Two strangers meet on a cruise from different countries
Crystal Jensen pulled her roller travel bag behind her down the ship’s narrow hall, made even narrower by the number of bags sitting next to doors.
Her plane was late and she missed her connection the night before. Snow and all hell broke loose in the northern states to keep her from reaching the first ever cruise.
She and her husband Tom wanted to go on one of these, but he worked hard and didn’t want to spend time just sitting around on a ship. When he died over a year and a half ago, she began to plan.
The room numbers got larger and at last she found the door to her cabin. There were her bags and she opened the door. It was nice. Light bled through the small port window and the two single beds sported an announcement of some sort and a mint.
There was an odd noise that sounded like running water but she didn’t pay any attention as she picked up the two bags and set them on one of the beds. She paid the higher price since she had no companion to share the trip with.
The noise of the water was had reached a point of annoyance. She opened the bathroom door and to her surprise water flowed over the edge and covered her feet as well as the carpet. Inside, no faucet or shower running. It was the toilet. Water bubbled under the stand. It flowed with the force.
She turned to the phone and tried to call the front desk; no answer. She called housekeeping, no answer. She looked at the page on the bed and there was a note from her steward so she called that number. It was busy and remained so for a least a minute. All the while she kept a jaundiced eye on the overflowing water situation.
She gave up on the phone and went to the hallway. She looked down each side to see if there were any ship personnel and at last a man with a cart of luggage came out of a hall.
“Sir, Sir! The toilet is overflowing in my cabin and the entire floor is wet.”
“I’ve tried to call every number on the list and no one answers or its busy. This is getting worse. It isn’t the faucet.” She motioned for him to follow and he had no choice.
When he saw the situation he radioed for help from a number of sources. It took a few minutes until she heard footsteps running down the hall. Help arrived. There was a consultation and still the water flowed.
“Can someone at least turn off the water?” she asked?
“We’d have to turn the water off in this whole section.” One man motioned for the others to step out into the hallway. Then one came back in. “The maintence man is on his way down. We’ll have to turn off the water for this section.”
“What about this mess? I need another room.” Crystal informed him.
“I don’t know what rooms are available. We have a full ship as this is the second trip for this ship.” He edged his way to the door.
“What's your name so at least if they need to talk to someone that’s seen the mess they can call you.” She grabbed the complimentary pad and pen.
He gave her his name and the names of the other people who disappeared like rats from a sinking ship. The analogy wasn’t funny she told herself.
“Can I lock the door and keep my luggage here?”
“If you want to. I suggest you take them with you so if you get another room, you don’t have to come back.”
Crystal nodded. It was a good idea. The water flowed in a steady waterfall over the edge of the bathroom step. She could see a problem with the shower stall. The higher edge kept the water from escaping into that before choosing the lesser lip and flooding the room. She took towels from the rod and rolled them up to jam in the doorway. Her shoes were already wet, so she pulled her bags to the hall where others had gathered and left after seeing the problem. She stacked the bags to make it easier to pull and headed for the elevator. One after the other the doors opened to crowds of people jammed inside. After five minutes she headed for the main stairs and began her way to the main desk.
Josh O'Brien stood at the rail and watched people as they came and went like ants in a hill. Some carried nothing, others came loaded with everything they owned and for some reason thought it was a hotel to check into even after they received their room cards and assignments. He looked at his watch as he began the decent to the main level to meet his mother and father who were joining his family on this momentous trip.
The crowd at the desk was four and five rows deep. What could all these people want? He stood by the stairs. His attention was caught buy a thump, thump, of luggage banging up the steps. He watched and around the curve came a woman, near his age he’d guess, but this day and age they looked younger than his fifty-five.
She wasn't skinny and not too fat. He liked a woman with a little flesh on the bone. He chided himself with thoughts about a woman that probably had a hubby somewhere. Then why wasn’t he helping her.
Her face was red from the effort and she was out of breath. She looked up at him, well not at him but at the distance to the top, then away. He saw tears. Frustration? Maybe, but she didn’t seem overly angry.
He pushed away from the rail and went down to meet her. “Here, let me take these up for you.”
She gripped the handle and didn’t release it until she had taken stock of him and stepped back. He hefted the bag and its attachments to the top and waited for her to reach him.
