His: Thursday

Rufus and Penn were devouring a unhealthy breakfast of coffee and double chocolate doughnuts. Between bites, Rufus asked, “So what are we doing today? Six Flags or zip lining?”

Penn regarded his friend’s question carefully. The ladies would return home Saturday, and classes started up again Monday, so this day and tomorrow would be the most logical days to plan something. Logical? That sounded like something Rufus would say!

“Let’s do Six Flags,” Penn suggested. 

“Great! There are a couple of DC rides,” Rufus said. “The Joker is supposed to be the best roller coaster in the park.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard about it. It’s supposed to be intense.”

“Okay, we’ll save that for last. YouTube reviews say the Batman coaster is good but Superman is better. Reviewers also like the Medusa, even though it isn’t DC,” Rufus replied. 

Aha! So that’s how Rufus, a novice rider, knew so much about roller coasters. Then again, that sounded exactly what he would do: look online for reviews, search for theme parks near San Francisco, and watch videos taken by people who were actually on particular rides. Most likely, he studied injury and death rates as well. 

Rufus watched videos roller coaster videos most of the way from San Francisco to Vallejo. “Did you know,” he asked Penn. “That there was supposed to be a Batman  and Robin roller coaster? They built one at St. Louis and it failed massively. Cars were supposed to climb a hill, then speed backwards. They didn’t have the momentum to do that. There were other issues, too, and eventually the ride was closed for repairs longer than it had been open.”

“Guess it fizzled like the Batman and Robin movie,” Penn quipped. 

“No, no, no. You made me sit through that movie and told me to look at it as an homage to the crazy 1960s TV series. And I liked it!”

Penn grinned sheepishly. “I can stream it. You want to come over and watch it again?”

Rufus laughed. “Smart ass.”

When the guys got to the park, they started to look for thrill rides. The first ride they came across was the Boomerang Coast-to-Coaster, which flung riders 120 feet in the air, only to yank them back to the place where they started. When the ride was over, they wandered a little through the park until Penn spotted a sign about Odin’s Temple of the Tiger. Odin was a beloved white Bengal tiger who died in 2019, shortly before he turned 18. Rufus felt a little shaky, so Penn took his pulse. “120. Yep. Tachycardia.” He looked at his friend’s worried eyes and glibly said, “You’ll live.”

Rufus scowled at Penn, called him a name not normally used in polite company, and insisted they do something relatively tame. So they went back to the Temple of the Tiger to watch the big cats play fighting, swimming in a pool, and leaping over huge rocks. Instead, the tigers were sleeping! The animal care attendant decided it was time to feed—and awaken the big cats. She threw some thick, raw pieces of meat into the water and the tigers pounced, eagerly swimming and scooping up the limbs and steaks. The guys were sitting near the pool and got soggy. So, hoping they would dry out, they climbed aboard the Ark, a swinging ship ride. 

Then they took in the Sky Screamer, a ride that took them nearly 150 feet in the air and swung them around due to centripetal force. Penn made the error of calling it centrifugal force, so Rufus explained the difference between the two. From there they  rode the Flash, a suspended coaster that featured twists and an extreme, vertical climb upwards and let them plunge all the way down. 

After battling the Flash, Penn suggested they stop for lunch. Rufus felt like his stomach was still on the top of the ride, so he didn’t want much to eat. He decided to get a little ice cream. Penn, on the other hand, opted to get a chili cheese hot dog with extra onions and washed it down with a can of beer. It tasted so good that he ordered another hot dog with even more onions and had another beer. Rufus looked at him with astonishment. Not only did Penn enjoy thrill rides, he also relished culinary risks! 

The next ride was the Wonder Woman Lasso of Truth. Described as an extreme pendulum ride, it lifted the riders up, spun them around, and swung them side to side. Since it was nearby, the guys rode the Superman ultimate flight. Penn’s stomach did a backflip but he didn’t want to admit it, so after the ride, he insisted they take in the Superman Ultimate Flight took them from zero to over 60 MPH in seconds, and featured a non-inverting loop.

Penn finally caved and told Rufus that his normally iron stomach was bothering him. The hot dogs and beer congealed in his stomach. Rufus steered him to an unoccupied table in the shade and left to find some ginger ale and some candied ginger. When he returned, Rufus asked Penn if it would bother him if he got some food. He got a turkey leg and, while Penn was feeling too nauseated to eat, he thought Rufus’ lunch looked delicious. 

Afterwards, Rufus suggested they head back to the zoo. He got up close and personal with some of the snakes and peered at the alligators. Penn wanted to check out the aquarium, which was actually an underwater tunnel. Looking at the sea creatures on all sides and above was so relaxing. It  didn’t take long for Penn to feel better, and the guys went to conquer the last three roller coasters. 

