Min

I was alone in the house.

Kate had gone down to the taverna; we’d missed each other, she was gone by the time I got in from the fields. Oh, doesn’t that sound pretentious! Like a grand plantation or something when it was only a relatively small vegetable plot. Still, it was getting bigger and it was big enough to keep me busy for most of the day.

I was more than physically tired. Hoeing is not rocket science; you can think about a lot of things and still get the work done. So my mind was tired too but it just wouldn’t shut down. I sat at the kitchen table in all my dirt, with a sweating glass of lemonade in front of me, and once again my thoughts were of that night on the roof; examining every word said, every touch given.

Oh, I’m such a coward! And I was rationalizing my cowardice to both Kate and myself. And to Nick most of all … he must know I’m a coward because he’s proven he understands, that he’ll help. He’s proven that he loves me.

~~~~

“Araminta – may I join you?”

At the sound of his voice, I scrambled to my knees, heart pounding wildly. He was a darker shadow against the night sky, the outline of his body etched against the shimmering starfield. He moved toward me; one by one the stars disappeared until there was only Nick, filling my vision and my heart. He sat down beside me and the heavens snapped back into place.

“You’re not at the taverna …” I was trying to sound playful and only succeeded in sounding stupid. It was one of those ‘there’s your sign’ moments.

“No, I’m here.” Stating the obvious for the demented American. In the faint light from the stars and the half moon, I could see the smile on his face, the gleam of his teeth. “I thought it time we talked.”

“Oh. Talk.”

“Yes, talk.” I could feel him watching me closely, waiting for a hint of what I was thinking, what I was feeling. “There’s many ways to talk, it doesn’t always take words.”

“If you want something to be clear,” I said carefully, “it’s probably best to use words.”

“Araminta, are you still afraid?”

“No! Not afraid … it’s just … Nick, I don’t think I’m capable of giving you what you’re wanting. Not the way you want it.”

“Because of him?”

I shrugged. “Maybe Patton ruined me, maybe I was just born this way. I don’t care for sex, I don’t feel anything. It wouldn’t be fair to you.”

He shifted closer. So close I could feel his body warming the chill from mine. “You’re wrong, I know you have feelings for me. And I know they’re sexual.” He cupped a breast, his thumb brushed lightly over the nipple. Back and forth, and a sort of pressure built up until it overflowed and raced down to pool between my thighs. I closed my eyes and let out a soft breath.

“Everything seems to be connected,” he whispered. “You’ve never felt this before?”

I didn’t answer. I was not about to do a comparison study between the only two men in my life, at least not out loud. But no, I’d never felt this before. Patton was a biter. And what was called a ‘wham, bam, thank you ma’am’ type of man, except he never had seemed very thankful. I had often wondered how he’d managed to find women for his affairs, but then they never lasted long according to gossip. He was a one night stand kind of guy. And I did hear the gossip; you never have so many friends as when there’s scandal to stir things up.

I grasped his wrist and moved his hand away from my tingling breast.

“Don’t …” I managed to say.

“Latria mou (my beloved),” he murmured drawing me against his body. “I think I’ve been waiting for you all my life.”

“No …” I shook my head. “That’s going too far. Nick, we don’t know each other, not really. I can’t believe I mean that much to you …”

“I knew as soon as I saw you, it’s as simple as that. On the ferry, watching you over the back of old Stefan’s cow. I can’t explain it, I know it makes no sense, it just was.” I felt the warmth of his breath as he laughed softly. “I don’t mean I wanted to jump you and have my way with you, but I knew you’d be important to me … special. And I knew I’d have to be patient, that you’d been hurt … damaged in some way. I knew that even before your ex showed up.”

I took in a deep breath. “You’re determined to prove me a liar.”

“Not a liar, just mistaken. I’m fully aware you’re trying to reinvent yourself, that you’ve needed time to do so. What I don’t understand is why I can’t be a part of that now. I want to be someone you can’t do without, Araminta, someone that’s necessary for your happiness. If you refuse me, I’ll survive. As will you. But happy? I don’t know about that … not the deep down contentment that comes with being with the right person.

“And you do feel something for me, you can’t hide it. Not from me.” I could feel him shake his head in dismay. “I’m a rich man, in my own way powerful. I’m head of a business that requires decisive thinking and iron control. And here I am, acting like a teenager, worse than I ever was at Harvard. My father would disown me.”

“And your mother?”

“Oh, she’d tell me I’m not trying hard enough. Mother believes in American ingenuity.”

“Our lives have been so different, are different now. It’s just not logical.”

He pressed his lips against my forehead. “Darling Araminta, there’s nothing logical about love. Our lives were meant to be. We wouldn’t have met if our histories were different, if our lives had not happened just so. It’s fate, and one should never struggle against fate. You’re mine, just as I am yours and I will not let you go.”

His lips traced the line of my cheekbone, feathery butterfly wings, until they found my mouth and settled there. Teeth softly nipping, tongue softly tracing until I opened to him and found myself sinking into the kiss. It wasn’t enough; I wanted more of him, I demanded more. My body was on fire and I thought ‘don’t stop, please don’t stop, show me more’.

Suddenly I was terrified. Full of lust and terrified of this loss of control. Over the years with Patton, I’d become an ice maiden and took pleasure in maintaining control while watching him lose his. Now I was the one losing control, I was the vulnerable one. Nick had proved his point; Lynda had been right. I seemed to have all the necessary equipment, but I was still afraid, afraid of losing the fragile sense of self I’d been building on Dyvos.

I jerked back and tried to push Nick away. But he wouldn’t push. He just tucked my head under his chin and made shushing noises while his warm hands stroked my back.

“One step at a time,” he said. “One step at a time.” He pulled back so he could look into my eyes. “It’s your move next, Armaminta, I’ve pled my case. If you decide to live dangerously just one more time, my door’s always open for you.”

He kissed my forehead again, and rose effortlessly to his feet. I watched him disappear down the steps, wanting to call him back but not quite able to do so. I lay back on the mattress and tried to calm my aroused body. It didn’t work because I couldn’t forget that kiss. My breast still tingled from his caress.

I didn’t get much sleep that night.

