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ADRIFT NO MORE

I never considered myself a "basic" woman. I was told I was pretty and I knew I was also considered witty. An almost always pleasant combination when man-hunting, which was what I was doing on the afternoon of that scorching hot July day.

I wondered if I was feeling now the way a heart attack victim must feel, for I was having absolute difficulty breathing. Was it from the terrible humidity or from staring at John Albert Waymouth, captain of the Sulky?

His eyes were of the clearest blue; his smile swept me away. Me, of all people. I had gone through so many men I had to index them in order to remember them all. But this Captain Waymouth was something else. His mannerism was the type that made a girl feel like she was the only one. It had been awhile since I had felt that way, maybe never.

"So, Andrea Hopkins with the light brown hair, do you like my boat?"

I skimmed my gaze across the sailing vessel and replied with a shrug, "It's almost as magnificent as you are, Captain. Are you taking it out?"

"I hadn't planned on it, but then I hadn't planned on meeting you either. So, do you want to go for a sail?"

As I stepped on board, he gallantly touched my fingers with his broad, strong hand and tilted me in the direction of the front of the boat, which he called the bow.

I knew absolutely nothing about boats, but I believed I knew absolutely everything about men. Yes, I was cocky, careless and looking for adventure. Before five minutes ago I had never laid eyes on Captain Waymouth. This man with the tousled auburn curls took me unto his boat and offered to sail me around the Bay of Fundy. I had never been on a sailing boat in my entire life, and I decided it was time I changed that.

"Where are you from?" He engaged me in chit chat.

"Toronto."

"I knew you weren't local."

I threw back my head and laughed, assuming he was complimenting me because I didn't act and look like the local girls.

"And how do you know that?" I teased him with my fluttering eyelids.

"Because in this small fishing village I am assuming all the local girls know better than to try and board a slippery-decked boat in four-inch heels."

He soured my glee. He was making fun of me. I lowered my lids this time not seductively but in order to watch the deck as I carefully grasped the rail and inched along in my high heels. I followed him as he strode toward the steering wheel. He fiddled around, checked this and that then disappeared down an open hatchway. Almost instantly I heard a motor erupt. It broke through the chatter of the birds and silenced the whistling of the breeze. He was up top again before I'd hardly missed him.

I determined to have a good time despite his earlier sarcastic remark. And to prove I could be a good sport, I kicked off my heels and sashayed barefoot toward him. His grin stretched from ear to ear. "Got anything to drink down there? You must have a bar or something, don't you?" I asked.

"Something." He slipped an arm about me and led me toward the hatch. I pulled back and gazed at him.

"Don't you hafta steer this thing, or something?" I asked feeling anxious.

"Something," he replied and proceeded to stifle my concern by adding, "She's on automatic pilot. Come on."

Down below he fixed me a drink. I've yet to know what it was because I was just about to ask, when he reached across the counter and kissed me. It was a passionate where-have-you-been-all-my-life kiss. We were getting hot and heavy very quickly, then he pulled back abruptly with one word. "Later." And he left me. This man who loved one word sentences was playing with my heart. There was nothing for me to do except take a quick look around, down my drink, then follow him.

When I got up top he'd moved fast. He'd cut the motor and set the sails loose. It was majestic. The boat slipped across the water like a trained ice skater, with fluid, expert strides and perfect balance and motion.

I caught my breath at the feeling of sailing. My God, I loved it! Seagulls swooped down from the cloud-banked sky and yelled at me, while the warm, humid air caressed my skin. For a second I recalled that the sky had been cloudless when we were on shore. Then he was by my side and I got the feeling he was going to ask me to go below again. I was just thinking how I'd rather stay up top for awhile and enjoy the ride, but before I got a chance to say anything I saw it. He saw it too because his eyes were curiously studying the sky.

"Are you worried about that big black cloud?" I said.

"Nah. I've been sailing since I was a teenager. We won't have a problem with a little squall. Besides we're not far from shore."

He didn't convince me though because there'd been a long hesitation between my question and his "nah." And that's when the rain started. By the time we were at the hatch it had turned to hail and big round balls of it were bouncing like popcorn all over the deck. It was like the sky had exploded, then something smashed into John Albert's head and his legs slid under him. He looked like a closing jackknife as he folded unto the deck.

The wind pounded at me with incredible force shoving me backward. Shocked and totally helpless I couldn't take a step forward to see if he was all right. He didn't move except for his clothing, which the wind was battering and ballooning. The pole lay across his body trapping him under it.

