This story was co-authored by my wonderful writing partner Stella, who shares a brain with me even though we live across the country from one another. It’s amazingly great to have someone who gets excited about ideas with you and occasionally types exactly what you were going to type just before you type it yourself.
|Writing Prompt #732|
There is plenty to see while vacationing in Brazil. Cristo de Redentor, the Amazon River, and the Carnival in Rio. What Kara Wheelock didn’t expect to see out the window of her top-rated hotel was the other side of town. She expected to have a view of the city, just not… the type of view that was in front of her. Sure, bustling markets, traffic, and skyscrapers lit up in the night, but nothing prepared her for what was on the other side of the large fence at the edge of the hotel’s property.
It was a neighborhood. One that was very different from those that the hotel’s patrons would live in, much less willingly drive past or be forced to walk through. And instead of getting dressed to go to dinner and clubbing with her friends, Kara looked across the hotel’s lovingly landscaped grounds and watched that neighborhood all afternoon.
It was the most interesting thing she’d ever seen in her life.
It definitely wasn’t what she’d expected to see in Brazil.
In some ways, it felt like she was seeing some sort of documentary. “The Life of the Disadvantaged,” or something. With the fence between them, it didn’t seem real. Even though she could see them quite clearly from her balcony, she couldn’t imagine people actually living like that.
None of the other guests in the hotel really talked about it, and it was hard to remember what was only a few hundred feet away when she was eating five star food in a five star hotel, surrounded by the five star life she’d always lived.
A text from her best friend Stacey reminded her that their plans wouldn’t wait for philosophical ponderings, so Kara hopped off the bed and got ready. The five star views didn’t stop her from thinking about what she’d seen from her window, and for probably the first time in her life, she started noticing people other than the ones being served.
As they ate, she watched a familiar looking guy bussing other tables. Where had she seen him before? Oh, yeah, he had been the one to take her bags when they checked in. Stacey had purred, “Ooh, cabana boys! This is going to rock!” and they had gone upstairs to change and then relaxed in the pool for the rest of the afternoon.
Kara hadn’t given him a second thought. Now, her eyes followed him around the room as he carefully balanced half finished glasses of wine on a huge tray and wove between the other diners back to the kitchen.
She wondered what he did when he wasn’t taking bags up to people’s rooms or clearing tables. She wondered where he lived.
Her contemplations were interrupted by a hand waving in front of her face. “Hello! Earth to Kara! Are you even listening?”
Melody smirked. “I think she was a little distracted.”
Stacey glanced around and spotted the guy Kara had been watching. “Ooh, good distraction. He is more interesting than our plans for tomorrow, but I don’t think he’d be interested in joining us at the spa.” She giggled.
“I don’t know,” Melody said. “I don’t think I’d mind being distracted by him in the sauna!”
Kara laughed along with her friends. It was easier for her to be teased like that than to have them suspect what she was really thinking about. It’s not that they would mock her, they would just wonder why she was wasting her time on such a subject when there were more interesting things to do.
She put him out of her mind. After all, there was fun to be had and partying to be done.
Kara had only been asleep for two hours when a loud banging sound woke her up. She pulled a pillow over her head, trying to ignore it, but it wouldn’t stop. It couldn’t be a hangover starting so early, could it?
She sat up and rubbed her eyes. She was fairly sure two drinks over the whole course of the evening wouldn’t make her head pound this badly. But… was it her head?
She reluctantly opened her eyes. There was enough light coming through the open window for her to see clearly, and it wasn’t hurting her eyes. That was a definite no to the hangover, then. She rolled out of bed and stumbled to the door. No one there. It was then that she noticed that the noise was coming from her window. She tried to stay half asleep—she did not want to be awake for the day—and made her way over to see what was going on.
She gazed out across the vastness of the city, squinting to try to keep the light from invading her hopes of a REM cycle. The sound had to be coming from somewhere nearby, otherwise it wouldn’t have bothered her. She scanned the streets of the neighborhood across the fence until finally, she saw it. There was someone kneeling on one of the roofs, banging on it with a hammer.
Why, at five in the morning?! she wondered, exasperated. A second look showed her that the figure, though far away, was someone she had seen before. Forgetting the sleep she had been craving, Kara rubbed her eyes again. Was it actually… the same guy she’d been looking at the night before?
What was he doing? Did he have family there? Well, of course he did if he was there now, but… even working as a busboy, he hadn’t seemed destitute. He’d spoken English without much of an accent, he’d been polite, he certainly cleaned up well… but there he was, fixing someone’s roof in the middle of the poorest neighborhood she’d ever seen.
At five in the morning. Ugh.
She closed her window and crawled back into bed, but the damage was done. She was already awake. She thought of turning on the television, but decided against it. With nothing else to do, she stayed in bed and allowed her thoughts to wander over to the neighborhood across the fence.
