Here's the story that inspired my novel, as yet completed. Some of these characters have since appeared elsewhere.
--enjoy, it's a love of love story.
By David Toussaint
To overcome the darkest day, one must achieve the brightest of nights. For those who accomplish, imagination active is required. And if you believe good comes out of evil, it will be confirmed in the most unlikely of places. For me, it happened at the Cancun airport on September 25, 2001. For the first time in the dozen or so trips I’d taken there as a travel writer, there was no wait at Customs. No frat boys in Jams, already smelling of beer. No girls in clicky sandals and bikini tops, shoving their way to the front of the line. No middle-aged tanned couples with tennis rackets in tow, dark sunglasses covering eyes a few decades too old for Mexico’s favorite playground.
Only six passengers had been on the flight, and I’d immediately made friends with two of them. They were a young couple from Jersey who’d been planning this vacation for months. No threat from the skies would deter them, and they were decked out in red, white, and blue to prove it. Not that their apparel was needed as patriotic confirmation—Bob’s voice boomed throughout the flight as he yahooed over their five-star resort where, in between tequila shots, he’d para-sail, hit Carlos ’N Charlie’s for the Foam Fest—I didn’t ask—even explore Mexican culture on a tour to Tulum, where you can be photographed against the ruins and then buy a commemorative T-shirt. I can’t think of anything more American than that.
I often wonder if writing honeymoon articles has altered my perception of romance. I never question the sex.
Six months earlier, on a three-day cruise to Havana, I’d fallen in love. Luis Gonzales Dominguez was a dancer on the ship, and from the moment he smiled at me, I was his. The fact that he lived in Cuba and didn’t speak a word of English didn’t deter me. That we barely knew each other and nothing of each other’s background made no difference. That I was traveling with my overly jealous, fifty-year-old accountant boyfriend simply meant I’d have to be extra cautious.
My Latin lust is not a trait that I can rationalize, but one I wouldn’t give up for the world. Neither would you if you’d kissed Luis Gonzales Dominguez on the lips. If you’d actually slept with him, you’d stop reading this immediately and relieve your aching self.
As I just did.
Verona approached me at the airport in a hot-pink suit that defied attention. She was all smiles and holding a clipboard. You’d never know from the look on her face or from her six-foot model frame that the world had self-destructed. Verona is the public relations director for the Riviera Maya section of the Yucatan Peninsula, my first destination that would end four days later in the capital, Merida. My assignment was to cover several hotels in the area, and to explore Playa Del Carmen, the country’s newest “honeymoon haven.” Watching her approach me, her teeth as white as those famous Yucatan beaches, I became convinced that PR people, not cockroaches, and not Cher, are the most durable creatures on the planet. They’re also the most glamorous.
On the hour’s drive south, Verona asked me questions about life in New York and how we were adjusting. She also wanted to know‚ “What next?” I hadn’t a clue. I mumbled something about good coming out of evil (I thought better of using the empty Customs line as an example) and the tremendous support I’d received from friends outside of the U.S. In honesty, I had received exactly one foreign phone call on September 11, from an ex-boyfriend in Munich. Once I told Rolf that I was alive and safe, he hung up. A few years previously, Rolf had found out I was dating someone else and e-mailed me to say that I’d “broken his head.” Our relationship has been rather chilly since. It didn’t help that on my one visit to Germany, I’d ended up smashed at a birthday party and making out with an Austrian skier named Andre. Andre said it was an Austrian custom to make out at birthday parties, and I wasn’t in a position to disagree. Nor did I care to be.
By that time, however, Rolf and I had already gone our separate ways, even though on my arrival in Munich, he’d immediately thrown himself onto his bed, undressed, and stuck his perky white Aryan butt in the air.
I think having a broken head gives people a rather contradictory nature. It doesn’t, however, keep me from sodomizing them.
So here I was, being driven down the Riviera Maya and thinking about my place in this new, more dangerous world. I was an American journalist, one who’d just survived terrorism but who’d refused to give in to fear. I was seeking the truth, braving the perils of less-developed countries with less-developed water-purification systems. I thought of Thomas Friedman and the other foreign correspondents I’d read so diligently over the years. I thought of Hemingway and the Spanish Civil War, of Bob Woodward and Watergate. They were my kindred spirits, though it was highly unlikely their search for the truth ever led them to a honeymoon suite. And I thought of Fidel Castro, the Bay of Pigs invasion, and Luis Gonzales Dominguez in Cuba, which, contrary to popular belief, is where all roads lead to. Or, at least, all my roads.
