He stiffened when he heard my voice, but he didn't immediately turn toward me. Just the way he was sitting there, staring down at some sort of computer screen, was making me nervous.
And mad, too. It was like he planned to just ignore me forever, whether I was thousands of miles away, or standing right behind him. I opened my mouth to say something when he slowly turned, his lips pursed like he had to try hard not to blurt out whatever it was that he was thinking.
He looked just like I remembered. He'd always had these big, ruddy cheeks, like Santa Claus (and it didn't hurt that his belly looked like a bowl full of jelly) and a small, round nose. I had the same nose, and I'd always thought it was cute.
He kept standing there, his lips pursed as he stared at me. I could see in his eyes he was searching for something to say.
I was a bit surprised that he didn't just blurt out whatever. I was always speaking before I thought about the words, and my mom had said I got that from him.
"Crista," he said, though it was more of a question. Heck, it sounded like he was trying to make sure that it was actually my name.
"Yep. So how's it going?" I asked, all nonchalant like. As if I hadn't just flown a good thousand miles without telling him I was coming.
As if I hadn't emptied my savings of six hundred dollars to buy the ticket.
"What are you doing here? Does Helen know you're here?"
I laughed, because that was just a stupid question. Apparently I knew Helen better than he did. "No, of course not. She'd never let me go. I left her a note."
He rolled his eyes and opened his mouth to speak, but I cut him off. "What? Is that too much your style? Guess I learned from the best of them, huh?"
Wow, bitter much? I hadn't expected to feel so much anger when I saw him. But it had started boiling the second I was in the same room with him, and was getting hotter every second.
Four years of anger will do that to a person.
"I didn't leave town with nothing more than a note." He crossed his arms at his chest, and I was surprised at how burly he looked. The dad I remembered had been more overweight than anything. Chubby, but not bulky with muscle. Now it was a combination of both.
"No, you talked to mom. She knew you were going. But me? I get the birthday card you'd left me. Because apparently crab fishing is so much more important than your daughter turning twelve."
He looked like he had something to say about that, but then he just sighed and closed his eyes for a moment. "You're still only sixteen, Crista. You can't just fly to Alaska without permission."
"Whose permission was I supposed to get? No one asked me permission if I wanted to live with my aunt. And you sure as hell didn't want to be in my life, so how was I going to ask you?"
"Watch your mouth."
I laughed. "Right. Because you're totally the parent here. I just forgot."
"What do you want?" He said the words as if they wouldn't sting. Some of the anger turned instead to hurt, but all I did was stare blankly at him as he continued. "This isn't the place for you. When the season's over, I'll fly back to Seattle and we can talk about what you want to do, where you want to live. But right now isn't a good time."
"It's never going to be a good time with you, Dad. Never."
"That's not true."
"Really? In four years you haven't had a single moment to come see me? You weren't there for 8th grade graduation. You weren't there for the honor society induction. You weren't there when I needed someone to take me driving because Mom was sick. You weren't even there for her funeral. So when, exactly, did you think would be a good time?"
He sighed again, and rubbed his eyes, like I'd drained him of all energy.
"Give me an hour to get the rest of this work done. I'll meet you down below in the galley. We can talk for a bit about what you want, and then get you set up on the next flight home."
"Whatever." I spun around and slammed the door to his cabin. Well, as much as I could, being that it was made of thick steel. Maybe it would conjure up memories of the eleven year old he'd left behind.
What a total jerk. He'd acted like I'd monumentally inconvenienced him. I, however, didn't feel the least amount of guilt. He'd made his choice when he'd fathered a kid. All I'd ever wanted was an actual dad and not the one that had disappeared onto the Alaskan Bering Sea over four years ago.
I descended the ladder made my way back across the boat, careful not to trip on any of the worn wooden deck boards. I found my bag, which seemed to have slid its way across the boat, precariously positioned over a round hole. As I picked up my bag, I peered inside. It was some kind of deep storage area that looked fifteen feet deep Oops. I'd almost lost all my stuff. The laptop inside probably wouldn't fare too well with a drop like that.
I grabbed the retractable handle that had quite nearly left an imprint in my palm from all the walking, and headed towards a door that I could only guess led to the galley. I was pretty sure that meant kitchen in boat-talk.
The door was elevated off the ground, more like a door you'd see on a submarine or something- it even had this little wheel you turned, to lock it shut and seal out the water. I stopped and looked around. Did waves get so big that a door like this was really necessary? We seemed pretty high above the surface of the water.
I pushed my way through the door, which required lifting my bag off its wheels and placing it on the floor inside.
Some guy with reddish hair and a clean shaven look brushed me, glancing oddly in my direction but not saying a word. I opened my mouth to call after him and ask where I could find the kitchen, but then just shrugged and turned around. It's not like I could get lost.
Around the corner, I found the room I was looking for. There was a big, full-sized dinner table surrounded by a U-shape vinyl bench seat. It was kind of a like a corner booth at a restaurant.
To the right was a kitchen. It was bigger than I'd expected. A big stainless steel side-by-side fridge was half-open, and someone was partially obscured by the door.
