As the sun shone bright overhead, I sighed and turned another page in the trashy crime novel resting on my bent knees. It was Day 3 of our Aruba honeymoon and basking poolside with a book and a pina colada had become my mid-day ritual. JT was waist-deep in the water, chatting up one of the several vacation friends we'd made over the last few days.
It struck me as strangely wonderful how routine things had become for us in such a short time on the island. Mornings were spent on chaises outside our room, the gentle waves rolling ashore a few feet away. After lunch, we'd end up at the pool where the relaxation-fest continued until either the sun or our pruny skin became too much. Then it was back to the room for a nap, dinner, drinks, and whatever entertainment our resort had planned for that evening.
Living such a predictable life among others doing exactly the same thing meant we got to know everyone at our resort fairly quickly. You can only bump into the same guy at the breakfast buffet then again later at the bar then again at bingo so many times without saying hello. We had arrived on a Monday and by Wednesday I was interrogating JT, the far more social and nebby of us, if I saw someone I didn't immediately recognize.
"Oh, that's Dana from Texas," he'd say. "She's here with some guy she's been dating, Todd, but I don't think she really likes him. She said he's boring, but he wanted to take her on vacation and hey, free trip!"
Damn, detective, did you get her mother's maiden name and the last four digits of her social security number while you were at it?
So imagine my surprise when, during the aforementioned poolside sitting session, JT asked for my help in identifying a fellow guest.
"Babe, check out this guy. Who is that?"
I looked up, even though I knew darn well there was no way I could have beat him to meeting this Mystery Man.
Without hesitation, I said, "That's my brother."
There was no doubt in my mind the man walking across the pool area was my younger sibling, Eric. He stood a tall 6-foot-4, arms dangling down to his knees, stride longer than the average giraffe's. An over-sized hat blocked most of his hair, but I could tell from the sides it was shaved super short. And he carried a drink in one hand a cigarette in the other. Eric's signature accessories!
I watched as the man sauntered over to the bar, pulled up a chair and chatted with the bartender. Signature facial scruff? Check. Squinty eyes when smiling? Check. Baggy shorts that would come down to the floor on most men but hit him just past the knee? Check! It was him.
I was beginning to think it was really odd that my brother, the best man in my wedding and one of JT's closest friends, didn't bother to tell us he was taking a trip, let alone the exact same one we'd planned. Just then, a busty brunette in a low-cut bikini top and denim scraps for shorts saddled up next to Eric. He leaned over and planted a kiss on her overly-lined lips. The fuck?! Eric had his own busty brunette, but this wasn't her! My sis-in-law Nik was nowhere to be seen.
That's it. I stood and began to march over to the bar. I didn't know what my brother was doing here, but I was for damn sure going to make certain it had nothing to do with this little "Mob Wives" wannabe. I stormed across the pool deck, and reached up to slap Eric upside his head. I almost toppled over as I stopped short. It wasn't him. This man was clearly a smidge older than my brother. His face was just a tiny bit rounder. And he had a tattoo on his leg of the flag of Argentina.
I turned on my heel and sprinted back to my chair.
"What the heck happened?" JT asked, as I leap-frogged a row of sunbathers.
"It's not my brother!" I scream-whispered. "It's his doppelganger! It's International Eric!"
And for the next three days, I did what any normal person would do who saw a person who resembled someone they knew but wasn't him. I stalked the shit out of him.
I was so intrigued by this person - who was he? Where was he from? Who was the brunette? Did he know how much he looked like my brother? I had to know. Any time he was within my sight, I'd watch his every move.
"Leave. Him. Alone. You giant creeper," JT said one morning, as I leaned forward to watch intently as International Eric spatulaed a helping of hash browns onto his plate.
"I can't," I admitted. "I have to talk to him."
"So go talk to him!" JT said. (Is it weird that my new husband was encouraging me to chat up another man on our honeymoon? I'm going to go with: less weird, more supportive!)
