Diane briskly walked out of the lecture hall after just finishing the final exam of her freshman year at Ball State University. Hitting the steps in front of the building in a light, skipping run, she tossed her backpack in the backseat of the waiting Mustang GT convertible as she approached. She slid into the passenger seat, greeted her boyfriend with a short sigh, and blurted, “Let’s get outta here!” Jack finished his exams the day prior and had his car loaded down and ready for their summer trip.
“How’d it go?” Jack asked, as he mashed the gas pedal and squealed off leaving a cloud of burnt rubber. He noticed an exaggerated eye roll come from his high school sweetheart, who he’d been dating since the summer between their sophomore and junior years of high school. “Well, at least it’s over,” he offered before anxiously changing the subject.
The couple often drew comparisons of the “ideal, young Midwestern couple.” They were born and raised in neighboring small towns. More accurately, Jack grew up on a farm several miles outside of the town that Diane resided in. He appreciated the hard work ethic that was instilled in him from a young age by his father, but figured with a little more education he could get away from such back-breaking labor. Diane was raised on strong morals, and taught to serve others. She was as hard-working in the classroom as Jack and his father were on the farm. Diane wanted to be knowledgeable, but didn’t have a strong sense of being independent. Jack was her safety blanket. He provided her the security that she had known from her own father and mother.
“I can’t wait to hit the beach,” Diane offered, her eyes staring off into the distance with her mind wandering toward their impending trip. “The sand between my toes, the sun on my face. Ahh, it’ll be the life!”
Both of them had been anxious for their break to begin. Counting down the days until they met up with another couple that they are both friends of for their first “grown-up” getaway together. They had been stuck in Indiana with Courtney and Curt for their Spring Break, and while sitting around a campfire with a case of Buds, devised the plan to go on a cruise together.
Curt had been friends with Jack and Diane since childhood and came from a similar background. He was a typical jock growing up, slightly above average at everything he did, but never put the extra effort into anything to truly excel. He enjoyed keeping himself in shape and showing off for the fairer sex every chance he got. Courtney grew up a little further from town than Jack did, and was forced to attend the rival high school. There was a familiarity of each other due to proximity, but it wasn’t until Curt bumped into Courtney while playing Frisbee with a group of friends at Ball State that he really took notice. Courtney was known to be a bit of a flirt, and gave Curt the run-around when he first started taking interest in pursuing her, which only made Curt try that much harder.
After a red-eye flight into Fort Lauderdale the next morning, the foursome grabbed a shuttle to the pier in order to board as soon as they possibly could. “I can’t wait to get to the room!” Curt stated with a groggy look on his face, but made a quick glance toward Courtney to gauge her reaction. Courtney offered a coy smile, acknowledging Curt’s suggestion. “I can’t wait to hit the buffet,” Jack retorted. The early flight took a toll on them all, but in different ways.
As soon as the boarding ramp was locked into the dock, the couples bee-lined for the behemoth boat. “Last one on board buys the first round,” Curt yelled out, after already making his move toward the boat. Once he reached the edge of the pier, Curt looked back to see nobody fell for his bait. Casually strolling up to meet their friend, Jack responded playfully by noting that the trip was all-inclusive. “The drinks are free, you idiot.”
Since they had already checked their luggage in, all they had with them were their carry on bags. Being the first cruise for all four of them, they were more than eager to document every aspect of it via Curt’s shiny new digital SLR camera. Passing the camera back to Jack so he could snap a picture of the couple boarding, Courtney enthusiastically spun around to pose, hitting Curt with her over-filled backpack. The unexpected battering knocked him off-balance and sent him toppling toward the safety rail on the narrow gangway, which was barely wide enough for two people to stand side-by-side. As Curt reached out for the stability of the guard rail, unable to slow himself, his eyes filled with terror as his momentum sent him flipping over the railing. White knuckled and heart pounding, Curt hung from the steel piping by both arms while Jack frantically reached down grabbing for Curt and pulling him back onto the safety of the walkway. With his heart beating out of his chest, Curt flatly stated, “Not the BEST way I could have imagined starting off our cruise.”
The four were rushed on board so that Curt could be examined by the cruise line’s physician. After completing a fairly thorough physical, the group was relieved to find out that Curt had only suffered a sprained wrist, dislocated thumb, and some scrapes and bruises. He would be forced to wear a splint on his right arm for the duration of the trip, which would undeniably get some pretty funky tan lines, but nothing that a few cocktails couldn’t help. “Now where were we?” Curt asked. “I need to drink away this pain!”
Once the mammoth ship set sail, the couples enjoyed each other’s company while exploring the wonders that all twelve decks had to offer. They spent a little time in the casino having drinks, placing bets on the roulette wheel and dropping a few coins into a bank of slot machines before grabbing a quick bite at one of the on-board cafes. Finally, they discovered their staterooms on the fifth deck.
