Cancún. To the average traveler, it seemed a tropical paradise on Earth. To Josh Sanders, however, it was merely a reminder of what could have been and what almost was. As the plane screeched to the ground, finally ending the nearly three hour flight, Josh kept his eyes turned towards the window, watching the airport speed past him as they slowed. He dared not look at the empty middle seat of his row.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain. We have now arrived at Cancún International Airport, local time four o’clock in the afternoon. Temperature is a humid eighty-five degrees. Please remain seated as the flight crew prepares the cabin for arrival.”
Josh relaxed for the next several minutes as the plane taxied up to the gate, turning his cellphone back on and texting his parents to let them know he was safely on the ground. Luckily, his cell phone provider didn’t charge roaming fees in foreign tourist areas, as long as he reported his travel plans to them. Finally, the wheels stopped and the flight attendants opened the doors to the exit ramps, and the passengers began to stand and grab their bags from the overhead bins. Unfortunately, Josh was near the back of coach, and the plane was nearly empty as he finally was able to make his way up to the exit with his backpack. The flight attendants were, admittedly, very attractive, and their cheerful demeanor seemed more genuine than with other flights he had been on in the past, but the bubbly blonde thanking him for his patronage was the furthest thing from his mind at this point.
Throughout his journey through the airport terminal, Josh seemed in a daze the entire time. Nothing excited or irritated him, not even the long line in the customs department. Happy couples abounded all around him, each excited for their vacation in paradise. As he waited at baggage claim for his suitcase, a delayed text message from during his flight finally came through.
I miss you, babe. Come on, just speak to me. We can figure this out.
Shaking his head, Josh simply ignored it and pocketed his phone, grabbing his suitcase from the luggage belt. Swiftly extending the handle, he made for the airport exit and arrived at the pick-up lanes. With a wave of his hand, the nearest taxi pulled up, the driver enthusiastically placing his bags in the trunk and opening the door for Josh.
“Where to, Señor?”
“Huh? Oh, um ... Hotel Azteca,” Josh muttered in reply. Moments later, as the cab moved out to the main road, he began to doze in and out of consciousness.
“Ok, we’re here!” the cab driver said.
“Oh! Ok then!” Josh replied, being startled awake.
Rubbing his eyes momentarily, he pulled out some money and paid the driver before exiting the cab to collect his bags. After slinging his backpack over his shoulder and grabbing his suitcase, he turned to the entrance of the hotel, only to be horrified with what he now saw.
“Wait ... this isn’t the right place...”
The building in front of him bore a sign reading “Motel Azteca.” The motel itself looked like the worst sort, where rooms were booked by the hour, rather than the night, and reservations were unheard of. As Josh spun around to catch the cab driver, he cursed in frustration to find that the man had already taken off.
“Wait! Come back, dammit!!!”
It was no use. All of a sudden, Josh was alone in Mexico with no clue which direction he needed to go in. As this realization set it, he felt the all-too-familiar anxiety and fear flaring up once more. Josh reached into his suitcase for the little bottle of pills he always kept nearby, opening the cap and popping one into his mouth. He was so desperate for it that he didn’t even need water to get it down easily. Taking a few moments to catch his breath, he slowly began to feel the medicine’s effects help ever so slightly, allowing him to focus on what he needed to do next.
Josh walked the street up and down for a few minutes, looking for any sign of a cab that could get him back to where he needed to be, but with no success. By the look of several signs, he had ended up in a poorer area of Puerto Morelos, rather than the Cancún resort area. After about fifteen minutes, he had finally traveled far enough up the road to reach an area of town that appeared relatively safe for tourists. Josh soon felt his journey catch up to him, particularly in the hunger department and, spying a nearby bar covered by a straw hut, he figured that would probably be his best bet. Taking a seat at the bar, he ordered a plate of nachos, one of his favorite comfort foods. As he waited for his food, Josh was completely oblivious to the individual moving to sit next to him.
“Well, hello there, sailor. Can I buy you a drink?”
“Derek? Derek Brooks?! Dude, it’s great to see ya!” Josh exclaimed, greeting his best friend with their traditional fist bump.
