Jennifer wiped the perspiration from her brow with the large beach towel that lay between her and the polished deck of the yacht. The blazing sun scorched onto her naked back.
“Don’t get burned.” yelled Alan from behind the wheel.
Jennifer turned over and lay, uninhibited, enjoying the fine salt spray from the bow as it cut through the water.
She looked up at the cloudless, deep blue sky. She’d never seen such richness of colour before. She sat up to sip her iced lemon, admiring the gleaming white shoreline with its fringe of lush green palm trees.
The Pacific, smooth as glass, seemed to go on forever.
It was almost too much to take in. It was mid February and just a few days earlier, Jennifer had been fighting her way home through the usual soulless crush of the rush hour. It was dark, wet, cold and miserable. Her thoughts had been a million miles away. How to pay the bills. How to get a better job. What to cook for dinner. How depressing these miserable dark evenings were.
Now, she was sailing around a speck of an island in mid Pacific, with not a care in the world except not getting sunburned.
It was like a different planet. A different life.
“Come on, I’ve dropped anchor.” said Alan, standing over her. “Let’s go for a swim. I’ll race you to the beach.”
“No. You go. I’m happy just lying here being lazy.” Jennifer lay with her eyes closed against the sun.
“O.K.” said Alan nonchalantly as he picked up Jennifer’s iced drink and calmly poured it over her chest. Jennifer screamed and made a grab for Alan’s legs. He was too quick and jumped, laughing into the clear blue water.
“Now you’re for it.” she laughed. “Swim for your life.”
Jennifer jumped in after him and they raced for the shore. Alan dived beneath the surface and swam back behind Jennifer, coming up behind her, he grabbed her legs, shouting; “Shark, shark.”
Jennifer screamed and shouted something unladylike before leaning on his shoulders and pushing him under.
They fought playfully in the surf before collapsing, exhausted and laughing onto the deserted beach, where they lay, regaining their breath, holding hands, and enjoying each others company in the beautiful Pacific silence. Eventually, Alan rolled over and kissed her. “Let’s walk along the beach. It’s all ours.”
He pulled Jennifer to her feet and they strolled, hand in hand, looking and feeling as though they were the only two people in a peaceful, blissful world, framed by the sea, sand and palm trees. Jennifer looked around her, she looked at Alan, she felt the sun on her body and the sand between her toes. She realised, that for the first time in her adult life, she hadn’t got a care in the world. No bills. No rush hour. No work. Nothing. She was filled with a sense of elation. Of complete and total freedom.
“Alan, let’s never go back. Let’s stay here for ever.
“Whatever you want to do we’ll do”. Alan said easily. “If you want to stay here for ever, we’ll stay.”
Jennifer stopped and looked into Alan’s face.
“I just couldn’t bear going back to how things were. Work, bills, worry.
The never ending rush. Cold dark nights. The greyness of it all.
This is how life should be. This is perfect.
Alan took both of Jennifer’s hands in his.
“I’m happy as long as I’m with you. All I want is to be wherever you are.”
Jennifer put her arms around Alan’s neck and they kissed away the old grey world.
“You’re not from around here are you ?” The woman’s voice came from behind them.
They turned, startled, to see a woman, probably in her eighties, wearing a white suit and Panama hat and leaning on a walking stick.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.”
Her voice was strong and business like, but softened by a natural friendly warmth.
“I’m not used to visitors. I’m Cissy.” she held out her hand.
“Hello. I’m Alan. This is my wife, Jennifer.” he shook hands, feeling like a boy who’d just been caught scrumping.
“We’re just cruising around the islands.” said Jennifer. “We thought this one was deserted.” she felt that she owed the woman an explanation.
“It is. Apart from me. And a couple of servants of course. Why don’t you come up to the house and have tea. It’s so nice to see real people. It’s not far. Come on.
Before either of them could answer, the woman led the way between the palms and dunes. They looked at each other with a shrug and followed. The ‘house’ was a huge white Colonial style mansion set in large, beautifully manicured gardens.
“It used to be a plantation in the twenties.” explained Cissy when she saw the look of disbelief on her guest’s faces. My father ran it. Now I just sit and pass the time.”
“I can think of worse ways to pass the time.” said Jennifer in awe.
“Me too.” smiled Cissy. “Back in cold, wet England for a start. And everyone always in such a rush.”
Alan and Jennifer shared a knowing look, acknowledging their earlier conversation with a wry smile.
“I haven’t been back in twenty years. Couldn’t stand it.” said Cissy.
A local girl appeared from the huge double front doors and greeted Cissie and her guests with a friendly smile. Cissy asked her to bring tea and sandwiches.
