The world is smaller than it seems, and Zihuatanejo is not heaven.
Andy Dufresne arrived on the outskirts of town in a bus with no number, a man with no name. If he hadn't been there once before—on holiday with his family as a teenager, before his life had set itself on a more proverbial southward course—he might have been a touch frightened. There was no chance of that now, though.
Not after Shawshank.
He checked into the cheapest hotel on the bayside and, armed with his room key and a pocketful of twenties, headed straight for the bar. The piano was badly out of tune, and the dark-skinned man at the keys had probably never even heard of Mozart. As hesitant as Andy's Spanish was after all these years, it wasn't worth asking. Instead, he handed the bartender forty dollars and told him to keep the tequila shots coming.
By the twelfth shot or the twelfth hour, it really didn't matter: just past midnight, two complete strangers hauled Andy to the door and let go of him just before he was sick all over the nearest patch of sand. Morning found him sunburned and tearstained, but at least no one had taken the room key from his pocket.
* * *
The truth is, I had a lot of time to think about the repercussions of what I'd done.
Most of that time was spent on one cramped bus after another, and thinking is a bit difficult once every infant from Boston to Baja has blasted your eardrums to Kingdom Come. And I'm not talking about what I'd done to get sent to Shawshank in the first place, either: that, I'd squared with a long time ago.
I'm talking about petty vandalism, walking out on a job, and breaking parole. Curiously, it was the job I couldn't seem to get off my conscience. There was more money in that tin than I'd made in six months. Who was I to argue with that? Even Sears and Roebuck can fall on hard times, and even a man who gets things may finally reach a point when he's got to let someone else provide for him.
Zihuatanejo didn't look like much. If you had asked me on the spot what I thought of it, I'd have told you, now, that's one half-baked excuse for a resort town. That's what I thought walking through the dusty streets, anyway. Every fishing village from Maine on down looks pretty much the same, except for the faces and the weather.
But when at last you've crossed enough streets and the scrub brush opens onto the sea, Lord Almighty. It's blue and white and blue for as far as the eye can see, and for an instant, it was almost enough to have made the aching eardrums worth it.
* * *
"How much is it?" Andy asked, finding that a week of just sitting around and listening to local conversation had done wonders for his ailing proficiency. Granted, he'd spent most of that week trying to find a balance between getting drunk and sobering back up. In the end, he was on no better terms with tequila than he was with bourbon.
"Yours for five hundred dollars, señor," said the young man in passable English.
He was the closest thing to a real estate agent that the tiny, crumbling beach house seemed to possess. The hotel manager had been the one to point Andy in its direction, eager to be rid of him. Andy could see where he might've been bad for business.
"That part of the roof's caving in," he said, pointing, stubbornly sticking to Spanish. "Can you recommend someone to do repairs?"
"Sí, but that is another hundred."
"Fine," said Andy, defeated, switching to English. "When can you start?"
It wasn't the first time he wished Red would hurry up—if Red was even coming, if he'd even remember—and it certainly wouldn't be the last. The house was livable in under a month, but the roof still leaked in the worst of storms, and that was most of them.
* * *
"That's right," I said. "Tall white man. Gringo with reading glasses. Has a hotel?"
"Too many hotels," muttered the old woman, suspiciously. "No good. More money?"
I handed over another twenty, thinking this had better be a worthwhile investment, or else. "Okay, no hotel. What about a house? House near the ocean. With a boat."
"Too many boats," sighed the woman, twirling a tin-petaled flower aimlessly between her withered fingers. Those baubles seemed to be her only livelihood.
"Listen, ma'am," I said, removing my hat and dabbing my forehead with my only handkerchief, which was pretty grubby. Playing hard-up works in any language. "He's a friend of mine. Amigo. I have to find him. He might think I'm dead. Muerto."
A vaguely pitying look passed through the woman's eyes, which were darker than mine. She pressed the flower into my hand and gestured down the seemingly limitless expanse of white sand. "You go there, señor. That way. Hotels, boats."
"Many thanks, ma'am," I said, and kept walking, my shoeless feet on fire.
