1. Hotel Rosarito — Part 2
I am serializing my collection Stories from The Last Basin currently available on Amazon. The stories are best read in the order of Table Contents:
by John Anthony, 2021
Jo, Henry, and Annmarie walked across the hotel lobby to the restaurant’s entrance.
“Ignore the menu,” Jo said. “There’s only one thing to order here: the lobster.”
“As I recall, that was how you sold us on driving half-way across the world to come here,” Annmarie said.
“Just a reminder,” Jo said in a reply that was as bright as her mood. “Langosta, in Español, mi belleza.” Annmarie knew enough Italian to understand that the pronunciation might be different between bellezza and belleza, but the meaning was identical and she blushed.
The maître d’ met them at the restaurant’s portico facade. “Good-evening, ladies and gentle sir. Have you a reservation?”
“Y . . . yes,” Henry answered. “Constantino.” The maître d’ paused to scan a book situated for his viewing alone and announced “¡Si! Señor Constantino and two guests.”
“I’m a guest?” Annmarie whispered sharply into Henry’s ear as the maître d’ collected menus.
“This way, por favor,” the maître d’ said, and began walking. Jo followed first, behind her, Annmarie, and then Henry, who was wondering how asking for a reservation for three under his name had possibly become a mistake. But there it was and he had done it.
They were seated at a two-by-two booth. Annmarie slid in followed by Henry next to her. Jo sat opposite and pushed a setting aside pulling the remaining one to the center. The maître d’ waved his arm toward a busboy signaling to remove the extra flatware and glasses, then asked, “Would you like to begin with a cocktail perhaps?” Henry looked at the table, Annmarie made a dismissive motion towards the idea, and only Jo spoke. “Absolutely! Bring us each one of those scrumptious tequila cocktails. Margaritas, I believe they’re called.”
“Yes, Madam,” the maître d’ said.
“Señorita,” Jo corrected. The maître d’ nodded.
“And three shots of your best tequila for us as well. Herradura perhaps?”
“A fine choice. Are you an actress? Many from Hollywood have requested the same.”
“You’re too kind. Of course not. Simply a tourist,” Jo said with a smile that lightened the mood of the maître d’. Her jet-black hair with deep blue eyes enchanted him.
“Of course,” Jo answered.
“Perfecto, Señorita,” and the maître d’ reluctantly took his leave.
“What are you doing ordering for us?” Annmarie asked. “And shots of tequila?”
“When in México…” Jo offered, flagging down the busboy again. “Muchacho,” she said. “Please make sure they bring salt and limes with our drinks.”
“Sal y limas. Sí, señorita.”
“I’m not sure if I will like it,” Annmarie said. Henry let a quiet sigh escape.
“Well, you wouldn’t know until you’ve tried it,” Jo pointed out, but was accommodating. “What cocktail would you prefer?”
“A gin and tonic,” Annmarie said, a gin and tonic being only one of two cocktails she was familiar with and that was due to the movies she loved to watch. The other was a martini, but she knew that drink had options that needed to be specified and she had no idea of what those options were. A martini was out of the question.
“When they bring the first round I’ll order you a gin and tonic, dear. Bombay or Hendricks? Have you another preference? Personally, I adore Plymouth, reminds me of that rock near my hometown,” she said smiling.
“Please don’t, Jo,” she answered, failing to say what she wanted to say. “Really. The drinks you ordered will be fine. Delightfully fine, I mean. There’s no need to pamper me.”
“Fine? As starters perhaps,” Jo said, then looked at Henry in a way that made him laugh.
“Did I miss a joke?” Annmarie asked.
“A little irony at my expense, dear,” Henry answered untruthfully. “I swore to myself at our wedding that I would pamper you until the end of my days and now you declare you don’t need pampering.”
“How sweet!” Jo said.
“Is it? I never asked to be pampered.”
Henry acknowledged defeat by looking around the restaurant. “This joint is empty tonight,” he said. “Little chance of seeing any Hollywood stars dining and drinking and doing whatever it is that makes them supposedly so interesting.”
“It’s the season,” Jo said. “Or rather, it’s not the right season.”
“Obviously it isn’t,” Annmarie said. “We wouldn’t be here if it were the right season.”
“Sadly true,” Jo offered, but not convincingly. Henry and Annmarie both knew Jo would be very welcome at any time of year. “But we aren’t here to ogle at movie stars,” Jo continued, “We’re here for each other’s company.” She paused as a waiter delivered their drinks. “Let’s drink to that!”
