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Love on a Boat
The boy walked faster. It wasn’t long before he reached his grandparents’ cottage on the far side of the beach house complex. The spring air was cool and refreshing as Pete Sampson twisted the brass doorknob to the house.
He heard the lock inside the knob click, but paused as a voice said coldly, “Who are you?”
Pete turned around. “Pete,” he said. The person who had spoken to him was a girl that looked his age, sixteen, and she had wavy auburn hair that shone in the sunlight.
“Pete what?” she asked, raising an eyebrow and crossing her arms.
“Pete Sampson,” he said. “And who, may I ask, are you?”
“Tara Belacqua. I’m the Sampson family’s gardener. You must be a relation to them, because you share the same last name.” she guessed. She looked him up and down. His jeans had holes in the kneecaps, and his royal blue T-shirt matched his eyes. His brown hair was short and untidy from the two-hour walk he’d endured, and his tennis-shoes were sandy. His skin was pale, as was Tara’s, but it was taking on a shade of tan.
“Well, then, Tara,” he said. “It’s nice to meet you.” He stuck out his hand.
“Nice to meet you, too, Pete.” she said as they shook hands.
“Bye,” Pete said, then let himself inside the house.
“See you,” Tara said wistfully.
Pete shut the door and sighed. His back pack was heavy on his shoulders, so he thrust it on the coatrack and was disgusted as a cloud of dust emerged. “I always knew Gram and Gramps were not very big on cleaning.” he said to himself.
He examined the room he was in; the living room was large, and had a cold tile floor. The ceiling was painted an eggshell color, and the welcome mat he had stepped on was old and matted. The dirt was so thick Pete could barely see the embroidered maroon tulips. Instead, they looked brown. He pursed his lips when he walked into the kitchen and found a note sticking to the counter top.
Your grandfather and I have decided to meet you at the dock tomorrow morning. We shall be residing in The Seaside Inn, the motel beside the boating house. Our gardener, Tara Belacqua, will be at our home, so if you should run into her, do not be alarmed. She is very sweet and will assist you if you need it. In the morning, please pack our set of five life jackets, and your grandfather’s boating book called, The Benefits of Boating. We love you very much, and wish to have a nice time during our trip.
After reading, he crumpled the letter in his fist before tossing it into the trash bin. He was so nervous about the boating trip. He had had a phobia of being underwater ever since he was ten years old. At the time, his parents decided to have a swimming pool constructed in their backyard. Pete was ecstatic, of course, because instead of having to travel a half an hour to the local pool, he could swim whenever he wanted! When the pool was finally finished, Pete jumped in, forgetting that he couldn’t swim very well. Of course, he sank to the bottom and stayed there for approximately ten minutes before his brother, Geoff, who happened to be a lifeguard at the local YMCA pool, dived in to save him. After Geoff performed CPR and Pete was well again, he could never bring himself to swim in that pool again.
He looked out the kitchen window beside the sink and saw Tara watering a row of rather large carrots and humming a happy tune. She looked up and shrieked as she saw him, dropping the copper watering can by her feet, causing water to splash against the inside of its container.
“Sorry, Tara!” Pete called after pushing the window upward.
“I’m fine, Pete. Don’t worry about me!” she said, brushing soil off the can.
“Good, then. Bye, Tara.” He closed the window and opened the refrigerator. There was a bowl of berries and melon sitting on the top shelf, and he decided to eat that. He loved fruit, especially cantaloupe and blackberries. He found a spoon in one of the wooden cabinets and ate every bite.
That evening after changing into his pajamas, Pete fell asleep on the couch. Around midnight, he was awakened by a knock on the door. When he answered it, Tara was standing in the doorway, tears streaming down her face. He suddenly felt embarrasses about his dog-print pajamas.
“I’m so sorry to intrude!” she exclaimed as Pete motioned for her to come in. “It’s just that your grandparents told me . . . they told me . . .”
“Told you what, Tara?” he asked groggily.
“They want me to go on the boating trip with you! Oh, Pete, I’m so afraid of water!” she flung her arms around his neck and sobbed. She stayed there for a minute or two, then wiped her eyes with her sleeve and said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to fly at you like that.”
Pete laughed. “I rather like it,” he said. “And Tara, I’m scared of water, too.”
“Really?” she asked.
“Really, Tara.” he said.
“Well, I’ll go on the trip. I’ll feel better knowing that there’s someone else worrying with me.” She turned around and opened the door, stepping out into the cool night air. “Goodnight, Pete.” she said.
“Goodnight, Tara.” Pete said, watching her go back into her cottage. “Goodnight.”
Pete’s thoughts that night were only of Tara.
I can’t believe I’ve fallen in love with her! You can’t fall in love with someone you’ve only known for two days! repeated in his mind.
