“Look at you with your baby bump!” Lennon twirled his sister around outside the tiny terminal at the St. Barts airport.
“I will never get my figure back,” Bliss complained once he’d set her back down on the ground. “And look at my Baba feet. I haven’t been able to wear cute shoes for weeks. The flight from London just made them worse.”
Lennon took in her cankles at a glance and decided it was the better part of valour to change the subject. “Ana and Marcel can’t wait to see you. I have the Bali villa ready. It’s been painted. The entire complex could use a bit of a facelift. It’s been more than twenty years.”
“That long since Maman built the villas! She was about your age and all alone, with no one to lean on. It must be the pregnancy but I find myself thinking about her a lot.”
“You were mad at her for years. For leaving us,” said Lennon, manoeuvring his jeep out of the parking lot and heading up the roundabout to Gustavia.
“That was stupid,” said Bliss sighing as she eased off her sandals. “I didn’t realize until I got pregnant, how young she was and all that she’d gone through. The journals helped put things in perspective.” The siblings had recently recovered their mother’s journals that recounted her move to St. Barts as an orphan after the death of their grandfather. Sunny had written about how she’d built her rental properties next door to the family villa and how she’d fallen in love with their father. It was a window on a different time and a different person. In their minds, their mother had been annoyingly perfect but the journals showed Sunny O’Hara Larsen had been just as insecure and flawed as the rest of the humanity.
Bliss leaned her head back against the headrest, breathing in the sea air, taking in the view of the boats in the harbour. “I just started reading about when she was pregnant with me. Dad was filming overseas with Henry,” referring to her late godfather Sir Henry Clover. “Maman didn’t seem upset about it, just counting the days until they were together again. She wrote a lot about Linus and Mimi. I wish I’d met her.” Mimi Chastellaine had died in the tsunami that had almost claimed their mother’s life. Bliss’ middle name was Mimi so she felt a kinship.
Lennon tried to change the subject as they drove through downtown Gustavia. Talk of his mother always made him anxious. He’d been ten years old when she died and he wasn’t sure if his memories of the smiling, loving woman were real or supplanted by stories and images he’d encountered over the ensuing years, including the award-winning documentary by Bliss’ boyfriend Charlie.
His sister surveyed her surroundings as they turned down Rue de la République. “It’s exactly how she described it. Yet it shouldn’t be. It should have changed. It’s been years and years.”
“Island time. Things move more slowly here.” Lennon turned left at the top of the hill and parked next to a blue construction bin outside a villa next door to La Gendarmerie, the police station. “This is it, where mom and dad fell in love. Where we stayed when we were kids. I thought I’d bring you back here first before you get settled.”
Bliss entered the family villa cautiously, as if waiting for ghosts to materialize. Instead of spectres, there were painters busily touching up the ceilings and trim. “It’s just as I remembered. Except the colour. You’re painting it yellow, like our house in Norway.”
“Seemed to fit,” said Lennon watching his sister dash into the kitchen and then out onto the deck.
“I used to colour here with Grandma and Sponge. I remember the pool. Do you remember? Maman used to take us to the wading pool on the second level,” she pointed down past the acrylic partition. “Us and Sponge. We all used to cool off together.” Then she was off again, strawberry blonde curls trailing, turquoise eyes flashing.
“This was our bedroom,” she said veering off to the room on the left side of the deck. “I was so happy when I got a big girl bed and you were still stuck in your crib.” She disappeared up the stairs, her voice echoing down from the second floor. “I remember taking a bath up here with you until I complained to Maman that I was too old to bathe with my brother. She was mad, said she wished she’d had a younger brother. I was always annoying her,” said Bliss coming down the stairs with a sigh.
“I wish I remembered more,” said Lennon. “I try but I can’t.”
“You were only what, eight years old? That was the last time we came here together for Christmas. You got some kind of Lego set and Sponge kept eating the pieces. We had to follow her when she did her peemail to recover them.”
“Come see where you’re staying,” said Lennon, unsettled by the memories Bliss evoked. They walked next door to Destination Villas.
