PORT OF CALL
by Kathleen Stoley
The minutes seemed to drag on into hours as Alyssa waited to be called for her interview. She was taking a step out of her ordinary life and trying to get a position with a cruise line. Adventure and sailing the high seas for living was the ticket for her. No more working in the dull, dusty library of a small town where each day blended into the next. She was beginning to feel like one of the old worn out books that she watched being reshelved every day. Her job was the total sum of the Accounting Department, which basically meant that she was in charge of all accounts payable and receivable from overdue book fines to the purchase of new books. Each day she arrived at the library at dawn and didn't leave until dusk, putting in long hours as part of her duties. She was beginning to feel like one of the children of the night and her pale skin reflected this lack of sunlight. Her family consisted of her mother and father and two brothers, both of which worked construction alongside their father. Her mother remained a housewife, because that is what her father wanted. Alyssa had lived in this town for all of her 28 years and, although she was attractive, she never seemed to date anyone for very long. Her brothers told her that she was looking for Mr. Perfect and would never find anyone. Her mother's response was that she didn't have to settle for less either. Her mother had always been her source of encouragement and had made sure that she had gone to the community college to get her degree. She was happy with her life, but she didn't want her daughter to have to settle if it wasn't what she wanted to do with her life. Alyssa wasn't sure what she wanted to do, she just knew that working in the library wasn't it. So, when the Recruitment Fair came to the local community college, Alyssa was one of the first in line to get in. She walked along the booths that had been set up for various local and national recruiting organizations until she came to the Holiday Cruise Line booth. There as big as life, was a poster of the deck of a ship with a group of people standing in their starched white uniforms, tanned and smiling encouraging her to join them in their fun. Alyssa walked directly toward the table and began to leaf through the brochures, before she knew it, a week later she was sitting in their offices in Miami waiting for her final interview before receiving her assignment. She had flown in this morning and had been met and taken directly to her hotel to register before being bussed to the Cruise Line's offices. She had never been to Miami, let alone Florida and couldn't wait to get out and see the sights.
The door opened and Alyssa looked up as a tall dark-haired woman walked in. She had the most striking blue eyes that Alyssa had ever seen. The woman walked with an assured grace, comfortable in her tall body and with life in general. Her white shorts and pale blue polo shirt contrasted well against her firm tanned skin. Alyssa watched in awe as she strolled over to the counter and leaned against it waiting for the woman behind it to look up.
"Hey, Kelsey! It's been too long, welcome back! You ready for another tour at sea?" The receptionist looked up with unveiled interest. "We've missed you!" "Kelsey?"
Kelsey looked around at all applicants that were waiting and thought, 'I'll just bet you have'. Her attention was caught by a blonde in the corner who, to her embarrassment, was looking straight at her with a look all to familiar to Kelsey. She looked like a deer caught in the headlights, a 'newbie', scared to death and looking for adventure on the high seas. Unfortunately, what she would find is a lot of long hours and hard work for very little thanks. But, the pay was good and Kelsey loved the open air and the smell of the sea so she kept coming back each season. Hearing her name called again, Kelsey turned back toward the receptionist.
"Yes sorry, umm thanks Sandy…I guess I'm ready to head back out. The break never seems long enough though, does it?" Kelsey smiled down at the receptionist trying to be polite. She had continually rebuffed the woman's advances, but that didn't stop her from always trying. Kelsey wasn't interested in getting involved with anyone right now, at least not Sandy.
"No, I guess it doesn't, but at least you aren't stuck behind this desk all the time." Sandy pulled out a packet and handed it to Kelsey. "Here is your room and duty assignments. Ship Orientation is tomorrow at 10 AM in the ODR (officers dining room), you are expected to board at 8 AM and get settled before the meeting." Kelsey nodded her understanding, nothing new just the usual routine.
Sandy laid the packet on the top of the counter but didn't let it go when Kelsey tugged on it. Kelsey looked up questioningly into the hazel eyes and instantly knew what was coming. "If you aren't doing anything tonight, maybe we can get dinner and catch a movie before you ship out?"
