School's out for the summer, which means TAOP is once again in season! (This is like having a broken watch that only tells the correct time twice a day, but you know...whatever.) It's too bad we don't all have fabulous resorts to relax on—but on the bright side, we didn't endure the McLean-brand torture that came beforehand either.
As a thanks to all our readers old and new (who have helped us reach 500 reviews!), we present Super-Long, Super-Special, Super-Milestone Chapter 30!
If you'll recall, when we left Courtney, she had just overseen the opening of all the campers' mysterious deliveries and was then talked into captaining a ride on a mistakenly-delivered yacht. And now, we learn her fate...
Rule 30: Never go down with the ship
There was once a time when Courtney would have argued that Duncan's ceaseless harassment was the most irritating thing on Earth. Now, she knew worse: his begging.
"Come on, please? Pleeeeeeeeeeeeease?"
Behind the steering wheel of a luxury yacht with an otherwise unoccupied delinquent, Courtney's patience was quickly wearing thin. "NO, Duncan! Not happening."
"Princess, you gotta understand," he said, attempting to break through Courtney's stonewall of concentration. (There was no way she was adequately equipped to be driving a four-deck yacht. She had only recently qualified for her boating license, and that didn't even begin to cover the operation of cruise liners.) "Geoff and I are bros. And you know what they say? Bros before hoes. You, babe, are—"
Courtney shot him a glare, holding a fist up to his chin menacingly.
"You are," Duncan repeated, taking her hand and gingerly lowering it back to the steering wheel, "a lovely and poised young woman. But Geoff's my best bud!" She rolled her eyes. "He shouldn't be kept in the dark about you and me being an us!" Duncan accentuated the last word with an eyebrow wiggle.
"And I shouldn't be in charge of driving a giant yacht around an island in the middle of nowhere, yet here we are," Courtney countered, guiding the vessel in wide, counterclockwise circles around the island. "If you're going to insist on being inconvenient company, at least stop blocking my view."
Duncan walked over to the long, leather couch behind her—a divider between the control center of the ship's bridge and the more functional living space of the captain's cabin. He threw himself onto the cushions. "Fine. I see you're too busy working on your tan to bother with me."
Courtney hunched her shoulders. She'd changed into her bathing suit without considering the sunless state of the bridge, which meant she was now half undressed in the presence of a teenage boy who was nowhere near as subtle as he thought he was. Regrettably, there was no time for Courtney to change back out of her two-piece now that the boat was on the water. The pseudo-captain was already struggling to manage the jobs of a three-man crew by herself as the rest of the campers enjoyed their maritime relaxation.
She turned back around to retort only to find Duncan shedding his shirts. "What do you think you're doing?"
"Tanning," he answered simply.
Duncan had to be aware that they weren't getting any direct sunlight where they were. His motivation for undressing was unclear, but in a perverse way, Courtney was already feeling less awkward about her scantily clad (yet sunless) situation. She returned her attention to the ocean, turning the wheel to guide the yacht around a sand bar.
"Great, so we'll be pasty white together," Courtney snarked.
"It didn't seem fair that I got a nice view and you didn't," he said with a grin.
"If you think your upper half is the first thing on my mind right now, then you are sadly mistaken."
"Well, I can understand the upper half coming second to—"
"Do you even know what I'm dealing with here, you libertine?" she snapped, gesturing at the mess of controls in front of her. "This is a two-person job at the least, more like three, and I am doing it alone!"
The nautical systems on the yacht were more complicated than any she'd ever seen. A counter full of buttons, knobs, dials, and keys spread across the front of the bridge, narrowing angularly in the center so that a trapezoidal space was left for two large pilot chairs. There was just enough room between them for a third person to stand at the wheel. On the far ends of the counter, where it was widest, maps and star charts were laid out, complete with a variety of course-plotting tools.
"And what am I, a monkey?" Duncan asked. "I'm not exactly allergic to the steering wheel."
"You want to help?" she called over her shoulder, leaning as far to the left as she could while still keeping a steady hand on the wheel. Satisfied by the reading on the tachometer, she straightened up and gestured to the chair on her right, covered in a leather that matched the couch. "Fine, have a seat."
"Ehhh..." Duncan wrinkled his nose, relaxing further into the couch cushions.
"That's what I thought," the captain muttered.
Duncan certainly wasn't the able seaman she was looking for, but by the same token, there was no shortage of controls that needed monitoring by someone. Ignoring the control console on the counter in front of her, there was still a full dashboard set up behind it with seven displays side-by-side. They provided detailed updates on wind speed, water depth, nearby landmasses, storm patterns, radar and sonar, and a few things Courtney didn't even know what to do with. Besides the fact that most of these controls were foreign to her, it took more than her full wingspan to reach from the farthest screen to the wheel, necessitating her running back and forth between the helm and the various tools around her as she tried to operate the monstrous vessel.
The idea of a second-hand, even one as shirtless and annoying as Duncan, wasn't sounding half-bad at the moment.
Without warning, static filled the cabin, and Courtney immediately jumped to the panels, checking for whatever she had accidentally touched. Tyler's voice came through, his words a little muffled and far away. "Yo Harold, check this!"
"Don't touch it!" came the wheezed reply.
Unable to immediately locate the source, Courtney turned to Duncan. She was ready to accuse him of some sort of sorcery, but he seemed equally confused by Harold and Tyler's voices. Putting a finger to his lips, Duncan hopped up from the couch and padded over to the nautical controls. After listening closely to the whole dashboard, he sat in the chair on Courtney's right and smirked triumphantly, pointing to a large, multi-button panel and the microphone that was now in front of him.
Without waiting for an invitation, Duncan jammed his finger into the blinking light that indicated an active call and leaned over to the gooseneck transmitter. "Yellooo, this is your captain speaking. How can I make your life less pathetic today?"
As much as Courtney struggled with the idea of giving Duncan responsibility over anything, letting him man the right half of the dashboard would make her job exponentially easier. As far as she could tell, that area was the least essential to driving anyway, almost entirely dedicated to what appeared to be a ship-wide communication center. Duncan would have to work pretty hard to fail at pressing a blinking red button, and she wasn't expecting to receive a lot of calls anyway.
"That was not your captain," Courtney shouted, leaning across Duncan and as close to the microphone as she could while keeping her hands on the wheel. The boat tilted. "I am your captain!"
What could those two possibly need from her on a dream yacht cruise?
The Billiards Room
"Yo Harold, check this!" Tyler called, mashing on a button in the wall and interrupting the redhead as he set up to knock his final pool ball into the pocket.
"Don't touch it," Harold said, standing up just in time to see Tyler release the button. "You don't know what that does!"
"Looks like one of those walkie-talkie things to me," Tyler replied. "What do you call it when it's in the wall? A wall-kie talkie? "
Harold chuckled, returning to table level and lining up his shot again. "'Tis called an intercom, tenderfoot. Now come," he summoned, adopting his lowest, most menacing voice, "and witness your defeat!"
"Whatever, dude. Billiards is wack." Tyler turned back to the game, pensive. "Hey, if you have X-Ray vision and you close your eyes, do you think you'd still be able to see?"
"You'll still be able to see me beating you!"
Harold was about to take his final shot when the intercom crackled back at them, "Yellooo, this is your captain speaking, how can I make your life less pathetic today?" And then, before either could reply, "That was not your captain. I am your captain!"
Perfectly timed with Courtney's outburst, the ship tilted slightly to the right and sent Harold's one remaining ball (and Tyler's six) rolling to one side of the table.
"NOOOOOOOOO!" Harold dropped his cue and fell to his knees. "I almost had you that time!"