~~~~~~~

Dear Lynda:

I was sitting at the table, sipping lemonade and feeling sorry for myself, when it suddenly occurred to me what a coward I was. You always followed your gut instinct and it served you well. If I’d been as wise as you, I’d never have married Patton, because even in the excitement of having a man want me enough to offer marriage, there was a little voice telling me to take it slow, wait a bit. I managed to muffle that little voice because I thought Patton was offering me everything I wanted: a relationship, the opportunity to be a wife and mother, and most of all settling into a community where I would belong.

It’s funny how being army brats affected each of us differently, isn’t it? I wanted stability and sold my soul for it. For you, it was different, it made you travel to your own beat and you didn’t give a damn what others thought of you. I needed to be more like you, would have saved me a lot of wasted years and a lot of pain.

So, here I was sitting at the table, mourning because I was too damn afraid to take what I so desperately wanted, and I thought ‘what would Lynda do?’ Follow your gut instinct and my gut instinct was telling me I’d never find another man like Nick and I’d be a fool to throw this chance away. Even before he awakened my body, I knew I loved him. I’ve never felt this way about another man, not ever.

And so, dear sister, I got up from the table and showered and got myself all dressed up in my Impressionist clothes and climbed the hill to Nick’s place. I must be besotted; I forgot the flashlight and anyone with sense would have turned back to get it, but not me, no, I stumbled on in the dusk and arrived at Nick’s front door with only a few scratches and a bruised knee.

I never hesitated. I pounded on the thick oak door like a woman gone mad. I wanted to make sure he heard me and I never did notice the bell pull. He didn’t keep me waiting long.

He opened the door wide and I walked into his arms.

And Lynda, you were right. Love with the right person is an amazing thing.

Kate

It had been a long time since I’d woken in someone’s arms. And not since college had that man been rock hard and ready to go again.

I was sore but my body was sated. “Where are we?” I squinted into the morning.

“We’re about two hours from Dyvos. Maybe a half hour to Mykonos if you want to go somewhere fancy for breakfast.”

“If I had a change of clothes I’d be all over that.”

He was beautiful: completely unabashed in his nudity, his smile as bright as the sun above us. “There’s a place called Mina’s on Corfu and they make a pork belly hash that’s out of this world. I want you to taste it. We could be there inside a day.”

“I need to open the taverna tonight.”

“Come here.” I went willingly and was cuddled and kissed for a few heavenly minutes. “Let me take you to Corfu,” he said, his breath tickling my ear. “Tonight we can sleep on deck and make love under the stars. Say yes Kate.”

“I have to make a salad. And I was going to make apple pie.”

It took two and a half hours to get back to Dyvos. Daniel didn’t smile once.

~~

Min was in the courtyard with a bucket of water at her feet, a towel on her lap and one of her chickens circling. She was frowning at her hands. Then she was frowning at me. “What happened to my fruit salad?”

“Daniel took me sailing. Then we broke up. But he kissed me goodbye. What are you doing?”

“Look at my hands.”

“You have two of them,” I observed.

“The nails are crap. I look like Farmer John. Men like women who look feminine, not who look like Pa Kettle.”

