Gifted Girls Only: Club Sapphire
My premonitions aren't always accurate, but this one was spot on, down to the centerpiece zipping past my head. It gave us something to laugh about on the way to the Angsley Island Resort in Pensacola Beach. We would laugh about it on the way home, too.
Howard Berman arranged for a three-day weekend to thank us for identifying the person who had his wife kidnapped. His granddaughter avoided prison for the attempted kidnapping/homicide and got her step-grandmother's Mercedes. She sold me the red Fiat I eased into the resort's long, palm-lined drive.
Allison's craned her neck and gaped up at the three golden towers. "Which floor are we on?"
I handed the valet my keys and joined my friends under the portico. "We have a three-bedroom suite on the fourteenth floor."
Theresa supervised the loading of our bags onto a brass cart. She and Allison work with me at Mayweather Executive Solutions. The pay is excellent, and sometimes there's a bonus. In the case of Angie Berman's attempted kidnapping and murder, MES was paid by both Angie's husband and father. The firm's partners got a double payday, and Harold Berman threw in a holiday for us minions.
Allison, Theresa, and I usually motor mouth over one another but the Angsley Island Resort reduced us to gawking tourists. Three massive towers set in a crescent on thirty acres of lushly landscaped grounds jutted into the gulf. The architecture afforded every balcony a view of white sands and emerald waters.
"I get the room off the balcony!" Allison claimed her bed by sprawling atop the downy white comforter.
Theresa squealed, "This one has a whirlpool tub!"
I had to make do with the room that had the best view of the beach. I dragged myself away from the view to change into my bathing suit then joined the others on the balcony.
Theresa's hazel-green eyes took in the scene fourteen floors below us. "This place is incredible; I could live here." Tall and slender, Theresa could have been mistaken for a model shooting an ad for the place.
I flipped through the guest services brochure. “There’s so much to do; I don’t know where to start.”
"We start at the beach," Allison said, "then a swim, then mini-golf, then a nap. We'll hit the club tonight."
"You're not twenty-one," Theresa teased, "You can hang out in the playground while Emi and I go dancing."
"Cute." Allison adjusted her boobs inside her bikini top. "My fake ID is the best in the business." She scrunched up her nose. "Is this a good place to find a rich husband?"
"Like you could be married for five minutes," I snorted. Allison had a limit of three months per relationship if she didn't get bored sooner. "I could see Theresa landing a stockbroker out here, though."
Theresa wrapped a fringed scarf around her tiny waist. The cover-up covered little and accentuated her long legs. "Forget it. I'll let them buy me drinks, and then shoo them back to their wives before they get ideas."
Allison's agenda kept us busy until after midnight. The next morning, we hid our party-reddened eyes behind huge sunglasses then fortified ourselves for the day with overpriced caffeine at the café.
"I can't do two more nights like that." Theresa's creamy hazelnut complexion had an orangey cast while the puffy flesh under my eyes had a more greenish tinge.
Allison's perky enthusiasm wasn't dampened by the excesses of the night before. "We'll hit the beach then the spa for a massage. You'll be back to partying form in no time."
A stroll in the sugar sand, a dip in one of the two infinity pools, and a seaweed wrap left us languid. Over lunch, a revived Theresa announced she was ready to give Club Sapphire another go.
Allison tossed a blonde braid over a bare shoulder. "You know I'm up for it. What do we want to do this afternoon?"
We tossed around options as we dug into a divine shrimp salad with mango lime dressing. Hidden behind a potted palm in the open-air restaurant at the heart of the resort's lifestyle center, our table cradled us in a cocoon of tranquility until a shrill bitchy voice filtered through the fronds.
"Kenni Garvey, what a surprise, you alone as usual."
"Go away, Julie." This voice was also a young woman’s but hushed and defensive.
"Love to, but Mom wants me to introduce you to people."
"I don't want to meet anyone."
"And they don't want to meet your droopy ass. Listen, I met a guy last night. He wants to take me to a real downtown club tonight. If Mom asks in the morning, I was out all night with you at the lame resort club."”
"I'm not going to be out anywhere all night."
"Walk on the beach or something. I'll text you when I'm on my way back."
"Forget it, Julie. What would Mom and Dad say if something happened to you?"
"They might notice you for a change?
"I'm not lying for you. Anyway, the club here's not that lame."
"Like you would know.” The bitchy voice fake-laughed.
“What do you know about this guy?”
