“Forget the States this summer. We’re going to Greece, baby; to Crete. We’re talking three weeks of sunshine, golden beaches, lots of booze and sexy ladies.”
Dean’s short statement in the spring didn’t exactly enthrall me. I am used to his bossy tone – I even like it sometimes – but going on an overseas vacation meant that he had to go through quite a lot of trouble. First of all, the plane tickets would cost us a small fortune. We could afford it; we had been saving up for months, but I wasn’t sure if it was worth busting my butt at work for almost a year.
It is easy for him and Ray to decide to do this. Dean Ryan is a chef over at “Carlo’s,” a fancy, Italian restaurant in Manhattan, and Ray Carlton is a successful realtor. They don’t have to monitor servers all day long for a pittance the way I do. More than that, there is also the pain of getting a visa. And by “pain,” I mean the red tape and at least six weeks of waiting to get it. The interviews at the Greek consulate lasted more than an hour each. During some moments, I felt like I was being interrogated like some criminal. When I complained, they told me they were just following standard procedure.
Wouldn’t it be easier for us to get on a plane and fly off to L.A.?
This question popped into my mind as I left that building. Even though my interviewer was probably one of the most polite people I had ever met, my head was buzzing. Still, we had been to the City of Angels before, and not all of us had had a good time. Back in 2014, Ray spent almost every day swimming, mingling, and getting drunk. I didn’t mind drinking a little more than usual, but there was no way I could do so that often. I didn’t like the idea of being hungover throughout my vacation. I needed something quieter. Sadly, however, “quiet” in L.A. is just wishful thinking. The city itself is always bustling with people, and the situation doesn’t change much on the beaches, either.
On the other hand, Dean rented a motorcycle, and that was all she wrote. Malibu or Pasadena weren’t enough to hold him. Upon his return six days later, his excuse for ditching us was: “Riding around and meeting girls is a hell of a lot better than seeing your ugly mugs every day. Don’t we do that back home?” Despite my anger for not letting us know where he was going, I had to admit he had a point there. The three of us have been living together for over five years. And, because none of us have any family in New York, we have never been apart, other than in 2014 and 2015, when Ray spent Christmas with Laura Harrison, his fiancé at the time. We spend Thanksgiving and Christmas in Aspen or Boston, where Dean and Ray’s mothers live. The only thing that ever changes is our surroundings, not the people.
That is one of the reasons why I finally decided to accept Dean’s suggestion. At last, we would be going someplace where nobody had even heard of us. No neighbors would come knocking on the door, asking if my friends or I had found our significant others yet. This was definitely the part that both of them hated the most. The reason for this was that the nosiness wasn’t limited to the neighbors. Right after they would leave, the same old lecture would follow: More or less, it started with: “Why don’t you find yourself a nice lady and settle down? You’re not getting any younger, son,” No kidding. We were in our early thirties, but to Roberta and Cynthia, their sons and I were running out of time. If we had any chance of starting a family, we had to get married soon.
The main reason why I agreed to go on a vacation to Greece though, was that it was my first chance to get out of the country. I was thirty-two years old, and Alaska was the furthest I had ever been from home. And God knows that this small, European country was a lot warmer than Alaska. I just had one condition: I wanted to choose our hotel. I knew my friends like the back of my hand. Ray would prefer a hotel with a rooftop bar, while Dean would go for something with good access to the freeway. Both of those meant noise, and the last thing I wanted was another L.A. So, I found a small, somewhat secluded, hotel on the outskirts of Ammoudara, a popular resort, less than two miles away from the city.
After a long, arduous flight, we’ve landed in Heraklion, the island’s capital city. With the brilliant red, orange, and pink colors up in the sky, we load our suitcases into a cab. To our liking, the route to our destination is filled with beautiful views of the sea and a few, fishing boats. I leave my window open, eager to catch a whiff of the amazing scent of salt. I have no idea how this vacation is going to go, but I love the way it’s beginning. Jetlag and the low traffic we run into don’t dampen my spirits.