* * *
The first thing Andy invested in was a used gramophone and a box full of secondhand records, as new specimens of either item were hard to come by. The only opera in the mix was Tosca, but that suited him just fine. He spent the next few months alternating between repairs, improvements, and crafting an inlaid chessboard to match the pieces he'd carved in Shawshank. He played games against himself and finally bought a bucket for the leak, as there seemed to be nothing for it—not even the young man who'd acted as go-between and repairman in selling him the place.
"Can't your father come look at it, Carlos? You said that he built this house."
"Yes," Carlos replied, who'd warily come to terms with Andy's Spanish, "he did. But he's dead now, so having him come take a look is out of the question. I've done everything I can think of. I think your roof is cursed."
Andy offered to teach him how to play chess, but Carlos declined.
* * *
Lady Luck had finally decided to smile on me. The first hotel I walked into, the proprietor seemed to know exactly who I was talking about. I could only wonder what Andy had done to make such a lasting impression. The options were limitless.
"He bought a beach house not far from here. I think you'll find him a peculiar sort."
"That's no news to me. I've found him peculiar since the first day I laid eyes on him twenty-one years ago," I said, knocking back a shot of tequila. I'm convinced liquor's not so much the oil of conversation as the money you buy it with.
"Then he is an old friend of yours?" asked the proprietor, as if he couldn't fathom why I'd ever keep company with the likes of Andy Dufresne. Of course, that wasn't the name I'd used for him. I hadn't used any name at all, seeing as I didn't even know what name he was going by, and that was bound to be anything but his own.
"Old as they come," I said, setting the glass back on the bar and replacing my hat. "Thanks for your hospitality, but I ought to be going."
"He is never at home these days," said the proprietor, shouting after me, as if he'd just remembered something. "Not since he bought Zapatero's old boat."
Let it not be said that Andy couldn't fix an idea and keep it from ever moving again.
* * *
Zapatero hadn't even bothered with proper bargaining. He'd taken a hundred dollars without hesitation and said, "Good riddance. That thing is as seaworthy as your roof."
"Thank you," Andy said, smiling, and headed off down the strand.
While it was true that ROSA SOLA—Lonely Rose—wasn't much to look at, it was immediately evident that her previous owner had given up on her prematurely. Her paint job wasn't so far gone that it wasn't respectable, but the color scheme of sickly green and faded watermelon was enough to wrinkle anybody's nose. Andy wasn't sure that her old name would do. Stripped down, repainted, she'd be a different vessel.
It took him almost two months—forty-three chess games, eleven records, and five collections of poetry—to finish scraping away most of the paint. If Red had been there, the job would've been done in a week. Underneath, Rosa was patchy gray wood interspersed with what was left of an ancient coat of white. Eliot's mermaids were mocking him, daring him to paint her red and brown.
Perhaps the name would stay after all. Rose wasn't Red, but she was something.
* * *
Only ghosts wear white, I thought as I crossed the last stretch of fire between my feet and the Pacific, between myself and wishing silently to drown. But there he was, in white, doing a damn sorry-ass job of stripping down Zapatero's boat.
He must have seen me before I'd seen him, because by the time I got close enough to see his face, he was already looking at me. Where I was sure mine had aged several lifetimes, his smile hadn't aged a day. Goddamn you, Andy Dufresne.
That's not the first thing I said to him, as much as I'd like you to tell you it was. In fact, I didn't get to say anything, because Andy beat me to the punch.
"Two years, Red. What the hell did you do, walk the whole way from Buxton?"
"Damn near it," I said, dropping my things every which way as he climbed down from the pretty-penny wreck he'd been perching on. "That's not counting the buses and the occasional hitchhike. Would you drive this sorry bastard across the border?"
He felt light in my arms, strange, not as solid as I'd expected. Then again, I had no point for comparison. Andy hadn't been easy with casual contact, especially not in those early days. Me? I'd gotten over it pretty quickly. At seventeen, it's all about a few fights, a broken nose or two on both sides, and then you're square. Sure, you're once or twice a month too sore to walk straight, but that passes with the rest of Shawshank's welcome bullshit. At thirty-four, it's a different story. Andy suffered.
"I'd have driven you to the moon," Andy replied soberly, clapping me on the shoulder as he drew away. "This is Rose. Would you like to meet her?"
"Leave it to you to find yourself a hussy before I even get here. How's she sail?"
"I have no idea. I have no idea how to proceed with the remainder of her restoration, either. You got here just in time, Red. She'd have gone on sitting here indefinitely once I'd redone the paint. I don't know the first thing about sails or engines."
"Well, to be fair," I said, sizing up the damage he'd done, "neither do I. But I can start by getting you whichever you prefer, seeing as that's what you've hired me on for."
Andy grinned and started to climb back up, but there was something behind his eyes that suggested agitation. I'd seen that look once before, and I distinctly recalled never wanting to see it again. I took hold of his arm and tugged him back down.
"Listen, before we get this show on the road, how about I get us some lunch?"
* * *
The night terrors had started the week after Andy had finally sobered up. Ironic, considering how few nightmares he'd actually suffered during his time at Shawshank—even in solitary, even in the longest, dankest stretches of confinement in the Hole.
They went like this: Andy had his gun, the one he'd thrown in the river, and even though it was sodden through it still shot perfectly and never, ever missed its mark.
The times its mark was Red, he'd wake screaming worse than when it was his wife.
* * *
"So, about this hotel of yours," I said conversationally, carefully shaping the down-stroke of an R with a wide paintbrush. "How's that getting on? No offense, Andy, but that house of yours is barely big enough for the two of us."
"It serves," Andy said, standing back a few paces and squinting. "And as for the hotel, don't even mention that. I had enough trouble finding a shack and a raft."
"You're forgetting where I come in," I reminded him, already starting the O.
"No offense, Red, but your Spanish is worse than mine."
"None taken, but it's improving. I'm sure I can get you some specs on the market."
Andy came up behind me, nosy and impatient like a kid. It reminded me of the day he'd asked for Rita Hayworth. Lord, that day of all days. If I'd known…
"You have the steadiest hand I've ever seen. Do you remember the library sign?"
"Every day I live, at least once," I answered, and meant it. I wanted to turn and smile at him, but the S was in danger of turning out crooked. With Andy that close, my hand didn't feel so steady. There was probably a difference as wide as the Grand Canyon between what I'd come to terms with and what Andy hadn't.
"Do you miss it?" asked Andy, softly, so near I could feel his breath on my neck.
"What, the library? Sure, and everyone along with it. Even Heywood's yodeling."
Andy chuckled and the moment was broken, his warmth gone and the sun's in its place. Four more wistful strokes and Rose, at least, had a name.
* * *
Seven months in, Andy had nearly gone mad with the silence. And that wasn't counting the nights on which it stormed, or the many nights of drip-drop staccato that came after. He'd gotten into the habit of talking his chessmen through the more complicated moves to which he subjected them, but when it came to the queens, he was silent.
Time to change this, he thought. Time to clinch checkmate; I'm only human.
He went to a hotel he'd never set foot in before: classy, expensive, and respectable. As far as he could tell, the women were made to match the place, and not a single one of them spoke more than five words of English. Fine by him. He wasn't out to test himself on conversation. Lila had expressive eyes and a calm, wistful smile that was nothing like his wife's. She led him up the grand staircase, graceful as a dancer.
In the middle of it all—behind a closed, locked door with their clothes freshly strewn this way and that across the floor—he curled away from her as soon as she reached for him and broke down sobbing. He didn't have to send Lila away.
Quick as a whisper, lithe and dark, she left.
* * *
"Not bad for an old beater," I told Andy, brushing my hand along Rose's smooth-sanded, freshly painted prow. "She floats, that's for sure."
Andy sat at the back, the wind slightly ruffling his hair.
I couldn't say why, but I'd always found his resistance to a proper buzz-cut endearing. The wrinkles in his forehead were getting pretty obvious—but then, he always concentrated a bit too hard on threading his bait. What he didn't have to concentrate hard on was chess, and that was infuriating. If he weren't so patient, I swear he'd have reduced me to tears a dozen times over.