He stood up, a gallon of milk in his hand, and walked over to the table. He slid in and stretched out his lanky body, almost covering one whole side of the bench seat.
Orlando Bloom-look-alike here I come! He didn't have that crazy curly hair- his was actually sort of short shaven, a-la Justin Timberlake, and oh-so-cute. His eyes were almost as dark as his locks, but twice as intense, and seated deeply below a pair of thick eyebrows.
Definitely a worthy distraction.
He glanced up at me, then returned his attention to the empty bowl in front of him, and the box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch (even though it was two in the afternoon). I couldn't help but notice the slightest way his eyes got bigger. I knew it was kind of weird for a girl to just show up on the boat.
"Hey," I said casually, plopping down on the seat across from him. "I'm Crista."
He looked at me a little oddly but didn't miss a beat. "Cole." He stuck out his hand and I shook it, enjoying the sort of rough quality it had. I bet he worked hard, which was totally cool. I'd never been into the whole pretty boy thing. If a guy was better manicured than I was, I had a serious issue.
And unfortunately for me, I wasn't really the manicured type. My mom had raised me to be the tomboy-slash-cowgirl, just like her.
He went back to his cereal, and even though he didn't ask me any questions, I knew he wanted to.
"I'm Captain Vaughn's daughter," I finally said.
He stopped chewing for a minute and looked up at me. "Didn't know he had a daughter."
I laughed, and I sounded even more bitter than I'd meant to. "Figures."
He shook his head. "I'm a greenhorn. Don't know him. At all."
"Oh." I shrugged. "Well, you probably won't know me either. I think he's sending me straight back home."
"Right now, my Aunt Helen's house just outside Seattle."
"And you? Where are you from?" I grabbed the box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch and took a handful.
"Really? And you came all this way for some stupid crab?"
"They must be some crab, huh?"
"Mhmm." He was looking down at his cereal bowl, like he was avoiding looking at me. He had these amazing, thick, dark lashes that seemed to curl upwards just a bit.
I couldn't achieve that kind of look with a curler and a pound of mascara.
"So you excited to get out on the water?"
"Bet it's a lot of work though, catching crab," I said.
"You probably get really tired, right?"
Sigh. Talking to him was like pulling teeth. Apparently he had only one and two word answers. I was sure Orlando Bloom talked way more than this.
Then again, Orlando was so hot he didn't even need to speak. I could just stare at him all day and forget that his lips weren't even moving. That is, if he were actually on this smelly boat with me. Instead I got Mr. Silent over here. And yes, he was just as hot, but so far didn't have an ounce of the charisma of the real Orlando.
I tried to think of something to say to Cole, something that took more than a one word answer, but nothing came to mind, so I just stuffed another handful of Cinnamon toast crunch into my mouth.
After a few more long silent minutes ticked past, I heard noise coming from the ladder next to the kitchen, and damn if I wasn't hoping it was my dad. I should not have been getting hopeful about anything related to him, because he had a rep for totally blowing it.
And of course, as I casually glanced over my shoulder to see who it was, it turned out to be the redhead I'd passed on my way here.
"Captain says he's going to be busy for a bit. Wants you to do the grocery shopping." He tossed a list and a credit card down on the table and walked off.
I swear... this whole boat was filled with a bunch of grumpy guys who were giving me the silent treatment. I was 0 for 4, and I'd only been on the boat a half hour.
I picked up the list and couldn't help but recognize my dad's chicken-scratch style handwriting. I still had most of the birthday and Christmas cards he'd ever given me, even though the money was long ago spent. He always wrote the same thing: "Happy Birthday. Thinking of you. Call me. Love, Dad."
Ha, Right. Thinking of me? Love?
I rolled my eyes. I would not dwell on stupid stuff like that. Back to the list. He wanted three whole cans of coffee, the words BIG in dark letters right next to it. Three BIG cans of coffee. Sheesh.
"Hey, how long are you guys gone? A month or something?"
"A week." Cole slurped up the milk from the bottom of the bowl and set it back down, leaving a faint milk mustache behind. He wiped it off on his sleeve.
"You need three BIG cans of coffee for a week?"
He laughed. "YOU work on this boat for that long and operate on a couple hours of sleep a night."
So we've moved up to whole sentences now.
I turned back to the list. Beef Jerky. Oatmeal. Rice. Gatorade. Trail mix. Steak. Potatoes.
It was like I was stocking a bomb shelter or something. All the quantities were huge. "Is there a Costco in town?"
"No. We shop at Alaska Ship Supply. You'll find it all there."
"Does my dad have a car?"
That sounded so stupid. I should know if my own dad has a car. I mean, that's like pretty run of the mill information.
"Sure, a Chevy pick-up." He studied me for a moment. "It's a stick," he added.
"Great. I can't drive a stick to save my life."
Saying that bothered me. I hated to be the damsel in distress. I was quite self-sufficient, thank-you-very-much. But the car I'd inherited from dear old mom was an automatic, so I'd never had to learn.
"I can go with, if you want. I drove it into town yesterday. Clutch is kinda tricky."
I bit back a grin. Orlando-look-alike was speaking whole sentences and he wanted to help me out.
And I had a credit card.
Things were looking up. And it could only get better from here.