Cindy was dressed in all black. She wasn’t thrilled about her attire either, but it was expected given the unfortunate circumstances and the funeral she was being forced to attend. Her father was the kitchen manager for a billionaire on his private island in the Caribbean. Cindy and her sister had grown up here but they had never been allowed to go to the east side because that was where the house was. Cindy hated her dad’s boss for making that rule. Only employees got to go to the house. That rule made it difficult for Cindy to understand why she had to go to a funeral for a man she was never even allowed to look at.
It was hot during the service. Cindy just wanted to get into her swimsuit and go down to the water but she was quiet and respectful as she looked around at the hundred faces around her. She had known most of them all nineteen years of her life. There were faces she didn’t recognize but she assumed all of them were employees that lived in the house. She turned her head to the preacher and noticed a handsome young man looking at her. She returned his gaze for only a moment, but then looked away and tugged at her dress. When it was over, Cindy and her sister followed their father Howard back to their house on the west side of the island.
“What’s going to happen now?” asked Cindy as they headed off down the sandy trail.
“What do you mean?” asked her father.
“Do we have to move?” replied Cindy.
“I don’t want to move!” whined Sam, Cindy’s sixteen-year-old little sister. Cindy rolled her eyes. Sam was always whining about something.
“We’re not moving,” said Howard, patiently. “Mr. Calloway’s grown up son still lives at the house. He took over his father’s business and he wants to stay here.”
“Is he as mean as Mr. Calloway?” asked Cindy.
“No,” said Howard, pushing a giant leaf out of his way. “Mr. Calloway wasn’t really involved in raising his son, so Jim turned out to be a much better man than his father. I like working for him. He’s stern, but patient and fair and he gives people a chance to reach the level he expects of his staff. He’s got a hard time of it right now. He’s only twenty-two and his father’s billion dollar business has been unexpectedly dumped onto his shoulders.”
“So you still have a job at the house, then,” said Cindy with relief.
“Yes, and you do too,” said Howard.
“What?” Cindy stopped in surprise. “Women aren’t allowed to work in the house unless they’re housekeepers. I don’t want to be a housekeeper!”
“That was when Robert Calloway was alive,” said Howard. “Jim Calloway isn’t like his father. I spoke with him yesterday about you and I mentioned your love for making things grow. He said his head gardener needs an aid so you’re now a garden staff member.”
“How come Cindy gets to go to the house,” complained Sam loudly. “I wanna go too.”
“I’m going to work, Sam,” Cindy reminded her, as she pushed her ashy blonde hair out of her green eyes. “I’m not even going to see anyone but the gardening staff, right Dad?”
“Right. Now, you start early morning so run home and help your mother with dinner and get your sleep.”
“Thank you, Dad!” Cindy kissed her father’s cheek and ran home as fast as she could.
Cindy woke up the next morning just before the sunrise began painting the sky. She jumped out of her bed and got ready as fast as she could. Not being one for makeup like Sam, it only took her fifteen minutes to shower and get dressed. She made a peanut butter and toast sandwich and ate so fast she almost choked. She hopped on her bike and peddled to the house. She had never been the east beach before and that was where she was supposed to meet the head gardener. She could not hold back her excitement when she saw a figure waiting for her.
“Good morning, Miss Fletcher,” said the older gentleman when she stopped her bike. “I wasn’t expecting someone so enthusiastic.”
“I love gardening,” replied Cindy, breathing heavily with a huge smile on her face. “I’ve also never been here before. It’s beautiful.”
“It is, isn’t it? Well,” he clapped his wrinkled hands together. “My name is Ishmael but everyone calls me Clip and that’s what you should call me too. I’m going to give you a tour of the gardens and tell you what I expect from you. If you have any questions, you can ask me freely. Now, I have one question for you. Did you bring something to swim in?”
“No, sir,” said Cindy, suddenly feeling mortified.
“That’s alright. You won’t be working today,” said Clip. “It’s just a learning day for you. Follow me please.”
Cindy followed Clip around three gardens. One was entirely dedicated to various kinds of flowers, up a half flight of wooden steps was the largest garden and it was dedicated to fruits and vegetables. The other garden was surrounded by a large swimming pool that overlooked the ocean. The garden itself was large enough to fit her living room and it was a good safe distance from the water slide but it looked sad and neglected.
“Now which garden would you prefer to take care of?” asked Clip.
“I can choose?” asked Cindy gleefully.
“Yes. You’re the first new recruit I’ve had in years and all three is more than two people can handle so I’ve asked for three new helpers, but I like you so I’m going to let you choose.”
“I’ll take the pool garden,” said Cindy immediately.
“I thought you would,” said Clip with a smile. “I can’t get to it myself and the food garden takes up much of my time.”
“How come you can’t?” asked Cindy.
“I’m afraid of deep water and that water is three feet over my head,” said Clip. “Now, your job, in the beginning, will be simple. That’s how Master Jim wants things done for the new employees. All you need to do is bring that square garden back to life. In time, you’ll take care of the grounds around the pool if you prove yourself. But for now, all you need to focus on is that patch. Starting wage is nine an hour, so minimum. You’ll be working four hours a day starting out. That’s it then. Any questions?”
“Do I bring my own tools or use yours?”
“I prefer my own so that is up to you,” replied Clip. “There is a shed near the flower garden with all the tools you’ll need. There’s several of each tool so take what you want and leave it in a bucket. That way it saves you time but putting everything away every day.”
“One more thing. What do I wear?”
“Master Jim has loosened things up around here so uniforms aren’t a requirement anymore, thank goodness. Wear whatever you don’t mind getting dirty. Now, before I forget, I am the only one who is allowed to enter the house. That rule was made by Mrs. Calloway. Don’t break it unless you have permission from either her or her son.”
“I can do that. Are we the only ones outside?”
“Until I hire more help, yes.”
“Why are you the only one who takes care of the gardens?” asked Cindy.
“Mr. Calloway didn’t like women,” said Clip. “Thought they were useless creatures only good for childbearing and housekeeping. He married because he was forced but there was no relationship. No one here liked him much so we weren’t that sad when he went. Jim, on the other hand, is a good man. He stepped in to run the business and he said that we needed to hire women for more than just cleaning the house. So here you are as a result. Well, that’s everything. You need to be here at six every morning. You’ll check in with me at the shed. You’ll be left alone to tend the pool garden, and you check out with me at eleven when you return your tools.”
“I can’t wait! I’ll see you tomorrow morning!”
Cindy hurried home to tell her mother about her first day and her first responsibility. Along the way, she saw Sam waiting for her. So she got off her bike.
“Did you see him?” demanded Sam.
“You mean Jim Calloway? No, I didn’t.”
“But you work at the house now!”
“I work in the gardens,” said Cindy. “I don’t go in the house and frankly, I don’t care to. I like the outside.”
“You mean you don’t know if he’s hot or not?” asked Sam in disbelief.
“I don’t care, Sam,” sighed Cindy as she walked her bike beside her little sister.
“But he’s filthy rich! He has to be hot!”
“Why do you care?”
“Because I’m going to marry him,” said Sam.
“You don’t even know him,” replied Cindy, though she was unsurprised by Sam’s remark.
“I don’t have to know him. He’s rich, which means he’s probably hot,” said Sam.
Cindy rolled her eyes. It was not uncommon for Sam to try and chase boys. She would go through a boy a week if she could. Thankfully there were not that many teenage boys in their small village. Sam was already unhappy with her selection because none of them were from rich families. She had unreasonable standards and none of the boys met them, which made Cindy happy.
The following morning, Cindy woke up and went to work. She checked in with Clip and filled her bucket with tools she would need and hurried to the pool. She took her shoes and her t-shirt off of her tanned skin so she was just in cut-off jeans and her bikini top just in case she fell in. She found a foam paddle board, balanced herself on it with her bucket between her needs and used her hands to move the board toward the dying garden. She finally got a good look and nearly cried. These poor plants could not breathe at all and they were starved for sunlight. She set to work immediately. She spent the better part of the first two hours pulling out every weed and putting them in into her bucket.
When she had double checked to make sure she had every single weed, she made a trip back to the shed to dispose of them, rinse her bucket, and fill it with fresh water. Then she made the trip back to the island garden. Once again she set out on the paddle board and carefully moved herself and the bucket of water onto dry land. She moved around the soil with her hands, rotating it to mix up the nutrients. Then she created tiny mounds around each dying plant and used her cupped hands to grab water for the plant. Cindy liked working this way. Slow, steady, with the earth on her hands, so she could feel it breathe and come to life.
“Cindy!” called a voice.
She turned to see Clip pointing at his watch. She gathered her tools, wiped her hands with a clean cloth, and paddled her way to him.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I was enjoying myself too much.”
“I know,” said Clip. “I saw you smiling, but you don’t get paid overtime. So go home and come back tomorrow.”
