The computer was a wonderful thing. He didn’t remember it from…Before. That’s how he thought of his life- as Before and After. Before was a blur. He knew he did something bad. Something he couldn’t remember. Then they took him away and it was After.
He remembered After. There were doctors and nurses and bars on the window. Drugs and tests and electric currents to his brain. He hated those days. Felt like the electricity scrambled his cells, rearranged him into a stranger. The drugs weren’t any better. They confused him.
The doctors said his medications made him calm but they didn’t, not really. It only appeared that way on the surface. He stopped shouting and hitting people. Stopped hurting himself. But deep down there were strange undercurrents of rage that the medications failed to quell. The pills he took seemed to feed that rage. He kept that secret from his doctors. He kept a lot of things secret. Private things. Things just for him. Even during therapy and group sessions he watched every word, afraid he would give something away.
His vigilance had paid off. They’d let him go. It had taken a while. He didn’t know how long of a while. The medications played with his sense of time. It could have been days or weeks or even years. But they had let him go after he promised to take his pills and come in and talk regularly.
He followed instructions and was a good boy, a very good boy. The model ex-patient. Renting a room. Getting a job at the library where he found out about computers. They were magic. You typed something into the keyboard and the machine did all the work. Answering questions, accessing information. There were even websites you could go to where you could look at photos of places and people. Photos that jogged his memory, reminded him of Before.
A boy at the library showed him how to target his search. How the computer would notify him when there was new information or pictures. He would come in early for his shift and check his email, knowing the thrill of the notice that there was something new in the inbox. Nothing useful. Not yet. But the computer wouldn’t let him down. It would do the hard work.
It would do the searching. He would do the rest.
“Alex, you look lovely.”
She was engulfed in a Bliss-full hug, glad she had worn her new outfit and taken time to fix her hair and make-up. She hadn’t been certain what to expect. St. Barts was an island for the rich and famous. Would she fit in? The anxiety made her hands shake as she applied mascara. But Bliss was her usual friendly self and the people around her seemed norma. They were casually dressed in T-shirts and shorts. There were a few of the women wearing skimpy dresses and jewellery, but for the most part, the crowd’s wardrobe wasn’t intimidating.
Arm-in-arm, Bliss introduced her around the room. There was the couple that owned a rental villa at the end of the street. They were from New Hampshire. An architect from Montreal, which led to small talk about Canadian politics. An event planner from Georgia who was renting for the first time and vowed to make St. Barts an annual getaway. “And this is Edward,” said Bliss stopping in front of a tallish, thin man with pale skin and reddish hair. “He’s very excited to meet you, Alex,” said Bliss before releasing her arm and promising to return with drinks.
“How do you know Bliss?” she asked the stranger.
“I don’t. I know Charlie.” He was tall and ginger and answered with the trace of an accent. Maybe Scottish. There was the slightest burr.
“Are you a filmmaker as well?”
“I work for a publishing house. Acquisitions. We are the people who find hidden gems and do deals, selling books to studios. I wanted to meet you to congratulate you. Your books are wonderful. Incredible for a novice. I read about the deal your agent got for the screen rights. He did well. I could do better,” he added. His watery blue eyes were sharp, assessing. He reminded Alex of a shark, a creature that never rested. Always hunting for the next kill.
“Louie has been great. I’m not really looking for new representation.”
“You wouldn’t have to change,” said Edward as he led her away from the crowd toward the railing. She wanted to drink in the view and the night air and enjoy herself. She wanted to be sociable for the first time in months but here was this man insisting she talk business.
“We can work with Louie and you. We can get an even better deal for your next project. I assume you’re here to write. Care to tell me what you’re working on?” Edward smiled in what Alex imagined he thought was an ingratiating way. He needed to practice more in front of the mirror. His expression was equal parts smug and irritating.
“I never talk about my work in progress,” she said calmly. She laughed to herself. Her work. The novels had been an amazing fluke and here she was acting as though writing had been her career since birth.
