Louisa leaned into him, reaching to grab the lapels of his jacket - that same old, worn jacket - and pressed a kiss to his lips. It was chaste, aware of the people milling around them, although most were oblivious, enjoying their own reunions. Even so, a giggle cut it short and she felt Spiros' lips curl into a smile. They pulled apart and looked at the boy, whose dark eyes danced in happiness. Spiros used his free hand to pull the hat over Leo’s eyes for a moment, grabbing another quick kiss in the time it took the child to push the hat up. She laughed, feeling years of tension float away.
"Come," Spiro said. "Let's get you settled and then we can talk." He set Leo on his feet to free his hands for her luggage. He easily plucked their two suitcases from the ground, then looked around for the rest.
Louisa laid a hand on his arm. "That's all there is this time," she said, remembering the mountain of belongings they had dragged across the continent on their first trip here.
He frowned, glancing from the luggage to her. "You do not intend to stay…?" The question hung in the air.
Louisa smiled at him. "I packed light," she reassured him. "For expediency's sake. We’ll stay as long as you want us to."
Her words seemed to mollify him and he winked at Leo as he steered them toward his car. "She is an American motor car," he explained to the boy. "Still the only one like it on the island," he boasted, causing Louisa to smile.
The car, as with everything, showed its own battle scars. The paint wasn't as shiny as she remembered and interior stuffing poked out of a tear in the leather of the front seat. Spiro set the suitcases down beside it, pulling the door open with a creak. Louisa urged Leo onto the seat and settled beside him.
Once the luggage was secured Spiro lowered himself down onto the driver's seat. He turned to Louisa, "Do-"
"I-" she began at the same time. They laughed and he gestured for her to continue. "I was in such a hurry to get here that I didn't arrange lodging" she explained.
Spiro shook his head. "I believe there are still some empty houses around," he said with a wink as he started the car and put it in gear.
Louisa didn't know what to hope for. She had spent so many years dreaming of this moment, of simply being with him again, she hadn't considered the many minor details. Such as where she and Leo would live. Of course she wanted nothing more than to be with Spiro, but she understood it wasn't that simple. He had an adolescent son to think about, and Lord knows she had enough experience dealing with hormonal young people to know that was never an easy chore. And then there was Leo. He had only recently learned he had a father. How traumatic would the change be for him to have Spiros and his other son with them all the time?
These were questions that would be answered in time, she knew. She shook her head to clear the thoughts, turning her attention to Leo, who was taking in Corfu with wide eyes, bouncing on the seat in his excitement. He was so different from her other children, all happiness and barely reigned in energy, always ready for an adventure.
Her eyes scanned the town, noting with relief that most of it looked intact. They drove past the marketplace where tables were laden with an assortment of food and wares. Few people glanced their way as Spiros’ taxi was no longer the only vehicle traversing the roads. As they lumbered out of town, over the dirt road that felt so familiar, Louisa removed her hat and tilted her face to the sun, closing her eyes and reveling in its warmth. She felt Spiro’s gaze on her and turned toward him, meeting his eyes over Leo’s head, still covered with his father’s hat. She couldn’t stop the smile. “The villa?” she asked.
The word caught Leo's attention, having heard many stories about the place. "The house by the water?" he asked, pushing the hat up to peer at Louisa.
"Yes, Darling. I'll show you all the rooms your brothers and Margo had. And you'll love the sea," she added.
Spiro slowed the car to pull into the lane. It was overgrown but not as bad as she had feared. Someone had obviously kept the place up. Or it had been occupied over the years. The car stopped, and Spiro showed Leo how to press the horn. The abrupt sound caused birds in the nearby trees to squawk in annoyance.
Not waiting for Spiro, Louisa pushed the door open. Leo clambered off the seat after her, one hand lightly grasping her skirt. She felt Spiro beside her. "It is exactly how I remember it." She moved through the garden to the back patio, Spiro and Leo trailing behind her. At first glimpse of the wide expanse of blue Leo bolted towards the wall. "No climbing, Leo! You'll fall in," she called to the boy, who skidded to a halt.
Spiro moved past her. "Look around," he said. "Leo and I will be out here getting to know each other." He walked to the boy, stooped to his level, and pointed out something of interest in the distance.
Louisa hesitated a moment, caught between her desire to reclaim her house and wanting to not miss a moment between Spiro and Leo. In the end she understood Spiro needed some time alone to get acquainted with his son, so she pushed open the door. As her eyes took a moment to get used to the darkened interior, she took a deep breath. Past the slight musty smell of disuse was the scent of home. She smiled to herself, turning the corner into the kitchen, then stopping short at the sight before her. There, dominating the space, was the same scarred table that she and her children, and often Spiros, had eaten at countless times. She trailed her fingers along one particular gouge, remembering when Roger had jumped onto the table to chase a stray cat that had wandered in through the perpetually open door and threatened one of Gerry's smaller creatures. It couldn't be, though. That table had been sold long ago, she had seen the men load it onto the back of a wagon with her own two eyes. She looked around the room, noting a cabinet against the far wall looked suspiciously familiar as well. "How….?" she muttered as she rushed into the living room, where the same old sofa sat in the middle of the room. Racing up the stairs she paused a moment at the top, deciding which of the closed doors she would open first. Margo's old room was first. The door opened on creaky hinges, but the only objects to greet her were the dust bunnies congregating on the floor. The boys' rooms were in similar states. Her room was last and she pushed the door open slowly, breath catching at the sight of her brass bed standing in the same spot, impeccably made, floors gleaming from a fresh scrubbing.
The sound of laughter carried in through the open window. She peered outside, as she had so many times, the view of the sea feeling simultaneously familiar and wonderfully new. She couldn't see Leo and Spiro, but guessed they must be by the water. Letting the curtains fall back into place she wandered to the bed, where she sat down, perched on the edge. A breeze swept in through the window carrying the salty scent of the sea along with more laughter. Louisa felt a bubble of joy well up and flopped back onto the bed. She was truly here! It felt surreal - the sunshine, the heat, Spiros. Her fingers toyed with the eyelet edging of a pillowcase. She wondered if Spiros would stay the night. There was so much they had to work out still. Leo’s unmistakable squeal of delight urged her to rise and push away the thoughts. A glance out the window showed Spiro leading Leo back up the sea steps. Leo was talking animatedly, arms waving in his excitement, the oversized hat still on his head. Spiro glanced up, catching her watching them. She lifted her hand and he answered with a beaming smile. Leo, realizing Spiro’s attention was no longer centered on him, looked up and saw Louisa.
“Hi, Mummy!” he shouted, holding up his arm to show her a dark object he had clutched in his hand. “Look!” It’s a turtle!” he continued. “Can I keep it? For Gerry?”
Her gaze shifted to Spiro, beside him, who lifted his shoulders in a shrug. Louisa sighed, knowing just like with Gerry, she could never deny his request. "Here we go again," she muttered to herself, unable to keep the smile from her lips.
When she stepped out onto the patio the sun momentarily blinded her. She blinked against the brightness. Leo rushed over and held the little turtle under her nose. "See, Mummy?"
Louisa gently pushed his arm away from her face, "Yes, it's lovely, Darling," she assured him.
Leo grinned at his newest find. "I can't wait to show Gerry! He'll know what kind it is."
"Remember what Gerry says?" she reminded him.
Leo's face fell. "Study them for a short time and then release them back into the wild," he dutifully repeated.
"Exactly. Besides, Gerry is at university, he won't be able to visit us here for some time."
Spiro chimed in, "If you put him back maybe he can find his mother turtle?"
Leo raised his eyebrow and gave Spiro a look of pure disbelief. "Turtles are reptiles that lay their eggs and don't take care of their young," he said matter-of-factly. "He doesn't even know who his mother is!"
Spiro looked at Louisa. "I thought that would work," he whispered.
Louisa shook her head and laughed. "Leo adores Gerry, and Gerry has always treated Leo as something between "favorite pet" and "treasured protégé" she leaned towards Spiro and confided "To be honest, I'd rather hoped the animal thing wouldn't catch on with him, but better this than Leslie's attempt to pass on his gun obsession."
Spiro cast a worried glance at his son, causing Louisa to laugh. She laid a hand on his arm. “Leo didn’t actually shoot Leslie’s guns…...often,” she added under her breath, turning to pick up her suitcase that Spiro had left by the door. Leo followed her through the door, the turtle still securely in his grasp. “Wooow,” he enthused, “it looks just like Les’ photographs.”
Louisa set the luggage by the stairs, then turned to him, “It is just as I remembered it, which is much better than the first time we came here.” Out of the corner of her eye she saw Spiro leaning against the doorframe, nervously fidgeting with his jacket buttons in lieu of the hat he always twisted in his hands. “When we moved in before we had no furniture. Gerry slept in his suitcase for the first night!” Leo giggled at the image. Louisa looked to Spiro. “How did you manage all this…?” she gestured around.
Spiro pushed off the doorway. “When I heard you were coming back I spoke with the owner of the house. He owed me a favor -”
“Of course,” Louisa interrupted with a knowing smile.
One side of his mouth lifted, “I was able to get cheap rent,” he continued. “And the furniture…” he shrugged. “I tracked down what I could.”
“It’s perfect,” Louisa told him.
“I wasn’t sure…” he let the sentence drop.
She reached out to grab his hand, squeezing it in reassurance. “It’s perfect,” she repeated. The worry lines between his eyebrows eased.
“I couldn’t imagine you in any other house,” he admitted, stepping closer to her.
“Nor could I,” Louisa confirmed, running her hand up his arm and leaning towards him for a kiss.
“Mummy!” a small voice interrupted. Leo’s head popped up over the railing above them. “There is only one bed. Where do I sleep?”
Spiro cleared his throat. “I didn’t…” he lifted his shoulders apologetically.
