One Athenian Summer
© 2006, Andi Marquette (titled elsewhere online “What I Did for My Summer Vacation”)
[the following story contains adult language and adult situations]
I eased out of her apartment at six in the morning, carrying my shoes, which I put on at the bottom of the stairs, and hurriedly tucked my t-shirt into my light khaki trousers before opening the door to the street. My shirt smelled like the ouzo she had poured across her nipples the night before. Even now, I licked my lips, remembering the taste of it as I sucked if off her breasts. The smell of her was all over my hands and face but there wasn’t time to go to my place and shower. I had to be on site at seven-thirty, before the oppressive summer heat settled and shut Athens down until early evening.
Fifteen minutes later, I got off the bus near Patission and headed for the National Archaeological Museum, finger-combing my hair. Lisa would have coffee, bread, and olives so I didn’t bother stopping for anything to eat. A few people were already going about their business as I approached the four-columned entrance. Jim and Rex lingered outside, indulging in a typical Athenian breakfast: cigarettes and coffee.
“’Sup, T?” Rex took a final pull on his cigarette and jammed it into the ashtray near the door.
“Nada. Lisa here?”
“Yep. Better hurry if you want something to eat.”
I approached the glass doors and the security guard on the inside unlocked one and let me in. He smiled and nodded, touching a finger to his hat.
“Kanemera,” I said as I passed. I walked quickly through the various rooms, filled with display cases and artifacts from every conceivable era of Greek history. My feet made scuffing sounds on the floor and I thought, not for the first time, that this building really needed a makeover. It looked like it had been built in the 1960s and the once white paint on the walls had taken on a sickly yellow tinge over the years. I pulled the door open that led to the stairwell and descended into the museum’s bowels. I heard Lisa, Nikolaos, and Zoe talking and laughing.
“Hey,” I announced as I emerged into the large room that served as an artifact cataloging area. Pictures and posters of various exhibits plastered the dingy walls and the linoleum underfoot looked like something in 1950s-era elementary schools.
“I saved you some bread and coffee,” Lisa said as I waved on my way to the bathroom. When I finished washing up, I joined Lisa at the long, black table. I heard Nikolaos and Zoe in the adjoining room, chatting back and forth as they worked on their projects. Lisa was engaged in comparing photos of various amphorae. I grabbed a chunk of bread and took a bite. A small container of olives stood open and I picked one out and popped it in my mouth.
Lisa studied me for a bit before saying anything. Then, “Tell me you didn’t.”
“What?” I looked at her innocently, chewing.
“You did.” She rolled her eyes. “You just met her…what? Two days ago?”
I shrugged, smiled angelically.
“Does she know what a slut you are?”
“Perdón?” I reached for another olive.
“Oh, sorry.” Lisa’s tone was heavy with sarcasm. “I mean, does she know you’re not the commitment type?”
“Hey. I’m not the commitment type right now. And yeah. I told her.”
“Before or after your tongue was down her throat?” Lisa shook her head and returned her attention to the photos.
I took a swallow of coffee before answering. “Before, of course. I may be a slut, but I’m not dishonest.”
“So does she get it?”
“Does she understand that you aren’t the commitment type?”
“Christ, Lisa. She’s French. Of course she understands. And she picked me up.”
Lisa rolled her eyes and silently continued to work. Lately, she’d been all up in my business about my dating. It annoyed me. I finished my bread and took my lab coat off the chair, slipping into it before I checked on Niko and Zoe in the artifact room. They were working on two Minoan bracelets excavated from a site on the island of Thera. I then cross-referenced the catalogues we were creating for some of the artifacts the museum had collected but never put on display. It was tedious, detail-oriented work but I didn’t mind doing it because I got to see the museum’s mind-boggling collections.
This was my second summer in Athens. Duke University, where I was a doctoral candidate, had an arrangement with the museum and my primary advisor was from Greece. She hooked me up last summer and because she liked what I did, I got to come back this summer.
I was an associate researcher and I coordinated schedules and tasks for three undergrads—Niko, Zoe, and Rex—who were working internships at the museum for the summer. I had excavation experience and a few published papers on Minoan and Hellenic archaeology, so summers in Athens were a dream come true. I organized cataloging and some of the artifact cleaning, though that was more Lisa’s thing. I also ran impromptu discussion groups. All the students had to produce a research paper by the end of August detailing some aspect of Aegean archaeology. We’d been here about a month, so I hoped the three of them were working on their projects. And though I wasn’t in charge of the projects, they did ask for help on occasion.
Lisa, a doctoral candidate from Harvard, worked a separate research project from mine. We had met the previous summer at the museum and had kept in touch. I liked her dry humor and sharp intuition when it came to archaeology. We had become fairly good friends, but sometimes, she got really irritated with me. Like right now. I tried to fix it. “Wanna grab dinner tonight?” I asked.
She glanced up at me, then turned her attention back at the photos just as quickly. “Of course.”
“C’mon, Lisa. What’s wrong with having a little fun?”
“Nothing. But God, you’re like a guy.”
“I can’t help it. I’m half-Italian.”
“Oh, there’s a really good scholarly argument. I’m a slave to one-half of my ethnicity! I just couldn’t help seducing her! I’ve got that wild Italian blood in me!”
“Okay, okay.” I grinned at her. “I’m just horny, then.”
“Thank you for owning that.” Lisa cracked a smile then sighed and stretched. She had her long blond hair tied back. “It’s a good thing I’m reasonably straight,” she said, taking her artsy-frame glasses off and rubbing the bridge of her nose. She had a nice profile, I noticed, and not for the first time. She shot a sidelong glance at me. “Or I’d probably let you talk me into bed, too.”