The next day was an unusual day for the island. It was storming unexpectedly. Cindy didn’t even shower. She grabbed her umbrella and went to work as fast as she could safely go. She went to check in but Clip was nowhere to be seen. Cindy waited for twenty minutes before giving up and grabbing her bucket from the shed. She ran to the pool only to find the paddle board in the middle and out of reach, so she put her bucket under her arm and lowered herself into the pool. She swam to the garden, set the bucket down and went back for her umbrella. Once she had everything, She opened the bright blue umbrella and sheltered her garden from the heavy rain. She set about rebuilding her mounds and creating a small barrier around the garden with whatever soil she could spare so the chlorine water from the splashing pool didn’t get onto the plants.
Cindy sat for three hours, constantly fixing her umbrella so the already suffering plants weren’t beat down on and blown from the ground. Unfortunately, those to hours of exposure to cold rain and high winds were taking a toll on her body. She was freezing and she had nothing to keep her warm. She was only protected by her sleep shorts and a thin tshirt. She shivered violently for the next three hours until the storm passed. She went to stand and clean up but she could not move. Her body had given in to exhaustion and cold. Not being one to ask for help until she had no other alternative, she chose to just lay next to her garden and take a short nap.
Cindy woke up feeling stiff and feverish. Her throat and her head were sore and her muscles would not do what she wanted them too. Wet soil no longer filled her nose, but clean cotton. She opened her eyes to find herself in a room that was not her own. She felt disoriented and her head filled with questions. Who helped her? Who put her in bed? Most importantly, whose pajamas was she wearing and who changed her? A knock on the door startled her, but a friendly face appeared. It was an old woman who looked to be the same age as Clip.
“Good afternoon, Miss Fletcher. How are you feeling?” Cindy tried to speak but her throat was so sore, nothing but air come out. “Oh, you poor thing. I’ll send for the doctor and some tea for you. You just rest yourself, alright? I’ve already informed your father where you are. He should be here to see you soon. I’ll be right back.”
The woman left the room and Cindy sunk into the pillows and looked around. It was a very contemporary room. Everything was white with clean lines. The only color in the room was a single large painting on the wall and the deep red bedding. She wondered if the rest of the house looked the same. She looked out the window to her right was as big as the wall. She could see her garden. Her umbrella was still protecting it. She smiled a little.
Another knock made her jump a little and her sudden movement made her head throb. Her father poked his head in and to her great surprise, so did another face. She didn’t know who he was but she recognized him from Mr. Calloway’s funeral.
“How are you feeling, Cindy?” asked Howard. Cindy motioned to her throat and her head. Howard seemed to understand and he nodded. “Oh, this is Jim Calloway,” he added. “He was kind enough to get you off the garden in the middle of the pool. He saw you protecting the garden and hoped you’d give up and go home. I know. You love your plants. But you are more important.”
“Your father is right,” said Jim, loosening his dark blue tie slightly. “With your permission, Mr. Fletcher, I would like to talk to your daughter more about her job.”
“Of course, sir,” said Howard, though he didn’t seem to happy about leaving his daughter alone with his boss. “I’ll just go back to the kitchen.”
Howard left the room and Cindy was left alone with a stranger. She shifted uncomfortably. Jim sat down on a chair beside the bed and looked at her. Cindy could feel his blue eyes trying to read her.
“You know, when your father approached me about hiring you, he told me that you love to garden. He said nothing on earth made you happier, so I thought it would be a good idea to hire you. I admit that I was watching you yesterday for a moment when you were on the paddle board. I admired your resourcefulness. Today, I saw your dedication and love for what you do.”
Cindy remained still, unsure where he was going with his speech.
“I want to offer you a better job. One I think you’ll find enjoyable. I will be willing to grant you freedom in the pool area. You can make it yours and do with it what you like. You won’t get overtime, but you can stay on full time.”
Cindy looked at him in disbelief. This was a dream come true and it was only her second day on the job. Then she frowned. There had to be a catch. Jim read her face.
“You’re smart. I ask that in return for giving you free reign, you spend the summer in the house as my guest. I have been without real company for a long time. Usually, our only guests are here for meetings. It gets boring really fast. So, what do you think?”
Cindy thought about it. Her parents would be skeptical but they wouldn’t go against their boss. Sam would be so jealous she would completely destroy Cindy’s bedroom out of anger. But if she stayed, she would be able to explore the whole west side of the island and see places she had never seen before. She weighed her options carefully and nodded. It would be a worth it to experience the west coast and have free reign on a garden. Besides, Sam couldn’t do any real damage. She was only sixteen.
“That settles it. I’ll let you get some rest. Mrs. Thompson should be here soon with your tea. You’ll like her. She’s Clip’s wife. She’s very sweet. I’ll come check on you tonight, but I have a video conference I have to get to right now. Bye.”
