A/N: For this story. Grace has survived the crash, albeit with some temporary brain damage. Rich has regretfully but amicably ended his relationship with her and moved on to Cambridge university.
Chapter 1: A Surprise Encounter
It was a warm, sunny morning with a light breeze. The sea was reasonably calm, but there were enough waves to let the passengers know they were at sea. After leaving Avonmouth, the ship had rounded Lands End during the night and was sailing Eastwards up the English Channel. JJ felt he needed some fresh air and was taking a stroll on deck on the first full day of the cruise. It was obvious to observers that he was taking an exceptional interest in everything happening around him. He was one of very few young passengers on the ship. His parents were attending a talk about Rotterdam, the first port of call. After a while, he decided to sit in one of the seats on the pool deck near the stern of the ship.
While he was there, trying to relax as random thoughts were racing through his mind, he sensed that someone had occupied the adjacent seat. She was a girl, slightly younger than him, with a sweet expression. Long black curly hair framed her gentle face. Her beautifully arched eyebrows crowned a pair of large, expressive deep brown eyes.
"Hello stranger." said the girl, "You look thoughtful."
JJ snapped out of his reverie, looked round towards the girl. Her smile immediately calmed his galloping, random thoughts.
"What?" said JJ in response, "I was just daydreaming. Anyway, what prompted you to sit next to me?"
"Other than the entertainers," said the girl, smiling, "You seem to be the only other young person on the ship."
"Do I?" asked JJ.
"Yes, you do." said the girl, "I've noticed you. You seem to take a deep interest in everything around you. I'm Grace, by the way. What's your name?"
"I'm Jeremiah Jones," said JJ, "But everyone calls me 'JJ'."
"That name seems to ring a bell." observed Grace, "Do you, by any chance come from Bristol?"
"Yes, I do." said JJ.
"Does the name 'Roundview College' mean anything to you?" asked Grace.
"Yes," said JJ, "I was there for two years, studying for 'A' levels."
"Were you friendly with that boy who was murdered a couple of years ago?" asked Grace, "I think his name was Freddie McClair."
"Yes, I was." said JJ, "I was his best friend, or, at least one of his best friends. How did you get to know about that?"
"Well," said Grace, "Apart from the fact that it was all over the newspapers, my dad is David Blood. He used to be the college director at Roundview."
"I'd better be careful what I say to you then." said JJ, looking slightly concerned.
"Don't let that worry you." said Grace, smiling sweetly, "Neither of us is at college anymore."
"You went to Roundview as well?" queried JJ, "Even though your dad was the college director."
"I did," said Grace, "But I had to lie about my name. My friends knew me as Grace Violet."
"That's a pretty name." commented JJ, "It suits you better than Grace Blood. Anyway, I feel like continuing my stroll. Would you care to join me?"
"I'd love to." said Grace, "It would be nice to have some company of my own age on this cruise."
With this, the pair got up and walked towards the bow, where they could observe the other shipping plying up and down the English Channel. Just ahead of the bridge and one level down on this particular ship, was an open area of public deck from which a view straight ahead was available. Grace and JJ paused their stroll there.
"I came up here late last night." Said JJ, "The stars were beautiful."
"You love starlight then?" queried Grace.
"Of course I do." said JJ, "Doesn't everyone? It's so peaceful out here at night. There was no moon, so I could see all the stars, right down to fifth magnitude and beyond."
"Didn't all the lights on the ship disturb you?" asked Grace.
"No. This area has to be dark." Said JJ, "Otherwise the bridge crew wouldn't be able to see the sea at night."
"Don't take offence, JJ," said Grace, "But I'm beginning to sense that you are different from other guys, but in a really nice way."
As she said this, Grace looked JJ in the eyes and smiled sweetly. JJ smiled back.
"You really meant that," said JJ, surprised, "And I get this funny feeling inside when you smile like that. I feel so calm. It's a lovely experience."
"That's one of the things that make you different." said Grace, "You're so honest about your feelings. I like that. You also strike me as someone with a gentle nature."
JJ found himself blushing. He was not used to people saying such nice things about him.
"I do try to be pleasant to people," said JJ, "But it doesn't always help me. Anyway, how come your folks are taking you on a cruise? It doesn't seem the usual kind of holiday for someone your age."
"I could ask you the same question." said Grace, "I suppose I'd better tell you my story now rather than waiting till later in the cruise. That is, if you're interested."
