Read Seal With a Kiss Online

Authors: Jessica Andersen

Seal With a Kiss (3 page)

Smitty continued, "It wouldn't have happened if I
hadn't been needling her, but don't worry. I'll go get
the camera. With any luck, the tape'll be salvageable." He disappeared down the stairs and returned a
moment later with his diving duffel. The others stood
around, looking anywhere but at Brody, whose scowl
threatened to melt the deck.

Smitty pulled his swim fins out of the old canvas
bag and stuck them on his feet without bothering to
change out of his cutoffs and T-shirt. Grinning at
Violet, he whispered, "You owe me one, babe."

She could do nothing but nod. Had the world come
to an end? Had hell frozen over, pigs flown, and right
whale populations suddenly blossomed?

Smitty was saving her bacon.

He jumped into the darkening water with a jaunty
wave. His entrance was greeted by chattering clicks
from the dolphins that had been bumping the floating
yellow, formerly waterproof camera around like a
volleyball. Pulling his goggles over his eyes, Smitty
adjusted the angle of the snorkel as it curved around
behind his head.

Waving, he yelled, "No prob. Just let me rescue
my irreplaceable image from Dolphin Friendly's
friendly dolphins!"

As he twisted the flexible breathing tube and put
the snorkel into his mouth, Violet suddenly remembered.

The hot sauce.

"Smitty, no!" she yelled, but it was too late.

The figure in the water jerked and started thrashing
around, emitting horrible gargling sounds and clutching at his mask and snorkel. The water foamed white
and the dolphins darted away.

Maddy yelled, "Shark!" and the boat was suddenly
abuzz with running figures and yelling people.

"No! No, it's not a shark." Violet waved her arms
until some semblance of calm was restored. She
could forgive Brody's wife for her paranoia-her
parents had been killed by a great white-but the
added chaos wasn't helping. She waved her arms again until she had everyone's attention. "Not a
shark! He's fine."

"Doesn't look fine," observed Ishmael, pointing at
Smitty, who had shed his mask and snorkel and was
now gargling with seawater and glaring at Violet
through red-rimmed eyes.

"He'll be fine," she corrected, and winced at the
ire building in Brody's face. "It's only a little jalapeno sauce. He's just being a baby about it."

That earned her an irate splutter from the water
and she winced again when she heard Smitty climbing up the rope ladder on Streaker's port side. She
was in for it.

"He glued my fins to the floor last week. I was
just getting him back." Even to Violet that sounded
weak. "I ... I didn't mean for anything bad to happen."

She never did. Somehow, it happened anyway.

Brody rolled his eyes to the heavens as if praying
for patience. He stabbed a finger at the crow's nest.
"Ishmael, get down here and fetch that camera. It's
probably trash, but we don't want to litter. And you
two." He divided his glare between Smitty and Violet. "I'll see you in my office in five minutes."

Smitty glanced at Violet and mouthed, "Uh-oh,"
and she had the insane urge to giggle, though her
heart thumped at his teasing. It was like being sent to the principal's office at the age of thirty-two, and
that was just plain ridiculous.

Because honestly, what was the worst Brody could
do to them?

 

Smitty tried not to squirm as his oldest and best
friend glared at him from across the chart table in
the wheelhouse. If he could go back and undo the
last twenty minutes, he would. But it wasn't an option. So he hung his head in real dismay and waited
for the explosion.

Brody shook his head in disgust, calmer than
Smitty had expected him to be. Maddy must have
soothed him a bit. She had a knack for that.

"I don't know what's gotten into you two," Brody
began. "You've been at each other night and day for
months now and it has to stop. You're affecting mo rale on the boat and it's impacting your abilities to
do your jobs."

While he might argue the morale point, since Ishmael and Maddy were the only other scientists on
Streaker and they didn't seem to care about the continued tension, Smitty couldn't very well defend his
own actions. He'd known he was pushing Violet too
hard, but something about the way she'd jumped
when he'd walked up behind her had just plain
rubbed him wrong and he'd reacted.

Nothing had changed in the decade or so since
she'd walked away from what they'd had together.
But since Brody's marriage, he'd been thinking more
and more about the way he and Violet had ended
things. He'd been wishing things were different, and
maybe he'd been picking on her because they
weren't different. Because he was frustrated. And because the happy couple's relationship showed him
what he didn't have.

But now, five spectacular minutes of badly needed
footage had paid the price. The camera dripped on
the chart table, a long crack in the waterproof casing
giving mute testimony to its demise.

"We'll pay for the camera and we'll get another
good scene for your video," he offered lamely, aware
of Violet standing stiffly nearby.

Brody sighed heavily and ran a hand through his hair, leaving it sticking up and on end. "How? The
opening ceremony is less than a week away. The politicians will be coming to see how we've used the first
half of the funding and decide whether to give us the
rest. Need I remind you how badly we need that
money for the second boat and additional manpower?
The Smugglers Cove Stranding Research Center isn't
going to get all the way off the ground without it."

"I'm sorry, Brody." They were the first words Violet had spoken since she'd yelled for him not to use
his snorkel.

Smitty had to admit that the hot sauce, while surprising and not at all pleasant, had been an excellent
practical joke. It was almost as good as the time he
had safety pinned her into her hammock and sounded
the fire alarm.

Over the years, the practical jokes they'd played
on each other had been one of the few links they'd
been able to maintain.

Unfortunately, the timing of this particular joke
had been just plain bad, and the opening ceremony
video had paid the price. But, thought Smitty, everything was fixable.

He sent Violet an encouraging smile, but she
didn't notice. Her attention was focused on Brody.

Always Brody. Smitty sighed. Some things, it seemed, weren't fixable, no matter how hard he
wished for it.

"What am I going to do with you two?" Brody
asked.

