Sun-Kissed Secret Baby by Leigh Jenkins
Daria was still conked out, and Allie guessed she’d sleep through the night. She would probably be ravenous in the morning, but clearly the offer to bring back sandwiches had been unnecessary.
She slid open the glass doors that encased the tiny porch, walked past the pair of lounge chairs, and stood at the low railing. The moon was full and bloated… an Easter moon, silvery yellow in the royal blue sky. She mused upon the fact that the moon seemed so much closer to Earth in the Caribbean, and the stars so much brighter.
She felt the tendons in her shoulders physically soften, something between her shoulder blades unknot. She’d made the right decision, coming here. Bringing her daughter to the place where her roots were deeply buried… even though she didn’t know it. For Daria, it would be a holiday filled with sunshine and sea water. For Allie, it was the jeweled glowing prize at the far end of the maze of doubt, disappointment, and fatigue that her life had slowly become. She was proud of herself for having the courage to reach out and grasp it.
It didn’t seem to matter now that she’d quit her job as a cook at a family restaurant almost on a whim. It didn’t seem to matter that, once she was done paying for this vacation, there wouldn’t be much money left. It was fine. She had developed excellent cooking skills, both on the job and during a series of short courses. It wasn’t the chef’s certification that she had envisaged for herself when she was younger, nor the degree in culinary arts, but she was good at what she did. She had nothing to be ashamed of.
And tomorrow would take care of itself.
Night birds called. Others responded. The perfume of the garden was a near-physical presence. She was sure that if she walked among the well-appointed flower beds the scent would reach out and tenderly touch her cheek.
The lure was irresistible. Quickly, she checked the closed sliding doors, and then patted her pockets to make sure her key card was still there. Then she ventured out via the short porch gate, stepping onto gray flagstones, feeling almost guilty for the intrusive sound her feet made, disturbing the peaceful night.
On one side, the pathway led to the main building where she could faintly hear that the house DJ had replaced the singing pseudo-Sam whose presence had precipitated her departure.
The other direction looked way more inviting, so she took that course. She wandered past several other cabins, from which emanated the sounds of happy holidaymakers: TVs playing, laughter, vacationers sitting on the porch knocking back rum punches and listening to soca streaming through their Bluetooth speakers. She smiled and kept going.
The owners of Half Moon Bay Resort obviously loved plants: not only were they well-tended, but in many instances there was a tiny plaque at the base of the trees and hedges, giving the names of the plants, and even their medical properties. Low-sitting floodlights made them easily legible, even at night.
The ylang-ylang tree, she recognized, with its yellow tendrils and powerful, defining scent. According to the plaque, it was a great bug repellent and could lower blood pressure. The pink plumeria was in full bloom, its leaves having fallen away to facilitate the majesty of the blossoms. She hadn’t known until she read the plaque that the plant was not only antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory, but native women in the past used them as contraceptives.
Allie smiled and went deeper into the garden. This is good. Very good.
Another sound filtered through to her ears; not the cawing of hunting birds or the chirping of tiny frogs hidden in the grass, but music. A guitar. One of the guests was obviously as restless as she was. She felt a flicker of irritation; she’d been hoping to be out here alone.
But then she almost laughed at herself. The guitar player had as much right as she did to be out here… unless they’d jumped the fence. Which, given the prominent presence of security patrols, was unlikely.
She took several steps closer, lured by the strains of the guitar. The sound was coming from behind a thick patch of tall, grassy bush, with long spiky leaves and flame-colored flowers. She glanced down at the nameplate at the base, just able to read it at this distance: Bird of Paradise. The flowers did, in fact, look like hummingbirds sipping from the base of their own leaves.
It was a classical guitar piece, Spanish from the sound of it. A far cry from the calypso and soca that poured in from the speakers in the main areas. And the guitarist was skilled, with fingers skittering across the strings. The sound reached out to her like fast-growing vines encircling her ankles, holding her. Trapping her.
That tune ended and another begun; this one slower, almost mournful. Full of emotion and yearning. Irresistible.
Allie shook her ankles free of the tangle of imagined vines and moved closer, rounding the large bush silently so as not to disturb. She had to hear more and see who was playing so exquisitely. She could see the player in silhouette, a dark cutout against the background of the garden. It was a man, seated on a concrete bench, back curled a little over the guitar as if cradling it in an embrace.
Tall, she could see that. Broad-chested, with a short, curly crop of hair, long legs, and masterful hands that commanded the notes to flow forth.
For several long seconds she closed her eyes, sinking into the music. Praying it would never end.
“Good evening,” came a deep, silky voice. “Do you have any requests?”
She jumped back a step, startled, embarrassed that he’d noticed her. But how could he not, she wondered, with the night so quiet. Her footfalls must have boomed on the pathway. She begun to stutter. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to disturb—”
“Nonsense.” He stopped playing and held the guitar expectantly, hand poised to play again. “I’m almost always alone out here this time of night. It’s good to have company for a change.”
That voice… like the rasp of sandpaper on velvet….
Stop it,she chided herself, remembering her idiocy over the young singer back in the dining room. Stop inventing pseudo-Sams everywhere.
