Déjà vu: St. Barts
The only naturally thin parts of my body are my corneas. The only naturally straight hair on my body are my eyelashes. The only naturally blonde hair on my body are my eyebrows. I am a romance writer who has never been in love.
Alex Whitmore flicked her light brown hair out of her eyes and looked down at the doodles on her notepad. She wiped away tears that threatened to obscure her first glimpse of St. Barts. No one else on board the small plane was crying. They looked like excited tourists, anticipating a vacation of a lifetime. They weren’t hoping this glamorous Caribbean hideaway would somehow help them redefine themselves; that the mottled turquoise seas she glimpsed through the partially steamed up window would somehow help them heal; that the combination of sun and rest and anonymity would give them strength to face an uncertain, though admittedly exciting, future.
Alex looked down again at her journal. She wrote out ideas longhand, the best way to make them stick. When she wrote for real, she turned to her laptop. She loved her laptop. She loved her tablet. And her e-reader. Yes, every morsel, every syllable was backed up in the Cloud and on memory sticks. But there was nothing like putting pen to paper, like watching the words flow in graphite or ink, that made the same impression or gave her so much joy.
It was words, doodles really, that had gotten her into this predicament in the first place. Words had changed her life. She’d been seduced by the characters in a trilogy of über popular books into trying her hand at fan fiction. She’d taken the two main characters and let her imagination soar, updating the setting, turning the heat factor to scalding and wrote.
Every chance she got, she wrote. On busses. On streetcars. When she was supposed to be working on her thesis. Words poured out of her. Unexpressed emotions. Strange tangents. A universe of words. A world she created. Characters she could mould. A fate she could control.
In just six months, she had three very long and very hot stories posted online. Her fellow fans did the rest, spreading the word in blogs and on Facebook. Somebody in a position of power had picked up on the viral phenomenon. Before Alex knew it, she had a publishing deal at a time when no first-time novelists were being offered a contract.
Then Hollywood came calling. An agent—who woulda thunk she’d ever have her own agent?—negotiated a seven-figure contact for the movie rights and the final say on casting. The story, her story, the fan fiction that became a best seller, captured the attention of the mainstream press and she was fêted and interviewed. Waxed and primped and taken out on tour, like some kind of weird rock star. The crowds had been wonderful…and kind of frightening. The women hanging on her every word about love and sex and relationships. Treating her like some kind of expert.
Little did they know.
Alex glanced back down at the scribbling on the first page of her journal. It was the same day her books had topped the bestseller lists.
Exactly three months later the police showed up at her apartment. They were polite and informative—too informative. The building superintendent had called the cops when he found a still beating heart left in the lobby. It turned out to belong to a raccoon. The city of Toronto could certainly spare one raccoon. The woods and streets were lousy with the scavengers. But that wasn’t the point, said the police. Whoever had removed the animal’s heart had taken some of the blood and written I LUV ALEX, MY WIFEY on the front doors of her building.
Her initial thought was why couldn’t her over-enthusiastic fan learn to spell? Okay, probably not the correct response, she admitted, as she took in the measured, concerned glances of the two police officers wedged on her beige loveseat between piles of laundry.
“Any idea who might have done this?” Her voice was about an octave higher than its normal husky timber. She tried to clear her throat and unclench her fists and jaws.
The older police officer, a woman with lines running from the sides of her nose down to the corners of her mouth, answered, “It could be anyone. After all, you’re famous.”
Alex stifled a laugh. Again, not the proper response. Despite the recent media tsunami, she didn’t feel famous. She felt like Alex. A twenty-eight year old barista/PhD student with pressing university loans, a roommate whom, however hygienically challenged, was never around and a married ex-lover. Her English Literature professor. The idea of having money hadn’t sunk in. She hadn’t moved. Hadn’t bought a car. She certainly didn’t feel famous. She felt like a cliché.
The police asked her if she’d gotten any threats or had any close calls with stalkers. “Does the woman who plucked three hairs from my head during a book signing in Dallas count?”
The officer, the older one, got a puckered line between her brows. “Who’s helping you handle this?”
“Handle what?” Alex looked at her quizzically. Did the police officer mean the laundry? She’d just gotten home. Surely it wasn’t unexpected to have stacks of laundry lying around when she’d just gotten home?
