Dolphins at Sunset

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic
A downward spiral of life in a dismal coal mining town with an abusive husband and a dead-end job seems all that is in store for Rhonda Turner until she enters a company-sponsored contest for hairstylist of the year. The first prize is a trip of a lifetime aboard a luxurious "Windjammer" sailing vessel from New York to Istanbul, Turkey with exotic stops along the way. When Rhonda wins the contest, she is determined to take the trip and take it alone, despite her husband's strong objections.

When handsome Nicholas Alexandros boards the ship in London Rhonda's whole world changes, Nick is on his way home to the Greek Island of Naxos to help run the family-owned "Blue Shutters Inn" after the death of his father. Her growing attraction to Nick forces Rhonda to make one of three difficult choices, each of which could impact the balance of her life.

Her ultimate decision and the surprise ending to this warm and entertaining story will delight all readers. Dolphin's at Sunrise is perfect vacation reading.

Submitted: August 05, 2019

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Submitted: August 05, 2019

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DOLPHINS AT SUNSET

 

 

A lonely figure sat in the empty staff lunchroom, intently hunched over a book. With only five minutes left for the afternoon coffee break, Rhonda Turner didn’t want to waste a precious moment. Having left Laurel Run high school before graduation for financial reasons, Rhonda was now slowly and methodically working her way through a selection of literary classics. It was a desperate attempt to broaden her horizons beyond the crippling boundaries of small-town life.

She had shoved some empty coffee cups and overflowing ashtrays aside to make room on the badly stained tabletop for her books. A volume of famous quotations opened to a page with a word highlighted with a yellow marker and a question mark. Using the battered Oxford dictionary, she finally found the definition.

REQUIEM - “A mass or song in memory of the souls of the dead.”

 Rhonda nodded slowly to herself, “I have reached the point of no return. If I can’t change my life soon, my soul will probably be dead too. I guess they can start warming up a requiem for me anytime.”

She turned the next page and silently mouthed the famous quotation by Henry David Thoreau, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”. The author of the book of quotations made a notation that this version of the well-known quote was a misquotation of the original line from Thoreau’s book.

Misquote or not, Rhonda thought those words were the saddest thing she had ever read. She thought to herself, “How cruel it would be to reach the end of my life with a song still in me.”

Weary from trying to read books that required a dictionary for every other word, Rhonda picked up the latest copy of the World Traveller magazine and started to leaf through the pages. As usual, because she had never traveled, Rhonda was mesmerized by the exotic locales featured in the full-color pages.

Her mouth dropped open when she reached a four-page spread on the enchanting Greek Islands. Every page highlighted a different Island, but they all had one thing in common. Two dolphins soaring gracefully out of an azure sea in a gentle rainbow arc before plunging back into the depths of the Mediterranean.

Rhonda’s favorite photograph was the last one of the four. It showed two dolphins flying from the water’s surface in tandem, against a glorious full-color sunset. It was entitled “Dolphins at Sunset.”

After carefully making sure no one was watching, Rhonda tore the photograph from the magazine, folded it carefully, and placed it in her purse.  She pledged to herself, “Someday before I die, I will find some way to see Dolphins at sunset for myself.”

Rhonda slowly got up, closed her books, and headed back to work. Donna Lee, the manager of the Shears to Share Salon, didn't take kindly to empty work-stations, especially when customers were waiting. Rhonda looked at her watch. Just three hours to go until the time of day arrived that she hated the most------when her safe refuge at work closed and she had to go home.

The door to the salon opened slowly, and her last customer of the day entered. He walked haltingly, leaning for support on the aluminum walker that was his constant companion. A portable miniature oxygen tank was strapped tightly to his sunken chest.

Old Bert Medley was a retired coal miner. Like many of his breed, he was suffering greatly from the devastating effects of black lung disease, the result of many years of labor in the poorly ventilated pits.

Rhonda greeted the old man with a cheerful hug before helping him into the chair. "What will it be today, Bert?"

Bert coughed deeply before answering, "Just make me look young again, Rhonda."

It was his standard line, but they both laughed anyway, and Rhonda got to work. With Bert's thinning hair, Rhonda knew she could finish up in less than five minutes, but Bert never thought he got his money's worth unless he was in the chair for at least a half-hour or more.

Rhonda didn't mind because old Bert was a great old story-teller. He always had a tale or two about his days in the mines. It helped to fill in the time for both of them.

Bert’s story today was one of his old favorites. The subject was the raging coal fires burning deep below many coal towns. Many people were unaware that the fires continued to rage below their feet. The old man took a deep breath and started, "You know, Rhonda most folks don't realize how bad these underground coal fires can be. Lots of them are still burning all over the States. We had one right here in Laurel Run that started in 1915 and didn't get put out until 1973."

Bert paused to catch his breath before continuing. "But the really big underground fire is just down the road in Centralia. It has been burning for forty-seven years right under the town. They say at its peak, when someone died, you could take them to the cemetery for a traditional burial and a cremation all at the same time.”

Rhonda laughed and replied, "I know you think this new president is going to bring back the glory days of coal but believe me, Bert, clean energy is the wave of the future." They continued their good-natured argument until Donna Lee came and announced it was closing time for the salon.

 

 

Home sweet home

Rhonda had to walk home from the salon again. The old red Ford pickup was over at Ernie’s Garage for the third time this year, and Ernie wouldn’t release it until all of the accumulated repair bills were settled. Rhonda was getting soaked because of the rainfall. The constant drizzle from dark leaden skies made the bleak coal town of Laurel Run look even more forlorn than usual.

 As she walked, Rhonda took stock of herself.  "I'm 32 years old, I’m always depressed, I’m too fat, and my feet hurt. I was born in this hell hole, and I’ll probably die here too."

 Rhonda wasn't really fat, just a little on the pudgy side. Aside from a few care lines on her face, she was quite an attractive woman. She knew she could slim down if she could resist joining her husband, Joseph Turner, in his constant diet of pizza, chicken wings, and beer.

She arrived at her home. “If you can call this a home," she thought to herself. She turned into the walkway almost tripping over the broken cement. The two-story clapboard bungalow was badly in need of a paint job. The front lawn was a joke. Anything she tried to plant on her own immediately died from the toxic build-up in the soil from many years of mining activities. The original red shingle roof showed numerous black tar patches. The patches resulted from the many vain attempts to hold back the incessant rain.

Rhonda took a key from her purse, started to use it but found the door unlocked. She could hear his loud snoring as soon as she entered the house. The pungent odor of cheap cigars and stale beer washed over her in waves. Her heart sank again.

The half dozen empty beer cans and overflowing ashtrays told the story. Joe Turner lay on the sagging old brown couch in a drunken stupor again, his drooling mouth wide open. He was also snoring at full volume, in competition with the television blaring in the background, still mindlessly tuned to a rerun of last week’s football final. A half-eaten cheese pizza was crawling with hungry houseflies.

Rhonda stared down in disgust at her husband of fifteen years. The bottom three buttons on his soiled plaid shirt had finally surrendered to the strain of his ample stomach. Rhonda watched in morbid fascination as his round white belly rose and fell through the opening in his shirt. Joe’s skin was as pale as a dead, bloated fish. Course, curly black hair, covered the pock-marked surface of his stomach.

The movement of Joe’s heavy breathing caused the hairs to move in unison like little black dancing worms. Rhonda took a picture of the sleeping beauty with her cell phone. Laughing hysterically before breaking into tears, she asked herself, “How the hell did I ever find myself here?”

It would be easy to assume that this was the age-old story of an impressionable young girl falling for the local football hero, but that was not the case. During his high school years, Joe Turner had only been a second-string quarterback, while Rhonda had been a very attractive and popular cheerleader.

Joe wasn’t a particularly smart guy or even that good looking, but he was very tenacious. He had pursued Rhonda with a single-minded determination, finally getting her to say “Yes” while she was still mending from a painfully broken relationship.

To this day, she was still not sure why she ever agreed to the marriage. She was only seventeen at the time of their wedding.

Joseph Turner was a loser. Every setback in life was always someone else's fault. After losing his pipefitting job at the mines almost four years ago for drinking on the job, Rhonda had been the primary breadwinner for them both. The few part-time jobs Joe managed to hold down barely provided for his daily beer allotment.

Things hadn’t been too bad with the marriage in the very early years. The downhill slide had started when Joe “conveniently” remembered, long after the wedding, to tell Rhonda that he was unable to father any children because of an old football injury.  Rhonda’s dreams of having a family of her own disappeared completely on that day.

Rhonda took one last look at her drunken spouse, shook her head and retreated to the kitchen. Joe still hadn’t replaced the three burnt out ceiling bulbs, so she sat on her own in the dim light, eating a boiled egg and a whole wheat bagel leftover from breakfast. When the meal was over, she again unsuccessfully attempted to rouse Joe from his stupor before retiring to the solace of her bedroom. She took the stolen dolphin picture from her purse and stared at it for several minutes, imagining herself actually in the photograph.

She turned off the bedroom lights and stared up at the ceiling before sighing, “Maybe tomorrow will be a better day.”

Outside, the rain continued to fall. Rhonda thought it would never end.

 

 

Joe Turner

 

Joe Turner was pissed off, and he showed it. The only things packed into the dented old aluminum motorboat with any care were the two cases of Three Star ale. The fishing rods, bait, and life jackets barely survived the loading process.

Joe’s fishing buddy, Toby Blackstone, was curious, “What the hell’s wrong with you, Joe?”  

“Same old crap Toby, the old lady is on my back non-stop these days. I’m fed up with all the bullshit. Most days, I can hardly wait for her to go to work so I can get some peace.”

They pushed the boat away from the dock with Joe at the helm. During the thirty-minute ride out to their favorite fishing spot, Toby took the time to take a close look at his long-time friend. He didn't like what he saw. Joe's features were bloated, his stomach much more pronounced, his clothing was dirty, and frankly, Toby thought, “He looks like a homeless bum.”