"I'd have found something better, but, as you've noticed, the locals are prickly."
"That's no way to speak of your neighbors, Andy. They're good people, and they've done right by you. I've got to thank them for that."
Andy jerked his head to look at me, startled, and his casting went awry.
"Of course they're good people. I never said they weren't."
"You've spoken better of the cacti," I said, trying to hold back a smile.
Andy waved me off and set his eyes on the horizon, giving his slack line a halfhearted tug. "Never mind. Forget I mentioned it. She's no beater now you're through with her."
We sat in silence for a long time after that, taking turns sipping out of the bottle of beer we found rattling around at our feet. Must've left it behind on one of those long days of work. You wouldn't think it, but machinery makes Andy curse a blue streak.
I caught his hand in mine on the neck of the bottle, just for an instant, and held it.
* * *
Nightmares weren't the only dreams that came, either.
After Lila, there were dreams of his wife. Dreams of his wife and her prick of a lover. Dreams of Boggs and the Sisters. Dreams of guards whose names he couldn't recall. Dreams of his wife and Boggs and the Sisters, dreams—
The ones with Red in were the only ones that counted as dreams. Partly because he missed his friend, and partly because they did everything for him that Lila hadn't.
* * *
I'd never seen Andy drunk before, and I was suddenly very certain I never wanted to. True to Andy's promise, we were in the fanciest hotel that he knew of, and he was on his fourth tequila shot and pointing out to me all the women he knew by name.
"Lila, huh?" I said, watching her slow-dance with a German tourist. "What's her story?"
"She's a prostitute," said Andy, matter-of-factly. "Not a very good one."
"I don't know about that. Seems she's doing her job just fine. A nice dance seems to be just what that gent needs before getting down to business, wouldn't you say?"
"She didn't dance with me," Andy slurred, reaching for another shot glass. Enough was enough. I caught his hand and eased it away, downing the shot for him. Briefly, my vision swam. When it cleared, Lila was gone and Andy looked irritated.
"Did you want her to dance with you? Maybe you should've asked."
"No," he said. "And I didn't. I hate dancing."
"That's not the way my harmonica tells it."
"Your harmonica never leaves the goddamned house."
"That's as it should be," I said. "Speaking of which, it's pretty late. Past your bedtime, I'd say." Silly, saying that to someone who's just barely a decade my junior.
"Chess," Andy muttered. "You're going to take advantage of my inebriation."
"We'll see about that," I said, taking him by the shoulders and steering him towards the door. "In my book, the only worthy adversary's a sober one."
Andy didn't say a word the entire staggering walk home, which gave my mind plenty of chance to wander into unpleasant territory. What had he done to Lila? Furthermore, what had Lila done to him? I had to catch myself out on that one quick as a blink. She was a pretty young woman, not the likes of Boggs. She could do to him whatever she damned well pleased, so long as he paid her properly. And vice versa, I supposed, but it didn't sit any better with my stomach than Boggs all the same.
I had to fumble Andy's key into the lock, an awkward job even three months on. Andy was an immaculate housekeeper, and ever since I'd patched the roof, the place had begun to feel a lot like home. As far back as I could remember, I'd never had a proper roof over my head for more than a few weeks at a time. Not before Shawshank. I shivered, slammed the door behind us, and got Andy situated on the sofa.
It was only once I got the lights on that I could see he was almost sober.
"What kind of damn fool stunt was that, exactly?" I asked him, sounding like my old man back from an early grave. "Have you taken up making a fool of yourself?"
"Funny you should mention it," said Andy, again in that rare soft voice that was all at once familiar and painful, "but yes, fine, that's right. Man cannot live on chess alone."
"Man cannot live alone alone," I said, hardly thinking about the words coming out of my mouth. "How you got on without anybody, I swear I'll never know."
"After all I've accomplished, you think that's impossible?" His tone was reproachful.
