The next morning, when Reed managed to pry his eyes open against the morning sun, it was still too early and Tomas was snoring in his bed. From the view from the floor, where his mattress had been the past week, he had a good view how he idly scratched his bare belly and suddenly he didn’t feel like sleeping any more. He searched his phone from somewhere near his head, where he usually kept it on the half open book. With no TV, this and the radio had been his only entrainment aside the visits to the village and his brother’s never ending love for moody conversations on philosophical topics he doubted sprouted from his economical brain and had to come from somewhere else.
It was little past six. He’d slept less than five hours, yet his mind was bright as the sun outside. His brother’s bare chest couldn’t be the cause for such transformation and for a second he thought with a shiver that he was getting old. No. It was too early for those thoughts.
He dragged himself up, cursing the thin mattress that seemed to leave welts on his backside each night, and went outside, pulling his shirt over his shoulders against the chill outside. He couldn’t stay in, or make anything to eat or coffee, that would have gotten Tomas up and he tended to resemble more a bear than a man before the magic switch.
He headed straight to the rocky beach line behind their house and sought out the small patch of large stones he could lean on to get to the water. Despite the closeness of the water, the rocks made it nearly impossible place to swim in. They went on quarter of a mile in different directions and had the bottom scattered with pin-like stones. It was beautiful to look at, but it was clear that some god’s wrath had turned once there mountain inside out.
He gathered some water with his palms and splashed it over his face and neck. His temples were throbbing and he hadn’t even drank the night before. Then again, he hadn’t drunken any water after visit to the cafe either.
The mellow sound of Valerie’s voice bolted him up and he searched around for the source. She was sitting few feet away on a flat top rock, little over his shoulder high in a short yellow dress and green cardigan, image of a perfect dandelion with her golden hair shining against the sun behind her. She had tucked her palms between her legs and squeezed them, making Reed feel every part of him react to the gentle reaction his gaze brought upon. He blushed and forced his eyes up to look her straight in her eyes.
Her expression was serious and her eyes kept studying his face as if it would reveal some secrets he beheld. The woman would be up for a disappointment, he thought, the only secret he could think of involving his family and, now that he thought of it, not much of a scandal either.
“Morning.” He answered, clearing his throat. He wanted to ask, what she was doing there, but after last night, he didn’t dare, scared he’d spook her away should he move a muscle.
His eyes fell on the basket next to her.
“You’re up early?” she asked. “Feeling old?”
His mouth twitched upwards, thinking on one part of his body particularly that was vigorously ready for some morning practice. “Not particularly…” He winched, willing the chill around them to get to it somehow and cool him off.
The basket came down and hang in air in front of him for few seconds, before it hopped up and down, hinting he should take it. Which he did and second later he reached out to grab hold of her with his other hand before sliding her down. Right. Against. His. Body. Shit.
“I got us some coffee while we talk.” She said, patting him on his bare chest and was gone before his soggy mind followed the scent of her floral perfume.
“If you don’t hurry -”
He suck in a breath of cold air and suddenly he felt chilled enough to follow her down the path between the rocks. For a flip of a moment he thought she’d said it, which he couldn’t deny as she was walking ahead of him, her back towards him, but before he could accept that explanation, he knew she hadn’t said it. Then why had he thought about it?
“Talk?” he asked, when she finally stopped behind another large set of stones with flat surface in the middle. The surrounding cliffs cave it an illusion of a nest waiting to be claimed and for the next minute he watched her expertly cleaning away all the debris wind had carried past the sharp tips. She sat down on the floor, patted the place next to her and waited until he knelt next to her and gave her the basket.
She started loading off a thermos, a set of utensils for two, on top of them sandwiches and grapes. She poured the coffee out, popped in one cube of sugar in one and loaded three in her own and handed it over with a spoon. She didn’t stir her own, but waited while he stirred his own.
“Rumors travel fast here, so I heard an interesting one last night.”
“Oh?” From whom? Garret?
“You’re here to stay.”
Reed almost laughed out loud, but strangled it in his throat. This was a good enough reason to wait here in such ghastly hour to offer him coffee and sandwiches?
“My brother is.” He stated the fact, sipping from his cup. It was too small for his hand, but it wasn’t a cheap one. It was quite a high class china.
“You are not?”
She sounded disappointed and as much as he wished to put her mind at ease, he knew lying would only give more ammo to her guns, so he sighed. “I’m here on vacation.”
