Cruel Summer

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Chapter 3

Carter

The group, led by Linda, came walking down the jetty and I quickly counted four men and two women in the group as I waited by the gangplank. All young-ish and sporting beachwear, mostly all attractive, whether due to youth or good genes, I couldn’t tell. I eyed a tall and well cut blond in the back of the group and Jackson’s threat rang again in my ears. I wasn’t going to be advertising it, especially to him, but I was pretty sure I had been turned off of men forever after the shitshow that was Robert Stryker and the redneck wanna be rapist, Declan.

In the few hours I had on the boat to prepare, the daily schedule on the interior of the kitchen cabinet showed that people on boats ate like toddlers, every three hours. So I had explored the nooks and crannies of the interior, listening to Jackson’s heavy tread on the deck above, thinking over what kind of experience he had with females that rule number one was ‘no fucking passengers’.

It couldn’t be good, especially if he was making me into the pariah for whatever she-devil had crossed his path. But whether he was a spurned lover, or angry employer, or both, was still a mystery. My employment process had been relatively quick, I answered the job ad via email, got a response, gave my info and references, then an offer of employment, all within a week, with the intention of starting 10 days later. Mmmmm, retrospect would tell me that this was a huge red flag, but I was too excited at the time I guess to care.

I guess I should have.

After prepping the ‘after-scuba snacks’, and putting on a bikini top in hopeful anticipation I would get my first swim in the wild blue water, I came up on the deck to find Jackson gone, the ship empty. I toured the deck, reminding myself of all the names of the different parts of the sails, even trying a half hitch and figure 8 knot. I wasn’t bullshitting before, I had some experience sailing, just not as much as ‘one semester’s worth’ should have meant.

Ten minutes before the group walked down the jetty, Jackson came striding down on it, with a blue shirt in his hand. Finding me on the bow in the black bikini top and jean shorts with my practice rope and enjoying the midday sun, he paused for a flash before throwing it my direction almost aggressively

“Here, official company uniform. Wear it at all times you are on the boat.”

I simply nodded and pulled it on over my head, the XL shirt coming down to the tops of my thighs. It nearly covered my jean shorts. Thinking about tying it up, I quickly disregarded making it more comfortable, and instead tucked it into the band of my jeans. Jackson was clearly trying to make me into a thing, not a woman. Take away my curves everytime he looked at me. Considering my feelings on men at the moment, I could take being a ‘thing’ for a while. After all, I had come to Australia to avoid attention, what better way than actually dressing like it.

Linda now gave a small wave as she walked down, and stopped to introduce me to everyone. Shaking each passengers hand as they boarded, the buff blonde was last and said with a jovial smile as he grasped my hand between his two,

“Ciao, bella.”

“Ciao, uomo! Sei Italiano?”

His eyes lit up as he realized I was legit and could speak Italian, a rush of questions exploding from him, and I listened right up until Jackson came into my peripheral, leaning over the railing, looking at the two of us expectantly, still on the jetty.

“Can we get going then?”

I nodded to Jackson and ushered the Italian, Manuel, onto the boat before untying our two tethers and pulling the plank up behind me. Captain Vail, as he introduced himself with an easy smile that made the two ladies sit up a little straighter, described the two days and two night cruise. It sounded idyllic, secret coves, famous beaches, picnics, and snorkelling. It sounded like a lot of work for the help.

After giving everyone a brief safety demo, Jackson started up the engine to maneuver the boat out of the jetty and led the Sailor’s Revenge out onto the Great Barrier Reef. He simply shook his head without looking at me when I asked if he needed me to do something, and I joined the passengers on the bow, watching the ship leave Airlie Beach. The boat left the other’s behind and pulled away into the cerulean waters, weaving around the reef hidden below.

God damn. I sucked in the sea air like it was ambrosia and let my eyes close against the wind that caused chaos with my hair. This was living. This was what I had seen in Rolinde’s face last night. No cares, zero fucks.

