It was late and the light was just beginning to disappear off the water. John stood on the shoreline sipping from the blue mug she’d kept for him all this time. The birds had already started to quiet down for the night and he got up to stoke the fire. There were a few stray geese still carrying on overhead as if it was high noon, honking for all they were worth. He looked up as they passed him by, their white bellies shimmering from the last of the day’s light reflecting off the lake. The mist was rising in silver columns from the water’s surface and the air was rich with the scent of pines. He took a deep breath, soaking in the inherent peace of his surroundings. He could hear the lone call of a loon somewhere in the distance and he climbed back into the sleeping bag, reaching for her, seeking her warmth. She settled against him easily, comfortably.
They’d had little trouble connecting again physically, and he exhaled in contentment. She reached up to touch his face with her fingertips and he felt her soft sigh. Bending down, he kissed her forehead, lingering, breathing in the scent of her. He wished he could read her mind in that moment, but feared what he might find there. He’d left her alone for a very long time. He closed his eyes against the memory. “Not now… please God, not now.”
There was another couple in the tent next to them and their muffled laughter made them both grin, the memory of last night still fresh in their minds. He didn’t think there were words that could explain the feeling he had when he saw her standing in the lobby of that hotel. He collided with an elderly woman holding a little white dog and an enormous white purse coming through the door at the same time. In his rush to get to Isabel, he hadn’t even seen her and he apologized profusely as he helped her pick up the contents of her purse that had spilled all over the floor at the entrance to the hotel. When he looked up, scanning the lush surroundings of the lobby quickly, she was there across the room, her hand over her heart. She was laughing and crying all at once, swiping at her tears and doing her best to contain the emotion spilling out of her everywhere. Her eyes were red and she was shaking but she waited for him to collect himself and he approached her slowly, afraid she might fade from him and disappear if he moved too fast, like she had inhis dreams. When she didn’t, he nearly crushed her in his embrace and a cry escaped him unbidden. He clung to her without words for several minutes and she felt so fragile in his arms. He could sense her fighting for composure. She melted into him and he held her close before pulling back to search her eyes. She smiled and shrugged gently, as if to say, simply.. “Still here.”
A few people paused to watch the reunion, collectively holding their breath. Their affection for each other was so moving that the woman whom he’d tripped over set her dog down to get a tissue. The little thing scampered happily across the slippery floor, sliding and losing his footing several times, leash trailing behind him. He jumped up on tiny paws, panting and licking at Isabel’s hand and she leaned down and picked the puppy up, snuggling him in amusement for a moment before handing him back to his owner with a smile.
He was completely oblivious to all but her. He took her face in his hands and memorized every feature anew as tears continued to pour down her cheeks without a single word. “Isabel,” was all he could say past the lump in his throat. Tipping her chin up he kissed her, tasting the salt of her tears on his lips while gently wiping them from her cheeks with his thumbs. If he could have stayed in that moment forever, he would have. He would gladly lay down his life for her right then and there. Taking her hand, they walked up to her room together and he laughed wholeheartedly when he saw that she wasn’t wearing any shoes. Her pink socks were the color of the morning sky over Italy.
He chose to leave the curtains open to the twinkling lights of the city and laid her gently on her pillow, controlling his need for her only briefly before losing himself for hours in every curve, every sigh, every single one of her heartbeats. She wasn’t tentative…she remembered his preferences and she played them like a violin, sweeping him away to another place and time where only she existed. He buried his face in her neck and touched places in her she never allowed anyone else into, careful to honor that knowledge with every fiber of his being. The beautiful sounds that escaped her lips on wave after wave, brought her home to him.
When he finally saw light dawning over the city, he turned her toward the window and settled in behind her, tucking her into his body and holding her close, running his hand back and forth over her softness. As the sun came up over the clock tower, the tiny hairs on her arm lit up, causing her to glow in the warm light. It was like deja vu.
She shifted so she could see him and he smiled down at her, touching his nose to hers and rubbing gently. It was a symphony of sight and sound and smell that washed over both of them, wiping away however briefly, the pain of their separation. She got up and stood before him without shame, and he moved to the edge of the bed, laying his head on her belly and wrapping his arms around her waist. She ran her hands over the top of his head, brushing her fingers through his short hair sending electricity throughout his body. He stood boldly to face her, and held her up when her knees threatened to fail her. “Lightning in a bottle,” he whispered into her mouth. Smiling, he gathered her up in his arms and carried her with him to the bathroom, shutting the door with one hand.
They had decided later, to skip Boston and head straight for the mountains. Pushing themselves in the kayaks earlier today had been a wonderful way to spend the afternoon. She sliced through the water silently beside him just like she always had, a rhythm too perfect for words. He looked over several times to make sure she was keeping pace with him and he always found her right beside him, gliding with practiced ease across the lake. Her smile was dazzling and he felt happier than he had in a very long time. He eventually gave himself over to the quiet exertion, knowing she’d be fine right beside him. His arms ached but he wasn’t entirely sure if it was the exercise, or the longing he felt for her. Either way he welcomed the feeling, courting it with every part of him.
