Welcome to part 4 of Reaching for Pearls, Rocio and Jax’s story. Will these two finally find their way to each other? If you missed the beginnning of this short story, you can fnd part 1, part 2, and part 3 on my website.
The main boulevard was busy as usual. Tourists were strolling with leisure while locals offered their wares; silver, ceramics, T-shirts, jewelry, clothes, time-share, desert and sea activities, sunset cruises, and so on. Rocio had never been on a sunset or snorkel cruise. It was too expensive for her, although she would love to take Luis one day. Her son loved the ocean.
If she got the job at the restaurant, she could make a lot more money than she did at the store. The seafood restaurant was at the marina, near dock 78, and next to a popular bar. The location was excellent, and she knew that it was always packed in there. She spoke basic English and she was confident that she could communicate with tourists. Waiters were paid just a basic salary (which was quite low), but that didn’t matter. With the tips, she would be able to save for her new house, and she might even be able to enroll Luis in a swimming program.
“Hey, Rocio!” She stopped and turned. Her colleague from her previous employment at that blasted store walked out of a bar. “How have you been?”
The woman acted as if she hadn’t seen her in months when in fact Rocio had only been fired four days ago.
“Hola, Rosa,” she said.
Rosa walked over to her and asked, “I never see you at the pier. What are you doing here?”
“You’re always here, or what?”
She grinned and said, “My boyfriend is a bartender at Cha Cha’s, and I often come to see him.”
“Nice.” That was the bar next to the seafood restaurant.
“So, where are you going?”
“To Captain Rob’s.”
Looking for work?”
Rosa smiled in sympathy and said, “They shouldn’t have fired you, it wasn’t your fault.”
“It’s OK, at least here they pay good tips. And besides, that guy was the general manager. Of course, I was going to be fired.”
“What do you mean, who? You were there, remember? That big jerk.”
“He’s not the general manager.”
“Didn’t you know that the store chain was bought up three months ago and that the new owner fired him?”
“That fat guy who got so angry at you! Orlando Salado. Don’t you know anything? He used to be the regional manager when the store belonged to his father. That’s why we had to put up with him. He never fought with customers though. That was new … Anyway, when the company was sold, the new owner fired his ass. He would not put up with Salado’s tantrums.”
“I knew that the company had been sold, but I didn’t know about having a new regional manager. I never even met the old or the new one.”
“The new one has been in a couple of times, but maybe not during your shift. He is very different, a lot nicer at least.”
“So, I was fired because Jax happened to defend me from Fernando’s brother-in-law?”
“Yep, our dear Fernando may be our boss, but he doesn’t wear the pants at home. I hear that his wife has quite a temper, and having her brother attacked at the store would only have resulted in another fight with his wife. I guess that’s’s why he fired you.”
“To show that he did something about it.”
“That’s what I think.”
“Coward,” Rocio spat, and then she laughed. “Poor bastard, I guess he’s not very happy, is he?” Rosa grinned amused. “Anyway, “Rocio continued, “I have to go. I have a job interview at Captain Roy’s, and I don’t want to be late.”
“Good luck, and if it doesn’t work out, give me a call. My boyfriend told me that Cha Cha’s is also looking for waiters.”
Jax wasn’t pleased about the gauze that was packed on his nose, but the doctor had been adamant about it. “Do you want to have a crooked nose? You got to fix this.”
He was on antibiotics and painkillers and he had remained at home since the fight. Rocio had called him on the day the man had hit him. She had sounded so concerned on the phone. She wanted to know if there was anything she could do for him, but he had told her not to worry. She called him back the next day, and ever since then he had been walking on clouds. She did care, he knew it now. She had been so distant at first, reluctant to hang out with him, but now he knew that perhaps there was some hope.
That’s why he wanted to take the bulky gauze off of his nose, so he could take her out for dinner. Patience, the doctor had told him.
The house phone rang. Scratching his bandage, he picked up.
“Are you ready for some more deliveries?” His boss asked him.
“I’m not an invalid. It’s just a broken nose. Of course, I’m ready.”
“All right, I’ll text you the addresses and what is needed. Today, the penthouse needs restocking too.”
“I was beginning to wonder about that one.”
He hung up and grabbed the car keys that were lying next to the phone. Time to go.
