Beyond the Ocean's Depths (Not an Average Shifter Romance)

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Chapter 26: Lola's Crab Shack (Part 1)

TOBIE

It was Friday, and the official end of the week-long trial internship. All three of our students had become quite accomplished animal caretakers and exhibit cleaners. I was really impressed with how the three of them ended up finishing the week with no hard feelings between each other. I wouldn’t exactly call Kyle the girls’ friend, but he wasn’t their enemy.

Rob signed letters for all three, stating that they’d done their week-long community service and were exceptional citizens of Navarro Beach, and were requesting admission back into the Summer Center.

To celebrate our interns’ graduation and to show them that being good has its rewards, Rob invited the kids and their parents/grandparents to a dinner celebration at Lola’s Crab Shack down on the beach that evening. It was nothing fancy, but supposedly a good family restaurant with live music. Anne and I hadn’t been yet, but everyone else said we’d enjoy it.

Rhonda was going to bring Rainie, and both Kyle’s parents said they would be there. Vickie was going to bring her boyfriend and Chuy would be coming solo. Rob and Amy made the reservations.

“Mom, you should wear that really cute outfit you bought a couple weeks ago at the mall. You know, the beachy blouse with the hot pink flowers!” Anne suggested as she went to pick out her own outfit. “You never know what cute guy you might meet there!”

The dark blue tunic-style top with peek-a-boo shoulders and bright tropical flowers was a little fancier than I planned, but I could dress it down with a pair of jeans. It was appropriate for a beachy, aquatic-themed get together, and the kids didn’t know that we’d planned to do a little ceremony for them.

The new top did make my slowly slimming shape look pretty good, I thought to myself! So, as far as the cute guy part... You never know! Though I wasn’t necessarily looking - the kids were what was important tonight.

By 6:00 p.m. we were walking into Lola’s, and I had to admit it was kinda swanky for a crab shack type place.

The Hudson’s were already there and seated at our large table, visiting with Rob and Amy. Kyle gave Anne a little wave as we said our hellos to everyone, sitting with Anne next to Kyle so they could visit.

Chuy and Vickie, and her boyfriend, Allen, came in after us, leaving the seats straight across from us for Rainie and Rhonda, who were seemingly going to be fashionably late.

Anne had become an accomplished text’er since becoming besties with Rainie, and she quickly sent her friend a text message asking where they were.

“On our way,” was the short reply with a smiley emoji.

In the meantime, drinks were ordered, and Vickie and Allen decided to step over to the dance floor while we were waiting for the last of our party. They were a cute couple, and it was nice to see young love in full bloom.

Finally, Rainie’s familiar voice came from behind us as Anne jumped up to greet her friend as though they hadn’t seen each other in years.

I turned in my seat to say hello and see if Rhonda needed help carrying anything in for our ceremony and my heart stopped.

It wasn’t Rhonda at all! Instead, I was staring into the deep black eyes of Torin Waters, who apparently cleans up quite nicely out of his kinda hot uniform and chill grocery shopping apparel. “Oh no!” I nervously said in my head, “Way to make the evening uncomfortable!”

He looked nervous as hell, the center of attention as everyone acknowledged his and Rainie’s entrance. Chuy jumped up to help him set the award boxes down at Rob’s end of the table. Rob, who hadn’t met Torin before rose to shake hands with the man, introducing himself and Amy. I watched, interested as he politely spoke to my boss and his wife, and one would never know that he had a passionate hate for aquarium people.

Gary and Ida Hudson also stood, shaking Torin’s hand and everyone seemed to be quite pleasant, considering how touchy the parents’ relationship had been a week ago in Mrs. Williams’ office, and that Gary hadn’t met Torin before.

I knew it was a weeknight, and that the Hudson’s would have to leave a bit earlier since Gary had an early morning shift tomorrow. So, I left the table to go bring Vickie and Allan back and to grab the server, so he knew our whole party had arrived.

When I returned, I was surprised to see that some seat rearranging had been done in my absence. Apparently, Rainie had wanted to sit with her co-interns and ended up between Kyle and Anne, thus moving me and Anne down a seat so I was in the last seat on the long end of the table. Vickie, Allan, and Chuy had moved across the table from us so they could better talk, leaving one vacant seat - the one that Chuy had been occupying - at the very end of the table and next to me.

