Still summer, p.10
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       Still Summer, p.10

           Jacquelyn Mitchard
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  “The captains don’t drink,” Michel answered. “Not ever.”

  “Uh, that’s good,” Cammie answered, her apathy elaborate.

  Lee hailed them as they tied up at the dock. “Michel, where’s Len?”

  “A passenger had a little accident,” Michel explained. He tied off the tender and handed Cammie up onto the floating boardwalk that led to the barge.

  “Well, Sharon tells me he’s going to be a daddy again!” Lee boomed.

  “Hey! I didn’t even know until yesterday!”

  “You didn’t! Well, jungle drums and all. Meherio spoke to her. She wants Sharon to stand godmother. Think we should have the baptism out here?”

  “I think it would be the first baptism on this platform,” said Michel. “But perhaps not the first conception.” He blushed and glanced at Cammie. “I’m sorry.”

  Camille said nothing. She gave her hand to Lee Wikowsky and shook it firmly. “I’m Camille Kyle. Lenny says you saw a ghost. But I don’t think you did.”

  Lee was more than willing to tell the tale again. Near the end, his voice quieted. “And the odd part was his shirt had no buttons. He would have had to put it on by pulling it over his head. I heard him as plain as I hear you. I saw the water barrel on the deck. Now that I think of it, that should have . . . Who has water in a barrel?”

  “You could see that in the dark, I’m so sure,” Cammie teased him.

  “In the moonlight I could! I thought there was something odd about a man in a three-masted schooner wearing suspenders in the night!” Lee said. “Now, who’s for a drink? This is a tavern.”

  “I didn’t bring my money,” Cammie said suddenly.

  “Your first Piña Colada is on the house,” Lee said.

  “The next is on me,” said Michel.

  “I’m nineteen,” Cammie said, and Michel felt his stomach capsize. “Last month, I was eighteen.”

  “It’s okay, if you’re with Michel. No one to bust you out here,” Lee said. “Not that I’m pushing liquor or agree with underage drinking, though technically you’re legal in British territory at eighteen.”

  “What the hell, then,” Cammie said.

  Michel got out his wallet. “For her. And let me pay, Lee.”

  Cammie drained her drink as if she were slugging water on a tennis court and asked for another. She was halfway through that one when Michel said, “You might want to slow down.”

  “You might want to shut up,” she answered softly, thinking of Trent’s perfectly bronzed face with its outthrust, patrician chin. For a moment, she longed to be gay.

  Lee busied himself at the other end of the bar. Cammie drank four drinks, and when she stood to use the washroom, Michel saw her sway, just slightly. But the boat was also moving, as the wind was picking up slightly. She was probably used to drinking.

  A few other couples, in advanced states of inebriation, sat on rudimentary stools, stroking each other and murmuring. One woman seemed undecided between two men.

  “Bareboat cruisers,” said Michel, gesturing with his chin, when Cammie returned.

  “What’s that?”

  “No crew. They’ll run their boats aground tonight. We’ll be over hauling them off.”

  Cammie wandered to the edge of the boat, to a dark corner, and leaned over. “Are we going to cross the equator?”

  “No, we are not going quite that far, but we will be close to it,” Michel said.

  “Huh,” she said. “Well, as far as I’m concerned, I’ve seen the Willie T. We can go now. Let me ask you one thing, though. Why are you reading Dickens? I saw Bleak House on your bed.”

  “I like it.”

  “I wouldn’t read Dickens except for school unless someone paid me. So you’re not as stupid as you act.” Cammie went back to the bar and took a long last swallow of her drink.

  “You think everyone who lives this life is stupid?”

  “I didn’t say that. I’m not a fucking snob, you know.”

  “No. I didn’t say you were. You’re just spoiled. Like every other college kid I’ve ever met. You wouldn’t know how to do a day’s work to save your life.”

  Michel had no idea why he had said this. It was probably easier to see her mad at him than indifferent. But she didn’t rise to the bait. So he paid Lee and shook his hand. When they descended to where the tender was tied, Michel said, “I’m sorry. Really. Let me help you into the tender. It can get slippery.”

