Matters of the Heart: Book 1, Chapter 2

Part I, Chapter 2: A Face From the Past
by Elizabeth Johnston

It couldn’t really be who he thought it was – could it? The hair was shorter and she was a bit older, but it had to be her, or her long-lost twin. Without taking his eyes off the lady, he rose to his feet, jumped off his sailboat and strolled down the dock to greet her, trying to keep his excitement in check. She seemed preoccupied with something and didn’t notice him heading her way. Before he got to her, she had reached the mooring lines for the boat parked next to his, turned around and bent down to check the ropes.

Sonny quietly walked up behind her. With a playful grin on his face, he bent over and spoke softly into her ear. “Well hello there Sunshine. Got any coke today?”

The voice startled her. She stood up suddenly and in doing so bumped into him knocking him over backwards. Turning around, she had an irked look on her face.

“Who the heck …?” she demanded in an obviously annoyed tone.

She looked down into the face of the man sitting on his behind with an impish grin on his face, hands on the deck supporting his weight, and not believing her eyes, she took another long hard look. The look of annoyance turned to a quizzical stare and recognition quickly followed. The stare turned into a big warm grin when she realized who it was. She put out her hands to meet his and helped him to his feet.

“Sonny?” she asked in an excited voice. “Sonny Cr….” She paused briefly and laughed softly. “Um – are we a good guy or a bad guy today?” she asked teasingly.

“It’s Crockett today darlin’ -– take it whatever way you like.” There was a devilish glint in his eyes when he said it.

“Then I definitely have some coke today – sugar-free and decaffeinated.”

They embraced as old friends who hadn’t seen each in a long while. After they rocked in each other’s arms for a while, he slid his hands slowly down her sun-browned arms until they reached her waiting hands, and smiling into her eyes, uttered tenderly. “It’s good to see you again Jessica Taylor.”

“It’s good to see you too Sonny Crockett,” she returned in a soft welcoming voice. He looked a bit older she thought. The hint of gray at the temples only added to those ruggedly handsome features she had admired so much when they had shared that brief interlude together. How long ago was it – must be eight years now. Well they were both a little older. He still looked great, she thought, and those dimples and sparkling eyes hadn’t aged at all. His eyes were blue today, a good sign. They seemed to turn green when he was upset or worried about something. It was good to see him again. It brought back happy memories of a time before time had stood still.

Her mind returned to the present. “But what the heck are you doing here? I thought you told me you and Miami had decided to part company forever.”

“That’s a long story darlin’,” he replied. His voice sounded a million miles away. “But the long and short of it is that I have some business to clear up around here, and it looks like I’ll be sticking around for a while.”

He dropped her hands and bent down to tighten the ropes she had been working on. As he worked, he spoke over his shoulder. “But how about you? How did you end up here. You’re a bit far away from home aren’t ya?” He finished with the ropes, stood up again and stared into her sparkling blue eyes.

She turned her head aside before she answered him in a weary faraway voice. “I got tired of Colombian guerrillas and northern winters.” She turned back to face him. Her face was smiling again and her voice had brightened. “So, I thought I’d hit the Florida sunshine for a while, and loved it so much, I just ended up staying, and I’m still here.”

“Is that your boat?” she asked pointing to the Vitus II.

“All 40 feet of her. Yours?” He asked, pointing to sailboat berthed next to his.

“The Mountain Mist,” she proclaimed proudly. “Maybe not the fanciest one around here, but she’s solid and seaworthy, and she’s mine.”

He put his arms around her waist and pulled her closer to him. “Well it looks like we might be neighbours for a while.” He moved his lips closer to hers, but she turned her head and pulled back from his attentions. He sensed her reluctance and loosened his grasp.

“Gad, it’s been a long week,” she said, breaking the tension that had suddenly developed. “How about a cold drink and some warm conversation?”

“Sounds like a deal to me,” Sonny replied.

She gave him a teasing peck on the cheek. “But first I have to get changed and pick up Jack.” She hopped aboard her sailboat and just before she went below called out, “Come on board. You can wait here ‘til I get back. Want a beer?”

“Jack?” he thought. His heart sank a little. Well a lot can change in eight years, but didn’t Will say she didn’t have anybody in her life. Could he have been talking about someone else? He climbed aboard and stood looking out into the distance and thinking about things that could have been.

It had been a long time ago – how long ago? It must be eight years since they had met in a dream and then parted, but seeing her again, it seemed like it was just yesterday. She was a geologist at the time, working for a mining company that had a property in the Colombian mountains. A good part of the year she spent at the mining camp, and the rest at company headquarters back home. He met her on a plane flying back from Bogota. She was delivering some samples to the company’s head office – he was on an assignment with the DEA on the trail of a mule for a new drug operation. Somehow things got mixed up – he thought she was the mule and tried to set up a deal. She figured he was a drug smuggler and reported him to the plane’s crew. It was funny after the fact, and they both laughed long and hard about it later, but at the time he wasn’t too thrilled at being arrested when the plane landed. After everything settled out he found himself with time to kill waiting for the real mule to show, and they spent that time together.

It had been a fairytale encounter, both of them wanting and reveling in each other’s company, knowing that it could only be a fleeting romance that would pass with the next change in the wind. He and Jess had lived in two different worlds and they both knew the time would come when they had to say good-bye and go back to their own separate lives. Even though they knew their farewell was inevitable, it seemed that it had come all too quickly. But when he had thought about it later he realized that it had come none too soon. After his wife had died he had vowed never to get involved with anyone ever again, and Jessica had been getting too close to making him break that resolve.

She came back dressed in a pair of navy blue cotton shorts and a sky blue tank top that only emphasized the brilliance of her blue eyes. She handed him a cold beer. “Bud okay?” He took the beer and thanked her. “You must be pretty tired and in need of a good meal. How about you join us for dinner?”

