“It’s only a few more feet now,” I said.

“We have been walking for hours!” Exclaimed the beautiful young woman from behind. “You said this would be a short walk. I don’t think you know where you are going.”

“Just a bit further,” I replied.

The forest seems to be an ever engulfing blanket of green and brown, swallowing us further and further down the gullet of the enormous deep rich underbrush. The crashing of the waves is what keeps me moving forward, getting louder and louder with every step we take, with every slash of the increasingly heavy machete. The blisters are bulging and wrenching on my hand, gripping tight on the rubber-like handle slashing back and forth with the ferocity of a wolverine. I promised her the best view anyone can imagine, and I wanted to make sure I delivered this. With every slice of the sharp blade, bright-colored leaves flew into the air; they appear to dance in the slightest of breeze. They were dancing their way down in an elegant pattern, much like confetti at a celebration. One by one, the bushes are cleared, exposing a path to what felt like several miles. Knowing it wasn’t much further ahead. I slashed harder and harder. My muscles ached, but this was something I didn’t want to show my companion. I never show my weakness, not in front of Emma.

Emma is a really good friend of mine. We met through my friend and roommate, Josh, a guy we used to hang out with. That was until Emma, and I met. My friend is one of those, fuck boys, the flavor of the week, type of guys. He would bring in one girl while chasing after another. “A revolving door of pussy!” as he likes to call it. This seemed to make him happy, and I didn’t mind since I never knew any of the girls. Emma, though, was different. I knew she was more than just “a pair of tits in a sweater,” his words, not mine. When she looked at me, her conviction was much more than what lies on the surface. We all used to hang out at our place, drink a little, play some video games, and usually, I would take off after he would give a sign.

The signs, oh how these were the most depressing, childish aspects of our friendship. We learned how to speak around women without giving them any clues. Mentions of Sci-fi movies or video game characters was our secret personal code. Most females are oblivious to what would be common speak for any males ages thirteen to thirty. If he mentioned a movie, that was his intention of trying to tell me he wanted me to take off and leave them alone, mostly to “make the fucks,” his words, not mine. The video game character would depend on the situation. Luigi, the lesser-known Super Mario Brother, would mean to talk him, as in being his wingman. Talk about his career, how he is such a nice guy, or how he is a generous lover. Then there was Desmond, a fictional assassin from a popular game series. This one is what I dreaded the most. He wanted me to sabotage the connection to “get them bitches out of here,” his words not mine.

“Hey, did you see what Desmond posted online today?” Josh said.

This was it; Josh and Emma were over, just like that. No goodbye, sorry this didn’t work out, just “Desmond,” assassinate the relationship, break the poor girl’s heart. Emma is a sweet girl, and this was much harder for me to do.

The buzzing and whirring sounds from the more than one-hundred mosquitoes were becoming more than Emma could take. I put down the blade and reached into my backpack. I was swirling my hand around a few items knocking around the base of the bag, and blindly found the bug spray. I lifted the greenish-yellow bottle out of the bag and handed it to Emma.

“Here, this should help with the mosquitoes,” I said with confidence.

Emma looked at the bottle and grabbed it out of my hands. She vigorously popped the cap and began spraying in a figure-eight pattern, starting from her head and moving down to her chest. The fumes created a misty, foggy force field of a chemical-induced cloud of death. The smell was overpowering, not only for the mosquitoes but for us as well. Emma gagged and coughed while handing the bottle back to me. I took the bottle, spritz and few on the shoulders, threw it back in the bag, zippered it, and turned around with just a smile on my face. I continued hacking away at the forest undergrowth.

Josh and Emma’s courtship was a brief whirlwind of Netflix and late-night sex. This never bothered me since this is what Josh always does. It wasn’t until I asked Josh why he decided to end it that got me so angry. It wasn’t how Josh treated her, though; to me, this isn’t the best way to treat anyone like they are just another late night hookup. He stated that he didn’t like the way Emma and I looked at each other. True, there have been glances that may have lingered a little longer than just a friendly hello. I never acted on this, but clearly Josh has noticed. When asking Josh if I could pursue her, he simply looked in my direction with a stern look of beady eyes and a crooked smile, and said, “You can never get a girl like her.” It wasn’t the fact that he didn’t believe in me, or that I wasn’t good enough for her; it was the fact that he thought of her as “used goods,” his words not mine.

“I can see an opening!” I yelled, “Get ready to be amazed!”

Slashing the last green branch out of the way, the sun’s rays seemed to rise upon our faces. The warmth of the rays touching our sweaty, oily skin felt as if God himself reached out and stroked his finger across my brow. The overwhelming smell of the sea filled our nostrils with the salty mix of seawater and bug spray. We have arrived. Emma being an opportunist, quickly slid underneath my outstretched arms, minding the blade in my hand, and raced for the sandy beach.

“Oh my god, this is so beautiful, so beautiful!” Emma chanted, as she was twirling in the sand.

I plopped down in the sand to catch my breath without giving too much away to Emma that my arm was swollen from using the machete. I watched her dance and sway in the sand, like a ballerina on stage. Spinning in small tight circles, and then leaping effortlessly into the air. The sun is glistening off the little beads of sweat that veiled her exposed skin. How she fearlessly vaulted from spot to spot, without a care in the world. I couldn’t help but smile when I realized I provided this emotion to her. This is what she deserves.

After the fallout with Josh, Emma and I have been spending more time together. Mostly this was for after-work drinks with friends and nothing more. I was always timid to blatantly ask her out on a date, in fear of rejection and ridicule. I knew I was heading for the disastrous friend zone if I didn’t act quickly. One evening at the local bar, I found my opening, when Emma’s friend Vanessa, another one of Josh’s conquests, showed pictures of a vacation she just took. The gorgeous white sands and crystal blue waters of a remote beach. Emma was enamored with the exclusivity and seclusion of such a place, and this is when I decided to make my move finally.

“I know a place not far from here like that!” I interrupted, “I can take you some time, and I think you would love it.”

“I would love that!” Emma replied with a coy smile.

We settled in for the day. I grabbed the large blue and white blanket from the backpack and sprawled it out over the slightly sloping sands leading into the water. Emma returned from the forest’s edge with a few large stones to anchor each corner to prevent any wind gusts from flipping our blanket. I grabbed a few more items from the backpack, sunscreen, a bottle of water, and another smaller towel. I then quickly peeled my shirt off in a progressing stepping manner while trying to stay clung to my sweaty torso. I dropped it near the backpack and, in one swoop, grabbed the slightly warm bottle of water. Noticing Emma watching me do this, I slowly brought the bottle to my lips, while squeezing my bicep to make it appear bigger. Emma giggled, knowing all too well what I was doing.

“I’m going to work on my tan!” Emma proclaimed as she laid back onto the towel with her arms by her side.

“Make sure you use sunscreen!” I shouted as I tossed the Australian Gold sunscreen bottle down next to her.

Emma lifted her head, raised her sunglasses off the bridge of her nose, and stared at me for a few seconds. She then shrugged and grabbed the sunscreen by her side. With a few rapid flicks of the wrist, she could course some lotion from the bottle and began to apply the sunscreen to her arms.

“I am going for a swim. you want to join me?” I asked Emma.

“No, I am good here, thanks,” she replied.

I spun around and headed to the water. With every step taken, the affirmation of what just happened or didn’t occur loomed over me. “I can’t believe I just did that,” I muttered to myself. Emma wanted me to help her put the lotion on her. How could I be so stupid?

I looked back at her and yelled, “Do you need any help?”

Emma laid there completely still, except for her hand lifted and waved in motion, as if she were to shoo a stray dog away.

