Sophie dangled her legs in the water, enjoying the warmth suffusing her legs. They were in LA on the third leg of their honeymoon and she was enjoying the fact that it was March and she was warm. The weather in Boston, where she lived, had been extra cold when they’d left, and New York hadn’t been much warmer. But LA was sunny and the sheer pleasure of wallowing in warm water was the height of luxury to Sophie right now. She looked up to see Tony coming towards her, taking pleasure in watching him walk. His long loping gait was eating up the beach and she could see the smile on his face even from this distance. Tony had not been a man who smiled a lot when they’d met in her office, where he’d come seeking an accountant; or so he said. But these days his smile was almost a permanent feature. It lit up his ice blue eyes and softened the harshness of his face.
“Hey,” he said as he reached her.
“Hey yourself,” Sophie replied smiling back at him.
“It’s been over two hours since we kissed. What happened, don’t you love me anymore?” Tony asked leaning down to plant one on her smiling mouth.
“Oh, I married you for your money you fool,” Sophie murmured against his lips as she reached up to pull him closer. He opened his mouth to claim hers. She felt herself simultaneously melting and heating up and wondered at it. Every single time he touched her, without fail, her body reacted. It was too good to last she imagined. Who felt like this forever? They had barely known each other a month before getting married but it sometimes felt like she had known him forever. He had told her that he caught sight of her behind as she slipped on the side walk one day and had followed her to her office. As luck would have it, he also needed an accountant because he suspected that someone was stealing from him. Her friend and colleague, Curtis Jackson, had set them up at Tony’s request. She’d agreed to go because her life was empty and filled with grief for her lost brother and home. They had both disappeared with Hurricane Katrina and it had just been herself, and her grandfather Elijah left. They had moved to Boston to start over, and now they were three. Tony also had some family drama, he was alienated from his father, Roman Petrov, and having immigrated from Russia ten years before, he had no family in America apart from his Uncle Mikhail and Aunt Cara. It had created a bond between Tony and Sophie, since they had both suffered tragic loss. A month after their first date, they were married in a small ceremony which took place at Tony’s restaurant, the April Shower. Although Tony’s dad was in town, he did not attend as he was currently suspected of being behind the theft at Tony’s establishments. He was also not very enamored of the bride being of African-American descent and that had rather displeased the groom.
“I’m a fool for love,” Tony half-sung with a huge grin on his face as he settled down next to her on the beach towel. He leaned forward, nuzzling her neck. The private beach had no other inhabitants so Sophie let him have his way with her neck.
“Where to from here?” she asked as he nibbled his way down to her breast.
“Well we’ve visited every single one of my five establishments, the staff have met you, they know you’re the new boss; is there anywhere you’d like to go maybe? New Orleans?” Tony murmured against her skin.
“New Orleans? Why would I want to go there?” Sophie replied pulling back to look into his eyes in puzzlement.
Tony shrugged avoiding her eyes. “Its home isn’t it? Don’t you want to visit, see how it’s doing? Brad Pitt is building new housing…”
“That’s nice for him I’m sure but I liked my old house and it’s not there anymore. Neither is my brother, or my grandmother,” Sophie replied a bit curtly.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“No, I’m sorry. Perhaps I’m oversensitive about my former home town. I just don’t like to think about Solomon and what could have possibly happen to him.”
Tony was watching her with empathy in his eyes. He had lost a brother too, and he knew the hurt and pain behind her simple words. It was worse for her too, because at least he knew where his brother was buried. His uncle, Mikhail, who had raised him after his father sent him to America, was an expert at ‘losing’ people; making them disappear into the system so that immigration couldn’t catch them. Tony had asked him if he could find someone instead, who had been lost in the system – Solomon Devereux. His uncle had informed him at the wedding that he had a lead, in a psychiatric facility in New Orleans; there was a John Doe who fit the description of Solomon Devereux. But the only way to know for sure was if Sophie or her grandfather went there and identified him. He was in the facility because he had no memory of who he was, but he was known to be fond of drawing; graffiti specifically. Sophie had told Tony that Solomon was a graffiti artist so he was hoping for a match. But he didn’t want to get Sophie’s hopes up in case it proved to be a dead end. Still, he needed to come up with a pretext as to why they needed to go to New Orleans.
“You know, I was thinking of opening my sixth restaurant in New Orleans,” he ventured.
“Oh?” was her extremely short, repressive reply.
“And I thought…what with Boston being so cold at this time of year, and New Orleans not being cold…that we could like, maybe, check it out.”
“You know I still have a job right?” was Sophie’s rejoinder.
