CRUISE DAY 1
Newcastle International Airport – North East England
The voice booming out over the tannoy system announced that everybody for flight FX3235 to Palma, Majorca, should proceed directly to Departure Gate 3. Or, at least, that’s what Aimee thought they’d said because, in all honesty, it sounded as though they were talking through a teabag. And even if that was what they’d said she couldn’t proceed anywhere until Jemma came out of the toilet.
Checking her watch one more time, Aimee tried to block out that slight panic she always felt when there was a chance she could be late for something, fanning herself with a copy of Celebrity Secrets as she leant back against the wall and waited – rather more impatiently than she had done five minutes ago – for Jemma to show her face.
‘What’s the matter with you?’ Jemma asked, finally making her exit from the toilets, her head buried in her far-too-oversized fake Luis Vuitton handbag, which Aimee was surprised had even been allowed through as hand luggage because she’d seen smaller suitcases being slung down that baggage belt.
‘The flight’s been called,’ Aimee replied, shoving Celebrity Secrets back in her rather more sensible-sized handbag, checking her boarding pass was still there.
‘We’ve got ages yet, come on, let’s go grab a beer.’
‘No, hang on, Jemma!’ Aimee ran after her friend, who was heading at an almost indecent haste towards the large bar in the centre of the Departure Lounge, which was a feat in itself in the heels she was wearing. But that was one thing about Jemma – it didn’t matter what the occasion, there was no way she was going anywhere without her heels. ‘We haven’t got time for a beer!’
Jemma turned round and looked at Aimee – but not before she’d thrown one of her flirty smiles at a group of young lads sat at a table behind her, which in turn earned her a barrage of wolf-whistles – her hands on her hips, her suitcase-sized bag resting in the crook of her spray-tanned arm. ‘Of course we’ve got time. How long does it take to get a beer down your neck?’
North east born and bred, Aimee Anderson and Jemma Jordan were both thirty-three-year’s old and had been best friends since Primary School, gone through college together, and now they both worked in the same branch of SuperStyle – a large and popular chain of beauty stores – as retail supervisors. They’d always looked out for each other, always been there for one another through good times and bad; more like sister’s than best friends, neither one of them could really think of their life without the other one now. They were good for each other – Aimee kept Jemma’s feet on the ground during those times when she had a tendency to get carried away, and Jemma brought out the more confident side of a much quieter Aimee. They balanced each other out, which could only be a good thing when they were due to spend the next two weeks together sailing the Mediterranean on an all inclusive cruise.
‘It’s 7.30 in the morning, Jemma. I’m having enough trouble getting a cup of PG Tips down at this hour; can we please leave the beer until we get on the boat? We’re all inclusive on the ship, remember? We can drink as much as we like once we get there.’
‘I’m a firm believer in the holiday starts the minute you set foot in the airport,’ Jemma smiled, receiving a round of applause and more whistles from the table of lads behind her. ‘And anyway, where’s Marcie? We can’t go anywhere until she turns up?’
Aimee sighed, suddenly feeling that, now, the only kind of holiday spirit she could cope with came out of a green bottle and belonged to someone called Gordon. Maybe Jemma was right. Maybe one drink wouldn’t hurt.
‘Where did you last see her?’ Aimee asked, turning round and scanning the departure lounge of Newcastle airport, which was growing steadily busier by the minute, filling up with more and more people heading out of the north east of England to sunnier climes.
‘I left her in WH Smiths about half an hour ago,’ Jemma replied. ‘She was trying to sell a copy of her new book to a slightly startled woman she’d cornered by the bottled water.’
Marcie Marcello was Aimee’s mother – real name Kathleen Anderson – but ever since she’d won a short story competition in Ladies of Leisure magazine, which had subsequently bagged her a book deal with the well known romance publishing house, Hearts & Flowers – something which had allowed her to leave her good but mundane job as a doctor’s receptionist to follow her writing dream – she’d decided that the name Kathleen just wouldn’t do. So, after careful consideration, and an afternoon of watching crappy TV movies on some satellite channel to gather together ideas, she’d come up with the name Marcie Marcello, and so the north east’s newest romance novelist was created. Ever since then she’d made Barbara Cartland look subtle. Gone were the slacks and blouses, the smart but safe clothes that Kathleen had always worn, and in came the flowing kaftans, candyfloss-pink-dyed hair and an abundance of gold bangles and earrings that made so much noise when she walked you could hear her coming half an hour before you saw her. But Marcie Marcello had an image to keep up.
From across the other side of the departure lounge Aimee heard her mother’s familiar shrill voice, so loud they could probably hear her in Gateshead, and she couldn’t help but cringe.
