The Island (Fiction)

"Even if we did used to be married, it just feels weird undressing in front of you. Why don't you go ahead. I'll be out later." She watched James toss his clothes onto his bed and throw open the cabin door. He stood there a moment she could see he was hesitating. He turned back to her: "Well, have fun. It's not a big island. We'll catch up with one another soon enough." And he was gone into the dazzling light, descending the stairs to the sand.

Liz sat on her bed. A week in middle-of-nowhere, naked. There were people who spent their own good money for this kind of experience, she thought. James' boss was paying her pretty well to do this, for pretending to be James' wife, to help make sure they'd take him as a guest. Even by herself in the room, she undressed only hesitantly. She resisted the temptation to check herself in the mirror. She walked to the door, contemplated the doorknob for a moment, and eased open the door. It was cooler outside than in the cabin, but the sun felt warm, and drew her out. She closed the door behind her. She was relieved to see that she was completely alone.

She walked back the way they had come, toward the airstrip and the little reception office. A gentle wash from the lagoon was sweeping over the runway - no one could fly in or out at high tide, she realized. The door to the office was open. Liz climbed the steps onto the porch and peeked inside, but Malia and Afitu, who had welcomed them, were not there. No one was there. The porch offered a place out of the sun, and there were a few folding lawn chairs. She'd forgotten she was supposed to bring a towel, but found a stack of them inside. She helped herself, and stretched out to watch the ocean sparkling in and out over brilliant white coral sand.

James. He'd been a friend since their first year at Pennsylvania, before they were lovers, and was a friend now. Cool British accent, goofy sense of humor. Well, goofy for a business major. After their marriage it didn't take long to realize they weren't going to make a life together. Once he had his degree and his immigration papers, they let it go. She was glad he'd thought of her for this.

The jet lag washed over her in rhythm with the waves.

story continues:

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The Island - 2. Afitu

James started counting cabins, scattered widely among coconut groves. Four, so far. Nothing but coconuts seemed to grow. The trees were laden a plain hazard, if the coconuts were to fall. He couldn't tell if they were neglected, or being harvested when they were mature. There was no coconut litter on the ground. With a little caution, he approached another cabin, and another. There seemed to be no other guests. He'd been unable to find a map of the place, and decided to walk the layout. He'd need a hat, and went back to the cabin for it. Liz was gone. Good, he thought, she's out exploring, too. Hope she has a nice time here.

He had a report to make. Get to know the place, tell me what you see, Peter had said. Not much guidance from a boss who usually offered much clearer assignments.

There was no map, he knew only what he had seen from the air. One substantial structure, not now in view; likewise a cluster of buildings, more of them and closer together than these cabins, all in an arc around a coral-blue lagoon. Walking toward the sound of surf on the on the side of the island facing the open Pacific, he came to an airy pavilion. The one walled side held an open kitchen and a bar whose liquor shelves had the first lockable door he had seen since arrival. A little further on, a fellow came into view, middle-aged, solid, wearing a knee-length pareu waist wrap wet with sea water at the hem, carrying a day pack over one shoulder. It was what was his name? - the man who had greeted them at the airstrip.

"Good afternoon," James waved." Mr. Edgerton. You settle in OK?"

"Yes. James, please, call me James. And forgive me...

" Afitu. Afitu Obermeier. Welcome. I just on the way to open the kitchen. We have a boat come in soon." They walked together back to the pavilion.

"You hungry?" Afitu asked as they arrived under its roof.

"No just out for a walk. Mind if I sit for a while?"

"No, no the place is yours."

With that, Afitu produced a stack of linen seat covers and swept along the bar and through the dining area with them. James took a seat at the bar. Afitu stepped outside to open a propane valve, then exchanged his wet pareu for a crisply folded apron and got to work.

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The Island - 3. Malia

"Mrs. Edgerton?" Even married, Liz had seldom been called that; this was an odd sort of dream. "Good afternoon, Mrs. Edgerton." Afternoon. It was afternoon. Liz stirred, felt the unfamiliar webbing of a lawn chair under her, puzzled out where she was. The reception office. With a quick effort she pulled herself awake to see Malia, standing some paces in front of the porch, waiting patiently for her to wake up. Malia had been naked at the reception office when Liz and James arrived, so Liz had never seen her clothed, and it took Liz a moment to recognize Malia's nakedness, and to be reminded of her own. She pulled herself up on one elbow to turn over, to hide herself. This is silly, she realized. Malia's seen what she's gonna see, probably a thousand times over. So instead she sat up and found words.