“I hope you aren’t going to the desk. It looks like it might be a long wait.”
She eyed the large group with a tired and defeated expression. “I don’t know if this was good idea. I probably should just walk off the ship and go home.”
“You haven’t even seen the ship. Why are you leaving so soon?”
“I got to my room and there is a leak in the base of the toilet. Water flowed over the lip of the bathroom and flooded the room. It was still running when I left after almost an hour trying to get help.”
“You’re kidding me. They didn’t turn off the water?” He was astounded at what he heard.
“Nope, the maintenance man never showed while I was there. Now I hope they can find me a room.” She sighed and heard a loud horn. She looked up at the handsome man that came to her rescue.
“I guess that’s the cue we are leaving port.”
“I don’t have a room so I guess I’d better get busy. Thank you for the lift.” She smiled and Josh fell under the spell of her blue eyes and adorable face. Where did that thought come from? He nodded and turned away to look back at the crowds pushing their way to the outside to watch the ship depart.
The crowd at the desk pushed to get to the front. The people seemed to elbow her aside and her purse fell off her shoulder and then one man backed into her bag and turned to yell at her as if it were her fault. Josh got a little steamed. He walked to the back of the group and let out a very loud, piercing whistle. The group calmed to a silence and turned to look at him.
“Thank you,” Josh spoke loud and firm. “How many of you have rooms you can go to right now?” Almost all of them nodded or raised a hand. “Is there something that has caused an emergency that needs to be addressed now?” There were some nods and shaking of heads. “Let’s do this. If you have an emergency form two lines for the woman with blond hair.” Immediately there was a shuffle of people. Josh whistled again and hands covered ears. “Hold up there folks. If you can wait until dinner is served then return to your rooms and come back when the first dinner is being served and there will be less people. If you have a problem with your dinner, want to change something line up in front of the Brunette. If you have questions and not sure of something, see the gentleman on the end. Now.” He paused as no one moved for fear of another blast, “This woman’s cabin was completely flooded and she has no room at all. I think this is an emergency that needs to be addressed first as we are heading out to sea.” Everyone nodded and a path was made for the woman to walk to the counter. Josh followed her and everyone else jostled for a place in a line to see the person handling their needs.
Josh stood beside the woman but a man stepped up to the desk in front of him. “Thank you, sir for coming to our rescue. We were getting overwhelmed with disgruntled passengers. What can we do for you?”
“Not me. This young lady,” Crystal turned her head to see who he was talking about then blushed when she saw he looked at her. “Arrived at her room to find it flooded. She needs a new room.”
The man spoke to the woman, “What room did you have?”
She handed him her room card and packet. He looked the over and pages and picked up the phone. After a number of calls he must have reached someone. He came back to the desk.
“I got confirmation of the flooding. They are doing everything they can to take care of the matter. If you can wait a while longer, I’ll see how the cleanup is coming.”
“Hold on there, son.” Josh leaned on the counter. “If what this woman said happened, they will have to reset the toilet, if it isn’t broken. If it is broken then a new one will have to be put in. Do you carry spare toilets?” The man shook his head.
“I suggest you find her another room.” Josh ordered. His voice brooked no argument.
Crystal stood silent and waited for the outcome. She’d rather have a new room than a smelly, damp one.
“We don’t have any rooms. We were over booked as it was.”
Josh leaned a little closer and crooked his finger for the man to come closer. “I know that a room on the floor I’m on is empty. I asked my steward who had it and he told me no one booked it since it had been canceled. You can put here there.”
What deck are you on?”
Josh told him and the man stood straight up and took a step back. “You’re the Captain’s family?”
“Just a minute, Sir.” He turned on his heel and went through a door.
“You’re related to the captain of the ship?” Crystal asked.
“Yes, our parents are celebrating their fiftieth anniversary. We all decided to come on Sean’s ship for the party.”
“How many are there?” She was curious why he took his time to help her. Didn’t he have a wife and family he needed to attend to?
“My three kids and their family, my brother and his wife and two of their children, my foster son and two of my uncles’ and their wives.” He ticked them off on his fingers. “By the way, I’m Josh O’Brien.”
“Crystal Jensen.” She held out her hand and he shook it, a little longer than necessary.