I saw the wall of water out of the corner of my eye and, I had just turned my head as it struck the boat with such a force it sent me sprawling across the deck in the opposite direction of John Albert. I landed with a sickening thud. The drink I'd just consumed spewed out of my mouth like a pink water fountain. I grabbed onto some dangling line and squeezed with all my might. But the violent pitching of the boat made me sicker. The spray coated me in an icy cloak. Another rough wave smashed against the boat and the line snapped leaving me as unfurled as it was.

I was loose now tumbling with each rock and roll of the boat. I knew I had to try and get below. My elbows shook as I made it to my knees then managed to stand on my wobbly legs. For a few minutes there was a slight calmness, and the boat just drifted. The hail had stopped, and I stood in the driving rain feeling as powerless as a deer caught in headlights. I made a staggering step forward. By now I was confused and numb. Trance-like, I stared at the spot where the captain of the boat lay. Fear choked at my breath as I walked toward the hatch.

Another fierce gust pushed me, and my knees buckled. I straightened them just in time to fall into a slide on the slick-as-ice grey deck, and I bumped my head on something. I reached out and clung to the deck rails hoping to avoid another slide. My fingers were bloodied and I knew not from what, but pain shot through them and I found it excruciatingly hard to hang on or to grip the rails.

But I did hang on while creeping closer to the hatch hole. As I reached it, another gust swooped over the boat catapulting me down the stairs. I landed with a thud and ached so bad all over I couldn't even begin to place where the hurt was. I crawled on my stomach toward the bunk not daring to raise my head for fear of being blown up above again, for the wind was everywhere, like long witchy fingers prodding and pinching me.

I slid under the bunk feeling the waves pitch the boat to and fro. My stomach heaved again but this time there wasn't much to throw out. I clamped my jaws tight and squeezed my eyes together inviting the darkness to intervene on my behalf and rescue me from this vicious storm.

I was safe for the moment. Safe with my thoughts. Terrifying thoughts that danced madly in my brain. Was I going to die here? I couldn't die, not like this. Not with so many loose ends. I wasn't ready. I needed to make peace with my soul.

Guilt slid up my spine and filled my brain with the nauseous realization that I had not even taken the time to notice or find out if the man lying above me was married. It hadn't actually mattered to me. I had always laughingly quoted the song, "I'm here for a good time, not a long time." Now with the menacing waves hammering the boat, a long time suddenly started to matter more, and I certainly wasn't having a good time at the moment. What if he was married? What if we both drowned? Would they discover our bodies and his wife would realize he'd been cheating on her? She would not only have to suffer his death, but also the humiliation of another woman. I disgusted myself, always thinking only of my own gratification, disregarding the long-term consequences. I lacked the principles and values that gave life direction. I was shallow. In a nut shell I realized I never really knew who I was. Suddenly the storm around me took second place to the storm within me, and I began to wonder in my harried mind when it was exactly that I'd lost my inner values. How did I get so deceptive and manipulative?

Sure, I was skillful in many ways. I knew my job down to a tee and my personality shone through at work and at play, but I was never really happy or fulfilled.

My thoughts drifted backward to my dad, a successful business man who treated his employees with respect and courtesy. They all loved him. He was a church member and he headed a teen group for boys who idolized him. On the other end of the spectrum he treated his wife, my mother, like garbage under his feet. He yelled at her, degraded her, even hit her. She was terrified of him until her dying day. But he took me everywhere, showing off my beauty and pretty clothes, bragging on my athletic prowess. He also sexually abused me.

As the boat tossed on the angry waves, I realized with stinging, tearing eyes that I had lost my inner values somewhere around six-years old.

Now I was faced with the hardest choice of my life, to survive and to tackle the present dilemma with all my gut force. Could I commit myself to helping someone else and stick it out to the end? Public victories had always been important to me. If I survived and helped someone else along the way, it certainly would be the biggest public victory I'd ever attained. The truth was, however, that all the people who might be applauding my heroism and writing about my courageousness would never know the personal victory that won out that day. I opened my eyes and shoved my courage to the forefront. Crawling out from under the safety of the bunk to go back up above was one of the hardest decisions I had ever made. I was scared. Scared to go back up there. But I was also concerned about John Albert. I hadn't known him long but I was attracted to him in a big way. And even if I hadn't been, I knew it was the selfless thing to do. If I was ever to redeem myself in my own critical eyes, I had to go back up there.

The pitching continued to rock the boat sending charts and navigational instruments flying through the air. Shakily I stood up, clinging to anything that was solidly attached to the boat. In my solitary moments of panic, failure lurked above me like the ominous dark clouds. But I couldn't let my thoughts go there, I had too much to do. John Albert's life was seeping away, if he even was still on the deck.

