“Oh! Look at this!” Bliss held the iPad out to Charlie. The two of them cooed over the photo of her father and Alex skating in Winnipeg. Someone had used their cellphone to capture the moment when the young woman with the brownish curls and hazel eyes was laughing as they took a turn around the rink. Sven was smiling along with his partner and the two looked happy and carefree.
Charlie asked, “I don’t suppose it’s a coincidence? I mentioned to Judith that Alex had left the island under rather mysterious circumstances.”
“Knowing grandma, I imagine she called dad and sent him to Alex. They look so happy. It’s good to see both of them smiling. I’m glad you got grandma involved. If there’s anyone who can sort things out with Alex and Lennon, it’s her.”
Bliss had been worried about her brother. He’d been burying himself in work. Barely eating. Barely sleeping. Barely making time for family and friends. When she’d tried to approach him, Lennon had snapped at her. Something was definitely eating her little brother. Or not. And that was the problem, she thought with a naughty grin. She took the cellphone out of her lover’s hand and reached for Charlie.
The object of Bliss’ musings was sitting on the beach his surfboard beside him. Lennon had a fistful of sand, pouring it from one hand to the other. It was a beautiful morning. The sun was newly risen in that ‘Surprise, I’m here!’ tropical way. Crabs were scuttling across the sand like maniacally obsessive maids. The surf was up and yet he hadn’t been able to go into the water. He couldn’t seem to feel joy in anything. He’d made bread the other day and it hadn’t risen. Lay there leaden in the bowl. That hadn’t happened to him…ever.
Alex had been his yeast. Before her, his sister. Before her, his mother. Now they were all gone. Bliss wasn’t permanently gone, but he’d been marginalized. When they were apart, he hadn’t realized how much that would hurt. He was so used to being the center of her universe and she being his. He was happy she’d found Charlie, happy about the baby but they were a unit and he was on the outside again.
He remembered feeling that way sometimes as a child around his parents. He’d find his mom mussed and flustered in the pool house with his dad. Or hear their low, soft laughter through the bedroom door. When he was little it was simply normal, his mom and dad were affectionate. Hell, his mom was that way with everyone. But when he brought a friend home from school, he was surprised to hear that all parents didn’t behave that way, didn’t kiss in between dinner bites, didn’t need “naps” on a regular basis, didn’t insist on late night private swimming lessons.
Bliss shrugged off his concern. She never felt like an outsider. She wouldn’t allow it. Lock the bedroom door? She’d batter it with her little fists until they’d give in and open it. It was different for him. His mother must have sensed that because she carved out extra alone time for the two of them. Outings that didn’t include Bliss or his dad. Memories just the two of them could share. Then mom was gone and Bliss became his axis. Even when they were half a world apart. Then Alex. And now, not.
The grains of sand slid like soymilk through his fists. Like his life. He was leaving no mark. Bliss had built a reputation and would use that as a springboard for a cooking show or app or blog or something. She also had her own family now.
As for him, he had nothing. A half-finished restaurant, a half- finished dream. Even his profession was impermanent. Food. A good meal, a happy memory if he was lucky. But how much of that would stick over time? He laughed bitterly, swatting away no-see-ums. Same goes for him and Alex. A happy memory if he were lucky. That’s all he’d been to her.
Bliss was right. He’d made assumptions, rushed things but it was just that it felt so right between them that he hadn’t wanted to slow down. Needed her to be his touchstone to share his dream of a life in St. Barts. He’d blown it and he might never get a chance to make amends.
Lennon stood up and brushed the sand off his board shorts. Enough self-pity. If Alex wasn’t going to be part of his plan, then accept it. Finish the restaurant. Put your head down, slap a smile on your face and slog through this. Maybe if you fake it, you can make it. Be happy again. He doubted it, but what choice did he have? Lennon picked up his board and trudged up the hill, mentally compiling To Do lists as he walked.
After so long, he was ready. He had money and documents. He tried not to think about the man he’d hurt. Told himself the blood was in his dreams. Knew he needed the money and passport. Needed them more than his life. As soon as he saw the picture on the computer, he knew he was close to Before. To becoming whole again.
“Tell me about Sunny.”
Sven turned his eyes from where he was clenching an empty airline sized vodka bottle to meet hers and she momentarily drowned in blue. “You know about her. You saw the documentary.” Alex could read from his body language how difficult this plane trip was. With each passing mile that brought them closer to St. Barts, Sven’s jaw got more tense, his eyes more anxious. She hoped that conversation might distract him.
