It was so easy. Slipping into the edges of the party. Mingling unnoticed with invited guests. The island dress code was casual enough that nobody gave his rumpled appearance more than a second look. He’d even had something to eat and drink though the liquor made him feel unsteady so he switched to soft drinks. He needed to keep his head. Needed to keep out of sight of Judith and that familiar-looking man he’d spotted on her arm.
During the toasts, he’d kept to the shadows drinking in the sight of his lover. Still alive in that golden glow. Just like Before. The lust burnt hot in his belly, pooling lower in his groin. It hadn’t abated with the years and the distance and the therapy and the drugs. Every time he’d masturbated, every dreamy thought he’d had, starred Sven. His childhood pal. His longed for lover. It had since he’d watched his dying mother take the then fifteen-year-old while he watched through the slates of her louvered closet doors. The images of their entwined bodies, their moans, seared into his memory so deeply not even the shock therapy had dulled the immediacy.
Clyde was glad the shorts were baggy so no one could see his erection but he felt it. Rubbing against the fabric. The friction egging him on. He forced himself to be patient. To wait, just a little longer. He’d waited so long. Surely, he could wait a little longer for his chance.
And then it came. He was semi-hidden under the eaves when he spotted Sven strolling down the hill to the beach. Their beach. The perfect place. He carefully made his way to the exit, having to pause, teeth gritted when Judith and her date and that woman who looked like Sunny but wasn’t talked about something. When the group scattered, he slid noiselessly to the door, out onto the patio and was about to walk down the hill when someone raced past. It was the woman with the brown curls whom he’d seen talking to his lover. Sven had kissed her lightly on the head and Clyde had read the muted lust in his eyes. Not again. Not after all this time and all this waiting am I going to lose him again. He slapped a hand over her mouth and dragged her beneath the trees on the other side of the road, wanting to hit, wanting to hurt, wanting to kill. No time.
He ripped off his shirt and wrapped it around her head, feeling powerful as the ripples of panic ripped through her body. He slipped his belt out of its loops and bound her hands, pulling her further into the underbrush, tying her to a good strong branch. He looked down at the trussed figure and grunted. He wanted to take her. To mark her. To spoil her for Sven but there wasn’t time. Anger building, he kicked at her, feeling his sandaled foot connect with a leg or ankle. Something gave. Good. Maybe he’d broken it. Clyde hunched down close, enjoying the sight of her fear. “Later. I have unfinished business,” he said and ran down the hill to the beach.
The music from the restaurant drifted down the hill, abating and rising as Sven took in the night air. He remembered the gates to Ivan’s villa. He remembered the time-worn rocks near the parking lot where he and Sunny shared a bottle of wine and she talked about seeing ghosts in the corner of her eyes.
Her ghost was here and not just limited to his vision. She was all around him. In the air. The perfume of the flowers. The whiff of a salty breeze. She was in the restaurant his son had rebuilt at the top of the hill. The pool at Roman’s where she’d swum her nightly laps. She was in Bliss’ hair. In Lennon’s smile. In little Abigail’s heart-shaped face. The baptism was just two days away and he couldn’t wait. Charlie had held his child with the same terrified awestruck expression Sven imagined he’d worn when he first held Bliss. God, Sunny could have loved a grandchild. He remembered that last time together when she whispered I love you in all those languages. He could hear echoes here on the night breeze.
For the first time since her death, he didn’t feel overwhelming sadness. Just a rightness. It had been time to come back. Not to confront and bury the memories, but to wallow in them. To take sustenance and inspiration from them. Just like Sunny used to channel her father through the No Fear Buddha, he was taking strength from the surroundings where they’d shared so much. Everything that mattered.
Would it have happened if he’d come back sooner? If he hadn’t been so afraid to return to St. Barts? He mulled over the question as he strolled down the beach along the shoreline, enjoying the play of moonlight on the water, the lapping of the waves against his feet. No. He hadn’t been ready before.
