It was a beautiful evening out at sea. On the deck of the S.S. Tipton many passengers were enjoying the warm tropical breezes as they gazed up at the countless stars that twinkled in the clear night sky. But one young man was finding little enjoyment in the pleasant scenery. Zack Martin was leaning heavily against a guard rail with his thoughts focused entirely on one subject.
It had only been a few days since Maddie Fitzpatrick had left the ship. Her vacation onboard had certainly been eventful, but far too short for Zack's taste. He missed her terribly. The girl of his dreams. The girl he'd been in love with since he was twelve years old.
The girl he'd finally been able to kiss.
Well, technically, she'd kissed him first...and the circumstances hadn't been ideal at the time, as Zack had been in the midst of a ridiculous contest against the spoiled brat Prince of the tiny, obscure country where the ship had been temporarily docked. But the bizareness of the situation didn't matter now. What mattered was that Zack had acted as Maddie's knight in shinning armor, and she'd given him a kiss to inspire him on to victory.
And later, back on the ship, they'd kissed again under far better circumstances.
Everything was different now...and yet in some ways nothing had changed. Yes, Maddie had finally responded to Zack's advances. They'd kissed, they'd cuddled...she'd flirted with him just as much as he had with her, but they hadn't taken any time to talk about what it all meant.
Now, she was back in Boston and Zack was out at sea, where he was destined to stay until the school year ended.
Was this just a one time thing for her? he thought. A vacation fling? No, she wouldn't be that way with me...not when she knows how I've always felt about her.
As it happened, Zack wasn't the only person on the ship who was thinking about Maddie that night. London Tipton missed her best friend. The heiress had enjoyed Maddie's visit to the ship but it had proven to have an unexpected drawback. After being able to spend time with her friend again, London missed Maddie more than ever now that her vacation had ended.
I should just pay for her to come live on the ship full time, the heiress thought. Oh, but then she might feel like a charity case. Hmm...maybe, I could ask Daddy to give her a job working on the ship.
While London pondered possible ways to get Maddie back onboard, she decided to take a stroll on deck. Almost immediately, she found herself crossing paths with Zack.
"Hey London," he greeted her quietly.
"Hey," she answered in an equally subdued tone. "You seem a little down."
"I was just thinking about Maddie," he replied.
The two young people were silent after that as they looked out over the ocean. Finally, they both spoke at once.
"I miss her," they said in unison. Then they looked at one another and smiled.
"At least you finally had some luck with her," London said. "You should be happy about that."
"I am," Zack admitted. "But...I...I'm not sure what's going to happen now."
London looked at him with a puzzled expression.
"We didn't talk about the future," Zack explained. "And when we said goodbye, I thought it was awkward. I mean, we spent all this time together on the ship but she never said anything about seeing me again."
"Why didn't you ask her? You could have brought it up."
Zack shrugged. "I guess I was nervous. I was enjoying the way things were going and didn't want to mess anything up." He shook his head. I'm an idiot."
"Don't be so hard on yourself," London said in a supportive tone. "You can call her and talk about it, right?"
"Yeah...but it would have been better if we'd talked face to face while she was here."
London studied Zack's expression closely. "You really love her, don't you?"
"Duh," he answered. "Haven't you been paying attention to me for the past four years?"
"Yeah, I have. And it's always been confusing to me."
"What do you mean? What's confusing?"
"Well, you always talk about how Maddie is your dream girl. And you've hit on her a lot. But at the same time you've hit on all these other girls. Like hundreds. And you've had plenty of dates." London folded her arms across her chest as she finished. "You've turned into quite a player."
"That's what you think of me?" Zack said, a bit distressed. "Does Maddie think that too?"
"I don't know. She's never talked to me about it...but I'm sure she's seen the same thing I have."
"But I'm not a player," Zack protested. "Maddie's always been the one for me."
"Then why all the other girls?"
Zack paused and started to look embarrassed. He mumbled something quietly.
"What was that?" London asked. "I couldn't hear you."
"I said, they were practice."
"Practice for Maddie," Zack admitted. "I wanted to learn how to be the kind of guy that could sweep Maddie off her feet."
"So you were using all those other girls," London said pointedly.
"Don't make it sound like that. I mean, it's not like I was leading anyone on. The dates I had were just about having a good time. The girls all knew that."
"And you never led any of them on?"
"I swear," Zack said seriously. "Hey, do you remember Ella? She and I dated for almost two months."
London searched her memory. She hadn't gotten to know most of the girls that Zack had dated, but then again, there weren't that many girls that had gone out with Zack for as long as Ella had.
"I think I remember her," she answered. "Curly dark hair. Really pretty. Taller than you."
"That's her. Anyway, she and I dated for awhile. We had some good times. But it got to the point where things could've turned serious...so I told her we should stop dating."
"I told her the truth," Zack explained. "That I liked her a lot and she was a great girl...but that my heart belonged to Maddie."
"How'd she take it?"
"Very well," he answered with a smile. "I was ready for her to be angry, but she told me that she appreciated my honesty and wished me luck with Maddie. We've stayed good friends ever since."
"Wow, Ella's a really understanding girl," London said.
"And I'm an honest guy. I've been just as truthful with any girl I've ever dated," Zack said earnestly. "So do you still think I'm a player?"
London considered the matter. "I don't know. It's good that you're honest. But there have been so many girls that you've hit on."
"Oh come on," Zack said. "It really hasn't been that many."
"Please, you've hit on every pretty girl you've ever seen."
"I have not!"
The two friends started to argue about just how many girls Zack had hit on. Unfortunately for Zack, London was able to list many examples to prove her point.
"Face it," she said in conclusion. "There's not one attractive girl you know that you haven't made a pass at."
"Not one?" Zack asked meekly.
"Nope, not..." London paused as a thought struck her. "Wait, there has been one."
Zack smiled in triumph at London's statement. But his smile faded as he saw the troubled expression on his friend's face.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"Zack," she said in a hurt tone. "How come you've never hit on me?"
To be continued...