That's what Raphael felt when he hit his hotel room's soft bed. He had arrived in Nassau not even six hours ago, yet he had already had the best time in his life in years.
He had seen her. He saw the woman he had dreamt of all his life, and seeing her actually went good.
His cheek bones hurt from the smiling he had done all the way back to the hotel. Maybe his cheekbones were complaining about such a new position, not being in the least bit used to it. Yet he didn't care.
He rolled onto his side with his phone in his hand, gazing at the number he had gotten from her. And she agreed to see him tomorrow again! He just wanted to go to sleep so that the day would come quicker, but he was still so anxious, that he couldn't even close his eyes.
Despite all, he knew, just knew, that this woman was the only thing that would ever grant him happiness. She had made him laugh genuinely for the first time in years--over a decade, in just one night.
Only an angel herself could've ever done that, and an angel she indeed was. He didn't know what the future had in-store, but he indeed knew that he wasn't going to live without her. He couldn't.
And he wasn't going to.
Three hours earlier...
"Yes Maddie? Have you found a good place where I can have a decent meal in town?" Raphael asked his assistant as he shoved some chips from the plane in his mouth, frowning at its horrid taste.
The flight to Nassau was only 45 minutes, but he didn't bother to grab a meal before leaving the house like Mrs. Garcia suggested. He was so eager to set his feet on Nassau, that food had barely crossed his mind. But by the time 7:00 rolled around and he was starving on his way to the hotel his assistant had booked, he knew his plan of sleeping in that night was no longer an option.
Maddie, his assistant, had gotten a proper scolding when, to Raphael's demise, the hotel's food was crap. His assistant should've checked that everything with the place was perfect before booking him a room there.
She only gave some shitty excuse about it being the only one available in such short notice blah blah blah. Raphael had no concern for such excuses, and she knew this.
So, the anger and frustration in his voice as he spoke to the woman on speaker phone was enough to have her running back to Puerto Rico. Raphael never kept assistants long. Either they try to get too close, or they were simply terrible at their jobs. And he hated when people were terrible at their jobs. So he knew Maddie wasn't any different.
Now that he was going to live in the Grand Bahama, he might just send her back, and find a new assistant soon.
"Yessir. I- um-I found a restaurant just five minutes from the hotel. I've arranged for a driver to pick you up in ten minutes" She rambled out quickly, obviously quite flustered with her boss's anger.
"Make it five minutes Maddie. I'm starving"
"I-um, I'll tell the driver to drive faster then sir?" It came out more of a question than a statement, as even this was out of her power. But she learnt from the past never to question Raphael's requests. It was either you get it done, or get it done as closely to his liking as possible.
But despite all that, Raphael was furious when the driver had arrived two minutes late, and he was sure to give a good earful about it too. Yet, the poor driver did all he could to reach in five minutes, even breaking the speed limit. But as they say, a hungry man is an angry man. Or Raphael being Raphael, was just always angry at the world.
They arrived at the restaurant at 7:30, and to Raphael's demise, there were no reservations marked in his name, neither were there any available tables. Maddie indeed received another scolding from her boss, though it was never in her intention to make such a mistake.
He almost fired her too, but he was far too tired, hungry and annoyed at her voice to prolong the conversation.
He leaned back in the car as the driver sat awkwardly awaiting instructions. Raphael didn't know anywhere in town that he could dine, and he didn't want to hear the squeaky voice of Maddie any longer with his now throbbing headache.
"Uh, where to now, sir?" The driver, Nick, asked once the silence got too thick for him to bear, and the very intimidating man was just brooding in the back of his car.
"Take me anywhere that serves good food. I don't care where, just take me there " Raphael instructed in his original 'F**k it' tone. Nick got a little eager at this.
"There's a great place just by the beach that-"
"Just take me there" Raphael held up his hand sternly, cutting off the man's rambling.
This new driver, if he remains, will surely have to get used to Raphael's moods if he wanted to keep the job. Raphael never minded driving himself to places, but sometimes he preferred not to, due to his impatience and the mountain of tickets that his accountant had to pay monthly.
Without another word, Nick took him to the place he'd enjoy going to with his friends and family from time to time. It wasn't the fanciest, but it was definitely cozy and the food was great.
He got a bit nervous when he pulled up in front of the pub, rethinking his decision of taking Mr. Léon there. He seemed more like the type to dine fancy, even if he was alone. Maybe if he wanted a drink then yes, but in Nick's mind, this wasn't Raphael's setting.