Cindy watched him leave and turned her head to look out the window. Ten minutes later, Mrs. Thompson came back with tea and a doctor to look over Cindy. The doctor said she needed to rest in bed for the twenty-four hours and then she would be free to move around. Cindy was given some medicine for her head and muscles and she nodded a thank you before the doctor left. Mrs. Thompson stayed to keep her company. She spent the rest of the afternoon teaching Cindy to play chess until Jim came back to visit, then she left.
“Are you feeling better?” he asked.
Cindy nodded and whisper hoarsely, “Yes.”
“Don’t strain your voice,” said Jim. “I told your father about your decision. He wasn’t really happy, but he told me that you’ve always been curious about this side of the island. I’m actually curious about your side of the island. I’ve never been to the east side. My father would never allow it, even when I became an adult.”
Cindy could help but grin. She looked around for something to write with. She mimed what she was looking for and Jim went to the desk across the room and pulled out a legal pad and a pen. He handed it to Cindy and she began to write. When I’m better, I’ll take you to my side of the island and show you around. If you want, I’ll teach you how to climb the coconut trees too.
“I’d like that. Do you sail?” Cindy shook her head slowly and Jim smiled. “I’ll have to fix that.” His phone went off and he sighed. “That’s my mom calling me. Well, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Cindy spent the rest of the day alone. She was served dinner and that was the last face she saw until the following morning. A heavy weight slammed onto her legs and she sat up so quickly, her aching head hit something solid.
“Ow! You didn’t have to head but me!” moaned the voice of her sister.
“You didn’t have to jump on me,” croaked Cindy.
“We came to visit you,” said Mrs. Fletcher. “Your father said you were staying here for the summer to work in the gardens.”
“Yeah,” said Cindy. “I’ve been given permission to do as I please with the pool area.”
“That’s wonderful news!” said Mrs. Fletcher.
“So is he hot? How hot is he? Does he have brown eyes?” asked Sam.
“Samantha Fletcher, your sister is sick. Show some respect,” said Mrs. Fletcher.
“She’s only sick because she sat out in the storm to protect her stupid plants,” said Sam, folding her arms. “That’s not my fault.”
“No one is saying it is,” said Howard. “I’m not saying it was a good idea, but Cindy made the choice to sit in the storm and now she is facing the consequences.”
“How is spending the summer here a consequence? She’s getting rewarded for stupidity like always. It’s not fair!” Sam stormed out of the room and Cindy could hear her throwing a temper tantrum all the way down the hall.
“I don’t think she understood that Cindy was being rewarded for her dedication, and being sick was her punishment,” sighed Mrs. Fletcher.
“What did we do wrong with her, Jeanette?” asked Howard.
“It’s not your fault,” said Cindy quietly. “Maybe this is just a sixteen year long phase that she’ll eventually grow out of.”
“I hope so,” said Jeanette Fletcher.
“Oh, we brought your stuff from home,” said Howard. “It’s at the foot of the bed. We packed it last night and told Sam this morning. She put a hole in your wall, but there was nothing left to smash.”
“Thanks,” said Cindy with relief that her belongings were safe from her sister. “You didn’t tell her I spoke with Jim Calloway, did you?”
“No. We never mentioned him. She would have demolished the whole house and screamed that it was unfair. I can’t understand that girl. We raised you both the same.” Jeanette sighed heavily. “Well, it’s time for us to go. Your father has to start work and I need to get Sam to school. She’s already late. Love you, Cindy.”
“Bye, Mom. Bye, Dad. Love you, too.” Cindy was hugged by each of them and then left alone again.
She passed the day by sleeping and was woken up by a knock on the door. Jim poked his head in and Cindy sat up.
“Good, you have some strength back. How are you feeling?”
“Much better,” replied Cindy. Her voice was a little raspy but it was there. Jim smiled.
“Good. Would you like to join me for dinner tonight? I heard your father is making your favorite food.” Cindy blushed and smiled. Jim grinned. Then he looked serious. “You don’t mind, do you? Seeing me, I mean. I don’t exactly have friends, so I may be overreaching here.”
“I don’t mind,” said Cindy. “I don’t really have friends either. My sister makes it difficult.”
“Was that the loud voice I heard today?”
“You mean the temper tantrum? That’s Sam. No one wants to be around her and I suffer for it. I don’t really mind, though. I have my private group of friends. They’re small and green and they sprout flowers.”
Jim laughed heartily.
“You have a strong spirit. I like it.”
“I get it from my grandmother,” said Cindy proudly. “So, where is the dining room?”
“Down the hall, downstairs to the left,” said Jim. “I could just come and pick you up? Dinner is at 6:30.”
“I’ll be ready,” said Cindy. Jim smiled and left.