The Medusa was as formidable as the YouTube videos suggested. It consisted of seven snake-like vertical loops on which the riders would be inverted, a double-inversion loop, and a couple of corkscrews. Penn was so grateful that Rufus got him some candied ginger, because he might have gotten sick on the Medusa or on the Batman coaster, featured an overhead track and a 360-degree loop in the first few seconds of the ride.  

At last they came to the final ride, the Joker. It was a hybrid coaster, made with metal and wood. The ride immediately took the riders 120 feet in the air at a 90-degree angle, and turned the riders head-over-heels without warning. Both men thought that the Joker deserved all the hype, and stood in line to ride it again. 

They ventured back to the zoo to participate in some of the Ocean Discovery events. The exhibit itself was spread out over two acres and had a Caribbean theme. They wondered what kinds of sea creatures Ellowyne, Amber, Lizette, and Pru encountered.  

All too soon the day was over. The guys stopped at a gift shop for t-shirts for themselves. Rufus found a shirt perfect for Ellowyne, while Penn agonized over whether he should or should not get a shirt for Amber. Penn ended up getting shirts for Pru and Lizette so they wouldn’t think it strange that he got one for Amber. 

As they headed home from a day of fun, Penn asked Rufus if they were going to do anything Friday. “Do you really want to go zip lining?”

Rufus shook his head. “This has been fun. But I’ve had enough adventure for one spring break.”

Penn sighed with relief. “I’ve done it as part of my Army training, and it takes a lot of upward body strength. It looks kind of easy but you have to be in good shape to do some of the longer lines.

Rufus asked, “Want to get some food?”

“Yeah. There’s a new Vietnamese place that serves delicious pho,” Penn replied. 

Pho was exactly the comfort food the guys needed, and when they finished eating, they went over to Rufus’ place to play video games.

His: Wednesday

It was a little after 1:00 AM when Penn, with Rufus’ help, finished the paper from Hell. Even before he began the assignment, Penn loathed epidemiology. Although he effortlessly understood context he learned in his other classes, he struggled with this particular course, often forgetting the difference between incidence and prevalence. Sometimes he had difficulty grasping the epidemiological triad, which modeled the causation of infectious disease. Analyzing at risk populations? Using statistical methods to interpret data? He was lost.*

The task at hand was to analyze factors that might predispose an at-risk population to an acute or chronic disease. He originally thought he would write about the contributing factors for type 2 diabetes mellitus among the Pima North American Indians, but nearly every other student chose the same population and condition. Penn decided to look at cancers that occurred among veterans exposed to Gulf War burn pits. His advisor was impressed but told Penn that this subject would be more appropriate for doctoral-level research. Finally he came up with yet another topic, exploring a relationship between direct exposure to coal dust in a community in which there had been a working mine and the prevalence of lung cancer in a rural area. Penn’s advisor was thrilled but unfortunately, Penn had grown disinterested and lost his enthusiasm. He had an outline and a few paragraphs written, but from there he avoided working on the paper. 

Rufus approached the topic from a data-driven perspective. He told Penn that he needed to look at all of the variables first to see if there might be multiple risk factors. Was age a consideration? Years of working in the mines? What percentage of the rural coal miners smoked tobacco and/or cannabis at the present day or when they were actively working in the mines? He explained to Penn that while the assignment was to look at only one factor, he should mention in the paper that these could be confounding variables.

They spent the previous evening munching on pizza, chips, and beef jerky and depleting Penn’s supply of beer and cola while working on the paper. Once Penn got started, he got into a zone in which he was laser-focused on his work. While Penn was working, Rufus said he was playing games on his phone when in fact he was watching roller coaster videos. He only stopped when Penn needed help with statistics. 

Finally, Penn finished his paper. Rufus read through it and thought it was good, although he advised his friend to read it one more time to make sure it didn’t need clarification or a little more work. Before he headed home, Rufus told Penn that he had an adventure planned and he should be ready to leave before noon.

Penn slept blissfully. He had pleasant dreams, no nightmares, and he felt remarkably refreshed when he awoke. He finally understood what Rufus always said about feeling satisfied, even euphoric, when he finished a task. All along, Penn thought Rufus could be a little boring because of the attention and sheer energy he put into his work. It was a thrill to invest so much of himself into a project, maybe akin to the adrenaline rush of an extreme roller coaster. Hmmm…

All Rufus had told him was to wear cargo shorts or pants so he could carry his wallet and phone and not lose them. Rufus picked him up at 11:00 AM and didn’t tell him where they were going. Penn was gobsmacked when they drove into the parking lot of California’s Great America. “But you hate amusement rides!” he exclaimed.