“Likewise, my friend,” Derek replied in his Tennessee accent.
“What the hell are you doin’ here?”
“My band’s here for a music festival this week. They’re goin’ on all summer.”
“Nice,” Josh replied with a grin. “Bring some good country music down here to Mexico.”
“Yep. Hey, bartender! Two bottles of Corona please!”
“Aww ... you remember my drink of choice. How sweet,” Josh mocked him.
Punching his shoulder playfully, Derek replied, “Dude, you’re so lucky I know you as well as I do. Gotta be honest, I’m glad you decided to come.”
“Yeah, I debated about it, but ultimately decided on my dad’s advice: waste not,” Josh said, raising his bottle.
“Here here!” Derek agreed, clinking the glass of their bottles together.
Not bad ... not bad at all.
Rebecca Juarez sat at a table in the corner of the beach bar, indulging in one of her favorite activities: people watching. Frequently, however, she would be the one being watched, as she did realize that she was quite a beautiful woman. Still, almost all the guys that typically approached her were direct from the same cookie-cutter: tall, good-looking, but total assholes that cared nothing about the brain beneath her pretty face. Glancing around the bar, most of the men there in the early evening appeared to be cut from the same cloth. All except for one, however.
A man about her age, maybe twenty-eight, sat at the main bar, sipping on a Corona and chatting with another man next to him. He was clearly a tourist, with his bags seeming to indicate that he had just gotten off the plane, and he had appeared nervous and stressed from the moment he walked in. The guy was clearly out of his element, at least until he began talking with the man next to him. As soon as he saw the second man, his face absolutely lit up, showing a glimmer his true personality at last. The pair clearly knew each other, and Rebecca had surmised from the guitar pick necklace around his neck that the second man was part of the band that would be playing later on.
Though the first guy was certainly not the typical manly-man with rugged good looks, Rebecca found herself attracted to him nonetheless. He looked somewhat overweight for his height, maybe 225 pounds and just over six feet tall, she guessed. His black hair was short and curly, and his face was outlined a thin goatee and mustache. With his pale white skin and tall socks and tennis shoes, he was the very mental image of the typical American vacationer, wearing a navy polo, khaki shorts, and a Georgia Tech baseball cap. Yet, all of his quirks and awkwardness melted away in her eyes when she saw him smile and laugh with his friend for the first time. That smile brought out a feeling she hadn’t experienced in such a long time: arousal. Still, she wasn’t sure if she should proceed or not.
Jeez, he really looks like a nice guy ... awkward, but honest. That shell of his is gonna be tough to break, but I bet it’d be worth it ... for both him and me. But how to do it without hurting him? I know it’s been a year, and I’m more mature now, but is that enough? If I break his heart, I’ve learned nothing at all. God, what to do?
As she mulled things over in her mind, Becky saw the two men say their goodbyes for the time being. She sauntered across the room towards the taller man, watching him begin to set up his band’s equipment.
“So, what kind of music are we getting tonight?” she asked the musician.
“Country, ma’am. Real Nashville country,” he replied with a grin. “Name’s Derek, lead singer and guitarist of the Derek Brooks Band.”
“Pleasure, I’m Becky,” she smiled back. “Listen, I actually wanted to ask you about your friend over there. Is he ... available?”
With a slight laugh, Derek replied, “Yeah, he’s single. Why? You interested?”
Nodding, she replied, “He seems sweet, and I can only assume intelligent, what with the Georgia Tech hat.”
“You’re not wrong there. Damn smart guy, that one. He’s really shy, though, and it’ll take some coaxing to get him to open up. Although ... I think getting to know a smart girl genuinely interested in him would do him some good. You fit that bill, ma’am?”
“I think I can manage perfectly. Thanks, Derek.”
“No problem. Oh, Becky, one thing.”
“What’s that?” she asked.
Sighing, Derek said, “He’s my best friend in the world, and he’s been through more shit than he deserves. If you hurt him-”
“I won’t,” she said quickly, yet sincerely. “You have my word.”
