Story written by Rick
First published: March 2006
Last Update: August 2011
Sunday, August 18, 2001 - The Ship Departs
The day had finally arrived for the
long-awaited cruise to begin. The
disappointment of Marla's Miami trip with Chris was no longer a sharp ache, but
it had definitely put me in a bad mood.
I had finally
given up all hope on Marla.
The Miami incident had changed my attitude about this trip. I
was no longer excited.
In fact, I was about as
cynical as I had been all year. Romance was for other people,
but not for me. Perhaps I would hook up with some woman on the
trip and have a good enough time, but I wasn't sure how I was going
to get rid of this sadness that kept nagging at me.
I boarded the Carnival Celebration with bittersweet feelings.
On the one hand, I felt
elation that I had been able to organize a group of 101 people.
This event was a source of real satisfaction for me. I did not do
this for the money; I did it as a service to the studio. It
had been fun. I had talked a lot of people into going on this trip
and written plenty of stories in the SSQQ Newsletter. Putting
together this huge group was definitely an accomplishment. I
was pleased at how excited everyone was. This was exactly how
it used to be back in the Eighties when we went skiing or took a
trip to the Bahamas. I was proud to be Leader of the Pack
However I was also pretty darn
lonely. I did not enjoy life as a solitary
man. I much preferred to share an experience like this with
someone who enjoyed my company and could appreciate all the work I had
put into this trip.
There was no one special in my life.
There was no one pining for me back home. Not
even remotely. My
daughter was the only person I had feelings for. I wasn't even hanging out
with the group. I taught classes and minded my own
business. This was the longest stretch of alone time
I had experienced in 25 years. I didn't blame anyone but
myself for my loneliness. I was a loner at this point
On the other hand, life as a one man band was simply not my idea of
the road to happiness. I would have preferred to have a
girlfriend to join me on this trip. Or better yet, I wish that
I still had my fantasies about Marla to look forward to. But I
was sick of thinking about her. I supposed I would get back into the
at some point. I just wasn't
ready for anything serious at the moment. Obviously I was in one of those blue moods again.
In the Midnight
Once I got to my cabin, I noticed a
schedule of the cruise activities laying on my bed.
As I scanned the list, I noticed there was a
Midnight Singles Dance in the Disco. This
open to everyone on the ship, not just my group.
I circled it. Well,
if I am going to hook up with somebody, that's as good a place to start as any.
surprise, I actually felt grim. What
an odd feeling! I assumed I would find
someone to dance with, but I didn't have much
enthusiasm for it. Finding a woman wouldn't be
too tough, but finding one I liked was a different
story. Well, I told myself,
let's get it over with. Maybe I will meet someone who will cheer me up.
When I showed up
Midnight Dance, I
saw 100 people milling around.
As I scanned the room, I did a sudden double-take.
Of all things, Marla was standing
alone by herself on the other side of the room. Unfortunately, it
also looked like she was getting ready to leave. Marla had one foot inside the
door and one foot outside the door.
I could not believe this opportunity had
materialized out of nowhere. Just when I had
completely given up on Marla, this might be exactly
the chance I had been waiting for. Maybe now I
could clear up some of those mysteries.
As I made my way across the
room, my heart was racing. I tried to remind myself not to get
my hopes up.
Typically when a woman
gives me the brush-off for six months, that is not a reason for
optimism. On the other hand, I didn't have anything to lose
except a little more self-esteem. I had been nursing a
serious crush on this woman for a long time. It had first started
with the lightning bolt back
in November. Then came March, April, May, June,
July, and now August. In all that time, I had gotten absolutely nowhere.
I am no saint; there had
been a couple of brief encounters along the way. Since Marla
never gave me the time of day, why be a hermit? However,
in the eight months since the divorce, I had been completely unable
to let down my guard with anyone. I would bounce off and move
on. And every time my mind would return to Marla.
Why was I so hung up this
woman? After that Miami phone call, I had told myself before
the trip that I had given up all hope. Well, guess what.
Seeing her standing there, I had just changed my mind.
I had no idea what stroke of fate
had placed Marla in this spot at this time, but this was exactly the
chance I had been waiting for. I was determined not to blow
it. Before the night was through, I wanted an answer to the
question that had troubled me for six months - if Marla was in
a six-year relationship, then why was she on this trip alone?
For that matter, I might
even ask her why
she was alone at a dance called the "Midnight Singles Dance"?
