LOST IN ST. MAARTEN? Was Valencia Taken or Did She Go?
Valencia Stevens had booked a cruise of the eastern Caribbean. Cruising had never been her thing but she loved traveling. She wanted to kick back and relax and a cruise seemed just the ticket. At forty one she was exhausted. Her work as a forensic and magazine photographer had taken her far and wide and won her acclaim and an impressive bank account but she was tired. The week before she picked up a brochure while waiting to see her doctor and it featured a cruise of the US Virgin Islands, St. Thomas, St. Maarten, St. John and on to Turks and Caicos for four days. After her doctor prescribed rest, she booked the cruise. She only had her younger sister, Veronica to tell because their dad had never been around and their mother passed away five years earlier at age sixty-five. Veronica and her family were her only family members that mattered.
“Valencia, you're going on a cruise alone? No one does that.”
Standing with her hands on her abundant hips, Valencia stared at her younger sister Veronica. Veronica had been married for seventeen years and had three kids at age thirty nine. She was convinced she was the mother of the world and knew best for everyone. After all, she had done things in order. She graduated college in May and married in June. Two, four and six years later she had children and stopped teaching school until they were all in school. She now taught kindergarten because at fifteen, thirteen and eleven her kids didn't need her as much. Neither did Carlton, her husband. He was so wrapped up in working as a coach and high school principal, he used home for eating, sleeping and occasional sex with his wife. Valencia's eyes roamed over her sister who was chunky with a beautiful face and long added hair. She was dressed at all times. Today she wore a white dress with pink flowers and white strappy sandals.
Valencia on the other hand wore her natural shoulder length hair in coils and though she and her sister shared the same complexion there was an exotic cast to Valencia's eyes and lips. Her hips, breasts and thighs were abundant but the rest of her was pretty lean and strong from regular workouts. She was dressed in camouflage pants and a black t-shirt with Angela Davis' face on the front.
“I'm going to do it Roni. I need rest and feel a cruise would be perfect. I can sleep late, eat bad food and catch up on reading. I work for me. Besides I've traveled the world.”
“I know but no one cruises alone. Cruises are for gatherings.” Valencia snorted.
“How would you know Veronica? You guys travel to sporting events.” Veronica threw back her hair before answering.
“Some of us have responsibilities Valencia.”
“Right. I don't so I'm going to take my irresponsible ass on a cruise. I'll see you when I get back.” She blew a kiss at her sister, walking from the house and down the driveway. Veronica watched her with a sense of unease. On the other hand, Valencia felt relaxed and ready. Neither had any idea what the future held.
Armand Hendricks felt restless. He lived high in the mountains of St. Maarten. The property had been left to him by his father who was born on the Dutch side of the island. His father was Dutch and African. His mother was a young girl born on the French side of the island of African and French ancestry. At his birth, she placed Armand on his father’s doorstep and disappeared into the night. Armand was raised by his father and a succession of wives and mistresses. Armand had been educated abroad but returned to the island permanently ten years earlier at age twenty six. He ran his father's rum and sugar business which imported worldwide. He was also a composer who wrote music for movies and television shows. For years it brought him pleasure but not as much these days.
At six feet four inches and well-muscled from running in the mountains he was an amazing sight with teak colored skin and hazel eyes with lengthy, strong locks. Women adored him but he was also tired of how easy that all was. He needed more, he craved more and though he wasn't sure how, he was going to get more. He felt something in his spirit and he knew it was going to change his life.
Veronica stood at the dock with Valencia. She felt chilled to her bones on a hot day. Valencia on the other hand looked excited. There was something brimming inside her that was more than happy to go on a cruise. Her loose coils hung abundantly around her face and she appeared looked lit from within. She was dressed in a bright yellow sun dress with teal sandals. In that moment Veronica felt envy pierce through her. She lived by the rules and Valencia had done whatever appealed to her and she looked like a buttoned up matron and Valencia looked like a teen going on adventures.
“I don't know why you're so excited about going on a cruise. There will be a bunch of old people, gay folks and rowdy teens.” Veronica sniffed. Laughter flew like tinkling bells from Valencia's mouth.
“All my favorite people. I have my camera, maybe I can take great photos. Veronica, you have become a judgmental woman. You need to lighten up. Maybe when I return you and Carlton can go on a lovers cruise and get your groove back. The boys can stay with me.”
Pursing her lips, Veronica didn't reply. Wrapping her arms around her sister, Valencia squeezed her tight before getting in line with the other passengers. She blew kisses as she strolled inside. Veronica stared at her long after she departed.
