I lie in my hammock, staring up at the wooden ceiling. With my good hand I toss a piece of eight up into the air and then catch it. The barely audible pat as it lands in my palm over and over has become a steady rhythm twining through the creaking of the rocking ship and the steady lapping of water against the hull.
The enchanted necklace is fastened around my own neck. After departing San Martín, I put it on hoping that I would be able where to go next to find the treasure, but nothing happened. Angelique examined the garment, but couldn’t find anything of note about it. She’s been working all hours to try and figure out a clue from the map, with limited luck. She managed to figure out a heading, which we’ve spent the past two and a half weeks following. So far, we haven’t come across anything but huge, open sea for miles and miles.
A lot has gone through my mind during this time, but the main thing is boredom. There isn’t much to look at and even less to do when you’re just sort of heading in a straight line. It’s certainly given me some time to heal. My shoulder still hurts like the dickens if I jostle it too much, but the regular soreness and swelling has definitely gone down, and I’ve developed pretty decent skills in the art of trying not to scratch inside it. Even though it’s still a long way away from being completely healed, Tsura has already started talking to me about physical therapy exercises I’ll need to do to get it back to full usage, which I think is complete horse poop. Still, I feel grateful that I didn’t suffer anything more than some bad bruising and a dislocated arm; almost everyone else got away with some kind of fracture or other serious injury that should take far longer than mine to heal completely. Honestly, we sure are a sorry lot.
Worst case of all, though, is definitely Lucia. Under the care of Tsura and her family, she’s gradually gained some measure of consciousness and seems to be recovering well. Since she wasn’t secured during our little incident in the Rocas del Diablo, she suffered more than any of us; mainly some nasty bone fractures and a concussion. She’s gone in and out during the past couple of weeks, but according to her nurses, the worst is behind us now.
One of the crew members, Oja, has taken her place as navigator during her absence. The last time I checked in with Oja, we were on a steady course for Crooked Island in the south of the Bahamas. I tried sitting down with Angelique so she could explain to me what she’s figured out about the map and why the hell we’re headed to some random island in the far reaches of the Caribbean, but I got overwhelmed with all her weird technical cartography talk. Additionally, things have been a bit rocky between us since leaving San Martín. Or, more likely, the tension is just on my part. Either way, I’ve all but stalwartly avoided her this whole trip—not difficult to do, since she’s almost constantly holed up in her cabin with the map.
Completely opposite, her little adopted companion, Henri, has become even more of a visible nuisance than ever before. The constant boredom and waiting has unlocked the truly annoying side of him. He can be seen at near any time of day or night, running through the corridors in the hold with his arms sticking straight out and making buzzing noises, like he’s pretending to be an airplane; or poking around the galley near meal times, scuttling between people’s legs in the hope that they’ll drop a scrap of food he can snatch up.
Spending my developmental years on a pirate ship and growing up almost entirely around adults, I have understandably limited experience in dealing with children. They’re mostly irrelevant to me; from a general perspective, they’re a mild annoyance at most. When forced to spend a lot of time in close company with them, my already delicate temper becomes even worse and my blood pressure shoots high enough to make the bravest doctor faint. I even develop a twitch in my left eye that only flares up when I’m under incredible stress or have a nasty sneeze. The only time I’ve ever really had to spend a lot of time with anyone under thirteen is one of my crew members, Adalet, who was pregnant when she joined my crew a couple years ago, and has raised her daughter, Manolya, and balanced her duties to the ship without complaint. Manolya herself is a quiet girl who spends most of her time out of my sight, so I actually don’t completely hate her always.
So, suffice it to say, Henri’s agitation has only added to my already constant dread over our basically clueless perception of the map and shot up my stress far beyond healthy levels. And on top of this marvelous shit cake of a journey, the huge vacuum of time with nothing to do but dwell on everything that could go wrong here has led me to think about the possibility of the Cat’s agents following us. Granted, we haven’t seen anyone suspicious in any of the towns we’ve stopped at, and even if we had seen a vessel following us on the water, they definitely lost us after we entered the Rocas del Diablo. Even so, he’s a very powerful man who loaned a hefty sum of cash to a pirate who’s known to shirk on repaying debts. It’s definitely something I’d consider doing if I was in his position.
To be honest, at this point, a sudden attack from an angry mob boss would almost be welcome. At least it would be something to do.
A soft rapping on my door brings me out of my thoughts. “Come in,” I call out.