Walking over to the intercom, Tyler pressed the Speak button again. "Uh...cap'n? You think you could keep the boat steady? We're trying to play pool."
"You guys are seriously messing up my game," Harold insisted. "Gosh!"
"Please," Duncan's voice snickered. "Like you had any game to begin with, Doris."
Despite the fragile (very, very fragile) truce he and Duncan seemed to be enjoying in the wake of his pretzelfication, Harold took the insult of his mad skills to heart. "That's not true! I'll take you on! Mano-a-mano! Macho-a-macho!" It helped his confidence that Duncan was far away, elsewhere on the boat and unable to cause him any immediate injury.
"How about no one takes anyone on," Courtney spoke over Duncan's inaudible taunt, "because you're on a yacht! On the ocean? Tell me, who thinks it's a good idea to put billiards on a moving vehicle?"
"Chris, apparently," Tyler answered.
"With an experienced driver, it really wouldn't be an issue..." Harold muttered, and Courtney huffed over the static of the com.
"If you ingrates don't like my driving, feel free to jump into the ocean and try your chances there!"
Duncan chuckled. "Even Bridgette couldn't save those two."
"Those two couldn't save themselves," Courtney countered.
"We can hear you!" Harold reminded them as Tyler went about collecting the pool balls and triangle.
"Oh. Right." Courtney paused. "Don't call us again!"
"Those losers are hopeless," Duncan repeated once he'd disconnected the call.
"Serves them right, criticizing my driving!" Courtney adjusted the band of her swimsuit. "I should turn this boat a little more sharply just to spite them."
"A girl after my own heart," Duncan joked, his lips pulling into a grin at her threat. "Next thing you know, we'll be on the run together."
Courtney shot him a look. "If you ever go on the run, count me out."
"But I'll need a travel companion!"
"Take Geoff. Or DJ."
"Tch. Not even an ounce of sympathy," Duncan said, leaning back and crossing his arms over his bare chest. "DJ couldn't handle the stress, but Geoff would probably enjoy himself. Speaking of..." Duncan slid out of his chair and moved behind Courtney, wrapping his arms around her waist and dropping his chin to her shoulder.
"Not this again," Courtney groaned, trying to wiggle out of his grip. Seeing as there was a steering wheel in front of her and a large chair on either side, her options were limited.
"There's a make-out session in it for you if you let me tell him about us," he sang in her ear.
Courtney had to redouble her efforts to avoid wrecking onto the beach, reminding herself of why exactly Geoff couldn't know about her not-so-secret (yet very secret!) relationship with Duncan in the first place.
The idea of friends, campers, people in general knowing that things had progressed between the delinquent she'd once hated so deeply made her uncomfortable. The thought of people seeing them as something different than what they'd been before, as a pair, of talking about her private life and filling in the details they didn't know with speculation... It made her very anxious.
Not to mention that if the series ever made it onto television, what would it look like twenty years down the line? She'd be running for office, and her opponents would pull out tapes from her time on Wawanakwa and Playa de Losers, the proof that she'd decried Duncan as a lawbreaker and then started dating him. She'd be forever labeled as flip-flopper, a hypocrite who couldn't make a decision! And even if it didn't get that far, if the world somehow didn't notice her 180 degree change in opinion, a positive association with the delinquent would still be bad. It would harm her reputation, derail her chance for future political success.
Thoughts of the future aside, Courtney wasn't even sure what was happening in the present. Two hours ago she'd been eating breakfast, and now she was literally the captain of her own ship with said delinquent acting has her skipper. If she didn't know what was going on, relationship-wise or otherwise, then how could anyone else? And when they got it wrong, which they inevitably would, what would happen?
Courtney tried not to cringe. There would be gossip. And rumors. And I told-you-so's!
"Not a chance, Duncan."
"No! You are absolutely not to tell Geoff."
"You sound exactly like him now!" she snapped, her patience evaporating a bit with each new plea.
"What, and you think you haven't picked up a few of Bridgette's habits?" he countered, smirking. "When's the last time you ate something with meat in it, huh?"
She actually had to stop and consider that question. Had she subconsciously not been eating meat around Bridgette?
She was tracing over her food intake from the last few weeks when Duncan's eyes lit up. He released Courtney and ducked under her arm, weaving in between her body and the steering wheel. "Wait, don't you want to tell Bridgette about us? Let's go one for one, and it's all even!"
It was near impossible for Courtney to maintain any sort of poker face when Duncan was so physically close to her (not to mention shirtless). She looked over his shoulder at the sea instead, shrugging slightly to avoid a lie.
"Wait a second..." Duncan furrowed his brows and squinted at her, reading her reaction. Courtney felt her eye twitch. "You already told her, didn't you?" he accused. His mouth pulled into a grin when Courtney failed to reply. "...You did! I can't believe you! That's something I would do!"
Courtney blushed. "I—"
She was interrupted by the communication center. "Um, hi! Hello. I'th thith thing working?"
Duncan pointed two fingers from his eyes to Courtney's before ducking out from under her arms and jumping over to answer the incoming call. "Captain Duncan at your service!"
"You're not Captain Duncan!" Courtney protested. "You're First-Mate Duncan at best."
A much calmer male voice came through the speakers. "Hey guys. We were hoping this would get us in touch with you."
"Trent?" Courtney guessed. "What happened to Beth?"
"I'm still here!" Beth replied, standing on tiptoe to reach the intercom. "We're in the ballroom!"
"Yeah," Trent confirmed. "We found this huge room with a stage and fancy carpet and a dance floor."
"Figures they'd have a ballroom," Courtney muttered over some mild static. "What do you want?"
Trent and Beth exchanged glances. In any other circumstances, they wouldn't have bothered asking permission for what they had planned, but they'd convinced each other that on an expensive boat being run by teenagers, it was better to play it safe.
"S'tho you know how I got a karaoke machine?"
Duncan snorted. "Oh, we know, braceface." There was a thud, followed by a muffled, "Don't be rude!"
Courtney returned, clearer. "Yes, we know about the machine. What of it?"
"Well," Trent started, "I also got a wicked set of amps with my guitar, so Beth and I were wondering if we could plug 'em in and start a party down here."
"You don't want to, you know... be outside?" Courtney asked. "In the sun?"
"Have you s'theen my skin?" Beth said, pacing around behind Trent as he held down the Speak button. "Put me out in the s'thun and I'll fry up like a tomato!" She held her arms out in front of her, checking both sides to see that it was still true.
"And you know I love a good party," Trent added.
Duncan buzzed through, "Then why are you even asking?"
"We weren't sure about, uh, let's see... The electrical situation on the yacht," Trent said delicately, swinging his foot against the ornate trim work between the wall and the floor. "We don't want to blow this thing by plugging in all of our tech. Thought you guys might have some idea of how much she can handle."
"Oh, I hadn't even considered that..." Courtney started to say. "I mean, I have considered that," she backtracked, "and—Duncan, shut up—" she hissed over his snickering, "and I'm sure it won't be an issue, Trent. I don't think..."
"That's a yes'th!" Beth cried, clapping her hands.
"You sure, captain?" Trent asked again, patting the wall of the ballroom affectionately.
"Tell you what," Courtney replied, mustering as much authority as she could. "Go ahead and plug everything in, and I'll be on stand-by to let you know how things are looking up here."
"Sounds great. It'll only be a minute. C'mon, Beth."
"Do you think that was a bad idea?" Courtney asked, turning to Duncan. "If Trent's right, this thing could go up in smoke. I don't even know where I'd find an electrical reading on this thing."
