“Oh, well,” she says, and she turns back to Cash, who has consumed his water and seems reinvigorated, like the herbs in Ayers’s garden after a rain. “You feeling better?”
“Yes,” Cash says. “Do you know what time it is?”
“Nearly ten,” she says. She can feel Mick at her back, watching her, and probably sizing up Cash. When they were a couple, Mick had been fiendishly jealous of every single one of Ayers’s male customers—single or married, in the restaurant or on the boat—and yet, in the end, it was he who had put his head up someone else’s skirt. “Are you calling it a night?”
“I wish,” Cash says. “I can’t go home for another hour. My mother has a guest for dinner and she wants privacy.”
“Your mother,” Ayers says. “Did she meet someone here? Or… do you know people?”
“Met someone,” Cash says. “Apparently.”
“So your parents are divorced?” Ayers asks.
“Divorced?” Cash says. He takes what seems like a long time to consider the question. “No. No.” Another pause, during which Ayers hears Mick and Skip talking about a supposed surfable swell in Reef Bay. It was Ayers’s least favorite thing about Mick: he professed to be a “surfer,” and he used all the lingo, but the one time Ayers had watched him “surf,” he’d fallen off the board and broken his collarbone. He’d blamed his accident on the waves. “My father is dead.”
Because she’s distracted thinking about the five hours she and Mick had spent in the waiting room at Myrah Keating, with Mick moaning and groaning while she smoothed his hair and brought water to his lips like a dutiful girlfriend, it takes her a moment to process this statement.
“Dead?” she says. “I’m sorry. Recently?”
Cash nods. “Really recently. That’s kind of why we’re down here.”
Down here. Family reunion, maybe the first vacation since the father died, which is why the mother came along.
“You’re still here?” a voice says.
Ayers turns around to see Baker standing behind her and also, of course, behind Mick. Baker is as big, tall, and broad as a tree. He’s staring down his brother.
“Mom said stay out until eleven,” Cash says. “Where else was I supposed to go?”
“Yeah, I don’t know,” Baker says. “But Ayers and I are going out and you’re not invited.” His tone is strong, nearly bullying, and Ayers feels bad for Cash. She understands now that both Cash and Baker are interested in her, and she wished they’d sorted this out at home to save her from being stuck in the middle, although a small part of her is gloating, because what better situation for Mick to witness than two men fighting over her?
“Where are you guys going?” Cash asks.
“None of your business,” Baker says, so harshly that Ayers winces, but then he softens and says, “Listen, just give us an hour, okay, man? I’ll be back to pick you up at eleven. I promise.”
“But where are you going?” Cash asks.
“De’ Coal Pot,” Ayers says. “It’s Caribbean food. You’re welcome to…”
Cash holds up a hand. “You guys go. I ate.”
“De’ Coal Pot?” Mick says. “I could go for some oxtail stew myself.”
Not happening, Ayers thinks. This is not happening. She is smacked by a wave of devastating sorrow. The person she needs by her side right now isn’t Mick or Baker or Cash. It’s Rosie.
Can you see this? Ayers asks Rosie in her mind. Please tell me you are somewhere you can see this.
Baker swings around. “Who are you?” he asks Mick.
Mick, wisely, holds up his hands. “No one,” he says. “I’m no one.”
Baker and Ayers walk down the street toward De’ Coal Pot, although Ayers finds she no longer has any appetite. She needs air, she needs space.
“I’m not hungry anymore,” she says. “Let’s go down to the beach.”
“You lead,” Baker says. “I’ll follow.”
Ayers takes him down past the Beach Bar to the far edge of Frank Bay, where it’s dark and quiet. Out on the water, she sees the ferry making its way toward St. Thomas. On the far horizon, she spies a cruise ship, all lit up like a floating city. Ayers sits in the cool sand and Baker eases down next to her.
“Your brother is pretty drunk,” Ayers says.
“I didn’t realize you knew him so well,” Baker says. “That came as a surprise.”
