Terrors of the High Seas
Dar blew the wet hair out of her eyes and leaned forward, peering through the rain lashed darkness with a scowl. The weather had worsened a lot, and the boat was now being tossed by fifteen-foot seas. Dar had the big searchlight on the bow turned on, but it really did very little – the light reflected off the huge raindrops and almost made it seem like she was plowing into a silver curtain.
The Bertram rolled in a swell, and she turned into the wave, watching both her radar and her sonar with careful eyes. She was concentrating so hard; she didn’t hear Kerry come up the ladder and almost jumped right through the console topper when her partner plopped down in the seat next to her. “Yeeeah!”
Kerry sniffled, and pulled her jacket closer. “Sorry.” She patted Dar’s back. “Didn’t mean to scare you.”
“Mmph.” Dar collected her composure. She glanced at Kerry, watching her slit her eyes against the rain. “Y’know, there’s no reason for you to suffer up here in this mess.”
“Yes, there is.” Kerry disagreed. She carefully put her elbows on the console. “I can either sit up here and brave the best Mother Nature can offer, or I can stay downstairs and chuck my cookies.”
“Ah.” Dar peered more closely at her. “Yeah, you look a little…”
“Just call me Kermit.” Kerry admitted, swallowing. “Didn’t think I got seasick.”
“I think you can blame the weather this time.” Dar comforted her.
Kerry grimaced, and then managed a wan smile as the Bertram rolled in the waves again.
“Watch the horizon.” Dar advised, reaching over and circling her wrist with two long fingers.
“Honey, I love you.” Kerry leaned against Dar’s shoulder. “But you don’t have to hold my hand, really.”
Dar chuckled softly, pressing down on Kerry’s wrist with her fingertips. “Try calling him.” She asked, more to distract Kerry than anything. There had been no response to her last two hails, and Dar was afraid their unlucky friend had run into more trouble.
Kerry took a few more deep breaths, and then picked up the mic. “Siren of the Sea, Siren of the Sea. This is Dixieland Yankee. Do you copy? Over.” She paused and listened to the crackling, closing her eyes as the boat hit a trough and pitched down.
Dar shifted her grip slightly, and then pressed again, watching Kerry’s face carefully. After a moment, her eyelashes flickered open, and a look of mild surprise appeared. “Better?” Dar asked hopefully.
“Eyah.” Kerry murmured. “Did you do that?”
“Oo. I love you.” Kerry said. “Hang on. Siren of the Sea, Siren of the Sea, do you copy?”
A harsh buzz suddenly cut the static, then a second. A blast of lightning lit up the sky and they both ducked in reflex. Dar grabbed Kerry and shielded her as she felt every hair on her body stand up; the boat was forgotten, the storm was forgotten for that brief instant. She heard a loud crack, and then the glare vanished, leaving a wild blast of thunder in its wake.
“Holy shit.” Dar looked up, searching the topmast anxiously, then her eyes went to their instruments, hoping like hell they hadn’t lost the GPS or the sonar. She relaxed when the iridescent glow of the devices remained steady. “Wow.”
“Dar?” Kerry’s voice was muffled. “I think you can let me up now.”
“Oh. Sorry.” Dar straightened, but kept one arm around Kerry’s shoulders.
“You all right up there?” Charlie’s voice suddenly erupted in the radio. “That sucker hit the water just off the stern.”
“We’re fine.” Kerry answered. “Everything’s all right.”
Dar glanced up at the sky. “This isn’t gonna work. I’m going to turn and get out of here.” She decided. “We’ll report the mayday when we get into dock.” She reset their course, and checked the depth. “I’m not risking the boat or you.”
Dar turned and looked her in the eye. “Yes?”
Kerry knew that look. She knew Dar didn’t like to be challenged, especially when she was off balance and scared. Kerry could see the jangled nerves in her lover’s eyes, and by the short, restless motions of her hands on the controls knew that Dar’s temper was very much on edge. “He’s waiting for us.” She said, very gently. “Can we go for a few more minutes?”
Dar very much wanted to say no. Kerry could read it. “Let me call him one more time, and see if he can at least give us a click. If not…” She watched the rain plaster Dar’s hair to her forehead, half obscuring her eyes. “At least we tried.”
A breath. “Okay.” Dar said, briefly. “Then, please, Kerry. Go below.”
“Okay.” Kerry agreed, flexing her hand around the mic. She paused, and set it down before she reached out and caught Dar’s hand, squeezing it. “Thanks.”
“Grumph.” Dar adjusted the throttles, and started the boat on a long, shallow curve to cut across the swells. She didn’t want to turn too sharply and get caught inside them, since the waves were cresting up to around twenty feet.
“Siren of the Sea… Siren of the Sea. If you can hear this, please key in twice.” Kerry requested, speaking clearly. She listened intently to the hiss. “Siren of the Sea, please key in twice if you receive this. We are trying to locate you.”
The hiss broke, returned, and then broke again. Kerry grinned, then looked up at Dar.
“Could be coincidence.”
“Siren of the Sea, please key in twice again.”
Two clicks answered her again, and then a voice crackled through. “I’m here! Help!”
Dar sighed, and shook her head. “We still don’t have a chance at finding him.” She told Kerry. “All I’ve seen on radar for the last half hour is…” Dar stopped, and leaned closer to the small scope. “Wait.” She increased the pulse, and studied it, unsure. It might be a tiny blip, but then it might now. “Could just be wave return.”
But she was already swinging the wheel around, and gunning the engines. “Either way, we’re going back if that’s not him.”
“Right.” Kerry put the mic down, and stood. “I’m going to go up on the bow.”
Dar’s eyes widened. “Not with out a safety belt.” She stated. “I don’t want you launched overboard.”
“Aye, Aye, Cap’n.” Kerry patted her, then made her way to the stairs, carefully climbing down them and stepping onto the pitching deck. Charlie and Bud were standing in the cabin doorway. “We think we see him.” She said.
“Bout time.” Bud picked up the rope and floatation gear, slinging it over his broad shoulder. “Lotta trouble for some jackass who didn’t have the sense to get out the rain.” He got up onto the railing and walked around to the bow. Kerry counted to ten under her breath as she got a double clipped safety rope and hooked one end on to the rail, then followed him.
The wind hit her as she came around to the front of the boat, driving rain right into her eyes. Kerry struggled forward gamely, careful to keep her footing as she edged around the large cruiser cabin and emerged onto the sloping bow of the boat. It was pitching up and down, and seawater was crashing over the rails, chilling her even through her jacket.
She got to the very front of the boat and knelt, peering into the darkness. All Kerry could see was ruffling waves and rain. The swells rose and fell, making it hard to see anything at all.
“There.” Bud was standing next to her. “To starboard.”
Kerry strained her eyes. “I don’t see anything… oh. Wait!” In a break in the waves, she spotted a flash of white, then it disappeared. Her mind tried to resolve it as part of a sailboat, and failed. “Wh…”
Dar, apparently, had also seen it. The Bertram altered course to starboard, and the engines reduced.
Kerry leaned forward. Then the waves broke again, and she got another look. “He’s capsized” She yelled, recognizing the white flash now as an overturned hull.
“Yeap.” Bud didn’t seem surprised. “Jerk probably didn’t bring the sail.”
Kerry stood up, biting her tongue to keep the sharp words back. The boat worked itself closer, and she could see the capsized boat more clearly. “He’s on the back!” She pointed at a dark, forlorn looking figure clinging to the hull.
Then her eyes almost came out of her head as the sea in front of her dropped, and they were looking downslope from twenty feet up at the shipwreck. Kerry’s stomach almost came out of her nostrils as the wave crested, then she hung on as the Bertram rode the wave down, its forward motion slowed.
The wave picked up the sailing boat and lifted it, then a cross wave unexpectedly tossed it to one side. As Kerry watched in horror, the small figure on the back flew off into the water and disappeared. Without really thinking once, much less twice, she unclipped her safety rope and jumped to the top of the railing, then leaped out into the darkness.
