Chapter 1: Chapter 1
Louisa stomped out of the bank clutching a slip of paper. “Blasted Basil” she muttered under her breath. “Such a sorry excuse for a...man.” she finished lamely, already scanning the streets for the taxi. She spotted it several blocks away and even though the sight was an all too familiar one, her heart skipped a beat. She didn’t pause to consider if it was glee or dread that caused the palpitation.
Things between Louisa and Spiro had been strained in the months since their almost romance was interrupted by the return of his wife. She couldn’t blame him for putting a stop to their budding relationship. He chose his children after all. She would have done the same in his position. Unfortunately for her, if anything, that made her admire him more. She couldn’t say love...she refused to admit the depth of her feelings, even to herself.
Taking a deep, steadying breath, she straightened her spine and started off towards the car. As she drew closer she saw the vehicle was missing it’s ever present occupant.
Louisa trailed her fingers lightly over the metal curve of the back wheel, but pulled her hand back guiltily when she heard Spiro’s laugh. So loud, so boisterous. Oh, how she missed that sound!
He was standing a few yards away, talking and laughing with a shopkeeper. Louisa wished her rudimentary understanding of the Greek language allowed her to follow their conversation, but at best she could only pick out an odd word here and there. With a sigh she waited by the car, stealing glances at him under the brim of her hat. She could have watched him all day if the shopkeeper hadn’t noticed her standing there and gestured towards her with his chin.
Spiro looked around and caught her eye, his smile sliding off his face. He turned back to his friend and said goodbye with a hearty slap to the shoulder.
“Mrs. Durrells,” he greeted her, whipping his hat off his head.
“Spiro,” she forced a smile, hoping she looked normal. “I’m afraid I have a rather large favor to ask you.”
His eyes looked tired, haunted. “What can I help you with?” He leaned against the front of the car.
“Well, Basil, you remember him? He sold my aunt’s last possessions and wired the money to Corfu. But unfortunately, he sent it to the wrong bank.” She frowned, holding out the slip of paper with an address written in Greek. “The bank manager says it must be here instead, and that the only way to get the money is to retrieve it in person.”
Spiro took the paper and made a face. “You need to go here? Today? It will take at least four hours to get there and back.”
“If that’s possible. I could always have another cab take me-”
“You want to ride in a horse and buggy all this way?” Spiro interrupted with a smirk.
“Well, no, I honestly don’t relish that thought at all. I just didn’t want to be a bother to you.”
Spiro’s dark eyes met hers, “You are never a bother to me, Mrs. Durrells.”
Louisa smiled tremulously, ”Thank you, Spiro.”
“You want to leave right now?”
She gestured in the general location of the doctor’s office, “I just need to pop in and tell Florence to let Margo know I’ll be gone”
Spiro nodded, pulling his hat back on his head, “I will pick you up there.”
She felt his eyes on her as she turned and walked briskly to Dr. Petridis’ building. After quick rap on the blue door she pushed it open.
“Oh, Hello Louisa,” greeted Florence from her seat behind her desk, Adonis balanced on her lap.
Louisa smiled at the baby and stroked his chubby hand, drawing a chuckle. Florence cocked her head and eyed her. “What’s happened now?”
She sighed, glad her friend already knew of her troubles with her cousin. “I asked Spiro to drive me to pick up Aunt Hermione’s inheritance.”
Florence raised an eyebrow. “Not sure you had much of a choice unless you rode in a-”
“I know,” Louisa shook her head. “It’s just that it is such a long drive. Nothing has been the same since-” tears pricked her eyes and she pressed her fingers against them to stop their escape.
Florence reached out to pat her hand. “Maybe this can be a good thing. You will have plenty of uninterrupted time to clear the air. Heaven knows the two of you have been tiptoeing around each other for months.” She shifted Adonis and asked, “Have you told him your plans?”
Louisa shook her head. “Only Larry knows how serious things are becoming in Europe. I’ve been in denial”
A honk pierced the air and Florence stood up to give Louisa a one-armed hug. “Good luck, Dear. All will be fine, you’ll see. I’ll tell Margo you won’t be home until late tonight.”
The two women exchanged a smile then Louisa pulled the door open and headed out into the bright sunshine.
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
Spiro waited beside his car with the door held open for her. He smiled tightly as she slid in, closed the door firmly, then crossed over and sat down beside her. The car started with a roar and he backed it out into the road. The townspeople all knew Spiro well and they shouted out greetings that he returned as they drove through the narrow streets. Louisa stayed silent long after they had left the town and were heading south along the dusty road. The bumps and ruts were determined to toss her body against his. In times past she wouldn’t have resisted it, but today she held herself rigid, as close to her door as possible.
For so long they had enjoyed an easy friendship and silence would have felt comfortable. Now it was awkward with all the unspoken words hanging between them. Spiro was also uncharacteristically subdued although she could feel him shooting worried looks at her.
After an eternity Louisa could stand it no more. “I’ve never been to this part of the island,’ she pointed out rather unnecessarily, seeing as how he was her primary means of transportation and they had had no reason to venture this far south in all her years on Corfu.
Spiro let out a groan and guided the car off the road, setting the brake. Louisa lifted questioning eyes to his. He frowned back at her, let out a harsh breath of air, and shifted his gaze to stare ahead over the shimmering sea.
“This is as painful to me as it is to you,” tortured eyes met hers. “We must find a way to be friends again,” he hesitated, “Mrs. Durrells.”
Louisa squeezed her eyes shut at the name. The name she had always just accepted. Until that one evening he called her by her given name and she glimpsed a possible future with one of the kindest men she had ever met. Now her name was a wall; one he had erected to separate their current reality from whatever fantasies they had briefly entertained. She couldn’t bear to meet his eyes, but nodded, trying to force a smile she didn’t feel.
“Hey,” he said softly, stretching his arm over the back of the seat and turning towards her. His thumb lightly grazed her shoulder and he waited expectantly until she looked at him. His voice was deep and husky when he asked, “How can we do that?”
Louisa shook her head, “I wish I knew, Spiro.” Her voice came out a whisper.
He took a deep breath, then one side of his face curved up in a lopsided smile. “Well you can start by not sitting there like a statue. I’m afraid I will hit a hole and you will shatter like glass!”
Louisa couldn’t help a soft laugh. “I am being silly, aren’t I?”
Spiro’s answering smile didn’t reach his eyes, holding hints of a deeper sadness, but she was relieved the awkwardness had at least been acknowledged and hoped it was the first step in getting past it.
“Shall we continue?” he invited.
She agreed with a nod and he dragged his gaze from hers, put the car in gear and pulled back onto the road.
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
They rumbled along for several more miles without event. The sea stretched to their left with the distant shoreline barely visible in the distance. To the right were groves of ancient, twisted olive trees interspersed with vineyards. Occasionally they would pass a farmer leading his heavily laden donkey from a field, or a flock of sheep would cause them to stop and wait while they sauntered past. Several times Spiro slowed and pointed to a distant farm, explaining it belonged to relative or friend of his. The further from Corfu town they got, the more relaxed he became. Conversation was difficult over the rumble of the car, but they fell into a companionable silence, Louisa even letting her arm brush against his as the road jostled them about.
The day was warm, the sun hot and it felt like she had just let her eyes drift shut when suddenly the car was jerked to one side, Spiro throwing out a loud expletive. There was a violent jolt then they clunked to a stop with an ominous hiss coming from the tire.
Spiro immediately let out a belligerent stream of curses in Greek towards the goat staring nonchalantly at them from the side of the road. He got out of the car and slammed the door, causing Louisa to jump. “Sons of a bitch!” he yelled angrily and leaned down to pick up a rock and throw it towards the goat, who only bleated at him before turning and pulling another mouthful of weeds. Spiro strode back to the car, kneeling beside it to assess the damage.
“Oh no,” he groaned.
“Is it bad?” Louisa asked.
He nodded mutely without taking his eyes from the wheel.
Louisa cringed, “I’m so sorry Spiro. I feel responsible. If not for me and my imbecile cousin-”
“No, Mrs. Durrells,” he interrupted. “It is not your fault. It is the fault of that GOAT BASTARD,” he yelled towards the adjacent field. An answering contentious reply sounded from the animal in question.
Louisa smothered a smile, losing the battle when Spiro shook his head, still muttering about the “sons of a bitches goats”.
She opened the door slowly and stood up, “Is it fixable?” she inquired.
He straightened. “Yes,” he sighed, “But not by me. I will need to find a mechanic in town.”
“Oh dear,” her eyebrows knit together. “I suppose we’ll be walking then?”
Spiro nodded apologetically, “Maybe you would have been better off with a horse taxi after all.”
“Ghastly idea,” she said and reached down to pick up her purse from the seat. “Besides, my present company is much more agreeable.” She inclined her head toward him slightly, “and it smells better” she added with a quick grin, settling the purse straps over her forearm.
He studied her seriously for a brief moment before returning her smile. “Well,” he said, examining the horizon, “let me tuck her in for the night and then we’ll be off. We will have to hurry to get there before dark at this point.” He pulled a tarp from under the back seat and had it expertly secured over the car in short order.
He adjusted his hat then held out his arm to her, “Are you ready, Mrs. Durrells?”
She tucked her hand around his elbow. “How far do you think it is?” she asked as their steps fell into a comfortable rhythm.
“Hmmmm, hopefully only a few more miles.”
“There is a mechanic in town then?”
“...yes,” he dodged. She raised an eyebrow. “If he didn’t die” he elaborated.
She stopped and stared at him.
“What?” he shrugged. “He was very old last I saw him.” He gently tugged her arm to continue walking. “I guess we will find out when we get there.”
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
It wasn’t a long walk, although by the end Louisa was fighting against a limp from the blister forming on her toe. The sun was just beginning its descent when they finally crested a hill and the town lay before them, curving next to the sea. An orange glow reflected against the white buildings, contrasting with the blue of the water.
“Beautiful,” breathed Louisa, admiring the scene.
Spiro studied her. “Yes” he agreed simply, not taking his eyes off her.
Louisa’s eyes met his then quickly darted away, unprepared for the intensity she found there. She cleared her throat, “Yes, well, I know I, for one, would not say no to a comfortable seat and a cold drink.”
He guided her down the dusty path towards the town. “I’m afraid, Mrs. Durrells, that the bank is probably closed for the day.”
She looked at him. “Oh no. You mean we are stuck here for the night?”
Spiro nodded. “Even if the bank were open, I still could not get my car fixed until tomorrow.”
“I suppose that does make sense,” she answered vaguely as they walked, distracted by her thoughts. She hoped she could find an inn that would accept payment after she claimed her money the next day.
Spiro confidently steered them through the streets, choosing a nondescript cafe situated with a row of other businesses atop a long stone wall overlooking the water. Torches lined the patio, open to the inside seating area. It was small, only a half dozen tables and a short bar at which sat a lone patron, staring soberly into his drink.
“My friend, Stavros, owns this place. He makes great food, eh Stavros?” he called out to a large man who came out of the kitchen. The two men chattered in rapid fire Greek she couldn’t begin to follow, but she smiled and nodded towards Stavros when she caught a “Mrs. Durrells” and saw Spiro’s hands indicate her. Stavros was a mountain of a man, with a head of messy dark curls and a full black beard, wearing an apron that might have been white earlier in the day.
“Kalispera,” she said politely.
Spiro slapped the man on the shoulder with one hand while his other shook the man’s beefy arm heartily.
“I have known Stavros since we were boys,” he explained with a smile as the man trudged back to his kitchen. He placed a hand gently on her back and pointed her toward a table with a gorgeous view of the water. He pulled a chair out, “I explained our travel troubles to him. He said the meal is on the house!”
Louisa slid into the chair, still warm from the sun. “How nice of him,” she murmured, looking around.
A girl came with a pitcher of water and two glasses. Spiro spoke to her in low tones, motioning at the table and then the back of the restaurant. She nodded and disappeared.
He turned to her and stood holding his hat in his hands. “Mrs. Durrells, I must speak to the mechanic. Stavros says he is just down the street. I will be back before the food arrives. Will you be okay waiting here?” He waited for her nod then pointed to a door on the back wall, “you can freshen up right through there.” With a small smile he walked briskly out of the building.
Louisa watched him go, then stood. The girl was suddenly back holding out a clean towel. She accepted it, her eyes going again to the doorway through which Spiro had disappeared. Gripping the towel tightly, she blinked back tears that threatened to come. “Such a thoughtful man,” she murmured to herself. As much as she loved her late husband, he would have never thought to arrange such a simple pleasure for her, and as a mother she spent far more time taking care of others than she did herself. Having someone take care of her for once brought long buried emotions to the surface.
She took her time in the lavatory, wetting the towel and wiping away the dust from the road. The provided light was dim and the mirror foggy but still she leaned into the counter and studied the reflection staring back at her. Her eyes looked tired, evidence of months of long nights where sleep would not come, and her skin, though flushed from the day’s exertion, held an undercurrent of sallowness she hadn’t seen in herself in years. Digging in her purse her fingertips bumped the small metal tube of lipstick and she drew it out and applied a light coating then used her hands to smooth wayward hairs. Still unsatisfied with her appearance, she sighed, ran the cool towel over the back of her neck one more time, and stood straight. “Don’t be daft,” she told herself sternly. Solemn eyes stared back at her. “He’s still married,” she whispered.
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
Louisa returned to her seat feeling refreshed. Spiro was still absent so she poured herself a glass of water and turned her chair slightly to gaze out over the water. She never got tired of experiencing a Greek sunset. The few clouds in the sky lit up in a rainbow of colors, every second growing more spectacular. A slight wind carried the salty smell of the sea, and she closed her eyes and lifted her face to the last rays and inhaled deeply. Before she even heard his footsteps the soft hairs on the back of neck stood up. She could feel his presence. She waited until she heard him sit then slowly opened her eyes and looked at him. He watched her with an unreadable expression.
The moment was broken by the server girl’s arrival bearing several steaming plates piled high with food. She pointed to each dish and gave a name, then handed them two empty plates and bustled away. Spiro called something to her and she nodded, turned towards the bar, grabbed two glasses, picked up an open bottle of red wine and returned to set them on the table.
Spiro smiled, dismissing the girl. “A feast!” he proclaimed. Without asking he picked up a spoon and started scooping food from the dishes onto her plate. He served himself, picked up the bottle of wine and poured them each a glass, then handed one to her.
Louisa gratefully accepted it, bringing the glass to her lips and savoring the rich wine. She watched him over the rim as she took another drink, his dark eyes flickered between her eyes and her lips, his own glass paused in mid air.
“Yamas,” his voice came out deep and hoarse as he tilted his drink towards hers. She repeated the toast in a near whisper, not breaking eye contact.
Spiro shook himself, looking almost surprised to see the table covered with food still between them. “Uhmm...yes….well…” he cleared his throat and picked up his fork, “here we have…” and proceeded to use his fork to point out the various foods he had placed in front of her.
“This is...this looks wonderful,” she remarked, spearing a bit of lamb. “Oh my,” she said, holding her hand up to her mouth as she chewed. “Excellent!”
Spiro smiled, the tension dissipated, and he dug in to his own plate.
Between bites of dinner they fell into an easy conversation. “Did you find your mechanic?” she asked.
“Yes,” he nodded. “He can fix my car, but not until tomorrow. I asked about today, but..” He raised his eyebrows and held his hand up in a silent apology.
“Will your children be worried when you do not return tonight?” he asked refilling her wine.
Louisa gave him a knowing look. “Well, you do know my children. I will consider myself fortunate if Leslie doesn’t shoot something or someone, Margo doesn’t run off with a boy she meets on her walk home from work, and I don’t return tomorrow to find Gerry has added more creatures to the menagerie we already have.”
Spiro laughed, “You are probably right! They are good kids.”
“They are,” Louisa agreed, “but they do the most stupid things.” she settled back in her chair, holding her wine. “And Larry, well...I know where his mind will go,” she stared into her glass. “But no, I doubt they will worry.”
Spiro held out the bottle in a silent offering and when she refused he tipped the remainder into his own glass.
She knew, as a friend, she should ask about his wife. She imagined for him, not returning home tonight could lead to marital issues. But she couldn't bring herself to form the words. She wasn't sure she even wanted to know.
“This was delicious,” she finished her last swallow of wine and set the glass on the table. “Do thank your friend, Spiro.” The food in her stomach and alcohol pumping through her body made her feel satiated and content, completely relaxed as she gazed out over the dark waters. Several other couples dined, talking quietly in the background.
Spiro waved the server girl over and she quickly gathered the dishes and left. They were left in silence again. She glanced at him but he was twirling the last bit of wine around in his glass, lost in thought. Finally he sighed.
“You once told me Greeks, unlike the English, always say what is on their minds,” she pointed out.
He continued to study his glass. “I was just thinking.” He hesitated, downing the rest of the wine in one gulp and setting the glass down. “I missed this,” his eyes raised to hers, “I've missed you.”
She was suddenly reminded of that day months ago when they met at a bar and he confessed to missing his children more than his wife when they were together. She swallowed hard, failed to form the words she wanted to say but managed a nod. “And I you,” she choked out.
He reached across the table and grasped her hand, bringing it up to his lips as if to kiss it. At the last moment he seemed to have second thoughts and instead placed his other hand over hers, clasping it tightly and then releasing it as he glanced around the cafe with a frown. “Excuse me, Mrs. Durrells,” he stood abruptly and strode over to the bar, speaking in low tones with Stavros, who had come out of his kitchen.
Louisa rubbed her hand where he had held it, confused by his short demeanor. She assumed he must be concerned for his family, and she regretted that it was once again her that caused him problems. She sighed, shifting in her chair to look out over the darkened bay once again. Lights twinkled across the water where fishermen began their night catches. The wine made her head pleasantly fuzzy, the drone of quiet conversation around her had her lulled into a drowsy state. She was stifling a yawn when she felt Spiro's presence behind her.
“You are tired,” His words came out more a statement than question.
She slowly stood up and faced him. “It's been a long day,” she admitted.
He tipped his head in the direction of the entrance. “Come, then, let's go.”
Chapter 6: Chapter 6
Spiro held his arm out as an invitation for her to leave the restaurant, then quickly followed and matched her pace, meandering slowly along the mostly empty street. Louisa carried her purse over her arm, keeping a distance between her and Spiro, who walked with both hands in his pockets. “There’s an inn, a short walk this way,” he said. “We can get rooms for the night.”
Louisa nodded, “Mmm...I don’t have any money until I go to the bank tomorrow.”
“You think I will not take care of this for you?” Spiro frowned at her.
Louisa looked at him, “I just don’t want to be a -”
“You are never a bother to me, I told you that...Mrs. Durrells.”
“You did,” she said. “But I still worry.” Spiro huffed.
They walked past a brightly lit street corner where a band had attracted a group of onlookers. Louisa stopped to admire the dancing couples. Spiro stood behind her.
“Sometimes I miss living in a city,” she said fondly.
“You miss Bournemouth?” he asked.
“Oh Heavens, no,” she shook her head. “But sometimes Corfu reminds me of my time in India. The sun, the colors, so much….life.” Giving the scene one last look, she continued walking. “That part I miss. Not that we don’t have plenty of that at my house,” she added with a chuckle.
“Why did you never ask me to finish the shelves?” Spiro asked in an almost accusatory tone.
Louisa blinked at the abrupt change of subject, wincing at the reminder of those shelves. “Oh, well, I decided they...they weren’t needed after all,” she lied. Late that night, the day he his wife returned to him, she had come across them and the stoic facade she had held all day had almost crumbled. She asked Leslie to get rid of them, and after throwing her a curious look he carried them away. For all she knew he had used them as target practice. She couldn’t bear to have Spiro working in her house to finish them, but she also couldn’t stand the thought of anyone else completing the work.
Spiro stopped and turned towards her. “You are a bad liar, Mrs. Durrells,” he stared at her. “I told you I was still available. For you.”
She refused to meet his eyes and swallowed back the sob that wanted out, “I...I just needed time. Space.”
“So you do not talk to me for 5 months? You hire horse carts for your guests. You avoid me in town. You do not ask me for help until you have no other choice.” He shook his head, the hurt and anger visible on his face. “Have you had enough time now? Space?”
She was taken aback. A flicker of anger burned in her stomach. “Need I remind you that you have a wife who already thinks you spend too much time with me?”
Spiro opened his mouth to say something but she cut him off, “You needed space just as much as I did.”
“Do you still?” he asked.
She was saved from having to answer by a sudden streak of lightning that made them both jump. It was followed almost immediately by a crash of thunder. For a heartbeat they stood staring at each other, then the rain came, just a few drops at first, but quickly escalating into a deluge. Spiro pushed her up against the nearest building where a narrow overhang gave her a small measure of protection.
“The inn should be right down there,” he pointed with his head, pulling his coat off. Rivers of rainwater already ran down his face. “Run for it?” he asked, holding his jacket over her head.
She nodded and they took off. His jacket kept her head mostly dry, but the rain splashed up from ground as their feet hit the road. By the time they reached the inn and almost tumbled through the door they were both thoroughly soaked.
Chapter 7: Chapter 7
“Well, that's one way to wash away the road dust,” Louisa said pragmatically as they stood in the tiny entry trying to brush off as much of the water as possible. Spiro shook his coat and slung it over his arm. Her eyes met his and they shared a laugh at the absurdity of the situation.
The moment was interrupted by the sound of someone clearing their throat. Looking up, she saw an elderly man standing behind his desk, glaring at them disapprovingly over his glasses. Spiro sent her an amused look then stepped around her and greeted the man in Greek. She stood a polite distance away, but though she could not follow their words, she could tell Spiro wasn't happy. He eventually pulled a few bills from his wallet and slid them across the desk. The man accepted them, pulled a drawer open and selected a key. Spiro grabbed it and thanked him.
He walked the few feet back to her and held it up. “Your room is up those stairs and two doors to the left. He says you have a view of the bay.”
Louisa peered over his shoulder at the clerk in confusion. “Where is your key?” she asked.
“Last room available,” he reached for her hand, laying the key in her palm and closing her fingers over it. “I will come get you tomorrow morning.”
“But...but….where will you go tonight?” she stammered.
He shrugged, “Do not worry about me, I'll find somewhere to stay.”
“Is there another inn?”
“No,” he hesitated. “Only this one.”
Another rumble of thunder shook the building.
Louisa took a deep breath. “Spiro,” she said, “we can share for one night.”
He looked stricken. “Mrs. Durrells, no. There's only one room. We….I can not do that.”
Rain lashed against the door.
“This weather isn't fit for man or beast!”
“No.” Spiro shook his head emphatically. “I…..will stay here, in the lobby.” He pointed to the one lone chair, practically under the clerk's nose, which looked more suited to a child of Gerry's size than a full grown man.
The clerk eyed them with undisguised interest.
Louisa gave Spiro a hard stare.
“No,” he insisted. “There is only one bed,” he stressed in a terse whisper.
“Then I'm sorry to tell you, you will be sleeping on the floor.”
His mouth was set in a grim line.
“I will not be able to sleep tonight for fear you are catching your death of pneumonia in this storm.” She didn't feel it necessary to point out she wouldn't be able to sleep if he was in a room with her alone all night either.
He stared past her, out the window, hands on his hips. “My...wife...has a brother in town,” he said with slow words.
Louisa almost flinched at the mention of his family. “Oh. You will...stay there then?”
He exhaled sharply and shook his head, eyes darting towards her. “No,” he admitted.
She pulled on his arm, shooting him a disapproving look and giving a harder tug when he resisted. Taking his hand and turning it palm up, she dropped the key into it.
He searched her face before slumping his shoulders in resignation, fingers curling reluctantly over the key. “Come,” he said gruffly, grasping her elbow and pulling her away from the clerk's prying eyes. She followed him up the staircase and stopped behind him at the door. He pushed the key into the lock, paused, and turned to look at her again. In the darkened hall his face was hard and unreadable. Then, shaking his head, he turned the key and opened the door.
Chapter 8: Chapter 8
Spiro disappeared through the door. Louisa followed, but the completely black interior caused her to stop short, waiting for her eyes to adjust. A streak of lightning flashed outside, illuminating the room long enough for Spiro to spot the lamp on the table. He stumbled blindly over to it, then struck a match. “Let there be light,” he said with a rueful smile as he touched the flame to the wick and the room took on a soft glow.
