St. Thomas (3)

This entry is part 13 of 20 in the series Cruising with Teens

I took a seat on a stool at the counter near Kris.

“Look at this. Isn’t it beautiful?”

I disguised my grimace as a smile and nodded subtly. From the other end of the counter, a well-dressed man who I took to be the storeowner studied me. We locked eyes as he strode over to my resting place.

I have to admit that what he said to me was sheer marketing genius. I was caught completely off guard.

“Would you like a beer, sir?” he asked.

We were doomed…

I smelled the trap, but was too weak to resist. “Yes, please”.

“Will a Heineken do?” he asked. “They’re ice cold.”

“That would be fine, thanks”

The store owner turned to Kris. “Would you like one as well, madam?”

Kris seemed to be mesmerized by the bracelet on her wrist. It sparkled furiously in the intense jewelry store lighting.

I leaned in to speak directly into her ear. “Do you want a beer?”

Kris grunted –- two syllables, “Eh heh”. She could have been asking for clarification, but I took the sound as an affirmative. I could have asked anything, and she’d have agreed.

“Make it two,” I said to the man. He returned in moments with two classy-looking beer cans, setting them both before me. I opened one and pushed it up against Kris’s arm. That got her attention.

“Ahhhh!” Kris reflexively reached for the source of the cold surprise, posing her hand on top of the can.

“They go together very nicely.”

“What?”

“The ring and the beer can.”

Kris glanced down, aware for the first time that a genuine Heineken was available for her pleasure.

“Where’d this come from?”

“I helped myself. There’s a whole cooler full in the back room,” I answered.

“Oh, you did not. I love this ring. Don’t you?”

I nodded and drank from my beer can. It was so cold I thought my lips might stick to the metal.

Kris kept the clerk hopping and hoping, trying items from several different display cases. At one point, she had three bracelets draped across her wrist.

“Which do you like better? This one, this one, or this one?”

“They’re all lovely.”

Something in my tone, perhaps, put Kris on the defensive.

“My mother gave me some money to buy something nice.”

My bargaining position was thus compromised, so all I could do was sit and wait. For the next 15 minutes, I sipped my beer and passed judgment on a parade of rings and bracelets. Jewelry has never managed to fascinate me in the least, so I consider my own opinions on the topic to be completely without merit. Kris seemed to be looking for something that was “her”, but I honestly couldn’t make the connection. That didn’t stop her from trying to involve me.

“Is this too flashy for me?” Kris modeled a ring and bracelet combination that was, even to me, stunning.

“Jewelry is flashy. That’s the whole idea, isn’t it?”

“You know what I mean.”

I pretended I did. “It looks nice. Really.”

“I think it’s too much. I don’t normally wear jewelry this obvious.”

“When do you wear jewelry?”

That threw her for a loop.

“Well, I wear it on cruises,” she said with obvious satisfaction.

“How many cruises have you taken?”

“Two.”

“One and a half,” I corrected. “When do you think you’ll be on another one?”

Another loop. “We’ll do this again sometime, won’t we?”

“I suppose so…when’s our 50th?”

“I couldn’t really wear it to school.”

“Why not -– isn’t it formaldehyde-proof?”

“I could wear it when we go out to dinner.”

I couldn’t argue with that. At least the jewelry would be worn once a year. It would surely brighten up the local McDonald’s.

“Can I get both? It’ll be more than my mother gave me.”

“A lot more?”

Kris made a cute, irresistible pouty face, and nodded.

Not one to stand in the way of happiness and anxious to get on with the day, I took the path of least resistance. “I guess so. Happy Birthday.”

The purchase ritual began. After settling on a package price, I hauled out a virgin credit card brought along specifically on the chance that something like this might occur.

While computers around the world cooperated to secure our liability, an elderly woman was summoned from the back room to perform an audit of the transaction. She hunched over the ring and bracelet, examined then under a magnifier, decoded the price tags, looked something up in a bound leather book, and made various calculations. She filled out an official-looking appraisal form, complimented Kris’s good taste, and assured me that we had gotten a heck of a deal. I felt so much better…

Finally back outside, Kris gave me a big smooch. “Now, is there anything you want to get?”

I considered a bottle of good scotch, to be consumed on the spot. “Nope. That was enough excitement for me. The ship sails in a half-hour, so we better get going — unless you’d like to get stuck here.”

“That wouldn’t be so bad. I wish we had more time.”

“Yup. We’ll have to come back and stay for a week. Just the two of us.”

We walked slowly along the dock toward Millennium. There were surprisingly few people heading for the ship. I wasn’t sure if we had missed the rush or if a few hundred passengers would suddenly round the corner and trample us.

Kris was still nursing her beer, and we paused to look at the ships and Charlotte Amalie. Well, I looked at those things. Kris’s gaze kept landing on the ring and bracelet.

We entered the ship uneventfully, and headed back to the cabin. Two envelopes sat next to the plate of afternoon treats.

“Oh, boy -– more envelopes!” I could hardly restrain myself.

Call it strange, but I find that opening newly arrived envelopes is among the special little pleasures of cruising. At home, envelopes contain either bills or advertising. On a ship, an envelope more often than not contains something designed to make you feel better — an invitation to yet another party featuring free drinks, dinner with the captain, or a note from the hotel manager offering the vacant Penthouse Suite for your pleasure. The anticipation built as I tore open the flap on the first envelope.

I extracted the contents, and held the paper as far away as possible. There was obviously printing on the page, but I couldn’t make it out.

“Where are my glasses?” I asked, frustrated that the envelope’s contents were still a mystery.

“Right there on the table,” Kris answered. “Would you like me to read it for you?”