Angelique enters and closes the door behind her. She pulls up a stool and plops down, closing her eyes and leaning against the wall of my cabin for support. Faint, bruise-like circles of exhaustion have gathered underneath her eyes, and her entire body sags limply toward the floor, as if she is so tired her bones have dissolved and left her ragged and strung out.
She sits there without moving or speaking for so long that I suspect she’s fallen asleep. The piece of eight lands in my palm once again, but instead of tossing it back up in the air, I close my fist and try to angle myself so that I can face her better. Moving around in a hammock is difficult enough without one of your arms being rendered useless, but I don’t let Angelique see how much I struggle.
“Tired?” I ask softly.
She nods without opening her eyes. The movement is almost zombie-like. “Damn map,” she mumbles. Her words are quiet and a bit slurred, as if opening her lips all the way takes up too much energy. “Fuckin’ riddles an’ shit. Sooo annoying.”
“Angelique, are you drunk?” I ask.
She shakes her head with the barest of motions. “You know I don’ drink,” she says.
“Still don’t know why, though.” I settle back into the hammock and examine the coin in my hand, turning it against the light. “So, is there a reason you wanted to come talk to me, or did you just need a break?”
“Both.” She heaves herself into a more upright position and rubs the sleep from her eyes. “I stayed up all last night working on it. I didn’t even stop for lunch today,” she goes on. “It’s like I’m possessed or something.”
“Hey, don’t say that. You sound like you’re foreshadowing,” I reply.
“I just don’t get it. All the clues I can find seem to point to Crooked Island, but then the path splits. One way turns north toward the States, which I kinda get. But the other one is a complete mystery. The path disappears, then somehow magically resumes all the way down in the Caicos Islands. Like, no travel estimate, no direction, it just—jumps.”
“Huh,” I say pensively. “So you can literally see the path on the map?”
“Well, it’s not as simple as that. Essentially yes, I can, but I have to fight through a bunch of weird riddles and phrases to get there. For example,” she says, beginning to look a bit more animated, “the way I figured out that we had to go to the Rocas del Diablo was because the words on the map literally spelled it out. There are two kinds of labels—normal country and town names, and then supposedly random words dispersed across the page. Those extra words create a limerick or poem that references places in mythology.”
“So our whole route is basically based on myths.”
“The Rocas were real, though, weren’t they?” She leans forward, eyes bright with the excitement of explaining the subject. “When I’m translating this map, I’m not just figuring out the path to a fabled treasure—I’m learning about San Abel and about the history of these islands. Half these things I’ve never even heard of, I had to go to the ship library to research them. I’ve found out so much about this place and all these awesome legends that have traveled here from other places, the people who brought them, or discovered them, who created legends about them.”
“We have a library?”
She shoves the hammock playfully. “Maybe it’d do you some good to stop in there. You need a little bit of knowledge in your life.”
“All the knowledge I need right now,” I reply, stopping my examination of the piece of eight and turning my head directly toward her, “is already stored up in this sacred noggin.”
“But books are fun.”
“More than one way to skin a cat, love.”
“Anyway, speaking of fun,” she says, getting up off the chair and stretching, “I’m up for some. Whaddya say?”
“Oh, sure, why don’t we go take a dip in the Caribbean? I hear the poisonous trunk fish are real lovely this time of year. Or hey, we could try bungee jumping off the jib, maybe we’ll smack our heads and get concussions and pass out so I can rest in blissful peace instead of putting up with this agonizingly boring trip in the middle of the bloody fucking ocean.”
“Stop being a jerk,” she says, shoving my hammock again. “It’s just about dark outside. We could go out on the main deck and look at the stars. A little rum for you, some water for me, thousands and thousands of stars in the gorgeous night sky.” She leans on the end of the hammock where my feet are resting, regarding me amusedly. “Unless that’s too boring for you.”
“Angelique, I do believe that you are asking me on a date.”
“Oh, please, don’t insult me,” she says with a smirk. “I spend off-work hours with everyone on this ship. Don’t think just because you’re the captain, you’ll get special treatment.”
“Well, I don’t want to go anywhere with you until you get a handle on that little kid,” I reply, turning my attention back to the coin in my hand. “Honestly, it’s like having a child on board. Oh, wait, that’s ‘cause he is a child. Which I hate.”
“You like Henri. You’re just too proud to say it.”
