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The hotel room was stuffy and crowded as Joe began his work, quietly tapping away at his laptop. His company was setting up a new legal division near a vacation hot spot and needed him and a few colleagues to settle a few housing disputes.At first, he declined and explained he already had enough to do as is, but the few co-workers he was friends with had persuaded him to go since they were invited as well.
Since Joe worked for a quite a small law firm, and he didn’t have enough money to get his own room, he was stuck doubling with an associate. Good thing it was only with his friend, Mike, who he got along great with. The only problem was Mike was known to be wild. He was one of the top associates at the firm, but he also knew how to do full on Keg stand from last summer’s 4th of July office party. Mike wasn’t the most professional lawyer when it came down to it, but he got the job done.
As Joe began his work, building up a proposal for the housing dispute, Mike was busy grabbing his things to hit the sandy beach that was next to the hotel they were staying in.
“You coming, Joe?” Mike asked, laying a towel on his shoulder. “There’s going to be lots of pretty girls in bikinis out there.”
“Mike, you do know that we have a presentation due in a couple days, right?” Joe snapped, without looking at Mike for an answer. “There’s absolutely no way we can finish on time if we go out now.”
“Listen to yourself,” Mike huffed, slapping Joe on the shoulder. “This is why you’re going to have a heart attack at the age of 35- you stress way too much. Relax, get some sun.”
“You go on without me, I have to finish a few things.”
Mike sighed. The look on his friend’s face was saddening. He knew all about Joe’s divorce and how much it affected him. Of course, Joe was always diligent and ready to help out, but that was work. When it came to his job, Joe was on top of things but that’s how he lost Ariel- he forgot his priorities. If he could have put this much effort into his relationship with Ariel, maybe they would have stayed together. Now, Mike could only see how miserable Joe was since now he had no one to go home too. Somehow, he had become even more of a robot.
“I’m heading out,” Mike shrugged. “If I see any pretty ladies, I’ll be sending them on this way just so you know.”
Joe didn’t see or hear from Mike the rest of the day. He knew it. Mike was pretty much a flake, but Joe gave him the benefit of the doubt and thought just maybe today he’d be willing to cooperate with so much at stake. Mike knew how much Joe wanted a promotion and this time the position might be secured with his help. It didn’t turn out the way he planned it.
It was getting late, and Joe had finished most of the proposal but ended up skipping dinner. He figured as long as he got to certain point, eating could wait just a bit longer. Meanwhile, Mike finally showed up at the door and stumbled getting in.
“Hey! Joe, I need a favor,” Mike hurriedly asked.
Joe was baffled. “Excuse me? I have been waiting all day and night for you to help me on this proposal and you want to ask me for a favor?”
“Your right,” Mike nodded, as he thought up a quick plan. “Why don’t I take the work off your hands and you can go grab yourself a drink down at the lobby. Let me guess, you’ve been here all day working on the proposal right? Why don’t you relax for a while. Take a stroll on the beach. Go shopping.”
“It is 10 at night, what that hell is wrong with you? Where am I going to go?” Joe screamed, unaware of what really was going on.
“Hey, I’m just trying to be a good friend,” Mike insisted, patting Joe on the shoulder with a sympathetic look.
Joe looked at door and pointed. He knew what was up by now. “You found a girl, didn’t you?”
Mike started to scoff but realized he couldn’t deny it. “Yes, but you don’t understand! It’s my old college girlfriend. The one I never got over.”
“No way.” Joe shook his head and went straight back to his laptop. Mike already knew his answer so, he pushed. He grabbed Joe’s laptop which sent Joe launching over to grab it back. They reached the door and Mike pushed Joe out of the room.
“Rainie, Joe,” Mike hurriedly introduced. “Joe, this is Rainie.”
“We’ve met,” Joe said bowing towards her. “She was at my wedding as one of Ariel’s bridesmaids.”
“Hi, Joe,” Rainie said, giving him a nervous wave before Mike pulled her into the room before Joe had the chance to barge back in.
“Mike, let me in.” Joe was ready to punch his friend in the face, but Mike had already shoved his laptop to his abdomen before he could respond.
“C’mon, be a pal,” Mike whined. “I owe you one, okay? Oh, but don’t come knocking until we’re done.”
Slamming the door on his friend’s face, Mike was able to shut Joe up fast enough before he got a pounding. Joe knew when he was defeated. He picked a seat on the floor and resumed his busy work on his laptop before he heard a sweet, melodic voice speak his name.
He looked up and frantically tried to stand without dropping his laptop on the floor. She had appeared from a few doors down, carrying a bucket full of ice.
“A-Ariel,” he said, smoothing away stray wrinkles on his suit. “What are you doing here?”
She gave a nervous laugh. “I’m here with Rainie for a mini vacation. I was trying to look for her, but I guess she’s a little busy in there with Mike. I didn’t know you were staying here as well. Are you on vacation too?”
