The hotel lights lit up the area and the time didn’t feel as late at it was. There were four black iron benches with wooden seats spread out along the front of the hotel. Four Naval officers, laughing and talking with loud voices, stood by the bench closest to the hotel entrance. Two other couples strolled by, coming from the parking garage. They looked as if they’d returned from dinner somewhere. Both women wore dresses and the men wore suits. Seroje figured they were married couples since they appeared comfortable in their silence.
The woman who’d been through the lounge with the dog was chasing and calling for her dog. The dog had no leash and was running through the flowers and shrubs of the landscaping, ignoring its owner. Seroje thought she heard the woman call the dog Ruffruff, making it sound as if the woman was imitating a dog.
“So where are you taking me on a Tuesday night right at midnight that could possibly impress me,” she said, thinking that would be a good line in a movie and that’s what her character would say.
“I have an idea,” he said, leading her toward the parking garage where Seroje had her own car parked.
The walk across the area reminded her of how annoying her backpack was.
“I’m close to my own car. May I put my backpack away?” she said as they entered the first level of the garage.
“Certainly,” Craig said, waving a hand for her to lead the way as he followed her.
Seroje didn’t like that she had to show him her car, but she didn’t want to carry the backpack. She hated carrying anything and didn’t even carry a purse.
Her car was an older four-door sedan, dark blue. She unlocked her car with a key and tossed her backpack into the back on the floor. There it would be out of sight. She locked her car with her key.
Craig tapped his keys and four cars away from them a car flashed its lights and beeped. He led the way.
“BMW i8,” she said as he opened the door for her. The doors opened up like wings, intriguing her. He showed a little surprise that she knew the model of the car.
The car was bright red with silver trim below the door. This was the two-door sports car model with the six digit price tag. Seroje also knew it was a custom color because red wasn’t a color option. She knew every single BMW model. She’d read up on all car models to help her identify them for her job. However, cars didn’t impress her since they were only a mode of transportation.
“You a car fanatic?” he asked, getting behind the wheel.
“No,” she said as she fastened her seat belt, keeping her eyes on the dash in front of her. She liked her car only because it got her where she needed to go. Having it serviced was a nightmare.
“No wonder you’ve gotten speeding tickets,” she said as he started the car. The car was quiet, but the power of the engine was obvious.
Craig smiled, navigating out of the garage in a civilized manner. The four Naval officers paused in their talking to stare as the car passed them.
Craig handled the car with ease, navigating some turns, before hitting a light. He turned again onto a main thoroughfare.
“The harbor. I don’t know of any restaurants around there that are open this late on a weekday,” she said, using her mental map of the city.
“No,” he said with a smile. “No restaurants.”
Traffic was light. Seroje found the drive pleasant because Craig didn’t engage her in any conversation. She had an idea of where he was headed. He soon pulled into the marina parking lot, confirming her guess, and into a parking space with his company’s name on it. Seroje had been here before but never registered that there was reserved parking down here other than for the handicapped. The parking lot was empty except for Craig’s car and a goose standing in a puddle of water.
Seroje didn’t wait for him to open her door, opening it herself. She stepped out of the car, letting the salty, fishy air surround her. There was a faint cool breeze coming off the water. She closed the door behind her.
The marina was well lit, even at this hour, and she liked the fact that there was no one there except for one man, dressed in gray slacks and a tidy white shirt. He was standing by a large blue and white speedboat and appeared to be waiting for them.
“This way,” Craig said, leading her toward the speedboat. His car beeped behind him as he locked it, causing the goose to sidestep into a deeper part of its puddle.
“Evening, sir,” the man by the boat said, helping them aboard.
“Just the two of us,” Craig said.
“Yes, sir,” the man said. The man removed the mooring ropes, then stepped up by the controls. The motor purred as the boat slid away from the dock.
The wind was cool and noticeable since they sat in the front of the boat. Seroje was glad she had her suit jacket on. She watched ahead over the dark water without really looking as she tried to allow herself to phase out. Water was always soothing to her; however, the movement of the boat was disturbing and not to her liking.