They sat around a marble table on the front lawn of the house and talked of life on the island and shared memories of England. As they drank their tea, the aroma of the honeysuckle climbing around the porch drifted over them.
They admired the huge rhododendrons, and bougainvillea with enormous tropical butterflies flitting around the flowers.
As the sun sank slowly below the horizon, the house was bathed in a warm orange glow. The trio talked on like old friends late into the evening.
Cissy used the late hour as an excuse to insist that Alan and Jennifer should stay overnight.
In truth, she simply enjoyed their company.
The same cheerful girl who brought them tea, showed the couple to their room.
A large bed with inviting, cool white cotton sheets stood alone against one wall, surrounded by acres of polished oak floor.
A few well placed pieces of pine furniture and large exotic plants, prevented the bed from being completely lost in the spacious bedroom.
A ceiling fan turned lazily above the bed catching the rays from a brilliant full moon, shining off the Pacific through the large open balcony windows.
Jennifer danced around the floor, revelling in the sheer luxury of it all.
Cissy made them feel like family, and one nights stay turned into two. Two nights became two weeks. Two weeks became two months.
Their time was spent doing nothing and everything. Walking, talking,
swimming, sunbathing, and just enjoying each others company and the shared beauty of the idyllic surroundings.
They took Cissy cruising around neighbouring islands where she met friends that she hadn’t seen for many years. Jennifer and Alan were introduced as her children. Jokingly at first, then only half so.
Cissy took them to local markets and they picnicked on beaches that hadn’t been disturbed for centuries. They went to carnivals and wined and dined in local bars and restaurants. Every day, Jennifer couldn’t believe how lucky she was. She half thought that she must have died and gone to heaven.
It was all so perfect.
Three months after their meeting, Cissy joined Alan and Jennifer outside on the long veranda. The setting sun was painting the sky with a wash of blues, pinks and ambers. Cissy wet her lips with an iced Pimms before making an announcement without any hint of what was to come.
Jennifer and Alan listened in astonishment.
They had been trying not to outstay their welcome and had been wondering if they should tell Cissy they were reluctantly moving on.
As if she had seen their dilemma Cissy removed the problem.
“I have wondered for many years what to do with this house and my estate before I go.
You two have been like family to me and I know how much you love it here. I also know, that if it were your own, you would look after it and cherish it just as I have.
That is why I have arranged for it to be left to you when I die. Along with the rest of my private income, it should see out even your years. So now you can stay here for the rest of your lives.”
Jennifer and Alan sat in stunned silence. Neither knew what to say.
Cissy continued quickly.
“That’s if you want to. I hope I haven’t been presumptuous ?”
Jennifer burst into tears and hugged Cissy until she too was overcome by the moment. Alan swore endless gratitude and promised he would never change a thing.
That night, Jennifer and Alan lay in bed in each others arms, watching through the open window as the Pacific horizon changed colours in the sunset, and the palms turned to silhouettes against the ocean.
“Surely heaven couldn’t be any better than this ?” Thought Jennifer as she watched the colours flicker on the ceiling as they passed through the gently turning fan above her.
The distant pull of unconsciousness began to overtake her senses.
But it wasn’t the friendly haven of sleep that she knew and recognised.
She felt strange. Distant and uneasy. The colours above her, faded to dull greys. Everything became hazy and blurred. She forced herself to focus her eyes. The ceiling looked drab and dirty. There was a dingy fluorescent light where seconds before, the fan had been.
She could feel something across her face crawling into her nose. She tried to move her arms but they were like lead weights tied to the bed. Her head began to ache unbearably, and she struggled to move it.
She seemed to be surrounded by tubes and wires. She strained her eyes towards the window. Instead of the Pacific, there were tall grey, ugly buildings.
Icy rain poured down the grubby window pane. The sound of busy traffic and car horns filtered through the glass. A police siren assaulted her ears.
“Nurse. Nurse, she’s awake. Her eyes are open.”
The voice was distant but somehow familiar.
A nurse appeared over her and checked her pulse before painfully pinching her cheeks. Jennifer flinched.
“She’s conscious Mr Jones. The worst is over. She’s going to be alright. You’ve got your wife back”
A man appeared beside the nurse. It wasn’t Alan.
“Welcome back darling. We thought we’d lost you. You had a nasty accident coming home from work. Don’t worry. We’ll soon have you home. Your boss is keeping your job for you. They can’t wait to have you back.
Jennifer said something. Her husband couldn’t understand through the tubes and anaesthetic.
To Jennifer it seemed perfectly obvious.
“No. No. Put me back. Put me back.”