Play It Again Sam
They arrived at Lakefront Airport for their short trip to Baton Rouge and were met by Poppys pilot, Bob. He had flown combat missions in Nam, as he referred to it, and there were times when Poppy was sure that he still thought that Charlie was still on his ass. She had paid more fines for buzzing towers around the globe with the old guy than she cared to count. But Carly had found and hired him, so until he either crashed and killed them all or was too old to fly, Bob was a fixture. In any case he keeps my fingers nice and strong from clutching the armrest, thought Poppy.
"We are ready for departure Commander," said Bob. When he saw Poppy get out of the car he snapped to attention and saluted. She wore different types of uniforms than what he was used to, but the nice lady that had gotten him the assignment had made it clear this was the top honcho.
Poppy snapped to attention from beside the car and saluted back, it was just easier that way, she figured. The guy was many cards short of a full deck, but he had yet to kill her in the air and that had to count for something. "Good, soldier, now carry on we have to be on the ground by eleven hundred hours. After our mission, Lieutenant Wallis, I want you to be standing by to fly the girls back to home base. I want you to be ready to fly another mission once we land. This is a need to know mission, so please dont mention it to the other soldiers. Are we clear?" asked Poppy.
Bob clicked his heels again and gave a sharp salute before answering. "Yes sir, you can count on me sir."
"Good. Lets fly Wallis."
Susanna, Elizabeth and Poppy all relaxed in the cabin of the private jet, while Bob confused the new guy in the tower with military jargon. The thirty-minute flight would allow them to get some other business out of the way before their scheduled appearance in court. Poppys business was vacation resorts. After she had worked her summers in the Caribbean playing some of the outdoor bars, Poppy had fallen in love with the way of life the getaway locations provided to those lucky enough to visit.
With the money she saved from those summer jobs, she purchased her first property, which was renovated for college kids wanting a cheap vacation before school started again. Then in the winter they catered to low to middle income older people who wanted some time in the sun. With the right marketing and the help of Carly, Ginger and Matlin, Poppys Place in southern Mexico made enough money to finance the purchase of the next property, which bankrolled the rest of the purchases she had made.
The culmination of ten years of work was near completion off the coast of Venezuela on a privately owned island close to Aruba. The land purchase had been the easy part; the hard part came in carving out one of the worlds most exclusive resorts on the wild island paradise. But with careful guidance from Carly and Poppy, they were close to opening Carlys Sound. The top management staff had been in the New Orleans headquarters of Valente Resorts, Inc. for the past three months getting their last minute training. Their success came not only from the structures themselves and their exotic locations, but from the top-notch service everyone received during their stay. It didnt matter if you were Oprah or a hardware salesman from Ohio, you were treated with the same respect.
Susanna sat at the only table in the cabin typing letters for Poppy to sign while she updated her boss on the new location that was opening. "Miguel flew down last week on a commercial flight just to check the flow from the airport to the boat shuttles onto the island. He said it still needs a little work but there will be plenty of opportunities to practice with the arrival of the other staff starting today. His assistant, Rayford Johnson, will be flying out this morning with someone named Julia Johnson and a child. Hopefully this Rayford character will be available to help with any glitches they encounter between the Venezuelans and the shuttle captains. Miguel said he would call you if there were any problems that had to be solved directly by you Poppy. He sure sounded excited about his promotion from the Cancun property," said Susanna.
"Rayford Johnson? That sounds like an interesting name Susanna. Where is Mr. Johnson from?" asked Poppy.
"Hes from the Houston area. Just graduated from UT in hotel and restaurant management, but most importantly his father is an old acquaintance of Matlins. The old man is a New Orleans native transplanted to Texas via the oilfield. He called on Matlin when the kid got out of school and asked for a favor. I wonder if his son realizes how lucky he is getting a position like this right out of the box?" asked Susanna.
"Lucky indeed Susanna, lets see this wonder kids folder," requested Poppy. She reached across Elizabeth for the folder then sat back to read it. It wasnt that she mistrusted Matlins opinion, but this was a special project to her and Miguel had enough to deal with without having to act as a babysitter to some friends kid as well. The two women sitting with her watched as Poppy ran her finger down the page looking at the bio sheet the kid had filled out as part of his employment packet. The typing Susanna was doing stopped when she noticed the right brow on Poppys face crawl up to her hairline.