Kelsey plastered a look of regret on her face and shook her head, "Oh, I'm sorry. I've made plans to spend the evening with my aunt."
Sandy didn't seem pleased as her eyes narrowed when she remarked. "I didn't know you had any family, you folder lists your parents as deceased."
"Yes, they are. My aunt is my only living relative and is listed as my next of kin for emergency purposes." Kelsey replied trying hard to keep her solicitous look on her face. One of these days she was going to tell the woman off and be finished with her constant fishing expeditions, but she didn't want to jeopardize her assignments either. She knew that Sandy had pull when it came to the assignment of rooms and duties. Kelsey had tried every other way to let Sandy know that she just wasn't interested in her. It wasn't because she was a woman, because Kelsey was a lover of all things female, just not this one.
"Maybe when you get back then." Sandy murmured and let go of the packet and Kelsey whisked it quickly away before turning and waving good-bye on her way out. 'Whew! Another reprieve!'
Alyssa watched the interaction between the women and for some reason was happy when the tall one turned down the receptionist. She hadn't been real thrilled with the way the redhead had eyed her when she first came in, too pushy for Alyssa's taste. Alyssa had never dated a woman before, but the idea was far from foreign to her. There were few opportunities in her town, which was one of the reasons why she never had a date. Alyssa grinned thinking, 'If her brothers only knew!' Caught in her daydream, she didn't hear her name called the first time. The second time, she looked up and the receptionist was looking at her impatiently as she called her name again.
"Oh, I'm sorry, that's me." Alyssa quickly rose and went toward the counter. Sandy looked at her curiously before shaking her head and giving her directions on where to go for her interview. Nodding in understanding Alyssa finally thanked her and went down the hallway the woman had indicated.
"12-B, this must be the room." Alyssa mumbled to herself and smoothed out her shirt before knocking on the door and waiting for a response. She heard a muffled voice call “come” from behind the door and she turned the knob to open the door and enter. The room turned out to be a small conference room consisting of a table with a couple of chairs around it. Seated on the other side of the table was a man in an officer's uniform of the cruise line. He quickly stood smiling and looked down at the packet and then back at her and said, "You must be Alyssa…"
"Yes, I am." Alyssa walked up to the table and stopped.
The officer held his hand out for a handshake and introduced himself. "Great, I'm Mark, Chief Purser. Welcome to Holiday Cruise Lines. Please, have a seat."
He waited until Alyssa was comfortably seated before beginning. "May I call you Alyssa? We run a pretty informal ship in the Pursers office."
Alyssa nodded and replied, "Yes, Please do."
"Great! I'm not sure how much they have told you, but should you accept this assignment you will be attached to the Pursers Office. With your background, we can certainly use you." Mark replied opening up the manila envelope with her name on it.
"So far all I've been told are the basics about employment, salary, benefits, etc. They told me I would learn about the job assignment itself at this interview." Alyssa leaned forward on the desk excited with the knowledge that she actually had the job if she wanted it. At the last interview, they had left her to believe that nothing was final until she received an actual assignment, and this was it!
"Well, then let me tell you about your assignment then." Mark answered happily and began to turn the papers in Alyssa's direction so that she could follow along. "Your assignment, as I stated before, is with the Pursers Office. Your duties will include manning the Pursers Desk in the main atrium. Most of your role will be to act as a cashier of sorts, cashing checks, exchanging currency and things of this nature. You will rotate with three other Officers on a set schedule. We are all a pretty friendly group and I don't mind any switching of schedules between officers as long as it is noted on the rooster ahead of time. Other than that, at the end of each shift, the officer is expected to total out their transactions for the day and log them in the computer system. This will ensure that we have ample funds and various currencies available for the passengers. Most of which is kept in a safe and either myself or the Assistant Chief Purser, Monica, have access to and in rare emergencies, the captain. But, we don't like to trouble him with the day to day running of our office." Mark sat back smiling and waited for everything to sink in before continuing, "So, do you have any questions?"
