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"Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls." Joseph Campbell
The excited chatter of the people around me was having a seriously adverse effect on my nerves. "Why did I come here?" I asked myself for the umpteenth time.
"Beats the hell out of me," I answered. Normally I would be concerned about appearing crazy in front of strangers, but since I had just spent the entire previous evening and the whole of today with them, I was already aware that even if someone did happen to hear me talking to myself, I would still appear to be the sanest one in the group.
I guess I shouldn't be surprised by the idiosyncrasies of my travel mates. It was after all a cruise to Antarctica. What sane, rational person would pay out thousands of dollars for the privilege of freezing their ass off? It's not even like there is much to do when you reach Antarctica. I know this because I looked on the internet. There are no four star hotels, no souvenir stores, not even a McDonald's for that matter. What's there is ice. Lots and lots of ice. The proverbial "they" claim there is wildlife to die for, but I wasn't all that interested in any species that didn't know better than to live at the coldest place in the world.
So here I was in Ushuaia, Argentina ready to board the Hanseatic, the cruise ship which will be my home for the next 15 days. By the looks of it, my fellow cruisers are a great deal more thrilled about this than I, but that's to be anticipated, I suppose. After all, I had not bought the ticket. For that, I could thank Aunt Gert. Outlandish trips like this were definitely her style, not mine. Then again, six months ago I had left a Wall Street partnership in a law firm behind and moved to Minneapolis to run a toy store, and that wasn't like me either. I don't mean an adult toy store but an honest to God, baby doll and race cars toy store left to me by Aunt Gert.
As I glanced around at my fellow travelers, I was struck by my surroundings. The crisp evening air carried the smell of wood, and of the fish, fruit and vegetables from the open air market a few blocks from where I stood. All those mingled with the smell of salt, the ocean and diesel fuel. The noise from the market sounded to me like a flock of geese all vocalizing at the same time, and locals on the pier called out in a combination of Spanish and English as they sold souvenirs and supplies they swore were necessary for this trip.
Lost in thought, I missed the lowering of the chain that kept us from boarding the ship. I was brought back to reality by the loud cheer from the crowd on the pier. Me, not so much cheering, but I have to admit to a certain amount of curiosity about both the vessel and my fellow travelers. The Hanseatic only holds 180 passengers, but it boasted of nice restaurants, a gym, and even a pool and hot tub.
As luck would have it, I was near the front of the line. It only took a minute for me to tire of being jostled by the 140 or so of my fellow passengers behind me so I took a right and avoided the disgustingly cheerful pursers who were intent on welcoming everyone to "the voyage of a lifetime." I shrugged my shoulders; I don't really begrudge anyone their childlike anticipation of the cruise, but personally, I am just hoping I somehow manage to avoid a) freezing to death, b) falling overboard and c) slipping on the ice and breaking several important bones that I might have need of at some point on this trip. In any case, the first order of business was to find my cabin. If I was going to keep the promise I made to Aunt Gert and use this year to explore my life and my choices I needed to start somewhere. At this point, the most logical beginning of this exploration seemed to me to clearly be a nap.
In my prior life, sleep was not a priority. My quest to become a partner in my law firm by the age of 30 had kept me at work 80 hours a week. The few hours that remained were swallowed up by my picture perfect girlfriend Andrea. Intelligent, gorgeous, sexual and a total emotional void. Perfect for me, since I couldn't commit to a houseplant, much less an actual relationship. My friendships consisted of working lunches and dinners, emails, IM, and a lost Blackberry would have meant the collapse of the entire societal infrastructure as I knew it.
Day time naps were a legacy from of Aunt Gert. She believed they were a gift from the Goddess and not to indulge in one was an affront to the universe. She never explained exactly what would happen if one upset the order of the universe, but I learned long ago that challenging Aunt Gert's beliefs was a very bad idea. Since the start of my quest of self discovery six months ago, I have to admit, I've come to believe wholeheartedly in the beauty of a day time siesta. Well, as wholeheartedly as a jaded former New York lawyer can.
The Hanseatic was a small ship, so it took only a few minutes for me to locate cabin 104. When I entered, I was pleasantly surprised. A door led to an empty deck and a calm ocean. A row of windows showed the same view. The cabin was larger than I had expected. It was furnished with a queen sized bed, the usual night stand and chest of drawers, a table and chairs, a love seat, and a mini fridge. A chocolate mint even adorned the pillows on the bed.
Too tired to explore the boat any further at the moment, I stripped down to my undies, ate the mint and lay down on the bed. Within minutes, I was sound asleep.
In the middle of a strange dream that involved a boxing kangaroo and a punch drunk Mike Tyson, a disturbance drew my attention back to reality. I turned towards the entryway where a tall blond woman was struggling to get two large duffel bags through the door, and damning God, Jesus, and George W. Bush. I blinked twice; sure I must still be dreaming. But every time I opened my eyes she was still there, only now she had noticed a nearly naked me lying on the bed.
"Hi, I'm Petal," she announced with a smile. With one last tug, she got her luggage through the door and shut it behind her. "Hey, if I'd known you were sleeping, I would have stayed on deck longer."
I'm a fairly intelligent, well spoken woman, but words completely escaped me. Number one, why did a perfect stranger apparently have a key to my room? And number two, if the two duffel bags were any indication, she intended to spend the duration of the 15 day cruise in cabin 104. My cabin 104. As I scrambled to find a t shirt to cover myself, she moved to the windows. "Is this wild or what?" she asked.
"Uh I vote for the or what." I located my jeans and pulled them on. "I might be dense, but why are you in my cabin?"
"Your cabin?" she opened the door and looked at the numbers on it. "This is my cabin, 104. We must be sharing. That's cool. It'll be like going to summer camp." Petal continued her examination of the room and bathroom. "Wow, did you look in the bathroom? Killer tub and shower."
I had never been to camp, nor had I ever felt the desire to. I certainly wasn't going to attend my first at the age of 30. "You must be in the wrong cabin. Cabin 104 is mine. Aunt Gert paid for a private cabin."
Petal let out a laugh, which revealed a row of shining white teeth. Sparkling blue eyes showed her amusement. "Your Aunt Gert sent you on a trip to Antarctica?"
"Well, sorta. It's a part of my journey of self What difference does it make who bought my ticket? This is my cabin. My private cabin, where I intend to spend the next 15 days trying to keep warm."
Petal sat down on the edge of the bed. "Awesome. Self discovery huh? This should be a wild place to find yourself. Last year my friend Jane and I went on one. Well, actually we started out on one. We were camping in the woods in Minnesota, only Jane lost the keys to the Volkswagen. Which would have been ok, except for the bear. We started a fire and were just about to roast marshmallows, trying to decide what to do with our lives, when a bear showed up. A very hungry bear. We made it to the car but we couldn't go anywhere, since she had lost the keys to the Bug. Did you know bears like marshmallows? They do. A lot. And then we had to wait until it finished going through everything else."
"Whoa Petal, is it?" I interrupted.
"Yeah, Petal. Parents were hippies. Petal Smith."
"OK, Petal. As fascinating as being locked in a car while a bear hijacks your campsite is, that doesn't change the fact that you are in the wrong place."
"Well, let's each look at our tickets," she suggested.
Since it seemed to be the most reasonable thing she had said to this point, I walked over and picked up my ticket envelope. When I pulled it out, it said what I knew it would. "Cabin 104. See." I handed it to Petal.
Petal opened her own packet. She glanced at it and handed it to me. "Cabin 104. See. So, Roomie, tell me more about the self discovery thing."
"Petal, this is ridiculous. I'm not sharing my room with a perfect stranger."
Petal grinned. "Well, I'm not quite perfect, but thanks for the compliment."
"This must be a mistake. I'll just go talk to the staff. They must have put the wrong room on one of the tickets."
"Nope, they're all sold out. I called a few days ago when Jane decided she wanted to come with me, but they said there were no beds or rooms available at all. They must have double booked. We're stuck with each other. So you know my name but I don't know yours."
My frustration growing, I sat back down on the bed. "Kadence. Kadence Kavanagh. In case you haven't noticed, there is only one bed."
Petal's grin grew larger. "No worries. I'm only into girls who are into me. You're safe."