Poppy read that Rayford had requested family accommodations in the residents quarters. Julia Johnson, the person accompanying him with a child named Tallulah, was also a graduate of UT in landscape architecture but would not be employed by Valente Resorts, Inc.
"Mr. Johnson was put up at the Ritz with the rest of the management team?" asked Poppy.
"I guess he was. Want me to check it out for you?" asked Elizabeth. She arched a brow of her own over the strange question. With all the other things going on in their lives, where some kid from Texas stayed during his training wasnt high on her priority list. Elizabeth flipped her cell phone open so that she could check with the business office of the Ritz to see if Rayford Johnson had been a guest.
"Hey Joe fire up the computer for me and look up Rayford Johnsons guest files. Should have checked out today," requested Elizabeth. She waited for the man to start typing but only heard a pause. Poppy listened to Elizabeths side of the conversation while she finished reading the file Susanna had handed her. "Yes I know those are private documents Joe, lets say but I have a burning desire to know," said Elizabeth. She looked at Poppy with a questioning look on her face, and when she got a nod in response she continued her conversation with Joe. "Type in this access code Joe, CVPV8912."
"Holy shit Elizabeth where did you get that code?" asked Joe from his New Orleans office. "Thats Poppy Valentes private code to access the files, or so it says here. Does she know you have access to that?"
"She is sitting across from me now Joe so yes, she does. Now back to Rayford Johnson, was he a guest or not?" asked Elizabeth. She rolled her eyes at Poppy, who laughed at the dressing down Joe had obviously given the attorney from his end. "Thank you Joseph, you have been a great help. Not!" said Elizabeth as she snapped the phone closed. Joseph St. Thomas, the business manager of the New Orleans Ritz, was one of the very few people in the city that knew that the hotel he was employed in was one of Poppys properties. She had purchased the building that housed it for two reasons. One, it was in Poppys opinion, the prettiest building in the downtown area, and two, the mayor had begged her as a personal favor to add four thousand jobs to the economy before the next election. After three years of round the clock renovations it had opened to a brisk business six months prior.
The only hint of who the owner was hung on one of the pillars of the lobby. The picture showed the back of someone sitting with their legs crossed in an old rocking chair overlooking the city skyline, and had a brass plate at the bottom that read We hope you enjoy your stay. The only thing that changed from resort to resort was the view the same person looked out on. The long legs in all of them belonged to Poppy, and the reason that they were all taken from the back was to commemorate her motto of always looking forward and not dwelling in the past. It was something she had forgotten to practice after Carlys death, but there would be no change at the new property where the picture already hung in the open-air lobby.
The anonymity the photo afforded her, helped in the surprise inspections of different locations throughout the year. Only certain employees in the company shared a close enough relationship with Poppy to recognize her on sight.
"Yes he was a guest for the three months of training Poppy. Shipped out this morning with the rest of the trainees present and should be there by tonight," reported Elizabeth.
"Care to tell me why his wife and child stayed at the Westin by the river then?" asked Poppy. She took off the reading glasses she had on and pinched the bridge of her nose, which prompted Susanna to get up and pour a glass of water and take two aspirin out of the bottle sitting next to the pitcher. Poppy swallowed them without comment and waited for Elizabeth to answer her question.
"His wife was in the city?" asked Elizabeth. She asked the question almost to herself and without prompting from Poppy pulled out the phone again getting her secretary to connect her with the Westin. "Come on Philip dont you want to be in the position of having Poppy owing you a favor? Well I dont know if she would owe you that much, how about a long weekend in Cancun, you spring for the airfare," said Elizabeth. She waited a moment and then thanked the man for the information.
"She checked in three days ago with the baby. A Mr. Frederick Johnson, with a credit card that had a Houston address, settled the bill. Room service records showed a dinner delivery for every evening that she was there, but only for one. She also drank a juice out of the wet bar every day. Anything else you need to know Dr. Evil?" asked Elizabeth. She tapped her fingernail on the closed phone in her hand and wondered why the sudden interest in the accommodations of the management staff.
"No Austin that will be all for now," said Poppy. She could see that they were flying over the capital as she looked out the window, which meant they would be on the ground in about five minutes. Her thoughts flitted between Carly and the young woman she had met in the coffee shop this morning. Something that Carly use to tell her all the time popped into her head, nothing is a coincidence. How that applied to Julia and her daughter Tallulah was something she would have to ponder later.
