I quickly shouldered my small purse and aggressively threw my large green duffel bag back into the bench cubby. I was officially off of this boat for at least 24 hours. The last of the passengers had left approximately five minutes ago, which meant that I was five minutes into my day off. Far too late.
After our surprising and erotic finger fuck in cabin two, the passengers had arrived not ten minutes later. I was 100% sure my face was still flushed as I welcomed the six men and two women on board. I was sure of it because I could literally still feel the remnants of my orgasm throbbing through my core.
Jackson, eventually came on deck when everyone arrived, the picture of an easy-going captain in a paradise he grew up in. He didn’t meet my eyes and actually didn’t bother to introduce me to the passengers. For the entire two nights, two days of the tour of the sea version of the garden of Eden oh, Jackson Vail hadn’t spoken a word to me.
But that didn’t mean he didn’t tell me things. Every time we were in close proximity, his body would visibly tense, his actions became static, as if he was now unsure how he should act. What the right move was. When I came in and out of the water, he made sure to turn his head away as I stripped my wetsuit off. If he thought he was giving me space after our interlude, it felt like he had sent me out to Pluto without a return ticket.
I might as well have not had actually existed, or he was trying to pretend I didn’t. He was being too careful around me. Like I was a scorned ex who could cry rape. It was downright insulting. I knew ghosting existed in the world of hookups and dating, but to be ghosted when I could literally see the man took some serious balls.
I slammed the cubby down, not bothering for another set of clothes or pajamas when I knew I had a nice clean pair under Linda’s coffee table waiting for me tonight like every Sunday night. I stormed up the stairs and marched straight to the gangplank and right onto the jetty, I felt his eyes on me from the front of the boat, watching as I took off, not bothering to ask any questions, or call out to stop me.
Maybe this had been his plan for getting me to quit. A quick ride, then dropkick me to the curb, just like Ruby had done to him. It was masterful, I’ll give him that. It might actually work if he kept it up.
Instead of going straight to Linda’s apartment to meet up, I needed to cool off. The heat inside the cabin hadn’t relented for the whole trip. There was actually so little breeze on this last tour, that Jackson had to use the engine for the trip out. The open-air pool by the beach was moderately quiet for a Sunday, and I spied my favorite spot next to a clump of palm trees in between the beach and pool.
Without bothering to get out my small shammy towel or ‘set’ up myself on the sand, I threw off my clothes and let them drop unceremoniously onto the beach and dove into the water.
Only once I was fully immersed did I relax and let myself float to lay on the surface. The cool water finally against my skin, no thick, stifling wetsuit between for my own protection. God, I missed this. Was there an actual point to jellyfish? Just drifting in the ocean, going with the will of the tides. Did they even care what they stung, what they ate? They sure as hell didn’t seem to mind about ruining my idea of paradise and floating in the crystal waters of the Barrier Reef. Captain Spencer would be furious.
I drifted in the pool, vaguely listening to the other beachgoers and various tourists around me. Young people getting to know each other, families relishing in the kid-friendly paradise, young lovers entangled in one another in the water. I opened my eyes to the sky, clear, and infinite in the early afternoon sun, it was perfect.
I must have drifted like that for nearly an hour, feeling Jackson Vail seep out of my pores. I decided it was okay. People hooked up all the time and had immediate regret. It was literally what made the walk of shame so fascinating. We just needed a night away from each other and then I could return like nothing ever happen. It had to have been the heat in that damn cabin. Sunstroke and heat made people do crazy things, turn downright dumb in my case.
Finally, my stomach made complaints that I had neglected it, and I lifted my hand to my face. Wrinkled as a prune. I lifted my head up to find that most of the beach-pool patrons had left, and by the sun, I had guessed it was now late afternoon. I stood and took stock. Happy and content, assure that there was nothing that Vitamin-Sea couldn’t solve. Sure, still, fuck Jackson but I was no longer dealing with it.
It could go into a box I would deal with when I was in my mid-life crisis and trying to figure out the reasons I distrusted men. Not today, Satan.
I trudged out of the water and dried off, even laying in the sand for a few more minutes of sun before it began to hide behind the mountains surrounding the town. Leaving the pool and walking down the main strip where I would eventually turn off and walk a few streets to Linda’s apartment, I passed by the jetty. The tall mast of the Revenge was recognizable by the three blue and white stripes at the top. Whatever Jackson did on his night off, must not have included the boat if he was still in the harbor.
By the time I got to Linda’s place, it was easily 4 pm. She opened the door with a head full of curlers, and wide eyes.
“There you are!” she exclaimed, and I spread my hands wide, eyeing her hair.
“Here I am. Are we going out tonight?” A slight guilty look stole over her face for a minute as I came inside.
“No, we are not. Joe asked me out for a date tonight…” she said with a smirk and I unconsciously squealed in delight, making a ridiculous but appropriate sound, “..and his sister is visiting him at the moment.”
The excitement in my voice quickly left, replaced by understanding.
“Ohh! Ohhhhhhh, I gotcha..”
