Lara focused hard on the compass. She had been at the helm for almost six hours now and sleep deprivation was catching up to her. The thought occurred to her more than once to turn the ship around and go back to Lisbon, or even London for that matter. Why was she killing herself to get somewhere she did not want to be?
And then those pictures of Paul would come back to haunt her. She had no doubt he was in pain. Probably even at this instant, wherever he was. And worst of all he probably was beginning to doubt if she would ever come for him.
I'm coming Paul, Lara whispered.
“What?” James asked tiredly. Lara had been so focused on keeping the course she had forgotten about him.
“Can you take the helm for me?”
“Sure.” James stood and Lara sank into the chair he had been occupying. “Maybe the American will come spell me off before I have to take a six hour tour of duty.”
“Do I detect some bitterness?” Lara queried.
“It isn't right to just drop the workload on you. He knows you haven't been sleeping.”
“You didn't offer to help either,” Lara said in jest.
“Ah, but I know you. I couldn't drag you from the wheel until you were ready to let go.”
Lara bowed her head and smiled. There went James again, being the big brother. He'd been that way since he and his uncle had showed up on her doorstep the week after her parents' funeral.
Thomas Woodson had been a long time fried of her father's. Her father was a great patron of archeology and the two of them had collaborated on numerous projects. Thomas introduced Lara to James and told them to run along and play. Lara remembered being particularly cantankerous that day. She didn't want any children her age around. She didn't want anyone around. She wanted her mother and father.
“Do you want to play a game, James?” she had asked mischievously.
“I'll go and hide and you come find me, alright?”
“Should I count to thirty?”
“Yes. That's good, count to thirty.” Lara had rushed up to her father's study and climbed one of the bookcases. At the top she pushed open a trapdoor in the ceiling and pulled herself into the attic. She squeezed behind a large box and took a long breath to quiet her breathing. That little boy will never find me, she smiled. I didn't even use the step ladder to get up here. He'll be perplexed and he'll go away. And he won't come back. Ever.
A few minutes passed and Lara tired of the game. She flipped open the box in front of her and perused its contents. It was full of photographs. There were pictures of birthdays. Pictures of Christmas. Pictures of school plays and family outings. One picture in particular grabbed her attention. In it she and her parents were standing in front of the Lombardy poplars at the back of the grounds. It was autumn. Her father was holding Lara on his shoulders and attempting to kiss her mother at the same time.
Lara remembered that day. Mother had jokingly attempted to shy away from Father. He had persisted but Lara had fallen from his shoulders in the process and dislocated her shoulder. She had cried and Mother and Father had given plentiful kind words and kisses.
Lara put the picture down and closed her eyes. She wanted to shut out the tears. She wanted to be strong like Father. Father never cried. A tear escaped and then another. A stifled sob burst from her throat and before she could stop it she was crying. She cried long and loud. She didn't care anymore. To hell with all of it.
The trapdoor creaked open and she could hear quiet footsteps coming her way. She gulped down the sobs and passed the sleeve of her blue dress over her eyes. Even in her nine-year-old mind she knew it was foolish; she could taste the salt on her cheeks. Seconds passed and James appeared. That annoying little boy had found her.
“Go away,” she had ordered. But he stood before her with his hands clasped behind his back. He looked very downcast, like he sincerely didn't want to disobey her. “I heard you crying. I'm sorry your parents died,” he had said with all sincerity. Lara started crying again and James sat down beside her. He put his little arm around her quaking shoulders and whispered, “It's going to be okay.”
For the first time in weeks Lara actually felt that it would be okay. She felt that someone understood her. And of all people it was this annoying little boy. Lara remembered she had asked Thomas and Winston if James could stay the night with her. Thomas had explained in soothing tones that James' parents would be missing him back in London but they would visit again next week.
They did visit next week. And the next week. And the next. When summer finally came Lara convinced James to stay at Croft Manor. He did. She had shown him every inch of the grounds. They had started their first archaeological dig together in her backyard. Winston was very displeased at first but when he saw that Lara was truly happy for the first time in months, he ceded the terrain to the youngsters.
And so it had continued for the next several years. Lara became very upset when she learned that James was going away to university at Oxford while she still had two years of school left. So she did the natural thing: she studied hard, skipped a grade and applied for Oxford a year early. It was about this time she had realized she wasn't following James for old time's sake. It was because she loved him.
It was because she loved him that she took a semester abroad with him at the University of Alexandria in Cairo. She remembered those months particularly well. One night the university had sponsored a dance in the Garden City quarter on the Nile. She and James had danced the whole night. In the background Dean Martin was playing on a set of strained speakers: “Watch the sunrise on a tropic isle...See the pyramids along the Nile...Just remember darling all the while, you belong to me.”
James had kissed her for the first time that night...
The dim confines of the wheelhouse intruded on Lara's consciousness. Reality. James was shaking her lightly. “Lara. I hate to wake you. But can you get Caruso up here?”
“What?” Lara shook her head to clear the cobwebs.
“I've been at the helm for almost seven hours. I need him to spell me off. Can you go get him?”
“I've been asleep for seven hours?”
“You sound shocked.”
“I haven't slept that much in weeks.”
James crouched down in front of her and placed his hands on her shoulders. “If it had been up to me I'd have let you sleep another seven.” The warmth she felt in his hands combined with the fresh memory of the dream overwhelmed Lara. It was his kindness she had missed so much. He was a ray of light in what had been for her a sea of darkness. She reached out and caught him in her arms, held him close. “Thank you,” she whispered as tears welled up in her eyes.
“You don't have to thank me.”
“Yes, I do. For the memories James. Thank you for the memories.” She released him and could see tears glistening in his own eyes. Before stepping out into the cold night Lara passed the sleeve of her yellow neoprene jacket over her cheeks. Thank you for the memories.
Downstairs in the dormitory she found Caruso still asleep. A part of her was irritated at his apparent lack of decency. He had left James at the helm without coming to take over when he should have. She placed a not-so-gentle shove against his shoulder.
“Mr. Caruso, it's time for you to get up.”
“Natalie?” he said with eyes still closed.
“What?” Lara was somewhat perturbed by his failure to comply with her request. Ryan's eyes shot open.
“What time is it?”
“Half past nine. Your turn at the helm.” She could see the gears turning in his mind. He nodded and then sat up in his sleeping bag. A small gold crucifix slipped out of his white undershirt. “I didn't know you were religious.”
“I'm not.” It was Caruso's turn to be annoyed. “This was my mother's,” he said as he slipped the emblem back into his shirt. “I wear it to remember her. Now if you don't mind I need to get dressed.”The cheek of this American. Lara swallowed her response and left the dormitory. The presence of the semi-automatic tucked in her waistband was particularly evident she noticed. She recalled the prescient feeling earlier and wondered if she might have to use the weapon.