Alyssa thought for a moment before answering. It didn't sound like that difficult of a job to her and actually it might be fun to actually talk to the various passengers. In the library, she never got to talk to anyone. "Well, the job sounds good. You've seemed to explain it fully."
"So, think you might be interested in joining us this season?" Mark waited for her response before going into the rest of the details of uniforms and rules.
"Oh yes! I think I'd like that very much!" Alyssa was so happy that her smile must have stretched from ear to ear. She was going to sea!
"Terrific!" Mark rubbed his hands together in excitement for the young woman. She seemed to be an easily likeable person and would have no problem fitting in with his staff. "Okay, next let me tell you about your uniform, room assignment and the rest."
Mark pulled out more papers from the envelope and went over them with Alyssa. Since this was her first season with the Cruise lines she had been assigned to room with an experienced officer who could show her the ropes. Alyssa had been assigned to bunk with the Assistant Sports Director for the duration of this cruise. It was the Cruise line's policy to mix their officers from the various departments so that everyone could get acquainted and also get to know how other parts of the ship operated. Mark signed her slip for her uniforms and after welcoming her again, sent her along on the next phase of her employee orientation.
By late afternoon, all arrangements for uniforms and essentials, medical releases and paperwork had been filed and taken care of, and Alyssa was free until she was to report to the ship at 8 AM the next morning. Exhausted but exhilarated, Alyssa headed to her hotel room to call home and change. She wanted to get something to eat and check out the sights before it got too late. The call home was the hardest thing she would have to do. It was for sure now, that she would be gone for at least 12 months on this duty assignment. She wouldn't be able to see her family unless they booked passage aboard her assigned ship. She could call and write, but that was about all the she would have time to do. There were no side trips unless for an emergency.
Hanging up the telephone, Alyssa realized that the only person she would miss would be her mother, but she promised to call and write as often as possible. She could hear the catch in her mother's throat as they said good-bye and the enthusiasm of an hour ago dimmed as Alyssa thought seriously about the task she was undertaking. The job itself was a 'no-brainer' as far as Alyssa was concerned, but what about the hours in between her duty schedule. She knew no one on this job and had never been one to make friends quickly, and she would be far away from everyone she had ever known.
The doubt and fears began to creep in causing Alyssa to second guess her decision. But, before she let these fears take root, she decided to get out of the hotel room and take a walk over to the shops at Bay Shore. She bought a couple of trinkets to send back home and ended up sitting down by the water to decide where she wanted to eat. Deep in thought she didn't realize anything was wrong until she felt her purse being ripped from her shoulder. She held on as hard as she could to the one strap, but it broke and the assailant began to run between the tables of diners at the outdoor café and suddenly found himself sprawled out on the pavement. Rising from one of the tables was the tall woman from the Cruise lines. She bent over and retrieved Alyssa's purse and the man scrambled to get away from the growing crowd.
Kelsey had seen the whole thing coming and got lucky when the man ran in her direction. She just stuck her leg out at the last minute sending the thief flying threw the air. She leaned down and picked up the purse as he ran away. She had no intentions of following him or getting involved as she was shipping out the next morning and didn't need anything to get in the way. Holding the purse she looked over at the startled blonde and blew out a breath as she walked over toward her thinking, 'She had better start getting a grip on life before she finds herself in trouble or worse.'
"I think this is yours." Kelsey stated matter of fact and held out the purse by its broken strap. Close up she saw that she was average height, blonde and kind of cute, but when she looked up into the brilliant green eyes, they caused her to take a second look and then a third.
"Thank you. I never saw him coming." Alyssa gushed as the women stood looking at her so intently. She could feel the flush running up her cheeks at the close scrutiny. "Umm, my name is Alyssa."
Kelsey hadn't heard a word the woman was saying and didn't realize that she was even talking until she saw her expression change to that of embarrassment. 'Damn Kelsey! Pay attention yourself!' Kelsey scowled thinking.
"You need to pay attention around here or you are going to get hurt." Kelsey's voice sounded more curt than she had intended it to, but she had been caught off guard and was angry with herself.
