With everything packed, the four women were ready—albeit reluctant—for the trip home. They didn’t have to leave until the early afternoon, so they got some extra sleep and had smoothies for breakfast and an early lunch. They sipped rum cocktails when they munched on conch salad and their favorite shrimp tacos. Finally, they boarded the Stanhopes’ private plane to go home.

In contrast to the previous day in which they were mostly silent, the four chattered throughout the entire flight. They talked about how much they enjoyed and appreciated the trip, from swimming to the pigs to shopping to the Ardastra gardens to the wonderful food they ate. However, they also conversed about how they felt they were closer friends than before the trip. They all thought they knew each other well, but spending a week on vacation helped them see each other holistically and authentically, and their friendships deepened. 

Finally, the plane landed in San Francisco. The Stanhopes’ limousine and chauffer were waiting for them and whisked them off to the mansion, where Penn and Rufus patiently awaited them. 

Ellowyne ran into Rufus’ arms, and, when he kissed her, she noticed that he hadn’t shaved in over a week. “But it’s not scratchy. The stubble is soft and tickles. Keep it!”

Penn hugged Prudence and Lizette and politely kissed each of them on the cheek. They didn’t seem to notice that he kissed Amber on the lips and embraced her much longer. 

The girls told the guys everything about their vacation, the beauty of the white sands, beach volleyball, the nightclub scene. Amber made sure to tell Rufus that Ellowyne didn’t go out dancing with them because she saw no point in spending time with anyone else. Then they talked about shopping, the museum, the gardens, and the pigs. Prudence quipped that she might never want to eat pork again because it would make her think about the pigs. Lizette shared the story of her spring break fling and how she met Keanu at the Ardastra center. Ellowyne talked about shopping some more, and Amber shared some of the exquisite handmade jewelry she purchased. Then all of the girls showed the guys their souvenirs, and Ellowyne gave Rufus the pig t-shirt she got for him, among other gifts. He told her than a theme park shirt was waiting for her.

The lads told them about the Batman movie marathon and how they got shushed and shamed at the Cartoon Art Museum. Penn shared that Rufus thought he was going to die when they went bungee jumping but was woozy but okay at the extreme thrill rides at the theme parks. Penn admitted that getting stuff done before having fun was much more satisfying than procrastinating. In turn, Rufus mentioned that academia was often wrought with busywork, and that he recognized that he needed balance in his life. 

Then it was time to head home. Spring break was a most excellent experience for everyone, but Rufus and Penn swore they would never again turn down a free trip to the Bahamas. Or anywhere else!

His: Friday

Rufus called Penn and asked, “Dude! Got any plans for today?”

The truth? I’m thinking about just sitting here in my underwear and playing video games,” Penn admitted.

“Hey, me too!” 

“You know, This is the last day of spring break. We should do something fun and interesting. I mean, Monday it’s back to the books,” Penn pointed out.

Rufus suggested, “It’s close to noon, so let’s get some burritos, go to one of the climbing gyms, and get a pizza afterwards.”

“And then play videogames in our underwear?”

Rufus laughed. “Only if we can play Batman: Arkham Knight!”

“Great idea!” Penn exclaimed. “We started spring break with Batman and we will end it with Batman.”

“My best friend has gone batty,” Rufus said dramatically.

“Smart ass,” Penn retorted. “I’ll pick you up in fifteen minutes.”

Predictably, the lads demolished their burritos. They thought about having more, but the climbing wall awaited them. Thursday’s gastric debacle with raw onions and roller coasters was fresh in their minds and they didn’t want a repeat.

Penn cocked an eyebrow and proposed a different activity. “We can go climbing anytime. Let’s scope out the Cartoon Art Museum instead and…”

“Get more burritos now?” Rufus asked. 

“Of course!”

It took a little longer for the guys to scarf down their second burritos, but when they did, they were satiated and ready to hit the museum. Ironically, there was a special Robin exhibit that featured every Robin from Dick Grayson to Damian Wayne, including the two female Robins. Rufus and Penn verbally sparred a little about whether or not Batman really needed Robin, with Penn playing devil’s advocate and taking the stance that no superhero needed a sidekick. 

“You, my friend, are as stubborn as Batman,” Rufus proclaimed. 

“And you are full of guano,” Penn retorted. 

They were laughing so hard that other museum visitors turned to shush and gawk at them. 

“Dude, we probably should find another exhibit,” Rufus whispered. So then they wandered over to look at the art of Disney villains and eventually they looked at Edward Gorey’s work and some vintage anime. 