“Nice try,” I thought. No one will steal my little thrill…

With the aid of my drugstore reading glasses, I deciphered the message.

“I thought our Olympic reservations were for 8:00,” I said to Kris.

“That’s right.”

“This says 7:30.”

“Well I made the reservation for 8:00. You remember that ordeal, don’t you?”

I certainly did remember, but we decided not to “rock the boat”. “We’ll just have to find the boys and tell them to adjust their schedule.”

I opened the second envelope, and found what I was hoping for. You might recall that I sent an email to “Ms. M” at Celebrity a few days back. In it, I made a couple of special requests. We were now batting 1000.

I read aloud to Kris:

“Dear Mr. & Mrs. X

On behalf of “Ms. M”, we would like to invite you to join a Special Tour of The Millennium’s Galley (Sorry Danno, “The Millennium is verbatim from cruise professionals). Please meet the Social Hostess in the Grand Foyer at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, February 27th. We look forward to seeing you!”

I suppose most people would not be excited at the prospect of taking a kitchen tour, but to me, this was a big deal. Only the engine room would be a more interesting shipboard destination.

“This is like a dream come true!” I gushed. “Fantastic.”

Kris smiled and gave me a look of forbearance. “Only you, dear.”

“Hey… Some people like gold and jewels, some like stainless steel and whipped cream.”

Kris and I went topside to bid St. Thomas a sad farewell. Millennium was already inching away from the island. A goofy looking pelican swooped overhead and alighted — on a light — far below.

The ship did its pirouette and we were out of the harbor in no time. Darkness fell quickly, just in time for us to see Charlotte Amalie light up for the evening. As we sailed toward the sparsely populated west end, signs of civilization diminished. A strand of streetlights marked the route of a single road as it rose and fell among the dark hills, all the way to the end of the island where a lone house marked ‘the end’. Millennium rounded the corner and headed into darkness.

After looking all over the ship without success, we finally found the boys by telephone at about 7 p.m. They were sound asleep in their room, and less than thrilled at the prospect of getting into their tuxes on such short notice. Amazingly, they were ready before we were.

We made our way to deck 3 and paused in the lobby of the Olympic Restaurant for some pictures before presenting ourselves to the host. We were seated exactly where we had enjoyed formal tea earlier in the week.

“There aren’t many people here,” said Kris.

A quick scan of the room revealed that no more than a third of the tables were occupied. Sparse attendance had been notable during our last visit as well.

“It’s early. Maybe it will fill up.”

Despite the dearth of diners, the staff seemed to be running around at hyper speed. None of them came near us. I didn’t clock it, but we must have remained unattended for a good fifteen minutes. By the time we were presented with menus, the small talk was exhausted and the boys were getting restless -– you can count me in that group. The girl was getting restless, too.

The waiter explained the courses and informed us that there was a special tonight -– something with an elaborate name that was, in a more detailed description, revealed to be a filet mignon.

The sommelier happened by, and I selected a bottle. At 8:00, the wine and bread arrived simultaneously. Shortly thereafter, familiar faces occupied the table next to ours. Nicky, Betsy, Kent and David were seated just a few feet away.

My first impulse was to push our tables together and continue where we left off the night before. In a rare fit of self-control, I saved everyone the embarrassment.

By 8:15, our wine was gone. The sommelier was at the neighboring table, and I tried to catch his eye. Nothing doing…

Eventually we got the opportunity to order. I asked for the legendary Goat Cheese Soufflé, and the Steak Diane.

“Wouldn’t you rather have the special dish?” asked the waiter.

“I don’t know. Would I?”

“Yes sir, I think you would prefer the fillet. It is highly recommended,” he said.

The implication seemed clear to me, so I went with the special. It sounded like Diane wasn’t feeling well this evening.

The waiter departed with our preferences. For the next eternity, I tried desperately to find the sommelier. The staff was still rushing to and fro, but there wasn’t a red jacket to be seen. I must say that the bread guy was really on the ball, but his attentiveness mainly served to highlight the absence of wine at the table.

Just when I had given up on the idea of more wine, I noticed the sommelier making a delivery next door. David went through the cork sniffing and tasting routine, obviously pleased with his selection.
I gave up all pretense of decorum and was fully turned around in my seat, tongue out and hands to throat, trying to get the sommelier’s attention. David was speaking with him intimately, gesturing in our direction. The sommelier nodded in understanding, and sped away without directly observing my desperation for some wine.

Our former (and future) tablemates were having fun by the looks of things – remarkable that they could manage to be so jolly without our presence at the table – it must have been the fact that they had an ample supply of fine vintage.

An hour after arriving, we were filled with bread, deprived of wine, and anxious to get things rolling. I thought back to the early years of parenthood, when children’s natural behavior made for some truly disastrous attempts at dinner in nice restaurants. In fact, I think it was about that time that we simply gave up on dining out at any restaurant where the time between ordering and being served exceeded 3 minutes.

I recalled a night twenty years earlier — probably the last time we went to a “nice place” for dinner. Ryan, then about 4 or 5 years old, got really bored at the snails pace of fine dining. We could see him struggling to be good, but eventually, he lost control. The wait staff noticed the problem -– as did every patron in the restaurant, and those in the place down the street -– so they rushed an order of ziti to the table.

Ryan took a couple of bites before his eyes glazed. We all stared at him, unsure of what was happening. His head made a tight looping motion before his eyes rolled up toward his forehead, and then he planted his face squarely in the plate of ziti. After we cleaned him up, he remained unconscious for the rest of the evening. Perfect…

I looked at Wells and Dan. Their eyes were glazed, but there was no ziti to cushion their fall. Maybe this special treat wasn’t such a good idea.

I held my breath…


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