"Of course I'm interested!" said JJ, "You seem the kind of girl who should have lots of boys wanting to be close to you."
"I suppose being the college director's daughter put most of them off." said Grace, "I did get to have a really close relationship with one boy, but a car accident in Morocco put paid to that."
"What happened?" asked JJ.
"Our little group, all eight of us went on a holiday in Morocco during the Summer break." said Grace, "One of our number, a girl called Franky was abducted by someone called Luke over there. He was on the edge of a drug dealing gang. I was sitting in a car talking to Matty, he was in our group and was attracted to Franky when Liv got in and asked him to drive after her. The last thing I remember was the car, a Land Rover swerving off the road to avoid an oncoming truck, hitting an earth bank and rolling over. I woke up in Hospital four weeks later. By the time I'd recovered enough to go back to school, Rich, he was my boyfriend had moved on to Cambridge University. When I realised what had happened, I was heartbroken. I'd known real, genuine, heartfelt love and lost it."
"That's so sad." said JJ, "Didn't you meet anyone else when you went back to school?"
"Chance would have been a fine thing!" commented Grace with some bitterness, "Daddy sent me back to Mayberry's academy, the all girls' school I'd been in before I came to Roundview. The girls there were more interested in horses than human beings. Having spent a year in a co-educational school, I wasn't happy in the girls' school anymore. My folks realised I was depressed and felt that a completely different kind of holiday might help me, so they booked me onto this cruise."
"Why this one?" queried JJ, "I thought you'd have been taken somewhere sunnier like the Mediterranean, or even the West Indies."
"I guess they thought this one would be more 'educational'." observed Grace, "What's your story?"
"Can I trust you?" asked JJ.
"That's an unexpected question." said Grace, "Why do you ask?"
"I hope this doesn't put you off," said JJ, "But there is one thing you should know about me."
"You mean your Asperger's Syndrome." said Grace, gently, "I already know about it, and it won't put me off. I suppose that explains your intense interest in everything around you."
"That's a relief." said JJ, "How did you know about it."
"About the time your friend Freddie was killed," said Grace, "Daddy told me all about his group of friends, including you. Anyway, how did you end up on this particular cruise."
The couple moved away from the deck in front of the bridge and returned towards the pool deck at the stern of the ship. They took advantage of the bar there to quench their thirsts.
"In some ways, my story is similar to yours." commenced JJ, "I did manage to get into a relationship with a very nice girl, who happened to be a single mother. Her name was Lara Lloyd. Things went quite well for a while. However, following Freddie's murder, my life began to fall apart. My girlfriend's former partner decided to take responsibility for his child and got back with his partner. I was dumped of course. Within a couple of weeks, I had lost both my best friend and my girlfriend. I felt so alone. It took a few months, but after a while, I went into something of a downward spiral. I did have a short and friendly relationship with Karen, Freddie's sister, but that ended when she had to go to London. After a couple more, shall we say, 'conventional' holidays, they booked this cruise. During this time, I entered into a relationship with a really sweet girl called Katie Fitch. This seemed to have a future. We felt real love for each other. For a change, I was happy. Unfortuately, after about a year, she got herself a job in Liverpool and our relationship had to come to an end. It seems that all my relationships with girls are doomed to end after a while. I said goodbye to her at Temple Meads Station the day before yesterday. Unusually, I've got a feeling that if I start a friendship with you, it might last. I know it's early days, but so far I'm liking this cruise."
"I'm sorry to hear about your succession of 'doomed' relationships." said Grace, smiling sweetly. "Anyway, I guess meeting me has something to do with you liking this cruise."
"Well, that has improved my mood," said JJ, "But I was enjoying the cruise before you met me. It's so different from anything else."
"I'll ask you the same question you asked me." said Grace, "What caused your parents to choose this particular cruise?"
"I suppose I chose it from a selection of about six." said JJ, "It offered interesting visits and the weather won't be too hot for me. I suppose sailing from Avonmouth played a part in my choice. The other cruises departed from Southampton, Tilbury or somewhere in the tropics."
"Which visits are you looking forward to most?" asked Grace.
"I think the trip to Berlin and, of course, St Petersburg." said JJ, "I've heard and read so much about the place. I'd like to see it. A visit to Russia would also help me appreciate 'War and Peace' more."