The day we boarded the Riviera Holiday cruise ship, I knew trouble lurked ahead. The Cancun tourism board had arranged the trip to Havana for my boyfriend, Marlon, and me, as a thank-you for an article I’d written on the Hotel Zone’s Top 10 Swim-Up Bars. I didn’t know, however, that 90 percent of the ship’s crew would be Cuban, which, after doing the Latin math, meant 80 percent of them would be gay. In Latin countries, there are more gay men per-square-mile than anywhere else. I don’t know why that is, but I accept it, with pleasure. Waiters follow you out of restaurants, cabana boys show up at your door unannounced, security guards wake you up in the middle of the night to ask if you “need something.” When on assignment, alone, sleeping in a king-size bed, with a mini-bar, oceanfront balcony, and Jacuzzi tub, I’ve deemed it essential to always need something.
The ship was small, a relic from the Forties that had recently been revived. We were given the honeymoon stateroom, which, in muted brown and orange, looked more like a Howard Johnson’s—if Howard Johnson’s were in a perpetual earthquake, that is. The boat rocked constantly, and as our room was at the front, we got the brunt of the waves. Standing upright was next to impossible. Going to the bathroom a task you attempted out of desperation.
Nevertheless, intrigue bloomed. We were headed for Cuba, the unknown island, the last Communist holding in the Western Hemisphere, and the ship’s condition seemed apropos to a country of another time. I couldn’t have been more elated, and as bartenders flashed white teeth at me and waiters fluttered long eyelashes behind deep brown eyes, I’d never been more full of lust.
Marlon, on the other hand, got seasick.
At the Maroma hotel, my first stop in the Riviera Maya, I did three things. I unpacked, I checked my itinerary for the trip—hotel site inspections, a visit to Tulum (maybe I’d see Bob there), and dinners with hotel general managers—and I called the Cancun number I’d scribbled in my Reporter’s Notebook. I did this last task first.
“Yes?” said a very American voice.
“Is this Pancho?” I asked.
“I’m calling on the suggestion of a friend of mine in the states. He tells me you arrange trips to Cuba.”
“Are you interested?”
“Well, no. But my friend Frank said you might be able to help me find someone who sails on the Riviera. He’s a dancer...”
My heart fluttered. It was the first time in six months someone else had mentioned his name. Or at least part of his name.
“Yes. Luis Gonzales Dominguez. How did you know?”
There was silence on the other end. The kind of silence that says, “Why do you bother to ask?”
“There are only two male dancers on that ship. I figured it had to be Luis.”
“Do you know him?”
He chuckled. “Um. Yes. I know him.”
I didn’t care for Pancho’s tone but I needed his help.
“Do you know how I can reach him? It’s very important.”
“Who is this?”
“Powell. Ross Powell. I’m from New York.” I’d hoped this last bit of information would evoke sympathy. Pancho didn’t flinch.
“That ship’s been grounded until tourism picks up. It’s back in Cuba.”
My heart dropped. “Is he back in Havana?”
Another pause, this one saying, “I’m not sure this is any of your business.”
“They sent them all back about a month ago.”
“Is there a way I can find him in Cuba? I’m in Playa Del Carmen. I could easily fly over there.”
“Who are you again?”
“I’m an American journalist. Frank helped me arrange this trip. Frank said he’s a good friend of yours.” Frank was an effeminate man of about sixty who gave me Pancho’s number after I poured a third martini down his throat. We’d been at a bar in Chelsea and I’d worn the tightest shirt I could find.
“Tell you what,” he said, his voice lowering to almost a whisper. “I don’t have his contact information, but give me twenty-four hours. I should be able to get an address and phone number for you. I’d love to hear how this turns out. What’s your number?”
I gave it to him and he hung up, another chuckle preceding the click.
I walked to the beach at Maroma and looked east toward Havana. I wondered if Luis Gonzalez Dominguez was lying on a beach in Cuba and thinking of me. I pictured him on a stretch of sand, naked, his body glistening with oil, his tattoo almost melting in the heat, lying on his stomach to enjoy an undisturbed erection. Perhaps he was dreaming of me, our bodies intertwined in the sand and heat, mojitos at our sides and salsa in our ears. Later, we’d run along the sand, stumble deliberately, and make love again. Like a scene from Splendor in the Grass, but with all of the splendor and none of the grass. Then we’d drive off down San Pedro Boulevard in his 1950s Firebird. I wondered if the thought of me made him need to relieve his aching self.
As I then did.
Verona met me in the Maroma bar, still smiling, in the same suit, only cream colored, with a matching Chanel bag and cream-colored spiked heels. Verona was Jamaican and had moved here long ago to “escape” her British ex-husband. She was fluent in five languages, had a degree in Finance, and was a good three inches taller than me, without the heels. Part Bond Girl, part Amazon, she seemed to exist from an earlier time, when class and congeniality co-existed. When she entered a room you had the immediate impulse to order a martini, or a straight-up shot of whiskey. She was just that kind of girl. Or I was just that kind of drinker.
