Running Yellow Lights
by Charlie Hudson
“Look at him, Kat. He has ringlets like Shirley Temple for God’s sake, his shirt is sweat stained, and he’s used the F-word at least three times since we’ve been here.” Vivian studiously kept her eyes an at angle from the bar and her voice low, her body language protesting Kat’s selection of a table where they sat with a clear view of the man’s antics.
“It’s eighty degrees outside in an open-air bar and watch how he moves. Of course, he’s sweating a bit.” Kat wasn’t overly interested – teasing Vivian was an automatic reflex.
The bronzed, muscled bartender laughed at something a lanky man at the bar said and deftly reached for a bottle of Cruzan rum, lining up three shot glasses as if it was the shell and pea game. He poured quickly and placed two of the glasses in front of the man and his companion whose face wore the leathered tan of a man who worked outdoors. The odds were that he was a boat captain or mate perhaps if his shirt and hat bearing the emblem of, “Fish Monster Charters”, was a sign of his employment. The patrons knocked back their rum as did the bartender after a grin that encompassed anyone watching.
“If you tell me you’re planning to make a move on him, I swear to God I will leave you here,” Vivian all but hissed, determined to keep her voice from carrying while ensuring that her threat was properly communicated. Well, her disapproval – the woman wasn’t actually capable of making threats – she never had been.
“Lighten up, Vivvy,” Kat said and eyed the residual beer left in her own glass. “We’re on vacation – remember? What you need is another rum punch – coming right up.” She started to waggle her fingers toward their glasses when Vivian snatched at her hand, blocking the motion.
Her brown eyes opened wide as her freckled nose that had only the tiniest of sunburn left on it wrinkled in a bunny rabbit kind of way. The gesture was too cutesy to match the stern tone of voice that she probably thought she was using. “Absolutely not – I had wine with lunch and we’re on for dinner tonight. If you insist on another drink, then at least get me a club soda with a lime.”
“It’s not as if we’re driving back to the condo,” Kat said mildly and used her sandaled foot to nudge aside the shopping bag that had shifted and was resting against her ankle. She took the last swallow and rose from the table, a smile already on her lips for the bartender that had given her an appropriate appraisal when they first ordered. He’d apologized for the shortage of wait staff and she’d told him she didn’t mind coming to the bar.
“I don’t want to fall asleep on the beach again,” Vivian laughed and scratched a flake of skin from her nose. She surrendered her empty glass, a cherry stem curved in the final drops of the now pinkish liquid. Vivian had sucked the ice cubes although Kat wasn’t sure if whether it had been to extract the last flavor or because of the heat.
Kat slid into an empty spot at the bar created when a middle-aged couple wearing matching tropical shirts, khaki shorts and sandals with white socks had left. They’d been round-facedly cheerful if not fashion conscious. She thrust her left should slightly forward, the V of her turquoise sundress gaping open just a bit. The bartender smiled in appreciation, his teeth white in the deeply tanned face, full lips saying far more than, “Another round?”
Kat breathed in his musky scent knowing how easy it would be – was his shift almost over? “For me, yes, and a club soda for my cousin.” It really wasn’t that she was interested, but he was just so cute. And she was still pissed at Gordon and Jesus, she’d agreed to have dinner with what was essentially a blind date even if he was some sort of business acquaintance of Roger. At least they were going to Salud, a bistro that had been highly recommended and had a two-for-one wine list tonight.
He pulled the beer with barely a glance and placed the glass on the bar, his eyes roaming over her instead of watching what he was doing with his hands. It took practice to be able to do both actions simultaneously. “You ladies enjoying yourselves? Getting to see the island?”
“Yo Lou, how’s it going?” The speaker was about Lou’s age and he bounced his lean body against the bar, not quite jostling Kat – a smoldering cigarette in the hand he didn’t extend for a fist bump.
The half-inch head of the perfectly drawn red ale wobbled in response to the motion and Kat nodded in greeting as bar protocol demanded, flirtation left hanging in the balance. She’d have to linger to allow the bartender – Lou – to turn his attention to her again and the truth was that she wasn’t interested enough for that.
“Doing good thanks,” she said, taking the drinks and backing away without the, it-would-just-be-for-fun look she could have dispensed.
“Lou, ‘couple more when you get to it,” the duo from the corner called as he winked understandingly at Kat, telegraphing an unspoken agreement that a quickie fling could still be a possibility. He poured a rum and tonic for the cigarette smoker without the order being placed.