I relaxed. She was over it. “That hasn’t necessarily stopped anyone.”
“T, please. We work together,” she said matter-of-factly.
“So you would, then?” I teased.
She looked me up and down. “You’re a babe. So yeah, I’d probably be able to do you. But I have standards.” She blew me an air-kiss. “And having a different partner every other day just isn’t my thing.”
I smiled. “Hey, I’m reasonably young. I’m in Athens—one of the sexiest cities on the planet. What’s wrong with enjoying myself?”
“Nothing,” she said with a hint of resignation as she put her glasses back on. “Just play safe. Now get back to work.” She smiled and gathered the photos and put them in a file. I checked in with Rex and then helped Niko and Zoe with the jewelry.
At three I got ready to leave. “Lisa, I’m gonna run back to my place. What time do you want to meet?”
“Eight. At our fave place.”
“Cool. See you soon.” I left the museum, deciding to walk the quarter-mile to my flat, which was close to the Plaka—the oldest section of Athens. The Acropolis graced a hill in the Plaka, and every night different colored spotlights shone on the Propylaea, the columned entrance that clung just below the hill’s lip. Going through this brought visitors to the hilltop, on which sat the Parthenon, the Erechtheion with its caryatids, the temple of Athena Nike, and the Acropolis Museum. Currently, scaffolding cocooned the Parthenon and the museum, as both were under renovation. My advisor knew the organizations doing the work, so I also got to spend some time watching and helping a little bit. For me, working at the Parthenon was like seeing the face of God.
By the time I reached my apartment, my clothes clung to me, drenched with sweat and humidity. In this section of the modern city, air didn’t move much, since it wasn’t as close to the harbor as other sections. My place was on the second floor. Greeks weren’t much for air conditioning, so I put a couple of battered fans to use and left the windows open at night. I had two rooms and a bathroom, which was perfect. My bedroom held a futon on a frame along with an overstuffed chair and my small kitchen sported a bistro table. The flat included a small modern apartment-sized washer. The place was already furnished. All I had to do was live here for a summer. It was perfect. I stripped off my clothes and hit the shower. Afterward, I’d take a nap. It wasn’t even four-thirty yet.
“So what’s your perfect type?” Rex lit another cigarette and looked at Lisa. He was a small, frenetic guy with dark hair and a goatee.
“I like a sense of humor.”
“Humor’s good,” Zoe agreed. She and Rex had joined Lisa and me for dinner. In Athens, people ate late. Nearly nine-thirty and we hadn’t gotten our main courses yet. Still warm out at this hour, too, but bearable. I wore a linen button-down shirt and light cotton trousers, like most of our crew except for Lisa, who was in a really nice light dress. We occupied an outside table in the shadow of the Propylaea at this café, which we discovered last month. It was now our favorite spot. Cars were forbidden in this part of the Plaka, which meant that the primary sounds were human voices, lending the district a magical air. I poured more retsina into Lisa’s glass. “And a nice ass,” Lisa continued. “A nice, shapely ass. Broad shoulders.”
“What about eyes?” Rex took a drag.
“Yes. He should have eyes.”
Zoe snorted. “I like dark eyes. With crinkles at the corners.” She took the bottle of retsina and poured the rest of it into her glass. Zoe’s family was Greek, so I knew she’d be ordering another bottle for the table.
“I once dated this guy from Norway,” Lisa said thoughtfully. She reached over to Rex and took his cigarette and she sat holding it like a movie vamp. “He had the most beautiful green eyes I’d ever seen. Like what I think Poseidon would have.” She took a drag and handed the cigarette back. Lisa rarely smoked. When she did, it usually meant something was bothering her.
The waiter appeared with Zoe’s food and mine. We had both ordered souvlaki and dolmathes. He set the plates down and left, only to return with Rex’s and Lisa’s food. Rex wanted saganaki. The waiter set it down in front of him, doused it in alcohol, and set it on fire. Blue flames wavered on the cheese’s surface. Rex had also ordered bourekakia—minced meat in filo dough. Lisa stuck with her standard gyro though she did order a bowl of kotosoupa. True to form, Zoe ordered another bottle of retsina.
“What happened to the guy from Norway?” I asked.
“He’s still in Norway, as far as I know. I had to go back to the States.”
“So are you saying you had a fling?” I asked.
“Yes, a summer fling. We had a good two months. As opposed to the two hours yours last.”
“Zing!” Rex quipped. “I sure wish I had your luck, though.” He directed the comment at me.
“It’s not about luck,” I said.
“Ohhhh!” Zoe was laughing. “So it’s…what? Skill? You speak the language of love so well that everybody wants to learn from you? Is that something you’re planning on incorporating into your seminars?” She was ribbing me. She finished unscrewing the cap from the retsina and poured me another glass.
“No. Hell no. What is this? An inquisition?” I took a sip. The turpentine edge of the wine was less pronounced, meaning my previous glass had numbed my senses.
“Nope. Just an observation.” Rex took another bite of saganaki. “You guys, try this. It is fucking unreal.”
We ate, bantering back and forth. The waiter cleared the dishes and Zoe ordered ouzo. Now came the part of the meal where we sat and talked for another hour. Greeks generally didn’t finish dinner until midnight, though some actually didn’t even start until then. Hundreds of people were out strolling. Greek men cast longing glances at Lisa, most carrying the ubiquitous strands of beads called komboloi that they constantly worked through their fingers. The click-click-click of komboloi accompanied almost every Greek man in this city. Laughter and music drifted overhead from the many tavernas in the Plaka.
