I emerged from the below cabin, drying my hair off with a small towel. The stars were out in full force tonight despite a nearly full moon hanging low in the North-East. Paired with the warm breeze of late November, it felt like bliss over my skin and I took a deep breath at the back of the boat as it slowly rolled to and fro.
This. This is what it was like all those years ago when I was a teen and we used to take Triton’s Fury out on the water by ourselves and sleep on her deck. Like we had our own take on backyard camping. He hadn’t waxed anything philosophical or shit like that. He wasn’t a boat or some nautical genius, he was just a good dad with the little things. I sighed out to the reef and to his ashes I had thrown out onto it nearly a year ago.
The sound of laughter drifted on the wind down from the front of the boat, and my solitude was over. The boat had a full load for this trip, and they were mostly a group of Japanese men in some kind of academic club in Australia for a conference. They of course loved Carter when they came on board, and for the first full day and night, she had made good on her claim of the semester in Japan with the language.
I came out of the back shelter and walked down the railing a little, still keeping myself separate and out of sight, trying to get a sense if this group was the type to turn in early after a full day of snorkeling, wind, sand, and sun, or if they were making another party of it like last night. There were four bottles of wine currently open on the tables and a bottle of vodka.
Jesus, another long night.
A musical laugh from the far end of the group caught my attention as it did every time. Carter was talking with the older couple from London also in the group. She had finished up cleaning up the kitchen and meal, and had her Nalgene bottle in front of her lap, toying absentmindedly with its cap in her fingers.
Carter. Fucking hell, every time I saw her after a few hours or a day apart. My resolve slightly lessened. What was she doing here? Working a boat job for shitty pay? Why hadn’t she married a rich banker yet? She was far beyond trophy wife material. Hell, she was nearly sports-suit illustrated-model-married-CEO material with that body and perky heart-shaped face.
Her employee file said her birthday was next month in mid-December. She would be 23, so maybe she felt she was just too young to get married. But still, as I was a testament to, you didn’t have to marry to take advantage of a man’s money.
I moved further down the railing, the group in the center of the deck bow and past the mast were facing each other and deep in conversation. Unconsciously, I moved closer down, keeping my ear open, but pretending to look out at the moon-lit reef. There were three other boats in this cove that I recognized by sight. The area was popular for the wind and wave protection the small beach gave it at night. No one else seemed to be awake on the other decks, probably doing the smart thing and heading to bed. I stared at them without seeing them.
For six weeks I had done an impeccable job of making sure Carter knew I was an angry asshole. Maybe our casual conversation about cleaning, the directions I would give her, and anything else boat related had become less tense and more just two people speaking indifferently together. But still, whenever something personal came up, asshole Jackson made his spectacular appearances. I was beginning to think she almost hated me as well.
Except I didn’t hate her. And when she would see any part of my body, she certainly didn’t hate me. She was still doing that thing where she looked over my body like a woman thirsting in the desert and I was a pool of water. No, the sexual chemistry was still there, but so well hidden on my part. I guessed I could angry fuck her and get it out of my system at least. But the fall out wasn’t worth it.
Carter and the older man laughed again, and I took a few more steps down to the pulpit, where most passengers would recreate Titanic’s Jack and Rose. Of course, she noticed me, her back straightening up slightly. I faced out over the water, pretending not to listen, but I could have been sitting right next to her for all the interest I had.
“Well what do you want to do with the business degree then?” the Londoner asked Carter. There was a pause on her part, and I imagined she was biting her bottom lip in thought,
“Honestly? No idea. My dad wants me to take over the family business eventually. I guess I was on board with that, maybe I still am. All I know is that I want him to be happy, and me just still, a little bit. I have been doing my best to not think about it actually, and put off becoming a ‘real’ adult for a little while longer.”
My brow furrowed. Carter taking over a family business? I couldn’t remember her ever divulging that little tidbit on anyone of her nightly rambles when she wanted to join the passengers. My throat closed a little bit when she mentioned not disappointing her father. I could relate. Hell, relate nothing, that was me. It's the reason I had kept the company and continued it.
“Ahhhh, the old conundrum of to or not to disappoint our fathers,” the man replied, and his wife next to him chuckled before interjecting,
“Dan here couldn’t do it to his father. The man had him set and ready to take over the mining machine business when he was twenty. Had you right under his finger, huh?” She replied with some humor.
Still leaning over the calm water, Jackson heard Carter’s voice pique with interest, “ Mining machines?”
I turned around in the pulpit and faced the group. Carter was now ignoring me or trying to in her peripheral. Her face turned interested in the conversation, as the Brit nodded enthusiastically with his wife’s assertion.
“Yeah, he had me good, but London in the ’80s, it was a different time, and I had just gotten married. Plus the business isn’t too bad, I got to travel a lot before handing it down to our boy.” The man shrugged his shoulder and took another sip from his stemless wine glass.
