With Romantic Ending
I pulled the throttle back as we approached the edge of the ship channel. The momentum of the boat slowed letting the bow tip forward, cutting lower into the gulf’s waters. My hair fell over my forehead now that the speed-borne wind had stopped holding it back.
I stepped away from the center console of the small boat. Neptune ran from the bow, eager to see what would happen next. The eternally happy labrador retriever never needed coaxing to hop onto the boat as any day spent on the water was a huge success in his eyes.
After lowering the anchor, I did not grab a fishing pole as I might have any other day. Instead, I stepped around the console, out of the shade, and sat down on the small seat built into the front of the center console. I let the early morning sun warm my skin. The salt in the air and heat off the water had kept my body tan, lithe, and calloused over the years. Neptune had followed me, curious about what his owner was doing but happy to be a part of it nonetheless. When I did nothing except sit quietly with my eyes closed, Neptune offered free kisses.
I smiled and guided Neptune off of me while scratching him behind his ears to placate him.
“Sorry boy. I don’t think I’m gonna fish for anything this morning. I don’t even know why we came out here. Probably just a waste of gas.”
I sat there, watching the massive ships sleepily crawl through the ship channel. Their wake tossed me from side to side like a slippery cradle as I closed my eyes to enjoy the rocking. Just like every single morning for the past sixteen years, the line of freighters backed into the gulf, each ship eager to stop in one of the busiest ports in the world where most of the nation’s insatiable hunger for refined oil was fed.
I thought back to this morning when the pre-dawn sky seemed blinding as I awoke, unable to remember a time I had woken up so clearly for absolutely no reason. I sat up and put my feet down on the bare floor. The wood flexed and creaked with age under my weight. I looked around the same empty house I had lived in for years, the walls largely blank since no one stayed long enough to supplement my own meager style. Chloe certainly hadn’t.
Before I had flicked on the light next to the bed, I could make out the blonde outline of Neptune on his own bed in the corner, his head lifting at the movement. When the light flicked on, Neptune squinted slightly before he adjusted to the light and looked at his beloved owner, ready for anything. That’s one of the things that I loved most about dogs. They were never really surprised, and they never surprised me. This is most likely why my home never permanently expanded beyond myself and a few boisterous pups, of which there had been many over the years.
Each dog had given me companionship and conversation, even if the conversations were one-sided. I used to spend hours talking with my old german shepherd, Merc, mostly because Merc was more than happy to lie on the couch next to me as I blathered on and on about the events of the day or how the politicians would kill us all eventually.
But Neptune was special from day one, the day I had picked him up from my friend’s house. The young litter of mutts bounced inside their pen. Mania ensued as I approached them, their blonde and black and chocolate butts wiggled with puppy ferocity. And as I reached in, listening to my friend talk about the various puppies and any traits they might have exuded in their first few weeks of life, I noticed one blonde beauty who had not run to brush his head against my fingers. Instead, he was pulling on the large bowl of water, tugging it until it slid across the wooden porch. I watched this distracted puppy as he eventually tipped the bowl over and rolled in the water where it settled in small pools on the wood. The dog just laid there, wet and perfectly happy.
I smiled and took Neptune home immediately. His affinity for water only grew, and he was the only dog I ever owned who loved going out on the boat. He certainly helped entertain the more inexperienced fishing groups that would charter me and my boat. Neptune offered such a good customer experience that I eventually rebranded my charter as Neptune’s Waters.
But no one was scheduled today. Disposable income had dropped over the past year as the economy tanked and the threat of war was stoked by the politics of the decade. I got by with a part-time job in a distribution warehouse. Sometimes dinner consisted of nothing but fish that I had caught during the week and maybe a potato.
I hated just getting by. I didn’t want to make tons of money or anything. I just wanted to do something that made a difference for people. I don’t know if everyone feels like they have some grand purpose and it’s just human nature, but I really believed I could be a part of something that would be important and have real stakes.
Even the charters were usually special days for the groups who came aboard, and I got to be a part of their memories forever. But now, all I had was a forklift license and an empty house, especially after Chloe left with the few things she had brought with her during the short time we lived together (probably should have been a sign).
So this morning, I could only assume that my body had woken up believing I was late for a charter or the warehouse. I was still unsettled throughout the morning. A cup of coffee didn’t stabilize me as it usually did.