Grace smiled broadly. What JJ had just told her fitted perfectly with her own thoughts about the cruise.
"I think we're on the same wavelength." said Grace, still smiling, "Have you any ideas about the talks. I know I'm missing the briefing on Rotterdam by being out here with you, but there are a couple of series which look interesting."
"The series of talks about the war on drugs look as they could be quite fascinating," said JJ, "And the lectures on the Romanov dynasty will be a good background to St Petersburg."
By this time, it was approaching midday, and lunchtime was near.
Grace and JJ finished their drinks and left the pool deck. They found themselves heading for the deck below.
"We seem to be going the same way." remarked JJ, "Where is your cabin?"
"On this deck on the starboard side." said Grace, "I'm meeting mummy and daddy there just before lunch. We're going to the 12:30 sitting. There's the first talk about the Romanov Dynasty this afternoon. Will you be there?"
"Certainly!" said JJ, "See you there."
"Let's hope we can sit together." said Grace, "Bye, JJ. This is my cabin."
With this comment, she stopped and knocked on a door. JJ continued to his cabin, only three doors further on. When Grace entered the cabin, it was obvious to her parents that she was really happy.
"Wow!" exclaimed Sonia, "Something nice must have happened out there. You look so cheerful."
"It has!" said Grace, "I met a boy who used to go to Roundview. We've spent the morning talking. He's really nice."
"Who is he?" queried David Blood.
"He said he was Jeremiah Jones," said Grace, "But his friends called him JJ. He's a couple of years older than me."
"You are aware that he has Asperger's." remarked David.
"Yes." said Grace, "You told me all about him when that boy was killed a couple of years ago."
"What were your first impressions of him?" asked Sonia.
He struck me as a quiet, gentle and polite young man." said Grace, "Before I realised who he was, I felt he was different from other boys - in a really nice way."
"It looks as if he's made a deep impression on you." said David.
"He has." said Grace, "I'd really love to see him again. Will you let me?"
"I know we've tried to control who you meet in the past," said David, "But since we're all on a relatively small cruise ship, I don't think we could stop you. Of course you can see him again."
"Oh, thank you, daddy!" said Grace, putting her arms round her father, "If it's alright with you, I'd like to sit with him at this afternoon's 'Romanov' talk. I know he's going."
"I don't see why not." said David, "You've obviously struck up a friendship with him. I know I haven't had much time to reflect on it, but I'm beginning to think you two could be very good for each other. Did he say what most interested him about this cruise?"
"Yes, he did." said Grace, "He mentioned that he was really looking forward to the visits to Berlin and St Petersburg. It seems we have the same ideas about the cruise."
"Did you find out his taste in music?" asked Sonia.
"We didn't get round to that." said Grace, "I guess it'll be totally different from Rich's. He was only into heavy metal when I first met him."
"Do you think he'd like Ballet?" asked Sonia, "Because I'm thinking of booking us on the Mariinsky Ballet's performance of 'Swan Lake' in St Petersburg."
"I don't know," said Grace, "But I get the impression that he'd love it. I'll ask him next time we meet."
"Which should be this afternoon, if not sooner." said Sonia, "Anyway, I think we had better be on our way to the restaurant."
A very similar conversation had taken place in JJ's cabin when he returned, apparently very happy and in an unusually tranquil mood. Edward remarked that he had never seen his son looking so cheerful.
"You're looking really happy." remarked Celia, JJ's mother.
"Yes!" said JJ. "I met this really nice girl on the pool deck. She's seems such a gentle person."
"Who is this girl?" asked Edward, "What's she like? She's obviously affected you really deeply."
"She has." said JJ, "Without doing anything, she seems to create this atmosphere around her, which generates total serenity. I don't know what happened, but I was feeling really agitated and I was trying to relax when she approached me. When she looked at me and smiled, I felt a tranquility I've never experienced before."
"Have you any idea who she is?" asked Celia.
"Her name is Grace Blood." said JJ, "She's the daughter of the ex-director of Roundview College."
"Does she know about your condition?" asked Edward.
"Surprisingly, yes." said JJ, "I was about to advise her about it, but she seemed to know who I was. It didn't seem to worry her. I know I'm usually very awkward talking to people, especially girls, but with her, it seems so easy and natural."
"Are you hoping to see her again?" asked Celia.
"I'd really love to." said JJ, "It's so calming being with her. I'm hoping to meet her at the Romanov talk this afternoon, that is, if her dad will let me."
