Wish You Were Here: A Novel: Chapter 26

Acceptance

I’m not sure how many hours or days had gone by before I looked up at a crowd of people standing around my bed. There was Helen, Chucky, Mom, Dad, and Jack from the restaurant, which was bizarre.

Helen spoke first. “Hey you.” She smiled kindly.

Someone had opened the blinds. I was squinting up at them through the bright light flooding the room.

“Hi.”

I noticed they were all wearing the same sympathetic smile. Chucky said, “I got you Cap’n Crunch, if you want a bowl?”

“Why are you all here?”

“You’ve been asleep for two days, Charlotte. You haven’t even peed,” Helen said.

I looked at my mom, whose head was cocked to the side.

“I had jet lag,” I explained.

My dad leaned over and kissed my cheek. “You need a shower, kid.”

Jack smiled wide. “Hi, Charlotte. The restaurant will still have you back if you need to get your mind off things and make some money.”

“Thank you, Jack, but I don’t need to work and I think I want a dog,” I said, rubbing my eyes.

My mother’s mouth opened into an O shape.

“A shelter dog. Like a medium-sized dog that likes the water. I have a boat now. I think I’m gonna live on my boat with my dog.”

Everyone in the room looked around at each other in a panic.

My mother finally spoke. “Charlotte . . . you’ve been through a lot . . .”

“You don’t like dogs,” Chucky said.

“Oh yeah, and I’m a millionaire now.” The room went quiet again. “Chucky, I do like dogs. I like dogs and cats, and I want a dog, maybe like a Lab type that would like to go sailing with me.”

“You’re getting ahead of yourself,” my dad said.

I sat up against the headboard. “I’m not. I’m doing what I want. I have money and a boat and I’m going to do what I want.” I shrugged.

“It’s just not the right time to be making decisions like this, Charlotte,” my father said, his eyebrows pinched together in pity and distress.

“You guys,” I stressed, “I just spent over a month watching someone who knew he was dying make the most out of the shitty life he was given. I couldn’t live alone for one day before this happened. I didn’t have an identity. I didn’t even know what I liked until I made up a story about it and told Adam, just to make him feel better. I realized I was missing out on all the beauty in this world because I had my head so far up my own ass.”

“Charlotte,” my father chided.

“You know what he did?” I said. “He made it come true. He made everything I want come true, and if you think I’m going to go back to being the fickle, shallow person I was before, you’re wrong. I’m quitting cosmetology school forever. I sucked at doing hair and you know that, Mom.” She looked away, a sign of admission. “Just another thing I was preparing myself to fail at because I didn’t really want to do it to begin with. Every job and man I’ve come across I’ve basically found a way to sabotage. I’ve made excuses, but I’m done with all that now.”

I got up in my sweats and started moving around the room, grabbing things while everyone watched me in shock. In the bathroom, I changed, brushed my hair and teeth, then walked out, past the silent crowd, and reached for a granola bar from the cabinet.

“I’m going down to check on my boat. You’re all welcome to join, but you should probably drive separately because I’m gonna take her out for a test run and make sure everything’s in working order. Or if you feel like sailing, you can come aboard, but I’m the captain, so keep that in mind. You’ll need to refer to me that way and listen to all of my commands. Sailing can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing.”

Whispering too loudly, my mother leaned into my father’s ear and asked, “Is she mentally ill?”

My father shook his head. In a normal speaking voice, he said, “Nope.”

“Who’s coming?”

I think Helen looked the most dumbfounded. My mother was concerned, but my father looked proud of me for once in his life. Chucky looked good-humored or perplexed—I couldn’t quite tell which one.

Jack left and Chucky walked to his bedroom but stopped just before going in. He turned back and said, “So do I need to find a new roommate?”

“I have a million dollars, Chucky,” I said, smiling. “I’ll pay half the rent until you’re a real dentist, okay?”

“Thanks, weirdo,” he said, and then shut the door.

It was only Helen and my mom and dad left, staring at me. “You still with Roddy?” I said to Helen.

“Yep.” She was looking at me like I was deranged.

“How’s Seth?”

“Fine,” she said. “Should I call him for you?”

“Nope.” I took a bite of my granola bar and spoke with my mouth full. “Your hair looks good, Mom.” She had gotten it fixed.

She touched the bouncing curls at her shoulders. “Thanks?”

“Dad, how ’bout those Dodgers? Can you believe it? They’re gonna make it all the way.”

He nodded continuously for about three seconds.

“Well, it’s been real. You’re all a joy to be around. I’m heading to the marina. You can follow me if you’d like.”

I trotted down the stairs and got into my car. Helen knocked on the passenger window. When I unlocked the door, she opened it and leaned in. “Um, this is weird, but can I ride with you? We’re still friends, right?”

“Of course you can, and of course we are. Get in.” As she got in, I reached over and caught her and hugged her to my body. “I love you, Helen. You’re an awesome person.”

“I love you, too,” she whispered with emotion.

