by Jessica Tescher
Name: Maisy Miller
Hair Color: Nice ‘n Easy Medium Brown
Eye Color: Hazel
Weight: Very funny.
Hobbies: Cats, Rock Climbing, Cats, Reading, Cats
Name: Dillon Zamora
Hair Color: Dark Brown
Eye Color: Blue
Weight: 180 lbs
Hobbies: Hang Gliding, Hiking
The Atlantic Ocean rolls beneath our flimsy, orange life raft—the one saving me from certain death—as I glare at the sailboat’s keel, which is pointing at the sky.
A keel is supposed to be in the water.
My blind date, Dillon Zamora, bragged about that keel. He said, “It gives the sailboat stability and makes it impossible to capsize.”
That was after he admitted he only had three hours of experience manning a sailboat. The rest he learned on YouTube. I about throat punched him then. Little did I know the best was yet to come.
It all happened so fast.
The wind picked up. Dillon decided it was time to head home. He cranked the whatever thingamajig that makes the boat turn. A gust of wind blasted the sails, and over we went. My phone tumbled out of my hand, and I clutched onto the fiberglass boat for dear life while my feet dangled in the frigid water.
The boat continued to roll, yet Dillon managed to grab the life raft from stowage and inflate the thing, despite explaining to me (between shouts of “Hold on!”) that inflatable life rafts aren’t always reliable, that they are supposed to be inspected regularly, and that his friend, Max (whose boat we are borrowing…I mean, sinking), warned him not to depend on it as a life-saving device.
Somehow, I managed to hear all this while waves crashed against my ankles and the wind transformed my ears into pan flutes. Did I mention Dillon is my hero?
I didn’t. Because he’s not.
I had to swim to the life raft. It’s late February. The water off Georgia’s coast is cold. I mean, life-threatening cold. Too cold to go sailing with a guy who learned all he knows from PewDiePie.
Why did I agree to go on this little misadventure?
“You look mad,” Dillon says. He’s reclined in the life raft, cold and wet like me. He looks exhausted, like he just ran a marathon, which I guess he sorta did.
I suppose he deserves some kudos. Without his quick thinking, we wouldn’t have this little oasis on the waves. I’d still be clinging to fiberglass, turning into a protein popsicle like Jack in Titanic.
“I’m cold,” I say through chattering teeth.
“Come here.” He beckons me toward him.
Cuddle time was never on my agenda today, especially not on a blind date, and especially not now.
“Lay down,” he says. “The sides of the boat cut the wind.”
I glare at him. A gust of wind flaps my wet hair and gives my goose pimples zits.
He’s probably right. I lie down, making sure my face reads “grumpy”.
“If we share body heat, we’ll dry off faster,” Dillon says.
“Don’t ever ask me to share body heat again.”
“I’m not trying to get kinky with you.”
“When you say ‘kinky’ it reminds me of a hairy guy with lamb chops and a beer belly wearing a polyester leisure suit.”
“I’m serious. This is about survival.”
“We’re not at the North Pole. Besides, the sun feels nice. I think I’m good.” Click, click, click. (That’s my teeth.)
Thankfully, the forecasted high today is eighty-two degrees, warm for February, but not unheard of. It’s still early, around ten-thirty the last time I checked my phone. I’m not sure how long all the commotion lasted, i.e., the fight for my life that ensued because Dillon doesn’t know how to keep a sailboat upright.
“Suit yourself,” Dillon says. “I’m just trying to save your life. Again.”
I sit up. Blood nearly spurts through my pores. I point at the keel, which is still bobbing back and forth with the waves. “You nearly killed me!”
“It depends on how you look at it. Glass half full, glass half empty.” He weighs both options with his hands.
“Glass half full of crap,” I say.
Dillon looks injured by my comment. I don’t care. I’m injured. Both mentally and physically. My right shoulder is throbbing, and I think I pulled a knuckle while I was clinging to the boat. So, I keep going: “You didn’t ‘save’ me.” My air quotes are like eagle talons. “If you haven’t noticed, we are in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on a plastic inflatable without any water to drink or a way to call for help.”
Dillon kicks the plastic storage box at his feet. “We have a locator beacon, flares, and two bottles of water.”
For some reason this information makes me angrier. “Why are you laying there like a beached whale? Shouldn’t you see if the beacon works?”
Dillon narrows his ocean blue eyes at me, which are glowing in the Georgia sun. A saltwater-soaked lock of hair makes an upside down question mark on his forehead. “I’m tired,” he says.
I hate to admit it now, but when I met Dillon, I felt a spark.