“I’m going to give it a try,” Rufus replied. “The other day, when I finished the software project, I realized that it was a huge thrill for me. Perhaps not as dramatic as Drop Tower but exciting nonetheless.”

The first stop was Gold Striker, a coaster that consistently named one of the top ten wooden coasters. “You can do this, man,” Rufus muttered to himself. “You do Bayesian statistics for fun. Linear, nonlinear regression, easy peasy. You can conquer this coaster.” And he did.

The guys hit Orbit, Tiki Twirl, and Gold Striker again. Then they stopped for lunch. Rufus ate sparingly. He wasn’t used to thrill rides the way Penn was, and he didn’t want to overeat before going on any more coasters. Rufus had two tacos while Penn gorged himself on four! After they ate, they walked around the park, trying to figure out what rides they might take next. They decided on Delirium, Demon, Drop Tower, and the Grizzly, another wooden roller coaster. They rode the Railblazer, a single rail coaster, and two floorless coasters, Patriot and Flight Deck. For the last ride of the day, they opted to go to the water park ride. There they found Whitewater Falls, in which a boat of 20 riders ascended a waterfall, then sent water all over the riders and observers when the boat descended. When they were done, Rufus asked Penn to take a picture of him soaked with water. He planned to send it to Ellowyne, and he wondered if she went swimming that day. If only he knew…

*Many apologies for the research jargon. I spent five long years in graduate school and occasionally I like to flex my academic muscles. However, I’m in complete agreement with Penn that statistics is a tough subject! I also share Rufus’ distaste for extreme rides but it’s moot because I have neck and back problems. Couldn’t go on those rides anyway!

Hers: Wednesday

Amber was the first person awake that morning. The previous evening, she urged her friends to get rested because they were going to participate in a special swimming excursion. She put little pink notes in the shape of pigs under each door. The notes instructed the women to bring straw hats, extra sunscreen, and gauze sarongs or beach cover-ups to wear when they weren’t in the ocean. Ellowyne, Lizette, and Pru dressed quickly, packed their tote bags, and hurried to meet Amber for breakfast. They were all curious; what surprise awaited them that day?

All of the women boarded the small plane that was to take them to the day’s adventure. In less than an hour, they arrived at their destination and squealed with delight. Amber’s parents had arranged for them to visit Big Mayor Cay in the Exumas and swim with pigs! In fact, they had paid for their daughter and her friends to get a private tour with an exclusive guide and spend time interacting with the pigs. 

Prudence asked their guide how the pigs first came to Pig Beach, another name for Big Mayor Cay. He explained that, while there were other origin stories, the one told most often was that two farmers brought pigs to the island, anticipating possible food shortages caused by the Y2K computer crash, which didn’t happen. The original swine remained on Pig Beach and multiplied. 

Because they arrived in the morning, the women found the pigs awake and ready to play. The pigs eagerly gobbled the vegetables Amber, Lizette, Prudence, and Ellowyne brought for them. When the treats were eaten, the pigs eagerly jumped into the ocean, and the four friends put on the snorkels the guide gave them and gleefully joined the swimming swine. He then took pictures and a few videos, which he sent to their phones 

The excursion lasted over three quarters of an hour, but it seemed to take but a moment of time. The women reluctantly left their new porcine pals, most of whom were already asleep on the beach. They got T-shirts for themselves and family members. Ellowyne bought a t-shirt for Rufus and noticed that Amber picked up a similar style, probably for Penn.

The ladies were then whisked off to Bitter Guana Cay, where they could see and get close to northern Bahamian rock iguanas. At first, they were put off because the lizards were hideous. Even after the iguanas approached them and begged for treats, Amber, Lizette, and Ellowyne still thought they were ugly. Prudence, however, asked the guide for the story of how the iguanas came to the island. He said that it wasn’t certain but they might have crossed a land bridge that occurred millions of years ago. The iguanas found at Bitter Guana Cay were genetically unique and the species was endangered, losing 50% of its population within the last sixty years. Prudence had a deep appreciation of the iguanas and, while they still considered the reptiles to be unsightly, her three friends gained respect for the creatures.

Then it was time for lunch. The women were horrified that there were several dishes made with pork. Instead, they opted for souse, a well-known Bahamian stew made with vegetables, spices, and a protein like meat or chicken. Although souse was often eaten as breakfast, it sounded like the perfect lunch for the ladies, especially since they were able to get chicken rather than pork.  

After lunch, they laid out on the beautiful pink beach. The sun was so bright that they all found spots in the shade. They relaxed for half an hour until the guide told them it was time to visit Compass Cay, an island where they could swim with nurse sharks. He reminded them that the sharks were usually harmless to people but they could bite if bothered or disturbed. 

