Authors: Jillian Leeson
- A short summer love story -
by Jillian Leeson
Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.
It was around 3.30pm on a Wednesday when I received the phone call that changed my life.
“Jessie, darling, it’s me. I really
talk to you. Did you see me in
I sighed. It was Kate, my little sister. “Little” was probably not the best way to describe her—she was taller, prettier, and worldlier. And she was in the midst of fulfilling her childhood dream: to become a famous actress. From talking to her, you’d think she was well on her way to become a big Hollywood star.
I took my mid-afternoon apple from my drawer and said, “Yes, I may have spotted your face in that party crowd photo at the bottom of page sixty.”
Of course Kate completely ignored what I said, as usual. “It’s been crazy around here, you can’t begin to imagine. When I finished shooting
, the director loved me, of course, and begged me on his knees to work on his next project,
I rolled my eyes and took a bite from my apple.
Kate rattled on. “So I’ve been stuck in Alaska for a month now. Can you imagine me, suffering in the freezing cold? I really, desperately, need new clothes and more importantly, a new mink coat, but there are no shops here whatsoever. I can’t even get an internet connection in this hell-hole. There’s only so much I can bear.”
“It all sounds very vexing, Kate. But I’m sure you’ll survive. Provided, of course, you have a decent-looking co-actor on set.”
“Ha! Count on my own sister to know me best. I can’t complain in that department, I suppose. That’s the only thing keeping me warm right now. Talking about warm, that’s why I’m calling you.”
I stopped chewing. Kate usually called me only when she needed something. What the heck did she want this time?
“I’d been planning to have a relaxing break after this horrid shoot, so I booked myself a luxury cruise to the Caribbean. But just now my director told me that we’re going to be stuck here for at least another week. And after this, I’ll be flying off to Fiji for my new movie.”
“So I was thinking that my lovely sister could take a break from her very busy life, and take the cruise instead of me.”
I wrinkled my brow. Did I hear that correctly? Did Kate actually say I
could take the cruise in her place? “When is this cruise? How long is it?”
“It’s a ten-day cruise, and it leaves this Saturday morning. Everything is included: wine, gourmet food, entertainment. You can relax by the pool, have your nails done, or enjoy a whole-body massage, whatever takes your fancy.”
“Coming Saturday? I can’t, Kate, you know that. I have a full-time job. I can’t just take a holiday whenever I feel like it. My supervisor will never approve my leave.”
Kate’s voice turned downright icy. “You’re always worried about your golden call-center career. Just
. I’m sure your glamorous job will still be there when you come back.”
“Really, I can’t. I’m not prepared. I wouldn’t even know what to pack.”
“Darling, I’ve got it all figured out. I know what you’re worried about. You think your Walmart get-up won’t cut it on the cruise. And you’re right. So I’m going to courier you some of my old rags. They’re still perfectly fine, just not cutting edge enough for someone like me. You should receive the parcels tomorrow morning.”
“But—but—” I thought I was going to choke on the chunk of apple that had lingered in my mouth, unchewed.
“I’m also sending you a ticket to Florida and the cruise details. You’re going to have such a fabulous time, darling. You may even think twice about staying in dull-town USA.”
Before I could object, she had already hung up the phone.
Typical of Kate. She couldn’t care less about other people’s feelings, especially mine. From when we were little, she had been the center of attention. With her pretty face and ultra-charming personality, she always got own her way by winding people around her little finger. It was always about her, and her alone.
In fact, it surprised me that she had given me the cruise. She must have been feeling guilty about forgetting my birthday last month. And she knew I had never been abroad, let alone on a cruise. The farthest I had ever travelled from home was when Kate had taken me on a shopping trip to Chicago.
It would simply be insane to pack up and take a tropical holiday. But the thought was also thrilling, exciting—something I hadn’t felt in a long time. I’d been down in the dumps lately, worn out from the daily grind. It was utterly exhausting, answering call after call, day after day. The worst was the unwarranted abuse from rude customers. It had made me throw my headphones against the cubicle wall more than once.
A break would do me a world of good; I just needed to get away from it all. The least I could do is try to get my leave approved. But as I had expected, my supervisor was less than thrilled with my request for leave.
“Jessica, this is an extremely busy time. Especially now Practal has launched their new beauty line, I need every single one of you. There’s no way in hell I can give you leave right now.”
“It’s only for ten days. I’ll make it up to you when I come back. I’ll even do overtime.”
“It’s up to you, honey, but if you insist, I’m afraid you won’t have a job when you come back.”
I was disappointed, but certainly not surprised, and continued my work for the rest of the day, pushing the ludicrous cruise idea from my mind.
Early the next morning, a loud knocking on my door woke me, and my roommate called out, “Jess! A courier delivery arrived for you.”
In the living room, a stack of big parcels awaited me, with a compliments card from my sister. When I unwrapped them, I felt my mouth falling open. The branded labels jumped out at me: Chanel, Armani, Gucci—brands I had only seen in magazines. There were stylish tops, skirts, pants, shoes, and dresses for all occasions, even swim- and sleepwear.
I immediately tried on the new outfits, and when I looked in the mirror, I could barely recognize myself. I had transformed from a small-town gal to a hot, stylish babe from the Big Apple. I would fit right in with the luxury-cruise set, just as Kate had predicted.
