Though I hadn't seen Allison in six months, I arrived twenty minutes late for our rendezvous at the tiny seaside park in Lahaina. She forgave me sweetly with a kiss. As the trade winds wafted like invisible curtains of cool silk, she spoke in a lilting voice, genuinely happy to see me, sure of herself at last. Immediately I fell into a strange fixation with the sunset reflected magically in her hazel eyes. She tossed her head back and laughed when I made a clumsy joke, a strand of black hair tumbling over one side of that lovely face. She brushed it aside with slender delicate fingers I longed to hold. Mesmerized and only half listening to her words, I shifted my position ever so slightly until her eyes mirrored the palm trees on the beach, dark and swaying under a fiery sky. I was spellbound, utterly lost in her presence, crucified. But what a glorious resurrection I contemplated!
"Are you hungry?" she asked.
"Well, I'm famished."
I mentioned a nearby restaurant where we had often dined.
"I have a better idea," she said with a mischievous smile. "Why don't you follow me home and I'll cook supper? I want to show you my new place."
"You gave up your beautiful apartment?"
"For something much nicer," she hinted.
Putty in her hands, I agreed to her proposal without thinking. Allison left the top down on her convertible and we raced across the isthmus of the island, climbing through fields of sugarcane in the brooding twilight. As I gulped mouthfuls of balmy air, my ears popped from the change in altitude. A sliver of a new moon hung like a scimitar over the outline of the mountain looming ahead of us. Haleakala, the house of the sun, was unoccupied in darkness. I envisioned a night of tender passion lasting until dawn and afterward the whispered promises and new hopes. Allison was a consummate lover, so eager to please. How marvelous it felt to be alive on such a wonderful night.
Framed in my headlight beams, her car swung around the curves so recklessly it seemed poised to take flight at any second. Her brown hair swirling in the wind reminded me of Medusa's head of snakes and I recoiled at the thought of being turned to stone. Allison repeatedly tapped her brakes only to accelerate again on the next straight section of highway. It was all I could do to keep up with my little maniac driver.
Our destination turned out to be a two-story green house surrounded by eucalyptus trees at the end of a long driveway. Allison kicked off her shoes at the door and padded into the kitchen. The sight of a beautiful woman barefoot always left me breathless with anticipation. I followed her like a happy dog.
She poured me a glass of white wine. "How do you like it?" she asked.
I took a sip.
"Not the wine, silly. The house."
"Seems a bit large for one person."
"I have two roommates. Didn't I mention that?"
"Not that I recall. Where are they?"
"They come and go," she replied. "I never know when they'll be home."
"Living like a gypsy queen in a fairy tale," I said, quoting one of her favorite songs.
"You might say so," she smiled.
"I haven't told you yet how great you look."
"Must be the mountain air."
"I'm glad you didn't cut your hair."
"I changed my mind."
"Aren't you going to have some wine?" I asked.
"Not right now," she said. "Listen, would you be a sweetheart and take the chicken out of the freezer while I grab a quick shower? I feel absolutely grungy." As she sauntered down the hallway, she slipped out of her dress so gracefully my heart skipped a beat. "Help yourself to the wine," she called out before closing the bathroom door.
What an exquisite tease she was. After our long separation I wanted her feverishly and she knew it only too well. The whole misunderstanding had been my fault, of course — the man is usually to blame in such matters — but I was determined to make amends. I had already managed to convince myself that things would be entirely different this time around, hope being the universal drug of addiction. My mind swarmed with plans for the future.
After her shower Allison prepared a meal of thyme chicken, steamed broccoli and fried rice. We sat on high stools facing each other over the wet bar while she ate and I drank, my face cupped in my hands as I listened to her chatter between bites. It seems she had taken a new job in a dive shop of all places. With a silent laugh I pictured her playing mermaid to boatloads of sunburned tourists. I had always been amazed that such a shapely young woman could eat as much as she did without gaining weight, and I applauded her gusto when she finished her plate and went back to the stove for second helpings.
"You should eat something so you don't get a hangover," she suggested with a slightly annoyed look.
I wanted to say that a man in love has no appetite for food, that he would rather subsist on passion alone, but the words eluded me. I emptied the last of the wine into our two glasses and proposed a toast to old times. Allison stared at her glass, refusing to drink.
"What's the matter?" I asked.
"Please tell me."
"It's just that I hoped you had changed."
I knew she meant reformed as in rehabilitated myself. "Allison, I want us to be together again."
"You know I love you." I leaned across the wet bar and kissed her.
At that point I heard the front door slam and distinctly male voices. Allison stood up as two young men tromped into the kitchen. One was tall and had a thick beard with shoulder-length hair. His companion was clean-shaven and had a stocky build. Both looked embarrassed when they saw me.
"Sorry, Allie," the tall man said. "Did we interrupt something?"