Amber was the first to venture into the ocean. Prudence and Lizette followed, but Ellowyne was reticent. The guide assured her that it was safe as long as she didn’t reach out to touch them. He also told her that the locals often referred to the sharks as “giant catfish” because they were bottom feeders. Eventually she entered the beckoning turquoise water. She didn’t have to wait long until the sharks noticed her, and she was delighted when two small sharks passed her, one on each side. Amber, Lizette, and Pru were nearby, so Ellowyne and her fishy entourage joined them. The women stayed in the water, swimming and splashing around, for nearly an hour. Reluctantly, they left the ocean and readied themselves for the final planned adventure of the day. 

The last experience for the day was snorkeling in the Thunderball Grotto, which was featured in the 1965 James Bond movie, Thunderball, as well as Never Say Never Again, which was another Bond film, and Splash. The concept of swimming through holes in the cave boggled the women’s minds. Yet, once they were in the water, the holes no longer seemed formidable and they swam with ease above the colorful coral reefs and with the iridescent fish. The women could have snorkeled for hours, but alas, their exciting day had come to a close. 

When they arrived at the hotel, the women headed to their respective rooms to get ready for their evening meal. When they got to their table, they discovered that the guide had already emailed the photos he took. He even used a special underwater camera, so they could see and share pictures of their entire adventure. Ellowyne sent to Rufus a quick text and a photo of herself swimming with pigs. Within a few minutes, he replied with a comment about spending much of the day in the water and a photo of himself looking only mildly terrified when he and Penn were in the front seat of a boat plummeting down the Whitewater Falls ride at California’s Great America. She wondered how Penn talked him into going to an amusement park. But what she didn’t know…

Hers: Tuesday

The sun peeked into Ellowyne’s room and gently awakened her. She yawned, stretched, and inhaled the fresh ocean air deeply. To her surprise, Lizette, Amber, and Pru were also stirring, and it looked like all of them would be able to get breakfast before they went shopping. They indulged in johnnycake, conch fritters, and grits. Ellowyne and Prudence eyed the grits suspiciously, but Amber and Lizette gorged themselves. Liz grew up with them in New Orleans, and Amber was introduced to them the first time she went to the Bahamas with her parents. Once their appetites were quelled, they marched to the marketplace to hunt for treasures. 

The women rummaged through a plethora of clothes, shoes, and jewelry. Most items were handmade, and many of them were one-of-a-kind. Prudence found some conch shell and pearl jewelry, and naturally, all of the women decided to get some. Ellowyne was surprised that yards of batik fabric were for sale, and she bought several yards of different colors and motifs. Somehow, she had missed the fabric on her solo venture Monday. Lizette got some wood carvings and coconut sculptures for her parents as well as some batik dresses and straw hats for herself. And Amber purchased some clothes and jewelry, then more clothes and jewelry, then just a few more dresses and a couple of pairs of earrings. 

Ellowyne, Amber, Lizette, and Pru hauled the wonderful things they bought back to the hotel. It was a little after 1:00 in the afternoon and their tummies were rumbling, so they decided to break for lunch.  As they awaited their food, Lizette quipped, “It’s a good thing we have your family’s plane, Amber. Otherwise we would never be able to get all our stuff on a commercial flight!”  

Of course, everyone laughed. Prudence asked, “So, what are we doing this afternoon?”

Amber yawned. “I think you all wore me out,” she said. “I’m going to take a nap.”

Pru, Ellowyne, and Lizette exchanged glances. “We might go back to do a little more shopping,” Ellowyne said. “I need to get a souvenir for Rufus.”

“That boy has you whipped.” Amber laughed, eliciting giggles from Lizette and Pru.  

“And because you laughed, Lizette and Prudence, you are coming with me,” Ellowyne stated. 

When they finished lunching on cracked conch, crab, and shrimp, Amber retired to her room and the other three friends went back to the marketplace.

“I don’t think Amber suspects a thing,” Prudence said. “I just hope we can find a thank you present for her parents.”

“What do you think about some art?” Ellowyne asked. “Maybe a painting or a sculpture…”

“But we can’t afford too much,” Lizette warned. “I mean, there’s no way we can spend as much as the Stanhopes might.”

“True,” Ellowyne admitted. “I think if something comes from our hearts, that might be worth more to the Stanhopes than just throwing money at something.”

As they walked through the marketplace, Prudence spied an art gallery. The Stanhopes loved all kinds of art, from abstract to realistic, from so a sculpture or painting would be certain to please them. The real problem was cost. The women were afraid they couldn’t afford anything, even though they were pooling their resources. The paintings and sculptures near the front of the gallery were exquisite. The artists were well-known but their works commanded high prices. The women walked toward the back of the gallery and came upon some works done by emerging artists. Ellowyne saw a painting that made her gasp. It was a bright, colorful pastiche that featured abstract faces of women singing and a man—or maybe the sun—a focal point in the painting. It cost a little more than the three friends wanted to spend, but the gallery owner lowered the price after he heard their story. 