Rufus asked, “Did you watch anime when you were a kid?”

Penn exclaimed, “I did! Dragon Ball ZDragon Ball Super, and Dragon Ball GT.  Pokémon. Tenchi Muyo.  All the various Gundham series and movies. Except for the Gundam shows that are still current,  they’re kind of old. My dad liked anime. He got into it when he served with the Army in Japan. He was thrilled when the Cartoon Network ran these series in the 1990s and bought all of these series and their movies when they came out on DVD. And get this–Dad got Mom hooked on Sailor Moon.”

“I’m jealous,” Rufus confessed. “You were raised right!” He looked at some other anime cells and pointed out, “Here’s an old series. Astro Boy. My mom said she caught a little bit of the cartoon when she was a girl, and it creeped her out that he had jets instead of feet. Then she was scared by the opening credits of The Outer Limits. So, other than the funny cartoons and The Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, I didn’t get to watch a lot of TV. But she let me watch reruns of Batman.”

The lads walked around a little, then decided to go to Rufus’ place to play videogames and order pizza. Not only did Rufus have Arkham Knight, he also had Return to Arkham and all three of the Lego Batman video games. Pants were left on because playing video games while wearing only underwear was weird, even with the best of friends. 

Their large extra cheese triple pepperoni pizza arrived, so they took a break from their games to eat, drink beer, and talk. “You know, even though we didn’t go to the Bahamas with the girls, it was still a fun break,” Penn declared.

Rufus agreed. “We got stuff done and still had time for fun. This past week we both got out of our comfort zones.”

“Yeah,” Penn said. “You challenged yourself by riding roller coasters and thrill rides. And bungee jumping.”

“I thought I was going to have a heart attack when we went bungee jumping,” Rufus admitted. “But you know, the adrenaline rush from that and the thrill rides was amazing.”

Penn exclaimed, “It’s addictive! That’s one reason I enjoyed being an army medic and I want to work in the ER. Always something going on. Always a rush!” He went silent so he could collect his thoughts. “That’s why I procrastinate on assignments so much. Pulling an all-nighter, running on fumes and coffee, is a thrill, but I’m not sure it’s so healthy for me and my career. We aren’t allowed to get more than two Cs in our nursing courses or we get kicked out of the program. So far, I haven’t gotten anything below a B, and I don’t want to take the chance of getting bad grades. Besides, procrastinating is stressful, and I don’t need more stress in my life.”

“I hear you,” Rufus replied. “When I started college, I thought it would be easy peasy. High school was a breeze, at least academically, and I figured college wouldn’t be so tough. The statistical analysis software project was draining, and it made me aware of the stress I face now as well as what I’d face in graduate school. I need more fun in my life or I’m going to burn out fast. Thankfully, I have you to drag me out to the student fitness center, a movie, or a theme park.”

“And I have you to help me stay on track and get stuff done. Work done, I can really relax or do something to get that adrenaline surge. I’m definitely going to quit procrastinating. Tomorrow!”

“Speaking of tomorrow, the girls will be arriving home around noon,” Rufus said. “I can hardly wait until I see Ellowyne.”

“I’m looking forward to seeing Amber,” Penn added. “I’ve really missed her.”

Rufus suggested, “Maybe you need to tell her how you feel. Maybe not right away, like, wait until after finals, so neither of you have that stress hanging over your heads.”

“Good idea! Speaking about something hanging over your head, let’s get back to Batman and watch as he crushes his enemies!”

“To the Batcave!” Rufus retorted.

Hers: Friday

It was the last full day of vacation, and Ellowyne and her friends just wanted to relax. The Stanhopes arranged for them to spend the day at a full-service spa, and after breakfast, they scurried off to get pampered! 

The day began with facials. Ellowyne, Amber, and Lizette chose a collagen facial for skin brightening and hydration, while Prudence opted for an oxygen facial. The women were amazed at how refreshed their skin was and how bright their skin appeared. 

Next up was beer bath hydrotherapy. Prudence remarked, “Rufus and Penn would love this treatment!”

Amber pointed out, “But you can’t drink it. There are some of the ingredients of beer in the bath, like hops and barley. But the bath also contains herbs like chamomile, peppermint, and lavender.”

Ellowyne wrinkled her nose and said, “Even Rufus and Penn wouldn’t drink that.”

The ladies were given glasses of a high-end microbrew and agreed that the guys would like that!