The older woman tried again, speaking deliberately as if to an obtuse child. “Who’s helping you handle the publicity? A publisher or an agent?”
Alex nodded and reached into her purse for her phone, rattling off Louie’s contact information. The woman got up from the loveseat and walked to the balcony doors, dialling as she went.
Alex sat for an instant trying to take in the sudden speed of events. At times of extreme emotion, she would mentally recite words to calm down. Starting with nouns: Raccoon. Blood. Stalker.
Adjectives: Fearful. Scared. Uncertain.
Adverbs: Terrorizing. Stalked.
Verbs: Hide. Run, urged her brain. This wasn’t helping.
The other police officer cleared his throat as if to get her attention. He was a younger man, decked out in full uniform. He looked sturdy but the tops of his ears were bright red. He’d been staring at her since the pair arrived on her doorstep, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down in his throat, but he hadn’t said a word up until now.
“It’s an honour to meet you, Mam.”
Alex wasn’t sure if she should be pleased or angry. Mam! He was her age or maybe a year or two older. When exactly did she become a ‘mam’?
“I just want to say,” he continued in a rush, glancing warily over at the older officer as if afraid he’d be interrupted, “I just want to say how much we enjoyed your books. My wife and me. We’ve been together a while, since we were teenagers, and the books kind of rekindled things between us. They can get a little routine after you have a kid.”
Alex answered with what she hoped was a gracious smile. She’d heard that a lot, that her steamy fan fiction had somehow helped couples reconnect. He wasn’t the first person to tell her so. In fact, The Society of Relationship Counsellors was going to use her books as some kind of class text.
The older police officer re-joined them on the loveseat.
“Your agent wants you to pack a bag and plan on taking a good long trip.”
“I just got home!” Alex wailed. “I haven’t even unpacked yet.”
“That will save time,” said the woman, her face implacable. “We’re taking you to the police station.” Seeing the panic in Alex’s eyes, she held up a calming hand. “It’s for your own protection. There have been other threats. You need to be somewhere safe. Your agent is talking to my Sergeant about the options. Pack your bags and let’s go.”
And go they did. Within minutes they had hustled Alex out of her condo, making sure she had her passport, wallet and electronic gadgets in hand. Then she was whisked to Fifty-Two Division and deposited in a room with a glass wall where an older man in a suit put her agent on speakerphone.
“Hey kiddo,” said the disembodied voice.
“Hey Louie,” answered Alex. “What’s new with you?” She shrugged, knowing full well the gesture didn’t translate down phone lines.
“Hear you got yourself a real fan, short for fanatic.”
“Apparently. The police,” she said glancing up at her uniformed companion who was sitting ramrod straight in the chair on the other side of the table, “seem a little worried.”
“The downside of fame, kiddo. Unfortunately, this isn’t your only crazy. There have been some disturbing emails to your publisher, some threatening stuff written online and in blogs.”
For the first time, Alex felt alarmed. Her eyes widened and her pulse started to pound. “What kind of threats?”
“Don’t worry,” said the voice from the speaker. “This kind of thing happens. These people tend to vent anonymously, never to be heard from again.”
“But the raccoon heart! Outside my building. Outside my home.” The last statement came out in a whine as her voice trembled.
“Yeah, that’s kind of scary. I thought with the pen name you’d be okay for a while. I was wrong. We, the cops and I, think it might be a good idea for you to disappear for a bit. Go someplace new. Safe. Where nobody knows you.” Before Alex could protest, Louie’s voice through the speaker continued. “If you stick around Toronto, you will have to hire security and move to a different building. Change your name.”
Move? Change her name? Security? How, wondered Alex, would finish her thesis? How would she go for her daily meandering walks? The ones that let her mind wander so she could dream and create. So she could write.
She forced herself to latch onto the practicalities. “Where do you think I should go?”
Louie responded with a question of his own. “Where do you want to go? You have enough cash, thanks to the publishing and movie deal. Anyplace you’ve always wanted to live? Probably wise to keep away from North America and Britain. Your face is becoming recognizable.”
Alex bit her lip. Where did she want to go? Where did she want to live? England would have been her first choice, checking out the sights she’d only read about in her favourite novels. New Orleans. She’d always wanted to visit there, intrigued by the Creole culture. The french atmosphere. France? Could she go to France? The last question was asked out loud.
