I guess most people have a love hate relationship with their own name, sometimes feeling like it defines them and other times cursing their parents for their thoughtlessness. I spend a lot of time in that latter category.
“Checking in,” I said to the nice man on reception in the hotel lobby.
He smiled. “Certainly. What’s the name please?”
I sighed. “Jane Bond.”
The man looked up with a smile that I had seen a thousand times before, the smile of a man who thinks he has come up with a brilliantly witty joke. “Don’t you mean; Bond, Jane Bond?”
“Yeah. I’ve never heard that before. You must be a comic genius.”
If that seems like maybe a pretty harsh way of dealing with a hotel clerk who thinks he’s funny, please try to understand that I have heard that same joke every single time I have introduced myself my entire life. Perhaps I should have reserved my venom for the parents who gave me such a terrible name, commemorating their affection for the great Roger Moore, but there comes a point when even the most patient of people has had enough. I reached that point about ten years ago.
Up in my nice, ocean view hotel room, a stone’s throw from the beach, I kicked off my shoes, dumped my bags and looked at myself in the mirror. The woman who stared back at me had red hair, green eyes and pale skin that was already starting to turn pink in the sun – thank God I remembered to pack the Factor 50. She was unquestionably in her mid-twenties – had, in fact, just celebrated her 26th birthday – and while that might not seem like a major milestone to everyone, to me it had felt like it. It had not helped that, after some friends had got me a little tipsy to celebrate the big day, I had wandered over to my boyfriend’s apartment to surprise him, and found him in bed with another woman.
Frankly, I found ‘You should have called first,’ a pretty lame excuse.
Naturally, I was upset, but probably not as upset as you might imagine because, to be honest, I was getting used to it. I don’t think you can ever completely take the sting out of the betrayal of being cheated on, but practice does help. It also makes you doubt yourself and makes you extremely mistrustful of all men – neither of which are things that I want to be, and neither of which really reflect me as a person.
The doubts start with wondering whether you bring this sort of thing on yourself. Maybe you did something to deserve it? Is there something about you that makes you a jerk magnet? When I was in college I was pretty wild – which I think is allowed when you’re in college. There was fun and experimentation, there was drink and some light indulgence in drugs, there were a lot of guys and a handful of girls, none of whom I was serious about, but they all knew that going in, so I think it was cool. All in all, it was a good few years but not a life I’d wanted to continue. It was fun while it lasted but then I was happy to settle down and leave my wild ways behind.
But can you?
Do I consistently find myself in relationships with unfaithful jackasses because you can never truly leave behind those shadows of who you were? Like King Lear trying to put his past behind him and finding only death and destruction.
Maybe that’s getting a bit deep. It’s just as likely that all guys are pricks.
“You know what you need?” my best friend Sarah had said to me as she comforted me after the most recent break up.
“A boyfriend who isn’t a dick?” I suggested. It’s hard to see past that.
But Sarah shook her head. “The opposite.”
“I just had the opposite, that’s what got me here.”
“When you lose your keys,” Sarah set out on a tortured metaphor, “do you find them in the first place you look? No, you find them when you stop looking. Men are like keys.”
“Yeah? Well, I keep finding mine in someone else’s lock.”
“If you keep trying to find the one you can be serious about, then you’ll never find him.”
I frowned. “I’m not sure that makes sense.”
“You can’t just keep pinning the ‘R’ word,” relationship, “to every guy you meet in a bar,” pressed Sarah. “It scares off the good ones and the rest just use it to fuck you over. Telling a guy you just met that you’re looking for something serious is like having a red light flashing the word ‘desperate’ above your head. You’ve got to get to know a person, you’ve got to get back to when dating was fun.”
She had a point. The more bad relationships I had, the more desperate I had become, forcing myself to take a serious interest in everyone I met. I had pinned the label ‘the One’ to guys who, in hindsight, were not even in ‘the top twenty’.
“You gotta get the fun back,” Sarah continued. “Which brings me back to what you need.”
“A vacation,” announced Sarah. “Sun, sex and sangria. Sandy beaches, tall drinks and a little no-strings, no-names fun with a different guy every night.”
For all my keenness to leave behind Wild Jane and settle down with a nice guy, I couldn’t suppress a thrill of excitement at Sarah’s plan. It sounded like just what I needed. I still wanted to settle down, but after the last few years, a bit of anonymous consequence-free sex would be a great way to sort of re-set. For a week or two I could return to my college state of mind, and then come back, refreshed and ready to resume my search for Mr. Right in a less desperate way.
