Eduardo Rafael Lopez spent his first of fifty-four hours of work that week gelling his hair into short, neat tips. He smiled wide in the mirror, inspecting the whiteness of his teeth, whether his gums had receded more from compulsive brushing. A dab of thick cream on his crow’s feet and a wink at his reflection completed his routine. He stepped out into the white-washed stone hallway which had already been cleared of its perpetual dust of sand. Eduardo took the long way to his morning meeting, passing by the sprawling pool which was glittering in the heat. A few guests were already strutting around in their bathing suits, soaking the still-gentle morning rays into their darkened skin and making towards the breakfast buffet. He would join them soon enough.
When Eduardo arrived the staff lounge was empty, the many bodies scrubbing, scraping and smiling the resort into readiness for the day. He passed through to the meeting room, where his coworkers in tailored white uniforms were seated in a semicircle around his boss.
“Can we start?” the boss, a large man with a pristinely shaven face, shot towards Eduardo. “Now that our prince is here—we are doing day 54, dry schedule.”
Unfazed by the reprimand, Eduardo grabbed his lone binder off the shelf with one finger and settled into an empty chair next to Mitzy. The seven members of the entertainment staff pulled out their thick blue binders in unison and flipped though the laminated schedules. Eduardo kept his closed on his lap, wondering how many times in his life he had performed day 54, dry schedule.
“We have Tres Luces coming again for the fire and water show tonight. By now you should all know the procedure for welcoming and accommodating them.”
The team lowered their eyes and pretended to listen, or mouthed his words as the boss launched into procedure. Eduardo yawned through his nostrils and draped his arm comfortably across the back of Mitzy’s chair. He glanced at her from sideways eyes, appraising her pert posture and focus. How much she had changed, he thought, since she arrived—energy but no discipline, a college grad from Mexico City. She knew things from books, but what did that matter here? Here he could learn everything he needed to know about the world. He liked to think he’d helped her along. She received the bosses’ rare praise that day for her pool aerobics performance, a routine Eduardo had taught her. He watched as she lowered her eyes, hazarding a tame smile to herself alone.
“Eduardo.” The boss called him back as the team filed out of the room, and shot him a wry smile. “We got three more compliments on your service last week. Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.”
A fast-paced American pop song boomed out of two speakers near the main pool, traveling over to the beach where people dozed beneath rustling palm umbrellas. Mitzy shouted “Ready everyone?” from the pool’s edge and energetically started the warm-up for aerobics. The people bobbed in the shallow water as they followed her every movement, waving their arms over their heads and moving their heavy legs in time with the beat of the music. Eduardo emerged from the white granite lobby and observed the scene from the top of a wide set of outdoor stairs. A swirl of pools, restaurants, and minibars formed the elegant backyard of the all-inclusive resort, his kingdom. Eduardo looked out beyond to the clear aquamarine waters which hemmed it all in, these few thousand square meters in which he lived his life. The sky and sea created a bubble you could trace with your hand if you wanted to.
Only a moment had passed; Eduardo snapped out of his revere as a guest greeted him, and his big personality reemerged. He glided down the stairs to the aerobics group and jumped in, flawlessly matching the choreography as Mitzy flashed him a smile.
“Let’s hear it for Eduardo! Keep going everyone!” Mitzy shouted as they dipped and moved double-time. A faint whoop went up among the crowd.
Eduardo grinned, naturally this time, looking out at the people nearly jiggling out of their bathing suits. He appreciated that they were willing to make fools of themselves on vacation. A woman in a zebra-print bikini squealed as a bartender squirted her with water from the soda gun. Watching her he jumped into the water and turned his back to the crowd, his deltoid muscles popping and twisting beneath his oiled-up skin.
The up-tempo music transitioned to a slower song, and Mitzy yelled, “Okay everyone, now come hold hands and make a circle!” Eduardo wound up next to the zebra woman and laced his hands with hers beneath the water.
“Young and alone. It’s not right,” he said. As the young people slowly formed a circle, Eduardo kept the woman off to the side with their hands still interlaced. “Senorita, why have I not seen you at Desires?” he said, referring to the evening lounge.
“It’s no fun there. We tried to sneak out to the other resort last night, but we got caught.”
American. He’d thought so. Mitzy gave the instructions for half of the group to lay on their backs, and the other half to walk in a clockwise motion. Eduardo and the woman joined the group, and he pulled her along on her back.