“Bliss and Lennon have talked a bit about their mom, mostly Bliss, but I don’t feel like I know the real person. More the press release. I want to understand what she was really like. No one would know better than you.” She waited and watched as he eased his grip on the airline vodka bottle and listened rapt as he began to talk. It wasn’t just his voice, hypnotic as millions of movie fans knew. Or his face which lost its usual languor. Talking about his wife made Sven come alive in a way she couldn’t have imagined. The years dropped away from his face and he looked so boyish, he and Lennon could have been brothers.
“Sunny was nice.” He laughed at that. “It’s such an innocuous word, isn’t it? Nice. Like a burger or a dog. But she was. Inherently nice. And good. And when you were around her, you wanted to be nice and good too. She had a way of turning even the worst situation into something positive. Something wonderful.”
“Turn a frown upside down? Lemonade out of lemons?” Alex teased.
“More than that.” Sven shrugged. “Life affirming. She could take the worst situation and she’d been in a few, and turn them into something so positive you’d wondered why you’d ever been worried or scared in the first place.”
Alex watched as he gave himself over to the memories, his eyes soft now, a smile playing at the corner of his lips. People often over-shared in the rarefied cocoon of an airplane, but this was something different. It was as if Sven was opening a closet door and airing out memories he’d locked away in the name of self-preservation.
He began at the beginning. Alex gulped in surprise at news Sven had been Sunny’s sexual mentor and had to admire the chutzpah of the young, innocent woman. He recounted how he’d taught her about sex and the she’d taught him about love. “A much more valuable lesson,” he added. Then how they were parted because of the stalker. “That’s how I knew what you were going through. You doubt and blame yourself. It makes no sense. It’s not rational. But that’s what you did and that’s what she did. I helped her get over that.” His face took on such lustful longing, Alex sighed. He grinned at her expression. “I imagine Lennon will help you heal much the same way I did with her.”
“And then you were together, happily ever after.”
No. Sven closed his eyes remembering how he hadn’t been ready for fatherhood, had suggested alternatives and she’d fled. Back to safety. Back to St. Barts. He told Alex everything. Not sparing himself a second of self-flagellation, brushing side her understanding comments. “When the tsunami hit and I thought she was dead, I thought it was no more than I deserved.”
“Talk about self-important,” muttered Alex not quite sotto voice enough.
“I beg your pardon?”
“As if God had arranged a natural disaster to thwart your desires? All those people dead or hurting? Just so God could take some kind of petty revenge on a Hollywood actor? Please,” Alex said dismissively with a wave of her hand.
He paused, tossed back the last bit of alcohol in his now empty vodka bottle and shook his head. “My mother is going to love you.
“So pick up the story. Sunny’s pregnant. Almost dies in a tsunami.”
And he did, explaining about their rescue. Alex suddenly felt enormous appreciation for Inspector Marcel Privé. Sven explained how he and this mysterious billionaire Linus Craig had coaxed Sunny out of the coma and they’d married and well, that, was that.
“Cut it out! Tell me about Liam. Surely she was upset about that. Otherwise she’d have to have been a saint.”
“Sunny was no saint. But she loved children and she thought of him as my child. And that was that. He was her child too she said. And she meant it.”
Alex shook her head, leaning back against the headrest of the seat. “I don’t know if I could have been that understanding. I’ve seen pictures of Astrid.’
“She’s beautiful and she’s a great mother and a good friend but she’s not for me. Her and Linus are perfect together.” He said the words without a trace of regret or a hint of jealously.
“And then,” said Alex leaning forward. “The documentary showed a lot of your life in L.A and Oslo.”
“And then we lived. Until she didn’t any more.” His hands were clutching the armrests so tightly his knuckles were white. “After she was gone, I tried to live my life so she’d be proud of me. I did well with Bliss but Lennon….” His voice trailed off. Here was the regret Alex had been expecting.
“He’s such a wonderful man. Surely you take credit for that?”
“More Misha and Bliss and my Mother.” He rubbed his eyes wearily.
Alex decided to let it go. It was enough for now. Maybe lancing the boil of memories would help him deal with the onslaught when they arrived in St. Barts.
“Enough about me. Tell me about you. And before you demure, let me point out actors never want people to talk about anything but themselves so this is a once in a lifetime, not-to-be-missed opportunity.”
“I just sat down one day and when I looked up I had a book and movie deal. At least that’s how it seems in retrospect.”
“But why romance?”
“Thank you for not saying porn.” Her voice low.
“Only someone who hadn’t seen pornography would call it that. Someone like your mother, I imagine. She didn’t strike me as the type of woman who’d watch blue movies online.”
Alex caught herself grinning at the image and then answered his question. “I wanted to write about a world where people took the time to enjoy one another. To surrender to the moment. To trust enough to do that. I haven’t felt that, at least not until Lennon.”
“I know what that’s like,” Sven said, closing his eyes. The conversation abruptly over. They didn’t speak again. Sven grew increasingly silent and tense as they landed in St. Martin and caught the puddle jumper over to St. Barts.
Resistance was futile, Sven thought, as he took what felt like an interminable walk down the gangplank of the small plane. It was only six steps and yet it felt endless, like he was being transported back in time. Sven reminded himself this visit wasn’t about him. It was about his children and his grandchild. A grandfather! How had he become a grandfather? The first time he’d arrived in St. Barts he’d been footloose. A bachelor. One of the sexiest men on the planet. Now he had a grown son who’d taken the ultimate title. Sure, the magazines made much of Liam’s genes- of the alchemy created by the mixing of his and Astrid’s DNA. Astrid got the lion’s share of the credit- for Liam’s hair and eyes. But his height and build and most importantly his acting talent, agreed the bloggers and fans and mainstream press, came from Liam’s father. From Sven Larsen. They filled pages and on air minutes playing a game of Remember When. They showed photos of Sven as a teenager, aired video of his starring roles, of his professional triumphs. His Oscar acceptance speeches. They also spent more than a little time focussing on his personal life. The video proclaiming Sven’s surprise paternity announcement had been replayed endlessly followed by shots of Liam’s equally impressive siblings, Johann, Bliss and Lennon. But most of the attention went to Sunny, even though technically she had no connection to Liam. Yet, his son made a point of mentioning his stepmother in every interview; laughing off any negative connotation of the term. Saying Sunny was kindness incarnate and had made his transition so gentle, so easy, so gradual as to make Liam’s shift from one father to another feel natural. Her gift, thought Sven, as he hoisted their suitcases onto a trolley. Her gift keeps giving years later. Generations of paying it forward.
He waited for Alex to follow him with her small black carry-on. Sven slid his arm around her waist. He wasn’t certain which of them were shaking more. The rental Porsche Cayenne was waiting, the clerk obsequious and alert.
“Might as well get this over with,” said Sven. They dropped off the bags at the hotel, the manager more than pleased to get them unpacked and before either of them could have a second thought, they were back in the car and driving up the Lurin hill without a second glance. It was amazing, he thought, as the sea air ruffled his hair, how at home he felt. He’d avoided returning for decades. No doubt robbing his children of beloved memories. Well, he thought, glancing over at Alex, knuckles white against the door jam, he’d be making up for those lapses today.
The restaurant building site was abuzz. There were trucks unloading dishware and cutlery and armloads of linens. Burly, biceped men hoisting crates of liquor inside the newly pristine building. Outside, a man with a clipboard was directing two gardeners with trowels. “The pink bougainvillea over there. The yellow and orange here. The white against the wooden sign.”
Sven broke out in a smile. “Georges! I should’ve known you’d be in the thick of things.”
The older man turned and started. “I don’t believe it! Ana bet me one-hundred Euros you’d be back. I’ll have to pay up,” he said grabbing Sven in a bear hug. They were of equal height but the contractor was much beefier than the lean actor. Still it was hard to tell who was more delighted.
“You wouldn’t recognize the old place would you?” Georges said as he gestured to the restaurant.
Sven agreed. In place of the small, rather rundown looking eatery he remembered was a sleek outpost. The stucco walls had been clad in some kind of tropical hardwood. The horizontal lines shed shadows against their white masonry backdrop. The accents were burnished bronze, glinting in the late afternoon sun. Savannah’s, Sven would have to stop thinking about it that way, now had a proper parking lot and the building had been extended, almost doubling in size. A couple of palm trees had been planted at the entry and he could see holes awaiting more foliage and flowers.
Georges nodded hello to Alex and pointed at the open front door. “He’s inside and boy, is he gonna be surprised to see the two of you.”