And so here I was, on a Caribbean island, with acres of white-sanded beaches, sapphire-blue oceans, and golden-tanned hunks sprawled out around me, and I couldn’t wait to dive into all three.
I showered and changed and looked into the mirror again. The girl who looked back was still green-eyed and red-haired, and her skin was still the delicate pale that loves shade and hates the sun. But there was no way this girl was twenty-six. She looked about eighteen, newly arrived in college and ready to throw herself into anything and everything. This girl had chosen the sexiest, skimpiest dress she owned, that clung in some places while billowing suggestively at the slightest breeze in others. She didn’t care that when she sat down she might flash her panties at anyone looking her way, or that if she moved too quickly there was a real danger of a boob popping out. This girl was ready for anything.
From a mental standpoint, it meant a lot to me that I pick up a guy on my first night. I wasn’t a slut – not really – but I needed a confidence boost. I hadn’t gone out looking for a one-night stand for a long while and I wanted to know that I still had the skills to land one. Five years is a long time – was I even still attractive?
For the same sort of reason, I didn’t really want to approach a guy myself – that was a challenge for the second night, or possibly third – I wanted to stand sexily at the bar and have men come up to me. I would then assess them on a male by male basis until one arrived who looked like he made the cut. I had a hunch that rejecting people was also part of my relationship rehab – another confidence booster.
I had decided against my hotel bar – if I was going to be with a number of different men throughout my vacation, then picking them up from where I was staying was asking for trouble. Instead, I trailed down the oceanfront, looking for a bar that looked classy, Caribbean and safe, because even in my collage days, Wild Jane had put safety first. The place I eventually found was built on an open plan, giving stunning views across the ocean through its absent walls. It was that nice blend of authentic Caribbean but touristy enough that everyone spoke English.
“Mojito,” I ordered, probably sounding just like every stereotypical foreigner in the Caribbean.
As I sipped my drink, I allowed myself to drape languidly across the bar. Self-consciously I checked out my reflection in the mirror behind the bar and liked what I saw. I looked like an advert for casual sex. Or potentially a prostitute. But hopefully closer to the former than the latter. There were more than a few men in the bar and a number of them were starting to look my way. Even the ones who seemed to be there with girlfriends/wives were having a surreptitious leer, which was flattering, but not even in my wild days did I knowingly hook up with someone attached.
It was exciting wondering which of the men might approach me first, and I felt a delicious frisson of what it had been like back in the day. Back then I was less sultry and more obvious, but the thrill was the same.
I turned to face the owner of the deep voice that had come from beside me, ready to bolster my damaged confidence by turning down my first man of the evening.
“Is this seat taken?”
“No,” I gulped. Any sensual allure that I had managed to accrue, I gave away as I stared like a stunned goldfish at the man who took a seat beside me. Turn him down? Not a chance. He was the most handsome man I had ever seen. He was tall with dark hair that was neatly styled and brown eyes that flashed with a dangerous charisma. He wore a light shirt, rolled up at the sleeves to reveal his tanned arms, and unbuttoned at the front to reveal the upper slopes of a hairy chest. From these glimpses of his body, and the calves that protruded from his knee-length shorts, I could tell he had an athletic body, and my mind hastily went to work building a picture of what the rest of it looked like. The results were mouth-watering.
“Can I buy you a drink?” His voice had a low timbre that seemed to set up a vibration in my body, so my nerves thrummed with pleasure each time he spoke.
“You’re British?” I asked.
He gave me a devil-may-care smile. “Please don’t hold it against me. Two more.” The last words were said to the barman. He turned back to me. “If that’s alright with you?”
I nodded. The only thing that would have made it more alright was if he had allowed me to drink it out of his belly button.
“Are you here on your own?” he asked.
Finally, I managed to harness enough of my own self-possession to recall that I was a pretty smooth operator myself. “Not anymore.”
The man smiled again as he passed me my drink. “My name’s Campbell.”
“Caitlin,” I lied. Caitlin had been my standard one-night pseudonym – or ‘nom de penis’ as my roommate had insisted on calling it.
“So, Caitlin,” it might have been my imagination but I felt like he wasn’t buying the fake name, “what are you here for?”
“Just a drink. For now.”
“I meant here on the island,” said Campbell. “Work? Or pleasure?”
I swear to God, his voice took on an almost physical presence as the tone dropped lower to say the word ‘pleasure’.