"Calm down, Princess," Duncan said, standing up and kneading her shoulders. It wasn't a professional massage by any stretch, but it wasn't bad enough to complain about. "If this thing is outfitted with a ballroom, there's no way it can't handle a little amp."
"Little? Did you see those things?" Trent's so-called 'good' package had been one of the largest by far, excluding the ones that were caging animals. "They were colossal. And there were at least three of them!"
"Whatever, it'll be fine," Duncan insisted.
At that moment, the lights and every other blinking thing on the bridge flickered, and then went dead.
Courtney shrieked, bursting out of Duncan's light grip. "No, no, no, Duncan!" She frantically tried the steering wheel: it was locked in position. "The motor's off!"
"And that's bad?"
He definitely wasn't the able seaman that she needed.
"That's so bad, I can't even begin to tell you!" She abandoned the wheel and squinted at all the systems on the dashboard. All the meters had plummeted to zero. "You have to go tell Trent and Beth to unplug everything!"
"How am I supposed to find the ballroom?"
"If you can find your way into my bedroom under any circumstances at any hour of the freaking night, you can find a giant ballroom!"
For once, the delinquent responded appropriately to Courtney's urgency, sprinting around the couch and towards the door (though not without an eye roll). Duncan wasn't halfway across the room, however, when the lights and screens flickered back on.
"Yes! Wait, no! Oh my god, oh my god," Courtney muttered, still panicked as she tore through all the buttons and screens and dials in front of her. She didn't understand half of them. "The ship's not coming back. The power's back and the motor's not, what happened?!"
"Have you tried turning it off and back on again?" Duncan asked lazily, returning from his sprint and leaning against the map counter to her left.
"This is a yacht, Duncan," Courtney yelled, trying the key in the ignition nonetheless, "not a stupid video game or—" The ship sputtered, the lights and electronics on the dashboard going dark again, before the ship came back to life with a roar.
Courtney's expression fell flat. She shuffled back to the helm as the lights returned a second time, the electronics following suit. She rounded on a smug Duncan and hissed, "You have the most stupid luck."
"What can I say? I'm brilliant."
"Then get your 'brilliant' butt back over to the comm center and tell Beth and Trent to never do that again!"
Duncan twisted to look around at his backside. "My butt is pretty nice..."
Duncan got a wink in before he retook his seat and went to punching at the center's buttons. By the same stroke of stupid luck, he managed to find Trent and Beth's unlabeled button from among the fifty or so on the panel without contacting anyone new. "Yo, reality television wannabes, the captain wants to inform you that you can never do that again because we all almost died."
Courtney could feel the flush in her cheeks as readily as the humiliation. "You don't have to make it sound so out of hand..."
"Sorry, man!" Trent explained. "The lights cut out in here once we had everything started up, so we pulled it out of the walls as quick as we could."
"Can I at least plug in my karaoke machine?" Beth asked. "It was'th working before!"
"No," Duncan said, leaning in closer to the mic. "No karaoke, no amps, and definitely no amps with karaoke. Go upstairs and do something that doesn't involve guitars and singing for once!"
"All right, all right, mes'thage rec'theived," Beth pouted. "Come on, Trent."
"Sorry for the trouble, guys," he apologized again before the line went dead.
"Finally," Duncan sighed, spinning his pilot seat back around to Courtney and the steering wheel. "Now, where were we?"
The brunette's heart was beating so quickly from the previous scare that she could hardly tell sea from sky—nothing seemed to indicate impending doom like screwing up a second electrical system in less than 48 hours. "Why can't Beth plug in her karaoke?" she asked, trying to steady her hands. "It's professional grade, but it shouldn't take up nearly as much power as Trent's amps."
"Do you seriously want to listen to singing the whole ride? Beth's singing?" he emphasized. "For all we know, the auditorium could be right underneath us." He nodded to the floor, and Courtney shrugged. It wasn't an auditorium, but he had a point.
"So," he began, eyes sparkling, "I believe we were discussing your quick descent into the world of crime."
"What, because I told my best friend that we'd had..." Oh, how to put this? "...intimate interactions?" Courtney spun Duncan's chair away from her with her foot. "Sue me! Bridgette knows, but I'll have you know that it was not by my choice."
"What does that mean?" Duncan asked, putting his feet up on the dashboard to stop the spinning. "You told her by accident?"
"No, of course not," the brunette said, pushing Duncan's feet off and leaning over to fix a lever Duncan had knocked out of place. "She cornered me during Izzy's gator escapade and used her feminine intuition, something you would know nothing about."
"And you just told her?"
"It was a moment of weakness, but at least she's trustworthy!" Courtney admitted. "Geoff has the biggest mouth on this island!"
"Hey, there're a few contenders for that title," Duncan said, smirking, "me included."
It occurred to Courtney that Duncan was right. If he did at some point decide that he was going to blab to someone (anyone) about their evolving relationship, she would be marooned on the bridge, trying to single-handedly command a vehicle that was built for at least a three-man crew. She'd be powerless to chase after him without leaving the boat completely unattended, and if he got a head start, she wouldn't beat him to his target anyway.
Duncan was giving her puppy-dog eyes. He didn't seem exactly sure how to do it, and the effect was a little unnatural.
"Okay, I'll tell you what," she said, falling back on a Plan B. "If you're really going to explode from not telling Geoff—"
"—then how about we make a deal?"
Duncan looked hopeful. "What are your terms?"
The communication system speaker came to life before Courtney could reply. "Hell-oh!" Leshawna's staticky voice said. "Is this home base or somethin'?"
Duncan spun to the system and answered, "9-1-1, what is your emergency?"
"Geez, Duncan, don't do that! She might think she's actually connected with the police!"
"What is my emergency?" Leshawna sassed back, talking right over Courtney's scolding. "I'll give you an emergency! Ya'll keep trippin' the lights and tippin' this boat back and forth. Eva's about to wreck this bowling alley!"
The Bowling Alley
The bodybuilder let out a strangled scream that Leshawna felt sure could be heard through the intercom. In fact, Eva didn't even need the intercom to be heard back up on the deck.
"We have a bowling alley?" Courtney restated with a buzz, her voice an octave higher than it usually was. "That's worse than billiards!"
"Damn straight!" Leshawna replied, leaning against the wall and speaking sideways to the intercom. "And her inability to get a single strike is working her into a straight-up rage. Just thought ya'll should know."
Eva's screaming subsided for the moment, and Duncan crackled in. "What's she going to destroy a bowling alley with? Her fists?"
"How DARE he question my strength?!" Eva screeched, grabbing the nearest bowling ball from the rack and raising it above her head.
"With bowling balls," Leshawna snapped, "so thanks a lot for that." She turned her attention back to the tornado of fury in front of her. "Eva, you need to calm yourself down this instant before I—!" She let out a little yip as she ducked to avoid the bowling ball that Eva had just hurled in her direction. "Oh, now you're in for it!"
"Leshawna? Leshawna!" Courtney called. "Come back!"
"I didn't go anywhere!" she shouted, though she was quickly searching the room to locate the fastest and safest route out.
"NEITHER DID MY PINS!"
"Girl's just mad 'cause she's no good at bowling, and I'm da bomb dot com," Leshawna snarked, perhaps a bit too loudly as another bowling ball nearly connected with her skull.
Leshawna leaned back into the intercom and whispered, "I'm gonna make a break for it," then sprinted towards the door.
There was another crash, and the line turned to pure static.
"Come in, Godzilla, come in," Duncan tried into the mic, to no response. "Princess..." He turned away with a bemused look on his face. "I think Eva smashed the intercom. With a bowling ball!"