“How were you to know?” she smiled.
He studied the boy. “I could get some blankets from my house for tonight?” he asked Louisa.
“Like camping!” Leo whooped.
Spiro laughed. “Like camping,” he echoed.
“Sounds like a plan,” Louisa told them.
“I’ll just….go get that,” Spiro said.
“May I come, too?” Leo chirped, face pressed between the railing to see them better.
Spiro blinked a few times, “Uhmm, I, well…” he faltered, caught off guard by the request.
“Not today, Poppet,” Louisa saved him. “We need to find you a bedroom. Whose would you like?”
“Thank you,” Spiro whispered to her.
Louisa smiled back. “We’ll be fine here and get settled in. Take your time.” She figured he needed some time to process everything .
He nodded gratefully, reaching for his hat by habit, eyes flickering to Leo when he found his head bare.
The boy giggled and dangled the hat through the railing for Spiro to take.
“No, you keep it for now,” he told him.
Leo plopped the hat back on his head, crooked, unable to right while still holding the turtle.
Louisa watched her son and sighed, stepping away from Spiro then shooing the child up the stairs. “Which one was Gerry’s? I want Gerry’s room!” Leo called, feet thumping loudly on every tread. She glanced back at Spiro, who watched them with a look of awe and something else she couldn’t discern. He held a hand up in a farewell wave. “I’ll be back soon,” he said before slipping out the front door.
She wished she knew what was going through his mind, though she suspected he was unsure of it himself. This was not the time for her musings, as Leo was calling her from the second floor, so she ascended the steps to direct her youngest into the room of his choice.
Sometime later, after they had set up Leo with a pallet on the floor, convinced the child to release his pet, and ate the simple dinner Spiro had brought, Louisa got Leo ready for bed. She tucked him in with his stuffed fox, one of the few lingering relics of his babyhood. Spiro hovered in the doorway, unsure of what he should do, but seemingly unable to miss any moments of his nighttime routine. Leo noticed him. “Can he put me to bed?” he asked his mother, pointing.
Louisa looked from him to his father. “Oh. If you’re sure?”
“Do you want me to stay?”
Leo shook his head emphatically.
“Alright, then,” she placed a kiss on his head then rose to her feet.
Spiro took a few steps into the room, leaning towards her as she passed him. “What do I do?” he whispered, what bordered on panic edging his voice.
“He just likes someone to stay here with him until he falls asleep.”
“Okay,” he stood against the wall.
“Sit,” Leo directed him.
“Of course.” Spiro slid down the wall onto the floor.
Louisa smiled. “Goodnight, Darling.”
“Goodnight, Mummy,” Leo yawned.
She patted Spiro’s shoulder as she left the room, pausing when he captured her hand and pressed a kiss against her knuckles. As she walked down the hall Leo's words followed her, "Will you tell me a story?" she heard him ask. She hesitated just long enough to hear the lower cadence of Spiro's voice fill the silence. Then, smiling to herself, she stepped softly down the stairs to wait for Spiro outside.
The sunset was dulling to dark blue when he finally wandered out of the house to find her. Louisa turned and sat on the stone wall where he joined her.
"How did it go?" she asked.
Spiro let loose a long breath. "He is asleep, so...good? I think?"
"He really likes stories."
"Yes, he does," Louisa laughed. "Tirelessly. Fortunately, once he is finally out for the night he rarely wakes before the sun." She grew quiet, not sure how to even begin to broach the years since they had last sat like this.
"A penny for your thoughts?" he asked.
"Well," Louisa shook her head. "I was actually thinking how I miss Gerry's mess of animals here.”
Spiro laughed. "I could see about tracking down Gerry's pelicans?"
"They're still alive?" she asked, incredulous.
He shrugged. "They stayed around the house for years, but I can't recall the last time I saw them here.” He paused, thinking. “A year? Maybe more?”
“I remember the day you and Gerry brought the first one home,” she said. “I was ready to wring both your necks.”
Spiro laughed. “It amazed me that Gerry could handle such huge creatures without fear.”
“You were all too keen to build him cages,” she recounted.
He wrapped an arm around her and pulled her close. "It doesn't feel the same without the zoo here, I know what you mean."
"I feel like there is so much to say, but I don't know where to begin."
"We have time," he assured her.
Silence descended between them as she laid her head on his shoulder and he ran his fingers up and down her arm. The night creatures sang their songs in the trees.
"Thank you for bringing Leo here," Spiro said, breaking the quiet. "He is a good boy, you've done a fine job raising him."
Louisa pushed away to look at him. "I didn't come back solely for Leo's sake."
"I know." He stroked her cheek then buried his fingers in her hair. "Thank you for that as well," he said, leaning forward to claim her lips.
Her hand came up to rest against his chest, then curled around his shirt to pull him closer. This. This was home. All her years in Corfu, from their first meeting on that dusty road leading away from the docks, to the too short years that followed, had culminated in those last few weeks, when they had finally allowed themselves the love that had slowly been building the entire time.
Spiro abruptly stood, pulling her up in front of him. "It is late, you must be tired."
"Not so tired," she said with a smile.
One side of his lips curled up in response. "I was hoping you would say that," he whispered.
"Can you stay?" she asked quietly.
"Do you want me to?" he responded.
With no more words needed he took her hand
and led her back into the house.
Two dark eyes peered over the edge of the bed. "Mummy," Leo whispered, waiting for a response. "Mummy," he repeated, more insistently this time.
Louisa sleepily reached out to rub his shoulder. "Good morning, Darling," she yawned, forcing tired eyes open. "It's very early," she told him. "Come into bed and snuggle Mummy." She held the corner of the blanket out in invitation.
Leo shook his head. He pointed one small finger. "What?" she questioned, already dozing off. He pointed again without comment. She glanced towards her other side, momentarily startled to see a sleeping form there before the previous night's memories flooded her consciousness.
Spiros stirred, stretching an arm across Louisa’s stomach to pull her closer to him. Leo frowned and climbed onto the bed to physically lift Spiro’s arm off his mother.
“Mmm?” Spiros mumbled, coming to wakefulness. “Oh, good morning Leo.”
Leo loomed over them on his knees, still trying to move Spiros’ arm. “Why are you here?” he demanded to know.
Spiro pulled his arm away to rub his eyes and stifled a yawn while Louisa tugged Leo down to her side. “Sp-,” she began, then stopped. They hadn’t yet discussed what the child should call him. “He will be...staying...here...for now,” she said haltingly, looking to Spiro for confirmation.
“Uhh, yes,” Spiro leaned up on one elbow to see Leo. “I will be staying here….for now,” he echoed Louisa. “I hope that is okay?”
Leo regarded him. He leaned in to Louisa and whispered loudly, “Can I still snuggle you?"
"Of course you can," she whispered just as loudly, tickling his side to bring out giggles.
When he sobered he looked at Spiro very seriously and told him, "I guess you can stay. For now." He threw an arm over his mother's neck in an exuberant hug, but used his hand to push Spiro away over her shoulder.
Louisa smothered a smile. Spiro slid his legs out of bed on the opposite side. "I will take that as my cue," he said, reaching for his discarded shirt and trousers and pulling them on before standing. "I have become a," he sought the right word, fingers working on his shirt buttons. "Decent cook. I will make you breakfast!"
"Breakfast?" Leo clambered out the other side.
"So that's how it goes?" Louisa laughed. "The breakfast bell rings and you both abandon me?" She looked from Leo to Spiros, both with hair tousled and standing up from sleep.
"If you are not down by the time it is ready I will bring you breakfast in bed," Spiro knelt on the bed and drew close for a kiss, but aware of the eyes watching he pressed a kiss to her forehead instead. "Would you like to help me make your mother some food, Leo?"
Leo's eyes cut to Louisa's, wordlessly seeking permission. She tilted her head towards the door and he nodded eagerly, bouncing from foot to foot as he moved towards the hallway, already jabbering about what he wanted to eat.
With the boy out of sight Spiros leaned back down to Louisa to give her a proper kiss. “Take your time. I know last night was not very” he sent her a wicked grin “restful”.
From the doorway the messy haired boy reappeared. “Are you coming?” he asked impatiently. “I’m hungry!”
Spiros raised an eyebrow, a look immediately mirrored by his son. “Well?” Leo continued.
Louisa laughed. “I’m afraid patience is not his finest virtue first thing in the morning.”
Spiros sighed and with a last longing look at Louisa, followed Leo out the door.
“You shouldn’t kiss my mum,” she heard Leo say. “That’s yucky.”
Spiro’s deep chuckle accompanied the sound of their footsteps descending the stairs. Louisa considered enjoying a rare late morning in bed, but she still felt any moments with Spiros were stolen and precious, and as such she threw off the covers and planted her feet on the floor.
By the time she entered the kitchen Spiros and Leo were hard at work. The apron she had hung on a hook the previous night while unpacking was now wrapped around Spiro, the floral pattern comical against his faded blue shirt. Leo was standing on a chair pulled over to the old stove, dish towel tied securely around his waist, pajama sleeves rolled up to his elbows. He was concentrating on stirring the contents of a pan with a spatula. Spiros hovered nearby, directing him, their two dark heads close together.
The sight caused tears to well up in Louisa’s eyes and she stopped short in the doorway, taking a moment to drink in the scene. Spiros reached an arm around Leo, holding the handle of the pan with one hand and using the other to guide Leo’s hand. “Just...like….so,” he said softly, tapping the spatula against the pan before taking his hand off the boy’s.
The tea kettle whistled and Spiros moved to grab it. Leo looked up and saw Louisa. “Mummy!” he cried happily. “We’re making eggs and toast,” he explained, using the spatula to gesture, flinging a clod of steaming egg over his shoulder that Spiros deftly dodged.
