A type of ship specifically designed to be able to navigate through ice-covered waters. They sometimes lead the way for other, weaker ships, which follow behind them, taking advantage of the path they’ve created.
The hallway we were heading down eventually opened up to a large lounge area, The Wash, which as best as I could glean from the map was located smack-dab in the middle of the ship.
It was a large room, round and open, dozens of colorful plush armchairs and sofas arranged around a small circular stage with dueling pianos. A trio of bars lined the sides of the room, and hallways large and small fed in and out of it, presumably leading to just about anywhere in the boat a passenger might care to go. The ceiling extended all the way to the top of the ship, and you could count each deck by the balconies that allowed those on any floor to peer down at the lounge from above, a colorful stained glass roof several hundred feet above serving as the only barrier between us and the warm glow of the pre-evening sun.
We passed two sets of working elevators on the way there, but Presh insisted that we stop at The Wash before heading to the only restaurant a passing worker told us Hallie and Presh’s girlfriend could have gone to.
Why? There were glass elevators at The Wash. Presh wanted to ride them.
“See? Aren’t they like… man, that’s just, wow. I knew they were going to be cool, but that’s just… isn’t science amazing?”
“Glass elevators! They made whole elevators, almost all out of the glass! Do you know what glass is made from? I looked it up, right before the trip. It’s sand. Sand! Like, they were walking on the beach one day, and they went like, wow, this is great, we can turn this into elevators! And then they did it! Can you imagine, how smart you’d have to be, how crazy hard that’d be. Like, wow. All from sand.”
I let Presh talk, half-paying attention, half-imagining what Hallie’s reaction was going to be. He had a nice, deep voice, and it was almost relaxing in a way, listening to him go on and on about whatever popped into his head. He was like a cartoon character, smiley and dopey, existing without a mental filter and jumping from topic to topic without a care in the world. On the five minute walk to the elevators, he had managed to bring up everything from the size of my deltoids to his intense fear of ladybugs, hardly seeming to mind the fact that we’d met less than fifteen minutes prior.
I didn’t even mean any of that in an insulting way; I wasn’t looking down on him. He was just an interesting dude to be around. In small spurts, his unrestricted positivity was nice to be around, and I couldn’t help but smile. It was contagious.
“And, you know, if you really think about it, we’re all sort of like that, sand to elevators. Like space sand turning into people. We go up and down for a little, and it’s fun, and then poof, we break down, and then they bring us back to the sand factory so they can make new elevators.”
“That’s deep, Presh.”
Unbounding niceness aside, I decided to give Presh’s analogies more credence than his facts, at least in regard to elevators.
While he reached for the button to call one to our floor, I noticed it missing, his left pinky. With my mind still under the influence of his weirdly hypnotic pratter, I held my glance for a few seconds longer than was appropriate, which he noticed.
“Oh, don’t worry about that. I’m not like, a crazy person, going around and cutting off my fingers for fun.”
“No, I didn’t-”
He smiled extra wide and held the nub up, wiggling it.
“It’s just Bobby!”
He nodded as the elevator arrived. We stepped into it, him still talking, neither of us pressing the button to send us up.
“Yeah! He’s a polych… polytr… he’s fast, you know? He’s crazy nice, but I’m supposed to feed him carefully, ‘cause, yeah, he can’t see good like you or me. I was trying to clean his tank one day a few months ago, and I brushed up against one of his feelers, and boom, chop chop, he must have thought my hand was a fish! So he took a big bite. But I know he didn’t mean to. And it’s just the little pinky one, and I’m right handed! So it’s fine.”
“Sorry, Bobby is…”
“Awesome, yeah! I know. We were allowed to bring him on the ship, and we put his tank in our cabin. You can come over and see him sometime, if you want! He loves meeting new people.”
“We can go now. You’ll love him! Bell got him modded for my birthday, and he comes out of the rock and dances, if you play the right stuff. He likes to listen to the same stuff I do!”
Internally, I spent a moment pondering what sort of creature Bobby might have been, then shook my head.
“…Shouldn’t we find them, first?”
He looked at me, squinting, his smile melting away and popping back up several seconds later.
“Oh, yeah! You’re right.”
He pressed the button for deck twelve.
“That’s an amazing memory, Led! You’re like, one of those super crazy smart people, right?”
“Well, you’re something, remembering that. But yeah, I’ll take you to see Bobby later. You’ll like him.”
We watched the lobby get smaller and smaller as the elevator rose, and with my head already pointed down, I caught a glance of something bouncing around his left ankle.
A bracelet, black, with two little beads hanging on the edges. Each made of plastic, colored purple, in the shape of a goat.
“…Presh, what kind of music do you and Bobby like to listen to?”
“Oh, Bobby can only listen to certain kinds of music. But it’s okay, ‘cause his favorite is my favorite, too! You ever heard of Whirtuoso?”
While walking across the Poseidon deck to reach Hallie, we walked by one of the smaller pools, a small dark cube poking out of the water. Presh and I stopped to look at it, and then what was beneath it rose, greeting us.
“Oh, Led! Good to see you. And…”
Tup’s head turned to the side, examining my new friend.
“You two already met?”
