Excerpt from Hard Landing

HARD LANDING

Gigi was lounging by the pool, soaking up the Key Largo sun and enjoying her family’s antics, when she thought she heard a familiar voice.  Swiveling her head around, she saw a young man heading toward one of the poolside bungalows carrying several suitcases.  A sudden bolt of recognition shot through her, causing her to clutch her chest, but then Gigi saw a bosomy, botoxed bottle blond follow close behind.

She shrugged the episode off to wishful thinking.  The man she thought she had seen would never have tied himself to a woman like that.  No, no.  Shake it off, girl, Gigi thought.

It must have been the hot sun causing her to imagine things.  Turning in her chair, she watched her cousins roughhouse in the pool, playing an improvised game that was part water polo and part keep-away.  She removed her over-sized sunglasses and baseball cap, and rose from her lounge chair to jump in the pool, joining her cousins’ horseplay.  Still, Gigi turned around in the water and stared at the bungalow the couple had entered.  The voice had sounded so familiar.  For a split second she was sure it had been someone she used to know.

“Watch out!” yelled a cousin as a ball flew through the air, bouncing off Gigi’s head.

“Ouch, give a girl a heads up,” she complained.

Her cousin, Boomer, shot her one of his signature ear-to-ear grins and said, “I told you to duck.  Get in the game, Cuz!  Where were you?”

“Right here, Cuz!” cried Gigi as she attacked by splashing water and jumping on her boisterous cousin while pushing him down into the water.  She then gave Boomer a ferocious noogy on his head.  “You’re such a dweeb, Boomer,” she squealed as he pushed his way back up and effortlessly threw her into the deep end of the pool.

Other cousins joined in the fun.

Defending herself against an onslaught of attacks by her playful cousins, Gigi forgot about the man who had been struggling with four suitcases as he entered Bungalow Two.

She was too busy having fun.

 

2

The pool activity died down, and most of the relatives had retired to their bungalows for a little rest.

Gigi and Boomer still had plenty of energy and decided to go kayaking.  While Boomer went to purchase drinks, she headed for the kayaks, which were tied up at the pier.  Gigi strode into the turquoise water, struggling with one of the kayaks.

“Here, let me help you,” offered a masculine voice.

Once again Gigi had a glimmer of recognition, but shrugged it off.  Without looking up, she replied, “Don’t bother.  I think I’ve got it, but thanks.”

“Gigi?  Gigi, is that you?”

Gigi swung around as if she had been struck by lightning.  She cupped her hand over her eyes, but still couldn’t get a good look at the man standing before her as the brightness of the sun blocked his face.

“I can’t believe it.  I mean, what a coincidence.  Gigi, it’s me.  It’s Nathan!”

“Nathan?” echoed Gigi, stunned.  “Nathan, is it really you?”

In one quick, athletic move Nathan jumped into the water and retrieved a drifting kayak.  “Oh my gosh, how long has it been?”

Gigi wanted to say twelve years, two months, three days, and five hours, but squeaked, “Oh, I don’t know.  A long time.”

“This is unbelievable.  What brings you to Key Largo?”

Gigi turned around and pointed to the pool where some youngsters were still swimming.  For a few seconds, she couldn’t make any words come out of her mouth and finally yammered, “Family reunion.”

“Really?  Are your parents here?  I’ve got to say hello.”  Nathan stretched his neck to check out the pool.

Gigi remembered the task at hand and took the kayak’s rope from Nathan’s hand.  She regained her composure enough to allow herself to get a good look at Nathan.  Oh gawd!  He was still gorgeous, even more so.  Gigi swallowed.  “Why are you here, Nathan?”

Nathan’s face broke into a big toothy grin. “I’m here with my fiancée.  We’re getting married this weekend.”  He slapped his forehead.  “This is wonderful.  You’ve got to come to the wedding.  I can’t wait for you to meet her.”

Gigi felt her stomach drop and her mouth go dry.   She found it hard to breathe.  She tried saying something but couldn’t manage the words.

Fortunately for her, Boomer arrived, carrying several bottles of water.  “Nathan, is that you, man?  Nathan!  You old dog.  Son-of-a-gun, it is you!”

“Boomer!”

Boomer dropped the water bottles and gave Nathan a big bear hug.  “How long has it been?”

“About ten years,” answered Nathan, beaming at Boomer.

“Twelve,” murmured Gigi.

Boomer swiveled around.  “What was that, Cuz?”