“I liked him when he slept all the time and only hung out in your room. Now he’s under my feet all the time and it bothers me. I feel like I’m going to step on him one of these days. Really, why are children so smallish?”
“He’s young. He needs exercise and fresh air.”
“Well, he’s certainly got tons of that out here. Nothing but fresh air for miles!”
She smiles at me like a parent trying to placate a grumpy toddler. “It’s a big ship, but it isn’t enough for him. It’s not like his neighborhood back home. This is still a strange place to him—he doesn’t have his mothers, his friends.”
“Boo fuckin’ hoo.” I rest my arm over my face and close my eyes. “He’s got you. That already gives him about ten billion times more of an advantage than I had at his age.”
“I don’t know if that’s a compliment to me or an insult to your crew.”
A deafening crash from outside makes us both jump. The entire ship seems to shake with the force of the blast. The sound is followed by a sharp clattering and a chorus of startled cries. I look to Angelique, who seems to share my confusion.
“Grab my braces,” I tell her. I rise from the hammock and she helps me quickly slip into my braces and boots. Then we make sure we’re both armed properly and hurry out onto the deck.
Another earth-shattering boom splits the air, and I’m nearly knocked sideways as a powerful cannonball smacks into the starboard hull. I rush downstairs, Angelique trailing behind me, and find the second level to be a flurry of activity. Gloria is barking out instructions as crew members scurry between the cannon and the ammo stock, loading up the guns as quickly as their feet will allow. There’s a cannon ball-sized hole in the wall directly in front of one crew member lying on their back, bleeding profusely from their torso. Tsura and her sister are bent over them, administering treatment.
“Well, fuck,” I say as I look around at the chaos. “Who the hell is attacking us all the way out here? Like, really, what’s the goddamn point?”
The call travels down from the deck above. The gunners light the fuses on the ends of the cannon and hurry to cover their ears. I do the same, earning a strange look from Angelique. Two seconds later, the epiphany comes to her when fifteen cannon go off at once not five feet away.
“Holy shit,” she yells, clamping her hands over her ears. “Why is it so goddamn loud?”
“Welcome aboard, love,” I reply, clapping her on the shoulder.
I nudge her downstairs toward her cabin so she can get out of the path of the chaos. Then I rush up to the main deck to get a proper look at our opponents. I can’t see much through the darkness and the clouds of smoke painting the air between our ships, but when the flash of their cannon go off again, I catch the briefest of glimpses of the ship. Not enough to make out anything terribly helpful, but at the very least I can see that they are about as well-armed as we are, so that’s something.
The ship rocks violently again as the cannon strike. One of them misses us and lands in the water a couple yards away, though it sends up a spray that soaks my front. Grabbing hold of one of the shrouds for balance, I climb up on the railing and lean toward the enemy ship, squinting in the gloom. I can tell that it’s sailing at an incoming angle and will be nearly close enough to board in a couple minutes, but I still can’t see much else.
“Captain!” Jimena calls down from the crow’s nest. They grab hold of a line, leap over the edge of the little platform, and land easily on the deck behind me. Their spyglass is tucked in their belt; they hand it to me and point a shaking finger across the water.
Now I’m curious. I unfurl the device and hold it to my eye. It takes me a few moments to focus and gather my bearings. When at last I train the glass on the ship’s hull and see its name in delicate gold script, my heart plummets.
“Fuck,” I mutter.
Shoving the spyglass back into Jimena’s hands, I rush downstairs. “Give ‘em the lot, you filthy rat bastards!” I holler. “Spare nothing we can throw at them! It’ll be a cold day in Hades when I let those slimy shit sacks near my ship without giving ‘em a good beating before they can even reach us.”
Nobody questions my burst of passion; they just continue loading the cannon with renewed energy. Tsura and her sister Aishe are tending to another injured crew member groaning in a far corner, while Dooriyah continues her steady work on the first. I step around the splayed bodies and continue to yell encouragement at my crew. All the while, through the flash of guns going off and the boom of cannon balls striking wood, I can see through the gun openings that the enemy ship is approaching at an ever increasing speed.
Eden, temporarily looking serious and attentive rather than her normal self-important suck up act, approaches me as I’m releasing a string of profanities at one of the gunners. “Captain, what are your orders should they board?” she asks.
Shit. I glance outside once more and the anxious knots in my stomach twist up when I see how much closer they’ve gotten. “Stall. If they come close enough, slash their ropes, burn them, whatever you can. Don’t let them on my ship, hear me?” I say.
