Déjà vu: St. Barts Chapters 11 & 12

Chapter 11

“Breakfast!”

Alex squinted open one sleep shut eye and stared in surprise at Lennon outside her front gate.

“I wasn’t expecting any early visitors. And why aren’t you out surfing?”

“I’m already done, sleepyhead.”

Alex grabbed Lennon’s wrist and groaned at the time. “I never sleep this late. It must have been the wine.”

“I’m betting it wasn’t only the wine,” he said with a smirk as he dropped a kiss on her hair and strode into the kitchen, grocery bags in hand.

Within minutes, Alex was enjoying fresh squeezed orange juice, coffee and pain au chocolat, not caring that pastry left a sugary smear on her lips. “I thought you’d want to cook.”

“I wasn’t sure what you had available. Besides, I have other plans for this morning. You do owe me,” he said making Alex blush.

“Can I have a shower first?”

“I’ll help,” he offered and followed her to the master suite. Alex felt clumsy as she fiddled with the water temperature in the outdoor shower and self-conscious as she reached to undo her robe.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have presumed,” Lennon said cradling her in his arms. “Just because I want you so much, doesn’t mean you…”

“But I do,” she said quickly. “I’m just not used to being courted I guess. To a man wanting me.”

“Canadian men are stupid then. Grandfather excluded.” He untied the sash on her robe and inhaled at the sight of her exposed breasts and torso. “Lovely,” he murmured, bending his mouth to her breast, tracing gentle kisses down to the peak where he gently sucked, shooting tendrils of lust across her skin.

The robe fell to the floor puddling around her feet and she reached up to remove his T-shirt. He helped by dropping his board shorts. He was commando and Alex saw at a glance he hadn’t been exaggerating. He did want her.

She drank in his naked body. She’d seen him surfing so she knew he was trim and toned, but up close, Lennon was spectacular. He had a swimmer’s build. Strong shoulders led to a heavily muscled chest and then tapered to a small waist. Not an ounce of fat. Just plains of muscle and bronzed flesh. Why wasn’t there a word for those notches at his hips? Why wasn’t there a different phrase than “treasure trail” for the hair that pointed south from his belly button to his erection?

Alex put aside her musings and reached for him, jutting and purpled in the sunlight. They kissed their way under the spray of the showerhead and he squeezed liquid soap into his hands before reclaiming her lips. She returned the kiss, enjoying the taste of his mouth- a mix of coffee and chocolate.

As she wrapped her hand around him Lennon groaned and then stepped back out of reach before tracing gentle paths of soap over her body. His touch was so light Alex swore she could feel each bubble alight on her skin and then burst, sending out shafts of spiralling pleasure.

She reached down between them again and rose up on her tippy toes until his erection was wedged between her thighs. He added a layer of soap to the steaming water and they luxuriated in the exquisite friction. She pressed her thighs together, creating a scabbard for his engorged flesh and he rocked back and forth, growling slightly.

Lennon reached around with one arm pressing their hips together even further and then slid one hand up between her legs, palming her. Alex pressed against his hand and moaned at the added sensation, rocking harder against him. Lennon moved his arm from her buttocks and reached around to angle up one hip so her leg was cantilevered against his erection. That simple movement exposed even more nerve endings to the heavy slick stroke. Alex was caught off guard by the speed of the orgasm. It hit her like a freight train and she jerked against his wet body. Only Lennon’s arms kept her from slipping to the tile floor. Once she recovered her sanity, she remembered her promise and felt a pang of guilt. “It was supposed to be your turn.”

Lennon pushed her wet hair from her face and kissed her forehead. “We’ll be even-steven soon, I promise.” He reached for the shampoo and massaged it into her hair, untangling the locks with steady fingers as she leaned pliant against him.

Alex felt the water turn off, a towel brusquely dry her body and then Lennon knelt in front of her, applying body cream in sure, long strokes. It felt so good, she could hardly remain vertical. Her legs wobbled. He picked her up and sat her on the side of the tub resuming his moisturizing, not missing a millimeter. She closed her eyes, as he focussed on her feet, rubbing knots out of arches, rotating toes and ankles until they cracked, leaving her boneless. His hands moved northwards, relentlessly applying cream to her calves, the sensitive back of her knees and then up onto her thighs. She tensed slightly as he parted her legs and opened her eyes, letting her fingers drift through his wet blond locks as he stared intently at the apex of her thighs.

