Jack was waiting for them downstairs.
Like Karen, he was older, likely in his late 40s or early 50s. His hair was short but long enough to have been fashionably tousled by the slight breeze. His hair was brown, peppered with grey at the temples, dashed throughout. He was wearing linen khakis, not unlike the ones Matt had borrowed and seen worn across the island, and an untucked buttoned-down white shirt that showed off his thick whitened chest hair. That kind of chest hair was something Matt would usually roll his eyes at, a relic of an older generation, but somehow Jack pulled it off. Jack had rolled up his sleeves, and at the end of his thick hairy forearms, he was wearing an expensive-looking watch. His skin was dark and tanned, like Karen’s. His hands were large and chiseled, almost as if he’d done some carpenter work in the past. Jack’s presentation reminded Matt of reading something on a blog about sprezzatura, the art of looking artfully disheveled. Jack was sprezzatura.
When Jack shook Matt’s hand, his handshake was firm, comfortable, embracing—Jack’s left hand had reached out to touch Matt’s—like they’d been friends for decades. When Jack kissed the top of Anna’s hand, he smiled, wrinkles flanking a big smile, big dark eyes looking up at her. Matt searched for a pang of jealousy but there was none; in fact, he felt honored. Besides, Anna deserved every kiss; she looked radiant in the dress.
Jack motioned them into the villa and placed a glass of wine into their hands as they walked. “Salut,” he said, smiling, with a big white-teethed smile. Anna and Matt took a sip from their glasses. Jack laughed and picked up his own glass from the nearby table. “It’s bad luck to toast without friends, but I understand the rush. It’s very good champagne,” he said, smiling. “Cheers,” he said, this time raising his own glass, then chinking it to theirs. He drank deeply from the champagne glass, and Anna and Matt matched his pace. As Jack said, it was very good champagne: dry, tart, vivacious. It percolated in their mouth before going down with just a hint of bite. It was delicious.
“Another?” Jack said, chuckling at their already empty glasses. He poured, and then another toast, “To the second.” They drank again, this time with more restraint, and sat.
The sun was setting, dark falling, but hanging lights tied from one end of the raised walls to the other end basked the yard in a soft warm glow. A quaint metal gate was on the other side of the area, the same gate they’d had to come through to get to the beach house. A little table was set up in the middle on the cobblestone, a wine stand to the side. It felt safe, warm, inviting, picturesque. If cellphones worked here, Matt would have snapped a photo to share on his Instagram. He took another sip of his champagne.
Small talk ensued. How was the day, did they enjoy the beautiful weather, did they see the shop just off main street. Jack was clearly a master at conversation, smiling, joking in a way that felt warm and inviting rather than off-putting. His voice was thick, with a kind of classic Italian accent that added to his mystery and exoticism, like he should be pulling up in Lamborghini to pick up some friends for a Sunday drive. It echoed in the courtyard, filling it with a kind of warmth.
The door to the apartment from upstairs opened. “Ah, here’s Karen,” Jack said, his eyes rising.
Karen descended from the stairs of their apartment. She was wearing a thin summer blouse, clearly no bra, and an expensive-looking but tasteful gold necklace that gathered into the cleavage of her breasts. The material was just thick enough to obfuscate any clear details, thin enough that Matt could tell nearly see her aureola. Her breasts bounced a bit as she stepped down each step, moving with the blouse. She was wearing a tight pair of white, expertly tailored thin pants, and sandals that roped around her ankles. Matt had never really noticed her feet before, or anyone’s really for that matter, he couldn’t help but notice that Karen’s were immaculate, beautiful. Dark red nails, a gradual slope up to her heels leading into her ankle that reminded Matt of Karen’s upper body curves.
“Wow,” said Matt and Anna, at the same time, standing up with Jack as Karen walked in. They looked at each other and laughed. Damn, people on this island knew how to make entrances. He chuckled again, feeling warm and happy. Bubbly. Had the champagne had already taken effect? Probably. Good. He pulled in Anna at her waist closer to him, her body pushed slightly against his, the feel of her breast into his ribcage, and he looked back at Karen, his eyes following the nape of her neck down, down the slightly jostling necklace, into her cleavage, where there he quickly tried to discern the shape of her nipples, the outline of her areola, then down to the tucked-in blouse and Karen’s pants, where there he felt like he found himself at home. He breathed in a bit, lost in folds of Karen’s pants and the way it framed her groin, separating it out from her waist. Matt breathed in again and shook his head. Anna looked up at Matt, smiling at him. God, she knew he’d been looking didn’t she?
Karen smiled at the couple and waved at the table. “Let’s sit, eat. Jack, will you be so kind as to attend to our first course?”
“Of course dear,” he said, stepping out and meeting her midstride, first kissing her on the cheek, and then with a quick but deep kiss on the mouth. As Jack walked out of the courtyard Karen stepped to Anna and kissed her on either side of her cheek, and then on the lips, with a kiss that retained propriety and yet lingered. Karen smiled as she pulled away from Anna, and Matt thought he caught Anna licking her lips just a little. Karen moved to Matt and smiled, offering her hand. Matt kissed it on the top, knowing that he hadn’t quite pulled it off like Jack. Quite accidentally he breathed her in as he kissed her hand. She smelled complicated deep, like coriander, petitgrain, cedar, vetiver. He wanted to breathe in her again but he let her hand go. He worried that Karen might laugh at him, but she seemed pleased enough and smiled down at him, then motioned for them to sit down, and so they did. Karen reached over to the bottle of champagne, refilled their glasses, and poured her own.
“So, Matt and Anna,” she said. “Tell me how shopping went.”
Anna talked, mostly, sharing a light recap of their shopping excursion. “The island is beautiful. The little shopping part of the village is so wonderful. We didn’t buy anything, but we saw a lot we liked,” Anna smiled at Matt and laughed a bit. Matt smiled back.
Like, Karen was excellent in guiding the conversation, leading it to certain places, although her style was more reserved, her questions more poised and planned. Instead of a rich booming laugh like Jack’s, Karen smiled reservedly, in a way that was quite nearly withholding but still felt welcoming and accepting. It was an odd and complicated contradiction, thought Matt, and even though Matt and Anna were filling the conversation with talk of themselves, Matt found himself more and more wanting to know as much as he could about Karen.
After several minutes of conversation, the gate to the courtyard creaked open. “I’m back,” it was Jack, walking in with a cutting board of pickles, cheese, and charcuterie.
It looked, and was, delicious. The perfect start to a meal. And from then the food didn’t stop.
Ceviche. Pasta. Pork belly. Beef Tartare. More pasta. It just kept coming. For each course, Jack or Karen would alternate leaving the villa and running around the corner to the cafe, and then bring more food and another bottle of wine. They were all small plates, but after the fifth or sixth time, Matt stopped counting.
The conversation was as good as the food. Matt thought himself fairly adept at the art of light talk, but he found himself and Anna talking much more often than Jack and Karen. This was a shame because Jack and Karen were absolutely fascinating. Jack had been a UN Weapons Inspector in Iraq, Karen an international art dealer. Jack became head of all electrical operations in Washington DC during Y2K, Karen taught art school and flew to New York City to work with famous artists. At every step their story was fascinating, peppered with encounters with famous artists or writers or intellectuals or politicians, but the couple never conveyed a feeling of haughty or elitism. It felt instead to Matt like Jack and Karen were letting Matt and Anna in on something, rather than excluding them.
Yet it also felt like very selective stories, like a carefully curated overview. Despite Matt’s attempts to learn as much as he could about Karen (and, it seemed, Anna about Jack) Karen and Jack always turned the tables and Anna and Matt would talk for half an hour straight before they realized it. At some point in the evening, after several open bottles and courses of food, Jack and Karen stopped talking about their life entirely. Suddenly Matt and Anna were telling their life stories. Broad strokes, intimate details, everything in between. It felt so natural to talk to Jack and Karen, like they had been friends for years and the four were just catching up.