She’d hoped that laying in bed would help her to get back to sleep, but an hour later she was still awake. She got up.
It was still ridiculously early. She never woke up this early, unless she had somewhere to be. The only place her stepmother would be at this time of day was in the gym, so that was out. Instead, Kara put on a robe and slipped out onto the balcony and into the hot tub. The warm water would definitely have made her sleepy, if not for the cool morning air. She got out of the hot tub, more awake than ever, and leaned on the balcony railing.
The sound of pounding had ceased, and the guy she had seen was gone. She glanced back at her bed, but it didn’t look appealing anymore. Maybe I’ll go for a walk, she thought, looking down at the lush, green plants that grew along the path just below her. Then she spotted movement on the tennis court. But it wasn’t tennis maniacs getting up early for a workout.
She rushed into her room and put on her tennis whites.
Who was she trying to kid? She’d never made the tennis team in college, despite trying out every year. Stacey had, and her urging had been the only reason Kara had tried out. She bounced a ball against the wall, but missed when it came back at her.
This was such a bad idea. She was bad enough at tennis when she wasn’t sleep deprived. She went after the escaping ball anyway and used the opportunity to watch the guy who had woken her up that morning as he pruned a nearby bush. When he turned toward her, she acted like she hadn’t been checking him out and went back to pretending to be good at tennis.
The next time she missed, there was a muffled curse behind her. Her eyes widened and she spun around. There he was, holding his head as her tennis ball bounced innocently away.
“Oh, uh… sorry…” Kara said lamely, jogging toward him. “I… kind of suck at this.”
He put on what was obviously a fake smile. “Allow me,” he said, and chased after the projectile. Kara watched him run after it and waited until he placed it back in her hands. “There you are, Miss.”
When he turned away to get back to work, she couldn’t stop herself from asking, “How come you were making so much noise on that roof this morning? You woke me up.” He had just picked up his pruning shears again, but he froze when she spoke. “That was you, wasn’t it?”
He put down the tool and turned around. “I apologize if I woke you. But you’ll excuse me if I point out that what I do when I’m not on duty here is none of your business.” And then he added in a sarcastic tone, “Miss.”
She drew back. “I… you’re right. I’m sorry. I was just curious.”
He studied her for a moment, then nodded. “If you will excuse me, I need to get back to work.”
There wasn’t any other word for what Kara was feeling but “stupid.” She almost felt like crying, but there was no way she was going to do it in front of him. She gave up the fake tennis playing and went back up to her room to shower. It was stupid to be curious about him! She was on vacation! She was supposed to be enjoying herself with her friends and seeing the sights and buying things she didn’t need!
She fumed all the way up to her room and slammed the door. She sat down on the bed to kick off her shoes, fully intending to head straight to the bathroom afterward, but apparently being angry was very soporific.
She fell asleep.
A hammering sound woke her. Again. She sat up blearily. A light flashed on her phone to let her know she’d missed a few messages, and the clock reported the fact that she was half an hour late for the spa.
There was that hammering sound again. Only… it wasn’t from outside. Not outside her window, anyway. Someone was knocking on the door. She stood and made her way over, pushing herself up on her toes to look through the peephole.
When she saw who it was, she darted over to a mirror to make sure she didn’t have any weird sleep-marks on her face. Then she opened the door the way the daughter of a fortune 500 executive should. “Yes?”
“Excuse me, Miss Wheelock,” said her nemesis, the bellhop/busboy/roofer/gardener, “but your companions sent me to make sure you were all right. They all seem rather anxious to get on with their plans for the day and since they couldn’t reach you on your phone, they thought someone should check on you.”
“I’m fine,” Kara said frostily. “Please tell them I’ll be right down.”
“Of course, Miss,” he replied. Kara turned to shut the door in his face, but he spoke again. “I wonder if you would be so kind…” he began.
Kara couldn’t stop her curiosity from opening the door again, but she did put on a condescending facial expression.
He seemed apprehensive. “I would like to apologize for what I said earlier. I didn’t mean to speak so rudely.”
Despite what she had intended, Kara’s high and mighty manner vanished completely. “Why?” she asked. “I mean, you were right; it wasn’t my business.”
“I…” he seemed surprised, as though he hadn’t expected that reaction. “Regardless, I wanted to make sure you weren’t offended. I don’t want to lose my job.”
“I wouldn’t do something like that!” Kara protested. But as the words left her mouth, she remembered several years before when one of her stepmother’s kitchen staff had been let go after Kara complained about what she saw as disrespectful behavior. As she looked at the man standing nervously in front of her door, she wondered why this situation had been different. Why hadn’t she immediately called the concierge and insisted on his dismissal? It was what she would have done two years ago. It was what she would have done two days ago.
