Faster then the speed of light, Jagger put the room back in order, yanked me toward the balcony with a hand over my mouth-and soon we were in pitch darkness.
“I’m not going to scrweeeam,” I whispered.
He held his hand in place.
Within seconds we were out on the balcony, which was a hundred times bigger than Goldie and Miles’s. But below-way below-the waves clapped against the side of the ship, and my heart went into overtime.
Instead of a clear star-filled night, lightning flashed on the horizon, sprays of water moistened our faces, and the deep, dark water loomed below.
All my phobias crashed together, so I knew I’d die from fright before I hit the surface if I ever fell overboard. I was not a swimmer, nor was I able to float long enough to save my life. I freaked if I couldn’t touch bottom. Besides, the giant waves below reminded me of The Poseidon Adventure. At any second, I half expected a gigantic wave to come from nowhere and flip the ship over.
Suddenly I wondered if Goldie had been correct. Was the Bermuda Triangle acting up?
Jagger pushed me closer to the edge and I could feel my body stiffen. I think he tried to whisper something in my ear, but if it wasn’t something sexual or that we were going right back inside, I wanted nothing to do with whatever it was. I know he wanted us away from the French doors that led out there, but I didn’t care.
I’d rather be found and thrown into the pokey than fall overboard.
“Move, Sherlock,” he said firmly.
I shook my head, knowing full well that I couldn’t take another step if I wanted to.
“Do you trust me?”
I shook my head again, although I really wanted to be able to talk and explain how I felt.
So, Jagger not being used to someone saying no, I found myself lifted up and moved away from the door. The problem was that in Jagger’s arms I was now level with the top of the safety railing that kept the captain and his crew from falling overboard. One sneeze, and Jagger could let me go flying over the top.
I clamped onto his neck like superglue.
It took all of my control to ignore the fact that I could cause us both to fall into the sea.
I said a very fast prayer and before I knew it, I was set down over the railing to a very small ledge below. I think I blacked out. Maybe that’s when he pried my hands off of him.
Within seconds, I found myself grabbing onto the closest part of the ship that I could reach (the damn railing), hoping it would keep me from heading down to Davy Jones’s locker. I peeked over to see the waves far below and was glad, in one way, since they couldn’t wash over me, but in another way, I was terrified that it was a darn long way to fall.
Soon Jagger was at my side, holding on to me and motioning for me to stay still-as if I wanted to Polka right here on this tiny ledge to the tune of “By the Beautiful Sea.”
If the Bermuda Triangle didn’t suck us into the surf, I might just jump, since I didn’t think we could ever get off of there alive.
The fear factor was killing me.
My heart thudded. In the room, shadows moved along the wall. Doors opened and shut. We heard voices-muffled voices.
The lights popped on.
“Cleaning people,” Jagger whispered.
Cleaning people? What the heck was he talking about? I thought he’d lost his mind. Maybe Jagger was more afraid than me. Naw. “Whaaaaaaaat?” I asked.
Who cared if I sounded like a frightened kid facing the Headless Horseman on Halloween?
“There are cleaning people in the office. When they’re done, we can go back… What is it, Sherlock?”
Frozen, I couldn’t respond. The ship had tilted to one side. I didn’t know or care if it was port or starboard. For me it was hell.
“You don’t like water.”
At least he didn’t say I was scared shitless. I nodded and in seconds, Jagger’s strong hold had me feeling a bit safer. Of course I wished that hold was on land or at least back in the safety of the hallway, so that I could enjoy it.
After what seemed like hours, Jagger’s grip tightened. “The lights went out. I’m going to lift you over the railing back to the balcony. Remember, you said you trust me.”
“Um.” If I were watching us in a video, I’d probably laugh. My body had stiffened to near rigor mortis, and nothing-not even Jagger’s kind words, sexy words or, finally, annoyed words-could loosen my muscles. So, with me like a surfboard, he tried to push my rigid body over the rail. But before he could, the boat shifted again. He stumbled but caught himself, causing me to grab out-and yank a tuft of hair from his head.
