Welcome back to our Wednesday and Saturday serial installments! We are happy to continue to share The Glass Bottom Boat by Laura Thomas.
BE COOL, MAN. DON’T CHOKE on your water.
Madison touched his arm. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to embarrass you with all the talk about babies.” She pulled back her hand and set it in her lap. “Chloe was joking around. I have to admit, I thought it was quite amusing.”
He managed a grin. Let’s keep this light. “It’s all good. I don’t embarrass easily. And yeah, that is funny.”
Luke set his drink on the table and tried to focus on the dance floor rather than the captivating woman next to him. Who had just casually mentioned what their babies might look like.
Women didn’t affect him like this. He swallowed. What was he thinking, pouring out his heart to Madison and divulging details about his desire to be a father? Talk about mixed signals. She must be beyond confused. Here he was, claiming his calling to be single, and then he gets all mushy and talks about babies. What an idiot. Although why would God plant such a strong desire for fatherhood in my heart if I’m supposed to stay single? Maybe so I can be a better father figure at the orphanage?
Madison laughed, and he looked over to see Nathan’s sad attempt at dipping Chloe at the end of the song. Chloe may have been joking, but Madison would make a wonderful mother. She had a caring nature; he could tell by the way she protected Chloe. But that was as far as he dared daydream. Being an aunt and uncle someday would have to suffice. So, why did a boulder the size of Texas settle in the pit of his stomach?
God could use him far more effectively on the mission field as a single guy. He’d believed it for years already. No family responsibilities, no ties. Falling in love was his greatest fear and the furthest thing from his mind. He’d seen how disruptive it could be and the heartache it could cause when two of his own friends had left the mission in the name of love, only to have it implode. It had been awful watching his best buddy, Steve, get his heart broken and life derailed. No, thank you. He didn’t need complicated right now. I can do this. Platonic. He caught awaft of Madison’s vanilla scent as it drifted on the tropical air between them.
“Morning.” Sunshine filled the breakfast buffet area as Madison waved from a table in the corner. She looked gorgeous in a large straw hat and a white sundress. “Is this spot okay for you?”
Despite his early-morning Bible reading on the balcony, Luke was no closer to guarding his heart while standing guard for her. Lord, please let me come off as a friend and not a lovestruck teenager. A nice missionary guy with a listening ear. Nothing more…
Luke stuffed his hands in the pockets of his board shorts as he walked toward her. “This is great. I’m famished. Are you ready to grab some food?”
“I’ve been starving since I woke up. Let’s go.”
His annoying alarm had allowed him time to feed on the Word already, but his stomach was growling for physical sustenance. They loaded their plates with a selection from the elaborate array of breakfast fare and returned to their table, which was set with a silver coffeepot for them to share.
“If there’s one thing I miss about Seattle, it’s—”
“Good coffee?” Madison raised a brow.
“How did you guess?” He poured them both a cup. “It’s not that bad in Mexico, but I think I’ve been spoiled for life being raised in the Coffee Capital of the States.”
“Me too.” She took a sip from her cup. “Although this stuff is delicious.”
Luke glanced from his own plate to Madison’s and cringed. “Is that all you’re having?”
Her plate held fruit, yogurt, and a croissant. Lady food. His was laden with bacon, eggs, sausages, hash browns, and some Jamaican dish he was unfamiliar with. His definition of starving was quite different from hers.
She stabbed a strawberry with her fork. “This is plenty for me. Don’t worry. I’m not starving myself here—it feels like we are constantly eating at this resort. But you go ahead and stockpile—I’m sure you’ll burn it all off with your water sports.”
“Maybe I’ll tempt you to join me?” That sounded a bit too forward. Keep it platonic.
She shrugged. “We’ll see.”
Okay, moving on. “So, no problems during the night? I hoped you would take me up on my offer to call me if you were worried. I presumed no news was good news and that you managed to get some sleep?”