There was no answer. He just looked at her, staring into those brilliant blue eyes not knowing what to say. He wasn’t sure whether he wanted to or not. He didn’t feel like being fifth wheel. She recognized the uncertainty and decided to let him think about it a bit more.

“You can let me know how you feel about it when I get back.” She gave him a gentle peck on the cheek. “There’s more to drink in the fridge – just help yourself.” Then she gave him a big bear hug. “It’s great to see you again Sonny.” She hopped over the side and as she headed down the wharf called out that she’d be back in about 20 minutes.

After she left, he downed the beer and headed down into the galley to get a refill. As he opened the fridge, he noticed a picture of Jessica with a very handsome latin-looking gentleman. The expressions on their faces unmistakably said they were in love. He decided against the beer – two was enough for now. Instead he grabbed a can of cola. Then he headed back up and out on deck and sat down gazing out over the water.

He thought back to the time he had first met her – another lady who could have hooked him but this time he only nibbled on the bait and then he slipped away. But that had all happened a long time ago in a place far away, and now it had become one of those memories he just couldn’t seem to bury.

Nah, he didn’t really feel like crashing dinner tonight, but he would at least stay and meet this Jack.

Right on time, he heard footsteps on the dock. He stood up to meet Jack – it seemed the gentlemanly thing to do. But when he looked down the gangway it wasn’t quite the sight he expected. Jessica was walking with the biggest black – was that a bear – he had ever seen. When she saw him looking her way, she called out, “Home, Jack,” and the black, furry monster crashed full speed down the dock. When he got to the sailboat, he casually jumped over the side, headed straight toward Sonny and rubbed his big soft head against his leg begging for attention.

Jessica followed shortly behind. She was laughing as she climbed on board. “I’m sorry Sonny. I just couldn’t help myself. But if I told you I was going to get my dog, I was afraid I’d never get the chance to see that little boy expression you get on your face when you’re totally surprised.”

“Jack is a dog?” The tone in his voice was incredulous, and the little boy look was on his face.

“Meet Black Jack, Sonny, named for the drink, not the game. I always liked that name. An old friend of mine used to drink it.” She winked at him – Black Jack was Crockett’s drink. “He’s a Newfoundland, and he’s very friendly. They’re water rescue dogs. All sailors should have one.”

“So this is Jack. Well with a name like Black Jack, he’s gotta be my buddy for sure.” It was love at first sight. He patted the dog playfully, scratched behind his ears and rubbed under his chin. The dog lapped it all up and in return laid on a few wet kisses himself, and then lay down on his back for a belly rub. Sonny crouched down to oblige him.

“Hooh,” Jessica laughed, “you’ve got a friend for life now. I just hope he doesn’t decide to follow you home.”

“Well at least it wouldn’t be far away, and if he does then you’d just have to come over to get him back.”

“Okay, that’s enough boy. Down Jack.” The dog obediently turned over and lay down on the deck, but his golden eyes stared up at Sonny with a mournful look begging for more attention.

“Hey, I thought you couldn’t have pets here anymore.” Sonny said in a surprised tone as he stood up again.

“You can have anything you want so long as it’s not an alligator Crockett. And who would be crazy enough to keep an alligator as a pet anyway, especially aboard a boat. But I guess there was some nutso drug dealer who used to berth his boat right there where yours is. Apparently this guy had a pet alligator that used to go around terrorizing all the boat owners and chewing up things, and so after he left the management decided they didn’t want any more alligators here.”

Crockett chuckled to himself. “Ah, Elvis only got out once in a while,” he said almost apologetically and, pretending to be indignant, he added, ” and besides, he was more terrified of those old coots than they were of him.”

“Don’t tell me!” she sounded dumbfounded. “The nutso drug dealer was Sonny Burnett – right?” She shook her head. “I should have known. How could it have been anyone but you?” Sonny just shrugged his shoulders and they both had a good laugh.

Changing the subject, Sonny asked, “I don’t mean to be nosy, and tell me to mind my own business if you want to, but if this is Jack, who’s that in the photo down below?”

The laughter drained from her face. She went silent and sat down, turning her head away to stare out over the water.

“Eduardo. He was my husband, Sonny. I met him in Colombia long after you were gone. He was a wonderful, caring man who loved his country and his people. He was trying to help the local farmers give up growing coca and get into something else. The guerrillas killed him three years ago – they don’t like people who interfere with their drug operations.” She stopped for a second to clear the lump that had come into her throat.

“After that I went back home. I knew I couldn’t go back to Colombia, so I quit my job. I came to Florida for a holiday, liked it here, and decided to stay.” She looked up at his face again. “I’ve got a job here now. I like it. It pays the bills and it gives me time to do some of the other things I want to do.” She tried to smile, but the wetness in the corners of her eyes gave her sadness away.

“I’m sorry Jess. I didn’t know.” He put his arms around her and hugged her tightly. His arms were comforting and she rested her head against his shoulder. It had been a long time since she had let a man hold her like this. She hadn’t cried for Eduardo for a long time, but in his arms she felt safe enough to let her feelings and the tears flow freely. Of course he didn’t know. It had all happened a long time after they had gone their separate ways.

He continued to hold her and felt tears welling in his own eyes. He knew what it was like to lose someone you loved so much in such a brutal way. It was fourteen years since Caitlin had been killed and still he felt the pain.

He was still rocking her gently when a voice appeared out of nowhere. “I might have known that it wouldn’t take you long to get into the swing of things Crockett.”

They unlocked and looked around. Gina Robinson was standing at the side of the boat with her hands on her hips and a look of phony displeasure on her face, hiding the surprise of seeing them together.