Sailing between a rock and a hard place
We walked unsteadily onto the floating dock, my legs wobbling as the planks bucked with the waves. The Captain bounced along, taking the ocean air into his lungs in great joyful gasps. When we reached the 24-foot sailboat, our instructor, Nick, stuck out a hand. He was small and wiry, about my height and age, with fine blond hair that covered his arms and reached down to the knobby knuckles on his thin fingers. He had a tight smile and pale blue eyes that looked at you and then past you, to the horizon, perhaps, or to some other more interesting person in the distance.
“So, what kind of lesson are we doing today?” Nick asked. “You guys can be active participants in everything, or you can just lounge while I sail. Which will it be?”
“Great,” Nick said in the false cheer of ski instructors and tennis coaches, people who would rather be doing something else with their time. “Let’s get started.”
We climbed into the boat. I took a seat next to the tiller, Nick sat across from me, and the Captain sat facing us, his back wedged into the opening that led below decks.
To me, Nick said, “Why don’t you hold the tiller while I motor out?”
I sat up and gripped the polished wood, steering clumsily as Nick made small talk. We moved away from the dock and into the open water, and Nick continued to speak. Only, he directed the chatter less at the Captain and more at me, in a flow of questions that sounded more like the type of conversation you’d have over drinks rather than during a sailing lesson.
“How long have you lived here?” he asked. Then, “Have you found any good Vietnamese restaurants?” We discovered that we live on the same street.
The Captain sat quiet during this exchange, taking in the water and the skills needed to maneuver the boat across it, and I churned painfully onward, answering Nick’s questions, feeling like an accomplice in an unsolicited flirtation. By the time we re-docked two hours later, I felt wrung out, strangely guilty.
But the Captain laughed it off. He is, after all, tall and handsome, funny and kind, and he could pummel the shrimp of a sailing instructor into the ground if he wanted. Still, I tried to claim — to myself and to the Captain — that Nick’s overtures had been harmless banter, verbal space-fillers during the cruise.
Later that evening, as the Captain and I walked home from dinner, we passed a man on the street who looked like the chatty sailing instructor. I turned to glance over my shoulder and caught a glimpse of Nick as he rounded the far corner. He shot me a quick wave and, just before turning, tossed a loaded wink in my direction.
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