“Mom built this as our legacy. There is so much stuff in her journals about her plans and decisions and here it is, decades later. Still standing. Still beautiful.”
Lennon handed Bliss the key to a solid wood door in some kind of exotic wood. It was surrounded by potted plants in various stages of bloom. Next to the door was a simple sign that read ‘Bali’.
Bliss stopped for a moment, key in hand and turned to hug her brother. “This was mom’s favourite. I’m so glad you chose it for Charlie, me and the baby.”
They walked in together, breathing in the serenity of the space, the Buddha in the niche, the hardwood floors underfoot. “You can tell she spent a lot of time in Southeast Asia,” said Lennon. “It has that same sense of peace and possibilities. I didn’t realize how perfect it was until I lived there myself for a while.”
Bliss gasped as she took in the view. Beyond the overhang with its plunge pool and day beds was the common area, featuring a massive pool, a BBQ, a fire pit and chaise lounges. Beyond that was the sea.
It was a dry day so they could make out the rest of the Leeward Islands. Lennon joined his sister at the railing, acting as tour guide. Reciting a long almost forgotten geography lesson. “Off to the right is St. Martin. Most of our guests transit through there. Next door is St. Eustache. That bump off in the distance is Saba then over there is St. Kitts and just behind it you can make out Nevis.”
“Spectacular!” said Bliss, arms outstretched. “Maman wrote it was spectacular and it is.”
“I’ll show you the bedroom and bathroom and let you get settled. Feel like pizza? It’s Sunday night so that means Andy’s.”
“Perfect,” sighed Bliss crossing her arms over her baby bump. “Everything is perfect.”
Lennon checked his list again. Basil. Sundried tomatoes. Feta cheese. Limes. He needed lime zest. He went off to the produce aisle, nodding and smiling to acquaintances as he made his way through the crowded store. The locals were busy planning Bastille Day parties, judging by the carts loaded with provisions. He weaved and waved, teasing impatient children, idly flirting with the young women, steering clear of any lonely married ladies.
List completed, he headed for the checkout. The line was long and snaked across the front of the store. He took up a spot at the end, checking email messages. Bliss wanted folic acid. Fuck her. Charlie knocked her up; he could get her pregnancy vitamins. Lennon was still pissed at his sister for dissing his menu. Sure, she had the credentials and had worked at fancy restaurants. Bliss knew all about molecular gastronomy and deconstructing this and fusion that. But he’d travelled the world, making oyster omelette and fish head curry at the night market in Singapore; frying up mounds of kingklip at that pub in Cape Town; serving a full lunch crowd in Thailand with two burners and a wok. And he’d helped Bliss win that cooking competition in Britain.
They had both learned to cook from their mother. He remembered those classes in the kitchen with the neighbourhood kids. The difference between béarnaise and hollandaise sauce, how to tell by touching various parts of your face if a steak was rare, medium or well done, had been drilled into his brain before he could walk. He scowled as he thought about Bliss’ dismissive comments about his menu. And he’d been looking forward to having her come and help. Idiot.
Lennon was picking up a couple bottles of Sancerre as he stalled next to the wine section when an overloaded cart bumped him from behind. Trying to quell his frustration, he glanced down, scoping out the contents of the cart. He often played these mental culinary games, like on a reality cooking show. The contestants were given a box of mystery ingredients and had to concoct a dish. He always came up with at least one terrific idea even out of the oddest combinations. His favourite recipe involved calamari, jasmine rice and bananas. Inspired by random pairings, he would try out recipes and many would eventually be included on his new menu.
But the shopping cart that bumped him from behind? It wasn’t inspiring. It was depressing. It was obvious his fellow shopper was not a cook. The cart was loaded with horrible choices. Sugary breakfast cereals. Frozen burritos. Tortilla chips. Were those boxes of macaroni and cheese? Not cheese, he amended. Cheese food!
