Note: This is a continuation of the story from Days 7-8, 9-10. Click here to go back and read Part 1. Click here for Part 2. Thank you to my new subscribers and of course those of you who have been reading my content for a while! I very much appreciate your interest in my short stories. 🙂
Oscar waited about five minutes for everyone who wanted to participate in the tour of the fort to gather at his designated spot next to the sandwich cabana. Some people were still taking their time at the picnic tables, while others were heading to Eric’s booth. The “natives” were growing much too restless to wait any longer. The children in the group to go to the fort were playing a rough and noisy game of tag that Oscar could easily see ending in a lawsuit if it was not broken up soon.
What a bunch it was. The know-it-all was nudging the man next to him and pointing out structures of the fort that he already knew about. Oscar had been hoping he would opt to take the self-guided tour, but evidently, that was too vast a stroke of luck to hope for. The couples in the group leaned on one another, talking quietly. Daniella stood off on her own, reading her brochure detailing the history of the fort. Oscar stood in the middle of them all, doing his best to speak up so that everyone could hear him.
He went over the usual safety precautions, introduction, and summary of the tour and how long it would take. Then he led everyone toward the massive brick structure, which cast an air of foreboding over the otherwise peaceful and sunny island. Oscar glanced back at Daniella, who seemed to be lost in thought. She had closed her brochure and looked straight ahead as she walked along, but somehow, she seemed distant.
His growing, mystical attachment to and curiosity regarding this woman had taken him off-guard initially, but now he was beginning to catch himself. Oscar shifted his focus toward the other adults and the kids. He had been doing this long enough now that he did not need to think so much about what he would say; he was well-versed in the history and the answers to the questions people asked. The only thing that changed each time was the names and faces of the people who came.
“What are those birds, there?” A woman wearing a black visor over her white hair, dressed in a yellow t-shirt and white capris, was pointing to a couple of oval-shaped wading birds. One was using its black, pointy bill to flip over a rock in the grassy part of the island.
“That’s a ruddy turnstone,” Oscar answered her. “Named for exactly what it’s doing to that rock there, in search of food.”
“So cute,” the woman murmured, pausing to take a photo of it with her smart phone.
“They may not look like much,” Oscar remarked, “but their plumage is quite striking when they fly.”
Everyone in the group seemed to be following suit with the yellow shirt lady, and Oscar paused so that everyone could get their photos. The know-it-all was now giving the yellow shirt lady a rundown of the types of birds that could be found on the island during the migration season. Daniella was not taking any photos. She was staring somewhat absently in the direction of the birds. Maybe I should make sure she is all right, he thought. Or maybe he had been mistaken about her character before. Maybe he had taken the briefest glimpse and turned it into the whole picture.
He took a small step in her direction, then stopped. What would he say? What could he say in the short period of time in which the guests had briefly forgotten him, their attention favoring the shorebirds? When there was a lull in the oohing and ahhing and everyone had turned their gaze back toward the fort, Oscar continued walking, telling them about the sixteen million bricks that composed it and the history of its construction, how when Florida left the Union, the bricks had started to come from the North and were distinctive by their darker red color. On the outside, he was perfectly rehearsed, and on the inside, he wondered what had made Daniella choose to come here, of all places. Was she a history buff? She seemed the bookish type, but something told him there was more to this than what the eye could see.
Once they reached the second floor, where the prisoners were once kept, he noticed an even more visible change in Daniella’s demeanor. By then, most of the group had dissolved, their various interests captivated by different things. It happened sometimes – people started out on the guided tour, but the group got smaller and smaller and eventually was no more, the further into the fort they got. Everyone ended up doing their own thing before Oscar could get all the way through the history. After a while, if you had seen one cannon then you had seen them all, and some found the crystal clear blue water surrounding the fort much too enticing to resist for long. “Be careful on the moat – no running on it, please,” he warned the couples with children. Once his warning was spoken, however, his focus was elsewhere. His concern from the morning’s newspaper articles had waned as he grew increasingly distracted through the course of the day…
Daniella sat on the hard floor by one of the brick arches, her knees hugged to her chest. She rested her forehead between her knees.
“Are you all right?” Oscar asked softly as he approached, kneeling next to her.
Daniella looked up, then nodded slowly, her eyes seeming to look through and past him simultaneously. “I think I’m just a little dehydrated. Too much rum, not enough water.” She smiled, but it seemed to pain her.
He offered her the half-drunk water he’d been carrying. “Here. You look like you need it.”
“I don’t normally drink after strangers.” She hesitated, but she reached out to take the bottle. Uncapping it, she downed the remainder of what was in it in seconds. She closed the lid on the empty bottle and leaned her head back against the wall. “You seem nice, but you don’t have to watch me or take care of me. I’m fine.”
He wasn’t sure what to say to that. Her last sentence did not seem entirely true. This was not the liability-induced concern of a tour guide, nor was it the pity-induced attention that Oscar had felt for the parents and children after reading about the boy in Italy. It was not even vague curiosity borne of her attractive physicality or the glimpse of strong, independent femininity that had initially drawn Oscar. This was now a genuine wish to look after a human being. He was hooked, for better or for worse. It seemed they were both breaking all their own rules today. “So, what brought you here today?” he asked, trying to sound casual and conversational.
“My honeymoon.” She said it in a deadpan manner, which rendered Oscar speechless once again. His shield was now destroyed, his professional boundary disintegrating by the second.
Finally, he asked the question, the one he had wanted to ask since the first moment he had seen her. “Where is your husband?”
Her head did not move from where it rested against the wall, but she glanced down as a tear made its way down her cheek.
Then she lost consciousness.