Play It Again Sam
Elizabeth, Susanna and Poppy walked out into the Louisiana heat to head back to the airport. Poppy shed her jacket and handed it to Susanna to take back to the car. They werent in a hurry and Poppy wanted to take the opportunity to talk to Elizabeth before they got back to New Orleans.
"Walk with me?" asked Poppy. She held out one hand to Elizabeth and pointed to the nearby park with the other. She smiled down to her attorney when the small hand slipped into her larger one. Before they descended the stairs Poppy helped Elizabeth out of her jacket as well leaving the fair complexioned blonde in a sleeveless silk shell.
"Lizzy when we get back to New Orleans Im going to take off for a while. Take a little vacation of sorts and see if I cant get going again. I dont want you to worry about me, and I want you to keep an eye on the shop while Im away," started Poppy as they started down the sidewalk. Elizabeth had threaded her fingers with Poppys and squeezed a little harder when the woman mentioned leaving.
"How long will you be gone, and where are you going?" asked Elizabeth. They sat on a park bench under one of the massive oak trees to continue their talk.
"Im going to Carlys Sound, Lizzy. For how long I dont know. However long it takes me to get my head screwed on straight again I guess. Im tired of feeling sad Lizzy," answered Poppy. She sat back on the bench and spread her long arms along the back and looked at Elizabeth. Poppy didnt need the young womans approval, but it would be nice to know she wouldnt be upset with her leaving.
"Are you going to help Miguel with the running of the place?" asked Elizabeth.
"No? What youre going as a tourist?" asked Elizabeth. She smiled at her employer and friend as she pushed a strand of blonde hair behind her ear.
"Nope, Im the new nightly bar act, just a guitar, the piano and me to entertain the folks and the wild life after sunset. I thought I would go back to the basics and see where that takes me. I had Miguel promise to hide all the rotten fruit since I havent played in so long, I might actually suck but Im willing to give it a try. The staff is new enough that most of them wont know me, might help out with an honest review of my act. I promise that Ill be back whenever I can Lizzy," said Poppy. Poppy rubbed her hand along Lizzys back in comfort when she saw the tears in the green eyes that looked so much like her mothers. They had been each others comfort since Carlys death, but also a constant reminder of what the other had lost.
"That sounds like a great idea Poppy, Im just going to miss you. Can I call you?" said Elizabeth.
"Youd better young lady, or else. I wanted to take the time to say thank you," said Poppy. The blonde head had fallen into her shoulder, Poppy was sure it was so she wouldnt see the tears in Elizabeths eyes.
"For what?" asked Elizabeth.
"For helping me through this sweetpea. I dont know what I would have done if I had lost both you and Carly," confessed Poppy. She kissed the blonde hair under her lips and squeezed the young woman tightly. "I love you Lizzy."
"I love you too Poppy, and you dont owe me any thanks. The time that I spent with you and Mom was great. You always valued my opinion and cared about what was going on in my life Poppy. I should be thanking you for showing up and participating in all that stuff when I was in school. You made me popular, if you can believe it. Im glad you are going back to singing; it is your talent Poppy. You make other people happy when you do, and if youre not careful youll find the happiness that you have locked away in your heart. But just because Im glad doesnt mean that Im not going to miss you," said Elizabeth.
"Im going to miss you too kid. While Im gone could you not let anyone from the office know where I am? If they find out the damn phone will never stop ringing," said Poppy. Elizabeth got up and headed back to the car to take Susanna out to lunch and shopping before heading back. Elizabeth had frequented the city often and was fond of one particular Mexican restaurant, but Poppy wasnt up to it and decided to stay in the park and meet them at the airport later. Poppy watched them drive away then closed her eyes for a moment to listen to the birds in the tree branches over head.
"Mind if I sit down?" asked the familiar voice Poppy thought she would never hear again. Her eyes flew open and there next to her sat Carly. Not the sick Carly that she remembered from just before the cancer finally won the battle, but the Carly she had first met. Back was the wavy shoulder length brown hair and the beautifully tailored clothes. The only thing out of place was that Carly was barefooted.
"Hey Im dead, dont need shoes for that believe me," said Carly. She watched as a fat drop of sweat ran down Poppys pale face and dropped off the end of her chin onto the white cotton shirt she was wearing.
"Holy shit Ive gone off the deep end," muttered Poppy. She had read about things like this. People in intense pain just snap one day and lose touch with reality. "Holy shit Im one of those people. Nuts, crazy, bonkers, loony holy shit Ive become Bob," said Poppy.
"Will you stop saying that! And what have I told you about cursing?" asked Carly. She pulled one leg up to her chest and leaned back into the bench next to Poppy.
"Not to," answered Poppy.
"Thats right no cursing honey. So howve you been?" asked Carly.
"You can talk to yourself, but if you find yourself answering questions then that means youre crazy," said Poppy ignoring Carlys question. The sweat dripping down her face and the color in her face had gotten worse.
"Poppy snap out of it. Im here, deal with it. Think of it as a gift from Satan," said Poppy.
"Youre in hell?" asked Poppy. She snapped her head around and looked at the apparition that sat next to her. It looked so real, almost like you could reach out and touch it.
"At the moment yes if you dont stop babbling like an idiot, but technically no Im not in hell. Just a little dead humor, I thought it would get your attention. Now that I have your attention we have to set some ground rules for our visits," said Carly.
"Youre sticking around?" asked Poppy.
"Why, dont you want me to?" asked Carly.
"Of course baby, but unless everyone else in this park can see you, people are going to think Im certifiable," answered Poppy.
"Sorry slick, only you can see me and only you can hear me. As for the certifiable part, we both know that to be true without the benefit of seeing dead people. Now answer my question, how have you been?" asked Carly.
"You went and died on me Carly, how in the hell do you think Ive been? I should have listened to Lizzy and seen a therapist," answered Poppy.
"Told you there is no hell, and you are the most mentally balanced person I know sweetie, you dont need a therapist," said Carly. She leaned back in and touched the side of Poppys face. The dull film that had haunted the blue eyes for two years fell away at the touch. Heck maybe being crazy wasnt so bad after all.
"I am here to help you honey. Sorry it took me so long, but it seems like just yesterday to me that I closed my eyes with you holding me on our beach. I dont know how I got here and I dont know how much time we have, but I do know that Im here because Lizzy asked me to be. We did a good job on that one, didnt we honey?" asked Carly.
"Yes Carly, Lizzys a great kid. Best attorney on my payroll and the best friend Ive had since youve been gone. Ive missed you so much baby," said Poppy. Almost as if she were afraid Carly would disappear, Poppy reached across the space between them and touched Carlys cheek. It felt so good to touch Carly again, to have that beautiful head lean into her touch.
"So youre taking a trip I hear," said Carly.
"Yeah going back to my lounge lizard persona," Poppy told her as she smiled.
"I fell in love with that lounge lizard honey, so dont knock her. It was a thrill to have some good looking young thing singing to just you night after night. I could see why my ex always went for younger women. Come on honey lets walk, you keep a girl locked away in that urn all day and shes got to stretch her legs," said Carly. She stood up and straightened her long skirt out while she waited for the long body to unfold itself from the bench. "Love the hair Poppy, and the suit is to die for. Literally."
"You are a laugh a minute, but I guess if I have to lose my mind I should do it with a ghost that knows how to deliver a line. We could go on the road Carly," said Poppy as she stopped and put her hand up to her mouth like she was speaking into an imaginary microphone. "Presenting for your listening pleasure Poppy and dead woman walking."
"Poppy I could just reach into your chest and rip your heart out to prove to you that Im really here, though I did like the dead woman walking line. Very original my love," chided Carly.
"You could do that?" asked Poppy still not moving from the spot she had stopped in.
"No silly, but I got your attention didnt I?" asked Carly. They had reached a pond in the middle of the park and Carly stopped to look down at the koi fish swimming lazily in the semi murky water. It was one of the simple pleasures that Poppy had taught her in their short time together, to notice the simple things in life. Poppy would often tell her that it was where Carly would find the hidden treasures that life had to offer. Funny that with all the wealth they had accumulated in their time together, it was the sparkle of the many sun rises that she remembered the most.
It was time for Poppy to move on to the next phase of her life, and to the young woman that waited there for her. This was Carlys mission in their time together. Carly looked at the young woman that stood beside her and saw the subtle changes time had made since their time at Tulane. Poppy had grown into a stunning woman that captured the attention of both sexes because she had no concept of just how beautiful she was. To Poppy, her looks were like the money, neither mattered in the realm of all things.
"Poppy would you like to join me on a journey?" Carly asked the question that Poppy had posed to her in Aruba years before. A retired schoolteacher that sat on a blanket on the other side of the pond stopped his hand in mid motion when he heard the rich laugh coming from the tall woman that stood across from him. He wondered what she found so amusing in watching fish eat the bread bits he was feeding them.
