By Audrey O’Connor
Freshly minted grad Emilia Noble arrives in Costa Rica to teach English in the tropical community of Pacifica. Its carefree, pura vida lifestyle is a welcome contrast to her dark and wintry origins. Tossing caution aside like an old winter coat, she plunges headfirst into an exotic cocktail of sensory pleasure.
Diego is a local whose surfer body and cool detachment make Lia buzz with a long-lost thrill. Fascinated by her new environment, she can’t help but wonder about the moody inner workings of the boy with triceps like Wolverine and a grimace to match.
Diego seems to have no problem ignoring Lia, though. Caught up in his family’s conflicted attitude toward foreigners, he notices her only when it’s convenient. But as Lia thrives in her new surroundings, Diego might just find reason enough to defy his embattled, insular father. When north and south are mixed together, the results are intoxicating.
Diego’s making it easier for me by leading, going slowly so I can take the same steps. The mid-day heat is stifling, obnoxious. A jerk. The forest ended a while ago and opened into a big bowl of a valley dotted with strange, pointy succulents half my height. Dry, dusty earth. Two small snakes nip under rocks like liquid.
We walk on in silence for a few more minutes, until I hear a low rumble coming from the north. We keep following it, Diego looking back at me more often now that the path has turned into a crumbly, steep slope. It’s a short climb down to where the ground is obscured by thick foliage. The rumble turns to rushing the closer we get, whooshing sheets of water I can hear clearly.
Diego opens his hand, meaning for me to grasp his forearm as I come to the last foothold. His skin is pale and silky there, and so clean despite the dust and heat. Even in my exhaustion, my mind shifts primitively…
My foot slips and my calf skims along the side of the dusty rock, scraping me and staining my skin with ashy dirt. Goddamn. I steady myself before he’s turned around. He doesn’t miss the long scratch on my leg, but at least I didn’t flail.
“Your balance is really something,” he teases.
He’s making fun of me in a way I can’t resist making fun of either. Exasperated, I laugh weakly.
“Yeah, yeah. We’ll go ice skating and then see who’s got balance. Are we almost there?” I have to know. It’s starting to feel like there’s no Emerald City at the end of this road.
“We are there. Let’s go, a few more steps. You’ll like it,” he promises good-naturedly.
He nods his head at the woods. “Just past the trees.”
Diego’s standing there glistening at me, his chest heaving lightly with the heat. It must be hotter than usual, even for Costa Rica. It’s like an alien entity that’s far stronger than either of us. His hair is damp around the nape of his neck and his shirt is pressed against the valley of his back. I’m parched, my skin slick with sweat.
I can just see the poster that used to hang in the Arts admin office at university that showed one circle with an arrow pointing to your comfort zone, juxtaposed against another circle with the words, “Where the magic happens.” I’m there, apparently, because I’m well beyond comfort. I’m not even in any kind of zone – this is no man’s land in Lia World. Here there be dragons. And Diego.
Audrey O’Conner Bio:
Audrey O’Connor can’t help but color outside the lines with big, bright markers. She’s fascinated by the influence of popular culture on the female experience and inspired by creative boldness and the breaking of the dumb rules women are supposed to follow. Audrey lives in Chelsea, Quebec, where she can be found DJ-ing at local events or scanning a cafe for outlets for her laptop.