Authors: Kim Linwood
“What? Nah, nothing. Don’t worry about it.” My hands are already clenching and unclenching. I’d better get out of here. “Listen, I need to jet. If our parents ever surface, could you tell them I had to go?” I shrug. “Just realized I had somewhere to be.”
She looks at me with suspicion, but seems just as happy to see me leave. “Yeah, okay.”
I feel kind of successful. That’s about the most civil bit of conversation we’ve had so far. “Don’t get too sentimental, now. I’ll be back to feel you up in no time.” Or not.
“I can’t wait.” Her voice could freeze over the Sahara.
“Of course you can’t. I’m irresistible like that.” I get the hell out of there before she can respond. I’ve got a face to pound.
t’s almost eight thirty. Where the hell’s Paul? We should be boarding now. I look over at the ticket guy apologetically. Not that he seems to care. I guess it doesn’t matter to him whether we make it onto the boat or not.
An angry roar echoes off the warehouses along the water. Wait, is that him? A motorcycle pulls up, screeching into the parking lot like it’s in a car chase. The rider’s tall, broad and definitely not Paul. He looks like someone else I know, though. I wait impatiently while he locks the bike and pulls his helmet off.
Yep, it’s who I think it is. My step-albatross.
“Hi.” Gavin’s wearing his trademark smirk.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
“Paul couldn’t make it. So I offered to take his place.” He looks way too satisfied with himself. That can’t be good.
“What did you do?” I step closer, ready to... to do what, exactly? Chew him out, I guess, but somehow I doubt he’ll care.
“Me? Nothing. We just discussed, is all. He realized he had other commitments, and I realized that you wouldn’t be able to get on your cruise without me.” He hefts his suitcase. “So here I am. Ready to do anything to help out family.”
Alright, now I know something’s up. “What do you mean, not able to leave without you?”
“How closely did you look at the tickets?” The corners of his eyes crinkle with amusement.
“Closely? Depends. What do you mean?” I pull them out of my pocket and look over them. They look identical except different serial numbers. Top deck suite, everything covered, have to be at the dock by 8:45 PM, both tickets in the name of Herbert Caldwell.
Gavin waits while I read, but eventually he runs out of patience. “Red text, just under Dad’s name.”
The red text is in thin print and hard to make out. Whoever thought red as a text color on a dark blue background made sense was an idiot. I peer closely with an impatient sigh.
I look up at Gavin, wrinkling my nose at the know-it-all look on his face. “So how are you supposed to save the day? Newsflash, you’re not your dad.”
“No, that’s true.” He gets his wallet out of his jeans, tugs out a card and hands it to me. It’s his driver’s license.
Gavin Herbert Caldwell.
“But I share his name.”
I giggle. “Herbert? You?” Sometimes you learn something new about someone that totally alters your idea of who they are. I have no idea why his middle name should be something like that, but for some reason Herbert doesn’t match at all in my head with who Gavin is. My giggles turn to laughter. World view: rocked.
“Yeah, yeah, very funny. Give me my license back.” There’s a tone of childish annoyance in his voice that only gets me laughing harder. I bet he was one of those kids who never admitted his middle name in school. I’ve suddenly found a vulnerable spot, a chink in his armor, and that’s really satisfying. He reaches out and pulls the piece of plastic from between my fingers. “It’s a fucking middle name. Get over it.”
“Yeah, sure... Herbert.” I break down again, my gut hurting. I don’t even get why it’s so funny anymore, but now I’ve got a serious case of the giggles.
“You know what? Maybe I’ll just go alone.” With another quick grab, he nabs the tickets right out of my hand and picks up his suitcase. “More room for me in the bed anyway.”
I look up quickly. “Hey, wait. You’re not leaving me here now.” I’ve barely left town before, much less gone on a luxury cruise. There’s no way I’m letting this opportunity pass me by, even if I have to do it with my asshole stepbrother instead of my boyfriend. I’ll totally make it up to Paul when I get back, I swear. Grabbing my suitcase, I rush up the ramp to the ship. “Wait for me!” Gavin doesn’t even turn, but he’s not walking particularly quickly either. I catch up easily.
“Oh, you decided to come. Going to behave?” He talks over his shoulder, not even turning to look at me.
“I won’t make fun of your name anymore.” That’s about as much as I can promise. I’m not letting him walk all over me.