He took a second look into the shopping cart. It didn’t contain a single item of real food. Nothing healthy or nutritious. No proteins or vegetables or spices. Just an array of pre-packaged, sodium-laden crap. Even he couldn’t turn crap into a palatable meal. Lennon shuddered and was about to make a snarky comment about eating poorly on a gourmet island when he looked up into a pair of hazel eyes. It was her. His neighbour. Alex Whitmore.
“Didn’t mean to bump you. Sorry.” She didn’t look sorry. She scowled when she saw his face and then looked down with a blush.
“Store’s crowded,” he shrugged. “Everybody’s getting ready for the holiday. Got any plans?” Why had he asked her that? Just making idle conversation. Just being neighbourly, he assured himself.
“No. Working,” she muttered, not looking up.
“Working at what?”
“I’m a writer.”
“Travel stuff?” St. Barts attracted any number of people trying to score a subsidized stay in paradise in exchange for articles about the island.
“Fiction,” she answered with a shrug, finding something extremely interesting about her feet.
Lennon followed her gaze to the floor. Today her big toes were painted bright purple with yellow and white daisies. They were so whimsical, so at odds with the rest of her stoic, prickly demeanour. The toes reminded him of that morning by her pool, when he’d watched her masturbate. He grew hard at the memory, his erection straining against the front of his once-loose board shorts.
There were batteries in the top of Alex’s shopping cart. Double A batteries. Four packs of them. Somebody didn’t want to run out of juice again at an inopportune moment. There was something about her that made his skin itch. Lennon decided to indulge in a little fun.
“That’s a lot of batteries. Got a new TV?”
“Huh?” she asked, obviously startled by the conversational turn.
“For the remotes?” he explained with a naughty, knowing grin.
“The batteries are for my computer.” The checkout line inched forward.
He enjoyed teasing her, seeing if he could break through her placid demeanour. “The batteries are for your computer,” he repeated with a smirk, raising an eyebrow. “I bet you’re great at double clicking. I bet you have that finger trill action down pat.”
She looked puzzled but at the same time embarrassed by the suddenly seductive tone of his seemingly innocuous questions.
“Or are you a toggler? Do you caress the toggle as you go back and forth between documents?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “Or maybe you have a track ball that you stroke?” In a long, drawn out whisper the last word sounded positively obscene.
With each question, Lennon leaned in closer watching her cheeks change from peach to plum. Her eyes lifted to his, as if trying to solve a riddle.
“Or maybe,” he said, leaning even closer, his nose almost buried in her light brown hair, “maybe you have a tablet and you just turn the page with your index finger. Do you flick, Alex?” The question was growled, the tone explicit. God this was fun.
Lennon smiled into Alex’s hair, the tip of his nose buried in soft brown ringlets. He was about to pull away when he inhaled deeply and wham! he was instantly transported back in time. He was in his mother’s closet, the place he went when he was terrified as a child. He was sitting among the shoes and fancy dresses she’d worn when she had to get fixed up for public appearances with his dad. The closet smelt like fresh flowers. It was the same scent as this woman’s hair. It permeated her skin. Infused her hair follicles. She smelt like innocence. Like safety. Like home. Alex Whitmore smelt like Mom.
Lennon pulled back quickly, staring down into startled hazel eyes.
“What is it?” he asked, gripping her upper arms. “What’s that scent?”
“What is wrong with you?” Anger had replaced her earlier confusion. Her voice rose and she hit his arm with her purse. “Are you some kind of nut?”
Before Lennon could answer or get the answers he desperately needed, he felt a hand on his shoulder. Georges, his builder.
“Something wrong?” asked the older man. Lennon looked around, suddenly aware of their surroundings. Other shoppers were staring, as much in puzzlement as in frustration. They were holding up the checkout line.
Georges nodded to Alex. “Why don’t you go ahead?”
Lennon wanted to protest when he felt the man squeeze his bicep. After years in construction, Georges could have snapped his arm like a twig. The older man said, “Whatever is going on between the two of you, this is not the time or place to settle it.”
Lennon took a deep, steadying breath and nodded. All the while thinking, I need to talk to her. I need to know why she smells like my mom…like home…like loss.
