It’s too late. He’s already pulling at his wallet. I can’t fight him. I know it’s the right thing to do.
“Quatro por quinze reais,” the flower salesman says.
Paul hands him the 15 reais and gets back the roses. He smiles.
“Are you down for this?” he asks.
Still grinning, Paul hands the roses over to me.
“Now you just have to pick the girl you want to give them to,” he says.
I feel the adrenaline dump into my system. I love you, Paul. But I hate you.
This is not how I pictured our last dinner. We’ve been in Floripa for a month now and not once have we gone to a sit down restaurant. This is a special occasion: Paul’s farewell. He and I saying goodbye over a nice meal. I’ve been in a bit of a funk since I heard he was leaving. He’s been my partner in crime. So I wanted a nice sendoff.
This is more exciting though. Four roses to hand out to four strangers. Compounded by the fact that I speak the Portuguese of a child. My heart races as I look around the restaurant. There are two cute girls to our left.
“Hey,” I say. They pause their conversation. They look at me.
“I wanted to give this to you,” I say and extend one rose towards them.
They put their hands over their hearts and fawn. “Obrigada!” they say. We chat for a minute about fun places to go out. I can feel myself slipping into this comfortable conversation. I want to just stay and chat with them. But I have 3 more roses to unload. I have to capitalize on my boldness.
I excuse myself, telling them I have to go give out more roses.
I stand up from my seat and peer around the restaurant. I see a table of 8 girls in the back corner of the room. Easy call. They’ll love it.
I stroll back and in broken Portuguese I say:
“I have this rose for you…?” (Everything is a question in a foreign language. You never know if people understand you.)
They look at me confused.
“I want to…give this to you?” I stumble in Portuguese. I offer the rose to them.
“To who?” one of the girls asks.
“To all of you,” I reply.
“Noooooooo!” they all shout back in unison.
“You have to pick,” another one says. She gestures around the table, pointing at her friends. I look at each of the girls. There is one in the back with a cute smile.
I walk over to her and give her the rose. The entire table erupts with cheers and applause.
I’m feeling better already. Spreading joy. It feels good.
I walk back triumphant to the table. There aren’t any more cute girls in the restaurant. I’ve done my duty, faced my fear, and made two girls’ days.
Before I can even sit back down though, Paul’s devious smile freezes me.
“Dude, there is a girl out on the patio that is the hottest by far.”
Ugh. I just want to be done. Even after the two positive reactions, I’m still uncomfortable. But I can’t bitch out now. I decide to walk outside so I can get a look.
I walk to the patio and instantly know who Paul was talking about. There are 2 girls sitting in the patio, deep in conversation. Paul is right. One is easily one of the most beautiful I’ve seen since I came to Brazil.
One look at her and all I want to do is go back to my table. To pretend she’s not my type, finish my dinner with Paul, and avoid the anxiety I feel mounting inside me. I hold my phone to my ear to fake like I have a phone call. It buys me a few more seconds standing out there, stalling. My heart is racing.
Everything inside me just wants to go sit down with Paul and say this girl wasn’t my type.
Screw it. I’ve done it twice. This will make her day. I start walking before I can second guess myself.
“Hey,” I say, “this is random but do you speak English?”
“Yes,” she nods and smiles.
Her eyes are light blue on tanned skin. I can’t help myself.
“Well, you have the most beautiful eyes. And I just wanted you to have this.”
I pull the rose out from behind my back and hand it to her. She beams a smile and squeals. The friend immediately starts bombarding me with questions.
Where am I from? What am I doing there?
I respond in Portuguese. They clap. They are way more impressed than they ought to be.
I tell them my friend is actually leaving town tomorrow. I’m really bummed. I’ll be travelling alone once he leaves. “You guys can show me around,” I say with a smirk.
They both laugh. They promise to show me around and take good care of me.
We talk for a few more minutes. When we finally trade numbers, I’m literally shaking from nerves. I manage to get her number in my phone after missing a few times from my trembling hands.
I head back to the table before she can notice how frazzled I am.
Wait she calls. I look back.
“Take my Facebook too!”
Back at the hostel, I’m reeling. Was that real? I race onto Facebook to see if this girl is as pretty as I remember or if it was just my adrenaline. I login and at the top of my newsfeed is this:
Across the room, Paul is packing. An hour ago I was broken up about him leaving. But now I feel like I can handle it. I’ve got a verifiable hot date lined up.