"Good afternoon, Malia. Sorry. Am I in your way?"

"Oh, no! Stay if you like. I not want to startle you. You have a good rest?"

Malia stepped up onto the porch.

"I guess so," Liz answered. "I didn't expect to doze off, but it was a long trip. What time is it?"

"Three, maybe. A boat come."

"More guests?"
"I think. More people come today or tomorrow. We see when the boat come."

Liz thought to ask when the boat was due, but heard the answer echoing in her head: "we see when the boat come." The runway was dry now. She'd slept long enough for the tide to go out. "I borrowed a towel if that's OK?"

"Sure, sure. They there for you. Keep it with you or leave it, no matter." With that, Malia rattled each of the other lawn chairs and with a quick brush of her hand shed the chairs of any sand, fetched the stack of towels, and distributed one, still folded, to each lawn chair. Malia herself sat heavily onto the porch steps.

"Do you live full-time on the island?" Liz asked, speaking now to the back of Malia's head.
"Come, sit." Malia patted the floor next to her. Liz stood, gathered her towel, and took the place offered to her.

"Yes, these days. My grandfathers, they fish here. Afitu, too, his one grandfather. Other grandfather German, they here until first World War. I come and go little girl time island so small, hard to live here for too many people. Then Mister Nakamura come, after second World War, maybe fifty years ago. He bring money, easy to stay here then."

"Mr. Nakamura?"

"You not know Mr. Nakamura? He rich man, big company in Japan. He come live here sometime. He make resort here. You and Mr. Edgerton have kids?"

Liz caught her breath. "No", she could honestly say, "we never had children". But there was a dishonesty in that, too, that felt very different here in person than it had felt when they fibbed about their marriage to whoever James' company's travel agent was.

Malia sat quietly. Liz, in an effort to mirror her patience, sat with her. So, Malia was a girl fifty years ago, and must be at least sixty now. With her thick black hair and ageless bronze skin, just plump enough to stop any wrinkles, and her solid, swimmers body, she didn't look it; she could pass for forty. Liz caught herself. She was always sizing up other women by their outfits. Now, naked, reduced to sizing up Malia by her skin, a bad habit pushed to the point of absurdity. It made Liz smile. They watched an afternoon cloud mount at the leeward edge of the lagoon.

There was a stirring of activity on a far shore visible along the lagoon. They see the boat, Malia said. Eventually, outside the more open side of the lagoon, they saw the boat, too, rising above the horizon.

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The Island - 4. The boat's coming in

James accepted Afitu's offer of a bottle of water, and followed his progress in setting a variety of things on to warm, bringing items out of refrigeration into view, preparing seafood for later quick cooking.

A young man hurried in, wearing the same sort of wrap Afitu had worn, similarly wet, and said a few words to Afitu. Seeing James, he switched to English. "The boat's coming in, Papa. They radio'ed there are three guests, and passengers. Mike and them will take out the canoes; Sarah's got the catamaran. Do you want me to go with her, or take over for you here?" He stopped to catch his breath. Then, with shy deference and the slightest of bows, "Hello, sir. Welcome."

Afitu did not rise to his level of hurry. He considered the kitchen for a while. "You stay here, just turn things down when they get warm, and finish with these crabs. Be ready to warm up the bread. You want to bar-tend?" And without waiting for a response, Afitu tossed his son a key. "James, you want to come meet the boat?"


Afitu untied his apron and set it behind the counter. Naked, now, he stepped out onto the sand. "No hurry. The boat slow coming into the lagoon. Three guest, I think an artist woman come, English couple. Maybe Hiva, my son his girlfriend. He want to be on catamaran to see her soon. But he can wait until work done." Afitu giggled mischievously.

James found that they were retracing the route to the airstrip. He could remember no docking facility there, but held his questions about that.

"What's your son's name?"

"Anjelo. He an angel when he little, still an angel now."

"Do you have a lot of family on the island?"

"We all family here, grandfather time. Malia, me, we have three Anjelo the youngest. Oldest girl marry, have baby here, baby on the way. Next oldest away at school."

They were passing near James' and Liz's cabin. "Do we have time for me to check to see if Liz is home?"

"Plenty time. Tell her dinner in maybe two hours, or we come around later if she like eat in cabin."