"I'm sorry." Alyssa quickly replied to the woman. She hadn't even acknowledged the pleasantries of an introduction and Alyssa was taken back at the brusque behavior.
"Okay, but be more careful and less sorry." Kelsey answered and turned to walk away. She didn't know why she was being so obnoxious right now and decided to take her moody self away before said anything more.
"Your welcome!" Alyssa murmured tersely under her breath as she watched the raven-haired woman walk away. "I'm glad to meet you too."
Kelsey's back stiffed as she heard the woman's comments, it was a pain to have such good hearing sometimes. Now, she felt like a bitch for acting the way she had to the woman. Feeling guilty, Kelsey turned at the first row of stores and decided to keep an eye on the woman to make sure there were no repeat performances tonight, at least that is what she told herself she was doing. She watched the blonde intently as she got up and went over to the nearby café and was seated at one of the tables. Kelsey waited long enough to watch the blonde order her dinner and then left to pick up a few things. She figured the blonde was safe for the moment as she waked away thinking, 'What did she say her name was? Oh yeah, Alyssa. Hmm, nice enough name.' Kelsey walked down to the drugstore to stock up on some of the items she would need for the time being.
Alyssa looked at her purse strap and knew that it was irreparable and shrugged. She really didn't think she would need a purse for awhile anyway. Staring out over the ocean she remembered the conversation between the woman and the receptionist and the remark about having dinner with her aunt. "Guess we know that wasn’t true." Alyssa couldn't help but wonder about the dark haired stranger and if she possibly worked on board ship too. Her musings were interrupted by the arrival of her dinner and she concentrating on eating it. She hated to eat alone and ate quickly and while she waited for her bill, she decided she had enough excitement for one night. Staring out over the water and the evening sky, she decided to just go back to the hotel to get some sleep.
Kelsey returned to her lookout spot and was slightly relieved to see that Alyssa was still there. She watched the young woman for a few moments and noticed the sadness in her face as she sat alone. Kelsey was no stranger to that look, it was one that stared back at her every time she looked into a mirror. 'Maybe she doesn't have anyone either' Kelsey quickly shook off these remorse thoughts, 'Hey, it's not the end of the world!'
Alyssa made her way back past the shops toward her hotel. She was glad that they had put her up so close to everything so that she wasn't stuck in her hotel the entire time. Even with her little purse mishap, she was happy that she had a chance to look around a bit before she sailed in the morning. 'I'm sailing in the morning!' She kept chanting to herself with one huge smile on her face. So wrapped up in her own little world again, Alyssa never realized that she was being followed again as she entered the hotel lobby and took the elevator up to her floor.
Kelsey followed at a discrete distance and smiled when she realized they were staying at the same hotel. 'Good, I won't have to go out of my way playing Good Samaritan. I'm just walking back to my hotel.' She told herself as she followed the blonde into the lobby and waited for the next elevator to take her up to her own floor.
Kelsey was up at the crack of dawn, packed and ready to get onboard and get settled. She knew the ship orientation by heart, but it was mandatory for all officers to attend. 'Yipee!' she thought glumly and headed down to the lobby to find a newspaper and a cup of coffee to kill some time.
Alyssa heard music playing in the background and rolled over and fell back asleep. It wasn't until the phone rang that she jumped up awake, it was her wake up call from the front desk. She had used it as a backup in case she failed to wake up to the alarm in the room. She quickly hung up the phone and ran for the shower, grateful that she had the presence of mind to call the desk or she would still be sleeping as the ship pulled out of the harbor. Getting up early had never been a favorite past time for Alyssa, who liked to sleep as late as possible in the mornings. But, she knew that those days were long gone with this new job. She would be on a rotating schedule of shifts. The Purser's Desk was to be manned from 5 am to 9 PM every day, seven days a week. Being new woman on the totem pole, so to speak, she had a feeling she would be pulling a lot of early morning shifts.
