This is not a boat. Even when Vincente said ‘yacht’ a few minutes ago, I was thinking something along the lines of a slightly larger boat, with maybe a deck up front that a few people could sit on.
This is like a floating building. We’re early. The caterers are still hauling crates of food and drink onto the ship. I work to keep my mouth closed as we approach, afraid of giving myself away as a complete foreigner to this glamorous life.
“What time does the party start?” I watch the ‘behind the scenes’ work going on as we board, Vincente delicately helping me up the gangway onto the craft.
“Guests will start arriving at seven. I picked you up early for a couple of reasons: One, my father wanted all of us here early to greet guests, and I didn’t want you to have to come on your own. Two, I didn’t want you to have time to chicken out.” He finishes with a sly grin.
“That’s not fair!” I don’t know where I pull the bravery from, but I smack him on the arm with my purse, then immediately check it for damage. It’s fine. “Just so you know, I got called into AJ’s office and warned not to spend time with you three, on pain of losing my job. So it’s kind of the rock and a hard place situation for me.”
Vincente’s expression darkens immediately, his smile dropping as his jaw clenches. “He said that?”
Now I’m suddenly fearful of repercussions on AJ. “Not in so many words,” I rush to explain. “He basically… expressed concern for me, and said that if he had to choose between keeping me employed and keeping your business, he would choose you.”
“Ah, I see. Well, I don’t see a reason that he would need to choose, do you? But I catch your drift. We can certainly be more subtle and keep your workplace out of our personal business from here on.”
Relief floods through me, plus a lick of heat at the implication there is more to come. “Thank you. I think that would be for the best.”
“Excellent. Now that’s cleared up, would you like a tour?”
For the next half hour, Vincente showed me all around the massive ship. He told me it was named Queen of Hearts, although he skipped right past explaining why. I can’t quite grasp the concept of all the space, all the fancy furnishings, on a boat that they just drive around the harbor for an occasional party.
“So, let me get this straight: no one in your family actually lives on this thing?”
“And you have to keep it staffed.”
“All the time.”
“But you don’t sail on it very often?”
“It depends on what you define as often, but personally, we don’t use it more than a few days a month, if that.”
“So, why do you have it?”
Vincente laughs at my battery of questions. “My father is a businessman. He considers many things an investment. This ship is an investment. For one, it’s a show of his wealth that he can use to convince new business partners of his success, or even use as collateral if he needs to. Also, it’s nice to call up the captain and say we want to take a two week sail around the Caribbean. We don’t have to look for flights or hotels, and we just step on the ship and all our needs are taken care of. But last, it doesn’t just sit around waiting for us to use. We rent it out for other people’s parties, trips, etcetera. That helps offset some of the cost of owning and running it.”
“Oh. Well, that makes a lot of sense. I mean, it’s still ridiculously large and I do not know how I’m going to find my way back to the bathroom when I need it, but I guess I can understand the value.”
“Excellent. Ah, I think the rest of the family has arrived at last. Are you ready to meet my parents?”
Instant panic floods my body as I follow his gesture. Sure enough, there are three cars that just pulled up: another limo, which contains an elegant older couple; Elian’s BMW which has Sandro in the passenger seat; and a black sedan that unloads several men in tuxedos.
The valets collect the keys and drive the cars off, and the group of people walk up the gangway directly toward us. My heart hammers at my ribs, and I suddenly realize that I’msort ofdating all three of the Vargas brothers and how incredibly awkward it is that I don’t know what’s going on between any of us. Even so, I’m about to meet their parents.
* * *
Both Sandro and Elian lavish me with compliments, and Vincente Jr introduces me formally to his parents.
“Mamá, Papá, this is Sloane King. Sloane went to U of M for architecture with us, and now works at Kellerman’s. Sloane, this is Vincente Senior and Alicia Vargas.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you.” my smile is wobbly but hopefully acceptable.
Vincente Sr. grins widely and his stately wife looks over my gown with an appraising eye.