He greeted me in the marina parking lot, his dark brown hair rustling in the gentle wind, his blue eyes piercing through the morning sunlight. He wore khaki cargo shorts and a white T-shirt under a gray, woven poncho. I also wore layers to prepare for the rising temperature: a pair of joggers with swimsuit bottoms underneath, and my avo-cat-o shirt beneath a green, zip-up hoodie.
His calves were the first thing I noticed. Not his hair. Not his smile. Not his eyes. His calves. Apparently, I’m a calf lady. Who knew?
They were chiseled. And tan. And lovely. His face was lovely too, with dark, well-ordered eyebrows to match his dark hair, and clean white teeth, with one pleasantly crooked canine.
I felt the spark when he smiled at me.
Truth be told, I feel it now whenever we lock eyes. You’d think, given my present fear of shriveling into jerky (from dehydration) and/or becoming food for sharks, my body would be unable to generate sparks, and yet, it can. It is.
I’d use the sparks to incinerate Dillon if I could. Not really. I’m just— Who takes another human being on a sailboat in the middle of a very large, very frigid ocean with only three hours of sailing experience?
When we first connected over text and he asked me if I enjoyed being around boats, my first inclination was to say, “In books.” I’m one of the few human beings who has read Mobi Dick and liked it. Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea is another good one, along with his classic To Have and Have Not.
But real boats? Nah. I’ve lived forty-five minutes away from the ocean my entire life and I’ve never been a water sports kind of gal. Nevertheless, I don’t have an aversion to floating on water, so I agreed to go sailing with Dillon. On the assumption that he was a skilled sailor.
We decided to meet at a marina along the Wilmington River. From the marina it’s a short jaunt to Wassaw Sound and then to the choppier waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Our trip to Wassaw Sound was relaxing, without incident, filled with the awkward small talk that marks most first dates, in this case a blind date, which brings with it its own fumbling and bumbling.
The more we talked, the more I questioned the accuracy of Blind Chance Romance’s algorithm. Dillon is a beer drinker. I drink wine. Dillon likes traveling. I’m a homebody.
When I told him my rock-climbing hobby is indoors and never includes real rocks, he seemed disappointed. Why would I climb an actual rock, when I can climb a sturdy wall with plastic footholds and handholds that are always tightly anchored? I don’t have a death wish.
Also, he never eats breakfast and drinks eight cups of coffee a day. Eight cups. When I told him that much caffeine is bad for his adrenal glands and might give him a heart attack, he looked at me like I was his mother. I’ve never even met his mother.
But here’s the real issue: he has a daughter. Which means he has an ex. And a sordid history. And baggage. And I’m pretty sure I clicked the “no children” checkbox when I was setting my preferences in the app. Granted the app is in beta, but still, that’s a big oversight.
Why did he break up with the mother of his child? Did he cheat on her? Did she cheat on him? Did they just give up on their relationship? Is he the type of guy that bails when the fire of romance reduces to a candle flame?
When he told me he had a daughter, I tried to play it cool despite all the questions and alarm bells ringing in my head. It didn’t work because he followed his comment with, “Does that bother you?”
“I told the app I don’t want to date guys with children,” I said, deciding to be honest. I’m thirty-five. I don’t have time to waste. “So, I don’t know why the app thought we would be a good match.”
“I didn’t divulge that information.”
“Why do you think?”
“I didn’t lie. I just prefer to keep my personal business private.”
“You let the app run a background check on you.”
“Yeah. And I passed.”
“Well, good for you.”
“You seem judgy.”
“I’m not. I think it’s wonderful that you have a daughter. It’s just…I have cats. Just cats. For a reason.”
Soon after that incredibly awkward exchange, we left the calmer waters of Wassaw Sound and sailed into the Atlantic Ocean.
As the waves crept higher, I noticed a hardness in Dillon’s features. He became all concentration, no talk. I didn’t think too much of it until he turned the boat clumsily and the boat rolled, and well, here we are.
I lunge for the plastic storage box at Dillon’s feet, but somehow, he manages to grab it before me. He holds it to his chest like a two-year-old with a teddy bear.
“Gimme it,” I say, also feeling territorial. “You’ve already screwed up enough.”
Again, Dillon looks injured, and this time, I feel a bit guilty. Not a lot. Just a little. The Atlantic Ocean is vast, and he’s all I have.
“Let me do this,” he says. “I got us into this mess. Let me get us out.”
“Fine. Just open it. It’s not locked, is it?”
“No, because that would be stupid.”
“This day is stupid.”