Hitting the water was a total shock. It was cold, and it grabbed her mercilessly and whirled her around. Kerry fought her way to the surface and realized she’d probably just made a really big mistake. A wave nearly swamped her, but she rode through it, then felt something hit her on the shoulder. She whirled to find the floatation ring next to her and grabbed it.
The storm was too loud for her to hear any shouting, but she knew it was there. A dagger of hot fear hit her in the gut, and she got an arm around the ring, glad for it’s buoyancy. Then she turned and started for the last place she’d seen the hapless boater, trying not to swallow the seawater constantly washing over her head.
It was hard to make any headway. Then Kerry discovered if she found the right waves, they’d take her where she wanted to go. She waited for one, then swam into it and let it carry her down and across the capsized boat’s bow.
The searchlight suddenly penetrated the rain, blazing across the choppy water. It tracked over Kerry, pausing a moment before it reluctantly moved on. Kerry’s eyes followed it, then she lunged forward as she caught just a glimpse of a hand near the back end of the boat. She struggled towards it, hearing the rumbling roar of the big diesels behind her as the Bertram fought to hold it’s position in the water.
“Hey!” Kerry got her head above water and yelled. She flailed with her arms through the wave, feeling under the surface near the edge of the capsized hull. Three times, nothing, then suddenly her hand touched something that wasn’t water, and wasn’t boat.
Her fingers closed, with a brief, heartfelt prayer to God that it was a person and not a shark she was grabbing onto. She felt cloth, and pulled hard, heaving backwards with all the strength she could muster. It was like pulling at a wet, sand filled sack. “C’mon!” Kerry gave another tug. An arm broke the surface, then a dark, wet head.
For a moment, Kerry wasn’t sure she’d been in time. Then the head lifted, and the other arm flailed out, smacking against the boat. The man coughed, spitting up a mouthful of water.
“Here!” Kerry got his hands around the life preserver. “Hang on!!!” It wasn’t easy, but she wrapped the device around him, then turned her head, searching for the boat on the other end of the line. Her strength was draining out of her and the chilled water was starting to make her shiver. Warm though the seas were this far south, at night, in a rainstorm they were no bathtub.
Dar’s voice through a loudspeaker was the last thing she expected. She blinked through the rain, hanging on to the rope.
“Clip on to the rope!!!! We’ll pull you in!”
Oh. Kerry fumbled at her waist, finding the belt, then the big metal clip that hung from it. She clipped it onto the rescue rope and wrapped her arm around her rescuee, feeling the powerful tug as she began to be towed back to the boat.
The waves swamped over them. Kerry felt her body ache from the strain of remaining upright and she reached up, clasping her hand over a knot in the rope to hang on. They came closer and closer to the boat, and as they did, she realized how high the bow was over their head. She was used to coming aboard from the stern, and now she wondered how they were going to manage.
The Bertram lunged forward, and she crashed into the hull, slamming her shoulder into the fiberglass. It knocked the wind out of her, and she pushed dazedly off before the belt tightened around her waist and she realized she was being pulled right up out of the water. “Hold on!! Hold on!!” She yelled, scrambling to make sure the straps on the preserver were tight. The man inside it seemed very dazed, and he clutched at the rope with very uncertain fingers.
Kerry felt her body clear the water, and she sucked a breath in against the painful grip of the single belt that supported her weight. She kept one hand on the hull, and tried hard not to kick out, her other hand tangled in the man’s sodden shirt as they rose up out of the sea.
Halfway up, lighting cracked, and the boat rolled, pitching down so far her feet hit the water again. Kerry gasped as the wave rolled back the other way, slamming her against the bow with stunning force. She reached a hand up in reflex, feeling for the railing, and hoped like hell that didn’t happen again.
Her back thumped against the hull, and she felt a tingling start below where the belt was wrapped around her, the edges digging into her ribcage and almost cutting off her breathing. She tried to pull up with her arms, but it didn’t help, and she was on the verge of panic when suddenly hands were grabbing her arms and shirt.
The belt released, and she was lifted over the railing, arms closing around her body and supporting her with powerful strength she immediately recognized. She turned her head and buried her face into Dar’s shirt, knowing now she was safe and everything would be fine.
“Got im!” Bud’s voice broke through the rain. “ Charlie!!! Get the hell outta here!!!!!”
Kerry felt the boat begin to move. The rain was still pelting her. Now that it was over, the adrenaline rushed out of her, and she felt too weak to move. It was easier to just sit on the deck, wrapped in Dar’s arms and half in her lap, limp as a dishrag.
She could hear the man she’d rescued coughing, gagging up the seawater he’d swallowed. Her own mouth felt like she’d been sucking on caviar, and her throat was raw from yelling. “Buh.”
Dar’s arms tightened around her. “Let’s get inside. I think my little hero here needs some hot tea.”
Hero. Kerry blinked. Good grief. I just saved someone’s life, didn’t I? A tiny, incredulous smile crossed her face at this totally new sensation.
Dar shut down the engines, reaching up and pushing the rain hood off her head before she stood up. They’d outrun the storm, and now it’s fury was nothing but a heavy rumbling and light on the horizon. Dar exhaled, leaning against the console and trying to summon up the strength to go down the stairs.
She was exhausted. More, she suspected, from the intense, emotional stress than the physical activity. Her hands were shaking, she noticed, and she had a headache that started at the nape of her neck and worked upward from there.
It was well after midnight, and heading for St. Johns tonight was out of the question. Even if the weather wasn’t chancy, she didn’t trust herself to pilot the boat and so further investigation into their mysterious pirate encounter would have to wait for the morning.
Ah well. Dar shook herself. Buck up, Paladar, and git yer ass moving. She walked to the ladder and slowly made her way down it, stepping onto the deck and pushing the cabin door open. “All right.” Dar entered and closed the door behind her.
Inside the cabin, Kerry was curled up on the couch in her robe. Bud and Charlie were sitting at the table, and their rescued sailboat owner friend was across from Kerry, swathed in a big towel.
Dar put a heavy clamp down on her immediate instincts, which were urging her to throw everyone off the boat so she could concentrate on her somewhat pale, and definitely ragged looking partner. Instead, she went to the galley and put some water on, fiddling restlessly with a spoon while she waited for it to heat.
“I was trying to get back into port.” The rescued man was saying. “I don’t know what happened. One minute, I was pulling in the mainsail, then next thing I knew, my engine dropped out and everything started going nuts!”
“That can be scary, Bob.” Kerry murmured. “I capsized in Lake Michigan once. Not fun.”
“You can sure say that again!” Bob shook his head. “You folks got a phone?” He addressed Bud and Charlie.
“Nope.” Bud answered. “Marine radio.” He got up and walked out.
Bob blinked. “Something I said?” He asked, hesitantly.
“Naw.” Charlie reassured him. “Just been a long day.” He cleared his throat. “Well, Mr. Gallareaux, I’m sure glad it all turned out all right. We got a spare bunk up top if you like. You can get a run over to St Johns tomorrow.”
Bob looked pathetically grateful. “You all have been so nice.” He glanced over at Dar, then looked at Kerry. “How can I repay you? You saved my life.” He had a nice face, slightly rounded with high cheekbones, and kind, hazel eyes.
A visible blush colored Kerry’s skin. “I’m glad we could help.” She smiled at him.
Now it was his turn to blush to the roots of his dark, curly hair. “I feel like an idiot.” He admitted. “I’ve been sailing since I was a kid. It’s not like I’m a neo, but that storm caught me flat.”
“Weather’s like that down here.” Charlie said, placidly. “Well, let’s let these ladies get some rest. It’s been a busy night for em.” He got to his feet, limping awkwardly towards the door. “We can kick the generator back on since it’s late watch.”
Bob stood, removing the towel from around him. “I appreciate the offer. I’m about tapped.”
“We’re heading to St. Johns ourselves tomorrow.” Kerry said. “If you want a ride over, we can take you.” Out of habit, her eyes flicked over to the silently watching Dar. “Right?”
Dar nodded. “Sure.”
