A Life in the Azores
Travel romance fiction by Adam J. Cheshier
. . . continued from earlier chapters.
In the morning, Lexi brought up the idea again during breakfast.
“What’s in Portugal?” she asked.
“I don’t know. That’s why I need to go,” Jack replied. “I’ve always just had a desire to spend some of my life in Portugal. I can’t explain what’s pulling me there.”
“Well, I can tell you what’s pulling ME there. . . It’s you,” she said.
“I must say, though, I tend to travel with very limited destination planning. However, since I plan to spend a summer there, we can look into shared accommodation — if that’s something you want to do,” Jack suggested.
“You’re only staying a summer there?” Lexi asked.
“Only a summer, I promise. I don’t want to get trapped somewhere just as much as you don’t right now.”
“We don’t have to do any research. Let’s just move. Let’s just go. Like, after the weekend,” Lexi said.
“But, it’s already Saturday morning. You want to move Monday, Lexi?”
“Yeah, well, why not? What’s your hold up? Too many things to pack?” she asked sarcastically as she took a glance at Jack’s lightweight travel bag that he only packed half-full no matter where he went.
“Don’t you have to sell the house?”
“I do. There are agencies that can do that for me, though. I want to go.”
And just like that, they said goodbye to their recently made friends in the village, packed up their belongings, and hit the airport with no destination city in mind.
PART II Azores, Portugal
It’s true, there was something calling Jack to Portugal ever since his days on the road started, but every time it came calling, another opportunity presented itself and dragged Jack elsewhere.
In his mind, it was constantly a place he envisioned a future even if he didn’t know anything about it. He’d never taken one step onto Portuguese soil, much less spent any time learning the language or culture. He couldn’t quite put a finger on it, but, to him, it represented the greatest place on Earth.
He’d always dreamed of a life in Portugal — or in this case — at least a summer. The Atlantic, the mountains, the language, the culture — everything ringed hard in his soul without ever being there. He wasn’t sure if his perception of the country was true, but he, at least, needed to find out. However, where he ended up was out of his wildest dreams but not in his dreams at the same time.
Jack had always dreamed of Lisbon or Porto; that’s all he really knew about the country. He hadn’t dreamed of anywhere else — only what other places may be like. Truthfully, he had never heard of any other cities in Portugal.
Lexi was the same way. She’d been to Lisbon once on a weekend getaway with her ex-boyfriend; she only had one request and it was to move anywhere but there — which is what landed them in the Azores.
The Azores are a group of mystic islands well-off the coast of Portugal in the mid-Atlantic; a little less than half-way to America filled with adventure and wonder.
Waterfalls cascading from tree lines, trails down to the ocean, beautiful hilltop church steeples overlooking horizons, great blue lakes buried in craters; all of it combines to make the Azores a diversity enigma unlike any. Jack and Lexi couldn’t wait to dive into it. But first, they had to settle in for the summer.
Jack found a job at a scuba diving joint, Lexi started selling her paintings and other pieces of art at a stall she rented for almost nothing from the landlord of their modest countryside flat.
Their place was nothing special. A small studio apartment with a complete kitchen so that Lexi could continue to write a cookbook she had started working on in Faroe.
The studio had everything the two needed for the summer including a rooftop that they’d spend every night on; watching the sunset over the Atlantic horizon, counting each star as they appeared in the darkening sky, going back-and-forth about their favorite songs, bouncing book and poem ideas off each other, and growing together as friends more than they’d ever imagined when first meeting on that beach in Bøur.
Jack bought a scooter as transportation to the seaside where Diveshack was located. Lexi rode a bike into town where her art stall was becoming one of the most popular in town. Every morning, they breathed the fresh island air with a taste of sea salt as they gallivanted about on unfinished roads that almost all led to Big Blue.
One morning, Jack arrived to work — he was the first one to the store, almost always — and a customer was already waiting outside the locked doors of Diveshack.
“Hey, there! Good morning!” the man said, full of life and energy.
“Morning. I assume you’re diving this morning, are ya?”
“You betcha! I know I’m a little early — I was hoping that, perhaps, we could spend some extra time in the ocean that way!” the man said enthusiastically.
Diveshack was located on one of the most popular beaches in the Azores. It was a small place, family-owned by a couple; however, all of the dive instructors were foreign like Jack.
“Yeah, I reckon we can. I’ll take you out there today,” Jack answered the man, “Unfortunately, seems like some of us here have got too comfortable with the slow island culture here. They’re usually arriving a little bit late and I don’t have the shack keys to access the gear and tanks. We’ll have to wait until the keys arrive.”
“Oh, well, that’s all right,” the man said still upbeat as he turned his attention to the waves riding up onto the beach. There were a few go-getters who had already arrived to the beach to enjoy the sun.
“What’s your name by the way? Where are you from?” Jack asked.
