Mark hovered close to the edge.
Celeste clung to him, demanding his release. If he didn’t think of something fast, he’d make a crash landing.
Within seconds, a haunting pictorial swam behind his eyelids — bloody eyeballs hanging from their sockets, a network of stab wounds, and finally, the crimson edges of a slashed throat.
Six years earlier, a hit man murdered his friend Trevor on Xantrope. Trevor’s screams rang in Mark’s ears, threatening to unman him. He put the execution out of his mind. If he lost it now, Celeste would kill him.
She met his eyes, brows knitted. “Mark!”
Satisfaction swept through him. At this moment, he was the only man who mattered.
She purred low in her throat, sank her nails in his sides, and soared to her peak.
He let himself go.
When he could think again, he tried to get up, struggling to free himself from her limbs wrapped around him. He avoided her eyes, what he would see in them—triumph at the passion, almost akin to violence, that she stirred in him.
Nobody should have that much power over him.
She had not committed to an exclusive relationship with him; nor had he made any claims on her. Why then did his insides blister whenever he thought about her with anybody else? He shoved that thought aside. He had too much at stake to tie himself down. Besides, Celeste had a wild side, and he wouldn’t be around long enough to tame her.
Her expression unnerved him; slight smile on her face, eyes hooded, but glinting as though she’d sunk a Jamaican flag in the soil of an uncharted island.
The whir of the fan cut in on his musing, and he ran a hand down her thigh. The waning sun burnished her skin to the hue of a milky cup of cocoa.
She kissed his cheek, and moaned in his ear. He shifted his weight to avoid crushing her slender body, and snuggled against her shoulder, unable to deny the comfort she brought him, even if she drove him mad half the time.
She smoothed his hair, and murmured words he didn’t hear.
While he savored that peaceful moment, snapshots of brilliant-white beaches, lush valleys, undulating riverbeds, and jagged mountain ranges filled his vision. He closed his eyes and let his thoughts wander.
Careless living cost him five years in exile. The man who forced him to leave his beloved home was dead, along with Mark’s friends.
Mark had tried everything possible to adjust to life in Cayman. Still, his spirit had grown restless.
Xantrope was calling him.
It was time to go home.
Shattered glass winked at Celeste from the fruit punch splashed across the tiles.
The tip of her fury was spent, but tears trickled down her cheeks in a steady stream. Why did she have to find out about Mark’s departure from someone else?
She dragged a hand across her eyes.
Why was she crying over him? If he cared, he wouldn’t have left.
Maybe there was an emergency and he didn’t have time to contact her. But where had he gone?
Fighting the lethargy that pinned her to the sofa, Celeste got to her feet. In the kitchen, she got a scrubbing pad and soap to attack the mess on the wall. She really needed to control her temper. Too often, Mark told her just that. She scrubbed the wall, her lip caught between her teeth, absorbed by her thoughts. Maybe she’d ring Orette to discuss his proposal.
After a final wipe down with a J-cloth, and disposal of the broken tumbler, she got her cell phone.
Earlier that afternoon, she had made some excuse and hung up the phone after Orette told her Mark had left the island nearly a month ago.
He answered immediately. “Yes, Celeste. Can you talk now?”
“As I was saying, I’m going to Xantrope next week for a meeting with one of my suppliers. I’d like to take you along. It’ll be the usual arrangement.”
Orette preferred to keep his homosexuality hidden and so he hired Celeste as an escort when he entertained clients. She couldn’t see why he bothered. On an island as small as Cayman, inevitably, even the best-kept secrets got spilled. He would have been shocked to discover that people knew as much about his auto parts business as they did about his sexuality.
She got her mind back on track, banked her excitement, and kept her voice steady. “Which day, and for how long? At such short notice, I won’t have enough time to reschedule appointments for my clients.”
“I’m leaving on Wednesday. You can make this happen, Celeste. Their hair and nails will keep for a week.” He paused for a beat. “Besides, you might even see Mark.”
Her question popped out before she knew she planned to ask it. “That’s where he went for sure?”
“Well, Bryan, my mechanic, told me Mark mentioned going home months ago.”
She slumped against the living room doorway, wanting to hurt Mark, like she was hurting now. It would have been less painful if he’d stabbed her through the gut with a pitchfork. Maybe she shouldn’t go. No matter where he was, once she hit the island, she’d find him. That might not be such a good thing. Their arguments weren’t pretty.
She sighed. No sense in backtracking and pretending she knew where he’d gone. But she could keep her pride. She squeezed the phone tighter. “Yes, well, that’s okay. He’s not the reason I’ll be going. I’ve heard their beaches have the finest, whitest sand. Now, I’ll see for myself.”
“Great. I’ll book your ticket. We’ll be there for a week, but try to leave some of your stuff here. I want the plane to be able to lift off.”
She rolled her eyes. He had the memory of an elephant. The last time he took her to Jamaica, he’d paid fifty U.S. dollars in overweight fees for her luggage.
Normally, a jibe like that wouldn’t have troubled her, but this time it did. Her disgust at Mark’s treatment spilled over to Orette.
“You’re such a smartass,” she said. “If you plan to go out, I have to take what I need. You wouldn’t want to be seen with a scrappy-looking woman, would you?”
“You couldn’t look scrappy even if you tried.”
“Well then, a girl has to travel with enough gear for all occasions.”
“Just as long as I don’t have to shell out hundreds in excess baggage fees. Catch you later.”
She made a kissing sound in the mouthpiece. “Love you too, Orette.”
He chuckled before disconnecting.
Her thoughts turned to her homeland, Jamaica, which lay just over forty minutes away by air. Her spirit dipped further. She hadn’t told her sister, Anya, that she’d been on the island in March. She made the excuse that a three-day stop-over didn’t give her enough time to catch up with family.