Damn Kate. My sister had always done exactly what she pleased, and led the life she wanted to lead. In contrast, I had always done what was expected of me: get a steady job, with steady income. I’d always been the responsible one. Why couldn’t I, for once, do something fun and crazy? Maybe this was my chance to finally escape from my boring life, and find a way to be happy and fulfilled.
That’s when I decided.
Hell, why not?
The cruise ship was all I had imagined, and more. Gleaming in the sun, with more than fifteen decks towering over the water, the
Glory of the Seas
resembled an enormous floating city. Inside, a throng of people were spilling into the cavernous open atrium and onto the pair of symmetrical sweeping staircases. The accompanying din was somewhat soothed by the babbling of live piano music.
After check-in, I made my way downstairs to find my cabin. The thick crowds combined with my excitement had made me lose all sense of direction. I thought I had located my cabin, but it turned out to be the wrong floor. When I finally reached the right floor and started down the corridor, I spotted a sign that directed me in the opposite direction.
With a deep sigh, I turned on my heel and was about to take a big stride forward when I collided into a clothed wall.
“Oh! I’m—I’m so sorry,” I mumbled. Looming in front of me was a row of shiny golden buttons, attached to a white jacket, part of an all-white uniform, worn by a tall man with a bronzed face framed by blond wavy hair—the handsome ship’s captain.
“Are you alright?”
“I—I’m OK. I just don’t know where I’m going.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll help you out. I’m Captain Adams.”
Offering a wide smile, he took my hand and shook it slowly.
“Jessica Miller. I’m looking for my cabin.” I fumbled with a stack of crumpled printouts, desperately trying to find the number. The captain calmly took the papers from my hands.
“Let me have a look. Ah, that’s just here. Just follow me.”
I could only manage a nod. Flutters were tickling my insides, but I wasn’t sure if it was because the good-looking captain had been gazing at me with his teasing eyes, or because I was so excited about the trip.
The cabin was a lot more spacious than I expected, fitting a king-size bed, couch, and a bathtub. When the captain pulled away the sheer curtains, he revealed a sizable balcony with a view of the glittering cobalt ocean. Drawn by the inviting waters, I immediately stepped outside and leaned on the glass railing. I relished the warm sunrays on my face and the soft breeze caressing the length of my hair.
“You are so lucky to see this view every day. It sure beats my windowless office.” I looked up at the captain, who had joined me on the balcony.
“I can never get enough of the view.” Instead of observing the water, he directed his gaze to my body, in a sweeping up-and-down motion. For once, I was thankful to Kate for sending me the elegant Prada sheath dress, which I hugged my curves in all the right places.
The captain settled his gaze on my eyes. “You here alone?”
“Yes. This was originally meant for two—my sister and her latest fling. But now it’s just me.”
“You’re still going to have a great time. And I’m sure that bed,” he said, pointing to inside the cabin, “won’t be empty for very long.”
I felt my face heat. I wasn’t used to getting much male attention, so I was rather shocked by his forward manner. Surely, it must be the designer dress that had made him show an interest in me.
“Well, let me know if you need anything. We will dock at Margarita Island tomorrow morning.”
The captain started towards the door and was about to step out when he suddenly turned around. “If you’d like, I could show you around the island tomorrow. I’ve been there so many times now, I know all the best places to see.” His straight white teeth gleamed as he broke into a wide smile.
“I’d like that very much.”
“I’ll see you in the morning then. If you need any help, call me on my direct line.” He walked over to the nightstand, scribbled a number on a notepad, and winked when he tore off the note and tossed it on the bed.
The next morning was glorious. Not a single cloud was hanging in the deep-blue sky, and the gentle breeze hardly stirred the ship’s flags. In the distance stretched out a lush, tropical strip of land: Isla de Margarita, the Pearl of the Caribbean.
I had slept like a log, and was enjoying a delicious breakfast from the international buffet restaurant when an announcement came through the speakers: we would be docking at the island in half an hour.
As promised, the ship’s captain waited for me by the gangway, where hundreds of tourists were lining up to get off the ship. He approached me with a worried expression on his face. “Jessica, I’m so sorry. I know I promised I’d show you around, but I’ve got some business to attend to first. Will you wait for me? I’ll meet you in about half an hour.”
I felt a pang of disappointment, but made sure I didn’t show it. “Of course. I’ll stay around the wharf till you’re done.”
The lively atmosphere on the wharf lifted my spirits. I browsed the myriad of market stalls that put their wares on offer: mainly jewelry, wood carvings and other crafts. At the end of the row of stalls, next to the water, I spotted a painting on an easel. Although I could only see the broad back of the man who sat in front of it, the way he moved his paint brush on the canvas told me he was talented.
I quietly stood behind the artist, admiring how he carefully mixed colors on his palette till he found just the right shade and expertly applied it to the canvas. From taking years of art lessons, I knew how hard it was to draw a simple still life, let alone a moving scene of people milling around the wharf.
I was so engrossed in the painting that I didn’t even notice that the artist had turned around, until he waved to me with his brush. I lifted my gaze to find his deep, dark eyes boring into mine. For no reason, my pulse started to quicken in my throat.
“I-I hope you don’t mind me watching you. I really like—no—
your painting. You are very talented.”
,” the artist said, touching his black beret. “This is just to pass time. I actually make portraits. You like me to draw you?” He pointed at a sign on the ground next to him: