Neela: The Blue Pearl

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Chapter 3

It took a few more days before Neela started to feel like herself again. She thought a lot about what Henry had said about finding someone deserving of her. She wasn’t certain, but she was starting to feel like Cheveyo didn’t fit that description anymore. She began to rehearse her stories and hum her favorite love songs around the house, on the beach, and at work again.

Henry, Delila, and Mari couldn’t have been happier to hear her mumbles and melodies return. Things seemed more like pre-Cheveyo days from the outward appearance during the day, but she still had quite a bit of trouble at night when she was alone. She continued to run after the blurry stranger of her dreams. She found herself night after night on the pier, frustrated and exhausted. She would wake after the failed pursuits and try to recenter herself with her morning walks. One morning, she awoke exceptionally early from her dream turned nightmare and decided she would need to walk for a lot longer than usual to clear her head.

She walked her typical path a few times. On her third trip to the driftwood, she heard an unfamiliar sound coming from the water near the pier. She was well acquainted with the local sounds and troubled by her inability to place it. She wished for a moment that there was another person present to make out with their vision what her hearing failed to identify.

She sat down on the pier to rest and listen for the foreign sound again. She hung her legs over the side and propped her arms on the first tier of a two-tiered handrail. She placed her face against her interlocking hands. She swung her legs back and forth casually as she hummed one of her favorite tunes. It was quiet except for her soft hums trailing in and out.

Then, all of a sudden, a loud crash accompanied by a thud at the end of the pier rendered her silent. She could feel the impact radiate underneath her. The crash sounded to her like an unruly wave, but the thud she couldn’t place at all. She searched her memory for any similar sound that might explain its origin. Nothing. She heard footsteps coming from the direction of the commotion. Someone was moving in her direction. She was terribly frightened. She thought about making a quick exit but was too shaken to move. She sat rigid, hanging onto hope that the steps would continue past where she was seated.

The pace of the footsteps slowed to a stop a few feet away from her. A humming began; it was a velvety hum she had heard before.

“Cheveyo?”

“Neela.”

“What the heck? You scared me!”

“I am sorry if I frightened you.”

“What are you doing here?”

“I wanted to see you.”

“What was that?”

“Pardon?”

“What was that a second ago?”

“The next line in your song and my way of saying hello.”

“No, not the hums, that loud crash and then that pounding on the boards?”

“There was a wave that crashed into the end of the pier. I did not hear a pounding, as you say.”

“How did you come up from the end of the pier and not the entryway?”

“I did come from the entryway.”

“Why are you lying?”

“What am I lying about?”

“I’m sure everything.”

“I needed to talk you; I cannot stop thinking of you.”

“Weave your web.”

“I know I have not been around much lately, but I have good reasons for that.”

Much lately? Really? You haven’t been around at all. You thought about me so much that you stayed as far away from me as possible for weeks on end, how romantic…” she said sarcastically.

“That is not entirely true; I have seen you almost every day.”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“I have been going for morning swims while you go on your walks. I had to see you, and I wanted to make sure you were safe, out here all by yourself.”

“Why didn’t you say something?”

“I did not know what to say.”

“Well, I do. Good-BYE!” she asserted as she stood up quickly and tried to storm off.

He grabbed her arm and pulled her to a halt.

“Let go of me!” she demanded.

“Please, let me explain.”

She stopped resisting. She was stuck emotionally between wanting to hurt him and wanting to change the form of their embrace. It didn’t help that his unique sweet-and-salty smell was just as intoxicating as it had been that night.

“I was really tired after staying out all night and needed rest, but I was also overwhelmed that morning.”

“How so?”

“I know I am not what you need, but I have never wanted to be near someone so badly. It was extremely difficult to try to stay away from you.”

“It seemed easy for you to me.”

Cheveyo released his grasp slowly and turned away from her. Even though he knew she could not see the shame on his face, he couldn’t bear to look at her now that he knew just how much his distance had hurt her.

“I don’t know what to say,” she said softly.

He stayed with his back to her, consumed by the realization that he’d ruined his chances.

“I have to go home now. Goodbye, Cheveyo.”

The pain evident in her goodbye intensified his suffering. She turned away from him, walking steadily off the pier and back down the beach in the direction of her cottage.

When she arrived home, she apologized to her grandfather for missing breakfast and hurried off to work. After she clocked in, she was told by her supervisor that a lot of the guests were scheduled to check out, and they anticipated less utilization of the childcare services that day.

Neela asked if she could assist Mari in the meditation studio until she was needed in the childcare center. She was granted permission and then hurried off to find Mari.