“Who cares about men anyway? Let’s become lesbians and stop shaving and we can smoke French cigarettes.”

“How do you make the leap from lesbians to smoking? And did you have some fun last night?”

“Why do you care what men think? Maybe you had some fun last night.”

“I never have fun, I’m uptight and my nails are crap.”

“Well I had great sex and was falling in love but then he turned into a sullen teenage boy. I can’t fall in love with a sullen teenage boy. Why don’t you manicure yourself?”

“I’m going to wash my hair.”

“How? Plan to dump the bucket over your head?”

Min crinkled her nose at me. “Yes,” she slowly admitted, “that’s what I planned…”

“Let me get something to eat,” I sighed, “and I’ll wash your hair. But I ain’t touching those nasty nails of yours.”

“You would if we were lovers,” Min said, lost again in the contemplation of her fingers.

“He was amazing.” I spilled a cup of water over Min’s hair, the water turning her hair darker. “Not just the sex and that was good, but he made me feel…” Unashamed, I wanted to say. Uncaring of my body, beautiful in my skin.

“You’re prettier than you think you are.” Min’s eyes were closed; she was wearing a very worn floral skirt with a man’s t-shirt. Bare feet, dusty from our courtyard. “You’ve never thought highly of yourself Kate and it’s the worst thing about you. You change people’s lives and think you’re nothing special while you’re doing it.”

I didn’t know what to say so I said nothing. I picked up the shampoo bottle and squirted some onto my palm. “I was drowning and you saved my life,” Min continued. “It’s so crazy but this place is more home to me, with you and the chickens, then all my years living with Patton in Alabama. I wish you knew.”

My fingers massaged soap through her hair, bubbles gathered on dark red hair, little rainbows of color on the greatest color in my life. “I know that you make me better,” I said quietly. “You make me braver Min. If you didn’t come here with me, I probably would have run home after a week.”

“Misery loves company.”

“Crazy attracts crazy.”

“So is Daniel crazy? And did you really break up?”

“He’s not crazy; he’s just not very mature. Or responsible.”

“I guess he doesn’t have to be. That feels good. A little hard but good”

My fingers were digging into her scalp and I eased up. “I can’t run off at a moment’s notice because Daniel wants to eat hash on Corfu.”

“But it’s tempting.”

“Damn straight it’s tempting. But not doable.”

“No, it’s not.” I bent over and picked up the cup, scooping up water. I spilled it over her hair and watched the bubbles run in rivulets down to the ground.

“Am I the only one with a love life? I asked.

“A sex life, yes.” Min kept her eyes closed as I spilled more water over her hair. I gathered her hair in my hands and squeezed out the excess.

“What about love?” I asked.

She opened her eyes and the towel that was sitting on her lap flipped over and was quickly a turban as she straightened.

“I’m falling and I don’t want to. All I know about men is what Patton taught me and we know what kind of teacher he was.” I kicked at the chicken who looked ready to peck at my toes. It avoided me easily. “But Nick is different. At least he seems to be. The only question is whether I’ve changed enough.”

I sat down on the bench and stretched my legs out in front of me. For one of the first times in my life, I didn’t want to get a witty comeback. Apparently I had changed too.

Min

Dear Lynda –

It’s been awhile since I wrote my heart to you; I expect you were glad of the rest.

Do you remember all the discussions we had? I suppose some of them could have been called heated, but I would never call them arguments. No, we respected and loved each other too much for that.

I’d told you I didn’t like sex. I know now why I stayed relatively calm when you’d tell me Patton was a controlling ass. When you said he wasn’t the right one for me. I didn’t even sneer when you said that with the right person, making love is the most beautiful thing in the world and the closest two people can ever come to being one.

I think I remember shrugging, I think I remember saying I probably wasn’t wired right. And you said no, it wasn’t just me, it was Patton too. We weren’t meant to be, you said, and if I ever found the right man, I would sing a different tune.

I think I’ve found him, Lynda. But it still isn’t working. I think I love him, but I can’t … I just can’t give him that power over me. I can’t.

Because what if it’s like you said? What if it is? Where does that leave me? I’d be trapped again, this time by my heart and body, if not by legalities.

You lived your life as you wanted, free in your forests, painting your wildlife, loving your man. And you never stopped pushing me; to leave Patton, to move up with you and Jim, to live the life you were living. You forgot I wasn’t you and I never realized that I might have other choices.

Kate reminded me, Kate gave me another choice.

I’ve been thinking a lot, and what I think is that you have to love and respect yourself before you can be worthy of love from another. And I’ve only just begun that journey. I have a lot of baggage to get rid of and I need time; time to buff up my self image, time to build a healthy ego out of the doormat I’d become.