Prudence said, “Well, we might as well take this back to the hotel.”

“Oh, wait,” Ellowyne exclaimed. “I almost forgot! I need to get a souvenir for Rufus!”

“I’m heading back,” Lizette said. “I don’t want to lug this thing around more than I have to.” Then she and Prudence headed back to the hotel.

It didn’t take Ellowyne long to find just the right souvenir for Rufus. A silver fish coin pendant on a chain for him, a silver hibiscus necklace for herself, and she was done shopping, at least for the day.

His: Tuesday

Having survived Monday’s adventure in bungee jumping, Rufus felt ready to take on the world, or if that was an overreach, the software project.  He spoke with his advisor about how unlikely it would be to find just one program to fit multiple academic needs. The university would need to cough up money for discipline-specific programs. Rufus groaned. That might require special fundraising events, increases in tuition or fees, or cutting resources, like the salaries of graduate assistants. All his life, Rufus dreamt about becoming a college professor. His advisor realized his potential and worked with him to optimize his transition to academic life. His advisor often treated him like he was already a graduate assistant, only he wasn’t paid. However, he was assured there would be a place for him in the graduate program. First, he’d get a Master’s in Science, then a PhD, and from there, a postdoc. Suddenly, his trajectory seemed stifling. Rufus had a genius-level IQ, so he most likely would succeed in whatever field he chose. But was academia—was statistics–the right option for him or would another possibility be better?

Rufus dragged himself to the computer lab. He sat at his computer and did yet another search for software, focusing on something that would work best for business and economics. Suddenly, he stumbled across Stata, an old program that evolved over time to work well with a variety of disciplines. Rufus felt a surge in adrenaline, just like the feeling he had when he jumped off the bridge and was pulled back by the bungee cord. He called his advisor and asked him to come to campus. 

The advisor was ecstatic with the software Rufus found. It cost less than special software marketed to individual disciplines, which would make the university bean counters happy. The advisor took Rufus out for a celebratory lunch on the university tab, of course. And then his advisor said, “Rufus, I’m very happy with your work. We’re all impressed, and we want you in our graduate program as soon as possible. If you do a summer session—and it will be a full load—you can graduate in December and start the Master’s in January.”

Rufus thought for a minute, then said, “I appreciate the thought, but I definitely need some time off. Missing spring break was tough. My girlfriend and her friends went to the Bahamas, all expenses paid. I think I need the summer off. And if we’re done here, I’m going to take the rest of spring break off. My best friend and I are going zip lining. Maybe we’ll hit one of the theme parks, too.”

While his advisor was disappointed, Rufus felt relieved, just the way he felt as he when his jump was over and he was back on the bridge. A career in academia was going to be daunting, but he realized that he needed balance, whatever he eventually decided to do. While he didn’t need to seek extreme thrills the way Penn did, Rufus realized he needed to step away from the books, away from the computer, and venture outside his comfort zone. And never again would he turn down a free spring break vacation anywhere!

Later that day, Rufus texted Penn to see how he was doing with his epidemiology paper.

Penn texted, “Dude, I could use a break. I’m stuck. I keep going over what I’ve written because the more I write, the less I understand. And I’m sick of this paper. I want it over. Before the weekend.”

“How does this sound?” Rufus asked. “I’ll come over, be your beta reader, and help with the stats. We can order a pizza and drink all the beer or colas you have in your refrigerator.”

“Thanks, man. Then maybe tomorrow we can have some fun,” Penn replied.

“I have some ideas that you might like. I’ll be at your place in a half-hour or so,” Rufus said. He knew that Penn was going to be shocked and surprised when he suggested some roller coasters. Actually, Rufus was a little surprised himself!

Hers: Monday

Ellowyne awoke around 8:30, and she felt restored and revitalized. After she dressed, she wandered to her friends’ rooms to make sure they were safe and see if they were awake.

First, she went to Amber’s door. “Ohhhh,” Amber wailed. “Leave me alone and let me sleep!”

Then Ellowyne checked on Lizette. “Ugggghhh! “Lizette moaned, “Don’t knock so loudly!”

Finally she stopped at Prudence’s room. “Unnnnnh!” Pru whined, “Go away! My head hurts.”

Ellowyne shrugged, sent texts to her friends to let them know where she would be, and went shopping. She didn’t expect to find any thrift stores, and she wasn’t going to buy anything at the expensive, tourist trap vendors. She wandered through the marketplace and bought some affordable cotton and linen dresses, shorts, and a pair of pants. Then she meandered through a flea market and purchased some handmade earrings, necklaces, and bracelets. 