“Thanks.” He replied simply. “Maybe I can start salvaging what I’ve got left there.” Bob folded the towel and put it on the table, and followed Charlie. At the door he turned, and looked at them. “I owe you.” His eyes met Kerry’s, then he slipped out the door and closed it behind him.
After a moment of silence, Kerry rolled her head towards Dar and let out a half groan, half sigh. “Got any Advil to go with that incredibly wonderful smelling coffee over there?”
Dar blinked. "Headache?" She asked.
"Everythingache." Kerry was glad everyone was gone. "I feel like I was run over by a truck." She cautiously straightened, wincing as her body protested. "Ow."
Dar gladly chucked her emotional turmoil in favor of this new issue to focus on. She brought two cups of coffee and a bottle of Advil over, set them down, then took a seat next to Kerry on the couch. "Where does it hurt?"
Kerry put a hand on her belly. "That belt nearly killed me." She joked wanly.
Dar untied her robe and opened it. "Jesus." Her eyes widened a little at the lurid bruise circling Kerry's waist. "I bet that hurts." She touched the bruise, then gently turned Kerry over. "All across your back, too."
Kerry found herself nestled against Dar's chest. It was nice, even though she was still damp. "Honey, you need to change. You're wet." She murmured. "You'll catch cold."
Dar examined another bruise crossing Kerry's spine. "Does this hurt?" She probed carefully.
"A little." Kerry replied. "More like an ache." She added. "I don't think anything's seriously damaged."
"Thank you for your opinion, Dr. Stuart." Dar remarked dryly. "Did you hit your head anywhere?" She slid her fingers up into Kerry's thick, blond hair and felt for any telltale bumps.
"No, I don't think so." Kerry said. “I’m just sore – that water was brutal.”
Dar stroked the back of her neck and gave her a pat. "Well, that's what you get for being a hero." She told her partner. "You scared the sense out of me, you know that, right?"
Kerry rolled over and stretched her body out, putting her head in Dar's lap and looking up at her. "I scared the sense out of me." She replied. "I realized in mid air just what an incredibly stupid thing I was doing."
Dar smiled briefly.
Kerry studied Dar's face, seeing the residual tension in it. Her eyes were bloodshot, and there was a deep furrow between her brows. She lifted her hand and touched Dar's cheek. "Do heroic things always seem so dumb?" Kerry asked. “I mean, when you think about what you did?”
Dar let her hand rest on Kerry's stomach, her thumb rubbing gently against the soft skin above her belly button. "Um." She exhaled, letting some of the tension dissipate. "It's a lot like pitching new technology."
Kerry blinked. "Huh?"
"If it works, you're a visionary genius. If it doesn't, you're a whacko." Dar explained. "You saved that guy's life - and it took a ton of guts to do it. You took a chance, and it worked."
"Just like I took a chance going through those reefs, and it worked." Dar went, quietly. "If it hadn't, we'd be in real trouble right now, and if the waves hadn't broken right, you could have been in real trouble when you jumped." Dar cleared her throat, then leaned over and picked up the coffee, taking a sip of it.
"Catching cold already?" Kerry teased, hearing the hoarse note in her usually mellow tone.
"No." Dar put the cup down. "I was screaming your name so loud I lost my voice for a while." She sighed, her shoulders unlocking and slumping a little. She lifted a hand and rubbed her temples. "I think I'll have some of those pills too."
“Tell you what." Kerry heaved herself up off the couch. She tied her robe closed again, then took her cup of coffee and gulped a mouthful down. "Instead of drugs, how about we get you out of those wet clothes, and get us both into that nice, dry, soft bed."
"Yeah." Dar agreed. "That sounds great." She stood up and stretched, wincing at the pops as her back and shoulders released their wound up tension. "Hope that storm bypasses us."
"God. Me too." Kerry stifled a yawn. "I want a nice, peaceful night's cuddle with you before we have to figure out what the heck is going on around here."
"Cuddle." Dar mused. "Yeah. I think I need a cuddle." She admitted. “I feel sandblasted.”
Kerry captured Dar’s hand and led her towards the bedroom. Inside, she turned and unbuckled the belt holding up Dar’s shorts, unbuttoning them and letting them drop to the cabin floor. The dim light in the room threw Dar’s face into shadows, but Kerry could hear her still tense exhale as she stripped her denim short-sleeved shirt off and tossed it onto the dresser.
Kerry removed her robe as Dar slipped out of her swimsuit. She set the robe down as Dar sat down on the bed, moving over to give her space to climb in next to her.
It was dark, with the hatches shut, and very quiet. The boat was rocking gently, it’s violent pitching just a fading memory as Kerry carefully lowered herself onto the soft surface. She reached for Dar, and found open arms waiting as they slid together into a tangled embrace.
They both sighed, then chuckled. “What a day.” Dar yawned.
“Mm.” With her ear pressed against Dar’s chest, she could hear her heartbeat. As she listened, one hand stroking Dar’s side idly, the beats slowed, and the tense body under her relaxed as her own did. “Hey, Dar?” She asked, after a little while.
“Hm?” Dar’s low murmur answered.
“Do you think those guys just were looking for a quick score?” Kerry wondered, her mind still churning despite her exhaustion. “The pirates? Maybe they just saw an expensive boat, out at night, all alone.”
Dar was quiet for a bit, apparently thinking. “Maybe.” She eventually replied. “Boat this size, out this far.. could be.”
Kerry yawned again, her eyes closing almost against her will. “But you don’t’ think so, do ya?”
Dar snorted softly. “Let you know tomorrow once I get a database run on em.” She replied.
It was quiet again for a while. Kerry kept her eyes closed, but sleep was held at bay by recent memories of the night. “Dar?” She whispered.
“Yes?” Dar seemed wide awake.
“I didn’t jump into the water to be a hero or anything stupid like that.”
Dar stroked Kerry’s cheek. “I didn’t think you did.” She replied. “Something had to be done, you were there, and you did it.”
“Yeah.” A pause. “Is that how it is with you, when you do stuff like this?”
“Ah…” Dar cleared her throat. “Yeah.” She sounded vaguely sheepish. “Yeah, I guess it is.”
“Mmph.” Kerry drew in a breath, then released it with a contented grunt.
The boat rocked. Thunder rumbled softly in the distance. Peace draped at last over two sorely tested souls.
Lesson one. Kerry regarded her reflection in the mirror with critical eyes. Heroism hurts. She put her hands on her hips and shook her head at the truly spectacular purple, green and red mark right across her stomach. “Glad I never went for the bikini look.” She remarked after a moment, chuckling and scrubbing her hands through her hair before she smoothed it down into some semblance of order. Breathing too deeply was painful, and her back was stiff, but she suspected she’d survive with a couple of painkillers and a dose of relaxing on the deck.
It was sunny, and breezy out side and a good night’s sleep had restored most of her good humor. She brushed her teeth and slipped into an emerald green one-piece swimsuit. “There.” She took a cautious breath, then released it. “That sure looks better.” Her eyes flicked over her body, now so used to her heavier, more muscular form that it was hard really to remember what she used to look like before she met Dar.
She gave herself a nod of approval, then emerged into the boat’s main cabin. Dar was curled up on the couch, a tray of coffee, biscuits and cut up fruit next to her on the table, and a magazine folded in her hand. “Hey, sweetie.” Kerry greeted her.
“Howdy.” Dar laid the magazine down and shifted, nudging the tray towards her.
Kerry took a croissant, neatly split it, applied butter and jam to it’s surface and retired to the couch herself, snuggling up in back of Dar and draping herself over her partner’s lower body. “Mm.” She nibbled her breakfast. “Whatcha reading?”
Dar held up the Unix systems administration periodical.
“Nerd.” Kerry chortled softly, shaking her head. “Feeling better this morning?”
Dar stifled a yawn. “Yeah, a little sleepy, though.” She said, reaching over to tug a bit of Kerry’s hair. “What about you?”
“Well.” Kerry swallowed a mouthful. “It hurts, I won’t deny that.” She said, licking a flake from her lips. “But in kind of a weird way, it feels good, because I know it was for a good cause.”
