Without a Trace… Chapter 8

Steve watched the bellhop push the luggage cart from the elevator along the open-air walkway overlooking the scenic garden eight floors below. Lighter than a featherweight boxer, the bellhop wore a gold hoop earring to match the gold lapels on his pressed white uniform. Sweat beaded on his forehead as he pushed the overloaded cart through the door to the Chambers’ suite.

“You can put those on the bed,” said Steve. He pinched two dollars from his Velcro wallet and offered the paltry tip.

The young man accepted the gratuity with feigned enthusiasm, flashing a crooked smile at Sarah who pretended not to notice. “My name is R-Randy. If you n-need anything else, l-l-let me know.”

Steve escorted Randy from the room and locked the deadbolt. He slid his wallet into his back pocket and sat on the edge of the king-size bed to gauge the firmness of the mattress. He heard Sarah open the sliding door to the balcony and watched her plop herself in a lounge chair positioned beside the patio table. Irritated by her sullen demeanor and sour attitude, he had no clue what set her off.

You’re playing with fire, he told himself, shifting his attention from the problem child to the pricey accommodations Leslie had chosen. Satisfied by the quality of the mattress, he admired the ample space the room afforded. A mini-refrigerator stored bottled water and a variety of canned sodas. A wicker basket on the mirrored bureau offered chips, crackers, pretzels, mixed nuts, and one-ounce samples of top-shelf liquor.

He watched Leslie open the patio doors to the spacious balcony. “Do you like it?”

“I love it!”

“I’m glad we’re here,” Steve confided. He got up and hugged his wife.

Leslie put her arm around his slender waist. “Thank you for doing this. I know it’s expensive, but it means a lot to me.” She unfolded a vacation brochure and read aloud. “It says they offer nightly entertainment in the bar beside the main dining hall. Tuesday is ladies night with free drinks after eight. They have lighted tennis courts on the premises and a jogging trail with exercise stations.” She read down the page and skimmed the next section with color photos. “They have two swimming pools, and one of them has a swim-up bar. They also have volleyball, bicycling, sailboats and paddleboat rentals. The building next door has a gym with treadmills, stationary bicycles, and free weights. They even have aerobics classes every morning.”

Steve took the cable guide from the nightstand and flipped through the pages of pay-per-view listings. “What about the dive shop downstairs?”

“It doesn’t say much.”

“How many divers do they take at once?”

“It doesn’t say.”

Leslie pointed to a picture in the brochure. “Look at this. We can visit the famous remnants of Chichen-Itza and tour the Mayan ruins. There’s also a place called Chankanaab Park with a lagoon and botanical garden. Sarah might like that.”

Steve examined Monday night’s line up. He read the listing of late-night programming starting at 2200. A slasher flick followed at 2300 with a caption below the title warning nudity, violence, and sexually explicit content. The movie summary described a serial killer stalking young women on a college campus. Another station showed a movie about a former strip dancer who finds true love with a cop assigned to protect her from a mobster who wants her dead.

“How does that sound?” asked Leslie.

Steve looked up from the glossy pages of movie listings and found his wife unpacking her suitcase. “How does what sound?”

“A dive tomorrow morning to get your feet wet. Our Hot Spot guide said the dive shop offers a complimentary orientation dive to all guests who stay five nights or more.”

Steve put the cable guide on the television and walked to the balcony where Sarah was stretched out on the lounge chair listening to music through her headphones. “I’ll sign us up.”

“When are we eating?” Sarah shouted above the music in her ears.

Steve waited for her to adjust the volume. “You wanna give us a hand?” He peered over the painted railing to view the landscaped shrubbery below. Carved in a circular pattern, bushes surrounded the kidney-shaped pool extending from the bungalow restaurant near the main building to the volleyball traps by the beach. A wooden bridge spanned the middle of the pool where a waterfall cascaded over swimmers who splashed around an artificial reef made of concrete and colored stucco. A poolside bar with underwater chairs provided refreshments for adults. “The pool looks refreshing.”

