Suggested Listening: The Cocteau Twins. “Heaven or Las Vegas,” Heaven or Las Vegas, Album, 1990.
(Find Episode 1 here.)
Earbuds inserted and tuning out the outside world, Olivia held her gold iPhone with both hands. Manicured fingertips tapped against the screen protector, her attention shifting between incoming texts she answered and videos. The rapid clicks of long fingernails went unnoticed, or so she assumed. Olivia was bothered by every sound but her own. And after every 18-second round of TikTok entertainment, she giggled or laughed out loud.
Each burst of laughter was an excuse to throw a suspicious glance over the upper rim of her sunglasses and across the swimming pool; its water calm, soothing, and blue against the cobalt tile. There, beneath the absent shade of palm trees, Diego reclined on a chair. A long hedge of lush poinsettias, bright pink and in flower, framed his torso. Vinyl straps stuck to his bare back. Ankles crossed and eyes closed, he held a Pina Colada, taking no notice of her.
This confounded Evelyn’s older daughter, no man unfazed by her natural beauty. Or so, in that quiet moment, she assumed. Still, her stomach churned with dread. Visions of the unfounded teasing returned. Her flawless skin had a blemish once. One inch below the average height, she was too short.
Olivia’s attention drifted back to her late-morning amusement. Visiting, what else was there to accomplish? She leaned back. The sound of her giggle and fingertips tapping furiously against the screen diverted Diego’s thoughts back to the present.
He raised the glass. The long, thin straw slid between his lips. He sipped a fruity drink. There was an unexpected slurp.
A pause in the audio, and she heard and ripped one earbud away to complain. “Do you mind?”
“I like this America!” He shot her a grin and set the glass aside. Diego’s legs rocked once with a shudder of delight.
She laughed out loud. That moment of uncontrolled self-protection caught her by surprise as the ice melted in the South Florida sun. The hum of a motorboat along the Intracoastal captured Diego’s thoughts. He recalled his brush with the law only hours earlier. That mental picture, unrelated to the young woman about to question him from afar, elicited his wry smile. Lacking sleep, he took one last sip of his drink.
“What’s so funny?” she asked, insistent.
Diego shook his head once. “Nothing.”
“No, tell me,” she pressed, but the rising tension broke with the sound of a sliding patio door.
Olivia emerged from the kitchen carrying a platter overflowing with sliced melons, canapés, and finger sandwiches. She approached the guest first. Standing over him, she tapped his shoulder even though they exchanged a brief hello.
“Go ahead,” She lifted the tray as a sign of encouragement.
Reluctant, he reached for a bit-size cucumber sandwich.
Claire dropped a cotton napkin onto his lap. “You can take more than that.” She handed him a luncheon plate. “Go ahead.” She lifted the tray once more. “Take what you want.”
“Thank you.” Diego placed one of everything on the small plate, now overflowing.
Satisfied, she withdrew, crossed the deck, and set the tray on the white table beside her big sister. Claire eyed the delicacies and loaded her plate.
“Olivia, these look good.”
“Yeah, they’re good,” she smirked, glancing over at Diego, eating quietly and deep in thought. “I made them.”
“Claire!” Olivia snorted, shoveling a triangular sandwich into her mouth and devouring the light fare in one bite.
A sisterly and robust banter of ingredients and questions — asides about their favorite TikToks, and WhatsApp messages — kept them entertained. Claire, the resident teen chef, glanced back at the guest. She eyed his plate, where only one small bite remained. It was as though he hadn’t eaten a proper meal in weeks. She noted his weight, a grown man with too slight a build for his height.
She studied his dark hair and eyes, furrowing her brow. “There’s more in the kitchen,” she motioned. “Help yourself.”
Polite — but still famished — Diego refused. There was more to the story than anyone was letting on, and assuaging the hunger in all of them could take weeks, if not more.
Thank you all for reading. Thank you all for your support.