When I reached the upper deck of the Athena, the jewel of the Voyage Cruise Line, there was a small gathering of other staff members standing to the side, like a receiving line at a wedding. We were waiting to say “Have a great day” to the guests as they left the ship to explore our latest port in Barbados.
We had docked less than an hour ago, and this wasn’t mandatory, but I felt an obligation to be seen as approachable. I’d been employed as a dancer in the cast for the past eight months, and recently I’d been asked to teach dance steps to the guests, alongside my entertainment duties. I wanted them to see that I was a team player.
I stood beside Cady Hart, a singer in the cast with the best voice this side of the Atlantic and my new best friend. Cady’s overeager smile reminded me of a kid on Christmas morning.
“Today is going to be the best day ever,” she said, her grin never dimming.
“Yes, it’ll be great.” I absentmindedly rose on pointe, which wasn’t easy in soft-toed flats. Apparently it was something I frequently did but wasn’t aware of most of the time unless someone pointed it out. I only noticed it now because Cady, who was a couple of inches taller than my five-four, tilted her chin up to keep her gaze on me.
“And like I already said, we won’t stay at Aiden’s new bar too long. We’ll go sightseeing and do touristy things, but he just bought the place and is super excited and proud. Plus…”
I knew what she was going to say, but I didn’t want to steal her moment.
She squealed. “I think this is when he’ll ask me to marry him.”
I chuckled at her excitement. It was easy to do when she was being this cute.
Cady had met Aiden Griffith online in a country music lovers Facebook group two years ago. They’d been communicating daily, and she’d visited him as often as her schedule allowed, which hadn’t been as much as they’d liked. He lived on the island and had recently bought and opened a bar-slash-restaurant, Ocean Grille, so he’d been busy starting his business. But despite falling in love long distance, their relationship seemed to be steadily climbing that happily-ever-after mountain, and the next stop was “Put a Ring on It.”
“I’m perfectly fine with hanging out at Aiden’s bar for some of today. I know how much you want to see him and the place, and I really want to try Barbados’s rum. I hear it’s killer.” It may have been too early in the day for recreational drinking, but as long as I kept it to one, it couldn’t hurt.
Cady squeezed my arm. “You’re going to love Aiden.”
I probably would. I already loved her.
The thundering sound of footsteps grew closer, and I turned to see the guests headed our way. A tiny human stopped in front of me and held up her hand, causing everyone behind her to stop.
I looked down, but the sun was at an angle that blinded me. I used my hand to cup above my eye and noticed a green wrapped Lifesaver in her small palm.
“Is that for me?” I asked.
She nodded, making her straight, dark bob…well, bob. She was a cute little thing, with a tiny nose and round, plump cheeks. I recognized her from the dance class I’d instructed two days ago. She hadn’t been able to keep up with the Wobble, but she had been exceptional at the Macarena.
Her mother, a woman with the same bob and tiny nose but thinner cheeks, rested her hand on her daughter’s shoulder. “She wanted to give you something to say thanks for teaching her those dance steps. I hope that’s all right.”
I continued smiling as the pint-sized child set the sweaty candy on my open palm. “I love it. Thank you.”
The little girl beamed and continued off the ship.
Cady softly chuckled and leaned toward me. “If only she knew how much you disliked kids.”
“That’s not true.” I playfully nudged her in the ribs and realized the little girl was still watching me. I didn’t dislike them, but kids were messy, and in my former life, I preferred looking like a dancing fashion show. Couture and tiny dirty hands didn’t mix.
I unwrapped the sticky candy and placed it in my mouth. Humid or not, a pop of citrus flavor coated my tongue, and I gave the girl a thumbs-up.
She giggled and stepped off the ship with her parents.
“Zibby!” shouted an older man who had also been a part of my last dance class. He was well into his seventies, and anyone who thought seniors couldn’t get their groove on was seriously mistaken.
“Harrison,” I exclaimed and grabbed his soft but bony hand between mine. “How are you doing today?”
“Eager to get onto the island and have a rum. I hear it’s a Barbados specialty.” The twinkle in his eye suggested this may have been his whole reason for this cruise.
“This is my first time in Barbados as well, and I plan to do exactly the same,” I said.
