(While this is a follow up story to my story "Cruise Ship Cruise", its not really necessary to have read that one first.)
The deep sound of the ship's whistle drowned out the band playing on the dockside. As the sound died away Samantha laughed out loud. How appropriate for the band to be playing the theme song from that old TV show. She found herself quickening her pace just a little. Perhaps her children were right. Maybe she could find love again, "exciting and new."
She checked with the purser's crew and got her cabin assignment. She decided not to go down to it right away. She was assured her luggage would be delivered. Therefore, she thought she would stroll around the ship and then go to the railing for the departure.
The ship seemed the same to her as it had five years ago. The crew bustled about their duties but were still warm and friendly. She made her way to the side as the whistle sounded loudly again, signaling their departure. She tossed the streamer ribbons she had been given at check-in.
The ship pulled away from the dock and started down the channel. Sam smiled and turned to head down to her cabin to unpack. She took two steps, still looking back, and bumped into another woman.
"Oh my gosh, excuse me!" Sam blurted out.
"Oh no," exclaimed the other woman. "I wasn't watching where I was going."
"Neither was I," replied Sam. She laughed. "No harm. I'm Sam."
"Marilyn," the other woman said.
"Okay, then. Nice to have met you." Sam smiled and headed into the ship, this time looking where she was going.
Marilyn's eyes rested for just a moment on the woman she had accidentally collided with. It was nice to see another woman in her own middle-age bracket, especially one that seemed to be alone. She sighed. The next time her company announced a sales contest she was going to insist the winner get a choice of prizes. Somehow the whole idea had seemed really fantastic back in the middle of a Wisconsin winter; an all-expenses paid week in the sun, but now all of a sudden she wished she was home. If it hadn't been for her older daughter...
"Oh for goodness sake, Mom," Lisa had scolded her. "Take the vacation, you've earned it. Go have fun. I know you, if you stay around here, you'll end up working at home. Go lay in the sun, drink tropical drinks and get a tan."
Marilyn wasn't to discover just how sneaky her daughters were until she unpacked her bags later. She had carefully packed her laptop and some unfinished projects. They had just as carefully replaced everything work related with suntan lotion and swimsuits.
She found her way down to her cabin. It had been a strenuous day, flying all the way from her Midwestern home to the California port. She decided to take a short nap and then sort out her things when she felt more awake. She kicked off her shoes and stretched out on the bed. In no more than 5 minutes she was asleep.
"That's what happens when you don't set the clock," Marilyn scolded herself. She had woken to find she had about 30 minutes to make it to the first supper onboard and meet her tablemates. She had barely had time to dress casually, fix her makeup and get moving. She enjoyed making an entrance as much as anyone else did but it would probably lose any impact if she showed up late to every meal.
She had memorized where her table was and made her way through the dining room. She saw a waiter approaching it and hurried to the one open seat. Sitting hastily she glanced at the menu laying there. She paid no attention to the others at the table until she heard a laughing Southern voice call out "Not looking again?"
Samantha had reached the table early and was looking over the guys there when suddenly the woman she had bumped into at the railing this morning came rushing up. Sam looked at her and smiled as she dove into her menu. Sitting a bit to the side Sam was able to study her. A very attractive woman, she seemed to be maybe just a hair younger than Sam herself, probably in her late forties. She had light brown hair and eyes. Sam thought to herself, rather ruefully, that the other woman was quite gifted in the bust department. She saw all the males at the table had discovered that fact also.
Still and all, though, the woman had a face that was lovely without being model gorgeous. She was obviously alone too as she had taken the one vacant chair at the table. On an impulse, Sam spoke to her.
For a moment Marilyn thought the other woman was mocking her. Then common sense, and the warm look in the other woman's eyes, dispelled that notion. Marilyn thought she really liked those eyes. They were deep and dark, but with a merry dancing light in them that invited her to share the joke. She felt a smile steal across her face. She started to reply but was cut off as a middle-aged man sitting on her right suddenly boomed, "Well, let's all introduce ourselves, shall we?"