"This is my friend, Lee," she said.
The tall man introduced himself as Paul and said his friend was Jeremy. I shook hands with them mechanically.
"Paul works in the dive shop," Allison explained. "He found this house for us to rent."
"Nice place," I said, trying to smile.
"You do any diving?" Paul asked.
"I used to."
"You should see Allie working underwater," he said. "She's a female Jacques Cousteau."
Jeremy tugged nervously on Paul's shirtsleeve. "Let's give them some privacy."
"Right," Paul said. "Good to meet you, Lee."
After they left Allison took her plate to the sink. "Don't act so betrayed," she said. "I told you I had roommates."
"You forgot to mention they were men."
She spun around to face me. "We have separate bedrooms, in case you're interested."
"How convenient to be under one roof."
"I suppose you think I'm sleeping with one of them."
"My guess would be Paul."
"They're just friends, Lee. Not every man is sex crazed like you."
I was beginning to lose my temper. "If I remember correctly, you're rather fond of sex yourself. And I love how you're trying to turn this around and make it seem like it's my fault that you're living with two young studs."
"I wouldn't be here if you could have kept your hands off of Brenda," she said.
"I haven't seen Brenda in two months."
"That must be a new record for you."
"She moved to Honolulu."
Allison cast a frosty glance in my direction. "I wondered why you were so thrilled to see me."
"You called me, goddamn it, I didn't call you. And I stopped seeing Brenda before she moved."
"I wish I could believe you."
All at once I felt miserably defeated. "You brought me up here to rub my face in the fact that you've found a new boyfriend."
"That's not true," she said.
"Don't worry, I won't ever bother you again."
"Will you stop feeling sorry for yourself?" she said.
"I've had enough of this little charade," I said, standing up. "I'm going home now if you don't mind."
"You can't drive that far," she said. "You've had too much to drink."
"You can sleep on the sofa in the living room."
"You must be joking," I said.
She stepped forward with one hand outstretched. "If you don't give me your car keys, I'll have Paul take them by force."
"Like hell he will."
"Paul has a black belt in karate," she said. "He lifts weights every day."
For an instant I considered the prospect of tangling with Paul. Perhaps I could land one good punch before he kicked me in the head. In the end I handed my car keys meekly to Allison.
"You're going to really enjoy this, aren't you?" I asked bitterly.
"Me listening to you and Paul make the bedsprings creak."
She looked wounded by my words. "I would never do that to you, Lee."
I almost believed her as I watched her walk up the staircase and disappear into the darkness of the second floor. I found a ratty blanket on the table beside the sofa and lay down with the television turned low. I tried to watch an old movie, but my mind kept drifting to the events of the night. I fell asleep feeling humiliated.
When I awoke, it was still dark and the television set was off. I glanced at my wristwatch: four thirty-five. Stifling a yawn, I crept up the staircase and paused at the door of the first bedroom. I heard no sounds and eased the door open. In the dim illumination of a nightlight I saw two people on the bed, naked with arms and legs wrapped around each other. I gulped when I recognized Paul and Jeremy. Backing up, I closed the door silently behind me. The second bedroom was empty. I opened the door of the third bedroom and Allison immediately flipped on the light.
"The bathroom is downstairs," she said.
"I'm completely sober now," I said. "Let me have my car keys."
"Couldn't you wait until the sun came up?" she asked, fumbling with a drawer in the table beside her bed. She tossed the keys to me.
"I'm sorry I gave you such a hard time last night," I apologized.
"Did you sleep at all?"
"Like a baby. Can I have your new telephone number?"
"I thought you were mad at me."
"I was, but I'm not anymore. I've seen the light."
"What are you talking about?"
"Never mind," I said, smiling. "Just write down the number."
"If I do, will you leave and let me go back to sleep?"
I sat down on the bed and kissed her. "I'll be gone before you know it."
Driving down the mountain in the cool morning air I felt like a new man. It had rained during the night and on the last curve above the main highway I lost control of the car on the wet pavement. I hit the brakes and the car spun around and crashed backwards into a clump of bushes. I wasn't injured, but my heart was thumping wildly as I tried to restart the engine.
A figure stepped out of the darkness, a girl dressed in a mini-skirt and tall leather boots. "Hey mister, you okay?" she asked.
"A little shook up," I admitted, cranking the ignition. When the engine finally started, I reversed back onto the road and hesitated for a moment while my breathing returned to normal. The girl leaned in the passenger window.
"I need a ride."
I looked at her closely for the first time. Despite the purple lipstick she wore, she had a pretty face and could have passed for eighteen.
"Where to?" I asked.
"Your place," she said with a practiced smile.
I thought of my sweet Allison fast asleep in her bed, dreaming perhaps of me. What she didn't know couldn't possibly hurt her. I reached over and opened the passenger door.
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