“The Captain’s Cabin?”
Emma squinted up at the sign, covering her eyes to keep the morning light from turning her blind. It was a ridiculous name, if she said so herself. (Never mind that this was their first day in town, and she’d been the one to choose the place.)
“I don’t know about this,” she said, sliding her eyes back to the blonde girl at her side. “We could just get back in the car and find a nice, motel-side Arby’s.”
“We just spent five hours in the car, not counting the five minutes it took to find that parking spot, Emma,” Elsa whined, “If I don’t get to eat whatever it is I’m smelling right now, I think I might cry.”
Emma ceded, but only because the smell of fried seafood was calling to her too.
The two of them stepped out of the misty morning and into the little dockside restaurant, Emma shaking her hair out of her hooded anorak jacket and Elsa flinging her braid back over her shoulder. The lunch crowd was still milling about, mostly older citizens and young parents, and the two were only too happy to take their time finding seats. The walls were stained dark, as if the warm drizzle outside had penetrated the wood, and covered in weather-worn treasures that undoubtedly came from the nearby sea. One side of the small building stood on ground level, but the other seemed to stretch out toward the water. It was nice, Emma had to admit, nicer than the dorky sign on the front had led on.
The two of them chose seats at the end of the long bar, despite all earlier protests about sitting for any prolonged periods (ever again, Elsa had promised, one foot up on the dashboard and the other hanging out the passenger window.) Elsa busied herself tracing the faces of old sailors and fisherman pictured on the walls, while Emma watched the tide coming in.
It hardly looked pleasant out, but she was certain those little black blobs in the distance were boats. She ran her hand over the windowpane to get a clearer view and squinted again, trying to figure out exactly what kind of vessels had caught her attention.
“Can I help the both of you?”
Emma swiveled on the little barstool and found herself eye-level with a toothy, if welcoming, grin. The man was standing on the other side of the bar, his black shirt emblazoned with the same logo from the sign outside the restaurant. She had no idea how he snuck up on her like that, but Elsa answered him before she could voice her question back.
“You definitely can. We’ve been in the car for far too long, and we need food.”
“I’ll have to see if we’ve got any laying around, then,” he said with a bit of a laugh, seeming to relax into his smile as he regarded Emma more thoroughly. "Where are you traveling from?”
“Boston,” the both of them answered, tiredness coming through in Emma’s voice and restlessness coming through in Elsa’s.
He clicked his tongue and handed both of them menus, leaning a hip against the bar as he played with one of the bottles on the counter top. “Quite a long ways away, but at least you chose a beautiful day to come up. It’s not always this nice out.”
“You call this nice?” Emma chuckled, wrinkling her nose as she nodded toward the window. “It’s about to rain.”
“On the contrary, lass. I’d reckon the sun’ll be out before you’ve finished your meal.” His smile was challenging her now, as if he was about to reach out into the air and ask her to shake on it.
“Speaking of,” Elsa said, swiveling her menu toward him and pointing at a dish. “Can I get this with curly fries?”
“There’s no way,” Emma said, shaking her head at the man. He was leaned over the counter, arms folded out in front of him. She thought she could see the beginnings of a tattoo on the inside of his arm but refused to inspect any further, knowing his eyes had been following her a little too closely already.
“Ah, but there is,” he sang out. “When you’ve lived here as long as I, you tend to get accustomed to the signs.”
"Nobody’s that good,” She pressed, crossing her arms in front of her. He’d been keeping them (well, keeping her,if Elsa’s less-than-subtle looks meant anything) company ever since they’d ordered a meal, and since then she’d come to know quite a bit about him. His name was Killian Jones, and it didn’t sound like an American name because it wasn’t. He and his brother had come over from the United Kingdom a few years ago and started up business here. They had a sailboat, of all things, moored out at the end of the restaurant’s dock, and that apparently gave him the ability to predict the weather. “You have to have checked an app, or something.”
He shook his head again, eyes sparkling as they regarded her. “I could show you, if you’d like,” he said, a bit of extra something in his voice as he made the offer. “Liam’s not quite done with your orders yet, and it won’t take long.”
Emma gave him a challenging look of her own, then, wondering just how many tourists got an invite out onto his sailboat while their meals were made ready. On the other hand, though, her legs weren’t nearly stretched enough after driving for so long, and she did like the idea of standing again.
“Oh, go do it,” Elsa said, tearing her straw wrapper into tiny little squares atop the bar. “I’ll wait here for when the food gets out.”