The four had decided to retire to their rooms, where they could “take their time” changing into their swimsuits, then would meet back up by the pool and jacuzzi. Following a very satisfying and quite romantic tryst, Courtney and Curt emerged from their room to find a rejuvenated Jack and Diane already waiting poolside. The group couldn’t resist the swim-up bar, and enjoyed an array of mixed drinks. Before too long, Curt couldn’t help but notice a feeling of nausea settling in. Attempting to ignore the discomfort at first, he eventually had to cave in and share his uneasiness with the group, who were undoubtedly sensing the change in his typical, self-assured demeanor. Curt didn’t know if it was sea-sickness, the effects of the drinks kicking in, or the combination of mixing alcohol and pain medication from the physician, but his priorities rapidly shifted from the group and the pool to getting back to the room and bed. Courtney helped escort Curt back to the room, and offered to help in any way either of them could think of. Curt decided to take a couple of Dramamine pills before lying down. As he started to drift off, he offered Courtney a weak smile and said, “Go back out with Jack and Diane. I’ll be fine. There’s no sense wasting prime vacation time while I’m passed out, sleeping this off.”
Curt finally awoke from the drunken stupor to find Courtney trying to sneak into the room quietly, so she wouldn’t disturb Curt. Seeing that he was shifting and opening his eyes, she flashed a smile and quietly asked, “How are you feeling?” Other than his head being in a haze and feeling a bit foggy, he seemed to be feeling fine physically. Courtney expressed concern noting that Curt had been out cold for almost an entire day. “You came in and laid down around ten o’clock last night…it’s going on seven-thirty now. At night!” It was the following evening, and she had just returned from the pool to get changed for dinner with Jack and Diane. Curt was famished and felt that he could eat anything and everything the ship had to offer, so he decided it was time to crawl out of bed and join the group for some food.
Rolling to the side of the bed, Curt couldn’t help but notice the opened roll of Dramamine on the night stand. “How many of these did I choke down last night?” he wondered aloud. Oddly, it seemed that the previously unopened package appeared to be half gone. He remembered throwing back a couple of tablets before falling asleep, but surely he hadn’t taken half of the roll! Courtney quickly poked her head out of the adjoining bathroom, asking, “Did you say something?” Curt replied by repeating his question. “Did you see how many of these pills I took before I fell asleep? I thought I only took two, but at least half of the roll is gone!”
“I didn’t pay a lot of attention. I was just worried about getting you comfortable.” Courtney felt confident that Curt wasn’t accusing her of anything, but she couldn’t ignore the feeling of her blood pressure rising due to nervousness, turning her face a noticeable shade of red.
Feeling famished, Curt pushed the curiosity out of his mind and hurriedly got dressed in order to keep the others from waiting. The rest of the night picked up right where the previous one had left off. After eating enough food from the buffet for three people, Curt felt back to normal, and the quartet spent the remainder of the night in the on-ship club, dancing, drinking, and laughing.
Upon returning to their rooms, Jack and Diane couldn’t help but notice the feeling that Courtney seemed a little quiet towards the end of the night. “Did Courtney seem a little ‘off’ to you tonight?” Diane asked Jack. He responded dismissively, “Yeah, a little. She probably just got tired. Or a little too drunk.”
Sensing the same thing about Courtney, Curt inquired about what was upsetting her. “I’m feeling one hundred percent better, the four of us just had a great night of dancing, and we’re alone in this room, floating to paradise. What more could you ask for??”
Just as Jack and Diane finished commenting about Courtney’s out-of-character behavior, they overheard a little bit of an argument coming from the room next door – Curt and Courtney’s room. The couple felt uncomfortable eavesdropping, but they were really curious about what was going on between their friends. They didn’t have a lot of success interpreting the muffled noises coming through the wall, but from time to time, the voices rose enough to make out a sentence or two. They gathered that Courtney was apparently upset about Curt dancing with Diane a couple different times throughout the evening. Eventually, a calm settled in, and both couples found comfort in their beds.
The next morning broke with the ship pulling into the first harbor. Jack and Diane had made reservations for a handful of excursions – rock climbing, snorkeling, and para-sailing, but were now wondering if there would be any awkwardness or uneasiness based on the discussion that was overheard the previous night. Their uncertainty was put at ease when Courtney and Curt both approached in easy-going, light-hearted moods. “Let’s get to it!” Courtney emphatically ordered as she jogged by, closely followed by Curt.
Challenge #1 for their first day on shore: rock climbing. Before that though, they would have to hike a little under a mile to get to their destination. Climbing through green, thick ground coverage on narrow dirt paths with a luscious live canopy of palm trees growing far above their heads, the foursome was in awe the entire mile with the beautiful surroundings. While Curt had previously been excited about the excursions, he was suddenly feeling a little sullen about them since the mishap on the gangplank. Not wanting to spoil the fun for everyone else, he decided that he could still tag along and participate in a different way. “You guys go ahead. Believe it or not, I can still be helpful,” Curt assured them playfully.
A key position to rock climbing is the spotter. Curt decided he would hang back from the group, stay on the ground, and guide the group to safety from below. While researching and booking the activity, Jack had intentionally selected an area for novices, so there wasn’t much worry that anybody would struggle and end up not having a good time. Consequently, Curt grew bored relatively quickly and ended up gazing into the distance, admiring the scenery. Roughly halfway up the rock face, Courtney found herself stuck between a rock and a hard place. As Courtney looked down at Curt she noticed that his attention had shifted from her. “Ground control to Major Tom! How about a little help here, instead of staring off into space!”
Tethered to her from beneath, Curt snapped out of his daze and began shouting instructions to guide her out of harms way. He felt confident that even if she fell, he could support her weight by being her anchor.
Sure enough, just as the thought about being able to support Courtney finished running through Curt’s mind, Courtney started to reach for a jutting rock. Feeling a little uncertain of her move and letting nerves get the better of her, she glanced back down towards the ground where Curt had let his mind wander to the beautiful landscape again. Courtney instantly lost her patience toward her failing spotter. She reached her free arm out as her grip wavered and loosened, kicked her legs out to separate herself from the bumpy surface, and plummeted from the side of the cliff. The slack in the anchor line snapped taut, and as Courtney fell, Curt was jerked slightly upwards. The tips of his toes were lifted just far enough off of the ground from Courtney’s downward momentum that he lost his balance and traction. The angle of the rope pulled Curt further off-balance and sent him careening directly for the wall of jagged rock. Courtney’s momentum was eventually counter-acted by Curt’s body weight, but not before cracking the side of his head into the side of the cliff, rendering him nearly unconscious. “Son-of-a…!” Curt exclaimed, before reaching up to rub his temple and noticing a sizeable pool of blood forming on the side of his face and running down his jaw line.
As Curt dangled from the end of the anchor line catching his wits, Jack and Diane scurried down the face of the rock wall while Courtney was slowly lowered back to the earth. Once they all three had made it back down to land, they began assessing the situation. Curt was in a mental haze, not to mention the pretty severe gash he had suffered right next to his left temple. “Well THAT could’ve gone better,” Curt said in an attempt to lighten the mood and smooth over any uneasiness from the group. After giving Curt several minutes to clear the fog, Jack decided that it would be best for them to return to the ship and be re-examined by the onboard physician. Diane offered Curt her sunglasses to provide shading for his eyes from the sun, and Jack allowed Curt to use him for support in fear that any concussion symptoms still lingered.
Back in the doctor’s exam room, Curt was ordered to take it easy for the remainder of the cruise. “Boy, you’re just not having a very good time now, are you?” the physician sarcastically inquired before explaining her prognosis. “I would highly recommend that you stay in bed and get as much rest as you can. It probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to avoid direct sunlight and physical exertion while you’re at it.” The rest of the excursions were not even an option.
Not wanting to leave an ailing friend, the rest of the group decided to forego any activity that Curt couldn’t participate in. They got refunds for the remainder of their excursions, and spent the next couple of days enjoying the activities that the ship had to offer. Jack and Courtney took scuba lessons in the pool on the ships’ main upper deck while Diane and Curt relaxed underneath the shade and protection of an umbrella.
Diane couldn’t help but wonder to herself why Courtney was so willing to leave Curt behind to fend for himself, and couldn’t help but feel a little pity for Curt. At the same time, Courtney couldn’t fight off the thought that Diane was a little too eager to spend more time with Curt. It’s not like Curt was locked in their room and not able to socialize or enjoy the great weather and exotic scenery. Courtney always stayed close enough to Curt to keep him from feeling left out, so why did Diane think it was necessary to skip out on activities in order to keep Curt company?
That night, upon returning to their rooms, Diane had to voice her concerns to Jack. “I’m a little worried about Curt’s well-being, physically AND mentally, and it seems like Courtney’s only out to have fun and doesn’t seem too worried about him.”
That’s when the arguing next door resumed. This time though, the voices weren’t so muffled. Jack and Diane didn’t even need to TRY to overhear what was being said…it was screamed as clear as if they were in the room. “What does she think she’s doing?!” Courtney was overheard shouting. “She came with us to spend time with JACK, didn’t she? Why am I even talking to you about this – you haven’t seemed to mind the extra attention the least little bit!” Courtney could not believe the audacity of Diane and was beside herself for Curt “allowing” Diane’s behavior.
Diane was appalled at Courtney’s accusation, and even more distraught when Jack voiced his concern about Diane’s intentions as well. “Look, Diane, I understand and can appreciate your sympathy, but it is Courtney’s job to comfort Curt, not yours. Your empathy for Curt has impacted OUR vacation…and not positively.”
The final day on the boat was a long and awkward one. Jack and Diane tried to move on, but things were still tense between the couple. Curt was beaten and bruised physically, mentally, and emotionally. That disconnect from Curt left Courtney to wander the ship on her own and gave her plenty of time to ponder the events of the last week.
It also gave Curt a little time to re-examine the incidents that had taken place within the span of the last few days. Normally a confident and coordinated active guy, the accidents this week were really out of character. Thinking about numerous near-misses of potentially severe “accidents,” suspicion started gnawing at the back of Curt’s mind. His tumble over the gangplank railing had happened from Courtney hitting him with her backpack. The thought of Courtney sneaking in and out of their stateroom while she thought he was unconscious was a bit disconcerting. Not to mention the almost overdose that about had him in a coma. The rock-climbing incident was because Courtney didn’t follow simple directions to climb a wall reserved for novices. It’s not like she had shown much concern for him either. Jack was the one that pulled him back on board. Diane was the one that sacrificed her sunglasses for Curt’s comfort, fearing the symptoms of a concussion. It was Jack, again, that supported him during the mile hike back to the ship. Diane, of course, was the one to give up participating in fun activities to keep Curt from growing bored and restless. The only time Courtney offered any assistance was right before he took far too many tablets of Dramamine. After wrestling with those thoughts, Curt tried his best to shrug off his suspicions. “No way,” he muttered to himself. “Why go on a cruise with your boyfriend, if you want him gone? Why not just break up with me??” Curt finally started to realize that his thoughts were beyond ludicrous.
Finally, by mid-afternoon, Courtney gathered the courage to speak with Jack and Diane. She had been avoiding them like the plague all morning because of her embarrassing behavior and shameful accusations. She explained to the couple that she was disappointed that their vacation had turned out so poorly, and feeling that it was her fault, she was sensitive because of that. She assured them that her outrage did not truly reflect her feelings. With the comfort of that conversation, the tension between Diane and Jack also started to dissipate.
Following a wonderful dinner on their final night onboard, the couples proceeded to take a casual stroll along the main deck. Curt was just happy to be alive following the trying week he had endured. Through a near-fall overboard, an almost-overdose of Dramamine, and a serious cerebral contusion, he was just happy to only have some scrapes and scratches!
Walking along, they noticed an empty shuffleboard that wasn’t being used. “Wanna play teams? Battle of the sexes!” Courtney declared, reaching for the game pieces before waiting for a reply.
“I’m not sure you’re prepared for the embarrassment you are about to feel. We play for keeps!” Jack replied. Of course he was joking, but he was known to be pretty competitive.
Inevitably, when the game turned slightly more competitive than recreational, the foursome began distracting each other during the others’ shots. Just as Courtney lined up a shot, Curt leaned in with a playful hip bump, and sent Courtney reeling toward the railing. Almost as if it happened in slow-motion, the group watched helplessly as a replay of the boarding incident played out again right in front of them. Nearing the edge of the deck, Courtney screamed, drawing the attention of other guests on the ship. But it was too late. As she neared the guard rail, her foot slid through a puddle of water, and she awkwardly toppled overboard.
The remaining trio just stood numbly, staring back and forth between one another, the vacant spot that Courtney had just occupied, and the railing that she cart-wheeled over. Once reality settled in, the group of friends melted into hysterics. Other witnesses rushed for the railing, staring overboard, looking for signs of the overboard passenger. There were none. Courtney had disappeared into the current created by the ship’s powerful propellers.
Curt was taken into a secluded interview room by the cruise line’s security officers. He explained the chain of events, noting all of the unfortunate mishaps since they had come aboard. “I just can’t believe this is happening. I’m in complete shock right now…I can’t think straight,” Curt flatly said to the interviewing officer. After giving his statement, he was allowed to return to his room.
Thrashing fitfully, Curt awoke with a start. His heart was racing, his back was soaked with sweat, and he was terrified. He bolted upright, looking around the room. He glanced at the alarm clock and saw that it read 4:03 a.m. He was relieved when reality sank in, and he realized that he had only been dreaming. He noticed the bathroom door that was connected to the room was partially closed, but there was no light on. No movement or sounds came from within either. A feeling of calm and comfort eased his anxiety and put his panic to rest. A look of contentment crossed his face and a small smile grazed his lips. He was alone. As he relaxed back into the bed underneath the porthole window, he turned to his side as he curled back into the mattress, and sprawled his arm onto the cool spot that Courtney normally occupied. Only Courtney wasn’t lying next to him…
What a week it had been. With all of the miscues that centered around him, nobody would ever imagine that they weren’t accidents. And nobody would ever suspect his intentions. Curt was just glad that he had figured out Courtney’s plan. He had never known her to be the jealous type, but boy was he wrong!