As soon as the soles of my worn-out converse hit the wood of the dock, I knew I was underdressed. My old roommate, Lauren, invited me to spend a few weeks with her on her father's boat. However, it was not just a boat.
An enormous white yacht was docked at the end of the pier. The yacht's sides were lined with three stories of windows reflecting the ocean's crystal clear water.
From where I was standing, I could make out a double staircase leading to an upper deck with a circular swimming pool large enough to land a helicopter in. Men and women in matching black and white uniforms paced the decks, preparing the ship to leave the marina.
When Lauren had invited me, I had no idea the vacation would be so extravagant. If I had known, I would have packed something nicer than my department store shorts and tank tops. Truthfully, I didn't own anything that wouldn't make me feel undressed on a yacht that likely cost more than a private island.
“Wow," I said to myself.
“What was that, miss? Is there something I can help you with?" The driver asked me.
“Oh, sorry, no, I'm fine. Thank you, though," I answered sheepishly.
“Don't worry about your bags, miss. Someone from the ship will be down shortly to get them and take them to your room."
Lauren had sent a Cadillac to the airport to bring me to the private dock her father owned. I appreciated the gesture more than she knew because even though I accepted her vacation invitation, I was on a very tight budget.
Splurging for a taxi from the airport to the Florida coast would have left me choosing between buying textbooks or food when my next semester started.
This vacation marked the beginning of a massive change in my life. After graduating with my Master's Degree from NYU, I got accepted into Harvard Law School. I would be moving out of New York City at the end of the summer and getting a new start.
I worked at a hole-in-the-wall bar to pay my tuition and barely scraped together rent each month from my tips. I lived in a one-bedroom apartment I shared with my two roommates, Lin and Aubrey. Not renewing my lease on that dilapidated and overpriced apartment was a fantastic feeling, second only to finally getting to quit my job.
After all of the excitement of opening my acceptance letter from Harvard, I noticed a shift in the one person I thought would remain my constant through all of the change. That person was Todd, my boyfriend of two years. He dumped me with no explanation the night before graduation.
So when I received a text from Lauren inviting me on a vacation I accepted without hesitation. I was still hurting from the breakup and wanting to be anywhere other than New York. Lauren always knew how to have fun, and I really needed a vacation where I could relax, drink, and forget about Todd.
“Miss Shelby?" A woman in a white polo and black knee-length skirt asked me.
“Uh, yes, that's me," I answered.
“If you will follow me. Miss Lauren is waiting for you."
“Of course," I said with a small smile. It was typical that Lauren would send someone to get me rather than meet me at the dock herself, but I ignored it. I was on a once-in-a-lifetime vacation, and I was going to enjoy every minute of it.
As we reached the deck with the swimming pool, I heard a high-pitched “Shelby!" and I instantly remembered why Lauren and I were friends. She had a way of making you feel special.
Lauren was lounging on a deck chair in a glamorous white bikini with a blue chiffon kimono. As she stood to greet me, I was surprised she was wearing high heels. I thought women only did that on the runway–or maybe in certain kinds of movies....
“Lauren! It is so good to see you. You look amazing, by the way." I was not surprised to see that Lauren already had a pink fruity drink in her hand.
“Oh, thanks. Daddy bought me a new yacht wardrobe while we were in Paris. Isn't this bikini just to die for?" She asked.
“It really is." I smiled with my response.
“You look cute too. You've always dressed like you are in a Gap advertisement."
My smile almost faltered, but I caught it before Lauren noticed. I had almost forgotten how Lauren could make you feel special one moment and two feet tall the next.
“The yacht is gorgeous. I had no idea what to expect; I've never been on a boat like this before." I admitted while brushing off Lauren's previous comment.
“I figured this would be a big treat for you. It's a shame most of my other friends have a fashion show in London.... Anyway, I am glad you could make it."
“I am glad I could make it too," I said, still trying to maintain my smile.
Lauren snapped her fingers at a young man cleaning the pool while wearing a uniform that indicated he was part of the yacht's staff. He immediately stopped what he was doing, brought over a second pink drink, and handed it to me.
“Thank you so much," I said to him with a sympathetic smile. I took a small sip and was sure I would be having many more of these; it was delicious. The pineapple juice perfectly complemented the rum.
“Good, right? It's a Caribbean rum punch." Lauren said, clearly watching the enjoyment on my face.
“It's really good. I've made these for customers before, but I haven't had the chance to try one."
“Oh, you still work at that little dive bar?" Lauren said, but she was clearly uninterested and did not intend to wait for my answer.
“You are going to love the yacht, Shelby," she continued without skipping a beat. “Daddy bought it last year; it is much better than his old one. You and I will be on the second floor, right off this deck, with the pool. Daddy is on the third floor in the main suite. He has a whole deck to himself, but each of our rooms has its own balcony."
I had not had a room to myself in six years. In my apartment, all three of us shared one bedroom because we couldn't possibly afford anything bigger. The thought of a room and a balcony all to myself felt almost too good to be true.
“That sounds amazing, Lauren. I can not begin to thank you enough for inviting me. You have no idea how badly I needed this. I just went through the worst break...." Lauren cut me off before I could finish.
“Daddy keeps to himself. He says he has work to do or something like that. So most of the time, we will have the ship to ourselves. It is going to be the biggest party. Daddy even hired a DJ as part of the staff after I begged him."
“Who is us?" I asked wondering how many people Lauren had invited.
“You, me, my boyfriend, and a few other friends. Everyone else will be coming a bit later. They are taking Megan's private jet so they will get in just before we embark."
Part of me was nervous to meet the rest of Lauren's friends. People who had their own private jets were not my usual crowd. However, I felt a bit relieved that there would be other people to entertain Lauren so I could find some time for myself to relax. Lauren was the type of person that could party for hours on end. She always had to go to one more party, one more bar, or one more club before calling it a night.
“Maybe don't mention to the others that you could only afford to fly comercial. If you do, at least lie and say you flew first class."
“I didn't know you had a boyfriend Lauren," I said purposely trying to change the subject. How long have you been seeing him?" Lauren must have changed more than I realized, because in the past she never would have settled for one man. She was blonde, curvy in all the right places, and gorgeous. Lauren knew this and flaunted it. She had a line of guys wanting to date her and she liked it that way.
“We have been seeing each other for four months now. He is absolutely amazing, Shelby. You are going to love him. Plus he is super hot!" she gushed.
“Well, I can't wait to meet him," I said with a bit of a laugh.
“You will soon, he just went to our rooms to get his sunglasses. Oh, here he comes now," Lauren said with a huge smile lighting up her face.
He walked out onto the deck, wrapped an arm around Lauren's waist, and pulled her in for a kiss. Then he turned to me as though we had never met.
“Hey, I'm Todd."