"This is absolutely insane." Courtney lowered her head and squeezed two fingers on the bridge of her nose. After a second, she looked back at Duncan. "Should we... do something?" She desperately hoped that the answer was no.
"Yes." Duncan got up from his chair, walked around the sofa, and locked the door of the bridge.
"I meant about Eva," Courtney sighed.
Duncan strolled back over, smirking. "There's nothing to do but let her get it out of her system. Or you could try steering the boat straighter," he prodded, nudging her in the side. "But I think we both know that's impossible. Besides, this is destruction of Chris's property!" He wiggled his eyebrows at her. "You enjoyed that last time, didn't you?"
Courtney couldn't deny the truth of his words. Pulling apart Chris McLean's penthouse had to rank in the top five most enjoyable moments of her life, right up beside raiding Chef's fridge. And that was even before the hand-holding and (dare she think it?) their kiss later that night, all of which had been quite nice...
And now that she thought about it, the idea of Chris finding bowling ball-size craters scattered in the floor and walls of his bowling alley was pretty comical. She'd leave Eva to it, though why half of her peers insisted on being inside on such a nice day while she was trapped driving them around in circles was incomprehensible to her. And kind of unfair.
"I guess Leshawna can take care of herself," she admitted, though it was mostly her own survival instinct talking.
"That's right, she can." Duncan nodded once, and then said seriously, "So, what are your terms for telling Geoff?"
Courtney had been stewing over this for a while and was consequently able to rattle off the requirements quickly, even in the face of so many impending disasters. "One, you tell Geoff and only Geoff. I get one person, you get one person."
Courtney shoved him. "You don't know me at all if you think I'm finished."
"And you don't know me at all if you think I'm not messing with you," he answered.
Courtney couldn't hold back a grin as she held up two fingers. "Term two: you make it clear to Geoff that he is to tell no one, or else he will have you AND me to answer to."
"You want me to give him an ultimatum?"
"It's a threat."
"But ultimatum is a cooler word!"
"It's inapplicable, and I'm surprised you have a vague idea of what it means," Courtney responded. "Term three: in presenting this information to Geoff, you simply tell him what happened with no embellishments or exaggerations."
"What makes you think I'd exaggerate?"
"I've seen movies. Do we have a deal?"
He put an arm around her, pulling her close. "...So when you say 'embellishments'—"
"Yes, fine, deal. Your terms could've been a whole lot worse."
"Uh-huh." She brushed her nose against his, grinning slyly. "I could have asked you to do something preposterous, like be a human being."
"You could have asked nicely," he murmured.
The communication center crackled to life a second too soon. "Hello?"
"Hold this," Courtney grumbled, putting thoughts of Duncan's lips aside for moment. She handed the wheel over to him and stomped over to mash the newest blinking button on the call-board. "What?"
"Courtney, this is Noah," the boy drawled. There was barking in the distance. "Shouldn't you be driving the boat?"
Duncan walked over and replaced her finger on the button with his own as Courtney quickly darted back to the wheel, glaring at the microphone. "Noah, this is Duncan. Shouldn't you be tossing yourself overboard?"
"Ignore my first mate," Courtney replied, rolling her eyes as she gently turned the wheel. "Did you call just to hurl false accusations at me?"
"If only," the boy sighed.
"Oh, dang," DJ muttered, frantically checking the workspace around the expensive, multi-tier grill behind the deck-side Jacuzzi.
Noah shifted from his position on a nearby lawn chair and said, "Don't tell me: you burned everything already." Lady nestled her head in his lap, snoozing.
"No," DJ responded, shaking a box of spices in Noah's direction. "There's no paprika in the spice kit I got! That's a key part of my steak seasoning!"
"How ever could they forget that?" Noah asked, absentmindedly scratching Lady's back.
"I don't know!" DJ replied in complete earnestness. "Can you find some? I can't leave my steaks."
"Why should I go? Make one of the mannequins do it."
Justin lowered his sunglasses slightly, peering over at the grill from where he lay tanning next to Lindsay.
DJ took a quick look around the deck before leaning down to whisper, "I don't trust them with my seasoning, man. There's no bigger act of faith than trusting a bud with your steak seasoning." He straightened up. "Please?"
When Noah made no move to stand, DJ hesitantly added, "And, uh, didn't Lady want a steak too?"
Noah glanced down at Lady, who had peeked an eye open hopefully at the word 'steak'.
"...Fine," Noah grumbled, regretting the fact that DJ had already figured out his one true weakness. He gently nudged his dog off him, who stretched with a yawn as her owner walked over to the nearest intercom (which wasn't far from the bridge itself at all, but who wanted to talk to Courtney and Duncan face to face?) and buzzed in. The Speak button looked similar to his doorbell at home, and Lady, sitting on his feet, barked eagerly at the action that she recognized as the arrival of new friends.
After not very pleasant pleasantries, Noah cut straight to the point. "DJ wants to know if there's a spice cabinet on this yacht."
"And ask them if they want any steaks!" DJ called over, gesturing wildly to get his attention.
"...and do you want steak," Noah repeated without inflection. He gave the cook a halfhearted thumbs-up.
"How are we supposed to know anything about the presence of a spice cabinet?" Courtney asked. "And no, we don't want steaks!"
"Whoa, Princess, not so fast," Duncan cut in. "DJ makes a mean steak."
"Breakfast was like two hours ago!"
"Yeah, two whole hours!"
"Okay," Noah interrupted. "I would like to request that if you two are going to spend this time bickering, at least take your finger off the button until you can tell me where a kitchen is."
"Oh. Okay, right," Courtney muttered. The line went dead.
"Some people," Noah lamented, leaning down to talk to Lady. "You would never argue about steak, would you? No you wouldn't!"
Lady licked Noah's face sympathetically. She was the only one who understood how the idiocy of these people was affecting him.
"Do they want steak?" DJ called out to him across the deck. "And how do you like yours?"
"Seeing as breakfast was two whole hours ago, they can't decide," Noah answered, again without inflection. He kicked at some of the cardboard that had been left over on the ground after the gift opening process. "Are you a good enough cook to control how it comes out either way?"
DJ gasped. "I am offended! What kind of chef do you think I am?"
"The uncertified kind," Noah replied, one eye on his dog as she trotted off across the deck. "But if it makes you feel better, I'll have it medium."
"How about your pup?"
Noah chuckled as Lady returned with one of the child-sized toy balls Tyler had received as a subpar gift, now abandoned. He playfully tugged it from her mouth and lowered his face to hers. Taking her head on either side, he cooed, "You like it rare, don't you? Yes you do!"
Lady yipped enthusiastically, her tail thumping hard against the deck.
Noah killed another few minutes playing fetch with Lady before the intercom came back on. "Noah?" Duncan called.
"DJ's Steakhouse, can I take your order?"
"Uh, yes," Courtney stepped in; perhaps mockery didn't translate well via intercom. "We would like one large steak, medium rare, fat trimmed off, and if DJ wouldn't mind holding on to it, one of us will come grab it when we're ready."
"You want DJ to hold on to your steak indefinitely," Noah repeated. How hard could driving a yacht be anyway? "And about the kitchen?"
"The ship diagram says it's one level below us," Duncan informed him, adding gleefully, "so don't keep us waiting!"
"Oh, is that Douglas and Corinne?" Lindsay called from her towel next to Justin. "Can you ask them to move the boat a teensy-weensy bit to the right? There's more light there, so it's much sunnier."
"Lindsay wants you to move the boat to the right," Noah repeated wearily. "The sun is sunnier there."
