Before dawn, the redhead dragged four bags and two teenagers from the house. The large RV parked in the driveway was lit up like a marquee and noisy excited chatter gurgled from within. A blonde with a t-shirt proclaiming, “Behind every great mother is a great kid” listing five names below embroidered stick characters, jumped out to help rustle the sleepy teens up the steps and wrestle the bags into the side door. “Patti is this everything?” Fran asked as she hoisted the last large suitcase inside.
“No the bag with the soda is in the kitchen, let me just run in and grab it.” Patti was gone before Fran could ask the second part of the question. She ran after her, finally shouting in the door, “Don’t forget the birth certificates!” Patti’s face popped up in front of her from around the entry door. “Got ‘em. I’m ready to party!”
Fran and her husband, Joseph owned a small company and were sponsoring a corporate cruise for a group of their customers and associates. Fran coordinated the event with a South Florida travel agent who would be accompanying the group. Although the cruise would be a working trip for Fran and Joe, there would be enough free time to bring their kids' friends, Patti and Sam’s two children. The couples each had boys, thirteen and girls, fifteen. Sam, a plastic surgeon, was scheduled in OR that week and on call for the weekend. Patti decided to join them anyway and keep the boys from pushing the girls overboard and/or other serious damage..
The sun still hadn’t crept over the horizon but the sky was lighting up just enough to see it was going to be a beautiful spring day in Florida. The kids were in the back getting settled for the six-hour drive to the Port of Miami -- TV on, video games in hand, food stashed on the twin beds -- as the girls squeezed to one side with one boy on the other and one on the carpeted floor. Fran and Patti stowed luggage out of the way, finding space in every nook and cranny. The overhead compartments weren’t large enough for some of the bags, so they were put over the driver’s cab and in the shower and under the table and inside the couch. There wasn’t any open space unfilled. Fran and Joe already stuffed the outside compartments with equipment and literature for the business meetings onboard. While Patti and Fran moved about the cabin, Joe drove steadily on, anxious to get to the port early enough to settle the gear and join the ‘Welcome Aboard Party’ starting at noon.
Patti sat down on the floor between the two captains’ chairs where Joe steered and Fran navigated. She chugged her morning Diet Pepsi as she mentioned, “This is a nice setup, just let me know if there’s anything I can get for you from back here.”
“Joe, do you want any of that coffee I brought?” Fran asked. He shook his head concentrating on the road. “I think I’ll take a bottle of water. There’s one in the fridge, thanks Patti.”
A few hours later and several miles down the road, Patti started rummaging through her oversize purse. Fran glanced back at her once and noticed the worried expression on her face. Fran got up out of her seat, climbed over the accumulation of guidebooks and maps and met Patti’s concerned look. “What’s wrong?”
“I can’t find the birth certificates. Go through my purse, I’ve pulled out everything, I can’t find them.” Her voice was shaky with nerves. She moved rapidly about looking and sorting through all the bags within reach.
Joe spotted the frenzy through the mirror, “Hey, back there, what’s going on?”
Patti grinned sheepishly, “I can’t find the birth certificates. I know I brought them. I had them right on the kitchen desk before I left. I had them in my hand.”
Joe looked back at Fran who was going through everything a second time as Patti got the kids involved in the search. Not finding them anywhere Patti’s face began to show signs of panic. “Let me call Sam, maybe he can go home from work and check -- then meet us half way on the way back.” She placed the call, “ Angie, let me speak to Sam. He’s where? Okay I’ll call his cell phone.” She punched in his number and waited. He picked up, “Sam, can you get back to the house and pick up the birth certificates? I think I left them on the kitchen counter. Well, how long has he been under? Can you leave him and meet us?” Her voice got higher, more toward the hysterical, “This is important or I wouldn’t ask, this is a corporate trip, business--they can’t miss this and the ship won’t wait! Okay – Okay, if you have to finish the surgery I suppose you have to.” She clicked off without saying good-bye.
Both Joe and Fran sat looking at her throughout the conversation with their mouths open. Fran was the first to ask, “Was he in surgery…?”
Patti acted annoyed, “Yes, yes the patient was under and he didn’t think he should leave him.” She was still distractedly looking around.
Fran suggested, “Let me call my Dad, maybe he or Ethan can go over, and bring it to us. Look, Joe, if we turn around now, maybe they can meet us by the Skyway at least.”
