The next morning dawned bright and beautiful, as did every day of our stay there. Erik seemed to be back to his normal self by the time we joined the others for breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant, but every once in a while, I saw a sadness in his eyes that hadn’t been there before. All it took for it to disappear, however, was a smile from me or a quick hug or a brief kiss, for which I was grateful.
On the third day, Erik found out that there was a Doctor Doviverata on the island who had been trained in New Zealand, and he immediately took me to see him. The doctor, using frogs of all things, determined within a day that I was indeed expecting, and after he examined me, told a relieved Erik that everything seemed to be going as expected. I was a little surprised when Erik asked the doctor if he could speak to him privately, but when they came out of the back room, Erik had a smile on his face, so I thought nothing of it.
Our time on Fiji was spent touring the island, swimming, dancing, and generally having a grand time. We stayed at the hotel for a week and then boarded the Rebecca to sail to Australia. We didn’t stop at any other island on our way there, and on the fourth day, we passed between Australia and New Guinea and docked at Darwin. We spent two days there, restocking and doing some basic maintenance on the boat. I called my father to tell him about the baby, and I thought I would go deaf from the shout he gave.
“Sarah, that is the best news! Congratulations!”
“Thank you, Daddy. Erik and I are so excited.”
We talked for only a few minutes. My father said he’d tell the rest of the family our news, and then we said goodbye. I stood by the phone for a moment, silent, and then Erik took my hand.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
I smiled at him. “I’m fine. I just miss him, that’s all.”
“I know the feeling,” he mumbled.
“Erik, I’m sorry.”
“For what? Missing your family?” He sighed. “At least you’ll see them again.” He kissed my hand and went out on the balcony of our hotel room.
I followed him. “They are your family now, too, Erik.”
He blew out his breath. “I know. Sort of. I mean, in my head I know that, but it hasn’t really hit here.” He tapped his chest with one finger.
“It will. And then maybe you won’t feel your loss quite as much.”
For the two days we were in Australia, Erik seemed preoccupied, but once we got back onto open water, he seemed to come out of his mind, and things seemed back to normal. He spent a lot of time drawing, but he wouldn’t show me his pictures.
We spent several days close to the shores of the Indonesian islands. On the first of July, just before we left them, George asked Erik what his plans were from that point on. He needed to know which route to take. We were all on deck looking at nautical charts, and Erik tapped one.
“I’d like to visit Ireland,” Erik said, and I stared at him in surprise.
“I think my mother’s family came from there,” he answered. “I vaguely remember her mentioning the city of Cork once a long time ago. I know that her accent was definitely not from Tennessee. I’ve done a little research, and Desmond is an Irish name. I’d like to see if anyone there knows her or her family. Who knows, maybe I have relatives there.”
“Do you think that’s likely?” Brice asked.
“Not really, but I’d like to try anyway.”
“All right, then we can go across the Indian Ocean,” George traced the route as he spoke, “up through the Red Sea to the Mediterranean, then around Spain and Portugal and up to Ireland.”
“I think that’s a wonderful idea,” I said. “I’d love to see Ireland.”
“Well, if we sail straight through, it will take about a month.”
“No,” Erik said, still looking at the chart. “We’ll stop in Egypt.” He grinned. “I’ve always wanted to see the pyramids and the sphinx. And we can’t pass by Greece without seeing the Parthenon and the Coliseum. We can take our time.”
George nodded. “If we do that, we’ll reach Ireland in about two months, give or take, depending on how long you want to sightsee. It’s hurricane season in the Caribbean right now and will be until about November, so you’ll have to stay in Ireland until then anyway.”
“Back to the Caribbean?” I asked.
“It’s the best way. The weather is much nicer down there than trying to take the northern route. Besides, up north, the winds and currents are running the wrong way.”
“So,” Erik said, “assuming we don’t stop for anything, how long from Ireland back home?”
George studied the chart. “I’d say about twenty, maybe twenty-five days.”
Erik looked at me. “And you said the baby’s coming around February, right?”
“As far as I can guess,” I said.
“And we could be home for Christmas?” This was directed at George.
“No problem. Maybe even Thanksgiving.”
“Good. Sounds like a plan, then.”
