Pushed to the Edge of Survival

Important note: The following pages are preliminary. They have not been vetted/edited/edited/criticized/proof read/deleted/laughed at by anybody except the author. Please read at your own grammatical risk.

Friday, May 18, 2012, 4:31 p.m. The Harrington family had been packing for their Alaskan cruise all evening in Miramar, Florida. The mother, Emelia, was 47 years old, half African and half Spanish. She stood 5’7” tall, trim, with deep brown eyes and wavy dark-brown hair with a friendly smile. Emelia always dressed well and often got compliments on her appearance. The previous week, she had gone shopping with her daughter, Kim for shoes. For the last hour, Kim frantically searched for her prized purchase. She spoke to herself in an intentionally high-pitched voice while frantically searching. “I totally can’t find them. Can this day possibly get any worse? My life will end at this very second if I cannot find them! Is anybody listening?”
Kim’s younger brother, Jacob, popped his head into her room. He stood 5’ 11”, with black, wavy hair. Jacob was 15 years old, smart, athletic, and had a great outlook on life. He said in a playful voice, “What’s with you? You have more drama in your life than 200 television channels. Calm your fashion ass down. And! How many times have I told you to stop talking like a Valley Girl? Nobody talks like that anymore. It’s really annoying!”
“What did you say?! What did you say? My shoes are my life! These are matte black Saks Fifth Avenue Erika leather point pumps made in Italy by the finest craftsmen. Do you even, like, know how much these shoes cost? Who are you to tell me to calm down? And! I will talk any way I want! Besides, Jen and I made a pact to talk like this for six weeks and I am totally committed.”
“Alright, alright. I will totally wait out the six weeks. I’m not trying to be mean or nothing. Do you need my help?”
“No, I’m just venting. Packing is a major stress. I bet Natalie Portman doesn’t have to worry about this kind of thing. Did you know she married Benjamin Millepied?”
Jacob took a deep breath to calm himself and said, “You know that I don’t know about that Hollywood stuff. Remember, we agreed our common conversation ground is basketball. Do you need my help or not?”
Kim held her shoes up and said with a victorious smile, “I found my pumps. How long before we’ve got to go to the airport?”
“Two hours.”
“Alright, alright. If I rush, I think I can make it.”
Jacob rolled his eyes and left. Kim madly scrambled to pack while thinking about her mother’s order to leave her cell phone behind. She did this to prevent Kim from spending the entire trip talking to her friends.
An hour and 55 minutes later, Kim finished. She came down the stairs with two massive suitcases and a stuffed carry-on bag to see her father, Calvin. At 48 years old, he was a tall man at 6’3” with a full head of curly black hair and despite not working out, a body built like a tank. His Jamaican and Cuban genetics gave him a dashing, exotic look that Emelia appreciated every time she gazed upon him. Calvin tried to pick up her suitcases. “Hold it, Kipper.” He said. “This is too heavy. What have you got in here?”
“Just clothes.” Kim replied with embarrassment.
“Kipper, you have way too many clothes. We will only be away for seven days.”
“Dad, I totally need my clothes, and only Mom gets to call me Kipper.” Kim complained.
“Well, the airlines only allow one suitcase and a small carry-on per person. Also, the suitcase must weigh fewer than 50 pounds.”
“I neeeeeed my clothes. Without them, I’m defenseless.” Kim whimpered.
“Defenseless?!” Calvin laughed and continued in an amused voice. “Well, Kipper, I mean, Kim. The airline has strict luggage rules.”
Twenty minutes later, a deflated Kim finished packing and looked up to see her 22-year-old older brother, Marcus. He stood 6’2” and always had a confident smile. Today, he combed his hair to the side and wore with a stylish basketball themed shirt. Marcus greeted her with a big grin. “Hey, spud.”
Kim shot back in a mocking tone, “I don’t like it when you call me spud! Especially by your college-educated butt!”
“Let me help with your bags.” Marcus offered.
“Thanks, brother. I love you, but I’m way stressed.”
The family all walked towards the black Ford Explorer SUV with Marcus carrying Kim’s suitcase. Emelia addressed the group, “Do we have tickets, homework, and swimsuits?”
Kim looked guilty and Emelia said in an angry tone, “Go back and get your homework. You cannot miss a week of school work.”
“I did all my homework for the next three weeks.”
“Bring your books anyway.”
“I don’t need them.” Kim protested. “Besides, that aptitude test proved that I need to skip ahead two grades.”
“We already discussed this. The test had to be wrong. Nobody is that smart.”
“I want to take the test again!” Kim demanded.
“Kimberly! Homework! Now!”
A deflated Kim walked upstairs and returned with two books and a folder. She also brought a swimsuit and bottle of sunscreen. Emelia said, “We are going to Alaska, you don’t need sunscreen.”