She nods and rushes off to deliver my instructions. I look around at the flurry of activity and can’t help feeling a bit proud of how quickly my crew is working. The gunners are at their assigned positions under the guidance of Gloria, who’s taking something of a more patient approach to the situation than I am. Other crew members who aren’t busy adjusting the sails or watching the helm above are running to the stock room carting armfuls of cannon balls. Thick gray smoke and the acrid smell of gunpowder fill the air, but combined with the briny scent of the ocean and the magnificent spray coming off the rocking hulls, it almost stirs up a sense of inspiration rather than dismay.
Another glance outside shows me that the ship will be near enough to board in just a few more minutes—and board it will, no matter what orders I give, that I am sure of. I’m the only one equipped to deal with these bozos; much as I dread the thought of confronting them, I know that I’ll need to be up there to support my crew.
My hand instinctively leaps to my waist to grab my cutlass, but all I’m met with is empty air. I forgot my belt in my cabin. Shit. I wade through the throng and hurry upstairs as quickly as my legs will allow. Honestly, I’m so used to leisure, having spent the past two weeks lounging idly, that all this sudden physical activity is making me a bit disoriented; I struggle to climb the short flight of stairs and cross the deck to my cabin.
It’s only when I’m inside with the doors locked securely behind me that I realize how messy my cabin is. Days of sitting around with little to do has done a remarkable number on my productivity; I’ve allowed documents, maps, quills and little shells and trinkets to just pile up and scatter on every flat surface. Shoving aside my internal admonishments, I wallow through the mess and start shoving things aside in my search.
Goodness only knows where all these stacks of parchment on my desk came from. Whichever parts aren’t covered in documents marked with my messy scrawl are littered with frayed quills and dried-up bottles of ink. The pair of stuffed green armchairs in front of the desk are piled with similar detritus. Strings of stone beads and precious jewels are puddled on my bookshelf alongside my parents’ collection of thick leather-bound volumes and little mechanical devices I’ve gathered over the years. An enormous brass scale—when the hell did I get that one?—takes up a chunk of space between my desk and the futon, while the rest is dominated by a round wooden table scattered with maps.
I scan every pile of junk, rustle through my wardrobe, and peer under all the furniture. My belt and cutlass are nowhere around. I dig in my brain, trying desperately to bring up my last memory of the weapon. I definitely had it after dinner yesterday—I remember chasing Henri away from the crow’s nest with it. I took it off before going to sleep and this morning…
Panic is mounting in my chest. Outside, I can hear the crash and roar of the guns, feel the reverberations through the ship. Talk about ‘shiver me timbers’, I muse bitterly.
Suddenly, the noises are unbelievably close. This burst in volume is accompanied by a loud clattering sound and the rumble of heavy boots on wood. I know what’s going to happen before it does, but I still scream when the blindfold goes over my eyes.
Someone wraps an arm about my body, tossing me over their broad shoulders. I continue to scream and start thrashing around as much as I can, but with my right arm still immobilized and the braces making the movements of my legs stiff and awkward, I know there’s no point in a struggle. Doesn’t mean I won’t still try, though.
The scent of gunpowder and the boom of cannon grow even stronger as they cart me back out onto the deck. With my eyes covered, I have no idea what’s going on. My captor pauses, and then we’re soaring, the wind making my hair fly about my head in thick strands. I curse myself for forgetting to put on my bandana this morning. We land shortly, and then we’re off again, striding with purpose toward some unknown destination.
The click of a door opening and closing, and then the sounds and scents of the outside are muffled once again. I’m deposited roughly on the floor, knocking my injured shoulder, and my blindfold is removed. I choke the cry of pain before it leaves my throat and disguise my wince as a snarl when I turn to face my captor.
“Brings back memories, don’t it?” he says. He’s perching on the edge of his desk, regarding me with a look of disgustingly smug satisfaction.
“Oh, yeah, tons. Definitely stuff I wanted to remember, because it’s not like I’ve spent three and a half years trying my best to not think about what was arguably the shittiest and one of, if not the most emotionally scarring situation I have ever been in. But, yeah, I definitely needed to go through it again, thanks for that.”
“You know me. Always lookin’ out for you,” he replies with a wink.
