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Cleo martin felt more out of place on Sapphire Waves than she’d ever felt anywhere in her life. And that was saying something. She’d grown up being labelled the weird kid by the kids she went to school with, by her parents, by the guys she dated. She’d been told she was weird so often that she believed it more than anything else about herself. 

The cruise had been her father’s idea. After she came out, her conservatives parents had been determined to prove they were okay with her newfound sexuality, so much so they’d booked her a cruise. Unfortunately Cleo’s idea of fun did not involve being trapped at sea with hundreds of other people for a year. The argument with her dad had been far worse than the initial coming out. In the end, she’d ended up on the cruise even if she had no intentions of enjoying herself. 

Unfortunately, that was difficult. Her suite was gorgeous. It was cozy and inviting, but above all, it had the perfect reading chair, right by the window. She’d curled into it at nine when she woke up and hadn’t moved since. She’d promised herself 2020 would be the year she finally read all those books she’d been meaning to read since she was younger. It wasn’t that she didn’t read a lot of books. In fact, she read almost constantly. It was more a case of adding too many books to her to read list and then picking up the newest shiny book rather than looking through her list. First on her list was finally tackling J.R.R Tolkien. 

She was halfway through The Hobbit when her stomach began rumbling incessantly. She had skipped breakfast. With a sigh, she jumped into the shower and slipped into some fresh clothes. Cleo assumed lunch would still be available. Before exiting her room on deck six, she grabbed her kindle and her room key and trekked up to deck seven. If nothing else, Sarah would still be serving, they had amazing avocado and chicken focaccias, plus the best milkshakes on the ship. Of course, they were the only milkshakes she knew of so of course they were the best. 

Sarah was packed. As if every woman on the ship had decided to cram themselves into the cafe. The regular tables had been moved to the edges of the room, along with the chairs, leaving a large empty area in the middle of the cafe. Or it would have been empty if it hadn’t been packed with lesbians. Cleo sighed, she was starving, she would have to brave it. She tried to remember if she’d seen anything in Days O’ Gay about what was happening in the cafe but she’d only glanced at the thing. She didn’t plan to get involved in the endless activities on the ship. Cleo had one goal for 2020. Read a lot of books.

Braving the crowd, she pushed through and made her way to the counter. 

“What can I get you?” The girl behind the counter threw her a huge smile.

“Just one of those avocado and chicken focaccias and a lime milkshake.” 

“Sorry, I can do the milkshake but they’ve got the cafe closed for that Les Connect thing. It starts any minute.” The girl looked apologetic. 

“Okay, don’t suppose you know if the main dining room is still open for lunch?”

“It should be, I’d be quick if you don’t want to get caught up in this.”

Cleo nodded. “Thanks.” 

“Alright, let’s get this show on the road. Welcome to our very first Les Connect of Pride 365.” Cleo looked over to see a tall woman blocking the exit of the cafe as she spoke into a microphone. 

“Damnit.” The woman behind the counter gave her an apologetic smile. 

“You want that milkshake?”

“Ugh, yeah, I suppose so.”

“Sure, we’re still allowed to serve the cookies if you want one of those.”

Cleo sighed. “Why not. Give me the choc chip one. Thanks.”

The woman at the front continued her explanation of the rules and Cleo turned trying to pay attention to what she’d accidentally gotten herself into. 

“If you’ve never played people bingo, this might be a bit difficult. If you have, you’ll be well placed. Don’t worry though, it’s very simple. Up at the front we have some pages for you, grab one, then when I say go, start talking to people and finding out who matches the different boxes on your sheet. For example, if I was looking at my sheet and thinking, man, I need to find someone who’s been to Mardi Gras, maybe I’d hunt for those Aussie accents and ask some people if they’ve been.”

Cleo groaned, of all the things she could have gotten herself stuck in, why did it have to be bingo? Reluctantly, she joined the queue of people crowding to the stacks of paper trying to grab a sheet and a pencil. 

“We’ll start as soon as everyone has their bingo sheets.”

Cleo threw a wry smile to the woman who served her and made her way through the crowd to grab a sheet. 

“Okay, let’s get started, we have a great prize for the first two to finish, you won’t want to miss it.”

Cleo shrunk to the back of the cafe as the hundred or so women in the room began eagerly trading names for their bingo cards. She could just wait it out. It would be fine.

“I’ve had a threesome!” Cleo groaned as a woman just to her left yelled loudly about her threesome. A flock of women surrounded her in seconds and began waiting for her name while trading with one another.

“What have you done?” A woman bounced up next to Cleo and proferred her bingo sheet. 

“Oh… um… let me look.” She glanced down at the sheet, looking at the 20 or so boxes for the first time. What had she done? 

The first row didn’t offer a single item for her to sign her name to. She’d never been to a pride march, never rented a U-Haul, never been an Ellen audience member. She searched for any item she could tick only to find nothing in any of the boxes that she’d actually done. She tried to hold back the tears welling in her eyes as she settled on putting her name next to ‘been to a pride march’. She couldn’t make eye contact as the girl grabbed her sheet amd scribbled in one of the boxes.

“Wow, I’m so lucky. I get to be your first.” 

Cleo faked a smile, hoping the girl would move on quickly. Kathryn. That was the name she’d scribbled in the box. 

Cleo forced her way to the far door. If memory served, it would lead onto a deck. There was no way back to her room without going back through the cafe but she didn’t care. She had to get out of there. Her cheeks flushed and the prickly heat spread across her skin and her chest tightened with every inhale of air. Finally, she pushed onto the deck. A few women were lazing about on deck chairs with magazines or books, Cleo couldn’t focus on any of them. She dropped into the nearest chair she could find, her bingo sheet landed on the table followed by her copy of The Hobbit. 

She didn’t belong on Pride 365. Why had she let her father talk her into it? She hated partying. She barely drank. If she stayed up late it was because she was reading. And she certainly never had one night stands. 

It occurred to Cleo that at 22 years old as an out and proud lesbian, she’d never done anything remotely gay. Didn’t most lesbians do those things? 

Before she had time to think too deeply about what most lesbians did or didn’t do, a plate and glass appeared in front of her. A huge chocolate chip cookie and a lime milkshake in the richest shade of green she’d ever encountered in a milkshake.

She looked up to see the girl from the cafe.

“You okay?” Cleo glanced up, Poppy, that was the name on the girl’s tag. Like the flower. She committed it to memory.

“Yeah, I’ll be okay. It’s just a lot in there.” Cleo gestured to the room where the frantic game of bingo continued. 

“Totally. We’re not meant to offer service out here, but there’s not much call for me right now, and you looked like you could do with it.”

“Thank you, I haven’t eaten all day. I got caught up reading and didn’t realize how late it was.”

“Oh, I saw you carrying a book, The Hobbit, right?”

Cleo nodded. “I’ve been meaning to read it for years.”

The girl, Poppy, looked at the book then back to Cleo. “I’ve tried to read it six times, but I can’t stand his writing style. Plus, I heard he was kind of a dick.”

Cleo laughed. “I’ve heard that too.”

“Well, come back to the cafe one day when there isn’t a lesbian mingle happening and I’ll get you that focaccia, you can tell me if you make it through The Hobbit.”

“Deal.” Cleo smiled, even if everyone else on the cruise turned out to be giant party animals, at least she’d have one friend on the ship. She took a quick sip of her milkshake. Definitely the best lime milkshake in the world. The cruise was worth it just for that. 

Read January 4, 2020 here.

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