"Tell her I'm not altering the course of tons of metal and steel so she can get a better tan!" Courtney snapped back.
"It's not the sun that's the issue," Justin added. "Let them know it's all about the angles of the sun rays on the skin."
"Justin says it's not about the sun," Noah relayed, "it's about the angle of the sun. Because he is now a dermatologist."
"Tell Barbie and Ken to sit tight!" Duncan said. "They'll get whatever sun they're looking for in the next few minutes when we circle the island again."
Noah released the button on the intercom without another word. "The things I do for my dog... Come on, Lady." He headed toward the stairs, Lady on his heels. "Paprika, you said?"
DJ nodded. "I owe you one."
"I can't believe you're already hungry," Courtney told Duncan, once they'd figured out that Noah had departed without a goodbye. Or a thank you.
"And I can't believe you like the fat trimmed off your steak! That's the best part! Why didn't you just get your own?"
"Because," Courtney began, trying to ignore Duncan as he poked at the yacht schematics that he'd discovered on the counter under his nose, "I'm not hungry, but you seem to feel that an opportunity for steak is not to be passed up."
Besides, if he was telling Geoff about them, Courtney figured she might as well get some of the perks of their... situation. It was an unspoken law that couples were entitled to a bite of everything the other ordered, wasn't it? She had positive feelings toward that rule—she just wasn't sure she was ready for the label.
Of course, now that she had given Duncan the go-ahead to tell his best friend about them, Courtney had to recognize that she had no real means of enforcing any of the terms she'd just laid down. In any other context, this would have been an absolute bargaining disaster. But, although Duncan was catching onto her system of wheeling and dealing (he was smarter than most people believed), he was by no means an expert and hopefully hadn't yet realized that Courtney had no power in this situation.
She was trusting him. The idea was honestly a little terrifying.
"Can I go tell Geoff now?" Duncan asked, prepped to run for the door at any second. "Wait, give me the terms one more time."
Courtney pursed her lips. "You tell only Geoff. Geoff tells no one. You present unembellished facts, not exaggerations."
He pecked her on the cheek. "You sure you can spare me for a few minutes, babe?"
She sighed. Driving alone would not only be exceedingly boring, but impossibly difficult. She was already stretching herself thin between keeping an eye on the dashboard and steering. Without Duncan to handle the incoming calls, something important was bound to get past her. But who was she to deny her not-quite-boyfriend the simple pleasure of telling his best friend about his new not-quite-relationship?
Huh. Maybe Bridgette really was rubbing off on her.
"You have five minutes. But I swear!" she added, trying to cover up her worries as Duncan strolled towards the door, "If I hear a whisper of anything from anyone but Geoff, this is all coming back on—" Courtney paused, squinting out the windshield at a cowboy hat steadfastly marching out to the bow of the boat. "...Geoff?"
"I'm okay with that."
"No, Geoff is down there, at the front of the boat," Courtney said. Katie and Sadie came into view a second after, clad in their unmistakable pink bikini ensembles. They were chittering excitedly as they followed Geoff. "And he's hanging out with Katie and Sadie?"
"What the..." Duncan walked back and leaned over the control panel to stick his face right up against the glass. "Why is he wasting his time with those two?"
"Oh. My. Gosh," Sadie exclaimed as the trio marched down to the front of the yacht. "This is probably, like, the most exciting thing I've ever done."
"More exciting than the time we found those really cute matching dresses at Albatross and Finch?" Katie asked, pausing to readjust the tackle box she was carrying in her arms.
"Ooh, good point," Sadie replied. "We did look super fetch in those. But I've never been fishing before!"
"Me either!" Geoff said, three fishing rods over his shoulder. "Dudettes, I still can't believe this stuff was just chilling in storage!"
"I know, right," Sadie said, pulling along an empty cooler in which they planned to store their spoils. "Have you ever been fishing, Katie?"
"No," she said, "but my dad watches it on TV like literally all the time. It doesn't look hard."
Geoff stopped just short of the bow and propped up the poles in front of him like a walking stick. "This looks like as good a place as any! You gals ready to catch some filets?"
"Totally!" Sadie squealed, setting down the cooler. Katie sat her tackle box on top.
"Okay, so we need to put the fishing string and hooks on," Katie informed them.
"Done!" Geoff said. The poles had already been strung and hooked. "We're on a roll!"
Sadie squealed and clapped as Geoff handed them each a fishing rod.
"Whoa," he gasped, leaning over the tackle box. "These are killer!" He reached in and produced a hook about the size of his hand. "This is like a shark hook, dude!"
"A...shark hook?" Sadie repeated with alarm, retracting her hand from where she'd been rifling around in the box. "I don't like the sound of that."
"They call it fishing, Sadie, not sharking," her friend reminded her, carefully inspecting the small hooks that were already on the line. "These should be fine."
Geoff added his much larger hook to the end of his line alongside his small hook. Determining that there was nothing left to be done, the three went about waving their poles around until one of them finally figured out how to release the line.
"So Geoff," Sadie started, sharing a conspiratorial look with Katie, who giggled. "How are things with you and Bridgette?"
"Completely radical," he supplied happily. "We're super good!"
"Because you two are sooooooooooo cute together!" Katie squealed, unable to contain her enthusiasm. "The way you freaked out, at Truth or Dare, when Lindsay said you couldn't kiss her? I almost cried! So tragic!"
"And sooooooo romantic!" Sadie agreed.
Geoff suddenly looked a little nervous to be receiving so much attention that he didn't understand. "Uh, yeah. I kinda...I really dig her. She's just super duper...Bridgettey, y'know?"
Katie and Sadie swooned for an unclear reason.
"Oh. My. Gosh," Katie gasped. "What are you going to do for a first official date once you get off the island?"
"You should, like, take her to dinner, and then take her to the aquarium!" Sadie suggested excitedly.
"Sadie, you are a relationship genius!"
"No, you are!"
"Uh, I don't know if that's a great idea, ladies. Bridgette's not cool with animals in cages and stuff..." Geoff hedged, but Katie overruled him.
"Trust me, it would be sooooo adorable," she said, pulling her hook back and clumsily casting her line again. "Sadie, it'll be just like that one movie with that guy, where he takes his mermaid girlfriend to the aquarium and she starts, like, talking to the fishes and—"
"KATIE, I'M HOOKED!" Sadie wailed suddenly, flailing around the hook that had lodged itself in the waistband of her swimsuit.
"What?" Katie asked, still trying to spot her bobber in the ocean.
"Oh, snap!" Geoff exclaimed, turning around as Sadie started running back and forth, pulling out Katie's line as she shouted, "Oh my god! Oh my god, I'm going to die like an anchovy!"
"SADIE!" Katie screamed, turning around and dropping her rod. "Don't worry! I'LL SET YOU FREE!"
Through the chaos that was Katie and Sadie thrashing around each other, Geoff stood torn over how he could best get them calmed down and untangled without making the situation worse. Before he came to any conclusions, however, he heard what sounded like insistent tapping on glass. Turning around to follow the noise, he looked up to find Courtney banging madly on the window from up in the bridge. She made the phone signal at him once she had his attention, while behind her and out of her line of sight, Duncan picked up his own imaginary phone and started mimicking her.
Geoff glanced around the deck for a phone. Spotting a panel with buttons on the wall, he secured his rod on the railing and ran over (ignoring the crash that sounded like Katie and Sadie knocking over their tackle box). There was only one button that said Speak, the label Captain taped underneath.
Geoff pressed it. "Uh, hello? This is Geoff."
