15 - What Happens on A Cruise, Stays on The Cruise
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An injection of air ignited her lungs; her body switched itself awake.
Lemara felt as though the sun had just gone down, the bedroom wide awake and washed in the morning's sunshine, dictated differently. Closing her eyes once more, she rolled over, burying her head in between four pillows, tenting herself further under the duvet.
It was quiet, serene, and she lay there, breathing peacefully until her memory rehashed the room. Elbowing back the duvet, she listened; the ghostly silence, loud. Her eyes played dance party with the room, except none of the moves registered. Her heartbeat, however, was taking on an unpleasant thumping pace. Warily, she sat up in the bed, elbows resting on her thighs, hands cupping her face, eyes surveying the room. The position of the bed seemed inverse, or was it the angle of the ship. Her brain hadn't fully engaged, and it suspended between her memory of Harry but unsure where. She only knew it wasn't her room, and that's not quite how the bed was yesterday morning.
In front of her, an object on the desk gave her the full dose of her wake up shot. And her chest tightened.
She outwardly spluttered through the uncomfortable feeling her sight painted for her memory. Sitting in its high court position on the desk was Joshua's piloting sunglasses, judging her entire demeanour. At the realisation, she folded herself onto the duvet in shame.
This was her suite, the one she should be happily sharing with her man for the remainder of the cruise, awaking next to him in cuddles, kisses, laughter and the scent of their entanglement buried in the sheet's threads. Instead, the space on the bed next to her was untouched.
Gingerly Lemara crawled out of bed, picking up her wrap along the way to the bathroom, then to the living room, calling Joshua's name ever so quietly as she reached the middle of the room. Only the emptiness of the chair she'd left him in hours earlier greeted her.
Josh! She called back towards the kitchen.
Met with a chastising silence, Lemara moved out onto the deck.
No one could complain the sun didn't work in this part of the world.
Only eight in the morning, and the temperature was searing at eighty-two degree Fahrenheit. She adjusted her wrap. It's light, so bright it darkened her vision and birds squawking overhead seemed more to curse at her than anything else.
None of the bliss her man turning up unexpectedly should have brought with it. Adjusting her wrap once more, she inhales the air. At least that seemed to have been kissed, if only by the Caribbean Sea's raw, salty notes.
The ship had already docked but not with their side facing the port. In the distance, she could see land and remembering Cozumel was an island just off Mexico's coast, she surmised that must be it.
Her eyes fell to the water below, her mind to the bridge's wings last night and everything else that followed. The raw ache pinched, shooting her through the heart!
Bon Jovi's lyrics had registered their true meaning; only she was the one to have brought it on herself. Layering the top of the railings with her arms, she rested her chin and peered over the balcony.
Then it dawned.
Had he even slept there? She just as quickly dismissed it. That wasn't Joshua. Though the same could not be said for herself over the last few days. And could she blame him if her cavalier behaviour pushed an unsuspecting button?
Memory lane took her back to three years ago in a hotel in Singapore with Julia. Her first trip to Singapore and Joshua's friend's wedding. And because Joshua couldn't make it, Julia came in his place. Unknown to Lemara at the time, Julia had covertly questioned her on cheating one of those mornings. That was the morning after she'd briefly sat out on the verandah of their hotel's courtyard suite with the guy who had helped her, help a tipsy Julia back to their suite. None the less, she'd passed. One thing she'd often recalled from that trip was what Julia had said to her.
My brother is a pilot and, compared to the rest, a bit of a bore. Trust me, I know. But better that, than one that gives you a warren of headaches. So do not mistreat him, and he'll treat you better than he treats himself. And he treats himself well!
Those words now tore at her, and her lungs fought with her chest frame for air. Thinking she heard their main door, she moved to the sliding doors to look, but it was just her thoughts.
This was her doing. How was she to fix it? How was she to explain her rocking of the boat over the last couple of days? Her words were continually fighting with each other to leave her lips in any coherent fashion. And when indeed the battle stilled, her lips turned crypt, burying it all in.
Bare countertops stared back at her from their fitted positions when she walked into the kitchen. No freshly delivered coffee greeted her, and no coffee machine.