It was different waking up in the bungalow than at home, thought Julia, as the first light of dawn crept through the blinds in her room. The breeze from the night before had been so cool that she had forgone the air conditioner and opened the wall of windows in the bedroom that faced the surf. Lying next to her on the bed was Tallulah, who had gotten up an hour before, ready for her five oclock feeding. Once she had eaten and been changed, the little girl had rolled into what looked like a soccer ball and gone back to sleep. In a smaller room down the hall, Julia had heard Rayford stumble and crash on the bed sometime during the night. Today she would go out and see what there was to do on Carlys Sound and how she could occupy her time so that she wouldnt go mad during their stay.
She got out of bed and walked into the large bathroom on the other side of the room. Whoever had designed these facilities had gotten the proportions of the rooms just right, thought Julia as she snapped the lights on. Someone who obviously loved to spend time in the bathroom had designed the room. From the large claw foot tub by the bay window, to the large shower stall, it was the vision of perfection. Having lived with her grandmother in a house with small bathrooms and then in a dorm room at the university, Julia was in heaven when she turned on the shower controls to adjust the temperature of the water coming out of the large rain type of showerhead. Pulling her t-shirt up and over her head and untying the drawstring on her pajama pants, she spent twenty minutes soaking up her new surroundings like a pleasure hound.
"Ill have to call granny today and tell her about this. With any luck she can come out for a visit before we get thrown out," said Julia to the white and black tile wall in front of her. It would be nice to explore the island with a friendly face. She would have to check with Miguel and see what the policy was on family visitors to the employees facilities.
Showered and dressed, Julia took the time to change and dress Tallulah so that they could go out and have breakfast. Miguel had told her to leave a grocery list with the kitchen and it would be filled on their next trip into Venezuela. Despite not knowing what they liked, the refrigerator had an ample supply of soda, juice and milk as well as fruit and bread on the countertop. Have to remember to work up a list for today so that I can get into that great kitchen, thought Julia as she assembled Tallulahs stroller.
Since the facility wasnt expecting guests for another eight weeks or so, the employees were allowed to dine in the areas usually reserved for guests. Not to discriminate against their employees, the areas designed for their use were every bit as nice as some of the restaurants used by paying customers. Julia sat by the large pool and ordered breakfast from a friendly young man with a thick Spanish accent who had cooed at Tallulah the whole time he was at the table.
"Mind if I join you Senorita?" asked Miguel. She looked up and saw that the pants and pressed shirt of the previous day had been replaced with a resort t-shirt and shorts. "Please Miguel, I would love the company," answered Julia.
"How are you enjoying our fair island Julia?" asked Miguel. He sat down and the waiter ran over to take his order. Miguel had spent his morning in the spa working out in the complete gym that Poppy had ordered built in the employee section. The island posed a danger for those who liked to run because of the different terrain, so the facility was flush with the state of the art treadmills and other equipment needed to keep the staff in shape.
"I havent really gotten the opportunity to walk around but that is on my agenda for today. Things will be different once guests start to arrive so I want to see how the other half lives before Im sent back behind the bushes," teased Julia. Miguel laughed at her joke as the waiter poured them both a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice along with two cups of strong Cuban coffee mixed with steamed milk.
"I would love to show you around but I am helping the staff stock the resort today," answered Miguel.
"Stock the resort?" asked Julia confused as to what he meant.
"The items for the different locations like the bars and the maids carts have arrived and need to be put away so that we may see what is still missing. Our time before the first trial run is growing short and I want to be ready," answered Miguel. He paused to drink the glass of juice before him before he made his next offer. This woman somehow knew Poppy and he wanted to make sure that she and the baby were kept comfortable. "If you like, I will be free this afternoon to show you around."
"That would be great Miguel, but I dont want to keep you from any important duties you may have. If you like Im pretty good at putting things away, so if you need any help Tallulah and I would be happy to be of service to you and the staff," offered Julia. She could see that he was getting ready to protest so she went on, "Please Miguel it will give us something to do and we wont be in the way. Its the least I can do to repay the owner for that wonderful bathroom in my room."
"Well ok but dont tire yourself out Julia, you just have a baby and I dont want any problems with that," warned Miguel. "You have yourself a deal Mr. General Manager," said Julia shaking his hand. They finished their breakfast together with Miguel telling her more about his family and his beginnings in the resort management business. When he found out that she was a landscape architect, Miguel promised to introduce her to the grounds keeping staff that was responsible for the beautiful plant life on the island.
Her first stop after Tallulahs morning feeding was the front lobby. Miguel had put her in one of the coolest spots in the resort filling the caddys found there with the brochures that explained all the special amenities available at Carlys Sound. Poppy had made arrangements with some of the surrounding tour providers to make stops at their marina for those interested in diving and snorkeling trips, and with some of the boat captains for those interested in fishing trips.
As she was going for more parasailing brochures, Julia noticed the picture hanging in the lobby. The long legs were covered by navy blue, what looked to be linen pants and the feet were bare. The scene the person overlooked was a section of the beach that Julia guessed was located on the island. The long fingers of the left hand were the only other clue as to the identity of the person in the picture. They were strong looking to Julia, and sported a wedding band on the ring finger. The reason Julia stopped and looked at it for so long was that the hand looked so familiar to her. So familiar, that she expected the person in the chair to lift the hand and offer her a seat.
"It is the owner in the picture senorita," said one of the girls behind the counter. "I never meet her but I hear from the others who have that she is nice. She can sing like the birds and looks for her lover in the sea."
"Celia, do I have to find you something more to do since you have so much time to spin tales for Senorita Julia," said Miguel from the arched entry way. The lobby like the rest of the public areas on the island was open. With the area only receiving two inches of rainfall a year there was no reason to shut out the beauty that surrounded them.
"Perdonar me Senor Miguel," said Celia. Forgive me Mr. Miguel. "I did not mean to talk about the boss behind her back."
"Its ok Celia, the boss is used to such speculation I think. Come Julia it is time for lunch and that tour that I promised you," said Miguel. The beehive of activity continued without them as they sat under one of the umbrella tables by the pool. Julia looked pensive with the image of those fingers still playing in her head as she held Tallulah to her breast with a light blanket covering her open shirt.
"What did she mean she looks for her lover in the sea Miguel?" asked Julia. She turned her head towards him and waited for an answer.
"It is idle talk among the women Julia, it means nothing. The love that those eyes search for is gone, and it is a shame that it is. I witnessed it when it was still fresh and new, and you could see it burning in both of them. My wish for the one that remains is that she will find love again so that the songs that built this paraiso (paradise) will come again. There is a story there but you will have to ask her yourself if you get the pleasure of meeting Ms. Valente. She is my friend though Julia so I dont like, as you Americanos say, to talk out of school about her business."
"Her story sounds sad Miguel," said Julia. That name sounds so familiar, thought Julia as she continued to listen to the congenial man tell his story.
"Her story is not complete yet Julia. I refuse to believe that so good a heart will die broken. Her love waits still, perhaps she will find it again here by these blue waters," said Miguel. They ate the rest of their meal in silence. Each lost in their own thoughts, one thinking of the friend that had given him so many opportunities, and the other wondering why a strangers tale had touched her so much.
"Good afternoon Poppy, its nice to see you again," said Charlie. The old gruff looking man was the mechanic of the marina in Aruba. He wiped his hands on an oily cloth before he extended one in greeting to the woman loading the sailboat in the last slip.
"Hey there Charlie, hows it going?" asked Poppy. She took a break from loading her stuff onto the Pied Piper to catch up with her old friend. They had met years before when he had taught her how to sail on her days off. When her first investment started to make money, Poppy had come back and bought the old boat she was loading from Charlie. Together they had brought it back to its original splendor. The old girl had wood decks that had a new gloss to them, and the interior had been modernized from the galley to the radio equipment she carried. It had been a labor of love on the part of Charlie, and he remembered all the times he watched his tall friend pull out of the marina with Carly by her side.
"Getting older and crankier by the day Poppy. Loren and I were sorry we couldnt make it to Carlys services when we heard what happened. Doesnt seem right for that to happen to someone so full of life," said Charlie. He had twisted his hat into a ball while he had been talking, not wanting to bring up bad memories for Poppy.
"Youre right pal, it wasnt fair, but you know what they say about life and fairness. Dont always go hand in hand do they? And tell Loren that she didnt miss the services because I havent had any yet. Thanks for putting on a coat of shine for me pal, the old girl has never looked better."
"Are you sweet talking me again?" asked Carly from the top of the storage cabinet on the dock. Poppy wasnt expecting her and from the sudden appearance lost her balance and fell headfirst into the water. She surfaced with a scowl on her face and one of her sandals in her hand. After throwing on the dock she had to dive to the bottom to retrieve the other one, Poppy came up to explain her actions to the man who couldnt see the casually dressed ghost sitting right next to him.