Before we reached Egypt, while we were somewhere in the middle of the Indian Ocean, Erik had his twenty-third birthday. Somehow, Sheryl had managed to bake a small cake, and when she brought it above decks, the grin on Erik’s face was priceless. Everyone sang “Happy Birthday” to him, and, after giving George a piece as he manned the helm, we ate cake and talked and laughed. The crew apologized to Erik for not having any presents for him, but he brushed it aside.
“This is more than enough,” he said. “Thank you.” He took my hand and looked at it as he trailed his thumb over my knuckles. “Did you know that this is only the second birthday cake I’ve ever had?”
I wasn’t sure if he was talking to me or to everyone, but it was Sheryl who answered first.
“How is that possible? Didn’t your mother bake you cakes when you were little?”
The laugh that came from Erik was short and harsh. “No,” he said bitterly. “My father…” He clenched his teeth, and the festive atmosphere evaporated like fog in the morning sun. He looked at me, and I gave him a small nod.
“Tell them, Erik.” While we had been on Fiji, I had told the rest of the crew my story, and I thought it was time for Erik to tell his.
He held my eyes for a moment longer and then nodded back. He fiddled with his fingers and started to talk. His eyes never left his hands.
“My father was a sadistic bastard who beat my mother and I whenever he was drunk, which was pretty much all the time.” Sheryl gasped, but Erik ignored her and just kept talking, his voice never increasing in volume or emotion. He talked about the whippings, the beltings, the punches, the kicks, everything. He told about broken bones and bruises and welts and cuts. Throughout it all, he had no more emotion in his voice than if he had told someone that the sun was shining. A stunned silence had come over the boat by the time he got to his last day in that awful cabin.
“When I was sixteen, my father did this to me,” he said, running his finger down his scar. “He almost killed me. Doctor Clark took me in that day. The next day I found out that my parents had left Willow. Maybe my father was afraid of being arrested; I don’t know, and I don’t care. I stayed with Doctor Clark for about six months until the day my father killed him and drove my mother to suicide.” His voice now held a mix of deep sorrow and anger. “I was the sole beneficiary of Doctor Clark’s will, and Sebastian and I moved to New York only a month or so after he and my mother died.” He stopped and stared at his hands.
“Erik,” Jared said softly, “what happened to your father? Did the police catch him?”
Erik put his feet on the bench and pulled his knees to his chest before hiding his face in them. He shook his head without speaking.
“His father died,” I said softly as I wrapped my arm around my husband’s shoulders.
“How? In prison, I hope. Executed for murder?”
“I don’t know; Erik never told me. I don’t know if he knows.”
Erik shook his head again, and I leaned close when he mumbled something.
He turned his head toward me, and I saw the pain in his eyes. “I know how he died, but I can’t tell you.”
He hid his face again but spoke clearly. “Because you’ll hate me. You all will.”
“Erik, I could never hate you. I love you.” I tried to get him to look at me again, but he suddenly shook me off and stalked to the bow of the ship and started pacing furiously. He fisted his hands in his hair, and tears filled my eyes at the sight. Sheryl sat beside me and held me close as we all watched to see what Erik would do. Finally, he turned around, and the pain was gone from his face. The fury that had replaced it caused everyone to freeze. I had seen him that angry before, but the others hadn’t, and I knew it shocked them. He walked back to us.
“Are you sure you really want to know what happened, Sarah?” His eyes locked on mine as if the others didn’t exist. “Because the answer to that question is not a pleasant one.”
I nodded silently.
“Fine.” He unbuttoned his shirt and took it off, dropping it to the deck. “This,” he said, pointing to the round scar on his shoulder, “is from Christmas Eve. That was the night my father shot me in Central Park. The night he tried to kill me again.” I sucked in a breath, and Sheryl’s grip tightened around me. “The night he told me I would pay for taking my mother away from him.” He laughed cruelly. “The night he died.” He kept his gaze on me, staring at me as if to dare me to not hate him. “The night I killed him.”
I couldn’t think, couldn’t speak. That answer was not even on the list of possibilities I had thought up. I stared back at Erik and was surprised to see a snarl on his lips. He turned his back on us, and the larger scar on the back of his shoulder seemed to mock me, as if it dared me to condemn him. I looked around at the crew and saw the same shock on their faces that I was sure was on mine.
