It's the time they need to decide that they should go back to Chicago, to an apartment. Two apartments, actually, one for Michael and her, and one for Lincoln, not very far from each other but just enough. Just enough to have their intimacy, and just enough to regret the proximity – the overcrowding – they shared for a few months. Michael misses Lincoln, which was quite predictable. She misses Lincoln, which was less predictable.
Lincoln wasn't disagreeable, back in the Caribbean – quite the contrary. Polite and quiet in the beginning; nice, even considerate, and friendly later; but also, all along, pessimistic and – to call a spade a spade – a real slob. He cured her from this obsession she had for a few years to have a big brother: sometimes having a big brother like him was just like baby-sitting the neighbor's terrible six year-old. She had never though she would miss that. She hadn't thought she would miss his ill-timed bursting into a room – all right... she doesn't miss that – his more or less subtle jokes, and the sudden invasion of hard rock and disco (no, seriously... disco?) on her iPod. But she does miss all these things. Michael says this is exactly the way you're supposed to feel about a big brother: the imperative need to save him from the chair, in order to have the satisfaction to strangle him with your bare hands.
The Christina Rose is berthed at the marina and sometimes they sleep on the boat. More precisely, sometimes Lincoln sleeps on the boat, and sometimes Michael and her sleep on the boat. This is a small trip through nostalgia they aren't aware they share until the night all three of them unexpectedly end up aboard. When she goes down into the cabin, Lincoln is flattened against the wall, armed with a lamp, and he's a breath away from knocking her out; Michael thinks they're under the attack from some burglar and he almost tackles his brother.
She looks at them with an amused smile: she has seen stupid things in her life, but in her own top ten, the current situation comes high in the ranking. While Lincoln haphazardly puts down the lamp (and Michael moves it two inches to the right to replace it exactly where it's supposed to be), she takes out of her bag a bottle of tequila, lemons and a salt shaker.
Lincoln lifts an eyebrow. "You come here to get wasted? I don't know what you've done to my brother, but...
"We come here to have a drink," she corrects him. "And remember."
She waits until the small heater has warmed up the cabin before she takes her coat off. She likes the feeling. The soft heat, the golden light and the distant sound of the water inside; the night and the cold of the Chicago winter outside; Michael's hand on her waist, lying here with this casualness that only real intimacy allows. She scoots closer to him, until their shoulders brush, and she smiles with satisfaction. On the other side of the table, Lincoln opens his mouth to say something – probably a smart ass comment – looks at them and discreetly lowers his eyes towards his glass.
In moments like these, she feels as if she's in a cocoon.
Ten tequila shots (... most of them gulped down by Lincoln).
It's the time Sara needs to let them know that she's tired and going to bed. She leaves her half empty glass on the table, grabs her bag and strolls to the bedroom, leaving Michael alone with Lincoln. There are no more lemons, but that doesn't bother Linc, who helps himself to another tequila shot.
"I've been fired," he announces, and Michael looks up quickly. He almost feels like they've gone ten years back. Almost. Ten years back, Lincoln didn't have this satisfied smirk: he tried to hide news like that as long as possible, eventually confessed and promised he would be more careful next time; then he got pissed off when Michael pointed out that he was always promising the same thing and nothing ever changed.
"I told the boss she was a jerk."
"Why?" Michael repeats.
"Because it was the truth." A sip of tequila. "And because I wanted to leave. It was... you know... more..."
"... stupid?" Michael suggests.
"... entertaining than resigning."
Acquire, order, improve, he thinks.
He assumes that after everything he's been through, Linc has decided he won't let the small troubles of everyday life – such as an annoying boss or a boring job – bug him and bring him down.
He also assumes that getting fired from a job you don't want to do anymore is one way to improve your situation. He can't be sure, it's been a while since the last time he tried to improve his situation; he's content with what he has. Less than a year ago, in the middle of the Caribbean, it looked like a wise decision. But today, with the Christina Rose in Chicago? He's not so sure anymore; he feels like he's missing something.
A few feet away, the bedroom door slides open and Michael stares at Sara. She's wearing a red tank top and one of his boxers, which never fails to... He straightens just a bit to fast, bumps his knee into the table and carefully ignores Lincoln's sneer.
A small object flies through the cabin towards his brother; Linc raises his hands and catches it with an astonishing dexterity from a man who drank sixty percent of the tequila consumed during the night.