"Poppy are you all right?" asked Charlie. He watched as the muscles along the long arms bunched as they pulled Poppys weight back onto the dock, where she now stood dripping wet.
"Yeah Charlie just lost my balance, maybe Im getting on in years myself," she answered. "You shouldnt do that to me, you scared the hell out of me," Poppy muttered to Carly.
"Im sorry if I scared you Poppy," said a confused Charlie. He didnt do anything in his opinion to frighten her, and why was she directing her whispered comments to the storage locker.
"No Charlie, just talking to myself, dont mind me. Ill see you before I go back to the states. Im going to take the Piper to Carlys Sound for a couple of weeks, but I promise Ill take good care of her. Say hello to Loren for me and Ill see you soon ok?" Poppy told him as she jumped on board and headed down to get a fresh set of clothing.
"Honey you are going to have to act more cool when I show up before there is a competency hearing on your behalf," said Carly. She sat on the wide bunk and watched Poppy strip off the wet clothing. "Youve gotten obsessive about working out again havent you?" she asked. The muscle along Poppys back was extraordinary, as was the definition in her butt and legs.
"Youre crazy if you think I can pass a competency hearing now Carly. Yes your honor, as a matter of fact I am seeing my dead partner. What do we talk about? Well the other day she was looking at the muscles in my ass and telling me I work out too much," said Poppy as if she were testifying in court. She pulled on some fresh shorts and a polo shirt and shook her finger in Carlys face.
"Calm down boss man, before you have a stroke or something. Now tell me, you havent had any services for me yet? Does that mean you are going to have services for me? I was never a big fan of the religious mumbo jumbo that went along with sending someone into the great beyond. I found the directions quite nicely by myself thank you, heck I even found my way back," said Carly.
"Yeah lucky me," muttered Poppy.
"You be quiet Poppy, you know you love having me around again, admit it. Stop being such a sourpuss and take me sailing," said Carly. She went up with Poppy and settled into the padded bench behind the wheel and watched Poppy untie from the dock. When she watched the fluid grace that Poppy displayed as she moved around the boat, Carly remembered the first time they had taken the boat out after Poppy had bought it and refurbished it.
They had been cutting through the clear blue green water for over an hour headed back to the island they had first made love on. Carly had wanted to go out and celebrate the newest purchase in the Valente chain that would bring them back to the place they had started. The ink wasnt dry on the contracts when Ginger and Matlin had arrived to start the renovations on the old Holiday Inn Resort Poppy had gotten at a cheap price on Aruba. It would take them at least another year to reopen under a new name with a new look, but it meant that they could spend time on their island so Carly didnt mind.
When the palm trees came into view over the port side of the boat, Carly got up from the bench behind Poppy and put her arms around the trim waist. Seeing that Poppy was caught up in finding the perfect location to drop anchor, Carly had stripped off her bathing suit when she had stood up.
"Going my way sailor?" asked Carly. Poppy turned her head slightly to take in the woman behind her before smiling.
"Depends, what cha offering?" asked Poppy. The hand around her waist unbuttoned her shorts and pulled down the zipper.
"Im offering to christen this new boat for you," said Carly letting Poppys shorts fall to the deck. She pulled the tank top over Poppys head next leaving her as naked as Carly was.
"I thought you were suppose to use champagne for that lady."
"I was thinking of another fluid all together," said Carly. She stepped in front of Poppy and pushed her onto the bench behind them. "Something much more tasty and doesnt require fermentation."
An hour later they were still laying at the front of the boat, and were enjoying the feel of naked skin under the tropical sun. "You know Poppy for someone that has never done this before, you could write a how to manual. If I were a more giving person I would share you with the world, its such a shame to waste all this raw talent on the pleasing of women. But in the end Im a selfish bitch that never learned to play well with others. Wanna go skinny dipping with me?" asked Carly. Carly had rolled over onto her stomach and was tracing Poppys abdominal muscles with her finger.
"How about if we throw everything into the bag and swim over to the island for lunch?" suggested Poppy. Before she finished the question, Poppy heard the splash off the front of the boat signaling that Carly was already in the water.
"I guess this means Im swimming over with the bag?" asked Poppy.
"Thats what I keep you around for baby," said Carly. She waited for Poppy to join her before she started swimming, if only to play voyeur to the body moving around on the deck. The tan lines on the lean muscular body packing the bag hardly had any tan lines, due to the fact their jobs gave them plenty of opportunities in the sun.
Carly took a hold of the back of the bag once Poppy hit the water, letting Poppy drag her to the beach. They spent the afternoon under one of the old palm trees near the water and ate the food Carly had packed that morning. As they got to the fruit salad Carly had brought for dessert, Poppy leaned against the tree and served as a pillow for the now lounging Carly.
"Baby maybe you should put something on," suggested Poppy as she fed Carly another piece of pineapple.
"Why am I getting burned?" asked Carly. She was so comfortable that she didnt want to move.
"No just thought you might want to slip into a little something," said Poppy. She reached into the bag that lay beside her and took out a small antique wooden box. There was a small spring release on the front and a small hole in the back for a turnkey. Poppy held the box in her hand but didnt open it. "Weve been together for three years now beautiful lady and I thought that it was maybe time for me to make an honest woman out of you. I promised you a long time ago that I would always take care of you, and I want you to wear this as a sign of that commitment. I love you Carly," said Poppy pressing the spring latch that opened the box.
Inside on a bed of deep blue velvet laid an antique engagement ring that Poppy had found in a French Quarter shop on their last trip home. She knew that Carly wasnt a diamond kind of girl, so the plain two-carat flawless emerald set in platinum was something Poppy thought she might like. The color of the stone, which was an emerald cut, matched Carlys eyes. A matching platinum wedding band with no stones sat beside it in the box.
For a long moment Carly didnt do anything but lie there on Poppys thigh. There were tears in her eyes but they had yet to spill over her cheeks. As if in slow motion she pushed herself to a sitting position and took the box from Poppys hand, it was only then that she noticed that the moment it had been opened it had started to play the Wedding March.
"Oh my God honey, this is beautiful. Put it on me," demanded Carly. She stuck her hand out as if she were afraid that Poppy would change her mind if she waited much longer.
"Well?" asked Poppy.
"What? Oh, the answer is yes honey. For you it will always be yes no matter what the question is," answered Carly.
Carly held her hand up to the sunlight and let the emerald sparkle off the water in the bay. It wasnt the original she knew, but in all the time she had been away from Poppy it had never left her finger. "Where is my ring honey?"
"It is in your jewelry box at home, along with your wedding band. I thought I would give them to Lizzy when she finds her one true love. I thought I would save he or she the cost of buying the big rock if she wants to use yours," said Poppy. The sun reflected off the medal of Poppys ring as she hoisted the main sail now that they were in clear water. The fact she still wore it made Carly happy and sad at the same time. The type of woman that Poppy needed in her life wouldnt come anywhere near her if the ring still graced her finger.
"Lizzy did always love that ring set honey, so thats nice of you to think of her. I remember the day of our commitment ceremony on Aruba; she made me promise that if you got me a new ring she could have that one. Maybe its time for you to put the final piece of the set into the jewelry box too honey," suggested Carly softly.
"Not yet Carly. You cant ask that of me just yet. My head may know that you are gone, but my heart is not so convinced. And my heart is attached to my left ring finger," said Poppy. Once she had secured their course, Poppy sat next to Carly and opened a beer. The water smelled wonderful to her, and she looked up to a sky was full of big white fluffy clouds. Poppy wanted to explore some of the other smaller islands along the way before setting her final course to Carlys Sound. It had been on their to do list forever, but they had never found the time to take a day and explore.
The third island was the smallest one Poppy had seen so far, and when she swam onto the beach Carly disappeared. The beach was littered with fallen coconuts that were covered over by wild orchids. The stretch of sand on the beach was shorter than Carlys Sound; beyond it was the volcanic rock that made up the majority of the islands in the area. The one major difference of this island from all the others was at its center. There amongst the rock formations was a small waterfall. It was salt water but it was warmer than the water she had just swam through. When the sun hit the spray it made the most wonderful rainbow effect that Poppy had seen in a long time. It reminded her of a trip she had made with her parents to Niagara Falls when she was ten. The roar of the water wasnt close, but the rainbow was the same. The setting filled her with a sense of peace that replaced the longing if only for a heartbeat.
The sun was setting by the time Poppy pointed the bow in the direction of Carlys Sound. She dropped anchor offshore from her house and dropped an inflatable raft over the side so that she could transport her stuff onto shore. Hopefully Miguel had stocked the kitchen with something to eat, and the refrigerator with something to drink. The last two waterproof bags that Poppy lowered into the raft contained her laptop and other electronic leases that were part of her life. In the morning she would check with Susanna and Lizzy on the status of the invitations they had sent out. Ready or not the staff would be entertaining guests in two months, they were people that had frequented their properties in the past and were good customers, but hard to please. They were the perfect patrons to put the staff through their paces.
