Copyright Elle Klass
Our backs laying on the sandy shore behind my St. Thomas house. The edge of the tide drifted over our feet and receded.
“Do you ever think you’ll give her a chance?” asked Will, my half-brother. Born from the same father who, in my opinion, is a wicked, vile man. My dislike for him conflicted to the millionth degree with my sense that, in his own demented way, he loved me.
“I don’t know. How could she let me go? She never searched, just took your - our - father’s word for it. Since when does he tell the truth?” I glimpsed my bio-mom once, that’s it, but couldn’t bring myself to meet her. In my heart I knew I was tougher on her than my sperm donor father.
Will chuckled, his blond hair blowing in the breeze as he turned and lifted himself onto his elbows and turned towards me. “You’re right. He doesn’t tell the truth often. He is a tough, conniving man who’s become more reserved since,” he cleared his throat, “your last meeting.” The last time I saw my sperm donor I intentionally poured red wine down his white, expensive dress shirt. It felt incredible!
I twisted onto my stomach and lifted myself onto my elbows and peered at Will through the long tufts of hair whipping across my face. “My entire life is like a daytime soap opera. Now it’s my time... I’ve been many people: born as Camille, then Cleo, Justine and Shanna, and I won’t mention mom-Perdy’s name for me, now I’m legally Cleo Burke. I’m no longer that scared young girl with no roots, but a grown woman who wants nothing more than to put my past behind me and move forward with my life.”
His eyes scanned the vast Caribbean. “I see. I’ve never seen such clear ocean water. This place makes me want to stay and say F-it. The business doesn’t need me!” His voice mingled with the sound of the tide beating against the shore.
“Yup, why I chose it. It’s breathtaking and the beaches are pure and crowded with palm trees. Dense, lush green plants cover the Earth. And the sunrise and sunsets are incredible.” The sun lingered just above the ocean, sinking beneath the horizon. The colors of the sky reflected back from the ocean giving our eyes a breathtaking visual display.
We lay silent as the sun set over the ocean and the tide rolled in and out over our bodies. I bought a small beach house in St. Thomas. I had a home, a real home. It was small and modest but it was mine. It had three bedrooms and two baths separated by a vast expanse enclosing my kitchen, dining room and living room. Each bedroom accommodated a walk-in closet and my bath included a large tub with jets much like the one I enjoyed while living with Didier. And hot water - tons of hot water. A small bar stocked with fine wines and various rums separated the kitchen from the living room.
My decorations were light, as I liked the open airiness of my home. I framed pictures of myself and Einstein into a collage. A large screen door in the living room opened into a small patio and the beach just beyond, where Will and I lay now in the sand. I spent my time staring at the ocean and island skipping. Thanks to my brother’s generous $250,000,000 and shares in the family business. I considered it back child support from my sperm donor.
Will visited whenever he got the chance. We adored each other. He’s the only member of my bio-family I desired to spend time with and we shared it together acting like young children, catching up on the play time we missed. We golfed on the beach and when balls got pulled into the ocean the tide always brought them back. We learned to surf together, at first we did lots of falling off our boards together, but we’ve improved our skills.
Will stood and dusted the sand from his legs. “The sun is set - s’mores time.” He strolled towards my patio, sand jumping from his feet with each step, and came back with wood.
While he tended to the fire I stood, not bothering to dust myself off, and padded inside to my pantry for Graham crackers, chocolate bars, marshmallows, and pokers.
My hands loaded with sweet treasures, I sat in the sand beside Will. “Whenever you tire of New York or divorce your bulldog wife,” I looked at the scowl that washed across his face with the mention of his better half, “you always have a home here.”
“Bulldog? Hmm… I think she’s aged to look more like a Rottweiler.” He guffawed, flashing brilliant, happy, green eyes my direction.
I met his laugh with a grin that took over the lower half of my face.
“So when is uh… Mr. La Tige coming in?” Will’s visit was due to his eagerness to meet the fatherly figure in my life, La Tige. A man of few spoken words whose body language and heartfelt gestures say he loves me. I’m the daughter he never had. Will was staying long enough to meet him. He had to get back to New York and business before our evil demon-spawn sister, Patrice, found a loophole to take over the business and leave us out in the cold. Ha! I’d been there.
“Tomorrow. We’re meeting him in San Juan and I’ve planned a small vacation excursion for him. He never relaxes like someone else I know.” I shifted my eyes, giving him a sideways glance. “Someone with blond hair that has a blow over right now from the wind.” He was always sensitive about his inherited male pattern baldness. The only trait he picked up from our father.
“You!” Is all he got out as I shoved my s’more into his gaping mouth. More of it landed on his lips and beneath his nose, giving him a s’mores mustache.
