“Spin the globe,” he had said, each of his fingers lying on top of mine, bending and unbending my elbow as he moved his hand. I touched the globe and ran my index over the ridges in the map. The skin in his knuckles had puckered and there were flecks of caramel over the slightly protruding veins. I moved the globe and looked closer. The topography of his hands looked like Lebanon.
“I’ll take you wherever you want to go.” He lifted his hand and I waited till I couldn’t feel the five places on my fingers he had touched. They felt cool, and I didn’t know if I missed the warmth or wanted it gone. “But not if you don’t want to.” He stepped back. Someone opened the door to the lounge and a draft came in. I looked to see if it was Alec, but a woman in a red pea coat stepped in instead. I shivered, holding my ribs in one arm. I spun the globe.
The spinning tapered somewhat but I pointed before any build up of suspense. It halted, and my finger kept it in place. I looked closely to read the country I had chosen, and frowned.
He squinted. “Switzerland! Can you ski?”
“No.” I moved my finger across the Atlantic. “Bermuda.”
He raised his eyebrow. “How serendipitous.”
My finger was still pointing at the globe, and I let it drop, slowly so that it rippled over mountain ranges and sent the globe spinning again. “Should we call a cab?”
His breath came out in a huff. I realized he’d been holding it. “Yes. It’s about a forty-five minute ride to my jet. We can be in Bermuda tonight.”
“I need to go home and pack.”
“No you don’t. I’ll give you my card and you can buy new clothes when we get there.” He stepped forward. “Or, don’t wear any.”
I had smiled and lowered my face, blushing deeply in my last moments of propriety, before shaking out my hair and running with him up the runway to the jet, hands interlaced and stretched across our widening gap as I fell behind him in my heels.
He had touched me twice. Once, in the airplane, when he reappeared from the front cabin and turned my face from the window, handing me a glass of champagne, and while kneeling before me, pushed up my skirt. He looked up at me intermittently, so I lowered my eyes to meet his and parted my lips in dim ecstasy, breathing through my teeth and waiting till he looked away to watch the clouds sliced open by the wing of our jet. Then, after a restless night spent in the foreign cologne of his undershirt, I refused him. I knew he wanted some semblance of a challenge, and I tried to fall asleep before he reemerged from the shower. In the morning I found him sitting in the sunlight with his glasses on, reading the Washington Post on his iPad in front of an untouched breakfast of honeyed yogurt and papaya, with a hibiscus flower in the glass opposite him. I put the flower upside down in my hair, so that it held precariously against my collarbone. He knocked lightly on the table with his right fist and read me headlines to dice the silence. I smiled at him between spoonfuls of yogurt. He gave me his credit card so I set off shopping while he caught up with work in the room, and I came back in a green dress that held together at the base of my sternum. He found me in the bathroom applying mascara. We had dinner reservations to make. He stood in the doorway and when I sensed his shadow I turned, smiling, and jumped onto the counter.
“I have to look at you in that dress all through dinner and know I can’t take it off you tonight?” He crossed the room. “You’re cruel.” He cupped my knees in his hands and pushed, and I looked into his face for a moment, both of us frozen, as if wishing our separateness farewell. He blew on my neck and a strap that had lay indecisively on my shoulder slid down my arm. I braced myself, pulling him to me with my legs, and my hands found his belt. Afterwards I remembered watching my face in the mirror on the opposite wall, the fluttering dress that concealed our embrace, and throwing my head back in what he took for a show of passion but which was really in reaction to the glinting fire of a setting sun, that had suddenly been reflected in the mirror. When it was over, and he left me to fix my hair, the only evidence I could find of our hasty encounter were the distressed marks in the carpet from the rubbing of his shoes, and a slight displacement of the soap dish.
Later on the beach, I realized I was more naked in my bikini than I had been in his arms. I tried to cover my stomach with my wrap when I sat up to order a drink, and he snatched it away from me. “You’re as skinny as a cigarette, Sophie.” He turned on his back. “Though an old man like me can’t complain about a beautiful woman trying to disguise herself on his account.”
The server returned with my daiquiri. “You’re pretty sexy for an old man, James.” I tapped his chest. “Now that I can see you.” It wasn’t a lie. At fifty-five, his shoulders were strong and broad, and his hairline had receded in two points, like he had pulled back his hair in his fists during too many stressful nights. He had an athletic body and wore linen. I had always liked the name James.