“Uh, we moved?” I nudged Anne who was chattering away with the other two kids.

“Oh, yeah. Rainie couldn’t hear us from way over there.” Then she went back to her conversation opposite of her.

“Great!” I mumbled, irritated that I would have to sit next to Torin. There went my appetite!

I looked to see where Mr. Rude was. He was still chatting it up with Gary, Kyle’s dad. Torin laughed at something, then held a smile for a while as he listened to whatever Gary was saying. God, he had a nice smile! A drop-dead smile!

The server interrupted the moment, asking if everyone was ready to order drinks, and Torin shook hands again with Gary and Ida and looked around for a seat, thinking he was probably going to sit with Rainie as he found her first, looking perplexed for a second as she was completely preoccupied with her seatmates.

I tore my eyes away from his direction, pretending that I was paying attention to the three young twenty-somethings across the table. I didn’t want to see his reaction when he realized the only seat left was catty-corner to me.

I had no idea what they were talking about - something to do with going to some club in Miami. Whatever it was, I was totally out of the loop and it seemed just as uninteresting and unrelatable as the kids’ conversation about middle school.

As Torin sat down, I glanced his way, giving him an acknowledging smile and was relieved that the server arrived to take our drinks at that very moment.

“Sweet tea for me,” I said as the server addressed me first, then looked at Torin.

“The same,” he quickly said, turning quickly to his menu.

I hated awkward, silent situations, let alone confrontational situations, which I thought this could possibly turn into. My stomach tightened in response and was really wishing that Rhonda had come instead.

“Rhonda couldn’t make it?” I blurted out, interrupting his concentrated menu-reading as he leaned back in his seat. Without raising his head, he looked up at me and my nerves got the better of me.

“Not that it isn’t okay you came; I just was wondering if Rhonda was alright since she helped put all this together and all. I hope she isn’t sick or something!”

He didn’t answer right away, and that made me even more nervous. “But it’s good you were able to come and support Rainie. She’s really been great!” I plowed on without a breath.

“God, shut up Tobie!” I told myself internally as he continued watching me.

After I shut up long enough for him to answer he finally said, “My mom is just fine. Rainie really wanted me to come since I don’t get to take her out a lot, and Mom didn’t think there’d be enough seats since there were reservations. So, she decided to stay home.”

“Ah,” I replied. “Well, I’m glad she’s okay!”

I nodded nervously, glancing at anything but the handsome man who went back to reading his menu. “Maybe I could just eat in silence and pretend he didn’t exist,” I told myself. The less we talked the better chance we had of surviving this experience without a fight or me getting hurt feelings.

But I somehow found the ability to shut my brain down impossible as the rest of what he’d said processed in my mind and I laughed out loud - not obnoxiously, just laughed - as I overheard Anne telling Rainie and Kyle something funny.

“So much for your Dad-Daughter date, huh?!” I blurted, smirking with the hilarity of the situation. Rainie seemed to have forgotten that her dad was even there.

He looked back up at me again, and for a second, I thought he was going to scowl, but instead a teeny tiny flicker of movement happened at the corner of his mouth. In an upward direction at that! Could it have been a desire to smile?! I don’t know - it was too small to tell for sure.

I should have stopped while I was ahead, but the faucet was turned on and I thought just maybe we could at least be cordially pleasant. “I heard about that drug bust last week. Rainie said you helped take down the crew.”

At that moment, the server returned with our drinks and asked if we were ready to order - he’d already taken the other half of the table’s orders, leaving our side for last. I’d been ready to order having looked at the menu while we were waiting earlier, so I ordered my salmon and asparagus with a side salad.

The server looked at Torin, “Sir?”

“Uh, no. I’m not ready.” Looking straight at me with obvious disdain, he continued, “With all the blabbing going on here, I haven’t been able to concentrate on the menu long enough to see everything.” Then jutting his thumb towards the twenty-somethings, he finished, “Take theirs first, then come back to me.”

I had done it! I had gone and got my own feelings hurt because I couldn’t shut up! Damn him anyways - I swallowed down my tears as I quickly took the paper cover off my straw and jammed the thing into my tea, taking a giant drink.

I didn’t want to be here anymore, and I felt dejected and mad. “What the fuck was his problem!” I screamed inside my head as I nudged Anne to let her know I was going to the restroom.

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