The ominous gray clouds began to disappear. The sky looked brighter up ahead. Josie kept a tight grip on the steering wheel as she drove along Route 128 toward the small coastal city of Gloucester. She listened to weather reports on the radio and hoped the sun would come out by the time she reached the docks.
Wishing she hadn’t accepted Nick’s invitation to go on a whale watch on his friend’s boat, she thought about the reasons she should have stayed home. I don’t like boats. I’m terrified of the water. Do I really care what whales do? She could still hear her mother saying, “Dress warm enough. Wear a hat. Put something in your stomach, but don’t eat too much.”
Nick DeLuca was a fisherman. Just under six feet tall, he had dark hair and mischievous brown eyes. His hands were scarred from cuts and pulling the nets. He had a story for every mark. Josie knew him twenty-five years ago when she dated his best friend’s cousin. She spent a lot of time in Gloucester back then. After their marriages, they lost track of one another. Four months ago, she ran into him at a birthday party for a co-worker.
Josie heard a familiar voice behind her. “Where’ve you been for the last twenty years?”
She spun around to see who it was. “Nick? I can’t believe it. What are you doing here?”
He noticed she wasn’t wearing a wedding ring. “Same thing you are, I guess.”
They mingled with other guests for a while, but later drifted back together. After the party, she met him for coffee. Josie didn’t get home until two in the morning.
Nick asked her to dinner the following weekend. They started going out whenever he wasn’t working. He took her to visit people and places from the past. It brought back pleasant memories. He loved to sit and tell stories over coffee. They reminisced and discussed the directions their lives had taken. They believed it was fate and that they were destined to be together. She got to know him well in those few short months.
When he invited her to spend the day on his friend’s boat, Nick promised they would only go if the weather permitted.
“Sammy will check the weather reports. He won’t take the boat out if there’s rough seas or a chance of a storm.”
Since Josie enjoyed his company and she’d never been on a whale watch, she decided to go. Being a fisherman all his life, the ocean was second nature to him. She trusted his judgment.
Josie was afraid of boats, but didn’t tell Nick about her fear of the water. She nearly drowned when she was eight years old and never learned how to swim. When she heard it would be a four-hour excursion, she tried to tell him.
“Boats make me nervous.”
He seemed to think she was joking. “I hope you don’t get seasick.”
By the time they got on board, the sun was shining and Josie felt more at ease. The boat was much larger than she expected. It was wide and open and had plenty of room for the passengers to walk around. A covered section in the middle provided ample seating for those who preferred. The boat could easily accommodate well over a hundred people.
She followed Nick up the funny, narrow, steel stairs to the top deck where she was introduced to his friend Sammy. Josie expected to find an old weathered Sea Captain, smoking a pipe. Instead, a handsome, dark haired man, in his early forties, welcomed her aboard. The sun bounced off the gold chain he wore around his neck. She could see her reflection in his mirrored sunglasses. He graciously offered her the Captain’s chair.
“Thank you,” she said. “Where do you keep the life jackets?”
Once they got underway, Josie sat back and enjoyed the view from her special seat. The ocean sparkled like diamonds all around her as ripples of water glittered in the sunlight. Tourists waved from the docks. The old fishing town faded into the distance behind her. She finally began to relax.
There were about eighty passengers on board that day. The more adventurous ones stood along the railing, while others sat in the middle of the boat waiting to see the whales.
Susan, the narrator, was an attractive girl with thick brown hair, pulled back in a long braid that hung down to her waist. A student of Marine Biology, she was well versed on the subject. She told the passengers interesting facts about whales and what to expect if and when they were sighted.
Josie was about to give up on the idea of seeing any whales when she heard a young boy scream. “Look! There’s one!”
Susan immediately went into action. She pointed out where to look and what to look for. The whales turned out to be more entertaining than Josie thought they’d be. They did tricks for their captivated audience, or did nothing at all. Whatever pleased them, it seemed. They came up on one side of the boat and blew a stream of water up into the air like a fountain. Then, with their tails crashing against the water, they swam under the boat and quickly disappeared. Just when everyone thought they were gone, the amazing creatures re-appeared on the other side of the boat. Josie and Nick took pictures of them. At times, she wasn’t sure who was doing the watching. She wondered if the whales talked to each other saying, “Look here comes a people boat.”
Josie was enjoying the afternoon, in spite of her original fears. Nick took the wheel while Sammy went to the snack bar. He looked natural and at ease. Why wouldn’t he? When Sammy returned, he spoke to Nick privately. She couldn’t help notice they both looked concerned. An uneasy feeling came over her. When she asked if something was wrong, Nick smiled and said, “You worry too much.” He reached behind her chair and pulled the life jacket closer.
“Are you sure nothing’s wrong?”
“Sammy found a minor problem with the engine, but he fixed it. Really, everything is okay.”
Sammy decided to turn around and head back. Not wanting to create a panic, he told no one other than Nick and one member of the crew. Susan was still spotting whales and acting natural, but she knew instinctively there was a problem. When Josie heard Sammy alert the Coast Guard, she knew it too.
Sammy took some kind of tool out of a small black metal box and handed it to Nick. Again, Nick tried to reassure her. “Everything will be okay. We’re heading back just to be on the safe side. I’m going down to check on something. I’ll be right back.”
He squeezed Josie’s hand before he hurried down the narrow stairway.
Once Nick was out of sight, Sammy made an announcement.
“Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention, please? We are experiencing some minor engine problems and heading back to shore as a precaution. The Coast Guard has been alerted and is on its way. Please put your life jackets on, stay in your seats, and remain calm. Again, please stay seated.”
Sammy helped Josie with her life jacket and then put on his own. Peering through his binoculars, he stood and watched for the Coast Guard.
The next five minutes seemed like an hour. Thoughts raced through her mind, as her fear mounted. She heard her mother’s voice again. “Wear warm clothes.” And her daughter saying, “Bye Ma. Have a nice time.” She remembered her best friend Anne’s last words to her. “Don’t fall overboard.” Will I ever see them again? What’s taking Nick so long?
A thunderous boom interrupted her thoughts. The explosion knocked her off the Captain’s chair and onto the floor. Sammy held onto the wheel and braced himself to keep from falling. The boat lurched to one side.
“Are you okay?” asked Sammy.
“I’m all right.”
He helped her up. “Stay here. I’m going down to help Nick. Hang on. The Coast Guard will be here in a few minutes.”
Susan tried to calm the passengers while the rest of the crew provided medical attention to the injured. Josie had to find Nick. Somehow, she made it to the bottom of the narrow little stairs. The fire was out, but the smoke was so thick, she couldn’t see. Sammy stopped her and pushed her onto the floor.
“Stay down! And stay here! I have to try to get Nick out.”
A few minutes later, Sammy dragged Nick out of the engine room. Crying, Josie knelt beside them. Covered in blood and barely conscious, Nick reached for her hand.
“Hold on, Nick. Please, hold on. Help’s on the way.”
Josie held his hand while Sammy tried desperately to stop the bleeding. She felt the life slowly drain out of the courageous man she had just begun to know again. The hand that was once strong enough to pull the nets, no longer had even a weak grip. The last words he spoke were inaudible to her.
Sammy put his hand on hers. There was a three-inch gash on his forehead and tears in his eyes when the Coast Guard got to them. Gently, he pulled Josie away so the men could get everyone to safety. Everyone, except Nick.
© 2016, Lina Rehal. All rights reserved.
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