Welcome back to our Wednesday and Saturday serial installments! We are happy to continue to share The Glass Bottom Boat by Laura Thomas.
Chapter 1 / Chapter 2 / Chapter 3 / Chapter 4 / Chapter 5 / Chapter 6 / Chapter 7 / Chapter 8 / Chapter 9/ Chapter 10
MADISON SIPPED ON HER COFFEE with her feet propped up on the balcony table, appreciating the tranquil Caribbean Sea stretching out majestically before her. Now this was the way to start a Monday morning. The familiar rich aroma stirred her senses. She took another sip and set the cup on a patio table. She closed the Bible in her lap, then picked up her journal and pen.
The corners of her mouth lifted. Yes, three days into her stay in paradise, and she already had so much to write about. Nibbling on the end of her pen, she paused for a moment and then poured her heart out onto paper.
MONDAY, JUNE 24th:
Yesterday was one of the happiest days I can remember. Ever. I felt carefree and young and courageous for the first time in years. I’m so relieved everything went as planned for Chloe at the wedding on Saturday—my little sis is a married woman now. Who’d have thought it? I’m beyond thrilled for her and Nathan. Of course, it broke my heart not having Mom and Dad here to see their youngest daughter looking so gorgeous and happy, but I’m grateful I got to witness such a magical occasion. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. I think they’re going to be good for each other, which brings me to my other new family member…
Luke Alexander. What an amazing guy. He loves God so much, which makes sense for a missionary, but he’s real and honest in the way he talks about his relationship with God. I like that. And he thinks the world of his family—I can see from the way he looks out for his little brother and how he describes his sweet parents. He loves babies—which I cannot believe. How many guys admit to that? Of course, looking after kids is part of his job, but he takes it to another level. He’s a world traveler—he’s been to a bunch of countries on his mission trips and adventuring… Boring he is not. I love that he’s such a gentleman—always holds doors open for me and makes sure I’m comfortable. That says a lot about his upbringing. And then there’s the added bonus that he is drop-dead gorgeous. Tall, dark, and handsome with those emerald eyes that make me giddy just thinking about. BUT…he wants to stay SINGLE forever.
What? Maybe that’s why I feel so at ease around him, knowing he’s not going to go down the romantic road. He even told me to think of him as a big brother. Easier said than done. Not that I’m looking for a relationship anytime soon. I’m still getting over Sam and my questionable judgment… Will I ever find the courage to trust a man again? But if I ever WAS ready to look for someone to share my life with, he would be like…
What am I thinking? He believes God can use him more effectively single than married. Who am I to question that? But I’m not convinced. I know there’s stuff in the Bible from the apostle Paul about singleness being cool, but couldn’t a wife be good for Luke? Aren’t two heads better than one or something?
Madison paused to take a sip of coffee. Almost cold, but still delicious. She lifted her eyes to the ocean and felt a bubble of hope form within. Yesterday, Luke helped her take the first step in facing her fear of drowning. Yes, it was a baby step, but she was going in the right direction. Thank You, Lord, for giving me a glimmer of hope. She looked down at her journal and continued writing.
I’m so grateful to have time this week to process everything. Move on from grieving. Move on from Sam. I want to embrace life and see what God has in store for me. I feel a new chapter is about to open up.
But I’m almost afraid to hope, with thoughts of that creepy stalker guy hanging over me. Was he really some random dude? I hated that he snapped a photo of me. Who does that? It must be the same man, the one from Friday night. I’ll never forget those icy blue eyes as long as I live. He wore shades on Saturday, but I have a sinking feeling it was him again. Why do I attract the weirdos? Or am I being paranoid?
No, I will not allow him to ruin my precious time in Jamaica. I will NOT hide in my room and let fear prevail. Luke and I have another fun day planned today. He said he would be sleeping in this morning—although I can’t imagine not getting up early to make the most of another day in paradise. The curse of being a morning person. Perhaps he hasn’t been sleeping well—I should ask him. Or maybe he’s using the early mornings to pray over all his decisions. Anyway, we’ll meet for brunch at eleven. I told him I might even work myself up to some shallow snorkeling later on, although my stomach has butterflies thinking about it. But I trust him to keep me safe, and I never thought I would trust another man as long as I lived.
I better go and run off the chocolate cake we shared by the bonfire last night. My, that sounds romantic for a platonic relationship. Here’s to another wonderful day in paradise…
Madison slurped the rest of her coffee, brushed her teeth, and laced her running shoes. After a few good stretches, she grabbed her iPod and made her way down to the lobby. She was ready to run in the fresh air before the humidity made it uncomfortable.
A few older people congregated at the coffee bar, and the servers were still setting the breakfast tables with white tablecloths and fresh tropical flowers. As much as she missed the presence of babies, an adult-only resort exuded a relaxed, sophisticated ambience, which was rather appealing. Especially first thing in the morning. Madison smiled when she remembered her confession to Luke. At least she could get her baby fix when she returned to the nursery at church next week.
A line formed in the lobby as several tanned vacationers checked out of the resort, presumably catching early flights. The soft hum of hushed chatter filled the air as Madison wove her way around guests and staff. She loved Seattle, yet there was something to be said for continual sunshine and running on the beach. I wonder if Luke runs on his beach in Mexico?
Once outside, she scanned the area for any suspicious-looking characters. Satisfied she was not being watched, she plugged in her earbuds and set off for the beach at a gentle jogging pace. A perfect breeze blew in from the water, and the sun blazed even at seven in the morning. A glorious start to the day.