He couldn’t look her in the eye, so instead he settled for the ice box. His heart started pounding and his mouth went dry. It had been a while since they had last seen each other and Joe could still remember the night he last kissed her. With the amount of work he had piled up for him, he was able to numb himself from the pain of the divorce but seeing her now had rushed back old feelings.
“N-no,” he answered. “I’m on a business trip.”
“Ah,” she smiled. “Looks like you’re locked out.”
Joe sighed and gritted his teeth. The sight of Ariel had temporarily blocked him from remembering that he needed to pound on Mike. She noticed the tension in his body and giggled.
“Mike is giving you a hard time, huh?” He nodded and nervously touched his brow. “Sorry I was ease dropping.”
“It’s okay,” he shrugged. “It’s not you whom I am mad at.”
As if by clockwork, his stomach embarrassingly let out a loud growl. If he wasn’t going to kill Mike, he was going to kill himself.
“Sorry, I didn’t eat dinner.”
“Neither did I,” she replied, as if by request. “I was supposed to grab a late dinner with Rainie but she was missing the entire day. If you’d like, why don’t we go get something together?”
Why? Because he would have an aneurysm trying to feign normal behavior in front of her for another minute, that’s why. With no reason to decline the offer to her face, however, Joe accepted and they decided to head to the nearby diner downstairs. Luckily, she offered to keep his laptop in her room so he didn’t have to lug it around.
While they ate, Joe spent the evening listening intently as Ariel spoke. She talked about spending a lot of time with Rainie ever since the divorce. That’s how she got a job at a local business as an administrative clerk. It wasn’t the most exciting job in the world, but it paid the bills and right now, she needed all the help she got. As she delved deeper, Joe couldn’t help but see how well she coped. She seemed so calm and above all she seemed happy.
This is how it should be, he thought to himself. As long as she’s happy, there’s not much left I can do.
By the time they were done eating, they headed over to the bar in the hotel for a quick drink. Ariel knew Mike and Rainie would not be done “renewing” their old flames for each other.
“It’s been a while since we’ve last talked like this,” Joe casually mentioned, gulping his beer down.
“Yeah, about 3 months. We’re half way to the finish line!” she joked as she sipped on her Margarita. In 3 more months, their divorce would be finalized.
He only responded with a half-hearted smile, swirling the bottle of booze with a loose hand.
Ariel cut the awkward silence by offering a toast. “To half way.”
Joe reluctantly clinked his bottle to her glass and refused to drink to her toast. Ariel however, downed the entire glass full and shook her head at the bitter aftertaste. She even coughed a bit, which Joe laughed at.
“I didn’t know you had it in you,” he smiled, while looking at his bottle. “What an alcoholic.”
She nudged his arm playfully. “You’re the one who drove me to the brink.”
“Well then,” he scoffed, letting a chuckle. He drank the last drop of beer before raising two fingers. “Two more for the alcoholic over here!”
Ariel was shocked, but took on his challenge with a smirk. “I’m going to remember this, pal.”
He let out a scoff. “Honey, by the time we’re done, you won’t be remembering anything.”
After a few more drinks, Joe wasn’t feeling nervous anymore and still had enough balance to stand up and led Ariel to the lounge for a dance. As the bluesy music transcended the intoxicated air, the drinkers reveled in the dreamlike atmosphere. They danced close- her arms wrapped around his neck, his arms firmly placed on both sides of her waist. Small giggles were escaping from her lips every so often when she.carefully listened to the sultry lyrics playing above.
When the dance ended, they remained close as they made their way out to the beach for some fresh air. They didn’t go too far in, since it was dark by now, but they did walk around hand in hand loving the feel and presence of the other. At one point, when they stopped to look at the midnight glow of the moon on the glistening water and when they were far enough from wandering eyes, Ariel kissed Joe slightly on the cheek. He didn’t really think of it as anything, but only smiled back.
The alcohol wore off deliciously slow, leaving Joe and Ariel light headed for a while. Lucid conversations were far off now as they stumbled back in the hotel with their hands still interlocked and their faces reddened by the sudden flush of warmth. By the time they reached her room, they anticipated where they would go from here.
“I had fun, Joe.” Ariel went for a hug and wrapped her arms around his waist while letting her cheek land on his chest.
“Me too.” Too tired to even speak another word, he placed his head on top of hers and held her tightly. She was warm and comforting despite their broken relationship.
Ariel took in his scent and bit her lower lip when she held him even tighter, “I don’t want you to go just yet.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” he responded. He raised his head off of her and saw her do the same, plastering a bright, drowsy smile. He brushed her stray bangs away from her face and kissed her lightly on the forehead.
“Good.” Reaching into her pocket, Ariel fetched for the room key and unlocked the door. Without leaving his hand, she tugged him in before shutting the door behind. Her giggles were getting louder and Joe wasn’t drunk enough to not know where this was headed.
