Sunday, September 21, 2014


Journal entry …
March 17, 2014
Branded on the inside of my upper, inner thigh is an emotional tattoo that reads … “hopeless romantic.” I know! Another tiny one located on my chest, closer to my heart, reads … “practical pessimist.” They fight and bicker! A lot! I prefer the middle one, the spread-out one situated on my safe zone, my stomach, (that not so firm anymore, squishy-space) … it reads … “Retired! From love!” It acts like my Switzerland … neutral, detached and heavily guarded. Hey, I maintain some boundaries. My Life! My rules! My tattoos, dammit! Real or not real! And, I am not alone. A whole world out there is hurting. Disappointed. Discouraged. Dejected. In everybody’s life, broken or otherwise, there is a longing to love. Again. I feel it! I know it! I just don’t know how to go about it … how to reconnect the dots, extract the hurt, heal the scars, rearrange the tattooed lines and open up my closed borders … enough …
Tomorrow, I leave on a two-week vacation with Drew. I’m not sure why? I’m not even sure I’m ready. Nevertheless, the car arrives sharp, at 8 AM for JFK. I need some rules, some hard fast directives to live by while I’m away. A contract, so to speak, a commitment, something written down in black and white to remind me to keep myself in check … okay here goes …
     1)    Don’t drink too much!
     2)    Don’t eat too much!
     3)    Stay out of trouble!
     4)    Be a good friend and companion to Drew! (After all, she bought me the trip)
     5)    DON’T DRINK TOO MUCH!
I think that just about does it.
Whispering from that small sacred space near my heart comes a farewell bon voyage … it sneaks up on me …
I love you, Sami Saxton!
Hmm …
I love you, too …


The Celebrity Reflection, a colossal, multi-tiered, uber-fancy cruise liner sits docked at the massive International Port in Miami. Its image shimmers in the murky water like a great white metallic shark. A floating Emerald City! Drew and I lounge, uncomfortably, in one of their amphitheater-sized waiting areas, anticipating the automated female voice to announce our alphabetical letter to allow us to embark upon this recently christened floating monster. How Drew convinced me this was a good idea goes to show how persuasive she can be. And give immeasurable kudos to her astute manipulative nature. Hey, maybe she’s right. The last three months since the arrest of Jerry, my ex-husband, and his then current flame, Brenda Stokes, not to mention the death of Evie, or Claire, or whoever that young woman pretended to be, did send me screaming, once again, into a shell-shocked mess. I mean, c’mon! Give a girl a break! 
          Drew bought me the trip as a gift, a peace offering, which was completely inappropriate since she did save my life, for God’s sake. The memory alone of that horrific evening sends anxiety rippling through my system like a crackling thunderbolt! But that’s behind us, sitting here now, lounging in balmy Florida sunshine, (far away from a sub-zero, artic wave sweeping from Canada and dumping several inches of pristine snow on our beloved Gotham) and enjoying the slow sway of the towering palm trees and cooling ourselves off with makeshift paper fans. I wish they’d turn up the air conditioning. Stowed away in one of my bags is a full bottle of prescription Xanax and a large, litre-sized bottle of Grey Goose, well-packed and hidden under layers of folded clothes.
          Some things never change!
“You want something to drink?” Drew asks.
          “I have my water. Thanks.” I tap the top of one of my carry-ons. “Once we board this baby and get ourselves settled in, you and I will partake in an adult beverage.” I smile. Deviously. Drew cackles that infamous laugh I love so much and looks away. Her eyes dart about the crowded lounge like a lizard seeking a wayward fly.
          Meanwhile, I’m unsure how I’ll handle the boat, the small spaces, the cramped quarters, the rocky waters. Claustrophobia, my newish best friend is annoyingly present, hiding in the wings, anxiously awaiting a guest appearance. At any moment. Drew guaranteed me, more than once, that cruising was like being afloat inside a gigantic, luxury casino. You hardly ever feel the waves! I mean, really! Who’s she kidding? We are talking the Atlantic Ocean! Not some lakeside county fair boat ride. I came prepared though, to safeguard myself against the notion of being sideswiped. I popped another Valium, (a peach-colored one) as we passed through the organized network of gangplanks and dizzy, tangled corridors to arrive into this lovely pre-boarding, unairconditioned loading zone.
          We are the next group, supposedly, to cross over the metal gangway. Drew and I expectantly arrange our bags and roll-ons in final preparation. Finally, the android voice drones out our letter. We jump up, heave our fourteen-day wardrobe around yet another carpeted corridor, and hurry up and wait.
          “Gum?” Drew pulls out a pack of spearmint Trident and offers me a piece.
