I'd always wanted to go on a cruise. Year after year I kept waiting to see if I would find a woman I would like to bring with. The years have ticked by and I find myself 35 and still alone. I decided that I would give up on finding a worthy female companion and to just go on my own.
Even though I didn't have a travel partner, I had been studying for years on where I would like to go and what cruise line I would take. My final conclusion was that I really didn't want to go too far away from the States, so I picked a 5 day Caribbean trip offered by Carnival. They were pretty inexpensive (read that as cheap) and they also were known for having a younger clientele.
The hard part of all this would be asking my friend Jason if he wanted to go with. I honestly would have went alone, but it would be nice to have a wingman along. Besides, I knew he'd never been out of the country either, so he'd probably agree to go. As much as I prepared to ask him you would have thought I was in high school again and calling the prom queen. So I ordered myself to grow some balls and called him.
"Jeremy, what's up?"
He loves caller ID as much as I do, so I didn't accuse him of being a 'seer.' "Oh, not a lot. I've got a question for you. A totally heterosexual question for you, that is."
"Uh, let's here it then."
"I'm planning on going on a cruise and was wondering if you'd like to go with. Separate beds, of course, but it's just cheaper to have two in a room, so I thought I'd ask you."
"Hell yeah, that would be cool. Where are we going?"
"It's a five day, Monday to Friday, to Key West, Playa Del Carmen or Cozumel. I'd prefer Cozumel, personally, because it's an island with pretty cool reefs and snorkeling. Playa Del Carmen would be a bus ride and Indian ruins. Is that cool with you then?"
"Yep," Jason replied, "that's cool with me. Do I need a passport or anything?"
"Nope, just your birth certificate and your license. I'm thinking a month from now, like March 21 to 25, is that open for you?"
"It sure is. Sign me up, bro."
"Thanks Jason, it'll be fun. I'll have the travel agent fax you the stuff to fill out. Talk to you later."
He hung up and I was glad the hard part was over and done. I'm one of those guys who hates asking anybody for anything, so that was like passing a kidney stone. But that's a whole different story in itself. I had to take a break from my traumatizing call before I called Sharon.
Sharon is the travel agent I've been bugging for years about cruises, and I'm pretty sure she will be shocked that I'm actually going to go. Calling her is a lot easier than calling Jason, so I just decided to enrich her day with my phone call. After assuring the receptionist that I wasn't trying to sell time shares in the Ozarks, she put me through.
"Hi Sharon, it's Jeremy Weston again. Good news, I'm actually going to go on a cruise."
"Hi Jeremy, that's great. Who's the lucky woman?"
"As is the story of my life, there is no woman. My buddy Jason wanted to go so we're going to go. As friends, because we're both straight."
Laughing, Sharon replied "I figured that was the case, Jeremy. I didn't think you leaned that way, and all you talk about is finding "that girl" to go with you. Did you decide on the Carnival 5 day?"
"Yes I did. March 21 to 25 if it's still open."
She checked on it for me and let me know it was open. "That'll put you on the Ecstasy, cabin for 2, destination Key West, Playa Del Carmen, and Cozumel with the flight to Miami. Does that sound right?"
"Sounds good to me."
I told her I'd stop down and bring Jason's information with later. Saying that was fine, we hung up and I drove down to see her. I filled out my papers and paid for the both of us. If he wasn't my best friend I wouldn't have done that. I knew he'd be good for it. I wasn't financially well off, but I had planned on this for too long and wasn't going to worry about it until the bill came.
I spent most of the time leading up to the trip getting myself ready. I'm a dark skinned guy, so I didn't worry about tanning booths. You know my type: brown hair, brown eyes, always looks like they have a tan. One saying is "tall, dark and handsome," but they can have their dark eyes, I'd always wanted to have green eyes. I figured if I had exotic green eyes that maybe some females would notice and talk to me, but I wouldn't feel right getting an eye transplant. I was stuck with what Mom and Dad gave me.
Getting the birth certificate turned out to be a bureaucratic nightmare. First you have to go to the county courthouse where you were born. Your next trip involves taking the day off so you can get there during their open hours. Most people don't have 1:00 to 1:15PM off, so you blow a whole day going in. And then they are all cranky that you are bugging them during their 15 minute shift. Don't even get me started on renewing a drivers license.