If I let Nick love me – and oh, I came so close – it would be the start of a relationship and you don’t make decisions by yourself when you’re in a relationship. I know it’s that way now with Kate, but we each have our own interests, we do our own thing, we’re just bound by a link of love and wanting the best for each other.

You say it should be that way with Nick, do you? You’re probably right.

Someday I might like myself. Someday I might believe that a man could love me. That the real me can become someone worth loving. I asked him what he saw in me and the woman he described is not the woman I am. But perhaps someday it might be the woman I become.

And oh Lynda – you won’t believe this, but … I’m horny!!

I hope you’re using all your influence for me, darlin’; as you see, I can use the help. I watch for you at night, Lynda Stella, you’re the star just to the left of Venus, somewhere to the north of Mars. You still sparkle, just as you did on Earth.

Kate

I’d accepted that he was never coming back. Every day turned into tomorrow and nothing changed. Nothing changed except everything was different.

Min was drifting and it was painful to watch. She was getting thinner from the work she was doing, I was afraid one day she wouldn’t be there because there’d be no more there to Min.

But I couldn’t say anything. She had a lifetime of regret she was working her way through and I was too busy working through my own past.

I wasn’t mooning, I told myself. Chopping vegetables while Shoosh tried to teach me Greek and I didn’t think about soft lips on mine. Mixing barbeque sauce while trying not to remember how it felt touching him. I didn’t walk hills imagining his long legs on the path beside me; I didn’t scan the harbor looking for a 36 foot sailboat carrying a smile back to Dyvos.

I refused to miss him and when I placed the platter of pulled pork in front of a group of mainlanders, my heart did not jump into my throat seeing Daniel sitting in his usual place, laughing at something one of the younger men said to him.

“Long time, no see.” I tried to look nonchalant, cocking a hip and pretending not to be burning right in front of his eyes.

“Really? That’s all you’re going to say to me?” His smile had faded. He captured my hand in his and placed fingers on the inside of my wrist. “God Kate, I missed you. I was hoping you might see me and throw yourself on top of me. The phrase buried in kisses comes to mind.”

“Never heard that phrase before.” I jerked on my hand but he didn’t release it.

“I spent almost a month alone on a boat Kate. Tonight I want to sleep on my boat but not alone. Will you come with me?”