Alex put away her groceries in a daze. She had fled the store as fast as possible, watching over her shoulder, worried Len was going to follow her.
What had just happened? Why had Len acted so odd? Why had he asked about her perfume? She couldn’t think, couldn’t write. A brisk walk was the answer. Worried that if she headed up the hill past the restaurant, she would risk another strange encounter with her neighbour, Alex headed down to the beach. It was quiet. No cars in the parking lot. Perhaps everyone was preparing for tomorrow’s holiday. She had no doubt Anse du Gouverneur would be crammed with families celebrating Bastille Day. She imagined kids racing around. Beautiful women proudly baring their breasts to the sun.
Tomorrow might be a good day to stay home and write, she thought kicking off her sandals as she reached the sand. Crank up the music, ignore the traffic. Ass in chair. At least the construction site next door should be quiet. The holiday would bring a welcome respite from the clatter of nail guns and whine of table saws. And it also marked the start of the vacation season for the locals so there should be peace and quiet for the next few weeks.
The sun was low in the late afternoon sky. The breeze was up so those nasty bugs weren’t biting her ankles and feet. No-see-ums. That’s what the locals called them. You may not be able to see the buggers but you sure felt them. She’d stocked up on insect repellent at the store, along with her usual staples of frozen dinners and cereal. She had been tempted by the alluring array of cheese and pâté at the deli counter. Even thought for a nanosecond about buying a duck breast but shook off the impulse with a rueful laugh. Somebody who could barely microwave shouldn’t be tempted into trying gourmet food.
Alex was finding it difficult to resist the allure of her surroundings. Everything, from the feel of the sun on her skin to the scent of freshly baked baguette, was sensual. St. Barts made Alex want to indulge unacknowledged fantasies. Nothing crazy. Maybe take a boat ride or dine under the stars at one of the island’s fancy restaurants decked out in something silk and skimpy. Dance with a strange man, his hands on her waist, their hips skimming. Just enough pressure to betray the promise of things to come. It had been too long since a man had touched her, held her. Not since her asshole professor. Not true, she amended. Len had touched her, gripped her upper arms in the grocery store and stared at her with those moss green eyes as though he was trying to decipher her soul.
She shivered at the memory. Those eyes. His hands. How would it feel to have him watching her when they made love? Or have those strong arms holding her, positioning her, claiming her?
Get a grip. She felt out of time, out of space. She had, ever since her books were published. They had been fluke. Despite their erotic nature, she was a calm, practical person. Not given to daydreams. Still, she felt as though the hidden part of her, the part revealed in her writing, was surfacing off the page, spilling over into real life. Alex shook off the fanciful thoughts, blaming her mood on the strange encounter in the grocery store with surfer dude. Only he was much more than that; he was a young, ambitious businessman renovating a restaurant. A man with bottomless green eyes and the build of Adonis. A rude man, she added and banished him from her thoughts.
She slipped back on her sandals to climb up the hill. She could just make it in time to see the sunset from her pool. Maybe pour a glass of wine. Eat a slice of leftover frozen pizza. Go over the notes for her novel and make it an early night. Another one.
Alex was at her driveway when she spotted a distressed-looking woman on the side of the road.
“Can I help you?”
The woman turned around and Alex noticed a couple of things simultaneously. She was pregnant and she had the most amazing blue eyes. Turquoise really. An astonishing colour unless they were the result of those special contacts you could order online. The stranger looked like a Disney princess come to life with that hair and those eyes.T
The woman with the riveting eyes and the baby bump blushed. The infusion of colour drowned the freckles on her nose and cheeks and clashed slightly with her strawberry blonde curls. “Tell me you live here,” the stranger demanded in a panicky voice. The woman squirmed and crossed her legs, the universal sign of an impending bladder malfunction. Alex raced for the gate, turned the key and rushed the woman inside, disengaging the security alarm. “Right here,” she said, opening the powder room door.
“Bless you!” the stranger answered as the door closed.
Alex mixed a pitcher of frozen lemonade and put two glasses icy with condensation on the coffee table, then rinsed a fresh dishcloth in cold water under the tap and rang out the excess liquid.