“Huh.” Dar flexing her hand absently, a faint smile crossing her lips. “I never thought of it like that, but yeah. I remember the morning after you got carjacked, when I couldn’t even close my fist.” She gazed at her fingers.
Kerry obligingly captured Dar’s hand and pulled it closer, kissing it. “You were amazing.”
“Ahem.” Dar cleared her throat. She put her magazine down and pulled the tray closer, dumping cream and sugar into a cup then topping it with a little coffee. “I’ll be glad to get to St. Johns.” She took a sip. “The place we’re going to has great food, and better views.”
“Oo.” Kerry accepted the subject change gracefully, giving Dar a fondly knowing look.
“And I really want to get a line on those bastards.”
Kerry grinned. “Thought there was an ulterior motive there.” She neatly took the cup from Dar’s fingers, took a sip, and then put it back. “But that’s okay, because I want to know more about them too.” She rested her chin on Dar’s hip, grinning happily.
“You’re in a good mood.” Dar observed.
“Yeah, I guess I am.” Kerry agreed. “Storm and terror filled nights do that to me, I guess.” She paused, her brow creasing. “Once they’re over.”
“Uh huh.” Dar regarded her drolly. “I’ll have to remember that.”
“Of course…” Kerry drew a fingertip slowly down Dar’s thigh. “Hedonistic nights full of love and snuggling put me in an even better mood.” She batted her blond lashes at her partner. “Make sure you put that down, too.”
Dar chuckled. “I knew that already.” She drawled, running her fingers through Kerry’s hair and watching her eyes close in pleasure. “Shall we get this tub ready to go?”
Kerry wriggled closer, squeezing in behind Dar until they were wrapped around each other. She rested her chin on Dar’s shoulder, and blew lightly into her ear. “How about we just take it easy for a while?” She whispered, watching the pale blue eyes inches from her blink and close slightly. “You in a rush?”
Dar eased over onto her back, then turned towards Kerry, sliding her body up against hers. She pulled Kerry closer and kissed her gently, letting one hand slide down to rest at her waist. “No rush.” She answered, rubbing noses with Kerry playfully. “But I just want to remind you all the windows are open, and the gangway’s down.”
“Eerrwwooough.” Kerry growled, deep in her throat. “What a dilemma.” She mock sighed. “Indulge my libido, or retain my upright midwestern reputation.”
Outside the deck creaked, and Kerry’s eyes widened as she started against her will.
Dar snickered. “You can take the corn out of the girl….”
“I’ll corn you.” Kerry leaned forward and kissed her passionately, feeling Dar’s body react as she was pulled against her. Her ribs protested gently, but she ignored them, preferring to concentrate on the jolt of sensual reaction that rapidly warmed her guts.
Her hands explored Dar’s body eagerly, fingers sliding up under her tank top to trace her breasts. The soft surface pressed up against her as Dar inhaled and she found herself short of breath as well as she felt Dar’s touch high up on the inside of her thigh.
Oh, to hell with her reputation. Kerry felt her swimsuit straps slide off her shoulders as she pulled Dar’s shirt up, feeling the heat as their skin met, and her weight pressed down against Dar’s body.
“Hey!” A voice outside erupted suddenly. “Anyone home!!”
Kerry found herself nose to nose with a lethally frustrated Dar, whose darkened blue eyes and definite snarl perfectly captured how Kerry herself was feeling. “Arggghh.” She released the groan softly, letting her head drop to rest against Dar’s collarbone.
“That about covers it.” Dar sighed. “Oh boy.” She cleared her throat and swallowed, attempting to collect her composure. “Be right there.” She raised her voice. “You godforsaken son of a bitch.” The last was added in a quiet but heartfelt tone.
Kerry started laughing. “Bookmark this.” She advised her partner. “For later.” With another groan, she reluctantly untangled herself from Dar’s body and stood up, easing her straps back into place and rubbing her face to clear the flush she knew was coloring it. “Jesus.”
Dar stretched out on the couch and yawned, curling back up like a large, half naked cat. She picked up her forgotten coffee cup and sipped at it, watching Kerry over the rim with a seductive look.
“You’re not helping.” Kerry ran her hands through her hair. “Let me go greet our guest.”
“You invited him.” Dar drawled.
Kerry slapped herself on the side o f the head, and continued to do so as she walked towards the cabin door.
With a chuckle, Dar leaned back against the couch’s pillow and enjoyed Kerry’s sexy little swagger, as she ducked through the entrance and went out onto the stern deck. She heard Kerry greet their rescued guest, and she sighed, putting her head back down on the soft fabric.
“Morning.” Kerry lifted a hand to wave at the man standing on the deck. Bob was dressed in khaki shorts a little too big for him, and the polo shirt he’d been wearing the night before. In the daylight, his slightly rounded, cheerful face and curly hair completed a picture of a reasonably good-looking man about Kerry’s age. “C’mon aboard.”
Bob took advantage of her invitation and crossed the gangplank. “Thanks. Good morning to you.” He replied, as his eyes took in her swim-suited body. Politely, he then glanced away. “Weather cleared up at least, huh?”
Kerry turned and surveyed the clear horizon. “Sure did.” She smiled. “We’re not really ready to get underway yet, want to come in and grab some coffee?”
“That’d be great. Thanks.” He returned her smile warmly. “Listen… I, um..” He glanced around, then back at her. “I really want to thank you again, for what you did last night.”
Kerry felt a curious mixture of pleasure and embarrassment. “I was glad to help.” She said. “I’m really glad everything turned out all right.”
“Me, too.” Bob replied easily. “But it wouldn’t have, if it hadn’t been for you.” He courteously held the door for her. “I won’t forget that.”
“Well, you’re very welcome.” Kerry entered the cabin, her eyes automatically tracking until she found Dar’s tall figure behind the galley. “Got some extra coffee there, Dar?”
Dar’s eyes flicked past her, then a wry grin appeared. “Sure.”
“Morning.” Bob greeted Dar.
“Hi.” Dar replied. “I’m going to get us ready to take off.” She told Kerry. “I want to run up and talk to Charlie for a minute before we go.”
“Okay.” Kerry traded places with her, reaching for the coffee. “Tell them I said hi, okay?” She really didn’t have a personal need to face the troublesome Bud at the moment.
“Uh huh.” Dar patted her back, then slipped past her and headed for the door.
Kerry smiled to herself, and shook her head. Then she got down another cup from the cupboard. “How do you take it?” She looked up, a little surprised to find Bob leaning against the galley’s counter.
“Black.” He replied, accepting the cup she offered. “Thanks.” He took a cautious sip. “So, Kerry. Where are you from? We didn’t get to talk that much last night.”
Kerry poured herself a cup and added cream and sugar to it, then eased out from behind the galley and took a seat at the small table. Bob settled next to her, patiently waiting for her to answer.
“Michigan.” Kerry said. “What about you?”
Bob grinned. “Thought I recognized the accent. I’m from Detroit.” He said. “My family owns some property just outside the city.” He paused, sipping his coffee. “You go to Michigan University?”
Kerry nodded. “Matter of fact, I did.” She agreed.
“I went out of state to college.” He related. “Boston.” A thoughtful look crossed his face. “My father’s family’s from there. Old seafaring men, you know.”
“That’s where I learned to sail.” Bob said. “When I was a kid, and then again when I got older. You sounded like you’d sailed a lot.” He neatly turned the subject back to her. “That one of your hobbies?”
Kerry looked up and found him looking back at her, watching her face with a faint, shy half smile. “No, not now.” She propped her head on one hand. “Underwater photography, and keeping up with work.” She came to the vague realization that Bob was showing some definite interest in her, and couldn’t decide if she were amused or embarrassed. “How about helping me get the boat ready? Dar should be back soon.”
“Sure.” He agreed amiably. “You name it, I’m yours.”
Yikes. Kerry slid out from behind the table. She hoped the trip to St. Johns was a short one.