If she were honest with herself, she wanted to avoid contact with her daughter, Giselle.
The collection of snapshots on the whatnot captured every six month milestone in Giselle’s five years. Additional baby pictures held pride of place on the chest-of-drawers in the bedroom.
What goes around certainly comes around, she thought. In the same way she had given up responsibility for her daughter, Mark had abandoned her. The smile slipped off her face as the weight of his desertion settled on her shoulders.
While she never gave him the impression he was the only man in her life, she wasn’t intimate with anybody else. Somehow, she thought Mark understood that she wasn’t serious about any other man. Clearly, he’d missed that message.
She wouldn’t say she needed him, because they often went for weeks without seeing each other. And while she didn’t rely on him for anything except her physical needs, she missed him when he wasn’t around. As though connected telepathically to her, Mark always reappeared when she got antsy over his absence. One blood-stirring, bone-melting hug from him and she forgot their inability to share the same space for long without arguing.
If she closed her eyes, her skin remembered the rasp of his palms when he touched her. She often teased him, telling him to be careful not to bruise her skin, but understood that his hands were those of a working man. And what talented hands they were.
This brought her back to the question of how he could go off without telling her. She had thought he stayed away because of what she said to him when he left the last time. She should have known his extended silence meant something significant. He’d probably decided to ditch her then. He tended to go still and uncommunicative when he got tired of arguing.
She switched on the television and flopped on the couch, knowing she wouldn’t stay occupied for long. Her mind spun into action. No sense torturing herself when she could formulate a plan.
She would arrange to bump into Mark once she got to Xantrope. Then again, maybe she wouldn’t. She was far from desperate, and he wasn’t the only good-looking man roaming the planet with striking grey eyes, and a muscular body. Staying away from him would be an exercise in self-discipline, and the Lord knew she was lacking in that department.
Her eyes stung and she got up, determined not to wallow in self-pity. She was not the first woman to be left behind by an insensitive, cold-hearted man. Good thing she’d never bared her soul to him. They got along, when he wasn’t trying to control her, and she enjoyed time spent with him, however she didn’t believe in going out on a limb that might break and send her crashing headlong into heartbreak. No way could she afford to fall in love with a man who didn’t return her feelings.
She ran a hand through her hair, twisting her fingers around the ends as Mark sometimes did after they made love. She squeezed her eyes shut, willed herself not to think about him, and spoke in a wobbly voice. “Mark, why’d you do this to me?”
She returned to the sofa, curled on her side, and hugged her legs. For the first time in her life, she understood what loneliness meant. She thrived on being self-sufficient, but now she needed someone to share her confusion and disappointment.
Her neighbors were all retirees, with whom she had nothing in common.
Not even a bump sounded in the building. She turned to lie on her back. But for the crickets chirping merrily in the approaching darkness, she could have been alone in the world.
She sighed and wandered over to the window to stare at the glinting waves as they rolled to meet the land. The repeated wash of the sea against the shore, along with its familiar scent, lulled her restless thoughts. She folded her arms, and sat on the window ledge.
Who was she fooling? She needed Mark, just as she needed to have her own space and be her own woman.
Mark’s heart did a little leap when he glimpsed a slim woman striding along the sidewalk, shopping bag in hand, ponytail bouncing. He slowed the Toyota truck, craned his neck, but didn’t see the canary yellow tee shirt and jeans. Perhaps she’d gone into one of the stores lining the front of the mall.
Couldn’t be Celeste. If she was on the island, she’d have come looking for him already. He smiled, remembering that on his last visit they fell into bed moments after he got inside her apartment. They were good that way. He also recalled how he left, comfortable in the knowledge that he planned to punish her for her presumptuousness. Her words still annoyed him.
His amusement faded. Since his return to Xantrope, he kept busy with his plans to open a full-service garage, and the only time he admitted missing her was when he slowed down. At nightfall, something inside needled him relentlessly, but to date, he refused to examine his emotions or admit his shame.
He eased his foot off the gas, waiting for the traffic to move. The sun seared the asphalt, sending waves of heat dancing above the road surface. A boxed-in row of queen palms lined the sidewalk, but their feathery plumes barely moved. The humidity, common to the month of June, signaled the approach of a weather system. He hoped it wasn’t a storm. He’d ask his cousin, Paul, if he’d heard of any approaching bad weather. His commercial farming activities forced him to pay close attention to climatic conditions.
Mark skimmed the area behind him, trying to spot the woman who had set Celeste loose in his mind. He’d known her for a year before he got in bed with her, so he didn’t consider her easy. She deserved better than finding out, after the fact, that he’d walked out on her. However, he had little choice in the matter.
Given a chance, she would have set up house on his insides, and he never would have left Cayman. No use wasting time knotting up his brain. That woman couldn’t be Celeste, therefore he wouldn’t get the opportunity to apologize or explain.
End of story.
He shot a glance in the rearview mirror. There she was again. The car ahead of him moved and he hesitated, desperate to satisfy his curiosity.
Anticipation and dread curdled his stomach.
The motorist behind him leaned on her horn, forcing him to creep forward. The leggy woman disappeared around a corner, but this time he couldn’t be sure it wasn’t Celeste.
His gut said she was here.
J.L. Campbell is a proud Jamaican and the author of Contraband, Distraction, Dissolution, Don’t Get Mad…Get Even, and Hardware (pen name Jayda McTyson). Campbell is always on the lookout for story making material, loves company and can usually be found lollygagging on her blog at http://thecharacterdepot. blogspot.com Link to her on Facebook or through her Twitter handle @JL_Campbell.