Liberty Leave –Daytona Beach, Florida
The water was a little rough, tossing the boat slightly as I fought against the cross current. Looking out to port, I tried my best to stay aligned with the beach in the near distance. This was just a daytrip, a joy ride of sorts, though it wasn’t my boat. Keeping the wheel straight, I take in the main sail line, looking up to make sure she was full from the wind – letting out the jib to catch a little more speed. Standing there – the helm of a thirty foot sailboat – it was pure bliss. Feeling the wind pull me along I let out a welcomed smile. In shorts and sunglasses, hair down, cares away – I was completely out of regulation, a disgrace.
The day had drawn to a near close. Sails stowed, trolleying into the harbor, I can see our condo building that we were staying in. I came as a favor to a friend, the payment for that favor was my now-concluded excursion on someone else’s personal yacht – if you want to call it that. A beautiful boat for sure. Tasha and I knew each other back from our Academy days. We were cadets together. She had always struggled with her physical fitness, so sometimes in the early morning I would feign some injury or another excuse to lager behind a bit and run with her until she returned to the start point. She blamed it on her weight, which she struggled with – always on the edge of being dismissed because of it – but we became Ensigns together nonetheless. Eventually it caught up to her and she had to leave the service, something she was very upset about. We stayed in touch, so here I am.
Tasha was a schemer of sorts. She met a millionaire-billionaire somewhere about six months ago and, apparently, they hit it off. He gave her a key to a condo here in Daytona which, to my enjoyment, had an accompanying sailboat. She came as an invitation to a gala he would be attending, likely a fundraising of some type or another. Her intent was to make their meetings permanent. The idea of me being here was her to have ‘run into’ an accomplice from the many people she was so well connected to. The truth to that story was a distant reality.
As we prepared for the evening I hit the shower, feeling the sun on my back and shoulders in the hot water. Towel around my waist, I put the white cream on my face and heat up the razor.
“Oh!” Tasha yells, storming into the bathroom, “No!”
Startled – I stand there, razor in hand, hunched over into the mirror – near frozen in terror of some unknown horrible consequence of shaving. “No” she repeats, “you can’t shave. Keep the stubble, please. He will be clean shaven and you’ll be…well…” she says, gesturing to me in a dismissive way, trying not to make eye contact.
“Scrappy” I say, having not moved. She makes like she thinks about what I said, agreeing without words, a backhanded politeness. Still – standing there it was hard not to look at her. Tasha was a beautiful woman. Her family was Hispanic, her naturally sun kissed skin and dark hair a compliment to her white smile and coffee colored eyes on that round face of hers. She was no stick figure, no model on a magazine, but she was more – woman. Seeing her there in that light blue slip, the curves of her body a poorly kept secret. Nothing ever happened between us at the Academy, though not for lack of tabling the idea.
‘Ditch the uniform’ she told me before coming. No doubt also part of her plan. A plain black suit and tie instead, nothing to stand out. Tasha, however, was a bombshell in a strapless, ocean green gown – Gorgeous. Just before we leave I take out a miniature service metal and begin pinning it to the suit. Not missing a beat she smacks it out of my hand, a shocked look on my face.
“No! Clay…hey!” she says, grabbing me with both hands by the tie. “Stop trying to sabotage me here.”
“It’s a nice touch” I tell her, attempting to retrieve my tie.
“This will be over soon enough, Clay. Then you go parade in that damn thing all you want with whoever you want. You look…fine…” looking at my face and hair a little. “Come here” she says, making puckered lips at me, using my tie as leverage to bring me to her.
“Tasha! No” I tell her, trying to get away, head back, “No, nooooo” I go on, a finger pointed in her face, a light laugh coming out. Finally she gives way, making a sound like she was actually upset, “Go get your man” I say, adjusting the partially wrinkled tie.
The night….didn’t really go as planned. Walking into the Gala, Tasha stops in her tracks, looking at all of the guests. I look to her, to the gathering, and back at her, “What?”
She looks around a little, takes another step, “They’re dancing.”
I look to those on the dance floor without being able to see the problem, “…and?”