Dar stuck her hands in her pockets as she walked up the sandy path. Bob’s arrival had definitely put a knot in her shorts, and she’d considered leaving the better part of hospitality when she’d almost succumbed to the urge to toss his preppy butt right off the boat.
Ah, Dar. She chuckled wryly at herself. Your background’s showing. He’s not a bad kid. She kicked a pinecone ahead of her, and glanced up the empty path. You’ll drop him off in St. John, and that’ll be that.
She climbed up the steps to Bud and Charlie’s restaurant, pausing with her hand on the door when she heard loud voices inside.
“Thought you could duck out on me last night, huh?” A snarl. “Where’s the money!”
“Look. I told you we don’t have the cash.” Charlie’s tone sounded uncharacteristically tense. “You can’t get blood from a damn rock.”
“Yeah?” The strange voice answered. “Well, either you cough up that ten grand, or there’ll be plenty of blood on the floor of this dump, got me?”
“We can work somethin’ out.” Bud interjected. “You gotta give us time. You know we’re good for it.”
“I don’t know shit.” The stranger laughed. “Cept I know I’ll be back here day after t’morra, and either you give me what you owe, or I’ll take what I can get out of your skin.”
Heavy footsteps headed towards her, and Dar only just stepped back in time to avoid being smashed in the face as the door slammed open. A tall, burly man in a tank top and far too tight jeans shoved past her, giving her a cursory glance as he went by.
Dar stared at his back, before she turned and entered the restaurant. Her appearance startled Bud and Charlie, and they broke apart a little, before the recognized her and relaxed. “What’s going on?” She asked, without preamble.
“Morning, Dar.” Charlie couldn’t quite summon his usual friendly smile. “Get a good night’s sleep?”
Bud studied the floor.
“Fine.” Dar replied briefly. “What’s going on?” She asked again.
“Not your business.” Bud answered gruffly.
“Bud.” Charlie frowned. “Just a little business stuff, Dar. Nothing major.”
Dar put her hands on her hips and gave them both the kind of look she usually reserved for newly hatched sales managers questioning her decisions. “I deal with business ‘stuff’ all the time, and I never get threatened with bodily harm, though most of the people I deal with probably consider it.” She remarked. “Can the crap. What’s Cheapside Guido’s problem?”
“It’s NONE of your business!” Bud snapped, turning and thrusting his way into the kitchen. The hinged door flapped behind him wildly, then stopped with a sodden thunk.
Charlie sighed, and rubbed his forehead. “Damn it.”
Dar waited with moderate patience. “C’mon, Charlie. You really want me to just forget it and leave? I will. “ She offered. “But if you need help, I’m listening.”
Charlie glanced towards the door, then shrugged a little. “We can handle it.” He finally said. “It’s just the loan we took out to start up this place.” He plucked at the pocket on his shorts. “Taking a little longer to pay back than we’d planned, but we’ll work it out.”
Dar studied him. “He wasn’t from Bank of America.”
Charlie snorted softly. “Hell no. Two beaten up Navy scrubs – you think they’d give us a loan?” He asked. “We just went to the co-op. But anyway.” He determinedly regained his good humor. “Everything settle down from last night? We chit chatted with Bob for a while, he’s quite a talker.”
“Charlie.” Dar leaned against the wall. She plucked a pencil from Charlie’s pocket and picked up a piece of torn envelope that was sitting on the counter next to them. “Here.” She wrote down a phone number, then handed the envelope and the pencil back to him. “If that shark starts biting your ass, call me.”
Reluctantly, he took the paper. “Dar, I appreciate it, but we can handle this. Bud’d sooner cut his arm off than ask for help.” He hesitated. “Specially yours.” His face was apologetic.
“Too bad.” Dar told him bluntly. “Tell him to grow up and get over it.”
“I have to ask people I can’t stand for things every day.”
“It’s not that he doesn’t like you, Dar.” Charlie protested hastily. “He does. We both do. He just can’t forget stuff in the past with your dad, and…”
“I… am not my dad.” Dar broke in, leaning forward.
“No, I know that.” Charlie sighed. “I know that, Dar.” He ventured a smile. “Though, you did grow up to look a whole lot like him, y’know.”
Dar sighed inwardly, then gave up the effort, deciding on a different tack. “Yeah, that’s what people tell me.” She admitted. “Listen, we’re heading out. Anything you guys need out there we can drop off on the way back?”
Charlie relaxed, now that the conversation had turned. “WD40.” He joked, tapping his artificial knee. “Always running out of the damn stuff.” He cleared his throat. “Listen, Dar… you guys were asking about pirates last night…”
“Hm?” Dar crossed her arms.
The big ex-serviceman glanced around. “They ain’t always what they seem.” He said.
“What do you mean?” Dar asked.
“Chuck!” Bud’s voice interrupted. “Fish man’s here!”
Charlie glanced at the kitchen. “Them jerks last night… they ain’t the kinda pirates we know about.” He said quickly. “That’s all I’m saying. Good luck, good trip.” He put a hand on the door, then took a last look at Dar. “Tell your dad I said hey.”
Dar watched him disappear. She released a sigh, letting her glance travel around the inside of the tattered, and somewhat threadbare restaurant. With a silent shake of her head, she turned and left the room, emerging back into the sunlight. The island’s emptiness surrounded her, and as she walked back towards the dock, her mind turned over the puzzle pieces that though scattered, were beginning to nudge at her with their curious nature.
She spotted the loan shark as she walked onto the dock. He was standing next to a small, racy looking runabout with another man, half his size. They were both looking at the Dixieland Yankee, and they turned to watch her as she approached the boat.
“Hey baby.” The bigger man yelled over. “That your boat?”
Dar paused and looked at him over the tops of her sunglasses. “Yeah.” She replied briefly, as she paused to unloop the bow line.
“Want a good man to drive her?”
Dar tossed the line onboard then walked to the stern, releasing the boat and leaping onto the back deck. “No thanks.” She dropped the line, and dusted her hands off, turning her back on the two of them and ignoring their ribald laughter.
Kerry emerged from the cabin, an almost fierce grin crossing her face as she spotted Dar. “Thought I heard you.” She greeted her lover. “We outta here?”
“Oh yeah.” Dar made her way up to the flying bridge. “Let’s go find some better scenery.” She took her seat and started the engines up, adjusting the throttles and easing the boat out of the dock. At low tide, maneuvering in the cramped space was even more difficult than usual, and she had to really concentrate to avoid taking out part of the dock on her way out.
She cleared the last pylon and turned into the channel, feeling the wind pick up as she increased speed, heading out across the green blue water.
Kerry placed her deck chair on the stern carefully, half turned so she could look up and watch Dar at the controls of the boat. She settled into it as Bob took the seat next to her, and resigned herself to a trip full of small talk. “So, Bob – you never did get around to saying last night. Were you on vacation?”
Bob leaned on the chair arm. “Vacation? I wish.” He sighed. “No, it’s… “ He glanced around. “Kinda stupid, really.”
If he tells me he came out here looking for his one true love, I’ll chuck up on him. Kerry thought, while keeping a pleasant expression on her face. “How stupid could it be?” She asked.
He edged a little closer. “Remember I said about my grandparents?”
“From Boston.” Kerry promptly replied.
“Yeah.” Bob nodded. “My grandfather was lost at sea.”
Kerry straightened a little. “Oh. I’m really sorry to hear that.” She said sincerely. “How did it happen?”
“He was the captain of a .. um.. fishing boat.” Bob admitted. “Not very glamorous, I know, but he was really successful at it.” He added. “Anyway… he was on a trip out here to the islands, and he just never came back.”
Kerry leaned back in her chair and tucked one leg up under her. “Wow.” She shook her head. “That’s really sad. They never found the boat, or anything?”
Bob gazed at her. “They know where it went down. This guy who was a witness contacted my grandmother and sold her a map… “
Bob shrugged. “Yeah, I know.. probably a sucker deal. But she gave me the map, and I decided I’d come out here and see what I could find.”
Kerry frowned. “You don’t even know if it’s accurate.”
