I stared at the wrapped gift as he walked out the door.
That night, I couldn’t sleep. I stared at it, recounted every request of his that I had turned down. Every question I had refused. Every statement that I had given a sarcastic response to. A hundred mini-tests. All that I had failed.
Hours later, emotionally exhausted, I tried to squeeze the gift through my bars. When it didn’t fit, I squashed it, punching on it until it popped through the bars and landed, unopened, on the other side, skittering to a stop next to a bag of mulch.
It was Phase One’s final act of rebellion.
3 weeks before
I gripped the handles of my bag—a new one—purchased a month earlier in Cabo. Hefted it over my shoulder and stepped toward the plane, Abe nodding at me, the sun making his silver hair glint. “Good morning, ma’am.”
“Good morning. Smooth weather?”
“Yep. Clear skies.”
I smiled tightly, passing him my bag and jogging up the steps, a paperback in hand. I’d flown with Abe fifteen times now. He certainly seemed competent, touching down in last week’s storm without disaster. But I still got nervous, stepping into the death trap, even if it did come complete with elegant trappings and a minibar.
I texted Brett, let him know we were departing, and buckled in. Reclined my seat and tried to relax. In two hours, we would touch down in Lauderdale, where we’d pick up Brett, and fly another half hour to Jamaica. The next three days would be spent on the beach before returning home—Brett to his, me to mine. A long distance apart. Each separation was starting to get harder. I stayed on the plane when it landed at FLL, moving aside the curtain and watching as Brett jogged across the pavement, a leather bag in hand, a polo stretched across his strong shoulders, jeans hugging thighs that I’d soon be astride. He opened the door himself, the change in cabin pressure bringing a gust of fresh air and, minutes later, the tousled head of the man who I was in love with.
“Hey babe.” He leaned over my seat, placing both hands on the armrest, and gave me a deep kiss. “I missed you.”
I grinned. “It’s been four days.” Only four days since we were on the beach in Cancun. My skin was hitting a level of tan it’d never known in October. Note to single women everywhere: date a man who works in exotic locales. I didn’t know how I’d ever go back to the unexciting men of Quincy.
“Four days felt like forever. How much trouble is this weekend getting you into at work?”
I shrugged. “I’ll sort it out.” I’d have to. I’d left that afternoon to a glare from Anita, my manager. Being the town’s only FA could only get me so much leeway, and I had spoiled them by not taking a vacation day in two years. The initial support over my new relationship had quickly soured into polite disapproval over the last months.
I glanced out the window, my hands tightening on the armrest as the plane accelerated down the runway.
Before Brett, I would have called Jamaica paradise. Emerald blue water, white sand, palm-treed islands everywhere you turned. Stick a frozen margarita in front of me and I would have been in bliss.
But now, with Brett-quality travel underneath my sarong’s belt, my eyes saw things differently. They picked up on the gaunt barefoot youth that scowled at our car. They noted the armed guards who stood before the Ritz Carlton’s gates, their machine guns and bulletproof vests sending a shiver of alarm through me.
“Is this a bad area?” My eyes met one of the guards’, and he nodded curtly, no smile given. Our car continued on, a directional arrow for our hotel ahead. I wondered briefly why we weren’t staying at the Ritz. It seemed ridiculous to fly private and then skimp on hotel accommodations, especially for Brett, a man who spent freely.
He shrugged. “It’s Jamaica.” Like that answered it.
“Why’d we come here?”
“Business.” He leaned over, nuzzling a spot above my collarbone before moving to my lips and taking a long kiss.
“Is that why we’re staying at Luchen?”
He pulled back, studied my eyes, his mouth curving. “You’re stuck on the Ritz, right? You’d rather stay there?”
I laughed, trying to play off my comment. “No, I don’t care where we stay. I was just asking.”
“The men I’m meeting want girls. Luchen is where the college girls come to party. They are simple men, more interested in bikinis than thread count. I’m just following their wishes.”
I frowned. “Great. Something for me to think about every time you are off on ‘business.’”
His hand stole down, in between my thighs. “I don’t want those girls, Riley. This is the only thing I have on my mind.” He drew his hand up, cupping my panties, his fingers teasing me through the cloth. I exhaled, trying to maintain composure.
“I’m sure.” He looked toward the driver. “How far away are we?”
“Five minutes, Mr. Jacobs. Maybe less.”
“Five minutes.” His eyes returned to mine as he threatened me with the time, a digit starting a steady roll back and forth over my clit. I closed my eyes, my back involuntarily curving against the seat, making me more available to his hand. “Five minutes and then I’ll fuck you so well you’ll never doubt that again.”
Our second day in Jamaica, and I was alone in the hotel bed. I stared at the clock. 11:48 PM. We had gone to dinner. Then had drinks in the bar. Then Brett excused himself, heading downstairs to meet with clients.
I was noticing a pattern.
Every trip—one or two nights, Brett had business. Not the entire night, just for a few hours, at the time in which nothing good happened. I wasn’t used to this, the men of my town, of my upbringing, were the Southern gentlemen type. We didn’t have late night parties, didn’t return home at two AM. My town was too small for secrets or affairs. You farted in your living room, and folks in Ken’s Deli were talking about it the next morning. So I was out of my element with Brett’s activities.
I understood that not all business dealings were the handshake-over-cow-fence transactions that I grew up with. I understood that Brett’s clients were flashy men who chased women and fished with equal vigor, thinking nothing of downing tequila before writing a five million dollar check. That didn’t mean this smelled right. Didn’t mean that—just one time—he couldn’t bring me along. I sat up, swung my feet off the bed and thought.