For the first time since I woke to her busting into my room I smiled. "Oh, goodie! That makes me feel much better. You're out of your mind. If we both stay here, I get the bed!"
Petal shook her head. "Nope, no can do. Look, I'm 6'1" the love seat is too small. You're what? 5'3"? You do the math. But in order to be fair, I'll share. It's a queen sized bed. We're both into girls, so that eliminates that nasty discomfort straight women have about being in a bed with a dyke."
"A) What makes you think I'm into girls? and B) That's not the point."
"That's exactly the point. Think of it as part of your self discovery. Sharing yourself with a stranger. In the metaphorical sense, of course. I don't expect you to share yourself in the conjugal sense. Although sex can be very cleansing and help you find your center." She tipped her head to the side as she looked at me. "Not to mention, you're cute as hell."
Her constant chatter made my head spin. "OK, first of all, do you come with a remote, because frankly, I'm getting a migraine? Second of all, we're not having sex, not now, not ever. Third, I'm going to go find whoever is in charge of this debacle and get this straightened out."
"Never say straight anything." she told me with a smile. "Going straight is highly overrated. Say you're going to see if you can remedy the situation."
Despite my irritation, I smiled. "Fine, I'll go see if I can remedy the situation." I picked up my ticket and my back pack and put my hand on the doorknob.
Before I could open the door, she put her hand on mine. "Look, Kavanagh, I don't know why we both ended up here, but look at it as sign from the universe. You're on some sort of rite of passage. I'm really good at that sort of thing. I mean, if I'm not, who is? My parents are still hippies, for crying out loud, only now they have gray hair. You're looking for your bliss. You know, find out what you want, and not just what you think you should do. I'm guessing, you've never done that before. You don't look like the sort that has much experience at it. I can help. Trust me, you need me. I bet Aunt Gert would tell you it's a sign, us being here in the same room."
My jaw dropped. Six months ago Aunt Gert's lawyer had personally delivered two sealed envelopes to me. The first had contained the tickets for this trip. When I'd opened the second, I'd found a single sheet of paper. In Aunt Gert's flowing handwriting were the words. "My dearest, Find your bliss. Do as you want, not as you think you must. Love always, Aunt Gert."
Hearing a stranger use the same words as Aunt Gert was not only odd, it was downright disturbing. I felt myself sink down until I was sitting on the edge of the bed. "What did you say?"
Petal smiled. "Which part? I talk a lot, in case you hadn't noticed."
"Yeah, I noticed. Not your best quality, by the way. The part about finding my bliss?"
"Oh that. You know, blissdelight, contentment, ecstasy, nirvana, paradise, rapture. Any or all of those. What do you do for a living?"
I sighed, unsure about sharing such a personal story with this stranger. But, she HAD virtually quoted Aunt Gert's last letter to me. "Well, it's a long story. I was a partner in a Wall Street law firm, practicing business law. I made six figures a year. But when Aunt Gert died six months ago, she left me her business, a toy store in Minneapolis. I moved there." I stood up and pulled a sheet of paper from my backpack and handed it to Petal. "Even before she died, I had been restless. I'm still not sure why, but nothing seemed to matter anymore. Every relationship was so superficial I couldn't stand it anymore. After the funeral, her lawyer gave me that letter and the tickets to this cruise. Why am I telling you this?"
"It's the face," she said as if that explained everything. She sat down next to me and read the letter. "You aunt owned a toy store in Minneapolis?"
"Yes, that's what I said."
"What was her name?"
"I just told you. Aunt Gert."
Petal scowled at me. "Here I thought I was dense. What was her full name?"
"Gertrude. Gertrude Logan."
A look of surprise appeared on Petal's face. "Logan's Wonderland."
"Wait How did you know that?"
"Your Aunt didn't call you Kadence."
"You're beginning to really scare me. How did you know that?" I stood, and began to pace in the cabin.
"She called you Annie." Petal laughed at my burgeoning agitation.
"All you've done since you got in here is talk, which is more than a little irritating, by the way, and now you decide to get cryptic on me? How do you know these things?"
Petal only laughed harder. "Man, is this a wild universe or what?"