“See? She’ll wait here, for when the food gets out,” Killian said, sweeping his arm out toward Elsa and raising his brow at Emma. “Come on, Swan, don’t make a man beg.”
Again, Emma relented, but only because she would never hear the end of it from Elsa if she acted like going with him was a big deal.
“What made you pick Maine, of all places?”
They were both leaned against the rail of his sailboat (which was more than a little impressive, Emma grudgingly admitted. With something like this at her disposal, she’d probably spend a few cloudy days on the water, too) and watching the little town ferry pick up passengers from the neighboring dock. It’d made three trips since they came outside, passengers snapping pictures and laughing at the sea spray when they passed over particularly large curls of wake.
“I could ask you the same,” he countered, twisting his neck to regard her. She didn’t remember him coming to stand so close, exactly, but then the past twenty minutes had gone by without her thinking of a single excuse to run back to Elsa. (It definitely had nothing to do with the way he seemed to talk about the sea like it was his first love, that was certain.)
“It’s different,” she told him with a small laugh. “We’re not moving in.”
“We didn’t think we were either, to be honest. Liam and I had plans to sail up and down the coast, to pack up every time we thought we were getting too rooted down.”
“Guess that worked out for the two of you,” Emma countered, nodding back toward the restaurant. “Big change of plans?”
“You could say that.” His smile turned wistful then, almost dreamlike, and Emma found herself watching him as he turned his eyes back to the sea. She couldn’t tell if it was the way the sun was now warming their faces or simply the way he was born, but the ocean seemed pooled right there in his eyes, too. He turned to her then, catching her off guard once more with his closeness. “I’ll wager your food’s waiting for you now, love.”
Surprisingly reluctant to leave the peaceful, salty air out on the docks, Emma nodded, letting him lead her back inside. Most of the lunch rush had taken off by then, and it was almost too easy to hear her friend’s voice carrying through the restaurant as they stepped back through the doorway.
“- she’s not really my sister, even though she looks it, but we always take this big sisterly road trip in the spring to celebrate meeting each other. She pretends she hates long trips, but I know that - Emma!”
Emma’s eyes widened considerably as she saw her friend chatting up a dark-haired stranger, one whose head looked exactly like Killian’s from the angle she had on him. He turned then, a lighter shade of blue eyes meeting hers. He was wearing the same shirt as Killian, too, but all brotherly resemblance ended below eye level.
“You must be Emma,” the man said, straightening up off the barstool and reaching out a large, square hand. “Liam Jones, privilege to be at your services today.”
Emma could see Elsa’s bright eyes behind him, switching frantically between delight and panic. She had always been terrible at improvisation, especially when it came to someone she wanted to impress. Emma only smiled and shook his hand warmly, not missing the gigantic plate of curly fries that Elsa had placed between them. (She didn’t miss the look Liam gave to Killian, either, but she found herself wishing she’d seen it from Elsa’s perspective instead. As it was, he was standing too close to her for her to see.)
“Nice to meet you. Are you the one I need to thank for the sandwich waiting over at my seat?”
“I am, especially since my second-in-command was nowhere to be found,” Liam said pointedly, aiming his smirk at her instead of his brother this time. She managed not to blush, but there was no hiding the snort that came from Elsa at her seat.
Seeing the food on her plate reminded Emma of their reason for visiting, and she found herself lingering there long after her plate held nothing but crumbs, swapping travel stories with the two men who held the sea in their eyes. It was comfortable, just as much as her ride together with Elsa had been, and suddenly she found herself wondering what else they might have missed if they hadn’t pulled off the interstate to fuel up in the little seaside town.
(Elsa, for all her part, wasn’t even trying to be subtle as she offered Liam the last long curly fry on her plate, complaining when he told her it’d be ungentlemanly to take anything more from her plate than he already had. Her argument was that he’d made them, after all, and deserved to spend a little time savoring the dishes he made. They didn’t even notice it when Killian snuck the thing off her plate and ate it himself.)
“So,” Killian finally asks, stepping up to tackle the question they’d all been dancing around, “How long are the both of you in town?”
"Oh, we only planned on stopping for a few-” Emma felt the point of Elsa’s shoe dig into her shin then, effectively cutting her off before she could say anything drastic. Emma swiveled back and gave her just as deliberate and obvious a look, wondering what the hell had gotten into her.
“A few days. Maybe a week or two,” Elsa supplied, sipping at her water and refusing to meet Emma’s eyes. “We don’t really have to be back any time soon.”
Emma let it go after a moment, but only because she didn’t want that to be the last smile she saw on Killian Jones’ face.