“Maybe not,” said Louie. “The books are being translated and published in Europe in the next couple of months. You don’t want to have to move again.”
“Someplace French feeling?”
The police officer across the table broke the silence. “How about St. Barts?”
“Huh?” asked Alex, accessing her memory banks. She had a photographic memory and never forgot a fact or a picture though sometimes it took her a while to retrieve what she’d seen. St. Barts, she mused. There had been photos in fashion and high-end travel magazines. Hadn’t a movie been filmed there? About a pair of grieving brothers? She remembered the scenery—the palm trees and seductive water. St. Barts. An island in the Caribbean. A French island. “Is it safe?”
“Should be,” answered the officer. “They’re used to celebrities and rich people. They have security people you can hire. And even with the Internet, it’s not as plugged in as North America. I have a friend on the police force there. I can talk to him, scope things out.”
Alex wiped the glass of the plane window clean. Four days later and here she was, almost in St. Barts. A villa rented. A villa! That sounded fancy. The police officer’s friend had arranged the installation of a high-end security system. She had taken a few detours to get here, a precaution in case someone was watching. She’d flown from Toronto to Washington D.C. Then Miami and then St. Martin before boarding this small plane for the last leg of the trip.
Was this the right choice? Her fellow travellers looked excited. The large, red-faced man across the aisle was pointing through the window as the plane banked for final approach.
Alex peered at the ground below. A mountaintop with a giant cross. A roundabout filled with whizzing cars and then the plane dosey-doed and touched down on the abbreviated runway, coming to a near stop next to a white, sandy beach.
Carry-on in hand, Alex climbed down the plane’s stairs and paused on the runway outside the terminal to get her bearings. The surrounding hills were dotted with tiny, perfect houses capped with green and white roofs.
“Could this be home?” She barely breathed the question before straightening her shoulders and heading for the terminal.
After collecting her one small bag, she was greeted outside by a man holding up a sign bearing her name. It was her real estate agent, Jonathan. She recognized the name and voice. “We’ll toss those in the back of the jeep and go get you settled,” he said, easily manhandling her luggage.
He let her take in the sights and sounds as they drove from the tiny airport into Gustavia, the capital of St. Barts. She drank in the sea air, the boats in the harbour, the houses on the surrounding hillsides and the designer shops. It felt and looked like France, Alex thought. Like how she always imagined France would look. The France of her dreams, only probably more Provence than Normandy, considering the weather and the drifts of bougainvillea growing like weeds next to rough stone fences. She filed away the sights and sounds for later use in her writing. You never know when a tiny descriptive detail would come in handy.
They drove through town and up a very steep hill past a sign declaring they had crossed into a préfecture called Lurin.
Jonathan finally spoke over the sound of the engine and the wind. “You’re gonna need a ride for errands and groceries. Let me know what you want. You should be okay for the next couple of days. We’ve stocked the frig and pantry as per your instructions.”
Alex tore her eyes away from the tantalizing glimpse of the sea below, barely visible beyond the vegetation along the road. It must have been her agent Louie who issued the instructions. What did she know about the intricacies of renting a villa, let alone one in such a ritzy spot? It was like something out of that movie with three lovers in Greece. What was it called? Her photographic memory kicked in. Yeah, Summer Lovers.
They turned right at a building site, past a sign that pointed to Gouverneur Beach. The road was steep and winding and about half way down the hill they pulled into a driveway and stopped at a gate. Jonathan punched some numbers into a keypad. “I’ll give you the access and security codes,” he said, parking next to a small door set into a six-foot high stone wall.
Unlocked, the door led to a courtyard. Through bleary eyes Alex took in the tiled space enjoying the sound of the tinkling water of a fountain. The courtyard was surrounded by three whitewashed cube structures, topped with green, corrugated steel roofs.
She followed her guide and suitcase into the middle building. It was cool and dark; the sunshine kept at bay by plantings and strategic overhangs. She kicked the sandals off her swollen feet and felt the cool slick of tile under her toes. Off to the right was a flat screen TV surrounded by comfy, slipcovered furniture. Off to the left, a kitchen with its high-end appliances that gave her a quiver of panic. She spotted a microwave. At least she wouldn’t starve.
Anxiety morphed into astonishment. That view! The sliding glass patio doors were open. There were chaise lounges under an overhang dripping with foliage. Beyond that was a pool, tiled deep blue and surrounded by more plants. A behemoth of a BBQ sat off to one side.
Directly ahead lay the sea. The house was perched halfway up the hill overlooking Anse du Gouverneur. Alex drank in the sight of the sugary sand and tiny figures playing in the crashing waves. The water was every shade of blue from azure to aquamarine to indigo. She felt unacknowledged tension drain from her neck and shoulders. She could imagine Brooke Shields frolicking on that beach like in Blue Lagoon. She’d cover up with a one piece and a sarong and a hat but this scenery was made for sexy, half-nude lovers.
Following Jonathan, she got a tour of the master bedroom suite, tucked into one of the cubist buildings. The bed was sleek and modern, sporting pristine white linens. An orange hibiscus blossom had been placed on the pillowcase. The bath and shower were open air, sparkling in the tropical sunlight.
The exterior of the buildings may have been island chic but the interior was mid-century modern. All square edges and sleek lines. Alex imagined it was the kind of place where the Rat Pack might vacation. The tour veered from form into function and Jonathan walked her through how to use the phone and the Wi-Fi and satellite TV. How to arm and disarm the security system with its at-home and away settings. The fully stocked frig. When he tried to show her how to use the stove and oven, she waved him off. “I don’t cook at home. I doubt I’ll bother here.”
“Good idea,” he said, reaching for a bulging binder by the phone. “Here’s a list of all the restaurants in St. Barts. A few will even deliver. Its too bad Savannah’s is closed. The restaurant at the top of the hill? It’s undergoing renovations; otherwise you could have walked to dinner. It could be a while yet before they’re up and running. Do you drive?”
Alex nodded. Jonathan appeared relieved. “I can get you a deal on a rental car. I’ll have the agency drop it off.” He glanced at his smart phone that was buzzing like an angry wasp. “I got to run. My number is programmed into your phone. Just press ‘6’ if you have any questions.” A disconcerting triple cheek kiss and Alex was alone, standing in the living room of a rental villa on an island paradise, wondering what the fuck had happened to her life.
Lennon waved as the realtor Jonathan drove past with a colleague, almost clipping one of the stray dogs dozing by the side of the road. They must have been dropping off a rental car for his new neighbour. Alex something. Lennon doubted the agency had mentioned the construction next door. While the blasting was done and the plot for the restaurant extension had been levelled, neighbours looking for peace and quiet were going to be disappointed. For the next few months there would be a conga line of cement trucks, the cacophony of nail guns and the soundtrack of whatever weird mix of music they were playing on Radio St. Barts. His thoughts were interrupted by his phone.
“What do you want B?”
“Is that any way to greet your favourite sister?”
“My only sister.”
“Yeah, but still your favourite. Don’t use that clipped tone with a pregnant woman,” she added with exaggerated pique, “you could make me cry.”
“How does Charlie put up with this shit? You’re only five months along and you act as though you’re the first woman to give birth.”
“Even better,” he heard the smug smile in her voice all the way from England, “Charlie acts like I’m the first woman to ever give birth. And he puts up with it because he adores me. Because it’s his fault I’m pregnant. And because he is pleasantly compensated on a regular basis.”
Lennon shuddered. “I really don’t want to hear about my sister’s so-called pleasant compensations.”
“Still not getting any?”
“Told you. Taking a break.”
“Yeah, after working your way though Asia and most of Africa. If you change your mind, I can act as your wingman once I get to St. Barts. Just another few weeks. Is everything ready? I can’t wait to show Charlie our island. How are the renovations coming?” Bliss asked.
“Good. They are framing the extension and the architect is coming over today with some ideas about the final design. I’ve ordered most of the kitchen equipment. If we keep on track, I can have a soft opening in late fall and then be ready for the throngs of tourists by December. The villa is getting a face-lift at the same time so you and Charlie will have to stay at the rentals next door. I’ve made sure the Bali villa is free for the next few months. I’m bunking on site. Too many things—tools, construction materials—can get up and just walk away if somebody’s not here to keep an eye on stuff.”