‘She’s trying to hide the Geordie accent again, isn’t she?’ Jemma said, examining her newly-manicured nails before slapping away the hand of one of the lads behind her as he tried to grab her bum. ‘That’s sexual harassment, that is. Try that again and I’ll lay you out.’
And that wasn’t an empty threat either. Aimee had seen Jemma deal with unwanted attention on more than one occasion on plenty of nights out. One incident in a curry house near Newcastle’s Quayside stood out in particular after a keema naan bread had been used to ward off a table of over-exuberant lads from Stoke out on a stag night, causing more than one of them to wear their chicken rogan josh. It hadn’t been pretty.
Aimee grabbed Jemma’s hand before anything else kicked off, and they ran off in the direction of Marcie’s voice, which was telling anyone within a five mile radius that she had a new book out and would anyone like a signed copy?
‘You grab one arm, I’ll grab the other, then we drag her – kicking and screaming if we have to – down to that departure gate, you got that?’ Aimee asked, shoving her bag up onto her shoulder, glad she’d made the sensible choice to wear trainers for this flight. ‘I am not missing this cruise for anyone, or anything. Okay? I need this holiday.’
Jemma looked at her friend, stopping briefly to give her a mock salute. ‘Why-Aye, Captain!’
Palma - Majorca
Back in the 1990’s, Bon Voyage had been a phenomenally successful boy band from the north east of England. They’d been manufactured, of course, thrown together thanks to a long and lengthy audition process, but once the perfect mix had been found, a money-making, million-selling machine had been created.
Back in the day they’d played sell-out shows in huge arenas all over the U.K. and Europe; they’d been followed by legions of screaming fans, had groupies hanging round stage doors at every gig, some had even camped outside their homes for days on end and those girls were usually the same ones who, somehow, always managed to find out which hotels they were staying in on tour – which meant they were also usually the ones who got to live out that fantasy they dreamed about constantly of meeting their favourite pop star, and maybe even do more than just meet them. Bon Voyage had never been ones to miss out on anything the life of a popular boy band member had to offer. Oh, Bon Voyage had had it all – fame, money, invitations to the biggest and best showbiz parties and award ceremonies, model girlfriends; their faces in the papers and magazines on a daily basis. They’d been big.
Andy Crabtree, Danny Johnson, Ross Nelson, Cal Connor and Frankie Monroe had been 90’s heart-throbs, the dream men of a million and more girls and women of all ages.
Andy had been the “front man”, the one they’d pushed forward because he’d had the strongest voice. Originally from a small Northumberland village his life in Bon Voyage had been a revelation, a chance for him to escape the rural confines of his close-knit northern community and get out into the big wide world. Tall, with dark blond hair and a dry sense of humour, he’d been the sensible one, the grown-up of the group; the one who’d kept the band together during those wild times. He’d never been the best looking of the bunch, but he’d had enough charm to get more women than he’d ever dreamed possible. But the one thing about Andy was that the older he’d got, the better looking he’d become. Time had been very kind to Andy Crabtree.
Danny Johnson, however, had very much been the one with the drop-dead gorgeous looks back then. He’d been the group’s major heart-throb, the “bad boy” of the band with his many tattoos and a reputation for drinking, women and wild nights out. He’d been the one who’d always got the most screams, the one all the woman had wanted first and foremost with his dark, sometimes unruly hair, piercing blue eyes and killer smile, but once he’d been taken the rest of the lads had been quite happy to accept his cast offs. Time had also been kind to Danny because, unlike his hometown – the small seaside town of Whitley Bay – Danny had weathered the years extremely well, and despite now being in his (very) early forty’s, he still looked incredible with the body of a man half his age, thanks to tireless hours in the gym.
Ross Nelson, along with Frankie Monroe – two boys from the west end of Newcastle – had been the dancers of the group, the ones with the moves, the ones who had caused the band’s army of fans to scream with delight as they’d spun round on their heads or back-flipped their way across the stage during their energetic gigs. Both of them had been good-looking in a quirky kind of way, very tall and very lean, thanks to all that dancing, but unfortunately the years hadn’t been all that kind to their physiques. Middle-aged spread had come to say hello, and although they were still two fairly good-looking guys, the prospect of any head-spinning or back-flipping wasn’t looking likely these days.
