I stood relaxed between the open French doors, sipping a cup of bitter coffee and watching the sun rise. Slowly color seeped into the courtyard as the light brightened. It was going to be another beautiful day.
The courtyard didn’t look much different, but still I felt a sense of accomplishment. It was clean and weed free and we’d started to add plants. It was all very hit and miss. Both Kate and I worked on it when we could, but the bulk of the work had been done by Tino, who seemed to have taken up residence with us. He’d arrived with a hoe and a rake and a lemon tree in a pot. He’d managed to make us understand that it was another housewarming gift, both he and the lemon tree.
Kate was delighted to find someone with even a few words of English.
“For fuck’s sake, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth!” she’d hissed.
“But Kate, he’s done so much already,” I protested.
“He hasn’t even started.”
“I meant his employer, I don’t like to be beholden.”
“You need to learn to accept gifts graciously.”
“Yes ma’am,” I said meekly and tried to remember the last time I’d had a gift.
But Tino was the best gift we could have been given. Everyday he came down the hill and when he left something else would have been fixed, or improved. He’d done something to the roof when we showed him the leak and voila – no more leak; he’d put a new latch on the French doors and we no longer shared our house with livestock. Henry had learned to work the broken latch like a pro and we’d even found Oscar in the kitchen once, looking like she had every intention of nesting in the big earthenware bowl Kate used for kneading her bread. I thought Kate would stroke out.
We’d been accepted by the people, and I think by the land too. Still, sometimes I felt like a large white egret set down amongst a flock of pigeons. Daniel was the only person I’d met here who was taller than me.
“A stranger in a strange land,” I said softly.
“Talking to yourself again?”
I turned and smiled. “It’s only dangerous if you turn it into a real conversation, that’s why I have you, you keep me sane.”
“Thank you very much … you think old Aristotle is turning in his grave?”
I needed no explanation of what she meant. “The real Aristotle? I don’t think he’d care much what kind of food is served at his namesake, he had other things on his mind. Things more important than barbequed lamb.”
Kate gestured with her chin. “It’s coming along nicely, isn’t it?”
“That it is. C’mon, let’s stroll the property.”
“Oh, la-de-da! Stroll the property.”
“Well, it is property. And we will stroll.” I grinned at her. “You’re too damn short to link arms with … try to keep up, okay?”
She stuck out her tongue at me but went willingly enough. I headed toward the little patio, where Tino had planted bougainvillea. Soon the ratty lattice would be covered with it. I nodded in approval.
“Those stairs need a railing,” Kate said critically.
I looked at her in horror. “You Philistine, you! Surely you jest!”
“I never jest about breaking my neck. Damn it Min, those things are an accident just waiting to happen.”
“Don’t climb them then. What would you be doing on the roof anyway? C’mon, let’s check the dovecote.”
She sighed. “You and your damn dovecote. It’ll look exactly as it did yesterday, but let’s go.”
Tino had planted some lavender and rosemary along the wall on either side of the passage opening and they were just starting to bloom. We both sniffed in appreciation.
“Shoosh’s looking forward to fresh rosemary, she wants us to plant onions. And garlic.”
“And you know this how? You can suddenly speak Greek?”
“Fuck no! Daniel came by … he translated.”
“Oh, Daniel …”
By this time we were in the tunnel. Kate grabbed my arm and brought us both to a halt. Behind us, weak sunlight slanted into the dimness and the smell of lavender surrounded us.
“Min,” Kate said, “what are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking of where to plant garlic. I don’t want it in the courtyard.”
“Damn it, I’m being serious here. We did something spur of the moment, it could be something stupid or something really, really great. Which is it? If Patton showed up, would you go back with him?”
I leaned back against the wall. The stone felt rough through my thin top. “Patton isn’t going to show up, how could he? He doesn’t know where I am.”
“Your lawyer does. Who is your lawyer anyway?”
“I wrote to Brad Timmons, Leeann’s husband. He’s a lawyer and she’s my friend.”
“But is he Patton’s friend? I wish you hadn’t done that, Min. I’ve read all about the ‘old boy’ network in the south.”
“Hey, it’s not just the south! And he’ll be bound by client confidentiality.” But I didn’t sound very certain.
“If he takes you on as a client. Otherwise … I wish we’d talked it over first.”
“That’s what I get for trying to be independent,” I said lightly. “Please don’t worry, not over this. Pat won’t want me back. Not the woman who made him look bad in front of the whole town.
She gave me a strange look. “I’m beginning to wonder just how well you knew Patton.”
“Probably not as well as I know you. So … you gonna get it on with the sailor?”
“How crude!” Obligingly she accepted my change of subject. “’Get it on’, you make it sound so … basic. There’s more to him than just sex.”
“Fuck is basic, ‘get it on’ sounds like fun. And if you’re thinking of more than sex, it must be serious.”
“He’s like a fucking dragonfly, flitting here, there, everywhere. I don’t want to flit. Whatever happens, it won’t be serious.”
“Famous last words.”
“Pot and kettle. What about you and Nick?”
I could feel my face getting hot. I pushed off from the wall and continued along the tunnel, not limiting my stride. Kate trotted along beside me. “Well?”
“Good Lord, Kate, I can count the number of times I’ve seen him on one hand with fingers left over. He’s a busy man and I’m fixing to set up in the garlic business. I got no time for males, I want nothing to do with males. I just got shed of one, I got no desire to take on another, even casually. Nick’s been very kind, but then I imagine he sees himself as lord of the island and everyone here under his care. That’s all it is.”
“Uh huh. Well, I can understand, I suppose. Just remember, not all males are like Patton. Couldn’t hurt to give him a chance.”
“He’s only here for a short time,” I said, exasperated. “He’s based in Athens. Just leave it, Kate.”
“I will if you will.”
We stepped out into the bright sun and immediately groped for our sunglasses. The short, tough grasses stroked my ankles as we moved toward the dovecote.
“Over there.” I pointed to the right. “I thought over there would be good for the garlic.”
“Ask Tino.” Kate seemed uninterested in garlic. “Well, well, look who’s at the dovecote.”
My head whipped around. Nick was just emerging through the newly hung door. He stopped and looked up. My gaze followed his.
I heard their coos before I actually picked out a dove perched in one of the round openings. With a whir of wings, another took flight.
“Min,” Kate whispered. “I think he’s courting you.”
And oh lord, I think she was right.