          “No, thanks.” I say, my eyes wondering, my feet tired, my body lethargic from waiting. Patience is a virtue and not -- I’m sorry to admit -- one of mine.
          Like waiting in an airport queue, we shimmy a few feet at a time, in zigzag patterns, around turns and bends and inclined ramps. I glance across the railing to the other side, strain my eyes for a split second and think I’m imagining things. I nudge Drew on the arm and have her look in the same direction.
          “What?” She asks, an air of best-friend annoyance riding bareback.
          “It can’t be.” My body drains of blood. A chill enters the bottom of my feet, travels north and highjacks my entire body. I might actually faint.
          Drew observes my obvious discomfort. Oh, the look she gives me. Like I should just climb right into a coffin instead of boarding this luxury cruise liner with her. “What? What’s wrong with you? What?”
Who let the parakeet out of her cage?
“Is that, over there ...?” I’m completely unnerved and unhinged. The good Doctor or somebody who looks exactly like the identical twin of Thomas Mann is posing across the way, perusing literature of some sort, completely unaware that we are standing less than ten feet away.
          “Who?” Drew quips.  She takes off her glasses and zooms in, a circling eagle ready to swoop down and destroy. “Where?”
          Leaning over the railing and standing statuesque is a handsome man dressed in beige khaki slacks and a short-sleeved, pink Ralph Loren Polo shirt. His chestnut brown hair is flopped with stylish panache to one side. Thick-framed black eye glasses outline his brooding eyes. He studies excursion leaflets as if there might be a comprehensive test later.
          “Is that Thomas Mann?” I ask again, sheepishly.
          “Oh, God, Sami, you are losing it.”
          “It is, isn’t it?” Now, I turn and gawk.
          “Sami! That is NOT Thomas Mann.” Drew consoles me. An aging twosome of lifelong cruisers stand behind us, too close for comfort, and are obviously in a hurry to get to the free, bigger-than-life-buffet. They continue nudging us to move forward, as if the next few miniscule steps might make their journey go faster. I turn and give a slight “excuse me” but they insist, pushing on, an air of overt enthusiasm etched on their wrinkled faces.
          “That is not Thomas! You’re seeing things.”
          “What?” I take another quick glance across the populated network of metal grid work. She’s right. He looks in my direction and casually removes his glasses. Embarrassed to be caught staring so intently, I turn away, lean up against the railing and heave a huge sigh. Thomas Mann is the last person I would ever want to see again. Ever.   
          I think back. Even in my Valium-induced haze, I distinctly remember the good doctor mentioning a cruise in one of my terminal therapy sessions. I’m feeling territorial with Drew at the moment and want to push full throttle through this massive crowd and get us safely into our stateroom. The line moves at the speed of a pregnant turtle as I shove Drew, lovingly, up the aisle.
          “Stop it,” Drew wails.
          A steel bridge connects us to the interior of the ship. Several Officers dressed in stuffy white uniforms bearing impressive gold aglets on their shoulders greet us and await our arrival. They swipe passenger’s plastic entry cards, take passport size photographs and process paperwork to a torrent of people gushing to enter this floating matrix. We cross over a single lane, metal gangplank to the main check in. I take a quick peek over the railing and instantly become dizzy. I didn’t realize how high we were. We follow their directions, hand over our ID’s, passports, paperwork, check in our luggage, and continue through the litany of well-organized directives, necessary to embark on this alien craft perched on the high sea like a bobbing bottle.  I am pleasantly surprised at the organizational skills of the crew. They swipe, photograph and check in the mass of people in a matter of minutes and before I know it, we are standing in the enormous belly of the boat, stranded in front of six large elevators, three on either side of us. In the middle of the floor, emblazoned in the polished off white tile, is a huge insignia of the ship’s name and its celebratory first launch date.
          The elevator dings with expectant arrival as a mass of seaworthy castaways take shelter in one of the large, air-conditioned (ahhhh …) cars. The scare of a Thomas Mann sighting squelched any personal phobias of riding the elevator. The Valium helps. We stand, huddled together as the door swooshes shut, ass-to-ass, packed -- a tin of sardines -- and are rocketed to the eighth floor in a matter of seconds. Floor to ceiling windows overlook the enormous inside workings of this sparkly, lit-up vessel. Drew pokes me in the side, her face aglow with childish marvel and wonderment.
          “Isn’t it enchanting?” She sighs breathlessly. Then, once again, she’s all business. “As soon as we get to our room we’ll unpack, go to the spa first … we need to make appointments ...”