There wasn't much to see. The door opened to a wall on the left shared with the adjacent room. To the right was the bed flanked with small tables on either side. A space of less than 5 feet separated the foot of the bed from the solitary window that did, indeed, overlook the bay.
Louisa placed her hand against the door, slowly pushing it closed. The click of the latch seemed deafening in the small room, louder than the storm raging outside.
Spiro's eyes drifted around the space, coming to rest on hers.
“Well, it's dry, at least,” she forced a cheery tone, turning to hang her purse on the rack of hooks behind the door. She held out a hand for his wet jacket. He looked down, tightened his grip for a moment as if contemplating refusing her, then reluctantly handed it over. She hung it up, running both hands down the sleeves before turning back to face him.
Spiro was staring into the dancing flame in the lantern. “I'll…..I…..blankets,” he stammered hoarsely, waving a hand at the floor before fleeing the room.
Louisa watched him go then let out the breath she had been holding. She sank onto the edge of the bed and watched the storm for a time. Flashes of lightning showed angry white capped waves in the normally peaceful bay. Thunder still shook the inn, although the intensity was waning. Nervous energy raced through her and she stood up, suddenly realizing that this would be the first night spent in the company of a man since before her husband died. She wasn't a prude, but Spiro was married, they were just friends. They had to be. She tried to assure herself the night didn't have to be awkward, although she was not successful in convincing even her own mind of that. It would help if Spiro wasn't acting irrationally moody. She was unsure if he was upset at the entire situation, or mad at her. She guessed both, but mostly the latter.
The key jiggled in the lock and he gave several soft raps before opening the door. In his arms were a stack of blankets with a pillow set on top. He dumped them on the bed and straightened.
Louisa's mouth went dry.
His suspenders hung down at his hips, shirt untucked and hanging open, leaving his undershirt, still damp from the rain, clinging to his chest. Wet hair stuck up in crazy angles around his face.
“The...uhm….the lavatory is down the hall,” he mumbled with a quick glance her way, pointedly setting the key on the table beside the lamp.
Louisa blinked. “Oh...uhmm, yes...I'll be right back,” she side stepped around him, picked up the key and made a hasty exit, pulling the door closed behind her. She leaned against the closed door and took a few shaky breaths. “Bloody hell, this is going to be a long night,” she thought to herself as she moved off down the hall.
Chapter 9: Chapter 9
When she returned to the room she found Spiro had laid out blankets in the empty space at the foot of the bed. He sat on one corner, elbows propped on his knees. The damp shirt stretched over his shoulders, his gaze was focused on the window and he didn't turn when she quietly pushed the door closed.
She chewed her bottom lip, studying his back, unsure how to proceed. He was studiously ignoring her presence. She slipped her shoes off, letting out a soft groan of relief.
Spiro's head whipped around.
“I guess I should have worn my walking shoes,” her joke fell flat when he returned to staring out the window.
Louisa frowned. She carefully sat herself on the opposite corner. The springs creaked as he shifted further away. She feared he would slide off the bed if he moved again.
Pointing at the blankets she tried a bright tone, “Well there, now, that’s not so bad after all, is it?”
A monosyllabic grunt was his only response. Louisa glanced at him out of the corner of her eye but saw only a stony profile. She noted offhandedly that he had taken his shoes and socks off. Bronze feet were planted firmly on the floor and she stared at them, trying to recall a time she had ever seen them before.
The rain had slowed to a quiet staccato on the roof. Distant lightning lit the clouds in irregular intervals. Desperate to break the silence, she asked, “Do you think they got this storm at home?” Her voice came out louder than she intended in the silent room.
For a moment he didn't respond. Finally he shrugged, not looking at her. “It is a small island.”
She swallowed. Taking a deep breath, she decided to address the elephant in the room. “Are you worried about….your wife?”
He looked at her then. “No.”
“Will she find out about you being here,” she paused. “With me?”
He held her gaze. “It's a small island,” he repeated.
Louisa looked down at her hands, clasped tightly in her lap. “That is a yes, then,” she said softly.
Spiro abruptly stood, running his hand through his hair in agitation. The small confines of the room didn't allow for pacing so he clenched and unclenched his fists, trying to release the tension in his body.
“The storm is over,” he growled, “I have to leave.”
Louisa stood up, blocking his escape. “Not yet. I know you're angry with me, but-”
“Angry with you?” he asked incredulously. “No. No.” He placed his hands on her shoulders and held her at arm's length. “You think that?”
“-we agreed never to argue-” Louisa’s mouth was slow to catch up to her brain in confusion. She replayed the evening in her mind, trying to see where she had read him wrong.
He searched her face. “I am not mad,” he said. “I'm...trying to figure out how to give you time and space when all I want….is you…” he slowly drew her to him and pressed his lips against hers with the lightest of touch. “In ways I cannot have” he whispered, pulling away to look in her eyes. His hands moved up her neck to softly cup her face and she let her eyes drift close. He kissed her again, groaning when she parted her lips, running his tongue over her bottom lip and curling fingers into her hair.
Louisa felt like a woman possessed. So many months of denying her feelings for this man. And now he was here. He was hers. She couldn't resist running her hands up his chest and over his shoulders, forcing his shirt down over his arms. He moved his hands away from her long enough to disentangle himself from the garment, then reached for her again but she tugged his undershirt from his pants and helped him pull it over his head. He then grabbed her hips and pulled her tightly against him, pressing kisses along her neck and murmuring words in Greek.
Taking a step back he sank heavily onto the edge of the bed, still holding her hips, and pulled her between his knees. Both breathing hard, he looked up at her, eyes dark with want. “Louisa, I…” his face looked pained. “I can't promise you a future. I wish I could, but...all I can give you is right now.”
Louisa's heart ached. She understood what he was offering, knew that giving him up tomorrow might break her, but she could no sooner refuse him now than she could command her heart to stop beating. “I understand,” she whispered.
Without breaking eye contact he moved his hands to the front of her shirt, undoing each small button deliberately slow, giving her ample time to change her mind. He came to the waistband of her skirt and pulled her shirt free. She shrugged out of it and let it drop to the floor as he reached for her zipper and pulled it down, pushing the skirt off her hips. When she stepped out of it nervous butterflies fluttered to life inside her. Trying to ignore them, she gave Spiro a shaky smile and reached behind to unfasten her bra, adding it to the pile of discarded clothing on the floor. He was still as a statue, watching her, his eyes never leaving hers, even as she slid her underwear over her legs and kicked them off.
Spiro then let his gaze wander down her body. He stared at her in wonder for a heartbeat then drew her close, pressing his head against her stomach. His hot breath spread over her skin, igniting a fire she hadn't felt in years. She steadied herself with hands on his shoulders and tipped her head back. In one smooth motion he picked her up and swung her around to lay on the bed, covering her body with his own.
His lips met the skin of her jaw. “Louisa,” his voice was husky. “I…” his breath tickled her ear, “love…” he pressed his lips against the pulse in her neck, “you…” he returned his attention to her lips, then pulled back to look at her, his face suddenly vulnerable.
A tear crept out of her eye and he wiped it away with the pad of his thumb.
“I love you,” he repeated. “I think I have since...since the first day I met you.” He kissed her gently, brushing away another tear.
“I love you, too,” Louisa whispered. “I have tried to tell myself, to convince myself, that I don’t...that I shouldn’t...but I can’t help it. I just do.”
Spiro’s eyes flashed with and Louisa knew his last tenuous grip on self control had snapped. He rained kisses down her neck, her collarbone, leaving a trail between her breasts to her navel. Louisa let her eyes drift close to savor each one. She felt him shift and cold air hit her hot skin. Spiro backed off the bed to stand and fumbled with his own zipper.
A slow, sexy smile curved over his lips, knowing her eyes were on him as he slid both his trousers and shorts off. Before she could react he rejoined her on the bed, sliding first one leg, then the other, between her thighs, holding himself up with straightened arms. When Louisa wrapped her legs around his waist, drawing him into her, he gasped and collapsed onto his elbows, her name passing his lips in a moan.
They fit together perfectly, like puzzle pieces made for each other, moving as one. Just before she peaked he said her name again and the sound of it, spoken by him with such passion, was enough to send her over the edge, where he quickly followed.
Chapter 10: Chapter 10
Afterwards, satiated, she curled against him, head over his still racing heart.
“You'll have to remind me,” she breathed. “It's been awhile, is it always that good?”
She felt Spiro shift and lifted her head to look at him. He cocked an eyebrow, “Hugh only left-” he began, stopping when she shook her head. “Sven?”
She rolled her eyes. “And not for lack of me throwing myself at him.”
Spiro frowned at the memory of Sven then let his head fall back onto the pillow with a groan. “Louisa, if I had known that, I would have…”
“Would have what?” she asked with a smile.
“Hmm...I don't even know,” he wrapped his arms around her and kissed her head. “Because, to answer your question, no, that was amazing,” he added with a chuckle.
She dropped her head back onto his chest, tracing lazy circles over his skin.
“Hm?” he asked sleepily.
“Tell me about your wife.”
He immediately stiffened. “What? Why?” he asked cautiously.
Louisa raised up on one arm to look at him. “I want to know,” she kissed his neck.
Disbelief colored his voice. “But...now?”
“I just...the more I know about what you love...who you love..the more I feel I know you.” She felt compelled to learn about the other woman in his life.
He scowled at the ceiling, remaining silent so long she thought he would refuse. Finally he took a deep breath, “She is...very...beautiful,” he began apologetically, stopping to gauge her reaction with serious eyes.
“Spiro, I asked. I want to know. Besides,” she said with a sigh, “if I would have assumed anything about her, it would be that she is beautiful.”
His lips raised on one side. She pressed a kiss to his chest and settled her head back over his heart. He ran his fingers over her shoulder and back as he spoke. “I have known her...forever...I guess. Before I left for Chicago she was a child. Just a...much younger sister of one of my friends.” He paused, thinking. “She was on the ferry when I returned from America. Her brother was returning her back to the island. Their parents had moved to Athens, but she said she wasn't happy there, that she missed Corfu. After several years of living in America I might have fallen for any Greek woman that looked my way.” He sighed. “And she...she made it very obvious she was looking. I wish I could blame youth, but it was more stupidity. I wasn't that young, after all.” He paused. “Within a few weeks….a month, maybe?...she told me she was with child. So I married her,” he finished simply.
“You certainly weren't the first couple to find yourself in that situation,” Louisa murmured.
Spiro was quiet for several moments. “I found out,” he swallowed, “I found out shortly before our son was born that…” his chest rose with a deep breath. “Stavros,” he began again, “he was good friends with her brother. We were drinking together one night and he admitted that her parents, they sent her back to Corfu because she had a serious relationship with a man they did not approve of. Very serious.”
Louisa let the implication sink in. “Oh, Sprio,” she sat up, looking at him in shock.
Spiro lifted himself up and leaned against the frame, staring at his wedding band while he twisted it on his finger. “I have never said this to anyone before,” sad eyes met hers.
“You don't really think…?” she let the sentence hang.
He nodded slowly. “I have given it much thought, since Leslie and Daphne,” he waved his hand, “When she told me she was pregnant I was not unhappy. My parents had died while I was gone, my brother moved off the island. I was lonely, you could say, and didn't think there was anything more to want out of marriage than a pretty wife. And...I liked the thought of having a family of my own.”
“Of course,” whispered Louisa.
Spiro shook his head. “It doesn't matter. I could not love that boy more.” A smile flickered over his face then slid off as went back to twisting his ring. “She goes to Athens with her brother often, with the little ones, to visit her parents. I've always wondered…” he trailed off. Louisa laid her hand over his. “When she left me I thought…” he shook his head and looked away.
“Were you afraid she went to him?” Louisa asked gently.
Spiro gave one nod. “I was angry. Hurt.” He looked at her, reaching up to cup her face with a large hand. “But now...I understand. It is not an easy thing to have your heart belong to someone you can’t really have.”
Louisa covered his hand with her own, closing her eyes. Sad for him at what his marriage had become. Two people, drawn together but since grown apart, unhappy, but stuck. So different from her own experience. She turned her head slightly and pressed a kiss to his palm.
“It is not all bad,” he said with a sad smile. “She is a good woman, takes good care of the children, our home…..me. We're just…” he frowned, studying the ceiling, searching for the right words. “The children are like the sun, the center of the universe,” he looked at her, “and we are like two separate planets that orbit around them, rarely aligning.”
Louisa looked away, at a loss for words. He gently turned her face back to him. “Since I met you I have seen what was missing.” His thumb stroked her cheek. “I didn’t know before.”
Louisa’s eyes cracked open. Disorientation gave way as the memory of last night came flooding back. When there seemed to be no more words between them Spiro had hauled her leg across his lap and kissed and stroked her until he had invaded all of her senses. She didn't have a thought or sensation that didn't begin and end with him. They went slower the second time, learning and exploring each other, and when their passion was spent he had wrapped her in his arms before they drifted off to sleep.
And that was where she found herself. One strong arm was pillowed under her head, the other tucked securely around her just beneath her ribs, and the length of his body was pressed against her back. She guessed by his deep, even breathing that he was still asleep. A glance out the window showed the sky was only just beginning to take on a tint of dawn color. She shifted slightly, trying to turn over without waking him. His arm tightened and she felt his lips on her neck as he inhaled deeply, exhaling with a hum of appreciation.
“I thought I was just dreaming,” he said, voice husky with sleep, “but I wake up and here you are.” He brushed her hair off her neck to plant more kisses on it. “Unless I am still sleeping,” he continued, “in which case I'd rather never wake up.”
Louisa rolled over to face him. “Shall I pinch you?” she asked with a smile.
Spiro laughed, “I can think of other things to do,” he said, pressing against her and leaving no doubt what he meant.
“Spiro!” she exclaimed, feigning shock.
He chuckled but then grew serious. “If we can only have one night I need memories to last me a lifetime,” he said, nudging her over and placing kisses down her neck.
Sometime later Louisa woke to bright sunshine. Spiro slumbered beside her, sprawled on his back, white sheet draped across his stomach, one arm tucked under his pillow, with her laying on his other. She studied him while he slept, smiling, thinking he looked so much younger without the worries of life carving lines on his face. Silently creeping out of the bed, she sorted out her clothing from the piles covering the floor and dressed. Spiro was still in deep sleep so she grabbed the keys, carefully opened the door and pulled it closed behind her once she was in the hall. She hurried to the lavatory and did her best to make herself look presentable without a brush or unwrinkled wardrobe. When she returned to the room she found Spiro sitting up in bed, waiting for her. The slow smile he sent her caused the butterflies she had thought conquered the previous night to come to life.
“Good morning, Spiro,” she said formally, averting her gaze. Somehow, what seemed natural and easy with the flickering ambiance of candles was awkward in the light of day, colored with the realization of everything that they had shared the night before.
Spiro looked amused at her reaction. “You got dressed,” he pointed out, words dripping with disappointment. Louisa smoothed her skirt with her hands, “Well, yes, the bank awaits-” her words trailed off when Spiro stood up, sheet dropping to the floor.
She could feel the heat rising up her neck. “And your car…” her voice came out shaky.
He leaned into her and kissed her, laying his hands lightly on her hips.
She pulled away first, “You make me absolutely senseless. Like...like...one of the characters in Larry's books.”
He smiled broadly at that.
“And must you walk around naked like some kind of a...a...a Greek god?!” she exclaimed
He laughed and pulled her closer. “You are just overdressed,” he said, fingering the collar of her shirt. “I could help you with that.” He kissed the racing pulse in her neck.
She melted. “I fear if it were up to you we would never leave this room.”
He grinned and wrapped his arms around her in a strong embrace. She had forgotten the feeling of safety and contentment that a man's hug could give, and savored it.
Spiro's stomach suddenly growled loudly. Laughter rumbled through his chest under her head and she pulled back, laughing with him. “I suppose we must start our day,” he sighed.
Louisa noddded, “yes, I’m afraid so.”
He gave her one more kiss and reluctantly turned away, stooping to collect his clothes. She helped, picking up his shirt and shaking the wrinkles away, anything to avoid watching him dress himself. She held the shirt out for him and he slipped his arms into the sleeves, shrugging it over his shoulders as he turned around, reaching for buttons blindly while keeping his eyes on her. She moved his hands away and fastened each button for him, bottom up. When she finished she adjusted his collar and smoothed the fabric at his shoulders. Such a common act, she thought, but laced with intimacy.
Spiro watched her with a wry smile, “It is much more fun to remove them.”
She swatted his arm and his grin widened. Louisa self consciously patted her hair. “I must look a fright,” she said.
He examined her carefully, lower lip tucked between his teeth, letting his eyes roam from her head to her feet. “Hmmm….yes...wrinkled clothes,” he noted, “messy hair….flushed cheeks…” He smoothed her hair behind her ears then pulled her toward him for a deep kiss. “Swollen lips….tired eyes, but with a fire in them…” he continued his appraisal. “You look,” he said decisively, “like a woman who had a very good night.” He smiled. “Like a goddess,” he added.
Louisa laughed. “You know, I once overheard you telling Gerry that all women are goddesses.”
“Ah, yes, well, I changed my mind.”
Louisa raised an eyebrow. “When?”
Spiro pressed a kiss to her forehead. “Last night,” he said, tucking a wayward curl behind her ear.
Neither wanted to leave the confines of the room. The real world awaited them on the outside, where the magic they had created would need to be stuffed inside. Louisa suddenly recalled Sven’s words about his love for Viggo being a buried treasure, and she now knew how he felt.
Spiro's stomach took that moment to remind them of the time and she shook her head with a laugh. “Let's go find some food,” she said, turning to pull her purse and his coat from the hooks.
He quickly tucked in his shirt and adjusted his suspenders, then took his coat from her arm. Louisa reached a hand out to smooth his hair, although she secretly thought the tousled locks made him even more handsome. He dutifully stood still but when she pulled her hand back, finished, he grabbed her and gave her one last kiss, exploring her mouth, hands roaming down her body. He came up for air and pressed his forehead against hers, drawing in a ragged breath, leaving Louisa momentarily stunned.
“Better leave now,” he said with a groan, “or I will not be able to.” He gave the room one last glance, opened the door and poked his head outside, then grabbed her hand with his, fingers entwined, and led her out into the hall.
Chapter 12: Chapter 12
Spiro gripped her hand tightly as they walked the length of the hall and down the stairs. The desk was empty so he dropped the key into the provided box, then paused before opening the door to the street. He raised their hands to his lips and pressed a soft kiss against her fingers before gently pulling his hand away. She fought the tinge of disappointment, but understood the need to appear as just two people, walking together but not together. Maintaining an appropriate distance apart, he led them to a small cafe away from the water. The patio was sheltered between two buildings, with lush foliage in planters blocking the view from the road.
He ordered them food, then sat and slid his chair close to hers. “I like this,” he commented, looking around, “no eyes,” he said with a wink.
The food arrived, coffee with rich cream, pastries, and omelets with tomatoes and feta. Louisa was surprised to find she was famished and dug in to her food gratefully.
“When will your car be fixed?” she asked around bites of food.
“Dimas, the mechanic,” he elaborated at her questioning look, “said he would go out to look at it at first light.” He gestured at the sun, already high overhead. “Safe to say he beat me to it,” he joked, devouring his breakfast with gusto.
“If you need to go and take care of your business,” she said, “I do understand.”
He shrugged, unconcerned. “No, I will catch up with him later, after I take you to the bank. By then he should be finished anyway.”
“Thank you, Spiro,” she pushed her plate away and picked up her coffee cup. “I know I have said it before, but I really don’t know what we - I - would do without you.”
A smile slowly curved over his lips. “And you know why I help you.” The words were simple, but the tone and his dark eyes conveyed a deeper message. “Louisa,” he added her name in a quiet voice.
She blushed, eyes dropping to the table briefly before rising up to meet his again. “About last night…”
“Not now,” he shook his head. “Later,” he promised. He stretched his arm across the back of her chair so he could lightly twirl the soft hairs at the nape of her neck with his fingers.
As if drawn by their own gravity their heads inched towards each other and would have certainly met if not interrupted by a boy who arrived at a most inopportune time to collect their empty plates. Spiro cleared his throat and withdrew his arm quickly, exchanging a few words with the boy before standing and holding his hand out for Louisa.
“I remember when your Auntie first came to Corfu,” Spiro said as they walked toward the bank. “She did not like me.” They shared a laugh at the memory.
“To be fair,” Louisa pointed out, “she didn’t like any of us.” She sighed. “We came to a truce, and then...I can honestly say I grew to enjoy her company. I didn’t think I would ever be able to say that.”
“I can imagine you must be glad to finalize her estate,” he commented.
“Yes,” she said, “and no.”
He raised an eyebrow in confusion.
“As you know, we could always use money. But this just seems to make her death so final. I know she's gone, of course,” she shook her head. She wasn't yet ready divulge the true purpose of these funds. “It's ridiculous, I suppose.”
He stopped at the bottom of a stone staircase. “No. You loved your aunt.”
“I did, actually,” Louisa was always surprised to find that was true.
He gestured to the door, “ready?”
“As I'll ever be. But Sprio, “ she put a hand on his arm and gave him a stern look. “No yelling.”
“I don't yell,” he insisted in an indignant voice.
She raised a brow.
“Much,” he amended with a frown. “Come on.”
They ascended the steps and Spiro held the door for her, pulling his hat off and stuffing it in his back pocket before following her into the bank. He took a look around then nodded in the direction of a man in an official looking suit.
Spiro greeted him, introduced Louisa, and was able to quickly get the confusion cleared up. Soon she was holding an envelope containing the last bit of her aunt's inheritance.
“See?” boasted Spiro proudly as they left the bank,“no yelling!”
“Well done,” she laughed. “And thank you,” she held up the envelope, “for this. I fear it would have taken much longer for me to have muddled through in my poor Greek.”
“It's nothing,” he insisted, “I enjoy helping.”
They stood outside the bank, squinting against the hot sun beating down. Louisa placed the envelope in her purse, adjusting the straps on her arm. “Now,” she said. “Your car?”
“Yes,” he glanced down the street, hesitating. “It is a long walk, as you recall…” he began.
“You go on,” she urged. “I'll be just fine looking around the market.”
“You are sure?” he asked.
He reached for her hand and lifted it to his lips in the way he always did when they parted. She had always assumed it was just a Spiro thing, but as she thought about it now, she couldn't recall him ever doing this with another woman. The kiss lasted just a moment too long to be proper and his eyes told her he wished to do more. She gave his hand a squeeze, letting him know she wished the same, while being cognizant of eyes and gossip.
“I will return as soon as I can,” he promised, releasing her hand with reluctance and turning to head back the way they had come.
Louisa stood along the street, absently running her fingers against the spot on her hand his lips had touched and watched his retreating back until he was out of sight.
Chapter 13: Chapter 13
She wandered aimlessly through the market, stopping occasionally to take a closer look at something of interest, but before too long the noise and crush of bodies felt overwhelming. The heat was oppressive so she made her way to the sea, hoping for a refreshing breeze. A bench sat in the shade of trees, overlooking the water, and Louisa gratefully sank down onto the worn boards.
Behind her carts pulled by donkeys creaked by, the noise blending with a swell of Greek coming from numerous voices. Beads of sweat formed along her hair, and a line trickled between her breasts. She idly pressed her hand against her chest, wiping it away. The action startled her, immediately bringing to memory another’s hands caressing her in the same place the night before. She closed her eyes, replaying the details, partly in disbelief that it even happened.
What had she been thinking? She hadn't, and neither had Spiro, she decided. The night took a course she hadn't seen coming, but she'd be lying if she didn't admit she had caught herself daydreaming of similar scenarios on many occasions. The difference was, the reality was far more than any of her fantasies could have imagined. It was, she was sure, the most passionate night of her life. Her experiences with her husband had been tender and satisfying, but nothing like what she and Spiro had made together. She wasn't surprised, Spiro approached most things in life with passion, of course he would bring it to the bedroom.
She fanned her face, hoping any passersby would assume the heat was responsible for the redness she could feel rising in her cheeks. Above the cacophony of sounds she picked up the rumble of an automobile. It grew closer so she stood up, catching sight of Spiro rounding a corner. He smiled when he saw her, pushing the horn and slowing to a stop.
