“Nervous?” Andy gave her a reassuring smile. It didn’t help.
She’d been nervous—no, she’d been scared the first time Rusty brought it up. He was too young, he’d been through so much, it wasn’t known as a place friendly towards anyone LGBT, it was so far…and he’d argued away each objection.
It was Andy, of all people, who took Rusty’s side. Normal kids go on spring break, Sharon. Normal kids go places without their parents when they’re almost nineteen. The glow that still came when he referred to her as “parent” hadn’t helped, either. Provenza had grumbled, muttering something about there were closer beaches, for God’s sake, but then Dr. Morales had chimed in with fond memories of snorkeling in limestone coves, underwater stretches of white rippled sand dotted with crayon-bright fish.
She’d finally said yes.
Rusty had come back with a tan, a love of snorkeling…and something more. A new interest, and one she hadn’t seen coming. Jamaica had brought out feelings in him that surprised her, although in hindsight, it made sense.
The plane banked hard to the left as she smiled at her seatmate. “I’m a little nervous, yes. Maybe it’s just that this is the first vacation like this I’ve had in a long time.”
She could feel the flush creeping over her cheeks. It was certainly the first vacation she’d had in a while that included a lover coming along.
The memory of averted glances and hastily covered smirks was still strong in her mind. This was the most blatant show of their coupleness they’d risked after quietly letting it be known they were together. There was still no outward show of PDA, and Taylor had quietly offered to take over Andy’s personnel supervision with the guarded blessing of the higher-ups.
Andy held her hand and motioned for her to look out the window. Blue-green mountains skimmed with light fog rose up from the turquoise sea, a ring of snow-white sand separating one from the other. It was beautiful. For a minute she let herself enjoy the anticipation of seeing the young man she considered her third child, her youngest son.
Somewhere between his first and second year of college he’d really come into his own, going in a direction he’d charted since that spring break. Maybe she would have picked up on it sooner if she hadn’t been distracted. She squeezed her favorite distraction’s hand and ghosted a kiss over his cheek as she leaned over him to drink in the view. He was right. This helped.
The heat and humidity blasted them both as they left Sangster International Airport. Rusty had arranged for a private car and driver to pick them up. When Sharon looked over the huge tour buses with gaudy paintings of jungle and tropical birds mixed with bikini-clad women, she was immensely thankful. The tourists were jammed together and some were already wilting.
The cool interior of the private car was a blessed relief. Andy reached into a cooler the driver had handed back to them when they got in and brought out two icy bottles of pink grapefruit soda.
“To Jamaica,” he said, clinking the bottle against hers. “To Rusty,” she responded, then drank down her first taste of Ting. It was as good as he’d described.
“To us,” Andy said quietly, putting his arm around her. They both laughed when the driver asked if they were on their honeymoon.
“No,” she said, swallowing a giggle as she looked at her lover out of the corner of her eye.
“Not yet,” Andy added, bringing her hand to his lips for a quick kiss.
There’s something to be said for PDA, I guess. The simple gesture warmed her heart, and she snuggled into his side as they rode along the busy highway, then a two-lane road, taking in the exotic sights and sounds.
The driver shook his head over the address in his notebook. “You sure you want to go here first, ma’am? Most people, they go to their hotel, unpack, take some rest before they start sight-seeing.”
She leaned forward. “We’re sure. I’m just—I need to see someone before I do anything else.” She watched the driver’s eyebrows rise in the rearview mirror. If he had any doubts about their honeymoon status (or lack thereof) that confirmed it. She had to admit, it was a strange destination for a vacationing couple.
Andy fanned out the brochures he’d pulled from his pocket, showing their small resort hotel in all its glory: the powdery beach, the crystal-clear water, the pictures of a night-time bonfire party under the stars. The reggae music from the radio and the whiffs of jerk chicken on roadside grills added verisimilitude to the images.
“It’s gonna be a great week, Sharon. You just need to see him first. I get that. And it’s not going to be forever. A semester off…he can handle it.” He gave her an understanding grin.
“And so can you.”
She nodded, then let herself sway a little to the music. His confidence in her always soothed away her maternal anxiety when it flared up. I might not have been very good at parenting my own kids, but I can spot it in other people. And you’re the perfect mother for that boy. He’d said that early on, and he’d kept saying it, when things got rough.
It always helped.
The driver turned off the two lane road onto a narrow dirt lane, rutted and potholed, giving them a bumpy, jolting ride. He gave them one last chance, reminding them that the plush intimate resort was only another fifteen minutes or so away. It didn’t seem possible, she thought, scanning the neighborhood they’d pulled into.
Small wooden houses, some barely more than shacks, were on each side of them,laundry hanging on nearby lines. Chickens and goats wandered freely along the lane, scattering when boys rode by on battered bicycles. A couple of tired-looking women in identical blue and white uniforms strolled by, on their way home from their job at one of the big hotels, she guessed.
She wondered again about Rusty’s choices.
She wondered even more when they reached their destination.
Andy told the driver to keep the air conditioning running and gave him a handful of brightly colored bills. Sharon took off her light jacket and tossed it back in the car, taking her wide-brimmed hat out of her tote. The sun was fierce and Andy was already turning a bit pink around the ears and nose. Her back was starting to sweat under her sleeveless blouse and the waistband of her slim skirt. She’d be changing to shorts and tees as soon as they checked in, but she wanted the right look for this.
Her pumps became covered with dust as she and Andy walked the short path to the building in front of them. Cinderblock walls topped with a corrugated tin roof, it would have looked hot as an oven if it hadn’t been for the huge ventilating open windows, providing a cross-breeze to those inside. The open space in front of the building had two bike racks, a wandering brown dog who gave them a curious look, and a double row of sinks ending with two water fountains.
