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35

Ischia was a sandy, hilly island covered in wide swatches of grass and shrubs-all a vibrant green. Amongst the green were purple flowering trees and pristine white houses with arched doorways. The port was full of vendors selling coffee, snacks, trinkets and maps. We found a cab station and squashed ourselves and Maggies huge bag into one.

The driver knew the Poseidon Gardens and squealed away from the port, heading to the right and forcing the little car upward.

We would, we decided, go to the gardens for the day and look for Elena. If we didnt find her, wed get a hotel. The driver told us that hotels were plentiful, especially on the other side of the island where Poseidon was located.

What are the chances were actually going to find Elena? I said, suddenly deflated.

Bernard turned around from the passenger seat in the front. What does she look like?

I described Elena, a woman in her fifties with chestnut-brown hair and brown eyes flecked with green.

Well try, Izzy, Maggie said.

Yeah, well try, Theo said, taking my hand in his. Thats all we can do.


The cab dropped us at the Poseidon gates. We paid and were given maps of the place. When Theo asked the ticket taker exactly how the garden was laid out and what we were supposed to do here, she held up a finger. Wait, please for inglese.

Soon another woman came over. She spoke English. You see, she said, pointing at one of the maps, which was dotted with different blue shapes. These are all pools. The pools marked with number one are the coolest. The temperatures rise, so you go to a pool with number two, then three and so on. She looked at us. You understand? You go inside any pool number one, then you relax, then find a pool number two, and then three, and you keep going until you get to a number six. Then you do the whole thing over. But make sure you rest in between. She pointed at the other areas of the map. Lots of places to rest and to eat. Maybe you lie on the beach.

We thanked her and wandered through the gates and into the gardens.

The place was stunning, full of lush green bushes, magenta bougainvillea, cypress trees and orange blossomed plants, all of it riding the coast of a sandy beach and the sparkling blue sea.

The gardens were full of nooks and crannies, lots of lounge areas, each with yellow and orange canvas chairs and thatched umbrellas. And scattered throughout the property were steaming pools, waterfalls running alongside them, coursing down from the cliffs above.

When we got to the locker rooms, an attendant directed us to the one for donne-women-and the other for uomini. In halting English, she told us bathing caps were required. I had never worn a bathing cap in my life, and I must have looked perplexed because the woman pointed to a boutique, then redirected her finger to my hair, frowning.

Wow, shes right, I said, looking over her shoulder at one of the pools. Everyone bobbing in the water wore a cap. Even the people lounging around the sides had bathing caps on. Thats going to make it even harder to find Elena.

Lets give it a shot, Maggie said.

In the locker room, we stowed our luggage and I put on my blue bikini, while Maggie slipped into a red one-piece with black racing stripes, the kind designed for swim teams. I had never been able to convince her to wear anything other than a trusty one-piece.

I had bought a blue-and-white cap, and after changing into my bikini, I stood in front of the mirror and pulled the cap over my head. The material was thin, and I couldnt seem to stuff all my curls under the thing. Orange spirals sprang out on all sides.

A woman walked into the changing room, saw me, laughed. She dug in her bag and fished out a ponytail holder.

Grazie, grazie, I said.

The woman laughed, nodded, walked away.

Maggie and I grabbed towels and walked outside. Bernard and Theo stood there, Theo in long surfer shorts slung low on his hips, showing those distinct muscles that carved lines over every inch of his body. Bernard wore a T-shirt and baggy brown trunks that looked about twenty years old. They both held bathing caps in their hands.

Were the only guys not wearing Speedos, Theo said.

We glanced around. It was true.

Lots of banana hammocks, Maggie said.

Im starving, Bernard announced. He had said the same thing at least four times since wed gotten up that morning, and hed had something to eat each time.

Lets find something. Maggie took him by the arm. Well all look for Elena, and text each other if we see her. Otherwise, well meet back here later?

Theo and I nodded, then walked around the sprawling gardens, studying the pools, the beach, the ristorante. All the while, my eyes were searching for Elena. I seemed to draw a lot of looks from the other bathers, some of them openly staring at me as they bobbed in one of the pools or gazed at me from their supine position on lounge chairs. I knew it wasnt my hair, which was now under the cap and out of sight, so at first I thought maybe I was looking particularly good in my bikini. But when I heard an older man murmur, bianco, I realized that they were commenting on my Casper s-ass-white skin. Everyone else in the place was tanned to perfection. Actually past perfection and moving toward crispy.

I kept glancing at peoples faces, checking for Elenas eyes, but everyone looked the same under those caps. I began to relax when I realized that aside from my Casper s-ass skin, I looked the same. My hair hidden, I was anonymous. There was nothing to do but move from pool to pool, consulting the map and deciding which number two pool to head to next, then which number three and four. At each pool, we eased ourselves into the soothing water, and I found something equally soothing about being with Theo, being with him in that beautiful place so far from home.

Each pool was shaped differently, one like a kidney, some perfect circles of differing sizes, a few long rectangles, a couple of squares. Some of the pools were surrounded by shrubs and plants, others lounge chairs.

Theo stopped outside one pool. He pointed. Look at that.

I glanced across the length of the pool, this one a number four and shaped like an oval. At the end of the pool was a stone throne built out of the smooth rock of the cliff that bordered the gardens. The throne held a woman in a green bathing suit and a yellow cap. Her head was down, eyes closed, shoulders slumped. Behind her, water poured from the side of the cliff as if it were coming from inside Ischia itself. It cascaded from the mountain and onto her shoulders, and she looked as if she were experiencing ecstasy.

We watched her for another minute as she continued to sit there, in complete silence, her eyes closed. Finally, she threw her shoulders back and yawned as if shed just experienced the best massage of her life. Then she stood, and another person whod been waiting outside our view sat down in the throne.

