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

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Chapter 27: Lola's Crab Shack (Part 2)

TORIN

“Please, please Dad!” Rainie had pleaded as she asked me to go with her and her grandma to the internship dinner at Lola’s Crab Shack tomorrow night.

I didn’t want to mingle with the aquarium people, nor the family of the boy who Rainie had punched. And I especially didn’t want to mix with October Davis. I’d done well this week not having to come into contact with her.

“We’ll see,” I had replied.

Later that night after Rainie had went to bed, Mom suggested that I go.

“It would be good for Rainie to do something special with you. She’s worked really hard, learning everything she can at the rehab. You’d be proud of her.”

“I already am proud of her,” I seriously quipped back.

“No, Torin, I mean it. She’s really trying! And you should be there for her dinner. The kids don’t know it, but we’re giving them certificates and awards. It would mean a lot to her if you were there.”

I did want to see my baby in her moment of celebration and achievement - I just didn’t want to see the rest of the people there.

“Maybe I could take her out to celebrate, just me and her, another night.”

“Torin, don’t put it off. I think it would be good for you both. You need a Daddy-Daughter date, and you might not get a chance later on before school starts up again.”

I scrunched up my nose, but Mom continued before I could answer, “She’ll be thirteen next month and needs to have a good masculine figure right now. Did you know that she came to me other day asking in depth questions about soul mates and boys?”

Now she had my attention, though I tried to brush it off, telling myself that it was just because of Onyx and Gina. But Mom wouldn’t let it go.

“No, Torin. I think it might have to do with that boy, Kyle.” My eyebrows nearly hit the ceiling as Mom continued, “She was asking about boys who acted mean because they like a girl.”

“What?! She’s not old enough to be thinking about boys or soul mates!”

Mom laughed, “Go to the party, Torin.”

Of course, Mom conveniently bowed out of attending herself at the last minute, feigning a worry about reservation numbers. It was Lola’s Crab Shack for goodness sake, not The Ritz!

Rainie and I were a little late, as we had to turn around and grab the certificates I’d accidentally forgotten since they were separate from the award boxes. While she opened the doors for me once we arrived, she quickly left me to manage the boxes on my own as soon as she saw Anne.

“Darn girl’s probably a bad influence!” I grumbled in my head, until October Davis turned around in her seat. Her green eyes making contact and making me suddenly nervous. She obviously had been expecting my mom to bring Rainie and I couldn’t quite gauge her feelings about seeing me instead.

But soon I was otherwise distracted as the giant beanpole of a guy named Chuy, who had been sitting to October’s left, came to my aid, helping me offload the award boxes at the opposite end of the long table.

There I met Rob Grant and his wife, Amy, both of whom really surprised me. Mom had frequently bragged about how down to earth the owner of the aquarium was despite the wealth he’d accumulated. But I was still a bit taken aback that he and his wife had actually come to this little shindig for three kids. Rob’s genuine and positive comments about my kid’s work at his aquarium over the course of the week-long internship set me in my place as well.

The Hudson’s were next and greeted me as the kind, good-hearted people they turned out to be. It was apparent that Kyle’s misstep was a wakeup call for the only-child’s parents and they both apologized for everything, also giving my Rainie compliments about being a good sport after everything that’d happened with their son. I was being proven wrong about my assumptions left and right!

The server interrupted, wanting to take drink orders, so I shook Gary and Ida’s hands again as I excused myself to go get a seat with my daughter. But my date for the evening had apparently ditched me, as she was sitting smack dab in the middle of Anne and Kyle, having a grand time.

I looked around for another seat and knew that fate had it out for me yet again, as the only seat was at the end of the table, sharing a corner with the one and only October Davis! Whatever happened to that kid, what’s his name - Chuy - who’d been sitting there before?!

“Damn it, Rainie!” I said to myself.

As I sat down with October catty-corner to me, she gave me a weak and awkward smile. The server took our drinks and I tried to bury myself in my menu, leaning back in my seat attempting not to look uncomfortable.

“Rhonda couldn’t make it?” Came the feminine voice to my right.

I looked up at her, surprised she had even talked to me, and my nerves got the better of me as I simply stared, trying to look unenthused.

“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!” I could read both nerves and genuine concern for my mother in her statement and tone.

I took a moment, trying to figure out what to say, yet she plowed on, “But it’s good you were able to come and support Rainie. She’s really been great!”

I was feeling extremely torn at this point. Half of me wanted to take her hand and answer all her questions and tell her just how beautiful she looked in that dark blue top that tantalized me with a peek of her silky soft shoulders. And the other half wanted to scare her away, forcing her out of my life and out of my thoughts. I decided on the later, building my purposeful irritation.

Backtracking on her incessant questions, I seriously answered, “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 say home.”

“Ah. Well, I’m glad she’s okay!” She responded nervously, glancing away as I turned my attention back to my menu. Then she laughed sweetly, turning her attention fully on me and said, “So much for your Dad-Daughter date, huh?!”

I looked up at her again, surprised she’d somehow known that the whole idea of my being here was for such a date with my daughter. Had it been anyone else, I would have laughed as well at the irony of the entire situation with Rainie. I tried hard to frown at October, but instead prayed that she didn’t catch my overpowering desire to agree with her and smile.

I don’t know why she was still trying so hard to be nice; I hadn’t given her an inch thus far, yet she proceeded, “I heard about that drug bust last week. Rainie said you helped take down the crew.”

