Poll closes Saturday, Feb 7, 11:59 PM Eastern
Brent's future certainly looks brighter, don't you think? Are you favoring any of the "bachelorettes" yet? Fay Lamb is helping us get to know them a little better - she somehow wrangled interviews with each one after their encounter with Brent, so check out On the Ledge to learn more about them. The interviews may help prepare you for voting - help you decide which heroine is the right one for Brent.
Our shore excursions offer such a great variety - I'm loving Brent's e-mails to his sister, Roselle. If you haven't checked them out, you'll find them over at Marji Laine's blog.
If you're like me and now experiencing "cruise fever," be sure to visit the blog of Elizabeth Noyes, our very own cruise expert, who's been sharing some excellent cruise tips all week.
Port of Call: Aruba
Brent leaned his forearms on the ship’s rail and clasped his hands together. All around him, as far as the eye could see, the night held strong. He squinted toward the east and waited for the sunrise.
He loved this time of day, loved the quiet serenity, those moments before the veil of night lifted. How could anyone not believe in a Supreme Creator when faced with the beauty morning would bring?
“And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good,” Brent whispered the words from Genesis in praise and prayer. “And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”
Minutes passed as the ebony sky faded to deepest purple. Rosy swirls joined the Creator’s palette and, before long, the pinpoint of light on the horizon became a slash. Sky separated from sea. The world grew lighter. And then the sun broke the horizon in a blaze of glory. A new day dawning, one that came with renewed mercies.
Good. He needed a little mercy after being mauled by the “Barbie” twins at dinner last night. Brent shuddered, but not from the cooler morning temperatures. Brandi and Candi had played tug-of-war, with him as the rope. Bet Ken never went through that.
Another shudder escaped at the thought of their lightning-quick hands. Thank goodness Danny had come along and rescued him. The thought of what might have happened left him in a cold sweat. Some women had no shame.
The blue water turned to froth where the ship’s prow cut through the waves. Sunlight glinted on the sea. When they’d boarded back in Charleston, the ship seemed huge, the size of a small city. Out here? An insignificant speck on an endless ocean.
Was this how Noah felt in the days of the flood? Alone on a vast sea, with the singular duty of leading his family into a new life?
Brent closed his eyes, drew in a deep breath, and let it out on a slow count to ten. Isn’t that what God had called him to do? Lead others into new life?
Ahead in the distance, an indistinct mass broke the flat line of the horizon. Aruba. They would dock soon. He planned to be the first crew member off for a quick tour of quaint Oranjestad, the capital city. He’d noted how the women on the ship flocked to the shopping areas in previous ports. They dropped a boatload of money on the artsy-craftsy stuff. Jewelry, too. Lots of jewelry. The gaudier, the better. Maybe he’d get a trinket for his sister, Roselle. One of those eye-blinding sarong things, too. With gigantic flowers.
It was the snorkel tour he most looked forward to, though. Danny claimed Aruba had the most beautiful waters in the world. Brent just wanted to lose himself in the undersea world for a few hours.
The thought came with a pang of guilt. It wasn’t that he didn’t enjoy his ministry work on the ship. He didn’t care for the lopsided ratio of males to females on this cruise. It was skewed too far to the estrogen side. Which made him fair game for all the love-starved women.
Roselle would get an earful when he got back.
People began to trickle onto the Lido Deck in ones and twos, most with coffee cups to warm their hands.
He pushed away from the rail, peace and quiet done for another day. Breakfast first, and then it would be time to head down to the gangway. Today was his, and he intended to enjoy every moment.
Ding. Ding. Ding. The ship’s passengers were all queued up with their identification cards in hand.
Brent slipped into the line behind a man and woman in matching flowered shirts and held his ID card out for the crewman to insert into the security reader.
He tucked the card away and walked down the gangway. At least the line wasn’t as long as when he’d gotten off to shop earlier this morning.
A quick tug adjusted the bag over his shoulder that held his snorkeling gear and towel. He wore board shorts this time, with a gray t-shirt. Just another lazy tourist on vacation. No worries, mon.
It didn’t take long to find his tour group. Halfway down the pier, a guide held a sign aloft for Red Sail Catamaran & Snorkel.
Brent studied the thirty or so people gathered there. Most were couples, but a few guys hung out nearby, as did a group of four women who appeared to be in their fifties, maybe sixties. The way they ogled him, like a cougar toying with a field mouse, made him vow to steer well clear.