Sitting alone at the bar, Josh quietly sipped his Corona and munched on his nachos. He figured that he wouldn’t spend much longer here, just enough to finish his food before calling a cab to take him to the correct hotel. It seemed a bit of a waste, as it was only early evening by that time, but his journey and unexpected detour had completely drained him. Besides, the last thing he needed was another anxiety attack. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a gorgeous woman chatting with Derek across the bar, no doubt smitten with the good-looking musician.
Continuing to devour his meal, Josh got careless with one of the nachos, and a large glob of cheese dripped from the chip and onto his polo. Swearing and cursing under his breath, he grabbed a napkin and dabbed at the spot, but knew damn well that he wouldn’t be able to get it out until he got home in two weeks, in all likelihood. As his frustration began to boil into anger at himself, his thoughts were interrupted by a sweet giggle from a few seats down.
“Careful, they go everywhere.”
Looking up, Josh was stunned to see the gorgeous woman from earlier seated just around the corner of the bar. As she flashed a huge grin and ran her fingers through her dark brown hair, Josh could barely find the brain function to speak. She appeared to be of Hispanic descent, yet her voice carried not even a hint of accent. He surmised that she must not be a local. As he drank her in, she smoothly stood and made her way around the bar, giving him an incredible view of her navy sundress, complemented by a slightly ornate silver and gold necklace.
“I ... um, hope you d-didn’t hear ... any of that,” Josh stammered.
“The cussing? Please, I’ve heard much worse.” Gesturing to the seat next to him, she asked, “May I?”
“Uh, sure. I-I mean, if you, ya know, want to?” Josh could feel another anxiety attack building up, though different from the one from earlier. This one wasn’t born out of fear or anger, but excitement and confusion.
“Thanks,” she replied, taking a seat. “Now then, if I’m not mistaken, it looks like you just arrived, am I right?”
“Yeah, pretty obvious,” he said with a laugh, seeing his bags on the floor next to him.
“Well, this is far from my first visit to this part of the world, so allow me to welcome you to Cancún, stranger.”
Giggling, she asked, “So, are you gonna tell me your name, or do you just want me to call you ‘stranger’ all night?”
All night? What’s that supposed to mean?
“I’m, uh, Josh. Josh Sanders.”
“A pleasure, Josh. Rebecca Juarez, although you may call me Becky,” she replied, extending her hand.
Afraid that merely shaking her hand would trigger the anxiety attack he had been fighting the last several minutes, Josh simply took another sip of his drink, trying to pass it off as coincidence. Despite his natural ineptitude around beautiful women, he was determined to avoid screwing this conversation up for as long as he was able to.
“Good to know you, Becky.”
As he was constantly avoiding eye contact with her, Becky could tell that Josh was still extremely uncomfortable, though he was trying. None of it frustrated her, though, as she found his mannerisms sweet and genuine, rather than bumbling or oafish, as others might. Taking notice of his baseball cap once more, she decided to try and relax him by asking about something familiar to him.
“So, is that Georgia Tech?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah. I survived it, and it only took five years,” he laughed.
“Yep. Trust me, at Tech that’s a good time. ‘Course, anyone who graduates is a success there, no matter how long it takes.”
“Wow, that hard?” Becky asked.
Raising his Corona, Josh said, “They don’t call it Architorture for nothing!”
“Architorture?! Was that your major?”
“At first, ‘til I realized I wouldn’t survive it with my sanity intact. Switched to computer science and engineering after freshman year.”
“And what does one such as you do with that degree?” she asked inquisitively.
Shaking his head, Josh replied, “Eh, techie stuff, pretty boring overall.”
“Oh, come on! Tell me,” she prodded, playfully running her finger on his forearm as she did so.
Acquiescing, Josh said, “Well, my strength was always hacking code, basically the DNA of a computer system or program. I work for the Georgia Tech Research Institute in the cyber security department. Companies hire us to inspect their computer programs and do everything we can think of to break them and find the flaws, then design counters to stop ourselves.”
“Wow, so you’re like those guys people hire to break into their homes so they can design better home security systems.”
Damn, she understood all that! Nice...