          Drew’s organizing, taking control, self-assigned as my personalized event director. “Spa? How about a freaking bar?” I say, laughing aloud, keeping things light, and attempting to be a good friend, a good companion, and better company. Inwardly though, I’m wobbly. My equilibrium is terribly off kilter and getting more apprehensive by the second, crammed into this window-enclosed box without much standing room, pressed tight against a brass rail harpooning my ass. The Valium is working on overtime, trimming off the excess fat of my indulgent nerves, but a few randy synapses are escaping the rowdy pack.
          We catapult ourselves out into the hallway and make curious circles while searching for our stateroom number and matching hallway to get us there. A tall, gangly African American man stands at parade rest at the entrance to the corridor. He’s outfitted in a white, starched Nehru-style jacket and has a surprised expression on his face as we amble tentatively toward him. He must be one of the stewards assigned to this floor, our personal butler, and/or caretaker. Several people walk right past him, but Drew, knowing this game, shoves a fifty dollar bill into his palm along with our room number. The whites of his eyes open wide. He grabs our carry-on luggage and ushers us down a swirling carpeted corridor. His accent is Jamaican. Large white teeth light up his brown face like a jack-o-lantern. His body is wraith thin. (Skinnier than Drew’s) Trailing behind the both of them, I notice his hair, mowed close to his oval head and decorated with intricate shaved details artistically displayed around the edges.
          Our stateroom is wonderful. The Vista Suite. I take a hopeful, excited breath as we turn the corner and enter. Two queen-sized beds, made up in expensive beige sheets and warm fall-colored fabrics line the far wall. A sitting room off to the side has a love seat sofa and a small dining room table with two comfortable chairs. Glass sliding doors open to a private veranda and an okay sized patio. A bigger than average bathroom is equipped with a whirlpool tub and shower, deliciously deluxe and sanitarily spotless. I sit on the edge of one of the beds and push myself up and down on the firm mattress. I have a childlike need to dangle my legs over the side. Nice. I am pleasantly surprised with the accommodations. Drew’s in a hurry, a busy bee needing nectar, calculating our itinerary for every second we’re on board this vessel.
          “You go on ahead.” I say, meaning it. “I brought a few projects I’m working on, plus magazines. I can easily keep myself entertained.”
          “Don’t be ridiculous. You’re coming with me. We need to make reservations at a few restaurants, ask for our own separate table in the main dining room, get spa reservations … they have lectures you know, and this cruise is hosting an art show direct from Florence as one of the highlights. I’ve done my homework!” Her voice is quivering, humming, as tireless and frantic as the wings on a hummingbird. I wonder if she ever rests. It must be intense having to live inside that head of hers, all the time.
          “Okay, okay.” I’m a pushover. I start unpacking, putting my things away. The Grey Goose, I stowed earlier in the deep recesses of my under garments, I now lay sideways in the freezer. In the refrigerator section underneath, is a generous mix of mini-bar goodies tempting my just say “no” diet.
          “No worries there, ma’am. I can do that for you.” The porter stands watching as Drew and I struggle with our luggage.
          “What’s your name?” I ask.
          “Delroy.” His voice has that Jamaican swag to it, sweet, lyrical, and melodic. His fingers are long and bony with knobby joints. He retrieves our suitcases delivered outside the room and rests them on wooden racks.
          “Okay, Delroy. I hand the task to you.” I stand back, grab a granny smith apple from the fruit bowl that was awaiting us, sit on the comfortable sofa and wait for Drew, who is taking forever in the bathroom. I miss Blue. I wish the cruise line permitted large dogs. They only allowed small pets, yappy, high-octane pooches that yap, yap, yap! Incessantly!
          When Drew does decide to exit, she’s changed clothes, applied a light dusting of makeup and smells intoxicating. A cloud of the newest, most expensive perfume from Paris wafts out in a wave before her.  “Jesus, Drew. Really?”
          She laughs that nervous giggle. God I love this woman … sometimes.
          “Let’s go! On y va!