He smelled the burgers frying next door and could practically taste the bacon, fingers of scent drifting toward him… tempting. He was hungry, but not enough to let go of this moment just yet. Two years was a long time… too long. Dinner could wait another two minutes. She smiled at him softly, without a word, relaxed and content to speak her heart right now, only through her eyes. She always knew. This was his idea of luxury and lounging around by a fire with her after such a long time apart, was helping them both relax.
He’d been coming here since he was a boy and this campground felt as much a home to him as the humble place he was born to in Italy. He had come to the United States at ten, settling next door to Annie and her family in the village. There couldn't have been a better place to start his life in America. When they were kids, he’d hardly noticed the girls. He was five years older than they were and they were always underfoot telling secrets and giggling which drove him nuts. Tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, he looked at her thoughtfully now. Yeah, she still drove him nuts. She returned his gaze without question and he bent to kiss her, softly lingering, not wanting to disconnect. He loved the feel of her, how she moved in sync with him so easily.
He flopped onto his back, letting his mind wander. Isabel and Annie were friends but she mostly avoided him when they were kids. She told him a story once about how when she was a girl, Annie had given her a small rock tumbler for Christmas. She was fascinated by how rolling the jagged rocks around in a metal cylinder, letting them crash against each other, could wear all the rough edges away and create something cool and clean and entirely different from the original rock. She would keep the smooth stones in her pocket and run her fingers over their silky surface and it felt like a wonderful secret. She said that being a loner and being with other people was a lot like that to her. When she was with others, she would collide against them and their ideas and perspectives and she felt it changed her in so many wonderful ways. But when she was alone and the tossing had stopped, she could wander peacefully in the stream bed of her own ideas, turning each one over and over in her mind, like a beautiful smooth stone, polished to a glassy sheen by time and tumbling. She was always making metaphors. For Isabel, it was the best kind of magic.
He understood her on a deep level. Hell, he felt the same way and maybe that’s why they’d always gotten along together so well. How two lifelong loners had formed such a strong bond of connection was beyond him, but he loved it. He used to sit up on the porch, in one of the two rocking chairs she had picked up for the cottage and watch her wander, wondering at where she had gone off to, in that mind of hers. She enjoyed being by herself even more than she enjoyed being with the people she loved. When he could not find her in the house, he would often find her down on the sand, smiling to herself as she collected rocks and seashells by the dozen.
Their home was littered with her treasures. She was a tidy person, but she liked to surround herself with anything and everything that reminded her of the ocean and he would often find bits and pieces of her collection scattered in the most unlikely places. The walls were covered with scenes of their lives together; lakes, oceans, mountains and woods, painted in soft pastels and earthy hues that always meshed together in harmony somehow. That was his girl. She worked so hard to take dark and light, shadow and detail, void and form…and merge them all together into a complimentary symphony of color and light. He found it soothing. It was as much a part of her nature as simply breathing and it was so different from his own that he often found himself standing at a comfortable distance, watching in wonder. He belonged to her peace. She belonged to his thunder.
He recalled suddenly when he had first nicknamed her Sunshine. She was a midnight owl and he was a morning person. She hated getting up early and would moan and groan and pull the covers over her head when he would tease and push and try to get her out of bed for an early morning run. He had finally given up in exasperation and had taken instead, to heading into town to their favorite diner for coffee after his run, while waiting for her to wake up. The first time he had gone, he let the screen door slam behind him and thinking he was irritated with her, she had sprung out of bed and ran out onto the porch in her pajamas, but she was too late. He was off and running and he never even saw her.
When he’d come home with her favorite bagels in a brown paper bag, he’d found her sitting on a chair out back in the rain, crying, legs drawn up under her chin, hair sticking up in all directions. He got down on his knees in front of her and wrapped her up in his arms, distressed that something was bothering her enough to make her cry and at a total loss for what could have happened in the hour he’d been gone. When she told him what was wrong, he burst out laughing, assuring her that he was much tougher than she might think, and if she was trying to make him angry, she would have to work a lot harder than that. He would learn in time that anger was not an emotion she processed well, but for now, the smile she gave him when she realized he wasn't mad, made it seem as if someone had rolled the clouds away, flooding his heart with sunshine instead of rain. Isabel had beamed at him. "That's better, Sunshine.” he laughed. It stuck.
“Why are you smiling?” she asked, her fingertips grazing the stubble on his cheek, tenderly. He knew she didn’t really need him to answer that.
Rolling over on his side, he propped himself up on his elbow facing her and took her hand in his own, bringing it to his lips. It was cold and he warmed it gently between his own. Moving a little closer, he folded her into him. She lay down on his chest, wrapping her arms around him. He closed his eyes, overcome by such tenderness. And he understood intimately in that moment, that home was a person… not a place.