Blood red clouds ripple across the horizon. Sitting at a round table with umbrella tassels dancing in the coastal breeze above her, Katherine fingers the stem of her cocktail glass and watches the waves break over the reef. Eleven more hours, that’s all she has left. In the morning, a nine o’clock island hopper will first shuttle her to Miami, where she will then catch a non-stop to Austin. By this time tomorrow night, God willing, she plans to pull the plug on the phone, climb into her own bed, and sleep until she can’t sleep any more.
She raises the glass and takes a sip of the martini, gritting her teeth. When she came out from the hotel lounge, she told the cute brown-skinned boy standing behind the bamboo tiki bar (Pablo or Roberto, or something like that) to make it a dirty vodka martini with double the vodka. “Throw in a couple onions, too, while you’re at it,” she told him.
On the beach, a couple walks barefoot, each holding a pair of sandals in their hands, their conversation buried under the waves and the Bob Marley tune flowing from the bar’s speakers. Halfway across the beach, they stop. The man dips his head down, and she wraps her arms around his neck. Katherine quickly takes another sip and notices how easy the second one slides down.
Looking to the hotel, she searches out the windows and spots the second one from the top left. The curtains are open, but the lights are out. Either the newlyweds are still down in the lounge, dancing away to the shuffling beat of Reggae, or they’re making love as the night slowly covers the sky under a blanket of darkness.
Yesterday, her daughter showed off the room.
“Just look at that view,” Tara said. “Isn’t it great?”
Katherine affected the best smile she could.
“Just think, by this time tomorrow night I’ll be Mrs. Chad Hamilton.”
Katherine bit her lip, nodded once and then quickly hugged her daughter.
“I’m happy for you,” she whispered. “I really am.”
Thinking about it now, she knows she lied, but what else could she do? Tara had already made things perfectly clear three months ago.
Out on the water, a small craft slowly makes its way across the bay, the running lights bobbing up and down.
All things considered, beyond the cost of everyone flying out to the Caribbean, the wedding had been simple. No traditional wedding march, no special music, and definitely no communion. Instead of a big bash, they could all assemble in the lounge for some drinks and dancing, a small gathering with only her family in attendance. Of course, that meant the whole family, which was why Katherine decided to take her drinking out to the beach.
She is finishing off the martini when a dark figure steps off the stone walkway and approaches. Even before he stops at her table, she feels her stomach tighten.
“I thought you were going to your room,” he says.
Katherine sets the glass down, looks at her watch. “I was just about to head on up.”
“Mind if I sit down?”
She lets the ocean’s hiss interrupt them, hoping that in the long, uncomfortable moment he’ll get the message and move on. He doesn’t. Finally, she shrugs.
“This won’t take long,” he says, slumping into the chair.
Her eyes search out the running lights of the boat on the bay. What she wouldn’t give to be there, or anywhere, right now.
“I just wanted to thank you,” he says. “For… you know… being courteous with Caroline here.”
She pauses to consider the depth of his comment; or rather, the shallowness of it.
“Did you expect me to behave differently at our daughter’s wedding?”
He shakes his head. “No, I guess not.”
Maybe not you, she thinks.
“I wouldn’t even dream of taking anything away from Tara,” she says. “This is her night.”
He nods, but says nothing. She watches as he leans against the table. He looks down, rubs his hands. Katherine shakes her head and looks out across the bay.
“What do you think about Chad?”
The sudden shift catches her a little off guard.
“I never asked you before,” he says. “I’m curious. What do you think about our new son-in-law?”
Her eyes search out that fourth-floor window again, remembering the first time Tara brought Chad home to meet her. The visit was discomforting at best. His scruffy hair and pierced ears she could handle; however, the look in his eyes and the just-for-the-moment attitude he carried were unnerving.
“All I want is for Tara to be happy.”
Dan nods. “Me too.” He scratches an arm then and makes up an excuse to exit, something about needing to check with the hotel management on a lost pair of sunglasses. He stands to leave. “Thanks again.”
Watching him walk away, even though twenty-four years have passed between them, Katherine is still surprised by the all-too familiar knot in her stomach, the spear of pain that stabs at her heart.
As Dan clears the beach and takes the stone path back to the hotel, she notices the bartender approach. Looking at the tag on his shirt, she now sees his name is Justin, a far cry from Pablo or Roberto. The deep tan and the straight black hair obviously threw her off.
He points at the glass.
“Would you like another?”
“Yes, please.” She affects her best smile. “I’m celebrating. My daughter just got married.”
He nods and smiles. “Ah yes, congratulations. You must be happy.”
She doesn’t answer that, but instead looks out to the ocean. The boat has been swallowed up by the darkness and the sea.
A few minutes later, Justin returns with her second martini. She looks up one last time toward the fourth floor window. Then, she raises the glass.
“May you never know.”