  “I’m fine on my own,” Cammie said, but it was apparent that she was not. “And I’m not spoiled. College is no picnic. You might know if you tried it. Engineering is basically majoring in math, geometry. I’ve worked every summer of my life and saved what I earned. What do your parents do?” She faced him with her fists on her hips.

  “They own a clothing factory.”

  “They own a clothing factory. What do they make?”

  Michel sighed. “Cashmere. Sweaters and coats.”

  “Okay, well, ooh-la-la. My dad is a small-time architect, and my mom is a teacher. I go to school because I have to. No one is going to take care of me. I bet they take care of you, their little rebellious boy. . . .”

  “No,” Michel lied. “Well, yes, a little.”

  “So who’s spoiled?”

  “I only meant don’t look down on me.”

  “Then you should have said that instead of calling me spoiled. You don’t even know me.”

  “You’re right. I just said it because you make me nervous, and it was easier to have you angry with me than treating me like you’re a princess and I’m a servant—”

  “I never did that!”

  “I know,” Michel said. “Look, this is my problem, okay? Forget I said anything. Let me help you. This is my job, Cammie. If you fall, you could sue us. So let me help you, please. The same as I would anyone else.” But he did not help her as he would have helped anyone else. He stepped into the tender and held it steady by planting his legs wide, and when she reached down, he took her waist in his two hands and lifted her into the boat.

  She stood looking up at him.

  She was so tiny.

  Michel bent down, and thinking she would push him away or avert her face, he kissed her. She allowed it, her lips smooth, the taste of her like a lollipop from the syrup. He kissed her again, and she opened her mouth and let him pull her against him. They kissed, rearranging pressures and positions, testing each other.

  “I can’t believe you did that,” he said.

  “Neither can I,” she said.

  “Well, you had a lot to drink.”

  “I’m not drunk. I had a huge meal.”

  “I’m sorry for what I said, and even more, I feel like an idiot for—”

  “Look, I know you do,” Cammie said, and then laughed with unexpected kindness. “You should.”

  “You’ve probably never done anything you regret in your life.”

  “Honestly, I haven’t,” she said. “Not very much.” She sat down and ran a finger under the strap of her sundress. “I got some sun . . . ouch,” she said. “You do burn here. You weren’t kidding. I’m dark. I never burn. I wonder how Holly is.”

  “Lenny would have radioed me if she was really bad off. If she’d been stung by a big jellyfish, she’d have to be in hospital now. If it gets worse, he’ll take her to the doctor right away. They are all your aunts?”

  “No, they are not all my ahnts,” she said, laughing indulgently, but not in a mean-spirited way, at his pronunciation. “My real relative is my aunt Janis, my mother’s cousin. She was supposed to come.”

  “But her husband . . .”

  “Right. They are all my godmothers, though, like in The Sleeping Beauty, Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather? And all their husbands are my godfathers. Except Olivia’s—”

  “Let’s go,” Michel said. “I’m perfectly sober, Cammie. Want to go back?” He swallowed once and then again. “Or we could go lie in the sand and look at the stars, like teenagers. Well, you are a teenager. I won’t touch you, I p

  “I know you won’t,” Cammie said. “I don’t care. It’s a pretty night.”

  They motored to the far side of the island, opposite where Lenny had moored Opus, and hauled the tender onto the sand. Michel pulled a big rug from the waterproof box. “We keep it for picnics,” he said.

  They lay side by side on the rug, five inches of carpet between them. Finally, Cammie said, “You could get lost here.”

  “I did.”

  “Where’s your family?”

  “Canada,” Michel said. “They’re wealthy, but I’m poor. I’m the black lamb.”

  “Black sheep . . .”

  “Black sheep. They’re nice about it. I see them in the fall. I always go home for Christmas.”

  “You don’t think of real people living here.”

  “Not many do,” Michel said. “Lenny’s not the usual kind of man here. He has more substance.”

  “He seems like a good person.” Cammie reached up and ran her hands through her long hair.

  Michel propped himself up on one arm. “Do you think I could kiss you again?”

  “Sure,” Camille said. “Why not? Because none of this is real anyhow.”