As they walked closer to the windows, a familiar voice came to her ears and Sharon forgot about the heat.
A young woman came out and met them by the door, her smile brilliant and welcoming. Her hair was braided in an elaborate style with a playful touch of bright purple woven in. Sharon was glad she’d worn her work clothes, even in the heat. The woman’s pumps mirrored her own, and her professional blouse and skirt looked like L.A. office wear.
“Welcome to Green Island Middle School! You must be Russell’s mother.” She took Sharon’s hand and gave it a firm shake. Sharon’s eyes widened at the “Russell” but he’d mentioned that as casual as some parts of island life were, other parts were surprisingly formal, especially where he was spending his time.
“Yes, I’m Sharon Raydor, and this is Andy Flynn, my…” Oops. She should have come up with something for him before now. My...Lieutenant? My friend? Boyfriend? My—
“Oh, yes, your man. Russell’s spoken of you with great fondness.” The island lilt made the term “man” rich with meaning. Andy beamed as he shook the young woman’s hand. It was obvious he liked being Sharon’s “man.”
“I’m Miss Maxwell. Please, come with me and we can catch the end of his lesson.”
The schoolroom was humble and plain at first glance, and then Sharon noted the posters on the wall: study tips, characteristics of successful scholars, motivational pictures and A+ student papers.
The rows of desks were perfectly lined up in neat rows, and the boys were all in pressed tan uniform trousers and shirts, the girls in white blouses under jumpers in a green-and-white plaid. Even hair bows were in the school colors. And each pair of dark brown eyes were trained on the white boy—no, man, she corrected herself—at the chalkboard in front of the class.
Rusty’s eyes crinkled as he saw them come into the classroom but he kept his expression appropriately serious as he tapped his chalk against the board, drawing attention to the figures there.
He sounds so grown up. But then, I guess he is.
Andy was grinning, as proud as he’d been at the Nutcracker, watching his daughter’s step-sons. “That’s your boy,” he whispered, drawing a look of mild shock from the students nearest them.
“Michael, Geoffrey, eyes front, please,” Miss Maxwell said in a low but no-nonsense tone. “Attend to Mr. Beck.”
Rusty gave the teacher a nod of thanks and continued. He drew more chess moves on the board, asked questions, and one by one, students raised their hands, standing at their seats when he called their names, and gave their thoughtful answers. His words of encouragement were enthusiastic, and he radiated pride when they got it right.
Sharon blinked back her welling tears. She’d wondered if he would go into law enforcement, or maybe social work, or even study law. But this was telling her all she needed to know about what her son wanted to do with his life.
He was born to be a teacher.
The week flew by.
Promises were made as she and Andy lazed on the beach under thatch-roof huts, and silently, with slow underwater touches as they explored the coral reefs submerged in water as clear as glass.
More were made under the slowly rotating ceiling fan in their room, after telling an eye-rolling Rusty they needed to take a mid-day nap.
Sharon gave a wary nod of approval at the inexpensive rent-by-the-week hotel he had found when he first arrived, a kilometer up from theirs. Sparse but neat, it had the basics. And it had a neighbor, too…a young man also on a semester break, also planning to teach.
Rusty’s eyes had softened when his friend told Sharon over dinner he planned on transferring to the same university Rusty attended when they came back to the states in the fall. He’s a great chess player, Rusty told her later. And he likes snorkeling…and cooking. And taking things really slow. He’d blushed at the last, giving her a shy smile, and Sharon suspected she’d be seeing this young man again.
The third time someone assumed they were on their honeymoon, Andy didn’t laugh.
Maybe it’s a sign, he’d finally said, when they pulled apart, exhausted from their latest round of love-making. She rested her cheek against his chest, his heartbeat echoing the rhythmic sound of the waves outside their room.
Maybe you’re right.
Her words surprised her as much as him. She hadn’t seriously considered marrying again…it hadn’t even been a year since she’d officially gotten unmarried.
And yet…Rusty had found his calling here. Maybe found someone who could be “the one” for him. And Andy’s hopeful look told her he was finding more in her than lover and friend.
The next morning, over the last cup of exquisite Blue Mountain coffee she’d get before they left, Sharon stared out at the endless blue ocean, watching the waves swell and fall. Andy being across the breakfast table from her, neither of them thinking about work, suddenly felt like the most “right” feeling imaginable.
A different driver took them to the airport after all the goodbye hugs and wishes for a safe trip were exchanged with Rusty and with his new friend. Soon after they got underway, the driver asked them the question they’d come to expect: You guys on your honeymoon?
This time it was Sharon who said “Not yet.”
The driver’s eyes met hers in the mirror. He looked like he’d seen this before.
“Soon, come, I bet. You two…you got that look.”
Neither of them argued with that.
People hadn’t stopped murdering each other in the week they were gone. The murder room was humming and Sharon had barely tossed her pocketbook and keys on her desk before Provenza approached with a stack of files. His grouchy, “I’m so overworked” expression changed when he looked down at the brightly colored souvenir keychain she’d gotten at the airport gift shop.
“What’s that, the latest marketing slogan?” He arched one eyebrow as he picked up the plastic keychain, reading the words out loud. “Jamaica: Once you go, you know.”
He handed it to her. “So, you and Flynn ‘know’ any more that you did before you went on vacation?”
She smiled as she looked past him to where Andy was standing, catching up on the latest murders with Tao. He paused to give her a look that reminded her of sand and sun.
“Yes, Lt. Provenza, I’d say so. You can learn a lot, traveling to new places.”
She hummed a reggae tune under her breath and began opening files, ignoring Provenza’s muttered “This better not involve tuxedos” as he walked out of her office.