Alyssa caught the second employee bus pickup to the cruise ship and stumbled on board with the rest of the arriving crew. All her things had been previously sent to the ship except for her overnight bag, which she carried. As she waited on the dock to board the ship she rummaged through her bag for her ID. Each ID listed, beneath their photo, their name, rank and country of citizenship. 'Photo ID must be worn by all employees at all times, and must be carried on their person even off duty.' Her mind quoting what she had read from the Employee Handbook. Placing the chain around her neck, the ID badge hung to almost her waist. Frowning, she let it go. Enough time later to worry about the small stuff. When it was her turn to board, she showed her ID and her paperwork and was directed toward her cabin. She had never been on a cruise ship before and she could feel the excitement building as she walked down the passageway looking for her cabin number. She knew that officers received better quarters than other employees, but usually cabins that the paying customer wouldn't want. Either they were too small, or too out of the way. Alyssa was surprised to find that she had to go up two decks to find her cabin. She didn't think that the crew were actually bunked above the level she was currently on and hoped that it wasn't a mistake. Now, was not the time to be running around trying to find her cabin, orientation was in 30 min. and she had wanted to be early to make sure she got a good seat. She hadn't realized how long it would take to go through the boarding process or that there were this many employees on a cruise ship. This was a whole new world for Alyssa and she was constantly amazed at what she didn't know.
Kelsey made her way forward on the Promenade Deck and was happy to see that she had gotten one of the better officer cabins. She wondered if she had Sandy to thank for this and if she shouldn't give in and go to dinner her just once. Cringing at the thought, she figured she would just enjoy her good fortune while it lasted and take the bad with the good later. Entering the cabin, Kelsey chose the bed farthest away from the door, remember past nightmares with roommates that came in all hours of the night, usually drunk and falling on the nearest bed, hers. She would not only be jarred awake, but she would have to get up and put her roommates to bed, before getting back in her own and trying to fall back asleep while they snored in their liquor induced comas. Nope, this time she was taking the rack by the window and going to get some sleep at night! Their gear was all sitting outside the door and she went and pulled her familiar duffel bags into the room and began the task of unpacking. She wondered who her roommate would be this year and hoped it wasn't some starry-eyed newbie that thought every night was made for a new conquest. The only rule that Kelsey loved about the Cruise line was that no opposite sexes were allowed in employee's cabins. Kelsey smiled glad that she wouldn't have to put up with the new recruits bringing home a new man every night. Only with one roommate had Kelsey closed her eyes to the infraction and allowed her to bring a man to the cabin. It was one of the few friends' that Kelsey had ever made on her voyages. Carol and her husband were fresh out of college and both were working the season to save money to get their own home. Carol and Kelsey had set up a schedule where three nights a week Kelsey wouldn't come back to the room until midnight. On those nights, Kelsey spent a lot of time hanging out in the employee lounge and other creative places while she waited until she could get back into their room. Her favorite place was on a deck chair in the front of the ship where no one usually went. She could look up at the stars as the evening breezes washed over her body. It was the nearest she ever came to feeling at peace in her entire life. With the billions of stars above her and the gentle caress of the wind, she felt she wasn't alone. Kelsey had many relationships in her lifetime, but none had ever made her feel that way, which is probably why she had given up searching for someone to complete her world. Now at 33, she just did what she had to, to live and left the foolish ideas of romance to the youth. Kelsey felt a presence at the door and turned, to face her new roommate, a quick spark tingled her heart and startled her, instantly jolting her out of her reverie. This sudden uncertainty allowed her to shut down all emotions and inwardly she groaned, "Oh great! Babysitting detail!'
Alyssa stood looking from the paper in her hand to the number of the door and then back to the tall raven-haired woman that stood in her cabin. 'No, please tell me this isn't happening! Tell me, that I'm not going to spend the next year of my life with 'happy' here!' The two women stood looking at each other with neither one making the first attempt to break the silence. Finally, Ayssa cleared her throat and asked, "Promenade B4?"
"I think this is my cabin." Alyssa replied uncertainly, afraid to enter the room and not sure of what to do otherwise.
