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Authors: Lisa Williams Kline

Blue Autumn Cruise

BOOK: Blue Autumn Cruise
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For Jeff, Etta, and the Pearson family


curling line of taxis glinted in the Florida sun, snaking across the huge parking lot, inching forward, and cutting each other off. Horns blew and people yelled.

I leaned out of the back window of our taxi, gasping at the size of the cruise ship at the end of the parking lot. The ship loomed like a painted iceberg, its sparkling white sides rising up and up into the sky. Suddenly it
sounded its horn, which was booming and deep and lasted several seconds.

“That’s our boat, girls!” Mom said, pointing. “Isn’t it beautiful?”

The boat looked like a tall floating island. On the top deck, tiny people leaned against the railings. Some of them waved.

“Will you look at that thing,” said Norm, my stepdad, who was sitting in the front passenger seat. He gave a low whistle. He’d tried really hard to be good to me, but it had been tough adjusting to Mom being married to Norm. It used to be just me and her against the world.

“Oh my gosh!” said my stepsister, Stephanie, as she leaned out of her side of the taxi. “It’s ginormous! How many floors does it have?”

“I think they’re called decks, honey,” Norm said.

“How many decks, then?” She started counting, got messed up at about eleven, and started again.

The taxi behind us blew its horn. We lurched forward.

Mom, Norm, Stephanie, and I had flown down to Fort Lauderdale, and we were meeting other members of the family on the ship. It was Stephanie’s grandmother’s seventy-fifth birthday, and Grammy Verra wanted everyone to help her celebrate, so she invited
the whole family to come with her on a birthday cruise to Grand Cayman, an island in the Caribbean. Grand Cayman was famous for its reefs and its snorkeling and scuba diving. Mom said it was also famous for its conservation of endangered species of animals.

I had only met Grammy Angela Verra once before, and that was at Mom and Norm’s wedding April before last. She was slim with short silver hair, and she’d worn a silver, sparkly top to match. “So I have a new granddaughter,” she’d said to me at the reception, placing one hand on each of my cheeks. Her voice sounded young, not an old-lady voice at all.

“Not your real granddaughter,” I’d said, stepping away.

“Real enough for me,” she’d said. “And I think it’s just great.”

Then for my birthday in August, she’d sent me a musical card that played “Celebrate Good Times” when you opened it. Whenever she called she insisted on talking to everyone in the family, including me. “Tell me what you’ve been up to,” she’d demand. She took yoga classes, and she had a dog named Botticelli, or Jelly for short. She’d been nice so far, but I basically didn’t trust people.

I would see what happened.

On the cruise, besides Grammy Verra, I would meet
Norm’s sister, Aunt Carol, her husband, Uncle Ted, and their two kids. Their family hadn’t been able to come to the wedding. Lauren was fourteen, Stephanie’s age, a year younger than me, and Luke was ten. Stephanie had known these cousins her whole life.

At first I figured they could knock themselves out having a great time on the cruise and leave me out of it. When everyone first started talking about coming on the cruise, I said I’d go stay with Dad. But Mom never even asked him.

“We’re a family now, and we do things as a family,” Norm had said. “And that’s how it is.” He was big into us being a family these days.

So, here I was, not knowing anyone. Zooming around about an eight on the Moronic Mood-o-Meter. Dr. Shrink had given me this lame rating system for my moods, one to ten. One being in the depths. Ten being zooming all over the place. I’m supposed to try to stay at about five. She said that this trip would be a challenging time for me, blah, blah, blah. No kidding. A whole new family. Everybody was probably thinking I was a trouble maker. And with Stephanie practically like a sister to Aunt Carol’s kids.

And I missed the barn. I missed Commanche, my buddy, the horse I rode most at the barn. He didn’t ask me questions about my moods. He just came to
the stall door to greet me and twitched his ears when I talked to him.

When Mom and Norm first got married, I lived with them and Stephanie lived with her mom and only came to stay with us every other weekend. Mom and Norm always acted like it was a special occasion when she was here, making plans for movies and stuff. Since we started high school this year, though, Stephanie had been living with us full time. I think she asked to. Something about her wild stepbrother, Matt. So instead of bringing her overnight bag and staying in the guest room, she had dragged over tons of mostly pink stuff and turned the guest room into a pink palace.