“He didn’t tell you we bumped into each other on the Reef Bay Trail?” Ayers says. “He saved my life, or at least it felt like it at the time. So, as a thank-you, I invited him to come on Treasure Island yesterday. I didn’t think he’d show up, but he did.”
“Of course he did,” Baker says. “When a gorgeous woman invites you somewhere, you go.”
Ayers smiles. She’s flattered by the compliment—but then she chastises herself. She can’t let herself be won over so easily.
“Your brother is nice,” Ayers says.
“Very nice,” Baker says. “I’m extremely jealous that he got to spend so much time with you. When I met you at the reception… I can’t explain any way to say it except that I was bowled over. Blown away. I looked at you and… well, I’d better not say anything else.”
“You don’t even know me,” Ayers says. “And I hate to tell you this, but I have a rule about dating tourists. I don’t do it.”
“That’s good to know,” Baker says.
“I’m serious,” Ayers says. “Guys like you and your brother come here, you’re on vacation, on the beach all day, hiking, snorkeling, happy hour, out to dinner, and that’s all great. That’s what you’re supposed to do. But then you get back on the ferry to St. Thomas, where you board the plane home to your real life. And I stay here.” She opens her arms wide, aware that the back of her right arm is now touching Baker’s chest. He gently reaches around her and pulls her close. She lets him. She wants physical contact, meaningless though it may be. It’s really not fair that Mick showed up and then admitted that life with Brigid was never paradise. It’s not fair that Rosie is dead because she fell in love with a tourist—or if not a tourist exactly, then a visitor, and if not a visitor, then… Ayers doesn’t quite know how to categorize the Invisible Man, but she does blame him for stealing her friend. And, just say it, for killing her friend. Her best friend.
Baker senses something in her breathing, maybe, or he reads minds, because he touches her chin and says, “Hey, are you okay?” And the next Ayers knows, she’s kissing him. She tells herself to stop, this is irrational, self-destructive behavior; she knows exactly nothing about this guy. But the kissing is electric, just like it was the very first time she kissed Mick, maybe better. Chemistry, she has learned, is either there or it isn’t and wow, yes, it’s there, this guy knows what he’s doing, his tongue, she can’t get enough of it, his arms are so strong, his hands, every cell of her body is suddenly yearning for more. She’s going to sleep with him, maybe right here on the beach—no, that would be bad, what if someone sees, it’ll be all over town by tomorrow, but she doesn’t want to break the spell to go to her truck and drive to her house, it’s too far, she wants this now. Does he want it now? He’s being shy with his hands, one is on the back of her head, one on the side of her neck, she wants him to put his hand up her shirt. She guides his hand, he just barely fingers her nipple, she groans, she reaches over into his lap, he’s hard as a rock, practically busting through his shorts. Oh yes, she thinks, this is happening right now.
He pulls away, out of breath. “We have to stop.”
“We can’t stop,” she says. She strokes his erection through his shorts and he makes a choking sound, then says, “You’re killing me. But I like you, I like you so much, Ayers, and I don’t want it to be like this, here on the beach, over quickly and then I go home and you go home and I’m just the tourist you let through the net because you’re sad about your friend and because I told your ex-boyfriend off.”
She draws back. She only had one sip of Schramsberg after service but she feels lightheaded, not drunk exactly but addled, mixed-up, off-kilter, and yet she knows he’s right. She’s startled, in fact, at just how right he is.
“You knew that was my ex-boyfriend?”
“You pointed him out at the reception,” Baker says. “He was with that unwashed trollop.”
“Yes,” Ayers whispers. “Brigid.”
“Let’s spend the day together tomorrow,” he says. “Can we?”
“We can,” Ayers says. “I have the whole day off tomorrow. Day and night—”
He squeezes her. “Beach during the day…
“Wait,” she says. She’s supposed to take Maia tomorrow after school and overnight. It’s the first time since Rosie died. Ayers can’t cancel. She won’t cancel. “Actually, I’m only free tomorrow until three.”
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com