Carol’s fingernails gently flowed down Bill’s t-shirt. The skin on his back tingled and then relaxed. The air was mild, the breeze lightly kissed his cheeks. The solitary iron and wood bench contoured around his hips. Everything at that moment felt perfect.
Carol stopped. Bill closed his eyes and whispered, “Please, don’t stop.”
Carol took a single finger and traced random patterns around Bill’s back, and the soreness of his battle with Chuck, the tension and stress of his loss, and the fear of the unknown all disappeared. At that moment, Bill did not care what would happen five minutes from now. If he had his way, the two of them would remain like this forever.
Carol stopped, and Bill let out a sigh.
Carol said, “I’m sorry, my arms can only take so much.”
Bill sat up and gave her a hug. Carol’s dark, silky neck felt good against his cheek. He gave it a gentle kiss and then sat back and said, “I appreciate it. You helped me relax.”
Carol looked into his eyes and asked, “So, what are you going to do?”
“I’m going back to North Carolina with you.”
Carol’s brow wrinkled, “I love you, but you need to get your head on straight.”
Bill looked at Carol, the water, the sky, and his mouth dropped open. He stood, walked to the water’s edge, turned, and said, “I don’t understand.”
Carol looked up at him, “Harold gave you an amazing offer. You can work with your brother. The two of you can get to know each other. Not to mention you have a sister-in-law. You’re crazy if you think I’m going to be the cause of you leaving what you’ve wanted your whole life.”
Bill sat down hard on the bench, and the iron reverberated. “What I wanted my whole life is a family, my family.”
Carol grabbed a fist full of his t-shirt, “Listen to me, baby. You have a family. Maybe you should get to know them before you start your own.”
Bill reached up and held her hand against his chest, “But what if I lose you?”
Carol rolled her eyes, “How many times do I have to tell you I’ll be here. I know you love me, and you should know how I’m feeling about you.”
Carol released her hand, and Bill stood up and walked to the water’s edge. Just below its surface, several manatees floated, almost unseen in the reflection of the sun. Bill watched them and wondered if they were looking for Harold.
He turned to face Carol. “You know, Harold is planning on keeping the island.”
Carol shrugged, “So, he’s a one-percenter. That’s what they do.”
Bill shook his head, “No. He’s planning on using it as a getaway for his employees.”
Carol scowled, “What does that have to do with anything?”
Bill walked over, kissed her forehead, and sat down. “Don’t’ you see, he’s moving back to his childhood home and keeping the island. He’s doing both.”
Carol answered, “I’m not getting you.”
“I don’t have to choose to live in California or North Carolina. I can spend time in both places. I can get to know my family, we can spend time getting to know each other, and I can get to know your family.”
Carol’s tone turned somber, “Uh oh, I forgot about that.”
Bill asked, “Forgot about what?”
“Let’s just say not everyone in my family is as progressive as we are.” Answered Carol.
Bill shrugged, “That’s their problem.”
Carol leaned in and gave him a short, soft kiss, and sat back up. “I hope you still think that way after you meet them.”
“Is it going to cause a problem. You know, like break up your family? I would rather lose you than have that happen.”
Carol grabbed his face and thrust her lips against his. Her long, deep kiss left him lightheaded. She let go, and he grabbed the back of the bench to steady himself.
Carol’s eyes danced as she looked at him, “Nobody is going to come between us.”
Bill nodded, slack-jawed.
A rustling in the bush caught their attention. Bill turned to find Harold down the beach near the trail, shaking a branch.
Harold cleared his throat, “Sorry, I didn’t want to startle you. Garcia and Darla are landing soon. They want us to wait at the house if you don’t mind.”
Carol answered, “Why should we mind? I hope I can finally get back home. My momma has threatened to turn my cats loose in the streets if I don’t get my tail home soon.”
Bill asked, “Oh, they let you call your mom?”
Harold waived, “I’ll see you in a few minutes,” and he left.
Carol and Bill stood, held hands, and began their slow walk down the beach and the trail.
“So, what’s your dad like?”
Carol answered, “He’s very protective.”
“So am I. We should get along great.”
Carol stayed silent as they made their way through the front door and found Joshua and Maria sitting at the bar with their rum runners.
Joshua raised his glass, “Come, join us for the celebration.”
Bill asked for beer for him and Carol.
Joshua said, “I thought you were starting to like our little punches? I make sure they’re healthy and easy on the liver.”
Carol answered, “I’m not an island girl. Give me a fifteen-year-old scotch neat and a good book to read by the fire.”
Bill shrugged, “I like everything, but I’m in the mood to get back home, and this beer takes me there.”
Maria spoke up, “I miss North Carolina too. The small orphans need me, and Joshua’s hometown reminds me of my village in Mexico where I lived when I was a little girl.”
Bill responded, “Yea, we’ll have to talk about that later. After I’ve had a few weeks to think about it.”
Joshua reached out and took Carol and Bill by the shoulders, “You two have been through a lot. You should take time to recover and think through your lives alone and together. We all need to do the same. Maria has not seen her home in California for some time. To be honest, we never thought we’d get to go back.”
Carol said, “Who knows, you may decide to never leave again.”
Maria shook her head. “The orphans need me. The Bible commands we should care for them. I would never put my comfort ahead of such wonderful children.”
Carol left Bill’s side and took the seat next to Maria. “I like you. Tell me more about growing up in Mexico.”
Joshua nodded his head at Bill, “I think this is our queue to let the women talk. Let’s grab a couple of lounge chairs.
The two men left Maria to tell her story to Carol, and they picked out two comfortable chairs facing the sun. They each took a sip of their drink, sighed, and closed their eyes.
Joshua said, “This place has a different vibe when there isn’t someone out there looking to kill you.”
“Yea, I actually feel relaxed.”
The sound of tires crunching and sliding on the seashell lane outside the house brought both men to attention.
Joshua said, “Well, it’s time to find out if we’ve been permanently released.”