change took the edge off the sultry summer heat; the accompanying breeze
spinning and bumping against the mass of red and silver decorations
dangling from the low ceiling of the Zanzibar Deck of the Royal Pacific
breeze forced JJ to battle against her hair as long brunette strands got
caught in her teeth, in the hinges of her oversized sunglasses, even in
her eyebrows. This while also tugging her mini black roller-suitcase
behind her, the humble wheels bumping over wooden grooves as she ducked
and swerved through the tight crowd to find a spot at the railing.
ensconced, she tucked her suitcase safe and tight between her high black
boots, and breathed out; her whole body decompressing as, as of right now,
there was nothing more to be done. Nowhere else she had to be. In her life
that was a rare sensation indeed.
big black sunglasses on top of her head, JJ’s eyes narrowed against the
sharp, early morning sunshine struggling to streak through breaks between
the clouds. Forearms resting on the cool metal barrier, she titled her
face to the sky nonetheless and breathed deep, telling herself that she
could almost catch the scent of open water beyond the whiff of the Sydney
she thought. Eight voluptuous days and seven sultry nights navigating the
warm waters of the South Pacific. (She felt decidedly epicurean.) No more
boss chasing her around the office, thus forcing her to leave yet another
job. (Damn him.) In fact, no next-in-a-long-line-of-temp-jobs to navigate
at all. (For the interim, at least.) No trains rumbling past her temporary
bedroom window. No Friday phone call home telling her mum that No she
didn’t have a boyfriend, no she didn’t have a career, no she didn’t have a
fixed address, and no she didn’t mind at all.
time, stretching before her, hours upon hours filled with such... She was
on the verge of quoting the brochures and saying “promise”. But, frankly,
having such a wide gaping hole of time and nothing concrete to fill it
felt like a steep ask. Like there might come a time when there’d be
nothing left to do but ruminate.
would rather take the basket weaving class. Twice.
her sunglasses back in place, stood taller and vowed to make good use of
her time on board. The website had listed so many activities she’d never
find time to do them all. Yep, she’d busy the heck out of this cruise,
take advantage of all it had to offer, and sleep like the dead. No dreams.
someone who never worried, JJ pulled the envelope her friend - and interim
flat mate and all round crazy gem of a woman whose new job as a travel
agent had afforded JJ the super quick and much-appreciated getaway - Erica
had given her that morning from the back pocket of her jeans. She opened
it up to find a card.
it read, over a picture of an extremely buff gentleman man wearing nothing
but sunscreen, a very small towel and a smile. Inside the card Erica’s
small print offered up helpful (increasingly immoral) hints on just how JJ
might keep herself busy over the next few days.
And not one
of them was on the website.
last glance at the front of the card, JJ tucked it back into her pocket.
And felt her shoulders relax.
hula classes, running club, the games room, eating, lei-making lessons,
and all the shows on offer, maybe she could find time for a holiday fling.
Like sorbet to help cleanse her memory of her nimble-fingered ex-boss.
closed her eyes she could almost picture him (the fling, not the boss) - a
nice guy, cute, funny, easy going. Simple. Uncomplicated. No promises. No
tomorrows. Surely the boat would be full of them.
try as she might, she felt ambivalent. As if flirting – like finding the
right job, an apartment of her own, trying keeping her head above water –
had become too much work.
her eyes, blinked against the light and promised not to rule it out. That
would be too depressing.
So there it
was. Eight days and seven nights of sun, rum, and fun. And absolutely no
ruminating. As plans went, that was one she was pretty sure she could
stick to. Otherwise she’d have dusted off her bikinis, borrowed Erica’s
flirtiest boots, and waxed unmentionable places for nothing.
As the deck
filled, and the white noise of her chattering fellow passengers rose into
a deafening buzz, and the hum of the engine thrummed deliciously through
the floorboards. It soon felt like her belly had filled with bees. And
hope. Yeah, that was that strange sensation curdling in her belly – hope
that this trip would be as remedying as Erica’s card had detailed.
