During dinner, Martin patted down his jacket pockets and Louisa's skin crawled with a second déjà vu.
When he found the item he was searching for, Martin pulled it out. It was her engagement ring.
"Um, third time's the charm?" Martin asked, holding it out for Louisa.
Louisa put down her utensils and reached for the ring. She put it on her finger. "Yes. Third times the charm."
"Good," Martin said, starting to eat again.
She looked at it. "I thought it was lost at sea."
"No. It was in my pocket. I lost one shoe, though."
"I suppose they could dredge for it."
Martin stared at her. "The cost alone—"
Martin nodded slowly, as the light bulb went off in his head. "Ah, that was a joke."
Louisa continued grinning. Then, as if out of the blue she wanted to shoot herself in the foot, she asked, "How's supper?"
Martin answered delicately, analyzing her for any signal he was on the right or wrong path. "It's…good…fine…perhaps a little more garlic on the fish…"
"Oh, more garlic. That's easy to fix."
"And…" he kept staring at her, "We might choose a less salty brand of tomato soup…salt raises the blood pressure over time…but, it's good. Fine. Tasty."
Louisa said, honestly, "I thought the soup was too salty, too." She then smiled, "You know, salt can cause water retention, as well."
"Yes. But, not in you."
Their eyes bore into each other. They had run through the gauntlet and had wound up on the other side, untouched, without any injuries, any pain. What had been was now no longer; it had been fully transformed into something new, fresh, and wonderful.
Later that night, in bed, Martin was back in the sea. The icy water was viciously agonizing, and this time, he had no life jacket on. He was thrashing for any help, a rope, a raft, a buoy, but there was no purchase. The water filled his mouth, his nose, his ears, and it had tentacles, attached to his legs, and was pulling him under, deep into the ocean. He clawed desperately at the water to get out, but his fingers grasped nothing, and he was going down, into the fearsome dark, his lungs bursting for air, and he saw in the last rays of light filtering through the watery murk, next to him, two others caught in the glacial water, two others being pulled down, already drowned, already dead, Louisa and his baby James…
Louisa was startled awake up by a blow on her back from Martin. She swung around in bed and sat up, seeing his body moving as if it was subject to electrical charges. He was frantic, his arms and legs jerking about, demolishing their bed. She had never seen him lift his pinky during the night, his sleep usually something akin to a sedated vampire. Now he was doomed and helpless in a terrible nightmare.
Of a moment, he shot upright, his eyes flashing open, yelling "NO!" He turned to see Louisa, wild in his distress, perspiration covering his face. He grabbed her shoulders hard with both hands, shook her as if to ensure she was real, and then flew out of the bed, tripping on the tousled sheet and landing hard on the floor.
"Martin!" she cried.
He got up and stumbled to James Henry's crib and stopped, looking down at his child, his son. He reached out and touched James, and the baby was fine, unharmed, still sleeping. Martin collapsed, sitting on the far edge of the bed, as his breathing slowed down, his head lowered against his chest. He looked defeated.
"Oh, god," he said.
Louisa crossed the bed and gently guided him back to their pillows. "Come. Lay down," she said, and he did. She got the sheets and blankets back into form and slid under them, curling herself up against Martin, kissing his cheek, using tissues to wipe away the sweat, and then resting her head on his chest. She could hear his heart still pounding, the lub-dubs echoing in her ears. He put his hand on her back, rubbing it back and forth.
"Were you in the sea?" she asked.
"And we were drowning, too, me and James?"
"Oh, Martin, we're safe. It was a dream. We're all safe."
They lay like that for a while and then Martin spoke. "When we were in the water, Garvey told me to not focus on the cold, but to think of some place warm, to imagine myself there, to help myself survive. This is where I went, being right here, in bed like this, with you beside me, and James in his crib. This was the warmth that helped me live. This is where I wanted to be."
He closed his eyes and kissed the top of her head. She received the kiss with equally closed eyes.
"Martin," she said, "I rang Stu MacKenzie today, when I came home for your suit. I told him I was definitely resigning. I also told him to have them rip up my Superintendent Assistant application. I want you to go to London and be a surgeon. I want you to run the Vascular Department at Imperial. I want to live with you there. I'll get whatever job I can, but I want to be there in London with you."
"Louisa," he said, hugging her tightly against him. "I resigned from Imperial today to stay here in Port Wenn with you."
It was true. He had rung Robert Dashwood that morning, from his hospital bed, before Louisa had come back from home with the Lexus and a new suit. He had told Robert that he couldn't take the position at Imperial, and he was going to stay in Port Wenn and be a GP.
He didn't tell Robert why, but it was clear to Martin-he was doing that because that would make Louisa happiest, and that was his first goal in life, his only goal in life.
He didn't care where he was or what he did. He just needed to be with Louisa, with her lying on his chest, his arms wrapped around her. He knew she was happiest in her village, so that was where his heart wanted him to live. What had been so difficult to understand for so long, was now so simple to see.
Her eyes widened as she looked up at him questioningly. Drawn together, their lips fastened together for a very long time. She then rested her head back down on his chest. His heart beat slowly, and steady. It was hypnotizing, and put her into a wholly pleasurable trance. She could stay curled against him forever.
"What are we going to do?" she asked, her hand under his pajama top, caressing his chest.
He answered after a long while. "We'll talk tomorrow."
They had decisions to make, and situations to unravel. But, for right now, the comfort of their love, and their unity together, was enough.