He was not alone. Sitting beside Spiro was a man of about the same age, good looking, although shorter and stockier than Spiro. Before he had even set the brake his passenger had opened the car door.
“This is the Mrs. Durrells?” the man boomed in a thickly accented voice, grabbing her hand and laying a rather wet kiss on it.
Louisa resisted the urge to snatch her hand away. “I am,” she said. “And you are?” He held fast to her hand and she shot Spiro an alarmed look.
Spiro's joy at seeing her had evaporated at his passenger's over enthusiastic welcome. He glowered at the man as he stalked around the vehicle, coming to stand at her side.
“I am Dimas. I fixes the car!” he boasted proudly, oblivious to the dark looks Spiro was aiming at him.
“How wonderful,” Louisa tugged her hand away from the mechanic. “And a pleasure, I'm sure,” she said, then turned to Spiro. “Are we ready?”
Spiro nodded, frowning at the man who was still grinning at Louisa. He stepped between the two, physically forcing Dimas to take a few steps back, then opened the door and closed it once Louisa was settled inside.
Dimas crowded the side of the car. “You come backs to visit, Mrs. Durrells!”
“No,” Spiro said, rounding the car to enter into the driver’s seat, “she won’t.” He slammed the door unusually hard. “Thank you for fixing my car. Now we are leaving,” With that he started the car and lurched forward, leaving Dimas standing in a swirling cloud of dust.
He was quiet for a time, concentrating on maneuvering the car through the narrow and sometimes crowded streets. When they reached the outskirts of town he looked at her. “Dima,” he said, “has a...reputation...with the ladies.”
Louisa resisted the urge to laugh at his seriousness. “And I suppose he couldn’t say the same about you, Spiro?” she asked pointedly.
He frowned. “That was a long time ago,” he protested.
"He certainly didn't look as old as you made him out to be," she observed.
He glanced at her out of the corner of his eyes. "The old mechanic died. Dimas is his son," he answered shortly.
He drove, not speaking, for several miles, eventually pulling off the road in the middle of an ancient olive grove. The filtered sun rays broke through the leaves, catching the dust motes in the air.
He shut the vehicle off and scanned the expanse of trees, confident they were alone, before turning to her. “I did not like it when Dimas tried to charm you.”
“I realize that,” Louisa said gently. “But you have nothing to worry about with Dimas, or any other man.”
Spiro looked away, fiddling with his steering wheel. “I have no right to you. No right to feel jealous.” His eyes flickered up to hers. “No right to stand in the way of your happiness.”
“Oh, Spiro,” she sighed. “You are not standing in the way of my happiness. You bring me happiness.”
He shook his head. “But I have nothing to offer you. All those months ago, when I had to tell you my wife returned, and you...you said it was a bad day for love. I saw your pain, knew I caused it.” He reached for her hand. “I hated myself. And even now when I mention it, you wince.” He released her hand and cupped her face. “I can't live with myself if I only cause you pain.”
“I know you have…obligations,” she began. “And last night-”
“Last night,” he cut her off, a smile growing. “Last night was amazing.” He stared at her intently, as if searching for answers on her face. “But I never intended for it to happen.” The smile slid from his face and he went back to picking at a loose thread on the wheel. “There are no secrets on this island. I need you to know, to understand, no matter what happens, or what you may hear, I will never regret last night.”
Louisa laid her hand over his, stopping his nervous movements. “Nor will I.”
He sighed, pulling his hat off his head, not looking at her. “I have spent all day wondering...what kind of man am I? I used to think, even if I was maybe not the best husband, or father, I did what was right, I was honorable,” his face crumpled and his voice cracked. “I cannot say that now.” He twisted his hat in his hands. “What kind of man is in love with a woman he is not married to, but not his own wife?”
She stayed quiet, knowing no words that would ease his conscience.
“But still,” he continued, “I find I am not sorry for what happened between us.”
“I meant what I said last night,” Louisa told him. “I love you. I have spent years trying to talk myself out of it, but…” she shrugged, “it didn't work. I need you in my life, Spiro.”
He began to say something, but Louisa held up a hand.
“I haven't forgotten you have a...a wife and family.” He waited while she blinked away a few stubborn tears. When she didn’t continue he pulled her into his arms, kissing her head. She felt him take a deep breath and relax.
“When I am with you, I am happy, it is easy to forget...everything else” he confided. “But I don’t know where to go from here.”
She leaned back to look at him. “I wish I knew an easy answer.” She paused, thinking. “You know what, Spiro? I spend all my time worrying about the future. My children’s futures, my future, your future, the future of the whole bloody world. I don’t want to worry about it anymore today.”
Spiro stared at her with a perplexed look.
“I mean,” she explained. “Let us not worry about this today. What is done, is done. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but I can’t…” she shook her head, “There is nothing to be done about it right now. I know you can’t make me any promises.” She picked up his hand and squeezed it. “But for today, I just want to feel like a woman in love.” She leaned towards him. “Please,” she whispered.
He met her, laying a palm against her cheek and pressing lips to hers in a kiss that soon left them both breathless. Louisa pulled away. “Thank you,” she said softly with a smile, giving him one more quick kiss then wiping away a smear of lipstick from his lower lip with her thumb. “Let’s go home.”
Spiro blinked and cleared his throat, slower to return to reality. “Home, yes,” he smiled at her and reached for the ignition, setting his hat on his head before backing up onto the road.
Chapter 14: Chapter 14
“Louisa,” a hand on her shoulder shook her gently. “You are home, wake up.” Spiro's voice was low and close to her ear.
She sat up straighter and opened her eyes, wincing against both the bright sun and the pain in her neck from her uncomfortable position. They were parked outside her house and she was relieved not to be immediately greeted by her swarm of children.
Spiro held the door open for her, steadying her when she swayed the slightest bit. “I'm fine,” she assured him and he reluctantly withdrew his hand from her back.
She watched him, debating silently with herself if she would sound needy if she asked when she would see him again.
As if he could read her mind he leaned close, “I have...plans...the next few days,” his tone was apologetic and he toyed with his coat button the way she recognized he did when talking about his wife.
She forced herself to nod, “of course, it's-”
“Promise me you will not shut me out again, Louisa,” he said, eyes intense, “I cannot bear it.”
“I won't,” she promised.
Satisfied, he took her hand and kissed it in farewell. “I will see you soon.”
She watched him return to his car, not moving until he had disappeared over the hill. Stepping through the door into the darkened interior of her kitchen, she looked around the room, somewhat shocked to see nothing had changed when everything felt so different. Lugaretzia could be heard moving around in another room and normally she would seek her out for a greeting but at the moment all she wanted was a hot cup of tea and silence with her thoughts. She reached for the kettle, filled it with water and set it on the stove. As she was preparing the tea pot, Lugaretzia shuffled into the kitchen. Louisa turned to meet two dark, appraising eyes.
“Is bad,” her maid chided her knowingly with her deep, ominous voice. “He is married man.”
A stab of shame cut through her. “I am well aware of that, Lugaretzia,” she snapped. “You needn’t remind me.”
The woman glared at her for another moment to make her point, then wandered off, muttering in Greek.
Louisa placed both hands on the counter and let out the breath she had been holding. The kettle whistled and she poured the water with shaky hands, then transferred her tea things to the table and sank into a chair, weary.
“Knock, knock, Mrs. Durrell,” Theo’s cheerful voice sounded at the open door.
Louisa stood, “Theo, please, come in. I was just about to have tea” She set another cup at an empty chair.
Theo set his hat and cane down and accepted the offered cup.
“I don’t suppose you know where my children are, Theo,” she said, stirring her tea.
“Uhm, yes,” Theo said as he prepared his cup. “I saw Larry at the cafe with his typewriter, waiting for inspiration to hit. Leslie mentioned yesterday he planned to hunt duck this afternoon, so I assume that is what he is currently doing. Margo is at the clinic helping Florence. The baby is...uhmm….particularly demanding today. I am on my way to meet Gerry at the lake. He tells me he found a very interesting species of amoeba in a ditch just north of here, “ he finished on a giddy note.
Louisa smiled at him over her tea cup. “Impressive, Theo.”
He smiled, eyes peering over his glasses. “Margo tells me you did not return home last night.”
Louisa forced a nonchalant shrug. “Yes, car troubles, I’m afraid. We had no choice but to stay the night.”
Theo sipped his tea. “I am sorry to hear that. I can imagine how Spiro reacted,” he chuckled good-naturedly, knowing how he felt about his car. “I trust you were able to find suitable accommodations. That was quite a severe storm.”
Louisa felt a blush creep over her cheeks. She stared into her cup, hoping Theo, often so dense about emotion, wouldn’t notice. She cleared her throat, “Yes, there was a small inn available, fortunately.”
Theo studied her silently.
Suddenly guilt and shame crashed down on her and she put her head in her hands.
Theo looked alarmed. “Mrs. Durrell, is everything alright?”
She shook her head. “Theo, I've done something terrible.” She raised her head to look at him.
“No, it is not a terrible thing. I would say that anyone in your position would do the same,” Theo assured her, bringing his tea cup to his lips. “With the entire island talking about it, I can’t say it is a surprise at all.”
Louisa’s mouth dropped open. “How….the entire island knows?” she asked weakly.
“Well, yes,” Theo began slowly, looking at her curiously. “News circulates quickly, of course. It is hardly a secret. In fact, that was one of the reasons I wanted to visit today, to discuss what your plans are. I am under the impression the children, at least Margo and Gerry, do not know…” he trailed off, taking in Louisa’s horrified expression.
“I….I don’t understand...how…” she stammered in shock.
“Mrs. Durrell, I apologize, I believe I might have misled you with my assumption,” he finished his last bit of tea.
“I spent the night with Spiro,” Louisa blurted.
Theo sputtered and choked, coughing until his face turned red, all while staring at her bug eyed.
If she hadn’t felt so miserable she would have found it comical.
“Oh...well...uhmm...that is...quite,” his rambling words were punctuated by harsh coughs. Louisa got him a glass of water, which he gratefully gulped down. He eventually controlled his coughs and an awkward silence ensued, Theo uncharacteristically at a loss for words for a moment. “That is not what I had thought at all,” he said when he was finally able to string a coherent sentence together. “I assure you that you and Spiro are not the talk of Corfu. Well….that is to say….not recently, in any case,” he finished with a cringe.
Louisa clasped her cup like a lifeline, unable to meet his eyes. “I’m sorry to unload this on you, I just…” she trailed off and shook her head.
Theo reached over to pat her hand. “Mrs. Durrell, I confess I understand more about the mating habits of the dung beetle than I do about our own Homo sapien species...but...I would have to be blind not to notice that you and Spiro have always had a….special connection, you could say.”
“He is married,” her eyes filled with tears she blinked away. “It was wrong.”
“It does complicate things,” he admitted. “But, it appears to me, that love seems to be more gray than simply black and white. At least, that is what I am learning,” he said, referring to his own budding romance.
Louisa stared into her empty cup, unable to agree or disagree with his assessment. She turned his previous words over in her mind, thinking on them. “Theo,” she asked, “what did you think I was going to say?”
“Oh,” he said, straightening in his chair, “I had assumed you were going to tell me you had decided to return to England while it was still safe to do so.” He gave her a sympathetic look. “The news is grim, I am afraid we are all plunging head first into another calamity of man’s own making.”
Louisa nodded, chewing her lip. “Larry wants us to leave,” she sighed, looking at him, “but how do I drag my children away from this place? It has been our paradise.”
“If the events from the Great War repeat themselves, it could soon be a paradise lost.” He stood and gathered his belongings. “I must meet Gerry now. Think on Larry’s wishes. I believe it may be for the best, for now. You will always be welcomed back to Corfu.”
Louisa nodded, still staring with vacant eyes into her cup.
“And Mrs. Durrell,” he waited for her to look at him before continuing in a quiet voice. “Your secret is safe with me….both of them.”
With that he set his hat on his head, bowed slightly, and left her sitting at the table.
Chapter 15: Chapter 15
Louisa gave a sharp shake to a wet shirt and hung it on the line. With every chore lately she kept alert, waiting for the sound of a distant engine. Ten days had passed since their night together. She had only seen him briefly, in the market. She was there gathering food items and suddenly felt his eyes on her. Searching the street, she caught him smiling at her from a short distance away. But there were too many eyes and ears for meaningful conversation so they exchanged pleasantries and then she had made her legs carry her onwards, leaving him behind. She sighed and looked longingly down the road, then finished pinning the clothes to the line and picked up the empty basket.
She was driving herself mad! Carrying the basket into the kitchen, she set it on the floor. “Lugaretzia!” she called.
The maid poked her head into the room.
“I'm going for a walk,” she told her. Met with a skeptical look she explained, “for fresh air and exercise.”
Lugaretzia's expression plainly told her what she thought of women who needed to walk for exercise and fresh air. “I work,” she said bluntly and shuffled off.
Louisa left with no set destination in mind, just a need to get away from the house and the unmet expectations she was faced with while there. The day was beautiful and sunny so she stayed on a path close to the sea, coming to an overlook for a spot known as a favorite for swimming. A local family was already there frolicking in the water.
She smiled as she watched the father, standing waist deep in the sea, pick up one of the young boys splashing around and toss him into deeper water. His squeals of excitement carried to her, along with distinctly familiar laughter. Holding a hand to her forehead, she squinted, barely believing her eyes. From this distance, he could have been any one of the local men, but she could recognize his voice anywhere.
She ducked down so as not to be noticed. Her eyes snapped to beach, heart in her throat as she studied the woman sitting on a blanket watching her family as they played. A large hat shaded her face, but Louisa knew she was too far away to pick out her features anyway. She had spent many a night the last few months wondering what his wife looked like.
Seeing her now, she considered how circumstances might be different if she had befriended the woman years ago. When they first arrived on the island and were settled, with much help from Spiro, she had invited him to bring his family over on numerous occasions. He always gave excuses, plausible ones though they were, as to why they couldn't come. She had accepted them, and assumed he had his reasons for keeping them away. Over time they had simply slipped from her mind. She knew, of course, that he had a family, but it was knowledge in an abstract kind of way. He rarely mentioned them and was ever ready to rescue the Durrell family from whatever crises they found themselves in.
But this, this was a different side of him than she had seen in four years of living on Corfu. She could tell he was having just as much fun as his sons, perhaps more, and couldn't help but laugh as she watched them succeed in knocking him off his feet. After a time he corralled the children into shallow water and crossed the rocky beach to where his wife sat. She held her breath, hoping she wouldn't witness anything that would shatter her heart. Instead, the woman pointed to some towels without turning her head. He bent to grab one and when he stood up he seemed to look straight at her spot on the cliff. She held her breath, silently cursing her red shirt. Even with it, she didn't think she was visible behind the grasses hugging the edge, and he stared for only a few seconds before he turned and laid his towel out, sprawling backwards with his hands behind his head, letting the sun dry his skin.
She sat on the cliff's edge and watched them until the sun began its westward descent. Curiosity overrode the niggling feeling of guilt at spying. She couldn't tear herself away. While Spiro appeared to sleep, his wife took the children on a walk, stopping frequently for them to pick up things of interest from the beach. When they turned back she lagged behind as the boys raced ahead and jumped on their father, showering him with sand and fine pebbles. He lurched to his feet and chased his shrieking offspring into the water while she wandered back to her spot on the blanket.
Eventually the children grew tired and he led them back to the beach, handing the older boy a towel and assisting the younger one until his wife shooed him away. She was too far away to hear the exchange of words, and likely wouldn't have understood them anyway, but could tell by the way he stood with his hands on his hips that he was not pleased. He turned away from his wife and set about gathering the blankets, shaking them of sand and crudely folding them. Before he had finished his wife grabbed a hand of each boy and led them off the beach without a word or backward glance. Louisa watched as Spiro shook his head, then lifted their stack of belongings and followed at a much slower pace.
Long after they had left, she got to her feet to make her way back to the house, feeling conflicted. The selfish part of her wanted Spiro to herself and was all too pleased to see no affection between him and his wife. But the other, more generous side, remembered the camaraderie she enjoyed in her own marriage and ached for him, knowing how much he valued his family. It was a confusing spot to be in. Her thoughts were muddled, leaving her depressed.
Her ruminations were interrupted by a stench carried on the breeze. The closer to her home, the more overwhelming it became. The source was obvious when she was close enough to spot Gerry standing at the patio, elbows deep in a sea creature, with Theo hovering over him giving instructions.
“What is this?” she exclaimed.
“Mother!” cried Gerry. “Theo is teaching me dissection.” He held up a length of entrails proudly.
“That's….lovely, dear,” she knew her face betrayed her true feelings- that it was anything but.
Theo had the grace to look apologetic. “We would have taken it to my house, but my neighbors complain about the smell.”
Louisa resisted the urge to gag. “I can't imagine why.”
“Excuse me, Gerry. You carry on here,” he murmured to her son, then turned to her, “May I have a word?”
“Of course,” she opened the back door, grateful that they had thought to close it. The suffocating heat was preferable to the reek of dead sea life. She dragged air into her lungs. “Theo, you stink.”
He laughed. “The price of scientific discovery!”
“I believe I will pass.”
He sobered and reached into his suit jacket to pull a folded newspaper. “I received this today and thought you should see it,” he said, handing it to her.
She unfolded it, scanning the headline that warned of imminent war in Europe.
“Tensions are rising on the continent,” Theo explained. “If Hitler continues his quest to take over neighboring countries, and it is looking like he might be thinking of doing just that, this could very quickly escalate into war. Perhaps even by the end of summer.”
Louisa sighed. “My cousin Prue was keeping me updated on the situation, it's so easy to ignore it all here, but I haven't gotten any letters for several weeks now.”
Theo gave her a look. “Mail boats have been sunk off the coast.”
She nodded. “Oh.”
“Have you thought more about returning to the relative safety of England?”
“Do I have a choice here, Theo?”
He peered over his glasses at her and shook his head slowly. “I cannot see one. If Corfu fell into enemy hands…”
“Being British would not be seen as a positive, I know,” she finished for him, pulling out a chair to sit on. Fingering the edges of the newspaper, she looked up at him. “How do I tell Gerry we must leave?”
Theo sat down in the chair next to hers. “Gerry is a bright boy. He may not be happy to leave, but he will understand.”
She gave a short, humorless laugh. “I think you underestimate how miserable we all were in England.”
“There is one more thing,” Theo said.
“I can't handle any more bad news today,” she warned.
“Not all bad,” he assured her. “I have decided to ask Mary to be my wife!”
“Well, that's wonderful, Theo! But, so soon?”
“If I had all the time in the world I would court her longer, but,” he hesitated, “I will admit to wanting to enjoy married life before...before,” his voice faltered, “before I enlist in the Greek Army.”
She stared at him, stunned. “The army? Why?”
“If I wait for the war to begin, Greece may call upon me and put me where they want. I join now and can decide my own placement, within reason, of course.”
“Does Mary know?” she questioned.
“Yes.” he said. “She understands and agrees with my plans, reluctantly so. I think she will also agree to marry me. I hope.” He tapped his fingers on the table. “I want to send her to London if war comes.”
“Everything is changing so fast,” Louisa said quietly. A thought came to her, “How will I tell Spiro?”
“I would suspect,” Theo began, “that a man such as Spiro, driving taxi, would hear enough news to already know it is a possibility.”
She nodded, “You are likely right.”
“Spiro would not want any harm to come to you, or the rest of his favorite English family. But Louisa,” he said, voice serious, “knowing he would do anything to protect you and allowing him to take those risks are two different things. There are limits to what even Spiro can accomplish safely...and while he may not realize that, surely you do.”
“Yes,” she whispered with a nod of her head. His words were somewhat unexpected, but truthful nonetheless. The events of the day, coupled with news of impending doom, overwhelmed her. She had no desire to further discuss Spiro with him. Placing her hands flat on the table, she stood up.
Theo opened his mouth as if to say something, then closed it.
Well experienced with the fine art of evasion, thanks to her children, Louisa raised an eyebrow. “What are you not telling me, Theo?”
Theo pushed back his chair and stood. “I was thinking,” he said, “I would like Gerry to see a beach north of here, the fossils are fascinating. If you like, the rest of you could come along as a last hurrah, so to speak. Maybe bring a picnic.”
Louisa considered, “That sounds like a lovely adventure. Could you ask Spi-”
“No, no,” Theo interrupted, “We can take the boat.”
“Have you forgotten you get seasick?”
He paled. “No,” he said slowly, “but, like you said, it will be an adventure.”
“Will you invite Mary?” she teased, knowing he would not want her to see him hung over the side of the boat, green.
He cleared his throat. “Uhmm, perhaps not this time. The boat will be too crowded.”
“Of course, Theo,” Louisa laughed. “When shall we go?”
“This Saturday, providing the weather cooperates.” He moved towards the door. “I will help Gerry clean up the sea monster from your patio.”
“Thank you,” she had almost forgotten about that. “Please have him bury it where the dogs won’t dig it up.”
Theo nodded, opening the door and letting in the stench along with a dozen flies.
“Theo!” Gerry called, “you have to come see this!”
Louisa shook her head with indulgent patience and shut the door.
Much to Gerry's delight, Saturday dawned crystal blue, with enough heat to promise a scorching day. By the time the sun had emerged from the horizon they had the boat packed and ready. Theo showed up, as always, at the precise time he had said he would.
Larry and Leslie laid out a map and argued over the correct route until Theo stepped in and quietly settled the matter. Louisa was always impressed with how her sons deferred to his judgement. With the dispute over, they all boarded the rather tiny vessel. It was almost dangerously overloaded, what with five Durrells, two dogs, Theo, blankets, and enough provisions to feed half of Corfu, thanks to Lugaretzia.
They had made it not 10 meters from the dock when her two eldest offspring had another disagreement over the seaworthiness of the boat, loaded as it was. The sea was alarmingly close to cresting the bow with even gentle waves. Theo, already looking peaked, suggested they go back for the Bootle-Bumtrinket, a barrel shaped boat Leslie had made and gifted to Gerry for his birthday, so that is what they did. It was decided that Gerry, the dogs, and the picnic baskets would ride in the smaller boat, which they tied with a long rope to the larger one. Thus arranged, they again rowed out to sea, awkwardly, but with more elbow room and less danger of sinking, and were soon able to set the sail and lurch along.
The breeze, carried over the blue water, was refreshing. The sea was relatively calm but even so, they were just barely out of sight of the villa before Theo succumbed to his sea sickness. The remainder of the short voyage was carried out with him miserable, slung over the side of the boat alternately retching and moaning. Louisa had to glare at Leslie to keep him from laughing at poor Theo's expense. Margo was thoroughly disgusted and eyed the man with a frown, muttering “gross” with every offering he made to the sea. Gerry, meanwhile, was thrilled with the variety of sea life Theo's misery was attracting. Louisa usually enjoyed boating, but the ordeal was making her feel nauseated herself.
An eternity later they reached the beach. The boat was guided through soft waves and slid onto the beach with a “whoosh” sound. Leslie jumped out to pull the boat safely out of the water then they all piled out, Louisa helping Theo stagger over the sand until he collapsed with relief. Her children took off in all directions, Larry to seek out a secluded spot to write, Leslie gathered his fishing gear and took off, Margo wandered down the beach armed with a blanket searching for the brightest rays, and Gerry and his dogs went exploring after a quick check in with Theo.
“Go,” he waved them off, “I just need a few moments.”
She bit back a smile at his appearance. Usually so neat, his hair now stood on end, suit jacket was tossed in the bottom of the boat, vest unbuttoned and shirt tails free. “Will you be okay, Theo?” she asked with concern.
“Yes,” his reply came from between the hands he used to cover his face.
She retrieved a blanket from the boat and poured him a glass of water from a bottle in the basket and left it with him before leaving him to collect himself. The beach was a gorgeous, untouched piece of paradise. Tossing her shoes into the sand by the boat, she glanced around, taking in the vivid colors, before deciding to head in the opposite direction of her family. For a time she walked in the wet sand between tide and beach, picking up interesting shells and pebbles, slipping the most beautiful into her pockets, throwing the rest back into the sea. The sun was high overhead when she realized how far she had wandered from the boat. She was thirsty, her legs were tired, but she enjoyed the rare solitude and wasn't yet ready to go back, so she made her way to the dunes and sat down by the grasses, listening to the sounds of surf and birds.
