This is a work of fiction.
The characters of this book are the products of the author imagination. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead is coincidental.
Book cover by Clair Gibson.
Copyright 2017 by Clair Gibson.
All rights reserved.
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Heaven was a lounger on the edge of a golden sandy beach with the gentle lull of waves lapping under my feet. Tired eyes hid behind oversized sunglasses while my body soaked the warm sun into every pore. My hand slithered across the sand searching for the cocktail glass nestled by the head of the lounger, filled with a deep red liquid and a cherry. However, it wasn’t a cocktail. It was the loud beep of my alarm clock. “Such a shame to wake.” I rolled over snuggling under the quilt. The dream seemed real with the heat of the sun on my face.
Ten minutes later the alarm blared again. A moan escaped my lips as my hand slapped the alarm clock, hard. Covers discarded I swung my feet to the floor and stretched before rubbing the skin around my eyes.
The darkness of early morning seeped through the curtains on my way to the bathroom, both hands outstretched to avoid the furniture. Jack our beloved family Labrador lay on the bottom of the bed still snoring. He would drag himself onto my pillow over the next few minutes. It was all I could do not to curl next to him. Instead, the kitchen and my coffee called.
Not having my morning cup was the hardest thing and nothing functioned without the steaming brown elixir. Once finished, the daily battle with my hair and its resistance to style started. “You’ve got to lower the mirror. This is stupid.” Months ago my son Tom, mounted it on the wall but to suit him. Only the top of my head showed, even on my tiptoes.
After walking Jack and enjoyed the peaceful early morning, I sat on the bus squashed against the same person who’d sat next to me for the last few days. He invaded my space and taking more than his fair share of the small uncomfortable seat. He glared, menace in those cold eyes. Confrontation wasn’t part of my DNA. Volume turned to ten on the Ipod playing my favourite tunes my gaze turned to the passing countryside. Bored travelling on the cattle market express five days a week it served a desolate purpose. A good job was vital as a single woman therefore it was better to get there as fast as possible.
At the first drop off point, the obnoxious guy rose and pushed his way along the aisle. It was the same every morning. Was this his natural way or did the bus bring out the worst in him? I often wondered about the regulars, their jobs and lives. Often I’d try to guess what they did for a living. It started as something to amuse myself in a morning. The woman sitting opposite raised her eyebrows and gave me half a smile as I watched. I didn’t return the sentiment.
As we pulled into the station, I stood but didn’t bother pushing into the queue to disembark. Rushing to work was something other people did. This continued as I sauntered along the concourse avoiding suitcases and people trying to smoke on the edge of the station. Oblivious to those around me, keeping my gaze low, not looking at anyone. Even a little after seven o’clock the station was already full of travellers hunched forward on uncomfortable backless aluminium seats. Big issue sellers sat on the ground across from the sliding glass doors at the front of the station, half hiding in the doorway of the parking garage. This morning the god squad were out in force, blocking the path for both travellers and commuters. It had rained again, and they lectured the storms of late were Gods work. I pulled my hood close around my face trying to shield myself and mumbled, “How the hell is a week of fierce winds and torrential rain Gods work.”
A woman preacher stepped in front of me and shook a pamphlet into my eye line. “You are his child, read his word.”
“You’re making his child late for work.” I sidestepped her and continued across the pedestrian area heading for the coffee shop.
Luxury in a morning was a venti skinny Ethiopian latte from my favourite Starbucks shop. A three pound coffee, five days a week soon mounted, but I wasn’t a big alcohol drinker, didn’t smoke and lived a conservative life. My app, updated from a plastic card, allowed collection of loyalty stars to get free shots and drinks. All helped lower the monthly bill. It made the twenty-five minute walk to work bearable each morning.
The only way to get through the day was by staying invisible, not joining in the gossiping and concentrating on the jobs at hand. The days flew by, but in return, I made myself an enemy of my teammates. Not willing to conform and be part of the clique. They remarked on a lot of things behind my back. At a recent team lunch, I heard two of them talking in the ladies toilets.
“She’s got a need to talk. She should shut the hell up and crawl back in her box.” I recognised the voice as Sarah, one of the thin, Barbie wannabe clique. “You know she’s all mouth! And what is she wearing? Talk about mutton dressed as lamb. She’s not got the figure for flashing her boobs at her age.”
My eyes flashed with rage. They were discussing the only other half decent human being in the team who took no stick off these people, Debbie.
“Then there’s Avril or as she’s dressed today, the cowgirl.” As they mentioned my name, I braced myself and they didn’t disappoint. “Jeans, boots and that top make her ugly and fat.”
I was neither. Not fat, super slim or a stunning beauty. Mine was inside. Looks had never been important, but their words left a lasting impression.
Whiffs of exotic dragon fruit mixed with berries infused my tired mind as my body soaked in the tub before dinner and relaxing on the couch. The same routine, every weekday. Weekends were worse. I seldom treated myself to trips or shopping excursions. Life, a solitary existence with no husband or boyfriend. Simple but boring.
Since childhood, I lacked confidence and self-esteem. Tall for my age and heavier than most made me stick out amongst my year group. A happy child with lots of school friends, but few close ones. A member of the schools most successful netball team, enjoying the camaraderie it brought, but preferring to swim relying on myself.
Marriage followed at a young age. He was nice enough when we wed but an all consuming control freak within a few years. A traffic accident claimed his life and now fifteen years after his death I knew myself again. At the time the kids came first, and I threw myself into their lives, determined they wouldn’t suffer from his loss. Everything else would wait.
Life passed by without notice. As the boys flew the nest, first to university then pastures new, they left me behind. Now the highlight of my week was a catch up with my strongest ally in life, my sister-in-law Jenny. She was chalk and cheese compared to her brother. Soft, kind but with a rod of unwavering iron through her core. She didn’t suffer fools or waste time on platitudes. Jenny stayed in my life and we became firm friends.
“Assumed I’d all the time in the world.” My moan continuing the theme of our recent chats. “But everything’s changed. Dunno where to start.”
“Have you given any consideration to the question of what do you want?” Jenny had a knack of getting right to the point. “Is it a new husband?”
“Mmm, no. Too used to my company and own space.” I lifted my mug and took a mouthful of hot coffee. “Perhaps an occasional companion. Someone to enjoy a few meals, trips to the cinema and day trips.”
“Don’t take this the wrong way but if you’re not happy in yourself, what’s the point? Because you won’t find happiness with anyone.”
“Yeah, you’re right. Need to work on me first although my mate Susan reckons looking back and trying to figure out where things changed is a waste of time!”
“Ppft,” Jenny scoffed. Her annoyance evident. “If you don’t know what or where, how can you move forward?”
“I said the same thing. I’ve no identity anymore. Don’t know who I am. The boys left home and created their own lives. Now it’s my turn.”
“Is she not the one with the happy home, new relationship and the rest?” Silence between us followed for a few seconds as each considered what to say. I didn’t like bitching about other friends. That wasn’t me at all. “How often has she moaned to you her life sucks but now she has a new man, it’s all good again?”
“So her life’s okay when she has a guy in it. We’ve had this discussion before.”
“Too many times but you’re right and for me to figure out my next steps confronting the past will show me the road forward.”
“Give it time but go easy on yourself and do your thing. Make a list.”
Jenny had a point. As usual she had seen the truth between the mixed worlds of words and actions.
“Dream a little, you deserve happiness.”
The next morning with the TV on for noise in the house my thoughts lingered on an action plan, a starting point or a challenge. I grabbed a pen and notebook and made a list of the dreams I’d always wanted to accomplish separated into two categories. Achievable in twelve months and long-term goals. In the first column, improve my life, find my direction, passion and company. When I looked over the long term list, there were three entries. Happiness, love and have fun.
They were modest goals by other people’s standards but how to put them into practice? Join a club? Hang out with my friends more, or both? Most had married or lived with someone and didn’t have time to hang out with me. Their kids were young. Our lives out of sync.
“Oh stress about it later. Time to get on with the chores!” Shaken from my lethargy I set about my normal weekend tasks in a methodical manner to put everything back in its place.
A few hours later while lifting boxes, from a neat pile against the wall, to place them on top of the wardrobe I dislodged one at the back. It fell to the floor scattering photographs everywhere. “Forgot that was there.”
The box, broken at one, side was easy to repair with sellotape but the photos on top caught my attention. My parents immortalised forever. The tip of my finger ran over their faces. “Miss you,” A tear caught in my throat. The pictures reminded me of a far happier time of teenage adventures. Taken a few weeks before their untimely deaths my life changed forever because of a drunk driver. I packed them away and returned to my cleaning.
That night sat in front of my laptop with the TV on in the background, the emotion of seeing the photos still swirling around my mind. Killed a few months before my sixteenth birthday, driven off the mountainous road we travelled several times a day, at an accident black spot, but not of their doing.
The list lying by my laptop grabbed my attention. “Find my direction. Oh a hard one. Life’s been about other people for so long.” I sipped from the frothy coffee in my favourite mug. “Have you? Since you were a teenager? Be honest.” The question hung in the silence. “You haven’t which is why you are struggling to find your way.”
With a sigh I logged into my email as the feelings of uselessness plaguing my mind, since my first chat with Jenny a few weeks ago, grew. Most of them, junk, but one caught my interest. It was from a travel agency detailing cheap deals to Greece, Turkey and the surrounding islands. Had this been a normal day I’d have ignored it, but with thoughts of my dreams still rattling around, I clicked on the link. Amazed at how cheap the deals were and having not had a holiday in ages, due to the lack of companions to go with, I considered the discovery. Could this be the answer? A break. A quick scan through the various options showed a two-week holiday to Cyprus, which interested me.
“What do you think old girl? Fancy a trip along memory lane? Could it’ll help?” We lived there for a few years due to my father’s posting until their accident. Spurred on by reminiscent happy thoughts and the promise of early spring sun. “Decision made, time to go back to where you were last like yourself and damn work if they say no!”
The following four days, found me organised, packed and on my way to the airport with three weeks off instead of two. The bonus of time at home after the holiday would give me an opportunity to do things I’d been putting off. My trip came together fast and soon I’d be at thirty thousand feet winging my way to sunnier climbs. The original idea was to drive around and stay in additional sites, concerned boredom would strike without a companion. With the company’s reminder you could drive from one end of the island to the other in a few hours, I agreed with their suggestion. Spend the first seven nights in the Troodos mountains and surrounding areas, and the next eight days in Limassol. We lived half way up the mountains but socialised in both these places. They’d have changed in the last twenty-four years but not too much, after all not a lot had in the three years we lived there.
An ever efficient person, I arrived at the airport early, cleared security and sat in the international departures lounge, surrounded by other travellers and young families. They all had one thing in common. A frazzled look. With my head stuck in what was the first of three books bought along to pass the travelling time, I tried to blend into the background. After an hour’s delay, the automated check in system called my flight and the adventure beckoned.
To book a seat was a foreign concept, but a seat at the front of the aircraft and away from the young families was a bonus. Everyone wanted to enjoy their flight, after all it was the launch of any holiday but screaming kids in a metal tube no one can escape from, was torture. I needn’t have worried, after a glass of wine with lunch, I fell asleep. Two hours later, the captain’s announcement woke me to the sight of land as the plane descended.
Paphos airport was a new experience for me. On previous trips, my arrival was courtesy of the RAF and we flew into Akrotiri, where my parents met me. Their posting happened when I turned twelve. Two years was the original plan but Dad’s bosses offered him an extension. They were nearing four years on the island at the end. The first year spent in boarding school. My parents choosing it was the best for me, but with no siblings or many friends I hated it. After a horrendous year we lived together.
This time, alone, I negotiated my way through the stark baggage claim area and headed to the customs desks. Since it had a clear design like every other international airport, it was easy enough. My sharp eyes located the car hire desk, tucked away in a corner, a recent addition to the arrival’s hall.
After much confusing paperwork I sat in the back of a tiny minivan with three couples driving out towards the car park. The van stopped and without ceremony the driver spouted a mess of Greek symbols and pointed to a car. I burst into laughter. Cyprus had taken giant steps towards a modern, European county but, the cars they drove were still Mazda’s with an honourable tourist red number plate on the front. “Some things never change!” A chuckle accompanied the ceremonial throwing of luggage into the hire cars boot.
It was easy to drive in Cyprus. They still drove on the left as in the United Kingdom, with no nasty wrong way round roundabouts to negotiate. Outside the car park, I pulled into a lay by and opened the map the hire girl gave me. With a similar system to home, light blue signs meant motorway, but these hadn’t existed twenty-four years ago. Fingertips tracing across the map, found the Paphos to Limassol motorway, and I headed off. Within minutes, finding the entry road. “This is easy.” I pulled the car onto the two-lane motorway.
A few miles trundled by when a large built area appeared on the horizon. From memory the road passed by Aphrodite’s rock on the way between Paphos and Pissouri but the last time we saw it, the area was barren. A sign flew by distracting me but clearing the mystery. “Aphrodite Hills, one kilometre.” My mind retreated to the night in front of the computer.
When researching Cyprus hotels, the hills resort kept appearing on every search engine I used. Villas for rent, spa facilities and it was intriguing until the price appeared. Around the carved hills, the ocean appeared followed by Aphrodite’s rock.
The beige limestone rock, known as a sea stack rose off the edge of a stony beach. Rough sea’s surrounded the rocks so no one ever swam near them and when the wind picked up and crashed against them, thick white foam rose several metres. The old road passed by the edge, with a tourist shop ready to milk the weary traveller into buying more memorabilia. For me, it was half an hour away from Limassol having timed the distance many a time on trips back from Paphos with my parents.
On the left villas dotted the landscape as far as possible to see. It had the look of a grand town, built in classic Greek and Mediterranean styles. White columned identical facades in an organised fashion with spacious, over designed landscaping. Typical Cypriot villages were haphazard, spread over an area. Houses had unfinished roofs, rebar poking out of the top corner to avoid paying taxes. It was natural. The resort passed by and I paid it no more attention, wanting the original Cyprus.
As the motorway cut through limestone hills and headed away from the coast, my grip on the steering wheel relaxed. This section of the road was almost empty. “Where are they all? It’s not a toll motorway.”
The road stretched out in front of me into rich vineyard covered countryside. Pissouri village was next on the horizon. “Have to see if that little fish restaurant is still there on the beach next week.” I glanced in the rear-view mirror and back to the road. “Their swordfish steaks were amazing.”
Pissouri town, as it was these days, passed by on the right and again there were few vehicles around. Neck straining to see a little better, the streets appeared empty. The dashboard clock flicked over to two o’clock. “Afternoon siesta. It must be, but…” A grin crept across my lips. “Traditions don’t change.”
The miles flew by but the scenery stayed the same. Limestone hills with vineyards sliced into them every few feet and the sea on the other side. The motorway continued to stay further inland. “How did they get around Epi? They can’t go through it!” Thinking back to my days wandering through the army’s western base.
Episkopi garrison, known to the locals as Epi, was a little slice of home for the forces stationed on the west side of Cyprus. Used as a joint base by the resident army regiment and the RAF personal stationed around the coast at RAF Akrotiri and at the top of the Troodos mountains. We attended the secondary school in Episkopi garrison every day but my family preferred to socialise with their RAF friends in Akrotiri.
Army kids living abroad most of their lives in main land Europe. Whereas, we came straight from RAF bases dotted around the UK to Cyprus. We weren’t street wise and the two sets of kids never socialised. My thoughts turned back to the road as it snaked further inland. In the distance, to my right, the white buildings of the garrison loomed. Even from miles away, they still looked the same, austere. The motorway took me further away from the coast line heading for a tunnel.
On the other side, the road swept towards the coast and signs promised access to curium beach where we spent many summers. “There are so many places to visit. Will two weeks be enough to get round them all? Or do we go to the ones that meant the most and take it from there?”
Above my head the blue signs passed by, announcing Limassol was closing fast. The old road ran through the edge of the orange and lemon plantations, the new skirted north. I wound the window down expecting the same sweetness in the air but coughed from the acrid mixture of exhaust fumes before closing the window disappointed.
The road swept past the local football stadium and the sign for the next slip road, Troodos. I made sure I was in the inside lane and well prepared. Off the motorway a new modern mountain road, upgraded from the ribbon of tarmac, cut through housing developments and industrial estates. The map had told me as much but the scale of change was still a shock.
The road climbed out of the built area and over the brow of the hill, Polemidia dam appeared. Not much had changed here. Although the road was new, it still turned and ran along the length. I drove onwards looking for the small cafe we always stopped at for bacon, tomato and halloumi toasted sandwiches and smiled, seeing the ramshackle building. Its charm evident. “I’ll have a few of those gorgeous sandwiches over the next couple of weeks!” The spring sunshine filling the car with warmth and my soul with memories of happier days.
My journey continued with spectacular views mixed with sweeping bends. The old tarmac road widened, but a queue of traffic following a tourist bus slowed my progress. “This was always the way.”
Half an hour passed content to drive behind at a decent speed, the bus would stop in one of the many villages dotted at either side of the road. True to my assumption, it pulled over and as it cleared the road, the sign ‘Trimiklini’ appeared. “Is our home is still there?” Until today the village hadn’t crept into my mind at all.
Some of the houses were newer but the little local shop, still on a bad bend, remained. I continued through the village until the road forked in two. The left running below the main but blocked after a few feet. “Still inaccessible, hmm.” One hundred meters along sat the old Venetian bridge. Built from local stone, two double arches, one above of the other over the valley floor. Considered the joining point of three districts it was the only double bridge in Cyprus, built in 1901 to join the Troodos Mountains with Limassol.
“So the dam and the house are around the next bend.”
As the dusty entrance of a restaurant car park came into view on my right, memories of seeing it every day from my bedroom window replayed. I turned the car left at the crossroads. There, as beautiful as my dreams sat my home on the island. The one story, red brick box house with raised wooden back porch as perfect as the day we left. Still surrounded by overrun gardens on both sides, a nightmare for anyone without green fingers. The front veranda framed with sandy coloured gravel parking bay and path and trimmed, neat flower beds welcomed visitors. Painted white shutters kept the sun at bay and cooled its current occupants.
I parked at the side of the road, in front of the abandoned shack opposite, opened my window and stared at our old home. The occasional tourist walked passed heading towards the Venetian bridge. They smiled, mumbled hello and carried on their way. Memories of sitting on the front veranda with my parents replayed. Hours in the sunshine drinking homemade lemonade from the fruit grown in the trees surrounding our home and across the single strip of tarmac. The zingy elixir exploding in my mouth with every sip. My father would arrive home from his shifts and sit with me asking about my day.
Before my memories could turn bad I started the engine and drove further along the track to turn around. As I reversed, a car crunched onto the gravel space in front of the house. A tall young man with cropped blonde hair, a definite forces haircut, climbed out of the driver’s seat and opened the rear door to help a young girl out. She must have been seven or eight. He looked and smiled with an added flick of his hand as I drove by.
At the crossroads after glimpsing my home in the rear view mirror one last time I turned left and continued, gripping the steering wheel until my fingers turned white. From here the road climbed until it reached Mount Olympus listening station at the top of the Troodos Mountains. My destination, the Forest Park Hotel was half way, in the largest town on the mountainside, Platres. To get there meant traversing the Moniatis bends. A series of seven hairpin corners cut into the mountain. Hellish to drive around and where days before my sixteenth birthday, my parents died. I’d been through them twice after the accident but to this day still didn’t know which one claimed their lives.
At the first I joined the end of a ten car line of traffic. Ahead the tourist bus, I passed earlier, crawled around the first bend. “This should be painless.” The thudding of my stressed nerves pounded in my head. Concentration the key to getting me through this first test. This moment never occurred since booking the holiday but now it was here.
Tiny beads of sweat trickled down the nose piece of my sunglasses as I steered the car around the first bend, staying close to the edge of the road. It hadn’t improved over the years, at all. Just big enough for two vehicles to navigate enclosed with nothing but a small wall. On the other side, the cliff edge and certain death.
The queue weaved through the bends. Lorries and busses drove by, on their journey to Trimiklini and beyond, far too close for my liking. “Man you’d think they would have widened these roads by now!” A local bus crossed the lane straight into my path causing me to position my car as close to the wall as possible. “Shhhhiiiiiiittttttt.” The back of the bus kicked out missing me by mere millimetres.
Fifty feet further along from the last bend the bus pulled into a lay-by, I followed. My hands sore from gripping the wheel, both shook. “One, two, three.” Number counting with deep breaths in between, wishing I could control them. It took longer than expected but my breathing slowed as the adrenaline left my body and the shaking subsided. “That was close.” Sunglass removed from my face, I rubbed my forehead and eyes before checking my face in the rear-view mirror. “On day one, oof welcome to the mountains.” Glasses back in place I wrapped my fingers around the steering wheel even though they were still shaking. “You’re almost there.”
Platres was a ten minute drive and when I pulled off the main road, memories of long summer day’s lounging by the Forest Park pool danced through my mind. Unless they’d moved the whole resort, it was at the far side of the town, I steered towards the top road when it forked in two. The other led to the town square and its many local shops and restaurants. Unruly trees spilled over the road. Dappled sunlight streamed through the canopy providing cover and a temporary respite from the spring glare. The houses stopped, the forest continued, but a signpost positioned on a corner acknowledged the next right junction was the hotels entrance. I took it and slowed as the car’s tyres crunched along the gravel road.
The outside looked the same, red brick walls mixed with white painted sections. A path cut between manicured gardens threatened to break free leading to a new modernised reception. Warm and welcoming but with hints of twenty years ago with its beige marble floor. As the girl processed, whatever she had to do, I glanced around trying not to engage with the other tourists. Nothing had changed. “A surprise but reassuring.” That warm blanker of recognition I needed on this quest. Formalities complete, a porter took the key card for the young receptionist, lifted my case and led me past the banquet room and out the rear of the hotel.
“Where are we going?”
The man stopped and showed me the key. “We have upgraded you to a chalet.”
I raised my eyebrows in surprise and smiled. “First time for everything.”
The porter laughed and continued.
The pool from my childhood loomed large we walked along the path. White loungers spread around the edges and its double height white diving board taking centre stage. “It’s open, although it might be a little cool. You could always use the indoor one.”
The porter smiled and opened his arm wide gesturing to follow him left. After a few metres walking through sculptured gardens, of hedges and tall conifer trees, seven chalets lined on the edge of the path. Plenty of shade from the trees in front but the small verandas and outside seats told me they got the sun sometimes.
Inside, dressed as a superior spacious double with a sofa, a mini bar, large double bed and a full width window with stunning views over the town below. “Wow.”
“Spectacular, isn’t it? On a good day you can see for twenty miles or more.” He put my case by the bed and handed me the key. “Enjoy your stay.” I grabbed my wallet to tip him but he smiled. “Unnecessary Miss.” With a nod of his head he turned and left my room, closing the door behind him.
After unpacking my clothes and storing them around the room, I decided a drink was in order before exploring. Behind the foliage across the other side of the pool area sat the terrace bar where we used to hang out with cold drinks and ice cream.
I chose an empty table on the edge of the veranda and sat.
A waiter wandered across. “What can we get you, madam?”
I smiled at his pleasant tone and scanned the back page of the menu. “A brandy sour please and do you have any baklava?”
“We do. And your room number?”
He walked away.
The padded seat provided relaxation as I stared into the gardens by my side. Pine trees stood tall into the distance, stone paved slabs led to barked paths providing gentle trails into the far reaching acres around the hotel. The waiter returned with my drink and desert. “Sign here please, madam.” He handed me a small silver tray and pen.
“Will this go on my bill?” Not being a seasoned traveller the whole room bill was a foreign entity.
“No. We like to give all our guests a free welcome with a drink and snack when they arrive. This is our gift.”
I signed the slip and handed it back with a grin. “Thank you.”
The highball glass with my drink of choice was a Cypriot national treasure. Two measures of brandy, lemon squash, angostura bitters and carbonated water or lemonade made a brandy sour. A drink developed by the Forest Park Hotel in the 1930s had traversed to the rest of the island. Some bars preferred to serve it in glasses rimmed with red sugar but the Forest Park terrace bar made it straight, poured over ice. I sipped a little. The sweet nectar meandered down my throat. “Boy that’s good.”
I pulled the small plate of baklava towards me and dug into the rich, sweet layers of filo pastry. Filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with honey the textures melted into my mouth and sent my memories into high drive. Dad loved the brandy sour drinks and Mum, the pastry. Both were forever trying to perfect them. The many evenings with their friends sat around the terrace, laughter flowing through the air into my bedroom, spiralled through my thoughts.
The same waiter cleared my desert plate from the table interrupting my daydreaming.
“Is it possible to walk into Platres?”
“Yes, madam. There is a path at the end of the chalets. Follow it and go under the road, through the houses into the square.” He turned away, but stopped and turned back. “It’s dark in places so don’t walk it late at night but its signposted and easy enough.”
Back at the chalet, valuables locked in the room safe I grabbed my backpack and headed out to the reception. At the desk the same young lady from earlier took the key pass. I walked two steps away but turned back. “Sorry, why was the room upgraded to a chalet?”
“Ah yes, your room was one of the flooded end floor doubles. We’re still fixing them, so we gave you a chalet.”
Satisfied with the explanation. “Well thank you.”
At the end of the chalets a bark path led through the pine trees. “This didn’t exist in the old days!” Every so often I passed a junction and a new path appeared, but clever little plaques placed at floor level kept me on the right trail. Timber edged steps to a tunnel under the road loomed ever closer. I held the handrail and climbed down one at a time.
At the other side of the tunnel Platres fanned out below me. Houses jutting out of the hillside, tiny roads weaved in and out between them. To my left lay an area I remembered. The town square. “There was a lovely restaurant above a shop, could it still be there?”
With a renewed purpose and a desire to experience some authentic Cypriot food I started along the path. Vines intertwined around clunky metal frames decorating individual verandas and property boundaries. Locals sat in old, battered, wooden chairs drinking from tiny white cups. “Turkish coffee. Famous for its strong taste and dregs.” Men tipped their heads and smiled. The pasty white tourist had caught their attention for a few seconds.
Down a few more flights of stairs the main road of shops, bars and restaurants led to the square. In my memories a square patch of land doubled as a car park, gardens and meeting point. It was the place where three roads met and the location for the local police station.
I stood at the side of the road in front of the tourist market, on the corner of two streets and got my bearings. Not much had changed. The square existed but now tidy gardens, formal with benches, fruit trees baring a mixture of cherries, lemons and small oranges enclosed the area. I leaned forward and looked both ways before crossing and walked closer but didn’t step into the garden. “Tomorrow…” Memories of my father sitting on the bench by a small fountain eating an ice cream with me flooded my mind. We would sit there on a sunny day and wait for my mother to finish shopping. As with all forces families we spilt it between trips to the NAAFI shop in Akrotiri for our favourite British staples and the local stores. Tears rolled down my cheeks, a grainy, well worn silent movie playing in my mind.
Minutes passed before I could control of my emotions and wipe the tears before my stomach growled. A glance back across the road made me smile. People of all ages climbed the stairs leading to the restaurant above the market reminding me of the golden rule of eating abroad. Avoid the international cuisine restaurants and head for where the locals eat.
After climbing the stairs, I arrived at an entrance that mirrored many a family photograph. Indoor and outdoor areas with checked blue and white table covers, vines hanging overhead and beer logos swinging from the roof.
“Welcome to the Pendeli Restaurant Miss.” A man walked towards me. Dressed in an open necked white shirt and black trousers, his black hair, olive skin and green eyes reassured me this was more than likely the manager. “Table for one?”
He held his arm out showing me to a small veranda table and pulled a chair out. I sat and a warm glow or recognition flowed through my veins.
“A brandy sour, please.”
The manager smiled and handed me the menu.
From my seat I saw straight across to the square and the road leading out of Platres. “This is it, the restaurant from my dreams, I think.” I ran my fingers over the menu, but the flow of recognition alluded me.
The manager returned with my drink and a notepad. “So what will you have? Or can I suggest something?”
“It’s okay, thank you. Keftedes, a small tomato and halloumi salad and stifado please.”
“Good choices.” The manager winked at me and walked away.
That was the one thing about Cypriot men. Most were fine, friendly but sometimes there was an undercurrent. A wink was okay, a smile but anything else made my mother uncomfortable. When it happened, we never returned.
A few tables away a man sat on his own tucking into a starter. He looked over, nodded and returned to eating his evening meal. He wasn’t a local. Not with suntanned pale skin and light blue eyes. It took a few seconds, but the haircut screamed military and since we were in Platres, he had to be Air Force. He appeared to be ignoring me after the initial pleasantries, so I paid him the same courtesy and moved my gaze back out to the gardens.
Ten minutes passed until the manager came back with a bowl of salad, Greek bread and my keftedes. The small lamb parcels wrapped in vine leaves and silky olive oil drizzled on fresh slices of beef tomato exploded in my mouth. Sometimes I experimented at home trying to make the dishes but they weren’t as good as this. Salad and keftedes devoured I sipped my drink and ripped off a piece of the bread to run around the salad dish.
The man who sat opposite looked at me and grinned. “Good isn’t it.”
As the stifado arrived, he paid his bill and rose from the table. “Enjoy your meal.” He walked past and looked right at me.
“Thanks.” I saw him smiling, but this was different. This wasn’t someone being friendly in a restaurant. It showed in his eyes, for me alone, no one else. Something a man hadn’t done in a while. My stomach clenched, heart threatened to burst through my ears as the thuds grew louder and a single breath caught in my throat.
He tore his eyes away from mine and walked away.
“What the hell happened?” I watched as he descended the stairs and glanced back at me. “Those eyes. Seen them before somewhere!”
The next morning sunlight streamed through the cracks at the edge of the curtains. I lay under the covers for a few moments, enjoying the peace, hearing nothing but silence. No voices, no cars driving by, nothing. Turning onto my side I looked at the clock. “Eight o’clock. Wow, slept right through. Better get up and shower.”
The Forest Park Hotel’s breakfast area depended on the season and the weather. The Sylvan Hall doubled as the hotel’s ballroom and catered for patrons in the winter while in the summer breakfast was in the terrace cafeteria. Today the sun was already climbing, and my fellow holiday makers ate in the inside terrace rooms leading off the outdoor swimming pool.
Breakfast lay in the centre of the room, buffet style. Platters of cold meats and cheeses, bowls of fresh fruit salad, olive bread, pastries and croissants lay out for anyone who wanted them. Small packets of cereals sat on a separate table, along with pitchers of milks and fruit juices. I grabbed a tray, made a bowl of cornflakes, and lifted fruit juice and olive bread before heading to an empty table.
“Coffee, miss?” A female server hovered by my shoulder.
“Please.” I turned over the cup on the table.
“Yell if you want more.”
I added milk as the woman walked away carrying the percolator pot before tucking into my breakfast.
Two TV’s played in opposite corners of the room. One tuned into the local Greek TV station and another tuned into the British Forces Broadcasting Service. The logos in the corner showed BFBS, but it was Sky News. The locals all used to watch BFBS years ago but complaints stopped it and the authorities encrypted the signal. Thinking back I grinned and shook my head. That was the thing about living in the mountain, sometimes things didn’t work the way they should. A local news report gave a weather update for the next few days. “Mmm what would be the best day to visit the mountain top?”
“Today miss.” The server from earlier stated. “The suns supposed to shine but rising humidity will mist the views from Mount Olympus.”
I nodded thankful for the expert advice.
“If it was me, I’d go today or tomorrow.” She turned to walk away but turned back and filled my coffee cup. “Don’t worry it’s not a pirate signal.”
“Didn’t know BFBS now showed Sky channels.”
“Oh yes. We can’t get usual coverage, the signals not strong enough, so we buy straight from the armed forces. It’s all explained in your information pack, should be in your room. You will get the same channels.”
“It is.” This time she walked off.
Back in my chalet in my haste to explore yesterday I hadn’t noticed the welcome pack. I lifted the padded plastic folder and headed for the seat on my veranda. The pack told me all about the chalet, the mini fridge and prices for the hotel bar and party nights. The list and my disabled phone, now acting as an expensive tablet enlightened me to an imminent surprise. “There’s a party night tonight. Live music, drinks and a warm buffet, meze style for thirty Euros.”
I checked the folder for information on Troodos before returning it to the table and grabbing my bag, camera and car keys. In reception, I paid for one ticket for the party night and received my instructions. Since it wasn’t a formal meal, there was no dress code although the hotel’s reception staff would prefer smart casual and no bikinis. Didn’t have a bikini body, so it wouldn’t be a problem.
At the end of the Forrest Park driveway, I lifted my local map of Platres and checked for a garage. With only half a tank of petrol these twisty mountain roads used far more than motorway driving and filling stations were few. I headed out and along the road towards the square, careful to stay as far left as possible. There were no pavements except in the centre of town and cars parked everywhere. I found the filling station on the road between Platres and Pano Platres, a smaller settlement three kilometres south. Like everything else, the petrol station had a few new coats of paint but it was the same building from my memories.
The attendant, a young man half my age with dark hair and tanned skin approached the car. “It’s okay Miss, I’ll do it for you.”
I lowered the window and leaned out. “Okay well, fill it to the top please.”
The numbers rattled around. Petrol always cost more in the mountains because it required transportation. It was the same anywhere in the world, but still reasonable. I heard the click letting me know the tank was full and watched as he removed the nozzle and topped it off.
“Thirty five Euros please.” He confirmed the price on the pump.
I handed across the notes. “No service charge?”
“Don’t believe in them.” He laughed and waved walking back to the small office at the edge of the property.
I closed my window back to half and drove out of the filling station with a wave passing the office. “That’s the thing.” I spoke to myself in the rear-view mirror. “The old fashion service we all miss.”
At the square I parked my car and walked into the corner supermarket my mother loved all those years ago. Troodos didn’t have a grocery store. There wasn’t much here twenty odd years ago, at all, a hotel, church and ski shops in the winter. Inside I bought olive bread rolls, some ham, sliced halloumi and two bags of crisps plus two bottles of water for lunch.
This mornings’ journey required no map. There was one road on this side of the mountain and I was about to turn on to it. The same road used as a teenager with my parents. Re-laid with new guard walls at the edges but it still took the same route. Upwards it continued, around swinging corners which were always bad on the brakes descending. After fifteen minutes the sign for Troodos appeared, followed seconds later by the square which also passed as the town roundabout. Here the main road continued but dipped down the other side. Another on the right, led to the church and RAF station, and left to Mount Olympus.
My father had shuttled back and forth between Troodos station and Mount Olympus. Strict access to military personal had existed since the late 1890s as a base for troops wounded in the Egyptian campaign. I turned right and drove to the church.
St George’s Church in the Forrest isn’t a typical Greek establishment. It’s an Anglican church used in the summer months by the Anglican Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf. With its red roof and thick stone walls it blended well with the other local buildings. I parked and exited carrying my bottle of water.
Before air conditioning, the Cypriot government and church representatives moved to mountain villages to escape the fierce summer heat and humidity and I understood why. The first summer we lived here the temperature in Limassol reached a hundred degrees every day for six weeks.
A small, brushed path led towards the open door at the far end. Inside silence reigned. Heavy oak beams lined the ceiling and gave the church a strange English appeal. Clean white walls, wooden rows of chairs and tapestries that wouldn’t be out of place in my local church completed the look. “Why should this place change when the rest hasn’t?” Sat at the back I continued to look around. Content in the cooler air and serene surroundings.
After my parents died a reverend from this church came to the house of my friend and sat with me for hours. He listened when I wanted to talk, offered me prayers when the shock and disbelief took hold and helped with the anguishing first steps of grief. The forces offered me help. They flew my aunt out to take me back to the UK, but it was this reverend, my friend and her parents who held me in their arms. I was forever thankful to them all.
After ten minutes sitting in silence, I left a substantial anonymous donation and exited. A young parishioner sitting in the entrance behind a table filled with information leaflets thanked me. The priceless help they gave me in those few days I could never repay but to leave them something to help their church was the least I could do.
Across the road the huge helipad loomed into view. It doubled as parking for the RAF station and small NAAFI shop. In summer the troops would play football on it, throw station events, fetes, entertainment for the locals, troops and families. I saw the security office and shop but apart from the odd parked car it looked deserted. No one patrolled the barrier as they had done in my day!
Back in the car I drove the few hundred meters to the square and parked in front of a visitors centre with white plastic sidings and green round edged roofs. Three units sold local delicacies, gifts, toys and in the corner a closed ski shop. Another smaller unit on the end rented mountain bikes. We were at altitude, near enough the highest point in Cyprus, so cycling was for the ultra fit. “Not today.” I grinned and walked into the first shop.
Decadent smells of childhood wafted in the air. Piles of candied cashew nuts and apricots, dried unsweetened mango, and my favourite thick, clumpy salted pistachios. I purchased a kilo of the magical green nuts. Together with my father, we ate our body weight. The sea salt coating my lips and turning them pink. Both had an unquenchable thirst after finishing the bag but it never put either of us off.
To avoid the gift shops full of Cypriot tea towels and tacky ornaments, I walked along the pavement past the other units. A sign at the end caught my attention, offering horse rides around the base of the mountain. Since the horses were small and only children with their parents queuing, my car beckoned. Purchases stored, I grabbed my camera wanting to capture these scenes for prosperity. My mind still remembered the old days.
The road to Mount Olympus bared left from the square. After passing the Jubilee hotel, where my parents partied more than once with their friends, the road forked. Down to the ski club and a track without a signpost. I took it without thinking twice.
Fresh laid tarmac covered the one lane gravel track of my memories winding through the trees, alongside snow run signs. After a few hundred metres later it emerged into a wide stony area. A few parked cars sat at the top of the hill. Tourists with their respective doors flung open, limiting the remaining area, but it wasn’t enough for me. I parked around thirty metres below, hung the camera around my neck, pulled my shopping from the boot and set off to the summit of the mountain.
At the top was the promise of a remarkable view, but on my right, Mount Olympus Radar Station where my father spent most of his working life on the island. High wire fences built on top of decretive stone walls provided the security while two white golf balls sat on top. “You can see those things from Limassol.” I continued my climb passing several army green camouflage land rovers and the other tourist cars before arriving at the crest. No one else stood there. “Such a shame, but more air for me!” A few feet to my left sat a large rock which would make a great vantage point. To get to it was a scramble across the smaller rocks and shingle like rock face but I made my way a few steps at a time.
On a good day the view stretched to the southern tip of the mountains on the Turkish mainland. Today was a little hazy, so the view stretched into the occupied northern area of the Island and the Mediterranean Sea. I followed the view around to my right as far possible before the radar station blocked my view. The tip of Nicosia came into view. The sight of the abandoned area evident even from this distance. Camera lifted, turning back to the left, in slow motion, multiple photos to give a panoramic memory but careful not to aim it anywhere close to the radar station. Thrown off the mountain was the last thing I wanted.
