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Pass The Cheesecake

By: William Foster

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At the time, it seemed like a good idea: six bedrooms, four-and-a-half bathrooms, and one full level of common space, all for four couples, for one week. And though it was only available during off-season, a late March getaway to the Outer Banks seemed, well, as I said, like a good idea. We had seen pictures of the beach house, towering five stories out of the sand with its own private boardwalk over sand dunes and then directly to the beach. All eight of us had traveled, at one time, with others in the group. And though we did not all know each other well, it was assumed that a house that large, and a beach practically deserted, would provide enough space to avoid any unexpected altercations. In retrospect, I like to place blame on the heat of the afternoon and an endless supply of champagne.

You see, it all began at a charity auction. The eight of us ended up seated at a round table not far from the auctioneer. Our friends, Chuck and Rose, who my partner, Joan, and I had known for a few years and had traveled with on one other occasion, introduced us to Ken and Jamie, and Randy and Annette. Chuck and Rose had traveled with the other two couples, making them the "common bond" of the group. Ken and Randy, being brothers, had a brotherly dynamic that was immediately apparent, and rather enjoyable to observe. Ken was the younger of the two, and spoke with caution to Randy. Randy spoke with no caution whatsoever, to anyone.

When the beach house came up for auction, the bidding was weak. I turned to the group and threw out the idea, a remark, really, or possibly even a suggestion, at best, though not enough to be held accountable, as some would later like to claim. Again, for at least six of us, the burden of poor judgement can be placed on the champagne. That's how I like to think of it. I suppose now is as good a time as any to mention that Randy and Annette are recovered alcoholics.

The time between August and March allowed this newly formed "family" an opportunity to become better acquainted. Joan and I hosted the first dinner party, testing the presence of wine around Randy and Annette, which didn't seem to be an issue, and used the occasion to gain a little insight into the likes and dislikes of the group. Everyone seemed uncommonly agreeable and genuinely excited about the upcoming trip. None of us had been to Cape Hatteras, nor were we sure how to spell it. All we were certain of is that the isolation of the Cape during off-season, and the ocean within our reach, was filling us with anticipation. At the end of that evening, there was a sense of well being among us and a renewal that our truly spontaneous decision was a good one.

The first surprise in this escapade came shortly after, when Randy phoned and asked to meet for lunch. I hadn't any prior commitments, so two hours later we were seated across the table from each other at a downtown café that was wonderfully void of pretension. Now, typically, I don't have a problem meeting new people or going through the process of interpersonal exploration. That is, as long as it doesn't take any strange turn. But I was completely caught off guard when the first question out of his mouth was, "Who the hell are you?" He had meant, of course, tell me about you. But somehow I was struck by his approach in such a way that I suddenly felt unsure of what to say, or whether or not I wanted to continue with the conversation. "Ulterior motives," was the first thought to enter my mind. I did attempt to recover without giving away my uneasiness, and managed to share of few points of interest, but I was honestly unsettled and the whole experience had turned into something less than natural. I guess Randy wanted to bypass the slow and steady process of becoming friends and jump ahead, like those who peak at unread chapters rather than experiencing everything the author wants the reader to feel. Oh, I hate that! Well, no permanent harm was done that afternoon, and as time went by, there were several more of these tete-a-tetes, each one moving our familiarity with one another along at a steady pace.

Chuck and Rose hosted a dinner party close to Christmas, allowing the group to assembly again, with Chuck being more suggestive with methods by which sharing time and space together might help things flow smoothly. He and Rose had done this kind of thing before, and he had genuinely good ideas, such as all contributing to a food fund, and thoughts on dividing up chores, such as cooking. Well, it was at that precise moment that Randy made the announcement that he was not interested in agendas of any sort and that his vacation would simply develop with each passing minute. As one can imagine, there was a little tension in the room, at least for a minute or so. Chuck handled the remark gingerly and stated that anyone interested in joining in on community cooking could do so, and others would not be held to any expectations. It was a relief to hear his words swirl through the room, and almost simultaneously, those of us who drink took a good gulp of wine.