I stick my tongue out of him as I climb to my feet and brush myself off. It’s been ages since I was last on this ship, and he’s certainly added his own decorative flair to it. The room is quite a bit smaller than mine and just as messy. His desk and the broad bookshelf adjacent are overflowing with books, papers, jewels, and little pieces of detritus. The wall in which the door to the main deck is constructed is made of stained glass arranged in arabesque patterns. Through it, the chaos of the battle looks delicate and multicolored.
“Love what you’ve done the place. Could use a new housekeeper, though,” I say, going to the bookshelf to look at a rack on the wall from which hangs a collection of silver pendants. I lean down to examine one in particular, a pair of crossed swords with an inscription in Arabic. “Never really did pick up on this one. I’m no good with new alphabets. What’s it say?”
“It’s a very old Arabic proverb that roughly translates to ‘mind your fuckin’ business.’”
“Speaking of,” I add, “your accent has certainly improved. No more of that weird thing those Spaniards do with their C’s.”
“Glad you noticed. Been working on it for a while. Going for more of a Dominican thing these days. I’m gettin’ real good at dropping the endings off all my sentences, don’t it sound grand?”
“And the beginnings,” I observe. “Seems like it’s been working pretty well for you.”
“Oh, yeah, I’ve had loads of time to practice. Since, you know, you haven’t spoken to me since you broke my heart and left me to die in the middle of the Caribbean three years ago. And ignored all my attempts to contact you.”
“Okay, drama king, slow down a sec,” I say as I move on to examine the heavy volumes arranged on his bookshelf. “First off, saying I broke your heart implies that you ever had one to begin with.”
“Ouch, that was hurtful. You really got me deep there, One-shot.”
“Second,” I continue, gritting my teeth at the sound of my nickname, “it also implies that there was something between us to break. Both you and I know we were never in love, and there’s no point in pretending otherwise.”
He slides off the desk, shoves his hands in the pocket of his coat, and strides over to me, standing close enough that the wiry, trim patch on his chin brushes against the side of my face. I’m trying my best to keep my eyes straight ahead and ignore the way the flickering glow of the oil lamps makes his copper skin glow and his steel gray eyes glisten invitingly. His lips actually graze my ear; I can smell the rum on his breath.
“Now, Ingrid, that’s a little harsh, eh?” he murmurs. His voice makes my heart stutter and my stomach twist up in knots.
“I’m only being honest. It’s a virtue most people value,” I say, trying to keep my voice steady.
“Whew, I can really taste the affection,” he chuckles. “Alright, alright, I’ll give you that one. But you can’t deny there was ever a spark between us.”
His hand goes to the small of my back, and he begins tracing his fingertips lightly up and down my spine. Shivers travel through my limbs, making me shiver involuntarily. I’m trying to keep my focus on the book in front of me, but he’s working the tension out of my muscles; my eyes drift closed and my head tilts back. His hand moves to my hair, fingers combing through the neglected tresses and sending tingles all the way through my body. The mildly pleasant sensation pushes through the growing sickness in my gut, making me dizzy. Without meaning to, a gentle sigh escapes my mouth, and he takes it as an invitation to move his lips away from my ear and down my neck, his teeth just barely grazing my throat—
I am not letting this happen to me again.
Yanking my good arm up to break his hold on my hair, I jerk away, rear back, and slap him across the face as hard as I can. He smacks into the bookshelf and crumples to the ground, sending a couple hefty volumes tumbling onto him. His arms fly up to shield himself as they land with a series of loud thuds.
He scrambles back to his feet, making sure to keep a safe distance away. We stand on opposite sides of the room, breathing hard, regarding each other fearfully.
“So,” he says, “you really are…”
“Can we please not talk about it?” I say. My voice is incredibly small and I want to punch myself.
“Sure.” He goes to a stone basin set up against the wall and examines his face in the scarred looking glass fixed above it. “But goodness, Liston, you nailed me good.”
I flex my good arm jokingly. “She ain’t just built for hauling sails.”
He splashes some water from the basin on his face, then wipes it dry with the sleeve of his coat. “Okay, so, recap—talking about the past = bad?”
“Look, Marid,” I say, going a bit closer to him, “I get that what I did to you probably fucked you up a little bit. But there were things going on in my life, things that I wanted and things about myself that I didn’t fully understand yet. And I was just on the very fucking brink of figuring them out when you came into my life. And you just shit on everything I’d built. You were the metaphorical Godzilla in the Japanese city of my life.”
“Somehow, that analogy doesn’t really do it for me.”
“Too fuckin’ bad. You’re not the only one here with feelings.” I cross my arms tightly over my chest and give him a small smile. “Not that it was all bad.”
