AUTHOR'S NOTE – This excerpt is from the same story that "Airport" is taken from. Sequentially, this one happens before "Airport" so it's best to read this one first. The original story was rubbish, but I was really pleased with this scene. I think it works well on it's own. All comments and feedback are appreciated and welcomed!
Eddie Radcliffe stands knee-deep in the warm ocean and curls his toes into the sand. The sun has gone for the day, but the beach isn't completely dark. A full moon glows golden-white, its light reflected and refracted a thousand times against the rippling water. Eddie tells himself he should be sleeping; he has an early flight tomorrow. No matter that he knows what he should do, he truly can't sleep. This is his last night in Bermuda, and he doesn't want to let a moment pass without savouring it Tomorrow he has to return to Canada, to winter and reality. When he gets there, he won't be met with a hundred welcomes; he'll face yet more goodbyes. He feels as though he must say farewell far too often, for too many reasons.
He doesn't like this feeling of loss he gets when he has to leave. Each time he comes to this island he grows to cherish it more, and each time he has to return to Canada he finds it more difficult. He wants to make a promise to the island that he will come back to it, wants to know if, in return, it will promise to remain unchanged in his absence. He knows he will return, but he doesn't know when, so he doesn't promise anything. He allows himself an ironic smile at the metaphor he's created, almost as if the island is a living person. He wonders if his island knows how to be jealous. Would it mind if he returned some day with a friend?
He has a beautiful daydream that some day he will bring Laurie to this place. He wants his best friend to see this island hideaway of his, where summer lasts all year. He imagines them riding home from town on his rented motorcycle. He imagines the rush of wind and how it would feel to have Laurie's arms secure around him and her small body pressed against his back. In this dream he can almost hear her laughter over the sound of the motorcycle's engine. When they came home from town, they would eat a picnic on the beach. They would walk along the sand for at least a mile, and then they would play together in the ocean. In the late afternoon, they would lie on the beach in the warm sand. Maybe they would make love. He imagines the scent of sea and sand that would cling to her hair, and he imagines the salty taste of kissing her warm, smooth skin. He silently curses his mind for what it has done to his body with this fantasy. He plunges forward and splashes into the ocean. He lets the water embrace him, pull him away from the shore. He wants the tide to wash away the dream because he knows that's all it is; a castle in the clouds. Laurie will never love him the way he wants her to. She is his best friend and they have been lovers in the past, but he does not believe that she will ever love him in the full and unqualified way that a wife cares for a husband.
He swims until he's tired, and then he wades back to shore. He lies in the wet sand with his feet still in the water, and he stares up at the black expanse that is scattered with brilliant stars. A Canadian sky has never looked this way. Gazing at the night sky over Bermuda, he does not wonder why so many people believe in Heaven. He might be admiring the very canopy over God's front door. It saddens him when he realizes he doesn't know when he'll ever see this view of the sky again.
He feels as if he is giving up Paradise.
Some day, he tells himself, he'll come back here to stay. He promises himself that when his final hour comes he will be here in this place he loves more than home, and he will fall asleep for the last time with the sound of the waves in his ears and the soft breath of the sea air touching his body. He wants to be laid to rest here, far away from Canada, far from the winter and the cold, and far from all the reminders of all his private pain. He has never asked for more than simple happiness. Now, with half a lifetime spent he thinks he'll never have it, but at least he can have peace. Maybe he will end his life in solitude. He resigns himself to that because he really can't do anything about it, but he tells himself even if he is alone at the end he will be calm and still. He will be here, and when he is here he is far away from the discord and the trouble and the things that hurt him. Here, it's easy to forget.
He looks at the stars for a long time. The tide is rising and Eddie knows he's going to have to move soon. He can feel the water rising slowly, washing over his feet and ankles. He wonders if he would drift out to sea if he lay here long enough.
"Edward, aren't you cold?"
Eddie turns his head to look in the direction from which he's heard the unexpected voice. In the white moonlight he sees a black woman in a pale dress. She's holding her sandals in her hand. The woman is in her early forties, and Eddie thinks she is exotically beautiful with her skin the color of milk chocolate and her eyes and hair as black as Cape Breton coal. Her name is Camellia, and she is his closest neighbour here. Camellia was born in Bermuda. She once told Eddie that she has never left the island. He remembers telling her that if he'd been born here, he'd never leave, either. He likes Camellia. They've talked a lot about many things, and they've gotten to know each other well.
"I'm all right," he says. He smiles. "Cold is a subjective term, you know."