“And what a fine job you’ve done,” she complimented them both. “It smells devine.” In truth, the smell of burnt toast hung in the air, mingling with the scent of over cooked egg.
“We were making fried eggs and toast,” Leo explained, allowing her to help him off the chair. “But I broke the egg yolks.” His nose scrunched up as he looked at the pan.
“So we made them scrambled,” Spiros finished as he filled the teapot and pulled a chair out for Louisa.
She fixed a plate and cup of tea for Leo before serving herself. Leo shoveled the food in like he had never been fed before. “Chew, Darling,” she reminded him. Glancing at Spiros she said, “I assure you, he wasn’t raised by wolves.”
Leo giggled. “If I was, then Gerry would probably collect me for his zoo!”
“So you like the animals? Like Gerrys?” Spiros questioned.
The boy nodded, his mouth full. Louisa spoke up, “Not quite like Gerry. We’ve never found Leo talking to rats.” She laughed at the joke, stopping when she noticed Spiros’ worried expression. “It was only the one time,” she clarified. “And then we got him Roger.” She took a bite of food to prevent the flow of more words.
“Roger’s dead,” Leo announced.
Spiros’ head swiveled, trying to keep up. “I’m….sorry?” He looked to Louisa for confirmation.
She nodded sadly.
“Old age,” Leo continued in well practiced sympathy, not being old enough to have memories of his own with his brother’s treasured pet. “Gerry cried for a week straight.” Silence filled the room. “Hey,” Leo blurted. “Can I have a dog?”
“I don’t think so, Darling.”
“I don’t see why not.”
Louisa and Spiros looked at each other.
“Well, I guess we can look into it.”
“Not if your mother says no.”
Leo, forked poised in the air, looked from one parent to the other, eyebrows drawn together in confusion. “Is that a yes?” he asked.
Louisa glanced at Spiros, who wisely remained quiet. “We’ll see.”
Leo’s shoulders slumped in disappointment.
"Tell me what else you enjoy," Spiro offered.
Leo took a deep breath while thinking."Welllll," he stalled. "Planes!" He thrust his fork in the air and flew it around, shooting at imaginary enemies.
Louisa cringed at image. "Less...violent, please" she admonished.
Leo brought his fork in for a landing.
"Cars?" Spiro asked, voice hopeful. "Do you like cars?"
Leo shrugged with a noncommittal attitude. "They're okay, I guess."
Louisa's eyes cut to Spiro, who wilted as if someone had kicked his favorite puppy. She turned her attention then to her son. "Go get dressed, we'll plan something fun."
"Okay." Leo raced up the stairs, loud as ever.
Louisa watched Spiros, reaching for his hand across the table. He stared into his cup with a dejected expression. Finally, with a sigh, he spoke. "It is….strange," he began. "To not know one's own child." His eyes were sad.
Louisa squeezed his hand. "I can imagine. I'm sorry." Spiro looked towards the doorway Leo had disappeared through. "But you'll get to know him. He is a wonderful boy."
Spiro nodded slowly. The boy's arrival just then squashed any further discussion. He plopped back on his chair and slurped the remaining tea from his cup.
“Would you like to help your baba, Leo?” Spiro asked, glancing at Louisa. She held her breath as she waited for his response.
Leo hopped off the chair, ready to go, then stopped and looked back to Spiro, head tipped to the side. “Baba?” he asked, confused.
"Yes," Spiro said, kneeling in front of the boy. "Baba. Father. It's like…what you call fathers in England? Daddy?"
One small shoulder lifted in a shrug. "I didn't have a father when we lived in England" Leo answered very seriously.
Spiro's gaze flickered to Louisa for a moment before turning back to his son. "I know. I'm sorry I was not there."
Leo stared at him. “Its okay. My friend Henry, he lived next door, he had a daddy.” His eyebrows drew together. “And then he didn’t, and he was sad.” Spiro opened his mouth to respond but Leo cut him off, continuing. “I didn’t have a daddy but now I do.” He frowned. “Well I have you I mean. That’s like a daddy?”
Spiro blinked, following the child’s reasoning. “It is the same, Leo. You can call me Daddy if you want to.”
Leo considered, then shook his head decidedly. “No, I like...Baba…” he said it carefully. “I don’t know anyone else who has one of those!”
Spiro chuckled, looking over to Louisa, who smiled back at the two of them. “I hope you won’t be too disappointed to learn that the other boys and girls here also have babas,” she told Leo.
Leo shrugged, unimpressed. “I don’t know them yet,” he said matter of fact.
Spiro stood to his feet, laughing. “He may look like a Halikopoulous, but he is definitely a Durrell!”
“The best of both of us,” Louisa agreed.
With the breakfast dishes cleaned and put away, Louisa wandered out to the garden. Spiro’s bottom half stuck out from under the front of his car while Leo squatted on his haunches beside him, an array of tools spread on the grass at his feet. When her shadow covered him he looked up, squinting into the sun at her.
“We’re exchanging the oil,” he told her.
“Ah." She knelt beside him. "What are you exchanging it for?" Leo shrugged.
Spiro levered himself out from under the car and sat up, wiping his hands on an old rag. “And that,’ he told Leo. “Is how you change the oil.” He smiled up at her, unaware a smudge of oil rested above his eye.
“This,” Leo carefully selected a tool. “Is a wench!” He proudly held it up.
“Wrench,” Louisa corrected.
Leo shook his head, “I don’t think so.”
Spiros laughed, gathering the remaining tools. “Your mother is right.”
“Oh. Wrench, wrench,” Leo repeated to himself.
Louisa took the rag from Spiros when he stood and rubbed the oil away, then tucked it into his pocket. He watched her without comment, smile curving one side of his mouth.
"Baba?" Leo asked, inserting himself between the two of them.
Spiro's smile changed, softening. "Yes?"
"Can you play catch with me?"
"I would, but," he held his hands out. "I don't have a ball here."
Leo grinned. "I have one!" He raced off into the house to retrieve it.
"He always has one," Louisa warned in jest.
Spiro's answering smile was wistful.
"Having fun?" she asked, studying his face.
He nodded slowly. "He," he stopped. "In many ways he reminds me of my oldest son." A muscle clenched in his jaw as he pressed his lips together, staring down at the tools in his hands.
Louisa placed a hand on his arm. "I am so sorry."
He nodded again, then cleared his throat and turned away from her to return the tools into a box.
"Spiro," she asked gently. "Where is Michalis?"
He stared into the distance, bracing himself with both hands on the car door for a moment, then took a deep breath and answered. "He is in Athens, with Dimitra's parents." His eyes met hers. "I thought a change might be good for him."
The words he didn't speak worried her, but she knew now wasn't the time to pry. Leo bounced out of the house with a dirty, well used ball clutched in his hand. The hat from Spiro was perched on his head, falling over his eyes every few steps.
"Got it!" He held the ball with one hand, using the other to push the hat up so he could see. Coming to a halt a short distance from them, he threw the ball at Spiro, missing by far more than an arm’s length. Undeterred, he ran off to chase it down.
“I never said he was good,” Louisa confessed in a stage whisper, watching Leo manage the oversized hat and ball. “But all the" she waved her hand. "Fetching. It does wear him out.”
Spiros opened his mouth to respond but was interrupted by Leo lobbing the ball out of his reach yet again. "I'll get it!" he called as he raced past them.
"Well it keeps him busy," Louisa stated with an unapologetic shrug when Spiro sent her an incredulous look.
Leo caught up with the ball and tossed it back towards Spiro, who managed to snatch it out of the air.
"You got it!" Leo cheered, jumping around wildly.
"Are you ready?" Spiro asked him. Leo held his hands in front of him. Spiro gently tossed the ball underhand for an easy catch, which flew between Leo's waiting hands and smacked him in the chest. Belatedly the boy's hands clapped together.
Spiro reached in habit for his hat, an outlet of frustration. With it gone he ran his fingers through his hair instead. He looked to Louisa. "Is this how they play ball in England?"
"I'll just," she gestured behind her back, "leave you two to work on this." The ball sailed between her and Spiros, followed quickly by their son. She made a hasty exit around the side of the house.
That evening, Leo again requested his father's presence at bedtime. Louisa left the room with a smile and made her way downstairs to a spot on the sofa. With only a light rain filling the silence, she could just barely make out the sound of Leo’s laughter. Eventually the giggles faded away and all was quiet before she heard soft footsteps and the creak of floorboards.
Spiros joined her on the sofa, lowering himself to the cushion with a tired groan. He rested his head on the back and closed his eyes. “So much energy,” he mumbled.
“I have always blamed that on some Halikiopolous family trait,” she teased.
He frowned, opening one eye to make sure she saw. She smiled back. Giving up the pretense he said, “I wish I could refute that, but,” he raised his head up. “That would be a lie.”
“Just as I thought.”
He reached an arm over her shoulders, pulling her against him. “Mmmm, this is nice.” His lips met her temple. In the far distance the rumble of thunder echoed over the sea. “This reminds of...that night,” he said.
Louisa sighed in contentment. “Much less drama tonight.”
“I am sorry,” he began, running his fingers up and down her arm, “that you were left with a child to raise because of my -”
“No,” she cut him off. “No. It is true I would have never planned for my life to take this path, but now that he is here I can’t imagine it going any other way.” She looked him straight in the eye. “I don’t regret what we did, or Leo’s life as a consequence of our actions.”
Spiros opened his mouth to say something, then shut it. He took a breath. “Tell me everything about him. Please. From the beginning.”
Louisa thought for a moment. “Well, it took an embarrassingly long time to even realize I was pregnant. I just never even considered it.”
Spiros listened without comment.