Her mind tried to rethink where he was taking her, but soon it was obvious.
“That’s a big boat,” she said, looking up at the huge yacht they were aiming for. It was well lit up.
“Yes,” Craig said.
The speedboat pulled up along side the yacht where there was a platform with stairs leading up to a deck. A crew member helped her aboard and directed her up the stairs.
“This way,” Craig said as he caught up with her. He led her to an upper deck. They had an unblocked view of the harbor.
Seroje found herself exposed on all four sides, surrounded by the harbor. She had to count boats to ease her discomfort until the table in the middle of the deck grabbed her attention. The table was covered with a white tablecloth and was set for two. There was a candle in the middle of the table providing the only light other than that from the harbor around them.
“You didn’t even get an answer from me, and you had this set up,” she said, not showing her surprise.
“Either way, I was going to dine,” he said. “It was just a matter of whether I was alone or not.”
“That’s what you were texting.”
“You’re very observant,” he said.
“That’s what I do for a living,” she said. “If you want to keep a secret from me then you better not let me see, hear, feel or smell it.”
He held her chair like a gentleman as she sat.
He took his suit coat off, placing it on the back of his chair. The cool breeze felt at the marina wasn’t noticeable here.
“Iced tea,” he said, indicating the drinks on the table as he sat, loosening his tie.
She sipped to see if she wanted to add sugar.
“Your cook or one of your staff is from India,” she said, savoring the tea, which needed no sugar.
“Cook is,” he said with a nod and a smile.
Seroje’s discomfort vanished, and she decided the place was rather peaceful considering they were in the middle of the harbor surrounded by a large city. The location had a surreal feeling.
“Not bad,” she said after ten minutes of silence. “I guess I’m impressed.”
Seroje was impressed that he’d arranged all this in such a short time and before he even knew she’d come. With most guys they’d still be sitting in the hotel trying to chat her up, and she’d be heading for the door as soon as she could.
Her eyes jittered across the horizon, counting boats now for something to do as she adjusted to her surroundings.
“She sits out here most of the time. I rent it out,” Craig said, indicating the yacht. “Too big for me, but the charities I support love having their galas here, which makes it a tough decision to get rid of it.”
A man looking as if he’d just arrived from India appeared with a cart filled with covered plates. He uncovered the plates and rich aromas surrounded them.
“I will take over, thank you Ranveer. That is all we need,” Craig said. The man gave a bow and left. “One of my favorite cooks. Excellent employee. Loves the quiet life and loves to cook.”
Seroje’s nose inhaled the scent of spices, identifying each one.
“I love curry,” she said in a soft voice almost to herself, noting the scent of coconut milk as well, another of her favorites.
Craig began to name the dishes, but she waved her hand to stop him.
“My nose knows,” she said. “A little bit of everything, please.”
He dished a small serving of everything for them both.
Seroje savored each dish, noting the spices used in each. Curry was the most prevalent combination of spices. She ate more than normal, then placed her napkin, folded, onto the plate to signal she was done. Craig laid his napkin over his plate. The dishes sat and no one bothered to collect them once they were finished. Seroje sipped her tea unsure of what to do or say, feeling very full.
Sirens sounded in the distance, then faded. All was quiet except for the low din of a living city. The yacht moved very little in the water, much to Seroje’s relief.
“Parents alive or dead?” Craig said in a soft voice as she watched the horizon.
She noted Craig watching her as if there nothing else around them, and he seemed relaxed.
“I think alive,” Seroje said. “Don’t have much to do with them. They divorced in my teen years. Neither one lives around here.”
“My mother died a few years ago of cancer and my dad is fifty something, now running after girls in Italy,” Craig said.
“He has relatives there,” she said, but she was guessing.
“Why should I tell you anything? You already know it,” he said.
“Sometimes I learn something,” she said, glad of her accurate guess.
The wind changed, carrying fewer smells of the city and more salt and fish. A couple of boats puttered out of their moorings and out toward the end of the harbor, adding diesel fuel to the mix. The sounds of the water hitting the yacht increased, caused by the waves from the passing boats, then lulled. The yacht still moved very little.