“You don’t have to,” she started, certain he figured this was expected in this day and age but she knew men didn’t like doing it. Her English Lit professor had refused point blank saying the smell and taste made him gag. Two other lovers had given her a couple of lackluster licks, as if they were errant puppies awaiting a head pat. In her books, she wrote about oral sex. How Egan couldn’t get enough of Janna’s taste and vowed to spend a lifetime between her thighs. But that was fiction. This was real life. This didn’t happen in real life, did it?

Not even her gynecologist had stared at her most private of parts so intently. She felt herself tense and tried to close her thighs but Lennon simply whispered, “Please.” She relaxed as his strong fingers caressed her thighs, pressing her farther open until she was completely exposed. Entirely vulnerable. She gasped when he leaned forward and inhaled her. She felt her nose against her folds and flushed in embarrassment. Did she smell bad? Like old cheese? Lennon was a chef. A potential sommelier Bliss had said. Perhaps he was checking to see that she wasn’t past her best-before date.

But no, Lennon must have liked what he smelt because he smiled up at her, his eyes gleaming. His nose returned to her wet crease and she felt the bridge trace her opening, his panting breath inflamed her engorged. Those hands she’d admired rolling out dough were equally adept when kneading flesh. Just as gentle, as if afraid to bruise her. The tip of a finger separating and exploring. Alex braced her hands on the tub surround, trying to remember to breath. The sensations from that single fingertip were exponentially more exciting than any previous lover’s touch. Her womb clenched and she renewed heat stirred and rippled across her body, pooling in her breasts and between her thighs.
Lennon continued to tease her with that elusive fingertip until she exploded in shudders. The orgasm had barely abated when he leaned forward, the tip of his tongue following the path set by his fingers. Gently, insistently exploring her.

Regardless of the fantasies she’d recounted in her novels, Alex had never known a man who really wanted to leisurely taste another person like this. Like her center was the center of his world. She remembered when he had her taste the pasta sauce for seasoning. Was he tasting her now? Wondering if she needed basil or fresh ground pepper? She bit back a laugh.

He must not have found her wanting, because his tongue and lips continued their meandering journey, as if she was a buffet to be sampled. He rolled his clit gently in his mouth, smacking his lips against hers, dipping his tongue deep into her. He was moaning in pleasure. That only increased her need. Not one of her lovers had ever eaten her to climax. She’d been convinced she wasn’t able to come that way.
Alex had often wondered if she was semi-frigid, or semi-thawed. Either way, could she come with a man? When it happened, it was a rare and not a particularly memorable occasion, unlike the climaxes she enjoyed on her own. But this, here with Lennon, was not perfunctory. Was not routine. And the resulting climax that tore through her was momentous and went on and on, in fragmented waves. Three, she thought in awe at him, at them. As she cuddled against his chest, she realized she had come more with Lennon than she had with any other man in her entire life. And they hadn’t even gone on a proper date or had sex sex yet. She kissed his neck and chin and earlobe, whispering apologies.

“Hush, you. Pay back time,” he responded and carried her into the bedroom, dropping her on sleep-rumpled sheets.

He gently swatted away her hand as she reached for his erection and started kissing and exploring her body once more, pausing at odd spots. Her right underarm. Her left shoulder blade. Lennon spent an eternity kissing and nipping at the nape of her neck as he held up her wet curls.

All Alex could think before her higher mental functions were totally swept away in a tide of twitching nerve endings and lust was how wrong she had been. How could she have ever imagined she could write about sex? Describe the emotions and the sensations? In her books, the movements were fast. The intensity of passion translated into speed. But in reality, in the here and the now, time and space seemed suspended. She could taste his breath. Count the pores in his face. Feel the flutter of thick eyelashes against her cheek. He moved so slowly, so deliberately, so languorously she could’ve lived a lifetime between each thundering heartbeat. She wanted to apologize to all her fans that thought she knew, who asked for advice and insight. She wanted to shout ‘No! I was wrong!’ The best sex is incrementally slow. The best touches aren’t frenzied but tender. The biggest turn on isn’t the size of his penis but the light in his eyes; how he gauged her reaction to every caress; how he studied her. Every swirl of his tongue. Is this the difference between erotic and pornographic the literary critic inside her wondered? Then he moved his mouth lower from her belly to her clit and she couldn’t wonder any more, couldn’t think, could only feel the sly thrust of fingers, the nip of teeth, the suction of his lips until she rose and rose and rose and then fell, her precipitous decline prolonged by his steady hands. He gentled her all the way down, held her until the shudders waned, kissed away her tears.