“When I knew, for sure, I wanted more than anything to take the first ferry back here. I likely would have, if Larry hadn’t talked me out of it.” She looked down at her lap. “He reminded me that you had a wife and children and nothing good would have come from me showing up…” she trailed off. Spiro’s lips were set in a straight line. “Larry was right, of course. Although I do try not to let him know I think that too often for fear his ego would be unbearable.” Her attempt at humor fell flat.
“I would have taken care of you,” Spiro insisted.
Louisa shook her head sadly. “I was not going to be responsible for you losing your family.”
Spiro remained silent, unable to refute her words.
“So, I stayed,” she continued. “There were only a few short weeks to prepare for his arrival, but the children all looked out for me in their own ways.” She smiled at the memory. “Margo was certain she could handle attending his birth, but even before any action began on the sharp end she passed out.”
Spiro breathed a laugh, Margo’s reputation well known from her work in the surgery.
“Leslie took to calling himself “Dr. Durrell” and claimed we didn’t even need to call the midwife-” she stopped when she saw Spiro’s expression. “Well obviously we didn’t take him seriously!”
She sighed. “He was...he is...very protective. Of both me and Leo.” She hesitated, not wanting to divulge how opposed Larry was to her return. Her eyes closed briefly, picturing meeting Leo for the first time. “He looked just like you when he was born,” she said quietly, letting the memory wash over her. “I felt I was given a piece of you to keep."
His thumb reached up to wipe the lone tear that rolled down her cheek.
She took a deep breath. "Fortunately, despite my widow status, few people questioned Leo's parentage. Enough other women were also raising children alone that I never stood out.” Pausing, she considered what to say next. “He kept us going during the war, like a...a light in the middle of all the darkness. I can’t imagine how we would have gotten through it without the happiness he brought us.”
Spiro nodded, his eyes fixed on his clasped hands. For a time he said nothing. Louisa watched him warily. Finally he lifted his gaze to hers. “I am glad he brought you joy,” he began slowly. “I just..” his voice faltered.
“It is a lot to take in?” Louisa finished for him.
“Yes,“ he agreed. “I don't know what to think when I see him here now and know I missed so much of his life.” He shook his head as if to clear the thoughts from them.
Louisa stayed silent, lacking the words to respond.
A closer rumble of thunder shook the house and as she watched, Spiro’s mouth curved into a smile. “You know,” he leaned forward and pressed his lips to her neck. “I have found myself becoming quite...” deft fingers quickly unhooked the top buttons of her shirt. “Mmm...what is the word?” He kissed her collarbone. “For thinking about the past?”
Louisa struggled to concentrate as he worked his way back up her neck. "Uhmm...nostalgia…nostalgic," she murmured.
"Nostalgic," he repeated, his breath tickling her ears. "Thunderstorms make me nostalgic." His lips traveled across her cheek
"I can't imagine why." She felt him smile against her lips.
"I could remind you." His teeth gently grazed her lower lip.
"That would be...helpful," she landed on a word she hoped made sense before he claimed her mouth again. One of his hands reached out to turn the lamp off, plunging them into darkness.
"Louisa?" The name trailed through the front hall, the slight British accent unmistakable. "Louisa?" Florence called again, her form entering the kitchen milliseconds before throwing her arms around her friend in an uncharacteristic show of emotion. "You really are back!" she cried, pulling back to look at her.
Louisa smiled and clasped her friend closer in another hug. "Oh, how I have missed you!" she exclaimed.
The two women laughed, wiping tears from their cheeks. Leo watched them silently from his spot at the table. Florence caught sight of him from the corner of her eye, her face going slack when she turned her full attention on him. "Oh my god," she said, the bag on her arm falling to the floor with a dull thud. "Oh my god, Louisa," she repeated, pulling her eyes away from the child to stare at Louisa in shock.
"Darling, could you run along and go find Baba?" she asked Leo, maneuvering around the table to draw him from his seat and give him a gentle nudge towards the door. He looked between his mother and the other woman with solemn eyes, one eyebrow raised, before rushing out the door, already calling his father.
".....Baba…" Florence repeated weakly, slumping into a chair.
Louisa bustled about, setting tea items on the table, more to give herself something to do with her nervous energy than anything.
"How did you…? When…?" Florence mumbled, then stopped. "At least I don't have to ask who," she said with her usual sarcastic wit, meeting Louisa's eye. She couldn't suppress a slight smile at the remark. "But why didn't you tell me?" Florence continued.
Louisa sank into a chair, covering Florence's hand with her own. "I can't begin to explain how much I wanted to. But please understand I couldn't. I could never find the words to write about him to Spiro." She gave Florence's hands a squeeze then pulled away and began to pour tea. "And I couldn't risk him finding out any other way but through me."
"You didn't think Spiro deserved to know that he had a son?"
Louisa stilled. "I must have missed the 'How to Tell Your Married Lover You Are Carrying His Child Whilst Living a Continent Away During War' section of the parenting magazine." Her words came out fiercer than she intended but she didn't apologize. Florence waited. She sighed and continued. "I did what I felt I had to at the time. It is in the past, we are here now and Spiro knows.” She looked away, then back to Florence. “I feel Theo didn’t completely agree with my decision either, but I don’t see what other option I had available.”
Louisa gave her a look. “Theo and his family took shelter in our house at times. He can be oblivious, but even he couldn’t miss an extra Durrell child running around. Especially…” she gestured with her hand and trailed off.
“One that looks like a carbon copy of a certain Corfiot taxi driver we all know you love?’ Florence finished for her, raising an eyebrow.
Louisa grudgingly smiled. “Something like that, yes,” she admitted.
“Well,” Florence said, settling her tea cup down after taking a sip. “Tell me all about him.”
The smile on Louisa’s face grew wider. “He’s one of the best things to ever happen to me," she began, recounting the depression she fell into upon returning to England, finding out she was carrying Spiro's child, and ending with her decision to come back to Corfu and her fears of how Spiros would react. She took a sip of her now cold tea.
Florence had listened intently while she spoke. When Louisa finished she let out a breath and reached across the table to squeeze her hand, letting her know she understood with no words. "And now that you've returned, things between you and Spiros are…." she raised her eyebrows, letting the question hang.
Louisa laughed. "Wonderful. He took to Leo immediately, and Leo already adores him."
Florence raised an eyebrow, silently prodding her.
"And that, too. We've picked up right where we left off. I was half afraid I'd spent the past five years forming this unrealistic image of him." She smiled at the thought, then turned sober. "Or that he would still be grieving Dimitra and his son…"
Florence cleared her throat and looked away.
"Tell me about it," Louisa implored. "Please."
"By all accounts they seemed to be happy. Happier than they had been….for years," she added, her gaze flickering away from Louisa's. "His son fell ill first, and his wife followed within days. There were so many sick and dying people," she shook her head. "It was all we could do to care for them, the ones who survived were left to deal with their grief." She hesitated. "Spiros changed…after. He withdrew. I haven't seen him truly happy since."
Louisa opened her mouth to respond but was interrupted by the creak of the door. Leo barreled through the opening, Spiros a few steps behind him. Leo immediately ran to Louisa's side and loudly regaled her with his newest findings.
"Leo, darling, I am right here you needn't yell."
Undeterred, he continued, "-and Baba taught me to throw and catch the ball! See?" He flung the ball across the room, catching an unsuspecting Spiros in the stomach.
"Oof," Spiros exhaled.
Leo had the grace to look sheepish. "Sorry, Baba."
"Please, not in the house, Darling!"
Leo scrambled to pick up the fallen ball then stood beside Spiros, pulling his hat over his eyes in embarrassment.
"Hello, Spiros," Florence greeted him.
"Florence," Spiros nodded.
"I hear congratulations are in order."
Spiros placed a hand on Leo's shoulder, face lighting up in pride. "Thank you." He pushed the hat back to see Leo's face. "We'll leave you ladies to catch up." He tipped his head to them and steered Leo back out the door.
Louisa watched them go, a wistful smile playing on her lips. Florence studied her, meeting her eyes when she turned her attention back to her. “Well, I stand corrected,” she said, tipping her head in the direction Spiros and Leo went. After a pause she asked, “And where is Spiros’ other son?”
Louisa sighed. “He is in Athens, with his mother’s family.”
“Ah,” Florence let it drop, immediately arousing Louisa’s suspicion.
“What are you not telling me?” she asked.
“I do not know him well, understand,” she began, leaning forward. “But I have heard that he is…” she struggled to find the right word. “Troubled.”
Louisa blinked. “Of course he is troubled. He’s lost his mother and brother and his world has been turned upside down. Who wouldn’t be troubled?”
Florence shrugged. “That’s all I know.”
“Do you remember the state of my children when we first moved here?”
Florence took a sip of her tea, hiding her smirk.
“Troubled would have been a generous way to describe them.” She pursed her lips together, looking away.
“If ever a woman was up to the challenge of a troublesome teenager, it would be you,” Florence acquiesced.
“Speaking of,” Louisa said. “How is your Adonis?”
“Oh, well,” Florence pushed aside her now empty cup. “Every stage I think it must surely get easier, and every stage I am mistaken.” She smiled. “He is great. Smart, rotten, and growing like a weed.”
“They do do that,” Louisa agreed.
“It is hard enough with one, I am not sure how you manage with four.” She stopped. “Five,” she corrected herself.
Louisa laughed. “I don’t exactly make a habit of lining them up and counting them to remind myself of how horribly outnumbered I am. Plus, the older four are all adults now. More or less.”
“And how is that going?”
She let out a deep breath. “Bigger people, bigger problems.”
“Are you telling me it never gets easier?”
“Hasn’t happened yet for me.”
“And how old is Larry?” she shook her head. “Wait...don’t answer that.”
With a knowing smile, Louisa stood, gathering the teacups to place in the sink. Florence helped, handing her the teapot and sugar bowl.