“Don't be so sad mom. She will be back soon.” Carlton Jr. Veronica's oldest son said. They were sitting at dinner. Cornell and Cecil were chattering and Carlton was eating, lost in thought. His son's words made him look up.
“Where is Valencia off to now? Vietnam or some such?” Carlton said with some derision. He didn't care for nontraditional women.
“Dad, please. Aunt Val is the coolest woman alive. She lives real life.” Carlton Jr. surprised all of them with his retort. “I admire her, more than anyone. She isn't worried about what everybody thinks.” Veronica was stunned at his words but Carlton was annoyed.
“Watch your mouth son.”
Carlton Jr. didn't say another word but what he said touched his parents in different ways. It annoyed Carlton but Veronica knew there was truth to his words. The Carlton Johnsons did nothing without wondering what people thought. Valencia never cared what anyone thought. As her nephew said, she lived.
Later lying in bed, Veronica nudged Carlton.
“Do you think our son is right about us?”
“He was talking about your sister, not us Veronica. He's fifteen.” He turned over and was quickly asleep.
Veronica knew he was right, everything they did was by the book, they got married, bought a house, had kids and lived respectable lives, and they even had sex on the same two days a week, Tuesday night for some reason and early Saturday morning. She had an orgasm, followed by his, it was all very perfunctory. They occasionally went to dinner with ‘friends’ and they took the kids to a theme park every summer and to visit Carlton’s parents in Sarasota for Thanksgiving; that was their life.
Startling awake, Valencia was surprised she had slept four hours. After boarding the ship, she ate a bit and took a shower before lying down. Stretching awake, she looked out the window and noticed they were sailing along. She walked to the balcony and sat on one of the two chairs, placing her feet up. She had to admit it was gorgeous. The water was relatively calm and for miles and miles there was ocean. They were to be at sea all the next day before embarking at St. Thomas. She looked forward to the rest. Her life was lived at top speed for so long but in the last few months she stopped taking as many assignments and was doing some assessing. The only true regret she had in life was never having children. She loved her nephews and they adored her but if she were given her life to live again, she would have children even without a husband. There had been several men in her life but not one had inspired her to marry him and there had been offers. A smile covered her face at the thought of the lovers and potential husbands.
After sitting for an hour, she decided to get dressed and stroll around the ship, checking things out. She showered and dressed in an orange, wraparound dress and teal sandals. She pulled her hair up and glossed her lips and grabbed her passkey before venturing out. She was met by thumping music. Immediately, she felt engaged, she loved music and would dance alone.
“Ma’am, the party is two floors down,” turning she looked into the eyes of a handsome white man. He was checking her out from head to toe.
“Oh, I see we can only dance on the 9th floor; one would think that with all this space, I could dance wherever I choose.” She said with humor, bringing a smile to his face,
“Dance, mi lady, I just thought you wanted to be where the action is. I am Jon.”
“The action is wherever I am Jon, I will make my way there at some point, thank you.”
She continued bopping as she made her way down the stairs. She wanted to go to the 5th floor first because her body was craving her seven pm java. Jon watched her, noting she had not given her name. Once on the 5th floor she got her coffee and made her way past the casinos. She heard piano music and wanted to see where it flowed from. She was unaware of all the eyes that followed her as she swayed through the growing crowd. An elderly man was playing jazz at the piano and she took a seat to enjoy.
This cruise thing isn’t half bad. She thought. Looking around she saw people of all ages bopping to the music and an elderly white couple were dancing in tune to the wonderful music. Closing her eyes, she allowed the music to infuse her work weary system. Her eyes flew open when someone sat on the chair next to her. A tall light skinned man with curly hair and green eyes grinned at her.
“Do I know you?” She asked lightly.
“No, but you can. I am Renaldo.”
“No offense Renaldo but I’m listening to the music and am not trying to mate. This seat is barely large enough for me.” His smile quickly changed to a frown as he stood.
“I see, they told me there were lots of gays on these ships.”
“Renaldo, men are gay, women are lesbians…” He stormed away as a couple next to them laughed. She closed her eyes again, placing her feet on the chair to discourage any other interlopers. When the music stopped, she made her way to the dining room. The attendant told her that since she was alone, she could choose to dine at a table for two or with others.