“Pleasure,” I replied in as seductive a drawl as I could manage. “You?”
“Work. But I’m not above mixing the two.”
“What do you do?” I asked, sipping my drink.
Campbell smiled. “I’d really rather show you than tell you.”
I pulled back coyly. We both knew what the other wanted and where this was going but guys don’t like girls to give it up too easily, and I was having too much fun to let this end just yet.
“Slow down there, Campbell. Going at that speed, you could get whiplash.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Promise?”
“I get the impression you’ve used some of these lines before.”
He swirled his drink in its glass. “Maybe. The real question is; have you heard them before? I imagine men approach you in bars all the time.”
“Maybe. I imagine you approach women in bars all the time.”
I pretended to be disinterested. “Men who come up to women in bars only want one thing.”
Campbell shrugged. “Perhaps. But how many times do they want it?”
Flirting was all good fun and it was nice to do it without wondering where this was going, was he serious, would he stay the night. I was stretching muscles I hadn’t used in a long time and was discovering that I still had it. On the other hand; who was I kidding? This was the guy whose hotel ceiling I wanted to be staring at. I’d been looking for someone who would make me forget about asshole boyfriends, and if Campbell couldn’t then who could? If he was half as good as his cast iron confidence implied then I was in for the night of my life.
“What hotel are you staying at?” I asked, moving things forward with the confidence of a modern, sexually liberated woman.
“The Majestic,” replied Campbell, naming the most expensive and exclusive hotel on the island. “It’s a ten minute walk. Less if we take my car. It’s the Aston Martin Vanquish parked outside.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Trying to impress me?”
He raised one back at me. “With money? Why bother? When I want to impress you, you’ll know about it.”
Some men use money and fast cars to compensate for other shortcomings, Campbell gave the impression that his money and fast car were selling him short.
We took the car. Partly because I’d never been in an Aston, partly because I was in a hurry. Parking outside The Majestic – a name that could have been applied to Campbell himself – my companion tossed the car’s keys to a uniformed concierge and led me inside. The elevator didn’t make a sound as it shot upwards to the penthouse suite and I stepped through the doors into a world of decadent luxury.
“My apartment could fit in this living room,” I commented.
Campbell smiled as he strode to a drinks cabinet. “I’d like that. I could keep you here permanently.”
I liked the idea, too. The carpet beneath my feet was soft and deep, the furniture a tasteful blend of dark, masculine leather, and soft, engulfing fabric. The massive windows gave a view out across the island coast by night; the vibrant beachfront tourist centers lit up in a riot of colors; bonfires blazing on the beaches, marking out parties and hog roasts; the old town flickering with a hazier orange glow.
“That’s a view,” I murmured.
“It’s even better from outside.” Campbell passed me a drink – I didn’t know what it was but it was deliciously fruity and wickedly strong – then slid open a glass door that led out to a balcony. “Ladies first.”
Campbell managed always to be a perfectly balanced mix of gentleman and very much not. The sort of man who, when he opened the door for you, might be doing so out of politeness or so he could check out your ass. I didn’t mind either way.
“Wow,” I breathed, as I gazed out across the nocturnal, light-flecked landscape of the island.
“My sentiments exactly,” said Campbell from behind me.
“Are you staring at my ass?”
His complete lack of shame was also oddly endearing. Maybe it was the English accent that sold it.
He came out to join me. “Moonlight suits you.” I shivered as he reached out to move a stray strand of hair away from my face. “You really are very beautiful.”
I shrugged, trying to play it cool. “I know.”
“I’m sure. But I would hate for you to think that I hadn’t noticed.”
The nighttime suited him, too, his face half lit by the strong lights from his hotel room, leaving the other half in shadow, seeming to reflect the duality of his nature. The bright, witty charmer, off-set by the dark hint of danger that flickered in his eyes. Damn, he really was incredibly handsome.
Unable to hold myself back any longer, I went to him, going up on my toes to kiss him on the lips, tasting the sweetness of his drink on his mouth as his tongue met mine. I felt his hands on my waist and, as he continued to kiss me, he lifted me to sit on the smoothly plastered wall that ran around the balcony, my back nestled safely against the guard rail. When our lips parted, I felt tipsy and lightheaded, as much from the taste of him as from the sharp alcohol.
“Shall we go inside?” I suggested.
He took my drink from my unresisting hand and put it, along with his own, to one side.
“No. Let’s not.”