Sven squeezed his arm in thanks and took Alex’s hand. She held back for a moment to summon up her courage. He leaned down and whispered, “Quit fiddling with your hair. It looks wonderful. “ Alex had closed her eyes and given the woman in Winnipeg carte blanche. She still wasn’t used to how short it was, the curls more pronounced, the nape of her neck exposed. Sven continued, “I’m more scared than you are.”
“Want to compare pulses?” The challenge brought some colour back to her cheeks and she nodded.
The entry was exquisitely tiled, almost like a faux carpet, the jewel colours glistening. There were slip-covered loveseats arranged around coffee tables, a nice place to have a drink while patrons waited for an empty table. The bar was zinc and five meters long, a serpentine arrow pointing customers into the dining room itself. A woman with golden-shot silver hair was sitting at the end, obviously enjoying a meal. She looked up as they entered and her face broke into a huge smile.
“You made it!”
Sven kept one arm around Alex’s waist, but reached out with the other and kissed his mother on both cheeks. The three of them stood there for a moment or two until Alex tried to pull away.
Sven didn’t let her instead saying with a lopsided grin, “One damsel in distress, as you requested.”
The two women examined each other curiously and Judith nodded as if the younger had passed some kind of test. “It’s good you’re here. Both of you. Lennon has been letting me sample some of the menu and I’ve eaten my way from aubergines to quenelles, so I’m about to burst. He’s in the kitchen fussing about something or other. Let me go get him.” She gave them an encouraging smile and disappeared behind the bar.
“The worst is almost over,” Sven said, giving her waist a squeeze. Alex was shaking so hard, he tilted up her chin forcing her to look at him. “You can do this,” grazing her forehead with a kiss in reassurance. That was how Lennon found them with Sven’s lips against Alex’s temple.
“Ta dah!” said Judith with a flourish “I brought you a couple of presents to celebrate the opening.”
“Stop shoving me, Grandma. I have a million things to do in the kitchen. Can’t you deal with the planting of the bushes out front?” Lennon was laughing as she shoved him through the double doors and out into the bar. She may be an old lady but she was feisty. Plus she was here. In St. Barts. For his opening. That meant a lot.
He was smiling as she continued to nudge and then felt the air change, become electricity charged. He looked up and saw her. Only Alex. Not the restaurant into which he’d poured the last year or so of his life. Her. Magnified as if through a pinhole camera lens. Her brown curls were shorter, hugging her face, inviting his touch. He remembered them twined around his fingers. Those hazel eyes now huge in her face, underscored by lavender circles. Those lips slightly parted in recognition. How soft they were. How wet they could be.
She had lost some of the softness he’d found so inviting. Her cheekbones were more prominent. Her collar bones jutted. The legs were still spectacular, albeit slightly thinner, emerging like slender stalks from tiny white shorts. Tiny was the word. Alex must have lost twenty pounds in the last couple of months. He felt his breath hitch in alarm.
His gaze settled on her waist. At least two sizes smaller than he’d remembered. With a man’s hand gripping her waist tightly. A hand bearing a familiar wedding band. Lennon’s heart stuttered as his eyes swept upwards from the hand at Alex’s waist past the sinewed wrists to the cut biceps and shoulders to the head, bent to her temple. Lips pursed, ending a kiss. His father. Kissing Alex.
All the rage he’d felt when one of his crew had thoughtfully shared the online photo of his father and his lover smiling and skating in Manitoba bubbled up to the surface.
His father was here, with her. With Alex.
“A couple of surprises to celebrate your opening,” his grandmother was saying, sounding so pleased.
Surprises. That was an understatement. Lennon was struck dumb at the sight of him. Of her. Of them. Here. Together.
“Aren’t you going to say hello to your old man?” Sven asked with his engaging, movie star smile. The teasing tone took Lennon back. It was the one his father used when bantering with the press. When trying to get an actress to do a scene his way. When trying to get Bliss to go to bed at night. Trying to coax Sponge out from the closet in a thunderstorm.
It was the same tone, Lennon imagined, his father used to tried and coax a woman into bed. The teasing tone that never failed. His stomach clenched in anger.
“You can keep that present,” Lennon said jerking his chin at Alex dismissively, “I don’t want your soiled goods.”
The joy radiating from his grandmother beside him evaporated. He saw Alex flinch. She was hurt. Good, he could hurt her. Like she’d hurt him. Decimated him. He wanted to hurt her again, hurt his father. Hurt everyone. Make them pay.