“Let me sit alone tonight and I might change my mind later.” Smiling, the attendant led her to an elegant table that really wasn't a two seater, considering it was attached to a table of six but she was flexible. She perused the menu and decided to have oysters Rockefeller as an appetizer, a salad and chateaubriand. She smiled thinking, she was going to be chunky in a few days but she would work it off. She also ordered red wine. Looking around, she caught the eye of the woman sitting next to her with her husband and four children. She smiled and was immediately engaged.
“You're so pretty to be traveling alone.” The woman said with a pronounced southern accent.
“I'm pretty capable of taking care of myself. I'm a black belt in taekwondo and I run fast.” The teen girl snuck a look at her. The father and three younger boys concentrated on their food.
“Well! That's nice. I'm Phyllis and you are?”
“I'm Valencia. It's nice to meet you Phyllis.” A huge grin covered Phyllis' face.
“Valencia, I'm just fascinated by career woman. My husband, Harold is an army officer and I never worked. He retires next year and half our money will be gone so I'm going to need a job. I was a secretary until I got married sixteen years ago.”
“Secretaries are in great demand.”
“What do you do?”
“I'm a photographer. I travel the world taking photos.” Again, the young girl glanced at her and the man looked at her.
“You photographed General Petraeus didn't you?” Valencia's eyes met his.
“He was actually the director of the CIA when I photographed him.”
His eyes flickered away and she could tell he was Petraeus supporter though he had been caught having an affair. Her photos were one of him and his then assistant who turned out to be his lover. She hadn't known that when taking the photo but it was shown worldwide once the scandal broke. Phyllis' eyes were glittering with interest but her husband shot her a look and she stopped talking. Valencia sat back and focused on her tasty food. She watched the family walk from the room. She hoped that was the last she saw of Phyllis.
After eating, she made her way to deck nine where the music was thumping. Jumping right in, she did the latest dances led by the cruise director. For over an hour, she was caught up in the music. When she stopped, she noticed Jon from the 11th floor standing with another man of what appeared to be Arabic descent. She made her way past them without making eye contact. Jon openly watched her.
“She's not interesed Jon.” Malik remarked.
“How can you tell?”
“She seems like an intellectual type who can dance and she walked past as if you weren't there. When you gave her your name and she didn't respond that should have been a clue.” Malik shook his head. His friend was always falling for a woman who wasn't remotely interested in him. When he saw Valencia, he immediately knew she was the woman he saw dancing as she waited for the elevator.
Valencia entered her room with a smile. Her bed was made up and there were chocolates. Her plan was to shower and sit on her balcony until her eyes grew heavy. She was starting to feel relaxed.
“Harold, that woman didn't do anything to Petraeus. She took a picture that over a year later helped seal his fate. If he had kept it in his pants it wouldn't be an issue. She didn't ruin him, his penis ruined him. I think she's fascinating and if I see her again, I'm talking to her.” Harold strode from the room and made his way to the casino. He saw Valencia on the crowded elevator and turned away from her. She didn't notice him.
Armand filled the local market with his presence. Everyone knew the nomadic man; many were employed by his company. He was hard to know but was a very generous boss. He paid twice the wages his father had. He expected hard work for good pay. A few women tittered at his presence in low slung jeans and a loose Bob Marley t-shirt. His feet were encased in soft leather shoes with tough bottoms. They watched him fill his bag with mangoes, bananas, other fruit and spices. The clerk smiled as he placed his purchases on the counter.
“We have not seen of you, Mr. Hendricks.” He smiled broadly at the clerk. She had worked in this market since he was a kid. He loved her lyrical voice.
“Noona, man must keep his profile low.” He said in his low, growly voice.
“You, no low profile. You fill the place.” The two young women nodded in agreement. They watched as he paid and walked out, his muscular rear meeting their full approval. He drove around getting his supplies, mailing and taking in the sights. His plan was to not come down for at least another month.
The first person Valencia saw when she entered the pier was Phyllis and her daughter. They were going to be on St. Thomas for seven hours and she signed up for the historic tour to St. John which would take up most of that time and as luck would have it so had Phyllis and her daughter.
“Look Joie, its Ms. Valencia. She's going too.” Joie smiled at Valencia apologetically. Valencia I smiled back. Once they were on the boat over, Valencia found the information about the island interesting. The sugar plantation and Arawak Indians intrigues her mostly. Once they were there, she immersed herself in taking photos. For two hours it was her and her camera but when they stopped for food Phyllis plopped down beside her with Joie by her side.
“You love that camera. What are you going to eat? I'm leery.” Phyllis muttered.