“Thank you,” he said. “And I’m sorry for waking you this morning. I had to be at work early today, and since it’s going to rain later this week, it was the only time I could find to make sure my sister and her children don’t get wet.”
“Oh,” was all Kara could say.
“Is there anything else I can do for you?” he asked, his attitude resuming that of a courteous hotel employee.
“There is,” she said. “What’s your name?”
In reply, he pointed at the name tag that had been in plain sight during their whole conversation, and probably every time she had seen him before.
She smiled and nodded, a blush creeping its way across her face. “Right. Well, it’s nice to meet you, uh,” she squinted at the blocky print. “Joe-a-keem?””
He smiled. “That’s good; most Americans try to pronounce it the Spanish way.”
“I… took French in high school,” Kara admitted. She was sure that her face had ever been so red before. “Um, I’m going to get ready now.”
“I will give the message to your friends.”
“Sure. Okay. Thanks.”
“You’re welcome, Miss Wheelock.”
“Uh, you don’t have to call me that. You can… just call me Kara.”
“All right, Miss Kara.” He smiled, which made him look even more handsome than usual. She smiled back as she shut the door.
Across the room, her phone beeped quietly. She walked over and read the message. “So how did you like your wake up call? ;)”
She scowled at the phone, but didn’t reply.
Another text came in as she was setting it down. “We tried to get him to take his shirt off for you but he said it was part of the uniform. Too bad, huh? <3”
Kara rolled her eyes and hit the shower. The spa was supposed to be relaxing. There was no time for her to think about anything or anyone that made her nervous.
She was too distracted to really enjoy the spa. She was also still tired; it was a wonder that she didn’t fall asleep on the massage table. It was only when she got to the steam room that it really became a problem, though.
Her friends were there, and they noticed that she wasn’t paying attention.
“Still thinking about your sexy wake up call, Kara?”
There was a chorus of “Ooh!”s. Kara blinked, and reviewed what had been said. She blushed.
“Oh! No, not like that.”
“There was someone else?”
“No, it was him…”
“What happened, then?”
“...he was fixing his sister’s roof at five in the morning. It woke me up.”
“Oh, is that what that noise was?”
“You sure he didn’t come upstairs and do any other banging after that?”
A chorus of giggles followed this, and an attendant entered to take them all off to their next treatments before she could make the situation clear. Kara found herself getting a facial with Melody’s cousin Alison and another girl that she didn’t know very well; the two of them spent the time questioning her about her “friend.” She didn’t really feel like giving them the whole story, but it was only polite to smile and laugh when necessary. Stacey and Melody, she knew, wouldn’t rest until they’d gotten everything out of her later.
And they did, as they sipped iced lattes and waited for the rest of the girls to finish their manicures.
“So, nothing happened,” Melody clarified.
“Nothing; I didn’t even know his name until you guys sent him up to get me.”
“Doesn’t mean that nothing will happen,” Stacey said, donning a pair of designer sunglasses. “Or that it shouldn’t. There’s nothing wrong with having a little fun on vacation.”
As Melody teased Stacey about her “it’s not cheating if you’re not in the same zip code” policy, Kara shook her head. Sure, Joaquim was gorgeous, but he didn’t seem like the kind of guy who would jump into bed with any hot sorority girl who beckoned. Honestly, the hotel probably wouldn’t hire someone like that. Besides, she didn’t think that a guy who worked so hard that he had to get up before five in the morning to fix his sister’s roof would be up for a fling.
And neither was she.
Three days later, Kara was sitting under an umbrella by the pool. Some of her friends had gone out shopping, and a few were floating in the water below her. She was on the lookout for Joaquim. She’d seen him several times in the past few days, but he hadn’t had time to speak to her since the day he came to wake her up. She was just remembering that most of his afternoon duties took place indoors when there was a sound to her right.
It was the sound of someone clearing their throat.
“Excuse me, Miss Wheelock?”
She turned to see a severe-looking woman in a hotel uniform whose name tag betrayed her as the head of housekeeping.
“Yes? Is there something you want?”
“I don’t mean to bother you, but I have been hearing some things that concern me. I wanted to make sure you knew that we do not allow any member of our staff to fraternize with guests; if you have had to deal with any unwanted advances, be assured that I will put a stop to them and ensure that the staff member in question is dismissed.”
“If any member of our staff has said or done anything inappropriate to you, I would like to make sure the matter is dealt with as soon as possible. This is not the sort of hotel that allows that kind of thing, Miss Wheelock.”
Kara blinked. “Are you asking me what I think you’re asking me?”
“I merely want to make sure that your stay here is as comfortable as possible, Miss,” the housekeeping manager clarified.
“You can start by not having this conversation with me ever again!” Kara replied angrily. “You can rest assured that no member of your staff has said or done anything inappropriate. I don’t know what kind of rumors you may have heard, and I don’t care. If I had a problem, you’d better believe that I would have said something!”