He chuckled. “Don’t forget. Next dance class, you said we could learn the Cha-Cha Slide.”
I laughed because he’d been so insistent. “I won’t forget.”
He’d wanted to learn to Salsa, and while I had no doubts he could, I wasn’t sure about everyone else. The informal classes were held up on one of the outdoor decks, and anyone who wanted to join was welcome. We ended up with young and old, thin and heavy, and sometimes people with slight disabilities. I tried to keep my instruction to solo dances and somewhat simple ones at that. Definitely not strenuous, and Salsa dancing was anything but tame.
When I mentioned the Cha-Cha Slide, I hadn’t explained it. I assumed Harrison heard the words Cha-Cha and thought it would have passionate Latino steps. He would likely be disappointed when he realized it was just another line dance.
I gave Harrison’s hand one last pat. “Have a great time.”
He wiggled his bushy white eyebrows. “Oh, I will.”
When the line of guests thinned down, Cady and I grinned at each other. This was our moment to head to paradise. Three days of white sandy beaches, clear blue water, and tropical breezes.
We still needed to head back to our rooms and change from our guest appropriate clothing into something more casual for roaming around an island. I wanted to be a typical tourist and see all of the landmarks Barbados had to offer. Surely it could be done in the next three days.
When Cady and I turned, my steps faltered. Standing up ahead was the new ship doctor, Shawn Bishop—six-feet tall, deep brown skin, soulful eyes, and a smile that made my knees buckle. I’d been drooling over the man since he’d started a month ago. Not that I’d allow anything to happen between us. Relationships were prohibited if they involved crew or staff with guests—not crew and staff together—but with my past… I didn’t want to start something based on lies.
Dr. Bishop was broad shouldered, and in his crisp white shirt and black pants, he looked very authoritative. He was saying good-bye to the last guest disembarking. When he spotted us, the corners of his perfect mouth lifted higher.
Or at least I thought they did. Maybe it was the sun. Maybe I was hallucinating. All I knew was that I feared moving and falling over my own feet.
Oh my God, Zibby, get it together and stop embarrassing yourself.
This was a regular man. Yes, he was hot, but a lot of guys were. He’d said hello to me a dozen times as we passed on I-95, which was what the staff and crew called the main corridor because it was always so busy, and Dr. Bishop and I had discussed working on a ship once or twice. He hadn’t proclaimed his undying love for me, and for all I knew, he had a girlfriend or fiancée back home. Wherever that was. We barely knew each other, but for some reason I continued to act like a twelve-year-old with her first crush. This was unusual for me. No matter how many times my brain reminded me that there was nothing overtly special about Dr. Bishop, my body continuously betrayed me by making me stumble, fluster, and stutter whenever he was around. What was so special about him?
“You got this,” Cady whispered. “Just play it cool.”
I frowned in her direction. I’d gotten to know her pretty well over the last eight months. She dressed like a girly cowgirl, with frilly skirts and dresses and pink studded boots, she loved all things country music, from the twang to the more poppy stuff, and she was exactly six degrees from Kevin Bacon. Her mother’s best friend’s hairstylist’s cousin dated Kevin’s gardener.
So it was beyond me why she wasn’t yet aware that behaving like I was stuck in puberty, complete with metal braces and pimples, was part of my charm.
“Ladies, are you planning on a day of sightseeing?” Dr. Bishop asked as Cady dragged me to him.
“Lots of it,” she said with a chuckle.
I simply stood there and smiled.
They both looked to me, and I swore I stopped breathing for a second. But I didn’t want to appear like a total imbecile, so I asked, “Are you going to be exploring Barbados too?”
There. See. A perfectly fine question without stuttering or falling down.
“Yes, I plan to look around.”
“Great,” I said, a little more enthusiastically than warranted, and immediately the jitters set in and cranked up their volume. “Hope to see you there.”
As soon as I said it, I shut my eyes and inwardly groaned.
There? Where the heck was there? The entire island?
I didn’t bother to open my mouth and correct myself. I’d likely screw that up too, so I started walking, giving Cady no choice but to follow along.
Once we were three decks below, she began to laugh. “You are such a dork.”