How Do I Live: 2nd Best

Heather had planned to take all her remaining meals in the cabin. As Megan would say, hide out. But when she had awoken and saw the card on the nightstand, she knew that she owed Maggie this at least. She wasn’t certain how she would have gotten through last night without the older woman. Or….

But she was definitely not ready to deal with those thoughts. Or the dreams that had haunted her all night. She had been up since four. Writing. For the first time in months, the words seemed to just flow. As she watched the weak early winter sun peek half-heartedly through the tiny cabin window, Heather had debated taking another walk around the ship. It would most likely be deserted at this time of the morning. Few people were early birds as she was.

Geoffrey certainly had not been. How many times he had come to bed only a couple of hours before she had risen. Like ships passing in the night. Her throat tightened again as she looked around the almost packed restaurant, looking for her friend.

Friend? She had just met Maggie, but in some ways, the connection with the woman was more ‘real’ than many of the supposed ‘friends’ that she had inherited when they moved to Swansea with Geoffrey. Most of whom had drifted away after his death. Had they ever indeed been her friends?

It was another of those questions that Heather was not ready to deal with yet. But she had time. Nothing but. Too many empty years stretched out ahead of her with nothing to do but to ponder it all. And remember. The love of a lifetime. It was enough. It would have to be.

She spied the woman across the room, waving her arms at her. Maggie’s enthusiasm brought a smile to her face. How could it not? Maybe this would not be so bad. A croissant and coffee. Perhaps that quick walk around the deck. Then what? Hiding out in her cabin? Reading trashy romances? Maybe Raquel Graffen or Tara Cox had something new out?

She did another quick scan of the dining area. Just to make sure that he wasn’t around. She was definitely not ready for another run-in with her tainted past. She was relieved to see no sign of the man that haunted her dreams. The only one other than Geoffrey in so long that she had forgotten.

“Good morning, dearie. Sleep well?” The older woman greeted her with that radiant smile as she approached the table.

Heather only shook her head and mumbled, “Not really.”

Maggie scanned her from head to toe. As usual, she wore a faded pair of jeans and layers of jumpers, top, and vests to fight off the chill of winter in the north. She had traded her usual hiking boots for simple trainers, though.

“Yes, as comfortable as the beds are, it isn’t home, is it?”

Heather felt the tears rising in her eyes and fought them back as she took the chair across from the woman. The bed was not the problem. It was far more comfortable than the couch that she had slept on every single night since she came back from the hospital that morning. She simply could not bring herself to sleep in the bed they had once shared. Oh, there were plenty of other rooms in their house. A couple even had beds in them. But that did not seem right either. Not without Geoffrey.

But this woman didn’t want to hear any of that. Although honestly, Maggie’s gentle spirit called to her to spill it all. To unburden herself of the heavy load she had carried alone since that morning. “I just wanted to stop by and thank you again for last night. Your kindness helped me through a difficult situation.”

She could not meet the woman’s soft grey eyes. So instead, Heather studied her hands folded on top of the napkin in front of her. The lines around her knuckles and the thinning skin revealed her age. Even on good days like this when they did not ache. There was no denying that she was getting older. But still, the years stretched out before her. Too many of them. And without any purpose.

“I’m getting off the ship when we get to Bergen,” she forced the confession past that lump in her throat.

Another frail and bruised hand covered hers. As it had a couple of times the night before. Heather forced herself to look up and meet the woman’s gaze. Maggie deserved no less.

“You will regret it if you do, dearie.”

Heather began to shake her head in denial as she fought those tears. “You don’t understand….”

“Oh, but I do. Better than you know. He loves you, you know.”

“I should go. I just wanted to say goodbye.” Heather fought back the rising panic. Reminding herself that this woman did not know the whole story. The complexities of which even she was not sure she understood.

Maggie poured coffee from an urn on the table and passed it as well as a basket of pastries across the table. “Eat something.”

Heather chuckled; Maggie must have a bit of Domme in her somewhere. Her tone was the perfect Mommy-Domme mixture of concern and command. She picked up a cinnamon bun and began to unravel it. She wished it was as easy to unroll the mess that had become her life. She forced a bite past the lump in her throat, surprised to enjoy the rich sweet flavor.

It had been so long since she took any real joy in food. Maggie had been right – the ship’s chef was exceptional. She would have to be careful not to gain too much weight. Although she supposed that wasn’t very likely in just the couple of days she had left on board. Before she realized Maggie was pushing the basket towards her again. Heather smiled as she shook her head, “No, I really shouldn’t.”

The woman was not taking ‘no’ for an answer as Maggie placed a Pain au chocolat on her plate. “Eat. And then you’re going to tell me everything.” There was a wicked grin on her lined face and a twinkle in the woman’s eyes.

Heather wasn’t sure how it happened, but that was precisely what she did. Over the next two hours, as they ate delicious pastries and then walked them off around the decks, she spilled the whole sorted mess to the older woman. It felt surprisingly good to confide in someone else.

They were on the lower deck when Maggie stumbled. Heather only barely managed to catch her and guide her towards a couch set off to the side. Maggie seemed to crumple into it, closing her eyes and rubbing her temples. What worried Heather even more was how pale and frail she suddenly appeared. “I’ll go get some help. The ship has a doctor.”

Her friend opened her eyes as she shook her head. “No, dear. There’s nothing the doctors can do to help.”

The words were like a knife plunged deep into her chest. She wanted to argue and bargain. But she had faced the futility of those over the past few months. “What can I do?”

But before her friend could answer, that smooth deep voice filled her senses, “Maggie Mae, let me help you to your cabin.”

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