Neela woke up incredibly anxious the next day. She skipped her walk on the beach and hurried through breakfast. She wanted to make sure she was at the front desk when Delila arrived to work. She walked as quickly as her legs could take her and made it with time to spare. She plucked a flower from a large centerpiece fixed in the middle of the open-air lobby. She perched herself against the front desk to wait for her friend and enjoy the morning breeze. Delila arrived several minutes later, just a few before she was scheduled to work.
“You gonna work the front desk this morning?” Delila joked, knowing her friend would find the position unbearable.
Neela’s anxiety caused her to miss the joke. She responded with a sort of high-pitched melodic greeting and extended the plucked flower to her friend. “Good morning, my most beautiful, bestest friend in the whole wide world!”
Delila laughed. “Does this mean I get to stay in the mansion?”
Neela was puzzled.
“Girl, it’s a reference to that dating show I’m always telling you about. Ya know, the one where the guy gives a rose to all of the girls he likes.”
“Oh, yeah, well, yes, you get to stay in your place as my best friend, if you shall accept this flower.”
“I accept,” Delila said with a subtle curtsy that was completely lost on Neela.
They sealed the deal with a laugh and a warm embrace.
“In all seriousness, I am really sorry about last night, Delila.”
“No worries, but I gotta go clock in. I’ll catch ya at the dance hall tonight.”
They exchanged goodbyes and went about their respective duties for the day. Neela was again distracted by thoughts of her mother while she told fairy tale after fairy tale to the young guests. She was also slightly preoccupied with thoughts of the mysterious stranger from the night before. She was a little embarrassed but not remorseful—she was certain he had ill intentions. She hoped that he wouldn’t be at the dance hall later, so she could spend time with her friend uninterrupted. She wanted to focus on Delila’s pursuit of the steel drummer as a sort of amends for having been a crummy wingwoman the night before.
Unfortunately, she hit a bit of a snag at the end of her day. She was typically able to leave shortly after her last performance, as long as all the children had been picked up by their parents. However, that day the parents returned from their excursions on the other side of the island much later than expected. She normally wouldn’t mind late pickups, but she knew her friend would be waiting. She wanted to make sure that she didn’t add insult to the previous night’s injury with her tardiness. She rushed to the dance hall as soon as the last child left the center. She waited at the entryway for Delila, but there were no signs of her. She hurried to the front desk, but the new shift had already taken over and had no knowledge of her friend’s plans for the evening. She went back to the dance hall. Still no sign of Delila. She approached the bar to speak with Diego.
“Hey, lady, another mango thingy tonight?” he offered lightheartedly.
“No. They were amazing, but I think I’ll pass. Have you seen Delila?”
“Yeah, she came by earlier, said to tell ya that she got called back in, something about some VIPs.”
“Did she say if she was coming back?”
“She didn’t say, but you’re welcome to wait here if you like.”
“Okay, thanks. Hey, can you make those thingies without alcohol?”
“I think I can manage,” Diego said with a mischievous tone that mildly hinted at the farce from the night before.
Neela took a seat at the end of the bar and gave some of her belongings to Diego for safekeeping. She knew Delila did this on occasion, but she wasn’t sure if it was a favor or something standard that everyone did. Either way, the hall was packed, with little room to be comfortable with any extras at the bar. She took short but frequent sips of her daiquiri while she anxiously awaited Delila’s return. She didn’t care to be alone in a large crowd and grew more and more uncomfortable as time passed. She decided that an hour would be an appropriate cap on her wait time.
She had ten minutes left before she would let herself give up and go home, when suddenly a familiar voice stopped the clock.
“Oh, hello, Mr. Charming.” She issued the lackluster salutation as she turned her head away from Cheveyo.
“You remember me?”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“I am memorable, but you seemed unwell last night.”
“Oh God, I was fine. I’m perfectly capable of remembering things after one drink.”
“Good, then you remember that you owe me an apology.”
“For your brash tone… similar to the one I am hearing now, actually.”
“I will not apologize. I was trying to block you from weaving some web of lies to seduce my friend.”
“You were able to glean all of that from an introduction? You must be extremely intuitive,” he subtly mocked.
Neela stayed quiet; she wasn’t thrilled with his tone or sure of what it meant.
He continued, “In all honesty, you are more than slightly off base. I had no interest in your friend.”
“Then why did you come over pretending to care about her pitiful little drunken friend?”
“I did not think you were drunk nor pitiful. I thought you were loud and that your volume might indicate that you were in distress. I came over to see what was upsetting the most beautiful girl in the room, but I seemed to make things worse, so for that, I apologize to you.”