He was snapped out of his wallowing by a strong hand that whipped across his cheek. Grandma! She’d never hit him before. Didn’t believe in corporal punishment. But here she was, slapping him in front of Alex. His father. His crew. His world. Her face red with rage she said in a low cold voice, “I don’t know who you are right now, but you’re not my grandson.” With that, she pushed past him and went to Alex.
He could see his father crouch slightly and say something into Alex’s ear. Brush a curl off her frozen face and nudge her towards the front door. The two women left and the room felt so empty. Just him and his father.
If it weren’t for Sven’s arm around her waist, Alex doubted she could have stayed upright. She’d been shaking from the time they boarded their flight in Washington. Sven had made the connection from L.A. and they met up at Dulles for the leg to St. Martin and then the small plane jumper to St. Barts.
The only thing that kept her centered for the entire trip was the realization that her travelling companion was in even worse shape. Imagine being that terrified to see your own family. Alex acknowledged as she took in the view of the mottled blue of Caribbean aboard the final leg of their circuitous journey that Sven wasn’t afraid of seeing Bliss and Lennon. He was terrified of seeing the ghost of his wife Sunny, who’d haunted his life for decades. Alex remembered a song her grandmother used to listen to. Al Jolson, the Jazz Singer star. It was one of his hits. “I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places, that this heart of mine embraces all day through, went the lyrics. Something, something, then “I’ll be looking at the moon, and I’ll be seeing you.”
Focus, Alex ordered herself as she exited the Porsche on wobbly legs. It wasn’t jet lag; she was suffering from Lennon lag. She had dreamt about him, wanted him, despaired of wanting him for so many months and now, here he was. Standing behind the bar with his grandmother laughing.
He looked godlike in his unbuttoned chef’s coat. Alex wanted to just drink in the sight of his rippling torso, the quads and biceps and other muscles she never remembered the names of. He had them all. Lennon had a double helping. They were even more pronounced now, as if he’d lost what little body fat he’d had in the past three months. She’d lost weight since…well, since. Maybe he had too. Maybe he’d been worried about her, though he hadn’t called or emailed. Maybe he’d been waiting for her to make the first move.
Well, here she was. Alex squared her shoulders and tried not to lean so heavily on Sven’s arm but took comfort when he grazed an encouraging kiss against her hair. She beamed up at him in gratitude as Lennon turned to face them.
She felt her face break out in a smile as Sven said, “I brought you a special present for the opening.”
Alex stared at Lennon, drinking in his bottomless green eyes, the blond strands of hair plastered by perspiration to his forehead and neck. His impossibly high cheekbones. She watched the kaleidoscope of expressions chase each other across his face, like time-lapsed clouds. Disbelief. Joy.
He dismissed her with a single glance. “You can keep that present. I don’t want your soiled goods.”
She gasped and almost doubled over in pain as if punched in the gullet. Only a purely kind person could find the words to wound with such precision. Turning vulnerability against a former lover. Twisting needles in the most tender spots of flesh, like a vicious acupuncturist.
Alex couldn’t speak, turning the words over in her mind.
She flashed back to the man with the ball gag, the whip, the array of tools for insertion. He was right. She was soiled goods. Lennon deserved better. Of course he did. Anyone would, but especially him. He deserved someone pure. Someone whole.
Why was she here? She was mistaken. Sven was mistaken. She would never be whole. Never be pure again. She was bad. Bad. Her mother was right.
Sven tightened his grip on her waist and she heard his voice in her ear. “Go. Wait in the car or go with Mother. This is about me, not you. Do you understand?” he asked, lifting her chin and searching her face. “Lennon’s angry at me. Not at you.”
Judith helped her out of restaurant. Alex could feel cold green eyes boring into her back, willing her to leave. She collapsed into the seat of the Cayenne, curling up into a quasi-fetal position on the front seat, erupting into sobs. She was joined almost immediately by Lennon’s grandmother. Judith yanked open the driver’s side door and turned the key, all the while swearing under her breath. At least, Alex thought she was swearing. It was in a foreign language. Norwegian, she assumed. It was loud enough to be heard over the breeze through the open car windows and her own sobs. She barely moved when Judith reached over and did up her seatbelt and then careened away from the restaurant keeping up an obscene sounding commentary as she took corners a little too fast. Alex had to grab hold of the dashboard to keep from slamming into the doorframe.
