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Stranger Ashore
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"STRANGER ON THE SHORE"

Kate shielded her eyes from the brilliant sun. It was high noon, not a soul was in sight on Pulau Pangkor Beach. Her back tingled from the sun's rays and she missed her old one-piece swimsuit.

"I want a photograph of you in that bikini. Honestly, if I hadn't seen your passport I wouldn't believe you're 26. You get one vacation a year Kate, do something out of the ordinary...LIVE!!!" The words rang in Kate's ears as she crunched her feet into the fine white sand.

Sweet Pauline. On Kate's first day at her job, she thought she met an adversary in Pauline but soon as Kate settled in as Girl Friday for British singing heartthrob Russ Valentine, she and Pauline became the best of friends.

From afar on the promenade she saw people meandering up and down while others sunbathed by the hotel swimming pool. She walked to the water's edge to cool her feet and thought of the office. Bless Russ Valentine who often rewarded his employees generously with exotic vacations like this.

Reaching the end of the beach, she looked up at the wild foliage that jutted from the twenty-foot cliff above her. She had heard about the mythical half-monkey and half-bird hiding behind a mammoth rock that projected from the edge of the cliff. The natives believed that if you hear the monkeybird's cry, your will meet your true love.

True love indeed. Rubbish.

Someone jogged by her and she remembered the photograph she promised Pauline. "Pardon me, when you've finished your run, will you please take my photograph?"

"Hey, you run well, d'ya train?" His piercing blue eyes disarmed Kate.

"Y...You're from California?"

"Hey, how'd you guess?" She couldn't tell him that the tanned and fit American men that did business with her employer were usually Californians.

"Oh, I can tell from your accent." She lied.

"I didn't know I had an accent."

"Not as strong as the Bostonian or New Yorker but distinctive enough."

"And you, you're British?"

"Now, how did you know that?" She joked.

 

"Intuition. Listen, if you jog with me, I'll take your photograph, is it a deal?" They laughed and ran a comfortable pace while chatting about beaches around the world.

"You're a well-travelled lady."

"I travel extensively with Russ Valentine."

"Your boyfriend?" Kate blushed at the thought.

"I think every girl alive wish to be that, but..."

"Why, is he married?"

"Yes...to himself." Kate giggled.

He liked this girl's humour. "I saw his performance at the Palladium last year. He is amazing. Hey, I think we're back at our starting point."

"That was a great run, thanks. After my photo session I can leave you at your solitude, which I've disturbed enough already." Kate remarked shyly.

A few poses against the sea and sky and soon Kate thanked the American."Your name, you haven't told me your name." Their eyes locked momentarily.

"Daryl Edwardson, your beach photographer." He winked and handed back the camera. "How about meeting me at the hotel lobby tonight around seven? Dress casual?" Then he jogged away.

"Yes, I'd love it." She shouted to him. What happened? She always hated men who took things for granted.

Six-thirty and Kate found herself dressed. Her burnished hair cascaded softly over her tanned shoulders and the face she saw in the mirror glowed. "I'm pretty." She murmured as she gazed at herself in the mirror. "Pauline will be pleased."

 

At a few minutes past seven, Daryl saw an attractive girl hurrying towards him not realising it was Kate. What a beautiful girl, who is she? Destiny soon lent a hand when the heel of Kate's high-heels caught on the carpet and she tripped and fell right into Daryl's arms. For as long as they live they will never know who gave the first kiss and who stopped kissing first.

The crescent-shaped beach dotted with coconut trees, and gumamela flowers, dozed languidly in the midday sun. The matching brilliance of the sea and sky blended into one expanse of clear blue as Daryl and Kate strolled away from the cliffs. Suddenly they discovered another delight near the water's edge - a trunk of a felled coconut tree that miraculously survived the last typhoon. It bent gracefully into the water, creating a premium seat for the lovers. They often dangled their feet into the warm seawater as they enjoyed each other's company.

On Daryl's last evening in Pulau Pangkor they strolled to their favourite spot for the last time. They took off their shoes and dangled their feet in the water as they had done many times in their twelve days together. Holding Kate in his arms, Daryl said, "Kate, you know how much I love you, but there's something you must know. I'm engaged to a woman my father chose for me to marry - a business merger. I didn't care, until now."

"Daryl, Please don't feel bad. I already feel bad enough for the both of us." Her tears fell and Daryl kissed them away.

"Kate, if you will stand by me I can stall and find a solution to my father's financial problems." His words sounded hollow. He knew that the magnitude of his father's financial problems was way beyond his league.

Kate wasn't naive. She knew that when they closed their eyes to reality they would have to open them someday. She kissed him tenderly and said, "No matter what happens I will always love you."

"When was the last time you spoke to Daryl?" Bella asked as she poured tea for Kate. Kate's faded tan accented the dark circles under her eyes.

"Six weeks, two days and eighteen hours...but who's counting?" Kate watched Bella pouring the tea. Soon someone else will be Daryl's wife.

Though time never stood still in the office Kate succeeded in making time stand still in her own life. She and Pauline followed Russ Valentine's tours doggedly and Kate was thankful that they were frantically busy. It kept her mind off Daryl.

"Katie, it's twenty days to Christmas; where are you and your family spending it?" Pauline was jostling with the paperwork.

"I may end up spending it alone. My parents are off to Spain but I prefer to go somewhere else."

"You must forget him. You can't keep torturing yourself this way. Spain would be better for you than Malaysia." Pauline's heart ached for her friend.

"Don't worry Pauline, I can handle it."

 

Orange streaks darted and shimmered on the water. What a strange sensation to be back on Pulau Pangkor after two years and feel like she had never left. She walked with a vague feeling of elation that often happens when she witnesses beauty such as this, yet her heart ached for Daryl. "Oh my dearest love."

She looked towards the familiar cliffs and whispered, "Monkeybird...how could you forsake me?" Then she heard it. Not at all like anything she's heard before. It was a peculiar wail, a haunting squall. Kate shivered. Did anyone else hear that mythic caterwaul? The sun had disappeared from the horizon and pointed streaks filled the pale dusky sky. From afar she saw a silhouette dimly outlined in the twilight. It must be the beach patrolman. She looked up the cliff hoping to hear the monkeybird's cry again but no sound came but the strong waves on the shore. Kate turned to look at the approaching figure again and suddenly she knew. She found herself running though she felt she couldn't move. Everything seemed in such painful slow motion before she saw the figure break into a run to meet her. Then finally their bodies met and clung to each other. They kissed hungrily, silently promising never to part again.

"My darling Kate." He whispered as he kissed her hair, her face, her lips.

"Daryl, my love. How did you find me?" She clung to him tightly.

"Pauline - she thinks the world of you. She said she'll never speak to you again if she's not the chosen bridesmaid. Dearest darling Kate, with my heart in my hand, and with my father's blessings, here in Pulau Pangkor where we first met, in the exact same spot where I first saw you, will you marry me?"

A deafening shrill from the monkeybird reprised its previous message to Kate...and Daryl heard it too.

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