After Petal caught a glimpse of my best lawyer glare, she finally sobered. "I met your aunt at a photography class at the community center. She said her name was Trudy and she owned a toy store, Logan's Wonderland. We got to be friends. She talked about you all the time, but she called you Annie."
I could not believe what I was hearing from this stranger. "I I" I stuttered, stopped to gather my emotions and started again. "Kadence is a family name on my father's side. She wasn't fond of him, and Anne is my middle name, so she used that."
Petal grinned. "Yeah that sounds like her. She was a great lady." She paused for a minute. "There's more."
"More?" I shook my head in an attempt to clear it. "What kind of more?"
Petal's grin grew. "I'm not sure how to tell you this."
"Why do I get the feeling I'm not going to like this?"
"First of all, I need to assert my innocence."
My anxiety grew. "Petal!"
"Just tell me what on earth you are talking about."
"You know, patience is not your strong suit. You really should work on that."
"OK, OK." Petal blew out a breath. "She wanted to set us up the last time you visited, but I was out of town. Than, a few days after Trudy died; a lawyer came to see me. He gave me tickets to this trip and said Trudy wanted me to go on this cruise. So here I am, coincidentally with the woman she said needed me."
This last bit was more than I could take. "Oh, for Christ's sake! I always knew she was more than a little off, but this is ridiculous." I sank down on the edge of the bed.
Apparently, my consternation at Aunt Gert's attempts to bring Petal and me together wasn't shared by Petal. She smiled, seemingly content with the arrangements.
She moved to the door, and then turned back to me. "All right, now that's settled. Are you ready to go?"
I was still attempting to digest these latest revelations. "Go?"
"You know go. Depart, leave, move from one location to another."
Unamused I glared at her. "I know what the word means."
Petal only laughed at my attempt at the definitive intimidating look. "Well, why did you ask then? Boy, if anyone ever needed a trip like this it's you. How long has it been since you took a vacation? What are you looking forward to seeing?"
"The inside of my eyelids."
"You're going to come all the way to the South Pole and sleep? That's just sooooo not going to happen."
I raised an eyebrow. "It's not?"
"No, it's not. They have Zodiacs on this ship that take you right up to the ice. Just think, you can actually walk on Antarctica. And on this trip, you go further into Antarctica than any other cruise ever. There are whales all over the place, penguins, not to mention a bunch of other birds. You can't miss that. Didn't you read the information? We also stop at the Falkland Islands."
I ran my hand through my hair. Petal's excessive energy was only equaled by my building exhaustion. "Oh, goodie. Rocks and moss, not to mention lichen. Do you know what lichen is? I do. I looked it up. It's fungus, for crying out loud. Mushrooms are fungus, I can buy them at the supermarket at home."
"Well, technically, lichens aren't mushrooms. They grow on rocks, in places with extreme temperatures like Antarctica. They've been around forever. They form patterns and different varieties are different colors. They're awesome. And there are birds. A lot of different ones, including penguins. Have you ever seen a penguin, or a whale? I haven't. I can't wait to see them."
I rolled my shoulders and popped my neck. "I've seen Free Willie. Does that count?"
She grinned. "No, it doesn't count. You shouldn't do that to your neck. You ought to do yoga. Lucky for you, I brought an extra mat with me. You can see all kinds of whales here, including wild orcas. There is even a good chance that we'll see a blue whale. Do you know how big those are?"
"Bigger than a bread-box?" I guessed.
Petal laughed out loud. As irritated as I was with her, I couldn't help but be drawn in by her good humor. "Just slightly bigger than that. You know Kavanagh, I like you. Trudy was right. You do need me."
"Gee. Yeah. Thanks, Aunt Gert." Before I could say anything further, the boat started to move which caused Petal to rush to the windows.
"We're leaving," she squealed with what I assumed was her version of excitement.
I responded with my own version. A frown accompanied by "Yippee. Does that mean it's too late for me to get off the ship?"
She bounced back to the side of the bed and surprised me when she grabbed my hands and pulled me up. Holding onto my hands she twirled in a circle, taking me with her. "Way, way too late for that."
"Petal," I said. When that had no effect, I said it louder. "PETAL!"
