Nothing was more thrilling to Cera than looking out the window and being surrounded by a sea of stars. The way they flew by, spinning and streaking in a dizzying array all around her. It was in her eyes, as clear and blue as the sea, they shined magnificently as she gazed out into the sparkling abyss. She tucked a long strand of silky golden hair behind her ear and wondered why she kept delaying the inevitable bob she longed for each morning when it came time to untangle the mess. She was broken from her consideration by the familiar creak of the mess hall door and turned from the porthole, leaned against the cold metal walls, and smiled at her companion who had just entered the room.
Her nose wrinkled with her smile, obscuring the light scattering of freckles that adorned her nose and cheeks. She subconsciously tucked an invisible hair behind her ear and sighed, “How long till we reach port, Captain?”
The man, slightly older and grizzled, but no less handsome, strolled further into the room, his hand gliding along the surface of the worn old bar that sat closer to the door. He leaned against it and ran his fingers through his tousled brown hair before shrugging and smiling at her, “That's all in Eli’s hands now.”
She nodded with a knowing grin, “So sometime between now and when we inevitably die of starvation?” She pushed off the wall and made her way towards him, hands clasped behind her back, a flirtatious smile on her face, the click of her boots on the hardwood floors echoed loudly in the empty room. She lifted herself onto the bar beside him, legs dangling inches above the floor, he had never truly noticed just how short she was compared to him. She leaned her rosy cheek on her shoulder and gave him another hearty grin, “So where exactly have you charted us?”
“You are just full of questions today,” He teased, playfully tapping her nose, much to her dismay, “Aren’t you?”
She batted him away, “You know me, Cap,” She gave him a girlish little laugh, “Can’t help myself.”
“Either way,” He leaned over the bar and grabbed a bottle of well-aged rum he had nabbed the last time they had been shoreside, “Half the fun is in the mystery, isn’t it?”
She nodded silently. Taking a moment to gaze back at the porthole, at the stars, “Yeah...I suppose you are right.”
He shoved a glass into her hand and stood up, lifting the bottle to her face, “Drink with me?”
She offered up a coy smile in answer and hopped from the bar to join him at their table, a truly awful and wobbly thing that had one leg balanced precariously on a stack of old national geographics. He had declared it her table her first night on board, a sort of hazing of the new kid, and she had taken it in stride, and somehow the years had made it theirs instead. He poured them both a healthy serving of booze and set the bottle between them on the weathered table. She leaned back in her chair, swirling the rum as if it were an expensive glass of Merlot, she gave him another impish grin before knocking back the entire drink and following it with a cringe.
“Strong stuff,” She coughed, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. She slammed the glass down, “I think I’ll savor the next one.”
He poured her another, still nursing his own glass, much less intent on getting drunk as possible; more or less because he knew it was only a matter of time before Eli passed out, and the next disaster rolled through. Someone had to be mostly sober when that happened, unfortunately, it was his turn. He watched as she circled the edge of her cup with a finger, peering into the liquid, deep in thought. He hated the silence between them, even the more comfortable ones put him ill at ease. He wasn’t sure why that was, he’d known her for years, longer than most the crew but still…
He took a heavy gulp from his drink and looked at anything but her. It was because when they did find themselves in silence, one of them ultimately found a reason to fight. He wasn’t much in the mood to get into that tonight, not when they had a full day’s work waiting for them by morning. Not when he knew she’d win, because she always did, because she was always right. He looked around the bar and the emptiness was almost overwhelming.
“Remember…” She whispered, pulling him from his silent contemplation, “When we barely had enough bunks?”
He nodded, so she had noticed how empty their home had become, “You used to have to double up with Susie…Shame I never got to see what went on in there.”
She smiled and toyed with the end of her golden hair, “I think you would have been sorely disappointed.” She paused for a moment, “Speaking of Sus, where is she?”
He shrugged, “Shore leave, with Parker. They left for a flight home when we made port this afternoon. They’ll be flying back to Seaham. Her mom is getting to be a handful with the wedding planning. Wants Susie’s daft cousin, the one with the lazy eye and wandering hands, in the wedding party instead of you.”
She scoffed, still twisting the strand as if she were spinning straw into gold, “She has a problem with how pretty I am?”