Dinner was at a restaurant called La Casa Del Agua. We had a splendid time discussing Mayan culture over giant margaritas and top 40 radio that blared from the streets below. My mind, however, could never leave Luis Gonzales Dominguez, and I almost confessed my passion.
A hunky, brown-eyed Swiss of about thirty approached the table and Luis Gonzales Dominguez went temporarily overboard.
“Ross, I want you to meet Hans. He owns the restaurant with his father.”
Hans shook my hand, leaned back in the chair next to me, and spread his legs apart. His eyes never left mine, and his slight smile never subsided.
“We’d love to chat, but Ross has a big day tomorrow.”
The two of us stood up, said good-bye, and left. I turned back and saw Hans in the same position, legs apart, staring where I’d been seated. I wondered if I could ever break his head.
Back at Maroma, I flopped myself under the mosquito netting and looked around at the room, with hand-tiled floors and a hammock for two on the balcony. “Always a honeymoon, never a honey,” I whispered to the bats flying ominously outside the window. I picked up the phone and called Marlon. He’d want to know that I arrived safely.
Marlon was taking yet another nap and I was on the top deck, watching the decayed buildings of Havana loom closer. It was our second day on the ship, and we’d be in the city within two hours. My heart raced at the thought of stepping ashore. The night before we’d dined with a lesbian couple from England, who’d been to Cuba many times, but never by boat. I had never pictured lesbians in Cuba, and I must admit it took away some of the allure. When they told me they preferred the far-away beaches to the streets of Havana I was more than slightly relieved.
Music came from the deck below. I grabbed another Cuba Libre from the bartender and looked down. I’d spent the morning getting a tan, distantly thinking of last night’s steward who kept passing me in the casino without so much as a smile. I had found the one straight beautiful Latin on the ship.
That’s when I spotted Luis Gonzales Dominguez. Or rather, he spotted me.
He was in black shorts and a yellow Polo shirt—the ship uniform—and was staring at me from behind dark sunglasses. When I saw him, he smiled, and his teeth sparkled so bright I could almost see my reflection in them. I turned around, thinking that perhaps he was looking at someone else. When I looked back, he was still there, trapping me in his gaze. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t even smile for fear I’d break the lock between us. The music got louder and Luis Gonzales Dominguez walked toward the band near the back of the ship. He looked back at me three times. I counted.
I ran down the stairs. Luis Gonzales Dominguez was dancing with four girls and another guy, enticing the crowd to join in. He kept smiling at me and nodding his head. Panicked, I headed to the side of the ship and stared at Havana. Its buildings weren’t glamorous; they were old and rundown, little high-rises that reminded me of my dad’s apartment in Oakland, California, back in the Sixties. There appeared to be a lot of smog.
Luis Gonzales Dominguez walked up to me and Havana bloomed. There was bougainvillea and scented promise, dreams wrapped in sun-filtered alleyways and tinkly drink nights. Cigar-smoked backrooms and fancy cars. Zoot-suited men and scotch poured from crystal decanters at palm-tree-hidden clubs. He removed his sunglasses and his past became my future. His eyes absorbed me in a world I’d belonged to since childhood, yet only now discovered. I couldn’t say a word. And since I don’t speak Spanish, it was probably for the best.
“Hola,” he said.
“Do you speak English?” I replied.
“No. Habla Espanol?”
Exhausted from the verbal foreplay, we both stared out to sea. Then we stared at each other. Then we stared out to sea. My mind raced over all the Latin men I’d ever dated and I tried to remember the translation for “Can we go somewhere and fuck?” but nothing came to mind. At the time, I figured, I’d probably been too busy thinking about the fuck.
Luis Gonzales Dominguez walked away. Just like that. I was already in the process of turning my loss into something poetic, tragic, Greek in origin, when he showed up again, this time with a girl at his side. Luis Gonzales Dominguez was pulling her toward me and Havana came back into view.
“My name is Illeanna,” she said in fluent English. “Luis is like a brother to me. You can tell me anything and I will tell him.” Luis stood behind her and fluttered his eyelashes.
“Tell him I think he is very beautiful.” I was nervous saying these words. I’d never been good at admitting my feelings verbally, in any language. In fact, I’d always been so afraid of rejection that I never admitted that I liked a man until I was 99 percent sure he kind of liked me too. And by that point I was usually inside of him. Call me simplistic, but I think anal intercourse is a fairly good sign that a man finds you attractive. But only if he’s on his back and his legs are wrapped around your neck and you can see his face and know that he is smiling. If he’s on his stomach he could be faking it. Or have a broken head.
Illeanna whispered something to Luis. He whispered something back. They both laughed, in Spanish.
“He thinks you are beautiful too.”
The most beautiful man in the world found me beautiful too. I’d finally found my true love.
“In that case, could I have his cabin number?”
And if I were wrong, at least I’d have a good fuck to remember him by.
