“You’ll get your sea legs soon enough,” Dex said, climbing up from inside and standing beside me. He had a book of nautical charts with him. He poked around the area beside the wheel, lifting up a few panels. “Thank fuck Zach was smart enough to put in sonar and GPS.”
I stepped over to him and peered down at the instrument panel beside the wheel, which had a moldy, damp cover on it. “Would we have been screwed otherwise?”
Dex laughed. “I’ll say.”
Well that was encouraging to hear. What did he think would happen if he hadn’t? Would he have just winged it with someone’s boat? Probably.
“Do you want me to do anything?” I asked, hoping he’d say no. I just wanted to sit in the corner of the bench and hide.
He pulled out a key and a cigarette from his pants pocket. He lit the cigarette, took a large puff and stuck the key in the slot, giving it a hard turn. The boat roared to life, a sound much louder than I had expected, and we were vibrating from the motion.
“Dex?” I asked.
“Right,” he said, and pointed up at the deck. “I’ll need you to take in the bumpers once we get moving. And I might need you to help me cast off.” He looked around him at the surrounding boats. “I don’t want to bug anyone here for a sendoff.”
That might be better though, I thought.
He rubbed his chin. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask you to jump aboard while the ship is moving. Last thing I want is for you to take a dip.”
“I’ll just get you to steer.”
“You ride a motorbike, Perry. You can steer this boat in a straight line for a few seconds. I believe in you.” He smacked me hard on the back.
I had my doubts about handling the long ocean beast, but it wasn’t that hard. The way the marina was laid out and the position of the boat among the berths meant all I really had to do was shove the gearshift forward, keep the pace and hold the boat straight. The calm seas made this easy to do and soon Dex had thrown all the lines on deck and had leaped on board the slowly moving ship with ease. He sure was sprightly for someone who wasn’t that tall. The casual, streamlined manner of which he did it in was a surprise too.
I guess I was doing a good enough job that he walked to the bow and back, taking up all the bumpers as he went.
“Thanks, skipper, I’ll take it from here,” he said after he finished, flashing me an appreciative smile and squeezing in beside me. He put his hands on top of mine, which were on top of the wheel.
I stared up at him stupidly, torn between wanting to move my hands and get out of the way or just keep them there.
He eyed my hands underneath his and gave them a quick squeeze. “Unless you want to steer? I don’t want to cause a mutiny on board.”
I quickly took them out from under his. “No, you’re the captain here. Where did you learn to sail anyway?”
He turned forward, eyes searching the horizon of islands. “I went to sailing school when I was young.”
“In New York?”
“Yes. New York has a long island.”
“Ha, I know that. How old were you?”
He glanced at me quickly and frowned. “You really like to know everything, don’t you?”
“Yeah. I do,” I said crossing my arms. I didn’t get why he was such a stickler with details about his life, especially his life in New York. What’s the harm in talking about where he learned to sail or where he learned to play hockey?
The breeze was starting to pick up as we motored to the edge of the small harbor. It ruffled his hair around his eyes so I could only catch glimpses of them.
“I was 11. My father was a sailor and I was on the boat a lot as a child. He thought I should learn how to do it properly, in case I ever inherited the boat one day. So he put me in sailing classes at the yacht club. I did them once a week…for about a year. Mainly little skip boats but sometimes we would do races and gay shit like that.”
He was telling me so much, I almost felt like I should be writing it down. “Why did you stop? Was it because you were playing hockey?”
“No. I was doing both for a while. The years before I was also doing archery, competitive swimming and playing tennis at the same time.”
All very pricey sports to be involved in. His range was impressing me more and more. I always felt with Dex that one day he was going to reveal that he was a CIA agent or something like that. He seemed to have all these skills hidden up his sleeves to the point where nothing was starting to surprise me. Though picturing him doing archery and tennis was pushing it.
“So why did you stop?” I didn’t mean to bug him but he had just tried to avoid the question. “Didn’t you like sailing? You seem like a natural.” And with the wind in his face, his scruffy facial hair, the new cigarette hanging from his lips, and his dominating stance behind the wheel, that statement was all true.
“I loved sailing. I loved hockey too. Tennis was a lot of fun, even though I hated the people I competed with. Rich snobby fuckers. And I was probably the best at swimming. You wouldn’t know it from looking at me now.”
His shoulders were rather on the broad side and he did have a nice V–shape going for him, especially leading down to his hipbones and… (stay on track, Perry) but he wasn’t your typical swimmer type. And he was still avoiding the question. I kept staring at him expectantly.
“My dad left and he was the one with the money. So, no more sports for Dex,” he said in a flat, robot–like voice.