The uniformed man came back to the counter with a packet. “Here you are ma’am and we are very sorry for your inconvenience. There is a room on the same deck as Mr. O’Brien. Here is your room card, a dinner seating assignment and your room comes with a number of free amenities.” The young man held the folder toward her. “Here is a free massage with a facial and a gift card to use on the ship or to purchase any of the tours.”
Crystal smiled at the young man, “Thank you for this. I appreciate this. It makes me feel a lot better about my situation.”
She turned to get her bags, but another staff person put them on a cart. “I’ll see these get to your room, ma’am.”
“Do you want to go to your room? It will be almost time for dinner. When is your seating?”
She opened the folder and found the card, “Second.”
“You have time to relax for a while before going down.”
“I’d like to see my room and after all this, I do want to relax.”
“I don’t blame you.”
He directed her across the deck to their elevator. It was glass on one side and she could see most of the ship as it rose. She turned away and watched the numbers on the indicator.
“You afraid of heights?” there was a smile in his voice.
“A little. It takes some getting used to then I’m ok.”
“And here I was going to suggest para sailing behind the ship.”
She turned around to face him, her hair swinging with the motion. “They do that?”
Josh burst out laughing, “No, of course not. They can’t do that.”
She turned away from him, “Not funny.”
“Hey, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make fun of you.”
She continued to face the door as it opened. In the hall she looked for something to indicate where her room would be. “This way.” He took her elbow. “Really, Crystal, I’m sorry.”
She looked at him and grinned, “Gotcha.”
Josh smiled back, “You did. Here’s your room. Mine is right there.” He point to a door about six feet from hers. “The other two around the elevator wall are my kid’s rooms and my parents are across the hall over there.”
“Am I taking someone’s room?”
“No, when we got here I asked the steward who had the other room we didn’t take. He told me no one. It had been reserved but the party cancelled. Good thing, because if there were no other rooms you might be sleeping on the deck.”
“Thanks a lot.” She slid the card in the door opened it. Before entering she turned to Josh, “I want to thank you for all-“
“Stop.” He held up his hand. “I came to your rescue. Our brief conversation was interesting and you have a sense of humor that matches mine. All I ask is you don’t ignore me the whole cruise and have dinner with me at least one night.”
Crystal stared past him at the picture on the wall. “When?” She needed to see if he was serious.
“Friday night. We are having a party for my parents. It would be a good time to meet everyone. If you don’t before.”
“Okay. Friday night, let me know the details. Thank you just the same for all your help.” She stepped into the room and he saluted her. She shut the door and locked it then leaned against it slowly sliding to the floor.
She took slow, deep breaths to calm her pounding heart and lifted the hair from her wet neck. The man was a walking model for the trashy romance novels she read. Her body still quivered. He was drop dead gorgeous. She looked up to heaven and begged forgiveness. “He could put his loafers under her bed if he wanted.” Not really but she couldn’t get his face and body out of her mind.
She stood up. The room was fabulous. A living area with a small bar, refrigerator; she peeked to see if it was a pre-filled or empty. It was empty but another on the other side held the alcohol. If she drank she’d need one right now.
At the full window, not the little port one she had in the other room, she watched the land disappear and the sun sink toward the empty horizon. Josh’s face surfaced in her mind.
He must have been close to six foot tall. Dark wavy hair brushed the collar of his green crewneck shirt and wisps fell over his high forehead. It was his face that had made her heart beat so hard the entire time they were together. At first she thought it was because she was upset. That wore off to be replaced by the attraction she felt.
He was tanned from spending time in the sun but genes figured into it somewhere. His green eyes were accented by fine shaped eyebrows and his smile by dimples. It was the thin dark beard that outlined his jaw and chin. The combination still had her shaking. She had no idea how she managed to hold it together until now. Where did God make these men? She didn’t even look to see how he affected those around him. She just held it together. Now she lay back on the bed. She had agreed to have dinner with him. What was she thinking?
Crystal found her way to the dining room and located her table. It was surrounded with a group of men celebrating their fifteenth college reunion. She tried to ignore their attempts to pick her up and take one of them back to her room for the night. She finally waved the waiter over. “Can I get my food delivered to my room?” Before she could make arrangements a hand covered her shoulder.