“No, but it’s something.” Bob said. “Problem is, I came out here, and found out the spot he was supposed to go down in’s been licensed by some salvage outfit.”
One of Kerry’s eyebrows hiked slightly. “Really?”
“Yeah, I tried to talk to them, but they ran me out of there.” Bob shook his head. “Real bunch of jerks. Big money types, you know.” He gave her a wry smile. “The kind that like to let you know it.”
“Uh huh.” Kerry wondered if it was the same pair they’d run into. “Were they sort of young? A thin guy, and a bossy woman?”
Surprised, Bob nodded. “Yeah! You know them?”
Kerry got up and paced over to the cooler, opening it and removing a chilled bottle of ice tea. She was aware of Bob’s eyes on her back - could almost feel the heat between her shoulder blades – and she briefly wished she’d put her overalls on over her sheer bathing suit. “Not exactly.” She answered the question. “We ran into them back at that island. They were asking about a site Dar and I dove that day.” She returned. “I guess it was part of that area you’re interested in.”
“Really?” Bob murmured. “So you’re a real diver, huh? Got all your own gear?”
Kerry nodded. “Sure.” She opened her tea and took a sip. “Dar’s a master diver.” She glanced fondly up at her lover, who was leaning back with one bare foot propped up against the console. “We’ve even got a compressor on board for refills.”
“I always wanted to learn to dive.” Bob said. “You got any pointers for me?” He asked. “Hey, how about a lesson tomorrow?”
Eight bit card, thirty-two bit bus. Kerry sighed inwardly. “Sorry, we’ve got plans.” She said. “But there are lots of places in St. John that have certification courses.”
“Yeah, I’d better get my insurance stuff straightened out anyway tomorrow.” Bob sighed. “You staying anywhere special on the island?”
“Dar made the reservations.” Kerry smiled. “I can’t remember the name of the place.”
Kerry spotted a fringe of land on the port side of the boat. She got up and peered around the corner of the cabin. A low, beautiful island stretched out before her, offering a semicircle of pure white beach backed by lush, green foliage. “Wow.”
Bob came up behind her. “Yeah. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” He murmured. “Hey, maybe I’ll stick around a few days, since I can’t do anything else, might as well catch some rays, right?”
Kerry exhaled silently, her eyes rolling out of his line of vision.
“Besides, I owe you dinner and a drink.” Bob said. “You gotta let me do that, at least, for what you did for me.”
Yikes. Kerry watched the marina approach. “Dar? You want me to call in to the dockmaster?”
“Yeap.” Dar responded. “Looks like it’s busy.”
Kerry turned. “Excuse me.” She waited for Bob to back off, then walked to the cabin radio. “St. John Marina, St. John Marina, this is Dixieland Yankee, over.”
“That’s a cute name.” Bob offered. “Does it mean something?”
Kerry eyed him wryly. “She’s the Dixie part, and I’m the Yankee.” She explained simply.
“Dixieland Yankee, this is St. John. G’wan.”
Bob cocked his head, producing a puzzled smile. “Oh.” He said. “You guys related?”
Kerry sighed, and leaned against the cabin door. “St. John, we have a reservation for a berth. Please advise.” She gave Bob a kindly smile. “You might want to sit down. Sounds like a busy dock.”
“Okay.” Bob wandered over and took a seat, leaving Kerry to finish her radio work.
“Gotcha, Dixieland Yankee, tenth row, third berth. You’ve got 54 feet, yeah?”
“That’s a roger.” Kerry replied. “Thanks.” She put the radio down, and walked to the ladder, climbing up it as fast as dignity allowed and joining Dar at the console. “Row 10, slot three.” She sat down and rested her elbows on her knees. “Dar…”
“How’s your little worshipper doing?” Dar drawled, giving her a wicked smile. “He invited you to dinner yet?”
Kerry sighed. “Dinner, drinks, diving, you name it.” She muttered. “Why do guys always do that?”
Dar eyed her. “Cause you’re charming and adorable?”
“Pffffttt.” Kerry stuck her tongue out . “But you know something? He had a run in with those 24 karat sleezoids we met on the island, too.”
“Yeah. He’s looking for the wreck of his grandfather’s fishing boat. Supposedly it went down in that area they blocked off.”
Dar frowned. “Busy spot of ocean.”
They looked at each other. Kerry scratched her jaw. “Um. He really did ask me to dinner, to thank me for saving his life.” She studied Dar’s face. “Would you mind if I went?”
Dar’s expression went still for a moment, only the tiny muscles on the sides of her eyes twitching. A silence fell between them, then Dar glanced at the oncoming marina and adjusted their course. She watched the console for a moment, then returned her eyes to Kerry’s face. “Yes, I would mind.” She spoke very softly.
Kerry felt a mixture of surprise and pleasure. Surprise, because she expected Dar to profess a disinterest in preventing her from going, and pleasure because of the gut level honesty of the actual reaction she’d gotten. “Good.” She exhaled. “Because I would if it were me.”
Dar grinned briefly. “Jealousy’s an interesting sensation.” She commented, before she returned her careful attention to their approach.
“Mm.” Kerry agreed, watching the island grow larger. “Ain’t that the truth.”
Kerry nudged the door to their room open, and peered inside. “Whoa.” She chuckled as she entered, tossing her overnight bag down on the king size bed. “Definitely more colorful than your average Marriott.”
Dar closed the door. She eyed the peach walls, strongly patterned carpet, and rich fabrics on the windows and bed with a half grin. “I like it.” She decided. “Wouldn’t want it in my bedroom, but it’s nice for a change.” She put her own bag down and reviewed the rest of the room. It had a nice, high peaked ceiling with a fan, and a dual vent to remove the hot air from the room. The windows were large, and featured a gorgeous view of the half circle bay and the atmosphere was light and airy.
Kerry went to the window and looked out. “Nice.” She turned and leaned on the sill, watching Dar take off her sunglasses and toss them on the table. Bob had scampered off to take care of his business when they’d docked much to Kerry’s relief, and she was looking forward to exploring the resort’s interesting offerings. She’d spotted kayaks, among other things, and seen mention in the lobby of a rum tasting demonstration.
“Very nice.” Dar lifted a bottle of complimentary rum from the sideboard and held it up. There was also bottled water. “Use this.” She cautioned Kerry. “I’ve had mixed results drinking from the tap.”
“Ah. Thanks.” Kerry said. “Not having phones was a surprise, though.”
“Mm.” Dar examined the discrete data port. “Internet access but no phones. Incredible.”
Kerry went to the locked, distressed leather briefcase Dar had put down on the chair. “I guess we’ve gotta bite the bullet, huh?” They’d agreed not to unlock the case, which held their cell phones and pagers, unless a total crisis was at hand.
“Yeap.” Dar tossed her the keys to the briefcase. “Probably better off using ours anyway.” She watched Kerry unlock the catch and open the case, sticking her hand inside and emerging with one of their two phones. “I know there’s phones outside in the lobby, but.. “
“Yeah.” Kerry tossed the phone to her. Then she wandered back over to the windows, discovering a patio outside. “Hey.” She opened the door and went out onto the stone edifice, alternately splashed with sunlight and the shade from nearby banana trees. It was quiet and peaceful, and the view of the water was really spectacular. “Breakfast out here tomorrow, I think.” Kerry mused, as a breeze off the water puffed her hair back out of her eyes.
With a satisfied grunt, she turned and went back inside their pleasant room, finding Dar sprawled across the king size canopy bed with the phone to her ear. The sight was so attractive, Kerry decided to join her, and she crawled over to where Dar was lying, flipping over onto her back and settling there as she watched the fan circle lazily overhead.
“That’s right, Mark. Just run it for me.” Dar inched her hand over and tugged a bit of Kerry’s hair. “I don’t have registration number.”
“Right, boss. How’s the vacation going?” Mark’s voice trickled from the cell phone’s speaker.
“Aside from nearly being heaved to by pirates, and Kerry saving a drowning man in a storm, it’s been pretty peaceful.” Dar replied blandly. “How’s it been there?”
