Tom and Val arrived in Cancun on the last Saturday of March, looking forward to five fun days in the sunny and hot Riviera Maya. In the end, their roommates did not make it to Mexico; they rather had other plans, or no money. They were expecting to meet Bianca and her new boyfriend at the hostel in the center of the city, where the four of them would be staying.
Tom and Val had arrived at the old rundown hostel prior to Bianca and her boyfriend. The small and plainly decorated room was furnished only with two bunk beds, two nightstands and a small closet. The communal bathroom was tiny as well, the only decoration, was the accumulating mold at every corner, and the carpet of human hair that was forming on the shower floor. Val had to admit that the place was not aesthetically pleasing, at all, and extremely unsanitary. On the bright side, it was really cheap.
While Val and Tom were unpacking their belongings, they heard Bianca’s loud voice coming from the lower floor, “This place is gross Jonathan! Oh my god, I think I saw a cockroach! Ew.”
Val and Tom both broke into laughter listening to Bianca’s squeals.
“Hello!” said Bianca in a chirpy tone as she and her boyfriend, the aforementioned Jonathan, walked into the room. She suddenly changed her expression to a scowl, “Oh my god Val, did you see this place? It’s gross.”
“Yeah, we heard you the first time.” Valentina laughed stepping closer to where Bianca was standing, and giving her a short but warm hug.
Jonathan seemed like a nice guy, he quickly fell into an amicable chat with Tom as they kept organizing their things in the room. Bianca, on the contrary, did not seem very fond of Tom. She continuously eyed him up and down with curiosity, but not the good kind. Perhaps Tom’s scruffy looks bothered her; Bianca could be very snobby sometimes. Maybe she figured something was off with him. Val had failed to tell Bianca about Tom’s little limitation in the sight department, and usually people could not tell that he had eye problems unless he used his cane, but Bianca had been observing him so intently, that she probably noticed his fumbling hands.
When night and hunger came, they agreed to have an early dinner at McDonalds. Bianca was worried that if they ate anywhere else, they would get sick and ruin the trip. Val was pretty sure that Bianca would insist on eating there for the rest of the trip, which would be a pity, because they wouldn’t have to chance to try the delicious local food. After having lived in many different countries, Val didn’t shy away from eating local. Sometimes she got sick, but it wasn’t so bad and it was worth it, just to have the experience of enjoying varied and delicious cuisine.
As they were leaving their room, Tom grabbed his cane from the nightstand and unfolded it right in front of Bianca and Jonathan. Bianca’s eyes went wide with realization, while Jonathan looked at it curiously and asked, “What’s that for?”
“It’s a white cane. I have some trouble with my eyes,” Tom answered nonchalantly, as he walked out of the room.
Jonathan and Bianca gave each other stunned looks and then Bianca turned in Valentina’s direction with an expression of disbelief. Val shrugged mouthing, “What?”
During dinner, Bianca suggested to go dancing at a nightclub afterwards. Tom had once made a comment about feeling disoriented in places like that. Additionally, Val knew from previous experience, that drinking could make him get a migraine. She tried to convince Bianca and Jonathan to do something else, but their argument was that clubbing was an important part of the Cancun experience. Tom seemed to be more than eager to go clubbing as well, so she dropped the subject.
Arriving at the club, as Val was now used to and didn’t even notice anymore, Tom latched onto her arm, this time squeezing it a bit tighter than usual. Even if he didn’t say, she could tell that he was nervous. She reassured him by softly squeezing the hand he had wrapped around her arm. Bianca scrutinized the whole thing and again flashed Val a look, which meaning she could not quite decipher.
The club was huge but packed, and the music was loud and varied, encompassing anything from dance, to Latin music, to seventies music, to pop.
Val had her first drink ever in a public place, a Mojito Cubano, and she loved it! Her father used to let her have a beer or wine at home, but out in public, she had never dared to drink any alcohol. When she was finished with her mojito, she was feeling somewhat tipsy, deciding that it would be better to take it easy on the drinks and not have any more.
Standing at the bar, she turned to look at Tom. He was standing right beside her, moving shyly to the beat of the music, looking as scruffy as always, with his short sleeve plaid shirt, the same old jeans that he used every day, and his worn sneakers. Somehow, he looked hotter than usual.
Was that the mojito talking?
Tom seemed to notice that she was checking him out, because he turned her way with an amused smile and mouthed, “Wanna dance?”