“Yeah, that’s basically it,” Josh replied. He could slowly feel his anxiety subsiding with the revelation of this woman’s intelligence; she was clearly more than just a rockin’ body.
“So, can you show me anything that you do? I mean I know we don’t have a computer here at the bar, obviously, but can you describe it?”
Thinking for a moment, Josh suddenly got a fantastic idea for a demonstration that he had used in the past. “What kind of phone do you have?”
“An iPhone 6,” Becky said, pulling it out of her purse.
“May I see it, please?” Seeing her eye him warily, he continued, “Don’t worry, I’m not gonna do anything to hurt it, I promise. And if I tried to run off with it, I guarantee you’d catch my fat ass before I got out the door!”
Laughing heartily, she relinquished her phone to him.
“Alright then, I see you have it passcode protected,” Josh observed.
“Of course, and thumbprint locked.”
“So, that’s pretty good security, right?”
Smirking, Josh said, “Watch this.” Holding down the center button, he managed to pull up the Siri voice commands without unlocking the phone. “Siri, who does this iPhone belong to?”
“This iPhone belongs to Becky Juarez.”
Becky’s eyes widened as Siri began to display her name, phone number, email address, and even her street address. “Holy shit ... I had no idea that was possible!”
“Not many people do. But there’s an easy way to stop it, even while leaving the Siri capability on. Here, try it with mine,” Josh said, handing Becky his iPhone 6s.
“Siri, who does this iPhone belong to?”
“This iPhone belongs to George P. Burdell.”
“Who’s George P. Burdell?” she asked with a laugh.
“Only the most famous nonexistent student in Georgia Tech history. A bunch of students originally conjured him up as a prank back in 1927, and his popularity has stuck ever since. Supposedly, he’s earned every degree Tech offers, once served in the military, and was nearly TIME Magazine’s ‘Person of the Year’ in 2001. His name is basically a giant inside joke among Tech grads.”
“Nice. So how did you make your iPhone think that it’s owned by him?”
“Easy. I just created a dummy contact in the phone, then went into the settings to make that contact the one the phone recognizes as the owner.”
“Huh, so if I do this...” Becky fiddled with her phone for a few minutes before trying the Siri trick once more, this time being told the phone belonged to Eva Longoria.
“Nice! You catch on fast.”
“I try,” Becky replied, blushing a little.
“So I take by your lack of accent that you aren’t a local, is that right?”
“Yep. Born and raised in Corpus Christi, Texas,” Becky said. “Though my father and grandfather were from this area. They helped build up my great-grandfather’s tiny shrimping business into the top fishing company on the peninsula. Though my grandfather and uncle stayed behind to keep running the business here, my father soon moved to America to open up the Texas branch, to great success. It wasn’t long before he met my mother, Madison. They fell in love hard and fast, and the rest is history!”
“Impressive, I do love a good American Dream story. Do you work in the family business too?”
“No, I actually decided to go my own direction,” Becky replied. “I’ve always been fascinated by jewelry and precious stones, so I got my degree in gemology from the University of Kansas, mainly from the awesome scholarship they offered me, and now work in the diamond business in Kansas City.”
“Very cool. Isn’t that stressful work, though, being on commission and pressured to sell?”
“Not at the place I work. We aren’t on commission at Shane Company, and I only sell about half the time. The other half I apprentice with the owner, working to repair and evaluate our merchandise. I’m hoping to be able to own my own store one day.”
“Ah, that’s ... cool.”
Becky detected a hint of something in Josh’s voice, but she couldn’t be sure what it was. Regret perhaps? She had no idea what would cause that, but decided not to force that issue at this time. By now, Derek’s band had cranked up the music and the bar was filling up with more patrons.
“Your friend’s really good,” she said to Josh.
“Yeah, he’s always had a real talent for that.”
“I can see. Wanna dance?”
Josh nearly choked on the last of his drink at her question. Though their conversation was coming more easily to him now, the thought of dancing with this goddess, touching her, holding her, feeling her warm body rubbing against his, it was enough to nearly cause him to panic right then and there. His mind raced as he tried to think of a good excuse to slip away, but nothing smooth came to mind.