To my relief, the server returned with our drinks, asking for our orders. October ordered the salmon - a good choice. Then, I remembered that it was one of Sandy’s favorites. That was all it took; I finally had my ammunition to turn my anger at my own desires on the poor woman who was just trying to be nice.

“Sir?” The waiter looked at me.

I looked directly into those gorgeous greens and said as level-headed as I could, more to her than the server, “Uh, no. I’m not ready. With all the blabbing going on here, I haven’t been able to concentrate on the menu long enough to see everything. Take theirs first, then come back to me.”

That had done the trick, and I could see her expression falter as she seemed to pale, suddenly grabbing her straw, tearing the paper cover off it, and shoving it into her tea. I swear she drank half the amber liquid in one giant gulp, obviously trying to swallow back, I don’t know - tears, anger, bad words.

Then she left for the lady’s room, “Whew! That was close!” I praised myself inwardly for thwarting her temptation yet again. Maybe, just maybe she’d leave me alone now! As the evening progressed, it seemed to work. We both ate in relative silence, only talking to the others around us and not once to each other. As soon as the food was done, October was up and about, preparing for the ceremony.

Now that she was gone from my side, I could finally relax and enjoy the event, even though I would have rather sat next to Rainie.

“Okay, everyone,” Rob stood up addressing the group. “This evening we want to recognize the Gulfside Aquatic Rehabilitation Center’s first ever Youth Internship Program by honoring our first graduates!”

All the adults gave a round of applause for the now-bashful looking trio sitting at the center of everyone.

“Considering the unfortunate circumstances which led to this internship, I seriously wanted to thank everyone involved. Starting with my staff - October, Chuy, and Vickie - you’ve put together a heck of a good program last minute. And to our interns, well, I just want to thank you for your efforts and hard work at the Rehab. We are seriously low on staff at the moment, and you have really helped out a lot. But even more so, you have proven yourselves to be mature young adults in overcoming your differences and have even shown that you can make a great team. I do hope that you’ve found value in this experience and that you had some fun while doing it. Please, Anne, Rainie, and Kyle, come on up. We have a little something to present you.”

The three kids looked a little embarrassed, having all the attention on them, but proud at the same time. Getting up from their seats, they quietly went to stand next to Rob, who shook each of their hands, then handed the floor to October as he went to sit next to his wife again.

Taking the certificates in hand, October cleared her throat, then read the top one aloud so everyone could hear, “On behalf of the entire staff at the Gulfside Aquatic Rehabilitation Center or GARC, each of you are hereby certified as official GARC Volunteers. Thank you for your dedication and perseverance! Signed on this second day of August by the President of GARC, Robert A. Grant.”

Then looking up at the trio, she smiled, calling the first name, “Kyle J. Hudson.” Kyle stepped closer, shyly grinning as his parents hooped and hollered. Shaking his hand, October handed him the certificate and his mom snapped a picture as they both smiled for the camera.

Damn, I loved her smile.

“Anne L. Davis,” she called up her own daughter who was next in line after Kyle stepped aside. Anne shook her mother’s hand then they posed for Amy who took pictures, and the girl turned to give her mom a big hug. October squeezed her daughter, who was already almost as tall as her. You could tell they were close, and I suddenly felt a bit guilty for my behavior earlier.

“Rainie S. Waters.” It was my baby’s turn! I felt fatherly pride as she beamed her beautiful smile, first at October who shook her hand and gave her the certificate, and then at me as she posed for the photo she knew I would be taking with my phone. I snapped a few, knowing her grandma would want to see this before I realized that October would be in my photos. She looked conflicted as she posed with her arm around Rainie’s shoulder, apparently wanting to support her intern, while not wanting to necessarily smile in my direction.

I put the phone down, nodding that I’d gotten my photos, and watched as Rainie proceeded to hug October - a long, tight hug. My stomach clenched! Why couldn’t it all be simple?! This woman had been amazingly kind to my daughter and mother, while I tried to push her away with mean words and actions. And they looked so natural and happy together up there - why was I fighting nature? It was obviously a familial soul mate bond that was bringing my family members to enjoy her and her daughter’s presence.

Another round of applause brought me back to the present, and I beamed at Rainie who smiled just as big back at me. I couldn’t have been prouder. Now Chuy and Vickie took charge as October stood off to the side. Her smile gave her away as she looked on with approval and genuine love for her own and the other two kids.

Vickie started, “This evening we want to present special awards to three very brave members of the GARC team. But first, Chuy has a few words to say.”

It was apparent how much the kids liked Chuy, as he pretended to be extra serious, clearing his throat and straightening, “It is my honor and privilege to award the distinguished Savage Seal Award to these three very brave souls. It was a fateful day when Salvador the Savage Seal - as he’s now appropriately called - escaped his pen by deviously wrangling Vickie into the water. But! After he nearly knocked me out, it was the selfless and smart thinking of Rainie, Kyle, and Anne that saved the day and aided in the recapture of the wild and ferocious beast. Never in my life had I felt so much danger! My life flashed before my eyes! Without the heroic actions and forethought of my heroes, I may not be standing here today!”

His Cuban accent only added to the extra-dramatic flair of his tale and he had everyone laughing hysterically, already having heard of the naughty seal’s escapades from their own children. Each of the kids received a small golden trophy topped with a seal balancing a beach ball, and I was sure Rainie would be proudly displaying hers on her dresser for years to come.

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