Vivian darted another look at the bar when she slid her drink onto the still damp coaster. “Glad you decided the beer was all you needed.”
Kat shrugged. “There’s always tomorrow if I’m in the mood.” It wasn’t so much that she thought she would be, as it was that she enjoyed knowing she could if she wanted to. Casual sex for the sake of temporary pleasure was not a concept that Vivvy understood.
“Hmmpff. By the way, you haven’t given me the dirt on Gordon and don’t deny that you dumped him. You’ve been avoiding the subject since we got here.”
Kat wasn’t prepared for the question. “Uh, you know, it wasn’t working.”
“Did he actually do anything or did you just figure out that he was a pretentious ass?”
“Holding back your feelings I see.” The spark of irritation was extinguished when Vivian brushed a strand of dark hair behind her ear and poked the slice of lime with the straw, her voice softer.
“You did get tired of him. You may be one of the most reckless women I know when it comes to men, but you’re entirely too smart to let it go on for long.”
Kat grinned in spite of herself. “Was that an insult or a compliment?”
“Both, I suppose – being family gives me the privilege and you still haven’t answered the question.”
Kat sighed, as much in resignation as anything. “Okay, you’re right. It was dinner with Lisa and Brad, the couple that suggested I buy into Carlton Place. We get together every month or so, but this was the first time they’d met Gordon. We went to Abby’s and from practically Hello, it was obvious that Gordon was out to top Brad, no matter what the subject was. I swear, it got to the point of where they have their cars detailed. I mean who could possible care about something like that?”
Kat took her cue from the obviously difficult time Vivian was having keeping a straight face. “Yeah, yeah, I suppose he’s been that way all along and I just wasn’t paying attention. What can I say? You have to admit that he was seriously hot.”
The other woman laughed. “All of yours are, dear. They are all handsome, dress well, and most have excellent, upwardly mobile jobs. Depth of character they may be lacking, but they do look good.”
“And this is supposed to be a bad thing because?”
“Think of it like running yellow lights. Everyone scoots through occasionally, but you accelerate like the proverbial bat out of hell. Most of the time it’s no big deal, but it’s a bad habit that can lead to collision.”
Kat grinned. “There’s the difference in us, my dear cousin. As far as I’m concerned, I have yet to have a collision either metaphorically or literally. Some honked horns maybe and rude gestures, but I can handle that.”
Vivian, who wasn’t really what one would call prudish, raised her perfectly arched, dark brown eyebrows. “Well, do you have Gordon’s replacement lined up yet?”
Kat moved her hand up toward the top of her glass to keep the warmth of her palm from dissipating into the last third of the beer. “I had a project I had to crash on – helped practically pay for this trip by the way, and then I figured, hey, I’m going to the Caribbean. I thought I’d keep my options open in case I run into someone interesting. And speaking of which, what do you know about this guy tonight?”
Chagrin tugged at the corners of her mouth. “Not much, I’m afraid, although Roger says he’s a nice guy. I gather he’s been in the company for a while and they met at conferences or what-have-you and he recently moved to Baltimore. For all the good it did me, I did ask if he was good-looking and I got the usual male response of, ‘I don’t know – seems okay to me’. That could mean anything. Look though, it’s just dinner and we’ll be there, plus so far we haven’t had a bad meal. Even if Noah, I think his name is, is dull, the dinner should be good. Anyway, I’d like to head back to the condo if you’re ready. I was thinking of the chaise lounge on the terrace with a book and taking a catnap.”
“Lightweight,” Kat teased gently. “I’ll do a swim to work off lunch. Get your stuff and I’ll take the glasses back.”
Vivian rose, looping shopping bags over her wrists – cute shirts for the twins, an adorable swimsuit and sarong, new earrings; assorted tidbits of their purchases.
Kat’s finds fit into a single bag. She grabbed it in one hand, glasses in the other and settled with Lou who smilingly invited her to return soon. Maybe, maybe not.
They stepped out of the open air bar for the short stroll along the boardwalk that curved around Christiansted Harbor. The big fishing and dive charter boats were still out as a variety of smaller boats, some no larger than a skiff, swayed at moorings. It was a picturesque clean harbor with shops, restaurants and small hotels facing outward. On the far curve of the boardwalk, you could look over to Fort Christiansted, sturdy stone walls painted yellow, cannons at the ready, if no longer needed. Kat and Vivian had focused on shopping and lunch and would do the historic tour tomorrow, meandering among the historic streets, stopping in to see the fort and other restored buildings. Caribbean colors added to Danish architecture made for an intriguing mix. The weather was supposed to bring them another gorgeous day, all sunshine and warmth, azure sky that reflected into the calm water of the harbor. Not that Baltimore was unpleasant in late April; merely that spaghetti-strapped sundresses and afternoon swims were still a couple of months away.