Want to try it? Theo said.

Absolutely.

We walked to the other side of the pool and sat in orange lounge chairs where there was a small line of bathers waiting for the water throne.

When it was finally our turn, Theo gestured at it. You first.

I got up and walked across the wet stone floor. I felt almost nervous as I saw that water pouring down. Finally, I slipped onto the throne and sat. Like the first woman wed seen, I closed my eyes and hunched my shoulders and let the water beat upon me. I let it pound out the questions I had about my father. I let it pound away my desperate hope to see Elena. I let it pummel out of me any thoughts about Sam. I let it strike away the day and anything but that moment until, finally, it was just me. Me on a stone throne, the sun hitting my face through the cascade of water, without any thought of all that had happened the last year.

Theo went next, grew as blissful as I had. When he got out, he gestured with his head at the pool. Lets get in.

Instead of looking around and studying faces for Elena, I merely let my toes, then my feet, then my shins, my knees, my thighs slip into the pool until the water was at my waist, then the depth at my chest. At last I ducked my head under and stayed beneath that water, weightless, timeless.

When I came up to the surface, Theo wasnt there. Momentarily alarmed, I swung my head around.

And there he was, at the opposite end of the pool, his arms behind him on the ledge, staring at me, grinning a little as if he were watching his favorite show on television. Somehow he managed to make his black bathing cap look adorable.

I paddled to him, not hurrying. There seemed nothing to hurry for just then.

When I reached him, I said, Are you happy? I never asked him those kinds of questions.

Never more. He grabbed my arm lightly, pulled me to him and wrapped my legs around his waist, our favorite position. But this time, in the water, he didnt have to hold me so tight. Loosely, my ankles met behind his back. I let myself float backward in the pool until I was lying there, my back supported by the water, legs around him. I looked up at a blue sky softly dotted with cotton puffs of clouds.

Theo let me lie there like that. He didnt do anything, not anything sexynothing at all. He simply let me be suspended, and after a few seconds I felt as if I had slipped into a deep sleep. When I sat up, the sun had shifted, angling now onto the beach a hundred or so feet below us. I put my hands on Theos arms. He was always muscled. But now, his body was slick and wet. I could feel every tendon, every sinew, every vein, every part and portion of his muscles. And it was as if I could feel, for the first time, every part of Theo. He looked in my eyes, and I knew he was thinking something similar, that he was feeling me, seeing me, in a new way, as well.

Slowly, his hand traced its way onto my lower back, pulling me gently toward him until I was closer, my arms around him, my legs wrapped tighter.

Around us, the water moved from the soft jets of the pool, hypnotically lulling us. It shimmied us back and forth, like a mother coddling a child. I bowed my head and leaned on Theos shoulder. He squeezed me tighter until there was no space between us physically. And I felt that there was no other kind of space between us, either. I felt one with Theo. The feeling was not only soothing, not only profound, it was sexy as hell.

I reached my hand down, below his waist, and through his bathing suit took a hold of him. But the feel of him shocked me.

I sat up straight. Jeez, I whispered. What am I doing?

Theo shook his head lazily, then he nodded across the pool. I could see another couple embracing. Because the water was high, you couldnt tell what, if anything, they were doing underneath the water. A third couple was sitting on the steps at the entrance to the pool. A few individual swimmers dotted the water. Those on the lounge chairs surrounding the pool were all sleeping or reading. But no one seemed to be observing anyone. People kept to themselves, soaking in the healing waters, the healing atmosphere.

I looked back at Theo. I reached down again, slowly, careful not to show what I was doing, and I took him in my hand.

He inhaled sharply, his head hanging back a little. God, he whispered. God, GodGod.

I kept touching him like that. He was completely at my mercy.

Finally he raised his head. We have to find somewhere to go.

A few minutes later, wrapped in towels, we climbed the steps of the cliff to the highest point of the gardens. There were a few lounge chairs up there, no one around. Theo pointed at a corner, where the rock curved slightly. We tucked our heads around it and saw that there was another throne there, a seat carved into the rock, this one without water and hidden from view.

Theo sat on it. He started to pull me toward him. Then he stopped, shook his head. With his eyes locked on mine, he reached behind my back and untied my bikini top. I tossed it off. He tugged at the bottoms and pulled them down. Now I was standing naked before him.

He stood and pulled off my bathing cap. There, he said. I have to see that hair.

He slipped off his own bathing suit and cap, his long, soaked hair settling around his face.

Soon I was on top of him, my head smashed into his wet hair, and then I threw my face back, stretched my neck long so that all I could see was the slick ceiling of the throne, and at that moment it felt as if the two of us were one being and we were somewhere else, in a distant but distinct world that was so delicious, so wonderful, I hoped we would never leave.


Later, satiated beyond description, we made our way down a stone path.

Dont forget to put your cap back on, Theo said behind me when we had almost reached the populated area of the gardens.

I stopped and looked up at him. Thanks. I pulled my cap over my head. I could feel the smile on my face.

When Id wrestled my hair back into place, we headed down the path. I glanced at the pools below. Which should we go to now? I called over my shoulder to Theo. Or maybe we should sit there. I pointed to my right, where a small deck overlooked a square pool, a bubbling number six.

Sounds good.

We began to make our way to the deck, but halfway there, I stopped as something flashed in my eyes. It happened again. Squinting, I realized that it was the sun glinting from the metallic arms of a womans sunglasses. I moved a few feet closer, stared harder at the woman. The sunglasses were black, with silver braided arms. The woman took them off then and settled back in her chair, her face to the sun.

Elena, I whispered.


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