“Well I guess since I’m such a terrible disappointment to you both, I might as well just move out and try my luck being…I don’t know…an escort or something,” Zelda had told them. She’d gone into her room while her parents, too stunned to come up with something to say in response, had stared, and thus started the long walk that had brought her to the marina.
As Zelda looked around, she tried to think of a way to use her location to her advantage. She had no intention of becoming an escort; while she respected the women who could live that life, it wasn’t something that appealed to her. Maybe if I was a high-price escort, making five thousand dollars a week, they’d shut up about what a quitter I am, Zelda thought bitterly. Nope, not worth it. Find something else.
She could apply at one of the handful of restaurants on the marina; while she didn’t yet have her certification, she’d trained for eight weeks, and could easily use her skills as a sous chef at one of the smaller, less formal options. Or maybe I could get a retail job. Zelda frowned at the idea, dismissing it a moment later; even on Miami Beach, a retail position wouldn’t pay enough for her to afford rent right away.
Zelda paused as a couple of loaders crossed her path, headed for one of the larger yachts moored at the docks. She turned her head and took in the magnificent ship: it was the largest one in the marina, glittering in gleaming white, blue, and gray splendor. Probably some hedge fund manager, getting ready to take his trophy wife to Barbados or St. Lucia.
Zelda shook her head to herself, watching the workers loading more supplies onto the huge vessel. Other employees milled around, either far overhead on the boat itself, or around it on the docks, chattering away, obviously preparing to set sail. So many people were coming and going that Zelda wondered how it was possible for the people in charge to keep count.
That question set wheels into motion in her head. They probably aren’t keeping track at all, she thought, catching her bottom lip between her teeth and worrying it as the elusive shape of a plan began to form in her mind. At least, they’re probably not paying so much attention to who comes and goes that they’d notice just one little stowaway.
A tingle of excitement worked its way through Zelda’s body. She looked around herself more carefully; the crew of the ship were so involved in preparing to leave that none of them had so much as looked in her direction since she’d come to a stop next to the vessel.
Zelda shifted her backpack on her shoulders, smoothed her hair, and looked down at her clothes. They were less than completely professional, but she looked at least as put-together as any of the other yacht staff she saw coming and going, moving around on the slip. If she played her cards right, she could—she hoped—make it onto the vessel, and into a discreet hiding spot, before anyone thought to take a head count.
She fell in behind two stewards, chatting busily about their last-minute assignments, about “impossible demands” and “miracle workers.” She kept a few paces behind them, not wanting to do anything to attract attention, and followed them up the gangplank at a steady pace, carefully schooling her features into a model of all that was busy and focused.
Once on board, Zelda immediately turned left, cutting away from the stewards, and ducked into a hallway without knowing where she was going, or even where she should go. In theory at least, she should be able to find somewhere to tuck herself away in the lower levels. She looked around for a map, an elevator, or stairs to take her further away from the potential of being caught by one of the crew members wandering around.
She found her way downstairs, trying to look like she knew where she was going. Her heart pounded in her chest as she looked around, moving briskly through the corridors. She thought that she was either brilliant or incredibly foolish, and that there was a very good possibility that she was both.
Zelda spun on her heel as a big, slightly heavy-looking woman appeared on the corridor. She was wearing chef’s whites, her face flushed and her sandy-colored hair pulled back under a cap.
“You’re looking for the galley, right?”
Zelda smiled tightly. “Yeah, sorry, just kind of lost.”
The chef nodded shortly. “Someone should have led you down here. I’ll get someone to show you to your quarters as soon as you’re done.” She gestured for Zelda to follow her.
With no other option, Zelda followed the woman through the end of the corridor and then to a door, leading into the yacht’s galley. A few others were at work, preparing what looked to be a luxurious feast.
“You’re going to have a chance to show off your skills right away,” the chef said, gesturing around the kitchen. “His Majesty wants a banquet prepared and served shortly after we set sail. Supplies are still coming in, of course, but you know how it is—he says jump.”
Zelda nodded. “I get it,” she said, keeping her voice as neutral as possible.
“I’ll put you on prep for now, and we can see where you go from there,” she said. “Name’s Babette; I’m the head chef here. You?”
“Throw your bag over there in the office, and talk to Petra here about what needs prepping. We’ll have more time to work out your spot on the line once we get through this crisis.” Babette turned away and faced the rest of the kitchen. “If you burn that rice again, Jeremy, so help me I will make white boy tagine out of you!”
The chef strode away and Zelda threw her bag into the office, walking towards the station that Babette had gestured to.
“You the newbie?” a shorter, rounder woman with dark hair asked.
Zelda nodded in answer Petra’s question.
“Thank God—we were starting to think you were going to no-show. All right, let’s show you which way is up.”
Zelda paid close attention as Petra pointed out all the different vegetables that needed prepping and ran through what she needed Zelda to do with each.
“Got all that?” she asked, and Zelda nodded. “All right, now once you get those done, let me know and we’ll move onto the next batch.”
“Can do,” Zelda said.