Dillon purses his lips, releases a breath, and then flips the box’s latches to reveal a snug compartment that holds two stainless steel water bottles, a zippered pouch with the words “Marine Emergency Kit” emboldened on it, and a black and yellow device resembling an old cell phone.
“Is that a phone?” I ask.
“It’s the safety beacon.”
“Why isn’t it a cell phone?”
“I don’t know.”
“A cell phone would be nice right about now.”
“Mine is at the bottom of the ocean thanks to you.”
Dillon stops fiddling with the contents of the box long enough to glare at me. There’s that spark again. Curses.
“What good does a beacon do if no one knows to look for it?” I continue my mini rampage. I can’t help myself. I think it’s stress.
He pulls out the beacon and clicks a button on its side. The device beeps which means it contains batteries, which means whoever packed the box could have just as easily packed a cell phone and an extra battery or a solar charger. I feel a sudden longing for my grandma’s Life Alert necklace. Or the Urgent Response button on her Jitterbug phone.
“There,” he says. “The beacon works. Now we wait.”
“I live alone. No one’s going to know I’m missing except my cats.”
Georgio, Puffins, and Gigi are dependent on me and only me for their survival. I gave them breakfast before I left. Just breakfast. If they run out of water, Georgio will resort to drinking from the toilet, but Puffins and Gigi will have none of that. They’ll simply wander the rooms uttering mournful meows until I return. If I return.
When Monday comes, my coworkers will realize I’m gone. But will they know to check on my cats?
“Someone will eventually come looking,” Dillon says.
“Eventually. How long is eventually?”
Dillon doesn’t answer. He just unscrews the lid on the water bottle and sniffs. “It’s not whiskey,” he says.
“I thought you liked beer,” I say.
“I’ll take either. But this—” he takes a drink, “is just water. Stale water,” he adds after wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
He tosses the other water to me. “Conserve it.”
Suddenly, I’m parched. Like, lost in the desert parched. I lick my lips and rub my thumb along the stainless-steel bottle. I won’t take a drink. Yet.
Yes, I will. I hastily unscrew the cap and take a gulp.
“I said conserve it,” Dillon says.
“I am. In my bladder.”
“This isn’t the movie Waterworld. We don’t have a urine purifier.”
“We should. Just like we should have a cell phone. And a portable battery.”
“Okay! I get it. YouTube tutorials don’t teach you about the physics of sailing. I was too cocky.”
“You said it, not me.”
“Can we just—”
Dillon straightens, grabs his poncho and T-shirt, and pulls them both over his head, letting out a warrior cry as he rips the clothing from his body.
The cry goes unnoticed by the wind and the waves, but I hear it in my bones.
He flaps the fabric to remove the wrinkles and then spreads both shirts out on the side of the raft.
“What are you doing?” I ask with my chin tucked and my eyes averted.
“Getting rid of the wet-dog feeling.”
“Wet dogs shake. They don’t strip.”
I flick my eyes to Dillon’s bare torso and then refocus on my hands. I saw two pecs, two bulging biceps, a six-pack of abs. Not that it matters, and not that I care. I’m lost at sea. Dillon’s attractiveness is irrelevant given my current predicament.
“Do you usually take off your clothes on first dates?” I ask.
“Our clothes need to be dry before it gets dark, so we don’t freeze to death.”
I whip my head up to look at him. “Before dark? How long do you think we’re going to be out here?”
“Not long. But I like to have contingency plans.”
I shake my head.
“What did I do wrong now?” Dillon asks.
“Nothing,” I mumble. “Well, everything. But nothing.”
I peek at Dillon. He looks perturbed.
That’s my M.O. I’m the victim here. I feel my hair begin to rise, but then my body slumps. I realize I’m exhausted. I don’t have the energy to bicker.
“I hope you wore sunscreen,” I say as I collapse onto my back.
“I’m sure you did.”
I close my eyes and try to pretend I’m on the Lazy River at Splash in the Boro. It doesn’t work. The waves buffeting the raft are not lazy. Also, despite the warm sun on my face, I’m shivering like an anxious dog on the Fourth of July. (R.I.P Scooter.)
I feel a nudge on my thigh.
“What?” I say.
“You need to take off your clothes.”
I use my hand to shield my eyes from the sunlight so I can gape at Dillon. “That is not happening.”
“I’m warmer now that I took my wet shirts off. In fact…” Dillon unbuttons his cargo shorts and next thing I know they’re spread out to dry on the side of the raft next to his shirts.
“Please tell me those are swim trunks,” I say.