Camellia laughs. Her laughter is warm and rich and full. She says, "You amuse me, Edward. You know I'm going to miss you when you go away, don't you?"
Eddie is amused by Camellia's insistence upon calling him by his whole name. He allows very few people to call him Edward. He doesn't like the formality of it. Somehow, though, coming from Camellia the adherence to decorum seems right.
"I know, Camellia," he says. "I'll miss you, too."
"Will you?" she says. She drops her shoes, and then she lies next to him on the sand. "You're going home. You're going back to the things you love."
"Canada isn't that lovely."
"What about your lady friend?"
"Laurie? I'm not going back to Canada because of her. I'm going back because I have to," Eddie says. "If she would come here and stay with me, I'd never leave the island again."
"That sounds to me like you're going back to Canada because of her," says Camellia. "I know you have obligations there, but they don't keep you in that place. She does."
Eddie sighs. "I don't know why. She doesn't love me. Sometimes I think I'm wasting my time."
"You live in hope," Camellia says.
"It's a vain hope."
"If you know that, why do you hang onto it? Why do you let yourself be so lonely? There are people who would love you, if you'd only let them."
Eddie is suddenly aware of how close he and Camellia are to each other. They are practically touching. He can feel the heat of her body radiating against his side. In the darkness, Camellia reaches for his hand. She intertwines her strong brown fingers with his pale ones. Eddie finds himself fascinated by the contrast.
"Is it really like that?" he says. "Do you have to choose to let people love you? I always thought people could love each other freely."
"That's contradictory," says Camellia. "Love always has a price, Edward. I think you've been paying for far too long."
"Maybe," he says.
"You need to decide the value of all this waiting. Some day, you'll realize you can't wait forever."
Eddie is quiet. Camellia lets go his hand, and almost simultaneously, the two of them turn onto their sides so they are facing each other. Eddie gazes into the fathomless depths of Camellia's dark eyes and tries to read what she is thinking. Her expression is frank and candid. She lifts her hand and gently strokes his cheek with her fingertips.
He lets her caress him. He likes the feeling of her rough fingers on his face. Camellia's hands are so different from Laurie's. Camellia's hands are sure, confident and experienced. Camellia is strong, and Eddie is powerfully attracted to her strength. He doesn't stop her when she lets her fingers trail away from his face to explore other parts of him. Maybe Camellia is right. Maybe it's time to stop waiting, stop hoping for something he can never have. He could let himself be loved by someone like Camellia and he could stay here, safe and protected and warm on his beloved island.
Camellia slides one of her arms around him, and lets him draw her in. Their first kiss is tentative. Camellia laughs with her mouth nearly touching his. She tells him that he tastes salty, and he laughs too. Their second kiss is slower, more intense. On the surface of his mind, Eddie tells himself he enjoys it, but deep down he realizes it is really empty.
"I'm sorry," he whispers, when they finally pull away.
"Why are you sorry?"
"I…I can't do this, Camellia. It's wrong."
Camellia's beautiful face creases with a frown of perplexity. "What's wrong with it?"
He can't look into her eyes. "I don't love you."
"Oh," Camellia says.
"Me too," says Camellia. She sits up, and she brushes sand from her dress.
Eddie props himself on one elbow, and finally meets Camellia's eyes again. She is gazing at him and her face is totally inscrutable. Eddie says, "I love Laurie. I don't know if she'll ever love me, but I'll wait for her forever if I have to."
"Somehow I knew you would say that," Camellia says softly. "Please don't go away thinking I'm hurt or angry with you, Edward. I'm not. I think I knew you wouldn't…wouldn't love me."
"I'm sorry. It didn't feel right."
"I hope your Canadian lady realizes what a rare treasure you are."
"I don't want her to think I'm a rare treasure. I just want her to love me because I'm me," he says. "Do you think that's too much to ask of someone?"
"No. It's what everyone asks for," Camellia says. She reaches out and traces his jawline with her fingertip. "Have a safe trip home tomorrow, Edward. I hope you'll come back to Bermuda one day."
"I will," he says.
Camellia smiles, and Eddie can't help thinking it's a wistful smile. Camellia gets to her feet. She turns and slowly walks up the beach. Eddie watches her until she disappears into the shadows and he cannot see her any more. He rolls onto his back and gazes up at the sky again. When the tide starts to get too high, he'll move farther up the beach, but he's not going to go inside. He's going to lie awake and look at the Bermuda sky all night.