He answered immediately. “Hi, Hannah, what’s up?” he asked.
“Well, I got done early at the paper today,” Hannah said. “I’m free now, if you’re ready to go sailing.”
“Super!” Flash said. “I’ll meet you at the boat in, say, ten minutes.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Hannah said, suppressing a fresh wave of jitters. The nervousness was really getting to her. She realized that it was a good thing she was running early; the sooner she got the business of facing her fears done with, the better.
She drove to the marina and parked in the lot nearest to Flash’s slip. As she walked down the pier, she could see that Flash was already at the boat, curly dark hair tousled in the wind, snapping black eyes reflecting the smile of shiny white teeth beneath the pencil thin Errol Flynn moustache. He already had the jib and mainsail rigged and ready to raise, and most of the docklines had been removed from the boat. Clearly, Flash had prepared ahead so he and Hannah could set sail immediately.
She took Flash’s hand to steady her as she stepped onto Avenger, and his expression changed immediately to a slight frown. “Hannah, you’re shaking,” he said.
“I guess I’m, um, nervous,” Hannah said. “I don’t want … history to repeat itself.”
“Don’t worry, it won’t,” Flash said. “We’ve promised each other, and we’re going to keep that promise.” He squeezed her hand.
She squeezed back. “We will,” she said. “I’m sure of it.” She wished she really were sure, though.
Flash untied all of the dock lines, holding on to the bow line to walk the boat out of the slip; he then cleated the line at the end of the pier so the boat could point into the wind, which, as predicted, was brisk without being too stiff. He got onto the boat and hauled on the halyard to raise the mainsail, leaving it slack and flapping in the wind. He then returned to the pier, untied the line, gave the bow of the boat a shove out into the channel, and then lightly hopped aboard, quickly settling himself at the helm. Hannah sat forward of him, next to the jib sheets.
As Flash pulled in the mainsheet to tighten the sail, Hannah was once again treated to the magic feeling of being on Avenger, under sail, energy flowing through her as the boat heeled slightly and surged forward. She began to feel herself relaxing, the negative energy of dread being replaced by the positive energy of the boat. She realized that she had been holding her breath in anticipation of the moment, and she let it out with a deep sigh.
“You’re feeling better now, hon?” Flash said. “I knew that getting out on the water would be good for you.”
“It is good,” Hannah said. “You want the jib up?”
“Go for it,” Flash said.
Hannah grabbed the jib halyard and pulled, smoothly, arm over arm, to raise the sail quickly, and then she grabbed the jib sheet and sheeted in, all in one smooth movement. She was rewarded with another surge of power as the wind filled the sail.
“That’s my baby,” Flash said, smiling.
Hannah smiled back. “It’s such a relief getting out here,” she said.
“You know, it’s good you got here early today,” Flash said. “The front’s moving in faster than predicted. If you couldn’t get here until noon, it might have been too late. This way, though, we can have a couple of hours out before things get rough.”
“Excellent,” Hannah said. She was focusing on the moment, letting the motion of the boat and the water dispel the last cobwebs of worry. She was here, now, sailing, in the mystical zone that Avenger always put her in.
They sailed out of the harbor and into the open ocean. Here, the upcoming front was making its presence known. The swells were steep, kicked up by winds farther out at sea that would be arriving at the coast later today. She imagined the avid surfers of Siete Mares were enjoying some really knarly waves. If the high they got from surfing was even half as great as the high she got from sailing, they were probably absolutely euphoric.
Flash and Hannah sailed back and forth, Flash steering the boat masterfully through the waves, its knife-like hull punching through the walls of water. Hannah was glad she had remembered to bring along her heavy-duty foul-weather gear; Avenger was a wet ride even in gentler conditions, and the jib trimmer got hit with every wave. Flash stayed much drier at the helm, as Hannah was blocking most of the spray.
The wind and waves were increasing, and Hannah was beginning to feel a twinge of … something … in the pit of her stomach. Seasickness? The return of the nervousness?
“Let’s go in,” Flash said. “I think it’s time to call it a day.”
“Yes,” Hannah said, noting that the little twinge in her stomach eased up. “We can get the boat put away before the really nasty stuff hits.”
Flash steered the boat downwind back to the harbor, surfing on the waves. At first, the feeling of flying was blissful, but then that little fluttering in Hannah’s stomach returned. No problem, she thought. Just a little reaction to the conditions, nothing to get worried about. She concentrated on trimming her sail, making sure to keep the telltales flying.
Then Hannah started feeling a little more queasy. No, she told herself, she couldn’t be seasick on Avenger. She and the boat were soul-mates. She swallowed, hard, three or four times, and that seemed to settle her stomach a little bit.
The wind got harder and the waves got bigger. Flash was steering the boat fiercely, keeping it as level as he could in the gusts. Now Hannah felt cold sweat coming out on the back of her neck, and her stomach was refusing to settle itself. She was losing the ability to concentrate on the sail, instead working on making sure her stomach held onto its contents, alternating swallowing with shallow breathing, gulp, pant, gulp, pant, gulp, pant.
Flash glanced over at her, and his expression became grim. “You’re not looking so good,” he said. “Maybe we should lower the jib and let you rest.”
Hannah agreed with that, although she couldn’t say anything while she was working on keeping her stomach under control, so she nodded emphatically. She ran the jib halyard through her hands to make sure it would run free without tangling, cleated the jib sheet down tight, and uncleated the jib halyard, then got up on the foredeck to pull the jib down, all the while gulping and panting to settle the stomach. The activity seemed to help curb the stomach’s urge to hurl up its contents, and when she came back to the cockpit, the boat seemed a bit steadier, so she was able to breathe evenly again.
She sat down next to Flash, and he placed his arm around her waist. “You were looking really bad there for a moment,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody get quite that green before. You sure you’re all right?”
“I am now,” she said in a voice that sounded very thin and weak, enjoying the feeling of solidness and reassurance that Flash’s arm provided. “I don’t know what happened.”
“Maybe Harry’s right,” Flash said. “Maybe you’re not really ready for intensive sailing yet. Maybe you do still need more recovery time from your injury.”
Tears came to Hannah’s eyes. “I can’t give up Avenger,” she said. “Since I’ve started sailing on this boat, I’ve become so much better. I’ve gained strength, equilibrium, confidence. Giving up sailing her would be like dying.”
“I know,” Flash said. “I could never ask you to do that. But I think maybe, at least for now, we keep it to gentler conditions.”
Hannah wrapped her arms around Flash, while being careful not to interfere with the arm that was controlling the tiller. “Thank you,” she whispered in his ear.
“Hannah, I know how important sailing is to you,” Flash said. “I could never imagine making you quit.”
A big wave hit the back of the boat, and it careened forward. Hannah felt her stomach lurching up again. “Oooooh,” she moaned.
“Oh, God,” Flash said. “Try to hold on!”
Hannah resumed the alternating gulp, pant, gulp, pant routine. It wasn’t working so well. She felt sour liquid rising in the back of her throat.
After what seemed an eternity, Flash brought the boat into the mouth of the harbor. It seemed to Hannah that all three – she, Flash, and Avenger – breathed a massive sigh of relief upon getting past the breakwater and into calmer waters. The boat settled down, and so did Hannah’s stomach, and Flash calmed down as well. Hannah hadn’t realized it, but he had become very tense during the last part of the journey back to harbor; she could feel his back muscles relax through her arm that was still hanging on to him.