“I, uh ... I, I, I ... don’t really dance.”
Running her hand through her soft, silky hair, she stared straight into him with her warm, brown eyes and smiled. “Really now, Josh. You’re on vacation in a tropical paradise, and a beautiful woman is asking you to dance with her. You’re a smart man. What’s the problem?”
The problem’s that this shit never happens to me! Seriously, this has to be a setup or something...
Though he thought this might be a prank, he didn’t want to hurt Becky’s feelings, so he kept those thoughts to himself. Instead he replied, “Look, I’m just ... a really awful dancer. I’d probably embarrass you, at best. Worst case, I’d crush your feet.”
Giggling, she replied, “I’d say it’s worth the risk. But, I totally get that some people need a little liquid courage before hitting the dance floor. Manuel? Two shots of Cuervo please!”
The bartender quickly brought two shot glasses forward for them. Becky gave a naughty look before expertly downing hers, slamming the glass back onto the bar. “Your turn,” she said expectantly. Josh hesitated for several seconds, debating in his head as he frequently did.
Don’t do it dude, you know you can’t hold hard liquor!
But she’s hot, and she wants to dance! With ME!
And what if you puke all over her?
Well ... I’ve had food, and the Corona went down smooth. I think I’ll be alright.
Your funeral dude...
Fuck it. Just go with it.
Sighing, Josh took the shot in hand and slowly put his lips to the cup. He at first made the mistake of trying to go slow, instantly tasting the foul sensation of straight tequila. Throwing his head back, he sent the rest down his throat without any of it hitting his tongue, his eyes bulging as he slammed the shot glass back down on the bar.
“Whew...” he said, coughing slightly. “That’s strong.”
“When in Mexico,” Becky replied slyly. “Now, come on hot stuff.”
“Wait ... what?”
Before Josh could even think of protesting, Becky had her hands on his arm, pulling him from his stool and out towards the area in front of the Derek Brooks Band. Josh tried to slip away once, but Becky merely used the attempt as leverage to take his hands in hers, turning him right back around to face her once more. For all of his hesitations, she was not letting him out of this one. After the first song, Josh began to feel a bit more comfortable, distracting himself by concentrating on not stepping on or running into Becky. It was immediately clear to him how much fun she was having, as every sway of her hips was accompanied by a fun, flirty grin, followed by the occasional hair flip. Through it all, her eyes never left his.
Soon, however, the moment Josh had been dreading appeared. Derek’s band slowed their groove to a soft ballad, perfect for slow dancing. As Becky moved in closer, Josh began to sweat and pant, feeling another anxiety attack coming on. Yet, when she began running her hands up his arms, Josh found that he was strangely able to suppress his fear in that moment. Smiling at him, Becky leaned in close and whispered into his ear.
“You’re not gettin’ away that easy.”
As Josh’s mouth started to go dry, he felt Becky moving his arms around her, his hands now at her back. Though he was a tall 6’3”, her 5’10” frame was nearly equal to him with the heels of her shoes. Soon, Becky had wrapped her arms around his neck, her face mere inches from his. Strangely, Josh began to feel a spark of courage within him, one that might well have been the Cuervo, and he began to softly run his fingers on the exposed portion of her back. To his amazement, she didn’t recoil or balk in any way, simply smiling right back at him and running her fingers through the back of his hair. He could feel her breathing intensify, and saw her soft lips hanging ever so slightly open.
Does she ... want me to kiss her?
Only if you want to get slapped, dude.
If she was gonna slap me, she’d have done it already.
You’ve managed to avoid embarrassing yourself so far. Don’t chance it.
Fuck it. Just go with it.
Drawing on his liquid courage, Josh decided he might as well give it a shot; he was on vacation, after all. He kept his gaze directly on hers, looking into her brown eyes as she stared straight back into his. After a moment, she blushed slightly at his attentions, but still refused to look away. Taking a deep breath, Josh began to slowly move his face, closing the gap between them, preparing to taste her supple lips for the first time.
“Mamasita! Where have you been all my life?” a voice suddenly called out.