A quartet of taxis waited on King Street and a smiling man who offered them a private island tour didn’t show disappointment with their request to simply return to their beachfront condominium.
The resort they were staying at was an assortment units from studios to three bedrooms situated in white painted stucco, three story buildings, designed so that every room had at least a partial view of the small stretch of beach. Each section of the L-shaped complex was connected by open-air staircases and you reached the restaurant by a path that wound through bougainvillea, hibiscus and other flowering shrubs that Kat couldn’t immediately identify. The timing had been right when Vivian told Kat she was accompanying Roger on his business trip to St Croix and suggested she come with them.
The two women parted at the staircase, Vivian slipping into the first floor unit that while convenient, didn’t have the spectacular view of Kat’s third floor one. Although her angle toward town didn’t allow her to see Buck Island, the nature preserve and marine sanctuary that was a must-do in all the brochures, she could gaze out to the Caribbean and was on part of the flight path of the seaplane that made hourly runs from early morning until early evening. She loved watching it swoop low on its approach into Christiansted and wondered if Vivvy would want to take a flight over to St Thomas just to enjoy the experience. There were still several activities they had scheduled and they did only have four more days, so perhaps it would have to wait. At the moment, the beach beckoned her.
The rest of the afternoon dissolved in languid movement, the beach area surprisingly sparsely populated. Kat swam long enough to burn a few calories and took her time getting cleaned up, briskly towel drying her short, layered hair before taking the blow dryer to it. She contemplated wearing the new dress she’d bought and decided that dinner with an unknown male at the behest of her cousin-in-law wasn’t a worthy occasion. She’d brought other clothes that would do.
She reviewed her choice in the mirror affixed to the back of the bathroom door. A short sleeve, two-piece peasant skirt ensemble in an easy-care, fluid travel fabric. The hip-length tunic top with a gently scooped neckline was perfect for the necklace with a row of tiny overlapping hammered copper disks and matching dangling earrings. The outfit accented her eyes and even though she hadn’t had enough sun to bleach the gold highlights in her ash blonde hair, that would come later in the summer. She slid her feet into flat dark brown backless leather sandals, snapped a copper cuff watch onto her wrist and silently declared her efforts done.
“Well, you’re looking lovely,” Roger said when she presented herself at their door. “Viv is almost ready. You know that means we have time for a drink,” he added and flourished the glass of wine in his hand.
“Might as well,” Kat agreed and followed him into the white cabinet galley kitchen where two wine glasses sat on the butcher block laminate counter.
Roger opened the refrigerator. “I’ve got a Savignon Blanc open, but a Pinot is chilled, too.”
“Savignon Blanc is fine,” she said and fleetingly recalled when Roger didn’t know enough about wine to differentiate between them - an avowed beer drinker who was eventually brought around. Vivvy preferred white for sipping, but drank appropriate reds with meals.
“Let’s go onto the terrace or patio or whatever the right term is,” he said, having called to the closed bedroom door that Kat had arrived. A mumbled, indistinguishable response had not penetrated into the den, although they both knew the words would have been, “Good, be out in a sec.”
Kat and Roger chatted amicably, her cousin’s husband a man that she enjoyed talking with. More lanky than she cared for from a physical perspective and a bit on the dry side, but sociable and good to Vivvy. The kind of father that volunteered as assistant Cub Scout leader; the husband that dutifully kept their yard impeccably trimmed and carefully annotated birthdays and anniversaries into his automated calendars with advance reminders so as not to forget.
“All set,” Vivvy announced as she swept onto the terrace, plucked up Roger’s glass and took a sip.
She looked somewhat like an orchid in a pair of lavender crepe slacks and a silky long sleeve wraparound top that tied at the waist. Purple espadrilles and a white and purple striped straw purse completed the look. Her jewelry was understated with gold ball earrings and herringbone gold chains as necklace and bracelet.
Roger glanced at his wife’s feet. “The restaurant isn’t far, but those don’t look like shoes for walking.”
Vivian leaned down, kissed her husband’s wide forehead, straightened and drank the last swallow of his wine. “I spent twenty minutes getting my hair the way I want it and I’m not letting the wind re-set it. If you drink too much, I’ll drive home.”
