Word Count:  6,053

Here

or, Call Me When You're Leaving the House

By Ray Squires

Rick had just gotten paid out by a couple of anglers from South Carolina for a half day trip on the Slow Hand. It had been a good day. Brought in a few good size snapper and a snook, and they tipped a buck fifty. But Rick was still short two bills and rent was almost due.

The Islamorada sun, still up, high and strong, warmed a breeze rustling the salty hairs on his forearm, and counting his money again, Rick hummed the words to a flamenco version of “Lyin’ Eyes,” until he noticed three young Cuban girls walking by. Their bikinis bright against their brown skin and their but cheeks jiggling.

“Yo tengo hambre. Quieren algo?” the shortest one said to her two friends as they headed in the direction of the dockside bar.

Rick stuffed the money into the pocket of his faded red AFTCOs, pulled a damp button-down shirt out from behind a bait bucket, and followed the girls toward the bar. He pushed his old guns through the sleeves and left the shirt unbuttoned, furling and revealing his thick but tanned beer gut. A bleached Marlins cap covered his thinning and ashen hair, and he tipped it at Jimmy, an old conch playing guitar on a grounded flat boat, serving as a stage.

Just before reaching the bar, at the end of the dock, the three girls stopped short. Created a roadblock. Rick smiled, placed his palm on the shortest one’s back. “Excuse me, ladies.” And took a slight bow. When he looked back up, about to offer a round of drinks, he realized they were all much younger than he’d thought. Painfully young. Fourteen? Too young to keep. He hitched up his shoulders, sidestepped in time with the music, and then called out to Cindy who was tending bar, as usual.  

“Cindy, darlin’, get me one of those two-dollar, pee-cup sized beers would ya?”

Cindy’s long grey hair hung in braids down either side of her creased face. A shredded canvas over her head, patched with rotted palm fronds, offered little shield from the sun. “You’re in early.” She laid her cigarette in an ashtray and began filling a clear plastic cup from one of the taps in front of her. “Fish not biting today?”

“Always, darlin’.” He winked.

“Some waiters from the Quarterdeck were here late last night. Looking for you.” She nodded her head up as if in the direction of where they’d come and handed Rick his beer.

Rick set it on the bar to search his pockets. He pulled out a ten dollar bill along with one of his worn business cards: Captain Rick, half, full-day, and multi-day trips. “Here, would ya? In case they come back.” He handed the card to Cindy. "Keep the change."

The waiters were probably more interested in purchasing weed from Rick than chartering time on the water, but Cindy didn’t lead on either way. She just took the card and the money, and deepened the creases in her face as the young Cuban girls deliberated over what to order.

Thirty years serving peel and eat shrimp and rum runners from an outside tiki bar had turned Cindy into one of those cranky locals who lacked appreciation for nations other than the Conch Republic. As if sensing Cindy’s annoyance, the young girls left without ordering and headed toward the air conditioned restaurant next door. Rick watched them walk away, and then he talked Cindy into doing a shot. He was supposed to meet some guys at another locals’ pub near the house, later, but he stayed and drank a few rounds, to get a smile on Cindy’s once pretty face and make sure she’d pass on his card next time to any interested waiters.

---

The next morning a small system rolled in from the Gulf and covered the sky with clouds. Since Rick didn’t have any trips scheduled, he got his laundry going using the machines that sat under his balcony on the ground level, next to the empty downstairs efficiency. The two-story house he stayed in sat right on the ocean, in the corner of a three-fingered canal some developer had trenched off the Atlantic thirty or so years ago. Rick and his two egg-crate sized dogs occupied the top floor. When they came inside from the steaming heat Rick still held the basket as the asshole on television told him he’d lost money on the Marlins game last night. Then Rick’s phone rang. He dropped the empty basket on the wicker coffee table, along with the day’s copy of El Nuevo Herald still in its plastic sleeve, and pulled the sliding glass door shut. He said hello loud enough so the person on the other end would know he had Rick’s attention. It was a call he was anticipating, a friend up in Hialeah who owed him money.  