"I can't! He probably thinks I'm a nut case for charging up to him like that then fleeing without so much as a word!"
"Well, he'd be right."
But THEN, things got interesting. And it wasn't long until JT was joining in on my paparazzi impersonation. Because it soon became clear that International Eric was a big deal, and quite possibly, dangerous.
In addition to the flag on his calf, International Eric, much like my own brother, had several other tattoos. Some gothic letters on his forearm, a date stenciled across the nape of his neck. One day, he brushed past me as I sat by the pool and I looked up in time to inspect the large image spanning from ankle to calf on one leg. Guns. Lots of them.
"He's a gunrunner!" I told JT, who at first dismissed me. But then, it occurred to us that International Eric was rarely ever without an entourage much larger than the couple pairings most common to this haven for the newly-married.
Brunette was always nearby, her outfits growing skimpier by the day. But they were also accompanied by another young woman, a petite blonde with hair down to her waist and a wardrobe similar to that of her darker haired friend. At times, International Eric would casually drape his arms arms around both of them as they sat at the bar, sipping drinks and keeping mostly to themselves.
This cozy group occasionally was joined by a burly older man, maybe in his 50s, who wore tight muscle Tees and kept his chiseled jaw clenched at all times. Much like a bouncer. Or a body guard. An attractive tall woman was always at his side.
So International Eric had a harem, incriminating body art and a possible hired goon. JT started to think I might be on to something.
For the rest of the week, we created an entire back story. He "worked" in arms trafficking and was blowing off some steam before heading south to follow a shipment. But he had bad blood in nearby Venezuela, so protection was a must, even if no one would ever think to look for him in a tourist-trappy type couples resort. At least he could relax with his ladies for a few days before having to make the drop, collect his cash and kill God knows how many two-faced confidants in the process. So basically, he was every villain in every American action movie ever ever.
By this point, I had scared myself out of actually talking to him, despite JT's constant insistence. The clock was ticking, and soon, we'd be leaving Aruba and all of International Eric's secrets behind.
The last day of our trip, as we posted up at our usual pool spot, we watched International Eric and his harem saddle up at the bar. JT looked at me, I looked at him. We knew what we had to do.
We marched over to the two empty seats at International Eric's left. It was time.
"Hey," JT said, giving International Eric a bro-nod.
"Hey," he said back, in a non-"leave me the fuck alone" kind of way. We were in.
"We're here on our honeymoon," JT started cautiously. "You?"
International Eric exchanged a glance with his ladies. The slightest silence lingered, just long enough for me to accept the fact that JT and I would be offed before the pelicans stopped fishing for their lunch.
Then, he turned to us and grinned.
"Congratulations!!!!" he exclaimed in a thick New York accent and reached over to shake JT's hand.
And by the next round, we had the whole story. International Eric was actually Paul, a Long Island native on a family vacation. The brunette was his girlfriend, a sweet medical office receptionist. The blonde was his sister. The burly guy? His dad, enjoying the trip with his girlfriend, the beautiful tall woman.
Paul worked in heating and air conditioning.
Paul congratulated us on our nuptials a dozen times.
Paul's response when I told him he looked exactly like my brother? "You know, I get that a lot!"
Paul found us the next day, as we waited for the bus to take us to the airport, and shook JT's hand again, telling us how nice it was to meet us and wishing us all the luck in the world.
Paul made JT and I look like complete douchebags.
I did not get a picture with Paul. I was too embarrassed.
"Well," JT said, as we rode the bumpy route to the airport. "I guess we can't call him International Eric anymore."
"Like hell we can't!" I said. "That's what he was to us. That's what he will always be!"
And I'm not entirely convinced that's not who he really is. I mean, who goes to a couples all-inclusive with their "sister?"
Gunrunners, that's who. I mean, who else would make up a story that ridiculous?
Writers on vacation, that's who.