Joey Jameson © 2017
All Rights Reserved
Prologue – Now
His thoughts shifted back to that first moment, back to where it all began. If he concentrated long enough he could picture that face perfectly, as if it were directly in front of him—the shape of his eyes, the strong line of his jaw, the curve of his lips as he smiled. He remembered his smell, sweet and yet salty, like something citrusy mixed with the scent of the sea air.
As he closed his eyes and rested his heavy head in his hands, he imagined the sound of his voice, caressing him gently as it washed over him with its deep, liquid tones. How warm it made him feel once. Safe and cared for, like no ill could ever come as long as they were together. How quickly he felt at ease when he was around. A gentle caress of his warm touch on his cool skin was all it took to make the questions and doubts that filled his head slip away like sand through his fingers.
How foolish he had been.
Squeezing his eyes shut, he gritted his teeth together until his whole jaw ached, attempting to shake the images from his head. But the harder he tried, the more resilient they became, like a stain on his thoughts that got darker and darker the more he tried to scrub them clean.
He could feel the all-too-familiar sense of panic rising in his chest as the memories began to flood his consciousness. Still images, like photographs in an album, seemed to litter the ground around him, tumbling from his mind until he was practically drowning in them. Their relationship played itself out before his very eyes and the more he willed it to stop the more feverish the memories became. He balled his hands into fists against his temples and pressed them so hard to his skull he thought his head would implode. The panic was strong now. It began as a tremor in his gut that poisoned his whole frame as it wormed its way upwards, until it grasped his throat and closed in as if squeezing all the air out of the room.
Then, just as his body temperature was reaching boiling point, an unexpected hand on his shoulder yanked him back from the disease of his own thoughts.
His whole body jolted as he raised his eyes, squinting into the harsh light of the hallway in which he sat. A person stood just before him, towering over him in an authoritative stance. The fluorescent lights caught the metal of the person’s badge, drawing his gaze south as if entranced by the glimmering effect.
The figure gestured with a weathered hand towards a room across the hall, his stance signalling a less-than-patient nature.
He took a strained breath which burned as it worked its way through his core, and quietly calmed his nerves. The panic subsided slowly as he took in the reality of where he was. Pulling himself from the seat to which he had become glued, he braced himself for what was about to happen next.
As he walked through the doorway he was greeted by a man and a woman who sat behind a long, grey table. The lights were strong and the air was tense.
The woman was the first to speak.
“Please,” she said, motioning to the chair across from them. The table was covered with an array of manila folders arranged neatly in front of them. Their contents were left to his imagination as he moved further into the room and to the lone chair in front of the table.
He heard the heavy door shut behind him and lock as he sat down carefully, at once feeling uneasy and self-conscious. Looking up into the eyes of the man and woman across from him, he felt vulnerable and small, like a mouse in a cage facing his attacker. The room was cold and sterile and void of any emotion, which seemed to suit the situation perfectly. Their eyes burned into him in expectant fashion, as if assessing the situation before he had a chance to even utter a word. The silence was heavy but soon shattered.
“So,” began the man in a voice that was startlingly low, “You know why you’re here.” His words were more of a statement than a question. “Please begin by telling us about your relationship with the deceased…”
“Right, hold it there two secs,” Lenox Winter hollered at the leggy model draped across his black 2015 Bentley Continental GTC. “Almost got it…” His face was half-hidden behind the lens of his Nikon D500.
“Mate, we have been out here for almost three hours,” the model complained, sighing in the most dramatic and over-the-top tone she could muster.
“I know, I know, we’re almost there, hang on for me.” He spoke in a reassuring tone, feverishly clicking away as he readjusted his stance and zoomed in to focus on the model’s top. “Two more frames and I think. We’ve. Got it.” He finished his work. “You’re done. Amazing. Thank you so much, you have no idea.”
The model did a slight eye-roll before cracking a smile in his general direction. “I wouldn’t be out here in this heat for anyone but you, Lenox.”
“And I’m eternally grateful, and you know it. Trust me, if I can score an A grade on this final then it might actually get Professor Stine off my back.” Lenox squinted down at the viewing frame as he flicked through the shots he’d taken. “Oh, these are brilliant. Molly, you’re a star. Thank you so much. Again.”
Molly shimmied over to him and past the growing crowd of people who had apparently slowed on their walk to their desired destination to see what all the fuss was about.
“Don’t tease a girl! Lemme see, lemme see!”
Lenox tilted the camera towards her, allowing her a better view. Shielding her face from the sun, she leaned in to inspect his work. She let out a gleefully girly squeal and clapped her hands in delight, signalling her approval.
“Daaamn,” she drawled. “Girlfriend is working it.”
“Glad you like,” Lenox said with a wide, toothy grin. “Right, I gotta upload these quick if I’m gonna meet the deadline. Molly, a pleasure as always.”
Lenox took Molly’s hand in his and thanked her in the most chivalrous way he could muster by lightly kissing it and giving a slight bow. Molly was also a senior at the University of the Arts in West London where Lenox was studying. Unlike him, she wasn’t a photography major, but her high cheekbones and luscious mane of golden curls made her the go-to gal for students like Lenox, who needed a pretty face to bring their work to life.