“Hey man. What’s up?” Rick shut the television off, picked the newspaper back up and tossed it in the garbage under the sink. He pushed his sunglasses to the top of his head and then leaned on the counter and panted a little. “You coming down this weekend or what?”

“No man. I gotta work. Actually I was callin’ to see if that apartment underneath you is still open. My sister wants to vacation down in Islamorada for a little while. A month. I told her about your place.”

“It’s not my place.”

“You got a key, don’t ya?

Rick stood up straight and crossed his arms around his big barrel chest. Brian had been putting off paying him a grand for three ounces of weed he’d gotten a couple months ago. “Your sister? I want my money, Brian.”

“You remember her, don’t ya? Pretty girl. Come on, I’m still in a bad way …”

“Man, you’re a real fuck up, you know that?” Rick had met Brian’s sister once because she was there the day Rick had driven all the way up to Brian’s place in Hialeah to drop off the green. Brian had neglected to mention that Little Brian’s birthday party would be going on. Rick didn’t stay long, but he remembered thinking she was cute, one of those new age types with red hair, freckles, and a big rack. “What’d she leave her boyfriend or somethin’?”  

“Yeah, as a matter of fact she did, and she’s probably lookin’ for some company to help her feel better. I told her your landlord charges you for guests – a grand a month. That oughtta make us square, yeah?” Brian said she was ready to send the check, even though she wouldn't be coming down till the beginning of August, and that she'd be out before Labor Day, when her new place opened up. “Afraid you won’t be able to score, old man? She’s never had good taste.”

Rick ran his middle finger along his forehead and swiped the sweaty tips of his ashen hair out of his eyes. “Man, I just want my money. Your sister know she’s paying your bills?”

“No. And don’t tell her. I don’t think she smokes. Might make her uncomfortable.”

Rick wasn’t so sure about that, but he wanted his money. “All right, man, that’ll work.”

---

The old drunk who’d lived in the efficiency on the bottom floor had moved out a few weeks ago, and Rick’s landlord had said something about keeping it empty for a while, thinking he might bring his family down from Ohio over Christmas. Since the apartment was furnished, all Rick had to do was clean it up a little, which he did, a week later, when a check for five hundred dollars arrived, signed Amy Eliasek. That wasn’t Brian’s last name. Either she’s married or she’s not Brian’s sister at all. But Rick let the detail go. She was a pretty woman, if he remembered right, and money pays all the same.

He put a key in the mail to her the next morning before he left to pick up a group of younger guys he’d taken out before. They were celebrating one bastard’s last days as a bachelor and had only reserved a half day, but Rick made some extra money by setting them up with a bag of the hydroponic stuff the trainers grew at the Dolphin Research Center.

A week later he reeled in some bigger business. Cindy had passed his card onto the waiters from the Quarterdeck, and they ended up buying a whole pound. On Saturday Rick canceled his fishing trip and celebrated the good luck with his best buddy Frank and an eight ball. Frank was a retired medical salesman from Scotland who came to The Keys a few years ago to escape an ex-wife who’d almost bled him dry. The two of them spent the day at Pinky Flamingo's doing lines in the bathroom and watching the girls dance. The coke was rough though, and they ended up all day Sunday back at their usual hangout, Cuda’s, drinking to try and clear their heads.

“That shit’s been stepped on more times than my cat’s fat tail, lazy son of a bitch.” Frank clapped Rick on his shoulder.

“Yeah, I don’t have the good connections for it anymore.”

“When’s your new little tenant moving in? She bringing any friends?”

“This week.” Rick sipped from his fifth long neck of the day. “Better be girl friends.”

---

At eight the next morning, Rick was still stuffy and he could feel the tapping of his sciatic nerve. He turned on ESPN and started the coffee while the girls let themselves out the little doggie door he’d installed for them. He gave them each a treat when they came back up, and then lowered his body to sit at the kitchen table and look through several days of mail. With his reading glasses on and his bare feet resting on the cool tile floor he paused for a closer inspection of his cell phone bill, and then the sound of furniture screeching across the floor below made the dogs bark and scatter. Rick got up, whacked their tails with the paper in his hand and muted the television. Next scuttling sounds, like the rustle of a land crab came up, and then the shower water turned on.