“What’s that?” No one was around and nothing appeared unusual till I heard it again and realised it was my stomach groaning. “Lunchtime.”
The bottle of water secured a napkin on the rock I opened the packets of ham and sliced halloumi, placing a slice in the pulled apart olive rolls. Each savoured bite of the home lunch quelled the rumbling but made me want more. The delicious combination reminded me of past picnics and the typical Cypriot food. I made another roll and finished the rest of the ham and halloumi. “Boy I was starving.”
An hour passed in silence camera always lifted to my face. Comfortable to sit there, absorb my surroundings and remember doing the same thing many years ago. Here everything was clear, nothing complicated.
“Are you ok, Miss?”
A voice stirred me from the view and I turned to roar at the person but the sight of a young man in fatigues stopped the anger in a second. “Yes fine.”
“Been there a long time.”
“Long as you’re okay.”
“I’m fine. Thanks.”
He walked away, back towards the station. Behind him two men also in fatigues stood waiting. They looked similar but older. I turned back to the view without giving either a second glance.
“Looks like a few protectors, Dad.” My gaze fell to the floor before looking back at the view. “Why am I talking to you like you’re sitting next to me? Because you’re not. What do I do now? Carry on day after day, doing the same old things or move on?” I took a deep slug of water. “And change? What? Job, home, life or me?”
The view stared back at me, silence floating by never ending. No one was there to give me an answer. I stood, wiped the rock dust from my jeans and climbed back across the rocks, swinging the bag of lunch rubbish. The air under my feet carrying me along with real purpose even if I didn’t recognise it yet.
Back at the hotel I bought a brandy sour at the bar and after checking with the barman, walked across to my chalet and sat on my veranda. The drink with the added luxury of salted pistachios, and a good book passed the next couple of hours before it was time to get ready for the function.
The pool area was empty except for a few people lying on sun loungers. I’d been in the sun at its highest sitting on my rock, so wasn’t for sitting in it anymore today. If the weather stayed good, sunburn was a real possibility. After checking my arms a little early redness had appeared. With a generous lathering of cream from the after sun bottle on my dresser, I covered all my exposed skin and my face before wandering back out to the veranda.
Behind my sunglasses people watching was possible without drawing unwanted attention. Members of staff walked passed my chalet, all said a courteous hello. Other hotel guests waved, commented on the lovely weather but in the main they left me alone until my next-door neighbours came back to their chalet. They sat on their own veranda with drinks and for the first few minutes kept to themselves.
“Are you going tonight?”
Unsure if the question was for me at first. “Yes. Figured it might be fun and seemed good value.”
“Yeah, we did too,” the man drawled in a southern English accent.
I tried to place his speech pattern, figuring London or Oxford-ish.
His wife pulled her chair closer to the divide between the two chalets and leaned closer. Her dark brown hair falling across the divide intruding on my space. Her awful perfume wafting in the crisp clean air I loved. “On your own are you?”
What was she insinuating? I didn’t like her before she spoke but now her condescending tone grated on my nerves.
“Not that there’s anything wrong. A pretty girl like you has to be careful.”
“Yes and its fine.”
“Well you can tag along with us tonight?”
“Thanks.” I’d no intention of tagging along with anyone even if I couldn’t find the words to tell them as much.
“Been here before?” The man leaned forward to inject himself into the conversation. He was older than his wife by a good ten years, white close cropped hair disguised the fact he was losing it. His huge hand swallowed the highball glass he drank from.
“A long time ago.”
“We’re moving to Paphos on Monday.”
“Be a lot hotter there, if it stays sunny.” I tried not to get too involved with the couple.
The man sank his drink and stood. “Jean, need a nap before tonight?” He didn’t wait for an answer. His statement sounded more like an order instead of a question. There was something about the way he spoke. It made the hair on my arms stand to attention. She got up and followed without another word as I returned to my relaxing.
Dressed and ready to party I wandered outside to twinkle lights lighting the pine trees and bushes between the chalets, pool and terrace. With the ticket in my trouser pocket I locked the door and headed across the path. Dressed in black linen trousers, nude flat sandals and a white sleeveless top, showed the beginnings of my suntanned arms. I fulfilled the smart but casual regulations. Never comfortable when dressed in formal attire, this suited me.
The Blue restaurant’s door sat wide open. Greek music wafted through the air from speakers set in the walls. A waiter took my ticket and offered a brandy sour or a glass of wine. Inside I took my sour and wandered across to the buffet area where people mingled and waiters busied laying out hot plates. I stood to the side admiring the room. Polished pine floorboards complimented the pale orange walls with heavy gold curtains. The colours, every inch Mediterranean but the blue and white table clothes covering every single table screamed Greek.
Other guests took seats, and I followed, not wanting to mix with the couple from next door.
“Excuse me dear are you on your own?” A table of women, all older than me but looking beautiful with their white hair and pearls looked at me.
“Join us and save yourself from unwanted company.”
I didn’t need telling twice and sat at the side of my rescuer. “Thank you for this.”
“Nonsense.” The woman patting my hand. “Better to be in the mix with us, and we’ll show you how to party.”
“I’m Babs, and they are Agnes, Jenny, Dora and Betty.” She sipped a little from her drink before shifting in her chair towards me. “On your own?”
“Yeah, taking a break from work and real life.”
“Married?” Babs whispered as the room filled.
“Widowed.” The truthful answer always uncomfortable so before my new friends felt strange I butted in and asked the questions. “Five’s a funny number to travel with.”
“Oh we aren’t travelling dear, we all live here.”
Babs shook her head. “Expats. Husbands all dead, so we moved out here, got our own little group, cheaper to live, weathers better. What more could you ask for!”
“Never realised there’d be expats in Cyprus. You hear a British voice and you assume their military.”
“First time here?”
“No. Dad was here in the mid eighties, when I was a teenager.”
“Ah, a trip to the past.”
No one could say another word, the lights lowered, and a man walked onto a small stage, guitar in hand.
The next morning thirst woke me. Alcohol and I didn’t mix well, due to my lack of drinking at home. Never one to open a bottle of wine or beer preferring a strong coffee laced with gingerbread liquor. Brandy sours drunk in bulk were lethal due to their smoothness and promise of sweet elixir.
The sun threatened to burst through the curtains, thoughts about rising and starting my day rattled through my hangover. It was Sunday, the eternal day of rest but I fancied exploring. High on the list of things was a visit to Kykko Monastery and the waterfalls, but the monastery was quieter through the week.
Last night the ladies showed me how to party and after the first act I relaxed enough around them to join in. They wanted nothing from me except my company. This morning came with the realisation they had the right attitude and the ability not to worry about how you looked to those around. It’s what I needed, to break free from what the world expected.
By the end of the evening, they welcomed me into their little group, even gifting an invitation for lunch at one of their little gatherings. I thanked them, not sure if time would allow attendance but this morning as lime bubbles refreshed my body, I questioned why not? With nothing to lose plus they might suggest places for me to visit. The trouble with living somewhere for a few years was you put off visiting places you can see tomorrow. We didn’t see a third of the island.
All evidence of last night’s festivities removed from the blue room, smaller serving tables with the usual accompaniments plus hot trays presented a new option of an English breakfast. The same faces from last night were already tucking in, no doubt trying to lift their hangovers with little success. After the shower I wasn’t too bad, but hot food, sausages and crispy strips of bacon would help. Eaten in an olive bread roll, I’d discovered a new treat.
There were two local nature trails nearby both leading to waterfalls. One which led to the Caledonia, north east of the hotel and another to the south, to the Millomeris. “North first, south and walk back to Platres for dinner. Sounds like a good plan.”
Jeans changed for long shorts, t-shirt and my running shoes I filled my small backpack with a long sleeve top, sun cream, water and the rest of my nuts. Notes jotted on the paper now stuffed in my pocket, camera around my neck, bag over my left shoulder, I cleaned my sunglasses and headed out of the door.
The trail behind the hotel took me along the top road out of Platres. The dappled sunlight poured through the trees, disappearing as the path took me along its many turns. Other walkers passed by nodded in acknowledgement, I returned the compliment and carried on, content to wander at my pace.
Across the main mountain road sat the famous trout farm fisheries and restaurant and the rest of the trail. Like every other outdoor local restaurant, the trout farm sprawled over a flat area filled with beer umbrellas and white plastic furniture. But this place was different. At the side of the driveway, set down below the canopy of the tall trees sat multiple concrete ponds. Primitive and looking almost municipal I first mistook them for the local sewerage works but my dad soon enlightened me to the trout. Metal frames carried a network of plastic hose for freshwater and multiple tanks held different ages of fish. Never one for the smell of the farm, we never ate there.
For a few minutes, I sat on one of the many benches scattered along the trail and took out the bottle of water.
“Given in?” A man walked past dressed in fancy boots, skin tight zipper and cycling pants.
“No. You?” He shot me a dirty look and walked off with his skinny blonde partner.
“Ppft, no time for idiots.” Another swig of water followed a handful of nuts into my mouth. Feet away from the same concrete pools, the smell better than I remembered, but it still wasn’t somewhere I wanted to eat. The sun was high in the sky, I guessed it was midday or there about. “Time to be careful.” After a liberal covering of sun cream applied to my arms and face, I set off for the waterfall.
The Caledonia trail was easy enough and under the cover of tall pine trees the sun caught me on the odd occasion. I wandered past many other walkers who had ploughed on and were now paying the price for their haste. With an even stride I took my time and stopped for air at the difficult bits. Around the next corner the noise of the falls beckoned.
Walkers sat on rocks at the edge, soaking themselves in spray. Cool air wafted around the area as I took off my glasses and let the water particles hit my face. The fall turned out to be two. Fast flowing into a pool before continuing their journey. One provided the spray while a second trundled to the right splashing moss-covered rocks on its zigzag path. A hardy soul stripped of his boots and socks and walked into the water before squealing at its coldness. There was no doubt the falls were a great bathing spot in the height of summer but not today.
I turned and a fellow walker pointed to the rock by my side and sat before I could say no. Something about him familiar. He looked at the others congregated at the water’s edge. His short hair and muscular build screamed military. Had I seen you before? He wasn’t the young guy from the top of Olympus. Was it the first night at the restaurant? Or at the dinner last night? They were the only places I’d been.
“Enjoy your walk.” He stood, smiled and walked off towards the trail back to Platres.
Too lost in my wondering I stared at his back.
Once refreshed from more water and another few handfuls of nuts I checked my trainers and set off towards the main road. Downhill was a doddle. At the main road I bought a new bottle of water from the restaurant but declined a late lunch keen to push on. The next trail started half way between the square and the petrol station. The information pack mentioned you could drive to it, but I preferred to walk.
Locals milled around the square, ate ice cream and stood in groups chatting. Described to the military families as a close knit community. Cypriots were proud of their heritage. As with anywhere, people stuck to what they knew and as the town grew it served multiple generations of the same families. Children would spread their wings but most came back.
A wooden sign appeared at a bend in the road. This was the trail to the second waterfall. It promised to be a much easier walk. Had this been a last year or even six months ago, this would have been much harder for me. I drifted back to all I’d accomplished so far. Lost weight, got fitter, enjoyed walking, and it would be nice to get better at all three but I’m doing okay, even in the warm weather. The little voice in my head with a running commentary on my efforts to change. Better was the message.
Ahead and before I could berate myself further a rock formation appeared from nowhere, jutting out of the hillside. The trail meandered around the outcrop the sound of water, rushing, echoing in the enclosed cavern. To my left a gap appeared in the trees and a kiosk with an Ice cream sign. Since this was accessible for all, by car, someone would always make it into more than nature and take advantage. “It’s the odd thing about old meeting new, someone always profits.”
Found in the last few years the Millomeris waterfall, now on show for all, set in the base of a cavernous rock formation. Everyone could see it but few could touch. Accessed by climbing over wet rocks to the back of the cavern, most sat at the edge and marvelled. After checking out the rocks, I joined them. “Don’t fancy my chances of getting out of there without a broken ankle!”
Perched on a rock peering through the viewfinder of my camera, the sun filled the cavern with natural light. It bounced off the water hitting the sides in a show of illumination. The darkness lit with unlimited rays. As the sun crept behind a cloud, the light dulled revealing the darkness within. I snapped several pictures, wanting something special from my trip to add to the memories. With the sun hiding, the afternoon cooled, and I shivered. “Time to move.” A few photos more of the cavern I placed the cover back on the lens of my camera and left to walk the trail back to town.
The earlier masses had either left for home or gone to dinner. Some lingered on the streets or in the shops as I climbed the severe hill towards the square, stopping several times to take deep breaths. Less than fifty metres in front of me were the steps to the restaurant where I ate on my first night. Devoid of any other instinct but to feed my tired body I almost sprinted up the stairs, two at a time, but at the top, the restaurant appeared full.
“You’re in luck.” The manager walked towards me grinning. “Can you wait a few minutes? We’ve had a table finish. Give me a moment to clean it.”
“Thanks, yes.” I moved to the side, allowing people to leave without barging me out of the way.
A few uncomfortable minutes followed, standing there as the locals eyed me. They didn’t appreciate a stranger in their midst. “This way.” I saw an empty four seat table by the balcony behind him and headed for it.
With a drink in my hand a few seconds after I sat, my thoughts of having lemonade disappeared and sank a third of the brandy sour. My attention fixed on the menu I flicked through the two inside pages. “Now what to have and how adventurous!”
“What about sharing a meze?” A voice behind me asked. “Seems you got the last table!”
There stood the man from the waterfall.
“Fancy sharing your table with a hungry walker?”
I wanted to say no but Bab’s words rang in my ears. Take a chance. You never know when you’ll get another! “Why not!” I pointed to the two seats across from me.
A waiter appeared, and the man ordered a Brandy Sour of his own, he pointed to mine but it was still half full. He looked at the waiter and grinned. “Sod it bring a pitcher.” He turned back to face me. “Works out cheaper.”
I smiled back, a little. Brave wasn’t a word I’d ever used to describe myself but this was a step in that direction. Enough to take the chance of dinner with someone who was a stranger. Least he’s thrifty!
“Hugo.” He held out his hand to shake mine. “Saw you at the waterfall today and at the golf balls.”
I tried to remember the face of the man who spoke yesterday. Hugo was too old to be him but there was something familiar about him I couldn’t place.
“One of my guys asked if you were okay,” he continued. “You were there for a long time.” He sipped his drink, eyes never leaving mine. “Saw you from the window.”
“You were watching me?”
“No. Well, not you. All tourists. Have too, security.”
There he’d mentioned it without me needing to ask another question. “You’re a military man?”
“Officer in charge yesterday.”
“My Dad was in the RAF, served at the Mount Olympus and Troodos for four years.” A noticeable stutter when talking about him I turned away to disguise the anguish. Looking across the road at the town market hall, now converted to a community centre and arts centre, lost in my memories. For twenty-odd years I’ve told people my parents are dead but here, where it happened it strangles me. My mind screamed to turn around and face the kind soul who wanted to spend time and not allow my issues to suck me back into the past. “Sorry.” I apologised after a few moments of silence.
“No longer with us?” Hugo whispered. His hand fluttered over mine. “My parents neither, both died in the last few years. Hard.” He withdrew his hand, his eyes still searching.
It took a few moments. “You were here the other night, for dinner. You sat over there at the table overlooking the square.”
“Yes and you were over there.”
“Food was great. It’s why I came back, and the fact I wasn’t sure of other restaurants.”
The brandy sour hit its spot, and I relaxed. His friendly demeanour reassuring. He’s nice for an older guy. What’s going on with me? “So.” I tried to quieten the inner voice screaming at me to flirt with this man. “What kind of meze do you want, since we appear to have a choice?”
“Please tell me you’re not vegetarian.”
“Good, well why don’t we go with a normal meze and at the end we get a choice of chicken or pork.”
“Is it still twenty dishes?”
“Yes, small ones. Two people size.”
Hugo beckoned the waiter and ordered before I could argue or change my mind. He took the lead like a man should and again my inner woman complemented him. He’s a real man, knows how to look after a woman right. “Chill out!” I whispered to myself as Hugo busied himself with the order.
When finished he turned his focus back and my mind froze. “So tell me about yourself. What do you do? Why are you holidaying here?”
Conversations about anything to do with me, wasn’t one of my strong points. “Well, I work for a multi-national company.” I wasn’t sure how much to tell him and decided I’d best be vague with the exact details. “In a team fixing problems but we’re not an IT team.” His expression appeared a little puzzled, and I figured he didn’t understand. “It’s a dumping ground for waste or broken items. We are the team that takes something broken and fixes it. We handle every type of problem with our clients business, from small to huge.”
“Can be, but it can also be boring. Lots of spreadsheets, red tape, everything requires agreement. Every little change, from wording in a letter to system changes.”
“Is that why you are on holiday? To escape the frustration? It’s too early in the season for the average British tourist.”
“More about escaping the hum drum of life for a while.” I sank another mouthful of brandy sour as a bowl of Greek salad with feta cheese and a plate of olive bread appeared at our table. With a piece torn from the loaf and a healthy drizzle of olive oil, I continued. “It’s been a long cold winter and needed a change.”
“Sounds dramatic.” Hugo stated, piling his side plate with salad. He slugged olive oil over it and chewed a piece of creamy feta cheese. “What was the pondering about, yesterday?”
I coughed as a thin slither of bread caught in my throat and grabbed my drink hoping to ease the spasm. My eyes sought his, quizzing the motive for asking such a personal question. “It was about remembering.” Satisfied I’d answered his question with as much honesty as possible at this moment. “Wanted to see the view, see how it’s changed from years ago when Dad and I used to sit there, when he finished a shift.”
“You miss them?”
“Yes, more and more of late.” I placed a few pieces of salad on my plate and pushed it around. “So what about you, Mr Officer-man, what’s your story?” As the words left my mouth my brain shrieked, you’re flirting with him, get in there. I forced a half smile before placing another slice of feta with a piece of tomato in my mouth.
He remained silent as two waiters approached with trays laden with small metal dishes and sat back. He’s eyeing you, my mind screamed as he watched eyes boring into mine searching.
“So.” He sat forward and stretched out a hand waving it over the top of the small trays. “We have keftedes, kofte, halloumi, dolma, olives, hummus, tzatziki and spicy sausages I cannot remember the name of.” He laughed at his own joke. “I should, been eating here for close to two years! In a little while they will bring out more, so tuck in.”
I pushed the remaining salad to the side of my plate and lifted keftedes and kofte before Hugo did the same but mindful he’d avoided my question.
“Always puzzled me, how easy they were to make, but rolling those vine leaves is tricky.”
“I make them at home.” Triumph at my accomplishments filled the space between us. “And Stifado, but they taste better here.”
“Where is home?” Hugo stuck one of the small kofte meatballs into his mouth. “Somewhere in the Midlands or Derbyshire.”
“Scotland but spent my early years in Yorkshire, before Mum and Dad moved here.” I answered but figured, he might not want to talk about himself or couldn’t. Was it the reason for his earlier avoidance? I tried easier questions. “So where do you live while you’re here? On base?”
“No.” He sank a little more of his sour before answering no doubt thinking about his answer. “Handful of bunks in the camp these days. Most guys are rotated week on, week off. A few officers and lower ranks stay here all year round. We all live off base, most have families so they rent local houses.”
My surprise at his statement showed on my face.
“I’m not married.” He stated with force, both hands raised in submission. “I live off base by choice, walking distance from here. A house across from the Forrest Park hotel entrance.”
“I’m staying there!” I blurted the words. Nerves shrieking I grabbed my drink and took a long slug. “The houses across from the entrance. My friend lived in one but they were still building the others.”
“It’s where my family lived back in the day.” Hugo watched as I processed the information. “We moved here in mid eighties. There was a British family next door with a teenage daughter. She had the curliest brown hair.”
“Yeah, my friend, Andrea. She spent many years at university, became a doctor and left for America.”
“The air force offered me a house instead of a hotel, so I jumped at the chance and it’s been a great decision.” Hugo lifted two empty dishes and stacked them for the waiter as he placed new ones on the table.
Hot dishes of stifado, kleftico and souvlaki arrived. “Love this dish.” The beaming smile confirming my love of the beef and onion national dish, stifado.
“Me too but how do you deal with the onions when you make it?”
“Use baby ones, bags of them. It’s easy, put it in a pot and leave to simmer. Slow cooker’s best. It’s cooked till the beef falls apart and kinda melts in your mouth.”
Hugo grinned. “I love the way you talk about food.”
I blushed making him guffaw.
A few strange moments passed as I composed myself.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to embarrass you.”
He snaked his hand across the table, his fingers brushing mine. “I’m having such a lovely time and I spoilt it.”
Mind yelling say something now, I grabbed the half empty glass of brandy sour and emptied it for Dutch courage. I placed the empty highball glass back on the table and looked at him unsure what to say until the words left my lips. “It’s okay.”
“Can we go back?” He watched with a glint in his eye as my head nodded. “Good.”
The magical elixir worked its magic on my nerves. Gone but replaced with butterflies and a nagging sense of wonderment at how easy he was to talk to. Why was it so easy to tell him intimate details? I took a few lumps of kleftico and put a small piece in my mouth. Tender lamb fell apart and oozed flavour mixed with olive oil. My mind transported back to Sunday dinners in the summer sitting in the restaurant across at Trimiklini dam, fifty metres from our home. The locals gathered, and the owner served heaped plates of kleftico and potatoes cooked in the same juices.
“You were off in another place. Is the dish good?”
“It’s as tasty as I remember.”
Hugo held the last dish and passed it over. “Try the slouvaki.” He took a skewer of pork from the bowl and using his fork, pulled the meat off.
“We used to eat these for lunch in pitta bread with lashings of salad and olive oil. It’s so healthy.”
Hugo smiled as he ate. His shoulders relaxing after upsetting me earlier.
He meant no harm. A genuine nice guy. Give him a chance. What have you got to lose? “Well except for the bacon and halloumi sandwiches.”
“Oh the ones with the tomato inside a soft long baguette like the ones at the dam on the way to Limassol!”
“Love them!” I exclaimed. “Wanted to stop on the way here but didn’t know if they still did them.”
“They do.” He looked at his empty plate for a few seconds. “Let me take you to get one, it’s the least I can do for a fellow Brit.”
Take a chance, Take a chance. “Okay, yeah would be nice.” His beaming smile told me all I needed to know and for once I sensed happiness accepting a man’s kind offer.
I tried Internet dating, but it was full of people who wanted something I didn’t want to give, deserving better. With the voices of rejection ringing in my ears I had one last date. He didn’t even show. Left me standing outside a coffee shop for twenty minutes. Once home I deleted the profile and never renewed them. My friends called me crazy, instead I threw myself into raising my two boys. Gave them everything and made sure they grew into fantastic young men.
Half a roasted chicken and a huge slab of charcoal grilled pork arrived as the last dishes of our meal before ice cream. Hugo pulled the meat off the chicken’s bones and shared it with me before cutting the pork in half.
“I’m stuffed.” I moaned putting little pieces into my mouth, unable to stop eating. “It’s so good.”
“It’s always good here. Don’t tell the owners but I eat it here and one place on the Limassol beach front.”
“Secrets safe.” Stomach fit to burst I slumped back in my chair. “Can’t eat anymore.”
“Are you okay, your face is kinda red?”
One hand at a time I touched my cheeks. Not sunburnt, more hot. “Must be the alcohol.” A giggle escaped and everything seemed funny. You’re drunk! Oh my. “The last glass went to my head!”
“No more for you!”
When the waiter brought the bill to our table, I took my wallet out but Hugo pulled the plate towards him. “Let me get it.” His lopsided grin giving away his sloshed nature.
“No, half and half is fair.” I handed him twenty Euros after he turned the bill around and I saw it came to forty and watched as he conversed with the waiter, handing over the money.
There was no doubt in my drunken mind he was a nice guy, a man’s man. When he turned back, he smiled, and my stomach lurched. What the hell? He’s cute but please I don’t believe in love at first sight. He stood and held out his hand to help me from the table. “Since we’re going to the same part of town, I’ll walk you back to the hotel.” He opened his arm and ushered me across the restaurant floor and towards the stairs before I could argue.
Back on the road, he led me along the same paths I’d used two days earlier, now bathed in a dim light. Side by side we walked exchanging small talk on the surrounding buildings and the warmth of the night air until the tunnel and our two paths converged. One stayed on one side of the road leading to the houses across the road from the Forrest Park Hotel. The other, through the woods and to the hotel chalets.
“I can manage from here.” The lit tunnel looked clear.
“Nonsense, there’s no way I’m letting you walk through the woods at night on your own.” His hand brushed my arm. “It’s not dangerous, and you’d be okay but I need to make sure you get back in one piece.” He smiled. A lazy assured grin. “Please allow my chivalry, my lady.”
“Lead on kind sir.”
Hugo was right, the trail through the trees enjoyed ground lights on either side but it was nice to have someone look out for my interests. Half way along the path, his hand brushed mine. First, our fingertips touched, sending pulses of nervous electricity through my arm. Do I grasp his? Wait? What? He stretched for it a second time and before I could pull away, his fingers interlocked with mine.
“I enjoyed tonight. How long are you in Cyprus, Avril?”
“Another four nights in the mountains and eight days and nights in Limassol before I go home.” Nervous glances at our two hands joined as one, the chalets appeared out of the forest. What did he believe would happen here?
“Can I see you again? What are you doing tomorrow?”
“A visit to Kykko Monastery and dinner at Trimiklini dam.” My eyes drawn to his face, to see his smile. “Never got to visit as a kid and as for the restaurant, well memories.”
“Want company, or would it interfere with your process?”
“Your process. You got upset when you mentioned your Dad and since you’re back here, I’m guessing it’s for a reason, retracing your life?”
The alcohol and his words churned my insides. Nervous glances towards him and the floor betraying the earlier fearlessness.
“Sorry, did I get it wrong.”
“You got it right and dinner would be great. I’m not sure if going back to my old haunts is a good thing alone, so company might be a good thing.” Wow brave shouted the little voice running commentary on everything I’d done tonight.
“What chalet are you?” Hugo asked as we approached.
A few more feet and we’d arrived at my door.
“Well, here you are.” He glanced at the floor then behind him. “What about I collect you at say, about six and we can go for dinner?”
“Okay, well…” He grabbed my other hand, raising both of them to his lips and kissed the back. “Good night Avril, it’s been a pleasure.”
Sun streamed through the open curtains in my chalet this morning. With my thoughts absorbed by the handsome but rugged Hugo, I forgot to close them. I opened my eyes grinning like a giddy child before unravelling myself from the covers and heading for the bathroom. I tried to roll over and sleep for a few more hours but every time I closed my eyes Hugo popped into my mind. He wasn’t an average squaddie. A word my Dad always used for army men. Hugo was one of his own and an officer to boot. What would he say now? That cheeky grin and the manners of a man who knew how to treat a woman and treat her well. A characteristic I’d always admired. But those haunting eyes matched my dreams.
Memories of last night replayed in my mind. Was saying yes the right decision–yes. Should’ve tried to kiss him–no, he was being chivalrous. Could he want more from me? What did I want?
“Why can’t I be like every other single woman out there and get on with this dating lark?” I asked the emptiness in the room. “Never know how to react. How to behave and confirm it’s what I want.”
When I opened the curtains, the roofs of the four houses across the road from the hotel entrance drew my attention. He lived in one of them, close, as close could be. My stomach fluttered as the realisation hit. “Am I attracted to him? Or is it nerves because another human being wants to spend time with me?”
Dressed in a conservative manner because of my planned visit to the monastery, I sat in the hotels’ cafeteria terrace, with a bowl of melon, fruit juice, croissants and jam. With a second coffee in front of me two inner voices rang in my ears. The good Avril with the yes he likes you. The bad with how can he like you, he’s after one thing, you know he is. “Oh stop it,” I whispered before allowing the rest of the brown elixir to quell my need.
Kykkos Monastery was the other side of the Troodos Mountains and meant driving over the top and down the other sides. With the same precautions as previous days I filled the car with fuel and stopped at the store to purchase supplies. After so much alcohol last night and the promise of another warm day water and food would save my stomach. The monastery sat out on its own on the mountain side miles from Troodos and other towns with no local amenities. I paid for the items and turned to leave but found my way blocked by a group of women. “Excuse me.” I half expecting a dirty look from a woman who didn’t speak English, but it was Babs.
“And where are you off to in such a hurry?” She chuckled at her own question reminding me of my mother for a brief second. “Or can I tempt you to a coffee?”
“Is there a time restriction on Kykkos Monastery? When it’s open?”
Babs shook her head.
“Okay, a quick one.”
Babs led me out of the shop and across the road into a local coffee shop. This wasn’t a chain store but a quaint family run establishment offering traditional Greek and Turkish coffees, lattes and cappuccinos. The aroma of coffee and sweet pastries filled the air as we sat at a table on the veranda. A waiter stood while we decided, then wrote our order on his tiny white pad. We sat back in the chairs to wait but Babs grew animated. “Saw you last night with a young guy, there at the restaurant. You were laughing, smiling, you looked happy.”
“A Brit. Serviceman?”
Babs grinned as I lifted the gold rimmed cappuccino cup to my lips. “Well, well, how did it happen?”
The story of the waterfall and the restaurant flowed. It finished with Hugo walking me back to the hotel but stopped short of other details, despite feeling relaxed enough to talk about our encounter. It was easy to talk to her but my natural restrained state kicked in.
“Sounds like a nice guy, so what happens now? Dinner another night? Drinks?”
“Dinner tonight at Trimiklini Dam. Back to an old haunt and he offered to come with me.”
I drank a little more coffee, glanced at Babs and laughed at her sarcastic tone. “He was a gentleman, held my hand walking through the trees and kissed them good night instead of me. A total old-fashioned gentleman.”
“Were you disappointed?”
“No.” I took another mouthful of coffee and looked across at her. “Look, to be honest it’s been a long time since a guy took any notice of me, almost twelve years. A guy asking to have dinner with me was, well a surprise. I almost said no, but heard your voice telling me to take a chance and not push things away.”
“This is my fault?” Babs laughed. “Well, is this a holiday romance or friends?”
“Who knows?” I exclaimed interrupting her. “And if you mean anything else, no. Not on my list of priorities, at all.”
“Should be,” Babs scoffed. “We all need it at some point and well you never know you might enjoy it.”
“You are so bad.” For a second Hugo’s face popped into my mind but disappeared. “I wish I could be more like you, not a care in the world.”
Babs leaned forward across the table and patted my hand. “I have plenty of worries my dear, but I’m single with no ties. There is nothing wrong with two consenting adults engaging in activities both of them want. This guy didn’t try it on, it screams gentleman. Don’t worry about a second night out, since he’s a serviceman living here, well you can bet its okay to be around him.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well we’re not party central are we? If you were in Ayia Napa, I’d tell you to avoid the service guys. They are squaddies on a night out, looking for young ladies and a skin full of beer, but here, it’s different.”
“The guy from last night, Hugo?”
I nodded in confirmation.
“Stays out across from the Hotel entrance in one of the four houses?”
“Yeah, he mentioned that.”
“Lives next door to Agnes, always helping with jobs she can’t do. He is as you stated a gentleman. You’re safe with him and if not, Agnes will sort him out!”
I choked a laugh on my cappuccino. It was a small world.
On the road to the top of the Troodos mountain’s my conversation with Bab’s replayed. She knew all along who he was, but had tried to sound me out. Once happy with what we discussed, she encouraged the fledgling friendship. “Is this what it is?” I steered the car around the roundabout doubling as the Troodos square. “Don’t know, but whatever it is, don’t lose sight of why you are here.” In the rear view mirror, reflections of my tinted glasses hid the steel of my gaze. “You are here to relax, revisit and find who you are!”
At the fork where one road led to Mount Olympus station, I diverted the car right and onto the road descending on the other side of the mountain. It was thirty miles according to the leaflet in the hotel, but the road, being a single track with many bends meant slowing down which would take longer.
I turned the last few corners, and the road widened, leading to a car park on the right with a white and blue painted wooden hut in the corner. A short man wearing a light blue shirt, uniform trousers and a peaked cap appeared by its entrance. He pointed to the far corner of the area wanting me to park next to the couple of cars already there. I climbed out of the car and he handed me a leaflet with a smile. The English instructions required covered arms, legs and feet, and to switch any mobile phones off or on to silent. Photos were okay but not of the holy men.
Constructed of pale stone and terracotta roof tiles the monastery covered the road on one side and carried on around the bend. Heavy Oak doors and window shutters completed the outside. Tourists from an organised coach tour sauntered along a path towards the monastery. Keen to mingle and learn more than on my own, I followed as they walked through the doorway into the first of many courtyards.
Inside the themes continued but on the upper floors white trimmed arches gave way to walls painted with ornate gold portraits of religious nature. The group stopped as they listened to a local guide explaining the building’s history.
“The earliest findings of the monastery date back to the 11th century. Founded by the Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos, the original buildings burnt to the ground many times.”
His monotone voice droned on and on and soon listening wasn’t an option. It was time to break away and tour the facility on my own. People entered a section of building behind me with an angled roof, and small oak wooden doors. Inside, it transported me to another realm. Fresco decorated walls and ceiling showed the opulence expected in a Greek church. In the centre of the room behind a decorative screen, sat an idol of the Virgin Mary dressed in red and gold cloth.
An offshoot room to the back decorated with more frescos and paintings, all heavy with gold colouring, held more antiquities in small glass boxes. In a pre designed pattern people walked around the room, reading the little signs inside the cases but I couldn’t, they were in Greek. Disappointed with the lack of English translations I returned to the church. There was nowhere to sit, nowhere to reflect which surprised me. What was the point of being here if you couldn’t sit and chat to a higher power? Was it not the main purpose of a church?
Outside sat on a small wall in the courtyard my reflection began. Although there were no rides, this place had all the hallmarks of Disneyland. It didn’t sit well. “It’s all about the money, prestige, the gold, it’s all too much.” I stood and walked across the courtyard following a sign directed me to the bathroom. Others waxed lyrical about the beauty of the statues, the frescos and the gold as we stood in a queue but it turned my stomach. Yes the paintings were fantastic but there were a handful of different designs copied every few feet. Trimmed with gold, placed on gold backgrounds, under gold arches–it was overkill. This wasn’t a spiritual place. To an orthodox Greek, but not for me.
Disappointed and back at the car, I took the contents of my lunch across to a shady spot under the trees. “You would have hated it Dad. Too much implied wealth and not enough reverence.” A few bites followed with a slug of the water. “You missed nothing.”
I glanced at my watch. “Three o’clock wow.” Hugo intended to meet me in a few hours. The rest of the packaged meat and cheese would last until tomorrow in the little fridge in my chalet.
In the chalet, and after an hour’s nap, I took a long hot shower. The disappointing trip hung on my shoulders. I’d wanted to visit since my teenage years but it wasn’t as expected. Sometimes things don’t work out for a reason. My mind turned to this morning conversation with Babs as the last of the soapy bubbles flowed from my hair. Who knew I’d make a friend on my first few days and one wise enough to lead me.
Dressed in light linen trousers, white sleeveless top and flat sandals, I relaxed on the veranda, with an iced coke trying not to let nerves get the better of me. Hugo had suggested six, and a gentleman is never late but he didn’t have a phone number for me so how could he let me know. “Hmmm.” The thoughts tumbled through my mind.
Noises emanated from the next chalet and the door closed beside me with a thud. An animated couple walked out ignoring their surroundings, locked in the throes of an argument. They headed off along the trail leading to Platres without casting a look behind them or an apology. “Ok, entertaining if it continues.” I lifted the glass to my lips.
Hugo stood in front of the archway of the chalets terrace. My eyes drawn to the crisp, short white sleeve shirt he wore. Open at the neck showing the first few hairs on what looked to be a muscular chest and tanned arms leaning against the door frame. It was obvious he took care of himself. He’d finished the look with linen trousers matching my own and sand shoes.
“New neighbours. They like to argue with their mouths and hands.”
“Ahhh.” He pointed at my glass. “I’m driving?”
“It’s a coke.” I downed what remained and stood.
With my back towards Hugo he took a step closer and laid his hand on my shoulder sending a shiver to my core. “Let me, best through the bends,” he whispered.
He removed his hand, and I headed in to the chalet with my empty glass while he stood outside.
Nerves got the better of me when he mentioned the bends. My hands shook. One, two, three, four, five, I counted standing in the bathroom leaning against the sink.
“Are you okay in there?”
“Yes, be out in a second.” My haunted reflection stared back at me. I pointed my finger in warning at it and stood straight. “You can do this. It’s a stretch of road.”
Outside Hugo’s smile lit the early evening as I walked towards the door. “Ready?”
I closed the door and followed him out onto the path where he reached for my hand. “It will be fine,” he assured me. “Cars parked out front.”
A forced smile appeared. Inside the nerves screaming about a few bends in the road rather than spending the evening with him?
In the car park he headed to the far side pulling me as much as directing. “It’s true.” I couldn’t hold back a giggle. “All officers drive sports cars!”
Hugo stood by the side of a pillar box red Mazda MX5 grinning. “They have a monopoly on the island and it seemed like a good idea?” He opened the door for me by walking around to the driver side.
Inside the aroma of leather cleaner and a tropical air freshener confirmed my thoughts. He’d cleaned his car keen to make the right impression.
“So my lady, Trimiklini Dam here we come.”
Out on the main road from the Troodos Mountains, Hugo negotiated each slight turn with care. My hands gripped the edge of the seat as we neared the bends that had such a devastating effect on my life. I didn’t hear Hugo speaking, or the noise of the car, locked in my determination to steer the car around the bends with my mind.
Less than ten minutes after we left the hotel we’d passed through the dangerous patch of road and as he drove around the last bend, my grip relaxed.
“Hey.” Hugo glanced across at me before turning his eyes back to the road. “Are you okay?”
He patted my hand but returned to the steering wheel with the urgency our destiny deserved as I shot him a dirty look.
Trimiklini Dam restaurant appeared on our left across from my previous home on the island. He turned into the car park and pulled alongside a handful of parked cars. Hugo jumped out, ran around to my door, opened it and offered me a hand. I took it, rising until his kind eyes met mine. An invisible sign between us as my cheeks flushed. Hugo smiled again before closing the door and taking my hand.
At the bank at the side of the dam, the restaurant was a favourite eating place for me and my family. Filled to bursting on a Sunday for kleftico and potatoes, but less busy through the week, we’d enjoyed the atmosphere and hospitality of a family run Cypriot restaurant. A gate on the far right of the restaurant to stop any young children running through and onto the dam structure.
Built in the 1950s the huge dam provided year long round water for Limassol and surrounding areas. Full most of the year, I’d seen it half empty once, when there hadn’t been snow and the weather had been mild for the rest of the year.
