Connie balanced on an imaginary line along the Caribbean shore. Her foot slipped and her toes sank under the lapping water. She laughed, brushed a few strands of hair behind her ear and glanced around to see if anyone was watching. Slanted palm trees bristled in the early morning sun. Out to sea, past the dock and palapa, waves broke over the barrier reef. Beyond the reef, a catamaran slide across the horizon. A figure dressed in white stood behind the wheel.
A flowy robe trailed her back to her bungalow. Inside, sheer curtains ebbed from open windows. In the canopy bed, a sun-kissed man rustled as she dropped her robe to the ground and slid under the covers.
It had been six months since she first landed in Belize City.
Connie was against the trip to Belize to celebrate her fortieth, but Jill and Stacy insisted.
“I don’t know,” she said over Zoom.“Belize isn’t the safest, and I’m still getting over the divorce.”
“First,” Jill replied. “It’s going on two years. Second, you don’t know shit about Belize. San Pedro is very safe.”
“It’s true, Connie,” Stacy chimed in. “Well, nineteen months, but she’s mostly right.”
“Thank you, Stacy,” Jill rolled her eyes.
“You two aren’t taking no for an answer, are you?” Connie sighed.
Before Thomas’s affair, Connie imagined she was different. Thomas always said she could overcomplicate an evening walk. Maybe he was right. Thomas ran off to Spokane, of all places, with her, the 25-year-old barista from their favorite coffee shop. Kelly? Kelsey? Until the discovery, she’d been Connie’s favorite barista; consistently able to get her complicated order correct. Yet she still didn’t know her name.
Following the discovery, Connie’s thoughts barely changed, she was just missed her favorite coffee shop. When she received word they’d left town, she returned and while happy to be back, she lamented the fact that her order was consistently wrong.
Connie felt no vengeance. She took the view that a terrible mistake was avoided. Though she did find solace in believing it was Thomas who would suffer the more devastating pain. He was 44, 19 years Kelly or Kelsey’s senior. Their future was laughably impractical. If he kept her through her 20s it would be a surprise and by the time it unceremoniously ended, he would near 50, lovesick and out of options. Still, it was not lost on her that in this scenario, Thomas was still enjoying, for at least some part of those five years, the spoils of being in a sexual relationship with a 25-year-old.
In the days leading up to the trip, Connie wavered on baggage. Airline rules dictated a carry-on and a personal item. After several agonizing days, Connie chose a backpack, a checked bag, and a camera case as a personal item. Checking in online, a $25 seat upgrade presented itself. She accepted and was offered an earlier flight for $75. Concerned that her flight landed an hour after Jill and Stacy’s, she complied. She watched the confirmation wheel spin, certain another option waited to torture her. Instead, a thank you screen and an option to print her boarding pass appeared. She slid the boarding passes inside her passport then stared at the baggage, thinking of excuses for missing the flight.
The flight was uneventful. Connie found the ramshackle Belize City airport charming. After clearing customs, she passed a line of drivers holding signs with handwritten names. She read them like her own name might magically appear.
The only trip abroad she and Thomas took was to France. Thomas proved inept at the basic fundamentals of foreign travel. He broke down almost immediately upon arrival when they exited the train at the wrong stop, and he was unable to ask for directions. Connie took charge and did so the remainder of the trip. They made love once on the month-long trip, in Nice, after a night out by the beach. Thomas ejaculated onto the mattress of the twin bed and though she covered it with a sheet, she couldn’t stop thinking about how uninspiring the sex had been and how difficult it would be to remove the stain.
Jill approached in a flowing skirt and too tight halter-top. Bug-eyed glasses threatened to swallow her face. She carried a bottle of Belizean rum.
Stacy was on her heels wearing long shorts and a loose tank top. Wayfarers connected to a strap around her neck.
“I got the taxi ticket,” Stacy waved a piece of paper. “Twenty-five bucks. Want to pay me back now or later? Jill said she’d buy me a rum punch.Do I want a rum punch?”
“Probably,” Connie said.
Jill grabbed Connie by the shoulders.
“Jesus, that Yoga keeps your body banging,” she said, undressing Connie with her eyes.
Connie and Stacy shared a look.
In the cab to the water taxi, Stacy gripped Jill’s headrest. Connie snuck a peek and laughed.
Jill swigged from the rum, flirting with the driver, who kept responding, “yes, mama.”
They reached a roundabout where cars entered from all directions. It was more dirt circle than roundabout. Nothing stopped cars from barreling straight through. How it functioned was a mystery. Jill offered Connie the rum after they survived. The cab sliced through the decrepit streets barely avoiding pedestrians until they reached the water taxi that would to the island of Ambergris Caye and the town of San Pedro.
Connie couldn’t get the water taxi’s wi-fi to work. Stacy had a book. Jill prattled on about an islander she met on her previous visit. They hadn’t exchanged numbers, but he chartered a boat. She found him on Trip Advisor, and they planned to meet.
“If he bails,” Jill said. “I’ll just find another long-dicked islander.”
“Isn’t this trip supposed to be about Connie?” Stacy said.
“Yes, Stacy,” Jill said. “But you don’t come to the Caribbean just to sun on the beach. It’s hot and steamy and it makes you want to fuck. I’m getting us all fucked.”
“I’m not sleeping with anyone here,” Stacy laughed.
“Less work for me,” Jill muttered.
Through a porthole, Connie glimpsed the first jungle-like Caye. Staggered docks jutted into turquoise water. Conch Republic flags whipped in the wind. A tremor of freedom rushed. When they docked on San Pedro, Connie was confused by the beaches. Twenty feet of sand led to shallow water dotted with sea grass. The bars and restaurants appeared decades behind, but their subtle charm surprised Connie. The breeze felt good on her neck. The sun warm on her skin.
“Let’s get the golf cart,” Jill said. “The resort is a trek.”
They walked through town. Tourists zipped by in golf carts. Islanders hawked jewelry and blankets. Reggaeton drifted from barber shops.
Jill secured the golf cart. Stacy climbed in back with the luggage. Jill hopped in the driver’s seat.
“I’ll drive,” Connie said, sliding Jill over.
Connie started slow. The streets were packed. Jill pointed down a dirt side road flooded with giant puddles.
“I bought weed off a guy back there,” Jill said. “He lived in a cement block with no electricity or running water. I watched him feed a raw egg to a Coatimundi.”
“What’s a Coatimundi?” Stacy asked.
“It’s like a raccoon, but they evolved from five different animals.” Jill said. “And their demeanor is different. Much more aggressive.”
“I love Coatimundi,” Connie said and pressed the gas. The top speed was low, but Connie felt like she was flying. She didn’t notice a speed bump and they soared over it.
“Jesus, Connie,” Stacy said.
Jill seemed impressed.
Connie spotted the next speed bump but didn’t slow. In the air, she let go of the wheel and spread her arms out free.