Around 1:00 PM, she got a text from Prudence, asking, “Where are you?” 

“Pru. I texted you, Amber, and Liz that I was going shopping. They have some amazing clothes in the marketplace, and I found a flea market with handcrafted jewelry.”

“Hmmm,” Pru replied, “That sounds like fun. Hey, have you had lunch?”

Ellowyne laughed. “I concentrated on shopping and didn’t even think about lunch!” 

A little while later, Ellowyne joined her friends for more conch salad and Bahamian coconut tart. Afterwards, she showed them the things she purchased, and they planned to spend one day shopping. They would have considered going that afternoon, but they felt woozy after the long night partying and decided to spend the rest of the day at the beach. Ellowyne chose to go to an art museum. She and Rufus loved museums. 

Late in the afternoon, when Ellowyne was on her way back to the resort, she got a strange text message from Rufus. “If anything happens to me, make sure you take all of my LEGOs—just the cheap ones—and scatter them in Penn’s apartment. Hide his shoes and slippers and make him step on them barefoot.” Then there was another. “No, seriously, if I die or get maimed, I want you to know that I love you. And Penn can be the main pallbearer if I die or my private nurse while I recover.” By this point, Ellowyne panicked. She texted Rufus but received no answer. Finally, he texted in response, “I’m sorry if I alarmed you. Penn and I went bungee jumping. I needed a break from the computer lab, and that was what he suggested. It was kind of fun, but I’m not sure I would do it again.”

When Ellowyne joined her friends for supper, she stated, “You wouldn’t believe what Penn talked Rufus into. Bungee jumping.” She then received another text from him and said to the friends, “This isn’t good. He had a miserable day in computer lab. He’s worked so hard on this project but he said that it’s getting difficult, like trying to sprint through mud.”

Prudence pointed out, “Look at you, Ellowyne, using a sports metaphor. Penn is having an influence on both of you!”

Everyone laughed. Eventually they ended up at the nightclub, with Amber, Lizette, and Pru flirting and drinking and dancing while Ellowyne played with her phone and sipped on a Mai Tai. She went to bed around 10:00 PM. Her friends were prudent and left the club before midnight.

His: Monday

Rufus got up early, refreshed from a night of solid sleep and ready to head to the computer lab. There were no texts from Penn, who was probably sleeping off the fun from Sunday evening. 

The campus was deserted. No trouble finding a parking space, no trouble starting work. He intended to spend the day in the computer lab, evaluating various statistical analysis software and comparing it to what the university already had. Hopefully, he would find something that would work well for a variety of different fields, like one program would work for business and academia. The university wanted to save money so a one-size-fits-all system would be idea. Rufus had his doubts. 

He spent the morning evaluating various programs, but finding a system that would work well for a variety of disciplines seemed daunting. A program that was optimal for business might be inadequate for scientific research. He was frustrated and had a headache. He checked his phone. He read and answered Ellowyne’s texts but there were no messages from Penn. So Rufus called him. 

“Dude!! What do you want to do today?” 

Penn sounded groggy. “Huh? Rufus?”

“Let’s do something today. Something that will get the blood rushing! Something that we can tell our grandchildren about,” Rufus exclaimed.

“Okay,” Penn replied. “I’ll make a couple of phone calls and see what we can do. Now you’re up for anything, right?”

Fear grasped Rufus’ heart as he realized he just agreed to whatever Penn might suggest. Penn had a penchant for talking him into activities any sane man would avoid. But he promised. And if he managed to get himself mangled or killed, he wouldn’t have to think about the computer project.

About an hour later, Penn texted Rufus. “I’ll be at your place in 15 minutes. Wear old clothes, maybe some cargo pants so you don’t lose your wallet or phone.” 

Rufus swore he heard someone whisper, “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”

Sure enough, Penn showed up on time, dressed in old clothes and heavy boots. Rufus donned his old Doc Martens and asked Penn what they were going to do.

Penn excitedly replied, “We’re going bungee jumping!”

Hers: Sunday

Lizette stretched her arms and legs and yawned. She got out of her beach chair and relished the sensation of warm, white sand squishing between her brown toes. She talked with Amber and Prudence, who were sunning themselves. She also visited with Ellowyne, who was slathered with sunscreen and lounging under an umbrella. Lizette leisurely sipped her Bahama Mama while she and Ellowyne, who was savoring a rum punch, talked. 

“I could get used to this,” Lizette stated. “Beautiful weather, gorgeous scenery,  handsome guys, and amazing food and drinks!”

“I feel so relaxed,” Ellowyne shared. “It’s like there is no stress, no pressure. No ennui!”