Is she looking or not? Maybe she didn't even know
herself. Well, this is it. I am going to get an answer
tonight. I may not get the answer I want and I may not like
the answer, but I was going to
do everything in my power to get an answer of some sort one way or
Once I reached Marla's side,
I did everything in my power to seem cool, but I was overwhelmed
with feelings. No matter what else happened, I could not let Marla leave
the Disco without speaking to her.
Breaking the Ice
what are you doing here?"
smiled. She seemed relieved to see a familiar face.
"My roommate Sherry wanted to come to this
dance. She insisted I come along for company."
"Ah, you are the dutiful roommate. So where
is Sherry now?"
pointed to the dance floor. I spotted Sherry
out on the dance floor. Then I turned back to Marla.
like to dance?"
smiled and nodded yes. But first she had a
favor to ask. "Rick, would you mind putting my room
key in your pocket? I don't have a pocket of
I took a close look at her
curve-hugging blue dress and approved. Yes, this was the kind of dress that did
not call for something practical like a pocket.
So I took her room key and put
it my pocket. It was a simple request, but
I took it as a good sign. She obviously trusted me
a little bit.
We danced freestyle.
Thank goodness for dancing. It was the easiest way known to
man to approach a woman and signal interest. I would have
preferred partner dancing for a simple reason - I was dying to put
Marla in my arms as soon as I possibly could. Unfortunately
the rap music playing in the Disco wasn't very helpful.
surprised to realize I felt a bit self-conscious. At one time,
I had been an excellent freestyle dancer.
the rap music didn't seem to
mesh with my dance moves. I didn't feel fluid
at all. Then it dawned on me there might be another
reason. Maybe it was my nerves. I had never had any luck with
this woman before. What were my chances now?
I still couldn't figure out why Marla always seemed so pleasant to
talk to, but so remote at the same time. What gives with this
woman? Would I have any better luck tonight getting past
After dancing a few songs,
we decided to take a rest. Marla and I went over to sit at the
bar. I offered Marla a margarita. To my relief, she accepted.
That made three good signs - accepting a dance, accepting a drink,
plus giving me her key. Maybe there was hope.
Did I dare believe as much?
Now I began to
cautiously of course. No point in scaring her
off. My heart was begging for me to ask,
"Marla, what in the hell are you REALLY doing on this cruise without your
However, I thought the indirect approach might be more appropriate.
So what I asked instead was, "How did you get to the ship? Did you
drive down by yourself?"
"No, I dropped my car off
at my boyfriend's house and he drove me here. My car is in his
I frowned. That was
definitely NOT the answer I wanted to hear. Not a good sign.
However, he was there and I was here. That
would be my mantra for the night. I
wondered for the millionth time what guy would ever let a woman who
looked like Marla come on a trip by herself. It made no sense.
I was Cary Grant, Marla was Deborah Kerr, and if I had anything to
do about it, Chris could be in big trouble.
I went back to the old
standby. "What made you decide to come on the trip?"
Marla replied, "I love to
travel. This is my eighth cruise. I thought it would be
fun to get away for a week. Plus the chance to dance for four
days with my friends was a nice twist."
Hmm. I liked that
answer better. I made a mental note to frequently ask her to
As we sat at the bar, we talked for a while about
Marla's previous trips and her love of travel.
I discovered that earlier in her career Marla had been a buyer for a
sporting goods company. This had required her to take long
trips to Thailand, Taiwan, Philippines, South Korea, and Hong Kong to scout for the
latest trends. Marla had been to Hawaii, Costa Rica, Alaska,
Germany and Switzerland. And that was just for starters.
I frowned. Shoot, I
hadn't been to any of those places. I found myself feeling
envious. Marla was quite the globetrotter. I had never
met anyone with this much travel experience before and told her so. I
smiled because she was clearly enjoying telling me about her
adventures. I noticed we were having a very animated
conversation. Good. I took it as my fourth good sign.
We were making progress.
I have to admit I winced
every time she brought up a trip she had taken with Chris,
but I made sure not to let it show. The important thing was
that she seemed to be warming up to me. That was all that
Of course I had no way of
knowing, but Marla
was having an unusual conversation with herself.
Marla had just realized she liked talking to me.
That actually surprised her a little bit. She was a seeing a
side to me that was new to her. I was
warm, direct and not even remotely
superficial. I seemed knowledgeable, something important
to her. Usually Marla had to work at keeping a conversation going,
but this talk was no effort at all. We were jumping from one
topic to another like we had known each other all our lives.
Marla felt puzzled.
This was nothing like the conversations we had
back at the studio. At the studio, Marla's impression was that
I was superficial. She would watch as I flitted from one person to the next, giving each person three
minutes of my time, then moving to the next person. Now I
seemed like a completely different person to her.