"No," I sighed, sitting down heavily beside him. "Andy, in almost sixty years, God as my witness, I never did meet another soul like you. All grace and contradictions."
"You followed me here," Andy said, his gaze drifting out the window, distant.
"Yes, and you're lucky I remembered how to say this place, never mind spell it."
Andy looked at me, then, calm, as if sight of the moon had done his soul some good.
"I have to believe it was more," he admitted. "You got busy doing the right thing."
"And you got busy doing everything," I said, shrugging. "And that was that."
Andy moved his fingers on the cushion between us, involuntarily brushing the back of my hand. We both jumped a little, from the booze I'd guess. We laughed.
"What a sorry sight we are, Red. A shack, a raft, and no hotel to speak of."
Well, that did it. There was nothing left for me to do but stick my foot in it, and that I should've seen coming from a mile offshore. What had Andy said about mermaids?
"If I may speak plainly," I said, "this house has got one too many rooms as it is."
Andy was silent for a long time, but break it he did. His hand was solid and warm in mine, exactly as I'd known it would be, exactly as I'd hoped.
* * *
Red is right. The house is larger than it seems, and Andy's bedroom is heaven.
It's not about what he fears, for once, or what he doesn't want. It's about discovering what it means to kiss a man, something Andy has never done in his life. Even though he's given them up, Red's mouth will always taste of cigarettes. Even though they both shaved earlier that evening, his stubble is rough, and Andy can't help but wince every time their teeth clash. But it's also about discovering that the dreams aren't just dreams: he's painfully aroused by this, by Red, and he knows it isn't out of fear that he tears at Red's clothes before Red can even get to his, panting near-silent pleas.
"You're safe," Red whispers, his voice breaking as Andy's fingers find him, coax him, praise him. He touches Andy's cheek, his chest, his thigh. "Andy, listen. Listen…"
And it's also about this, Andy knows, about this very moment: the sound of the sea ringing wild in their ears and hope fierce as death in their hearts.
Some days, when the sun's too much for Andy in spite of how tanned he's grown over the years, Red spends a few hours alone working on the boats. After Rosa Sola, Lonely Rose, they'd acquired two more in slightly better condition.
It wasn't so much that they needed three boats; it was that Red really enjoyed restoring them, and maybe they'd even be able to make a small profit on the spares. They hadn't bothered to name those. Red had reckoned that might be bad luck.
Even with sweat beading on his forehead and the sea-breeze driving sand into his eyes, he can still gaze up the strand toward the house and manage to make out Andy's shape through the bay window. He's got a rag in one hand and a small object in the other. Occasionally, he rubs the latter with the former before holding it up to the light. He's taken to collecting shells—the rarer, the better. They've got a good side-racket selling them to tourists and collectors. Andy gives the common ones to local kids.
Red grins and drops the paintbrush back into the bucket, which is almost empty. He figures he might as well call it a day, break out the beer, and turn down the sheets, because Andy looks bored and lonely in there, and they aren't getting any younger.
“Andy!” Red shouts, leaning out the window, waving at the figure a short distance down the strand. “Goddamn it, Andy, get in here! Breakfast!”
“Just a minute!” Andy shouts back, handing something to the small, painfully thin girl standing beside him. Red knows the one: her face is dirty and her feet are bare, but she's quick, clever, and has a knack for selling her grandmother's handmade tin-petaled flowers. “I found some good ones today!” Andy adds, waving after the girl as she trots off down the beach with her prize. She'll sell it within a few hours to a tourist who's missed low tide.
Red folds his arms across his chest, his eyes never leaving Andy as he makes his way up to the house. By good ones, Andy means the shells that wash up in droves and are of no use to anybody but the street-urchins. Red frowns. No junonias, then—or, wait, that's not right. Andy had been trying to explain that those only turn up on some tiny island off of Florida, and sometimes on Yucatán. Sell for a mint. Pity they're not on the other damn side of the country.
Andy steps up to the casement and leans forward, taking hold of Red's elbows.
“You're angry,” he says, just like he says most mornings, smiling that patient smile.
“No,” Red says, not bothering to pull away, “I'm irritated. There's a difference.”
“Not with you,” Andy replies, and Red doesn't even try to dodge the kiss. They'd figured out at least a few years ago now that nobody minds, not least because they keep at least half the town flush. Back at home, they wouldn't be wealthy men—not anymore—but here, they're kings.
Red serves up cornmeal porridge the way his older sister used to make it. Presumably, she'd learned it from their mother, but their mother had been too drunk for most of Red's childhood to know the pot from the fire. Better that way, what with what had become of her sons, God rest her soul. Red's sister is eighty now, has twelve grandchildren, and lives in Detroit. She sends lengthy letters and pleas for her only surviving brother to come visit.
Red sends her apologies, postcards, and cash.
“Who taught you to cook?” asks Andy, passing Red the milk. Their battered wooden table has remnants of bright blue paint.
Red won't restore it, because Andy likes it that way.
“Picked it up here and there,” Red says, grinning at him. “Just like everything else.”
“You can talk about your family," Andy replies. "I don't mind. I spend enough time talking about mine, and they're not even alive anymore.”
“At least you've got worthwhile memories. Those are something I haven't got many of.”
“You and your sister seem close.” Andy reaches across the table. “I enjoy her letters.”
“I leave out the parts where she calls you the Devil Himself, capital D, capital H,” Red tells him, taking his hand.
Andy is easy now with touching. Didn't used to be.
“Why?” Andy asks, smiling wider, as if it's the funniest thing he ever heard. “Because I spirited you away and tempted you into a life of sin?”
“The life of sin, she doesn't know about,” Red says. “And I'm going to keep it that way.”
“I was thinking,” says Andy, “we should travel this Christmas. No sense in trying to cross the border, but we haven't seen the opposite coast.”
“True,” Red agrees. “See Yucatán, climb those ruins. Find yourself a few speckled gold-mines.”
“They only wash up in hurricane season,” Andy points out. “We won't be going then.”
“How about you learn to scuba-dive? Didn't you say they stay in better condition underwater?”
“If you're lucky enough to find one, yes.”
“Then find some gear,” Red tells him, “and get diving.”
Andy laughs and shoves his half-eaten bowl aside. “What about some luck?”
“You're the luckiest bastard I know,” says Red, half smiling. “Except for myself.”
* * *
Autumn evenings are Andy's favorite, not least because the sun is less fierce and there's the ghost of a breeze sweeping across their own tiny patch of heaven. Except it isn't that, not really. They've got problems just like anyone else, and if anyone knows problems better than most, it's them.
Tonight, for example: the roof is leaking again, and this, in Red's book, is a catastrophe.
“That's it,” he mutters, scooping up his clothes and retreating to the far side of the bed. “We're moving. Even the hurricanes must be better than this.”
Andy balances precariously on the mattress, holding the bucket out at arms' length, wobbling his way to the foot of the bed. The droplets seem to be coming from several places at once. “My biggest concern is the mattress,” he says. “The damp will ruin it.”
“Andy, the goddamn roof is rotting through, and you're worried about the bed.”
“I like this bed,” Andy says, satisfied to hear a steady trickle finally hitting the bottom of the bucket. “You crowd me out of it.”
A pillow slams down on his toes, but without any real malice.
“Leave it to you to wax sentimental. We can buy a new bed.”
“But not a new house,” says Andy, frowning. “This one almost bankrupted me, believe it or not.”
“I suppose you're right,” says read, with a sigh, flopping back against the headboard. “Yucatán would be too expensive for our blood, I'll bet.”
“Unlike this place, it's a tourist destination people have heard of.” Andy hops down to the floor and situates the bucket at the foot of the bed. It's catching most of the drops, but a few still make it onto the pile of sheets and woven blanket, dampening the soft, worn fabric.
Red crawls down the length of the bed and grabs Andy by the wrist.
“Get over here,” he says, “you stubborn son-of-a-bitch.”
I love you, too, Andy thinks, and it's so rarely spoken, so rarely even mentioned, except for the fact that it's everywhere around them in this shambles of a house, in each and every unreasonable thing they do for one another. If it isn't love, then Andy doesn't know what is.
Red's already shirtless, and in less than thirty seconds, Andy is, too. That's about as fast as it gets, though. They're not young men. They're comfortable and middle-aged, possibly even getting old (in Red's case, although Andy doesn't like to dwell on that; it's just shy of a decade's difference, but sometimes it seems like a century). Ergo, the sex tends to be comfortable and middle-aged. Sometimes, it's difficult, so they just fool around and fall asleep.
Andy knows every scar Shawshank has left on Red's body, and Red knows every one of his.
“This is that life of sin your sister's worried about, isn't it.” Andy bends and presses his lips to Red's collarbone, shifting slightly up onto his knees so that Red's hips aren't taking the brunt of his weight. “She fears for your immortal soul. What do you tell her?”
“I tell her it's none of her fucking business,” Red gasps. “Only more polite. She once left me black and blue for taking the Lord's name in vain.”
“You can do that all you like,” says Andy, and then sucks on the spot he'd kissed moments before. “But I'll leave you black and blue for a different reason.”
“She's right about you,” Red sighs as Andy kisses his way lower. “Capital D, capital H.”
* * *
Red is arguing with Carlos over the price of a wheelbarrow in regrettable Spanish.
“No,” Red says. “Absolutely not. The wheels fell off the old one, for crying out loud!”
“Andy pays whatever I ask,” Carlos asserts, stubbornly locking his jaw.
“Well, I'm not Andy. Growing up, I knew my way around a wheelbarrow. Andy would've been lucky to know his way around the kitchen. That's too much.”
Carlos fumes at Red silently for a few more seconds, and then huffs, impatient.
“Half,” he says.
“Like hell,” Red counters. “A third what you're asking, and no more.”
In the end, Carlos stalks off with the cash, and Red returns home with the wheelbarrow.
Andy's busy just where Red had left him, sawing planks in half. They've been restoring and selling second-hand boats for nigh on six years now, and, in that time, Andy's learned a thing or two about doing proper restoration. This time around, they've decided to build one from scratch.
“Are you sure it's wise, putting me on plank detail?” he asks. “She'll leak just like the ceiling, and then you'll be angry—no, irritated.”
“You're on plank detail till you learn how to saw a straight line,” Red warns, busying himself with sanding one from the stack Andy has managed to pile up.
Andy gives him his other smile, not the patient one. The crooked, you-bitter-old-coot one.
Red knows that he means it in jest, but it gives him pause, sometimes, thinking about the fact that he's getting on in years. Andy will still be just this side of his prime, it feels like, when Red hits seventy. And although seventy isn't ancient, not like it used to be in his grandparents' day, it's up there.
“You're pensive,” Andy says, pausing to wipe his forehead. “What is it?”
“I'm thinking about the fact I've got nothing to leave you when I'm gone,” says Red. “Everything I've got, you've given me. I'll wear it all out. What good is that?”
Hearing this, Andy looks genuinely upset, like he can't properly form words.
Red feels his heart break a little. Lord, it stings worse than the time Boggs knifed him.
“Didn't mean it like that,” he says quietly, turning back to his work. “Forget I said—”
“All I have left,” says Andy, standing close to him now, “is you.”
They don't finish the planking, and, fortunately, the bed has had time to dry out.
* * *
Andy savors the times when it isn't difficult.
He's panting hard into the same pillow that had hit his feet a few days before, his hands fisted in the sheets as Red pushes into him, quick and sure. For the longest time, Andy wouldn't turn over. Not until the nightmares had subsided, at least. That had taken five years, and Red had been there for three of those. Now, like this, it's a comfort—couldn't be anything else, not with Red's voice is low and broken in his ear, with his sure, capable hand working Andy's cock.
It's over quickly. Almost always is. They lie panting for a while, and Red pulls Andy in tightly enough to squeeze the breath out of him.
“I'll never say something like that again,” Red murmurs against the back of his neck.
“It's all right,” says Andy, because it is.