“You need a guard dog,” advised Bliss.
“Yeah, like Sponge.” Brother and sister shared a laugh, remembering how useless their childhood pet, an English Bull Terrier, had been at guarding anything but the pillows on the bed or a bowlful of kibble. They double-checked their itineraries. Bliss nagged her brother not to forget to pick her up at the airport before they exchanged goodbyes.
The phone call left him uneasy and he changed into his running gear determined to blow off both calories and anxiety.
As Lennon ran, he found himself thinking about his present, his past and his hoped-for future.
Our island. Bliss had called it our island. St. Barts really wasn’t his island. Not yet anyway. It was where his mother and her mother had been born. Where his parents had met, fell in love and married. Where his sister had been born. Where the family had spent each Christmas when he and Bliss were really young. But after his mother’s death, they hadn’t returned. His dad said he couldn’t come back. That going to St. Barts would scrape the scab off of his still broken heart.
Out of the blue Ana, a family friend, had called with news Savannah’s was up for sale. The restaurant’s owner, another family friend called Philippe, was moving back to France. Said it was time to retire. The news about the restaurant clutched at Lennon’s chest. With a loan caged from Linus, a third family friend, he’d bought the place. Lennon hoped to put down roots in the volcanic soil that had once nurtured his parents. It was a slow process, as if he lacked the transplant medium his mother had in natural abundance. Also, his French was a little rusty after spending so much time in Asia.
Still, he had more ties to the island than he would have thought. Ana was his mother’s friend and Bliss’s Godmother. Her husband Marcel was the Police Inspector and had rescued his mother after the tsunami. The couple and their kids were his touchstone when he became too overwhelmed with loneliness.
There were others, strangers, who approached him shyly in shops or at Church. Explaining how they remembered his mother cooking at Savannah’s or his father during filming Paradise Lost. Or they remembered Judith, his grandmother, who was a regular visitor and pillar of the community. They shared stories of baptism presents or birthday cakes, of his childhood pet Sponge barking at the statue of a dog in a local shop then looking embarrassed at her mistake, as if a canine could.
The older women would grab his upper arm with cronish claws, saying they remembered him when he was a babe in arms. When he learnt to swim. When he played soccer in that empty lot by the harbour with the neighbour kids. They made him feel at home. Or at least they tried to.
Lennon never really felt at home anywhere. Certainly not in Hollywood with the spoilt brat offspring of other famous actors. Despite his own celebrity pedigree, he never fit in, not like Bliss who when she was younger would have had no trouble spending an average family’s monthly salary on a designer dress or gossiping with her friends around the pool.
Because of his family, the 90210 crowd made room for him and he navigated the currents of A-list celebrity with ease. But he didn’t like it. In the back of his mind was a little voice that said he hadn’t earned it.
He remembered his mother taking him and Bliss to the soup kitchen for the homeless and the hungry in Venice Beach after Church on Sundays. He would help clear tables or ladle out scrambled eggs while Bliss alternately pouted or preened at compliments over her new pretty dress. Misha continued to take them after his mother died but Bliss cried off saying she was too busy with friends or didn’t want to leave their father alone.
Lennon liked the soup kitchen. He liked feeling useful. That need led him to sign up for missionary work overseas. Not proselytizing. Who was he who was he to talk to anyone about God’s plan? But it felt good to help. Building wells. Hauling books. Trying to steer a yak through sodden rice paddies. The work and admittedly the distance from home, had given him peace.
The missionary work lost its attraction after a while. Trying to help all the needy people was like bailing out the ocean with a leaky bucket. The kicker came in Cambodia, in Siem Reap outside Angkor Wat. He had toured the ruins looking for Lara Croft and was having a beer at a pirate music store when he was approached by some kids selling everything from guidebooks to cheap bracelets. He politely declined the guidebooks—too bulky—and was going to tell the little girl with the bracelets ‘sorry, he didn’t have a sweetheart’ when he noticed she had a birthmark on her face. Actually covering half of her face. She kept her hair to one side to cover the affliction but he saw the purple stain through the strands and was a goner. Rather than buy her stock of bracelets, he agreed to pay her twenty U.S. dollars, the preferred currency, in exchange for taking her picture with his cellphone. Her eyes lit up and she smiled and giggled as he snapped the photo and showed her the result.
