Home > Love Your Life(10)

Love Your Life(10)
Author: Sophie Kinsella

“Maybe I don’t know how to answer,” Dutch says after a pause. “I don’t have all the words like you writers do.”

As he steps toward me, he’s blatantly running his gaze over my swimsuit. (OK, not the swimsuit.) I take a matching step toward him so we’re only inches apart, my face tilted upward.

“You know what they say,” I say softly. “Show, not tell.”

I don’t know what I’m inviting. A chaste, romantic kiss, maybe. Like Chester and Clara shared before he boarded the hay wagon. But as Dutch’s lips meet mine, all ideas of being chaste fly out of the window. I don’t want chaste, I want him. This mouth. This faint roughness of stubble against my skin. All of him. Right now.

He’s deepening the kiss, expertly, intently, his hands at the straps of my swimsuit as though any minute he’ll yank it down. He tastes salty and manlike. Somehow our bodies have become melded together, damp skin against damp skin, with the sun blazing down on our heads and backs. He’s already hardening, I’m already melting, if we weren’t in public…

I hear someone laughing nearby—at us? But I’m too lost in sensation to move my head. It’s fine. We’re allowed to kiss in public. This is Italy, home of passion. They invented sex. And I can’t stop. My craving is limitless.

“Ciao, bella!” A screechy whistle makes me jump, and I glance round. It’s the teenagers, all clustered to watch us, about five feet away. Drat. They are laughing at us. And now they’re all wolf-whistling. We should stop. We’re probably in fact breaking a bylaw or something.

With an almighty effort, I wrench myself away from Dutch and stare up at him, breathing hard. I’m not sure I can speak, and he looks pretty dazed himself.

The teenagers are still catcalling us, and I try to block them out. Probably we shouldn’t have had our first sexual encounter in a public space with a jeering audience. But, then, everything’s easy in hindsight.

“So,” I manage at last.

“Uh-huh.” Dutch smiles again.

I know I’m supposed to have all the words, but I can’t even frame a sentence right now. I’m still too transfixed.

“I’m allowed a personal question too.” Dutch’s low voice takes me by surprise. “Right?”

One hand is roaming beneath the seam of my swimsuit while the other caresses my ear. His touch is somehow soft and firm at the same time. He knows what he’s doing, crosses my mind, and for a moment I savor this delicious thought. Then I realize he’s waiting for me to reply.

“Uh, yes.” I come to. “Yes. I guess.”

What does he want to ask?

I wait for Dutch to speak—but he’s silent for a few moments, his eyes gleaming as though with secret thoughts. “Good,” he says, and touches my nose gently. “Might save mine up for later on.”

* * *

That afternoon, I feel as though I’ve unleashed a fearless genie inside me. We rock-jump again and again, yelling and waving at each other, midair. We splash and swim and kiss in the sunshine, mouths salty with the sea. Then, when we’re exhausted, we head off the main beach into the shade of a nearby olive tree and spread our towels on the ground. The sun is dancing through the branches and I close my eyes, loving the feel of it on my face.

“I think Italian sun is different,” I say dreamily. “They fob us off in England. They keep the good sun in a cupboard because they think we’ll get spoiled if we have it too much. Then they let it out but only for twenty-four hours. And never when we expect it.”

Dutch laughs. “No wonder the British are obsessed by the weather.”

While we’re talking, he’s idly constructing a tower from the big, smooth pebbles that lie scattered around. As I watch, he places a large, fairly ambitious pebble on top and the whole thing falls down—whereupon he laughs and begins again. When he pauses, I add my own pebble to the stack, and he glances up with a grin.

“How many do you think we can stack? I say eight.”

“I say ten,” I counter at once, reaching for another pebble.

For a while we’re silent, concentrating on the task. But at last we have a teetering pile of ten stones. Dutch reaches his hand out to high-five me, but impulsively I shake my head.

“One more! Let’s make it eleven.”

“Eleven!” Dutch raises his eyebrows teasingly. “I like your style. Go on, then.”

As I reach for another pebble, I suddenly feel ridiculously nervous. I know it’s only a game, but we made this pebble stack together, and I really don’t want to knock the whole thing down when I could have settled at ten. In fact, I’m not sure why I even wanted to add another pebble. I guess it’s that voice inside me, constantly asking, What else could I be doing?

Tentatively, I place the new pebble on top and withdraw my hand—and it stays put!

“Result!” Dutch lifts his hand again, and this time we do high-five and I feel absurdly elated at our joint achievement.