Why I make some of the suggestions I did mystifies me sometimes, but at about that moment I remarked how close we would be to Williamsburg, Virginia, and what a nice diversion it would be to tack a few days on the trip and pay a visit there. My comment was met by this quiet period, though brief, when I wanted to crawl under the table. But then Rose processed the thought, gave an expression of intrigue, and agreed that it could indeed be fun to make the journey even more meaningful by expanding our pleasures to another place. I didn't listen for Randy's snarl, but somehow I was sure he was making one.

The weeks passed without event, and with one week before we were set to depart, there was another lunch with Randy. We had become friends, I suppose, at least at some level. And we were indeed eagerly looking forward to getting away from our hectic lives and being isolated from humanity, not that those living in the Outer Banks are inhumane or the least bit non-human. It's just that, for us, we would be removed from the usual humans we see day in and day out.

This trip started off with one of those peculiar air travel arrangements where it cost less to depart from a remote airport near our home and fly to Cleveland, where we met up with Chuck and Rose. Usually, we drive to the Cleveland airport, which is only a forty-five minute trip, but again, the flight cost less by departing from the other airport. Somehow, when we arrived in Cleveland, Chuck and Rose already looked tired. It was only eleven o'clock and we had the whole day ahead of us, so I dismissed their fatigue and boarded the next plane, which took us to Norfolk, Virginia. "Pass the whine," I thought to myself hearing Rose complain about the temperature of the cabin and Chuck grumble about not having enough legroom. I should mention that he is a large man, something I took into consideration when I made our reservations at a bed and breakfast in Williamsburg.

Joan and I had packed "plane food", as we call it, something we do on most of our trips so that we are not forced to survive on peanuts and pretzels. We brought enough for the four of us and found that the respite immediately helped relax our fellow travelers. It wasn't a terribly long flight, and in a short while, we were in Norfolk and off to get our rental car.

It was truly amazing how much luggage the four of us had, but then, we had to bring bed linens, towels, and apparently anything else we could not possibly be without for a week and a half. Like a troupe of skilled engineers, we fit nearly every piece of luggage into the truck of the car with not a gap of air left unused. I must admit, I was impressed with our first challenge as a team.

Now, somehow in the planning stages, we had not given a thought to being stuck in rush hour traffic. Eager to get to our destination, time suddenly moved very slowly. We soon discovered each other's preference for particular styles of music, partiality to temperature, propensity toward map reading and navigating, and a predilection for sleeping in the car, which means that everyone must be quiet. By the time we pulled in the driveway of the bed and breakfast, my mind immediately drifted to the innkeeper's practice of having sherry and roasted nuts available upon arrival for weary travelers.

Our room was delightfully charming, with creamy damask wallpaper, a four-poster bed, antique furniture and a view to the two-unit cottage behind the house, which I had booked for the following weekend. Chuck and Rose seemed disappointed with their room, even though they had the king-size bed he requires. I guess our room was prettier, as Rose insisted it was, but what can one expect when an enormous bed is ones first demand for an overnight stay. They did, however, love the place, in general, and looked forward to staying in the cottage upon return.

We dined that evening in one of the restaurants in the historic district where the food is wonderful, colonial in style, served by attendants in period costume, complete with strolling entertainers. After dinner, we walked along the Duke of Gloucester Street, admiring the buildings and wetting our appetites for the following day.

With a restriction on how soon we could obtain keys for the beach house, we allowed a few hours in the morning for milling about Williamsburg before heading to the Outer Banks. The day began with breakfast at the inn.

There is something magical about spending time in Williamsburg that makes one feel comfortable, homey, relaxed, and even a little renewed of spirit. So it isn't hard to imagine how delighted I was when Joan and I joined Chuck and Rose in the solarium, finding them rested and void of tension. On the way downstairs, I had been struck with a vision of the two of them in quite the opposite disposition, having slept poorly in their not so pretty room. Breakfast at the inn is cozy and delicious, served in the sunny solarium. It is presented buffet style with hot casseroles, fruit, breakfast meats, muffins, and a choice of cereal. It is such a pleasant experience eating in that room that I often want to linger. But I've always refrained from doing so in order to get my share or tourist activities packed into my day.

