Alex picked me up precisely at one and loaded my belongings into the back of his SUV. I tried not to go anywhere unprepared, so I had packed a spare change of clothes, my bathing suit, a beach towel and some personal hygiene items. The last thing I wanted was to not be fresh and clean around him. He, of course, had packed his own bag and as we headed towards Long Beach, he told me how Bernie had gotten so sad after leaving his female companion. I returned my own tale of my Daisy’s behavior and suggested that maybe they should see each other more often. My date agreed and before I knew it we were pulling up into a parking lot.
He came around and got my door and as I climbed from the vehicle I noticed the large ship that towered over the dock it was parked by. It rose high into the sky with a mast that seemed to go up for miles.
“Wow…” I breathed out as Alex took my hand and began to lead me towards the dock where the magnificent ship awaited, “what is that boat?”
“That’s the Queen Mary. Use to be one of the most world renowned ocean liners.”
I gaped at its beauty, forgetting I was supposed to be walking and nearly tripped over a rock.
“Whoa, you okay?” His strong hands caught my arm and he kept me from hitting the ground.
A slight blush crept over my cheeks. “Yes, sorry….”
“Hey, it’s okay.” He flashed his charming smile and took my hand again, giving it a warm squeeze.
We resumed our walking and I paid more attention to where I was going while stealing quick glances to the large ship. “What’s it doing here?”
“It’s a tourist attraction.”
“Really?” I glanced at him with wide eyes.
He chuckled and slowed his pace some so we could observe the ship. “Yeah, there’s a hotel and they’ll do special events and tours, things like that.”
“That’s really cool. Have you ever been on it?”
“Not yet, but maybe one day.”
“Yeah,” I echoed him then glanced around, “so, where are we going?”
“Right over here…” He directed us across a street then over to a large open area where two helicopters waited.
My brows rose and I glanced around, wondering if we were going to be boarding them. After all, Catalina Island was an island and there were probably only a few ways to access it.
Alex excused himself and moved over to where a couple men were waiting, they spoke for a few minutes then he rejoined me. “Hope you don’t get air sick.”
I giggled low and shook my head, my eyes trained on the helicopters that one man was now heading towards. “Are we going on one of those?”
“That’s exactly what we’re doing.” He wiggled his brows in a playful manner then led me along to where the man had now boarded one of the crafts.
It didn’t take long to get ourselves situated inside the helicopter with our baggage tucked away, and we were even given the earphones with the mics so we could communicate. Soon, the chopper had its blades spinning and we were lifting into the air.
I watched out the window in amazement as the ground became farther away and we began to move towards the ocean. “This is so cool!” I had never been in a helicopter before and the only view of the ocean I had seen from overhead was from 32,000 feet as we were flying over the Pacific to Hawaii.
“Yeah, it is pretty cool.” My date chimed in as he peered out next to me.
I tried to look ahead to see where we were going. “Where is this island at?”
“Um, it’s a little ways out there. It’ll take us about fifteen minutes.” He settled back into the seat and I turned to look at him.
“You’re welcome.” He took my hand and brought it to his mouth, kissing my knuckles softly.
I giggled lowly then glanced back outside, watching as we flew over the Pacific and noting the different boats and jet skis that littered the crisp blue water. It was a view unlike anything I’d ever seen before and I had no idea why I felt that way. I had seen things more beautiful; the breathtaking views of Hawaii, autumn colors splashed on the trees in Connecticut and sunsets from my balcony. But something inside of me was touched and I could feel myself slowly coming alive. Normally, I would run, but in this moment it felt right; and so I watched with awe and wonderment as the helicopter took us far over the ocean and to the island.
The view of the landing was as stunning as the takeoff had been. The island looked so alive and bright with colors and people that laughed and enjoyed their day. I was filled with this energy the minute I climbed from the aircraft and eagerly took hold of my date’s hand, leading him along with me.
“Where are we going?” He asked in a cute tone.
I glanced around and slowed my gait, chuckling low at myself. “I have no idea.”
Alex laughed and pulled me closer to him. “What do you say to trying out some jet skis?”
A beautiful smile graced my face. “That sounds fun.”
“Great, c’mon.” And with that he steered us towards the beach.
Twenty minutes later we were suited up and wearing the life vests the jet ski rental place required you to wear. Our skis were loaded into the water and we were given the normal operating instructions and safety rules. After making sure we had signed the waivers, they left us on our own and we were soon boarded and heading out towards more open water.
It took me a few to refamiliarize myself with the personal watercraft, but soon I had it under control. The last time I could even remember being on one of these things was the summer I was 16. I had gone with a friend to her parent’s cabin on a lake and we’d spend our days out on the jet skis or lying on the beach. That had been a good vacation. We had met a couple of the guys from across the lake and had our summer flings, of course they were innocent compared to teenagers today. And after promising to keep in touch, I hadn’t ever heard from Gage Wilson again. Weird I could still remember his name.
Alex took to the Jet Ski like it was second nature. He flew along the water with such ease and it took me a little while before I could keep up with him. Together, we spent the next hour racing each other, doing turns and seeing who could spray the other with more water. He won and I ended up wetter then I would have if I’d just been swimming.
