He looked away, blinking past the fat drops of water on his lashes.
“Don’t make me feel foolish,” I said, reaching out to press my hand to his chest.
Just when I thought he was going to turn away and walk back to the restaurant, he tilted his head back, closed his eyes, and yelled over the roar of the sprinklers: “We might have had kids by now!”
I nodded, encouraging. He looked back down to me, as if seeking affirmation, and his features changed when he let in the emotions: his expression grew tighter, eyes sharper, mouth a harsh line. “They’d be in school!” he said, wiping a hand down his face, momentarily clearing the water away. “They’d be playing soccer, and riding bikes!”
“I know,” I said, sliding my hand down his arm, lacing my dripping fingers with his.
“Sometimes it feels like I have nothing,” he gasped, “nothing but my job and my friends.”
That’s still a lot, I didn’t say. Because I understood: it wasn’t the life he’d imagined for himself.
“And I’m so angry at her that she couldn’t tell me earlier that it wasn’t what she wanted.” He wiped his face again with his free hand, and I wondered for a beat if there was more than just water running down his cheeks. In the darkness, I couldn’t tell.
“I’m so angry that she wasted my time,” he said, shaking his head and looking away. “And then, I’ll meet someone, and it feels like . . . why bother? Is it too late? Am I too uptight, or too uninteresting, or . . .”
“Just been stabled too long?” I said, trying to make him laugh, but it seemed to have the opposite effect and he dropped my hand, sighing heavily.
“What a pair we make,” I said. Taking his hand again, determinedly, I waited for him to look at me. “It’s not too late. Not even if you were eighty. And you’re only thirty-three.”
“And, please,” I continued, ignoring this, “most women aren’t that obtuse about their own lives and feelings. Your first real bite was into a rotten piece of fruit. There are so many more ripe ones on the vines.” I did a tiny, drenched shimmy, and he cracked a little smile at this, glancing to the gnarled zinfandel vines around us. “I don’t mean me,” I added. “I don’t necessarily mean the next woman you meet, either. I just mean, she’s out there. Whoever she is.”
He nodded, staring down at my face. Water sluiced across his forehead, over his nose, tripping across his lips. For a heartbeat, he looked like he might kiss me. But then he shook his head a little, staring at me as if waiting for some magical directive.
“I’m sorry you lost her,” I said more quietly. “And I know it’s been a long time, but it isn’t too long to still be royally pissed off about it. It was a dream you lost, and that’s bloody terrible from any angle.”
He nodded, squeezing my hand. “I’m sorry about Mark, too.”
I waved this away with a laugh. “Mark wasn’t a dream. He was a fantastic shag I kept waiting to turn into a better bloke.” Considering this, I added, “Maybe he was a dream, but it was a short one. If I’ve realized anything on this trip so far, it’s that I didn’t really need to take three weeks away to get over him. But I’m glad to have it anyway.”
I saw the shutters return but didn’t really curse them. It was his process—I knew it already: Give a little, close up shop. Protect. So I made it easy for him and dropped his hand so he could lead us back to the patio, where people were filing back inside. We would laugh about how insane I’d been, how wacky that Pippa is, and go back to our rooms to change into dry clothes for a new dinner.
Monday morning, I was up before the sun.
I blinked up at the darkened ceiling, the blankets still warm around me as the fog of sleep faded away. My admission to Pippa still rattled around inside my head.
We might have had kids by now.
They’d be in school. They’d be playing soccer, and riding bikes.
I had no idea where it all came from last night. Those were thoughts I rarely had anymore, usually only during a moment of weakness or after a particularly bad day, when there was nothing to come home to but an empty house.
Or, apparently, after a day of drinking and racing into a sprinkler-filled vineyard.
I’d dated a number of women since my divorce, and hadn’t given Becky much thought. But I’d spent a lot of time thinking about my marriage after I met Emily. With her, easy, predictable friendship somehow found its way into bed, and it tripped something in me how much easier it was to have something like that—that didn’t have to mean anything—than to have something I put my entire heart into.
We’d had a softball game, and Emily and I had met after for a beer, just like we often did. But that particular Thursday I’d paid the bill and walked her to her car, and she’d surprised me by asking if I wanted to follow her home. Turns out, I did. We had sex twice that night, and I was gone before her alarm went off the next morning.
Emily was attractive and smart—a pediatric neurologist on staff at Boston Children’s Hospital—but we both knew it wouldn’t go much further than friends who sleep together whenever it’s convenient. A couple of times a month we had sex. It was always good. It was never amazing. It was never amazing in part because it was never emotional for either of us.
And, frankly, I did know that a lot of my own hesitation to get more deeply involved was the residual bewilderment over Becky, and not wanting to deal with that again. Pippa had been right; the pain did get quieter with time, but it didn’t entirely go away. It changed, changed the way I saw things and the way people saw me. The acceptable grieving period for the loss of my marriage and all the things it meant for my life had expired. The rest of the world had moved on. I was supposed to, too.