I bumped into her at the Tides and Tea coffee shop one July morning on my way to a new job. I was taking a few days at Cabot’s Harbor and had no idea that our brief encounter would change my life forever and bring special meaning to the words beach house, summer affairs, and secrets.
The weather was blistering hot and muggy. The women in town were wearing skimpy halter tops, short shorts, sandals, sunglasses, and sunburns. The sexy teenagers looked vampy and carefree, and the rest of the women were trying to look like them. Many of them succeeded.
“Excuse me!” I blurted out when my tray bumped a woman’s glass of iced tea. The tea spilled down her bronzed arm, giving it the sheen of a Roman statue.
Her damp arm looked so tasty I wanted to put my mouth down and lick off the tea. But I’m a gentleman who doesn’t act out on fantasies. At least, I was until I met her.
She burst out a throaty laugh that sounded like a purr. “Thanks for the shower,” she said, grabbing her glass to prevent the rest of it from falling on some poor guy’s lap.
“Is this how you meet new girls?” she asked. