Best Laid Plans: Plotting a Summer Greek Vacation with Friends over Christmas

Joanne returns from the kitchen carrying a fresh bottle of wine. She sidles up to Steve on the couch and flashes her phone at him displaying an email from vacation experts Hellenic Holidays wishing them a wonderful 2019.

“A timely reminder, don’t you think?” she says arching her eyebrow. Steve nods and is about to say something, but is interrupted by raucous peals of laughter from the other side of the living room. Joel, always the life of a party, is performing a pitch perfect impression of their old college dean, a man whose deadpan superciliousness was the punch-line of many a retelling of their student-day antics. The others, Ravi, Nina and Melissa gaze at him with amusement.

“Disciplinary measures will follow post haste,” Joel says mimicking the dean’s slow, careful diction. “But first put some garments on this young man. He is nude and, quite clearly…very cold.”

Joanne and Steve join in the laughter. They always enjoy these reunions with their closest friends over the holidays, although they have become ever harder to organize due to the work and family obligations that invariably grow with age. The sweet simplicity of their student days seems almost inconceivable now, just a decade later.

Still, the couple have a secondary goal for hosting this holiday get-together, one that Steve is beginning to fear may be left unmet if he does not regain control of everyone’s attention.

“C’mon guys! We’re still playing Pictionary. Joanne’s up.” he says.

“Didn’t we stop that half-an-hour ago?” Joel replies, adding, “You know, when my team won?”

“It’s tied actually,” Steve says. “But you guys can maybe pull ahead now if you stop sucking.”

The group retake their places and he picks out a card, makes a show of looking at it, and whispers something into Joanne’s ear. She gives him a quick smile. “Interesting,” she says. She signals two words and then on the large drawing pad quickly begins sketching a large shape.

“A hand!” one of her teammates yells, but she brushes away this suggestion. She surrounds the large shape with blobs some small, others big.

“Hail!” “A storm!” “The calm before the storm!” “Damp cave!” All of these suggestions are dismissed by Joanne with increasing levels of frustration. “This is atrocious,” says Steve. Finally she draws a small triangular figure near the blobs – a sailboat surrounded by islands – and waves her arms at the whole picture.

“Oh, I see,” says Ravi, “Greece?” Joanne points at him excitedly and quickly moves on to the second word but their time is almost up. Frantically she draws a dome with a stickman under it but once again her team is lost in the woods. “Greek food!” “Greek revolution!” “Zorba the Greek!” “Greased lightning!” they flail but Steve finally calls time on them.

“It was ‘Greek Vacation,’ you guys!” Joanne says.

“Oh, GREEK VACATION!” cries Joel dramatically. “Then why is that guy being impaled?”

“He’s under a beach umbrella!”

“I thought he was being impaled too,” says Nina.

“You also thought that I was drawing ‘the calm before the storm’ Nina!” Joanne laughs. “And, a: that’s nowhere near two words, and b: what of ANY of this gave you that idea?”

Nina flushes, “It was a hunch,” she says quietly as the others laugh.

“Terrible as that performance was,” Steve interjects, “it does put us on to a subject that Joanne and I would like to discuss with all of you.” The group quietens as all turn to the couple expectantly. A pregnant pause fills the room.

“That subject being?” Melissa asks.

“The calm before the storm?” Joel volunteers.

“Greek vacations!” Joanne answers. “Specifically the amazing Greek adventure that we all in this room are going to start planning right now for the summer!” The suggestion hangs in the air for a moment and there is silence except for the holiday music jingling softly in the background.

“Wait a minute,” Joel says. He stands up and snatches the Pictionary card still in Steve’s hand. “This doesn’t even say ‘Greek vacations’, this is a set-up. And you,” he says pointing at Steve, “are a devious gamesmaster. That last round doesn’t count!”

“Fine, I will deduct the point that you didn’t win,” Steve replies.

“Good,” says Joel. “But about the Greece thing, I’m in. Sounds incredible, I’ve always wanted to go.” They exchange high-fives and Steve is delighted. Yet looking around the room he sees others more thoughtful. Ravi in particular seems very still.

“The thing is,” Joanne says, “is that we had the most amazing honeymoon there last summer. It was everything we hoped for and more, but we realized that one thing was missing. You guys.”

“Aw J,” says Melissa, always the most easily moved of the group. “I would have loved more than anything to have been there on your honeymoon. Wait, that sounds weird.”

“Well let’s all have a group vacation this summer! Greek Vacation summer 2019! Are you in?” Melissa nods.

“Nina and Ravi?” Steve asks.

Ravi coughs gently and leans forward. “Well the fact is that this is a little embarrassing. You see, after seeing all of your posts from your honeymoon, Nina over here has been on my case for us to go to Greece this summer too. I have told her that it will be very difficult.” He pauses and the rest of the room looks crestfallen. Nina stares at her shoes.

“But,” he says choosing his words carefully, “There is something that she doesn’t know. And that is that I was planning to surprise her with a trip just as soon as I sorted out the details.”

“Really?” says Nina looking up suddenly. He nods at her and she throws her arms around him.

“And what have you planned, Ravi?” Steve asks.

“Well – you see that’s the embarrassing part – nothing really yet as I’ve been meaning to ask you for advice, but haven’t had a chance. You see, you have now both ruined my surprise and made my life much easier.”

“The surprise has only been made more wonderful,” Nina assures him.

“So we’re going!” Steve cries and excited whoops and high-fives are exchanged.

“The next item of business is to decide where we want to go. And it would be better to do that now that we’re all together. The thing is that there are so many places. I mean there are over 150 inhabited islands. And then you have Athens, the Peloponnese and Crete which technically is an island but is actually a whole world of its own. We obviously can’t do it all but with say, two weeks, we can easily pick two or three destinations.”

“Ok, democracy,” says Joanne. “On the count of three we all say the place we most want to go.” Steve winces at this suggestion, fearing that it will only add to the confusion, but Joanne is already counting.

“…three!” she says. They all shout at once and, predictably, no two answers are the same. Even Joanne and Steve, the plan’s masterminds look at each other in confusion.

“I thought we agreed on Naxos,” Joanne says to him slapping him on the arm.

“I thought we agreed on definitely Crete and maybe Naxos as well,” Steve replies.

“What’s a Naxos?” asks Joel, “And how can I be the only person to say Mykonos?”

“I read an article online about Sifnos recently and it sounded amazing,” Melissa replies.

“I’ve been to Mykonos,” Nina says, “And Milos is supposed to be gorgeous.”

“I did not know that,” Ravi says, “But isn’t Santorini the ultimate see-before-you die island?”

“I think we’re going to need some more wine,” Steve says.

“The calm before the storm indeed,” Joel says, sitting back on the sofa. “This is going to be fun!”

To be continued…