“I hate asking you to stay at that crappy hostel, but I… I really, really reeeeeally want, need to have sex with this man.”
I sighed a small exhale along with a smile and she continued, “I’m sorry, girl, I really am.”
I waved away her concern. “Don’t worry about it, you should totally be able to bang Hot-cop in our own apartment whenever you want. And don’t worry, the hostel is fine for a night.”
She opened her mouth again, but I cut her to it. “Nope, I insist you have really good sex tonight and only scream out my name once.”
I hoisted my small purse around my shoulders again and gave Linda a hug. “Okay, I’ll come into the office tomorrow for lunch, right? I want all the details, like measurement details, okay?”
She gave me a large smile and watched while I walked back down the stairs and out of the building.
I threaded my hands through my hair once out of the street. Well, I knew that was too good to last. Six weeks was a long time to rely on Linda for her couch once a week. Each Sunday night had been like a salve for the previous six days of Jackson-related tension on the boat. Wine, chocolate, tv. It was normal and good, it felt like a friendship that wouldn’t eventually turn toxic. One that wouldn’t let me get out of control.
I stopped at the local diner around the corner from Linda’s and indulged in a burger and fries, watching the sky turn shades of purple as night claimed the sky. For an early dinner spot, it was perfect. Not busy, no tourist foot traffic, reasonable prices, and the older man behind the bar seemed to remember me enough to shoot me a finger every now and then with ‘the usual?’.
I wasn’t there yet, but I was close to being a local, I realized as I walked towards the hostel. I could recognize people on the other boats, I had some friends, a job. I worked hard and used my free time for something I enjoyed, today it was the beach. Balance, maybe I had finally found it. I mounted the steps to the hostel, a little surprised to find that there was a large group in the foyer.
They didn’t seem to be checking in but just seemed to be loitering, waiting for everyone before they left for dinner. As I weaved my way between the young people, I turned out to be correct, as the group mixed with men and women all made their way for the door, leaving me alone with an empty check-in desk.
The bell on the counter made a surprisingly loud ring and from behind the curtain, leading to a little office, the night manager appeared. The short, stubby man with ruddy red cheeks and a terrible combover of thinning dark brown hair. The one who had been on duty the night I raced in after my near assault. He had looked like he wanted to speak to me last time but wisely backed off once he saw my splotchy face.
He compressed his face together, his lips puckering and eyebrows furrowing, trying to recall something. He pointed a finger towards me, “Do I know you..?”
Oh Jesus, really? The older night manager? Really, out of all the people on the reef, this was the man that read gossip magazines. The short middle-aged man dressed in brown cotton slacks and a polo shirt from the 70s. This guy? My face twisted in feigned confusion, stuttering for a reply when he suddenly snapped his fingers together.
“Got it. Didn’t you stay here a few weeks ago? And I think I have seen you around the harbor once or twice.”
My smile widened and I tucked my hair behind my ear, relieved.
“Yes! That was probably me, I’m one of the crew on the tourists' boats and great memory. I stayed here, like, six weeks ago now.”
He nodded appreciatively at my compliment, “Never forget a pretty face,” and his eyes roamed my lips, and only for a moment glanced down at the V in my camisole shirt. I crossed my arms together, trying to cover myself but trying to appear cold from the inside air conditioning.
“So, can I get a bed in the main ladies' dorm tonight?”
He clenched his teeth together before shaking his head. “Sorry, no can do for tonight. That large group that was just in here pretty much took up all my beds.”
I huffed out a breath. Damn. My mind started to flit through my other options for a bed for the night when the night manager leaned over the desk, “What was your name again?”
Still thinking over my choices I replied, “Uh, it’s Carter.” He again snapped his fingers together, like he had solved my problem, and he deepened in his lean, his voice lowering ever so slightly.
“Right. Look, Carter, all the dorm beds are taken, but if you are interested in a room to yourself, that can be arranged.”
I looked up from the counter to his face. With both of us leaning over the counter, I could see the large pores of his nose, the apples of his cheeks up close had red veins coursing through them, then he gave a subtle grin. It sounded like a nice offer, but the way he said it set the hair on my arms up.
Leaning away from him, I gave him a similar grin, keeping my voice calm, “That’s super nice, but I’m honestly trying to save up, you know. Captain Vail pays pretty shit you know? Definitely not ‘private room’ money.” I gave a laugh, hoping to mask my uncomfortableness with the man. I picked up my purse from the counter between us, shouldering it when he spoke again.
“You work for Jackson?” I looked up and nodded simply, making ready to leave when his hand came across the desk, sliding over it towards me, trying to halt me before I turned for the doors. “Well, of course, there would be no charge, and you’re basically local, so you know we would take care of you.”
I backed up a few more feet away from the desk, now absolutely against staying in my own ‘private room’ where I 'would be taken care of'. The manager, slightly overweight, was extremely plain-looking, and nondescript, gave another smile that might have been trying for charming. It came out lecherous.