The beer baths continued in silence. The women were so relaxed and mellow that conversation wasn’t necessary.  

After that, they went into a jasmine-scented room painted a seafoam green, the same color as the ocean. Pictures of lotus blossoms and other plants decorated the walls. Each friend sat on a soft pillow on a thick mat while an instructor with a melodious voice told them to close their eyes and breathe in, hold it, and then breathe out. Then she directed them to breathe naturally and envision the colors of the chakra as she guided them through meditation. They started with the root chakra at the end of the spine, which would ground them, and went upwards along the spine, ending with the crown chakra, which represented spirituality. The women felt calm, refreshed, and clear-headed. Even Prudence, who regularly practiced yoga, tai chi, and meditation, was impressed. Because she was so proficient, she was often critical of leaders of classes and guided meditation, thought it was one of the best experiences she’d ever had. 

Next, the four women entered an infrared sauna. The difference between that and a traditional sauna was that the former purported to penetrate the cells of the body and heat the body’s core. Ellowyne wasn’t sure about the sauna but the spa attendants assured her that there was no damaging UV radiation in the treatment, so she joined her friends. When the sauna was finished, they all dressed and went to the juice bar for some smoothies. Again, words were nonessential as they were communicating without saying a thing.

Then it was time to get massaged. First, they got hot stone massage. The flat, warm stones were put along their spines and the massage therapists used a few of the stones to rub their backs and shoulders using classic Swedish techniques. Lizette described the experience as being melted like soft caramel, and her friends agreed. 

After their massages, the women went to get mud baths and seaweed wraps. Ellowyne felt so blissful and relaxed that she fell asleep. Amber and Prudence were fighting sleep but Lizette gave in and dozed off as well. Once the wraps were off and the ladies were awake, they were given aromatherapy massages with essential oils. Prudence chose rosemary for energizing. Lizette opted for bergamot which was calming and rejuvenating.  Ellowyne decided on lavender for stress relief along with increasing one’s energy and stamina. Amber decided on geranium, for relaxation and rejuvenation.

The day ended with hand and foot massages, followed by mani-pedis. When they were done, the girls were so relaxed and rejuvenated that they decided to sit on the beach until it was time to eat. They talked about how they would miss conch, johnnycakes, souse, and guava duff. 

After they ate, Ellowyne, Prudence, and Lizette gave Mr. and Mrs. Stanhope the painting they’d purchased as a thank you gift. Amber’s parents received the gift graciously and excitedly talked about how good it would look in their mansion. “It has to go in a place where it will be seen,” Amber’s mother said. “Perhaps the sun room.”

Lizette was going to see Keanu one more time before they left. They promised to email and catch up with each other on social media, but deep down they knew it probably wouldn’t happen. They were busy with their own lives. And with Lizette applying to veterinary schools, she needed to work hard and maintain good grades. A once-in-a-lifetime love was not meant to be, but Lizette would treasure memories of her Bahamian fling always.

Amber asked Ellowyne and Prudence, “Do either of you really want to go to the club tonight?”

Ellowyne declined, as Amber expected, and Prudence begged off as well. She was so mellow that she didn’t want to deal with the raucous nightclub crowd. Also, Pru picked up on Amber’s half-hearted invitation to the club. There was a time for crazy, frenzied fun but the evening after a spa day was not it. Instead, they gathered and packed the treasures they purchased, then went to bed early because Saturday would be a long, busy day.

Hers: Thursday

When the women gathered for breakfast, Amber asked, “Who’s up for another adventure?”

Lizette replied, “Sure! What do you have in mind?”

Amber’s eyes sparkled as she said, “You’re going to love this, Liz. We have an appointment to visit the Ardastra Gardens, Zoo, and Conservation center. We’ll get a guided tour, listen to a presentation about the animals, and participate in the flamingo show! Caribbean Flamingos are the highlight of the zoo. Apparently, this is the breeding ground for these birds.”

“Flamingo show?” Lizette asked almost incredulously. “I can hardly wait!”

Amber commented, “I knew you would love it, girlfriend! Our tour starts at 1:00 PM.”

“Do we have the morning free to spend time on the beach?” Pru asked. “I think there’s another volleyball game today.”

Ellowyne stifled a yawn. “I’m going to take a nap until lunch.”

Her friends laughed. They were all surprised when Ellowyne was willing and able to keep up with them. Usually she would bow out of most activities, begging off because of her ennui and fatigue. But the only activity in which she did not participate was nightclubbing, and that was because she was in love with Rufus and didn’t see the point of meeting other men. 