“MARI, MARI, MARI!”

“My child, calm down, I’m right here,” Mari said in a comforting tone.

“Cheveyo came back!”

“Did he now? And what did he have to say for himself?”

“He said he’s been here all along, swimming next to me during my morning walks.”

“Oh, how romantic! Swimming next to you to ensure your safety, no doubt.”

“Yeah, how did you know that?”

“My Mitchell felt the same way about me, fiercely protective.”

“You don’t think it’s kind of creepy?”

“Lord, no.”

“I’m not sure what to make of it. Why wouldn’t he say something to me?”

“He’s a young man, and young men are fools generally, but when they’re in love, they’re absolutely hopeless.”

“He seemed so together before, didn’t seem like the type to lose his cool.”

“Oh, a cool customer until he met you! I love it. What I wouldn’t give to be back in those days with my Mitchell.”

“Did he act crazy like this?”

“God, yes—like that and then some. He was crazy in love, and I loved every minute of his crazy. You should be proud that you have this kind of an effect on a man.”

“Proud that he’s scared to talk to me?”

“Is that what you think? My dear, he isn’t scared of you as a person. He’s scared of how much power you may have over his heart. They all are.”

Neela sat quietly, with a confused expression. Mari sat down next to her and patted her leg.

“I know all of this can be very confusing,” Mari explained.

“It is. I’m angry with him for just disappearing like that, but…”

“But you can’t stop thinking about his strong embrace, that velvety voice?”

“Yeah. Is that crazy?”

“Yes, but like I said, that’s love, in all of its complicated glory.”

“I don’t know what to do.”

“I couldn’t tell you, and neither could anyone else. You have to do what’s right for you and know that it will be okay whatever you decide.”

Neela leaned up against Mari and hugged her from the side. They sat still for a moment before refocusing on the work of the day.

Neela assisted Mari in the meditation studio for the next few hours. More guests arrived, and Neela was able to return to the childcare center before the end of her shift. She found it much easier to tell her stories without the weight of the sadness she had been feeling. She enjoyed performing, but she did feel anxious to get to the dance hall. She knew that Delila would want to dissect everything, but this time, she wouldn’t mind it. When her shift was over, she hurried to the front desk.

“Delila!”

“I’m over here.”

Neela walked toward the sound of Delila’s voice.

“What are you wearing?” Delila asked.

“Huh?”

“You got on one of your princess outfits. I knew this was bound to happen one day.”

Neela laughed and explained that she’d been in a hurry because she was excited to run something by her.

“Okay, well, you can run something by me in less ridiculous clothes. What’s under that dress?”

“Another dress.”

Neela pulled open part of her costume to reveal the crocheted top portion of a light blue dress underneath.

“You and this bohemian style of yours. Would it kill you to jazz it up little?”

“This one is crocheted at the top. I can feel it, seems like a fun pattern.”

“Oh, my bad, this is the fancy crocheted one! Well, okay then, rip the rest of that costume off and let’s go before all the good tables and boys are taken.”

Neela took off the rest of the costume and Delila shoved it all into her purse for safekeeping. Neela had a hard time containing herself as they walked casually to the dance hall.

“Are you okay? You seem a little extra.”

“Yeah, I’ll tell you all about it as soon as we get a table.”

“Okay, but let’s stop by the bar first.”

As they entered the dance hall and approached the bar, Diego greeted them with his usual playful tone and ready-made daiquiris.

“Helllloooo, ladies.”

“Hey, Diego,” they responded simultaneously.

“You look beautiful tonight, Delila.”

“Tell me somethin’ I don’t know,” Delila said as she picked up the two alcohol-free daiquiris Diego had premade and placed on the bar for them.

She carried the drinks to the nearest seated table. She placed Neela’s in the center of the table while she waited for her to find her chair. She slowly slid Neela’s drink over to her side of the table. Neela could hear the glass not-so-smoothly travel over the knots in the wood. She was able to easily locate her drink before it fully reached her.

“Thanks, now what was that about?” Neela asked.

“What?” Delila responded.

“Seems like he really likes you.”

“Diego? Please, he’s just tryin’ to get some tips in that jar.”

“He didn’t say anything to me.”

“That’s because he knows you don’t tip anyway.”

“I didn’t know there was a jar. Tell me where it is, I’ll put money in it. I have cash.” Neela started to get up.

Delila quickly said, “Not right now, we’ll put some in at the end of the night together.”