I shoot her a text and ask where she wants to meet the next day.
An hour later, nothing. Radio Silence.
I check my phone about a two hundred times. Every step I feel phantom vibrations from my phone.
The next day, still nothing. I send her a FB message. She might just have missed the Whatsapp.
Nothing. The day of our date goes by and not a peep. Paul flies out. And I feel like shit.
Florianopolis is a sleepy town. Aside from Brazilian Ju Jitsu, I have no commitments. Three days pass slowly. I’m bored and lonely as hell. Sure, people float in and out of the hostel. But I have no interest in talking to them. They’ll be gone in 3 day, 5 days, who knows. I want real people and the hostel folks seem so impermanent.
There is this one spunky German kid. Friday rolls around and all he wants to do is go out and party. I’m not going to drink, but what the hell? I need some interaction to recharge me.
We wind up at this club. I’m standing in line trying to get myself excited to go in when I hear a noise behind me. I turn to see…
Bright blue eyes on tanned skin. It’s the girl from the restaurant.
“Holy shit. How are you?” I ask.
She greets me with a big hug and smile. Introduces me to her friends.
“This is Charlie! We met at the restaurant on Sunday. He…”
And then I watch her face shift. She goes from a smile to scowl. Like she just remembered I murdered her puppy.
Before she can finish her sentence, the bouncer pushes me through into the club. She follows after me. On the inside she approaches me with an eyebrow cocked.
“So I heard you gave out a lot of roses Sunday night”
“Yes I did. Why?”
“Because Jennifer is my friend and when she saw my new profile picture, she said she got a rose from a gringo in a basketball jersey too.”
“Well Jennifer is cute and I wanted to give her a rose too.”
“Then you should go hang out with Jennifer,” she pauses and I watch her shift from angry to hurt. “I thought I was special…” and she walks off to the bar.
I don’t know what to say. I’m so caught off guard. The truth is I don’t know ANYTHING about this girl. Okay, I know she’s beautiful and she gives good hugs. But special? I have no idea.
Her friend from the restaurant brings me into conversation. I chat with her and her boyfriend for a while. After 10 minutes I can see that Gabrielle is listening, trying to look like she doesn’t care.
She keeps asking me questions and as we chat, Gabrielle warms up. When we take a photo, Gabrielle stands next to me and smiles wide. She starts laughing again. When I invite her to come sit on a couch in a quieter area, she obliges.
I show her music on my phone, holding it close to her ear. We’re inches away from one another. As if she’s reading my mind, she says:
“You can’t kiss me.”
I’ve given this girl a rose out of the blue. Dealt with her ignoring my calls. Broke through her icy exterior so that we’re enjoying one another’s company.
And now I’m 12 inches from her face while she locks eyes with me and tells me not to kiss her.
What do I do?
I fucking listen.
The tension melts.
An hour later I’m ready to leave. I invite her to come take a walk with me. She looks back at her friends and I see her mulling it over. My heart races again. Though I’m still terrified by the thought. She’s been so hot and cold I have no idea what to expect.
She looks back at me. “I have to stay with my friends,” she says
I deflate. “Alright. Take care.” I give her a kiss on the cheek and I’m gone.
It’s pitch black outside. The parking lot is empty. I’m alone in the middle of a foreign country. Exactly what I was afraid of when Paul left. And I’m pissed. We were at the damn door. Serendipity put us in the same room and I fucking blew it. And it wasn’t because I didn’t have Paul. It wasn’t because I spoke garbage Portuguese.
It was because I didn’t have courage.
I had the courage to hand out roses. Courage to give her a rose when I could have quit. Courage to continue speaking with her even after she was mad at me.
And then I dropped the ball when it came to mustering the courage to just fucking kiss her.
A year later I’m making my final preparations to move to Brazil. I’ve got my visa, my plane ticket, and my destination picked out: Rio de Janeiro.
But there is one thing I want before I go back.
I find my way into Brooklyn. Saved Tattoos.
“I need a quote,” I tell the woman, “On my chest. I’m leaving the country and I need it now.”
“Sure thing. What do you want it to say?”
It’s 2500 years old. A Thucydides quote from The Peloponnesian War. Something I never want to forget. Even when I’m alone. Even if I’m 5000 miles away from my friends and family, surrounded by strangers, wondering what the hell to do with myself.
Translated from ancient Greek it goes something like this:
The secret to happiness is freedom. And the secret to freedom is courage.
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