Liz wasn't there. James left his hat on the bed, and responsible for nothing but his flip-flops rejoined Afitu. He felt very free, to be so unencumbered in the gentle afternoon breeze. He kicked off the flip-flops and tested the softness of the sand. Good enough. He pushed them against a coconut with one toe; they'd still be there when he needed them. There was magic in being entirely without possessions, his skin his only envelope, alive to the world. Afitu, he realized, had been barefoot all along, even when he was otherwise dressed.

They were indeed approaching the airstrip. As they climbed the reception office's steps, they heard voices inside. Malia, of course. And Liz, James recognized. They stepped inside.

"We meet again," James joked to her.

"She giving me some help, Mrs. Edgerton."

"Liz, please call me Liz."

"She giving me some help, Liz."

"Not much help. I guess maybe some visitors are coming."

"Three," Afitu offered. "Radio call come in."

"OK. Miss Miller?"

"They didn't say, just three." And to James: "That our artist, Miss Miller. She call Helen."

Afitu went back outside, and James followed.

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The Island - 5. Arrival

The catamaran appeared. Two hulls, supporting a broad plywood platform, a motor on each hull, the pilot, standing, a woman in long pants and a t-shirt. It headed to the more open side of the lagoon. It stopped at a point there, and the boat approached it, ready to be led in.

As the boat entered the lagoon, a double-hulled canoe rowed out to meet it. A platform extended from the deck level. Four people stepped onto it, and a mechanism slowly lowered it to just above water level. The canoe with four rowers pulled alongside. The boat was some distance from shore and the people were difficult to see, but James, fascinated and with professional curiosity, concentrated on the process. The canoe pulled broadside up to the platform, and a person was helped into one of the hulls. The canoe then turned to bring the other hull alongside, and two people climbed in. No luggage was loaded. The canoe rowed toward the reception office, the catamaran came into position, and the fourth person on the platform stepped onto it. He and the pilot pulled up a rope attached to a buoy, which produced what looked like a heavy fuel or water hose, which they screwed into a coupling on the side of the boat. The platform was raised again. Another group of passengers, these laden with luggage, descended and stepped onto the catamaran, which then powered off elsewhere across the lagoon,

The canoe skimmed quickly over to reception office. Malia came out to join Afitu at the shore where two of the paddlers jumped out, the four of them firmly beaching the canoe. Liz stood on the porch watching for a moment, then walked outside to stand with James and be out of the way.

Far across the lagoon, a cloud now towered, darkening the ground below it, and suddenly poured rain down so heavily that the noise caught Liz's attention.

"Look at that." She pointed James' attention to the downpour.

"Wow. They're really getting hammered."

But there was no change in the activity of unloading the boat, and the sky was clear where they stood. James wondered how all this would be done in genuinely bad weather. He noticed oil drums being manhandled onto the deck.

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RE:The Island - 6. Helen

Conspicuous in the approaching canoe was a broad, flowery hat, worn by a woman of a certain age, who also wore a similarly flowery pareu wrapped cleverly around her waist with a pleat that allowed her to take the wide step necessary to get out of the canoe. With a paddler on each arm, a heavy, muscular older man and an athletic woman of about twenty, naked as all four of the paddlers were, she allowed herself to be steadied firmly up the slight slope of the beach, where she put both hands into Malia's to further steady herself as the paddlers let go.

"Malia! So good to see you! Oh, I love being back here! It's been so long!" She pulled Malia into a tight hug.

Malia took a half step back to keep her balance, leaned into the hug, then with her hands on the visitor's shoulders pushed away to arms' length, and with a broad smile answered "Miss Miller, welcome. Did you have a good trip?"

"Oh, horrid. LA to Honolulu we sat on the tarmack forever. We just ran for our connection in Hawaii, no time to even pee, and the catering cart... Afitu! You're looking good!" Miss Miller pulled away to administer another firm hug, going on tiptoes to bring the brim of her hat over Afitu's head, bracing them together with a firm hold on his butt. She gave a squeeze. "Handsome as ever! Malia's one lucky woman!"

Over her shoulder, Afitu saw two naked men, each about thirty, stepping out of the canoe. These were not the distinguished British couple he'd imagined might be arriving today. "You've brought us company?"

"Oh, yes, yes. They didn't tell you? Wonderful boys. Conceptual artists. You'll love them."

"Hello!" she said, spotting James and extending her hand. "Helen, Helen Miller."

James took her hand with some hesitation, but he was not pulled into a hug; Helen took his hand into both of hers and looked him up and down. "James. James Edgerton. This is Liz." He nodded his head in Liz's direction.

"Jimmy! Have you been here long?"

"James. I go by James. No, we flew in this morning."

