The Sea Waif and the Honeymooners

Utterly exhausted, I hardly sleep that night, maybe from all the leftover adrenaline. I get up early and launch into a cleaning frenzy thrilled, but still in disbelief that I’m actually here. After prying open the jammed forward cabin door, I haul soggy cushions and piles of stinky, soaking-wet laundry up into the sun.

When I hear Chris’s voice, I race to the radio. He’s relieved to learn that I made it, and relays directions to the hotel. I drop off the mooring and motor around to the north side of the lagoon. The wind is howling, but Swell and I are no longer at its mercy. Tourists gawk from their hotel water shuttles, probably because we look like a float in a parade with the colorful bedding and wet clothes flapping off the lifelines and boom. I simultaneously rejoice and cringe at being back in the more developed world.

Five miles later, I spot a hotel with thatched bungalows stretching out over the turquoise lagoon, like Chris described. I drop the anchor, toss the dinghy over the side, shove my most presentable clothing into a backpack, and row toward the resort. Failing to locate an entrance, I find myself in a maze of pilings underneath the private bungalows and pop out into the roped-off “Swimming Only” area. My entrance is neither discreet nor glamorous, but check-in time has passed and damn if I’ll waste even a moment of the luxury to come!

I beach the dinghy on a perfectly raked white-sand beach between lounge chairs and jog toward the lobby in my filthy cut-off jeans and bare feet I had given every last pair of my shoes away before leaving Kiribati. My matted, greasy hair is hidden under an oversized hat, but there is no concealing the odor that is wafting off my unwashed body. The receptionist behind the desk cocks her head and stares at me curiously. She searches on the computer, but finally shakes her head and says, “I’m sorry, Miss Clark, there is no reservation under your name.”

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“There must be,” I insist. “This is Le Meridien, right?”

“This is the Intercontinental Bora Bora, Mademoiselle.”

I apologize, turn, and lope out of the lobby, dodging a chicly dressed Italian couple and hurdling over the bushes to cut the distance back to my dinghy. Apparently, Le Meridien

is the next resort to the east. When I finally arrive, I’m ushered kindly into the resort by a Monsieur Pierre, who hands me a cocktail dressed up with a pineapple wedge. He does an impressive job of ignoring my castaway appearance on our tour of the hotel.

“Can you hold this a moment?” I ask Pierre, spotting the gift shop. I hand him my drink and rush over to find a pair of rubber sandals that fit, then pass the saleswoman my credit card.

Pierre steps in. “I assured Mr. McGeough that we would not accept any money from you. Charge this to Room 221, please, Charlotte.” I look at them in shock. I slip on my new turquoise sandals, and Pierre leads me to my private beachside bungalow. He opens the heavy wooden door. My knees almost buckle as I step into my glorious, sparkling-clean haven.

As the door closes behind me, Pierre says, “Mr. McGeough arranged for you to have a massage. You can call the spa to blog it whenever you’d like. Let us know if there’s anything you need, Miss Clark.”

The door closes and I find myself enveloped in comforting silence. The cool air is laced with the scent of flowers. Soft light filters through the veil of white curtains onto a wide, pillow-lined canopy bed draped in lace. The polished wooden floors are soothing under my feet. A small table in the center of the room is topped with an exotic bouquet and a note. It says “Go crazy, champ. Order whatever your heart desires. So proud of you, Chris.”

I drop my backpack and twirl on one leg, then skip toward the other side of the room to find a bathroom bigger than the whole cabin of Swell. Slate stone walls open into an expansive sink area, then I turn to find myself face to face with a pristine white, open-air bathtub jets and all. I open the faucets immediately, peel off my stinky clothes, and toss them into the far corner of the room. I stare at my skinny body in the mirrored walls of the bathroom. My stomach churns. I’ve forgotten my hunger in all the excitement. I prance to the bedside to peruse the in-room dining menu. My mouth waters. I quickly dial room service.

