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"Island Recess" by
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Island Recess, Chapter 7.
Helena tapped her foot nervously, glancing at her watch every few minutes as if
doing so would hasten the maddeningly lethargic movements of the clerk behind
the counter. She had intentionally waited until the late-afternoon shift at the
tiny mail-drop/computer service, knowing that the new staff member would be on.
Helena most emphatically did not want one of the regulars catching wind of the
bizarre fax transmission she hoped to send. While she had planned to use Ben’s
scanner, Helena did not want to further jeopardize their relationship by
impinging once more on the landlord’s hospitality. She also desperately wished
to keep her current transaction anonymous. Processing the roll of film had been
perilous enough, and had necessitated a late afternoon journey to St. Thomas
where hopefully no one would recognize Helena or the subject of her photographic
expose. Under cover of preparing materials for her students, Helena had then
used the school copier to make a Xerox of one of the photographs she had taken
of Neil Streep. First enlarging the image, she had then cropped the
below-the-waist portion of the photocopy so that the final result was a
head-and-shoulders shot taken full-on. She had then pasted the image to a blank
sheet of paper and penned a hasty note to Julie in the space below.
Attention Julie Hamish (the note read) ~ As you requested, a sample portrait
from my portfolio. Please contact me should you be interested in seeing other
examples of my photography. Sincerely, Helena Travis.
When Helena finally reached the front of the line, she handed the photocopy and
a scrap of paper bearing Julie’s fax number to the jaded-looking young clerk.
The girl accepted the copy with a heavy sigh, and to Helena’s chagrin, turned it
over to peruse the image. She gave the photo a thorough examination, sweeping
the image repeatedly from top to bottom.
“Nice,” said the clerk.
“Thanks, I’m a photographer on assignment, in, um, the islands,” said Helena
ludicrously, blushing darker with each word.
“Actually, I meant the guy. He’s gorgeous,” remarked the clerk, eyeing Helena
with what appeared to be considerable distain. She returned her eyes to the
“Oh, yes, well, professional model, you know,” faltered Helena, praying
fervently that the girl would just get on with her job instead of brandishing
about a photo that could well land her in a heap of trouble.
Instead, the girl persevered, forehead wrinkling as she studied the image
“Actually, he looks awfully familiar,” she said pensively, as she finally turned
around and inserted the paper in the fax machine.
“Well, don‘t we all,” said Helena, striving by a firm tone to establish the fact
that she was at least a decade older than the clerk, and as such, entitled to a
“I guess,” drawled the girl, handing Helena her change and losing interest in
the transaction as she focused her sights on the attractive young man next in
Helena felt her face beginning to burn as she turned and left the store. The
unaccustomed shenanigans had turned her stomach to water. Against her flushed
face, the air was cool and damp, smelling of impending rain. The past two
mornings, Helena had awakened to the sound of rain pelting against the balcony
windows. Gray skies and looming thunderheads were becoming regular fixtures each
morning and afternoon, and the fat droplets that pocketed the ground were
falling more heavily with the passage of each day. She recalled how Neil had
said he had chosen his boat moorage to provide shelter in case of hurricane.
Apparently, the locals referred to the cove as a “hurricane hole.”
For seemingly the hundredth time since school had let out that afternoon, Helena
checked her watch. She had been unclear as to the specifics of their dinner date
until the day before yesterday when Neil had once again made a surprise
appearance outside her classroom window.
“So how about six,” a disembodied voice had uttered shortly after the departure
of her last student.
Helena had started, the gasp catching in her throat as she sighted the source
framed by the narrow window. Neil’s face, streaked with perspiration and smudges
of dirt had smiled up at her from between the slats.
“Six what?” she had countered, stalling for time.
“Six o’clock,” he had smiled back, shaking his head slightly as if in disbelief
at her tactics. “For Friday. Dinner, remember? Are we still on?”
“Of course, that’d be great. Do you want to meet here, or at the bo…” Helena’s
words had trailed off, as she realized with a start she wasn’t supposed to know
the boat’s location.
‘ “I’ll come pick you up. Here or at your place? What’s better for you?”