“No ennui? Maybe you should move here!” exclaimed Lizette. “Then we can all visit you!”

Ellowyne laughed. “You’d have to visit me in a shack, because that’s all the real estate I could afford.”

“It was very generous for Amber’s family to pay for our vacation. We would have to save for months, maybe more than a year, to afford something like this,” Lizette stated. 

Ellowyne replied, “We need to do something to thank the Stanhopes for this. We should talk to Pru for some ideas.”

Lizette nodded in agreement. Then she heard her stomach rumble. “I could use some lunch. Want to go?”

“Oh, yes. I want shrimp tacos. And maybe some fruit, too. Let’s ask Amber and Pru if they want something to eat.”

Amber summoned one of the waiters at the resort to get some lunch for her and her friends. As they happily munched shrimp and fish tacos, ceviche, and seared scallops, Amber asked them what they wanted to do for the rest of the day. Pru found out that there were volleyball games on the beach, so she decided to join  a team. Lizette, who wasn’t as athletic as Prudence, opted to play volleyball, too, and went with her in search of a team. Amber and Ellowyne agreed to bask on the beach, Amber in the sun to work on a tan, and Ellowyne in the shade to avoid getting one. Ellowyne’s mother loved the sun and slathered all sorts of oil on her skin before taking sunbaths. When indoor tanning became popular, she bought a unit so she could be bronzed all year long. When she died from malignant melanoma, her tanning bed was thrown out, and Ellowyne began using sunscreen religiously. Her friends were aware of that, but being young and seemingly invulnerable, they didn’t always heed her advice. The only one who listened was Rufus, who was busy indoors with computers, robots, LEGOs, and handyman work. He asked her once why she eschewed the sun and he thought her answers were sad but understandable, and he frequently joined her in indoor pursuits, ostensibly to preserve his “nerd pallor”.

Ellowyne wondered what he was doing. It was around noon in San Francisco and, after nineteen hours, twenty hours at the theater, he was probably sleeping. She took some pictures at the beach to send to him and gathered some shells to give him. She planned to write a long, loving poem to text to him, but she needed to tell Amber to roll over, lest she got sunburned. Amber was snoozing so peacefully that Ellowyne decided to take a nap, too. 

After the volleyball nets were done, Prudence and Lizette joined Ellowyne and Amber. They were jubilant because their team won all of their games. 

“We won,” Lizette squealed. “Every game! And it was all due to Prudence!”

Prudence wasn’t a vain person, and compliments often embarrassed her. But when it came to athletic prowess, Pru soaked up every accolade. “It was a team effort,” she declared. “Aw, heck, the best thing they did was to take Liz and me in!” 

“You should have seen Pru. She spiked, served, set, and bumped effortlessly. She made more points than anyone else,” Lizette added.

“You scored several times,” Pru reminded her.

“But only because you bumped and set the ball. Most of the time, you set me up to score. You’re an amazing player!”

“And hungry!” Prudence exclaimed. “Let’s eat!”

The women freshened up then went to the restaurant to feast on rock lobster, conch salad, Bahamian jerk chicken, and Bahamian lamb curry. For dessert, they enjoyed guava duff, a sweet, steamed pudding that called for fresh guava, cooked until soft and rolled with dough into a spiral. The delicious treat was slathered in a rum-butter sauce. 

After they ate, they went to the nightclub associated with their hotel. The music was loud, and the club was crowded. Ellowyne would have preferred to stay in the hotel and read, but the other girls wanted to party. She sat at a table in the corner, and watched her friends danced. Men quickly gravitated toward Amber and she was rarely without a dance partner that evening. Lizette, who was usually so shy, was flirting with various men, and also danced for most of the night. Even Prudence, who claimed she wasn’t interested in romance, was approached by a number of men and rarely sat out a dance. Men flirted with Ellowyne, too, but she rebuffed their overtures. She really loved Rufus and didn’t see the point of dancing with anyone else. 

The club closed down around 3:00 or 4:00 AM. Ellowyne had gone back to the hotel room around midnight in order to get a good night’s sleep. She wasn’t sure when Amber, Pru, or Lizette got back but she was sure they might regret having that much fun in the morning. 

Nature Abhors a Vacuum 4

Weeks went by but the pandemic was still in full force. Beaches in California would be open but health officials urged social distancing and wearing masks. Although she loved the outdoors, Pru decided it would be wise to remain inside. School was over and she awaited her diploma in the mail. She and her friends were disappointed that they could not walk for graduation, but the sacrifice was worth not getting exposed to COVID-19.

Prudence’s days at home felt long. Her parents were at work every day, and she filled her hours meditating, practicing yoga, and surfing the Internet. As of late, she spent far more time online and much less practicing self-care. She received the jewelry-making supplies but the packages were unopened as it was too much of an effort to make something, much less wear any new jewelry.