They sat together on the charter flight down to Venezuela to start on their new life. Julia just wanted the opportunity to get away from her family for a while and was glad Rayford had given her the opportunity to tag along. Rayford had wanted to stay in the Houston area with his friends, but the opportunity to help run something like Carlys Sound was too good to pass up.
She would miss her grandmother most of all, but the pressure her parents had put on her after the birth of Tallulah was too much to handle at the moment. Julia refused to believe, like her parents did, that the birth of her daughter was a mistake that would ruin her life.
The old woman with compassionate eyes, whom Tallulah had been named for, had looked on her the day of that argument with sympathy. Julia had lived with her Granny Tallulah almost from the time of her birth. Her parents had been too busy with her fathers career and social life to be burdened with children. Her grandmother had given her love and a stable home life while her parents traveled the globe working in one exotic place after another.
She looked at the man sitting next to her and wondered what their future held. They both deserved happiness; maybe this job would bring an iota of it to Ray. The party boy had always fallen short in his fathers eyes, cursing the fates for giving him a son with so little ambition. Rayford wasnt a bad person; it was just that he liked the lighter side of life more than the mad rush for money and power. Julia laughed at the thought that he should have gotten a degree in drinking and frat parties instead of management.
The other thing that had been peaking Julias curiosity was the name of the resort. It didnt sound very beachy to her. Most of the other places in the islands had some exotic sounding name like Mayan Gold or something along those lines. From the pictures she had seen, it didnt have the look of your average large resort. Carlys Sound had bungalows instead of a large building with suites, and the way they were arranged on the island gave every guest their own piece of private beach if that is what they desired. There was another beach with a large collection of chaises and tiki looking bars if you wanted company instead. There were four different restaurants each serving different types of food and one bar that would host live music every night for those guests that felt like a little dancing. The whole resort was located on the lee side of the island which faced the Venezuelan coastline, because of the fact the other side was almost barren of vegetation. Julia had read that the constant winds, which made the beach areas pleasant all day, made for monster waves on the north side of the island. It was almost a study in different contrasts for the landscape architect.
"They gave us a bungalow with three bedrooms in the employee village," commented Rayford without looking up from the magazine he was reading. The past three months had been pure torture as far as he was concerned. He had read more in the training sessions than he had the whole time he had been at the University of Texas. In his opinion, they could cut out about two months of the sessions and save everyone the boredom of sitting through the rest of the droning. After all, how many different ways could they expound on the importance of guest satisfaction?
After flipping through a few more pages and not receiving an answer from Julia, Rayford continued, "I figured you could put the kid in one room and you in the other. Once you decide let me know, and Ill take the remaining room. You should be ecstatic to know that I wont be home much, so you and the kid can have the run of the place. Miguel told me that if you dont like the color schemes or if you want some other appliances installed to let him know. Your satisfaction is our first concern," Rayford told her with a laugh. It had been the slogan that had been beaten into his head in the conference rooms at the Ritz.
"Who is Miguel?" asked Julia.
"Miguel Flores is my boss sweetheart, so make sure to talk me up when you meet him. He was the manager of the Cancun resort the company owns before being promoted to this place. I figure a couple of years of ordering the staff around and Ill be able to move to a better place," said Rayford.
"I thought this was the crowning jewel in the Valente Resort Corporation?" asked Julia.
"To the idiot that built it maybe, but Im more interested in a hotel where younger livelier people go, instead of one on some rock out in the middle of nowhere. No maam, this is a temporary situation. Once Matlin comes for a visit Ill start working on her for a transfer, and once thats done, you can come with me if you want."
"Ray, the babys name is Tallulah not the kid, try and remember that when other people are around," said Julia. She kept her voice low so the other passengers couldnt listen in on their conversation and also not to wake the baby. Tallulah, thank God, was still sleeping after her encounter with the singing businesswoman from that morning.
"How can I forget? I cant believe you saddled that cute kid with that name Julia. I was more partial to Rayanna," said Rayford.
"Lets not get into that conversation again, shall we. And once shes old enough youll have to give up this nasty habit of yours," said Julia pointing to the magazine he was reading. "Just in case Ive never told you, youre a pig Rayford," said Julia with a laugh. He could see the conversation was over when her attention went from the baby between them to the window and the water they were flying over. Miss May was looking good, Rayford thought as he unfolded the centerfold ignoring the pig comment.
Bobs voice came over the intercom informing Commander Valente that they were cleared for landing and would be on the ground in two minutes. Poppy gathered her papers and put them in the soft leather briefcase that had been a graduation gift from Carly, before standing to put her suit jacket back on. She rebuckled her seatbelt and waited for the wheels of the plane to hit the tarmac.