Out the window they could see Spiros and Leo playing catch in the garden. A worried expression crossed Louisa’s face. “Will the Corfiots accept him?” she asked.
Florence stood beside her, watching. She was quiet for long enough that Louisa cast a concerned glance in her direction. Her friend sighed. “I think so, yes. In time,” she answered honestly.
Her words, though ringing in truth, lacked the reassurance she was craving. Forcing a smile, she turned from the window.
Florence patted her arm in sympathy. “I must be going,” she said, swinging the strap of her bag over her shoulder. “It was so good to see you again. Don’t be a stranger. You can’t hide here forever.”
“Are you sure?” Louisa answered, only half joking. She followed Florence out the door.
Spiro looked over at them. “Do you need a ride back to town?” he asked.
Florence considered, then nodded. “That would be lovely, Spiros, thank you.”
She knelt down to look at Leo. “I have a little boy about your age. You are welcome to come and play with him any time.”
Leo nodded eagerly. “Can I? Now?” he asked Louisa, bouncing on his toes in excitement.
“Not today, but soon.”
The answer dimmed his enthusiasm and he watched with longing as his father started his car and drove away, shoulders slumping when he was out of sight. Louisa walked over to him and laid a hand on his shoulder. He looked up at her and sighed. “I wanted to go, too.”
“I know,” she murmured, taking his hand. She hurt for him, but also wasn’t ready to deal with the villagers’ prying eyes, questions, and judgements.
“You can’t hide here forever.” She turned the words over in her mind. Louisa was no shrinking violet, usually preferring to plow headlong into adversity, but she was also fiercely protective of her children and she was loath to allow anyone to hurt her youngest, even if unintentionally.
Later that night, in the soft glow of candlelight, Louisa curled against Spiros, one hand resting on his heart which had yet to settle into its normal rhythm. "Spiro," she kissed his shoulder.
"Mmm?" His eyes were closed and a slight hint of a smile curved over his lips.
"I've been here a week and it's been wonderful, but something is missing." She propped herself up on an elbow to look down at him.
He opened his eyes, one eyebrow rising in curiosity.
"Michalis," she told him.
He nodded slowly. "When do you expect him to come home?" she continued.
"Soon, I assume. He has been gone for 17 days now."
Louisa watched him. "Does he know? About Leo and me?"
Spiro stuck an arm behind his head and sighed. "No," he admitted.
Louisa flopped back onto her pillow. "Oh dear."
Spiro rolled towards her. "I didn't not tell him. There was nothing to tell before he left, I didn't know…."
Louisa raised a hand to wave off his explanation in a feeble attempt to reassure him. "No, I know, I understand. It will just be a shock to him."
"I could write him a letter?" Spiro offered.
"No, absolutely not. He deserves to be told in person." She looked at him. "You know what you have to do.”
A muscle worked in Spiro’s jaw while he remained silent.
“You have to go to him."
"And leave you here?"
"Leo and I will be fine. You'll only be gone a few days at most, right?"
Worry lines etched into his forehead. He leaned in to kiss her temple. "I just got you back, I can't bear to part yet."
Louisa placed a hand on his face, smoothing his forehead with her thumb. "You have to do this for Michalis. Let him know as gently as possible."
Spiro snaked an arm around her and pulled her flush against him. "Three days."
She inhaled his scent, committing it to memory. "Three days," she agreed.
The next morning she sat on the edge of the bed, one arm holding Leo, while watching Spiro pack the meager belongings he had brought to the villa over their days together. He glanced up, concern evident on his face. Leo had taken the news much harder than they had expected. Leo exhaled and his small body shuddered. Spiros dropped the bag onto the floor and knelt in front of the boy.
“Leo, I will be back in just a few days,” he reminded him.
Leo shook his head, burying his face in Louisa’s side.
She sighed, rubbing circles on his back. “Three sleeps,” she said.
“But,” Leo hiccupped, “but what if you don’t come back?” Fresh tears welled up in his eyes. “Henry’s father went away and never came back.” He swiped his sleeve over his face to wipe away the tears.
“Oh, Darling,” Louisa soothed him, understanding his distress. “Henry’s father went to war. Your baba is just going to Athens for a few days.”
Conflicting emotions splayed across Spiro’s face. “You have to go,” she reminded him, knowing he was torn. He nodded then reached forward to pull Leo towards him, pressing a kiss to his forehead.
“Three days,” he told him. He then turned to Louisa. She grabbed his shirt as he leaned in for a kiss.
“I’ll miss you,” she stated simply, leaning her forehead against his. He placed a hand over hers, holding it against his heart. He kissed her again, laid a hand briefly over Leo’s hair, then walked away to pick up his bag. Her eyes followed him as he paused briefly in the doorway to look back at them before disappearing into the hall beyond. Eventually the sound of the car’s engine turning over broke the silence.
Leo heaved a big sigh and looked up at her. She brushed the tears from his cheeks. “Will he really come back?” he asked in a small voice.
She smiled and leaned over to rub her nose lightly against his, bringing out a tiny, half-hearted laugh. “Of course he will.”
“Three sleeps,” she confirmed.
Leo’s head still hung dejectedly. He swung one foot, kicking at the rug with the toe of his shoe.
“How would you like to go for a walk?” she asked, relieved when she saw his eyes sparkle with a hint of their usual excitement.
“Where to?” he jumped up.
“Hmmm...” she pretended to give it deep consideration. “The beach?” she said, knowing he had expressed interest in going.
He nodded. “Yes!”
“Let’s go then!” He grabbed her hand to pull her to a stand.
She took him to the beach where she had once, long ago, watched Spiro with his family. The cove was deserted but for a group of old men clustered around a small boat. Spreading out a blanket, she settled back to watch her son, adjusting her hat to keep the intense sun from her eyes. By the water’s edge Leo gleefully threw rocks and splashed in the shallow spots. She gave up requesting him to stay dry, knowing the allure of the water was too much for the young boy to avoid. Seeing his joy brought her happiness. Eventually she urged him out of the water with the promise of food.
They took the long route home, meandering through the countryside that remained so familiar. Leo hopped along, indefatigable, thrilled with everything. The dusty road opened from a cover of trees to an open field, dotted with goats. Leo crept close to an animal pressed against the fence, reaching fruitlessly for a weed just out of its reach. He yanked it from the ground and held it to the goat, laughing when she pulled it from his hand and stayed still enough to allow him to scratch her head.
Louisa allowed her eyes to wander from him to the stone house up ahead. The yard was impeccable, showing clear signs of occupancy. With a quick glance to Leo still happily making four legged friends, she moved closer, keeping an eye out for movement.
“Are my eyes deceiving me or is that a Durrell I see?” came a voice from the shadows of the porch.
Louisa’s steps quickened. “Sven!” she called out.
He moved out into the sunshine, one hand over his eyes to block the sun. “Louisa Durrell,” his face split with a wide smile. ‘Yours is a face I never thought I would see again.”
She pulled him into a hug, which he returned after a beat, his arms wrapping around her back. “It is good to see you again,” his voice rumbled in her ear.
She pulled back. “And you. How have you been?”
A flicker of pain flashed across his face. He waved to the house behind him. “The goats and I are still here. I cannot complain.”
“Viggo?” she asked quietly..
He shook his head, looking away to avoid her eyes. “He...he didn’t…” he looked at the ground, taking a shaky breath.
“I am so sorry,” she said, laying her hand on his arm.
“War is…” he shook his head again. “A terrible thing.”
“It truly is,” she agreed.
Sven cleared his throat, regaining his careful composure. “What about you? How are you and the Durrell children?”
“We are well. The children are hardly children any more, they are all busy living their own lives.”
A half smile lifted one side of his face. “What brings you back to Corfu? I doubt you missed my accordion”
She laughed. “I had some...unresolved...business to take care of,” she answered, almost immediately interrupted by a small voice.
“Mummy?” he yelled, coming to stop beside her, breathless and flushed from running.
Sven blinked at him, speechless. His eyes darted to hers as his mouth gaped open.
“Sven, this is Leo, my son,” she said.
“Unresolved business?” he repeated her words, studying the boy and putting pieces together. “That is one way to put it.” He swiped a hand over his face as if he could change what his eyes were seeing.
Leo eyed him curiously, “Are those your goats?” he asked.
“Leo, this is Sven,” she introduced him, urging Leo to remember his manners. He solemnly held out his hand.
Sven hesitated for a moment before reaching his own out to shake the much smaller one. “It is nice to meet you,” he told him.
“So,” Leo tipped his head, “are those your goats?” he asked again, pointing to the animals in question.
That seemed to snap Sven out of his mind. “Yes,” he cleared his throat. “They are. Would you like to meet them?”
Leo’s head bobbed eagerly. Sven called several over, making Louisa smile as he introduced each one by name to them, explaining each one’s personality.
“I like that one,” Leo pointed to the goat he had made friends with earlier.
Sven smiled. “Ah, yes,” he said. “She is the queen. Bossy, but keeps the others in line.” He whistled and the goat lifted her head and trotted towards them. “Don’t tell the others, but,” he leaned down and lowered his voice as if telling Leo a great secret. “She is my favorite.”
“She’s my favorite, too,” Leo agreed seriously. “What is her name?”
A red flush creeped up Sven’s face. He rubbed the back of his neck and glanced at Louisa. “Well...uhh...I call that one Louisa.” He winced.
“That’s my mum’s name!” Leo laughed.
“You named a goat after me?” Louisa cried incredulously.
“Well…” Sven stammered.
“A bossy goat?” she clarified.
“It just...seemed to fit,” his face turned a brighter red.
Louisa bit back a smile. “It is a good thing I know how much your goats mean to you, so I will take this as flattery and not offense.”
“They are like my children,” he reminded her, leaning over to rub Louisa-the-Goat under her chin. The animal bleated and closed her eyes, leaning against him. “She is my favorite,” he told her. “You should be honored.”