“There you go again, weaving your web.”
“I have only spoken the truth.”
“I don’t like being deceived.”
“Nor do I.”
“Why are you always here? Are you a guest?”
“I am visiting the area.”
“I hear there’s some nicer hotels on the other side of the island, and far more to do there as well.”
“Thank you for that information, but as I said, I need to stay in this area.”
“So you’ll be here every night, then?”
“I love music, and I love to dance. It is highly likely that I will be here most nights.”
Cheveyo ignored her expressed annoyance. “Do you like to dance?”
“I can’t dance.”
“Everyone can dance. I can teach you.”
“No, I really can’t.”
“This is an easy, slow-moving song. I will prove to you that you can dance.”
He gently pulled on her arm. She lost her balance and began to fall off her stool.
She stood up quickly and was able to prevent a fall, but her body was stiff and feet firmly locked. Cheveyo failed to interpret her rigidity as the physical protest that it was and instead believed her upright position to be a change of heart and an acceptance of his invitation. He gently pulled her arm again to guide her onto the dance floor. She yanked her arm back forcefully, expecting him to tighten his grasp. He hadn’t anticipated any resistance and easily lost his soft grip on her arm. This time, she lost her footing completely and fell to the floor. Diego jumped over the bar to render aid.
“Neela, are you okay?” Diego asked hectically.
“I’m fine,” she said firmly.
Diego tried to assist her, but she shrugged him off. She struggled a little to get up and then walked out as quickly as she could.
Diego gave Cheveyo a shove to the chest. He wasn’t a very forceful person, but he was still surprised that his shove had almost no effect on Cheveyo.
“What’s wrong with you, pulling on a blind girl like that, man? You could have really hurt her!” Diego said in an accusatory manner.
“Blind?” Cheveyo uttered, somewhat muted by the weight of his own disbelief.
“Yes, blind—well, mostly. I don’t know, man, she can’t really see,” Diego said as he reached over the bar. He pulled out a long, white staff-like object with a bit of sea glass at the top, barely visible in the dim lighting.
He shook Neela’s homespun cane in front of Cheveyo’s face. “This isn’t an accessory, man!”
“I did not know; I will get it back to her right away,” Cheveyo said. Completely ignoring Diego’s frustration, he easily swiped the cane from him and ran out of the exit in pursuit of Neela.
There were two pathways of stepping-stones embedded in the sparse grass just outside the exit. One led to the parking lot. The other led to a wooden walkway that provided beach access for the guests. Cheveyo wasn’t sure of what direction Neela had taken, but he thought anyone walking would favor the beach over the parking lot. He walked toward the preferable destination and surveyed the surrounding areas, in case she had deviated from the path. It was several long minutes before he caught a glimpse of her in the distance. The moon betrayed her desire to flee by illuminating a bit of her hair, which created a beacon in the darkness for Cheveyo to follow. He sped up in her direction and called out to her.
She increased her pace for a moment before collapsing on the hard, wet sand. He downshifted from a sprint to a walk as he got closer and then sat down a comfortable distance from her.
“Please, Neela. I did not know you were blind.”
“That shouldn’t matter,” she said sternly.
“It does. If I would have known, I never would have pulled on your arm.”
“You shouldn’t pull on a girl for any reason.”
“Why is that?”
“It’s rude and kind of controlling.”
“I would have been more careful if I knew you were blind.”
“Will you please stop saying that? Blind, blind, blind. It is ‘visually impaired,’ and even that doesn’t really define it for me.”
“Okay. I am sorry for what happened.”
Neela didn’t accept his apology, or even acknowledge it, really. Cheveyo couldn’t take it. He wanted his perception and intentions understood. He tried again but made an immediate blunder.
“I have never known a blind person before…”
Neela swiftly corrected him. “A person with a visual impairment!”
“My apologies, a person with a visual impairment—”
“I’m thrilled I could be your first, really. It has been a wonderful experience for me so far,” Neela said sarcastically.
“Let me start over. Apparently, I cannot adequately convey the depths of my remorse without causing further injury. I sincerely and deeply apologize.”
Neela sat quietly.
“Is there anything I can do to redeem myself?”
Neela didn’t respond.
“I only wanted to know you,” Cheveyo said, with much less confidence in his voice, or arrogance, as Neela had perceived it to be. “Is there anything I can do to earn your forgiveness?”
“You can leave me alone and let the ocean comfort me.”
“The ocean comforts you?” he asked in a curious tone.
“I have never heard this said before.”
“Well, there’s a lot of firsts for you tonight, then, isn’t there?”
“I would like to know how it comforts you.”
“You wouldn’t understand.”
