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Laura McBrey had always been attracted to the outdoors. She grew up near Monongahela, raised by a family of adventurers. Her mother worked as a national parks representative, and her father a park ranger. At sixteen she was regularly hiking the Shenandoah. When she turned nineteen she took her first solo trip across country to see the Grand Canyon. By twenty-one she was spending almost all her time in the wilderness. The portion spent otherwise was her time spent working and preparing for whatever adventure caught her eye next.
Canada, she thought, would be the perfect adventure. In the summer of her twenty-third birthday, Laura crossed over the border in a red Saturn she affectionately named Glenda. After about a week of roughing it in New Brunswick, she returned to Glenda and journeyed out towards Nova Scotia. The province was about as large as Virginia, and the sights just as beautiful. The people, too, were about as wonderful as those of her home state. Laura was pleased to find them English speaking, whereas New Brunswick had been tricky at times. As beautiful as she found the French language, she had never come to master it. When planning the trip, she resigned to carrying a translation book in her pack. It served her well.
Laura’s exuberance at the beautiful New Brunswick was cut short by Glenda’s faulty oil cap. Almost as quickly as the check engine light came on, the vehicle made its final stop at a wayside just north of Halifax.
Laura found a solution to her troubles as easily as one could hope for in these times of crisis. She left Glenda steaming and reeking of oil at the wayside. The keys were still inside along with a note about the cars name. Assuming anyone could fix the cow, which Laura doubted they could at this point, she decided they may as well get to keep her. Anything of value she forced into her pack. Whatever didn’t fit remained with Glenda, free for scavengers.
It was in Halifax Harbor that Laura’s prayers were answered. The port city was near enough to Glenda that she could walk the distance in about a day. Fortunately enough, she was picked up by a truck heading into town. It was a lumber hauler, the driver a friendly Quebec native. She was generous in her delivery of Laura to port, refusing to accept the Canadian dollars Laura offered in payment. They parted ways as happy acquaintances.
Laura had hoped to find a skipper willing to grant her passage from the Halifax marina to one in Virginia. From there it would be an easy hike home, or if luck favored her, another free ride. Cargo shipping, Laura learned, did not work like that. Transportation was not allowed without payment. Fares from Nova Scotia to Virginia were expensive. Well beyond Laura’s remaining cash.
In this moment of hopelessness a man appeared to Laura with an offer to soothe her worries. His name was Sam Astor, and he had a boat. “The Mangeur D’Homme,” he said. “What do you think? Two weeks of service and I’ll pay your way home.”
It was a tempting offer. Mangeur D’Homme was certainly a beautiful vessel, and the money legitimate, but Laura had no boating experience. She made this clear to Sam Astor, who disregarded it completely. “I own a private yacht, Laura. Not a pirate ship. You don’t need any experience,” he chuckled. “What we really need is a pair of able hands. Someone who won’t get sea sick.” He eyed her then, questioning. She assured him that seasickness would not be an issue, and that she was perfectly apt. This assurance seemed to settle the matter. She would work two weeks crewing the Mangeur D’Homme, from Halifax to St. John’s and back, and her fares home would be handled.
Trepidations as she was about boarding a strange boat, Laura could see no other feasible way of making it home within the month.
“It’s the fourth, isn’t it?” Sam Astor asked her. She confirmed. “A holiday for you, then. We’ll depart in the morning.”
And so they did. Laura took the night to prepare. Though Sam Astor seemed to be an amiable and genuine man, precautionary measures were required. By morning, after she’d spent her last Canadian dollars to ensure her safety, she felt certain that boarding the Mangeur D’Homme was the right decision. Things would go as Sam Astor described. A brief voyage to St. John’s and back, and her troubles would be over.
The crew consisted of Sam Astor, the captain of his handsome little yacht, and four others. Aaron, Seth, Denny, and Hanna. They looked to Laura as she imagined proper seamen would. Their bodies were tanned and visibly muscular, but beneath that outward appearance there was a ruggedness in their nature to suggest they were of the sea. An air of cunning and savagery inherited from viking ancestors who sailed the same waters long ago. All this they well masked with handsome faces and formal courtesies. Laura contemplated the phrase ‘cuss like a sailor.’ This crew seemed far too civil for such vulgarity. She sensed they each knew their share of curse words and obscenities, but anticipated no such things to cross their pink, upturned lips. Not in her presence, at least.