A car would be waiting to take them to the courthouse downtown and to the trial that the Stevens family had waited months for. Once that was out of the way, Poppy was planning a little vacation no matter the outcome. It was time to either rejoin the living or find a quick solution to joining Carly wherever she had ended up. The time had come to go back to what she knew best and see if there she could find the enthusiasm she once had. The same excitement she felt when three friends entered the funkiest bar in the French Quarter to catch her act.
They were all dressed in linen pants, print shirts and sandals. Finding a table with enough barstools right next to the stage, Carly sat with Matlin and Ginger to enjoy the show. The three women all smiled up at her and ordered a round of drinks from the bar. Poppy looked different from the night before in that she was wearing a loud Hawaiian print shirt and shorts. The shirt clashed with the equally loud guitar strap she had hanging around her neck and to complete her ensemble she had a straw hat perched on her head.
The friends listened as Poppy worked the crowd of the small bar, getting them to join in on the songs they knew and to clap along with the ones they didnt. Listening to the music she made with only a guitar, Carly couldnt help but sport a smile all night long. It was as if the tall singer who looked so relaxed and casual one minute was infused with energy once her hands flew across all those strings. The other patrons must have agreed with her assessment, since for a Thursday night, the place was packed. Every so often someone would pass around a five-gallon water jug to collect tips for the performer and from the look of it, Poppy would be able to afford new tires on her car.
At midnight Poppy took a break and hopped down from the stage and made her way over to their table. Sitting next to Carly and across from her two friends, they told her how much they liked her style, saving Poppy from having to join in on the conversation. On the last two songs her voice had cracked a couple of times from overuse, so the trio took their turn in entertaining her. While she wasnt expected to talk, Poppys sides hurt from laughing after hearing some of the womens adventures growing up. There was only a one-year difference between Carly and Ginger, while Carly and Matlin were the same age. The friends had grown up as neighbors ever since they had been toddlers.
Ginger and Matlin could see the difference in their friend Carly whenever she was around Poppy. The smile that had been missing for so long was back and the brunette had practically dragged them out of their houses that night to make it there in time. Carlys twenty-four year marriage to Thomas Stevens Jr. had been shaky for some time, and finding out that he was having an affair with his secretary wasnt helping matters. No matter how unhappy Carly was though, she was financially tied to Tom and he took great pleasure in reminding her of the fact. Since he was a successful divorce attorney, Ginger and Matlin were sure that Tom would do everything he could to divest Carly of any assets that were rightfully hers if it came down to that. It was unfortunate, the two friends thought, that the first sign Carly showed of being interested in someone, it had to be a poor college kid with a questionable future.
"Well let me get back to work ladies. Thanks for the water and the stories they were much appreciated. Walk me back?" Poppy asked Carly. She held out her hand to help Carly off the stool and didnt let it go for the ten-foot walk back to the stage. "Want to have lunch with me tomorrow? As you can see from the bottle over there I can take you some place nice," said Poppy.
"Will you wear a real shirt?" asked Carly with a smile. This young person made her feel like a teenager again, and even if she showed up in her underwear there was no way she was going to turn her down.
"Ill see what I can do. I have a ten thirty class tomorrow, but after that Im all yours," answered Poppy. She waved off the bar manager who was pointing to the empty stage and waited for Carlys answer.
"I would be honored to have lunch with you Poppy and you can wear whatever you like."
The three friends left in the middle of the second act noting that it was well after two in the morning. They walked out onto the crowded street to Poppy singing them the Goodnight farewell song. When she pulled up to the large house in the Garden District, Carly found Tom still awake and reading in his study on the first floor.
"Out barhopping again Carly? What will the society pages think if they saw you two nights in a row? Try and remember that we have an image to uphold darling," said Tom with as much sarcasm as he could muster for the late hour.
"Yes dear, Im sure that you and your pet Rita can discuss it tomorrow, after you finish fucking her on the desk. Have pleasant dreams Tom; Ill be in the guest room if you need me. My suggestion to you is that you not need me," said Carly with equal sarcasm. With that Carly turned and headed up the stairs toward the back room where she had moved all her possessions. Being stuck with the man for money was one thing, but being stuck with the man with some STD was quite something else. Matlin and her equally flawed marriage had taught her that. There was no way in hell she was going to their family doctor with something Tom picked up from some cheap whore around town.