Remembering her mother’s cautionary wisdom in preventing future stalking
behaviors, Helena had chosen the former. Now, she had but a half an hour to
return to the school, and try to bring some semblance of order to her disheveled
appearance. Mounting her bicycle, she clipped her helmet over her tousled hair,
pushing her curls away from her face and fastening the clip at the side of her
face. She pushed off, beginning to pedal more furiously as she realized her
linen shorts were already spattered with mud from the ride down. Now she would
have to change her clothes as well. She prayed fervently that one of Neil
Streep’s virtues was not punctuality.
By the time she arrived at the school, her sandals were also flecked with dark
streaks. Dismounting from her bike, she surveyed last night’s hasty pedicure
with a rueful eye. The crimson enamel was already chipping around the edges.
Sighing heavily, she glanced around the courtyard. No sign yet of Mr. Streep.
Unlocking the door to her classroom, she entered, hauling a heavy bike pannier
behind her. Huddled behind her desk, she quickly extracted from her bag a rather
crinkled black linen shift. Kneeling on the floor, she worked off her sandals,
and awkwardly stripped off her t-shirt and shorts. Clad only in bra and panties,
she struggled with the zipper of the short black dress. A rattle of the door
knob quickly diverted her attention. Looking desperately to left and right, she
decided on a straight-ahead course of action, and crawled under her desk,
hauling her dress after her.
“Helloo,” came the call as the door squeaked open. Neil. She should have
realized he would be early.
“Um, just give me a sec,” Helena called out, striving for a casual tone as she
prayed fervently for instant beauty or a few more minutes alone.
“Okay, I’ll just be over here,” came the voice, which appeared to be traveling
along the far wall of the classroom. From under the desk, Helena monitored the
progress of a pair of navy blue deck shoes as they strolled past a display of
student work. Now what was she to do? Giving the zipper a hard tug, Helena heard
it part, and in a brief tug-of-war with the garment, somehow managed to get it
over her head and fastened up the back.
“Helena, what are you doing?” declared a mystified Neil who was, as she
predicted from the absence of feet anywhere within visual range, directly behind
her. Backing out from under the desk, Helena grumpily muttered,
“Well, you said you were staying over there.”
“Nice to see you too, Ms. Travis,” laughed Neil, extending a hand and pulling
Helena to her feet. “And you look wonderful as well.” Helena looked down at her
bare, muddied feet and wrinkled dress, now covered with dust from the floor, and
broke into laughter.
“I think wonderful would be a decided exaggeration,” she choked out, attempting
to brush some of the dust off the black fabric. She knocked her sandals against
the edge of her desk, allowing the dried mud to flake off onto the floor, and
then slipped her feet into them.
“Ready?” inquired Neill, tucking Helena’s free arm into his.
“As ready as I’m going to be, I guess,” said Helena, a touch regretfully, as he
walked her past the curling iron, can of hair spray, and tumble of make-up
products lying untouched on her desk.
Taking a deep breath, Helena left the security of the classroom and walked with
Neil into an evening that was sultry and ripe with promise. As she turned to
lock up the classroom, her body brushed against his, and she willed herself to
take her time. The muscles of his arm against hers felt solid and reassuring,
and she nestled in more snugly, relaxing against the broad slope of his
“By the way, I like that hat. Shows you’re up for anything,” said Neil cheekily,
as Helena turned to lock up the classroom.
Eyebrows raised quizzically, she reached her hands to her head, and felt her
bike helmet still in place. Helena groaned loudly and landed a playful slap on
Neil’s khaki-clad posterior. Undoing her helmet with one hand she allowed it to
swing freely from her fingers as they crossed the courtyard to Neil’s truck. A
light patter of rain was beginning to fall, streaking the windshield with a
sliding pattern of droplets. In the distance, the clouds huddled in gray
clutches, darkening the horizon. As Neil started the truck, the drizzle
increased steadily, obscuring the windshield between sweeps of the wiper blades.
Seated beside Neil, Helena felt suddenly self-conscious. The hem of her skirt
seemed to rise with her every movement, dragging up her muddied legs. While she
was striving to avoid eye contact, she thought her peripheral vision detected a
few covert glances on Neil’s part. Secretly, she congratulated herself on having
shaved her legs beyond her calves.
“So, Helena, this is kind of weird,” said Neil abruptly, “But I have the oddest
feeling I saw you a couple of nights ago.”