Molly returned his bow with a curtsy. “The pleasure was all mine, kind sir. Right, go and get ’em, tiger. And let me know what Professor Stine thinks of the final.” She turned. “Oh, and aren’t you going on holiday tomorrow?” she asked from over her shoulder as she collected her purse from the pavement.
Lenox grinned and relaxed. “Yup, can’t wait.”
“Ibiza, is it?”
He nodded. “My home away from home!”
“You cocky little shit,” she joked as she slapped his arm teasingly. “You going with…What was his name?”
Lenox swallowed and lowered his eyes to the ground. “No, we broke up a couple of weeks ago.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry.”
“Trust me, it was for the better.”
He flashed her a forced grin and shook his head as if to rid it of an emotion that was hanging on.
Molly took the hint and smiled back. “Okay, well, enjoy, Lenox. I’ll be thinking of you as I stay here, chained to my laptop, slaving away at my remaining finals.”
Lenox watched as she sauntered away, bottom shaking from side to side as she disappeared into the setting sun.
Peering up at the crimson-streaked sky, he wiped at his brow and tucked behind his ear a few strands of shoulder-length, jet-black hair that had escaped from his low-slung man bun.
He closed his eyes and reminded himself that, tomorrow, he would be leaving behind the stresses of these past few weeks to soak up the early summer sun in his favourite little holiday hideaway.
He checked his watch as he packed away his ridiculously expensive camera and swore under his breath.
At this rate, there was no way he would be able to shower, eat, and make it to the club before his shift started at eight. The shoot with Molly had taken longer than he’d anticipated and, knowing how long it took him to get ready, it was going to be tight.
With his Nikon safely tucked away in its padded protective case, Lenox climbed behind the wheel of his Bentley, started the engine and began the short drive back to West London.
It was a Friday afternoon in the hottest June recorded in England since the 1950s, and as he pulled his car into the traffic of Oxford Street he found himself at a standstill. The irritation inside him grew by the second as he inched closer and closer to being late.
Adjusting his position in the black faux-leather seats, he sat back and regarded his reflection in the rear-view mirror. Lenox Winter was twenty-six and beautiful. With his naturally raven-coloured hair, dark brows and warm, coffee-hued eyes, there was no denying the attention he demanded when he walked into a room.
Not to mention the stares and glances he received as he sat behind the wheel of his sleek, brand-new, Bentley. As his gaze flitted out the window, from the corner of his eye, he spotted the driver from the car next door studying him intently.
Lenox was equal parts pretty boy and bad boy, with his appealing, effortlessly chic sense of style and tall, svelte frame. But regardless of the attention he got from both men and women, he never let it go to his head. Instead, he was almost uncomfortable talking about it if ever one of his friends brought up the subject of his attractiveness.
Running a hand over his strong, permanently stubbled jaw, he wondered if he could get away with this much scruff for his shift tonight, seeing how the time needed to shave was now bound to be outside his reach.
The feeling of his mobile phone vibrating from the pocket of his spray-on skinny jeans was a welcome distraction from the sound of the blaring horns of rush hour. He reached down and pulled it out, clocking the name on caller ID.
His best friend and partner in crime. Also his flatmate, and possible soulmate if they carried on living what he called the “Will-and-Grace-co-dependent” lifestyle they had been enjoying for the past couple of years.
Putting her on speaker phone, he answered the call and placed the handset in the drinks holder on the dash.
“Hey, hey, Miss Von Dutch, what’s up?” he called out to her, his face lighting up into a megawatt smile.
“Hiya, you all right?” she asked, the words drenched in her soft mixture of posh West London and cockney North London.
“Yah, good, thanks, you?”
“Yah, good. Where are you?” Bambi enquired, her voice sounding like she was in the middle of eating something.
“Just driving home now. Shoot ran a bit late.”
“Yeah, ’course. Why wouldn’t I be?”
Bambi’s silence spoke volumes. “Just checking in with you as promised…” She alluded to the subject he was trying to forget with careful tact; the equivalent of walking on eggshells.
“I’m fine. Really. Don’t worry about me,” he reassured her.
“How did the shoot go?” she asked.
“Yah, good. I think. I guess we’ll see what Stine thinks of it this time.”
“I’m sure it’s another masterpiece,” she gushed down the phone in genuine belief. Bambi was Lenox’s biggest fan and supporter. Ever the Disney-film optimist, she lived up to her doe-eyed counterpart’s name with her unshakable “sunshine and rainbows” view of life.
Lenox smiled, despite feeling uneasy as to how his photos would be judged. He was in the final semester of his Honours BA in Photography, and his final grade largely relied on the theory project that he had been working on for the past three months straight.
“Well, that remains to be seen, I’m afraid.”
“Hey, hey, hey, don’t let me hear that negative attitude in your voice, please. You need to have a little more faith, Mr. Winter. And if my constant support and reassurance won’t do the trick of soothing your nerves, then you’ll just have to leave it up to the healing waters of Ibiza, which you’ll be bathing in this time tomorrow!” Bambi simultaneously scolded and reminded him.