Wind roared against the boat as it knifed through the ocean, and I leaned back on my hands and let it run over me as if it were hands caressing my skin. So far, this was living up to every expectation I had since I was sixteen, and Captain Spencer had told me about his retirement plan. No 401K structure, no vacation home in Florida, just ‘Australia’s Great Barrier Reef’. I had been confused at first, but then he showed me some pictures, and I had been sold.

My hair tossed to and fro and I let it do so freely. I had seen those pictures, and for a good solid four months once we returned to our small, exclusive town, I had obsessed over the idea of sailing by myself here. Of course, the reality was that to do so, I would have had an entire entourage of parents, security, and little privacy to just sit and be. So the idea had waned, right up until a month ago, when I had seen the job ad, and greased some hands in Denver for a quick work visa.

I stayed like that, letting the wind set the tone, hoping it would last for an eternity. Eventually, my own name was called out above the turbulent wind, and I looked back to see Jackson waving me down to the wheel of the ship. I gave the Italian men next to me a smile and moved to the back of the boat.

Jackson had just shut off the engine taking us out of the harbor and reef, and in the quiet of the back of the boat, he turned to me expectantly,

“Okay, Malibu. Time to unfurl the main sail and tie it down for sailing east with the wind. You know what to do?”

My worried face instantly gave me away, and he leaned his head back up to the sky, already regretting the decision for letting me stay.

“Fuck me…”

“No, I swear I have the experience, I’m just a little rusty. Point and tell me what to do and I’ll catch on. I know first hand what a rotating sail to the gut feels like, so I’m always careful.”

He gave me a suspicious eye before glancing down at said stomach and giving a slight smirk, no doubt imagining the scene. I had been lucky, I wasn’t a wafer, and thanks to the last 5 years in the water polo team, I had some hidden muscle reservoirs. But I would never forget ‘no crossing on the bow’.

Jackson sighed and gestured to the main sail. “Start by unlocking the main sail at the base, so it’s free for you to hoist. Then pull the ropes that are stationed on its side to pull the sail up.” His gaze wandered down to my arms,

“Get one of the guys up there to help if you have trouble pulling it up.”

Giving him an enthusiastic nod, I escaped the small shelter and his presence and moved to the sail, remembering where the locks around the mast were, sending a quiet thank you to Captain Spencer. The man didn’t know it at the time, but letting the bored 16 year old helicoptered-child help with the daily sailing had not only saved me from three weeks of boredom, but also helped me out now.

Once it came to unfurling the sail and pulling her up, several of the passengers wanted to help anyway, and I watched and directed as they pulled up the large blue sheet, towering some sixty feet overhead. It billowed and the main mast creaked with the leverage and pull as I tied it down and the passengers sat at the front of the boat to feel the new power surging the boat through the wind and waves.

Smattering my hands together as if they were dirty, I walked back to the stern,

“Done and done. Next?”

Jackson shot me a look of almost-annoyed but said nothing, and I paused in the small sheltered cabin to study him as he gripped the large wheel of the boat, swaying slightly between his feet. Tallish, around 6’1, the loose fitting shirt and khakis he was wearing suggested he wasn’t a gym rat. But I gazed at his bare forearms for a moment, holding that wheel, and knew that the loose shirt was probably a ruse. He worked a sailboat 6 days a week, that was just another kind of mobile gym.

He turned his baseball hat around and sat the brim on his nape, his profile now fully in view. Goddamn it, was this a typical ‘Aussie’? High cheekbones and a jawline that wiped the logic from my brain? His dark wavy hair fell just below his ears and was a shade darker than his beard and for a hot second all I wanted to do was rip off that cap and run my hands through it. It was definitely for my benefit that this man seemed to either low key hate me, or was simply irritated by women. Otherwise if he dared to be nice or even flash a smile my way, my time in Australia would be in jeopardy.

He was either ignoring my stare or indifferent to it and I leaned back on the bench behind him and watched while he guided us up the coast. Strong, rough hands gripped the wooden wheel, sometimes using force, sometimes skimming fingers against it’s grain, waiting for the moment when the boat would need him to tell it where to go. After a moment of indulging in fantasizing about what those hands and fingers could do, I shook my head, and changed my focus out to the water. Scattered small islands, rising above the sea were scattered here and there, and the boat deftly moved through them.