"Dude, you're totally in for it," Duncan warned, crackling through with a snicker.
"Finally!" Courtney said, shouting over Duncan. "What on earth do you three think you're doing out there?!"
"We're, uh," Geoff glanced behind him at the panic of Katie trying to untangle Sadie, "fishing?"
"That's what I thought I was seeing, but I figured I must be wrong because that idea is just SO STUPID!"
"You'll have to forgive her," Duncan said in a mock apology. "The stress of captainhood is really getting to her."
Following a grunt, Geoff backed up a bit to glance at the bridge, where Duncan was clutching at his leg with one hand. Courtney, still at the wheel, alternated her gaze between the microphone and the sea in front of her.
"Fishing from a moving vehicle?!" she continued, bulldozing over Duncan's grumblings. "I cannot even begin to tell you the degree to which that will NOT WORK! Do you even have bait?"
Geoff returned to the intercom. "Bait?" he repeated, screwing up his face. "Oh! You mean like worms and stuff?"
"I'll take that as a no," Courtney snapped. "I can't even IMAGINE what made you three think that was a good idea! And at the front of this yacht, no less! What if the lines got caught in something important! I don't know the anatomy of this thing!"
"But she knows all about my anato—okay, okay, Princ—ow!—okay, I'm shutting up!"
"Aw, man," Geoff replied, looking back to the bow. "I didn't think about that. My bad."
"Yes, it is!" Courtney affirmed. "And now, please tell me: what is going on with Katie and Sadie?"
Geoff switched his gaze to the pair, who had somehow ended up on the ground and cocooned in fishing line. "Katie hooked Sadie's swimsuit."
Courtney moaned as Duncan broke into guffaws. "Go help them before Sadie's suit gets torn in two! For all of our sakes."
"Aye-aye, captain!" Geoff called back, saluting up to the bridge.
"Oh! Wait, Geoff!" Duncan added before he'd had time to rescue the pile of pink polka dots. "By the way, I finally got Courtney to—"
The line was cut by static. Geoff pressed the Speak button a few times to see if Duncan would come back, but the line was dead. He glanced up at the bridge once more, but only Courtney remained in sight, pointing furiously at the tangled form of Katie and Sadie from the steering wheel.
Confused (though this was not unusual for him), Geoff nodded to the window above before turning back and carrying out the captain's orders.
"No...fair…" Duncan groaned, doubled over and clutching at his stomach. He would have been happy without the reminder of his not-quite-girlfriend's (or actual girlfriend's?) lethal capabilities, but he couldn't help but be impressed with her uppercut. "You said...I could tell him…!"
Courtney glared. "Katie and Sadie were right there!"
"Oh, yeah," Duncan heaved, painstakingly straightening up, "they were totally hanging on his every word as they rolled around on a pile of hooks and bait."
"They didn't have any bait," Courtney growled.
Duncan leaned against the dashboard and gave Courtney a once-over, massaging the fist-sized pain in his gut. Despite the bargain they'd just struck, it appeared that she still wasn't okay with him telling Geoff—not yet. "Do you need a paper bag to breathe into?"
Courtney eyed him, her breath slowing. "That depends on just what exactly you were about to say to him."
Duncan rolled his eyes. "Nothing against your terms, your majesty."
"Don't you 'nothing' me, Duncan! I told you, no exaggerations."
"Technically, you said no embellishments."
"Tomato, potato." He settled back down at his pilot seat, pretending to analyze the screens in front of him: they looked like 8-bit video games. Beyond the dashboard, at the front of the boat, Duncan watched as Geoff found a knife in the tackle box and began carefully and calmly cutting Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Idiot from their fishing line cocoon.
"Aaaand we're back at the trash yard," Courtney announced. "I'm getting tired of looking at this sad excuse for a shoreline."
"If that beach could hear you, it would be crying," Duncan joked. "I bet it has terrible self-esteem." He sat up and glanced out the window as the littered intern beach passed them for the n-th time. "What were we talking about out there? You know, speaking of."
"On the intern beach?" Courtney asked, her hands tensing on the steering wheel.
"Yeah. On the way to the yacht, before Richard showed up," he reminded her. "You said something about Heather. Are you plotting revenge?" He rubbed his hands together deviously. "Can I help?"
"Not...revenge, exactly" she said.
"Counter surgery? Or whatever it is you called it before?"
Courtney started pressing buttons on the dashboard, mildly frantic, muttering as she went. "Uh, no...anchor...bow thruster...Is the door still locked?...stern thruster...radio..."
Duncan glanced behind him, uninterested. "Yeah, why?"
"Ah-ha!" Courtney flipped a switch and a pleasant robotic voice asked, "Would you like to engage the autopilot function?"
Slowly, Courtney turned to him, pressed her back up against the wheel, and eyed him from under her lashes. "If you let me pass on that one," she said, "I'll owe you two make-out sessions."
If Duncan's puppy dog eyes weren't something he did often, flirting wasn't something Courtney did ever. It looked more than a little awkward (he wasn't sure she could even see him from under her bangs), but the two-piece swimsuit was drastically helping her case.
Duncan's eyebrows rose into his hairline before settling into a narrow look. "...You are evil."
Courtney smirked. "And just who do you think I picked it up from?"
Any curiosity Duncan had regarding their previous conversation dissipated as he stood and wrapped his arms around her waist, a devilish grin on his face. "You better not say Heather."
The communication center crackled, "Courtney? Duncan? Are you there?"
Without releasing Duncan, Courtney slammed the heel of her foot onto the blinking light. "What now?!"
"Oh, uh... Is this a bad time?" Bridgette asked, her voice slightly muffled under the roar of the engines.
"Oh, no," Courtney said, turning her full attention to the communication center. "What's wrong? If anybody on this boat was going to call me because something was actually wrong, it would be you! Has someone died? Is it someone we can spare?"
Duncan sighed dramatically, rolling his head back. He hadn't been kidding about the stress of captainhood was getting to her—he'd do anything to avoid another panic attack. Hoping to move the interruption along and get back to Courtney's attempts at sexiness, he faked a smile and asked, "How go the surf lessons, Malibu?"
Bridgette had taught dozens of people to surf before, but never in the wake of a moving yacht. That situation posed a few extra problems the blonde had yet to encounter: namely, someone getting separated from a moving boat.
How were the surf lessons going, Duncan asked? Poorly. Very poorly.
"Uh, not so good," Bridgette answered after a second, gazing off the boat's stern. "Ezekiel wanted to learn how to surf, and I stupidly thought, 'what could go wrong?' So I found some lifejackets and ropes so we could attach ourselves to the yacht, just in case one of us fell too far behind. Because safety first, right?"
"Is this going somewhere?" Duncan crackled. There was a thud that Bridgette figured was Courtney causing bodily harm, followed by her voice, saying, "Don't be rude!"
Too worried about her current predicament to pay much heed to Duncan and Courtney's respective tones, Bridgette continued, steadying the two surfboards she had leaned against the yacht's railing as they went into a curve. "Well, I think Zeke's rope was a little old, because it broke and he… kind of got left behind."
There was a pause on the other end. "What?!" Courtney screeched. Duncan started cackling in the background. "Is he okay? Can he swim?"
Bridgette put her face in her hands before taking a deep breath and replacing her finger on the intercom button. "He's fine. He's wearing about six life jackets."
"Okay, okay, that's good," Courtney said, breathing heavily enough to be heard over the intercom. "Bridgette, my heart is not strong enough for this job!"