  When she didn’t push his hand away, he pulled her to him, elated when she pressed her hips so hard into his, he could feel the twin knobs of her bones and the pulses beneath them. Knowing he shouldn’t, he lowered the straps on her sundress and kissed her neck, the hollow of her throat with its tiny crucifix, and finally he let his lips brush her small breasts with their fiercely hard nipples. Her sharp gasp delighted him, and when she kissed him again, over and over, it was every time with more confidence and less fear. It made him uneasy, how clear she was about what she wanted. Finally he said, “You aren’t going to believe me that what we’re doing right now has nothing to do with last night, no matter what I say. You’ll think this is part of the service of the boat, like you said. But the truth is, I only did what I did last night . . . because of you.”

  “Come on,” she said. “Don’t try to make some half-assed excuse. All we did was make out for five seconds.”

  “It’s the truth. I wanted to be with you, and I knew your mother would . . .” Michel made a slicing motion across his throat with a forefinger. Cammie seemed to consider this.

  “I’m an adult,” she said. “My mommy doesn’t tuck me in at night.”

  “I know. But it’s a small boat,” Michel said.

  Cammie laughed. “Please shut up,” she said. “I’m enjoying this. I’m pretending we’re in a movie.”

  They kissed again, and unable to help himself, Michel slid her dress down over her hips. In the moonlight, with only a triangle of silk against her dark skin and the tiny cups of white where her bikini top had rested, she was so beautiful that Michel thought she might vanish like a new moon. He had never felt at a loss with a woman. And it disconcerted him. Enticed, he had felt, and satisfied and avid, but never protective, protective to the prohibition of his own desire.

  “What do you want, Cammie?” he asked.

  “Who knows? It’s not that big a deal,” Cammie said, but her face, blurred by desire, contradicted her. She let the back of her cool hand trail along his face. They kissed, intentionally and with more mastery, and she let her hands skim his ribs, under his shirt, down to the ridge of his belt. He could feel her giving up her trust to him, for no good reason. Instead of igniting him, this made him hesitate. But they were finding it difficult to separate. When she lifted her hips and pulled him to her, both of them began to shiver. If an eighth inch of cloth had not separated them, he would have been inside her. Michel opened his shirt and made it a tent around both of them, as if a storm threatened; and Cammie slipped out of the last of her clothing. Michel laid his hand lightly on her belly, and she opened her legs slowly, looking steadily into his eyes so that he would understand this was not a bit of girlish mischief.

  “Are you . . . ?”

  “A virgin, you mean? Yes, I guess. More or less,” Cammie said, biting her top lip. “Pathetic. I’m nineteen.”

  “I think it’s wonderful.”

  “Jesus. My roommate thinks I’m retarded. And just a minute ago, I was pretty sure I didn’t want to be a virgin anymore. But you keep stopping. And now I just keep . . . going back and forth. There’s just . . . come on . . . there’s no good reason except the obvious to do this and about ten good reasons not to.”

  “I don’t want you to think I’m taking advantage of you. It’s not like that. If it would make a difference, listen. We’ll stop. I’ll . . . I’ll come to where you live when the season is over and I’ll visit you.”

  “Do you think it would be the same? Wouldn’t it feel like . . . a fish out of water?”

  “I don’t know,” Michel said. “But I know you could meet a hundred women, and then the woman of your life, and you fuck it up the night before.”

  “You could come and see me at school, I guess. You know you’re not like . . . you said, a beach bum. That’s just your poor-guy act. You’d need a coat,” she said with a nervous laugh. “It’s Minnesota.”

  “I have a coat.”

  “I guess I wouldn’t mind.” Cammie thought of Trent and indulged in a tight, secret smile.

  “But it’s not that I don’t want to . . . right here and now.”

  “I guess I do.”

  “You’re not sure, though. You don’t know if you would want to if it was the real world and I had on a coat. Or a tie.”

  “I believe you have a coat,” Cammie said, burrowing into Michel’s shoulder. “I don’t believe you have a tie.”

  “I don’t have a tie,” Michel said. “But I like you. And I’d rather wait until I had one than have you think I’m such an ass.”

  “I don’t think that. See, I don’t really want to think about anything right now. Do you get that?” Cammie asked. Then she added slowly, “Because we are here, now. You didn’t kidnap me. We are here, now.”