My pulse leaped under Daniel’s fingers. I didn’t have to answer, he could feel it under my skin.

~~~~~~~

The evening was time moving too quickly while it managed to stand still. All I knew was that Daniel was there and the hunger in his expression wasn’t for any of the food placed in front of him or the conversation and laughter that washed over us both.

I hadn’t been a virgin since high school but my body didn’t feel comfortable to me. Every look he gave me worked its way through my body like a fever. I was edgy, I was excited, I wanted him in a way I hadn’t wanted anyone in such a long time.

I would have left the food out and the dishes piled but Shoosh was having none of that. She harangued her husband to start garbage detail and we moved quickly and surely. Through the open doorway I saw Daniel stacking the chairs and then sweeping. We all wanted to move on with the night.

He met me at the door and engulfed my hand in his. I wanted to run up the hill to the safety of Min and I wanted to run to the dangers of the harbor. I wanted and I knew and quietly I followed Daniel down to the harbor.

“The Painted Lady,” he said proudly as we approached his boat.

“Do I dare ask why?” Those were the first words I’d spoken to him since I’d taken his food order.

“When I was a kid I wanted to be an architect. I thought the painted ladies in San Francisco were the epitome of great architecture. I grew out of it.” He laughed as he climbed onto the boat and then extended his hand to me. “When I started sailing it felt like…” he shrugged. “Some things just are.”

“I know,” I agreed quietly. Fate is what it is and there was no point to fighting the direction it pointed us in. Daniel untied the boat from its mooring and pushed it off, jumping back on with surprising grace.

I’d been on sailboats when I was a child so I wasn’t a complete landlubber. Daniel was a pleasure to watch, his body in the moonlight as he guided the boat away from the island and caught a small breeze to move us away.

“Do you think you’ll ever settle in one place?” I asked. I didn’t want the question to be dramatic, but I wanted to know.

“I don’t think I’ll ever stop sailing, which would be like stopping dreaming. But I think there might be someplace I might think about calling home.”

I was glad that he couldn’t see how bright my cheeks were blazing. It was cold out on the water and I was grateful when Daniel came forward with a blanket. “You’re shivering.”

“Where are we going? Maybe I’m afraid of being kidnapped.”

He sat next to me and carefully draped the blanket around my shoulders. “Nobody’s ever suggested I look like a pirate.”

“Arr matey,” I joked.

He didn’t answer. He ducked his head and slanted his mouth over mine. This wasn’t meant to be a friendly kiss. This was a month of thinking about each other constantly. This was forgetting the other stuff and thinking about this moment only. This was heaven.

His mouth was soft and his kiss was hard. I felt it through my body with a quickening of breath, a flush of heat. My hands went to his chest and I could feel the heat from his body. I moved closer and he pulled me up hard against him.

I couldn’t stop touching him: the muscles in his arms taut, the skin hot and fevered. I was burning too, my need ratcheting my temperature to a burning pitch of desire.

His hands came up to touch my skin. His fingers skimmed over the rapidly jumping pulse in my neck, down to my collarbone. He flattened his hands and touched down, his palms pushing over my breasts, my nipples painfully hard and wanting more.

I wasn’t a stranger in all this. I slipped his shirt up and ran my hands over his stomach, feeling the small quivers of his muscles. I touched up, feeling the prickle of hair under my palms. I ran my finger along his nipples, tracing a circle running inward until it was concentrated on his small nub.

His tongue tasted my mouth, brushing my tongue in discovery. He pulled on my blouse, exposing my skin to his the cold night air and his hot touch. If we had been able to stop and look at ourselves we might have seen steam rising from our bodies, dissipating into the night sky.

When his mouth finally left mine and traveled down to follow his fingers, I was beyond thought of what or how we were doing. There was only the feel of his wet mouth, his long fingers and his hot skin.

The boat wasn’t made for lovers but lovers were made on the boat. When he crouched between my legs and brought his mouth to taste me, all I saw was stars overhead and the gentle rocking of the water, a pale imitation of the crazy rocking of my body.

His mouth and fingers brushed more delight into me than anyone had ever done before and when Daniel finally brought himself to join within me, I was languid from pleasure. “You’re so beautiful Kate.” He was big and strong and my body delighted in the feel of having him sheathed so tightly inside.

“I’m not beautiful.” He was beautiful, his brown hair damp from the exertion of pleasuring, his muscles tight from his own delayed pleasure. His face ducked down and he pressed kisses onto me.

“I’ve been to Italy. I’ve been everywhere in Greece. I’ve seen Samoa and Polynesia and the Canaries. And nothing I’ve seen is as beautiful as you are right now.”

He shuddered more pleasure into me and much later after the anchor had been released and we pressed ourselves into a dark bunk, bodies soft and spent, we fell asleep face to face. It was possibly the happiest I’d ever been.

Min

I’d have killed for a good manicure.

I’d never been one of those women over conscious of their looks – quite the opposite, in fact. I never went to bed in my makeup but that might have been because I seldom wore it and when I did, it wasn’t much. It didn’t matter if my clothes were stylish, only that they were comfortable. Just as well, really, style takes time and money. I’d had the time, but never the money.

I did a lot of thinking while I was digging and planting and worrying if it would rain. And it suddenly occurred to me that my frumpiness was deliberate, an unconscious attempt to place Patton at a distance and keep him there. Of course, it didn’t work, because Patton was a man who liked to put his stamp on what he considered his and for years he’d had his cake and eaten it too; fucking beautiful women who wore makeup and dressed well, the thrill of the hunt as he charmed them to bed, the excitement of a secret life outside his marriage vows. And if the hunt was a failure, there was always the wife at home to receive the benefits of his attention. Boringly plain, plainly boring, but a vagina was a vagina and he could always close his eyes.

The confusing thing was, Nick didn’t seem to consider me boring. Or plain. Confusing and surprising, because looking back I felt like the only time I came out of my hidey hole, the only time I revealed my true self, was to Kate. So what was it about me that was attracting him?

I didn’t want him to be attracted to me. I didn’t want to be attracted to him. I didn’t want the work and the worry of another relationship. Logically, I knew all men weren’t like Patton and most probably neither was Nick. But I’d just fought free of a smothering, lopsided marriage and I wanted time to be me, to discover who ‘me’ was.

So I made sure I dressed in my oldest clothes, which was reasonable because one doesn’t work a farm in sundresses. I was usually sweaty and dirty and more or less content with the life I’d chosen. What I wasn’t, was sexy and I couldn’t figure out what game Nick was playing.

And I wasn’t pleased that my heart was screwing up all my plans. It took no notice of what I did or didn’t want; it just yearned for Nick and it was becoming harder to act indifferent. I was full of jumbled thoughts and jumbled feelings and my body was beginning to realize there might be more to this sex stuff than I’d realized.

~~~~~~~~~

Our chicken family was growing; I could now call it a flock and did so with pride. The addition of four more hens and a gorgeous rooster Kate named Rusty brought the total to seven, a small flock, but still … The cock was Sicilian bred; I’d got him from old Santos and it had cost me one of my diamond chip studs. I considered it a fair trade. There would be no eggs for the taverna until Rusty did his duty and increased my flock, but it would be worth it in the end.

