This short story was inspired by the happenings in my life the last several years, a dream of which I can’t let go, and one amazingly wonderful day on the beach.
The quesadillas were hot and looked a tad bit on the burned side, but that did not stop Scott behind the bar from flashing his 23 year-old smile while politely uttering, “Enjoy!” Kenneth smiled back, all the while wondering how anyone can possibly burn quesadillas. “Don’t kill the messenger” he thought to himself as he ordered another round of margaritas and asked for more sour cream. He was hungry and not in the mood to wait any longer to eat.
“Are you sure you don’t want any?” he asked as he repositioned himself in his bar stool.
“I’m fine, thank you” replied Kristina, her smile more brilliant than the sun refracting off the glassy, Atlantic water.
Kenneth still could not believe he was sitting there with her. “How long has it been since we get together?” he asked.
“Too long” sighed Kristina. She closed her eyes as she responded, as if allowing herself to go back to the last moment they shared. Was it five months ago or six? Either way, it had been so long since that moonlit dinner in Coconut Grove. Now they were in her neck of the woods, in a quaint beach bar and grill along Florida’s space coast.
“I remember how spectacular you looked that night at Monty’s, with the moonlight dancing in your eyes. I did not think you could possibly look any better than you did that evening, but I was obviously mistaken.” Kristina blushed, as she always did when given a compliment.
“Stop it. I look like crap!”
“Shut up” he allowed himself to think as he responded with nothing but an admiring smile. He would never dare say anything like that to her, even in jest. Kristina was that special to him, and after years of turbulent misfires and brain-lapse mistakes, he knew the state of his relationship with her was delicate at best. “You look ……. “
Kenneth paused, struggling and searching for the right word to say. His eyes focused in on hers. His smile clenched as his head dropped for a second. As he looked up at her, she noticed the tears swelling in his eyes.
Kristina raised a finger and placed it over his lips, absolving Kenneth of the requirement to finish his thought. “Thank you” she whispered. “Thank you.” They sat in awkward silence for what seemed like an eternity. Ironically, Kenneth would have given anything to share an eternity with her. Kristina’s eyes deviated to his plate, that brilliant smile returning to her face. “Your food is going to get cold. You should eat. And where the hell is my margarita?” The both laughed. Kristina was particularly gifted in breaking the tension, and unfortunately for both of them she had plenty of experience doing so.
They had met four years earlier when she was an associate partner with a media graphics firm in South Florida. Kristina was always a brilliant photographer, and she managed to parlay her talent for black and white sea-scape photos into a well paying career with a company on the rise. In addition to being the managing editor of photography for danaCreative Agency, she was also responsible for all aspects of new marketing and advertising campaigns for larger business customers.
Kenneth was an independent marketing consultant and was brought in to assist with the subtle nuances of delivering a marketing campaign to target audiences in the Caribbean. He’s not exactly sure how or why he was labeled a marketing expert for all things Caribbean, but he’d been riding that little, white lie for thirteen years now and he wasn’t about to stop. That’s not to say he wasn’t effective. Kenneth’s contributions were known and respected within the industry, and it allowed him the luxury to command a high bill rate and work independently at the same time. Life was definitely good, he thought. Well, his professional life at least.
It was in contracting with danaCreative that his life would forever change. When it came to relationships, Kenneth lived by two simple rules. Never get involved with a client and never get involved with a married woman. As it turns out, both those rules went right out the window when he met Kristina. She was not married at the time they met, but his was the most lavish and expensive gift at her wedding. He couldn’t help himself. He was a show off.
And so it was that after day long strategy meetings, all nighter’s in which they sustained themselves on Starbucks and Tootsie Rolls, and the occasional two-day trips to Jamaica and Curacao, Kenneth found himself in love with this woman. And not just any woman, but a woman that captivated him like no other. Her talent as a photographer and her stunning good looks aside, he was swept away by the type of person that Kristina was. She was genuinely concerned for other people. From her customers to her partners to just about everyone in her beach front condo building, Kristina seemed to never think of herself because she was too busy thinking of everyone else.
As fate would have it, Kenneth and Kristina brought their project to completion three days prior to her wedding. They celebrated with a steak dinner at The Forge on Miami Beach. “Remember how we got into an argument with Wayne Huizenga the night we closed the Casa Azul account?”
Kristina laughed. “How can I forget? That should teach you to never order the last bottle of Chateau Latour Pauillac. I still can’t believe you dropped a grand on a bottle of wine.”
“Hey!” Kenneth snapped back. “I ordered it before Wayne even sat down, and it was only seven fifty, okay?”
“You’re such a show off, you know that?” she smirked.
“You have no idea” he thought to himself.