Our ouzo arrived. The waiter had filled each glass half-full and plunked an ice cube in, which turned it a milky white. I sipped mine, savoring the full anise flavor as it rolled around in my mouth.
“So how come you’re such a slut?” Lisa was smoking another of Rex’s cigarettes.
I looked at her. “Hey, life’s a buffet. I want to try a few dishes before deciding on anything.”
“Oh, so you’re shopping?”
Zoe giggled. “I like shopping.”
“But–” Lisa took a pull on the cigarette and exhaled. “When you shop and you find something you like, you try it on and then you take it home and keep it until it doesn’t fit anymore or you wear it out. Or it lasts forever. You don’t bring it back the next day with some excuse as to why you’re not going to keep it.”
I looked at Lisa, trying to be patient. “I know some people who do that. But I’m just not ready to settle down. I want to have as much fun as possible. And maybe I won’t settle down. So what? I’m honest about what I want and I’m up-front about it. If she’s not willing to go there with me, then I don’t pursue it.”
“Oh, please,” Lisa muttered. “Since when have you ever backed off?”
“Twice last month.”
Rex choked on his ouzo and Zoe stifled a laugh.
Lisa looked at me then smiled. She was really pretty when she relaxed. “Well. My faith in you is restored.”
“Thank God,” I said, laughing.
“Okay,” Zoe interrupted. “What’s your perfect woman?”
That one caught me off guard. I thought for a bit. “I like most women. I don’t really have a ‘type,’ if that’s what you’re asking.”
“Well, what do you find attractive?”
“Humor. Intelligence. Someone who’s in her body. She knows who she is, she knows what she wants. A good dancer’s nice.”
“You know what they say about good dancers.” Rex lit another cigarette. “It’s a reflection of their skills in bed.”
“So bad dancers…” Zoe began.
He nodded. “Tragic. You should all learn to dance.”
Zoe laughed. “Lisa’s a really good dancer.”
I smiled. We’d been clubbing already and yes, Lisa was a good dancer.
Zoe had decided to order a whole bottle of ouzo and she poured a bit more in my glass. “So what else do you like?”
I shrugged. “A good body’s nice, but not imperative. I like a woman who’s content with who she is and how she looks. That’s sexy.” I took another sip.
“Let’s try something,” Lisa interrupted. “Pick someone out of the crowd you think is sexy. Rex, go first.”
He sat back, scanning, and motioned with his chin at a twenty-something woman with an extremely tight halter top and a Jennifer Aniston haircut. “She’s hot.”
We all agreed that she was cute.
“Okay, Zoe.” Lisa looked at her. “Go.”
“I think…him.” We all looked in the direction she was gazing. A medium-height Greek man, older. Grey at the temples. “He’s very sure of himself. But see how he walks with the woman. Protective but not condescending. Which is hard for Greek men. Your turn, Lisa.”
Lisa scanned the crowd for a while. “Ah. Him.” A bookish guy, maybe six feet tall, wearing wire-rimmed glasses. He looked German. He was in a mixed group of what I surmised were college students.
“He’s cute,” I concurred.
“Okay, T,” Rex said. “Your turn.”
I took another sip of ouzo and glanced around. “I think anybody could be really sexy, given the right context.”
“You’re not getting out of this,” Lisa said. “Pick someone.”
I kept looking. Dozens of women, from all over. “I don’t know.”
Rex poured more ouzo in his glass. “Come on. Who sticks out?”
I scanned again. “Maybe I need more ouzo.”
We all laughed and the conversation wandered to past relationships. I filled Lisa’s glass and sat back, listening as Rex lamented how he was dumped last fall. My gaze cruised over the nearby tables, all full. A group of five occupied a table two over from us, near the café entrance. Three men, two women. Probably native Athenian. One of the women was drinking red wine. She looked up suddenly and caught me watching her. I managed a smile and a nod and hastily turned my attention back to Lisa. The group was discussing the temple of Apollo in Delphi, which we had visited last weekend. I shifted in my seat, stole a glance at the other table. This time, I caught her watching me. A smile pulled at the left-hand corner of her mouth. I cleared my throat and reached for the ouzo.
“Okay, I found someone who’s sexy.”
Everybody looked at me.
“She’s sitting at that table over there with one other woman and three guys. She’s drinking red wine.”
“Oh, yeah. Definitely,” Zoe agreed. “She seems very sure of herself.”
“She is pretty,” Rex said.
“But that’s not it.” I put the bottle down. “It’s her energy. Her aura. She knows who she is. That, to me, is super hot.”
“Does every woman you sleep with have that…certain hotness?” Lisa asked.
I thought about that. “Yeah.” I looked at Lisa. “You’ve got it.”
She rolled her eyes.
“You do. You know who you are and you don’t pretend otherwise.”
“She’s watching you,” Rex said. He was sitting across from me. The woman in question was to my left. “I say go for it.”
I shook my head. “Nah. She might be with someone at the table.”
“That’s not stopping her,” Zoe said, laughing.
“They’re leaving,” Rex announced, a glint in his eyes. “Last chance, T.”