Eventually, he told me to take over the wheel for him while he furled the sail in, finally arriving at the snorkelling site for the afternoon. Unconsciously, I stared as he leveraged his weight to let the sail down, while using his other hand with another rope to make sure it was rolled down evenly. Those strong forearms I had spied before bulged with the effort and I looked away and focused on the horizon before I self combusted.

He gave me the sign to start rolling the boat to the left, slowing us down, and I pulled the wheel, feeling the current against the rudder. Jackson walked back and down into the cabin below, commenting that he was going to drop the anchor, and a few moments later, returned satisfied. We had pulled into a shallow reef area, a small white beach was about three hundred feet away, and it seemed that it was something out of Captain Spencer’s dreams. Coral, peeking out of the water, seemed to be all around and the ultra blue water varied in hues as the depth around the boat must have varied.

Pointing to a bench cubby, “Pull out the wetsuits back there onto the back deck, the snorkels and masks are in the cubby next to it. Let them sit in the bucket and add some of the lens cleaner to it.”

I did as he instructed, and watched as the other passengers came to the back to listen as he waved them over,

“Right now, welcome to the famous Whitehaven Beach. Where the sand is so pure that if lightning struck it, you would get a glass rod. You’ll have an hour and a half of snorkelling, and if you want to wander up the beach, feel free, before we have to haul up sail to get to the cove we will spend the night in. Now, rule number one about swimming in the Great Barrier Reef..” I gave him a cold look at the phrasing,

“Always wear a wetsuit. It’s officially jellyfish season, and the buggers are small and you will not see them before they sting you. One sting will get you back into the boat and to the hospital but anymore and we will probably be calling the emergency helicopter for you. So always wear a suit. Right?”

The passengers nodded, and then started to search among the boat’s suits and snorkels for their size. Jackson pulled me aside, gently grabbing my upper arm and touching me for the first time.

“Right, go downstairs and prep the snacks. These guys are going to be starving afterward.”

“The watermelon and fruits? Done, it’s all ready in the fridge.”

He paused and straightened up at my quick response, still slightly holding my arm. Still in thought, I tried my luck with my new employer.

“Can I jump in, too? This is actually my first time out here.” I looked around at the white beach, almost glowing in the afternoon sun, “This might literally be paradise.” I turned back to him and looked down at his hand, still around my arm as if he had forgotten it was there. He quickly removed it, and set a hard look on his face.

“No, we’re on the job, you have to get to work on prepping dinner. The menu is on the inside of the cabinet, and you’ll find everything in the cabinet or in the fridge.”

Huffing out a breath to blow my long fringe from my eyes, I gave a glance to the beach while Jackson moved to the sails to secure them. I began to help the passengers into their suits and snorkels, and watched as they all jumped into the water, leaving me on the boat with the ornery captain.

An hour later, I emerged from the cabin below with a platter of fruit, having finished most of the dinner prep. I might have had a housekeeper growing up, but it was lucky that Roseanna had noticed the preteen stuck at home and was sheltered enough by her parents to not really do anything, but not demurred enough that I was socially anxious. Roseanna, bless her, had drawn me into the kitchen enough that I could fend for myself and knew my ass from my elbow.

I squinted against the light, opening them in time to see Jackson pull himself out of the water and climb up the ladder of the back of the yacht. With his back to me, I watched as he unzipped his wetsuit and stripped it down to his waist. He shook his long hair out and, taking it between his hands, squeezed the water from it, rivulets of water streaming down. I was right before. The loose clothing was some kind of ruse.

Jackson Vail’s body matched his face. Tight, strong, and could probably break me if it really tried.

I stared at the muscles flexing in his back for a moment more before another passenger coming up the ladder shook me from the momentary stupor.

“Fruit?” I questioned the young New Zealand woman as she moved onto the boat, and Jackson turned to me, his dark wet hair falling around his face. She gave me a smile and I put the platter on the small stand at the back along with some napkins, and moved away for the rest of the passengers to get their fill. I subtly eyed Jackson’s body one last time before moving away from the area, quickly filling.

