Enthusiasm coursed through her limbs as she shifted the weight of the bulky knapsack from one shoulder to the next. A sweaty palm gripped the handle on her cheetah print carry-on luggage as she made her way with the click of her heels across the white marble floors of the Yellow Belle Hotel and Spa lobby. The hotel was all she imagined it to be, from the many pictures she obsessed over during the three months it took to plan her trip to the island of St.Desaina.
Everything mirrored the images she saw from her computer screen; the oil paintings that lined the wood-paneled walls, the opulent chandelier that reflected its glimmering rays around the length of the space, even the adjacent room which sheltered the hotel's casino. The space was immaculate, yet affordable enough for the likes of her to afford. Arriving at the receptionist desk, she combed through the side pockets of her bag and retrieved the transparent plastic file jacket that carried her paperwork.
“Goodnight ma’am,” a girl presumably in her early twenties greeted Jahnia with a bright smile. “Do you have a reservation?” she asked chirpily.
Jahnia handed over her passport and credit card. “Indeed I do Denise” she scanned the name card pinned to the breast pocket of the girl’s mustard yellow shirt.
“How was your flight in?” Denise asked warmly.
“As best as an economic flight can be,” Jahnia said with a light laugh.
“What I wouldn't give for any type of flight right now, Denise remarked while clicking away on the computer keyboard.
Jahnia knew exactly how she felt. Taking vacation trips was not a luxury she was accustomed to. This trip was basically handed to her after coming out on the other side of the toughest year of her life. Her friend Kimmy had accumulated travel points with her booking provider and had offered them to her without batting an eye.
“If anyone deserves a break, it's you girl,” Kimmy had urged. She deliberated with herself for a few days as to how she could afford the balance of the trip and had given in to the proposition after working out the intricate budgeting details. For the months leading up; she gorged on Ramen noodles, hunted grocery coupons, cycling to work instead of driving, which also aided in her cutting costs on her gym membership while still benefiting from exercise. She even resorted to stealing toilet paper from work to avoid spending unnecessarily. Two months later here she was, dressed in her favorite denim jacket and jeans on the vacation she never thought she needed. Thanks, Kimmy.
St. Desaina was the destination of choice not only because it wouldn't burn a hole through her pocket, but also owing to the fact that it lent to some semblance of peace and serenity for her. She needed peace and serenity right now.
“The Octagon suite does have a lot to offer,” Denise was saying.
Jahnia tapped her pink coffin-shaped acrylic nails on the smear-less glass reception table. “Trust me, I saw the reviews on the website. I’m excited to see for myself,” she admitted while resting her cellphone on the table.
“The hotel does request to keep your passport and credit card, for the duration of your stay. Were you made aware of that?”
Jahnia nodded. “Um, I booked the five-night and six days stay under a special promo, do you see that in any notes?” she asked in almost a whisper while looking back to see how close the next person in line was of earshot. The nearest were two girls busy chattering away, and a guy standing behind them dressed in a black leather jacket and ripped black jeans.
“Not to worry…” Denise handed her the plastic keycard, “...at the time of your booking, the promotion was entered automatically into the system. Room 807,” she confirmed.
Jahnia tightened the straps of the bag on her back. “You can step to the side while I check in the other guests,” Denise pointed to the corner opposite the entry door to the casino. “The bellboy will be down shortly to take you to your room, it’s one of those busy nights you know.”
Jahnia rolled the wheels of the carry-on over to the corner.
“ Ms. Boston,” Denise called out, “you forgot your cell phone,” waving the device in Jahnia’s direction.
The near butt-length box braids bounced against Jahnia’s body as she briskly walked back to the desk. “Thank you so much,” she said as a chuckle of relief parted from her lips.
“You're very welcome,” Denise said. “Oh I forgot to ask, would you like a keycard for your husband as well?” this came out casually as if a mere afterthought.
“Husband?” Jahnia echoed, a bit louder than she intended as several of the guests walking in and out of the lobby darted questionable glances at the receptionist’s desk. Jahnia cleared her throat, as she gripped a corner of her denim jacket to balance herself.
“I think there is some mistake honey, I’m not checking in with anyone.”
A look of confusion punctuated Denise’s forehead, as she looked from the computer to Jahnia’s face, then back at the computer again.
“So you don’t know Mr. Chase?”
Jahnia shook her head.
“Kemsley? Chase Kemsley?” Denise pressed.