She fell into a stultifying routine of Krispy Kremes and coffee every morning. She didn’t want to meditate or exercise when she had just eaten. So she turned to the Internet, checking out new websites as well as her favorites. Prudence was on YouTube several hours a day, looking at silly stories about badly behaving in-laws, women stealing their friends’ husbands, and “Whatever Happened to Brendan Fraser?” or the latest actor the armchair critics want to bully. She watched music videos and laughed at the crazy fashions performers wore in the 1980s. Sometimes she watched old episodes of TV shows like the original Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. She also watched videos about making videos! 

One morning, just as Pru had finished her doughnut and coffee run, she got a call from Ellowyne. “Hey, girl,” Ellowyne said. “Do you have time to talk?”

“Sure,” Pru answered. “What’s up?”

“Well, no one has heard from you for a few days and we’re wondering how you are. We haven’t seen you at any of our Zoom meetings or FaceTime.”

“You’re doing the breakfast Zoom meetings? Rufus, too?”

“Sometimes he participates. And sometimes he sleeps in! But he’s doing better, making progress with his grief. He also signed up for vaccine trials. He said that he’ll do anything he can to stop the spread of coronavirus.” 

Prudence asked, “Are you still making masks?”

“Actually, I’m selling them as quickly as I make them. I need to send you, Amber, and Lizette some new masks,” Ellowyne replied. “So what are you doing these days?”

Prudence hesitated a bit before answering. She was embarrassed to admit she spent her time watching mindless videos online. So she stretched the truth a little and said she was going to start a blog about having the best life despite the pandemic.

“That sounds great,” Ellowyne exclaimed. “Please send me a link when you publish it! And I’m sure everyone else will want to read it, too. Hey, what do you think about Lawrence? We met him in person when he and Lizette stopped over with food right after Rufus’ folks died. We couldn’t talk much to him—we were all wearing masks and maintaining social distance—but he seems nice.”

Ugh. Prudence was happy for Lizette but her new romance made Pru feel even more alone. Everyone was pairing up: Ellowyne and Rufus. Lizette and Lawrence. What next, Amber and Penn?

Instead of sharing how she felt, Pru said, “I am so happy for everyone.” Tears welled up in her eyes so she decided to end the conversation. “Oh, it’s getting close to noon. I need to let you go. It’s good to talk to you, Ellowyne.”

When the call was over, Prudence turned back to her laptop to watch YouTube.

To be continued…

His: Sunday

After a mighty struggle with the sugar and caffeine in his system, Rufus fell asleep at last. His dreams were strange; Ellowyne, battle robots, and black Labrador puppies danced around his subconscious. Nevertheless, he slept well and felt refreshed when he awakened around 5:00 PM. He showered, skipped shaving, and turned on his phone. There were a couple of texts from Ellowyne, along with pictures on the beach. He answered her texts right away. And there were a dozen texts from Penn, most of them asking what he wanted to do that day. Rufus figured he wouldn’t have time to get to the computer lab—and he was hungry—so he hoped Penn might want to do something. 

“Dude! Where have you been?” Penn asked. “I’ve sent you text after text…”

“I know,” Rufus answered. “I needed my beauty sleep. So do you have plans for the rest of today?”

“Welp,” Penn commented glumly. “I got tired of waiting for you so I worked on my paper.”

“Good for you! Sounds like you could use a night off. What do you want to do?” 

“Hmm. You know there’s a new Tex-Mex restaurant, Sombrero Cowboy. I hear they make a mean Margarita and the best chimichangas around,” Penn suggested.

Rufus nodded his head. “Okay, I’m going to get a rideshare, probably a Lyft. The driver will pick me up in ten minutes and I’ll call before we get to your place.”

There was a 45-minute wait at Sombrero Cowboy, so the guys sat at the bar and ordered Margaritas, which were every bit as flavorful as Penn had heard. Rufus was so glad he ordered a rideshare.

The restaurant was so busy that service, while excellent, was slow. The men didn’t mind because they could have more Margaritas. Fortunately, the food was well worth the wait. From nachos to chimichangas to rice and beans to decadent deep-fried ice cream, everything they ate was delicious. 

As they were walking out of the dining area, Penn saw a mechanical bull in the bar. Rufus cocked an eyebrow and said, “If you think we should do this after eating and drinking so much, I’m not going to clean up after you!” The guys got into their rideshare and then were taken home. Rufus warned, “Tomorrow, we need to get serious. I have to get into the computer lab and you have got to work on your paper. I don’t want to have this project hanging over my head when Ellowyne comes home. And you want to get done before you see Amber again.”

Penn looked at his best friend, and his jaw nearly hit the floor. How did Rufus know?