Joe tossed the anchor over the side while Toby baited the rods. They were fishing for black bass, a local favorite. For years, Toby and Joe had a pact that, so far, had never been broken. The pact was - “No, Fish-No Beer." Under the terms of the pact, each fisherman could not open a beer until he caught a fish. The rivalry to be the first to open a brew was quite intense. On a few trips, Toby and Joe had both come close to being the only one without a beer, but one or the other always managed to snag at least a small one.

“Got one!” yelled Toby as he boated a nice three pounder. The fish was still flopping on the bottom of the boat when Toby cracked the twist top of his first cold ale. He made an exaggerated point of waving the beer in front of Joe’s face. Joe swore at him and made an obscene gesture.

If Joe was pissed off before, he was doubly so when Toby proceeded to boat the next three fish, each one accompanied by another cold beer. Toby goaded his friend, "Maybe your bad mood is traveling down your fishing line and scaring them off."

With only an hour of fishing left, Joe had still not boated a fish. His black mood had slowly intensified over the afternoon. When Toby hooked yet another one, Joe lost control, threw his fishing rod into the water and grabbed two cans of beer. He sat in the bow, glaring at Toby, almost daring him to comment on the beer.

One after another, Joe quickly downed the remaining cans of beer. Toby just watched in dismay. Finally, when the alcohol hit, Joe started to talk. “That’s it for me, Toby, when we get home, I'm going to give her an ultimatum. Get off my back or get the hell out."

Toby tried his best to talk some sense into Joe, even going as far as to point out that Joe's drinking and lack of a job would make any woman pretty unhappy. Joe wasn't listening to any advice, so Toby pulled the anchor and headed for the dock. He thought Joe’s behavior lately showed that he was in serious need of professional help.

 

 

The Contest

 

Rhonda arrived at work right on the dot at 9:00 a.m. Her day had started with a vicious argument with Joe about his drinking. Her husband had slammed the door after announcing that he was going fishing with Toby Blackstone and wouldn't be home until late.

Rhonda didn't care anymore.  She was too excited because today was the day of the big announcement. The company she worked for with over two hundred salon franchises in North America, had recently announced a chain-wide contest for the title of "Stylist of the Year.” Each franchise was allowed to submit one pictorial entry depicting their best original individual hair treatment.

The salon manager, Donna Lee, had encouraged Rhonda to submit a contest entry. It took significant coaxing before Rhonda reluctantly agreed to send in an entry. Her contest entry was a striking portrait of Casandra Norton, a promising young local artist, and one of the few close friends Rhonda had in town.

Rhonda was very talented. She had carefully teased the young woman’s hair into a high feathered crest. The highlights skillfully blended into a pleasing color combination of steel gray and cobalt blue. The final product was an intriguing blend of premature aging and youth. Rhonda had submitted the entry with the simple title of “KASSY.”

The company was scheduled to announce the name of the first prize winner today. The Grand Prize was still a mystery, but the rumor mill said it would be something terrific.

Just after the lunch break, Kassy Norland dropped into the Salon. She parked her wet umbrella in the corner before giving Rhonda a big hug. "I couldn't wait any longer Rhonda; the suspense of this contest is killing me. Do you think we have any chance of winning?"

Rhonda shrugged. "I haven't got a clue if we are even in the running Kassy, but at least we gave it a good try. Besides, you're okay - you at least got a free hairdo." They both laughed, and Kassy joined Rhonda on her coffee break.

The girls were in the middle of catching up on the latest town gossip when a UPS delivery van stopped in front of the salon. The heavy-set driver slowly emerged from the vehicle into the rain. He was wearing one of those bright yellow rain slickers as he approached the salon doors.

He appeared to be having trouble identifying the address. For a moment, it looked like he was returning to his truck, but finally, he stuck his head through the door, peering down at the sodden label. Everyone in the salon stopped talking and stared intently at the man. He checked the label again and said, “Is there a Mrs. Rhonda Turner here? I have a special delivery for her.”

Rhonda was too nervous to answer. Rhonda had never won anything in her life. A mining accident that claimed her father’s life scarred her early years in Laurel Run. Rhonda’s mother did the best she could to try and care for Rhonda on her own, but it was a constant struggle to make ends meet.

Rhonda tried to help by working at several part-time jobs in addition to going to school, but when her mother developed a terminal illness, it was the last straw. Rhonda was forced to leave school just months before graduation.

Now, Rhonda was gripping a special delivery envelope that could be the first big thing that had ever happened to her. She wanted desperately to wait and open it in the privacy of her home, but the crowd kept chanting, "Open it up! Open it up!"

Her friend Kassy said, "If you don't open it right now, Rhonda, we’ll have to do it for you." Rhonda sat in one of the styling chairs so she wouldn't faint. Everyone crossed their fingers and held a collective breath.

With trembling hands and beads of sweat running down her back, Rhonda opened the special delivery envelope. The regular customers crowded around her, anxious to hear the results. The letter read:

Special Delivery

Personal & Confidential

Dear Mrs. Turner,

We are pleased to announce that your entry titled "KASSY" is the winner in our "STYLIST OF THE YEAR" competition. Everyone here at our head office just loved your presentation. With your permission, we would like to feature it in all of our seasonal advertising programs.

Now for the good news! As the first-place winner, you will receive an “all-expense” paid luxury vacation aboard a 365-foot Windjammer sailing vessel, the Star Galaxy for her 30-day repositioning cruise from New York to Istanbul, Turkey. The Star Galaxy will make multiple stops, including Tenerife, London, the Amalfi Coast, and the Greek Islands.

It is important to note that your prize only covers trip expenses for one person. You are free to invite a spouse or friend to accompany you, providing they are responsible for their own expenses. Full details about the trip are on the way to you under separate cover.

Because we had so many wonderful contest entries to choose from, our panel decided to award a second-place prize as well.

Ms. Dorothy Morton from our Seattle franchise will also be aboard the Star Galaxy for the trip. Hopefully, you will get the opportunity to meet her on the ship.

Again, congratulations from all of us

Peter Thompson,

Vice President, Marketing

Shears to Share Inc.

 

 

For Rhonda, the balance of the day went by in a daze. Everyone was hugging and clapping her on the back. Even the manager, Donna Lee, in a rare show of emotion, started crying and joined in on the celebrations. The turmoil went on for such a long time; they gave up even trying to do hair treatments. Donna Lee closed the shop and gave everyone the rest of the day off, with pay.

Rhonda trudged home slowly through the falling rain, her mind spinning from an overload of conflicting thoughts. As she approached her house, she noted that the dilapidated red pickup was back in the driveway indicating that Joe was home. It was still early in the afternoon. He probably wouldn't be passed out yet but would have had enough alcohol to be in a very combative mood. In her mind, Rhonda could almost see his violently negative reaction to her news about winning the fabulous trip.

As she entered the house ready for the confrontation, Rhonda steeled her resolve. She was one hundred percent sure of only three things. One, she was going on the trip because she desperately needed it. Two, Joe Turner would not be going with her under any circumstances. And, lastly, Rhonda Turner was determined she was never going to go to her grave with a song still buried inside her.

 

 

Nicholas Alexandros

 

Friday night in New York. The pre-dinner cocktail hour at the popular meeting spot called “BUZZ!” was jumping. Business types from all walks of life were engaged in the usual weekend mating ritual, which was now frantically taking place at the bar. Denny Lee turned to his friend Nicholas Alexandros and nudged him with his elbow.

“Hey Nicky, check out the beautiful red-head at the end of the bar; she looks perfect for you.”

Nick looked over at the glamorous woman smiling at him. He just shrugged, "How many times do I have to tell you guys, I have no interest in New York women. Too hard, too brittle and way too mercenary for me.”

The third member of the trio, Jack Youngman, laughed, “I think you’re just terrified of what your old Greek Momma would say if you brought someone like that bombshell home with you to Naxos.”

They all laughed, but Nick said ruefully, "There just might be some truth in that- I can see her face now.”

The three guys had agreed to get together for a good news, bad news evening. The good news was the celebration of the unexpected success of Nick’s fledgling new internet enterprise. The bad news was that Nick was leaving New York for good. He had to return to the Greek Island of Naxos to help his mother, Alexia.

Nick’s father, Gus Alexandros, had passed away suddenly a year ago, leaving Nick’s mother with the total responsibility of running the family business. The picturesque Blue Shutters Inn, located on a sloping hillside in the picturesque town of Chora on the Greek Island of Naxos, had been the prize possession of several Alexandros generations. Mother Alexia was determined to keep the tradition alive. Alexia had always insisted that she was capable of running the business on her own, but recent health concerns had finally caused her to turn to Nicholas for help.

The “good news” celebration of the evening was the result of a friendly challenge that had started as a joke.  Nick's buddies, Jack Youngman, and Denny Lee, both worked for a New York firm that specialized in writing applications for various models of smartphones, while Nick was a very talented software engineer working on very advanced artificial intelligence programs.

He kept kidding the others that any low-level programmer could write software for smartphone applications. Over beers one night, Denny and Jack bet a steak dinner that Nick couldn't write a successful app if he tried.

After several more beers, Nick accepted the challenge. He firmly believed that even the most ridiculous applications would be accepted by the smartphone suppliers, whether the app made any sense or not, simply to pad their numbers.

Strictly as a joke, Nick had developed a smartphone application called “PETS NO GO!” It was designed to keep track of the fertility cycles of household pets. The app helped to ensure a pet wouldn’t get loose at a time that could produce unwanted offspring.

 At first, only a few pet owners downloaded the new app. Parisian ladies, wanting to ensure their pet "Fifi" remained celibate, were typical of the downloads. Then, to everyone's amazement, the program came to the attention of farmers all over the world. It appeared that the software turned out to be extremely useful in keeping track of the breeding cycles of their livestock.

Internet revenues last month for “PETS NO GO!” exceeded $100,000.00 for the first time with no sign of slowing down. This newfound revenue stream convinced Nick that he could give up his high paying New York position and return home to help manage the Inn.