I shrugged. “It’s not to be.” I watched out of the corner of my eye as the five stood, chatting and laughing. The woman I’d been watching hugged the other woman, who left with one of the men. She then hugged the other two men and as they parted, she flung a wave at them. A carefree, relaxed gesture. She wore a turquoise blouse and a lightweight black skirt. She looked very Greek. She moved toward the main street and as she did so, she looked directly at me and smiled. She kept her eyes on me until she turned left, walking toward the Acropolis.
“Well,” Zoe teased. “I’d say she’s interested.”
“Go,” Rex cajoled. “Let me live vicariously through you.”
“Whatever,” I said. “All she did was look at me.”
“And she still is,” Lisa muttered.
I glanced up. She was standing across from the restaurant. Pedestrians obscured my view momentarily. A break in the crowd revealed her looking at me. She turned and moved slowly up the street.
“This is too much,” Lisa said, shaking her head. “It’s like some kind of weird drug. Maybe it’s a pheromone only you have.”
“Can I have some?” Rex asked plaintively.
“How exciting,” Zoe said. “I think you should follow her. It’s like a movie.”
I glanced uneasily at Lisa. She was smoking another cigarette. “Hey, it’s a wild Friday night in Athens,” she said flatly. “Why the hell not? Play safe.”
I stood, left enough drachmas for my share, including money toward the alcohol. I included some for a tip, though that was usually part of the bill.
“Good luck,” Rex called after me as I moved into the crowd and headed toward the Acropolis.
There was definitely something that intrigued me about this woman. I kept my pace even, trying not to seem too eager since I might not find her again in the crowd, which thinned the closer I got to the old residential areas that hugged the base of the Acropolis. Very few streetlights existed here, so I wasn’t able to gauge color too well. I looked for her shirt in the small knots of people who were working their way toward the main pathway to the Propylaea but I didn’t see her. Oh, well. I turned around, deciding that I’d just go home and get some more sleep and that’s when I almost ran right into her. She looked up at me. I’m about five-six and she was a good four inches shorter. She smiled. “I knew you would follow,” she said in heavily accented English. “You have that way about you.”
“You know what you want.”
That took me aback. “I–what do you mean?”
“You know what you want.” She shrugged with one shoulder. “But you run from what you have.”
I stood looking at her, not sure what to say. What does that mean?
She smiled. Even in the dim light cast from a nearby house, I could tell the smile transformed her face. She glowed from within, like she had some kind of secret knowledge. “I know what I want, as well. Come.” She took my hand and pulled me gently toward a set of narrow marble steps that led up into a residential labyrinth. The steps twisted left than right until she stopped at a low-slung Athenian bungalow from which issued electronica music. That and many voices drifted through the open windows.
“Here,” she said. She beckoned with her head. I followed her inside. A house party. The music thumped against my skull. I could smell pot, liquor, and various colognes. She eased between dancers, through the kitchen into what was apparently the living room. A mixed crowd. Gay, straight…hmmm. Multiples. The music slowed into a deep Euro-lounge groove. She was already dancing. She moved gracefully, rhythmically. She had to be a belly-dancer. I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
She slid one arm around me and with the fingers of her other hand, she stroked the side of my face. I leaned down slightly to facilitate. “You have safe eyes,” she said as I leaned into the touch of her hand. The music slowed to a gentle Asian chill. I had my arms around her, holding her against me as she explored my face and neck with her fingers. I closed my eyes and allowed myself to sink into nothing but the sensations of her body against me and the feel of the music pulsing through my blood. The beat changed, sped up a bit but she just held me and moved a bit faster. I followed, thinking that this was the most normal thing in the world—dancing with a woman I didn’t know in a house filled with people I didn’t know speaking all manner of languages. There was something mystical about it.
I don’t know how long we danced. Hours, maybe. It didn’t matter. At some point, she pulled away slightly, stared into my eyes, a hint of a smile teasing the edges of her mouth. She was appraising me, sizing me up. “Pos se lene?” She asked. Testing me.
Her eyes sparkled.
“Kai ese?” I asked.
Her lips twitched and she pulled my head down toward hers. Her cheek rested against mine. “Sofia,” she breathed against my ear. “I like the way you smile,” she said in Greek as the music slowed again. I was drenched in sweat, both mine and hers. She stopped dancing suddenly and took my hand, leading me out of the crowd back through the kitchen to the door. The music still thrummed in my ears, even outside. A breeze ruffled my hair. We were standing in a small courtyard, typical of many Greek homes. Grape vines clung stubbornly to the smooth stone of the wall.
“Epharisto,” she said softly in the dark. She stood holding my hand, which she brought to her face. She rested her cheek against my palm.
“No,” I answered. “Thank you.”
“You spend too much time running away,” she continued in Greek, pressing her other hand to my chest, over my heart. “The answers are in here.” She looked at me, thoughtful. Then she moved her hand to my jaw. “I have to leave.”
I nodded, leaned into her hand on my face.
Her hand slid to the back of my neck and pulled my face to hers. She kissed me very lightly on the cheek, a millimeter from my lips, and let go. I still felt her even across the space between us. “Tristan.” She said my name carefully, sipped it like wine. And she smiled again. It was a dismissal. I smiled back. “Sofia,” I nodded once and turned, leaving the way we had come, strangely rattled about what she had said, wondering what had just happened.
“So how was your latest conquest?” Lisa and I walked through the Plaka the next afternoon, looking at the tables loaded with wares that various vendors had set up outside their shops.
“I wouldn’t call it that.” I picked up a deck of cards. Each one depicted a sex act from an ancient Greek vase. Hellenic porn. At least Greeks were honest about it.
Lisa shot me a look. “What happened?”