Remnants of his tears were still smudged on his dirty face. Luis stood at the busy intersection, waiting for the traffic light to turn green. He was in so much trouble … If his mother found out that he played truant, she would throw a fit. She was always reminding him about being responsible and obtaining good grades. Not that he needed much reminding, he was a good student in general, which was basically the reason he got into trouble with those big kids …
If his mother saw him now, skipping school … he didn’t dare think of the consequences. Even if she knew the reason, she would still be mad. What was he going to tell her? He could only hope that she didn’t find out … but wait a minute, there might be a chance that she didn’t know yet … The teacher might not have noticed his absence yet, because the class had 41 students. It could be a little hard to keep attendance of such a big group.
The boy looked up and recognized the nice gringo’s dirty pick up truck. Jax was leaning out of the window and said, “What are you doing here? You need a ride?”
Luis nodded, relieved to have found someone to help him. Perhaps he could tell Jax what happened. He seemed to be a lot more relaxed about stuff than his mom. He ran around the car and opened the door to the passenger’s side. After he hopped in and closed the door, Jax drove off.
“How was school?” Jax asked him.
“Huh …” Luis didn’t speak much English, but he knew the word school. The guilty look in his eyes gave him away, and Jax understood.
“You ran out, didn’t you?” Jax had also seen the dirt-smeared face and the dried tears. Something had definitely happened. The boy looked calm now, and he wondered how long he had been out on the street. Rocio would be worried sick. “Did you get into a fight?” Luis looked at him blankly. Jax mimicked fighting with his right fist, and Luis nodded. “Some boys beat you up?”
The child nodded again, still not comprehending every word, but sure that Jax understood what had happened to him. Strange how this gringo with his little knowledge of Spanish immediately perceived what had occurred when he would have a much harder time explaining this to his mother who spoke fluent Spanish …
“Your mother doesn’t know, does she?” When Luis gave him another blank look, Jax tried in his best Spanish, “tu mama, no sabe?”
“No, no sabe. Y no le digas por favor.” – No, she doesn’t know. And don’t tell her please.
Jax had been an occasional truant in his schooldays and he knew very well that Luis was in for some serious scolding. Unlike Luis though, he had never experienced bullying. Quite on the contrary, if there had been any bullying in Jax’s adolescence, he had usually been on the giving and not the receiving end.
“I m going to take you home, OK? I think she already knows you left school. They probably called her.” Even though Luis didn’t catch every word he said, he knew that Jax was driving him home. Resigning himself to his upcoming punishment, he leaned back and let his last tears come out. When Jax glanced sideways, he saw the boy’s dirty cheeks marked by fresh crystal streaks.
Rocio was so relieved when Jax walked into her hovel with her son that she forgot her concerns about him seeing the interior of her home. She swept Luis in her arms, and held him tightly, as if afraid of losing him again if she let go. With tears in her eyes, she looked at Jax, and said, “Gracias.”
Luis was flabbergasted at Rocio’s effusive display of affection. He had been expecting a tirade, but instead she welcomed him in a deluge of love. Now, however, she held him off and asked him, “Que pasó?” – What happened?
He didn’t know how to tell her, but to his surprise, Jax came to the rescue. “Some kids beat him up in school.”
“He told you that?”
She turned back to her son and asked, “Quien te pegó?” Luis remained silent. He couldn’t tell her who had done it, he would only invite more trouble. She looked at Jax and asked, “That’s why he left?”
“Tengo sed, mami.” Of course, she thought, he had been out for hours. He had to be thirsty. She opened the fridge and poured him cold water. After she handed him the glass, she gestured Jax to follow her outside.
He left the shack and leaned against his truck.
“Thank you for bringing him home,” she said.
“It’s no problem. I’m happy I was there.”
She noticed the shopping bags in the bed of his truck. No beer this time? That looked promising. But just when she thought there were only groceries, she saw the six-packs and a case of wine. How could she not have seen that? This time there was a lot! Disappointed, she turned back to him, knowing what she had to do. Although he had been there for Luis and he had helped her when her car broke down, she could not get involved with someone who drank so much. Not again … Been there, done that.
At that moment she realized how much she liked him, and she cursed herself for falling for another useless drunk again. Well, not entirely useless, she had to admit, but still a drunk … What would he be like at home? How would he treat her once they got to know each other better and his true personality began to show?
“Gracias,” she said, her cold voice hiding the pain in her heart, and she turned around to walk back to her house, but Jax grabbed her arm and stopped her. “Hey, where are you going?”
“To my house.”
