Welcome back to our Wednesday and Saturday serial installments! We are happy to continue to share The Glass Bottom Boat by Laura Thomas.
LUKE STOOD IN THE SHALLOW water and secured his snorkeling mask. He turned to Nathan, who lazed on a beach lounger as he worked on his already-perfect tan.
“You sure you don’t want to come? The water’s awesome.”
“Nope. I earned the right to relax by beating you mercilessly on the golf course, dude.”
“Whatever. It’s your loss.”
“No, I think you’re the one doing all the losing so far today.” Nathan laughed at his own joke and lay down.
He was missing out for sure. There was something soothing about the ocean, and Luke could always rely on a good float, swim, or snorkel to melt his worries away. For a time, at least. Stress shouldn’t be on the agenda right now—the lull of the Caribbean was supposed to be the idyllic break he needed. But Nathan worried him. All day he’d been acting out of character, and it had caused some funky friction between them. Okay, so some of it could be wedding nerves. It was a huge commitment, after all. But no, there was something else.
Luke watched his brother fidget, twisting around as if looking for someone. But whom? After last night’s lecture, he knew Chloe wouldn’t dare risk breaking with tradition and venture near her groom-to-be. Was he trying to attract the attention of a bar server for a cool drink?
Nathan, you’re a basket case. I thought you wanted to relax. Now you’re making me antsy, too.
Luke turned to the horizon and trudged into the warm water as he thought back to last night when it had all started. When Nathan had wandered onto the balcony and seen the glass bottom boat, something dislodged. It was as if he’d seen a ghost. He had snapped out of it but refused to discuss it further, insisting it was nothing and using the ‘pre-wedding nerves’ excuse. Luke wasn’t buying it. He craned his neck to check whether anything was happening over at the two docks on his left. No boats at the main dock, but on a Saturday afternoon, that was not unusual. They would all be in use. And by the looks of it, down at the second dock that glass bottom boat was still moored but out of action for some reason.
Nathan was hiding something. He couldn’t keep it from his perceptive brother forever. Luke snorted. He would give him the benefit of the doubt today. It was his wedding, after all. Make the most of it, buddy. When we get back to Seattle, I’m going to find out what’s eating you. Nathan was the beefcake and capable of holding his own, but Luke was still his older sibling and would protect him no matter what.
Luke slid beneath the water and allowed the ocean to envelop him. He instantly unwound. Listening to his own breathing sounds magnified through the snorkel, he prayed for Nathan. How many hours had he spent praying for his brother? For him to find God, to get out of the bad crowd he ran with after high school, for a career to get his teeth into, and for a good wife to settle down with. Three out of four wasn’t bad, and God hadn’t finished with him yet.
After surfacing to gain his bearings, Luke glanced back at the white beach and panned across to survey the spa area. I wonder what Madison’s doing now. I hope she recovered after that scare last night with the guy in the lobby. She seemed happy enough this morning.
Luke took off his mask and gave his head a good shake to clear his thoughts.
Quit thinking about her, single guy. Maybe pray for her instead.
He adjusted his mask and dove down deeper than before. He spotted some interesting coral reefs farther out. Now, this was more like it. In the mysterious underwater world, he was surrounded by a colorful array of parrotfish, clownfish, and angelfish all going about their business and ignoring his human presence. It would be so special to share this magical moment with someone.
Except she’d never agree to see this beauty. Not with her unresolved fear. His heart dropped. He could tell she longed to regain her confidence in the water, but it could be a slow process. One he was prepared to help with even if it would take a great deal of convincing to rebuild her trust.
Thank You, God, for saving her from so much. You saved her from the ocean years ago and from the ex-boyfriend who deceived her and from a life of hopelessness when she found You. She’s been through so much. Help me to be a good friend.
Friend. Such a disappointing and pathetic word. Maybe he should go back to the beach and focus on looking after his brother instead. Just a few more minutes. He needed more prayer time to settle his soul.