It was ironic when she knocked on the cottage door the next morning. “Pete!” she called.
“Tara!” he exclaimed.
“Ready to go?” she asked, letting herself in. She wore green cargo pants and a white blouse with her auburn waves in a green bandana. She held a duffel bag in her hand.
“Yeah . . . I’m ready,” he muttered.
“No, you’re not!” she laughed, poking his shoulder. His skin automatically tingled as if a bolt of electricity had been sent down his arm. “Go get dressed.”
He gladly obeyed, and changed from his dog-print pajamas into a pair of navy swimming trunks and a gray T-shirt after packing his things in his own duffel. “I’m ready,” he said, appearing in the doorway with a dopey grin on his face. He was head-over-heels for Tara, and to his relief, she didn’t notice. If she felt the same thing for him as he did her, he couldn’t tell. She was acting much more normally than he was.
Or so he thought.
They stepped out into the fresh air, and Tara pointed out her favorite houses and told Pete of her favorite vegetables to plant, while Pete just smiled and listened silently. He couldn’t think of what to say to her. He usually had no trouble talking to girls. This is bad. he thought. Why can I not speak to her? She probably thinks I’m a dunce, or something!
While they walked, Pete remembered a conversation he and Geoff had earlier that summer. Geoff was crushing on a girl that worked with him at the pool. “She is the cutest girl on the east coast,” he would say.
“Yeah, she’s pretty,” Pete would reply. Because she was. Blonde, thin, and blue-eyed, Kelly Norris was the ideal girlfriend. Physically, anyway. She was shy, and only talked to people who spoke to her first. None of the boys cared, though. They kept asking her out, and she kept saying no.
They entered The Seaside Inn’s lobby where they found Pete’s grandparents, Melanie and Otto Sampson sitting at a table drinking coffee and discussing the latest The New York Times that Otto held in his hands.
“Hi, Gram. Hello, Gramps,” Pete said as he and Tara dropped their bags by their feet.
The couple looked up from the paper and said in unison, “Hello, Pete!”
“Hi, Mr. and Mrs. Sampson,” Tara said, smiling at them.
“Good morning, Tara,” Melanie said.
“How goes it, Ms. Belacqua?” Otto asked, sipping his beverage.
“Very well, thank you.” Tara nodded.
“Good then. Are you two children acquainted?” Melanie asked.
“Very much so,” Pete said, smiling sheepishly. Tara glanced at him, causing his face to turn a deep shade of red.
“Why don’t you two get some breakfast before we head out?” Otto suggested.
“Of course, sir,” Tara said, and she and Pete headed to the buffet table.
There were waffles with an assortment of berries. Oranges, apples, bananas, and pears lined the table. Tara snagged a piece of toast out of Pete’s hand.
“Ladies first!” she laughed.
“No way! That’s not fair!” Pete couldn’t help grinning.
She bit into the buttered toast. “Mmm,” she said. “Don’t you wish you were eating this?” she teased.
“Of course I do! Why else do you think I picked it out?”
“Oh. Right,” she said, taking another bite.
“Anyway,” he said, peeling a banana. “Are you afraid of going on the trip?”
“Well, yeah,” she said, shrugging. “But with you there, I’ll be all right. We’re in this together.”
“You’re right!” he exclaimed. “We are, aren’t we?”
“Yes. We’re both afraid of drowning, but what are the chances of that ever happening? We’ve got life jackets, and it’s not like there are any sharks around to eat us!”
Pete couldn’t suppress a laugh.
They finished their breakfast in silence and went back over to Pete’s grandparents’ table where the couple sat waiting for the two.
Pete and Tara were not aware that as they talked about water, the elderly couple were talking about them.
“They pair nicely, don’t they?” Melanie asked.
“I rather say they do,” Otto agreed. “Pete looks transfixed by her. See the way he blushes whenever she looks at him?”
“Yes. I noticed that as they came in.”
“Tara doesn’t look too in love with him, though.” Otto sighed.
Melanie gasped. “You don’t know what you’re saying! Men do not understand the female mind!”
“Ding, ding! We have a winner!” Otto joked.
Melanie ignored him. “Look at the way she keeps twisting her hair. And that smile hasn’t left her face since they walked in. She must be feeling some attraction towards him.”
“Wow,” Otto said. “How do women KNOW these things?”
She ignored the question and sighed, “Pete seems embarrassed.”
“Oops! Sorry. Thanks for playing.” Otto chuckled.
“He’s not embarrassed, Mel. He’s happy.”
They had stopped talking abruptly when the two approached them.
After Otto and Melanie checked out, they head out towards the deck until they reached a big, white boat.
“That’s a lovely boat,” Tara said. “What’s it called?”
“The Offshore. Picked it out myself.”