They greeted her kindly, each possessing a similar accent to the citizens of Halifax. Locals, Laura presumed.
It seemed that Sam Astor had not lied when he told her no experience was required on the Mangeur D’Homme. She was a self sufficient vessel, requiring little of the captain and his crew. Only navigation and light maintenance throughout their course, and this was done by the captain and his experienced crew. Laura’s tasks consisted of homemaker’s duties. Cleaning, cooking, and in odd moments, a bit of entertainment. She offered stories of her travels, and in return they told tales of their own. Of the sea and their voyages together, stunning Laura with the surreal quality and daring nature of their lives. Next to theirs, Laura’s adventures felt mild. She was embarrassed to have considered herself well traveled.
Sam was the oldest of the men, but by no means inferior in looks. Laura was surprised and pleased at the attractiveness of her companions. Sam with his classically handsome features, light hair and clean shave. Aaron with his height and dark complexion. Seth presented similar features, dark of hair and a bit wiry. Hanna was second in looks only to Denny.
Laura could not help but feel that Denny was watching her. She could not deny that her eye had been drawn to him as well. Denny was undeniably the handsomest man on the Mangeur D’Homme. An easy thing to be when the cruiser was manned by only six people. But Denny was more than circumstantially attractive. He had rich hair that curled slightly in the July heat, cresting haphazardly over his forehead and tumbling past his dark brow and into a pair of sea green eyes. Laura was struck by the depth of these eyes; mesmerized by their seeming ability to pierce through her skull and devour her thoughts as though they were openly given for consumption. She was keenly aware of his lean body, defined by a well fitted white t-shirt. That and his sharp jawline and strong cheekbones made for a very attractive man. One she was not unwilling to grow close to on this short voyage.
“Do you know any french?” He asked as they sat down for supper on the first night. Warren had apologized early on about the meal options. As cook, she was given the choice between preparing a meal of dried beans, peas, or rice. Meat, Laura suspected, would have gone bad fairly quick. She opted for the rice.
Embarrassed, Laura confessed to Denny that she did not. “I studied a bit in high school,” she added, hoping to encourage him further, “but I can’t say I retained much of it.”
Denny laughed. Laura flushed. “Mangeur D’Homme. It’s a french name. Could you guess what it means?”
“Black Pearl?” she said jokingly, her cheeks burning brighter yet. She knew with certainty that the French word for black was noir. She hoped they would pick up on her humor. They did not, and she felt immediately foolish for speaking up.
“Non, non ma dame. Devine encore.”
“Don’t tease her, Denny.” Hanna chided, smirking. The others laughed and Laura let out a shy chuckle. Denny encouraged her to make a guess.
She considered the name. Mangeur D’Homme. It felt familiar. When she said she had studied french in high school, that was a lie. Her high school was small and offered only Spanish and German for foreign languages. At seventeen she did spend time attempting to learn the language on her own. Unsuccessfully, of course. Yet there was a memory, faint in her mind, of the word homme. “Something of man,” she piped after a moment of deliberation.
“Clever girl,” Sam said.
The men cheered. Hanna looked at her, surprised, and took a long swig from her bottle. She offered no congratulations. Laura sensed that something had changed between the women. Nothing was said or done, yet something unspoken and primal to their relationship had been decided. Hanna did not like her. She looked at Laura not as the amusing American girl her male counterparts saw, but as a competitor. Sheepishly, Laura clinked bottles with Denny and took a swig. She would remember next time that Hanna did not like to share.
“Mangeur D’Homme.” Denny twisted his chair so that the legs scraped loudly across the deck floor, inching closer to Laura. He whispered, “Treasure of Man.”
There was a hush among the crew. Laura considered the name, eyes on Denny as she mulled it over. Mangeur D’Homme. Treasure of Man. Very fitting, she thought. He smiled, as if he were indeed reading into her thoughts. Laura considered distancing herself for the sake of Hanna’s favor, but Denny’s appeal proved irresistible. His charm. That smile. She felt herself nodding as he went on to describe the name’s origin, sitting closer than necessary and laughing brighter than warranted.
“Je te mens,” he said at last, concluding his monologue. “Know what that means?”
Laura confessed again that she did not. Je meant I, but she knew no more than that and refused to guess again for their entertainment.
“Ah, well,” Denny said, “it’s poetic that you don’t.”
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