I already know his tight-fitting Fruit of the Loom boxers are not swim trunks. I’m in a life raft in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean with a guy in his undies. This is not how I saw this day going. Yet if I’d thought about it, really thought about all the possible scenarios before stepping onto that sailboat, I might have seen this coming.
“Sure. They’re swim trunks,” Dillon says.
“Please don’t take those off too.”
“Don’t worry. I’m not going to show you my shrinkage.”
This time I don’t bother to shield my eyes, I just gape at him. “Really?”
“I’m trying to bring some levity to the situation.”
“There is nothing funny about our situation,” I say.
Dillon shrugs. “It’s a little funny.”
“No,” I say, my tone flat. “It’s not.”
Now, the image of Dillon’s shrinkage is burned in my brain. Inappropriate. Could this day get any weirder?
Then it hits me. What if I have to use the bathroom?
Yes, this day could get weirder. I make a mental note not to gulp any more water.
I shut my eyes again and continue shivering in my wet clothes.
My face is warm. The rest of me?
I hate being cold.
“Fine,” I say, mostly to protect my tooth enamel.
I sit up. Thank goodness I wore my tankini and not my string bikini. It was a last-minute decision that is now paying dividends.
I strip off my wet clothes, including my joggers, and lay them on the side of the raft. My phone might be long gone, but somehow my keys survived my desperate swim to safety. They’re still in the pocket of my hoodie.
The sun on my skin provides instant relief, but now I’m self-conscious. I don’t want to look at Dillon for fear that he’s looking at my cleavage, so I lie back, close my eyes, and pretend I’m floating on a raft off the coast of Hawaii where the water is turquoise and it’s always warm.
My little fantasy works. I’m able to forget my troubles for a moment, and soon, the sun’s heat and the rhythmic waves lull me to sleep.
When I awaken, the sun has crossed overhead. Maybe. I can’t tell, really. The raft is spinning of its own accord.
I’m still in the raft.
Not on a Carnival Cruise ship headed to the Bahamas like I was in my dream.
My mom, dad, and I take a cruise every March on a big, virtually unsinkable ocean liner. Much safer than this flimsy raft that will deflate with the slightest pinprick.
I close my eyes again, willing myself to return to the cruise ship. What is it those self-help gurus say? Something about manifesting your dreams?
“Welcome back, sleepyhead,” Dillon says. He’s leaning against the side of the raft with his feet crossed at the ankle.
I sit up and join him at the side. The raft offers no amenities. No pools or hot tubs, no casinos, no midnight buffets, no cute towel animals. All I see is ocean. Water to the right of me, water to the left. No sign of other boats. No land on the horizon.
My chest constricts. Am I thirsty?
I take a swig from my bottle.
That didn’t help.
My lungs are tight, squeezed by a dozen zip ties. I can’t take a full breath.
This is just like the movie Waterworld, minus the urine purifier and the shoddy villages on poles. This is my life for who knows how long, surrounded by water. Only water for miles and miles. No food. No cats. No pink sherpa blanket or fuzzy socks.
I try to take a deep breath, but it won’t come.
“What’s wrong?” Dillon says.
“I don’t know. I—”
Tears bubble from my eyes and stream down my cheeks.
“It’s okay,” he says, scooting closer.
I hold out my hand. “I’m fine. I— I’m not crying. I think—” I sob. “I think it’s just PMS.”
“You are crying.”
“I’m fine. Everything’s—” My voice cracks. My shoulders slump.
Dillon closes the gap between us and puts his arm around me. Skin on skin. “I’m sorry,” he says.
“Don’t be. It’s mother nature. Cramps. Irritability. Mood swings,” I sob again.
I think I hear Dillon chuckle. I’m not trying to be funny. I’m trying to hold it together. Lord, am I going to die out here?
Dillon snuggles me close while I cry. He doesn’t say a word, just uses his bulging bicep to squeeze me gently now and then. I’m not sure why I allow myself to be comforted by the guy who got me into this mess. But what choice do I have? It’s just me and him and gallons and gallons of salt water.
The mood swing passes. My crying reduces to sniffles.
I can’t be crying out here. I need to conserve every last bit of water in my body.
“Sorry,” I say. “I think I just panicked there for a moment.”
“Don’t feel bad. I started panicking while you were asleep.”
“Did you cry?”
“I felt like crying.”
“What if no one comes for us?”
“Someone will come.”
“What if our raft washes up on the shore with only our bones inside because the seagulls picked off the meat?”
“Whoah. That’s morbid. We can’t talk like that.”
