"Good evening, Grenville."
Grenville turned to see Jamie joining him at the sedate first-class bar.
At least he was presentably dressed in slacks and polo shirt, Grenville thought.
He hadn't seen Jamie for days, except to pass him at the pool, see him in the horrible pizza parlor, playing some game called Ping-Pong—each time Jamie was behaving in a disgustingly familiar way with a couple of young women.
Grenville couldn't even tell from his behavior or theirs which was the girlfriend.
But the voyage was turning out much better than he'd hoped—partly because of Leslie, the very personification of the saying "Lady in the parlor ..."
And partly because Jamie was in his own cabin only long enough to shower and shave. Unfailingly neat in Hawkes Hall, here Jamie left the small bathroom a pigsty.
Grenville thought he should be able to civilly converse with Jamie for a few minutes—then changed his mind as he realized Jamie was already quite drunk.
"I'll have what he's havin'," Jamie told the bartender.
He took a sip of the small glass set in front of him and violently grimaced.
"What the hell is this?"
"Geez, you drinkin' or cookin'? Here, take mine. I'll have a Chivas," he told the bartender.
Grenville frowned, a thought trying to form ... "So, Grenville. How's it going?"
"Quite well," Grenville said. "These stabilizers are amazing. Very different from passenger ships in the eighteenth century."
"I bet," Jamie said. They remained silent for a moment.
Jamie was thinking that two girls were even more fun than he'd hoped, and no problem at all.
Michelle was so sweet, she'd melt in your arms like sugar in warm rain. Diane was very athletic, with a wicked sense of humor. Except for being scrupulously careful of whose turn it was to finish with him—and fortunately they didn't expect him to keep track—they were happily content to share. And they had the best way of waking him from a bad dream....
"The girls are trying on clothes," Jamie said. "They got off the boat today to shop. I took a nap. There's no room in there for me, they got stuff piled all over. You guys get off the boat?"
"We went sightseeing. Visited a museum." Grenville tried not to be offended by the phrase "you guys."
No doubt this was the kind of conversation Jamie had with his peers.
"Tell me, Grenville." Jamie sipped philosophically at his scotch. "I know you're cured and all that, but do you ever kind of get the urge to bite somebody? Just for old time's sake?"
Grenville blinked, unable to believe what he was hearing. Then he said, "If I ever do, Jamie, once again you'll be first on the list. Just for old time's sake."
Grenville took a malicious satisfaction in the fleeting look of terror on Jamie's face, the long swallow he took from his drink.
The glass shook a little as Jamie set it back on the bar and motioned for another.
Grenville decided he'd said enough to shut Jamie up, and raised his glass.
"So Grenville," Jamie said conversationally, "yours give good head?"
Jamie never thought he'd see Grenville spew a drink all over a bar, and thought it was worth it if he was killed for it. He had to laugh, although he also had to clutch the bar, expecting to feel those iron fingers gripping his throat.
No one else was near, the bartender busy elsewhere, and Grenville took his cocktail napkin to his mouth.
"Jamie," he said, his voice muffled, "go while you can."
Jamie didn't have to be told twice, even though he'd heard, in the deep voice of anger, the unmistakable sound of laughter.
Grenville entered his cabin intending to read his Wall Street Journal on the shaded balcony.
Leslie was taking her parents on a glass bottom-boat excursion—entirely too much sun for him to tolerate. Though it was no longer fatal, direct heavy sun was never comfortable. But perhaps that was just his East Coast upbringing....
He paused, hearing a sound from what he took to be a pile of dirty wet laundry on Jamie's unused bunk—on second glance it turned out to be Jamie himself.
"Jamie?" He took a step nearer. "What's wrong?"
Jamie's voice, distorted by the pillow, by tears, told him nothing; Grenville listened to the distasteful sailor vocabulary without learning any more than Jamie was in extreme distress.
His first thought was to take his Wall Street Journal and go— perhaps Jamie had had a quarrel with those brazen young women—surely he'd prefer to be alone...
Jamie rolled to a sitting position on the bunk, still hugging the pillow.
"Grenville, I can't fuckin' swim anymore." He sobbed, in that heartbreaking, confiding voice he'd sometimes used since leaving Terrace View.
Like Grenville was his best friend in the whole wide world. Like he could tell him anything.
Louisa said that was one way of Jamie's dealing with their past relationship—if Jamie voluntarily made himself dependent on Grenville, twisted their past bond into one of deep friendship, it gave him a measure of control.