“I thought this was just a gathering, Clay. I can’t dance, especially not like that” she says, gesturing with her head. They were doing a sort of disorganized waltz. But the real problem was, there was her man, dancing with another woman…
Time goes by and Tasha still hasn’t let him know she’s here. Her second glass of wine from the cash bar – bastards – as we did a stake out of her man dancing with the other woman. She gets nervous, making comments about it.
“Look at the two of them” she says, taking another drink, “look how close they are.”
“That?” I reply, gesturing dismissively, tilting my head, “That…that’s a good distance apart. That distance to me says….cousin.”
She looks over at me as if she was wondering why my dead body hadn’t buried itself yet.
Finally she works up the courage and finds an opportunity to strike, albeit after a few more dinks, but it doesn’t last. Ten minutes later she was walking toward me deliberately and in a hurry, her eyes tearing up. “We’re leaving” she says, grabbing my arm and dragging me along. Our way back to the condo was silent minus her heavy steps on the ground. To the room now, she fumbles through her bag for the key, I decide its time for the obvious.
“So” I say, watching her eyes tear up, “not a cousin?”
“Nope” she says, “definitely not. I feel like such a fool. I won’t do it” she says, finally getting the key into the door. “I won’t do it – I won’t play the role of the part time princess for the weekend.”
She storms in while I slowly shut the door, letting her be mad. She had too many drinks and this was all a disaster, but I had better sense than to have a conversation regarding eggs and baskets – so I let her be. She rants on for a little, the alcohol running its course before she turns to me.
“Clay…” she lets out in a broken voice, a hand to her mouth as the tears flow.
“Oh. Tasha, come here.” I take her in my arms as she has it out. She lets out a few more sentences, but they were just words. She puts her arms around me, cries on my collar, kisses on my neck.
“Tasha – hey now. C’mon now. Ha – hang on. You’re drunk, why don’t you get changed, huh?”
I go in my room, trying to give her time to calm down before coming back to check on her. By the time I saw her again, her dress was on the floor, herself in bed, lights out. Turning out the hallway light, I do the same.
The sun had been up for a little while yet, but we were in no hurry. The light sound of a coffee cup being set down makes Tasha open her eyes. Still in bed, a single sheet up to her neck, she doesn’t move much. Sitting at the table wearing sleep pants, I look over from my paper.
“Morning” I say from across the room while keeping an eye on her.
“Morning” she replies in a low and somewhat embarrassed voice.
“Feeling ok?” I ask. She does this slow nod, pulling the sheet up to her nose, her eyes locked on mine and turning almond shape like they do when she gets a smile on her face. She takes a slow glance under the sheet then back at me. It was obvious there wasn’t much left under there between her and I – the sheet doing the talking for her.
I put up a hand, shaking my head a little, “Hey, I had nothing to do with that. When I came in here last night you were already out.” She’s still smiling, but seems to be more from embarrassment than anything. She asks for a glass of water and I oblige. Taking it to her, she reaches out and takes the glass, the other setting herself up and a hand around my neck, pulling me to her.
“Are you hurting that bad?”
“No” she replies, a light smile and laugh. She continues to pull on me, letting the sheet fall to her waist.
“Do you mind?” I ask quickly, trying to pull my head away while she does the opposite.
“No” she says through a laugh, both hands now tugging me to her. This is pointless I think to myself.
Letting her pull, feeling myself nearer, I submit. One hand on her cheek, a thumb tugging at her lower lip as she becomes serious. It’s amazing the softness of a woman’s lips first thing in the morning. The softness and warmth of her skin from the sheets, the warmth of her body still in the pillow and mattress.
She no longer has to pull, but rather make room. Inching my way down to her body, inching my way down her cheek and neck, I feel her tugging at my morning attire. The sun against her light brown skin, her mess of dark hair – it was a moment I would never be able to capture with any picture. That sight only exists in these words.
Slowly I took my time – years of pent up tension slowly releasing, unfamiliar territory between us. I made it a point to accentuate and account for her curves. From her cheek to her ankles she was beautiful, nowhere not a firm fit in my hands. She was ticklish, a twitch from time to time as I explored, she containing a smile or let out an indistinguishable word with her laugh. God she was beautiful.
Pulling the sheet over us, my lips now on hers, we slowly introduced ourselves to one another. It had already been years – the rest of the day would have to wait on us instead….