          Back in the hallway, I’m a lightweight, a novice cruiser, following Drew’s militant determination to seize and conquer. We march with fortitude toward the elevators, investigating each corner, each crevice, sopping up every detail like thirsty sponges, digesting the overwhelming and vast amount of information available. I turn back toward the room and wave to Delroy, who is busy unloading the last of our two weeks’ worth of baggage. Why I trust him, I don’t know. But hey, I’m going along with the flow. He waves back and gives another tip-worthy smile. Meanwhile, Drew is scrolling through the ship’s daily itinerary, turning pages faster than a prodigy from the Evelyn Wood’s speed reading classes … planning, and planning, and planning. I’m exhausted just watching her! Spin classes, workouts, Yoga sessions, Palates, and two different pools. One, a large salt-water soaking tub that careens back and forth with the boats natural sway near the Aqua Spa (less kids, I’m down!) and the enormous, football field-sized one situated on the ship’s outdoor deck on the fourteenth floor complete with four Jacuzzi’s, (covered under the protective shield of rolling glass should the weather turn wretched). We highjack a crowded elevator to the second level where the colossal main dining room is located. A grand ballroom stairway has a queue of people standing in line waiting for the Maître’d, a smarmy, short-ish dude dressed in a pale, sand-colored suit with pant legs hemmed too short, (awaiting a flood) to aid in their evening seating. Haggling, if you ask me, with a wad of green thrown in on the side for covert bribing.  The boat is teaming with other food venues, offering a wide assortment of world class dining, so, Drew and I ditch the line and scramble to each of the other outlets located on the fourth and fifth level, and make our daily, hand-written reservations just in case we get the urge for something different. 
          The boat is on its way to Florence, Italy with the final destination of Rome. We have several, (seven, to be exact) free “intensive” sea days while crossing the Atlantic; easy, restful, calming, monotonous days, lazing around, anywhere, with a book, lying by the pool, soaking up rays or making use of an assortment of on-board entertainment; gambling, shopping or even taking in a late night show. Top-level comedians, singers, and dancers all perform live on stage in an amphitheater bigger and better than anything I’ve visited recently in the City. Drew’s right. It is Vegas!
          Highlighted, as the “Main Event” on this transatlantic voyage is the spectacular art show, “Money and Beauty and the Bonfire of the Vanities,” direct from its Florence premiere at the Palazzo Strozzi, proudly displaying Italy’s 15th Century artistic history. We step around a roped-off, still under construction entryway, and peek inside the cavernous space. The mere sight is worth the proverbial “Ahhhh!
Designers have covered the entire gallery floor in snow-white carpet. Construction workers have draped sheets of heavy plastic over the space for protection, awaiting the ceremonial unveiling. The curators have listed over 100 pieces from the exhibit to stir up enthusiasm. Artists celebrated are Botticelli, Michelangelo and Bento Angelico, to name a few, their names printed in formal black lettering and shown in handsome frames on sturdy easels outside the entrance. An auction will take place after the gala opening and period pieces will go on sale to the highest bidder. A series of enrichment lectures go hand-in-hand with the exhibition, spotlighting the history of the Medici family, their fanciful banking history and their devoted patronage to the arts. Sculptures, documents, books and artefacts -- the entire vast collection -- explores in depth the patrons, economics and artists during a period now looked back on as the “Golden Age.” One of the Medici heirs, (if there actually is one) is supposedly teaching several of the classes.
          Surprised by my adaptability, my so-called sea legs, I’ve yet to feel seasick, anxious, or overly nervous. And, to my credit and chagrin, without the aid of too many ingested pharmaceuticals. Drew and I find ourselves back in the room for a quick catnap before an aggressive loud speaker awakens us and prompts us to move to the outdoor deck for a class in the Emergency Exit Plan indoctrination. The lecture, given by a good-looking bloke with broad shoulders and a tight, white, tee shirt comes complete with step by step instructions on the usage of our very own, orange-colored life vests, dragged with us from under our beds, pulled over our heads, and tightened securely around our waists. Once we understand the fine art of inflation, the young man issues us a number and the location of the lifeboat we’re to plunge into should the ship hit an iceberg or any other emergency situation. I’m praying for a safe, sound, and relaxing trip.
          We journey like moles through the hectic, busy, guest-friendly tunnels to the upper deck right at dusk, just as the ship untethers its slip and sneaks its’ way to sea. Ribbons of salmon slash across a burgeoning purple sky. Stars are budding and twinkling in the twilight. It’s a humid, wet evening. Moisture laps at the sides of our faces. Sweat glistens on our necks and the slight, arid breeze feels tender and good on our bare shoulders. High-rise apartment buildings and condominium complexes surrounding the harbor light up the waterway corridor like an airport runway. The ship floats on a cloud in a steady slow progression toward the oceans mouth, a bon voyage kiss before being devoured by an awaiting Atlantic. Family and friends gather in layers, waving from the sidelines, huddled together on the huge hanger of cracked concrete. White handkerchiefs move back and forth in the salt-licked air.
