The next day I was roller-skating again, chastising myself for letting Isabel talk me into letting her take a cab. She was late and her cell phone went straight to voice mail.
And there are no addresses in Tegucigalpa. Not numerical, maplike directions anyway. Instructions to my apartment translated as “up the hill near the electronics store, past the police headquarters, before the gated neighborhood at the top.” Isabel could be dead. Car accidents in Honduras were like blue skies in California. Isabel was probably dead and it was my fault.
Argh. This was the thing --- I was losing my grip on my identity. The old Samantha didn’t worry. She lived and breathed a world that was safe, exciting and ultimately fair. Now the two incarnations of me were at war.
A rap at the front door interrupted the battle. I stumbled out of my skates and made for the door.
A flash of dark hair and aquamarine eyes leaped into my arms. Isabel stepped back to look me over then wrapped me back up in another hug.
She put two slender, perfectly manicured hands on either side of my face. “Man, it’s good to see you!”
What do you get when you mix an American supermodel with a Panamanian heartthrob? Isabel Brighton was so stunningly beautiful, you never remembered how beautiful and always ended up speechless. And I’d known her for over twenty years. Fresh from a filthy cab ride, Isabel looked like she’d stepped out of a magazine ad. Her tan platform sandals and her crimson toenails matched her fedora. You would never know that this girl was the archangel for the world’s poor. Which was the only reason I’d let her take a cab by herself. Isabel was nobody’s fool.
She swatted me with her purse. “Lemme in, I’m beat. I need to sit ---” Isabel looked around the empty living room. She burst out laughing. “You are hilarious. You are aware you have four adults coming to visit, right?” I loved how we weren’t considered adults most of the time. But then I frowned.
“I can’t believe Kendra’s not coming. You believe her about work? It doesn’t make sense. I mean, you got off work.”
Isabel frowned, too, but she didn’t respond. Instead, she beelined for the kitchen. “So whatcha got in the way of refreshments for a weary traveler?” She opened the fridge and took out two Port Royals, the local beer.
I looked at my phone. It was three o’clock. Isabel arched an eyebrow and shoved the beer further toward me. “I’ve got bad news.”
We sat in the chairs with our feet up on the railing. Isabel had her skinny second toe crossed over her big toe. It was no party trick. That’s the thing about being someone’s friend that long --- you know all their ticks and their warning signs, usually better than they do. The toe thing meant her mind was off wrestling an alligator. Isabel hated to complain. She also hated to mope, belabor or reveal any amount of vulnerability. I knew it would take some careful best-friend maneuvering before she told me what was wrong.
“I got canned.”
Or maybe not. I studied her face for clues of what she wanted me to say. “And now you can take those tightrope-walking lessons we always talked about?”
She giggled. The one thing that always gave no-nonsense Isabel away --- her schoolgirl giggle. She sighed. “I think you had it right all along. Live free in exotic locales watching the sunset, not chained to a desk, drowning in case studies of awful things happening to people who don’t deserve it.”
For the first time, I could see little lines under Isabel’s eyes.
“Ha. Hate to break it to ya, but I’m having a crisis in the exact opposite direction, wondering what the hell I’ve done with my life.”
Isabel turned to look at me, her turquoise irises narrowing. “Oh, jeez, don’t ruin this for me. I’m one inch away from moving here to work in an ice cream store.”
I nudged her foot with my toes. “What happened?”
“Oh, you know, just that the economy is shit and obviously the first thing we should do is abandon the people that need the most help. Makes sense to cut back funding on the ones that will probably die anyway, right?”
Her compassion moved me. She wasn’t worried about herself. God, all I’d been worrying about lately was myself. I felt ashamed.
“So, then you got laid off, not fired?”
“Does it matter? I’m tired of trying to change things that are never going to change, Sam. Poverty, corruption, disease. For as long as there have been human beings, there has been evil.”
I’d never heard Isabel talk like that. She rubbed her temples and continued. “We all die alone anyway, don’t we? Why do anything except try to be happy --- bum around the world and have fun.”
She wasn’t trying to insult me, but it cut deep anyway. She noticed.
“No, I’m being serious. It’s not only my job. Ever since Mina’s death I just don’t see the point of drudgery in the face of this ---” She waved her hand across the balmy, admittedly beautiful skyline of Tegucigalpa. “But ---”
“But then I wouldn’t know who I was anymore.”
I raised my beer. “Welcome to my world.”
Isabel looked at me long and hard. She clinked beers, but then lifted up my left hand. “Okay, lady. Talk to me about Remy.”
I looked at my finger where there would be a ring if I hadn’t buried it deep in my suitcase. “He’s getting me a better one anyway.” But I knew Isabel didn’t care about the carats. “Look, I panicked. If I’d said no, I wouldn’t have had any time to think about it.”
Isabel laughed, not exactly nicely. “You are one of a kind, my friend.”
I stuck out my tongue.
“So you don’t think maybe he panicked? Forty-three is getting old. And you’re a little American hottie. Time to lock it down? Make some babies?”
“Hey, thanks but watch it. Yes, he might have rushed a little, in order to ask me before I left the continent. But he knows me well enough to let me travel freely. I think it’s sweet.”
“Or manipulative.” Isabel didn’t believe in marriage. She thought it was an outdated arrangement that led inevitability to female sacrifice, a lesson gleaned from her mother’s devotion to the single life. Jesse was the closest thing I had to a mom, but I’d somehow managed to hang onto a belief in love.
“You haven’t even met him.”
Isabel whipped toward me so fast her hair boomeranged around her face and back. “Exactly.”
No shy violets in our group. But she was right. I was in no real position to make this into a me against the world situation. I didn’t know what the hell I wanted yet. “He makes me feel safe. I’ve never had much of a family, wasn’t ever sure I wanted one of my own. But I do. And it might not be so bad to have someone to take care of me for a change.”
The look on Isabel’s face killed me. That wasn’t what I meant at all, but now I saw what really scared her. I backtracked. “Oh, come on, you know we’ll always have each other. But ---”
Isabel looked like she might cry, except that Isabel never cried. She shook her head. “No, look, you’re right. We will always have each other, but it’s not the same as a boyfriend. Or a husband,” she added begrudgingly. “Anyway --- what kind of friend would I be to talk you out of marrying a rich, famous French movie director?” Isabel winked.
Excerpted from The Summer We Came to Life © Copyright 2012 by Deborah Cloyed. Reprinted with permission by Mira. All rights reserved.
The Summer We Came to Life