The door’s bell tingled as I entered into the sparsely decorated office from the bright sunshine. From the single desk, lined with brochures of tour packages, a woman in her mid-thirties with a pixie hair cut of blonde hair and dark roots looked up from her computer and gave me a beaming smile like we were old friends. Her hoop earrings dangled with the turn of her head and from her round face and genuine smile, I decided immediately that I liked her.
“Hi, there! Welcome to Reef Escapes, I’m Linda, what can I do for you today?” She said with a bubbliness that seemed natural, rather than superfluous to salespeople. I returned the smile with a warm one of my own, but slightly apologetic from years of practice in being shamed for tardiness from my mother.
“Hey, I’m so sorry, I am ten minutes late from when you said to report, I’m Carter Brunner.”
The woman’s smile immediately turned to a frown, and she pursed her lips in thought. Her head tilted to the side to complete the expression and she turned back to her computer, her fingers clicking the mouse frantically. After a moment of watching Linda, she finally turned back to me, looking me up and down. I had adopted the local’s jean shorts and a cami top, and in the hot sun of North Australia, was very thankful I had packed both.
I gave a confused smile. I had calmed down a lot more since last night and my panic attack at losing half of my available cash. Rolinde’s bed was empty when I woke up and hoped that Brock turned out to more of a gentleman than his dickhead friend. But the way Linda was looking at me brought a sliver of panic again that I had somehow messed up and didn’t actually have a job here.
“Yes, I’m Carter, the new crew member for one of your yachts. We emailed back and forth several times, your Linda Bloom, right?”
Linda nodded in agreement,
“But, you’re a girl.”
I straightened my shoulders up for a little more height to my 5’10, and said with some good humor,
“I prefer woman, actually. Twenty-two isn’t so old, or so I’m told.”
The other woman sitting behind the desk shook her head again,
“But... you’re a woman.”
This time I tilted my head at her, very confused. “Yessss?”
“And your name is Carter?”
“Yes, is this a problem? I’m starting to feel like this is a problem, Linda.”
Linda, suddenly leaned back in her seat and huffed her little fringe off and out of her long face. After a second, she gave another little smile, almost warily, and replied,
“No, no problem, just I’ve never heard of a girl named Carter, that’s all.”
I plastered on the warm smile again and nodded my head in understanding. It was a common problem, even before anyone had ever heard of the reclusive and sheltered heiress Carter Magness. I had even been assigned into the boy’s dorm in my first year of university, back when I had semi-tried for a normal college experience, due to some overlooked paperwork.
“My parents are, well, they are different, I guess.”
Reaching into a drawer out of sight, Linda placed some forms and a pen on the table and gestured to the seat at the front, and I took it. Hefting my duffle bag with all my belongings to the floor, I leaned back into the chair, thinking of dad, and watching Linda’s face resolve.
“Yes, I imagine they are. Right then, this is the standard form and information for your Visa type. I assume this job is your only way to stay in the country, right?”
I nodded and picked up the pen,
“And everything else you said on your job application was legit? You do have a little sailing experience and kitchen work?”
I modded enthusiastically, “I took a few sailing lessons in college, and I have a friend with a boat who showed me the basics.” I omitted the part where my friend was actually the captain of the family’s sailboat in Cape Cod. Linda eyebrows furrowed, but I looked down to the form, and whatever she thought must have passed because she began to go over the basics of the job.
Giving absentminded nods as I half-listened to more about the position of crew for the fifty foot yacht, Sailor’s Revenge, while I looked over the form. It was not common knowledge that Carter Magness was on paper, actually Carter Brunner and I mumbled a silent thanks to my mother for insisting that I take her name for all legal forms.
Jenny’s name and number in Sydney went down as the emergency contact, and I gave my home address in Colorado as Roseanna’s guest house, hoping that anything odd that was mailed to her in however long when I was finished here, I could circumvent. I looked up again to find Linda had finished her spiel and was now looking at me intently.
“You know, I tried to find you on social media, to see if you were real, you know? But there weren’t any Carter Brunners.” My pen halted mid-air, and I dropped it back down to the table, knowing what Linda was about to say.
I tucked my new short hair behind my ear,
“Yeah, actually, you know, I… I had to delete all those kinds of things.” Linda’s eyebrows perked in interest and I felt that maybe this was one thing that I didn’t have to bullshit on.
“I kind of went through a bad break up some time ago, and really don’t want my ex to know anything about me. Like, I had to ‘change countries for a little while’ kind of situation.”
“Shiiiit,” she exhaled appreciatively, and leaned back in her seat, and I nodded in agreement.
“Bit of a stalker, huh?”
I shrugged and thought about Rob, only one of the reasons for the total social blackout, “Maybe not, I hope not. I kind of just want to have some time off the radar, and if he had me on it, he might be tempted to try and… I don’t know.”