“Want to walk out? Haven’t seen the dam in years.”
Pine, cypress and cedar trees lined the dam on both sides, some hanging over the water’s edge. Fences surrounded the rocky ledge I used as a child to launch myself when we wanted to swim. High metal bars created a cage across the top of the walkway. It spoiled the view a little into the valley but it still overawed me. “We used to swim here in the summer.”
“No, there used to be a sign telling us when they were draining water but the rest of the time it was okay.” Fingers entwined the metal railings. “Before all this. You couldn’t swim now.”
After a few moments of silence Hugo spoke. “Let’s get a table.”
With a longing look, I walked away and followed him back towards the restaurant.
“Inside or out?” The restaurant offered both options.
“Out. It’s a nice night, if it gets cold, we can always move inside.”
Hugo directed me to a table a few feet from the water’s edge and after pulling out a chair, causing me to grin, he sat. “How about we get a large Keo beer and lemonades, make them into weak shandy since I’m driving or do you want to stick to Brandy sours?”
“No, shandy sounds great. It’s something I want to do in Limassol, tour the Keo factory.”
“Have you been around before?” He ran his finger along the menu.
“Once, a long time ago.” A smile grew as the memory of my Mum and Dad walking through the factory and my Dad allowing me a few sips of beer.
Hugo sensing my discomfort and changed the subject. “So what do you want to order?”
“Kleftico with potatoes, halloumi and a salad.” As soon as the words left my throat, I knew the firmness of my reply was too much. “Sorry, didn’t mean how it sounded. It’s what we always ordered, so I’d like the same. If it’s okay?”
“Course it is.”
Silent moments passed by staring lost to everything else including Hugo. After ten minutes I turned towards him. “Sorry, this is a special place.”
In my silence he’d ordered for us and poured the two shandies’, making mine with more lager than lemonade. “To a good meal, good friends and a good holiday.” He held his glass high to toast, but I didn’t lift mine. “Want to talk about it?”
It took a moment to decide, but he was here and willing to listen. Except for Jenny no one let me speak about anything meaningful. “We lived across the road, came here for dinner once a week, sometimes a Sunday, sometimes through the week and ate as a family. My Dad worked at Olympus so always worked longer shifts. I went to school in Episkopi so early mornings and late night family dinners didn’t mix. We tried to do family stuff as often as we could but this was our favourite place because we could walk to it.”
“Was it the one over there, behind the disused old shop, where the lemon trees are?”
“Yeah, sits on its own on the road to the double bridge.” I took a long cold swig of shandy. “You know it?”
“My Sergeant lives there now with his family. He raves about the large garden, growing vegetables, the peace and quiet and the free lemons over the road.”
“My Dad grew corn one year, sweet sugar snap peas, peppers and tomatoes the others. He loved all the space and made me help as one of my daily chores.”
“Was your Dad Sergeant Ralph Thompson?” I smiled as Hugo spoke his name. “The famous corn house?”
I stared at him, eyes squinting wondering what he was on about.
“He’s a legend and not for the accident.” Hugo’s hand snaked across the table and lay on top of mine. “Time to be honest. When you mentioned your parents were here, and you got upset I checked. Your reaction to the bends confirmed it. But I’d already heard of him as the famous Brit who grew corn in the summer month’s half way up a mountain.”
Tears brewed behind my eyes as he mentioned he’d checked into my family unsure what his intentions were.
“There’s a wall,” Hugo continued. “In the mess hall where we keep a record of every unusual task or thing the squadron do and there’s a photo of him with his corn. There’s a tall woman with him, short dark hair, well might be a teenager.”
“Dressed in a white and blue stripy t-shirt, jeans, trainers, black John Lennon sunglasses.”
Hugo grinned. “Described to a tee. It’s you.”
“I was fourteen, and it was the year before they died.”
The salad, bread and grilled halloumi arrived. I served myself and offered the bowls to him.
“Please don’t be mad but I figured if it was a touchy subject I’d avoid it, unless you wanted to talk.”
With a mouth full of tomatoes drizzled in smooth olive oil it took a second to reply. “No, I’m not mad. In all honesty I know little about it.”
Hugo’s expression never changed.
“It was at the bends, but don’t know which one. It’s why I find it hard going round them, plus it wasn’t an accident.”
“Did they ever catch the person responsible?”
Hugo sighed and stopped eating his salad. His eyes shone with kindness and compassion as he whispered. “Must be hard. Is that why you waited so long to come back?”
“No.” Beer glass cradled in my hands to stop them shaking. “This is the first opportunity to come back. Real life got in the way.”
“Life discarded me long ago, time to change.”
“Oh it can’t be bad, good looking, and intellectual woman like you.”
I laughed and couldn’t help but see the funny side.
“What did I say?”
“Back home, my colleagues call me the ugly fat geek.”
“You’re joking? You are neither of those things, and as for being a geek what’s wrong with it?”
My shoulders heaved with laughter. “Nothing and thank you.”
Hugo smiled. “There’s the laughter and smile from last night. Please don’t go all coy on me like you did yesterday.” He grabbed his glass of shandy. “You’re a great woman, funny, intelligent, pretty, but maybe you need help to see who you are. Now if I can help in any way, be a friend along the way, I’m glad to do so. Don’t assume I’m not attracted to you, because I am, but someone hurt you along the way. It’s the one reason for checking into your family a little. Forgive me?”
I blushed, the colour deepening as he mentioned an attraction. Was this for real? Was he for real? “It’s fine.”
“Good.” Hugo stated as our meal arrived.
Neither spoke as we ate the kleftico, communicating in murmurs as the chunks of lamb melted in our mouths. Infused potatoes cooked in the same oven fell apart as soon as I touched them with my fork.
“So good,” Hugo mused. “Almost orgasmic.” When he realised his choice of words, he burst into laughter. “I’m sorry, didn’t mean to imply anything.”
It was his turn to blush and without thinking I countered. “You must not have had the loving of a good woman if food does that to you.” The realisation at my selection of words was as bad I blushed and the two of us roared with laughter.
With the meal finished and the shandies long since drunk Hugo insisted on paying for dinner despite my protests. We walked out to the car, sitting on its own in a deserted car park. “Why do we go back the long way and miss out the bends?”
“Through Pera Pedi and Kato Platres.” Again he opened the car door for me before running around to his own. “If you want we could park my car and get a night cap, say in the hotel bar?”
“Okay but my treat.”
Hugo drove straight across the crossroads and past my old home.
“Are they happy? Your sergeant and his family?”
“Yes. It’s peaceful, close to both the mountain and Limassol. His wife got pregnant after a few years of trying.” He squeezed my hand. “It’s a great family house.”
The drive along the back roads to Pera Pedi took us past the Keo winery. “It’s new and worth a visit, so I’m told. The last group of boys we had up visited one afternoon.”
It might be but I paid the front building no further attention since I wasn’t interested in a new facility.
Hugo continued to drive with care since the light was fading fast, and the road had turned into a single tarmac track. At a junction in Kato Platres Hugo turned left following the road to Phini. A few hundred metres later he hung a right and joined a normal two lane road. “Hotels on the left in a few minutes. Still okay to park and go for a drink?”
“Course. We can walk along the drive.” I glanced at him and watched the grin on his face knowing he understood.
All four houses sat on top of a rocky outcrop and looked like they could slide downhill with the slightest push. Hugo turned into the entrance, then to the second house, parking in a small driveway. Again, ever the gentleman, he opened the door for me.
“I met your neighbour on Saturday.”
“Agnes. She was in the Forest Park for a dinner dance with her pals. One of them, Babs, told me she lived next door to you.”
“Small world.” He pointed to the first house in the group. “She lives there. I help out from time to time with jobs she can’t do. DIY kinda stuff.” He locked the car with a beep from his key fob and took my hand in his. “Which one did your friend live in again?”
I looked behind me, took a moment and pointed to the last one of the four. All the houses looked the same. White painted walls, terracotta tiled roofs but the last one was a little bigger and had a small veranda. “That one. We used to travel to school together, in the garrison, along with a few more high school kids. The one’s going to primary got a different mini bus and went to the school in Akrotiri.” The two houses behind us were a lot newer than the other two. “So you must have lived there.” I pointed to the third house. “When your family were here.”
“Yeah, we must have come out after you left because I went to the high school and got the mini bus. Your friend Andrea sat on her own. Come on lets go get a drink.” He squeezed my hand. “Enough memories for tonight.”
The walk along the path passed without a word between us. Gravel crunched underfoot and as the chunks grew larger Hugo directed me onto the grassy verge so as not to hurt my feet. Hands clenched together, gone were the nervous flutters deep in my stomach, replaced with happiness and bravery to allow him the privilege. As we walked, my mind questioned. Why suggest a night cap? Why say he liked me? What was he after? Was it sex? If it was, did I want it too?
After ten minutes the hotels lights came into view. How to play this? Do you like him? My face and neck flushed red at my answer aware he was looking at me as we walked.
“Here we are.”
Inside the hotel the two of us headed for the Olympus Bar. A small area decorated with wood panels, weaved rattan ceiling squares, lantern lamps hanging from the ceiling and decorative plates on a high shelf. Before he could stop me, I strode across to the bar and ordered two brandy sours. Hugo found an empty table.
“There you go.” I sat and took a sip. “These are addictive.”
“They are. So what are your plans tomorrow?”
“Mmm well it’s a day of little. Time to rest and hit the spa for a pamper session. Time to treat myself.”
Hugo raised his eyebrows.
“Don’t get the wrong idea, I don’t do this but since they have the facilities, figured why not? It’s the point of a holiday, relaxing.”
“If you’re planning to stay at the hotel, why don’t I make you dinner?”
My head snapped to my right and met his question with a twitch of my lips. Say yes, my mind screamed, say yes. “Okay, thanks.” My mind stinging from the admission I liked him forced me to delve deeper for answers to questions he’d avoided. “Tell me about your life Hugo.”
He sighed, moved his chair closer to mine. “There’s not a lot to tell. Dad was in the RAF, we travelled from base to base in England and Scotland every three years. He got a posting to Troodos, and we came for a few years. When I turned eighteen my parents couldn’t pay or support me through university so the RAF did, on the promise to give them twelve years of service.”
“Must have finished a while back.” I interrupted him. “Sorry not implying you’re old.”
Hugo laughed. “No you’re right it was years ago. Joined aged twenty three with a degree in engineering. They decided after my initial training to send me to officer school. From there it was radar and now I’m a qualified air traffic controller, which will help when I leave.”
“Wow, you have it all figured out!”
“No, could have left seven years ago but stayed.”
I did the math realising he was forty two, near enough my age. “Why did you stay? Better the devil you knew?”
“Didn’t look appealing. Still doesn’t on the jobs front.” Hugo leaned forward and rolled the glass between his hands. “Few places were looking for my set of skills. I don’t have family except for a sister and her family. No wife, girlfriend or kids to tow around. The time wasn’t right.” He sipped his drink and sat back again. “It’s why the RAF sent me here and why they’ve sent me to a few far-flung places. I’m expendable. Need a gap filling, no ties, or arguing. Send me.” With his eyes searching my face, he continued. “Gets tiring, but it’s a job and I get to live here, at least for now.”
“Doesn’t sound so idyllic when you put it like that!”
One drink turned into two. Both of us relaxed and easy in each other’s company. He moved closer and closer every opportunity he got, soon we were side by side and Hugo laid his arm across the back of my chair. I knew he’d done it, even though he’d tried to be suave and careful about moving closer. I turned and found myself inches from his face. He lifted his hand and ran his finger across my cheek bone and under my chin, but his eyes never left mine. My skin tingled from his touch, yearning for more. Mesmerised by those eyes, my mind froze until we were millimetres apart. Tender fluttering kisses landed on my lips. Under his spell, my eyes closed lost in the simmering passion deep in my soul.
He pulled back as they opened again. “I’ve wanted to kiss you since last night. You have me mesmerised.”
The indoor pool at the Forrest Park came with a spa and whirlpool attached but my package didn’t include treatments. They weren’t expensive, and I deserved relaxation. After breakfast having studied the list, I opted for a manicure, followed by a back, neck and shoulder massage, finishing with a hot stone treatment.
Hugo mentioned dinner at six and whilst I appreciated his offer of collecting me, it wasn’t in my nature since he lived close. My treatments would take about three hours with the promise of a whirlpool bath to finish. I booked the spa for two, leaving plenty of time to get ready.
After finishing our second drink last night, the bar closed for the evening and Hugo walked me back to my chalet where we kissed again, but with respect. This morning as I used the trail into Platres to buy a bottle to take with me to his home, my mind drifted back to last night. He hadn’t tried to wrap me in his arms. Hadn’t tried to take it further, but had the most luscious lips for a man. I’d not kissed many, only a couple and all of them wanted more. With men inexperience was my norm.
In the supermarket I wandered around looking at wine and spirits humming and arghing with myself what to buy. My parents brought me up to understand you couldn’t go for dinner without getting something. Rudeness personified, and nicer to take a gift as a thank you. A bottle of Brandy with accompanying angostura bitters required to make a brandy sour sat on the shelf and drew my eyes. It seemed appropriate, and I picked small bottles of the juices we’d need to add. He might have them, he might not.
With hours to spare a visit to the indoor market long since turned into an exhibition area for local artists seemed a great idea. Visions of the coastline on both sides of the island, the views from the mountains and an oil painting of the trail stared back at me. Entranced by each I lost the morning in the paintings.
Back at the hotel I lifted a bottle of water and meandered across to the spa. Lying on my front didn’t agree with me. The only other time I’d had the same massage I was sick afterwards. This time avoiding lunch would fix the issue and not spoil the experience.
Inside the spa a few ladies milled around, a couple more sat at nail bars, all had dressed for the occasion.
“Out of place as usual.”
I stood by a small desk, doubling as the reception and waiting area, hoping someone would check me in. A few minutes passed. Long enough for me to reconsider the idea before a technician walked across and checked my name off the list.
“Over there.” She pointed across the room at a small area where a technician waited.
Less than impressed with the start I sat at a nail bar and smiled at the young girl who must have been half my age.
General chit chat followed, and I’d move my head in accordance but gave nothing away. This idea to beautify myself was an alien concept and something only embraced at my sister in laws insistence. “Colour?” the young woman stated. “Red, crimson?”
“Something more subtle.” Nothing screamed not for me more than the colours she suggested. We settled on caramel cupcake and I watched while applied, satisfied with the choice. “Nice.”
With a clear coat applied to protect my sculptured nails the young girl smiled and proclaimed, “Okay you’re all done. Have a seat over there.” She pointed at a cubbyhole, filled with two easy chairs and a small coffee table overloaded with magazines. “Melina will be with you soon.”
Small sips from the water kept my hunger at bay. Hot stone massages took a little while to organise. We found out while waiting a little longer than Jenny at our last spa day. Since I spent a lot of my day sitting in a chair, behind a computer screen, my shoulders, neck and back took the strain. This kind of treatment helped.
“Hello, my name is Melina. Are you ready for your massage?” A young lady with tight curls of long black hair stood in front of me, dressed in cream linen trousers and a white shirt.
“Yes.” I screwed the top on my bottle and followed Melina away from the waiting area.
She opened the door to the suite and a bowl on a small table by the side of the massage table wafted steam into the air. “Good.” Positive instant impressions of the room and Melina allowed my earlier nerves to dissipate. I headed behind the screen to change.
Steam filled my lungs as my body lay on the table. A soft white cotton towel covered my modesty, my face resting in the padded cradle. At first lying on a table, didn’t appeal, but I grew accustom to the routine of having a massage and my level of comfort rose.
Melina entered the room. “It’s a shoulder back and neck. Yes?”
“Yes, and no injuries or soreness. A nagging neck from travelling.”
“Okay. Let me know if you need more pressure.” Melina kneaded my back and with each push and stroke of her talented hands the stress ebbed away.
After loosening my back, Melina stood by my head and worked my neck and shoulders lulling me into a state of complete relaxation. My thoughts drifted to last night replayed the image of Hugo kissing me but in slow motion. His lips on mine and the pounding of my heart. A moan escaped. Oh no, my mind screamed, and I cringed. Muscles tensing against Melina’s hands.
“It’s okay. Lots of people moan when they’re relaxed.”
I lifted my head from the cradle and smiled my thanks for Melina’s understanding but it wasn’t the massage causing the noise.
With the heat from the hot stones, pressing and moving around my back and neck area my tired shoulders loosened. Sounds of the sea rang around the room as Melina moved into the last phase of the massage. More stones lay in the arch of my back, the heat travelling through my skins to the muscles. The warm sensation together with the music lulled me into a sleepy haze.
“And relax.” Melina draped warm towels over my back, neck and the back of my legs. “Enjoy the heat and I’ll be back to do the final rub.”
The heated towels helped the fast cooling stones to keep their heat a little longer. This allowed the heat to sink further through the thicker muscles. Although the music continued to play, I’d all but blocked it out. My thoughts once again back on Hugo as I slipped into a semi sleep conscious state. His hands on my neck, running along my shoulders to my back. Lower and lower his hands descended on both sides of my body before turning and running back to my shoulder blades. Those luscious lips from last night planted fleeting kisses along my spine as his hands ran back towards the small of my back.
Somewhere in the darkest region of my mind the muffled sound of a door closed and a woman’s voice threatened.
“You might be cold for a few seconds as I remove the towels.”
The voice dragged me back from my dream. “Okay.” It seemed real. His hands. The kisses. My skin tingled from the pressure of his touch but it wasn’t real. What the hell is going on? Melina’s hands are touching me. It’s tangible. Is this because he kissed me? Is my body telling me I want more? Argh. Stop driving yourself crazy.
The intense cocktail of rosehip, cranberries and sweet almond and grape seed filled the air as Melina ran her hands over my skin. The oil helped their path but also soaked into my skin finishing the relaxation treatment. With one more pass over my neck and shoulders, to sooth the muscles Melina removed the last of the stones and proclaimed the massage over.
I lifted my head from the cradle and stretched my back. “Feels fantastic, thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Are you having a whirlpool session to finish?”
“Good. I’ll get you a robe to put on over your bathing suit. No point dressing, to remove your clothes again after a few metres walk.” She smiled. “Be back in a few minutes.”
I sat with a towel wrapped around my shoulders. The oils on my skin would dissipate once in the bubbling water but enough had soaked in to be beneficial. I inhaled and allowed the gorgeous smells to infiltrate deep in my lungs.
Melina re entered the room. “Here you go.” She passed a pink fluffy robe. “And a basket for your clothes.”
Five minutes later I exited the room basket in hand and followed behind Melina who had waited outside. The two of us walked along a corridor and in the distance the gurgling of bubbling water and the whir of machinery filled the air.
“Put the basket there.” Melina pointed to a pine shelving set. “You have the pool to yourself. The timer’s set for half an hour. If you need anything, press the red button in the far corner of the pool.”
With the jets on a variable dial I could regulate them myself but settling back into the water I realised their power was enough. My head rested on the inflated cushion attached to the side of the tub allowing my body to float to the surface. Bubbles pounded my back. My relaxed body soothed, fettled and primed to soak the benefits of the warm water.
The hum of the pump lulled me back to a semi state of sleep. Hugo popped into my mind again. Bubbles pummelled my back and legs but in my imagination it was his fingers. I moaned, but caught myself and laughed at the embarrassment. “Get a grip woman, enjoy this.”
After my afternoon spa, the sounds of gentle snoring filled the chalet. Lulled into the grip of sleep by the massage and bubbles. Sensible enough to set an alarm I rolled across the bed as it blared from my phone.
“What to do?” I spoke to an empty room, having showered on my awakening. Sat in front of the mirror, I’d dried my hair and straightened it. At home I’d wash, dry and leave it. Here the humidity had my hair in its grasp and it had developed curls. “So do you want sophisticated, casual or sultry.” I looked at my reflection in the mirror, pulling my hair to the top of my head and burst into laughter. “Who are you trying to kid? You’re no sex kitten, no point trying.”
My alarm beeped again, letting me know it was quarter to six. Ever the early bird, arriving even a few seconds late wasn’t me. I finished my cream linen outfit with a simple gold chain, grabbed my sandals, wrap, small backpack and the gift for Hugo.
The driveway to the hotel and crossroads it sat on were close to a bad bend and although it wasn’t a busy road, vehicles flew around it. The previous night it had crept on us. It had openness, so I could hear noises from a way off and a mirror to at least try to see what was coming. Satisfied nothing was imminent I crossed the main road and set off along the short road leading to the four houses where Hugo lived.
“Play it cool tonight. Don’t let this afternoons shenanigans enter your mind. It’s playing tricks because he kissed you.” I walked past the first house and saw his car parked on his drive. He was home. “Remember men are after one thing and you deserve better!”
Hugo opened the door. “Saw you from the kitchen window crossing the road.”
“Here, a little thing.” I handed him the gift bag while crossing the door step into his home. There was no corridor, rather straight into his living room, complete with huge flat screen TV hanging on the wall. Despite a traditional Greek flavour this was a service home, and one of a single bloke. His boots sat by the door as did a camouflage rucksack. Ironed shirts hung on coat hangers, on a door frames off the living room. Huge piles of DVD’s and games sat in the corner of the room, stacked on top of each to varying heights.
“You didn’t have to, but thank you.” Hugo walked behind me and kissed my cheek, having opened the wrapping on the Brandy set. “Have lemonade but not the other bits.”
I smiled, happy he appreciated the gift.
“So want the ten cent tour? We could sit out back?” I allowed him to take the lead. “In there is the kitchen.” He pointed, stepped back and walked through the door where I’d seen the hanging shirts. “This is the spare bedroom. Keep all my kit in here. Do the ironing and stuff.”
I stuck my head in through the door. Two metal framed single beds sat on either side of the magnolia walls. His ironing board took central stage with camouflage fatigues, light blue short-sleeved shirts and blue trousers piled high on one bed.
He walked back out of the room, into the living room, and through the door where he had pointed earlier. “Here’s the kitchen, and through there’s the bathroom.”
“Unusual, a bathroom off the kitchen.”
“Yeah.” He rubbed the five o’clock stubble around his jaw. “There’s a tiny utility room in between.” He watched for my reaction as he pointed behind him. “My room’s in there.”
“Dark colours and another big TV?” I mocked.
Hugo raised his eyebrows and stepped back. “Have a look!”
The room was tidy, a large bed on the side wall, under the window and dressed in as red, orange and yellow squared quilt cover. A small flat screen TV sat on the dresser opposite but in the corner a four shelved book case caught my eye. “You read a lot?”
“I do.” He grinned. “Got your interest.”
“Is it okay to take a look?”
“Sure.” Hugo leaned against the door frame as I walked further into his bedroom and ran my fingers along the edges of the books.
“A little.” History books of war and military aircraft stared back at me and books by my favourite adventure author. The bottom shelf was full of marvel comics and gaming magazines. “We like some of the same books.”
“Well I’d say you have good taste.” He grinned and turned. “Need to attend to dinner.” He headed back out of the room to the kitchen.
It’s not what I expected. Where’s the piles of dirty washing, lads magazines and the untidiness of a man who lives alone?
“Fancy a drink?” Hugo yelled.
“Sure.” Entering the kitchen, he stood stirring an over dish. “What are we having?”
“Well, figured you could use good old fashioned comfort food after a few days of Greek dishes. We are having chicken chasseur, mashed potatoes and vegetables.”
Hugo brushed past me and opened a cupboard above my head. He took two tall glasses, opened the brandy and made two Brandy Sours. He gave me one and raised his glass to mine in celebration. “Cheers!”
I smiled and took a sip. He had the mixture about right. “Need a hand with dinner?”
“Nope, will be ready in a few moments. Why don’t you take a seat outside?”
His kitchen door opened onto a balcony, wide enough to take two lounge chairs, a round metal outdoor table and in the corner a small barbecue. The evening sun was sinking behind the mountains, the last of it peaking over the pine trees of my hotels grounds. A wall at each side of the balcony protected his privacy from the neighbours and created a sun trap. The view travelled across fields and valleys to the next village of Phini in the distance but the drop caught my full attention. A few feet in front of the balcony was the edge of the hill and the sheer drop into the valley below. I couldn’t see the bottom causing a shiver to course through my veins.
Hugo followed a few moments later and found me leaning on the handrail. “Careful, its one heck of a drop.”
“Don’t let it bother you. I come out here to chill because it’s quiet, and nice and warm.” He extended his hand offering me a seat. “Dinners on.”
Silence fell across the balcony for a few seconds as both of us sat sipping our respective drinks gazing out across the view. My nerves cranked to maximum after my dreams this afternoon.
“Avril, can we talk?”
“Sure.” I turned in the seat a little towards him. “What about?”
“Last night.” He took one of my hands and wrapped it in both of his. “When I mentioned liking you, it was a serious statement. To kiss you, well I’ve wanted to do it, since the night we shared the meze but don’t want you to get the wrong idea.”
His eyes searched mine, boring into my mind for a reaction. Shit he’s married my mind exclaimed, jumping to the worst imagined thing.
“Have to be honest with you.” Hugo bowed his head. “In a few months I’ll be back in the UK for good, after my time finishes here. It’s likely I’ll be close to you and would love to see you once home.”
He stopped my mind in its tracks as soon as he spoke. Now too afraid of his words to form a full sentence. “So I don’t want this to be a holiday romance.”
“Ahh makes sense.” A long exhaled sigh rolled across my lips. “I like you a lot Hugo. You’re a great guy and we’ve had fun, but it’s been so long since I was even around a man, it feels a little unnatural.”
Hugo stood, scraping his chair backwards. He leaned across the table and kissed my forehead. “Can we continue to have fun and get to know each other while you’re on the island?”
“Good, need to check dinner. Stay here.”
I gazed out across the view. So he feels the same way. Have I been playing on his mind like he’s been on mine? The cool evening breeze swirled around balcony as sips of the sweet brandy nectar rolled across my tongue. He wants more, wow, didn’t see it coming. I puffed out my cheeks and blew. Hard.
A few minutes later, Hugo walked back onto the balcony with two plates. He put them on the table, pulled cutlery from his back pocket whilst pretending to do a magic trick with them. I laughed and watched as he leaned back into the kitchen and produced condiments and bottles of water. “Enjoy.”
The mashed potatoes and creamy chasseur sauce, a reminder of home and winter nights curled on the couch wrapped in a blanket with my favourite movie. The tender mouth watering chicken fell apart as soon as I popped it in my mouth adding to the experience. “Hugo, this is fantastic. It’s like a big food hug. You didn’t tell me you could cook.”
“A little. This is my signature dish, something to remind me of home.”
“Well it’s wonderful.”
He smiled full of confidence from my compliment but his cheeks flushed a little red. “So what did you do today?”
“Nothing.” I laughed and explained my day at the spa but refrained from telling him he’d popped into my dreams.
“A visit to Nicosia. We always loved the road over the other side of the mountain and I’ll have too many things to see once I’m in Limassol.” I scooped the last of the sauce from the plate before placing it on table. “So good. Food tastes so much better when someone else cooks it, thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Hugo finished his own meal and placed his empty plate on top of mine before lifting them both. “I’ll pop these in the kitchen. You stay there.”
Knees raised I turned sideways in the seat with my glass hugged in both hands, my mind wandered. So he likes me, wants to be friends, meet when he moves back. Hmmm what do I want? He’s a great guy, can cook, friendly. Is there anything I don’t like? No. Okay, so friends? Can you do it? Yes.
“Miss me?” Hugo appeared at my side with two mugs and a glass cafetiere filled with dark aromatic coffee. The same I’d have every morning at home. “Not your local Starbucks blend but the best the NAAFI offers. Do you take sugar?”
He poured two cups, concentrating on holding the plunger in place. “This is, well out of left field, but I’m off tomorrow. How’s about we go to Nicosia together? We can drive over the mountain, get there in good time and I know a few restaurants?”
His question threw me. My feet hit the floor with a thud. Dinner was one thing, visiting his home an altogether different proposition. A whole day in his company needed a whole new level of trust. Wait a minute, there would be no funny stuff, he wants more, so this would show if it was possible. “Okay. What time are we leaving?”
Dressed, fed but nervous, I sat in the hotel’s restaurant. The remnants of my morning fruit staring at me from the pushed aside bowl. My mind stuck on one thing since early morning. A whole day in Hugo’s company being friends–what did it even mean?
Both hands wrapped around a coffee mug in a tight grip, like it held the answers to my thoughts. Confusion was the order of the morning.
Last night we went for a walk to buy ice cream before returning to his home and when a yawn escaped my lips, he accompanied me back to the chalet. We held hands, and kissed while getting ice cream, and again when saying good night. A spark tingled between us and gripped my stomach. Stronger than the first night.
In bed this morning with the world news blaring from the TV my mind pondered why he made the point he wanted to be friends. Did he have issues he hadn’t mentioned? Did he assume I did? He held my hand, and we kissed after he spoke, so was it a point to make me comfortable?
The alarm clock blared and with more questions than answers swirling around my head, I rose to prepare for my day.
Five minutes before eight Hugo strode with real purpose across the hotel’s car park but he didn’t turn the corner of the restaurant where he should. I stared into the mug before glimpsing him, tensed, peering around the door frame. He turned to leave, walked two steps away before realising I was there. He walked straight across to my table giving no one else a second look. “Good morning.” He leaned close to kiss my cheek before sitting. “Still want to go for a drive?”
“Sure, had your breakfast?”
“Yeah but wouldn’t say no to a coffee.” He turned over the cup in front of him and poured milk and coffee from the small pot at the end of my table. “Sleep well?” He added sugar to his cup.
“Yeah.” I sighed.
“Nothing, all good.” Cup lifted to my lips to sink the rest of my coffee. Should I say what’s on my mind? Or leave it alone? How would I explain I’ve been wondering about his motives? Better not to say anything. “Need to get my bag from the chalet and I’m ready.”
“Remember your passport.” Hugo stated. “Got a shortcut.”
With the sun climbing from its slumber I climbed into the passenger side of Hugo’s sports car. We were the other side of Troodos and descending the far side of the mountain before either one of us spoke. Content to gaze out of the window, watching forests and valleys roll into view.
“Old memories?” Hugo spoke without turning to face me.
“Some. We used to have friends who lived here, locals. I was with them the night it happened.”
Hugo squeezed my hand. “It’s okay.”
“It wasn’t their fault.”
We continued to the bottom of the hill but my emotions bubbled. Suppressed for years and I turned to face him. “Thank you for understanding.” My eyes filled, squeezing them shut to stop the inevitable flow of tears before turning back.
He pulled over into a small lay-by at the side of the road. “Hey, come here.” He applied the hand brake and grabbed me, pulling me towards his chest. “Let it go!”
My head burrowed in his strong arms, the hurt and pain of losing my parents flooded in cries of anguish. Once it started I couldn’t find the off switch.
After what seemed like an hour but was five minutes, I lifted my head revealing puffy eyes. Hugo dug about in the glove box and grabbed a small packet of tissues handing me one for each eye.
“Been a while since you let any out?”
“For a long time.” The words stuttered as they came out in between sobs. “When it happened I lived with numbness and shock for months.” Tears streamed again. “I’ve never been near there since the day they escorted me back to the base and told me of their deaths.” My head bowed, body slumped forward. Hugo grabbed me to stop me falling further into the dash.
“You need fresh air.” He opened his door with a free hand. “Sit still I’m coming round.”
I pulled the tissue from my eyes as he let go of my hand.
He ran around the front of his car, opened my door, grabbed both my hands and helped me out. “Can you walk?” He pointed to the side of the lay by. “Sit on the bench, under the tree.”
Without reply I walked a few feet towards the seat. Behind me the sounds of a car door shutting, and footsteps filled the air. The natural assumption he had followed me but when I turned, he wasn’t there. Panic gripped my throat. Where is he? “Hugo?” Urgency and fear crippling my voice.
“I’m here.” A slam emitted from the back of the car as it bounced. “Getting water from the boot.”
My body slumped forward heaving relief, he hadn’t deserted me. “What the hell is wrong with me? I’m lifeless. All my energy’s disappeared.”
He unscrewed the top off a small bottle of water before placing his hand on my shoulder to pull me back to a steady sitting position. “Drink some. It’s shock.” With the bottle still tight in my hand, he removed his hand from my shoulder and pulled a small bar of chocolate from his pocket. After peeling back the foil he broke a square. “Eat, the sugar will help.”
Smooth silky chocolate melted within seconds of touching my tongue. A few moments passed and neither of us spoke until the calming sensation good chocolate provided returned. “Thank you.” His hand snaked across the top of my shoulder, around the back of my neck and settled on my other shoulder. He angled me towards his chest. The tips of his fingers caressed the fine neck hairs, slow and even strokes lulling me back from the edge of grief.
He took the water bottle from me and sank a long swig. “Feeling better? Need more chocolate?”
“A girl always wants more chocolate!”
“There’s the girl I love.” He broke off another piece.
I allowed it to melt in my mouth but as the creamy liquid trickled across my tongue, my brain kicked into gear. Did he say love? No, he can’t have. Can he?
“Want to tell me about it, while we sit?” He lifted my chin and gazed into my eyes, kindness shining from his. “If you can?”
Puffed cheeks as my brain questioned looking for an answer. Did I have the words? He screwed the top back on the half empty bottle of water and took my both hands in his. “Maybe.” I heard myself say. “Christos and Dad went to school together, their fathers worked in the same place and the two families always hung out. When Dad married Mum, Christos was his best man, the following year Dad was his. Dad went into the RAF and Christos became a school teacher. When the war happened, his family moved back to Cyprus, the following year, he came back and helped rebuild.”
With a deep sigh I looked towards the village, now a town where they used to live. Demons released by the journey needed locking back in the box. It’s what I’d always done because no one understood. Would he? My gaze lowered back to the car park. “When we came out here, Dad and Christos reconnected. We all went on family days out, trips around the island, camping, Sunday meals, all kinds of stuff.”
“Nice to connect.” Hugo squeezing my hand.
“Yeah, they had a daughter and a son, both around my age and we got on well.” I snuggled into his chest and his strong arm pull me close. Tell him, you’re safe, my mind urged. “Two days before it happened they’d invited me on a trip camping, north of Paphos. Their son had gone away with his school to Israel and our parents decided the girls would enjoy time together. They were right. We had a blast, lots of swimming, sunbathing and late nights. What every teenage girl wants on a week’s break from school and exams. On the last day, we travelled back to their home on this side of the mountain. Dad would collect me the next day. They’d to attend a presentation in Episkopi Garrison with Princess Anne in her role as chief of the Signals regiments since Dad was working with them. They had dinner in Platres celebrating her visit with the rest of the attachment and were on their way home when it happened.”
I shuddered as the words left my mouth. The sun shone above, but a chill ran through my veins. My throat tightened, fighting back emotion. “Neither had been drinking, so they told me but everyone assumed the other driver was drunk but since they didn’t know who it was, no one was sure. To this day we don’t know what bend it was, or who was driving. All they told me was they died.”
“Who told you?”
“Andrea’s Dad.” My head burrowed further into his chest and the grip of his hand on my shoulder tightened. “No one seemed to know where I was but Andrea told her Dad about the camping trip and he got the address from the camp registry.”
“We still have it. Every friend we make here on the island requires vetting.”
“Dad used to moan about the restrictions. Anyway, the RAF police came to get me with Andreas Dad and before we left, they sat and told me.” I sighed and lifted my head from its resting place on his shirt. With his arm still around my shoulder his kind eyes turned every ounce of compassion into the energy needed to continue. “They took me to Andrea’s home, and I stayed with them until my Aunt flew out. A few days later we packed the house, along with Andrea and her Mum and my Aunt took me home. A week later we had the funeral.”
“That’s quick!” Hugo screwed his face a little. “The base should have packed it for you.”
“Maybe. I was fifteen years old, and I’d lost the two most important figures in my life. Whatever the surrounding adults told me to do, I did. For months!”
“What happened to Christos? Are his family still on the island? We could try to find them.” His eyes sought mine, kindness shining through in abundance again.
“They moved to America in the late nineties to New Orleans. Christos, his wife and son died in Hurricane Katrina. His daughter and her family had moved to New York the year before.”
“Do you still talk?”
“We email all the time.”
Hugo let go of my shoulder and broke off another piece of chocolate. “There’s no surprise you got upset if it’s the first time you’ve been along this road. It’s an awful lot for a young lady to deal with, right when you’re changing and deciding what you want to be in life.”
Nodding as he spoke, I allowed my silent throat to savour the chocolate.
“Was it okay living with your Aunt?”
“Yeah it wasn’t the same, but it was okay.”
He leaned so close the hairs on my forehead prickled before he planted the softest kiss. “Will you be okay to continue?”
I looked at his face and with as much restraint as possible, kissed his molten chocolate lips. “Yes.”
His eyes shone, face changed in an instant from worry to happiness. He stood, held out a hand and when I grabbed it he pulled me into his arms. Eyes level with each other, his searched mine looking for something. My mind blank, one germ of an idea seeped into my consciousness. Could I be falling for him?
Secure in whatever confirmation he needed, he ran his hand along the arch of my back and touched his lips on mine. Our bodies, millimetres apart, the heat from his chest burning mine as he leaned into the kiss. He broke it first, straightening his body but left his hand in the small of my back. “We should go because I could stand under this tree kissing you for the rest of the morning.” With a cheeky smile he ushered me back towards the car.
“Thank you Hugo.”
He took my hand and placed a gentle kiss on the top. “Anything for a damsel in distress.”
His light hearted jest made a smile appear across my lips.
Not ten minutes further along the road, signposts showed we should turn right but Hugo carried on straight into an area of marked contrast. “Got your passport, yeah?”
“Got it.” I lifted my bag from the cars foot well.
Twenty feet in front of us metal barriers topped with barbed wire criss-crossed the road. As we inched closer, blue and white painted stripes on buildings and a large blue United Nations sign stood out against the sparse surroundings. I glanced around, my mind making sense of our surroundings. So this is why he insisted on bringing my passport, we’re in no-man’s-land.
Hugo drove straight to the barrier and fished his wallet out of the cars centre console. He took out his identity card and handed it to a UN soldier who walked out of a hut at the side of the road. “Nicosia, is it mate?” The soldier stated in a broad cockney accent which threw me for a moment. “A day sightseeing or duty?”
“Visiting, stationed at Olympus.”
“And you ma’am?”
I took the passport out of my bag and gave it the soldier, leaning across Hugo. “Visitor.”
He took the passport from me, opened it and flicked through the pages.
“Girlfriend.” Hugo grinned as he spoke. “Over for a few weeks visiting before I’m shipped home.”
The soldier handed both documents back. “Need to do a vehicle sweep before you can go.” He turned and walked back to the hut.
Hugo edged the car past the barriers and over to the side of the road where a three-man team stood with mirrors on long poles. “To check for devices. Don’t look so worried, its standard practice. Remember all the checks you would have done with your folks. We still do them to this day.”