“Well, the ocean calls. Let’s hit it.”

On the way to the marina, without shedding a single tear, I told Helen about the last month of Adam’s life. I told her about learning to sail and what he had given me. She cried through most of the story.

“You’re a widow,” she said.

“I am.”

“You seem different.”

I kept my eyes on the road. “This isn’t some existential crisis, Helen. This was just about me not taking responsibility before. Doing things for the wrong reasons, not being able to make decisions. Having no drive to travel, to see the world, to continue learning. Everything I did in the past was safe. The guys I dated were emotionally unavailable to me, and that meant safety.”

“Your parents would argue that Adam was the most extreme example of a person who is unavailable.”

“I know you think that, too, but you’re all wrong. Adam gave everything he had.”

“He was dying, Charlotte.”

“No, he was living.” I glanced at her pointedly and then put my focus back on the road.

It was silent in the car the rest of the way until we pulled into the marina parking lot. “Seth was available but you sabotaged that,” Helen added quietly.

I put the car in park and turned my body toward her to look her in the face. “Did I? Did I sabotage a relationship with Seth? Is that what he told you?”

“Not exactly.”

“Do you think you’re being selfish right now, Helen? You want me to get with Seth so you, me, Seth, and Roddy can bounce around together?”

“No.”

“Good, because I’m not ready to be in a relationship with someone else right now. Is that going to affect the friendship you and I have? Because it shouldn’t.”

She looked down at her lap to her fidgeting hands.

“What is it, Helen?”

“I don’t want to be selfish right now, Charlotte.” Her voice cracked.

“Do you want to tell me something about Seth?”

She shook her head. “It’s not Seth.”

She bent and grabbed her purse from the car floor. She opened a little box, pulled out a ring, and slid it on her ring finger. “He asked me,” she said, looking out the window to avoid my gaze. “I didn’t want you to see it and get sad.”

I took her hand in mine and stared at the modest diamond. “I’m not sad. I’m happy for you. The ring is beautiful and you’re going to be a stunning bride, Helen. Congratulations.”

When her eyes met mine, I watched tears spill onto her cheeks. “Will you be my maid of honor?”

“Of course. I would love to. I’d be honored.” I was holding up strong when my parents pulled into the parking space next to us.

“Have you set a date?” I asked Helen.

“Valentine’s Day. We wanted to do it before preseason starts. We’re gonna do a destination wedding, somewhere tropical. Maybe Bora-Bora.”

“That would be amazing. I can’t wait.” I truly meant it.

Her smile faded and she shook her head. “Okay, Charlotte. I’m going to roll with this new version of you, but I don’t think your dad is going to be that easy.”

My mom was waiting patiently on the sidewalk, but my dad looked irritated. His arms were crossed over his chest and he was scowling.

“I’ll have to change his mind,” I said.

I found the beautiful sailing vessel, appropriately named Heaven, sitting serenely in slip 23. A caretaker nearby spotted me and asked if I was Charlotte. He gave me all the necessary keys and details for my new boat.

“She’s a beauty,” my mom said as she ran her hand across the bow. It was true. From her smooth lines and deep blue and red lacquer to the hand-polished wood of the cockpit and the gorgeous cabin. The boat was way nicer than my apartment. The boat was nicer than most apartments.

My parents and Helen sat in the cockpit while I familiarized myself with the lines and winches. Everything was electric. Of course Adam had bought me the finest. I motored out of the marina into the harbor, all while my dad watched in awe. That’s when it finally clicked for him.

It took a total of three minutes for me to raise the mainsail and headsail. Everything was push-button.

“Char, I can’t believe this. You’re like a pro. How’d you learn?” my dad asked.

“Adam and Dr. Mark taught me,” I said, smiling. “I’ll teach you, Dad.”

I’d never been close to my dad, but in that moment, I made a deal with myself that I wouldn’t put up a wall between us anymore.

When we got out of the marina onto the open water, I set the sails for our tack, cut the engine, and then swoosh . . . that glorious sound of the wind filling the sails surrounded us in every direction.

“Wow!” my mother shouted, and then the boat heeled dramatically. She gripped the safety lines, looking panicked.

“It’s okay, Mom, it’s supposed to do that!” As the wind in the sails pushed us forward, we began gracefully skipping across the water. If the ocean were music, sailboats would be the ballerinas. I was never any good at dancing before. Maybe I didn’t know how.

“I would love for you to teach me, Char,” my dad said, standing near me at the helm.

“I will!” I said, and I meant it.

I sailed them around for an hour or so before tying the boat back up in the slip.

As the four of us stood near my beat-up car in the parking lot, my mom asked, “What’s the plan, Charlotte?”

She was concerned. This had all come out of nowhere for her. “I have one, Mom. That’s all you need to know.”

The three of them left me at the marina. I told Helen to keep in touch and to let me know as soon as she had the wedding location squared away. She told me she didn’t want a bachelorette party or a wedding shower; she just wanted me to show up on the wedding day, which was seven months away.

