Monday, April 29, 2013

TRULY by Summer Day (inspired by Persuasion) chapter Twenty-one "The Marina"

Chapter Twenty-one
The Marina
The atmosphere was as icy as the ocean and I had no idea why I’d been snowballed into this one… Confessions of a Post-teenage Hermit
    Ben stood at the pier looking extremely hot up close. His brother Harley also looked pretty cool.
     As luck would have it, a few of the women, ex-Socials from the mothers’ group at the café, were going for their morning power walk. They nearly pushed their toddler buggies into us as my cousins waved hello and Ben and Harley smiled. I couldn’t help but notice Ben was far more welcoming to my sisters than me, whom he still chose to more or less ignore. Two could play that game.
     I was embarrassed that the Wentworth brothers had seen me humiliated in my low-paying job. They must have heard those girls I’d gone to high school with talking about me like no one had wanted me enough to marry me – as if that was the high point of success with the divorce rate heading towards fifty percent! I wandered what people like Missy and the ex-Socials had to be so smug about as they looked back and waved at Harley and Ben.
      If I was supposed to be “getting over Ben,” spending the afternoon in his company was probably a bad start. 
      There he stood, waiting for us at the pier; or were we just an excuse for the Wentworth brothers to hang with my cousins?
      The boat was huge, so big in fact that Liz had even invited Tom Winchester. Apparently they wanted to view some real estate from the coast line. It was like a Hallowed Halls reunion on the high seas. All we needed was Serena and Dana. Serena was somewhere near Singapore by now and Dana was on the opposite side of the marina, thankfully.
     “Good to see you again, Jane,” Harley said. Ben ignored me and smiled at my cousin Lia and then started showing Hailee how the boat worked.   
     If Ben and I were ever meant to be, that was in the past. Our so-called “love affair” was some serious ancient history. Get over it, I told myself. Now, I thought, snap your fingers, you are over it. 
    “Are you coming Jane?” Melissa shouted over to me as I lagged behind, buying a bottle of water.
   “Sure,” I said, pretending to act cool even though my father had long since sold his boat as part of our intra-family funding drive (it was the one possession he’d agreed to part with since he preferred tennis to sailing these days anyway). I just pretended going sailing in Wentworth on a beautiful boat at the pier, was the most normal thing on the planet. 
     Harley gave me a very friendly smile as I stepped onto the gangplank.
    “It’s great to see you again, Jane.”
    I looked at him, “… um, good to see you too.” 
    “All the time we were posted overseas, Ben dreamt of going sailing here, at home…”
    Ben was chatting amiably with my sisters, portside. Harley and I stood on the opposite side, talking to me.
    “I didn’t know the cousins were coming,” Melissa whispered.
     “Well, I didn’t ask them,” Liz replied.
     “I included them,” Ben said, smiling. “It was their idea in the first place.”
     “Of course,” Melissa said, hiding her true feelings. “What a great idea.”
      I raised my eyebrow, embarrassed at Liz’s transparency. The garrulousness and natural beauty of our younger cousins had always irritated Liz and Melissa, since it took the focus off them. I, on the other hand, liked it. But perhaps allowing them to take centre stage hadn’t been the wisest idea. After all, they hardly needed “extra light shined on them to get noticed,” as my Godmother, Eleanor, once said. I think Eleanor thought they made me seem plain and dull by comparison, but I didn’t care. I loved my cousins, they were warm and funny. They included me and made me laugh.
     The girls made a huge production of going swimming once we reached the small island about half an hour from the marina.  
    Hailee stepped gingerly over the edge and Ben held out his hand politely.
    “Catch me! Lia said to Ben as he turned around and my cousin jumped from the edge of the boat to the sand in double quick time.
     I remembered Lia doing that when she was about eight when she took ballet and gymnastics classes.
     I looked over at Lia; my outgoing younger cousin was swift and fast and she landed on her feet with ease. Harley moved forward but Ben got there first. Lia’s hand grabbed his and she seemed to linger closely to his chest. He laughed it off as she giggled.
     I sighed as I rolled up my jeans and scrunched my hair in a loose bun. I’d applied some gloss and made an effort to look beachier than I felt.
     As I walked along the gangplank, Ben just glanced up at me disinterestedly, as if to silently say, you’re next, then he turned his back on me to continue talking with Lia. I stepped onto the boat myself; being careful not to slip in the water puddle that Lia had created.
     Harley waited expectantly on the other side. Obviously, there was no getting out of this without appearing rude and offending him.
     We all jumped into the sheltered lagoon. I wore a swimsuit of Melissa’s previously unworn and discarded but although it covered my curves it also accentuated them. Let’s just say, it was the first time Ben truly looked at me all day. Whatever. The water was warm and restorative. My cousins were making good use of the rope swing hanging from a branch.