And of course, everything Karen did had an element of sensuality to it that Matt could not ignore. She’d laugh and lean over slowly, gracefully, and Matt would catch a glimpse of the beautiful, tanned tops of her breasts. Or she’d stand up to pour some more wine, or get another course, and he’d find himself at eye level with her pussy, or just inches from her ass, the thin material of her blouse and pants framing her body perfectly.
When Matt shook himself out of the fog of the wine and the conversation, he’d notice Anna doing the same thing with Jack. She kept glancing towards Jack, watching him for laughter or smiles after she told a joke. He’d place his hand on her arm as he told a story, or put his arm on our around her shoulder during a big laugh. During one story, Jack put his hand on her thigh and Matt swore he saw Anna shiver.
And again, as before when he’d noticed her looking at other men, he searched for jealousy in his emotional rolodex. But it wasn’t there. He was flattered that someone like Jack was flirting with Anna, his partner. And when Anna responded with a smile, or a blush, or a giggle, it made his flustering over Karen feel ok.
Their eating slowed down, and a gentle lull settled over the conversation. The wind blew over the top of the courtyard and the sound of the ocean at the beach rolled in the background. Jack and Karen looked at each other.
Ê”We’ll be back in a few minutes,” Karen said, standing up and tucking her arm into Jack’s as he stood as well. Matt felt an odd pang of sadness; he wanted her to stay, or more, for him to be with her wherever she went. As she walked away Matt swore he could smell her leaving; it was as if her scent cast an aura, a halo, and that it left with her. Matt leaned back against the villa wall, watching Karen’s ass sway as she walked out. He noticed Anna was similarly watching Jack walk out.
After the couple had walked upstairs into the apartment, Matt exhaled. He and Anna needed this break. He smiled pleasantly. The wine had indeed imbibed a fog over everything, but the mere presence of Jack and Karen was like a blanket of sensuality. When they walked out of the villa, it was like a spell had lifted.
“Holy shit,” Matt said, looking at the cobblestone floor and visibly trying to catch his breath. He looked up at Anna. She was absolutely gorgeous, the glow of the hanging lights bouncing off her flush cheeks, the strings of lightbulbs refracted off her slightly glassy eyes, her hair in strands. He reached out slowly, smiled, and tucked one strand behind her ear and she returned the smile. They were probably both drunk, but he didn’t feel the kind of out-of-body slog that normally accompanied drunkenness. He was aware, but happy. More like floating.
For once all day Matt didn’t immediately drop his eyes downward. He simply looked into Anna’s face and smiled. She smiled again, big. The whole villa seemed to glow a little brighter.
It was all so perfect. Too perfect? Too not them?
“Anna,” said Matt, still looking at her, “What. The. Actual. Fuck.” He picked up Anna’s hand and put it into his. “What is going on. We haven’t even talked about all of this yet. We haven’t really talked since we got here. This, all of this is,” he waved around, as if able to draw a circle around the island, and, well, everything. “It’s not us. Right? What are we doing? What is happening to us?”
His speech was slurring just a little, his words working in spite of the wine to catch up to the racing thoughts in his head.
Anna’s face changed, just a bit, and Matt recognized the scientist in her, thinking, analyzing. She looked at him, waiting for her own words. She was quiet for a second, then smiled and shrugged.
Matt spoke, trying to fill the dead air. “It’s like . . . it’s like we’re different people. I have never felt this, for lack of a better word, sexed-up. I, I,” he stumbled. “I can’t stop looking at women. Not just you. Women. In general. And Karen,” he waved in the general direction of the gate. “Karen quite a bit. A lot,” Karen in her see-thru shirt flashed in his head. Karen walking down the stairs. Karen standing up, right in front of him. Her smell, her sway, her curves. Focus, Matt. He shook it off. “But, but it’s not just sex. It’s other stuff too. We drank so much last night I don’t even remember what happened. It’s totally blank. And this morning. I felt like I could work out for hours. I never got tired,” He was trying to organize his thoughts into words. “It’s, it’s like, there’s a new person in you I’ve never met. But it’s like there’s a new person in me too.” He paused, his brow furrowing as thoughts slowly formed into words.