“All clear mate.” One man waved at us. “Remember no stopping to take pictures and if you have a problem, remain with your vehicle and we will come and get you!”
Hugo put the car into gear and drove off.
I stared out of the window, transported back thirty years to driving along this road with my parents. Over grown fields, broken fences and buildings on the point of collapse sat on either side of an abandoned road.
“No need. It’s not changed at all.”
As we exited the end of the dust ridden derelict town, harsh grassland appeared on both sides of the road. To our left Turkish towers every few hundred feet, some occupied, others derelict, confirmation if I needed it, this was still an active war zone. What struck me was the silence. Hugo slowed to turn a corner and crawled through a maze of potholes. As he did, he unclipped two metal locks on the roof, pushed a button on his dash and the roof retracted. The sun brightened the car, and I filled my lungs with the strong warm breeze blowing around my head. Sunglasses fixed to our faces he smiled. “Time to get the whole experience.”
Around another corner the iconic sight of the Buffer zone came into view. The deserted Nicosia airport where the one remaining plane sat empty, half way along the runway. “Wow, why haven’t they taken it away?”
“Not allowed,” Hugo explained. “This whole bit is a protected area. No one can touch it. Any of it.”
We continued along the road and drove around the tip of the runway. Fifty feet away the Cypriot Airways trident aircraft grounded by shelling, minus its doors, rusting away. “What’s it’s like on the inside?” My thoughts tumbling out as Hugo drove along. “And what it’s like in the terminal.”
“Last photos showed multiple ceiling collapses and bullet holes. Dust five to ten centimetres thick in places, grass and plants growing through the floor and walls. Somewhere deserted of life. Not even birds fly over it.” He glanced at me as I listened, captivated by his every word. “There was a study as few years ago to see how practical it was to reopen it, if the governments agreed to live in harmony but it’s condemned. Plus if they took the buffer zone away there would be limits to what it could become.”
He turned another corner and drove along the side of the runway and towards the desolate terminal building.
“If they demolished it, filled the craters in the runway it would be a big concrete slab to build on.”
“We own it.”
I didn’t get what he meant. “We?”
“Yeah, the British.”
“No.” He grinned and looked sideways at me before turning his attention back to the road. “It started off as an RAF base.”
“They remodelled it in the 1950s as a civilian airport and the RAF built Akrotiri but the MOD still owns the land.”
The old building devoid of any life. The once sandy brown building with not one intact window preserved on the last day it was shelled, except now for the inevitable thick layers of dust. “Hard to grasp this is still a country at war.”
Hugo smiled and drove on.
At the far side of the airport we passed through another checkpoint and turned onto the road lead past the Wayne’s Keep Commonwealth cemetery. I’d heard about this place since Dad was a keen military historian. We couldn’t stop but to know we’d driven past somewhere he longer to visit filled my heart with joy. Unlike its rundown nature when we lived on the island, it looked like a well kept area of remembrance. Trees prospered, flowers lined trimmed lawns, a bonus in this desolate dusty band of earth no one lived in. The checkpoint loomed large. Hugo slowed the car and smiled at the soldier manning the exit barrier, who waved us through and into the city of Nicosia.
A modern European city lay in front of us across a roundabout with a statue of an EOKA member throwing a hand grenade. The EOKA were a military group formed in the 1950’s to bring about the end of British rule in Cyprus. By the late fifties the group had dissolved as the British retained control of only the two sovereign bases and smaller stations. It reformed for a few years to fight in the 1970’s leading to the current divide.
Everywhere I looked there were reminders of the islands troubled past and its future. Hugo drove around the roundabout and into the heart of the city. On my left, the old Nicosia. A walled city, occasional white and blue painted oil drums announcing the UN presence and city boundary. To my right, tall buildings glared in the sunshine. Everywhere, white walls and glass dominated the landscape.
“I never checked. Were you coming to Nicosia for anything special?”
“Nowhere in particular. To sample the old town and some of the new.”
After parking we crossed a main road and wandered into what the locals called the old city. Homes and shops constructed with pale stones, white windows and terracotta tiled roofs stood on either side of tight pebbled paths. Cafes with one or two tables outside peppered the paths. Hugo held my hand, and we walked through the lanes, meandering with the locals and other tourists.
“Do you know where you’re going?”
“Don’t worry you can’t cross to the north by accident. Everything’s sealed off except the crossings and if you turn right and walk long enough, you soon leave the old city area.” He winked at me. “Come on, have a surprise for you.”
As we walked along a narrow path, an area appeared at the end. Trees towered above tables set in the dappled shade underneath. Areas cordoned off with dark wooden flower boxes. We stepped out of the path into organised chaos. The area I’d seen from the pathway was an eating area for cafes and restaurants in a wide square. “This is Ledra Street.” Hugo said with a grin. “Come this way, there’s something I want to show you.” He gripped my hand and pulled me to the left.
I looked around as we walked, marvelling at major western chain stores I’d have seen back home. In an old town like this it made little sense. “Wait, a minute.” A light bulb illuminated a long forgotten fact in my mind. “Ledra Street rings a bell. Came here with Mum. There’s a platform built next to the buffer wall, with steps so you can see over into the Turkish half.”
Hugo grinned. “Used to be. You need to see something.”
About thirty feet further, the path continued past a VIP rope until it narrowed with metal fences on each side and paintings covering the fences. “What’s going on?” We took a few steps back towards the wall and stood at the side to let people walk past. They seemed to go straight around the rope. Only when anyone walked through the path from the other side did a man in a crisp white uniform and peaked hat take notice.
“Welcome to the border crossing.”
“No way.” My mouth opened wide in complete disbelief. “You can walk straight into Northern Cyprus.”
“I can’t as my passport’s stamped with Armed Forces, but as a tourist you could.”
Hugo leaned against the wall. “Did you ever go over when you lived here?”
“Once, we had to apply days in advance, make sure nothing identified us as being armed forces and we daren’t go past the end of the shopping area. It’s hard to process you can walk straight through now.” I joined him against the wall as a group of excited tourists passed by. They walked around the VIP roping and through the corridor. “Not even a passport check?”
“Seems wrong, when they still have a buffer zone, vehicle checks and the rest.”
“Come on,” Hugo took my hand in his again. “Let’s go grab a coffee.”
Not fifty feet from the new border crossing, in the heart of the shopping district, surrounded by boutique shops of major international stores, a welcome sign made me giggle. “It can’t be.”
Hugo winked at me, let go of my hand, placed his in the small of my back and directed me inside me all-time favourite coffee shop, Starbucks. “Are you a cappuccino or a latte person?”
“A skinny latte.”
He leaned closer and whispered, “Go get a seat by the window and I’ll get these.”
With no good reason to argue with him, I wandered off to the table and two seats right in the store window.
An hour passed both of us by as we drank coffee and Hugo explained what the island had been through in the last few years. The agreements to open the border crossings to foot traffic, the protests, the violence and killings in the buffer zone. It all seemed so improbable, so far from the usual day-to-day existence on the island. It was difficult to comprehend but when he explained the last outbreak of violence had broken out a few months ago, I understood.
Back outside the coffee shop Hugo suggested, “Let’s walk awhile.” His arm slipped around my waist and pulled me close.
Oh dear this feels good. Feels right. What am I getting myself into?
Out of Ledra Street and the old walled city, we wandered into a luscious green park surrounded by ultra modern buildings of painted white steel beans and glass panels. The sun laboured high in the sky, the dry heat growing unbearable.
“Let’s find a little shade for a while,” Hugo suggested, his arm still wrapped around my waist.
“What’s on your mind?”
“Over there.” He pointed to a row of tables hidden under dappled shade. A small hut positioned to the side appeared to serve food. Cyprus’s version of a traditional outdoor cafe. “Hungry?”
His arm dropped from my waist as I turned and looked into his eyes. Something passed between us. A spark. Whatever it was it told me to kiss him. Since taller than me I stood on my tiptoes. His head lowered, lips crushed mine. The taste of chocolate long gone. Brimmed with passion and a touch of lust. Something had changed, the slow burn in my stomach replaced with fire. He broke the kiss first, slow there tiger his eyes pleaded and for the first time I read his mind. He was feeling the same.
“We should eat.”
Two cold bottles of lemonade in front of us with two sandwich batons, I savoured the creamy grilled halloumi mingled with fresh beef tomatoes and crunchy bacon. As Hugo whispered irresistible mumblings of how good his sandwich tasted, a strange sense of recognition popped into my mind. A black and white movie replayed of the journey to the top of the mountain with Andrea’s father and the two RAF policemen. A movie not seen for a long time. The pictures stopped on the face of the driver. I remembered him turning and looking at me but now the face looking at me was reminiscent of Hugo. Did he have an older brother? The resemblance between my memories and him, remarkable. Why has it not registered before now?
“Are you okay, you’ve gone white?”
I shook my head to wipe the visions and smiled at him. “Yeah fine.”
“Good, lets jump into the museum for a while until the sun drops a little.”
Under the facade of the museum, between the front doors and stone columns, a notice warned us of an early closing time due to unveiling a new exhibit. We entered transfixed as soon as the cold air of the main hall wrapped its first whispers around our bodies.
Inside, roman artefacts sat in glass cases, in the main square. Around it fourteen rooms held treasures from the Neolithic age to the early 1970s. We wandered through the rooms, one by one, glancing at tools, pottery, clay figurines and Egyptian and Archaic statues carved into local limestone. I stopped when one caught my eye, read the little notes and absorbed as much history as possible. Hugo would stand behind me and wrap his arms around my waist and read over my shoulder.
“Are you a complete history buff?” Hugo spoke while breathing warm air onto the small hairs at the back of my neck.
“No, I like knowing a little about the places I visit. Does it sound weird?”
“No.” He kissed the tip of my nose.
After visiting all fourteen rooms we walked outside, hands wrapped together and stood at the edge of the facade. “So where now, madam?”
“Don’t know, whenever we visited it always had a reason behind it. Dad needed a new suit, or Mum needed something. We would walk in the old town, go bowling and eat Chinese at the restaurant looking over the buffer zone.”
“Haven’t been bowling in years. Would it be too much for you if we went?”
A smile started in the corner of my lips. Images of Dad teaching me how to roll the ball with swagger turned the smile into a wide grin. “I’d like to but have to warn you, haven’t been in a long time either.”
“Oh maybe I stand a chance of winning.” He laughed at his own comment and pulled me into a bear hug.
An hour later we parked outside the bowling hall, we would have arrived sooner but Hugo forgot where he parked. We walked around the narrow streets for a while until we found the right one. The bowling alley had changed over the years. Painted walls showing the flecks of at least three colours and a name change but it was still in the same place. A cinema had opened by its side in the retail park and several fast-food chain restaurants. It would have been easy to say, let’s grab food there afterwards but perched on the hill sat the Chinese. Hugo knew it was open since his troop had visited a few weeks ago, seems it was still a landmark for home sick squaddies.
Inside, the darkness of the foyer stunned me for a few seconds, but my eyes refocused and the deep crimson carpet with small silver stars appeared. On the left an assortment of machines. Arcade games of all ages and slots rang bells, tooted whistles and chimed with victory celebrations. To my right a small bar sat above a few steps and behind it a throwback fifty’s diner. Hugo walked over to a kiosk taking centre stage. Behind, the bowling lanes from twenty-odd years ago. Sunlight bathed the lanes and filled the area with a deep red glow, I remembered.
“We need shoes.” Hugo approached and stood behind me. “I got us two games, if we want more we need to tell them.”
I smiled at his thoughtfulness and followed to a small window.
He sat behind the small computer filling in our details while I fastened my shoes. “How about we make this interesting?” He turned around to see my reaction.
“Not for money. Information instead.”
He had my interest and since my feelings scared me a little because I knew little about him, here was my chance. “Okay but since the scores compound with every bowl, worse with a strike, how about the person with the highest first ball asks the question?”
A cheeky grin form across his face. “You have a deal. I’ll take the wager and rules but be gentle with me.”
After selecting a light ball I took it across the feeder. When Dad and I played, my hands and arms were the first thing to get sore and stop me continuing. Hugo put a ball beside mine as I stretched my wrists. “Need to practice?”
“Can we or is it straight into the game?”
He looked at the screen, pressed two buttons and two sets of squares popped onto the screen. “Looks like we get two practice sets. You want to go first?”
“Okay.” At the feeder I grasped the ball, held it to my chin and with a silent prayer, let it rip. Eyes focused as the ball rolled, hoping it didn’t swerve into the gutter I jumped for joy when it took out eight of the pins. “How’s that?” Triumph in my voice everything.
“I’m in trouble!” Hugo laughed. He did the same as me but his ball took out six pins.
My eyes lit in delight as his misfortune. “Oh I get to ask the first question.”
“No.” He laughed as he waited for his ball to come back through the feeder. “This is a practice.”
I won both practice rounds although the second time he got a seven. Nerves showed across his forehead as a slight twitch developed in the corner of his mouth. The prospect of divulging private information and not knowing what I might ask proving uncomfortable for him. “Ready to play?”
“Yep, do your worst.” Puppy dog eyes betrayed the nerves.
My first shot bowled a strike and turned, whooping for joy. Crestfallen he stood, waited for the pins to drop and bowled a seven. “So?” I tried not to use a “told you so” tone to my voice. “Are there any ex Mrs Hugo’s out there?” My words hit a cord. “Sorry don’t know your last name.”
“It’s Johnston. Hugo Richard Johnston and no there are no ex-wives, came close once.” His expression took on the look of a sad man. “Met her in University, planned to marry before she went off for six months to Australia on a doctors exchange program.”
He waited for his ball to run through the feeder onto the rail, fingers drumming against the side. Patience not his strongest character trait.
“I couldn’t go since the RAF had put me through university. She extended to a year, met an Australian and married him instead.”
Ouch my inner woman’s voice muttered. I blew air from my lungs in one continuous stream. “What a whole heap of bad luck and timing.” The urge to hug him strong, overpowering and driving my legs. With two steps I’d thrown my arms around his neck pulling him close. He slumped a little into me and the heavy, fast thump of his heart against mine.
“Thank you,” he mumbled into my neck. “You’re right, bad timing but got over it, in time.”
I won the second and third game but stuck to easier questions. Did he have any brothers or sisters, which he answered no, and had he always wanted a sports car? He answered with a yes and a broad grin.
On the fourth game I split the pins with my first ball, got another with the second, and held my head as he earned a strike with his first ball. Now it was his turn to ask.
“Well, well, mmmm let me decide.”
Devious, happy blue eyes glinting as he considered his first question. Revenge–that’s what was coming. “What was your husband like?”
“Touché.” I bobbed my head recognition of what he had done. “He was a good guy at the beginning, a little controlling once the boys came along but we’d both changed. He was nothing like you if it’s what you’re thinking.” I faced Hugo with a grin waiting for the reaction to show on his face. “He was average height, build with dark blue eyes and brown hair.”
“What attracted you to him?” Hugo took a drink from his coke.
“No, no. Two questions.” I giggled and wagged my finger at him in jest. “But I’ll tell you, anyway. It was his laughter, sense of humour and belief. He knew who he was and what he wanted but got a little side tracked later in life and it changed him.”
He handed me a drink from the wall behind the alleys where they stored the racks of bowling balls. A notice warned us not to take drinks onto the lanes but use the designed small shelves. “He didn’t, you know, hurt you?” As he spoke his gaze inched from the floor to meet mine. His hand grazed the side of my arm before rising to the top of my arm. “Please tell me he didn’t.”
“No. Never. It was more about needing to know where my whereabouts and what I was doing? He was fine while my life revolved around him. My return to work sent him over the edge and he assumed I’d leave him. He was insecure. I know now.”
Hugo leaned across to place his drink back on the shelf but as he stepped back, he turned and hovered inches in front of my face. His eyes betraying the internal argument he fought as he questioned if he should kiss me. Something drove me forward to stand on my tip toes a touch. Our lips met and as I sank back to my heels, he leaned forward and his arm slipped around my waist and cupped my back. His strong arm pulled me close melting into both my body and the kiss.
My head screamed wow. The magic in his lips coursed energy through my entire body to the tip of my toes. I want more of this. Nestling his cheek in the palm of my hand, I added urgency to this embrace, by far our longest yet.
When we broke apart, each of us pulled back a few inches until we could look at each other. His eyes sparkled. He feels it too, he must. His arm still wrapped around my waist, his fingers grazed the small of my back. “We should finish the game.”
Hugo won the next two games and stuck to safe questions. “How old were the kids and where were they now?”
They were easy to answer. Both boys were in their early twenties and off doing their own things. Both lived in areas of London and I didn’t see them often enough. Visions of them flicked through my mind like a collage. Images of them as babies, toddlers, school pictures, graduation and the last one’s images of them with their girlfriends.
“You look sad.”
“No, remembering them as kids. Now they’re grown men, settled, girlfriends who will turn into wives and I question how it happened.” I sat in the chair behind the computer screen and touched the button to flick to the next screen to check the combined scores. Anything to avoid looking at him right now.
He moved behind me and two hands gripped my shoulders. Thumbs pushed the skin, kneading it and his breath tickled my scalp before he planted a kiss on my hair. “Happened because of you. Boys can be distant once they grow.” His fingers rubbed across my skin through the cotton t-shirt. “They’re either mummy’s boys and you never get rid of them or they aren’t the type to always tell you what’s going on.”
“Yeah.” I tilted my head back, eyes met, smile a mile wide. “Thank you.” My right hand rose to lay on his thanking him for the kind words.
I won game seven and chose what might be a tough question. “Ever want to have children?” It was his turn to look a little sad and for a few seconds guilt took over. I’d hit another nerve. “Sorry.”
“Hey, don’t. No don’t have kids. Guess the right woman never came along. I’d make a good Dad but travelling around would be tough on them. It’s why it never bothered me too much.” Eyes full of mischief he added. “Might make a good Granddad.”
Hugo won game eight and with his mischievous glint still strong asked, “How many men have you dated since you lost your husband?” He raised his eyebrows, turned his head to the side and with a wink, wandered away to buy more cokes.
I hadn’t wanted another drink but since he’d finished his own I reasoned he’d gone for effect. Eyes drawn to watch him walking through the restaurant area, swagger set to max and full of confidence, my heart thumped. What was this? Are we in a tit for tat race to learn things about each other or is this two people falling in love and wondering who the other is. Our questions probed the other for answers yet all caused a deep emotional response. Was this because of our honesty or what was at stake?
“You look lost.” Hugo placed the drinks on the shelf. “Trying to remember their names?”
“No, names are easy. They are nobody, not one and too busy raising the kids!” I stuck my tongue out at him in an act of childish petulance. Aimed at answering his quip with the respect it deserved.
“No-one?” He added a hint of disbelief.
“Nope, had a few nights out but none made it past the first because they weren’t interesting enough to have another. Profiles made them far more than they were in reality and my interest died.” A smirk found its way to my lips. “I spoke about this with my sister-in-law before coming away, the feeling I always had when on a first date. None seemed happy to be there, some forgot their manners, got caught watching other women walk past. I stopped dating and concentrate on raising the boys.”
Ah now there was the million dollar question. Do I flatter him? Be honest? This honourable, genuine nice guy had spent time with a tourist when he didn’t have to. If I was honest with myself, I’d never had the strangle feeling that grabbed me every time he kissed me. “Now, well let’s say I’m doing a lot of things I didn’t know I would. Sort of learning to welcome new possibilities.”
Hugo grinned and sank a little of his juice. “A diplomatic answer if ever I heard one.”
“It’s the truth.”
“Don’t doubt it.”
No one won the tenth game. We both scored a strike and laughed at each other. We added the final scores. I beat him by five points but both were decent, over a hundred, for two people who hadn’t played for a while.
“Let’s talk through the next games okay?” Hugo reset the computer. “But about whatever you want.”
He went first, and I sat behind him as he powered across the wooden lane my eyes drawn to his form. The way he bent his knee and stood on one leg to unleash the ball, it was impressive but as he stood there something else caught my eye.
“Were you checking out my butt?”
Shit he caught me looking. My face blushed beet red, and I turned away.
“Knew it.” He laughed. It was infectious.
We talked about our day, how each of us enjoyed the bowling and what were my plans for the next few days. I’d see him over the next two days, but afterwards, nothing. A pang of sadness hit me. Once again I’d be on my own. While it didn’t scare me, the time we spent together was enjoyable. My ball rolled towards the pins at the end. The realisation hit me, hard. We had a genuine attraction to each other. Feelings not experienced in many years, maybe ever, flowed through my body and mind. This scared me.
After our expedition to Nicosia and our late return last night I wanted a day doing little. Yesterday fear lingered all day since it was the first time driving along the road since my fateful night. I’d fallen asleep on our return journey, not long after we pulled off the main road and climbed to the summit of the mountain. Relief, from the ghosts for once.
When he dropped me off, we kissed sitting in the car. His lips filled with the same passion as the kiss in the bowling alley, but again he pulled back. The cogs in his head trying to decide his next move. He climbed out of the car and opened my door. “I’d escort you to your door but not sure I’d leave.”
“I know.” Thing was, I wanted him to walk me to the chalet, come inside, whisk me off my feet and see where things took us. Sure of it, but mindful of his need to take things slow. Conflicted emotions and actions the order of our day it seemed.
At breakfast, I hugged a mug of coffee lost in questions, trying to figure out why this man had walked into my life and turned it on its head. My trip was to find the answers to my life questions, not discover love. As the waiter topped my cooling coffee, I decided what to do with my final days on the mountain. Find myself. With memories of my emotional reactions yesterday, there was no time like today to visit my old home and town.
Dressed in long cream cotton shorts, white t-shirt and sandals I grabbed a bottle of water, my bag and camera and wandered towards the car park. It might have been better to drive around the long way but backing away from a challenge wasn’t me. Quit? No. Afraid? Hell yeah but to move forward meant confronting the past. Steering wheel locked in my grasp I turned out onto the main road descending the mountain towards the bends which defined my young life.
Our home, across from the dam, sat at the far end of the village but descending the mountain it was the closest. I concentrated on approaching the bends. Not the busses or lorries careering towards me, but the knowledge an oasis lay at the other side. The first bend was the worst, the angle and being on the inside of the bend with traffic close enough to touch. I followed the car in front glad it wasn’t a carefree local pushing his vehicle around the bend and into the path of oncoming traffic. The tourist took his time. At the third and fourth bend my grip relaxed but not my nerves. This wasn’t easy at all. One false move and, well, the consequences were everything.
The small village of Trimiklini held good memories for me so with my nerves intact I drove past our old home and onwards into the village. Updated since our days but still with its old, half collapsed look, the village now had heart and soul. As a teenager there was little here, one old dark grocery store, church, school and homes. Now complete with town hall and village square. I parked, off the square, and wandered towards the old shop.
Set on a bad bend perched over a sheer drop the store hadn’t changed. Items stocked in every nook and cranny but not the usual tourist gifts, this was still a typical countryside shop. Bread shaped from my memories sat on the shelf as soon as I walked in the door. Two domes on top of each other, one smaller than the other, it was crusty and soft but hard as rocks within two days. It crossed my mind to buy one but since a loaf was far too big for consumption on my own I relented. Instead picking two rolls and some halloumi slices. Around the rustic shop, dark corners lurked. No one considered the need to punch another window into the side and let the light in.
Across the road around the new village square, cafe’s had opened. Small, quaint and serving only traditional Greek coffee. Since my arrival I hadn’t had one and decided the time was right. Seats surrounded small beaten tables, and I sat with a small plate containing a glass of iced water, and espresso sized cup of sweet black sludge.
The village square, a heat trap but a great spot to sit and watch the world. Tourist coaches drove past, three and four at a time. It was a modern miracle these roads could handle the sheer volume of traffic, but a visit to the mountains was a tourist staple. Locals milled around, some visiting the shop, others the cafe or to meet friends. Old men walked ten feet, stopped and spoke to one another and did the same again. A well choreographed dance.
A visit the old bridge for nostalgia’s sake popped into my mind. Something I used to do as a kid as a shortcut to the shop. It was quicker and kept me away from the traffic on the main road since there were no paths, only dust, rock strewn verges. I finished the coffee, left a tip for the waiter and set off across the square. My car fine, parked where it was, since it was only a mile round trip to the bridge and back. A good stretch of the legs.
“Lunch enjoying the view might be nice.” With my shopping bag I set off. Fifty yards along from the shop the road forked in two and I walked along the descending old inaccessible road. Full of holes, nothing had driven along here in a long time. A few people stood in the road over the top of the double arch where the view of the valley was at its best. Another couple sat on the wall. We did it as kids unaware of the danger of falling rocks.
The village had strengthened the wall we used to sit on and built seats into it. The couple moved away, so I shuffled across towards it. Sat eating my roll, the valley spread beneath my feet. We spent many a day right here, passing the time gossiping, talking about boys and everything else teenage girls discuss. “I miss the close connection.”
Andrea and I exchanged emails and try to Skype as often as possible but it’s never the same as being able to sit next to each other and blether. She is still my best friend. No one has ever got as close. “Could the circumstances of what we went through be the reason?” I spoke to no-one but the view chewing another bite of bread. Talking aloud often answered questions I’d long internalised.
People walked passed, locals and tourists alike. Easy enough to tell apart but all mustered a basic hello, or nodded their head. This was something missing at home. No one gave anyone the time of day. The world walked passed at high speed. No one bothered.
“You admiring the view?” Bab’s walked towards me around the bend over the bridges.
“Lost in memories.”
She took a seat next to me. “It’s a good place for it. Anything in particular?”
I glanced at her half expecting the look of a busy body wanting the answer to a priceless snippet of gossip. Her face, soft, kind, wanting to help whatever troubled me. Babs reminded me of my grandmother, long since departed. She sat with me after the funeral, along with my aunt and tried to get me to talk. She persevered and little by little got me to talk. This was in the days long before grief counselling but taught me how to deal with something which could have ruined my life with ease. “My friend Andrea and I used to sit here all the time.”
“Twenty five plus years ago.”
“She’s in America. Busy doctor. It’s difficult.” I stared out across the tiered hills at the vines growing on short stumps.
“Fancy hanging out with some girl pals, with some good tea, cream cakes and a promise of laughter.”
I weighed her question for a few moments. What else did I plan for today? Nothing and she made it sound like fun. “My cars parked in the square. Want to walk back and I’ll drive us to where ever we’re going?”
“No need.” Babs smiled. “It’s at the top of the hill.”
“Not the house at the end?” My voice rose a few octaves. Comfortable in the village but I couldn’t face an afternoon in my old home. One too many ghosts to deal with.
“No.” Babs turned and pointed at the trees above us. “She lives right there.”
Above us, on the bend in the road, a secluded house owned, in my time, by a wealthy businessman who liked to flash his cash while hiding in the mountains.
“It’s changed a little.”
“The house. Its three separate units these days, instead of one.”
I ate the last of my roll and placed the other back in my bag as she spoke before looking out over the valley again. “And you’re sure I won’t be interrupting?”
“No, you won’t. We have friends and relatives visiting one of us all the time and they come along.”
Twenty minutes later after a slow climb of the hill we rounded the bend and Babs tapped on a keypad by a black iron gate. “A legacy of the lunacy from the previous owner.”
“He used to drive along the road in his car with blacked-out windows, park on the road and block the path so no one could walk past.”
“Did you ever meet him?” Babs closed the gate behind us. “By all account he had money to burn and was a tyrant to his staff.”
“No, never. He talked to my dad a few times because he was mad about something. He didn’t like us living there.”
We walked a few feet along a path through thick hedges and into the garden. Formal, immaculate grass patches, raised flower beds and white chalky gravel paths stopped me. “Wow.”
“Yes, a left over from his days. There’s a gold fountain around the corner. Monster of a thing, about five feet high with a re-circulating water system.”
“It looks like the garden of a mansion back home and out of place here.”
“Yeah, I guess it is. Come on, or the girls will polish all the cake off without us.”
Inside the house, the entrance led to a black and white tiled floor, high ceilings and a wrap around ornate stair case. “Betty’s on the first floor.” Babs climbed the stairs fast for an older woman.
Mesmerised by the splendour of the high ceilings sweeping around and carried on with the stairs, I followed. As we climbed the last few steps, the stairs stopped at a little landing with a door a few feet away before carrying on another level. Babs knocked on the door as I stood with my back to it marvelling at the inside of the home.
“Found this one sat on the wall above the bridges.”
“More the merrier.” Betty smiled as she opened the door wide.
Although grand in its surrounding Betty’s place had the ore of home. Comfortable chairs and sofas filled the over sized living room and at the far end, the floor to ceiling windows were wide open. Two other ladies sat in the sunlight holding dainty china tea cups.
“Avril, you remember Agnes and Dora?”
“I do.” I walked across and shook both their hands before sitting in one of the opposite chairs.
“So you’re the one dating my Hugo?” Agnes grasped my hand with a wicked grin.
My cheeks flushed.
“I’ll take it as a yes.”
Betty entered the room carrying two cups on a tray and a pot of tea. I didn’t drink tea, preferring coffee, but it was proper to accept their hospitality. “Who’s dating who?”
“Hugo, the chap next door. He’s dating Avril.”
“Wow, quick!” Betty exclaimed as she poured two cups of tea. “Milk?”
“You know,” Agnes stated. “I’ve never known Hugo to bring a woman home or invite her out for dinner.”
“He wants to be friends.” I pointed out. “On account of him returning to the UK soon. He’s mentioned taking things slow a few times.”
“So he’s smitten and doesn’t want to scare you.” Babs offered her opinion. “Men are funny when the real thing smacks them around the face. They lose their bearings and can’t get a handle on what to do, so they flounder.”
“What’s the chances we can talk about something else than my none existent love life?” All three ladies laughed.
“Not a chance!”
Tea turned into dinner and the ladies polished off a few bottles of Cypriot wine. Since my car was in the village, I stuck to tea and soft drinks. The more they drank, the funnier they got and didn’t care who knew it. I loved being in their company. Their ability to laugh at themselves reminded me this was missing from my life. A group of close friends, there for each other no matter what.
I walked back to the car escorting Babs back home and drove to the house to collect Agnes. It made no sense for her to get a taxi since she lived right across from the hotels entrance. Plus, I hoped to ask a few more questions about Hugo. The ten minute journey flashed by and although the bends made me nervous, Agnes’s laugher had a calming influence. By the third bend it seemed like a normal journey and helped get me through another first. The bends at night.
The next morning I woke later than normal, took a shower and wandered across for breakfast a little before the last available sitting. Something had changed I wasn’t sure what it was, but a relaxed happiness with an element of fulfilment had descended although tinged with a touch of sadness. Today was my last full day in the mountains. Tomorrow morning I’d check out and drive to the next hotel in Limassol.
The ladies were often in Limassol, so I’d said to leave a message and we’d meet for lunch or drinks, whatever they wanted. To be with them lifted my spirit and showed me what life was about. Not the one left behind a week ago.
“I should organise something when home. So many lost friendships because I didn’t try hard enough.” My coffee had cooled. The young waitress caught my eye, sprinted over and filled my cup. “Neither did they!” I whispered returning to my breakfast. Sausages coated with runny yellow egg yolk an eternal guilty pleasure. My mind pondering the eternal question “Who stopped trying first, them or you?” If they cancelled on me twice, we never organised a third and stopped calling or texting. It left me with a small core of friends and I always reasoned it meant my friendship was important to them.
Back in the room I grabbed my bag and headed into the village to spend my last day browsing, mindful of my return to the square. I wandered along the wooded path as we had a few nights ago, hands locked with Hugo. Kisses hung in the air, reminders of our meeting. Would there be more? The question hung needing an answer as my feet scuffed the bark path? At the stairs leading me under the road towards Platres it hit me. Tonight was the last night I’d see him.
The square loomed large as I exited the path and crossed the road. Two new benches sat in the middle of the gardens under trained vines providing dappled shade. With a treat of a takeaway coffee and a pastry to enjoy with my seat, it gave me a little more time to compose myself.
Hands full I descended the two steps into the garden and followed the path towards the seats. On one sat a middle aged man talking on a mobile phone, garbled Greek with added hand gestures. I sat and tried not to snigger. The man stood, walked around in circles a few times, fuming with whomever he was talking to but took no notice of the watching tourist. He left a few minutes later still talking on his phone while I concentrated on my pastry.
The fountain in the middle of the garden trickled water into the top bowl which fell into the two below. The trickle and splash of the drips as they fell split the silence. I sat back and stared out of the garden towards the valley below the town. Memories of lazy days eating ice cream sitting in near enough the same place as years before played in my mind. This was the remedy. To remember the good times, not the bad.
Sipping the cooling coffee, it hit me I’d never grieved for my parents. Cried, almost every day for months but at such a young age nothing made sense. I didn’t spend hours sobbing but would shed tears in private moments. There was no one around me who understood what it was like. One day you were living life, the next dumped somewhere different with nothing.
When we cleared the house we boxed everything, donated food and clothes to a local charity and the RAF shipped our belongings home. My aunt had a little two-bedroom flat and there wasn’t room for me, so their stuff stayed in local storage. When old enough I took on the cost and haven’t opened the boxes in twenty years. “Another ghost to confront.”
I placed the polystyrene cup on the bench by my side and fished about in my bag for my pen and a small notebook. Thoughts, at the beginning, but more notes these days. On the first clean page I wrote two instructions, under each other. Reconnect and empty the past.
The square coupled memories of my father but not my mum and I wondered why pictures of her never appeared in my dreams. We had a good relationship. She loved me and was always there for me. They both were, but I’m a daddy’s girl. When they weren’t there, both relationships left a void, but I lacked a strong male presence in my life, the most. My aunt deputised for my mum and did an admirable job but when the boys came along, I missed her advice.
An hour turned into two, I’d nowhere to be till much later on so stretched my legs and relaxed back into the chair. People passed by, tipping their hats, smiling, everyone shared the niceties of the day, taking time, even a few seconds. Their actions filled my soul, and I smiled back, relaxed and happy for a change.
As the sun rose to its highest my stomach rumbled. I stood and without looking behind me walked to the edge of the garden and looked around for somewhere to grab a sandwich. On the corner, tucked behind trees sat a dilapidated shack with the all important local queue. Delight spread across my face as they walked away with bacon and halloumi toasted sandwiches. When it was my turn at the little hatch I pointed at the picture on the wall. We didn’t speak the same language, but the young lady knew what I wanted. Step by step the walk back to the hotel soothed with bacon and tomato juices dripping off my chin with every bite.
To pack wouldn’t take long and I could do it in the morning but the walk back under the trees had sapped my energy. A swim in the outdoor pool was too cold for my European skin but a quick nap would soon fix me. I set an alarm for an hour and closed my eyes as my head rested against the pillow.
The blaring beeping snatched away my pleasant slumber. My fingers ran along the unit for the button on top of the small travel alarm clock to turn off the noise and rolled over. Hugo popped into my mind. We’d be together later but this would be the last night. Someone had to take the first serious step. I rose from my snooze, grabbed the pad of hotel stationary and wrote the first of my list of contact details. Home phone, mobile, email and address. Once done I ripped off the sheet, folded it once and placed it in my bag satisfied it was the right thing to do. We liked each other, wanted to get to know each other more and if he came back to the UK, it might go places. I grabbed my car keys, a bottle of water and my bag. There was one place requiring my return.
Along the familiar sweeping bends and tough straights my little tourist Mazda climbed to the top of Mt Troodos. This afternoon there were no parked tourist cars, only two green camouflage land rovers. I parked at the other side of the gravel, grabbed the bottle of water, my camera and slung the little rucksack over my shoulder.
On the same rock as my previous visit I gazed out at the majestic scenery below me. The sun burnt the morning haze away revealing the clear coastline of Northern Cyprus. This afternoon the marvellous view stretched further. Sometimes you could see the coast line of Turkey yet in all the visits I’d had to the summit I’d never managed. A smile crept across my lips. “Thank you.” Someone made it possible and was another thing to check off my bucket list. “My luck is changing.”
For a while I gazed into the distance and used the camera to capture the essence of this special place. Careful this time not to aim it near the golf balls by my side. To my left the Kyrenia Mountain range rose majestic out of nothing, perched on the North-West corner of the Island. A place I often wanted to visit but couldn’t because of the divide. The camera panned left searching for the tip of the coast leading along the western side to Paphos. The rugged nature of the perch and the forest behind stopped my view. There were no more accessible high peaks on the mountain, to continue panning my view to the left and the coast to Paphos. In all the years we lived here we never found one.
I used the rewind buttons on the digital camera to check the shots, making sure I’d captured the best possible views before setting it on my lap. Drilled in at an early age to wear the strap around my neck to make sure it didn’t fall. Something I was thankful to my father for. The sense of doing something right instead of something quick. “What you would make of him? Would you like him?”
My dad’s vision disappeared as I sipped water and Hugo’s face popped into my mind’s eye. The last few days replaying made my heart thumped harder. Was this love? It had been so long. Whatever it was, my head had a long way to catch with my heart!
“Hope you’re not planning on jumping off?”
I turned to face the voice resonating through my thoughts. “No I’m not.”
Hugo clambered across the loose stone and pecked the top of my head before sliding to sit next to me. He smiled before leaning close and planting a succulent kiss on my lips. We’d been apart for less than two days and I missed him. What are you going to do next week? “Aren’t you working?”
“Finished. Seen you sitting here and figured you might give me a lift home since I didn’t bring the car?”
“Yeah, can do.”
He took my hand, fastened his fingers in between mine and squeezed. “Beautiful here isn’t it?”
“Been thinking about your folks again?”
“No,” I lied. “Wanted to see it again, you know? Embed the vision into my memory since doubt I will come back again.”
“Ever?” He gave me a shot of those puppy dog eyes.
“Well not this holiday. Limassol tomorrow, remember?”
He raised our hands and kissed them. “Yeah, sad to see you go. It’s been nice getting to know you Avril.”
I pulled my hand away from him, opened my bag and located the piece of paper. “Here, this is how you get hold of me once I’m home.”
“Wow, thanks.” He cast his eyes over the list of details before folding it and placing it in his wallet for safe keeping. “So we can email while I’m here and maybe call and see you when I’m home?”
“Sure.” I didn’t want to push him into something he wasn’t comfortable with. He looked out across the vista before him, sadness in his eyes. My stomach churned. Was it due to my pending departure or was he having second thoughts? “You know if you’re not sure, you don’t have to.”
“Contact me.” The statement hung in the air between us.
“Look I know we had plans tonight but I’ve got an invitation to a barbecue. It’s a work thing, with families.”
“Ah, so our date is off?”
“Come with me?” His stare never leaving the view. “Spend your last night on the mountain with me?” He turned and qualified his question. “At the barbeque with my guys and their wives.”