“How old are you, Senorita?”
“Guess,” she said. Her long hair pulled into a long thick strand in the current.
“You really think so?” She wrinkled her nose. “I’m twenty-one.”
“I didn’t want to insult you.”
“And how old are you?”
“Seventeen,” she answered, but Eduardo just laughed.
He cornered her after the exercise, claiming her hand again, stroking it with his thumb. She looked back at him, unfazed, like she was used to men coming after her. “What’s better, here or at home?” he asked.
“Here, of course. I mean, just look at it.”
“I do look. I live here. Where is home?”
“I’m from Pa.—Pennsylvania.”
“Oh, yes,” he said, giving her hand a hard, excited swing. “I know Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, right? I’ve been there, you know. I’ve met many people from P. A.”
She looked down and gave a muffled smile, like she was laughing at him. “Me too,” she said. Eduardo was silent, thrown off by the unexpected response. He looked directly into her eyes, trying to smolder or stun her, but she glanced away, loosening her grip on his hand.
“You should come to Desires tonight. So we can talk more,” he said.
“Yeah, maybe,” she said, floating away. “It was nice meeting you, Eduardo.”
He watched her as she joined up with her sister on the beach before he stepped out of the pool. He ducked into the nearby towel stand, taking a long draw from his water bottle. Mitzy and two workers were chatting and handing tan towels to dripping guests.
“Nice moves,” the towel guy snickered to him, but Eduardo ignored him completely.
“Mitzy,” he said, leaning next to her. “How spectacular you are.” He bumped her lightly with his hips, imitating her moves.
“Thanks,” she said, “but I think you stole the show. They love you. Especially that one.” She jerked her curly head toward the beach, where Kayla and her sister were talking animatedly. They glanced in his direction. “Is that your new girl?”
“What is this, new girl? I was being nice to her. It’s my job, mi cariño.”
“But you’ll take her out.”
“The boss’ orders,” Eduardo protested, his hands raised. “You could get on his good side that way. What do they say? Fraternize. Besides, if I could really take someone out, it wouldn’t be her.”
Mitzy nodded slightly, gazing at the breathtaking ocean view in front of her. “I should get back. Goodbye, boys.”
Eduardo spiked the ball over the net, landing it squarely in sand in the center of his five opponents. The opposite team managed to return his next serve, but Eduardo and his partner Jesus touched the ball three times before sending it back for another score.
“You think you’re so cool just because you do this all the time,” a teen yelled jokingly from the other half of the court.
“Yes, I do,” Eduardo said, before aggressively spiking the ball. He felt his frustrations coursing through his body, and finally he didn’t have to smile. He set Jesus up for a spike, but Jesus flubbed the ball, and it dribbled harmlessly to his feet; it looked like he was barely trying. “Are you serious, man? You knew that was coming!”
“Scale back,” Jesus said, with his back to their opponents.
Eduardo spied his American friend over Jesus’ shoulder, and called “Senorita!” She waved uncertainly from across the beach. He took the ball and pushed it to his friend’s chest before walking away. He grabbed Kayla’s hand and pulled her toward the ocean, saying “Let’s take a walk.”
“Are you okay?” she asked. “You look heated.”
“I don’t like losing.” He smiled ruefully. “Change my mind and tell me about where you’re from. I like to know everything.”
She didn’t know what he wanted her to say, but she started to talk about her friends and where she lived, and he was encouraging so she kept talking. Eduardo listed off all of the popular bands that he knew and she said she knew them, too.
“You have a beautiful life,” he said. “Like a dream.” He stopped to stroke her fleshy cheek with the back of his hand, feeling its softness and firmness. Kayla started, her face growing pink beneath his touch.
“Not always like a dream,” she lightly disagreed. “And what about your life? You haven’t said anything about it.”
Eduardo thought about it before shaking his head, and kicked at the shells borrowed in the sand. “It’s exactly what you’d imagine. Nothing to say.” He kept on walking.
“There has to be something,” she said, catching up to him.
“You want to know what I do? Okay. Let’s go dancing tonight. It’s a short walk from the resort. You bring your sister and I’ll bring my friend. I’ll show you what I do. It’s the best way to spend your last night here.”
Unexpectedly, she said, “Okay.”