“Maybe I can convince you over lunch?” Edward silded closer and grasping her elbow. His thumb started drawing slow circles on the soft flesh of her upper inner arm. It wasn’t seductive. It was creepy.
Alex was just about to say something cutting when she felt a strong arm clasp her waist and warm lips tenderly kiss her temple before sliding down her cheek and resting against her neck. She smelt seafood and herbs and citrus and flour. She smelt food. She smelt Lennon.
“Are you okay, darling?” he asked with a smile. His eyes were green, his cheekbones sharp and he was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen. “I’m sorry to have neglected you but I’ve been overseeing the kitchen. Bliss was supposed to be in charge of the food but, as per usual, she writes out the menu and then leaves the hard work to everybody else.”
Alex gave his hand a grateful squeeze. “Edward was just talking business. He was suggesting I consider new representation for my next book.”
“Was he?” asked Lennon, turning his attention to the man with the reddish hair. The warmth in his eyes had turned ice cold. “It’s bad manners to mix business with pleasure.” The ensuing blush clashed with the man’s hair. Edward apologized and scuttled away, like a crab disturbed by a beachgoer’s footsteps.
“Thanks,” Alex said. “You were kind to come to my rescue. I wasn’t expecting anyone to know who I am.”
Lennon gently tucked a stray hand of hair behind her ear. “You’re a world famous author. I read your books and I have to say I’m impressed and intrigued.”
“You read my books?” Alex shook her head in disbelief. “They’re more for women than men and they were only my first try and….”
Lennon stopped her babbling with a kiss on the cheek. “They were wonderful.”
Alex felt her knees start to crumble at his praise and touch and was glad at his strong arm around his waist so she didn’t collapse to the floor and create a scene.
“Here you are,” said Bliss with a tall rangy man in tow. “I wanted you to meet Charlie.”
Bliss was so gorgeous, so radiant, so extraordinary Alex had been expecting her lover to be godlike. She wasn’t disappointed. All Charlie was missing was a reindeer jumper for Charlie to morph into Mark Darcy. Or a puffy shirt for him to be Mr. Darcy. He was Colin Firth’s double and Alex’s mind whirled with possible plots in which he’d play a starring role. Something regency. He could be a duke and Bliss could be a maiden married off to an old coot and then…and then, Charlie opened his mouth and all coherent thoughts fled.
“Aren’t you a delight?” His accent was crisp and compelling. “I thought women who wrote books like yours were all frustrated old hags. And here you are with your brown curls and a body that’d look at home wrapped around a stripper’s pole. Tell me, which gods did your mother bed to bequeath you beauty and brains?”
His comments were rapid fire, delivered in a delicious English accent with an infectious twinkle that said Charlie knew he was being over the top and he knew that Alex knew he knew and somehow the whole thing was a big joke but wasn’t life wonderful.
Alex stopped wondering why Bliss had fallen for Charlie and started wondering how anyone could not. She also stopped thinking about him as a hero in an old-fashioned romance. He was so modern, so fun.
“I have you to thank for my incipient offspring,” said Charlie draping a proprietary hand on Bliss’ belly. “This one read your books and wouldn’t leave me around. Rode me like a thoroughbred heading for the finish line at Ascot. I couldn’t catch my breath and before you know it, she was pregnant.”
He grinned down at Bliss and Alex saw a spark pass between them like a lightning flash. Bliss giggled and blushed, looking more like a shy seventeen year old at her prom than a sophisticated woman. The look capsulized their attraction. Charlie made Bliss feel young and carefree. Something, Alex intuited, she and Lennon had never been, not after having lost their mother when they were both kids.
Lennon handed her a flute of wine. “Charlie, would you mind not talking about my sister riding you? The only animal I want to remember her riding was our dog Sponge and that was only under sufferance.”
“Our dog used to hide under the bed to get away from me. Sponge hated playing jockey and mount.” Bliss explained as she sipped her sparkling water.
Charlie was unrepentant, apparently used to creating a stir. “We can’t embarrass Alex,” he said with a nod. “Your books are hot and the movies will be wonderful. Have you chosen a director?”