Above the quiet crash of waves she could just barely pick out the strum of notes on a distant guitar. She stood, craning her neck but didn't see anything. Curiosity overrode good sense and she walked farther, sticking close to the grasses. The music grew louder as she stepped over the dune, using the added height to scan the area. She could just scarcely make out the top of a tent of some sort, so she crept closer until the grasses parted and she saw the source of the sound.
She almost had to laugh, for there in front of her sat none other than Spiro, resting against his car in the sliver of shade provided there, playing guitar. He was absorbed in his song, eyes closed, oblivious of her presence. Her eyes scanned the scene, confusion growing. It appeared to be...a campsite? Bamboo posts held a length of tattered burlap to provide shade over his car. Rugs and blankets were spread over the sand, a ring of stones held some charred remains of wood, and a few empty liquor bottles lay scattered around.
The song ended with one last chord. “That was beautiful,” she said quietly, walking closer.
Chapter 17: Chapter 17
Spiro startled, the guitar falling into the sand as he whipped his head around and jumped up. “Louisa!” he exclaimed. “What are you-why?-how?” The words tumbled out of his mouth.
She bent to retrieve his guitar, gently shaking sand from the body. “I could ask the same of you,” she said, leaning the instrument against the car.
He continued to stare at her, dumbfounded, so she answered before him, “Theo insisted he wanted Gerry to visit this beach, and he invited the rest of us to join them.” Her head tilted to the side, eyes narrowed, “did he know you were here?” she asked. “Why are you here, Spiro?”
He looked behind her, “Where are all the others?”
Following his gaze, she turned around. “Well, I started walking and, uh...just didn't stop.” She squinted into the distance, but couldn't even make out the boat. The beach was empty as far as she could see. “They are back there somewhere, unless they've left me marooned,” turning back to him she quipped, “in which case I shall have to wait for one of your pirate friends to rescue me.”
Studying her, he smiled slightly at the memory.
“But really, what are you doing here?” her arm gestured to his campsite, “like this?”
He exhaled and waved a hand to a rug on the sand. “Come, sit.”
She lowered herself to the ground, legs tucked to the side. Spiro followed, sitting near enough that his arm brushed hers. He remained silent for a time. She watched him, concern escalating. “How long have you been here?” she imagined the worst. “Does your wife kn-”
“No, stop, stop,” frustration edged his voice. “It is not like that. Just let me explain.”
He took another long moment to gather his thoughts. Finally he looked her way and began talking. “When my wife returned, I tried to make it work...to pretend like nothing had changed. But I couldn't...” he picked up her hand. “I couldn't touch her and not think about you.” His voice dropped low, “When I laid beside her at night I closed my eyes and pictured you being there instead.” He released her hand and shook his head. “It was wrong of me, I know that.” He looked out at the sea. “So I couldn't stay there. During the day, I work, then I go to the house to spend time with the children, eat with them, and after I come here.”
She gaped at him. “But why here, living like you are homeless? I'm sure Theo would have let you stay, or you could've come to us…”
He shook his head, giving her a look at her last suggestion. “No,” he said, emphatic. “I have a home to return to if I wish. I just need to...how you say it?...clear my head.”
“Is it working?” she asked softly.
“No,” he admitted, one side of his mouth curving up in a lopsided smile, though worry lines remained etched between his brows. “I find my memories are much more difficult to clear out of my head than just dreams.”
She nodded, “Yes, I would have to agree.” He seemed lost and vulnerable, so very unlike Spiro. “We are a sorry pair of lovesick fools, are we not?”
He gazed at her solemnly. “I suppose so,” he agreed, voice sad.
“Spiro, I...I have something important to tell you. I wanted to tell you in person,” she laid a hand on his arm. “I'm afraid it is not good news.”
“Tell me,” he said, reaching for her hand.
She had been dreading this moment for weeks. Somehow, even with the ball already in motion, it felt like telling Spiro would make the situation that much more concrete. She closed her eyes for a brief second to bolster some courage. “My family and I are leaving Corfu.”
A pained expression crossed his face. He looked away, blinking rapidly and nodding. “I was worried this was coming,” his eyes met hers again, so full of hurt she couldn’t bear to see. “I hear things…” he trailed off.
She kept her eyes on their joined hands, lightly tracing the veins in his with her fingertips.
“When?” he asked.
She sighed, “I’m not sure exactly.” Forcing herself to meet his gaze she whispered, “but soon.”
With that he put his arm around her and drew her nearer. Her hand came to rest on his chest, his heartbeat steady and calming. “For a time I was afraid the worst that could happen was you would marry Hugh and I would have to see you with him, in town...holding hands...kissing him,” he paused. “Now I would gladly go to England and knock on every door until I found him and dragged him back to Corfu if it meant you would still be here, in my life.” He drew in a ragged breath and asked, “What will I do without you?”
She let the question hang in the air for she had been asking herself the same ever since the possibility of leaving was first brought up weeks ago. No answer appeared to her own question, but with sudden clarity the image of Spiro and his family flashed into her mind and she knew what she had to tell him. A sharp pain cut through her own chest at the knowledge. “Spiro,” she said, sitting upright and looking him full in the face. She hoped her voice conveyed a conviction her heart fought against. “You must return to your wife.”
His look of shock told her this was the last thing he had expected to come out of her mouth, his head was shaking even though he failed to form words.
“No, listen,” she insisted, “if there is war and it comes to Greece, to Corfu, your family will need you. This is not the time to be breaking it apart.”
“Please let me finish before I can’t,” her voice broke as she swiped at a tear. “Last week I went out for a walk, to that beach north of the villa where the children enjoy swimming.”
Spiro nodded, eyes guarded and mouth in a grim line.
“I saw you there,” she said. “With your family.”
He opened his mouth but she held up a hand.
“I admit I watched for longer than I should have, but curiosity got the better of me. I had never seen you with your family.” He reached out to brush away tears from her cheek and she pressed her hand to his, closing her eyes briefly before going on. “It occured to me, when my Aunt threatened to take Gerry away from me, that I would have taken my children anywhere to keep them with me. I would move them halfway around the world to keep them safe. I have done exactly that….I will again. How could I ever expect you to put me above your own children?”
Spiro frowned, “You have never asked me to do this.”
“Not in words, no,” she agreed. “But Spiro, if we continue this,” she lowered her voice as if someone were listening in. “If your wife learns of your infidelity, she could take your children from you and be well within her rights to do so. As you say, if there are no secrets here, who could blame her?”
He pulled away and hung his head.
“Has she...she’s already said something, hasn’t she?”
He nodded once.
“No,” he said, shaking his head. “She suspects.” He raised his eyebrows and looked at her. “How many Corfiot men drive around the only single English woman on the island?”
Louisa watched him twist his wedding band on his finger. “How could I live with myself if choices we made caused you to lose your children?” she asked gently, laying her hand on his. “But all of that, that's not the reason we are leaving. Larry, and my relatives in England, all believe that if peace deteriorates in Europe, trains and boats could be commandeered for the military and we could become trapped here.”
“England is a small island as well,” he pointed out.
“It is,” she agreed. “But there we won't stick out as being so, well, English.”
“You don't have to leave,” he said grasping her hands. “I know this island better than most people. There are places to stay where you could not be found. I could keep you safe,” he finished earnestly.
She smiled through a fresh sting of tears. “I have no doubt you would,” she assured him. “But that could mean staying in hiding for months, perhaps years.” Shaking her head she admitted, “If I were a lesser woman I would accept….but I can't... we can't.”
He nodded in defeat, rubbing a hand over his face. “So….this is how it ends?”
“I’m afraid it is,” Louisa whispered. ”One way or another.”
Quiet descended, with only the sounds of the sea and wildlife.
“Spiro, would you take your family and leave? Go back to the states?”
“Of course not,” he answered, indignant. “This is our home. I will stay and defend it.”
“Theo joined the Army,” she told him.
Spiro looked surprised. “Does he really think it will come to that?”
Louisa nodded. “Yes. He joined early so he could choose his division.” She looked away. “I am so worried about all of you.”
“We Greeks have been here for thousands of years. We won’t let Italians or Germans or Turks or anyone else drive us from our land.” He turned her face back to him. “Your children will be wondering where you are.” He started to stand up.
“You are correct,” she accepted his offered hand. “Will you join us? Leslie hoped to bring in some fish for dinner, and even if he fails, Lugaretzia packed enough food to make us all fat as kings. It will be fun.”
He smiled, “Why not?”
“Don’t tell him I told you, but Theo may be planning a wedding soon,” Louisa grinned.
“Theo? That is fantastic news!” Spiro beamed. “I’ve got just the thing,” he moved to the side of his car and rummaged through the back seat until he pulled out a full bottle of ouzo. “A toast for congratulations!”
“I don’t know that he has asked her yet, it may be early for that,” she cautioned.
“Oh, well then a drink for courage,” he laughed, holding up the bottle and giving it a swirl. As he passed his guitar he stooped and slung the strap over his shoulder, settling the instrument against his back.
“No sad songs, I hope,” Louisa said.
“No,” he shook his head and grabbed her hand. “Tonight, I think, will be a good night for love songs. There are plenty of Greek love songs.” The look he sent her made her shiver.
“I’m sure there are…”
He brought her hand to his lips for a kiss, “let’s go find your family.”
Chapter 18: Chapter 18
“Spiro!” Margo cried happily when they arrived, throwing her arms around him. “So glad to see you and Mother are friends again. She's been so miserable the past few months I thought she'd take up drinking again.”
Spiro's smile was strained. Louisa, mortified, shooed the girl away. “You are looking pink, dear, perhaps you should find some shade.”
Margo looked between the two, sensing her gaffe. “Well, it's true,” she mumbled, slumping back to her blanket.
Gerry and Theo sat around a collection of jars and cages, in deep discussion about their discoveries. Theo lifted his head to greet them. “How nice of you to join us, Spiro!” he said, sending Louisa a sly smile that confirmed her earlier suspicions. She mouthed “thank you” but he just shrugged and turned his attention back to Gerry.
Leslie strolled towards them from the opposite direction, carrying an impressive string of fish.
“Oh wow, good job Leslie,” Spiro complimented him. “Do you need any help?”
Leslie held up his fish, looking quite proud of himself. “I can get these cleaned if you could build a fire.”
“No problems,” Spiro proclaimed, setting his guitar and bottle of liquor into the boat for safe keeping. He turned to Louisa, “help me to collect firewood?”
“Of course,” she smiled and followed him.
While he searched for suitable material she gathered enough rocks to make a large ring. He dropped the wood beside it, bending down onto one knee to sort kindling. The day was still hot and sweat dripped from his forehead so he shucked off his shirt, leaving only his sleeveless undershirt. She tried to not stare, but soon realized it was a losing battle and not wanting to look foolish in front of her children she wandered over to the boat and began pulling out the baskets of food.
Spiro appeared at her side. “Do you have matches?” he asked, taking a heavy basket from her.
“Somewhere here, I'm sure,” she responded, reaching into the boat to pull another basket towards her.
Spiro shook his head, “I will get these if you find them.”
He set the baskets on the sand near the fire ring and she quickly located the matches. Spiro poked around, lifting lids, examining the contents, occasionally pulling out an item and setting it aside.
“Spiro,” a voice came from behind, “where did you come from?” Larry looked around as if he expected to see Spiro’s car parked right on the beach.
Louisa stood, saving him from answering, “I ran into him on my walk,” she steered Larry away, “and invited him to join us.”
“And he and Mother are friends again,” Margo chirped loudly, “isn’t it wonderful?”
They both sent her a stern look.
“What?” she made a disgusted sound and flopped back onto her blanket.
Larry studied Louisa carefully. “Are you sure about this, Mother?”
Her eldest could be so oblivious and self-absorbed at times, but since witnessing her heart break over Spiro months ago had become her biggest emotional support. She nodded, “Yes, it’s fine.”
He looked at the man working over the fire, then at her. “Really, I am fine,” she insisted.
Larry still looked unconvinced, but nodded.
Later, they sat around the fire, plates laden with food. Lugaretzia had only packed 6 plates, and while they could have found him an alternative, Louisa sensed Spiro was pleased with the excuse to sit close to her, sharing her meal. He propped himself up with an arm behind her, hand at her hip, thumb lightly brushed the sensitive skin there. She found it incredibly distracting and had a difficult time following the conversation flowing around the fire. Spiro continued to chat amiably, seemingly unaware of the effect he was having on her. Louisa set her empty plate aside and turned her head to give him a look. He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye, a slight twitch of his eyebrows telling her he was not as oblivious to her discomfiture as she had thought. She raised her eyebrow, getting a slow smile in response.
From across the fire she caught Larry's scrutinizing glare. Spiro also saw it and slowly sat up, moving his hand away from her.
“Oh!” Theo held a hand to his forehead, drawing everyone's attention “How could I have forgotten to tell you?” he exclaimed. “Last night I asked Mary to be my wife and she said yes!” They all cheered and offered congratulations.
“That is fantastic news.” Louisa smiled at him. “I know it’s early, but do you have any date in mind?” She was hoping they could put off their departure until after their dear friend said his nuptials.
“I will make sure it will be a time you can all be there,” he assured her, understanding her concerns. “I will most likely need to report for duty by October, so I would like it to be soon.”
Spiro leaned close to her ear, “I think that the wedding night will be his most exciting scientific discovery yet.”
Louisa gasped and smacked him on the leg. “Spiro!”
He laughed. “It is true,” he said, nodding towards Theo.
“Well,” studying her sweet, charming, though awkward friend she had to admit he was probably correct. “Even so,” she said, trying to keep a stern face but failing when she caught the mischievous glint in his eye. “Now’s your chance to toast.”
Spiro held her gaze, “Or...maybe we can save that for later if you will allow me to drive you home.”
Her heart skipped a beat, she knew what she should tell him, but she instead she found her head nodding on it's own accord. “I would like that very much,” she said quietly, earning a smoldering look from him in response that caused her heart to race.
Leslie stood up, “We should be leaving soon. I don't fancy sailing in the dark.” Everyone helped get their belongings packed into the boat.
When the others began boarding Spiro nonchalantly announced, “I will take your mother home in my car, we'll meet you there.”
Larry opened his mouth but Louisa shot him her fiercest look, shaking her head.
Theo hesitated, “You have your car…” his voice was hopeful.
Louisa sighed and looked at Spiro. “Theo got terribly seasick on trip here,” she said in quiet words only he could hear.
Disappointment flashed across his face, “Of course,” he whispered, eyes closing in defeat. He turned to Theo, “The more, the merrier,” his tone wasn't quite convincing and his smile looked forced, but Theo still grinned in relief.
“I will be over to examine the specimens tomorrow, Gerry,” he told her son.
Louisa caught Larry's eye, noting his smirk and sent him a dark look. She was somewhat nervous about sending all four of her offspring off into the sea, but knew the sun was still high enough they should be able to get back home with plenty of light. Spiro pushed the boat into deeper water and the group was off. Louisa watched them until they had set the sail.
A glance at Spiro showed him staring at the bottle of ouzo in his hand. He caught her gaze and winked. “Let's not waste the fire,” he suggested, grabbing his guitar and going back to the flames. When they had all sat down he held up the ouzo bottle. “A toast,” he said, “to your marriage, Theo.” He took a large gulp and handed the bottle to Theo.
Theo took it, looking rather alarmed. Louisa recalled his last experience drinking with Spiro and her children. Not wanting to refuse, he took a small swallow. “Thank you, Spiro,” he held the bottle out to him.
“It's your marriage,” he waved his hands, “drink like you mean it!”
Theo hesitated, then took another, larger mouthful.
Spiro smiled, accepted the bottle back and offered it to Louisa who took a sip, catching on to Spiro's game and giving him a disapproving frown.
He grinned in response, taking another drink before picking up his guitar and starting in on a song. She vaguely recognized it as something he and his friends performed at her failed wedding party. Theo knew the words and the two sang loudly. After each song Spiro took a drink then passed the bottle to Theo, encouraging him to do the same. Before long he was thoroughly drunk, dancing around the fire and laughing with giddy abandonment.
Louisa, feeling the effects of alcohol herself, moved closer to Spiro. “You can be astonishingly awful,” she said disapprovingly.
He fumbled over notes, “Aww, no,” he said, hurt, “He's having fun, see?” He stopped playing and held out the ouzo. “I have known him for a long time, he needs to...let loose?...more often.”
Louisa watched Theo and couldn't disagree. She looked back at Spiro and took the bottle. His smile widened and she felt herself smiling in return.
They sat quietly, Spiro strumming notes, watching the colors from the sunset light up the sky. A feeling of contentment washed over her, helped by the ouzo warming her belly.
Spiro studied her, waiting until she met his eyes to speak. “Larry was...not happy to see me.”
She looked away. “He's...he's been rather overprotective of me since...for the past few months.”
“He thinks I am going to hurt you again,” he said bluntly.
Louisa swallowed. He was close, but not entirely correct. Larry knew she would be hurt by this. He saw the writing on the wall. There simply wasn't a happy ending to be found between a married man and a foreign widow with a war looming on the horizon. She nodded. “Something like that,” she admitted.
“I'm sorry,” he said, taking her hand and squeezing it gently. “I never want to hurt you…” he shook his head.
“Larry doesn't understand something,” she shifted so she faced him. “If I had known Lawrence, my husband, would die young I would have loved him even more in the time we had.”
Spiro's forehead creased as he processed the meaning of her words.
“Avoiding you,” she continued, “didn't make life less painful.” She smiled at him. “I believe it was you who suggested we live dangerously?”
A slow smile grew on his face as he continued to study her.
“I just want to enjoy whatever time I have left here with you,” she said quietly.
He placed his hand on her cheek, leaning forward to press his lips to hers. They were interrupted by Theo's loud cheer. He stood close to the water's edge, throwing rocks into the sky. “I almost hit the sun that time!” he yelled.
Louisa rolled her eyes at Spiro. “That is your fault, you know,” she pointed out.
“Hey,” he shrugged, going back to picking notes on his guitar, “it is better than listening to him go on and on about bugs.”
She laughed. “Be that as it may, he's bound to have a nasty headache tomorrow.”
“Maybe he will think the pain is worth it,” he raised an eyebrow.
She caught his double meaning, but watching Theo throw rocks towards the setting sun with comically bad aim she had to laugh. “I doubt he will even remember tonight.”
Spiro eyed Theo, then turned back to her with a sexy smile. “Well, that was my plan.”
She stared at him for a beat, then smiled and shook her head. “Awful,” she repeated, causing him to laugh.
He set aside the guitar, used a stick to scatter the few coals remaining, then kicked sand over them. He held a hand out to her. “We better get him back to the car before he passes out.”
She stood, gathering the ouzo bottle and Spiro's discarded shirt. He put the guitar strap over his shoulder then reached for her hand. “Theo,” he called. “This way!”
Chapter 19: Chapter 19
The trio stumbled back to Spiro's campsite, finishing the ouzo as they walked with the men loudly singing Greek folk songs. Spiro reached into the front seat of his car and pulled out an opened bottle of ouzo.
Theo groaned, collapsing onto a blanket and shaking his head. “No more, no more,” he waved his hands.
“One more toast to friendship,” Spiro uncapped the bottle and took a swig, holding it out to Theo who reluctantly accepted the bottle and choked down a gulp before passing it to Louisa. She held the bottle to her lips, took a generous swallow then gave it back to Spiro, who had just finished lighting a few lanterns hanging from the bamboo posts.
Theo mumbled something then fell sideways and began snoring immediately. Louisa and Spiro exchanged a look and burst out laughing.
Suddenly the dark, the flickering flames from the lantern, even the alcohol making her head feel fuzzy and warm, all of it brought to mind their night shared at the hotel. The ouzo induced giddiness she had been feeling started slipping away, replaced with a longing melancholy. She assumed, based on Spiro's face, he was having similar thoughts. He took a step closer to her, causing her heart to start an erratic rhythm in her chest. Just before their lips met Theo snorted, Louisa jumped, and the spell was broken.
Spiro stepped back, grabbed a blanket from the ground, gave the liquor bottle a shake to gauge the level left inside and nodded his head towards the sea. He moved off into the dark. Louisa hesitated for a second, struggling between her sense of responsibility and the yearning of her soul. In the end, the lure of Spiro was simply too great and she followed him, finding him spreading the blanket over the sand.
He sat down, patted the spot next to him, and took a long drink. When she lowered herself beside him he handed her the bottle. She held it, studying the small amount of remaining ouzo. “I have a feeling we will regret this tomorrow.” The knowledge didn't stop her from finishing off the bottle, wincing at the burn of alcohol in her throat.
Spiro smiled at her, “Let us worry about tomorrow, tomorrow, hmm?” he tossed the empty bottle onto the corner of the blanket.
“It is beautiful here,” Louisa murmured, taking in the moonlit sand and inky black sky full of stars. “So peaceful.” A flash of light coming from the water caught her eye, so brief she thought she imagined it. Then it came again. “Spiro, look,” she breathed, voice hushed in awe. She stood, moving to the water's edge. Spiro came to stand next to her.
“Oh yes,” he said, “they are,” he frowned, thinking, “I don't know the English word. Like fireflies of the sea.”
“They are amazing. We saw something like it once in India.”
“We used to swim with them when we were young,” Spiro commented.
“Truly? That would be magical.” She smoothed her hands over her clothes. “I didn't bring my bathing costume.”
He smiled suggestively, “We could do what the young people do and...skinny dunk?....no….skinny dip?....skinny dipping?” His forehead creased as he struggled for the correct word.
“Yes,” she answered automatically.
“Yes?” his face lit up in disbelief.
“No!” she cried, aghast.
“No?” Spiro looked confused.
“Yes, it is called skinny dipping, no, I'm not going to do it...here...with Theo just over there…”
“Theo will be passed out until morning,” he turned towards her, “And there is no one else to see but us.”
“No,” she insisted.
Disappointment clouded his features for a moment, then the smile returned. He reached for the buttons on her shirt, successfully undoing several before her brain caught on to his actions.
“Spiro, what….what are you doing?”
His finger traced the line of collarbone that he had uncovered. “Won't go skinny dipping, can't swim in clothes…” his hands shook as he worked the rest of the buttons free. “Then we'll swim in our underclothes.” His hands left her and went to work on his own clothes, quickly stepping out of his trousers. He dumped them on the blanket and walked past her to step into the water.
She stood there, shirt hanging loose, watching him. He ventured further into the sea, and as he did, the phosphorescence illuminated patches around him. She couldn't resist, hurrying over to the blanket to undress and then running into the water, laughing as her footsteps lit up.
“Watch,” he said and smacked the water, causing an explosion of light.
Like children, they laughed and splashed in the water, marvelling at the light show the invisible sea creatures put on. Eventually the cool night breeze chilled her to the point she began shivering. Spiro noticed and looked at her with concern. “How are you so cold?” he asked, rubbing warmth into her arms.
“How are you so warm?” she parroted.
“Hot blood?” he said with a smile, snaking his arms around her, warm hands splayed on her back. She shivered, but this time not from cold. His face was inches from hers, eyes black in the dim light.
“Spiro, we can't,” her voice came out a whisper, “...again,” she added.
He slowly lowered his head, pressing his lips to her neck. “Tell me one reason why not.”
She opened her mouth to give him several but found her mind drew a blank when his hands ventured under her camisole.
He leaned back to look at her, his eyebrow slightly cocked. “That is what I thought,” he said with a smile.
Without waiting for her to come up with a refusal, he scooped her up. Louisa squealed in surprise, her arm going around his neck reflexively. Each footstep left a burst of light in its wake. He carried her across the beach and set her down on the blanket.
They stared at each other for a moment, then Louisa leaned toward him, their lips met and that was all the spark needed to ignite an inferno. Clothes were pulled off and tossed into the sand. In a crash of limbs they tumbled to the ground, Spiro breaking her fall. There was a desperation between them, knowing these were stolen moments, with no guarantee they would happen again.
Spiros consumed her; he was above her, around her, inside of her, and still she needed him closer. She gasped his name, amazed that he could coax her body to heights she had never before dreamed possible. And always he was right there with her.
Much later, he pulled a corner of the blanket over them, snuggling her close. Within minutes the steady rise and fall of his chest against her back told her he was asleep, but before drifting off herself she tried to decide if life was incredibly unfair to show her a love like Spiros’ when he was so unobtainable, or if she was lucky just to have found him in the first place. The two thoughts swirled around her head until finally she fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
Louisa blinked against the light, momentarily blinded by the brightness. When her eyes adjusted she spotted two brown eyes staring at her. They were topped with a mess of unruly curls. Theo! She jumped up in shock, squealing when she felt the blanket slide over bare skin. In reflex she grabbed it over her chest, at the same time throwing her arm back and feeling her elbow connect with something hard.
“Ow!” Spiro groaned, slapping a hand over one side of his face. He opened his uninjured eye, glaring at Theo who was standing with a bemused expression. He barked something at him in Greek and Theo backed away, excusing himself.
Louisa fell back onto the blanket, drawing in a deep breath. “How absolutely mortifying,” she moaned, squeezing her eyes shut and wishing for the earth to swallow her.
Spiro rooted around under the blanket until he found his shorts and pulled them on. “Sandy,” he grimaced, then slipped out and stood. “I will hold the blanket for you to get dressed.”
“What did you tell him?” she asked as she maneuvered onto the sand while Spiro tugged up the blanket.
“I told him a gentleman would give a lady some privacy,” he said matter of factly from the other side of the blanket he held up as a screen.
Louisa shook as much sand from her still damp clothes as possible. “If someone had said one of us Durrells,” she said as she pulled on undergarments, “would be getting dressed on a beach after a night of drinking and…” her skirt slid up, “and...ravishment, I would not have hesitated to assume it would be Larry.” She jammed her arms into her shirt sleeves to make her point.
Spiro’s grinning face appeared over the blanket, “And yet, here we are.”
She finished buttoning her shirt, reached down to pick up his clothing, and caught his eye, smile growing. He dropped the blanket, accepting his clothes but leaning into her for a kiss before getting dressed.
“And to be caught by Theo,” she bemoaned, grabbing the blanket and folding it into a neat pile.
Spiro took it from her. “He won’t tell anyone,” he promised her.
“I know that,” she fussed with her hair, trying in vain to tame the tangles. “It’s just...embarrassing, I suppose.”
A hurt look passed over his face. “You are embarrassed to be with me?”
“Never,” she assured him. “But it is embarrassing to be found sleeping on a beach, naked, like some kind of a...a trollop.”
His forehead creased in confusion, “I don’t know what that is,” he said, “but I don’t think Theo would ever think that.”
They found Theo sitting beside the car, looking remarkably put together, although his tie was missing and hair was beyond help. He cleared his throat and stood when he heard them approach. “Good morning,” he said, avoiding eye contact, Louisa noticed.
“Good morning, Theo,” she responded. Spiro nodded at him and went to his car, reaching for the shirt Louisa had placed there the night before.
“Perhaps you could explain to me,” Theo began, “how I came to wake up...here?” He rubbed his forehead and added, “with a head that feels like it has been impaled by a trident?”
Louisa opened her mouth to answer but Spiro beat her to it. “I made a toast to your marriage and you kept drinking until you passed out.” Louisa turned her head to look at him in disbelief. He flashed her an innocent smile before continuing, “I would have taken you home, but,” he shrugged, “I didn’t want you to get sick in my car,” he gestured behind him and made a face.
Theo looked appalled. “I am...so sorry,” he said sincerely.
Louisa shook her head.
“Since Mrs. Durrells was stuck here, I showed her the...uhmmm...the bugs that light up in the water?”
That perked Theo’s interest. “Oh! Dinoflagellates!” he exclaimed. “What a treat.”
“Yes,” Spiro nodded, “dinoflag….those. And you snored like a warthog,” he went on before turning back to his car.
Louisa bit back a smile.
“Please accept my apology for my behavior,” Theo pleaded. “I fear I have no recollection of last night…”
“It’s nothing, really,” she said. “It was good to see you having fun.”
He still looked worried. “It is unlike me to drink so much.”
She leaned toward him, “You had some...encouragement,” she divulged, tipping her head towards Spiro.
“Ohh,” he said, still confused. “I hope I did not do anything too embarrassing.”
“Well, there was dancing...and singing…”
“That is not so bad,” he sounded relieved.
“At one point you were trying to throw rocks at the sun,” she laughed at his look of shock. “It was better than the time you tried to walk on water.”
His mouth dropped open, “When did that happen?”
“You really shouldn’t drink, Theo,” she told him.
“I should say so,” he muttered.
She patted his back as they both walked towards the car where Spiro waited, door held open for her. “I'll let Gerry know you won't be over today.”
“That will be best,” Theo said in relief, opening the back door.
Chapter 20: Chapter 20
As they drove through the streets, first to deliver Theo to his house, then towards hers, the skin around Spiro’s eye began to take on a purplish hue. By the time the car pulled into the dirt road leading to her house, Spiro was sporting a definite black eye. She cringed when he turned towards her.
“I am so sorry about this,” she said, laying her hand gently over the bruising.
He smiled and pulled her hand down to kiss it. “It is nothing, don’t worry.”
“How will you explain it?”
He shrugged, unconcerned. “I’ll come up with something.”
She let her eyes roam over him, soaking him in, before reluctantly opening the car door and lifting herself out. “Good-bye, Spiro.”
“I’ll see you soon, Louisa,” he promised, then backed the car up and drove away.
For the second time in less than a month, Louisa found herself sneaking back into her house, hoping her children weren't around. A glance around the kitchen showed all was quiet. She listened but couldn't hear any sounds from upstairs. Lighting the stove, she filled the kettle and set it over the burner. With that done she decided to make herself look presentable before everyone straggled down for breakfast. Halfway up the stairs she heard a door open. Cursing her luck she hurried back downstairs, pausing at the mirror to attempt to tame her hair, hoping the children wouldn't notice.
She returned to the kitchen and quickly pulled out the makings of a simple breakfast.
Margo stumbled into the room first. “Morning, Mother,” she said, followed by a huge yawn.
“Good morning, darling. Sleep well?” Louisa asked as she set the sliced bread, butter and jam on the table along with plates and silverware, then reached for the now singing kettle and poured the water for tea.
Leslie strode into the kitchen, noisily pulled out a chair and sat down. Without preamble he reached for the food.
“Good morning, Leslie,” she greeted her son.
“Morning,” he mumbled around a mouthful of food.
Margo nibbled on bread, eyeing Louisa. “Are you wearing the same clothes as yesterday?” she asked.
“I...I just grabbed the first thing I could find,” Louisa sputtered. “Laundry day, you know.”
“It’s Sunday,” Margo’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. Leslie looked up from his plate, and at the most inopportune moment Larry swept into the room, robe billowing behind him.
“And you haven’t fixed your hair,” Margo went on. “You never leave your room without doing your hair first.”
Three sets of eyes were on her. She self-consciously patted her hair. “It was a late night, I’m...rather tired. I must’ve forgotten.”
Larry’s keen eyes examined her critically. “Was that Spiro’s car I heard this morning?”
“Spiro?” her voice sounded strangely high even to her own ears. “No, no I didn’t hear anything…”
His eyebrow raised in amusement.
“Where’s Gerry?” she changed the subject.
Just then Gerry ran through the door, dogs at his side, already covered in a layer of dirt and what Louisa only hoped was mud and not some other vile substance. “Good morning,” he smiled brightly. “I passed Spiro as he was leaving,” he said with a gesture towards the road, “he said Theo won’t be coming over today.” His eyebrows drew together in confusion as he looked at his family.
Face flaming, Louisa stood, the sound of the chair legs screeching against the floor was deafening in the silence of the room. Leslie’s mouth hung open, Margo’s eyes darted between her brothers and Louisa, trying to put all the pieces together, and Larry’s eyebrows had shot up nearly to his hairline. “Last night….you...and Spiro...?”
“I am going to my room,” she interrupted him before he could say more. “Do not bother me unless someone is dead.” With that she marched towards the stairs, ignoring the looks exchanged between her offspring.
Hours later she lay in bed staring at the ceiling, her mind feeding her a constant stream of the many reasons why any relationship with Spiro beyond a very platonic friendship was a bad idea. She sighed, rolled over and punched her pillow, giving up on the idea of a nap. Maybe a visit with Florence would settle her.
It wasn’t a long walk into town, although the heat of summer was still oppressive. A sheen of sweat covered her forehead by the time she reached the doctor’s office. With it being Sunday she assumed the clinic would be closed, but quite a number of people were milling about outside, waiting to be seen. Inside, the small waiting room was filled and she was alarmed to see children making up the bulk of the patients. Florence bustled out from the rooms in the back, immediately noticing Louisa.
“Florence, what is going on?” Louisa asked.
Florence blew a strand of hair off her forehead. “Chickenpox,” she exclaimed, waving a hand, “we had a few cases last week, more yesterday, and today I think half the children on Corfu have been afflicted.”
“Oh dear,” Louisa took note of all the flushed, feverish faces in the office.
“Have you and your family had it?” Florence asked, unable to keep the hope out of her voice.
Louisa nodded. “Yes, of course, my children had it years ago,” she looked around. “Where can I help?”
Florence thought for a moment. “Your Greek is atrocious…” she said to herself. Louisa couldn’t deny it, so kept quiet. “I’ll put you in this room,” she led the way into a small examining room, then handed her a notebook. “I’ll send in patients with passable English to you. Write down their name, age, complaints, and assure them the doctor will be in to see them as soon as he can. We can’t do much for Chickenpox, but it makes people feel better to see the doctor.”
Louisa accepted the notebook. “I’ll do my best,” she promised.
Florence moved to leave, turning back at the door. “Would Margo be available to watch the baby?”
“I can’t see why not,” Louisa answered.
“Oh good,” Florence said. “I’ll have someone send word to Spiro, he can drive out to get her.”
She left before Louisa could point out that Spiro might not even be found in town. The next few hours passed in a blur. The majority of patients sent to her were children in the early stages of Chickenpox, feverish and feeling generally unwell. She took down their info, handing it to the doctor when he would rush into the room, looking progressively more stressed as the day went on. He would do a cursory examination, give them a few instructions, then send them on their way. By the time she wiped down the table and washed her hands there would be another child waiting at the door.
Finally, there was a lull between patients, and judging by the relative quiet in the office she guessed they had seen the mass of people who had been waiting. She was exhausted and stifled a yawn as she set about tidying the small room. From the doorway came a small cough. She resisted the urge to groan, instead plastering on a smile as she turned to greet the newest patient.
“Spiro,” she gasped, taking in the sight of him standing in the doorway holding a young boy in his arms.
“My son,” he said. “He is sick.”
Louisa blinked, clearing her head of cobwebs. “Bring him in,” she gestured towards the bench and Spiro gently placed his son down. “How long has he been ill?” she asked.
“Two days,” he brushed the boy’s dark hair back from his flushed face. “Friday night he wasn’t feeling well,” he looked up at her with sad eyes. “I haven’t been home...I didn’t know how sick he was.”
She wanted to lay her hand on his arm in reassurance but was keenly aware of his son’s eyes watching her with a mixture of apprehension and curiosity. “Chickenpox is spreading through Corfu,” she told him gently. “There was nothing you could do to prevent it, it just has to run its course.”
“I should still have been there,” he added miserably.
Louisa picked up the notebook and a pen. She smiled at the child and asked him in Greek for his name
“Michalis,” he replied with a slight lisp caused by two missing front teeth.
“Michalis?” she repeated, making sure she heard him right. Spiro nodded, a smile tipping up one side of his mouth.
“How old are you, Michalis?” she asked, again in Greek. Or, she thought she had asked. They both stared at her in confusion before Spiro realized what she meant and murmured a few words to his son, who in turn solemnly held up seven fingers.
“Seven,” she told him, giving up on Greek and letting Spiro translate. “What an important age to be.” She wrote down the information and turned to Spiro. “Is your other son sick as well?”
“Today he started to not feel well.” He hesitated. “My wife is home with him,” he added.
“Of course,” she nodded. “If Michalis here has Chickenpox, expect your other one to have it as well. It’s better that way, get it over with all at once.”
The doctor came into the room and greeted Spiro, not seeing the boy. “What happened to your eye?” he asked, assuming he was there to be seen. Spiro’s eyes darted to Louisa, then he quickly laughed and told him it was an accident and moved aside to show the child. The doctor turned and raised his eyebrow at Louisa, sensing a story between them. He glanced briefly at the notebook she held out to him then looked over the boy, diagnosing Chickenpox and telling Spiro how to care for him over the next days and weeks. When he left Florence popped her head in the door.
“Thank you for helping, Louisa. I believe we’ve seen the worst of it today. Only a few patients left, and Margo got the baby down for a nap, so you two are free to go.” She looked between the two curiously, then sent Louisa a knowing look. “I’ll be by to visit as soon as I’m able to. Thanks, again!”
The child asked a question, pointing at her, which Spiro quickly answered. He looked her way and explained, “he asked if you are the English lady I spend so much time with.”
“Oh,” she said, biting her lip, remembering him listing time spent with her as a source of contention in his marriage.
He gathered up his son. “I...should get him home,” he said, then looked at her and paused as if he wanted to say more. He shook his head and left, leaving Louisa in the room alone.
She finished cleaning up then left the clinic, closing the door quietly behind her. She was surprised to find evening shadows had descended, though the heat was still stifling. Margo waited on the step. “There you are. I’m starving,” she complained dramatically.
Louisa pushed her thoughts aside and smiled at her daughter. “I suppose I will have to feed you then.”
They started walking, side by side. “Did you really spend all night at that beach with Spiro?” Margo asked her.
“Well, Theo was there, too,” she added. “We all had a bit too much to drink. Driving wasn't a good idea.”
“You're always telling me to be responsible and then you go get drunk and stay out all night,” Margo criticized. “I really think you are sending me the wrong message.”
“Oh, Margo,” Louisa sighed. “I wish you were so perceptive about all things in life.”
“Does that mean I can spend a night with boys at the beach?” she asked hopefully.
“Absolutely not,” Louisa answered sternly.
“I met a boy last week. He's a soldier, he looks so handsome in his uniform,” she added wistfully.
“You are incorrigible, dear,” Louisa told her.
Margo smiled. “Thank you!”
Chapter 21: Chapter 21
Several days passed in the monotonous routine of cooking, cleaning and laundry. Larry had dug their trunks out of storage and they sat, opened and waiting, a constant reminder looming over her. She had tried to begin packing, had even gotten so far as to lay out brown paper on the table, but the first dish she reached for was a serving platter and as she held it in her hands she was instantly transported back to shortly after they arrived, wandering through the market with Spiro, picking out her housewares while he bargained on her behalf.
And so it was with everything in her house. There were few items that she couldn't trace back to Spiro, whether he gave it to her, helped her buy it, hauled it to her house, or brought it from the mail, it all had a memory connected to him.
She moved on to her clothing but had no more success there. The lightweight materials and bright colors were not suitable for the grey, cold climate in England. The thought depressed her. This move reminded her of packing their lives to leave India all those years ago, mourning the sudden loss of her husband, believing the change would be good for her family. It hadn't been.
Sticking an arm into her wardrobe, she grabbed a hanger at random, pulling out the sage green dress she had bought for the circus. She stared at it a moment, then held it up to her nose and inhaled deeply, disappointed to find the faint scent of Spiro that had lingered on the material for so long had faded away. For just a moment she allowed her mind to venture into forbidden territory and imagine a different ending for them, one where Spiro was free to leave the island and join her in England. She frowned. Try as she might, she couldn't quite picture him there. Spiro belonged on Corfu. He was Corfu, and Corfu was Spiro. To her they were inseparable, one wouldn't be without the other.
So she gave up. The green dress was carefully hung back up where it had stayed since that night. Maybe it would be better to leave everything behind, so the things would not continue to torture her with memories. She dropped the lid of her trunk, the heavy thunk of it closing sounded of finality.
A commotion outside drew her attention and she gladly left her task behind. Pulling a curtain to one side she could see that Gerry, who was spread out on a blanket in the sun with a notebook and pencil in hand sketching his pet tortoise, had been joined by Theo and Larry. She let the curtain fall back into place and quickly descended the stairs and walked out the back door into the sunshine.
“Theo,” she greeted her friend. “What brings you here today?”
“Good afternoon,” he beamed, pulling his hat off when he saw her. “I have some good news.”
“I can’t wait to hear it,” she gestured towards the table and they both sat down, Theo brimming with excitement. “I assume this has to do with your upcoming wedding to a certain young woman?” she teased.
“It is!” he nodded. “We have set a date for the wedding. It will be one week from this Saturday.”
“So soon?” Louisa asked.
His smile slipped. “I must report for duty in a month, perhaps less…”
She reached out and patted his hand. “It will be a beautiful wedding, I am so happy for the two of you.”
He smiled at her and clasped her hand for a brief moment. “And I am glad my favorite family will be in attendance.”
“It still seems so surreal that we will be leaving soon.” She withdrew her hand and looked out over the blue water. “We don’t have a date yet…” her words trailed off when her gaze drifted back to him. “Do you know something I don’t, Theo?”
He looked behind him, then back at her, shoulders slumping slightly. “Today I helped Larry….err....buy the tickets. He needed my help translating.” His eyes were apologetic. “He was supposed to be the one to tell you…”
“When?” she asked in a near whisper.
“The Monday after my wedding,” he said gently. “You will take the ferry to Brindisi, Italy and pick up the train from there.”
“Less than two weeks.” She suddenly found it difficult to breathe and stood, turning her back to Theo to stand at the wall overlooking the sea. Despite the heat of the sun she felt a chill and hugged her arms.
Theo came to stand beside her. “I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news. Larry asked my opinion and I told him the sooner you could get back to England the better.” He hesitated before continuing. “The war will not last forever. You will come back.”
She shook her head. “I know, Theo. I know it has to be done, and I knew it was going to happen soon. But the knowing doesn’t make it easier.” She swiped at a tear before it could escape, then took a deep breath and forced a smile. “Listen to me going on. You are the one leaving a new wife. I shouldn’t complain.”
“Do not ever think that another’s hardships make your own easier to bear,” he told her.
“We Durrells may be lost without your wise words to guide us, Theo,” she said honestly, earning a bashful look from him. She looked at Gerry, still absorbed in his nature sketches. “How shall we convince that one to release his pets?” she asked.
He followed her gaze. “I have been talking to him about it. He understands the importance of what must be done.” He glanced at her and smiled. “And I may have promised to take in a few of his favorites.”
She laughed. “I hope you cleared that with your future wife.”
“I have,” he said. “But...it is with the understanding that everything must be returned to the wild before I leave.” He scratched his beard thoughtfully then shrugged and smiled. “She puts up with my madness, but I haven't yet convinced her to join me in it.”
“Mary is a gem,” she told him.
“She is,” he agreed with a silly, lovestruck grin. “I feel I should pinch myself to make certain I am not dreaming.”
“Theo, look at this!” Gerry hopped up from his prone position and ran to them, holding out his drawing for Theo's inspection.
Theo took it and pushed his glasses up his nose, examining the likeness. “Ah, very well done, Gerry. I can definitely tell this is the Testudo hermanni. Excellent details.” He handed the drawing back to Gerry, who beamed in pride.
“Theo,” Louisa drew his attention back to her. “If you are going back to town, I'll walk with you. I need to see Florence.”
He nodded. “Yes, of course, I must get back to the clinic myself.”
“Where is Margo?” Gerry asked him suddenly.
“I left her to hold down the fort in the x ray room,” Theo replied.
Louisa and Gerry both gave him a look that left no doubt how they felt about that.
“What? Margo can be very responsible,” he said defensively.
Louisa stared at him for a second.
“Our Margo?” Gerry asked in doubt.
“Right,” Louisa found her voice. “Let me grab my hat and we'll be off.”
“She...can be...responsible.” She overheard Theo's now uncertain voice as she moved through the kitchen gathering her hat and purse.
“She likes to work there because she sees boys undress,” came Gerry's reply.
Pinning her hat as she exited the house she had to stifle a laugh at the look of panic that crossed Theo's face. “Ready?” she asked, walking past them towards the road without waiting for an answer. Wordlessly Theo followed, Gerry gathering his dogs and running to catch up.
Chapter 22: Chapter 22
Louisa pushed the door open, relieved to find the doctor's office was empty. She could hear Florence and her husband speaking quietly in another room. Not wanting to interrupt them, she instead went to the xray to check on Margo, finding her flirting with a handsome young village boy. She rolled her eyes when she spotted them, clearing her throat and leaning on the door jam to announce her presence.
“Mother,” Margo took a step back from her too close position. “This is Andreas.”
“Mmmhmm,” she raised an eyebrow. “And is Andreas in need of an x ray?”
Margo dropped her head. “No,” she mumbled.
“Maybe it is time to say goodbye to Andreas?”
“Good-bye, Andreas,” Margo sighed dramatically.
Andreas looked between the two women and wisely decided ducking out of the room was in his best interest.
Louisa watched him leave then turned to Margo. “Do try to maintain the appearance of professionalism, dear. At least for Theo's sake.”
“It's not like there were patients waiting,” she pouted. “Where is Theo, anyway?” She flopped into the desk chair and gave it a spin. “He said he wouldn't be gone long.”
“He should be here soon. He and Gerry were...distracted...by an injured hare on the way here.”
Margo stopped spinning long enough to show Louisa her disgruntled face “And you tell me to act professional?” She pushed off with her foot and spun again.
“Maybe you could help Florence with the baby?”
“He's sleeping.” The chair came to a rest. “And Dr. Petrides forbids me from touching the files,” she added before Louisa could suggest it. She picked up Theo’s stethoscope and held the end to her forehead. “I wonder what my brain sounds like?” she asked, giving the chair another twirl.
Louisa stared at her child in dismay, saved from answering by the arrival of Theo. He took in the scene and gave Louisa a bewildered look. Ignoring Margo, he turned to Louisa with a sheepish smile. “A few days rest and the rabbit will be good as new.”
“Wonderful,” her voice oozing with enough sarcasm to cause Theo to cringe.
Florence walked past the open door and noticed Louisa. “Louisa!” she greeted her, forehead creasing when she saw Margo. “Tea?” she offered Louisa.
“That would be lovely,” she gladly left Margo to Theo’s supervision and followed Florence to her private sitting room.
Florence set the tray on a table between the two chairs, then poured them each tea. Both women sipped their tea in silence until Florence set her cup down on the saucer, just hard enough to cause a rattle. “Spill it, Louisa,” she told her.
Louisa placed her still full cup on the table. “I don’t even know where to begin,” she sighed.
“Margo is not one for discretion,” Florence informed her with a knowing look. “Nights spent with Spiro? That is news that won’t stay hidden for long.”
“It wasn’t like that, ” Louisa winced. “Well, not exactly,” she added.
Florence waited, lips pursed.
“The day he drove me to the other side of the island to pick up my aunt’s money,” she began, relaying the car accident, and how that lead to the series of events that ended with them sharing the room at the inn. She didn’t divulge exactly what had happened between them that night, but she didn’t need to, Florence was able to guess.
Her eyes grew wide, “Oh Louisa, you didn’t…”
Louisa nodded, giving confirmation. “I did…. we did.” She paused, staring blankly at the tea service. “And did….” her eyes flickered at to Florence’s. “... and did. ”
Florence’s mouth dropped open. She blinked once, twice, then a bubble of laughter exploded, and she covered her mouth to avoid waking Adonis, sleeping in the next room.
Louisa had expected disgust, a reprimand, or perhaps even commiseration, so the humor confused her. “I don’t see how this is funny,” she said, feeling slightly offended.
Florence wiped her eyes, still giggling. “Oh dear,” she laughed. “You two...a person would have to be blind not to see the looks you give each other. One night alone and you act like randy youngsters.”
“We did not,” she protested weakly, fighting a smile at Florence’s knowing look. She picked up her tea, in part to hide behind the cup. Taking a sip, she swallowed then cleared her throat, sobering. “Anyway, it just happened ...and now it’s all so...bloody complicated,” she finished.