I feel my anger rising again. “Why didn’t you bring Max along? He could have driven while we drank wine—”
“—And I bet he knows how to turn a sailboat.”
“The boat doesn’t have a motor. You can’t drive it.”
I pull away from Dillon’s side-hug and turn to face him. “What does it matter? We’re dying out here!”
“We’re not dying. We’ve not even close to dying.”
I purse my lips and shoot him the stink eye. He rests both arms on the side of the raft and bends one knee, looking disgustingly relaxed.
“It’s a nice day,” he continues. “We’re not that far from shore. These waters are heavily traveled. A boat will pass by, we’ll wave, and they’ll rescue us.”
“If you believe that, why were you almost crying earlier?”
“I had a moment.”
“But now you’re Mr. Cool.”
He lifts a hand, palm toward the sky. “I had time to think rationally about it.”
I decide not to point out that he just inferred that I’m not thinking rationally. He’s the one being irrational. I live in the real world where maritime accidents sometimes result in death. But I’m not going to burst his bubble. Heavens. I’m not going to burst anything. Especially not the raft. Can shark teeth puncture these things?
I hear a cawing in the distance—a sign of life. Dillon and I both home in on the sound. It’s coming from a little dot in the distance, a gray speck against blue sky.
“Seagull,” Dillon says, as it approaches.
“Why can’t it be a carrier pigeon?”
We watch the bird make a straight line for us. It flies overhead. Seconds later, a pile of white goo lands on my chest. Seagull poop oozes into my cleavage.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I say.
If it were any other day, I’d be freaking out, but a little bird poop seems inconsequential now.
Dillon laughs at my misfortune. “I think it’s a good omen. If a seagull can find your girls, a boat surely can, too.”
I bug my eyes at my fellow castaway. “Did you just call these girls?” I point to my chest.
“Sorry.” He blushes. “We’re both sitting here in our underwear. And I’m thirsty. No— I mean I’m not thinking straight.”
“I’m not in my underwear.”
“No, but I can see…” He motions to my frontal region.
Apparently, Dillon noticed that I’m well endowed. Not his fault. Even in my tankini, they spill over.
“I’m sorry,” he says. He ducks his face behind his hand. “Breasts. The proper term is breasts.”
“Remember how I told you not to talk about body heat or the mutual generation thereof?”
“Don’t say breasts either.”
“You have a lot of rules.”
“How am I supposed to get this bird poop off my breasts?”
“Hey, that’s not fair.”
“Doesn’t bird poop carry diseases? Triskaidekaphobia or something?”
“Is that a word?”
I turn my back to Dillon and scoop up some of the run-off from our wet clothing that is still pooled in the raft’s low spots. I splash myself repeatedly until the poop is gone. I know the germs and the histo-whatever are still there. I try not to think about it.
When I’m done, I check my avo-cat-o shirt. It’s drying nicely. I think it’s time to hide the “girls”.
I pull the shirt over my head, shoot Dillon a look, cross my arms in front of “them” and then…
The sun marches across the sky.
There are no signs of boats or helicopters.
We’re alone with no entertainment but the sloshing sound of waves against the raft.
We make small talk to pass the time. Dillon asks me about my cats.
“Are we still doing the blind date thing?” I reply.
“If we survive this and get married, we’ll have the best story to tell our kids.”
Dillon’s sunburned cheeks turn pale.
“Too soon? I’m kidding. Yes, I like cats. How did you guess?” I sit up straighter and display my T-shirt, twisting slightly at my waist.
“That, and you wrote cats three times as one of your hobbies in your Blind Chance Romance profile.”
“I wear the crazy-cat-lady moniker proudly.”
The sun is near the horizon and the air is becoming cool. Part of me wants to panic. It’s almost nightfall and we’re still floating, but fear will only add to the misery I’m currently feeling: the sunburn (my SPF 100 wore off hours ago), the hunger, the thirst. Locking eyes with Dillon no longer sets off sparks. Let’s be real. There’s nothing romantic about this. I can dwell on the negative, or…
Glass half full, glass half empty. A clumsy sailor I know once said that.
A glass of ice water would be nice.
“—you decide to try it out?”
“Huh?” My brain feels foggy. “Sorry. I missed the first half.”
“I just asked you what made you decide to try out Blind Chance Romance?”
“Oh. My little sister is friends with the owner of the company. They went to high school together. My sis’ said, ‘Give it a try. What harm can it do?’” I present the ocean, the sky, and the raft to Dillon, and then I laugh like someone on the verge of a nervous breakdown. “If I ever get off this boat, let me tell you, she’s going to get an earful.”