          The Sunset Bar is open for business. Situated at the front of the ship near a long orderly line of perfectly straightened deck chairs, (on real, live grass!) we perch our asses on white, toadstool-style seats and enjoy the spectacular view. The bartender, a jovial black man wearing a wild, floral Hawaiian shirt, shakes up brand-name vodka in plastic cups with lots of ice and tiny olives (my least favorite). We raise our makeshift glasses and toast our upcoming days together, our transatlantic excursion. Italy! Ciao Bella! And, of course, our amazing, unwavering friendship, the absolute best in the whole galaxy.    

We dine that evening in the lovely Murano Restaurant, one of several of the revered five-star, independent epicurean eateries promoted on board the ship. We sit at a table situated beside a ruler-row of circular port windows peering out over the choppy waters of a turbulent, upset Atlantic. I’m amazed at how still, how calm, the ship’s movement is. Outside, a rainstorm is bludgeoning the wooden decks. Sheets of water slam and swirl against the boats massive hull. Giant, jagged white tops break and roll on a tourmaline sea as our floating hotel progresses smoothly forward.
I’m enjoying my usual, a lovely frozen vodka martini (in the perfect “up” glass with large, fat olives) waiting to consume a three course hedonistic feast prepared by the Chef de Cuisine, who journeyed to our intimate table to introduce himself and personally welcome us. A portly young man, he's thick-bellied, with carrot-colored orange hair and a straggly, matching beard. Tattoos scream out from his naked forearms. (Never trust a skinny Chef) He wears a white, puffy Chef’s hat that towers to the arched ceiling and juggles two tiny plates in his plump hands, and introduces Drew and I to his specific amuse bush for the evening. Toasted sourdough garlic points topped with creamy burrata mozzarella, a slice of salted speck and minced tarragon sprinkled ala minute.
The sommelier arrives with a select bottle of wine Drew picked out earlier. (On our exhausting post-arrival, three hour ship crusade) Drew has tremendously good taste, in most things, but particularly with vino. The lovely sommelier presents a handsome-shaped bottle of Pinot Noir from Napa Valley. Even the delicate purple anemones dressing the table tilt their buttercup sepals in acceptance. The young woman opens the bottle with arty finesse, takes a sip of the wine from a garish spoon dangling from around her neck, and pours the ruby mixture into large Burgundy glasses. I twirl mine several times over the starched linen before raising my glass and offering a toast. The steward, a gorgeous Latino woman with a high, elegant forehead and a regal neckline, smiles and excuses herself.
“Thank you, Drew. Seriously. For being in my Life.” I clink my glass to hers. Crystal sings. She gets teary-eyed as we take reverent tastes. I shake my head in delightful appreciation. “Beautiful … the wine … and you.”
“How are you doing?” She places her glass on the table. “Really. It’s just you and me now, kiddo.” She keeps her fingers wrapped around the base of her goblet, a miniature life raft in this endless sea of emotion.
It’s my turn to get sensitive. “You’re seriously going to take me there, aren’t you?” I grab at my napkin. I dab the corners of my eyes.
“Yep.” She attempts a feeble smile. She reaches her hand out and touches mine.
          I sit for a gravid second. I ponder the surreal couple of months I’ve lived through … and survived. The question ...
The restaurant stretches and yawns toward closing. The clank of empty bottles hitting a trashcan somewhere behind me. Tables seated around us are finishing with their desserts. A lone table beside us sits empty, a setting for one guest prepared and mysteriously vacant throughout the evening. Michael, the delightful Maître’d, (I make a point of knowing the service crew by their first names, unlike Drew) had placed a RESERVED sign on it hours ago, when we first arrived. A cappuccino machine hissing and coughing steam reverts my attention back to Drew and her question.
The answer …
I don’t have one. “Sad.” I say, breaking the awkward monotony of silence. “I’m just really sad. The whole Jerry thing really took me for a loop. I mean, his women friends … you know what? I’m a big girl, I get it! I learned early on how to duck those grenades. Years ago! But the rest of it …” I shake my head at the sordid details. My eyes well up, my throat swells, and my words trail off. They stumble, and stagger, and fall off a steep, treacherous cliff I’ve yet to travel, I’m not prepared for, and I still haven’t wrapped my head around. Not entirely. I continue wanting to hide out, take shelter, and use the proverbial “put my head in the sand” motif. Or, remedy the entire ordeal with denial, my favorite form of avoidance I've mastered over the last few years. For my self-protection. My safety. My survival.
Our server rescues my troubled musings by delivering our first course. A baby red beet salad served underneath organic green kale, wild arugula, heirloom tomatoes, and red onions, splashed with a light lemon vinaigrette dressing. Piled art, designed in exquisite layers, balanced in intricate leafy tiers on top of a round bone-colored plate. Drew ordered the same thing. We sit in absolute wonder until I grab my fork, dig in and rearrange the chef’s fanciful finesse. “Oh, my God! This is divine!”