Waving at other early risers along the shore, Madison soon got into her stride and found her happy place. No matter what stress she endured—emotional, physical, or spiritual—running was her therapy, and it helped release her pent-up anxiety. She discovered it after her parents’ death, when she needed a form of release and a way to flee without actually running away from everything.
Since then, running was her way of starting every morning. Rain or shine—usually rain. If it was shaping up to be a crazy full day with emotional teenagers who had little or no interest in learning Spanish or if she was preparing to spend a Saturday alone, pining for what could have been, running kept her sane, whether at the gym or on her usual lakeside route. Plus, this week it meant she didn’t have to worry about all the delicious food she inhaled at the resort.
Like the decadent chocolate cake. She salivated at the thought of last night’s shared dessert. She should run an extra ten minutes to make up for that indulgence. Maybe it wasn’t the cake that was so memorable. The whole experience was almost magical. Magical moments were rare in recent years, so she would keep the dessert by the bonfire, the intimate conversation, and the gentle ocean breeze all treasured up for a rainy Seattle afternoon when she was home alone.
The farther Madison ran, the fewer people were around. Not good. A third dock was up ahead, so guests must come this far. She was fine. Calm down. The irrational paranoia seemed to follow her like an unshakable shadow, but she tried to slow her erratic breathing. Should she turn back now? No. Security patrolled all the way to the patch of palm trees up ahead, so she should be fine to go that far.
To take her mind off her fears, Madison prayed while she ran, remembering her pupils back at school, Chloe and Nathan and their new life, her church friends and the meetings going on back in Seattle this week, and Luke. I don’t know why I’m praying for Luke, Lord. He seems to have everything figured out. But thank You for his friendship this week. And, well…if it’s meant to go any deeper, I guess You’ll have to make it obvious to us both. I pray for his precious little orphan children back in Mexico…
A quick movement in her peripheral vision caught Madison’s attention, and she turned her head toward the third dock. It was right in front of her now. Something moved, but there was nobody there. Just the glass bottom boat. Weird. All weekend, the boat had been tied to the second dock, a jetty closer to the resort buildings. They must have moved it. But why farther from the resort? Perhaps there was some private party using it.
She looked along the stretch of beach ahead—it was deserted. Wasn’t the security guy supposed to be around? Of course, he couldn’t be everywhere at the same time, but Madison’s skin prickled. Another movement, and she whipped her head back to the dock. Maybe it was a bird. Or maybe she was going crazy.
She slowed her steps. Time to turn back. For the thousandth time, I wish I could be courageous.
She caught her breath and took one more look around in case the security guard appeared. Maybe that would help her heart rate return to normal. Jogging in place, she faced the ocean, shielded her eyes, and tried to make out whether there was anyone or anything at the end of the dock. Only the one boat was moored, but it didn’t look like anybody was out there. Unless someone was inside the boat, of course. It was difficult to tell. She removed one earbud in case there were voices…
A heavy hand on her bare shoulder spun her around. Madison gasped. She was face to face with him. In her next breath, the man held her in a rough embrace.
“What’s going on?” Her voice was shrill, fearful. “Who are you and what do you want?”
Where had he come from? The palm trees? Madison tried to wriggle out of his strong arms as panic pulsated in her chest.
“I want you.” The stranger growled and turned her toward the ocean.
It was him, the blond man who had followed her the past weekend. Same black clothing, shock of blond hair, shades. And he was pure muscle. She struggled again to get free, ripping the remaining earbud from her ear. He pressed her hands alongside her body and tipped her off balance, and she watched her silver iPod and her sunglasses hit the sand.
An ugly tattoo of a dragon danced before her eyes, writhing while the man’s arm flexed around her waist. Madison screamed, but his meaty hand stifled it. In one fluid motion, her legs went from under her, and she was being carried to the dock. In a mad scramble, she flailed her legs and twisted her head around to slam it into the guy’s face. He grunted when his mirrored shades flew off. Icy blue eyes stared back at her, haunting and evil.
He studied her intently for a heartbeat, their noses almost touching. The strong scent of expensive cologne stung her nostrils and he squeezed her even tighter. Blue Eyes marched on, and through her tears, she saw their destination and somehow found the energy to thrash in his arms one more time.
Where was everyone? Why couldn’t anybody see what was happening? Was she being kidnapped?
She glanced back in the direction of the deserted beach. Not a soul walked along this stretch. Why had she chanced running this morning? And why hadn’t she turned back when she first felt anxious? Was that God nudging her? Foolish girl.
Madison bared her teeth and bit into the fleshy part of Blue Eyes’s palm. He didn’t even flinch but clamped his hand even tighter. She fought the growing nausea in the pit of her stomach. Another man wearing sunglasses and a hoodie appeared as they neared the end of the dock. Two against one would be no match. Madison used every last ounce of energy she could muster to kick and elbow her kidnapper. But he was too strong, and he leered as she fought back. It was hopeless. The other man took something from his hoodie pocket. With a flourish, he brandished a yellow cloth, and as Blue Eyes pulled his hand away, the cloth was pressed across her nose and mouth.
“No.” She screamed into the fabric. The suffocating smell of antiseptic and alcohol consumed her senses. Thoughts of Chloe in her wedding dress, her parents in their backyard, her students at school, and then Luke by the bonfire swirled lazily in the corners of her mind. Focus, Madison. Focus. She tried to turn her face away from the cloth, but the other man’s firm hands grasped the back of her head in a vise grip. She could see a blurring image of hoodie guy as he stood over her and watched for several seconds, his head cocked like he was memorizing her.
And the last thing she spotted before the haziness turned black was the glass bottom boat.
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