“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.
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.