It was short-sighted, yes, but in that precise moment, with my heart racing, my brain swelling, and my Xanax back in the hotel room, I couldn’t think of a better solution.
I jumped. Over the side of our catamaran and into the Sea of Cortés.
I had been half-asleep, sunbathing on the deck of the Porpoise, indulging in a pre-lunch Bloody Mary, while we sailed around Rosita Island on the Baja coast, when I opened my eyes and saw him.
He was facing away from me, but there was no mistaking those powerful shoulders, that elegant jaw, that mane of silver-tipped hair.
Then he turned slightly and smiled at someone I couldn’t see. If I had been harboring any doubts — and I wasn’t — the sight of that firm, full mouth put them to rest. Those lips had once kissed me into many faulty decisions.
I didn’t tell my feet to move but they did, quickly and efficiently. I squeezed by Bennett — snoring softly in the chaise next to me — and then I was swimming. Long, smooth strokes, letting my quads do the work, breathing in rhythm with the swells. I could swim maybe half a mile, if I had to, but I didn’t have to. The resort was right there. Seven, eight minutes tops, then I’d be on the creamy white sand and I could … what? Scream? Cry? Beat my head on the rocks?
Rafe Cutter in the flesh, just taking a morning cruise, as if he had a right to sail in my sea. What the hell was he doing here in Baja? The last time I’d seen him was in Chicago, four years ago. He was just back from a family funeral in Tulsa, having called me faithfully every day. From an international phone number that Google said was located in Cancun — that little island off the coast of Oklahoma.
I heard a thunk and whoosh behind me but I didn’t glance back. It was Bennett, tossing over the inflatable kayak, and trying not to drop the Grey Goose in the ocean. Ben was all about priorities.
“It was just sex. It was nothing,” Rafe told me in Chicago. And why wouldn’t he go with that? He’d used it effectively a dozen times before.
He promised to make it up to me, to prove to me that he could change. “Let’s get married,” he said, and I pretended it was true.
Bennett paddled past me, not saying a word.
I showed up at Rafe’s apartment a few days later, ready for lunch and ring shopping on Michigan Avenue. He wasn’t home so I let myself in, thinking he was just running late. Running so late that all the furniture was gone but there was still food in the fridge, and random papers all over the floor, and clothes he never wore piled up in a corner.
Because people change, but they don’t change. And they never change because of you.
When I got close to shore I stopped kicking, letting the waves lift me up and push me in. Bennett was sprawled on the sand with my beach bag on his lap.
“They’re going to charge us for that kayak,” I said, dropping down beside him.
He ran a hand through his dark curls and turned to face me.
“I need you to be done with this,” he said. “I don’t know what happened in Chicago — ” I tried to lean away, but he took hold of my face with both hands. “ — and I’m not asking.” He stroked my eyelids with his thumbs. “But I need you to be done.” He got up then, hoisted the kayak and started walking toward the pier.
I left Chicago and did what I always do when I am scared or angry or miserable. I ran back to the sea. It’s always easy to find a job on the coast. I could tend bar or sail or lead hiking tours or a dozen other jobs that would keep me from thinking too much or dating too seriously.
Except for Bennett. He was easy. He let me run. I’d sneak out of his bed in the middle of the night, and he’d show up the next day just the same.
He’d take me sailing at midnight and never ask why.
If a wave took me under he’d just say, “Ride it.” Or “Keep kicking.” Or “Blow out the air.” And I would. Because when all your relationships have been underwater, you get used to feeling short of breath. One lungful of fresh, sweet air can change the day.
You have to walk out of the sea all by yourself. When other people try to tow you in, you just drift farther and farther away.
I found him at the tiki bar, his wet shirt still clinging to him, his glass empty.
“It’s getting late,” I squeezed his shoulder. “Let’s go upstairs. I’ll make you a nice vodka and tonic.”
“If I wake up and you’re gone,” he said softly. “I won’t come back.”
That was Bennett. If he said it, it was true.
I let him take my hand.