Freshly minted grad Emilia Noble arrives in Costa Rica to teach English in the tropical community of Pacifica. Its carefree, pura vida lifestyle is a welcome contrast to her dark and wintry origins. Tossing caution aside like an old winter coat, she plunges headfirst into an exotic cocktail of sensory pleasure. Diego is a local whose surfer body and cool detachment make Lia buzz with a long-lost thrill. Fascinated by her new environment, she can’t help but wonder about the moody inner workings of the boy with triceps like Wolverine and a grimace to match. Diego seems to have no problem ignoring Lia, though. Caught up in his family’s conflicted attitude toward foreigners, he notices her only when it’s convenient. But as Lia thrives in her new surroundings, Diego might just find reason enough to defy his embattled, insular father. When north and south are mixed together, the results are intoxicating.
Diego approaches at last. Dead serious. Christ, that’s a big man. He’s next to me, standing so close I feel the heat of his body. His body. I don’t dare look directly at it or my head will turn into a big, red factory whistle with steam shooting out, like in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. “Emilia Noble, this is Diego Valverde.” Jose’s accent slurs a little, the hard edges of the English words sticking together in the tropical heat. Funny to have such a formal introduction in such a leisurely setting. I picture us all wearing striped ties with our swimwear. My heartbeat pulses in my throat, an invisible necklace with a throbbing pendant. I smile tentatively, craning my neck because he is almost a foot taller than I am. Don’t be intimidated. I want to be as lucid as possible, considering at least sixty percent of my brainpower is devoted to not mounting him like an overzealous cowgirl. “Lia,” I say too loudly. Me Lia. You Diego. I can has your biceps? My hand goes out automatically. We both look down at it like it’s a curious urchin, coral nails like anemone. Finally he takes it. Between us for those few seconds it’s comfortable, warm, and strong. Our palms touch, and in a way we’re holding hands. Mano en mano. And that’s it. We are officially People Who Know Each Other. But it’s going downhill. His expression is irritated and distracted, like I’m inconveniencing him with my presence. When he finally, really looks me in the eyes, I’m startled by how loveless his gaze is, cool hostility sharpened by pale gray irises. Like the sky when you’ve stayed up until daybreak. He’s covered in smooth, youthful skin, but his muscular system is a man’s, with a wide, toned chest and broad shoulders that slope down and then curve back up at the ends like a hockey player’s. His skin glints. Flecks of quartz sand. Good god. It’s all a bit much, so I pull my hand away. I have to think of something to say to this stud in case this is a lucid dream. “How’s it going?” I manage. I’ve forgotten all my Spanish. Classic. I’m hyper-aware of the tone of my voice, how my lips move over my teeth when I speak. I’m not wearing a spot of makeup; I wasn’t planning on running into a dreamboat-surfer Valverde. And makeup at the beach is bullshit, anyway. “Pura vida,” he says without much life at all. … He shifts his weight uncomfortably, looks into the distance, and runs his fingers through his grown-out surfer hair. One forearm is covered in black ink, a tattoo of moons or planets in orbit, looks like. I want to ask him about it, but I don’t. I’ve already looked for too long. Barely nodding at us, he walks off toward the bathroom facilities without another word. I may have scared him off, but I can’t help but feel confused and hurt. Is that it?
~*ABOUT THE AUTHOR*~
Audrey O’Connor can’t help but color outside the lines with big, bright markers. She’s fascinated by the influence of popular culture on the female experience and inspired by creative boldness and the breaking of the dumb rules women are supposed to follow. Audrey lives in Chelsea, Quebec, where she can be found DJ-ing at local events or scanning a cafe for outlets for her laptop.