The warm embrace that no one knows

He said he’d pick her up and was his punctual self. What she didn’t expect was his mode of transportation, a brand new superbike.

“Nice ride. Not something I’d expect you to have, though.” He smiled at the comment.

“Thanks. I’m still getting used to it myself,” he admitted and then produced a second helmet for her.

“I hope you know what you’re doing, dude,” the nervous laugh gave her away and made him grin wider.

“Everyone keeps telling me that!”

– – –

While they were on the road, she kept wondering if he could hear her heart pounding, feeling alive and glad to see him again. She felt the wind on her face, partly hidden by his warm back. The journey was no more than 15 minutes and she wished it could go on for much longer.

– – –

“I didn’t say it earlier, but you look really good with your hair like that.  It suits you.”

“Thanks, but I’m actually in the phase where I’m starting to miss wearing it long.”

“Try it out for a while lah. I really like it,” he looked like he wanted to say something else, but stopped himself.

She forced her eyes to look at the menu instead of his face, but not seeing any words written on the piece of laminated cardboard she was holding and stuck to her usual order. Which led her back to the problem of not looking at his face.

“Is there someone joining us?” he asked.

“No, why do you think that?”

“You’ve been staring at the door for a while now.” She smiled and apologised.

He must have sensed her uneasiness and started telling her about his latest sea adventure, a month of patrol duty.

“I’ve made the ship 90 per cent rust-free,” he said proudly. She could only imagine the ‘happy hour’ sessions his crew have had.

“The sailors must be really happy that you’re on leave for a week.”

His laughing face slowly dissolved the tension she felt. “Almost like old times,” she thought.

– – –

Another bike ride and they were at the marina. She thought they were headed for his sailboat, but instead he led her to a bench facing the pontoons.

“I’m selling the boat.”

Her eyes went wide and searched his face, unable to believe what she had just heard. He sat and tugged at her sleeve to do the same.

“I know that I was wrong for wanting to start something with you, not like that,” he spoke softly, eyes looking ahead at the nearby boats.

“After your last letter, I realised that I had hurt you and I’m really sorry. I’m also grateful that you kept pushing me away, even when I felt that you didn’t want to.”

Tears. They came unbidden as always.

“You were an asshole, I’d give you that.” Her shaky laugh was at odds with the emotion he had heard in her voice.

“But what does it have to do with The Duchess?”

He turned to her then, a sad smile.

“Too many memories.”

They had competed in three races on the boat and had won twice. He said she was his lucky charm. Oh how she fell, swift and hard. As fast as she had pulled away, when he told her the truth. She left the team soon after, and it has been almost a year since she last sailed on any boat.

– – –

The rest of the afternoon was a blur to her. She remembered the ride home but not much of the details. The only clear memory was walking away from him without turning back. She knew then that she will be fine. Eventually.

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