He let go of her and said, “I wanted to …” It felt weird talking to her back, and his words came out a lot less confident than he had planned. “I would like to take you out for a drink perhaps.”
A drink … Yes, of course – she thought and turned back towards him. “No, Jax,” she said, her firm voice belying her inner turmoil. “I’m not going out for a drink, not with you.”
“What the hell did I do?”
She looked at the bed of his truck and with a dismissive wave at it, she said, “That’s what you did, that beer, wine, every day you buy too much beer, too much wine …”
“Hang on a minute. You think that all that is for me?” She nodded. “Rocio, those are deliveries. These are not for me. I fill up pantries and refrigerators in my boss’s condos. He rents them out to tourists, and I always stock them up.”
“You lie. There are empty beer bottles in your car.”
“Yes, but they have been there for months. That doesn’t mean I’m an alcoholic. It means that I suck at cleaning my truck!”
She inwardly debated whether she should believe him, but then remembered how often she had given Gustavo the benefit of the doubt and every time it had been for nothing. “I’m sorry,” she said.
“Come on, Rocio. It’s not what you think.”
A cell phone rang, the sound came from inside. Glad for an excuse to leave him, she ran into the house, but it wasn’t her cell phone. The ring tone was different, and it came from a cellular that was lying on the ground. Jax must have dropped it. She picked it up. Some guy called Jimmy was calling him.
“Answer it.” Jax stood in the doorway, his face grim.
“It’s not my …”
“Answer it,” he insisted.
She pressed the call button. “Bueno?”
“Who’s this?” A gravelly voice demanded to know.
Jax came closer and said, “Tell him you’re a friend of mine and that I can’t come to the phone.”
Nervously she repeated his words. “OK,” the caller said, “Can I leave a message?”
“Tell him that the penthouse needs two bottles of champagne. Get the dry one from Costco.”
Without a word of thanks or goodbye, the man hung up.
“What did he want?” Jax asked.
Realizing that he had been telling her the truth, she said, “Two bottles of champagne for the penthouse.” She felt like an idiot when she met his hard gaze. He was angry at her, and she knew that he had every right to be so.
“May I have my phone?” She handed it over to him, their fingers touching, but he pulled away and put his phone in his back pocket. “You shouldn’t have judged me like that, Rocio.”
He had always been there for her, but she had compared him to her ex whom he didn’t even know and who was nothing like Jax. She had been so focused on her bad experience with Gustavo that she had pushed away the opportunity that had been knocking on her door. Jax walked out, and she stood there, watching him leave and feeling like the biggest fool.
The job at Captain Roy’s was good. She made good tips in her first two days of work, it was more money than she had made in one week at the store. Pleased with her progress, she cleared a table where two customers had just left. After that, she walked into the kitchen to get the next order. The chefs were busy, as usual.
“Enchiladas Suizas, garlic shrimp, and a veggie burger with fries,” the sous chef called.
That was her order. A soon as it was placed on the counter, she swooped it up and carried it back into the restaurant, but she stopped in her tracks. There was Jax, sitting at a table, alone. He had just walked in. Quickly, she served the enchiladas, shrimp, and burger, and then she hurried over to his table before her colleague did. She had to talk to him, apologize at least. She hadn’t seen him in three days and she had not had the courage to call him, but now that he was here, she wanted to seize this opportunity.
Butterflies ricocheted in her belly as she approached him. He sat with his back to her, enjoying the view at the million dollar yachts in the marina. When she appeared at his side, he looked up, surprised to see her.
“How are you, Jax?”
“You work here now?”
“Good for you.”
“I … ” She could just get his order and come back later after she had found the right words to say, but that would be weird. Besides, they were not in high school anymore. Then why did she feel like an anxious adolescent right now? “Jax, I’m sorry … I didn’t mean to be so … judging you …”
“You mean judgmental?”
“Yes, judgmental. I didn’t want to … Sorry, I …”
“It’s OK, Rocio.”
“Yes, it’s fine, don’t worry about it.”
“Are you waiting for someone?” She asked, hoping that he wasn’t. What if she had blown it and he had started dating someone else?
“No, I came in for a quick lunch, but … “He grinned at her. “When is your shift up?”
“In twenty minutes. I did the morning shift today.”
“How about I take you out when you’re done? We could go for a cup of coffee. What do you say, Rocio?”
She smiled. “I would love that.”
Copyright, Lila C. Duville