“I'm going to get food from that truck. Hopefully chicken curry and peas with rice.” She stood and made her way to the truck and ordered her food. Turning, she saw Joie behind her.
“I would like the same.” The young girl said softly. Valencia waited and walked back with her. They started eating and she could tell Joie was enjoying the food.
“Where is your mom?”
“She went looking for trinkets and a coke probably. She's scared of everything but insists on coming. Dad indulges her because it's all she has.” Valencia took in the words of the insightful girl.
“What are you interested in Joie?” Her eyes lit up at being asked.
“I want to be a Marine Biologist. This summer I'm going to work as a volunteer at NOAA.”
“I love taking underwater photos of marine life.”
“That's even cooler.” Pulling her card from her bag, Valencia slid it to Joie. “Call me if you have any questions.” She slid it into her purse with a smile. Phyllis rejoined them, grumbling about everything. Valencia tuned her out by taking photos and conversing with the tour guide in French.
Once they were off the tour Phyllis decided to shop at the duty free shops but Joie followed Valencia to the ship, picking her brain for information about her career. They parted when Harold asked for Phyllis and was told she was shopping.
“You should have stayed with her.” He barked, throwing a hostile look at Valencia, who winked at him before catching the elevator to her floor. She craved a bath but a shower would have to do.
Valencia played the slots that night and danced, even dancing with Jon once. Phyllis stayed away and she didn’t see Joie. On the way to her cabin Jon, tried to invite himself in.
“No thanks Jon, thanks for the offer.” She said lightly.
“Is it because I am a white guy?”
“Not at all, I am simply on a vacation of renewal and am not interested in any kind of entanglements, not even of the physical, one night on a boat type.” She waved lightly and entered her cabin. Within minutes of her shower she fell into a deep sleep, dreaming of mountains and wooden houses with shiny floors.
Rushing to get ready for her tour of St. Maarten, Valencia packed her camera supplies and took her wallet, passport and other items that she usually left in the safe and for some reason, she took a swimsuit and change of clothing.
Once outside she raced along the pier to get in line with the other tourist. She noticed Joie was there but there was no sign of Phyllis.
“Good morning Joie, where is your mom?” She placed her hand to her lip and whispered.
“She and dad are fighting. I took the tickets and left. He didn’t want either of us to go.” Not wanting to get further involved, Valencia nodded as the boarded the bus.
The driver was very eloquent with proper English with a hint of French. He told the history of how the island had two complete governments, Dutch and French. She was intrigued about the separation and could see that the Dutch side seemed to be a bit more affluent than the French side and the dynamics of colorism within color that went with that. The driver was very fair skinned and made a point of having been born on the French side but educated and currently living on the Dutch side. Valencia could only smile at those dynamics which seemed to follow people of color everywhere; in St. Maarten, light and Dutch was viewed as better than darker and French. She started snapping photos to keep her mind light. On the way back to the ship, there was a rumbling and one of the tires on the bus went flat. The tourist started complaining and the driver asked for their patience another bus was on its way. For some reason, Valencia decided to walk. The driver did everything he could to discourage her but she got off the bus with her bags. She could see the ship in the distance and there were two more hours to go. She made her way down a winding road, looking in the shops and snapping photos.
“Hey Lady.” She glanced up from her camera and looked into the bloodshot eyes of a man walking beside her. She glanced around and realized she had ventured further than she planned. Checking her watch, she realized she still had an hour.
“Hello, I must go.” She tried to walk past him but before she could she felt a sharp hit to the back of her head and the next thing she knew she was waking in a small market. She tried to sit up but the room was wavy. An older woman looked on with concern. Next to her was the most handsome man she ever saw in her life. He was tall and had amazing dark skin with light eyes, thick locks and the thickest, sexy body. His eyes seemed to pierce through her.
“Armand, what should we do? She is clearly American and all the ships have sailed. I found her lying in the alley with no identification or anything.” The woman’s voice was troubled. Armand continued to stare at Valencia as if he were in a trance.
My God, she is gorgeous. Even in dirty clothing and a lump on her head she looks like a goddess.
“Armand, we should call the authorities…” he turned to look at Noona, his friend.
“No authorities, not yet. I will take care of it.”
He gently lifted Valencia from the sofa and carried her from the store in his arms. She wanted to ask questions but was unable to. He was a stranger but she felt safe in his arms. He placed her in his jeep, reclined the seat and took off into the night. She fell asleep again.