Helen let go James' hand, pulled off her hat and gave her head a shake. She went to Malia, handed her the hat, undid her pareu and handed her that. "Darling, I just can't wait!" And ran naked into the sea.

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The Island - 7. Mark and Wolf

The paddlers pulled away back to the boat, and would soon enough return with luggage.

The two unexpected visitors stood alone for a moment, while Malia climbed onto the porch to set down Helen Miller's things. Afitu went to them to offer a handshake and welcome, and lead them up to the reception office.

Liz and James remained on the sand. James noticed the catamaran now loaded heavily with crates and oil drums, pulling away across the lagoon, barely above water, while the boat sat a bit high. "Quite the process, doing all this without a dock. I suppose there's no water deep enough."

"She's quite the character, Helen. Wanna go up and meet the new guys?"

"The chairs on the porch?"

Liz led the way, ducked into the office quickly to get a towel for James, set the chair for sitting upright. James took the one next to her. The canoe was headed back with luggage, James noted, and the boat had continued to rise in the water, now precariously high. They must be pumping out the bilge. But why into a hose? Afitu came onto the porch to answer the question. "Are they pumping fresh water out of the boat?"

"Yes," Afitu said, "they bring us water every time. Then fill up with seawater to go back." He went to the canoe as it arrived, and he and the paddlers hefted luggage up onto the porch. They conferred in words James did not understand, apart from "Mr. and Mrs. Bradford" and "Pago Pago."

"The British couple coming in later?" James asked.

"They delay. Fly in tomorrow."

Helen came happily out of the lagoon, shaking off water like a dog, and Malia swept down the stairs to meet her with a couple of towels. The two young men followed her as far as the porch. James stood in greeting. "Hello. Welcome. We just got in this morning. I'm James."

"Mark." He extended his hand. He was rail-thin, not very tall, with a noticeable dusting of blond hair over his whole body and thick shock of it falling into his face. "This is Wolf." Wolf was brown-haired, heavy muscles gone a bit slack. He avoided eye contact until he made the effort to offer his hand. Wolf said a heavily accented hello.

"Wie war deine Reise?" James ventured.

"Gut genug", Wolf replied, then, translating himself, "Good enough trip."

"This is Liz." Which Liz took as her cue to stand and shake hands around.

Each man identified his pack and picked it up. One of the paddlers asked if there were more, but that was all, and he offered to walk them to their cabin whenever they were ready. Helen sufficiently dry and wrapped in a towel, Malia came to say which cabin, and to apologize that someone would be along shortly to make up the bed and bring linens. She then went back to tend to Helen, with two more of the paddlers acting as porters. They headed off. Afitu and the remaining paddler pushed the canoe back into the water and headed off across the lagoon.

Mark and Wolf lingered. "Have you been here before?" Mark asked.

"No, this is the first time Liz and I have been here.
"Same for us. Helen loves this place. And we love being naked. It's how we got famous."

"You're famous?"

"A project we did in Berlin. Got a walk-up apartment we could outfit with bars to allow views into all the rooms. Then, for a year, we made ourselves an exhibit, like a zoo. Anybody could come, any time, bring us anything. They'd feed us, give us things to play with. Totally, absolutely, no privacy, which was kind of the point. Give us money, a lot of money as it turned out. The toothpaste and toilet paper were nice, too some people are genuinely kind."

"And some are assholes," Wolf interjected.

"Yea. We wondered how dangerous it would be. But Berlin is a safe city."

"And you were naked through all this?"

"Mostly. If somebody brought clothes we'd play with them, maybe put them on, maybe not. We're usually naked at home, anyway, so we just did our thing. Not naked for show, just being ourselves for show. We got great writeups. Helen manages us in LA."

James looked at Liz for silent permission to speak for her. "We're headed back to the cabins. May we walk with you?"

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The Island - 8. Ready for Dinner

The sun angled under the coconuts as James and Liz, Mark and Wolf, and their paddler guide, walked into the area of the cabins. Liz and James followed along as the group made its way to the new arrivals' cabin. Liz caught sight of a net strung between two trees some distance away, now lit sunset-orange. "Is that for tennis?"

Their guide reported "Can be. Ground not so good for tennis. Badminton, volleyball things at dinner house for the games.

"Dinner ready when you ready. Maybe hour? Bar open. Someone come show you way."

James thought to object that he knew the way. Then, knowing how abruptly night falls in the tropics, allowed the offer to stand; it would be pitch dark in an hour. The group said their goodnights; the guide stayed with the new arrivals to check that their space was ready. As soon as James and Liz got back to their own cabin, James went to the toilet, lifted the lid of the tank, and dipped in a finger. "Seawater. They're flushing with seawater to conserve, the way they do in Hong Kong."

Liz couldn't help laughing. "You're really doing your homework. Peter had better appreciate that you tasted toilet water for the greater glory of Haverford Resource Management."

James sat on his bed, Liz sat on hers. They were naked together in a room for the first time since college days a decade ago. A silence fell. Out on the grounds they had lost consciousness of their nudity, but it weighed on them now. Liz realized there could be no rule requiring her to be naked in the cabin; she'd brought a beach wrap and outfits to travel in. Before that thought turned to action, James broke the silence. "Want to go on over to the bar?"

"That or fall sound asleep. It's been a long day. I guess we should show up for dinner. Give me a bit to get ready."

"OK. I'll be back in a minute. I left my flip-flops outside somewhere."

Get ready. It was such an automatic thought, a ritual, before going out. The ritual was mostly conducted by fussing with clothes, but it was indispensable. Well, she could brush her hair and splash water on her face, use the toilet in this brief moment of privacy.

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The Island - 9. Anjelo at the bar

James leading the way in dim light, they easily found the pavilion, lit by torches under its eaves all around, providing light and a little extra warmth.

There was no one in the dining area, but a bit of bustle in the kitchen, and as they came in, the bartender appeared. Liz was surprised to hear James address him by name. "Anjelo how's business?"

"Excellent, with such a distinguished gentleman and such a lovely lady" - with this, a slight bow - "as customers. What can I do for you?"

It was James' turn to be surprised. This was the shy, quiet kid he'd met this afternoon? He was not a kid now, he was the handsome young bartender, and playing the part well. Certainly physically qualified, tall had he been tall this afternoon? - slender with the muscles of a swimmer and paddler, a line of tattoos running around one arm and onto his chest, tawny skin just a touch lighter where a swimsuit sometimes sat. "Let us think a bit. Looks like you have everything back there?"
"We try. Just ask. Do have a seat would you like a table or will you sit at the bar before dinner?"

They chose the bar. Was there a charge for liquor? They didn't know. But it would not do to ask, and this was a thoroughly expense-accounted trip. Before they could order, an approaching group caught their ear. Helen. And Mark and Wolf. Being led through the dark by Afitu. Afitu took a table for one in a corner at one end of the bar, and the others headed for barstools.

"Looking good, Madame. Welcome back. One Adonis on each arm, I see you're in good form. Mark and Wolf beamed, and Helen charged up to the bar, reached over, and touseled Anjelo's hair.

"You gorgeous child! How about getting your sweetheart a glass of white wine?"

Liz had been wondering where Anjelo was getting all this flirtatious patter. Now it was plain if Helen had been coming here for years, she'd been touseling Anjelo's hair since childhood. Bartending, he was cribbing from her act. "You got it. Gentlemen?"

"Beer" Wolf replied.


"Why not."

"Hinano," Anjelo produced the bottle with a quick flourish. "Pour for you?"

"In the bottle, thanks."

Anjelo held the bottle for Wolf's inspection in a sommelier's gesture, caught Wolf with a one-eyed blink, "We want the gentleman to be satisfied." Then he popped the cap. "And our blond Adonis?"

"Same, thanks."

To James: "Sir?"



"Certainly. Your girlfriend come in today?"

Anjelo's posture softened, and James was answered by the shy kid with the sweet smile and a touch of his father's pidgin accent. "Yes, she come. I see her tonight."

James had intended his question as a sally in the bawdy conversation, but changed course just in time. "You miss her when she's gone?"

"I miss her a lot." A pause, And then, raising the energy a couple of notches, "Classic martini, coming up, Mr. Bond." Anejelo crisply assembled the ingredients in the shaker and, judging the clientele perfectly, stood in front of Wolf to shake it, over one shoulder and then the other, much longer than it really needed to be shaken.

Liz thought this was cute, and funny, and pretty to watch. Out of the corner of one eye she noted, due to the particular expressiveness of the male anatomy, that Wolf was well entertained.

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RE:The Island - 10. Dinner with Mark

Martini in hand, James stood, and stretched, nodded a goodbye to all, and sought the comfort of a table and chair, taking a seat at a two-top in the pavilion. A moment later, Mark approached with his beer. "May I join you?"

"Please. Have a seat."

"You're from England by your accent?"

