by Jess D. Taylor

He tracked me down in the cloud forest of Costa Rica a week after I broke up with him. I didn’t know whether to feel ecstatic or disappointed, so I went with the first and tamped the latter. I mean, how romantic!

That first night we donned headlamps and joined a guided hike to spot nocturnal life, exciting over every little poison dart frog and shellacked beetle. Later we giggled about the squeaky bed. But I couldn’t stop thinking about the river I’d rafted just two days before, the slick rubber and heavy oars, aggressive rapids followed by peaceful floats. Captaining my own days.

In the Caribbean town of Cahuita, Dennis sprang for a beach-side hotel, hid his wad of cash behind a framed watercolor, and then found the water pressure in the shower unacceptably low. So he took the shower head apart and came out half-naked shaking his head at the culprit, a corroded O-ring, could I believe it? In a place that charged forty bucks a night?

The good news, he told me, was that it was a snap to fix. Just gotta get me a new O-ring, he said, and before I could even finish my thought—So we’ll hunt one down tomorrow? But where?—I saw in his grin that he was hatching a plan. Thoughts of dinner flickered through my mind, but I sighed and turned back to my book.

He slipped into a shirt, left it unbuttoned, and was gone. When he came back five minutes later—having walked the perimeter of the hotel deck and noticing a vacancy two doors down with an unlocked window—he had a single instruction for me: Get dressed, baby, it’ll only take a sec.

We’d been together for over a year now, but I’d been trying to break up with him for weeks, tired of the way he eyed other girls right in front of me, tired of his refusal to fully commit. When I’d originally asked him to come to Costa Rica—in celebration of my completed Master’s degree in English—he’d responded how I feared he would. Can’t swing it, honey bunny.

So what changed? I’d asked, incredulous, when I found him waiting in the lobby of my hostel in Monte Verde. I’d just gotten back from a misty walk, my thighs good-sore. My stomach flip-flopped and my hands grew slick. Here was his chance to confess his love!

I got bored, he’d said, shrugging, and missed you. Plus, look at all these local girls in their tight jeans. I couldn’t miss that! A sharp, playful pat on the butt, his lips briefly against my ear.

Dutifully dressed, stomach a-growl, I stood on the hotel deck in the thick July air and watched a blue crab burrow into the sand. I thought about grabbing him, kissing him, forcing a moment, but Dennis was all business. We could hear more than see the waves lapping the beach a few feet away.

If anyone comes by, baby, he whispered, just tap on the glass three times. Then he inched the unlocked window up, two delicate forefingers, and disappeared inside the empty room. A shiver ran through me, reminiscent of when my high school best friend and I would sneak out of her house on school nights. That shot of adrenaline as we twisted our hips just so to make it through the doggy door.

He came out ninety seconds later, without making a sound, a triumphant twinkle in his eyes. I knew this look well—turned on—but our cravings were misaligned. I wanted to relax over a plate of freshly grilled fish and black beans, small live band in the corner, footsies under the table. Dennis couldn’t wait to run into the owner of the hotel and casually mention that he’d fixed the shower. He chuckled and said, That’ll get him wondering!

Back in our room, he inserted the new, non-corroded O-ring into place, turned the shower handle, and stuck his rusty blond hair beneath the torrent of water. He whooped in that way I loved, like a kid who’s just found out school is canceled.

The next morning I woke up earlier than usual, driven from bed by his soft snoring. Out onto the beach where we’d been busted skinny-dipping the day before. When we’d emerged from the water—me rushing for a towel, Dennis taking his time—the cops had already written out the ticket, were handing it over. But somehow Dennis, with his laughably bad Spanish, talked them out of it.

I scanned the beach for crab-holes, then sat in a smooth patch of sand and exhaled slowly. I thought about us traveling to Cahuita, riding that local bus filled with scrawny chickens, the rainstorm that trapped us in the open-air bar for too long. I thought about all those wild rivers. How despite their thrill, no two rapids the same, they all eventually get swallowed up by the sea.

Jess D. Taylor has written for Superstition Review, Prick of the Spindle, Brain,Child online, Mutha Magazine, and others. She teaches English in Sonoma County, CA.

Artwork by: Craig James