by Jackie Calhoun
Much to her surprise, Olivia Langley falls into bed with Bri Killington on the last day of vacation in Costa Rica. This unexpected turn of events changes Olivia’s busy and mundane life into one that is demanding but exciting. Finding time in her crazy work hours for her two daughters and her mother and Bri proves to be almost impossible. But her passionate encounters with Bri are the bright spot in Olivia’s otherwise stressed-out existence.
However, life keeps throwing coincidences at Olivia, including a new perspective on an old friend…
Dazzling strands of light shimmered, rippling as the waves rolled over. Olivia Langley had slathered every bit of bare skin with sunscreen before putting on a long-sleeve SPF shirt. A visor shielded her face, and she sat under an umbrella, its pole jutting through a small table. Still, the sun’s heat penetrated the fabric. She wasn’t meant to live in Costa Rica. These people were dark skinned. She was a Norte Americana from Wisconsin.
“Would you like pretty ring or necklace, miss?”
Startled out of her reverie, she squinted through dark sunglasses at the boy standing next to her chair. Dark skin, dark hair and eyes, he was one of locals. He carried a large rectangular box fastened by straps front and back that crossed over his narrow shoulders. The box was open, revealing chips of turquoise and coral set in Mexican silver.
She patted the chaise lounge, indicating he should sit. “Let me look.”
While she studied the rings and necklaces, picking up a few to see them better, he shared her shade.
“What is your name?” she asked. “Where did you come from?” He would not be allowed to walk through the Seven Seas compound or any of the resorts lined up along the hot sand facing the Pacific.
“I am called Luis. I live in Tamarindo.” He gestured behind him, indicating the scrubby hills beyond the compounds on the other side of which was the road.
She picked out two necklaces, one with a coral pendant set in silver and one with turquoise. “Cuánto?”
“Twenty dollar and I give this.” He picked up a leather necklace with a light green fish pendant. “Pretty, sí?”
“Sí,” she said, not even bargaining. He might think her a fool, but she was charmed. He spoke English when she knew only a few words of Spanish.
“You like shirt?” he asked, plucking at his T-shirt with the words Pura Vida on it. “I have some.” He shrugged a bag off his shoulder and reached inside for the shirts.
She laughed and he laughed too, his teeth white against his skin. “Why not?” she said. She bought a T-shirt from every place she traveled, and she would buy two more for the girls. When he left, she watched him trudge through the sand to another umbrella under which a woman was reading a book. He’d charm her too, she thought. But the woman shook her head and he walked away.
Olivia turned back to her book. She had seen this woman the evening before, eating dinner with three other women. It had been difficult to keep her eyes off the four of them, because they seemed to be having such a good time. One of the women was quite beautiful.
Olivia was at an all-inclusive resort with her two daughters, Isabelle and Sophie, who had pushed their food around their plates and fidgeted in their chairs until she told them they could go. They had disappeared into the beautifully dying day to look for the two brothers they had met, leaving her alone in the soft evening breeze with her dinner and her thoughts.
Izzy, her oldest, had cried the day they arrived because she missed her boyfriend, Ben. Her distress irritated Olivia, since they would be back home in ten days and the trip had been meant to be a spring vacation treat. It was their dad who had all the money. He had paid for their daughters’ flight and room so that he could go off to Saint Lucia with his honey. When Izzy and Sophie met the Johnson brothers from Minnesota, Ben seemed quickly forgotten.
Sophie was sprinting across the sand toward her, her blond hair frizzy in the humidity. She danced up and down next to her mother’s chair. “Hot, hot.”
Olivia thought of Luis walking barefoot from umbrella to umbrella selling his wares. Although close in age, he and her girls were worlds apart, not just in distance either. “What is it, sweetie?”
“George and Edward are going zip-lining and they asked Izzy and me to go with them. Can we?”
Olivia began stuffing her things into her bag.
“Mom, you don’t have to go with us. His mom and dad are going too.”
“What if one of you got hurt and I wasn’t with you? Where are they?”
“They’re at the place where the bus let us off when we got here.”
George was handsome and not more than a head taller than Izzy. He had gorgeous hair and fine features. Izzy laughed at almost everything he said, funny or not. Olivia cringed at this display of uncensored appreciation. Edward sported a crew-cut and was about the same size as his older brother. He shot sly glances at the others from under thick lashes. Sophie giggled at nothing. Were her girls going to turn into a couple of fools when guys paid attention to them?
Graham Johnson, the boys’ father, wore a polo shirt and khaki shorts with lots of pockets. He gave her a gracious smile when she introduced herself.
When they arrived at the zip-lining place, Izzy and Sophie went off with the two boys. Olivia tagged along with the boys’ parents, who seemed nice enough, but she felt like a hanger-on. She and the older Johnsons laughed when trying on the helmets. Olivia’s kept falling over her eyes.
“Allow me,” Graham said and fastened the straps under Olivia’s chin before turning to do the same for his wife, Sally.