Denny pointed to several unattached ladies now staring at their table with interest. “This is why we always bring you here, Nick; you’re irresistible.”

 Nicky was embarrassed at being used as bait, but what his friends said was true. Nicholas Alexandros was a very attractive man. Long and lean, dark black wavy hair with a killer smile to round out the package. Nick was in his early thirties, and because of his fanatical exercise regime, looked like he could run a marathon at the drop of a hat. Although he had an easy-going manner, Nick was a dependable guy in a clutch.

Finally, it was time to wind up the evening, but Nick refused to leave until his good friends had both sworn an oath to come to visit him on the Greek island of Naxos.

“What's it like on Naxos, Nicky?' queried Denny Lee.

Nick took a long breath and replied, “Naxos is the very best of the Greek islands. It’s like heaven on earth. Long sandy beaches, misty mountains rising from an azure sea, flowers in abundance, gentle breezes always blowing. But most of all its the people. Full of life, singing and dancing at the drop of a hat and always welcoming to strangers.”

 Nick shook hands all around and said, “I better get home and pack, I’m on the early flight to London in the morning.”

Jack Youngman said, “We’re going to miss you, Nick. Please make sure you keep in touch.”

 

 

 

 The Star Galaxy

 

Rhonda stood at the railing of the ship waving a sad farewell to her friends. Kassy, Donna Lee and old Bert Medley had all driven down from Laurel Run to see her off.

Earlier, Bert presented her with a bouquet of slightly wilted flowers. The sight of the old man standing there with his oxygen tank brought tears to her eyes. Rhonda was fond of the old coal miner and wondered if she would ever see him again.

Bert was waving madly from the dock. “Bon Voyage Rhonda, don’t forget to send us a postcard.”

“I won’t forget Bert, and don’t you dare have your hair cut by anyone else before I get back.”

As the large sailing ship pulled slowly away from the wharf, Rhonda became acutely aware of the very well dressed passengers lining the rails. The women, in particular, seemed to be decked out in their finest.

Rhonda, out of necessity, was wearing her second-best dress. Her first choice for her new holiday going away outfit was a classic little black dress. It was Rhonda’s first real extravagance. Her friend, Kassy, accompanied her when she made her purchase from Lou’s Clothing Emporium in Laurel Run. Both girls thought the dress looked great on Rhonda.

Unfortunately, the pretty new dress had fallen victim to one of Joe Turner’s middle of the night, drunken rages.

Rhonda had moved into the spare bedroom after a series of arguments with Joe about the trip. He was adamant that she wasn't to go, and she was equally determined that she would. The stalemate ended up in frigid silence. The night before leaving Rhonda had hung her new outfit on the back of the kitchen door to have it free of creases, ready to go for an early departure.

 When she woke up in the morning, she found her ruined outfit soaking wet, reeking of beer and lying crumpled on the kitchen floor. Joe’s note said, “Gone fishing. Have a nice time, Bitch, don’t hurry back/” Rhonda boarded her bus crying and didn’t stop until she got off in New York.

 

 

The welcome cocktail party aboard the Star Galaxy was a gala event. Champagne flowed like water. The waiters continually circled the guests with tray after tray of delicious snacks. Rhonda was feeling a little out of place until she finally managed to meet up with Dorothy Morton, the second-place contest winner from Seattle. The Company hadn’t mentioned that both the contest winners were expected to share a double cabin.

At first, Rhonda wasn’t too happy with the sleeping arrangements, but her concerns disappeared when she discovered Dorothy was an outgoing, friendly, and very warm lady. Rhonda took an instant liking to her traveling companion. The two shared several glasses of wine, trading tales of experiences on the job before finally retiring to their cabin for the night.

The cabin was small for two people but luxuriously furnished with fine towels, bedding, and the very best of cosmetic products. The women continued chatting while preparing for bed. Rhonda finished first and climbed into her bunk. She was feeling the effects of far more alcohol than she would normally consume.

“Are you married, Dorothy?”

“Nope, been there, done that. No interest in repeating a disaster. How about you, Rhonda?”

Rhonda took a minute before answering, “I guess legally, I’m married, but after last night, I’m not sure anymore.”

“What happened last night?’

Normally Rhonda wouldn't have confided in someone she just met but the alcohol and the pain she was feeling, combined to open the floodgates. She told Dorothy about Joe’s drunken rages, their soul-destroying living conditions, the hopelessness of Laurel Run and finally about her ruined going away dress.

“Wow. It sounds like you’ve got a real bastard on your hands, honey. I hope you can find a way out before he ruins the rest of your life.”

With the lights, out and before falling asleep, Rhonda reflected on the events of the day. She had never been to a real cocktail party, never had champagne before, and now she was on a beautiful sailing ship headed for unknown places. The stark contrast between her mundane daily life in a small, depressed coal-mining town in comparison to the evening she had just spent with a group of friendly, well-dressed, happy people, was almost hard to fathom.

Although Rhonda had a wonderful sleep that night, it was her last. For the next eight days, shipboard life was a living hell for her. Shortly after midnight, the Star Galaxy sailed into a violent Atlantic storm that lasted for several days.

Rhonda, having never been to sea before, was so seasick she couldn't even get out of her bunk without assistance. Dorothy, fortunately, was not inflicted by the turbulence. She took care of Rhonda and made sure she at least had a bowl of chicken broth each day.

Rhonda was retching in a bucket. “My God, Dorothy, I never knew it was possible to feel so sick. Is this bloody storm almost over?”

“The Captain says we’re on course to be in port early tomorrow morning, from then on the weather looks much better. Now try and get some more of this broth down, it will help.”

Finally, the ship reached the Port of Tenerife, and Dorothy helped prepare Rhonda for some fresh air out on the deck. When Rhonda passed the full-length cabin mirror, she was astonished. She had lost almost fifteen pounds from her forced dieting.  Her youthful figure had returned. She made a silent vow to keep it that way.

On the voyage from Tenerife to London, the Star Galaxy made smooth sailing. Rhonda was starting to enjoy the bracing sea air, and the gentle motion of the ship as the vessel rose to meet the oncoming waves. Rhonda took advantage of the yoga and exercise programs offered by the crew, and gradually each day, her depression faded away.

As the days passed by, Rhonda steadily increased the number of speed walking trips around the open main deck. She started to be uncomfortably aware that a growing number of the male passengers were giving her more than just a passing glance.  And not just passengers, crew members too.

“Dorothy, I’m having a real problem with the purser, Ricardo Sanchez, he keeps asking me to join him for a drink. I told him three times that I’m married, but he just shrugged and said, “At sea, no one is married.”

Dorothy laughed, “Well, he may have a point.”

“You’re awful! I’m serious, Dorothy. Look at this invitation that someone slid under the door this morning. He wants me to join him for a private dinner in his cabin tonight. What should I do?

“I’ve got a great idea kiddo, leave it to me.”

 

 

Promptly at 7:00 p.m., Rhonda knocked on the door of the Purser’s cabin. As instructed by Dorothy, Rhonda wore the lowest cut sweater top she owned, along with her tightest dress, and plenty of makeup. She was very nervous.

Ricardo opened the door and leered at her when he saw the low cut sweater. He was a short, wiry man with a pencil-thin mustache. He was wearing black pants, a ruffled white shirt, and reeked of strong cologne.

He took Rhonda by the hand and ushered her into his cabin, but just as he started to close the door, Dorothy ran from where she was hiding and followed them in. Ricardo looked startled at the unexpected intrusion.

“Oh, I’m so sorry to be late, Mr. Sanchez, but I couldn’t get that damned hair dryer to work properly. I hope I didn’t keep anyone waiting.”

 Rhonda was trying not to laugh.

In the center of the spacious cabin, a table for two waited with candles already lit. The small table gleamed with sparkling silverware and multiple wine glasses. A silver bucket of iced Champagne stood waiting, while low romantic music played in the background.

Dorothy quickly pulled out a seat for Rhonda and then sat in the other saying, “Oh, isn’t this nice Rhonda, being served an exclusive dinner by the purser himself.”

Now Ricardo was in a quandary. After all, they were paying passengers, and he couldn’t afford to give them any reason to report him to the Captain. He was already on thin ice because of several previous female passenger “misunderstandings.”

“I wasn’t aware that I would have the pleasure of two lovely ladies tonight?”

Dorothy looked affronted, “Surely, you didn’t think that Mrs. Rhonda Turner would attend a private dinner with a man, unattended by her chaperone?”

“Chaperone?”

“Yes, you may not be aware that Mrs. Turner is here representing our Company, Shears to Share. Our president will not allow any circumstance that could reflect badly on our organization. He has appointed me to be Rhonda’s chaperone for her entire company-sponsored trip. Everywhere she goes, I go to.”

Sanchez was crestfallen, “Everywhere?”

“Yes, everywhere.”

“Oh.”

After consuming a sumptuous meal served by a reluctant purser, the girls laughed as they walked back to their cabin, discussing the fine points of the evening.

“Did you see Ricardo’s face when he saw you hanging out the front of your sweater Rhonda? I thought his eyes would bug out of his face. He’s probably still got a big you know what.”

“Dorothy, you really are disgusting!!”

 

 

A New Arrival

 

After arriving from New York, Nicholas spent several days touring all the historical spots in London and the surrounding areas. But after hearing his mother’s voice on the phone, he was anxious now to get back home to the Island of Naxos. He stopped in at the travel agency located in his hotel lobby to try and make the flight arrangements.

The helpful lady behind the counter checked her computer several times before saying, "I'm really sorry, Mr. Alexandros, but there is no direct flight from London to Naxos anymore. The best we can do is to get you on a direct flight to Athens. From there, you can board the Blue Line ferry to Naxos.”

Nick was just about to tell her to book the flight to Athens when he noticed a brochure advertising last-minute specials for a Windjammer cruise to Istanbul, Turkey. He asked the woman if the ship stopped anywhere in the Greek Islands.