We were limited on time, so we soon revisited our skills at engineering luggage into the truck of the car and headed off to the historic village, allowing time to shop, walk a bit, and pick up treats at a gourmet market for our traveling. It was becoming clear that this trip would consist of good eating, if nothing else.

The drive was uneventful, thank goodness, with periods of classical music playing on the radio, interchanged with popular music so we would all remain happy travelers, and moments of searching for new stations as we progressed on our journey. It did become apparent as we got closer to our destination that packing CDs and a CD player was an excellent idea, even though those items were among so many others that challenged our skills at loading and unloading the car.

When we reached Cape Hatteras, we quickly found the realty office responsible for handling the rental arrangements of the beach house. We were early in spite of careful planning, but to our surprise, that was not an issue, and hadn't been for the rest of our party, who had arrived hours earlier.

The place seemed huge as we pulled into the drive, feeling the wind beat against the car, rocking it even with the weight of four people and excessive baggage. There were stairs everywhere, leading to the front door, wrapping around the sides of the house, extending to decks and balconies. In my excitement, the cold air didn't affect me. I wanted inside, to see our home for the week, and the ocean beyond.

There was something disappointing in seeing bodies strewn about the place, on sofas, in the bedrooms, one on a lounge chair outside. They had indeed arrived early, and they looked like Hell. I guess driving straight through from Ohio hadn't been a picnic. We stood looking at them, not knowing if we should wake them, taking notice of the space around us: the decks, the sea. I didn't care about the details at that point, I was just glad to be there.

I think it was Rose who woke the others, assembling us all for the one thing that I had been dreading. In all houses, some rooms are better than others are, and this place was no exception. Thinking back to our "prettier room" at the inn, Joan gave me a hopeless look and I eased into my suggestion, premeditated with fairness in mind. Again, why I do this I will never know, except that sometimes I get it right. We had to decide who slept where, but the method had to be blameless. I tore a sheet of paper into little squares and numbered them from one to four. There were six bedrooms: two on the level above the common areas with private baths, one in a loft at the highest peak of the house with a fantastic view, one on the lower level with its own bath, and two on the lower level that had a shared bath connected to the laundry room. Those two rooms had direct access to the beach by way of a boardwalk and a wooden bridge over the dunes.

The numbers were placed in a bag, but then we had to decide who would get the first choice of numbers. I looked to Joan, who shrugged her shoulders. Chuck looked equally stumped, but stepped forward. He volunteered to go last. I took third place, leaving first pick to the two brothers, Randy and Ken. Randy let Ken go first. What's this, I thought, big brother being kind? We drew numbers in order, and I avoided looking at Joan for the next few minutes, because we would have the last choice. Ken and Jamie picked the room on the level above the common area that had a whirlpool tub in the bathroom. Randy and Annette took the other room on that level, disclosing at that time that they were used to Jamie's snoring, which we were told, is extremely loud. Chuck and Rose took the room on the lower level with the private bath, and Joan and I took one of the rooms with access to the beach. The loft was simply inconvenient, so it remained unoccupied, for now.

Chuck and Rose immediately started moving furniture between their room and the other room with beach access. They were keeping their private bathroom but taking over the unused beachfront room, making a huge bed by putting two together. As I opened the shades of the windows to our room, I discovered that we were next to an outside hot tub, with a heater that came on every few minutes. Somehow, I was already tired and I hadn't even started having sleepless nights.

We soon reassembled in the common area, which had a large kitchen with an island and stools, an area that stretched across the back of the house that contained the living room with overstuffed sofas, a coffee table, television and a games table. The dining area was on the opposite side of the kitchen. Due to the open layout of the rooms, the view from any point on this level was nothing short of beautiful, with no walls dividing the space. But it was now time for another dreaded event: deciding what to do about provisions.