Dillon doesn’t join in with my crazed laughter. He just looks down and fusses with a pocket on his cargo shorts. He put them back on a bit ago. I was disappointed. Studying his well-defined quads was a nice way to pass the time.
“I’m really sorry I got you into this mess,” Dillon says without looking up. “Being stuck on this raft has made me realize I haven’t been thinking clearly lately.”
Dillon lets go of his shorts, looks up at me, and uses the same hand to rub his lips.
I feel a spark.
I’m impressed. With myself. With Dillon. (Maybe this is a little romantic. Or will be after I sleep twelve hours in a clean bed.) He looks even more handsome in his slightly dehydrated state, with his rosy cheeks, and hair that looks like it belongs on a five-year-old’s favorite doll.
He drops his hand.
“My wife died a little over a year ago. I haven’t been the same since.” He peers out over the waves.
I feel like a jerk. He’s not a cheater. He’s not a quitter. He’s a widow. And I gave him grief about having a kid.
“I’m so sorry,” I say.
His chin trembles, and he covers it with his hand. But he can’t hide the tears. They spill generously down his cheeks. He folds his knees and slumps over, his hands covering his face.
And I feel like an even bigger jerk. I have no idea what to say. So, I watch quietly while a strong, gorgeous, six-foot-four male cries in front of me.
He pulls himself together and straightens. “I guess being stranded in the middle of nowhere because of my own stupidity is bringing some old emotions to the surface.”
“They’re not old emotions,” I say. “A year isn’t that long.”
“It is, and it isn’t. Sometimes when I’m with Chloe, every minute feels like an hour.”
“Is Chloe your daughter?”
“I’m sorry I was rude about her earlier. I—”
“I’m the one who should be sorry. I put both our lives in danger.”
I can’t argue, but I don’t want to make him feel any worse. “You can stop apologizing. We’re not even close to dying.”
He chuckles, which warms my heart. It’s shocking to watch a strong guy breakdown, especially since he’s been playing it cool all day. But now I suspect he’s been pretending for my benefit, and I can appreciate that.
“Do you mind if I ask what happened to your wife?”
Dillon takes a deep breath. As he exhales the muscles in his face relax. “A car accident. Drunk driver.”
The validation evokes a soft smile from Dillon.
“We had so many plans,” he says. “We were going to sell our house, buy an RV, and take Chloe all over the country. Melissa was an adventurer. She loved zip-lining, bungee jumping, jumping out of planes. When she died, I couldn’t bear to sell the house, but I wanted to keep her dream alive, so I’ve been going on one adventure after another.”
A look of guilt tightens Dillon’s features again. “Not usually. My parents have been great. Chloe’s with them now. I guess they know going on adventures is my therapy. What they don’t know is how hard it is for me to be around Chloe. I see Melissa in her eyes. For some people, that’s comforting. Not for me. It just brings it all back.”
“Is that why you didn’t list any children in your profile?”
Dillon rubs his face, and then he tries to smooth his hair, but the salt water has rendered it uncooperative. “No.” He hesitates. “Maybe.”
A few stars have appeared overhead. I watch them twinkle.
“I’m sorry for getting so deep on you,” Dillon says.
“Was this you being adventurous?” I’m still looking at the stars. “The sailing? The blind date?”
Dillon follows my gaze and studies Venus. “I suppose it was. I’ve been taking too many risks. To the point of endangering myself. And now you.”
A thought enters my mind. I’m sure it can’t be true, but I have to ask anyway. I squint at him through the growing darkness. “Did you make the boat capsize on purpose?”
Dillon meets my eyes. “Absolutely not. I’m just an idiot. And an unthoughtful jerk, I guess. I’ll probably go to hell for this.”
“Only if we die.”
I smirk at him, and he smiles back.
“You acted in good faith,” I say. “You thought you knew what you were doing. Turns out, you were wrong. Honest mistake. And I should have asked you about your sailing experience before I stepped on the boat with you.”
“You trusted me.”
“I did, but—”
“And I betrayed your trust.”
I tip my head to the side and study Dillon’s face. “It’s not like you cheated on me.”
“I’m not mad.” I pause, and then add, “Anymore.”
“We have flares,” Dillon says. “And we’ll be able to see passing boats easier in the dark. The lights will be clear on the horizon.”
“I’m really sorry about your wife, Dillon.”
His blue eyes still glow in the twilight. I watch them tear up again.
“I am too,” he says.
It’s dark. I mean, dark. I’ve never been this far from civilization in the middle of the night. Usually, the stars are dulled from the lights of near and distant cities. Tonight, I’m seeing them like never before—a cascade of diamonds across a bed of the deepest black.