“You do seem to be attracted to complicated men,” Florence pointed out.
Louisa ignored the jab. “He left his wife,” she revealed, watching her reaction carefully. “He’s been sleeping on the beach.”
Florence looked away. “So that rumor was true then.”
She bit her lip, then looked back at Louisa and gave her a sympathetic look. “It would appear that he has moved back into his home,” she admitted.
Louisa nodded, blinking back tears. “It’s stupid. I have no right..."
“Perhaps not, but you love him all the same, don’t you?” Florence asked softly.
“It doesn’t matter,” Louisa said, rummaging through her purse for a handkerchief to dry her eyes. “Larry bought us our tickets today. We leave in less than two weeks.”
Florence studied her friend. “Maybe that is for the best,” she murmured. “Before the two of you make any more mistakes.”
Louisa wondered what Florence would say if she told her she only knew the half of it. She pushed her tea away and stood. “Yes, well, I should be getting back. Packing, you know.”
Florence stood as well and pulled Louisa in for a hug. “Let me know if I can do anything to help.”
“Thank you,” Louisa nodded, then left the office.
She checked for mail at the post office, walked past the bar where she and Spiro had had drinks so many months ago, then want to the bakery and purchased two loaves of bread. There were no more excuses to wander through the town, hoping to see a certain taxi driver, so she took the dusty street out into the countryside towards her home.
A faint cloud of dust rose in the distance. Within a few seconds she could make out the dark shape, followed by the familiar rumble of Spiro’s car. He hit the horn when he spotted her, rolling to a stop with a smile already in place. “Good afternoon, Nurse Durrells,” he teased. “Saving the world today?”
“Hardly,” she responded. Heaven help her, just the sight of him caused a thrill of happiness. “How are your boys?” she asked.
“Itchy,” he made a face. “And grumpy. I was happy to get out of the house.” He leaned over and opened the passenger door. “I have some time, let me drive you home.”
She slid onto the seat and closed the door, placing her belongings between them. He expertly turned the vehicle around on the narrow road and headed off to her house. They didn't speak until he pulled up to her patio and turned off the engine.
Shifting in his seat, he turned towards her. “You are….sad,” he said, eyeing her with concern.
She took a breath. “Theo is getting married in nine days,” she told him, looking past his shoulder to where Gerry sat at the table wrapping a bandage around the ear of an uncooperative rabbit.
"Oh," he said, then his forehead creased in confusion. “That makes you sad...why?”
“Our plans are finalized. We leave the Monday after next. Two days after the wedding.”
Spiro let out a rough breath, settling heavily against the seat back, his hands coming to rest on his steering wheel.
She waited for him to say something, anything , but he remained silent. Pulling the handle, she let herself out of the car, closing the door behind her. Spiro's eyes drifted up to hers. She forced a smile. “You know what they say,” she said, standing beside the car. “All good things must come to an end.”
He frowned. “I don’t know anybody who says that.”
“Must be an English quote,” Louisa’s shoulders lifted in a shrug. She allowed her gaze to wander up the house, knowing how she would miss this dilapidated home of theirs. “Much as I would like it to be otherwise, it remains the truth.” She pushed off from the car to walk around it, spurring Spiro into action. He threw open his door and caught up to her, grasping her arms and blocking her way into the house. She tilted her head toward Gerry and he glanced behind him, spotting the boy who watched them with curiosity. Sighing, he dropped his arms.
“I wish I could stay, but,” his eyes begged her to understand. “I must go.”
“Good bye, Gerrys!” he called over to him.
“Bye, Spiro,” Gerry responded in a voice that sounded less like a child’s every day.
Louisa fought off the pang of sadness for yet another change that she wasn’t ready to accept while watching Spiro start his car and back up out of her line of sight. From the window of his bedroom came Larry’s bellow of rage to his typewriter. She pressed her eyes closed and rubbed her temples, wishing for more patience.
Chapter 23: Chapter 23
The boxes on the calendar hung on the kitchen wall were checked off with alarming speed. Their last full week on Corfu was spent tying up loose ends. Louisa stared at the date, hardly believing they had already arrived at Theo’s wedding day. Leslie and Margo were barely speaking to her. Gerry had released most of his animals, then retreated to his room, but not before Louisa saw his tear stained cheeks. Larry spent his free time - of which there seemed an ample amount - in Corfu town drowning his sorrows.
So it was left to Louisa, as always, to be the responsible one. With the help of Spiro, and a team of village men he assembled, the house was cleared of all extra furniture. She wasn’t sure how he managed it so quickly, but the day after it was hauled off her property he returned with an envelope of money he claimed was from the sale. As grateful as she was for the funds, seeing her home dismantled piece by piece felt like a form of torture. It was not helped by the fact that Spiro had stayed largely absent except for the few times she sought out his help. When he was near his eyes held such sadness it was painful to look upon.
She sighed and pushed gloomy thoughts aside. Today would be a happy day, even if she had to fake it. She took the steps to her room where the sage green dress lay waiting on her mattress. Pulling it over her head she slid it down her silk slip, the best one she owned, taking extra care with her appearance. Studying her reflection in the mirror she smiled in satisfaction, pleased with her efforts. Secretly she hoped Spiro would arrive to drive them into town. She hadn’t discussed it with him, and had told everyone to be ready with ample time to make the long walk, but she had a feeling, silly though it was, that he would show up.
Smile firmly in place, she breezed back downstairs to where the other four sullen Durrells waited. “Ready?” she asked them, grabbing her hat and handbag. Her smile fell a bit when they exited the house and no taxi awaited them. Not letting the children see her disappointment, she forged ahead, leading the way down the road, still hopeful he would appear along the way.
By the time they arrived in town her hopeful spirit had flagged. The church was bustling with people and she realized this wedding was a much bigger event than she had anticipated. Still, there was no sign of Spiro’s car on the streets. They made their way into the church, returning greetings and pleasantries as she scanned the pews for familiar faces. Spotting the Petridis’ they shuffled through the crowd to the seat behind them, settling onto the hard bench. She made small talk while discreetly glancing over her shoulder, keeping a watchful eye on the door.
Of course, she would hear him before she saw him. His voice carried over the other sounds in the room and she smiled to herself, turning just in time to see him enter. Her smile grew wider when they made eye contact, then froze in place as she noticed the beautiful woman on his arm. With a sharp intake of breath she whipped her head around, mentally berating herself for not considering that he would show up with his family.
Florence witnessed the scene and saw her reaction. She reached back to clasp Louisa’s hand in a show of support. From the front of the church music began playing, causing everyone to hurriedly shuffle into seats. Theo stood proudly at the end of the aisle, giddy smile never leaving his face. The ceremony was beautiful although she didn't understand some of the symbolism, or many of the words, but the sentiment was the same in any culture.
After, the wave of well wishers surged out of the building behind the happy couple and she was glad the crowd made it easy to miss being seen- and to miss seeing. Florence caught her as she was sneaking around the throng of people.
“I saw what happened,” she said, shifting her fussy son in her arms. “Are you alright?”
“Yes,” Louisa lied. “I just forgot myself for a moment.”
Adonis started wailing in earnest. “He's hungry,” she apologized.
“I'm fine, go,” she urged.
Florence hesitated. “You'll be at the party later, right?”
Louisa wished she could decline, but she knew that would bring more questions than she wanted to answer. “Wouldn't miss it,” she hoped her voice sounded convincing.
Judging by Florence's expression, it was not. “Right, well, I'll see you there.”
She watched her until she was lost in the crowd then found a bench in the shade. Her children found her there a short time later, oblivious to her morose mood they swept her down the street to where tables had been set up for the wedding feast. People mingled and danced to the lively tunes played by the band. Gerry, sitting beside her, suddenly broke into a smile she hadn’t witnessed on him in weeks. “Galini!” he cried, rushing off to be with the girl.
Larry set a glass of red wine down, then lit up a cigarette and lounged on his seat. “Ah, young love,” he proclaimed, exhaling a billow of smoke into the air.
Louisa gave him a stern look. “Nonsense, they’re just children,” even as the words left her mouth she realized how false they were. While she still saw Gerry and Galini as two children, anyone else would see a young couple.
A beautiful girl sashayed past their table, throwing Larry a coy look over her shoulder. He pushed the wine towards Louisa. “Don’t wait up,” he said as he slid his sunglasses on and took off after her.
Leslie watched him go with a scowl, tossing a steady stream of nuts into his mouth and chewing noisily. Margo had her elbows sprawled on the table top, hands holding up her head. “All I want is to dance with a cute boy” she lamented, then looked at Leslie with disgust. “You’re probably scaring them all away.” Leslie made a face at her, which she returned.
Louisa rolled her eyes at them. “Stop it, you two.”
Margo stood. “If they won’t come to me, then I shall go find them,” she determined.
“Good luck,” Leslie snorted, attempting to toss a nut in the air to catch with his mouth, only to have it bounce off his face and hit the ground. He then kicked it, sending it flying under a neighboring table.
“Just behave yourself, darling,” Louisa automatically reminded her, pointedly ignoring her son.
She grinned mischievously, fluffed her hair, and went off to scope out her prospects.
Louisa sipped the wine, feeling detached from the festivities happening around her. A distant cry grew louder until the wailing was right behind her. Florence and her husband sat down at the table, looking the worse for wear. Adonis hiccoughed and let loose another screech. Florence almost tossed the baby at Louisa. “Is Margo around?” she asked in desperation.
Louisa bounced the baby gently. “She is on the hunt for a dance partner,” she cooed, making a funny face that brought a laugh.
Florence watched her and frowned. “I don’t know if I am doing something wrong or you Durrells have some kind of strange effect on infants.”
“Mine were so happy as babies,” Louisa sighed, settling Adonis in her arms. “I wish it were still that easy.” The doctor looked longingly at the dancing. “Go on,” she told them. “I’ll watch the baby.”
“God bless you,” he said with immense relief, immediately grabbing Florence’s hand and tugging her up, not waiting around in case she changed her mind. “Thank you!” Florence called back as she was hustled away.
Louisa couldn’t help but smile, knowing well how rare freedom was with small children.
Leslie stared at the baby with a inscrutable expression. “What are you going to do with that ?” he asked.
“That?” she repeated. “Good grief, Leslie, he’s a baby.”
“Obviously,” he looked away and Louisa understood.
“Are you thinking about Daphne?” she asked gently.
“No,” he insisted. “Maybe….a little…” He tapped his hand on the table restlessly, then abruptly pushed his chair back and stood. “I'm going to find food.” He stalked off into the crowd.
Louisa watched him go and sent up a silent prayer to whomever may be listening that he would find happiness and his place in the world. Of all her children, he caused her the most sleepless nights. The baby babbled and she turned her attention back to him. “I guess you are my date tonight, Adonis,” she told him, smiling when she was rewarded with a gummy grin. Shifting him in her arms she settled back, glad the descending night made it difficult to distinguish individuals from the crowd.
Chapter 24: Chapter 24
“A Durrell alone at a party?” The voice came from over her shoulder.
“Sven,” she greeted him, knowing only one man with the distinctive Swedish accent.
He pulled the chair out beside her, pausing when he saw the sleeping baby in her arms. “Did I miss an announcement?” he asked, only half joking
“Good heavens, no ,” she laughed. “This is Adonis. Petridis?” she added at his blank look.
“The doctor's baby?” he sat down. “I didn't recognize him….you know….not crying.”
“I didn't see you at the wedding.”
Sven shook his head. “I am not one for such formal ceremonies.”
“I’m glad to see you here now.” She gave in to the irresistible maternal instinct and rocked the baby gently.
“Who can pass up a good party?” Studying her he said “I hear you are leaving. Soon.”
“Word certainly gets around, doesn't it?”
“No secrets here,” he stated matter of factly.
“You know, I keep hearing that, but no one is sharing secrets with me.”
“Well, you are not Greek.”
“Nor are you,” she pointed out.
“And you are not a man,” he continued.
“That is just not fair, Sven. Women get the reputation for being gossips while it is you men who are spreading rumors.”
He smiled. “Would it make you feel better if I told you no one is telling me secrets, either. I just overhear things.” He leaned in and whispered in a conspiratorial tone. “They underestimate my Greek.” He sat back. “So...are the rumors correct?”
“Well, yes, we are leaving Monday. I would have told you earlier, but...you’ve been scarce.”
Sven face clouded over. “I have been holed up in my house...since Viggo left.”
Louis felt a stab of guilt. She had been so busy nursing her own broken heart she hadn’t even considered Sven’s. “I’m sorry -”
He cut her off with a shake of his head. “Please, don’t.”
She changed the subject. “What about you? Have you considered leaving?”
“Corfu? No. Where would I go? This is my home.”
“Back to Sweden? If war comes here…”
“There is nothing for me there. I will stay.”
“Surely your family would be worried.”
Sven looked down, studying his hands for a moment before meeting her eye. “Not everyone is so fortunate to have a family as accepting and understanding as yours, Louisa.”
“Oh, Sven,” she murmured as the meaning of his words sunk in. “That’s horrible.”
He shrugged it off. “So you see? I will stay. Besides, goats are notoriously bad traveling companions.”
She cocked her head, unsure if he was being serious or not. “What of Viggo? Will he return?”
“Someday,” Sven said. “When people forget, and there are...other scandals to divert their attention.”
She almost missed the slight twitch of his eyebrow. Her body froze as her eyes narrowed.
He looked at her, surprise etching the features on his face. “It is true then?”
“I have no idea what you are talking about,” she evaded.
His eyebrows raised. “Very interesting.”
Louisa glowered at him. “Not all rumors are true, you know.”
“No,” he conceded. “But something tells me this particular one is.”
She avoided his gaze, looking at the baby and fussing with his clothing to keep her hands busy. “He’s here, somewhere.” Slowly scanning the guests she continued with a heavy sigh “with his wife and children.” Her eyes met Sven’s.
He winced. “I’m sorry. As you know, I am well acquainted with the pain that comes from forbidden love.”
The baby whimpered, saving her from forming a response while she shushed him and rocked him back to sleep.
“This suits you, you know.”
She looked up at him, eyebrows drawn together in confusion.
He gestured to Adonis.
A wistful smile lifted one side of her mouth as she gently stroked his tiny fingers. “Seems like a lifetime ago that mine were this small,” she said softly. “Some of the best years of my life.”
“I did want a family. I would have liked one with you, I think.” He glanced off into the crowds. “Until you reminded me it wasn’t possible.”
Shame coursed through her as she remembered the words she had spoken to him in anger on the eve of their wedding years ago. “Sven, I was so wrong when I said that. I was upset and...and I didn’t mean it. Of course you can have a family.”
He shook his head, sad smile curving his lips. “No…”
“You can,” she insisted. “It may not look like other families, but...gosh look at mine. We’re hardly normal. ”
“Your family is wonderful.” The sincerity in his voice left no doubt that he meant it.
“Thank you,” she whispered in return.
“I have my accordions. And my goats. That is enough for me. “ His eyes focused on something behind her then drifted back to her face. “I will stop by tomorrow to say my good-byes.” He stood, leaning forward to press a kiss to her forehead before walking past her.
“Spiro,” she heard him say, and her heart to skip a beat at the name.
“Sven,” came his response.
She had only a few seconds to mentally prepare for the onslaught of emotions that came packaged with Spiros Halikiopolous. First there was always the thrill of joy that threatened to overshadow everything, but under the surface of that was the hurt, pain, longing, the knowledge that he belonged to someone else. Reminders like that morning’s could break her if she forgot that fact. However, when he was near, and they were alone, it felt natural and perfect to imagine he was hers.
He sat down in the chair Sven left unoccupied, his eyes were guarded, but his face softened as he took in the baby. One large finger lightly ran down his arm to his chubby hand and he smiled slightly when the baby reflexively grasped it. He gave his finger a wiggle, then deftly withdrew it to avoid waking the child. Leaning back in his chair, he studied Louisa.
She knew him well enough to know he was struggling to find the right English words. Without waiting for him she went right for the question she most needed answered. “Where is your wife, Spiro?” Her voice sounded weary.
Something flickered in his eyes. He exhaled heavily. “Home. I took her and the little ones back home.” His fingers fretted with the button on his suit jacket. “I came back to drive guests. You are a guest...can I drive you home?”
“I don’t think the children are ready just yet. They are still enjoying the party.”
“I can come backs for them...later.” She hesitated. “They will be fine,” he assured her. He searched the crowd for them, giving up with a shrug. “They may not even notice your absence.”
She sighed. “That is precisely what I’m afraid of.” She gave him a knowing look, bringing a smirk to his face. “You know my children.” For her own dilemma, the battle for propriety over her desire was a short one. She nodded at him, then remembered the baby in her arms. “Adonis...we need to find Florence.”
He stood, looked around and waved over a village boy, speaking a few words to him. Turning to her he smiled. “We will kill two birds with one stone.” He then reached down and scooped Adonis up, patting his back when he squirmed.
Louisa stood and smoothed her dress, rumpled from holding the baby for so long. She noticed Spiro eyeing it appreciatively and thought her careful efforts earlier were worth it. He swayed a bit side to side.
“You certainly know what you are doing there,” she commented.
“My youngest would only go to sleep if we walked him,” he explained in a quiet voice. “I wore out two pairs of shoes his first year of life.” He smiled at the memory.
Margo walked up to them, a boy who looked vaguely familiar followed close behind. Her protests were already forming, but Spiro stopped them by handing her the baby. “Quiet, he will wake up,” he cautioned. “I am taking your mother home now.”
Margo’s mouth hung open mid complaint as she looked from her newest boyfriend, to the baby, to her mother. “This is hardly fair,” she muttered.
Spiro grabbed the half full glass of wine left on the table, downed it in one gulp and grabbed Louisa’s hand. “Tell your brothers I will come back for yous later,” he told Margo, then steered Louisa through the crowds to where his car was parked on a dark side street.
Chapter 25: Chapter 25
“Oh, I didn’t say good-bye to Theo and Mary,” Louisa realized as she slid onto the seat. Spiro closed the door then rounded the car to enter on the opposite side.
“I am sure they will understand,” he replied, starting the car.
The drive to her villa took longer than usual, as Spiro drove slowly in the dark to avoid hitting the worst of the bumps and holes in the road. Louisa tilted her head back to admire the stars, so spectacularly bright in the darkness of the countryside. At last they rumbled to a stop beside her house. He turned the car off and a sudden and complete silence descended briefly before the night creatures took up their songs again.
The seat creaked as he shifted towards her. “I have to tell you something.”
She forced herself to meet his gaze. “I think I already know.” His eyebrows drew together. “You moved back into your home.”
“I…..yes…but how did you…?”
“I guess I do hear secrets after all,” she murmured under her breath.
Spiro looked at her, confused, “No matter,” he shook his head. “I need to tell you-”
“You don’t need to explain, Spiro,” she interrupted.
“But it’s not what-”
“I did, after all, tell you to go back to her,” she cut him off again.
“You did, but-”
“I want you to be happy.”
“If you just-”
“And I know how much your fam-” Her words were cut off by his lips meeting hers. When he pulled back she was silenced, forgetting her train of thought.
“Let me explain,” he said, reaching out to brush a few stray strands of hair from her face. “I moved back, yes, but it is not what I know you are thinking. My children needed me. They got sick and…” He frowned. “I wasn’t there for them.”
“I do understand, Spiro,” Louisa said softly, looking at the moon rising over the water.
“I don’t think that you do,” he grumbled, drawing her attention back to him. “My wife is...she is not happy that I returned.” The creases on his forehead returned as he shook his head.
“But….today…” Louisa couldn’t quite form the words.
Spiro sighed. “People are still talking about when she left me...and they are talking about us.” He gave her a pointed look. “I think she hoped appearing together would put a stop to the gossip.” He pulled off his hat and twisted it in his hands before tossing it onto the corner of his windscreen and pushing the door open.
Louisa’s eyes followed him as he rounded the car and came to her side. One corner of his lips rose in a half smile. “If they only knew,” he said, opening her door and holding a hand out to assist her, “that I sleep on the floor between my sons’ beds.” He snorted and shook his head, then grew serious as his dark eyes met hers. “I feel like I fail everyone. When I am with my family I wish to escape them and be with you.” He raised his hand to her face, rubbing a thumb lightly across her cheek. “But when I am here, with you, I feel guilty that I am not with them.” He dropped his hand with a heavy sigh.
Louisa dropped her eyes to avoid the intensity in his.
“I promise you,” he tipped her chin up, forcing her to look at him. “When you return, I will work out a way for us to be together.”
“What is it?” he asked cautiously.
“I...I don’t think I will be back.” Her voice broke and ended barely above a whisper.
Spiro’s eyebrow drew together. “Yes, when this,” he waved his hand, “whatever it is, is over. A few months, maybe even a year. Then you can come back.”
She shook her head and swallowed. “I can’t,” she choked out. “I’ve thought about this and...I can’t do this to you. Or your family.”
Spiro lurched back a step, hurt clouding his features. “To me? You do not mean this...you can’t.” He stared at her in disbelief.
“I don’t see any other way, Spiro. I thought...we’ve talked about this...I thought you understood.”
“For a time, yes,” he stressed. “I never thought....forever.” His jaw worked as he struggled to control his emotions.
“But…” Louisa began, “what do foresee? That I come back here to be your...secret mistress?” Even the word left a bitter taste in her mouth.
“Of course not. I will...I will find a way,” He grabbed her hands and brought them to hs lips, eyes searching hers. “I promise you this.”
Louisa squeezed her eyes shut, replaying the memory of him playing on the beach with his children and hating herself for what she knew she must do. “No.” He blinked, the hope dying in his eyes, and dropped her hands. “I won’t let you risk your children for my sake.” She wrapped her arms around herself, feeling suddenly chilled in the warm air.
He turned his back to her. In the moonlight she could see his shoulders held a slump she hadn’t seen before. She moved closer to him and reached out a hand but he sidestepped, evading her touch.
“I must go,” he rasped. “Other guests...they may need a ride home.” Without looking at her he turned and walked towards his car.
“Spiro,” she called, following him.
He stopped just before lowering his body into the vehicle and raised his eyes to hers. “Please…” he shook his head, then sat down, drew the door closed and started the car.
The glare of the lights momentarily blinded her, and then they were gone, pointed towards the road as Spiro drove off into the night. Louisa was left standing on her patio, stunned at the turn of events. The minutes passed while she waited, hoping to hear the rumble of the engine promising his return, but it never returned. He never returned.
With a silent sob she lurched forward, staggering into her house without bothering to light lamps. Her shin connected with something hard but she didn’t care as she blindly groped her way towards the staircase. Finally she reached her room and sank into the lone chair in the corner. The moon lit a rectangular patch on the floor and only its movement showed the passage of time.
She had thought he knew her leaving would be permanent. It was, after all, for him that she would stay away. She was fully prepared to sacrifice her own happiness to avoid becoming a distraction to him. Leaning forward, she rested her head in her hands, rubbing her forehead with her fingertips. Her decision that had seemed so clear earlier now felt blurry, murky with doubts. Could she return? She considered the possibility, but then thought of his young son, with his charming toothless grin and that reaffirmed what she knew to be true...this was her only option.
With a groan she stood, pacing the confines of her bedroom. A wave of anger washed over her. Men! She had so wanted to enjoy one of her last days on Corfu and now it was ruined. She contemplated that, it was after midnight, making it her last day officially. The anger evaporated and she collapsed onto the chair again.
A noise from downstairs drew her attention. She heard the door open and Margo loudly tell her brothers to be quiet. So that was it. Either Spiro didn't bring her children back, or he dropped them off at the road to avoid her.
Feeling utterly defeated she leaned her head against the wall and closed her eyes.
Chapter 26: Chapter 26
Louisa woke with a start, finding herself still sitting in her chair. The events of the previous night came back in a rush and she rubbed her eyes, already feeling weary. She stood, stretching out the kinks in her back, then pulled off her dress. After staring at it for a minute she tossed it on her bed where it landed in a heap and then picked out a blouse and slacks from her few outfits left unpacked. Since she had neglected to put her curlers in her hair hung looser than normal, but at the moment she couldn’t gather the strength to care.