Melanie rolled her eyes. “Only after I showed it to him.”
“Well, don’t just stand there! Get in!” Otto said.
They all obeyed, and Tara followed Pete into one of the cabins. There were two bunk-beds, a desk with a lamp, and Pete was surprised to see a television. Pete and Tara put their duffels under each of the bottom bunks. “This is great, isn’t it?” he asked, sitting on a bed’s ladder.
“I daresay it is,” Tara breathed.
“Kids, there’s something I think you’ll like in the desk drawer,” Melanie said as she peeked her head inside.
“Okay, Gram,” Pete said, pulling on the desk’s only drawer. “Check it out,” he said to Tara.
“What is it?”
“It’s a book,”
“Oh, I do love to read,” Tara said. “May I?”
“Sure,” Pete surrendered the book.
Tara grabbed it and said, “It’s called The Loveboat, whatever that is,”
“Read it to me,” Pete said, sitting in the desk chair and yawning.
“All right,” Tara said, then began. “The Loveboat was a success as soon as it was built. It was a resort for anyone who wanted to ride. One summer day, a young girl named Violet saw an advertisement for the ship. Her father wanted her to go, but she disagreed because she hated anything to do with the ocean or any other body of water. In the end, her father made her go and the sixteen-year-old departed on the ship the next day.” She looked up at Pete.
“Go on,” he said. Tara couldn’t help beaming. She loved that he was bossing her around.
“After unpacking her things, Violet was hungry and went down to the dining hall and waited to order. A young man that looked her age asked if she was ready to order. After she did, he introduced himself. Nathaniel Reynolds was a boy of seventeen. He had brown hair, blue eyes, and fair skin.” She stopped reading to marvel at the fact that the description of Nathaniel was very much like Pete, with the exception of being one year older than him. “Violet thought him handsome. She told him all about herself. She was a pretty girl with long, auburn hair, green eyes, and her pale skin was covered in freckles.”
“Oh my God!” Pete exclaimed, leaping up from his chair, causing it to tilt back and forth.
“What is it?” Tara cried.
“Those characters . . . They sound like . . . Tara, they sound like us!”
“Yeah, I know,” said Tara, her emerald eyes growing big.
“That’s really weird,” he said. “But keep reading,”
“If you say so,” Tara sighed. “Violet’s interests consisted of gardening–”
She was interrupted by Pete who said, “You like to garden!”
“I know.” Tara rolled her eyes. “Anyway, she ate and went in her cabin to rest. Only she couldn’t sleep because she was afraid the boat would sink and she would have to swim. But she would drown, because she couldn’t swim. She made her way to the concierge down the hall and asked where Nathaniel’s room was. She knocked, and having been asleep, it took Nathaniel a few minutes before letting her inside. She tearfully told her phobia to him, and then flung her arms about him. Then, she apologized for . . . for . . .”
“Tara, go on! Please go on!” Pete begged.
“Then apologized for flying at him! Oh, Pete! This is almost exactly what happened last night!”
“I know! It’s creepy!”
They heard Otto call from the bow, “Kids, look! Dolphins!”
The two teenagers sauntered out of the cabin to see.
“Would you look at that!” Tara breathed.
“I know. It’s,” Pete looked intently at Tara. “beautiful.”
“I’ve got to go unpack,” Otto said.
“Yes, me, too!” Melanie said as she and her husband hurried to their own cabin.
“Are you okay, Tara? Your face is red!” Pete said.
Tara playfully slapped his arm. “Pete!” she laughed.
“What?” he asked. “It is!”
“Being a redhead, I do have a tendency to blush,” Tara explained. She twisted a lock of hair around her finger.
“Um,” Pete said, searching his mind for a sentence. He was disgusted to hear, “Do you have a boyfriend?” come out of his mouth.
“No,” Tara sighed. “I did . . . once. But he was never there for me, so I broke up with him. We haven’t spoken since.”
“I’m sorry, Tara,” he said, and he really meant it, too. Why would any boy do that to Tara?
Tara yawned. “I’m going to bed, Pete. Goodnight.”
“Goodnight,” he said.
After she escaped down the steps to the cabin they were sharing, a dolphin appeared in the water, about three yards from the boat. It chirped for awhile, then disappeared in the deep blue ocean.
Rick Rydal was almost perfect; his glossy black hair looked crisp, and his skin was an olive tone. His black pools of eyes hypnotized Tara the first time she saw him as a freshman at The Horizon Academy. With a touch of makeup and an adjustment to her wardrobe, it wasn’t long before the senior asked her to join him at a five-star restaurant. Their relationship didn’t turn out so well. Fight after fight; apology after apology. It wasn’t working.
After he and Tara decided to part ways, Rick wouldn’t speak to her. He stopped greeting her in the hallway. Now a year later, Rick went off to college, forgetting she even existed at all.
