There was nothing better than sitting down at a table with good company, good food, and a good view. All restaurant experiences I had had with Summer had always been marvellous, but the last one topped them all. The restaurant of the ferry boat was chic without losing its comfort. It reminded me of the James Bond films, the luxury shining through. The ample room with many tables and comfortable cushioned chairs was very relaxing and inviting. That was why we spent so much time having lunch, it was such a comfortable place to be. I noticed in the corner of my eye that there was a piano on the other end of the room on a slightly elevated platform resembling a stage, and stands for other instruments surrounding it. I wondered if we were going to have live music during lunch, but to my disappointment, no musicians stepped on stage.
Summer was in awe at everything. She was in awe at the decor of the room, at the variety of dishes we could order (some of which she had never heard of before), at the way the waiters addressed and treated us, their gloves as white as snow. But what she was most mesmerised with was the view. She was always looking out the window, admiring the ocean. Why she had such a fascination for the sea I couldn’t tell, but I had a feeling it was for its vastness, its grandeur. After all, although that vessel was quite spectacular on its own, man-made luxury always fell short when compared with natural, untouched beauty.
“Are you listening to that?” She asked, interrupting my thoughts.
Summer averted her gaze to the table next to ours. At the table, a lady and a gentleman were having a conversation as they enjoyed their meal. There was nothing out of the ordinary in them, only that they were speaking in German.
“We will never learn how to speak like that in two days,” she said, still looking at them in a discrete way. “How are we supposed to travel through Germany without knowing a single word in German?”
She had a very valid point. As we got closer to our destination, we had to face the inevitable truth that we were utterly screwed. Even with practice, it would be impossible to learn German in two days.
“I think we should dedicate our afternoon on basic German language studies,” Summer said with confidence.
And that was what we did. After we finished our lunch we went to the terrace on the main deck, German dictionary in hand and with papers and pens we had found in our schoolbags. Luckily, as we discovered, the dictionary contained the proper way to pronounce certain words, which helped us immensely, to say the least. However, our accents were no way near decent, and we occasionally overhead some German’s giggling at our failed attempts. They weren’t being mean, just amused by our ridiculous skills. We laughed at each other as well, although Summer was doing a much better job than I was at pronouncing those damned German words.
“You know what?” I said, crossing my arms and leaning back on my chair “I give up. This is impossible!”
“Harry, don’t give up so easily. We need to try.”
I ignored her plea to continue and interrupted her as if she hadn’t said anything “You know what we could do? We could just write what we could eventually want to say in German and we only have to point to the sentence instead of struggling to say it.”
I noticed in her a glimpse of approval in my idea. She knew that, despite our efforts, we would never be able to learn sufficient German to be mildly understood. However, the acts that followed next confused me. Summer picked up the dictionary and flipped some pages, closing it dramatically when she found what she was looking for.
"Schlau!” She said with enthusiasm, eager to see my reaction. I just burst out laughing, covering my mouth with my hands.
“What the hell does that even mean!?”
Between an uncontrollable laughing fit, Summer managed to say the word smart.
“In German or in any other language I am always smart!” I smiled, our laughing subsiding.
And with that, we spent the rest of the afternoon writing on a notepad possible sentences we might need to use. For example, “two tickets to the city of Bonn, please,” and even “Could you tell us where the hospital is?”
Summer was in deep concentration as she filled the notepad with sentence after sentence, and to thank her for her hard work I got up and went to grab us orange juice and crispy croissants.
She smiled at me when I placed the food on our table, giving me a kiss on the cheek.
“You are always so thoughtful, thank you,” she said, taking a long sip of her orange juice.
“It was nothing. I was getting hungry too so I figured you might also be.”
With that we ate in silence, Summer still writing some more sentences on the notepad and flipping through the page of the dictionary.
“Harry?” She called me, pen in one hand and the croissant in the other “What’s your mum’s name?”
That question caught me off guard. Of all the things she could have asked, I did not expect that question. She noticed how I became uncomfortable with her direct question and tried to justify herself.
“It is for when we arrive at the hospital. We need to tell them your mum’s name.”
“Oh yeah, of course,” I tried to regain composure. Thinking of my mum made me remember the true reason why we were on that ferry.
“Her name is Theresa Edwards.”
Summer dove back into the notepad and wrote her name on the paper.
“Harry?” She called again, the same exact tone as last time, indicating me that the questions about my mum weren’t over “If you don’t mind telling me, how is she like?”
I knew it was only natural that she wanted to know more about her. After all, she was on that trip with me to meet a woman she had never met, who she didn’t even know her name before asking me moments before.
“You know, I’ve been thinking a lot about her,” Summer said when I took too long to answer “I hope this doesn’t sound weird or anything, but it’s true. I’ve been thinking about her ever since that evening in the music room. I hope I’m not being intrusive or rude, it’s just that I am going to meet her and I have no idea how she is like.”
“No, you are not being intrusive. If I was on my way to meet your parents I would ask the same thing.”
