“Tim?” I ask.
“What?” He turns around.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“Nothing.” He stands up slowly and closes the doors leading out to the balcony.
“Do you want to talk?” I have been crying.
“What? Did you ask me if I wanted to talk?” He flips on a light, smiling at me with a tainted smile.
“You tell me.”
“There’s nothing to talk about,” he says. He paces beside the bed, slowly, deliberately, trudging.
“Please, Tim. Come on.”
“What?” He throws his arms up, smiling, eyes wide and bloodshot. He takes off his jacket and tosses it on the floor. “There is nothing to talk about.”
I can’t say anything except “Give me a chance. Don’t ruin my chances.”
“You don’t have any chances to ruin, dude.” He laughs, then says again, “Dude.”
“You don’t mean that,” I say. “Nothing. There is nothing,” Tim says, less sternly than before. He stops pacing, then sits on the bed again, his back to me.
“Just forget about it,” he says again, yawning. “There’s … nothing.”
I just stand there.
“Nothing,” he says again. “Nada.”
I wander around the grounds of the hotel for a long time and I finally end up sitting on a small bench situated above the sea, next to a floodlight shining down into the water. Two manta rays, drawn by the intense light, are swimming in circles, their fins flapping slowly in the clear, lit waves. There is no one else watching the manta rays and I stare at them swimming tirelessly for what seems to be a long time. The moon is high and bright and pale. A parrot squawks from across the hotel. Tiki torches burn with gas flames. I’m about to go to the front desk and get another room, when I hear a voice behind me.
“Manta birostris, also called manta ray.” Rachel steps out of the darkness, wearing sweats and a revealing T-shirt with the words LOS ANGELES on it, the flower from earlier still in her hair. “They’re relatives of the shark and the skate. They inhabit warmer ocean waters. They spend most of their lives either partially buried in the bottom mud or sand of the ocean or swimming just above the bottom.”
She steps over the bench and leans against the floodlight and watches the two large gray monsters.
“They move by undulating their large pectoral fins and they steer with their long tails. They feed primarily on crustaceans, mollusks, marine worms.” She pauses, looks at me. “Some manta rays weighing over three thousand pounds and measuring twenty feet across have been caught. Because of their size they are greatly feared.” She looks back into the water and continues speaking, as if reading to the blind. “Actually they have a retiring disposition. They only cause boats to capsize and kill humans when they’re being attacked.” She looks back at me. “They leave these large eggs that have a dark-green, almost black, leathery covering on them, with little tendrils at each corner that fasten to seaweed. After they hatch, the empty cases drift to shore.” She stops, then sighs heavily.
“Where did you learn all that?”
“I got an A in oceanography at UCSD.”
“Oh,” I sigh, drunk. “That’s … interesting.”
“I suppose so.” She looks back at the manta rays.
“Where have you been?” I ask.
“Around,” she says, looking off, as if absorbed by something invisible. “Talk to Tim?”
“Yeah.” I shrug. “He’s okay.”
“Don’t you two get along?” she asks.
“As well as most fathers and sons,” I say, guessing.
“That’s too bad, then,” she says, looking at me. She moves away from the floodlight and sits next to me on the bench. “Maybe he doesn’t like you.” She pulls the flower from her hair and smells it. “But I guess that’s okay because maybe you don’t like him either.”
“Do you think my son is handsome?” I ask.
“Yes. Very,” she says. “Why?”
“I just wanted to know.” I shrug.
One of the manta rays rises to the surface and splashes at the water with its fin.
“What did you talk about with him this afternoon?” I ask.
“Not a lot. Why?”
“I want to know.”
“Just … things.”
“What things?” I press. “Rachel.”