Val grabbed his hand pulling him into the dance floor, and then weaved them across the crowd all the way to a location where no one would pay attention to them. As Val began to move shyly to the music, Tom hesitantly placed his hands on her waist. His touch made her nervous; there was something very intimate about it. She tried not to make a big deal out of it; since the crowd was constantly moving them, he probably couldn’t see her and was trying to keep her close. Then again, he could have just held on to her hand if that was the case.
Val tried to shake her nervousness away and focus on dancing. She loved to dance and she was very good at it. Ever since she was a kid, she and her sister would spend hours making up dance routines only for fun. As Val grew older, so did her self-consciousness. She generally avoided dancing, or she would be very modest in her moves. Maybe it had been the mojito, or perhaps the fact that she barely knew anyone there; she let go of all her inhibitions, allowing the beat of the music to seep into her body, dancing freely just as she used to in the living room of her childhood home.
Surprisingly, Tom was great dancer himself. Valentina hadn’t realized before how good he actually was. He caught the eye of a good-looking girl, who came shaking her booty in his direction trying to draw his attention, yet failing miserably. He probably ignored her because he didn’t see her, but that didn’t matter to Val, his focus was only on her and that was making her very happy.
A soft romantic bachata song began to play in the background. Val gave in to the desire to move her body closer to Tom’s. She placed her head over his shoulder and closed her eyes keeping the soft cadence of her hips, as they danced to the Latin rhythm. Tom pulled her even closer to him and rested his head over hers. After a minute of dancing like that, Val opened her eyes and glanced around, she could see Bianca and Jonathan dancing sensually, lost in an intense kiss, hands wandering over each other’s bodies as if the world around them did not exist.
She felt a twinge of jealousy. She wanted that. Right then, she finally came to the realization that she wanted it with Tom. Why hadn’t she noticed this before? They had known each other for months, and only then was she feeling this longing for something more. Since the day they had met, she considered Tom to be a very attractive man, not to mention how much his soft masculine scent made her flustered. In spite of that, she hadn’t really considered having anything more than a friendship with him. But dancing close to him with his hands squeezing lightly her waist and that scent of his filling her lungs, was causing an overwhelming desire to kiss him fiercely. Why couldn’t she just do it? He was there, so close. All she had to do was pull his face down to her level and their lips would be touching.
The thing was, she didn’t know how to kiss, she had never done it before. Her nervousness and lack of experience would have just made everything awkward. Besides, what if Tom wasn’t interested in her like that. They were good friends and it seemed odd to try to change things at that point.
In the end, she resolved not to do anything, perhaps it was just the alcohol messing with her brain.
Yeah, it must be the alcohol.
Great! A headache in the middle of spring break.
Tom fumbled around in his luggage looking for one of his painkillers. He’d had the good judgement to bring his some with him on the trip. He just hoped it wasn’t one of those strong migraines that fucked everything up.
He had purposely not drank any alcoholic beverages the night before, knowing that it could cause him a migraine. The pain he was experiencing must’ve been caused by a combination of the club’s bright colorful lights that strained his eyes, lack of sleep, and the stress of traveling. Or it had just been caused by Bianca’s irritating voice, that sounded more likely.
Wow. That woman!
Tom could not wrap his mind around the fact that this was Valentina’s best friend. That girl was obnoxious as hell.
Valentina was so sweet, always trying to make everyone happy. He noticed that she tried to entice her friends into doing something else besides clubbing, probably for his sake. Tom would be the first to admit that he initially didn’t like the idea of clubbing, but Bianca had a point, they were in a place known for the fun nightlife, so he just went with it. He did not regret it, dancing with Valentina was fun, and frankly, very arousing. She swayed her hips in a sexy way that stirred all sorts of not so chaste feelings inside him. At one point, to prevent getting hard, he had to think of the slimy kisses his aunts Elsa and Louisa used to smother him with when he was a kid. It barely worked.
He was getting all heated up again. A cold shower would be a good idea. Besides, the drowsiness, headache and strong smell of nightclub on him, also desperately called for one.
He made his way to the bathroom and found the blurry shape of Valentina walking out, smelling deliciously like soap and shampoo. His face instantly lit up.
“Hey!” She greeted. “How’d you sleep?”
“Good too! You look a little tired though,” she inquired.
“Yesterday was a hectic day. I’m not eighteen anymore, you know. My energy levels are low at my age. But I think a shower will help shake the sleepiness away,” he said rubbing his eyes.