“I doubt it.”
Cheveyo cleared his throat a few times while he waited for an explanation.
“Look, I love everything about it; the smell, sound, feel of the water on my skin. The closer I am to it, the more easily I can breathe.”
“I can understand that.”
With extreme caution, he moved in closer, the way you might approach a wild animal with which you are unfamiliar. He preserved a small distance between them and made sure not to touch her. He rolled her cane across the sand in the space between them. She explored the object briefly with her hands and then laid it across her lap and relaxed her body just a bit. Cheveyo turned his attention to the ocean. He looked out with new appreciation and secretly wondered just how much of its splendor she could see.
“I would like to see it again someday,” Neela said softly.
She was usually reluctant to speak about any desire to restore her sight. She believed the mention of it might generate the unsolicited pity she hated.
“I could describe it to you, if you like.”
To her pleasant surprise, Cheveyo’s response held no pity, no inquisition, nothing uncomfortable at all, and was actually quite practical.
He waited for a verbal response. He had absolutely no desire to interpret her body language anymore after such a failure before.
“You can if you want,” she replied.
He sat for a moment to collect his thoughts.
“We are facing a tide that has retreated for the night. There are small, subtle waves still breaking just a short distance from our feet. The breaks create a foamy barrier between the dark sea and the light sand. Beyond the sand and breaks, there is a vast body of water that expands until it collides with the sky. The sun has left us and taken with her the warmth of the day. She is replaced by a sliver of a cold moon. Its light trickles down, yet there is a great deal of darkness out of its reach tonight. When it is as dark as it is now, the sea and the sky are so similar that it is difficult to tell one from the other. Both are great in their magnitude and abundant in their mysteries. Both give us hints that there are happenings beyond what can be seen in the dark. The sea whispers to us in dancing refractions, and the sky paints a map for us with tiny, fixed bits of brilliance.”
Neela sat with her eyes closed during the description. Her hands kneaded through the sand on each side of her body. It was as if they tried to generate some form of energy that might allow her to envision the scene as described. She didn’t appear upset, but a few tears fell down the calm landscape of her face.
“Did I say something wrong?” Cheveyo asked.
“No, quite the opposite. No one ever describes anything to me anymore.”
“I would think it a regular occurrence.”
“It was when I was younger.”
“Why do you think it stopped?”
“I think people believe that it will upset me. Even if I ask for a description, most of the time they water it down, not realizing that just leaves me in the dark. It isn’t helpful at all; I don’t need them to filter things.”
Cheveyo was uncertain of how to proceed in the conversation, with absolutely no experience with or knowledge of the subject, so he said the first thing that came to mind. “I would still very much like to dance with you.” He braced himself for her response.
“Here?” she questioned as she wiped the tears from her cheeks.
“Yes. I will not let anything happen to you this time.”
“I don’t know. That seems strange.”
“I guess it could be, but you and I are completely without audience.”
“Well, we don’t have any music.”
“We can create our own.”
“I am not singing to you,” Neela said defiantly.
“You do not have to; I will sing to you.”
Neela was a little uncomfortable but intrigued. “Really?”
“Yes, I would be honored. Can I help you up?”
She presented her feet to him as an acceptance of the invitation. He wasn’t sure what she was doing and was again reluctant to interpret her body language. It took Neela a moment to sense his confusion.
“Help me with my sandals, would you?”
“I would be happy to.” He carefully removed her sandals and then his own before he stood up and placed his bare feet in the sand in front of hers.
“Reach out to me, and I will pull you up,” he instructed softly.
She didn’t need his help to stand up or take off her sandals, but she thought it fun to make him work a little at this point. Reaching out, she allowed him to bring her to her feet. He placed one hand on her hip, and the other held her hand parallel to his shoulder. They began to gently and slowly oscillate. At first, they were a bit out of sync, but they eventually found their rhythm.
When she seemed more relaxed, he began to whisper a serenade that could easily lend itself to the accompaniment of a ukulele. With each line, she moved closer and closer, until there was very little, if any, space between them. She placed her head on his chest and moved both of her hands closer to the center of his body.
No longer restricted to the extremities of one another, they experienced a closeness neither had anticipated. She could feel his strength and confidence in his frame, grasp, and leading movements. She could hear the soulful echo of his voice in between the beats of his heart. This was the closest she had ever been to a man. Her heart raced and perhaps even skipped beats when his whispers were close enough to feel. New sensations made her feel more alive than ever.
They continued to dance to the music he created until both were too fatigued to continue. There were no words spoken, no acknowledgment of their exhaustion. They simply and gradually stopped dancing and returned to their seated positions in the sand, although they sat much closer than they had been before.