I stepped back, and Chuck stepped forward. He was kind of like a dad during these moments, rational, calm in tone, and sure of himself. After he spoke, there was that pause that I hate when I know that someone is going to break a perfect plan. Well, I am sorry to say that it went as expected. Randy made it clear that he wasn't going to be locked into a schedule or tied down to duties or expectation. What he was really saying is that he wasn't going to be controlled. Chuck and Rose had tried to warn me about this, and I had always battled with them stating that I hadn't seen any clue to validate their assessment. But now I had to weaken and agree. I hate to label people, but they were right. The AA doctrine is strong on not letting others control what one does, not falling to peer-pressure. And Randy had learned it well, possibly taking it to an extreme. However, as we were all beginning to huddle with pad and pen, about to create the grocery list, he announced that he would be making, "Randy's Famous Chicken Salad." Of course, every one of us wanted to ask, when, but none of us felt brave enough to do so. Instead, we purchased enough tuna and bread to cover lunches for the next several days.

Somehow, upon returning from the grocery store, I was given the task of making tuna salad. I think it must have been Joan who commented that I make it well, but what really mattered to the others is that it would be made, and that they could all take care of other tasks. The place did need cleaning, so while I was slicing onions and celery, Jamie vacuumed the floors and the others attacked the place with Windex.

It must have been the vacuuming that stirred Randy and Annette from their cave, because within a few minutes, they came downstairs to evaluate the situation.

I could feel his eyes scanning my work, infuriating him. I knew what he was thinking, and I knew how he would react. He saw Joan, Chuck, and Rose emptying the bags of groceries, filling the refrigerator, arranging the shelves. He saw the others cleaning. We didn't look, but we could hear his keys jingling in his hand as he and Annette headed for their car.

By the time we had all rested, showered, and reassembled in the kitchen, we now had two large bowls of salad for our lunches. Yes, the tuna had been made earlier. And, yes, Randy's Famous Chicken Salad sat beside it. I could see how this would be played out the following day. No one would want to risk being the object of his scorn, and we would all have chicken salad, leaving the tuna for some other time. And at the end of the week, we would be tossing out leftovers.

Randy and Annette had disappeared, again. The six of us divided up duties and started making dinner. Ken and Jamie were still looking a little haggard from their trip, so they prepared tossed salads while the rest of us baked chicken, boiled and whipped potatoes, and steamed green beans. It was all rather basic and mindless, but it gave us a chance to be together and being enjoying the place.

Not knowing if the rest of our party would be joining us for dinner, we decided to make enough food for eight, rationalizing that the leftovers would not be wasted. Randy and Annette hadn't contributed to the food budget, but feeding two more was not significant enough to fret over.

After a few glasses of wine, we were all finally feeling settled in, with the aroma of dinner drifting through the space and light music in the background. Then, we heard it: the door, the keys, footsteps. And they came upstairs, with Randy carrying the pastry box. "I had to go everywhere for this!" he exclaimed with more excitement than we had seen in him. "And I finally got a restaurant to sell it to me." "I wanted to buy my friends cheesecake, and nothing was going to stop me." "Forty bucks!"

We were all speechless as he carefully took his prize from the box. We all stood looking at it. Looking at his contribution to the food budget. Forty dollars! Yes, he could have bought one at the market for seven dollars, leaving a little money left over to pay for provisions. But that is not what he wanted to do. Besides, he didn't need to contribute. He had bought his own provisions. We now had two jars of mayonnaise, two bags of sugar, two of several things, duplicated. Chuck, God bless him, raised his glass and toasted the cheesecake. It wasn't until later that evening that I realized the true irony of drinking alcohol to toast Randy's cheesecake.

We ate cheesecake for dessert, slowly, savoring every shiny penny of it. We all took its sweet and creamy flavor to bed that night, dreaming of how truly blessed we were, and of the days ahead.