A tall, muscular Hispanic man had suddenly grabbed one of Becky’s hands and twirled her around, removing her from Josh’s arms. Josh was very confused, his mind still gearing up for the now-interrupted kiss.
“E-excuse me?” she asked, trying to back away from the man.
“I’ve been coming to this bar for years, but never have I seen such an incredible beauty. Carlos Herrera,” he said, pulling her close once more. “What say the two of us find somewhere private? These tourist areas can get so crowded with annoying Americans.”
Backing up once more and ripping her hand away from his grip, she replied, “I’m American, you jackass!”
Laughing, he shot back, “Maybe for now. But once you experience Carlos, you’ll never wanna go back!”
“Ow! What the fuck? Let me go!”
“Now, now, don’t be a tease. I’m gonna make this a night you’ll never forget. You’ll thank me when it’s over, even if you don’t now.”
As Carlos grabbed her wrist roughly, Josh suddenly felt his anger begin to boil inside of him once more. Normally, a strong, athletic guy like this would completely scare him off, but Josh saw the look of hunger in his eyes, and the look of fear in Becky’s. He knew he’d lose if it came to blows, but he also knew what would happen to Becky if it didn’t. Josh hated fighting; he simply was not a confrontational person. Still, he knew there was no other way. Collecting his courage, he stepped between the pair to face Carlos.
“Back off, dude.”
With a slight laugh, Carlos replied, “Very funny.” He tried moving Josh aside gently, but Josh was having none of it, and moved right back to where he was.
“I said. Back. Off.”
Staring him down, Carlos shot back, “And just what do you think you’re gonna do about it, you fatass gringo?”
“Just move on, dude. There’re plenty of hot girls here, and this one’s clearly not interested in you. Stop wasting your time.”
Nonchalantly, Carlos said, “Ok. Be it never said that you didn’t ask for it.”
Faster than he could react, Josh was suddenly struck in the stomach by Carlos’ fist. The blow wasn’t excruciating, but definitely knocked the wind out of him, dropping him down to one knee. Carlos then drew back to strike at Josh’s face, though his punch was partially deflected by a desperate swipe from Josh. All the while, Becky begged Carlos to stop, slapping his shoulder as hard as she was able, but to no avail. For all of his scrappy flailing, Josh was clearly outmatched by the stronger and more tenacious Carlos.
“Josh! Hang on, man!”
With the commotion on the floor, Derek’s band had stopped playing for the moment, and Derek himself immediately jumped down to help his friend. After first pushing Carlos from the side, getting him out of Josh’s face, Derek quickly helped his friend to his feet. Not a moment later, Carlos had recovered and charged the pair, targeting Derek with a haymaker. Though not as muscular as the Hispanic man, Derek was in decent physical shape, and managed to dodge his first few attempts. Unfortunately, Carlos soon switched to a grapple, wrapping Derek in a bear hug and attempting to body slam him. As Derek desperately punched at Carlos’ head to try and break free, Josh courageously jumped on Carlos’ back from behind, holding on for dear life as he tried to break the man’s grip on his friend.
This technique proved more successful than any would have guessed, as Josh’s heftier body quickly threw Carlos off balance, forcing him to release Derek and turn his attention back to Josh. With Derek struggling to get to his feet, Josh was now one-on-one, defending against Carlos’ enraged onslaught. He desperately tried to protect his midsection and face, but was soon becoming overwhelmed by Carlos’ punches. The last thing he remembered before blacking out was Carlos grabbing the back of his neck and slamming his forehead into the edge of a table.
Uh ... huh? Where ... am I?
Josh awoke in a comfortable, Queen-sized bed, the room dim but with sunlight peaking in through the window blinds. This definitely looked like an actual bedroom, rather than a hotel, but he couldn’t be absolutely sure. Slowly sitting up, he began to get his bearings and immediately felt a throbbing pain in his head, jogging his memories of the night before. Everything had gone so crazy, with the cab ride, meeting Derek in the bar, and easily the most incredibly smart and beautiful woman he had ever met dragging him onto the dance floor. That is, until some asshole had tried to drag her away, resulting in a bar fight between Josh, Derek, and this mysterious loser.