When we first got to know each other, on a summer trip to a mountain ranch before eighth grade, I started out being mean to her. I made fun of her clothes, her fancy jeans, and pink boots. I even made her horse spook. We were so different. She was prissy and afraid of everything. But she helped me free the wolves. We got into a lot of trouble together. Last spring at our trip to the Outer Banks, we got in trouble again, but Stephanie had been cool to me. She defended me. I started feeling more like I could trust her. I started feeling that maybe we could be a family.

But Stephanie moving in with us had changed things.
It had changed the whole way the family worked. I actually liked it more, and I didn’t think I would.

I glanced over at her, beside the other window, wearing the hot-pink skort and top she had been jokingly calling her “cruise wear.” I just wore my regular jean shorts. Mom had brought home some white shorts with a bunch of tops for me, and I’d said, “No way.” But we were going to have to dress up one night during the cruise. Mom made me try on the bridesmaid’s dress I wore to their wedding, but over the past year and a half, I had grown, and it was too short and tight, so she’d gone out with Stephanie and bought me a new one. It was purplish with some ruffles on the front that Mom and Stephanie both insisted were in style. Ruffles! I was dreading having to wear it. And I couldn’t stand the fact that they bought it for me together.

Now Stephanie was up on her knees trying to count the upper decks. She was excited about seeing her cousins. They’d probably be fake nice to me. I bet they’d talk about me behind my back. Talk about how I had mood problems and had to take pills.

Now the cab driver turned to Norm.

“I can’t get any closer. You’ll have to get out here and walk.”

“Okeydokey,” Norm said, and he slapped his hand on the back of the seat. “Let’s do it, folks.”

And so in the middle of the parking lot, with all the engines idling and the waves of heat rising around us, we piled out of the taxi and grabbed our luggage. Mom had made sure my new suitcase had wheels, so I pulled it along behind me as we wove through the maze of cars. Stephanie’s suitcase was bigger than mine, and she had to wedge it sideways between two taxis. It fell over. Typical.

As usual, I went over and helped her.

“Oh, thanks, I’m just too excited or something,” Stephanie chattered as I flipped her suitcase upright and got it settled back on its wheels. “Aren’t you excited?”

“Sure,” I said.

“We’re rooming with Lauren,” she added over her shoulder as we walked single file between two yellow taxis. “She’s great. You’ll love her. This is going to be so awesome!”

“Yeah.” I’d seen pictures of Lauren. You could tell she and Stephanie were cousins; there was a definite family resemblance. She had dark hair, like Stephanie, and her olive skin was the same too. But she was taller and more athletic-looking. She played soccer and volleyball, I think. And in every picture I’d seen, she was laughing.

Was I going to “love” her the way Stephanie said? How many people in the world did I love, anyway?

We got closer and closer to the ship and were soon walking in its enormous shadow. I craned my neck to look up, up at the decks rising above me. A slanted walkway led inside the ship. Mom carried our tickets and passports, so she went first.

We had to leave our luggage in a big warehouse-looking room. The cabin stewards would bring our suitcases to our staterooms later. We got our room numbers and headed into the ship, ending up on a landing with wide flights of stairs and elevators with golden doors and fancy patterns in the maroon carpet. On either side of the stairways were long, thin corridors with rows of closed doors. Other passengers, looking as confused as I felt, stood beside the diagram of the interior of the ship and tried to decide which way to go. Crew members in neat, short-sleeved white shirts hurried by, their feet skimming the stairs.

“Okay, this is our deck,” Mom said. “I think our rooms are closer to the back of the ship, so I think we should turn left and go down this hallway.”

“Shouldn’t we turn right and go that way?” Norm said, pointing to the diagram on the wall.

I was completely turned around. I didn’t know where the front of the boat was, or where the back was. I didn’t know which direction was the land and which was the sea.

“This way, I think,” said Stephanie, heading into the narrow corridor, then turning left. After staring at the diagram of the ship for a few more seconds, we all started following Stephanie and watching the room numbers as they went up.

“Great, Stephanie, you’ve always had a good sense of direction,” Norm said.

I looked at Stephanie’s back ahead of me, and I thought I saw her straighten her shoulders. Such a daddy’s girl.

We followed the straight, narrow corridor all the way along the side of the ship until finally we arrived at our rooms.