I smiled as his grin widened. Truth was I’d do anything for him. He captivated me.
I drove Hugo home, dropped him off and continued across to the hotel with a promise to be back in an hour. He needed to wash away the twenty-four-hour guard duty, and I wanted to freshen from my day. In the shower, the grime of the day fell away and instead of thinking about the island and the past, my choice of what to wear tonight, filled my thoughts.
Fifty minutes later, because I’m never late, I knocked on Hugo’s front door. Never the patient one, hopped from one foot to the other while looking around, before knocked again. Seconds later the door flew open and Hugo stood, a towel wrapped around his waist, water dripping from his hair. “Sorry was finishing.”
He stepped back and allowed me in.
“Be ready in five. Make yourself at home.” He smiled and walked away to his room as I walked through into the kitchen and out onto the porch. “There’s beer in the fridge, can you grab me one and one for yourself?”
I took two beers, opened them. Left one in the kitchen and walked to his door. “It’s here.”
He peered around the door, grinned and took it from me. “Thanks.”
Back in the kitchen, I placed my bag on the unit, took the beer and slugged back a long mouthful. The sweet nectar not enough to raise my bravery. An adventurous woman would throw the bedroom door open, undress in front of him and push him back onto the bed but it’s not me. I shook the thoughts from my mind and tried to drag my eyes back from the door but through the gap sat a mirror. My eyes stayed long enough to see his bare butt as he pulled his boxers on followed by tight fitting jeans leaving little to my imagination. Not able to concentrate I dragged myself outside onto his balcony.
“Ready,” Hugo stated a few minutes later. He had pulled on a tight t-shirt to match the fitted jeans and his running shoes.
“Casual tonight?” His attire left me with that out of depth feeling a little too dressed in my three quarter length linen shorts white shirt.
“You look fine.” He closed the few feet between us. “Fabulous instead of fine.”
I caught the grin before he stepped back and placed the empty beer bottle on his kitchen unit.
“So where are we going?” I’d guessed local since we’d both already had a beer.
“Cats eye club, forces run bar for families living here.”
“Yeah, I remember.”
Dad worked at the bar sometimes. Couples took it in turns. A rota of a week on the bar every few months, to keep it open and ticking over for all service families in the local area. It doubled as a meeting hall for family activities, slimming clubs and so on, throwing summer barbecues and family nights.
We walked along the top road hand in hand like two silly school kids, laughing and chatting about nonsense. I tried not to let last night fears and worries flood my mind. Determination to have a good night filled me with happiness instead. As we approached the converted house sitting flattened against the rock behind it, Hugo slowed his stride. “No one knows you are coming.”
He pushed the gate open so we could walk through.
“And who are we saying I am?”
He stopped, a few steps inside, and pulled me towards him, wrapped his arms around my waist. His lips crushed mine, tongue searching until it found its target. My pounding heart threatened to burst moulding myself to him. Breathless, we parted. “You’re my girlfriend.”
My mind unable to give a response, I grinned.
Inside it hadn’t changed. Magnolia rooms filled with services furniture and the small bar in what used to be a kitchen. The mock oak beams over the bar tried to give it a British look but failed. We walked in and straight to the bar where Hugo ordered two brandy sours. They came without ceremony in highball glasses. Cheaper than the local ones but as good. I thanked the bar staff with a smile and followed Hugo outside.
The barbecue smoked as two guys hovered poking the coals and muttering through the plume of black smoke. Hugo took my hand and pulled me towards a group sitting in the corner of the courtyard. “Avril.” The grin on his face wide and proud. “This is everyone.”
They all looked at me but no one spoke. A strange situation until I remembered he was an officer, therefore their boss. It was a further two brandy sours later, and a cremated hamburger before anyone spoke.
“You used to live in my house?” A woman from the couch to my right shuffled closer as she spoke.
“The corner one in Trimiklini?”
“Yeah. A long time ago.”
“Nice little place. Great in summer but cold in winter.”
“Windy, yeah but nice not to be in the snow.”
“Oh don’t know. Last couple of years it’s snowed but not as much. But you’re right. It’s nice to be a closer to Limassol and the bases for the schools.”
“Have you lived there long?”
“Two years, sad to leave in a few months. Back to the UK and out of the service to settle somewhere.”
“Lot of it going on,” I mumbled out of earshot.
While I was talking Hugo had walked away to a group of men standing in the other corner. He soon returned with one who was a lot older than the others. “Boss, this is Avril, Ralph Thomson’s daughter.”
“Pleasure is mine young lady. Your father is a legend around these parts.”
“Hugo mentioned his corn growing exploits were famous.”
“And much more, but all secrets, my dear.”
I knew what he meant. So much of what my father did for a living went unknown due to the official secrets act. He worked on the mountain but at what, I didn’t know, to this day. Only his job title. “Maybe one day, someone will tell me.”
It wasn’t something I should ignore as he opened his palm showing to follow him to the bar. There was nothing to worry me but questioned what was going on.
“I was his young lieutenant in those days, returned a few years ago as base commander although we are a much smaller unit these days.” He ordered two brandy sours, and we sat at the bar. Hugo stayed outside and the unease must have shown on my face. “It’s okay my dear I mean you no ill. When Hugo looked at the pictures of your father, he told me he met Ralph’s daughter. I didn’t believe him after all the last time we saw you, you were fifteen. I had questions, some he answered. Some he couldn’t.”
“Me too,” I interrupted. “I’ve had questions every day since.”
“Yes suppose you would.” He took a sip of his drink. “Good people your folks. Hope what happened didn’t ruin your life.”
I shook my head. “It had an effect. Things weren’t easy but I’m in one piece.”
“Hugo said you were here reconnecting?”
Oh did he, what else has he been saying? “Yeah, the timing was right to come back and face the memories.”
“Won’t be easy.” He looked at the floor. “How long are you here for?”
“Tonight. I’m moving to Limassol tomorrow. My reflection complete.”
“Did it help?”
“Maybe.” I looked away at the door. I didn’t want to explain myself to a stranger but maybe he held the missing answers. “But still know little about the day.”
Sidney looked behind him and turned back. “Let’s grab those seats comfortable seats.”
My reservations grew. Part of me wanted to walk away, but this was Hugo’s boss and disrespectful. Dad raised me better. He taught me to respect rank, even now. I slipped off the stool and followed taking the seat across from the man who might hold more knowledge.
“So, you don’t know or will remember me. I’m Hugo’s boss, Group Captain Melville.”
He held his hand out, and we shook.
“But my dear, you can have the honour of calling me Sidney.”
“Ok,” I whispered sipping my drink.
“Well, let me see. I’ll tell you what’s possible about the night.”
I shuffled forward almost perched on the edge of the chair in anticipation.
“We were visiting the garrison in Episkopi and doing a meet and great with the dignitaries. We met with the wives, well those of us who had wives. When finished we drove in convoy into Platres and attended a squadron meal in the restaurant in the square.”
“The one above the shops?”
“Yes, you know it?”
I cast my mind back to the first night. The night a stranger sat at a table and smiled at me. The same man who eight days later had called me his girlfriend. “Yes, love it.”
“It’s where we were and we stayed for a few hours.” Sidney sank a little of the sour and sat back in the chair. “People left. Your mum and dad did their goodbyes as I was putting on my jacket and waiting for my fiancé to visit the ladies room. They left a few minutes before us.”
His discomfort at relaying the story of the night etched across his face made me nervous to hear what came next. Could he have seen the car?
“I’d taken possession of a villa behind where you lived because we intended to marry in a few weeks. So we drove along the same road not long after them. When we got to the first bend a car came careering across the road, swerving. We got out of its way but scraped the wall. He grazed along the side of my car taking the wing mirror with him. We stopped, but it was dark and his number plate wasn’t lit although we figured out the make and model. So we drove off but at the next bend there was a car in the middle of the road, parked. The guy was out of it standing on the wall. In a mixture of Greek and English we discovered a car had gone over the wall into the valley. I couldn’t see it but with the erratic driver who hit us and the damaged wall, didn’t doubt him.”
Sidney lifted his glass and hugged it.
“Remember this was before the days of mobile phones so we jumped back in the car and took off. We knew your mum and dad lived at the nearest house and had a phone. When we got there, I banged on the door so hard it fractured my hand. No one answered and my fiancé screamed at me their car wasn’t there. Panicked we drove to the restaurant, knocked the owner from his bed and called both the local and RAF police before heading back to the accident site.”
“So, it was the second bend from the top?”
“Always wanted to know.” I gave him a half smile. “Thank you. Must be hard to recount the story.”
“I’m sorry Avril. Wish there was something we could have done. All the boys joined the search but their car was at the bottom of the valley.”
“It’s okay, you did what you could. I’ve always known they died within minutes of the crash. Their injuries were fatal and there was no hope of the outcome being different. It was their time.”
“Always wanted to talk to you after, tell you what happened but your aunt and the base doctor told me you were too young to know. You were in shock. Couldn’t handle it. So we all stayed away.”
“They were right.”
Hugo appeared in the corner of my eye line. He strode across towards us smiling. “You two wish a refill?”
“Please,” we both answered.
“I’ve never known him get involved with anyone.” Sidney spoke as Hugo walked away. “Maybe you have cast a spell over him.”
“More the other way around.”
“Do you still keep in contact with your friend, Andrea?”
Where did his question come from? “Yes, email, most of the time.”
“You two spent a lot of time together. Your dad told me. He often said he was glad you had a good base of friends, so it was nice it’s who you stayed with.”
“It’s where they took me.” I sank what remained of my brandy sour. “The military police collected me and dropped me off at Andrea’s parent’s home.” I looked across at Sidney wondering what else he knew. “It was funny but because the police seemed to be there all the time, next door.”
“What do you mean?”
“I stayed with Andrea’s family for three, maybe four days and the MP’s land rover was outside. It’s funny the little things you remember from those days. They used to replay in my dreams.” I placed the empty glass back on the table. “Not so much these days, but easy to remember them.”
Sidney scratched his chin before squeezing it. “Hugo’s parents lived next door to Andrea. His dad was a military policeman. It could be his rover was there because he lived there. His dad was part of the detail who collected you after the accident.”
Is that why he looked so familiar? It wasn’t him, it was his father!
“I’ve something that belongs to you,” Sidney stated as my gaze fell on Hugo standing at the bar in those butt hugging jeans.
“Sorry.” I apologised for any tone in my voice. “How can you have anything of mine?”
“Your fathers blue beret.” Sidney downed the last of his Brandy sour, placed the empty glass on the table and folded his hands on top of his knee. “It was in the car. When recovered the military police removed personal items, cassette tapes and such which we passed on but his uniform returned to stores.”
“Yes my aunt packed it all.”
“Because he, your father, was having a military funeral, along with your mother, I requested to keep the beret for his coffin. When we arrived back in the UK on the day of the funeral, there was already one on it. So we kept it safe.”
His eyes watched mine for any flicker or anger at this but I wasn’t angry, more surprised than anything. “Do you still have it?” I expected the answer to be “no.”
“Yes. It’s in my study as a reminder of the man who showed unselfish tolerance of a young officer and helped me to become the person sat here today.”
Flabbergasted I fell back into the seat. He had kept it for twenty-some years, but also by his words. As a child you assume they are there to help you. It never crossed my mind he influenced others.
“I can give it to Hugo, if you would like. You should have it.”
“Wow, thank you.”
“Give me what sir?” Hugo placed three glasses on the table.
“Something which belongs to your good lady here.”
“I’ll make sure she gets it.”
Oh I’m sure, the little devil on my shoulder whispered, as the innuendo tickled my senses.
This morning whilst packing my suitcase I wished, for the first time, I hadn’t opted for a two destination holiday. Last night flashed past. His squadron welcomed me into their midst. His boss gracious with his details of the night our fates crossed. Even though it must have hurt him as much to tell me as it did to listen. The fact he still had Dad’s beret blew my mind and the news it was Hugo’s dad in my dreams floored me. Plus he revealed the most important detail. They died at the second bend from the top.
Packing finished, breakfast called, but I stared into space hugging a cup of coffee as soon as food hit my stomach. My mind full of revelations it couldn’t handle. I fought the urge to buy flowers but with nowhere to stop on the bends to place them, trying would be foolhardy and pointless. My visit was to reconnect with them and my younger self, never imagining I’d get lifelong answers.
Last night Hugo walked me back to the hotel, both a little worse for wear after drinking too many brandy sours. We stood on the path kissing like school kids hiding from our parents. The alcohol reduced my hard exterior and my hands wandered cupping his butt. He soon removed them without breaking the kiss and threw my mind in a spin. The ferocity and passion in the kissing told me he wanted more, but he kept slowing. It made no sense. I walked in to the room alone and went straight to sleep.
My time in the mountains was at an end with check out at ten. Part of me hoped he’d appear at the room to whisk me off my feet and tell me he loved me. An hour later, case packed, room double checked, I walked into reception, handed my key back, paid the room bill and headed for my hire car.
He hadn’t shown. He had work, but as I climbed into the driver’s seat and looked across at the pool, last night flashed before my eyes. Fingers raised to my lips, the crush of his against mine still evident. Was it unreal to expect to see him this morning? This is what I struggle with. The actions of others. If I meant so much to him why not see me this morning? He never mentioned our next steps last night, nothing. Why?
Unanswered questions swirled around my mind as I drove along the hotels drive way. At the end of the drive the lack of a little red sports car across the road drew my gaze. “Oh well, time to move on.” I checked the mirrors on each side, turned left and headed along the top road leading out of Platres.
This time approaching the bends I managed a silent prayer to my folks. At the second bend the tremendous sheer force required to lift a car across to the other side of the road and over a small wall caused a shiver. They never stood a chance. Sidney solving an unanswered question of twenty years. Could anyone change the outcome if they’d been found sooner? It wasn’t the case and although I still wanted them I found peace in knowing.
The drive through Trimiklini passed by like saying goodbye to an old friend. My original plan was to buy supplies for lunch at the shop but heading to the coast I’d pass the dam where I could stop and get lunch. The road swept along its steady descent with each passing mile until rounding a bend, the end tip of the dam came in to view. My mouth salivated at the memory of a bacon and halloumi toasted sandwich.
I pulled the car over in front of a rundown shack. Other cars and trucks pulled alongside. Some pulled out and drove away, but this place had retained its charm. I skipped across towards the little shack, bought a sandwich and a bottle of lemonade, and found an empty table. It smelt like the sandwich from my dreams but did it taste as good. My first bite with the magnificent view couldn’t be better. “Perfect.” Things were never as good as you remembered but this was.
The drive into Limassol was easy enough even though I didn’t have too much information. My hotel, the Atlantica Miramere was on the seafront. My logical mind said head to the harbour and along the front. Seemed reasonable since I didn’t know if the hotel was closer to the central old town or heading out of town where hotels filled every nook and cranny. The hotel strip was a few kilometres long in my day but by all counts it was now ten.
Limassol didn’t have a beach itself so the hotels made their own, reclaimed from the ocean. The five star plus hotels at the far end of the tourist strip shipped in golden sand. Those closer to town didn’t. There’s remained the fine stone variety. We visited one of the posh hotels, the Hilton, and I’d been nowhere so splendid before but it was the first where I was out of place. When perusing the available hotels for this second week, comfort and accessibility were high on the list, plus somewhere like the Hilton was out of my price range. There was no point throwing money away on luxuries that meant nothing and were unnecessary to enjoy my holiday.
The Atlantica Miremare appeared on my right side. I pulled in to the driveway and a valet directed me to a car park at the side of the hotel reserved for guests. Another young man appeared as I opened the car door, with a trolley. “Are you checking in?”
He walked around to the rear of the car and waited until I popped the boot before removing my luggage. We walked together towards the reception, leaving me wondering if I’d picked the right place.
The four story white hotel looked functional. All rooms had balconies, but I’d paid a little more for a sea view. We walked into a reception area acting as a thoroughfare from the pool at the back of the hotel to the front entrance. Clean lines, modern artwork on white walls with a long light pine wooden desk showed class with a dash of practicality. As we approached the desk, the porter hung back a little.
“Passport please?” The young lady receptionist examined it a little too careful for my liking, wasn’t like I’m a master criminal or anything. “Okay, we have you staying for seven nights and you are in one of our deluxe suites with sea view.”
I remembered booking the sea view but not the deluxe part. Since I’d already paid for the hotel I wasn’t getting lumbered with a big bill at the end of my stay.
She passed a key card to the porter. “107.”
“First floor. Good, not too many stairs.”
After a quick dash in the lift the porter led me along the corridor. We entered a small lounge with comfortable couch, coffee table and small flat screen TV on the wall. The porter walked through, placed my case on a stool and pointed to a folder. “The welcome packs there. You have wifi in the room, fridge, and fruit and wine for your arrival. We will restock the fruit every two days, but let us know if you need more in between. The price list for items in the fridge is in the pack as are the instructions for paying for drinks and items at the bars. Everything is cashless. If you are here on all inclusive, give them your room number. If not, we’ll let you know when the cost is above twenty Euros, and so on. It’s all explained in there.” He pulled a token out of his pocket. “For your complementary arrival drinks at the pool bar.”
“Thanks.” I grabbed my bag to retrieve my purse for a tip.
He raised his hand. “Unnecessary miss.” He handed my key card over and left.
I wandered through the bright and airy bedroom out onto the terrace eager to see the view but a little apprehensive where in the complex my room was. Outside two rattan chairs with a small table provided my furniture and looking around I was the last balcony. To my right, trees lined a triangular area of space at the end of the hotel and in a hundred metres tapered into the sea wall. Two cafes and beach bars, separated from the hotel, lined the area above a stony beach. Underneath the balcony sat the open air portion of the restaurant. A handful of tables sat ready, dressed with fine lace linen, utensils for multiple courses and glasses. In the centre area sat the main pool, with bar, sun loungers, and a child’s pool. Behind the restaurant’s balcony sat more loungers along the edge of the hotels beach area. A thatched umbrella for every other lounger promised shade and luxury but most appeared empty.
Back in the room, I threw my backpack onto the bed and turned to my case. Did I want a swim? A wander along the front into town? A glance at the clock by the bed showed it was already the middle of the afternoon and that settled it. What I wanted was to lie on one of those loungers with a brandy sour and relax. I grabbed a swimming costume and sarong, locked my valuables in the safe and headed to the pool area with my free welcome drinks token and a book.
The hotel had multiple bars, but one close to the loungers I’d seen from my balcony took my fancy. I took my time to absorb the atmosphere wandering through the different areas. The quietist by far was the bar by the loungers.
“Can I help you miss?” The bar man stood a few feet away.
“Are these reserved loungers?”
“No, take your pick.”
I decided on one close enough to the bar but far enough away for some peace.
“Drink?” His eyes roaming across my body as he stood glass poised in his hand.
“Brandy sour, please.” I handed over the token.
“I’ll bring it over.”
Across at the lounger complementary towel laid out, I sat but stopped short of stretching out to relax until he was back behind the bar!
The next morning I woke early, sunlight streaming through the voile curtains blowing in the warm breeze. After treating myself to dinner in the ala carte restaurant downstairs last night, I strolled along the small beach in the moonlight thinking about the past week. My aim to place everything into neat little boxes within my mind. Hugo refused to budge and with it came the realisation of missing him already.
The local TV weather girl promised a sunny day with temperatures in the high twenties so I fished about for my shorts, flat athletic walking sandals and t-shirt. My intention today to walk the three kilometres into the old town of Limassol and browse the shops and harbour area with a visit to the fort. We used to sit at the cafe opposite, have a cold drink or a coffee before shopping in old town Limassol. Either side of cobbled streets through ramshackle doors, the old town appeared like an elongated bazaar with tourist shops sprinkled in between local stores. It had energy like nowhere else on earth.
Downstairs I walked in to the restaurant which doubled as the breakfast room and all day cafeteria. The hotel offered all-inclusive, but I’d opted for the bed-and-breakfast option not wanting tied to the hotel all day, every day. Although today I wanted to stay local, there were other places to visit. Breakfast was much the same as at the Forest Park Hotel. There was a greater emphasis on typical English and Continental styles which told me all about the hotels usual customers. The doors were open wide, so I took my cereal, fruit, toast and coffee outside. To sit in the sun and eat breakfast was a luxury to take advantage of.
Families of all ages filled the tables. Younger, with children, some of my age with teenagers and older couples together. At no table sat a person sitting on their own, except for me which struck me as peculiar since this wasn’t a hotel aimed at families. I finished my food without returning for more. Out in the lobby almost half way across to the lift, I heard a voice. “Miss, Miss, you are Miss Avril in 107?”
“You have a message.”
She handed me a note. “Avril, if you’ve no plans, meet us at Meze Tavern Restaurant in the old town at four, Babs.” I looked at the receptionist and smiled. “Now how can one refuse an invitation?”
The receptionist smiled at me and went back to her computer.
Twenty minutes later I walked out of the hotel, sunglasses fixed. When driving along the coast road yesterday, I’d been busy looking for the hotel but couldn’t fail to notice how commercialised the area had become. When we lived here the tourist boom was under way but there was no motorway to Paphos or Larnaca. There were no major boutiques, main stream coffee or fast-food chain stores and if you wanted a designer outlet, you went to Nicosia. Most of the road I’d driven along looked like any other urbanised tourist area. Bright lights, gardens, sculptures, flashing signs, neon lights and clean trendy store fronts. Not expected at all.
Outside on the same side of the street as my hotel lay a tourist information office. I wandered inside thinking they would have more information of what had changed. Ten minutes later with a smile on my face and a map in my hands, my adventure started. Limassol had changed but its soul remained. The old town thrived by the fort and they had new in abundance, including a water park on the way to Akrotiri. I turned left and set off on the three kilometre walk into town.
Across the road the glitz and glamour of the new tourist aimed area did nothing for me. I preferred to stay on the side of the road by the ocean, behind the restaurants and hotels filling the gap from my own. A holiday inn and restaurants offered everyday food. Neither deserving of another glance or even my time to stop and peruse the menu. I wanted authentic and as much as possible since I’d yet to find a suitable restaurant at home.
At the end of the shore area lay the new promenade complete with sculptures and archways over the roads. In the distance the cranes of Limassol port and designer yachts and motorboats in the new marina loomed. A quick glance at the map told me the marina was level with the old fort, my destination. Far enough but not too far it would damage me in the rising heat of the morning.
A tuck-tuck taxi turned on the bike path doubling as a walkway stopping my progress. To my right, visible along a side street a familiar sign appeared. I couldn’t resist and crossed the road making my way to Starbucks. Inside, the air conditioning kicked in and blew cold air across my head. The counter stocked with sandwiches and pastries beckoned but I wasn’t hungry standing in the queue staring at the board. Important questions swirled. Get coffee? Something cold? Or both?
The queue moved quick as people rimed off drinks orders as in any other branch. Skinny latte, triple shot cappuccino. It seemed funny to hear people asking for a drink in English, but most of these folks were tourists.
“What can I get you?” The young lad behind the counter looked as old as my son.
Auto pilot took over. Heat and I didn’t mix without something cool. “A Grande Strawberry and crème frappaccino please.”
The young man smiled and wrote the drink in letters on the side of a clear plastic cup.
“Can I pay with my app?” I questioned holding my Iphone. The one and only time I’d switched it on and connected it to the shops wifi.
“Sure, you can try. It should convert Euros to Pounds.”
I scanned it and for a few seconds nothing happened. My mind ran through the alternative possible payments but the till display changed and a deduction for whipped cream which came free with my gold membership flashed. “It went through.”
The machine coughed out a receipt, and he passed it over. “Yep converted Euros to pounds.”
A few minutes later I walked out of the shop with my luxury cold drink and resumed my walk.
I stayed on this side of the road and took my time. A saunter was as fast as my legs would move today. Ahead white walls and wrought iron fencing caught my attention and a wry smile found my lips. The map confirmed my thoughts, the old Limassol zoo was ahead. The tourist information office told me it closed long ago because of the small animal encloses. Instead the local authority had changed most of the area into municipal gardens with a smaller animal section. Now the mammal, bird and reptile occupants were native to the island. The redeveloped grounds housed a child’s play area, outdoor staging, thatched gazebos and seating areas alongside a patchwork network of grass and plants. A practical solution since this was still the home to the Limassol Wine festival.
I’d attended once, the year before the accident. The four largest wine companies brought barrels of their products along with some smaller independent producers. Everyone paid an entrance fee, receiving a complementary small shot glass and joined hordes of fellow revellers drinking wine, as much or as little as you wanted. Most, used to pints, assumed the small shots could do them little harm. If they weren’t wine drinkers and mixed red and white, the effects were dramatic. The amount of drunks staggering put my father off going back. It had gone from strength to strength from the posters in the information office and the hotels pack.
Forty-five minutes later I arrived at the roundabout where my map told me to turn right. The old fort held significant archaeological history for the Cypriot population. We learned about it in school, in one of the many lessons devoted to local history and culture. This was where Richard the Lion heart married. I loved the fact it had stood for over 800 years although re-built in the late 1500s following two powerful earthquakes. It did human nature good to realise something’s are stronger than themselves.
Inside the sun reflected on the white stone walls blinding me. Sunglasses helped, but I hoped to work my way around to the other side with a little shade, inside. Tourists milled around a display of artefacts but my interests lay in the building itself. Used as a jail at some point, downstairs in the basement, as expected, small cells lined the outer edges of the walls, some still with wooden doors. All with rusty shackles and eye hooks in the ground.
“It’s interesting, isn’t it?”
I turned around and saw a guy standing, dressed in knee length beige cargo shorts and a white t-shirt. His socks and Jesus sandals a giveaway. I gave a wry little smile. “It is.” With a nod of my head I walked away not needing another traveller to tell me about this place.
Back outside at the opposite side of the building, the sun cast a shadow over part of the fort. I stepped outside and fixed my glasses back over my eyes. A stone bench in the shade beckoned. There was no rush about my day with one place to be and not for a few hours yet. Sat here it was easy to forget you were in the middle of a modern city. The rumbles of traffic ran past in the distance but this was a little slice of heaven. Most tourists skirted the walls staying out of the sun, non ventured close. Didn’t matter, content in my company. Sat in the shade absorbing living history my mind wandered. My aim now to enjoy the rest of my visit since I had the answers to my questions. “Whoever said don’t look back was wrong.”
A man arguing with his wife caught my attention for a fleeting second before they headed to the exit and restored the peace.
“To go back was everything. Answers to lifelong questions have lifted the weight I’ve always known was there.” Hands together I rested them on my lap. “Time to accept the life I’ve lived and move forward.”
As the sun rose higher, I made my way to the exit.
Across the road the pedestrian part of Limassol’s old shopping district lay before me. Here you could buy all the items ever wanted avoiding the usual tourist staples. Packed away, my mother’s linen and lace tablecloth lay idle reserved for special occasions. She always intended to purchase napkins, now it was my job, plus another to use all the time. Eyes peeled looking for the right store I wandered into the precinct. The shops went from a place to buy made to measure suits and a pet store, to a man who handmade shoes. All looked dark, some dingy, most with the air of neglect they should have been closed years ago but this was real Limassol.
A notice in one doorway drew my attention. The local shops still observed lunchtime closures unlike back home. They would close at half-past one and re open at three. It left me with an hour and a half to find somewhere for a coffee or light lunch before more shopping and meeting the ladies. I walked along the bazaar like street glancing along every dingy alleyways looking for the shop. What seemed like forever, but was nothing more than a few hundred metres I saw a wider street off my right. This was the right spot.
Inside a rundown double arch fronted building three older women sat on stools gossiping and darning. The simple picture blew my mind, and I froze.
“They still work?”
A young shop assistant stood behind me.
“I knew the lace was handmade and by a rare breed of woman. Something they did as their dowry in the beginning.”
“You know your history. Yes, Lefkara lace made not too far away. The ladies make every piece. Is there something in particular you are looking for?”
I explained what was on my mind, and we walked inside and to a table filled with squares of patterned lace. The fine lace with pale colour cotton thread flowed through my fingers. “Yes, this is the right idea. Do they always do the same patterns? Or keep a portfolio of past ideas? I have a set to match.” Saying the words stabbed at my heart. “It’s a long shot. My parents bought the set in late 1984 or early 1985.”
“We should have them. Wait, a moment.”
She wandered away, found photo books and brought them to the table.
“Okay, here are the patterns.”
She turned the book around and flicked through pages before the set I had appeared on the last page turn. “This one.”
“How many napkins were you looking to buy?”
She bowed her head and walked towards the ladies. A quick conversation followed in Greek and a quick glance at me, the young lady came back. “They can make for you. Three or four days if you like.”
The young lady had me write my contact details, along with how many of the items. “How much will the special order be?”
“Nothing extra.” She waived her hand. “The standard four Euros for each.”
“Wow, I’ll leave a deposit, if you would like?”
I thanked the ladies and could also pick the additional table cloth on my return, so left the decision till later. Back on the main street shops were already closing their doors. I could either, find a cafe in the shopping district, head towards the main tourist area, try the marina or backtrack. I chose the fort and a local cafe and so did the locals reinforcing my decision.
An hour and a half later, after a coffee and slice of cake, shopping resumed. The Meze Tavern restaurant sat at the end of the pedestrian precinct where the old town and tourist area merged. I passed by the lace store again and continued walking. The usual tourist shops lay on each side mixed with traditional and a few drew me in. Tea towels, thimbles or shot glasses did nothing for me. Instead I pottered about a leather market and found a pair of sandals recognised from childhood and couldn’t resist purchasing a pair to fit me now.
A little further into town signs appeared advertising the tavern. Arrows pointing in my headed direction, and it didn’t take long to find it. Sat above a row of shops a traditional looking restaurant spilled customers out onto two balconies. Checked tablecloths misled the traveller into thinking this was an old fashioned restaurant. Inside I reacclimatised my eyes to the darkness, squinting at first, but as they refocused, it became evident this was a tourist place and not a local hang out.
I needn’t have worried if the ladies were there or not.
Someone yelled my name from the other side of the bar. “You made it!” Babs walked towards me. “Come on. Sit, have a glass or three.”
I grinned and followed her to a table at the back of the restaurant where the ladies were already sharing a few bottles of wine.
I woke this morning with the worst handover. After a visit to the bathroom, my bed called, and I curled back under the covers as the morning breeze drifted through the thin curtains. I’d left the patio doors open after walking into a sweltering room on my return from a night with the ladies. They wouldn’t be back in Limassol for the next few weeks due to family visitors so last night was the last time we’d get together. With several offers to return to the island, I’d also invited them to stay with me, if they were back in the UK.
My head sank back into the pillows, drums banging, cymbals crashing anytime I tried to move. “What a night!” Eyes closed, I reasoned lying still might help if not a bottle of water was my next option. We lost count of the bottles of wine consumed after five. It wasn’t the amount of wine we consumed but the variety and commandaria to finish. The sweet desert wine was nectar for humans but potent. This was my third day in Limassol and my original plan was to drive out and explore but it wasn’t happening while over the drink drive limit.
When I woke again, it was after ten and part of the glorious morning had gone. “This won’t do.” Covers thrown back the moaning and groaning began as my feet touched the floor. The earlier banging gone, but rotten hung over feeling remained. I showered, dressed and sat outside with my sunglasses on, fresh made coffee and bottle of water on the table, with an apple for breakfast. Not even two paracetamol shifted the yucky feeling. The alcohol meant no driving till later this afternoon, so I grabbed my new leather sandals and headed out for a walk hoping the local sights and sun would help.
Outside the hotel, left would take me towards the old town or right further into the tourist quarter. Not wanting to go too far in case this hangover worsened, I turned right, reasoning at worst a walk back along the beach might help.
Less than one hundred metres from the hotel entrance but only visible after a handful of footsteps sat another Starbucks branch. “Oh you lucky girl.” Feet hurrying along the path towards the little slice of heaven that would fix my hangover in no time. With the same drink as the day before, the cold strawberry cream slid into my empty stomach reminding me, I’d only eaten an apple for breakfast.
Walking by the sea, I passed restaurants attached to the side of yet more hotels. Display menus dismissed as “Too expensive,” or “Too pretentious.” Nothing took my fancy at all.
At the other side of the road sat multiple hire car offices and a bowling alley which caused me to grin. For the first time today Hugo popped into my thoughts, something he’d done a lot the last few days. How would it be if he were here now? Would things be the same? Better? Or worse? My dreaming almost made me miss the turned off lights of a small amusement park, but I didn’t miss the sight of a big wheel and pirate ship. “Maybe later in the week, when my stomach’s not hung over.” You can never take the child out of me.
I looked further along the road but saw more luxury hotels and signs advertising posh nosh. Since there were traffic lights close, I crossed over the road to check out the park. Locked gates limited the access but a small dodgems section, arcade games and a bar at the back showed some of what the park had enough to offer. “Oh want to come here, this is for me.” At the kiosk at the side, multiple notices in Greek made the hunt for opening times interesting but I mastered most of it. The park opened at four until eleven and the rides were a few Euros’ each. “How did you miss this last night?”
Around the side from the locked gates, I tried to see what else was in the park but could only see the end wall with mesh fencing on top. At the back, a small car park and behind it another familiar sign. “Oh yes, you will do nice.” I tossed the empty juice container into a nearby bin I cut across an empty car park to McDonald’s, for the food to end all hangovers.
Three bites into a McRib, something only available on special occasions, I sighed. “Heaven!” Comparable restaurant prices with what they were at home but truth was, I walked past one every day but never ventured in. Today this settled my stomach, and it was true, coffee, juice and something fattening beat a hangover.
The sun, now at its highest point as I exited the restaurant, burned overhead, and it made no sense to venture further along the tourist strip. From here, the cost of everything rocketed, and it held no interest for me. I crossed the road back to the side by the sea and cut through the nearest hotel grounds to the beach.
Sandals swinging in one hand, other carrying the cold cola from my meal, I sauntered along the beach. Hotels on one side, sea on the other, the fine stone slipping underfoot as a breeze blew across the waves lapping at my toes. Over time this would turn into sand. It didn’t hurt to walk on it, more exhilarating as they massaged the skin on the bottom of my tired feet. I hadn’t walked far, sandals didn’t hurt but my whole body cried out for rest. My hotel loomed large, but time was irrelevant, dipping my feet in and out of the waves, enjoying the alternating hot and cold sensations much more important.
At the hotel steps I climbed and stood by the swimming pool contemplating my next move. The pool empty compared to my first day. A few patrons ambled around the bar, or sat in the pool on rock stools but alcohol wasn’t in my future. The beds I lay on the first afternoon were all free, so I made my way back to my room to change. An afternoon under a parasol, reading a book was the heaven required right now.
An hour lying on a sun lounger turned into two. The book not opened since I packed it in my carry-on luggage now three quarters read. Pages flicked past full of intrigue and romance. A little too close for comfort about a holiday romance and its pitfalls. It was the second book in a trilogy about women finding their way in life. Something resonated with me.
This afternoon a different barman covered the area, and he wasn’t interested in flirting with me. I was far too old for him. Suited me. He kept my soft drink refreshed, and it was all my needs fulfilled.
When my rumbling stomach grew too loud, I wrapped the sarong around my waist, tucked the book under my arm and took the empty glass to the bar. It wasn’t required, more a force of habit, cleaning after myself. Since I didn’t want to go out tonight, a shower and meal in the hotel’s restaurant, followed by an early night would fix me ready for exploring tomorrow.
“Wow, looking fabulous!”
The voice sounded familiar but it couldn’t be. Someone passed close behind me as I stood on my tip toes looking into the pool for its owner.
I dropped my book and flung my arms around him melting into his lips. His hands snaked around my waist sending my skin into hyper sensitive mode under his touch. “Yes,” I mused as he pulled back and gazed into my eyes.
“You are stunning,” he whispered taking a step back. “Perfect.”
This was the first time a man had seen my figure in far too long. The bikini and sarong hid nothing. Hugo’s wide eyes ran around my body. He even stepped back to take it all in. Next to naked, vulnerable and with a new sense of annoyance. “What’re you doing here?” I tried to snap him back to normality.
He shook his head. “Sorry, had to see you again. The boss has been on at me for ages to take time off, have a break, so I figured take a few days and show you around. If it’s okay?”
“Good. Booked myself into the mess in Akrotiri so I’m about twenty minutes away. We could get you a day pass so you can go back into the base for a day.”
“We could? Cool.”
With his arm wrapped around my waist we walked away from the sun loungers and I directed us to my hotel room.
“Wow, great room.” He walked in and threw himself in the chair. “What did you have planned for tonight?”
“Dinner downstairs in the restaurant, patio table for one.” I smiled and wandered towards the bedside table. “Call them and make it for two.”
“We could eat out in a restaurant on the shore side.”
Were they any less pretentious because Hugo was around? No. It wasn’t my scene at all. “Let’s not, I was out with the ladies last night and it got a little wild.”
“No idea, but my hangover is mending. Can we stay in the hotel?”
“Sure, what time was your reservation?”
I glanced at the clock. “Seven. Had intended to head for a shower when I met you. Get ready, dinner and an early night was my plan.”
“Why don’t I head downstairs, change the reservation and meet you in the bar?”
The water pounded my head as soap suds kissed my sunburnt arms. Instead of a hangover my brain ran from one question to the next? Why take time off? I was glad to see him but the military is strict. How did he manage at short notice? Why didn’t he stay? Fingertips ran across the tender sun grazed skin of my stomach. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from me but couldn’t get away fast enough? This was taking it slow to a whole new level. Was he questioning taking it further? It should have been me!
I grabbed the towel and wrapped it around myself. My face had caught the sun a little today, the telltale signs of panda eyes from sunglasses. After sun rubbed into my face, followed by arms, stomach and legs cooled the fast reddening skin. Addressing myself in the mirror. “Ok, dressy or casual?” Hair pulled back, it wasn’t long enough for a ponytail but the frizz had grabbed a hold. “Brush it out and hope for the best.” In the bedroom wrapped in the towel I half expecting him to sit there, instead of being downstairs. He wasn’t and a little disappointment crept into my soul. Was I not desirable to him?
Downstairs Hugo nursed a brandy sour at the bar.
“A coke please.” I sat beside him as I requested the soft drink.
“Maybe one with dinner. Still tender after last night.” I gripped the cold glass. “So why are you here?”
Hugo turned on his stool. Eyes cold not giving away anything. “Because I’m an idiot and should apologise.” He took a tiny sip of his drink. “Should have seen you before you left the mountains and explained what was going on.”
“Doesn’t sound good.”
He extended his arms across the bar and placed his clammy hand on mine. Eyes searched as the jackhammer started in my head. What was this?