“I’ll try and control myself,” Roger laughed, not known for overindulging in anything.
The restaurant wasn’t overly crowded when they stepped into the dimmed interior, the ceiling surprisingly low. Steel-band music in the background, voices and the familiar clinking of bottles coming from the U-shaped bar in front. It wasn’t a large place, only four bar height round tables steps from the front door and the dining room to the left. The idea was apparently to elicit thoughts of coziness with a décor of Mediterranean and Caribbean. The stucco walls were painted in rust, orange and gold hues, reds, deep greens and purples used as accent pieces. The furniture was the dark mahogany that Kat had seen on the island and the floors were unglazed terra cotta tiles. An almost floor to ceiling wooden wine cabinet that looked as if it had come from an old estate was against the wall between the bar and an open hallway with a sign above it that said Restrooms.
Roger gave his name to the hostess who nodded and pointed to the bar. A man, partially obscured by a waitress leaning forward, raised an arm in acknowledgement.
Roger placed a hand on Vivian’s back and turned his head to Kat. “Noah’s already here and the table will be ready in a minute. Let’s collect him and get settled before we order drinks.”
Noah had detached himself and as he approached Kat’s first thought was, Beige. Maybe an inch shorter than Roger, more substantial through the chest and shoulders, but not so much as to be considered stocky. The beginnings of a receding hairline in his short light brown hair, brown eyes, sandy eyebrows, khaki slacks and a tan short-sleeve shirt with an ivory palm frond print. Brown loafers. Good Lord, the man was beige.
Kat smiled as Roger made introductions and even though Noah had a pleasant enough voice, and she wouldn’t call him unattractive, there was nothing remarkable about his features. At least the gold rimmed glasses were proportioned to his somewhat squarish face and the lenses weren’t so thick as to be distracting.
They followed the hostess to a table in the corner and navigated through ordering and opening conversations with no awkward pauses, mostly thanks to Vivian who, having discovered that Noah was on his fourth visit to Puerto Rico and St Croix, peppered him with questions as to what part of the tourist guides to follow.
“My first trip here was more or less by accident,” he explained when they relinquished their salad plates and Roger refilled wine glasses. “I was in the Boston office and the auditor who usually did the Puerto Rico/St Croix loop was on medical leave. I didn’t get to see too much on that visit, but the weather was definitely better than Massachusetts. When I returned, the regular auditor said he wanted to cut back on travel and I was welcome to that circuit. Although Puerto Rico is pretty, I prefer the slower pace here.”
Kat sipped wine instead of rolling her eyes. Auditor. Jeez, beige and an accountant. At least he could carry on a conversation.
“Scuba diving? Oh, I don’t know. How about you, Kat? Any interest?”
She’d missed part of a conversation as she’d noted the tall man seated near them, a welcoming smile shot her way. His look compressed admiration for her appearance and bored obligation to the older man with a pinched expression who was across from him. It was the sort of flash communication process that dedicated single people perfected from years of instantaneous assessment in crowded bars – the same way Kat and the enticing bartender had acknowledged each other earlier. These were signals that neither Vivvy or Roger, and probably not Noah, would pick up on.
“Actually, it’s something I’ve considered. I like to snorkel, so scuba would seem to be a logical step,” she said smoothly, her attention restored after sending a wink to the other table. “Remember, Vivvy, we’re going to do Buck Island on Friday.”
Noah nodded. “You’ll see beautiful fish. As I was just saying, the diving is supposed to be quite spectacular on the north and west sides of the island. You’ve probably already noticed how many scuba shops there are around and as soon as I get time to see my doctor, I’m going to talk to him about diving and asthma. There are different opinions about whether it would be okay for me to dive.”
Ah, an asthmatic beige accountant. Kat thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of their meals and thankfully another bottle of wine.
Vivvy and Roger were sharing an aromatic paella, one of the evening’s specials, and Kat wasn’t sure if her shrimp in a mango-curry sauce atop risotto cakes looked better than Noah’s pork medallions in a port reduction with roasted red peppers accompanied by fingerling potatoes. The reputation of the restaurant was certainly deserved and they lapsed into the fragmented discussions of people enjoying good food; later protestations of no dessert, but coffee all around.