“Happy birthday to me,” Erik said bitterly, and then he went back to the bow and placed his hands on the railing before hanging his head. His entire body was tense; I could see the muscles in his back bunch up, and I was sure his knuckles were white on the railing. I stood up and slowly walked to him. I placed my hand over his, but he yanked it away, fisting it tightly, so I slid my arm around his and leaned against his shoulder. He tried to pull away, but I didn’t let him. Finally, he just sighed and stood silently, his head still down
“How did it happen?” I asked quietly.
“I strangled him,” he whispered, and then he spoke a little more forcefully. “Does it really matter? I watched his eyes, and I felt triumph and ecstasy when I saw that he was terrified of me. He was scared of me, Sarah; he knew he was going to die, and I have absolutely no remorse about it whatsoever.”
He jerked. “What?”
I held him tightly as I stared out at the deep blue of the ocean. “I’m glad he’s dead, Erik, and I’m not sorry you were the one who killed him. He didn’t deserve to live.”
“No, he didn’t.” I moved in front of him so that he had no choice but to look at me. I put one hand on his chest and the other over the scar on his shoulder. I could feel the rapid beat of his heart, and I gently curled my fingers into his skin. He caught his breath and stared at me incredulously as I looked up into his stormy blue eyes.
“You don’t hate me?”
“Erik, I love you. I will always love you. Nothing will ever change that. Nothing! I understand why you killed your father, I really do. I understand the pain and the horror and the helplessness and the fear and the despair. I lived with it for half the time you did, but I understand. If I ever found my mother, I’m not sure I would be able to keep myself from hurting her like she hurt me, or worse.”
Erik was staring at me like he couldn’t quite figure out what I was. The wind was blowing the few strands of my hair that weren’t secured into my face, and he gently tucked them behind my ears before abruptly grabbing me and kissing me. He pulled me to himself so tightly that my hands and arms were trapped against him. His kiss was desperate, and my knees buckled with the intensity of it. His arms held me up, though, and he didn’t release me for several moments. When he did, he was breathing heavily, and he just looked at me intently. He cupped my face and laid a soft kiss on my lips.
“I love you, Sarah Desmond,” he said softly, his eyes scanning my face as if he didn’t truly believe I was still in his arms, and then he tensed up again.
“Erik, what’s wrong?”
“You may understand, Sarah, but what about them?” He jerked his head toward the others.
“There’s only one way to find out,” I said, and I took his hand and turned him around. He kept his eyes on the deck, but I watched the others.
They were grouped around George at the helm, talking amongst themselves. No one was looking at us except the captain, and when we turned around, he tilted his chin toward us. The others stopped talking and looked at us, and, other than Sheryl’s tear-stained face, there was no sign of anger or fear or disgust from any of them.
“Erik,” I said softly, “come on.” I led him forward, and the others met us by the table. Brice had taken the helm, and George came straight for Erik. His head was still down, but it came up slowly when the captain laid his hand on his shoulder and squeezed.
“Thank you, Erik,” the captain said, and Erik looked at him, his brow furrowed and a look of complete confusion in his eyes.
“For trusting us with your story. You didn’t have to do that, and I want you to know that none of us blame you for what you had to do.” The other shook their heads emphatically, and Erik stood a little straighter. “I’m so sorry for what you went through, my boy,” the captain said, his voice gruff. “No child should ever have to suffer at the hands of a parent.” George then pulled Erik close and whispered something in his ear that I couldn’t hear.
Erik just nodded, stepped back, and held out his hand. When George shook it, Erik said, “Thank you, Captain.”
The others came up and also shook his hand, but Sheryl gave him a hug. She also spoke softly to him, but I heard her say, “She’s a keeper, Erik. Don’t you ever do anything to drive her away, you hear me?”
Erik smiled as she released him. “Yes, ma’am,” he said, and she kissed his scarred cheek before he could stop her.
That night, Erik held me close, and it seemed to me as if he was more relaxed than he had ever been. I mentioned it, and he said, “That’s because I am, sweetheart. I have held that in for so long, and it feels so good to let it go.”
“Did no one else know?”
“Sebastian and Doctor Adams did,” he said, “but no one else. I was always afraid that you’d leave me if you knew.”
I hugged him tightly. “Never, Erik. You’re stuck with me for life.”
He chuckled and kissed my hair. “And you’re stuck with me.” He was still chuckling when I fell asleep.