* * *
They go to Yucatán for Christmas, because, when they make plans, they tend to keep them.
Red hides behind a pair of huge sunglasses and endures endless taunting from Andy. They rent scuba gear for one on the first day, and Andy takes some lessons while Red drinks on the beach and shoots the shit with some Canadian tourists. Three days later, Andy has a beginner's certification, and Red accompanies him out on the boat for his first proper dive. Afterward, they drink too many cocktails, and Andy gets seasick.
“No junonias,” Red says later, back at the resort, sifting through Andy's bucketful of shells.
“Maybe you should try it,” Andy suggests. “You're luckier than I am.”
Red kisses the grin right off his face, and it's a while before he has the breath to reply.
“Bring these home for Teresita. She'll appreciate them.”
They climb El Castillo at Chichen Itza a few days later, which proves more than a little rough on Red's knees. He sees it through, though, because there's no way he's missing the look on Andy's face when they finally reach the top. And they do, and it's worth it.
“Look at this,” says Andy, smiling yet another of his matchless smiles. It's the one reserved for all things indescribable.
“I'm looking,” Red says, pulling the brim of his hat down farther over his eyes, “and it's pretty amazing. But, while you're at it, take a look at us.”
Andy turns to him, questioning.
“Where we are. How far we've come. How many of the other guys do you think made it here?”
“None of them,” replies Andy, softly, taking Red's hand.
“What made us special?” Red asks, in a moment of rare, genuine bitterness. “Why us?”
“Imagination, partly,” says Andy, shrugging. “And luck.”
“There you are,” Red says, giving Andy's fingers a squeeze.
* * *
“Andy! Andy, for the last goddamn time—”
“Your wife is angry,” says Teresita, giggling as she ducks her head. She holds out her hands, eager, as Andy empties the bucket of shells into her palms.
“These are special shells,” Andy explains, picking up the ones that have escaped, piling them onto the veritable mountain held tightly together by her fragile fingers. “Different shells. They're from the opposite side of the country. Have you heard of Yucatán?”
“Yes,” Teresita says, clutching the shells to her chest. “You're silly. My uncle lives there.”
“Have you ever gone to visit him?”
“No. Mama doesn't speak to him anymore.”
“Maybe you should go anyway. There's an old, old pyramid there. They call it the Castle.”
“A pyramid isn't a castle,” Teresita points out. “The Maya built pyramids.”
Andy grins at her. “See? You already know everything. You should go home. Your breakfast's getting cold, and so is mine.”
Teresita's off and running before Andy can offer her the bucket, scattering shells in her wake.
“You spoil that girl,” says Red, when Andy's finally seated across from him at the table.
“She doesn't get much attention from her mother,” Andy replies, stirring his breakfast. It's oatmeal, which they haven't bought in a long time. Red must've managed to snag some from one of the nearby hotels' continental breakfast lounges. At best, it tastes like home. At worst, like Shawshank.
“I won't make it again if you don't like it,” Red says. He can read Andy's expressions to a fault.
“I'd missed it,” says Andy, which is partly true. “Thanks.”
“Had a letter from Hazel this morning,” Red tells him, sliding a folded piece of paper across the table. When Andy picks it up and unfolds it, a few pressed flowers fall out. “Those are from Caroline,” Red adds. “One of the grandkids. They say we've got no proper flowers here.”
“I don't know about that,” Andy says, scanning the letter. Hazel's handwriting is cramped, yet elegant, and he finds himself wondering what a rarity it would have been for a young woman in her circumstances to learn how to read and write. Perhaps she'd learned it only later.
“You haven't gotten to the good part yet, have you?”
“Nearly,” Andy says. He'd caught sight of his name several lines down, but had resisted the temptation to—well, so much for that.
He's been promoted from Devil to Antichrist.
“Quite a title, isn't it? Why don't you use it to scare Carlos's prices down a bit lower?”
“It'll never work. These Catholics know better.”
Red's laughter floods the entire kitchen, filling Andy's hands and heart with warmth.
Zihuatanejo is not heaven, but then, it's the thought that counts.