“Hey, man. See any decent ocean life out there?” Nathan took a swig from a water bottle and threw a full one to Luke. “I thought you were never coming out.”
“It was fantastic. Sure you don’t want to have a quick dip before we go get ready? It’s baking hot out here.” Luke shook his sopping-wet hair and showered Nathan with the spray.
“Nope. Seems I’m quite cool now.” He twisted around to peer at the pool area.
Luke toweled off. “You want to talk about it?”
“About cooling off?” Nathan squinted up at Luke backlit by the blazing sun.
“No. I mean the reason why you’ve been acting so skittish all day. I hoped the fact that you hammered me at golf this morning would calm you down a bit.”
Nathan picked at a thread on his beach towel. “I am calm. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You’re usually the coolest dude in the room, but I can assure you, you’re not today. And you weren’t last night either. It’s not wedding nerves. I know you too well.” He squatted down in front of his brother and lowered his voice. “It’s like you’re watching for someone, although I can’t imagine who you might know in Jamaica. Why can’t you tell me what’s up? You know I’m a good listener. Please, let me help you out here?”
“It’s nothing.” Nathan closed his eyes and lay back on the lounger.
“Was it the guys on that dock last night? You’re not worried they’re going to come and beat me up or something, are you? I’ll bet they didn’t even see which room I was shouting from, so you don’t need to be stressed.”
“It’s not that.”
“Then it is something?”
Several seconds of silence passed and Luke felt sure his brother would open up. But instead, Nathan swung his legs around and stood. He grabbed his towel and the water bottle fell in the sand.
“Enough of this touchy-feely pouring out of the heart. I’ve got to focus on Chloe and the wedding today. We need to get back to our room. It’s not going to take me long to make myself even more dashing, but we’ve got some serious work to do on you.” He flashed a superwhite smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes.
“Fine. You know I’m here when you need me.” Luke shrugged. Nothing was going to be resolved today. He gave his brother a rapid flick with his towel. “Let’s get going, groom.”
An hour later, a suitably primped Luke stood with Nathan and the photographer at the wedding arbor on the beach, while the wedding planner flitted between the aisle and the hotel lobby, where the girls would soon emerge.
“How’s this?” Nathan put an arm around Luke’s shoulders and they both grinned like Cheshire cats.
The photographer nodded his approval and took several candid shots while the brothers adjusted each other’s bow ties.
“So, how’s the bride holding up?” Nathan looked at the photographer. “I guess you’ve already been up there taking some pics?” He took a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed his glowing brow.
The Jamaican grinned. “Mon, she’s doing fine, and she is one beautiful bride. You’re a lucky guy. I wish you every happiness.”
Nathan ducked his head. “Yeah, I am lucky. Although right now, I wish we’d vetoed the tux idea and gone for T-shirt and shorts. I think I may melt before she arrives.”
Luke gazed past his brother and saw a suited man with two women approaching, one of them dressed in white. He poked him in the ribs. “Don’t look now, but your bride is here.”
Nathan nearly choked. “Do you mean I do look or don’t look? I’ve forgotten everything she told me. I can’t mess this up.”
Luke put a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Relax. The pastor’s going to tell us when we should turn around, but let’s look ahead at the ocean and let the ladies get themselves organized, okay? Deep breaths with me? Come on. In and out…”
Nathan copied his breathing. He used the handkerchief again on his sweating neck. “You do have the rings, don’t you?”
Luke raised a brow and patted his pocket. “Do you think I might have thrown them away since you asked me three minutes ago? Yes, I have them both safely tucked away. It’s going to be perfect, so quit worrying and enjoy your wedding, okay?” Wow. Seems like getting married is beyond stressful. May have dodged a bullet.
Nathan nodded. “Yeah, you’re right. I need to chill. This is the most important day of my life.”
The photographer disappeared and was replaced by a jovial Jamaican pastor who joined the men at the arbor.