Well ... at least I survived ... not like I’ll ever see her again.
Throwing off the white bed sheets, Josh stood beside the bed, finding he had been stripped down to his boxers. Still unsure of what was going on, he looked around the room and found a note on his suitcase, now open and empty.
Josh, sorry but your clothes got drenched by a few flying drinks in the chaos last night, so I’m washing them for you. There’s a robe in the closet; feel free to use it.
Inspecting the nearby closet, Josh found a large, black robe, very soft and comfortable to the touch. Slipping it on and tying the knot, Josh still wondered just where he was. Perhaps this was where Derek’s band was staying? No, that couldn’t be it. He had mentioned they were all crammed into a single hotel room together. Running out of potential answers, he sighed and made his way out into the hallway. There, his nose immediately caught the pleasant aroma of bacon being cooked, drawing him towards the kitchen. As he finally arrived into the open, modern living area, the incredible sight before him stunned him speechless. An exceptionally beautiful brunette, wearing nothing but a black spaghetti strap tank top and a pink pair of panties, stood at the stove, dancing to Arianna Grande from her iPhone as she cooked the bacon.
She quickly turned, flashing the huge grin on her face.
“Morning, sleepy! How you feelin’?”
“Um ... ok, I think. Just ... very confused,” Josh replied.
“Not surprising,” she said with a cute giggle. “I’m just glad you’re ok.”
After she had finished plating the last of the bacon, Becky then grabbed a bowl of biscuits from the oven, bringing the food to the table.
“Have a seat! Breakfast is served!”
“Ok.” Josh sat and cut his biscuit in half, beginning to butter it. “Um, what exactly happened last night?”
“Well, you remember the fight with Carlos, I assume.” Josh nodded in reply. “After he knocked you out, Derek and Manuel, the bartender, finally managed to restrain him and kick him out. Manuel’s apparently had problems with this guy in the past, because he gave his picture to his security staff afterward. Anyhow, you were out cold, but your pulse was totally normal and your eyes dilated just fine, so you didn’t have a concussion. Truthfully, I don’t think Carlos hit you hard enough to do any real damage, but you should still see a doc when you get back to America, just to be sure.”
“So, you didn’t take me to the ER?”
Becky shook her head no. “I may not be a native, but I know enough to know that, even in a tourist area, you do not want to go to a Mexican emergency room unless absolutely necessary. Too risky. So, once we had determined you just needed to rest, I volunteered to bring you back to my place. Derek’s band didn’t have any room in their hotel, and neither of us knew where you had reservations. He’s a really good friend, by the way. Didn’t trust me at first; I mean, after all, his buddy was knocked unconscious in a foreign country, and a woman he didn’t know was volunteering to take him home. Derek helped me get you into a cab and rode with us to my place, just to make sure I wasn’t lying. We got you inside and into bed, and the rest is history.”
Josh was completely dumbfounded by her kindness. “Why would you do that for me? I’m a fat, American loser who got trashed in a bar fight. That’s not the sort of guy women want to go home with.”
Becky blushed slightly, saying, “Josh, you stood up to a stronger person than yourself just to get him off of me. It doesn’t matter to me who won the fight; I only care that you were selfless enough to get beaten up so Carlos wouldn’t be able to do the same to me.” Her eyes turned quite serious as she continued, “Besides, you know just as well as I do what Carlos would have ultimately done to me if you hadn’t stepped in.”
“I’m ... trying not to think about it.”
“I know, me either. Still, both you and Carlos showed your true colors last night, and based on all of that, I would genuinely and honestly choose you each and every time,” she said with a gorgeous smile.
“Huh.” Josh couldn’t believe what he was hearing; this beauty was actually into him, and only him. Nothing that asshole last night could have done would have made Becky choose him over Josh.
“So, umm ... I saw your note about my clothes.”
“Oh yeah! Really sorry, but in their struggle to restrain Carlos, Derek and Manuel accidentally spilled some drinks, first onto you, then one of your suitcases. Your clothes are drying now, though.”