The stranger emerged from the powder room with a sheepish smile. “In the nick of time. I was fine when I began my walk but this one,” the woman said patting her pregnancy bulge, “decided to elbow my bladder. I was ready to squat at the side of the road when you came by. How did you know?”
“My sister has three kids. I was around for the first pregnancy so I recognized the signs. My name is Alex.”
“Bliss. A damp cloth and a cold drink. How kind,” said the woman, flopping down on the sofa. She gulped her lemonade and made a face. “Don’t you hate how they put too much sugar in this stuff? Lemonade is supposed to be slightly tart. I like using Meyer lemons and make a simple syrup with castor sugar. A sprig of fresh mint and voilà.” Seeing Alex’s puzzled expression, the woman laughed. “Sorry. Occupational hazard. I’m a chef.”
“Do you work at the restaurant next door?”
“I’m helping out with the menus because that asshole has no idea how to arrange things so that the kitchen can keep pace. Not all the apps and entrées can be à la minute. You’d need a staff of at least six. Some of the food has to be partially prepared in advance or they’ll be swamped. He’s never run a proper restaurant but will he listen to me? No. I’m just a woman. I’ve worked in Michelin-starred restaurants in France and Britain. I know what I’m doing but he’s so arrogant and stubborn…”
“And rude!” Alex added. She explained in a rush about her ignored complaints about the noise and traffic and then today’s weird encounter in the grocery store.
“Let me get this straight, Len smelt your hair? What kind of perfume were you wearing?”
“Just this cheap stuff I picked up in Gustavia. Nothing high end. Nobody but tourists shop there.”
“What does it smell like?” Bliss asked.
Alex held out her wrist where a wisp of the fragrance lingered mixed with her sweat from the walk. The woman inhaled and closed those extraordinary eyes. Her face took on a dreamy expression. The silence went on too long, making Alex nervous. When her guest opened her eyes they were shining, like slick chunks of turquoise jewellery left out in the rain. It looked as if she was trying not to cry but her voice was calm and matter of fact.
“It’s a pretty scent. Unusual and it mixes perfectly with your inherent aroma. Obviously,” she said taking a sip from her glass with unsteady hands, “he recognized it. Maybe somebody Len knew, somebody important to him, wore that perfume.” She shook her head as if to clear it. “I better get back before he dials 9-9-9 worried I’ve given birth at the side of the road. Are you doing anything tomorrow?”
Alex shook her head, taken aback at the sudden change of subject.
“I have a two-for-one coupon at the spa. A Bastille Day special. The works. I was going to take Charlie, my boyfriend, but he’s stuck in L.A. Would you like to come? Help me indulge in a little pampering? It’s the least I can do to thank you for coming to my rescue today.”
“I’d like that,” said Alex with a shy smile. A friend, she’d made a friend. And she had something to do and some place to go so she wouldn’t feel so alone on a family holiday.
“Bliss Larsen. I have a reservation.”
The unctuous spa manager snapped to attention, either prodded by the name or the fact his pregnant customer was carrying a limited edition extremely expensive Louis Vuitton purse.
Something clicked, a memory and Alex looked up in surprise. “Bliss! It’s your name. I thought yesterday when you said ‘bliss’ you were just happy with the cold drink.” Alex paused for a moment, mentally accessing an article or three, a blog, a magazine headline, Oscar ceremonies. Once they came together like a kaleidoscope image, she blanched. “Oh shit. Bliss Larsen.” Her voice trailed off into an embarrassed whisper. “And Len is your brother Lennon and your father is Sven Larsen and your other brother is Liam Olsen, the sexiest man alive?” The last came out in a horrified squeak.
Bliss just laughed off her embarrassment. “I love it when people don’t recognize me. You can’t imagine how tiresome it is to answer the same questions year after year. Did you always know how much your parents were in love? How did you feel about the documentary? Are you and the director really still together?”
“Well?” asked Alex.
Bliss ticked off the answers on her fingers. “Yes. Pissed off for years. And yes, Charlie and I are still together and are about to have a baby.”