“I fell for you, hard and didn’t know what to do so ran away, sort of. I couldn’t comprehend my feelings. When I met you and said lets go slow, be friends and it was because these feelings started the moment you sat in the restaurant, that first night.” He squeezed my hand and smiled. “I’m not a man who has known many women, Avril. Not with my nomadic lifestyle. Keep myself to myself, always have. You don’t meet interesting women half way up a mountain. They are in their golden years or Greek. I don’t know how to be around you. Not sure how to act or what to do?”
He removed his hand, sank the rest of his drink and turned to face me. “Made a mistake by not seeing you so spoke to the boss for time and he agreed. I can’t stop thinking about you.”
“What do you want Hugo?”
“To get to know you more, spend time with you, be with you.”
“You couldn’t get away quick enough upstairs.” I didn’t mean to be mad at him but needed to know what he meant.
“Avril, if I’d stayed we wouldn’t be sitting here right now.”
Out of the corner of my eye the restaurant manager beckoned. Our table was ready. “Ever believe I would have been okay with it?”
He couldn’t look at me as we sat and ordered. Instead he hid behind the huge menu. When the waiter walked away, he had no choice but to talk or this would be a short meal. He gazed out over the pool avoiding my stares. Our roles reversed, feelings jumbled and his calm exterior shattered. When we first met he was so self assured. I was the wreck.
“Are you okay?” Desperate for more than a one-word answer but nervous this would come crashing down at any point.
“Can I be honest?”
Oh here it comes. There’s a shocker on the way. This was too good to be true! I nodded and waited for the bombshell. “Yeah course.”
“A few days ago you enquired about my past and I kinda refused not knowing what to say.” Hugo gripped his glass. “Well, here goes. I’ve not been in a serious relationship or a one – night stand since the girl who ran away to Australia with my heart.”
He was the same age as me, early forties. How was it possible?
“Stunned you,” he teased. “Wasn’t by design, if it’s what you were thinking.”
“I wasn’t,” I stuttered. “You told me about her, but figured you’d moved on a few times since.”
He shook his head.
“So is this why you want to go slow, be friends?”
“Am I over stopping the mark? Because we might have something special here and don’t want to spoil it.”
Was it not me, the meek, mixed one who should say things like this? This holiday had turned my life inside out.
“What are you thinking?” Our starters arrived, and he seemed to relax in the chair. “I can see your brain whirring.”
“Why is life so hard to navigate?”
Hugo took my hand and wrapped his fingers in between mine. “Good things are worth waiting for.”
Hugo didn’t hang about after dinner. He escorted me back to my room. We kissed at the door but he didn’t come in. The conversation had eased and flowed as much as the soft drinks we ordered. The earlier misunderstandings explained, and had to hand it to him, to know he felt something for me put a spring in my step. He had taken three days off and we intended to fill them to the brim. He’d listened to my plans and made suggestions. A visit to Curium, Paphos, Pissouri beach for swordfish steaks in the little restaurant on the beach were all high on my list. In addition, visits to the Keo factory, maybe the water park and the amusement arcade along from the hotel. He was keen to do all with me.
Today he waited outside the hotel under the shade in his little red sports car having agreed to meet me at nine. We were going to Curium amphitheatre and the beach for lunch. Dressed in a bikini with a white cotton shirt and knee-length shorts over the top, I grabbed a hotel towel, my camera, bag, and headed off to meet him.
There he was as I approached the front door. How had I attracted such a good-looking guy? Before an answer appeared another question crossed my mind. Were his feelings real? Or was this a holiday thing? “Doesn’t matter!” In the past questions would dog my mind and stop me enjoying. This was different and whatever this was I intended to enjoy the experience because things like this didn’t happen!
Hugo drove out of the hotel’s car park and gunned his sports car along Limassol sea front. My hair had a mind of its own blowing in the displaced air with my sunglasses fixed firm over my eyes. If I looked dragged through a hedge when we arrived, so be it. His manliness overtook the situation this morning. Top removed from his sports car, casual dress, sunglasses and winning smile. “Is it the amphitheatre you want to see or the other ruins lying alongside it?”
“Shows what I know. Always figured the theatre was on its own.”
He glanced across and smiled.
A quick jaunt along the motorway, not two junctions from where we joined Hugo pulled the little sports car off and followed the slip road. We joined the old Paphos road and like the other tourists drove across the dusty side road and parked. There was no organisation, just a free for all. A small limestone building sat at the entrance and as we walked towards it he took my hand.
“Let me get this.” No way I wasn’t covering myself today. Equality was one thing but wasn’t taking advantage of him.
Inside we walked along a dusty, rutted, uneven path with everyone else towards the amphitheatre. Trucks wore the path into two channels and did my best to stay in the middle. The girl at the entrance handed me a leaflet giving a brief history of the area and information about summer plays. “They use it as a theatre, not just a ruin?” I mused dancing over the loose stone.
“In the summer and special occasions but limited performances.”
People milled around us eager to get to climb the stones. We took our time, keen to soak in the atmosphere and the natural beauty of the arena. The view was a bonus.
“My lady,” Hugo said with a giggle. He held his hand out inviting me to climb the stairs first. “Nice view from back here.” He chuckled as I swirled and shot him a look. “Whoa.”
He climbed to where I stood and looked at me with eyes you could sink right into. How could anyone be mad at him? His boyish charm was the reason I agreed to take it slow. He was fun to be around. “How about you go first, and I’ll get a view for a change?”
We climbed the rest together until we made it to the top row. Hugo walked in front, still holding my hand and sat right in the middle. These stones had been for around 2000 years give or take a few earthquakes and some repairs. The limestone arena had weathered well despite the hundreds of thousands of bottoms who had sat on the stones before ours. Hugo took his sunglasses off, grabbed a handkerchief from his pocket and mopped his sweating brow. “Hot this morning.” He wiped droplets from his glasses and replaced them.
“Need a drink?” I took the bag from my back.
He took the bottle from me, opened it and drank half. “This is quite the sun trap with a devastating view.” He pointed to a mass of buildings around the point.
“Kind of, TPMH.”
My mind froze. TPMH was military code for The Princess Mary Hospital. I’d never been there, but it’s where my parents rescued bodies lay. My aunt did the formal identification. I wanted to go but was too young.
“Bad memories.” Hugo squeezed my hand. “If you have your passport, we could get you into camp as my guest. You could face more demons.”
“You could get me in?”
“Sure. Easy enough.”
“I’d like to.”
He leaned over and kissed the top of my head before slipping his arm around my waist and pulling me close.
We sat at the top of the theatre for a while. People sat in front of us, some to the side, but most sat for a while and moved on to view other parts of the ruins. Some were on the same bit of land, others a little distance but none interested me. This amphitheatre was the only reason I wanted to visit. It was another place on our bucket list of tourist spots from my childhood. I didn’t want to walk around through tombs and ruined churches content to sit in peace and soak in the beauty.
“My butt has burned into the rock.” Hugo moaned dragging me back to the present day from my dreaming.
“Sorry. Time for a swim and some lunch?”
“Thought you’d never ask.” He pulled me from the rock seat into his arms. A look passed between us.
This is more than just friends, my mind screamed as my heart raced.
Curium beach lay at the foot of the hill above the ruins. Possible to reach from a dust road off the main Limassol to Paphos road but like everything else updated to a partial tarmac surface.
“Have to warn you,” Hugo said. “It’s not the beach we knew as teenagers.”
“How can you update a beach?”
A few minutes later the tarmac finished, and we drove along the old dusty road. Hugo slowed a little, and as the dust subsided I saw what he meant. The scrubland next to the road replaced with two homes, complete with part manicured gardens. At the back, a bunch of vine fields laid out in six neat rows before he drove around a bend the beach came into view.
There used to be a small beach restaurant. A shack, with a roof made from straw. There were no walls, just open space except the bar and kitchen. Every few inches tables covered in blue and white check plastic tablecloths held below the corners with clothes pegs. It wasn’t posh, always busy and cheap. Families visited the beach without a picnic able to buy cheap kebabs with salad and bowls of chips for everyone.
The restaurant was there, but with a white plastic roof, walls albeit with doors ever few feet and it had doubled in size. “Is the food still the same, at least?”
The warm seas throughout most of the year were legend in tourist circles but today took me a little by surprise as the waves tickled my toes. I peeled off my top, turned and tossed it behind me onto the discarded pile of towel and sandals. My shorts came off last and I did the same with them before smiling at a bemused Hugo.
The waves rolled past my thighs and I sank into them cleansing the morning sweat away. Seconds later I heard shouting followed by a big splash. Hugo surfaced, hair plastered to his face. “Well, rude not to join you.” He splashed me, and I splashed back.
We swam out a little to a pontoon, climbed the makeshift ladder and lay on the rubber matting. “I needed the swim.” I lay on my side looking at the water and lack of anyone else on the beach.
“Haven’t been here in a while. Good for me too.”
“What would you do in your days off?”
“Don’t get them,” he laughed.
“You must get time off. Weekends, or days off shift.”
He turned to face me. Drops of water rolled down the side of his face from the ends of his hair. “To be honest? Not much. Get groceries, keep fit, eat out and not much else.”
“What about holidays?”
“Sometimes I go back to the UK but it’s because of something.”
“A course and when finished, I head out for a few days, maybe in London, sightseeing. But since my folks live abroad and I visit once every few years, don’t take many. It’s why the boss was keen to give me these days off.”
We were two peas in a pod.
Half an hour passed, and we were still out on the pontoon soaking in the sunshine when his stomach grumbled. “Lunch?”
“Yeah okay. Let’s go.”
I stood, and he followed. His arms snaked around my waist, hot breath danced on my neck. “You are so damn beautiful.” He planted his lips on my sun kissed shoulders. “Race you?” He dived in.
I followed but didn’t race him instead my mind went back to last night and his taking it slow speech. If he wanted to take it slow why did he press against me when he hugged me? There was an obvious attraction.
“Give in half way did ya?” He teased as I walked out of the waves trying not to do a Bo Derek impression. He held my towel until the gap between us closed and he wrapped it around my shoulders. “I turned around, and you were far back.”
“No point racing. You’re a trained killer. You might do me in if I beat you. Can you imagine? Her majesties finest serviceman beaten by a middle-aged, overweight office worker.”
“Well you put so nice, but you’re not heavy. Not from the angle I’m looking at.” His arms wrapped around me as the hotels towel enveloped my wet skin. He leaned close and pressed his salty lips against mine. “Let’s eat. The heat will dry us.”
I smiled and dried myself as he collected my clothes.
Inside, the living memories stood the test of time. Blue and white checked table covers provided the greeting as we climbed the few stairs from the beach. Hugo selected a table by the side facing out towards the sea. I followed. “Need not ask, do I?” He placed his menu at the side of the table.
“Nope. Souvlaki, salad, pitta bread and a seven up, but let me get it.” I turned to get money from my purse but he stood scraping his chair on the floor.
“Not a chance.”
This was our go to spot when we visited from the mountains since Limassol didn’t have a beach. We’d come as a family or drop Mum in town and come for a few hours since neither, Dad nor I, enjoyed shopping. We had an inflatable boat, a small dingy and would float out for a while on the waves, with Dad or me using an air bed to float along side. When windy, we’d ride the waves, before joining the masses and having lunch. It wasn’t unusual to spend all day there resulting in lobster skin.
Hugo placed a small glass bottle of seven up with a straw in front of me breaking my dreaming. “Why doesn’t this taste the same anywhere else?”
“A tweak of the recipe? There’s a plant in the harbour district.”
Silence fell between the two of us until the food arrived. Served in a basket complete with blue and white checked napkins, a smaller plate placed between us filled with grilled halloumi and tomatoes made me smile.
“A treat.” Hugo mused as he took a piece of the cheese, placed in on a chunk of bread, drizzled olive oil and bit in to it. Oil dripped from his chin, and I fought an overwhelming urge to lean forward and wipe it away.
What the hell is happening to you? My mind spun watching him eating. I’d gone from being invisible and repellent to the opposite sex, instead mesmerised by the man in front of me.
While eating my bikini dried and once again I’d dressed in my shorts. He watched me more than once, the last time he blushed. I had him but couldn’t work out where this sudden shyness came from. He headed back towards Limassol but instead of driving towards the motorway he turned the car towards Kolossi. There was one road, and it went straight through the orange plantations.
The straight road ran under an archway of tall trees blocking the sun and spreading a dappled glow onto the road. Behind this natural barrier, oranges, lemons and grapefruits grew in abundance. With the car roof lowered I leaned my head back and looked to the arch trained canopy taking deep breaths. Sweet citrus aromas tickled the fine hairs at the edge of my nose. “It never changes.”
Hugo smiled and turned his eyes back to the road.
We pushed on, rounded a corner and skirted the salt flats. On our left the flats ran to the ocean and acted as a natural barrier between Limassol and the base of Akrotiri. No one drove over them unless they were going to a specific point to fly model airplanes and helicopters. It’s what service men did, the older single ones. They found a hobby to occupy their free time.
“Ever been out there?” I nodded to my left towards the salt flats.
“Yes, but to race go karts.”
Now a smile spread across my lips.
At the gates of the base Hugo showed his id card and explained I was his girlfriend visiting from back home. The young guard dressed in sandy coloured desert fatigues waved us over to the administration building to the left. “Get a pass in there.”
Hugo gunned the sports car towards the building. “Come on, let’s make this legal.”
As he climbed out of the car, my mind froze. Make what legal? Us? My visit? It took a second to realise what he meant to say at all. It was my visit to the camp.
“Jeez.” He had my mind on the run.
Inside the white office buildings an old but functional air conditioning unit hummed as a young woman poured over my passport and hotel details. She filled in boxes on a form attached to a clipboard asking nothing further. I stood by the counter letting Hugo take charge since he was the military one.
He turned as the woman walked away. “She needs to check your details. Let’s sit and get a drink.” Before I answered he walked across to a fridge, took out two small bottles, opened them and handed one over.
“Do we not need to pay?”
“Course.” His hand sank into his pocket retrieving two coins and threw them into a small bucket on top of the fridge. “Standard protocol in these situations.”
The smile reminded me of my father. Self assured, confident in his skin in his own environment. Different when just the two of us.
He walked with me to two chairs leaning against the back wall. “Shouldn’t take long. They scan your passport, make sure you’re not on any lists and you’ll get a day pass.”
“Figured we’d head over to the Sodexo get a few things to take back to the mountain with me.”
“What’s a Sodexo? Is it like the American Px’s?”
“No, it’s the company replacing the NAAFI. They sell local Cypriot goods and stuff we can get back home. You know like Weetabix or Kelloggs cornflakes. It’s more expensive but sometimes you need home comforts. Maybe we could head to J J’s club afterwards. They have a barbecue on most days and I’m a member so it’s okay to go. We could sit on the beach while we eat, watch the sunset. They have fire pits and outdoor heaters so it won’t be cold.”
“Sounds romantic.” The words escaped my lips before my brain caught up and colour flushed my cheeks when the realisation hit. “Sure you don’t want to go to one outside the base on the strip?” We drove past half a dozen sports bars and restaurants aimed at the base residents. The single service population on the island was huge. There were far more single guys than married couples and everything aimed at them spending their money.
“No, not into those places. Yeah sure I like sports but I’d prefer a quieter place for my meal.”
“You’re getting old? Can’t keep pace?”
“Maybe.” He grinned. “Old, yeah. The young guys rotate out, said it before. They come here and do a few weeks on the mountain. They complain there’s not enough to do. No bars, nightclubs and so on.”
“Not exciting enough?”
“JJ’s is more family oriented. It’s not romantic, but it’s cheap, cheerful and always tastes good. Oh and we can go out to TPMH if you want although it closed years ago so you can’t go inside.”
“No.” I didn’t mean to reply with a firm tone, but it’s the way it came out. “Done enough reminiscing thanks.” I turned to face him as he sipped his juice. “Its new memories now.”
A little over fifteen silent minutes passed as we sat waiting for the airwoman to return. She was on the phone at a back desk and didn’t look at us once which I took to be a good sign. Phone call ended, she booted up her computer and tapped away for a few seconds before walking across to the printer.
She didn’t say my name or Hugo’s when she returned to the front desk. Instead she gave a half smile and a brief wave of her fingers since we were the only two sitting there. She returned my documents and handed an A5 sheet to Hugo. “Keep this with you while you’re on camp. It’s valid till midnight and notify the guardhouse when you leave base so they can cancel it.”
“Thanks.” Even though she only spoke to Hugo, not me it was nice to be courteous. She smiled and walked away as we left. This was how the military worked. They always referred to their own, like you weren’t there. Drove me mad as a teenager but I accepted it as the norm.
I remembered the base even though it was twenty-odd years since I last drove along the streets. The same bright yellow air sea rescue Westland Whirlwind helicopter sat opposite the admin building for the last thirty years, welcoming everyone to a slice of home. Back in the car Hugo took off along the long sweeping driveway into the buxom of the base. Dry, dusty earth on either side filled with tumbleweed reminding us this was a tropical country. As soon as we arrived at the first buildings, scorched grass having long since lost its green colouring greeted my views. Not your average everyday RAF base. White buildings passed by with various painted boards outside announcing which squadron or department worked inside. Nothing had changed. Stuck in a time warp.
We passed a new centre I took for a school. “Nope,” Hugo corrected. “New medical centre. Replaces the hospital.” He pointed across the road. “Over there is the heated swimming pool, the gym and football pitches.”
I glanced around as he continued to drive. The generalness like all the camps from my past except in colour. Instead of blue and green, sandy coloured functional official buildings blended into their surroundings. Hugo turned into a car park and the shop he wanted to visit appeared. A local Cypriot bank had a branch next door and across the car park sat an Insurance firm. Apart from the basics, most completed daily living off station.
Inside I tagged along behind him pushing the trolley as he threw items in. He picked the same shampoos, hair products and breakfast cereals I’d buy. “Dearer than at home?” I stated trying to convert Euros to Pounds in my head.
“Yeah, but cheaper than buying them on the mountain.” He smiled as he placed bottles of sauces in. “Might get them cheaper in Limassol if I shopped around, but who has the time?”
He had a point and in something as simple as a grocery shop I learned more about him than I had all day. The similarities in the way we both lived striking.
This morning I grabbed a light breakfast and was outside under the hotel’s porch before Hugo arrived. Today we were heading to Paphos and had agreed an early get away was a necessity. We didn’t want to get to Paphos and have to turn around again. So here I stood at five minutes to eight waiting for him to arrive.
He stopped under the porch and grinned as I walked around the car and climbed in. He leaned close and placed his hand on my cheek. “Good morning.” He closed the inches and touched my lips with his.
My heart pounded as his thumb brushed my cheek. He had a tight grip on my heart even if he wasn’t ready to acknowledge it.
Limassol didn’t have a conventional rush hour. As we set off the streets were busier even the ring road around the outer town towards Fairways motor garage. A historic point for all squaddies. It always signalled our journey’s commencement along the mountain road. Once we were on the motorway, the traffic thinned and became an average day on a British motorway. I preferred this version of a rush hour.
Hugo drove at a steady pace with the hood down. Neither of us needing to be anywhere fast since the journey to Paphos was around an hour and a half. Sunglass on tight I sat back and allowed the sun to beat on my face as the wind blew through my hair.
Today was high on my list as soon as I booked the holiday. As a teenager we visited for few hours, got as far as Paphos harbour and ate lunch, browsed a few shops and had to come home. Only once did we visit the tombs. This time I wanted to do it right.
Last night we sat on the beach after eating kebabs and burgers discussing today’s trip. With a few things in Limassol on my list, my first intention was to visit Paphos tomorrow but Hugo talked me into visiting today. Tomorrow the weather would be hotter and ideal for the proposed trip to the water park, followed by the brewery. If we weren’t too drunk, the amusement arcade by my hotel would end the evening.
“Out on the motorway and back on the coast road via the roc to Pissouri beach for dinner?” Hugo said as he relaxed on the sand.
“Sounds like my idea plan.” Truth was it was what I’d planned myself.
With the roof off I couldn’t hear him but caught the glances and sneaky smiles.
The Tomb of The Kings sat on the western peninsular right on the coast. Not far outside Paphos, the tourist part of town had almost swallowed the site. In 1980 the whole area became part of World Heritage and enjoyed a protective status but it didn’t slow the growth. We stopped at as local garage as Hugo proclaimed, “Best get water here because there’s no refreshment stand.”
It seemed a foreign idea considering this was a tourist hot spot. A missed opportunity. Once we got closer, it made sense. The road into the Tombs site was little more than a dry dusty track leading to a large open space doubling as a car park. Behind we’d left the metropolis and entered the past.
Hugo parked the car, put the roof in place and placed a corrugated board over the dash board. On the side facing the window a layer of reflective paper glistened. “Keeps the heat out,” he stated as he locked the doors before reaching for my hand.
At the end of the car park a sandstone plaque built into a large five-foot wall read Tomb of the Kings, World Heritage Site. Tourists of all shape and age queued for a photograph. We walked right past and turned onto the dusty trail leading away from the parties and to the site itself.
“Happy?” Hugo squeezed my hand.
“Yes, although don’t remember this walk being as far or downhill so much.”
“It’s why I told you to wear your trainers, not your sandals. Paths worn away.”
We descended the windy worn path staying close to one side when tourists came the other way. It was a few minutes after ten am and I questioned what time they must have got here this morning to finish already.
“Guess they wanted to get here before it got too hot!”
He’d had the same thought. Were we thinking alike? Or was it common sense?
“There,” he exclaimed. “Look, you can see the top of the back wall.”
He was taller than me, so I saw nothing, but as we rounded the bend, the whole tomb area sat before my eyes and a broad smile grew. It hadn’t changed.
We came here in the first few months after we moved out to Cyprus. My parents had a mini list of things we had to see straight away and this was one. To a teenager it was a large hole in the ground overlooking the sea. A sunken maze to run about, hide from my parents and have a laugh while they explored its historical value. Today I wanted to know as much about it as they did.
We stood together overlooking the main chamber ruins below. Columns ran every few feet supporting the edge of the remaining roof. In the rock bed, holes cut out of the floor in each corner added to the mystique. No one knew what any of them were and it led to many theories. Hugo let go of my hand and fished about in his rucksack. “Here, hydrate before we descend. It can be like an oven.” He passed me a bottle of water. I opened it, drank a little and passed it to him. He did the same and dropped it back in his bag before producing a leaflet. “Picked this for you in the mess last night. It has a map and information.”
“Thanks.” His considerate side shone. Something I’d never experienced in a guy and one of his endearing qualities. Opening the folded brochure my mind questioned, do I love what he did? Or him? My mind wouldn’t quit the questions as my focus turned to the map. Do you? Do you? He stood behind my shoulder looking over at the same map. I turned and kissed him. Not a peck or a passionate kiss. A relaxed, thank you for being you. He reacted as he had yesterday, the cold exterior shell melting away. If he didn’t know what my feelings for him were, he never would and there was no more denying it to myself. I was in love, with him.
He grinned breaking the kiss and stepped back. “Shall we explore?”
Hugo descended the giant slabs of sandstone passing for steps first. A rope bolted into the rocks every few feet acted as a handle but he held my hand secure in his. At the bottom, the lack of fresh air evident straight away, mixed with the aroma of sweaty tourists. Tunnels ran off to both sides. One into anti chambers, the other into the open middle area. We stopped, and he fished about in his rucksack pulling out a small torch.
“A boy scout in a former life.”
He switched it on and took my hand again.
In the darken tunnels, doorways led to smaller rooms. Some had no roof, letting light in every few feet. Others were black. We sidestepped people walking through and found ourselves in a smaller chamber, roof exposed to the sunlight with five other rooms off.
“They weren’t kings buried here, were they?” I stated.
“No.” Hugo looked around and pointed in one. “This one is the biggest, so I’d say it was for a civic leader, a town mayor, someone important. The smaller ones for his family or closest advisers.” He stuck his head into several rooms. “Guess they’d have been kings in their own time.”
We headed back into the tunnels with a slight downward walk towards a light in the distance. First, the tiniest slither, a little crack, but as we walked through the rooms, it opened into a doorway and I saw the ocean.
“We’re so close.” I peered out into the blinding brilliant sunlight.
Hugo slipped past me and held out a hand to help me jump off the large step.
Glasses back over my eyes for protection the coast appeared a few feet away. “Ever been to the edge?”
“No, forgot till we got here it was by the coast.”
It wasn’t possible to visit the water’s edge, so we sat on a patch of dry grass close to the edge of a small cliff. Hugo took the water from his bag along with a pack of crisps. He opened and offered them. “Didn’t know your flavours so went for a neutral ready salted. Also got these.” He fished in the rucksack and pulled out a small bag of pistachios covered in sea salt.
“I remembered.” He opened the bag but before he offered them he closed the gap between us and our lips locked.
Eyes closed his tongue searched for mine and found it as I melted into him. His free hand pulled me towards his chest. My heart thumped with passion and desire. How could he not want more? My head screamed as the heat of my body soared. He broke the kiss and embrace first but as he moved back a few inches, his eyes sparkled. What we had was real.
Words were unnecessary as we ate the snacks. I kept an eye on him as he looked out to sea. He wasn’t looking for an exit or inspiration instead calmness had descended between us. The sense this is the exact place I need to be and who I should be with.
Back inside the tombs we wandered through hand in hand, Hugo led the way once again with the torch. Tourists passed by, everyone nodding in thanks as we stepped aside. He stopped, turned and placed a finger over his lips as he turned the torch out. In front he heard kids jumping about in the next anti chamber. They were scaring people walking through.
“Time for some fun,” he whispered. He let go of my hand jumped through the doorway and flicked the torch back on. The kids screamed and he couldn’t help but laugh.
I walked through and tapped him on the back. “You’re such a child.”
He grabbed my waist. “You love it.” He flicked the torch off and walked me backwards to the wall. His lips touched mine but this time with real passion. His hand cushioned my cheek, his thumb stroking the sensitive skin by my ear. The kiss broke and as I opened my eyes and breathed, he planted kisses on my face leading to the side of my neck he wasn’t holding. “You mesmerise me.” His hot breath tickling my ear. “You feel it too I know.”
My hands on either side of his face, I pulled him back to face me. In the darkness the smallest twinkles reflected light in his eyes. “Yes.”
He placed his hands on top of mine, intertwined his fingers and pulled my hands to my sides. I surrendered myself to him in an instant. He could do anything he wanted. He had me and he knew it. To our side a flashlight lit the chamber, and he grinned. The moment had passed.
We left the Tomb of the Kings an hour later having explored both sides of the main chamber. The climbing sun super heated the basin making it unbearable and hard to move. By the time we climbed the path back to the car we’d drained our remaining water supplies. Hugo unclipped the roof, removed the screen, and we climbed in.
“The screen works well but we’ll soon cool.”
Out on the open road he was right. Although not driving as fast as the motorway, the coast road into Paphos let the wind blow around my head and cooled the two of us. Hugo parked a few minutes’ walk away from the harbour but this time under the shade of imported palm trees lining the street. I changed into my sandals having brought them with me and laughed as he did the same. Once again he raised the top and tucked the dash shield in place before taking my hand.
The harbour still held on to its old world charm. The castle dominating the view with harbour moorings on both sides for small fishing boats. Fish restaurants lined the walkway towards the castle, with a mixture of posh restaurants and bars on the promenade leading back along the coast towards the tourist hotels.
“Change much?” Hugo asked as we found the promenade.
“No, looks the same as I remember.”
“How about we get two fish kebabs and grab a cold drink?”
It sounded like a great idea.
We found a small restaurant with the tell tale blue and white checked table cloths tucked in on the corner between the two promenades. It wasn’t as flash looking as the ones we walked past reflecting in the size of the patio and the prices on the menu board. But it was busy and with locals. “Here okay? Looks to suit us two.”
I needn’t reply. He was already striding through the archway.
With our stomachs fit to burst we wandered around Paphos castle. Inside an exact square shell, we climbed onto the roof and I snapped multiple photographs from all angles to make a 360 degree time delay photo. This was my talent, and I’d turned some into amazing wall pictures and hoped to do one with the pictures from the top of the mountain. Hugo stood behind me careful not to get himself in shot but I caught one of him. Something to look at when I returned home. As the thought popped into my head, a pang of sadness stung my heart. He would be with me today and tomorrow, and afterwards I’d one more day on the island before flying home and back to reality.
“What’s wrong?” Exhaled air prickled the hairs on my neck. “You okay?”
“Lost in wondering.” I didn’t want to let on what was going on.
“Can I help?”
“No, all fine.”
He squeezed me tight knowing it wasn’t the right answer.
When the shots were secure in the cameras memory, we wandered further into Paphos and found the main shopping street. Neither wanted anything but walking together laughing and joking brightened my spirits and I forgot about the next few days. Hugo popped in and out of tourist shops selling anything and everything. The smile plastered on his face reminded me of a little kid. Being around him uplifting. He bought four different postcards of Paphos and showed genuine excitement at finding them. “What’s the deal?” The need to ask strong with surprise at his purchase.
“My uncle collects them. I get him different ones whenever visiting places. Haven’t bought these.” He grinned. “A little something to send him. He’s in a care home now, but used to be in the RAF, like my dad. Reminds him of the old days.”
At the mention of his dad my smile disappeared and once again I stared at the man who came to collect me, instead of his son.
Hugo closed the gap between us, pulling me into a bear hug. “What’s wrong?” he whispered. Tears fell onto his t-shirt soaking his shoulder. He steered me away from the shops and to a bench at the bottom of the walkway looking out to sea. As we walked, I realised he’d no idea. He didn’t listen to his boss recalling the events of the fateful night. I continued to stare out to sea, while he sat beside me, uncertain what to say. How to explain things to him?
“What set it off?” He used a gentle tone attempting to lull me into a better state. “Was it something I said?”
“No.” I sobbed between the heaves left over from crying.
He pulled me close, wrapping an arm around my shoulder and took my hand in his other one. His thumb grazed my skin.
“For weeks my dreams were of the journey home and the driver who kept watching me with his rear-view mirror.” With a deep sigh I stared towards the sea. Anything to stop me looking into the same eyes. “As a distraught teenager no one but the driver paid me too much attention, but every time my glance rose from the floor his eyes peered into mine. I never forgot them.”
“They haunted you?”
“No it wasn’t like that. He kept a careful eye on me all the way home and afterwards the driver stayed close to protect me. They are the abiding memory’s I have.”
“Okay.” He continued rubbing his thumb over my hand.
I took my hand from his, turned and took hold of his glasses removing them. He blinked a few times before looking straight at me as I removed mine. He wouldn’t comprehend unless my explanation was complete. “The eyes in my dreams are yours.”
“How can it be?” he stuttered.
“I knew they were the first time you made proper eye contact with me in the restaurant, the night before we ate together. But, they couldn’t be your eyes because you’re my age. At first I wasn’t sure, but the vision appeared again in my dreams, the first time for years.” He kept looking at me squinting against the sun. “When I spoke to your boss, he told me why.”
“What did he say?”
“He told me which bend they died on for one. It answered a question, the biggest question of the last twenty-plus years. When we spoke about the man who drove me home, he told me it was your dad.”
“No way,” Hugo exclaimed. His hand touched mine and our fingers interlaced. “Dad was on the island a few months before we followed because there were no properties for us to move in to. He never talked about his job. You know?”
“Sorry about losing it earlier it kinda crept on me.”
“Has it always been the same?”
“No. In the beginning I’d dream every night. Over time it lessened. Once a week, maybe a few times a month. The last time it happened, well I can’t remember but the eyes, they stayed with me. The compassion for another human being I’ve never seen it in anyone else.”
Hugo stretched across with his free hand to wipe a strand of hair which had fallen across my face. “Sorry, I can’t change them.”
“Wouldn’t want you to. They show your soul.”
Three hours later after we browsed a few more shops Hugo directed me back to the car, and we headed back towards Limassol. The coast road used to be the main Paphos to Limassol road before the motorway. Hugo drove with the top off but at a speed where the blowing wind provided refreshment from the sun beating above.
Pre occupied with losing my cool but at a loss why? The chat with his boss took place a few days ago, and I’d slept fine, happy even at getting answers. Somewhere in my subconscious it must have gnawed away at my one abiding memory. The eyes were his fathers. Would it dampen things now? What about him? I gazed out of the window into the ocean lost in questions.
Hugo peeled off the road to the left and parked in a brand new parking area.
“What’s going on?”
He pointed behind him over the road we’d just left. “This is the parking for the rock. It’s gone touristy since our day. Come on, there’s a tunnel to walk through.”
At the back of the concrete parking area sat a wooden structure where tourists congregated to spend more money on souvenirs. We ignored it and hand in hand followed the traditional brown tourist signs to the tunnel under the road.
On the other side of the tunnel we exited onto a gravel walkway leading to the pebble beach and Aphrodite’s rock. It wasn’t one rock, more complex of five. The larger one sat on the beaches edge, with a smaller one to the side, cracked away many centuries ago. Out to sea several smaller ones jutted out of the white-crested waves.
“It’s still magnificent.” I walked across the pebbles towards the water’s edge having already taken a few snaps, but here, had a better vantage point to take the panoramic effects.
“What got you into photography?” Hugo sat on the pebbles at the top of a small ridge above the crashing waves.
I lowered the camera and smiled at him. “An accident. Boys questioned what I wanted for Christmas one year and I left it to them. They bought me this camera and I’ve been hooked ever since.”
“It was nice of them.”
“I’ve always got photos about the place, family, places and other interesting things. Now I take my own.” Closer to the ocean I lifted the camera again snapping more pictures of the rock formation. Moments passed, lost in my little world. I lowered the camera and flicked back between the pictures on the memory card. There were showing real promise and may look nice larger. Hugo sat on the beach staring past me. With speed lifting the camera back to my face I snapped off shots before he noticed. Sadness behind the stare caught me off guard then he snapped out of it and smiled. There it was the grin of the man who had my heart in his hands.
“Shall we walk to the rock?” He stood to join me at the edge of the incoming tide.
By the side of the largest rock there was enough space to walk around and onto the next beach but most of it was inaccessible. In my day no one swam near the rocks due to the treacherous currents.
“You know the legend?” Hugo clasped his hand in mine as we stood staring at the rock.
“About swimming around it to get eternal beauty.”
“Oh a new one.” He laughed a deep belly rumble. “The ones I know about are if you swim naked around Aphrodite’s Rock you will be fertile for life. Some say if you swim round it three times you’ll meet your true love. Others claim swimming around the rock will bring good luck.”
The shock on his face changed to laughter, and he grabbed me around the waist spinning me round and round. “This will need to do. No way I’m swimming round three times.” He lowered his head and our lips touched. Urges coursed through my body. The battle between passion and restraint showed in his eyes as he stepped back. The link between us still strong, even though we refused to believe it.
Hugo spoke first. “Come on the light will fade soon. Pissouri isn’t far.”
The village was long since swallowed by new housing developments. White modern villas appeared at each side of the road and as far as my eyes could see. I’d already driven past it on my first day but this was much more than I’d realised.
“It’s ex pats.” Hugo commented on our surroundings while driving along what passed for the main street through the town. “And people who want to build holiday lets. Town’s half empty most of the year.”
“Was there not a place by the roadside? Did the greatest Stifado on the island?”
Hugo turned right and drove through another road of houses. The road I remembered was baron on both sides, dirt track most of it, but this led though the most expensive houses yet. Around a corner we passed another expansive hotel development. “You need a bank loan to stay there.”
His sentiment resonated with me. The similarities about money and wasting it comforting in a strange unexplained way.
A few hundred meters further along the road Hugo parked and pointed. “Still there, see?”
I looked across and there, no doubt after a few additional coats of paint was the same restaurant with the plastic swordfish hanging over the steps. “How on earth has it remained when everything else went upmarket?”
We climbed out of the car and walked towards the restaurant. He locked it which made me chucky since the top was off. At the wall edging the car park we stood and looked out across the beach. Different to my memories I’d forgotten the cliff enclosures on both side but it was beautiful. Houses framed each end, built as far onto the beach as allowed which spoilt the rural feeling I loved. Sometimes development and modernisation wasn’t for the best.
Inside the restaurant customers tucked into their meals. The familiar sign we wanted to see, people enjoying food. We sat by the window and ordered soft drinks, starters and swordfish steaks. The drinks arrived, and I took a sip before sitting back. “So, what’s your grand plan?”
“Don’t get you?”
“Your plan. What’s your dream when you finish in the RAF? Where do you want to live? And so on.”
“Oh, well was thinking Air traffic control.” He took a sip of this drink and cocked his head to the side. “Have I not told you this? Had an interview with Air traffic control Scotland not fifty miles away from you. Anyway maybe airport working, approach or departures control, if I don’t get air traffic.”
The passion for his trade shone in his eyes.
“As for everything else, well depends on you.”
His serious tone shocked me for a moment as did his words. “Me?” Drizzled olive oil ran down a chunk of bread and onto the layer of salad on my plate as I digested his statement. “Why me? What have I done?”
“Stole my heart.”
There it was. He was mine and I, his. There was no messing anymore.
Today was the last of Hugo’s three days in Limassol and almost the end of my holiday. My only intention, to enjoy myself. On the way back from Pissouri last night I talked him into a trip to the water park. Fasouri Watermania Park sat between Limassol and Akrotiri and since it was early in the season, we knew it wouldn’t be heaving. I’ve no idea why but in the beginning he was a little resistant. The plan was to hit the park at opening time and head back to Limassol in the afternoon before the temperature rose too much. Maybe later he’d be open to a trip across the road to the small amusement park.
The park had plenty of slides and other water attractions and would be too dangerous to wear my bikini so I donned my costume underneath my shorts. For the first time this holiday an alarm woke me to make sure of eating breakfast nice and early to allow my stomach to settle. The brochure listed some of the ride names telling me this wouldn’t be a gentle morning’s play swimming in a pool.
Outside the hotel under the canopy a little before nine o’clock, I waited. Five minutes sat on the ledge of the canopy pillar turned into ten and fifteen. He hadn’t been late before but with no working phone on the island it wasn’t like he could contact me. His resistance last night played on my mind. Had he stood me up? When it got to twenty minutes I stood, stretched and turned to walk back inside and find a comfy chair. I’d got two steps from the driveway when a horn beeped and he drove in to the hotel parking area.
“Figured you chickened out.” He deserved a little anger from me after making me wait.
“Had to go buy swimming shorts, and it took a while to find the right size.”
“Why didn’t you mention it last night?” I reached for my seat belt after climbing into the car next to him. “We could have gone shopping together on the way.”
“Sorry, should have mentioned it. Figured I’d get shorts on base but they were out of my size, so had to grab a pair at the store on the strip.” He leaned close and kissed my cheek. “Forgive me?”
“Course, but say something next time.”
He grinned, the boyish charm he used to twist me around his finger. It was far too hard to be anything but happy this morning.
The drive to the water park took twenty minutes. Hugo babbled all the way there. “So my pal told me they have fast slides, a wave park and a lake thing, tube slides, lots and lots of different ones. There’s at least thirty different things to do and all water related.”