Poppy jumped into the now inky black water for the fifth time that day and towed the raft to shore. The island was quiet and dark due to a lack of moonlight, but the bungalow on the end away from all the others still looked inviting. This was the spot that she had brought Carly onshore a million years before, and it was the first structure built.
The bungalow contained two large bedrooms, each with its own complete bath. The kitchen was fully stocked with every cooking gadget that Poppy had found around the world. The old whicker rocking chair that was used to take the lobby photos for each property sat facing the water on the wide porch. At the end of the porch was strung a hammock, and on the other side stood a concealed outdoor shower.
She dragged the raft as far up as she could before she started piling its contents onto the porch. Comfortable in the fact that the shower was far away enough from the other bungalows, Poppy stripped the wet clothes off and stepped inside. She reached for the half full bottle of mildly scented shampoo that was left on the shelf and started washing the salt water off. She walked dripping wet into the house to get a towel when she was finished, noticing the note propped up on the kitchen counter. Miguel had had the cleaning staff in expecting her arrival, and had stocked not only food but toiletries as well. Though as rustic looking from the outside as all the others on the island, the bungalow had high quality Persian rugs that covered hardwood cypress floors that had been shipped in from Louisiana. The furniture was a mix of modern comfortable with antique pieces sprinkled throughout. The bed in the master suite was an antique sleigh bed that Poppy had refinished and modified herself to accommodate her longer torso. She had refinished the four-poster bed in the guestroom as well, and it was there that she set all her things once she had gotten dressed. There was no interest on Poppys part to sleep in the room that she had shared with Carly.
Poppy looked at the picture of Carly and Lizzy that sat on the desk of the small office in the front of the house and remembered the day it had been taken. It was the first summer that the young attorney had spent with them once they had left the States to get the first property going. The twin smiles that were on each beautiful face was a testament to the happiness the camera had captured. The laptop came out of its case and Poppy fired off an email to Lizzy to tell her she had arrived safely and would call her in the morning. After, Poppy checked on the status of the other properties to see if there was anything that needed her immediate attention. If she had stockholders, Poppy was sure they would be concerned when they saw the way she usually conducted business when she was at home. The wrinkled shorts and old t-shirt fit in perfectly with the bare feet propped up on the desktop and the beer that sat on the other corner.
She left the powerful system running once she was done, then went in search of an old friend she hadnt seen in a long time. It sat in one corner of the spacious living room. Scarred from all the late nights it had spent with Poppy from the time she was a teenager, she was still as eager to please as Poppy. No matter how many more she acquired through the years this was the one that had built her bank account. It was time to see if there was any magic left in her and in the old guitar. Time to find if she could recapture part of her past.
The long fingers started to play, not a ripping bar song or a love song, but a classical piece. It was something Poppy didnt get to do often since they werent real inspiring to drink to, but it was the music she had learned first. In the quiet of the night the music carried to the open windows of the nearest bungalow. Julia stopped her pacing with Tallulah in front of her bedroom window and listened to what she assumed was someones stereo. She hummed along and rocked from side to side trying to get her daughter to go to sleep. When it stopped a while later, Julia was sorry but was surprised to find Tallulah sleeping contentedly in her arms. Hmm maybe music does sooth the savage beast, Julia thought as she placed Tallulah in her bassinet.
Poppy sat the guitar next to the whicker rocker and went to bed happy in that she could still play. A few hundred yards away, Julia retired as well feeling happy for some reason. Their dreams carried them to different locations but the theme was the same. Each wanted to find happiness and the missing piece of their souls.
In the morning, Julia got Tallulah dressed and ready to go out after her morning shower. On the way out the door to do some more exploring she ran into Rayford who was just getting up. Miguel had kept the staff late the night before getting the inventory stocked and taking a new inventory of what was still needed. "Where are you headed off to so early this morning sweetheart?" he asked with a smile on his face. He had seen her having both breakfast and lunch with Miguel the day before, and wondered what the manager found so interesting in Julia.
"Dont you dare drink the juice out of the carton," said Julia. She watched him taking the said item out without a glass in sight. "To answer your question, Im going out to do a little exploring and look at the rest of the landscaping on the island. Miguel is going to introduce me to the guys who maintain the gardens today, so I can ask some questions as to how they got some of this stuff to grow like this."
"Yeah I saw you with Miguel yesterday lunching by the pool while I was working my ass off. What in the world were you two talking about anyway?" asked Rayford. He cocked his head to the side and waited for her answer.
"He was just giving me a tour of the island Rayford, no need to work yourself into a frenzy over it. Dont worry though, I talked you up every chance I got," Julia told him making little quotation marks with her fingers.
She decided to head away from the main facilities that morning and out to the thick foliage that was close to the lone bungalow by the beach. It would be time for the babys feeding soon and the palm trees would give her the privacy she needed to accomplish the task. It would also give her the opportunity to look at the back of the owners bungalow, and see if it would give her any further clues about the person it belonged to.
Julia was surprised to round the corner and find a patch of wild flowers. They were the kind of wild flowers that you found back home, not on a tropical island. Whoever had planted them had created a cascade of color along the back of the long porch before it gave way to sand. Growing up in Texas, Julia had loved the patches of highway the state planted every year with multicolored sprays like this one. The state was known for its Blue Bonnets, but garden clubs in every city took the time to spread seed every spring to make every drivers trips more pleasurable.
As she looked up to the porch, Julia noticed an old whicker rocker that looked vaguely familiar. I wonder if anyone would mind my using it, she wondered as the baby started to fuss. She was about to mount the stairs when she noticed the feet stretched out in the front of it, and the left hand hanging off the side. Thats where she remembered the chair from, it was the chair from the lobby, and that was the hand from the picture. Julia was about to head for the trees that had been her first destination before she bothered the person sitting there, when she heard the deep voice.
"How are you liking your new home?" Before she answered Julia looked out at the water to see what was so interesting that the person hadnt turned their head. A couple of hundred yards out bobbed a beautiful sailboat that hadnt been there the day before.
"I love it actually. Its a real challenge to get out of that bathroom everyday. Whoever designed it must be a hedonist to the first degree," said Julia. The baby was voicing more displeasure, so Julia was torn as to what to do.
"Well I have a definite streak of pleasure hound running through me, Im afraid. Im glad you like it," said Poppy as she got up from the rocker and walked to the edge of the porch. "Would you like to borrow my chair Tallulah? Im beginning to develop a complex since you are crying every time I see you," said Poppy in a teasing voice.
"Oh my God its you," said Julia. She looked up at the woman she had met in the coffee shop in New Orleans. The suit had been replaced with a white terry cloth robe and her hair was wet and slicked back on her head.
"Yes I believe it is me, I think," teased Poppy. She had been sitting on the porch enjoying a cup of coffee when she heard the footsteps coming up the path. The thought of getting up and screaming at whoever had decided to disturb her morning had crossed her mind until she had heard the whimper of a baby. Then she knew precisely who was sneaking up on her.
"Its nice to see you again. I just didnt think it would be here is all. Howve you been?" asked Julia. She stepped onto the porch and took the seat that Poppy was pointing to. Tallulah was now in a full-blown tizzy acting as if Julia never found the time to feed her. The baby was lifted out of her lap when Poppy saw that she was fumbling with the buttons on her shirt. The little green eyes that had been shut tight in her tirade popped open when she heard the low voice singing her a silly song.
Oh I woke up this morning
I looked up the wall
The roaches and the redbugs
Were having a great big war
The score was ten to twenty
The roaches were ahead
The redbugs made a touchdown
And knocked me out of bed
I land upon this redbug
And this is what he said
Ooh yi ooh ah ah
Ting tang walla walla bing bang
Ooh yi ooh ah ah
Ting tang walla walla bing bang
The crying had stopped and the dreamy face Poppy remembered from the coffee shop was back. She handed the baby back to her mother and watched as Julia lifted Tallulah to her exposed breast. When the baby started her meal one little hand waved around as if trying to get Poppy to come closer.
"I hope that isnt the theme song for this place," Julia said with a laugh. The tall stranger she had met only briefly had a way of putting both the Johnson women at ease, thought Julia. She had opened her shirt and undone her bra while Poppy was singing to the baby, and didnt feel modest in doing so. It was funny that she had never done that in front of anyone before.
"Funny Ms. Johnson. No its a song I learned in the third grade and has been one of my all time favorites ever since. I take great pleasure in teaching it to all of my friends kids so this great classic will never fully die away. Would you like a cup of coffee, I have decaf?" offered Poppy holding up her coffee cup. The melancholy of the morning was slipping away as Poppy watched the mother and child sitting in her chair. Poppy found herself moving closer and putting her finger out for Tallulah to grab onto. Julia watched her interact with Tallulah and had to fight the urge to run her fingers through the dark wet hair.
