Juan’s my chauffeur from airport to hotel. With the briefest glance at my ring finger, he hands me his card. He has a surfer’s body with visible tattoos and a shock of dark hair he continually flicks back from his forehead.
‘Where’s your famous Cancun sunshine?’ I point to threatening clouds.
‘Sorry, we never have this, cómo se dice, this clima here. You come from?’
‘Much snow there, no? Is good here normalmente.’ He looks at me in the rear-view mirror. ‘I take you sightseeing before storm, okay?’
He’s fast and direct. I try business-like. ‘Are you picking up my boyfriend, Roy Clark, at 6:00?’
He’s unfazed. ‘Sí. But we go see town before storm. Yes, pretty senorita?’
I twirl his card. ‘I’ll call.’
Mom says I’m attracted to bad boys. ‘Your problem? You tend to waste your time with men who won’t commit or those who’re unreliable. Not one was worthy.’ She reminds me of my abysmal choices: Amit, who was in college for six years, didn’t get a degree, never found a job; Gus, who lived with his parents at age 30.
She says Roy’s perfect and enumerates his qualifications—good looking, lawyer, financially sound. Besides, he doesn’t wear jeans.
Last week, he jotted down Mom’s number in his planner. I also heard him call the Cancun hotel and ask for a florist. One of my rings is missing. He’s a meticulous planner, yet no good at subterfuge.
A problematic legal case now delays his trip to Cancun.
I receive his frantic text: Frustrated and stuck in Houston. I hear a storm’s brewing? Flight status unknown.
He doesn’t add: I miss you. I love you.
Juan calls from the lobby. ‘You wanna go? You pay me nothing.’
‘It’s not…’ I begin.
The weather’s turning and Juan’s offering to show me around. I’ll pay him, we’ll be even. Where’s the problem? I’ll sit in the rear seat, erect a subtle barrier.
I take the front passenger seat, loosen the too-tight knot of my silk scarf.
He’s attentive and flirtatious. His hand hovers around my waist, not touching, yet tantalizingly close.
At lunch, he helps me choose tacos. Later, we get shaved ice flavored with a pinkish liquid. I giggle when I drop a chunk down the front of my blouse.
‘Nice to hear you laugh. Is pretty like you,’ he says.
Heat billows from the base of my belly.
Roy doesn’t do giggles.
It’s a pity reliable and steady are separated from easy-going and fun.
The clouds look ominous.
‘I want take you to Música Cancun.’ Juan’s serious.
‘Música festival. You like?’
His arm has come to rest on my shoulders, fingers resting just above the swell of my breast, crossing into a familiarity I should protest.
When I turn around, I’m cocooned within his arms, his breath warming my lips.
‘Let’s get back.’ I’m emphatic.
He asks if it’s the thunder.
I’m petrified of what’s raging inside me.
Another message from Roy: Staying in Houston tonight. It’s been a horrible day. Will catch earliest flight out of here tomorrow.
All night the skies unleash a frightening torrent. By sunrise, the roaring sea has flooded roads, water nips at the hotel’s gates.
Juan calls to say he has my scarf. I ask him to leave it at the front desk.
Mom would be proud.
When Roy proposes, I’ll gasp in surprise, perhaps squeeze out a tear. He will extend a velvet-covered jewelry box containing the ring. At that point, I must cover an ear to quell Mom’s voice of disapproval so I can say what I have to say.
‘I’m so sorry, Roy.’
SUDHA BALAGOPAL’s short fiction appears in Wigleaf, New Flash Fiction Review, Jellyfish Review, New World Writing and Necessary Fiction among other journals. She is the author of a novel, A New Dawn.
More at www.sudhabalagopal.com