He laughed into his drink, “Must be that… not the whole my daughter hangs out with a bunch of wandering academics, is marrying a giant ass-kiss, and wants someone outside the family, with an affinity for older men, as a maid of honor.”
“Not like I plan on seducing her Granddad or anything… I’ve met him…not my type,” She pouted before taking another sip, draining her glass again, ”Can you at least admit I’m pretty?”
“You know you are,” He teased, leaning back in his chair, “Don’t act as if we don’t all know how pretty you are.”
“Just like the occasional reminder, Cap,” She poured herself another glass, being extremely generous.
“Seems like everyone is leaving us,” He muttered, again glancing around the room, a room that once bustled with people, “Soon they will too. They’ll get married, go off on their own adventures. Put a picket fence around a little cottage, starting having creepy little half Parker half Susie babies, put up baby gates everywhere…” He sighed in annoyance, “what sort of life is that?” He knocked back what was left of his drink and got to his feet in search of another bottle.
“I imagine a nice one,” She whispered to herself, still staring at her drink.
He returned triumphant, a little more wobbly than before, and poured another glass for himself and topped her’s off, “Soon it will be just me, you, and Eli. And Dana, but the way things are with her currently… I can’t imagine she’ll be around much longer. Just our sweet little family of three. You can be the mom AND dad, God knows the rest of us couldn’t handle the responsibility.”
She fingered the edge of her glass and looked up, “And you never want to have a family someday? Ever?”
He raised an incredulous brow, “Cera, it's me we’re talking about. A family man I am not.”
She nodded, “I figured as much. Not a big shocker. To have a family you need to settle down, and you don’t seem the settling type.”
“Maybe when I’m really old,” He took a moment to think, staring up at that dimmed fluorescent lights, “Like near death old, I’ll get myself a pretty little wife and have a bunch of awful children…” He laughed returning his gaze back to her, “Not a pleasant thought, is it?”
“The world only needs one of you running around, mucking it up,” She quipped, before having another sip. She winced as it burned down her throat, “Even then…”
“Why do you ask anyway?” He leaned forward taking her left hand in his, “looking to become Misses Captain Moore?”
“Only in your wildest dreams,” She glared freeing her hand to steal the bottle from him, “Just curiosity. We were talking about Parker and Susie having a family… seemed the natural course of conversation.”
“You wound me with your not so subtle rejection” He knocked back another glass, the pretense of saving the day when Eli inevitably steered them into an island, now lost, “how about you then?”
She shrugged, and turned her eyes back to her glass, “It would be nice… but…I don’t think it will happen.”
“Oh don’t worry Cera,” He patted her arm drunkenly, spilling a bit of his drink as he did, “You’re still young, one day you’ll find a nice chap. You can get married and do all that… have a gaggle of little Cera’s of your own…reckon it’ll do the universe some good...to have more of you.”
She smiled sadly, “Then I’d have to leave you… It would take a complete overhaul of who I am to ever leave this ship.” She shook her head, “And we both know I could never trust you on your own.”
He contemplated her words for a moment and nodded, “You’re right I’d be a mess without you.”
“You’re a mess with me,” She corrected, her appetite for booze quickly waning as she drained her glass once more, “But a manageable one.”
“Why is that?” he asked after several quiet moments passed and he could almost sense the urge to fight with her bubbling in his stomach.
“What?” She asked, sipping at her drink.
He leaned forward again, his vision wobbling slightly, “You’ve never left me, why is that? Everyone else has and Lord knows I’ve given you plenty of reasons to go.”
Her lips twisted into a bittersweet smile, and she allowed her hair to fall in front of her eyes as she looked away, “I suppose like you...I have no place else to go, this place is my home. ”
“It's comforting to know that my most loyal companion,” He slurred, trying not to laugh, “Is only here because she’s got no place else to go. Really inspires confidence.”
“Oh,” She hissed, trying not to laugh herself, “You know that's not the only reason.”
He slumped forward on the table and attempted to peer up at her through the silken strands, “I know, I just like making you angry.” He tucked the sandy locks of hair back behind her ear and smiled at her, his fingers lingered at her jaw for a moment, “You keep warning me you are going to get a cut…”
She smiled a rare glimmer in her eyes, “It would devastate you.”