 

TWO WEEKS LATER, I was standing outside a cage at the Humane Society, staring into the sweet brown eyes of a two-year-old yellow Lab. “Hello, sweet girl.”

She wagged her tail.

I said to the young Humane Society employee, “Why doesn’t anyone want this dog?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “There are amazing dogs in here all the time that no one wants.”

“I’ll take her.”

“She has four more days here before we can adopt her out.”

Everyday I went back and took her into the play area, threw a ball for her, and brought her treats until I was able to take her home with me. I named her Dora. Yes, after Dora the Explorer. I figured if she was going to be traveling on a boat with me, she should have an appropriate name, besides a chip and all her shots.

Dora loved the water and she was a quick learner on the boat. I had to discourage her from jumping off and going for a swim without my permission, but that was easy because she was smart and followed directions.

I kept to myself over the next several months, living almost a hundred percent of the time on my boat. My father came down on Sundays and I would give him sailing lessons. I practiced on the weekends, going farther and farther on my own until I made my first solo trip to the small island of Catalina. It only took me eight hours, but it was the first time I was far enough out that I couldn’t see land for a period of time. I was glad to have Dora. Sailing alone gives you a lot of time to think. My own voice became louder in my head. My own voice should always be the loudest. I stayed that night in Catalina and sailed back without any problem.

My father and Chucky met me on the docks when I returned. As I gently thrust the motor to move the boat into the slip, Chuck ran to one side and my father to the other. I threw out the lines to them so they could tie up each side.

“Proud of you, Charlotte!” my dad yelled to me as he pulled the line tight. I was beginning to realize that my father was the sixty-year-old version of Chucky, small and fit with a kind-looking face.

I knew they would be there waiting for me but I didn’t expect what came next. My brother stood on the dock and saluted me. “Permission to board, Captain.”

“Oh shut up, Chuck. Get up here.” I motioned for him to come aboard.

“Wow, Fatbutt, I can’t believe you did it. Dad tracked you with the GPS.”

My dad came onboard next. I knew he was going to track me. There were a lot of safety measures I took before heading to Catalina, but I wanted to see if I could do it on my own.

My father hugged me. “Glad you’re back. How was it?”

“As calm as could be. Eerily calm,” I said, “and not much of a test.”

Chucky and my father sat down opposite each other on the cockpit edges. “Charlotte, we were thinking—”

“That’s healthy, Chucky,” I returned.

“Dad and I want to sail to Bora-Bora with you for Helen’s wedding.”

I spun around from my spot on the bow, nearly falling over the safety lines. “Oh, do you? Do you know anything about it? It’s not just about putting the sails up. That trip is not leisure sailing. You have to route it based on the wind, time of year, and weather. Everything!”

“Honey,” my father said, “I’ve done the research. I think the three of us can do it. We’ll use the Coconut Milk Run. We’ll use northeast and southeast trade winds by way of Hawaii. The only thing is . . .”

“What?”

“You’d have to stay in the South Seas for several months before you could bring the boat back up to North America. Or you could leave the boat and fly back to the States with us.”

I started laughing because . . . well, the idea was ridiculous, but my father and Chucky sat there looking serious. “You want to drop me off in Bora-Bora for a year with my yacht? Then you two would fly back?” I pointed at them and smiled.

“Well, we were hoping you’d come with us and leave the boat. We’ll return when the weather permits and sail her back, if you’d be okay with that. You can’t—”

“I’m not leaving the boat in Bora-Bora for a year so you guys can have some great adventure.”

“It would be a great adventure for all of us, Char,” my brother said. “You can’t sail back this way at that time of year. And you can’t stay on this boat with your dog for the rest of your life.”

The truth was coming out. “Oh, so this is an intervention? A way to get me off the boat? To do what? Normal things single girls do in their late twenties? Go to bars? What? Look for a man?”

“Cut the shit, Charlotte!” my father yelled. “We just thought you’d want to do this. I’m retiring soon and I want to spend some time with my kids. This is the only time Charles will not have a practice to oversee. So you leave the boat? So what. Buy another; you’re a millionaire, remember?”

He was losing his patience.

A few moments of silence passed before I walked between them to the steps leading to the cabin below. “I don’t think I could handle being on a boat with you two for six weeks, and I don’t want to leave this boat anywhere. The answer is probably no, but I’ll think about it.” At that point I was shouting up at them from the kitchen area.

My father peeked down the steps and smiled at me. “That’s all we’re asking, for you to think about it. I’d love to spend time with you, kid, both of you . . . before you have families of your own.” I turned my head so he wouldn’t see the anguish on my face. I had wanted to have a family with Adam.

“What does Mom say about all of this?” I said with my back still turned.

“She thinks we should do it.” Of course. My mother condoned everything.

I continued cleaning up. It was hard for me to say no to him, but I thought it unfathomable to stay in Bora-Bora or to leave the boat down there for a year, let alone spend six weeks ordering my dad and Chuck the Fuck around. But I did promise myself that I would at least consider it.

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