“Charlie Clover. He’s your boyfriend. I loved his granddad in that movie with your dad. I can’t believe I just said that or that I’m talking to you. Sorry,” she said fanning her now flushed cheeks. “Babbling. It’s just such a surprise. Part of the reason I wanted to come to St. Barts was because of that movie your dad was in. I remembered how beautiful it was.”
“Paradise Lost was great p.r. for the island. The tourism authority owes my family free meals for life. So, you know all about me. Tell me about you. Why are you here? Just a long vacation?”
They followed the attendants into the treatment room. Bliss needed help getting up on the massage table, and sighed with pleasure as strong hands started to work on the knots in her neck and shoulders.
Alex took a moment to savour her similar ministrations and then answered the question. “I’m here to write and..um..I’m kind of hiding out. I have a stalker.”
Bliss fastened her turquoise eyes on her with sudden alarm. “My family knows quite a bit about stalkers. My mom and dad were stalked, years ago. I don’t know the details but they locked the guy up for life. You must be pretty well known to attract that level of attention.” Her brows furrowed for an instant and then Bliss snapped her fingers, flashing a huge smile. “Wait a minute! Alex Whitmore, the writer. A. Whitmore.” She grinned, her eyes twinkling. “I have you to thank for this pregnancy. I read your books and got so hot I couldn’t keep my hands off Charlie. But more than the heat, I loved the characters, especially Jenna. She was a kick-ass, take-no-prisoners, strong woman.
“Even though she was a submissive in bed?” Alex still felt the sting of some of the online critiques.
“One thing hasn’t anything to do with the other. Jenna made her own choices. I loved that. I was sorry she died in the third book. I cried buckets.”
“I knew midway through the first book I’d have to kill her off. The books were all about Egan’s journey. She was the catalyst and her death changed him as much as her life.”
“I liked the ending. I know a lot of people didn’t but I loved that last line. ‘All life is love and loss.’ I didn’t find it a downer.”
“I’m still hearing about that. People were angry I didn’t give them a happy ending. I didn’t think about that as I was writing the books, just about the characters. It was like they determined their own fate and I was just the catalyst to tell their story.”
“Well, you did a great job.”
Neither woman spoke for a while. The silence was only broken by the tinkle of a fountain, some kind of Buddha Café soundtrack playing in the background and the moans of the clients as their masseurs zeroed in on a particularly tender spot. Conversation resumed after the pummelling and stretching and once they were both wrapped in saran wrap, smothered in blankets and coated with a mix of lemongrass oil and papaya.
“Oh God!” exclaimed Alex. “I just realized I said awful things about your brother.”
“They weren’t awful, they were deserved. And I should have told you he was my baby brother. I know why he reacted so strangely to you in the grocery store. That scent you wear? That was Maman’s. After she died, I would find him in her closet. He said it smelt like her. It made him feel safe. I found a half empty bottle once and tried it, but it didn’t smell the same on me. There’s something about your body chemistry that makes it smell the same on you as it did on her Maman. Hence Lennon’s weird reaction.”
Alex felt guilty as she remembered the encounter in the grocery store. “I shouldn’t have hit him with my purse.”
Bliss let out a giggle. “I would have given anything to see that. I don’t know if any woman has ever hit Len, other than me of course. A big sister’s prerogative,” she added with a smirk.
“That must have been hard, losing your mom when you were so young. When you watch the documentary about your parents all you can think is how romantic they were. Even with all the people tearing up when they talked about her, you don’t think about how it really felt. Not for her family, or specially the kids.”
“I was angry at my mom for years for leaving, as if she had a choice. And then I was angry at Charlie for putting my private life up for public consumption.”
“You apparently got over that,” observed Alex trying to enunciate carefully as the facial mask hardened around her lips.
“Charlie has a way of wriggling under your skin and before you know it, you’re hooked. When you meet him, you’ll see. Annoyance turns into appreciation pretty quickly.”
“Are you planning on getting married? Sorry. Writers are inherently nosy,” Alex blushed beneath the green goop on her face.