A younger woman fiddled with a camera off to one side. She wore cut-offs over a modest, one-piece swimsuit that left a wealth of caramel-colored skin on her back and arms exposed. Her curly brown hair, caught up in a fat ponytail, hung halfway down her back. Attractive? Oh, yeah. But it was the way the sun burnished her hair and skin that captured his attention. As if she’d been dipped in gold.
Mikel, the tour guide, led them along a street lined with tents where leather goods, baskets, wood carvings, native dresses, and jewelry were displayed. The hawkers did their best to entice a sale, but Mikel’s pace kept the group moving. They traversed the length of the marina to a smaller pier at the end.
And there she was.
The Rumba. All seventy feet of pristine white catamaran bobbed at its moorings and preened like a sleek angel fish amidst a school of brown grouper.
As the crew cast off the mooring ropes, Mikel gathered the passengers inside for a safety talk and demonstration of the loaner snorkel gear for those new to the sport.
Once the captain maneuvered the Rumba out of her berth, through the harbor, and into the open sea, he called for some strong backs to help raise the sails.
“Heave, heave, heave.”
Brent and seven other guys tugged on the ropes until the mainsail lifted and filled. With a thirty-minute sail to DePalm Island, he grabbed a spot on the front of the webbing and settled back on his elbows to soak up some rays.
From his position, he had a good view of everyone on the vessel, except for those who stayed inside to hide from the sun.
He spotted the golden girl. She talked with Mikel on the starboard side. Their banter seemed easy, like they knew each other.
She pushed her sunglasses on top of her head, and raised the professional-grade camera to her eyes. Her steps were sure-footed, without the stumbling hesitation the other landlubbers showed.
His eyes followed her route around the sides of the boat as she snapped shots of the crew and passengers. When she stepped onto the webbing, Brent pushed to his feet. His mom had made sure he knew how to treat a lady, but this reaction wasn’t about being a gentleman. He wanted to see her face up close. Given her skin color and hair, he guessed she hailed from one of the islands, maybe the Pacific side. Would her eyes be dark like coffee? Lighter, like milk chocolate? Or a golden, honey color?
One of the ladies from the group of four struggled to her feet and started toward the cabin. Her first two steps on the crosshatched netting were steady, but on the third she lost her balance and staggered … right into Golden Girl.
She never saw the older woman coming.
Brent reached out when Golden Girl stumbled, his hands on her waist to steady her.
One hand flew out and clutched his arm. “Oh,” she yelped. Once she had her balance back, she looked up at Brent. “I’m so sorry.”
Simultaneous thoughts struck him. One, she spoke perfect English, with the barest hint of an accent he couldn’t identify. And two, her eyes were the color of the Caribbean water. Blue-green. Exotic. “Glad I could save you.”
Smooth, Romeo. Real smooth.
“Well, I don’t know about that. I mean, I already have a Savior. But you did keep me from looking like a fool.” She grinned then. “You can let go now.”
And then she was gone, on her way across the webbing.
A savior. Did she mean …?
No time to wonder. The captain called for help again, to furl the sails this time. Ten minutes later they dropped anchor in a crescent-shaped lagoon, forty yards off DePalm Island. An earthly paradise, lush green foliage and blinding-white sand.
Brent looked over the side of the catamaran at the water and sucked in a breath. He removed his sunshades. With the submersible steps lowered, the catamaran’s draft had to be at least ten feet, maybe twelve, which meant the sandy bottom had to be fifteen feet. And yet, it appeared no more than knee deep.
For once, Danny hadn’t exaggerated.
Most of Brent’s fellow passengers headed toward the rear of the vessel to descend the steps. Several of the guys, unwilling to wait, bailed over the side into the water.
Brent stripped off his t-shirt, pulled out his mask, fins, and snorkel, and looked around for Golden Girl.
The four older women crowded around him, blocking his search. One said, “You’re the chaplain, aren’t you? I saw you with those two blondes at dinner last night.”
“Ah, yes, I’m the chaplain. But I wasn’t with those two. They, ah …”
The redhead Brent had avoided most of the trip giggled. “Uh-huh. We get it. The cruise line didn’t do a very good job of balancing numbers for their romantic getaway. I mean, there are scads more women than men on the ship. That makes you a hot commodity.”
“Smoking hot,” another snickered.
The others added their giggles.
A third lady moved in closer. “I don’t suppose you’d have dinner with us tonight?” She squeezed his bicep.
“Yeah, uh, sorry. Got another commitment. If you’ll excuse me, ladies.” He scurried to the other side of the boat, fleeing their laughter. No shame at all.
Sitting on the side of the catamaran, he spit in his mask and pulled it into place, donned his fins, and was in the water in thirty seconds.