“Our kids seemed to have hit it off,” Sally said with a friendly smile. She was cute and petite and blonde. “Why don’t we stick together?”
So they followed their children down a well-worn path to the base of one of the tall trees. Monkeys jumped from branch to branch far above them. A ladder led to a platform where her girls and the boys stood.
With some alarm, she watched as two Costa Rican men fastened her daughters into harnesses and sent them whizzing over the underlying canopy to another tall tree with a platform. Izzy screamed as she dangled over the green foliage, one hand clutching the harness, the other the cable.
When it came Olivia’s turn, one of the men said “Hasta la bye-bye” and gave a shove. She resolutely kept her eyes from looking down. Afraid of heights, she clutched the cable so tightly with gloved hands that she slowed and came nearly to a halt before remembering one of the young men warning, “You can get stopped if you hang on too tight.” The last thing she wanted at the moment was to be stalled between the two platforms, high above the forest floor. On the other end another man caught her before she crashed into the platform and sent her flying off again.
When she had zipped to the third tree, another man with a big smile unhooked her from her harness. There was a little souvenir shop at the end where they were offered something to eat and drink. Before they boarded the bus again, the Minnesota boys’ father took a picture with her camera of her and her daughters under a banana tree.
On the way back to the resort the driver stopped and the tour guide, a young dark-haired, dark-skinned man, left the bus to return with what he said was a cashew. The cashew was inside a green shell, which was attached to what looked like a red pepper. The guide said the green shell was poisonous and had to be roasted to release the cashew, the real fruit. The accessory fruit, the look-alike red pepper, was called a cashew apple and could be made into a drink. The guide passed the fruit around. Fascinated with what seemed like a bizarre piece of knowledge, Olivia asked Sophie to hold the fruit while she took a picture.
Happy to be back at the Seven Seas, she and the girls made a brief stop in their room to discard the T-shirts and shorts that had covered her one-piece swimsuit and the girls’ bikinis. Their room was one half of a little house with two beds, two dressers, a table with two chairs, and a large bathroom. Outside was a shared porch with chairs and a table at each end and an ocean view out front. Intersecting paths connected the cottages and the other buildings.
Before they hurried out, her daughters said, “See you later, Mom.”
“Six thirty,” she said and went back to the beach.
She found a chair under an umbrella table and sat down with a sigh. As she pulled her book out of her bag, the woman who had waved Luis away earlier that day, one of the four women at dinner the night before, asked if she could take the other chair.
“Thanks. You have beautiful daughters.” The woman had short dark hair laced with gray and wore a bikini that barely contained her glistening skin. She had a nice tan.
Surprised that she had even noticed her and her girls, she said, “Thanks,” her lips cracking as she smiled. How nice, she thought.
She watched as the woman dragged the chair to the table where the other three women waited. The woman who had taken the chair shuffled a deck of cards and dealt. The four sat on the sides of their chaises and played a game. The day was almost windless. Olivia turned back to her book, another heartbreaker from Anna Quindlen.
At first she used the beach towel to dab at her eyes and nose when she fought back tears, but finally she walked into the ocean and pinched her nose in the water. She cried at movies, too, a sucker for a sad story. She stood for a moment, looking out at a cruise ship, as the receding waves sucked the sand out from under her feet. The heat of the sun forced her all the way into the water. She was not a strong swimmer and was doing her version of the breaststroke, where she stayed afloat but hardly went anywhere, when the four women ran into the water ahead of her.
They began throwing a ball from one to the other, talking and laughing loudly. She stopped swimming and began treading water, which was easier. When the ball splashed next to her, she picked it up and tried to throw it back but it only went a few feet.
One of the women half-swam half-walked to where it landed. “Thanks,” she said before plucking it from the water and throwing it at least four times as far to one of her waiting friends.
Mortified, Olivia made her way out of the water and returned to her chair and book. She was weeping while reading, again wiping her nose on the beach towel, cursing for not having any tissues, when Izzy found her.
Her daughter was dressed in shorts and a cotton top with spaghetti straps. “Mom, it’s almost seven.”
She looked up and down the deserted beach. One of the Seven Seas employees was gathering abandoned glasses and bottles. “I lost track of time. I’ll go get dressed. Where is Sophie?”
“With George and Edward. Can we eat with them, Mom, since you’re going to be so late?” Izzy’s thick chestnut brown hair was carelessly fashioned into a French braid, the escaped pieces visible in the backdrop of sunlight. The rest of her was cast in shadow.
She sighed. A few years ago Izzy would have clung to her. Now she was on a fast track to independence. She missed that little girl. “Of course.”
In her room Olivia showered and dressed in a skimpy skirt and top and dried her short brown wavy hair, which the humidity was turning into frizz. She peered into the mirror, and smoky blue eyes looked back at her out of a sunburned face. She walked toward the buffet, feeling very alone. On the way she spied a toad as big as her hand off the stone path. An iguana stood next to the dining room steps, still as a statue, one of the iguanas that sunned near the tourists during the day. She loved the way the native wildlife seemed as much a part of the resort as the people. That very day she’d seen one of the Costa Rican men return to the water a sea snake stranded on the beach.