Valentina giggled, “Okay old man, I’ll leave you to it, then.”
Feeling a lot less pain and renewed by the warm shower he had just taken, Tom walked back to the room and found all three of his roommates awake and talking. He felt relieved; he needed coffee and breakfast right away, which would complete the task of bringing him back to the world of the living.
“So, what’s the plan for today?” he asked Bianca, who seemed to be in charge of the whole operation.
Bianca didn’t answer, nor did she look like she had any intention to. Valentina stepped in, “The ruins of Chichen Itza.”
Ever since Tom met Bianca, he noticed that she wouldn’t speak to him. The girl barely acknowledged his presence. That wasn’t unusual, people sometimes felt awkward around him, but this girl was downright rude.
“Let’s move it people, we’re gonna be late for our bus!” grumbled Bianca grabbing her clothes from the bed and running towards the bathroom.
Tom gave Valentina an inquiring look “What’s up with her?” he mouthed.
Valentina shrugged and whispered, “Maybe she desperately has to pee… or poop.”
Tom stood behind Valentina, grabbed both of her shoulders, leaned close to her ear and whispered, “TMI.” They both chuckled.
Tom estimated that the real reason behind Bianca’s apprehension might be that he had taken too much time in the bathroom, causing them to be late for whatever she had planned for the day.
That isn’t going to add any points to the Tom popularity poll.
How was it his fault that she overslept or didn’t even bother to tell him what the plans were?
His most deep desire right then, was that there was no hot water left in the shower for Bianca.
“How about we go find coffee for everyone while you and Bianca get ready?” Tom asked Jonathan, still hugging Valentina from behind, and trying to shake his anger away.
“That sounds great, dude. We need to be at the bus station at noon, so there’s time for coffee,” replied Jonathan looking at his watch. “We have an hour or so. I have mine black, and so does Bianca,” he explained as he shoved his hand inside the pocket of his dirty pants from the day before. “Thanks!” he added handing Tom the bills he had retrieved from his pants.
“No problem,” said Tom, stepping closer to Jonathan and reaching out to grab the money he was holding out.
Tom had developed ways to hide the fact that his vision was crap. He would discreetly move his hands without fumbling or groping notoriously. His movements were slow and soft to avoid knocking over objects. He would trail his hands on bigger objects as reference, and not miss smaller targets. There were situations in which Tom’s methods didn’t work. He failed to grab the bills on the first try.
Val quickly grabbed the money as if nothing was wrong, and said, “Be back in a bit,” turning around and walking out of the room.
Tom had been in this situation before many times, but he still felt ashamed when it happened in front of virtual strangers, like Jonathan, and even more in front of Valentina, despite having a close friendship with her.
Sometimes it was too hard to hide the seriousness of his condition and he should just accept that, just like he had accepted a few years back, when he started college, that he had to use a cane full time. By now, the thing was like an extension of his body and he didn’t even notice it anymore.
Trying to hide that he was feeling self-conscious, he walked to the nightstand to retrieve his sunglasses and cane and walked out of the room after Valentina.
He caught up with Valentina at the reception, where she was asking, in perfect Spanish, if there were any coffee shops nearby. The receptionist, a short young man with dreadlocks and crummy clothes, gave them directions to the closest one, and off they went to buy the god-sent beverage.
“Last night was fun, huh? Who knew you could dance bachata like that,” teased Tom on the way to the coffee shop. He couldn’t get that memory out of his head.
Val shoved him playfully. “I’m half Colombian, remember? It’s in my blood.” She shook her shoulders as if dancing rumba.
“Well, let me tell you, you looked really hot dancing last night.” He wiggled his eyebrows playfully under his sunglasses.
“How would you know? You couldn’t see a thing in there.”
“Believe me, I know,” was all he answered. Valentina had no idea how sexy she was. Evidently, he could barely make out her silhouette when she was dancing at the nightclub the night before, but he could feel her hips swinging from side to side whenever he placed his hands on her waist, and that was enough for him to know that she was damn sexy.
“You don’t look so bad yourself. Got some nice moves.” She prodded him with her elbow.
“Nah, Latin music is not my thing. You should teach me how to dance it. If this engineering thing doesn’t work out we could make our living wining ballroom dancing contests.”
“Deal!” She replied, and they fist bumped.