“Why not?”
“It’s overcast in Alaska, not like Florida.”
“Oh, Mom!”
__________________________________________
The flight from San Jose to Seattle would take off in three hours. Gabe Alexander’s comprehensive work email made him leave work an hour late and his wife, Lydia, waited at the front door with an angry expression. She spoke in an angry voice with a slight New York accent, “You’re late and haven’t packed. Did you buy sunscreen? I told you to buy sunscreen!”
“Hello, honey. Did you have a good day?”
Lydia stared daggers at Gabe and she turned away from the door. He went inside, put his work items away and walked up to his older daughter’s room. Gabe walked inside, and Christy looked up from her phone. She had her hair in a bob and wore gray jeans with a blue t-shirt. He asked, “Hi, Krispy, how’s it going?”
Christy muted her phone and yelled, “Stop calling me Krispy! It’s Christy. My day was fine! Dad! I’m on the phone! Dad!”
Gabe mused that Christy had a lot of attitude for an 11-year-old and he said in a pleasant voice, “You need to finish packing. We are leaving in 15 minutes.”
“Got it! Daaad!”
Christy returned to her phone conversation and Gabe shook his head. He reminded himself that all girls at this age had an attitude, and with some luck, it would soon pass.
Gabe walked to the next bedroom, and his nine-year-old daughter, Victoria, met him at the door. She had the same flowing brown hair as Lydia and had put it in two ponytails. Victoria treated her life as an adventure and she had fun no matter what circumstances she encountered. Today, she dressed in a pink polka dot dress with a pink bow in each ponytail and she sported a friendly smile. He looked down at Victoria, smiled, and asked, “How’s my little sweetie?”
“I had a good day, Father. Mommy has been going crazy about the trip and making sure I have packed.”
“Thank you for the update. Please be ready in 15 minutes.”
“I will be ready. I love you, Daddy.” Victoria said with a smile.
“Love you too, sweetie-pie.”
Victoria’s kind words melted Gabe, and he knew his vacation would be wonderful. He walked toward the master bedroom and saw Lydia sitting on the edge of the bed, staring at a wall. His forty-six-year-old wife had flowing, brown hair, gray-blue eyes and stood 5’6.” She looked modestly pretty, fit and dressed well. But her intelligence always attracted Gabe, and he felt lucky to have such a wonderful woman in his life.
Gabe opened his already packeds suitcase, checked a few things, and sat next to Lydia. He began massaging her shoulders and asked in a soothing voice, “Tough day?”
Lydia did not answer, and he continued. “I’m sorry that I didn’t get the sunscreen. We have some from last year’s trip. I checked, and it is good for five years. Plus, there isn’t a lot of sun in Alaska. The girls said they would be ready in 15 minutes.”
Lydia continued to stare forward and Gabe continued, “Boy did I have a rough day. That Satto is a real piece of work. He changed all the specifications, and I told him it would delay everything by six months. Then he threatens to fire me because we are going on vacation. So, I went to Al. You remember Al. He owns the company. Anyway, I explained what happened and then, he—”
Lydia cut Gabe off. “I do everything here!”
The remark hurt Gabe, and he asked, “I don’t understand?”
“All the packing, all the cleaning, all the shopping, and I still go to work five days a week!”
Gabe sat back for a minute to reflect. This week he had done all the shopping, cooking, and cleaning. Last night, he packed until 2:00 a.m. while Lydia read a book and went to sleep at 9:00. In addition, he had done all the trip planning. Gabe now understood it would be a long flight.
__________________________________________
The Harrington family owned 16 dry-cleaning stores in the south Florida area. Calvin started the business by purchasing a single failing dry-cleaner from a friend. Everybody in the family worked hard to make the company a success. Marcus worked together with Calvin on finances, employees, and business strategies. Emelia did the marketing and Jacob handled maintenance and customer complaints.
Kim was responsible for the company’s online presence. However, she wanted to work with finances, but Calvin would not allow her to help. Kim’s online promotions brought a lot of new clients, but Calvin did not give her much credit. She often wished her eleventh-grade classes covered marketing for dry-cleaning.
When they got to the airport, Calvin parked their SUV in long-term covered parking. They took the airport shuttle and checked in.
Kim’s suitcase weighed 12 pounds too much and Emelia opened it. Clothes came tumbling out and Kim buried her head in her hands while Emelia discreetly repacked into other suitcases. She whimpered, “This is going to be the worst trip ever. I’m major embarrassed and I’m sure that Halle Berry never had to put up with this.”
Emelia said in a reassuring voice. “Kipper, everything is fine. Did you bring your new shoes?”
“Yes, mom.”
“Well, I’m sure they will look good. All of us are going to have a fun trip.”