At this point Marla's
roommate Sherry came over to say hello. Sherry had noticed me
dancing with Marla earlier. Now she wanted her turn.
This was an awkward moment for me. I liked Sherry, but my
night hung in the balance. I was terrified that dancing with
Sherry would give Marla an opportunity to slip away and head back to
Marla seemed to be enjoying the conversation, but I didn't want to
take any chances. If I took Sherry out on the floor and Marla
was gone when I came back, I would never forgive myself. This
was the magic moment I had been waiting for. After all my
misery, I sure the heck didn't want to blow it on another duty
Unbeknownst to me, Marla
was having a similar debate. When Sherry arrived, one part of
Marla said that Rick was the host and that she should free him up to
dance with whomever he wished to. The other part of
Marla said that she didn't feel like sharing me at the moment.
What if I got too involved in the dancing and this conversation came
to a sudden end? Marla didn't want that to happen. She
was surprised at herself. Ordinarily she didn't behave
selfishly, but this conversation had become important to her.
So what to do about Sherry
who was standing there waiting? I solved the dilemma by inviting both
women to dance. I took the hands of both ladies and escorted
them to the floor. I took turns partner dancing with both
women, but lived in constant fear that Marla would tire of this and split on me.
I felt like I was so close to solving the mystery; I couldn't bear
it if Marla left now. To my immense relief, out of nowhere
Martin from the SSQQ group showed up. He cut in to dance with
Sherry. I was so happy to see Martin I wanted to hug him.
Martin had just saved the day.
Martin's sudden appearance
was my fifth good sign of the night. Now I was even getting
Marla and I danced a while
longer. Then we went back to the bar to finish our first round
of margaritas. Our thirst from dancing made the drinks
disappear quickly. I smiled and asked if I could I get her a
second round. Marla returned the smile and said sure.
This was the sixth good sign of the night. Marla had just
signaled her willingness to continue the conversation. I was starting to feel
encouraged. Good. It was about time.
To my delight, Marla started to ask me some
personal questions about myself. Now this was a change! I could not remember
when she had ever asked me a single personal question. Marla's questions were not
invasive, but I recognized them as the female equivalent of "The
Interview". This was a very good sign. Finally!
At long last, Marla had decided to
check me out. I smiled to myself. Now we were getting somewhere. As I
carefully patted Marla's key in my pocket for reassurance, I told myself this was
the seventh good sign of the night.
Seven good signs and just
one bad sign. Good start. Best of all, Marla seemed
relaxed. No ominous fidgeting.
Marla seemed to be enjoying
the conversation as much as I was. I could tell she wasn't in any hurry.
Even better, her questions had quickly shifted from name, rank, and serial number
to things like how I was coping with my divorce, what had gone
wrong, how was my child adjusting, and what my current relationship
with my ex was.
I was pleased. These were the kind of questions a woman asks
a man when she is interested. Good! I answered her
questions as candidly as I could. I had nothing to hide.
She could ask me any question she wanted.
I asked some questions too,
but I deliberately avoided asking about THE BOYFRIEND. I was here and he was there.
Out of sight, out of mind. I had no desire to remind Marla of his existence at this
particular moment. Plus I had resorted to using love potions. I was counting on Senorita
Margarita to send the boyfriend to the farthest corners of
Marla's mind. I wanted all thoughts of Chris sent to oblivion.
I noticed that Marla did
not ask if I had a girlfriend. Maybe it was her sales
background, but she wasn't aggressive in her questioning.
However, out of the blue, Marla did ask me who my roommate was. I smiled. "I don't have a roommate. I didn't make a cent off of this
trip, but I did at least get a room to myself."
For some reason, Marla
liked the answer. She nodded and her smile definitely seemed to widen.
Marla did indeed like the
idea that I was rooming alone. This meant I didn't
have a girlfriend along for the trip.
However, Marla was
very puzzled about something. She could not figure out how
I had managed to become so much more interesting than I had
been back at the studio. Marla recalled that our
conversations back at the studio had been cordial, but dry
and businesslike. Tonight she was seeing a totally
different person in action. Now that I wasn't bouncing
from one person to the next, I seemed genuine.
this side of me much better. She felt a
connection to me that made her happy. Her impression was that
I seemed warm.
Marla thought she already knew me fairly well. But now I was
totally different. If she didn't know better, I had
mysteriously improved right before her eyes. How had
she missed this side of me? How was it possible
that the same man she had talked to dozens of times at the
studio suddenly had her mesmerized? It couldn't be the
margarita. Marla hadn't had that much to drink.
