On the other side
Being a virgin on a ship full of prostitutes was an uncomfortable and frustrating position for Kitten. Every female in her life was on the other side of womanhood. They were cultured, urbane, witty and self-possessed. They were beautiful and secure in their bodies. They laughed differently, as if they belonged to a secret club in which she was not yet initiated.
It was high-time, Kitten felt, that she get some education in the art of love. After all, she was fourteen now, and would be a grown woman soon. She had spent the whole of the afternoon working up her courage and now she stalked Geoffrey through the public rooms. He was the most likely candidate because of his impeccable skills at keeping secrets. Kitten knew that if her father found out, he would kill her and then lock her in her room for eternity. A man who could keep silent was essential; also, Geoffrey had dreamy green eyes.
She watched him from her position behind the potted fern as he moved through the room, paying compliments, delivering saucy looks, flirting as often with the men as the women. Kitten didn’t understand, but the women seemed to like it when Geoffrey made eyes at the men. Why would he bother to do that? Geoffrey was no longer a boy, and the men that liked it with other males generally preferred boys, didn’t they? There was just so much she didn’t understand about the world of sex. Tonight she would take her first step on the road to understanding.
She lurked. She plotted. She imagined. She dozed. When she snapped back to awareness, the salon was empty. The gaslights were turned low, the glasses had been cleared, and the cushions fluffed. Kitten looked around, both frantic and groggy. She had to find Geoffrey. This was her night!
She stumbled out the French doors onto the promenade, searching desperately left and right for a sign of her intended. She tripped over a teak deck chair and sprawled in a heap against the railing. Her heart was pounding and her head was woozy. Her only thought was that she couldn’t bear even one more night stuck on the wrong side of womanhood. Tears began to flow and Kitten screwed her eyes shut trying to stem the tide.
“Kitten, honey, what’s wrong, beloved?” It was Just, bending over her, as she lay crumpled against the rail in a heap of confusion and frustrated hormones.
His kindness was more than she could bear. “Everything,” she said. “Everything in the whole world!” She pulled herself to her feet and ran for the safety of her room unable to outpace her humiliation.
Kitten was sure she would never, ever be a confident and inspiring woman like those she was surrounded by. She would never be bright and funny like Stella, or wise and warm like Yvette. She would never be as canny as Rita, or as beautiful as her mother had been. Her life might as well end now before it ever started. Who had she been kidding? Geoffrey would never look at her in that way. She was on the wrong side of womanhood.