"I have the version of Cats that showed on Broadway last year, you're gonna love it," she claims before she closes the door.
Linc puts Sara's iPod (a soberly white one) on the table in front of him and nods his head in resignation. "Marry her," he advises Michael for the second time in less than a year.
Michael looks at the sliding door and rubs his sore knee.
Acquire, order, improve.
He's not going to say that to Sara because he's not sure she would appreciate to be thought of as anyone's property, but it's pretty obvious that she belongs to him. And he will do whatever is necessary – he won't have the slightest hesitation – to keep any potential challenger at bay. For his part, he's totally willing to acknowledge that he's hers. He could say that he would have that tattooed somewhere, but that wouldn't have the same value as for most of people, would it?
He needs a moment to realize that Linc isn't there anymore; his brother has retreated to his old bedroom – with the iPod and the version of Cats that showed on Broadway last year. So, he's alone with the table stacked with a bottle, glasses, leftovers of lemons and salt. He looks at the mess and gets up, and he doesn't think about tidying up, not even a single second – he has more urgent things to do.
Their bedroom is barely lit by a small wall lamp, and Sara is lying in the middle of the queen size bed, drowsy and still wearing his boxers. He turns the lock that he finally installed a few months ago because... because, and he crawls onto the bed until he's hovering right above Sara. She opens her eyes and casts him an expectant look.
Well, it doesn't look that good. First, the glasses and the bottle are still on the table, and he hasn't even ranted because Lincoln has left his jacket in the middle of the cabin. Second, Sara is wearing his boxers, which presents two different problems: the boxers aren't where they're supposed to be and he has nothing to put on for the night. He thinks he should probably let go of the idea to have a place for everything, and everything in its place. Then, he lowers his eyes, looks at Sara and...
... and maybe the boxers are exactly where they're supposed to be.
With a small sleepy sigh, she lifts her head from the pillows, cranes her neck and tries to kiss him. He backs away a bit, and a bit more when she tries again, and she asks – she accuses half serious and half joking: "Michael... is it retaliation because of the boxers?"
He shakes his head, struggles to tell her that she can keep them – these ones and all the others, since she has apparently developed some sort of fetish about them – but the sentences won't come. Neither these sentences, nor the ones, more definitive, he tries to pronounce. In the end, the words escape him, fast and mumbled, and with a stroke of luck in the right order.
"Don't you think we should get married?"
She blinks and starts to laugh; it could be hurtful – if it wasn't deserved. Because honestly... The first time he told her that he loved her, he uttered a 'me too' through a window. The second time he told her that he loved her, he included his brother – his brother for God's sake – in his declaration. And now... now, she should consider that as a proposal?
"It's not what I meant," he says, and she laughs a tad louder.
"No, it is what I meant, but not like that. I..." He shakes his head. "Just say yes..." He experiences the beginnings of a panic attack when he thinks she could answer no or, even worse, 'I need to think about it.' This is the reason why he shouldn't do that kind of thing without a thoroughly detailed plan. "... and I'll ask you again tomorrow. Properly."
She breathes deeply to settle her hiccups.
"Sorry," she says, "it was nerves." She once again tries to kiss him and he lets her.
Well, technically... He rolls on his back and drags her on top of him, groping about for the hem of her tee-shirt or boxers – the first he can lay a hand on, really, he's not choosy – and technically, he kisses her back. He has just made the worst proposal in the history of proposals, but nobody will say he can't suitably kiss his soon-to-be fiancée.
Mmm, tank top hem. Skin under it. A kiss in her neck... "Do you think this is the right time..." ... and another on her shoulder. "... to talk about Lincoln?"
"... take the iPod with him?"
It's roughly the time the three of them need to properly go back to sea. There have been, of course, a few trips, holidays on the Lakes, in the Atlantic and even back in the Caribbean Sea. More or fewer people aboard but always, always the iPod and Michael's insane obsession (... as if Michael had anything but insane obsessions...) for the lock on the shower booth.
But this time around, it's a several week cruise aboard a liner. At least, he'll be safe from sarcastic comments about his inability to sail a damn ship. He can drive, pilot, and manipulate lots of things, just... not the yacht. Could he please be left alone about that?
"Remind me why you wanted me to come with you?"
