The sea was a nightmare. Nature roared and claimed every living being which dared to sail across the water. The waves hit the moaning wood of the wrecked ship and lightning flashed through the sky. Little waterdrops became bullets falling from the darkened sky.
Vian held on to a thick rope trying not get washed off by the furious sea. Right before his eyes he saw strong and experienced men being caught by the waves and drowning. Helpless, Vian closed his eyes and started to pray for the first time in his life. He couldn’t die. He didn’t want to die yet. He left home because he wanted to taste freedom, wanted to taste life. Dying in such a stupid way couldn’t be tolerated!
„Oh God, please! Please, I beg you. Spare me, spare my life. I want to live! I want to live!“ His voice was absorbed by the winds. In that moment a brutal wave rolled over the deck and pulled him into the ocean. Vian swallowed salty water and couldn’t breath. The water was everywhere and pushed and pulled him in every direction but not the surface. He needed air, his lungs began to burn.
He had forgotten which direction the sky was. It was dark and the coldness of the water numbed his limbs.
He would die. The thought flashed thorugh his head and Vian couldn’t do anything. He was sinking deeper and deeper. He couldn’t hear anything. A deadly silence had overtaken him. In his last struggle he opened his mouth and tried to breath however only salt water filled his lungs. Then everything went black.
– – –
The next thing he felt aside from a sore throat and a greedy thirst was the warmth of flesh below his head. Something like a groan must have come out of his mouth because in the next moment he heard a quiet soothing voice and a small hand carressed his face. His eyes flattered, everything was a blur. Then he could make out a head above him.
„What…? Who…?“, rasped he trying to find his voice.
„Shh… Don’t speak. Rest a little more. You are safe here. Don’t worry.“
Seconds went by and he managed to realise he lied on someone’s thighs wrapped in thick fur. His brain refused to function so it took longer to understand that it was woman the voice and thighs belonged to.
„Don’t strain yourself. You almost died. If I hadn’t found you… Well, luckily I did find you. So sleep a little more. I’ll be here.“ So the woman talked to him in a calming tone and he drifted to sleep again. All the time her hands caressed him as if they handled something precious.
– – –
When Vian woke up again he felt a lot better. His head still rested on the woman’s lap, her hands tangled in his hair.
„Awake again? How do you feel?“
Vian stared into a pair of vivid blue eyes. Her skin was sun-tanned and she wore her long blond hair tied up. She was of thin built and was more beautiful than most of the women Vian had ever seen.
„Water, please.“, he rasped, shocked about the sound of his own voice. The woman reached to the side and fetched a cup filled with water. She helped him to get up and pressed the cup against his lips. Clumsily Vian took a sip and coughed as he tried drink it all at once.
„Easy boy. There’s enough for you. I can refill it anytime.“ She chuckled and held him up as he drank one cup after the other. Vian felt incredible weak and a headache sneaked up.
„Where am I? What happened?“ Vian cleared his throat. „Who are you?“
„So many questions. Lie down and rest. I will tell you what you want to know.“ She pushed him back on her lap with strength he didn’t expect. Then she started to carefully comb his hair with her fingers while she talked. „My name is Grace. I found you by the shore. You were half-dead by then. I took you home and nursed you. It has been three days since then. As to the question what happened… Well I hoped you could answer me that question. Don’t you remember?“
„I-… there was water. I couldn’t breath.“ He groaned as his headache got worse. Grace massaged his scalp and soothed the pain.
„I was on a ship. I… I left home and went aboard a ship. But we were caught in a thunderstorm.“
„Then you were really lucky. There’s nothing around this island in miles.“
„I am on an island?“ Vian cried out and tried to move up but Grace held him still possessivly and gently at the same time. He was too weak to fight against her and went limp.
Where were he? How could this be? „What about the others? Where are they?“
Grace looked at him with a sympathetic expression in her eyes. „There are no others.“
The meaning of her words hit him hard and caught him offguard. He just had assumed there would be others because he did make it. But if nobody was found besides himself… It would mean he was the only survivor. Guilt washed over him and he closed his eyes.
„Oh my god… I-… What have I done? They are all dead.“ Vian murmered and cursed himself that he felt relieved. Relief because he was alive. Suddenly he remembered his prayer and thanked silently every god he knew of.
„The sea gives life and takes it. That’s the circle of life. Nobody blames you. Nobody has the right to do it. So just be grateful for the life the sea presented you. Accept and cherish it.“ She bowed over him and kissed him on his forehead. Vain could feel her chest pressed against him.
Vian opened his eyes again and he met the blue eyes who stared right through him, right into his heart and soul.