Jahnia shook her head again. None of this made any sense and she hoped it all cleared itself up soon because her body was aching from the six-hour flight she not too long ago landed from.
“Um, excuse me, ladies, I’m not trying to be presumptions, it could be that I’m jet-lagged, or that I drank way too many Screwdrivers earlier, but I do think I heard a mention of my name,” said a voice that sported a faint yet distinguishable British accent.
Jahnia turned to face him. It was the guy in the jacket. His green eyes glanced from Denise’s face to hers, The light gust of his cologne pleasantly mingled with the coconut lemongrass aroma of the lobby.
“Kemsley?” Denise asked with an expression that screamed she hoped it wasn't him.
“Yes,” he said, looking more confused than both Jahnia and Denise put together. As if that were possible.
“I’m sorry, “ he blinked in dubiety. “Have I won like a prize or something?” he asked with a smile.
A gorgeous smile, Jahnia acknowledged.
Denise gave a shaky laugh.
“Oh you won a prize alright,” she mumbled under her breath. “I’ll be right back guys,” she said while leaving the desk and bustling with slender long legs across the lobby floor to a door that had an engraved Manager.
Several minutes later she wandered out with a man that reached to her shoulder in height. They both wore a puzzled look on their faces, which gave Jahnia an unsettling feeling in her stomach. After typing on the keyboard ferociously for a few minutes, the manager turned to both Chase and Jahnia.
“It seems our system accidentally booked you two in the same suite,” his voice was nasal and lacked genuine concern.
Jahnia felt her stomach churning in a slight panic.
“Well it's a simple fix, isn't it? Just book one of us in another room.” she heard Chase suggested.
The manager slowly shook his head.
“I’m afraid that with the local Soca Mashup concert in a few days, all our rooms are booked out.”
Chase stepped from behind Jahnia and was now standing beside her. He started to glance around the room as if looking for something specific.
“Is Ashton Kutcher here? Because this must be a bloody joke, he lilted.”
“There hasn’t been a new episode of Punk’d in damn near thirteen years,” Jahnia said coyly.
Chase turned to her and they both laughed.
“This has never happened before, “ the manager was saying. “I’ll ensure to refund all payments as this is the hotel’s screwup, plus we’ll book a spa massage on the house at a time convenient to you of course,” he added while nodding towards Jahnia and Chase.
Jahnia sheepishly turned to Chase. “I’m down if you are.” This was somewhat a blessing to her as the accommodation was the part of her trip that she had to pay through her nose to afford.
She studied his face, as he ran a veined hand through his curly shoulder length coal black hair. “That’s cool with me,” he said while adjusting the black duffel bag over his shoulder.
If someone would’ve told Jahnia she would be sharing a suite with a stranger on the first night of her conscientiously planned out vacation; she would’ve said yea? and pigs could fly. Yet here she was, in the confines of the lush Octagon shaped room, with a stranger. Her delicate feet dangled off the side of the super king-size mattress. He had offered his long-sleeved pajama top in an effort to make her feel less bare in front of a stranger, opting out of wearing the thin strapped silk top she brought along.
“What brought you to St. Desaina?” he asked casually as he poured chilled white wine to her stemless wine glass, then plopped his body into the plush white leather couch across from the bed.
Jahnia paused before answering as if giving the question deep thought.
“Trying to find and lose myself all at once,” she finally muttered while taking a sip.
Chase, arms sprawled across the back of the couch, studied her face for a moment before asking. “In what way?” there was a genuine hint of concern to his tone.
“Well I’ve stopped living for a year since my mom’s death, completely afraid of everything, and I think I've just arrived at that last section of grieve called acceptance. I’m not sure what I’ll get out of St. Desaina, but I sure hope it’ll provide some clarity…” she hesitated before continuing, “...some closure.”
Chase slowly rose from the couch and sat beside her on the bed.
“My mom and dad met at a cave on this island on a high school trip. I came here to visit that cave.” In hopes, I can find something as positively lasting as how they found each other, she finished in thought.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Chase finally said softly, while gently squeezing her hand.
“What about you?” she asked, feigning an upbeat tone.
“Well, you remember that Soca Mashup concert the receptionist mentioned?”
“That’s my fancy.”