The chicken flock had gravitated to the dovecote, attracted by the seed I scattered. The doves themselves probably ranged over the whole island, but the dovecote was home and they always returned. Seed scattered around outside kept them busy and more or less in the area and provided a windfall for the chickens who’d decided to abandon the courtyard for easier pickings. Much to Kate’s relief. I don’t think Kate was really into chickens unless they were fried. I kept the door open and Tino built some nesting boxes, and everyone seemed happy.

Except me.

I’d begged off working the taverna that evening; I was tired and edgy and in no mood for the strain of interacting with people whose language I still couldn’t speak. So much went right over my head and when the room broke out in laughter it wasn’t hard to believe, if my mood was right, that they were laughing at me. Aren’t we all the center of our universes? Most of the time they probably didn’t notice I was there. I’d become familiar to them, part of the furnishings, part of the taverna. I belonged, but I was in no mood this night to even consider that.

I talked Kate into helping me haul the mattress to the roof.

“I’ll be staying up here tonight, I’ve got some things to think through,” I told her.

She just nodded. I never had to explain things to Kate.

“I’ll check on you when I get home, but I’ll try not to disturb you.”

“I’ll be better tomorrow, just plotting how to get a nanny to keep Henry company.”

“Sure you are,” she said dryly. “Don’t sell anything else, understand? We’ll find a way together, it’s our business, we’ll do it together.”

My cheeks felt hot. “But you got enough worries with the taverna, I don’t want to add to them. I thought it was my problem …”

“For fuck’s sake! Didn’t you hear me? It’s your business too! It’s our business! We’ll worry about it together, damn it – we’re partners!”

“I didn’t mean to make you mad,” I said in a small voice. Then I frowned. “Try to do something decent for someone …”

“Shit,” Kate said in disgust. “You hear me now, Min. I am NOT Patton. And I don’t appreciate you acting like I am! Sneaking around, keeping secrets like I’ll what – kick you out if I knew? You just think long and hard, up here on your roof!”

Isn’t it strange how viewpoints can differ? I was trying to save Kate worry; she thought I was shutting her out.

“I apologize,” I said rather stiffly.

“Accepted,” she replied just as stiffly and turned toward the stairs.

“Don’t fall off the stairs because you’re in a snit, darlin’.”

“Don’t you try to pull anymore fast ones,” she threw over her shoulder.

I followed slowly after, silently cussing myself. But I honestly hadn’t thought … and that was it, I hadn’t thought. I was acting out an old pattern, one set by Patton, and it had to stop. It had to stop now.

I almost ran Kate down; she’d paused on the last step.

“Oh lord, Kate – did I hurt you?”

“You almost killed me, you’re such a bitch.”

“So are you,” I said, feeling more cheerful.

“Well, this bitch’ll bring back some fruit salad for your breakfast if you promise to behave in the future.”

“Kate …”

Words failed me, I couldn’t bring myself to say them. But I hugged her hard and said lightly, “Best not keep your hungry fans waiting. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“That you will. Sweet dreams, Red.”

What would my life be without Kate? I pondered this as I grabbed a quick shower and religiously rubbed in moisturizer. Nothing, that’s what and my nose was sunburned, damn it.

I wasn’t hungry so I dragged my way back up to the roof and lay looking at the immensity of the sky – black velvet sprinkled with precious jewels. For some reason it gave me hope and I had no idea why. I just felt … better.

“Araminta – may I join you?”

My whole body shocked and my heart started pounding. The deep voice, the name he called me, told me who it was. And oh lord, I wasn’t ready.

Was I?

Kate

I was never one of those girls. Deep in my envious moments I’d wanted to be one of them: the cheerleaders and popular ones who never missed a dance or special memory and always had someone by their side.

I’d had boyfriends in high school but mine were the funny ones with pimples or the tall, painfully thin lawyer-wanna-be. In college I had crash and burn relationships and played that out for years after. My sad yearnings for someone special seemed to be based on romantic movies and never on what real life had to offer.

Daniel appeared at the taverna the evening after our walk to say he was leaving. “Naples calls. Should I bring you back some pasta?”

“Are you serious?” I was dumbfounded. “You’re moving to Italy?”

“Not moving silly, sailing.” He was sitting at the wood table in the kitchen; he had katta in his arms and making him purr loudly. I was pulling pork ribs from the grill, trying not to splatter sauce and cause kitchen fires. My wrist had a weltering burn from an earlier mistake.

“Okay, so you’re sailing to Italy. And then?”