“Never mind, she’s eating at our table.” Josh spoke over her head. “Looks like it’s my job to rescue you again.”
“Hey, back off she’s with us.” One of the inebriated men ordered.
“I don’t think so.” He took her hand and guided her through the tables to a dais with three tables filled with people.
The group looked up and eyed Crystal with suspicion. “Everyone this is Crystal. I had to rescue her from a batch of rowdy men trying to harass her. We have an extra seat.” He pulled one of the two empty seats out for her.
Crystal hesitated, she wasn’t getting a good feeling from the other’s at the table.
“I’m so happy to meet you. I’m Sarah O’Brien, Joshua’s mother.” A short round motherly woman with shining white hair and rosy cheeks took her hand. “We are glad you agreed to come. I’m sure it wasn’t pleasant with only men at the table. Come, sit, you are welcome at our table.”
“Thank you.” Crystal returned the smile.
Dinner went well but she still felt some hostility from Josh’s children. The women busy with their small children while Josh and his son’s in law and son’s talked the whole time about the plans for the week.
“I’m sorry, we totally ignored you.” He whispered to her as the dessert was served.
“No problem, I was too busy devouring this delicious dinner.”
When she finished the dessert she turned to Josh, “Thank you for the re-rescue. I think I’ll leave you to your family. I’m going to need a walk on the deck after this meal.” She gave a smile to the rest of the table. “It was nice meeting you.” She stood and Josh stood too.
“If you don’t mind I’ll take that walk with you. I’m going to need to walk this off too.”
She had no way to refuse him, even though she could feel daggers at her back as she walked away. She realized as they passed through the dining hall that his family wasn’t the only one throwing daggers. Women all over glared at her.
On deck the moon glowed in the sky and Josh took her hand laid it on his arm as he continued to hold it. They walked in silence for a while.
“Would you tell me about yourself?” He asked.
“What do you want to know?”
“Wow, why don’t I just email you my resume?”
“That’s a start but I won’t be able to read it for a while. Why don’t you give me the short version?”
“I’m a widow, fifty-four years old. I live in Minnesota and work for 3M. I have one daughter and a son. They both live with their spouses in Minnesota and I have one grandchild.” She stopped talking. The silence lasted a few feet.
“That’s it? That was the short version. It tells me nothing about you.”
She sighed and added, “I am a devout Christian. I have very high standards. I don’t fool around outside of marriage. I’m not looking to get married. I had a wonderful husband and I manage fine on my own. I have a few friends, I love to cook and bake although I don’t have anyone to cook for except the kids. I sew. Actually quilt and make my own clothes.”
“You made this?” He pointed at her flowing, printed ankle length dress.
“It’s really pretty.”
“What do you do for fun?”
She stopped, “Weren’t you listening?” She stared up at him in the soft deck light. She steeled herself as her body reacted to his gaze.
“Yes, I was still asking what you do for fun?” his voice was soft and low and he stood close still holding her arm on his.
“I sew. It makes me feel relaxed and gets my creative juices flowing. I love when I finish a quilt. I'll never get back with its worth in my time and material, but how do you charge for the pleasure I feel when someone loves one of my quilts or wall hangings?”
He didn’t answer but just stared into her eyes. “I can’t stop this.” He whispered as he lowered his lips to hers. He gave her a moment to move back, walk away but she lifted hers to meet his. This was a vacation. They would never see one another again. she would enjoy just being held.
What happened was far more explosive than a shared moment. Hot molten heat spread through her body. She moved closer to the source. His arms went around her and he cradled her head in his arm. The kiss went on until both were heated and out of breath. He broke the connection and rested his forehead on hers. “I can tell you right now; that never happened to me before.”
Crystal couldn’t speak. She just agreed with a nod of her head and turned her face into his chest. After a moment and she composed herself she gently pushed him away. He let go and looked down at her.
“You go to your cabin, I go to mine. It was wonderful, amazing and yes I agree, I've never had an experience like that.” He saw a little sadness in her eyes. “Josh, this is the first day of a vacation. You have your family. I came to get away from all the familiar things and just have some fun.”
He reached up and stoked her cheek. “Then let me show you some fun. We have a bunch of tours and parties and fun things that you will love. I know it. Please be my partner for the week. Don’t worry about anything.”
