Sitting outside the open door to the dance hall, listening to romantic music drift by with quiet chatter and occasional laughter reminded her of falling in love. The gentle rocking of the ship as it pushed through the dark sea, brought back all the memories of being held in his arms as they watched the moon set when they sailed away on their honeymoon so many years ago. Occasionally couples would wander by holding hands or arm in arm, and one woman did a slow dance alone on the Lido. It was hard to be alone after so many years as part of a duo. At her age, it was expected that she would have lost her beloved husband. In some ways it had not seemed real until she found herself alone on the ship in the middle of the Caribbean sea.
The holiday was a gift from her children. It was meant to cheer her up after a long cold winter. Her best friend came along to keep her company. They were just two old ladies in a crowd of people. During the day, it was easy to stay busy with all the events on board. It was at night, when the soft, warm breeze blew across the deck and the stars seemed close enough to touch in the dark sky, she felt the shiver of loneliness pass through her heart. From the corner of her eye she could see him, standing so tall and handsome in his tuxedo, a cigarette in his hand as they stood at the railing of the ship watching the moonlight mark the way across the sea. Then, when she turned, she only saw the emptiness.
They met during a party at her best friend’s home when she was barely eighteen. He was just home from the Viet Nam war, wearing a regulation hair cut and an attitude. She knew he was only a few years older than she was, but he seemed so much more mature than the silly boys around them. When he looked at her with deep brown eyes that seemed filled with pain, then smiled at her, she forgot how to speak. Something in her whispered, “He’s the ONE.” They skipped out on the party and walked around the block a time or two, barely talking. After what seemed an eternity, he took her hand. It was a perfect fit, and with that simple gesture, she knew he was her future.
It was summer when they met. They joined in with the rest of their crowd of friends swimming at the beach, hanging out at the park, attending parties. It seemed to be the last days of innocence in their world. The music they listened to was changing, and so were a number of their friends. In their world, you married, had children, and grew old together. Suddenly, it was acceptable to sleep around, do drugs, and protest everything. But, that last summer, when things were still young and hopeful, they fell in love.
Romance was magical to her. A quiet, bookish girl, all she knew about it was what she had read, and what her imagination conjured up as lay awake thinking of his kisses and the deep yearning she had when he held her close. When he laughed at her silly jokes, listened to her opine on things she barely understood, or let her cry when they watched a sad movie without complaint or embarrassment, she felt like a queen. He was always tender with her, even the few times they argued. His gentleness only made her love him more every day.
That never changed, in all the years they were together. Good or bad, she loved him more every day. There were tragedies, triumphs, tears, and tantrums, but through it all, he was always careful with her feelings and with her body. When they were busy parents, he would remember all the important days, and sometimes, for no reason, would bring her flowers or a gift. And they would dance on summer nights like they had as young lovers.
Like all couples, they grew apart and back together, depending on life, kids, and stresses. Never did she doubt that he loved her, though there was that time when he was tempted by someone else. He never knew she knew, but he walked away and came home to his own bed without dishonoring either of them. As they aged, and the children left home, they rediscovered the joy of being a couple. Once again, they were able to sail on a ship like they had on their honeymoon. It became their practice to take a trip somewhere once a year. They cruised the oceans and seas of the world, delighting in the travel, the company, and always they danced in the summer nights.
One night, he woke her because he felt ill. Before the ambulance arrived, he was gone. That quickly she went from wife to widow. It was over. She stood at his grave, mind numbed and lost. As always, he took care of her, making sure she was set for life. No worries about money or where she would live, meant she had time to make choices for the rest of her life. What no one seemed to understand was that without him, she was so lost she couldn’t make decisions at all. Her heart simply wasn’t involved in anything she tried. She moped about her home, remembering him in every crook and cranny. Her sentences often began with “remember when” only to realize he wasn’t there to remember with.
So, her children gave her a cruise as a surprise gift and sent along her best friend as company to get her out of the house. She suspected they were painting and reorganizing it as another surprise in an attempt to get her to move along in her life. She knew they didn’t understand no matter what they did, he would always be with her, where she could just barely see him out of the corner of her eye. A summer breeze, the gentle rocking of the ship, romantic music, and couples holding hands would always bring him to her mind and heart. And just out of sight, he waited for her, standing tall in his tux, leaning against the rail, smoking his cigarette in the moonlight.