Clothes shopping wasn't quite as bad. The formal dining room on the cruise doesn't allow jeans or shorts or tennis shoes, so I had to buy something fancy. I'm not your suit wearing type, but I do like to play dress up occasionally. A very nice, disturbingly pretty young lady helped me find a suit that would work. I asked her if she wanted Jason's ticket, but she kindly declined. Heartbroken, I had her point me towards the shoe department.
After making trust fund baby Mark Dayton even richer, I made my way back to my humble abode. I didn't even bother taking my fancy clothes out of the package since there wouldn't be any chance to wear them presently. I'm kind of anal when it comes to details, so a week before the trip I already had packed and unpacked my suitcase to make sure everything would fit. My biggest worry was finding someone to baby-sit Mandy.
No, I don't have any kids. One would have to have sexual intercourse to manufacture one of those. Mandy is my pet cat. Pet is kind of a harsh word, so I prefer "sidekick" to describe her. She knows all of my secrets so I had to find someone to watch over her. My nosy neighbor Wanda offered to sell me her kid for the job. I told her that I was actually only interested in renting her services of cat protector for a week and she grudgingly agreed.
The big day finally arrived and I was as ready as I could be. Wanda Jr. was all prepped and had my two pages of notes for her, and my brother was on the way to pick me up. We swung by and picked up Jason on the way. Thank whatever God is your god that my brother had a Ford Explorer. There is no way all our crap would have fit into my Honda. The only scary part was going over 20 mph in an Explorer. I had one hand on the dash and the other on the OS bar and was shouting out warnings every time we approached a gentle corner.
We made it safely to the airport, and I said a little prayer of thanks for not letting us roll over on the way there. We walked through Charles Lindbergh terminal and got our tickets. I looked everywhere for the picture of him and Reichsmarshal Hermann Goering but couldn't find it. Going through security wasn't as bad as I thought. They were too busy strip searching 90 year old granny's in sweat suits to worry about my nail clippers. Our flight took off right on time. Only an hour late. We were truly blessed.
The waitresses on the plane must have drugged me, because 4 hours later I awoke to our landing gear being put down. I must have been a little groggy from the drugs, as I thought I heard them announce "welcome to Miami. The temperature is a chilly 97 degrees, so be sure to grab a sweater before going outside." Jason informed me I had missed the in-flight movie- Meet the Fockers. Thank God those waitresses drugged me! I'll tip them on my way out.
Luggage was found and we ventured on out to the bus that will transport us to the piers. The bus ride was boring. I kept watching for Will Smith or Don Johnson to go speeding by, but no such luck. Next up was passing thru customs. Our luggage would meet us on the boat, so all they were worried about was our carry-on's. The kind lady behind the table took my travel papers and made her little notations.
"Mr. Weston, are you traveling alone?"
"No ma'am, I'm with him. Well, I'm not 'with' him, but we are together. But I'm straight. And so is he. We're just friends."
"Mr. Weston, I wasn't asking that, but thanks for clearing that up. I think. I ask because I also assign you your room and boarding pass, so I wanted to make sure you were with the person on my list. So you are Jason Patterson, correct?"
"Yes, ma'am, that's me," Jason replied.
We got past customs without much hassle. They did spend a little too much time inspecting my underwear, though. I was totally disappointed to not see Julie and Captain Stubing greet us. I was going to say something but held back. I'll ask Gopher later. We walked into the Grand Atrium and marveled at all things shiny. We took the glass elevator to our floor and found our room. The room consisted of two single beds, a built in TV, and a tiny bathroom with shower.
Nature called so I tried out the facilities. I screamed like a little girl when I flushed the toilet. It honestly sounded like a jet engine going off.
Jason looked horrified, asking "What the hell was that?"
"WHAT? I'M SORRY, I'M DEAF" Fine, it wasn't that loud, but pretty darn close. We ditched our stuff and went back out to the deck for the leaving celebration. Another myth of "Love Boat" is that there is a nice, loving farewell from well wishers. Only person I saw was the guy sweeping, and he wouldn't wave back to me. That asshole.
The first order of business is that we were ordered to a survival class. I asked too many questions about icebergs in the Caribbean, because when I had trouble with my life jacket the guy demonstrating said "it's all right, you won't need one, sir."
