‘If you haven’t yet decided where to have dinner, we’re going inland a bit tonight. There’s a really good restaurant nearby. They only serve local food, but the reviews are raving, and it’s well priced. Why don’t you two join us?’
Greg has appeared out of nowhere and is standing tall in front of my chair. I need to crook my neck to look at him and decide that it is less damaging to my spine if I stand up and take a step back before engaging in a conversation.
‘We’ve nothing planned. Sounds good to me. Cindy should be ready in a second. Why don’t you ask her?’ As if on cue, Cindy steps out of the room and joins us on the patio.
‘I heard that. I’m fine with it as long as we go now. I’m famished.’ Cindy breaks into her lovely smile, takes both Greg and me under the arm and marches us towards reception. Eddie and Polly are waiting for us there.
We walk for about ten minutes, away from the beach. The roads are heavy with crazy traffic, but we manage to arrive at the restaurant in one piece. The place is packed with backpackers and locals, and we have to wait a few minutes for a table to free up.
We order from a list of local food, and we eat to our hearts’ content. No doubt, the food is delicious. The company is ace too. I have fun listening to the tales Greg and Eddie recount. They have travelled together for a while and have fond memories. Polly chips in occasionally but leaves the sensational bits to the lads. I like Polly. She is polite and sensitive but can be firm and assertive. She and Eddie seem to complement each other. I can see the little touches and soft looks they exchange. It must be so nice to have that kind of closeness with someone.
As the local restaurant doesn’t serve any alcohol, we waddle back to the beach after the biggest meal I can remember this side of Christmas.
I surprise myself by being a bit anxious. I have a strange feeling in my stomach that increases the closer we get to the beach. Although my logical self immediately points the finger at the food, I know that’s not it. I know I’m excited to see Kiri. I think these are called butterflies. I haven’t experienced them in decades. If nothing else, they should give my insides a good massage.
I know I shouldn’t drink anymore, and I also know that if I stay sitting at the table with these four, I will not be able to walk back with my own legs. So far, I’m still in full control of my faculties, bar a slight wobble on my way to the toilets.
So, I decide to get up and have a stroll on the beach. The moon is shining a billion watts of silver light onto the sea. The stars are so bright. They seem like lamps, they are so much brighter here. They are beautiful.
‘Are you okay?’ I know it’s him even before I turn. I saw him looking over at our table. I would have been mightily disappointed if he hadn’t followed me.
‘I’m fine. How was your evening?’
‘We were busy. I’ve missed you.’ He says these words as if we’ve been in a relationship for months. As I look at this young man, I have to concede that I have missed him too. I have been looking forward to our promised time together. I would never admit this to him, but I can’t deny that he is getting under my skin.
‘I’ve finished for the night. Do you want to go for a walk on the beach? It’s beautiful in the evenings.’
I glance over, and Cindy gives me a nod and thumbs up. I don’t need to worry that she’ll wonder where I am.
We walk on the moonlit beach. Sand crabs run for shelter as we get close to them. There are a few small groups of people scattered all over. They are mainly tourists, but there are a few locals who acknowledge Kiri with a nod. We walk side by side, our arms brushing together. It gives me a nice tingling feeling. Kiri grabs my arm and steers me away from a massive hole in the sand. I would have fallen into it and left all my dignity behind. I’m glad his eyesight is acute. His hand is still on my arm, and he moves it down to take my hand in his. We walk like this for a while. It feels so natural and so right, but I still fret. Where are we going with this? I’m not ready for much else.
‘Please don’t worry, I only want to spend some time with you alone. I don’t want anything else from you.’ Kiri is reading my thoughts, and I’m grateful I don’t have to explain anything. We sit on the warm sand and stare at the ocean.
‘What did you do this afternoon, when you said goodbye?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘You put your lips to my cheek and inhaled quickly and heavily.’
‘Ah. That is how we kiss friends and family, we don’t go for the lip-smacking kisses here,’ and he does that again, on my cheek. But then he doesn’t move away. I turn towards him and our lips touch. I look away. It has been a long time since I kissed someone. And is this what he would want anyway? What if he just wants to be friends and sees me as an aunt figure. I look over, and he leans towards me. No. I’m quite sure he doesn‘t see me like that...
We spend time lying on the sand, watching the stars and owning up to dark parts of our lives. When I tell him about Kyle, how he ran away from home three years ago, he holds me tight. He lets me weep silently and gives me time to make peace with my grief again. Then he says ‘I know what it means to lose someone you love. I’ll tell you another day. It’s late now. I’ll walk you back.’
We don’t talk on the way back. We walk holding on to each other as if our lives depended on us being glued together. There are only a few people on the beach now, and most of the lights have been turned off. I’m glad he is with me. When we get to the hotel, he kisses me deeply and holds me tight. He smells my hair and gives me an inhaling kiss on the forehead.
‘I’ll see you tomorrow. Sleep well, Maddy,’ and he walks off.
I grin like the Cheshire cat and walk into the hotel.
I can hear Cindy softly chatting. She is not in our room nor on our patio. She is sitting with Greg in the garden. They are sitting very close and talking very softly. I make just enough noise for her to realise I am back and then get ready for bed.
‘I was waiting for you. Just wanted to make sure you’re okay.’
‘I’m just fine. Nice of Greg to keep you company during your wait.’ I grin.
Cindy smiles and jumps on the bed next to me. ‘Tell me everything!’ So we spend the next hour dissecting my time with Kiri. I feel like a teenager again. I like this feeling!