I proceeded to the water, slightly defeated. Entering the cold water, I felt the slow stinging creep of the icy chill rise with every step I took. Still, the fridged water could not break my thoughts on what just happened. Did I miss my opportunity? Was it even a thing? I continued to walk into the water until it touched my lips, and I could barely feel the rocky ocean floor under me. Bobbing up and down in the water, I looked back at Emma; she was in full sun mode, not caring about anything. I continued to swim around in a daft haze of thought.

This was the first time that Emma and I were ever to hang out alone. When I picked her up at her apartment, she was eager and pleasantly happy to be heading out to this secluded paradise that I promised. The initial car ride was a bit quiet as we were both feeling a little timid.

“You want to listen to the radio,” I asked with a timid voice.

Emma nodded in reply. As we traveled in the car, she began asking questions about this mysterious beach. I playfully avoided all queries with responses such as “You will see” and “It won’t disappoint.” Not leading into any conversation about the destination, we sat silently staring ahead, listening to the radio.

Not knowing how to break the ice, I blurted out, “I spy, with my little eye, something red!”

Emma turned and looked at me with a laughing smile and countered, “Is it a mailbox?”

Heading out of the water, now completely cooled off, I walked towards Emma and the camp. Kicking up sand sticking to my wet feet, I slowly approached the blanket area.

Emma looked up at me and asked, “Are you hungry?” as she pulled out a container of fruit salad from her bag.

I sat down next to her, being cautious not to track any sand onto the blanket. Emma stretched her hand out, holding the container of fruit. I raised my hand, noticing a few grains of sand on my palms. I attempted to clear the debris from my hands by wiping them on the upper part of my shorts, but it seems to make it worse. Emma giggled with the lightest intention of mockery. I chuckled along with her.

“Aw, you poor baby.” Emma playfully said. “Let me help you.”

Emma gently picked up a grape between her forefinger and thumb. She flicked any additional water from her hand and reached out towards my mouth. As she placed the grape upon my lips, I extended my upper lip and received the offering. I noticed her hand still outstretched with her index finger slightly pointed out. I looked up at her, and we locked eyes. I stared at her while slowly squeezing the grape with my tongue against the upper part of my mouth, breaking the skin, letting the juice spill out. Her eyes had this warming, giving feature, in which I got lost for what felt like minutes. Before I could swallow the grape, Emma fully extended her finger and touched my lips. She began at the lower right side of my lip, sliding her finger across the width of my upper and lower lip, all while keeping her gaze towards me. Emma hesitated, for a split second retracted her arm back to the ground. She propped herself up on her hand and proceeded to lean in towards me. I swallowed my grape as she calmly approached. Then she paused, centimeters from my lips, but it might as well have been miles away, my heart began to flutter feverously. I felt the great rush of blood circulate through my body, warming me up like an injection of hot soup flowing through my stomach. I could feel my face get flush and hot. I lifted my arm, stroking her arm just above the elbow up to her shoulder. She slowly lifted her eyes to catch my gaze. I swiftly moved my hand to the side of her head, cupping around the lower portion of her neck. I leaned in with hunger, and our lips meet at last.

The moment, this moment, was everything I hoped for! The saltiness from the ocean and the sweetness from Emma’s lips created this alluring osmosis of a flavor. Her lips were soft to the touch, but with a firm press, she leaned in more. While caressing her hair, she pressed her body up to mine, knocking me over to my back, never breaking the hold of the kiss. I could feel her heart beating on my chest, the heat from her body encompassing me, taking me into her world. I was enchanted by her movements, lost into her soul without a way to escape, not that I was looking to. She began to run the tips of her fingers across my chest, creating a light sensation that drew me in further. I stroked the small of her back; she nudged her pelvis forward, pressing her body tightly to mine. I never felt like this before; this woman, Emma, has captivated me with one swift motion. Nothing else seemed to matter anywhere, at any time. This is the moment I have been waiting for all my life.

But this was the night somebody murdered Emma.