When Poppy turned her attention on the young mother, she gave her a genuine smile for the simple pleasure she had brought into her morning. Julia returned the smile and answered the question Poppy had asked her, "I would love a cup of coffee Poppy. Lets see if you remember how I take it." As Poppy moved in the house, Julia watched her finding the more relaxed woman even more attractive than the one she had encountered in New Orleans.
Poppy put the cup of hot coffee on the small table next to the chair and watched as Julia moved the baby to her other breast. The suckling had gotten slower and Poppy could see that it would be a matter of moments before the baby would go to sleep. To help her along, Poppy picked up the guitar and played an old Spanish lullaby that her mother had sung to her as a baby. Julia appreciated the gesture, but feared that now that Tallulah was sleeping there would be no excuse to stay.
"Want to put her down inside for a nap while you finish your coffee? I can put a blanket down on the rug in the den if you think the bed isnt safe enough," offered Poppy. "That sounds like a great idea," said Julia. She handed the baby over to Poppy so that she could put her clothes in order.
The inside of Poppys bungalow was different from hers in that it was filled with personal mementos. Pictures from different points on the globe covered the piano that took up one corner of the room, and Julia took her time looking at them while Poppy went in search of a blanket. The one that captured her attention was the picture in a beautiful old wooden frame. It was taken on the porch she had just been sitting on and showed Poppy sitting in the old rocker with an older woman on her lap. The final rays of the sun highlighted the wildflower garden, and the women sitting on the chair were oblivious to the photographer. Julia could see that this was the love Miguel had told her about. It made her irrationally jealous that it was someone else that had put that look of adoration on Poppys face, and Julia couldnt figure out why she felt that way.
Poppy had gotten dressed while she was in the bedroom taking the comforter off the bed for Tallulah, and came in to find Julia frowning slightly while looking at a picture of her and Carly. "Here we go. Hows right here?" asked Poppy pointing to the middle of the rug. She spread the navy blue blanket out for the baby and stepped back as Julia put her down. When Julia was done, she moved back to the picture and picked it up.
"Thats Carly, the person that the island is named for," Poppy offered. She didnt understand the look on Julias face. God let her not be one of those religious zealots that hate gay people, thought Poppy as she moved closer to the small woman.
"Is that why you look so sad?" asked Julia softly. Whoever this woman was, she didnt deserve Poppy for hurting her. She remembered what the girl behind the desk had said the day before She looks for her lover in the sea.
"Mighty perceptive of you Ms. Johnson, yes she is the reason I look so sad sometimes but Im getting better."
"Why did she leave you?" asked Julia. When she saw the raw pain in the handsome face, Julia wanted to take back her question. "Im sorry Poppy, and please call me Julia. You dont have to answer that, you hardly know me so its not like you owe me any explanations about your life. Forget I said it," continued Julia. She put the picture down and moved to pick up Tallulah fearing that she had overstayed her welcome.
"You dont have to go Julia. If you do youll never get to know me, and if that happens how can we be friends?" said Poppy. They moved outside again so they wouldnt disturb the baby, but left the door open so they could hear her. "Carly left me Julia, but only because she died. Simple story really. We met, fell in love and shared a good life. Till the day that is that she found out she had breast cancer. After that it was chemo and radiation until they werent effective, then I lost her. That was two very long years ago. So there you have it, my sad sordid tale."
"Thank you for sharing that with me Poppy. I know that weve just met, but I would like to be your friend. If you need someone to talk to I dont live very far away," offered Julia. Poppy gave her another smile for her offer, and then they sat back and enjoyed the scenery in silence. Maybe her self imposed exile on the island wouldnt be so bad, thought Julia, as the bobbing of the Pied Piper was lulling her to sleep.
"Hey why dont you crash on my couch for and join your daughter while I go and talk to Miguel about some business. When I get back maybe I could interest you and the bald one into some fishing?" asked Poppy as she picked up both their cups to put inside.
"Are you sure you dont mind?" asked Julia. "Nope go ahead. That way youll be well rested and can bait my hooks," teased Poppy.
The gardens had filled out considerably since her last visit, thought Poppy, as she moved toward the resort area. Everywhere she looked there were clusters of confused looking people working furiously to get their areas ready for service. Obviously Miguel hadnt shared with them that there would be guests arriving sooner than they thought.
"Tell them not to forget to put the vases we found in Rome out on the tables by the pool. I didnt haggle the price down so they can collect dust in a box somewhere," Carly reminded her as Poppy circled around the big pool. Next to their bungalow it had been one of the first things built so that the garden islands that came up and out of the water would have a chance to mature.
"Im sure Miguel took care of that baby. No sense in breaking any of them before we have to," answered Poppy. Carlys little visits were becoming less disconcerting to her. The short brunette walked along side her wearing a bathing suit and a large brimmed straw hat to shade her face from the unforgiving sun.
"Thank the heavens that I didnt go to hell, the heat would have been murder," commented Carly as they both took in the fruit of their labors. Poppy laughed out loud at her memory of Carly and heat. The two did not mix well, which left her open for a lot of complaining for their life in the tropics. The staff all took notice of the new tall good looking woman that was headed toward the offices and wondered who she was.
"Whereve you been?" asked Poppy. "Having breakfast with Elvis," answered Carly.
"So he really is dead. The National Enquirer will be so disappointed."
"The real scoop for them would be to find out what really happened to Jimmy Hoffa," said Carly with a twinkle in her eyes.
"What, youre not going to tell me?" asked Poppy.
"Well I could but then I would have to kill you baby, so its best you wait to find out. On a different subject Im glad to see that you are mingling," said Carly.
"You know, the mother and cute baby," said Carly.
"Im just trying to be nice Carly. Shes married, which makes her unavailable. Being blamed for the break up of one marriage is enough for me, thank you. Her husband is our new assistant manager."
"What have I told you about jumping to conclusions honey? You did not break up my marriage. Thomas and I did that all by ourselves with no outside interference needed," said Carly, ready to continue her point when she saw Miguel ahead of them sitting with Rayford.
"Poppy! Im so glad to see you old friend," shouted Miguel. He stood up from the paper-covered table and embraced Poppy. The manager had seen the boat anchored off the shore earlier that morning but had not wanted to bother Poppy.
"Hello Mickey, hows it coming?" asked Poppy.
"We should be ready soon. We are just reviewing the inventory list now. After everything is stocked Ill let the staff take turns being guests to get them in the flow. The fact that Ginger and Matlin will be among the first group arriving should be motivation enough for everyone to finish ahead of schedule," said Miguel. He waved a hand toward Rayford and motioned for the young man to get up. "Rayford this is Poppy Valente."
"Nice to meet you Rayford, I understand your father is a friend of Matlins," said Poppy. She extended her hand to the young man standing next to Miguel. So this is the sort of guy that Julia goes for, thought Poppy as Rayford shook her hand weakly. It was for certain in her mind that the assistant manager didnt realize who she was. The training session he had just finished in New Orleans referred to her as only Raquel Valente, and not Poppy. They only had to learn her philosophies on how to treat guests. The name she went by was unimportant.
"Pleasure, Poppy is it? Thats sort of a weird name isnt it?" asked Rayford. The sun, and the fact that Miguel had just sprung the news of guests arrivals a month ahead of time, had not left the assistant manager in the best of moods. Rayford had figured to take at least a month to leisurely slide into his duties, not to be thrown into the deep end of the pool so soon.
"So Ive been told. Well like I said Rayford it is a pleasure meeting you, now if you dont mind I need to borrow Mickey here for a moment," said Poppy with a tight smile. Miguel noticed the change in Poppys face and signaled for Rayford to carry out the duties they had just discussed.
"I sincerely hope that he doesnt use the word weird around anyone getting off those shuttles tomorrow Mickey. Whats your feel for him?" Poppy asked. She sat in the seat Rayford had just vacated and reached for the pitcher of juice sitting on the table.
"He is young Poppy, give him time. The young they think the world owes them sometimes, but he will learn soon enough that you must work for what you get in life. I will keep my eye on him so dont worry," said Miguel.
"Anything else that I should know about now that Im here?"
"No I have everything under control. Elizabeth and Susanna have ironed out all the problems that have come up so that you can enjoy your stay Poppy."
"Good. If the two queen bees call, dont tell them Im here until you absolutely have to. Once they figure out my whereabouts it will take dynamite to get them out of the bungalow. Oh, and while Im here Mickey, Im just another one of your employees. Ill be out by the pool bar tomorrow afternoon. The vocals may be a bit rusty, but Ill try my best." Poppy leaned back in her chair with the glass of juice she had just poured and smiled at Carly. She was perched on the table facing her, but not blocking Poppys view of Miguel. Carly smiled back then waved her goodbye before disappearing into a mist.