“How you doin’, mon?” He shook Nathan’s hand.
“Fine. I think.” He attempted to turn around.
The pastor put a hand out to stop him. “Wait, mon. Just give the ladies some time. The bride is savoring this magical moment with her sister.”
“Right.” Nathan leaned over to Luke and whispered. “Do you think I should have asked Mom and Dad to come? I feel bad they’re missing this now. I mean, if you’re doing the single thing for the rest of your life, this is their only chance to see a family wedding.”
Luke jolted at the thought.
Am I breaking my parents’ hearts by honoring what I think God wants from me? Hismom never complained about his singleness, not in so many words. She acted worried sometimes, as if he were missing out on something by not having a wife, but she never pressed the issue. On the other hand, she never understood Luke’s devotion to God, and his dad often joked Luke was a religious fanatic, so perhaps they both thought he was some kind of monk. Good grief. If only they knew the struggles he faced before coming to the decision of remaining single. It was the hardest decision of his life. The wedding stuff was messing with his head. I know marriage isn’t for me. It’s as simple as that.
“Mom and Dad? Should I have invited them today?” Nathan bit his lower lip.
“No, man, I think you made a good decision. Not to mention, it’s kind of late in the game to be having such thoughts. Of course, it would be different if Chloe’s parents were alive, but I think you might have acted with uncharacteristic sensitivity for once in your life.”
That earned him a thump on the arm.
“For what—insulting you?”
“No, for being here for me. It means a lot.”
Luke looked into his brother’s eyes and a lump caught in his throat. “Anytime, little brother. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”
The pastor coughed. “Gentlemen, I think we’re ready to begin.” He nodded at the wedding planner, and the air was filled with classical music played through speakers. “You can turn around,” the pastor whispered. “You won’t want to miss a single second.”
Luke had butterflies in the pit of his stomach. Whether for his brother or himself, he wasn’t quite sure, but nothing could have prepared him for the vision before him.
Madison almost floated down the petal-strewn aisle, gracefully walking in time with the music. She’s a goddess. Luke remembered to breathe. She wore a full-length, straight orange dress and clutched a huge bouquet of some sort of tropical flowers in an abundance of color, and one of the flowers was set in her long brown hair.
Luke’s world tilted on its axis and his mouth went dry. How on earth was Nathan going to react when he saw his bride? Madison’s eyes roamed the arbor as she moved closer until they met Luke’s. He knew he grinned like an idiot because she hid a giggle. Her beautiful face lit up the whole enchanted vista.
“Hi, gentlemen,” she whispered and then took her place to one side.
Nathan caught his breath and Luke followed his gaze down the aisle. Chloe looked stunning. Luke didn’t know much about weddings or dresses, but this lady got it right. She was an angel in white and was smiling from behind her short veil. Her bouquet was an even bigger version of Madison’s, and some of her blonde hair was piled up on top, making her look sophisticated and flirtatious at the same time.
Luke’s heart sank—Chloe was walking down the aisle by herself. Why hadn’t he thought about this before? She must be missing her father dreadfully at this moment. This would have been his special, bittersweet daddy-daughter experience as he gave her away. No wonder the girls had needed a moment before the ceremony began. They must be feeling the massive loss of their parents, today of all days. Lord, help them.
When Chloe approached the arbor, Nathan seemed to tense every muscle in his body. Luke could feel it from where he stood at his brother’s side and patted his back in a gesture of reassurance. Nathan beamed and nodded as he faced his bride. He was going to be fine.
Luke chanced a subtle peek at Madison. Her smile was genuine, but her hands trembled beneath the bouquet. Poor girl, this was such an emotional day for her. She was dealing with her parents’ absence and her sister’s marriage—and then thoughts of her own canceled wedding must be at the forefront of her mind, too.
He caught her gaze and mouthed, “You okay?”
Madison nodded, but her dark eyes pooled.
If only he could take her in his arms and offer comfort.
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