The next morning Poppy sat on the first row of the class and tried to ignore the grumbling coming from behind her because of her height. "Just how tall are you?" asked the familiar voice. It was so close the warm breath made the hairs on her neck stand on end.
"Six-two, but whos asking," Poppy replied with a smile and a question of her own.
"A fellow classmate," answered Carly from behind her. It made her almost break out in a happy dance when she had walked into the class and saw the big good looking singer sitting there wearing glasses and flipping through her textbook. There are no such things as coincidences Carly, this is fate girl.
"Mind if I join you?" asked Carly. She had put on a sundress that morning in anticipation of their lunch date and was happy to see that Poppy looked like every other preppy student attending Tulane, with her Ralph Lauren button down cotton shirt and a pair of navy blue pants.
"You dont ever have to ask me that Carly, you will always be welcomed at my side," Poppy told her softly. Carly could see that the blue eyes behind the lenses covering them were sincere. "Fancy meeting you here. Are you taking this class or are you just stalking me?" asked Poppy.
"What would you do if I said I was stalking you?" asked Carly. She put a finger up to her lips to wait for Poppys answer.
"Wear brighter clothes so that you can find me easier?" answered Poppy in question form. It left her open to answer something else if Carly didnt like the first answer.
"Ill keep that in mind," said Carly as she faced forward when the professor walked in. For the next hour Poppy couldnt have told you what the man said about advanced management concepts if her life depended on it, but she could still describe the smell of Carlys perfume years later.
After class Poppy treated her classmate to lunch at Commanders Palace, laughing at the shocked expression on Carlys face when they were seated at one of the best tables in the restaurant. "I play the jazz brunch here every so often when they are short a player," was her only comment before turning her attention to the menu. It was to become their routine for the next three months until the end of the semester and Poppys time to leave for the summer.
In those stolen moments they were able to carve out, the two fell in love. Poppy worried that Carly would forget her in the months she would be gone, and Carly worried that Poppy would come to her senses while she was down in the sun and decide that she was too old for the college senior.
They were studying for finals in the library one evening that Poppy had off, when the talk turned again to the upcoming summer. "You could take a week off and come and visit me," said Poppy. Even though they hadnt really done anything that could be called sexual, the thought of leaving Carly behind was becoming physically painful.
"Come on walk with me," requested Carly. She stood and gathered her books and held her hand out in an invitation. She smiled when it was readily accepted and Poppy took her books away from her. They crossed the street and entered Audubon Park and sat under one of the oak trees and looked through the branches at the night sky.
Sitting between Poppys long legs, Carly relaxed back into the body behind her. It felt so right to sit in Poppys embrace and soak up the body heat the girl seemed to generate in abundance. "Ill try honey, but I dont know if Ill be able to make it down there this summer. Even if I dont, I want you to have a good time and try and find some time to write me and tell me how its going. No matter what, I want you to know that Ill miss you," Carly told her. While she had been talking she felt the two strong arms she loved snake around her waist. Without thought she began to run her hands along Poppys forearms and felt the bands of muscle just under the surface.
"You wont forget about me will you Carly?" asked Poppy in a whisper.
"Oh honey, how can I forget you? You are the best thing in my life aside from my children."
"I love you Carly," said Poppy. She seemed almost hesitant in the admission not sure of how it would be received. Carly stopped the motion of her hand on Poppys arm and turned to face her. Poppys heart sank when she saw the tears in Carlys eyes.
"What did you say?" asked Carly.
"I said I love you Carly," Poppy said again. She brushed Carlys cheek to remove the tears that had started to fall and fought the urge to cry herself if the feeling wasnt returned.
"God, that is so wonderful to hear, finally. Ive been in love with you Poppy Valente for so long I cant remember not being in love with you honey," Carly finally admitted.
"Yeah?" asked Poppy. Carly just nodded her head and stopped breathing when those lips that had sung her so many love songs in the past three months took possession of hers. It was sweeter than even Carly had imagined it could be. Poppy was gentle, and through one kiss conveyed all that she was feeling in her heart. Carly felt loved and turned on all at the same time, and she didnt want it to end.
When Poppy pulled back she could see that Carly still had her eyes closed. "Are you all right baby?" she asked Carly.
"I asked if you were all right," said Poppy.