The truth was, the last thing I wanted to talk about was my mum. To think of what our journey was leading us towards was painful enough, but to talk about memories of my mum was even worse, not because they brought me pain (quite the opposite actually), but because I knew similar joyful moments would never be possible to happen again.
Summer looked at me as if she knew what was going on in my mind and them she drank her fresh juice as she stared at the sea, forgetting the subject altogether. Why she was acting as if she hadn’t started that conversation I was not quite sure, but something told me it was because she regretted asking that question.
But I was determined to answer her question, especially because I already knew what I was going to tell her.
“There was this one time,” her head snapped in my direction, surprised by my words ” I was at a friend’s house. His name was Steven, and we were about six years old. As you can imagine, at that age kids do pretty stupid things, and we were no exception. I remember we were playing football in his backyard when it started to rain, but we continued playing despite Steven’s mum insisting we went inside. After a while, it started to become cold so at last we headed inside, our feet and our clothes covered in mud. And you know, as kids we were perfectly fine with being all dirty, so we didn’t take our shoes off or our dirty clothes, so we just casually went to Steven’s living room and we trashed everything. It was not on purpose, we were just having fun and we forgot about it, like kids do.”
While I told the story, Summer was listening attentively and didn’t interrupt me.
“That was when Steven’s mum came into the room. We completely devastated the room with our muddy footprints so she was furious, like really. I don’t think I had ever seen her that angry, and looking back, she had all the right to be that angry. She shouted at us, and I remember being terrified, but because I wasn’t in my home I couldn’t simply start crying or run away to another room. But I really got scared when she said ‘I’m going to tell your mother, Harry’. I had wished any punishment but that. I felt powerless, and I knew what awaited me when my mum arrived to pick me up. We spent the rest of the afternoon in Steven’s room, but because I feared so much my mum’s punishment I had no fun at all, always anticipating what she would do to me. Then she finally arrived. Steven and I peeked around the corner and we saw Steven’s mum telling my mum what we had done, and my mum had a shocked, infuriated expression. Oh, I remember, how terrified I was...”
“And what happened next?” Summer asked, truly engaged in the story.
“Well, she called me aside, her face strong and determined. I remember looking back at Steven in a desperate cry for help, but he couldn’t do anything. I followed my mum to another room, away from the house’s owners, knowing perfectly well what was going to happen. She closed the door, and as I braced myself for a slap or a reprimand, nothing came. She just stared at me, one finger over her lips telling me to be quiet, and winked. I was truly confused, her reaction made no sense in my little six-year-old brain, but I went with it. I remember she whispering to me ‘the couches were hideous anyway’, and all I wanted to do was to laugh, but I couldn’t or Steven’s mum would know I wasn’t being punished. My mum made me promise I would say I was sorry when we left the room, and to fake that I had been crying, to convince Steven’s mother that I had been punished.”
“So she didn’t punish you?” Summer asked.
“No, and we didn’t mention it again. I was afraid to ask her why she hadn’t done it for fear of reminding her and changing her mind, so we forgot about it.”
Summer looked at me for a while “I wish my parents were that understanding, and forgiving.”
“It was more than understanding and forgiving, it was as if she knew I had been already punished by anticipating her scolding,” I said, Summer nodding her head “Does that answer your question?”
“Yes, it does,” she said, taking a bite of her croissant “She’s intelligent and kind.”
“Yeah, that’s exactly how she is.”
With that, we resumed our task, and for the rest of the afternoon we stayed peacefully resting, not mentioning my mum again, although no matter how much I tried to think of something else, my mum was always in the back of my mind.
The activity of not doing much might have been boring after a while, but even the most insignificant action seemed pleasant because we were on a ferry. Just watching the ocean was entertaining, and admiring the sunset was quite the privilege.
Eventually, the time for dinner arrived, and Summer and I headed to the restaurant. As we made our way there, we noticed some ladies, both German and English, dressed in luscious silks, glamorous dresses and their hair tied up in an elegant fashion. I also noticed men wearing dark suits and oxford shoes. I found it quite strange, wondering if there was any special event happening on the ferry that first night since the voyage had started.
That was when we entered the restaurant and noticed every single person, young and old, were dressed formally. Summer immediately stepped out of the room, taken aback by what she saw.
“I think we just crashed a party, and a fancy one,” she said.
“Sorry to tell you, but I think this is how they dress every day for dinner.”
“What?” She was clearly confused but shook it off “Well, we could have been warned about this... I don’t think I have anything appropriate to wear.”
“I don’t have either,” I said, looking at the gentleman in perfectly ironed suits.
“Yes you do, you have your uniform. It is formal enough, I guess... If only I had a dress...” She had her hand on her chin “Maybe I could ask a crew member... I have a plan! Go get dressed and I’ll meet you at the cabin.”
With that, Summer walked away from me, leaving me confused once again. That was a habit of hers which I couldn’t seem to get used to.
