The sunlight casts diamonds on the swimming pool and she looks down across from her balcony where she sits and reads. The heat envelopes her like a second skin and pulls her down into the striped lounger. She is bored and her book is thick and heavy and droops from her hands like week-old cut flowers. She sighs, stretches and takes a sip from the glass that lies on the table beside her. Beads of condensation slowly run down the side, pooling on the plastic table. She stretches and goes back to her book, staring again at the page she has been reading for the past twenty minutes. The words merge into each other and her head begins to hurt. A splash from the pool below catches her attention and she sees the diamonds scattered by a man, slipping through the quiet water.
She sees his limbs are long and strong as he rhythmically swims the pool from end to end and back again. She closes her book and watches him, admiring the tanned body, the dark hair, the flash of teeth as he raises his head to take a breath. When he has tired he pushes against the side of the pool and, toned biceps flexing, he emerges, the water beading his body like the condensation on her glass. His beauty takes her breath away and she drops her book, a thunderclap in the silence. He looks up at her, smiles, and runs his hand through his damp hair. Blushing, she picks up her book and pretends to read.
But he has seen her, has seen her interest and her blush.
Knowing she is watching he stretches out on a lounger, flexing toned muscles, and raising his arms above his head before intertwining fingers under his still damp hair. His eyes are closed and he smiles.
She picks up her book and goes back into her room where she sees her reflection in the mirror. She pulls her fingers through tangled hair, flecked by early silver. The sun has tanned her skin and she sees the faint wrinkles around her eyes more clearly. Her body is still youthful, the product of thrice weekly gym visits and watching what she eats. But she feels old and out of place in this idyll of youth.
She eats dinner alone and sits in the bar where the lights dance off the silver hoops in her ears and young couples dance on the moon-lit terrace. She sips at a pina colada, making one drink last an hour. Then she sees him. He walks into the bar, white linen covering those strong legs, a golden chain around his neck. The barman calls out a greeting and he strides over to the bar where he takes a seat close to her. She feels the colour rise to her cheeks once more and turns to go but he sees her and smiles and she finds herself smiling back. He moves to be closer to her and begins to speak, the words stumbling from a tongue unused to English. She finds his accent as beautiful as his body and she speaks to him, her words hesitant and uncertain.
Together they discover a love of art and Italy and a mutual dislike of loud music and grapefruit. She learns he is a teacher at a boys’ school in the mountains; that he holidays with his father here by the sea every spring; that his hands are as eloquent as any words, describing wonder and possibilities as he pushes the dark curls from his eyes and spins the umbrella from her drink between his fingers.
She agrees to a second drink and a third and begins to tell him things she hasn’t admitted for many years. He learns she is an accountant; that her marriage broke down nearly three years ago; that she hasn’t been with another man since her husband ran off with her best friend; that she flutters her fingers before her face when she laughs.
He does what he can to make her laugh more, intrigued by the wall she hides behind. Soon he is holding her hand and watching how her eyes close to show long dark lashes and how the dimples in each cheek deepen.
They stay at the bar until the dancing finishes and when he asks her to walk with him on the beach, she agrees. They pick their way over the pebbles and seaweed until they reach the soft sands where he bends down to take off her sandals, his fingers caressing her feet. She shivers and he takes her hand. They walk on sharing smiles until they come to the promontory where he turns to her and takes her face in his hands. He kisses her, softly. She can smell his cologne and taste the bitter gin on his lips. He kisses her again, more deeply, and stirs within her a memory of another time and another kiss. Her lips respond and as he puts his arms around her and gently pushes her towards the sand she doesn’t resist.
He follows the contours of her face with one finger and tenderly pulls down on her bottom lip with his thumb. His hand moves down her neck and he bends to kiss her there. She shivers again and raises her hand to his hair, giving in to the desire she’s had to touch it since she saw him in the pool. He smiles and turns his head to kiss her palm. He mumbles soft words in his native tongue and she reaches for his belt, fumbling it loose.
Lying on the quiet beach they undress and discover each other’s bodies with an intimacy beyond time. She worries her body will disappoint him, that her age will show even in the silver moonlight and that he will realise he wants the firmness of youth instead. She sighs as he kisses down between her breasts to her rounded tummy and wants to believe him when he whispers “bella”.
They make love slowly. Old, long forgotten sensations, stir deep within her, pulling the spectre of another love into her head. She is scared but wants it to last forever. She commits each kiss, each touch to memory. She keeps her eyes closed, afraid he will see the need and loneliness she keeps hidden inside. When both are sated he lies beside her, stroking her hair and smiling. She smiles too and wonders how long it will last.
She dresses quickly hoping he hasn’t seen the stretch marks and dimpled thighs she hurries to hide. Hand in hand, they walk back to the hotel and make promises to meet again the next night.
The morning sun tiptoes through the blinds and wakes her. She smiles at the memory of the night before and runs to the shower, eager to reach the balcony and see her amante. She takes her book and sits to wait for him. The diamonds on the surface of the pool lie undisturbed as the sun climbs. She rushes to a cafe for lunch then returns to her vigil on the balcony until the sun has slipped behind the hills surrounding the village.
After dinner she goes to the bar and sips her cocktail nervously. Her heart beats loud enough to silence the drums of the trio playing in the corner. When she feels a strong hand take hers she turns to see his smiling face and he leads her to the dance floor where they move together, feeling in the music the passion of the night before.
No longer needing the confidence of alcohol they soon make their way to the beach, laughing at their haste. The make love, more urgently than before then lie together under the stars, the moon casting a blanket of soft light over their bodies. They talk of their pasts, the schools they attended, the books they read. She would like to ask about a future but knows to do so will break the spell. They move together again and she thinks she has never felt more wanted, more loved. This time she watches him, her eyes open and she sees that his are closed.
He walks her back to the hotel and tells her he has to go back to the mountains in the morning. She asks him to wait, to stay until she leaves for home at the weekend. He holds her close and tells her he can’t, he has to go, responsibilities to take care of. He kisses her face, the tears salting his apologies, his promises of seeing her again. She listens, wanting to believe but fearing the truth to be different to the words tumbling from his lips. He writes her address on his hand and swears he will call her every day when she gets home. He kisses her for a final time and whispers, “fino a quando ci incontreremo di nuovo.” She wonders if they will meet again and runs to her room to hide her sobs from the couples still mingling in the foyer.
The days until she leaves for home are quiet. She lunches in the cafe and reads her book on her balcony in the afternoons. She listens for the splash that heralds his return, but the diamonds on the water are cast aside by other men and she begins to accept that he will not be back. She shops in the market and buys herself a silver moon on a ribbon, a physical reminder of their nights together.
When she gets back her colleagues ask about her holiday. She smiles and talks about the weather, about the mountains and the beach. She wears the silver moon about her neck and reads her book in the cafeteria at lunch.
As the months pass she lets out the waistbands of her skirts and wears tops baggy enough to hide her swelling belly. She writes letters to him and sends them to the barman at the hotel, begging him to pass them on. She waits for the post eagerly each morning and is disappointed when no letter from him ever slips onto her mat. Eventually, she stops looking and shops for smocks and baby-grows. She turns her study into a nursery and wears sensible shoes. She buys a moon mobile to hang above the crib and when her daughter is born she calls her Bella. When the child is older, she will give Bella the silver moon and tell her about her father, the man who scattered diamonds.