Linda nodded in understanding and concern, clearly a veteran of break ups and exes. Wasn’t every woman? “Okey dokes. Loud and clear.”
She looked back up to the clock, now reading nearly 11am and gave it a grim look before reaching down into another drawer and pulled out a bottle of Rum with two shot glasses. My mouth gaped slightly in surprise as she poured out a sizable amount.
“What’s going on now?” I asked and she paused for a moment before placing the bottle back on the table.
“Well, let’s just call it celebrating our new hire.”
“But, it’s only 11…” I mumbled, as the two full shot glasses were put between us.
“Carter, just drink, you’re going to need it in a few minutes.”
She raised her glass to me in cheers and I shrugged before doing the same, shooting the rum and wincing at the taste. She smiled at my almost dramatic reaction. Holy mother, it had most certainly been 6 months since I had last done that, and my throat told me so.
“Not much of a drinker, huh?”
I shook my head, seemingly to forget what the burn felt like.
“Haven’t really had the inclination for a while.”
Linda poured another one for us, and put the bottle back in her drawer,
“Well, good, there is no drinking out on the boat as crew. And if your trial goes well, then you’ll be out six nights of the week and in harbor for one. So it’s a good idea to run on the dry side.”
The doorbell abruptly tinkled behind me and Linda’s eyes raised towards the new customer walking in and I turned with them, expecting to be shafted out of my seat.
Instead, a tall man with a full dark beard and long wavy hair that reached below his plain blue baseball hat walked in casually through the door, like he had been here a hundred times. I looked him up and down, trying to place him. He wore a pair of casual long khakis with a fleece jacket over and a pair of soft soled Nikes. Our eyes locked as he studied me sitting down, and examined my face.
Holy mother. I exhaled the breath I was holding. Older, maybe thirty with dark features, a strong Grecian nose and jawline under the full soft beard to match. The green eyes studied my face and he gave a little smile my way before looking around the empty office area and then back to Linda with a puzzled look. Linda seemed to understand his unasked question, and rose from her seat to stand between us.
“Carter, this is your captain, Jackson Vail. Jackson, this is Carter Brunner, your new first mate.”
Jackson kept the puzzled look on his face as he tried to process the introduction, and he shifted in his stance to an almost defensive position against Linda. Those green eyes came to study my face again as I stood and extended my hand for him to shake. His deep voice questioned Linda, still a little confused but now wary for it.
“But Carter is a…”
Linda cut him off quick, “..Woman. Carter Brunner is an American woman.”
The confused look slowly left his face, and was replaced by filthy daggers in my direction as he seemed to speak to Linda, warning her.
“No,” he told her, the anger in his voice matching his new body language.
“Yes,” she retorted.
He now turned to her, ignoring my offered hand and I dropped it awkwardly. “No, you said it was a man. That’s what I asked for.” The indignation in his voice startled me and I took a few steps back from the pair as they now continued their conversation, oblivious to my uncomfortableness.
“I was mistaken, Carter Brunner is a young woman with strange parents and she is here. She has experience, is a hard worker, and will be embarking on your cruise this afternoon for her trial. If it all goes well and you are both happy, we can talk about it in two days when you return. Okay?” Linda finished, keeping Jackson’s strong tone, but without the anger.
The angry Grecian god now turned to look me up and down, still unsatisfied.
“Does Malibu Barbie here even swim?” He said with an aggressive manner that shook me down to the core. No one had been so rude to my face in… well ever. And certainly no one had ever questioned my swimming.
“I-i-i’m a-a-…” I closed my mouth with the stutter that the man provoked in me, and closed my eyes for a deep breath.
“Fuck swimming, does she talk?”
My eyes flashed open at the callousness and cruel nature, replying with confidence.
“I swim well, don’t worry about me.”
He huffed out a deep breath and crossed his arms against his chest, as if it could push me out of the office. He opened his mouth again to protest, but Linda cut him off,
“There is no time, Jackson. She has some sailing experience, she is here, and you depart in three hours. It will do for now.” Linda retorted, and tilted her head to look up and down my length. “Plus, she is cute. Give her a chance.”
He clamped his mouth shut and gave Linda an evil eye, as if that was exactly the wrong thing to win him over. But he turned to me with a new resolution.
“You’ve got stuff, Malibu?”
“It’s Carter, and just this bag.” I curtly replied to the insult, gently kicking my rucksack on the ground. He looked down to it and nodded,
“Follow me, then.”
Without a parting word to Linda, Jackson turned to the door and flung it open, taking his anger out on something else than me. I looked to Linda in question and she held the remaining shot of rum out. Now understanding its true purpose: to steel my nerves against my new stupid hot, but unexplanably angry employer. I pinched it between my fingers and shot it quickly, wincing again.
“Captain Jack, seriously?”
She gave a snort of laughter, but then gestured that I should be quick to follow him.
“Tough it out, Carter. You’ll do fine.”
Lugging the sack over my shoulder, I raced out to see Jackson had not waited and was already a few shops down, making his way to the jetty and the public park. I quickly caught up to him, and gave the park a side glance again, maybe wondering if there were any visible traces of my near assault from last night.
But there wasn’t, and there was no sign of Declan of course. He had probably slithered into whatever hole he lived in and called home. The thought of the man gave me a shiver, before I shook it off, and gave my full attention to the back of the long striding Captain, now at the Jetty entrance.
I trailed a few feet behind until we were three quarters down the jetty, when he stopped and turned down a side dock, away from the multimillion dollar yachts. After another few moments of watching his ass with his long gait, we came to a halt in front of a large, 60 foot, sailing boat with its plank up. The paint, while not discoloured, definitely needed a fresh coat, and the boat’s name staring at me on the bow starboard had been painted in a blood red many years ago. Jackson finally turned around to acknowledge me while he leaned over and pulled a rope off the boat.
“Right, this is the Sailor’s Revenge, it’s a Yawl configuration of the sails, which means it has a large sail and is a little bigger than most. It needs a rehaul sometime this year, and some sprucing up but for now, she runs fine.”
He took a wide step and hauled himself up onto the deck, taking a few moments before opening up a rail, and dropping a large piece of wood between the boat and jetty. Without waiting for my response, he turned and moved onto the ship and I hefted my bag for a better grip and walked up onto the boat assessing.
Holy crap, this was a small boat. How many tourists would it take? It couldn’t be too many if there were only him and I for crew. My father’s sail boat was a full rig, with three sails and a crew of five for sailing and one for the living quarters.
“Are you even listening?” his angry voice called out to me from the stern. I looked over to the back of the boat, quickly following his voice, and found he had entered into the cabin underneath the deck, a small sheltered area holding the entry down and the controls of the boat. Bracing his arms against the handrails, he looked up at me as I rounded into the shelter, giving me those same daggers.
“Yes! Totally listening, yawl config with aft rudder post. You use the engine when there isn’t enough wind and to get in and out of the harbor. Got it.”
His eyes, level with my bare legs, gave me another up and down from the bottom of the stairs before gesturing for me to follow him inside.
“You will mostly be helping with the guests. Prepping for breakfast, lunches, snacks and the dinner. Then when they leave, you will be responsible for cleaning up and prepping the interior for the next group a few hours later. On Mondays, at the end of our week and day off, a cleaning crew comes in for the deep clean.”
He motioned to the large space of the cabin, holding a large all-purpose table, with a mini kitchen to the side, and a small door in the corner. Benches lined the entire area, and after the living space was a short corridor, with four doors that led down the length of the boat. Jackson, leaning against the kitchen sink now, his long legs stretched in front, motioned down the narrow hallway.
“Three bedrooms down there, with three cots each, and a small bathroom.”
Nodding, I hefted my pack again, looking around the living area.
“Right, where do I sleep?”
Jackson motioned to a cubby underneath a bench behind me.
“You can store your pack here. We sleep up top, the benches in the shelter have a soft mattress fitted for them for crew.”
My face must have shown surprise, because the ‘V’ of his furrowed brow deepened.
“Look, if you wanted the Ritz, you shouldn’t have taken a job as crew on a small tourist boat.”
“No, no, it’s fine. I’m sure at some point in my life I’ve always wanted to sleep under the stars at sea.” I then tried my best for a genuine smile. It could be great, if I was used to it, and I’m sure well-rested and wanted to actually look at the stars. It could be great, but most likely going to suck.
He kept the frown and looked around the space.
“Basically, you’re below deck and mostly on passenger duty, occasionally helping in and out of the harbor. I’m up top, taking care of the boat and getting us around. Got it?”
Nodding, I repeated his instructions.
“Right. I’m on the bottom, you’re on top.”
If I didn’t think it was possible for him to look any more irate with having me in his presence, I was wrong. He licked his lips before setting them in a hard line, and bracing his hands on his hips, looking like he was gearing up for three rounds in the ring. He shifted his weight for a moment before shaking his head and looking down at his feet.
“Alright, Malibu. Let’s get this out there shall we? I do not want you here. I am very skeptical that you will be of any help and will instantly lose interest in any job responsibilities the second you break a nail. You make a fuck up or show that you really don’t want to be here, you’re off my boat. Got it?”
I kept my eyes wide open in hopes that they didn’t well with tears and my mouth shut, not wanting to let my stutter make an appearance at the man’s anger. Taking a deep breath, we locked eyes, and I simply nodded and let out a long, visible exhale. He side stepped me and headed back up the stairs, pausing half way up to turn and looked my body over again.
“Also, rule number one on my ship…” his eyes strayed down from my face to my slight cleavage,
“We do not fuck the passengers.”