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.”
.... There is more of this story ...