The hour was still early, she didn’t expect to hear her children stirring for quite some time, so she prepared her morning tea and drank it in silence. Despite how he had left the night before, she still held hope that Spiro would turn up at her door with his smile in place, hat in his hands, as he had so many times in the past. But her frequent glances out the window never showed the dusty black car that made her heart skip a beat. She wandered through the house, gathering dirty dishes abandoned on random surfaces, and picking up odds and ends that still needed packed away.
Gerry came downstairs midmorning, uncharacteristically gloomy with his pets gone and his best friend unavailable. Louisa laid her hand on his shoulder. “It will be alright, darling, you’ll see.” Her words sounded hollow even to her own ears. Her youngest sat, unconvinced, picking at his breakfast toast until Margo stumbled into the room, groaning and holding her head. Gerry excused himself and left. Louisa watched him go without comment, giving up looking for words that could offer consolation.
She eyed Margo, whose hair stood out in a tangled mess, with the remnants of make-up causing comically dark circles under her eyes. Sighing, she grabbed a clean cloth, wet it, and handed it to her daughter.
Margo covered her face in the cloth. “Andreas said he would come by around noon,” she mumbled.
Louisa glanced at the clock, then looked back at the disaster that was currently Margo. “You’d better hurry if you wish to make yourself presentable, dear,” she told her, pushing a cup of tea her way.
The cloth dropped and Margo’s eyes sought out the clock, widening in horror when she registered the time. She stood up quickly then wobbled, pressing a hand to her head until the room steadied. As she rushed from the room Louisa idly considered the wisdom of some of Gerry’s creatures that leave their young to fend for themselves.
Villagers trickled by throughout the day to say their goodbyes, and though Louisa was touched by their efforts, with every knock on the door that opened to reveal a face other than the one she wanted to see she grew more and more despondent. By the time the sun had made the almost imperceptible shift from the blinding white of noon to the warmer tones of the afternoon Louisa couldn't stand the house a moment longer and fled, letting the children know she was going for a walk and not to expect her back until later. She wandered aimlessly through olive groves and fields of grape vines, no real destination in mind, she simply needed to soak in as much of Corfu as she could in their few remaining hours. Without conscious thought her feet led her along a familiar path hugging the seaside cliffs. She hadn't been to the overlook for many months, but she felt drawn there now.
As she drew nearer she was not surprised to find a familiar taxi cab parked along the dusty road, and sitting on the stump, the driver, his broad back silhouetted against the blue sky. Wordlessly she came up behind him, smiling to herself when she saw his coat folded neatly, placed beside him. She paused to study him, wanting to commit this sight to memory.
“Waiting for someone?” she asked.
He stood and turned around to face her. “I had hope you would come,” he said, a smile already curving his lips.
She stepped around the log and he gestured for her to sit, settling down next to her, taking her hand and clasping it between his two larger ones. They sat in silence, watching the sun play on the surface of the water.
He sighed. “I can't even pretend to see England from here.” His eyes were sad when he turned to her.
“It is so far away,” she agreed.
“I must apologize for my behavior last night,” he said. “I was being selfish.”
She gave his hand a squeeze in understanding.
He brought her hand to his lips and kissed her knuckles. “I have been selfish,” he repeated. “Since you told me you were leaving, I have only been thinking about myself. How I will miss you. And last night…” he shook his head. “I never thought that you would not return.” He studied her face. “But what about you? How do you feel about returning to England?”
Louisa thought for a moment. “You’re the first to ask me that,” she answered. “I wish, of course, that we didn’t have to leave.” She looked down to where his hand covered hers.
“I worry about you returning there.” She brought her eyes back to his, seeing the fatigue evident of a restless night, knowing her own mirrored his. “You were not happy.”
She nodded. “None of us were,” she admitted. “But I think the children will settle in. They have matured and found themselves in the years that we’ve lived here. I fear…” she huffed a self-deprecating laugh. “It’s ridiculous…”
“Tell me,” he implored.
“Daily it becomes more apparent that they are adults and don’t need me like they used to. It is inevitable that soon they will find jobs and spouses and leave my home to make their own lives. Gerry will go to school and the older three are grown, really.” She forced a wobbly smile. “I was married with an infant when I was barely older than Margo.” She took a deep breath and continued, “for 25 years I have been a mother. Who am I? What am I...when I am no longer needed?” She sniffed. “Like I said, I realize it is silly…”
“It’s not. They will always need you as their mother.” He hesitated. “And you could...could...always find...someone…”
“No,” she said with absolute certainty. “I have been fortunate enough to find great love twice in my life.” She smiled. “And...have some fun in between. It took years to move on after Lawrence, and it was only possible because I knew...going backwards wasn’t an option. But now…I can’t...” her voice trailed off.
He wrapped his arm around her and drew her close, pressing a kiss to her temple. She could feel him pulling in a deep shaky breath and tears stung her eyes.
“I don't know how to go on without you here, Louisa.”
“When my husband died,” she pulled away to look at him, “I didn't think I could go on. I wanted to throw myself into the grave along side of him. I might have done just that, if it had only been me.” Her forehead wrinkled in thought. “I had the children who depended on me, so I got up every morning, and at first it was all I could do to survive each day. For them, only for them.” She swiped at a tear. “And that is what we will do tomorrow, Spiro. We will go on, one day at a time, because we have people who count on us to do so, and eventually it will get easier. But you will do as you must, as will I,” her voice broke as another tear broke loose.
“You saved us, you know,” she told him. He gave her a questioning look. “From the first day, when you showed up on that road and insisted we get into your car. If you hadn’t been there for us, then and every day after, we would not have made it here. I am sure of that.”
“No,” Spiro shook his head in disagreement. “You are stronger than you know.”
“I don’t know about that, but I do know that if we had failed here we would have fallen apart. We arrived broken, and Corfu - with much help from you - healed us. I hate to think what would have become of us if you hadn’t chanced upon us.”
A slow smile grew on his face. “Not so much chance,” he admitted.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, that day I made a delivery to the docks and everyone was talking about the new family that arrived. The English family.” He grinned at her. “With the beautiful mother.”
Louisa’s mouth dropped open.
“That didn’t speak a word of Greek,” he continued. “I was curious.” His eyes crinkled in amusement. “And...you know I like-”
“To help,” she finished for him with a smile. “Well, then I am glad that you sought us out. Even though we - I - have complicated your life.”
“There are few things I would have changed,” he said with feeling. Louisa was tempted to ask what he meant, but decided some things were better left unspoken.
A silence descended. Louisa turned her head to the sea, noting with sadness that the sun seemed in a race to finish its descent for the day. She sighed. “I wish this day could last forever.”
Spiro stayed quiet, thoughtful, for several long moments, then abruptly stood. Louisa looked up at him, startled. He took her hand and pulled her to her feet, reaching down to swipe his jacket off the tree stump. He smiled at the questioning look on her face. “There is something I must do,” he said, confusing her more. “Can you make it home?”
“I...yes, of course...but…” she stammered.
“Good, I will meet you there later.” With that he turned and strode the short distance to his car. “Soon,” he promised her, still smiling.
She watched him drive off, leaving a cloud of dust and questions swirling in the afternoon sun. “Well,” she said, looking in the direction he had gone, still completely baffled. After soaking in the view before her one last time she stepped around the stump and onto the trail that lead back to the villa.
Chapter 27: Chapter 27
She took her time, stopping often to admire the sweeping vistas on the cliffs. She would miss this, she knew. Years of living in India had conditioned her to the heat and sun. England’s frequent chill and rain had a far worse effect on her. She tried not to dwell on what couldn’t be changed, she was determined to keep it together, for her children and herself.
Eventually she made her way down her garden path. The house was quiet, but she could hear the rise and fall of voices over the patio wall. A glance over it showed a group of young people, including three of her children, splashing in the sea. She leaned against the sun heated bricks and watched them, recognizing Galini among the dark heads bobbing on the water. They spotted her, waving and calling for her to join them. She was tempted but declined, too curious about what Spiro was planning to be distracted. Trailing her hand along the wall, she wandered over to the table under the grape vines and sat down in the shade, closing her eyes.
A clatter coming from her kitchen caused her to jump. Lugaretzia strode purposefully to the table and set a glass of lemon water on the table in front of Louisa, who pressed a hand to her chest to calm her racing heart.
“Lugaretzia,” she said, “what are doing here?” They had already released their maid and friend several days prior and Louisa now worried that with the language barrier she had misunderstood.
“I come to make food,” she stated, as if that was obvious.
“But, what food? We are leaving tomorrow.”
Lugaretzia shook her head in impatience. “Food for guests,” she grumbled, followed by a string of Greek words mumbled under her breath as she turned back to the house.
Louisa followed her, surprised to see the table laid out with the beginnings of a feast. “Where did all this come from?” she asked. Before she got an answer a commotion in the garden attracted her attention. A cart pulled by two horses stopped by the patio, and several men jumped off and began unloading tables and chairs. Beyond them she noticed Spiro’s musician friends setting up their instruments under a tree. The children, drawn by the sounds, clambered up the seawall stairs.
Leslie’s mouth hung open. “What…..are we having a party?” He looked toward Louisa, but she could just shrug helplessly.
Sven appeared, walking around the corner of the house and onto the patio. “Hello, Durrells!” he said cheerfully. He looked from one to another, taking in their confused expressions. “Did I arrive too early?” he asked, raising an eyebrow and setting his accordion case on a nearby chair. The men bustled around under Lugaretzia’s stern instructions, setting up tables and moving furniture.
“Let us assume you know more about what is going on than we do,” Louisa told him. “Could you be so kind as to fill us in?” she asked, gesturing to the work going on in her garden.
Sven shrugged, shoving his hands in his pockets. “I was just told you were having one last gathering tonight, before you leave.”
Margo squinted her eyes. “Told by whom?”
“Spiro, he came by my house several hours ago.”
“A party…” Louisa could almost see the wheels turning in Margo’s head. She beamed. “I need to get dressed! I still have time to get to town and invite some people.” She rushed off into the house.
“Oh darling, we needn’t make this too big-”
Leslie cut her off. “If we’re having a party I want my friends here, too.” Louisa watched him race after Margo, then looked back at Sven, who regarded her with an amused expression.
“Spiro?” she asked him.
“I know only what I told you. I thought you had decided to be very spontaneous.”
She shook her head. “I had no idea…” They walked to the side yard to survey the progress. Lugaretzia passed them carrying a large platter. “Not enough time to bake cake,” she huffed in disgust, eyeing Louisa as if it were her fault.
“I am sure we will survive without cake,” Louisa assured her, secretly relieved there would not be a piece of Lugaretzia’s special prune cake to choke down later. Sven grinned at her, sharing the joke, then they both looked towards the road at the sound of tires on gravel.
Spiro pulled the car up beside the house, hitting the horn and smiling when he spotted them. Sitting in the passenger seat was Florence with the baby on her lap and behind her were the doctor and Theo and his new wife. Louisa pulled the door open for Florence.
“We couldn’t let you spend your last day alone, now could we?” her friend said with a smile.
Spiro appeared at her shoulder as Florence and her husband meandered towards the patio. “I’m sorry it took so long,” he said, leaning close to her ear. “I had to interrupt the honeymoon.” His tilted head and wagging eyebrows left no doubt what he meant.
Louisa ignored him and greeted the happy couple. “Theo, Mary, so glad you could come. The wedding was beautiful.”
Theo’s smile threatened to split his face. “Yes, yes,” he agreed happily. His wife leaned into a quick hug. “Thank you for inviting us, Louisa. I am sorry you must leave so soon.”
“Please, come visit us if you find yourself back in England,” she told the younger woman.
Theo steered her towards the refreshments, leaving Louisa and Spiro alone. He watched the goings on with a pleased look, then turned toward her, trying to gauge her reaction.
“This…” she began, waving her arm to encompass the yard. “This is wonderful.” She smiled at him. “Thank you, Spiro.”
Relief washed over his features. “I can not make tomorrow never come,” he told her. “But I could make today last as long as possible.”
She stared at him, unable to find the words to express her gratitude. He glanced in either direction then gently pressed her back into the shadows of the side entrance. Just before his lips met hers they were jostled by a body hurtling through the door.
Larry, wearing nothing but his underclothes and a dressing gown, held a finger up and looked at them. “Just what is going on here?” he asked.
Louisa's eyes flickered to Spiro, who quickly put some space between them.
“I don't mean you two, whatever this is,” he waved his hands in a dismissive manner. “What is that?” he pointed toward the people gathering in the garden.
Louisa cleared her throat. “A going away party,” she said. Peering at him closely she asked, “And did you just wake up?”
“You might want to put some clothes on, Larrys,” Spiro told him.
Larry pulled his robe closed and scanned the crowd before turning back to them and cryptically declaring, “Last night was thoroughly enlightening.” He then breezed past them back into the house.
Spiro watched him go, eyebrows raised. “That one will always need his mother,” he observed.
Louisa clasped her hands in front of her, cringing. “Sometimes I find comfort in that thought, while other times it absolutely terrifies me.” They shared a smile.
Spiro took a step closer to pick up where they had left off, but the stolen moment between them was lost as several people slowly walked past them in the yard and beyond that the band started playing. He pressed his forehead against hers for a brief instant. “Later…” he whispered, his words holding a promise. Then he pulled her out into the evening light, letting his hand slip scandalously low on her back before releasing her to grab his guitar and join in the music.
The hours passed quickly, the sun long since disappeared below the horizon. The guests had trickled off into the night, leaving only their dearest friends still standing around the patio. Spiro stepped out of the house with two wine glasses and handed one to Louisa, who sat on the bench by the door. He lowered himself onto the seat beside her and they watched the abnormally bright moon rise over the water.
Louisa allowed her eyes to roam over those present. Theo, Mary, Gerry and Galini were standing at the patio wall in a deep discussion. Beyond them in the yard Larry entertained Pavlos with a story, punctuated by puffs of smoke from the cigarette clutched between his fingers. Florence swayed gently while holding the baby, the doctor’s head tilted towards hers as they admired their sleeping son. Margo held Sven captive with an ongoing, one sided dialogue on fashion that had him sending desperate glances her way, and at the table Leslie beamed under a steady stream of praise from Lugaretzia. Her eyes then lifted to Spiro’s, who smiled back. She felt, at this moment, that all was right with her world. His arm reached behind her back, pulling her closer.
Theo’s voice carried over to them, giving a dissertation about the oddities of a blue moon while Gerry and Galini listened intently. Louisa caught Mary’s long-suffering sigh as she tried to pull him away. She took a sip of wine to hide her laughter. “You know,” she said in a hushed voice to Spiro, “I’m so glad Theo found someone who loves him enough to remind him there is a world outside of his obsessions.”
Spiro studied them, eventually nodding in agreement. “I haven’t seen him that happy….ever,” he said simply.
The Petridis’ wandered over to say their farewells. Spiro stood and offered them a ride home. Florence looked from Louisa to him. “Nonsense,” she refused. “It is a beautiful night, we’re fine to walk.” She gave Louisa one last hug and they walked away.
“And so it begins,” she sighed.
The next to leave were Theo and Mary, who escorted Galini back to her home, then Pavlos, and finally Sven excused himself from Margo and left. The children disappeared into the house one by one, leaving just Spiro and Louisa outside in the moonlight.
Her eyes rose to meet his and she voiced the question that had been hanging over her while she watched the others leave. “Must you go as well?” she asked quietly.
His gaze didn’t leave hers. “Not tonight.”
She reached a hand towards his in a silent invitation. He glanced down, slow smile growing as he grasped hers in response, and then she led him into the house, through the kitchen, blowing out lanterns and leaving darkness in their wake.
Chapter 28: Chapter 28
As she led him upstairs the doubts tried to creep in but she resolutely pushed them aside. Should she encourage him to return home to his family tonight? Possibly, but she was going to be selfish. In mere hours she would leave Corfu, leave Spiro, forever. Tonight she would enjoy what little time remained to them free of the guilt that had plagued her since their first encounter.
She stopped at the top of the stairs. The doors to everyone's bedrooms were, thankfully, closed. The hallway was dark, but she easily found the way to her door, pushed it open, and drew him inside. The light from the full moon illuminated the white walls, leaving no need for a lantern.
Spiro pushed the door closed behind him, checking the knob to be sure it was locked. His eyes surveyed the room then fell back on her. She studied him and suddenly felt overwhelmed with the knowledge that these were truly the last hours she would ever have with him. There were so many words left to say, but none of them seemed adequate now. “Spiro…” she managed to choke out.
“Shh…” he whispered back. “I know, I feel it too” He took her hand, led her to her bed and sat, pulling her down onto his lap. His fingers tucked a curl behind her ear then trailed down her neck, over her shoulder, and the length of her arm. When he reached the curve of her hip his hand tightened.
She kissed him first, laying her hand over his heart, revelling in the feeling of his firm flesh under the thin fabric of his shirt, the slight twitch of muscle as her hand roamed his chest. He pulled the tail of her shirt up to touch the skin of her back then ran both hands to the front to work her buttons. She did the same, pushing the braces off his shoulders before sliding his shirt along the same path. He finished pulling it off and tossed it to the floor, leaning his arms on the bed to kick his shoes off while she shed her blouse. Then he twisted, setting her on the bed and kneeling on the floor to pull off her shoes and socks. He looked up at her then, a smile curving his lips that she returned. She leaned forward to meet his kiss, pulling him up and then falling back onto the bed.
Together they scooted up to the pillows, Spiro so intent on her that he misjudged the distance until his head collided with the headboard in a dull crack. They stilled, holding their breath to see if any responding noises came from the adjoining rooms. Louisa stifled a laugh as Spiro tried to maintain a stern face, not wanting her children to catch him half naked in their mother's bed. Although they both knew her children would likely not be overly surprised to find him there.
“Mom?” came Leslie's voice, muffled through the wall. “Are you alright?”
Louisa bit her lip to stop a giggle from breaking loose. “Yes, darling, just….packing!”
“Okay,” he responded in a dubious tone.
Spiro rested his forehead against hers in defeat, trying to reclaim the fire Leslie doused. She gently bit his lower lip, hushing his groan with a kiss. And with that, the rest of the world was forgotten. She marvelled that his body was at once familiar to her and also full of new discoveries, and what she failed to express in words earlier she was able tell him now in different ways.
The sun hadn't yet made an appearance when Spiro kissed her awake. She rolled towards him, opening her eyes slowly. Confusion set in when she took in his fully dressed state.
“There is one more thing I must do,” he told her as she fully awakened, propping herself up on her elbows.
“You're leaving?” The words came out in a desperate tone she hadn't meant to set loose.
He leaned forward, pressing kisses against her neck, reassuring her without words. She fell back onto the pillow, dragging him with her. He pulled back slightly to look into her eyes, lips meeting hers gently without breaking eye contact and then he sat up, leaving her feeling cold and alone.
“I won't be long, but this can't wait.” He kissed her once more then stood and walked to the door. There he paused, studying her. In the dim light she could make out the smile that crossed his face before he left the room.
For a few moments she lay in bed, listening to his footsteps as they padded down the stairs, followed by a few seconds of silence before the growl of the engine split the morning air. When the sounds of the tires faded away she sat up, running a hand through her tangled hair. She turned her attention to the outfit she had set aside the day before, pressed and hanging in the wardrobe. With a sigh she stood and began going through the motions of getting dressed. Her mind was preoccupied with thoughts of the previous night, but she knew she had to force herself to focus on the task at hand. Once dressed she gathered up the last of her belongings and set them neatly on the edge of her bed.
The sky had taken on a pinkish hue by the time she entered her kitchen. She was surprised to see someone had set fresh bread and jam on the center of the table. Her first thought was Spiro, but upon closer examination she recognized the loaf as Lugaretzia's handiwork. She smiled, knowing her friend was always looking out for her family.
As she prepared tea she wondered when Lugaretzia had snuck in to leave the gift, and what she thought when she was greeted with Sprio's car still parked outside the house. Louisa realized nothing escaped Lugaretzia's shrewd eyes, so it was unlikely to have been a surprise. She was just relieved her hypochondriac maid wasn't prone to gossip.
The others wandered into the kitchen one by one, glum, quiet, dispirited in a way quite unlike her normally feisty children. But of course she not only understood, she joined them in their morose state. As a family they sat around the old, scarred table one last time.
She couldn't help but compare the four that sat around her now to those that joined her for their first meal in this house. The past four years had changed all of them. Gerry seemed twice as big as the boy that arrived from England, half wild and starved for adventure. Margo was well on her way to being a poised young lady, and though her mischievous nature was often only barely reigned in, she was far more thoughtful and less impulsive than she had been as a girl. Her eyes touched next on Leslie. He would likely always be the one to cause her the most worry, but even he had matured, his job giving him the confidence she once feared he would never find. And Larry, he had honed his talent over the years here, taking his writing from immature and sometimes crass to a work of art she was immensely proud of.
“I want all of you to know,” she began, waiting until they looked at her, “first, that I love you all very much.” She hurried on, knowing shows of emotion made them uncomfortable. “And also that even though our life here on Corfu is coming to an end, your lives are only just beginning.” Four pairs of eyes stared at her, each showing different emotions. “I want you to take what you've experienced here with you. My greatest wish has always been that you are happy.” She knew the forced smiles were for her sake.
Larry leaned close. “And I hope you know leaving here doesn't mean your life is over,” he told her, giving a pointed look before pushing his chair back and walking away.
Louisa looked down into her empty tea cup, avoiding the weight of the stares coming from her three offspring left at the table. She placed her palms flat on the table and stood. “Lots to do, still,” she announced. They took their cues, gathering dishes and then bustling off to finish packing.
Later, she closed and locked the last lid just as Spiro pulled in and hit the horn. Standing, she dusted her hands off and took one final glance around the room. There was nothing more to pack. Larry and Leslie hefted the trunk and carried it outside, leaving her standing in the bare kitchen feeling unmoored.
Spiro wandered in, hesitating by the door, unsure of what she needed more, space or support. Her arm lifted as if to reach for him, then dropped back to her side. In an instant he was there, gathering her in his embrace and lending her strength. He smelled of sunshine and sea air and for a moment she rested her head against his shoulder.
“I need to do one final check of the house,” she told him, pushing away slightly. He released her, following as she wandered through the house and up the stairs. At each room she pushed open the door and they paused in the doorway, quiet, each reflecting on their own memories of the space. Her bedroom was last. The bed seemed overbearing, too large in the light of day. Louisa reached for the knob to close the door but Spiro placed his hand on her waist, stopping her.
“Thank you...for last night,” he took a step closer to her. “For everything…” he kissed her softly, saying his farewell in a way he wouldn't be able to show later in public.
Feet pounding up the stairs interrupted them. Margo, breathless, appeared in the hallway. “Larry says to tell you the trunks are loaded and we must leave soon or we'll miss the ferry.”
Spiro sighed. “He is right,” he said with reluctance.
Margo made a face. “Well don't tell him that, he already has a big head.” She sensed their need for privacy and left them alone.
“I suppose we can't put this off forever,” Louisa said.
“No,” Spiro answered sadly, reaching out to take her hand, entwining his fingers with hers.
Hand in hand they walked down the stairs and out into the bright morning sun. If her children milling about the yard noticed, they said nothing. Before releasing her he kissed her fingers, then opened the car door and she slid inside.
Chapter 29: Chapter 29
Finally, it was time. They solemnly loaded up in the car, the older three in the back, Louisa squeezed between Gerry and Spiro in the front. He paused, squinting up at the house before starting the car.
“I'm going to miss this place,” Margo sighed.
“Yes,” came Larry's uncharacteristically soft response. “Lots of good times in those walls.”
Louisa glanced at Gerry, who stared longingly at the empty cages beside the house. She patted the bony knee that stuck out from his shorts. He sniffed, blinking back tears and though she longed to pull him into her arms to comfort him as she had when he was a little boy, she understood his need for space. She turned to Spiro instead. He sighed, dragged his eyes away from the house and met hers.
“Will you come back here?” she asked him.
He shook his head. “It wouldn't be the same.” She agreed, it wouldn't. After another glance he started the car and they pulled onto the road that would take them through Corfu Town and to the docks. If their first excursion over these roads was made in quiet awe, this, their last one was hushed for a different reason. They were all lost in their thoughts, their memories, their desire to commit as much as possible to memory before they left their home.