“Why, you interested? Forget it; he’s got no time for nerdy lumps. Just come to the club tonight. If Mom asks, that’s where you saw me last.”
Metal scraped against tile and heels clicked briskly away.
"That was ugly," Theresa whispered.
Allison pouted. "Poor kid; I'm going to check on her."
"Allison," I began, but my shapely friend was up and around the palm. Theresa and I shrugged and followed.
The girl slumped over the Caprese salad was built like me, short and not exactly skinny. Her hair had more red than mine, a deep brick red pulled back from a moon-round face. She wore an unflattering horizontal-striped sundress in all the wrong colors.
"Hey," Allison said and invited herself to sit. Soft, uncertain blue eyes considered her warily.
I was embarrassed about our eavesdropping, but Allison had no shame. "We overheard your sister being a bitch and wanted to make sure you were alright."
The shy eyes wouldn't meet ours."She's not my sister, she's my stepsister, and she's got her own issues."
"Issues that make it okay to talk to you like that?" Theresa took a seat next to Allison.
The girl considered us, deciding if we could be trusted. She heaved a grudging sigh. "I didn't come on the scene until we were fifteen. Until then, I was living with my mom in Denver. Julie and her mom had my father and the house to themselves. She thinks I'm butting into her life."
I pulled out the remaining chair and sat."Why don't you go home to your mom?"
"My mom died from bone cancer. That's why I have to live with my dad."
Allison placed both of her hands over one of hers. "I'm so sorry. Were you close?"
"It was just the two of us since I was five. When Mom died, I had to move in with my dad. It was like moving into a house full of strangers." A tear glistened on a pale cheek.
Theresa put some sunny in her voice. "Hey, why don't I order us some wine?"
"Why would you do that? I don't even know you."
"Oh my God, how rude of us." Allison batted the long lashes that charmed busboys and millionaires alike. "I'm Allison Francona, and these are my friends Emily Watson and Theresa Fitzpatrick. We're doing a gifted-girls-only weekend."
Frown lines appeared. "Gifted Girls? Is that a club?"
Allison did a 'silly me' waggle of her head. "I meant girls-only. I don't know where the gifted came from. We work together in Tallahassee."
The baby pink lips finally parted in a smile. "Kenni Garvey, Kendall Marie Garvey, but no one calls me Kendall except my dad. What kind of work do you do?"
Theresa pulled out our standard socially acceptable lie, "business support services. The company is called Mayweather Executive Solutions, MES. What do you do?"
"Until last month I went to Florida State."
The wine came, and our new friend relaxed and opened up. Kenni and her sister were both twenty-one, but, in addition to being an outsider, Kenni was a studious introvert and Julie the sexy party-girl. Heather, Kenni's stepmom, tried but she had a philandering husband and slacker college-dropout daughter to deal with.
"It was okay when I was off at school. I’d come home on weekends when Julie was out partying so she could act like I didn’t exist. Now that I’ve graduated, it’s like I’m invading her space and it gets worse. My dad wants me to work for his marketing company."
"I take it that’s not what you want,” I said.
"Watch my dad chat up the women in the office all day and have Julie verbally beat me up at home at night? No thanks. Once I save some money, I’m getting the hell away from those people.”
"Why don't you leave now?" Theresa asked.
"No money of my own, no job skills other than summers at my dad's office, and no guts." She finished her wine and stood, wobbling. "Thanks for listening to my troubles, but I'm sure you've got better things to do."
"We're hanging loose," I said. "What about you?"
"Avoiding my parents and Julie; maybe walk around the shops."
Allison bounced out of her seat. "Maybe we'll run into you." We waggled our fingers at Kenni as she trudged away.
Theresa signaled for the check. "What's on your mind, Emi?"
"Same thing that's on yours; we need to help that girl."
"We're not working, we're here to relax."
"I'm not talking about working. She needs a friend. She can hang with us, that's all I'm saying."
"She needs more than a friend," Allison said.
"You did your mind-reading trick on her?" Theresa asked.
"She's not exactly lying, but it's worse than she's letting on. Julie's a hateful bitch; tells her that her dad doesn't want her, that guys think she's a dog, calls her a big fat bore."
"The bullying bitch!" Theresa led us out toward the shops. "Why doesn't Kenni do something about it?"
Allison shrugged. "What can she do? She could leave, but you see her confidence level."
"What about the stepmom?" I asked.
"Kenni feels sorry for her. Her husband's cheating on her, her daughter's barely under control, and Kenni suspects Heather's drinking too much. She doesn't want to make more trouble for the poor woman."