  This time, while they kissed, she put her lips to his throat and reached with her hands, roaming in the pockets of his jeans. Wanting her to lead but knowing she would not, Michel reached to open his belt and ease her way but said at the same time, “I don’t think I should be trying to make this your first time. And I haven’t got anything along with me. For protection.”

  “Well, shit!” Cammie said, stifling the impulse to knee him, feeling angry tears leap into her eyes. “What kind of crap game is this? You’re trying to make me feel like an idiot and a slut.”

  Michel felt his heart compress. It was he who was clumsy, an idiot.

  “No. Wait. I’m not making myself clear. This isn’t an easy subject to discuss,” he whispered. He took Cammie’s hands and turned them over, so that her palms lay open in his. He kissed each palm, closing her fingers around the kiss. He cradled her until the tension melted from his shoulders and her chest and their bodies softened into the clefts and attitudes for which they were created. “I didn’t say we should leave, only that we shouldn’t have sex. Full sex. I didn’t mean we shouldn’t do anything.”

  “Oh,” Cammie said, still uncertainly. “Oh. Well then . . .”

  Lenny heard the radio crackle and a distant voice he thought might be Sharon Gleeman’s. But Holly’s leg was still swelling, and he wanted to keep pressure on it. He glanced at his watch. It was midnight. Damn Michel. Willie T. was dark. He could see Tracy anxiously looking out over the bow.

  “Probably stargazing, Tracy,” he said finally. “You can’t blame them. They’re young. It’s the tropics.”

  “He’s not that young,” said Olivia.

  “He’s only twenty-five,” Lenny told her. “Didn’t you know that?”

  “He seems . . . older. She just turned nineteen, Lenny.”

  “Nineteen is old enough for most purposes,” Holly put in.

  “He’s been on his own for a long time. And out in the sun. That’s why he seems older. But it’s not his fault, Tracy. He’s a good boy. His father wanted him to be a bi
gwig in the clothing trade. He wanted to be an artist. It ended with this. He’s happy, and he’s a wonderful sailor. But I don’t want you to think he’d take advantage of her. He’s a well-brought-up—”

  “It’s actually not him I’m worried about. She’s, uh, going through her hellcat period, Lenny. She’s more than a match for him. I just don’t want, you know, a grandchild right now.”

  “I wouldn’t worry.”

  “I would,” Holly said. “I remember going through my own hellcat period. . . . I’m kidding, Trace. I’m sure they’re talking. You know, about what if the stars have planets just like this one around them that are inhabited. . . . Maybe they’re smoking dope.”

  “That’s a comfort, Hols,” Tracy said. “I feel better already.”

  “I see lights.” Holly pointed off the starboard.

  From somewhere in the darkness came the shout, “I’m a goddess!”

  “Oh, Camille,” Tracy said softly. “She has to be drunk.”

  “What if she is?” Holly asked. “It’s not like we didn’t get drunk. Younger than her.”

  “Look, I can see her. She’s standing up!”

  “Queen of the world, Mama. Nothing like a good boff to put you in a fine mood,” Holly said.

  “That’s even more comforting,” Tracy murmured. “Quit while you’re ahead, Solvig.”

  “Oh, Tracy Ann! You quit! I mean being such a mother hen.”

  “Like you wouldn’t be.”

  “Fortunately, my boys are in sixth grade.”

  “They do it in sixth grade now, too, Hols,” Tracy said, laughing, as the tender drew closer.

  “They do not!” Holly insisted. “Ian and Evan wouldn’t know one end—”

  “Don’t be so sure,” Tracy teased.

  Lenny said, “I’ll tell her not to stand up in the tender. Those little boats, they start in gear. If you’re standing up and you fall out, and someone goes in after you, the boat can just come back around and cut you up. Even with a life jacket on. But see, Tracy, she does have a life jacket on. She’s a good kid. It is the tropics, the stars look closer. They make everyone crazy.” He glanced up. The stars were gone. “Does anyone need another drink? More ice for your leg, Holly?” They shook their heads. “Then I want to check something.” He walked up into the cockpit and shut the door.

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