“We went to a party and we danced.” I put the cards down.
I continued browsing through the assorted tourist items on the table. Cheap Greek culture, I thought. The man at the door was toying with his komboloi, watching us.
“She turned you down.”
“No, not really.”
“Yes, she did. She turned you down.”
Lisa was irritating me. “It wasn’t about that.” I thought about how to explain it. How to explain a shared moment, a fold in time that brings people together, however briefly, and the things those moments can teach. “Have you ever met someone—you know, like you’re standing in a really long line and you just strike up a conversation? And for a little while, you have a connection with that person. Then it’s your turn to get what you’re in line for in the first place and the connection ends. That’s what it was about.”
Lisa stared at me. “That’s, like, really deep. For you.” She was only half-sarcastic.
I shrugged. “That’s what happened.”
Lisa frowned but didn’t push the topic for once. We continued browsing and chatting. Lisa didn’t bring Friday night up again.
We stayed busy the next two weeks. Sadly, in two more weeks we’d be getting ready to go our separate ways. I had to get back to the States by the end of August, which I dreaded a little. I loved Greece and I was getting better and better with the language. I was going to try to get a fellowship so I could come back for a year at some point in the future.
I thought about Sofia off and on, but it wasn’t something that made me stop what I was doing and catch my breath. It was more a shift in consciousness. Or something. I thought about what she had said, about me running away from what I have. What exactly did that mean? And why had she said that? We didn’t even know each other. Still, there was something almost other-worldly about what had happened that night. I couldn’t explain it. But there it was and sometimes it left me feeling like a part of me that had been missing was back in place.
I hadn’t picked anyone up since Sofia and Lisa had stopped teasing me about “my conquests” though she had been really bitchy toward me. I figured if she had an issue she’d tell me, since she usually had in the past so I tried to let it go but it bothered me. It was pretty noticeable that she was pissed about something and avoiding me. I tried to talk to her about it, but she always found excuses to avoid me further and it definitely put a damper on the last days.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t do much about it that I wasn’t already doing since I didn’t see much of her as our departure dates approached. I was able to work at the Acropolis quite a bit during those last three weeks, thanks to my advisor, and I loved being near the Parthenon. There was something in the air up there. Spirits. Aural vibrations. Something. It was at once energizing and peaceful.
The last few days at the museum rolled around and we were busy wrapping things up. On Thursday, Zoe and Niko finished their day and printed out their final papers. Rex was going over a bit of cataloging. All three were leaving Saturday. Lisa was in the adjoining artifact room making sure every object we had worked on was in its rightful place. She was scheduled to leave Sunday and I was leaving Monday. All of us had already exchanged e-mail addresses and phone numbers. I was going to miss this crew.
“See you tomorrow,” Zoe yelled as she and Rex left.
“Yeah!” I yelled back. Nikolaos waved and followed them up the stairs. “Niko, make sure that door locks from the outside!” I shouted after him. I then went to go check on Lisa. The door to the climate-controlled artifact room was closed and I shut it behind me when I entered. Rows and rows of high shelves stacked with every type of object greeted me. Some were in special cases because of their fragility. “Hey, Lisa. Everybody’s outta here for the day. You ready?” I could hear her moving around in the back corner.
“Almost. I have five more.”
“I’ll help.” I followed the sound of her voice. She was in the sixth row, filling out forms on a clipboard. She had her hair pulled back today and she was wearing her Euro-art glasses, which I thought looked sexy on her. She didn’t look at me, but given the last few weeks, that was nothing new. I couldn’t let this continue. It was really grating on me.
She was writing something on a form. “I found a couple of things that were mis-filed. Not our fault, though. I had to fill out a different thing for that.” She handed a form to me along with an extra pen. “See if you can track this down.”
I glanced at the paper. A corner of a frieze from the temple of Apollo at Didyma. It was supposed to be in the next aisle over, fourth shelf up. I started looking for it.
“You want to have dinner tonight?” I asked from my aisle.
Long pause. Then, “Sure. Our spot?”
“Yeah. I’ll probably eat there every night ’til I leave.”
She mumbled something. I scanned the labels, all in Greek. Ah. There it was. I checked the appropriate boxes on the form and signed and initialed it. Lisa rounded the corner. “Oh, good. You found it. Three more to go.” She handed me another form. Part of an architrave attributed to the Athena Nike temple on the Acropolis. I worked my way down the aisle.
“So how come you’ve been all celibate the past month?” Lisa didn’t look at me as she wrote.
I scanned the labels on the lower shelf, located the object. “What do you mean?”
“It’s not like you not to have a date every other night.”
I began filling out the form. “Jesus, Lisa. We’ve been busy.”
She looked at me. “That didn’t stop you in the past.”
I stood up, annoyed. “Why do you always harp on this? And besides, it’s not something I do regularly.”
She shrugged and went back to her paperwork. I used a corner of the shelf to finish filling out the data for the architrave. I handed it back to her. She added it to the stack on the clipboard. “Done.” She followed me out of the artifact room and closed the door behind us. She started organizing the paperwork at the big lab table.
“So what’s the longest you’ve gone without?” She kept her eyes on the clipboard as her fingers went through the papers.
I sighed, frustrated. “If you must know, two years. And it’s not really any of your business.” I stalked to the bathroom and washed my hands, leaving the door open so I could shout at her. “And why do you care so much? I already have a mom, thank you.” I dried my hands and returned to the main area, where she was still organizing paper.
“You drive me insane,” she muttered, irritated. She stacked and re-stacked the forms.