“Nothing,” replied Gigi.

“Whatcha doing here, Nat?” asked Boomer.

“I’m getting married.”

“No way.  Getting married.  Can’t believe it.”

“Now that you’re here, you’ve got to be my best man, Boomer.  Katie and I are here by ourselves.”

Boomer flashed a quizzical look at Gigi and saw that

her jaw had dropped.  “Well, I’d, um, geez, I’d be honored, bro.”

Gigi let go of the rope, stumbled away, and found a chair to fall into.

The two men followed, not noticing she was mumbling to herself–of course, Boomer, why don’t you be his best man, like you were supposed to be when Nathan and I were to be married–remember?

Boomer nudged Gigi’s chair.  “Isn’t this great, Cuz?  Like old times.”

Gigi waved her hand listlessly.  “Sure is.”

“What are you lovebirds doing tonight, Nathan?” asked Boomer.

“I thought I’d take Katie to a place across the road called Aussie Jack’s.  The owner of the motel suggested it.”

Gigi had a feeling she knew what Boomer was going

to say and shook her head, trying to get his attention.

“We’re having a family luau tonight, right here.”

“Oh, no,” whispered Gigi, hanging her head.

“Why don’t you bring your little lady and join us?  We can catch up and you can see the rest of the family.”

Nathan slapped Boomer on the back.  “That would be great.  You can meet Katie.  We’ll be happy to join you.”

Boomer beamed.  “Awesome.  See you tonight then.  Well, now that is taken care of, Cuz, you ready to take off?”

“Oh, yeah, Boomer. I’m ready to shove off all right,” replied Gigi, angrily.  She was wondering how much worse this vacation could get.

“We’re headed out on the kayaks,” explained Boomer.

Nathan declared, “Don’t let me keep you.  I’ll see you two tonight.”

“Righteous, dude,” spouted Boomer as he pulled Gigi out of her chair and pushed her toward the kayaks.  He

turned, waving goodbye to his family and then to Nathan, chuckling as he made his way to the kayaks.

Nathan watched Boomer and Gigi as they paddled around the mangroves and out of sight.  He was thrilled to see his old friends again.  And they seemed happy to see him as well.  At least, Boomer did.

He wondered why Gigi seemed so standoffish and somewhat reluctant to meet his gaze.  She didn’t even give him a hug.  If anyone should have been glad to see him, it was Gigi.  After all, they had been tight for many years.  She didn’t seem happy to see him at all.  She seemed stunned.

Nathan made his way slowly back to his bungalow.  Yep, Gigi’s reaction was a puzzle.

 

3

“Okay, Gigi, we’re out of sight.  Feel free to cry now,” prompted Boomer, pulling up.  “No one will see.”

“Cry?  Why would I cry?”

“Come on now.  This is Boomer you’re talking to.  I saw how surprised you were to see Nathan.  I was too.”  He noticed that her eyes were watering up just a bit.

Gigi protested, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You were rendered speechless, Gigi.  You acted as though you could barely remember your own name, you were so rattled.”

“Well, if you noticed that I was panicking, why did you invite him to the luau?”

“Because a good offense is better than a defense.  Acting all bothered and hurt won’t help one bit.  Remember, he dumped me too.  We were buds.”

Gig growled, “He didn’t dump me. Nobody dumped anybody.”

“Ah, is that the version we’re currently going with?”

“We simply went to different schools and lost touch.  That’s all there was to it.”

“I seem to remember the two of you were planning on getting married after you both finished college.”

Gigi sat her paddle down.  “That was a long time ago.  We were kids then, making kiddie plans.  We grew up and grew apart.  Happens all the time.”

“I remember trying to get in touch with Nathan after his parents moved away and nada–nothing.  He didn’t return my calls or emails,” complained Boomer, looking at the expanse of light blue water gently rocking the kayaks.

“He wanted to move on, so let him.”

“Come on, Gigi.  I loved Nathan as a brother, so if I can reconnect with him, I’m going to,” declared Boomer.

“Oh, great.  So where does that leave me?” accused Gigi.  “He’s getting married this weekend to someone else.”

“It leaves you out in the cold, I guess.  Just like you said–things change and people move on.  Right?”

“You can be such a jerk sometimes, Boomer.”

Boomer leaned over his kayak and nudged Gigi.  “I know, but hey, that’s what cousins are for.  Don’t be angry, Cuz.  Like I said, I was a little mad too.”

Gigi reluctantly smiled.  “Boomer, I’m not mad.  I’m jealous.”

“Am I still your favorite cousin?”  Boomer asked sheepishly.

“NO!  I hate you!”

Boomer wrapped his arms around Gigi’s shoulders.  “I know you still love me.”

“I do, you little creep, but sometimes you make me nutty.”

“I knew it!  Be a brave soldier this week.  Who knows what can happen in five days?”

“You crazy jerk!  You’re still nothing more than a surfer dude.”

Boomer tipped Gigi over into the bay water.  Gigi lunged upward and pushed Boomer over only to catch his bathing trunks and–ooops!

Laughing, Gigi yelled at a red-faced Boomer splashing around while pulling up his swim trunks. “Don’t worry.  There’s nothing of yours I haven’t seen before.  Wow, the cold water really does shrink stuff, doesn’t it?”

Boomer wouldn’t speak to Gigi for the rest of the kayak trip.

Serves him right for inviting Nathan to our family luau, thought Gigi, happy that she had served some deserved retribution.  Why should she be the only person to feel uncomfortable in this farce?

 

4

“Nathan, I don’t really want to go to this luau or whatever it is.”

“It will be fun.”

Katherine firmly planted herself on a couch and pouted.  “I have nothing to say to a bunch of hayseeds from Arkansas.  I wouldn’t know what to talk about.”

Nathan flinched at the implied insult.  “That means I must be a hayseed too, since they are from the Bluegrass in Kentucky where I’m from, and Mrs. Meade practically raised me.  I used to date her daughter.”

Katie straightened up when she heard the last statement.  “I suppose she’s here too?”

“As a matter of fact, she is.”  Nathan sat down next to Katherine and put his arm around her tanned shoulders.  “And I would love for you to meet her.  Come on, hon.  Help me out here.  I’ve already accepted the invite, and it would be awkward for me to go alone.”

“Maybe you’re right.  You go on to the luau.  I want to freshen up so I look my best.  I can’t have your old flame think I’m dowdy.”

Nathan laughed.  “That’s my girl.  As if anyone could accuse you of being a plain Jane.  Besides, if anyone even thought that, I would punch them in the nose.”

Katie grabbed Nathan’s chin with her long, tapered fingernails.  “You’re so sweet.  Go on now, so I can primp.”

Nathan jumped up.  “I can’t wait to show you off.”

Katherine gave Nathan a winning smile, displaying her perfect teeth.  She loved it when men showered her with attention, but Nathan was different.  She considered him an investment, and it was important she kept him happy–at least until after the marriage ceremony.  Once she had that gold band on her finger, she could stop acting all lovey-dovey.  After a few years, it would be time to move on to Phase Two of her plan.  After all, she had maneuvered Nathan away from the prenup he originally had wanted her to sign.  No way was she going to do that!  So far, so good.

But a former girlfriend from his hometown popping up?  Katherine hadn’t expected that.  She could ill-afford to have some farmer’s daughter screwing up her plans at the last moment.

She would have to tread carefully.  A teenage sweetheart could tug powerfully at the heartstrings.  Katherine had to make sure nothing happen in the next several days.

It shouldn’t be hard to distract Nathan.  After all, he was a man, and Katherine excelled at distracting men.

 

5

At the sight of Nathan, Mrs. Meade rose from the picnic table and gave him a big hug.  “Oh my goodness.  Have my old eyes laid upon my favorite teenage brat?”

Nathan returned Mrs. Meade’s hug.  “I thought Gigi was your favorite teenage brat.”

“She was never a brat.”  Mrs. Meade pushed Nathan away, holding him at arm’s length.  “Let me look at you.  My goodness, you have turned into a handsome man, Nathan Bradshaw.”

Nathan beamed at Mrs. Meade’s praise.

“I couldn’t believe it when Gigi told me that you were here.  It must be more than mere coincidence.  Things like this just don’t happen.  It was the Lord’s plan that we meet again.”

“You’re not going to try to convert me to become a Baptist again, are you, Mrs. Meade?” teased Nathan.

“As if we would have you,” gushed Mrs. Meade.  “Gigi, doesn’t Nathan look wonderful?”

“Yes, Mother.  Nathan looks wonderful,” Gigi responded as she lit the hurricane lamps, which Eva Bishop, owner of the motel, had provided as table decorations.

Mrs. Meade pulled Nathan down on the picnic table bench with her.  “Let’s get you something to eat, and then I want you to tell me all about yourself, young man.”