Finally Lennon took up his position between her legs. Alex could feel his arms tremble with suppressed tension and see the beads of perspiration on his temple, his upper lip. Yet he continued his lazy pace. The tip of his erection just barely pressing into the abundant slickness between her thighs. She tried to reach down between their bodies and guide him in, but he merely looked down into her face and shook his head, whispering, “Not yet. Too much fun.”

“Too much fun?” The question came out in an angry, jagged wail. “Like torture? Like honey on an ant hill?”

He started to laugh, edging back a bit more, away from her cradled hips. “You taste like honey,” was his only response before his head dipped and he kissed her. On and on. She tasted herself on his lips and his tongue as she felt him nudging slowing into her, millimeter by millimeter. Once the incremental invasion was complete, he paused, nuzzling her ear, her throat, as her body clutched his thickness. Welcoming him. Embracing his length and then the quiver began again. This time it was internal, and went from zero to sixty in the blink of an eye. She was gasping, shuddering, the rippling centered in her core, exploding out to her limbs, almost stopping her heart.

“Open your eyes,” he said in a gruff, urgent voice. His moss green irises enveloped her like cool, pond water and then flashed like lightning as he thrust once, two, three times before he grunted and stilled.

They lay like that for forever, cemented together by sweat and sensation. She felt a gentle kiss on her shoulder, a smile against her neck. “That should give you something to write about.”

Alex answered with a shaky laugh. “I’m not that good.”

“Mon ange you’re exceptional,” came the response, muffled in her hair.

“I mean I’m not that good of a writer. There’s no way I could capture this in words.”

He raised his head, a challenge in his eyes. “Then we’ll just have to keep doing it until you can.”

They kept doing it. They spent the entire day and night doing it- in the living room, by the pool, on the kitchen counter until not only was Alex robbed of words, she couldn’t have remembered her own name if under torture.

Once in the middle of the night as she lay sated in a pile of twisted sheets she joked, “Now I know why women want younger lovers. Hurray for stamina!” She felt Lennon stiffen, comprehending immediately that the age difference was a sore point. Not quite five years, but enough to make him self-conscious. She slid her fingers through his hair, feeling the tension pooling at his damp roots. “I meant that my last lover was older, in his forties, and he was more concerned with the frequency of his bowel movements than of his orgasms.”

Lennon pulled her face to his, rubbing cheeks, his blond beard bristly against her ravaged lips. “I don’t care about your past lovers. Just your future lover–me.”

“Hey,” she teased, “You’re the one who slept his way across half of the world. I can only imagine all the beautiful Thai women you’ve known, not to mention your friends from L.A. Being with me must be quite the comedown.”

His hands framed her face so that she was staring right into his eyes. Lennon looked deadly serious. “None of them matter. None of them was you.” Alex felt her heart flutter and then she was lost in his eyes, his mouth, his hands once more.

Chapter 12

“This is nice,” Alex said, nodding at Shell Beach. Charlie had pestered her and then sent in Bliss as back up and now they were having lunch to talk about her movie. Her movie. How weird was that?

“Tell me when you started writing,” Charlie asked after ordering them two burgers and mohitos.

Alex took a sip, squishing around the lime and muddled mint, trying to decide where to start. She was a writer. She would start at the beginning. “I always wrote. When I was a kid, I’d make up stories about my friends. Kind of riffing on fairy tales. My sister was usually the princess.”

“And you?”

“I’d be the hero, coming along to save the day.”

“Not the heroine?” he asked, one eyebrow raised.

Alex considered the question for a minute and then mused aloud. “It’s funny you should ask that. No, never the heroine. I wanted to be the hero. I wanted to be proactive, the character that drove the story.”

“Why couldn’t that be the heroine?”

“I don’t know.” Alex took another sip. Being with Charlie was like having an informal therapy session. He was a documentary maker and a good one. He’d won an Oscar and a Bafta. She felt like he was dissecting her with every query. “I guess in my world, when I was growing up, the man was in charge.”