He presses his fingers to his temples and groans. “Wait, now I’m confused. Are you saying you want my dick, or you never want to talk to me again?”
“One-track mind, my friend.”
“Friend?” He hops up on his desk and kicks his feet against it like an excited child. “Does that mean you want to hang out with me again?”
“Let’s not go that far, bud. Telling your boys to stop beating the shit out of my vessel would be a good start, though.”
He leaps off the desk and rushes to the door. Leaning outside, he shouts something in Arabic, and a couple people outside respond similarly. Gradually, the fire recedes and a heavy silence descends.
“Alright, that’s finished. What’s the next step?” he asks.
“Help me figure out what to do with this?” I hold the necklace up so he can see it better. He makes sure to stay back a reasonable distance while he examines it.
“Nothing I’ve ever heard of. Where’dja get it?” he asks.
“The story is irrelevant. All I want to know is where I go next and how this’ll help me once I get there.”
He leans against the desk and crosses his arms over his chest thoughtfully. “You have a heading at least?’
“Sure. Crooked Island.”
“Hey, we’re going that way too! Why don’t I go with you?”
I recoil instinctively at the thought. Spending the rest of the night, possibly even longer, traveling to the island, then hanging around the island trying to figure out where to go next with this seedy manipulative bastard hanging around my neck, sounds about as pleasant as strangling myself with my own boot straps. But he’s also got a ship loaded with guns and a big open ocean, with no witnesses or resources for miles. I swallow the anxious lump forming in my throat and say, “Any idea where to go once we’re actually there?”
“You still friends with Ngozi?” he asks.
“Of course I am,” I reply.
“We can go pay her a visit, see if she knows anything about that necklace.”
“Well,” I say, “congrats, you’ve gotten past the first step toward earning my trust back. Ready to take on the next one?”
“Get me the fuck back to my ship.”
My crew doesn’t immediately surround me the way I expected they would. I’m guessing those who have the sense not to talk to me about it informed everyone else about the situation. Not many people on board know about what went on after Marid and his former crew kidnapped me almost four years ago, mostly by my omission. Even thinking about that time makes my gut twist up in knots.
A little flare of pride makes the knots untangle a little bit. Today’s meeting was different than the last time. Before, I was young and confused. I didn’t have the knowledge or vocabulary to properly express my feelings over my gender, sexual, and romantic identities. It’s been a huge process of personal development just to unlearn all my previous conceptions about sexuality and embrace my asexual and aromantic identities. Four years ago, there’s no way I would have been able to stop an intimate situation between us from escalating and walk away unhurt, emotionally and/or physically.
The knots return when I remember what I’m about to go do and what I’ll have to tell my crew. I can just picture what they’ll have to say about the new plan.
“You mean the ass who kidnapped you when you were only fifteen years old and kept you on his ship for half a year until you were finally able to escape, just came up to us and shot the fuck out of our ship, then kidnapped you again, and now you want to bring him with us to Crooked Island?”
Robin smacks her hand against the table for emphasis as she leans toward me, little bits of spittle flying into my face. We’re gathered, along with Anamaria and Angelique, in my quarters to deliberate a course of action once we reach the Bahamas. Even though I knew she would react this way, I grind my teeth together and silently pray for patience. Robin’s loyal watch dog act is only agreeable so long as I can use it toward beneficial ends.
“This whole situation is going to be about thirty bajillion times more painful for me than it will be for you, trust me,” I snap. “Yes, being in close quarters with the guy who severely fucked up my personal journey toward self-acceptance and inner peace and all that shit is gonna be a seriously emotionally draining situation. But what other choice do I have, Robin? It’s either accept his help finding Kalise, or keep going on a heading that we all know is basically fucking useless here.”
“Hey,” Angelique interjects, looking hurt.
“Oh, come on. You know that map’s a crock of shit.”
“Is not,” she says huffily. “Just because it’s difficult for me to figure it out doesn’t mean it has no use. Not everything is just going to come to you. You’re not that smart. You can’t just whip out your sword and slash your way through this problem.”
I snort. “Jeez, tell me how you really feel.”
“How about we all just calm down,” Anamaria says, holding out her hands in a gesture of peace. Her voice is still rough, but her throat has healed a great deal in the time we’ve been idle, and she can at least communicate with us without too much pain. “I can tell that there is a lot of tension in this room right now, and for good reason.”
