This One Got Away

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Some names in this story have been slightly changed to protect the innocent– JK

For the most part, women have never thrown themselves at me, a fact that caused me tremendous anguish when I was a younger man. But the years pass, and if you last long enough you eventually get pretty comfortable inside of your own skin, at least most of the time.

I had stopped in at Bayfront Outfitters, appropriately located on Bulls Bay, in Edisto, South Carolina, a lovely old Southern town full of art galleries and history and huge, elegant live oak trees, surrounded by the most beautiful salt marshes you will ever see. Tony Clark owns Bayfront Outfitters. Tony always struck me as being the perfect boss, a prototypical Southern gentleman overseeing a store full of happy employees selling rods and reels, lines and flies, clothing and gifts, and dispensing advice when requested or as the need is sensed. It’s a great place to visit, to sit and chat. I always enjoy my time there.

On this visit Tony was drawing a map for me, a map to a fishing spot, when quite an attractive young woman (verging on stunning was more like it) strolled in through the back door. An employee. My attention immediately drifted away from the map.

As she came by Tony said to her, “Shelley, I’d like you to meet John Kumiski.” We shook hands. Shelley had a good handshake, firm, strong. She looked me straight in the eye. “Pleased to meet you,” she said. I looked right back. “The pleasure is all mine, miss.”

Just then the phone rang, and Tony went to answer it. I told Shelley I was in town getting photos and story material for a book, and I would love to photograph her while fishing. Would she come fishing with us tomorrow? She said, “Why don’t we discuss it over dinner?” She gave me a time and place, she gave me her phone number, and just like that she was gone. I found myself saying, “Wow, that was easy”.

I’ve been contentedly married a long time. I like being married. It sometimes has its disadvantages but they’re minor. My family is important to me. I’m important to them. I want it to stay that way. So when I got back to the hotel I told my traveling and fishing companion Steve Serra that we were going to dinner with a young woman.

“You have a date?” he said. “No, Steve, it’s not a date. We’re having dinner together.” “You don’t want me to go,” he said, a statement. “Steve, I do want you to go,” I stated right back. “You’re buying her dinner?” “Look”, I said, “I am not buying her dinner. It is not a date, and I want you to come with me. We’re going to talk about kayak fishing tomorrow.” I’m still not sure that he believed my story but he did agree to accompany me.

Steve and I show up at the restaurant a few minutes late. Shelley is sitting at the bar having a glass of wine. She is looking mighty fine, and is delighted to see us. There isn’t much chance that I might have missed an opportunity to spend an evening with her. I still have a Y chromosome, and on top of that I really do want her to come kayak fishing with us. I don’t run across beautiful young women very often, and to have one model for my camera would be a tremendous stroke of luck.

I’m a little tense at first, but a glass of wine and some well-timed touches by our lovely companion loosen me up. Steve is on his game right away, and has a beer, and then another. Shelley has another glass of wine. By my second glass of wine I feel the unmistakable aura of an alcohol buzz coming on, something I seldom feel anymore.

Our dinners come. We share food and conversation easily. Shelley is easy to be with, easy on the eyes. I am enjoying myself tremendously. My second glass of wine is empty. The bartender asks if I want a refill. I tell him, “No more. Water only for me now, please”. I know in the morning I have to get up to fish. I can’t do that if I got soused. The buzz I have now is plenty.

We finish our dinner. Shelley, sitting at the bar between Steve and I, needs to go to the rest room. We’re physically close, and I have to scootch out of the way to let her out. Before she walks off she leans over and whispers in my ear. “You missed it. I’m not wearing any underwear.” And off she saunters, looking, if anything, even better than before.

I say to Serra, “Did you hear what she just said to me?” “No.” “She said she’s not wearing any underwear!” He says, “John, I want to fuck that girl!” He’s not the only one.

When she comes back I put my arm around her waist. A powerful jolt of electricity flows through my arm and goes straight to my glands. This girl is hot! Smoking! Damn that Serra, why did I bring him? Oh, that’s right, I want to stay married. Let the girl go now, John. Get yourself under control.

Serra is drinking another beer, trying to talk her into coming back to the hotel with us. It’s a stretch for her. There’s two of us, after all. She’s 28. I’m 54. Serra’s 61. I think she’s just taking the old guys for a ride. It’s fine with me. While a part of me desperately wants her to come with us, a bigger part of me knows it’s a bad idea. I’m glad I stopped at two glasses of wine.

I tell her I want her to come fishing with us tomorrow. She’s on her fourth glass of wine. She says she’ll meet us at Bayfront Outfitters at 7 AM. It’s pushing 10 o’clock. I’m having my doubts.

Serra gets another beer and keeps asking her to come back to the hotel. She wants me to weigh in. I tell her, without conviction, that I want her to come back too. And I tell Serra, with plenty of conviction, I think it’s time to go, right now.

We get our bill and Serra grabs it, intending to pay. It’s $160. He is stunned. He asks Shelley to come back to the hotel with us, and she says she’ll see us in a little while. We get out of there and drive back to the hotel.

“One hundred sixty fucking dollars,” he keeps saying. “She better get her skinny little ass back here.” And I have to admit, part of me hopes she shows up. But I don’t think she will.

It would make for a great story to say she showed up 30 minutes later and the three of us had wild, uninhibited, perverted sex all night long. That did not happen.

I am wearing ear plugs. I have a pillow pulled over my head. Serra is snoring so incredibly loudly that the possibility of my sleeping is a distant fantasy. I shut off the alarm clock ten minutes before it’s set to go off. I get up and take a shower. I think about Shelley.

At 6:50 Steve and I are parked in front of Bayfront Outfitters. We’re waiting for Shelley. She doesn’t show. At 7:15 I call her. She doesn’t answer. We go and get the kayaks, then go to the fishing spot shown on the map Tony had given me.

There is no water at the spot. It’s just dry marsh. The tide is out. We rig our tackle, then sit around for a few minutes. Impatient, I figure if I just go look for the water I’ll find it. Serra, nursing a raging hangover, chooses to wait at the truck.

On foot I wander through the Spartina grass until I find the water. The tide is coming in, and it’s rising pretty quickly. I finally see a redfish. He’s tailing. I get into position, and drop the fly in front of him. He smacks it like he hasn’t eaten in a month, then powers through the grass.

I’m wondering, “What do I have here?” Spartina redfish usually don’t go very far, but this one is into my backing. If he gets into the channel he’s sure to break me off. I chase him through the grass as best I can.

I finally bring him to hand. He’s magnificent, 32 inches or so, by far the best fish of the trip. I’m by myself, with no way to get any pictures. Damn that girl! Why didn’t she show up?

I release the fish. The water’s getting deeper now. I wade back to my truck and pull off a kayak. I go to pull off the second for Steve but he says, “Leave that there. I’m not going out.” He’s too hung over to paddle! OK, buddy, but I came to fish. See ya!

I drop the boat into the water and paddle off to where I caught my first fish. It’s a good call. There are a lot of fish tailing now. I have plenty of shots and release three more fish before the water gets too deep. I don’t get a picture of any of them. I silently curse Shelley, over and over again.

A couple of months have passed. I’ve had a chance to think about it. We had a tons of fun at the bar with Shelley. It was a superb morning without Shelley. I didn’t get any pictures. So what? Life went on.

As it all turned out, I’m actually lucky this one got away.