Cindy smiled for a while and then started to panic. She just agreed to a date with her father’s boss. She had nothing to wear that would remotely impress him and she didn’t own any makeup. She knew her father wouldn’t say anything, but if the word got out that she had dinner with him, Sam would cause trouble. She decided she was tired of tiptoeing around Sam’s temper and enjoy herself with a boy for once. This was hopefully going to go better than her first date three years ago. Sam’s jealousy and her temper had made the night a disaster when she came storming up to the restaurant table screaming that it wasn’t fair that Cindy had a date and she didn’t and that she was better looking and boys should be begging on their knees to go out with her. She flipped over the table and Cindy hadn’t had a date since.
Then she realized she was safe in the house. The Calloway home had security guards so Sam wouldn’t be able to get into the house. Besides, Cindy was staying here all summer. Sam wasn’t allowed to be on this side of the island without permission from Jim or his mother. She exhaled in relief as she got up. She found the large suitcase at the foot of hr bed and recognized it as her mothers. She opened it to find all of her clothes folded with love and arranged nicely. She also found something she didn’t expect. A tiny makeup bag with just eyeliner and mascara. She sent her mom a silent thank you and hurried to take a shower.
Two hours later, she was ready and waiting for Jim. She had never been so nervous. She was poor compared to him, though he didn’t seem to be the type to care. He seemed to value people for who they were as people and that caught Cindy’s interest. As she made sure her dress was on right and her makeup was alright for the fifth time, Jim knocked on the door.
“Come in,” said Cindy
Jim opened the door and Cindy stared. In his hand, there was a pot of fresh flowers. The fact that he still had them in the pot made Cindy laugh with happiness. He handed the pot to her.
“Thank you so much, Mr. Calloway,” she said. He cringed slightly.
“Please don’t call me that,” he said. “My name is Jim and that is what I would like you to call me. You don’t need to call me sir, either. Just Jim.”
“Thank you, Jim.”
“I didn’t think you’d like cut flowers,” said Jim, looking unsure.
“You are absolutely right,” said Cindy, happily. “I don’t. How did you know?”
“Considering you sat in a storm to protect already dying flowers, I didn’t think you’d like flowers that you couldn’t keep alive.”
“You have earned a point, Jim,” said Cindy. Jim grinned.
“I have a point system for dates,” explained Cindy. “I usually won’t tell you when you get one either. Twenty points will earn you a second dinner with me.”
“How many get second dinners?” asked Jim.
“None, thanks to Sam,” said Cindy. “I’ll tell you about it over dinner. I’m hungry.”
“Well, then.” Jim held out his arm and led Cindy down to the dining room to find it elaborately set. The house seemed to very modern with every technological convenience known to man. Jim pulled out her chair and pushed her in once she was seated. She wasn’t used to being treated with such chivalry and she blushed.
“You’re nineteen, right?” asked Jim and Cindy nodded. “Okay, so no wine or champagne. Do you like sparkling cider?”
“I’ve never had it, but I’m always open to something new,” said Cindy.
Jim pushed a button on his phone and it turned green. A man came through the doors and Jim asked for a bottle of cider and told him they were ready for their salad. Cindy lost track of time after that. She and Jim talked for hours about their families and their childhood adventures. She was so engaged in the conversation, she forgot about her mild headache. In fact, it was midnight before she looked at the clock.
“I’m sorry,” said Jim looking at the time too. “I didn’t realize it was so late.”
“I didn’t either. You’re surprisingly easy to talk to.”
“May I ask why it was surprising?” inquired Jim.
“To be honest, I may have jumped to conclusions about you before I met you. I heard stories about your father. I assumed you were the same, but you’re nothing like the stories I heard.”
“I appreciate your honesty,” said Jim. “My parents wanted little to do with me when I was a child though they made sure I had the best education. I saw my mother more because she would pick me up and drop me off from boarding school in New York City. I was actually raised by Mr. and Mrs. Thompson during summer breaks.”
“Yep. They didn’t have any kids and my mom hired Mrs. Thompson as a Nanny. If my parents raised me, I would be like my father. The only interaction I remember having with him was when he was teaching me how to run his business. I know it inside and out but that’s all the credit I can give him.”
“Something tells me you would rather do something else,” said Cindy.
“I’ve always wanted to own and run a library. I love to read in my spare time. So, what about you? What do you want to do?”
“I want my own garden shop and have classes every month to teach others how to start and care for their own garden.”
“I love that idea,” said Jim. “Oh no. It’s half past. I’ve got an early morning conference call with our partners in Japan.”
“It’s alright,” said Cindy with a smile. “You’ve earned enough points for a second dinner.”
“I’m so happy to hear that. Would you like me to walk you back to your room?”