With nothing on the agenda for the day, I felt better driving to the dock where the boat was housed. The sun barely peeked over the horizon as I filled the cooler with ice, drinks, and more than a few snacks and sandwiches. I wasn’t even sure how long I would be out, but it never hurt to be prepared for anything.
“Tuna, what do you think we’re doing out here?”
Neptune’s eyes grew big as he heard the sound of his name. He took the opportunity to nuzzle his broad head rather forcefully into the crook of my elbow so that he was even better positioned for head scratches.
“I just had to get outta that house this morning, you know? I feel better out here. Hell,” I looked around and stood up, Neptune alert to my next move, “maybe I will do some fishing.”
A ROMANTIC ENDING
I opened the tackle box, surveying the options before my impulse died down and I became overwhelmed by the choices in front of me. Of course, that had always been my problem. Too many choices. It was simple to live life with a good pup and a sturdy boat, but simplicity can only keep you afloat. It won’t raise you up to new heights. It doesn’t bring a fresh perspective to help improve your own.
Being with Chloe was the closest I ever came to wanting more for myself and another person. In the oftentimes brief but wonderful moments in our relationship, we found something in each other that made the world look brighter and full of possibilities. But the other moments drove us apart and made everything look darker because of it.
When I was stressed, as I often was with the uncertainty of my income, I was unable to really connect with anyone, let alone accept help in unburdening myself. Chloe would get rightfully frustrated because not only would I push her away, but I wasn’t able to help her with her own worries.
In the final months of our relationship, I tried desperately to save it, not by improving myself, but by inviting her to move in. I know that I couldn’t have been easy to live with. And when she arrived with a few boxes of clothes and an active lease on her own apartment, I should have known that I hadn’t done enough and I didn’t deserve to be with such a beautiful person.
I closed the tackle box without retrieving anything and sat at the console.
“But there’s plenty of fish out there, isn’t there Tuna?” Neptune walked in front of my feet and licked my knee so that I would rub his head. “Doesn’t mean I always have to be fishing. I’ll just wait for the next one and maybe she’ll be the one I went through all this shit for.”
It’s a shame because I couldn’t imagine anyone more beautiful than Chloe walking into my life. Her long, black hair was constantly between my fingers as we laid on the couch watching tv or a baseball game. The soft touch of her fingers on my leathery chest gave me goosebumps every time. Her pillowy lips danced with mine in such passion that just a memory could give me butterflies.
She wasn’t perfect, I knew that. She would snore when she went into a deep sleep, usually after a night of drinking. It was often loud enough to wake me up from my own alcohol-induced slumber. She was awful with money. She never considered a budget as a necessary tool. It was shocking to me as a small business owner who meticulously tracked and expensed items for every charter. But somehow she never went broke or spent money that wasn’t her own.
Our fight last week was the worst day of my life. I was in a particularly foul mood because I needed to visit my parents soon. My father had fallen and broken his leg. In his advancing age, he joked with my mother and said, “If I were a horse, you would’ve shot me already.” I hadn’t seen them in over a year and knew it was overdue. My mother surreptitiously commanded that I come to see them, but I couldn’t find an affordable flight to Georgia. I could make the long drive, but then I would lose shifts and have to cancel the few charters I had booked.
Chloe had been trying to help by searching for flights on her own, but every time she offered a suggestion, I got more and more aggressive denying her help. I couldn’t tell her that I was ashamed by how low my bank account had gotten in these lean times and that the flights she recommended were simply too expensive. I let my shame lash out at her and demanded that she leave me alone.
“I give up,” she said, her hands closing her laptop. She stood up, walked over to the kitchen counter, and hastily put the computer into her bag.
“Thanks, but I don’t need your help,” I said.
“Then why the fuck am I here?” She turned around from the counter and stared at me.
I looked up, my temper rising too, “I don’t know.”
“That’s right. You don’t know, and I’m done waiting for you to learn how adults actually function.”
“Like you can lecture me on how adults live! I’ve seen you count quarters in a grocery store aisle so that you could buy butter and a loaf of bread.”
“Because I was out of money, asshole!” she fumed.
“But you weren’t out of money until two days before when you were buying a round of drinks for everyone at the bar because it was payday!” I shouted.
“And did I ask you for help to pay? No, I didn’t!”
“And did I ask you for help finding flights? No, I didn’t!” I retorted.