The sea was warm with little to no chop. Perfect for snorkeling. He spotted Golden Girl’s red swimsuit on the surface of the water some distance away. She swam along and skirted the other swimmers, but stopped often to snap pictures of the people as they frolicked. A professional photographer? The dive camera suggested it.
He set off her way. “Hey.”
She looked up, glanced around, and removed her mouthpiece. “Hey, yourself.” Her hair, darkened by the water, clung to her neck, the curls relaxed.
“What did you mean, you already have a Savior?”
A smile spread across her face. She looked like an angel, or maybe a sea nymph. “Jesus. Do you know Him?”
Her answer pleased him, but then her question sank in, giving him pause. “Yeah, I know Him. I’m the chaplain on this cruise.”
Her eyebrows lifted. “Is that right?”
He grinned in hopes of winning another smile, but she tucked the mouthpiece back in her mouth and swam toward the group of women who’d invited him to dinner. They’d ventured quite a ways from the catamaran.
He followed at a distance, unwilling to risk another encounter with them.
Golden Girl managed to get ahead of the group, and tapped one on the shoulder. The others raised their faces out of the water.
“That way.” She motioned toward the shore with one hand. “The coral is too close to the surface here. It’s not safe.”
The ladies grumbled but turned and slow-paddled in the other direction.
Golden Girl lagged behind, watching over the strays.
Curiosity piqued, Brent wanted to know more about this mysterious mermaid. “Do you work for the cruise line or something?” he asked, falling in beside her.
“Are you a photographer? Or do you just like to shepherd the cargo?”
“I thought shepherding was your job.”
He choked on a mouthful of sea water, while she trailed after her charges.
“Wait up,” he called, using long strokes to catch up. “What’s your name?”
She aimed her camera at him and clicked. “Alyssa. What’s yours?”
“Brent. Where do you work on the ship, Alyssa?”
That earned him another laugh. “I’m a counselor for the Kids Kamp.”
“But, there aren’t all that many kids on this cruise.”
“Exactly. That’s why I do shore excursions. And photography. And sometimes I work in the purser’s office, or help out backstage, or run errands for the cruise director. They stick me wherever. Uh-oh.” She started after another group of swimmers who’d strayed too near some rocks. “Later.”
She took off, slicing through the water like a dolphin.
Brent started to follow but decided against it. She had a job to do and didn’t need him distracting her. He slipped his snorkel mouthpiece in and stuck his face in the water, ready to enjoy the quiet.
Sometime later, he checked his watch and started back to the catamaran. The captain would blow the whistle soon, the signal it was time to leave. He looked around the lagoon for Alyssa’s red swimsuit. Maybe he could get her to talk about her home country and how she came to know Christ on the return.
It wasn’t until he reached the submersed steps that he saw her already on board. She leaned against the wire rail, watching him.
Brent grinned and waved, slipped his fins off, and climbed aboard. After a quick rinse under the fresh water shower, he packed his gear away, toweled off, and cocked an eyebrow at the cup thrust under his nose.
“Just fruit punch, Pastor,” Alyssa said. “No enhancements.”
“Thanks.” He gulped the drink down.
They got refills and found a spot on one side away from the others.
“So, you’re a real pastor?” she asked. “I mean, you don’t look or act like any preacher I’ve known. Shouldn’t you have a church to run?”
He cleared his throat to cover his discomfort. What did she mean he didn’t act like a preacher? He recalled her earlier comment that indicated a similar doubt about his calling, when she asked if he knew Jesus. Was he sending out wrong signals?
“Yes, I am a pastor. I started a small church right after seminary, but I spend most of my time in the community, working with underprivileged children.”
A flush stole up her neck, giving a rosy hue to her light brown skin. “I didn’t mean to insult you. I mean, you’re young and good-looking.”
He ducked his head, lips twitching. He could work with good-looking.
“Oh, come on,” she went on. “You know you are. You have to be aware of all the women ogling your … um, ogling you.”
Brent didn’t think it possible, but her blush deepened.
“I mean,” she went on. “Why would you go on a cruise promoting romance? You’re like a pork chop dangled over a tank of piranha.”
The grin got away from him.
“And for a pastor, you’re not trying very hard to run away.”
Okay, that part he didn’t like. “Not true, Alyssa. I can’t tell you how so not true that statement is.”
She pulled her backpack from under the seat, dug around until she found a t-shirt, and slipped it on.
Brent diverted his eyes, embarrassed that he’d been doing his own ogling. What was wrong with him? He never acted this way.
He followed her lead, retrieved his own shirt and pulled it over his head. Then he leaned against the backrest. “You want the scoop on me?”
She tilted her head, seemed to consider his offer, and then nodded.