And last, but definitely not least, there was Durham boy Cal Connor. With his green eyes and dirty-blond hair, and a cheeky smile that could melt a girl’s heart all the way over in the back row, he’d been the cute member of the band with boyish good looks that had drawn him a fan club from all over the world. Cal hadn’t been able to put a foot wrong during their hey day. Popular didn’t even begin to describe him, and whenever he’d taken lead vocals on stage the place had erupted with the sounds of thousands of over-emotional girls begging him to take them home and do whatever he wanted to them. Which he had done. Sometimes. As long as he’d been certain they were old enough.
Yeah. Those had been the days. But it hadn’t lasted, of course. Bon Voyage had started to get very tired and very tetchy with each other during their spring 1996 Stretched to the Limit arena tour, which they should have seen as a kind of omen, really, because by the end of that tour they’d all but reached their limit. The rows between Andy and Danny – their relationship had always been slightly on the edge of mutual dislike – had turned into something of a daily occurrence, and jealousy within the band had started to rock relationships even more when Cal had bagged a modelling contract for a trendy jeans company. It soon became evident that Bon Voyage were very much on their way out. Their time was up.
They’d called it a day just before Christmas 1996, causing an outpouring of grief from their loyal army of fans the like of which hadn’t been seen in decades, leaving the boys from the band with the biggest decision of their lives – just what did they do now the pop star dream was over? Because it didn’t take all that long for Bon Voyage to be forgotten. It didn’t take long at all.
They’d all gone their separate ways, with most of them heading back up to their native north east England. Only Andy had stayed in London, settled in a house he’d bought with the more-than-good-but-not-quite-as-much-as-you-might-think money they’d made during their time in Bon Voyage, and tried to forge out a solo career that had lasted until the summer of 1998, when he’d realised that he couldn’t really hack it on his own. His music was being panned, the fans were slowly deserting him, and a more-than-very-public-affair with an infamous glamour model hadn’t helped matters either.
With the money drying up he’d had to look into other ways of making a living, so he’d bought a pub with an old school friend, and whilst it was doing okay, it wasn’t exactly giving him the retirement prospect he’d hoped for. And he missed the fame. He missed it a lot. So, when he’d got a call from a TV production company just a few weeks earlier asking him if he’d like to get the band back together for a reality show that would follow them over the course of two weeks as they performed a series of reunion gigs on a cruise ship sailing the Mediterranean, he’d jumped at the chance. What did they have to lose? Apart from their dignity, reputation, street credibility…
Luckily, with the rest of the band not exactly flying high in the post-boy band career stakes either – Danny had started his own painting and decorating business, Ross had become a landscape gardener, Frankie an insurance salesman, and Cal was a local radio DJ, making him the only one to have retained even a modicum of fame that he could cling onto, even if he was on at 4am – it hadn’t exactly been difficult to get any of them to join him in making their reunion a reality. And, with failed marriages behind three of them (Ross, Cal and Frankie), Danny’s on the rocks, and Andy still free and very much single, nothing was stopping any of them from grabbing this opportunity with both hands. Whatever the outcome. Bon Voyage had faded into pop oblivion, so maybe now it was time for the world to wake up and see that they were back. That was the plan, anyway.
So, here they all were, aboard the MS Atlantica for two weeks of heaven knows what, and this time they were going it alone. This time they were in charge of their own destiny. No manager, not even a record company as yet, but hopefully that could all change if this trip was a success. They’d be getting some excellent TV exposure, the money they were being paid wasn’t bad, and who knew? Maybe Bon Voyage could do what everyone thought was impossible. Maybe they could actually make a comeback, and whip up the same kind of hysteria they’d created all those years ago.
‘Hey, Andy, we’re here,’ Frankie said, calling Andy back as he wandered off up the narrow corridor, wheeling his chrome-effect suitcase behind him. ‘The cabins are here, mate.’
Andy stopped and turned around, wheeling his case back in the direction of their allotted cabins. Home for the next fortnight. ‘Sorry. I was miles away there.’
‘I can’t wait to be miles away,’ Danny said, swiping his key card through the slot on the cabin door, pushing it open with his shoulder. ‘As far away as bloody possible.’
‘Davina giving you a hard time is she?’ Cal asked, holding the door open as Danny wheeled his suitcase through.
‘Like you wouldn’t frigging believe. She’s changed her mind about the divorce now, hasn’t she? Suddenly decided she doesn’t want us to split up anymore, and she says if I still want a divorce then she wants half of everything I’ve got, which – right now – is precisely not-very-much-at-all.’
‘You should have something by the end of all this though,’ Ross remarked, opening the neighbouring cabin door. ‘We could start raking it in again if this all goes well. I mean, loads of 80’s and 90’s bands are getting back together now, aren’t they?’
