There was no sign of Sean anywhere.
“Would you like a beer,” she asked.
“A soft drink, please.”
She disappeared inside and returned with two ice filled glasses. “Don’t you drink?” she asked.
“Only when I’m depressed,” Neil answered honestly.
She made a face. “That’s not healthy.”
“I know, so I try not to drink at all. Mostly, I succeed.”
Neil studied Fiona’s face as she sipped her drink. Her face was very tan — unnaturally tan for someone so blatantly Irish — and her skin was smooth. Neil found himself revising her age downward. He had thought she was forty. Now she seemed closer to thirty-five.
Then she smiled and more years fell off her apparent age. For the first time, Neil realized she was hardly older than he was, and that joy or sexual excitement would transfigure her face and make her beautiful.
“What are you staring at,” Fiona asked, shaking back her hair, and Neil found himself without a reply. He was saved when she suddenly sniffed the air and leaped up to turn the hamburgers over.
“How do you like your hamburger?” Fiona asked over her shoulder. Neil continued to study her. He had not been with a woman since before Alice Hamilton had made her accusation. Lynn, his lover, had been unwilling to touch him after that, and he had been in no emotional condition to go searching for other companionship.
As Fiona fixed their meal, her natural motions brought that half year of stifled desire to a pressing urgency. The slenderness of her arms, the rich creaminess of the finger-width of back exposed by her blouse, the movement of muscle in her lean legs, and the firm motion of her buttocks beneath the thin material of her shorts became a sweet torment.
The essential question — the question that make all other considerations momentarily unimportant — was: Had she dressed provocatively for him, or was she simply being cool and comfortable?
They ate sitting across a tiny metal mesh table. Her glances told him that she was aware of his interest. After dinner, she served expresso in tiny cups. He took his sprawled out on a chaise lounge; she sat across from him on a matching lounge with her feet tucked under and her back straight.
Whatever had prompted Fiona to invite Neil over, seduction had obviously not been uppermost in her mind. Their conversation was light and wide ranging. He found out that she had been born and raised in Ohio. She had moved to San Francisco a decade too late to live the hippie life and that was one of her regrets. She had been caught up in the back-to-the-Earth movement until one week on a commune had shown her that she had an antipathy to pig manure. That realization had sent her back to college, and from that she had gone on to teach elementary school. She had graduated at the time of a teacher glut, and the only job she had been able to get was in this small district. It had suited her well, and she had been her ever since.
If there had ever been a husband, she did not mention him, nor did she make any reference to Sean’s father.
She drew out some of Neil’s history. It was not hard to do. He was hungry for a friendly ear. He told her about how much he missed Oregon and how much he hated the Modesto heat.
Beneath the surface conversation, a second conversation was taking place — a conversation consisting of the intensity of his looks and the softening of her body in response. They were both aware of this undervoice, but neither one acknowledged it directly. more Monday