I’d enjoy it more if I wasn’t shivering to death. By my estimate, it’s around forty-five degrees. Luckily, the wind has calmed, and the waves are gentle.
Dillon is on the other side of the raft blowing on his hands. We’ve been peering into the horizon for hours looking for the lights of a distant ship. I’m starting to lose hope. My teeth hurt from chattering.
“I know you don’t want me to say it…” Dillon starts.
“Body heat,” I say.
He slides over to me, straddles me from behind, and starts rubbing my arms. He was right about it being imperative that our clothes dried. I can’t imagine how much worse I’d feel in a damp sweatshirt.
“Is it cold enough to get hypothermia?” I ask.
“How do you know?”
“I went camping in the mountains on one of my adventures. In the winter.”
“Why did you do that?”
“It was fun?”
Dillon stops rubbing and wraps his arms around me. His touch reassures me, his body heat a welcome relief.
I’ve had two serious relationships in the past, both of which I cut off when I sensed they were ready to pop the question. I can’t blame childhood trauma. My parents were great. But I was a loner from day one. My mom still complains that I wasn’t a snuggly baby. I always wiggled out of her arms and found a spot of my own to curl up in. This is life or death though.
Who am I kidding? The sliver of my brain that is still functioning rationally is relishing every inch of contact. I imagine how much more fun this would be in a warm house under a warm blanket with Dillon next to me.
Is this Stockholm Syndrome? Trauma-induced bonding? Maybe.
I turn and curl up against Dillon’s chest. He pulls me closer and nuzzles his face in my hair.
“Are we going to make it through this?” I whisper.
“Maybe someday after you’ve learned how to sail, we could do this again and enjoy the stars without freezing to death.”
But the more I think about it, the more I’m sure I’m never stepping foot on another sailboat. Ever. I might step on a yacht.
“I have trouble committing,” I say.
“Is there a word for relationship claustrophobia?”
“Probably. There’s a phobia for everything.”
“When things get too serious, I bail.”
“Maybe you just haven’t found the right person.”
“Did you feel claustrophobia when you were married?”
“Honestly? There were a couple of rough patches. I thought about leaving. But I made Melissa a promise at the altar, and personal integrity has always been important to me, so we worked on our relationship and things improved.”
“How long were you married?”
“That’s a lot.”
“Not enough.” He squeezes me tighter.
“Why did you decide to date again?”
“Because she’s not coming back. And I want to keep living.” He pauses. “And Chloe needs a mother figure. But that’s probably too much to wish for.”
Kids require so much more maintenance than cats. But mom says the newborn phase is the hardest, and Chloe’s already past that…
Dillon perks up.
“What?” I ask.
“Look.” He points.
I see lights on the horizon, and I’m elated. “Get the flare gun,” I holler, but Dillon is already on it. He holds the gun high overhead and shoots. A stream of fire soars to the stars.
“Again,” I say.
“Give it a minute.”
“How will we know if they saw it?”
He waits a few minutes and shoots another flare.
Dear God, please let them see it.
My heart has doubled its pace, and the higher volume of blood warms me.
“Is the beacon still on?” I ask.
Dillon checks it and nods. He shoots another flare. “That’s it,” he says. “We should save the rest. Now, we wait.”
The wait is agonizing. I feel like I’m in a strange void between life and death. Time stalls as I stare so intently at the distant lights that my eyes start playing tricks on me. One moment, the lights seem to flicker out. The next, I’m sure they’re closer.
“I think they’re coming for us,” Dillon says.
I think so too, but I’m afraid to say it, afraid to hope that I might soon be in a warm cabin, in a warm bed, with food in my belly.
Dillon shoots another flare.
“I thought we were saving them,” I say.
“I don’t want the boat to turn away. Hopefully they’ve located our beacon.”
We wait forever, but it’s probably less than thirty minutes—long enough for me to be sure the lights are becoming brighter. Thank you, God.
When the boat is close, the captain blows its horn. It’s the sweetest sound I’ve ever heard. Tears stream down my cheeks. We’re not going to die! My cats will be so relieved. My mom and dad will too, although, the next time I see my sister, I might strangle her.
The boat approaches like an angel floating through the darkness. Its lights show off the yacht’s white exterior and sleek, modern lines. Two passengers lean over the side waving and looking concerned.
“We’ll get you on board,” the man in expensive-looking silk pajamas says.