Brian’s sister. Rick hadn’t noticed a car when he got home last night. Course he’d had a few. He took his glasses off and, holding his low back, hobbled bare-footed to the bedroom window overlooking the driveway. Gauze curtains hung on the bristle of his three-day stubble as Rick peered down at the white gravel drive below. No car. At the other end of the house, through a window facing the dock, all he saw were the neighbors’ boats all hitched up on davits and the Slow Hand still in the water.

She must have taken a cab from the airport. He wanted to introduce himself, check her out, and make sure everything was cool. When he heard the shower water shut off he put his Marlins cap on and dumped some white towels from the hall closet into his laundry basket.

“You two go first,” he said to the dogs as he slipped into his flip flops by the door. Their nails skidded along the wooden steps as they scampered ahead, pausing every few steps for Rick to catch up. The sun was already up strong, the air heavy with humidity and salt. Drops of sweat sprang from Rick’s copper skin, dampening his t-shirt that clung like a mold. He carried the basket out in front of him, and when he reached the bottom step he surveyed the gravel yard while the dogs set out to sniff.

Brian’s sister had arrived all right. The washer and dryer sat in an alcove next to the little apartment’s entrance, and through the efficiency’s glass-panel door he could see her tying the strings of her bathing suit. Jesus. A warm breeze rustled the bamboo wind chime that hung under the stairs, and Rick took a deep inhale and walked up to the door. He put his basket down and rapped on the glass with his knuckle.

Before he had a chance to turn around the door opened and she stepped out with a burst that nearly knocked him over. “Hey Rick. I’m here,” she said like she was an old friend he was expecting. Her brown bikini top barely held her in, and water ran from the red ends of her hair that stuck in waves on her thin, speckled arms.

He’d forgotten how attractive she was, one of those redheads who was pretty in an unexpected way, with a big octopus smile and blue-green eyes. Whether she smoked or not, she definitely didn’t have to pay for it. Rick adjusted himself as he picked the basket back up. “Yeah, I’m about to do some laundry. Didn’t want to scare you.”

“Oh, ok. Thanks. Sure.” She smiled and moved out of the way so he could reach the machines.

He set the basket on the dryer and made an effort toward conversation. “Yeah, let me know if these turd piles the dogs leave get to be too much.” He gestured out toward the heap in the corner of the yard under the bougainvillea. “I usually come down to scoop ‘em everyday, but I don’t want to intrude on you.”

“Oh it’s fine. I don’t want to be in your way.” 

“Oh don’t worry about that.” He winked at her and turned around to adjust the knobs. Running water echoed in the metal tub. She lingered.

“Rick, do you think it’s okay if I hang out on the porch and swim from here?”

“I think it’ll be all right.” He closed the washer’s lid and leaned against it with his arms crossed as he explained how for the most part they had this whole corner of the canal to themselves, and that folks a little further down the way would be jumping in by the weekend. “There’s a more touristy type place with a beach area several miles south, and a big tiki bar. Rum Runners' Isle,” he said. “If you’re in the mood to socialize. Course, I notice you don’t have a car.” He nodded his head in the direction of the driveway on the other side of the house.

“Yeah, I guess I didn’t want any distractions.” She didn’t say anything for a few seconds and looked over at his boat. “I like to walk.”

“Well, it’s pretty hot for walking down here. I can take you out on the Slow Hand sometime if you like. That’s my 30-foot Pro-Line right there.”

She said she loved boats and explained how Brian had told her he was a fisherman. “So, hey, it’s cool if I give you the second half of the rental fee when I leave, right? I don’t want you laying out money to your landlord on my account.”

“Oh yeah.” He avoided her eyes this time and turned around to pour a cap full of soap into the water. “That’ll be fine.”

She stood out there a few more seconds, and then went back inside the efficiency without saying anything else. Rick wasn’t sure if she was just being nice or if she really wanted a ride on the water so he drew out the laundry as long as he could, trying for another opportunity to talk. She didn’t come outside again though. He made four trips up and down the stairs in all and then gave up for the day. During a commercial break he searched the cabinets in his bathroom for a bottle of hair darkener he’d been saving and stood over the sink about to take ten years off himself when he heard a knock on his door. He put his Marlins cap back on and answered it.

“Hey Rick,” she said. “Sorry to disturb you. Do you mind if I use the bike that’s in the garage?”

“Oh it’s not mine. I’m just storing it for a buddy.” As soon as the words left his mouth he wondered why the hell he said that.

She squished up her face, looked at the ground a moment, and said, “You think he’d mind?”

Rick shook his head and chuckled as he leaned his elbow on the door frame. “No. No, I don’t.”

Her smile spread and then she giggled, so he leaned out further and was about to ask her if she wanted to go out tomorrow. But as he leaned toward her, she backed up, and then tripped a little, backward. “Oops,” she said and then, “Thanks Rick,” as she retreated, quickly, down the stairs.

---

The next morning with his hair looking right and no longer needing his Marlins cap, Rick went down early to clean the dogs’ turds from the patio and see if he could get Amy out on that boat. As his feet reached the lower steps he saw her sitting at the patio table under the shade of its oversized umbrella and two scraggly coconut palms. She was drinking out of a coffee mug and reading a book.

“Morning,” she said and unfolded her smile.

“Morning.” He ran his hand through his hair before pulling a baggie out of his pocket. A nasty dried up load from one of the dogs sat right outside the door to the efficiency. “Oh shit, sorry about that.” He trotted past her to grab his little metal shovel from behind the washing machine. “How’s that bike working out for ya?”

“Oh, it’s great.” She turned her head to follow where he was going. And then as if they’d done this before, she got up and grabbed the hose from under the stairs. He scraped up the dried turds and put them in the baggie, and then she aimed the nozzle and sprayed at the stain till it lightened.

“The sun’ll bleach it rest of the way,” he said.

They both hovered there, staring at the cement, entranced by the rays of the early morning sun until Rick’s phone rang and broke the spell. Amy left the hose on the ground, and went back inside. Rather than stand out there like an asshole, Rick walked back up the steps to his place and answered the phone.

It was his Frank. “Where the hell are ya?”

“I’m at the house.”

“Well, get the hell over here. I finally got the motor on the Action Craft rigged.” 

“I think I’m gonna stay at the house today, man.” Rick heard the garage open and walked to the bedroom window to look out.

“What the hell for?”

Rick moved the gauze curtains and saw Amy riding off on the bike with a backpack and a beach towel.

“Oh, I know,” Frank said. “Look, you can nab Brian’s little sister tomorrow. Come on.”

“All right, you asshole. I’ll call you when I’m leaving the house.”

---

They took Frank’s boat out for a troll. The mechanic had earned his money, putting on a new poling tower and a bow-mounted motor. Frank had himself a real flats boat now, and they made a plan to try the water in the next couple days if the weather was right.

Frank wanted to celebrate, so they picked up another eight ball and landed at Rum Runners in time for Happy Hour. A group of sun burnt tourists with loud Midwest accents sat at one of the long wooden tables, and a Cuban family took up half the place, little kids running all around. Frank dove right in with Cindy, telling her a story Rick had heard a hundred times, about a business trip Frank had taken once to tour a latex glove factory in Thailand.  

While Frank annoyed Cindy, Rick sipped on his beer trying to come down a little. He figured he and Frank would head over to Cuda’s eventually to watch the game. The coke was better this time. He felt good, and he took his hat off to run his fingers through his newly darkened hair. Frank saw it and gave him some hell for it, but Rick laughed it off. Then he did a double take when he saw Amy walk up. She settled onto a bar stool a few spots down in her bikini top and cutoff denim shorts. She had her book with her but when she saw Rick, she waived and called out. “Hey neighbor.”

Rick put his hat back on and grabbed his beer. “Hey yourself.” He walked over. Sweat and streaks of sunscreen ran down her soft fair skin. “You ride that bike all the way here?”

“Yeah. Wasn’t too bad.”

Then Frank walked up.

“This is Brian’s sister,” Rick said to Frank. “Staying downstairs.”