“Do you forgive me, Neela?”
“For…?” She was so enraptured by his touch and serenade that she had already forgotten about the fall.
“For trying to force you to dance.”
“Oh, I do. I was just embarrassed, I guess.”
“I am truly sorry.”
“I know, and I know that people lose their balance all the time. It shouldn’t be a big deal. I just worry that people will attribute things like that to my visual impairment and see me as less capable.”
“You are obviously capable. I do not think people see any limitations when they look at you.”
She smiled a small and crooked little smile before turning her face away from him. She laid her head against his shoulder, and they rested in their contentment quietly.
The sun began to rise in the background of their peaceful setting. It created a soft, warm glow on everything within its reach, with the exception of Neela. Her skin remained cold and fixed, like that of a Greek sculpture. Cheveyo marveled at her static beauty for some time. Birds began to flock to the shoreline. Their presence seemed to alert Cheveyo to the hour. When he realized just how much time had passed, he became slightly and unexpectedly panicked.
“I have to go, Neela. Will you be able to get home on your own?”
“Is something wrong?”
“It is hard to explain, but I really must go.”
“I really must go. Please be safe getting home, and we will meet again soon.”
Cheveyo left abruptly. Neela was baffled by his sudden departure. She collected her belongings and made her way home, as she did every morning after her walks on the beach. Her grandfather was still asleep. She took advantage of his slumber and quickly continued her typical morning routine. She hoped going through the motions would conceal the fact that she had been out all night.
When she sat down for breakfast with her grandfather, she was relieved to hear him speak of yesterday’s catch in between sips of his black coffee. He first spoke of the types of fish he’d caught and then moved on to a lesson on how to best prepare each. He went on and on about ways to debone the various types of fish. Neela wasn’t opposed to preparing or eating fish, just listening to mind-numbing specifics about incredibly gross topics. She tried to sound as interested as she could for as long as she could despite her exhaustion. As she cleared the table, she felt the lesson coming to a close and anticipated some relief.
The conversation did take a turn, but it was in an unexpected direction.
“Why didn’t you come home last night?” Henry asked.
“What?” Neela tried to appear as though she was focused heavily on washing the dishes in the sink.
“Where were you? With Delila?”
“Yeah,” she replied, though with some hesitance to lie.
“Good. Ya gotta get out of the house and be with other people.”
“Grandpa, that’s hilarious.”
“You tell me not to go out, then you tell me to go out—it’s confusing. Plus, you’re, like, a total hermit crab. I should be telling you to get out more.”
“I connect with others spiritually; I don’t have to be physically in their presence all the time.”
“How about none of the time?”
“I’ll have you know, I sat on the pier with José just last week, swappin’ stories.”
“That was, like, six months ago.”
“Wow, it feels like last week. I guess my memory is pretty rum-soaked these days.”
“Yep, rum-soaked and old—don’t forget old.”
Neela laughed. “I’m just playin’, Grandpa.”
“Well, never mind all of that. I had a point in there somewhere.”
Neela tried to help him. “You wanted me to get out more.”
“Okay, whatever you say. I’ll get out more.”
“More, but with locals—don’t trust these good-time boys.”
“I know, I know, I know—you tell me every day.”
“Well, I’m old! I’ve earned the right to repeat myself.”
Neela laughed at Henry’s charming ability to provide an excuse for any behavior in question. When she was finished washing the dishes, she arranged them on a towel that sat flat on the counter next to the sink. It was understood between the two of them that Henry would later dry them and put them away. Neela gave Henry a quick hug and left for work.
She was somewhat surprised when she arrived early and heard Delila’s voice call out to her from the front desk.
“You’re early?” Neela said as she approached the front desk.
“Girl, I never left.”
“I went to the dance hall but ran into one of my supervisors. I don’t know why I can’t say no to them. She asked me to help prepare for some VIPs, and I was just immediately like, sure, no problem, I’m a team player, blah, blah, blah.”
Neela chuckled. “Diego said you were called away, but how did you end up at the front?”
“After I prepped the room, they asked me to fill in up here. I was only supposed to be here for an hour or so until the new girl came in, but that didn’t happen, so here we are.”
“So that’s why you ditched me,” Neela said playfully.
“NEVER! You didn’t wait for me all night, did you?”
“I waited for a while… until Cheveyo showed up.”
“Cheveyo, huh? Now I’m awake, what happened, girl? Give me all the deets.”
“It’s hard to explain.”
“Come on, there’s been no movement in 1B. I’ve been bored out of my mind all night.”