“Hello Mummy goat!” Leo greeted the animal, not seeing Louisa’s eye roll. He knelt in front of her and patted her head.
“Louisa likes to be scratched right here,” Sven demonstrated, rubbing his fingers under the goat’s jawline.
“I want a goat, Mummy,” Leo pleaded.
Louisa took a deep breath, watching her son love on the animal.
Sven stepped closer to her. “I could always give you some goats again,” he offered. “Just not that one,” he gestured to the goat in front of him with his chin, then looked at her and winked. “I could not part with her.”
“I’ll give it thought. We’ve barely settled in.”
“Where are you staying?” he asked.
Sven nodded, deep in thought. “Ah…”
She raised her eyebrow.
“I had heard Spiro was fixing the place up,” he explained. “I had wondered why…” he smiled at her. “Now I know.”
They stood in silence for a time, watching Leo play with the goats.
“How is the unresolved business going?” he asked her, keeping his eyes on the view in front of him.
She turned her attention to him, “As well as can be expected. Spiro was quite shocked, of course...”
Sven barked a laugh. “I would certainly say so.”
She ignored his comment and continued. “But he is a wonderful father and Leo already adores him.”
Sven placed his hands in his pockets. “Spiro is a lucky man.” He met her gaze. “I have always thought so.”
Louisa was saved from answering by Leo, who reminded her that it was past his lunchtime. She held the boy’s hand and hugged Sven with her free arm. “It was so good to see you again. Don’t be a stranger.”
“I will come visit and bring you a goat,” he laughed as they walked away.
“I will name it ‘Sven’,” she called over her shoulder.
“No, that name will not do for a girl goat!” he shouted.
Only her answering laugh reached his ears.
The hours passed slowly. Leo was unusually bored and restless, demanding attention and whining when she encouraged him to entertain himself. By the day before she expected Spiro to return her nerves were frayed. They had already been to the beach, twice, had cleaned every inch of the house, explored the garden thoroughly, and she had stacked more blocks than she ever cared to. She knew a change of scenery was a desperately needed diversion.
“Get your shoes, Darling, let’s go visit friends.”
“Friends?” Leo asked, voice eager.
“My friend Florence, who has a little boy about your age,” she told him. “His name is Adonis.”
Leo looked wary. “Does he speak English?” he asked, recalling his disappointment the day earlier when children on the beach only spoke Greek.
She smoothed his hair. “Yes,” she reassured him, earning a smile in response.
She took them the longer way, avoiding the town as much as possible. Soon they were standing at the doctor’s door. She turned the knob and entered, relieved at seeing the empty waiting area. “Hello?” she called.
Florence popped her head out of a room. “Louisa! One second,” she said, motioning towards her private sitting area. “I’ll be with you once I’m finished lancing Mr. Argyros’ boil.” She made a face. “What an exciting morning for me,” her words dripped with sarcasm.
Louisa smirked and ushered Leo past the doorway, urging him forward when he craned his neck to peek into the room at the patient. Settling him onto the floor, she spotted the basket of toys in the corner that had always been there to entertain Adonis. She smiled when she sat it in front of Leo, taking note that the rattles and stuffed animals had been replaced by metal cars and books, yet another reminder of the passage of time.
Sitting down on one of the chairs in front of the window she watched Leo play with toys. Within a few minutes she heard Florence and Adonis in the adjoining room. She appeared at the door, a reluctant-looking boy in front of her.
“Adonis! How you have grown,” she greeted him. “You don’t remember me but…” she laughed. “I was the first person to meet you.”
Florence snorted. “Louisa caught you when your father didn’t make it in time.”
Adonis smiled shyly, looking between Louisa and Leo.
“This is Leo, he is new here and doesn’t know anyone. Make him feel welcome,” she nudged him forward, both women relieved when the two boys immediately fell into playing with the toy vehicles.
“So,” Florence began, setting down a tray of tea cups. “Did I hear correctly? Is Spiro fetching his son from the mainland?”
“Yes,” Louisa allowed her worries to color her voice. “They will return tomorrow.” She fixed her tea and took a sip, setting the cup back on its saucer before continuing. “I am beginning to regret sending Spiro so soon…” she dragged her eyes off of Florence and to the children in front of them.
“Rumor has it Spiro moved a mystery woman into the big villa,” Florence said. “She might even be English.”
Louisa raised an eyebrow. “The last thing I need to worry about are rumors.”
“I’m only telling you to encourage you to show up and…” she shrugged. “Put an end to them?”
“And seeing me and Leo would stop rumors?” Louisa lowered her voice.
“Eventually,” Florence sighed. “How many people have you seen you so far?”
“You. And Sven....”
Louisa nodded. “We walked past his house. Leo fell in love with his goats, one of which he had named after me.”
Florence laughed at that. “Well, considering Sven...I suppose that should be taken as a compliment?”
She continued, “Some old fishermen and a family at the beach…” Louisa thought. “A few others, but none I recognized.
Florence gave her a knowing look. “You, of all people, should know that the Corfiots will fill in the gaps of rumors with their own imagination. The truth is certainly better than that.”
Louisa exhaled. “Is it?”
Florence sipped her tea, considering. “I believe so.”
“Is a simple, unburdened life, far from gossip, too much to ask for?”
Florence’s eyebrow rose and she opened her mouth to respond, but Louisa stopped her.
“No. Don’t,” she shook her head, smile tugging her lips up.
“On the subject of simple lives,” Florence teased. “Are you ready for Michalis?”
Louisa pushed her tea away, giving her friend a look. “I am afraid I didn’t consider this completely before I rushed back here.”
Florence was quiet. “I think,” she started. “He will come around in time.”
“I’ve survived getting three children to adulthood,” Louisa said, more to remind herself than anything. “What is one more?”
Florence nodded silently.
“Does he speak English?” The thought just now occurred to her.
“Uh…” Florence thought. “Well, this is Spiro’s son, so...probably?”
“Oh, God, what did I get myself into?”
“Guess you’ll find out tomorrow.”
“Precisely what I am afraid of.”
Leo knocked over his tower of blocks, then flopped backwards onto the rug. "When will Baba be back?" he asked for the umpteenth time since that morning.
Louisa pinched the bridge of her nose in a bid for patience. "Tomorrow, Darling. Still tomorrow."
"But when is tomorrow?" he whined.
"One more sleep," she reminded him, again. "Why don't you go play outside with your ball?"
Leo shook his head. "Baba isn't here to play catch," he responded sadly.
"No," she agreed, "he is not." She pulled out a chair at the table and sat down, patting her lap in invitation.
Leo reluctantly pulled himself off the floor and shuffled over to her. She hoisted him onto her legs, wrapping him in a hug. "Do you remember why Baba left?"
He nodded silently, picking at one of the ever-present scabs on his knee. She laid a hand over his to stop the motion and turned him so she could see his face. "Baba wanted to tell Michalis all about you...about us...before he gets back here."
"My brother, Michalis," he pronounced the name carefully. "Like Larry and Leslie and Margo and Gerry?"
Louisa nodded. "Yes, but your other brothers and Margo all knew about you and loved you before you were even born. Michalis doesn't know."
"He might not like me," Leo said in a small voice.
Louisa's heart broke a bit for him, the memory of his same concerns about meeting his father still fresh. Yet unlike that time, she couldn't truthfully reassure him. "I think," she began, "that he will need some time to adjust to having a brother again.”
“Because his brother died,” Leo recited from the story she had been repeating often over the past few days.
“Yes,” she nodded. “So give him some time and don’t pester him to play with you.” She brushed some of his dark hair back from his forehead. “Now, what can we do to welcome him here?”
“I think…” he made a show of tapping his lips, even though he knew Louisa already knew what he would say. “Cookies!” he finished with a big grin.
“Cookies?” she acted surprised, then tickled his side, drawing out the giggles she loved so much. “I think cookies are an excellent idea.” She righted him, kissed his forehead and set him on his feet. “Let’s go make some cookies!”
Later, long after Leo asleep, she wandered through the house, wiping imaginary crumbs from the table, shifting and then reshifting the platters of cookies she and Leo had baked earlier, sweeping the floors for the third time, fluffing the pillows and smoothing the blanket yet again on the bed in Michalis’ room. She knew her efforts were pointless, teen boys were often oblivious to housekeeping after all. She felt better about the array of treats she had prepared. If Michalis was anything like her older boys, sugar would go over far better than shining floors to soothe angsty hormones.
She checked on Leo, smiling at the sight of him sprawled across the bed, marvelling at how alike he and his father were, even in sleep. She picked up his stuffed rabbit and laid it next to him, tucked his legs back under his blanket then pulled it up to his chest, pausing to pat his head gently before tip-toeing out of his room.
Returning downstairs she blew out lamps along the way. Though electricity had finally made its way to Corfu she found she preferred candlelight at night. “A soft light to hide the ugliness” is what Spiro had told her so many years ago she recalled with a smile. Setting the last lamp on the table she sank wearily into a chair, staring at the shadows dancing along the walls. Tonight she wished all her children were present under the same roof. It was an event that had become rare over the past few years. Expected, she assumed, as her birds had all grown and flown her nest. Still, decades of habit were hard to break, and late at night especially she felt out of sorts not knowing her offspring were all present and accounted for.
And she was worried about tomorrow. Not so much about having another child to raise, but how accepting Michalis would be of her and Leo. Would he harbor resentment towards her? She tried to remember him as she had seen him last, a sweet, shy child not much older than Leo was now. He seemed a happy enough boy, even ill as he was. But, she knew the years between then and now had been cruel to him. A war, so much loss, and now just as his life was beginning to settle into a comfortable rhythm she and Leo were there to throw it into chaos again. She sighed, then reached for the candle and stood. Tomorrow would come soon enough and she knew she needed some sleep to deal with whatever storm it was sure to bring.
