Chapter 37

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Few words were exchanged during the drive back to the Gangplank cottage. Bobby dropped them off, and Art made arrangements for him to take them to the airport the next day. After they settled in, Natalya walked to the beach.

Art didn't follow right away, figuring she needed some alone time. He felt bad for her, wanted to comfort her in some way, but he didn't know how. What could he say?

He walked to the main house and asked Louie if he could buy a couple of beers from him.

"Sorry, no beer," he said, "but I do have this." He opened a cupboard and produced a pint-sized bottle of rum.

"That'll do." Art paid the man.

He made his way back to the cottage and walked down to the beach. Natalya sat in the pink sand, facing the ocean, sea breeze tossing her hair, body slender as a mermaid. To Art, she looked lovely.

He sat beside her and opened the pint bottle, extended it to her.

She regarded it for a long moment, shrugged, and took it from him. She tipped it to her lips and passed the bottle back to him. He did the same.

"Now I know," she said.

"I'm sorry." It's all he could think of to say.

They each took a few more drinks from the bottle but didn't finish it.

That evening, after they returned to the cottage, they avoided talking about what had happened that day. Natalya pulled a magazine from her bag she had purchased at the airport, reclined on the bed and started thumbing through it, not looking as if she were reading.

Art watched her for a while. She didn't resemble Ellen at all, but something about the way she lay there reading reminded Art of his lost wife. Ellen also loved perusing magazines and had a half-dozen subscriptions.

Having seen women's clothing in Vince Henson's bedroom closet had reminded him of unfinished business. He took a seat on the sofa. "Nattie, I'm wondering if you can help me with something."

She lowered her magazine and eyed him.

"Ellen's been gone for four years. It's been difficult for me to let her go."

Natalya sat on the side of the bed and faced him. "I can tell by the way you talk about her you must have loved her very much."

He decided to let it all out. "I never cleaned out her closet. I couldn't. I guess I was afraid if I disposed of her clothes, it would be too easy to forget her."

"How ironic. You don't want to forget. I no longer want to remember."

"If I box everything up, will you help me find a home for them? Maybe a women's shelter or even Goodwill or Salvation Army?"

She wore a sad smile. "Of course, and Art, trust me. You'll never forget Ellen."

"I suppose not, but maybe..." He swallowed. "Maybe disposing of her things I'll be able to move on."

Patting the bed beside her, she said, "Come here."

He hesitated but decided to join her.

She pushed him back onto the pillow.

"Nattie?"

She shushed him and lay beside him, both of them clothed. Turning her back, she pressed her butt into his groin, inviting Art to spoon with her.

He obliged, burying his nose in her hair, breathing in her scent, and rubbing light circles on her stomach.

She made a little mewling noise of pleasure that aroused him. Embarrassed, he tried pulling away, but she wiggled tighter against him and told him it was okay. A minute later, she took his hand and moved it to her breast, pressed it there. She went still.

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