“I don’t think I ate again after that night until my honeymoon.”
“Well, you DID insist on the porterhouse!” Kenneth quipped.
“I’m not sure it was the steak as much as the bombshell you dropped” she said. Kenneth squirmed in his seat ever so slightly, recalling how he professed his love for just as she was about to take the first bite of her crème brule. “You could have at least waited until AFTER desert!” Kristina loved to make him sweat, and she had become quite proficient in doing so after all these years.
“Yeah, I think I could have handled that better” Kenneth said, staring intensely at his sand covered feet.
“You really did a number on me that night, and it was not fair for you to tell me all of that so close to my wedding. I know I had my doubts, but Ward and I did make a good couple and he was good to me.”
“Sweetie, he put off marrying you for six years and he was threatened by your professional success. Sure he’s a nice guy, but you don’t deserve nice. You don’t deserve OK or content or anything short of breathtakingly amazing! Besides, I thought there was no way I cold let you marry someone named Ward.”
“But I did” she retorted.
Kristina had heard this all before, and as difficult as it continued to make the situation she never grew tired of hearing it. “Where the hell is my margarita?” she thought. Kristina also never really knew how to respond to Kenneth’s words. They were always flattering and supportive and straight from the heart. In all the time she knew him, Kenneth had never been derogatory to her, even though she definitely gave him reason to at times.
Kenneth knew he was once again on thin ice. He knew that as compelled as he felt to fight for her and pursue her, he needed to back off and give her the space she requested time and time again. Yet he also knew that her feelings for him ran deeper than just a passing fling. He believed what they shared was much more than a working relationship turned emotional connection that was consummated one summer evening on the soft, white sand of Playa Jeremi. Kenneth was convinced that Kristina was the one for him. If only he could have her see the same.
“Look. I am just really happy to see you, and I don’t want to go there with you again. I respect your decisions, and I don’t want to take away from today or this moment. Besides, I don’t think we have the time to drink all the margaritas we would need to get through this discussion again. By the way, you never told me why you moved back to Cocoa Beach. I was shocked when I got your e-mail last week.”
“Funny you should ask.” Kristina’s coy smile said it all. She was a creative genius and the ultimate pitch person; however she was such a terrible liar. The fact she managed to bring her manicured fingernail to her teeth was also a dead giveaway that she had some secret to share. “I felt it was time for a change. I came here to really focus on my photography and just feel at home. Miami was getting too busy for me.”
“What about danaCreative? I can’t imagine they are going to let you work remotely from here.”
“Yeah. I resigned. I cashed in my options, packed my stuff and decided to go freelance.”
Kenneth went numb. For a minute, he was paralyzed by the news. This was such a departure from the security and routine Kristina craved. She didn’t crave it as much as hide behind it. She was by no means a risk taker, so much so she once missed a deadline because she did not want to use a replacement camera while her Canon digital was being repaired.
“What about Ward?”
“He’s still in Miami.”
“Will he be able to do his job remotely when he gets here?”
“No, you’re not listening. He’s still in Miami and I am here.”
Kenneth’s eye brows came together revealing the immense and perplexed thoughts in his head. Was he missing something?
“What I am telling you is that I am here. You and I have been through so much. You managed to find your way back into my life when I thought you were gone. You maintained your love and affection for me when I asked you to let it go. You made me laugh and cry like I never have before. We’ve been through a lot. And I wanted to tell you that I am here now. Through it all, I am still here.”
Scott finally arrived with the margaritas. The glasses were sweating from the ice, the salt rims glistening like the sand on the beach. Kenneth, too, was sweating. She had rendered him speechless for the first time in the four years he had known her. He did not know what to say. He was unable to show off at this moment for the paralysis had set in once again.
Kristina knew she had surprised him. She smiled as she manipulated the straw from her drink to her mouth. “Do you think they have crème brule at this place?” Kenneth managed to silently shake his head no. “Nah, I didn’t think so either. Well, we do have our drinks. Let’s toast to something.”
“For the first time in my life I can’t come up with something snazzy to say.”
Kristina smiled. This was the conversational equivalent of check mate, and it was just as she had wanted it to be. It was her turn to drop the bomb on him, and in doing so, return the favor. Kenneth had awakened her to the realization that she wasn’t so much making a mistake with Ward, but rather was settling for average when instead she should have been looking for extraordinary. For the first time in her life she felt strong enough to ignore reason and follow her feelings. For the first time in her life she was willing to admit that it’s okay and often necessary to take risks. For the first time in the previous four years she was comfortable admitting that her feelings for Kenneth were true, real and deep.
“In that case, let’s toast to a lifetime of firsts.”