I want to jump to my feet and squeal with joy. Instead, I hop to my knees, spin around, and throw my arms around Dillon’s neck. I plant my lips on his cheek. He smells like salt water mixed with sweat. It smells amazing and I want to bottle it, though I have no idea why. I don’t think my brain is functioning properly.
When I pull away from Dillon, I pause and look into his eyes. His hand spreads across my lower back, a strong, sturdy hold. I lean in and kiss him, mouth closed, simply my lips pressed against his.
My brain definitely isn’t functioning properly.
My lips are dry. His lips are dry. I don’t mind.
After the kiss, Dillon looks at me with an amused expression. He wipes my tears. “What was that for?”
“You saved my life.”
“After I almost killed you.”
I shrug and muss his wild hair. “The past is the past.”
Howard Lemon, owner of the luxury yacht, The Stargazer, and his wife Jillian welcomed us aboard graciously. They immediately threw water bottles in our hands, plated up their leftover eggplant parmesan from dinner, and found us clean clothes.
Jillian handed me a Valentino sweatsuit. She said I could keep it and wouldn’t allow me to take down her address, so I could return it when we were on land.
I took a shower in their master bathroom, marveling at the décor: a glass tiled shower enclosure, separate jacuzzi tub, dual vanities with hefty, framed mirrors. Dillon took a shower in the second bathroom, and I met him in the guest bedroom where Howard and Jillian said we could rest until we reached the marina where our cars sat waiting. They assumed we were a couple and would therefore share the bed, but Dillon offered it to me, and he rested on the plushy couch across the room.
I’ve never had such an abrupt or extreme reversal of fortune.
“I bet you never thought you’d walk away with a thousand-dollar sweatshirt,” Dillon says.
We’re at my car. The sun is peeking above the eastern horizon. Despite sleeping a little on Howard and Jillian’s yacht, I’m still exhausted. Unlike the raw fatigue I felt when we were stranded on the raft, this tiredness feels warm, fuzzy, full.
“That’s how much this thing’s worth?” Shocked, I pull the fabric away from my body and gape at the upside down white ‘V’.
“Probably pretty close,” Dillon says.
“I figured it wasn’t cheap, but—” My mind starts formulating how much I can get for it on eBay.
“Consider it my settlement to you. Don’t get any ideas about suing my pants off.”
I think about Dillon in his undies on the raft. It seems strange now that I spent an entire day half-naked with a guy I hardly know. Suddenly, I feel embarrassed.
“I would never—” I avert my eyes from Dillon’s stare, “do anything like that with your pants.”
Dillon laughs. “That’s good.” He shoves his hands in the pockets of Howard’s joggers. “Hey…”
I look up at Dillon in time to see him look down at the gravelly pavement.
“I wanted to tell you something,” he says. “But then we got rescued.”
He’s still looking down.
“Before Melissa and I had Chloe, we had a pug named Charger. He was my everything. We watched football together. He slept next to me every night. I taught him tricks. And he had the cutest snore when he slept. He was like a kid to me.”
Dillon leaned against my car and continued, “Then I had Chloe, and it was magical. I can’t explain it. All I can say is, as much as I loved Charger, it was nothing like the love I felt for Chloe.”
“Dillon. We’ve only been on one date. I’m not ready to have kids.” I say it jokingly, but Dillon doesn’t laugh. He looks at me with those piercing blue eyes that are becoming brighter with the morning sun.
“I come as a package,” he says. “Me and Chloe. I just want to know if that’s okay with you before I say what I’m about to say.”
I know what he’s getting at, and I’ve had time to think about my no-kids policy. A lot of time. “I understand. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Dillon smiles. He runs his hand through his hair, which is now soft thanks to a proper shower with shampoo and conditioner. “Good. Then, I was wondering if you’d like to go on a second date with me.”
I pretend to think about it for a moment. With my coy card well played, I say, “I think I would like that. But it has to be on land.” I hold up my pointer finger for emphasis.
“I don’t think I’ll be going boating for a long, long time,” Dillon says, with a chuckle.
“Lord, no,” I say.
“Hey.” Dillon touches my forearm. “There’s one more thing.”
“This.” He closes the gap between us and leans in to kiss me. His lips are amazingly soft considering all they’ve been through over the last twenty-four hours. I sink into the softness and allow his strong embrace to hold me upright.
This isn’t Stockholm Syndrome. It’s the real deal. As real as it can get on a first date. And we did cheat death together, which has a way of fast-tracking a relationship.
I don’t know if our adventure on the sea will be a “story for our kids”, but I do know it’s a darn good story, and hopefully, only the beginning. I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays out.