A slight oversight, she was sure. Picking up the phone to dial the butler, the suite's front door clicked open.
Joshua strolled in, his skin glistening with sweat where his clothes weren't stuck to his body, a towel in one hand, a coffee in the other. Her spirits were delighted.
Hey! She greeted him as pleasingly as she could from the doorway of the kitchen.
He looked up from the towel he'd dried his face in, and when their eyes met, her chest caved. Her stomach slumped back to the pits it must indeed belong in.
He blinked as if not expecting to see her standing there.
Hi. He retorted.
Did you go to the gym? Making small talk as he walked by her.
I was shooting some hoops on the ball court.
Ohh, I didn't know there was a court on here.
He paused just in front of her as she spoke, about to respond, but he quickly shifted his thinking and kept walking. His natural masculine scent registering a tremor on her Richter scale. The one cup of coffee he finished and neatly shot the empty cup in the bin.
No coffee for me? Her voice slightly weaker.
I thought you'd still be sleeping.
Ohh! Lemara spurted.
In the four years they'd been together, a single cup of coffee had never come home.
Should I order us some breakfast? She called to him in the bathroom.
You can, but I'm not hungry.
Lemara's eyes fell to the floor, and the sound of the shower going cancelled out anything else she wanted to say.
Whatever else you do today, Lemara, it will be in your interest to bring Joshua's nose and the horizon level.
This situation was causing Joshua's nose to pitch down, and that was proving to be disorientating.
Aviation speak, but she is indeed dealing with a pilot. Not when he was in the throws of his command course to become captain was he this disengaging.
Still, she dialled for the butler and continental breakfast for two.
A Danish pastry had successfully glazed her lips. Their butler Gerard, also full of morning cheer, busied himself laying out the breakfast in the kitchen.
Ahh, Ms Hiisen, you will be pleased to know that your driss will be ready and back with you this afternoon.
The danish, on its second trip to her lips, was held in suspension. Not because she hadn't noticed her butler was South African but because she immediately remembered the blue dress. The one Harry had teasingly buttoned her into before heatedly stripping her out of, now sitting in laundry services. That dress, the source of the tension between herself and her man.
She glanced sideways at Gerard.
Dress? She asked, double-checking she had heard him correctly.
Yis. The white driss.
Ahh! The tunic?
Yis. You will never know it had any marks on it.
Thank you, Gerard. (And you will never know the vexation that followed when no one picked up our call this morning.) She mooned.
Gerard... (Lemara paused, contemplating how best to string the next sentence in order to retrieve the blue dress Harry sent to the laundry back.)
While Gerard poured her a cup of coffee, Lemara stood and stared at the back of his head, agonising over her next sentence.
As if sensing she was about to invite an uninvited name to the suite, a subtle, musky veil of Joshua's fragrance joined them in the kitchen, hinting his shower was over.
Actually, Gerard, it's okay!
Are you sure, Madam?
Yes, I am sure.
If you change your mind...
No, it's okay! Cutting him off.
He handed her the cup of coffee, checked again there wasn't anything else and left.
For a second time that morning, the suite was quiet.
Josh! Carefully choosing her note.
Lemara. Her name becoming both a question and an answer.
What are we doing today?
That would be horseback riding, Lemara.
Are we? Putting the coffee down, almost cantering towards the bedroom door. Ohh, but I have nothing to wear.
She caught a picture of Joshua's face and his shirtless torso as he peered out the bedroom door. A picture of 'and why don't you know that' painted across it, shooting her dead in her strut. She halted. He disappeared back into the room, returning shortly with a pair of coffee-coloured breeches and her phone, kissing her on the head as he gave them to her. Luckily, no one was watching because that kiss was the kiss of Judas.
Read your messages. The three words very pronounced.
And he disappeared once again back into the bedroom.
She'd just spent the last minute compounding an already terrible situation, dipping Joshua's nose further below its horizon. For someone who's boyfriend is a pilot, she had picked up nothing on reading an attitude indicator.
Throwing the breeches over her left shoulder, she crept back into the kitchen, sipping the cup of coffee Gerard had poured.
Picking up where she'd left off yesterday, she hastily finished Joshua's unread messages to her.