She made a phone call, and her face lit up. "Great news Mr. Alexandros, the last stop for the Star Galaxy before ending her cruise at Istanbul, is the island of Naxos. I can get you a nice first-class cabin at a discount if you book right away.” Nick booked a cabin for the 10:00 a.m. sailing the next day.

 

 

Dorothy Morton hopped from one foot to the other bubbling with excitement as she applied the final touches to her makeup. Rhonda laughed and said, “You look great Dorothy, are you getting ready to meet the Captain?”

 Both girls had received an engraved invitation for cabin A249 to join Captain Rolf Peterson’s table for a gala dinner after the ship departed from London for Gibraltar.

“I wonder if we should tell the Captain about that creep Sanchez?”

“I don’t think so, Dorothy, he seems to have learned his lesson. The man hasn’t come near me since our dinner party.”

Captain Peterson stood as the girls approached his table. He was a tall, wiry, attractive man with a full head of steel grey wavy hair, and a charming smile.

“Good evening Mrs. Turner and Miss Morton. May I introduce your fellow passengers? The tall gentleman on my right is Mr. Nicholas Alexandros from New York and across the table is Mr. Gregory Fairchild from Vancouver, Canada.”

They all shook hands before taking seats around the elegantly laid out table. The crystal wine glasses sparkled with the reflection of the flickering candles. Fresh flowers in vibrant colors contrasted wonderfully against the starched white table coverings. A string quartet played soft dinner music in the background.

At first, Rhonda was petrified. There was such a multitude of silverware that she had no idea what to use first. She took her cue from Nick Alexandros who seemed very much at home with the surroundings. They started with Caesar salad, Scottish smoked salmon, Chateaubriand of rare roast beef and Tiramisu for dessert. Rhonda had never tasted any of the dishes before but loved them all.

It was an enjoyable evening. The Captain was a genial host, and Nick entertained them with stories of life in New York. They all laughed when he described his adventures with the app “PETS NO GO!”

Gregory Fairchild was an interesting fellow as well. He was tall, but not as tall as Nick. He had thick sandy hair, a pleasant face and exuded an air of competence. He had just sold his legal practice and was taking the trip to give some thought to the direction of his future career. Dorothy, in particular, seemed to hang onto every word Greg uttered.

During a pause in the conversation, Rhonda asked the Captain if they would see any dolphins on the voyage.

Before the Captain could answer, Nick started to laugh, “Rhonda, as soon as we enter Greek waters, you will see more flying dolphins than you can imagine. The little buggers even follow my boat every time I go out fishing.”

At the end of the meal Rhonda stood up, “Thank you for a wonderful evening Captain; I enjoyed every minute of the conversation, and the meal was great.”

“You are most welcome, Mrs. Turner. Perhaps we can dine again before the trip ends. Have you booked any shore excursions for Gibraltar tomorrow?”

Rhonda wasn’t sure what to say. The trip package paid for by the company did not make any reference to extra trips, and with her limited budget, Rhonda had just planned on exploring each port on her own.

Nick sensing her discomfort stood up and casually remarked, “I don’t know if you ladies would have any interest, but Greg and I have rented a car for tomorrow. We’re going to have lunch and explore Gibraltar. You are most welcome to join us if you like.”

Before Rhonda could say a word, Dorothy jumped in and said, “You bet, we would!”

That night the girls lay in their bunks talking about the beautiful evening at the Captain's table. Dorothy reached over to put out the light and said, "I don't know about you Rhonda, but I'm looking forward to tomorrow. I like Greg; he seems like a decent man. And as for that dreamboat Nicky, he could hardly keep his eyes off you all evening."

Rhonda was happy the cabin was dark so Dorothy couldn’t see her blushing. “Oh, come off it Dorothy, I’m just an old married woman trying to have a little fun in my life for a change.”

The only sounds coming from the other bunk were peals of hysterical laughter.

 

 

A Picnic

 

The next morning turned out to be beautifully sunny. After parking the rental car, the group joined a guided tour to learn more about the history of the fascinating Rock of Gibraltar and its strategic importance to Britain.

Rhonda stood on the observation platform looking out at the Mediterranean Sea. The winds churned the wave tops to a foaming white. It looked like whipped cream dotted randomly on the rolling crests of the deep blue water.

Roberto, the tour guide, pointed out the coast of Africa a mere eight miles away. Rhonda could see the outline of that mysterious continent through the drifting clouds.

Rhonda was miles away in thought, “I wonder what it would feel like to swim across the sea and explore the hidden secrets of that lush land instead of going home to the misery of Laurel Run?”

Her daydreams were interrupted by a low male voice, “A penny for your thoughts, Rhonda?”

“If you want to know what I was thinking about, Nick, you’ll have to try and guess first.”

Nick laughed. “That’s an easy one, Rhonda, you probably thought that it’s almost time for a gourmet lunch.”

“Not even close! I was actually daydreaming that I would like to be a mermaid and swim across the sea to Africa.”

Nick grinned. “I don’t know how good a swimmer you are, Rhonda, but I think you have a much better chance of having a gourmet lunch than paddling to Africa. Come and join us, lunch is all laid out.”

The ship’s catering manager had provided the group with a sumptuous picnic lunch of fancy sandwiches, smoked salmon, chilled shrimp and a large bottle of dry Chablis. Dorothy already had everything in place on one of the larger picnic tables. She also invited Roberto the guide to join them for the meal.

After the Greg poured the wine, Roberto was starting to explain that a very substantial portion of all world shipping passed within their view when the sudden surprise attack took place.

Within minutes the picnic table was surrounded by an assortment of gibbering monkeys, all reaching out for a snack. One monkey landed on Greg’s shoulder and started happily licking his ear. Greg jumped up to escape, spilling his wine all over his pants in the process.

Roberto laughed. “ They won’t hurt you, folks. These guys are the famous Gibraltar apes. There are about three hundred of them still living. They are the only wild apes in all of Europe.”

Nick said, “I think there is an old legend about these critters, isn’t that right, Roberto?”

Roberto nodded, “The apes have been here for many years, even before the British took possession of the Rock. The story says that if the apes ever abandon Gibraltar, the British troops would leave as well.”

Dorothy looked at her watch, “This has been great Roberto, but we better get moving, the ship is due to sail for Malta at 4:00 p.m. sharp.”

In the rental car on the way back to the ship Nick started to kid Greg, “Boy, Greg that ferocious beast must have badly frightened you.”

“Why would you say that?”

“Because it still looks like you pissed your pants.”

Roars of laughter came from the back-seat passengers. They were all still laughing when the Star Galaxy came into view.

 

 

It was a magical sunny day with light breezes and the ship cresting easily on gently rolling waves. Seabirds circled the ship in search of food, occasionally landing for a rest on the azure sea. Rhonda and Dorothy were doing multiple exercise laps around the main deck.

As they passed the outdoor swimming pool, they saw Nick stretched out on a deck chair, enjoying some sun. His metallic white bathing suit stood out in stark contrast to his olive complexion.

"Wow, take a good look, Rhonda, That Nicky is quite a hunk."

Rhonda blushed and replied, “Dorothy, stop acting like some teenage groupie, this is getting embarrassing.”

Nick noticed them and called out, “Can I interest you ladies in a pre-lunch cocktail?”

Dorothy answered, “Always ready for a libation any hour of the day or night, Nick, but where’s Greg?”

“He decided to take in the lecture on the history of Malta. We’ll probably be listening to facts and figures for the rest of the day.”

The two girls pulled up deck chairs and spent a relaxing hour, sipping on chilled white wine while listening spellbound as Nick talked about the many delights waiting for them on the Island of Naxos. As they talked, Rhonda noticed a small boat approaching, and then it started to run parallel with the Star Galaxy.

“What do you think that boat is doing, Nick?”

“I’ve only been here once, but I remember that although the harbor is beautiful, it has a very tricky entrance. I’m guessing the boat holds a local pilot.”

Nick stood up. “I guess we should go into lunch now ladies; the ship will dock in the next hour or so. I better go below and take my wet bathing suit off.”

After his bathing suit comment, Rhonda pretended not to notice Dorothy standing behind Nick, rolling her eyes and licking her lips in an exaggerated pantomime, but she was finding it very difficult not to laugh.

When Rhonda and Dorothy returned to the cabin after lunch, they found another note under the door. It was from the purser, Ricardo Sanchez, inviting the enchanting Rhonda Turner, if she had some time on her own, to a secluded lunch ashore at a little waterfront Inn in Valletta.

Dorothy laughed, “Wow, this guy sure has a thing for you Rhonda.”

“It’s not funny Dot. I thought he gave up after the aborted dinner, but it doesn’t seem to phase him that I’m a married woman.”

“That’s not enough to stop creeps like Sanchez, Rhonda. He probably hooks up with someone on every voyage. Why don’t we just tell him we’re gay; then maybe he’ll leave you alone.”

“Dorothy! You’re getting more and more outrageous as this trip goes on.”

 

 

Their time on Malta was very short but also very interesting. Greg had a folder full of notes from the shore briefing on the main sights of Valetta. He filled them in on the pertinent details as they walked.

“According to the lecturer,” Greg said, “the Knights of Malta initially started to build on this site in 1566. The vast fortifications atop the rocky heights kept the Island secure until Napoleon seized Valletta in 1798.”

With over 300 historic monuments to see, Greg’s tour group had to stay on the move for most of the afternoon, traveling from one famous site to another.

Finally, Rhonda said, "I’m enjoying this very much guys, but I have to get back to the ship a little early today."

Greg was puzzled, “Why is that Rhonda?”

“Sorry, I’m not a liberty to say.”

“I hope you’re not meeting up with ‘purser the pervert’ again,” Dorothy said.

Rhonda just laughed, “You’ll all find out in good time. Now, stop being so nosey. I have to run.”

 

 

The Nautical Lady

The onboard boutique, the Nautical Lady, was hosting a cocktail party and special fashion show for the ship’s passengers. It was scheduled to start shortly after their departure from Malta. When Julie Layton, the manager of the boutique, had asked Rhonda if she would volunteer to be a model, Rhonda agreed, but only if Julie kept her involvement a secret.