“Not what I asked, but whatever. I’ll take it.” A few words and a flash of his license later, and we’re onboard. The hum of the engines warming up dominates everything, making the deck vibrate beneath my feet.
I gawk. This is my first time on something bigger than a small sailboat. I can hardly tell I’m on a ship at all, and not just in a particularly rumbly hotel. A fancy rumbly hotel. Everything’s a mixture of polished wood, white and gold, sleek trim and minimal lines. A dash of deep red here and there.
We’re standing in a reception area where stewards in fancy white uniforms wait for something to do, their eyes scanning the passengers like a little flock of hyenas. Probably deciding who’s likely to give the biggest tips. A line of guests in much fancier dress than me stand ahead of us, getting checked in as quickly as the frazzled desk clerk can process them.
I glance at Gavin, who’s looking everywhere but me. Dressed casually too, he makes me feel less like the odd girl out. Worn jeans, though I’m sure they’re designer something or other. A plain black t-shirt, his biker jacket thrown over his shoulder and leather motorcycle boots on his feet. We get a few looks, but whatever. What are they going to do? Throw us off the ship?
He turns to me and catches me watching him. With a grin, he puts his arm around my waist and pulls me close, making me squeak. “Oh Marie,” he says, using Mom’s name. “I can’t wait until we get hitched.” He leans in to give me a kiss, but I dodge it. “Oh, come on, babe.”
I sigh dramatically. “Not until we’re married, Herbie.” At first he frowns at the nickname, but it quickly turns to a laugh. He’s enjoying this game way too much. And so am I. For now, we’re in on this together, and it's kind of fun.
He whispers to me loudly, but I don’t think anyone else can hear, “I’ll have to settle for dreaming of you on our wedding night. On all fours, with your gown up around your waist.” He leans closer. “Just waiting for me.”
“Well, keep dreaming, since that’s as close as you’ll ever get.”
He laughs again. “We’ll see about that.”
I’m about to throw another retort his way when a voice speaks up. “I tell you Mabel, liners these days wouldn’t know luxury if it bit them in the ass. Making us stand in line, of all things. Remember back when we were young? When the only pause before a steward showed us to our suite was to pick up a cocktail?” The voice is worn with age, but clear and loud. Also it’s right behind us. I peek over my shoulder.
The woman who spoke looks old enough to be my great-grandmother, but she stands tall and her eyes are sharp, scanning the reception critically. Stylish and slim, she carries herself like she’s half her age, though that’s still old enough to be my mom. Her mouth is a slim straight line as she examines the line in frustration.
“Do you think the—the buffet is open, Joyce?” Standing next to her, hunched over a walker is her companion, who I assume is Mabel from Joyce’s tirade. Contrary to her friend, Mabel looks her age, crooked and bent, clutching her handles with shaking hands. Her floral dress, while probably expensive, hangs loosely.
Joyce huffs noisily. “I’m sure it will be soon. Though if the line doesn’t start moving faster, I do believe we may meet our end here, Mabel. It’s all over.” Her tone moves smoothly from frustrated to melodramatic. I’d say she was bitchy, but then I see the way her eyes soften when she looks at her friend, and how she’s supporting her while they wait. She’s just impatient, and this waiting isn’t easy for Mabel.
Well, Mom always said to do the right thing. “Excuse me.” I get Joyce’s attention, her gaze hawk like again. “I’m sorry. I know it isn’t much, but you can go ahead of us at least.”
Joyce’s expression softens again, and she actually cracks a smile. “Thank you, dearie. It’s nice to see that good manners haven’t completely died out. Some days...” She trails off while I get out of the way. I’m glad to see Gavin moving as well, but then he frowns a moment. He throws me a sly glance, as if to say
“You know what, ladies? Making you wait like this is unacceptable. Follow me.” And as simply as that, he forces his way through the crowd. “Come on, people. Let the ladies through. What kind of misanthropes are you?”
Misanthropes? I’m surprised he even knows the word. Still, the crowd parts reluctantly, letting the four of us past, until we’re standing at the desk with the surly concierge glaring up at us. “What’s going on?” The couple he was helping, the man in skinny jeans and a polo jacket, the woman in a designer dress and some awfully big and gaudy jewelry, glare at us, their eyes shooting daggers. They obviously want to object, but Gavin’s a pretty scary guy when he wants to be. They stay to the side and fume quietly.