“Wait, isn’t Rainie coming back?” The look on her face suddenly changed.
“I don’t know,” she shrugged for a second as the smile came back. She took his hands into hers and brought him close. “Bur I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if you’re here.”
Clearly, she didn’t know what their predicament entailed. Joe took a palm and gently stroked her cheek. “What are we doing?”
“I don’t know.” Her drowsy words seemed to stumbled just like her legs. She let a couple fingers graze her lips before they reached out and touched his face. For a few moments, her hand stayed there. She gave a weak smile before she spoke. “Just stay.”
His words seemed to struggle to come out. As they held each, they could feel their legs giving out. Joe was the first to fall and dragged Ariel down with him. They laughed as they tumbled onto the floor and tried to crawl to the foot of the bed. Ariel was having troubling multitasking, so Joe dragged her next to him as they sat on the floor. As they sat side by side, Joe swung his arm around her shoulder and placed a firm hand on her waist.
“Honey,” Ariel called out as she laid her head on his shoulder. “Can I tell you something?”
Joe turned his head to face hers and smiled while wrapping his other arm in front of her. “Anything.”
She cupped a hand near his ear and let out a small laugh that tickled his ear.
“I’m glad I found you here.” Letting out another laugh, she took the hand that was next to his ear and placed her index finger on her lips as she made a shushing sound.
“Silly girl.” Closing up what little space that was between them, Joe pressed his body next to hers and kissed her cheek.
They sat quietly for a moment. Joe dropped his head to Ariel’s shoulder and nuzzled his nose on her neck. She still smelled amazing as ever- he couldn’t deny that. The after effects of drinking quickly made them sleepy but neither wanted to end this dreamlike consciousness.
“Don’t go to sleep,” Ariel called out, petting Joe’s cheek with a soft palm.
The idea of not sleeping in her arms made him groan but opening his eyes turned to be a challenge all in itself as well. With a sigh, Joe pried his eyes open and shifted his head so he could look at her. His hands moved up to the small of her back. The kind and inviting smile on her face still remained – probably still high from the alcohol – which radiated against the light shadows.
“What?” Ariel asked, as the silence became too apparent. Her hand never left his cheek as she continued gently stroking it.
Joe gave her a content and blissful look, taking a moment to laugh away his doubt, and kissed her. Slowly, he pressed his lips firmly onto hers and slipped a hand to her stomach. He could feel the subtle stretch of her abdomen when she inhaled. Her delicate hand on his cheek grazed down to his jawline and settled nicely on his neck. They stopped for a moment, when he brought his hand to her lips to gently brush them, drowning in her charm.
“I miss you,” he whispered into her ear as he brought his hand back to her waist. His voice broke and Ariel could see the tears forming in his eyes. They weren’t falling, but just barely glistened in the dim moonlight.
She responded with a stifled moan and kissed him back. “I miss you, too.”
“Ariel,” he softly murmured to her ear. “Marry me, again.”
Her head snapped towards him as he asked. Ariel was starting to feel the buzz wear off when her throat started to choke into a hiccup. His words seemed to trigger all the emotions she had felt in the months they were apart as tears suddenly formed. A knot in her stomach had worsened the situation.
Not giving him a response, Ariel looked into his half-opened eyes and laughed despite herself. Joe looked like he was out of his mind, in a drunken haze. Offering a comforting look, Ariel took his hands into hers and brought them near her chest. She rubbed her thumbs over his fingers and gently kissed them before she placed them on her lap.
“We should stop,” she smiled. “Before we do something stupid.”
Joe responded with a single nod. Getting up off the floor, he stood without stumbling for the first time tonight. Ariel got up half way before falling backwards onto the bed. She let out a childish laugh and swam in the sheets, feeling the soft material underneath. Stretching his sore back, Joe groaned as he felt the tiny bones cracking. He gave a deep exhale, walked over to his laptop and plopped it on arm.
“I guess, I’ll be going then.”
Ariel hummed in agreement, feeling that knot in her stomach return. As they said their goodbyes, she could feel her throat tightening up once again. It was the right thing to do, she thought to herself. If she wanted to be happy, she should be able to let go of him. It was nice to be so close to him again, even if they weren’t completely honest to themselves. So why do I feel like crying, she sighed to herself as the tears openly fell from her eyes.
Sleep was dwelling on her as she shut her eyes and swallowed that incessant lump in her throat. She had to remind herself exactly why they decided to divorce. A little bit of alcohol couldn’t erase what had happened between them. He would still go back to working like a maniac and she would go back to being miserable
As Joe walked back to his room, he thought about what Ariel had said. We should stop, before we do something stupid, he remembered. Suddenly, he let out a smile, not regretting a single thing that he had said or had done tonight. The only stupid thing he did, he figured, had already been done when he left her to go to sleep.
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