"Will you read the letter?' cried Harriet.
I looked up from my corned beef hash. Before she interrupted me, I contemplated the potential highs and lows of the trip ahead. Our suitcases were laid out on the hotel bed. One was mine. One was Harriet's. But Joanne had brought three big bags. Harriet looked disgusted.
My hand clutched at my cheap, aqua housecoat, covered with once cheerful but now faded watermelon slices. She placed the letter in front of me. My silver and black hair, overdue for a cut, fell across my face as I bent to read. I reached up and tucked it behind my ears, already engrossed.
The letter was from Joanne. The urgency of the situation was immediately apparent. "Please come bail me out. I tried to call, but these stupid phones don't work." She was right. I had tried to make calls several times. Between the time change and the spotty service here in Papeete, it was a wonder anyone got through to anyone.
"What's she in jail for?" I asked Harriet.
She rolled her eyes. "Keep reading."
"I have until midday Tuesday," the note went on, "at which point they'll deport me and I'll miss the cruise entirely. I didn't even realize I was holding those black pearl earrings when I walked out of that shop!" Today was Tuesday. I checked my watch. We probably had less than an hour.
I thought about the ten day cruise through French Polynesia. Joanne and I were scheduled to share a mini-suite. We had a ritual to make being together easier on these vacations. A night owl, Joanne used a book light to read late into the night. An early bird, I woke at dawn and read up on deck for several hours, returning mid-morning with a cup of coffee and a big platter of bacon. It worked, but I never got enough sleep.
Harriet, who could afford a private cabin and didn't much care for Joanne, remarked, "It would be a shame if she missed the cruise." She retrieved a pack of cigarettes from the paper bag, opened them and extracted a cigarette. "Do you have a light?"
I reached in the pocket of my housecoat and brought out the plastic lighter. I looked at it a minute, then flicked the fire into life. I slowly moved the letter from Joanne over to the flame, watching as the corner smoked, then burst into a satisfying fire. I looked at Harriet over the burning paper. She grinned.