She assessed the information in silence, studying the cup between her fingers before raising her head and looking out on the sea. She seemed a bit relieved, but still disappointed and he couldn’t shake the confusion stirring up in him. Was this all she came here for?
“Will this be your summer house?”
“I don’t know yet. It’s a beautiful place here, but I don’t think he can run his business from here.”
“We have a consulting firm. I do the bills, he manages the business. Our brothers have their own projects, this I do together with Tomas.”
And the conversation died right there. He felt awkward, when he thought about the silence. It was unusual. Then again, the rocking waves against the cliffs and the screaming seagulls hardly encourage to ruin the calm morning by chit-chatting.
“So,” she began after a while, “why move here?”
He shrugged, checking if he still had any coffee left. As if forestalling, she refilled it from the flask and pushed the carton box with sugar his way. He counted the sugar in moved the coffee around in his cup, waiting it to melt. That’s right, there was this question.
“Why…” He didn’t know how to explain this or even ask. No, he should ask, how?
The slow smile pushing her lips wider pulled his attention from the drink and back on her.
“We’ve met before.” She nodded towards the cup. “Back then it was a question of how much sugar coffee really needs.” Then her smile faded a bit. “It’s not something important to remember.”
“I’m sorry, I -”
“We went to the same school, that’s all. I think we met…” she thought for a while, following a Curlew that purred over their heads. “We met during lunch breaks, but I doubt you remember me, we were in different circles.”
Reed stared at her, his mouth pressed into a thin line. He was horrified by his own brain that refused to give out information when he so desperately needed it.
How could he not remember her? He had met her, he knew that now, too many ways his brains was making the connections to ignore it, but for the life of him he couldn’t remember the face that went together with all the emotions. A girl with short hair tugging him up from sleep, someone’s breath close to his ear, the scent of flowers his nose caught from the air right now – all of it was connected to one person and he knew that. The girl, who caused his meltdown and made him overanxious over his own shortcomings in relationship world. He hadn’t even known her name, hadn’t seen her often, but something in her presence made his mind go numb and empty before she even reached his personal space.
He didn’t know what to say. So they were schoolmates? Not much to go on, for he knew she disappeared in junior high after few months. Could it really be her? He couldn’t be sure.
She was studying his reaction with open curiosity and he was suddenly very conscious of his naked soul laid before her feet.
“You don’t need to pretend as if you know me.” She said again, pressing on not remembering her. That actually made him feel worse. “Why I even bring this up is… I’m just curious how you found this place?”
“I hadn’t heard of it before Tomas brought it up.” He answered her question. “Is this where you moved in junior hight?”
“Yes. It’s so far off though. It struck me odd that someone from Montfort wants to come live here. Did something happen?”
“No.” He smiled, relaxing a bit. So she wasn’t about to tell her life story. No matter, he already knew. At least the version the newspapers shouted, so he had vague idea why she avoided it. “Actually,” he didn’t want to end their conversation just yet, so he decided to give her a glimpse of information, “it’s more of a family drama.”
She frowned, sipped her coffee and looked away. Too close to home, he guessed.
“My dad…” he began, perking up. “Actually, I should start from the beginning.” He sent her a side glance and was glad she took up interest again and the gray cloud around her began taking off again. “My parents have five sons. Tomas is the eldest and I’m his lieutenant. As you’ve already noticed, we aren’t married yet. My dad is convinced that it’s our fault. We’re not setting an example to our brothers. It seems pointless to explain him that they are their own individuals and, well, long story short – he wants us to get married and he has set his eye on Tomas. So we, kind of, split from the city. I offered we take a long vacation somewhere, but instead Tomas bought himself a house here without any warning and now we’re here to,” in lack of better word, “clean it up.”
“Now…” he finished his explanation why he’d came, but realized it wasn’t Tomas now, who wanted to stay. Sure, he had bought it and was pulling this, but he still doubted if his brother had thought this through. He wanted to stay instead, but that would be just as rash decision as his brother’s.
He waited her to say anything.
“Then you’ve chosen rather bad place.” She said quietly. She looked shaken, although she did everything in her power to hide it.
“There’s no hiding on an island. If your family realizes you are staying here, you’ll be available for them all year through.” She explained. “And there’s nowhere to go if they do decide to come search you.”
“I’ll come to your place.” He smiled, but she wasn’t amused.
“It’s an island, mister Bradenton, I would prefer you don’t. You’re family will definitely follow and that would be a scandal of most grandeurs scale.”
It sure would be, he agreed with a sigh.