As Tara lay awake in bed, she remembered another thing to worry about: her lucky bracelet. She had dropped it somewhere in the cabin and hadn’t been able to find it. Deciding to search for it in the morning, she drifted off to sleep.
The next morning after breakfast, Tara greeted Melanie and Otto with a smile and ventured the Offshore to find Pete. He was in the cabin reading one of his own books at the desk. Tara was still unable to fathom the way the characters in The Loveboat were described to look almost exactly like she and Pete.
“Have you seen a silver bracelet with my name on it?” she asked.
“Yeah. It’s in here.” He pulled a bracelet from his shirt pocket that glinted in the sunlight streaming in through the window.
She fastened it around her wrist and said, “Thank you, Pete,”
“No problem. Glad I could help.”
Tara smiled and nodded. “Well, your grandma wanted me to help prepare lunch soon, so I’ll see you later.”
“Bye,” Pete said. But he realized he was speaking to an empty hallway, because Tara was gone.
He stood and shut the cabin door. The hinges shook a little, but Pete didn’t mind. He sat back down at the desk and snatched The Loveboat from the drawer.
He read to himself in as quiet a voice as possible. “The next morning, Violet had breakfast. When she entered the restaurant, she told the manager that she wanted Nathaniel to eat with her. He joined her at the table with his grandparents that were staying in a separate cabin than his. He introduced Molly and Oliver to Violet, then sat down to eat. Afterwards, Violet asked him if he’d seen her favorite piece of jewelry that had her name written on the back. He dug around in his pockets and gave the silver bracelet to her. She thanked him with a kiss on his cheeked and offered to help Molly make lunch.”
Pete felt jealous of Nathaniel. Violet had kissed him. Tara hadn’t kissed Pete. She hadn’t kissed me at all!
He looked out the window and saw waves crashing against the boat. Sea foam was flying everywhere!
Pete backed away, gasping. He’d forgotten about how much he hated water until now. He screamed as a large amount of water spurted into the room. He couldn’t believe there was a leak in the wood!
Tara ran in, hurrying to his side.
“We have to evacuate!” he cried. “There’s a leak!”
Tara stood still, looking at him.
“Run, Tara!” he said, yanking their bright orange life jackets off their place on the back of the door and tossed one to his friend. He fastened his own securely and followed Tara to the bow after grabbing The Loveboat.
“Oh, sweethearts!” Melanie gasped as she and her husband donned their jackets. They had apparently heard him tell Tara about the leak.
“Get into the lifeboat!” Otto commanded. They leapt into a small wooden lifeboat that lay in the water beside the Offshore and shuddered as thunder exploded in the sky.
Pete felt something warm and soft in his hand. He looked down and saw Tara’s fingers clutching his own.
“Pete! I’m scared!” she moaned as Melanie and Otto looked on.
The lifeboat rocked from the waves churning below it, and Pete felt the knot in his stomach swell to a balloon. “Me, too!” he exclaimed.
Lightning cracked the sky and thunder boomed, causing the boat to shake dangerously. Tara shrieked and plunged into the murky water. Pete tried to catch her, but her hand slipped from his grasp. They waited one minute. They waited two. There was no sign of Tara.
“Otto! Get in and save that little girl!” Melanie said.
“I can’t! You know I can’t swim, Mel. Why don’t you?”
“I can’t stay balanced in water, especially in this weather!” she wailed.
“I’ll do it,” Pete said. And with that, he jumped into the waves. Down he went, the coldness of the water numbing his body. He frantically splashed and kicked, searching for his friend. He saw nothing, yet as he rose out of the water for air, he saw something orange bob out of the water. He recognized it as Tara’s hair. He took a shaky breath, then kicked underwater towards it. He couldn’t believe it; he was swimming!
He saw Tara’s hand appear in the air inches away from him, and he reached out and grabbed it, pulling her close to him. She threw her arms around him and breathed deeply, coughing up sea water. Otto held his hands out and Pete took them as Melanie helped Tara back into the boat. When Pete was safely inside the lifeboat, he laughed. He had faced his fear!
He sat up and sighed. Tara, after wringing out her hair, suppressed a sob and managed to say, “Thank you so, so much, Pete Sampson. You saved my life!”
“It was my pleasure, Tara Belacqua.” he chuckled.
“That was amazing, son. Wait ‘till we tell your parents!” Otto said proudly.
“You were so brave, Pete!” Melanie said.
Then, Tara took his hands in hers, and Pete finally got his kiss.
A few days later, when they were all having dinner at the cottage, Pete and Tara were curious about The Loveboat’s ending. After retrieving it from his back pack, Pete flipped to the last page. He and Tara read, “And they both lived happily ever after.”