Yet, instead of shouting at him like he predicted, Raphael simply mumbled a thanks before heading out. Maddie had warned Nick about her boss's attitude and temper. And witnessing it for himself when he took 7 minutes to arrive at the hotel rather than 5, Nick was sure he'd upset Raphael again.
Luckily, he seemed calm as he just walked towards the entrance. 'He's definitely an odd man', Nick thought. Snappy one minute, then calm as a humming bird at the next.
The building wasn't what Raphael had expected. Though it was small and looked clean with great ambiance, he'd expected Nick to take him somewhere less casual.
Nonetheless, his stomach had no prejudice against dining areas at that moment, and the sudden feeling of family and warmth actually welcomed Raphael's cold empty soul.
The wind from the sea was relaxing as he pushed the doubled-door open, immediately being met with the thick laughter and aroma of great food. People smiled at him as he walked past, and others simply looked at him questionably but still offered him friendly nods.
No wonder Nick liked the place. Raphael could read people quite easily, having done it all his life. It was how he learnt things about people, since they'd never befriended him for him to learn the casual way. So he knew Nick was the type to enjoy hangouts like these. And though it wasn't his setting, he oddly liked it too.
He sat at the bar a few seats away from the others. A curvy short haired waitress approached him, and he couldn't tell if she was admiring him or if she was just being friendly. Maybe both.
She smiled widely at him, something he had been used to anytime he was in any area that revolved around customer service, but he knew it was nothing personal.
"Hello welcome to Peach's Pub. I'm your waitress for tonight" She greeted as she handed him a menu. "I'll be back in a minute to take your order. But for now, would you like anything to drink?"
"Water is fine, thanks"
She simply nodded as disappeared behind a brown door. He looked through the menu ravishingly, eager to have anything once he wasn't allergic or despise any of the ingredients.
He felt a presence behind him, but he was too invested in the food list to pay attention to who was joining him.
"Is this seat taken?" A female voice asked-- a female voice he should've known too well, but was too distracted to realize.
He simply shook his head at the person as he continued to skip through the booklet. His subconscious was screaming at him to come back to reality and recognize the voice he had heard in countless videos.
"You should try the oven roasted turkey burger. They're really good" She spoke again, actually drawing Raphael's attention when he realized that a human who he hadn't employed, who isn't a business partner or who wasn't offering him a service, actually spoke to him.
It was then when he started to realize why his brain was nudging him, and his head whipped towards her so fast, that he was sure he'd had whiplash.
His eyes widened in surprise, delight and disbelief as he ogled the woman in front of him. It was her, in the flesh. She was sitting beside him with enthusiastic bright eyes, and smiling at him with those gentle lips. Just like he had dreamt of for years.
"Tami?" He finally spoke, slowly closing the menu as he turned to face her more.
She regarded him in confusion for a while, as she tried to pin where and how he looked so familiar from.
Unlike her, Raphael had really grown into his features. Though he was a quite cute nine year old, puberty did its best on his features.
His stubble was completely full, but shaven to perfection, hiding most of his jaw and chin. His hair was no longer curly all over his forehead, but cut short in a sexy buzz undercut, which definitely enhanced his perfect jawline and brought out his features. He'd grown into a man, looking quite different from the nine year old boy she met.
They hadn't stayed in touch either, so he knew recognition was hard for her. But he knew her, because he had watched her from the moment he found her account. Kinda stalkerish, but it was the truth.
She had grown into her features too, and he loved every womanly curve and enhancement about her. But what he loved even more, was the way her eyebrows still knitted together when she was confused, just like in that moment.
"You don't remember me" He mumbled, though what he felt wasn't close to disappointment.
The fear earlier that she wouldn't recognize him went through the window. Because he didn't care anymore. She was there in front of him in the flesh and he didn't care about anything else.
Tami knew she had seen the man before, yet she couldn't remember where. It was only in her nature to engage strangers into small talk whenever she came to Peach's Pub alone. But she hadn't expected one of the strangers to know her.
She also noticed that his 'knowing' of her wasn't from her Instagram or her sister's YouTube like what happened occasionally. She could see that this man knew her personally. But sadly, she couldn't remember where she'd seen him.
Was he in one of her undergraduate classes? She couldn't tell. He didn't look like a local either, so the confusion was real.