He turned at a whisper of a sound, a slight displacement of air and felt a rock slam against his temple. Sven fell to his knees, waves sloshing against his hips.
“What the fuck?”
The voice that answered in Norwegian chilled him to the bone despite the tropical surroundings. “It’s me. Aren’t you happy? You’ve been waiting, haven’t you? Just like me. All these years. From Before.”
Sven moaned as much from the recognition as from the pain in his head, the stars in his eyes. They should be in the sky shouldn’t they?
He felt himself being dragged backward out of the water onto the beach, close to the jungle. He forced his legs to work, his heels to dig into the sand, creating drag. But the arms that held him were too strong and he was too confused. There was a stickiness on his temple. Blood from the rock. Should he scream? Who would hear? The thought of Bliss or Lennon rushing to his rescue filled him with dread. Of Alex putting herself at risk again. No. Keep calm. Surely he could reason with an old friend. Sven dry swallowed and adopted a casual tone, using every ounce of actorly training to project calm.
“Clyde. It’s been a long time. I didn’t know you were on St. Barts. You should have called me.” Sven ignored the clenching in his stomach at the friendly invitation.
“I couldn’t call you. I was in…” the voice drifted off as if searching for words. “I was away. Now I’m back. And we can be together. Finally.”
Sven forced his eyes open, assessing the man crouched next to him. The rock that had slammed into his head lay abandoned on the sand but there was the handle of a knife jutting out of the waistband of his shorts. Sven remembered another knife. Another time. Before. Calm, he told himself sternly.
“I’m glad you’re back. We should go have a drink. Get caught up.” Like they were old friends who’d bumped into one another at the gym. Keep it going. “I remember how you like your beer. Help me up and we’ll go grab a few at the restaurant.”
His former friend grimaced. “People there. No.”
The moon emerged from behind a cloud and he could see the years had not been kind to Clyde. The years or the psychosis. There were wrinkles fanning out from his bloodshot eyes and bracketing his mouth. The jaw was slack. The pupils unfocussed. He may appear doughy but underneath that layer of fat were muscles strong enough to have hauled Sven’s six foot plus bulk out of the water up onto the sand. Either the muscles or his obsession gave Clyde strength. It wouldn’t do to underestimate either.
“Just a beer or two.” Sven adopted a wheedling, teasing tone that had worked on women, children and fans for decades. “I’ll tell you about Astrid. And Ed and Stellan. We’ll talk about that time we got drunk and put a goat in Stellan’s dorm room. Don’t you remember? How about when we…” the words were choked off by a knife blade at his throat. His muscles constricted with fear.
“Remember? You want me to remember? I spent years remembering,” hissed Clyde. “All the time we spent together. All the time we were in love and then she… I hate her.”
God forgive me. Sunny would, thought Sven before he answered. “Sunny’s gone. She has been for years. Just you and me now buddy. Let’s go for that beer. Get you some food. Talk about old times.”
The crazed eyes closed for a second and Sven could see Clyde was considering something. His offer? His murder? He didn’t know, so he waited, trying not to flinch as the knife blade trailed down from his throat to his chest. Near his heart now. Fuck.
“A beer?” asked Clyde. His voice was tentative now.
“Something cold. Perfect for a hot night. And some food. We can sit and talk. Just like the old days.”
“Better than the old days,” said Clyde and Sven felt a hand reach down to his groin, rubbing.
He tried to keep the revulsion from his face, tried to think it was just a hand. In the distant past there had been hands. A multitude of careless caresses, meaningless sex partners. Interchangeable lips and hands and vaginas.
But not since Sunny. She had shown him what it was to make love. Even Misha had only been a willing surrogate, a bridge to his past.
Let him, thought Sven. What’s the harm if it meant living? You did what you had to do to survive. Sunny would have wanted him to survive. His family would want him to survive. Just lay back and let him. He knew that would be the rational course but he couldn’t. Not here on the beach where she had fought so hard to survive. This was hallowed ground. Sven wouldn’t deny his past, wouldn’t pretend he’d never loved his wife, still loved his wife. He whispered into the night air, “Forgive me, my love,” and let the revulsion show on his face.