She filled her plate at the buffet with beans and rice and fish, drizzling Lizano Sauce over all. She would come back for the wonderful fresh fruit. Her daughters and the two boys were seated at a table overlooking one of the three swimming pools. She headed in the other direction and found a table next to a half wall from where she could see the ocean. The huge orb of sun was slipping toward the water.
As she ate, the four women came into the dining hall and began filling plates. They sat not far from her. She couldn’t help but eavesdrop. As she listened, her gaze lighted on the one who was so beautiful. They were talking about going on a trip to the volcano. She hadn’t signed up for the trip because it took up a whole day and the girls were not interested in going—not unless the Johnson boys went too. She reminded herself to ask a friend to come with her next time she took a trip. But whom would she ask? Her friends had dropped away because she worked twelve hours a day, six days a week. She had no time for them.
With alarm she noticed the woman who had borrowed the chaise get up and start toward her table. She knew she was going to ask her to join them and scrabbled mentally for an excuse. Before she came up with anything, the woman was standing next to her. She had a nice smile. Good teeth. With capris and a T-shirt on she looked fit. It was the too small bikini that had made her appear a little fleshy.
“Why don’t you join us?” she asked, looking down at Olivia, who could now see her eyes—a rich brown.
Olivia smiled. “Thanks,” she said, “but I have a table with a great view.”
The woman continued to look at her as if assessing her excuse. “In that case, may I join you? My name is Sydney Killington.” She pulled out the other chair and sat down.
Olivia laughed nervously as she told her name, alarmed by this woman’s assertiveness and wondering why. Hadn’t she been lonely a short time ago?
Sydney put her tanned, well-muscled forearms on the table and looked into Olivia’s eyes. “Are you having a good time with your daughters?”
Olivia glanced across the room but could no longer see Izzy and Sophie and the boys. “I’m in love with the beach and the ocean and books. So, the answer is yes.”
“Have you gone on any trips?” Sydney asked.
“And did you like it?” Sydney looked amused. Her mouth twitched.
“I don’t care for heights much. It was great seeing monkeys, though.”
Sydney laughed. “Stay here. I’ll get my food.”
Even if she had wanted to get up and leave, she couldn’t do anything so rude. So she ate her rice and beans and took a sip of wine and stared at the ocean as the sun stained the water. People were lined up on the beach with their cameras, taking pictures. She had already done that.
Sydney slipped into the chair opposite and set her plate down. She nodded toward her friends. “They are disappointed that you don’t want to join them.”
Olivia glanced at the other women who were laughing at something and again sought out the one who was so striking. She said wryly, “I don’t think so. I am going to get some fruit.” When she returned, another woman had pulled a chair up to her table.
“This is my friend, Jeanne Winters. Jeanne, Olivia Langley.”
“Call me Liv,” she said and shook the hand pointed at her. Jeanne had long, grayish brown hair, fastened by a barrette at the base of her head. Her face was smooth and round and her ginger-colored eyes smiled when she did. Olivia liked her immediately.
“We are rounding up people for volleyball tomorrow,” Sydney said. “Will you play?”
“You wouldn’t want me on your side.”
“Then you can be on the other side.” Sydney’s eyes shone.
“Try my daughters or those boys they’re with,” she suggested.
“The idea is to get the old girls together,” Jeanne said with a smile.
“Well, this old girl ducks when the ball comes her way.” Olivia wiped her fruity fingers with a napkin. The sun hung on the far lip of the Pacific, like a giant yolk.
“Where do you live?” Jeanne asked and added, “I ask everyone that question.”
“Wisconsin. The Fox Cities,” she said. “And you?”
“Green Bay.” Jeanne grinned.
“Small world.” When the waiter appeared at their table offering coffee, she said, “Please.”
Jeanne returned to the other table after going back to the buffet, but Sydney remained.
“What do you do at night here?” Sydney asked.
“Watch the sun set and read.” Or she sat on the small porch, listening to the night sounds.
“The staff puts on a show—singing and dancing—pretty good for amateurs.”
“I saw it the first night we were here. Is it different every day?” She leaned back in her chair, smelling the ocean, listening for the waves.
Finally, Sydney left with her friends. They were going to take a taxi into town to enjoy the nightlife.
Olivia breathed more easily. Even though loneliness nipped at her heels, she actually liked being alone. There were so many good books to read and so little time. Besides, other couples felt more comfortable if you came in a twosome. Although warmly embraced by her best friends, she had felt excluded and patronized in equal parts since her divorce. She had concluded that married couples felt threatened by a single woman.
She walked to the beach and sat down on one of the chaises that hadn’t been brought into the compound. The warm air felt like a caress after the heat of the day. When she and her girls had stepped off the plane onto the tarmac, they had walked into the furnace that was Costa Rica. Of course, the country was only twelve degrees north of the equator. She got up and made her way along the lamp-lit paths to her room.