"It's okay! I have a plan," she piped up, regretting the fact that she couldn't see her friend in person and calm her down. "Ezekiel is out there floating, which is fine for now." Duncan's laughter doubled. "And, since we're just going in circles anyway, I can climb back down when we come around and grab him."
"That's the best we can do?" Courtney asked.
"Pretty much," Bridgette sighed, turning around to squint into the distance. "Just...steer around him I guess." Her former charge was nothing more than an orange speck bobbing in the water. Releasing the Speak button for the moment, she shouted, "Hang on, Zeke! I'm going to grab you next time we pass! Courtney won't run you over!"
In the distance, through several layers of lifejackets and across an increasing amount of ocean waves, Bridgette heard a muted, "Okidokey, eh!"
She turned back to the intercom. "I just wanted to make sure you knew he was out there so you don't... you know..."
"Turn him into sushi?" Duncan snickered.
"Yeah," Bridgette replied, her stomach twisting into a guilty knot. "I'm so sorry to interrupt you guys. This is all my fault. I'm the worst lifeguard ever."
"Bridgette, I won't stand for that kind of talk!" Courtney scolded. "You're a strong and capable lifeguard and you can do whatever you put your mind to! So you strap yourself in, climb back into the ocean, and go get our homeschooler back!"
"I'm not sure that I can."
"If you don't," Duncan inserted, "I promise you, no one else on this boat is even going to try. Zeke is—"
"Bridgette? You have to do this," Courtney repeated over the sounds of Duncan trying to talk with a hand over his mouth. "I believe in you!"
"Okay," Bridgette replied to the intercom, nodding to herself. "Okay, you're right. Strong and capable, strong and capable... I'm going!" She checked the knots in her rope, both around the railing and around her stomach (she hadn't bothered untying either) before climbing down the ladder to a chipper "Good luck!" from the captain.
"I cannot believe this," Courtney hissed the second Duncan released the button and she released her grip on his mouth. "She lost a camper in the ocean! Her stupid surf lessons were the only reason I agreed to do this anyway!" Courtney shoved a stray hair behind her ear. "What if we run him over? I don't want to kill him! ...Anymore." She got up on her tiptoes, peering out the front window anxiously. "How long do you think before we get back to him? The island is big, but we're moving pretty fast. Fifteen minutes at least, right?"
She finally glanced over at Duncan, who had his arms crossed and an amused look on his face. "You're stalling."
"I'm not stalling," she said quickly, punching in and confirming the autopilot prompt once more. "I'm just trying to prevent any future interruptions. It's preemptive." She turned her attention to the communication center, looking for a power button.
Unable to find one (probably for safety reasons), Courtney instead cranked every dial she could find down to zero, fading out the beginnings of a, "Hello? Captain Courtney? Captain Duncan?" from Cody into complete silence.
"And stay quiet," she said triumphantly, addressing the communication center.
"You're so sexy when you're vindictive," Duncan commented as Courtney passed by him, grabbing him by the dog collar and pulling him along.
"And you're hilarious when you're trying to flatter me," she answered. "Couch. Now."
The Officer's Quarters
Cody tried the intercom button again. "Um, I don't mean to bother you guys, but if you can hear this, I've almost solved the final challenge!"
There was no response.
"So, if you guys want to know what it is, you're seriously missing out!" he added, poking around the intercom to check that everything was in working order. The unit seemed fine, but he was again met with silence. "Okay, okay, I'll tell you," he said after a moment. "The final challenge is that Gwen and Owen have to get to Vegas...using the gifts we got!"
Silence. Even the ad-libbed absurdity of Vegas couldn't earn feedback. "All righty then. I'll just...keep working on solving the puzzle without you…nonstop, like I have been... Which means you won't get any credit, Courtney!"
Cody felt sure that if Courtney could hear him, that last line would have gotten a response for sure. So, after another minute of silence, he buzzed in a final time to say, "Don't say I didn't try to include you!" It just felt right.
He awkwardly returned to his desk and surveyed the officer's quarters, located just off the main deck. The original shipping manifest was pinned to a corkboard beside him, which he'd used to create a diagram of all the gifts and the codes that went with them. It was painstakingly illustrated on stationary and napkins he'd found around the room.
A large window was set into the door, and after realizing that a view onto the yacht deck was highly distracting, Cody had moved the desk chair around so his back faced it; he'd spent so much time pacing that the adjustment hardly mattered. Balls of paper scattered the floor, failed ideas for which Cody had no use, though he was quickly running out of fresh stationary. He'd have to start writing in wrinkled margins if his investigation continued much longer.
Cody leaned over the desk, held open his diagram, and reconstructed what he knew: the gibberish phrases on the manifest were shorthand descriptions of each present. Present A was always high-end, expensive, or at the very least highly personal (examples being Courtney's book and Trent's guitar), and Presents B were cheap knockoffs, either unusable or so impractical compared to their counterparts that doing anything with them was sure to require a much lengthier time investment (like Zeke's canoe). It was the world's most bizarre Noah's Ark!
The yacht and everything on it were supposed to go to Chris and Chef on Wawanakwa, which meant that probabilistically, the items all played into the finale in some way. Cody had been drawing and redrawing countless versions of the final episode, possibilities that were now crumpled pieces of paper on the floor. Were all of the ex-campers meant to participate, using their gifts as extra entertainment for the show? Did Chris and Chef want them? Were they going to pass them off to animatronic robots of the campers? Or humanoid sharks? Was it a scavenger hunt?
Given all the things he'd seen himself on the island, not to mention footage from the rough cuts that were displayed weekly, Cody knew nothing was off the table. And that just made his job more difficult.
There was a knock on the door. "Cody, you in there?"
He answered, "Come in!" without turning around.
DJ opened the door cautiously, sweeping a pile of paper balls across the floor as he did. "How's it going in here? You solved the puzzle yet?"
"Not yet," Cody sighed, indicating the paper-strewn floor to his visitor. "I've had a bunch of ideas, but none of them are quite right. I was going to ask Courtney for a second opinion, but she's not answering. I would have asked you, but I'm worried that if I step out of this room before I solve it, I'll lose my train of thought."
DJ frowned and glanced around the room. He had been imagining Cody in a bland, beige, cramped office going crazy inside his own head, but in fact, he was relieved to find that the officer's quarters were decorated in a charming nautical theme and had a large window. And a chimney, which made absolutely no sense. "What're you thinking now?" he asked.
"Eh, I don't know. I imagine that we're each meant to use our gifts to sabotage Gwen and Owen." He blew out a breath. "Like that'll happen."
DJ walked around the desk and looked down at Cody's diagram. It spanned the entire surface of the desk and was completely covered in pictures and scrawl. "Dang, dude. This is intense and all...but I'm not sure you should be thinking sabotage."
"What do you mean?" Cody's question was drowned out by his stomach grumbling. Loudly.
"Oh, no!" DJ exclaimed, slapping a hand against his own forehead. "I forgot to ask if you wanted lunch!"
"It's okay, buddy!" Cody replied, patting him on the back. "Eating now would only distract me, but I appreciate the offer."
"No way," DJ insisted. "You can't work on an empty stomach! I'm bringing you a steak right now. Duncan and Courtney never came for theirs."
"Really?" Cody's eyes lit up, but his expression fell almost as quickly. "But...won't they be mad?" The idea of facing off with both of them at once was enough to strike fear into the heart of any reasonable person.
"Nah, I'll make them a new one. I can't serve cold steak," DJ said, shivering at the thought. "I have a reputation to uphold."
Cody shrugged a little and stroked his chin. "If that's the case, I accept your offer!" He initiated a manly handshake and butchered it badly before saying, "You're a lifesaver. Can I do anything to pay you back?"
