Billy’s Baby by Annie J. Rose
“Plumeria and saltwater and something else, some hint of spice perfumes the air,” I dictate into my phone, and the glimpses of the sea I get during my brief taxi ride show not the generic turquoise water of the Bahamas, but a deeper, sapphire blue in places, that calls to me. “Unlike the stucco behemoths of other Caribbean all-inclusive resorts, my hotel, the Scallop Reefs, has an air of European charm in its exterior that calls to mind the rich wood and sun-drenched skies of a British West Indian style.”
The cab driver wasn’t bothered by my talking to myself on the ride. If he had asked, I would have told him I was a travel writer. But he didn’t seem disturbed, so I carried on narrating notes for my upcoming feature on this trip to St. Martin.
It was a pretty sweet job for a chick with a liberal arts degree in a recession. I wasn’t answering phones at a tech support call center like some of my former classmates were. I got to jet out every month to some new, exotic destination and immerse myself in the place for the fullest experience I could manage so I could describe it to my readers. I loved my job. Even if I’d make some changes given the chance—determine my own destinations and do some ecotourism, stay at more out of the way places and fewer huge resorts. Resorts had service and convenience to recommend them and gave a hefty discount to the publication for the exposure my articles gave them, but they sometimes lacked the authenticity and character I really wanted. It still beats troubleshooting someone’s checkout experience with an expired coupon code at a call center though.
When I checked in, sipping my complimentary flute of champagne—plastic glass, I noted, neither classy nor environmentally friendly—my room had been upgraded to a junior suite with a view of the ocean. That kind of ‘surprise’ upgrade happened to me all the time. No matter how I tried to convince the booking agents that I wanted the most authentic and economy-class experience possible, they continually tried to impress me. I didn’t blame them—a dazzling write up from me in Escapes Magazine was worth more than an expensive ad campaign and drove a lot of web traffic to them as well. I’d still rather see the free perks go to some couple who scrimped for a year to save up for an island honeymoon.
“A mahogany four-poster bed is swathed with romantic loops of white netting, the pristine comforter piled with down pillows. From the bed, I can hear the crash of waves on the white sands below my balcony, and the resort’s designers wisely faced the bed to the French doors and not towards a television as if it were a business hotel. The music of the sea and that intoxicating sense of exotic tranquility captures the romance of this destination perfectly as the sky is painted rose and tangerine by a blazing sunset.”
I checked out the bathroom, hung up some of my clothes, and called Maggie, my best friend.
“Hi, babe, I landed safely in paradise.”
“Again?” she said, faking a yawn, “your business trips are sooo boring. Where to this time?”
“St. Martin. It’s gorgeous.”
“Isn’t it always some gorgeous place with a beachfront resort and a glass of house champagne that’s worth about six bucks a bottle?” she said.
“You say that like it’s a bad thing. I’m going to eat at the poolside bar tonight. Just take it easy, try the fries with the duck fat and then go for a swim.”
“Stop saying duck fat. It’s gross.”
“Duck fat is excellent for frying things. It tastes amazing. Also, you don’t get to say anything is gross after you dated that guy who always smelled like fish.”
“He managed a sushi bar. It was his work!” Maggie countered.
“Yeah, well cats followed him. All the time. That’s not normal,” I said.
“I’m not with him anymore,” she reminded me. “You don’t have to give me crap about it.”
“But you didn’t even break up with him because of the smell. You’re so tolerant. I don’t see how you put up with all that crap. Guys are always more trouble than they’re worth,” I said.
“You are not even thirty. You’re not allowed to be that cynical yet. They’re not all losers. I promise,” she replied.
“My faithful little Jiminy Cricket. Name one guy you know personally who isn’t a loser. And your grandpa doesn’t count. No one over the age of seventy.”
“Now you’re just making up stupid rules.”
“Because I won’t let you count a guy who’s been on Social Security for a decade? No, that’s not an unreasonable rule. You can’t name a single man, a living one, who isn’t an asshole.”
“Sure I can, but you said I had to know him personally so I can’t say, like, Mister Rogers.”
“Okay, the Reading Rainbow guy. He’s cool. I follow him on Twitter. He’s totally alive.”
“Have you met him?” I said.
“No, but as I said, I read his tweets and I watched the show as a kid. So it’s like he helped raise me. Total extended family.”
“No one you don’t know personally. If he wouldn’t recognize you and greet you naturally if you ran into him, it doesn’t count,” I said.