Clyde noticed either the disgust in Sven’s eyes or the flaccidity in his groin because he growled and pulled back. “No! You still love her. You don’t love me. Still her!”
Sven tried to roll away, tried to rise off the sand, ignoring the pounding in his head but he could merely crawl, listening to Clyde shouting, “No!” He actually believed for a moment or two he could get away. Get to safety. But then a heavy body tackled him from behind, mashing his face into the sand before flipping him over. He brought his arms up to deflect the blow and he did. The tip of the knife missed his throat and chest but slid off his elbow and pierced old scar tissue in his side, plunging deep into the tissue and organs beneath.
Sven lay on the sand, his blood instantly absorbed into the thirsty ground. The pain had abated. He could sense the shaft of the knife protruding from his side near his wrist. A Shakespearean quote resonated in his head. “This is thy sheath; there rust, and let me die.”
Just a dull ache now, not the original screaming sensation. Probably shock, he thought, not particularly caring. Clyde was a metre or two away, rocking and snivelling in a fetal position. Again, he wasn’t bothered by the sight. Wasn’t bothered much by anything.
It was so peaceful here with the sound of the waves, the sand beneath his back. The night sky overhead. He stared at the stars. Sirius, the dog star, was off to the right. Sunny’s favourite. It was as if it was beaming down, just on him. As if its twinkle was personal.
Sven’s limbs were weak, powerless. He thought about Bliss and Charlie and baby Abby. About Lennon and Alex. How he envied the journeys that lay ahead of them. He thought about his mother. About Liam and Linus and Astrid and Misha. They were his family and they were strong. They would mourn but survive.
He knew about mourning, about loss, about forcing yourself to go on when all you wanted to do was to give up. Now he could. Such a sense of relief! No more empty days and endless nights. No more reaching for the one thing, the one person who made him feel safe and loved. The single person in the universe who made him whole.
Sunny. He would soon be with Sunny. He thought he heard her voice, saw her shape, like a ghost out of the corner of his eye. Just as she said, here on Gouverneur Beach all those years ago. Soon, Beloved, he thought. He may have even whispered the words. It was hard to tell. He could smell the coppery sickly sweetness of blood. His blood, now more dominant than the tangy salt air.
Willing his eyes to stay open, to watch the stars. Not wanting to miss a thing. Soon, Beloved, he murmured with his dying breath, smiling as he spotted one last shooting star streaking across the night sky. Making a wish. Now, was his final, coherent thought.
The small church by the harbour was full to overflowing. There was a sprinkling of celebrities; Jon Hardy and his wife Renee Lewis had made the trek from Hollywood. Mikhail had set aside his latest project to attend the funeral for the actor that had starred in his best movies. The Russian billionaire turned movie producer Ivan Ivanoff was there with wife number six- or was it seven?
Most of the people in the pews were locals who had interacted with the family for years. There were as many fans of Sven’s late wife and children as the actor himself. Inspector Privé was on hand with his wife Ana and their three grown children. Their family intertwined with the Larsens in ways too myriad to count. The police officer looked guilty. As if he blamed himself for Sven’s death. Ridiculous, given the circumstances. Nobody could have foreseen the series of tragic events or predicted Clyde’s obsession with his former friend would transcend time and geography.
Mourners nudged each other when the billionaire Linus Craig entered the church, helping his wife into one of the family pews. His hair was white now, but his spine was ramrod straight, his gaze measured and uncompromising. Every woman over the age of thirty took notice. His wife looked spectral in her perfectly tailored black Armani suit. Astrid’s sunglasses couldn’t disguise the heightened cheekbones or completely hide the purple circles beneath her eyes. One hand clenched her husband’s arm. The other was entwined with that of a dark-eyed young woman with pale, blonde hair. Three others followed in their wake. Another young woman with the same flaxen hair and midnight eyes, unmistakably the other twin. A man with blue eyes ringed in black and darker blond hair looked like the older woman, showing same stoic posture.
And then the star attraction, glowing in a sleek black suit that set off his blue eyes and blond hair and encompassing his impressively tall body like a designer shroud. Liam Larsen, the sexiest man alive. Even in grief he was sexy. The women in the congregation surreptitiously slid compacts out of purses, hoping they might be the one to comfort the grieving son.
The rest of the immediate family filed in. Bliss and her famous fiancé Charlie. She cradled an infant in her arms- a girl called Abigail or Abby- the gossips exchanged, after her Grandmère.
Next came a slight woman with a pixie brown hair cut, leading a wizened looking older woman, a relative from the looks of it. Nobody was certain as to their connection to the family.
There were sad smiles of acknowledgement when Lennon entered the church, making his way carefully down the aisle with his grandmother. He was one of their own now, with his restaurant and deeply planted roots. Judith was a familiar face to both the locals and out-of-towners, spending part of every winter far from the Norwegian chill at her condo in Gustavia.
The congregation followed the minister’s prompts, rising and sitting, singing and praying as instructed. A collective hush fell over the crowd as Liam Larsen made his way to the lectern to give the eulogy. His voice was resonant, the timber subtly shaded by the slightest of accents. His face was calm and grave. His blue eyes endless. The single women, and more than a few of the married ones, sighed and sat up straighter.
“As you know,” he began, “I didn’t meet my father until I was seventeen.” He tipped a small smile in the direction of his mother who was leaning against her husband’s shoulder, seeking solace in Linus’ unyielding strength.
“We didn’t have the same relationship or history that he had with Bliss and Lennon. No Christmas or birthday parties. He wasn’t there when I was growing up to tell me about girls or kiss a scraped knee. And yet,” the words hung in the air, a sign of an actor realizing the importance of the pregnant pause, “and yet he became one of the most important people in my life. All of a sudden he was there; he was my father. But more than that, he became my friend and my mentor, almost overnight. He helped me grow up strong. He taught me how to forgive. He showed me how to be a man. I learned it’s never too late to mend fences or make amends. If it weren’t for my dad, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. The man I’ve become. I certainly wouldn’t be an actor. I hope one day to be as good an actor, as fine of a human being as he was.” There was a pause as Liam sipped his water.
“Anyone who knew him would tell you my dad wouldn’t have become the man he did without his family. Judith, my grandmother, who doesn’t take shit from anybody.” There were a few gasps and giggles but the minister didn’t flinch.
“His children Bliss and Lennon grounded him. Raisa and Misha ran his life. And dad’s friends. He had a lot of friends, who stood by him through good times and bad, like my mother Astrid, her husband Linus, Mikhail and Ivan and Jon and Renee who are all here today. Sir Henry Clover who is sorely missed by all of us, including his new great granddaughter. There are scores of others who made a difference in dad’s life–both professional and personal.
The person missing today is the one who made the single biggest impact on my father–Sunny, his beloved wife. When she died, I thought he would die too. He wanted to. He told me. He didn’t give into the impulse, though I don’t know if that’s the right word. Can an impulse last for years? He soldiered on because he told me Sunny would have never forgiven cowardice. Because that was he said suicide was, cowardice. And what he wanted more than anything was to make her proud. To not let Sunny down.
My dad also told me he couldn’t commit suicide because Sunny wouldn’t have forgiven him and neither would God. He lived in fear- terror really- that he would end up in Hell. She would be in Heaven and they would be forever parted.” Liam bowed his head for an instant, wiping away a tear and regaining his composure.