Annmarie reached for her margarita, but Jo stopped her. “First the shot,” she said. “Place a small bit of salt on your thumb like this, then lick it off and drink the shot and immediately suck on the lime. It takes a bit of coordination. Everyone ready? One . . . Two . . . three, salud!”
With varying levels of awkwardness the three managed to complete their tasks at the same time. Jo held out her shot glass and said, “To the three of us!” And Henry and Annmarie, whose face had flushed red, touched their empty glasses to Jo’s. Annmarie, looking as though she needed to wash the taste of the tequila out of her mouth, assertively grabbed her margarita (fearing Jo might stop her again), and took several large sips on the straw.
“I like this drink far better,” she said, setting the glass down but keeping it close.
“Wonderful!” Jo said. “I feel the party is officially underway.” And in confirmation of Jo’s declaration, the waiter appeared and asked if they had any questions about the menu, all three of which had been guarded under Jo’s left elbow since the maître d’ had been relieved of them surreptitiously by a wink and a smile.
“No questions from us,” Jo volunteered for the three of them. “As an appetizer, please bring us camarones and a variety of sauces — Chef’s choice of course. Then, langosta para todo, each under half a kilo, four hundred grams if possible, por favor.” She turned to Henry and Annmarie. “They’re sweeter and more tender that way.”
“Si, señorita. ¿Es todo?” the waiter asked.
“Otra ronda de bebidas. Lo mismo, por favor.”
“Inmediatamente,” the waiter said, nodded to Jo, and left.
“What was it you told the waiter?” Annmarie asked.
“I thanked him, of course,” Jo answered, then asked, “Henry, how is your dissertation going?”
“My ad . . . advisor is reviewing it. He expects I’ll si . . . sit for my defense this coming semester.”
“Are you nervous?”
“Of course not. These th . . . things aren’t designed as a test. I wouldn’t sit for a defense if my advisor didn’t consider it pu . . . publishable.”
“And then what will you do?”
“I . . .” Henry began, but Annmarie impatiently interrupted him. “Henry will go to work in the nuclear power industry. It’s the future of electricity. It really is. I read an article in Life and another in Look. The industry needs brilliant physicists such as Henry.”
“I’m sure,” Jo said.
“And what will you do with your master’s in clinical psychology when you graduate?” Annmarie asked, trying to adopt Jo’s dismissive tone but with a little difficulty, as she had finished her margarita and had yet to eat a thing.
“Perhaps I’ll apply what I’ve learned to myself; you damned well know I could benefit from a bit of analysis,” Jo replied. When neither of her friends reacted to her self-deprecation, she added, “Most likely I’ll have the diploma framed and hung in my parent’s library. Josephine’s Gallery of Useless Achievements, I call it.” This time all three of them laughed.
“Seriously, Jo. Have you considered pursuing your PhD?” Henry asked.
“Seriously? The only thing I’m serious about at the moment is the next round of drinks!” And right on cue, the waiter returned with more shrimp than they could possibly eat and he was followed by another waiter with the next round of tequila shots and margaritas.
“Jo! You’re so naughty!” Annmarie said more gaily than anything else she’d shared that day.
“Perhaps,” Jo answered. “But I may need a little discipline, don’t you think?”
“You’d be the best judge,” Henry said.
“I would be,” Jo answered honestly.
The dinner lasted late into the evening. It had begun with laughter all around and dwindled to Henry and Jo talking quietly about their academic programs while Annmarie’s eyes began closing involuntarily. She tried to will them to stay open but was obviously failing. Jo was her friend she kept repeating to herself. She wouldn’t relinquish her to Henry — but the tequila. She blamed the tequila.
“Anna, dear. Let’s get you to bed,” Jo announced. “You can barely stay awake.” Annmarie started to protest but Jo wouldn’t listen. “I’m tired too, Anna. Off we go.”
When they reached their rooms, they all said good-night and exchanged kisses on the cheek. Henry and Annmarie locked the door behind them and prepared for bed silently. Dressed in their pajamas they slipped under the covers. Annmarie considered having a last cigarette but thought better of it. A cool breeze blew onshore from the ocean and through their open window. They didn’t notice the full moon reflecting off the surface of the Pacific’s night-blackened water, which was unfortunate but consistent with their life. Henry was about to kiss his wife good night when there came a soft knock on the inner door from the adjoining room. Henry got up and opened it. Jo stood there wearing the same silk chiffon robe she had worn to the pool earlier.