I listened and smiled but my mind wandered back. Was it short related? Or was his resistance genuine? Zoned out I watched people walking to the park from the nearest bus stop, some with shorts over their costumes and it hit me. It was because we would both be half naked. Did he have body issues because I did!
Inside the park we walked to the admissions office hand in hand, towels under opposite arms and bags slung on backs. He paid for our entrance tickets despite me wanting to contribute. We bought a token for a locker and headed to the changing rooms. The girl tried to sell a card for the restaurant but Hugo was firm in his answer, telling me later we’d eat outside in the local places. With the bags, clothes and towels stashed in a locker, he attached the key to his ankle with the supplied strap and took my hand.
“Nice costume. Didn’t fancy a bikini today.” His teasing the first step to enjoyment as we wandered towards a wave pool at the side of the lazy lagoon and slides.
“On these things, no chance.” It crossed my mind that this morning’s unease needed resolution if we were to enjoy the day so I ribbed him back. “Plus didn’t want to distract you.”
He blushed. The first time I’d seen this endearing side of him. “Maybe best.” He leaned close, the heat from his breath made the hairs on my neck stand to attention.
Now it was my turn to blush, but it confirmed my earlier thoughts.
The siren above the wave pool blared and Hugo grabbed my hand. “Quick.”
He ran into the water and dived into the waves. I waded in as he surfaced and shook the water from his hair. If he had body issues he wasn’t showing them. The closer I got, the broader his smile grew.
He held his arms open, and I grabbed his hand as a wave battered me threatening to take my feet from underneath. “Wow, they’re strong.”
He pulled me close, and we waded a little further until our feet were off the floor and we trod water together. The little boy inside burst free and he howled with infectious laughter as the waves carried us towards the beach with force. Every time our feet touched the ground, we’d wade back out the let it carry us back. Sometimes the wave caught us unaware and rolled over the top drenching both of us. I’d never been in a wave pool before but enjoyed it as much as he appeared to do.
The siren went off again, and the waves calmed. Over the next few minutes the waves stopped, and the pool returned to flat water again. Hugo grabbed me, pulling me close before planting a kiss on my nose. “Thank you for talking me into coming along today.”
“Forgot how to be a kid, did we?”
One hand traversed from my waist to the small of my back and brushed the bare skin above my costume. No one saw as we were still in deeper water. Our lips touched and as the kiss softened, we broke apart but he blushed again. “Need a moment before we get out.”
“Noticed.” He’d pressed against my leg as we kissed. “Thank god I wore my costume. Bikini might have been fatal for you.”
He burst into laughter and took a few steps backwards. “Touché!” Once normality restored itself Hugo followed me out of the wave pool.
Three and a half hours later we lay on a double inflatable ring meandering around the river winding its way around the area occupied with slides. Hugo sat at the back. Me in front. As we set off Hugo laid back and pulled me back to rest on his chest. “This is the life. Fantastic morning.”
“It was, but be sore in the morning.”
“Yeah those tubes and slides left a few bumps and bruises.”
He ran his finger tip along my arm as the slow moving water carried us under the slides before returning the ring towards the beach. The strong sun beat above, and my legs sizzled. When we arrived at the beach, I pushed myself off the ring back into the water cooling the sensation.
“Lunch?” Hugo stated holding his hand out to help me from the water. “There’s a tavern a little along the street. We could grab a kebab or something before we head into Limassol.”
Hugo ordered a kebab, but I plumbed for a bacon and halloumi baton sandwich, and we shared a bowl of French fries. After changing I slathered my legs in sun cream to stop them burning any further today, even though my shorts were to my knees. At the restaurant, under the shade of a bamboo thatched roof the dappled light hit Hugo’s face, showing what we missed earlier. His burnt cheek.
“You caught the sun.” It was impossible to stifle the giggle as I pointed to his face. “Need some of this.” He flicked the lid of my sun cream open, put a little on his finger and rubbed his face in a haphazard manner onto his face. “What are you doing? Let me.” Pouring cream onto my fingertips I closed the distance between us. His heated skin stung as my finger tip swirled the cream.
He smiled sending my stomach hurling. His fingers ran across my arm until our hands met. He pulled my fingers away from his cheek and leaned in, turning to face me. Eyes closed our lips met.
Food eaten we wandered back to the car. The waiter had brought our lunch over before the kiss grew to anything more. Hugo placed his hand on the door ready to open it for me but changed his mind. He grabbed my waist and pulled me towards him. “How about we check out the brewery on the way back? See when the tours are on and ditch the car at the hotel. We could grab a rickshaw to the brewery and work our way back along the strip?”
“Sounds like a plan.” Here was my chance. “Do you fancy the amusement park across from the hotel after dinner? We could have fun before you go back to work?”
I hit a nerve. The sparkle drained from his eyes replaced by a grimace across his lips. “Don’t mention it. Don’t know what I’ll do when you leave.” He opened the car door, and I climbed in as he ran around the other side. “Mean it you know.” He slotted the keys into the ignition. “These last few days have shown me what’s missing.” He turned and smiled. “We’re good together. Sounds like a cliché doesn’t it?”
I agreed with him but there was a little matter of two separate countries between us.
True to his earlier statement we drove around to the brewery and parked in one of the visitor’s spots. Hugo took my hand, and we wandered across to reception.
Inside he approached the desk. “We would like information on the tours.” He spoke first since the receptionist hadn’t noticed us standing there. “Can you tell me what times they start?”
Without looking at us she spoke. “No more tours.”
“For the day?”
“No, for good. Health and safety reasons. Sorry.”
Bang goes that idea, my mind screamed walking back towards his sports car. It never crossed my mind to check the tours still ran. And why have wine tours but not beer? It made little sense. Hugo lagging, eyes glued to his mobile phone. “Something wrong?” Half expecting him to say I have to go back to base.
“Had an idea what we can do now.”
His words made the smile reappear on my lips. Thankful the day didn’t lay in ruins.
Hugo gunned the car back along the road heading back toward the water park. At the roundabout he turned left heading for the road which became a dead end at the salt flats. To my right a huge glass structure I missed earlier. Rows of trees camouflaged most of it. Hugo turned right into an expansive half empty car park. A sign high above read “My Mall.”
“A shopping centre?”
“It’s far more than shops.” Hugo grinned.
Reluctant to get out of the car I didn’t want to be traipsing around a myriad of shops I could walk into at home. “Come on Avril.” Hugo climbing out and closed his door. “It’s not just shops, promise.”
Inside the air conditioning was a welcome change from the heat of the early spring sun but my early apprehensions stayed. Laid out the same as back home, multiple levels of shops, alley style met in a central communal area where restaurants and coffee shops gave the thirsty shopper refuge. Hugo took my hand, and we walked along the ground floor past a variety of well-known shops mixed with modern Greek stores. Pulled along through the shoppers Hugo refused to let me stop by the map. We arrived at the centre, and he pointed over the railing. Annoyed, it took a few moments for me to give in. As my gaze fell to where he was pointing a grin broke out.
“Oh yes. A full size ice rink.”
We ran around to the escalators heading into the basement of the centre. The rink took centre stage, but off in all corners were other attractions. A bowling alley which brought a grin to my face, a kids play area plus an expanse of video games and air hockey tables.
“Forgot to ask.” Hugo stepped off the descending stairway onto the plus red carpet. “Can you skate?”
“Bit late for asking, but yeah, as long as you promise not to push me over!”
“Oh, don’t know.”
He grabbed my hand, twirled me around pulling me close to him and winked.
This boy held me in the palm of his hand. Oh dear lord I’m in trouble now!
The skate hire shop sold us two pairs of long socks to accompany the skates since we didn’t have our own. I expected graceful white skate boots but being a huge size eight brought me a pair of hockey skates much to Hugo’s amusement. Stepping out onto the ice the cold hit me in an instant.
“Didn’t consider this?” Hugo stated standing there in his hockey boots, long socks and shorts. Other skates whizzed past us. Trousers, tights, even gloves on some. We looked ridiculous.
“Come on, where’s your sense of adventure.” I let go of his hand and took off at a slow but comfortable speed.
Hugo sped past me with graceful, strong strides, almost effortless. He’d had training and belonged. In contrast, Bambi on Ice for most of the first five minutes best described my efforts. Heavy boots, cold and having not been on the ice for the best part of ten years, this scared me. Every time Hugo came anywhere near I shooed him away with much laughter.
It took a few wobbles and a near splits episode before I ventured over ten feet away from the barrier. Hugo skated towards me and stopped inches in front. “Show off?”
“Forgot how much fun this was.”
“Used to do it a lot as a kid. Played hockey in university when it was taking off back home.”
“Ah. You kept it quiet!” He offered me his hand, and I took it. Happy to skate with him. “Take it easy on a rusty old woman.”
For half an hour we skated around together, hand in hand. He showed me how to get the best from the experience without damaging my feet and legs in these bigger boots. Other skated past, some too close for comfort making me wobble but Hugo grabbed me and shot them daggered looks. Above us a bell rang out and everyone headed for the open gaps in the boarding. “Err what’s going on?”
“Hockey practice.” Hugo pulled me towards the side. “The guy said we’d have a half hour break.”
“Okay.” I wasn’t happy about a break since I’d got used to the boots.
“Coffee? Keep the boots on but slacken off the laces and I’ll go get them.”
I nodded as we climbed off the ice right before a pack of guys ran past me padded to the max.
Dark wooden benches lined the area behind the boards. Some of the skaters sat, others took their skates off and left. I followed Hugo’s instructions let my feet breathe but didn’t take them off, in case I couldn’t get them back on. The guys skated around, end to end, their sharp blades spraying ice as they stopped and changed direction. It looked like drills but what did I know about ice hockey, only having seen fighting on multiple sports news pages of my pay-per-view TV system.
“Here, skinny latte for madam.” Hugo handed me a large takeaway cup. “So what have they done so far?” He sat by my side and slurped coffee from his own cup.
“Skated across from end to end.” Cup between both hands to warm them. I didn’t notice the cold after a while because it took so much energy to skate around. “Explain the rules.”
“Yeah, never watched it.”
“So the guy with all the pads on is the goalie and there are four outfield players who attempt to score a goal. It’s easy.”
Minutes passed, coffee swapped the take away cup for my stomach warming me from the inside but a shiver reminded me, we sat in a cold place. Hugo inched his way closer, wrapped his arm around my shoulder and pulled me to him. “They’ll finish soon.” Leaning against his thin cotton t-shirt every rise and fall of his muscular chest tingled the fine hairs of my arm. “I bet you didn’t know there was an ice rink on the island.”
“No I considered it was a shopping mall with a cinema attached.”
“Do you have this kind of thing back home?”
The word made me shiver again. Not being next to him, well, it was alien. Warm coffee helped me focus on his question. “We have an ice rink in the next town over. It’s attached to a leisure centre with slides and a wave pool.” I looked out across the ice. My home. Always somewhere happy for me but now without him. What did he expect would happen once I was home?
“Any other good places?”
“There’s an indoor ski centre. It’s got a big and little ski slope, does lessons, snowboarding and things of that nature. It’s part of a mega complex with a cinema, restaurants, designer shops and bars. Over the road is a shopping centre with an ice rink doubling as a sports arena, music venue, that kind of thing.” I glanced at him and smiled. “It’s two minutes drive from the airport.”
He burst into laughter.
Off the ice an hour later we rode the escalator back to the ground floor. “Want to browse the shops?”
“No thanks, not my style.” Taking his hand, we retraced our steps back to his car.
“Let’s park at the hotel and get dinner before we hit the amusement park?” He suggested as he opened the car door. Before I climbed in, he leaned in for a kiss. Those lips filled with passion and a dash of despair. He backed away first, smiled and left me to climb in.
Neither of us spoke as we drove towards the hotel which was a first. My concentration focused on the ocean view. This last night needed to be memorable with every little detail remembered to sustain me for a lifetime. Yes he might contact me. We might talk, email, text, but he lived here. I lived four hours flying time away.
“Wanna put your stuff upstairs?”
I hadn’t realised we were at the hotel. “Yeah. Are you waiting here?”
“Yeah should do.”
Was it was a statement or a question? My reluctant legs carried me away before finding out.
Upstairs, my damp costume hung over the shower rail as my reflection caught in the mirror. “Didn’t follow you, what does it mean?” The sun had burnt my nose and caught my forehead. I grabbed a bottle of after sun from the bathroom shelf and lathered each area before leaving the room.
Back down in the lobby the lift doors opened, and I glimpsed him sitting on the wall waiting, swinging his legs. He had not a care in the world. My heart raced. How was it possible to fall in love with someone I’ve known for a little more than a week? “Enjoy tonight.” My voice just above a whisper not wanting him to hear me. “No matter how much or how little time we have tonight, if it’s with him it’s all you need.” Two steps away from him I called out. “Hey.”
Hugo turned and my heart melted. His face portrayed every single emotion I’d experienced upstairs. He jumped off the wall. The pain on his face I saw replaced with a wide smile. “My favourite restaurant is not far from here, along the road.”
“It’s all fancy places.” I’d walked that way and grown weary of the pretentious menus.
“Marco’s place is proper Greek, promise.” His boyish charm from this morning back on display. “It’s about five, ten minutes further along the road from the amusements you want to visit.” He took my hand, intertwined his fingers, and we walked out towards the road together although my reservations about our choice stayed.
The restaurant was underneath a modern tower block of apartments with balconies where the odd tourist sat enjoying the late afternoon sun. Four neat rows of tables under blue and white canopies lined the pavement with more inside. Neither of us had spoken on the walk to the restaurant but I smiled as he passed a sideways glance into the fairground.
“Hugo! Where’ve you been hiding?” A blonde haired, green eyed westerner pulled him into a full fledge man hug. “Been too long old man.” He cast an eye towards me and grinned before letting go. “Must be serious.” He sidestepped Hugo and closed the gap. “Marco, welcome to my restaurant.”
“Avril.” I held out my hand to shake his wondering why he felt the need to comment.
“Is it too much to hope this beautiful lady might have won your heart?” Hugo blushed as Marco spoke. “I’ll take it as a yes.” He turned my hand over and raised it to his lips, placing a delicate kiss on the back of it. “You are most welcome.” He winked and let go. “Let me get you a table.”
Marco’s fussing ceased as he left to get drinks but not before Hugo’s face coloured again.
“We went to school together.” Hugo turned in his seat looking into the bar. “He dropped out of university when his girlfriend got pregnant, came back to the island and opened a restaurant with her family.”
“He married a local?”
“Yeah. Now they have a big family and restaurants all over, but this was his first.”
Marco returned with a pitcher of brandy sours and three glasses. “Can I join you, for a moment? Talk? Maybe while you decide what you wish to eat?”
“Yes,” Hugo replied.
His eyes showed nerves. Maybe Marco would shed extra light on this man who’s stolen my heart. Lifelong friends, but were they close? And was this a real issue taking me to meet a family friend?
Marco handed me a glass of sour and smiled. “To good friends.”
I held my glass aloft, and he touched his against it.
“So how have you been? Long time no see.”
“Good mate, busy.”
I sipped the sour and cast an eye over the menu as the boys talked. Hugo relaxed and smiled at his friend. This was a big deal bringing me here.
“You still here in August? My youngest has her fifth birthday. She’d love to see her favourite uncle.”
It was two months away. My mind did the math.
“Yeah, should be. Ship home towards the end of the month, into September. Dates not definite yet.”
I caught his eye as he spoke. This was new information. He’d mentioned he was getting out of the RAF but figured he’d meant months away. Am I a stepping stone in his grand plan? A friend to lean on when he was back in the UK.
“Decided where to yet? You still thinking of civvy street instead of adding years on?” Marco drained most of his sour and stretched. “If you’re at a loss, you can always camp out here for the rest of the season. I’d be glad of the help.” He acknowledged at a young guy waving at him from the inside of the restaurant. He stood and slapped Hugo on the back. “Be back to embarrass you in a moment.”
Hugo flushed as Marco walked inside.
“Sorry,” he apologised. “We go back all our lives. He’s like my brother.”
“Nice to have. So it’s like I’m meeting your family.”
He shuffled in his seat. This was uncomfortable for him but why? They were friends. Did they cast a shadow over him or wield influence? “Kind of, yeah.” He stuttered to a halt and turned round to check on Marco. “His opinions are important.”
“Got it.” It was true. I understood. Someone in as much of a quandary as he was about life would rely on the opinions of others.
“So what do you fancy?”
It was one way to change the uncomfortable topic!
Marco sent over a waiter who took our order but instead of a meze, I chose Stifado. Hugo joined me after complementing Marco’s chef. We sat in an uncomfortable silence waiting for the other to strike a conversation. This had never been an issue. One of us always had something to say but tonight something was different.
“What’s wrong?” One of us had to be the braver and ask. Not something I‘d describe myself but it was the position I found myself in. His silence while not unexpected caused every ounce of unease running through my veins. My finger tips grazed his attempting to reassure him.
He pulled his hand back a few inches then changed his mind and placed it on top of my hand. “Nothing’s wrong, well, I don’t know. Out of sorts.”
“Because this is our last night?”
“Guess so,” he stuttered. “It’s all new and don’t know what will happen.”
“We’re eating dinner and going to the amusement park to have fun.” I drank a little brandy sour with my free hand. “Tomorrow you have work and I’ll have a day to wander around Limassol, before returning home. After, we talk as much as possible and we see what happens.”
“You have it all figured out, but it worries me. The distance and don’t want to fail you.”
“I don’t but I’m prepared to go with the flow.” What was going on in his head? Less than two weeks ago I was the inexperienced one, the one with a problem, needing direction, reluctant to commit or change. Answers set me free turning me into someone I didn’t recognise.
Marco brought our starters and joined us with a plate of his own. “Hope this is okay?”
“Sure.” I was glad of his company since Hugo had stopped talking.
“Where did you two meet?” Marco spoke whilst chewing on his salad leaves. “Here on the island?”
“Yeah, a chance meeting and we had dinner together one night because the restaurant was busy.” I concentrated on Hugo as the words came out waiting for a reaction, but he had his eyes lowered concentrating on his starter. Marco seems like a reasonable guy – great because Hugo has just thrown me to the wolves. Why do men do that? “From that moment we’ve been together most days or nights.”
“Sounds like you two found each other.” He nudged Hugo. “She came along at a good time for you mate.” Mouth full of tomato he chewed as Hugo coloured again braced for what came next. “Been telling him for years he has to get back out there and date people.”
“Yeah my friends are the same.”
“So you’re perfect for each other.” He leaned close to Hugo and whispered, “She’s a keeper.”
We spent about two hours eating dinner and drinking brandy sours. Hugo had one and changed to soft drinks, mindful of his need to drive later on. Marco gave us room while we ate our main courses before coming back with coffee’s and pastries. We laughed and shared jokes and stories but his relentless teasing of Hugo made him blush. He took it all in good nature and never bit back.
As we left Marco hugged me but whispered. “Be gentle with him. He’s a great guy but a novice with matters of the heart.”
“Yeah, he has mentioned it.”
“Give him time. He’ll come good for you.” Marco looked at me making sure our eyes connected. “She shattered his heart and he took a long time to recover. Between us, I don’t think he realised he could love again.” He glanced at the floor, then back at me. “Until now!”
We broke apart, and he strode across to Hugo who was walking back from the bathroom. They embraced. A full on bear hug, not some quick slap on the back. The two exchanged words and both looked at me while speaking before shaking hands. Hugo might not express himself but Marco confirmed what I had suspected for the last few days. His issues were similar to may own.
“Come on, let’s have fun.” Hugo placed his hand in the small of my back and ushered me out onto the pavement away from Marco’s restaurant.
The brief stroll to the arcade passed in silence. Hands together we walked with purpose but the uneasiness between us still evident. The flashing lights illuminating our path as we turned out of Marco’s pavement dining area. Excited at the prospect of continuing the day of fun I decided right there his mood would not spoil what remained.
As we approached the entrance a little sparkle returned to his eyes. He might not have noticed, but the change was mighty welcome. Although a kiosk sat by the black wrought-iron gates, there was no admission charge. Instead each ride required a token and each of them cost two Euros. I pushed a twenty euro note under the plastic window to the uninterested women tasked with selling the tokens.
“Hey,” Hugo protested.
I laughed and walked into the park.
He chased after me and as he caught me, his arms slipped around my waist pulling me back into him. “Ferris Wheel first?” He breathed against my neck as he spoke sending the little hairs on my neck to attention.
Quiet moments passed standing in the queue for the wheel to slow and the riders to change. Small white pods with silver bars instead of cages, red padded seats and white plastic umbrellas over each pod lifted and sank as the wheel turned. Big enough for two adults or a few kids there were about a dozen pods on the wheel turning about forty feet into the air. The ride slowed and passengers climbed off as the next climbed on. After a few more stops it spun round, and we climbed on. The last group joined the ride and the slow rotation started.
“Sorry.” Hugo slid closer. His arm snaked around the top of the padded seating and he pulled me to his shoulder. “Little off tonight.”
“It’s okay but sorry for what?” I could guess the reason for the apology but wanted him to explain himself. He ran hot and cold worse than a moody woman.
He ran his free hand through his hair. There was none to move out of his eyes. I knew him well enough already – this was his nervous tell. “Sorry for being quiet and distracted through dinner.”
“Was it Marco’s?” The need to express himself or give him an excuse came as second nature. “Too much pressure, you know.” He didn’t reply straight away and my mind wondered if this was the big statement of let’s be friends again. This time I wasn’t having it. The attraction obvious, so why fight it.
“Well, yes, but no. Kinda wanted the two of you to meet. He’s an important friend and well, I guess all this has shocked me a little. The speed of this past week.”
“You needed a second opinion.”
He wasn’t making any sense. With his arm still behind me I tried to face him. “What’s going on? What’s eating at you?”
For a few more seconds he remained silent.
I turned away and stared out of the pod at the sea view chastising myself. Now you’ve done it. Broken the guy and you’ll not be around to fix him like he fixed you.
“You know I’ve never.” He stopped and sighed. “Look the attraction to you its real. Big time.”
His fingers brushed the back of my neck as he tried to explain himself. Men were never good at explaining their feelings. “Spit it out, Hugo. What could be so bad it’s got you this twisted inside?”
“I want you, Avril but I don’t know what will happen.”
I spun around to clarify what he uttered. “Of what? I’ll brand you as mine and ruin you for women everywhere?”
He burst out in laughter and the smile I’d seen every day since we met reappeared.
“Is this why you haven’t come to my room since the first day? You’re afraid I’ll jump your bones as soon as you get inside?”
He laughed again. “Yes, but no I wanted to take it slow. You know why but there’s an attraction and I’d be lying if I said anything else. Truth is, I’m out of practice and don’t want you thinking this is all I’m after, you know, a holiday fling, because it’s not.”
He leaned towards me and our lips touched. A tender moment in the middle of an honest conversation.
“If you need slow, it’s what we do.” Disappointment crept into my throat as the words leapt out. Part of me wanting him to man up, the other understood. “I haven’t been with a man since my husband dies so I’m not well practiced either.” I wanted him to understand he wasn’t the only one who hadn’t enjoyed a physical relationship in a long time. His eyes sparkled against the hundreds of light bulbs on the Ferris wheel frame. I cradled his cheek to stop him turning away but stopped short of whispering the phrase screaming through my mind. Before I could reconsider the wheel slowed and the couple two pods in front of us, who’d been kissing throughout, alighted from the ride. Seconds later it was our turn.
After a rousing ride on the pirate ship Hugo’s sense of fun returned. We’d sat at the back, famous for allowing “air time” every time the boat rotated to a ninety-degree angle. He yelled and hollered louder with every swing and the darkness between us lifted. As I descended the stairs, he held out his hand, ever the gentleman. “Dodgems? I’ll take it easy on you.”
There it was. The spark, a connection between us with an added competitive edge.
“Yeah okay, but I drive a mean dodgem.”
He wrapped his arm around my waist. “Course you do.”
In the back corner of the grounds behind the Ferris wheel and two kids rides sat the covered dodgem arena. Smaller than most with a few cars, no one was racing. A guy stood by the side waiting with a young boy. We approached and queued behind them. Within moments a local lad aged about sixteen sprinted from a glass cubicle and opened a roped off area allowing the four of us to walk through. Behind, a couple more teenagers followed and once we had chosen cars, a siren went off.
Hugo picked a car off to the side and as it started, he hid behind the other riders. I lost sight of him for a few moments driving around trying to dodge everyone else and get to him. I didn’t want him to get me first. Thing was, he did and laughed at my expense as everyone drove into me. He took off again but this time I chased him and as he slowed, rammed straight into the back of him. This game of cat and mouse continued and by the end siren we were even a three hits each.
After stretching my shoulder I congratulated him on a fine drive by planting my lips on his and pushing him against the glass window of the arcade. Adrenaline flowed through my veins and I loved it. This was what I needed. To throw off the shackles and live a little.
“Whoa there little lady.” He pushed me back a little from him. “Save some for later.”
Now what did he mean?
He took my hand, and we walked into the arcade filled with video games from my youth. Pac Man, Space Invaders and Asteroids lined the back wall mixed in with modern driving and fighting games. “How are your skills?”
Oh so this was on even in here. “Rusty.” Truth was I still played games on my eldest sons Playstation one console. Shoot-‘em games, puzzles and modern versions of the classics in front of me. I pulled out a few Euros and headed straight to the Space Invaders machine.
Hugo played Asteroids but kept his eye on my game. “Wow, you’re not rusty at all.” He wiggled his hips and bumped into me trying to put me off my game but it wasn’t happening. I pushed back, and he lost a life. The scowl cracked me and I burst in to rib tickling laughter.
We played a few games on various machines until Hugo walked around the corner to see other machines sat further back and spotted an air hockey table. Since we never played on the one at the ice rink, he turned and shouted on me. “Let’s play. Give me a chance to show my skills.”
“One minute.” I waged my finger in the air. Mid way through my current level of Pac man and didn’t intend to stop until the end if possible.
Hugo returned to stand behind me. He blew warm air on the tiny hairs on the back of my neck. “If I stand here and kiss every inch of your body would it distract you?”
It wasn’t but something triggered a warm sensation not experienced for a while. “Oh dear god.” A moan escaped as his hands snaked around my waist. “Not fair.”
He laughed, withdrew his arms and walked away, leaving my game in taters and my body yearning for more of his exquisite touch. For someone out of practice my body responded and for that second I’d no idea who I was anymore. I loved my husband, of that I was not in doubt but we never had the best sex life. Yes, attentive. We both enjoyed it but he never quite unleashed this fire deep inside me.
Across at the ice hockey table Hugo leaned against one end. He turned as I approached and handed me a bottle of lemonade with a straw. “Got them over there.” He tipped his head sideways pointing toward a small shop tucked away in the corner. “They have candy floss. We could get some to eat on the walk back to the hotel.”
“Deal.” I thanked him with a smile and a wink before taking a long slurp of the ice cold fizzy juice. His earlier touch still burned my soul. The want for him strong, all of him and I wasn’t sure how slow I could go now. Yes today was our last night but would he need encouragement to take it further? Would a push work? Could I live with myself if it wasn’t what he wanted? Would I lose the best thing I’d found?
“Which end?” Hugo stated.
I stared into space. He was talking but lost in questions I ignored him. He strode around the table and stood in front of me.
“Penny for your thoughts?”
“You wouldn’t want them.” No point lying. This hot and cold act was tearing me apart. The attraction was real, the need to be with him, in all senses. I placed the empty juice bottle on a shelf bolted to one of the wooden roof supports and sighed.
Hugo handed me a white chunky slider with which to play. “Take this end.” He walked away to the other end slotted a euro into the coin dispenser and the table sprang into life.
Air flowed through hundreds of holes in the flat wooden table. This was a game of skill, speed and bravery because if you hit the thin plastic puck in the wrong place it would rap your hand hard. I played this game with my dad and school friends in wasted afternoons but hadn’t played since. Hugo started, but it was difficult to judge the speed of the puck, causing me to let in two goals, much to his amusement. Once I used the angles and the cushions to my advantage I scored. His face lit by the lights and his need to win, the Hugo from our trip to Nicosia reappeared. Distracted he scored again. “Concentrate. Beat him.” It didn’t matter by the time the air ran out he had won five goals to three.
Gracious in defeat I walked around the table and planted a kiss on his lips as he turned. He sat back, wrapped his arms around me and allowed the two of us to sink into each other. Bodies touching, hands searching for the other consumed. Had he leaned back any further we’d have been laying on the table, me on top. I broke the kiss first, stepping back for air and to get a bearing on my emotions. How could he resist whatever this was between us?
He asked with such a casual tone it threw me.
“And back to the hotel, for a nightcap?”
My mind couldn’t function as he led me out of the arcade. A nightcap? Or was he meaning something else? Was he giving in?
The Waltzer, in the back corner of the lot, underneath the Macdonald’s sign took me straight back to my teenage years and those with my young family. A main stay of every travelling fair the length and breadth of the country. We spent many an hour swirling around. With my friends, the more we screamed the more the guys who worked it spun the car. If I rode with the boys, the guys left us alone bar a few cursory spins. Three deep rows of teenagers, girls and boys lined the front entrance to the Waltzer. “Are they queuing?” Hugo tightened his grip on my hand.
“Excuse me, excuse me.” Hugo attempted to part the waves, but no one moved instead two bold lads took a step forward and fronted him before pointing to the side entrance. Other people walked behind the teenagers along a roped off area. “This way.” He pulled me towards the side. “They didn’t want to move.”
It was strange to see him retreat but as a boss, it was his nature to diffuse a situation, not let it escalate.
We waited for the ride to stop, climbed aboard and ran around to claim a car. The ride wouldn’t go till all riders sat, so there was no need for me to run. I climbed in. Hugo followed and lowered the bar. Never a snug fit, more something to hold on to, although most rode with their hands in the air. One worker, a young guy with dark hair pulled back in a ponytail and the brightest teeth smiled at me and took the tokens.
“He fancies you.” Hugo chuckled as he elbowed me with playful delight.
“He only wanted the token.” My attitude to life may have improved and confidence returned but I wasn’t susceptible to the passive flirting of the opposite sex.
The ride started slow at first but after two revolutions the centrifugal forces pushed us together. Hugo held on to the bar until he realised my arms were high in the air. His fingers searched for mine, hands clammy. I glanced at him. A smile appeared on his face but the hands gave it away. The young man who took our tokens appeared behind the seat, placed his hands on the top and pushed. The car spun around faster and faster as he spun it again. Excited yells escaped as the force pushed me closer to Hugo. He let go of my hand and grasped the bar. The man moved off to the next carriage walking the opposite way to the ride and our car slowed to a normal spinning speed surfing the artificial humps.
The ride slowed, I released the bar since the lever was close and Hugo jumped off before it stopped.
He didn’t answer me, instead ran to the nearest exit. I found him outside doubled over, coughing. His thin t-shirt material moving with the gentle force of my hand as I rubbed his back. Sympathy ebbed from my fingertips.
“Stomach went.” He heaved again but nothing came of it. “Need a moment.”
Concerned I stood by him but after a few seconds he stood upright and took large lungs full of air. His faced reddened by bending over and heaving returned to its normal sun kissed shade.
“Good idea. Sorry, this is not normal for me.”
“Let’s call it a night and get you some on the way out.”
He nodded, ever gracious, accepting the un-ceremonial end to our evening’s fun.
We stopped at the kiosk by the entrance gates doubling as the exit and purchased two bottles of water. Hugo also requested two bags of candy floss which seemed strange since he had almost vomited. Outside we crossed the road after waiting at the traffic lights for a good ten minutes. He drank his bottle of water in two large gulps and had drunk at least half of mine.
“Let’s walk back on the beach. There’s a path at the side of the restaurant, takes you to it and it’s a straight walk to the hotels sun lounger area.”
The path was only fifty feet to the beach but his candy floss followed the water, almost gone. “You sure you’re ok?” I’d eaten but a few tiny handfuls compared to him.
“Yeah. Water and sugar are the best cures. All good now.”
This was the thing with men. They had strange rituals to fix themselves but you never knew if they were okay or not. He had shown but covered a weakness with ease. His second, if I counted his reluctance to admit his feelings, as the first.
“Let’s walk by the water’s edge.” Hugo distracted me from my thoughts. He’d already sat on one of the nearby rocks and removed his footwear.
“Sure.” With the moon rising above the waves, what could be better on our last night together than a moonlight walk along the beach? “Well if it’s not a cliché.” I whispered to the night.
Ever the gentleman Hugo walked closest to the waves, shoes and half-empty bag of candy floss in his spare hand the other locked with mine. Slow steps along the fine shingle sand we wandered in the moonlight. The odd jogger ran past us otherwise we had the beach to ourselves.
“This is nice,” he remarked. “Romantic almost.”
“Sorry, didn’t mean for it to be.” The fact he’d commented stung my heart a little. Part of me still wanted to push him but he wouldn’t move from dragging his heels in this fledgling relationship. He stopped, but I continued until his hand snapped mine and I staggered backwards almost falling in to him.
“What did you mean?”
“Nothing.” My half protest, inches from his face belayed the internal torment. The moonlight reflected the surprise in his eyes. It was a lie, and I hoped it didn’t show in my face.
At the steps from the beach to the hotel balcony he stopped. “You hear it?”
I did. The unique sound of a live band.
“Was there something on tonight?”
“No idea.” I couldn’t wait to find out and took the steps two at a time. “Err yeah.” He was still at the bottom of the stairs. “Looks like a celebration, maybe an anniversary.”
He joined me at the top of the steps and sighed. “A wedding. Let’s get a drink at the bar. It’s gonna be a private function.”
The busier than normal hotel bar soon served a brandy sour for me and a coke for him. The usual spacious seating area full of Brits of all ages. “Balcony?” Hugo shouted above the hum of conversation.
“Better idea.” I grabbed his hand leading him through the throng onto the balcony and around the pool to the sun lounges. “We should be okay here and we can still hear the band.” Hugo sat on the lounger opposite having pulled it closer by a few inches. I sipped a little of the sweet nectar. Why didn’t you sit next to me? He looked out to sea and inside to the hotel. Anywhere but at me. The live band gave way to a guy standing making a speech. I couldn’t see him but he sounded eloquent. Hugo continued to stare. “What are you thinking?” He kept his gaze inside the hotel. Is he ignoring me? “Hugo,” I whispered, not wanting to push him. “What’s got your interest?”
“Why would you get married in a hotel out here?”
“Maybe they live out here and it was easier to bring their families out.” I hadn’t given it a moment’s consideration, but it seemed like a reasonable assumption. “Jet away weddings are all the rage, you know.”
He turned back and looked at me. “Sorry. No, so out of touch with what’s modern and acceptable these days.” He drank a little of his coke. “Check me sounding old.”
“Yeah Granddad. You’re past it!” The speech ended and the biggest romantic hit of the past few months flowed from the hotels loud speakers. I love this song and its accompanying video of Ed Sheeran, a hero like no other, ballroom dancing with the love of his life. “Dance with me Hugo.” I stood and held out my hand. If this was to work, he had to meet me half way.
He took it and pulled me close as he stood. With our hands intertwined his other snaked its way around my waist. Eye to eye, bodies pinned together we swayed in time to the beat. Ignorant to anyone else, lost in the sentimental words, the penny dropped. My knight in shining armour. The man I deserved and wanted. His head bowed, he kissed my shoulder before his kisses wandered to my neck.
“I love you.”
Stunned he stared at me. Eyes shining in the moonlit night as our bodies swayed. He didn’t reply to my statement, but continued to dance. As the song ended his lips touched mine, and we walked two steps backwards to the lounger landing on the cushion without breaking apart. Contorted as we were, we lay on the lounger together. He grew against my leg as his hands roamed my back. The urge of his kiss intensified. Breathless moans escaped my lips in between the crush of his.
I cradled the side of his face before dragged my fingers towards his chest as his hand caressed the soft skin at the bottom of my ribs. He distracted me with passionate kisses placed on my neck, then cupped my breast and give it a gentle squeeze. The earlier fire threatened to break free, and a long deep moan escaped.
Eyes wide caught in an imaginary headlamp, he stopped kissing me, whipped his hand away and stood. “Sorry, sorry, have to go.” His hands were shaking as he apologised and ran.
I tried to follow him but by the time I neared the edge of the balcony he disappeared in the throng of wedding guests.
I woke with a sore head from crying myself to sleep. He ran away. Why freak out? Why run? The warm morning breeze wafted through the voile curtains and across the bed. The thin sheet gave me protection through the night but this morning I woke with it wrapped tight around my body. Bound forever, the mummy time forgot.
Rising for breakfast appealed as much as a pitcher of brandy sours this morning, to drown the banging and screaming voices in my head. Appalled and disgusted at last night’s events and with both myself and Hugo. I shouldn’t have pushed him. “But he wanted it! He started it.” After ten minutes of analysing every microscopic detail of last night, I lectured “Damn him. He will not define my holiday.” Covers thrown from the bed in disgust I pushed myself off and into the shower.
The water bounced off my shoulders and chest into the drain as visions of last night replayed. After he left, I sat on the lounger and sank the remains of my brandy sour. Afraid if I went to my room, everyone would see the tear stains on my cheeks. Instead waiting, staring out to sea for answers that never came. Truth was no amount of wondering would explain it.
Half an hour later I attempted to finish a bowl of cornflakes. No one looked at me funny. Satisfied no one had seen anything last night my nerves relaxed. Public humiliation was my pet hate. I didn’t court it, ran away and hated to see anyone else going through it. “Enough,” I whispered lifting my coffee cup. “This is your last day. Enjoy it.” Thing was except for collecting the napkins I’d no plans since we visited everywhere on my list, together.
A slow walk along the sea front soon cleared the cobwebs, and I smiled walking past couples with young children heading out to the nonexistent beach across the road. The early morning sun warmed my soul entering the old shopping streets of Limassol. Ahead, people wandered in and out of an old building. Closed the last time I walked this path. Inside raised voices shouted, all of it in Greek. Through the throng different coloured plastic boxes and raised tables appeared. “Oh a market.” My feet were moving before I’d even spoken.
Inside every few feet a new seller laid out their coloured plastic trays with local vegetables, fruits and nuts. I remembered this place. We came here to buy the everyday essentials they still offered. I walked around lost in the noise of people bartering. There was no point in buying much, but couldn’t pass the chance to buy a few items. Tangerines, some nuts and a visit to the guy in the corner selling slices of watermelon would do. He had a small area with old worn out wooden chairs and circular metal tables. Two locals sat drinking coffee. I joined them with my small paper plate with two large slices and lemonade to go with it. This was what I needed.