After a leisurely lunch of baked crab and conch salad, the four friends headed for the Ardastra Gardens. They were early for their tour, so they wandered around to look at the birds. Lizette was immediately enchanted by the birds. She had her binoculars and shared them with her friends. Prudence wrote down the characteristics of the birds, and Ellowyne and Amber took pictures. They saw yellow-breasted bananaquits,  yellow-headed blackbirds, and common yellowthroats that had not migrated back to places with northern climates. There were aptly named painted buntings who boasted a kaleidoscope of colors on their bodies and equally colorful parrots. The women were surprised to see birds that were common in the US, like pigeons, doves, and even robins. They saw different types of hummingbirds, several that were endemic to the Bahamas. Ellowyne noted that there was a rare hummingbird called the rufous hummingbird, or Selasphorus rufus, and she snapped a picture to send to her sweetheart. All of the women giggled over the brown boobies, but they didn’t laugh when they saw a booby dive for some fish. They watched cockatoos and Cuban parrots, and listened to the songs of the mockingbirds. And then it was time for their tour to begin!

The attendant giving the tour was a little surprised that four adults rather than a classroom of children were taking the field trip. Amber explained that they wanted to learn more about the animals and the gardens, and Prudence piped up and said, “Our friend Lizette is planning to go to veterinary school to be an avian vet.” Of course Lizette blushed. But the tour guide was intrigued, and told Lizette that they always needed vets with that and skill set, so perhaps she could think about them when she finished school. Ellowyne, Amber, and Pru thought the guide might be flirting with her, but Lizette seemed oblivious.

The guided tour took the women through the lush gardens of the facility. They deeply inhaled the fragrance of Chinese hibiscus, lignum vitae, allamanda, and frangipani. Ellowyne especially loved the orchids, since they were her favorite flower. There were hanging vines, coconut palm trees, bromeliads, mango and papaya trees, and bougainvillea. The guide told Lizette that frangipani was most fragrant at night. Animals—many of them rescued–lived in the rich vegetation. The women were delighted with the lemurs and monkeys, pot-belly pigs, and the so-ugly-they’re-cute hutia, also known as stout rodents. They shuddered at the reptiles, especially at the rock iguanas and snakes. And then they saw more birds—macaws, swans, and peafowl. They got to hand-feed the lory parrots! Before they knew it, it was time to watch the march of the Caribbean flamingos. The majestic birds, who were wandering in a central location, actually began marching in a large circle. 

All too soon, the adventure in Ardastra Gardens was finished. Before the women went back to their hotel, the guide pulled Lizette aside to ask her something. She was beaming when she returned to her friends. “Keanu asked me out tonight! He’s taking me to dinner and, afterwards, we’ll meet you all at the nightclub.”

Naturally, Ellowyne, Amber, and Prudence were excited for Lizette. Ellowyne suggested, “Hey, let’s get you ready for tonight. I’ll help you with your clothes and jewelry, Amber can do your makeup, and Pru will do your hair.”

“Better yet,” Pru replied. “Let’s take you to get your hair professionally braided. If we go now, you’ll easily be ready for your date!”

And so they went. By the time Keanu picked up Lizette, she was beautifully clad and  gorgeously coiffed, and her makeup was subtle but made her face glow. They dined on stewed fish, which was reminiscent of the gumbo Lizette loved when she lived in New Orleans. 

Once Amber, Prudence, and Ellowyne were finished getting Lizette ready for her date, they decided to have dinner themselves. They had deep-fried fish, grits, a papaya salad, and rum punch. Afterwards, they strolled along the beach, taking in the smell of the ocean, the warmth of the sand, and the pink, peach, and purple of the evening sky. 

Then it was time to join Lizette and Keanu at the nightclub. Amber and Pru applied makeup and perfume, and dressed in their flashiest clothes. Ellowyne said she felt fatigued and declined their invitation to go to the club, preferring to read poetry written by people who lived in the Bahamas. And, of course, to text Rufus.

Amber and Prudence were having a marvelous time at the nightclub. They looked downright gorgeous and danced most of the night. They sipped Mai Tais, rum swizzles, and piña coladas. They also met up with Lizette and Keanu, who was utterly charming and sweet. 

Finally, it was time to go back to the hotel. Pru and Amber were exhausted and a little woozy after their drinks, and their feet hurt. Keanu walked Liz back to the hotel and they stayed on the beach for some serious snogging. 

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.