“Born here or moved here?”
“Born here, I think,” Seroje said, not really sure of the answer, never having given it much thought. She’d always lived in the area as long as she could remember.
“I was born in Italy, small town on the eastern coast, then promptly transported to here,” Craig said. “I grew up in Annapolis.”
Seroje nodded, but she had no idea what Italy was about. She could think of no questions to ask him, and they sat in a long silence, which she didn’t mind and he didn’t seem to mind either.
“Do you dance?” Craig said, after some time.
“D-do I what?” she said with some apprehension, somewhat startled by the conversation topic.
“Do you like to dance?” he said, rephrasing his question.
“I don’t dance,” she said.
“Do you like music?”
“Yes,” she said.
“What kind?” he said, sipping the last of his iced tea.
“Music. Nice beat. Good music,” she said, unsure of what he meant.
“Jazz? New Age? Contemporary? Bluegrass?” he said, giving her options.
The lights of the city seemed to sparkle as she thought, needing a good ten minutes before she could answer.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I just listen to it.”
He smiled, and they sat in silence again.
This silence was long enough that she felt she could relax. He seemed comfortable with the silence, unlike most people. Craig also seemed quite content to watch her, although she’d call it outright staring.
“Will you be at the hotel tomorrow?” he said after some time.
“No,” she said.
Craig shifted in his seat, but was still watching her.
“Do you have to go to work today?” she said, seeing the faint pink in the sky, wondering how long he intended to sit there, staring.
“Yes,” he said. “Why?”
“It’s almost dawn. You’ll not get much sleep,” she said, glancing at him.
“What about you?”
“I have to be in a park about one pm to paint, so I have the time to nap,” she said, not saying that she didn’t need much sleep.
“You enjoy painting?” he said.
“I don’t know. Never done it.”
She resumed watching the red of dawn streak across the sky, and watching him out of the corner of her eye watching her.
The city woke with the sounds of garbage trucks, causing Seroje to think of a funny line.
“They’re playing our song. How romantic,” Seroje said with a laugh as her eyes kept watching the horizon.
“Four am like clockwork,” he said. “Most days.”
Lights lit up on a distant boat, one of the larger ones. The harbor was coming alive. The noise of the city was increasing as if someone was turning up the volume.
“What time do you get off work tomorrow? I mean today?” he said. “Perhaps we can start earlier.”
“I am done at three,” she said.
“I can pick you up at four if that works. And where do I pick you up at?”
“I’ll be at Quiet Waters Park. There’s a little mobile bistro that operates there not too far from a little turnabout. I’ll be waiting there,” she said.
“I know where the park is,” he said. “May I have your phone number?”
She didn’t answer, and they sat in silence for ten more minutes. That was the one thing she hated doing, giving out her phone number.
“May I take you home now?” Craig said.
Seroje felt relief that he wasn’t going to pursue the phone number issue.
“No, but you can take me back to the parking garage so I can pick up my car,” she said, standing.
“My dear,” he said, standing putting out his hand.
She hesitated, unsure of the gesture.
He took a step closer to her and took her hand. Then he leaned in, giving her a quick kiss on the cheek. He led her back down to the speedboat and helped her in.
Seroje sat at the front of the boat, waiting, while Craig left to find the guy to drive them back to the dock. The speedboat moved more in the water than the yacht, much to her irritation. She preferred the yacht and wished she could have waited there.
Seroje counted the time to distract herself. Craig was gone twenty minutes before returning with the boat driver. The driver stifled a yawn as he guided the speedboat away from the yacht and toward the marina.
Early morning was much cooler than when they’d come. Seroje buttoned up her jacket. Craig stuffed his tie in a pocket and then put his suit coat back on. The driver looked cold in his thin shirt.
The goose was gone from the parking lot, but there were two other cars parked. Craig’s car beeped and flashed, and he opened the door for her.
Seroje’s irritation from the boat subsided since the ride in his car back to hers was in silence. Seroje liked that.
“Good night,” he said, making no other move to touch her.
“Good morning,” she said, glad to be getting back to her car.