Dinner the next night was at my second hotel, Sole Resort, a few more miles down the Riviera Maya. The resort was still under construction, there was drilling in the lobby, and no matter how much I protested, they wouldn’t procure me an ocean-view room—the fact that none had been built yet only increased my frustration. To make matters worse, the night before I’d been approached by a blond, Spanish hotel entertainer (the kind who rally up the less-than-enthused visitors and lead them to the cabaret) named Arturo, who looked like he’d just finished the Latin road tour of Hair. He wore tight blue jeans and puka shells, and I was indeed enthused. Not over the show, but over the prospect of getting him back to my room, which, if I took his insistence on pulling me toward the theater while simultaneously dry-humping me as “Afternoon Delight” wafted from the bar, seemed a distinct possibility. When two o’clock rolled around and he informed me he had to work the bar crowd until four, I went home. Sleep, I told him, in between humps, was a necessity for the consummate writer. I’d expected him to show up in my room at 4:05, all sweaty and tired and grateful for a place to rest his tight behind on. When it didn’t happen, I cursed him, I cursed this cruel new world, and I cursed the Starlight Vocal Band.
I fear, however, that I’m digressing, and digression is the worst form of literary masturbation. A lurid sex tale of him arriving at my room,
riding me like a bull, and screaming out show tunes in Spanish would have been the best form.
Holly was my date for dinner the second night. Holly was Dutch, and had moved to Mexico to escape those cold Netherland winters. While Verona looked like the bad Bond Girl, Holly was the polar—literally—opposite. All buxom blond and blue-eyed, and decked out in white, with a voice that never utilized its lower register, she had that look that could easily drive a lesser man to drink if she weren’t so genuinely pleasant. Or if I weren’t so genuinely gay.
At the restaurant, I recognized the guy next to her immediately. It was Hans, and the only difference in his gait was that he was standing up and thus forced to keep his legs together.
“This is Hans,” chirped Holly, her voice as sweet as saccharin. “Do you mind if he joins us? I usually poop out after a single glass of wine.” Hans looked at me sheepishly and I could swear the legs parted a bit. I wondered how long we’d have to wait for Holly to leave. I ordered Merlot for the table.
Two hours later, I sat there with my crème brûlée coagulating beneath me. Holly rambled on about the hotel’s karaoke contests and Hans stared at me, legs open, one arm over the chair. She took a second sip of wine and asked me how things were back in New York and how she prayed for peace. Then she grabbed my hands and wept, not an easy task considering she was still smiling. Hans grunted something in Swiss that I didn’t understand and Holly seemed offended.
The two grew silent and Holly signed a bill for dinner. She kissed me again, told me how delighted she was that we’d become such good friends, and excused herself. I sat there facing Hans, who didn’t move an inch. Actually, it looked as if he moved about seven or eight, but corduroys can be deceiving.
“What did you say to her?” I said, in the most sensitive, I’m-on-your-side tone I could muster. The kind of tone that’s usually accompanied by some kind of physical comfort. Back in New York, it would be a hand on the crotch and an invitation for sex. However, as a visiting journalist and guest in another country, I always find it best to err on the side of subtlety. I grabbed his knee.
“She’s mad because I told her New York had it coming. I told my girlfriend the same thing.”
Had I heard him correctly? Did he actually utter such reprehensible words? Could I really have miscalculated this tender, seemingly perfect man?
Hans had a girlfriend!?
Marlon was in our room studying Havana guidebooks when I checked in on him. He wanted to experience everything Cuba had to offer in the little time we had. So did I, but I knew the answer didn’t lie in any book. When I mentioned we’d be docked in an hour, he decided to iron his clothes. I decided to find true love.
I checked my watch (2:30) and flew down two levels in search of room 504. I didn’t even know if he’d be there, but time was running out. That dreaded Communist island would soon hold me prisoner. For the first time ever, I sided with Elian’s relatives. I ran past the slot machines, the bartenders, that hunky straight Latin who’d ignored me the previous night (and who wasn’t nearly as attractive when seen flirting with a cheap floozy waitress with a low-cut top and tight shirt). When I hit the 500 corridor, I tightened the belt around my shorts, tucked in my muscle T, and walked slowly down the hall. I had opted for the sophisticated-traveler look.
“There you are. I’ve been looking for you everywhere.”
It was Giancarlo, the ship’s general manager, Italian in descent and
liver-spotted in age.
“I wanted to take you on a tour. Do you have time now?”
“Actually, Giancarlo, I would love that. But I’m feeling just a tad queasy. And I’d simply hate to have a bout of seasickness affect my story.”
Giancarlo ran for the Dramamine faster than a control freak for the remote.