"Thats great Poppy. The bar manager will be glad to hear that. You were singing by the pool the first time that I saw you amiga. Im glad that Carly made you name all the bars in the different resort Poppys, it is where you seem the most at home. To make people forget themselves if only for the afternoon is your best gift, remember that."
"Ill try Mickey. Now if you will excuse me, I have a date to take two ladies sailing this morning."
She walked back to the bungalow alone. After listening to the conversation Poppy had had with Miguel, Carly had disappeared for the moment. There was someone waiting for Poppy on the porch when she walked up, and the sight of her made her smile and quicken her steps. As always, the woman was dressed from head to foot in white, including the scarf that was tied tightly around her head. Her skin was the color of perfectly mixed cocoa, and the smoothness of it hid her true age.
Marta had been a friend to the Valente family as long as Poppy had been alive. By trade she was a chef of extraordinary talent, but to Poppy her true talents lay in her special gifts. The women in Martas family were strong clairvoyants. She worked for Poppy as a chef but was also a mentor of sorts. Poppy had seen grown men break a sweat when they talked with the perpetually jovial woman as she told them their inner most secrets like she was reading them from a ticker tape coming out of their forehead.
"Poppy, mi amor, how are you? Marta is mad with you. You never call me no more even thought I love you. Come here and sit so you can tell me how you are," said Marta as she pulled Poppy into a tight hug.
They caught up with each other for over an hour before Marta leaned over and told Poppy something that the young woman already knew. "Poppy I dont want you to worry but Carly, she is here. She got unfinished business that one, and it got to do with you. The love she have for you Poppy it is stronger than even my magic, so you listen to what she got to say. She come to help you like Marta come to help you."
"Are you working the kitchens here Marta?" asked Poppy. She was thrilled to see her friend but wondered why she had left her sister behind in New Orleans to work on the island.
"For now baby, so come to the restaurant before the wind blow me back to New Orleans. I come here to bring you lunch so you can feed the woman inside, but now I got to go back and scream at the staff some more." Marta got up from the rocker and headed down the stairs in the direction of the main restaurant.
"How did you know I needed a picnic lunch sister?" asked Poppy. Her only answer was a strong laugh as the woman dressed in white walked away. At the end of the trail before the foliage swallowed her, Marta turned and shouted, "Carly told me."
The picnic basket sat on the kitchen counter along with a cooler full of drinks. A quick look in the next room showed Poppy that Martas visit hadnt disturbed Julia and Tallulah. Mother and child were sleeping peacefully on the blanket Poppy had laid out for them. The breeze coming through the windows every so often picked up Julias blonde hair, and Poppy sat on the sofa to watch. There was something about this small woman and her baby that touched Poppy, it wasnt so much attraction as it was the need to protect. Poppy had first felt when she had seen the other customers in the coffee shop turning a blind eye to their need.
So caught up in her thoughts, Poppy didnt notice the green eyes looking up at her from the floor. They were so much like Carlys that Poppys misted from looking at them. The little hands were waving at her in a silent plea to pick her up, and Poppy moved to do just that.
Poppy walked outside with Tallulah and sat on the rocker to talk to her now attentive audience. Tallulah was a little on the small side, but Poppy attributed it that to Julias being so petite. Her head was still missing any substantial hair growth, but what she did have was almost white blonde. Poppy held one of her little hands in her own and laughed at the concentration on the small beautiful face.
"You will be a heart breaker when you get older, wont you beautiful Tallulah? My wish for you is that you find your one true love early, and enjoy that time like a great hidden treasure that you find buried in the sand. And may you be happy sweetpea, because you deserve no less," Poppy cooed to the baby. Julia stood at the door and watched the scene unfolding before her and the way that Tallulah reacted to Poppy. The baby had had no other caretaker but Julia from her birth, so it was fascinating to see the little girl lying so contentedly in Poppys arms. The difference in her and Poppys sizes, thought Julia made Tallulah look that much smaller when she was help by the gentle giant.
"That is my wish for her as well," echoed Julia as she moved to join them. She had gotten up in a panic when she found Tallulah missing when she woke up, but the feeling had fled just as quickly when she heard the one sided conversation going on outside. It was the longest Julia had slept in the past six weeks. "Im sorry I dropped off like that and you had to deal with Tallulah. I just havent gotten a lot of sleep since the little princess made her appearance."
"Dont worry about it, Tallulah and I were having a wonderful time without you. We were solving world hunger and good will among men while you slept, but its a good thing you got up we were about to leave without you. That would have been tragic too since you wouldnt have gotten to share that great lunch that was delivered," said Poppy standing up with Tallulah still firmly held in her arms.
"You had lunch delivered and they came inside and I didnt hear them?" asked Julia. She kept her position by the doorframe waiting to see if Poppy would be anxious to give her the baby back.
"Yes I did. Thank God you are on a friendly island Miss Julia, if not I would fear for your safety. You sleep like the dead lady," teased Poppy. She looked down at her small charge to make sure she was still happy with her situation before moving to the door to make a quick call. Julias smile got surprising brighter as she and Tallulah passed her by on their way into the house.
"Mickey could you send one of the porters down to collect the stuff Marta left for me and have them meet me at the dock? Tell them to bring one of the infant lifejackets that are stored with the pool stuff if you would. No, Ill bring the Piper around then head back out in the same direction. Thanks pal I owe you one," said Poppy. She put the phone down and turned to Julia realizing that she had just assumed they would come with her and hadnt really asked.
"You two are coming with me arent you? I promise to have you back at a decent hour so that Rayford wont worry," Poppy promised. "You invited us already captain so there is no going back on your promise now. Tallulah talked of nothing else after you left this morning, so we wouldnt want to disappoint her," said Julia. "Let me just run and get Tallulahs diaper bag and other assorted stuff she needs and well be right with you."
"Just wait for the porter and theyll stop at your place for a second on the way to the docks. That way you can hitch a ride and it will save you the long walk to the docks. Ill meet you over there with the Piper then well take off."
"How are you going to get the boat?" asked Julia. She looked out at the sailboat tethered to a buoy offshore.
"Im going to swim it," answered Poppy. The hum of a golf cart cut off any response from Julia. "Ready to go Tallulah?" asked Poppy making like she was taking the baby for her trek to the boat.
"Hold it," shouted Julia. Poppy handed the baby over with a lop sided grin, one that made Julia blush for some reason, then pointed the porter in the right direction of the things he needed to pick up.
They both listened to the water hitting the side of the boat as it sat anchored off one of the small islands close to Carlys Sound. Poppy had two large red snapper iced down in one of the boats coolers for later cleaning, and was just enjoying the stillness of the moment. She had found in Julia someone, who like herself, liked the quiet of what this part of the world could offer. Here there was only the wind, the water and the trees that swayed in the distance. Poppy remembered a movie she had seen once where one of the characters had said that trees were like the arms of God waving at you, telling you to stop and see the beauty that was around you.
Poppy laid on her stomach under a tarp she had set for shade at the front of the boat with her head turned in the direction of the island. The wind was cooling the sweat on her body and there was a feeling of lethargy running through her after eating the lunch that Marta had packed for them. Behind her Julia had taken off her shirt and was feeding Tallulah, who had not cried once since being put onboard the Pied Piper. There was nothing sexual in her nudity, not that Poppy has noticed, thought Julia. The reason that she had shed her top was that the tall woman had a way of making her feel at ease with who she was. For the first time in her life, Julia felt as if she wasnt on trial for her actions and there would be no judgment in Poppy eyes when they looked at her.
"Do you dream Julia?" asked Poppy without turning around.
"Yes I do. I may not always remember what they are but I know that I do dream. My daydreams center around Tallulah now, and what she might grow up to be. To tell you the truth, its been such a hassle since she was born that I havent had the opportunity to indulge in that much. Carlys Sound has been almost a gift in getting away from all of that," said Julia. She looked at the back of Poppys head and wished she were sitting closer to her. There was still one unanswered question that she had, but was hesitant to ask it.
"Poppy can I ask you something?"
"Sure, Ill answer if I can," said Poppy. She turned her head to face Julia and give the small woman her undivided attention. The look on her face when she did, gave Julia a boost of ego with the knowledge she was still attractive after Tallulahs birth. For Poppy, it was a reminder of Carlys admonishments of her not having a poker face.
Julia was creamy white and still had some fullness that Poppy attributed to her recent pregnancy. The sight of the half naked blonde brought her libido out of hibernation. Not a good time old buddy, thought Poppy as her ears felt like they had a severe sunburn. "Im sorry," stammered Poppy. She turned her head in the other direction as fast as she could.
"Its ok Poppy, I didnt mean to make you uncomfortable but the solitude out here got the best of me. I hope you dont mind?" said Julia. She wanted to move closer to the embarrassed woman and offer support but Tallulah was still not finished. "You can turn around you know, I dont mind."