This man did not like me, he did not want me here. I needed this job.

Fuck, Carter. You dated a goddamn Abercrombie model for a few months in your sophmore year. Sure, he was a dick, and really only wanted me for the occasional paparazzi shot, but he had been a goddamn billboard model.

I fought to control my libido, which apparently had a sadist running it if it was instantly attracted to the only man I had ever met who instantly disliked me and told me he was actively trying to get me off of his boat. Tightening my hold on the railing, I felt him come up beside.

“Problem?”

I turned away from the beach and blue water, giving him a saccharine smile.

“No problem. What’s next?”

He ignored my sweetness and motioned below.

“Bring up the anchor. You crank the rotating shaft, but you have to make sure you lay it down by hand so it doesn’t get tangled for next time. Understand?”

I gave the man an internal sigh and stretched my neck to the side. I may have just recently completed three hundred hours of community service, but I had gotten off lucky and was mostly helping out at the retirement village in the neighboring town. The usual work of picking up trash and scrubbing graffiti off of buildings had not been included in my program. I had been thankful at the time, but maybe the reprieve from physical labor hadn’t been to my benefit as I felt some of the muscles in my neck murmur discontent.

“Ai ai, Captain.” I gave him a perfunctory smile and headed below, slowly becoming less transfixed by Jackson Vail the more he talked.

…………………….

“That was wonderful! Thank you, Carter,” said the older mother figure of the pair of women from New Zealand. I smiled at her and picked up her finished plate from the low table on the deck. Jackson might have cooked the meat, but I think for my first time making a full board dinner, it didn’t go too bad. The shielded lamps on the table flickered with a slight breeze that came with the violent red sunset and stayed well past into the evening.

After collecting the others’ plates, I brought them down to the kitchen below and began washing. I briefly glanced at my nails as I washed and smiled. Cracked, chip, and not an iota of polish on them. Mother would be horrified. Laughter drifted down the stairs from above, and Jackson wandered down them, holding a towel and some clothes. He looked over the kitchen as I was drying the last plate to store.

“Finished?”

Instead of answering, I stowed the plate and wiped my hands on the towel, lofting it onto the sink.

“Officially.” A yawn escaped, and I covered my mouth.

“And officially tired.” I added.

Jackson nodded, still looking around the kitchen, as if he could find something else for me to do. After a moment, he opened the cutlery drawer and pulled a key out from somewhere inside, then bent down to the cabinet at the far end of the row. He opened it wide, and reached to the side for a nondescript bottle of shampoo and soap. Also inside the cabinet was a clear green bottle with a large fairy on it, as well as a generic bottle labelled ‘Vinegar’.

“Is that… absinthe?”

From his crouch on the floor, he glanced up at me, and shut the cabinet door away from my prying eyes before standing and squaring up on me.

“That is my personal cabinet. The only time you’ll ever need to go in there is if there is an emergency, and we need more vinegar for a jellyfish sting. Got it? We don’t drink on the boat.

I was about to question the logic of having an alcohol that was at least 70% on the boat if we never drink here, when I closed my mouth again. Jackson, threading his hands across his scalp, as if he was trying to remember something looked back up to me with somewhat softer eyes.

“Right then, I usually use this time to wash up for the night when all the passengers are up on deck drinking.”

I understood. He wanted privacy and not prying eyes, and sidestepped around him to the stairs, “I’ll just go up top then and liaise then.”

Without waiting for his response, I scaled the steep stairs and joined the others on the deck. The wine had clearly done its job, as they were all in stages of relaxing along the makeshift futons placed on the main deck, staring either at the candles in their little glass boxes, or up at the stars on the cloudless night.

I sat on one of the far mattresses, and looked up, vaguely listening to the group of tourists tell their stories and slowly bond. I couldn’t recognize a single constellation. Maybe there was the tail of Scorpio? But it was positioned wrong, and for the first time I truly felt how far away from home I was, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

I heard my name called out, and the New Zealanders motioned over to me, and I came and sat down next to my new Italian friend.