Smiling, Nathan looked around and asked, “Where’s Mr. Meade?”

The little crowd surrounding Nathan and Mrs. Meade grew silent.

Mrs. Meade put on a brave smile and clasped Nathan’s hand.  “Oh, honey, he passed away several years ago.  Liver cancer.”

Nathan’s face fell.  “I didn’t know.  I guess I should have done a better job keeping in touch.  I’m so sorry.”

For a few seconds both Mrs. Meade and Nathan thought back to the gentle giant of a man who had been Gigi’s daddy.

“Hey, no sad thoughts,” interrupted Boomer, handing Nathan a beer.  “This is a party.”

“Boomer, you’re right.  I want to hear about your life, Nathan, so spill,” demanded Mrs. Meade.  “Gigi, pull up a chair so you can hear what our Nathan’s been up to.”

“Well, there’s not much to tell.  I finished law school and got a job with an entertainment firm in New York.  Stayed there until about five years ago, then I was transferred to Los Angeles.  That’s it.”

“You’re too modest, bro,” Boomer uttered.  “You’re a big-time entertainment lawyer with important Hollywood actors and directors for clients.  We’ve kept up with you.”

Mrs. Meade blurted out, “Yes, it’s so exciting to read about your clients in People Magazine and sometimes see your name mentioned.”

Nathan felt the heat in his cheeks as he blushed.  “They’re normal folks like everyone else.  They put their pants on one leg at a time.”

“What about your parents?” asked Mrs. Meade.

“They followed me out to Southern California when I was transferred and they love it.  So much better for Mom’s arthritis.”

“I know, but the earthquakes,” Mrs. Meade jabbered.

Nathan laughed.  “We do have those, but I don’t miss the tornadoes in Kentucky.”

Boomer raised his beer can in a salute.  “Hear ya, bro.”

Mrs. Meade turned to her daughter.  “You’re awfully quiet, Gigi.”

“I’m sitting here enjoying the love fest, Mom.  You’re doing more than enough talking for both of us.”

“Don’t be condescending, Gigi,” addressed Mrs. Meade, winking at Nathan.  “It’s a mother’s prerogative to interrogate her baby’s long-lost boyfriend.”

“Jeez,” whispered Gigi, looking away.

Nathan let out a loud guffaw and grinning, he turned to Gigi.  “I’ve never known you to be so silent, Gigi.  So what’s going on with you?”

Mrs. Meade rattled on, “She’s a big time veterinarian, now.”

“Mom!”

“Oh, hush, young lady.  She is, Nathan.  I’m so proud of her.”

“Mooommmm!” screeched Gigi, outwardly annoyed, but secretly pleased that her mother was bragging.

Nathan gave Gigi an appraising look.  “You finished vet school.  Well, good for you.”

Before Nathan could ask Gigi any more questions, Mrs. Meade tugged on his shirtsleeve.  “Gigi tells me you’re getting married this weekend.  When do we get to meet the lucky girl?”

Nathan looked back at his bungalow.  “She’s going to join us as soon as she freshens up.”

“Oh, how delightful!” cooed Mrs. Meade, shooting Gigi a questioning look.

Nathan playfully threw a pretzel at Boomer’s head. “And you better keep your distance, Romeo.”

“Who?  Me?” replied Boomer, ducking.

“Yes, you, the Wolf.”

“Ah, you do me too much justice.  But then again, it’s hard to deny that women find me irresistible.

“What’s your young lady’s name?” asked Mrs. Meade.

“Katherine, but people call her Katie.”

“We’ll wait until she gets here to start eating.”

“Absolutely not,” assured Nathan.  “This is your party.  We’re just gatecrashers.  Besides, you know how long it takes women to get ready.”

Gigi winced at Nathan’s comment since it had taken her no time to put on a clean tee shirt and shorts over her bathing suit.  She couldn’t even remember if she had brushed her auburn hair, and she certainly hadn’t even thought of putting on makeup.

Mrs. Meade asked, “What’s her name again?”

“He said Katie, Mom.  Katie,” Gigi replied, exasperated with her mother.

“Actually, it’s Katherine, but Nathan insists on calling me Katie,” interrupted a sultry-toned voice.

Everyone looked up to see a beautiful, tall, willowy woman with long honey-colored tresses, encased in a very short red spandex dress.

Boomer crushed his beer can in surprise.  The first to recover, he announced, “Hello, gorgeous,” as he moved toward Katherine.