"What makes you think he won't?" asked Celia.
"He might think I'm not right in the head," said JJ, "which I'm not, so he wouldn't want his daughter to have anything to do with me, but that might just be my natural pessimism."
"Changing the subject," said Edward, "It's time for lunch. We'd better be moving if we're going to make the 12:30 sitting."
With this, Edward, Celia and JJ left their cabin to go to the restaurant, only to encounter David, Sonia and Grace in the corridor.
"Oh! Hello Grace." said JJ, smiling, "It's nice to see you so soon. Our cabins seem to be quite close together."
"It is." said Grace, "I guess you're headed the same way as us."
"Would you three like to sit down to lunch with us?" asked Sonia, "Since our children have met, we should all get to know each other."
"That's such a good idea." said Celia.
By this time, the group had reached the restaurant. Since tables for lunch were not pre-allocated, David asked for a table for six. A vacant six seat table was found and the two small families settled down for the first lunch of the cruise. Following a round of introductions, everyone settled for lunch and started to inspect the menus. After the starters were delivered, David broached the subject of that morning's meeting between JJ and his daughter.
"JJ," said David "You appear to have had a marked effect on my Grace. She looked happier than I've seen her since the accident. What did you do with her?"
"Nothing." Said JJ, "I just talked with her all morning while wandering round the deck. Because of my Asperger's, I don't usually find it easy to talk with anyone, but your Grace was different. It seemed so natural and normal talking with her. I felt so completely relaxed."
"How did you two meet up?" asked Sonia.
"I was sitting on one of the seats on the pool deck," said JJ, "Just watching the ship's wake and listening to the diesel engines chugging away, when she sat next to me and remarked that I seemed to be the only other young person on the ship, other than the entertainers. We got talking and spent the rest of the morning together. The time just flew past. Grace makes me feel comfortable and relaxed in my own skin. I can't ever remember having such a pleasant morning."
"Where did you go?" asked David.
"We went to an open deck area just ahead of the bridge and spent quite a lot of time there." said JJ. "Then we went slowly back to the pool deck and had a drink. After that, we realised that lunch was imminent, so we returned to the cabins."
Celia and Edward Jones listened to this conversation with considerable interest. They were astonished at their son's confident and honest answers to David and Sonia's series of questions.
"Well done, Jeremiah." commented Celia, "You didn't seem flustered at all. Shipboard life must be good for you."
"I think a lot must be down to Grace." said JJ, "I feel confident and relaxed when she's with me."
"JJ seems very different from the anxious, panicky boy I knew at Roundview." said David, addressing JJ's parents, "Has anything changed?"
"We changed his doctor after he left Roundview." said Celia, "The new one has drastically reduced his medication and referred him to a psychiatric counsellor. We have noticed an improvement, but what has happened this morning is quite dramatic. Grace seems to have made more difference than any doctor. Let's hope it continues."
"When I was talking with Grace in the cabin before lunch," said David, "I did express the opinion that JJ and my Grace might be good for each other."
The starters were cleared away and the group got down to the serious business of tackling the main dishes. Coincidentally and without any prompting from each other, both Grace and JJ had chosen the lamb shank. Earlier, they had both chosen the same starter; calamari in breadcrumbs with tartare sauce.
"I must say you two do seem to be in tune with each other." remarked Celia, "It's almost as if there's a telepathic connection between you."
"It's odd you should say that." said David, "When she came into the cabin before lunch, she did mention that she was looking forward to the same parts of the cruise as JJ."
"And which were those?" asked Edward.
"The visits to Berlin and St Petersburg." said David, "Grace is really looking forward to St Petersburg, because she's read 'War and Peace' and would love to see some of the Russian palaces there, especially the Hermitage."
"JJ and Grace aren't the only people changed by the cruise." commented Celia, "Edward here seems to have come to life."
"Yes," said Edward, "Apart from the effect on Jeremiah, it's so different from anything we've ever done before."
By this time, the desserts were served. JJ and Grace chose apple pie and ice cream, while both sets of parents chose profiteroles and double cream. After lunch, there was a two hour wait before the lecture. The parents returned to their cabins for an afternoon nap, while Grace and JJ continued their exploration of the ship, having agreed to meet their parents at the Romanov lecture. What had started with a chance encounter between two lonely young people was now developing into something more worthwhile.