as long as I want or permanently. We became very close. Depending on each other to survive does that to you. It's difficult being back after all the time that's past. We need each other." As I said this, I could not look Mark in the eye.
"Of course, you're right. But you're back and we want you. I want you."
"Mark, you are not exactly free. Or have you forgotten. What about Sarah? Are you just going to say 'so sorry Sarah, but please go now'? Your life is not uncomplicated either." I finished saying. I walked to the window with my back to him.
"Yes, but I'm going to tell her."
I turned to face him. "No, I?it doesn't change the fact that you and I are not?" I couldn't finish.
"Are not what?" he asked. He was now holding me by the sides of my arms and looking down into my eyes. He pulled me closer to him and his mouth came down on mine. His lips were warm and familiar.
Without warning the receptionist walked in. She stopped dead on her tracks. Mark turned around and was visibly angry. "Don't ever come in without knocking when my wife is here!" He said to her.
She was as much surprised by the reaction as by the statement. She apologized and walked out immediately.
I turned toward the window. "I'll be over to pick up the children again on Saturday morning around 10, if that's okay with you?" I turned walked over to the chair to pick up my purse so as to leave.
"Wait," he said reaching out to stop my departure. He was holding my arm and turned me to face him. "I wanted to talk about us," he said very softly.
"Mark, there is no us." I said in a whisper.
"No, don't say that. There will always be us." He tried pulling me back into his arms again.
I held him away from me. "Mark, I want the children. I need my children, Mark." I said to him and it was like a splash of cold water.
He released me and walked over to his desk with his back to me. "No," he said flatly.
"I need them. You don't know what it's been like without them." I pleaded.
"What about me Laura? What about me!" He was upset. He turned to face me now. "You think you can just come back and take them?" His reaction caught me by surprise.
"I don't want to take them from you Mark, I want to share them. I need them too."
He pushed his fingers through his hair in exasperation. "No," he said flatly.
"Mark, I have the right to my children."
He was very angry now. "How do you intend to support them? Where would they live? Where would they go to school? Do you know if they would want to live with you?" He had the upper hand and he knew it. "Do you think a judge would give you custody of our children?"
I felt battered. I sat down in the chair closest to me. I was unable to speak. All I did was look at my lap. He walked over to me, knelt down in front of me and took my hands in his. "You belong with me?with us."
I pulled my hands away from his, got up and walked towards the door. Facing the door, I asked before walking out. "I would like to spend the weekend with them. May I pick them up?please?" After a moments silence I heard a very low "Yes" and I walked out and closed the door behind me.
It had gone all wrong. It wasn't supposed to have been this way. I walked out of the office quickly and as I walked out into the public hallway I heard the receptionist say. "Good bye Mrs. Cole."
I needed some air. I walked out of the building and just started walking. Dear God, what would I do? Mark was right, what judge would give me my children under the circumstances? They hadn't even been living with me for the past two years. They hardly remembered me. No, a judge would probably deem it best for them to stay with their father. And if they were to find out about Charlie, there would be the shame. How would the children deal with that? Did I want them to?
I came back to reality when someone pulled me back hard when a car sped by me. "You should be more careful Ms Cole, and you should look both ways before you cross the street."
I was shaken with fright. I nodded and he smiled and walked away. I started to cross the street again and realized that the man had called me by name. I turned around and he was gone. I hadn't recognized him. But if it had not been for him I would surely have been killed by that car.
I was more careful crossing and when I got to the other side, I hailed down a cab. It took over forty minutes to get back to Manhattan. The traffic was awful. I got off a few blocks before the Tower. I wanted to clear my head and walking might help. Charlie wouldn't be there yet. I needed to think. I wasn't sure of anything anymore.
I walked slowly, mixing into the crowd. I wished it would swallow me up and take away all this doubt and uncertainty. After a few blocks I went into a coffee shop. I sat there, next to the window looking out. I wondered where the people that passed by were going. I couldn't imagine anyone else being in such a mess as the one I found myself in. But then, maybe they were looking at me and thinking the same thing.
I sat there for a long time. I felt like I was floating in a daze. I paid for the coffee and started walking to the Tower. My body felt lethargic and I walked very slowly. I got to our floor and walked into the foyer. Almost as soon as I walked in I was looking into Charlie's anxious eyes.
"What happened? I've been pacing in this apartment for the past two hours." She was looking at me and I just stood there in a daze.
I sat down very slowly and closed my eyes for a moment. She stood next to me and said nothing. I felt her hand on my shoulder and I put my cheek on it. I looked up at her. "The meeting with Mark was horrible," I said wearily. I took a deep breath and started walking to our bedroom. "Charlie, I really don't feel like going out tonight. Would you mind if we just stayed in?"
She looked intensely at me and nodded. I turned and walked into the bathroom so I could take a long bath. I stayed in the hot water forever. I heard Charlie come in. She was leaning on the door. "I was afraid you might fall asleep in the tub," she said to me.
I gave her a half smile and looked at her through weary eyes. I started to get out of the tub and she walked towards me with a robe. She held it for me and I slipped into it. As she helped me to put it on she pulled me to her. "What happened?" she asked me softly.
I turned into her arms and she held me tight. "Oh Charlie, it was awful?" I walked away from her and she followed me into the bedroom. "He was so angry. He wouldn't agree to joint custody of the children." I took a deep breath and continued. "He wants us to work things out. He says that no judge would give me custody in view of the circumstances, and Charlie, he's right and that's not even knowing about us." I finished saying and I sat on a chair pulled my legs up under my chin.
There was a light tap on the door and Charlie said, "Come in."
The maid came in and said that there was a call for me if I wanted to take it. I looked at Charlie and back at Roxanne and asked, "Who is it, Roxanne?"
She looked at me and said. "It's your mother Miss."
I was surprised but I got up, walked over to the phone and picked up the extension right away. "Mom?"
"Laura?I?would like to see you. I didn't mean that horrible thing I said to you about being better dead."
I could hear her crying on the phone and I started to cry too. "I know that mom, I know."
She stopped crying and started talking again. "I want to see you. You're my only child. Can I come see you?"
It sounded like she was begging. I let out a big sob. "Oh mom, I will always want to see you."
"I'm coming back to New York next week. When I get there, I'll call you and we can talk," she finished saying.
"Yes mom, that sounds fine." I heard a sound of relief.
"I love you Laura," she said.
"I love you too mom," and she hung up. I put down the receiver and covered my face and started to cry uncontrollably. I felt emotionally drained. I felt Charlie's arms around me and continued to cry in her arms until I fell asleep.
Continued in Part 2
This story and everything contained within belongs to S Anne Gardner and may not be used, or copied, without her express permission. ęcopyright March 2001
So, you read the story. Write S. Anne Gardner and let her know what you think.