“And then I’m sailing back.” He was grinning like it was a great joke but his eyes were intent. “It’s what I do. I like to sail.”

“Then you sail.” I shrugged. “Sounds like fun.”

“It is fun, you should go with me.”

“Well I think Italy might take me away from a new life for too long.”

“Not Italy but maybe some of the islands here when I get back.”

“If you come back.”

Katta hit the floor with all four feet and Daniel was up, his hands grasping my shoulders and turning me to him. “I’ll be back Kate. And I’ll expect you to be waiting for me. Just because I sail doesn’t mean anything changes between us.”

“Be careful,” I said trying not to crack a smile. “Stavros seems to be getting quite attached to me.”

“Tell him I don’t share.” Daniel let go of my shoulders. “And tell him you’re not interested in anyone that isn’t me.”

“You assume,” I said turning back to my cooking.

“I don’t have to assume when you can’t hide your feelings.” Unexpectedly his arms circled me and his face was warm against mine. “Miss me, okay?”

I thought of a million sharp answers, multiple ways to wound and draw blood. Instead I said, “I will.”

~~

I refused to be ruled by waiting. I did have a new life and so it seems, did Min. After a morning prepping food at Aristotle’s I came home to find Oscar had befriended a Felix.

“Why are there two chickens?”

“I was afraid Oscar might be lonely.” Min was planting strange looking roots into the ground, tips pointing up. She was leaving a lot of space between them.

“I don’t think chickens are naturally social animals. What the fuck are those things?”

“Grapes.” She wiped the back of her hand across her brow. Her nails were ragged and dirty.

“We’re going to have grapes?”

“Not for a long time. It can be years before they produce fruit. But one day we’ll be able to just reach out and pick our own grapes. Or even make grape jelly.”

“Insanity,” I clucked. “So any other surprises?”

“Not really. I got the garlic and onions planted. Makis is going to bring me lettuce and a variety of beans.”

“Sounds wonderful.” The sun was passing over and the intense heat of the day was passing. I was drowsy in the afternoon and loved the feeling of the heavy lethargy sinking my body down and losing myself in a soft doze.

“It’s going to be amazing.” Min was moving but I was drifting. “Is it okay if I borrow your silver watch? I misplaced mine.”

I muttered something in assent. If I said anything at all. I never heard anything else Min said but when I woke I was alone in the courtyard and it was time to get back to work.

Min

“Are we on a date?”

Nick smiled at me. “If you want to think of it that way.”

“I don’t.” I sounded grumpy, even to myself. “Dating’s the last thing I want.” I tripped over a rock and found myself held against his hard body until I found my balance. I poked a finger in his belly and almost broke a nail. “Not bad for a businessman.”

“I do my best,” he said modestly. “It’s not all riding a desk.”

I made some sort of vacuous reply and went back to brooding.

I didn’t want to be involved with a man. I didn’t trust anything about the whole situation, not him and not me. Especially not me. I was still a work in progress, I didn’t want to be locked into another relationship. It was too quick, it was happening too fast.

When he’d offered to take me on a tour of his house and the olive orchard, I should have said no. And yet I’d washed up and changed into my Impressionist clothes and gone. I no longer knew for sure just what it was I wanted. Being alone with him was not helping the situation at all. I would have to keep things casual, nothing deep. No heart searching, no confessions; definitely no declarations.

You’re taking a lot for granted, aren’t you Min, I scolded myself.

What am I to think after last night? self replied.

Oh hush!

I searched for a safe topic of conversation, but everything I came up with sounded like flirting. Probably just my hyperawareness; I was as jittery and jumpy as a cat on a hot tin roof. Fortunately Nick took matters into his own hands.

“The Dyvos orchard was our start.”

“Really? Tell me.” Yes, talk about olives so I won’t drive myself crazy.

“The island is small but it still has quite a history. I expect my ancestors were a wild and wooly bunch to keep it all for themselves. But they did, and in more civilized times there was trade with the Phoenicians and Egyptians and Crete. Olive oil was like gold back then and we had a whole island of olive trees, thanks to someone with foresight.”

“Maybe he just liked olive oil on his salad.”

“Maybe.” His teeth flashed white in the sun. “Anyway, this orchard is what’s left of the original. The trees still bear, for all their age, but we’re not dependent on their harvest, they’re kept more for sentimental reasons than economic. Olives started our fortune, but just like you and Kate are doing, we diversified.”

“Are you saying these trees are the original trees?”

“Sure, they live a long time, I think the oldest has been proven to be over 2000 years old.”

I considered that in silence. What an example of endurance, surviving all that nature threw against them, – storms, drought and man himself – and emerging after all this time still productive, still beautiful. I could do worse than take an olive tree as my example.

