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.
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.”
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.