‘If that’s all you’re worried about, don’t. The sun will soon dry us – and there is this.’ He patted the towel they were sitting on.
Cleo had the dreadful thought he’d planned this all along. But was it so dreadful, given her own thoughts? ‘Why not?’ she said before she could stop herself, feeling more like the twenty-year-old Cleo who had followed Stan into the hinterland than the forty-five-year-old café manager with a twenty-one-year-old daughter.
The sea was as cool and refreshing as it looked, and, Cleo reasoned, she was as adequately clothed as she would have been in a bikini – even though she hadn’t worn one for years. She tried to avert her eyes from Will’s body, but it was impossible not to see his muscled chest glistening in the seawater and his strong shoulders powering through the waves like a well-oiled machine.
When they returned to the beach, Cleo wrapped herself in the towel, leaving Will to dry off in the sun as he’d suggested, pleased he seemed happy to do so. By the time she felt dry enough to put her clothes on again, Will had packed up the remnants of their lunch and was dressing again, too.
Back at the scooter, Cleo suddenly felt embarrassed. While it had felt good in the water, and Will had been careful not to watch as she dressed, she was conscious how exposed she’d been in her flimsy undergarments. It wasn’t till she came out of the water that she realised they were almost transparent when wet – hence her retreat to the towel.
To his credit Will had made no comment, behaving as if it was perfectly normal for her to hide under the towel after her swim, instead of drying off in the sun.
Will didn’t appear to sense her embarrassment. Before donning his helmet again, he stood looking down into the bay. ‘We used to come here a lot,’ he said. ‘Dee and I. When we were first married, and the boys were little.’ He gave a sigh. ‘Sorry. I didn’t mean to reminisce. It’s this place. It holds so many memories.’
Cleo had forgotten Will had hadtwosons. Losing a child must be terrible. Then to lose his wife so soon afterwards. She didn’t speak but moved closer to him without touching, her embarrassment forgotten.
Will shrugged. ‘I’ve learned to live with it,’ he said, as if she’d spoken her thoughts aloud, ‘and you know what it’s like to lose your partner. Life goes on and, if you’re lucky, someone else comes along, someone who… Cleo…’ Will’s voice broke, ‘I like you a lot.’
‘I like you, too, Will,’ Cleo found herself saying, the lump in her throat making speech difficult.
At that moment, a man accompanied by a small white dog appeared on the roadway, making any further revelations impossible.
‘Afternoon. Lovely day for it,’ the man said as he passed, calling the dog to heel.
For a fleeting moment, Cleo wondered if he’d seen her and Will emerge from the ocean, their almost transparent undergarments clinging to them like second skins, before dismissing it. Then, without knowing why, Cleo and Will burst out laughing, causing the man to stare at them in surprise. Then he was gone, the dog running behind him. Will packed away the remains of their lunch, then handed Cleo her helmet before putting on his own and they set off for home.
When they reached Cleo’s house, there was a brief awkward moment, then she said, ‘Would you like a coffee?’ She felt sticky from the saltwater which had dried on her underwear making it feel hard and uncomfortable, but felt she owed him something for the lovely day – and he had provided lunch.
‘Thanks.’ Will stowed away both helmets and followed her inside.
Two hours later Will was still there. They’d both showered, and Cleo had changed into a fresh outfit.
Coffee had morphed into more wine and bowls of leftover pasta, and they were sitting side-by-side on the sofa in Cleo’s comfortable living room, when Will tentatively put an arm around her shoulders.
Lulled by the sound of the Mystic Moods Orchestra playing in the background – tracks from an old disc she’d found on a market stall and had loved for years – and the two glasses of wine she’d consumed, Cleo relaxed against Will’s arm, giving in to her desire to be close to him.
Without speaking, he pulled her closer. She could feel the warmth of his body, his heart beating rapidly, and knew hers was matching it. Her breath caught in her throat, then she felt his lips on hers.
As Cleo sank into Will’s embrace, she had no time to wonder if this was a wise move, no time to consider where it might lead, if she was ready for an escalation in their relationship. She was lost in the joy of the moment, the thrill of being in his arms, and she ached for more with every shred of her being.
Will opened his eyes and gazed at the face of the woman lying beside him, her dark hair spread out on the pillow. He smiled and stroked a stray curl, careful not to waken Cleo. She stirred slightly then turned over to face him. She was so beautiful. He dropped a kiss on her forehead.
Carefully, Will reached to the bedside table to check his watch. As he did, Cleo’s eyes snapped open, widening when she saw him. ‘Oh!’ The cry escaped from her lips.
‘Good morning, sweetheart. I didn’t mean to wake you.’
‘What time is it?’ She struggled into a seated position.
‘It’s only half five. I should get home to shower and change. I have two classes of high school students this morning.’
‘I need to get up, too. I have to work today.’ She gave him a smile. ‘We fell asleep.’
‘We did.’ Will chuckled. After hugging and kissing on the sofa, they’d made their way to the bedroom, both deciding they were too old to make love on the sofa or the floor. The result had been a mind-blowing surge of passion which had left them both satiated and exhausted. So much for his plan to take things slowly; everything had happened so fast, there had been no time to consider the wisdom or otherwise of their actions. He hadn’t intended to fall asleep, to stay the night. But he wasn’t as young as he used to be, and unused to making love, he must have closed his eyes.
‘Let me make breakfast before you go.’ Cleo rose and pulled on a robe, running her fingers through her hair before pulling it back into a band.