I was shocked at that. I don’t know why, it wasn’t that unusual to have a broken home. I just didn’t see it coming. I felt bad for him, which is probably the last thing he wanted, so I nodded and asked as nonchalantly as possible, “Where did he go?”
Dex shrugged. “Beats the fuck out of me. Who fucking cares where that asshole went? No skin off my back.”
“Did you ever see him again?” I felt like I was pressing my luck a bit.
He took a large inhale of his cigarette. Pause. “No. I didn’t. Didn’t even see him at my mother’s funeral.”
“I’m sorry,” I whispered, wanting to put my hands on top of his. They were starting to go a bit blue in the wind.
He adjusted his shoulders and his stance, keeping his eyes focused straight ahead. “That’s life.”
There was so much more I wanted to talk about. This was the first time I really felt like I knew the real Dex. He had mentioned before that his parents were dead, but I had no idea one of them was metaphorically dead, which was worse in some way. To know they were still out there, but that you were dead to them and visa versa.
He finally turned his head to me. His eyes were dull, as if he had put up a shield to prevent me from learning anything more from them. “You got everything you needed to know?”
I shook my head. I wanted to know when his mother died and how she died. I wanted to know what it was like for him after his dad left. How it felt to give up all the privileges he had grown accustomed to. I wanted to know if he had any siblings. I wanted to know what high school was like for him. I wanted to know how all these things had affected the man who was standing beside me, piloting a boat towards the “Island of Death.”
“Tough tits, then,” he smirked. “Maybe we should do a session with you and your past. You know, find out why you seemed to be the subject of so many family therapy sessions when you were young. Unless your cousins were pulling my leg when they brought that up. Although, judging from the way your parents were talking to me about you, I can see that’s still a major issue in your family.”
My ears perked up and my heart slowed. “What did they say?”
The last thing I wanted was for them to say anything detrimental about me to Dex. Not in that way anyway. That shit was personal.
He enjoyed watching me squirm. “They didn’t say anything. Not really. Just that they worried about you. And they had hoped you had put all this ghost business in the past.”
“I don’t know what they are talking about it,” I said. That was the truth.
“That makes two of us, kiddo. And I didn’t ask either.”
Just then I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. Saved by the bell… or silent mode.
I brought my phone out and looked at it. It was Ada.
– You on the island yet? Bumping uglies yet? –
I sighed and put it back in my pocket. Dex peered at me inquisitively.
“Don’t tell me you’re getting tweets and Facebook messages sent straight to your phone.”
I gave him a haughty look. “No. I am not. And not that it’s any of your business, but I haven’t checked the blog more than once today.”
He looked at the clock on the instrument panel. “More than once? That would probably mean something if it wasn’t early in the day. Anything new from Miss Anonymous?”
“Yeah. How do you know it’s a girl?”
He quickly ashed his cigarette into the wind and said, “I don’t know. I assume. Chicks do that stupid stuff. Jealousy, remember. What did it say?”
I didn’t want to get into it so I gave him the Cliff Notes version. “The usual. I look stupid, don’t have what it takes to be a good host, don’t even belong on the internet.” I left out the part where they said I only got the job because I was sleeping with the cameraman. That was too embarrassing to mention and I didn’t want things to get awkward. Why they would assume that, I don’t know. It’s not like Dex was really ever on any footage. Even Ada was off and running with that assumption. Was I so obvious?
The wind turned sharp as the boat rounded a rocky barrier and we headed in a northeasterly direction, with small waves rising up from nowhere. I shivered, realizing that the clothes I had brought with me probably weren’t going to cut it during this trip.
“There are some jackets below in one of the cabins,” Dex said, noticing.
I nodded and I told him I was going to go down and start reading the books. I didn’t feel like getting into a conversation about “Miss Anonymous” and he obviously was done talking about himself. Only problem was once I made my way across the rolling ship and down the stairs, I started to feel sick and claustrophobic.
Inside was nice enough and did have a nautical and homey feel but it was quite small. The galley was tiny, as were the two back cabins and the living area. The double bed at the front (head) of the boat was larger and cozy. It didn’t seem to matter where I sat, the up and down movement from the waves and the overpowering roar of the engine (mixed with the smell of diesel fuel) gave me the largest headache and tickled my nausea bone, especially when I opened the books on D’Arcy Island.
I did manage to get some reading done before I had to shut them and lie down on the couch. What I read didn’t help to make me feel any better either.
Basically, at the turn of the century or just a bit before, Chinese lepers were gathered off the streets of Victoria, Vancouver and other places in B.C., and shipped to the island, where they were left to fend for themselves with no medical treatment. They had rudimentary housing and the only outside contact was from a supply ship that came every three months to drop off food, water, opium and…coffins. Turns out that when one of them died on the island, it was up to the lepers to bury them. They really were just left on the small island to rot away.