“So he kept going in memory of his wife but also for his family, his children, his friends and his art. And we are lucky he did. Privileged to have worked with him, learned from him. Still, I don’t think Sven is mourning the end of his life. I think he is happy to finally be back where he belongs, with Sunny. He lent me a copy recently of one of his prized possessions. Romeo and Juliet. It had been bequeathed him by his friend and Bliss’ Godfather, Henry. I was reading it when I got the call telling me that Dad was dead. I was at the end of the play when Judith called. It somehow seems fitting when I think of him, of them. How happy there were, and now are. Finally. Again.” Liam cleared his throat, picked up a battered volume from the lectern and started to read two marked passages.
“When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.”
There was a pause as Liam turned to a final marked passage at the end of the play.
“A glooming peace this morning with it brings;
The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;
Some shall be pardon’d, and some punished:
For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”
“Lips Like Sugar” by Echo and the Bunnymen played slowly, more dirge than pop song, as the sobbing congregation made their way out of the Church.
Liam, Misha, Bliss and Lennon gathered around the pristine engraving. “Sven Larsen. Beloved Husband, Son, Brother and Father.” It had been a week and they were cried out, dehydrated from tears.
Clyde was in custody, again. Inspector Privé had talked to La Sûreté, the French police and they had traced his steps through the years. When Sunny’s estate stopped funding his care in the asylum, he’d been set free. The doctors, under pressure to cut budgets, convinced themselves he no longer posed a threat to the public or himself. He had been very convincing, the Inspector said, having reviewed emailed copies of his case history. He had gotten a job in a library, learned how to work a computer, stayed out of trouble and apparently waited. A search of the hard drive of the library computer uncovered how Clyde had tracked Sven’s whereabouts online. The last entry in his email account was a photo of the actor skating with Alex Whitmore in Manitoba and a caption reading that Sven was expected to head to St. Barts for the Baptism of his granddaughter. Then nothing until Clyde showed up on the island. His passport belonged to a man found stabbed to death in the bathroom at Orly airport in Paris. His money and his ticket to St. Barts had also gone missing. The man had resembled Clyde just enough to apparently fool airport security.
“So,” the weary police officer had explained to the family, “that is how we believe he got to St. Barts. That was why there were no red flags raised by immigration officials here or in France. I can’t tell you how sorry I am.” Judith’s squeezed his arm in sympathy as he wiped his eyes and let his head drop to his chest in sorrow and guilt. “Clyde will be returned to France to stand trial and there is no chance of him ever being freed again. Not that it matters much. Not now.” He had left the villa with a small bow, as they silently absorbed the news.
Misha couldn’t stop sobbing, telling everyone she should have asked about the bills from the French hospital. Should have insisted they continued to be paid after Sunny’s death. Should have asked questions, looked into it further, not have been so quick to dismiss it as just another charitable donation. Lennon held her, stroking her hair, repeating, “Hush, it’s not your fault,” until she settled.
So they were gathered here again, for one final time. The family agreed Sunny’s plaque needed polishing and Misha said she would see to that and the regular delivery of flowers. They stood quietly for a time, each lost in their own thoughts, preoccupied with their own loss.
It was a picture perfect day on St. Barts, the kind snow-weary Northerners paid near fortunes to enjoy. The sun was shining. The birds singing. The little planes criss-crossing overhead. Bougainvillea bent in drifts in the breeze next to haphazard stone walls. The scenery and weather were wasted on the small crowd, gathered as they were under a cloud of collective grief.
“Is Alex any better? I was surprised she didn’t make the service,” Bliss wondered.
“She wanted to come but the doctor said it was too soon. Her ankle needs another few days. Plus, she’s feeling guilty. Thinks if it hadn’t been for her, the police might have been somehow known about Clyde.”
“We didn’t know about Clyde, how could Alex?” asked Bliss, taking Lennon’s hand and softly squeezing.
“I know. It’s just the shock. This has just been…” his voice trailed off as if he’d run out of breath or energy. “I’m sorry you guys have to leave so soon. I barely got to spend time with my niece.”