“Ouch!” he shouted as he instinctively reached up to his hair and let me go.
I slipped back to the deck-and Jagger stumbled backward off the small ledge.
I scrambled to my feet.
And suddenly his hands were clutching the ledge where I was standing.
I could only see his hands!
Jagger could-no, would-fall to his death if I let my fears keep me safely on the ledge. Without thinking (since thinking would surely get me into trouble), I climbed back over the railing onto the balcony to keep the barrier between us for safety. I reached through the bars and grabbed his hands. “I’ve…got…you.”
I pulled. My damp hands flew back toward me, empty. “No!”
I stared for a few seconds then leaned forward.
His hands reached over the ledge again. “I’m standing on a pipe below.”
The wind nearly snatched away his words, but I heard the wonderful sound and thanked God. “Try again.” We repeated the action twice more and both times his wet grip slipped from mine, and on the first try one spike heel went overboard. This last time I screamed, not caring if the cleaning people found us.
“Pauline. Help.” His voice grew fainter.
Jagger was losing strength.
“I’m going to help!” With that I pulled with the strength adrenaline gives a mother whose child is pinned under a car. I yanked on his hands and arms and kept pressure on my hold with my leg wrapped around the railing until he was safely on top of the small ledge.
He lay there for a few minutes. Even fearless Jagger had to have lost a few years after that scene.
Once he was over the railing onto the large balcony, he clutched me in his arms. When his lips touched mine, I knew this was not just a “hey, thanks a lot” kinda kiss.
After a quick trip back to my room to “touch up” my makeup, put on some dry clothes and grab a full pair of shoes, I was down in the casino at fifteen past eight.
I swung around to see Goldie and Miles walking toward me. I couldn’t help myself. I ran up to them and grabbed each in a bear hug.
Miles pushed me back to look at me. “Whoa. What’s that all about? You all right?”
How could I tell my two best friends that I’d come so close to dying?
“Yes and no, I’m not. I need a drink.”
And Jagger walked up to me with a glass of something liquid and golden. “Drink it all-”
I snatched the shot glass from Jagger’s hand and chugged the liquid down in one hot, choking swallow. “Arrgh!”
He shook his head. “-slowly. I was going to say drink it slowly.”
“Now…you…tell me.” My voice sounded as if I’d smoked a pack a day from birth.
Goldie reached over, his hand covered in a white silken glove that ran up to his elbow, and patted me on the back. “Suga. Suga. What caused all this?”
I looked around. Hunter was on the other side of the room with a group of passengers. He noticed me and gave me a wave along with an “I’ll be over as soon as I can get away from this group” look.
I smiled as best I could after the choking incident (by the way, my throat still burned), waved and mouthed, “Take your time.”
I motioned for Miles and Goldie to follow me to a secluded table in the back of the room. Behind the dolphin, whale and seahorse slot machines, we found an unoccupied table. I flopped into a chair, thinking whatever golden liquid Jagger had given me had me relaxed enough for a siesta. Only thing was, it was nearly bedtime.
Good old Gold patted me on the arm this time. “Tell us, Suga.”
I looked at his ivory silk suit, flared pants, diamond necklace that matched gold dangling dolphin earrings with little emerald eyes (which I was certain Miles had bought for him) and tonight’s wig choice-platinum blonde bob, classic Carol Channing. I told them the entire story.
But first I started with, “No screeching. Promise?”
They looked at each other. Grabbed each other’s hand. And both nodded. I began and finished about tonight’s event and Jackie’s death with the two of them covering their mouths with their hands, eyes bulging, and blinking.
“Good boys,” I said. “Anyway, no need to fret. Jagger and I are all right. Only lost one shoe.”
I wasn’t sure if it was because I’d come so close to joining that shoe in the deep sea of death, or if the gasp was for the fact that I’d lost one of the only pair of sexy spike heels I owned-Prada, no less-and Goldie had picked them out for me during a huge sale.
