Continued from here.
Nicolas stood by the small dock. It's a quarter past 5 in the morning and the boat was rocking gently in the low tide. Half the boat was resting on the sandy beach. He was joined by Jun, the resort's boatman, quietly slurping his morning coffee.
After inspecting the boat and seeing everything ready, Nicolas headed to Ms. Venera's suite. On the way there, he passed by another guest in the breakfast area, "Hello Mr. Crawford." He said.
"Hello Nicolas, it's a fine day.", greeted Mr. Crawford nonchalantly.
"Indeed sir, have a good day!", replied Nicolas.
The breakfast area was the central hub that led to all sections of the resort. Nicolas continued to the east side towards the exclusive suites.
When he arrived at the doorstep, he found the door ajar.
"Good morning, Ms. Venera?", Nicolas greeted after a soft knock on the door.
Nicolas knocked again, "Hello, Ms. Vene...."
"Yes?", Ms. Venera answered from behind him.
Nicolas did a tenkan turn. Felt dizzy for half a second, but recovered quickly. "The boat is ready at your convenience, Ma'am".
"Good. Help me get my things", Ms. Venera said as she walked past him into the room.
As Nicolas followed inside, his eyes went again to the bed's headboard. The gecko was still there, albeit turned around. It was now facing the ceiling. The tail twitched.
Ms. Venera disappeared into the alcove leading to the bathroom.
Now is my chance. Nicolas moved towards the gecko. With a grunt, he tossed a pillow smack into the lizard. But the critter casually moved away at the last moment, deciding not to take its chances against the sack of cotton. It then slowly returned to its old spot as if nothing happened.
Nicolas grabbed the pillow again.
"What are you doing??", chided Ms. Venera.
"Just making sure the pillows are fluffy for you, Ma'am", Nicolas said as he made a show of delicately puffing the linen.
They made their way back to the boat. Nicolas helped carry a light bag of swim clothes and the pillow that he "contaminated" earlier with his bare hands. Ms. Venera carried a small velvet pouch.
Jun snapped to attention upon seeing them arrive.
Nicolas introduced him, "Ms. Venera, please meet Jun, our captain for this trip. Jun is also trained as an army reserve. He shall provide the best security for us".
Ms. Venera slowly appraised Jun from head to toe. Though he was fully dressed, Jun felt otherwise. His arms involuntarily rose to cover his chest. He normally didn't have a problem walking about brandishing his bare belly, but her icy gaze felt like he wasn't wearing anything at all.
"Didn't you drive me yesterday from the airport?", Ms. Venera addressed the boatman.
"That was not me Ma'am, It was Jared".
"Oh, you two look very similar" (They look nothing of the sort)
"Ahhh.. Yes, Ma'am", replied Jun. Thinking Less talk, less mistakes.
As they moved towards the boat, a rough voice called out, "Hey! Do you have space for one more?"
Ms. Venera froze.
Mr. Crawford, or Ben as he preferred to be called, stepped towards them.
"What are you doing here, Ben?", seethed Ms. Venera.
"I would like to enjoy an island tour.", Ben replied, un-moved. "And I know what you want to do." Ben looked at the velvet pouch she was holding. "I have a right to those ashes too".
Nicolas watched in dismay as the two guests became increasingly hostile. He had no idea that they knew each other.
"Mr. Crawford, sorry to interrupt." interrupted Nicolas. "I did not know that you wanted to go on an island tour as well. We can certainly get another boat for you if you prefer."
Ben looked at Ms. Venera, he looked deflated. "I just want to say goodbye one last time before you scatter her ashes," He pleaded.
After a long pause, Ms. Venera ruled, "You may join, but you may not talk."
"Okay, this way ladies and gentlemen", Nicolas tried to be upbeat as much as possible. Jun had already escaped to the boat on the first sign of confrontation. He hurried back out to help the passengers board. After settling down, they pushed off the shallow dock and began heading out to sea.
But before they can go far, there was a blur of movement in the passenger galley. Ben dashed to where Ms. Venera was seated, snatched the velvet pouch, and jumped over to the beach.
Nicolas yelled for Jun to stop.
"No, let him go." Ms. Venera commanded calmly. "Proceed as planned."
They watched as Ben eagerly waded on the beach; the pouch held high over his shoulder. Once he reached high ground, he turned around and might have been trying to say something. But they were too far away to hear it.
Nicolas wondered if that was a warning for him and Jun of what would come next.
Then Nicolas saw something he never thought possible. There was a tear coming down Ms. Venera's cheek, the rest of her sat still as a rock.
Nicolas sat down a respectable distance in the galley. He turned his head slightly away from her and bowed a little. He recalled his training when he was starting at the hotel, Be fully present but never intruding.
He tried to think about what to say.
When he looked up, she was no longer there. Then there were footsteps in the dry room where they kept most of the bags. Ms. Venera re-emerged holding a small black pouch. "This is what Ben came for."
Half an hour later, they arrived at a small atoll. Jun was reaching the limits of the mandatory silence and was about to belch out some unimportant announcement when Nicolas shushed him to be quiet. Jun sighed deeply.
Ms. Venera was saying a few words. Might even be praying?
Nicolas assumed his station, ready to offer assistance when called. When none came, and he got tired, he gently approached her and asked, "Ms. Venera, would you like us to help with..." he signaled to the pouch.
Ms. Venera's eyes were very different now. Gone was the cold-blooded she-devil stare. In its place were eyes not unlike a little girl, afraid and alone.
"You know we can also arrange for a full ceremony if you like. We're here for you, Ms. Venera." Nicolas tried his most re-assuring tone.
Ms. Venera inhaled deeply. "Thank you, but that will not be necessary. My mother would prefer something simple. I would prefer something simple."
With that, she opened the pouch and poured the ashes to the sea.
Back at the resort that night, Ms. Venera skipped the evening meals. She cried for the memory of her mother. They had a testy relationship. She had loathed and loved her in equal measure.
She was angry at herself for being weak. And she cried because she doesn't really understand why she was crying.
She hated the situation she is in. She hated the hotel and everything that has happened. She hated everyone.
Then, as if a gift from above, she heard an answer to her problems.
Ms. Venera emerged the next day. She had resumed her regal bearing, chin held high and quick to disperse anybody situated along her path. Her all black attire was accentuated with a brownish-green lizard held close to her bosom.
She caressed the gecko gently in the head. The lizard responded affectionately by stretching its neck towards her palm. Closing its eyes ever so softly.
"How was your stay so far, Ms. Venera?", Nicolas asked as they met in the breakfast hall.
The lizard gave Nicolas a look of disdain, twitched its tail, and turned its head away.
Nicolas tried to swipe away thoughts about cold-blooded beings sticking together.
Ms. Venera stroked the gecko again, "There was a point that I thought things can't get any worse. But thanks to my new friend here, I can see there have been some improvements from before."
And for the first time, Ms. Venera notched up from a quarter to a half-smile.
Nicolas was as relieved as he can be. Improvement. That's what she said. That means our "Can do" attitude is paying off.
Nicolas was walking over to the front desk, when the receptionist on duty called to him. She handed him a letter from Mr. Ben Crawford, who had checked out early a few minutes ago.
Nicolas opened the letter. It read: "There is more about the ashes than what Ms. Venera is saying. Call me if you want to know."