“I slept like a baby. Thanks so much for looking out for me—your number is now on speed dial. I promise. But I want to apologize. I didn’t mean to ruin yesterday with my woes, and I don’t want to encroach on your vacation time, especially with all my issues.” Her cheeks turned pink. It was pretty on her.
“I told you I’m here for you, and I meant it.” Cool. Keep it cool. “We’re family now. Think of me as your big brother.”
“Yes, yes, we are.” Madison bit her lip and lowered her eyes.
They ate in silence for a while, and Luke enjoyed the aroma of fresh-brewed coffee before taking a swig. “You were right. This is the best coffee I’ve had in a long time.” He looked at Madison over the top of his cup. “What do you want to do this week? Any big plans?”
“No plans. Except, as you know, Chloe booked an excursion for us all to climb those giant waterfalls, which freaks me out no end with my huge affection for water.” She grimaced.
Luke laughed at the face she made. “I think you’ll be okay. I read up on it. The water’s knee deep at the worst and even children climb it with ease. It’ll be like taking a shower and scrambling up a steep hill at the same time. Should be fun.”
“I know. I can do this. I’m not as wimpy as I might appear.”
“I have no doubt. Any woman who can hold their own teaching a room full of high-school teens has my utmost respect.”
Madison beamed. “Teaching has its challenges for sure. But I’ll be missing it by the end of summer break.” She sipped her orange juice and patted the corners of her mouth with the blue cotton napkin.
“Do you want to look around the town sometime? It’s safe, from what I hear, and I always love mingling with the locals a bit when I travel. It gives a more authentic sense of the culture. I think they even do some organized excursions with the resort staff.” Luke scooped up the last of his scrambled eggs.
“Sounds fun. But today, I think I’d like to hang out around here. Yesterday was wonderful but draining, and the idea of lying in the sun doing nothing is appealing to me.”
“You think I might persuade you to come swimming?” Baby steps, but they had only five days left for her to learn to love the ocean again.
Madison cringed. “In the pool?”
Nice try. “I was thinking the ocean. I told you I’d help you rekindle your sea legs if I could. We can take it really slowly.”
“Really, really slowly?” She pointed over at the two docks. “As long as we don’t have to go out on a boat. Especially the one with the glass bottom?”
“I promise.” He placed a hand over his heart.
She folded her napkin and looked straight into his eyes. “Okay.”
“Awesome.” Luke grinned. “If you’re not fed up with my company yet, why don’t we go and change once we’re done with our coffee and then meet out on the beach? Bring a book and sunscreen. Let’s get you reacquainted with the ocean, even if it’s wading up to your knees.”
“Sounds great, as long as you don’t feel like you have to babysit me.”
“Trust me—this is no hardship.” So much for staying cool.
Madison blushed, and Luke had to force himself not to reach out and touch her glowing cheek. Where is this coming from? So much for trying to keep his feelings big brotherly—with Madison Grey, it was easier said than done.
As the sun climbed higher into the cloudless sky, Luke grinned at Madison across the giant floating ring. They were perched either side of its five-foot diameter like a pair of bookends bobbing on the water. “This isn’t so bad, now, is it? You’re right in the ocean and you don’t look petrified anymore.”
Madison giggled. It had taken a full hour to persuade her to come out as far as her thighs. “I know it’s not deep, but it’s a start. I have to admit, this is relaxing.” She turned her face up to the sun and soaked in the rays.
The sunshine caught golden highlights in her hair as it cascaded over her shoulders. Her soft ringlets looked so silky, so touchable… Whoa. Don’t go there, dude.
This was going to be more of a challenge than Luke expected. His heart flip-flopped. Think about mundane things: Soccer. The orphanage. Mom and Dad. No, that didn’t work. She was too much of a distraction. He had to stick to his convictions, right? God, how can I help her get over her fear without getting in over my head?
Madison closed her eyes. The silence between them was comfortable, as if they each knew the other had a great deal to contemplate.
“It’s where I do my best thinking, in the ocean.” He looked down at the crystal-clear water and sprinkled a few drops in front of him.