Drew and I can rummage and root through a forklift of information, and time limits never seem to apply. Even after we’ve finished going through the muddle of old, used, and outdated material, a brand new collection emerges and entices our conversation forward. We can make each other laugh, or cry and stay “besties” throughout, even when we both want to strangle each other and rip each other’s eyes out. We move through the recent landmines of our lives, her and Bob, their recent acquisition in Belize; a grand-sized hotel located on the Southern tip of the Island. Then, the focus returns back to me, to my on-again, off-again flirtation with a married man. Yes, Hutch. Who else? We relate, retell, and maybe even rant. The many glasses of wine we’ve ingested helps, it calms and soothes our sharp edges. Soon, we’re sodden, drunk and exhausted, our eyes straining to stay open. We’re ready for our first night’s sleep on board this massive moving hotel.
The storm has ratcheted into a dramatic squall. Drew and I slump in our chairs, sleepy and serene, without the least sense of danger. A searchlight towers over the ship, funneling an intrusive high beam through the windows, interrupting our syrupy, nostalgic mood. I point out the darting white shaft to Drew. It’s disturbing and unsettling to not know what has warranted an actual helicopter, hovering above us, combating the turbulent sky and using a high-powered spotlight. I motion for our waiter who hurries to the table, concern etched on his cocoa complexioned face.
“Yes, Madame. Can I get you something?” He removes dessert plates sitting in front of us.
I point out the window to the cone of light ferreting through a torrent of hammering grey rain. “What is going on out there?”
He moves closer to the window, leans over my shoulders and looks. “Oh, yes, there was an emergency evacuation of an elderly woman in the main dining room this evening. She had a heart attack or something. They are transporting her to the nearest hospital.” His accent is pure Indian. I love the way he speaks, the graceful rise and fall of his sentences. Soothing.
His answer assuages my morbid curiosity. “Ah, thank you. Whew! Glad to know nothing's wrong with the boat.”
Drew laughs. “Sami.”
“What?” I roll my tired, seafaring eyes. “Can you direct me to the restroom?” I ask the young man.
“I will show you.” He stands at brisk attention, while a chubby busboy outfitted in a bright red vest runs circles around him, collecting plates from out of his hands.
Standing up, I gather my faulty bearings and follow him to the back of the restaurant. “I’ll be right back.”
          “I’m not going anywhere.” Drew takes another swig from her glass and watches the drama unfold outside her window.
The server escorts me through the well-appointed dining room -- soft, cozy-lit dens of stained, wooden banquets with round curved corners -- through a tiny passageway to a main thoroughfare. He points me toward the end of the hallway and directs me to turn left. I’m tipsy, I admit it. The chaotic traveling from New York; the volatile weather, the taxis and luggage, JFK, the hurry up and wait, the hustle and bustle of boarding, the wine, the vodka … I lean up against the wall for assisted support, arresting the slight sensation of vertigo, a flash of blurred dizziness. For the first time since boarding, I’m aware of the rocking, the gentle swell of the boat rising and falling beneath me. I’m surprised at how empty the corridor is of fellow passengers. Drew and I are notoriously late diners. We're New Yorkers! Our reservation wasn’t until 8:30 PM. With before dinner cocktails, a three-course tasting menu, complete with wine parings selected special for each scrumptious dish, not to mention the espressos, after dinner aperitifs … it must be well past 11:30 PM.
The highlighted signs for the restrooms materialize as I round the corner. It seems like an inordinate amount of trekking to use a toilet. The door opens as I arrive and a woman exits. She flings a light peach colored shawl over her shoulders and walks past me, leaving a healthy trail of sweet floral perfume in her wake. I offer a friendly smile, but my kindness go unappreciated. I enter the washroom, lock the door and relieve myself in one of the private stalls. I’m suddenly nauseous and wondering if my current bout of wooziness is from the rich food I consumed, or the slight current ebbing and flowing from under the vessel. I wash my hands at the sink and look into the mirror. The months of stress have taken its toll. I pull at the roots of my hair. Maybe I’ll try the salon’s colorist. My regular, a Polish woman I’ve been using for years, was unavailable before the trip. I smooth out my complexion, pinch at my cheeks, and wet my lips with water from the faucet. I dry my hands on a small fluffy hand towel, rolled up in a cute white log and stacked on the marble vanity. The room smells of deodorizer, spa-like, cucumbers, citrus … fresh. This could all get very addictive. I pitch the towel toward the wicker wastebasket, unlock the door and exit.
I’ve been waiting for you, Sami!