“It’s cool. Nothing you did to them,” Josh replied. “But ... I did notice I woke up in just my boxers, though. Did you...”
“I didn’t peek. Promise!” Becky said, holding her hand up like she was in court. “Not that I wasn’t tempted, of course,” she admitted, flashing a mischievous grin.
She was tempted?! Is she serious?!
Becky sauntered off momentarily to check the laundry, while Josh shook off his confusion and began taking the dishes into the kitchen, loading up the dishwasher. He figured he could at least clean up, since she was kind enough to cook breakfast for him. She returned a moment later and plopped down on the leather sofa in the large living room just off the kitchen.
“About twenty minutes left on your clothes. Come sit with me! How’s your head?” she asked.
“Still kinda hurts, but not awful, I guess.”
“Thought that might be the case. Here, I brought some Tylenol,” she said, handing Josh the bottle as he sat on the other end of the sofa from her. “Rest up, and we’ll go out to the beach once your clothes are done.”
“We?” he asked.
Giggling, Becky replied, “Of course, silly. What does anyone come to Cancún for? Gorgeous beaches filled with half-naked people.” She slid across the sofa to sit closer to him. “And this girl want you to get half-naked and take her to the beach.”
Becky playfully ran her fingers up his arms and leaned in closer, intending to give Josh the prime opportunity to kiss her. For some reason, however, he instantly got a look of fear and completely recoiled from her touch.
Holy shit ... this is too real, too fast...
Dude, you’re still hung up on her?!
It’s too soon ... this is too much...
You need this, dude. More than you realize.
I can’t. Not yet...
Fuck it. Just go with-
“Josh? You ok?” Becky asked.
“Huh? Oh, yeah. I’m fine,” Josh said, his inner debate interrupted.
Becky was not convinced. “Listen, I know we only just met, and I don’t want to pry too much, but the look on your face was not someone who was ok. It was a look of ... terror. What’s wrong?”
“It ... it’s nothing. Nothing to bore you with. Just something I have to deal with.”
Seeing him begin to shut her out, she decided to try a different tactic. “Can I tell you something really personal?”
Unsure of where she was going, Josh simply nodded in reply.
“With my fun, outgoing, and flirty personality, most people peg me as a player and a heartbreaker. Unfortunately, it’s kind of true. I’m always the one to break up with someone else, and now that I’m a bit older, I feel really awful about how many good guys I’ve hurt over the years.”
“Well yeah, but you recognize it now. That’s the important thing, right?”
“I wish that were enough. Problem is, I’ve never forgiven myself for what I did to my last boyfriend, Luke. He was a great guy, genuine and honest, just like you. He was totally in love with me, and I was with him. Problem was, I could never bring myself to admit it. I was too afraid of becoming vulnerable and having my heart broken. When he proposed to me ... I said no.”
“Why?” Josh inquired.
“Because I was so focused on self-preservation. I played defense with my heart so much that I completely missed a chance for real love and happiness. I had always thought that if I guarded against heartbreak, I’d never be unhappy. Turns out, I just proved myself wrong...”
“What ... what happened to him?”
Sitting back with her head held low, Becky replied, “I don’t know all of the details, but apparently his life began to spin completely out of control. Lost his job, tried to pawn his car title to make ends meet, and ended up completely in debt. Then, I saw a post on Facebook ... it was his mom posting on his profile. He ended up taking his own life.” Choking back a tear, she continued, “That was over a year ago. Since then, I’ve blamed myself for his death. My refusal to open up, be vulnerable and admit my true feelings for him; all of it contributed to his passing. That’s why ... I almost didn’t approach you last night. I’ve tried to change how I live and love, but I was still petrified that I might end up hurting you, too. Sorry for throwing all of that on you, but I’ve had the weight of my ‘shields’ on my mind for such a long time.”
Sighing, Josh decided there was no going back. “Trust me, having your shields down is no picnic either.”
“How so?” Becky asked, feeling him open up a bit more.
“This vacation ... was supposed to be my honeymoon.”
Becky blinked twice, taking in what she had heard. “Come again?”