When I reached the top, the crashing waves flooded over me. I gasped for air drawing in long breaths of it mixed with pukey salt water. The boat pitched like a bucking bull, and I lunged forward trying to reach the man lying on the deck. To my relief I saw he was still pinned there beneath the beam. Then a flood of water swept my legs from under me and sent me scooting along riding the crest of the wave that threatened to toss me overboard and into the dicey waters.

I yelled into the screaming wind but only the wind answered me in a voice that sounded almost human, but it could not be. High into the air I was hurled. As the wave dropped, my hand found a pipe. I encircled it with a grateful hand and hung on. The water ebbed leaving me standing on the deck looking down on John Albert. I slowly let my hand slide down the pipe deathly afraid to let go, and I fell to my knees. With my other hand I slapped his face and screamed at him, "Wake up. For God's sake, be alive."

His eyes popped open and he spoke into the wind, "You're still here?"

"Yes, and thank God so are you. We'll be all right. Where do you hurt?"

"Everywhere."

"Me too."

"I was calling you." As I struggled with the mast the wind struck at me, the rain stung my eyes until I could barely see, but I managed to pull enough of it beneath the pole then I crawled under, close to John Albert. I slung an arm over his chest and hung on. There was nothing else to do now except wait it out. Once or twice after that we were engulfed with water, then as suddenly as it had come the storm dissipated. I could hear gentler waves lap the boat, as I crawled from beneath the mast.

John Albert had been shaking furiously, and I did my best to warm him. But I was soaked through myself and little help to him. I centered my attention on the pole examining one end and then the other. I jemmied each end but it held tight. I got down on my knees and talked to John Albert who kept sliding in and out of consciousness.

"I need to get the pole off you. What can I do? Help me to help you," I shouted.

His eyes opened slowly. Axe...an emergency axe inside." He passed out again.

I jumped up and ran down below searching the walls, my eyes making high arcs across the interior. I spied the bright red axe and yanked it off the wall. Yielding my weapon I ran above and attacked the pole. It finally gave way in the center and I was able to pull the two pieces to the side and off John Albert. Now if only I could get him below out of the elements, I might be able to find his injuries. He was over six feet tall but the deck floor was wet and slippery, and I figured it would be of help to me that way.

It was raining softly as I grabbed his ankles and hoped I wouldn't hurt him further. When I got him to the stairs, I positioned his body then went below him. I pulled him onto the stairs and used my own body as a buffer to protect him from falling. He was certainly heavy but the stairs were short.

At the bottom I dragged him toward the bunk, but I knew I'd never have the strength to get him on it. So I brought the bunk to him, yanking the mattress to the floor and sliding him on it. I piled all the blankets I could find on him. The ones in the cabin closet were still miraculously dry. For the first time I glanced at my watch. It was four o' clock. We had left shore around two. The storm had gone on over an hour. It had felt like an eternity, but we were alive, we had survived until now.

A sun beam shot down the stairway. John Albert seemed comfortable so I went above and looked across the horizon. I had thought I heard something while below and I was right. A large boat was speeding toward us. My heart jumped for joy. We were going to be rescued! He would be all right.

At the shore an ambulance took John Albert away, and I was left to face the press. I gave my story and the reporter asked the question, "Do you consider yourself a hero?"

"No," I replied truthfully. "I didn't save anyone, but I do consider myself a survivor."

"They say he might not have survived had you not kept him warm."

I walked away. Satisfied that John Albert would be all right. If he was married his wife would know of his indiscretion. Maybe she would forgive him. I hoped she would. After all, it's not like we did anything. We shared a couple of kisses and that was it.

I was a travel writer and I had been in town to write about the place. The next morning I prepared to return home. I had watched TV the night before and saw myself looking like hell. I was proud of myself though, even if I did look like hell. I had handled the reporter with dignity and grace my inner values were shining through.

I tossed my suitcase in the trunk and turned when someone called my name. It was that local reporter again, and I thought, "Oh no, the damn guy is harassing me. What's he want now. I've told him everything."

He handed me a letter. "Mr. Waymouth tracked me down to track you down." He walked away.

I slammed down the trunk cover and edged into the driver's seat opening the letter as I did so. The pain was searing through my injured fingers, which I still had no idea of how they got hurt. I skimmed the hand-written page. "Don't leave. Come see me. You and I have unfinished business. I'm not married if that's what's worrying you."

I folded up the letter. He had read my mind. Suddenly I wanted to see him very badly. As I drove toward the hospital, I couldn't keep the silly grin off my face. And when I glanced into the rearview mirror it looked just like the smile of a "basic" woman.

C.M.STEWART Copyright 2001