Kat had felt the eyes of the unknown man at intervals and when she excused herself to pop into the ladies room, she’d brushed closer to him than was absolutely necessary. He was dividing his attention between his dinner, his companion and watching the path between the restrooms and her table. The subtle half nod toward the bar was easy to read and her smile of acceptance was understood. There was no rush and Kat had already prepared her excuse for staying longer.
“You’re a member of the Walter’s Art Museum, aren’t you, Kat?” Vivian asked as soon as she slipped into her seat, steam rising from the cup of coffee in front of her.
“Uh yes, for almost three years now.”
“Noah was saying that a friend of his was recently hired on the staff and he’s promised some behind-the-scenes tours.”
Noah’s smile was tentative. “I know it’s not a huge place, but I think it has a nice mix of exhibits and some of the special programs are really well done. I particularly liked the Salviati glass making events they were doing.”
“That was interesting,” Kat agreed, startled that he would be drawn to the lovely Walters tucked away from the famous Inner Harbor. Weren’t all accountants geeks at heart, more at home in the Science Museum?
“By the way, since you’re not leaving until Sunday, I strongly recommend the Friday Sunset Jazz in Fredericksted,” Noah said to Roger. “It isn’t anything fancy, but it’s fun.”
“We saw an article about that in the weekly magazine,” Vivian echoed. “It’s downtown, right? On the waterfront?”
Noah laughed. “The town is only about four streets wide. Even though they had the main street torn up for quite a while, they did a good job with the renovation. A walkway runs along the harbor, there are several benches, a gazebo for performances, and they set out chairs on the grassy area. It goes from around five o’clock until eight. The restaurants all fill up afterward, so I usually slip off about 7:30 in order to get in before the rush. If you like French, it’s hard to beat Le Saint Tropez, but there are other places, too. Sunset Grill west of town is quite good.”
Kat detected movement from the corner of her eye and it looked as if the two men were asking for the check.
“Oooh, maybe we can all do that,” Vivian said and smiled so innocently that it was obvious she had decided Noah was a good match for Kat.
Roger looked at his watch and then caught the waitress’ eye. “We’ll talk about it. Noah, you and I have the 9 a.m. meeting tomorrow.”
“It is a work night,” Noah said without further mention of Friday and Kat gave him credit for insisting on splitting the bill down the middle. At least he wasn’t whipping out a calculator and figuring his one-fourth of the tab.
The tall man had thrown another wink in her direction as he moved to a point near the door and shook hands with the other man, a swap of business cards underway.
He was already around the curve of the bar, an empty stool waiting next to him when Kat stepped aside on their way out. “Listen, this has been fun, and it was nice to meet you, Noah, but it’s such a lovely night, I think I’ll stay for one more drink and then walk back.”
There was the expected moment of surprise, the usual exchange of, “Are you sure?, A pleasure meeting you,” and so forth – all of which was quickly completed with Kat holding a polished smile that couldn’t possibly be interpreted as wanting them to get on their way.
She waited until the door closed behind them before she turned to see the bar stool pivoted outward, making it easy for her to lift onto it.
“Alex Segretti, and I didn’t want to presume about your drink. Are you staying with wine or would you care for something else?” Full lips, perfect teeth, olive skin, umber eyes, and nose that didn’t need the Italian surname to identify his ancestry. Dove grey suit, cornflower blue silk shirt, coordinated silk kerchief in the breast pocket and no tie. Not island wear, but not overdressed either. A snifter of dark liquid rested against the palm of his large, ringless left hand.
“What you’re having looks fine. Kat Tyler. Was it a productive dinner ?”
He raised a finger for the bartender and his smile grew wider. “Adequately so, and I wasn’t sure of the dynamics of your group.”
“Vivian is my cousin. Roger and Noah work together. We were just keeping a guy from having to dine alone.”
Alex ordered her drink with hand motions rather than take his eyes from her. “Kind-hearted as well as pretty and smart. This is my lucky night.”
Kat laughed, touched her fingers to the back of his hand and felt the surge of the flirting ritual. There was definitely nothing beige about Alex.
Vivian managed to curtail her nosiness until late the following afternoon when she and Kat retreated to the shaded terrace after a day of sightseeing. Kat sipped lemonade, allowing her body at least part of a day without booze.
“You don’t really think I misread your, Oh, I’ll walk back, B.S. last night do you?” Vivian’s face scrunched in concentration as she struggled trying to open a bag of shelled pistachios. “I though Noah was perfectly acceptable, but I’ll admit that he was hardly in the category of Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome. Does this mean we lose you for the rest of the vacation?”