"NO, and I dont think Ill ever be all right again if you stop wanting me Poppy," Carly admitted her darkest fear. Her other fear was that Thomas would see the love she had for Poppy written all over her when she got home that night, now that they had admitted their feelings for one another. It could be the out he was looking for to get rid of her and install someone else in his life. That wasnt important to her but she did want to have some means to take care of herself should the situation warrant it. Carly was old enough to have learned that sometimes love wasnt enough to get you through. She and Tom had proven that.
"Look at me Carly," said Poppy putting two fingers under Carlys chin. She pushed up gently so that the green eyes she knew by heart would focus on her face. "I promise you darlin that I will always want you and I will always take care of you. Im going to make it so that you will never feel insecure or beholden to anyone Carly; Im going to give you your freedom. What you do with it and with whom you share it, will be up to you baby."
"Honey you dont owe me anything, I just want to be happy with you and for you to be happy in return. At this point, I think Id be happy in a two room shack if it meant seeing you come through the door at the end of the day," said Carly. She leaned in again to feel the touch of Poppys full lips. Her body was on fire but in the middle of a park wasnt her idea of a great first time.
"Im not telling you that because I feel I owe you Carly, Im telling you that because its going to be my gift to you," said Poppy. She kissed Carly one more time before she stood up and pulled Carly up after her. They hugged for a moment before heading out of the park hand in hand. Poppy walked her to her car and Carly drove home in a dream state. A week and a lot of kisses later they said good-bye at the airport before Poppy boarded a plane bound for Aruba. Two months seemed like a lifetime to them, but Poppy needed the time to put the final pieces of her plan in action.
Poppy slept her days away and worked nights for three weeks solid before she set up her meeting with Gloria Guiterrez to finalize their ongoing negotiations. Glorias husband had been one of the first to build a resort in the area known as the Mayan Rivera, or Cancun. Robert Guiterrez had died and his widow had no interest in running the old Spanish style hotel he had left her, so when the young charming American came to call on her, Gloria was more than willing to listen.
It amazed the aging Mexican native that the tall American spoke fluent Spanish with no accent, almost as if it had been her first language. After their second dinner in Aruba Poppy admitted that her family, while naturalized citizens of their adopted country, the United States, were originally from Cuba. Raphael and Isabelle had insisted that their only child speak the language of her heritage, and in this case the child was glad they had been so hard headed about it. Gloria was grateful to be able to communicate in the language she felt most comfortable with while selling away her husbands dreams.
By the third dinner they arrived at a price they were both comfortable with and Poppy wrote the check that would give flight to her dreams. The money Gloria walked off with represented thousands of hours spent in dimly lit rooms in front of microphones for Poppy, but it had been worth it. Now she would get to sing in her bar, for her customers, in her hotel. Her parents would wonder where the three hundred and sixty five thousand dollars came from, but frugal living and persistence of her own had finally paid off. The payment wiped out most of Poppys savings but there was still enough for some fresh paint for the rooms and three months of operating expenses. After that it was a gamble but it would be an interesting roll of the dice.
Poppy put Gloria in a cab headed for the airport after dinner and walked to the nearest mailbox to drop in the letter she had written that morning. Hopefully Carly would be agreeable to her invitation once she received it. The night crew laughed as Poppy danced her way to the bar that night to the music she heard in her head.
A week later Poppy waited at the airport for the plane Carly was supposed to be on, if she had decided to use the ticket she had sent. Poppy waited until every passenger got off and the plane took on new passengers for its return to Miami before throwing the orchids she had bought in the nearest trashcan and headed back to the Hyatt to get ready for work. Carly didnt come which meant that she would head to Mexico alone in January. The experiment the older woman had tried obviously didnt last the test of time and distance Poppy surmised, but the admission didnt come easy to her heart.
She slept until it was time to go to work, even though singing for happy tourists was the last thing she wanted to do that night. An hour into her night, Poppy put down her guitar and sat at the piano behind her and started to play an old song for a couple in the audience who had requested it for their fiftieth wedding anniversary. In the middle of the chorus of Moon River she looked up and saw her. Carly stood at the foot of the stage wearing a green dress that matched her eyes and an orchid in her soft brown hair. In one hand she held the letter that Poppy had sent the week before, and in the other a card that said simply, "yes". For the rest of the night Poppy sat at the piano and played slow love songs for the anniversary couple, but the woman in the green dress sat and listened to the words that she knew were being sung to only her. Poppy had been slow and methodical in her courting techniques, Carly thought as she sat there. From the first song she had heard all those months ago in bar of the Royal Orleans, Poppy had swept her off her feet until Carly felt she would die without her touch or the sound of her voice.