JJ pressed her sunglasses higher on her nose
before surreptitiously glancing along the railing to scope out her fellow
passengers, wondering who among them might also have sun, rum and fun on
their to do list. But the view was obscured by a sudden mass of multi-coloured
streamers twirling out into the sky before dropping in great looping curls
down the side of the ship as passengers twirled them towards their
families waving goodbye below.
forgive Erica for being at work rather than on the dock as a target for JJ
to hurl a streamer toward. It was due to her newfangled travel agent job
that she’d been able to hook JJ up with a great deal so last minute in the
As for JJ’s
family . . . actually leaving their small coastal town and coming to
Sydney to visit was apparently above and beyond, much less seeing her off
on a trip. So Friday phone calls - when she knew her father was at golf -
picked up. JJ twirled her hair over one shoulder before it went all medusa
on her. Then, smiling at the crowd below, she claimed them all as her own.
afford to be so magnanimous, as for the next eight days and seven nights
she was leaving everything—the strangers like so many others flitting in
and out of her life, the big bustling city that hadn’t turned out to be
quite the saviour she’d hoped it would be, and her entire hot mess of a
clanking groan rent the air and JJ tipped a little further over the
railing to watch as the last of the huge chains bridging the ocean liner
to land were unhooked and she felt as if huge invisible weights were
lifting off her shoulders right along with them.
clutched hard in her belly now; bright, sharp, palpable. As if only now
that there was definitely no turning back, now that nothing could take it
away from her, could she really believe something this amazing was
actually going to go her way.
It was only
when her gaze landed on the clutch of crew far below unhooking a huge
banner spanning the main gangplank that JJ felt the first flutters of
blinked. Stared harder. But the banner was folded now and being carried by
the crew into the belly of the ship so she couldn’t be sure.
Had it really read, “Welcome
Second Honeymooners! Star-crossed Lovebirds for a Lifetime!”?
was nice. For someone. And yet . . . she couldn't deny the frisson of
disquiet that it sent wriggling down her spine.
hands around the warming metal railing JJ glanced back over her shoulder
at the fall of silver and red hanging from the ceiling of the deck. Or
more specifically silver stars and red love hearts. And the bees in her
belly felt like they were trying to escape through her skin.
her sunglasses from her nose. Her view no longer hampered by festive
streamers, her gaze no longer subtle, she looked from passenger to
passenger, her frantic gaze swerving from one face to the next face until
she was sure that what she thought she was seeing was real.
passengers. All couples. Everywhere she looked.
the occasional staffer in a purple polo shirt and beige cargo shorts every
other person on deck was half of a pair. Couples holding hands, couples
laughing, couples leaning into one another all romantic and lovey dovey.
fate could be a real kicker that way—it appeared as if not a single other
guest was a day under sixty-five.
second JJ floated the thought that she might be dreaming. Seriously. There
was a possibility that she was actually in a crčme-de-menthe-induced coma.
Erica had booked her on the cruise had gone down mere hours after JJ had
quit her latest temp job. (Her boss’s charm having teetered over the edge
of awkward flirtation to a touchy, feely, unjustifiable proposition by the
copy machine). The liquid solace had been plentiful.
was still lying on the lambskin rug on the floor of Erica’s lounge room,
imagining getting away from it all. It wouldn’t be a stretch to think
she’d also imagine the weird and wonderful ways Erica - god love her -
would screw it up . . .
And yet it
was so unlikely.
the alternative was that she was a twenty-seven-year-old divorcée with a
string of dismal temp jobs behind her, bunking on her friend’s futon, and
a less than enchanting string of bad first dates trailing behind her like
a piece of toilet paper stuck on her shoe.
she was wide awake.
blurred vision, as JJ found herself whipped into the hurricane of a
sickly, cinematic, swirling camera sensation. In order to pull herself
back, she gripped the railing hard enough to bend the metal with her bare
pelted up and down the deck, snapping JJ from her trance as poppers popped
and twirling rainbows of tiny streamers rained down around her.
away a long strand of curling pink paper caught in her eyelashes, JJ
watched in mute freak-out as the grey Sydney dock - and any chance of
getting off the boat - slowly but surely moved out of reach.
morning-white sunlight shimmering over the dark ripples in the water below
it looked cold. Though, as an amusement-starved small-town kid, she’d
leapt blindly into enough icy waterholes to understand the adrenalin rush
made the slim chance of bodily damage worth it. But unlike leaping from a
tire swing, a jump off the side of a 70,000-ton ship would definitely be
surged, the couple next to her bumping her elbow. JJ twisted, her ankle
turning in her borrowed boots with their ridiculously thin heel.
a sharp breath she glanced up to find a silver-haired pair in matching
white slacks and Hawaiian shirts smiling into one another’s eyes before
they moved in for a long, wet, noisy kiss.
she thought, squeezing her eyes shut tight. Seven interminable nights.
Something like...two-hundred odd hours stuck on a floating, retirement
dark water didn’t seem like such a bad option after all.