Madison stirred. “Are you close to the ocean where you live in Mexico? I’d love to hear all about it. You know a lot more about me than I do about you, missionary boy.”
Luke shifted on his side of the ring. “Yeah, at the orphanage I’m right next to a small beach. We spend a good deal of time there playing on the sand with the kids. It’s a basic village and poor in some areas, but the people are fantastic. I fell in love with the culture straightaway. I guess that’s why I stayed after my initial yearlong contract.”
She cocked her head. “Do you speak in Spanish all the time there?”
“Sí, señorita. At least, most of the time. Although, we teach the kids English because it helps them when it’s time to leave school and get a job. Our church is Spanish speaking, which took a bit of getting used to, but it’s so lively and genuine. I love it.”
Madison nodded and swished her feet in the water. “Sounds wonderful.”
Some guy yelled from the shore, and Madison spun around to see what was going on. She almost lost her balance on the ring and let out a yelp as she grabbed the floatie with both hands.
Luke looked beyond her and saw there was nothing to worry about. “Hey, we’re okay. He’s just trying to get someone’s attention for a soccer game, by the looks of it.” With that frown, she might take some convincing. “Need me to pull you closer to the beach?”
Madison exhaled and met his gaze. “No, I’m fine. He made me jump, and then I thought I was going to fall in. Just when I was starting to relax.” She slowly turned back to check the shoreline.
“I understand if you want to go in for a while. You’ve done great so far.” Except now her face looked a few shades paler.
She lifted her chin. “I’m fine. Really. What were you saying about life at the orphanage?”
A distraction. Yes. “Let’s see. No two days are ever the same—that’s for sure. My three coworkers and I do whatever’s needed. I’m house papa, caretaker, nurse, chauffeur, teacher, cook, and pastor.”
“Sounds fascinating. How many kids?”
“We try to keep it to a dozen max, although we’ll have an occasional emergency we have to take short term. There are some tragic cases, and my heart gets trampled every now and then, but the four of us on staff support each other and we get by okay.”
“I can’t even imagine. It makes my job sound thoroughly mundane.”
She was loosening the death grip on the ring. Good. “Somehow, I can’t imagine your job is a walk in the park. What made you decide on teaching?”
Madison looked down into the clear water between them. “It seemed like the logical thing for me to do. I love kids and always admired my own teachers. I’ve been doing it full time for a year, and it’s great. Of course, my original dream was to go to Spain—I’m still not sure what I would have done there, but I always loved the language and the culture and was obsessed with the idea of moving to that country and finding my way into an ideal occupation. Outlandish for the control freak that I am now, but everything changed after my parents’ accident.”
“That must have been a tough decision for you to give up your dream.”
“I don’t think so. There was no way I could leave Chloe all on her own, so I grew up overnight and took responsibility for my little sister. She was just nineteen and still in college and needed me to be in Seattle. I already had my degree so just had to get my teaching credentials while she finished up her interior-design course. Then, when a local position was posted teaching Spanish, I jumped all over it.”
“And Chloe is moving on and you’re still there.” His heart lurched when she wiped a tear from her eye.
“Yes. But it’s not so bad. I’ll sell the family home when I’m ready and find a smaller place nearby. Plus, Chloe’s only going to be an hour away on the other side of the city, so I’m sure we’ll still see a lot of each other. And I truly do enjoy teaching.”
Luke doused his overheated shoulders with cool water. “You know, Miss Grey, you mustn’t think your life has to stay the same for the sake of it.” He chanced a look into her eyes. “Pray about it. Maybe God has something exciting planned for you which you know nothing about yet.” Perhaps even in Mexico…
She shrugged. “Perhaps. But I feel like I’m your teacher when you call me Miss Grey.”
You don’t look a thing like any of the teachers I remember. “Okay, so tell me this—would you still be open to moving to Spain?”