“Why?” There was that damn word again.

Alex considered the question. “Because that’s just the way it was. My dad was in charge. My mom ran the house but deferred to him when it came to anything important.”

“Is that why Jenna was the submissive and Egan was the dominant?”

“You really did read my books?” Her question came out in a squeak. She’d never imagined a man this famous would read her books. They were for women. For frustrated women. Not for confident men. Though, when she thought back, she’d gotten a lot of emails from guys who were interested in what she had to say.

“Of course I’ve read your books. That’s why I want to talk to you about directing the first adaptation.” Charlie paused as the server delivered their burgers and another two mohitos.
“I found them interesting. I liked the characters, especially Jenna.”

“Most people say she’s a washout,” Alex replied, remembered criticism still smarting. Her heroine had not been a washout. She’d been submissive in the bedroom but she was totally in charge of the rest of her life. Her medical career was all her own. It was only when she was under Egan’s spell that she surrendered ownership of her body.

“She was smart and strong and determined. She helped Egan regain his eyesight. I’d never see her as a washout but then, I don’t like simple minded, shallow women,” Charlie said with a wink.

Alex took another sip of her drink. Charlie Clover didn’t want a washout. He was with Bliss Larsen for God’s sake. She was amazing on her own and didn’t seem as if she needed a man for anything but killing spiders and setting up email accounts. Alex took a big gulp, feeling the tangy, cool liquid on her tongue and throat. Charlie smiled and she realized the Oscar winner was flirting with her. She’d better switch to water before the conversation and the heat of the sun turned her into a puddle of goo.

“You seem to have enjoyed the books.”

“Loved them,” he said after swallowing a hunk of burger and inhaling some of his fries.

Where did he put it? Alex wondered. He didn’t have an ounce of fat on him. She’d have to walk from Gustavia to Lurin to burn off the calories from this lunch. Not walk, lurch given the mohitos. She took a sip of water to try and clear her head.

“Why did you love them?” she asked and then felt embarrassed as she always did when someone talked about her writing. For so many years it had been a secret, private thing. Sharing it with fans and agents and movie studio executives still felt strange.

“I loved the books because you loved writing them. It’s like when Bliss cooks. You can taste the care on the plate. With your books, I can feel the love on the pages. You love your characters. You fret about them, you mourn them when their gone. You’re invested. You can’t fake authenticity.”
Alex almost choked on her fries. Charlie was right. She loved her characters and mourned their loss, either fictionally or when she’d signed the contracts with the publishing house and then the movie studio. She worried about losing control; about someone else taking over and she wouldn’t be able to care for them the way they needed.

“Your agent did a good job with the studio contract,” Charlie said crossing his knife and fork atop his plate to signal the server he was done.

“Louie’s been a godsend. He found me. Well, he found the fan fiction and convinced me to re-write the books with different names and then he found the publisher.”

“He won you a lot of control,” Charlie observed, waving the server over to order coffee and dessert.

Alex had a bite of crème brûlée and moaned in appreciation.

“That’s why Lennon loves you.”

“What?” she asked, spoon halfway to her mouth, trying not to gulp at Charlie’s casual use of the ‘l’ word.

“Because you appreciate things. There are so few people who take the time to savour life. It doesn’t matter if it’s a sunset or a plate of food. We shovel stuff into our bodies and minds and don’t take the time to think about why. Every spoonful of life should be savoured.”

Alex thought for a second. She wasn’t going to admit she loved Lennon. Fuck, she hadn’t admitted it to herself. And there was no way Lennon loved her. But Charlie was right about everything else. Alex was now savouring life in a way she never had before. Maybe it was not having to worry about money. Maybe it was the notion of being independent for the first time since birth. Whatever the reason, she was going to savour every bit of life—whatever it held. Back to the business at hand.

“Tell me what you would do as director.”

“I’d collapse three books into two.”

She wanted to protest but he held up his hand to waylay any argument. “The first book sets up the relationship. That can stand on its own and you could work it in such a way to ensure an R rating in the U.S. That’s key to box office success. Books 2 and 3 should be collapsed into one. Focus on Egan’s background and then Jenna’s death. The ending with Egan and their son could be an epilogue. Play those scenes over the credits and that way the audience would leave happy.”