“Why? Just because a kiss blew the roof off? It’s a kiss, not a marriage proposal. You aren’t obligated to me in anyway. I'm more so to you for all the help you gave me to get me a wonderful room.” He pressed his finger to her lips.
“Okay if you are so grateful then to pay me back you can be my friend for a week.”
She chuckled, “You aren’t giving up.”
“No, because I want to know if it was just a fluke, a one-time bang and that was all. If I let you walk away and not explore what we might have, I’ll always wonder; what if?”
“You have me there. I was thinking the same thing.” By now they had walked a complete circle around the part of the open deck below their rooms. “I was up at 4:00 to get to the airport. My flight was cancelled last night in Chicago. With all that went on today, I’m tired.”
“I’ll walk you there.”
They got on the elevator when someone yelled, “Hold that door!”
Around the corner came Josh’s two sons-in-law and father. “Hi,” His father smiled at Crystal and then at Josh. “I think you two better be careful. Kisses like that and the deck might catch on fire.”
Crystal’s eye’s opened wide and her face flamed with embarrassment.
The rest of the week flew by but while Crystal could feel the attraction and closeness grew between her and Josh, the animosity coming from the two daughters and daughter-in-law was almost palatable.
Each time Josh invited her along on the excursion, one of the couples managed to cull her from his side. When they succeeded, they ignored her, conversing with each other, keeping Josh's attention on something else. Twice they left her in stores while she was paying.
"You need to keep up with the girls. I don't want someone to kidnap you. These are tourist TRAPS. Get it?" he laughed at his own joke. He saw nothing that his children did out of order. Crystal kept her mouth shut.
After all this was just for a few more days. No matter what attraction or lightening bolts hit them whenever they kissed. It would end when the cruise tied up at the dock.
The Anniversary of Josh's parents was planned for the last Friday night of the cruise. They would dock the next morning.
She didn't want another evening with Josh's children exuding animosity the whole evening. It would just be more tension and she didn't want his parents, aunts and uncles to experience more than what they had noticed already.
On of his aunts came to her, "Honey, don't mind the kids. They are so used to having Josh's undivided attention they are a little jealous. They'll get over it."
They hadn't, in fact after that day the plan to keep them separated as much as possible.
"Josh, I have a special gift for your parents. Do you mind if I skip the beginning festivities and join you just before dinner is served?" She smiled and squeezed his fingers as they walked around the deck.
"Why? You don't need to give them anything. That's what this is all about. It will be fun and they won't have to take anything home." He frowned at her.
"I know, this is something special. Just for them to have and give away when they are through enjoying it. I'm sure the family gathering before dinner is served isn't going to miss me. I'll join you at the table."
"What's going on?" he faced her, running his palms up her neck and caressing her her cheeks with is thumbs.
"Nothing. Can't I have a surprise? Do you like surprises?" She forced her voice to tease him when her heart felt like it was breaking apart.
"I like surprises just fine. Your eyes are sad. Why?"
"Could me you're keeping me out too late and I'm not getting enough sleep." She kept the answer light and looked away from him.
"Are you worried about the end of the cruise?"
Crystal latched on to his unsuspecting life saver. "You caught me. Yes, I'm just a little sad. We have a lot in common and I enjoy our time together, alone." She added the caveat at the end.
He nodded and pulled her into him arms. He brushed kissed from her forehead down her nose and cheeks.
"Dad! There you are. The girls and I were looking for you. There is a photo op being set up. We want you in on this family picture." Sean didn't look at Crystal. He just hooked his hand on Josh's arm and tugged him away.
"Sean! Knock it off." Josh pulled back and glared at his son. "All you have to do is ask. We'd be happy to meet you where ever this photo op is. In fact may be Crystal will have a chance to use her camera and take some family photos too."
"Hi." It was the only recognition Sean gave her. "Sure, but I don't think they let you take your own photo's." He pointed toward an elevator and guided his father to it. The doors were just closing when Sean hauled his dad inside. Josh turned to reach out for Crystal. She didn't move closer but stood out of reach. "Have fun." Her words were cut off by the door closing.
Where ever the photo op was, it was a mystery. Crystal took her camera up to one of the decks and took pictures for an hour or so then went to her room.
