We live by conventions. Like the old fashioned western movies where the hero wakes up in the bedroom of the rancher’s daughter, to find out that he has been wounded and she has nursed him back to health.
When I woke up, it was like that. The mess was gone from the floor and the smear of coffee grounds and ketchup was gone from the bulkhead. There was a smell of fresh coffee in the air, and Raven had untangled her hair again. It hung in a fluffy cloud around her face and down across her shoulders, shaming Will’s ragged wool shirt with its elegance. Raven was leaning against the back of the opposite transom seat with her feet braced. She was three-quarters asleep.
I could only remember snatches of our later conversation. I must have been more tired than I had realized. Raven, too, although she had clearly outlasted me. At least I didn’t think the good fairies had cleaned up the mess.
The storm had abated. It was time to be getting out and beginning repairs. But looking at Raven, that wasn’t the first thing on my mind. Her foot was bare and close at hand. I brushed a fingernail from her elegant toes up to the cuff of Will’s baggy jeans. Her skin jumped under my fingers.
There was no getting around it. I was miles ahead of her in readiness. Rescuing her had given me a feeling of ownership; seeing her naked and vulnerable when I had first dragged her aboard had aroused me intensely. If I went ahead at the speed I wanted, it would frighten her terribly. She seemed to have accepted that I was not going to take advantage of her helplessness, but I could still easily lose that trust.
This trip wasn’t going to be easy. The Wahini didn’t even have a cold shower.
Raven yawned and stretched, and said, “I wasn’t sleeping.”
She rose and went to the cupboard, poured coffee for both of us and handed me mine. Her motions were sure and easy; she must have spent a lot of time while I slept familiarizing herself with the layout. She said, “Hungry?”
“I couldn’t find any eggs.”
“I used the last of them a week ago. There are powdered eggs in that plastic jar, or you could open a can of hash.”
I left her and went on deck. The waves were still sizable, but nothing compared to what they had been. It was late afternoon and the sun was peeking in and out of scattered clouds. I made a slow circuit of the ship, assessing damage. The mainsail was out of commission until I could repair it, but most of the standing rigging was intact. Only the port main backstay was strained beyond immediate use. Apparently the boom had hit it when it went overboard.
Raven shouted, “Come and eat.”
She was standing at the stove when I came below. I fished Will’s safety harness out and cinched her into it. Her clothing was not enough insulation for the electricity I felt pass between us. I felt! She just nodded and served up the hash. We ate it on deck, leaning against the deckhouse to stay out of the wind.
I set my plate on the deck and said thank you. She laughed and said, “Thank you, sir, and let me add that this has been one hell of a first date.” It was so unexpected that I laughed out loud.
We were sitting side by side, looking back past the lashed wheel across the dying but still lively waves. I wanted to take her hand, but decided not to. There was a feeling of companionship between us, but we were still strangers. I liked the way she looked, the way she smiled, and the sound of her laugh. I liked the way she had stood up to hardship and danger, and the way she had made herself useful without any fuss. And yet I knew nothing about her. I barely even knew her name, or maybe I didn’t know her name. Raven was too melodramatic to be real. more tomorrow