Buckle up, we're in for a bumpy ride
Warm, slightly damp hands pressed against her cheek, pulling her eyes open. “Leo,” she yawned, pushing him away.
Undeterred, his body flopped over hers. “Mummy,” he loud-whispered in her ear. “Is today the day?”
Louisa opened one eye. Judging by the scant light coming through the curtains it was still very early. She attempted to pull him down beside her but he popped back up. “Mummy,” he was insistent. “Baba comes back today!”
Louisa stretched, resigning herself to the very early wake up call. It was hard to be upset with Leo’s beaming smile, though. “He won’t be back for hours yet, Leo,” she cautioned him.
He hopped off the bed and opened the curtains. “But it’s today,” he repeated.
“It is today,” she agreed. “Go get dressed and I’ll meet you downstairs.”
He ran out of the room and she heard his feet clomping down the hall.
“Oh, for a fraction of that energy,” she mumbled to herself, opening her wardrobe to search for a clean dress. She quickly decided on a brightly colored blouse and dark blue skirt, then brushed her hair and headed down the stairs, where Leo was impatiently waiting. His shirt was untucked and his hair stood up, but she refrained from correcting his appearance for now, knowing she would very likely be destined to repeat the action many times throughout the day.
Leo was almost bursting with excitement, rambling on about what all he had planned to do with his father. Outside, the sun fully rose beyond the sea, promising a gorgeous sunny day. “When will they be here?” he asked.
Louisa glanced at the clock. “Not for three hours at the earliest,” she told him, sighing inwardly.
Leo blinked. “How long is that?”
“It’s…” she thought. “Halfway until lunchtime.” She hoped that explanation would suffice.
He nodded as he finished the food on the plate in front of him. Seeing he was satisfied with the answer, she stood, gathering dishes to take to the sink.
They completed their chores, Louisa read Leo a stack of books, then let him take up a position of watch dog at the door.
“He’s back!” Leo cried, jumping up and down at the window. Louisa rushed over to stop him from racing out the door. Peeking through the pane she worried at the tenseness visible on Spiro’s face. Her gaze moved to the boy beside him, but he was staring at his lap and she was unable to see his face. Spiro parked the car without sounding the horn. He said something to his son, who gave no response. Grabbing a bag out of the backseat he came around the car to stand beside the boy. He said something else that earned him only a solid head shake in return. Spiro’s shoulders sagged. He turned from the car and trudged towards the house. Barely was he through the door before he was set upon by Leo.
“Baba!” he threw his arms around Spiro’s waist and squeezed. The exuberant greeting brought a hint of a smile to his face and he placed a large hand on Leo’s head while meeting Louisa’s questioning eyes over the boy.
“He is not happy,” he admitted, grabbing for his hat. “We had...words…” he shook his head, the set of his lips told Louisa what his words didn’t.
“I missed you, Baba,” Leo said.
“And I missed you,” Spiro lifted him into his arms. “Were you good for your mother?” The child nodded.
Movement from outside caught Louisa’s eye. “I think he’s decided to join us,” she motioned to the car.
Spiro set Leo back on his feet. Michalis came to the door, gaze drifting over his father to land on Leo. He narrowed his eyes before looking at Louisa, who smiled nervously.
He cut her off. “I hate you,” he said slowly, enunciating each word carefully before turning and bolting out the door.
For a heartbeat no one moved. “Well,” Louisa forced a bright smile, turning to Spiro and clasping her hands together. “My worries of a language barrier were completely unfounded.”
Two similar faces stared back at her, one with a look of confusion and the other with shock. Spiro's mouth tightened as he watched his son run off. He slammed the hat he had been strangling in his hands back onto his head. “I will talk to him again.” he threatened, moving to stalk after the boy.
Louisa grabbed his arm. “Stop,” she said.
“He disrespected me,” he stammered, voice rising in his anger. “And you.”
She shook her head. “And we will get over it. He is upset, and rightfully so. Give him some time.”
He still looked unconvinced. “A few hours, at least,” she insisted. “Let him cool off. What can it hurt?”
Spiro opened his mouth to respond, but a glance at Leo’s wide eyes stopped him. He looked away, reining in his temper. Louisa nudged Leo. “Go pick out a cookie, Darling,” she urged him. He looked between the two of them before deciding it was in his best interest to go.
When the child was out of earshot she turned to Spiro. “Need I ask how it went?”
He pulled his hat down and continued to twist it before answering. “He…he hasn’t said anything since we left. He didn’t want to come with me,” he admitted, pain in his eyes. “I threatened to carry him to the ferry if he wouldn’t walk willingly.”
“Oh, Spiro,” she breathed.
He hung his head. “I messed this up,” he groaned.
She pulled him into a hug. “You can fix this,” she promised, running her hands up and down his back. He buried his face in her neck and she felt some of the tension leave his body as his arms wrapped around her. She leaned back to look into his eyes. They were glassy with a sheen of unshed tears. “We can do this,” she corrected. “It won’t be easy. Or painless,” she added, drawing a half hearted smile from him. “Together.”
“Together,” he repeated, pressing his forehead to hers. He kissed her then, softly at first, but then he tossed his hat aside and placed a hand on either side of her face, tipping her head back to reach her neck. “I missed you,” he murmured, his hands travelling down her shirt, and dipping beneath her waistband, fingertips grazing the flesh there.
Louisa longed to lose herself in his touch, but she knew they were bound to be interrupted by a little person. She placed her hands on his chest, separating them slightly. “Spiro,” he ignored her, taking a step forward and pressing her against the wall. “Spiro,” she tried again as he kissed along her collarbone. “Cookies won’t occupy Leo for long.”
He grumbled, lips against her neck. “How long?”
“Not long enough.”
He exhaled, his breath hot against her skin. She could feel his heart racing under the hand she had pressed to his chest. “Later?” he asked, his mouth returning to hers before she could answer.
She pulled away to gather a breath, laughing. “You are insatiable,” she informed him.
“Mmmm,” he tucked a curl behind her ear, tilting his head in confusion. “What does that mean? Insatiable?”
“Cannot get enough,” she smiled, toying with his suspenders.
He grabbed her hands, pressing a kiss to them. “Of you,” he agreed.
“And speaking of insatiable,” she looked towards the kitchen. “Your son has probably taken advantage of our inattention to eat his weight in sugar.”
“You made me cookies?”
“I made Michalis cookies,” she clarified.
“I think he won’t mind sharing,” Spiro said.
Louisa straightened her shirt, tucking it back into her skirt. “If there are any left.” She patted her hair back into order. “Where do you think he went?” she asked, abruptly changing the subject.
He bent over to pick up his cast aside hat. “Home,” Spiro told her, straightening and pinching the bridge of his nose.
He missed her flinching at the word, those four simple letters a reminder of what she had taken from the boy. "That...would make sense."
He caught the tone of her voice. "This is my home now," he said, insistent. "With you."
She squeezed her eyes shut for a second. "But it is not his, not yet," she whispered, opening them.
Spiro sighed. "I am selfish," he said. She started to shake her head in refute but he held up a hand. "Yes. For so many years, every time I came to this house...I would picture in my head parking right there," he gestured behind him. "And letting myself in this door...then walking up to your bedroom to be with you."
Louisa's lips parted at the image.
He continued. "And now that I can, I can taste that dream," he shook his head. "I feel…" he searched for the word. "Resentful." He frowned. "I just cannot bear to lose you again." He swallowed. "My son needs me, but I only want to be with you. I am selfish."
"You're not," she told him. "You are allowed to have your own dreams." He looked away. "It took me long enough to realize that."
Leo chose that moment to pound out of the kitchen, skidding to a halt in front of them. Evidence of his snacking dotted his cheek and crumbs littered his shirt, in his hand he held out a cookie that looked suspiciously like a child-sized bite had been taken from it. "I got you a cookie, Baba!" He announced proudly.
Spiro took it from him. "Did you try it first?" he asked.
Leo shrugged. "It's a good one!"
He dutifully ate it in one large bite. "How many did you 'try'?"
The boy grinned mischievously and held up 5 fingers. Louisa knew he walked a fine line between honesty and the desire to avoid a reprimand. She ushered him back to the kitchen to clean up the mess he was sure to have left.
"Can we play catch, Baba? Mummy took me to the beach and there were rocks everywhere! And it was so fun to throw them! Maybe you and me could go tomorrow? I made a new friend named Adonis and he likes trucks. Oh! Can I get a goat? Mummy's friend has a bunch and guess what?" he barely paused. "His goat was named after Mummy!" He laughed hysterically.
Spiro raised an eyebrow at Louisa.
"My namesake goat is bossy, apparently," she said dryly, sweeping crumbs off the table.
Spiro's lips twitched but he snagged a cookie to avoid answering. Leo ran off, reappearing seconds later with a ball and hopeful expression.
Louisa stilled, worried expression on her face. Spiro glanced at her before turning his attention to Leo, steeling himself for the boy's disappointment. "I can play for awhile, but then I will have to leave again."
Leo's forehead wrinkled in confusion. "And then you'll come back?"
"Yes," Spiro assured him. "But not tonight. Maybe not for a few more days."
The child's face crumpled. "But...but...you just came back!"
"I know, Leo."
"You said three days," Leo accused.
"And then you would be back," he repeated, holding three fingers up. "I did the three sleeps."
Spiro looked to Louisa for help. She came up behind the boy, placing her hands on his shoulders. His eyes filled with tears. "He said he would come back to me." The tears spilled over and ran down his cheeks. "He said!"