Thunder rattled the house that night from a storm out at sea. And Joan and I had the added pleasure of hearing the heater on the hot tub come on several times an hour. One of us could have gone out, I suppose, and turned the thing off. But the brain plays a game in the dead of the night, judging, for us, whether or not we will finally get to sleep without making the effort of turning off the heater. Or would it be better to go out in the storm, maybe be electrocuted, try to find a light switch so we can see what we are doing, figure out how to turn the stupid thing off. And then, we would have to decide who would be the brave one, or should we both go out, or should one of us stay in order to call for an ambulance. Yes, the brain did all of that, in one long night until we finally fell asleep.

Chuck was making pancakes and Jamie had sausage links in a fry pan when Joan and I made our way upstairs. There were now two coffee makers on the counter, one that came with the place, with store-bought coffee brewing in it, and the other, a smaller pot, with hazelnut mocha, Randy's private blend. Even with little sleep, my mind was all over the place seeing this new piece of self-isolation. But then, he did the unexpected; he invited me to have some! This wasn't fair! I hadn't slept well and my reasoning was somewhere else, out drifting in the ocean. Should I accept? Does he want me to thank him but have the inferior one, showing the others that he is indeed thoughtful? I had to think quickly and make it good. "Thank you, my doctor took me off of caffeine," I said giving a most sincere expression and making my way to a juice glass. I could almost hear the others sigh, knowing they were holding their breath, waiting for my reply. They were all drinking the inferior blend, as it was soon named.

Living with a group of people for a week eventually exposes traits and habits that are really meant to be private. Chuck and Rose kept the door to their bedroom closed, and for a good reason. I once got a glimpse and I couldn't believe the mess. There were more clothes than they could have possibly fit in their suitcases, strewn all over the room. Joan, is hooked to her computer, addicted, really. That makes me a computer widower. I take a long time getting ready in the morning, but I always try to get up early enough so no one is inconvenienced. Jamie snores louder than anyone on the planet does. It's almost surreal. I really wasn't sure what that incredible noise was, until I crept up the stairs and assured myself that it was indeed her snoring. And Annette smokes a lot, and spends a great deal of time alone, looking out to the sea, deep in thought. I kept wondering what she was thinking about.

The week progressed with a bit of a pattern forming to each day. Chuck, Rose, and Jamie took a long walk on the beach after breakfast. Sometimes I joined them since Joan was attached to her laptop. Ken and Annette smoked and sat in the sun, even though it was cool and breezy. And Randy, well, I guess I must have started to become oblivious to what he was doing.

In the evenings, we varied between cooking in, or going out to dinner. I soon learned that going out always meant that we would leave an hour later than planned. I've never seen people change their minds about their outfits so much. Does anyone really care if ones hat doesn't match ones coat? Since it was off-season, there wasn't a great choice of restaurants, but we were able to find a few that satisfied our individual tastes. We saw the lighthouse one afternoon, though it was a rainy day and we couldn't get too close. Apparently erosion was threatening its existence and it had been moved inland, leaving a muddy mess around it.

One afternoon, we all took a ferry to a nearby island where there was a quaint village and a few shops to explore. The shops were all geared to tourists, and of course, we were tourists. But when it is off-season, there is a difference in that kind of demographic division. We didn't really feel like tourists, since there wasn't much to tour, and the beaches were virtually deserted. I think the locals must have been a little curious about this group of eight rather incongruent individuals. We certainly didn't look like family members, nor did we appear to be connected by a similarity in any way. The area was far too isolated for us to have taken a wrong turn. So I had decided in my mind that we were an oddity for anyone crossing our path. Actually, I'm certain no one really cared, I was the one feeling out of place.