"I'm sorry, no" Her lips pouted a little with her apology as she shook her head, but the stranger only smiled wider at her.
"I can't believe it's really you." She suddenly got uncomfortable under the stranger's intense gaze, and Raphael noticed that he was about to scare her off, so he quickly redeemed himself. "It's Raphael" He announced, and then everything came rushing to her full folds.
She gasped so loudly that some heads in the pub turned, as she threw her hands over her mouth, her eyes wide.
"Raphael? Raphael De Léon?" She questioned in excitement as his eyes danced in relief.
He nodded once at her question, loving the way she still said it with her failed attempt to accentuate his name, yet it was always perfect in his ears.
"The one and only"
"Oh my gosh!" She practically screamed, throwing herself at him in a tackled hug.
He was surprised at first, but he slowly welcomed her embrace, wrapping his arms around her too as he relished in the scent of her.
It felt so right.
Being with her felt so damn right. And he knew, just knew, that Tami was his and will only be his. He wouldn't have it any other way. He wanted her. And Raphael De Léon always got what he wanted.
"Oh my gosh how have you been?" She asked him, as he brushed off the disappointment that dawned on him once the warmth of her body left his. Nonetheless, he brushed it off as he got ready to have a casual conversation.
"I've been..." He drawled, not really sure how to explain his life "Managing" That was the only word he could think of, though it might've sounded different from what he meant.
The waitress came back with his water, after which she took his order and Tami's. He decided that he would try the meal she suggested, and she happily ordered one too.
"How have you been?" He asked, once the waitress was gone.
"I've been doing great. Just graduated with my Master's degree" The pride was radiating off her full folds, though it was never boastful. She was simply proud of herself, and he was too.
"I know. Congrats again."
"Again?" She cocked her head in confusion, and he realized this might not be the best time to suggest that he'd been Instagram stalking her all these years, using her smile as his own source of happiness.
"I saw your post" He simply said, not giving away too much, but answering nonetheless. Her face scrunched into disbelief, and his heart rate increased when he thought he'd upset her.
"You mean you knew my social media and you have never contacted me?"
"I didn't know if you'd remember me. We both moved on with life so I thought-ow!" It was his time to gaze at her in disbelief as he rubbed the area she had slapped. She had a scolding look on her face as she pointed an accusing finger at him.
"That is nonsense Raphael! You should've known better"
Raphael scratched the back of his neck, not really used to being the one on the receiving end of a scolding. "I guess this is a bad time to mention that I didn't accept your request"
"It was you!" She gasped, her eyes dancing with amusement despite her scolding. He nodded sheepishly, apologizing with his eyes even though she wasn't upset.
"I was-uh- I was scared that you wouldn't remember me" He admitted again.
"How could I forget about you Raphael? You were the bestest camp friend ever. It was surely a summer to remember, since it was my last camp once I moved here."
"How has it been here anyways? Ever miss Grand Bahama? I'm actually thinking of moving there" His voice was suggestive, yet he knew he was crazy to think she would just lift up her life and move back to the neighbouring island with him. She had just, after all, started a new chapter in her life.
She shrugged. "Maybe one day. It's a nice place to raise a family you know? But not now" She chuckled a little as she nibbled on a fry that the waitress not so long ago delivered. “Not anytime soon at least"
Raphael gulped, but said nothing. His stomach knotted in uneasiness when he thought about parting with her soon. That maybe one day he won't see her again, only on her social media where he will continue stalking her, only to one day see her post a picture in a wedding dress with another man stuck to her side.
His jaw clenched at the thought, and sudden fear of losing her all over again swamped him.
He refused to have her slip away from him again when he only just found her back. If she wasn't his, then why did he feel so at peace around her? Something he barely recognizes. And if she wasn't his, why is her smile his only source of joy?
The possessiveness that he felt was one like never before, and he suddenly didn't have an appetite for the wonderful smelling food in front of him, despite his starved state. And it was all because of the simple thought of never seeing Tami again--of never getting another warm hug from her again. That couldn't happen.
And he wasn't going to let it happen.
"You don't like it" Her voice broke him from his trance, and he quickly whipped his head around to be met with her cute pout.
He shook his head with a small smile, wanting terribly to get her to smile again, as he took up the burger and sank his teeth into it.
The flavours that erupted in his mouth was heavenly, and he involuntarily moaned in delight at the taste.
"It's good ain't it?" She giggled, and he nodded with a full mouthed smile.