“I wouldn’t know,” said Sarah.

“Did you see the waterfall when we came in the lobby?”

Sarah removed her headphones. Her long, blonde hair fell between the plastic straps on the back of the cushioned chair. Her neck and face felt hot. “How come my room doesn’t have a remote control for the TV?”

“I thought it did.”

“I don’t have a refrigerator either.”

“You can use ours.”

“But it’s my own room. I should have my own stuff. I don’t even get an ocean view. How come you guys get this room and I get stuck in the dump overlooking the tennis courts?”

“I wouldn’t consider it a dump,” said Steve.

Sarah shrugged. “Are we diving tomorrow?”

“Maybe.”

“What time?”

“Early.”

“How early?”

“You don’t have to go if you don’t want to.”

Sarah got up from her chair. The plastic straps left a waffle cone impression on the back of her legs. “We’ll see.”

* * *

Steve stayed outside to enjoy the smell of the ocean air. He’d paid his tribute to the spoiled princess. Another conversation gone bad. Time and time again he told himself to ignore her trivial insults and disrespectful innuendo. He needed to connect with her again, at some level, even if it meant enduring the figurative kick in the face. Sarah wasn’t his child by birth, but she was his daughter—part of the package he bought into when he married Leslie.

Alone on the balcony, he looked down at the tourists sunbathing on the beach. Large boats floated on the horizon. Closer inland, snorkelers explored shallow waters while sailboard enthusiasts rode the waves.

Back in the room, he saw Sarah emerge from the bathroom in a string bikini. Baffled by how little her swimwear actually covered, he frowned disapprovingly at how much cleavage her top revealed. “You’re not going to the pool in that.”

“Mom said I could.”

“You need to cover up before you walk through the lobby.”

“We’re on vacation,” said Leslie in Sarah’s defense. “It’s her favorite swimsuit.”

“You call that a swimsuit? She might as well be naked.”

“That’s what girls are wearing these days.”

“Not by my standards. She’s a magnet for every horny boy running wild in the building.”

Sarah pulled her hair back and tied it in a bun. “I can’t help it if they think I’m hot.”

Leslie burned her eyes at Sarah. “Watch it, young lady.” Struggling to keep her cool, she turned to Steve and said, “Honey, it’s a resort. She can wear a swimsuit all day if she wants to.”

“But—”

“She’ll be fine.”

Leslie took a sarong from her beach bag and handed it to Sarah. “Why don’t you wear this until you get to the pool.”

Sarah snatched the silky accessory and wadded it in a ball. “Jesus, Mom, you’re as bad as he is. I’m sixteen. I’m not a child anymore.”

Leslie chewed her bottom lip. “Sarah, please don’t use that tone of voice with us.”

“What tone?”

“That’s enough!”

Sarah grabbed a room key from the dresser by the hallway entrance. “I’ll be at the pool,” she shouted and slammed the door behind her.

Steve threw his hands in the air. “I swear she thinks I’m her evil uncle or something. She has no respect for me anymore. Like the universe unfolds around her.”

“She’s a sixteen-year-old girl coping with adolescence. She needs time to adjust.”

“Sixteen going on thirty. Tell me you weren’t the same way growing up.”

Leslie hugged him. “I was worse.”

“I feel like I’ve lost her. No matter what I say or do she rebuffs me. In her eyes I’m always guilty.”

“Give her time. She loves you. She just doesn’t like being told what to do. Not by me. Not by her teachers. And certainly not by her stepfather.”

“Especially not by me,” Steve added. He grabbed his towel and sunscreen lotion from the bag on the desk. “I still don’t like her traipsing around this place half naked. Maybe I should go down and keep an eye on her.”

Leslie touched his arm. “You’ll only upset her more. She’s a big girl now. She can take care of herself.”

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