“This takes me back to my childhood,” says Dutch lazily, lying back down on his towel. “I love architecture, design, that kind of thing. Guess it began with building sandcastles on the beach.”

“I used to love building sandcastles on the beach!” I say eagerly. “And I love design too. I collect interesting furniture. It’s, like, a hobby of mine.”

“Furniture?” Dutch lifts his head with interest. “What kind? Because I’m—”

“Wait!” I cut him off with a horrified gasp. “Sorry! I shouldn’t have said that. We’re not supposed to reveal our hobbies.”

“Too late.” He chuckles.

I’ve also just hinted that I live in England, it occurs to me. Honestly, I’m rubbish at this.

“I’m not necessarily from England, by the way,” I say quickly. “I might have been double bluffing. Maybe I don’t even have a permanent abode.”

“Aria.” Dutch shakes his head incredulously. “Do we need to stick to the rules?”

“Yes! We need to try, at least. Only one personal question each, and you still haven’t asked yours. But here’s an idea,” I add in sudden inspiration. “Let’s talk about the future. When you’re ninety, what will you be doing? Give me a snapshot.”

“OK.” Dutch nods and thinks for a moment. “I’ll be looking back over a full life. I hope I’ll be content. In the sunshine somewhere. The good sunshine,” he clarifies with a quick grin. “And I’ll be with friends, old and new.”

He sounds so sincere, I feel a little pull at my heartstrings. He could have said so many other things. He could have said, “I’ll be on my yacht with my fifth wife.” That’s what Russell would have said. In fact, now I recall, that’s what Russell did say.

“That sounds perfect,” I say in heartfelt tones. “And…same. Good sunshine, friends around me. Plus I’ll be eating ice cream.”

“Oh, so will I,” says Dutch at once. “For sure. The only reason I came on an Italian holiday is because of the ice cream.”

“What flavor?” I demand.

“Is that tomorrow’s personal question?” counters Dutch, and I laugh.

“No! I’m not wasting a personal question on that. Forget it. I don’t need to know.”

“Shame.” His eyes crinkle at me. “Then you’ll never know how much I love nocciola.”

“That is a shame.” I nod. “And you’ll never know how much I love stracciatella.”

I lie back down on my towel, too, and Dutch’s hand idly strays over to take mine. Our fingers enmesh and I can feel his thumb circling my palm, and then he’s pulling me all the way over to his towel and finding my mouth with his.

“You taste better than nocciola ice cream,” he murmurs in my ear.

“You don’t really mean that,” I murmur back, and Dutch seems to think.

“OK, tied,” he allows. “Tied with nocciola ice cream. And you beat mango sorbet.”

“I beat mango sorbet?” I open my eyes wide in mock-amazement. “Wow. I don’t even know what to say. That’s a compliment I’ll never forget.”

And of course I’m joking…but at the same time I’m speaking the truth. I’ll never forget this charmed, intoxicating, sunlit day.

As afternoon turns to early evening, we finally stir. We’ve been lying, kissing, dozing, and idly chatting all afternoon. As I get up, my limbs are stiff and my legs are patterned with the imprint of twigs, but I can’t stop smiling dreamily.

We gather our things and head back toward the car and, as we do so, pass some teenagers playing a game of football on a stretch of scrubby land. The ball suddenly veers toward us, hitting Dutch on the head. He catches it, smiles, then heads it back into the game.

“Signor!” In a stream of Italian, one of the teenagers invites him to join in. Dutch pauses for a moment, then says to me, “Two minutes.”

As he joins the game, he instantly becomes utterly absorbed in it, and I watch, fascinated by seeing him in a different setting.

He seems to understand what the teenagers are yelling, even though they’re speaking Italian. (I guess they’re all communicating in the international language of “football.”) When one of the players slams into him with an aggressive tackle, Dutch brushes off his apology with an easygoing nod. He has a natural authority, too, I notice. The kids are deferring to him, even while they’re challenging him. Everything is another clue to who he is. Everything is another insight.

At that moment Dutch glances over at me and says, “I have to go now, guys, thanks for the game.”

The teenagers start exhorting him to stay (even I can translate that), but Dutch lifts a hand in smiling farewell and comes to rejoin me. “Well played!” I say, whereupon he laughs, takes my hand, and we turn our steps toward the car.

As we drive away with the evening sun still baking through the windscreen, I look back, trying to imprint this precious place on my memory, until we’ve turned the corner and are speeding along a main road.

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