Monday, April 09, 2007

Retreat

David swam in Laura's wake, watching her legs scissor-kick through the cold waters of Squam Lake, her motion graceful and strong.

He broke the surface just as she climbed the ladder to the wooden raft. Her bathing suit, a white one-piece, lay across the crease of her leg and rear-end, a spot he watched until she turned away.

As he climbed up himself, his breath came hard, a reaction to the cold as much as the exertion. He lay prone beside her, head resting on forearms, and faced her from no more than two feet.

With her hair slicked back, Laura’s face looked more angular, her hazel eyes larger and more alive.

“You lost," she said. "Again.”

“Because I don’t bother to care for my instrument.”

She turned up on her side to face him. “Is there nothing to live for?”

“There is in moments like this." He watched a bead of water draw a course down the length of her collar bone. "Besides, losing is worth it just to watch you move.”

The awkward smile appeared again, the smile of a woman who can't comprehend a compliment.

He reached a hand to her face, slowly traced the line of her upper lip.

She closed her eyes as his finger wandered to her lower lip and rested there briefly. When she opened them again, she gently kissed the back of his hand.

"These seven days give me life, Laura."

The words seemed to pain her. She eased herself to a seated position and hung her legs off the side of the raft. "I wish you wouldn't say things like that."

Following suit, David sat beside her, thigh-to-thigh, and put his arm around her shoulder. They sat silent, their wet bodies breathing against each other, and watched a pair of loons pass overhead before he spoke again. "When will Ron be making his grand appearance?"

A derisive little sigh escaped her, and her glance fell to the water at her feet. "He missed his flight. He won't get here 'til late tonight, early tomorrow morning."

Looking out at the empty lake, David failed to suppress a thin smile. "Why does he even bother?"

Now toying absently with the low seam of her bathing suit, fingers grazing her thigh, Laura gave a faint shrug. "So he can claim he did it."

David started to say something, then froze before his intended words reached his lips. "Jesus. Why am I so smug? My wife won't even make that effort."

She turned to face him then and held his look--from only inches away. "Can you just answer one question for me, David?"

"No. I can't." He shook his head, a motion so subtle he couldn't be sure she could even see it. "I made a lousy, inescapable deal, Laura. The story hasn't changed." He could smell her now, as she leaned against him. There was water, and woods, and sand, and something more--not sweat, exactly, but the scent of her exertion. He breathed it slowly and tried to will his mind to hold on.

"Did you even talk to your kids yesterday?"

He nodded. "Long enough for them to tell me they were headed for their gradma's." He moved his hand to her thigh and took her fingers in his, intertwined them.

Embracing his hand in both of hers, she said, "Do you think of me? Back in the world, do you ever think of me?"

"I try not to. But yes. I think of you."

"I hate that Pam gets your time. That she's the one you put your arm around. That she's the one you make love to."

"Well, you and she have something in common, then, 'cause she hates those things, too."

Laura laughed despite herself, then fell to an awkward silence. The only motion between them was the easy turn of her foot in the water. "Sometimes it all feels so goddamn juvenile."

"What? Wanting the person you're with to be something more than a stranger? Wanting to be loved?"

"We're not 14 any more."

"Immaturity's not our problem, Laura. Our problem is that we couldn't wait long enough to find--"

From a distance, a faint trilling--three short rings, a pause, and then a repeat--brought his thought to an end.

Laura, who knew the tone as well as he did, stood on the edge of the raft, said, "I think her ears must be burning," and dived once again into the cold water.

David sat still on the edge of the raft, watching her wake fade as, onshore, the phone continued to ring.

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