“Are you going to run away again?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You heard me,” Judith took her eyes off the road for a second after making the turn into Gustavia. “Are you going to leave again?”
Tears of outrage replaced tears of sadness. “Hell, no! That son of a bitch is not driving me away. I promised your son I would help him deal with being back on the island. I promised Bliss and Charlie I’d act as their child’s Godmother. I never break my word. If your grandson thinks he can drive me away, he has another thing coming,” the ferocity of her words somewhat lessened when she had to blow her nose, but still, Alex was pleased. This woman and Lennon would just have to deal with it. With her.
Alex almost gave way to another torrent of tears when they turned onto the street leading to the family villas. “I don’t want to see Bliss or anybody right now.” Her voice cracked with tears.
“This is my place. Think of it as a sanctuary. You can stay here until you decide what to do next.” They pulled into a parking spot outside a condo building within walking distance of the villas. Judith hopped out gracefully in a motion that belied her age and waved her inside.
Alex followed her up to a corner unit and when the door opened, it was if she’d fallen into a vat of fresh cream. The colour was luscious and rich and acted as a balm for her jumble of emotions. Everything from the intricately tiled floor to the linen sofa and the buttery leather chair was in shades of cream. The textures adding layers and preventing the colour scheme from being one-dimensional. To add some sparkle, there was a trio of Duppioni pendants spotlighting a huge marble-slabbed island.
The room was a single massive open space, with a staircase off to the side, presumably up to the bedrooms. The view out of the back was of the harbour, but because this was a corner unit, Alex guessed the bedrooms also shared the same ocean view as the family villa. Judith was rummaging around in the frig and emerged with some cheese, baguette, tapenade and a bottle of wine. In a matter of minutes, Alex found herself sitting on a daybed overlooking the harbour, a glass of wine in one hand, food in the other. She was so shocked she stopped crying, stopped feeling anything but a sense of weary peace.
“I need a drink.” The older woman’s face was white with anger. “I can’t believe I slapped him. I haven’t slapped anyone since, well for a very, very long time. What is it about the Larsen men and their women and this island?” She took a deep swallow of wine, her hand shaking slightly. “They are so alike in some ways. So stubborn. So idiotic.” She let out a shaky sigh and ran her hands through her white hair. Judith’s anger diverted Alex from her own and the two women sat these silently, sipping their wine, trying to get their emotions under control.
“I wonder what they’re doing?” mused Alex. She couldn’t imagine Lennon and his father sipping wine, not after the angry scene they had left behind at the restaurant.
Judith snorted. “They’re men. That mean’s they’re fighting or drinking or talking sports.”
Alex had to stifle a grin. Who would have thought she’d find anything amusing? “You think they’re fighting?”
“If they are, it’s a long time coming,” said Judith. “They have some issues to deal with and have for a long time. You’re just the catalyst. Did you mean it when you said you wouldn’t leave again? No one would blame you, not after what you’ve been through. Marcel told me about the attack.”
“Do you know everyone on this island?” Alex was more impatient than upset. “That’s how Sven knew. You sent him after me.”
“He helped Sunny get through something similar. And he wanted the chance to do something for Lennon. I never thought Sven would get so attached to you.”
“What are you talking about?” Alex sputtered. “We’re just friends.”
“I saw the pictures of you skating together. He hasn’t looked at a woman like that for years. I can understand why.” Judith assessed her with clear blue eyes. “You’re very much like her. Not in looks of course, but you both have that same streak of stubborn independence and a core of niceness. No wonder Sven finds you irresistible.”
Alex blew up. “Don’t worry. He resisted me just fine. That came out wrong. I didn’t mean I wanted him to not resist me, I only meant nothing happened. He’s Lennon’s father.”
Judith took a drink and said thoughtfully, “My Grandson must have seen the pictures of you skating and jumped to the wrong conclusion. I guess that’s part of the reason Lennon blew up. There was no excuse for how he treated you, of course, but that could be the explanation.”
Alex shook her head to try and make sense out of the situation. She had so looked forward to seeing Lennon again and then he was hateful and now his grandmother suggested it was because he was jealous of her and his father. This was so weird, Alex started to laugh. It took a while before the bubble of hysteria abated. “I shouldn’t have come. I’ve made everything worse.”
“Of course you haven’t.”
