Weekday nights were always notably empty days for the Trade Winds Bistro, not that the profits were particularly affected. Gossip disclosed that the head chef there could practically buy out the place had he wanted the extra bother, which a man of his fame and fortune probably would not.
No, Rhea and Alex chose to dine there on such an evening simply because neither had any other obligation not to, what with Al’s holiday and Rhea’s new more flexible working hours; and at least that way their busy conversations would not be interrupted.
“Dad didn’t lie when he recommended this place,” Alex said, rubbing his belly appreciatively where he had just finished a large mouthful of some risotto. Rhea smiled; indeed, the food was particularly good here. Even she had not been shy to polish off her own curry, which was saying something seeing as her appetite had not been its best of recent – and understandably so.
“The Customs office thing allowed me another week of holiday. Guess it helps having family here and whatnot.”
“Alex! What’s that, your fifth, sixth week now?!” Rhea exclaimed through bites, hadn’t one of them just lost their job?
But then, it was only her mouth that complained: Alex’s visit had certainly been a blessing, surely just one more week with her boyfriend would not hurt!
He shrugged dismissively and set his cutlery neatly across the diagonal of the plate, “I don’t know. I’ve spoken to my boss briefly last night and he didn’t seem too bothered,” he sighed and pulled out his wallet as the waiter walked towards them with an alarmingly long bill, “I’m sure some young whippersnapper will jump at a temporary position.”
“You’re hardly old, Alex.”
“You haven’t seen them. Would’ve jumped at you,” he replied amusedly, flashing a glimpse of the crooked smile he was famous for back in Bridgeport, and it was certainly becoming noticeable here in Isla Paradiso too, after the five weeks he’d stayed.
Redness flooded Rhea’s pale cheeks, “And you know I would not let them!”
Alex handed the waiter a small wad of Chiron’s notes without moving his intense blue-eyed gaze, “And that, Rhea Aegis,” he whispered flirtatiously, “Is why I love you.”
* * *
The watery summer/fall sun complimented the light breeze beautifully as it shone on the greenery around the park, which had heavily benefitted from the earlier rain and they now appeared to dance in the pure happiness of it.
It surprised Rhea how little she knew of her surroundings. The most she’d ever seen of the plaza was in the flurry of the carpool in the mornings, and she was pleased to finally have the excuse to visit it often enough to fuel her creativity – which indeed it did.
Her recent commission from Mr Ichtaca had kept her holed up in the boat for the last couple of days and it had been a relief to see it completed at last. The man was a bit particular about what he chose to furnish his enviable mansion, hence going to Rhea instead of a more profound artist; though luckily so far she had not had any complaints from him or, for that, the other few clients she’d served.
The smells exuding from the park were quite tempting and the sound of sizzling patties seemed to sound however far she walked away, magnifying if she ever took a step closer.
No, there was time for food later. There was somewhere else to visit first.
It had taken Rhea some time to locate the gallery, and looking at the building now it was easy to understand. She must have walked passed it on her way to city hall last week, in order to register as self-employed.
It was not exactly somewhere you’d expect to class as such. Its sandy coloured bricks were vastly overlooked by the bright yellows and peaches and purples of the various other buildings set around the central plaza, so did not call any attention to itself. Certainly no place for a young artist such as herself to find any fame: it definitely did not look busy now, or even open.
She sighed hollowly and turned away from its foreboding brick walls. At least she had taken the decision not to bring a canvas along with her! It had taken long enough to hike halfway across the island.
Her stomach rumbled noisily in complaint.
Right, food, she thought to herself, looking quickly back towards the park; but before her eyes could reach it they instead settled on two men talking by the town hall. Was that Alex?
From her distance the tone of the conversation was incomprehensible, though the status of the second figure became obvious as soon as her eyes set on him. Unless, that is, he just happened to be the kind of guy who would walk outside dressed as a police officer – which did seem rather unlikely in any case.
There are many plausible explanations, she hopelessly reassured herself, though his lengthy tourist visa had already provoked questions by immigration and so on – the immigration service was part of the police, right? Her knowledge of the hierarchy was fuzzy at most.
“What’s going on?” Rhea demanded when she had reached the scene, and unexpectedly received a peck on the lips from her Alex, whose wide Cheshire-cat grin practically reached each ear.
“This is Officer McCombs and he’s just offered me a job!”
* * *
The young couple sat in celebration in the S.S Olympus’s tiny galley brandishing large cups of warm coffee in absence of champagne, though their joy was not dampened by it.
“I can’t believe you’re going to move!” Rhea smiled, taking a slug of her drink happily. In this context, even a buzz of caffeine made up for the distinctive rush alcohol brought.
Alex beamed at her, “I was thinking about it before I came, actually. I didn’t think it would happen this easily.”
“Isla Paradiso is full of surprises,” she mused, gazing out of the window and up the beach. There was no doubt that any other world would not have offered a second chance so readily like Isla Paradiso had, in both cases.
Alex pulled Rhea up gently from her chair and held her hands, warm from the china of the mug, carefully in his; swinging them back and forth, “And without it I would never have met you.”
Time seemed to freeze.
He sunk down slowly on to one knee, and before she knew it, a shiny blue box was being presented and opened to reveal a diamond ring. “Rhea Aegis, will you marry me?”
Salty tears began to trickle down Rhea’s pale cheeks and a hand flew up self-consciously to muffle the cries that followed.
“Yes!” she yelled, as the ring slid easily onto her trembling finger.