With some hesitancy Poppy turned her head around and concentrated her eyes on Julias face. The warm smile she found there relaxed her again. She enjoyed Julias company enough that she didnt want to jeopardize it by making the young mother think she was sexually interested in her. Ah, but are you sexually interested in her, asked the voice in her head. "What did you want to ask me?"
"Well its not any of my business really but what is your connection with Carlys Sound, besides Carly I mean?"
With a wrinkle in her brow Poppy blinked a few times. "Im not sure I understand the question."
"What is it that you do, I guess is what Im asking?" said Julia. She lost sight of the blue eyes in front of her when Poppy closed them and let a small smile break out on her face. Some of the curls that had fallen out of the ever-present ponytail were blowing in the direction of the island behind them, and Julia thought that Poppy looked like one of the pirates that had roved these seas at one time.
"I own it," said Poppy quietly. She waited to see what the reaction would be. Julia had known her only for her good deed in the coffee shop, and for the day they had spent together so far. Poppy had learned over the years that women and most men were willing to do or say anything to get close to her. It had noting to do with wanting to be her friend, she was smart enough to figure out, but because of the money. How many cocktail parties had she been to where someone had talked on topics that interested her, only to be rounded out with a request for a loan on a sure winner investment?
"Yeah right. Carlys Sound is owned by Valente Resorts, Inc., which is owned by Raquel " Julias voice faded off before finishing the name on her lips. She had talked with Rayford on a few occasions when he was attending his training in New Orleans. That was the name he had given her when she asked more about the company he was going to work for. Why hadnt she recognized it in New Orleans when Poppy had furnished it?
"Raquel Poppy Valente," finished Poppy for her. "At least thats what I answer to. I would hate to think that there is more than one of me. My mother would never survive," said Poppy. She opened her eyes again and looked up at Julia to see why the woman had gotten so quiet. Julia held on to the baby and looked at Poppy like she had suddenly grown fish scales in the sun. "Is that going to be a problem?"
"No, I just never imagined you would be so young. You dont compute with the picture I had of you in my head," said Julia. "Im sorry that didnt come out right did it? What I mean is that being around my parents for small spurts of time for business functions I have met the heads of major corporations, and they dont look like you."
"Thanks, Ill take that as a compliment. Just for the record Ive met some of those guys too, they stay at some of my places, and I dont ever want to be mistaken for a fat white guy with a farmers tan. I just did what I loved Julia, and got lucky. I didnt ever want to be famous, or tour. I just wanted to sing and entertain people. Business suits and a corner office would have to be my definition of a slow death. Funny thing is, I have one of those in New Orleans, Lizzy uses it. What you see is what you get," said Poppy. She had yet to move from her spot on the deck, and decided to stay put to see what direction the conversation took next.
"I like what I see," said Julia in a soft voice. Poppy just closed her eyes at the short statement and drifted off to sleep. Each had found a new friend and knew they had the time to explore the possibilities of what that meant. Julia put the baby between them after she was finished with lunch and joined Poppy in a nap. When their dreams began, one drifted toward the past, while the other dreamt of what the future might hold.
Poppy stepped into the bedroom of the new house she and Carly had purchased in the Garden District section of New Orleans. They had been in Mexico for the past three years and had decided to return to the city to plan their next move. The resort Poppy had purchased had done well enough to help finance the purchase of another in Cozumel and Aruba. With staffs that she trusted in place at all three locations, Poppy was now doing the legwork from the new house for the purchase of two other locations. Being back in town also put them closer to Elizabeth, who was now in college and had moved in with them. Carly had missed her children being so far away, which had made the move easier to make in Poppys mind.
"Happy birthday baby," Poppy told Carly. It was Carlys forty-fifth birthday, and that alone had made for one unhappy socialite all day. When she heard that Poppy and her closest friends were throwing a party in honor of the occasion it had not improved her disposition. Poppy, with her hands behind her back, circled the aqua clad woman and let out a wolf whistle.
"I cant believe that you are reminding people that I am this old," whined Carly. She looked up at Poppy and wondered what her lover was hiding behind her back.
"You are as beautiful as you timeless my love, so quit your griping and get with the program. I did want to give you your present before we head out though, so close your eyes," requested Poppy. Poppy moved them to the small sofa at the one end of the room before she handed Carly the box in her hand. When the box was safely in Carlys hands, Poppy let go leaned over and kissed her. "I love you Carly. You are the most precious thing in my life and I want nothing more than to make you happy. Happy birthday and I hope you like it."
Carly leaned in for another kiss before she tore the paper off the box. There was something about Poppy in a tuxedo that was making her want to reconsider going anywhere that evening. The genuine look of surprise when Carly opened the box came not from knowing what was inside, but from what wasnt. An envelope with legal looking papers was the last thing she would have guessed the gift was.
"What is this honey?" asked Carly. After Carlys dealings with Thomas in their divorce, any legal looking document gave her hives.
"Its your birthday present Carly. All that legal stuff says that you are now the beneficiary of the Carly Virginia Valente Trust. The money is yours to do with as you please no matter what happens to us. You dont need me to tell you that you have worth, so dont think this is what this is about. Think of it as an insurance policy or a large shoe fund," laughed Poppy. I still dont understand how two women can own so many pairs of shoes, thought Poppy as her mind wandered to Carly and Elizabeths closets.
"Thats so sweet," said Carly. The words were leaving her mouth when she pulled the cover letter open and read what Poppys attorney had written. Carly stopped at the number. It was the amount of zeros after the one that was causing the brain freeze that she was experiencing. "Poppy are you crazy this is ten, ten million dollars."
"What you need a little more?" asked Poppy. The papers slid out of Carlys hands onto the floor, so Poppy moved closer to her. Even she couldnt understand the ease in which they had accumulated money. Where they were now was so far off the mark of what her original idea was, but it had been fun working with Carly to build their future. Ginger and Matlin were now employed by Poppy as decorators and what they liked to call marketing consultants. They both would tease Carly every time they got together that if she ever got tired of Poppy they would be happy to fill in. Anyone that let them shop to their hearts content and actually paid them to do it was a god in their eyes.
Carly slapped Poppys arm and started to cry. "No you idiot, its too much. Poppy do you have any idea of how much I love you? Im not keeping this, but I love you for taking me so seriously."
"Baby of course I take you seriously and there is no way you are giving that back. Give it to charity if thats what you want, but the money, like me, is yours to keep. Now lets get going to this swank party the girls put together for tonight. People paid a lot of money to see the birthday girl so we dont want to disappoint."
"I wanted to thank you all for that. It was a nice way to raise money to send kids with cancer to summer camp. The only drawback is that I have to turn another year older. Why does the gulf between forty-five and twenty-three seem that much bigger?" Carly asked. The starched chest in front of her looked so inviting, Carly fell into it. The long arms that had brought Carly so much pleasure in the last three years came around her body and held her tight. From the doorway, Elizabeth watched as the couple danced close together as Poppy sang Are the Stars Out Tonight softly into Carlys ear.
"Do you know that you hum in your sleep?" asked Julia. The sound of the water had pulled her from a pleasant sleep, and Julia had looked across from her to find Poppy still sleeping. She had indulged in looking at the tall body for at least five minutes, before she saw movement under the eyelids signaling her that Poppy was waking up.
"No I didnt know that," said Poppy. The rest had left her refreshed enough to do some more fishing before heading back, so Poppy sat up and faced Julia. "Ready to go back or want to add to our bounty?"
"I could fish some more, but I dont think the baby should be out here in the sun any more."
"No problem well bunk her down inside in the air conditioning. A couple more of these snapper and Ill cook for the two of you," said Poppy as she stood up. Once she had her footing, Poppy picked Tallulah up and gave Julia a hand up off the deck.
Julia was tired by the time Poppy pulled along side the dock at Carlys Sound. Her hostess for the day called for a cart once she had tied the boat down. The baby went without protest to Poppy, as she had done all day, so that Julia could step back on dry land. The porter retrieved the diaper bag and carrier from the boat and strapped them to the back of the golf cart he had driven over, then turned to Julia and told her they were ready to go. With Tallulah back in her arms, Julia looked to Poppy to ride back with them to prolong the day as much as she could.
"Good night ladies, I will leave you in the capable hands of Javier who will escort you home," said Poppy. She kissed Tallulah on the head and handed her back to her mother. "Be careful with this precious cargo Javier."
"You arent coming with us?" asked Julia.
"No, the shuttles will be arriving in the early afternoon with supplies and need the dock space. Ill sail the Piper around and get her settled for the night. Thank you for coming with me, and Ill make sure to have the cleaned fish delivered to your bungalow." Poppy jumped back onboard the sailboat and waited as Javier threw the leads back onto the deck. With her sails stored and folded, Poppy turned on the Pipers engines to get her around the island. When Julia turned around before getting in beside Javier, she waved goodbye.