He flexes as he leans on the concierge’s desk, looking down with pure disdain. His tattoos shift enticingly, though I’m pretty sure that’s not what the man in front of him thinks. Gavin’s voice is even, calm and full of steel. “I’m not sure what you think customer service is around here, but this sure as hell isn’t it.”
The concierge sighs dramatically, then explains in a bored voice, as if he’s already had to do this several times today, “Sir, we’re processing the line as quickly as we can. If you’d just go back to your position—”
“Listen...” Gavin takes a look at his name tag. “Richard. Dick? Can I call you Dick?”
“I—” The concierge doesn’t get far.
, these two ladies have lived far too long to have to wait for a weasel like you. If you guys don’t have an express lane for seniors, well, then I’m opening one now. Starting with them.” He looms closer for emphasis.
“Sir, we don’t— I can’t—” Dick is so shocked he can’t make words.
“You can and you will.” He gestures magnanimously for Joyce and Mabel to step up to the counter, then hangs back just far enough to never leave Dick’s field of vision. Crossing his arms over his powerful chest, he glares until the sour concierge helps them check in.
Wow. I don’t even know if he’s an ass, a hero, or both. I’m glad the two old ladies don’t have to wait any longer, but holy crap.
obviously doesn’t care, but I can feel the eyes of everyone around us boring angrily into my back.
Joyce turns to us with a remarkably childish grin. “Thank you so much, young man. You’re a brute, but you used it to our advantage, so we appreciate it.”
Gavin shrugs. “I do what I must.”
“You do indeed. You remind me a lot of my fourth husband, actually—” Mabel interrupts her by pulling on her sleeve. “I suppose I’m needed. Thank you again.”
I give them a little wave and a smile as they walk towards the elevators. Meanwhile, Gavin’s turned back to the counter.
The concierge tries to take charge again. “Sir, you’re not a senior. Please get back in—”
“Oh shut up. You want to get rid of us, so here’s your chance. Herbert Caldwell and Marie Wilson. We have a suite.” Gavin talks right over him, but when he hears the names, it’s like the concierge is a whole new person. He lights up, smiling broadly, eager to help. I roll my eyes. What a suck up.
Gavin receives our key cards and hands one to me which I jam in my pocket. He thanks the concierge for his help, then picks up both of our suitcases and sets off towards the elevators with long strides, giving me nothing to do except follow. I catch up, just in time to hear him mumble something like, “...ass-kissing motherfucker.”
Maybe not in those words, but for once we agree on something.
he door opens to our room, and even Gavin whistles. “Nice choice, Dad. It’s the fucking bridal suite.” He steps inside with our suitcases, leaving me in the doorway with my mouth hanging open and my eyes flitting around the room.
Our cabin’s huge. Two rooms. The bright white walls are covered with floral murals that are so detailed that I half expect to be able to smell them. I can’t keep from running my fingers over everything, like I have to check if it’s real.
The room has all the typical hotel room things, a sitting area, a minibar, closets and drawers, but everything looks money. Stainless steel and polished wood. Gold trim. The two love seats are so white I’m afraid to sit down and get them dirty. The pink heart shaped pillows are a little hokey, though.
A gorgeous bouquet of roses stands in a vase on the low glass coffee table, as well as a bucket of champagne and a box of fancy chocolates. I don’t know champagne, but I bet it’s the good stuff. While Gavin carries our suitcases into the bedroom, I sneak one of the chocolates, and it’s amazing. Smooth and delicious, filled with some sort of alcohol that melts in my mouth and warms my stomach.
Large windows line the opposite wall, framing a door that leads out to a huge balcony. It opens easily, and crisp ocean air fills my lungs as I step out into the night. This close to the city, there aren’t a lot of stars out, but the view from this high up is breathtaking. Not quite as nice as Gavin’s apartment, but close.
I should check out the bedroom, if only to make sure Gavin isn’t rooting through my underwear or something. I peek my head in, but all I catch him doing is lying on the bed without having taken off his shoes. He looks up when he notices me and smirks. “Going to join me on the bed? Plenty of room, though I do like to spread out. You might have to sleep on top of me. Or under.”
God, he just won’t quit. I’m not even dignifying that with an answer.