Louisa was pressed snugly against Spiro's side, acutely aware of the way the movement of the car jostled them together. The passion had been spent the night before and now an acting sadness was left in its place. She stared at a spot on his trousers where curiously, sand was stuck in the fibers of the cloth. Using her fingers to brush it away she then let her hand linger on his leg. His hand lowered, covering hers and grasping it tightly.
Long before she was ready they pulled up to the docks. Spiro set the brake and turned the car off. For a moment they were all silent, in partial disbelief that this had come to pass.
Spiro was the first to gather himself and exit the vehicle. He assisted Louisa out, motioned two men over and gave instructions for the trunks, then turned to them.
Larry stepped up first. “Spiro,” he shook his hand and Spiro clapped him on the back. “I'll send you every book I get published.”
“Good, I will...read them all,” he lied with a smile.
“Leslie,” he turned to him next. “No shooting,” he admonished. “And always be good to the ladies.” That advice brought a smile to his face.
“Gerrys! Somedays, I will be the first to visit your zoo,” he promised. “Miss Margo,” he opened his arms and she sank into them. “I will miss you. Watch over your mother for me.”
Margo mumbled something in response that Louisa couldn't hear, then turned and walked with slow steps to the ferry.
Spiro turned to her last. He reached for her hand, pulling something out of his pocket and pressing it into her palm. She looked down to see a small glass vial filled with sand, still warm from being held close to his body.
“From the beach,” he said, voice thick with emotion. “So you will always have some of Corfu with you.” He closed her fingers over the jar.
She nodded, blinking the tears away from her vision when they blurred his form. He scrubbed at his own face, struggling to maintain composure. Typically in public he was careful to maintain the friendship boundaries between them but now instead of a chaste kiss on her knuckles he pulled her body up next to his in a crushing hug.
“I love you, Louisa,” he rasped against her ear.
She couldn't force words past the lump in her throat. He reluctantly pulled away, then cupped her cheeks, his thumbs rubbing away the tears that fell. He brushed the hair from her forehead and pressed his lips to her temple. One more promise was whispered in her ear before the horn on the ferry signalled it's imminent departure.
Larry stepped up to them, wrapping an arm around Louisa's shoulder and steering her in the direction of the boat. She craned her head to keep him in her vision, unwilling to let him out of sight one second before she had to. Larry urged her forward, forcing her feet to carry her on board.
The workers quickly slammed the gates, yelling instructions to each other until the revving engine drowned them out. With a lurch they left the dock.
Louisa's eyes never left Spiro. He clutched his cap in his hands, swaying from one foot to the other to avoid losing eye contact with her. She watched him stagger out into water up to his knees, almost as if he wished to swim after them. As they motored on towards open water she stood at the rail until he became a tiny blur, blending into the noise of the island. Still her eyes were glued to the smudge that told where Corfu was. Until, finally, the ship crested a small wave and she lost sight of Corfu, of Spiro, of hope.
Larry stood at her side, worry lines crossing his forehead while he watched her. “I was half afraid you would refuse to leave,” he admitted.
She looked up at him. “Have I made a huge mistake?” she asked.
He considered her words carefully. “No,” he finally said. “You know you can always return.”
His words, though meant to comfort, cut like a knife for she knew she wouldn't, couldn't. She glanced again at the empty horizon and the magnitude of what she lost crashed over her like a wave. The pain was so fierce it was like a tangible force. She gasped, pressing a hand against the ache in her heart.
“Shit,” Larry exclaimed under his breath. He steered her to a nearby bench. “Get up,” he barked at Leslie, who was lounging with eyes closed, oblivious to his mother's distress.
“What happened?” Leslie asked in a panic, jumping from the seat.
Larry glowered at him. “What the hell do you think?”
Leslie's eyes darted from the horizon to Louisa, slowly working out the details. “Oh,” he grunted, familiar enough with his own heartbreak to empathize with what he saw before him. He sat down by her side, offering silent comfort because he couldn't think of any words to say.
Larry sat at her other side, bookending her in support.
Louisa was well acquainted with grief, but even so she hadn't expected this experience to be so painful. Until this moment she had not fully appreciated how the sudden death of her husband had offered a measure of comfort in that, though at the time she felt she would drown in despair, she wasn't plagued with “what-ifs” and the knowledge that ultimately this parting was a choice. Her choice. The only feasible one, she knew in her heart, but the awareness that she made the decision to walk away from Spiro cut deep.
Her eyes, blurred with tears, fell on the vial in her hand. She could picture him, kneeling in the sand on that remote beach in the early morning light, filling the jar so she could have something to hold, a reminder of what had transpired between them, and the reassurance that it had meant as much to him as it did to her. She curled her fingers around the glass and brought it to her face, then gave in completely to the pain, barely noticing when her children clustered around, shielding her grief from the other passengers.
The trip was long and Louisa was grateful her children were with her to lean on. By the time they arrived in England, she felt numb, unable to muster any emotion beyond a faint relief the travelling was behind them. It was fitting the weather matched her mood. Gray skies, gray water, gray land; from the boat she gazed at it all with dull eyes, missing the worried glances exchanged between her children.
“We're...home,” Margo said, stumbling over the word.
Louisa pulled her eyes away from the dismal scene before her to look at her children. She felt a pang of guilt that they had spent the long days comforting her instead of the other way around. “Home,” she tested the word quietly, eyeing the shoreline critically. No, this wasn’t home, it bore no resemblance to the place she called home, but they were here. She knew eventually she would be able to take a breath without feeling she would shatter from the gaping loss of Spiro. She just had to survive today, and the next, and the weeks that came after. And she would, she was sure of it.
Squaring her shoulders she glanced back at the children again. “Ready?” she asked. They nodded and followed her as she disembarked, stepping foot on English soil as a family for the first time in four years.
Chapter 30: Chapter 30
The rain fell endlessly from the gray sky, sinking Louisa even further into depression as she sat in the darkened room, watching the drops hit the window. Had it really been little more than a month since they had enjoyed day after day of blue skies and sunshine? Time seemed to pass quickly and stand still simultaneously. It felt like a lifetime, and yet, if she closed her eyes she could imagine that she was still there.
They arrived in Bournemouth and located a suitable house for rent without problems. It even came fully furnished, making her life that much easier. It also left her with little to do. Larry had decided he was old enough to be on his own and moved in with friends in London. Leslie and Margo secured jobs and spent most of their days away from home. Gerry, reluctantly, agreed to give a school his best effort, after Theo had impressed upon him the importance of an education in the world of conservation.
Which left her alone most days. The clock struck one, bringing with it the old urge to rely on gin to get through the afternoon, but so far she had avoided giving in. She could hear Leslie upstairs shuffling around and the distant thud of a trunk lid. Did that make it Tuesday? Or was it Thursday? She sighed, giving up the thought. Her tea sat untouched and cold on the table beside her, for she had little appetite. The weather seemed to leech the energy from her body, leaving her unmotivated to do much more than this, sitting with her memories.
Footsteps pounded down the stairs and Leslie burst into the room.
“Uhmmm, Mom,” he spoke tentatively, unsure of her reaction.
“Yes darling?” Her attention was still held onto the glass window.
“I found these in my trunk and thought they might, you know, cheer you up?”
Louisa forced herself to focus on her child. He was holding a small box, and when she looked at him he offered it to her, seating himself on the chair across from her own.
She placed it in her lap and lifted the lid. Inside lay a stack of photographs he had taken on the island. “Oh, Leslie,” she breathed, reaching for them. Some she recognized, like the group picture at her birthday party, faces comically shocked due to Larry's announcement that he was to marry Vasilia. She could see the humor in it now. There were portraits of the family and their friends, some awkwardly posed with random pieces of fruit, and pictures of Gerry with various animals. She hurriedly flipped through the pictures of herself in clothes and make up more suited to a girl of Margo's age. “You should have destroyed these ones,” she admonished gently. Leslie shrugged and laughed.
Other, candid pictures she was unaware he had taken. A shot from the patio of their villa, overlooking the sea where a group of people, too small to identify, splashed. She and Hugh, sitting on that same stone wall. She studied the picture, a soft smile growing as she recalled that specific day; there were also photos of Sven playing the accordion, Florence, the doctor and their crying infant, she and Margo standing behind a table laden with baked goods in the market, Larry lounging on a patio chair.
“These are wonderful, Leslie,” she told him honestly, flipping to the next picture. She gasped, her heart skipping a beat in her chest.
Leslie reached for the photos, “Well, you get the idea,” he said nervously, watching her reaction.
She held them to her chest protectively, “No, I….I want to see.” Staring out from the photograph was a smiling Spiro, just the slightest bit blurred, which she thought was perfectly fitting for him, seeing as how he was always in motion, fixing, helping, doing. She held the back of her hand to her mouth, forcing even breaths, blinking back the tears that threatened to spill. The picture so perfectly captured him. Shirt collar unbuttoned, sleeves rolled to his elbows as if he had been caught in the middle of working on a task, hat clutched in one fist perched on his hip.
She looked at Leslie. “When did you take this?”
He shrugged, “Oh, I was setting up to take a picture of the Petridis baby and Spiro was there, so I used him as my test subject. I warned him he had to stay very still, but,” he made a face, “Gerry walked through the room with a bleedin’ seagull on his head.” He shook his head in disgust. “And, after all that,” he exclaimed, “he made me pay him for taking a picture!” He drew his face into a frown, the line between his brows deepening.
Louisa glanced up from the picture, only half listening. “Pay you with what, dear?”
“He said a picture for a picture was fair. He chose a picture of you,” he shrugged, not understanding why Spiro would choose that as payment. “Oh, not one of those pictures, you know,” he assured her, misinterpreting her look. “He took one of my good ones,” he finished with a proud smile.
Louisa’s eyed the picture again, imagining the scene. She could almost hear Spiro’s booming laugh, Leslie’s irate exclamation, Gerry oblivious to everything but his pet. The image brought a rare smile to her face. “May I keep these, darling?”
Leslie nodded. “Sure, Mom.” He stood to leave. “Are you sure you’re alright?”
She dragged her eyes away from the picture. “Yes,” she nodded, knowing that was what he needed to hear. Satisfied, Leslie stood and backed out of the room. His footsteps thumped back up the stairs and into his room.
Alone, she let the tears fall, careful not to drop any on the picture. Her finger traced his form, wishing she felt flesh and not paper under her hand. It brought her a measure comfort to think of Spiro, so many miles away on Corfu, holding on to her photograph. “ Like the wind, it is hard to carry home ,” she murmured. All she had left of Spiro were memories and she was afraid if she forgot anything they would all slip through her fingers like smoke.
She abandoned her cold tea and daydreams, gathered the pictures, with Spiro’s on top, back into the box and carried it to her small bedroom. She set the box on her bureau then lifted the lid and pulled out the likeness of Spiro. Her husband stared solemnly at her from his framed picture and for a moment she hesitated. It didn’t feel right to put Spiro’s photograph next to his.
Her love for each of these two men was fierce, but so very different. With Lawrence there was the sweet, new love of discovery that evolved into a happy companionship and devotion, secure in the belief they had the rest of their lives together. They had grown, learned to be adults, then parents, their love changing over the years. But with Spiro, what began as friendship grew into something more, a rediscovery of love, filled with passion and an ever present awareness of the absence of time. There was simply no comparison between the two.
She slowly spun around, spotting her nightstand by the bed. On it sat the tiny bottle of Corfu sand Spiro had given her before they boarded the ferry. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she opened the small drawer and pulled out a neatly folded handkerchief. As she held it in her hands she allowed her mind to take her back years before, to the marketplace, when Spiro had tied that same piece of cloth over her head. His closeness that day, and brazenness in unbuttoning her shirt, was one of the first times she was forced to recognize the difference between Spiro, the friend and Spiro, the man. She kept the handkerchief tucked away, originally to avoid the reminder of that distinction, but later because of it.
Now she unfolded it on her lap, laid Spiro's picture in the center, and carefully folded the sides into a safe package. Bringing it to her lips, she closed her eyes and pressed a soft kiss against it, turning over the last words he spoke to her in her mind. “ You will come back to me.” Had he said it as a plea? A command? She shook herself out of her reverie, placed the bundle into the drawer and pushed it closed softly with two fingers.
Just as she had told him, she was determined to go on for the sake of her children, but she was fortified by the hope that maybe, just maybe, someday there could be a future for her with the Corfiot man who held her heart. And that smidgen of hope was enough to get her through each day.
Louisa gripped the handrail tightly, swaying with the motion of the ferry as it rocked over the waves. Her eyes strained for the first glimpse of the familiar rocky coastline. She felt she could see it, a slight smudge of brown, far in the distance, where the blue of the water met the blue of the sky. The sun was deliciously hot and as she lifted her head to inhale the sea air she was suddenly transported to ten years prior, a different ferry, a different day, but so similar. She looked behind her at the rows of benches, able to imagine her children as they slumbered, impatient to end the long weeks of travel. She sighed. Those children were grown now. They had lives of their own and no desire to return with her to Corfu. In fact, they had tried to discourage her, reminding her repeatedly that the island would not be the same after the war. Nothing was, really. But she would not be put off.
She squinted at the horizon and saw that, yes, that was definitely Corfu in sight! Laying her hand on the shoulder of her small travelling companion, she pointed to the distant island.
“There it is, Darling,” she exclaimed, “Corfu!”
Her son grinned up at her and her heart ached with love for the child. No one had been more surprised than she when she realized the fatigue and illness she had dealt with after leaving Corfu weren't entirely due to heartbreak. Never had it crossed her mind that that her time with Spiro would result in a pregnancy, especially at her age! When she announced the news to her children, Margo and Leslie had acted, predictably, bewildered. They rarely wasted energy contemplating the lives and goings on of other people, especially their mother, so were somewhat befuddled at how she found herself in that state. Gerry, well versed in biology with his study of animals, looked mildly disgusted, but shrugged it off and quickly warmed up to the idea of a younger sibling. Larry, she shook her head and smiled at the memory, he had smirked knowingly and commented that he would have thought his mature mother would have taken precautions in mind before succumbing to the throes of passion. None of them had ever questioned who the father was. Not that they could have had any doubt when their brother arrived.
Louisa recalled the night he was born. The lusty cry announcing his entrance into the world cut straight through the fog she had lived in since leaving the island and she felt she had truly awakened for the first time in months. Later, refusing to relinquish him to the pushy midwife, she had carefully unwrapped him from his swaddles and examined every inch of his tiny body in the dim light of the room. She thought, maybe, the slope of his toes could be traced to her lineage, but everything else, from the generous thatch of downy black hair covering his head, to his beautiful olive skin, to his aquiline nose and strong features, everything came straight from his father. She had clutched him to her and wept with love and loss and longing. And in the solitude of the early morning, as she held him in her arms and took comfort in the solid weight of his body, the tangible proof of their love, she promised him that someday, somehow, she would return with him to Corfu, to his father.
She decided to name him Leo, hoping the name would inspire courage, something she knew he would desperately need growing up the young son of a long widowed woman. As it turned out, though, he didn’t need it after all. Leo had inherited Spiro’s charisma and charming personality. From infancy people were drawn to him, and he revelled in their attention. His siblings adored him, and though he had a temper, it rarely flared to life. Louisa had never met a happier child. He was a gift.
When he was very young she knew he just assumed that the father his older brothers and sister spoke of was his own, though it was a subject they rarely spoke of. It hurt Louisa to know Leo had a living, breathing father out there, but there was a war going on, and she didn’t think her heart could take his questions. Then one day they were walking back from the market and Leo stopped to watch two children gleefully hang off the arms of a man in uniform. Leo sadly said he wished his father could come home, too. And that was when she knew: it was time.
The world, by that time, had settled into a shaky, uneasy truce, and mail could once again be counted on. She sent a letter to Florence and was thrilled to receive one in return. Florence reported that after many difficult years the German occupation of the island was over and they were slowly reclaiming their lives. Her husband had been injured in the war but was still able to practice medicine. Adonis remained an only child and Louisa couldn’t read through the lines to decide if Florence was sad or relieved about that. She included updates on the various people who had been a part of their lives in Corfu, and, though Louisa had not asked about him, Florence had added a note at the end of the letter that caused Louisa to gasp; Spiro was still there, though he had suffered greatly at the death of both his wife and oldest son to an epidemic several years before and hadn’t been the same since. Her heart broke for both Spiro and his surviving son.
After reading the letter she had sat Leo on her bed and retrieved the picture of Spiro she kept hidden in a drawer. She sat beside him and held it for him to see. “This is your father, Leo,” she told the boy. “He lives far away and we couldn’t get back to him because of the war. Now we can. Would you like to meet him?” Leo nodded, lightly stroking the photo with one small finger reverently. “We left before I knew about you. He will be very surprised to meet you.”
The child looked up at her with dark, serious eyes, a look she recalled seeing on his father’s face many times in her last few weeks on Corfu. “Will he like me?” his voice was troubled.
“He will love you,” she assured him. Leo had nodded, returning his gaze to the photograph.
The next day she had taken the train to London. Theo, who remained a dear family friend, had an office set up in the city. Throughout the war she had also grown close to his wife Mary and their daughter Alexia, only weeks younger than Leo, who had stayed with them in Bournemouth to escape the bombings of London. Theo greeted her warmly, leading them into his office where he set Leo up with paper and crayons. Louisa wasted no time, “I’m going back to Corfu,” she announced.
Theo didn’t look surprised, “It is about time,” he smiled at her.
She tilted her head, eyebrows drawn together. “You….you know, don’t you?”
Theo nodded slowly, his guilt obvious.
“And you didn’t tell me,” she couldn’t prevent the hurt from showing.
Sighing, he perched on the corner of his desk and removed his glasses. He gestured to the chair in front of him and she sank into it, confused. “I heard about his wife and son shortly after they passed,” he confessed. “I thought about telling you, but,” he hesitated, “I was afraid you would try to run off to Greece, without thought of the war going on around you.”
She looked at her hands. He was right, of course.
“You would have risked your life, and Leo’s,” he continued. “And…” he took a deep breath, his voice softening, “you know Spiro and I were never close enough that he would consider me a confidant, but I heard through other people on the island that he and his wife grew closer after you left. They settled into a happy marriage, for what little time they had left together,” his eyes watched her carefully. “You showing up...and with a child Spiro doesn’t even know he has when he is in deep mourning…” he shook his head. “That would not have been fair to him or his other child.”
Louisa nodded. “You are right,” she felt suddenly unsure and looked up at him. “Do you think he’ll forgive me for…” she nodded her head towards Leo.
Theo smiled gently. “Have you ever heard the story of my first encounter with Spiro?”
Louisa shook her head, “I don’t believe I have.”
“As you know, I was born in India and spent much of my childhood there. My family returned to Corfu when I was 11, about the same age as Gerry when you arrived.” He smiled at the memory. “Unfortunately, like Gerry, I did not fit in well with the other boys. My Greek was different...my idea of fun was different,” he paused. “Children do not always appreciate differences. I found I was often the target of boys who would torment me if they caught me alone.”
“Bullies,” Louisa said savagely.
“Yes, bullies,” he agreed. “One boy in particular, though maybe I should say young man, because to me at the time he certainly seemed full grown, delighted in making me fear for my life, often I would run home in tears..” he cleared his throat.
Louisa could tell that even now, decades later, the memories caused him distress.
“One day he and his friends caught me by surprise when I was absorbed in watching a school of minnows in a pond. They…” he cleared his throat again with a suddenly nervous expression. “They thought it was great fun hold me underwater.”
“Oh Theo, those...those bastards. ” Louisa fumed.
Theo sent her a wan smile. “I would like to think they didn’t mean any serious harm, but I’ve no doubt what would have happened had Spiro not shown up. I was almost passed out from lack of oxygen and suddenly I found myself floating free in the water while a boy I had never seen before took on several boys older and larger than himself. He ended up with a bloody nose and a black eye.” He winked at her. “Much worse than the one you gave him, if I recall correctly.”
Louisa breathed a laugh at that memory, then grew serious again.
He sobered, too. “He most likely received bruised, if not broken ribs as well. I remember he pulled me up, told me his name and then just limped away while I stood there, soaking wet and mouth hanging open, stunned at what had just happened. Those boys never bothered me again.” He turned his glasses over in his hands, pretending to study them closely while he composed himself. “My point is,” he looked over at Leo and then to her, “Spiro has always stood up for what he believes is right, even at his own personal cost." He gestured toward the boy. "He is easy to love, and with one glance he could not question his parentage! Just give Spiro time to adjust. I am absolutely certain he will not hold this against you.”
Louisa, relieved, stood and hugged him, drawing back to look at him fondly. “Thank you, Theo. And will you tell Mary and Alexia we send our love?”
“We will see you on Corfu, I am sure. I can’t stay away forever,” he assured her, guiding her to the door.
“Don’t let Gerry know I asked, but do look out for him. He acts far more mature than his age suggests, but I still worry.”
Theo smiled. “Of course.”
With that she gathered Leo and headed back to the rail station to catch a train to Bournemouth.
Louisa’s plans quickly fell into place and before the month was out she responded to Florence, letting her know she would be in Corfu soon. She purposely never mentioned Leo, not wanting any word to get to Spiro ahead of her. She did, however, wire a message to her when they had a date of arrival. She didn’t ask what she desperately wanted to, but she hoped Florence just knew .
“Mummy, I see it!” Leo’s excited voice cut through her thoughts.
She knelt in front of the boy and smoothed his jacket, brushing his hair back into place. His dark eyes danced with excitement.
Before she was ready, the ferry had docked and the workers prepared to let the passengers disembark. She scanned the shoreline, breath catching when she recognized the taxi parked on the cliff above the dock. He was here! She searched the waiting crowds, her eyes landing on him at the exact moment he spotted her. He pulled his hat off and held it over his heart, not letting her out of his sight.
“Come on, Darling,” she took Leo’s hand, knowing the child would not be visible over the high railing. She let the throng of people pass in front of her and followed their exodus from the ship. What felt like an eternity after their feet hit land the crowd suddenly split and there, not ten feet in front of her, he stood waiting.
As if in slow motion she forced her feet to propel her closer, studying him. He was thinner than she remembered, his hair was now streaked with gray and when she was close enough she saw that grief had etched lines into his face. But he was still beautiful.
He blinked back tears. “Louisa,” he choked out. His eyes slid from hers, trailed down her arm and landed on the small boy. She held her breath as the confusion, realization, and shock settled over his features as he took in the face that was a miniature copy of his own. His eyes widened, darting from the child to her.
She nodded and swallowed back tears, “Spiro,” she said quietly, “meet our son.”
Spiro fell to one knee in front of Leo. He moved his arms as if to grab him in a hug and then seemed to think better of it and instead held his hand out solemnly, “It is a pleasure to meet you,” he said, shaking the little hand. “What is your name?”
Leo looked up at Louisa. She smiled encouragement and he turned his attention back to Spiro. “I’m Leo,” he said in his little boy voice as he studied Spiro. “Are you my father?” he asked, tilting his head to the side, his brow furrowed in concentration as he struggled to compare the man in front of him to the one from the photograph he had taken up studying at every opportunity.
Spiro wiped away the tears that had spilled down his cheek. He placed a hand on Leo’s shoulder and smiled. “I am.” Leo gave him a matching smile in return.
Louisa released the breath she had been holding. She had no doubts he would grow to love Leo, but she was less confident in his initial reaction. Spiro stood and reached for her hand, bringing it to his lips. As he studied her a smile stretched across his face. “I always knew you would come back to me,” he told her, then looked down at their son, shook his head and laughed in wonder. “But I never expected this one!” Leo stared at him with a mixture of awe and excitement, giggling when Spiro flopped his oversized hat on the boy's head. He then held his arms out for Leo and hoisted up the gleeful boy, holding him on one arm before wrapping the other around Louisa in a tight hug. “Welcome home,” he said, and she knew she was.
~*~*~ The End ~*~*~
Thank you to everyone who read, and for those of you who left kudos and comments - you are awesome, thank you, thank you! I read every single one and they kept me going at times I lacked motivation. So THANK YOU AGAIN!
I hope you enjoyed my story! Most of all, I hope you are inspired to write your own story of our favorite Corfu couple.