“I know that seems to be a funny request Julie, but I do want to surprise my friends.” Julie agreed not to say anything.

Dorothy, Nick, and Greg secured ringside seats for the fashion show, reserving a chair for Rhonda. “Where do you think Rhonda is, Dorothy?” queried Greg.

"I haven’t got a clue,” replied Dorothy, “Rhonda said to go ahead, and she would meet us here. That’s all I know.”

They ordered chilled Margaritas from the waiter before sitting back to watch the show. After seeing several outfits displayed on the backs of amateur models, Greg and Nicky started to get restless.

"I'm going to go and see if I can find Rhonda," said Nick.

 He stood up to leave but just then, the room lights dimmed, and Julie Layton announced that the next showing would be the top design of the evening. When the band started playing the theme from the song ‘Pretty Woman’ everybody clapped.

The packed crowd waited in anticipation. Finally, after three spotlights bathed the stage, the makeshift curtains rolled back, and Rhonda Turner made her world debut as a fashion model.

For a moment Nick couldn't even get his breath. Rhonda was stunning. Her ash blonde hair was swept up and fastened with a diamond tiara. The tiara sparkled in the beams from the spotlights. Rhonda’s gown was a long, form-fitting aquamarine silk masterpiece. It seemed to shimmer in the spotlight, shifting into different subtle shades of color as she turned and walked toward them. Greg and Dorothy stared with their mouths open.

Nick was afraid to look at his friends and even more afraid to keep staring at Rhonda, “I think I’m in deep trouble,” he said to himself.

Rhonda broke out into a radiant smile when she saw her friends in the audience. The crowd roared their approval and kept Rhonda on stage for several minutes of prolonged applause. The ship’s photographer was snapping shot after shot of Rhonda blowing kisses to the crowd.

Julie Layton, the manager of the Nautical Lady boutique, thanked Rhonda profusely for making the fashion show such a hit. She told Rhonda to bring the gown, shoes, and jewelry back in the morning. Rhonda planned to make good use of her bounty by wearing the outfit to dinner and then to the fashion show ball, scheduled for later in the evening.

Dorothy couldn't help noticing the subtle changes taking place in her friend since the start of the cruise. The early care lines on Rhonda’s face were much less noticeable, and she seemed far more animated than when they first met.

Dorothy thought to herself, “That bastard of a husband of her’s, must be grinding her into dust, I can’t imagine how she lives with him.”

 

 

After an elegant gourmet dinner, the group moved to the private ball-room for some dancing. Rhonda hadn't danced for years, but tonight she didn't miss a turn. She danced with the Captain, Greg, and then three times with Nick. She even took a spin on the floor with Dorothy, but when she saw the purser, Ricardo Sanchez heading her way, she made a hasty exit for the washroom.

“Greg and I are staying for the midnight seafood buffet; it’s supposed to be fabulous. How about you guys?’ said Dorothy.

Nick looked over at Rhonda, a question in his eyes. “I think I’m going to do a few turns around the deck before bed. Are you interested in joining me, Rhonda?”

Out on the open deck, the atmosphere was almost magical. The ship’s running lights danced on the full-rigged sails and moonlight glistened off the breaking wave tops, Despite the beauty of the scene surrounding them, Rhonda seemed vaguely preoccupied.

Nick noticed his friend's lack of focus and was concerned. "Is something bothering you, Rhonda?"

Rhonda paused before answering. “I’m not sure what to do Nick. Julie Layton told me after the show that the president of Magic Models Inc. is onboard, and he loved my modeling in the show. The man insists on meeting me to talk about a career opportunity in New York. Julie has booked an appointment for me with him at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow.”

“What are you going to do, Rhonda?”

“Well, Julie Layton made the appointment without even asking if I was interested. Maybe I’ll just cancel the meeting.”

Nick was concerned. He remembered the New York club scene and the scores of brittle and mercenary women he had met. Nick didn't say anything, but inside he was worried about the corrosive effect the New York lifestyle might have on Rhonda. She was a small-town girl at heart, and it would be a shame to see her get hurt.

Nick was uncomfortably aware that he was growing very fond of Rhonda.

Nick was about to voice his concerns about New York when Greg and Dorothy appeared on deck. They chatted for a few minutes about the great evening and Rhonda’s debut before reluctantly heading to bed.

Back in cabin A249, Rhonda told Dorothy about the pending appointment with the owner of the modeling agency, “What do you think I should do Dorothy? You know more about this stuff than I do.”

Dorothy thought to herself, “This could be the catalyst that gets this poor woman out of her downward cycle.”

Out loud, she said, “Go for it Rhonda, what have you got to lose?”

 

 

Don Moreland rose to his feet when Rhonda entered the Explorer’s Lounge for the 9:00 a.m. meeting. He shook hands and asked if she wanted some coffee. While he was placing the order, Rhonda took a close look at her host.

Moreland was a short, pudgy man, probably in his middle fifties. He wore an expensive-appearing, well cut light blue sports coat, and an open neck white shirt. Her overall impression was one of a successful and confident individual.

“Thank you for joining me this morning, Rhonda. Before we get started, I want you to look at something.” He handed her a large brown envelope. “I had the poor photographer work all night to get these ready for this morning.”

Rhonda opened the envelope and removed about two dozen large color photographs, all taken at the fashion show. They all showed only Rhonda. The pictures were stunning.

“Now, before you respond Rhonda, let me tell you what I see in these photos. I see something badly needed in the New York fashion scene. A sense of genuine fresh and natural enthusiasm. Our industry is full of “plastic” people. Even our youngest models these days project an aura of brittleness. In my opinion, and I do know this business, you would be an instant success.”

“What are you suggesting, Mr. Moreland?’

“Please call me Don, Rhonda.”

“Okay, Don it is.”

“Rhonda, I want you to come to New York on a one-year contract. At the end of the year, if we’re both happy, we can extend it for another term. I have a draft of the contract here for you to review. I’ll put it in the envelope with the pictures. I believe you’ll be very happy with the proposal because the terms are far more generous than we would normally offer a new model.”

Rhonda was suspicious. “Why would I get such a generous offer, Don?

“My gut tells me you will be on the cover of some of the top magazines before the year is out Rhonda and that’s why I’m making you an offer that will be hard to refuse. Now, take it away with you and think it over. We can talk again before the end of the cruise.”

Rhonda shook hands, took the envelope and went in search of her friends. She found Greg, Dorothy, and Nick having a pre-lunch drink on the back deck.

Dorothy smiled, “How did you make out with Don Moreland, kiddo?”

Rhonda reflected, “I like him. He seems like a straight shooter; someone you can trust.”

“What’s in the envelope?” Greg asked.

“Don gave me a draft of a proposed contract. I haven’t even looked at it,” said Rhonda.

“Do you want me to give them a fast-read, Rhonda? I’m still a lawyer even though I am out of my jurisdiction,” Greg said.

“That would be great, Greg,” Rhonda opened the envelope and handed the draft contract to Greg, but Nick spotted the photographs.

“Can I have a quick look at those, Rhonda?”

Rhonda was slightly embarrassed but passed them over. Dorothy crowded over next to Nick to take a look as well.

“Oh my God, Rhonda these shots are gorgeous. Can I get a copy of one to show my friends at home,” Dorothy asked?

Nick wanted a copy of them all but was afraid to ask.

Greg finished his review of the proposed contract. “I wish now I had become a model instead of a lawyer. Rhonda, iIf you don’t take this deal, I will!”

Rhonda smiled and asked, “Is it really that good, Greg?”

“Absolutely. I can go over the details with you later, but in summary, you get a great salary, a one year lease on a downtown apartment with domestic staff and a car and driver thrown in as well.”

Nick wasn’t even listening to the details. He was still staring at the photographs.

While the others went in for lunch, Dorothy told her friends she wanted to go back to the cabin to get her purse and freshen up. She combed her hair, refreshed her make-up, and was about to leave the cabin when she heard a knock at the door.

“Sorry, Madame. The ship’s communication officer asked me to deliver this with an apology. This telegram arrived before the ship departed from New York but somehow got delayed.”

Dorothy took the white envelope from the deckhand. It was not sealed, but it was for Mrs. Rhonda Turner. Dorothy had a normal amount of human curiosity, so she couldn’t resist taking a quick peek. The telegram from Laurel Run was very brief and read:

 

TELEGRAM

TO MRS. JOE TURNER, COME HOME IMMEDIATELY, YOU ARE FORGIVEN.……JOE

 

Dorothy thought for a moment of all the things Rhonda had told her about Joe and her miserable life in Laurel Run. She hesitated, then tore the telegram up and flushed it down the toilet. She shook her head thinking, “What an absolute prick that guy must be.”

 

 

Neptune

 

The pungent scent of aromatic, tree-ripened lemons wafted in on the late morning breezes, gently cooling the outdoor waterfront patio. Rhonda, Dorothy, Nick, and Greg were sharing a chilled bottle of locally made, highly potent Limoncello.

“Ah, the nectar of the gods.” exclaimed Nick as he took his first sip of the concoction.

 After a private boat tour of the majestic Blue Grotto over at the Isle of Capri, they had just returned from exploring the ancient hillside town of Sorrento. The panoramic view of the harbor with the Star Galaxy riding at anchor, made a memorable sight. Rhonda wanted to capture the moment, so they asked the waiter to take a picture of the four of them with the ship in the background.

“Are you having a good time Rhonda?” asked Dorothy.

“This is like a dream come true for me, Dorothy. I never knew that such a different world even existed.”

As she spoke, Rhonda stole a sideways glance at Nick. He was wearing an unbuttoned white linen shirt, white beach pants, and sandals. The wind was teasing his glossy black hair as he leaned back, laughing at a story Greg was telling.

Rhonda couldn't help but think, "He is so different from Joe Turner. Nicky is such an easy going, generous, very nice man indeed."

Almost as if he had heard her thoughts, Nicky turned and flashed his killer smile at her. “Oh God, I think I’m in deep trouble,” she said to herself.