Kat set down her glass, took the bag, ripped the top strip away and poured the nuts into a round black plastic bowl.
“His name was Alex and he should be at the airport even as we speak. He’s with one of the land development firms and was just in for a day or two.” Thank God was what she didn’t say. Alex’s charm had been a thin layer covering mega-boredom with non-stop recital all the deals he’s made and how he could fly her around to all these wonderful places as if she couldn’t go herself if she wanted to. His performance later had been marginal at best, certainly nothing memorable. It was no wonder that he had been divorced twice. Fortunately he lived in Miami and had no pending projects in Baltimore.
Vivian batted a fly away from the bowl. “We have the Buck Island snorkeling, hiking, picnic thing tomorrow and even though that’s a pretty full day, I do like the idea of Sunset Jazz and dinner. Is that okay with you?”
“With Noah again, you mean?”
Vivian tilted her head, her voice gently chiding. “Look, I know you were distracted, but Noah was well-mannered, talks intelligently and you did have a few things in common. I mean it’s not as if he was some troll.”
“I didn’t say he was,” Kat protested. “It’s just, you know, two nights in one week and I wouldn’t want him to get the wrong idea.” She held a finger up in warning. “And I sure don’t want you thinking it’s the right idea.”
“Heavens, no. A decent looking man with a stable, professional job who is companionable and like you, never married, by the way. Why would you possibly be interested in him?”
Kat reached for a handful of nuts. “He’s an accountant, he’s losing his hair already and did you not notice that he was utterly devoid of color?”
Vivian turned her head briefly as a gecko darted along the terrace wall. “For heavens’ sake, fixing a man’s appearance isn’t difficult. If I didn’t buy Roger’s clothes, he’d look like one of those nerdy engineers from the 1960s movies. Let me put it this way. Roger and I are going to meet Noah a little after five and if you don’t get a better offer, why don’t you join us?”
Kat grinned. “That’s a deal.” After all, it wasn’t that there was anything wrong with Noah – he simply wasn’t her type.
Friday was a fun day with Buck Island, a short boat ride from the Christiansted Harbor, and everything it was reputed to be. Light clouds intermittently shielded them from the sun and snorkeling along the underwater trail was an adventure she would describe to her co-workers. Dense schools of fish of all sizes moved among multi-colored corals that made the rocks looks like they were topped by flowers. Lunch, leisurely hiking and another session of splashing in blue water occupied the early afternoon and Kat uncharacteristically dozed in the chaise lounge on her balcony during the lull between their return and departure for Fredericksted.
“Noah is going to meet us at the entry to the pier,” Roger explained as he focused on what passed for rush hour traffic on the two-lane highway. He had insisted Vivian wear shoes she could walk in and she’d used that as an excuse to buy a new pair of green and yellow striped leather sandals. Her white sandals would have been fine with the cotton eyelet daisy yellow sundress and yellow and green flecked gauzy wrap she carried, but that wasn’t the point.
Kat had opted for a sleeveless calf-length Batik sheath with a square neckline and a dark blue loose weave cotton cardigan in case the breeze cooled the evening air. It also gave her an excuse to wear the new jewelry that she’d purchased, a necklace, bracelet, and earrings of larimar, the local semi-precious stone similar to turquoise.
They parked on a side street Noah had told them about and had knots of people and the sound of music to follow. As on the previous meeting, he was waiting for them and waved as soon as they were close enough to see him. Noah’s attire was almost as bland as before; slacks that would have been listed as putty and an open collar shirt that did at least have some sort of green in the subdued pattern of once again, palm fronds. The sun hovered low in a sky of softened blue, the brightness of the day ready to fade toward grey, but not before pink-gold and perhaps purple would splash across the expanse. The pier, devoid of cruise ships, stretched into water that was lake-like calm.
Clear tones of a saxophone carried toward them, trumpet and drums blending in as they approached the scattered throng.
“The group up now is local and quite popular. They also have a trio in from New York and another from New Orleans. There are a lot of former residents who come back periodically or musicians who have found the island like other artists do,” Noah said as he pointed to metal chairs fanned outward from the wrought iron and concrete gazebo. Other people had brought lawn chairs or opted for blankets spread on the grass. Part of the audience seemed content to stroll along the paved waterfront walk, able to hear the music from one end of the park-like area to the other.
Once Kat and Vivian were seated, Noah and Roger disappeared in search of rum punch being sold at the tarpaulin-topped booths set up on the grass strip bordering the main street.
