That weekend, Kristin found herself in her favorite relaxation pose, sitting cross legged on the bow of a fishing boat. She inhaled the last of her cigarette, trying to blow smoke rings across the bow. Naturally, the light wind blew the smoke back.
It was a warm evening with low humidity and temperature in the high sixties. Typical early November weather that everyone in Florida enjoyed. The engine slowed to a stop. The charter fishing boat rocked gently, tossed by small waves which would soon subside.
A clear night and a calm sea. A full moon over the Gulf of Mexico. It wasn’t Norway or the North Sea, but it was fishing and it would do. Maybe that’s why she felt at home in Florida. Like Norway, it was surrounded by water. People swam, fished and frolicked in it.
In another month Norway would be dark except for two hours a day. In the summertime it was reversed –almost 24 hours of sunshine. Florida was mostly sunshine all year. Dark was for sleeping or for……Kristin didn’t want to go there.
It was time to get back to work.
She hopped off the white bait box and tugged her navy turtleneck sweater down on her hips. She pulled her bright red knit cap over her head, blonde braids sticking out and eyebrows barely visible. Norwegian colors.
Michael shouted something at her from the bridge. He was not only her friend but the captain of the boat. She couldn’t hear everything but practice had taught her that the anchor was descending into a school of snapper or grouper that his electronics had located. Her job was to get the bait to the passengers and to help them get their lines in the water quickly. There was a fifteen--minute window before the fish would disappear and they would have to motor to new territory.
Kristin grabbed the bait buckets, live shrimp and cold, slimy squid pieces. She began on the starboard side. A frustrated dad was untangling the lines of two fishing poles in the hands of his young sons.
She smiled. “Would you like me to help you bait your hook?”
“Oh yes, please do,” said the dad. “We just need to finish untangling.”
Kristin reached for the lines, quickly untangling the last knot and opening the bait buckets.
“The squid is black and soft and squishy, but definitely dead. The shrimp are alive, but they catch smaller fish.”
“Squid,” both boys yelled.
The dad shrugged as he let Kristin bait their hooks with the inky black squid pieces. The boys shuddered, elbowing each other to get closer. She held the poles over the side of the boat and told them how to press the button on the reel. The lines rolled out until they touched bottom. Kristin showed each boy how to reel the line up a couple of feet and how to secure their fishing poles on the metal holder fastened to the deck.
“Now,” she said, “we must be patient and quiet. The secret to all good fishing.”
Their father looked grateful. Kristin slopped a handful of squid and some live shrimp into the cup next to the rod holder.
“I think I can handle the shrimp for the next go around,” he said. “But those squid?”
“You’re a good dad,” she said, patting his arm and moving on to the next group.
Three young women in green and yellow University of South Florida sweatshirts reeled in their empty hooks, practicing but probably scaring the fish below. Kristin slopped the same bait into their cups.
“Eeek,” the tiny one said, swinging the line towards Kristin. “I hooked a baby, without even using any bait.”
Kristin grabbed the line and twisted the hook from the struggling little grey snapper’s mouth.
“I think this little guy is a throwback. Next year we will come back to get him.”
She felt Michael’s hand on the back of her neck. She should have figured it out. When there were good looking young women on board, Michael couldn’t stay far away. The three girls weren’t paying her any more attention. They all were looking at him. She heard one whisper “hunk” and another, “wow.”
Michael wore a white captain’s hat which still showed a fringe of dark blonde curls, a powder blue sweater, tight white pants and deck shoes. If that wasn’t enough to excite the girls, Kristin thought, they could take in his bow-shaped lips, gleaming white teeth, milky brown eyes and a slender but restless and powerful body.
“Give them a double dose of bait, Krissy,” he said to her. “I think they’ll need it.”
Kristin elbowed him in the ribs and then piled the extra bait high in their bait cups. Michael flirted with women eighteen to eighty. It probably was the reason he was the most popular charter boat captain. Wine, women and wherever the fish were. That was his reputation. The boat wasn’t named Lusty Lady without reason.