“No,” she answered, wondering where this was going. Was Charlie going to push her to hire his friend Edward?
He surprised her by saying, “I’d like a shot at the job. I think I have a way to flirt with an X rating by playing up the romance. Fleshing out the characters. You don’t want someone to take your hard work and turn it into a porno.”
“No, I don’t,” said Alex emphatically. He’d crystallized her concerns in a nutshell. Despite the generous payout, she’d been worried Hollywood would go for the cheap, exploitive option.
“The key,” Charlie continued, apparently noticing Alex’s rapt attention “is to hire a screenwriter to work with you. Give the plot a little more shape. Maybe condense the three books down to two.” He stopped when Bliss elbowed him in the side. “Sorry. My better half gets fed up when I talk business at a social event. But think about what I said. We’ll get rid of these two non-artistes,” he said with a dismissive wave of the hand, “and have lunch. Let me know when you’re free and want to talk.”
“This non-artiste is hungry,” said Bliss. “Make sure you sample all the appetizers. Lennon has outdone himself.”
The couple wandered off to the railing and Alex watched as Bliss reached up and brought Charlie’s face to hers. They kissed, oblivious of the crowd.
“So?” asked Lennon, handing her a plate containing three tiny perfect bites of food.
“He’s something else. Kind of like a sexy salesman, except I’m not sure what he’s selling.”
“Himself,” said Lennon slipping a wedge of something creamy into her mouth. “Charlie is always selling himself. But he makes Bliss happy. Very happy. And he’s helped her through some tough times.”
Alex stopped listening after the first taste. The creamy substance was tangy and yet there was a sweetness as well. She ran her tongue over her lips, committing the taste to memory as she savoured every sensation.
Lennon smiled at her reaction. “That’s what I like to see. Natural yogurt and minced lamb with toasted sesame seeds. Kind of an Arabic amuse bouche. We may serve it at the restaurant. I’m using this party as a bit of a lab experiment.”
“Count me in. Reserve me a table every night for the rest of my life,” Alex said smiling in pleasure.
“Consider it done.” Lennon’s voice was low, his gaze intent.
There were two other delectable morsels. A deep fried pineapple ball with a crust infused with lemongrass and a roasted tomato with mozzarella and basil skewered on a tiny heap of pasta.
“Those taste like the noodles we made the other night,” said Alex.
“I may have to hire you as my sous chef. I’m monopolizing you,” he said arm tight around her waist. Lennon didn’t sound the least bit sorry. “Did you want to mingle or would you like me to show you around? These are the villas my mother built. They showed the construction in Charlie’s film. Our villa is next door.”
“I’d like to see that, if you don’t mind,” asked Alex, feeling suddenly shy.
She let Lennon take her by the hand, weaving through the crowd, stopping to say hi, make introductions and small talk. They walked through the cobblestone courtyard to the neighbouring house. The exterior was old fashioned with window boxes and a shingled front façade but the interior was warm and inviting. The wood floors gleamed. The yellow paint pristine. The Great Room was furnished with antiques. It was hard for Alex to get a sense of the space because the villa was obviously being used as a prep space for the party. It was littered with hot tables wafting aromatic puffs of steam and tables of dishware. The servers were all apparently next door making their rounds. Alex and Lennon were all alone.
She looked around, aware Lennon was waiting for her reaction. Trying to reconcile the current configuration with what she remembered from the home movies she’d seen in Charlie’s documentary. If you ignored the catering mess, not much had changed. Some of the furniture appeared new but there was the familiar array of Buddhas on the shelves at
one end and a cluttered kitchen at the other.
The view commanded her attention. The stars were out and the wind was up so mosquitos and no-see-ums weren’t a problem. Lennon joined her on the patio, pointing out the twinkling lights on neighbouring islands. His fingers entwined with hers on the railing and she caught her breath, enjoying the warmth, the feel of his thumb circling the inside of her wrist. The low rumble of his voice. She recognized the cantilevered pool way down below. “There was a clip of your mom swimming there.”