To break the spell, Rhonda took her favorite picture out of her purse and showed it to the others.

“When am I going to see my two Dolphins at Sunset, Nick?”

Nick looked at the picture then said, “I have a strong feeling that you will see them tonight, Rhonda. We’re getting very close to the mysterious magic of the Greek Islands.”

Rhonda didn’t want to go back to the ship. She loved the Amalfi coast, the winding highways and picturesque towns hanging on cliff edges that stood in such stark contrast to the grubby coal town she called home. Finally, they couldn’t linger any longer and made their way back to the Star Galaxy. Rhonda had tears in her eyes when the anchor came aboard, and the ship departed.

The Star Galaxy was making good time with all sails set. The ship riding smoothly through cobalt blue, moderate seas. Although the group of new friends enjoyed the outdoor buffet lunch, there was a palpable air of sadness about them. The ship was due to drop anchor at 11:00 a.m. next morning on the Greek island of Naxos. Nick would be disembarking while the others remained on board for the final leg of the voyage to Istanbul.

Greg said, “Cheer up Nicky, we still have the ‘Spirit of Neptune’ party tonight. We can use it as our final celebration to see you off in style.”

Nick smiled sadly, “I am going to miss you guys. I’ve only known you for a short time, but it seems much longer." Rhonda just nodded and turned her head. She didn’t want Nick to see the tears in her eyes.

 

The gala ‘Spirit of Neptune’ dinner was in full swing. Although everyone was sad, they tried hard to put on a good front. Greg and Dorothy both ordered bottles of champagne for the table. Dorothy patted Rhonda on the back to comfort her. It was easy to see how upset she was.

Greg tried to cheer everybody up, “Hey, take a look at the Captain, he’s got an evil look in his eye.”

For the event, the dining room staff had dressed in a variety of sea-themed costumes. The head cocktail waitress, dressed as a mermaid, ran around the dining room with Captain Rolf Peterson in hot pursuit. He was playing the part of the sea god Neptune, complete with a three-pronged plastic trident.

Dorothy laughed, “I hope Peterson doesn’t trip and stick that trident into her ass!”

Greg said, “Dorothy that was crude-----but very funny.”

 Nick was trying to read the elaborate menu by candlelight and finally had to give up. "Excuse me, folks, I have to run down to my cabin and get my reading glasses, be right back."

Felix, their very attentive waiter, heard Nick and said, "Stay right here, Sir. I’ll run down and have them back to you before you are ready to order your food. I believe you are in Cabin B 444?"

Nick replied, "Thanks, Felix, I appreciate the gesture. Cabin B 444. My glasses should be on the nightstand by the bed.”

With plate after plate of sumptuous seafood delivered to their table, Rhonda couldn’t help thinking that her husband Joe was probably sitting on the old brown couch at home watching football reruns on television, eating pizza and chicken wings, and washing everything down with copious quantities of beer. Outside, it would still be pouring with rain.

Rhonda hadn’t heard from Joe since the big fight and her departure for the trip, and on reflection, it didn’t bother her a bit. She was blissfully unaware of the terse telegram Dorothy intercepted earlier.

After the meal, Nick stood up and said, “Wow, that was a lot of food. I think I’m going to walk around the deck a few times to see if I can work off some of the calories. Anybody like to join me?”

He felt guilty but was hoping Rhonda would join him on her own. Fortunately, Greg and Dorothy took a pass because they both wanted to go to the lounge to hear the Naxos travelogue presentation.

“I could use a walk too, Nick. That meal we ate was enough food for a week,” said Rhonda.

Nick thought he had judged the timing just about right. He steered the walk towards the stern of the ship. The sun was just setting. It cast a warm red and gold reflection on the low-lying wispy clouds as well as on the shimmering surface of the water.

Without warning, a school of dolphins broke through the surface of the crimson waters only a few feet from the back of the ship. They raced alongside leaping in graceful high arcs, side by side, before plunging back into the sun washed surf. Rhonda could see the silver and blue of the dolphin’s backs glittering in contrast to their milky white undersides.

The spectacular show went on for several minutes before the school broke off their pursuit of the Star Galaxy. The Dolphins turned in unison toward the blazing sunset, dancing across the surface of the water toward that magic spot where the distant sky kissed the sea.

Rhonda was beside herself with excitement, “Oh I can’t believe it Nick; they were even more beautiful than my magazine picture showed.”

Nick laughed, "As we get closer to the Greek Islands, you’ll see more and more wonderful sights like this. I must admit I’ve seen many dolphins, but they are quite spectacular when they jump at sunset."

“Did you know they would be putting on a show like this Nick? Is that why you asked if I wanted to go for a walk?”

Nick grinned, “I have to confess Rhonda, I knew one of your greatest desires was to see dolphins jumping at sunset. I was pretty sure that in these waters, we would have their company.”

“Well thank you for making one of my dreams come true, Nick. I will never forget my first sighting of those beautiful creatures.”

Nick looked at the effervescent lady beside him and thought, “The dolphins aren’t the only beautiful creature out here tonight.”

After a few more trips around the open deck, Nick spotted two empty full-length lounge chairs at the bow of the ship. They settled in comfortably on the thickly padded deck chairs, and Nick asked Rhonda if she would care for a drink. When a waiter passed by, Nick ordered a bottle of chilled Limoncello with two glasses.

When the drinks arrived, Nick said, "Rhonda, we’ve spent quite a bit of time together but usually always in a group. You’ve heard a lot about me and my background in New York and on Naxos, but I know very little about you.”

“Oh, I’m not a very interesting person, Nick. This trip is probably the only fun and excitement I will ever have in my life, but I’m doing okay.”

“That’s not the vibes I’m getting Rhonda. Sometimes when you think no one is watching and you are in an unguarded moment, I sense a deep underlying sadness in you. I’m a good listener if you are interested in talking about it.”

At first, Rhonda was reluctant to talk, but when she started, the floodgates burst. She told him about her job, her friend Kassy, the hopeless despair of a town based on coal, her ruined garden, old Bert Medley and his oxygen tank, the constant rain, her beer-stained going away outfit and finally about her husband Joe Turner and the wreckage of their marriage

When she finished, Rhonda was breathless and crying. Nick was crying too. He wasn't sure what to say so he took her in a close and comforting hug. They stayed like that for several minutes enjoying the warmth of a kindred spirit.

Finally, reluctantly, Rhonda released the embrace and said, “I better get back to my cabin before Dorothy sends out a search party.”

Nick desperately wanted Rhonda to stay, but he understood her domestic circumstances, so he just reminded her he was taking everyone to lunch at his family’s Blue Shutters Inn the next day. The Star Galaxy was due to dock at 11:00 a.m. and wouldn't depart Naxos until 7:30 in the evening.

After they parted, Rhonda returned to her cabin. She opened the cabin door slowly, entering quietly because her friend was sound asleep. Dorothy didn’t even stir when Rhonda lay down, fully clothed, on her bunk.

Rhonda’s head was spinning. She felt like a fairy princess sailing over an enchanting sea on a magical sailing ship. The dolphins at sunset seemed like an omen, beckoning her to explore new horizons. But now that she had finally met the handsome prince, she would be still be returning home to the frog.

Rhonda knew sleep would be impossible, maybe another stroll around the deck would help. After getting up quietly and stealing out of the cabin, she did five slow laps around the ship thinking again and again about the famous quotation by Henry David Thoreau, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”.

She arrived at the stern of the ship and slowly climbed the few stairs up to the navigation deck.

 

 

A big decision

 

Rhonda stood alone by the railing of the bridge, looking down at the glistening water passing below. Other passengers moved casually by, but they didn't intrude on her personal space. It was almost as if they could sense her desperate struggle with the turmoil raging within. It was a beautiful spring evening, a full moon bathing everything in a warm, inviting glow. A night made for happiness, not for despair.

Finally, she stood erect, looked around with determination and made her decision. The die was cast, no turning back. She slowly removed the wedding band from her finger and held it in the palm of her hand. A lone tear rolled gently down her cheek.

 By some perverse co-incidence, the falling tear drop landed directly in the center of the silver circle in her palm. She took a deep breath and threw the ring in a high arc from the bridge. A stray moonbeam briefly illuminated the cheap, silver plated surface as the ring made a final lazy descent into the dark waters below.

Rhonda stared at the ocean for a few more minutes then returned to her cabin. Although her hand was on the door handle, she hesitated for more than a minute. Then, almost in a dream-like state, Rhonda finally turned and walked down the corridor to the other end of the ship.

She paused timidly before knocking softly. She hoped Nick wouldn't be asleep. The door to Cabin B444 slowly opened, and Nicky stared at her. Rhonda went inside and closed the door softly behind her.

Back in cabin A249, Dorothy Morton rolled over in her bunk and briefly woke up. She glanced at her watch and saw that it was 3:45 a.m. She looked over at Rhonda's empty bed. A smile formed on her face and she said to herself before drifting back to sleep, "Good for you Rhonda."

The Windjammer sailing ship, the Star Galaxy, sailed in solitude through moonlit seas, oblivious to the problems of the mere mortals aboard. A safe harbor awaited ahead for her and the other beings, on the enchanting Island of Naxos.

 

 

The Blue Shutters Inn:

 

The passengers were all on deck watching the ship approach the picturesque harbor of Chora, the central town on the Island of Naxos. The spacious harbor was dotted at random with small multi-color fishing boats. Captain Rolf Petersen gave orders to shorten the sails in preparation for docking the massive vessel. The waters of the harbor were calm and inviting.

As they drew closer to the main pier, Rhonda could hear faint strains of happy music coming from the waterside cafes. Hanging from the railings of the old timber docks were a variety of octopus, drying slowly in the bright sunshine. The scent of morning flowers wafted across the water, bathing the ship with fragrant odors.

Rhonda smiled up at Nick, squeezed his hand and said, “You were right Nick, this is paradise on earth.”