Alex stared at the older woman, aghast at how calm her blue eyes were in that incredibly unlined face. “You heard what he said? Saw how he acted? How could it be worse?”
“It would be worse if he didn’t love you,” came the reply. “Have some tapenade. It’s quite good. I like the black olive version better than the green.”
She brushed away the snack sputtering, “What is it with your family and fucking food? It’s not the answer to everything.”
“No, but it gives you something to do when you consider the answer and the question, for that matter. For instance, why do you think my grandson acted like such a colossal ass? He’s not normally. He’s a very nice, well brought up young man. Yet today, he behaved like a baboon.”
Alex sipped her wine, trying to figure out what this woman was about. She agreed Lennon was an ass but seemed to be suggesting there was an underlying motivation.
Seeing her interest, Judith continued, “This has as much to do with his father as with you. That’s why I sent Sven to Manitoba. I figured he could help you, as he helped Sunny and spur Lennon into action at the same time. Someone very wise once said to me “There’s nothing like a little competition or a rival for an alpha male.” I’m afraid all the Larsen males are alphas. Inconvenient but true.”
Alex erupted. “You meddlesome, Machiavellian old woman. How dare you set up some kind of weird, father-son rivalry with me as the prize.”
“I take objection to your use of the word ‘old’ but I’m quite proud of the Machiavellian.” Judith didn’t look the least bit upset. “You are the prize. You are the woman Lennon loves. And I assume, since he could wound you so deeply, you love him too.”
Alex had no retort. He could hurt her, had hurt her. More deeply than any man, than any person had hurt her before. The stalker had wounded her but not in the same way. That was evil incarnate but she’d learned through therapy that she could cope with the aftermath. Lennon’s rejection cut past the bone into the marrow and she doubted she would ever fully recover. Ever feel willing to trust, to love again. She sighed and felt Judith’s arms come around her, bathing her in maternal love, stroking her hair, telling her it would be okay.
Alex tried to sort through her kaleidoscope of emotions. The trepidation over returning to the scene of the attack, the anticipation at seeing Lennon again, her concern for Sven, Lennon’s rejection and now his oddly compellingly, wonderful grandmother.
Judith patted her hand. “You can stay here tonight. I’ll let my son know. Go see Bliss and your Goddaughter tomorrow. We’ll let everyone take some time to calm down and then you can see Lennon and have a talk.”
“I wouldn’t know what to say to him, not after how he greeted me.”
“You don’t say anything. He apologizes on bended knee and pledges to not act like that ever again. You’ll see. Everything will turn out fine.”
Somehow Alex found herself nestling against the older woman’s shoulder, cried out and too worn out to even contemplate the day ahead.
The two men stared at one another as the women left. A sous chef poked his head through the kitchen doors, took the emotional temperature of the room and retreated, like a vole seeking sanctuary in his den.
A stranger could have told at a glance the pair were related. Almost identical colouring, though the younger man’s eyes were bottle green not blue. They shared the same cheekbones, the same jaw line. The same tilt of the head. Their builds were similar too. The younger man was more muscular, more of a swimmer. The older man was leaner, inherently graceful, as if he’d break into a waltz at the hint of music. Their expressions were identical- barely contained anger flashed in their eyes. Their jaws tight. Their full lips compressed into thin lines. Their fists clenched.
“How could you do that to her?” Sven asked in a furious low tone.
Lennon’s cheek was still red, his ears still resonant from his Grandmother’s slap. “You don’t have the right to chastise me. You don’t have any rights as far as I’m concerned.”
“I’m your father,” roared Sven. Lennon had only heard him that angry once or twice and that had been about business. At home his tone was always carefully modulated, even when his patience had been pushed to the limit by childish antics.
“Now you remember you’re my father! It would have been nice if that little notion had stopped you from fucking my girlfriend.”
“What?” sputtered Sven, incredulity chasing anger from his face and voice.
“I saw the pictures dad.” Sarcasm dripping from the paternal appellation. “From Winnipeg. The two of you skating together. What did you do? Find out I finally cared for someone and track her down so show her what she was missing? I saw how you looked at her. Like she was a meal and you were hungry. But you’re always hungry, aren’t you? There’s not a woman on the planet you wouldn’t bed. Why would Alex be any different?”
“I didn’t bed her.” Sven stared at his son, willing Lennon to believe him.