"Originally. North of England. I came to America for school, and been based there ever since. I work for a company that does industrial commodity brokerage, mining, heavy stuff, all over the world, so I travel a lot. Never seem to get back to England, though. I mostly do hand-holding with clients while the high-priced commission guys come and go to make the deals. Just spent three months in Poland. They're really opening up their economy now that the Soviet Union's gone."

"Wow. Wolf's from Vienna; I've spent time there, and Germany. Never been anywhere else but US, mostly LA."

"You grow up there?"

"Close. Lancaster, edge of the desert."

"So how did you end up locked in a cage in Berlin?"

"The conceptual art scene. I was part of that in LA that and waiting tables and there was so much going on in Vienna that I just had to go. Fun, but way too hardcore. Wolf's ex this was after we left for Berlin died in a project. He set himself up as an exhibit in a museum, lying on the floor circled by live electrical wire, and that circled by buckets of water the idea to make himself vulnerable to any attendee who cared to kick over a bucket. Somebody did. The courts decided it might have been an accident. And another guy did one too many body modifications, basically cut himself to death. And the Nazis. A lot of them were Nazis, sort of. Which they would not put up with in Germany, but in Vienna it got kinda fashionable. Among people, of course, that the real Nazis would have had no patience with. But close enough. Sending the occasional enthusiast to North Africa to keep Yasir Arafat warm at night, that sort of thing. Anyway, too much. So, Berlin. The cage thing was an inspiration, no accounting for that, but it got Wolf out of Vienna. It kind of creeps me out that Mr. Nakamura was in and out of that scene."

"Mr. Nakamura?"

"Yea, the guy that owns this place. Old guy, famous for being rich, some kind of industrialist in Japan, big arts guy. He and Helen go way back. I think he's going to be here."

"What's the connection with Helen?"

"Nakamura knows lots of artists, Helen's an art dealer. I don't really know, exactly."

The party at the bar quieted, and in the visible part of the kitchen, two women appeared. One, very large, strong, regal bearing, of indeterminate age; the other, younger. The bartender invited the three at the bar Liz, Wolf, and Helen to take a table, which they did as a body, leaving Mark and James to themselves. In their wake came the younger of the two women from the kitchen, with napkins and silverware with only five people expected, they had not pre-set tables.

As the server arrived at James' table, he felt acute embarrassment. She was stunningly beautiful tall, a thick braid of black hair down her back, broad-shouldered, statuesque, her nudity offset by an anklet woven of leaves and the attached dry fruits. She moved with a dancer's grace, and, setting the table, was necessarily very close. The embarrassment was that James did not know what to do with his eyes. Did she know she was beautiful? Would she welcome his gaze? She seemed in this regard the opposite of the young man at the bar. He followed her hands. She went to the bar for water, set that before them. "Will you want wine?"

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The Island - 11. Dinner with Helen

Anjelo joined his father, who had been supervising silently from his table at the end of the bar. Neither ate. They would both help with clearing the tables later, but left the service of the meal to the two women.
The meal was simple. A soup based on coconut and lemongrass, and served for the table, family style warm bread and the crabs to pick apart, with a dish of melted butter, sides of a starchy vegetable and crunchy steamed greens, neither of which James recognized, diced fruit sweetened with cane juice, made obvious by the thin slices of raw cane that garnished the bowl.

"How do you know Kenji Nakamura?" Helen asked Liz.

"You're the second person to ask me that today. I don't know him I think maybe James does from work I haven't had a chance to ask. He's the owner?"

"He's had this place for decades. Lovely, isn't it? Hard to imagine a more absolute retreat from the world."

"How do you know him?"

"He sponsored an artist I represent in LA Laszlo Nagy, you know him? Laszlo's passed away now; I represent his estate. His widow Magda; she's a real friend. Too much for Laszlo, I think; he insisted they move back to Hungary for a while because she got LA-crazy, hanging out with ZsaZsa Gabor, spending too much money on Rodeo Drive. She came back to LA after he died. Did you come in through Honolulu or Papeete?"

Talk of their very long day of travel made Liz aware of just how tired she was. Dessert finished, Afitu and Anjelo cleared their tables, and offered to escort them back to their cabins, an offer Helen accepted.

The group walked together under the light of a half-moon high in the sky. At the cabins, the others followed Afitu and his flashlight. Liz trusted James to find their way. At their cabin, James went in and Liz lingered to marvel at the brilliance of the stars, until a gentle evening coolness on her bare skin made the closeness and warmth of the cabin inviting. When she went in, James was already asleep.

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