“Who are we?” he asked.
Matt felt his brow furrowing.
Anna smiled again, a slightly maternalistic, pitying kind of smile, but warm, and then looked down, pausing for a moment then speaking.
“That’s a big question. Who are we,” she thought for another few seconds. Her face scrunched up, just like when she just stuck on a problem. “I don’t know Matt. Like you said, this all feels new. And new is sometimes scary,” she said, leaning into him a little more. “But the moment we stepped into the apartment yesterday I realized something. I’ve always had to work so hard for everything. Every step to advance my career took so much time and planning and effort. So much. It was all so regimented. So...scientific. So planned. And I like planny things. And science. Hell, I fucking love my work. But work took so much. So much work. So much time. So much. There was never any instinct to it all. Nothing just ever happened, you know?”
The sound of people on the beach laughing loudly rolled over the walls of the villa. Anna looked up at the sound, smiled a bit, and then looked back at Matt. Her eyes were bright, a little misty.
“The apartment, yesterday, was more beautiful than anything Matt. It just happened. I know it’s just a building and just a room. But for once we got lucky, you know? It just fell in our laps. So, the moment I saw it all, the island on the way over here, the room with the beach just outside, I decided, in that moment, that this week was about instinct. It was about letting it all happen. No planning ahead. Living in the moment. Saying yes, instead of always saying no. Doing, rather than thinking,” Anna shuffled in her seat closer to Matt. He could smell her now, sweet and bright, a bit like peaches. “I do feel like a different Anna, Matt. I mean, it’s still me. It’s always been me. But it’s like I’m being reintroduced to a me who is ok with letting things happen. Who isn’t planning everything five steps in advance. I dunno. I want to meet this instinctive Anna. The effortless Anna. The yes Anna. I want to meet her. Even just for a week. Don’t you? Want to meet her?“Ê
Matt thought. This person talking, this Anna, this was the old Anna, the Anna that had boarded the plane, the Anna that wore sweatpants while biting her pencil when working on a problem. The Anna that got up early to jog and then head to the campus to work at the lab.
And, if he was honest, it was the Anna he rarely saw, because she and he were never not working. It was the Anna who was asleep when he came home, or at work before he woke up.
Matt titled his head a bit as he processed it all. His brain was moving slowly. Were the new Anna and old Anna the same Anna? Was the Anna who was looking at other men, flirting with them, touching them seductively, playing with them, teasing them, and him, was this the same Anna who worked late at the lab, who would take over the kitchen table with hundreds of printed pages of scientific articles? Who was this new Anna? He looked up at her. God, she was beautiful. The lights bounced off her golden hair, made it glow. The wind gently picked up a strand of her hair and she tucked it back. The air was crisp.
Would he lose the old Anna to the new Anna? What would happen if the old Anna never came back?
Anna was right. New is scary.
Anna smiled, again, a neverending treasure trove of smiles tonight, and her smile felt to Matt like she was reading his thoughts.
“It’s ok,” she said. “It’s ok. New can be good, right? New is change, and change is inevitable. This is a fundamental biological principle. I am a scientist. I know this shit.”
Matt smiled weakly and took a swig from his glass. He breathed in, heavy.
“What about you Matt?” Anna asked. “Who is this new Matt, the one who just straight up stares at women in bathing suits in stores, who rushes in a totally transparent wall shower to eat my pussy, who can’t help but crush hard on a total stranger just because she’s, well, fucking hot. Karen is fucking hot.”
Matt chuckled. “Karen is hot,” he said. “But is this new Matt me? Is he who I want to be?” asked Matt. “Do I want to be a guy who can’t stop checking women out? Who can’t focus on anything but objectifying your body?”