Alex sat back in her chair and focused on the beach. The sand was warm from the noon day sun and people were gingerly making their way to the cooling turquoise water. Charlie was right. If they did three movies the second would be almost all sex scenes and there’d be no way to avoid an X rating. But if they did two movies, they would focus on the romance. “It might work,” she finally said, shifting her gaze from the beach to her companion.

“It will work.” Charlie sounded so emphatic. “I’ve sketched out some notes for you to read. Take your time. I know I haven’t directed fiction before but I’d argue that makes me perfect for this project. I have an eye for the human form and I’m not unacquainted with real life love stories.”

Alex remembered Ode to Joy. It was a real life love story. Charlie had perfectly captured Sunny and Sven’s amazing history and documented it in a way that never felt exploitive. Alex wanted that for her characters. She wanted that same kind of explosive chemistry depicted on screen.

“If I tell the studio you’re interested, then what?”

“Then I send them my notes and ideas. They may not want me because I’m only interested in two movies not three. I could be cutting slicing the cash cow by one-third.”

Alex must have grimaced because Charlie continued. “The first movie will make money, a lot of money. But if you try for three you could run into trouble. All the people who called it porn will be waiting in the wings. Better to settle for two good movies than three iffy ones.”

Alex sat back and considered his words. Charlie wasn’t wrong. Collapsing the second two novels into a single film would speed up the process and the second movie could be released within a year of the first. And he mentioned the naysayers. Alex’s thoughts swerved to the man who had slaughtered a raccoon’s heart in the lobby of her Toronto apartment building. Two movies versus three would give people like him less ammunition and maybe she could reclaim her life.

“What else?” she asked as she finished her second or third mohito.

“Social media. That’s how your books became a hit in the first place. “You need to use it now to promote the movies. I think some kind of celebrity endorsement as soon as the first one is done. We’ll have somebody famous tweet about how terrific it is. Some of the royals are huge fans. Somebody told me that Kate reads your books.”

Alex swallowed her tongue.

Charlie continued as if she hadn’t looked shocked. “Probably one of the lesser royals will come on board. And Bliss’ brother Liam. He might be a help.”

Alex reeled at the thought of Liam Larsen, the sexiest man alive, going on twitter to sing the praises of the movie adaptation of her novel. Then she wanted to hit her head against the table when Charlie added, “Liam’s read the books. He might consider acting in them. The problem is timing. And the sequel. But it may be doable.”

Alex lifted her chin and stared at Charlie as if he were speaking Klingon. He had no idea what this meant to her. Liam had been an inspiration during her writing. Not him exactly, but someone like him. A Viking come to life. And he wouldn’t rule out starring in her movie? She wouldn’t have to settle for a D-list actor who didn’t mind showing his junk.

Charlie acted as if this were all business as usual. “Liam is fine with nudity. He’s Scandinavian after all. It will depend, of course, on the final screenplay and the director.” Charlie flashed her an ingratiating smile. “It could help convince him if the director were part of the family. As for the roll out, I’d avoid the typical premiere and red carpet.” He closed his eyes as if imagining the best scenario. “Maybe a screening for fans only. You know the critics won’t be kind?”

Alex was bracing for that. The critics hadn’t been kind about her writing or the novels or her incredible ride on the best seller list or her seven-figure movie deal. Part of that was envy but, she had to admit, part of that was justified. Her writing wasn’t great. She had struck lightning, struck a chord, struck gold and the critics had struck back. Alex knew no matter how good the movie turned out to be, the critics would take their pound of flesh and she was fine with it.

Her feelings must have been obvious because Charlie reached over and touched her hand. “Is it the whole ‘art’ thing?”

“I don’t understand.”

“Yes you do,” he said with a slight nod. “You think what you’ve written isn’t art. It may not be but only time will tell. I remember my Granddad talking about Shakespeare. He was slammed by his contemporaries as being too modern, too common. Yet here we are, how many centuries later and we are still talking about Shakespeare and his critics are long dead and forgotten.” Charlie gave her hand a squeeze and she felt the warmth of his gaze. “Don’t worry about whether or not it’s art. There’s no way to know now. It’s a matter of it passing the test of time and nobody has any control over that.”

“You made art,” she blurted and then put her hand over her mouth wishing she could recall the words.