Also, have you seen there's horseback riding in Cozumel? Do you want to do that? I think we should; you've always wanted to.
Gonna get you a pair of breeches. Actually, have Julia get you a pair. That way they'll be no stone-cold faces between us. Missing you as always xxx
Baby, are you getting my messages???
Grand Cayman is all yours. Let me know what you've decided, if anything.
By the way, did you take your red dress with you? I can't seem to find it. Let me know. Missing you as always xxx
Hun, I hope you're ok and by some means getting these messages.
Ok, this silence is uncomfortable. Almost driving me mad. I'm going to call you.
The next day.
Em, I've called 5 times. Says number not in range. Hoping that's all it is.
Wheels up shortly. Next time I text you, it'll be from Mexico next. Seeing you soon!
Baby, we've just landed. Wish I could come straight to you but don't suppose a few more hours will hurt waiting for your ship to dock tomorrow morning. Missing you you as always xxx
Guilt seeped through her stomach's lining.
Could anyone possibly be upset with Joshua and his current disposition right now? Certainly not her.
Lemara closed her eyes, massaging the spot between her eyebrows as if she had a headache. She had cast aside her man to play 'happy couple' with another. And all that time he was thinking about her. She really didn't know how to face Joshua after that. There was no defence she could build for her case that'll prove adequate.
Even that unread message from Eleanor maybe a notch up on the happy scale compared to how she felt.
Turns out, Eleanor wanted to take her to lunch on the weekend to congratulate her on completing her Masters. Now that was unexpected, like birdsong on a winter's evening.
Was Eleanor finally warming to her? Or was it the Masters she now had to her name? Either way, it wasn't going to be possible, and so she quickly texted her back to confirm. Although Lemara was sure, Eleanor was aware of this (Joshua would have told her). Still, a quick text replying and acknowledging her kindly offer would be the nice thing to do.
Dressed in a grey, knee-length shorts, his polo shirt adorning one hand instead of the chest that didn't greet her this morning, Joshua strode into the living room, his phone and tablet in the other. His fragrance hanging about him so deliciously.
Leaning onto the door frame, Lemara's forefinger and middle finger marked her lips as she took a deep breath, inhaling him all in. She watched him as he took a seat facing her at the far end of the room and went onto his phone. Neither said anything.
He had since been staring at his screen intently when he asked.
Em, I'm going to ask again. Did you know Harry before you came on the cruise?
What on earth was he looking at on his phone? The question nabbed her, causing her to tilt her head ever so slightly as if uncertain she had heard what she had heard.
Joshua, I promise you, I'd never before met him.
Their eyes once more locked like antlers.
Josh, we did not know each other before this cruise. (Feeling the need to cement what truth there was of the situation.) We briefly crossed paths as I was leaving the hotel in Fort Lauderdale, but that was it.
Locked hard, but she couldn't nudge, neither could she withdraw; that move belonged to Joshua. And when he did, he went back to looking at his phone's screen.
She had well and truly, rocked this boat.
What time do we need to be at the horse riding place? Lemara asked, wanting to create some pleasant atmospheric conditions in the suite.
You've got an hour and a half. Looking at his watch.
I'll go get showered and ready.
Typical, her phone chose to go off just as she stepped into the shower. She was almost sure she heard an echo in the living room, too; whoever it was would have to wait. The steaming hot shower considerably more enticing than whatever message had come through. Braids piled high on her head, she stood with her back to the door - water cascading off her, her forehead resting on the cool slate. Her mobile went off once again, causing her to come out of her daze, and she turned around. Still, through the steam, she thought she saw Joshua standing in the doorway. But when he hadn't moved, she switched off the shower, crinkling the corners of her eyes to adjust her focus.
It was Joshua alright, feet crossed at his ankles, his phone in one hand, the other supporting him off the door frame and still shirtless.
Face sombre, Lemara thought, Oh Gawd what now!
Sensing whatever it was couldn't be right, she delayed taking his phone he was handing her by reaching for a towel, dabbing her face dry. With one reserved hand, she took the phone, the other she used to clasp the towel to her chest, letting it drape against her dripping wet body to the floor.
On the screen, just in, a message to their trio group chats from Julia.
Em, the guy on your left in the photo, where do we know him from?