Dorothy and Greg appeared on deck pretending not to notice that Rhonda and Nick had been holding hands. Dorothy said with a slight smile, “You must have been up and out early this morning Rhonda. I didn’t even hear you go.”

Rhonda mumbled something about going out for some early exercise. She started blushing. Nick did too. Greg was trying desperately not to laugh at the guilty expressions on their faces.

After the ship was safely secured to the main dock, they all made their way down the gangplank with Nick’s luggage. He turned to Rhonda, "Normally, I’d walk up the hill to the Inn, but today we’re going to take a taxi. We can walk back later this afternoon when you have to be back onboard."

A brightly painted and battered taxi pulled up to a screeching stop in front of the gangplank. A large, heavyset man with a full bushy beard jumped out, ran to Nicky and smothered him in a huge bear hug.

“Stop Georgios, my ribs are cracking!” groaned Nick.

Georgios laughed and continued his massive bear hugs until every member of the group had been welcomed to Naxos, ‘Georgios style.’  He loaded the luggage and the passengers, then started up the steep hill to the Inn.

In fractured English, Georgios said, "We hear you big lucky in New York, Nicky, but no people say you also get the beautiful new wife too." Nicky finally had to fall back on his rusty Greek to convince Georgios that he wasn't bringing home a new bride.

When the Blue Shutters Inn came into view, Rhonda immediately fell in love with the place. The whitewashed walls, outlined by brilliant blue shutters, were tastefully draped in crimson bougainvillea vines. The Inn nestled into the hillside looking like it had been there for centuries. The balconies all faced toward the sea, each with a magnificent view of the picturesque town and the entire harbor below.

An apron-clad, attractive older woman waited for them at the entrance to the Inn. She had tears in her eyes, but a brilliant smile on her face as she rushed forward to welcome her only son to his birthplace.

After the introductions, Nicky's mother, Alexia, insisted that they join her for a mid-day meal in the dining room of the Inn. Rhonda couldn't believe her eyes when she saw the abundance of colorful, fragrant dishes laid out family style on the large table.

Nick tried to explain some of the dishes to her, "Here we have kalamarakia (deep fried squid), some dolmadakia (stuffed grapevine leaves), horiatiki (country style salad) and gemista (stuffed peppers) …”

Rhonda was laughing, “Please stop Nick, I’m starving. I want to eat!”

Alexia laughed too, but she was closely observing Rhonda and Nicky. She could sense that there was a bond between the two. Although she had always pictured Nicky returning to Naxos and marrying a nice local Greek girl, she was not unhappy with what she saw. Her mother’s instinct told her that Rhonda was a genuinely sweet and caring person.

The chilled ouzo continued to flow through the afternoon until finally, Nick reluctantly said, "I guess all good things must come to an end. We better get back to the ship, or Captain Petersen will sail without you."

Alexia bid the group a fond farewell. She had tears in her eyes when she hugged Rhonda for an extra minute, then whispered, "I am so happy we met Rhonda. I do hope we will see you again sometime soon. Remember, you will always be welcome here at the Blue Shutters Inn."

 Rhonda sobbed deeply as she thanked Nick's mother and said goodbye.

The group walked in silence back down the hill to the waiting ship. No one could think of anything to say. Fortunately, the gangplank was in the process of being retrieved, leaving little time for long farewells. Nick shook Greg’s hand warmly then hugged Dorothy tightly before imploring them both to keep in touch.

When the other two started their climb up the gangplank, Nick took Rhonda in his arms and whispered, “I wish we had met in a different place and time Rhonda. I will never, ever forget you.”

Rhonda couldn’t speak. She intensified the hug then turned and with head down, hurried up the gangplank and down into her cabin.

Nick remained on the dock watching the departing Star Galaxy until she was hull down on the horizon. With deep regret, he turned and started trudging back up the hill to the Inn. His Mother Alexia was watching from her balcony as Nicky made the lonely voyage home.

 A single thought crossed her mind, "I know my son and he will always deeply regret ever letting that one get away.”

 

 

Three doors to chose

.

The final leg of the voyage from Naxos to Istanbul was anticlimactic. With Nick no longer part of the group, everything seemed very flat. Greg and Dorothy did their best to keep Rhonda’s spirits up. She appreciated the efforts, but her mind was in continuous turmoil. She went up on deck and gravitated to the deck chairs she had shared with Nick.

Rhonda didn't normally drink alone, but now she decided to order a glass of Limoncello in memory of the amazing night she had spent with him in cabin B444. She lay back in the lounger, closed her eyes and began to analyze her situation.

"In reality, I have three potential doors to the future that I can open. If I make the right choice, my life could be wonderful, and my song might finally be free. If I make the wrong choice, I will pay for it the rest of my days.” She lay there mulling over the consequences of each decision.

“If I pick door number one and go back to Laurel Run and Joe Turner, my life will be a living hell again, but at least I’ll be able to live with my conscience. If I open door number two and take the Magic Models lifetime opportunity in New York, I’ll never have to worry about money, but will I be living with regrets for the rest of my life? If I open door number three and make my way back to Naxos, I’m sure I’ll find a warm reception, but can I live in a small town in a foreign country for the rest of my life?”

 

Sometimes the fickle finger of fate intervenes in each person’s life when least expected. The finger intervened that day and Rhonda didn’t have to decide which door to open after all.

The deck steward hurried breathlessly up to her chair. "Mrs. Turner?  Captain Peterson wants to see you in his office. He asked if you would kindly come as soon as possible."

Rhonda was mystified. She had no idea why the Captain would want to see her. She got up and followed the steward to the Captain's office. Rolf Peterson was sitting behind a small metal desk covered with charts. Pictures of his family adorned the paneled walls behind him. He had a somber look on his face.

“Please be seated Mrs. Turner; I’m afraid I have some disturbing news for you. We’ve just received a communication from our head office regarding your husband.  Our Head Office received a phone call from a Mrs. Donna Lee in Laurel Run Pennsylvania. She was trying to reach you.”

“Do you know why she was calling me, Captain?”

“I’m afraid I do. I regret to inform you that Joseph Turner and two friends were involved in a hunting accident. The two friends had minor injuries, but your husband was gravely injured and is now in serious condition in the Laurel Run Community Hospital."

 Rhonda was shocked, “Do you know what happened Captain?”

Captain Peterson paused, "No one appears to know for sure, but the officers investigating the incident reported that excess alcohol was a contributing factor."

He continued, "We assumed you would want to get home as soon as possible so we have you booked on a flight from Istanbul to the USA at 3:00 p.m. today. I’m very sorry to be the bearer of bad news."

They shook hands, and Rhonda left in a daze to begin her packing for the trip home. It seemed that fate had decided that Rhonda would take door number one by default.

 

 

A new life begins

 

On the long taxi ride to the hospital from the regional airport, Rhonda was again starkly reminded of how depressing the surroundings were. Abandoned pit heads, shabby structures, wet mud, and dirt were everywhere she looked. She entered the small hospital with trepidation, inquiring at the reception desk for the room location for Joe Turner.

After the head nurse had assured herself that Rhonda was family, she escorted Rhonda up to the critical care area of the hospital. An elderly doctor was finishing his examination when they entered the room. Rhonda could see Joe lying motionless, hooked up to several humming machines.

"How is he, doctor?"

The old man just shook his head and said, "I'm afraid his condition has deteriorated rapidly over the last forty-eight hours. He is now on total life support. Mr. Turner is officially brain dead now and cannot survive without mechanical assistance.”

“Is there the slightest possibility of a recovery?”

The doctor hesitated. “I’m afraid not. And now a difficult decision has to be made. Our records show that you’re his only living relative, so it is up to you to decide between continuing life support or not."

Rhonda moved over to the bedside and stared down at her husband. She wasn’t sure she had ever really loved him but felt saddened by his current circumstances. She thought back to their early days and the gradual deterioration of their marriage. All of the arguments, fights and petty actions came flooding back.

The she remembered how much she was looking forward to wearing her new going away outfit only to find it soaking in Joe’s beer. She could still feel the pain of his revenge.

Rhonda turned to the doctor, looked directly at him and said, “Go ahead and pull the plug. You have my consent.”

After signing the forms, Rhonda left the room and never looked back.

Rhonda went home from the hospital and stood in her old home staring at the wreckage of Joe's final days. The pile of empty pizza boxes, beer cans, and wrappings from frozen dinners, made it difficult to even navigate through the rooms. The three kitchen light bulbs still hadn’t been replaced.

 Rhonda felt no regrets about Joe, although she wasn’t sure if giving her consent to end Joe’s life support was an act of mercy or one of revenge, she felt only a profound sense of relief. She cleared a spot by the telephone and made two calls. The first was to Laurel Run Realty where she advised them to list the house for sale. The second call was to Don Moreland at Magic Models Inc.

"Hi Mr. Moreland, this is Rhonda Turner, we met on the Star Galaxy. Is the job in New York still available?"

Moreland answered with a very enthusiastic, "When can you start, Rhonda?”

“Tomorrow.”

 

 

 

Magic models delivered on everything they promised. Rhonda had a nicely furnished apartment of her own, with domestic staff and a car and driver. Her hectic schedule made it almost impossible to feel lonely, but occasionally she felt a little blue. She was having one of those days on a rainy Sunday when the phone rang.

“Hi kiddo, long time no see.”

“Dorothy! How are you? I’ve missed you so much, where are you?”

“I’m here in the big Apple, hon. My long-lost relatives decided to have a once in a lifetime family reunion, so I flew in from Seattle.”

“Where are you staying?”

“At some fleabag hotel, the Belmont on the west side.”

“Dorothy, pack your stuff right now. I’m sending Kenny, my driver to pick you up. You’re staying with me until you have to go home.”

“Is Kenny cute?”

“Christ Dorothy! You never change.”

All 395 pounds of Kenny survived the ride with Dorothy, and soon the two friends were reminiscing over a bottle of Merlot. Rhonda was telling her friend about the sad ending of her husband on life support when Dorothy stopped her.