“Well, first he practically threw me to the floor, and then we danced on the beach. I don’t know, I haven’t been to bed yet either, so things are a little hazy right now.”
“Hold up, what do you mean threw you to the floor and you haven’t been to bed yet? What in the world?”
“Okay, that sounded bad. He tried to get me to dance, I kind of fell, and then I left. He followed me onto the beach, and, well, one thing led to another and…you know.”
“Shut up! I thought you hated him?”
“I don’t like his type, coming into town and seducing the locals.”
“Sounds like he was able to seduce you last night.”
“I wish my drummer would take me down to the beach and do nothing all night long. Nothing sounds amazing.”
Neela laughed, but she made certain to clarify that nothing would come of her night on the beach. “Seriously, it was nothing. He acted like a jerk and then felt bad about it, so he tried to make it up to me by dancing and singing and whatnot.”
“Again, hold the phone—singing?”
“He’s into you, girl.”
“I highly doubt it.”
“Wake up! He’s crazy interested.”
“I don’t think so, but even if he were, it doesn’t matter. You said it yourself that he’s a player. I’m not interested in him.”
There was more conversation to be had, but Delila’s relief arrived and Neela needed to clock in. They agreed to postpone their discussion until they could meet back up at the dance hall. They each promised that regardless of the day’s events, they would be at the bar at 7:00 p.m., sharp. Delila went home to rest, and Neela tried to focus on work.
She found herself incorporating Cheveyo into all her male characters. They were all tall, confident, and mysterious, with an affinity for song. Neela grew weary of her interest. She couldn’t help but think of what her grandfather would say if he knew that she’d stayed out all night with someone visiting the island. She did her best to make it through the day and stay true to her promise to Delila. She was mentally and physically worn out, but she was ready and waiting at the bar ten minutes before seven.
She hung out with Diego while she waited for Delila to arrive. He expressed his relief that she was okay and apologized for not running after her himself. He tried to explain that he couldn’t leave the bar unattended. He cited an incident in which the previous bartender had left the bar and was fired after it was looted in his absence. His explanations would have continued, but she interrupted and stressed that she understood and accepted his apology. He believed all was forgiven, but just to make certain, he offered to keep the complementary and alcohol-free daiquiris flowing.
When Delila entered the hall, she jumped right back into their earlier conversation. It was obvious that her sole purpose in being there was to dissect every word and movement of Neela’s night on the beach.
“Okay, now that I’m really awake, let’s get down to business. First, how did he approach you?”
“I don’t really remember.”
“It’s going to be a long night if you are going to pull this selective amnesia thing on me.”
“All right, I guess he asked me if I remembered him from the night before.”
“And you said…”
“You could not get more lackluster with this.”
“Come on, I don’t have a handsome stranger following me around, let me have this.”
Diego interjected, “Uh, yeah, you do.”
“Diego, stop it, we’re having a serious conversation here.”
“Fine.” Slightly wounded, Diego moved farther down the bar.
“Okay, go ahead, girl,” Delila instructed.
“I don’t know what there is to experience vicariously.”
“Lots, now how did you end up on the beach with him again?”
“After I fell, Diego tried to help me up. I kind of stormed out, and I guess Cheveyo followed me to the beach.”
Delila raised her voice slightly to capture Diego’s attention. “Diego, how you gonna let her run away by herself like that?”
He started to apologize again, but Neela interrupted. “He doesn’t need to apologize. Diego had to man the bar, and I’m a grown woman. I can take care of myself.”
“I know that tone. You’re thinkin’ I’m saying this because of your vision.”
“No. I think Diego should have checked on you regardless. You would want the same for me.”
“Sorry, you’re right.”
“It’s okay, I know how you feel about stuff like that. Let’s just get back to the story. You were on the beach, and then what happened?”
Neela spent the rest of the night trying to remember every word spoken or sung by Cheveyo, and Delila spent the rest of her night trying to pick it all apart. Delila’s analysis seemed to support the idea that he had strong feelings for Neela, but his absence from the dance hall that night seemed to counter that argument. Neela went home thoroughly confused. She had no idea what their night on the beach had meant or if it would ever happen again. She knew it was a bad idea to get involved with tourists, but she also knew that she couldn’t stop thinking about him.
She tried to shake it all off and get ready for bed. She took apart her loosely braided hair and remembered that she had woven a few small flowers into it. It wasn’t unusual for her to add things like this to her hair, but it was unusual for her to do so in anticipation of it enhancing her appearance for a specific party. She didn’t like his influence on her. She didn’t want to get swept up in whatever web he was weaving. She set the flowers on her nightstand and went to bed a little disappointed in herself for her wasted efforts.