Finally, exhausted and out of breath, we brought the skis in to the dock. Alex returned our life vests inside the rental place and I collapsed on the damp wood, stretching my legs out and facing up at the bright sky, my eyes closed.
“Tired?” His voice broke the peacefulness of the water around me and I squinted up at him.
“Mmhmm, my muscles feel like rubber.”
He chuckled and sank down beside me. “That’s normal.”
I shaded my eyes from the sun with one hand. “You were like a pro out there.”
“I’ve owned a few jet skis in my days.”
“Ooh, well that explains it.” Settling back, I closed my eyes and faced up at the warm sun.
He laughed low and I could feel his eyes on me. “You too tired to move?”
I gave a nod.
“Am I going to have to carry you?”
That got a giggle from me and I peeked at him again. “Maybe.”
He laughed and I realized that I loved the sound. “What if I said I was exhausted?”
“Well,” I looked him over, seizing him up. “I could try to carry you, but I don’t think we’d get very far.”
He laughed again and shifted down on his back next to me, watching me with the cutest expression. “I could be offended by that, you know.”
“Maybe I’m insulting myself. I’m too weak to carry you.”
“I see how it is.” He rolled onto his side, propping his head up with his hand, his eyes on mine.
Something inside my chest stirred and I shivered at his look, the air around us suddenly changing, growing thick with electricity.
It felt like a movie; he catches your eye, you stare longingly at each other and slowly, every so slowly, inch by inch you draw closer. Your eyes close in anticipation and you can swear you feel the warmth of his breath on your skin. His fingers graze your arm and your heart pounds in your chest, your mind whirling with the thoughts of what is about to happen. And then, just as you feel the very, very light brush of his lips against yours, someone calls out ‘excuse me’.
I jerked back with a start as the voice interrupted us. Quickly, scrambling to my feet, I smoothed my hair and glanced around, feeling my heart still pounding away. The realization of what had almost happened made my stomach twist and I stammered out that I needed to go change. Then I escaped to the women’s changing room before he could say a word.
Once inside the safe haven, I sank down onto a bench and clasped my hands together in an attempt to get them to stop shaking. Had that person, who had interrupted, not been trying to get around us, he would have kissed me. I could feel my chest tightening at that thought and leaned over, forcing myself to take some slow, deep breaths. I wasn’t sure if I was ready for that quite yet, and I was shocked at how I had let it nearly happen. On the other hand, I was trying to move on and get my life back on track. But was I really prepared for all this? The inner turmoil in my head was giving me a headache.
I jerked and looked over at the voice to find a tall, thin woman with mocha colored skin and bright green eyes. “Yes?”
“Are you Morgan?”
“Uh…yeah…” How did this woman know my name?
“There’s a gentleman outside that asked me to see if you were okay.” She motioned towards the doors leading from the changing room.
Alex had sent her in here. “Um, yeah…tell him I’m just fine and I’ll be out in a minute.” I sat up straight and pulled the string, which held my locker key, from where I had tied it around my wrist.
She watched me with a curious expression then gave a nod. “Sure, okay.” Turning, she strode for the doors and back outside.
I sat on the bench a moment longer and gathered my composure. If Dianna were here she’d tell me to stop acting like a teenager and get a hold of myself. I probably shouldn’t have run off on him like that, but I was having a freak-out moment. And now I wasn’t sure what to say when I went back out to join him. I didn’t want to act weird and I didn’t want him acting weird either.
“Come on, Morgan, just move past it. It’s over and done with.” I shook my head and stood, moving over to the locker my belongings were stored in.
I hadn’t been ready for the kiss at that moment, but that didn’t mean I wouldn’t be ready for one when the time was right. Thinking about his lips on mine seemed a little weird; I hadn’t thought about kissing anyone else since Hugh. It might take a little while to get used to, but the idea didn’t scare me as much as I thought it would. In fact, a part of me thought it might be kind of nice.
Fifteen minutes later I was exiting the changing room to find Alex had changed as well. He stood waiting for me by a bench, smoking a cigarette. Upon seeing me, he snuffed it out and flicked it to the side.
Slowly, I made my way over to him, feeling a little nervous and hoping he wasn’t upset. “Hey.”
I fiddled with the hem of my shirt. “Sorry about um….earlier.”
He tilted his head. “Did I do something wrong?”
“No,” I shook my head, not wanting him to feel bad about anything, “it had nothing to do with you.”
He watched me for a moment before speaking again. “It’s that weight on your shoulders, huh?”
I sighed and took his hand, starting away from the edge of the dock and towards the street. “There’s a lot about me you don’t know.”
“I know there is.”
I gave a little nod, just strolling along slowly with him.
“You could tell me about them.”
“I…I don’t know if I’m ready to do that.”
“That’s okay.” He gave my hand a gentle squeeze. “But eventually you’re going to want to tell me.”
I sent him a sideways glance. “How do you know?”