“No thank you,” said Cindy. “I can manage. I think I’ll rest in the morning and then get back to work.”
“Will I see you tomorrow for dinner?” asked Jim hopefully.
Two weeks went by and Cindy found her life beginning to feel oddly complete. She woke up every morning and went out to her garden. In the evenings, she had dinner and talked with Jim about everything. She told him what she did in the garden and ran her ideas by him. He would laugh and say the garden was hers to do with as she wished. Then he would tell her about his day. Spending time with Jim made her happy beyond belief but she was still driven to her garden even if Jim had the day off.
She managed to get the flowers in the pool garden to come alive again. She was so happy when she saw the first yellow petals peek out that she danced on the spot, lost her balance and fell in the pool. She laughed at herself as she climbed back up. She noticed that the garden was shaded during part of the day so she took her clippers and climbed up one of the trees. She found the problem limbs and trimmed them back so her garden was bathed in spotlight. She climbed back down and admired her handy work.
“I would never have thought of that,” said a familiar voice.
“Hi, Clip,” said Cindy.
“Hello. Your father wasn’t lying when he said you were smart,” said Clip. “In fact, I think you may be smarter than me.”
“That’s not true,” said Cindy. “You know more about trees than I do. I like things lower to the ground.”
“I do know my trees,” grinned Clip. Suddenly a bell rang somewhere. “That’s the veggie garden. The new hand must need help. I’ll see you later.”
Cindy smiled and began drawing out a new flower garden layout in the grass with the edge of her tiny shovel. She was so focused on getting the line perfect she didn’t notice Jim standing behind her, watching her work.
“Hi,” he said after a few minutes. Cindy jumped and fell over. Jim burst out laughing and so did Cindy.
“Hi, to you too,” she said when he caught her breath.
“I wanted to ask you about your point system. Do I have enough points to convince you to stop working and join me for a swim?”
Cindy considered it for a moment.
“You won’t get into trouble?”
“With who? The only one I answer to is my mother and she’s in Paris for the rest of the summer. She’s always wanted to go, but my dad didn’t like it.”
“I won’t get into trouble?”
“You’re funny Cindy. I’m the boss and I’m inviting you to swim with me.”
“Well, I guess I can’t say no,” laughed Cindy.
“You’re right, you can’t,” teased Jim.
“It’s just because you’re so charmingly persuasive,” giggled Cindy.
Jim laughed, took off his t-shirt and cannonballed into the pool. Cindy laughed, shimmied out of her shorts and joined him. She splashed him and swam away before he could return the favor. Cindy could not remember the last time she had so much fun swimming. Jim got out and turned on the two-story waterslide and talked Cindy into going down with him. She sat between his legs and he pushed off. He wrapped his arms around her as she squealed in delight. She wanted to go again and Jim was convinced that she needed to go down by herself. Halfway down, she heard a clicking noise. When she got out of the water, she discovered that Jim had taken a picture. So she made him go down alone so she could take a picture of him. It was fun bossing the boss around and she couldn’t stop smiling.
Suddenly, Jim got out of the pool and grabbed Cindy by the hand. He took her down toward the beach. She followed him across the rocks and then into an area so thick with flora there was no visible path. She followed him for another ten minutes before she heard a loud sound. Jim moved a large leaf to reveal a beautiful waterfall. Cindy’s jaw dropped.
“Do you like it?” asked Jim.
“It’s beautiful!” said Cindy. She was so close to tears. “I’ve never seen anything this beautiful in my whole life. It’s so wild and untouched!”
“I think I’ll name it Cindy Waterfall,” said Jim. Cindy broke down in tears.
“Seriously. You and I are the only ones who know about this place,” said Jim. “Now it’s yours.”
“You can’t... It’s too much!”
“I own the whole island, I can do whatever I want with it. I’m giving you this as a gift.”
“Because I,” Jim froze and gulped. “I love you.”
Cindy couldn’t help herself. She threw her arms around his neck and crashed her lips into his. Jim returned her kiss with equal enthusiasm. After a minute, Cindy pulled away for air but she wouldn’t leave his arms.
“I love you, too, Jim.”
They stood there wrapped in each other’s arms until the sun was threatening to make them walk home in the dark. The retraced their steps and went into the house. It was warm inside and Cindy couldn’t help but smile at Jim.
“Is your schedule open in the morning tomorrow?” she asked.
“Not tomorrow morning, but I have Monday morning free with no conferences or meetings or anything even resembling work. Why?”
“I want to take you to the east side of the island,” said Cindy. Jim’s face lit up.
“Really? Cindy, you’re the best girlfriend in the world!” He hugged her and then he tensed up awkwardly. “If - we are - I mean.”