She spent the next few hours learning about him and him about her. She learned he was an advertising executive who in an effort to piss off his dad, quit medical school after the first year and opted for a degree in Business. He traveled a lot for work. She let him in about being laid off from her job as a barista two weeks before coming on this trip; had reasoned to still come because she would rather be broke on St. Desaina sipping on mojitos than to be broke in her cramped apartment listening to the neighbor above arguing incessantly with his common-law wife. Chase had laughed as he asked her what was her plan when she returned home, to which she had replied, “I’ll think about that when I return home.”
“I always wanted to go back to school,” she said with her legs now draped across his in a way that’s common with close friends or lovers.
“Yeah? So what’s stopping you?” he asked while looping the end of one of her braids around his ivory fingers.
“Well for one; money, have you seen the price for school? Just looking at ‘em sends a sistah in the nuthouse,” she joked, but Chase didn't laugh, he didn’t even crack a smile.
“I think if it's something you’re serious about, you should give it serious consideration. Think about it ok.”
Jahnia smiled at him, nobody except her mother had encouraged her this much about taking her future seriously. Despite not opening up about it to anyone, she did feel disheartened working in a coffee shop in a college town. She’d had to train her mind not to miss school, not to miss the opportunities of a career she wanted that slipped through her fingers when her father died a few years earlier forcing her to leave school and work to help her mom take care of them both. She’d had to pretend it didn’t hurt watching her mom hurt for not being able to allow her daughter the opportunity to pursue her dreams. She pretended so much for so long, that pretense chiseled a barrier around her heart, allowing her to compartmentalize away every hope and dream she had.
She was pretending now too. Pretending not to be moved by the genuine concern of this stranger. Pretending fireflies weren't doing somersaults in her stomach every time his hand touched any part of her body in the most innocent way. Pretending she didn't want to ask if he was single.
“So why is a woman like yourself on vacation alone?” his smooth voice cut through her thoughts. Is he hitting on me? She wondered.
She cleared the knot that now seemed to form in her throat.
“I couldn’t find myself focusing on anything right after mom’s death, let alone a relationship. What about you, why is there not a Mrs. Kemsley here with ya?”
“She’s afraid of airplanes,” he replied with a nonchalant shrug of his bare shoulders.
Jahnia’s stomach tightened and she felt a pang against her chest. He’d obviously seen her reaction because he chuckled, scanned her face some more then laughed a little harder.
Jahnia narrowed her eyes and crossed her arms across her flat chest.
“I’m sorry,” he said after catching his breath, “your expression cracked me up, but on a serious note relationships are bloody hard to maintain in and of themselves, add my work and traveling schedule to the mix and you have oil and water,” he explained.
She was surprised at herself for feeling disappointed towards him saying that. Why did it matter anyway? She probably won't ever see this guy after he leaves the day after tomorrow.
The more they talked, the more Jahnia wanted to know about him. Eventually, the room became crisp with the low temperature of the air conditioner they were unable to adjust with the remote. Chase offered to sleep on the couch. Jahnia insisted he slept on the bed as it was big enough to fit her slender and his stocky but well-defined bodies.
“So cave exploration tomorrow huh?” he asked, laying with the sheet pulled up across his smooth chest.
“Rain or shine,” she said. What will you get into tomorrow?”
“I’m expected at a brunch with some friends, then I think I'll take up on that free massage offer by the hotel. Soca Mashup starts at about ten in the night. Why? Do you want me to explore the cave with you?” he teased while nudging her with his feet under the covers.
“Nah, I don't need an English, turned California city boy, burdening me on a hike, my bag is all the luggage I’ll need,” she jabbed.
They both chuckled. Jahnia however wished she had instead told him she would love it if he came on the trip with her.
They had conversated into the late hours of the night. She learned he had shared custody of a little girl with a woman his parents had introduced him to and insisted he marry, but chose not to. The little girl shared his dazzling green eyes and curly hair from what Jahnia could see off the picture he showed her on his phone. He learned she still followed her ex through a fake Facebook page she created shortly after their breakup. They both went into details about their lives, inviting each other into not only good but sordid details of past and current and the in between. There was no topic off the table. He didn’t hesitate to answer her questions. She didn't flinch to satisfy his curiosity. It was the most daunting yet simplistic connection Jahnia had felt to another person in a very long time. They talked until their eyes were laden with sleep until their tongues seemed too heavy with the weight of each word. They talked until their feet inadvertently wrapped around each other, until his chest made a pillow for her head until his waist braced the raw weight of her arms wrapped around them. They both drifted off into the splendid unknown of sleep into the foreign yet familiar arms of each other; strangers who met under the blissful disguise of faultlessly designed fate.