The plane landed in Seattle, and the family took a shuttle straight to their hotel. That night, they had an uneventful late dinner at the hotel restaurant. The next morning, they had a tasty breakfast at a nearby restaurant and took a shuttle to the cruise ship.
The family had taken many Caribbean cruises, but this was their first Alaskan cruise. Calvin had used his business connections to score a free cabin upgrade.
Kim had been looking forward to not sharing a cabin with her brothers or parents for the first time. However, when she saw her small single cabin, she said to her family, “It’s, like, so small compared to yours.”
Marcus smiled and said, “Trade you. You can sleep with the snore monster.”
Jacob threw a pillow, Kim became defiant and said, “I don’t want a trade, I totally want an upgrade to something with a balcony and better room service.”
Kim’s statement angered Calvin. “Do you understand how much this trip is costing me?!” He asked in a raised voice. “You’ve got to appreciate what you have and how much things cost. Now, unpack and let’s get some lunch. And. And! Stop that ‘totally’ and ‘like’ talk. No more winey voice from you. It’s annoying.”
Kim walked back to her room, knowing she had upset her father. She carefully unpacked into the small amount of storage space. Hmm. I could bring a boy to my cabin. My brother’s room is only five doors down. If we were quiet, it might work. The thought made her giggle to herself.
Kim had a boyfriend she met at school. Brian stood 6’1”. He always looked great, was smart, and had a great attitude. Kim loved to hear him laugh, and they made a cute couple. She told all of her friends they were exclusive but, much to her dismay, they did not do much together outside of school.
Seventeen-year-old Kim changed her outfit and looked into the mirror. She stood 5’8”, was trim and athletic with flawless light bronze skin. She had adorable ears; flush cheeks, brown twinkling eyes with jet-black straight hair. Plus, a perfect nose, well-defined butt, busty chest, long shapely legs and immaculate nails. Kim was a combination of the best features of her African, Spanish, Jamaican, and Cuban heritage. She always took care to look her best and lived for the daily compliments she received.
Kim expertly applied her makeup and looked into the mirror. She often compared herself to the actress Jennifer Hudson, considering Jennifer to be her alter ego. Her good looks intimidated boys, and she relished the power of her beauty.
Kim looked straight into the mirror and gave her reflection a confident smile. She performed one last check on her hair before starting her mirror routine. “I’m hot, I look great, and I’m everything you want!” Kim spoke out loud confidently to her reflection, formed her lips into a kiss, turned her head, then quickly turned back to see her own smile. Her family would tease her every time they caught her doing this routine, but she ignored their teasing because she felt the routine was an important key to her success.
Kim left the cabin and met her family in the hall. Emelia said in an upset voice. “Kipper, what are you wearing? We’re going to the lunch buffet. Not boy hunting. Go put on shorts and a t-shirt.”
“Mom!” Kim pleaded. “I want to look good on the first day! What if somebody wants to take my picture?”
“Put on some sensible clothes. Quickly! Chop, chop!”
Kim knew this was not the time to complain, and she changed into a fashionable t-shirt with a big, neon pink kiss in the center. Emelia said, “That’s better. Let’s go.”
After the meal, Kim walked back to her cabin, changed into a fashionable light blue summer dress, grabbed several fashion magazines, and found a place near the pool to read. Thirty minutes later, three girls approached, and one of them asked, “Is that Selena Gomez on the cover of Cosmo?”
Kim liked that there were indeed civilized people on this cruise ship and answered in a confident voice. “Of course. There’s, like, a great article in this month’s issue. They get way deep into her relationship with Dylan McDermott.”
One girl motioned, and Kim handed her the magazine. The three girls read the article with great fascination. One girl said, “Oh, you’re completely right. That Dylan McDermott is a massive stage hog. I wonder how he ever got a job. Say, we’re going to Club Z around 10:00. Why don’t you meet us there?”
“Oh, totally. I’m Kim.”
A girl pointed to herself and said, “Janice, Nadia, and Kim. Hey, I just realized something, there are two Kim’s! We will have to invent a nickname for both of you. This is going to fun. See you.”
Kim returned to her magazine and thought about the encounter. This might be a wonderful vacation after all. There will probably be lots of cute boys there. Later that evening, the family went to dinner at the best restaurant. Kim began, “I met the three coolest girls today. They are actually best friends with Selena Gomez. How great is that?”
Marcus said, “I know that I will regret asking this. Who’s Selena Gomez?”
Kim rolled her eyes and replied, “Only the hottest actress, songwriter, and fashion model Hollywood has ever seen!”
Calvin interrupted, “Alright, enough. Let’s try to get through this meal without a fashion lecture.”
“Well, we’re meeting after dinner to talk all about what Selena Gomez is really like.” Kim said in an excited voice.