Theresa's long, dark hair fluttered against her bare shoulders in the breeze. "What a family. What about you, Emi. Do you see anything in their future?"
"You know that vision I was telling you about on the way here? I think it may have something to do with them."
"Wild," Theresa said. "Well, what's it going to be? Party 'til we drop or help out Kenni Garvey?"
"I vote for both," Allison chirped.
"Kenni," Allison sang out, "there you are!"
"What are you looking at there?" Theresa, the fashionista asked.
Kenni flipped through a rack of bathing suits that even a fashion dunce like me knew wouldn't work on her.
Theresa snaked a slim arm around the girl's rounded shoulders and led her to another rack. "You know what I see you in? This one-piece with a shirred waist."
Not only was Theresa a fashion maven, but she could also find people and things people needed. I had no doubt Kenni would be runway ready in no time.
My strategy took more time. I pulled up Frederick Garvey's marketing company on the internet. The picture on my phone showed a tall, broad-shouldered man of about fifty. Smoky hair and soulful slate gray eyes attached to a sizeable bank account made him an enticing target for women hoping to trade up.
Locating Daddy Garvey in the sprawling resort required focus. I held a picture of him in my head until he floated behind my eyelids against nothing but the impossibly blue June sky. A drink appeared in his hand and a woman by his side. I didn't need the internet to know the olive-skinned, black-haired beauty sizing up Frederick wasn't Heather Garvey.
I zoomed upstairs, changed, and put on makeup. When I entered the Coral Sands Bar, my cinnamon-flecked hair framed a face brightened with lip gloss and mascara and, I hoped, made me look older than my twenty-two years. I swooped on an empty table behind Frederick, who had settled himself at the bar moments before I arrived.
A text came in from Allison while I sipped Chardonnay.
"Ran into Heather at the spa, getting facials."
I was studying my empty glass when the woman sauntered up to Frederick. The twenty-something stunner smiled shyly at her target. She slid onto the high-backed stool next to him, ordered, and leaned in close. A veil of glossy black hair hid faces, but their shoulders trembled with light laughter.
I sipped patiently until my vision from earlier became a reality. Smiling, I approached the bar and stepped between the new friends. "Excuse me, miss. You may have inadvertently put this gentleman's wallet in your bag."
Frederick's steel eyes shot to the woman as his right hand shot to his back pocket.
The pair sat frozen while I collected another glass of wine from the bartender.
I extended my card, but Frederick said, "I'll take care of that."
The hustler shook herself, dipped into her bag, and pulled out a tan leather billfold. Frederick snatched it from her. He paid for my drink as she huffed away.
"Thank you. That could have ruined my vacation."
"My eyes happened to be in the right place at the right time." It also helped that I'd seen the pickpocket at work in my head about an hour before. I extended a hand. "Emi Watson. May I join you?"
"Please, though you should know I have a daughter, no two daughters, about your age."
"Are they twins?"
His laugh was genuine. "Not even close. My stepdaughter, Julie, is adorable but a wild child. Kendall is perfect in almost every way."
That surprised me. Kenni had left me with the impression her dad wasn't much interested in her. "In what way isn't she perfect?"
He cocked his head and thought. "I think her biggest fault is having me for a father."
"You can't be that bad." Inside my head, I said, "tell me all about it."
"Before her mom and I divorced, I was a decent dad. Rotten husband, though." A rueful smile. "Her mom wanted nothing more to do with me. Worse, she wanted Kendall to have nothing to do with me. They moved to Denver. I could have fought it, but I'd literally been caught with my pants down."
"You have a sweet laugh. I wish Kendall would laugh more."
"Is she depressed?"
"More like sad." Frederick gazed across the bar at nothing. "Kendall's mother died when she was fifteen. I'd barely seen her for ten years, then one day—bam, she's living with me. She was so shy and withdrawn. Who could blame her? Her mother had just died, and I had a new family she barely knew. My wife tried, but Julie didn't make things easier."
"Your stepdaughter was jealous of your daughter?"
"I don't understand why. Julie's a brat, but she's a beautiful girl, full of energy and life. She has so much going for her, but it's like she hates the world."
"I suppose that's your fault too?"
He nodded into his scotch and soda." My work, my company, has meant everything to me. Now that both the girls are grown, I realize it's meant way too much."
"That's why your head gets turned by women like Little Miss Pickpocket?"
He pulled back and raised a brow at me. "You're a perceptive little thing, aren't you?"
"So I'm told. I've also been told I should mind my own business."
I slid off the stool. "Since I've already been rude I'll go ahead and give you my unsolicited two cents. Tell your daughter, both your daughters, that you love them and that from now on they're your top priority, them and your wife."
His eyes narrowed when he frowned.
"And thanks for the drink."
We held a poolside gifted girls update.
"Frederick's ex-wife kept Kenni and her dad apart," I reported. "Kenni grew up hearing about what a no-good bastard her father was then, surprise, she has to go live with him. He sees she's hurting but doesn't want to push it, figures she'll hate him no matter what he does."
"Kenni's mom told her he abandoned them," Theresa said, "and he remarried so fast, Kenni feels like that must have been true."
"How does Kenni feel about Heather?" I asked.
"She sees Heather as the shallow trophy wife. Kenni doesn't respect her but recognizes she tries. Like when she moved in, Heather decorated Kenni's room all pink and girly, not her style at all."
I settled back in the lounge chair. "Heather didn't know Kenni. She tries to treat her like Julie, which doesn't work. They're very different people. What did you get, Allison?"
"Heather's a total sweetheart, but she's overwhelmed with Julie and Frederick's screwing around hurts. She loves the guy, and she's terrified Frederick's going to leave her for someone younger. Then there's the money. She was a poor single mom and doesn't want to take a step back."
"Julie probably has the same anxiety," I said. "Since Kenni's moved in, she's been afraid she'd be set aside for the 'real' daughter."
"What's next?" Allison asked. "We know why these people are making themselves miserable, but how do we stop it?"
Theresa stretched her long, brown legs. "They need to open up to each other."
"I suggested as much to Frederick. I don't think he appreciated it."
Theresa turned to me. "You're a total stranger giving him unsolicited family counseling—how did you think that was going to go?"
I cringed in retrospect.
"I think," Allison said, "we need to give them something to talk about. Let's hit the beach and come up with an icebreaker."
We strolled off to the dance club as a gold and crimson sun melted into the Gulf of Mexico.
"You're sure Kenni will be there?" I asked.
"She has to be," Theresa said, "Julie still wants Kenni to cover for her while she takes off for parts unknown."
"I'm worried about that girl," I said.
"Do you see something in Julie’s future?" Allison asked.
"I haven't tried. See if you can get your hands on Aaron, make sure his intentions aren't any more evil than most guys."
Allison has to be touching people when she reads their minds. Fortunately, getting guys to put their hands on her is never a problem.
"Will do. There's Derrick." She waved at a short athletic guy across the street. He jogged over with a friend at his heels. Derrick introduced his friend as Trey.
Theresa and I got eager glances from Trey before he asked Allison, "Derrick said you had a friend for me?"
Allison grinned. "Not these two. Emi's attached and if you want to go out with Theresa, you'll need a bank statement, last year's tax return, and two credit references."
"Out of my league," Trey sighed.
"Don't feel bad, Theresa's out of most everyone's league. We'll meet Kenni at the club. She's cute and her daddy's rich."
Trey wrinkled his brow. "What's the catch?"
"Shy." Allison rolled her eyes like she didn't get it. We walked and talked all the way to Club Sapphire, the lame resort dance club.
We bought our own drinks, which impressed Derrick and Trey. They were good guys. Derrick didn't have a chance with Allison, of course, but I wasn't about to burst his bubble.
Julie appeared an hour later in club-perfect makeup and a body-hugging, backless mini-dress. A basketball-player-tall guy at the bar waved her down. Julie's long legs carried her off, leaving Kenni standing alone.
We worked our way to her through the crowd. Theresa had outdone herself on Kenni's wardrobe. The brick-red hair popped against a sultry black satin dress with a halter neckline and a wrap skirt that flowed over her curves.
Trey didn't wait to be introduced.
Allison and Derrick hit the dance floor first, but Kenni and Trey weren't far behind. Theresa and I strolled around, keeping an eye on everyone, especially Julie.
"Great job on Kenni's style, Theresa."
"It was a struggle to get her even try it on. I suspect her size two sister has been feeding her shit about her weight. That floppy sundress was hiding great legs. What do you think about this guy Julie's with? Are you seeing anything about him?"
"I do see something, and its name is Theresa."
She smiled and purred.
We claimed an open table. Allison and Derrick grabbed a couple of free chairs and joined us as did Kenni and Trey a few minutes later.
Family angst was long forgotten, and Kenni's round face glowed with a light sheen of sweat. Trey's arm found its way around her waist and wasn't letting go. We talked about the resort and the club's music which was, admittedly, lame but that didn't stop everyone from having a great time.
Derrick suggested we go somewhere quieter for a quick bite to eat. We tossed around a few ideas but were interrupted when Julie and Aaron approached Kenni.
"We're heading out."
The light went out of Kenni's face. "Guys, this is my sister, Julie."
"Stepsister." Julie pulled Aaron by the wrist and started away.
Allison let her fingers rest on Aaron's free wrist. "Do I know you?"
"Maybe, I play basketball for Florida State."
Allison bounced up. "I knew it! I knew I recognized you," she lied. "Stay for a minute."
Taking my cue, I slid next to Theresa, our butts sharing one chair so Aaron could sit down. Allison settled on Derrick's surprised and appreciative lap to make a place for Julie.
After a few minutes of chat, Julie stood. "Come on, Aaron. I want to go to a real club."
He waved her off. "It's early. Let's have one more drink."
Our table of eight ebbed and flowed, amoeba-like as conversations struck up between people then drifted into new exchanges. By the time our drinks needed refreshing, Allison was distracting Julie with talk about shopping in Tallahassee and Theresa was all over Aaron.
When Julie noticed she'd lost Aaron's attention, she bounced up." Let's go."
"We can go tomorrow." Aaron turned back to Theresa, who ratcheted up both her smile and her Kentucky accent.
Laughing, Allison dragged Trey to the dance floor. Derrick retaliated by grabbing Kenni.
Julie's eyes followed Kenni's shapely legs as they disappeared into the crowd. When she turned her attention back to the table, Theresa was pulling Aaron to his feet to follow the others.
I shot Julie a smile. "I guess it's just us wallflowers."
She flounced out.
We closed the place down at midnight. It really was a lame club.
Saturday morning was a replay of Friday morning.
"How about a long walk followed by a detox scrub," I suggested.
Afterward, we sipped herbal tea on our balcony. Theresa's phone buzzed. She raised it, smiled at what she read, and lifted herself out of the lounger.
Allison readjusted the cucumber slices on her eyes. "What's up?"
"Kenni wants me to help her pick out another bathing suit. She and Trey are doing the water park later."
While Theresa and Kenni hit the shops, Allison and I planned another attack on Frederick and Heather. We'd seen Frederick headed to the golf course when we left the spa. That would put him in the clubhouse at about lunchtime. Allison prepared herself to get cozy with him.
I needed to bump into Heather. A warm, non-bitchy voice answered.
"Mrs. Garvey? This is Emi Watson. Kenni and I met at Club Sapphire last night."
"She told me all about you!" The voice smiled. "I'm sorry, Kenni's out shopping, and Julie's still asleep. Can I take a message?"
"I don't want to trouble you. I'm sure you've got a busy day planned."
"Just a pedicure then I'm meeting my husband at the golf club for lunch."
Uh oh. I'd have to text Allison to rush her 'date' with Frederick.
"What a coincidence, I'm getting a pedicure this morning. Maybe I'll see you there."
The guys we work for, Sean and Tony, are more than just gifted. They're practitioners, which means they can influence people; get them to do things. I needed to get the spa staff to work me in for a pedicure and seat me next to Heather Garvey. I'm not a practitioner, so I had to rely on audacity.
I waited until the receptionist stepped away then strode into the salon and squirmed into the massage chair next to the fortyish, frosted blonde with pouty lips.
"Mrs.Garvey, it's me, Emi Watson."
The smile reached the creases at the corners of her eyes. "How nice to meet you!"
The woman was sweet and genuine and talked up a storm. A harassed nail tech hung back until he could get a word in then asked me if I had an appointment.
"Yes," I lied confidently, "a hot stone pedicure."
He frowned but returned with a tray and got to work on my sunburned feet.
I didn't learn anything Allison hadn't, but I was sure about one thing—there was a blow-up in Heather's future, a loud argument. I'd have to keep an eye on her.
"What are your plans for the evening?" I asked while we waited for our cards to process.
She hunched her shoulders and wrinkled her nose. "Frederick's taking the whole family on a dinner cruise tonight. He wants to start doing more as a family."
Huh, the guy listened to me. I texted my friends to let them know we had dinner plans.
The daily thunderstorm kept us confined to the condo during the early afternoon hours allowing us time to compare notes.
"I officially ship Kenni and Trey," Theresa announced. "You should have seen her trying on clothes." She snagged a peach from the fruit bowl on the round dining table.
"I thought she just wanted another bathing suit?"
"And something for lunch after the water park and a dress of the dinner cruise."
I snapped my fingers. "That's right! I guess that mean's she's taking Trey as her one plus. Do you think Julie will bring Aaron?"
Allison peeled a banana. "I wouldn't be surprised. I saw them taking out a paddle boat together."
"Did you get anything from Frederick?" I asked.
"He thinks all his family cares about is his money. Like Kenni was happy to get the college education but can't wait to get away from him. And he's tired of funding Julie's partying and slacker-hood. He loves Heather, but doesn't respect her; thinks she's only hanging in because she's terrified of having to support herself."
"Do you think that's why he chases after other women?" Theresa asked. "Is he looking for someone who loves him for himself?
"He wouldn't give me a tumble, and I'm a pretty adorable package if I do say so myself." Allison didn't do false modesty.
"He was watching the swans in the pond outside the club. I slid up to him, touched his arm, and mentioned swans mated for life. That's when I got the story from inside his head, but he pulled away from me. He was nice about it, but he didn't like me touching him."
"Interesting man." I reached for an apple but was interrupted by the doorbell. I didn't know we had a doorbell and it scared the life out of me. I bounded up to answer it. Like an idiot, I didn't look, I just opened the door.
Frederick Garvey marched past me to the dining room.
Theresa and Allison gaped.
"All of you together, how convenient." Blazing eyes landed on me. "What in the hell are you people up to?
Theresa ignored Frederick Garvey's rage. "I don't believe we've met, I'm Theresa Fitzpatrick. Kenni has told me so much about you."
"I'm sure she has, and I want to know why."
The three of us looked at each other.
"We met your daughter at lunch, and we want to be friends?" Allison offered tentatively.
"Sure, but then this one," he inclined his head my way, "showed up at the bar where I'm getting my pocket picked and then happens to have a spa appointment at the same time as my wife. And you conveniently bump into me at the golf club. And that one," he nodded to Theresa, "has Kendall buying clothes, makeup, and God knows what else."
"You find shopping suspicious?" Theresa snorted.
"The shopping, no; the sudden showing up everywhere I look, yes and I want to know what you're up to."
I let my forehead crease. "We're being friendly. Do you think the only people who'll be friends with Kenni are con artists?"
"Kendall is a bright but unworldly young woman. She doesn't spend a fortune on clothes and makeup. She doesn't go to dance clubs and water parks."
Allison did her cheerleader's voice. "I'd think you'd be happy she's coming out of her shell."
"Delighted," he snapped, "but that doesn't explain why you people are stalking my wife and me."
"We're not stalking anybody." My voice was louder and angrier than I meant it to.
Allison spoke up. "Why would we? You may be a big deal back in Jacksonville, but you're nobody special here."
"Resorts like this are full of girls like you, like that pickpocket, looking for a score."
Theresa's arm shot to the door. "Out! Get out right now, or I'm calling security!"
"Calm down, Theresa. We're not calling security." I gave the arrogant bastard the benefit of the doubt and my best exasperated sigh. "Mr. Garvey, we're here on a vacation paid for by a grateful client of the company we work for. If you keep accusing us of whatever in the hell it is you're accusing us of, I'll call the men we work for. When they get here, they’ll kick your ass: legally, physically, and psychically."
Frederick's head jerked on the word "psychically" probably because, like me, he wasn't sure if it really was a word.
"Are you threatening me?" he hissed.
His laughter was surprisingly high-pitched.
Theresa raised a brow. "Do you need a drink, mister?"
He covered half his face with a hand. "Sure, whatever you've got."
He took the empty chair at the dining table. "I apologize. I'm used to untangling Julie from all sorts of messes. I don't want to see Kendall go that way too."
Theresa set a shot of rum on the table.
Allison rolled her chair closer to his. "That's sweet. You must really love Kenni."
"I do, I always have. She was the most delightful little girl. When she moved back, she was so unhappy, not the bubbly toddler I remembered. And Julie’s made it so hard for her at home. I've let her down." Frederick drank the rum in one swig, tilting his head back to hide the tears forming at the corner of the gray eyes.
"Kenni loves you," I assured him.
"And I promise you," Theresa added, "we have no plans to rip off you or your wife."
He ran appraising eyes over the three of us. "I apologize again for my outburst. I understand you'll be on the dinner cruise tonight."
"Can’t wait,” I said, and I meant it.
I lurked with Allison and Derrick on the observation deck watching for Kenni. She spotted us first and waved the arm without Trey attached to it.
Frederick and Heather held hands as they boarded. Julie slunk behind them like a thirteen-year-old being dragged to a boring adult party. Trey and Derrick wandered off for a beer leaving Allison and me with the Garveys.
A smiling Kenni introduced us." Mom, Dad, this is Allison and her friend Emi."
Heather sparkled. "Emi and I met in the spa today." She scrunched up her shoulders and grinned.
"I’ve run into Emi, too.” Frederick’s lips curled in an ironic smile.
I slid my eyes to the right and took three sideways steps. Frederick took the hint and followed.
Keen eyes found mine. "What do you know about this Trey guy?”
“He’s alright. He’s friends with Derrick, the guy Allison’s with. Kenni thinks you’ll like him. That’s why she invited him tonight.”
He crossed his arms over his broad chest. "What has Kendall been saying about me?"
“Kenni’s feelings for you are,” I struggled to find the right word, “conflicted. She loves you but thinks you abandoned her.”
"What do you think?"
"She's got you all wrong, and you need to set her straight. That's why I said what I did at the bar yesterday."
"She adored her mother. Do you really think she's going to believe her mom kept us apart?"
"She'll believe you if you explain it the right way."
"What way is that?"
"Tell your side but don't run down her mom."
We glanced at Kenni, Allison, and Heather gabbing on about something. Julie seethed at the fringe of the circle, not at the center where she believed she belonged.
"I think Julie could use some attention right now," I said.
His smile turned amused." You’re full of advice, aren't you?'
"Sorry, my mouth doesn't get the concept of 'none of my business.'"
Frederick Garvey gave my arm a squeeze and strode off toward Julie. Before he reached her, Julie let out a piercing screech.
I turned, first to her, then to the gangplank. Right on schedule, Theresa stepped on board, arm-in-arm with the handsome Florida State University point guard.
"What the hell!" Julie screeched.
Aaron stiffened, pirouetted away from the banshee yell and took off to join Derrick and Trey at the bar.
Blowing off Julie's outburst, Theresa strode over to Kenni and greeted her with a hug.
"You're looking mah-va-lous tonight, dahling."
"Heather, this is Theresa, the one who's been helping me pick out clothes.” Kenni twirled to show off the skirt of her sexy lace cocktail dress.
Julie's face flamed. "She's the bitch moving in on Aaron."
"Julie!" Frederick's voice matched his steel-gray eyes.
Theresa waved a hand. "We just met last night. Aaron expressed an interest in the dinner cruise. Since my friends and I were already signed up, I invited him to join us for dinner."
Heather's face contracted in alarm. "Julie, people are staring. Get a grip."
"Get a grip yourself and stick up for me! While you're at it, quit gushing all over Little Miss Perfect just because she put on a decent dress for a change. And Dad can quit hanging all over his new little friend."
"Hey," I snapped. "We were just having a conversation."
“He has lots of 'conversations' with girls your age." Julie’s voice dripped sarcasm.
Frederick hissed, "That’s enough. I’m sick of your spoiled brat act."
“And I'm sick of you."
"Sick of me buying your clothes? Paying for school only to see you drop out to party?"
"I'm sick of being the step-kid; sick of not being good enough because I'm not her!" Julie raised an unsteady arm toward Kenni.
Panic lit Heather's eyes. "That's unfair. Frederick has been a wonderful father to you." She spoke just above a whisper.
Julie mocked her. "Right, don't mess with our meal ticket. Admit it, you married him for his money, and you'll do anything to hold on to him, even suck up to his dumpy daughter."
Allison wrapped an arm around Kenni who'd sunk into herself; reverting to the shy, uncertain girl we'd met the day before.
Frederick's blazing eyes shifted to Heather, who pulled herself straight and smiled. "I don’t deny it. My first husband ran off, leaving us nothing. A single mom with a high school education doesn't have much of a future. Then you stepped in,” the little-girl voice caught, “my white knight who dates girls half my age while I'm home alone with my vodka."
Theresa took up one of Heather's hands. "Your husband loves you," she said, "but the pressures of work and the drama at home make him doubt his worth to you."
Julie exploded. "That asshole’s never had a doubt in his life!”
Frederick stalked off toward the bar.
Julie snatched the centerpiece off the nearest table and heaved it at the back of Frederick's head. The pearl and rose-filled crystal bowl whizzed by my ear, over the boat's railing, and into the gulf.
