Slow No Wake
Author:Dakota Madison

ONE

Apparent Wind

Moving is always difficult. Moving to another state is really difficult. And moving across the country is nearly impossible. I had a limited amount of space in the tiny moving truck I could afford to rent, so I was forced to prioritize the things I absolutely had to take from the stuff I could sell. Not an easy task with all the stuff I had managed to accumulate living in the same small town for the first 25 years of my life.

I snagged a gigantic garbage pail for the things that could be discarded. The first items to go into the trash were all the photos of my now ex-fiancé, Jeff. I took great pleasure in crushing the life out of them and tearing them all into little bits, just like Jeff had done to my heart. All of the gifts he had given me were also thrown into the heap. The stuffed bears, that had once been so precious to me, now looked cheesy and cheap. I felt a small twinge of guilt as I threw each bear into the garbage. I knew I should have donated them to Goodwill but a bigger part of me wanted to destroy them. There was something cathartic about the destruction process and that catharsis was exactly what I needed.

I also needed to escape. I needed to get out of the Midwest. I had always felt so at home in the small Illinois town in which I grew up and in which all of my family resided. Post-Jeff, I felt stifled bordering on claustrophobic. I felt like I could no longer take a deep breath. I realized the only way I was going to thrive again, or even survive for that matter, was to escape. I needed to pack up and start over in a place where no one knew me, and where they didn’t know about the awful ending to my engagement. I needed a place where I could heal my crushed spirit and broken heart.

I needed to escape to Florida.

The state always held fond memories for me. My grandparents retired to Naples when I was ten. Every summer thereafter, my parents sent Hannah and me, the person I used to call my sister, to stay with them for a few weeks every summer. The older Hannah and I got, the more fun we had on the beach, probably because the older we got, the more aware we became of the beach volleyball players, surfers and joggers; basically all the wonderfully tanned and toned guys with their shirts off.

Tanned and toned guys were just the things I now wanted to avoid. I was moving to Florida for what I hoped would be peace, solitude and celibacy. At least for a while. I didn’t want to swear off men forever, just for as long as it took to completely heal my shattered heart.

***

Being a well-educated person, with a Master’s degree, I probably should have known better than to rent an apartment, sight-unseen, over the Internet. As I stood at the front entrance to my new home for the next year, I wondered how the landlord had made the dump in which I now found myself residing, look so attractive online. He could have used some of the time it took to Photoshop the pics of the apartment to actually fix up the place.

Hans Decker handed me two keys to my side of the well-worn duplex. Well-worn was really too nice of a term. As a mental health therapist, I had a tendency to put a positive spin on things. Chalk it up to the rise in positive psychology: helping people to be authentically happy and achieve their full potential through learned optimism. If only it worked when dealing with my love life.

My new apartment was a shithole.

“No pets,” Hans reminded me in his thick German accent. “Those surfer boys next door are always trying to sneak in dogs. No dogs. No cats.”

I nodded. I knew I’d probably be working long hours at my new job so I had no intention of leaving a pet alone like that, even if I could have one.

Hans appeared to be in his mid-50s and had a bit of a paunch. His thick hair was completely grey and his skin was leathery, most likely from years of beach life and too much sun exposure.

“No parties,” Hans added almost as an afterthought. I didn’t think anyone could ever mistake me for the party type, maybe the librarian type. “Those surfer boys are always having parties. I live two doors down. I need my beauty sleep.” Hans gave me a toothy-grin. Was that an attempt at flirting? Ugh. I came here to escape men and it was happening already: The Pounce.

I seemed to attract men like starving dogs to a juicy steak. I’m not sure why. I always felt more like the girl-next-door than the beauty queen. Smart and bookish, I seemed to intimidate men (or maybe even bore them?) when they got to know me. But there had to be something about my look or energy that made men pounce when they saw me. And no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t shut it off. In fact, the more of a ‘turn-off’ I tried to be, the more ‘turned-on’ men seemed to get when they met me. If there was just a way to bottle my pounce-worthiness or put it in a book, I’d be a millionaire.