Eduardo retreated into the shade to eat his dinner—his usual, a tasteless hamburger that his coworkers made fun of him for eating. He was watching her, uninterrupted as she talked to her sister on the beach, turning her toes into the sand. There was something so carefree about it, almost childish, turning in your toes like that. He found himself unconsciously mimicking the motion as he studied her, unsatisfied.
“Are you in love?” He felt a hand on his shoulder and placed his atop the full shot glass. He smoothly pushed it away from him as Mitzy claimed the chair next to him, and she pretended she didn’t see. “How’s the new girl?”
Eduardo choked back the anger rising in his chest as Kayla and her sister left their lounge chairs. Finally he said levelly, “It’s not like that.”
“I know—you can’t help your charm, right?”
He looked at her blankly, her intelligent gaze roaming his face, the small, quick features, the dark beauty of her shiny brown irises. He focused on her words with difficulty. “You know, it’s funny,” he said, drawing himself up to his normal stature. “All anyone wants to do is be here,” bringing his finger down in front of him, “And all I want to do is be out there. It’s the place that’s charming, not me. I’m nothing without this place. Never forget that.” He’d never thought it before but the words felt true as he was saying them.
“I thought you liked it here?” Mitzy looked wounded, all trace of her joking tone gone. “You shouldn’t call yourself nothing.”
“And that’s what I am, mi cariño. You’re better than this. I never wanted you to figure that out.”
She just stared at him unhappily, like she regretted coming over in the first place. He lowered his eyes, retreating, inviting her to leave. She climbed out of the chair, but before she left, she said, “I think it is you who needs to figure yourself out.”
Torch flames reflected dimly on the ocean that night as the three men from Tres Luces pounded heart-stopping rhythms on big watered drums lit with colored lights. Each stroke shot bursts of color in the night air, colors that mixed together in Eduardo’s vision as he splayed himself upon the sand and hugged his legs to the warmth in his chest. He had somehow managed to introduce the show; adrenaline was pumping through him. He picked out Kayla’s pale face, alternatively lit by flames and cast in shadow, and forced her to meet his eye. They didn’t have to meet in secret but it was better that way. Sneaking past the parents like two teenagers. He giggled. They met outside of Desires, along with Kayla’s sister Meg and Jesus.
As they walked, Kayla babbled in elementary broken Spanish, and Eduardo urged her in amusement, “Keep speaking, Senorita.” He thought of the most difficult word he knew and taught it to her, laughing wildly as she stumbled over each syllable. Meg and Jesus walked arm in arm behind them in contented conversation. Soon they entered the hot, excited club, where locals and foreigners alike danced with the fever of vacation and booze and Saturday night. Jesus bought a round of drinks, and the girls were excited and the boys took a round of their own.
“Come on, Senorita,” Eduardo said, taking Kayla’s hand. “The night is young and so are we.”
He pulled her onto the dance floor, with Meg and Jesus in tow. Drops of sweat fell down his temples as he moved, letting his body take him over. Kayla couldn’t keep up, so he spun her around and around, attracting the attention of the floor. The girls danced and the boys took another round, saluting each other with tequila shots. Eduardo spied Mitzy from across the room, shyly swaying in a long skirt, but beaming. He felt her notice him as he went back to dance with Kayla, dancing more fervently than ever, but this time he could barely hold her up.
“I’m so tired, Eduardo,” she said.
“Senorita,” he answered, unmoved. “The night is young, and so are we.” He didn’t know whether the room was spinning, or he was.
“My friend.” Eduardo suddenly felt Jesus’ hand on his shoulder. “We should go.”
“I’m not going.” Louder, he said, “I thought you could keep up with me? We never stop the party here!”
Jesus leaned into him and said, “Don’t forget your position.” He inclined his head toward the two sisters, who looked worn out and a little anxious.
Eduardo finally nodded, submitting, his head throbbing and he gently took Kayla’s hand and led her out. He listened to her talk as they walked home, registering nothing. Suddenly he realized that he never wanted to see her again. He kissed her on the cheek and thanked her at the edge of the resort. Kayla waited, as if she was expecting something more. Eduardo felt her searching his dull, blinking eyes before she asked, “I’ll see you, tomorrow, right? I’m leaving at noon.”
“Of course, Senorita.”