One of her thwarted companions was angry at the missed sale and left with a parting shot. “You just want to fuck her,” said the little boy. The girl looked up at Lennon solemnly as if she believed it too. She was maybe eight years old. Maybe. Slight and shy and sweet and this was her life? It hurt his heart. Sex tourism was such a fact of life in some of these countries that he often felt parents raised little girls as cash crops. He wrote a cheque to a local charity that tried to offer parents options and resigned from the missionary corps, his heart overflowing with sadness.
The next few years, Lennon travelled. A couple of months working on a sheep farm in New Zealand put him off lamb for a year. Watching Babe put him off pork for two more. Mostly he worked in restaurants, odd and often dirty jobs until staff learned to trust him. He liked being around food, the perfect cross-cultural icebreaker in a way fusion fanatics never quite got. He would hunker down over Barramundi in Sydney or Kingsklip in South Africa or a bowl of nasi goreng in Bali and talk to the locals, picking up dialects and idiom and entire languages the way most tourists picked up traveller’s diarrhea.
He spent a lot of time in Hong Kong, mingling first with the ex-pats and then with the locals practicing his mother’s Mandarin to good effect and laughing at the Oriental obsession with chocolate. He dined at night markets and off street carts and even ate at some of the Michelin-starred restaurants. One night, he stayed in and savoured a meal at Petrus, the restaurant atop the Island Shangri-La. He’d bought suits at Sam’s thanks to an introduction from Linus who knew the iconic tailor in the tiny, sweaty shop from the days he made pant suits for First Lady Hillary Clinton.
Lennon always stayed at the Island Shangri La when he could, liking the impeccable and yet friendly service.
Most of the people he met assumed he was bunking down at a hostel or with friends but he had a terror of lice and bedbugs. After being bitten following a rather raucous night in Bangkok he went so far as to have his chest and underarms waxed. Ruby did the honours, an old kathoey friend of his pal Lola.
Lennon smiled as his feet pounded the pavement past the Carl Gustav hotel up the almost vertical decline from Lurin into Gustavia. He missed Lola. She’d been wonderful. They’d bumped into each other at a night market. A German tourist had hired Lola as his girlfriend for a week. Lennon was travelling alone, as usual, and idly listened into the conversation. The man was in insurance and deadly dull. He eyed the couple figuring the pretty young woman would earn her keep staying awake during his dinner, even before she had to service her date sexually. He was finishing up his Tiger Beer when he noticed them arguing at the edge of the market. The guy was shoving his date around and even backhanded her. Lennon saw red and, summoning up an old soccer move, gave the bastard a scissor kick to the groin. He went down in a thud and Lennon grabbed Lola’s arm and they took off. They ran through alleys and down streets and away from the main drags populated by tourists both huffing and puffing in the humidity.
“I give you credit,” he said when they finally stopped to catch their breath. “You don’t run like a girl in those shoes.”
“That’s the problem,” said the young woman who introduced herself as Lola. “I’m not a girl.”
“I haven’t had that much to drink,” said Lennon pointing at her breasts. “I am not imagining those.”
“I’m a kathoey. A lady man.” Lola stood very still letting him get a good look. She was lovely, with long dark hair with just the hint of a wave. Smooth skin. Almond eyes. Beautiful breasts and shoulders. Petite, at least when compared to Lennon. Maybe five foot five and willowy. Utterly feminine. Then he took a closer look. The hands and feet were wrong. Knobbly and callused. The Adam’s apple protruded from that slim neck…and the voice was perhaps not husky but boyish?
“I’ll be damned!” he said, delighted and a friendship was born.
Lola introduced Lennon to her waxer and helped him buy chemsong and silks to send back to Bliss and his grandmother as apologies for not going to Oslo for Christmas yet again. Lola had tried to take their relationship to the next level but Lennon declined, even when Lola offered to exchange his dangly boy bits surgically for lady parts to cement the deal.
“I’m not pretty enough,” Lola had sobbed. She was quite the drama queen.
“You’re too pretty and you’re too nice for me but the real problem is, you’re too young.”