I’m sure it was the first reason, but had to smile to myself about the last. “So now I have to find out more about-”
“Ah, Pauline, here you are. Hiding in the shadows with your…friends.” Hunter gave them a curious look. Guess he was wondering if Goldie was Miles’s girl. Ha!
“Oh, hey. Sorry I was late.” I introduced everyone and soon Hunter had us at a private table playing blackjack.
I was losing my shirt.
Miles kept trying to give me signals when to hold and when to take another card, but I wasn’t really able to fully concentrate. Had to be that golden stuff.
The dealer kept raking a card on the table in front of me, obviously so I’d bet faster, which made me all the more confused and a bit nervous.
“Damn. Okay. Hit me.”
Miles and Goldie both groaned.
The dealer dealt me a card.
“Twenty-one,” Jagger said, coming up from behind.
I recounted the cards. He was correct. We watched the dealer, who ended up with twenty-two, then shoved a pile of chips toward me.
Jagger seated himself to my left. “Guess I bring good luck.”
My spine tingled. Hunter had been called away for a few minutes-and I kinda hoped he wouldn’t return.
Now I was really getting confused.
After a few hands, and my losing three in a row, Hunter touched my shoulder. “Ah. Seems as if my date needs some good luck from me.”
I felt Jagger stiffen next to me.
And I smiled inside.
Then I wondered if he was getting up to leave, but looked to see him pointing for the dealer to hit him. Should be an interesting night, and I didn’t mean the gambling.
My bad night turned worse when I heard, “Yoo-hoo, Pauline!”
Not wanting to waste any more of my hard-earned cash, I got up from my seat to see my parents heading over, Mother waving a white linen hanky as if surrendering.
“Oh, no,” I mumbled, as with horror, I watched my parents take a spot near the table to watch the card game.
Hunter put his arm around my back as Jagger said, “She means well,” and patted my hand.
Yikes. The two of them were vying for my attention-and I didn’t mean the two of my parents. Having two gorgeous guys interested made me feel, excited, happy and scared, all rolled into one.
Damn. What a great feeling!
Goldie and Miles watched with pride and a bit of protectiveness, as Jagger and Hunter became the only two left with blackjack hands at our table.
I stood between them.
Every once in a while I’d look at Goldie and wink. He’d wink back. My mother kept going on and on about her and Daddy bowling today, and did I know that she had a strike?
“No, Mom. That’s neat. Congrats.”
“And, Pauline, your uncle is having the time of his life.”
Daddy grunted. “Male host.”
I smiled. You dog, you, Uncle Walt. “Glad it’s keeping him busy. Does he even see his friend Mrs. Kolinsky?”
Like the nuns used to do in Catholic grammar school, Mother tucked the hanky into the sleeve of her sparkly robin’s-egg blue dress. Goldie must have helped her pick it out. “No. She hooked up with a gang of women, and they are apparently having a ball too.”
Did Mother just say, “Hooked up?” I couldn’t speak for a few seconds. The air out at sea surely didn’t have enough oxygen in it for senior citizens.
Finally I said, “Oh. That’s great. I’m so glad you are all having such a good-”
“When are you going to start having a good time and stop working?” Mother asked, or make that nagged. “You have a choice between Mr. Jagger and that nice Mr. Hunter.”
“Mom, I’m having a ball.” I refused to discuss specifics, and I refused to explain that I hadn’t even started my nursing job here yet, but had been working my case all this time. I shut my eyes, and suddenly the deep dark sea floated below. My eyelids flew open, and I grabbed on to the nearest thing I could-my mother’s arm.
“What? What is wrong with you? You’re in some kind of trouble with that darn job. Aren’t you, Pauline Sokol?”
Yikes. When she used my surname, I was in trouble. With her. I let go. “Mom,” I looked back and forth to see that Jagger and Hunter each had a pile of chips in front of them-of equal size. Wow. I’d missed the rivalry hand. “Mom, I’m not in trouble. I have to work on Monday, so I’m having fun today and tomorrow.”
For several minutes I stood and watched Jagger and Hunter wheeling and dealing until Jagger’s pile had three more chips than Hunter’s.