“Well hello.” Frank took her hand. “And does Brian’s sister have a name?”

“Sure, Amy,” she said and took her hand back to grab a napkin and wipe under her eyes.

“Ah, sweet name. I’m Frank. Let us get you a beer, Amy. Must be thirsty after all that riding.” Frank waived for Cindy. “So what brings you down here?” He bumped Amy’s thigh as he sat down next to her.

Amy scooted over. “Just getting some sun and salt air.”

“Alone? I see you’re not wearing a ring.” Frank stuck his calloused finger on the empty space on her left hand.

She looked up at Rick.

“Oh hey, Frank, why don’t we let sweet Amy get back to her book? I’m sorry, Amy. It’s past two, so Frank’s pretty drunk.”

“I don’t appreciate that, Rick,” Frank said, leaning his face closer in to Amy’s. “I bet she’s left her boyfriend, haven’t you, Amy, and come down to paradise to patch up a broken heart? Not to worry, love. He just wasn’t who you wanted him to be.” Frank retreated for a moment to take a swig of his beer. Then he continued. “You’re still young, not forty yet. You’ve got time to find a few more. Rick knows.”

Cindy put a Corona in front of Amy and rolled her eyes.

“That’s very inspiring. Frank, is it?” Amy tucked a five dollar bill under the bottle and hopped off her stool. “See you, Rick.” She grabbed her book and walked away.

“Cute girl,” Frank said as they watched her leave. “Bit of a ball breaker, Ricky. Be careful.”

“You’re an asshole, you know that?” Rick watched Amy till he couldn’t see her anymore, and then gulped down the rest of his beer.

---

It rained solid the next couple days, wide saturated bands of a depression making its way up the gulf. When it finally let up, Rick decided to go down and check on Amy, make sure she was still there. Hopefully Frank hadn’t screwed Rick out of the second half of the money Brian owed him. Rick carried some mail to put in the box out front and as he reached the bottom steps he saw her, sitting at the patio table, drinking out of a coffee mug and reading her book.

“Hey Rick. Some rain we’ve had, huh?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I wasn’t sure you were still here.”

“Just some rain.” She stared at him a few seconds, but he didn’t say anything more. She dropped her head back down to read.

Rick had expected her to want an apology and planned to use that as segue toward an invitation out on the Slow Hand. Now he wasn’t sure what to say and just stood there with his legs astride and his hands on his hips. The grinding of a davit’s old motor echoed off the cement walls lining the canal. Rick walked closer to the dock to see. Some neighbors a few houses down were lowering their Boston Cruiser into the water, and it looked like they were getting ready to take some folks out. Clumps of clouds hung in the sky and dissolved as they floated near the sun. Rick took a deep breath and walked back toward Amy. “Looks like it’s clearing up. You up for that boat ride?”

She put her book down. “You’re not gonna bring that guy Frank, are you?”

“No.” Rick grimaced.

“You two must pick up some real winners with that routine.” She got up from the patio table. “Do I need to bring anything?”

“Sunscreen.”

---

The sky never totally cleared, and the water was a bit choppy, but Amy didn’t seem to mind. She wore just a bikini top and cutoffs again. Sitting on the port side of the Slow Hand’s bow she held onto the rail and dangled her legs over the edge. Rick stared at her freckled back and a tattoo on her left shoulder of a blooming hibiscus with some Asian lettering under it. He headed the Slow Hand east at a good clip. When he hit the waves from the wakes of other boats it made Amy squeal and hold on tighter to the rail. Every once in a while she looked back at Rick as if to make sure he was still there. Rather than lend any weight to her concern, he kept the angle of his face forward and his gaze hidden by the dark lenses of his sunglasses. After a while he realized he was hungry and thought of a little old marina she’d probably like. It had a café with outdoor seating, and they definitely wouldn’t run into Frank.

“You hungry?” He yelled.

She nodded her head and then turned to face forward again. But he could tell she was watching him when he backed the Slow Hand stern first into the narrow slip at Drifter's Inlet. Jimmy was there playing his flamenco version of Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon,” and Rick waived and got a table right near the water. He and Amy ordered a couple Coronas and a burger each.