They're sprawled out in lounging chairs, on the deck, under the gentle sun, aboard the ship for less than twenty-four hours and Lincoln is already bored. He's surprised that Michael, always hyperactive, has allowed himself on this kind of expedition: the idea entertains him a few seconds, before he goes back to his boredom. But of course, Michael will have Sara as a distraction (and the other way around); the only positive aspect of the situation is that, this time, Lincoln won't have to listen to a Cabaret remix in order to compensate for a lack of intimacy.
"Because we're here to celebrate the tenth anniversary of your official rehabilitation," Michael mutters. His eyes are closed and he's totally indifferent to the curiosity his tattoos may provoke. There are also scars and even after all these years the marks of the stitches. Just like every time he sees his brother without a shirt, Lincoln does his best to ignore the scratches and wounds. Mike has always refused to tell them how exactly he got most of them, and things aren't going to change now. Whether he likes it or not, Linc has had to accept it.
"And you need me for that?"
Sara casts him a glance above her weirdly fluorescent pink and blue cocktail.
"I'm beginning to wonder about that."
Michael puts a soothing hand on Sara's wrist, lets it slide up her arm to her shoulder and keeps it here. "Linc will keep himself busy. He was a fan of The Love Boat."
He almost chokes on his indignation.
"I was not a fan of The Love Boat."
""You were in love with Julie."
"I wasn't..." He breathes deeply and looks at Sara. "How can you stand him?"
"How could you stand him?"
"He took a few beatings."
"Ah." Her smile is way too sweet to be honest and innocent. "I have other means at my disposal." Makes sense. "You know," she resumes, "this girl on the other side of the pool keeps staring at you."
He watches her (Sara, not the girl on the other side of the pool) with incredulity.
"What are you, now? A dating agency?" Sara doesn't answer. Michael smiles. For his part, he holds his stomach in – not that he really needs to, but it can't hurt, can it? "The one with the black swimsuit or with the red bikini?"
"Um," Michael appreciatively hums, which is probably...
Sara elbows him in the ribcage and utters a warning "Eh!"
... not a good idea.
Lincoln can see Sara's eyes behind her sunglasses, blinking and scanning the other end of the deck. "Both of them, actually."
He squints against the sun and its reflection on the water, and he holds his stomach in a bit more. That could be... interesting.
"Whatever you're thinking, don't say it," Sara warns him.
"How would you know what I'm thinking about?"
Michael snorts with disdain, whereas Sara drinks her cocktail through her straw – she won't grace this question with an answer. Since they take it that way, he's going to let them hang on in their moral superiority and get himself a drink. Maybe one, or even two, of these weirdly fluorescent pink and blue cocktails.
As Mike would put it... Acquire, order, improve. Appreciate.
It's the time they need to grab the bottle of champagne. White vintage Dom Pérignon. Linc proudly put it on the table seconds ago; then something... someone in the restaurant room caught his attention (the girl with the black swimsuit, currently wearing a blue dress) and he told them he would be right back, they should wait for him before they open the champagne.
They look at each other, smile and grab the bottle. They get out of the restaurant and dive into the nearest elevator. They're fast. They haven't run for years, but some actions are well rooted.
"Lincoln is going to kill us," Sara says, laughing out loud.
The doors close and the elevator starts to move. Michael smiles, a small smirk, just a bit smug.
"You don't think I gave him our cabin number, do you?"
One and a half hours.
It's the length of time he spends in his therapist's office each week, probably for the rest of his life if he considers the way things are going. But he's sure that there are worse life sentences. He has in his wallet a picture of Sara on the deck of the Christina Rose, fists on her hips, scowling and pouting, and one of Lincoln, free and unusually smiling. He regrets some of the things he had to do, but he doesn't regret what he's been through: he has Linc and Sara.
He still has nightmares, pain and memories of pain; they wake him up and keep him awake until he can hear Linc's voice on the phone or feel Sara's arms closing around him for a possessive and sleepy embrace. These are things he won't tell them because he doesn't want to ruin the perfection of the delicate balance they have build, and destroy all their efforts.
One and a half hours each week, in his psychiatrist's office, his eyes glued on the painting of a yacht hanging on the wall in front of the couch, a glass of water next to him, he speaks and sometimes wonders whether his doctor believes everything he tells him.
It doesn't matter, since he has Linc and Sara.