It took a long time for her to fall asleep, but when she did, she was back where she always longed to be. She was on the shoreline of a beautiful turquoise ocean, with the full ability to see all that was around her. She typically dreamed of a world in which she was in, on, or near the ocean. In her world, everything was possible and anything was highly likely. One of her favorite anythings was that she could communicate directly with creatures of the sea. She could talk philosophy with an octopus or the changing of the times with a sea turtle. She had many visual memories that assisted her imagination in developing her unique oceanic world.
Maybe I should have explained this sooner, but Neela wasn’t born with a visual impairment. In fact, she didn’t seem to have any difficulty until around the age of five. It was shortly after her fifth birthday that she’d begun to have these episodes. First, they were periods of blurriness, and later, periods of complete darkness that increased in frequency over time. They were inexplicable and unpredictable. Henry had taken her to every doctor he could find on the island and some in the States as well. No one seemed to be able to explain the origin of the episodes, much less provide adequate treatment.
Initially, most believed that they were somehow linked to a condition known as albinism. Eventually, genetic testing revealed that Neela did not have the gene for such a diagnosis, nor did she have the typical sensitivity to the sun. After albinism was ruled out, a multitude of different theories developed. Some said that it was an underdevelopment or drying of the eyes and recommended drops. Some said that it was psychosomatic and recommended psychotherapy. Neela and Henry followed all the recommendations, but nothing ever helped.
They had continuously sought answers until she was about twelve years old. At that point, she was spending most of her time in complete darkness and had overcome a lot of the obstacles she’d faced early on. She begged Henry to call off the search for any reason or cure and just accept her as she was. Which he did, for the most part, but every once in a while, when she would tell him of these fleeting moments in which she could see an outline of a figure or radiance of light, it was difficult for him not to hope. He never spoke of it, but in these moments, he did privately wonder if her sight would ever return or if new treatment options were available.
I digress—back to the oceanic world of Neela’s dreams, in particular, the dream she had after she left the dance hall that night. Although she remembered quiet well what people looked like, they hadn’t yet found their way into her dreams until this particular night. She had been asleep for a while and was enjoying her walk behind a very peculiar-looking crab when she saw a man floating in the ocean, parallel to her position on the shore. He was partially submerged, only visible from the chest up. She couldn’t make out his features, but his presence brought about a familiar feeling. She called out to him, but there was no reply.
The man went underwater but stayed just beneath the surface as he swam away from her in the direction of a nearby pier. She abandoned her pursuit of the crab and ran to the pier for a closer look at the mystery man. By the time she reached the pier, she had lost track of him. She looked all around but couldn’t find any indication of his presence anywhere. She climbed up the side of the pier and sat on the top of the handrail, discouraged and disappointed. Abruptly, the man appeared again, slightly closer than before but still just out of focus.
“We’ve missed you,” he shouted.
She was dumbfounded. She had no idea who the man could be or why he, and unknown others, would miss her.
She laughed in her confusion and nervousness.
“I wish you could come with me,” he yelled out.
“Where?” she projected back.
Just as the man shared his wish, a large wave crashed into the side of the pier that startled her within the dream and awakened her in real life. She woke up covered in sweat, with her heart racing. She hit a large button on a digital clock that sat on her nightstand. “It is four a.m.,” the clock announced. It was too early for her morning walk, but she knew she wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep, not after she experienced such a bizarre addition to her reoccurring dream, so she headed out to the beach, despite the early hour.
It was slightly chillier than most mornings, but all other factors remained constant. The sound of the waves, the tickle of crabs colliding with her feet, the smell of the sea air, and the sand slightly giving way to the weight of each step were all too familiar. She felt her pulse slow and her breaths deepen as she walked along the comforting shoreline. She sat down on the wet sand in a more relaxed state. She scrunched her toes into the sand and let the water gently wash over her feet. She kneaded the sand with her hands on each side of her body and quietly hummed to herself until the hums evolved into words. It was a familiar song that flowed from her, one that had been softly whispered into her ear.
She hadn’t been able to stop thinking of Cheveyo since the night they met. She longed to be near him again. She didn’t understand how she could feel this way after such a brief encounter. Thoughts of him brought her heart rate right back to a rapid pace.
She stood up and walked quickly away from the area that, for whatever reason, immediately evoked thoughts of him. It wasn’t long before she reached the pier. She knew her way around the area but typically brought her cane to avoid any new obstacle that may present itself. She swiped her cane side to side as she walked past the pier and soon heard the sound of her cane knocking into driftwood. The sound meant she was as far from home as she had ever been willing to go.