When the set ended they didnt say anything to each other at first, Carly just followed Poppy out of the bar and out to the beach. When they stopped at the waters edge, Carly looked out and saw the distant lights of the Venezuelan coastline that seemed so close to them. As the gentle waves came up to caress Carlys feet, she felt the arms that she had dreamed about for weeks come around her waist and hold her close.
"I missed you baby," was all Poppy said before turning Carly around and kissing her. She threw the flower in Carlys hair into the water and let the silky strands down so she could sink her fingers into it.
"I love you Poppy and I missed you too honey," admitted Carly. The stifled feeling that had plagued her in New Orleans was gone. Poppy made her skin hot and her emotions raw, and Carly found it an exquisite feeling. They sat on one of the chairs under the palm trees and enjoyed the star filled night and the feel of being close again. What didnt go as planned in Carlys mind was when she yawned, she found herself being deposited at her room for the evening and Poppy kissing her goodnight. They still had a lot to talk about, but maybe waiting until morning wasnt such a bad idea.
They sat in the large outdoor café having coffee and fruit salad for breakfast the next morning. Poppy sat with her long legs propped up on one of the empty chairs at the table, and Carly took the opportunity to give her a thorough appraisal. Carly noticed that while Poppy worked nights, she had obviously spent some time in the sun from the dark tan she had. The darker coloring of her skin made the blue of her eyes stand out even more than they usually did given the new contrast. Poppy had also lost weight which made the muscle the young woman possessed stand out more, and her hair was longer than she normally kept it.
"What?" asked Poppy around a piece of mango. She could feel Carlys eyes on her so she turned her body to face her. Poppy was still amused by the shorts and t-shirt that Carly had put on that morning. The uptown socialite had been nothing but a fashion guru since they had met, so seeing this new and relaxed version of Carly was refreshing.
"Nothing, just admiring the view. I havent been able to look at you for a month, so Im entitled. Now that you are finished being amused by my shorts, we need to talk. You are finished being amused arent you?" asked Carly. She returned the smile that Poppy sported and continued when the head next to hers nodded. Carly intertwined her fingers with Poppys for their talk, not wanting to lose contact with the girl.
"Before I got your letter, I formally and legally separated from Tom. I rented a small house in the French Quarter for now, or until I find something more permanent that I like. I went to Tulane and arranged for a student loan to get me through the fall semester, and then I will be heading out into the working world with you. You should know that I want certain things out of life," began Carly.
Poppy lifted their hands and kissed the back of Carlys as a form of encouragement. "What do you want baby?" asked Poppy.
"I want a life with you. I want to live with you and wake up with you in the mornings. I want to love you and be a part of your family for as long as you want me."
"Are you sure about this Carly?" asked Poppy.
"Why, arent you?" replied Carly. The question Poppy had posed was not the response she was really looking for. A simple ok would have been a lot better.
"Because I am going to want you forever Carly. This isnt a passing phase for me and I have to know that you and I want the same things. The letter I sent you asked if you wanted to join me on a journey, and the card you held up last night said yes. It isnt a vacation trip Im talking about baby; its a lifes journey. I bought it yesterday and I want you to join me," explained Poppy. From the look on Carlys face Poppy could see that the woman thought her explanation was as clear as quantum physics.
"I want the same things as you do darling and no, this isnt a phase. Whatever you want to do or wherever you want to go just look to your side and Ill always be standing there. What do you want to do?" asked Carly.
"Love you and make music in the sun," was Poppys answer.
"Perfect," was Carlys commitment.
Poppy told her about the purchase and her plans for the future. After graduation they would head down to Mexico and go into the resort business. She laughed at the look on Carlys face when she found out exactly how much Poppy had saved.
"You had almost a half a million dollars in the bank and you drive that death trap of a car?" asked Carly.
"Yes thats why I have so much, Im cheap. I got use to the not spending when I was young and considering that I have worked almost everyday since I was a junior in high school, it adds up. Dont tell Uncle Sam but most of it was in tips, the rest came from diverse investments. Just think, youll be able to use that degree youve worked so hard on while I pick my guitar and make eyes at the ladies," kidded Poppy.
"Those eyes and every other part of you, Ms. Valente, belong to me. Im staking my claim and I dont play well with others. Now lets go celebrate," said Carly.