Jesus and Eduardo turned back from the main resort, following the road a short way before turning onto a side street with a row of double-decker apartments still within the gates. It was late; Eduardo felt the booze and dancing settle sadly on him, giving his muscles the deep ache that seemed to creep in more every night.
“You have off tomorrow, don’t you,” Jesus said.
“Goodnight,” Eduardo answered.
They had stopped in front of his door, a skinny little split-home. Things were neatly tucked away in the living room-kitchen combo, and the scalding scent of cleaning fluid met his nose as he passed by the kitchen. He used the restroom, and examined himself in the medicine cabinet mirror as he scrubbed his hands. Still wet, he used them to mash down his hair which had frizzed out after a long humid day. The yellow top light was hitting him strangely, strongly. Eduardo leaned in, his visage shaking but every flaw defined, his face deflating before his eyes. He rubbed his face vigorously, trying to flatten out the lines. His fist struck the surface of the warped mirror. Sharp bits embedded themselves in the side of his hand; the rest fell with high musical sounds into the sink. Eduardo’s reflection was thrown in all different directions, fractured, beautiful again.
He wrapped a towel around his hand, barely feeling the pain, and crept into his room. Antoniella was still awake, the covers pulled up tight below her chin. The light from the hall fell on the side of her face, throwing shadows onto the deep crevices in her face, and illuminating the strip of gray where her dark curls sprouted out of her head. Eduardo looked at her from where he stood, and though he was nothing more than a silhouette her chocolate brown eyes met his before she turned onto her side. Eduardo in his mind flicked through a string of excuses as he climbed silently into bed with her, but he never needed one. They fell asleep soon after.
Antoniella and Eduardo rose early to attend morning services at the church they had attended for nearly twenty years. Eduardo wore a dusty, light blue collared shirt, which made him look formal and small. He kissed the cheeks of church friends; he whispered his grievances into the Lord’s ear; he put fifty pesos into the collection basket, and his neighbor was poorer than him but he put in double. Eduardo just listened as Antoniella sang the psalms long and lustily, savoring each note, feeling the passion of the words. He looked down as he stretched his injured hand, every shard painstakingly removed with tweezers by his wife this morning. He watched her red skirt swish with the little mirror circles sewn into them and thought about how many years he’d had to wait to have Sundays off of work.
They walked slowly back to their apartment, the flat-topped streets melting into resort-town again. In the kitchen, Antoniella made bread with her hands, rolling it out slowly with her palms. She cooked paella in the pan with an old family recipe her mother taught her when she was to be wed.
Eduardo didn't hear the sizzle of the pan, transfixed as he scrolled through the blue and white screen on his rumbling desktop. He didn't have many "friends" on Facebook, but he enjoyed finding people and rummaging through the photo albums. Eduardo clicked in the search box and typed "Kayla Grable" with his two index fingers. She came up almost immediately, her profile picture showing her with a sunny smile in the same zebra print bikini, already uploaded. He flipped through her pictures—Kayla posing at a college party, Kayla with her family in a brightly-lit restaurant, Kayla playing with her dog in a bed of sweet, young grass. Eduardo studied the pictures carefully, trying to image what he'd look like in her stead.
Hesitatingly, Eduardo clicked the search box again and typed "Maria Perez"; after a few clicks he found Mitzy’s page, bursting with hundreds of friends and pictures. One of her albums was entitled “New York Trip!!” He moved to click it, but at that moment Antoniella walked in to serve lunch. He clicked out of the page before she could see it, what she didn’t understand but thought was a teenager’s obsession.
The table was dressed with a threadbare throw, lonely crops of fabric that his wife had hand-stitched together when they were first married. Eduardo ate ravenously from his plate, shoveling each bite as Antoniella slowly spooned the rice mixture into her mouth. Eduardo let his fork clatter loudly into the empty bowl.
“Es tampoco picante,” he declared, the heat from the dish deadening his mouth. He pushed out of his wooden seat so that it scraped loudly against the floor.
Antoniella observed him silently as he paced out the tiny apartment like a caged animal. His fist came down on a wall, causing a flamenco girl to come tumbling down from where she spun above their heads. Ahhhhye, he breathed as he brought his hands through his hair, not the usual gel-hardened helmet but a dry wild mess that showed peaks of gray. He came and sat down next to his wife, and put his arm around her. Her eyes closed and the lines around her eyes softened, and he could just make out the bloom of youth still trapped in her features. He wanted to explain his life to her, the people he spent his day with, how it felt to stand in front of hundreds of people, to be looked at like he was looked at.