“Yes, I’m your girlfriend,” smiled Cindy.
The next Monday morning, Cindy took Jim to her village and carefully avoided Sam’s school. She showed him the shops in the square, and he bought Cindy a new summer scarf. She showed him the loading docks where there off island supplies came from, then took him to her house and she introduced him officially to her mother, who would not let him leave without taking a biscuit. She taught him how to climb a coconut tree and drink the water straight from the coconut. The last thing she did was show him her little herb garden that her mother was caring for during the summer. Once they were back at the house, Jim asked Cindy a question she had hoped to avoid.
“Why are you afraid of your sister? You avoided the school. I know it’s because of Sam.”
“She’s violent and angry if she doesn’t get her way,” said Cindy miserably. “I’m going to show you why I’m afraid of her, but it means exposing myself so...”
Cindy took off her top and pulled off her sports bra revealing a thin scar just centimeters from her heart. Jim stared at it in disbelief and the looked up at Cindy’s bright red face.
“What did she do to you?”
“We were fighting because some friends invited me to go to the Annual Coconut Festival with them,” she said as she covered herself up again. “Sam wanted to go with me because she didn’t have any friends. I told her I wanted to go with my friends but I promised to take her the next day. She wasn’t happy. She started screaming at me. Told me I was being selfish and then she called me a bunch of names. That was the first and last time anyone ever yelled at her. The stabbed me with the closest thing she could find. It was an open ink pen.”
“What happened to her?”
“After that? She was sent to a mental hospital for a couple weeks. She came home two weeks before I did. It’s been four years. She never apologized. In fact, when she found out I was staying here for the summer, she put a hole in my wall. Mom packed up all my stuff beforehand so she didn’t do much damage.”
“I’m so sorry, Cindy. It makes me not want to let you go home at the end of the summer. I might have to, though.”
“Every year my dad and I have to go to New York City and work there for three to five weeks. Now it’s just me. It’s going to be fourteen hour days sometimes. I won’t have time for you and you won’t have your garden. My flat is also one bedroom right in the middle of the city. You would either have to sleep on the couch or sleep in bed with me.”
“What if by then I’m ready to share your bed?” inquired Cindy.
“You’re a tease,” said Jim. “Look, we’ll sit and really talk about taking you with me when the time comes. I know you’re an adult, but I would feel wrong about bringing you without your parent’s permission.”
“You’re a good man, Jim. That’s why I love you.”
Three weeks passed in the blink of an eye. Cindy’s gardens were thriving. She had taught Jim how to care for her flowers. Jim had taught her how to drive his yacht and how to navigate. Every spare minute they had, they were together. They worked out together every morning before breakfast. Then Cindy went to her garden and he went to the office. Jim even asked Cindy to run ideas by him for meetings. They swam in the pool and made trips to the waterfall frequently.
It was early morning and Cindy was ready to work out but Jim had slept in. Cindy went to check on him and she found him in his bedroom, coughing. There were used tissues all over his nightstand and his nose looked like he lost a bet to a tomato. Cindy called for a banana and some toast with jam and she sat down on his bed beside him. She checked his forehead.
“You have a fever,” she said. “I’m going to postpone your meetings today and tomorrow.”
Jim grunted and coughed.
“I have to work,” he protested.
“Yeah, well you have to get better first. You’re not going to be very useful if you’re like this,” said Cindy. “Just relax. I’ll take care of it and I’ll come back. If you are out bed for anything other than the toilet when I come back, I’m docking points.”
Jim smirked and Cindy left to take care of his schedule. His office, like the rest of the house, was contemporary and highly organized. Cindy found everything she needed and made the necessary calls. The only trouble she had was the New York branch. She had to get firm with them. She did her best to sound like Jim during one of his meetings and it paid off. They postponed the appointment until Jim was better.
She went back into his bedroom to see him shirtless and rummaging through his closet.
“What did I tell you about getting out of bed?” teased Cindy.
“I’m looking for a new shirt,” explained Jim. “I lost my breakfast and some got on my shirt.”
“You’re excused then. Lay back down. I’ll get you a trashcan and chicken broth.”
Cindy spent the rest of the day caring for Jim. He was surprised when she told him about New York and he laughed when she said she just had to sound like him. She only left when he fell asleep. She went to her garden to check on it and water her flowers.
Jim recovered quickly and went back to work. Life went back to normal quickly. Cindy had even persuaded Jim to let her father join them for dinner one evening. Cindy excused herself from the table early but stayed out of sight to listen to the conversation. Jim took that time to tell her father that he wanted to one day ask Cindy to marry him after her twentieth birthday. Cindy had to throw her hands over her mouth to keep herself quiet.