Tonight I wasn't
the Rick she was used to. Instead it was more like my
interesting twin brother had magically swapped places with
me. If Marla didn't know better, someone had cast a spell on her. Was this some
sort of fairy tale? Was she dreaming? Or
had someone from Midsummer's Night Dream given
her a love potion to hide my true identity? In
her daze, Marla felt like Titania awakening from her pixie
If so, thank
goodness I was a little cuter than the donkey Titania had
kissed in Shakespeare's play upon awakening. Marla
smiled at the thought. Whatever the explanation, Rick had just turned out to be a lot more
interesting than she had previously realized.
But that still
didn't answer her question. Why had it taken her so long to notice me?
No one enjoys feeling hypnotized. I had been standing
next to her for six months and she never seen me in this way
In a flash, Marla
thought of the gypsy. No way!! Suddenly
she gulped. This was much too weird. This wasn't
just weird, this was Twilight Zone weird. If Marla
didn't know any better, this scenario was playing out just
like the fortune teller had predicted. "...take the journey.
You will meet somebody on the trip who will change your
life. And you already know him...."
How had she missed
on me? I had been right there the whole time and she had never
Marla reached for
her drink and took a big swallow. This was shaping up
as a very interesting evening.
another sip of her margarita. My eyes grew wide as she downed
it in one gulp. After a moment, she put the
glass down, turned back to me and smiled. There was a peculiar look in her eye. I wasn't about to ask, but something
had just happened. If forced to guess, Marla had just made up
her mind about something.
The last thing I had said was that I had a room to myself. I
wasn't quite sure why that had made a difference.
I didn't think she was interested in going back to the room with me.
That didn't seem her style. What crossed my mind instead was that she had just concluded I had not come on the trip with anyone.
That seemed to cheer her up. This was my eighth good sign of
Where did a night like this
come from? I had gotten nowhere with this lady for six
long months, yet suddenly Marla was right here at my side.
Even better, Cinderella wasn't showing any signs of leaving the
party. Far from turning into a pumpkin at Midnight, Marla had
let down her guard and magically shown the interest I had dreamed
I smiled at her.
Marla smiled back. She grabbed my hand, got up from her stool
and said, "Let's dance!"
Excellent! This was
my ninth good sign of the evening. Unless I had misread her
completely - which I doubted - Marla had just given me the green
light. She had buckled up her seat belt and told me to drive.
Good. Let's go!
Out on the floor, Marla was clearly enjoying
herself. She was having her very own
Cinderella's Ball. I wasn't sure if it was something
I said or Senorita Margarita's
special love potion, but
Marla was definitely in a good mood.
As for my part, I was
thrilled beyond words. Something had definitely
clicked in Marla's mind.
This time we danced a long time... freestyle, then partner dancing,
then freestyle again.
As long as Marla wanted to dance, I was game. This was my
turf. It never hurts to let a lady see a man doing something
he does well.
We danced the night away.
Finally we were tired. Seeing
the enthusiasm with which Marla had attacked her
second drink, I decided to try a risky move.
Without asking, I ordered a third round of
Margaritas. There is an old saying that
tequila has helped women lower their standards
for centuries. Since I fully intended to
permanently pry this woman from her boyfriend of six years, I
would take any advantage I could get.
If a third application of Love Potion #9 would
help, then so be it. Bartender, another round,
This was a test. I
believed Marla had signed on for the full ride, but it didn't hurt to see
if there were any limits. I took a deep breath and steeled
myself for a word of protest. When I heard
nothing, I smiled. Marla clearly did not
have her foot on the brake pedal. She was
This was my tenth good sign
of the evening. When we got our drinks, I
was feeling pretty confident. Now for another test - the
ultimate test. I smiled at Marla and said, "I'm really enjoying this conversation,
but it is kind of loud in here. Do you think we could go
upstairs where it is quieter?"
This was a big step. Asking a
woman to leave the safety of the crowd to be alone with a man is an
important step. If she says yes, it means she likes
the guy and trusts him. A cruise ship
is a very safe place, but this was still a
symbolic act of trust. I held my breath.
This was the most important moment of the night.
yes, that boyfriend was in a lot of trouble. This was a
decision that would be hard to turn back from. In fact, if she said yes, I
would venture to guess that boyfriend was history. I was
already sold on her and Marla looked like she
was just a few more questions away from signing
on the dotted line as well.
Marla didn't even blink.
She just smiled, reached for the third Margarita, then gave me her free hand.
