Yeah, this was a mistake.
I should have trusted my gut, but I made the decision at two in the morning while I was feeling sorry for myself—and after almost a whole bottle of red wine. My gut hadn’t quite been working the way it was supposed to.
I had huge misgivings the next day—and I don’t mean the hangover. But by that point, I’d already paid.
I signed up to go on a cruise. On my own.
I mean, who does that, even when they’re sober? Admittedly, I will know one person on the ship, but that person is my brother Patrick—and while I knew he would have to work some of the time (he’s a croupier in the ship’s casino), he only told me later just how long his shifts were. As in, I would be lucky to see him for a total of seven hours for the whole week. And while the casino wouldn’t be open when in port, apparently he’d offered to cover a buddy’s shifts in housekeeping ages ago, and he couldn’t get out of it.
At least my initial impression of the boat wasn’t too bad. I’d never been up close and personal with a ship that big. The top deck loomed way overheard, taller than half the buildings in Brisbane where I’d just flown in from. And it certainly evoked a sense of excitement, with staff decked out in smart uniforms and handing everyone glasses of champagne as they boarded.
I collected my glass and tentatively headed up the gangplank. I took a sip of the fizzy liquid and forced my body to relax. I had to focus on all the positive aspects of this adventure. I was going to visit the Caribbean! I could technically just lie by the pool for seven days and read a book! And I could eat anything I wanted anytime!
But all those thoughts flew out the window when I entered the atrium, and the first thing that appeared in my vision was a bunch of sweaty twenty-one-year-olds playing an impromptu game of beer pong on a nearby table.
I was way out of my depth.
Being Australian, I always envied the kids in American movies, with their proms and their college sororities. We had a debutante ball, and a dance called a formal, but it was nowhere near the scale of what they did in the US. And we didn’t have anything like sororities or fraternities.
Now I was twenty-eight, and too old for things like beer pong, or living in shared dormitories.
A small ball flew in my direction and hit me square in the face. A roar of laughter went up in the group. At first, I thought their amusement was aimed at me, until I realized everyone was looking at the guy, who obviously misjudged his target by a mile.
He came over to retrieve the missile. “Sorry,” he said, eyes twinkling. “You want to join us?”
“Uh, maybe later. Thanks.” I hurried off in search of my brother. He promised he would be around to greet me when I arrived.
Even though Patrick gave me clear instructions on how to get to the concierge desk—which he claimed was the easiest place to meet—I still didn’t see it immediately. There were too many people milling around, a lot of them already drunk and over-excited.
I finally found the desk and looked around. No one resembling my brother was in the immediate vicinity. There was a woman seated at the table, but she was busy talking to a man in a wheelchair and his friend.
I was just starting to get anxious when a voice spoke behind me.
“Hi, are you lost?”
I turned around and found myself face-to-face with a cheeky smile and dimpled cheeks. He reminded me of Cary Argos in The Good Wife, but without the over-the-top arrogance. (Apparently, the guy who played Cary was also Logan in Gilmore Girls, but I didn’t want to admit to anyone that I’d never actually watched Gilmore Girls. You got weird looks when you confessed something like that.)
“Oh, hey. Um, I was just looking for my brother. He said he’d meet me here. Do you work on the ship?”
He chuckled and looked down at his outfit, which consisted of an indigo t-shirt, a dark grey denim shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and black skinny jeans. “No. Do I look like I do?”
My cheeks heated up. “Sorry, no. I don’t know why I asked that. I’ve never been on one of these things, and I’m a little nervous.”
“I’ve been on a few. They can be a lot of fun. Are you part of the singles cruise?”
I blinked. “Sorry, what?”
“The singles cruise. Around one hundred and fifty of the guests are here for that purpose.”
“Oh, God no. My brother booked this for me because he works in the casino. I just needed a bit of time away from my regular life.”
I mentally scolded myself. What if he was here on the singles cruise and I just insulted him? I slowly made eye contact with him and asked. “Are you here for that reason?”
He laughed. “No. This cruise was the only one that worked with the timing I needed to get to Cozumel. I work for a charity that provides clean drinking water and improves sanitation around the world, and I’m meeting some people there to discuss a new project. I hate to fly, so I usually tag along on whatever cruise is available when I need it.”
I tilted my head to the side. “You’re scared of flying?”
“Not scared. I just don’t like not being able to move. And unless I pay for extra legroom, it’s way too cramped for me.”
I belatedly realized he was over six-foot-four.
“Oh. That’s cool.” I saw a familiar face making its way towards me. “Hey, there’s my brother.” I waved my hands in the air so he could see me.
“I’ll leave you to it, then,” the guy said. “I’m sure I’ll see you ‘round.”
“Yes! And thank you for checking on me. Sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”
“Hi, Wells. I’m Olivia. Liv, for short.”
He smiled broadly and backed away before Patrick reached us. I was still looking in his direction when Patrick nudged me with his shoulder.
“Who were you talking to?”
“I don’t know. Just some guy.”
“Hooking up already?” he teased, wriggling his eyebrows.
“No! And before we go any further, you didn’t tell me there was a singles cruise on this boat!”
He smiled sheepishly. “Yeah, about that…”
I looked at him, stricken. “You didn’t…”
He held up his hands in surrender. “Wait, wait. I didn’t do it on purpose. It just turned out that the only cabins left were part of the singles package. So you’ll be sleeping near them, but you don’t have to be part of their schedule if you don’t want to.”
“So there’s no obligation for me to participate in their activities?”
“I don’t think so.”
“What do you mean you don’t think so?”
My brother looked behind him. “Oops, sorry. I have to go. I need to attend the orientation briefing.” He shoved a key and a piece of paper at me. “Come find me later and we’ll chat.” He hurried off, leaving me there on my own.
I almost called out after him, but I knew it would be pointless. I couldn’t believe my brother! Springing something like that on me.
I looked down at the key and paper. Originally, I’d hoped that Patrick would give me a tour and then show me to my room, but that obviously wasn’t happening now. The paper revealed my room number and a few instructions about life aboard the Oceanic Aphrodite, the vessel I was currently standing on.
I decided to do a little exploring on my own. The current level contained a couple of restaurants, some boutiques and a theater. Up a few floors were the pool and exercise areas. There were people everywhere, but admittedly, they didn’t all seem as wild as the beer-pong players. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all.
Finally, I went back down to find my room. I must have timed it just right, because I didn’t see anyone else in the corridor. I wasn’t mentally prepared to engage in any awkward small talk yet.
I quickly let myself into my room and looked around.
Okay. I could work with this. At least Patrick had booked me a private room, so I didn’t have to share. I had a king bed, a narrow desk, and even my own bathroom. I didn’t have an ocean view, but I figured if I wanted to enjoy the scenery, I could always find some quiet corner of the ship above deck, or in the library. I couldn’t believe this ship had a library and an artist’s studio!
I sat down on the bed. So. This was going to be my home for the next seven days.
I tried to rationalize the situation. Seven days wasn’t long. And it had to be better than what I was leaving behind.
Maybe I would be able to avoid the people who were part of the singles cruise. After all, it wasn’t like I had to wear a fluorescent nametag advertising the fact.
And who knew? I might even manage to have some fun.