He let go of the strand and sat back up, looking away from her, “As it should be, as Captain all hair cuts must be approved by me. I’d never forgive you if you blatantly ignored my orders.”
She placed a hand on his, stopping him from his next drink. He found his gaze locked with hers, those large blue eyes speaking volumes to him, more than any words could say, “I could never disappoint you, Ben. You never have to worry about that.”
He coughed, pulling his hand away and chugging the last of his drink, “Rightly so. And that's Captain to you!” He stood, shakily, tripping over his feet as he did. She rushed to help him but found herself unsteady as well. He tumbled into her, pressing her against the table, knocking it to the ground, a flurry of torn magazines fanning across the floor in its wake. She remained upright as he slumped over her drunkenly.
“You’re much drunker than I thought you’d be,” She breathed against his neck, sending shivers down his spine. “You need to get to bed… never thought I’d see the day I’d out drink you.”
He rested his head on hers, “Cera?”
“Hmmm?” she asked, trying to force his weight forward in the direction of his cabin, and finding it more difficult than she anticipated.
She smelled like rum, coconut, and sea salt, like home. Or where he felt the most at home. Like her ocean eyes, sandy shore hair, and sunset pink lips, she was the sea incarnate and part of him had trouble resisting the temptation she presented. He took a deep breath of that intoxicating smell and felt his troubles melt away. “You smell nice.”
A deep pink blush came across her cheeks but she pushed on, “Thank you, Cap.”
She leaned him carefully against the wall before struggling with the door to his cabin. He swayed from side to side as he watched her attempted to force her key into his lock. He thought of those golden days sailing with his crew, The way her hair whipped around in the wind, how she’d nervously tuck it back and offer up a nose wrinkling grin while the coastal waters and dense green islands sailed by in the background. He put a warm hand atop hers, halting her drunken attempts.
He leaned into her, placing a soft kiss upon her lips. She froze as he pressed her into the door, the ice cold metal seared refreshingly against her flushed arms. She quickly reciprocated with hunger, lacing her fingers through his hair. He didn’t want things to change, he hated change. He didn’t want her to leave again, and all this talk about settling down scared him. He was acting on pure instinct, attempting to give her a reason to stay, any reason. As his lips met hers in a fury of passion he thought of everything he was losing.
He could smell the salt on the air, he could see Eli, daydreaming at the wheel. He could see Parker bent over a map, mucking about with a sextant, a pencil behind his ear, deriding Ben on disabling the ship’s built-in nav systems, for “authenticity”. His sister, Dana, pacing the deck as she derided whichever unlucky grad student that happened to be nearest to her. Cera, sitting at the bow, giving him that stupid smile, looking completely at home as she went over her notes. And Susie… beside him, cracking a joke, her large brown eyes and dark hair shining in the sun, peering up at the cloudless sky. He was about to lose it all, he had already lost so much.
He broke away, taking a deep breath. He rested his head against hers for a moment, “Susie is leaving…” He whispered.
His words cut her to the core, they hurt much more than she expected. Even when he was with her, he was thinking about Susie. Susie who was engaged. Susie who was set to be married to his best friend. Susie who was safe because she was unattainable. She pulled away, purposely looking away from him, “I suppose she is.” She turned back to him, a brave smile on her face but a falter in her eyes. She stood on her toes, placed a gentle kiss on his forehead while she caressed his cheek, “Get some sleep, Ben. Thanks for the drink… it was nice.”
He nodded as she extracted herself from his arms. He shoved his key into the lock and nodded his head once to her before escaping to the confines of his room. It was too painful for her, and she knew she would regret leaving him like that in the morning, but not as much as she would if she had stayed. She had done it more than once before and the outcome never changed. He would brush her aside and pretend it never happened and she would be forced to swallow her feelings. She knew what he was doicould nevers drunken mind had thought was a good idea. She never could have him, not the way that she wanted at least, because she was a danger to the way things were, to the safe place stuck in time he had created on board his ship. She wiped a tear stubbornly from her eye as she heard the door to his cabin slam shut. This would be the last time he would hurt her like this, she was tired of being toyed with...even unintentionally. She played with the ends of her hair as she made her way towards her cabin and decided to get it cut next time she was shoreside.