“Dwayne Johnson has it covered, babe.”
Half asleep, unsure of what was going on, that’s all I could muster.
The alarm continued to sound, and Kari wasn’t comforted.
“What? Seriously, Charlie, I think something’s up.”
I opened my eyes a little more, looking up at Kari from the cot, feeling like I’d been asleep for days.
The alarm was loud and sharp. I could hear a woman’s voice speaking over the intercom, but couldn’t make it out. I was disoriented, distracted, not quite part of reality.
“Dwayne Johnson’s got it,” I mumbled. Kari stared down at me from the twin bed. We’d drifted off on it together, but I’d always wake on the cot, just a few inches lower to the ground. We could touch each other, but cuddling was out of the question.
No matter how confident I was about “The Rock” having things under control, Kari didn’t buy it. Panic started to set in.
“No, really, Charlie. I think there’s an emergency.”
“It’s OK, really, let it go. It’s in Dwayne’s hands.”
I don’t know what dream I was having, but I wouldn’t budge, and Kari just got more confused.
The alarm stopped. Kari shook her head.
“…whatever,” she said, shrugging, letting out a tired laugh. “I guess it’s safe to go back to sleep.”
“There’s no reason to worry,” I said.
She shut her eyes and turned her head to the side of the twin bed facing the wall and I turned the other way on the cot.
This might not sound like the ideal sleeping arrangement for a honeymoon, but that’s what Carnival Cruise Line provided. I don’t know how it happened, but I will say, if you are looking for the most cost-effective room, read the fine print.
I opened the door to the room, ecstatic, but that emotion deflated when Kari saw the bed.
“Oooh,” she said, shocked and horrified, her mouth hanging open. “A twin bed? A twin bed?”
After about 20 minutes on hold, Carnival said, “Sorry. We’re full. Nothing we can do.”
“Can you at least get us a cot?”
“We can do that. Enjoy your honeymoon and thank you for choosing Carnival.”
Carnival tried to make up for the twin bed by getting us a bottle of champagne. It was a nice gesture, but we don’t drink.
They just couldn’t win.
“OK,” the lady said. “We will get you something else. Enjoy your honeymoon. Thank you for choosing Carnival.”
Our unexpected dinner dates – Gay and Demetrius – didn’t get it, either. That was another surprise courtesy of Carnival.
“A twin bed? A twin bed?” Gay said loudly. “Aw, hell naw!”
The twin bed was a good way for us to break the ice with the other couple involved in the unplanned dinner date. The two middle-aged African Americans from the Bay area didn’t seem too thrilled about the situation, either.
None of us knew how it happened.
“Oh,” Gay said. “Well, hello.”
“I guess Carnival Cruise Line is providing us with an unexpected blind double date,” I said.
We laughed and made the most of it. Kari and Gay hit it off, talking about jobs, family and life, while Demetrius and I talked about the Golden State Warriors blowing a 3-1 lead to LeBron James in the NBA Finals after a record-breaking 73-win season.
After dinner, Kari and I navigated our way through the casinos, bars and restaurants, but spent most of our time out on the deck, taking in the refreshing breeze, the clean salt spray and the vast magnificence of the Pacific Ocean.
We stared out, losing all concept of time, letting go of everything all at once.
The next morning, as I woke on the cot again, our captain announced the Inspiration reached its first destination: Santa Catalina Island, a little breath of heaven 26 miles off the coast of California, the main event of our four-day jaunt.
We all know Catalina Island is a 26 mile-journey from California thanks to the Four Preps, who famously sang, “26 miles across the sea/Santa Catalina is waiting for me/Santa Catalina, the island of romance, romance, romance, romance.” I actually didn’t know this until my neighbor sang the song for me during a conversation about honeymoon plans. It wasn’t unlike him to burst into song, and it also wasn’t unlike him to sing the whole song. You get Ray going and he doesn’t stop.
As the shuttle boat inched closer, the coastal fog dissipated. We could see yachts and boats parked near the beaches. There were sandy coasts and rocky coasts, palm trees and the rolling hills of Avalon.
The fog lifted, giving us a clear view of the illustrious Casino Building – a remarkable vintage theater that looks like a combination of a castle and a gazebo. The Casino is Catalina’s staple. As soon as we saw it, we knew we had arrived. It’s unmistakable and instantly recognizable. You may know it from the noir classic “Chinatown.”
Catalina was a haven for Hollywood in those early days: John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, Bettie Page, Natalie Wood, so many would come here during the apex of their careers. They’d come to step away from their celebrity and have excursions of their own.
Although the Hollywood presence has dissipated through the decades, the island remains a hot spot for honeymooners and vacationers worldwide. Locals are few and far between, and almost all of them depend on the tourism. Larry fits this description. He was the one greeting us in a Hawaiian shirt with long, gray hair poking out of his fishing hat as we stepped off the Green Pleasure Pier.
“Welcome to Catalina Island: if ever an island were created that could please everyone, this would be it,” he said. “Here is a map courtesy of our Chamber of Commerce. Enjoy your stay.”
Larry welcomed as many cruisers as possible, answering questions and helping them find their excursion.