Emerging into the mid morning sun, the heat hit my face. Tomorrow I’d be back in the rain, back to normal life with the cares of the world on my shoulders. The hairs on my arms stood to attention. Improvement in my world the new requirement instead of the old ever day sinking feeling. I rounded the corner and set off for the lace shop.
Outside the ladies still sat on their chairs sowing whilst talking between them. I watched them from the end of the lane for a few moments. Yes, they were busy at work but the joy in their faces as they sowed was palpable. Camera raised to my eyes I snapped a few shots. Their happiness passing through the lens and captured for eternity. Lowering the camera a little to click back through the stored images. A click too far took me back to a few days ago and Aphrodite’s rock. They brought a smile to my lips. The same smile seen in the ladies sowing.
Inside the shop the girl recognised me straight away. “I have your order.” She waggled her finger at me as soon as I walked inside. I followed her to the counter and waited while she looked in a series of shelving boxes. “Ah here it is.”
I stared at her hands as she opened the tissue paper revealing the napkins I’d ordered to complete my mother set. Tears appeared in the corner of my eyes as she took each out and laid them on the counter. “They’re exquisite. May I?”
Fine linen ran through my fingers. Four Euros seemed too little for a work of art.
“Oh you can’t imagine.” This moment completed a dream. Although not mine I’ve no doubts Mum would have completed the set if she’d had the chance.
The sales assistant wrapped the napkins in tissue paper and placed them in a bag. “So four Euros each. Forty Eight Euros please.”
I handed over a fifty euro note and placed the change in her small tip jar by the till. In the emotion of fulfilment the extra linen went forgotten.
At the top of the lane I turned to watch the ladies one more time, but they had finished sowing for the morning. The young lady appeared with a silver tray laden with coffee’s and glasses of water, as one of the older ladies handed food out a stripy plastic bag. “Oh.” My stomach gurgled loud enough to hear above the passing crowd. “Need to join them.”
Along the old shopping district, doors closed for the afternoon siesta. At the crossroads where the newer and tourist shops met, people milled around. It wasn’t where I wanted to be earlier in the week and still held no interest. Heading along a side street to the promenade, I walked towards the hotel knowing a place I could grab lunch. After that it was back to hang out for the rest of the afternoon.
A few hundred metres along from the old portion of town sat a small coffee shop advertising local lunch sandwiches and pastries. My stomach groaned again. I found an empty table under the shade of an umbrella, yet another good sign and perused their menu.
With an order for a halloumi and bacon baton and baklava placed, along with two lemonades I took off my glasses and grabbed my camera. Apart from deleting pictures when taken, I’d not gone back through the snaps until earlier. Resetting the menu back two weeks ago before flicking through one at a time. Memories of the past few days far outweighed memories of my teenage years. My aim to find myself but instead learned answers and found a new me. One I liked.
I ate gazing out across the promenade lost in realisation. So if I liked the new me how would the new me exist back home? Here I’d eat a lazy lunch, snap pictures and spend my day pleasing myself but back there meant working. “Do things at the weekend.” My inner voice lectured. “Stay busy.” But busy with what?
Lunch finished I ordered a coffee and lifted the camera again. Photos passed, smiled at the cheeky ones of Hugo and paused at the ladies sowing. The love evident.
“Now there’s a keeper.” The waiter spoke as he sat the mug of frothy elixir on the table. “Nice shot. You have talent.”
My boys stating sometimes they were great shots, but a total stranger. It left a lasting impression.
The heated froth stung my lips. “Maybe take my camera out more.”
Back at the hotel I changed into my swim suit and sarong, grabbed a towel and my book and headed to the pool. A full reception area made the short walk an obstacle course but after negotiating safe passage, I found the pool area deserted except for a few families. Their children splashed in the small pool. Swimming was a love of my teenage years but something I hadn’t done for a while. We took the boys when they were young, but as always, kids grow and go with their friends. I swam from one side to the other for a while but since it only took a few strokes, it wasn’t far. After ten minutes it grew boring. I grabbed an empty pool seat and climbed aboard. Floating in the pool, resting, maximum indulgence but this was my last afternoon of peace.
I fell asleep for a little while but woke when a few young lads jumped into the pool. There inconsiderate action was my queue to retire to the lounge chairs and grab a brandy sour. Standing at the bar waiting for my drink once again I’d my choice. “Does this area ever get busy?” I watched as the barman poured the lemonade into my glass.
“Only when the pools busy. Folks need respite from the idiots.”
“Touché.” I lifted my glass to salute his honesty.
Lying on a lounger with an open book, waves lapped at the shingle below the balcony, the tide flowing in and out. It grew hard to concentrate on the words. Half way through the story truer than I wanted to believe, I rolled onto my side, placed the book on the floor and lifted my drink. Our lounger, from last night was a few feet away and the movie of our five minute attempted night of passion played. He pushed me to sit. He made himself comfortable and his hand cupped my breast. I did none of it before he freaked out.
“Would it have ended on a different note?” The silence didn’t answer my question, only one person knew.
After pondering the question, for what seemed like the umpteenth time today I lowered my sunglasses, finished my brandy sour and relaxed, falling asleep in an instant. I’d have slept on except the bar man woke me asking, “Get you another?”
“Yes please.” A stretch and yawn accompanied the reply. It never crossed my mind to say no.
Now late afternoon my legs were a lovely shade of reddish brown. Exposed parts from this week browner than the others, overall a healthy glow. “Suits you. Need to keep this. Get out more.”
I stretched and pondered moving upstairs to my balcony to catch the last of the sun. It was the last chance and since the sun was falling, it would do me less damage. Decision made I strode across to the bar to get another to take to my room and on the way booked a dinner table for one. A meal at Marco’s restaurant would lead to more questions, and I wasn’t in the mood to talk.
Upstairs sat on the wicker chair, drink on the table with the nuts purchased at the market, I lifted my camera and snapped shots of Limassol from my balcony. The sweeping arch of the sea front caught from an unusual angle. “This one will make a nice panoramic shot.” I flicked through a few more shots and the penny dropped. “Wait a minute, could this be it? Get out and about with my camera. Days out with Jack, long walks, and so on.”
I placed the glass back on the table. “Why didn’t I realise before?”
A shower rinsed off the day’s grime and suntan lotion but once I’d dried my hair and applied after sun the tanned glow reappeared. Against my white shirt and cream linen trousers I might pass for a local. Tonight’s meal out on the restaurant’s balcony was two course dinner of Keftedes and Stifado. The same meal enjoyed the first night, but I no longer recognised myself. Never one to refuse food, using it as most women do, as comfort. Tonight, I ate to enjoy the taste and nothing else.
Sitting there tea light candles on the tables it held everything you would want for a romantic evening. But on my own, unfazed. Would it be better with Hugo sitting across from me? “Yes.” I whispered to the night sky. No one else was out here yet so the full effect of a romantic balcony was just for me. “But he ran away.” I lifted the last fork full of Stifado. “So it’s you, as it always has been.”
I pushed the plate away, took my glass and relaxed back into the chair, looking out through the palm trees across to the bright lights of the promenade. If he had been here, we could have walked for a while, but on my own it wasn’t an option for safety’s sake. I wasn’t about to invite trouble on my last night. My two weeks were over, but I’d the answers needed to move on with life. See I realised it wasn’t about the, what if’s? What if they hadn’t died? What if I’d gone to university and got a different job? Maybe married someone different? None of it mattered. The only thing required was the answer to where and did they suffer. Anything else was dressing and wasted energy. For whatever reason I lived my life, but it wasn’t the life deserved for the pain suffered. Life had changed. I’d changed, no longer a passenger anymore. I rose from the table, paid the bill at the waiter’s station and headed off to the bar.
Two men, on holiday with their wives, but women less for the night wouldn’t take no for an answer. No, didn’t want another drink. No, they couldn’t buy me one and no, didn’t want to sit with them. Annoyed I took my drink upstairs to sit on the balcony for a while. Since it was the last because I had to drive later tomorrow morning. Although weak compared to homemade ones, they still held a shot of brandy.
Upstairs my shoes off, I headed across the stone tiled floor. The voile curtains rustling in the night breeze. If I’d dreamt of this place, the only difference would have been on the other side of those billowing drapes. Instead of a balcony, a private beach. Outside I drank the sour savouring the sweetness one more time. I’d yet to find the required bitters back home. “Airport.” It made sense it would be available in duty free. “They should have some.” Earlier in the day I made a note in my little book, inside the room I added to that earlier list. Book stored back in my bag, I placed it on the unit under the TV.
The door? Couldn’t be. “Who on earth?” I spoke to myself as I closed the gap. Thing was these doors didn’t have spy holes. Heart pounding, I flicked across the latch. “One minute.” At least using it would restrict the door opening all the way.
“Room service,” the voice on the other side grunted.
I put the latch back in its place, feeling stupid and opened the door wide. “Sorry didn’t place an order.”
The man turned and held out a glass with another Brandy Sour.
“Hugo!” I exclaimed. “What?”
He stepped inside the room with the drink for me and one of his own. “Couldn’t let you leave without seeing you one more time and needed to apologise.” He closed the gap between us, throwing the door against the frame and closing it with his foot as he stepped forward.
Shocked at his appearance my stunned silence refused to budge. Unable to form any comprehensible words, he stepped closer and placed his lips on mine. He couldn’t hug me because he held the glasses, the kiss between us hung in mid-air.
“Sorry.” He stepped backwards a little. “I’m an idiot.” He handed me a glass, clinked his own against it and sank it in one long slug before closing the gap again.
I hadn’t touched the drink. He took it from my hand and placed it on the unit before taking a step closer. He wrapped his arm around my waist and pulled me towards him.
The bulge in his shorts told me what I already knew, and he pressed against my hip but after last night was his need the same as mine?
“Is this what you want?” I questioned his actions.
He didn’t answer instead he pushed his lips against mine and walked me backwards towards the bed.
This morning the noise of people shouting under my balcony woke me. The first and last time it happened. I rolled over but Hugo had gone. If I’m honest I expected it, since he would have work this morning. Sat on the pillow his head occupied hours earlier, was an exquisite, skilful, water lily of linen and lace. I stared at it with a stupid grin. “Beautiful.” Rolling back and staring at the ceiling, every ounce of my body hurt this morning but not in pain. From old fashioned over use almost like I’d tried to run a marathon without walking for twenty years.
Bubbles and the sweat of last night ran from my body. I didn’t want to wash him off my skin but had to shower. Water splashed against my face and I winced in pain as soap suds ran across my lip. I ran a finger tip against my lip and tickled the tiny flecks of dry skin broken from too much kissing. “So good.”
Our first time was nothing more than a speed fest for both of us. The funny way we needed to do the deed to get both of us over our embarrassment and frustration. The second, after snuggling for a while was an adventure of exploration. Two new lovers searching every nook and cranny to learn as much as possible about the other. There were no uncomfortable silences, no cries of pain, pleasure for both. We slept for a while, wrapped in each other’s arms before waking for another encounter.
Even though I washed the gel across my skin, his kisses lingered, his probing fingers and the curl of his tongue. Whatever his previous issues were, he exercised the ghosts after last night. It appeared we were compatible in every area of our life except one. Later today we would be on two separate islands over three thousand miles apart.
After dressing in my linen trousers and a figure hugging t-shirt, I lifted the flower from my pillow. “How to get you home unhurt?” Raised to my nose I could smell the subtle smell of my perfume. Had he dosed it? Whatever, it was a wonderful keepsake. Could I hope it was the first of our fledgling relationship?
Downstairs I exited the lift and walked past reception heading for breakfast.
“Miss Avril,” the young lady behind the desk called after me. “Have something for you. Your guest he left it here for you.”
She handed me a small square box.
In the restaurant I selected a table away from the other dinners, placed the box on the table and walked away to get juice and cereal. When I sat, my gaze lingered on the mysterious white box. My guest was Hugo but what was going on. A flower upstairs, a box downstairs. The cereal disappeared in record time. My paranoid thoughts taking over shovelling cornflakes. Ready to burst with anticipation, I grabbed the box and with a gentle tug pulled the two halves apart. Inside there was nothing except a note.
“This is the box for your flower,” I read aloud but to myself. “Left it in the car and when I returned couldn’t get back into your room. Plus forgot to leave my contact Info.” I turned the paper over and saw a phone number and an email address. “We will talk soon. H x.”
My heart sank a little at the lack of emotion in his words but this was the modern military man.
Two hours later I paid my drinks bill and checked out of the hotel. My ticket reminded me to be back at Paphos airport an hour and a half before the flight to go through security in time. With no reason to hang about the hotel I wheeled my case across the car park and climbed into the rental.
The drive back passed faster than my arrival. I drove through the drop off area, signed the car over, once inspected for any damage and jumped into the waiting minibus for the last five hundred metres.
Ticket and boarding pass in my hand I went for a quiet coffee before going through security. There were areas on both sides for eating and shopping but something made me wait. As I savoured the coffee froth from my skinny latte, my mind clicked at the realisation of what I was waiting for. Despite all my simple traits I’m still a woman and we all dream about the big romantic gesture. The man who goes to the extreme to make you his princess. An hour passed, lots of couples parted in the departures lounge. Men kissed their girlfriends or wives, gave children hugs before walking away. Each couple went through the same routine giving them a moment to remember. It was never important before. I would more than likely have walked past without noticing.
“Who are you fooling?” He wasn’t here, so I wasn’t about to experience the same.
Six hours later I wheeled my case across the grey stone driveway, dodging the rain drops and wrestling with the pile of mail behind my front door. It scattered as I pushed harder and slid across the floor. No one called out and since Jack was still at Jenny’s he didn’t bound along the corridor towards me. “Back to normality.” I sighed and closed the door behind me.
Sun streamed through the blinds of my bedroom this morning. I rolled across the bed and grabbed for my phone. At some point last night after connecting it to the charger, it beeped but exhaustion took over. The screen lit as I lifted it with hundreds of notifications for various apps reactivated now I was home, plus a solitary text from Jenny.
I unlocked the phone and tapped on the message app.
“Did you get back ok? Have no plans you can get Jack whenever you’re ready. X.”
My fingers tapped on the small reply field. “Yeah, I’m back. Will swing by and get him on the way back from grabbing groceries. See you later.”
I hit send and closed the app. A yawn with no end told me to snuggle back under the covers but my stomach had other ideas.
Downstairs I flicked the TV on in the living room before walking into the kitchen. Noise helped the silence but this morning I wanted to know what I’d missed over the last two weeks. The news was a lifeline. I’d no idea about anything but what had gone on in my little bubble. The bare fridge offered me nothing for breakfast but a half eaten loaf of bread from the freezer meant at least I could have toast. With a coffee made by my pod machine it would suffice until I could hit the shops. The rough edge caught my lip, and I flinched. The memory of his kisses flashed through my mind. It was yesterday but already a world away.
Grocery shopping took me a little over an hour. Since Jenny didn’t have an urgent need to rid her home of Jack, I took my time. Old me would grab whatever pre packs were available, but now taking the time, walking around with purpose selecting the freshest fruits and vegetables I wanted. For me shopping was a chore, always. Today the change the change palpable, shopping with a smile.
Before driving across to Jenny’s I drove home and rushed the shopping indoors. Most could wait but the fridge and freezer items required attention. I stuck everything away and grabbed the bottle of vodka purchased in duty free on my way through Paphos airport and jumped back in the car.
Jenny lived two miles away at the other side of our town. Her family had lived a few streets away but moved to a new build when their oldest left home. I’d lived in my mortgage free home since my husband passed with no plans to move. Yes, a little big since the boys flew the nest but with the garden for Jack and no mortgage it met our needs. Backing out of the drive way I stopped and looked at the front window. “Decorate. You’ve been talking about it for a while. Do it, this week.” I looked at myself in the rear-view mirror. “Who are you?”
Jenny sat in her garden on the new dark eucalyptus garden lounger she’d bought in the sale at the end of last year. I bought some after she told me about the sale but hadn’t put them out yet. Now it would extend the holiday and if I was about to spend the week deep in paint, it would give me somewhere to chill.
She stood at the gate. Jack behind her, his tail wagging at his master’s arrival. “Hey.” I climbed out of the car with the bottle in a bag to disguise the present. “He looks happy.”
“Yeah, he’s been a dream.”
She opened the gate, and I walked through as Jack jumped covering me in fresh cut grass and slobbers. I grabbed a bone from the bag and gave it to my happy companion. He tore across the grass to a shady corner under Jenny’s apple tree.
“Coffee? And you can tell me all about what’s got you so happy.”
I followed her into the kitchen she’d renovated with her own touch. High gloss red kitchen cabinets and glass splash back tiles. I loved it, red being my favourite colour. “Here. Thanks for watching Jack.” I placed the bag on the counter top.
“Thanks, you didn’t need to get anything.” She opened the bag and grinned before changing her mind. “Wow, thanks. You can go away at short notice anytime.”
Outside we lay on the chairs as Jack continued to gnaw his bone. I watched as he chewed one end before flipping it over and started on the other. Such a simple thing but it gave him extreme pleasure.
“So, what’s got you smiling so much? It’s not been off your face since you got here.” She turned towards me and sipped her coffee a little. “Find the answers you needed?”
“Some,” I replied. “Met someone who told me a lot about the night they died and got answers to questions I’ve had all my life.”
“Guess it was, but I’ve done a lot of thinking about my life. I can’t change any of it, nothing in the past so why dwell on it? Why ask, what could have been? It’s a waste of energy.”
“You needed to go away to learn that?”
“No,” I said with a chuckle. “Needed a break. A reason to stand still. To look at the bigger picture.”
“Yeah, I like my life but need to organise myself going forward.”
“Looks like you’ve got it figured.”
“No, still have to go back to a job I don’t like but since it pays the bills, have no option. Other idea’s, well, I’ll get out more and use my camera.” Coffee finished, I placed the mug on the small plastic table between us. “My passion is taking pictures and figured be a good place to start.”
“Going to join a club or something?”
“No, do it on my own. Maybe visit a few places Jack can go, hill walking, sort of. Hugo could come with us or we could go away at weekends but it’s in the air right now.”
“Wait, a minute.” Jenny swung her feet around to sit straight with a thud, to face me. “Who’s Hugo?”
Shit, forgot I hadn’t told her about him. I’d been trying not to mention him until sure where it was going but as usual the link between my brain and mouth collapsed. “We met in a restaurant I ate in one night, shared a table because it was busy. Sort of started there, and we grew close. It was his boss who knew about the accident.”
“Don’t know. He’s back in the country in a few months so guess we see from there.”
Jenny walked back into the kitchen carrying our two mugs. Her process was to digest new information but cut to the facts as soon as she could.
I followed knowing there were more questions coming my way. “What’s he like?”
“He’s an officer in the RAF, about the same age as me. Tall, with muscles in the right places.”
Jenny smiled as I spoke. Her approval obvious.
“Smart, funny, sensitive and honest, for a guy.”
Her statement made me laugh. “More than me. At the beginning I was the disaster area. He helped me through some things but by the end it was his insecurities threatening whatever we had.”
“Oh, check you.”
“Meet the guy of your dreams but he’s messed more than you. It’s how your life goes.”
“No, he’s a great guy. He’s patient, kind, loving and a true gentleman, but he has a few problems trusting people.”
“Who doesn’t?” Jenny smirked. She handed me another cup of coffee. “So what are you planning for the rest of the week?”
“Decorate. The damn living room. Been putting it off forever.”
“Only you would get straight back to work!”
“Need to stay busy and keep this new positive frame of mind.”
Two days later all my furniture sat piled in the middle of the living room and diner area, covered with old sheets. More covered the floor. Jack lay on the grass outside the patio doors. His normal spot as soon as they were open. I’d laid a decking area last summer and ever since he lay out there watching the world go by.
Yesterday I placed the new garden furniture outside and sat for a while soaking what sun appeared. When it disappeared, I drove out to the local DIY store and poured over colour charts not wanting the current magnolia colour on every wall anymore. When I rounded the corner to the paint aisle, cans lined on both sides. “How many shades of white are there?”
The answer was around thirty!
My dad always taught me the secret to a good finished job was adequate preparation. Not to go full force at something with a half assed attitude. It stood me in good stead and I applied the same logic to the decorating. “First things first.” I spoke to Jack who hadn’t moved. Content to lie in the sun. “Music and coffee.”
My laptop sat on the breakfast bar, away from the paint. I accessed the music list and clicked the shuffle icon. With a fresh pot of coffee percolating on the unit, and a cup ready I placed an old baseball hat backwards on my head and wandered into the living room.
Over the next three hours, with breaks to top the coffee I put my master plan into action. The list endless. Brush the walls, tape the boards and paint the edges of each wall along the side, bottom and ceiling. Breaking for a sandwich I sat outside with Jack. He seemed quieter than normal but soon stretched and meandered over wanting a bite.
“Feeling you age today, huh?” I stroked his ears and the back of his head as he nestled against my leg, waiting. I ate two thirds of my sandwich and fed him the rest. Jack was approaching eight years old. Not old by Labrador standards but the average length of his daily walks had shortened over the last few months. Time for him to visit the vet and maybe get meds for arthritis. We discussed it months ago but wanted to delay as long as possible. “If you’re coming with me, walking, you’ll need them.” I couldn’t let anything happen to him. “You chill out. I‘ll get the painting done.”
The pattern continued, Jack lay outside while I painted. On the second day I changed colour to red and painted the panelled walls on the living room and diner on either side of the disused chimney breasts. At the last moment inspiration struck and with the remaining paint coloured the walls under the kitchen cabinets but above the tiled splash back. On the third day I glossed the woodwork and pushed the furniture back. Until it dried for twenty-four hours, nothing could touch the boards. I loved the new clean look. Refreshed and renewed like its owner.
We deserved a treat, so I spent the afternoon lying in the garden with Jack, tossing his ball when he wanted and watching him sleep when he’d had enough. He seemed better, more agile at least for a while. While he slept on the decking, tongue hanging out in absolute exhaustion of chasing a tennis ball, I surfed the internet for new curtains and soft furnishings. I’d not bothered logging into any email or reading the notifications on my phone, except answering texts from Jenny and the boys. My relaxing holiday needed to continue for as long as possible.
“What do you think, Jack?”
He didn’t even lift his head. Opened his eyes, blinked and allowed them to roll back into complete slumber.
“Wish I could do it!” With a chuckle at the scene, I continuing with the purchase and logged into my email to check they sent me confirmation of the order. I flicked through others waiting for its arrival and smiled thirty seconds later when it blinked at the top of the list. Below sat fifty emails, most from companies advertising their new wares. Those deserved ignorance but one flashed and I’d missed it since its arrival two days ago. The pointer hovered over the title “Hello” and I turned away as it opened.
“Avril.” My name surprised me read aloud. “Forgive me for disappearing so early on the last morning but had to get back. Didn’t want to, but duty calls. Hope you understand.” Gaze locked on the far end of the garden, I smiled. Duty was something we knew well. “The last two weeks,” I continued to read aloud. “They opened my eyes to what was missing from my life and, in all honesty, it scared me. Before we met, my life was another single middle-aged guy happy but living a half life. You changed it and so this is a hard email to write.”
Annoyed at the last few words of his sentence I lay the laptop on the lounger, walked into the kitchen and retrieved an open bottle of wine from the fridge. “Here it comes, we had fun, blah, blah, blah. If I’m getting dumped by email, I’m having a large glass of wine.” I went back outside. “You know Jack, not sure want to know what comes next.”
He stood, walked across to the seat and flopped back onto the deck. His support total. It was all I could do not to laugh at his feeble effort. I sipped the wine and tried to find the new sense of braveness.
“I knew what I wanted, and we talked about it many times. Friends. We both know I was lying to myself. You knew you wanted more and so did I. But growing close scared me. It’s why I kept saying, take it slow. Sorry I ran away, as we got close, panic set in you would find out about my lack of experience and you deserve the best. The next day tormented my soul. The utter devastation of letting you down. I had to apologise but when you opened the door everything I’d been trying to suppress overtook the words and well, the rest is history.”
“Wow,” I exclaimed sipping a little wine.
“Avril, I’m a military man. It lives and breathes in me. The honour and strict code are in my blood, my very DNA and it’s suppressed the romantic nature of my younger years. I shut it off to concentrate on building a new life. Now you are hundreds of miles away and don’t know what will happen. Happy with the outcome? Or, disappointed in me? Don’t even know what we have because I blew it. Hope I haven’t wrecked your holiday or the fledgling friendship or relationship, whatever we have. Since you left, I’ve searched my soul and believe you are my rescuer. It’s easy to say in an email, but I love you. Hope it’s not too late, bit if it is I understand. Hugo.”
“Jeez, talk about being late to the party.” I switched off the laptop without replying and lay back with the rest of the glass. Lost in contemplation the wine swirled as the memories of the last two weeks replayed.
I woke this morning foggy from the mixture of paint fumes, a bottle of wine and memories. With only one day left this wouldn’t do I needed to clear my mind and get back to the new me before attempting a return to work. Not for one moment of my entire holiday did I contemplate returning to the everyday doldrums of my life. Now the impending nature squeezed the pressure spot of my conscious. Jack lay in his bed, one eye open keeping a check on me. If I moved towards the kitchen, he would be awake and ready to pounce on any scraps coming his way. He was never one to miss the chance to beg for a slice of toast or chunk of cheese.
“What do you say, Jack? Fancy a swim today?”
He lifted his head, stretched, an over elongated try to rouse himself, and lay back on his bed, both eyes shut firm. I smiled. A swim was what this lazy Labrador needed and the sea air would clear my head.
Two hours later, with a small picnic packed for both of us I set off for the beach. Jack lay on the back seats using as much room as possible. When the boys were younger, we had an estate car and Jack lay in the back. Now there was no need. He had the seat to himself. The journey would take an hour and although it was a beach, we visited every few months I took my camera. Jack had my trust not to wander off. In his younger years, yes. Now, not so much. He would walk through the waves and swim a little before flopping on the sand and resting.
We arrived and to my delight the beach car park had plenty of room. By the time we clambered onto the sand there were only a few dogs and owners present. I dumped the rugs and lunch bag in a patch where we liked to sit, back from the water’s edge and on a little hill before letting Jack loose. He ran about, chasing after a stick time after time until my arm hurt. He went for a dip, never swimming out too far. I sat by the rug, camera raised to my eye and snapped off action shots of him in the water.
With my camera lowered, Jack bounded back. The thing about Jack, he acted like a human most of the time. A teenager but human. He returned without calling and I knew what came next. He screeched to a halt, spraying sand before shaking himself sending water everywhere. I laughed as he shook himself silly before flopping on his rug. It made sense to give him his own space. A wet Labrador lying on sand isn’t good for either of us, or my rear car seats.
An hour passed by in silence as Jack slept. Time passed with my camera to take panoramic shots of both sides of the wide bay. Once he lifted his head from the blanket, I broke out the picnic. “This is what we needed.”
Jack didn’t reply but his head and body shimmied around until his head lay on my leg.
“What about you, Jack?” I spoke while scratching his head. “Ready for a new man in our lives. Maybe our home?” He didn’t care. He wanted one of the ham sandwiches I’d made for him.
Long after we returned home Jack lay asleep on his bed as I potted around the various rooms locating everything needed for tomorrow morning. I’d left my pass in the inside pocket of my rucksack but not organised anything else to my liking. Nothing washed or ironed. Since I came home preparing for work was the furthest thing from my mind and I’d forgotten about it. Once sorted, I dug in my holiday bag for the spare phone charger, used in work and had brought home to take with me.
“What’s this?” My hand grazed a box in the carryon bag. I wrapped my fingers around it and lifted it. “The flower box!” I hadn’t unpacked the basics and put it aside to sort later but since decorating filled my time, it slipped my mind.
Downstairs sitting on the couch, TV supplying background noise, I stared at the box. Open it, my head screamed but my heart disagreed. Yes. No. The fight continued. “Stop.” I warned myself. A breath held in my throat I opened the box and my holiday scent escaped. With a deep inhale to remember, tears appeared in my eyes.
As they faded I grabbed my laptop, opened email and re read through Hugo’s words. “Why couldn’t you say any of this when you had me in your arms?” The silence never answered my question. Wish it would. “Why?”
I moved the mouse across to the reply to email button and clicked. The email sprang into life. “What do you say?” My fingers hovered above the keyboard but nothing came. I walked away into the kitchen and filled a small glass with a mixture of wine and soda water. Tomorrow morning required a clean head. First days back are bad, but after three weeks it would be almost unbearable. I sat, sipped a little of the clear mixture and stared at the screen.
It took twenty minutes to type one sentence.
Hugo, I love and will wait for you. Avril x
Monday morning arrived with blaring music from the alarm but I missed it since I was already awake and walking Jack. A shower on my return cleared the last of the cobwebs before dressing, grabbing my lunch and heading for the cattle market express.
The bus was half empty when it arrived at my stop. I climbed on and found an empty double seat. The obnoxious guy who hounded me every morning climbed on at the next stop. Every step he took thudded in the confined space of the coach being used. His eyes lit in excitement as he walked along the aisle and saw me. He attempted to sit on the seat by my side but my lunchbox sat there. “Move it.,” His order accompanied with a grunt.
“No, not this morning. Find a different seat.” It had taken me six months to stand my ground.
He threw himself into the opposite seats still grumbling.
Happy with my new found sense of action, it wasn’t until I studied him further there was something different. His trouser leg rode a little high and showed a thick metal rod. I looked away unsure if I should apologise. He climbed off the bus at his stop, his stance uncomfortable and uneven. He took a few steps away from the bus. His walking stance wider than someone with two legs and my opinion of him changed.
“This bus must be a nightmare for him.” Tomorrow he could sit next to me, if he wanted, and I’d speak to him. My perception changed forever. “Life isn’t a fifteen minute journey.”
On the way to work after purchasing coffee I nipped into the supermarket, bought chocolates, box of grapes and a bag of Satsuma’s. First days back demanded local sweets from your holiday destination, but they slipped my mind. Since I ate more fruit than chocolate and because the team never bought it, something different was in order. “Sod them.”
At my desk, I ran my hands across the wooden grain. Nothing had changed. Everything was in place. “Never changes.” Fruit and chocolate deposited on top of the cupboard at the end of my row of desks, I sat in front of my computer. It was an hour and a half later before my attention rose from wading through two hundred emails. The area had filled, people walked past, and I always said, “Morning”, but no one answered. They didn’t deserve anymore of my time.
By lunchtime I’d sunk three large coffees returned most emails and not spoken another word to a soul. Thing was, they weren’t eating the fruit of chocolate either. I’d emailed everyone, but no one went near. “Weird.” I wasn’t sure why, so after placing my lunch rubbish in the bin, I opened the Satsuma’s. “If they don’t eat them, I will.”
Not even my manager spoke despite the three week vacation. Truth was it suited me fine but whereas before I’d accept it, now I deserved better. “Looks like a new entry on my list -change job!” With the words ringing in my ears I used the rest of my break to surf the company’s website and applied for two new positions in two different areas. “No point putting it off.”
The silence continued through the afternoon but at least people were now eating the treats I’d brought in. This is the problem with office politics, groups developed and divisions grew. Once it occurred people changed groups on rare occasion unless something major happened. I didn’t belong to them and never had. I wasn’t about to try now. What was the point?
Five to four o’clock arrived, and I packed away everything on my desk, locked the drawers and gathered my possessions. “Night.” There were five other people at the bank of six desks. One or two glanced at me but still no one spoke. Rudeness personified.
At the lift ready to leave, more members of the team joined me, still none spoke. I pressed myself as far back into the corner of the empty lift. They continued to enter not caring this squashed me and them, chatting between themselves planning a trip across the road to the pub before heading home. As the doors opened on the ground floor they spilled out but dawdled along the thirty foot walk to the reception security barriers. Legs pumped I rushed around them, grabbed my ID card and scanned my picture at the barriers. The glass partitions retracted, and I walked through before any of the other girls were near.
I looked behind me expecting the sound to be from one of them calling but something said it was a man’s voice. There was no way it was the group of women.
I turned. The hairs on the back of my neck electrified. It couldn’t be? Could it?
“Hugo.” The squealed octave of my voice rising with excitement.
He headed towards me. Dressed in his blue RAF trousers, light blue shirt, dark blue dress jacket and holding his peaked hat in his hand he closed the space between us in seconds.
“How?” I didn’t get to say anything else before he leaned in and kissed me. Last week’s passion exploded, and I sank into him. “Wow.”
“Missed me.” He smiled as he spoke.
Behind us the women who rode the lift exited through the barriers. Their conversation broken by the scene before them. I heard whispers as they passed but didn’t care. So what if I was the talk of the team for a day or two? They meant nothing.
“Sorry. If I had them, I’d have arrived in white and rescued you from your desk.”
I smiled and kissed him again.
“Flew in late last night, had an interview this morning for the job at the airport and they offered it.”
“Wow, well done.”
His arms wrapped around my waist as he spoke. He hadn’t let go. “I want to apologise for being an idiot.”
“No need got your email.”
“So I saw. Did you mean it?” His hand resting against my face, he cradled it as his fingers brushed my cheek.
“I love you, Hugo.”
He leaned closer and whispered. “I love you, Avril. Have since the first time I saw you. Can we go back to the beginning?”
“No need, we’re good.”
“Fancy dinner and we can talk?”
We held hands and left the reception area walking outside into bright sunshine. No he didn’t carry me. He held my hand after placing his hat on his head. He looked smart. A man in charge and aware of his purpose. We walked towards the traffic lights where my team members nudged each other as we approached. Hugo nodded to them. “Ladies.”
The light changed to green, and they walked across the road talking between themselves as we walked straight across.
“What’s their problem?”
He burst into laughter and I saw the smile I fell in love with.
“Can we forget about them and concentrate on us?”
“Nothing more I’d sooner do, since I need to find a roommate before coming back in September.” He pulled my hand to stop me walking. “Know anyone who might be interested?” He pulled me into an embrace.
“Okay, you win. I’ll do it.”
Hugo stooped to kiss me. He was mine. I was his, and he was in my new life from here on.
More From The Author
For more from the author – see her Shakespir author page
Fat Bottomed Girls
They never thought it could happen! For two divorced, 40-something women life suddenly turned in their favour.
Carol and Amy win part of a mid week jackpot. After treating their sons and paying bills, they treat themselves to a holiday taking in as many cities and performances of the show “We Will Rock You” as they can in 3 weeks.
Amsterdam, Paris, Madrid, Berlin, Frankfurt, Vienna, Montreux, Milan and Rome are all in their sights before returning to London to see a special final performance.
Along the way they surprise each other pushing each other’s comfort zones, get up to mischief, make friends with handsome men, get arrested, put their lives in the hands of a bungee cord, drink far too much, eat till they burst and laugh till they cry.
From luxury to outrageous, their antics and journey lead them to see life from a new perspective and for one, turns into self-discovery.
Join the ladies to discover the true meaning of friendship, love and life.
Available at all major online retailers.
Another chance at Love
Emily has suffered from kidney disease for 8 yrs. She moves to Scotland after the breakup of her abusive marriage and the death of her father. When she attends her local hospital for treatment, she meets her new consultant Stuart.
After a few chance encounters, Emily shares interesting conversations with him and the two of them strike a friendship.
He is torn between being her doctor and wanting more from her than friendship and when their friendship turns into a fledgling relationship, their encounter is seen and Stuart’s happiness is short lived. Bureaucracy soon catches up with him.
Emily’s condition deteriorates, she needs a transplant and fast. She needs Stuart to be her friend and her doctor.
Can he save her and in doing so save himself?
Available at all major online retailers.
Blackpool Here We Come
When Judi says she’s never been to Blackpool, her best friend Chris puts it right and organises a works day out.
Chris, Judi and Tom start their adventure in the Tower, before working their way down the promenade to Madam Tussards. Join them as they ride donkeys down to the pleasure beach and throw themselves on every white-knuckle attraction they can find.
They expected sun, sand and drunkenness. What the girls didn’t expect was to find love against the backdrop of Britain’s most loved seaside town.
Available at all major online retailers.
When Sandy’s new boyfriend tells her that he loves her, it sends shock waves to her core. Their fledgling six weeks together was fun, but she certainly didn’t want love. Hearing that word only reopens painful memories of former relationships that left her emotionally scarred.
Needing time, she retreats to her cliff side hideaway to ponder her feelings and his revelation.
When Steven suddenly turns up at the door, she feels forced into a corner, angry that he followed her to what is essentially her safe space. She gives him one choice – leave but he won’t and insists on staying to fight his corner, fearing she is about to tell him the relationship is over.
Over the next twenty-four hours, he painstakingly tries to peel back the layers of her life. Both share their experiences, good and bad as they talk about growing up together, their early teenage years and he floors her with further revelations.
Baring her soul, she tried to explain the heartbreak of her emotional withdrawal. The brutal attack of her fiancé, the loss of their child and the sudden death of her greatest ally and hopes he’ll understand why she cannot travel that road again.
However, he won’t give up that easily.
Can he convince her life is for living and with him?
Available at all major online retailers.
All For Her
Steven has loved Sandy since they were teenagers. Now in their thirties, life has come full circle or has it? Can two people who have known each other all their life really fall in love and can they make a long distance relationship really work.
As real life grips them both, Sandy has devastating news throwing their happy ever afters into the unknown.
Follow the story as told by Steven, as he ponders the question that has plagued him for six years since they became a couple. If life gave you the chance to be with the girl of your dreams, what would you do to grab it?
****This book is set six years after the end of “Left Behind” and continues the story of Sandy & Steven ****
Available at all major online retailers.
Yours, Mine & the Truth.
David McClellan went to work one morning and his wife Jayne cleared out their home. Lindsay, one of their neighbours, saw snippets of it happening and asked her partner Brian, who worked with Jayne, what was going on.
Weeks pass by and David disintegrates into a shell of himself, publicly humiliated by Jayne in front of the office staff. Can he recover from the ultimate betrayal?
Meanwhile things are not rosy for Lindsay Faulkner and her boyfriend Brian either. When she suspects he cheated on her she gives him an ultimatum. Will he stay or go?
Can anyone find happiness, apart, together or with someone new?
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Avril is comfortable in her life. A job that pays more than the bills, nice house with no mortgage over her head and the family pet, Jack, to keep her company, but her family have all flown the nest. She realises she’s asked the same questions all her adult life – What if? Determined to confront the tragedy that has plagued her life since her teenage years and sent her on the path to where she stands now, Avril books a holiday to return to Cyprus. Along the way she visits places from her dreams and nightmares, as well as her parents bucket list of tourist attractions. Avril remembers the good and bad times, along with the ghosts that have plagued her for twenty plus years but two chance meetings throw her into a tail spin. Will a group of ladies show her what she’s been missing out on? And who is the mystery man that sends her stomach crashing and her heart pounding? Can she confront the past and move forward, and who holds the link to her peace of mind?