“Where?”
“Near the main pool.”
Emelia said, “That’s fine. I want Marcus to go with you. You cannot wander around the ship alone.”
“Oh, Mom!”
“And be back by 10:00.”
“But, Mom!” Kim protested.
“By 10:00, Kipper, and that’s final.”
After dinner, Kim changed to black Capris and a tight shirt to go dancing. She read magazines while she waited for Marcus. When he arrived, he asked in an unconcerned voice. “So, where are we really going?”
Kim could not believe Marcus identified her confident lie, and she quietly answered, “To Club Z. Please don’t tell Mom.”
“You can’t get into Club Z, they check your age at the door because they serve alcohol.”
“Can you get me in?” Kim pleaded.
“No.”
“But you totally got Jacob into a bar on the last cruise.” Kim protested.
“That’s different.”
“How?”
“Look, I can’t. Mom and Dad would kill me if I let their little Kipper into a club. I mean, they would literally throw my ass off the ship along with buckets of blood to attract sharks. This idea is completely off the table. Not going to happen.”
“But I promised Janice, Nadia, and Kim that I would meet them at 10:00 at Club Z.” Kim again protested.
“You have to be home, —I mean, in your cabin by 10:00. And before you say it, yes, Selma Gonzales or whoever had to deal with this at the same age.”
“It was Selena—”
Marcus interrupted, “I don’t care about her name. Look. You are my sister and I love you. And I would do anything for you. You know that.”
Marcus thought for a moment and said, “How about this: We can hang out in front of Club Z and you can say hi to your new friends. It’s the best you could hope for anyway, the Club Z police will not let you in.”
“But what if they let me in?” Kim asked in a hopeful voice.
“No buts, I’m not getting in trouble with mom or even worse dad. They would take my car away again. You remember what happened when Mom found that empty beer can in my room.”
Kim remembered the beer can tirade and the resulting weeks of intense punishment. She agreed, and they explored the ship until 9:50. At the entrance of Club Z, Kim watched a crewmember checking ID’s at the door. They heard loud music and saw everybody inside having a great time. Kim moved to the music and said, “Wow, this is cool. Look at those major disco lights and the pattern on dark walls.”
The scene impressed Marcus, and he said, “You know it! Where are your friends? It’s almost 10:00.”
“Oh, they’re being fashionably late.”
“We have to go soon.”
Several minutes later, the elevator opened, Janice, Nadia, and Kim walked out. They had changed to evening outfits, and all giggled while talking. Nadia smoked a thin brown cigarette, looked intoxicated, and used the wall to steady herself. The three girls walked up to Kim and Janice said in a slurred voice. “Me-row! What a hunk! How wrong har de two of view been dat-ting?”
Janice belched loudly and looked embarrassed. “This is my brother, Marcus.” Kim said.
“Are you single, Mark-os? There is plenty of room innn my wife for somebody like view.”
Janice’s drunk behavior did not impress Marcus, and it took all his patience to speak in a civilized voice. “I have a girlfriend in Florida.”
Kim knew Marcus did not have a girlfriend, and she tried to make the best of the unpleasant situation. “What have you three been up to?”
Nadia answered in a slurred voice. “We got sooo wasted! Then they cup us off. Let’s get ham-ored! Come on, Mark-us. Shake dat booty.”
“Um, well, we have to be off. It’s getting late and we only wanted to say hello.”
“What’s de problem?” Nadia asked.
Janice looked up rapidly and ran toward a nearby restroom. The other Kim watched her run away and said in a slurred voice. “Janice can’t hold har booze. She’s slow wasted! Let’s go, you. You? What your name?”
“It’s—it’s Kim.”
“It’s—it’s Kim, let’s go.”
“I’m not 21.”
Nadia looked at Kim and said in a disgusted voice, “You’re not 21? What a loser. We’re out of her. Let’s go, Kim. Not you, Kim, her, Kim.”
Nadia and Kim walked inside. Marcus saw that the remarks made his sister hurt and said in a soft voice, “I know that felt bad. Look. Those girls are complete drunks and didn’t even get my name right. We don’t need people like that in our lives.”
They walked to the elevator, pressed the button and waited. Janice came out of the restroom with a long orange stain on her dress and she announced in a slurred voice. “I totally puked in there. I’m so vasted! Where dib Nadeem and Ken go?”
Marcus answered in a reserved tone, “Inside.”
“Great. Hey, Leo, thanks for waiting for me. Let’s grow.”
“Club Z isn’t our crowd.”
They entered the elevator, leaving Janice perplexed. When the doors closed, Kim said, “Thanks, big brother. I’ll always look up to you.”
“Good to know, spud. Now, let’s get some sleep. It has been a long day.”
Copyright © 2021 Bill Conrad