Neela resituated herself in her chair. “Okay, but don’t forget. I don’t want Diego to think I don’t like his mango thingies, because I do—I like them a whole lot.”

“I’m sure he knows. Now what did you want to run by me?”

“Cheveyo came back.”

“Shut up, really?”

“During my morning walk, he just came out of nowhere.”

“What did he say?”

“That he’s been going for a swim while I take my walks, you know, to make sure I was safe.”

“Hold up, what do you mean going for a swim? Where?”

“I guess the ocean? Where else would you swim on a beach?”

“So this fool is swimming in the ocean at the crack of dawn, watching you walk day after day, and never says anything?”

“I guess it is a little unusual to swim in the ocean that early.”

“Girl, yes, it’s unusual, weird, stalkery… We need to make sure you got some pepper spray or something on you. This just doesn’t sound right to me.”

“Stalkery? No, I think—”

Delila talked over her friend rapidly. “This is my fault, this is absolutely all my fault, I should’ve never told you how fine he was. We’ll let a lot of weird go on for that level of fine. So what do you think it is? Some kind of fetish? Axe murderer? What kind of weird is he?”

Neela laughed at her anxious friend. “No, I think he was just shy or something. He should’ve spoken to me, but he said he felt overwhelmed.”

Delila put her head in her hands. “Oh, girl, I’ve done you wrong as your best friend. You just don’t know, this dude is crazy—ca-ray-zee, okay?”

“Mari said it’s romantic.”

“You gonna trust the crazy old lady rubbin’ rocks together?”

“She carries her gemstones around because they have healing properties that help with her arthritis.”

“You’re not hearing me. You need more than some stones or whatever, you need a T-R-O.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s what you need right now—a temporary restraining order.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“Listen, my cousin is a cop, and I watch a lot of crime shows, so I think I know what I’m talkin’ about here. Cops always say to get a TRO if it gets weird, and I would say it’s pretty freggin’ weird right now, Neela.”

Neela continued to laugh at her friend’s animated expression of concern.

“I’m serious, girl, this stuff is scary!”

“I know, but he said he was overwhelmed.”

“So you’re not scared?”

“I was at first, I guess, but now I’m kind of making the argument to give him a chance… I don’t know what to do.”

“Well, I know you like him, but you don’t know him, and I don’t think you should be alone with him.”

“Why don’t you come with me on my walk tomorrow? Maybe he’ll be there.”

“Okay, what time do you go?”

“Around six.”

“In the morning?”

“Yeah.”

“Never mind, we are going to have to find another way to keep you safe. Why don’t you have a cell phone?”

“Ugh, not the cell phone thing again. You know I hate them.”

“Besides the endless amount of helpful apps, it would also come in handy in this situation. I could stay on the phone with you during your walk and call the police if anything sounds funny.”

“I hate anything technical; you know that. How about this? I will only go on my walks if I can hear other people around, until I get a better feel for him.”

“Okay, but here, please take my pepper spray, and spray the heck out of him if he tries anything.”

“Fine, but I really need your help with what to say to him, more so than this.”

“Give me a minute to calm down. I had it in my head that he was a serial killer until about three seconds ago. I’ve got to get my mind right.”

Delila took several deep breaths. “Okay, so what do we know about him so far?”

“He can be arrogant at times… You say he’s good-looking, and he can dance, sing, and seems to feel bad about whatever kept him from talking to me.”

“We need more information. Next time you’re with him, tell him that you aren’t sure you want to get involved with someone you can’t trust. He might be willing to offer up more info to persuade you to spend more time with him.”

“I can do that.”

“Just don’t let him focus the whole conversation on you, and be safe.”

“I will.”

“Do you really think Diego is interested in me?” Delila asked.

“I do, and he’s better than the steel drummer; he never talks to you.”

“That’s because he is focused on his performance.”

“Or because he’s a jerk.”

“Well, at least he’s not a stalker,” Delila retorted.

“True,” Neela conceded.

The girls laughed and continued on with their spirited comparisons. Afterward, Delila filled the rest of the evening with a synopsis of the most recent episode of one of her dating shows.

Neela was happy to listen to her friend but had a difficult time staying focused. She knew now that she did want to hear Cheveyo out and that she may be able to do so in just a few short hours. Delila walked Neela home after the dance and again stressed her concerns for her safety. Neela swore to keep the pepper spray on her at all times.