The housekeeping manager stepped back. “I apologize for any inconvenience. Please know that if there is anything I or any of my staff can do for you, it will be attended to immediately.”
Kara’s mouth hung open as she watched the woman walk away. “What was that about?” she scoffed aloud.
“Maybe your cabana boy-toy?” offered Alison, strolling up as she toweled off her hair.
“That wake-up call guy.”
“Why would anyone think he had done anything inappropriate? You guys were the ones who sent him up!”
“Yeah, but hadn’t he, y’know, already woken you up that day?” she asked with a grin. Kara glared daggers at Melody’s cousin and the girl took a step back. “What? You were the one who said it.”
“I didn’t mean it like that!” Kara insisted, and spilled her drink as she stormed back inside the hotel. She had to find Joaquim and apologize for maybe almost getting him fired without even meaning to. Unless he’d already been fired! Kara tore around the lobby, ducking her head into the exercise room and the indoor pool, hoping to catch a glimpse of him.
Unfortunately, she didn’t. Where could he be? Well… maybe it was his day off? Did he even have a day off? Maybe she could ask someone who worked at the hotel.
On second thought, that’s probably a bad idea.
Maybe… she could just go to his house, and ask there. But she didn’t know how to get around the fence at the back of the hotel, much less over the barbed wire that ran along the top of it. Although even if she could get there, would she know which house was his? If she stopped to ask for directions, would the person she asked know who he was? Or would they even speak English?
Kara was distressed. And there was really only one thing that calmed her down when she got like this.
She walked out the front door of the hotel and had a doorman hail a cab to take her to the shopping district.
Having been encouraged by Stacey and Melody and a brand new pair of shoes, Kara stepped into the dining room that evening determined to see Joaquim or, at the very least, to ask about him. Thankfully, he was there, bussing tables, and when he walked past theirs, she stopped him to ask if he could bring them some water refills.
When he did, she tried to pour out a rushed apology, but he shook his head and said, “Later. Is there anything else I can get for you ladies?”
Kara loitered outside the dining room after everyone had gone off to get ready to go dancing, then stayed at the hotel when they left, choosing to loiter on the terrace instead. She knew what “later” meant, but not when it would finally come. She wished Joaquim had been more specific. She watched the sun set over his neighborhood, and stood up to go back to her room; her new shoes were killing her feet.
“Can I get you anything else, Miss? Another drink?”
She turned and found him standing in the doorway.
“I’m so sorry,” she breathed, “did you get in trouble with the manager? Some of the other girls started a rumor about us when they didn’t have all the facts. It’s sort of a hobby for sorority girls.”
He smiled. “I did get called into her office, but I told her that I hadn’t done anything that wasn’t in my job description. She believed me.”
“Good,” Kara said, breathing a sigh of relief.
“I thought so too,” he replied. “I would not like to lose this job; it’s kind of important to continue feeding my family.”
“Your family? Are you… are you married, then?”
Joaquim held up his left hand, which was unadorned with any jewelry, wedding band or otherwise.
“Right. You may have noticed that I’m blind to things that are in plain sight.”
He smiled. “I was engaged once,” he said, moving forward to clear her empty glass and cocktail napkins off the table. “But she ran away with someone else. A guest who was staying at this hotel, actually.”
“Wow, that… sucks…” Kara mumbled, not knowing what else to say.
He assented with a nod.
“I guess it also kind of explains the no-fraternizing policy around here, too, huh?” After a moment of what Kara felt was extremely uncomfortable silence, she tried again. “But I’m glad you didn’t get in trouble. I was afraid you had, since I didn’t I see you around this afternoon.”
“I was doing some extra work for the janitorial staff,” Joaquim said. “Replacing light bulbs, that kind of thing. My sister has an interview here soon and I wanted to earn a little extra to buy her something new to wear so that she will make a good impression.”
“Oh, that’s good.” Silence threatened to stretch between them once more, but Kara was determined to hold it back. “Is there anything I can do?” she asked. “You know, to, uh, make up for the whole rumor-that-almost-got-you-fired thing?”
Joaquim smiled. “Thank you, but I don’t think so. Unless you can guarantee that my sister gets the job.” He looked down at his hands. “I should get this back to the bar. Thank you for what you’ve done for me so far, Miss Kara.”
“You don’t have to call me ‘Miss!’” she called after him.
He stopped to smile back at her. “I think that might be what the housekeeping manager would call ‘inappropriate behavior,’ don’t you?”
She wrinkled her nose. “You might have a point there. Well, do you want me to yell at you for bringing me the wrong drink or something? That’s not fraternize-y.”
“Maybe later,” he called back, flashing her a grin.
At that, Kara’s heart went thump. She was starting to think that if it weren’t for the risk to his job, she wouldn’t mind knowing him a little better.