~ * ~

Drew checked her watch. Again. Where the hell was she? She motioned the server over to the table. The restaurant was empty of diners. They had been the last guests seated.
“Yes, ma’am?”
“Which way did my friend go? It's been twenty minutes now.” Drew was nervous, tapping the thin glass cover of her antique Cartier wristwatch. The perfect red wine they had both adored, cooed over earlier … was now creating not-so-perfect acid reflux. Not pretty. This was Sami’s first excursion at sea. It was easy getting lost in a maze of tunnels inside the bowels one of these huge cruise liners. “Oh, shit!” Drew stood up to leave.
          “Ma’am, would you mind signing?” He had their paperwork ready.
          Drew leaned over to scribble her initial on the check. The circus of lights outside their port windows had quieted. She walked through the restaurant and stood in the entryway, considering her options. Perhaps Sami returned to their stateroom. She walked through the curvy, carpeted corridor, past an airy, open lounge. A hefty woman wearing a tight-fitted, sequined gown sang Don’t It Make Your Brown Eye Blue to a handful of late night drinkers. Couples moved like drunken zombies, holding each other up on the lit up rectangular dance floor. “Ding, ding, ding” echoed from the noisy casino, along with a few rowdy laughs and “whooo hooo’s” as Drew passed by the entryway. Outside, the rain continued beating the deck. She stopped for a quick second and peered out a peephole.
That voice. For a moment, she thought she was hearing things. Then again … that voice.
“Drew, over here.”
Thomas Mann sat alone at an empty bar situated in a secluded corner. Several white barstools, George Jetson-style, sat forlorn around him. Tables languished in the quartered-off lounge, complete with red velvet ropes and without the companionship of lit candles. She didn’t recognize him. Not at first. He wore a tuxedo, black and enticing. A bowtie was dressed expertly at his neckline. He had slicked his hair back with gel and his eyes were as captivating and enthralling as ever, hiding behind black eyeglasses. Drew hesitated for a semi second, collected herself, and then walked over to where he sat. The bartender, a short female with dirty blonde hair piled high on her head gave a sigh and a weak smile. Hospitality was no longer her friend.
“Can I buy you a night cap?” He picked up his martini glass. A wastrel cherry sat at the bottom of the vortex. He gestured a toast.
“Last call,” the bartender said, louder, annoyed that Thomas was offering up drinks at her bar at this late juncture of the evening.
Drew looked about sheepishly. The last thing she wanted was Sami to walk headlong into this scenario -- this mess of a mess -- and think that Thomas and she had planned it. On purpose. An intended getaway, a sexual excursion, a lust-filled liaison conjured up by Drew and Thomas on the down low. Oh Jesus! Her twat tingled and pulsed as memories multiplied, flickered and danced. Her face flushed. He had to notice her rapid breathing. Wings fluttering, a horny moth to his notorious flame. The notion of Thomas Mann being on board this boat was so dangerous -- beyond dangerous -- on so many dangerous levels. So deliciously deceptive, devious all most. The mere thought of him, here, the two of them together, out to sea, well, the erotic images piling up on her and her pussy was like a painful, cat-in-heat yearning. Meow!
“What are you doing here? Jesus Christ! It was you. Sami thought she saw you. She turned a new shade of pale this afternoon.”
“Sorry to hear that. Free country. Expensive cruise. I’ve always wanted to see Italy.” He raised his empty martini glass for another toast. “You sure you don't want that drink?”
“No, no, no! We just finished dinner.” Drew glanced around, scanning for Sami. A cold shower. She traced a finger on the thin coating of ice lining the bar, an S.O.S. inscription.  “You haven’t seen her have you? Sami I mean?”
“Should I have?” Thomas asked. He raised his manicured eyebrow and took the last slurp of his Manhattan, licking the rim with his tongue and biting down on the liquor infused cherry for added affect.
Damn, he looked good …
“Well, have a good night, Thomas. Maybe we’ll see each other around campus. It’s a big boat, maybe not …” Drew gave an insidious smile and moved past him. Her leg brushed against his thigh. Tentatively. He grabbed her arm, too familiar, too firmly -- way too friendly -- and yanked her back against him. Opening up his legs, he positioned himself around her nothing body.
… too good.