As they were walking, Tom could notice some people turning their heads to look at them. After so many years of using the cane, he knew that it attracted a lot of attention, still he felt very comfortable walking around with it. Stares didn’t bother him as much as they once did. What did bother him to no end, was when people asummend that he was lost or didin’t know what he was doing. That really got on his nerves.
He could not tell though, how Valentina felt about the stares, she was on the recieving end of those stares whenever she was around him, and given how shy she usually was, it probably bothered her.
“People stare, huh?” He asked, trying to veer the conversation in that direction. He was curious now to know how she really felt about it.
“Yeah, a little bit. It’s because we’re so attractive.” She looked at him fluttering her eyelashes.
“Yeah, that’s why,” he chuckled sarcastically.
After a moment of silence, he asked more serious, “Does it bother you?”
“I have to admit that it makes me a little uncomfortable, but people rarely look at me anyway, it’s mostly you they can’t get enough of. It should bother you more than me. And if it does, you are very good at hiding it.”
“It doesn’t,” he quickly answered. “It used to, though,” he added pensively.
“Really?” Valentina asked surprised. “You come off as very confident; as if nothing bothers you.”
“I could live without the stares,” Tom admitted. “When I was younger, I almost never used my cane. I was very self-conscious about it.”
“How did you manage without it?”
“My eyes were better back then, and I knew my school and most places I frequented. I’d trip sometimes, but in my head that was better that letting people see me with a cane.” He shrugged, a little ashamed of his old self’s foolishness.
“So when did you get over it?”
“When I left home for college. It was an unfamiliar place so I really needed it. I quickly got used to using it all the time. I don’t even think about it anymore. But I know that some people find it weird or interesting? I don’t know.”
“I know what you mean. But now I find it strange when you’re not using it.”
A smile curved Tom’s lips, relieved that Valentina was so comfortable around him.
He walked the remaining distance to the coffee shop with his arm around her shoulder. She didn’t seem to mind.
Once back at the hostel, they found Bianca and Jonathan sitting in the reception looking bored.
“Good, you’re back. We need to leave now if we want to be there on time,” said Bianca standing up and walking out the door.
Jonathan grabbed the coffees that Val and Tom brought for them, mumbling a “thanks” with a resigned smile, following Bianca out of the building in a flash.
Bianca’s stress was unjustified; the bus station was only a fifteen-minute walk from the hostel. They were perfectly on time.
The bus ride was smooth, if not only a bit boring. They travelled for an hour on a road with no interesting landmarks whatsoever. The ruins of Chichen Itza, on the other hand, were spectacular. Tourists from all over the world were visiting, marveled with the wonderful piece of history they had the privilege to admire. Some of the biggest ancient buildings were positioned in a wide deserted flat surface that allowed the sun and wind’s full power. Others were situated among trees meandering through the jungle. It was stunning.
Sitting on the grass in front of the Kukulkan pyramid, resting their tired legs and feet after hours of walking around, the four friends admired the magnificent construction.
Tom was sitting close to Valentina, his favorite spot in the whole world, head turned in her direction. She was sitting with her legs crisscrossed, looking up with her eyes wide and her hands knitted together in front of her chest. The funny thing was, that while she admired the grand construction in awe, he could be caught with that same expression admiring her.
When they first met at the laundromat, Tom saw a nice silhouette that he very much liked. She must have gotten those sexy pronounced curves from her Latin heritage. Over time, he had many occasions to admire up close the beautiful face and personality that completed the little package of perfection. Indeed, he could stare at her all day long.
“I’m getting the feeling you like this place,” Tom said, leaning closer to her, bumping her with his shoulder.
“Yes, I love it!”
“Me too…” he said, looking pensively at the pyramid.
After a moment of silence, Valentina gestured with her chin towards the pyramid. “That thing is huge! I’d like to see the detail of the big snake heads over there.” She pointed at the big sculptures. “Let’s go!” Valentina leaped up, grabbed Tom’s hands and heaved him up from his sitting position. Once standing, she held his hand, tugged him forward and started running through the level path towards the mentioned sculptures.
Breathless and laughing, they stopped in front of the giant snake heads. Trying to catch his breath, Tom moved closer to get a better look. Too bad they weren’t allowed to move close enough to touch them. It was still a blur.
Moments after, Bianca and Jonathan joined them. They all plopped on the ground and stayed chatting there, resting and refreshing their tired bodies, until it was time to say goodbye to the magnificent Chichen Itza.