„I can’t repay you for your kindness. I have no money on me. All my things were on that ship and-…“
Grace placed her index finger on his lips and hushed him. „Don’t say anymore. I don’t want anything from you. I didn’t rescue you because I wanted anything from you. Don’t worry. You owe me nothing. Just get well again.“
So Vian closed his eyes again and drifted into a deep sleep.
When he woke up again, Grace was receiving something at the door. He could hear a man’s voice and her cold answer. The door was slammed shut and she turned around. Immediately her expression turned softer and she smiled at him apologetically. „Did I wake you up?“
Vian shook his head and sat up. „No, not at all. Who was that man?“
„A villager. He brought food for you. You are hungry, aren’t you?“ She sat down next to him and Vian began to eat. He didn’t know he was that hungry but now he couldn’t stop himself from shoveling all the food at once in his mouth. Seeing that Grace chuckled and took the bowl away.
„Easy boy. There’s enough. You will choke on it if you go on like that. Enjoy the meal.“ She filled the bowl and gave it back to him. Vian flushed and murmered a shy „thanks“ before he started to eat again, this time more graceful. He cursed himself he behaved like a barbarian in front of the woman who saved his life.
„You look a lot better now.“ Grace put a hand on his cheek and draw little circles with her thumb on his skin. Despite of her words she looked almost sad he thought. Surely he was just imagining things.
„There will be a ship coming next month. You can get to the mainland with it. You can go home. Till then you can stay here. Don’t worry about food and a bed. I provide you everything. And before you ask I don’t want you to repay anything I’ve done.“ Grace lowered her hand and stood up.
„Why? Why are you so kind to me?“ Vian didn’t understand. There must be something he had to do. It couldn’t be all for free. And he didn’t want to take advantage of the beautiful lady. It was wrong or so he felt.
„The sea spared you. So how could I let you die? You won’t believe me probably but the sea is a forgiving and merciful power. She sent you to me and for that I only am grateful. I was able to encounter a really nice person I won’t forget.“ Grace left the room and came back with a package of clothes. „They will fit you, I think.“ With that she was done with the topic.
Days went by and Vian felt good enough to walk around a bit. In the beginning Grace accompanied him to every walk but the better he got the less time she spent with him. Vian could feel she distanced herself from him. He just didn’t know why.
As he walked around on the island Vian saw Grace often with other villagers. But she always wore a cold and blank expression which made him wonder sometimes if it was really the same person who saved him. He learned by then Grace was the head of the village. Everybody admired her. She was a hard-working person, strict but just and helped anyone who needed help.
„We are lucky to have her.“, an old man said Vian met by the shore where he helped the old man to fix his fishing net. „She holds everything together. It was hard to start an everyday life after the war. For all of us. We had nothing and the government didn’t help us. When she showed up she got us a new life. Got us hope. You know, she was born on this island. To help her father she accepted work on the mainland. But war took something of her, too. So she came back and we worked hard for our current style of life.“ He smiled proudly and clapped Vian on the shoulder. „Thanks son for your help. I appreciate it.“
In the evening he finally got to see her again. „Eat with me.“, he said and closed the door before she could run away from him again. „Please. A meal tastes better when it’s eaten with other people.“
When she sat down hesitatingly Vian relaxed and sat down next to her. „Thank you.“
„You know I’m the head here, right? I have to keep an eye on all the things going on. I’m sorry I can’t spent more time with you but I’m busy.“
„Even the head has to eat, right? Just a meal with me. That’s all I want.“ Vian filled two bowls and handed her one of them. To be honest he was kind of hurt by her cold attitude. She nursed him back to health so gently and now she treated him like a criminal. „Tell me, have I done something that angered you? Have I done something wrong?“
Grace flinched and took a bite quickly. „No, not at all. Don’t worry.“, she said after swallowing, feigning indifference. But her eyes betrayed her. The vivid blue wavered, a motion on a usually calm surface. He couldn’t help but notice the resemblence of her eyes to the sea once more.
„But I do worry. You are different from when we first met. Has something happened?“ Vian reached out for her hand but she avoided him.
„It’s nothing Vian. Just a few weeks and you will leave. Don’t overexert yourself with useless things.“
„Is it because I will leave? I can stay!“ While saying so he realised he really could. He left home, didn’t he? It hadn’t been his intention to ever go back and now he found a nice island where he could start a new life. He would stay. With her.
Grace’s head shot up. „Take that back!“, she hissed and thumped the bowl down on the floor. „Never say that again. You will leave the day the ship leaves the port.“
„I want to stay with you! You can’t force me to go back!“
„Oh you will see I can.“ Her eyes turned cold. „I am not your lover and I will never be. My heart has turned into stone and can’t be moved by anyone. I don’t know of the word love.“
Vian was completely taken aback. How could this be? What happened Grace would talk like that? What made her spout such hurtful words? Vian could still feel her warmth, the sensation of soft fingers wandering over his skin, her lips on his forehead. That weren’t actions from a woman who didn’t know love.