Knowing that he loved her that much made Cindy so happy, but it also put a weight on her shoulders. What would Sam do when she found out?
The answer came the following week when Jim was late for dinner. Jim was never late for dinner and Cindy was worried. She waited for twenty minutes when she heard someone screaming for help from the open kitchen door. She heard her father shout in pain and then the last voice she wanted to hear reached her ears.
“I want him. I deserve him! Not that spoiled brat! If I can’t have him she can’t either! Out of my way!”
Cindy didn’t wait. She left the table and bolted to the office. All she could hear was screaming as staff members ran outside. She ran into Jim in the hallway.
“Sam is here,” said Cindy. “I think she’s armed.”
“I need to get you out of here.”
Jim pulled Cindy toward the back door. Everywhere, Cindy could see panicked faces. Jim told everyone to either go evacuate the village or get to the boats. Cindy wondered why the village needed to evacuate if Sam was just after her and Jim. Then she saw what Jim saw. Red. Sam had set the whole island on fire in a fit of jealous rage.
“I need to get you on a boat,” said Jim.
“We don’t have time! We have to go through the fire to get there!”
“We’re going underground,” said Jim. “Dad built tunnels as emergency exits. Now I’m glad he did. Come on. This way.”
Jim pulled her out the back door to the pool when they heard another scream.
“Help! Clip! Help!”
“We have to help them!” said Cindy.
Jim hesitated for a second and then ran back into the house with Cindy at his heels. Glass was broken and the sound of Sam screaming curses at Cindy in anger filed the house. They found Clip and his wife. He had been hit hard on the head and was bleeding and unconscious. Cindy’s father was wounded and trying to revive him.
“I can’t stop her,” said Howard with tears streaming from his eyes. “I tried. She got me on the side. Your mother is gone. Sam took her first.”
“Get everyone outside. Head in the direction of the waterfall, Cindy. There’s a stray banana tree beside the cliff. There’s a door behind the vines. The tunnel will take you to my yacht. If I’m not there in ten minutes, get to the closet island and get help.”
“What about you?” asked Cindy.
“I need to get everyone to safety,” said Jim. “Don’t worry, I’ll be alright. I love you.”
“I love you too.”
He kissed her and left the room. Cindy helped Howard get Clip onto his shoulders and she led the way. It was difficult to see with the smoke from the fire rushing towards them. They found the tunnel and hurried to the yacht. Cindy found Jim’s key and waited. Ten minutes felt like forever to her as she starred at the door.
Suddenly, a large noise made her spin to the direction of the house. A huge ball of flames was visible over the trees and Cindy tried to get off the yacht. She needed to find Jim.
“Cindy, just go!” yelled Howard. “He’s gone! Go!”
Cindy turned the key and pushed the yacht as fast and she could to the closest island. Howard got Clip and his wife off the yacht and went to get help. It seemed everyone’s evacuation plan had been the same because the island was bustling with people carrying water and blankets towards familiar faces.
All at once, the adrenaline drained from Cindy. She fell to the dock and stared at her home island. It was all she had known. All she had loved was on that island. Her mother and Jim were gone. All she had left was her father. Sam had taken everything from her because she was jealous. She destroyed so many lives because she wanted Jim’s money.
For six hours, Cindy sat on the dock, unmoving. She was hoping for a small sliver of something that could tell her Jim was alive. At 3 am, her father came and carried her to a bed and rocked her until she fell asleep.
Two days went by with no news. The fire had been put out and the north side of the house was gone. They found Sam in the room beside Cindy’s. She had killed herself with her own knife when she couldn’t find Jim and Cindy. Jim was nowhere to be seen. On the third day, Cindy begged to join the search. She knew how to get to the waterfall and if Jim wasn’t there, or in the tunnel, he was lost forever.
Cindy searched around the falls for an hour. Then she headed for the tunnel. She called out for him and her heart leaped when she heard him say her name. He was in bad shape, but alive. She went and got help and she helped get him out to the boat. We was bruised up and hungry but he was alright.
The following week was Jeanette Fletcher’s funeral. Everyone from the island went to pay their respects. After the funeral, Jim and Cindy went to the house. The explosion wiped out half of the house, but four of the six bedrooms only received smoke damage. All of Jim’s businesses records and other things he needed for work had survived, as well as everything that was in their bedrooms. They packed clothes, essential items and things that held special meaning to them and took a helicopter to the airport.
With Howard’s blessing, Cindy followed Jim to New York City. Over the years, they recovered from Sam’s rampage. They got married and had twins. Howard moved in so he could play with his grand babies. Life was good.