Although he figured it was probably a rhetorical
question, Smitty answered, "Keelhaul us? No, seriously, boss. We're very sorry about the videotape
and we'll do whatever it takes to make it up to you."

Violet nodded earnestly. "Sure, Brody. Anything."

"Maddy tells me. . ." Brody paused, then continued in a voice that reflected genuine puzzlement,
"that you two don't want to work together anymore."

Smitty was surprised at the depth of his own disappointment. He hadn't realized Violet was feeling
the same way. The idea brought a vague ache to his
chest. Sure, he'd figured some time apart might
smooth out the tension between them, but suddenly
the notion of not seeing her every day seemed worse
than fighting all the time.

"Now, boss," he began, "let's not make any hasty
decisions-"

But Brody rolled right over him, saying, "However, even if we get the funding, it'll be a while until
the second boat puts out to sea. Also, I've been thinking that one of us should stay on land to coordinate
the stranding rescue volunteers, organize the new educational programs we're going to run from the center, and help with the databases."

Ahab, another of Dolphin Friendly's intern-turnedresearchers, had been working on a computer model
of dolphin and whale strandings on the eastern seaboard. He didn't seem to mind spending long hours
indoors clicking away at his computer, but Smitty
would rather eat chum than be stuck on land, working inside the stranding center day after day after
day....

Stuck on land. Brody's planned punishment suddenly became crystal clear.

Violet was just as quick to put two and two together. "Now Brody, don't be hasty. You wouldn't
want to pull one of your senior researchers out of the
field. You need us."

"Exactly. I need both of you. But not when your
minds are elsewhere. I need you with me-body and
soul-and the dolphins do too." Brody reached
across the chart table and plucked a key ring from
the hook next to the ship-to-shore radio. "Take
these."

Smitty did so, feeling a quiver of unease. As always, he hid it with a joke. "What are they? Keys to
the convertible I always wanted?"

Brody snorted. "Not hardly. They belong to a
twenty-foot refrigerator truck that you two," he
glared at his friends, "are driving to Florida."

Seeing where this was going, Smitty tried to stop
it before it happened. "But boss-"

"Nope." Brody shook his head. "My mind is made
up. Take the keys or you're both on shore duty starting now."

"Brody-" Violet began.

"Nope. Neither one of you is going to talk me out
of this." Their boss grinned and stretched before lacing his fingers together behind his head. "If you want
to complain, talk to Maddy. This was her idea."

"No kidding," Smitty muttered, "Miss `why can't
we all get along' just had to get involved, didn't
she?" But he wasn't really mad. Brody was right.

He and Violet had to make peace or stay away
from each other for good. This half-friendship, halfenmity wasn't working for either of them, and it
wasn't helping Dolphin Friendly.

"I don't get it. What are you talking about?" Violet
demanded.

"We're talking about a road trip," Brody told her.
"You and Mr. Smith here are taking a big, ugly refrigerated truck down to Florida to pick up a California sea lion named Jasper."

"A sea lion? In Florida?" Violet repeated, and
Smitty felt almost sorry for her. "With Smitty?" The
flush that climbed her cheeks was downright lovely,
and her perfect nails clenched the edge of the chart
table as if it were a lifeline. She looked utterly horrified.

He felt a thump of disappointment. Was the idea
of spending a few days stuck in a vehicle with him
really so awful? If so, friendship, or even a truce
between them seemed unlikely.

"It was your idea, wasn't it, Violet?" Brody looked
to Smitty for confirmation. "You suggested that we
use a trained sea lion to cut the grand opening ribbon
with oversized scissors, right?"

She nodded, then shook her head. "Yes, but I was
kidding. I didn't think you'd actually go for it."

"Well, I thought it was a good idea. The politicians
will love it. I asked a few people, and it turns out
that Jasper the sea lion was already scheduled to be
transferred from the Florida Stranding Rescue Seaquarium up to Boston. I got them to agree that if we
drove him, Jasper could make a quick detour to the
Cape on the way to his new home. The trainers have
worked with him and a pair of foam rubber scissors,
and now he's ready for transport."

"T-transport?" she stammered.

Smitty patted her shoulder, wishing she didn't look
so upset by the idea of a road trip with him. "It won't
be so bad, Vi."

She shrugged him off as though she couldn't stand
his touch. Backing away from the chart table, she
held up both hands. "No way. I'm not going."

Brody shook his head. "Sorry. Not an option. I need my senior people in charge of this move and
you two are it."

Smitty didn't bother to ask whether Ahab and Ishmael had been scheduled for the trip until the darned
video camera landed in the drink. He'd bet on it.

"And if I refuse?" Violet asked.

"Then you're both on land duty as of tomorrow,
and I'll tell Ahab to make you guide all the preschool
field trips scheduled to tour the rescue center. When
you're done with that, you'll be on data entry."
Brody grimaced when they both shuddered in horror.
"I'm not kidding. Do it. This may sound stupid, but
Maddy thinks you two have some stuff to work out.
I'm giving you three and a half days. Take a day or
two to drive down, and then drive Jasper straight
back for the ceremony. By the time you get home, I
want you to have worked things out so you can at
least be civil to each other."

Violet stuck out her chin, though her eyes were
wary. "Or?"

Brody looked from the broken camera to her and
back again. "Or you're no use to me as field researchers, either of you. As Maddy's parents learned,
a boat is no place to make mistakes. I won't run the
risk of you getting hurt because your minds aren't
on your work. Figure it out, or you're on desk duty."

Brody stood, walked to the door, opened it, then closed it softly behind him, probably figuring they'd
like to get a head start on making up.

Brody always had been an optimist. Smitty would
like nothing better than to make things right with
Violet, but he wasn't even sure when it had gone
wrong. He didn't have a clue how to start fixing their
friendship.

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