“What was the company?” Carter asked, looking down at her hands and the bottle in them, she seemed like she was asking it to be polite, rather than interested.
“Oh, nothing you’ve heard of, I’m sure. But is after the family name Dale.”
Carter puckered her lips to the side in a comical expression, looking like she was thinking hard. After a second, she shook her head and laughed, “Nope, sorry, I guess it’s not popular with young American women, huh?”
Dan smiled again and gave a warm belly laugh, “No, I suppose it isn’t.”
Finally, Carter turned to me and met my stare. “Did you need something, Captain?” she asked with just a hint of sass and insolence. I pursed my lips at her and slowly pulled out a pack of cigarettes from my fleece pocket. I met her gaze again and pulled one to my lips, grinning through my teeth as I bit on it.
The fucking cheek on this chick. To say she had grown in confidence at asshole Jackson over the last few weeks was an understatement. Hinting at me to fuck off on my own boat. The British couple flicked their eyes between us, but I kept her stare to see if she would flinch.
Eventually, I let her go and flicked my lighter for a flame, I let the now awkward silence between our little group lengthen as I lit the cigarette. Only after pulling a lungful and blowing it out to the dark reef before I answered.
“Nothing, Malibu. Just enjoying the riveting conversation.” I said deadpan, and leaned back against the railing, letting my eyes graze down to Carter bare long legs lazing in front of her. In the 6 weeks since she had arrived, her tan was officially insane. I had once overheard her say that her mother was Swiss, and with the blonde hair, legs, and the light brown that almost changed her entire appearance, I believed it.
Dan fidgeting his legs a little, obviously wondering whether he should get involved with whatever the Captain of the ship and first mate had going on. He was about to ask another inane question, when I caught her attention again, the tone coming out the perfect amount of brash.
“What school did you say you went to, again?”
Carter took a deep sigh, acting like she was sick of my shit, and turned her head towards me. The dim lamp from the middle of the small group at the end lit her blonde hair up like a halo, and the wind blew it across her face.
“A good one,” she curtly replied and lifted her water bottle up to those full lips, as if that was the end of the conversation.
I blew another breath out, and grinned at her, “Look, Malibu, I know you like to think of us Aussies as yokels, but I assure, I know some American schools.”
In typical passive male, Dan decided he wanted to jump in,
“I sent my son to NYU for his MBA. Get the wild out of his system in New York, you know?. It kind of worked...I think.”
I gave the man a polite smile, but turned back to Carter, now jiggling her legs, bouncing them on her heel. Occupying her hands with that damn water bottle as she gave a similar fake laugh for Dan’s son.
“Is that ‘good’ school where you learned to swim like that?” Carter’s eyes widened slightly, and she looked out across the deck, to the dark swaying reef, and bit her bottom lip between her teeth. The action almost gave me a semi before I realized we were far from alone. Her stare out to the water continued for a fraction before a smile came over her face.
“No, my home town has a pretty amazing pool, and I uh, I was encouraged to use it quite a lot. I was on the water polo team starting in my junior year, and I just ...stuck with it.”
Dan and his wife’s eyebrows arched up comically, “Water polo?” He asked, his voice rising a few octaves and Carter laughed at his surprise and addressed him.
“We had a good team at my high school, and I kept with it through college. I don’t know, when I started it, I was kind of… angry? I think? A weird kind of angry. No, maybe not angry….” she paused for a moment and tilted her head, her gaze returning to somewhere off the boat,
“..more like pent up, caged.”
The husband and wife shared my silence, watching Carter come to some kind of emotional revelation as her glazed over eyes and my eyes couldn’t leave that face. Caged? It was hard to imagine Carter Brunner as a caged teen. Usually, teens started out wild and then calmed down. My heart gave an empathetic beat for her, and she seemed to realize the others were waiting for her.
The fake smile adorned her face accompanied by a chuckle, “And you know, water polo is a pretty angry sport, so it all worked out.”
No one joined her in her laugh, and I narrowed my eyes at whatever kind of show she was trying to put on. If the young woman hadn’t have taken a poorly paid job on a boat a few thousand miles from her home, I would have called her priveleged. The looks, the languages, the strong and toned body. I had believed it so much I labeled her Malibu.
But by that hundred-yard stare, she was giving the reef, remembering something from her past, maybe she wasn’t as much the lady of leisure I had placed her before. Abruptly, she slapped her hands on her knees and looked over to me.
“Leave any hot water in the shower?”
I simply nodded, and she smiled to the other couple, giving them a small wave.
“Well guys, that’s me for the night. See you tomorrow morning bright and early. Breakfast is set at 8.” She gave a genuine smile this time and swung her legs off of the top deck and onto the slim walkway around the bow where I was standing.
Without meeting my eyes again, she stood as the other bid farewell to her, using some of her Japanese as she passed the other passengers. My eyes followed her as she strolled along the length of the boat, her bare feet treading down the wood and the wind picked up her hair again to play with it. Her eyes still out on the now out on the Stygian-like waters, as if they were hiding something from her.