Lead the way.
I gulped. I was a little
frightened at how powerful this evening had become. But I was
undeterred. I took Marla's hand in mine and headed for the door.
We climbed the
stairs up to the deck to look for a place to sit and talk.
My poor little heart was going pitter-patter.
I could barely contain my excitement. I
had been waiting for this moment for so long!
I could hardly believe my time alone with Marla
had finally come.
It was a Dark
and Stormy Night
surprise, outside we were met by a stiff breeze.
Wow! Fortunately, it wasn't chilly.
was cool and comfortable. Perfect.
the very back of the ship, we found two lounge chairs. We
pulled them side by side to face the ocean. What we saw was
amazing. The moon, the sky, and the ocean had combined to
create an incredible night.
There was a
stunning full moon above, but we could see only
pieces of it. The moon was shrouded in clouds.
The wind was very brisk, almost howling. The
wind had really picked
up since earlier in
the day when we boarded back in Galveston. I
that Hurricane Chantal was nearby in the Caribbean. Obviously our ship had
entered the distant outskirts of the storm. We
were definitely feeling a touch of the hurricane's
immense power. The wind was kicking up the sea. The
waves were turbulent and made huge splashes as they
crashed against the ship.
Overhead loomed huge, ominous rain clouds that
threatened to come our way and engulf us at any
moment. There was no rain where we were, but
we could see dark rain squalls off in the distance. And
oh what a moon! The
eerie full moon did a fan dance. It appeared and disappeared
thick clouds racing by in the strong wind.
It was exciting to have a hurricane in the distance!
We had the all the necessary elements in place for
our very own enchanted evening. The night was
perfect for romance. It was now 2
am. Marla and I were completely alone.
I wanted very much
to get to the romance part, but first the time had finally
arrived to ask The Question. If ever there was a
right time to bring up a sore
subject, this was it. I asked Marla to explain her mysterious relationship. Marla did not hesitate
for an instant.
Marla started by saying she was furious at Chris and had
been for some time.
I was amazed at the venom
that poured out of this woman. Beware the wrath of a scorned
Just as I suspected
all along, Marla said she had come on this trip
mainly as an
act of defiance. Details of Chris and his French
girlfriend, his frequent trips to men's clubs with his rugby pals, and
unconfirmed suspicions about other women quickly came pouring out. Even last
weekend's trip to Miami had been a total disaster, a small detail
that cheered me no end. Good.
It was like
lancing an ugly boil and watching the puss ooze out. Marla was
totally disgusted with Chris. She admitted the relationship had
been on life support for some time now. At this point,
they were just going through the motions. If ever there was a
woman ready to jump ship, I was looking at her.
Inwardly I smiled. After a guessing game of six long months,
it was incredibly satisfying to know my instincts had been right
now I had
to clear up the biggest mystery of all - if her relationship was so bad, why didn't Marla
ever show any
interest in me?
Marla replied she had been asking herself that same question all
night long. For one thing, yes, she was angry at Chris, but she didn't
believe in being disloyal. Furthermore, tonight was the first
time she had realized I was a lot more interesting than she had
ever suspected. She could not remember enjoying a conversation this
much. In fact, she was a little surprised herself that I had
been so easy to overlook. Maybe if I had been more outgoing
and less businesslike. But most of all, she had no idea I was
interested in her. Why didn't I say something sooner?
Good question. I explained that I had a huge crush on her, but
all she ever did was talk about that damn boyfriend. Why didn't she
encourage me a little? Marla shrugged her shoulders. "Isn't it the
man's job to make the first move?"
I frowned. Yes, I
suppose so, but I pointed out the woman can generally try smiling a
little. Marla grinned. "I am smiling now. Isn't
late better than never?"
I asked Marla to explain a
little bit more about her job. When I realized that Marla
could set her own hours, that was the final key to unlock my heart.
I had seen several excellent relationships back in the Eighties go to ruin simply because girlfriends with day jobs wore out from lack of sleep. Once I realized Marla could
adjust her schedule to fit mine, I knew this relationship had a real
fighting chance. I was ready to try my hand at love again.
As I watched the moon play hide and seek in the dark skies above, I
could feel myself falling in love right there on the spot.
I was stunned at this turn of events. I had just gotten divorced. I
was scared out of my wits. Hadn't I told myself I never
wanted to risk getting hurt again in my life? But Marla was
irresistible. I really liked her!
invited Marla over to my lounge chair. We didn't do a lot of
talking after that. We
stayed there together till the sun came up. This had been a
truly amazing evening. It was "Love at First Night".