If you are as much of a hopeless romantic as I am, and you devour love stories on a cold night with a mug of your favorite tea, then I have a goodie for you. If maybe you are a bit Grinchy but your heart hasn’t completely turned to stone, this one’s for you, too. I mean, who doesn’t love LOVE, right?
You know what kills me though? I bet this is a blogger you already know, but I have been sworn to secrecy and so, I will respect that person’s wishes and won’t reveal his identity. Look at that–I guess I CAN keep a secret! Here are his anonymous words–click here for pt. 1, which published while I was in Jamaica.
Okay. Deep breath.
Apologies for breezing through that first chapter like a gymnast on a gallon of Monster. It felt like I had to talk (and write) fast to get all the details in, even when I told people who knew me and had heard of what happened to me and my heart that day in Cancun.
Eliza and I began what would turn out to be an afternoon of shopping, morphing from total strangers to total strangers who behaved like a couple. Once in the store together, I left her side and sought out her sister, who was on the coffee aisle sniffing bags of beans.
“Is this really happening?” I wondered. Eliza’s sister behaved like nothing was unusual. I looked back to Eliza, watched her scoot around the outskirts of the grocery section. Her golden ringlets framing a pretty face, with freckles, a sweet smile and loving blue eyes. She didn’t look crazy.
Did I? She wore a slim backpack and tank top, sweater tied around her waist over leggings and flip flips. “She’s absolutely perfect,” I said to myself, watching this soulful and humble woman who also exuded wonder and playfulness. The fringes of my heart were already crinkling.
She saw me and smiled, directly at me. We walked toward each other, then side by side, bumping shoulders. Slowly, we migrated from her sisters, each checking in on us. On her, really. Eliza strayed farther and I followed. I wanted only to be near her. She wanted to be near me.
Eliza tried on T-shirts, and left her backpack behind. I picked it up, and carried it for several minutes before she remembered it. She mussed up folded T-shirts and caught the ire of the woman in charge of keeping them folded. We spoke little; why would we? We were just … together.
She modeled T-shirts for me and also shorts and coverups. I stood and considered her, watching how the shirt covered her beautiful shoulders or the shorts hung on her lovely hips. I tugged on a waistband and smoothed out shirt wrinkles as if she’d wear these things around me until they wore out.
We perused the festival-painted cookware and touched all the porcelain things we shouldn’t touch and nothing broke. We stood together alone on the toy aisle, her sisters sufficiently ditched. “No one ever wins this game,” Eliza said, holding a wooden tic-tac-toe board, “unless it’s a grownup vs. a little kid.”
“I know a cheat,” I said, and I did. “If I can beat you – I get to see you tonight.” Again, the smile, and I watched in spread across her face as she opened the game right there in the store. “I don’t want to lead you on,” she said, citing reasons most men approached women on holiday in tropical places.
“I can flirt with the best of them, but really, I’m not … you know,” she said, and blushed a little. She had no idea. The feel I had for this day, it had way more to do with a vacation score. “I’m not after that,” I said, and meant it. “What if that were off the table?” I placed a marble on the game board.
I placed it right of center, not in the customary middle slot. She moved next, and I forgot the second move to the cheat I knew. We talked, eyes averted to the game between us, affirming that yes, this was incredible, this day, and no, that I wasn’t a wayward tourist on the prowl.
“I would come to you, dressed up, smelling nice,” I said as we alternated turns. “I’ll bring you a gift, and give you a proper good-bye. I won’t take long. I know you’re here with your family.” I was leaving the next day; her trip had just begun. Just then, Eliza placed the final marble on the board – three in a row.
She looked up at me in shock. “Did you lose on purpose?” she asked. I looked at the board. “Why would I?” I answered. “I wanted to see you tonight more than anything. Anything.” Eliza stared at the board a moment more, and deftly plucked the pieces from their spots. “We’ll play again.”
We talked more, cosmic words, of connection and love and “are you sure this is okay?” God, so much more than okay. I leaned in so that our foreheads nearly touched. We were exactly the same height, our hands fit together like they’d been made together, then sent in separate directions until now.
This time, I won. “We’re even,” I said. “I’m buying this game,” Eliza proclaimed, clutching the game to her heart. “I’m buying this one, because it’s the one we played.” This woman before me, the woman I’d fill a grocery cart with next, wiggled her way directly to the center of my heart.
Her sisters a million miles away, I felt the crinkled corners of my heart collapse on themselves. I walked across a busy Cancun street with my girl, switching hands so that my body faced traffic in front of her. A battered Mazda hugged a curve close to us. “We might have been killed,” I joked.
“What a tragic end,” she answered, and I pointed out that she’d probably survive. My body would take the brunt of the impact, and I’d die saving her. “Who would write the rest of our story, then?” she asked. Our story.
I helped the two remaining sisters pack their groceries in their bags. “You two need to just go get a room,” her sister joked. “No way,” I said, forgetting the context lost on her from the conversation Eliza and I shared over tic-tac-toe. This was more than that. I knew soon I’d have to tell her goodbye.
Eliza’s sister walked ahead of us into a marketplace, sensing our pending goodbyes. “We have to take a picture together,” I said, and we did. Eliza’s phone, not working in a foreign land, was at her condo. “Send me these, please,” she said. We tried on hats from a vendor’s cart, and took one without.
We stood at the center of a worn rotunda of bricks, market vendors peddling the very hats we tried on, and anything else they had. Slowly, they faded, and soon gave up, as we stood in the center and held each other. “I don’t want to let you go,” we said, shocked at the sudden sadness.
“You are incredible,” I whispered to her, and felt her arms tighten around me. Perfect, again. Made for each other, and places in different corners of the world. Brought together at a sun bleached outdoor lunch stand, torn asunder again on terra cotta bricks.
So cinematic. And there was more to come. Those captivating eyes so close to mine, love apparent through a bit of damp sadness. I kissed her once, feeling it too ordinary a path, and so I took that enchanting woman’s face in my hands and kissed her again, tenderly.
I wanted it to last the night and the week and for a lifetime, or at least until I could do it again.
I turned toward my resort, knowing I should text friends to apologize for broken plans. Just then it began to rain, small, persistent drops, from a gray smeared sky. I didn’t look back. Instead, I turned a corner to see just what Eliza had hoped to find that day: A woman selling handmade wares on a sidewalk.
I knelt to pick out what I’d buy, smiling at the woman. She smiled back, and so too did her daughter. The girl – she giggled a little. I probably wore love on my face like frosting you don’t dare want to wipe away. I didn’t dicker on price, picking bracelets for us each, and a small purse for Eliza.
I slid Eliza’s gifts into my pocket and turned up the street, a brisk wind in my hair. I imagined the same wind blowing the sweatshirt around Eliza’s waist, blowing the curls I adored and already missed. I imagined the heart I’d left behind, and the heart I’d taken with me.
Little did I know how much of this love story remained to be seen.