Anna nodded. “I hear ya. Let me ask you this Matt,” said Anna, sidling more in, her right breast pushing in against his arm. “When was the last time we had sex? Before the vacation. When did we last fuck? Like, really fuck.”
Matt thought for a second. “A week ago?” Anna shook her head. “A couple of weeks?” Anna shook her head again. “Three weeks ago? Three?” Anna nodded.
“It’s been about a month,” said Anna. “And do you remember anything about it?”
Matt tried to couldn’t. “Well,” he said, “Our sex life is fun, I guess We’re just busy, you know. We have a lot going on. This is the most important time of our careers, and,” Anna cut him off.
“Stop. Listen. We were drifting apart Matt. I’m a scientist. We are good at predicting stuff, like climate change and the end of the world and, well, the end of us,” she said. “If we kept going like we were, on that trajectory, like that, we would have both been dead on the inside. A year, two years tops. It would have all been for nothing. Everything we’ve worked for. We would have lost it all because we were losing each other. We were giving each other people for our careers. We were giving up on us.”
Matt sighed and shifted in his seat. When were Jack and Karen going to come back? He looked up at the stairs. This conversation was getting more real than he wanted.
“Matt? We needed something new. We needed to do something different. We needed this. Whatever this is. And whatever this will be. We need it. We need to be yes people. Not just yes to everything. Yes to each other. Yes to new things. Yes to exploration. I mean, sure, we were saying yes before...but it was a yes to our careers,” Anna paused, frowning. “But not yes to each other.”
Anna breathed in. “Matt. Will you say yes to me? Can we be yes people? Can we say yes to the new Anna and the new Matt?”
Matt breathed in heavy again. This was a lot. But Anna was right of course, as always. Anna was always right. Matt closed his eyes and tried to imagine what Anna had already seen: night after night of missing each other, one person sleeping in because they stayed up late, the other going in early. The demands of each person’s careers slowly taking over everything until nothing was left. He knew it to be true. He’d felt it happening. He just didn’t want to admit it. Anna was right. They needed something a change. Something new.
They needed a new Anna. A new Matt. They needed to say yes.
“I love you,” said Matt, opening his eyes. And he meant it. Despite the fog of the wine and the charm of their hosts, his mind was clear. He meant it. “Yes, Anna. Let’s say yes.”
He heard Karen and Jack laughing brightly down the street, approaching. Matt leaned into Anna and whispered, asking a question of clarity that belied the tipsiness. “Listen, scientist anna. One more thing. The smoothies. There’s something in them, right? I’ve been tasting it all day somehow.”
Anna looked up at the stairs, as Jack and Karen descended, talking about something. She looked back at Matt. “Yeah, something is happening. I don’t know what though. But,” she looked back again, “Whatever it is, it doesn’t feel bad. I can’t explain why. But I think...I think what it is, it’s helping us. Somehow.” She shrugged. “I dunno. I just want to say yes, Matt. I just want to let whatever’s happening happen.”
Matt searched Anna’s eyes, and she searched his eyes back. It was a deeply intimate moment. It felt to Matt like they’d pulled a curtain back from between each other. And he loved it, this new sense of intimacy. He put his left hand on the back of Anna’s head, digging his fingers into her hair, and pulled her close. He slid his right hand up her thigh and then into her pussy, pulling her body into his and then kissed her deeply. As his tongue explored her mouth, he felt her moan, and she hefted her waist against his hand on her pussy. It was wet, he could tell even from outside her pants. Anna was as turned on as he was, about, well, everything.
Jack and Karen walked into the villa with plates and wine bottles, smiling as they saw Matt and Anna linger in their embrace. They sat down, slowly.
“Anything happen while we’re gone?” Jack asked with a smile.
“Yes,” said Matt, looking at Anna. “How about a toast?” Everyone raised their glass. “A toast,” he said, “to change. A toast to something new.”
“A worthy toast,” said Karen, approving, and she lifted her glass.
“A toast to something new,” they said, together, clinking their glasses.