“Oh, my freaking God, B. You have no idea how excited I am to get away, and how much I need this holiday.” His thoughts strayed from the bumper-to-bumper traffic of London to the white, sandy shores of Ibiza.
To some who visit, the white isle, as it is known, provides a mere temporary escape from their humdrum daily lives. A getaway of sorts to relax and forget about all their troubles.
But to Lenox, Ibiza was a little bit more.
Lenox, now twenty-six, had been holidaying there since he turned eighteen, and the novelty had never once worn thin. It had become almost like a part of him. His spiritual home where he felt no fear or reservation about being his true self.
Despite the fact that, over the years, the reasons for returning had changed, shifting from clubbing destination to a type of spiritual retreat, one thing remained the same. That was the feeling of safety and warmth he got as soon as he stepped off the plane.
Bambi’s voice once again stirred him from his daydream. “Don’t even get me started. I’m so in need of a holiday that, given half a chance, I’d swim there tonight if I could!”
“I so wanna ring in sick tonight, B,” he whined, shortening her name in the way only he could get away with.
“I know, I know. Me too. But we have too much to plan with the other girls tonight before we meet at the airport tomorrow. It’ll fly by, so don’t worry, my little raven-haired friend. I’ll see you in a few.”
With that, they ended the call just as he turned the corner onto Kensington Park Road.
The busy energy of Central London dissolved into a more peaceful, suburban vibe as he reached his beloved Notting Hill.
Lenox and Bambi lived in a two-story brick townhouse right in the heart of Notting Hill, a mere two blocks from the house Lenox grew up in and where his parents still resided. The area was beyond affluent; the playground for London’s rich and famous who desired high standards without the noise and pollution of more central parts. On a normal day, it wasn’t out of the ordinary to spot the likes of Claudia Schiffer grabbing a latte to-go from the local Starbucks or Stella McCartney walking her dog about Portobello Road.
Although he never liked to talk about his family’s wealth, it was common knowledge that Lenox had been born into a life of luxury. His father was a rock and roll star whose fortune was made in the seventies and eighties from a string of best-selling albums. He had retired from touring the globe, having performed to sold-out arenas of thousands for the better part of three decades. His mother was his groupie turned road manager, who had amassed money of her own, thanks to her own family’s business background. Following in the footsteps of Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne, Lenox’s parents were smart with their money, and instead of blowing it all on expensive goods and meaningless luxuries during their height of fame, they had invested wisely. This had secured themselves, and their only son, a more-than-comfortable nest egg on which to rely for the rest of their days. Nowadays, although he certainly didn’t need the money, Lenox’s father still enjoyed the occasional guest-appearance or duet with an up-and-coming music star to bring in a little something extra if ever he felt so inclined.
Despite being born with a silver spoon in his mouth, Lenox was taught from the moment he could walk that nothing in life was free and that it was through hard work that you made something of yourself. And it was because of these strong values that when Lenox stepped out from the protective umbrella of his parents’ influence when he was of age, he decided he wanted to pay his own bills and, other than a little help in the tuition payment department, live a life outside of his family fortune.
As he pulled into their driveway he parked his Bentley snugly next to Bambi’s fire-engine red Audi A5. Their house was an absolute gem, purchased many years ago by Lenox’s parents as an investment tool for a fraction of what it would be worth now. Despite it being a family property, Lenox and Bambi still paid full rent. They had been given permission to decorate it to reflect a mixture of Lenox’s monochrome tendencies and Bambi’s bubblegum-pop-electric tastes. The result was like Yves Klein on acid.
Staring up at it for a moment, he couldn’t help but felt a tremor of anxiety sweep through him. Looking up to his window, he was instantly brought back to that night, a mere couple of weeks ago. The wounds were still fresh and the memories showed no signs of fading. If he closed his eyes he could still hear that shrill voice echoing in his head. He drew in a deep breath and began his silent count down from ten, his lips moving as he slowly reached zero, sending the rush of pain and panic down to his toes from where it gripped his core. It subsided as quickly as it had come on.
Lenox burst through the door and kicked off his black ankle boots. He was already half undressed as he reached the top of the stairs.
“Hiya, do you want me to spoon you out some salad?” came Bambi’s voice from somewhere in the kitchen.
“No time, got to shower quick. Thanks, though!”
“Don’t forget, Del Rey is going to pick us up in about half an hour.”
“Half an hour? Why so early?” he shouted back as he unbuckled his trousers and headed into the bathroom.
“Don’t you remember? Benz wants the whole team there early tonight for a quick catch-up.”
She carried on speaking from downstairs, but her baby doll tone was drowned out by the sound of gushing water coming from their waterfall shower head. Even though time was short, Lenox allowed himself a few moments of self-indulgence as he basked in the warm, cascading stream. It relieved and washed away all the stresses he was holding in his muscular shoulders and back.
He would return to the real world in a moment, but right then and there, nothing existed but him, the water, and the fact that tomorrow he would be on a plane, being whisked away to paradise…