“Look!” said Stephanie. “Our names!”

She pointed to a card beside the door frame with fancy printed type: Stephanie Verra, Lauren Whitt, and Diana Williams.

Mom gave us both our key cards. Her and Norm’s room was right next door to ours. Just as I slid my key card through the card holder, the door flew open from the inside.

“Hey!” the girl inside squealed. It had to be Lauren. Long dark hair and olive skin like Stephanie. She was taller than Stephanie though, with a more athletic build, and with a longer, slimmer face.

“Lauren!” Stephanie squealed at the same time.

I was right in between the two of them, and they jumped in front of me so fast to hug each other, I had to duck to get out of the way.

“Oh my gosh, you look so cute! It’s so great to see you!” Lauren cried.

“You too!” said Stephanie.

“Hey, Lauren!” said Norm, giving Lauren a hug. “This is my wife, Lynn, and her daughter, Diana.”

Lauren stepped back from hugging Norm and looked at Mom for a second, and then hugged her too. “Hi!” she said. “It’s so exciting that you guys got married. I wish I could’ve come to the wedding.”

“We do too,” Mom said.

“Hi, Diana,” Lauren said to me, politely wrapping her arms around my shoulders too. “It’s great that we’re going to have a chance to get to know each other on the cruise. Stephanie’s told me a bunch about you.”

“Probably complaining about me,” I said.

Mom and Stephanie both gave me a look. Oops. I should have stopped to think about that one for a few extra seconds.

“No,” said Stephanie slowly. “I wasn’t.”

“Of course she wasn’t, Diana,” Mom said, pointing to her temple with the signal Dr. Shrink had given us to show when I needed to stop and think about what I was saying and doing.

“Whatever,” I said, looking at the floor.

“Well, we’re going to have a great time,” Stephanie said quickly.

“Yes, yes, yes!” Lauren said, jumping up and down. “They have ice-cream sundaes right now on the pool deck—let’s all go.”

I shrugged. “Okay.”

“Daddy, can we go get ice-cream sundaes now?”


“Attention, passengers!” a disembodied voice with a foreign accent broadcast through the corridor. “In thirty minutes’ time, all passengers must report with their life jackets to their muster stations. Repeat, all passengers please report with life jackets to their muster stations in thirty minutes’ time.”

“Muster stations? What’s that?” Lauren asked.

“The place you’re assigned to go if there is any emergency,” Norm said. “We should stay together for that, and then maybe you all can go get sundaes afterward. Where are your parents, Lauren?”

“They’re right next door—that way.” She pointed. “My brother is staying in the room with them. Grammy gets a special room since it’s her birthday—she’s on a higher deck, and she has a balcony.”

“Lucky Grammy!” said Norm.

“We need to write down everybody’s room numbers so we can get them straight,” Mom said.

“I want to see our room!” Stephanie said. Lauren stepped back to let Stephanie in, and I followed her.

The room was tiny. Across from the door, a wall featured a round porthole the size of a beach ball. Through it you could see part of a lifeboat, and beyond that, the ocean and sky. Against the wall next to the door, and also across from it, were two sets of narrow bunk beds. A tiny desk with drawers was attached to the fourth wall. Two small, U-shaped easy chairs were arranged around a small circular table, and behind it a small refrigerator was set into the wall. Everything fitted together perfectly.

“Everything’s so tiny and cute!” Stephanie said.

A Lilliputian-sized bathroom lay behind a small latching door, with a tiny sink, commode, and shower. Trial-sized bottles of shampoo and conditioner and a selection of soaps and lotions were artfully arranged around washcloths and hand towels that had been folded to look like monkeys.

“Look at the monkeys!” I said to Stephanie and Lauren.

“That is so cool,” Stephanie said. “Can you believe the three of us are going to be staying in our own room together like this? I am so excited!”

“I know!” Lauren said. She took Stephanie’s hands, and they jumped around the room squealing. Spare me.

“I took this bottom bunk,” Lauren said, sliding onto the bunk and crossing her legs, with one flip-flop dangling.

“Do you want top or bottom, Diana?” Stephanie said with a quick look at me.

I glanced at Lauren. She probably wanted Stephanie to take the other bottom bunk so they could lie in their beds and talk to each other.

BOOK: Blue Autumn Cruise
9.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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