We were looking for our Avalon Inland bus tour.
“Ah, the bus tour. Excellent choice. You are here,” he said, pointing to the map he gave us, marking it promptly with a pen. “Head north on Pebbly Beach Road to Lower Terrace Road and you’ll see your line.”
“Thank you,” Kari said.
“No, thank you. You’re the reason I can enjoy living here.”
As we kept walking, Kari let out a little laugh and shook her head, we, a little envious of Larry’s lifestyle.
“I love this,” she said. “This is what I want to do. I just want to be a professional vacationer. Can we do that?”
“Would be nice.”
Admiring the view and taking it in, she took my hand and turned me toward her.
“Let’s move here,” she said. “Can we? We could open up a little trinket shop or something: books, records, miscellaneous. Why not?”
I kissed her and looked around at the hundreds of people exploring the island: most everyone was on foot except a few locals driving golf carts. There are very few cars on the island. They aren’t needed.
“It would be so cool to live here,” Kari continued. “Everyone is pleasant. I mean, look at Larry.”
We turned and watched him with a middle-aged couple, handing over the maps with a sunny smile.
As we walked up Pebbly Beach, we heard some bells echo from the hillside. It was the Spanish-style Chimes Tower on the east side of the island, which we’d visit on our tour. The ringing reminded us we had about a half hour to kill, so we walked down South Beach toward the Casino, watching as lines formed for spa trips, snorkeling, kayaking, segway tours and bike tours.
“Coffee,” Kari said. “Let’s get some coffee.”
We only had to walk a few yards before we found a kiosk. People were everywhere. Cruise ships had shuttled in thousands, a typical June day on the island. There was a small line at the coffee hut, but we were in no rush.
Kari took a sip and melted with joy, her smile more radiant than ever. She’d arrived in paradise.
I watched her take another drink, her bliss contagious and all consuming. We kissed, the taste of coffee covering our lips. Coffee and love.
“This is perfect,” she said.
“It’s perfect right now, and that’s all that matters,” I told her. “We have this, we have each other and we have our future in front of us.”
“We’ve made it this far. I know it won’t always be smooth, but that’s the way it goes. Shakespeare was right: ‘the course of true love never did run smooth.’”
“Take the twin bed, for example.”
“Exactly,” she said, laughing. “Whether it’s preventable, coincidental or completely out of our hands, we’re going to have our struggles. We’re going to have hardships, but I know I’m here with you and for you and will do everything I can to give our relationship the care it needs.”
I drank some of my iced coffee and nodded.
“I’ll do the same, and, when I fail, please forgive me, and know that I will work with you and listen to you.”
“I will do my best to be forgiving, but try not to make the same mistake twice,” she said, a sudden seriousness in her tone.
“I’ll be good to you, and good for you. I’ll do my best to be honest and direct. I want to continually strengthen our communication.”
“We’re going to have to really work on understanding how we communicate,” Kari said. “We are so different. I know I still have a lot to learn about you, and vice versa. It’s critical we stay on the same page and keep each other in the loop. I want to feel included and involved. Don’t leave me out.”
“I’ll include you and work with you,” I said. “I’ll do my best to always be forthright, and, if I’m not, please be patient and kind. Relationships take work. I’ll be putting the time in, but I won’t always get it right.”
“I don’t have it figured out, either, and I know I’ll make mistakes, so you stay patient and kind, too. If you’re frustrated, talk to me. Don’t go to someone else.”
“You got it,” I said, taking her hand and kissing it.
We stepped off the walking trail and took a seat at a bench overlooking the beach and the water, which was covered by parked boats and yachts. It was a busy day on the island, but that didn’t take away from its luster.
“I love you,” I said, “and I love every part of you. I even love your imperfections.”
“I love you, and I love yours. I love you for who you are and who you’re becoming. I believe in you and believe in us. I know we have work to do, but I’m willing to do it. I will face the challenges and look forward to the many rewards to come.”
“Me too. Cheers.”
Kari put on her shades and clinked cups with me. She inched closer and I put my arm around her. We kissed, again lost in our embrace, just like when we first started dating: this would happen in my car, at our homes, at community events and on benches all over Montana.
“This bench needed some loving,” Kari said, recalling those early days, as well. “Let’s not forget it. Let’s not let our passion wane.” She stopped for a moment and looked around at the people passing by, many of them looking at their phones or taking selfies.
“Why do we lose our momentum sometimes?” she asked. “I know it’s not just us – it happens to everyone. But let’s really try, Charlie. Let’s try to keep this going as long as we can, to praise each other and comfort each other. Let’s love until we’re exhausted, and even then, let’s keep on. Let’s stay focused on one another. Let’s not get distracted. Let’s be here now…and be here always.”
“Let’s be here now and be here always,” I said, kissing her again, more passionately this time. A friend of ours used to catch us kissing like this off 5th Avenue. She said we were “going Hollywood.”
At that moment, we didn’t care about our excursion, we didn’t care about having to return to the Inspiration, we didn’t care we’d have to try and share a twin bed another three days. We kissed and kept kissing, going “Hollywood” where Hollywood stars would go to get away.
What a fitting way to begin, I thought.