“It’s being re-tiled and some of the acrylic panels are being replaced, but otherwise it’s still the same.” He drew her to a vast sliding door on the left side of the patio. “This was their room. I wasn’t going to touch it. I thought my dad would be upset, but there was some damage to the roof and odds are he won’t ever want to come back anyway.”
Alex inhaled the space. It was painted a pale ochre, the walls finished with some kind of technique to make them appear polished. The colour offset the dark wood floors and spiral staircase. There was a four-poster with massive headboard, well over six feet tall. It would have overwhelmed an average space but fit this one like a glove.
The bed was set on an angle in front of a wall’s worth of closets. Louvered doors stood waiting to be hung next to a massive set of drawers and equally behemoth mirror. The bed was dressed in pristine white linens. It looked inviting. Alex heard the door slide closed behind her and her heart sped up a notch.
“It’s beautiful,” she said in a breathy squeak. She felt Lennon come up behind her, placing one hand on her neck, the other on her waist.
“You’re beautiful,” he said as he nipped her ear lobe. “I’m glad I finally got to see you in this dress. The colour suits you.” His lips slid down her neck, nudging her earring and curls to one side. “You wore the perfume.” Alex heard and felt his inhalation.
“You said you didn’t mind.”
“It suits you,” he repeated and she felt his tongue trace a line from her jawline down her neck. So gentle that it was more infuriating than enticing. One hand moved from her waist down her body to her thighs, slowly gathering the skirt of her dress. The hemline rose inexorably. Alex thought how glad she was she’d worn new panties then choked back a giddy giggle.
“Something funny?” Lennon’s hand rubbed her buttocks through the thin silken fabric and his fingers slipped down further, one finger gently moving over the lace between her thighs. She gasped a, “No, not funny,” and slumped back against him as he gently pried her legs apart from behind.
His lips continued to pepper her neck with kisses, seeking out sensitive spots with unerring precision, sucking her skin and inhaling her pulse as his fingers stroked her.
Lennon groaned as his finger slid beneath the elastic encountering her wet crease. She slid back further, teetering on her high heels and leaning against his arousal. His erection fit perfectly between the cleft of her buttocks and they both paused for a second, enjoying the shared sensation.
There was an eruption of noise and movement in the villa. Lennon grabbed Alex and pulled her behind the headboard in the split second before the door slid open. The massive wood headboard hid them from view, but they could hear the trespassers well enough, even over their panting breaths.
A man spoke first. “I told you, he’s disappeared. The guests are fed and well watered. All they care about now is having another drink. The desserts are out. This is the perfect time.”
A woman giggled and then came the sound of a zipper being undone and shoes clattering to the wood floor. Alex stared at Lennon, expecting to see him biting back a smile. Instead he looked intense, aroused. He pulled her to him and she could feel the hard muscles of his chest, the muscles she’d only seen on the beach. Alex wanted more. She wanted to feel his skin and reached up under the back of his shirt, stroking the band of warm flesh just above his waistband.
The couple on the bed were oblivious. There was a sucking sound and the man groaned, “Yeah baby. Use your hands too.”
Alex could feel a panicky laugh bubbling up in her throat at their situation. She clamped her hand over her mouth but Lennon removed it, replacing her fingers with his lips. Unlike the previous night, this kiss was not gentle. It was demanding. Searing heat as his tongue thrust into her mouth, one hand caressing the side of her face as the other slid down to her chest cupping her breast. She wanted to moan when his thumb brushed her sensitized nipple. Maybe she did moan, but he swallowed any sound she’d made.
The man on the bed spoke. “Turn around,” he ordered. “I want to taste you.”
The words were evocative. Alex could imagine she was the woman; Lennon was the man. They were the couple on the bed, tasting one another intimately. She could imagine the feel of his erection in her mouth. Silk on steel. The feel of his tongue between her thighs and leaned closer yet into him, her hips moving in slow insistent circles. Grinding into his arousal. She gushed.