Lennon dodged a passing mini filled with tourists who hadn’t figured out the width of the roads and forced him off the tarmac. He hadn’t been kidding. He had always been attracted to older women. Yes, he had dabbled with some of Bliss’ friends in Hollywood but for the most part young women put him off. The giggling girls who came to Newton Circus in Singapore to order chilli stingray in the pouring rain but really wanted to see the Angmoh or foreigner in his wet T-shirt; the free spirited young Australian surfers he met in Kuta, the match for any guy on the waves of Bali; the daughters of Linus’ business partners in Hong Kong; they were all sweet. All nice. All pretty. All too young.
He travelled as lightly emotionally as he did physically. His heart in a tiny carry on, as if he were afraid it’d be lost in transit. He made mountains of friends, even more acquaintances, posted for pictures on Instagram of memorable meals and Skyped with Bliss and Misha and Grandma to keep in touch but he held himself apart from most of humanity. He knew he shouldn’t. He was constantly aware his mother would be furious with him. She had always been so open and loving despite losing so many loved ones. But Lennon couldn’t take the chance. Not again.
Whenever he felt too much of an emotional pull, he would move on. Or he’d be chased out of a country by the arrival of his father, who seemed determined to track him down and arrange some kind of rapprochement. He avoided those meetings, leaving Seoul in a hurry when he read his dad was in town for a movie premiere. Another time, he narrowly missed the ‘great Oscar winning actor’ when Sven Larsen arrived at Chiangi airport for the Singapore Film Festival. The thought of his father made him sad and antsy and so he ran.
On a whim, he ended up in the Maldives, attracted by the aerial photographs of the more than one-thousand atolls. He got a job at a resort and loved it. The waters were beautiful and the people, either ex-pats like him or local Muslims, were modest and fun. The tourists were also easier to deal with than in other parts of the world, perhaps mellowed by the sunshine and the scenery.
That was where he met Marjorie, the new spa manager. He had been instantly attracted by the fan of laugh lines around her eyes and the sense of hidden sadness. After months of flirting, he finally convinced her to make love and over time, really got to know her. She’d lost custody of her child in a divorce and had left England to heal at the ends of the earth. “That’s how I ended up here, in the middle of nowhere,” she said, comfortable in her own naked skin but less so with naked emotion.
He had his head on her lap, she was twining her fingers through his hair and he felt…safe and loved for the first time in years. She joked that he was her boy toy, that he would find a young, equally hot mate and she would be a fond memory. But as the weeks and months passed, he wondered. He also wondered if they weren’t both using one another to fill emotional holes. She for a son. He for a mother. He shook off memories of Marjorie. She had let him go, hell she’d pushed him away, without a second thought.
He ran down Rue de la République, the main drag in Gustavia, dodging traffic, tourists and stray dogs and returned to thoughts of what he had loved about travelling in the Third World. It was the anonymity. He wasn’t the sad son of that lovely woman they made the Oscar-winning movie about, what was her name anyway? He wasn’t snapped by countless cellphones while he tried to enjoy a rollercoaster ride with his dad, but instead having to pause for photos and autographs and fake smile at each and every intrusion. Paparazzi lurking when he went to school or visited his dad on set. Worst of all, on the anniversary of his mother’s death, telephoto lens at the ready hoping to catch an errant tear.
Bliss always told them to fuck off and not just in English. She’s been older when their mother died and had inherited some of her more colourful language. His sister was never intimidated by media nonsense but then she felt like a celebrity. Like she belonged in the spotlight, though given her recent experience making a British TV cooking show, he was certain she no longer embraced fame.
Lennon had always felt like an imposter. That was why he’d fled overseas. But as time passed, he felt adrift and the news of the restaurant lured him to St. Barts. He wanted this desperately to be home. To feel needed, anchored, secure in a way he hadn’t since his mother’s death. He wasn’t there yet but with each two-by-four, each load of concrete, each incremental step towards finishing his restaurant, he felt like he was inching closer to his ultimate goal. He turned around and ran back, the sweaty effort somehow cleansing.
He was heading inside his office for a quick shower when he was waylaid by one of his workers. “When you were out, our new neighbour came by to bitch about the noise and the truck traffic.”
Lennon waved off the complaint. He had a feeling it would be the first of many. “I’ll deal with Alex Whitmore later,” and strode off to check on the on-site progress before the architect showed up.