“So what does it mean that he’s a Conch?” Amy pulled one of her long red hairs out of a pile of ketchup on her plate.

“It’s somebody’s who’s born down here, and grows up here.”

“Is that you?”

“No, I grew up in Canada. Came down when I was twenty-three, after some time in the Navy.”

“I didn’t know Canada had a navy?”

“They do.” He took a bite of his burger. “What about you?” He swallowed. “You live near Brian, up in Hialeah?”

“No. I actually live in Orlando. We grew up in Hialeah.” Amy explained how she’d previously worked for an insurance company but was enrolled in school now, in Orlando. “I’m going to be an English teacher. Maybe inspire some kids, you know. Expand their expectations and confidence.” She smiled and shrugged her shoulders.   

“An English teacher, huh?” Rick realized she was on summer break. “So that explains all the books. Brian never mentioned that.”

She squished up her face. “You know Brian doesn’t really pay attention too much, right?”

They laughed together at this. When the music stopped Jimmy said he’d be back in fifteen minutes, but Rick didn’t want to give Amy a chance to suggest they go home yet so he told her she had to see the sunset from the Gulf side. Since they were already out, they might as well take the Slow Hand over. She didn’t object but insisted they pay “Dutch” before setting out again. They had at least an hour till show time. Rick went slow and took her by Rodriguez Key to show off his knowledge of the area and let her see how the mangroves gave structure to the small island.

“Some mad scientist was gonna breed rhesus monkeys here, but then thought better of it and sold it to the State.”

“Thank God,” she called back and faced the water again.

She was still sitting at the bow as they passed under Snake Creek Bridge and the cut over to the Gulf. By now Rick figured she didn’t know she was paying back her brother’s debt, but she seemed cool. In an effort to bring her in closer he slowed the boat down a bit and pulled out a joint for her to see.

“Hey Amy,” he called over the sound of the motor and the wind. “You want some?”

She turned around and stared at him a few seconds. Then she spread her big lips in a smile. He slowed the boat some more as she crawled up the bow, and when she reached the pilot’s chair she held up her hands to help light it. They passed it back and forth, their finger tips touching as they each made sure the other managed a good grip before letting go. Within seconds Amy’s widening smile drew down her eyes in lazy content. She stayed in the pilot’s chair as he steered them a mile more toward the sun, and she stared at the sky as if she’d already forgotten what she’d set out to look for. When they were far enough away from any other obstacle he cut the motor so they could drift. Then he sat back in his chair, folded his arms across his chest, and lost himself too in the view. Grey clouds floated in a spectrum of cool pastels that separated the sky from the water. The sun, still sending out its vibrating heat, eventually sunk, deeper and deeper, below the horizon. The trailing light soon faded. Before Rick realized it, the fluorescent scene shifted to night, and it was time to head back. He started the motor without a word and cruised the Slow Hand at a gentle speed. This time Amy stayed close, sitting cross legged next to him. She faced backwards in the chair and leaned her head on her folded arms that she rested on the chair’s back cushion. As he slowed the motor’s engine and turned wide into the channel of the canal, he dropped his left hand to her shoulder and lightly massaged it. His hand on her skin felt easy and natural as if this wasn’t the first time he’d touched her, or any woman, in a long time.

The lights from the other houses along the narrow waterway guided them home, and they stayed quiet till they reached the slip in front of the house. Amy helped him secure the ropes to the dock anchors, and then went into the efficiency to pee. When she came back out she brought a bottle of wine she said she’d never finish by herself. They sat at the patio table, and Rick closed the umbrella over it so they could look up at the stars.

“You feeling good?” he asked as she poured.

She assured him with a smile and then leaned back in her chair and looked up at the sky. As she did, her hair fell away, revealing to him a full view of her chest, still barely covered by her bikini, and a pink strip of skin where her sunscreen missed. Neither of them said anything for a little while, and then, feeling ready, he tried to bring her in.

“So, why are you here, Amy Eliasek?

She took a sip of her wine before answering. “Well,” she ran the fingers of her left hand through her long hair, “your obnoxious Scottish friend was right.”