Lennon pushed back slightly and she tried not to cry out in frustration. But then he replaced his hard length with his hand, hitching up her skirt again, nudging her legs open and sliding his fingers into her warm, wet welcome.
There were sounds and sensations of more movement on the bed. The man had apparently entered the woman. Alex could feel the headboard vibrate ever so slightly against her back, as Lennon brushed his thumb over her clit and slid two fingers inside her. Rational thought fled. There were just his hands, his mouth. The couple on the bed. She was surrounded by need. Awash in lust.
As her body embraced each sensation, her mind sought solace in the familiar landscape of words.
Nouns first. Hands. Breasts. Fingers. Mouth. Cock. Clit.
Lennon titled her head slightly, deepening the kiss.
Adjectives next. Wet. Hard. Soft. Necessary.
His thumb swirled against her, his fingers inside her and his tongue in her mouth mimicking the rhythm of the couple on the bed. They were oblivious, competing for some kind of porn audio prize, thought Alex through her brain fog as she moved onto verbs. Thrust. Plunge. Fuck. Come.
Declensions. I come. You come. They come, she thought as every nerve ending quivered. Lennon’s fingers moved faster and faster. Deeper and deeper as the couple on the bed picked up the pace, moaning.
Imperatives. Harder. Faster. Now. Now. Now she thought as the headboard hammered against her back and the man on the bed groaned as if in pain. Alex barely heard him over the pounding of her heart as the climax ripped through her. She was aware of Lennon’s hands holding her upright, his mouth devouring her jagged breaths, swallowing her moans. Her body convulsed against his fingers, his thumb, his thighs. He slowly helped her settle, gentling his kisses, removing his hand from between her legs, sliding his arms around her waist. Making calming circles up and down her spine.
The man on the bed wasn’t into post-coital cuddling because he said, “Gotta go. That was terrific.” They heard the sound of rustling clothes. “You’ll call me?” The woman’s voice held a plaintiff note. She had obviously been expecting a more romantic coda to their coupling.
“Yeah. Sure,” came the indifferent response as the patio door slid open and a waft of warm night air slid into the room.
“Asshole,” muttered the woman on the bed. Alex and Lennon froze as they heard her gather up her clothes. Rather than follow her ersatz lover out the door, she climbed the staircase off to the side of the room heading up to the bathroom. If the woman had glanced down between the risers, she would have seen them hiding behind the headboard. She couldn’t have missed them. But she didn’t glance down and as soon as they heard the sound of the shower from upstairs Alex and Lennon collapsed against each other in relief and release. After a moment, she turned her head into the side of his neck. “I should thank you.”
“Always so polite?”
“I was raised properly,” she whispered.
A soft chuckle ruffled her hair. “I doubt your mother had any etiquette lessons that covered this situation. But, you’re welcome. It was my pleasure.” He stroked her hair with one hand and pulled down her dress with the other.
They tiptoed out of the room. Lennon peeked around the corner to ensure the coast was clear and then led Alex out of the villa. They slid into the party crowd unnoticed. He didn’t release her, holding her body close to his chest as he manoeuvred their way through the crowd, snagging two flutes from a passing waiter and taking a second to remind the man to replenish the dessert table.
“You can revert back into chef mode, just like that?” asked Alex.
“I’m an excellent multi-tasker. No, don’t move yet. Stay in front of me for a couple more minutes and lead me over to the railing. I need a little cover.”
She could feel his erection prodding against her back. Alex let out a laugh. “I’m aware I owe you.”
“I’ll collect later, don’t you worry.” She felt a prickle of fresh arousal at the whispered promise.
They stood together staring out at the water, sipping their wine and collecting their thoughts. That had been the most passionate encounter of Alex’s life. In the past, she’d felt like that woman on the bed. Do this. Make me feel good, Babe. And then the kicker, sure I’ll call you.
