“So, Ellie,” Jacoline said, grinning, “I heard you slept with George from the casino last night.”
I nearly choked on my scrambled eggs. Jacoline was eagerly awaiting my reply, and though I knew she wasn’t being malicious, I couldn’t help but feel cross at her for lobbing gossip at me without any warning.
“You certainly don’t waste time,” Justin muttered, his eyes on his plate.
Great. This was just…great. I hastily swallowed the bits of egg I hadn’t choked on and spluttered, “Excuse me, what? George?” It took me a minute to even remember who the hell he was. “Oh, for fuck’s sake,” I said, “do you mean that guy I met in the crew bar last night? I talked to him for maybe two minutes!” I didn’t have to fake my incredulous tone.
Jacoline laughed. “Oh, Ellie, it’s fantastic you’re not wasting time. Why wait when there are so many options available?”
I opened my mouth to reply, but was cut off by Justin.
“Best be careful,” he said snidely. “You wouldn’t want everyone to think you’re a slag.”
This was ridiculous. I hadn’t even recovered from seeing Seth and Ruby together, and now I’d slept with someone new? Didn’t these people have any more salacious—and true!—gossip to talk about?
Next to me, Caitlin shook her head and rolled her eyes. “Guys, don’t be ridiculous. Ellie just said hello to the guy. Are we seriously doing this shit again?”
“Bom dia, meus amigos!” Maria was almost singing as she walked in. She made a beeline to me and said, “Hello, Ellie! I am so glad you are not sad about Seth leaving.” A Cheshire cat grin spread across her face. “I did not think George was your type, but when I saw you together in the crew bar, you seemed very cosy together.”
I knew we had our culprit.
I took a deep breath. “Maria, I didn’t sleep with George. I talked to him for two minutes, and that’s all.”
She patted my shoulder, an insincere sympathetic smile on her face. “It is okay, chica, you are a grown up woman. You can be with anybody you choose.”
I wasn’t normally a violent person, but I wanted to slap the smile right off her face.
My cheeks burning from the implication that I was, as Justin had said, a slag, and my hands were actually shaking. I hadn’t slept with him and Maria knew it. It had nothing to do with George—I was sure he was lovely. It was about my reputation, which, if I was honest, had already been hanging tenuously by a thread before everyone thought I’d hopped into bed with George. If I’d any chance of retaining any kind of reputation whatsoever, I couldn’t let them believe this rubbish.
Trying to keep my voice even, I said, deliberately calmly, “I didn’t sleep with George. He literally bumped into me and tried to apologise. End of story.”
Jacoline’s gaze flicked between me and Maria; the smile had faded from her face and she seemed uncertain who to believe. The scowl on Justin’s face, on the other hand, had only deepened. Caitlin rubbed my arm soothingly and mumbled something about not worrying what people say.
At that moment, because my life really needed to get more complicated, Ruby appeared in the doorway, spotted us, and practically waltzed over. She had what was almost certainly a post-coital glow, and I was tempted to chuck the salt shaker at her pretty face.
“What’s going on, guys?” she inquired.
“Ellie slept with George from the casino last night,” Maria announced, wasting no time in jumping in to spread the rumour.
Caitlin rushed to defend me. “’Maria, shut up. Ruby, it’s not like that at all. Maria saw them talking in the crew bar, and well, you know how ships are…and Maria” she cast a burning glance at the Brazilian rumourmonger, “should know better.”
I shot her a grateful look.
Ruby shrugged. “No big deal,” she said. “We’re all here to have fun, right?”
I didn’t really want to think about the kind of fun she’d been having…
Nodding, Jacoline added, “It’s okay, Ellie. We all know what ships are like!”
Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuck! I wished they would actually listen to me.
Maria obviously wasn’t finished and kicked the boot in a little harder. “You know, Ellie, I was a little bit sad when you and Seth were together while he and I were trying to work things out—” Ruby’s head came up but she wisely said nothing “—but now I can see you do not like to spend the night alone. I am sure you left him no choice. Men are simple, yes?” She sat back and folded her arms, smiling at everyone. “If you offer them a warm body, they do not say no. Not on a ship, anyway.” Laughing, she added, “We all know where to send the new guys for a good time, yes?”
Caitlin stayed silent and Jacoline looked uncomfortably down at the table. Justin snorted. Ruby took advantage of the awkward moment to escape to the buffet. On the upside, at least nobody actually agreed with Maria. Not out loud, anyway.
No one but Caitlin had bothered to defend me, either, and as I sat there, feeling desperately alone and friendless, tears began to well up and threatened to spill over. Not wanting anyone to see me cry, I quickly got up to race back to the darkness of the cabin. Caitlin wasn’t far behind.
Grabbing my arm as we walked, she said, “Ellie, please don’t worry about them. There’s no point trying to convince them. People on ships will always believe what they want, and getting all upset about it won’t really help. They’ll forget all about it by next cruise, I guarantee you.”
Rather unsurprisingly, this didn’t actually make me feel any better. “But Caitlin,” I wailed, “I didn’t sleep with him, and I don’t want them to think I did! I don’t want everyone to think I’m a bloody slag!” Was this really what ships were like? It was worse than secondary school. Here, I’d slipped up once and had pretty much been branded a scarlet woman. I wasn’t about to look for another man, but if I did meet a good guy there was no way he’d want a girl he believed had slept with two guys in less than a week.
I vowed to never speak to anyone in the crew bar ever again. And I definitely wasn’t sleeping with anybody else on this contract. I would just focus on my photography and hang out with Caitlin. And watch lots of DVDs.
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