Barbra stared back at him, slow to answer. Carlton expected she was not too happy with his idea. “You have to be a total figment of my imagination. I can’t believe you just said that, because that’s exactly what I was thinking before you “appeared”.
“I’m going to wake up from my dream any second now. Excuse me, but I have to pinch you to see if you are real! She pinched his arm. He was real enough.
“I’ve never been fishing, or even thought about it until just now. Before you walked up, as I stood looking at the ocean, I wished to not be alone today, on my birthday, and that maybe I could go fishing. Suddenly I turn around and there you are, very close and out of nowhere, and after a few minutes you suggest we go fishing.”
“I don’t know whether to be thrilled or frightened. I don’t know whether to run away and never tell anyone, as they would think I made it up, or say yes and go with it. Yesterday, I would probably walk away and pretend it never happened. Today I feel different; I feel I’m supposed to go fishing with you. Happy coincidences are new to me, so give me a minute to adjust before I can accept. OK?”
”I can’t say no to you, not when you answer both my birthday wishes! So yes, let’s go fishing. No, wait! I only have this morning. I have that appointment at four with Professor Hampton. I can only go if it’s only for the morning.”
“Great! I looked at the marina signs the other day. Drift fishing boats have half day trips that leave around 7am and get back around noon. You can easily make your audition at 4. We have over an hour to get to the boats now. Are you hungry? Let’s grab some breakfast at the diner on US1 near the marina, OK?”
She smiled and nodded, her knees a little shaky and her mouth suddenly not able to form words, let alone complete sentences. She felt a little weak, but great, like her life was beginning all over again. He had smiled with her, not at her, and his smile made her forget the sadness of last night. It wasn’t just the caffeine and adrenaline kicking off her birthday now.
After breakfast they had to hurry to make the drift boat. In fact it was about to leave the dock as they ran up. Carlton waved and yelled at the mate with the dock line in his hand, Barbra Ossa jogging alongside, noticing that the boat was full of men, only men, and all eyes were on her.
The Lady Z drift fishing boat was full of regulars, men who knew the best places on the boat to fish, who arrived early and staked out their favorite fishing spot on the rail. Carlton and Barbra Ossa found a couple of feet of empty rail near the stern. They accepted the fishing equipment the boat’s mate handed them, noticing that most of the regulars had brought their own shiny looking gear. It was hot near the stern, the engines just below deck giving off heat as well as noise and vibration. Luckily the smell of diesel exhaust was replaced by a fresh breeze as the Lady Z gradually picked up speed after clearing the channel outside the inlet.
Carlton brought them water and juice from the galley, and they both took off their shirts and put sun block on each others backs. Barbra was beautiful in her shorts and halter top, the oil from the sunscreen combining with her sweat to make her skin shine, enhancing the definition of her muscles as she practiced handling the fishing rod.
Alan came over to give her and Carlton instruction on the use of the reel’s star drag. Juan came over and took Alan’s place, giving Alan another task, something to do with preparing the bait. Juan threw Barbra’s line overboard without bait and told Barbra to practice reeling it in against the drag of the moving water. She strained against the weight on the line from the speed of the boat, her effort making her even more exciting to watch for the men on board. Carlton was acutely aware of the stares. He felt proud, and protective too. “She’s with me dudes” he thought. “Eat your heart out.” And they did.
As it turned out, Barbra Ossa was indeed supposed to go fishing that day. She caught as many fish as any of the more experienced fishermen on the boat, gathering crowds around her as she reeled in kingfish, snapper, grouper and even a cobia, the men watching her working hard to reel in her catch, her body getting sweatier, and her breathing get heavy, hearing her yells and laughter. It was too good a show to miss, as she caught the fish they probably would have.
Carlton only caught one fish, a small kingfish. Being too small, the mate threw it back. But he didn’t mind, this was new to him too. He just enjoyed watching Barbra and being with her.
Their fishing trip ended before noon. The fishermen on board caught 36 fish. Barbra Ossa caught 11 of the 36. No one on board that day, even those who hadn’t caught anything at all, begrudged her good luck. She had been the highlight of the trip. They cheered when the ice chest was unloaded the at the dock and the fish bearing her cut mark landed on the dock. She didn’t know about the boat’s fishing pool. Being first timers they hadn’t been asked to join the pool for the most fish caught, but she had won it. Larry came over and handed Barbra $125, $5 from each of the fishermen. As it was presented they all let out a “Happy Birthday Barbra Ossa” cheer!