We’d stopped on a high cliff that gave a good view of the old orchard on the inland side. I turned around and the bright radiance of the sea was an almost physical blow. It was all so surreal. I sat down feeling rather breathless and Nick sank down beside me.

The wind pulled at my hair and tried to creep under my skirt so that I had to tuck it tightly around my bent legs, anchoring it by wrapping my arms around my knees. It was so peaceful, the only sounds the sigh of the wind and the lonely cry of some sort of seabird.

I stole a glance at him. He looked like he belonged here, so lithe and tanned, his black hair blowing into little ringlets that danced on his forehead and swirled around his neck. His nose curved arrogantly above a sensitive mouth that was curled into a smile. His eyes squinted against the dazzle reflected by the water and I found myself wanting to touch, to smooth those sun lines with a finger, or maybe even my lips.

He wore a loose white cotton shirt with the top three buttons undone, the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. It almost glowed against his dark skin and the darker hair revealed as the wind frisked around him like a playful puppy. He sat with forearms braced on bent knees and I wondered what thoughts he was thinking; was he planning a brilliant business coup or just drinking in the peace that surrounded us? Or maybe, just maybe … could he be thinking of me?

A very forward thought for a woman who had become a suburban matron, tied to the routines of house and husband. A woman ignorant of romance. A woman who was comfortable in old fuzzy bathrobes and wooly socks, who had dinner on the table every evening at six o’clock sharp and gave her husband the expected Saturday night sex every Saturday night without fail. I hadn’t been a Stepford wife – I wasn’t neat enough for that – but I’d come damn close to it.

“You look like a pirate,” I told him trying to shake off my depressing thoughts. “A little more material in the sleeves, maybe some boots instead of those Nikes …”

His smile widened; he turned toward me and his face was close … so close I could see my reflection in the dark brown of his eyes and a couple of short whiskers his razor had missed, the little sickle shaped scar on his chin and the dimples almost lost in the laugh lines running from nose to mouth. My heart squeezed so tightly I lost my breath and in my confusion, I blamed it on the wind.

“A pirate … in some things maybe. But not on the island. Never here. This place is not for pirates but for lovers.”

My heart squeezed again. “Oh … well … and here I thought it was for goats …” Stupid! Stupid! What was I thinking?

“I’ll not make the obvious joke, I’m not near old enough. Why are you so uptight? Look at you, all hunched over, hanging on to yourself for dear life. What are you afraid of?”

“Once I would have said life. Now? Maybe it’s still life, but I think I’m improving. Living with Kate – she savors every bit of living – stray cats, wandering sailors, everything. I feel like a genii let loose from a bottle and I want to work magic as best I can.”

“You and Kate are already working magic; the islanders talk of ‘their’ Americans.”

“Lord, I remember the first time I ever really talked to Kate – we met on a forum, I’m not sure why we started emailing each other, but we did and graduated to msn. Sort of learning as we went.

“Anyway, we were describing our lives to each other, I thought she was so cool, everything I wanted to be. And she said to me, you talk about Pat like he’s your father not your husband. Live dangerously, she said, have dinner at eight instead of six. And while it’s cooking, seduce him in the shower.” I smiled at the memory.

“And did you?” His voice was neutral.

“After I got over my shock, I found I didn’t want to seduce him in the shower, so Pat remained unseduced and supper was served at six.”

“And now you eat goat cheese and watermelon and call it good.”

“Yes,” I smiled. “It’s the best.”

He got to his feet and pulled me up after him. “Time for another lesson in living dangerously.”

Like an eager lover, the wind found him, inserting sly fingers beneath his shirt, caressing taut skin and molding his pants to his legs. I stared at him, both hands trying to hold my skirt down, until he swung me around to the edge of the cliff and moved in behind me, fitting his body to mine. The hard planes of him were so warm. I felt my cheeks flush; I blamed the wind, but I knew it was him.

“Leave it,” he said in a husky voice. “Let it go, Armaminta, let everything go.”

The wind whipped around us, belling his shirt and playing hide and go seek with the skirt of my sundress. He bent his head to mine, his breath warm at my ear as he whispered, “You’re free now. Feel it. Live it. Shout it.”

My old-fashioned barrette lost the battle to the wind and my hair blew free, the red strands mingling with his black. He threaded his fingers through mine and raised our arms wide. We stood at the edge of a cliff, with the turquoise ocean heaving restlessly below and the wind dancing around us, and we flew.

I can’t remember ever feeling so exhilarated, so … happy. I think it was then that what Kate was striving for was born. The new woman that was me laid her head back against Nick’s shoulder and soared.

I don’t know that I ever completely came to earth again.