“Good luck, girls. Let me know if you need me. Krissy’s a real expert at fishing, so she can help you too,” he said as he left.
Kristin moved easily to the port side, her body one with the rocking of the boat. Years spent on her father’s fishing boat in Norway gave her sea legs and sea lungs. Michael was good enough to indulge her fantasies without calling her “Judge” or discussing her personal life. For that, she was grateful. Call him an escape or a hobby. She knew he was good for her.
It gave her a quiet opportunity to think back to her childhood in Norway. To fishing, hiking and skiing with her athletic parents. To bask in their love and instruction. To feel so connected to family, as well as Bergen, her city, and of course Norway. She was one hundred percent Norwegian. In the states, she had almost never met a person who was one hundred percent anything. But that’s what she liked about the States. “Melting pot” was a fit description.
Maybe Mary was one hundred percent Italian. She’d have to ask.
Kristin walked up to a person near the bow, portside. He stood behind the fishing pole which was mounted on the deck. Both thumbs were in his front pockets, fingertips touching, feet in black sneakers positioned far apart. He wore a black baseball cap, black nylon jacket over his broad shoulders and black jeans.
Kristin stopped behind him. She couldn’t see his face or the color of his hair, but she stared at him as he watched the fishing pole, waiting for a strike.
Oh my God, she thought. From the back, he looked exactly like…she didn’t want to think about it. He looked like Chad.
The height, the stance, the clothes. Had he discovered her twice-a-month escape? Her heart sunk. He wasn’t supposed to be released from federal prison until early next year, but she had heard about budget shortfalls and early releases. Surely someone would call her, right?
Kristin held her breath. She thought about calling for Michael. He didn’t know about Chad but he would do anything to help her. He was captain of the ship, after all, among other things.
Just then the man turned around and smiled at her, taking off his hat. It wasn’t Chad. It wasn’t even a man, but a well-built middle-aged woman with long, dark hair wrapped in a bun, fishing by herself.
Kristin exhaled audibly. She refilled the woman’s bait cup, hands still shaking. Maybe she would become a regular on the boat and Kristin would be able to chat with her. But not today. Just thinking of Chad made her anxious and ashamed. She never really loved him, but how could she have believed him? How could she have trusted him? Now, her only feeling for him was fear.
Kristin heard the shouts from the boys and their dad. She saw one boy’s pole bent into the water. She ran to them, grabbing a net.
“Nice catch. Now you have to reel him in slowly and I’ll be ready with the net to grab him.” In a few minute’s time, the boys were squealing over their first fish.
Kristin walked away as the happy dad was taking pictures of both boys holding a healthy-size red grouper.
Kristin was first to the cabin. She turned on the water in the small shower in the head. The passengers had disembarked, most with fish skinned, gutted and fileted, in plastic bags filled with ice. It was a successful night. She let the hot water run over her inky black hands and her sweaty, fish-smelling body.
She lathered shampoo into her thick hair and stood with her eyes closed, letting the hot water rinse her hair and cleanse her. Engulfed in steam, she was reaching for a white towel draped over the top when the shower door opened.
She smiled through the waterfall and turned to look at the figure entering the mist. She saw the water wet his hair and run into his open mouth. He flashed a wet smile, showing off perfect white teeth. He put both hands on her shoulders and drew their naked, wet bodies together. She felt him head to toe and all that was in between.
She put her arms around his neck, kissed him full upon his thick lips, and grabbed for the soap to scrub his marvelous body. He groaned as her hands moved in all directions.
“Michael, I thought I lost you tonight to a trio of college girls.”
She soaped his hairy chest, pinched suds through his thick eyebrows and twirled a wet washcloth in his ears.
“With fingers like yours, Krissy, you do the work of three.”
He led her out of the shower, drew a light white blanket over both of them and pulled her to the small double bed in the captain’s suite.