“What? What the hell?” I glared at her.
“I just realized that we’ll go to dinner and you’ll probably pick someone up and leave me sitting there—”
“You told me it was all right then. And Zoe and Rex were there.”
“Please, Tristan! I mean, you’re always thinking with your crotch! How about some loyalty to your friends? When you go out with them, stay with them.”
Anger and hurt crawled up my throat. “That was almost a month ago. What is this really about?”
She didn’t look at me. Instead, she kept fiddling with the forms.
“Would you quit that and answer me?” I slammed my hand down on the stack.
She jumped and took a step away from the table.
“What is wrong with you?” I pressed. “You’ve been acting shitty to me since that night. What the hell? Don’t let this summer end on a bad note.”
“Fuck,” she muttered. She pressed her forehead with the fingers of her right hand. “I don’t fucking know what it’s about. You and your goddamn pheromones. Hormones. Whatever. Jesus, why do you have to be such a slut? You’re like a wolf or something. Hunting.”
“That is not fair. You have no fucking clue what goes on in my personal life. You have no idea how I negotiate my relationships—”
“Relationships? Since when have you ever had one?”
I felt my jaw drop. “This…is total bullshit. I’m outta here.” I started to brush past her.
“I’m not through,” she snapped. I felt her hand on my arm.
“I am,” I retorted but her hold on me remained. “Would you let go?”
She stared at me but did so. “Dammit,” she said in a low voice before she threw up her hands and stomped back to her paperwork. “Dammit,” she muttered again. “Goddammit!” She started shouting and suddenly she was crying and pounding on the table with both hands. The forms skittered across the table.
“Hey—” I moved over to her and grabbed her from behind. “Stop it.” I was taller than she was, and stronger. I reached underneath her arms and grabbed her wrists. “Come on. Take it easy.” She stopped pounding and I let go. She leaned forward onto the table, burying her head on her arms. She kept crying.
I gently pulled her off the table. “It’s okay,” I said quietly. Her arms encircled my neck. I held her and she cried on my shoulder. Automatically, I stroked her hair with one of my hands, rocking her gently back and forth. Eventually, she cried herself out but I didn’t let go. It felt nice, holding her. Natural. “You wanna talk about it?” Her head was still on my shoulder, so I was speaking against her forehead.
She groaned softly and extricated herself from me. She stepped back and took her tear-fogged glasses off. She placed them carefully on the table and went to the bathroom. I could hear water running. She emerged after a couple of minutes and went to work cleaning her glasses. I waited, not wanting to push her.
She looked up at me after a little while. “No, I do not want to talk about it. I don’t even know exactly why I’m so pissed at you.”
“Fair enough.” I watched her work on her glasses. When Lisa was upset about something or trying to work something out, she had to have her hands busy. It occurred to me that it was funny that I knew quite a few of her habits. She put her glasses back down on the table and turned and studied the papers that were scattered across the table. She was chewing on her lower lip. She did that when she was debating whether to say something. I stepped closer to her. Something else had suddenly occurred to me and it kind of scared me. She turned to face me. A few strands of her hair had come loose and she brushed them out of her face. I had always liked that gesture.
“I said I didn’t want to talk about it,” she repeated.
I nodded, moved closer. “You run from what you have.” She watched me. I was inches from her. I started to lean down, then stopped. No–what was I doing? Started again. Tentative. Lisa hadn’t moved. I watched her eyes. They both challenged and invited me. The closer I got to her mouth, the more her eyes closed. I was so close I could feel the heat of her breath on my lips. I paused. What the hell am I doing? And then she kissed me. Hard. God, it was hot. She moved her mouth against mine like nobody else, like a dam had broken. Her hands were in my hair, then on my neck and shoulders. She backed me against the table and pressed herself against me, kissing me the whole time. She slid her tongue into my mouth and I felt my insides drop into my feet. We were moving against each other with a need that I hadn’t ever felt before and the more we kissed, the more I felt it. I was panting around her lips and I could already feel sweat easing down my back.
She grabbed my face with her hands and jerked away only to start kissing and nipping my neck. Her advance blew me away. I braced myself with my elbows on the table as she unbuttoned my shirt. Oh, my God. I surged to my feet and backed her against the wall near the artifact room. I trapped her there, my palms on the wall above her head. We were both breathing heavily. She started kissing me again and I eased my leg between her thighs. She moaned and bit my lower lip, something that drives me crazy. She had my shirt unbuttoned and her hands on my back and she pulled me harder against her. I braced my right forearm against the wall to cushion her head and with my left hand I pulled her t-shirt out of her jeans. Her skin felt hot and damp. Like my crotch. My underwear was soaked. I couldn’t remember the last time I had been so wet.
She continued to deliciously assault me with her kisses and her hands on me were stronger than I expected. Her left leg hooked around the back of my right thigh and pulled my pelvis against hers. I could barely breathe. She had her hands on my chest and she unhooked my bra. I groaned at the feel of her hands on my breasts. Her thumbs were tracing circles around my nipples. Smaller and smaller circles until the tips of her thumbs were brushing only my nipples. She stopped suddenly and helped me pull her shirt and bra off and finish the job on mine. I wanted to feel her naked chest on mine. I pushed against her and almost passed out when her breasts molded to my body.
I pulled her away from the wall and with both hands I unbuttoned her khakis then lowered my head to her chest and drew one of her nipples into my mouth. She gasped as I sucked and licked first one and then the other. She held my head against her chest, thrusting her breast against my mouth. She inhaled sharply and pushed me away suddenly. We stood staring at each other, half naked. She broke the brief impasse and moved in for another attack on my mouth. Her lips were amazing.
