“While I am still married I can't say ‘I love you’” Spiros murmured, inching closer.
“I understand,” Louisa assured him as she leaned in.
“But, please, imagine me saying it,” he continued.
“Believe me, I have,” she answered. “Many times.”
The noise of the surrounding crowd fell away, leaving them in their own universe. She felt drawn to him, breath held, but just before their lips met an explosion of fireworks startled them both, reminding her that this was neither the time nor place for such shows of affection. Coming to her senses, she watched Spiros cheer heartily for the performers. She wondered what, exactly, had almost transpired. He glanced at her and smiled, joy evident on his face. How much of that was for her? The feelings she had been forced to deny for so many months were slowly starting to see the light. She was afraid of what she might discover if she delved too deep into them, so she kept them stuffed inside.
Everything had changed the night of Gerry's birthday party. He confided in her that his wife had taken their children and went to her mother's. It was the loss of his children, more so than his wife, that left him broken. He also admitted that she was a source of contention in his marriage, which she felt terrible about.
In the weeks after, he had fallen into a depression so unlike the normally buoyant Spiros that she lined up her children and an odd assortment of houseguests to keep him company. She wished she could visit him herself, but knew it wouldn't be proper. And with good reason, she reminded herself. The one time she had dropped by unannounced to check in on him and his uncle Leonidas, he had confessed to being selfish in his desire to help her because he loved her...and the rest of her family. Although he was drunk and she suspected his words to her came out more freely because of the alcohol, there was a measure of truth she could see in his face before he caught himself.
Eventually, her helpers chased him out of his house. And she was there to meet him, offering a listening ear and companionship. He hated the quiet of his walls and would often be found around her villa. He became so frequent a dinner guest that her children began to just set a sixth plate out for him as a matter of routine. If she were honest with herself, she loved it. Not just having a male presence, although she had missed that, but she loved having Spiros around. It felt...right.
He was still married, of course, and her interactions with him always stayed on this side of friendship. However, as days turned into weeks with no word from his wife it became almost easy to forget she existed, that he had a family before them. Even her children commented that he was spending an inordinate amount of time with them.
Which brought them to now. The performers, including all four of her offspring and a smattering of Gerry's pets, bowed on the stage in front of them. The Corfiots behind them stood and began to gather their belongings and trickle out. Theo and the Petridises came down to chat with them as they waited for her children to finish up with the circus people.
Louisa plastered on a smile she hoped looked natural enough. She kept glancing at Spiros, who looked completely relaxed and jovial, joking with the doctor about Margo’s act and sharing Theo’s pride with Gerry’s menagerie. Florence, she noticed, eyed her suspiciously and Louisa wondered how much she had seen of them from her seats.
Finally, Margo came skipping out. “They invited us to stay for a celebration,” she announced. “Leslie is staying, we can walk home after.”
“Oh, well,” Louisa looked at Spiros, who shrugged, offering no help. She turned back to her daughter. “If you’re sure you won’t be a bother.”
Margo rolled her eyes and smiled. “They invited us, Mother.”
“What about Gerry?” she asked.
Margo lifted her shoulders. “I don’t know. He and Carlos are taking care of the animals.”
“I wanted to speak with him,” Theo interjected, excusing himself. “He has had some very interesting travels and is in possession of quite the extensive collection of Coleoptera.” At the blank looks he received he elaborated, “Beetles!” he said, unable to keep the giddy notes from his voice. “I’ll make sure Gerry gets home safely. It could be late, as we’ll be cataloguing all the Endopterygota.”
They watched him walk off, struggling to maintain a sedate pace in his excitement. Florence cleared her throat. “On that note,” she wrapped her hand around her husband’s elbow. “We must be off, too. We’re down to the last babysitter who will watch Adonis. Can’t let her get worn out. Have a good evening, you two.” She sent a teasing, telling look towards Louisa then dragged her husband away.
When they had left Louisa chanced a look at Spiros. His head was turned from her as he surveyed the families leaving the ancient stadium. He nodded in satisfaction then looked at her. “We did good,” he said, smiling.
She felt her lips curving in response. “Yes,” she agreed. “It was a better turnout than I expected.”
“And good thing since,” he squinted towards the sun, “too early for those fireflies,” he teased.
“It would appear my children have abandoned us for more interesting pursuits.”
Spiros cocked an eyebrow. “Those shelves still need finished,” he said, smiling.
She nodded. “And I shall cook you dinner.”
Together they gathered the blankets, Louisa folding them neatly and stacking them on Spiros’ waiting arms. She turned to look back at the stage once more, seeing the circus crew busy taking down their set and decorations. “I do love a circus,” she sighed.
Spiros tucked the blankets under one arm, nodding in agreement. “I think you changed my mind. Maybe they are not bad people after all.” He smiled at her and held out his free elbow. “To home?”
Louisa curled her hand around his arm, wondering if he knew how his words sounded. Home. She smiled to herself, enjoying the pretense.