I fell backwards into the sand in laughter and found his s’more planted in my mouth. More s’mores made it into my mouth because it was open wide enough for a jet engine to fit! Pain from laughter shot though my abs as though I did a thousand crunches with weights tied to my chest. He leaned over and offered me a hand covered in s’more that he’d wiped from his face. “Eww… You gave me cooties!” I leaned over to wipe the mess on his chest but he was too quick and slid backwards out of my reach.
“Yeah, it’s time!” I voiced with seriousness and rose to my feet, sauntering inside the house. After washing my hands, I made two mudslides loaded with spiced rum. Rum was the way of the islands and I grew to love it.
I took my spot beside him on the beach, the vast Caribbean spread out before us, the tide humming as it rolled in and out. I handed him his drink and rested my head on his shoulder. Where we sat in silence admiring the visual display before us.
La Tige stepped off the plane in San Juan, as always, looking out of place in paradise. In the past I’ve tricked him into small cruises within the islands and we’ve dined on native Caribbean foods. It’s not often I see him but he is my surrogate father and I love him as much as Will. Last visit I teased him about his attire. The Caribbean was a place of comfort and warm weather. His usual disheveled suit made him stand out. He took my advice this time and wore a polo shirt, shorts and flip flops, but his uptight gruffness still showed.
People in Puerto Rico worked on their own time clock and were always friendly. They didn’t seem to understand the hustle and bustle of the states. I admired that about island life because, even though on U.S. soil, one would never know. It was like a foreign country all its own. I planned on keeping him in PR (Puerto Rico) for a couple days before heading to St. Thomas. I always picked him up here, but we never stayed, always heading to VI (Virgin Islands) in a rush, but not this time. There was so much to do and I made a goal to show him the richness of the island and provide him an actual vacation. I booked reservations at one of the most renowned resorts in the San Juan area and booked a limo to transport us from the airport into another world, resort life in PR.
He held a single carry-on bag, he packed light as he never stayed long; he walked towards me and wrapped an arm around my back in a half hug. Affection was not a strong point for La Tige but underneath he was like a child’s much loved stuffed toy.
Will looked him over pensively and La Tige returned the visual cues. “Over protective brother Will, meet surrogate over protective father.”
“La Tige.” He extended his hand towards Will.
“Will. Pleasure to finally meet you Mr. La Tige.” Will accepted La Tige’s hand in a friendly shake.
“Now that’s over with, how was the trip?” I asked.
“So what is on our agenda?” La Tige asked with undertones of I know you have something planned.
I smiled. “You know me too well. We are catching a limo back to a resort and you are taking an actual vacation.”
“Glad I cleared my calendar for a couple days. Every time I visit you it’s never simple. You are not simple.” He countered with inflections of intrigue.
William piped in, shaking his head in dismay, “Women are never simple.”
La Tige chuckled and turned his large bulk towards Will. “Never.”
“I am what I am and you,” I shifted my eyes from Will to La Tige, “will always be you. I want you to share in this alluring world in which I live. Look around you, is there anything more breathtaking in all the world?”
“No, I don’t think there is.” They responded in unison then stared at each other...
The limo driver waited where Will and I left him, he opened the doors for us while he took La Tige’s single bag of luggage and stowed it in the trunk.
For a world lacking mainland hustle and bustle, the roads stayed packed with cars, making any trip slow going. It gave Will and La Tige a chance to talk.
At dinner that night we ate a delicious authentic meal with tostones on the side - one of my favorites - and I ate them like one might eat potato chips. They are a simple recipe of mashed, fried plantains and are delightful. After dinner we relaxed on the beach with drinks. Fine French wine would always be my favorite but, like any place, PR had its version of fine alcohol- rum! The rum here isn’t just rum, but a recipe they have made into an art. I grew to love a good Mojito; my choice of fine Caribbean drink. La Tige was much simpler and drank rum and cokes. Will settled on drinking the local beer, Medalla.
I was on cloud nine spending the evening with the two most important men in my life! A refreshing breeze blew from the ocean.
Will and La Tige got along like old friends sharing silly Cleo stories at my expense. After several drinks and light conversation, Will stood. “I have an early morning, good night, sis.” I stood and gave him a hug and peck on the cheek. “Mr. La Tige, take care of her. She’s a fragile one.” I kicked his shin, causing him to scowl playfully.
“Night.” La Tige, still sitting, extended his hand and pulled Will in for a quick half hug.
I returned to my seat and La Tige leaned towards me and with a gentle voice, not a usual attribute, he said, “Thank you for doing all this. I don’t take vacations or slow long enough to enjoy life.”