Marilyn groaned to herself. Oh, great. In another ten minutes they'd be playing charades or something like that. Why did there always have to be some self-important person who took charge, whether there was any need for him to do that or not? They had nearly a week to get to know each other. She switched her mind into neutral, picking up the names of the guy and his wife, but not much more. She did bring her attention back on line when the brunette, Sam she thought she had said before, across the table spoke.
"Hi. I'm Samantha, called Sam by everyone, except my children I guess. Since we're capsulizing our lives, I'm 54 years old. I have 3 grown sons and four grandchildren, two boys and two girls. I'm a widow." She paused for an instant. "I lost my husband Donnie to a heart attack 3 years ago. My children chipped in and brought me this cruise. I'm supposed to be checking any and all of you single guys out, according to them anyway."
The next person spoke while Marilyn considered what Samantha had said. "Checking the single guys out." That sounded like perhaps she was recovered somewhat from her loss. Looking at her, Marilyn thought it probably had not been easy. For a moment she had seen the shadow in Sam's eyes.
There was silence and she realized that the heads had turned towards her. "What do I say?" she thought to herself. "Do I say I'm 48 years old, that I have two grown daughters and a grandson? Do I say that after 23 years of marriage, my ex-husband and I realized we were complete strangers and that we thought we each deserved a chance at happiness again? Do I say that was 5 years ago and I feel more free and contented than I have in a decade? Oh, and do I tell them that I'm gay?"
The thoughts poured through her mind. She opened her mouth and said them all. All of them except the very last. That thought dangled on the tip of her tongue but she swallowed it back. She watched the reactions of the people at the table. Most were the mechanical nods and smiles that she had probably been giving herself. She did notice a genuine smile from Samantha. She looked the other woman full in the face for just a moment and saw understanding and sympathy in the other woman's eyes.
Marilyn listened, without hearing, the introductions of the other people at the table. Instead her mind filled a whirl of random thoughts that settled on two things. The first was the laughing face of the woman across the table. The second was a recollection of the night that had changed her life four years ago.
That night she had been, again, in a smokey nightclub. She didn't know what she was looking for or how she would recognize it if she ever found it. She had danced with a couple of guys, mechanically, refusing offers of follow-up drinks and talk. She had withdrawn into one corner and let her mind focus on the band.
It was an unusual band. The backup singers and instrumentalists appeared to be five young people, some of whom struck her as too young to be in a place that served alcohol. The lead singer, on the other hand, was an attractive older blonde woman with a wonderful voice. Somehow she seemed to make the rather banal songs come alive. Marilyn caught herself smiling and keeping time to the music.
During one pause, a waitress had delivered her a drink.
"I didn't order this," she had protested.
"Compliments of the lady," the waitress had nodded towards the stage and the woman up there confirmed the statement with a nod and a lovely smile.
Intrigued, Marilyn remained at the club until closing. After the last set, the band members, under the direction of a fussy middle-aged man put their equipment up. He then sheparded them out a side door. She didn't see the blonde woman, who had slipped out right after the last number. She stood up.
"Not going are you?"
Marilyn looked to see the woman standing by the table. "Oh, I didn't see you."
The blonde woman laughed. "I didn't mean to sneak up on you. I'm Connie."
The two women bonded instantly. Marilyn discovered that Connie was a widow who had turned the musical talents of her family into a traveling band. For once they were in one place for more than a single night. Usually they simply loaded their converted school bus up after the show and went on to their next booking. Marilyn talked and Connie talked. When the club manager told them they were closing up both women sighed.
"I hate to see the evening end." Connie remarked. She got a gleam in her eyes. "I know," she said, ushering Marilyn towards the door. "For once, we have enough hotel rooms that I don't have to share." She removed a bottle of wine from the cooler near the door. At Marilyn's look she laughed. "I'm not stealing this. The club owner offered it but I figured I wouldn't be taking it as I don't drink alone or in front of my kids."
.... There is more of this story ...