She continued to twirl as she held onto my hands.
"Stop spinning!" I laughed in spite of my irritation. "I'm getting dizzy."
She laughed along with me. "That's the best part." Without relinquishing control of my hands, she fell onto the bed, pulling me along with her.
We lay there until the world became still. Suddenly, Petal leaped from the bed, having remembered her intention to coerce me into leaving the cabin. "Come on."
Just when I thought I had begun to understand my unexpected roommate, she did something else. "What? Why?"
"Come on, get up. We gotta go."
I shook my head "Perhaps you have to go. I have no plans to leave this cabin tonight."
"Nope, your new life starts now." Petal persisted. "This is journey of self discovery 101."
"Because I don't want to?" I knew I was reaching by this point, but it was all I had.
She grabbed my hand and pulled me to my feet. "Well that might work. If you were five! Since you're not, you're coming with me."
"Where are we going?" I asked.
"Does it matter?"
I felt like the five year old she had essentially accused me of being as I grabbed my fanny pack and followed her out the door. It didn't help when she turned around with a grin on her face. "If you're a good girl, I'll give you a cookie."
"It better be chocolate chip," I mumbled under my breath.
She peeked back over her shoulder and grinned. "I heard that."
I continued to grumble. "You were supposed to hear that."
"You know, it's much easier if you just accept that I'm right."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. That remains to be seen." I couldn't help but grin. "Let's go."
In the middle of a dream involving Petal, whipped cream, and a bed, I heard "Wake up, Kavanagh." I felt a hand shake my shoulder.
I managed to open one eye. "Go away."
She began to pull the covers down. "Nope. Come on, you can't sleep the day away. It's light outside"
I caught a glimpse of the alarm clock. "Five AM is not sleeping the day away. It gets light here at 3 AM, for Christ's sake."
"Which is why you need to get up. Come on, you know the routine. Yoga, then breakfast."
"Don't wanna," I whined as I pulled the covers tighter.
"Come on, Kavanagh," she encouraged while again pulling the blankets off me. "Today's the big day."
That got my attention. "We're back in Argentina?"
She laughed. "No, silly. We get to the Falklands today."
"We discussed this already, remember? Rocks, moss, fungus? Any of that ring a bell? I'm not interested."
"Nope, don't seem to recall that. You're going. Come on Kavanagh, I brought you coffee."
That got me to a sitting position. "Actual coffee? Not decaf or chicory or herbal tea?"
She waved a steaming thermos under my nose. "Real coffee. All you have to do is get through yoga, and agree to go with me on land to see the fungus."
I knew I would end up on the Falkland Islands anyway since there was no way Petal would let me stay on the ship. I took the deal and reluctantly rose and found my way to the bathroom.
In the two days that we had been at sea, Petal had made it her mission to see that we attended every lecture, every get together, and every meal there was. She pulled me from the warm bed that we had ended up sharing, at a time of day no human should be up and about, and then added to my misery by putting me through a series of yoga positions that would have been envied by anyone who studied the Kama Sutra. The time we spent together, however, had led me to appreciate her unique perspective on life, not to mention her long legs and flexible body. Her irreverence was contagious, and much to my dismay, she only laughed at my grumping. Truth be told, I had come to look forward to her chatter and enthusiasm for life, but I'd be damned if I was going to let her know that, at least not yet. After washing my hands and brushing my teeth, I put my hair in a pony tail and fixed the scowl on my face that I knew Petal expected.
I opened the bathroom door and saw Petal sitting in a lotus position on her yellow mat. She grinned. "Come on, Kavanagh, coffee is getting cold."
I kept the grin off my face. "I'm only doing this for the caffeine."
Petals eyes sparkled. "Yeah, yeah, yeah. You keep telling yourself that. But I'm rubbing off on you."
I didn't answer; sure my voice would give me away. Instead, I said a silent thanks to Aunt Gert. Perhaps I hadn't yet found my bliss, but I was sure I was on my way, thanks to her and the woman she knew I needed.
I gave in to the grin. "Maybe I'm the one rubbing off on you?"
Her eyes met mine. "Perhaps, but for now, take a deep breath. Lotus position."
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