„I don’t understand. You… What about our first days? What about your words? Were they lies or… I don’t know what to make of this. Help me!“
„You can’t dwell on the past Vian.“
„I think the sea spared me so I can be with you. You said the sea sent me to you. So let me stay.“
„Using my own words against me now?“ She stood up and turned to the door. „I’ve lost my appetite. Good night.“ But befor she could leave Vian jumped up and blocked the way. „What are you doing?“ Unsecurity made its way to her voice and she took a step back.
„I won’t let you go. I know now that I love you. Believe me.“ Vian grasped her hand and kissed it’s back. Grace stared at him, shocked but she didn’t move her hand.
„Fire! Fire!“ The tension was broken and Grace hurried out of the door to look for the source of the turmoil. A small hut had caught fire suddenly and endangered the field next to it.
„Hurry! Get the buckets and build a chain. Everybody, we have to quench the fire.“ Grace took charge of the situation immediately and the villagers followed her every command.
They managed to put out the fire and to save the field. But from the hut was not much left.
While everybody rested Grace brought refreshments and a little snack for everyone.
„That’s our Grace.“, the old fisher coughed when he spotted Vian. „Always helping wherever she can. She’s the strength and the good heart of us. The sea must know this or else there wouldn’t be so many shipwrecked she can save.“
„What? There are more?!“
„Well, they are on the mainland already. Grace looked after all of them. She’s always the one who does those things.“
– – –
There were only three days left until the ship reached the port and Grace had avoided Vian since the evening when the fire broke out. So he ambushed her outside her home when it got dark. He grabbed her from behind and pushed her into the outer wall. „We will talk now. Don’t run away from me.“
Grace looked him with a stern expression in the eyes. „Let go of me.“
„No! You don’t listen to me and I can’t talk to you otherwise. But you are important to me and-…“
„You feel like this because I saved your life.“
„You think I like you because I feel indebted to you? That my feelings are just gratitude? You are wrong.“
„I already told you I will never have you as a lover.“ She wanted to push his hands away but he kept her trapped.
„Yeah, I know. You said you don’t know love. But do you know what I think? It’s a lie. You are fully capable of love. Maybe more than anyone. I talked with the villagers; you often save people. So I understand I am not someone special. But that means you treat everyone like you treated me. And you know what? You were so gentle. Everyone turns precious in your hands. Everyone is loved.“
Grace growled and struggled to free herself. Vian bent forward and kissed her on her forehead and she frozed.
„In your hands everyone is loved. Do I have to be half-dead to be loved by you? For some reason you deny love for yourself. But you are allowed to do what you want. You also deserve to be loved.“ He palmed her face with one hand and he saw her leaning into the touch. „That’s it. Relax and let go.“
She jumped by his words and looked around carefully. Vian stepped closer and forced her to look at him.
„There’s no one. Just you and me.“ Then Vian kissed Grace on the lips. All at once she became soft under his hands and stopped to resist. „Come with me.“, he breathed and kissed her again, let his tongue slide over her underlip and into her mouth. Her hands pressed in a weak protest against his chest but he didn’t mind. „Let me love you. Like you loved me for a short time.“ Without resistance Grace let herself be led inside.
– – –
„Hurry, the ship is going to leave soon. Do you have everything you need?“ Vian waited in the doorframe and waited for Grace. They would leave the island. Together.
„Go ahead, will you? I need to do something yet.“ Grace smiled. „You are just so exited you’re making me nervous.“
Vian laughed and left. Grace looked around in her room which has been her home for years. She sat down for a while, breathed slowly and let her mind wander. It was time. Finally she stood up and left.
– – –
Vian waited on deck scanning the port for Grace. She was late. He felt slightly uneasy being on a ship again considering what happened the last time he sailed over the ocean. The sailors went on board already and no sign of Grace.
„Wait, there’s one passanger missing!“ Vian said when the ship began to move.
„Nope man, everyone’s here. You are the only passanger on board. We are a cargo ship.“
„No, no! A woman! A woman will come!“ Vian panicked and was about to jump off the ship when he saw her. „Grace! Grace, hurry. They are leaving without you!“
Grace smiled sadly and raised her hand. Goodbye.
„No!“ Vian watched her as the ship put more and more distance between them. „Grace!“
She waved once and watched him leave. She didn’t say a word. Then Grace turned around and walked away.
This time the ship sailed to the mainland without incident.The next days and weeks the sea was too wild to cross it again. It was like the water didn’t want him to go back again.