He led her to his car, placed the blankets on the back seat then opened the door for her. As Spiros drove the car out of town she tipped her face up to the waning sun.
He turned his head to smile at her. “You're happy.” It was somewhere between a question and a statement.
“I am,” she replied.
They drew closer to the turn off to the villa, but instead of slowing, he continued past, turning off onto a road that led to the interior of the island.
She looked at him and raised an eyebrow. “Forgot where I live?” She joked.
“No,” he said with a mischievous look. “I think I'll take you somewhere else instead.”
“I do love surprises,” she said, allowing the jostling of the vehicle to move her slightly closer to him.
“I know,” he replied, concentrating on the narrow road that was barely more than a path, slowly gaining in elevation. After a time he pulled the car over. “We’re here,” he announced, shutting the engine off.
Louisa looked around. “Where is here, exactly?” The road, if it could be called that, had ended abruptly at a grove of olive trees and she could see nothing more of interest for Spiros to have brought her here.
“Well,” he explained as he helped her out of the car and then leaned over the back, rummaging through the contents on the rear seat, “I guess you could say ‘the end of the road’. From here” he pulled out a blanket and a flashlight, “we walk.” He tucked the items under one arm, gesturing with his free hand, “But we must hurry.”
A thrill of adventure shot through her, helped along by the twinkle in Spiros’ eyes. She followed him as he picked his way along a barely discernible path. “You have been here before, I hope?” She grasped the hand he held out to assist her over particularly uneven ground.
He stopped and placed a palm flat against an ancient tree. “Not since I was young,” he admitted, releasing her hand. “This is my uncle’s land. My brothers and I grew up playing under these trees.” A breeze rustled the leaves of the surrounding trees, allowing beams of light to dance along the ground.
“It’s beautiful,” she said softly.
Spiros’ gaze wandered through the trees before settling on her. She watched as the worry lines that had been etched into his face for weeks seemed to melt away. A gust of wind tugged a wayward curl of hair across her face. Before she could lift a hand to push it away Spiros reached out to gently brush his fingertips against her forehead and tuck the strands behind her ear. His eyes locked on hers, growing serious. Reflexively she bit her lower lip, wetting it. The slight action caught his attention and he pressed his eyes shut, dropping his hand. When he opened them again he took a step back, putting more space in the charged air between them.
“Come,” he said, taking another step back. “You won’t want to miss this.”
Louisa took a steadying breath. “This isn’t it?” she asked, stepping away from the tree to follow him.
“No.” He turned back to her with a grin. “The best part is yet to come,” he promised, continuing along the path.
Louisa pressed a hand to her ribs to calm her racing heart as she carefully picked her steps behind him. She was concentrating on her feet while reminding herself of his still married status when he stopped so suddenly she ran right into the back of him. “Oh!” she squeaked, stumbling back a step.
He grabbed her wrist to steady her. “Are you ready?” he asked, eyes glowing with excitement.
“Ready as I’ll ever be,” she said, trying to peer around him into the clearing they had come upon.
“No cheating,” he smiled. “Close your eyes.”
“Absolutely not,” Louisa insisted.
His grin grew wider. “Close your eyes.” The hand on her wrist slid along her hand, his warm fingers entwining with hers. She gave him an indulgent look and then reluctantly closed her eyes.
He tugged her gently forward a few yards and then stopped, pulling his hand away. She heard the muffled thud of the blanket and flashlight falling to the ground before his hands touched her shoulders, angling her body towards….something. His voice was low and close to her ear, “Open them.”
“Oh, Spiros,” she breathed, amazed at the exquisite view before them. They stood at the crest of hill that allowed a view of rolling hills speckled with brown rocks, sloping towards the sea, where the fiery red ball of sun was slowly sinking into the horizon. Brights streaks of colors swept across the sky, creating a masterpiece Louisa wished she could frame and hang on her wall to admire forever. As her head swivelled around to take in the panoramic sight, Spiros watched her with an amused expression.
“This is….stunning. Thank you,” she told him.
He bent to retrieve the items he had dropped earlier. Handing her the flashlight he said, “I’m glad you like it, but,” he smiled, “something even better will come soon.”
He opened the blanket with a snap and spread it over the ground. “After you,” he gestured for her to sit, pointing out what direction to face. She eyed him with uncertainty for a beat, unsure what this invitation meant exactly. But she trusted him completely so she stepped on the blanket and settled herself onto its softness, tucking her dress around her legs. Spiro sat beside her, close enough that she felt his warmth, but not touching. They watched in silence as the last sliver of sun seemed to disappear into the water.
“This was my favorite part of the day,” he told her. “When our parents would bring us here with a picnic sometimes. My brothers and I would chase each other through those olive trees.”
“Let me guess,” she teased. “You were the fastest?”
“Of course,” he confirmed with a cocky smile. “I have not been here since before I left for America.” He closed his eyes and tilted his head back, letting the breeze ruffle his hair. When he opened them he looked at her. “It is nice...being here with you.”
“You never brought your wife?”