When she didn’t answer, he began another melody, one she recognized: “Hotel California.” A song about desire, about a haunting. Featuring some of her favorite guitar riffs of all time. She stepped closer, into the circle of floodlight.
And the musician stopped dead, hands frozen. Staring at her.
This. Is. Not. Real,she reminded herself. You’re delusional. This isn’t Sam, couldn’t be. No way, no how.
But delusions didn’t know your name.
The man put the guitar down carefully next to him and stood. He stepped closer, and it was then that she could truly take in his impressive height and physique. The erect back, broad chest, long limbs….
That face, with its deep green eyes and angular nose, its wide mouth. The dreadlocks were gone, replaced by a short but curly crop of hair framing his face. She had the strangest experience, a sort of dissonance as the boy she’d known ten years ago, awkward, gangly, with too-long limbs and huge feet, blinked in and out, superimposed over the man she was staring at now. It was indeed Sam, and he had grown into his full glory.
The shock of seeing him made her dizzy. It brought to her mind memories she’d fought against these past years: of him cleaving through the sea, almost out near the horizon, like an orca. Stepping from the surf, soaking wet and framed by the pinkish gold of the setting sun, glowing like a sea god. Standing on stage with a microphone in his hand, wearing red sequins, belting out soca while partygoers cheered.
Taking her hands in his as he taught her to play a steel pan for the first time.
Making love to her in his father’s boathouse back at Batali Beach, on the deck of the small boat. It had been her first time… and his.
“Sam,” was all she managed to say.
He was right in front of her now, looking down, his face carefully neutral. Something inside her screamed to know what he was thinking, what he was feeling. Because those memories of beauty and grace were replaced by uglier ones, which she’d prefer to forget. Of her standing on the beach, crying, while he pleaded with her to love him back. Begging for her promise that she would wait for him to follow her back to the States when he could afford it. She’d told him with the certainty one only has at eighteen that she had lots to do and couldn’t afford the distraction of a relationship. His heart had broken with an almost audible crack… and so had hers.
But she’d left moments later for the airport, headed back home and back to the future that had seemed so clearly defined at the time. Not knowing then that she was also taking a part of him with her.
“Well, it’s good to see you,” he said stiffly, with great formality, almost as if she was an honored guest or large investor.
“I didn’t expect to see you!” she blurted, then kicked herself for being so gauche.
He quirked a brow. “Why not?”
“I know you own Indulgences, so—”
“Googling me, were you?” he taunted.
She wouldn’t let him get to her.
“So you decided not to book there,” he guessed. Then he added with annoying logic, “But if avoiding me was your intention, there was always still a chance you’d bump into me. It’s not a very large island.”
She shrugged, refusing to acknowledge that he was right.
He went on, “But I’m afraid your efforts were in vain: I own Half Moon as well. I also live here.”
She couldn’t keep the shock off her face.
He saw it and chuckled. “I hope that doesn’t ruin your visit.” Then he added, as if the idea just occurred to him, “Are you here alone?”
There was a question she would gladly have avoided, especially the massive can of writhing worms that a detailed answer would open. She shook her head.
He eyed her closely and came to the wrong conclusion. “Well, I’m afraid you might have backed the wrong pony: Indulgences, as I’m sure you know, is adults only, and much more suited to sensual pleasure. You could have enjoyed Jacuzzis, couples massages… strip bingo….”
“But never mind,” he said with finality. “I’m sure you and your… friend… will still find much to enjoy here. As a matter of fact, I’d like to invite you two to enjoy an evening of fine dining in the main dining room at my expense. I will notify the staff that you are to be offered whatever you desire. I also own a casino and nightclub a few miles west of here; you can feel free to book a shuttle—”
“Thank you,” Allie said hastily. This was all too much. Seeing him, hearing his voice reaching out across the years… deeper now, more mellow… but still agonizing to hear. I need to get back to Daria.
He seemed to perceive her urgent desire to escape, and his expression became shuttered again. Any ghost of friendliness was gone. “I’m sorry to have kept you.” He began backing away, turning to retrieve his guitar. “It’s getting late. I think I should turn in.”
She wanted to bid him goodnight, say something… anything, but her mouth rasped dry. So she stood there like a fool as he walked away, throwing over his shoulder, “Goodnight, Allie.”
Her steps were quick as she rushed back to her cabin, feeling an irrational sense of panic. She wanted to see her daughter, gaze down into her sleeping face and feel anchored again.
We need to leave. Tomorrow. Find another hotel… fly back home. Something.It was too risky to be here. Allie shut the sliding doors behind her with a click and leaned against the glass, panting.
She peeped in on her sleeping daughter, curled up on the bed, knees to chest, like a little shrimp.
Wrestling with her guilt, her shame at all her crimes committed.
It wouldn’t be fair to Daria, she knew. Leaving now, with the promise of sun, sea, and sand dancing in her head like sugarplums. To cut and run like a coward would be to dash those dreams onto the rocks.
Allie wrestled with angels and demons, and in the end, they both told her the same thing: she had to stay.