In an effort to bring harmony and fun into our lives, I came up with another great idea. I don't know why someone doesn't just kick me when I do this, but so far, no one has. We had come across a shop that had the typical type of merchandise that I suppose appeals to tourists, such as sweatshirts and key rings with little lighthouses dangling from a chain, but this particular shop also had a bookstore and some games. Before me, in the games section, were murder mystery dinner games, three to choose from, all with eight characters. Joan and I had participated in one of these a few years back and we had quite a bit of fun with it. I turned to her and got an instant look of disapproval. But before the verdict was settled, I surveyed the group and everyone seemed willing to give it a try. I do give Joan credit for having better judgement on this one, and periodically she reminds me so. However, at the time, I needed something to look forward to.

Back at the beach house, I opened the box, divided up the cast, and distributed confidential information to the players. Even, I didn't know who the murderer was. Joan and I took parts that were meant for the hosts, and therefore, were optional players. The setting was in an Italian restaurant in the Bronx, and the characters had cleaver names and backgrounds. We scheduled the dinner for the following evening, planned the menu, and made a grocery list.

The following day was uneventful for Joan and me. We bought groceries early, I walked the beach, alone, and she sat at her laptop, for hours. Chuck and Rose took Ken and Jamie sightseeing, and I have no idea what became of Randy and Annette. By late afternoon, Joan was at the stove making her Grandmothers recipe for Chicken Cacciatore. She is, Italian, and occasionally makes family recipes, always delicious, always tons of food. When the others returned, wonderful aromas filled the house and their curiosity led them to the kitchen. Rose had this look on her face that caught my attention and aroused my interest. It was then that I saw Ken go upstairs and noticed that Jamie was crossing the wooden bridge to the beach. "Jamie had a meltdown," Rose said rather matter of fact in response to the look on my face. Now, I must have looked puzzled, I'm sure. Rose turned back to me. "It happens," she said calmly. Chuck smiled, laughed for a second or two, and tried to explain. Apparently, while on another trip together, Jamie got a little worn out and snapped. She had a little emotional explosion and needed to take some time away from her companions.

"Ok," I said looking at the ingredients that sat on the kitchen counter and realizing that things would not go quite as planned. Randy and Annette then appeared; oblivious to anything going on, and suggested that some of us make a trip to the thrift store in order to get costumes and props. Feeling a need to escape, I volunteered to go with them.

That little excursion turned out to be fun. Randy seemed truly entertained with the prospect of the evening ahead and went a little crazy shopping. Within a half-hour, he had dresses, hats, jewelry, and accessories for each character. I acquired renewed hope.

It was announced early on that Jamie would not be joining us for dinner. No one was surprised, and Joan agreed to play two parts. It was such fun to see what that group did with the props from the thrift store. By the time we assembled in the living room, there was a smile on every face, except the one upstairs, and a hat on almost every head. I placed the tape that came with the game in a cassette player, and the fun began.

The group really got into their characters, and Joan was most amusing keeping track of who she was and letting us know which character she was playing by changing hats. Her dinner was superb, and I could see that there would be lots of leftovers. Actually, what I envisioned was how we would toss most of it out on the last day, along with the leftover tuna salad, and Randy's Famous Chicken Salad.

It's probably a good thing that Jamie chose not to participate, because, as it turned out, she would have been the murderer. I think everyone in the room had the same thought I had. I dodged another bullet that night.

With only two and a half days left to our stay in the beach house, I woke up feeling as though nothing else could go wrong. I pulled the blinds open on the doors to the beach to reveal a sunny day, and opened the blinds on the side window to reveal Randy and Annette playing in the hot tub. Oh well, maybe it wasn't going to be an entirely perfect day.

I think it was just before lunch that Rose casually mentioned that Jamie's brother would be joining us, in just a few hours. He was on his way, via his Harley. My jaw dropped, my expression conveyed confusion, and I waited for an explanation. "We weren't asked either," Chuck said looking up from his hand of solitaire. "But…" I tried to think of what to say. "He's staying on the top floor, in the loft," Rose added. Well, that room finally has an inhabitant, I thought as I walked to the window, taking in the view of the ocean.