“I don’t know. I was so adventurous with my big dreams before all the bad stuff happened. I think it knocked the stuffing out of me.” She glanced up through long dark lashes. “But I have to admit, listening to you talking about life in Mexico stirs something in my heart.”
It stirs something in my heart, too.
After several seconds of silence, Luke cleared his throat. Church—bring the conversation back to churchy things. Way safer.
“So, how did you end up at a church in Seattle—if you don’t mind me prying? I guess you’re not from a churchgoing family.”
Madison didn’t answer at first. She faced the beach now and something drew her attention. He swiveled on the ring and knew right away whom she was watching. A blond guy with black swim shorts and shades stood looking out in their direction. Luke looked back at her. “Madison?”
“No. That’s not him. Too tall and skinny.” She shook her head. “What’s the matter with me? I’m sorry. You were asking about my church experience.”
So much for a relaxing day at the beach. This girl was living in constant fear. “No worries. You sure you’re comfortable staying out here?”
“I’m fine. And I like that you want to know about my faith. People don’t tend to ask. It’s true; I never considered God as important or even relevant to me until about a year ago. I’m so thankful I ducked into a little church one rainy Sunday night. I thought I was finding shelter from the rainstorm, but it turns out I found a Refuge who transformed my whole life, and now church is my second family.”
“You’re among the rare few who thank the Lord for rain in Seattle…”
“Right? I was on a destructive path—inconsolable, hurt, and untrusting of anybody after my breakup with Sam. Poor Chloe was scared for me. But that night I met Jesus for the first time and He gave me a peace I had never experienced before. I’ve always been a worrier—and a complete stress ball since my parents’ accident. I spoke with the pastor’s wife after the service, and she prayed with me.” Madison grinned. “I was changed.”
Luke leaned back. “I love how God works. I wish you hadn’t been through all the heartbreak, but it led you to Him, and that’s fantastic.”
“Yeah, it is. I’ve still got stuff to work through. My nerves are on edge most of the time, but I’ll get my life together eventually.”
She dipped one hand in the water and poured out a stream in front of her. “Perhaps God can use me for something worthwhile one day.”
“What do you mean? Of course God can use you. He is using you. Don’t ever think you are not good enough or brave enough or ready enough. He doesn’t ask for perfection—just a willing heart.” His own heart raced at the opportunity to encourage her in her new faith.
The air between them was thick with something almost tangible—trust, truth, and hope. Luke pinched his thigh to come back down to earth and then looked over at her.
“Maybe in time you could rekindle your dreams and go overseas to see if He has something for you there?” Somewhere like Mexico…
Madison rolled her shoulders. “Ugh, I don’t know. I have so much to work on first. My biggest dream, to be loved unconditionally, has been met by God, but maybe one day I can trust enough to see if it can come true with a man, too.” She slapped a hand over her mouth and cringed. “My, I think I opened up too much there again. Last night with the baby talk was bad enough. I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry. I hope that dream becomes a reality for you.” Hold it together, Luke. Hold it together.
“Maybe. ‘One day at a time’ is my mantra.” Madison smirked. “And I think I’m doing great with this ocean challenge of yours.” She wiggled her eyebrows. “I believe it’s time to lighten things up a bit.”
She reached down and scooped handfuls of water before soaking Luke.
Luke caught his breath. She needed a taste of her own medicine, so a raging splashing battle ensued, with no winner in the end. And still she looked stunning.
They slid from the floating ring and sloshed through the water back to the beach.
“Here you go.” Luke handed her a fluffy blue-and-white-striped towel.
“Thanks. I can’t even remember the last water fight I had. Is it all part of your therapy to win me over to the ocean again?”
Luke held his palm up to her. “You started it. But I think it might have helped, don’t you?”
“Definitely.” Madison slid on her pink sunglasses and brushed the sand from her feet before collapsing onto the lounger. “Thanks for this. And thanks for our chat. It’s exactly what I needed today. I’m glad you’re here.”
“I’m glad I’m here, too.” Even though I’m more confused than ever.
Lord, what’s going on in my heart?
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