His breath felt hot against her neck, her skin, probing inside her ear. A sweet whiff of bourbon. Spicy vermouth and that damn tangy scent of a popped Maraschino cherry, it all lingered. “I wanted to apologize for ... well, the last time we hooked up …”
Drew tried moving away, but he had her trapped, a spider ensnared between his muscular legs. And, she had to admit, she was enjoying the closeness of his cunning web. His confidence, a personality trait she admired in him, in most men, that is, tonight bristled with pompousness and arrogance. “Apology unnecessary. It was fun … while it lasted, but it’s over. Now, please let go! You’re hurting me!” He held on for a second longer, long enough to make Drew uncomfortable, long enough to seek other passengers, security; in the off chance she might need help, some assistance. In the off chance ... she didn't.
“Oh … excuse me. Did I interrupt something?” A young woman tee tottered toward them in stiletto-spiked heels over the airy carpet. Her voice warbled, as if she just swallowed a singing canary. She wore a tight fitting black dress accentuating a full rack of pumped-up tits and a tight, toned, curvaceous body. Long auburn Rita Hayworth hair fell with fatigue in exhausted ringlets over her bare, exposed shoulders and oh, so perfectly tanned back.
The force of Thomas’s grip releasing Drew propelled her backwards a few steps.
“Brandy, Drew." Brevity in introductions. "Ah, Drew’s an … old acquaintance of mine.”
The woman parked her ass strategically into Thomas’s port. He responded attentively by enfolding her with the right amount of buoyed protection; docked, locked and slipped comfortably in between his thighs. 
The fucking bastard accented old for effect!
“Pleasure.” Drew walked away, leaving a path of glittery resentment in her trail.
Brandy, she’s a fine girl, what a good wife she would be …
The song resonated, accentuating Drew’s life, her age, her lack of sexual attention. Action. Her aging port had become, and far too fleetingly, a sagging, lackluster, rickety old fucking dock. That bon vivant sexual freedom she once exhibited with vigorous, body-contorting enthusiasm in her life was (and without proper warning) turning that corner into the oblivion of invisibility. Drew tried keeping up. Tiresome laps, treading water, panting and puffing around the pool’s inner edge, an anxious little puppy waiting for a friendly smile, a gesture, a token of masculine attention from a man, any man, any male who might offer her a moment’s reprieve, a pat on the back, a rub on her belly. Let's face it! Get laid. Ouch! The thought burned, battery acid on her soul. She refused to look back at them…
… but my love, my life and my lady is the sea …
The boat took a sudden jolt. It tipped Drew off her unbalanced axis. She righted herself and leaned against the back of a lounge chair situated with designer panache near the elevators. Blood pooled on her forearm, a bright purple bruise gathering attention beneath her pale, older skin where the asshole had grabbed her.
Sexy, fucking bastard!
How could this happen? How could he have possibly known they were planning a cruise, this cruise, with Sami? Shit!
The elevator whooshed her to the eighth floor and within seconds, Drew was standing outside their stateroom, knocking on the door before entering. God forbid, Sami found her wayward self to the discotheque located on the tippy-top landing, hooked up with an eligible, or maybe not so eligible man (Sami wasn’t always so discerning) and craved private time on her own. Alone. They were on vacation!
“Sami? Sami, are you in here?” She opened the door a slit. She peaked into the well-lighted room, but it was empty. Except for the display of bathroom towels folded to resemble monkeys dangling from the ceiling, the room was just as they had left it. Both chimps hung from one arm and wore Drew and Sami’s personal sunglasses. They seemed to laugh and jeer, and cackle at Drew and her wicked ways as she slammed the door shut. At first, the sight caught Drew off guard, but as she huffed and puffed back toward the elevator she had to admit, the origami towel display was creatively amusing. Delroy!
“Where the hell did she go?”
Thank God Thomas had vacated his ivory perch when Drew returned. The new age bar had closed and was dark, candles extinguished. Check the restaurant? Drew marched around the outer perimeter, a drill sergeant on a mission. The wonderful wine buzz she attained earlier felt dowsed by an array of clandestine meetings and missing-in-action besties. Even the lounge was quiet. A uniformed attendant ran a wide push broom back and forth across the wooden dance floor.
She entered back into the restaurant and followed the curvy wooden ledge to the bar. The same man who’d assisted her earlier, what was his name? held an IPad and made notations, tapping the screen softly every so often. “Sorry to interrupt you … excuse me. My friend and I had dinner here earlier this evening. Remember me? Did she happen to come back looking for me?”
The man gave Drew a bewildered expression, thought for a second and shook his head “no.” He pulled another bottle from off the glass shelf and held it up to the light.
She retraced Sami’s steps to the small passageway leading to a larger, well-migrated main corridor and the restrooms. “Sami, are you in here?” Three individual stalls lined the back wall, a small washbasin on the side. Drew noticed a used hand towel thrown on the floor in the corner. She leaned over and peeked underneath each stall. “SAMI!”

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