I actually thought that the wind had taken the better of us and that the house was falling in around me when I woke from my nap. But when the sound ceased and my heart resumed a normal beat, I realized that we had a Harley on the property.

Jamie's brother seemed nice enough, though he really didn't say much to anyone except Jamie and Ken. But there was now an entirely different dynamic to the group. We all ate together since we had decided to cook in for that last two nights, including Jamie's brother. Funny how I can't remember his named. What I do recall, is how Rose and Chuck felt put upon and used, and the feeling was spreading.

The "brother" stayed two nights. And being a man of considerable size, he ate and drank plenty. I think it eventually bothered Joan and me as much as it did Chuck and Rose that the "brother" never thought to make a monetary contribution toward his expenses. But for me, I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. We were leaving the following day.

I was the one that took the phone call at four o'clock in the morning. And though a little delirious, I did recognize the voice of the man who had invaded us, consumed freely, and left without saying thank you. A huge smile came to my face as I saw the irony of what was taking place. You see, he had left his wallet in the loft, or so he was hoping. Oh there was panic in his voice when he asked if I would go upstairs to see if it was there, fearing he had lost money. I set the phone down, climbed to the top of the house, passing Ken and Jamie's room, wondering how anyone on that level could sleep with her snoring. And as I made my way through the dark room lit by moonlight streaming in through the skylights, I could see it on the nightstand. There it sat, the precious wallet. Evil thoughts visited me for just an instant, suggesting that I compensate my housemates. But no, I couldn't bring myself to do that. I took my time going downstairs, picked up the phone and calmly stated that I had found the wallet. He was relieved, and I had cruelly taken pleasure in his distress.

I've never seen eight people pack and clean a house so fast in my life. But then, I suppose it was the first time that we were all playing on the same team. The furniture from Chuck and Rose's rooms was quickly arranged to the way it had been upon arrival. And while Jamie swept the entire house from top to bottom, Joan and I cleaned out the refrigerator and threw out the leftovers, including, Randy's Famous Chicken Salad. To be honest, there wasn't anything remarkable about that chicken salad.

Once again, our traveling party packed the luggage into the trunk of the rental car with careful precision, while the others prepared for their long drive home, with an added stop in Richmond to deliver the wallet. I think they must have brought more with them than we did, or maybe it was that they had done some shopping, because their car hardly had room for their bodies. But somehow they managed, and before noon, we were all ready to depart.

There were no teary good-byes with this group. Personally, I have never been so eager to leave a place and I'm sure the others shared my feelings. Our foursome returned to Williamsburg and the bed and breakfast where we now had use of the two-unit cottage. Rose expressed that our room was prettier than theirs was, and this time, I had to agree. But then they did have the required massive bed for Chuck. I found that Rose is capable of having a "meltdown" when nourishment doesn't come soon enough, and that I can get a little testy for no apparent reason.

Our plane leaving Norfolk was unfortunately delayed. Yet we held tight to our hope that our connecting flight, the last one out that evening, would wait the five minutes it would have taken for us to make that connection. It was, after all, the same airline. But things didn't work out that way and we were left with little choice but to rent a car. This meant that we had to drive to the other airport, return the rental car, pick up our own car, and drive home, which we did.

There was one final lunch gathering with Randy, which he initiated, and I paid for. Seeing him leave, I had the feeling that somehow I owed him something and that he had just collected. I just couldn't think of any other reason why he had asked me to lunch, and didn't bring money. Did he see that it was me who threw out the chicken salad?

We still occasionally see Chuck and Rose, and are amused with their stories of traveling with the other four. I was surprised when I was told of their trip to Italy, but not of the complications with a certain individual. Some things are never going to change.

Since that trip, and it was a "trip", I've learn to think twice before making suggestions, which Joan seems perfectly content with. I'm not totally turned off to the idea of a group vacation, but I now know that I would have to be better acquainted with those I am traveling with. Have I lost my sense of adventure? Maybe. But my mind is still curious, and on a hot afternoon with an endless flow of champagne, anything can happen.

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