The Queen Mary

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Walking the gangway feels metaphorical, its subtle slope and velvety rise an ascension of mind, body, and spirit. She has dressed the part—a flouncy new navy dress with sweetheart neckline, red Sperry Top-Sider wedges, a white cardigan with anchor buttons—of a woman destined not just for maritime but for stage time. She told her mom she couldn't make it on Sunday because she "had a gig," and exaggeration just might turn to prophecy because the Yelp reviews for the retreat suggest a high probability of celebrity participation. As she strides the final steps in search of her sea legs, Brie imagines herself two days from now descending this very plank arm in arm with Jerry or Billy or Louis C.K., lost in a cacophony of laughter and precious memories—Come stay with me in New York. I'll put your name down for the Vanity Fair party—as tourists scramble for their phones to snap a pic. The whole thing is very auspicious, scoring the final spot last minute. She buzzes with anticipation as she crosses the threshold into 1930's ocean liner opulence.

Bit of confusion at the front desk. The woman standing behind the counter explains that her room is not yet available because both occupants must be present for check-in. "No, it's just me," Brie says. "I'm here for the Eddie Orpa retreat. I've got a reservation for a Deluxe Stateroom with king bed," she tells the woman, pointing at her printout for proof. "And can I please have one of the rooms with a working porthole?"

The woman sighs and turns to her coworker. "Where is that guy?"

A pointed finger directs Brie's attention to the corner of the lobby, where a harried man recognizable from the Live, Laugh, Love registration page as Eddie Orpa argues in hushed, frustrated tones with a man in a suit.

"Talk to him, Ma'am. He'll explain the situation."

Brie strides across the gleaming tiles and Art Deco carpeting, gaining enough proximity to determine that Eddie Orpa's headshot is sorely out of date. That lush head of dark hair is now a curtain skirting his balding skull like a dust ruffle. Brie watches his cranium stretch and flex as he pleads with the manager. "I filled twenty staterooms in low season last year!"

The manager keeps his voice low. "Eddie, the price break starts at ten and you know it. I wish I could help you."

Brie takes a step closer. "Mr. Orpa?"

He turns, his dark eyes full of alarm.

"I'm Brie Baggio. I signed up today?"

Eddie slaps on a razzle dazzle smile and flings his arms out like she's some long lost cousin. "So glad," he says, nodding at the manager in glum acceptance as the man slips away. Eddie's eyes dart back to Brie. "So intensely glad you signed up. Uhhh, so Brie... come sit. Would you, do you, sit?" He seizes her shoulders and guides her to a formation of red suede chairs.

"Susan!" Eddie shouts at the approaching woman wearing a Lakers jersey and a goatee. "We are seriously thrilled to have you back!" Eddie turns to Brie and hitches a thumb at Susan. "Return customer. She just had her first Hollywood gig, am I right? How'd it go? Sorry I couldn't make it. My ex-wife, well, whatever... I'm sure you killed."

Susan plops herself into the chair next to Brie. "There any celebrities this time?"

"The manifest!" Eddie exclaims, his smile like a jack-o-lantern's. "Surprise guests must remain just that, a surprise. I was just telling Brie here that—"

Susan folds her arms. "That's exactly what you said last time."

He waggles his finger at Susan like she's teasing. "Growth comes through change. We must be adaptable!" He claps his hands and rubs them together with vigor. "So this weekend we're going to try something new. We bunk up and dive right into getting to know each other. Intimacy will bolster our confidence as we reveal our dark parts to each other."

An awkward silence.

Eddie clears his throat. "That sounded strange. By dark parts I meant our innermost torment, not the parts of our bodies covered with pubic hair."

Another silence, even more awkward.

A voice belonging to a lanky man wearing a black leather fedora says, "Hey hey, you Eddie?"

"Yes!" Eddie claps and flings his arms. "Leon Holmes?"

Leon licks his lips, suspicious. "See me on YouTube?"

Eddie takes this as a joke.

"The fuck you laughing at?"

A wave of Chinese tourists wearing headphones passes through the lobby, their heads maneuvering in unison to behold the marquetry and murals. In their wake they leave an Indian woman wrapped in an orange saree standing before the group. Her face is severely burned and disfigured, her right eye gone. "I am Nasreen."

Eddie claps. "Fantastic, we're all here."

"The fuck happened to yo face?" Leon asks her.

Nasreen looks at him with her eye. "Acid attack."

Leon is aghast. "Who the muthafuck did that?"

She adjusts her shoulder bag. "My husband."

"What kinda sick ass..."

"And his mother."

Leon's jaw hangs open.

Eddie claps. "This is good! This is very good. This is the sort of dive-right-in-and-get-to-know-each-other spirit that I was just about to explain would be required of you this weekend, and... now that we're all here, I guess I can just come right out and tell you that, I'm going to need to ask you all to double up and share rooms."

"The fuck?"

Brie raises a finger. "I'd prefer to have my own room."

Nasreen says, "I scream in my sleep."

The contours on Eddie's skull sharpen. "Okay, uhh... you see, the truth is that, well, this weekend's session is not... at all... full. And while this is good in a you-get-more-one-on-one-time-with-me sort of way, this is bad from a how-the-room-pricing-works perspective, particularly for me." Eddie massages the back of his own neck. "Look, I'll loose money if you don't share rooms. And I will just tell you that I would really really appreciate if you could help me out, because I am not in the position to lose money at this point... in my life."

Susan shrugs. "Fine with me. We only go to our rooms to sleep."

Eddie claps. "Hello Susan! Thank you, this is exactly the spirit we welcome aboard the RMS Queen Mary. Did you know that this great ship transported thousands of American troops to Allied victory in the Second World War?"

Eddie's patriotism angle pays off because Leon turns to Brie and says, "You wanna bunk up?"

"Actually," Eddie says. "I already made the room assignments. Leon, you'll be with Susan. And Brie and Nasreen, you'll be together."

Brie flashes Nasreen a quick smile.

Leon looks askance from beneath the brim of his fedora. "The fuck you be then?"

Eddie laughs, shaking his head. "Not in the Captain's quarters, that I assure you. Okay, to your rooms to get settled and then we meet on deck where we will strip down and reveal our naked selves to one another!"     

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