“Oh my God, you’re the worst!” she said, exasperated. “Go be cynical in your gorgeous beachfront paradise and cast hexes on the happy romantic couples you see. See if you can drive them apart with your jaded attitude. Maybe stop eating your fries long enough to tell new brides that their husbands are assholes,” she said.
“I don’t try to convert people to my way of thinking. I just know they’ll discover it for themselves soon enough. You know that a girl is better off with a sappy Nicholas Sparks movie and a box of tissues. And one of those really good suction vibrators,” I said.
“I miss it when you were just talking about duck fat. Why did I even answer the phone?” she moaned.
“You know you love me. I’ll buy you a t-shirt from a gift shop. An airbrushed one. Or a shell necklace.”
“I want a shell anklet. Nothing says summer vacation like coming back with a cheesy ankle bracelet made of shells imported from like China or someplace.”
“Your wish is granted, Mags,” I said. “I’ll call you tomorrow. I’ll send you pictures of the beach to taunt you.”
“You always do, babe. Did you bring enough condoms for the whole trip?”
“What? You know that’s not why I’m here. I write for a tourism magazine,” I tried to sound indignant.
“Well, you’re always talking about immersing yourself in the local culture. You have to sample the homegrown goodies, don’t you? As a matter of journalistic integrity?” she giggled.
“Okay, duck fat notwithstanding, you are the worst. Not me. You. I’m not looking for anything on that beach other than seashells.”
“What about in town? I know you like to go off the beaten path and pretend you’re a local and stuff. What if, instead of an airbrushed t-shirt or some cheap weed, you find yourself some dick?” she teased.
“More trouble than they’re worth, remember?”
“That’s only if you talk to them!” she crowed, leaving me laughing helplessly.
“You know I’m getting closer to my goal. Pretty soon I’ll be able to quit the magazine and be my own boss.”
“When do you finish that course on monetizing a blog?”
“I’ve got about a month left before my final project is due. And I’d say in three more months, without any unexpected expenses, I’ll be ready to hand in my notice and be a full-time travel blogger.”
“No more generic beach resorts with swim-up bars?”
“Never again. I love swim-up bars, but there’s so much more to see. I want to backpack through Thailand.”
“I agree in spirit but in real life, I’d rather go to a beach resort. You’re adventurous. You’re not afraid to take the path less traveled. That’s a good thing. And your blog will be fantastic. I know you’ve researched all these web design and marketing people you want to hire.”
“Yes. I want to work with good freelancers, give them a boost, not some consulting corporation that’s all slick buzzwords about search engine optimization and no human touch.”
“Do you want to be touched by marketing humans?” she teased.
“No. I want my blog to be successful, and that means working with people who have the skill set I need and share my vision. Not just someone who has a bunch of awards and a high profile.”
“You and your integrity. I’d be hawking diet tea on Instagram if they paid me to do it.”
“Only if you believed it worked. You’re the most idealistic person I ever met. I bet if you were down here on the island instead of me, you’d think you were going to find the love of your life on a white sand beach.”
“You know it. I’m a sucker for a romantic story with a happy ending. None of this tragic crap in the movies where somebody’s dying of cancer at the end.”
“You really hated Me Before You, didn’t you?” I teased.
“Yeah. What’s not to hate. Sam Clafin is too pretty to suffer and die.”
“He didn’t have cancer.”
“Whatever. It sucked. And I will never forgive you for making me watch it.”
“It was a good movie, and the book was even better,” I insisted.
“I’ll take your word for it. I’m not saying you have bad taste, just that you’re a heartless shell of a person who doesn’t believe in love,” she said good-naturedly.
“I have nothing against love. I love my blog and my five-year plan. I even love you, you big whiner. I just don’t want to waste my time on some guy who’s going to screw with my head for a few months and then run off to the next girl. I don’t want to participate in that cycle that I see every other woman around me going through. Meet a guy, get all excited, be happy for a few weeks, and then be miserable and fight all the time or wonder why he won’t call back. Then the big break up or the ghosting happens, which takes months to recover from. Then they meet a new guy and it repeats. I love to travel and tell people about it. I want to spend my time and energy on that.”
“It all sounds so logical,” she laughed, “until you meet some guy who knocks your socks off.”
“I’m keeping my socks on. Thank you very much,” I said primly, “now I have brochures to look at so I can plan my itinerary. I’ll call you tomorrow. Bye.”
I had a handful of colorful pamphlets for local attractions that I’d found by the front desk. There was a bird sanctuary that looked interesting. I wanted to check out the rain forest, so I looked at a couple of day hike services. One of them really stood out as taking more of an exploratory approach instead of just cruising the easy trails with touristy photo opportunities. I picked up my phone and dialed.