“My name? Oh, Mike. I’m American.”
“Nice to meet ya, Mike. I’m Jack, from America, too. Ever dived before?”
“Oh, yes, yes. I’ve been diving for 32 years — now working on my last level of courses. I’ve just gone about my diving courses in a very slow and meticulous way. I’ve dived some of the most obscure, obsolete places on Earth; some places that no one has ever dived before. Of course, on those dives, I’m accompanied by a big team. It has become sort of a passion for adrenaline for me.”
“Wow! Well, you’ve surpassed my diving expertise by many years,” Jack said.
“Yep, I’ve dived small fishing villages of Russia, all the way up north to the remote, unexplored ice dives in Antarctica, and everything in between — including a week-long diving retreat in the Galapagos Islands!”
“Wow, sounds like you’ve really traveled, haven’t you?”
“Oh, boy, have I ever! In the ’60s, I took a full-time job covering the Vietnam War via photojournalism. I was running around with soldiers in the middle of battle. Saw some of the cruelest acts of violence any one man should see. One day our plane was being shot at; thought they were gonna send us spiraling down. Thought for sure, so I closed my eyes and waited. One of the bullets went right past the back of my neck — felt it on my neck hairs. I swear don’t think I’ve ever felt more helpless. But by some miracle, we landed that thing in a safe zone. Some of us weren’t so lucky — I’m talking about the journalists. I had friends and brothers die covering their piece.”
Jack sat frozen listening to the stories Mike told him for the next thirty minutes until Leo arrived with the shack’s keys. Leo was a Colombian who had found his way to the Azores over two decades ago when he was in his early teenage years. Leo was adopted by Rita and John — the two Portuguese owners of Diveshack. Immediately, diving took over his life. Since then, Leo has become one of the elite divers in the world — logging over 10,000 dives in a matter of 20 years.
Most of Diveshack’s business came from tourists and experienced divers coming from far-away places to take a course with Leo. He was the cream of the crop when it came to scuba instructors. Matter of fact, from the time Leo arrived, all of Mike’s attention turned to Leo. Jack didn’t mind — the guy’s stories were interesting but he was sure an earful to listen to.
“Leo, you can take him out this morning — I don’t mind,” Jack said to Leo when Mike finally went to get his suit fitted in the dressing rooms outside.
“Golly, the guy doesn’t stop talking — I’m not sure if he knows he can’t open his mouth when we’re underwater,” Leo said sarcastically.
“Don’t worry, I’ll keep him busy,” Jack said as he added a few extra weights to Mike’s wetsuit. They routinely did this to customers who annoyed them. It would throw their balance off underwater and cause them to sink backward — generally generating wild flailing of limbs in every direction as the customer lost control of their buoyancy and sunk to the ocean floor. It was just small kicks like this that got Leo and Jack through their day at Diveshack.
They were so into kicks. Especially Leo. Jack had never been the mischievous type, but Leo sparked a newfound fire for kicks in his soul. Jack was crazy about the kicks since meeting Leo.
The two had become good friends since Jack first came into Diveshack at the beginning of the summer interested in taking diving courses. Leo immediately took him under his wing and Jack took off underwater as a natural. Within three weeks, Jack had received certification to become an instructor himself and before too long, was hired on at Diveshack as a part-time instructor.
They enjoyed their time together at work, Leo and Jack did. They enjoyed catching waves together on the weekend — or in Jack’s case — trying to catch waves. Jack had made Leo promise to teach him the art of surf by the end of summer. Leo got a kick out of watching Jack take tide after tide of saltwater to the face so had no problem devoting his weekend time to Jack’s wish.
Their friendship was built through their shared sense of humor. They were constantly going directly over customer’s heads with sarcastic comments, pulling pranks on other dive instructors, and laughing at each other’s drunken antics. On top of that, Leo’s fiancé, a woman named Camilla, had befriended Lexi and became one of her best and only friends in the Azores.
Camilla was a sophisticated woman. Divine in how she did the simplest of things and devote to Leo in every way. In the first few weeks of meeting, she flirted scandalously with Jack in the most subtle ways. Secretly, Jack may have been madly in love with her but Leo had already laid his claim and Jack dare not mess with the woman of a man he respected so deeply.
Leo and Camilla lived together in a modest home with character hanging from every wall and ceiling. Camilla had devoted her summer to making the house into a home each of them had always romanticized.
After getting engaged in the early winter of that year, they moved in together not too far from Jack and Lexi’s countryside flat. Once or twice a week, they’d meet on the rooftop for wine and the most intimate conversations a foursome could have. They’d discuss anything with no bounds. There was no such thing as too much razz and no one became offended over absolute honesty. It was time they all used to reflect on themselves and each other with certainty in truth.
