Chapter 1, Fleeting Glances
She picked up a perfectly crisped strip of bacon, so smothered in maple syrup, it cascaded off the strip she plumped in her mouth.
‘They certainly know how to do bacon here.’ Lemara mused, looking out the window from her table in the restaurant. The hotel’s guests had seemingly all set their alarm clocks for the same wake-up time. Seeing how they all turned up that minute for breakfast like only London’s buses do. The restaurant, now charged with that excitable American accent.
At one table, a young lady was enamoured with her girlfriends’ matching glittery sandals. When she was gifted the same sparkly pair, the entire restaurant almost became hearing impaired. ‘She’s a pizazzy one!’ Lemara surmised.
From its position on the hotel’s second floor, this restaurant commanded a view of Fort Lauderdale’s International airport’s runway. Lemara had only made it to breakfast some five minutes earlier. And was like a ‘dog with two tails’ having found a vacant window seat.
Some coffee, bacon, Floridian sunshine and a bit of plane spotting. A little halcyon moment after a snap holiday decision and an overly extended flight time.
A storm, perusing the Caribbean’s east coast in a fit of ill-temper, saw their plane divert to Philadelphia, where they spent most of the night.
More akin to a town crier, a chirpy waitress rang out breakfasts’ closure. A jangle, sure to have any remaining last-minute guests out of bed and in the restaurant in a jiff. Still, on approaching Lemara’s table, she maintained her breakfast closing cry, only this time adding, ‘Is there anything else we can get you?’
‘Another pot of coffee and milk, please.’
Although not sure why, as she was languorously still nursing the first pot. And she should definitely only ever have one cup of any hotel’s coffee. She had, on numerous occasions, pondered on the intentions of a hotel’s brew, as it was like no other. The penetrating aroma, sufficient to send her cannonballing off any wall. Did all hotels purchase their coffee from the same coffee farm? Or was there some dirty secret employed when making their coffee? She wondered.
Another aircraft took to the sky and her thoughts with it. In all essence, she should be in England for her upcoming graduation following the completion of her masters. However, the lure of a western Caribbean cruise - much more arresting. Fuelled by the need to do what she and her sister had set their hearts on many years ago. Go on a cruise.
She sat with the memory as the second pot of coffee arrived. Pouring herself a fresh cup, a picture developed in the corner of her eye. She took a sip, and as she did, glanced in the direction of the frame. Sat two tables away, a Thom Browne clad guest keeping his cup of coffee company. A coy smile emanated across her face at the picture her eyes developed. Like an adhesive, his gaze held her attention but insufficient to avert her interest in the Boeing whose wheels courted the runway outside. Satisfied the pilots had satisfactorily romanced the landing, she glanced back at her secondary interest. Her view now blocked by the waiter at his table. She chose this moment to make her exit.
Lemara had made her way to Fort Lauderdale cruise port, checked in, and boarded the cruise ship just inside boarding time. On making her way to the lifts, a voice from behind greeted, ′I see we’ve crossed paths again!′
Thinking there was no way the address veiled in the American accent could be aimed at her, she continued walking. Nonetheless, she took an inconsequential glance backwards and found herself halted in her tracks. It was none other than her Thom Browne clad character from breakfast. Inexplicable, but once more, a smile emanated from her face as if she was glad to see him. And she was; she just wasn’t sure why. Now upright, he stood about five feet, eleven inches, his hair wavy, dark.
Not overly gorgeous, neither bad looking, but nice to look at. Enough to hold her interest for the second time that day.
‘It must be fate,’ His face lighting up as he caught up with her.
‘Is that so?’ Raising an eyebrow as they stood opposite each other outside the lifts.
‘There I was desperately scribbling a message to pass to you in the restaurant. Then I looked up, discovered you’d left.’
‘Maybe you shouldn’t be scribbling messages to strangers in a restaurant.’ She teased.
‘Maybe so, but here we are now, on the same cruise.’
Exchanging sentences with ease.
‘By the way, I’m Harry. I’m from Maine!’ Extending his right arm to her.
(Lemara would soon realise it was customary on cruises that country/place of origin was as crucial as her name when introducing oneself to others. It was some badge of honour, and the further away you came from, the better. Additionally, someone with a semblance of an English accent like herself with a ship decked out with mostly Americans garnered much interest.) ‘I couldn’t believe my eyes in the restaurant this morning.’ He continued.
‘Let me guess, was it the way I drank the coffee?’
‘No. It was the way you held the cup!’ Mocking her.
They laughed out, causing the congregation who waited for the lifts to look around. Their little tête-à-tête had left them blissfully unaware of the crowd now gathered for the elevators. It was an announcement blaring over the ship’s intercom about muster drills that dispensed of their bliss.
‘Should we take the stairs?’ Lemara took another look around, noticing just how congested the area by the lifts had become.
‘If this gives me more one on one time with you, then yes.’ Extending his arm, ushering her towards the stairs.
And this time, as well as a slightly raised eyebrow, he also got a tilt of the head.
Another two floors up and easy banter saw them arrive on deck seven.
‘This is my floor!’ Looking up and down the aisle for the direction of her room.
‘This is me!’ She pointed out as they came to room 7007 towards the back of the ship.
‘I’m above you on deck nine in room 9088.’ Pointing upwards. His key card and his hand going up in a decidedly flirty manner. She creased her lips into a smile, waved—him mirroring her but, with the addition of a turn, walking away.
‘Have a safe journey!’ Lemara jested as he turned to leave.
He gave her another little wave and walked on.
He stopped, turned around the same time she quit fumbling with the key card to look back at him. As if by intuition.
‘Listen!’ He quipped, swaggering back to her side. ‘If you don’t already have dinner plans, would you like to join me?’
‘I may well do.’ Teasing, in her devil-may-care mood.
‘So that’s dinner at eight; I’ll come and get you.’ His statement more an affirmation than an invitation.
An eyebrow arched over smiling eyes - she liked how he had just called all the shots.
Turning once more to leave but not before chivalrously aiding her with her luggage into her room. Their hands brushing against each other as he did so.
Those hands have certainly not shucked any oysters or potted any lobsters back in Maine, Lemara mused.
Closing the door behind her, her eyes journeyed directly to the large window ahead, flooding the stateroom with Floridian sunshine. The bathroom and wardrobe lined the left-hand side of the room. A queen-sized bed, a desk, a chair filled the remainder of the space, and the window oversaw it all.
A ship’s horn sounded as she walked towards the window, followed by another and then another. By the time Lemara got to the window, the horns of four cruise ships were partying in the port outside.
She walked back to the bed, splashed herself face down across it, contemplating what to wear to dinner with Harry.
The multi-coloured, skater girl dress was her first thought. Is that dress saying too much? And if that dress was saying too much, so was the deep v, fitted red dress. She digressed.
Finally, settling on a pair of black trousers, black heels, crocheted beige top and a gold scarf around her neck. Satisfied, the ensemble was comfortable but sufficiently sassy for the first night on board. But more so, the unexpected and now highly anticipated date with ’Mr we are going to dinner at eight’.
Nearly twenty hours since she last slept, the bed begged for her jet-lagged body and removed the matchsticks from her eyes.