Jason and I went up on deck right after our survival class. It is nice of them to humor us into thinking we'd actually have a chance to survive in the middle of the ocean. We saw lots of good looking women on board, I was just hoping that a few of them were single. One of the bad things about cruises is that it is a honeymoon destination too. It's hard to be around all those happy people. We picked a spot with a good view and watched Florida disappear.
A wonderful thing that I noticed was that there was not any shuffleboard on this ship. I think if I saw people playing that I would have to jump over and take my chances. We decided we would go to the 6 o'clock supper instead of the 8, so we had to go change into adult clothes. The last day is mandatory dress coat day, but the other nights are just nice shoes and the equivalent of Dockers. Well, that and the no tee shirt rule. So I changed into a nice shirt, and even tucked it in. My mom would be proud.
We found an empty table and picked the best view. Another quirk of protocol is that you sit at the same table each night. I think they do that so you make friends onboard, but a little voice in my head told me that the Captain looked an awful lot like my elementary school principal. I can picture him still giving people assigned seats. A nice looking older couple joined us, so I told myself I had to behave.
We did the usual question and answer period, and we found out they were from New Jersey. I asked if they knew Tony Soprano, but they didn't know who he was. It seems that Donny and Marge aren't HBO subscribers. They asked the standard question every Minnesotan gets from out of staters: "Isn't it cold up there?"
"Yes, Don, I do believe it is. See, we are so used to it that we wear short sleeve shirts until it gets to about 10 above zero. After that we put on flannel shirts and are totally fine. But, when we get our usual 20 inches of snow a day, we shovel without shirts on. The women too. It's the only reason I still live there, actually. Okay, I'm being a pain, yes it gets cold there. A couple of months ago it was minus 40 out. That is no joke, my friend. I think there is an inbred sadism when it comes to living there. We get tornadoes in the summer, high humidity, then 40 below in winter."
Marge didn't know how to read me so she asked Jason if that was right. He said that if you took away the sarcasm, I was right. Out of the corner of my eye I see the most beautiful woman I've ever seen. She has short, dark hair, hypnotic green eyes, freckles, a slim nose and a mouth that I had to kiss soon or I would surely die. She had on a modest but very stunning tan dress on that looked amazing next to her dark skin. She had a friend with, too, but I didn't really notice.
"Hi everyone, are these seats taken?"
Thank God for Donny because I was still speechless. "No, they aren't taken, please join us. We need some pretty faces to offset these two here," he said as he pointed at us.
I finally regained the ability to speak, and promptly introduced myself. I forgot to stand when they joined us, so I stood up and said "hi, my name is Jeremy" and took her hand.
"Hi Jeremy, I'm Rachel and this is Sara. Nice to meet you."
Jason introduced himself too, but I didn't notice. I was still staring at Rachel. I was trying hard internally to come back to earth, and my attempt at humor didn't exactly come out right.
"Rachel and Sara, names from the Old Testament. My name is associated with a song by Pearl Jam, and Jason here shares his name with a mass murderer in a really, really bad series of movies. Uh, so ladies, where are you from?"
Rachel spoke up first, telling us she was from Madison, Wisconsin. Sara was too, but that's Jason's problem, not mine. I told her we were basically neighbors, as we are from Minneapolis.
"Don't worry, I don't like football so I won't call you cheese heads." much to my delight Rachel and Sara both laughed at my joke. "So, when are your husbands joining you?" Yeah, I can be real subtle at times like these.
"There won't be any husbands or boyfriends joining us. I did enjoy how you got that out of us, though" Rachel said, laughing to herself.
We had a nice supper, and I managed to not ask her to marry me yet. They left first and Don and Marge were pretty observant people. "Shall I call for the doctor, Jeremy, you appear like you aren't breathing well."
"I'm fine Marge, just got hit by a train and am starting to catch my breath."
Donny added to it, saying "I do believe our young friend here has had his first case of love at first sight. You have good taste, she is very stunning. Quite funny, too."
"I think you may be right, Don. It's nothing that 8 beers won't fix as soon as we leave here." I wasn't exactly a man of my word because I only ended up having 6 beers. Jason made fun of me all night for falling so hard for this woman I just met. That's what friends are for, right?