I was in the process of figuring out how to reduce foreplay to 30
seconds when I realized I was there. Cabin 504. I stopped. I listened for voices from the other side. I decided I was making a terrible mistake, that I
was entering something beyond my control. This could be a trap, Luis Gonzales Dominguez could be a hustler, a fugitive, planning to use me as his path out of this hellhole known as Cuba. I pictured him on the other side of the door, knife in hand, waiting to steal my wallet and leaving me to die, somewhere on the shores of Havana.
Then I pictured the way his butt looked in tight shorts and decided I was overreacting.
I knocked three times. The other male dancer answered the door. I didn’t recognize him at first, partly because it was dark, and partly because he was stark naked, smiling at me with an enormous erection. He beckoned me inside, and I started to mutter something about finding the wrong room, when he stepped aside, rolled his eyes, and turned away. Luis Gonzales Dominguez was lying on the bed. Before I had a chance to say anything, the roommate slammed the door shut, and I was alone with the love of my life, with fifteen minutes to spare. I thanked my lucky stars for the language gap. That could easily give us an extra five.
Luis Gonzales Dominguez approached me. He was wearing Calvin Klein jeans, a Gap muscle tee, Obsession for Men, and a dangling cross. God how I love Latin culture. He had an abstract tattoo on his right arm and a slight goatee. He pulled his shirt off over his head and I saw a tuft of thick black hair leading from his bellybutton down. Then he spritzed his crotch with a shot of cologne. It was the perfect touch. Next thing I knew we were stark naked on his bed, coordinating our rocking with the rocking of the ship.
A minute later, I was pretty sure he found me attractive. Five minutes later, I finally understood Sally Field.
I left his room in a dream state. This was the most perfect day of my life.
Giancarlo and Marlon were waiting for me at the end of the corridor.
My cell phone rang at 8:30. I was on my way to an Eco-park to swim with captured dolphins—I tried to repress the irony of this—and figured it was Verona telling me she was waiting for me in the lobby.
“Yes.” It was a male voice and I could only hope they were offering me an upgrade.
“This is Pancho. Frank’s friend.”
My suffering heart skipped a beat and the room service tray almost fell off the bed.
“I have information about Luis. Would you still like it?”
Mexican tour guides aren’t always the freshest avocados in the guacamole.
“The boat’s back in operation. They arrive in Cancun today at three. Luis should be through Customs and on the dock at about four. The dancers stay in a downtown hotel, but there’s no phone or address available.”
“Should I meet him at the dock?”
“That’s your best bet. Though if I know Luis...” Pancho chuckled again and I began to hate him, “he’ll be at Karamba tonight. Do you know it?”
Karamba was a gay bar in downtown Cancun. I had in fact been there many times for two simple reasons: Downtown Cancun is a great place to get a feel for the real Mexico, and Karamba is a great place to get a real feel of the Mexicans.
“Yes, I know it,” I said sternly. I decided Pancho wanted Luis for himself and figured I’d better not reveal too much about my good intentions. Or my good looks. “Perhaps I’ll go there later.”
But I knew better. Luis Gonzales Dominguez was going to be free for all of Mexico to devour tonight. It was my job to protect him from the opportunists of the world, the men who cared nothing about love or emotions or integrity or honesty. I had to get to that dock by four, which meant I’d have to make up a lot of lies in the meantime.
“Verona, cancel everything today,” I said into the phone. “I have to drive to Cancun. It’s urgent.”
“But dear, the dolphins are waiting. Don’t you need to see the real Mexico?”
“Cancel everything—except the manicure.” If I was going to meet Luis Gonzales Dominguez today, I needed to make sure my hands looked their best. Everyone knows that unkempt fingernails spoil a sexual outing faster than an empty tube of K-Y.
“But honey, you leave tomorrow for Merida. Do you have enough material to write about?”
I looked down at the stack of press releases that had been delivered to
“Yes,” I said. “I’ve done my research.”
“I didn’t even see you taking notes. You journalists truly are remarkable. Should I reserve a bus ticket for you to Cancun? You could be there by five o’clock.”
Five o’clock? That was too late. Luis Gonzales Domiguez would be gone by then, probably in bed with half of the Yucatan Peninsula. It wasn’t his reckless behavior I was worried about; it was the other drunk drivers on the road.
“I need to get there by four.”
I felt hesitation in Verona’s voice, bordering on irritation. For the
first time in all my years as an investigative honeymoon journalist, I thought I might hear a foul word from the lips of a PR official.
“Okay, darling. I’ll figure something out. Pack your bags.”
The next time my phone rang it was Holly.
“Hi, dear. Verona tells me you need a ride to Cancun. I can take you. I have, um, errands to run in that area today.”
“That’s wonderful. I’ll be outside just as soon as my nails dry.”
“It’s my pleasure. In fact, it’s the tourism board of the Riviera Maya’s pleasure.”
I made a mental note to report on how hospitable the Mexican people are.
“And you will write wonderful things about Sole Resort?”
