“The Life Changing Cruise” by Grady Wiley

Jeff Smith was a lonely middle aged man who lives in a small apartment outside of Miami. He was a bartender at a small bar in the sleepy town he lived in and barely ever had interactions with other humans. He had saved up his money and went on a cruise in the Caribbean and while on that cruise noticed that the company that operated the ship was hiring bartenders. He instantly knew he wanted this job so badly.  It had been a couple of months since he had sent his application for the job and he was anxiously waiting for the reply when he finally received an email from the company–he had been accepted.

Jeff had been working on the ship for four years but finally the excitement had faded away and it felt like his old job all over again. He was considering quitting this job and decided he would quit after the next cruise. The cruise had started and he was working the night shift on the first night. The bar was located at the front of the ship on the main deck. That night it was the same kind of people he always saw coming to the bar, the parents on the cruise who needed a deferral from the kids. Every now and then there would be some kids that were coerced by their parents to come with them although on this particular night a four-year-old girl was dragged along. Usually, Jeff didn’t care and the kid wouldn’t either but this girl started trying to talk with him.

“What’s your name, Mister?” she asked.

Jeff didn’t know what to say, he hadn’t had anyone ask his name in a long time.

“Jeff,” he told her.

The girl asked him some more questions and he answered all of them with enthusiasm. He was used to drunk men yelling at each other but now this sweet little girl was interested in talking to him. This was the first time that Jeff felt like he made a friend in a long time. Eventually, the girl’s parents got too crooked so they decided to leave, as a result Jeff was lonely again.

The next night the girl came back again and they talked some more. Jeff learned that the girl’s name was Ashley and that she liked to swim and dance. Again, Jeff felt happy and was excited to have finally made a friend. Later that night after his shift at the bar he went back down to his room that he shared with another bartender. Jeff and the other bartender never really got to know each other, however Jeff decided to tell him about the girl he met. The other bartender just stood there and laughed at him.

By now it was the fifth night of the trip and they had just left Nassau in the Bahamas and were on their way to the Dominican Republic. Tonight was Jeff’s first off night of the trip and he decided to go to a concert on the main deck. He made it up to the concert and was able to get a seat up close to the stage since he worked on the ship. During the concert the blaring speakers sounded like a thunderstorm in his ears but about halfway through the concert, he was able to hear the fire alarm. Jeff along with everybody else thought this was just a customary drill. The alarm was still on and a couple people were getting worried. All of the sudden a couple of people came screaming from the front of the ship. There was a fire.

Jeff thought it was another small fire like the one a couple weeks ago, but then the captain of the ship came over the P.A. asking people to be prepared to possibly evacuate the ship. This is when Jeff saw it, thick black smoke looking like a wildfire out of control coming from the front of the ship. He knew this was bad. He started making his way towards a lifeboat along with everyone else from the concert and started getting into the it when he realized something. The bar was at the front of the ship and this meant that Ashley was at the front of the ship. As his lifeboat was starting to be lowered he made the decision and jumped back onto the deck. He ran like he was in a marathon in the final sprint towards the front of the ship and saw the true size of the fire. This was the first moment that he thought he might die. He looked towards the bar but couldn’t see it through the smoke. Without hesitating he ran into the smoke. While running he heard crying in the direction of the bar. He knew this could only be one person, Ashley. He followed the sound of the crying to where Ashley was. She appeared to be fine but her parents weren’t in sight. They were surrounded in flames, so Jeff decided to leave and they ran back towards the front deck. By now the ship was slowly starting to sink lower and lower into the water like a toy boat sinking in the pond. Jeff who was carrying Ashley finally made it back to where the lifeboats were and found that all of the lifeboats had been taken. There were a couple of other people also stranded on the sinking ship who had decided to jump. Jeff was about to jump as well when he realized that he had Ashley with him. He remembered their conversation the second night and her saying that she liked to swim. He thought about it one more time then jumped.

As he was falling through the air he looked back at the ship and saw that more than half of the ship had burst into flames. When they hit the water Ashley was ripped from his arms and he sank below the surface. He came back up and looked around for Ashley, she was nowhere to be seen. Jeff worried that she had drowned when he looked to his left and saw a little girl swimming like it was a warm summer day at the pool. Jeff was reconciled to find her but they were still stuck swimming in shark infested waters. They had been swimming for 30 minutes trying to reach a lifeboat but each time it would float too far away without someone noticing. Finally, someone on one of the last lifeboats around saw them. They boarded the lifeboat, and made their way back towards Nassau.

When they got back to Nassau they were put in various hotels for a week before they were flown back home. The third day of the stay in Nassau, Jeff found out that Ashley’s parents didn’t make it. Jeff went to tell her the news and surprisingly her reaction was much the same as he had been 29 years ago when his parents died in a car crash. Both of their parents had been alcoholics and weren’t caring for their child. Later that day Jeff also learned that Ashley would be taken to an orphanage back in Boston where her family had lived. Jeff thought about this for a while and decided that this sweet little girl shouldn’t have to go through the same childhood he did. Jeff ended up adopting Ashley and they lived in that sleepy town outside of Miami for the rest of Jeff’s life. He was never lonely again.

 

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