“About that…how about you work for me? I’ve recently found myself with a vacancy in the accounting department. What with the old one colluding with my father to skim money off of me and all…”
“That’s a really great offer Tony, I mean apart from the whole ‘husbands and wives shouldn’t work together thing’ and the fact that I haven’t done my qualifying exams…”
“Details,” Tony said airily with a dismissive wave of the hand.
Sophie laughed up at him and pinched his cheek, “You’re so goofy sometimes.” She said, “Who’d a thunk it?”
“I’m being serious,” Tony replied deadpan.
Sophie stared at him, eyes narrowed, “I can’t tell if you’re joking or not.”
“Well in that case, let’s talk about it when we get home. This is our honeymoon after all.”
Tony shrugged and smiled, staring at her with affection as she rubbed some lotion on her legs, “so it’s settled then. Next stop, New Orleans.”
Sophie stopped what she was doing to stare up at him in disbelief, “When was it settled?” she asked.
Tony just smiled at her, saying nothing.
“So where are we going?” the boy was asking cautiously as he walked by Roman’s side.
“We are going to meet your family.” Roman said with a smile that filled the boy with foreboding. He was scared, and he didn’t know why.
“How did you get me out of there?” he asked, “How did they just let me go?”
“I know the right people.” Roman said with a side smile that was the coldest thing the boy had ever seen.
“Where-“he began to ask, but Roman cut him off.
“Look, Solomon, if you’re just a bit patient, all your questions will be answered. Meanwhile could you please shut it?” he said.
“Sorry,” Solomon murmured and kept walking with his head down.
They were headed toward an airport terminal. Roman had bought tickets but Solomon did not know where they were for. They seemed to be heading toward international departures however, and Solomon wondered where his family could be. Were they not in the United States? Perhaps he was a Jamaican? Solomon quite liked that idea. He opened his mouth to ask Roman about it, but then remembered what he had said about shutting it, and closed it again. He’d know soon enough after all.
They took the Sunset train from LA to New Orleans because Tony said it was the best way to see the country. Not only was the route scenic but it passed through vast expanses of the country, with a throwback feel to the frontier days. Sophie pointed out that it wasn’t exactly an era she wanted to know more about but Tony countered that he’d never seen that part of the country and he would really appreciate seeing it for the first time with her. This effectively check-mated Sophie and she made her way to their carriage, marveling at the size. It was a double-decker train with huge windows, comfortable chairs and very good lighting. As she dropped their bags on the floor, an attendant came up to them.
“Hi. My name is Peggy and I will be assisting you today,” she said, “Can I see your tickets?”
Tony rummaged in his wallet and came up with the tickets which he showed to Peggy with a smile. She smiled back at him as she checked them, and then informed them that she needed to give them the whole gamut of rules that needed to be followed as well as information they might want. Sophie sighed and settled down on the bed to listen in resignation but Tony crossed his arms with a smile and said, “Pray continue.”
“The train has a sleeping and dining car and there are spectacular views to be beheld from the Sightseer Lounge Car,” Peggy began.
“The Sightseer what?” Sophie asked sitting up, this sounded like more fun than she’d anticipated. She hadn’t really been interested in this trip to begin with but at least there would be some form of entertainment on the way. The final destination though, was still causing her to feel headachy.
Peggy went on to inform them about the prohibition of smoking on the train and said that if this rule was broken they would have no choice but to expel them.
“Don’t worry, we don’t smoke.” Tony interjected with a laugh.
She acknowledged his words with a nod but went on to state that alcohol not purchased on board the train was prohibited, in fact, it was a federal offence. Travelers who broke that rule would also be expelled from the train.
“Wow, is this a train or a prison?” Sophie murmured to herself but Peggy took no notice.
“If you need anything, I’m at your beck and call,” she finished.
“Wow, are you our beck and call girl then?” Sophie drawled with a laugh.
“I’ve always wanted to say that; ever since I saw Pretty Woman,” she said in an aside to Tony. He looked at her, puzzled.
“What’s this Pretty Woman you speak of?” he asked.
Sophie’s mouth opened in disbelief, and so did Peggy’s.
“I don’t care how uncivilized y’all are over there in Russia, there is no way you have not heard of Pretty Woman!” Sophie said, her southern accent exaggerated.
“Don’t worry, we have wifi. You can download it. I’m sure Netflix has a copy.” Peggy put in.
“Thank you Peggy, you’ve just given us our program for the evening, “Sophie said smiling at her for the first time.
“But first you should partake of our Dining Car. It’s not just the views that are spectacular. The food is too,” Peggy continued.
“If you do say so yourself,” Sophie teased.
Peggy smiled at her, bowed and left them to themselves. Sophie turned to Tony to see him studying her pensively.
“What?” she asked.
“Nothing. Just realizing I’m truly married now, seeing as you’ve taken over our itinerary without so much as a by your leave,” he said, but he was grinning.