And they never stop thinking of work.
“Ross, where have you been?” said Marlon, his reading glasses in one hand and a map of the ship in the other. “We’ve been looking everywhere for you.” He sniffed the air. “And who spilled a bottle of cologne over your heard?”
“Me? Where have you two been?”
Whereas Giancarlo looked puzzled, Marlon looked pissed.
“We’ve searched everywhere for you. I was all over the decks. How can you possibly explain yourself?”
It was a damn good question that needed a damn good answer.
“After Giancarlo didn’t show up with the Dramamine, I thought I’d go out on deck to get some fresh air. Which decks did you check?”
“All of them,” said Marlon. He put his hands on his slightly plump hips and my mission became more clear.
“Did you try the casino?”
“That must have been where I was. I thought those bell noises were going off in my head.”
“Why did you come back here?”
“Because I knew you’d both come look for me here.”
I may have been a fool for love, but I would never become a fool for lying.
“So what did you think of Hans?” Holly giggled as we rode north on the Riviera Maya. “He’s very cute, no?”
I was surprised at Holly’s frankness, and even more surprised at how quickly I got hard.
“Yes. He’s attractive.”
She paused and I grew suspicious. PR people are like talk show hosts—dead air is an unforgivable lapse. “Was it good?”
“The sex. I knew you’d end up sleeping together.”
“Actually, nothing happened. He mentioned his girlfriend, and then left.”
We passed a sign welcoming us to Cancun and Holly stopped smiling. She lit a cigarette, and her voice dropped an octave.
“His girlfriend? That’s a piece of shit. He’s gay.”
It started to rain and I pictured Hans getting wet. And then I realized it was only me.
“Damn closet case,” she continued. “I’ll have to have a talk with him when I get back to town.”
We crossed the bridge onto Cancun’s Hotel Zone and Luis Gonzales Domiguez reentered my heart. This was our city; every hotel, every palm tree, every American fast-food chain reminded me of him. We’d met near these parts, and we’d be in love in these parts. In New York I had security, but I’d never had one who really mattered, whose every word made me tingle, whose every touch made me quiver. Cancun would be our town, the Casablanca of the new millennium. We’d linger in clubs and make love in the shadows. People would flock to us, the jewels of the Caribbean, in a transient city caught between war and peace, pesos and dollars, terrorists and terra-cotta. We were history in the making and heroes of the heart.
And as god was my witness, we’d fuck till the mariachi bands strolled home.
Havana was beautiful and romantic. We saw the Tropicana, the palaces, Hemingway’s haunts. We drank Cuba Libres in town squares, bought rum and guabanero shirts at the markets. We toured the entire city and everywhere we went all I saw was Luis Gonzales Dominguez. I’d stop and look inside each bar we passed, hoping I’d see him perched on a chair, waiting for me, one hand holding a cerveza, the other the weight of the world. He’d see me stroll in and the light would return to his bloodshot eyes. A ceiling fan would begin to spin, the heat would lift, and he’d pull me to the dance floor, kissing me passionately. Someone would kick the corner jukebox and “La Isla Bonita” would start to play. I wouldn’t leave: I’d take a job as a honeymoon reporter in Havana—Havana Brides, perhaps. The city was so beautiful, and yet so strangely empty without the stranger. He could always be around the next corner. Yet somehow he never was.
Returning to the ship, the strangest sense of loss hit me. What if I never managed to see Luis Gonzales Dominguez again? What if Marlon never left my side, or worse, found out about the two of us and demanded I stay locked in my room? Like a dad grounding his errant son.
I turned the corner and there he was.
“Hola,” I said proudly. I’d only been in these parts for a day and a half and I’d already picked up some of the more complicated lingo. It had to be love. Or the pocket dictionary that never left my side.
He stepped up so close to me that the hair on my arms would have stood straight up, had it not been for the fact that I clipped them weekly. He said, “show,” then rolled his hands to imply “after.” I understood immediately and said yes. Then he glanced around the hallway, moved even closer, and kissed me. It was so sweet and gentle I could have counted the taste buds on his tongue.
At ten o’clock I told Marlon that I was going to do a bit of gambling, and he surprised me by saying he’d join me. I wasn’t too concerned, however, as I knew Marlon didn’t care much for a sport in which the odds are against you. He’d probably start to doze off in a few minutes and retire with a good book.
Then Marlon started to win. At eleven o’clock I saw the crowds coming out of the theater, and knew Luis Gonzales Dominguez would be in his room within minutes. I kept telling Marlon he should quit while he was in the black, but he wasn’t buying it. I started supplying him with drinks, hoping he’d simply pass out—curse the intoxication of money over the less-potent rum version. I was in a panic, a panic that only increased when Luis Gonzales Dominguez walked by me, three times. He circled the room and tried to get my attention. I couldn’t look at him. I was terrified he would confront me, right there in front of Marlon. I was even more terrified that I’d lost Luis Gonzales Dominguez forever, that he hated me now, and would think that I was merely taking advantage of his great body and incredible riches. I’d not only let him down, but I’d let all of Cuba down, for I was American imperialism at its worst. I’d raped the land and then left it stranded. And now, here I was at midnight, pirating the ship.