“Yes, hello. Can I please make an order for room 221? I will have the strawberry waffles with whipped cream, please. Two scrambled eggs, a large orange juice, a side order of fruit salad and cottage cheese and avocado. Oh, and a decaf coffee please.”

I hang up and climb into my hot bath, dumbfounded by the drastic change in my reality. I lie back in the blessed waters, sinking my head below the surface to let the peaceful sound of the still water hold me as if I’ve returned to the womb. Everything is okay. Hell, it’s more than okay! I’m in a porcelain bathtub!

I wash my skin and hair with excessive amounts of soap, working a mountainous lather onto my scalp. I clean the stinging, open sores on my backside, then rub the washcloth between every toe, every curve of my ear, every inch of my bare skin, until the water looks a bit swampish.

I hear a knock on the door. “Room service!”

Slipping into one of the white terrycloth robes, I go to the door, and push the loaded cart out to my back porch. Flowering jasmine vines and sunshine greet me as I sit down eagerly with my feast. Just before my first bite, I pause, look at the food and my surroundings, suddenly breathless with gratitude. I blurt out, “Thank you, Chris! Thank you, God, and all my angels!”

With every bite, I’m riding a flavor roller coaster. I chew emphatically. I can almost feel my body soaking up the nourishment as my fork works circles around the tray, sipping coffee and juice periodically. When there isn’t a scrap left, I lick the whipped cream off my utensils and slouch back in my chair to enjoy the most basic of life’s delights a full belly. I haven’t stopped eating for a full minute when fatigue crashes on me like a wave.

Parting the draped lace on my princess bed, I leap in headfirst and greet my four new pillow friends, then slip between the crisp white sheets. Paradise. I lie there in astonishment at the feeling of dry bedding, stillness, and safety.

After a couple hours I get up. No luck reaching my family on Skype, so I decide to take myself out to dinner. I pull on a hand-me-down red dress a friend had given me, fluff my hair, smear Neosporin with Pain Relief on my lips as gloss, and walk out of my room in my new flip-flops as if the dining room is awaiting its guest of honor.

A young couple walks toward me on the bridge over the turtle pond and I smile as they approach, excited to say hello. But they both look away and walk quickly past me. I shrug it off and carry on. Another couple reaches the restaurant doors just before I do. The man pushes open the door for his companion but lets it swing closed right in my face. Perplexed, I push myself through.

A pudgy older Frenchman greets me after seating the couple. “Good evening, mademoiselle. Looking for someone?” he inquires.

“No, sir. It’s just me. I’d like to eat dinner.”

His face contorts in confusion and pity, but he picks up one lonely menu, and leads me through the rows of gum-swapping, heart-pounding, same-side-of-the-booth-sitting newlywed couples toward an empty table for two near the center of the room. The muffle of voices falls silent. No one’s eyes move. Something tells me I’m gravely out of place. A third wheel. A homewrecker. Smack in the middle of honeymooner’s paradise. And in a red dress, to make matters worse!

As the Frenchman turns to pull the chair out for me, I spot salvation behind him. An empty cocktail lounge on a covered patio open and airy, with a cozy raised booth.

“Excuse me, sir,” I lean in and say, pointing, “would it be okay if I sit over there?”

With a calculating glance he pauses, “Usually we don’t serve dinner in that section, but I think we could make an exception tonight.”

Everyone, myself included, is relieved as he leads me out of the room. I hop into my booth and pore over the menu. I gaze at the couples from time to time as I wait for my food to arrive. I guess I envy them a little; I do wish I had someone to talk to after victory at sea and more than two weeks alone. I feel a volcano of words inside me, desperate to erupt.

“I’m fine,” I tell my chicken Caesar salad. “I just miss my family and friends.”

Just then I notice a gray tabby kitten peering at me from under the table. I toss him a scrap of chicken. He gobbles it down, then hurries back to safety below a nearby chair. We share my meal and when he finally brushes up on my leg, I’m sure he is a little angel sent to keep me company.

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