As we enter Ammoudara, I notice dozens of people on either sidewalk. Young children are holding their parents by the hand, laughing as they stroll. This single image convinces me that I have made the right choice. Most of the guys I work with have families, and they all seek somewhere peaceful for their vacation. All the same, when we leave the downtown area behind, Dean’s and Ray’s reactions ruin my good mood. Dean turns his head around to look at Ray in the back seat, clenching his jaw. The next thing I know, he is glaring at me. I keep my mouth shut, well aware of what he is thinking. He means to complain about our accommodation. I dismiss him with a snort. After all, “Ariadna,” our hotel, can’t be more than half a mile away.
The colors of the sunset are fading to indigo as our cab rolls to a slow halt outside the large building. With the gentle sound of waves splashing on the sand, I grab my suitcases from the trunk, and then make my way towards the entrance. I settle my gaze on the deep blue, Dean’s words passing by me unheard. We have just arrived; arguing in public isn’t an ideal way to start a vacation. An elderly lady at reception welcomes me with a smile and a strong accent. I throw a quick glance over at Ray as she checks us in. He shrugs his shoulders, appeasing me for a moment. He would love for the hotel to be nearer to bars, but he’s okay with it. But, when I find myself entering the empty elevator, Dean’s bass-deep voice reminds me of his nasty glare back in the cab.
“There were dozens of better hotels on our way over, and you chose this?” He grumbles, pressing the “penthouse” button on the panel. “What the fuck were you thinking, man?”
“Define ‘better,’” I urge in a calm tone.
“You know what I’m talking about,” Dean claimed, intensifying his stare. “It’s not bad, but…”
“I did a lot of research before choosing this,” I interrupt, raising my voice. “In case you didn’t notice, there’s a ‘rent a car’ dealership just down the road. There’s also an exit to the freeway, less than a mile north. The only, um…” I pause. “... Downside is that the closest bar is like four hundred yards away.”
“It’s less than a mile?” Dean cocks an eyebrow.
“Right,” I say with a nod, the elevator doors sliding open sideways. “Okay, it’s not the most luxurious hotel in the world, but most of the ones we saw on our way over are ridiculously expensive.”
“I stopped listening at ‘four hundred yards away,’” Ray confesses, his lips curling into a sly smile as he wanders off down the corridor. “It’s not bad, is it?” He asks, looking up at the tall ceiling.
“Nope,” I agree, catching a glimpse of the red carpet on the floor. “Not bad at all. Which reminds me; I’ve got a surprise for you.”
“Let me guess,” Ray suggests as I unlock the door. “There are ten naked chicks waiting for us in there.”
“No,” I snort in amusement, Dean bursting into a fit of laughter. “See for yourselves,” I add, pushing the door wide open. Unbeknownst to them, I had booked the hotel’s only suite. The spacious living room fills my view. A large, brown couch is in the upper left corner. There is a 50” TV across from the armchair. A counter on the right separates the small kitchen from the living room. Right behind the couch is an open balcony door with a view to the sea.
“Goddamn…” Ray whispers, stepping inside. “I was expecting a tiny little room, but this? This is beautiful, baby.”
“Yeah, it’s great. Good job,” Dean comments, patting me on the back. “Now, let’s go get you drunk.”
“Not a chance in hell,” I groan, glancing at him over my shoulder. “You kids go ahead. I’m staying,” I go on, shifting my gaze to my black guitar case that lay against the counter.
“Corny bastard…” Dean murmurs, shaking his head in disapproval.
“Get out of here,” I urge, heading for the bedroom. They can call me all the names they like. I am just too tired and jetlagged to follow them to a bar. All I want is to feel that sea breeze on my skin, while I play some of my favorite tunes. Maybe it is weird for someone who has just been through a twelve-hour flight to run off to the beach, instead of taking a nap or enjoying a couple of drinks, but to me, it makes all the sense in the world. I quickly change into a pair of black shorts and a gray, sleeveless tee. I had been waiting for this for a while. I wasn’t going to let my disgruntled friends get in the way.