Like father, like daughter. We both seem to want to do everything we can to ignore our problems for a little while longer.
Leaning over and giving my dad a kiss on the cheek, I move away from the table and walk through the sand towards Brooke, hoping she can help me come up with a plan for getting Declan to join us.
Much to my surprise, when I spoke to Brooke after breakfast I found out she’d already formulated a plan without me and had Ben put it in motion. They scheduled a whole bunch of excursions for us on St. Croix and when Ben told the captain, he readily agreed to let Declan come with us.
While my dad took Allyson and Arianna shopping, the four of us spent the day doing everything St. Croix had to offer. Ben and Brooke smartly picked all the things the other two women would never want to do, just in case they decided to join us. We went to Rainbow Beach and snorkeled, we kayaked through Salt River National Park, hiked through Annaly Bay to the Carambola Tide Pools, then finished off our exploration of the island by stopping at the Divi Carina Bay Resort. The only resort on the island with a casino, where I happily proved to everyone just how good I am at blackjack by kicking Brooke’s ass every hand we played at the five-dollar table, while Ben and Declan stood behind our chairs and cheered me on.
After winning enough money and Brooke finally admitting defeat, she declared dinner was on me. Using his connections on the island, Declan spoke to the resort owner and got us two rooms to use for an hour where we could all shower and get ready for dinner. Since Brooke started planning for the day before we left the ship for breakfast, she packed both of us a backpack with an extra change of clothes so we didn’t have to waste time going back to the ship for anything, Declan and Ben did the same after they cleaned up from breakfast and took everything back to the ship.
After our non-stop fun, but exhausting day around the island, I was happy to see Brooke packed something casual for me to wear and didn’t require too much time getting ready. In my favorite pair of short, worn, but cute jean shorts and a teal, form-fitting t-shirt with a wide neck that hung off of one shoulder, I let my hair air dry into long, soft waves. We met the guys in the lobby where they’d already decided on the best place for dinner.
Brooke slipped her arm through the crook of Ben’s elbow and they led the way, Declan taking my hand and interlacing his fingers with mine like it was the most natural thing in the world as we followed behind them.
Now, with my stomach full of the best seafood I’ve ever eaten and nursing my third beer, Declan and I sit side-by-side on the deck of Rhythms Bar and Restaurant, our backs resting against the picnic table behind us, my feet propped up on the railing in front of us. We stare out at the ocean stretched out in front of us, listening to the faded sounds of the live band playing down on the beach under a canopy a few hundred yards away, both of us laughing when we spot our friends amongst the crowd of people. They’re lost in their own world dancing to the music together, neither one of them having any sort of coordination or grace as they flail their arms and whip their heads around like lunatics to that “If You Like Piña Coladas” song.
“This was fun. I needed this today,” I tell Declan softly, bringing my Corona up to my mouth and taking a sip as I bump my shoulder against his.
Slipping off his flip-flips next to my own that I abandoned as soon as we turned around on the bench seat a little while ago, he props his legs up on the railing next to mine. His thigh brushes against mine when he crosses his legs at the ankles, and I try not to shiver when he transfers his beer to his right hand, swinging his left arm around to rest on the table behind me, his fingers absently playing with a strand of my hair.
When he showered back at the resort, he changed out of his ship uniform, donning a clean pair of slate gray cargo shorts, pairing it with another one of his soft, faded t-shirts, this one white with the Helios logo in gray across the wide expanse of his chest. I can still smell the hotel soap on his skin from his shower, and I can’t take my eyes off of the muscles in his neck and the bobbing of his Adam’s apple as I watch him take a sip of his beer before turning his head to look at me.
“Brooke mentioned you’ve had a lot on your plate lately the other day when she was handing my ass to me. Everything okay?” Declan asks softly, his gorgeous green eyes filled with concern as they study me.
“No. But it will be. I hope…” I reply, trailing off, wondering what it is about this man that makes me want to spill all of my secrets and tell him everything.
“Let’s just say it’s been a rough year,” I continue with a sigh, knowing I’m supposed to be keeping things between us light and easy and not unloading all of my problems on him.
I know today wasn’t a date. I know technically he and Ben had to accompany Brooke and me all around the island because it’s their job, but I couldn’t stop myself from pretending that it was more, just for a little while. I know the two of us have no future, and once I leave the Helios I’ll never see him again. Maybe opening up to him makes me a fool, but it’s impossible not to share a part of myself with him when the look on his face says he cares, even if I’m imagining it.
“To say I wasn’t happy about my father’s choice to remarry is an understatement,” I admit. “It’s not that I expected him to be alone forever, I just thought he’d make a better choice. Things have just gone downhill since then. He doesn’t have a lot of time for me, and he’s been ignoring problems that have been staring him in the face for months. I’m not really looking forward to going back home, where reality is going to crash in like a bull in a China shop, and he won’t be able to ignore things anymore. At work or at home.”