     They were still diving in when I got out to dry off. Lying in the sun behind a tree on my striped beach towel, I overheard Hailee, who had been pushed aside by Melissa and was standing closest to me, say, “Honestly, sometimes I wish Jane had married poor Fred…”
    Ben looked at her in disbelief.
   “Jane?” He said my name as if he couldn’t believe anyone else would have ever wanted to marry me.
   ‘Shh,” Hailee whispered.
   “Oh yes,” Lia said, “he asked Jane first but she was busy with college and not really into him. Besides, her Godmother talked her out of it.”
    I could hear their conversation through the splashes, even as I stood to drag on my shoes.
   “Her Godmother?” Ben asked.
   “Yes, Jane takes all of her advice.”
    I imagined Ben inwardly cringing before Sam, Ben’s nephew ran over to me and Sarah flopped on the edge of my towel in the sun.
    “You know,” she said, “this is the most beautiful place on earth; I don’t know how my brothers can stand to leave it.”
    “I agree,” I said as we scooped up Sam and our belongings and trundled back to the sailing boat. 
    Shore could not come quickly enough, though everyone on board was busy oohing and ahhing over the scenery along the coast.
    Meanwhile, Ben unravelled some rope. I’m sure it hadn’t occurred to him that I’d paid any attention to his conversation with my cousin. He kept his back turned on me rudely as I stepped off the bow of the boat directly into a pool of sea water; I slid onto the floor of the jetty. As I tried to get up, I hit my knee hard, and gashed it so deeply; it looked like I might need stitches.
   “Are you okay?” Lia said, rushing over. She brought the first-aid kit and wrapped up my leg with a bandage.
   For a second, I’d blacked out.
  “I’m fine,” I said.
   I looked up to see Ben’s handsome face looming over me. His palm cradled my head, momentarily. His expression changed from one of concern to a complete lack of interest in seconds as he placed my head back on the ground once I appeared conscious and unhurt, at least on the surface.
    “Yes,” I said, dazed.
    Then, before I knew it, Ben scooped me up in his arms and carried me towards the table and chairs outside the café that formed part of the marina. He told everyone he’d wait with me. I rubbed my head but felt fine.
    I couldn’t believe Ben wanted to be alone with me. Then, as I listened to the conversation that followed, I realized, he didn’t. This was just an excuse to get rid of me.  Ben and I sat on a bench like strangers in silence.
   “I’m really fine. It’s a slight graze on my knee, it’s nothing.”
   “You should probably get your head checked and not jolt around on a boat. I’ll come with you, if you want,” he offered reluctantly.
    “It’s okay. My Godmother just texted, she’s coming to meet me,” I interrupted. Bad news travels fast. Hailee must have tipped her off.
    “Uh, okay,” he said, and then we said nothing for a few minutes. During that time, Ben turned and looked into my eyes as if he wanted to say something then he thought better of it and got up to buy us both some water from the store. The next ten minutes passed in stony silence as we sipped. Then I decided to speak up.  
    “The truth is, Ben, I didn’t plan on coming sailing with you and Harley. I kind of got talked into it.”
    “I can imagine that.”
     I ignored his insinuation that I couldn’t make up my own mind.
     “What happened between us remains…”
    “I know…” Ben looked at me coldly, “unforgiven.”
     “That wasn’t what I…”
     He looked up, wishing to change the subject, “Here’s your Godmother.” Ben went to open the car door as Eleanor pulled over. I turned around.
    “Make sure you get your head checked out properly… what’s your street again?”
    “I’m staying in Bel Air for a while… with my father. It’s not necessary for you to open the door…”
     He interrupted me, frowning, “But you dislike living in that part of Los Angeles. I remember that from years ago.”
    “I’ve changed,” I lied, I longed for the bliss of the water views here in Wentworth. “I think it suits me better than it did… before,” I turned around and got into the cab, blood rising in my cheeks, determined that this would be the last time I’d speak to Ben alone.
    He was so over me; it was obvious he’d just returned to pay me back for calling off our stupid teenage engagement years ago, and I didn’t blame him. Even though he’d recently acted like a tool, a man like him – good, handsome, tall, rich, kind, brave and humble hearted, could have anyone he wanted, deserved anyone he wanted.
     I’d treated him badly and I probably deserved to be treated dismissively now. Let’s face it; my family had been ignorant snobs and I’d just been plain wrong. There were no words to describe my bitter regret at our having parted so long ago, but I didn’t need any further humiliation.
     There was no point in prolonging his torment. He acted like spending ten minutes by my side was worse than drinking poison. Nevertheless, Ben closed the door for me. As he did this, his fingers lingered on my own for a moment. I pulled my hand away as the door slammed behind me.
     My Godmother greeted me warmly in the car after peering at Ben. He lingered beyond the window as the blood in my cheeks started to rise and the car moved forward.