“You sucked down that daiquiri.” He ate the pineapple wedge from my drink.
“Hey!” I threw him an exaggerated face. “I wanted that.”
He stretched his arms and motioned to the waiter. “Hi, sir. Could you bring me a pineapple?” When the waiter returned, James put the pineapple in my hands.
“What else do you like?”
“Oh, I don’t need anything. Thanks for the fruit.” I planted the pineapple in the sand, and kissed him. He had sand on the back of his neck.
“I mean in general.”
“Oh.” I pulled back. “Um… I like painting.”
“What do you paint?”
“People. Animals. I don’t really make any statement.” I brushed the sand off my calves.
“Do you ever sell them?”
“No. I just like doing something that doesn’t matter. If I mess up, I start over. If I paint something great, I hang it on the wall. It feels nice. But it doesn’t matter.”
“It’s not a responsibility.”
“Yeah. Once something matters, it matters if you fail. Then you have to prove yourself.”
He frowned. “Why?”
“So you can move on, I guess. What do you like?” I straightened out my towel and avoided his face. He was still looking at me doubtfully.
“I like my kids. And my dog, Steve Perry.”
I looked up in a disbelieving smile. “No way your dog is named Steve Perry. Shut the fuck up.”
He laughed. “Aren’t you a little young for Journey?”
“‘Faithfully’ is my go-to for karaoke. If you get enough daiquiris in me, you might see it.”
“Waiter! She needs a daiquiri!” He waved frantically, so I caught his arm, laughing. He kissed me, and I settled back into my towel, one hand rubbing his back. His skin was softer than Alec’s, and the sun left tiny footprints on his shoulders. My hand rose and fell as he breathed.
When I was little I collected relics. I had a piece of Cameron Indoor Stadium before the floor was replaced and a broken lizard’s egg from a nest on our back porch. For Christmas one year I was given a series of stones from the prehistoric age and set them aside for months, eventually burying them in the yard. I never considered myself a collector, but the whiskey glasses Alec bought me in the highlands were prominently displayed in the cabinet, inviting anyone to ask, “Where did these come from? What part of life have my lips just touched?” I met a signed book collector once and never understood the fascination, but kept my own signed copy of The Trouble with Everything at the front of the bookshelf, in case anyone asked about it. The author was my mentor in college. I realized, finally, that I was collecting evidence. My apartment was a flagged-off section of history to thumb through, but it was history that had been interrupted by me, that if turned over and dusted would unearth a set of my fingerprints. But I didn’t just want to touch history- then I would have been happy with the prehistoric stones. I wanted to hear its secrets. I wanted to say to the lizards learning to hunt, I was there, and hold up the fragments of shell they had emerged from. James’ skin was beginning to wither. He was president of a large firm in Arizona, and he knew my father. When he passed into history I would remember the placement of hair on his chest and the diameter of his waist, measured greedily by legs finding balance on a cold bathroom counter.
We were leaving in two days to rejoin our separate lives. I would hang the green dress in my closet and mourn the day it finally lost the scent of his cologne. I moved closer to him and pressed my forehead to his arm.
“I’m glad you decided to come.”
“I am too, James.” I was drunk off wine, and had the beginnings of a headache. We sat on a cushioned wooden swing in our private area of the beach. James’ shoes were off and his feet made angels in the sand. “It’s been quite an adventure.”
“Is that why you came? For the adventure?”
“Isn’t that why you came?”
He poured himself another glass of wine. “I think my reasons are obvious.”
“Do you take every hot girl you meet to Bermuda?”
“No.” He smiled. “Usually Paris, Greece, Mexico…” I lowered my eyes and swirled my wine. He touched my chin. “I’m kidding, Sophie. Our meeting was very spontaneous. I felt like doing something wild.” He took a sip. “There happened to be a globe in the lounge. I always wanted to do that.”
I squeezed his hand. “I guess I should be glad my date stood me up.”
“Who was he?”
I kissed his knee. “Oh, just some guy.”
He smiled and rubbed my calves. “You don’t need to lie to me, Sophie. You’re vibrant and youthful and have a life that has nothing to do with a fifty-five year old man. We don’t need to pretend otherwise.”
I ran my hand through my hair and sat back in the swing. “It’s not important. I won’t subject you to it. He’s just someone I dated for a while. We were supposed to meet and talk things over.”
“Did you come to Bermuda to get back at him?”