He faltered for a second and then recovered. “Bullshit. I know you. I know all about you. How you’d fuck anything in sight before mom and after, well, who knows? Maybe you’ve gotten more discreet. Or maybe Misha kept you too busy. Gee, it must be embarrassing though. You’re not getting any younger. What’s the matter dad? Are the starlets not spreading their legs as quickly? Don’t have your pick of prime pussy anymore? Is that why you had to settle for my sloppy seconds?”
Sven lunged at him, grabbing his son in a bear hug, grunting with anger and exertion. “Don’t you talk about Alex that way. She doesn’t deserve it.”
Lennon twisted and dipped and escaped his father’s grasp, panting heavily. “Don’t you tell me about Alex. Don’t you dare tell me what she deserves.”
“She deserves better than you, that’s for sure,” Sven said ready to grapple again. At the last second, he spotted Lennon’s fist aiming for his head and ducked out of the way.
“You asshole! Not the face.”
Lennon charged forward, trying for another shot. “Still the vain fucking actor. Worried you won’t be pretty?”
Sven dropped his hands and stopped backing away, leaving himself wide open to an assault. “Hit me in the gut, the kidneys, some place soft. You can’t hurt your hands, you idiot. You have to cook.”
The statement stopped Lennon in his tracks, his breath like a racehorse straining for the finish line. “Why would you care about my hands? My cooking?”
“Why do you think I’m here? After all these years, why do you think I came back in this fucking place? To help Alex, yes but also, to be here for my children. For Bliss. The baptism. For you.” Sven shook his head wearily. “Go ahead, hit me. Get it out of your system. Take out your anger on me. I deserve it. I wasn’t the best father. I tried to be, but I made mistakes. The biggest was letting you go. Whatever you do, don’t hurt Alex again. Please. I’m begging you.”
Lennon tried to work his way through the stew of emotions. His father apologizing? Saying he came to St. Barts for him and his sister? Worried about Alex? The latter thought brought back a surge of anger.
“Try and deny it. You want her.”
“I’d be a fool not to. She brave and kind and beautiful.” Sven’s voice softened, “And she’s so in love with you she’s stupid with it. She’s yours or she cwuld be if you weren’t such an asshole.”
“The photo. The way you looked at her.”
“Sorry about that,” said Sven, his breaths finally modulating. “I didn’t know there were pictures. I went to Winnipeg to help her and convince her to come back to you.”
“Sure. I know how you help women. How many vulnerable women have you helped over the decades dad?”
“Before Alex? Just your mother,” came the calm reply.
Lennon’s jaw dropped.
Sven ran his hands through his hair in frustration. “Will you please tell me what I’ve done that was so awful? I went to almost every soccer game. Every Parent-Teacher meeting. I turned down more jobs than I can count to stay in L.A. during the school year and take the two of you to Norway every summer. I tried. I really did try. And then you ran away and I let you. I thought maybe some time on your own would give you perspective. Away from Hollywood and out from under my shadow. From fucking fame. I came after you, but each time, you’d run further away. Why, Len? Just tell me why?”
“You didn’t need me. You had the perfect son. You had Liam,” he spat. “The two of you talking about acting and going over scripts and laughing about the same people. I felt left out.”
Sven shook his head slowly. “You never wanted that world and I never wanted it for you. Liam did. Yes, it gave us a
bond but I owed him that for all the years I’d missed before I knew he was my son. Surely, you don’t begrudge him that?”
Lennon felt guilty. He didn’t blame Liam. He’d been happy his half-brother and his dad had a chance to get close after so many years, but that didn’t change the fact that he’d been shut out of their lives. “What about Bliss? You were always closer to her than to me. I knew she came first.”
Sven just laughed. “She wouldn’t have settled for any other spot in the line up. It was either put her first or deal with her tantrums. It was easier with her. She’s a girl. And she’s like me. You’re a son. It’s harder. Plus…”
“I reminded you too much of mom,” Lennon finished.
Sven didn’t dodge the observation. “That was part of it, at first. It hurt so much to even look at you, the same wounded sadness in your eyes. But over time, you became your own person and I tried to connect. You never let me in. You’d turn to Bliss or to Misha. Never to me,” a note of bitterness creeping into the older man’s voice. “Just tell me why you hate me so much.”
Lennon felt his heart burst as he said the word’s aloud that he’d been thinking since losing his mother. The words that had haunted him for years. “I hated you because you didn’t die.”