Even the affair with her English Lit professor had been unsatisfying. There had been the added frisson of someone finding them in his office, on his desk. One day, someone had knocked and he stopped in mid-thrust, clamping his hand over her mouth and then finishing quickly when the person went away. He’d never taken her out for a drink or bought her flowers. Never mentioned he had a wife and kids. Said their affair had to be a secret because she was his student. Didn’t want her to get in trouble, have anyone question her grades. The last excuse especially rankled since he’d given her a B+. The final humiliation. All that fucking and sucking and she didn’t even rate an A.
Alex peeked up at Lennon. His eyes were closed, his body tense with unspent passion. She could feel his erotic energy and wanted more. More of him. Wanted so badly to see him naked that she was tempted to rip off his clothes right here, in the middle of the party.
Her plans were thwarted when Charlie appeared out of nowhere, looking worried. “I’m taking Bliss to the hospital. She’s having contractions.”
Lennon’s eyes flashed open. “It’s too soon.”
“Probably nothing,” answered Charlie but Alex could read the effort it took to appear nonchalant by the grim set of his jaw.
“We’ll meet you there in a minute. I’ll get my staff to take over and tell Ana and Marcel to keep an eye on things.”
Lennon waved over a man with tousled black hair and a ring through his eyebrow. “Sam, you’ll have to stay late and supervise the tear down. You know the drill.”
The man made a face. “I have a date.” That voice. Alex realized this was the man on the bed.
Lennon narrowed his eyes and said in a hard tone, “You had your date in the middle of the party. I should dock you an hour’s pay. Or should I say eight minutes pay.” Alex stifled a laugh when the man’s jaw dropped and then they were leaving the party, walking quickly down the street to the hospital.
By the time they arrived Bliss was already answering the doctor’s questions. Her voice was calm but she
clutched Charlie’s arm as if for dear life. They both looked so worried. She had one hand draped protectively over her baby bump and Alex could see it move slightly in response to a contraction. As the doctor left to arrange an ultrasound, Alex helped Bliss into the bathroom so she could change out of her party dress.
“I don’t want anything to happen to this baby,” she whimpered, sliding into the hospital gown. “I didn’t always want to be a mom but now I do. And I want Charlie’s baby so much. Maybe God is punishing me for…”
Alex took her friend’s frigid and tried to rub some warmth back into her fingers. “I think God has better things to do with her time than punish you for any past sins.”
“Like what?” Bliss was willing to play along in an attempt to quell her rising panic.
“Like helping the Toronto Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup for the first time in more than half a century. Like figuring out why dressing room mirrors make me look like raw halibut.”
Bliss smiled in response. “Thanks for being here.”
“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
Alex and Lennon sat on the spare hospital bed as the doctor did an ultrasound and checked for signs of vaginal bleeding. The wait seemed endless but was ultimately worthwhile.
“Braxton Hicks,” the doctor explained. “I’m betting you didn’t drink enough water today. We’ll keep you here for the next few hours just to be on the safe side. Get you hooked up to an I.V. so we can rehydrate you but there doesn’t appear to be any cause for alarm.”
They let out a collective sigh of relief.
“I’ll call Dad and Grandma and let them know what’s going on. Anything you need from home?” Lennon asked.
“I have everything I need right here,” said Bliss, raising Charlie’s hand to her tear streaked cheek. As Alex and Lennon were leaving the room, Bliss was laughingly chiding her lover. “Stop playing with the controls for the bed. You’re jostling me.”
Charlie answered in a teasing tone. “We should get one of these for home. Imagine the possibilities.”
“I’d better go check on the villas and lock up. Fill in Ana, she’ll be worried. Then make my calls. This isn’t how I imagined the night would end.” Lennon pulled Alex close outside the Emergency Room entrance.
“I can stay if you want,” Alex offered.
“One of us might as well get some sleep. I’ll call if there’s any change. You can get home alone okay?”
“Sure, but I don’t like the alone part very much.”
“Neither do I,” he pressed her close and she could feel the heat of his body. His kiss was hungry and left her shaky.
“I owe you.”
“I’ll hold you to that.” His eyes glistened with unspent lust.