She sat down on a lump of dried wood and wondered what was beyond this self-created boundary, what was down the shoreline, beyond the island… She longed to explore, but her fear had always prevented it. She wasn’t innately fearful, but she had been repeatedly told by everyone that things were far more dangerous for her after her sight diminished. She’d heard it enough that it became embedded in her worldview, most days, anyway.
And there was also the fear surrounding Henry having to fend for himself. She couldn’t bear the thought of something happening to him, or worse, what would become of him if something happened to her. Thoughts of all the horrible things that could happen from venturing too far from home and of all the things she was missing out on by not roaming brought on such depression. She did her best to redirect her thoughts toward a more positive topic but didn’t have much luck coming up with one strong enough to propel her away from her sadness.
Eventually, she gave up on improving her mood and walked the two thousand steps home. She ran through her typical routine: shower, bohemian dress, and then breakfast with Henry before work. He noticed her negativity right away and did everything he could to cheer her up, but nothing worked.
She did her best to go through the motions at breakfast and then later at work, but it was obvious to everyone around her that she was really down. She searched for Mari at lunchtime and found her in the staff break area. Mari called out to Neela as soon as she saw her enter the room. She immediately sensed something was amiss.
“Are you okay?” Mari asked.
“Are you sure? You seem real low-energy, doll.”
“I’m just tired; I woke up too early this morning.”
“Okay, well, give me just a second to finish this page, then I’ll mark it for later and give you my undivided attention.”
Neela obliged. She couldn’t see the title but knew it had to be a romance novel that drew Mari’s attention away from her, one of thousands she imagined that Mari had in her personal collection.
“Okay, I’ll save that for later. Now where were we…?”
“I was saying I’m tired.”
Mari studied her. “There’s something beyond your fatigue… I see. You have a bit of pink in your aura today.”
“What does that mean?”
“It could mean many things, but what I think it means is that you have recently fallen in love. Who’s the lucky guy?”
“It can be quite ridiculous, but quite wonderful too.”
“No, not love itself—that I’ve fallen in love, that can’t be.”
“Why is that?”
“Because I only spent one night with him and haven’t been with him since.”
“I say love, you say him; who is this him you speak of, deary?”
“It’s not no one if the word love brings about thoughts of him.”
Neela didn’t know what to say.
“How did the two of you meet?” Mari asked.
Neela blurted out, “He came to one of the dance parties the other night. At first we didn’t really hit it off, but then we did, and then he just, I don’t know… We haven’t talked since.”
“Ruffled your feathers a bit, did he?”
“Yeah, he was so arrogant at first.”
“Oh, how delicious. I love a slight arrogance in a man. What else can you tell me?”
“His name is Cheveyo, he feels strong, and he can carry a tune, I suppose.”
“My dear, sounds like your Cheveyo is quite the catch.”
“He might be, but I don’t think we’ll be together again, so it doesn’t matter.”
“I don’t know. We spent all night on the beach—he even sang to me, so that seems like something—but then in the morning he left way too quickly for it to be anything and then hasn’t been back since.”
“If it’s meant to be, you’ll cross paths again.”
“I hope so. I can’t stop thinking of him, his velvety voice, his smell… He smells like I don’t even know what, maybe a really sweet version of the sea air.”
“You sound like me with my Mitchell. I loved everything about that man, couldn’t get enough of him.”
“How did the two of you meet?”
“I never told you that story?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Well, like your Cheveyo, my Mitchell started off on the wrong foot. We had a mutual friend that thought we would hit it off. We met for supper, and then—you know, it’s funny, I don’t even remember what irritated me so much that night. But he said something that was enough to make me storm off before our meal even reached the table. I was so irritated, but I couldn’t stop thinking of him. He had my number, and I had his. By the time our paths crossed again, I think we both knew that there was an unmatched chemistry between us. We apologized to one another and never parted from that day on.”
“Oh, I just love that, Mari.”
“That was a long time ago,” Mari said as she fought back tears.
“I’m sorry, Mari.”
“It’s okay, let’s focus on your love. Fingers crossed for you that you get to be serenaded again soon, my dear.”
Mari gathered her things and prepared to return to work. “Just out of curiosity, doll, what song did he sing to you?”
“The titles escape me, but mostly oldies, love songs, you know.”
“Oldies, oh, he is velvety,” Mari said with a laugh.
“I have a very strong feeling that if your Cheveyo returns, you’re in for a great summer. I have to get back to work, but let me know how it all shakes out.”
Neela returned to work after her lunch with Mari. Cheveyo continued to play a reoccurring role in her fairy tales throughout the remainder of the day.
