Sensing all was lost, he pulled the white ear buds from his ears. They hadn't been playing anything anyway, but he'd hoped the sight of him obviously otherwise engaged would grant him a moment of peace. In his heart, he knew better.
She was a sight, bronzed skin slick with sweat and a nearly obscene sports bra. The pants didn't help. They hugged her waist and her thighs like a toga might have swept itself around a goddess. Lycra, goddess of lusty thoughts in social situations, perhaps. But Jason didn't see the hints and promises dripping down her neck. He didn't see the way her tongue darted across her lips, still perfectly stained despite an hour and a half of back-breaking, muscle fatiguing work out. He only saw that dark, accusing line shadowing her eyes.
This is how Jason always saw Miranda.
“I don't know if you heard me, but I said I don't want to go.” No surprises there. She didn't like his cat. She didn't like his car. She couldn't stand his clothing, or his job, or his mother. Why wouldn't she hate his little slice of paradise?
“I've had enough of the fucking tropics. I asked you to go to Aspen but you always have something else to do. I'm sick of it, Jason. I want to go north. I'm tired of sun and bed nets and being sweaty all the time and having to watch myself so I don't drink the wrong thing and shit the walls. I'm bored to hell and Paolo bitches when I come back with sun spots and salty hair and I'm through. We're going to Lake Tahoe.”
“You're going to Lake Tahoe.”
There. That line. That little flash of darkness that no one else seemed to see or that they chose to look away from when it was so obvious, so painfully obvious. That sneer, that anger, the sheer disbelief that anyone would ever, or could ever, tell her no.
“Pardon me?” Miranda breathed, deadly. Despite himself, Jason was surprised. This wouldn't be the first time she'd made a scene in a public place. She'd already gotten through her first round, perfect lips forming such imperfect language. He couldn't imagine why she'd hold out now. This did not phase him anymore.
“You're going to Lake Tahoe. I'm going to spend my two weeks in some archipelago somewhere. You bust your ass skiing, I'll burn my ass on a beach. I'll see you at the apartment.”
She sucked in her breath in a hot little hiss, but he didn't wait for the explosion. He grabbed his towel, plugged himself back in to the lifeless iPod, and left Miranda to scream at the trainer.
“Jason goddammit I will NOT be ignored like this. I know you have your phone and you damn sure better call me when your ass hits the ground or I will set all your shit on fire, so help me.”
Stella hadn't even asked him but he'd put his hand on her sleeve right after he turned off his phone. He held down the power button like if he pressed it hard enough he could strangle it. He looked so tired and had such pretty blonde hair that she decided to overlook the terseness. She handed him a glass and he downed it in one, and asked for a set of headphones. When those were in, he leaned back and closed his eyes.
Stella made sure that when she slid the tray table down to place the second two glasses, she slid herself up his arm. One of those delicious green eyes opened, and he smiled, and that was all she needed to get to Antigua.
Nita rolled over as the sunlight pooled on her face. A light breeze played across the back of her neck, bringing with it the scent of the flowers running rampant on the overwrought terrace outside. She allowed her hands to reach out, playing along the embroidered edges of the soft cotton sheets. She breathed in their clean scent, the smell of her own light fragrance. Moving slowly, so slowly, she laced the entire length of her body with gentle touches. She was intoxicated, the rise and fall of her ribs, the silky crest of her hips and the curve of her calves just another part of this dream. All of it, this magic in this room. Even the scent of the man next to her in bed. She pressed her fingertips to his shoulder and sighed.
This is paradise. I am in a paradise.
She rolled out of bed and stumbled, still half asleep, to the bathroom. The sharp intake of breath over her cracked lip only caused the sudden ache to flare more. She splashed a little water across her face to take down the swelling.
Hands on the faucet, she froze. There was still time. There was still the chance that he might soften, might change from this tone to that other, the one he'd used under the flowers a week ago when they'd first arrived for the honeymoon. That Monday night voice. There was still time.
And she went.
“I'm originally from Savannah but I moved to Chicago when I decided that this is what I wanted to do”, she said between sips of her mojito. “What about you? Where are you from, Jason?”
He liked the way she said his name. She pulled the “a” down, long, and it reminded him of his first girlfriend. After his fourth drink somewhere over the Midwest, he'd called her Sarah and she laughed. She'd asked him if he'd ever read anything by Tolstoy. Shocked, he'd said yes. He asked her why.
“If you can't read a nametag, darlin, I'm surprised you can read anything.”
And so Jason had asked Stella for drinks when they touched down. She smiled so big it was like staring into the clouds, and he'd felt heady with her delight. He couldn't remember the last time Miranda had smiled at him like that.
By the third long dance, he couldn't remember Miranda. They ordered a pitcher of daquiris to take out on the veranda and they laughed all night long. Stella had friends on the island, and she was going to take him out tomorrow night. He'd have the time of his life, she promised.
Jason hummed and swung her around the patio like a movie star.
She pulled back her hair in a tight bun and then thought better of it. Nita let the strands fall loose across her neck, shading her eyes a bit. She hadn't slept well and the thought of exposing the dark circles to any more scrutiny was killing her. Martin had already said she looked like a refugee. Martin said that he couldn't stand to look at her when she looked like she was just trash, and why couldn't she take care of herself, and why the hell did he even put up with it anyway.
Nita didn't mention that she couldn't stand to look at him leer at the maid when the girl bounced into the room, leaning over without ever bending her knees to pick up every towel and cigarette butt around the bed. She didn't mention that she'd seen him sneak off with said maid one evening when he was supposed to be ordering dinner and wine for them to share in the moonlight.
Tonight he was going to gamble and she was free to be gone all night. She'd seen him slide his hand across the maid's waist and so she'd asked later, when she was sure he hadn't seen her see, if she might stay with an old friend at her hotel. He'd said he didn't mind, that she needed time to catch up so that she got over her unhealthy dependence on him. He meant he couldn't screw the maid if she was in the room.
She put on a little more foundation and the red dress Martin had bought for her after their first month together. She'd had to wear it to his yachting party. He had done it as a favor, because he loved her and didn't want her to be embarassed. She hadn't had anything suitable to wear, back then.
One more week in paradise.
“Nita, baby! You look so beautiful I could cry! Sugar, I'd like you to meet my new friend Jason”.
He took her hand and kissed it, right above the wedding band. He saw her flush and noted that it didn't quite reach the dark patches on her cheek. Jason tossed his blonde head back and smiled down at her, and Nita's pretty lips shuddered. Her eyes flicked side to side, desperate.
Stella took it all in with a shrewd eye and went for more drinks. Soon, she was waltzing Nita around the dance floor and Nita was shaking, she was laughing so hard. Stella twirled her off every fourth song or so to grab Jason by the arm and salsa directly into the path of all the other patrons. Nita watched, smiling her first real smile since she'd said “I Do”.
Stella was watching.
“I'm so tired I'm fit to die. Take her, Jason. I just can't take anymore” Stella drawled, draping herself over the nearest chair. Nita shrunk, the sunlight in her smile fading as Jason reached for her. He looked at her, willing his face to be as honest and as open as his heart felt right now. You are beautiful. I won't hurt you. You are so heartbreakingly beautiful.
Nita opened her mouth to speak, but Jason put one hand on her waist and took her delicate fingers, trembling, in his other. He pulled her in to him, so slowly and so gently it made Stella look away. Nita breathed into his chest, filling herself with the warmth and the peace he brought. He stroked her hair, rocking her gently to the sound of steel drums.
“Beautiful weather here, isn't it?”
“It's just like I am in paradise.”
Thank you to one of the greats, without whom the lyrics of this song would have never gotten stuck in my head