“You’re welcome. You’ve done many things for me and I want to give you a little back. This place is like no other. It’s easy to lose one’s self and, in return, bring one closer to who they are.”
“I don’t say it, but you are special to me. Many years ago I was a different man, young and hopeful. A different man indeed. I was married.” He paused for a long moment. “She was exquisite, but as a cop I couldn’t give her the life she desired. She came from a family of wealth and luxury; she became pregnant. One night while I was on duty I got a call. The hospital admitted her. She had a miscarriage. I hadn’t been there for her, instead I spent the night in the midst of a huge domestic battle involving firearms and injured innocent people. By the time I got to the hospital she’d vanished.” His blue eyes distant. In his mind he was in the hospital with her all those years ago.
“The baby was a girl. She would be about your age. I buried her in San Francisco in a tiny coffin. She is the reason I’ve never left. I like being close to her. In my heart you share a place with her.”
His stone exterior needed chiseling to break. Everyone owns their secrets. La Tige hinted at his but refused details until now. I thought of Didier and how I left him at the altar, dissolving from his life forever. La Tige’s passion and loss flowed through my heart. “I’m flattered. You’re like the father I never had. You and Will are my family. Your wife… has she ever… ” I fumbled for the right words, choosing La Tige bluntness. “What happened to her?”
“At first it was too painful. I grieved the daughter I would never know and my wife who abandoned us. Anger boiled inside me! Years went by and I made detective, a case took me close to her or part of her. When she vanished from the hospital her trail went cold. She ceased to exist.” His blank eyes stared into the vast ocean.
“You’ve read my book. I did something similar. I left Paris the night before my wedding and came back to the States assuming the identity of Shanna Nu. That’s when we met. I loved Didier but my past was too shady and I didn’t know my own identity. How could I keep running from my past and live in a fantasy world with a husband who didn’t know the real me? It didn’t seem fair to him. I went back to Paris before settling in the Caribbean.”
I paused for a second. My past was no secret to La Tige, but not my quick Paris trip I kept that secret. “I made a whirlwind trip to Paris and walked into the hotel. I wanted to say sorry for being a fool, enjoy the delight of his strong arms around me again, and hear him say everything was OK, he loved me regardless. But I realized that was a child’s fantasy. I loved him but wasn’t “in love” with him. I was a kid. He made my life with him a fairy tale. After years of searching I found my identity. I left a copy of my book on the concierge counter and jumped a plane to the American mainland and finally the Virgin Islands.”
I took a moment to formulate my next words. “Maybe she left to deal with her grief or escape a past like me and realized she was wrong to drag you into the twisted drama?” The romantic Puerto Rican music mimicked our conversation.
“Yes, she had a past, no woman that beautiful and exotic marries a man like me unless they are running.” He stated, then deviated into the here and now. “I have a job for you if you’re interested?”
The pound of the tide steady in the background, but our trip down memory lane and precious father daughter moment expired. Taken aback, I’m not sure how his mind shifted gears in just a few seconds. I stumbled over my words, making the transition. “I… uh… OK, what is the job?”
“I wouldn’t ask, but I got a couple cases back home I need to close. The one I need you on has led me here, right here to PR. You must have read my mind when you booked this thing. An older couple visited me last week. Their son died of a heart attack and his widow sold his estate, took the money and vanished into thin air!”
His eyes met mine to make sure I followed his words. “It turns out the husband was a health nut and took a physical a few weeks prior to his death which showed his heart in absolutely perfect health. So how does a healthy guy die of a heart attack? And why does his wife disappear? You can understand why I took this case. His parents gave me a photo. I traced her - booked on a cruise here under an assumed name. The ship will dock here in three days. The next two, we will do whatever you want.” His voice excited over the new case.
“Do you have her photo with you?” The wind whipped my French braid over my shoulder.
“Yeah, back in the room. I’ll show you later. You interested?” He pushed my braid back to its spot behind my head.
“Yeah I’m interested! So my job is to find and observe her; take some inconspicuous tourist photos?”
He held my chin in his oversized hand, sincerity in his voice. “Yes, but be careful. If she murdered him she could be dangerous and I don’t want you caught in the middle.”
I looked into his sapphire blue eyes. “I understand, I can take care of myself, and I promise to be careful, you have my word.”
With a chuckle, he said, “Yes, you can - better than any woman I have ever known - but careful isn’t in your repertoire.”
I leaned over and put my small arm around his wide back and my head on his shoulder. He reciprocated and gave me a kiss on the top of my head. The world stopped, and we shared a father and daughter moment on the beach. The tide now dangerously close to our feet.
At that moment in time, I believed my life mysteries solved, but deceit runs rampant in my genetics. My heritage is the spawn of evil spun out of control.
Intellectual property rights Lisa Klaes