After dinner, James drives me home. I struggle to keep my eyes open in the car, and before I can stop him, he carries my leftovers and beach tote up to my apartment door for me.
“Thanks,” I say when he stands by the door, not just for this, but for everything. I’m not sure how I would have saved that shark without him, as I’m not sure Tammy would have been able to keep the kids safe and help me in the chest-deep water at the same time.
I unlock my apartment and open the door. He glances inside, then stares down at me.
Soft rain begins to patter on the overhang above the door, and he passes my things to me.
“It was nothing,” he says with a gentle smile. “I enjoyed the day.”
When his eyes flick down to my lips, I almost think he’s actually gonna kiss me this time. Instead, he frowns, takes a step back, and says, “I’ll see you at work.”
Disappointment rages in my chest as he turns around and walks down the metal stairs, getting in his car and pulling away.
I shouldn’t care, but I do. We had a moment, both earlier and just now. What’s stopping him from making his move? Is it me? I know he has more money than me based on his newish car and nicer clothes, but am I really too poor for him? Or maybe it’s because of how mean I was to him the first couple days at the restaurant.
I shake the bad thoughts away and lock myself in my apartment. I quickly wash off the beach in my shower, soaking my hair in conditioner for extra long so the salt doesn’t dry it out too much.
When I make it to my bed, I scroll through Twitter on my phone. I don’t have the energy to focus, but it doesn’t take long for me to find a video that piques my curiosity. Mostly because the video is of me.
I click it, and it links me to an external news website. A national news site, not just something local. I have to press play again, and newscasters start talking before the video plays. Did my shark rescue go viral?
My phone rings. It’s Tammy, but I hitIgnoreand watch the video.
“In viral news, billionaire James Preston was spotted rescuing a shark in the Florida Keys this afternoon,” the male announcer says.
My heart pounds in my ears. It’s my video. How is some billionaire getting credit?
The video plays, and I’m not imagining things. I’m breaking the fishing line with my teeth, and then after we release the shark, James picks me up and then looks at me like I’m the whole world.
It cuts out before someone shouted at us to kiss, returning to the newscasters. “But who is this mystery woman with him? Michelle Davis with the local Keys station has the scoop!”
Somehow, there’s more. A shot pans over the marine institute where I was laid off, and then it shows another newscaster, this one standing beside my old boss, Henry.
“Thank you, Deborah,” Michelle says. “I’m here with Henry Richardson, founder of the Marine Rescue Institute of the Keys. Henry, can you tell us more about this incredible young woman?”
Henry stands awkwardly, a smile on his face as he stares into the camera and leans into the microphone. “Yes, that is our former employee, Alexis Williams. She was an incredible young woman, but unfortunately ended up laid off last year due to budget restraints. I’m glad to see that she’s still passionate about marine rescue, and we’d be happy to have her back if she’s willing.”
That was my name, first and last, on a national news station. How did all of this happen so quickly? It was just this afternoon. Mere hours ago.
Then, the rest of it absorbs into me. James Preston is the owner of the resort where I work. I’d never seen pictures of him, never cared to notice him. It never even crossed my mind, really.
I’m not sure if I’m gonna be sick or cry or what, but Idoknow that it feels like a betrayal. Has he been playing with me all along? Am I just some shiny new toy?
The way he looked at me today felt so real, though. How could someone fake that kind of emotion? I lock my phone and drop it on the bed. When it lights up with another call, this one from my manager at Chéri, I answer.
“What’s up?” I ask, my throat dry.
“Alexis, I think you should take tomorrow off,” she says, her voice tense. My heart drops at her tone. Am I in trouble? She continues, “There are press at the resort looking for you, and I’m not sure how long it will be before we can get them to leave. I know you walk to work, and I don’t want you getting hurt.”
I blink, pulling my phone away to double check it. She doesn’t seem surprised at all, just informative.
“Did you know?” I ask, my voice welling up with emotion. “Did you know who he was? Am I the only one who didn’t?” That betrayal grows deeper, cutting me like a knife. This wasn’t just some episode of Undercover Boss. I was starting to care about him. I had real feelings for him, and he spent the whole time lying to me. He was never gonna stick around, that’s for sure. It was all a game, wasn’t it? Slumming it with the poor waitress to see how the other half lives.