I felt her hands at the button on my pants and she had my trousers unzipped in seconds. I grabbed her hands then, stood staring into her eyes. She had the most expressive eyes. What was happening here? I let that thought go as she kissed me again, slow and deep this time. I let go of her hands and eased my own down the back of her pants, underneath her silk underwear. She had a great ass and her skin was like warm silk. I wrapped my right arm around her, my forearm against the small of her back. I worked my left hand to the front of her pants and at the same time pushed her back against the wall. She kept kissing my mouth, jaw, and neck. Her tongue grazed my ear then circled it gently. That makes me nuts. Completely nuts. I grabbed her face with both hands and kissed her hard, sliding my tongue into her mouth. She sucked on my tongue then released it and lowered her mouth to my collarbone. Her hands were on my breasts again and she was grinding against me.
I couldn’t stand it anymore. I had to feel her. I braced my right arm behind her and moved my left hand to the front of her trousers, open and waiting. I eased my fingers inside her pants, felt how wet she was even through her panties. I was desperate to feel more and started to work my fingers around the seam. Her breath caught in her throat and she stopped kissing me, her hands on my shoulders. She stared at me. I stopped, too. After a few seconds I leaned forward, rested my cheek on hers, my hand still in her pants.
“Okay?” I whispered.
She hugged my neck. “Do you want me?” She asked softly, lips near my ear.
“More than anything.” I moved so I could put some space between us and I guided her right hand to my crotch, helped her fingers get past my underwear. She exhaled sharply.
“You’re so wet,” she said, an undercurrent of amazement in her tone. She gently pulled her hand out of my pants and brought my left hand back to her underwear. She kept her eyes on mine as I slipped my fingers past her panties and eased into the heat and moisture between her legs. I groaned at the feel of her on my hand and the bottom dropped out of my stomach. She adjusted her position and I shifted as well so I could slide my middle finger in. She gasped and I forgot to breathe.
“Oh, God. Tristan–” She moved against my hand and I slid my index finger in as well. Her nails dug into my shoulders but I didn’t care. My right forearm was braced on the wall again and she pushed her head back against it, her eyes closed. Her breathing hissed between her teeth and I increased the speed of my thrusts as she matched me. Her fingers released my shoulders and came to rest on the sides of my neck. Her right hand returned to my left shoulder and the fingertips of her left hand visited my lips. I kissed them, flicked my tongue across them. I could feel her trying to draw my fingers deeper within and I thrust harder and adjusted my hand slightly so her clit would rub the top of my thumb. She was groaning softly, her cheek now pressed against mine as we moved together, moved like we had always done this. She slowed down suddenly.
“I can’t…”she began. “I don’t think–”
“Please,” I breathed against her cheek. “Please let me feel you come.” I kissed her on the lips, tender. “Let me make you feel good.” More than anything in the world, I wanted to be here with her.
She drew a shaky breath and began moving again. I matched her motion, lost in the feel of her heat around my fingers, in the smell of sweat and musk and the faint, crisp citrus odor of the shampoo she used. She moved her right hand to my left and held on to my wrist as I plunged my fingers deeper. It was an immensely sexy gesture and I felt myself moaning softly against her neck. I would not have been surprised if I came right along with her from the sensory overload. I could feel something building in her and I automatically adjusted my strokes, encouraging her. Her breathing burst between her teeth in short, quick gasps and her back arched as she came. She groaned my name as she exploded and for some reason, the sound of my name on her lips at that moment meant more to me than any night with any other woman.
She arched again as another wave ripped through her and then she relaxed, panting. I stopped thrusting and pushed against her, bracing her against the wall as her breathing returned to normal. Her hands were on my waist and her forehead rested against my chest. After a few minutes I carefully pulled my hand out then wrapped my arms around her and held her against me. We stood for a long time like that.
Finally, she pushed away from me. I watched her gather her shirt and bra from the floor. She didn’t look at me as she went to the bathroom. I dressed while she was gone and when she emerged, she was dressed as well. She avoided my eyes and began getting ready to leave, putting her pens and files into her courier bag.
“Lisa—” I began.
“Tristan,” she interrupted. She turned to look at me. “Leave me alone right now, okay?”
I stood watching her, not sure what to do. She must have sensed my uncertainty because she softened her tone. “I’m all right. I’ll talk to you later.”
I shook my head. “No.”
She stopped what she was doing. “No, what?”
“I’m not going to leave you alone.”
She looked at me for a moment and then laughed softly. It sounded sad. “You know how you might be standing in a really long line and you start talking to someone next to you? And you have a connection for a little while? And then it’s finally your turn and the connection ends?”
I stared at her, the heat within replaced instantaneously with ice. She grabbed her bag and brushed past me. I listened to the sound of her feet fade on the steps and then I heard the soft click of the door as it closed behind her.
I stood in the cold November rain studying the map of Harvard campus. I glanced around to get my bearings. According to the department secretary, Lisa was on campus until four today. I glanced at my watch. Two-thirty. She should be in the Peabody Museum. Since it was Friday, I doubted she would have students waiting on her.
I started walking and found the Peabody. I entered the building, which like other Harvard structures mimicked staid British style. It looked like a lot of other modern museums inside. Nice warm lighting, earth tones, and carpet in the entry area along with a few items on display to get you excited to see more. The man at the information desk looked up at me.
