For weeks Junior and Eva tiptoed around each other like nervous cats. When they passed in the hall or on the stairway, Junior was polite and Eva was deferential. Always striving to appear self-assured around Junior, Eva was her own harshest critic. If she felt she’d faltered, during even the briefest contact with him, she would scold herself.
Junior generally rode with his father to the law office in the morning, so when he appeared in the dining room at breakfast that particular Friday, Eva was taken off guard.
“Good morning,” he said, heading for the sideboard.
“Good morning.” She watched him fill his plate with scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast, and pour a cup of coffee.
“No class today?” he asked, sitting at the head of the table.
“Cancelled,” she said. “The teacher’s wife is having a baby.”
“How sweet it is,” he sang satirically.
“What about you?” she asked, sipping her orange juice. “No law office today?”
“Dad’s in court all day, and I decided to treat myself to a three-day weekend. You can do that when you’re the boss’s son. It’s nice.” He smiled as if he were mocking his situation. “So,” he said, taking a forkful of egg, “when is the big day? Dad’s been pretty tight-lipped.”
“In about six months,” Eva said.
“About? Don’t you know your own wedding day?”
“I know,” she said, “it’s unusual. Apparently, your father’s planning some surprises, and he’s still coordinating the special arrangements he wants, I guess.”
“Where’s Denise?” he asked.
“She went shopping with Teresa for baby clothes.”
He guffawed. “Baby clothes! My God more adorable sweetness! I can’t stand it: babies, weddings, secret romantic arrangements. What’s next? Pretty soon we’ll be tapping the maple trees in the front yard for syrup.” He took another bite of his breakfast and shoved the plate away.
Eva lowered her eyes and gazed into the bottom of her orange-juice glass. Is he teasing me? Testing me? What’s going on here?
“I’ve got an idea,” he said suddenly. “Why don’t you and I do something together today? We should get to know each other better, don’t you think?” He reached over and put his hand on top of Eva’s. “We’ve gotten off to a pretty rocky start; we should do something about that. What do you say?”
Eva moved her hand out from under his. “What would we do?” she asked guardedly.
“Hmmm,” he said, tugging on his ear and studying the ceiling, “let me think.”
Junior drove a restored US Army Jeep of which he was very proud. The day was sunny and warm, and Eva sat next to him enjoying the sun on her face and the dry, warm wind blowing through her hair.
Located along the south Texas coast, Padre Island National Seashore protects the longest undeveloped stretch of Barrier Island in the world Junior told Eva as they headed toward their destination.
“What do you do there?” she asked, holding tight to the Jeep’s window frame for balance.
“Anything water related,” he said, raising his voice to be heard. “We can sit on the beach, swim, rent a sailboat, fish, windsurf—whatever you feel like.”
Eva raised her eyebrows, overwhelmed with the choices.
“Have you ever been sailing?” he shouted.
“No,” she said, shaking her head.
“Want to try it?” he grinned.
“Now,” he said instructively, thirty minutes later, as Eva took her seat on the twenty-five-foot sailboat named Little Alamo, “sailing is the art of controlling this boat with these foils called sails. By changing the rigging”—he shook the ropes—“or the rudder”—he pointed to it—“and sometimes the keel or center board, I can force the wind on the sails in such a way as to change the direction or speed of the boat. It’s very simple actually,” he said, smiling proudly.
“What happens if there’s no wind?” Eva asked, wrapping her arms around her knees.
“There’s always wind,” he said brusquely, “you just have to know how to catch it. Can you swim?”
“Not really,” she said apologetically.
“Better put on your life jacket,” he advised. “It’s under your seat.”
An hour later Little Alamo floated basically motionless on the water as Junior grappled with the rigging and the rudder trying to catch even the slightest breeze. The air was heavy and oppressive, and Eva looked into the water thinking how amazingly calm, clear, and clean it appeared. A few feet down she glimpsed a school of small, brown spotted fish swimming leisurely as they headed under the sailboat and out of sight.
“Damn,” he said, plopping down on the bench across from Eva. “This never happens,” he said, shaking his head angrily. “It’s never happened to me before that’s for damn sure. It can’t last much longer. Shit!” He lowered his head and scowled at the deck.
“How long do you think we’ll be stranded?” Eva asked, looking at the horizon. Ominous clouds seemed to be gathering.
“We’re not stranded!” he snapped, glaring at her.
“Sorry,” she said.
“What are you doing here anyway?” he said accusingly.
“You invited me,” she shot back.
“I don’t mean here on the boat,” he gestured. “I mean here in this state, in our home, ingratiating yourself with my sister, my father. What are you doing here? What are you up to? Where did you come from anyway?” He rattled off the questions at machine gun fire speed.
