The island on the far side of the passage was thickly wooded and dark in the night save the glow in the windows of the houses along the shoreline. It was late in August. There was a light westerly wind and the clouds that had plagued the day were long gone. Beside him on the balcony overlooking the water the girl kept her hands tucked under her arms. He said to her, “See how the sun shines on the moon and then from the moon on the water?” and he took a long sip of wine thinking You fool. Why must you always teach?
“Yes,” she said, “on the ripples. How many do you think there are?”
“Yes, that we can see.”
“Probably billions.” He looked at her wineglass on the balustrade. The glass looked in danger in the wind. You have no idea, he said to himself. You don’t talk to her in how many years and now you are with her and there is an uneasiness and you think it is something. He looked over at her not moving his head and it suddenly struck him she was a woman of nearly thirty years and not the girl of sixteen. He saw her eyes were on the water and the play of the rippled light was on her eyes. He said quietly, “Scarlet.”
“I thought about you, all these years. I think about you.”
“I’ve thought about you too,” she said lightheartedly and her eyes stayed on the water.
“Say things that are not true,” and her eyes had not moved. But it is true, he thought. I never embellish. The only lies I tell are understatements. He said, “Your birthday is April first. Your favorite color is yellow, because it reminds you of summer.”
She laughed. “How do you remember that?”
“I just do. I remember a lot.”
“Your birthday is November …”
“December fifteenth,” he said and wondered if this meant she did not love him.
“December fifteenth,” she repeated passively. She was standing to his right and she turned to the right and looking inside at the party said, “I’m pretty chilly.”
Alone on the balcony he peered down at the wide river of water moving through the passage. The moon glimmer on the water acted as a charm and he saw Scarlet spread across the water as he had seen her spread across his bed on a night years ago. When you were eighteen, sixteen seemed old enough, he told himself. Now you see her out there as a girl and you feel ashamed looking at her. But you will die with this. He took up the wineglass she had abandoned on the balustrade and he tilted it to his mouth and tasted the cool glass and bitter drops.
What is it, man?” said an old friend. They were at the table with the food and the punch and the bottles of wine. James kept peeking at Scarlet on the far side of the room. The man she was talking with touched her elbow. She was smiling. “I’m sorry,” James said.
“You look lost,” his friend said.
“I think I am.”
“You know it happens all the time.”
“What’s that?” asked James.
“I mean, it’s boring—you not being over Scarlet. How long were you guys a couple, like two months or something?”
“Excuse me.” James got up. In the bathroom he washed his hands and then dabbed his face. Scarlet was at the door when he opened it. Their eyes met for a blink. “I have to go,” she said. “It was nice to see you.”
“Walk me to my car?”
Out by her car she said, “I should be in bed and asleep. My flight leaves really early.”
“It’s my fault. It was good to see everyone.” He went to open her door. She touched his hand. “James, if what you said is true, if you’ve really thought about me over the years, what have you thought?”
“That I wished I knew you," he said. "Every day I regret what did not happen between us.”
“You took my virginity. What else did you want?”
I love you, he thought. I love you. Let me kiss you. Let me tell you.
“Goodnight,” she said and opened the door. She got in. He stood there feeling a calm like still air.
The long driveway was narrow and tunnel-dark under the tall evergreen trees that leaned over it. She drove fast up it and onto the road. You are a liar, she thought. Have I thought about you? Of course. Ten thousand times. But you hurt me once. No man will ever hurt me more than that. Who are you, James? She wanted to go back and ask. Yet she had to get to bed. Her flight departed incredibly early. “And we never really knew each other,” she said softly to herself. “What I feel cannot be love.”