“I’m twenty-nine years old. After college, I went to seminary school. Now I’m the pastor for a startup church. While doing that, I also work with the youth in my hometown. My sister decided I needed a vacation and contacted my best friend, who happens to work for the cruise line. Between them, they set me up with this gig. I wouldn’t have come if I’d known it was a cruise for lovers.”
His mouth fell open. “Are you kidding? I’m not looking for love.”
One delicate eyebrow arched high.
She thinks I’m a player.
“Sometimes love finds you, whether you’re looking for it or not.”
“Yeah, well it’s not always mutual.”
Sadness filled her eyes. “I’m sorry.”
From suspicion to pity in the blink of an eye. Not what he wanted. “For what?”
“For your bitterness. Someone hurt you.”
“It’s done. I’ll get by. So, tell me about you. What’s your last name? Where are you from? How long have you worked for the cruise line? Do you have family? A significant other?”
Her laugh was a soothing balm. “Oh my, where to start?” She looked him square in the eye. “As you might have surmised, I have a mixed heritage. My father, Francois Laroche, was French. He came to Manila on business, met my mother, and married her. A real life fairytale.”
Brent stared at her face. “That explains your amazing eyes.”
When she tried not to smile, twin dimples appeared. “I was born in Paris, but my parents were killed in a plane crash when I was two. I don’t remember them. My grandfather took me back to the Philippines. He raised me until I went to college.”
“What did you study?”
“I attended the National Teachers College in Manila. Most of the primary and secondary schools in the Philippines incorporate English in their curriculum, so my generation speaks your language very well.” Her eyes lit up. “I learned about Jesus during my senior year. That’s when I gave my life to Him.”
“Why didn’t you stay in Manila? Become a teacher?”
Sadness filled her expression. “My grandfather follows the old ways. He expected me to marry one of the men from the village. I wanted more.”
He could tell she didn’t want to talk about it. Alyssa was a puzzle. Beautiful, educated, smart. She was wasting her future as a babysitter for kids on a cruise ship while their parents went a little wild. “So, what comes next, Alyssa Laroche?”
She gave him a quizzical look.
“You know, after you see the world. What do you want to do with your education?”
She seemed to withdraw. “I don’t know.”
“Have you thought about a life in the United States?”
She searched his eyes, her own reflecting a ray of hope that soon withered away. “Doesn’t everyone? All I’ve got is a Crewmember Visa that’s good for a twenty-nine day stay. One month is not enough time to find a sponsor or a job.”
He raised an eyebrow, challenging her. “You won’t know unless you try.”
The riot of curls gleamed like a halo when she shook her head. “No. It’s not like I can fall back on the cruise line. If you leave, they won’t rehire you.”
“What if you had a sponsor? And a job?”
Okay, it was official. He’d slipped over the edge and fallen into insanity. How could he offer to sponsor someone he’d only known for three hours? And yet, he felt no anxiety.
Is this Your work, Lord?
Raucous laughter erupted from the front of the boat. Two men held out a snorkel tube between them, while the women lined up to limbo. On the netting. While the catamaran bucked against the current.
Alyssa rolled her eyes.
Brent chuckled. “‘Enhanced’ fruit punch at work.”
She laughed, but her smile soon slipped away. “Time for me to work. They’ll snatch up these pictures in a heartbeat, for blackmail or to keep others from seeing them.” She waggled her eyebrows, grabbed her camera, and walked away.
“Alyssa,” he called out.
She looked over her shoulder.
“Have dinner with me tonight?”
“Can’t. I eat in the crew’s mess. You and the other ship’s officers have to dine with the passengers in the dining room. Pork chops, remember?”
She was right, but he’d subsist on potato chips for the rest of the cruise if it meant escaping the Barbie Twins and their ilk. “You know where to find me on the ship. Stop by and get my business card. Please. And think about what I said.”
A smile and a shrug. That’s all she gave him. At least it wasn’t an outright ‘no.’
Come back on Monday for Chapter Six!
Write Integrity: Chapter Five
Marji Laine’s blog:
Interview on Quid Pro Quills
Fay Lamb’s On the Ledge:
Write Integrity: Chapter Four
Marji Laine’s blog:
Fay Lamb’s On the Ledge:
Write Integrity: Chapter Three
Marji Laine’s blog:
Fay Lamb’s On the Ledge:
Betty Thomason Owens:
Marji Laine’s blog:
Fay Lamb’s On the Ledge:
Marji Laine blog:
Interviewed on Lena Nelson Dooley’s Blog
Interview on Carole Towriss blog: 8 Reasons Romance is a Joke