Eva took a deep breath. “Didn’t your father tell you?”
“He didn’t tell me anything about you. I asked and he clammed up; claimed you were a client of his.”
“That’s true,” she said calmly. “I am his client.”
He smirked. “What kind of games are you playing? My old man’s old enough to be your father, your grandfather!”
“I don’t think of him that way,” she said directly. “He’s sweet and kind and loving.”
“And rich!” he said sharply. “You’re not marrying him; you’re marrying his wallet, and when you finish emptying it, you’ll throw it in his face and waltz away.”
“That’s a lie!” Eva yelled, her face reddening. “I love your father!”
A roll of thunder boomed directly over their heads and compelled them to look simultaneously skyward. In the distance a long flash of lighting fleetingly danced on the surface of the water. The sailboat started to rock from a sudden rolling in the water.
“What do we do?” Eva asked him, checking the clasps on her life jacket.
“Pray,” he said, continuing to study the sky.
“Pray?” she repeated dumbly. Knots began tightening in her stomach.
“Kidding,” he said. “Look, we’re going to get wet, but the storm will bring the wind we need to sail to shore.” He looked at her. His face was serious. “But, I’m going to need your help,” he said.
“My help?” she said, confounded.
“Yes, I want you on that rudder,” he pointed to it. “Do exactly as I tell you. I’ll handle the rigging, and we’ll get ourselves the hell out of here.”
Eva’s face was tense, but she forced a smile and saluted. “Aye, aye, Captain,” she said.
“Don’t worry,” he said, softening his tone. “You’ll make it to the altar yet.”
Holding on to the seat for support, Eva stood, shuffled cautiously toward the back of the boat, and grasped the handle of the rudder with both hands.
“Sit down,” he said, “and, whatever you do, don’t fall out of the damn boat.”
As Eva sat, torrents of bloated rain drops began pounding the deck, and the boat started bobbing severely. Clutching the rudder handle as tightly as she could, Eva heard a deafening clap of thunder and glimpsed a blinding flash of lightning strike the surface of the now-churning water.
“Turn the rudder starboard!” he yelled over the thunder.
“What?” she strained to hear.
“To the right,” he shouted. “Turn it to your right!”
With rain pulsating on her face, Eva could barely make out the figure of Junior struggling with the rigging in a strenuous effort to balloon the sail. She shoved the rudder hard, the knots in her stomach tightened intensely, and she was certain she was going to vomit.
The violent afternoon thunderstorm disappeared almost as abruptly as it had appeared. In all, it lasted about twenty minutes. Walking from the dock toward Albert’s Jeep, the two of them were drenched. Eva’s blonde hair hung unkempt and disheveled like tangled strands of wet rope. The light touch of foundation on her face was washed out and her mascara ran down her cheeks like a zombie’s Halloween make-up. Junior had lost his captain’s hat and his black curly hair was matted and clumped. Their sweatshirts were thoroughly soaked, and they both opted for carrying them rather than wearing them over their swimwear as they walked silently side by side.
When they reached the Jeep, Junior walked to the passenger side door and opened it.
“Thank you,” said Eva, stepping past him and climbing into the seat.
He closed the door. “You did a great job out there today,” he said earnestly. “You didn’t look like you were scared at all.”
Eva scoffed. “That’s because you couldn’t see me in all that rain. I was shaking like a leaf. I thought I was going to be sick.”
“Maybe so,” he said, “but I was impressed.”
“Well, thank you,” she said, briefly tipping her head. “You were pretty impressive yourself.”
He looked deeply into her eyes. “I’m sorry about what I said out there. I had no right.”
Eva smiled faintly, unsure of how to respond.
“Do you forgive me?” he asked.
Her smile broadened. “Sure,” she said, thrusting her hand forward, she offered a handshake. “All is forgiven.”
Ignoring her extended hand, Junior leaned in and kissed Eva on the forehead. “You’re incredibly beautiful, you know,” he said admiringly.
Eva blanched. “What!” she laughed. “You need to have your eyes examined, or your head!” She reached for the rearview mirror and turned it toward her. “Oh, my God!” she shouted. “I look like something the cat dragged in.” Turning back to him, she said, “You’re a very strange boy, Albert Junior, but thanks for the compliment.” She smiled and patted his arm maternally.
They were silent during the drive home. For a time, Eva closed her eyes and listened to the hum of the tires on the highway and rumbling of the jeep engine. She could feel Junior’s eyes roaming over her. Why did he kiss me on the forehead? What did he mean by that? He reminds me an awful lot of Rafael.