“Ode to Joy.” Charlie smiled and her heart skipped a beat. “It was a labour of love not a way for me to make my stamp. It’s funny that it’s the project that has brought me the most notoriety because I didn’t do it for fame or for money. Maybe that’s the key to art—you do it because you love it.”

“You do it because you couldn’t not do it,” Alex said and shared a smile with her lunch companion. “Can I put you in touch with Louie?”

“I’d like that,” Charlie said, signalling for the cheque. “He’s done a good job so far. Ignore Edward. The prat from the party the other night? He’s just trying to latch onto a good thing.” He leaned back in his chair staring at her. Alex wondered what he saw? A nobody who had struck it lucky? A small town Prairie girl that was way out of his league?

“You don’t know yet that your life has irrevocably changed.” His steepled his fingers, balancing on the back legs of his chair. “It’s not the money. That’s the nice part. It’s the fame. That’s the downside of the deal with the devil. If you let them, they will own you. Every time you fill up the car or go to the grocery store, they will be there snapping pictures, texting and tweeting. It’s not just the paparazzi. Thanks to cellphones and social media, you’ll be stalked by everyone. You can go along and sell your soul and give up your life to fame or you can focus on work. Do you want to be famous or do you want to work?”

“I’m a writer,” Alex blurted out. That was her real dream and had been since she was a kid.

“Then write, Alex. Sign off on a director and screenwriter you trust. Have some input into casting and then back away. Show up for the premiere and smile but don’t get caught up in all the Hollywood bullshit.”

Alex bit her lip as she admitted, “It worries me. You say it’s great that Louie got me so much control but that means responsibility. It’s too much. I don’t know what I’m doing.” It was the first time she’d said as much out loud.

Charlie tossed euros on the table as a tip and reached over to help her up. “Admitting you don’t know something is the first hurdle. That’s why you go with people you trust and back away. Write something new. Don’t get caught up in the marketing of onesies that say “My mom read Pink. All. Over. Nine months ago.”

Her jaw dropped. “They would do that?”

“And more,” Charlie said. “They will use you to sell anything and everything. Don’t forget ‘no’ is the most powerful word in the English language. The second most powerful is ‘yes’. Say yes to living your own life not that of your fictional characters. And the fame part? You need a safe place to hide.” He looked around with one raised eyebrow. “St. Barts could be your safe place. As for the movie, if I get the gig I’ll take care of your characters. I’ll take care of you. You’re family now.”

Later, as she sobered up in the cool, calm of her villa, Alex wondered what exactly Charlie had meant by his last comment.
***

The next few weeks were a magical time, the most carefree of Alex’s life. She’d watch Lennon surf in the morning, drowsy eyed and sleep deprived after a night of love making, wondering why he looked so damned alert while she felt like nodding off on the sand. She’d go for daily walks with Bliss through the streets of Gustavia, moderating her pace so her heavily pregnant friend could keep up. Their progress was regularly interrupted by well-wishers who’d known Bliss’ parents or grandmother or knew Lennon and wanted to contribute to the friendly ongoing debate over the sex of the baby. Bliss swore she didn’t know, hadn’t looked at the ultrasound. Charlie teased he’d snuck a peek, predicted it would be a boy they should call Tripod.

Lennon continued her cooking lessons, switching from pasta to perogies, from fish to fondue, never checking recipes. Alex would sit in the kitchen and watch in awe as he cleaned the frig of leftovers and created amazing tasting, simple, gourmet meals. Sometimes he made her samples from his menu explaining the provenance of the chilled tomato soup and recounting stories about when he worked for a resort in The Maldives. Or more stories about his years in Asia, interspersed with Mandarin or Thai phrases.

“Did you make a lot of friends?” asked Alex as she emptied her bowl of Pho. She really wanted to know about the women. There must have been a lot of women, judging by how accomplished he was. He never answered her leading question and she never pressed. Not that she was complaining about his expertise. Alex felt as though she radiated a permanent sexual glow. Lennon was persistently lustful, relentlessly gentle and then occasionally, she’d catch a glimpse of the hunger he kept hidden in all but the most intimate moments and wonder. Why was he holding back? What lay beneath the carnal teasing and patient hands? Was there a core of desperate desire buried inside him? The questions went unanswered as she luxuriated in lust.