“Charlie can’t get out of this commitment and somehow, it’s better if we keep busy. Just for a while, until… You’ll all come for the wedding and baptism? It will just be family and friends. I couldn’t take a big celebration without dad.” She swallowed a sob and then forced a smile. “I can’t imagine him not walking me down the aisle. Linus has agreed. He’s my Godfather but it’s won’t be the same. I wouldn’t bother with any of this but Charlie is insisting we get married. He says we need the public commitment now more than ever as a way to ground us. I hate that he’s always right.”
Misha turned to Liam, filling the awkward silence. “You’ll see to Judith. I know she doesn‘t want to stay here, not now.”
He tipped his head in agreement. Lennon thought with every passing day he looked more like their dad with his perfect profile, like an etched statue. “I’ll take her back to Norway. They’ve offered me his post with the theatre company. It might be good to get away from Hollywood for a while. Think about what I want to do next. Maybe we’ll end up taking Romeo and Juliet to Broadway or the West End after all.”
Misha nodded. “The eulogy was perfect. Sven would have loved it.”
“I had the words in my head. Seemed to fit. Star-crossed lovers and all.”
“Not really,” said Misha. “Romeo and Juliet were teenagers who never had a chance to love. Sven and Sunny had a wonderful life and now they’ll be together always.”
Lennon shook his head and smiled. “Look at you, Miss Russian doom and gloom. All about the glass half full.”
“Must come from years of living in America,” shrugged Misha.
“What’s next for you?” asked Lennon.
Misha’s answer was matter of fact. “Mikhail asked me to help him out setting up a film library in Russia. Mom wants to go back home for good. It’s time.”
The word resonated in the stillness that followed.
A time to heal. Lennon thought about what his father had said about thinking you always had more time. His passing had proved that you didn’t. You never had enough time. He’d spent years being angry at his father and just after they had reconciled he was gone. Lennon bit back tears. The loss went soul deep. But he wouldn’t give into guilt and pain. He wouldn’t spend the rest of his life in the past. He had a present and a future.
He had a place to heal, thought Lennon.
This was where he would write the next chapter in his family’s history. Over scoring tragic memories with joyful ones. Lennon placed his fingers to his lips then reverently touched the marble inscriptions on his parents’ tombstones.
“Let’s go,” he said urgently, suddenly anxious to get home. To be home with Alex.
“Mom and Dad wouldn’t want us to waste any more time.”
Thus ends the saga of Sunny and Sven. I haven’t ruled out returning to tell the tale of their son Liam but I need a break. I apologize to all romance readers who want their happily ever after. I tend to feel that’s a bit of a cheat. I wanted to tell an enhanced version of real life, complete with love and loss, just as Alex did in her fictional novels.
I have loved these characters and lived with them for years. I have heard their voices in my head, felt their pain and pleasure, enjoyed their triumphs and mourned their losses. Judith is one of my favourites, the kind of mother we all wished we had, but seldom do. I also really enjoyed writing about Alex. She was strong and kind and a survivor. Misha was fun. She was another survivor with a dark side and a wicked sense of humour. Linus was based on my husband with the same ambition and inherent sense of integrity. (Unfortunately, I did not marry a billionaire.)
Clyde played a big role in the entire series but that’s to be expected; monsters always come back.
As for Sunny, well, I know critics call her a Mary Sue but I was tired of flawed heroines and perfect heroes. I wanted to write about a really nice person. I remember reading an article Rita Wilson wrote for Elle magazine in which she said “nice was the new black.” That stuck with me and Sunny was born. She is based on bits and pieces of some truly good people I have known through the years. They do exist, headlines to the contrary.
Sven was a figment of my fevered imagination. Perfect looking and yet imperfect inside. I knew midway through the second novel that the series was in fact about his journey, not Sunny’s. I knew that she would have to die in order for him to fulfill his destiny and fully mature. It was a hard decision but necessary for the characters.
I hope you forgive me.
PS. The song I had on repeat when I wrote about Sven at the end was “The Quiet Mind- For Joe” by Ruby Blue.