“Well, I’m done trying to help you and fighting you every inch of the way,” she said, marching into the bedroom.
I heard her taking clothes and putting them into the couple of cardboard boxes she had arrived with five weeks earlier which never got thrown away. Probably another bad sign at the start.
Most of the week, I felt awful. I called my mother and told her I would try to be there next month. She asked about Chloe. I didn’t feel like talking about it and said everything was fine.
But everything wasn’t fine. All I could think about was her and everything she had brought into my life, good and bad. She taught me to let go and enjoy each moment. Sure as everything was tough today, it will be tough again tomorrow. But when you’re with someone you love, you live with the stresses like a house that has creaky floors. It might be annoying when you really focus on each creak, but it only shows that the house has lived for decades and is still there.
I knew Chloe’s every creak as well as she knew mine. I looked across the water into the open gulf thinking about how big the world is but how inhospitable most of it is for humans to survive. Living is hard enough, but living alone was something I no longer wanted to endure. I wanted to live with someone I love.
I rushed to grab my phone in the cup holder of the console, unlocking it to find Chloe’s number. I tapped it and frantically put the phone to my ear. It was dead silent. I waited for the phone to connect the call but after a few seconds, I heard three beeps and looked at the screen. Call failed.
Signal was always spotty in the channel. I turned on the motor and got the boat in position to pull up the anchor. Before I could get it out of the water, my radio chirped, “Hey Danny, you out there?”
Not expecting Antonio’s voice, I let go of the rope and walked back to the console.
“Yea, Antonio. I’m out here.”
“Where are you?” he asked.
“I’m on the south jetty by the boat cut. I’m not fishing. About to head back to the dock.”
There was a slight pause.
“No, don’t. Stay there.”
“Just stay there. We need to bring you something.”
“Seriously, Antonio. I’m heading back. I need to take care of something,” I said, my brow beginning to sweat as the morning sun radiated furiously.
“Danny, just stay. It won’t take long. We’ll be there in five minutes.”
I hesitated. Whatever was happening had certainly compelled my curiosity. And, my determination to see Chloe would still be there in five minutes.
“Ok, I’ll wait.”
“See you in five.”
The radio was silent as I sat at the console, Neptune walking all corners of the boat, confused since he thought I was pulling up the anchor and we were moving soon.
After a few minutes, I spotted Antonio’s boat as it crossed the channel heading towards me. When he finally got close enough, I saw that he wasn’t alone. Long, dark hair flew behind the other passenger as he sped forward. My heart fluttered. They slowed down once they were within a football field of my boat. They lazily drifted towards me, and I saw Chloe with a smile on her face. She shouted across the dozen feet between them, “I thought you might be out here when you weren’t at home.”
“Funny, I was about to drive this boat right up to your door if I had to.”
Antonio masterfully lined the boats against each other, just a line of bumpers separating the two vessels. He wore a pleased smile on his face. Antonio and I were dock neighbors and always shared friendly words and more than a few beers after a long day out on the water. He had been performing maintenance on his boat when Chloe had walked onto the dock looking for me that morning.
He guided her across the side of his boat so that I could carry her safely into mine. It felt good to have her in my arms again. With her feet planted on my boat, she thanked Antonio, and we watched as he motored back across the channel.
Neptune quickly made sure that Chloe paid him an adequate welcome with many head pats and belly rubs. An awkward silence stood between us when the sound of Antonio’s motor couldn’t be heard anymore. She stopped petting Neptune and broke the silence.
“I just wanted to come out and—“
“I’m sorry,” I burst.
She smiled, her brown eyes glittering with the morning light.
“Yea, I was gonna say I was sorry.”
“No, I’m sorry. I know you were trying to help, and I just need to be better at letting you help me.” My eyes began to water just a touch.
“Me too, babe. We want to help each other and suck at letting ourselves be helped.” She wrapped her arms around me and hugged me tightly, the heat of her blushing cheek transferred into my neck, where I would keep her forever if I could.
“I love you so much,” I mumbled into her neck. She raised her eyes to meet mine.
“I love you, too.”
Our lips met in a soft embrace as I pulled her body even closer into my own until there wasn’t an ounce of air between us. We were together, just a pair ready to fight for one another.
We broke apart and sat at the console, her head resting on my shoulder, looking over the shimmering water as it crested and broke over the large rocks that formed the jetty separating the safety of the channel from the open waters of the gulf.