She used her napkin to clean a little sauce from the corner of his lip, and they found themselves staring intensely at each other.
Raphael's heart skipped about a few hundred beats, and he knew in that moment, that he couldn't live without her.
He wouldn't live without her.
With a clearing of her throat, Tami quickly dropped her hand from the man's gorgeous face and focused on her own meal.
She had been shocked that after so many years, she saw him again. She felt bad that he thought she'd forget him. He was the reason she had such a great summer that year. She even thought about him in the past growing up, wondering if he was living happily and growing up nicely, or if he grew up in the wrong path and became a criminal or something.
Yet, the Raphael she knew didn't seem capable of such things, and she was more than happy to see the man he'd become--at least on the outside. She didn't understand her nerves either, so she impregnated the rest of the night with conversation and catching up.
Raphael loved how much of a conversationalist she still seemed to be, he just loved everything about her.
10 pm rolled around, and Tami was beginning to get tired. Her cute kitten yawns didn't go unnoticed by Raphael. He wanted to scoop her up and take her back with him right away, but he couldn't. Not yet.
"I think it's time to call it a night" He suggested, and she nodded in agreement.
They stood simultaneously, and Raphael insisted that he took care of her bill, leaving the waitress a heavy tip also. His kindness didn't shock Tami, it was the thought of how easily he did it, as if a fifty dollar tip was nothing.
"Did you drive here?" He asked her as they headed outside. She shook her head with a light blush, tucking a lock of year back into her curly bun from where it escaped.
"I took the jitney."
She chuckled at his confusion. "The 'bus'" She clarified, using air quotes for emphasis.
Raphael then remembered that he was no longer in Puerto Rico, and the dialect may be slightly different for every culture.
"Let me take you home" He offered merely out of politeness. No way was he going to allow her to take the bus home at 10 in the night.
"I don't wanna be a bother" She mumbled, looking away.
"Nonsense" He immediately dismissed. He would take her anywhere, anytime. "My driver is just over here. Come on"
Her eyes bulged a little. "You have a driver? What are you, rich?" She joked a little, not really comprehending it until she saw the car. "Oh my gosh you are rich! Are you?" She asked in shock as she turned to face him.
He couldn't help but chuckle at that, and Nick was stunned to see the man smile, no doubt ready to relay the gossip to Maddie.
"A little" Raphael shrugged as he opened the door for him. 'A lot', was what he meant. But he didn't want to sound cocky.
Besides, his wealth was never something he threw around to everyone. Women knew he was rich, and they acted so crazy. Imagine if they knew he was a freaking billionaire?
He knew Tami wasn't like that though, yet he didn't want to scare her off or make her feel uncomfortable.
Tami was indeed amazed knowing her childhood friend turned out so successful, but she was definitely proud too.
The man achieved his dreams, and she was happy for him. She quickly darted her eyes towards his hand, and she couldn't understand the relief she felt when she didn't see a wedding band there.
It suddenly made her think that she was so behind on life. If she didn't spend so many years in school, maybe she would've been somewhere there too. But then again, as her mother always said, she won't ever regret the years she spent in school. She'll only look back and smile.
They parted on sweet terms after Raphael dropped her off. She gave him her number and threatened him about accepting her follow request, before he went back to his hotel.
And so there he was. Laying in bed with a childish grin on his face, when he remembered over and over that she agreed to seeing him again tomorrow.
What are the odds that she just happened to head out for dinner at her favourite restaurant that very night? The same night when his assistant messed up, and had him all over the place trying to get a good meal.
It couldn't be anything but fate. And he knew she was his.
"Maddie?" He demanded when he called his assistant.
"Yessir?" She asked with a yawn, obviously already in bed.
"First thing tomorrow morning, call my accountant. Tell her to transfer fifteen thousand dollars to your account. You are going to buy everything and anything a female will need, clothes about one size larger than yours. Send them all to my house on Grand Bahama. I'll sign off on it all soon."
"Okay...?" It came out more of a question than a confirmation, and Maddie couldn't help but wonder if Nick was right. Her boss really found himself a woman.
But, wasn't he going a little too fast?
Nonetheless, it wasn't her place or business to question it. So she simply agreed, as she turned in her bed, already dreading the day ahead having to spend fifteen thousand dollars on women stuff, and send them to a house she haven't even been. To her, it was preposterous.
But to Raphael, it was the perfect plan and the beginning of his happiness.