“Hi. I’m looking for Professor Lisa Dalton. Is she in today?”
“Just a moment,” he said pleasantly as he checked a list. “She should be. And you are…?” He reached for the phone.
“Tristan Delmonico, Duke University–listen, I’m just in town for a day or so and Professor Dalton and I worked together in Athens at the National Museum of Archaeology. I was kind of hoping to surprise her.”
He wavered. I reached into the back pocket of my jeans and took my wallet out. I handed him a business card and showed him my driver’s license. He relaxed and smiled. “Her office is downstairs, 102B.” He pointed at a staircase behind him that led down.
“Thanks.” I smiled back at him and went down the steps. At least the basement here was nicer than what we had in Athens. Framed exhibition posters hung at intervals on the wall and a brown berber carpet padded the hallway. The lighting was nice, too. Various doors lined the corridor, most plastered with stickers and cartoons. I checked the numbers as I walked. Her office was apparently on the opposite end.
I stopped at 102. The door stood open, leading into an outer office. I was so nervous I felt like I might throw up. I took a deep breath and entered. Inside I saw another door, this one closed. The letter “A” designated it. To the right was another door, half-open. A poster of the Parthenon was taped to it. I heard Lisa’s voice and I wanted to throw up again. I stood outside, listening as she talked on the phone. My palms were sweating and I wiped them on my jeans, waiting until I heard her sign off and hang up before I knocked softly on the door.
I pushed the door open. She was sitting at her desk, facing the entrance.
“Hey,” I managed. Seeing her made my stomach flip-flop and she was wearing glasses with blue artsy frames, which made me think of Athens. It hurt to see her. But it also felt good. Whatever happened, at least I could say I tried.
She stared at me. “Oh, my God.”
“Listen,” I said. “I know this is unexpected and I’m sorry. I’ll understand if you tell me to go.”
“What are you doing here?” Her eyes were wide.
“You wouldn’t see me before you left Athens. And you won’t answer my e-mails. Or calls.” I was still at the door, my hand on the handle. We stared at each other. I shook my head, suddenly feeling really stupid. “Hell. I shouldn’t have done this. I’m sorry.” I started to turn. Better to leave now before it gets worse.
“No.” She stood and came around her desk. She reached past me and pushed the door closed then crossed her arms over her chest and watched me, guarded. “Why are you here?”
I ran a hand through my damp hair and smiled ruefully. “I needed to see you.”
“I care about you. And I needed to know if you’d give me a chance.” I run from what I have…Well, here’s me not running.
“Look,” I interrupted softly. “I’ll understand if you’re still pissed. I’ll understand if you’re with somebody else. I’ll even understand if Athens meant nothing to you. But you have to tell me.” I bit my lip. “Because I can’t stop thinking about you. I can’t stop wondering. So just tell me. Please. Whatever it is, I have to know.” I put my hands in the pockets of my coat and waited for her judgment.
She took her glasses off and rubbed her eyes. When she looked up at me again I saw tears. “I save all your e-mails,” she said quietly. “And I listen to all your messages.”
I waited, heart pounding.
She sat on the edge of her desk. “I wanted you to leave me alone but I wanted the e-mails and messages more.” A tear slid down her cheek. “Even though I didn’t answer, you kept trying. It was sort of comforting, knowing you were still out there.” She rubbed her eyes again and set her glasses on the desk’s surface. “You drive me insane.”
I shifted uneasily.
“You’re so damn charming and smart, so damn sweet. So God-awful good-looking. But you’re like water. I can’t grab onto that. Besides, you can’t breathe when that happens.” She smiled through her tears. “And I know that, though it’s hard for me to accept.” She looked at me. “I can’t be up nights wondering where you are. I’m not like you. With me, it’s all or nothing. I wish to God it could be different. But I’m not another notch for your bedpost. No matter how many times you e-mail or call me.”
I nodded slowly. I felt like my ribcage had just been crushed under a steamroller. “I understand. I can’t expect you to think anything else about me.” I bit my lip again and felt tears behind my eyes. I didn’t try to stop them and surprise showed on her features. “Thanks for being honest,” I said as I wiped my eyes. I turned, put my hand on the doorknob. I would rather be kicked to death by the Brazilian soccer team than stay here any longer.
She slid off the desk. “Wait,” she said as she pushed the door closed again. She leaned against it. “What did Athens mean to you?” Her eyes clouded, wary.
Another tear slid down my face. “Everything,” I said, my voice shaky. “It meant everything to me. Why do you think I’m here?”
She regarded me for a long moment and then something shifted in her eyes. She reached up, wiped tears off my face with her fingertips. “Come here,” she whispered and she pulled me into her embrace. I started crying harder at the feel of her body against mine. She stroked my hair, rocking me back and forth. “Why do you have to make me so crazy?”
“I don’t know,” I mumbled against her neck. “I don’t mean to. I’m just me.” She smelled better than I remembered and she felt like the spirits that moved me at the Acropolis.
She laughed softly. “I have missed you so much.” She groaned. “And you feel so good.” She pulled away slightly. “And here you are, on my turf.”
I brought one of her hands to my lips and kissed her knuckles. “Life is nothing without risks. Just give me a chance. That’s all I ask.”
She smiled. It made her eyes glow. “My brain says no but my heart and gut say yes.”
“I can work with that.” I held her fingers against my lips and watched her eyes. I’m not running.
She kissed me and it was everything I remembered and so much more. She pulled away after a long, most excellent moment and looked at me, mischievous. “So. Busy tonight?”