"Nah, just keep doing what you're doing. And holler if you're headed to the bridge, 'cause I might have you make a delivery."
"You got it," Cody replied. "I'll keep you updated." DJ was on his way out, carefully stepping around paper balls, when the other boy called after him again. "Hold on: what were you saying about sabotage?"
"Oh, yeah! I didn't get the sabotage vibe when Chris was giving us his spiel," DJ said, squatting and looking through some of the failed designs. "Thought he meant our role was positive. But I could be wrong."
"When did Chris say that?"
"Remember when he said the losers help decide who wins it all?" DJ asked, turning in the doorway. "It was a while ago, but I swear it happened."
Cody broke out of his thoughtfulness and started pulling out drawers, looking for a fresh piece of paper. "DJ, I think you just gave me the final piece of the puzzle!" he exclaimed, producing a notepad from the desk's depths and waving it like a flag.
"You mean it?"
Cody was already scribbling madly, so DJ shut the door quietly behind him and went to fire up the grill again, grinning to himself. "Happy to help."
The Bridge's Sofa
Courtney jerked away from Duncan, breathing heavily, her hands still wrapped around his neck. "Do you hear that?" she asked. Something in the cabin was... beeping at her. Not like an alarm, or anything urgent. More like a watch that was tolling the hour.
"No," Duncan lied, moving his attention to her neck and dancing his fingers up the skin of her spine.
Courtney shivered as Duncan calmed her with another kiss. She had nearly blocked out the sound of beeping completely when suddenly, it both sped up and turned into a blare that nearly sent the pair over the edge of the couch.
The brunette yanked away, eyes wide. "What did you touch?!"
"What did I touch?! You know what I was touching!"
Courtney leapt up and ran to the dashboard. The alarm was coming from the control panel, but everything looked fine. Except...
The boat jerked abruptly, buckling Courtney's knees.
"We're out of gas?! How are we out of gas?!"
"Is that better or worse than when we were out of power?" Duncan asked as he ran up to join her.
Courtney didn't respond, instead looking over every screen, button, lever, and reading.
"Oh, no," she whispered. "I have to crash the boat." Then, louder, "I have to crash the boat!"
"Wait, wait, slow down," Duncan said, eyeing the controls himself. The fuel gauge was firmly on Empty. "There's no need to panic."
"Duncan, I'm not just being dramatic! If I don't beach us, we'll eventually lose momentum, and then this yacht and everyone on it will be lost at sea!" Courtney could already feel the steering wheel seizing up, making it harder to maneuver the boat. "Or worse! We could drift right back to Wawanakwa! Then what?!"
Duncan swallowed, briefly imagining Chris and Chef's reactions upon seeing their hijacked yacht wash up on the island like a beached whale.
There was a frantic knock, after which Cody shouted through the door, "Guys, I figured it out! The finale! I know how it all goes together!" The door handle jiggled. "Also, I have a steak for you."
Duncan jogged to the door and unlocked it, snatching the steak from Cody as he burst inside. Cody was just in time to see Courtney fighting to turn the steering wheel in a way that would send them straight into the island. "Courtney, what are you doing?"
"I'm crashing this boat!"
"We're out of gas!" she barked in explanation as Duncan bit into the steak. "No gas equals no steering equals stranded at sea! Duncan, am I clear to go into this turn?"
"Yes, babe," he answered through a mouthful. "There are no other four deck yachts in your blind spot."
Cody rushed over to the labyrinthine control panel. "You didn't check the gas before you set sail?!"
"Of course I did!" Courtney snapped. "It was full then! The gauge must be faulty!"
"What about backup gasoline?" Cody asked. "There isn't a gas pump for miles, surely there are some oil drums on this thing!"
"We don't have...time...to check," Courtney grunted, struggling with the steering wheel. "Duncan, give me a hand!"
Duncan shoved the remainder of the steak in his mouth and took over on the wheel, visibly straining to hold it in the position. Courtney went over to the communication center and, unable to locate a Call All button, turned all the dials back up and mashed her hands across as many buttons as she could.
"Attention passengers: this is your captain speaking!" she said into the microphone. "I'm ramming this boat into the beach to save us all a Viking funeral, so grab on to something and hold on tight!" she ordered.
Cody ran over and clung to one of the pilot seats for dear life. From the steering wheel, Duncan swallowed his steak and, adopting his best Chef Hatchet impersonation, growled, "And try not to die!"
Courtney didn't even bother correcting him on that account. If all went well, this marooning would be nothing more than a scrape and a thud, but if not? His warning could be warranted.
Let's hope we don't have a Titanic-level situation on our hands.
From strayphoenix: And as of the publication of this chapter, ladies and gents, we have reached a whooping 500 reviews! In order to thank each and every one of you for that fantastic number, we will be listing each and every individual reviewer in alphabetical order at the end of the Author's Note.
This chapter was an absolute blast to work on! Having all our dorks in one place playing off each other is the most fun you can ask for as a writer. Not to mention Rina and I have had to learn so much about boat parts and steering and yacht communication systems, we kind of want a yacht now. Just a nice four deck yacht. Not much to ask when you see all the fun that can be had on a boat designed by Chris Mclean.
Easter Egg: Which of the 24 season one TDI characters aren't mentioned in this chapter? SPOILER: none! We include a reference or appearance by everyone this chapter.
But games in the sun
hide darker things to come
and with secrets on the line
and season finales in due time
has only just begun ;)
From Contemperina: Gooooooood morning/afternoon/evening/midnight, campers! Kudos to you if you managed to swallow this chapter all at once, because there was a LOT going on. (Believe me when I say that stray and I definitely didn't bang this out all at once.) Every character mentioned, almost every character seen and heard... let me just say that stray and I have been tweaking this chapter for ages! We wanted Chapter 30 (30!) to be extra special, and I hope we achieved it.
Notes: my browser history now boasts more Google searches for boating equipment and terminology than I can count. I've wished more than once during this writing process that TAOP came with a budget that I could use to tour someone's ritzy yacht in real time. Speaking of, I really want a ritzy yacht to call my own, and I also really want a dog who will calmly play fetch and responds specifically to the word "steak".
Does anyone recognize Albatross & Finch? Easter Egg central! And, is there a brave soul out there who will venture a guess as to what Chris is planning for the finale? Hint: it's not what we saw in the show, because let's be honest, that finale was JANK.
As always, a super special thank you to all our readers! It's gotta be hard remembering what happened last chapter when the updates are so few and far between. I always try to do a "last time, on TAOP!" in the intro, but it's hard to succinctly cover everything. Any suggestions for improvements will be taken very seriously.
Given that this is the end of Super-Long, Super-Special, Super-Milestone Chapter 30, we would like to thank each and every one of our reviewers by name. Whether you review each chapter faithfully or only did so once, we want you to know that we really appreciate your kind words. Many thanks to:
CC the Bug
Fairytale Love and Chocolate
Kick Me Awake
Mr. Panama Red
Night Hawk 97
Only If You Knew
Polka Dot Jewel
she's just dreaming
Shiningheart of ThunderClan
The Doctor Lilian Potter
The Lady Meow
the leading lady
THE PYROMANIAC FIRE QUEEN
The SpaceCowboy XD
Total Drama Addict
Writing Is A Poison
xXDevil Of LoveXx
and various Anonymous reviewers!
TRIVIA! We have gotten at least ONE new reviewer every chapter of TAOP with the exception of chapter 17. (Quick! Someone who's never reviewed go leave a review on chapter 17!)
Grand total of reviewers: 173
Thanks for reading! Please review (: