fbpx

The Best Friend in Indonesia

The Best Friend in Indonesia

A Love and Wanderlust Short Story

Chapter One

I wasn’t nervous about my flights, or the fact that I’d never been to another country before, or that my passport was brand-spanking-new and expensive and what if I lost it?

Okay, maybe I was nervous about that stuff.

But as the plane touched down on the runway in Bali after a thirteen-hour-long flight from Tokyo, my biggest concern was: would I recognize Rico, the man I considered my best friend?

It had been a decade since we’d seen each other. A decade since he’d spent a school year in Boston as a foreign exchange student from Mexico, a shy, quiet kid who hung back from the rest of the kids, even the family he lived with, and only warmed up to me as I tried to learn his language. A decade of emails and WhatsApp messages and fading memories. I had a picture in my mind of what Rico at fourteen looked like—thin and gangly, smooth skin and sharp cheekbones and unruly hair. But Rico had given up social media a few years ago when he started traveling—a  lack of interest for superficial connections, I expected—and he didn’t send me many pictures, just random ones of things that reminded me of him.

But when my life exploded in drama in the past couple of months, I’d gone radio silent, until one day I asked Rico if I could visit him in Bali. I needed a break from my life in Chicago, where I’d moved with Chris, my now-ex.

Ex-boyfriend, ex-roommate, ex-a lot of things.

With a backpack and a small rolling suitcase, I followed the crowd through Customs and Immigration and out into the arrivals area of the Bali airport. Carved stone pillars, worn by time—or at least made to look that way—stood guard on either side of the sliding glass doors. Incense burned somewhere, adding to the foreign atmosphere. It was loud and busy and swarming with strangers and a cacophony of languages I didn’t understand. It was all so overwhelming.

My fears over finding Rico doubled. How would I spot him in this crowd?

I scoured over young white backpackers and Indonesian families, hoping to catch a glimpse of anything familiar.

And then there he was. How could I not recognize him? His hair was more orderly, but still long and wavy. He still had those devastating cheekbones, but now they sprouted a thick and dark beard. And the smile—oh, the smile was the same one I remembered. That flash of white teeth, the corners of his mouth wide and crinkled, the same smile I remembered swooning over as a girl.

Within seconds I was wrapped in a hug, my feet off the ground and chest squeezed tight as Rico’s arms slid around me and under my backpack. He smelled like beaches and sunshine—he’d been living in Bali to surf. I wondered if he perpetually smelled like the ocean.

His hug brought back a wave of old memories, of being young and starting to look at boys, especially Rico, as something new. Something more than friends, a spark of desire that was novel. If fourteen-year-old Iris could see me now, with Rico’s arms wrapped around me like this…

My toes touched the ground as he pulled away. But he didn’t go far. His hands came up to cup my cheeks. “Look at you, Iris Bailey, all grown up.”

I smiled up at him. “You know what I look like. I saw you followed me on Instagram. You are kitensurf99, I’m assuming, even though there were no pictures.” I emphasized the last two words with a finger poking his chest.

He laughed. “Yes, yes, I am discovered.”

A thrill went through me that I was right, that Rico had found me and was watching. An elbow from a fellow passenger nudged my side, and the woman gave me an apologetic smile.

“Come on, let’s go.” Rico slung an arm over my shoulder and wrestled my rolling suitcase away from me before guiding me from the cool air-conditioned airport out into the muggy heat.

We were instantly bombarded by locals shouting at us. “Taxis! Taxis! Where to? Best taxi!”

Rico steered us through the crowd and toward a small bus with the name of a resort on it. The driver helped with my bags, and I settled into the back seat with Rico next to me, so close on the bench that my yoga pant-clad leg was pressed up against his. His arm came back around over my shoulder, and I found I fit perfectly pressed up against his side. “A resort? I thought we were staying at a friend’s apartment?”

“That’s where I’m living, over in Pulukan, but it’s far and there isn’t much to do there  besides surf. And we only have two nights here, so I thought we’d stay at a resort first.”

“First?”

Rico gave me a sly smile. “I’m spending two months here in Bali, and I’ve already been out to the Spice Islands. But since you are here, we will take another trip: Komodo.”

As the bus pulled out of the airport and drove through the city, I got Rico talking about the Spice Islands. My eyes widened at his adventures: scuba diving, hiking a volcano, picking nutmegs and cloves. And that was just in the past month or so; he’d done so much more since I’d last seen him.

After Rico had left Boston, I had vowed to visit him at his home in Mexico, but there was no way my parents could afford—or care enough—to pay for my trip. Rico’s parents wanted him to focus on his schooling and their business instead of visiting the States again just to see an American girl, so even though he could have paid for a flight, I would have had to go to him.