Kelsey's patience did not seem to be at it's best today and her reply was anything but cordial. "Are those your bags in the corridor?"
Alyssa looked down at her things next to the door and nodded without speaking.
"Well, then I guess you’re in the right place." Kelsey replied flippantly and finished her packing. She silently kicked herself for her behavior and didn't look at the blonde as she struggled to pull her things into the room and stood looking around unsure of herself.
Kelsey turned to face the woman and maintained her composure to calmly instruct her new roommate. "That bed is yours and this dresser and the closet on the right behind you. You need to hurry and unpack as ship orientation is in 20 minutes in the ODR." Not waiting for a response from the blonde, Kelsey walked past her and out the door and headed down to the briefing, wondering what it was about the woman that made her act so stupidly.
Alyssa sat down on the edge of her assigned bed and felt a rise of panic well up in her. Taking a deep breath, she got herself under control and let her anger take over. Getting up she yanked her suitcase up on the bed and began to pull out her things and shove them into drawers. Opening up the closet, she noticed her new uniforms and placed the few other dressy items that she had brought next to them on the hangers. Finished, she shoved her suitcases under her bed and looked at her watch. She had 5 minutes to get to the Officer's Dining Room for orientation. Hesitating at her dress, she remembered that her roommate hadn't changed into her uniform either and grabbed what she assumed was her cabin key off the dress and went in search of where she needed to be. She finally found a stream of people heading in one direction and tagged along, hoping they knew where they were going. Arriving at the orientation, Alyssa took a seat in the back next to a group of women who seemed friendly enough and introduced themselves. They were all from one department and worked the various lounges. Alyssa was glad that she seemed to find some friendly faces and possible future friends and looked around the room to find her roommate sitting up near the front talking to a group of people who all looked as equally tanned and fit as she did. She began to wonder what exactly their assignments were.
"Hmmm…honey, don't even bother there, nothing but ice." Alyssa turned to face the accented voice that she heard next to her. The woman's badge said that her name was Karen and she was from England.
Karen pointed toward Alyssa's roommate. "Kelsey. Yeah, she is gorgeous, but a dead end for sure. Now Terri, the brunette next to her, she is really a nice yank!" Karen winked and smiled at Alyssa.
Flushed and embarrassed Alyssa stammered, "No, you don't understand….she's my roommate."
Alyssa nodded to the woman. "You are one lucky yank!" Karen patted her on the arm proudly and turned to tell the group of her new discovery. All the women laughing and congratulating Alyssa, which made her feel very uncomfortable. She wasn't sure what she had expected, but certainly not this, she had expected there to be some gay women on the cruise, but not everyone she met! 'This is too funny!' Alyssa thought smiling and looked back over at Kelsey and saw that she was looking directly at her with a very unhappy look on her face. Alyssa quickly lost the smile and looked away as the speaker approached the microphone. The entire orientation was spent with Alyssa trying to pay attention and not look over at her new roommate. She wasn't being very successful, but on more than one occasion, she found those blue eyes looking right back at her.
After the orientation, lunch was served and the women began to talk about the opening of the season party that evening in the crew's lounge. It was B.Y.O.B and most of the women had planned ahead and brought alcohol on board with them. Alyssa had never thought about that when she packed as she had never been much of a drinker. The woman assured her that there would be plenty to go around and that she should just show up. After lunch, the crew was released to meetings in their various departments. Alyssa parted ways with her new friends with a promise to show up at the party later that evening and headed toward the Purser's office. Kelsey watched as the women watched Alyssa walk away from their group and the whispering that went on among the little gang. 'Damn, of all the groups to attach herself to…she goes out of her way an picks the worst! Lord knows what they've already told her.' Kelsey shoved her papers in her portfolio and headed toward the equipment room with her team. There were still schedules to decide upon and events to plan, she knew that she had a full afternoon ahead of her. She wouldn't be able to talk to Alyssa and warn her until later that evening. 'Let's just hope she doesn't have a problem with it, cabin switching at this late date would cause a world of trouble for both of them.'
Watch for the newly, expanded edition soon to be released…….