Several weeks after Jack met Camilla and Lexi met Leo, the foursome was laid back on the roof of the engaged couple’s home; empty beer bottles had rolled down the roof and filled every inch of the gutters; the four of them completely stink.
The four of them combined as a collectively good-looking, sexy foursome. Intentions were well, but the alcohol was encouraging mischievous between all of them.
Something Camilla said made Leo hot. He rolled on top of her and the couple started passionately kissing in front of Jack and Lexi. Not just for a moment. Not just for a minute. They couldn’t stop themselves.
Jack and Lexi looked at each other awkwardly. There had always been a bit of sexual tension between them as always there is between good-looking boys and girls.
Camilla unlocked her lips from Leo’s, “Well, what are you guys gonna do? Just watch all night?”
The awkwardness of the statement was uncomfortable, but Jack got the message. If he’d ever kiss Lexi, it would be in this moment and probably this moment only.
“Come over here and join us, Lexi,” Camilla said to the surprise of Jack and Lexi.
“I’m sorry?” Lexi asked completely off-guard.
“Don’t you want to kiss me?” Camilla asked Lexi.
Jack and Leo exchanged giddy glances.
“Well. . .,” Lexi thought about it, “I suppose I can try.”
She crawled on her knees to where Camilla laying on her back at an angle on the roof. Leo was still on top of her but moved over just enough so Lexi could slip her face over Camilla’s and slowly lock lips. Her lips stayed for a few long moments until she let go and hovered over Camilla, looking into her eyes for another passionately sexual embrace.
Jack and Leo snuck another glance of pure excitement to each other — just as guys do.
“What about you, Jack?” Camilla said, “Don’t you wanna kiss me, too?”
Jack was sitting away from the three of them and was flustered by the question; completely clueless about how he should respond. He looked at Leo who was no longer looking back at him. Jack sat dumbly.
“You don’t want to kiss me, Jack?” Camilla teased him, again, “Come kiss me. Leo, tell him to come kiss me.”
Leo looked to Jack and gave him the nod, “It’s O.K., Jack. Go ahead. She’s goddamn desirable, ain’t she?”
He turned his attention to Lexi who was now pretty dumbfounded at the couple’s swing-style personalities. It became a mad 1920’s swinger’s ball. Leo started kissing Lexi, Jack rolled over to Camilla and they crashed into each other and went right at it. Neither Jack nor Lexi knew what was going on, for sure, but all of them had enough alcohol in them to last at least a few more minutes before it became awkward and they’d have to drink more.
Camilla kissed Jack. Leo kissed Camilla and Lexi, too. Camilla kissed Lexi, again. Then, Jack ended up kissing Lexi. Everyone was involved with everyone and everyone was hot. Leo got off of Camilla only to climb on top of Lexi while Jack slid out between them and onto Camilla. Their bodies became entangled and wrapped up around the lust of everyone. The madness pursued on for a few more minutes until the edge wore off. The kissing slowed. Each kiss became more intimate and weird. Jack rolled away from Lexi and looked up at the stars while he opened another beer.
Nobody said anything. Then Camilla started laughing. Leo joined. Then Lexi and Jack. Everyone was confused. Everyone was thoughtful. The foursome never spoke about it after that night.
One night, about mid-summer, two or three months after meeting the couple, Lexi invited them to join her and Jack for a night fueled by red wine and brandy on their rooftop terrace. They spoke about love with no limits.
“Well, c’mon, Leo. There was a reason Camilla drove you to get to a knee and asking for her hand together forever,” Lexi said, “Tell us what it was.”
Camilla looked at him and laughed, “Oh, Lexi, honey. You have no idea. This man was so against us getting married, I practically had to tie him down and force him.”
“Yes, that’s completely true. But, let me tell you, tying me down makes it sound much sexier than it was,” Leo spoke up sarcastically.
“He was afraid to propose to anyone. He’s the maddest lover I’ve ever had. He’s passionate about me, he has passionate confidence about us, and he’s a passionate lover in the bedroom. But he just couldn’t fathom the idea of marriage,” Camilla explained.
“She’s right. It was a real issue between us. We always got along — never any arguments, but I almost drove us apart,” Leo explained, “You see, we were just like you two. Madly in love — dying to be with each other every waking moment of the day. I’d never admitted it to her because I didn’t know what love was. Jack, Lexi; it was so sad.”
Lexi looked at Leo and then at Jack. Jack returned her glance and the two blushed red with the wine. What is it about two people that keep them from love? Is it pride or ignorance? Each of them heard Leo’s words, ‘madly in love but scared to admit it, but neither would acknowledge them.
Leo pushed the envelope, “You see, love is such a contribution to life. I was afraid of love for the very word is filled with so many promises and heartbreak. But if you’re lucky enough to find the one to cherish you and cherish love with the same tenacity as you’re willing to give them, then you’ll know you’ve found it. Some stories just write themselves no matter how long you delay them.”