“Everybody’s ganging up on me when I’m just trying to do what’s best for the ship—for all of us,” I reply. “I figure out how to get to the Rocas del Diablo, I fight off a bunch of fucking cave vines, I bargain with a vicious Cuban drug lord—”
“Nuh-uh, I’m not done yet. Everything I’ve done this trip, every fuckin’ thing, I have done with only the purest of intentions. And now you all are bitching at me because we figured out where to go next, and I’m trying to make a plan for when we get there. Just because we have to hang around someone you don’t like? Listen, I’m not a big fan of the guy either, but when the safety of my crew is on the line and we have a sure course that’ll get us a little bit closer to our end goal, if getting there means running around the Bahamas with my emotionally manipulative ex-boyfriend then so fucking be it.”
The room is quiet while they stew over my words. My heart is racing and my brain feels scrambled, like it’s stuffed with cotton balls, but my breath is coming a little bit more easily. At this moment, I don’t even really care that my team is seeing a weak spot in the metaphorical brick wall around my heart. I’m just so relieved to finally give a voice to all the complicated thoughts that have been stewing inside of me since I was taken onto Marid’s ship.
“Well, shit,” Robin says at last. “Sorry. I didn’t realize your feelings were so messed up over all of this.”
“Yeah, ditto,” Angelique adds.
I give a dismissive wave. “Whatever. I know we’re all well acquainted with how much I love the mushy gushy emotions business, but let’s skip all that and call it square so we can figure out what we’re going to do next.”
“Marid said Ngozi lives on the island, yeah? She can just tell us where to go,” Robin suggests.
“Alright, sure, but let’s say she doesn’t know what to do,” I reply. “I mean, she’s Igbo, not Yoruba. West African theology isn’t exactly her thing. So what do we do if she turns out to be a dead end?”
The four of us glance around the table at each other, at a loss.
“Well,” Angelique says hesitantly, “maybe we could find another translator? See if there’s someone else who can help us out with interpreting the map?”
Suddenly, the doors burst open and Marid enters the room with a grand flourish. “Call off the search party, everyone, I have arrived,” he says, taking a dramatic bow.
“Shove it, asswipe,” Robin snarls.
“Don’t believe we’ve met before. Pleasure,” he says, extending a hand.
“Ooh, gritty,” he replies with a wink. He brushes her aside, pulls a rolled-up bundle of parchment out of his coat, and unfurls it across the table. It’s etched with black ink markings depicting a sideways L-shaped land mass.
“Crooked Island?” I guess.
“Ding ding ding, give the kid a prize. Yes, capitán, you are currently gazing at the most intricate documentation of the esteemed colony of Crooked Island. Former home to a revolting plethora of white tourists, now reclaimed and inhabited by citizens from the African diaspora. As of the most recent census, population is approximately seven hundred and fifty three—among them, our mark, Ngozi.”
“Stop talking like a sports caster, it’s weird,” I say. “And don’t call her our mark. She’s our friend. Well, my friend. And we’re here to ask a favor of her.”
“Fair enough, Ingrid. But here we’re forgetting—it’s my map.”
“Happy fourth birthday, jackass.”
“Four and a half, actually.”
This last expletive came from Robin, who follows it up by giving each of us a punch on the shoulder. “You’re both fuckin’ children, I swear to god,” she cries. “Just make a fuckin’ plan so we can all move on with our lives.”
I stick out my tongue at her, then consult Marid’s map. “If Ngozi can’t help us, we’ll just have to take another look at the map,” I say. “Maybe see if that weird disconnected path Angelique found has any reasoning behind it.”
“Works for me,” Marid replies.
“Alrighty, we’ve got a plan then,” Robin says, rubbing her hands together.
“Okay, awesome, we’ve settled on a course without ripping each other’s throats out. Time to break out the champagne,” I say sarcastically.
“You’re cranky. It’s time for bed,” Robin replies.
She begins shooing the others out of the room. Anamaria blows me a kiss and Angelique gives me a sympathetic glance. Robin is the last to leave; she gives a little salute before shutting the doors behind them.
I go to the futon and plop down with a sigh. My boots feel heavy and gross, like I’ve been slogging through a marsh all afternoon. I peel them off, along with my braces, get up, and cross the room to my hammock. As I lie there, I stare at the wooden planks in the ceiling and try my best not to think about what will happen come day. Putting off feeling things has always been a particular specialty of mine.