There was a whole new name for this behavior, studied more since the war—post-traumatic stress syndrome. Louisa said Jamie was classic.
Whatever it was, the rare times Jamie used that tone Grenville felt unbearably guilty.
Sighing, he sat down on the bunk—as far away as he could, since Jamie, T-shirt, cutoffs and all, was soaking wet. "What do you mean?" Grenville said.
"I can't—my shoulder, it catches my shoulder, the goddamn fuckin' bullet holes—my whole back froze up and I almost fuckin' drowned—those asshole cops—I was a good swimmer, a motherfuckin' great swimmer. Kellen always said you couldn't sink me with an anchor—I was pearl diving in fuckin' Tahiti and those guys said I was good—now—my whole right shoulder's useless—feels like I'm bein' knifed."
Jamie choked out his pain and despair.
"Let me make sure I understand you. You can't swim anymore? This is the first you've tried since the shooting? Jamie, that's been years."
"Well, where am I gonna swim around Hawkes Harbor? It's got that weird current and it's colder than ..." He wiped his face on the pillow.
His shoulder bothered him a lot when he had to do lifting, digging, physical labor—the shoulder blade was shattered, muscle and nerve had knit back over sharp edges of bone—sometimes it ached so badly he couldn't sleep. It was one of the main reasons for his addiction to muscle relaxants.
But he never dreamed it could stop him midstroke after diving into thirty feet of ocean, he forgot about his damaged lung ... His whole back cramped, he'd barely made it to the surface.
If Michelle hadn't had lifeguard training...
"You know what that's like? To be really, really good at somethin' and then find out you can't do it anymore?" Jamie raised his tearstained face. "It was something I was great at and now I can't fuckin' swim."
"Actually, Jamie," Grenville said. "I am relieved. For a moment I thought you were referring to fucking."
Jamie's reaction to hearing Grenville say that word for the first time was the same as if he'd been slapped.
Wordless, knocked out of hysteria, he stared at Grenville. After a minute, he half laughed.
"That sounds like something Kell would say."
Grenville disliked intensely being compared to that blackmailing scum Kellen Quinn, who'd more than justified every eighteenth-century prejudice against the Irish that Grenville had ever harbored—but Jamie evidently meant it as a compliment, so Grenville tried to take it that way. "Jamie, I know it must be a shock to you, but you do realize you have little need for swimming these days...."
Jamie slowly shook his head.
"You don't get it, Grenville. It was one of... I don't have a lot of stuff to be proud of like you do .
.." He stood up.
"I'm gonna take a shower."
Grenville left the damp bunk to sit in one of the lounge chairs on the balcony. He stared at the Wall Street Journal without reading.
He felt rather ill.
There was a frantic pounding on the door of the cabin. Grenville opened it to face those two friends of Jamie's.
They were still in their beach clothes, one of them openly crying, the other close to it.
"Is Jamie here? Is he okay?"
"Yes. He's showering at the mo—"
They pushed by him without ceremony, threw open the bathroom door.
Grenville stood aghast.
Jamie, drying himself off, dropped the towel, startled to have the girls fling themselves on him. "Don't be upset, Jamie."
"It's okay, we don't care."
"It's not your fault."
They hugged him fiercely, kissed him frantically, and he put an arm around each of them, pulling them close. "Please don't be sad."
"It doesn't matter."
"We want you to be happy."
"Okay," Jamie said. He kissed each of them. "I'm okay. Don't worry."
He was still red-eyed but was no longer sobbing.
"Hey, I'm okay. Come on, we'll go to the Sugar Shack again tonight. Okay? Shut 'em down."
They seemed reluctant to release him, but he gradually pulled one from his neck, the other off his waist.
"Come to our cabin right away?"
"Please, it's empty without you."
"Sure," Jamie said.
"Right away. Don't forget."
"I'll be there in five minutes. Promise."
He gently herded them out of the bathroom and shut the door.
The girls looked at Grenville apologetically.
"Sorry, Mr. Hawkes."
"We didn't mean to disturb you."
"Wanted to see Jamie."
"He's the nicest person ..."
"The sweetest guy ..."
"But you know that..."
"We just love him."
They left, leaving the room smelling of suntan lotion and seawater.
In a moment Jamie came out, a towel wrapped around his waist, and went to paw through his laundry stack, looking for something relatively clean.