“Go ahead call, I’ll turn now, we still have plenty of time.” But it was going to be tight.
Fran’s father Lou answered the phone. She briefly went over their plan, but she could hear the slight confusion in his voice. “Let me talk to Ethan, I know he’s asleep, this is important.” She heard her twenty two year old son grumping, “This is an emergency, try to cooperate for a change, we’re desperate ----- Well if you want to find someplace else to live and find your own means of support….” Patti gasped, “No, don’t throw him out because of this.”
Fran lost the cell after giving him instructions to open the keyless entry and disarm the alarm system. Within minutes she regretted her words and began to worry aloud. She put him in a very bad mood. What if the alarm went off-- that system was always a problem? What if the police showed up and he was in this bad mood and they shot first and asked questions later? The local police had a reputation for going a little over the top…and poor Daddy! Joe was quiet and Patti was now in a full panic and voicing it aloud. Fran was trying to redial his number but couldn’t get through. Now, she was really worried. “I’m calling the police and telling them what’s going on. At least they’ll know the alarm is a false alarm. Here Patti you tell them it’s your house.” The two women chattered to the authorities, going into lengthy details and when they were done, Fran burst out laughing just as the phone rang. “Must be nerves,” she apologized. “But can you just see that guy telling the rest of the staff this about this ONE?”
Joe was driving steadily shaking his head – was he smirking? They would soon be where they started back at the house. The cell phone rang -- they jumped, “Okay, we’ll be there in a minute, don’t worry. And thanks for trying.” Fran looked at Patti, “They can’t find them anywhere.” Everyone was edgy, Patti started gathering the kids and her belongings, “We need to be prepared to stay home…” as they pulled up in front of the two story house. Joe was silent.
“Wait, let me call Connor, the travel agent and see what we can do. Maybe they’ll let the kids sail without ID as long as you have yours. You can verify them. But go in and help my dad and everyone look.” Fran put the phone back to her ear and started making calls.
The house looked like it had been ransacked. Every paper was thrown about the kitchen. Ethan and his Grandfather were going through the trash. Fran came in tripping over Patti’s suitcase lying open on the floor, “Oh, did you go shopping? These still have price tags on them. This is cute,” she went through the suitcase looking for the birth certificates but got sidetracked, “Is this all you’re bringing, I don’t think it will be enough.”
Patti started giggling, “Are you nuts? We’re in a dilemma here and you’re inspecting my clothes?”
“Oh, by the way, the ship won’t wait but they said you could take your chances with the kids. So we can leave you now or you’ve spent the money anyway you can take a bus back from the dock. What do you say? You’ve got nothing to lose… Lets go.”
“Okay, we’ll take our chances. Everything -- back in the RV.” The kids cheered, Ethan said he was going back to bed, Lou asked if he should stay to clean up the mess butPatti told him not to worry Sam would get it later. And everyone else piled suitcases and all back into the RV. This time it was 11 am and the ship departed at 4 pm. The six hour trip would have to take five. There would be no partying for this group until they were under way. With any luck they would make it onboard before the ship left without them.
At the halfway mark for the second time, Patti went into the shower where the Diet Pepsi bag was stored, birth certificates within, forgotten in the panic.
Patti came back to her seat asked Fran in a whisper, “Remember when Ethel and Lucy would get caught by Ricky and the audience would laugh? Do you think Joe will think this is funny in a few years?” Patti asked under breath as she slipped the birth certificates into Fran’s hand.
Fran smiled back at her, “It will definitely take a few years. Now sit back and pray..” Fran had never seen Joe more focused – down I75 across Alligator Alley and then into the heart of MapQuest. She studied every turn, every traffic light. It was 3:45 and they could see the ship--she called again… “We’re in the parking lot. Hold the ship, we’re almost there!”
They piled out of the RV -- luggage and all -- ran into the port authority building & checked in without incident -- the building was empty as they ran to the gangplank. Wait -- the photographers wanted pictures. Everyone lined up – the two boys in sunglasses looking like bugs, the two girls looking fashionable, Patti and Fran with wide brimmed hats, Joe behind with the soda bag in hand, everyone looked tense. The memory picture of the group embarking was a perfect expression of the stress all were suffering – Alternately, the debarking photo showed a much happier and relaxed group.