I made my way down to our cabin and changed into my uniform. Summer was right, without the blazer which had Hudson’s logo printed on it, no one would notice what I was wearing was actually a school uniform.
As I looked at myself in the mirror, Summer barged in the room, a black fabric in one hand and a pair of heels in the other.
“You don’t understand how lucky I was! I went to a crew member and I explained to her my situation and she took me down to the laundry which was where they had the ‘lost and found’ cabinet. There were some dresses as well as shoes but they were all hideous. I brought the simplest one. I hope it decent.”
While she was telling all of this, almost not taking a breath as she did so, she was opening the bathroom door and getting inside. She didn’t even give me time to speak from being in such a rush.
“Summer, calm down! You are speaking too fast!”
“Well, my brain is thinking a million miles an hour, my mouth has to keep up,” I could hear her fumbling with the clothes inside the minuscule bathroom, the heels clacking on the floor and the sound of the dress’s zipper as she struggled to get ready.
“Be honest, do I look formal enough?” Summer asked, stepping out of the minuscule bathroom a couple of minutes after into the equally small room.
It took all the strength in me to stop my jaw from dropping. The dress she was wearing was indeed simple as she had described, but I did not assume it would be that elegant. The black, somewhat shiny fabric hung loosely and straight down her body until just above her knee, but not too much to conceal the natural curves of her body. With two incredibly fine straps, her shoulders, arms and chest were exposed, and her long golden hair made her look modern and sexy. Her black heels, I noted, were ordinary and quite plain like her dress, but she looked exquisite in them.
“So? How do I look?”
“Uh, you look spectacular,” I said, not knowing which words to use.
“Should I wear my hair up?” Summer fisted her hair and turned to the cabin’s mirror, and I noticed the back of the dress was cut somewhat low, the indentation of her spine running a straight line down her back.
“No, you’re perfect like that.” Secretly, even though she would look great with her hair up, I found her loose hair incredibly sensual, but of course, I wouldn’t tell her this.
“Thank you. You don’t look bad yourself.”
“Don’t tell me about it. I thought I had gotten rid of this uniform, but it insists on coming back.”
She laughed and we made our way out of the cabin to the restaurant, knowing that we would blend right in now.
With jazz music playing as we entered (which confirmed my suspicion that we indeed would have live music), the glamorous guests enjoying their dinner around us, and the atmosphere of glamour and elegance, it truly felt like Summer and I were much older than we actually were. Looking at her, I was too lost at words to say anything. She looked stunning, and if I hadn’t known her past, I would have said she had been brought up in that glamorous, wealthy world. She blended so well in that even her hand gestures were poised and refined.
At the end of the dinner, a waiter approached our table with a bottle of champagne.
“Madame, gentleman,” the waiter nodded cordially and served Summer’s glass first, the sparkly drink cascading into her glass like white foam and then turning into gold as it filled the thin glass.
Summer looked at me as if asking if the waiter had mistaken the table.
“Anything we eat and drink has already been paid for, remember?”
She smiled, looking down at her drink “I don’t think I have ever tried champagne, but it looks stunning. Look at all these tiny gas bubbles... They are like microscopic studs rising in the glass. Isn’t it wonderful?”
I didn’t answer and just looked at her for a while, a smile on my lips.
“What is it?”
“You just love everything. The sea, the ferry, the champagne... You haven’t complained once since we left Hudson, and everywhere we go you love everything you see. I don’t know how to express how much I love that quality about you, really.”
She blushed, tucking some strands of hair behind her ear.
“You know, if we weren’t in this formal dinner I would get up and kiss you in front of all these people, but as you said before, we don’t want to traumatise anyone, do we?”
I laughed, taking the champagne to my lips. Summer also took a tentative sip of her champagne, and when she placed the glass back on the table, her face contorted into a frown of repugnance.
“Oh god, this is terrible!”
I burst out laughing at her expense as Summer drank a glass of water to clear her palate.
“It doesn’t taste like it looks! Why would anyone want to drink this?”
“You remember our New Year’s Eve at Hudson, when I told you about the social obligations of having champagne when you celebrate? Well, people drink champagne when they are celebrating.”
“Oh yes, I remember that!” she said, her eyes bright again “You bought that tiny bottle of scotch instead! How far away that memory seems.”
“It wasn’t that long ago, just two months ago,” I said, remember that night as if it had been yesterday.
“Oh yes... How times flies.”
We stayed some moments in silence, just looking at each other.
“Speaking about time flying... We have known each other only since October of last year and look at us now... It was so easy to fall in love with you, you know that?”
Unexpectedly, Summer got up from her seat and walked towards me. For a moment, I did think she was going to kiss me in front of all those people, but no. She placed her hand on my shoulder and made her way down to my hand and whispered:
“Follow me outside.”
And with that, I followed the clacking of her footsteps into the veranda of the ferry, the last image I saw being her dress blowing in the wind before our lips, at last, met.