Poppy loaded Carly on a sailboat she had borrowed from one of the managers of the hotel and set off to show her a treasure she had found working on the island the year before. Carly stood beside her with her arms wrapped around Poppys waist for the forty minute sail, and enjoyed the spray of the blue green water as they cut through the waves. When Poppy dropped anchor a little out from one of the most perfect beaches Carly had seen, she turned to her adventurous partner and kissed her.
"One day baby Im going to buy this whole piece of the world and build a resort. Im going to design it, and Im going to name it Carlys Sound. After a lifetime together we are going to walk along that beach right there and relive the memories we made here, starting today," Poppy explained.
"What memories are we going to make here my love?" asked Carly. She looked up at the face she loved and felt light headed she was so happy.
"It will be the place we first make love, it will be the place we get married and it will be the place we gift the world when we are ready to share it," answered Poppy. She leaned down and kissed the tip of Carlys nose then moved to put on a backpack.
"Wait here a second baby," she told Carly before jumping over the side into the crystal clear water. When she saw that it only came up to the middle of her chest, Poppy turned around and loaded Carly onto her shoulders for a ride to shore.
On the white pristine sand, under the large majestic palm trees, Poppy put Carly down and took a blanket she had brought out of the backpack. She ran her right hand reverently over Carlys face while her left hand pulled Carly closer. "I want to touch you Carly," Poppy said.
"I want you to touch me too honey," Carly told her. Carly sensed Poppys hands shaking and smiled up at her to help settle her nerves. "Its ok honey, well take this nice and slow. Im the one who should be nervous here, Ive never done this before with a woman, and compared to you, my body may be a little lacking."
"Ive never done this before either, with anyone, so quit worrying," laughed Poppy.
"Youre a ," Carly started.
"I believe the term is virgin baby," supplied Poppy.
"Thank you for sharing this with me Poppy," said Carly. She had tears in her eyes because the young woman who could have had anyone had waited for her. Carly pulled up the wet t-shirt Poppy was wearing and noted the whiter skin where clothes had protected the skin from the sun. When Poppy went to do the same to her Carly stiffened a bit so the tall singer stopped.
"Its silly honey, but three pregnancies and forty-two years hasnt exactly been kind to my body. I dont want, well, I dont want to turn you off," admitted Carly.
Poppy could still remember how she felt the first time she had seen Carly naked. Alone on their island in the late morning light that hid nothing, Poppy added the feeling of lust as well as love when she looked at the woman that stood before her. Carly had been right, in that her body wasnt perfect, but to Poppys eyes it was. Unlike Tom, Poppy was able to see past the little bit of sagging and the stretch marks and touched Carly like she was satisfying a deep hunger. Eleven years later Poppy still remembered what it was like to touch Carlys skin for the first time and what a gift it was to make love to her.
By the time they were finished, Poppy had had to navigate back to Aruba by the stars. In all their time together, the part of their relationship they consummated that day never lost its excitement and luster.
Rubbing the ring on her finger and looking at the buildings in downtown Baton Rouge as the car drove past them, Poppy laughed at the thought of some of their more risqué couplings. Once Carly was free of her past, she devoted her life to being happy, making Poppy happy by default.
"Were here Poppy," said Elizabeth quietly. She was concerned at the distance Poppy had shown all day. The trial that was about to begin, Elizabeth was sure, was bringing a lot of old memories to the forefront of Poppys mind. The thing that scared Elizabeth the most was the fact that Poppy wasnt completely healed from the wound left by her mothers death. What would the added pressure and the unpleasant situation do to the fragile balance Poppy kept?
"Ok kiddo lets go," said Poppy. Before Poppy got out of the car she leaned over and kissed Elizabeth on the cheek then brought her hand up to caress where her lips had just touched. "Knockem dead Lizzy," she said with the trademark Valente smile.
"I promise my friend," said Elizabeth as she leaned into Poppys hand. They would never have a relationship other than the one they shared, but Elizabeth like her mother before her, felt cherished in this womans presence. Carly had polished Poppy like a jeweler would a rough diamond, but some of the rough edges would always remain. And that was ok with Elizabeth. It was those rough edges that made Poppy so unique and so protective of those she loved, but gone were the shorts and the sweatshirts. In their place were tailored suits and starched pinpoint cotton shirts that were custom made. The shoes were Italian, and the hair was done by one of the exclusive shops in New Orleans. Poppy had changed her look after Carly had commented how sexy she looked in the more formal trappings of the business world.
Continued in part 2a
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