“Aren’t you excited?!?” My elated best friend nearly shouted.
“Jeez, Court, calm down.” I laughed at her. She was jumping up and down. Every year my family and I take a cruise vacation together. Courtney is practically part of my family so we invited her to join us. She was insane from the moment we told her, which was four months earlier. It had been a long four months. She is definitely eccentric. It was the day before New Year’s Eve and everyone was ready for a break and a new year.
First, the teenagers on this trip, my cousin Jake, Courtney, and I, went to check out the pool while the rest of my family found something to eat. Even though it was
“You are aware it's still December?” Courtney said smugly.
“Yes I’m aware.” Jake obstinately said and shivered. We laughed and walked to the buffet where we met the rest of my family.
“So, how’s the ship?” my mom asked, coming to the table with a plate full of food.
“Cool. Literally. It’s pretty cold up on deck and windy too. Very different than what we’re used to.” I answered.
“Well it could be worse. Remember to be in the dining room at quarter of six, we have early dining.”
“Right!” I said, hoping I would remember. “See you guys later.” This was the last time I saw my parents until dinner. I love vacation. Courtney and I ditched Jake and went to our cabin to change into bathing suits. We didn’t care how cold it was, we were on vacation and we were going swimming. The pool was empty so we had no problem jumping in. Going cold turkey was the only way Courtney would get me into that pool. She grabbed my hand and we jumped in the freezing, ice cold water. I came back up quickly, gasping for air. She came up shortly after with a giant grin on her face. That’s Courtney. I on the other hand, climbed right out of that ice box.
“Haha, you look kind of blue.” While giving her a death stare, I grabbed my towel and asked for a hot chocolate from the nearest waiter.
“Oh shut up. Well now I have to take a shower before dinner so I'm going back to the room.” I glared once more before putting on my flip flops and walking away. I could hear her getting out of the pool, laughing behind me.
After showering and getting ready for dinner, Courtney and I went to the main dining restaurant where we met the rest of the group. We arrived just as my aunt was chastening my younger cousin. Typical aunt move: make everyone uncomfortable at a nice time. Luckily, the waiters hurried over to take our order. The dinner was delicious and I was stuffed by the end of it.
“Would you like more desert, Princess?” Apparently this man was talking to me.
“No, I'm all set thanks.” He smiled and proceeded to ask everyone at the table the same question. Only Joey, my little cousin, said yes. We all got up and said goodnight to our waiters. We all headed to different things so we said goodbye to everyone then. A few hours later, Courtney and I went back to our room.
“Can you believe it?? Tomorrow’s New Year’s Eve!” Courtney was being especially loquacious tonight. She must be overtired, I thought as I climbed into bed. About an hour later I heard Courtney whisper in the darkness. “Are you asleep?”
“Yes.” I rolled over and turned on the night lamp.
“I can’t sleep. I'm way too excited for tomorrow. Can we take a walk or something?”
“Court, we’re not dressed. And I don’t really want to get up to be quite honest.”
“Please? A quick walk and I promise I’ll shut up after that.”
“Oh alright. Lets go.” We went to the top deck where it was really, really cold. There was a wind that comes and goes. It seemed creepy up on deck all alone in the middle of the night. It must have been around two-thirty. All of a sudden we heard two other voices, shouting. Courtney looked at me, clearly scared and confused. Her expression was my exact feeling. I motioned to her to follow me to a place we could see these people but not be seen by them. It was a couple. She was sobbing. They were both yelling. What the heck was going on?
“I can’t handle this Sophie! This is too much!” a man said, full of acrimony.
“What am I supposed to do?” the woman, apparently Sophie, was also shaking.
“I…no! I can’t!” the man stormed off. We saw a glimpse of his face as he went by, he was crying now too. We thought the drama was all over until we heard the woman speak very quietly.
“I’m sorry.” Before we could wrap our heads around what was going on, Sophie walked over to the rail. She lifted herself over it and she was gone.
Courtney and I walked back to the room in silence. We didn't even lie down. We just sat on the bed, holding each other for support. I felt helpless but it was immutable. After our sleepless night, we got off the ship onto the cruise lines private island. We were laconic and barely spoke to anyone. My family could obviously tell something was wrong but they didn't press the point.
On the island a voice came over the loudspeaker. “Attention: If Sophie Richardson is on the island, please report to the snorkel shack immediately.” Courtney and I exchanged glances, terrified. This message came on about ten more times. Finally Courtney stood up.
“I think I'm going to go back on board.” I nodded and stood up with her. Once we were back on board I stopped her and sighed.
“We have to tell someone. This is insane.”
“Should we? What if they think we did something?” I knew she could be right. Our story was plausible but would they listen to kids? We were at an impasse. But I knew what was right.
“Courtney this isn’t a movie. This is real. That woman is missing and we have information no one else has.” She sighed but nodded. We walked quickly to the nearest person in uniform. I whispered a summary of what was going on. He looked at us with a shocked expression.
“Let me see the security tapes from midnight to three o’clock on deck ten.” A man next to her nodded and brought up a video on a computer. We were transfixed. In the video, at about two-thirty, there were two people. One of them walked away quickly while the other just stood there. Then, she jumped. The Captain turned it off and looked at us. “Where were you?”
“We were standing right outside the door leading to that spot. We were sort of behind a pole.” A crew member spoke for the first time.
“The cameras can’t view that area. It’s at a too difficult angle.” She waved him away and he compliantly did.
“Thank you, girls. We will inform her husband of this. He reported her missing at noon. I know it will be hard but try to enjoy the rest of your cruise.” she tried to assuage. We left without another word.
As we were walking to dinner that night, the Captain came on the loud speaker. “Attention all passengers: I have some very upsetting but necessary news to tell you all. Today at twelve hundred hours Sophie Richardson was reported missing.” My stomach dropped. “You probably heard her name being called on the island. After viewing security tapes, we have verified that she jumped overboard in the early hours of the morning. Grief counselors are with her husband and will be available if anyone needs them. I am very sorry to have to inform this but I hope that you enjoy the rest of your vacation.” My heart was pounding so loudly that I thought everyone could hear it. I looked around the room and everyone was standing frozen, jaws open, with trepidation on their faces.
“Happy New Year.” I heard my cousin say from behind me. We all went to dinner in silence. No one was smiling. The dining room was eerily quiet. We still celebrated the New Year, but no one was truly happy about it. At twelve thirty, Courtney and I spoke up.
“To Sophie.” We said together, holding up our glasses. Everyone near also cheered to her. We spent the rest of the cruise trying to be happy and have a good time. For the most part we did. But right before we went to bed, we always had that doleful moment remembering her and that moment of fear, knowing what our nightmares would entail. That vacation was truly unforgettable.