Some nights, they’d join Charlie and Bliss for dinner so Lennon could check out island competition. He and Bliss were dismissive, though both admitted most restaurants only retained a skeletal staff during the summer off-season. A chef’s A game wouldn’t be unveiled until December, when the tourists and high rollers descended on St. Barts in droves. Alex sampled tuna tartare and scallop cerviche and poached chicken in red wine sauce and beef tenderloin so velvety she questioned how it could have come from the same animal as her mother’s petrified Sunday roast.

The conversation between the couples never lagged. Charlie had a million stories told in a million accents that made Alex laugh so hard she almost peed her pants. Brother and sister shared childhood memories, though Alex noted Lennon would remain quiet when Bliss talked, his thoughts turned inwards as if comparing his experiences to his sister’s.

“I wish I got along as well with my sister as you two do,” she observed over a languorous and rather liquid lunch at the Bali villa.

Lennon kissed her hand. “Maybe you will now that you’re both older. Bliss and I went through a patch where we hated one another.”

“That’s part of the reason he took off overseas.”

“You took off first, going to school in Paris and leaving me alone with Dad.”

“Hardly alone,” snorted Bliss. “Raisa and Misha were there. Liam too. And you spent time with grandma Judith.”

“But it wasn’t the same,” he insisted.

“I know.” Bliss turned to Alex. “Mothers and daughters have issues. I know I did with my mom. I think it’s the same for fathers and sons.” She looked to Charlie for validation.

He nodded his assent. “My dad and I only got close in the last few years. I blamed him for divorcing my mom, somehow depriving me of a family. That’s why I loved Sunny so much. She wasn’t that much older than me but she was so maternal. She made up for a lot, not just for me but for my granddad. Especially when he was so sick at the end.” He looked sad for a second, then smiled at Bliss. “This one is going to be maternal, I can tell. She loves bossing people around.”

“Just a few weeks left,” Bliss said patting her stomach. Most of the pregnancy weight had settled on her tummy but her face and feet were puffy. Alex thought she was still one of the most beautiful women she’d ever seen and couldn’t believe they were friends.

Some days, when Charlie was busy with phone calls or emails and Lennon was sourcing out equipment or fresh seafood suppliers, the two women would share a girlie day. Bliss called herself a spa slut, and she never turned down a day of waxing and primping or a chance to try new products. “I have to do something to feel attractive. Not to mention keep Charlie interested. I’m at the point where sex is a fading memory.”

Alex laughed as the attendant scrubbed her toes with a ginger infused lotion. “I wouldn’t worry about Charlie. He almost combusts each time you’re in the same room.”

“I could say the same thing about Lennon. I haven’t wanted to pry,” Bliss dancing eyes belied the comment, “but I have wondered how things are going. He seems happy and relaxed.”

“I know I am. I’ve never had a relationship like this before, where it’s so easy. I keep waiting for the organ music to swell and there be some kind of dramatic showdown. Maybe it’s the writer in me. Still, I know it can’t last, but it’s wonderful just the same.”

“Why can’t it last?” Bliss demanded.

Because Lennon’s Rhett Butler and I’m not even Melanie. I’m Aunt Pittypat, Alex thought. Anyone with eyes could see that but Bliss was her friend and too kind and generous to point out the obvious. So instead Alex pointed out the practical reasons the relationship was going nowhere. “Lennon’s going to live here, to look after the restaurant and I…” Her voice trailed off with the sudden revelation she didn’t know what she was going to do or where she was going to live.

“Do you have to return to Canada?”

“No,” she admitted. “I just always assumed this was a long vacation and one day I’d go back to Toronto and finish my thesis and maybe get a job teaching or something. I guess it’s just hit me that I don’t have to. That chapter of my life is over and I could do something entirely different. It’s weird, not having responsibilities. I feel a little unmoored, like this is my endless summer vacation and all the other kids are getting ready to go back to school.”

“I felt that way when I quit the restaurant. It’s not easy being at loose ends but sometimes, when you have a fallow period, you can just let yourself be. How’s the writing?”

“Terrific. I get up in the middle of the night and ideas just seem to blossom on the page. Once construction starts again at the restaurant, Lennon won’t be there to interrupt me so much.”

“Stop bragging,” Bliss laughed.

The conversation turned to baby names and Alex offered a few suggestions but her mind was fixed on the future. With Lennon and without.

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