“I don’t think you could understand,” he murmured. Antoniella gave him a wounded, questioning look; she knew not a word of English. He’d never asked if she wanted to learn.
"He hails from the great city of Las Vegas, Nevada-"
"Aplausas, por favor!"
"Put your hands together for the great magician, Jackie Star!"
Eduardo put his head down and strode off the stage with Jesus as the great red curtains unfurled. He looked out at the audience as the show began; he wanted to see their reactions as they took in the big man with gold glitter around his eyes and a head full of thick golden curls, speaking rapidly in both English and Spanish and decipherable to neither. Eduardo reclined against the wall behind the audience, stoically trying to find the key to each magic trick.
He had watched, early that morning, as busses pulled up to the circular rotunda, chugging smoke as they dispensed a new crowd of tourists, their bags barely in the hands of baggage men before they snatched their first complimentary drink off of the check-in counter, their appetite for luxury already ignited.
“That girl was looking for you yesterday,” Jesus said, pressing up against him on the wall.
It was late, edging toward 11:00, by the time the entertainment crew had finished their duties that night. They had hosted a karaoke competition near the outdoor bar, which Eduardo had kicked off with a rendition of “Moves like Jagger”; guests drank freely and sat on the big rope swings surrounding the bar, waiting to be called to sing their English pop songs. Eduardo had planned to go to the club that night with some work friends, but he sat at the bar as guests drifted away and drunk deeply from a rum and coke—strong—the bartender knew not to pull anything over on him. He saw Mitzy about to walk away and called her name, signaling her with a slight move of his hand. All of the guests had gone; only the bartender was left, rubbing a soft cloth in circles over the wooden bar, but he didn’t matter.
"You look tired," she said, and she laughed heartily at the deflated look on his face. "I think you are past your bedtime."
"I needed a drink," he said.
"I’m sure you did. So for tomorrow, I had an idea about changing the routine. Towards the end..."
"Please, let's not talk about work now," Eduardo said, cutting her off. He turned to look at her for the first time that night. "Let's talk about something else."
Mitzy's uncertainty showed on her face. "Okay, you have something in mind?"
He started to kiss her, first on her lips and then pressing his head into her slender neck. It was unexpected but not entirely so. She pushed him away, her eyes darting to see if anyone had seen. Eduardo, his voice tense as a guitar string, said, "Go out with me, Mitzy. I really want a girl like you. You're everything I want."
"Please, Eduardo! You are married!" she said in a harsh whisper.
"I left my wife." Eduardo bumped his glass against the table, watching the light caramel liquid jump. "We're from two different worlds. It couldn't work anymore." He refused to look at her now, to see whether her silent gaze was one of pity or reproach. Neither would have suited him. "I will take you somewhere nice," he murmured, his voice soothing. "To get to know you, outside of this—." Eduardo looked around and stopped and he looked like he might cry.
Mitzy placed her hand lightly on his, sadness touching her eyes. "It's too soon," she said quietly. "Maybe later, we can see..." She touched her lips to his chiseled cheek before walking away in the cold sand. Eduardo only had a moment to sit there dumbly before a pudgy, tow-headed man came from exploring the beach and sat abruptly on his other side. He smelled booze on the man's breath and stiffened, but the man had a large, goofy smile on his face.
"Hey, nice job there, buddy. The kid can sing, too!"
“Thank you, sir. I always enjoy a little karaoke on the beach.”
“I’ll buy you a drink for that performance,” and he laughed loudly, because even tipping wasn’t aloud. “What are you drinking?”
“This is…a good Mexican rum, and a little bit of Coke.”
The man sighed appreciatively, swirling the contents of his own glass before taking another big sip. “You just can’t get liquor like this where I’m from. You ever been to America, Eduardo?”
Eduardo wasn’t surprised that the man knew his name. Most did soon enough. He looked out at the black waves crashing silently behind the bartender. He almost smiled. “No, sir.”
“You should,” said the man, getting up from his seat. “I think you would like it there. Although God knows why you would ever leave this place. Paradise, right? I see my wife coming. I’ll see you later buddy.” He clasped the small man on the shoulder. Eduardo took something out of his pocket. He slipped his wedding ring onto his finger.