When she was finished with her work at the center, she rushed to the dance hall. She waited anxiously for some evidence of him, but it never came. And the next night, more of the same. Night after night, she rushed to the hall with hope.
Although she initially told Delila that her interest in Cheveyo was nil, Delila could see it clearly and knew that it had only grown as time had passed. She did everything she could to keep Neela’s spirits up. The first few nights, she insisted that he must have had a stomach bug and was stuck in the bathroom. After a few more nights, she switched theories to a death in the family. Finally, he was an undercover agent whose cover had been blown, which forced him to make a hasty exit from the island. Like any true best friend, she told Neela anything but what she was really thinking.
After a few weeks, Neela stopped soliciting opinions from Delila and tried to accept that Cheveyo was never coming back. She stopped going to the dance hall and spent even more time walking the beach alone. Losing him produced such a sadness in her, but it wasn’t the only catalyst for her grief. It was also the sudden loss of a pleasant distraction and something to look forward to. There was no longer a possibility of random disturbances in the monotony of the day or night.
When she wasn’t on the beach, she would lay on her bedroom floor and listen to music. Without Cheveyo to distract her, her thoughts would quickly return to her parents. She was desperate to understand what happened between them and why her father never returned. The pain embedded in the lyrics made her own feelings bearable by comparison.
Henry grew more and more concerned as the sadness seemed to become a permanent fixture in their cottage. One night after dinner, he decided to intervene.
“Neela, are ya gon’ listen to that mess all night again? If ya are, tell me so I can slam my head into the wall first.”
She mustered a small laugh in response.
“I’m serious. I’d rather knock myself out than listen to that depressin’ crap.”
“Is it depressing? I really hadn’t noticed.”
“Hadn’t noticed? You have to be kiddin’ me. You’re makin’ the later years of Ernest Hemingway look whimsical by comparison, sweetheart.”
She laughed again.
“I’m really worried about ya.”
“It’s really nothing, Grandpa.”
“Nothin’ doesn’t cause your heart to break unless it follows a great deal of somethin’. Even I know that, so what gives?”
“I don’t want you to get mad.”
“Oh, hell, let me get a little rum in me before this.”
He quickly ran to the kitchen to pour himself a drink. He dispensed a small amount of liquid courage into a single shot glass, looked at it, left it on the counter, and brought the bottle back to the living room with him. He sat down on the couch and took two big swigs straight from the bottle.
“Okay, I’m ready. No, wait—one more. Okay, now I’m ready.”
Neela was still reluctant.
“I promise I won’t get mad, go ahead.”
“I met someone.”
Henry sprang up from the couch and paced back and forth as he gulped down rum in between large gasps for air.
“Okay… That’s okay, and what happened?”
“We danced together.”
“And you’re pregnant?”
“NO! GRANDPA, THAT’S RIDICULOUS!”
“Oh, thank God, sweet Jesus… So we’re okay then.”
“I’m not upset because of any pregnancy. I’m upset because he said we would meet again and then never came back, and then I can’t stop thinking about whatever happened with my dad and why he never came back either.”
“Is he a tourist?”
“Yes. His name is Cheveyo,” she mumbled, with half-hearted hope that he wouldn’t hear her response.
“RUBBISH!!! COMPLETE RUBBISH!!!!! I TOLD YOU, THESE GOOD-TIME BOYS ARE GOOD FOR NOTHIN’. WHY WOULD YA—”
Neela interrupted her grandfather’s rant to remind him that he’d promised not to get mad.
“No, you’re right, I said that, okay. Well, I guess just consider yourself lucky that ya found out what type of person this character was early on.”
Neela started to cry and asked to be excused.
“I didn’t mean to upset ya. I’m just tryin’ to help you understand these boys. I know a thing or two about all of this. I was a young man once, and I was a complete horse’s ass! I did a lot of things I shouldn’t’ve. Then I met ya grandma… She saw me to be somethin’ better than I was, and I wanted to be that for her. I lived and breathed for a glimpse of pride in her eyes. One day you’ll meet a man that’s willin’ to do anythin’ to be worthy of standin’ next to ya. It’s just not gonna happen with these fast boys visitin’ the island.”
“Do you think he’ll come back, Grandpa?”
“Stayin’ gone is the only good thing some men can ever do for ya.”
“You’re probably right.”
“If he has half a brain, he’ll come back, but if he doesn’t, I promise you, one day he’ll feel like a damn fool.”
“Thank you, Grandpa,” Neela said as she walked into her grandfather’s arms.
She rested her face on his chest. He stroked her hair with his coarse hands as delicately as he could. She still longed for Cheveyo’s embrace, but within Henry’s there was a certainty and an unconditional love that felt reassuring.