Spiro looked stricken. He reached for Leo but the boy pushed him away, leaning into Louisa. She began to speak but Spiro caught her eye and shook his head. "Agoraki mou," he said softly. "Look at me, Leo." Leo sniffed and buried his face into Louisa's waist. Spiro knelt and gently turned the child to face him. Tears streaked his face. "Shhh, agoraki mou, I wish I could stay here." He brushed the wetness from his cheeks and then pulled him in for a hug. This time Leo went willingly, allowing his father to hold him tightly. When his breathing evened out Spiro moved to a chair, sitting Leo on his lap.
"Your brother, Michalis, needs me," he began.
"I need you, too," Leo said.
"I know you do, but you have a mother," he looked at Louisa, who smiled at him reassuringly. "Michalis does not."
Leo pondered that.
"How about if I come back tonight to tell you a story before bed?"
Leo nodded. "And tomorrow?"
"I will tomorrow, too," he promised, then kissed his forehead and set him on his feet.
Louisa busied herself filling a plate with some of the treats she had prepared. Spiro rose from the chair slowly, as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders. When he came closer she set the plate down and turned to him. "Can you manage…?" She let the question hang.
He sighed. "I will make it work." He lowered his voice. "I cannot disappoint him."
"Here," she said, handing him the plate. "There is no reasoning with a hungry boy. They become monsters until their bellies are full."
One side of his lips tilted in a smile that didn't reach his eyes. "Thank you. I'll...be back later on." She nodded in understanding, glancing between his retreating form and her disappointed boy. It was going to be another long day.
Spiro returned shortly before dusk. Louisa and Leo were finishing their dinner when he entered through the kitchen door. "Hello," he greeted them.
"Hi, Baba," Leo said, unusually subdued. Spiro rubbed the boy's head.
"Kalispera," Louisa responded, tilting her head to the side for him to kiss her cheek. He also reached over her to pluck a carrot from her plate, settling into the chair beside her with a satisfied sound.
"I can make you a plate," she offered.
Spiro shook his head. "I ate. You are just a much better cook."
She pushed her leftovers toward him. He shrugged, picked up her fork and polished off the remains of her dinner.
"How did it go?" she asked.
He set the fork on the empty plate. "Later," he said, standing to take the dishes to the sink then glanced out the window at his car. "Leo," he turned around. "I have a surprise for you."
Leo's head snapped up, fork in the air. "For me?"
"Yes," Spiro laughed. "Finish eating and I will show you."
Leo immediately began to shovel the food into his mouth. "Chew," Louisa chided.
"It will wait until you finish," Spiro returned to his seat and smiled looking, to Louisa, as suspiciously excited.
She narrowed her eyes at him. “What are you up to?” she asked
His smile turned sheepish.
“Done!” Leo announced, hurrying to drop his plate into the sink. “Can I see it now?” He tugged on Spiro’s arm.
He stood, following his exuberant son out the door. Louisa trailed behind them, watching as Spiro led him over to the side of the car. Leo looked into the back seat. His mouth dropped open. “What?” he cried. “For….for me?”
Spiro reached down, lifting a large box from the floorboards that he set on the ground. Leo danced beside him. “Is it mine? Really?” From the box he pulled a large, fluffy puppy, depositing the animal into Leo’s waiting arms.
“Mummy, look!” Leo pivoted, showing the dog to Louisa. She scratched the puppy under its chin. Leo struggled to hold the animal, his sturdy arms not quite long enough to cradle the animal.
“Really, Spiro?” she said with a hint of disapproval.
He shrugged. “A boy needs a dog.”
“I seem to remember you saying animals are only for the farmyard or the dinner table.”
“You’re going to eat him?” Leo turned on Spiro, horrified.
“No!” he insisted. “Of course not! It’s a pet.”
“Can I keep him, Mummy?” The puppy slid from his grasp, jumping up and nipping at Leo as soon as his four feet touched the ground. The boy giggled, running across the garden with his new friend right on his heels.
Louisa looked at Spiro. “You do know,” she told him. “You don’t need to bring him presents to win his affection.”
His eyebrows drew together, offense written across his face briefly. Then his expression softened. “I know, but...I thought...maybe with a distraction he won’t notice if I am not around as much?”
Louisa turned her attention to Leo. The puppy jumped on him from behind, knocking him over before licking his face. “I can’t argue with that logic,” she grudgingly conceded. “But did you need to find a dog that will grow to the size of a small horse?”
Spiro snaked an arm around her waist, pulling her body snug against his. “I ran into a friend today and he had this one left over from his last litter.” He kissed her neck and his breath tickled the fine hairs behind her ears. “He said his dogs are good for guarding goats.”
Louisa caught the teasing lilt of his voice. Leaning away, she saw his lips curving upward and smacked his arm, causing him to chuckle loudly. “I thought Leo would like him,” he drew her back into his arms. “And this house just wasn’t right without at least one animal.”
She considered his words. “You’re not wrong. We haven’t had a dog since Roger died.” She looked at him. “But no more strays, I have no wish to preside over another zoo. It is enough of a circus already.”
Spiro knew her threat was empty, that Louisa would readily accept anyone or anything that crossed her threshold in need of a home, but he promised her anyway. By this time the sun had slipped below the horizon and both Leo and the puppy were laying on the grass, tired from their play. “And another good thing,” he pointed out. “They will wear each other out.”
Louisa laughed at that, then called Leo to come inside. “Can my puppy come, too? He asked, hesitating.
“Of course,” Louisa relented, ushering dog and boy and man inside the house. While she oversaw Leo’s handwashing, Spiro rummaged through the cabinets until he found a bowl, filled it with water and set it on the floor for the dog.
“Baba, what is his name?” Leo asked.
“He doesn’t have one yet. You decide.”
Leo’s eyes grew wide. “I’ve never named anything before,” he said in wonder. “Is he a boy or a girl?”
Spiro shrugged. “Uh...boy? I think?”
Louisa hefted the dog into her arms and flipped it over. “You need a boy name, Leo.” She set the puppy back on the floor after petting his head. His tail thumped against the tiles.
Leo pursed his lips, thinking. “George?” The puppy looked unimpressed. “Joey?” He flopped on the floor, tail still. “I’ll have to think about it,” he decided.
Spiro scooped the dog up. “Come on, it is time for bed.” He headed for the stairs, Leo trailing behind him testing out more names.
Louisa took the time to put her kitchen in order and then followed them upstairs. She paused by Leo’s doorway, peeking inside to see Spiro sitting on the side of the bed, leaning over Leo who was tucked under blankets, the puppy curled up beside him with his head resting on Leo’s arm. Spiro kissed his forehead, ruffled the hair on the dog’s back and stood. Leo yawned and rolled onto his side around the puppy. “Kalinychta, Baba.”
Spiro smiled. “Kalinychta, gio mou.” He grabbed Louisa’s hand on his way out, leading her to her own room just across the hall. Once inside he gently closed the door, leaning his hand against the wood he seemed to deflate. Gone was the false bravado he wore earlier. He looked defeated.
Louisa sat down on the bed, allowing him to gather his thoughts.
He exhaled and turned around. "It is….difficult," he began slowly. "When Dimitra was alive, the children...they were happy. Even when we weren't, they were." He ran a hand through his hair. “I can’t do anything right. Not the way Dimitra did...the way Michalis wants.” He paced back and forth in the small confines of the room. “It has been over a year and I am drowning.” He stopped pacing and sat himself on the bed beside Louisa. “I do not know what to do to help him.”
Louisa sighed, wishing she had the words to reassure him everything would turn out alright. Spiro laid back on the blanket, one arm behind his head and stared forlornly at the ceiling. “You have always made this look so easy.”
That gave her pause. She considered his words. “What do I make look easy?”
“This,” he repeated, waving his arm. “Being the only parent and keeping your children happy.”
She fought the ridiculous bubble of laughter that threatened to erupt. “Easy?” she asked. “Spiro, you didn’t know my family a year out from when my husband died. We were a wreck. I was a wreck. I could barely function and relied far too heavily on gin to get me through the day.” She frowned. “You know we moved here because we were all so desperately unhappy in England.” He sat up again but avoided her gaze. “I doubt Lawrence would have fared nearly as well as you if I had died and left him with the children to raise alone.”
Spiro stared at his hands in his lap and shook his head.
“Don’t you remember when we first arrived?”
He nodded. “You needed some help - which I was happy to give you - but your children were happy.”
“Some help?” She blinked, mentally recounting the innumerable ways he was always there for her. “Spiro, none of my children were happy. That took time. Have you had to defend Michalis from armed robbery charges?” He shook his head. “Has he tried to throw himself at every member of the opposite sex he sees?” He again shook his head, a corner of his mouth twitching. “Have there been nights that you cooked literal weeds for dinner?”
“Okay, okay,” he relented. “Maybe it was not as easy as I remembered.”
“Give yourself some credit.”
His head nodded, but worry remained behind his eyes. “In any case,” she reminded him. “I am here now so you no longer have to do this alone.” His forehead smoothed at her words.
“I like that,” he said, then his gaze wandered from her eyes to her lips. He gently pressed his against her own.
“When must you go?” she whispered, one finger trailing across a suspender as he kissed his way over her jaw. She felt him smile against her neck and his fingers began to work the buttons of her shirt. With that answer she hooked a finger under his suspender and slid it off his shoulder, repeating the action on the other, then pulled his shirt free before moving to the buttons running up the front. She would never get tired of this, she thought, pushing the material away to expose his skin, removing her hands just long enough to shed her own garments. He nudged her down to the pillows, covering her body with his own, mouth trailing down her chest. Suddenly he stopped, head popping up to look at her.
“Did you really eat weeds?” he asked, lips curving into a grin.
“Uhm, well, yes. But it was a long time ago,” she stammered, distracted. “Is that really what you want to talk about now?”
He laughed until she reached for the buttons on his trousers, telling him exactly what she wanted at that moment.