“Ooh,” said Helena in horror and for want of anything more profound to say.
Then, just a quickly, she mustered up, “Oooh, ah, where do you think you saw
“Well, that’s the weird part. I thought I saw you down by my boat. You were
wearing a kind of guerilla warfare looking outfit, something black and tight and
boots or something. You looked kind of sexy but you obviously didn’t see me
because you didn’t wave or say ‘hello.’ Unless it wasn’t you at all. In which
case, the person I saw wasn’t all that sexy. I mean, they weren’t all that sexy
if they weren’t you.” He concluded his speech breathlessly and with a degree of
Helena was struggling to come up with a half-truth that would somehow divert
Neil from this topic of conversation. And then, she had it. Or at least
something that would suffice for the time being.
“Oh!” she exclaimed loudly, “No, that wasn’t me at all. I’ve been home safe and
sound every single night. You must have seen my ‘double.’ Everyone’s been
talking about how there’s this girl, who looks just like me,” Helena continued
to gabble on frantically. “Anyway, I’ve been hoping to see her, because you
know, we’re all supposed to have someone, somewhere who’s our double. And maybe
she’s mine,” she finished up breathily. Realizing with a start that her
half-truth was more ridiculous than sufficient, she fell silent and prayed the
topic would miraculously change itself.
They had come to a stop-light and Neil turned to look at Helena oddly. He raised
his eyebrows momentarily before giving his full attention back to the road.
“I was just so sure,” he said slowly. They were climbing a hill now, a climb
that Helena knew led to a turn, and then to a downward slope toward the docks.
Suddenly seeming to dismiss the notion of having seen Helena here two nights
before, Neil began pointing out the sights.
“Just over this ridge and then we’ll be almost there,” he said with a wink in
Helena’s direction. “I love the view from this point. It feels like you can see
practically forever. It’s always wonderful seeing my boat from a distance. It
makes me feel even more excited that she’s mine.” Neil grinned, almost boyishly,
Helena thought, and his tanned face crinkled up around his bright blue eyes.
Down the hill they drove, the old truck squeaking as it bounced over the uneven
“How do you manage to keep both a boat and a truck?” Helena asked impulsively,
as Neil parked the vehicle just off the side of the road. “I can’t even afford a
“Oh, the truck’s not mine,” he offered, swinging out of the driver’s seat and
coming around to open Helena’s door. “I’m just borrowing it from a friend of
mine while I’m here working.”
The rain had lifted to a slight mist. Helena could already detect the wild
spring of her curls in the humidity.
“Okay, here we are. Now, I hope you don’t mind getting a little, um, wet,”
uttered Neil with waning optimism as he surveyed Helena’s tailored shift dress.
“Linen doesn’t shrink in the rain, does it?” he inquired with a look of chagrin
on his handsome face.
“I’m impressed with your familiarity with fabrics, and no, I don’t think it’ll
shrink,” returned Helena, grinning gamely.
They walked slowly down toward the dock, the wet mist clinging moistly to their
skin. When Helena felt Neil’s hand touch hers briefly, she responded to the
invitation by entwining her fingers with his. Detective or not, she was still
very much a woman, and the attraction between them was becoming harder to deny.
Reaching the end of the dock, Neil indicated a faded blue row-boat.
“That’s the little’un,” he explained with a smile, steadying the boat as Helena
awkwardly stepped down onto the tilting surface. He followed quickly, lowering
himself gracefully into the wobbling vessel, and leaning back to untie its
mooring. He pushed off from the dock with a well-muscled forearm, and began a
smooth, rhythmic rowing. The little boat seemed to glide through the waves of
the bay as he stroked toward the boat Helena already knew was the Odyssey.
“Here she is,” declared Neil with blush. It had obviously been laundry day
yesterday, as the lifelines of the Odyssey were festooned with a row of flapping
towels in various stages of fading.
“I guess I should have taken those down before it started raining,” he laughed,
cringing slightly as if anticipating criticism.
“She’s beautiful, Neil,” Helena said simply. The grin that touched his mouth was
generous, bracketing his teeth with smiling lines.
A sudden deep woof broke the momentary silence. Helena laughed.
“I guess you already have company,” she said with a joking pout.