Long silence. “Did you actually fucking say pirates?” Mark asked. “Holy shit, Dar!”
“You didn’t really think I could just have an ordinary vacation, did you?” Dar asked, with an amused smirk. “You didn’t answer my question.”
“Huh?” Mark spluttered. “Oh, here? It’s been dead.” He told her. “Honest.”
Dar waited silently. To pass the time, she blew gently in Kerry’s ear, and watched her torso shiver as she held back a laugh.
“Well, just the usual shit, you know, boss.” Mark finally admitted. “Nothin you guys need to worry about.”
Kerry turned her head at that and her green eyes widened. “Mark?” She raised her voice. “You just made me really nervous.”
Dar covered her eyes. “Mark, just spill it.” She sighed.
“Honest, guys. Just more of the usual.” Mark insisted. “We got some international lines down, and one of the northwest data centers crashed. I had to overnight them a bunch of stuff.”
Kerry eyed her partner. “Doesn’t sound that bad.” She mouthed.
Dar shrugged. “Did the new DC nodes come in?”
“Yep.” Mark sounded relieved. “Hey… listen. I’m glad you called for one thing – we got an early drop date for the new backup IPC.”
“Whoohoo.” Kerry pumped her fist in the air.
“Incredible.” Dar agreed. “I thought we’d be waiting until February.” She added.
“Well, boss – nothing came back on those guys.” Mark said. “Not on the first run – you want me to keep going?”
Dar frowned. “Nothing?”
“Nothing on that name, no – or the two other names you gave me.” Mark said. “But that’s just a DMV and Marine reg – I’ll do a deep run on em. You want me to give you callback?”
“Yeah.” Dar said. “We’re going to….” She paused. “What are we going to do now, Ker?”
Kerry lifted both hands in the air and produced an engaging grin.
“We’re gonna do something probably involving water and or food.” Dar said into the phone. “I’ll keep the phone on. Let me know if you find anything, okay?”
“Will do, boss.” Mark said. “You guys have a great time, huh? No more freaking pirates!”
“Do our best.” Kerry called out. “Thanks, Mark. Tell everyone we said hi!”
Dar hung up the phone and let it rest on the covers. Now that she’d started her query in motion, she felt satisfied to let it take what time it did, and concentrate on resuming her vacation in the meanwhile. “Want to just hike out and explore the place for a while?” She asked. “We’re in the middle of the National Park here.”
Kerry nodded. “I like that idea.” She said. “It’s so pretty. Reminds me a little of that hammock down by Old Cutler we went to that one time.” She sat up. “Okay – on with the hiking boots, then.” She patted Dar’s leg. “Let’s go find us some pretty lizards.”
Lizards, they found in plenty along with other wildlife. Dar gingerly examined a vivid, bright green snake curled on a branch, taking care to keep her hands far away from it. “Did you see this?” She asked Kerry, who was busy taking a picture of some gorgeous flowers.
“See what?” Kerry trotted over and peered. “Oh!” She quickly brought her camera up and focused. “Hey, aren’t you going to grab its tail and tell me what a beauty it is?”
Dar glanced down. “Does wearing khaki shorts and hiking boots require me to channel Steve Irwin?” She asked.
“Tell you what tail I’m gonna grab.” Dar waited for her to snap the picture, then acted, grabbing onto Kerry’s tail and making her hop forward with a startled squawk. “Isn’t she a beauty?” Dar mimicked. “Lookit the bottom on that one!”
“Wench.” Kerry reached behind her and tickled Dar’s ribs, then continued down the path. They were surrounded by lush greenery, and a rich, organic smell filled her lungs as the wind stirred the branches slightly.
The jungle around them thinned ahead, and revealed a mossy, stone covered building. “Look, Dar.” Kerry motioned towards it. “Is that one of the sugar mills?”
“Must be.” Dar lead the way towards the structure. It was just a pile of old stone now, a mixture of coral foundation and crudely made brick. They climbed onto it, and looked around. Dar imagined she could still smell the tang of raw sugar cane, something she’d last tasted as a young child. “You ever chew sugar cane?” She asked Kerry.
“Me?” Kerry was kneeling next to a piece of machinery long overgrown with ivy. “You’re kidding, right?” She looked over her shoulder at Dar. “One, I don’t think it grows in Michigan, and two – my mother would have cut the hands off anyone giving it to me.” She paused. “Have you?”
“Sure.” Dar grinned. “The best is to get a nice piece, chew it a little, then dunk it in your lemonade.”
Kerry’s gaze went inward for a moment, as she worked out the potential tastes, then she wiggled her eyebrows and licked her lips. “Mm.” She got up and snapped a picture of the bit of machinery. “That does sound really good.”
Dar wandered over to a row of old, wooden basins nailed into the walls with rusted iron spikes. The mill had made sugar for sale, and for the rum and molasses that had been the reason for the island’s colonization. Slaves had worked here, under increasingly brutal conditions until they’d eventually risen up and conquered their masters, driving the plantation owners out and leaving the island to peacefully stagnate until modern times and modern tourism.
“Must have been brutal working here.” Dar mused, touching grooves worn in the wooden sinks from countless wrists resting on them, washing the cane.
“Mm.” Kerry agreed, imagining the sweltering summer heat. “Maybe we should bring the staff over here when they start complaining about the vending machine selection.”
Dar chuckled. “Just take lots of pictures.” She advised. “Wow, did you see that?”
“What is it?” Kerry examined the huge wheels curiously.
“Grinding stone.” Dar explained. “They put the cane between that and ground it up, to get the sugar syrup out.”
Kerry leaned over and sniffed the stone. “Just smells like mildew now.” She said. “It’s hard to believe that a place like this, as full of misery as it must have been, produced something so many people regard as a treat.”
“Yeah.” Dar agreed. “Speaking of, want to stop and have our sandwiches?”
They picked a spot on the edge of the coral foundation, after Dar spent a moment making sure they weren’t about to sit on any snakes or scorpions. Kerry opened the pack Dar had been carrying and removed a thermos bottle and two neatly wrapped packages. She set the thermos down and unwrapped the sandwiches, revealing crusty French bread wrapped around spicy shrimp salad.
“Wow.” Kerry handed Dar hers. “This looks great. All this hiking made me hungry.”
“Mmph.” Dar had already taken a bite. She uncapped the thermos and poured out a capful of its contents, taking a sip and passing it over to Kerry. “Coconut and passion fruit. Interesting.”
“Very.” Kerry washed down her mouthful and took another. She kicked her heels against the foundation and looked around, enjoying the food, the view, and the utter freedom of being in an unknown place with the person she loved best in the world.
“They’ve got horseback trails. “ Dar commented hopefully. “Interested?”
Kerry glanced at her knowingly. “Make a deal with you.” She bargained adroitly. “Horseback riding one day, windsailing the next?” She didn’t quite have the enthusiasm Dar did about horses, but then Dar didn’t quite share her love of wild water sports.
However. Compromise was good. It was a learning process, like everything else was, but slowly they’d worked out a way to balance their differences.
Mostly. Kerry acknowledged wryly. There were still some things they were working on. “Deal?”
“Okay.” Dar wiped her mouth with a paper napkin. She leaned back against the ruined wall and relaxed, while Kerry finished up her lunch, the blond woman resting her elbow on Dar’s knee. “A lot of people come out here and camp in the park.”
Kerry watched an ant the size of a Jeep walk by. “Good for them.” She said. “I admire their courage and fortitude.”
Dar watched the ant, almost jumping when the tiny animal was suddenly attacked by an almost invisible lizard, whose tongue whipped out and tethered the ant before the insect could even twitch its antenna. The lizard sucked the ant back in and casually chewed it, rotating an eye to peer up at Dar with benign disinterest.
“Ah.” Kerry blinked. “Mother Nature in action.” She held a hand out towards the lizard, and it reciprocated by opening its jaws wide, displaying bits of dismembered ant as well as a double ridge of tiny razor teeth. “Yikes.” She murmured. “Makes you feel really insignificant, doesn’t it?”