I don’t know what she was looking for, but suddenly neither did I.
The last of the short Japanese men left the plank and I shut the railing gate of the boat, more out of habit. I sat for a minute on the backbench, looking over the engine and smaller boats at the start of the jetty. Jesus, that was a long haul.
After Carter had left the group last night, I had wandered downstairs once the other’s had called it a night and found her curled up on the corner bench, already asleep. It looked uncomfortable as hell, but she had seemed to have changed into a pair of sweats and a long cotton tee. She oddly looked at home in the small night light of the kitchen.
I was stuck there for God knows how long. Her breath pushed her chest slightly out as she went into a deep sleep and her face relaxed into its natural form. Soft and innocent. I was there for long enough that I had to shift my weight because my foot had fallen asleep. Eventually, I shook myself out of whatever stupor spell she had set on me and went back up to lay down. But my own was long coming.
I rubbed my face down in the bright sunlight, squinting against its assault. What the fuck was happening? I had done so well for six weeks worth of withstanding that face and body. Then she started to throw that American moxy around, and give little tidbits at the nightly post-dinner talks. And suddenly I wasn’t exactly kinder, but I was certainly more interested in the mystery that was the exotic Carter.
It was the sauce that came out of that mouth, it had to be. All my other women had been too nice, saccharine to a point that they might have caused a cavity. Ruby was the worst of them, but I couldn’t see through the ache in my heart from dad, and her sex fog covering my brain at the time to see it wasn’t real. Nothing so sweet could be real.
And then Carter would throw out that angry sass, sometimes to assert herself, sometimes just to rile me up I’m sure, and it made me want to tie her up and pound her raw. To clench that jaw in between my hands and make it into an ‘o’ shape big enough to fit me inside and keep her quiet.
Yeah. It was definitely the sass.
After I finally did get to sleep last night, I woke up with a full tent from the thought of those lips and ass. I quickly jumped off the back deck and into the water, stupidly foregoing a wetsuit for the quick dip. The sun was still rising and the water freezing, but it did the job, even though I still felt the desperate need to rub one out, I was pretty sure I could last another trip until I was back home.
I looked up and around the deck, tired and feeling it in my bones. I was only 31, but last year must have been a dog year on my soul.
I. Was. Tired.
About now is when I would have cleared the deck and prepped the skiff so I can just go to lunch and not worry about being back with extra time. I made an effort to stand and just sank back down. Fuck it, I would do it after lunch. It was a pain in the ass, but I needed a few hours break, and since I was my own boss, I could do it. I looked across the back of the deck, where Carter had yet to emerge from whatever cleaning she had decided to do before the next shift.
I finally pushed myself up and walked down the stairs, pausing on the second step as I heard singing. Carter singing. I peeked my head down, below the cabin’s ceiling and there she was, in the living area, wiping down the table, and from the look of it, about to mop the interior floor. Her back was towards me, and she had taken off her employee shirt and was in that goddamn black bikini top and jean shorts. Did she seriously not own anything else?
Music drifted from a small portable speaker in the kitchen behind her, the instrumental part of the song finishing and she began singing again, the song instantly recognizable. ’Land Down Under. I remained quiet and even sat on the step to watch her as she was oblivious to my presence. It took me another minute to realize she had no clue to the lyrics and furthermore, she was a terrrrrible singer. I winced as she tried for a high note, and watched with amusement as the flute solo came on and her hand flew to the side of her face in mocking a pied piper.
She continued to wipe the table down, eventually throwing the rag into the bucket and pulling the mop out, her hips and torso swaying with the beat as she cleaned. This was definitely a new side I hadn’t been privy to yet. The unfiltered, unguarded Carter. It was my own fault this side had been hidden, and for a flash, I was almost sad I had made it so.
The song ended, and she continued long stroked up and down the floor, still unaware I was playing creeper on the stairs not twenty feet behind her. The next song, Phil Collins started to play, and I grinned. I bet she would do a great drum solo, using her whole body and maybe even a hair flip when it was time. Instead, upon hearing the opening cords, Carter stood erect and stilled, dropping the mop to the floor. Her back muscles slightly tensed and flexed with the music, and her head dipped down to look at her hands.
Something was wrong here, she had lost some of that fire. Something with that song, but this was some next level psychiatrist material if one song could trigger her. She brought her hands up to her face, and from her movement, was crying silently into them. I watched her for a moment more, wondering where this came from.
Instead of alerting her to my presence and walking down into the cabin, and having some kind of awkward confrontation, where it would feel like I should hug her, comfort her, kiss her, fuck her up against a wall until she forgot anything about that song, I chose not to. Quietly I backed up the two stairs I had come down and left the boat, thinking hard over what the hell I was going to, or not going to do, about Carter Brunner, because it was going to come to a head soon.