“Just Morris. He’s still a little shy on the boat. Not quite ready to come up
the stairs without a helping hand.”
With his guidance and steadying hand, Helena held onto the lifeline and managed
to mount the metal ladder barefoot. Stepping down into the cockpit, she looked
around with pleasure. The deck of the Odyssey was laid in planks of teak,
polished smooth and gleaming under what looked to be many thick coats of
varnish. Under a shady bimini of sun-bleached fabric, the deck and the cockpit
seats remained dry and inviting. Helena felt Neil’s hand touch her back briefly
as he invited her to have a seat, and rather than stiffening up reflexively as
she had done so many times before, she allowed her body to relax. She leaned
into the space below and shouted a greeting to Morris. His response was a slow
string of deep barks. Excusing himself, Neil disappeared momentarily below deck,
returning minutes later with a bottle of red wine and two paper cups.
“Sorry about the fine stemware,” he grimaced in mock-shame, “But glass and boats
don’t mix too well. Especially not in a storm.”
The wine was smooth and rich against her tongue, and Helena relaxed against the
cockpit seat, tucking a foot up under her. Seated across from her, Neil smiled
with obvious pleasure as he sipped his drink. His palm was open in his lap, and
Helena for the first time observed a tiny, faded tattoo at his wrist.
“Do you mind my asking what your tattoo is of?”
Neil’s smiled seemed to falter, but he extended his hand to Helena who traced
the faded black ink with a light fingertip. It appeared to be the letter “S”
scripted in a heavy font and enclosed in a circle.
Turning his hand over, he patted Helena’s thigh. “It’s nothing. Frat boy thing
from years ago.”
Pointing across the water, he indicated the lights beginning to twinkle in the
windows of the town. From this distance, St. John became a small town beauty
whose age and areas of neglect were softened by the light behind her. Night was
falling and a light wind scudded across the water, chasing the cloud off toward
the north. Tugged by the breeze, a few strands of hair fluttered across Helena’s
face. Setting his drink down on the deck, Neil reached across to tuck them
behind her ear. Helena laughed, a trifle crazily, she immediately thought,.
“It seems like you’re always doing that,” she said by way of explanation.
“I like doing that,” he said with a roguish laugh, as he tucked a finger under
her chin and tilted her face to his. She was on the verge of puckering her lips,
when, to her surprise, he planted a chaste peck on her forehead and declared
that it was time to begin cooking.
“Come on down,” he invited, taking her glass. Grasping her hand, he helped her
get a start down the narrow ladder to the galley. Morris scuttled across the
slowly tilting floor, pushing his big head against Helena’s free hand. She knelt
down in the narrow space, rubbing his ears vigorously, before planting a kiss on
his black nose. Then, she stood, balancing herself against the ladder and gazing
about her. Stepping into the dimly lit galley was like entering a favorite room
in an old library. Into every conceivable nook of space seemed to be built a
warren of bookshelves. Helena walked through the space in wonder, touching the
spines of familiar and much-loved books. Sliding a copy of Love Sonnets from the
Portuguese from the shelf, she cleared away a pile of maps, and perched on a
corner of the settee, flipping happily through the well-thumbed pages.
“Read something to me,” called Neil between clatters of battered aluminum pots.
“Okay,” she said, turning the pages furiously, and blushing to the very roots of
her hair as she scanned the romantic titles.
“How do I love the, let me count the ways…” she began in a trembling voice.
“I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach…” he
continued breathily. Glancing up, Helena noted with satisfaction that Neil too
“I just love Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poetry,” he said abruptly. “She was
just such a, a…” He struggled to find the right words.