Then Marlon called it quits and I sailed to room 504 like Columbus on uppers.
I knocked on Luis Gonzales Dominguez’s door and there was no answer. My mind filled with dreadful images. I pictured him jumping from the top deck of the ship, hanging himself with his own bandana, or the ultimate, unimaginable terror, a terror so great it made my flesh crawl. What if, to get back at me, and perhaps the entire Western world, Luis Gonzales Dominguez had gone to someone else’s cabin, opening himself up to the first democracy-hating slut available. I had to find him.
I ran around each of the ship’s decks. Nothing. I ran around every corridor on every floor. Nothing. I looked for him in the bar, my last hope. Nothing. I had just about given up when I remembered the disco. It was the only place I’d forgotten to check.
He was sitting in the back, surrounded by the other dancers, and looking not unlike one of the Sharks in West Side Story. I prayed for the spirit of Natalie Wood to guide me. No one was on the floor, and when I closed the door, they all stared at me, silent. All of them, that is, except Luis Gonzales Dominguez. He looked the other way.
Terrified, I approached. No matter what the consequences, I had to confront him. Luis Gonzales Dominguez looked up at me with scorn, and for a split second I thought he might spit in my face. Or worse, break out into a spirited round of “Luis is gonna get his kicks tonight.” When he finally spoke, I looked down, too ashamed to face him and hear my rightful punishment.
“My Cabin! Now!”
He got up and left the disco, without looking at me, without smiling, without even checking to see if I was indeed behind him. I’d never been so humiliated, so insulted, so degraded. And I’d never been so incredibly turned on by anyone in my entire life.
“I am so going to marry this guy,” I thought as I practically pole-vaulted to his room.
The next morning, as Marlon beckoned me onto the boat that would take us back to Cancun (the Cubans, I’d been told, disembarked after the passengers) I watched Luis Gonzales Dominguez waiving from the ship, getting ever smaller on the horizon. I’d never before felt such sadness. Before I’d left, I’d tracked down Illeanna and told her to be sure to tell him how much I loved him and wanted a future with him. How I’d do everything in my power to get back to Cuba, or at least back to Cancun, and that he shouldn’t give up hope. One day, we would be together. Our world, I told her, was full of hope.
I don’t know if it was the look in his eyes as I waived back, or something else, something existentially tragic in the air, some sense of foreboding, but I wasn’t quite sure if I believed my words. I did know that he was everything I’d ever dreamed of, and everything I deserved.
I stepped out of Holly’s car, walked out to the pier, and waited. Seagulls flew by, and the sea was a brilliant blue. One by one, ship passengers started piling out of the boat. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Now that I’d finally found him, I had no idea what I was going to say to Luis Gonzales Dominguez, but knew that whatever words came out, they would somehow be perfect.
He never appeared. None of the Cubans did. After an hour or so I approached one of the Mexican officials checking passports and asked him when I could expect the Cubans to arrive.
“The Cubans? They’re no longer allowed to leave the ship. Apparently, one of them—some dancer—got into trouble last time, and they’ve lost their privileges in Mexico. No one’s even allowed to go on the ship and visit them. Damn, that guy must have really fucked things up.”
And I was left to imagine what should have been.
I’m often told that it’s my inability to love that makes me seek out as many men as possible. On the contrary, I believe it’s my inability not to love that makes me pursue them with such fervent intent.
I checked into the Hilton at nine o’clock. They’d upgraded me to a honeymoon suite, which surprised me, as I hadn’t told them who I was. I unpacked my bag, left a message with Marlon at work that I was safe, and grabbed a cab for Karamba. I did this last action first.
At four o’clock in the morning my phone rang.
“Mr. Powell? This is Manuel. From security.”
I remembered Manuel briefly from when I’d returned to the hotel at two. He was extremely well built and intimidating, especially in uniform. His stern, fixed expression hadn’t changed a bit when I told him friends would be dropping by early in the morning.
“Erik and Gerardo are here.”
“Thanks. Send them up.”
I didn’t bother to dress. That would be a formality, and I didn’t have time for formalities in this strange new world.
Erik and Gerardo greeted me with a smile, looked around the room in awe, and pulled me to the bed. As Erik undressed, Gerardo, the elder of the two, went over the rules.
“No intercourse, no sucking, but anything else. One hundred pesos.”
I’d never done this before, and I tried to think of something slick to say, something to prove to them I wasn’t about to be hustled by a pair of hustlers. I opted, instead, to speak with my heart.