“This is nicer than I expected,” Kat said, not sure what she had expected.
“Hmmm,” Vivian nodded and arranged her wrap loosely across her shoulders.
The men returned, distributed drinks and they settled into the pleasure of the evening; the promised sunset coloring the sky before relinquishing to dusk as lights flickered on around them and music played. When a woman took the stage to thank everyone for their attendance, provide the usual acknowledgements for those who made such activities possible, and announce the last set to be played, Noah leaned over and spoke softly.
“This is where I ordinarily leave, but we can stay if you like. They’ll play CD’s of the performers for another hour while things close out.”
Roger half-stood. “I’m good with going now if that’s okay with you girls.”
With nods all around, they filed from their seats and Noah led them onto the street instead of the waterfront walk. They gathered around him when he paused.
“I made reservations at Le Saint Tropez, but there are a few other places, if you’d rather.”
Vivian pressed two fingers to her temple. “Look, to be honest, I may have gotten a bit more sun today than I realized. I’m kind of beat and I hate to be a spoilsport. Noah, the condo you’re staying at isn’t all that far from where we are. Roger can take me back if you wouldn’t mind bringing Kat home later.”
“Uh, well, no, I mean, that’s no problem,” Noah nearly stammered.
“What are you talking about?” Kat was stunned and Roger looked mildly perplexed. “A meal will do you good.”
Vivian was shaking her head at the same time she placed one hand on Kat’s forearm. “Seriously, I probably shouldn’t have had the rum punch. It was delicious, but I really think this is best. You two go on and have a good time and I should be fine by morning. It was lovely, Noah, and I apologize for not being up to dinner. We’ll see you tomorrow, Kat.”
“Well if you’re okay with it, we can take this side street,” Noah said, turning to look at Kat in a way that extinguished her objection to what she suspiciously viewed as Vivian’s manipulation. His face held the look of a man who was approaching an attractive woman at a bar, fairly certain that he would be sent on his way, deemed unworthy of her attention.
Oh hell, he was a nice enough guy, she liked French food and there was nothing real or imagined wrong with her appetite. She would pick up the tab as a thank you for the concert and a ride home. That should squelch any ideas that this had transformed into a date.
Noah apparently was searching for a neutral topic so he quietly described the economic ups and down of St Croix as they made what was a short walk to the restaurant.
“Ah Noah, my friend, how delightful to see you again,” the woman with short white-blond hair said in greeting. Hers was the face of someone who luxuriated in the sun and her ankle length V-neck sleeveless dress of deep pink with a white hibiscus print spoke of tropical languor. Layers of thin gold chains around her neck and multiple thin bangle bracelets lay against her evenly tanned skin.
Noah apologized for being only two instead of four, but she flicked her hand dismissively and led them to a small table against the rail that opened onto a diminutive, lush courtyard. The dimmed restaurant couldn’t possibly seat more than twenty people even with the clever positioning of tables. It was a lovely old building though with wide-planked wooden floors and vintage posters of the south of France. When Kat saw the menu was actually written in white chalk on a blackboard that was carried from table to table, she smiled at the old-fashioned charm.
“Mary-Louise and her husband opened this place like twenty years ago and it’s a landmark. I’m not sure the menu has changed since the first day,” Noah said with a smile.
A slender young lady bustled up to bring ice water and fresh bread in a towel covered basket. She took their drink order with a smile and explained she would bring the menu as soon as it was available.
“How long did you say you’d been coming to St Croix? It seems as if you know practically everything about it.”
A hint of blush passed across Noah’s face. “Well, it’s a small island.” He shifted in the wooden bentwood chair, the seats polished smooth from years of use. “This might sound a bit corny, but I grew up in Iowa and never saw the ocean until after I graduated from college. My first job was in Boston and I won a trip through work for this three day cruise to the Bahamas and even though it was pretty cliché I really was astounded when I saw the Caribbean. I don’t take a lot of vacation, but I managed a couple of other cruises and what I told you about coming here sort of by accident was true. It so happened that the property prices were still down from the post-Hurricane Hugo slump and…” he hesitated, “and I sort of bought a place.”
Kat looked at him. “Bought a place? Like you own property here?”
He shrugged. “Well, it’s a condo, not a whole house. Pelican Cove, not too far from where you’re staying. I keep it rented most of the year and this is sort of where I come for the annual audit I do and you know, whenever else I can get away.”
“I’d say that was probably a great investment idea.” Who would have figured?