Every eye in the dining room turned to Julie, who froze, mouth hanging open, turquoise-lidded eyes wide.
A gull cried, the spell broke, and the dining room was again filled with dinner chatter. Frederick continued his march to the bar.
Theresa hustled a trembling Heather to Frederick's side. Once Heather was safely delivered, Theresa took her place beside Aaron, who hunched his shoulders, back to the crowd.
Allison and Kenni joined Derrick and Trey leaving me alone with Julie.
I stepped in close. "Can I get you anything?"
"I hate them," she hissed.
"I don't think so. I think you love them and you're terrified of losing them. Well, not so much them, but their attention. Allison says you feel like nothing you do is good enough for your stepdad, and you hate that your mom is more like a needy friend than your mom. And Kenni, she scares the hell out of you. You're the pretty one, Kenni the smart one. If Kenni can be pretty and smart, where does that leave you, right?"
She squinted at me. "How the hell do you think you know the first thing about me?"
"I don't, Allison does. She read your mind last night in the club. That’s Allison’s gift, she reads minds. I can tell the future," I said with a smug smile. “That centerpiece you tossed? I saw that coming when we were driving down here on Thursday."
Julie’s laughter was half-hysterical. "You're crazy."
"It does sound crazy, doesn't it? I don't usually talk about our gifts, but no one's going to believe anything you say tonight, and it feels liberating to share for a change. Let's get a drink."
To my surprise, she followed me. The others had moved inside to dinner. I bought two glasses of wine and leaned against a rail next to Julie. Her long hair hung over hunched shoulders as she stared into the churning water.
"Here's the deal, Julie. Frederick thinks you and Heather only care about his money, Kenni thinks her dad abandoned her, and you're afraid of being upstaged by Kenni. Your mom's put up with Frederick’s screwing around and your acting up, but she's running out of 'give a shit' and is turning to vodka. In short, your family dynamic sucks."
"Why do I care?" She sniffed and slugged wine.
"Kenni and Heather have been going with the negative flow. If you and your dad make some changes, I think they'll snap out of it. Frederick's turned around. Now it's up to you."
She tried to sneer at me but couldn't maintain it.
"Stop bullying Kenni; be her friend. Get your shit together, finish school, give your mom something to be proud of. And show Frederick some appreciation."
Julie dropped her empty wineglass into the gulf. "Or what? How are you mind-reading, fortune-telling lunatics going to make me?"
"We're not. I know a man who could, but he's not here, so it's up to you."
"You've just made a complete ass of yourself in front of a boatload of strangers, and you're stuck out here with them for another two hours. Either you hide in the restroom or go make nice with your family. At least act like you're having a good time. My guess is they'll do what they can to make you feel better. They love you."
Half of her delicate features sneered as she strode by me into the dining room. I wasn’t sure, but I think the other half of her face was crying.
I finished my wine and joined my friends. The cruise would dock before ten, giving us another opportunity to shut down Club Sapphire. Across the room, Trey and Kenni sat close, hands clasped under the table. Frederick and Heather talked and laughed, and Julie joined in occasionally. I hoped it wasn’t just an act.
Saturday night’s excesses required a walk on the beach Sunday morning followed by a visit to the juice bar for something detoxifying. A brisk swim gave us enough energy to pack. We checked out but left our luggage with the front desk so we could enjoy one more stroll around the Angsley Island Resort.
Allison chuckled at me. "I can't believe you told Julie about our gifts. What if she tells her folks?"
I huffed. "They're not going to believe her."
"Actually, I hope they do," Theresa said. "Frederick Garvey can afford our services."
"Speak of the devil." Allison gestured with her chin toward the mini-golf course.
The sisters were teamed up against Heather and Frederick. We were too far away to hear the conversation, but there was a lot of laughter. Kenni and Julie high-fived each other and the group moved around a corner, out of sight."
Relief settled on me, releasing tension in my jaw I hadn't realized was there. “I was afraid I'd ruined their vacation."
"Honey, you didn't do anything on your own," Theresa pointed out.
"And you shouldn't be surprised it worked out," Allison added. "Gifted girls rule."
“If it works out; the hard work’s ahead of them.” I turned us back to our tower. Time to go.
We settled in the Fiat while the valet loaded our luggage.
“We should do this again,” Allison said, “have another gifted-girls-only weekend.”
“It would be more relaxing,” Theresa observed, “If we kept our gifts to ourselves.”
I did not see that happening, ever.