He didn’t look at me, just watched ahead of the path we were heading down. “Because something bigger than either of us has brought us together.”
“That doesn’t mean anything.”
He stopped and turned me to face him, his eyes sending shivers down into my toes. “It means everything, Morgan.”
The pulse in my neck was throbbing. “Are you saying we belong together, or something?”
“I’m saying we were brought together for some reason and what happens between us is left up to us.”
“Exactly, left up to us. And if I don’t want to tell you something I’m not gonna.”
He gave a sigh and rubbed the back of his neck. “Why have you built such a thick wall around yourself?”
I was struggling; I wanted to tell him, but at the same time I wanted to keep it locked away. “I told you; there are things about me you don’t know.”
He was quiet for a long moment just studying me. Finally he spoke, “You lost someone, didn’t you.”
I couldn’t keep his gaze any longer. I looked off towards the rolling waves of the Pacific.
“I’m not going anywhere.” He said softly, reaching up and smoothing his fingers over my cheek. “So, whenever you’re ready, I’ll be here.”
My gaze flickered back to him. “We barely know each other.”
“We’ll get there.” His fingers lingered on my cheek before he drew back and took my hand in his. “Now, why don’t we go check out the museum?”
It was dark by the time we arrived back on the mainland and he pulled his SUV into my driveway. I had left the porch light on and it cast an eerie glow against the darkness around. I didn’t move from the passenger seat as I stared ahead out the window and thought about how I would have to go inside all alone. I thought about getting ready for bed and no one joining me. I thought about falling into a restless sleep and being haunted by that horrible nightmare of someone trying to kill me. Suddenly, I wasn’t okay with all that.
Turning towards my companion, I found him observing me.
“Take me home with you.”
He blinked, quite taken back by my request. “What?”
“I…” I shook my head, pushing some hair from my face, “I don’t mean…like that. I just….I don’t want to be alone tonight. I’m so tired of being alone.”
He watched me another moment, but then finally gave a nod. “Okay. Do you need to go inside for anything?”
I shook my head. “No, I have a change of clothes in my bag and the other things I may need. And Daisy has enough food and water till tomorrow morning.”
“Okay,” He nodded again then put the SUV into reverse and backed out of my drive.
We were quiet as he steered his vehicle down the road and I stared blankly out the side window. I should have been embarrassed and surprised at my behavior, but I wasn’t. Inside I felt numb. I was tired of being scared, alone, sad. I just wanted to feel again, feel alive and like I had something to live for. But, how do you start over?
That was the million dollar question and I turned it over and over in my head unsuccessfully until we slowed and turned into Alex’s drive.
A tall, black wrought iron gate greeted us and he pushed a button on his console, causing the entrance to swing open. Slowly, he steered us up the drive, revealing the exquisite, two story Mediterranean style home. It was large and the front lawn spread out as far as the eye could see. In the center of the circular drive stood a fountain and I felt like I had stepped into a movie just taking it all in.
“Wow…” I breathed out softly, “your place is beautiful.”
“Thank you.” He smiled over at me then pushed another button and one of the doors on the three-car garage began to lift.
After pulling into the garage and parking the SUV, he climbed out and got my door. Together, we gathered our bags then he led us past a nice, shiny black sports car of some kind and to the door that took us inside the home.
I stepped inside and slipped my shoes off, glancing around and noting the dark woods and antique, gothic style décor.
“You’re home is very unique.” I spoke and shifted my bag onto my shoulder. “It really fits you.”
“Thank you.” He flashed a cute grin and took his own shoes off. “I take pride in all my decorating.”
“I can tell.” The gothic décor was definitely not my style, but I could tell from the artwork that adorned the room that he put a lot of thought and consideration into each and every piece.
“Let me take this.” Alex reached over and slipped my bag from my shoulder. “I can show you to your room and you can get a hot shower, then we can watch a movie or something if you want.”
I sent him a grateful smile. “That sounds really good, thank you.”
“No problem.” He gently brushed his fingers over my cheek then took my hand and led me from the room, up the stairs and down the hall to the guest bedroom.
It was a simple room with a full sized bed draped with a deep crimson red bedspread. The walls were a very light gray and the furniture a deep mahogany.
“Oh, this is nice.” I trailed my fingers over the top of a dresser and surveyed my surroundings.
“I don’t like to get all fancy.” He put my bag onto a chair.
I turned to face him again. “Me either.”
His mouth formed a smile that made my heart skip a beat. “The bathroom is directly across the hall. There are fresh towels in the closet in there. Help yourself and when you’re finished just come on downstairs.”
“Okay,” I reached out and caught his hand, “thank you.”
His eyes lingered on mine. “It’s no problem.” He brushed his knuckles over my cheek then exited the room.
I stood there a moment longer before shaking myself out of the daze I had fallen under and moving over to my bag. He was a powerful force; the way his touches warmed my skin, how his gaze seeped into my soul and exposed me, the fact that I hardly knew him, yet sometimes I wanted nothing more than to be in his embrace. Something strange was going on here, though maybe if I ignored it enough it’d go away. Or at least wait until I knew I was ready.