HOLIDAY SPARKLE EPILOGUE
Ten days before Christmas, one year later
At Christmastime, Luis Munoz Marin Airport in San Juan was swarmed with people. An attractive interracial couple strolled through the terminal, their leisurely steps contrasting with the hurried, purposeful strides of the travelers around them. “How much time do we have until our next flight?” the woman asked her companion.
“About two hours.”
“Do you think we’ll have to go outside to board the plane and they’ll roll up the steps?”
“Like they do for Air Force One? It depends on how big the plane is. I’ve always had to walk through that connector thing, even for smaller planes. But who knows how many people are flying to Guadeloupe.”
The former Reine Robinson smiled at her new husband. “I hope they bring out the moveable stairs. That’ll be a new experience for me. This whole trip has been a new experience. I’ve never been on a honeymoon before.” She giggled at her joke.
“That makes two of us.”
“And I’ve never flown first class, either.”
“Life’s too short to be crammed into a tiny airplane seat. So what do you say, Mrs. Benedict?” Chase suggested. “Shall we spend our layover buying tacky souvenirs, or would you prefer to chill, eat, and drink in the V.I.P. lounge?”
Her entire face lit up. “The lounge. And I love being called ‘Mrs. Benedict’.”
“Good. Because that’s going to be your name for the rest of your life.”
She jokingly touched her index finger to her lips. “You’d better not let your father hear you say that. You know he’s hoping we won’t last.”
“Come on, Reine. He came to the wedding, didn’t he?”
“Yes, wearing a smile as genuine as a McRib.” She shook her head. “I’m still stunned at the turnabout. I thought your mother would be the one to object to us getting married.”
“Mom’s a romantic. She just doesn’t like being gossiped about. She knew the people at Tyler’s wedding would pelt her with questions about the black woman I was dating. She would have preferred me to bring some blonde I was sleeping with, but once she knew it was serious between us, she got behind us one hundred percent and has stood up for us, including to my dad.”
“Who thought it was great that you were getting some dark meat…as long as that’s all there was to it.”
Chase twisted his mouth. “That’s a pretty crude way of putting it, but yes. He was as shocked as Mom was happy when I told him I thought you were the one. He’s tried to get me to change my mind ever since. But I think he’s coming around.”
“Looks like it’ll be your sister’s kids who’ll run the family business. I think your father’s uncomfortable about the prospect of having one branch of his family turn from white to black.” She sighed. “I’m not sure I blame him. My father made a joke about his great-great-grandchildren sitting around the patio talking about how much they dislike black people…but I think part of him was more than a little worried that might actually happen.”
He patted her hand. “At least your parents and my mom were all for us once they understood we’re in love. Don’t worry, Reine. My dad will come around.”
She rewarded him with one of her brilliant smiles. “Right now I don’t care if he doesn’t. We got married yesterday and we’re starting our honeymoon today. I’m so happy, Chase. Nothing can spoil that.”
“Me, too.” He squeezed her hand.
“I just hope Stefan and Jasmine will be as happy.” She giggled. “I still can’t believe we ran into them at the marriage license office. How about them getting married three weeks before us?”
“I’m glad for Tyler’s sake that it wasn’t the same day, since he was in their wedding party and a guest at ours. Hey, there’s the lounge the lady who checked us in told us about. Let’s go have a drink and something to eat.”
They approached the doors of the V.I.P. lounge. It swung open just as they reached it. Chase held the door for the couple who were leaving. Like them, this couple was interracial, right down to the particulars: the woman was African-American, the man white. The woman held a plump baby girl who stared unabashedly at them. Reine couldn’t take her eyes off the child, who wore a long-sleeved cream-colored shirt with a red Peter Pan collar and a red bow paired with red pants. She could only hope her and Chase’s children would be that cute. And the way the child smiled at them made Reine wish she could read her thoughts. Did she and Chase remind the infant of her own parents? “What a beautiful baby,” she gushed. “How old is she?”
“Thank you,” the child’s mother replied, seeming only too happy to pause to answer the query. “She’s almost three months.”
Reine’s eyes immediately swept over the mother’s shapely midsection. She’d done an amazing job of getting her figure back after giving birth. But her real source of admiration was the baby.
“Bye-bye, sweetheart,” she cooed. “You have a good flight.”
“Thanks,” the father replied. “Safe travels to you as well.”
The family went on their way, and Chase and Reine went inside. He presented the person at the door with their boarding passes, and after they were granted access he draped a comforting arm around Reine’s shoulder. “I know what you’re thinking. Their baby looks like she could belong to us. I know you want a family and so do I, but I want to have you all to myself for now. We’ll see about becoming three next year, okay?”
She rewarded him with another sunny smile.
“What a nice couple they were,” Theo remarked as she and Anderson blended into the throngs of people moving through the airport. “I noticed those shiny rings. They have to be new. I’m betting they’re honeymooners, just like we are.”
“Yes, except we’re honeymooners with a kid; a beautiful baby girl. Their child will probably look something like ours,” Anderson said matter-of-factly. “Enough of this talk. We’re off for a week of sun and fun with our princess, here.” He pinched the baby’s sock-clad big toe, and the little girl chortled, waving her plump little fists in the air.
The boarding announcement for first class was being made as they made their way to the gate. As usual the line was short, and they noted several other couples pausing to hug, kiss and caress. Romance was definitely in the air this holiday season.
“How sweet,” Theo commented. “It looks like the honeymoon is just beginning for all these lovers.”
“I can’t speak for them, but every day spent with you is a honeymoon,” Anderson replied; a hand stroking her hip.
Theo handed baby Andi over to Anderson. He passed her the car seat and settled the baby in the harness against his chest.
As Theo helped secure a dozing Andi in the harness, the car seat dangled from her forearm. She gasped, noting a pair of expensive-looking sunglasses, the arms of which had been wrapped around the straps of a woman’s shoulder bag, wobbling precariously. The couple walking just beyond the edge of the gate appeared oblivious to the impending peril.
“Your sunglasses!” Theo shouted, gesturing to the glasses as they hit the floor.
The African-American couple, alerted by Theo’s call, looked over at them. The man, tall and GQ cover model handsome, released his ponytailed companion’s hand and bent to retrieve the designer eyewear. He wiped the glasses with the bottom of his polo shirt before placing them tenderly on the woman’s upturned face.
Turning to Theo he called, “Thank you,” before resuming his handholding with the woman.
What a good-looking couple they made.
The baby now secure, Theo and Anderson followed the boarding first class passengers.
“Tell me we aren’t crazy for taking a three-month-old on our honeymoon,” Anderson said.
Theo gave him a playful shoulder punch. “Honey, we delayed having a real honeymoon until after Andi was born. And as I recall, it was your idea to bring her along.”
Theo had gone to Paris and filled in as president for Katrina LaLanne while Katrina was on her maternity leave. During that time, she and Anderson had done some serious work on having their own baby. Andrea was the result.
The baby made suckling noises, and Anderson kissed the top of the sleeping child’s head. Lucky for them, the transit time in San Juan had been mercifully brief, and the baby hadn’t been at all fussy. Andi had slept through most of the first leg of the New York to San Juan flight. Hopefully, she would do the same for the remaining legs. Theo couldn’t wait to get to the Cotton House in Mustique and their upscale accommodations. She needed the ocean and sun. And she needed sleep. It would be a good time for Andy to bond with his little princess.
“I am so in love with both of you,” Theo gushed as they continued the boarding process.
Theo handed Andi’s car seat to the employee standing at the ramp door. Together they made their way on board. Settled with Andi nestled against his chest, Anderson leaned over and kissed Theo. “You’ve got my heart, honey. Don’t ever forget that.”
“I know that. You’ve shown me how much you love me in so many ways. Even our boss, your stepsister, has come to accept us.”
“Alex has no choice. Either she accepts you as my wife, or she loses two key employees and the brother she claims to adore.”
Anderson hadn’t minced words with his half-sister. He’d told her quite bluntly that he was marrying the woman he loved, and that was that. If she didn’t like the fact that Theo was now part of the family, then they’d sever their business ties and he and Theo would move on to other firms.
Theo knew they didn’t come better than Anderson. He and Andrea were her entire world. They were what mattered now. Theo had taken an extended leave from Beau Visage to raise their child and be at home for her family. She loved every moment of domesticity, so much so, that she might never return to the daily grind. While on leave, she acted as a consultant for Beau Visage, but work was no longer the reason she existed.
Down the road a bit, starting her own business was a definite possibility. That way she could work the hours she wanted and be at home for her two priorities; Anderson and Andrea. She loved being a part of a family again. She’d never felt so cherished and loved. Theo wished her parents were alive to witness her happiness. Angels that they were, they’d provided her a second chance to reunite with the man she loved.
She’d never felt so blessed.
“You and those shades,” Devin McGee teased his bride. “Good thing that woman called out to you, or they might have broken.”
“Well,” Larissa replied, “a lot of wealthy people vacation in St. Bart’s, especially during the winter. I want to look more like one of the jet set and less like the tourists who come in on tender boats off of cruise ships.”
“I’d say you succeeded. You look like Beyoncé with darker hair.” He gave her a warm smile. “Seriously, Larissa. I tried to find a Caribbean island worth going to where you haven’t already been, but there aren’t any. Are you really okay with honeymooning in St. Bart’s?”
“Are you kidding? I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to rub elbows with the rich and famous.”
“We could’ve gone to Rio, you know,” he said tentatively.
She shook her head. “I’ve already been back there, when I was with the cruise line. I don’t really feel any ties to it. Neither of my parents had any immediate family, and I don’t remember anything about living there, just scattered memories of my father. I think my earliest clear memory is getting on the plane to go to Texas.” She took a moment to recall how frightened she’d been when the plane roared down the runway at take-off, and how she’d furiously chewed the gum her mother gave her to prevent her ears from popping. “Daddy brought Mama back a long time ago, before Rafi was born. She said they went to the favela where we used to live and looked at it, but didn’t actually enter it. Mama said she would be embarrassed to see her old friends. She didn’t want them to think she was putting on airs because she’d married an American and could afford to travel. If anything, the she said the trip only accentuated just how different her life had become.”
“I guess old Tom Wolfe was right when he said you can’t go home again.”
Larissa chuckled. “Mama did up a little something while she was there, though. She said she’d been back in Texas about five weeks when she began to suspect she was pregnant. She’s always maintained that Rafi, even though he’s an American by birth, was conceived in Rio.”
“So you’d never want to go back to Brazil again?” Devin asked.
“No. I would like to go back one day, but I would be a tourist, just like you. And I would want to wait until our children are old enough to understand that because I was born there, their roots are as much Brazilian as they are Texan.”
“So I guess in about fifteen years we’d better plan on making a South American pilgrimage,” he said. At her nod he added, “I’ll have to make sure I keep up with my samba. I wouldn’t want to be viewed as an ugly American.” He laughed.
“If the way you danced at our reception was any indication, you’ll be fine.”
Devin looked pleased with himself. “I did do pretty good, didn’t I? And to think I never took a single lesson.”
Larissa gave him a sidelong glance. “What do you call the way Mama worked with us?”
“Practice.” He laughed. “I’m just glad your mother finally accepted the idea of you when I being in love and getting married.”
The corners of Larissa’s mouth turned upward. “I’ll always cherish the memory of our mothers sitting together, working on wedding plans. And it was so gracious of your parents to let us hold the reception in their back yard. I can hardly believe how elegant it was.”
“Larissa, some of the most formal wedding receptions are held outside, under tents. They’re not just for circuses, you know.”
Now it was her turn to laugh. Imagine, comparing the elegant white tent with full sides and built-in windows to the “big top” of a circus. The chef in his white jacket and tall hat, the wait staff passing out hors d’oeuvres, two bartenders whipping up drinks, the talented musicians…
Then she frowned as an unpleasant thought occurred to her. “I’ve got a feeling some of your parents’ friends said among themselves that your parents must have paid for the wedding.”
“Never mind what they say. We both know that’s not true. And my mom said that whenever anyone asked how she felt about my marrying the housekeeper’s daughter, she told them that she’s always considered you and your mother to be part of the family anyway, and that the wedding makes it official.”
Larissa beamed. “God bless your mother. And isn’t it wonderful about Jill Brunson being engaged? Her fiancé seems like a nice man, and they both look so happy.”
“I just hope she’s able to get out from under her mother’s thumb. If she can break away from her mother’s control, she’ll be fine. If not, I’m afraid her marriage will be doomed.” He paused. “Thank God your mother isn’t like that.”
“The only thing she asked me…and I’ve been reluctant to bring it up,” she admitted, “is that we raise our children as Catholics.”
“I don’t have a problem with that, Larissa. I do presume it’s not considered a sin for a Catholic to attend a Baptist church once in a while, is it?”
She broke into a grin. “No, of course not. Mama’s very excited about the prospect of becoming a grandmother. She told me she’ll be fifty next year, and she always imagined she’d become a grandmother about then. Talk about a hint.”
“Well, I’m certainly not getting any younger,” Devin replied. “Tell you what. Your mother insists Rafi was conceived in Brazil. How do you feel about your first baby being conceived on St. Bart’s?”
They smiled at each other, and it felt as though they were alone rather than in the middle of the Caribbean’s busiest airport.
“Just think, seven whole days on a Windstar Cruise. This will be the best honeymoon ever,” Lana Hunter-Tennille gushed, hooking an arm through her husband’s.
The boarding announcement was being made as they exited the Delta airline club. Lana and Cato hustled toward their departure gate.
“The service is supposed to be outstanding, and I’m looking forward to seeing the smaller islands those big cruise ships can’t get into,” Cato said, pausing to kiss her.
Lana’s heart pounded. When she came up for breath she caught the eye of an attractive African-American couple hurrying by. The tall man had the bone structure of a Greek god and his companion wore oversize sunglasses reminiscent of Jackie Onassis. The man winked at her and she returned the female’s wide smile. Their clasped hands and moony looks at each other indicated they were very much in love. Not as much in love as she was with Cato.
Lana and Cato’s bags were checked through to Barbados, where the Windstar Cruise would depart. All they needed to worry about was getting on their plane.
Another couple carrying roller boards raced by, almost running them over.
“Sorry, got a flight to catch. You have a good one,” the male said, tugging on his bride’s hand.
The woman, dressed in shorts, still wore her veil. That made Lana giggle.
Love was definitely in the air, and something Lana had never fully experienced until meeting Cato. She was itching to get their honeymoon started, but right now she’d have to settle for another heart-stopping kiss.
Lana brought Cato’s head down to hers, and kissed him with all the pent up passion she’d put on hold. “I’m so happy Russ and Alli are engaged. Maybe we can have joint vacations next year.”
Not sure that’s going to work,” Cato said nibbling on her bottom lip. “I hate the idea of sharing you with anyone.”
“Me too,” she responded against his mouth.
“Final boarding call, love birds,” the boarding agent hissed as their kiss deepened.
Arm in arm they hurried on board the plane to embark on a honeymoon that would never end.