He made a face and shook his head. “She is more interested in visiting the marketplace than a...a field.” He pulled a blade of grass and studied it, rolling it between his fingers.
“Thank you,” she said again. “For bringing me here.”
His eyes met hers, a smile returning to his face. He gazed out over the darkening fields. “There,” he pointed. “It's starting.”
Louisa squinted into the darkness. She saw one solitary light blink in the distance, followed by several more, and within a few heartbeats dozens more tiny lights lit up. The numbers steadily grew and soon they were surrounded by thousands of fireflies setting flight. She laughed in wonder, looking back at Spiros, who watched her, studying her reaction. They shared a smile then turned their attention back to the nature show before them. Louisa was not surprised when Spiros’ hand cover her own. It felt right.
“This is magical,” she told him.
“Yes,” he agreed simply, not taking his eyes from hers. She shivered, whether from cold or emotion she couldn't tell, but he noticed. “You're cold,” he said, and before she could disagree he had whipped his jacket off and placed it over her shoulders.
“Thank you,” she murmured softly, pulling it closer around herself, inhaling the fragrance of Spiros that enveloped her along with the material.
One side of his lips lifted in a lopsided smile as he shifted closer to her. Her heart thudded so loudly in her chest she wondered if he could hear it as well. Reluctantly she pulled her eyes away from his, back to the fireflies, but although she watched them, she wasn’t seeing them. His words from earlier came to mind. Did he tell her he loved her? Could there be something between them? He so rarely mentioned his wife, and usually then only when she brought her up, that she wasn’t certain how he felt about her. Opening her heart to him was a terrifying and exhilarating prospect.
“Louisa,” his voice, and the uncertainty and wonder in which he formed her name, drew her out of her reverie and she was surprised to find the fireflies had mostly completed their nightly dance. Only a few were left flashing their lights, still searching for their perfect mate.
She looked back at Spiros, who watched her with an expression she couldn’t quite make out in the inky darkness. Suddenly the truth crashed into her with startling clarity. She loved this man. Wholly, completely. The weight of that knowledge caused her to gasp and pull back. Spiros’ eyebrows drew together in confusion at her actions so she forced a smile to reassure him.
“How did you know I loved fireflies?” she asked, struggling to regain control of her racing thoughts.
Spiros shrugged, face relaxing. “A lucky guess.” He looked out over the water in the far distance, where the line separating sea from sky was barely discernible, then back to her. “I…” he hesitated, then sighed. “We should get you home before your children worry.” He stood and held out a hand, pulling her to her feet directly in front of him.
For an instant they stared at each other. Then he dropped his hand and she stepped back, bending slightly to smooth wrinkles from her dress, efforts hampered by the too long sleeves of his coat. Spiros folded the blanket into a bundle that he tucked securely under his arm. With his free hand he flicked on the flash light. The beam lit up the ominously dark grove of trees between them and his car.
“I hope you know the way back,” she said, only half teasing.
“Scared?” he asked with a grin.
"A bit,” she admitted.
His smile grew wider and he shifted the light to his other arm and reached for her hand. She pushed the sleeve up to free it, placing her palm against his. He gave her hand a reassuring squeeze before slowly guiding her into the trees. The way back seemed to take longer than the first trip and she was both relieved and disappointed when she saw the light reflect off his car. He released her hand, dropped the items into the back seat and opened the door for her. When he had settled onto his seat he smiled at her, lifted her hand and gently pressed a kiss to her knuckles, rubbing his rough thumb over the skin there. Then, moving by memory and not sight, he deftly started his car, reversing carefully and easing the vehicle over the path and back onto the road.
When they pulled up to her house she saw the lights glowing from within various rooms, showing all her children were home. She released a sigh, feeling the relief of mothers everywhere when their brood is safe and sound under one roof. Spiros slowed to stop, their return oddly quiet without the blast of his horn.
Once parked he quickly rounded the car and held her door for her, pulling his hat off as soon as he had closed it firmly behind her.
“Would you like to….come in?” she offered, gesturing to the house behind her.
His eyes followed her motions and she could see the longing there in the faint light coming from the lantern in the window. He seemed to wage an internal battle but eventually shook his head. “I can’t,” he said.
She understood. With her new discovery her emotions were fragile, and she suspected he felt much the same way. “Tomorrow, then?” she couldn’t prevent the eagerness in her voice.
His answering smile told what his words couldn’t, of his own joy at that promise. “Of course.”
The peaceful night was shattered by a crash, a yelp, Leslie’s bellowed curse and Gerry’s higher pitched tones. Louisa closed her eyes in a bid for patience, opening them to Spiros’ amused face before her. She sighed and slipped his jacket off her shoulders, handing it to him. He accepted it then pulled on his hat, “Good night….Louisa,” he said her name again softly before getting back into his car.
“Good night, Spiros,” she answered.
She watched him drive off into the night, allowing herself a moment to enjoy the thrill of new love, for the moment not worrying about the mountain of obstacles between them. Then she turned around, pushed open the door and went to deal with her arguing offspring.