But that never happened. Once I’d gotten a job at sixteen, I scrimped and saved. My parents had pretty much checked out of any parental responsibility by that point, so it was really just me and my older sister, Claire. And when Claire needed help, including some money for rent when she lost her third job in a row, I helped her instead of visiting Rico.

We pulled up to the resort, a beautiful place set in the jungle, and checked in. The receptionist handed us back our passports and Rico’s credit card. “Your stay is two nights, and we’re upgrading you to the Jasmine Suite. That comes with a private infinity pool and jungle-side dining area.”

“No, that’s not what I—”

I nudged Rico’s ribs with my elbow. “Thank you so much,” I said with a big smile.

“Enjoy your stay.”

We walked out of the lobby and followed the signs and lit path out to our suite, which was a standalone building, with a bright wooden door and a mossy rock wall. “Why did we take the suite?” Rico leaned down to ask me.

“Are you kidding? I never get the free upgrade. No way am I passing it up.” I pressed the keycard to the panel by the door. I swung it open at the beep and stepped into the cool air of the suite.

And immediately froze and realized my mistake. There, taking up a good portion of the room, with a view facing out toward a leafy backyard with tasteful lighting and a lit pool, was a giant king-sized bed. A king-sized bed that Rico and I would have to share.

“You sure you don’t want to switch back to the room I booked with two beds?”

***

I convinced Rico not to give up our suite, even though he seemed skeptical. “I’m a delight to sleep next to. I don’t know what you’re worried about,” I joked to cover up my nerves. The idea of sleeping next to Rico got me excited, but this suite was too pretty to give up.

We called in wine, which was delivered within minutes, and dinner, which we were told would be out in twenty minutes. Rico poked around the backyard while I showered off the flight. When I came out, he was sprawled on the small love seat in the room, thumbing through a travel magazine, his head on one arm and his knees hooked over the other. Seeing him again sent a flutter through my stomach. I wanted to pinch myself, to make sure I was really in the same room with him.

He looked up and glanced over me, the finger holding the page twitching. His eyes lingered on my legs before he flipped the magazine closed and tossed it on the coffee table.

I looked down at my tank top and sleep shorts. “I thought since dinner is coming here, we could be casual tonight.”

 Rico smiled. “Of course. You look comfortable.” He glanced away and gestured out the window. “There’s a covered patio for us to dine. I knew this place was nice, but this might be one of the best places I’ve stayed in since I started my solo travel.”

“You picked it,” I said. I knew that Rico had picked somewhere a little more upscale for me. Since he lived off money he made working seasonally—teaching kiteboarding or surf lessons, often at luxury resorts during their peak season—he usually lived on the cheap. When we’d made the plans for me to visit and I had worried about the cost, Rico had sworn up and down not to worry, that his lifestyle was very inexpensive and he could afford to help.

He gave me a grin. “I thought the double room would be pretty fancy, but this is way better. Here, I poured you a glass of wine.”

I sat outside and drank my wine while Rico took a turn in the bathroom, and by the time he was out, our dinner had arrived. Rico had explained that Java was one of the large islands in western Indonesia and his favorite of the regional cuisines, so I’d ordered something from the Javanese portion of the menu. He’d ordered a steak, saying that he rarely ate at Western-style restaurants where beef was on the menu.

The dining patio was covered by a pergola strung with lights, giving the backyard a soft, romantic glow. My crush on Rico only grew in the intimate setting. I wondered if he looked at the room and the lights and if it stirred the same feelings in him.

“So,” he said, cutting into his steak, which was perfectly cooked, “how is Claire?”

That made my fork pause, hovering over my eggplants with almond sauce. Crap. It was such an innocent question, but I hadn’t told Rico why Chris and I had broken up, or the latest in the saga of my sister and her stalker.

I steeled my nerves to give Rico the full story. When I’d ask if I could come visit him, wherever in the world he was, he hadn’t hesitated to say yes, even when I told him that money was tight. He deserved to know everything.

“You remember her ex-best-friend, Devon, and how he ignored the restraining order and she moved to New Zealand to get away from him?”

Rico nodded. He’d been moral support for me through the years while Claire’s relationship with her best friend had grown toxic. I played with the eggplants on my dish, and kept going.

“Devon flew to Chicago to harass me in person to tell him where Claire was. Twice. And then at Chris’s work, which I didn’t know about. And then Devon disappeared, and I thought, oh thank god. But it was a false sense of security.” I frowned into my second glass of wine, already half empty. “Devon showed up in New Zealand. In New Zealand, Rico. What moron flies halfway around the world to yell at some girl who wouldn’t sleep with him? It’s ridiculous.” I shuddered at the memories of Claire’s absolute despair and the betrayal she felt when she thought I’d told Devon her location. And then how helpless I was, halfway around the world from her.

Rico’s forehead wrinkled, deep concern etched on his face. “Is Claire okay?”

“She is now.” I smirked at the thought. “Devon had a run-in with Claire’s new boyfriend, an ex-rugby player with lots of practice with headbutting.”

Rico laughed, throwing his head back and collapsing into the chair. “Good,” he said with approval.

“Yeah.” I sighed. “But it turns out that Chris had told Devon where to find Claire. Obviously, I dumped Chris, moved out of our place, and of course, all of my friends were his friends, so I had no one to stay with and had to crash at a co-worker’s place.”

Rico scowled. “You don’t have any friends in Chicago?”

I shook my head. “Not really. And most people at my job are married or divorced men.”

“You said you are an administrative assistant? What does that mean?”

“It means I do a bunch of boring shit for people who have fancy degrees and treat me terribly.” I slouched back in my chair.

“I thought you were going to be a teacher?”

“I was. I am, maybe. I have to get new certifications to teach in Chicago. And because I studied foreign languages, not education, it would be good for me to get a Master’s. We lived in a fancy suburb of Chicago where teachers get good pay, but the school districts can be choosy. I could get substitute jobs, but the pay is terrible. And with the administrative assistant job, I was salaried and had health insurance. Chris and I weren’t married, so I wasn’t covered under his.”

Rico chose to ignore my wine-induced babble justifying my job and focused on one thing—the one thing I hadn’t told him because I was embarrassed. “You studied languages?”

“I’m fluent in Spanish and French now. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my degree, but now I know I want to be a Spanish teacher.” I blushed, barely able to prevent myself from admitting that I’d chosen it because of Rico all those years ago. I was surprised the wine didn’t let it escape. And maybe that’s why I’d never told him, because that would be admitting that maybe I was making more of our friendship than it was.

But then I looked up at him and thought maybe he knew it was because of him anyway. He switched to Spanish. “You kept going after high school?”

My blush deepened, and Rico looked pleased. I continued, in Spanish, “Yes. It’s a beautiful language.”

“Very good. I like hearing you speak in Spanish.” There was something in his voice, a little deeper, a little grittier. The smile on his face was different. A little slower, a little lazier.

I got caught on that smile for a moment. And then my mind got stuck on some naughty thoughts. I blamed the wine.

I shook myself out of it. “So, lesson learned. Chris and I were already growing apart before we moved to Chicago, and the move didn’t fix anything. I should have known better than to uproot my life to follow a guy.” I turned my attention back to my food, and an awkward moment hung in the air. My brain overreacted, filling it with bad memories and the consequences of my actions.

I put my face in my hands. “Was me coming here a bad idea?”

“What?” Rico sounded alarmed. “No.”

“I think it was,” I admitted. I threw an arm out toward the suite, and everything hit me at once: the stress, the flight, the guilt I felt towards Claire, the wine. “Oh my god, what have I done? It’s only been two weeks since I broke up with Chris. This was so impulsive.”

“Iris, Iris,” Rico chanted, grabbing my hands before I could hide my face behind them in embarrassment. “It was not impulsive.”

I tossed him a look that said Yeah, right, and he chuckled.

“Okay, maybe a little impulsive,” he amended. “But it’s me. I promise, everything will be fine.”

“Well, that’s also the problem, too, isn’t it?” The words fell out of my mouth before I could stop them.

I saw them impact, and the awful way those words could have been taken, and hurried to correct myself. “I don’t mean like that. It’s just…We have to sleep in that bed tonight. And you’re hot. And it’s been like six months since I’ve had sex, and oh my god, what was I thinking?”

“Six months? Wait, what?” Rico shook his head, looking baffled. “You haven’t had sex in six months?”

I had a brain fart over trying to remember the Spanish word for “celibacy,” and then I realized we’d already switched back to English. Wow, that wine was hitting me hard.

“We were having a dry spell.” It came out defensive.

Rico’s hands swiped over his face, pulling his hair back. “Okay, that’s enough wine for you, I think.”

“Hey!” I protested when Rico pulled my glass away. But he was probably right. I never would have told him these things otherwise.

“Drink this,” he said, replacing my glass with water. “And finish your dinner.”

I pouted, but obediently cleaned my plate and drank the glass of water. The food was good even if it had gotten cold.

“Okay,” I said, standing up from the table and then immediately lurching to the side. “Whoa!”

Thankfully Rico caught me. “Okay, lightweight, time for bed.”

“Oh, the big bed,” I moaned.

Rico just laughed and led me away.

***

Want to read the rest? Buy the Summer Vacation Anthology to read Iris and Rico’s happy ending!

Curious about Iris’s sister, Claire? Claire has her own full-length novel, The Player in New Zealand. Read it now!

Photos from My Trip to Bali and Komodo

Want to read the rest? Buy the Summer Vacation Anthology to read Iris and Rico’s happy ending!

Curious about Iris’s sister, Claire? Claire has her own full-length novel, The Player in New Zealand. Read it now!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.