Danny came back out of the cabin, leaning against the doorpost, folding his arms as he looked at Ross. ‘Yeah, and that’s the whole problem though, isn’t it? When I met Davina I had nowt, when I married her I had nowt – even though it’s quite evident now that she only married me because of who I was and how that might benefit her – and when that didn’t work and I still had nowt, and she still didn’t have that Z-List celebrity career she so desperately wanted, she started divorce proceedings, which I quite happily agreed to, but now – now she’s playing Queen Bitch, saying she’s decided to hold off on the divorce until after all this has finished. She wants to try again, can you believe that? When I had nowt I meant nowt to her, but now there’s the prospect of some cold hard cash on the horizon and maybe – maybe – even a sniff of some kind of rekindled fame, and she wants to try again!’
‘I take it you’re not happy about that then?’ Ross asked, standing aside to let Frankie through into the cabin they were sharing.
‘What do you think?’
‘Okay, look, I think we should all try and get settled into our cabins, maybe have a little bit of a rest, get our heads down for a bit,’ Andy suggested. ‘We’ve got a meeting with the Cruise Director this evening, remember? So maybe we should meet up in a couple of hours or so. In the Show Lounge. I’d like to start getting a feel for the place, you know? Start thinking about routines and…’
‘Routines?’ Frankie asked, somewhat surprised to hear that word mentioned. ‘What? You mean, like, dancing?’
Andy stared at him, kicking open his cabin door, relieved he’d won the coin toss to get the single cabin. ‘Yes, dancing. What did you think we were going to be doing when we got here?’
‘Well, sitting on stools and singing, mainly,’ Frankie replied, looking around at the others for support.
Danny just rolled his eyes and walked back into his cabin, closely followed by Cal, wondering if this was the best thing they’d ever done – deciding to get back together – or the biggest mistake of their lives.
Palma - Majorca
Aimee stood on the dock, staring up at the imposing sight of the Atlantica cruise liner as it towered over her, the searing heat of a beautiful Majorcan afternoon beating down on her bare shoulders as she shielded her eyes from the sun that bounced off the bright white ship in front of her – this all-British, floating holiday resort that was about to be her home for the next two weeks.
As what seemed liked coach after coach continued to pull up on the dock side alongside the ship, the crowd of people all making their way through the terminal building ahead of them and up onto the ship seemed to grow by the second, the ground around them covered in an array of different sized and coloured suitcases, all waiting to be delivered to their respective cabins so that their owners could start planning their wardrobes for the various dinners and long nights of entertainment that were going to take place over the course of this cruise. It was a freestyle cruise – which meant that the dress code leaned more towards the casual than the formal – but dressing up was still very much a big part of this kind of holiday. Especially for the women. And Aimee was no exception. She had a suitcase full of new clothes she couldn’t wait to start wearing.
A mixture of excitement and apprehension coursed through Aimee – excitement because she and Jemma had so needed this holiday, an escape from their okay but not-particularly-exciting jobs at SuperStyle, and apprehension at the thought of her mother joining them, but after losing her father to Mavis Wilson – the bowling club bike, as her mother liked to call her – Aimee thought that maybe she needed a holiday too. Although, after an excruciating flight over from Newcastle where, for the most part, her mother had proceeded to interrogate a rather bemused middle-aged man sitting in front of her who was travelling to Magaluf to visit his daughter, citing the fact that he was proving to be the perfect inspiration for Rock Ransom, the hero in the new romance novel she was writing, Aimee was beginning to have second thoughts.
‘Are you coming onto this ship or not? I’d kill for a cocktail,’ Jemma said, pulling her long dark hair back into a loose ponytail.
Aimee looked at her, smiling, running over to her and wrapping her arms around her in a huge bear-hug, squealing like an over-excited toddler at a birthday party.
‘Oh, Jemma! I am so happy to be here! I can’t wait to get this holiday started!’
Jemma hugged her back, smiling at Aimee, gently stroking her friend’s blond fringe from her pale blue eyes. ‘I know you do, chick. I mean, Robbie leaving like that… it couldn’t have been easy.’
Aimee slipped her arm through Jemma’s as they made their way towards the terminal building, joining the queue of people undergoing the embarkation process.
‘No, well, I had no idea he was going to dump me at our own engagement party, did I?’ She started looking around, suddenly aware that she hadn’t seen Marcie for about ten minutes. ‘Where’s my mother disappeared off to now?’
‘She’s already in the queue, look. Over there. Talking to some dude who looks like that bloke out of Fantasy Island.’