Mary-Louise seated a quartet to their left and smiled fondly at Noah as their drinks were delivered and the chalkboard menu appeared as promised.
“I’ve never had anything here that wasn’t delicious. It’s not an extensive menu, but all fresh and quite authentic. The steak au poivre is excellent if you like red meat.”
“Is that what you’re having?”
“I was thinking of a Caesar salad and the lamb,” he said, not having looked at the menu.
“I did notice a lovely Cotes du Rhone on the board when we came in,” Kat said. “How about I have the steak, you the lamb and we can split the bottle. Oh yes, a Caesar for me also.”
Noah nodded and the waitress inquired as to how they wanted their dinners cooked.
He ducked his head briefly, then met her eyes, his steady now, shyness faded. “Thank you for joining me. I know this isn’t exactly how you thought the evening would go.”
“It’s fine,” Kat said and was startled to realize she meant it. “The Sunset Jazz was delightful and if the food is as good as what I’m smelling from the kitchen, I’m sure I’ll be impressed.”
The waitress brought the wine and Noah passed the tasting ritual to Kat, a gesture she found oddly endearing. When they were alone again, he smiled. “You know, we didn’t talk too much about the Walters Museum the other night. How did you become a member?”
“A girlfriend invited me to one of the special exhibits, we had a wonderful lunch at Gertrude’s, and like you said, they do interesting work.”
“Speaking of work, if I remember correctly, Roger mentioned you were with a distance learning company – curriculum development, was it? And you also volunteered with an at-risk youth group? Which one, if you don’t mind me asking? I do some volunteer work with one of the affordable housing groups. Even if you don’t do it full time, isn’t it nice to be able to help with things like that?”
Kat tried to mask her surprise at the shift in the conversation. “Ah yes, it is. I run the Atlantic Division for ELearn Technologies and I’ve been a part of Breaking Out for almost three years now.”
“Those both sound intriguing, Were these things you planned to do or were they products of other ideas?” he asked, nodding at the waitress who brought their salads and offered fresh ground pepper.
What an interesting question. Kat hesitated, then began with her job, the progression from her initial work in another company, the recent promotion and she smoothly segued into the sense of reward she gained in helping guide adolescents and teenagers away from destructive paths.
They talked and the meal flowed, heavenly tastes balanced by the perfect wine and suddenly, the waitress was asking about dessert. They demurred, had coffee instead and when Noah protested at Kat’s reaching for the bill, they laughingly agree to flip for it. Kat won and Noah raised his hands mockingly in defeat.
On the drive to Christiansted, he mentioned that he was looking to buy in Baltimore instead of continuing to rent and she expounded on various neighborhoods that she thought would be suitable for him.
He pulled into the resort and silence overtook them; Kat warmed by the meal, the evening and faintly puzzled as to what she should do. Invite him in? Good Lord, wasn’t that overcompensating? Really, okay, it had been fun – all of it and okay, maybe she’d judged him a little hastily. He switched off the ignition and came around to open the door. “I’ll walk you up,” he said quietly, not suggestively.
“It’s three flights. You don’t need to do that,” Kat said automatically, thinking that perhaps a night cap would be all right. She swung her legs out and stood next to him, not enough light to see his face clearly. “Although, I do have a nice bottle of rum or I could make coffee if you’d like.”
He hesitated and held his keys in his hand. “I’ve enjoyed tonight, but I have an early flight in the morning.” He held his breath for a moment and expelled it. “I was wondering though, I’ll be back next Thursday. If you don’t mind, could we maybe get together? You know for a drink or something?”
She heard it then – the tone that reflected the look when Vivian had literally thrust them together. The retreat from the easy exchange they’d had in the restaurant. Kat stretched up on her toes and pecked his cheek. “I’d like that, Noah. In fact, there’s an exhibit and a reception at the Walter’s later this month. Maybe we could do that.” She slipped her hand into the outside pocket of her purse and pulled out a business card. “This one has my direct line at work and my home phone. Give me a call or send me an email.”
He nodded and stepped back, the grin unmistakable. “I will,” he said and walked her to the bottom of the staircase. “I will.”
She headed up the stairs, not hearing the car start. When she reached the landing, she leaned over the rail. Yes, he was still at the car watching her. She impulsively threw a kiss and he tossed her a salute. She unlocked the door and went in, wondering if Vivian would have an I told you so waiting with morning coffee.
Copyright © 2001-2018, Charlie Hudson. All rights reserved.