The next morning, Neela woke early, especially for an off day. She was beyond excited to find Cheveyo. She wanted to explain to him that she understood that he felt overwhelmed and that she had felt that way too. She pulled some of her hair behind her and braided a few strands. She fanned the braid apart to flatten some of the pieces so that their shape would resemble the petals of a flower, and then she put a real flower at the core of her creation. She slipped on one of her favorite lightweight dresses and then hurried out the back door. She was barely a few footsteps out when she heard her grandfather call out to her. She walked back toward his voice in disbelief that he was even awake at such an early hour without a fishing trip planned.

“King Azul has somethin’ in store for us today, can you feel it?”

“I can feel it, but I like the wind like this.”

“I know ya do, but I don’t want ya to get caught in a storm.”

“I want to get caught in a storm; it’s the best time to be outside.”

“You’ve got too much of me in ya. Want me to come with you?”

“No, I can manage. I just want to walk down to the pier and back.”

“Okay, but give me your word that you’ll come home if ole Azul gets too barmy.”

“I promise.”

He said goodbye and sent her on her way. She walked down the beach as fast as her feet could take her, moving her cane quickly from left to right and thankful for every unobstructed swipe. She reached her hand behind her head every so often to ensure her flower was still secure within her braid.

She made it to the pier and realized that she’d spent a lot of time on her hair but not much coming up with a plan to find Cheveyo. She wanted to yell out to him, scream that she would forgive him if he would just come back. She walked around anxiously at the entryway of the pier. She was nervous that she wouldn’t be able to find him and perhaps a little more nervous to actually find him.

It was quiet on the pier. She had promised Delila not to talk to Cheveyo unless others were near, but she was desperate to hear his voice again, so she stayed in the quiet despite her promise. She eventually grew tired from the pacing and decided to sit in her disappointment on the side of the pier.

She swung her legs slowly and let her mind drift quickly into daydreams of the adventure that she longed for. She pictured herself as the captain of a large wooden airship that was shaped like a dragon and had the ability to steer itself. Where she was going she had no idea, but she was content in watching the sails catch the wind as the ship floated on and upward, soaring over the sea. Her imaginative voyage kept her distracted for about an hour. When it came to an end, she realized how much time had passed by the rise in the temperature. She let herself hope for one more moment before she decided he wasn’t coming.

Determined not to return to disappointment, she stood up, walked the length of the pier, and tried to shift her focus to the breeze that tousled her long hair. She propped her cane up against the handrail and extended both of her arms out from her sides. She twirled around slowly and enjoyed the movement of her hair and the skirt of her dress.

As she spun, the wind stole the flower from her hair. She immediately noticed the reduction in the weight of her masterpiece and bent down to search her surroundings. She reached out her hands and gently explored the tattered boards of the pier. When she decided to give up on her flower, she stood upright and walked back toward her cane. She reached out for it and felt the flower brush against her hand.

“I believe this belongs to you?” Cheveyo placed her flower in her hand firmly and let his hand linger before he withdrew it slowly.

She had already abruptly stopped twirling, but knew he must have seen her childish amusement and felt terribly embarrassed. “I didn’t hear you.”

“I was here, but I did not think you would want me to be.”

“The twirling… I didn’t hear anyone, so… I thought—”

“Do not be embarrassed; I love that you like to twirl when you think no one is watching.”

“I talk to myself a lot, so I’m pretty sure everyone already thinks I’m kinda strange. I really should try to blend in more.”

“You could not blend in if you tried.”

“Oh,” she whispered.

“I meant that in a good way, Neela. I would not be so completely enraptured by you if you were like everyone else.”

She smiled in response to the compliment and the knowledge that she thought of him in very much the same way.

“Did you really want me to be here?” Cheveyo asked.

“I think so.”

“It is not a yes, but I will take it.”

“Yes, but I want to know why you didn’t just talk to me.”

“I do not have a good reason I can give you.”

“I want to know that I can trust you.”

“You can trust me. I never really disappeared, but I did keep too much distance. For that I apologize.”

She remembered Delila saying something about trust and not letting him place the focus on her, but she was too distracted by his velvety voice to remember exactly what she was supposed to do.

“Well, you’re here now, I guess. Do you want to finish my walk with me?”

He reached out for her hand, held it for a moment, and then draped it over his arm. She seized his arm tightly and handed him her cane to carry. They walked slowly down the beach together. She squeezed his muscular arm and leaned into his side frequently.

He was amazed at her willingness to be close to him and thankful for the opportunity to be near her. She asked to stop just shy of her cottage and explained that her grandfather may not appreciate that a tourist had escorted her home. He respected her position and agreed to end their walk prematurely. He thanked her for allowing him back into her life, relinquished her cane, and gently kissed her hand before he said goodbye for now.

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