"Where'd you go?" Josh asked when she put her key card in the door.
"I couldn't find anyone that knew where the photo op was so I gave up and took pictures of my own."
"Well, when I got there, it seems the photographer was gone. They were only there for a short time and they couldn't find me so we missed it." He didn't seem all that upset about it.
As the last few days were ahead of them Crystal excused herself from the group claiming she wanted to use some of the amenities she was given. She made an appointment for a massage then a seaweed body wrap and snuck out to see a movie, ignoring the messages Josh left on her phone.
On the last day she opened the door to leave at seven in the morning and Josh leaned against the wall.
“Hi.” She smiled when she recovered her composure.
“Where are you running away to today?” he pushed away from the wall and towered over her.
“I’m on my way to a light breakfast and down to the deck to go into town. It’s the last day of shopping and I want to pick up some souvenirs.”
“Good, I’ll go with you.” He turned and followed her to the elevator.
“Why? Don’t you have something planned with your family?”
Josh gripped her arm and held her against the wall of the moving box. “What kind of a question is that? What is wrong with you?”
Crystal pulled her arm away and stood at the doors as they opened. “It wasn’t meant in any other way than a question. I don’t need you to leave your family for me.”
“Why would you think that? Why have you avoided me these last two days? You didn’t answer my messages, you didn’t come to dinner. What’s going on with you?”
Crystal finally had enough. She took his arm and pulled him out to the deck and right to the rail forgetting she was afraid to get that close before. “Josh, you're blinded right now by your selfish desire.” She held up her hand to stop the outburst she knew would come, “You're not aware of your family’s feelings about me.”
“They like you.”
“Who did you ask?”
“My mom and dad and my brother.”
Crystal smiled sadly, “Those aren’t the ones who you need to ask. They were important people in your life at one time. They do like me. You mother has been supportive and tried to run interference, but your children want nothing to do with me.”
“My grand babies asked about you the whole two days you weren’t with us. I had to make some excuse.”
“What did their mothers say?” She asked quietly.
He paused and thought for a moment. “They didn’t say anything. They just changed the subject.” He frowned. “They didn’t say anything at all about you.” He spoke more to himself than to her.
“Smart kids. If they were openly hostile you'd have argued with them. They probably figured to keep quiet until the cruise was over and hope nothing would come of it.”
He looked down at her, “But that doesn’t change the way I feel about you. It isn’t their life. They have their own problems to figure out. This is my life and for once I feel more alive than I have in thirty years.”
“This is a vacation romance Josh. Reality isn’t always that pretty. We haven’t argued once except for now. Give it some time. You have my phone number. We can talk.” She patted his arm, “Come on let’s eat breakfast.”
They were finishing the last of their coffee when their table became the center of attention from seven young people who surrounded them. Without asking for permission they grabbed chairs and faced the two.
“What’s this, a lynch mob?” Josh’s voice was tight and his body was tense. Crystal laid her hand on his thigh and gently squeezed.
Viki, his eldest daughter spoke first. “We had a meeting last night.”
“I wasn’t invited?” His tone was defensive. Crystal patted his leg for patience.
Viki ignored him. “We came to apologize to Crystal.” Josh raised his eyebrows. “We’ve been very cold to you. We love our dad and didn’t want him hurt. He seemed taken with you and we didn’t trust you.” She stopped, her eyes teared up.
Sandi his other daughter continued. “Grandma walked in on our meeting. She read us the riot act and put us in our place.” There was a grimace. “We’re trying to say that if you and dad want to continue to see each other long distance. We’ll be open to learning more about you.”
Crystal dabbed her eyes, “Thank you for that. Who knows what the future holds. I'm not saying this will go any farther than these few days. I want to thank you for realizing I'm not an enemy. There will come a day when your father may chose someone you aren't comfortable with at first. Give them a chance,” She smiled at the faces across the table. Then held her hand out to them.
Viki stood and came around the table. "Not a handshake." She reached out to give the woman a hug."Thank you for being so understanding. For not fighting for your right."
"I have no rights. I have God's love and I just prayed He'd show you His love is forgiving." The rest came to give her a hug also.
Josh put his arm around her and tilted her head up for a kiss. “You can take that to the bank kids.”