"Hey!" Will called. The girl's hair flew upwards in a sudden gust, and Will could see the back of her neck shine milky white in the moonlight.
She looks so vulnerable.
He was close now. With one final burst, he came up behind her, his heart pounding wildly, the thunder in his ears drowning the crash of waves around him.
Without thinking, Will reached his arm around her waist and pulled her backwards. He heard her grunt as the wind was knocked from her. She was heavier than he had imagined—why had he thought she would be light?—and when her feet hit the wooden deck, Will had to struggle to stay upright. As he regained his balance, the clouds shifted overhead, and he noticed she had turned to face him. In the soft light, her face was the same creamy white as the back of her neck. She looked so soft…
But not vulnerable, Will realized.
Her face was a picture of rage. Her dark eyes were slanted down, brow furrowed, her lips drawn into a tight line. Seeing her, Will regained his senses and surprised himself by feeling angry.
"Are you crazy?" he meant to ask, but she beat him to it.
"What the fuck are you doing?" she cried. Will recognized with a pang of guilt that it was not an angry cry.
No, he thought, it was one of terror.
She stood in front of him, breathing hard, eyes unsearchable in the spray of moonlight.
But her voice had given her away.
Will realized how he must have looked—the ship was deserted, it was the dead of night, he had come up behind her and…
He tried to play it cool.
"B-but you were going to jump," he stammered.
And then, "Weren't you?"
There was a pause. Will locked his eyes on hers and felt the pounding return to his ears.
This is assault. I've just assaulted her, and…
He hoped no one had seen. He hadn't heard any other voices, but he had screamed—loudly. He had the sudden urge to turn and look behind him, to make sure they were alone, but he couldn't pull his eyes away from hers. Her
eyes held him, and Will couldn't help but think, "Vulnerable? Is that really what I thought before?" He wanted desperately to break away from her intense gaze.
Will knew at any second she would call for help, knew that it was only a matter of minutes before he was handed over to security and the SS Neptune was forced to turn around, back to the shore where the trouble would really begin.
Even Rob couldn't help him then.
But she surprised him with a laugh.
"I wasn't going to jump. This isn't Titanic, you know." Said between laughs.
The tension broke like a crashing wave, and in the aftermath, Will could feel the embarrassment pool inside him, creeping up and reddening his face.
He didn't care.
In that moment, he felt only an overwhelming sense of relief.
"Well, it sure looked like you were about to jump," he said. He suddenly felt the need to defend himself. He didn't like the way she laughed at him, didn't like that she wouldn't stop laughing. Subconsciously, he straightened, squaring his shoulders.
"You can't just go around scaring people like that," he added, matter-of-factly.
She stopped laughing. Her gaze was reproachful. But she wasn't laughing. Will relaxed a little.
"Right," she said aloud, and to Will, her eyes said, "Says the guy who just crept up on me and yanked me backwards."
Will knew it was foolish, but he couldn't shake the feeling that she somehow looked down on him. He didn't like feeling stupid.
"What were you doing up there, anyway?" He asked. He had meant it to sound tough, but the words came out almost conciliatory. His tone had been softened by a sudden realization.
She was alone.
In the stillness before she answered, Will's embarrassment was replaced with a burning curiosity.
Where was her husband?
"I was just looking," she said, and for the first time she turned from him, back to the white-and-black expanse now barely visible in the moonlight.
"Looking," Will repeated in a low voice. She made no response. Will watched as she re-approached the railing; she clasped the white bars in her equally-white hands. He studied her for a moment, but there wasn't much to see. Her neck was now hidden behind a curtain of black hair. His eyes drifted away from her to the still waters ahead. The moonlight, he realized, made everything black and white: the water, her skin, her hair, and
He didn't know for sure.
She made no further response, and Will wondered if that were it.
It's all over.
Now time for bed.
But something—he didn't know what—seemed to pull him to her, much as a wave is pulled by the moon. He came up behind her, slowly this time, walking so that each footstep sent a clear message to the woman in front of him.
I'm coming, they said, don't be surprised.
An unnecessary warning, perhaps.
Will felt sure that she would not be taken off guard again—not by him, anyway. Even from behind, she exuded an air of confidence that left him marveling. Her shoulders were slim, but squared, and the frilled skirt that fell to her knees covered a body as straight and rigid as a wooden ruler.
And her laugh.
It echoed in the back of Will's mind, filling him with a mixture of shame and intense attraction. This, he knew with sudden clarity, is a woman who knows herself.
A woman who is on top of things.
But where was her husband?
She turned when Will came up to her right. He noted that their faces weren't even an arm's length apart. Up close, he saw that her features were clearly defined.
No, he thought, that wasn't the right word.
She looked etched.
Her nose was long, but slender, and rested high over thin lips and a long, pointed jaw. He wanted to look into her eyes, but she was turned at an angle, and her face was cast in shadow.
Too dark to see.
But she was smiling.
"It's so nice out here," she said, and the words sounded strangely calm.
Will grinned in response, and he wasn't just being polite. Something about the sincerity in her voice made him feel alive.
"Yeah," he said, "If you say so."
In all honesty, he hadn't thought about it once. He hadn't thought about it during the long car ride from Atlanta down to Savannah. He hadn't thought about it when they had boarded the ship, Rob and Sandra leading the way and Will following behind, watching the way Rob would squeeze Sandra's hand in his own every few seconds. And he certainly hadn't thought about it during supper, when he had repeatedly refused Rob's offers to dine together and had instead gone to the bar, where he had sat alone across from a chatty, middle-aged bartender.
If anyone had asked him, Will would have said he thought it was the total opposite of nice. Looking out over the black-and-white scenery that surrounded him, he thought of a better word to describe how he felt about it.
As if he were seeing the world through an old, colorless television in a place where he could do nothing but observe, could do nothing to make his presence felt. In the silence of a second, Will imagined but did not imagine a single image: he knelt before a black-and-white television, his body tense and expanding, as if all the energy inside him were rushing for an exit. The tension locked his legs and pushed his knees into the ground, making them raw; he pounded at the TV and pleaded to be let in, but the people who lived inside could not hear, of course they could not hear, and wasn't that just the problem? His hands, his wild beatings, they were powerless, he was powerless; he could only kneel in front of these people who would not and could not recognize him, while the skin on his knees was rubbed away by the hard floor beneath him.
And if he stood up?
His knees would be nothing but white light, the color of untouched copy paper, bathed in the glow of the television.
Of course, Will did not know this. He only felt it, without recognition.
And from somewhere, more distant than his imagination…
"I do," the woman said, and now she was looking not at Will but down at her hands. Will followed her gaze, an odd feeling washing through him.
Something was wrong.
But he couldn't place what it was.
Her bone-white skin, pulled tight over her long fingers?
Piano fingers, Will thought.
And across one, a thin snake of a scar.
Right, Will noticed, where her ring should be.
She isn't wearing a ring.
The thought struck Will like a hammer, and in the moment before she spoke again, the words
replayed in Will's mind.
He thought stupidly, "Do you?"