“Do you kiss?”
“Of course we kiss. Kissing’s the best part.”
We started on the four-poster, Erik and Gerardo feeding me the chocolates that had been laid out for the lucky newlywed couple. In the Jacuzzi tub, I popped open the bottle of complimentary champagne, and the three of us took turns pouring it down each other’s throats. Later, on the terrace, Erik smeared Love Potion over my body as Gerardo chewed off my edible underwear. When I went into the bathroom for a terry-cloth cum towel, I came back to find them both lying on their stomachs, heart-shaped pillows propped beneath brown bubble butts. The smell of passion-fruit candles scented the air. They were beautiful. In fact, they were the most beautiful men in the world next to Luis Gonzales Dominguez. Double it, as I’d done, and you could almost pretend that they were better. Gerardo turned to face me, a box of pink “Cancun Is for Lovers” condoms next to him on the bed, “courtesy of The Hilton.”
“We’d like to break the rules,” he said. “If it’s okay with you.”
When they left at dawn I felt universally loved.
The phone rang ten minutes later.
“Speaking.” It was Manuel again.
“It’s Manuel. From security.”
“Yes, I know. Is something wrong?”
There was silence on the other end and I knew his answer before he spoke.
“I just want you to like me.”
By the time eight o’clock rolled around I had officially eloped to Mexico.
At nine-thirty I showered and went downstairs. Looking around the hotel’s ornate lobby, its pristine tiles and chandeliers, its scent of magnolias, and its immaculately dressed clerks, all smiles and greetings as they went about their business like nothing in the least bit strange had happened, it made my own journey seem less strange. If this hotel could carry on cheerfully at only 20 percent occupancy, offering umbrella drinks to the few tourists who strolled in, and promising them a “wonderful stay in paradise,” like universal Mary Poppinses in a world dependant only on spoonfuls of tropical sugar, then why should I think twice about my own adventures? Normalcy lay on the surface everywhere you looked. Anything else was up for interpretation.
I had four messages. The first was from Verona. She hoped I’d enjoyed my honeymoon suite in Cancun that she’d “secretly arranged” and that I’d write a wonderful story about its “romantic accoutrements.” God did she get that one right. The second message came from Gerardo. It simply said, “You have a friend in Mexico. Love Gerardo and Erik.” And even though he didn’t leave a number, I knew his words were true. The third note came from Marlon. He said he missed me terribly back home, and had a gift for me. It was probably another J. Crew sweater I’d have to return. But it was sweet, nevertheless.
The fourth note was from Hans.
“Dear Ross,” he wrote. I stopped for a moment to adjust myself. He’d never called me “dear” before.
“You made quite an impression on me when I met you, and I felt I must write. Especially as I’ve just spoken with Holly...”
So what if the Twin Towers had just fallen, so what if the world had changed forever. Opportunity lay everywhere, and the uncertainty was what made it so full of promise.
“...I’m a Christian, and I know that if you put your faith in God, as I’ve done, you could rid yourself of the evil that is homosexuality and someday enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus loves you. Hans.”
I knew that I’d soon be back to Playa Del Carmen. My work there had just begun.
A voice from behind called my name. I walked outside and there was Bob, from the plane, sitting at the swim-up bar, sporting Jams, a Hard Rock Café T-shirt, and a straw hat, and guzzling two beers at once. He was sunburned from head to toe.
“Hey, Bob, how’s it going?”
“Fuckin’ A!” he said. “Been para-sailing, Jet-Skiing, golfing. We haven’t even left the resort. And I don’t think I’ve been sober for a minute. America rocks!”
And I knew we would indeed prevail.
“Sir, your car’s waiting for you.”
I stepped into the front seat of the Volkswagen Beetle, threw my bags in the seat behind me, and looked over. My driver was just a kid, with deep brown eyes, slick black hair, tight blue jeans, a button-down shirt, and that kind of innocence that radiates from youth who’ve yet to see the world they intend to conquer.
And that’s where I came in. I suppose that’s where I’ll always come in.
“What’s your name?” I asked, taking my first sip of coffee.
“How old are you?”
“Eighteen.” He met my stare and smiled.
“How long is it to Merida?”
“Three or four hours. But don’t worry. I’m good.”
His English was as flawless as his lips.
I took another sip and then I drank him in. I couldn’t dream up a more perfect journey. “What do we do till then?’
He reached for the gearshift and found my knee instead. I wasn’t sure who blocked whom, and it didn’t matter. When you’re at the end of the world, you don’t always ask questions. And when your imagination’s active, you enjoy the ride.
“Jose, you ever been to Cuba?”
“No,” he said, his hand clenching my knee tighter. “But I’ve always wanted to see it.”
“Maybe you will. Maybe someday we all will.”
And then we headed west, into the heart of daylight.
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