Sleep would not come, so Julia walked out to the bungalows den toward the kitchen. Sitting on the sofa was Rayford watching a Cubs baseball game courtesy of the satellite system Poppy had installed. "Hey looks like you got some sun today," said Rayford looking up as Julia came in.
"I went fishing." The hand that came up to feel her forehead was batted away.
"You went fishing? Who are you and what have you done with Julia Johnson?" asked Rayford.
"A friend asked Tallulah and I, so I went Ray. No biggie, and you would think that after being out there all day I would be exhausted but I cant go to sleep."
"Who is this friend and why did they ask you to go fishing? You dont even like to fish Jules, so why the interest now?" asked Rayford. Julia relaxed against him as Ray rubbed her shoulders and tried to come up with a good explanation. For the time being, she wanted to leave Poppy out of the conversation, since Poppy was technically his boss. Ray could be a bit of a suck up if given the opportunity and Julia wasnt going to do that to her new friend. The look on her face after my reaction to who she was tells me that would definitely be a bad idea, thought Julia.
"Get some sleep Ray, tomorrows a big day," said Julia as she kissed his cheek. She continued her trek into the kitchen to get something to drink as Rayford took her advice and went toward his bedroom. Julia looked out the window and tried to look past the trees to Poppys bungalow to see if there were any lights on yet. She had been home for over an hour and had kept watch out of her bedroom windows to make sure Poppy made it home safely. The fact that she was not back yet was starting to concern Julia.
She pulled her robe tight and wandered down the trail not worried about the baby since Ray was home. There was only a little light coming from the sliver of the new moon, and the garden lights that were dispersed throughout the foliage, so Julia walked slowly. From the end of the trail she could see that the Piper was back where she had first seen it and there was the sound of water coming from somewhere near the bungalow. Julia moved closer to investigate when the water stopped and Poppy stepped up to the porch. The body glistening in the night stopped Julias forward progress and she just stared. Something about Poppy called to her. It was as if there was an animal living inside her waiting to come out and touch every part of skin showing on the tall muscular body. To see Poppy like this, Julia could see the fluidity of her movements that were usually covered by clothes.
"She look good, dont she?" asked the voice from behind her. Julia spun around surprised that she hadnt heard the womans footsteps coming up the trail. Her first reaction was to be embarrassed, having been caught staring at the naked woman on her way into the house, but the kind look on the strangers face told her it wasnt necessary. "Come with me child and help me put your fish away, now that you know the boat captain is home and in bed," said Marta. Julia followed the woman back to her bungalow and saw the neatly piled plastic bags full of fish filets waiting in a pan packed with ice waiting to be put away.
"Thank you for doing all this. Should I set some bags aside for Poppy?" asked Julia. The woman beside her didnt answer for the longest time making Julia think that she hadnt understood the question. Julia had to fight the urge to pull back when the callused black hand took a hold of one of hers. It felt like the woman had a high fever, her hand was so hot, but she looked perfectly healthy, and after the initial shock Julia felt a sense of peace come over her and she felt sleepy.
"Dont worry none about Poppy child, she gonna be fine. You give her some time and those scales on her eyes, they gonna fall away and she will see you. Aint no changing your fate Julia, and there aint no sense fightin it. Just go with whats written in the stars and dont run away from your heart, shes waiting for you."
When Julia blinked her eyes open, her first thought was that she didnt remember closing them, and why was she so tired? She was standing outside on her porch in her robe and there was a pan of fish at her feet. Looking around and seeing no one, Julia picked it up and went inside with it to put it in the refrigerator. The moment her head hit the pillow she was asleep. It was a deep dreamless sleep that left her half dazed the next day.
When she woke up the next day she bundled up Tallulah and headed back to Poppys porch almost anxious to see her again. Julia laughed when she saw the tall woman standing by the rocker with a towel draped over one arm and two coffee cups sitting on the small side table. "Serve you madam?" asked Poppy. She bent slightly at the waist and swept her arm in the direction of the rocker. She had just known that Julia was coming and had made breakfast in anticipation of her arrival.
"Thank you. No wonder you are so successful in the pleasing of guests if this is the treatment everyone gets. Good morning Poppy," said Julia. She sat in the chair and handed Tallulah over to Poppy so that she could drink her coffee. They sat in silence until they had finished their coffee, each enjoying the beautiful morning that was coming alive around them. It was the same way they enjoyed the rest of the day. They were alone on a private island with just themselves for company. The rest of the world seemed like it was miles away.
Poppy took them sailing again that afternoon. Not to fish but to introduce Julia to the area she had fallen in love with years before. They returned by nightfall and Julia held on tightly to Tallulah as Poppy towed them to shore on the small dingy. Julia felt exhilarated and tired at the same time. On the sail she had seen nothing but the vastness of the water with a small island dotting the horizon every so often. Poppy had opened her eyes to the beauty and solitude the green blue water offered, and had opened her heart to the beauty her future could be.
"How about dinner?" asked Poppy. She stood on the shore and pulled the dingy in far enough so that Julia wouldnt get her feet wet getting out. Poppy had to smile every time she looked on little Tallulah wearing the smallest life vest she had ever seen.
"Sure, if you give me a minute to change and feed the baby," said Julia accepting a hand out of the small boat. The thought of spending more time with Poppy sounded very appealing.
"I was thinking more of eating here, with me. No need to change and you are free to use whatever room in the bungalow you wish to feed Tallulah. Let me fire up the grill and put on some of that fish we caught yesterday, I promise not to give you food poisoning," said Poppy. She stood in the sand dripping from her swim waiting for an answer, and instead of giving her one Julia just walked past her and into the house.
Poppy jumped into the outdoor shower to give Julia some privacy in getting cleaned up, and was a little shocked to find her robe hanging over the porch railing when she stepped out toweling off her hair. Next to it was a cold beer, the brand that she liked the most. When she walked past the living room, Poppy saw Julia wearing her other robe lying on the sofa with her daughter.
Dinner was eaten outside under the stars and by candlelight. The fish they had caught the day before was accompanied by a salad and steamed vegetables that they had made together. They moved around the kitchen like a seasoned team. The only trouble that they had had was in finding all the ingredients. Julia sat back with her only glass of wine, which was only half full, and indulged in and looked at her dining companion wondering what her life with Carly had been like. Had the smiling woman in all those pictures inside felt like she felt now?
"What?" asked Poppy. She mirrored Julias relaxed position and arched a brow in question.
"Nothing just enjoying the night air. Hopefully this one glass of wine will relax Tallulah enough to skip one of those late night feedings," said Julia raising her glass in a toast.
"What are your plans for tomorrow?" asked Poppy. She clinked her glass against Julias to complete the toast as she waited for the woman to answer.
"Well my social calendar has been just hectic since I got here. What did you have in mind?" asked Julia.
"How about a picnic lunch at a place I found around here just recently," offered Poppy.
"You have a date Ms. Valente," said Julia. The answer earned her a full smile, one that she noticed Poppy didnt use very often.
For the next two months Poppy showed Julia the waterfall she had found, as well as some of the more populated islands like Aruba. They grew more comfortable with each other as the days melted one into the other. It was becoming a common sight in Aruba to see the tall American holding a small baby in one hand, and the hand of the childs mother in the other. The small intimacies between them grew, but neither of them acted on them.
On their last night together before the guests arrived they stayed on Carlys Sound and cooked dinner. They had spent the day on the beach under a canopy that Poppy had set up for the baby. Julia listened as Poppy conducted business on the cell phone in her hand throughout the day as she lay next to Julia on the sand. The baby had become accustomed to the deep voice and turned her head in Poppys direction. A large hand massaged Tallulahs stomach without the owner missing a beat in the conversation. To return the favor Poppy was giving her daughter, Julia ran her hand across Poppys back in a soothing motion. From Poppys end of the conversation, Julia could tell that it wasnt happy news, and hoped whatever it was wouldnt take Poppy back to the states and away from her.
The feel of Julias hand on her back put Poppy to sleep as soon as she finished her talk with Lizzy. She enjoyed the moment and decided to forget about labor negotiations for now. They woke up in time to see the speculator sunset that had turned the sky slightly pink.
"Well its back to the real world tomorrow Julia. I hope that you dont forget about me once you have more people to talk to. Forgive me for monopolizing your time for the past couple of months," said Poppy. She watched as the sun made its final plunge into the water and the night sky illuminated with a billion stars. The moonlight had turned Julias hair almost golden, and Poppy had a sudden urge to run her fingers through it to see if it was as soft as it looked.
"I have been where I most wanted to be," said Julia softly. Not resisting her urges, Julia placed her palm on Poppys cheek to show her that she was sincere. "Promise me that you will set aside some time to spend with us after you are finished doing your thing?"
"I promise," said Poppy leaning into the touch.
Continued in Part 4
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