Shelley stood at the back of the cruise liner, watching the tired sun curtsey into the azure
Aegean sea. The bubbles still clung to the sides of her champagne flute and she sipped sparingly, hardly daring to believe the magic that had enveloped her world in the space of a week. Any minute now she feared waking up to find it was all a dream.
This sort of thing did not happen in real life, not to ordinary people like her. These were Barbara Cartland days, spiced with Jackie Collins nights, and she was absorbing every skin tingling second of it while it lasted. A hand touched her on the shoulder and that steam train ripple ran up her spine once again.
‘Happy, darling?’ asked Jeff, before kissing her gently on the neck. Shelley’s eyes closed as his arms wrapped around her, intoxicated with the thrill of the sensation.
‘More than you will ever know,’ she said as he rested his chin on her shoulder to share the view. They both sipped their champagne in silence, one considering the future, the other lost in the past.
It hadn’t always been as good for Shelley, only a few months ago, she had been in a dark place, a lonely place, empty of emotion, devoid of love. A room where printed words screamed from carefully polished shelves. ‘With condolences,’ they said, ‘Deepest sympathy,’ cried others. Nothing more than mass produced cards without soul, bought by mass produced friends with no imagination.
They had not known the Stuart she had known, not really. Stuart had been deep, and clever. He had an insight into life that most people didn’t understand. An unending well of warmth and trust that he was willing to share with anyone and everyone. ‘A man of many kisses,’ she had once called him and she could always tell what mood he was in by the touch of his lips. She used to play a game every morning when he kissed her goodbye before going to work. ‘What kiss,’ she had named it, and she would plan her day by the type received.
Was it the kiss of the tired business man who just wanted to get home and relax with his wife? Or was it the playful linger that promised an evening out at the pub. Her favourite was the fiery kiss that caused her heart to race, knowing that she could look forward to a night of passion from the man of her dreams.
But on that fateful day six months earlier, Stuart had introduced another kiss, a new one, an unknown one. One that she couldn’t decipher. The sort of kiss that meant ‘I wont be home tonight, for my body will be mangled in a car crash.’ That was against the rules of the game. Those sorts kisses weren't allowed, didn’t he know that?
The following months were the worst of her life as she wallowed in a world of hurt, sodden pillows and un-drawn curtains her only companions. She had thought that was how her life would be from then on, despair the norm, but she hadn’t counted on Sally, her neighbour and best friend.
Inch by inch, Sally dragged her from the depths of despair. Hour by hour and day by day Sally tricked her into facing the world again. Coffee mornings with pastry frills were replaced with shopping afternoons and wine bar nights. Friendship became the sponge for her tears and laughter the glue that repaired her broken heart. Stuart was never far from her thoughts but whenever sadness loomed over her like a nightmarish demon, Sally was there to overwhelm it with kindness and optimism.
‘It is what he would have wanted,’ was Sally’s mantra, and she was right, Stuart wouldn’t have wanted her to be sad. He would have wanted her to get on with her life.
‘There are more Stuarts out there,’ said Sally, ‘Not exactly the same, of course, but with the same values and the same gentle manner. All you have to do, is go out and find him. It’s what he would have wanted.’
Then came the day that would change her life forever, the fateful morning when Sally knocked on the door and waltzed in brandishing a set of tickets like Geisha girl’s fan.
‘Here we go,’ said Sally, ‘A fortnight in the Med on the Voyager of the Seas, and before you say anything, I’m not taking no for an answer. It will be magical.’
Once again she was right. Fourteen cocktailed nights and sun soaked days, taking in the exotic places that only existed in the novels of her bedside table.
Rome, Athens, Crete, , they were all there, the haunts of gods and heroes. How could any girl fail to fall in love in such an environment? Troy
Yet again, Sally was right. There were good men out there, and though it was the last thing on her mind when she boarded the ship, here she was, in the strong embrace of her own god, her own hero. He even wore the same aftershave as Stuart, and, if she closed her eyes, just for a moment, she could almost imagine…But no, she had to remember this was Jeff, not Stuart and though it was sooner than expected, she had to accept that moving on was a part of life. She was allowed to seek the happiness she craved. Life was too short, and anyway, it was what Stuart would have wanted.
Jeff had been a revelation, A knight in shining armour, riding to her emotional rescue, and the strangest thing was, she had known him all this time and hadn’t even given him a second glance. How on Earth hadn’t she noticed, He was a little taller than Stuart, and better built than Stuart, and his hair was exactly the same as Stuart’s, in fact it could almost be…
‘Stop it,’ she said to herself, once again, realising she had to stop comparing them. This was the time to move on. Jeff was here, and Stuart was, well…not. That’s all there was too it.
The sun whispered its last goodbyes and as Jeff’s strong arms turned her around to kiss her deeply, her mind returned to the kissing game she once shared with Stuart.
‘What sort of kiss was this?’ she thought,
A promise of lust? Definitely.
A suggestion of love? Hopefully.
A hint of greed? Possibly.
‘Come on,’ said Jeff, picking up the half empty magnum of champagne, ‘Let’s take this back to the cabin.’
She smiled at him, wondering again just how lucky she had been. To find someone so quickly after losing her husband was nothing short of miraculous. And she owed it all to Sally. It was she who had bought the extra ticket and made her come along. The cruise had been booked for almost a year, but after Stuart’s death, Sally had phoned the agent constantly until finally they confirmed there had been a cancellation and Sally had snapped up the last place for her friend.
At first she had been doubtful. It wasn’t as if she couldn’t afford it as Stuart’s substantial insurance had come through and she was now a wealthy woman. She just thought it was a bit too soon, but her friend had been adamant.
‘Come on,’ Sally had nagged, ‘It will be wonderful. Me, you and Jeff together on holiday. We will have a great time.’
And yet again, Sally had been right, she was having a wonderful time. How could she not? Jeff was indeed a wonderful man. Funny, attentive, handsome not to mention a fantastic lover. Sally had been very lucky to have been married to such a man.
Shelley looked to the horizon once more, and blew a kiss towards the area where several blood stained pillow cases were now sinking slowly to the bottom of the
Aegean, their gory contents already attracting the attention of the ever hungry fish.
‘Thank you, Sally,’ she whispered, ‘You were right. It’s what he would have wanted.’