I somehow managed to wake up without a hangover, and found myself starving. We grabbed some breakfast before our excursion into Key West. We rode the tender through calm seas to our designated pier. Jason and I signed up for a glass bottom boat tour, so we made our way to where the tour company was located. We had about 10 minutes to spare, so we took a seat until everyone arrived. Just as we were about to take off our last two sight-seers joined us. It was Rachel and Sara.
"Hi Rachel, hi Sara, are you guys stalking me? It's fine if you are, I know I'm good looking. It's hard to resist me but you must try. If you insist, I will allow you to sit by me for our 3 hour tour. Oops, wrong show. I went from 'Love Boat' to 'Gilligan's Island.' But seriously, please join us." Much to my surprise, and delight, they did join us. I really think that Rachel was enjoying my awful sense of humor, so I ratcheted it up a notch.
I would add helpful comments like "that is a fish. A blue one, it appears" or "that is a reef. It like grows or something and fish swim around it. See, there goes another one." She was laughing more and more, and from her body language I could tell she was getting comfortable with me. Our time was up and they brought us back to land. I suggested that maybe we could all explore the shops and then ride back to the ship together.
I peered away from Rachel long enough to see that Jason was getting along with Sara, so I was glad that I wasn't boring them to death. All agreed that it was a good idea, and off we went. The shops turned out to be your typical tourist trap places, so we had a drink in a quaint little bar before walking back to the tender. The seas were rougher on this leg of the trip, and the six foot swells were tossing people around. That it tossed Rachel into me didn't bother me at all.
After we got back on the ship we wished each other well and said "see you at supper." That evening at supper Rachel arrived wearing a nice, but not too nice, clingy red dress. There was a hint of cleavage showing and I found myself spending a bit too much time coming back to that spot. She noticed I couldn't keep my eyes off of her, and I was rewarded with a smile instead of a chastising glare.
"I'm sorry I am staring, but you look so good tonight. You look good every night, even though I've only known you two nights. Oh man, I'm rambling again. All I'm trying to say is that you look nice."
"Thank you, Jeremy. I understood what you were trying to say. I just wanted to watch you squirm. I forgot to ask you, what do you do for a living?"
"You seem like a trustworthy type, so I'll tell you. I'm a highly paid assassin for the CIA. I fly all over the world just to whack someone. This is usually a busy time of the year, so I was lucky they gave me time off. Otherwise I wouldn't have met you."
"Is that so? It sounds to me like you think you are James Bond or Mitch Rapp."
"Wow, Rachel, you know who Mitch Rapp is? That is very interesting. I actually met Vince Flynn at a book signing not long ago. Nice guy. In reality I am a service manager at a GM dealership. I met Jason in tech school and we've been friends ever since. It turns out Jason is a lot better than I am at turning wrenches, so I went into management. He still is a mechanic, and I've been trying to steal him away from his dealership for years now. So what do you do for a living?"
"I'm a used car salesperson. Nah, I'm just kidding. Actually, I'm the finance manager at a Jaguar dealership. It's hard dealing with those soulless salesmen all day, but I have Sara and my cat Mittens. I named her after Ralph Wiggum's cat on 'The Simpsons.'"
"You work at a dealer, you have a cat, and you like 'The Simpsons'? Will you marry me? I'm serious, think about it."
She thought this was hysterically funny, and for now she turned down my proposal. We paused long enough to watch the singing waiters bring out our dessert on their heads. If any of them knew English I would have told them I was impressed. I decided that I was ignoring Jason too much, so I talked with him and Sara during dessert. Don and Marge must have felt like the ugly step-sisters, but I wasn't worrying too much. I was more concerned about how to make Rachel mine.
After supper, Jason and I decided to try our luck at the casino. I quickly found that my luck on land carries over to the Gulf of Mexico. I lost $20 playing slots in a matter of seconds, or so it seemed. He had more success then I did, and won almost $400 playing Blackjack. He tends to be a lot more rational then I am, so he cashed out and we headed for the bar. Winner buys, so he picked up the first few drinks and we just talked. I found out that he and Sara were getting along really well, and they were already talking about seeing each other in the real world. Good for them, he deserves it.
Both of us were pretty tired, so we headed back to our room. We had already mastered how to flush the toilet without losing our hearing. If you opened the door and reached back in and hit it you could escape fast enough not to get the sound wave. That night I fell asleep with visions of Rachel, not sugar plums, dancing in my head.