“So, Carter. What’s your deal? Linda said you were new to the boat?” The older woman asked and I nodded to her.

“Very new, like my first day.”

“Nice,” she said appreciatively. “Did you always want to work on a boat?”

I gave a big grin, and thought it over, how to word my situation.

“No, not necessarily a boat. I kind of had overbearing parents when I was growing up. Not terrible, just wanted to keep me safe, you know? Anyway, I went away to college and kind of went a little crazy with the freedom and did some dumb stuff. Now I’m trying to find a good medium.” Mauel beside me nodded in understanding,

“Working on a boat seemed like a little bit of responsibility, and a little bit of freedom tied together. Plus, it is far away from my parents.”

The group gave a quiet laugh, then one of the men I hadn’t gotten to know asked aloud.

“You look kind of familiar though…?”

I tilted my head to him in fake understanding with an easy smile.

“I get that a lot. There is some actress on some teen show with a cult following that has my same shaped face and eyes and hair, apparently.”

The man frowned while the group gave a small chuckle at my insinuation that he watched teen shows, and I picked up the empty wine bottle in the middle as an excuse to leave. Heaving a sigh as I slowly made my way down the deck, holding the rail tight as the dark water lapped up the side of the boat. The groups’ laughter trailed off, lost to the same water and I took a long look at the stars again before turning away from them.

I entered into the shelter of the back of the boat, and found Jackson seated towards the back, his feet up across the space, watching me enter. He had a lit cigarette between his lips and pulled it out as I came in, exhaling a cloud of smoke that billowed as was taken by the wind.

“Daddy issues, huh?” he asked without any humor in his voice.

I straightened up at the insinuation. He had overheard me speaking with the others.

“Not at all. I love my father very much. I just… needed to do something for myself. Leave the nest, so to speak.”

He said nothing, but scrutinized me again, trying to decide if I was lying and if I was good at it. Joke was on him, I was usually a terrible liar, its what had landed me in hot water with the county prosecutor. It was weaving truths I was good at, its what sated my desire to rebel, but keep myself good. A modern day fae. Speak the truth but not all of it. I left my loving father’s house to do something on my own… said beloved father just had no idea about it.

Another silent moment passed between us when the passengers, now starting to feel the night wind pick up, came through the shelter in a single line, saying their goodnights. I nodded to them weakly, my thoughts now turned to Cameron Magness, as they all filed down below deck and I walked back to the railing look over the black water.

He was probably sitting in his study if it was the morning in Colorado. Looking at the message Jenny had sent him. Wondering or not whether I was for real, if I had been kidnapped, worrying about my mother worrying about me. I didn’t lie, I loved my father very much. He was a good one, just too good. Scared at being rich in a money hungry world, he and my mother had protected me too much. Any new friends had to come over to my house, and trips I had to have an escort, homeschooling until I was ten. My mother had even come with me for my semester abroad in Kyoto.

No, they were good parents, just protective. But after so long in their custody, once I got to college and legally an adult, the freedom went to my head. And as my last semester proved, I skittered out of control.

They were no doubt thinking real hard right now about sending Smith to California, out of their minds with worry. I was being an ungrateful grade A bitch to them. But it was done, and hopefully they would understand before I returned. I didn’t leave with much of a plan, just the job offer hot in my pocket and the plane ticket.

I assumed I would be back before my mother’s birthday in April. A solid six months away, the height of Australia’s tourist season. This boat probably stopped running in the cold months. Six months was enough. I would miss Thanksgiving, Christmas, even spend my own 23rd birthday alone, but I would be better for it. I would appreciate more, and figure out what and who I wanted to be by the end of it.

I raked my hands through my now short blonde hair, appreciating it for the millionth time. There was no denying, the long blonde that came half way down my back was beautiful, thank you Swiss heritage. But it was too recognizable. Cutting twelve inches off in my bathroom sink felt like I was cutting off the last 6 months. Maybe I didn’t deserve to lose them without some more penance, but it felt like it was as good a time as any.

Jackson groaned behind me, and I left the ocean view to turn back to him, now arranging his simple bed on the benches of the interior and stretching out. Across from his bench on the far sided one, was a stack of blankets with a thin pillow on top. I quickly glanced at the distance between our beds. Six feet and some flimsy blankets distance between a man who both hated my guts and if I was being honest with myself, made me want to touch myself. It was going to be a long night.

He leaned over to quickly turn on the scanner to check our surround and then back to flick off the sail spotlight, shining on the front deck. The boat went dark, save for a flashing green and red light at the very top of the sail mast. A faint light coming from the radio shined out on the area, like a muted version of the kitchen light in my home. Jackson’s back was turned away from me and his hair shone in the soft light somehow familiar. I sighed and took off my shoes and socks, arranging the blanket for as much coverage as possible against the wind only slightly blocked by the 3 walls of the interior.

I laid down silently and pulled up the blanket to my chin, staring up at the stars as the wind rocked the boat. No shower after a full day being accosted by the salt and sun, kitchen and grime, and Jackson’s dirty looks and even dirtier body. A long goddamn night I thought as I closed my eyes.

Three hours later, I rolled over again on the bench and checked my watch.

Fuckk.

The wind had picked up and the bench, even with the mattress was too far from what I was used to, to be comfortable. The story of the princess and the pea popped into my head, and I rubbed my face down. Never would I ever snub my nose at a bed, no matter the condition. Another howl of wind whistled through the small interior, and it hit my breaking point.

I sat up, Jackson too, had rolled in his sleep and was now facing me. His face, relaxed in sleep, looked much more handsome when he had let go of whatever hate he was holding onto. I studied his features for a moment more before grabbing the blanket and pillow and walking down stairs, into the large breakfast table and the side benches, a little wider, but not as padded as upstairs.

It wasn’t a great change, but there was no wind and it was enough to send me fast asleep.

………………………………………………

A sound of a door closing snapped my eyes awake, the bright light of the early Australian sun peeking through the small round holes. I sat up fast, the blanket falling into my lap.

“Merda! Scusa, Carter!” Manuele exclaimed, obviously not realizing I was asleep on the bench. He was in front of the fridge, topless with a pair of small, Italian style swimming shorts.

“No problemo, Manuele. Non ho bisogno di dormire.” I groggily replied to him, as he began to pour juice. He picked out an extra glass, and I rubbed the sleep from my face. He gave me a smile, before passing me the extra glass. That was by far, the worst sleep I had ever been accosted with, and from how I felt it was going to definitely show on my face this morning.

“I have heard something about that, Americans not needing sleep.”

“Mama mia, ai ai ai, spero che!” I wished and stood to stretch, my fingers touching the ceiling in the low room. Manuel sat down on the other end of the table, and I splashed some water on my face from the sink. What a hell of an introduction to sleeping on a boat. It wasn’t exactly the rock of the ocean, rather the small confines of the bench-mattresses. Made for asses, not backs.

Okay, breakfast. Everyone would be up soon and following Manuel out to the ‘living area’. Pulling out the menu and everything from the cupboards while setting up on the large table, the Italian continued to talk.

“Dove hai studiato, Bella?” I reached up and pulled out the cereal boxes.

“Mmmm, Toscana e Vicenza. E troppo bellismo, ma l’adore...”

“Carter!” A deep voice snapped from beside me at the stairwell exit. An angry looking Jackson, was at the bottom, his eyes quickly oscillating between Manuele and I. I looked back to Manuele, sitting at the table, mirroring my confused look.

“Yes?”

He quickly stepped forward and roughly grabbed my arm, pulling me up to the stairwell,

“Can I speak to you upstairs?” he told me, not so much as asked.

Shocked from the unexpected aggression so early in the morning, I let him walk me up stairs and onto the deck, towards the bow.

“I wake up early to find you slept downstairs, and walk in to find you and the Italian speaking sweet nothings, and you with your ass in his face and him with a fuckin hard on.”

His hand tightened around my arm and pulled me closer to his body and face.

“What was the first rule, Malibu?”

“N-not to fuck anyone.”

He pushed me away, and toward the railing. Watching while the several stages of hurt passed over my face.

“Not to fuck passengers. Yeah.”

I stared down at my bare feet on the polished deck,and instead of the swell of panic and hurt, I felt my anger rising at the accusation. Fuck this guy. I had literally jumped through every hoop willingly and without fuss. A goddamn model employee for the first eighteen hours, despite his attitude. And then I get this shit because I wanted to sleep out of the wind, and an Italian man acts like an Italian man. This might have been my first job out in the big wide world, but the bullshit on this stank so much even I could smell it in my supposed ivory tower.

“You know what? This is crap.”

He took a step back, folding his arms across his chest like he was readying for the mother of all excuses and I steeled myself.

“Listen, Captain Jack. Let’s get this out there, shall we? Whatever crazy female drove you into a frenzy before I took this job, I’m not her. I’m actually kind of thinking of switching teams for all the interactions I’ve had with men in the last few months, this included. So, no, I have not and will not fuck anyone. But you know what? That doesn’t stop me being friendly, or nice, or even talking to someone else in another language. So why don’t you try the same and stop being a dick.”

I took a pause after the rush or words and to gauge his reaction. His mouth had formed a tight line, but he no longer looked angry like before, he looked like he was listening thoughtfully.

I pressed on, now a little remorseful I just let my boss have it and in a slight panic at being fired, “Look, I need this job...badly. So, I will happily do your ‘rules’, but can you at least give me the benefit of the doubt? I can’t help it if passengers stare at my fully clothed ass.”

A tense moment passed between us, and he licked his lips in thought, eventually staring out to the calm water of the cove, keeping his bottom lip between his teeth.

Jesus, did I really just say that I was thinking about switching to women when this picture of perfection was licking himself in front of me. He stared up from the ocean off the side rail to stare me down again. Shit shit shit, he was definitely going to fire me.

“Any other languages I should know about?”

I let out a deep breath, releasing the tension from the fight I had been gearing up for, nodding.

“Swiss and Japanese.”

His left eyebrow raised, and I shrugged nonchalantly,

“My mother’s from there, and I did a semester abroad in Kyoto.”

“Kyoto, huh?” He leaned over the railing, his thick arms tensing before giving some kind of grim smile without any teeth. A first in the short time I had been on the boat and we locked eyes in some kind of semi- stare down that sent my pulse thrumming a little faster.

After an eon, he released me to turn back to the ocean, giving it a gesture with its head like he would rather relinquish something to it rather than me.

“Fair enough. Just remember rule number one.”

I shook my head, starting to get less and less enamoured with this man. I didn’t even know what to call whatever disorder he probably had. Maybe PTSD? Definitely a hint of social anxiety? Or maybe he was just an overall douche. I let it go. I had said my piece, not gotten immediately fired and walked back downstairs to feed the other guest for breakfast.

………………………………

The floatable esky dragged through the sand like a boulder stuck in mud and I grappled to bring it up farther onto the beach. My new wetsuit from the passenger stock, maybe a size too large seemed to be like fighting a straight jacket when you were out of the water and wet. After a few moments, the heat of the early morning sun was too much, and frustrated, I unzipped my wetsuit and did as I had seen Jackson do, and stripped it down to my waist.

Much better, and I wiggled out my arms and shoulders with their new freedom. Wetsuits fricking sucked. My first dip into the azure waters I had been dreaming about sinceI was sixteen and it was in a cumbersome thick and ugly suit dragging a cooler full of food and drinks for people’s lunch. I was still serving my penance it seemed.

“Carter...did you lower the anchor?”

I gave the cooler another two handed grasp and pull through the sand before standing with a frown and facing Jackson.

“Of course I di..”

I looked back into the water and at Jackson, now in his steadfast angry mode. He had crossed his arms and was looking at the Sailor’s Revenge, clearly farther away from the shoreline and drifting slowly away from us. The passengers were still snorkelling in between the now drifting boat and us on the beach, not noticing the boat was now a few more hundred meters away than when they started.

“Shittt”

“Didn’t you fucking lower it all the way?”

“I lowered it slowly until it stopped and the line went slack, like it had hit bottom. There was still chain available, but I thought it was just ‘extra’.”

He actually growled at me, his eyes turning to the still snorkeling passengers in thought while pulling out his phone.

“I’m going to have to call the coast guard...”

I jumped in front of him and put my hand on top of his holding the phone.

“Whoa whoa whoa, just hold on, let me fix this. I can swim out for it. I swim well, remember?”

He gave me an incredulous look up and down, doubting my claims. Without waiting for his reply, I moved back to the shoreline where I had left the flippers.

“Malibu, the boat is caught in some slow moving current. It will be nearly a kilometer out before you get there and you’re not that str..” I stood and started to pull my wetsuit back up and wriggled into it.

“Ten minutes, if it seems that I’ve missed it, then call them. How do I start the engine?”

He folded his arms and leaned back on his leg, as if he was about to watch a magician pull a rabbit out of a hat. Gearing up for a show. He grinned at me mockingly, “Turn the key, then push the black lever forward to accelerate.”

I nodded and moved back into the water. Goddammit, my second swim in the water and it was to unfuck my mistake. I quickly waded into my waist and began swimming freestyle in the direction of the now fast moving boat.

I immediately found the problem, the wetsuit was weighing my arms down like a wet leather jacket. The strokes overhead felt like the effort of two with every stroke. With that, I started to put my power into my kicks, I was wearing flippers afterall. They could pick up the slack my arms were making.

I made it back to the point where we had left the boat, and I felt the current Jackson was speaking of. I pulled my head up to get me bearings. I wasn’t even halfway there, and it had definitely picked up some speed, or seemed like it from my spot in the water. The current now pulled and dragged at my body, and since I wanted to catch up to that boat, I didn’t fight it, but still kept my head above the water and an over arm stroke to keep my sights on the fugitive ship.

My arms burned with the effort of keeping up with the current, the boat, closer. I timed my breaths, just like in practice. Synchronizing my strokes and long kicks to make the most out of them. I was not going to be fired on my first trip cause I was not properly trained on anchor dropping. My mind raced to the captain as my strokes became angrier, infused and enraged with that smug look.

I was going to catch this frickin ship and drive it right back to him with the same pompous-ass grin he saw me off with. I was going to make this man frickin worship me as a nautical goddess by the time I was ready to leave this country. I was going to make him beg me to stay for my prowess on the boat. I was a Magness, and we might be stubborn but we were goddamn good at it.

Stoke, kick, breath. Stroke, kick, breath. Repeat. I was not going to lose an entire boat on my 2nd day.

Finally, my hand reached for the back ladder, and I pulled myself up. Kneeling down on the back platform above the water’s edge I gave myself a breath and a moment, feeling like a fucking Amazon of the ocean. I glanced back to the shore, now definitely a kilometer away. Jackson, now just a small figure half in black had been joined by the passengers, whether they were just happily eating or had actually noticed something was wrong, I couldn’t tell. But I stood up and waved my hand wide to show that I had made it and Jackson could kiss my well toned ass.

I started up the boat as he instructed and took the throttle slow, whirling the boat around and pulling back to the beach where I believed Jackson had pulled up before. Quickly switching off the engine, I ran downstairs and saw the anchor line was now taut, and I unwound the remaining chain into the sea. All of it.

When I came back up, Jackson was pulling himself up and onto the boat. He looked me up and down, my breath still heaving, then quickly turned his head the other way. I had stripped down the wetsuit to my waist, still hot from the heavy exertion of swimming so far against the tide that didn’t care that it was carrying away my chance at freedom. Jackson moved into the little shelter to examine his equipment, his eyes now steadfast in looking everywhere else but my body.

“Swim well, huh?”

I sat down on the bench, and gave him a slight grin, bouncing out the adrenaline still surging through the balls of my feet.

“Something like that.”

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