‘Such a great poet?” inquired Helena laughingly, smiling up at him. “Exactly. A
great poet she was,” he said with a relieved grin. Glancing around her, Helena
took in the neatly upholstered cozy settee, cluttered little galley kitchen and
snug v-berth just visible through a half-opened door. She guessed, correctly,
that the door also concealed the toilet facilities. The “head,” she had heard it
called. The whole of the Odyssey would have fit neatly inside the front hall of
Karl’s opulent townhouse. At this point, she was willing to give up Karl’s
Seattle townhouse, Colorado condo, and Maine summer home for one uncomplicated
night with a man who at least on the surface, appeared to be a gentleman. And a
lover of birds and dogs. And now, apparently, poetry. The gentle rise and fall
of the boat as it rocked on the small waves, made Helena feel relaxed and
peaceful. A pot on the stove was beginning to simmer quietly and the delicious
smells of cooking garlic and tomatoes wafted through the tiny space. As she gave
up her coy pretence, and openly watched Neil preparing the simple meal, she
caught a glimpse of a small, simply framed painting hanging from a nail
overhead. Still a little awkward on her feet from the unaccustomed movement of
the boat, she moved slowly toward the painting and leaned in to examine it more
closely. The strokes of acrylic were laid thickly on the small canvas, depicting
a simple domestic scene in warm autumn hues of crimson and gold. Centered in the
middle of the canvas was the image of a woman in a doorway, a welcoming smile
touching her lips. Around her, the rustic cabin stretched to woods on either
side, fall leaves touched by a golden autumn light.
Helena gazed at the painting for a moment, and then turned to Neil with a
quizzical tilt of her head.
“Did you paint this?” she inquired
“A long, long time ago,” he responded, forehead wrinkling as he gave his
attention to a row of neatly bracketed spices. He was quiet for a moment, and
Helena suspected that he had been embarrassed by the question.
“Who’s the girl?” she persisted, moving back to the edge of the settee and
watching Neil’s face as it contorted momentarily, with what emotion, she knew
“Well, I can’t really say who she is. She’s not anyone real. Not anyone from my
past. I guess she’s someone I once hoped might be part of my future.”
They did not speak for several minutes, the words hanging awkwardly between
them. The dinner preparations seemed to have come to a temporary standstill.
Neil leaned against the counter, gripping the wooden lip with white-knuckled
hands. On impulse, Helena rose, and moved into place beside him, grasping hold
of the sink basin to steady herself.
“Need a hand with dinner?” she queried quietly, motioning toward the stove. Neil
didn’t respond immediately, but removed a hand from the counter, and placed it
at the small of her back. She was aware of his broad fingers spreading over her
linen-clad skin. They stood that way for a moment, side by side, locked in place
by the curve of Neil’s arm. The steam from the boiling pan of water made the air
seem suddenly dense. She could feel her face flushing in the heat, and damp
tendrils of hair clinging to her forehead. Breathing deeply, she sensed, rather
than saw, the slight incline of the blonde head beside hers as he bent toward
her. He pulled her toward him, grasping her waist like a life-line and pressing
his lips urgently against hers. His skin tasted of salt, and his mouth was warm
and damp from the steam of the galley. Helena’s mouth opened to the gentle
probing of his tongue, welcoming him as she reached up and pulled his head into
hers. Her fingers twined in his hair, holding him in place as they kissed more
deeply. He backed her away from the stove, bending her gently to the settee.
Cradling her in his arms, he ran a hand lightly down her linen clad back,
stopping to cup and squeeze her buttocks with trembling fingers. The hem of her
loose shift slid easily up her bare thighs, exposing her bare skin to the humid
warmth of the cozy galley. Wantonly, she wrapped a leg around Neil’s chino-clad
calf, pulling his body more tightly against hers. She gasped as the movement of
his fingers shifted from her dress to her bare thigh. Against her pubis, she
could feel the length of his cock, long and hard and hungry. She gasped sharply
as his fingers met the silken edge of her panties and pushed past.
“Damn it!” he erupted abruptly, pulling away quickly. Helena pushed herself up
on her elbows, momentarily chagrined, until she noticed the pot of pasta
bubbling merrily all over the stove and onto the counter. Morris chose this
opportunity to take up a chorus of howls which he maintained through the fits of
human laughter. Helena leaned against the settee, giggling with near hysteria as
she noted the fact that her host’s chino pants were doing absolutely nothing to
mask his erection. Flushing furiously, Neil turned around and shook his finger
teasingly at Helena. She glanced down, taking note of her shift bunched around
her hips and her undeniably damp panties. Primly, she smoothed down her skirt,
giving Neil her best school-marmish look.
“I think ‘damn it’ best sums up the situation,” she said with a smile.
“Let’s eat, and then figure out what to do about dessert,” he countered with an
attempt to raise an eyebrow in mock villainy.
“I can hardly wait,” shot back Helena in her best Mae West voice.