“Rhonda, I have to tell you something. I still feel guilty about it, but I think I did the right thing. I opened a telegram that was meant to be delivered to you before the ship sailed from New York, but it got delayed. It showed up when we were on the Amalfi coast.”

Rhonda was puzzled, “A telegram for me? What did it say?”

“It was short, but not sweet. It was from your husband and said, and I quote, “Come home immediately. I forgive you. Joe.  Not signed with any love or kisses.”

“But why didn’t you give it to me, Dorothy?”

“Honey, I sensed that for the first time in your life, you were enjoying yourself fully. It concerned me that the telegram might upset you and ruin your holiday. I hope I did the right thing. Besides, I thought the telegram was insulting; you hadn’t done anything to be forgiven for.”

Rhonda thought for a moment, “You know what? I’m happy you didn’t let me see that telegram. I know you’re not supposed to speak ill of the dead, but Joe Turner was a real prick.”

“Rhonda, you shock me!”

The wine bottle was almost empty, so Rhonda opened another along with a plate of cold sandwiches the cook had prepared earlier.

“It’s so good to see you again, Dorothy, I often think about the good times we had on the Star Galaxy with Greg and Nick. By the way, do you ever hear from Greg?”

For a moment, Rhonda thought her friend was blushing, but it was the same good old Dorothy that replied, “As a matter of fact, because he lives in Vancouver, and I’m in Seattle, I see Greg quite often. I spent a weekend with him last month, and I can tell you something. He may be a lawyer but some of the stuff he showed me never came out of any law books.”

“Dorothy, you never change. You’re still disgusting!”

“Don’t tell me you never think about Nicky that way?” snorted Dorothy.

“Let’s change the subject, or I’m going to bed. Why don’t I tell you about my life as a glamorous model in high demand by all the top fashion magazines?”

“Please do. I’m looking for a new career, anyway.”

 

 

The next morning Kenny brought the car around, and Rhonda said goodbye to her sailing companion. “I’ll try and come to Seattle soon, Dorothy. My contract is almost up, and I need to decide what my next step will be.”

“Whatever you decide will be the right choice Rhonda, I’m sure of that.”

Rhonda hated goodbyes and was still sniffling over Dorothy’s departure when the phone rang. It was Don Moreland, the owner of the modeling agency. With the first year of her modeling contract nearing an end. Don was bugging her every day about a renewal of the deal.

His voice boomed through the phone, "Look, Rhonda, everything I told you has worked out great. You’re in constant demand. All the clients love you. Two more years and you can retire at the very top of the business."

Rhonda replied, "Thanks Don, for everything you’ve done for me. I'm just not sure that I want to spend the rest of my life doing this stuff and living here in New York. But I promise to give it some real thought. I’ll let you know as soon as I can."

Rhonda had enjoyed the modeling assignments, but the rest of her life in New York was not very satisfying. She had been on numerous dates but found the men all too full of self- importance and quite shallow in their thinking. She often wished she was back aboard the Star Galaxy under full sail, watching her magic dolphins at sunset.

She moped around for a few more weeks thinking about the conversations with Dorothy. Finally, she called Don Moreland.

“Don; I still don’t know what I want to do. I don’t want to make any mistakes because this is a very important decision for me. We don’t have any pressing photo shoots for the next few weeks. I’m going to take a holiday break and try to come to a final decision about my future in New York. Is that okay with you?”

It wasn’t okay, but Don knew better than to argue. Rhonda put down the phone, thought for a minute and then picked it up again. "I need a very special vacation, and I know just the perfect place for it.” She smiled and dialed the number.

 

 

An unexpected guest:

 

Nick Alexandros was in the kitchen preparing fresh caught squid for the evening meal when Anna, the receptionist, came in. "We had a new phone reservation from a lady in New York. She said she knew you. I asked her how long she was staying. She said maybe a week, but she didn't sound too sure."

Nick broke out into a huge smile and went to tell his mother the news.

Alexia was ecstatic. She knew her son well, and even though he still tried to maintain a happy outlook on life, it was apparent that he had never forgotten his time with Rhonda on the Windjammer, “Star Galaxy.”

Rhonda only came for a week, but she stayed for a lifetime.

When her taxi pulled up to the entrance of the Blue Shutters Inn, and she saw Nick waiting on the steps with a bouquet of fresh flowers. flashing his devilish grin, she knew she would never go home. From the look in Nick's eyes, she knew he felt the same way too.

“I knew in my heart that you would come back to Naxos to see your dolphins at sunset, Rhonda.”

Rhonda kissed Nick and said, “I didn’t come for Naxos or the dolphins, Nicky, I came for you.”

After spending some time renewing their relationship and over numerous discussions with Alexia, they finally set a date for the wedding. Nick called his old friends Denny Lee and Jack Youngman in New York and invited them to the wedding.

 Rhonda phoned her friend Kassy along with Dorothy and Greg and extended an invitation as well. Everyone accepted with enthusiasm. Alexia set aside a block of rooms for the wedding guests.

The day before the wedding, Nick asked Rhonda and all their friends to join him on the main balcony. It was another glorious day with the brilliant sun shining brightly on the harbor and the azure seas.

"What are we doing out here, Nick?” Rhonda asked.

“Patience everyone. I believe something magical is about to happen,” said Nick with a mysterious smile.

"You’re going to conjure up a large bottle of Limoncello?" quipped Denny Lee.

Jack Youngman said, “For Christ’s sake, Denny, you want a drink and you just got out of bed.”

Nick started laughing, "Take a good look out at the Mediterranean sea, my friends. Tell me if you can spot anything special."

Because Rhonda had excellent vision, she spotted it first. Minute by minute, the outline of a beautiful Windjammer under full sail was rising from the horizon. “Oh Nick, it can’t be! Is that the Star Galaxy?

Nicky kissed her, “It took some persuading Rhonda, but we’ll be getting married aboard her tomorrow.”

 

 

Captain Rolf Petersen welcomed them aboard with a special cocktail party for the wedding group and the ship’s officers. The string quartet played soft music in the background while waiters circulated with champagne cocktails.

Dorothy looked casually around the private room and asked, “Captain, I don’t see your purser, Ricardo Sanchez here. Is he still with the shipping line?”

“No, I’m afraid he is in a hospital in Rome suffering from a broken arm and several ribs.”

“Oh, no- what happened to him?” asked Rhonda.

“We’re not too sure. The crew found Sanchez at the bottom of the upper deck stairs. He says he slipped and fell but rumors circulated that he might have become a little too familiar with one of our lady passengers who was traveling with her husband. He won’t be coming back to this ship.

Dorothy started to laugh, but stopped when Rhonda pinched her arm.

Captain Rolf Peterson took the Star Galaxy out beyond the seven-mile limit to establish his authority, as a registered sea captain, duly authorized to conduct marriages at sea. To be on the safe side, a local priest from Naxos was aboard to also officiate in the ceremony. The Captain stood on the bridge in a crisp white uniform with Rhonda and Nick standing before him. The priest was wearing his black attire.

Rhonda looked radiant and blissfully happy. She was wearing Alexia’s carefully restored ivory lace wedding dress. Nick in a navy-blue blazer with brass buttons, white cotton pants, and an open-necked white linen shirt, looked like a young boy going on his first date.

When the Captain pronounced them man and wife, the crowd broke out in cheers. The passengers aboard were delighted at being invited to participate in a genuine Greek wedding. Most of the other local guests from Naxos proclaimed it the best wedding ever to take place at sea.

Dorothy looked at the contented, happy faces on Nick and Rhonda. She was very happy for them both. She thought about it for a few minutes and then took a sideways glance at Greg. She said to herself. “This whole marriage thing looks like fun; maybe I can convince Greg to give it a try too!”

After the ceremony, Nick took his bride for a walk to the stern of the ship just as the sun was setting. The rest of the guests left them alone. Again, the sun painted the gently rolling waves with a mixture of gold and crimson red, and again the Dolphins did their part, soaring up and down in the ship’s foaming wake.

“I don’t know how the hell you keep doing that on cue, Mr. Alexandros,” said Rhonda to her new husband.

“It’s very simple, Mrs. Alexandros. I pay them.”

The party went on for hours until Captain Petersen finally navigated the Star Galaxy, safely back to port under a twinkling starlit sky. The passengers and guests lined up in two rows to shower the newlyweds with rice from the galley before Rhonda and her husband departed hand in hand to start their new life together on the magical Island of Naxos

 

 

How time does fly

 

Rhonda and Nick sat on the balcony admiring the Christmas lights shimmering on the harbor and the streets of the little town nestled below the hill. Inside, the Inn was filled with guests sitting by the crackling fireplace, enjoying their Christmas cheer. Sumptuous aromas wafted out from the kitchen, a harbinger of the feast still to come.

Nick raised his glass to his wife and said, "Here's to you, Rhonda. You’ve made the last twenty-five years of my life a wonderful experience. I’m so happy I met you when I did."

Rhonda raised her glass in return but, first, she glanced into the dining room where their three teenage offspring worked busily setting tables for the Christmas dinner.

With tears in her eyes, she answered his toast in fluent Greek, “And here’s to you Nick, my love, you have done many, many things for me over the years and I appreciate them all. I’ll never forget how you managed to arrange my first magical sighting of the dolphins at sunset.”

Nick laughed, “That was part of my grand plan to seduce you.”

“As I recall, I was the brazen hussy who showed up at your cabin door, so who seduced who?”

The dinner bell chimed from inside, and Nick rose to go in, but Rhonda stopped him, “I want you to know Nicholas that I have never had a moment of regret, and above all, I want to thank you for making sure I’ll never go to my grave with a song still left deep inside me.”

Nick took his wife by the hand, kissed her gently, and they went inside to join in the celebration of Christmas with the family she loved so deeply.

 


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Dolphins at Sunset

A downward spiral of life in a dismal coal mining town with an abusive husband and a dead-end job seems all that is in store for Rhonda Turner until she enters a company-sponsored contest for hairstylist of the year. The first prize is a trip of a lifetim

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