“Frank’s never right.”

“Well, he was. I’m not forty but—“

“Oh yeah, how old?”

“Thirty-two. You?”

He’d thought she was older, thirty-seven at least. “Forty-five,” he lied.

“I thought so.” She smiled and then went on explaining how she woke up the other day and realized that the man she lived with wasn’t who she wanted him to be. She looked back up at the sky. “And he never will be.”

The display, again, of her neck and chest signaled to Rick a sign of willingness. He took a deep breath and then turned his chair to face hers. Gripping the arm rests he leaned toward her, close enough to smell her salt skin. “You know I’m not either. Right?”

He’d said it to make her laugh, like they did earlier about Brian, and then he planned to kiss her, on her big lips as they parted, but she didn’t laugh. She stared at him, with a pained expression, and didn’t say anything long enough for him to feel like an asshole for assuming she thought anything about him at all. Then she moved her chair back and stood up.

“I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve probably had enough.” She began collecting their glasses. “You want the rest of this?”

“Yeah sure.” He cleared his throat. “Just leave it.”

“I’m sorry, Rick. I didn’t mean to— ”

“Hey, de nada. No worries.” He winked at her.

“Thank you.” She smiled a tired version of what she usually displayed. “This was fun. I needed this.”

“Night, Amy,” he said to stop her from saying more, and he watched as she retreated back through the glass-panel door. He got up, too, and lit a cigarette and walked out to the edge of the seawall where the ropes held the Slow Hand to the dock. The folks down the canal who’d come for the weekend had jumped into the water and their laughter and splashes echoed off the cement walls. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d gone for a swim in that canal, and needing relief from this moment he tossed his cigarette into the gravel, slipped out of his shoes, and dove in, clothes and all, into the dark lukewarm water. The moon’s light shown like a beacon on the dark surface, and he propelled toward it, making smooth strokes with his arms till his lungs ached for a breath. He spotted a step ladder at one of the neighbor’s docks and used it to get out. On the last step he hauled his body back up on the ground and heaved a breath. Water streamed down his legs and puddled behind him on the sidewalk as he walked back to his place. The pang of disappointment was now dulled by exhaustion, and he grabbed the half full bottle of wine off the table before making his way up the stairs. The dogs who’d been peeping their heads through the pickets of the second floor balcony moved in circles anticipating his return.

---

Rick managed to share with Amy a sort of morning routine the remaining days of her stay, but she never went out on the Slow Hand again. When he came down to clean the poop out of the gravel yard and off the patio deck, Amy assisted or just looked up from her book to tell him something funny from her bike riding adventures. A couple times Frank came by and even made her laugh with his crazy traveling salesman stories.

One night Rick and Frank got plowed at Cuda’s and almost got into a fight with some rich local kids who owed Rick money. Rick didn’t remember driving home, but when he got up the next morning he was glad to see he’d fed the girls even though he had no idea how the dent in his pick-up’s bumper got there. Now, to get it fixed, he’d have to drive all the way up to Florida City, where he had a buddy who was an auto mechanic and owed him a favor.

On the Thursday before Labor Day, he heard a knock on his door. Amy came to say goodbye and pay him the rest of the money.

“Thanks for sharing your place. Here’s my second half.” She smiled as she held out a check and the key.

“Heading back to Orlando, huh?”

“Yep, back to reality.”

“Well, your money’s no good here.” He took the key but not the check. “Hang on a second.” He grabbed an envelope off the kitchen counter. “My landlord changed his mind. I told him about your teaching plans, inspiring kids, and he said not to worry about the fee. His support of education, I guess.”

“Are you serious?”

Rick winked. “That’s what he said.”

She squished up her face as if she didn’t believe him, but then the cab honked. “Okay,” she said, looking him in the eye. “I’m trusting you.”

“You should. Take care, Amy.”

She tripped again on her way down the steps, and he watched her as she got into the cab. After closing the sliding glass door to the steaming heat he turned the volume on the television back up and grabbed a beer out of the fridge. The football pre-season matchups were coming on, and he had some money riding on the Dolphins.