‘Which one? Tattoo?’ Aimee smirked, straining to get a look, wanting to make sure her mother really was about to board the ship because the last thing she wanted to have to deal with was Marcie Marcello stranded in Majorca, bothering the islanders with her tales of heaving bosoms and bare-chested heroes.
‘No, not him,’ Jemma giggled. ‘The other one, Ricardo whatshisface. The tall one.’
‘Oh, yeah,’ Aimee said, finally catching sight of her mother, who was in the process of throwing her head back and laughing – in that coquettish manner she’d recently adopted – at something the rather suave-looking, grey-haired gentleman beside her was saying. And was he wearing a safari suit? Aimee couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen a bloke wearing a safari suit – not since the 1970’s, anyway.
‘Frigging coward,’ Jemma sniffed, squeezing Aimee’s arm.
‘He’s only telling her a joke, Jemma.’
‘Not Ricardo over there. I’m talking about your Robbie.’
‘He’s not my Robbie anymore, remember?’
‘Yeah, well, you didn’t deserve a bastard like that, and he certainly didn’t deserve someone as fabulous and beautiful as you. I tell you, Aimee, after what happened to you it’s convinced me that I really am better off single. Men! We don’t need them, hon. ’
Aimee sighed. ‘I thought it was what he wanted too though, Jem. Marriage, kids, that lovely little semi-detached house we’d looked at near the quayside. I really thought he wanted all of that too. I mean, he said he loved me, didn’t he?’
‘He said a lot of things if it meant he got his own way. I never trusted him.’
Aimee stopped and looked at Jemma. ‘Why didn’t you tell me that was how you felt?’
‘Because he made you happy, Aimee. You’re my best friend and all I want is for you to be happy. And anyway, I honestly never thought he would turn out to be that much of a bastard. I mean, who did? The only saving grace is that your brother Eddie is still determined to track him down.’
They slowly shuffled forward as the queue of people in front of them got smaller and smaller, the embarkation check-in desks now almost within touching distance.
‘It’s over now, anyway,’ Aimee said, linking her arm through Jemma’s again, reaching into her bag for her sunglasses. ‘And what better way to get over a broken heart than to have a holiday?’
‘And what a holiday this could turn out to be. Two weeks of all inclusive fun aboard a fabulous cruise ship… hang on,’ Jemma suddenly stopped, her attention directed towards a handful of people outside on the dock who were surrounded by huge silver boxes that were being opened up, one by one, as their contents were checked over.
‘What’s the matter?’ Aimee asked, following her friend’s gaze.
‘Over there,’ Jemma replied. ‘That stuff looks like boxes of TV equipment and I know what I’m talking about, I was an extra on Byker Grove for a fortnight, remember?’
‘Haven’t you heard?’ A friendly crew member in a white shirt and smart white trousers smiled at them as they approached the desk, handing over their cruise documents and identification – the last step they had to go through before they could finally board the ship.
‘Heard what?’ Aimee asked, more than curious to find out what was going on now.
‘Bon Voyage,’ the crew member – who, thanks to his name badge, they found out was called Adam and was a member of the entertainment staff – said, still smiling.
‘Bon Voyage?’ Jemma repeated, frowning slightly as she looked at Aimee. ‘Bon Voyage as in, Bon Voyage? The biggest boy band of the 1990’s? The boy band we used to love? Hey, Aimee, do you remember that gig in Newcastle back in the early days? We were second row centre and I threw a teddy bear in a tartan hat at Cal Connor only it missed and hit Ross Nelson right between the eyes… hang on…’ She turned her attention back to Adam. ‘Are you telling me that Bon Voyage are here? On this cruise?’
‘For the next two weeks,’ Adam replied, handing them both their all inclusive passes and cabin key cards. ‘They’re filming a new reality TV series charting their planned comeback. They’re doing a handful of gigs over the next fortnight here on the ship, in the Vegas Show Lounge. Okay, that’s you both checked in so, if you’d just like to follow the signs over there to the gangway, you can begin making your way onto the ship. Have a fabulous cruise, ladies!’
Aimee and Jemma walked slowly out of the terminal building, back out onto the dockside, following the line of people up onto the gangway.
‘Did I just hear him right?’ Aimee asked, still clinging onto Jemma’s arm. ‘Did he just say Bon Voyage – our favourite, favourite boy band ever – did he just say they were here? On this ship? For the next two weeks? The same two weeks that we’re on the ship? Did he just say that?’
‘I do believe he did,’ Jemma smiled, a smile that slowly turned into a grin wide enough to please any Cheshire Cat. ‘I do believe he bloody did!’
And all they could do was look at each other, and let out a scream that any Bon Voyage fan would have been proud of.
© Michelle Betham 2012