“I’m sure you would, but my girlfriend always has her extra bed ready for me, and it is feeling kind of like a girl’s night, you know?” I tried to add a chuckle to make it seem like our conversation was still friendly, that my insides weren't churning more with every word the night manager said. It fell flat, and resigned, he came out of his lean on the counter. He knew I was blowing him off.
“Well, then, have fun with the girls. And we’ll see you around.”
I gave a half awkward wave before turning for the door, escaping the hostel and back into the bright street lights, walking until I made it to the busy part of the street with many other people around. I wiped the sweat from my brow, thinking back to what Linda had said. ‘Crappy hostel’, crappy was not creepy. Just the creeper vibes that came off that man were intense. All that talk of ‘taking care of me’?
My body gave an involuntary shiver, all the way to my toes and after a moment, I looked back up and down the street. A hotel now? Nope, this was prime tourist season. Hotels in town were hundreds per night. The sounds of squawking gulls settling down for the night drew my attention to the harbor, now across the street.
The Revenge was still in port not two hours ago. Maybe Jackson had decided not to use the boat tonight and get a good night's sleep at home? My heart rose with a little hope. Sleeping on a park bench was a hard pass for me, and I would not return back to Linda’s and cry hardship. The boat was safe, warm, and I trusted it more than any hostel at the moment. And if worst came to worst, and Jackson arrived, I am pretty sure there was a nice guy in there who would feel sympathy for my homeless plight.
My mind settled, I crossed the road, avoiding the gated park, and slipped onto the jetty, pleased when the Revenge was still at her berth.
The plank was up, and the boat was locked up tight, confirming my ideas that Jackson was taking a night off the boat. Probably drinking himself into a hole, regretting every hot breath against my neck. I shook him off my mind, and reached up to the boat’s railing, pulling myself up through the gap. Making my way back to the cabin door, and looking in my purse's secret pocket for the Revenge’s spare cabin key, given to me not three weeks before.
I flicked on her lights and locked the cabin door behind me. The cabin looked exactly the same as seven hours earlier, and I felt a great weight lift from my shoulders. I never thought to be in the position that I would have to scramble to find a bed for a night of sleep. Reaching into my cubby, I pulled out my pajamas and slipped into them.
I looked down the hallway at the three rooms. If Jackson should actually show up to his boat early in the morning, I did not want him to know I was here. I could never again relax and get a good night sleep in Cabin two ever again, and cabin three was the one least used, being the farthest and smallest. I flicked off the lights and went into three, choosing the bunk farthest from the door and snuggling in for most likely the best sleep I had in a while.
Something jarred against the boat, right next to my head, and I flinched awake in confusion. Did something just hit the boat? I sat up and stayed quiet for a moment, only then realizing that the boat was moderately rocking as if we were out to sea. Something firm hit the keel right next to me again, and a loud voice from outside rang out in a language I didn’t recognize.
I kneeled on the small bed and looked out the porthole, expecting to see the blaring lights of the jetty right next to my head. Instead, I was met with a dark night, and a splash of water hit the small circular window. Shit. We were out to sea. The darkness outside broke and a small light burst into view, a silhouette of a man outlined in its light.
His shape grew slightly larger and swayed, and the firm sound of what I now recognized as a boat’s rubber rail bumped into the Revenge again. The foreign voice now screamed something. Jackson’s voice could be heard, and his familiar, heavy footsteps thumped above me. “Steady! Keep her fucking steady! Turn into the wind!”
I groaned, the situation becoming obvious. Jackson had taken the boat out while I slept, and was assisting someone in trouble. Goddammit. He might be angry I had slept on the boat, but he would be ten times more so if he found it out and I didn’t help him. I swung my legs out of bed and pulled on the fleece I had brought, racing through the cabin and up the stairs.
There was a light rain floating in the air, but the wind made it feel like little needles hitting my face as soon as I left the shelter. Pushing through it and holding onto the rail, I moved down the length of the boat, shouting above the moderate gale once I was a few meters away. Jackson had just shut the top deck hatch door that led to a small compartment but was now focusing on untying a securing line the other boat had thrown over to the Revenge.
“Jackson! What can I do?” I screamed at his back.
He swung around, his eyes large and mouth slightly agape with disbelief. The man from the boat started to scream in his own language but not in frustration as I heard before below. I couldn't understand his words but this time, it definitely sounded accusational.
I looked down to him in confusion, about to see if it was possible to pull them up when the small light behind him lit up the silhouette of a gun, gripped tightly in his hand.
He waved it between Jackson and I, and my body froze with the scene, my attention solely on the little boat. The small Asian man standing on the prow of his little dingy had the ugliest expression I had ever witnessed. It was full of rage and ire, only complemented by the guttural language he was shouting at me as the gun’s metal glinted in the boat’s spotlight.
Sheets of wind and rain were swirling in the air between us and it hit my face, and I winced as it caught me in the eye. I was stuck to the deck in fear, the cold metal under my hand now my anchor as the man on the other boat still screamed and aimed the small but cruel looking gun in my direction.
Two shots dully echoed out over the turbulent water, and I fell back on the slippery deck simultaneously, feeling those shots through my bones.