“What were you so afraid of?” Lexi asked.
“That’s the funny thing, Lexi. The truth is, I wasn’t afraid of anything. I built fear in my head that never really existed in the first place. I knew Camilla was the right one for me. Hell, we were together for so long, the proof was in the pudding. I loved her and I tried so hard to convince myself out of it. But when push comes to shove, she was my rock and I needed to be with her,” Leo admitted.
Lexi had begun to realize there are some things you can’t run from forever. Jack was the only man she had any relation with since she caught her ex in Denmark with another woman. She’d been too scared to even dare talk to another man romantic. But that was the thing about Jack; she was always with him and never in a romantic way.
He had become her best friend, the one she told everything to — the only person in her life that knew the new Lexi; the runaway Lexi; the Lexi she knew was the real Lexi. She’d grown so comfortable with Jack in such a short time, but the truth was, she loved Jack.
She had started feeling it right around the time she first met Camilla and the two started talking about happiness. Lexi was happy and Jack was a big part of her happiness. The move to the Azores with him had been everything she didn’t know she needed. She escaped the pressure of finding love all while running head-on into it.
Lexi went to bed that night in her lonely room with a mind full of pressure. The first pressure she had felt since leaving life in France.
The next morning, riding into town, Lexi couldn’t get her mind off the feeling from the night before about Jack. She was so taken back by how she felt. The entire time — the entire four months getting close with Jack — she never realized her true emotions but now that she had, she couldn’t run away fast enough.
In town, she set up her art collection stand in what had become one of the most popular places in town to get art; she was really finding her footing as an artist. She waited for Camilla to stop by as she did every morning on her way home from the gym.
When she came rolling in on her bicycle, Lexi hope out of her seat as quick as lightning before the customers could catch her on her way to meet Camilla. She practically stopped Camilla dead in her tracks as she used the soles of her shoes to come to a halting stop.
“What the hell?”
“Sorry, come here, I need to talk to you,” Lexi commanded.
“What is it?” Camilla said as they made it away from earshot of Lexi’s busy stand.
“You’ve got to promise not to tell Leo, O.K.?” Lexi pleaded like a middle schooler.
“Jeez, O.K., we’ll see. What’s it about?”
“Last night, I realized I’m into Jack,” Lexi admitted.
“O.K., yeah, we all know, but–“
“No, O.K., I’m in love with him, Cami,” Lexi said very forwardly.
“Yeah. . . O.K.,” Cami said as she widened her eyes as if to ask Lexi what her point was.
“What do I do?” Lexi asked.
“Look, you’re making too much out of this. Leo said what he needed to in that situation. You kinda put him on the spot. I don’t believe everything he said. You shouldn’t either. You’re such an independent girl, Lexi.”
“I know, and I’ve always felt like that. And usually, I can shake this feeling about men. I can. But this time. . . I just. . . I can’t.”
“Look, you’re in love, Lexi. That’s a wonderful feeling. And it usually lasts a while so enjoy it while you can. But, look, you’ve got such a good thing going with Jack. You guys are so close and, in the end, that’s what you really want. One day, maybe it’ll work out, but do you really think right now is the right time? Is it that bad to the point where you’re willing to risk it all right now?”
“No, but I’m not sure I can just keep this inside me as I watch him go out with all the other girls he’s seeing,” Lexi responded.
“Then don’t watch it happen. Find someone else to distract you; Tell you what — I’ve got a friend I work with in the Embassy who would eat you up. He’s Spanish — real sexy. He’ll keep you distracted, I promise. And I know he’d be into it. Let me do this for you,” Camilla offered.
Lexi watched as she sent a message to her co-worker, Manuel.
“Don’t do this, why are you doing this?” Lexi asked hopelessly but in a tone screaming that she needed it.
“I’m just doing what any good friend would do in this situation,” Camilla said with a bit of honesty.
The two sat silently waiting for an immediate response from Manuel that never came.
“I need to get back to work,” Lexi said.
“I’ll wait with you,” Camilla told her.
A few more customers approached Lexi and asked a few questions about her work on display. Nobody bought anything; as most interactions with hungry but indecisive tourists play out.
Afterward, Lexi finally exuded out of silence, “I suppose I’ll be glad to go out with him.”
“I knew it! You won’t be disappointed. I’ll be jealous, this man is good!”
Lexi relented in the moment, but she knew better as every man is terrible.
Camilla was the type of friend who always had the answer regardless if it was the right answer or not and it was always hard to say no to her.
“Oh, c’mon, Cami. You know that’s not what I need.”
“Well, what do you want from me then, Lexi?”
“I don’t know,” Lexi said.
“I know you don’t. Let me just ask what he’s up to tomorrow night,” as she pulled out her phone.
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** This article was originally published at www.adamcheshier.com **