Unraveling, Part 3
Eleven years earlier…
The sweet sound of reggae music enticed her, but the tantalizing aroma of grilled stuffed lobster lured her to the poolside bar.
Those back home considered Jess Williams brave for making this trip alone. Fresh from college with a mere 23 years behind her, she believed in all possibilities, and she came to Jamaica ready to start a new chapter in her life.
The vacation had been planned long before college graduation. Her girlfriends backed out at the last minute for their own reasons, yet Jess followed through on the plan remembering her creative writing teacher’s advice to her during her freshman year. She asked him where a writer’s ideas came from. He looked at her and with a tone that would have made the head of the drama department proud said, “Go out, and live your life. Then you’ll find something to write about.”
As she sat at the pool bar, she scoped the crowd looking for other solo vacationers. She noticed plenty of couples, probably on their honeymoon, a few packs of young men and women vying for each other’s attention, some older folks, and several families with young children. She seemed to be the only lone eagle in the crowd.
“And what you be wantin’, miss?” a Rasta bartender asked her with a thick Jamaican accent. By the name tag he wore on his bright flowered shirt, she could see his name was Watson and he was from Montego Bay. “You be lookin’ like the Pina Colada type to me.”
She smiled, and the band began playing a funky rendition of “Red, Red Wine”. “That sounds perfect,” she replied.
He winked, flashed his toothy white grin, and went on his way to mix her drink. Dressed in a comfortable floral sun dress, she felt feminine and even a bit exotic, and she crossed her long tanned legs proud to show off the color she already acquired after a trip to the tanning salon back home.
Watson placed the luscious cocktail before her, and walked away to fill other drink requests. She bit into the luscious piece of fresh pineapple that accompanied every Pina Colada, and her mouth came alive.
“There’s nothing like the taste of fresh pineapple,” she heard a man’s voice say. It startled her, and she felt embarrassed as the juice ran down her chin. She quickly tried to wipe it away, and turned to see a handsome stranger standing next to her. His sandy hair and sky blue eyes were striking. She guessed he was about her age, and that he’d probably been here for a few days already since he his skin shone like warm copper. Dressed down in a pair of cut off faded jeans and a yellow tee-shirt, he stood out from the rest of the crowd clad in Speedo’s and Bermuda shorts. She hated to think of herself as shallow and disliked his attire, yet she felt immediately drawn to him.
“It’s wonderful,” she said as she wiped the remaining juice from her mouth and chin. “There’s nothing like wearing it, either.”
He smiled and her heart began to race. “I need your help,” he said mysteriously.
She crumbled up the napkin after wiping her face, feeling intrigued. “You do?”
He nodded. “My friends over there want me to go on the singles sunset cruise with them tonight.” He pointed to a group of young men who could have been mistaken for a college fraternity on spring break by the way they were carrying on. They were loud and boisterous, and having a good time.
“What’s wrong with that?” she asked, curious about where this conversation would lead. The combination of a mystery and a handsome man thrilled her.
He grinned and shrugged. “You’ve obviously never been on a singles cruise before.”
Jess shook her head. “No, but what’s so horrible about it?” Then she whispered, “Are you married? Is that why it would be a problem?”
He laughed as she felt a bonfire light up her spine. “No, I’m single. They’ll probably ask me to wear a silly name tag with Sonny Bono on it, and then make me go find the woman wearing Cher. Then we’ll be forced to spend the rest of the evening together. It’s positively awful to force that on someone.”
She grinned. “That actually sounds kind of interesting,” she replied. “So, what do you need me to do? Or should I speak in secret code,” she added trying to add to the mystery. “What is my mission if I choose to accept it?”
“That’s simple,” he said offering another one of his amazing smiles. “Have dinner with me tonight and I won’t have to go.”
She realized she liked playing this game with him. “You’re a big boy now. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.”
He laughed. “You don’t know my friends. They’re quite persuasive when they want to be.”
Glancing at his crowd again, she noticed all five of them were watching his every move carefully. She smiled. “I know the type,” she said. “Your big city boys are cheering you on, aren’t they?”
“I’m not sure what that means, but I’m as small town as you can get. Allentown, Pennsylvania born and raised.”
She smiled. “I’m from Philadelphia. We’re neighbors.”
“It’s nice to meet you, neighbor.” He smiled again and touched her hand.
“My name is Jess Williams, by the way,” she offered, extending her hand like a businessperson. “I bet your frat boys want a full report when you go back.”
He frowned. “Frat boys. Nah, nothing like that. I’d just prefer your company tonight instead.”
Maybe he didn’t fit into the mold she tried to squeeze into. She decided to go with a softer approach. “I’m sorry if I offended you. I’m usually not so arrogant. I was just playing along.”
He took her hand and gently kissed it in a way that wasn’t very businesslike at all, and she felt herself blush.
“Kevin Montgomery at your service,” he said. “And you didn’t offend me. I’m afraid I was the arrogant one, but you handled me brilliantly. Since you know me so well, and we’re from the same part of the planet, you must have dinner with me. That, Jess Williams, is your mission,” he said with a smile. “And fortunately for me the messenger won’t self-destruct in 60 seconds.”
Jess grinned again. “I must?” She realized that she’d better tone it down a bit. She didn’t want to scare him away.
He shrugged. “OK, I’d like you to. Is that better?”
She nodded. “I always did believe in helping my neighbors.”
# # #
The storm outside still raged, but emotions inside were beginning to calm. Kevin wanted to believe sharing memories of Jamaica improved their mood, but it could have been the ambiance in the room and the soft glow of burning candles. They always had a mellowing effect on Jess.
“We were so corny then,” she said, rolling her eyes. “I can’t believe I said that to you. I’ve always believed helping my neighbors. And that stuff about what’s the mission if I choose to accept it. It’s a wonder you even wanted to have dinner with me that stupid conversation.”
He let out a hearty laugh and it felt good. “We weren’t being corny or stupid. We were just doing the dance. You know, the mating ritual. It’s usually the part people look back on and remember fondly.”
She smiled. “I remember it fondly, Kevin,” she said giving him a playful kick. “It’s just embarrassing now. I sounded like a dork.”
Dork or not, she looked beautiful and relaxed sitting on the sofa with her knees pulled up to her chin, and her arms draped around them. The candlelight from the kitchen caught the fire in her eyes, and he felt a sudden urge to kiss her. He swallowed hard hoping to make that feeling go away. They had too much work to do to be caught up in something that would disappear once the lights came back on.
“But I still believe in helping my neighbors, so I better call downstairs and see about Mrs. Phillips. She just got out of the hospital last week, and she’s probably a little scared by the storm.” The elderly woman seemed fine to him when he saw her on the way up the stairs. She opened the door and gave him a queer look when he passed, just as she usually did.
Kevin watched her pick up her cell phone. She had a good heart, despite their differences. He knew he’d gotten to her by reminiscing about the past. She was running away from it now with her sudden desire to check on a neighbor, but the memory got to her. Deep down the same free spirit he met in Jamaica existed. He just had to find a way to bring it out in her.
“I keep getting a message that all circuits are busy,” she said. “Do you mind if I run down and check on her? I’ll only be a few minutes.”
He shook his head. “Of course not. Just be careful.” The hallway is probably dark, so why don’t you take a candle with you?”
To be continued on Wednesday, August 28, 2013.