“We haven’t really talked about it. I know with the baby and all but I already feel so connected to him, I don’t see what difference a piece of paper will make.”
“Lennon’s not married?” Alex asked, trying to sound nonchalant.
“My little brother is like one of those eco guys, worried about leaving too big of a footprint on the planet. Instead of the environment, Lennon doesn’t want to leave too much of an emotional footprint. He’s always been extremely popular but distant at the same time. Keeps everyone at arm’s length, except for me.”
“Maybe it’s because of your mom,” Alex mused. “Losing a parent can make you feel as though nothing is permanent.”
“You talk the way you write, very insightful.”
Before Alex could stammer her thanks, their spa attendants returned and the next couple of hours was a blur of pumice stones, creams and waxing. Bliss had talked Alex into the last, and despite the pain, she was thrilled with the feel of her legs and the new definition her shaped brows gave her face and eyes.
“You should always have your brows done,” said Bliss eying her critically. “They set off your eyes and frame your face. You look beautiful.”
Alex brushed away the compliment. “Yeah, with my spa hair.”
Both women laughed. Between all the unguents and the scalp massages their hair was standing on end in irregular spikes.
“I can fix that,” said Bliss yanking Alex into a nearby boutique and snatched up two scarves that she twisted into makeshift hairbands. The impromptu solution disguised the worst of the hair bumps.
Alex stopped in front of a mannequin. It was dressed in a citron green silk wrap dress and the ruffled hem fluttered like the petals of a spring flower.
“That’s the perfect colour for you. Try it on,” urged Bliss. Alex started combing through the racks looking for an extra large when Bliss pushed a medium her way. “You wear your clothes way too baggy. Why have a gorgeous figure and never show it off?”
Alex looked at the tag doubtfully. “This won’t fit me.”
Bliss answered by tugging on the waistline of Alex’s shorts. There was a four-inch gap between fabric and skin. “You don’t see yourself the way others see you. Maybe with all the walking on St. Barts you’ve lost some weight?”
Alex looked down at the gap in surprise. “These were tight when I got here. I guess you’re right. I have lost a few inches.” Heartened at the thought she added, “Let’s get this new me a proper outfit.” Before Alex knew it, she had bought the dress, kicky sandals to show off her fuchsia toenails and a pair of dangly earrings studded with coloured faux gems.
“You are a bad influence, Bliss Larsen. I never would have spent that much if you hadn’t been along.”
“Surely you’ve made a ton of money off the books?”
“Some but…I don’t feel like I earned it. I just started writing. There are so many other authors who’ve been working for years and never hit it big. And they’re better writers, believe me.” “That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy your success. If I felt that way, I’d be furious that McDonalds was a bigger success than the restaurants where I worked. Hey, lunch!”
They turned into a cool shuttered space on the edge of the harbour. Alex surrendered all decisions to her companion, the chef. Before she knew it, she was eating fish fritters and steak et frits. Bliss had also ordered a bottle of wine to pair with the meal.
“I can have half a glass. The benefits of being part French. But sadly, no uncooked seafood for me.” She devoured her lobster bisque, cleaning the bowl with baguette but only ate a few bites of her chicken with velouté sauce, whispering that the chef had used a mix and made such a dismayed face Alex had to laugh.
“I couldn’t tell the difference under torture. I either have no taste buds or mine have been compromised by a lifetime of frozen foods.” “I could teach you about food and cooking, though Lennon would be a better mentor. He has a perfect palate. I used to be so jealous. He can tell where a cheese comes from with a single sniff and would be a brilliant sommelier because one sip and he can identify the region, varietal and sometimes, even the year. He’s what they call a super taster. He has more than thirty-five papillae on his tongue; they house the taste buds. I only have twenty. We did this test with blue food colouring at home. Lennon looked like he’d swallowed a Smurf.”
“I’m pretty sure I’m papillae deficient. Maybe I can park in those special spaces outside the mall,” laughed Alex, giddy due a combination of the conversation, the wine and the realization she’d made a real friend.