Tup swam to edge to the pool, resting his elbows on the sides. On his upper right arm, a tattoo, in black ink.
T + R
“Presh was… I woke up late, and I wanted a glass of wine for lunch, and he started… talking to me, at one of the bars, and we spoke for awhile. Well, I listened, at least. He um… he gets going.”
“Yeah, I do! Good talk. Tup, you still wanna see Bobby, right? We can see Bobby now, if you want.”
“Presh,” I reminded, pointing in the direction of the restaurant.
“Right, right. Sorry. But later, Tup, you gotta go see Bobby! Bobby’s great. You’ll love him.”
I saw Tup glance down to Presh’s left hand. He had heard the story too, I could see.
I motioned Presh along, nodding goodbye at Tup. After a few steps, he called out.
“Wait, you two going for lunch?”
“Yup! We just got out of the hospital, and Led had ball stuff, and I had butt stuff, so, you know, we’re pretty hungry. It works up an appetite, two guys doing that!”
“Ha,” said Presh. “Got you! See, I didn’t directly say it, but that made it sound like, hey, we did that sort of stuff with each other instead of getting medical stuff, but nah, not stuff like that, just the medical stuff. We’re both in committed relationships! That would be really inconsiderate to our partners.”
Presh turned to me, patting me on the back.
“Tup’s a comedian, did you know? He said he thought I was a funny guy, so I’ve been thinking about jokes like that. Comedy’s all about being random, you know? You just gotta be unexpected! Like if you’re telling a story and you start talking about butt stuff, that’s funny, ‘cause you’re like, wow, butt stuff! That doesn’t belong here!”
“…There might be a little more to it than that,” said Tup.
“Yeah, definitely! But, um. You know. It’s a process! Like the sand-”
I motioned Presh forward, directing him in my desired direction.
“Tup, you should come! We can have lunch together!”
“…Sure,” said Tup, rising out of the water. “Why not?”
The resemblance was vague, but Bell reminded me of one of my sisters, Janis. It was more in the way that she held her default expression than an actual physical similarity, but it was definitely there. She had the same type of knowing smirk, exaggerated enough to be noticeable but not undeniably condescending.
She was thin and tall, or at least she looked like she was, sitting up with perfect posture across the table from Hallie. Her long curly hair was black, and so was she, a fancy form-fitting green sundress marking her as the type of person who might conceivably be able to afford a ticket for the cruise we were on. She didn’t look sick, and she was as young as the rest of us, but had I not heard otherwise from Presh I might have assumed she was on the ship to die.
She stood up to hug Presh as soon as she saw him, telling him that she was glad to see him standing. Like him, her voice was low and refined, the type of thing a person might expect hear on the radio.
To be expected, I supposed, from an opera singer.
She bopped him on the nose. He laughed.
“They said the butt stuff is fine! The doctor said that, after the tests, but I got to take the medicine for some days. Four, or um. Four days, I think.”
“Did you get him to write it down?”
“Yeah! Like you said! I remembered.”
Presh retrieved a piece of paper from his pocket, unfolding it and handing it to Bell. She scanned it, raising her head once to nod at me in acknowledgment.
I turned to Hallie, who I’d gone and sat next to while watching Presh and Bell reunite. Our greeting was a little less affectionate — Hallie really hated PDA, even with me, as in character as it might’ve been — so I just squeezed her hand and said a soft hello, pulling up a seat next to the right of her, Tup sitting on her left.
As we started chatting, she softly scratched the inside my hand twice. It took me a second to recall, but that meant she wanted me to remember what people looked like to describe it for her later, when they weren’t listening. I scratched back, committing Bell and Presh to memory as best as I could. We hadn’t used the system more than a handful of times since first coming up with it, us rarely interacting with people she cared about knowing better.
“…You scared me.”
I could hear the tiny gap where she left out “the fuck out of”, presumably due to the proximity of Bell and Presh.
“…Everything? I didn’t get to ask when you were on the table there, but… nothing’s missing, right?”
“Everything. It’s all there.”
“Good. That’s good. Good.”
Bell extended a hand across the table, towards me. She smiled as I shook it.
“Hello, Led. Hallie told me all about you. You’re an adorable couple. It’s nice to meet you.”
She put an inordinate amount of stress on Hallie’s name, which confused me. The reason for her emphasis quickly became clear, Presh’s eyes going wide.
He looked at Hallie, at me, at Bell, and then at Hallie.
“H-Hallie? You’re Hallie?”
I saw Hallie force an awkward smile. Tup, Bell, and I watched him process, the most serious expression I’ve yet to see on him devour his face as he stared at her, realizing who she was.
A full ten seconds of silence passed, and just when I thought of saying something to reduce the awkwardness, he gave Bell another hug, fast and tight, immediately breaking off and speedwalking back in the direction we came from.
“Gonna go for a walk.”
Tup and I watched him transform into a dot in the horizon before disappearing, and then turned back to Bell, who had sat back down, laughing.
“Did he run away?” Hallie whispered.
Bell capped off her giggles with a sip of wine, gently twirling the glass in her hands as she spoke.
“Don’t be mad with him, Hal. It’s a scary thing, meeting your heroes.”