The surfer boys Hans were describing didn’t make my choice of a rental any more appealing. My move to Florida for quiet and serenity on the beach did not include partying with the surfer boys with whom I was now sharing a duplex. I was starting to wonder if moving half way across the country, which had seemed like a grand adventure, was actually going to be a huge mistake.

“Rent is due the first of every month,” Hans said. “No late rent.” I was surprised when he didn’t make another disparaging comment about the surfer boys. Weren’t they late on rent, too?

As Hans made his way down to his own duplex, I took a deep breath and decided to venture into my new living quarters.

Unfortunately, the apartment looked a lot better on the outside than it did on the inside. The living room walls were covered with crayon scribble (maybe a child lived there at some time) and other less identifiable substances. It was highly probably that the rooms had not been repainted since the place was built in the 1980s.

The tile floors were thick with gooey substances of unknown origins, just like the walls.

I cringed even more when I entered the kitchen. The aging appliances were all crusted with what looked like old food. Years of spills looked like they had been completely ignored on the stovetop. I nearly passed out when I opened the refrigerator. It smelled like a science experiment gone horribly wrong.

The bathroom was no better. The bathtub and basin were overrun black with mold and mildew and the contents of the toilet could not even be described in polite company. Let’s just say it’s a good bet that the last occupant of the apartment probably never heard of a toilet brush.

Luckily the two bedrooms were in a little better shape, except for the carpets, which were inches deep with some kind of animal fur. So much Hans’s no pet rule. Or maybe the rule was implemented as a result of the previous occupants.

It was going to take a lot of work to get the place fixed up. Oh, well. I didn’t know anyone in Florida yet and had nothing but time until I started my new job the following week. At least now I had something to do.

I had to return the rental truck the following day, so I knew unpacking would be the first priority. The only problem was putting my stuff in a place that was a filthy disaster.

I decided the best approach would be to completely clean out my bedroom first then move everything in there until I could clean out the rest of the place. The kitchen and living area were in the worst shape, so I didn’t want to put anything those rooms until I got a chance to completely scrub and disinfect them.

As it approached noon, it was starting to get really hot. I grabbed the small suitcase of clothes I had packed and brought them inside to get changed. I realized there were no shades on any of the windows yet, so I headed into the bathroom and was completely disgusted once again. I probably should have started cleaning that room first. I sat on the edge of the bathtub and heaved a sigh. I wondered if it was too late to hand my keys back to Hans and return home to Illinois.

In the range of bad ideas I’ve had, this was starting to look like the king of bad ideas. I had spent most of my savings on moving expenses and security deposit on this dump. Not to mention the fact that I had resigned from my position at the mental health center in the town where I grew up and accepted a job in Florida with a large mental health facility. I was kind of stuck with my what-now-seemed-like-a-rash decision.

I changed into shorts and a tank top and decided to get to work. I could get everything moved myself expect for my bed, dresser and couch. Hans said he would give me a hand with some of the larger items, when I needed the help. Luckily, they were all at the back of the truck.

It took me a little over an hour to get all of the small stuff moved in and all I had left were the large furniture items. I was exhausted and thirsty, so I decided to take a short break before I went to get Hans. I wondered if there were any small convenience stores within walking distance, where I could get a cold bottled water or soda.

Then I heard a pounding on the front door, which I had left propped open.

“Is anyone home?” called out a male voice.

I went over to the door and opened it fully. I could feel my mouth drop open when I saw the guy standing at my threshold. He was bare-chested, wearing just swim trucks and flip flops. And, oh what a wonderful chest it was, six-packed and bronzed from the sun. The guy was about six feet tall; muscular and toned. When I could finally steal my gaze from his magnificent physique, I looked into smoldering brown eyes and my breath was momentarily stolen from my body. His dark hair was messy and damp. That’s when I noticed he also had a bit of sand on his broad shoulders. I guessed he was one of the surfer boys, as Hans called them, who lived next door.

The gorgeous guy gave me a titled half smile that showed off a sexy dimple in his cheek. The man was clearly the whole package and he definitely knew it. He carried himself like he owned the world. He could easily own any girl with the dimple alone.

Any girl, except me, of course.

It would be a very long time before I was interested in any involvement with the opposite sex. My heart was still broken into a million little pieces from my messy break-up with Jeff.

“Just move in?” Mr. Whole Package said.

“Is it that obvious?” I quipped.

“The moving truck out front kind of gave it away,” he said. He held out a hand. “I’m Eddie. I live next door.”

I stared at his hand for a second, wondering how rude it would look if I didn’t shake it. A big part of me was scared to even touch him. Finally, I just thought fuck it and grabbed his hand.

Oh, God. What a HUGE mistake.

Why hadn’t I listened to my inner, obviously much smarter voice, which warned me not to touch him? His grip was firm and his hands were rougher than I had imagined they would be; but what got me were his eyes. As he held my hand, I was captivated by the intensity of his fiery stare. I nearly drowned in the cascade of shivers that flooded my body.

Eddie had game and knew exactly how to use it. Shit.

“I’m Lexie,” I said as I quickly removed my hand from his grasp.

He arched an eyebrow. “Short for something?”

“Alexandria.”

“Pretty name.”

I smiled. “Well, I’ve got a lot of work to do.” I wanted him to leave. He was making me nervous. He was making me feel things I didn’t want to feel. A lot of things I didn’t want to feel. All the things I was trying to escape by moving to Florida.

“Need help carrying in the rest of your stuff?” he offered. It was tempting, but it also meant spending more time with him, which might put us near the danger zone.

When I moved to Florida, I decided that I would put up an invisible sign: Slow No Wake. I didn’t want any waves or any drama. I had had enough of that in Illinois. Men usually caused waves and Eddie definitely seemed like the heavy wake kind of guy. I needed him gone as quickly as possible. I had a foot in dangerous waters and I didn’t want to get swept up in the tide.

“Hans said he would give me a hand with the furniture,” I said.

Eddie leaned in very close, like he was going to tell me a secret. I could feel his breath on my neck and it made me shiver a bit. What was that I had just said about the no wake zone? Eddie was already causing a lot of waves. “I would watch out for Hans,” he whispered. “He’s kind of a perv.”

Hans did not seem like a perv to me but I hadn’t spent much time with him. “He’s old enough to be my father,” I said with a bit of skepticism in my voice.

Eddie shrugged. “Suit yourself.” He turned away from me. “But have you seen his girlfriend yet? She’s at least five years younger than us.”

“Wait,” I said.

Eddie turned around and grinned at me. “Change your mind?”

I nodded.

Eddie rested his arm on the doorframe right above me and leaned in close. He smelled like suntan oil with a hint of saltwater and sweat. “I’m happy to help you in any way I can. All you have to do is ask.”

His words were laced with so much innuendo and sexuality, I found it difficult to swallow. “Thanks,” was all I was able to mutter.

Then he turned and headed for the truck. I followed and in that moment, I felt like I would have followed him anywhere.

By the time we got the furniture unloaded and placed in my apartment, I had gotten extremely sweaty and sticky. I hoped I didn’t look as wilted as I felt. Not that I was trying to impress Eddie. Or if I could, even on a good day. He was the most perfect specimen of a man I had ever seen.

People had always told me I was attractive, which was probably true to some extent, but I was definitely not in Eddie’s league. He was Hollywood star gorgeous. He was Jared Leto gorgeous, which says a lot. I had always had an enormous crush on Jared Leto and thought he was one of the best looking men ever born. Until I laid eyes on Eddie. Eddie was actually a better looking than Jared Leto. And here I was, a woman trying to live a quiet life of solitude and celibacy, only to move next door to Eddie, easily the best looking man I had ever met. Why was my life always riddled with complications and plenty of waves, especially when I craved a no wake zone so desperately?

“Thirsty?” Eddie asked as he wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. His body was now glistening with sweat. I thought about what it would be like to lick the sweat from his muscular chest…and had to stop myself. No wake zone, remember?

“Sorry, I don’t have anything to drink,” I said. “I haven’t had a chance to get to the store yet. Not that I have any glasses unpacked anyway.”

He nodded. “No problem. I’ve got a stocked fridge next door.”

I gulped. Going next door with him, alone, was not a good idea. The counselor in me tried to rationalize everything. All of his flirting could have been harmless and maybe I was just reading too much into it. After all, we had just met. But I thought I could feel some sexual tension between us, and that really scared me.

“What’s wrong?” Eddie asked.

“Nothing,” I said, but it didn’t sound convincing, even to myself.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” he said. “I don’t bite. Unless you want me to.”

And there it was again. The tilted half smile with the dimple. Oh. My. God. The man was such a shameless flirt. And I’m sure women loved it.

There was obviously only one way to handle Eddie. I had to make myself totally immune to his charms. I decided to try some behavior modification and pair his flirtations with a negative stimulus. Whenever he tried to seduce me with his looks and charm, I would think about something awful, like finding a dead puppy when I was five years old or failing my first economics test my freshman year of college.

“Okay,” I said. “Lead the way.”

Eddie’s apartment was a mirror image of mine. The guys had obviously lived there awhile because they had accumulated a lot of stuff. The place was packed with shelves of book and movies and there was strange looking sports stuff everywhere. Hans had mentioned the guys were surfers but this stuff didn’t look like any surf stuff I had ever seen. Not that I was that familiar with the sport, or any sports for that matter.

I pointed to the strange looking equipment. “What’s that?” I asked.

“Kite surfing stuff,” he responded.

I raised an eyebrow. “What is that?”

“It defies explanation,” he said. “You have to see us in action.”

“Okay,” I said, unsure if I had just agreed to something I really didn’t want to.

He smiled. “We’re on the beach almost every weekend.”

“So, Hans said you guys have tried to sneak in dogs,” I said, trying to shift the conversation.

“We may have one now,” he said with a bit of humor in his voice. “I’ll have to get to know you better before I trust you with that kind of information.”

“I see how it is,” I kidded, then immediately got mad at myself for letting my guard down. I was supposed to be conditioning myself to be immune to his charms.

We walked over to the refrigerator and he opened it and peered in. “I have beer, wine coolers, soda and bottled water.”

“Better go with the bottled water,” I replied.

He handed me a water bottle and grabbed a beer for himself. We opened our drinks and then he tapped his beer bottle to my water bottle as if he was toasting. “To new adventures with new neighbors. Cheers.”

“Cheers,” I said and took a swig of the cold water. I quickly took a few more sips not realizing how thirsty I actually was.

“So, what brings you to Florida?” Eddie asked.

I wasn’t sure how much of my personal saga I wanted to reveal. “I wanted to escape the Midwest winters,” I said, which was partially true. I really wanted to escape my ex-fiancé and all of the pain from our break-up.

“A Midwest girl,” he said as studied me. “I’ve heard that girls from the Midwest have a bit of a wild streak. Is that true?”

“Not in my case,” I said.

He was still staring into my eyes. “I don’t believe you.”

I gulped. I tried to think of all the horrible things I had planned to associate with him but nothing came to mind. Shit. The only thing I could think about was him kissing me with his beautiful mouth. And touching me, everywhere, his rough hands on every part of my body.

He took a swig of beer, then leaned in close to my ear and whispered, “It’s possible that you haven’t found someone to bring out your wild streak. At least, not yet. I may have to put that theory to a test.”

Holy shit. I had never felt so much magnetism and raw sexuality exuding from another person in my entire life. If I didn’t make a quick escape, I would probably be in his bed naked in a matter of minutes. I didn’t want any wake and Eddie was a raging storm, maybe even a tsunami.

“Thanks for the water,” I said placing the nearly empty bottle on his counter. “I’ve really got to go. I’ve still got a lot of unpacking to do and I need to get the truck returned.”

“I could ride up there with you when you return the truck and give you a lift back,” he offered.

“That’s okay,” I said, trying my best not to look into his blazing brown eyes. “You’ve already done so much. Besides, the guys at the rental place said it’s not far from here and I can probably walk. It’ll be a good way for me to get to know the neighborhood.”

“It is a nice walk,” he said. “Catch you later.”

“Thanks, again,” I said as I hurried out the door. I swear I could hear him give a few chuckles as I closed the door behind me.