Dar reached over lazily and with a quick motion, captured the lizard. It struggled wildly as she brought it back over to her face. “Listen, buddy.” She growled at it. “Don’t threaten my girl, or I’ll make lizard burgers out of you, got me?”
Kerry had to laugh, at the bug eyed look on the lizard’s face.
“I don’t care how many rhino sized ants you suck up, you don’t scare me.” Dar warned, as the lizard stuck its tongue out at her. “So beat it.” She opened her hand and released the animal. It leaped off her hand and onto her shirt, then scampered up over her shoulder and onto the nearest bit of wall.
Kerry leaned against Dar’s knee, and gazed adoringly at her. Dar smirked, and managed a self-deprecating chuckle.
“Yeah?” Dar let her head rest against the wall.
“Anyone ever tell you you’re a lot of fun?”
Dar considered. “No, no one’s ever said that.” She replied matter-of-factly. “I have been told I’m like being in a phone booth with a dozen porcupines in heat, though.”
Kerry kissed Dar’s knee, then laid her cheek against it. “My question to whoever said that would be, of course, ‘how do you know?”
“It was Eleanor.”
“Ah. That explains a lot.” Kerry grinned, giving Dar’s leg a squeeze. “Well, you are a lot of fun, and I’m so totally enjoying this vacation.”
Dar grinned wholeheartedly back at her. “Me too.” She agreed. “Even with the pirates.” She leaned over and kissed Kerry gently on the lips. “I’m glad you’re having as much fun as I am.”
They rested there a few minutes more, then resumed their hike. Dar shouldered the pack and cinched the straps down, and they started off up a path that was now noticeably getting steeper. “Hey.” Dar observed. “It’s a hill.”
“Sure you can handle it, Dixiecup?” Kerry teased.
“Wanna find out?” Dar grinned. “Let’s race.” She broke into a jog.
“Pooters.” Kerry sighed. “Someday I’ll learn.” She shook her head and chased after Dar, hoping it wouldn’t be a really, really big hill.
“Urgh.” Kerry stepped under the pounding shower, scrubbing her body with a piece of natural sponge. She’d ended up their hike sweaty, covered in dirt, and full of leaves stuffed down her shirt courtesy of her lover, and the water felt heavenly as it washed away the grime.
But they’d had so much fun. Kerry washed a smear of green off her shoulder. After she’d chased Dar up the hill, they’d rolled down the other side, across a short swath of rich green undergrowth and into a muddy embankment over a small creek.
She’d painted Dar with a thumbful of mud with tiger stripes across her cheekbones, and they’d ended up going headfirst into the creek as they wrestled playfully.
“Uck.” Kerry soaped up her hair, which the mirror had shown to be closer to brown than blond from the mud. She watched the dirt rinse away down the drain, returning her locks to their normal color. Then she turned the water off and stepped out of the shower, toweling her body off briskly before donning one of the thick, comfortable robes the resort helpfully provided.
She opened the door and walked into their room, ruffling her hair dry. Dar was standing near the window talking on her cell phone clad in nothing but a brief, though fluffy towel that just barely covered her long torso from armpit to thigh. Her damp hair was slicked back, and it was all Kerry could do not to just walk over and remove the towel.
Instead, she merely sidled up to her partner, and waited until Dar made eye contact with her. “You look gorgeous when you’re wet.” She mouthed, causing Dar to stop in mid word, and blink.
“Uh…” Dar paused, her train of thought completely derailed. “Sorry, what was that, Mark?” She reached out and tweaked Kerry’s nose. “I got distracted.”
“No problem, Dar.” Mark said, with a stifled yawn. “Anyway, the long run came up with a ton of crap. I think you better take a look at it.”
“What is it?”
A long silence. “I think you’d better look at it – maybe you can make more sense of it than I could.” Mark answered.
“Hm.” Dar glanced at the sun, which was painting the sky as it begun it’s decent into the water’s edge. “All right. Go ahead and bundle it, and send it down. I’ll pick it up when I get back from dinner.”
“Gotcha.” Mark said. “Hey, everyone says hi. Maria says to tell you everything’s under control.”
Dar gave Kerry a look. “Good to hear.” She remarked. “Thanks, Mark.”
“No problem.” The MIS chief assured her. “Take it easy, Dar.”
Dar closed her phone, then focused her attention on the robe clad figure in front of her. “You, Kerrison, are a little troublemaker.”
Kerry grinned unrepentantly. “I learned from the best.” She poked Dar in the belly. “Did Mark find something?”
“Yeah.” Dar nodded. “Apparently he did, but he didn’t want to discuss it on the cell.”
“Yeah.” Dar seemed cheerful, however. “But I’d rather know what the hell I’m dealing with.” She leaned on the window and gazed out. “Can I interest you in joining me at the Equator?”
“Is that the restaurant in the old mill?”
Dar nodded. “Seeing as you were so interested in the ruins, I figured maybe you’d enjoy eating in one.” She picked up the colorful, cotton island shifts they’d gotten in the market. “And it’ll give us an excuse to wear these outside our living room.”
Kerry held one of them, a flame red, green, and bright yellow pattern up against Dar. “Oh yeah.” She grinned impishly. “I want to see you in this for sure.”
Dar plucked wryly at the garish garment. “Only for you would I do this.” She informed her lover. “I hope you realize that.”
“I do.” Kerry threw her arms around Dar in an unexpected hug, overwhelmed suddenly by a wave of emotion. She squeezed Dar hard, hardly able to breathe for a moment.
“Hey.” Dar murmured, returning the hug despite her confusion.
“Dear lord.” Kerry was surprised to feel the sting of tears. “How did I get so lucky to have found you?”
“Um.” Dar got caught flat footed. “You got hired by a company ILS took over?” She offered, hesitantly. “Besides… I thought I was the lucky one.”
Kerry shook her head mutely, burying her face in Dar’s bare shoulder.
Dar rubbed her back gently through the robe, simply holding Kerry until she felt her relax. “Sweetheart.” She murmured. “I’m glad you feel that way.”
Kerry sniffled, and just squeezed her harder. After a few more minutes, however, she exhaled, and tipped her head to one side, glancing up at Dar. “I’m not going crazy.”
Dar stroked her hair back, removing the remnants of her tears with the edge of her thumb. “I never thought you were.” She said. “We’ve just been through a hell of a lot together this year. You’re entitled to a few freak out moments.”
They were, it seemed, exactly the right words. Kerry’s face relaxed into a broad smile, and she gave Dar a very affectionate pat on the side. “Thanks, Dr. Dar.”
Dar Roberts, relationship expert and amateur psychologist. Dar felt a mental, slightly hysterical giggle coming on. “Anytime, sweetheart.” She kissed Kerry’s damp head instead. “I’ll always be here for you.”
Kerry felt a quiet resonance as she heard those words. They touched something deep inside her, and she felt her spirit calm in response to them as a smile appeared on her face. “I know you will.” She replied. “And I’ll always be there for you.” Her head lifted, and she met Dar’s eyes. “Thanks for understanding.”
Dar felt like she’d been visited with a miracle, because in a very deep way, she did understand. Or, at least, she understood that Kerry was hurting, and that she had the ability to stop the hurt and heal some of the pain.
That was a pretty damn nice feeling.
Kerry squared her shoulders and released Dar, holding her briefly by her shoulders before she picked up the shifts again. “Well then, let’s get our garish duds on, and go have some fun.”
Relieved, Dar returned the smile. “All right, let’s go.” She leaned over and touched the floral basket. “You’re not gonna make me wear one of these in my hair, are you?”
Kerry glanced at the flowers, then at Dar. A mischievous glint appeared in her eyes. “No…. you get out of that.” She demurred.
“Uh oh.” Dar put her hands on her towel clad hips. “I’m in trouble.”
“Heh… but not too much.” Kerry grinned, her spirits restored. “C’mon. Let’s go.”
The sun continued to dip lazily to the horizon, painting the sea in gold.