I looked out at the other couples on the swings. “I came because I wanted something to remember.”
“You’ve been all over the world, though.”
“I haven’t been all over the world in the private jet of a man I met once at a fundraiser for my father’s political campaign.”
“So you did it for the story.”
“You did it for the sex.” I grabbed the wine bottle from its place in the sand.
He ignored my comment. “Have you always been so…”
He frowned. “I guess that works. I was going to say spontaneous.”
I picked up one of his hands and played with it. “No. I was very cautious. But then I moved to New York, and met Alec, and life moved at a different pace.”
“His name is Alec?” He reached for the wine. “Tell me about him.”
I hesitated. “He was my boss. Extremely good looking, extremely narcissistic, and extremely wealthy.” I grinned. “He didn’t have a private jet, though.”
“It sounds like he made an impact.” He was trying to find my face.
I took his hands and spread them wide in the air. “It’s like he threw open all the windows.” I remembered, in Scotland, when he slid his Mercedes to a stop in front of my apartment, and I could see his sunglasses through the side window. I’d taken refuge there and Alec followed me, afraid I would forget that he’d infiltrated my life. Edinburgh was lonely. It was a city without shadows. The clouds collected together, their distended stomachs bumping and spilling onto the shivering inhabitants below. Our hands always held our bodies there, as though our limbs would float away from us and into the chilly air if we relaxed our grip. But in Scotland I loved him. I missed him with a kind of longing that I felt in my fists. When he stepped out of the car, the breath fell from me like snow; I rushed to his arms. I forgot what I was running from, and on the road through the highlands I thought only of memorizing the one hand that was always on me as he drove the car.
I paused to sip my wine. “He took me all over New York. People at the office got wind of the affair, so I quit and took a job in Edinburgh. But he bought a plane ticket to visit me and I moved back. I think he would have chased me anywhere. He wanted to be the one to end it.”
He took the tips of my hair and ran his finger over the frayed ends. “Alec didn’t know what he had.”
I paused. The swing groaned as I pushed against the sand. “I feel like if I don’t keep up with him I’ll stop breathing. Like how a shark has to keep swimming to stay alive.”
“Keep up with him how?”
“With him I always felt on the edge of victory. But then he left me there and I can’t turn back. I want to live bigger than I ever did before. All I have of him are whiskey glasses we bought in the highlands and glamorous memories. It’s not like he ever loved me. I don’t want those relics to be the greatest I’ve ever had.”
“Sophie, the greatest memories aren’t the most glamorous ones. I would know. I have no shortage of glamour.”
“But it's not like you're at home with your kids. You're sitting on an island with some random chick that's droning on about her ex boyfriend. You’re the same as me, James.”
He looked at his hands. “In some ways you’re right.” He took both of my hands in his. “I just think that if you stop trying to prove something, and take a minute to enjoy your surroundings, you might find what you’re looking for. He’s a wealthy, older man, trying to make an impact in some young girl’s life so that he won’t be forgotten.”
I looked for a long time at James. He was handsome in the evening light. I used to look at Alec like it was the last time I’d ever see him. Every moment we shared was heightened, the volume of the world turned down and time slowed.
I finally lifted James’ arm and curled up under it. “These are pretty gorgeous surroundings.” When the breeze blew it lifted a film of sand from under the swing.
“The sand is so white and soft…” He stroked my arm and kissed my hair. “I could snort it.”
I grinned. His chest was warm and I pressed my cheek to it, even though the night was balmy.
James ran one finger down my arm absentmindedly. I listened to his chest and realized he couldn’t know the sound behind his ribs. His heart pulsed through one ear and Bermuda breathed through the other.
“Will I see you again?” I tried to determine if his heart beat faster.
“I suppose you could be my date to your father’s next fundraiser.” He laughed softly.
I lifted my head. “You mean we’re not flying to Venice next week?”
He smiled, and laid his hand on my head. “I’ll see you again if you want me.” He placed my head back on his chest. “I just don’t think you will.”
I closed my eyes again. I was beginning to feel the first pull of sleep. My arm sprawled over his chest and my fingers combed the sand. The wine had settled in and James’ arms formed two warm rings around my body, the ocean sighing over the shore in uncanny rhythm with every third beat of the swing, and I remembered it all on the runway in chilly New York as my arms tried to replace the heat his had provided- the green dress, no longer fluttering, now balled up in the bottom of my bag.