“I’m chilly. And frankly, I’m a little uncomfortable sleeping alone here,” she said. Henry looked back at her, unsure how to answer this time. Jo looked at Annmarie, and Annmarie looked back at Jo through half-shut eyelids and softly patted the bed with her hand.
* * * * *
It was mid-morning by the time Henry and Annmarie were ready to leave. Henry had tipped the valet and the bellhop and was rearranging the luggage in the trunk while Annmarie sat alone in the back seat of the car, smoking a cigarette and blowing the smoke out the rolled down window. They had barely spoken that morning, just enough to communicate intent. Room service? Yes. Pack now? Yes. Ready to leave? It’s past the time to leave. Okay, I’ll have them bring the car around. The day had been born hot and crept toward triple digits with each passing minute. Henry used his handkerchief to wipe the sweat from the back of his neck, aggravating the slight sunburn he received from the prior day’s visit to the hotel pool. He had not seen Jo at all. He didn’t even know what time it was when she had left their room the night before, but that wasn’t a surprise. He knocked after breakfast, but there had been no answer. The only reason he knew Jo was up and about was that their entire bill had already been paid when he went to the hotel’s desk to check out.
“It’s a damn scorcher,” he said to Annmarie as he walked to the front of the car with a rag from the trunk. Annmarie returned only silence. He lifted the hood and methodically began to measure the fluid levels and check everything else he could, even the air filter, mostly to keep busy and partly because he liked machines. He understood their needs, he knew when they required maintenance, he could even fix them when they were broken. There was no misunderstanding a machine. The car’s raised hood blocked his view of Jo’s approach followed in her footsteps by Miguel the bellhop.
“Miguel, pon el equipaje aquí, por favor,” she said, then, “Gracias. Aquí. Esto es para ti.”
“Gracias, señorita. Disfruta tu viaje casa.”
Henry closed the hood and said, “Adios, Miguel,” then wished he hadn’t.
“Good morning, Henry. What a brilliant day.”
“It’s brilliantly warm,” he said rearranging the luggage again, then more softly, “Annmarie is waiting in the back seat. She said sitting three across in the front seat was uncomfortable on the trip down.”
“I’ll join her then,” Jo said brightly, opening the passenger side rear door while Henry closed the trunk. “Mamasita Anna Maria, buenos dias on this glorious morning.”
“Of course it is,” Jo replied. “I’m sorry I’m late. Miguel guided me this morning to . . . well, let me show you.” She reached into her purse and found a small jewelry case. “I just had to buy this for you.” Annmarie opened the case and inside was a delicate gold chain bracelet, filled with tiny dangling golden hearts. Each heart was engraved with an A on one side and a J on the other. Annmarie couldn’t help but smile.
“It was the engraving that took so long,” Jo said. “But I knew it wouldn’t do to not have it done, so Miguel and I waited for it and I’m so glad you waited for me!” Annmarie laughed. Henry shut Jo’s door and walked around to the driver’s side.
“We wouldn’t have left you here,” Annmarie said.
“One never knows. Sometimes I’m quite naughty,” which made them both laugh. Henry started the car, silently agreeing with Jo.
“Will you visit me when I vacation on Nantucket in August?” Jo asked. Henry wasn’t sure whom she was asking.
“I would like to but . . .” Annmarie said.
“No buts about it. You must come. Just the two of us girls . . .”
“But . . .”
“No men to distract us! Think of the fun we’ll have.”
“But . . .” then quickly adding, “Jo, listen to me.”
“I’m listening, dear,” Jo said.
“I can’t. No more. I’m pregnant,” Annmarie finally said, surprising Henry. Jo paused, but only for a moment.
“Why that’s wonderful, Anna. I guess you really are the mamasita,” she said. She took a flask from her purse. “Here’s to the mother to be,” and she took a drink. Then, not offering it to Annmarie, she leaned forward and tapped Henry’s shoulder with it. “How about you, Daddy? A drink to the mother-to-be?” Henry waved her off silently, so Jo kept talking. “Well, looking back on our weekend, that was a baby shower for the record books. A few more surprises such as this one and you’ll find yourself talking to Dr. Sidwell, because a master’s degree may be terribly insufficient for my needs,” and she took another drink and then tucked the flask away in her purse. “You really should name the baby after me, you know. The name does work either way.”