Nathan rose from the table and playfully pushed him away as he stood by Katherine’s side.  “Everyone.  This is my bride-to-be, Katie.”

Katherine winced at the sound of the word Katie, but recovered quickly and put on a smile worthy of a beauty pageant contestant.  “Hello.”

Every male in the Meade party stopped what they were doing and piled around Nathan and his girl, Katherine.

Mrs. Meade and her sister, also a Katherine, grabbed the shirt tails of their kinfolk, pulling them back.  “For goodness sake, give the lady room to breathe.”

Turning to her sister, Mrs. Meade said, “You’d think they had never seen a pretty girl before.”

Her sister cupped her mouth and whispered, “They’ve never seen one packaged so tightly before.”

Mrs. Meade rolled her eyes.  “Someone get Miss Katherine a plate of food.”

Four young men rushed to the buffet, fumbling around each other, throwing food on paper plates.

Gigi went up to Katherine and shook her hand.  “I’m sorry about my cousins.  We don’t let them out much, I’m afraid.”

“You must be Gigi,” said Katherine, appraising her.  “You fit Nathan’s description.”

“Oh, and what might that have been?”

“He said you were a natural beauty, no putting on airs.”  Katherine then gave Gigi a big smile.

Gigi wasn’t sure, but she thought that was a dig.  “I’m sure it was meant as a compliment.”

Nathan intervened, nervously looking from one woman to the next.  “Of course, it was.  Look, I’m hungry.  Let’s eat.”

“Good idea,” concurred Mrs. Meade, glancing at Gigi.

Boomer grabbed Katherine’s elbow.  “This way, m’lady.  Move over, dudes.  This big boy needs to make room for the prettiest girl in town,” he snarled at some young nephews gobbling food at the table.

Boomer sat down beside Katherine and stared.

“What?” she asked, slightly embarrassed.  “Do I have spinach in my teeth?”

“Did it hurt?”

“Did what hurt?”

“Did it hurt when you fell from heaven?”

Gigi groaned.  She knew it was male hormones–but really!  Surely Katherine was not going to fall for that line of bull.  Gigi glanced over at Nathan’s bride-to-be.

I can’t believe it, thought Gigi.  She fell for itShe’s lapping this stuff up.”

Gigi quickly looked around for Nathan.  She didn’t want him to catch his girl ogling Boomer, who was a looker, too.

Boomer, take good care of my girl there.  I’m going to spend some time with my old ball and chain,” kidded Nathan as he sat next to Gigi.

Not taking his eyes off Katherine, Boomer replied, “Don’t worry.  She’ll never leave my sight.”

Gigi whipped her head around to Nathan.  “Don’t trust Boomer with your girl.  He’s notorious with other men’s women.  He’ll steal her right from under you.”

Nathan gave Gigi an odd look.  “Wow, Gigi, that’s an odd thing to say since Katie and I are getting married this weekend.”

Boomer began playfully blowing kisses on Katherine’s fingertips.  “Yeah, Gigi, wherever did you get that idea?”  He leaned over and caught Nathan’s attention, circling his finger above his temple, indicating Gigi was crazy.

Nathan laughed.  “Boomer’s such a clown.”

Gigi snarled angrily, “I warned you, Nathan.  Don’t say that I didn’t.”

Both Boomer and Nathan leaned back, winked at each other, and went, “Oooooooooo!”

Furious, Gigi got up and stormed off.

“Hey, where’re you going?” cried Nathan.  “I thought we were going to catch up.”  He looked at his plate of food and then at Gigi.  “What happened?”  He glanced at Boomer and Katherine, who both shrugged.

“I can see why you didn’t marry her,” cracked Katherine, watching Gigi disappear into the dark.

Nathan didn’t reply, but felt his heart sputter a little.  It had really thrown him when he first had spied Gigi.  He hadn’t seen her in over a decade, but felt at odds with himself.  He had lurched back into the past seeing Gigi and her family.  Something was definitely out of kilter.  Nathan didn’t feel like the confident, successful attorney he had become, and he didn’t like that feeling at all.

Was meeting Gigi again just a coincidence, or was it something larger at work here?  Kismet?  Why had he picked the Last Chance Motel to get married?  It was a stupid place for his marriage ceremony.  After all, it was here he had proposed to Gigi when they were eighteen, and she said they were too young to even think about getting married.

Was he trying to recreate some magic in his life–magic lost over ten years ago?  Surely he was over Gigi by now.  Surely!!!