“I’m sorry Tony; would you care to join me in an evening of cultural enrichment watching one of the greatest movies ever made?” Sophie asked.
“I’d love to. But let’s wash up and go eat now. I’m peckish.”
The day was bright and sunny as they entered into desert country. Sophie and Tony walked through the train to the dining car as they pulled into the first train stop at Palm Springs in the LA suburbs. The landscape was made up of stark bare hills, except for the tracks made by either SUVs or dune buggies. The desert and hills glowed as red as a sunset, although the light was sharper and colder. Sophie was moved to take pictures for her Instagram and even managed to forget for a few minutes, what their ultimate destination was. They enjoyed a leisurely meal before deciding to visit the Sightseeing Lounge briefly.
As they took their seats, the train passed a huge lake which the in-house tour guide informed them was the Salton Sea. He told them of a large tourist boating trade that had been built up in the fifties which was stalled by the pollution from the Mexican side of the river. The Sightseeing Lounge was luxurious with comfortable sofas interspersed along the huge windows. Sophie sat back, tuning out the commentator and just watching the horizon. It was eerily peaceful. Tony reached out his hand and enveloped hers, prompting her to turn and smile at him, but then she turned back to the horizon and lost herself in it again.
“Hey,” He whispered at her after a while, “Netflix awaits.”
“Don’t think I’m not aware you just want to get me alone,” Sophie said with a smug smile.
“You know me too well already,” Tony replied lifting her to her feet.
They went to their carriage where Sophie fished out the laptop to search for a copy of the film. Meanwhile, Tony was arranging the pillows to make a comfortable nest for them to lie in as they watched.
“Got it,” Sophie exclaimed triumphantly as the screen lit up with the opening credits. Tony held out his hands to her and she came into them, snuggling into him with the computer on her lap. As she settled into him, he began to nuzzle her neck.
“Hey. Watch!” she said, moving his face away and turning it toward the screen.
Tony opened his mouth to ask a question but Sophie forestalled him, “Okay thing you need to know about me; I don’t talk when watching movies. Complete silence; shhh,” she said.
“Yes master. Got it,” Tony said saluting. He leaned back pulling her closer and settled down to watch the movie.
Sophie straightened up after the final credits rolled and looked at Tony, “Well?” she asked.
“Amazing. Makes me want to save you so you can save me right back.” Tony said as he leaned in and kissed her gently.
Sophie looked him affectionately in the eye, “You did,” she said.
Tony stopped smiling and looked back at her with a serious look on his face, “You did too.”
“Yay, we’re Pretty Woman,” Sophie teased and Tony leaned forward to kiss her neck.
“Can we get to the making love part now?” he murmured against her neck.
After a peaceful night helped along by satiety and the lulling motion of the train, they woke up to Texas. The daylight hours were spent in the Western Texas desert where the landscape was brush and hills. After breakfast, they decided that they’d use the time to catch up on all the other movies Tony hadn’t seen.
“So your family wasn’t much for movies huh?” Sophie asked, curious because he really seemed to enjoy watching so she wondered why he hadn’t seen them before. Tony shrugged sheepishly avoiding her eyes.
“My uncle wasn’t much for such idle pursuits.” He said making air quotes around the word idle.
“Oh yeah? Why? What did he want you to do instead?” Sophie asked, wanting to see beyond the veneer he put up where his family was concerned.
“Oh you know, work, study, and get ahead. Achieve my goals. That sort of thing.”
“So no time to relax huh?”
“I could relax. You know, in the shower or playing soccer on Sundays…that sort of thing. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t unhappy or anything. Or at least my unhappiness cannot be laid at my uncle’s door. He did the best he could with what he had. I’m glad that my dad sent me to him, otherwise, I imagine I would have been a lot unhappier,” Tony shrugged. Sophie could see that he was embarrassed so she changed the subject.
“So this landscape, man. I half expect some highwaymen to hold us up for the gold in our purses,” she said, wanting to get him to smile. He obliged her but his eyes told her he knew what she was doing. The country was empty of highwaymen or gangsters of any kind, cowboy or not but they did see the occasional stretch of empty tarmac to remind them that they were still in the twentieth century. At different points during the day, they caught glimpses of the Rio Grande River which was smaller and more unassuming than Sophie was expecting. They encountered border guards with dogs who dragged a hapless marijuana smoker off the train after sniffing his luggage.
“Wow, and he’s not even black,” Sophie joked as they leaned out of their carriage car window to watch the police drag the man away. Tony gave her a look and said nothing for a while. A frown had settled on his brow that let Sophie know that he was thinking seriously about something.
“What?” she asked sitting back down on the sofa.
“Nothing. I was just wondering about proper etiquette,” Tony said.
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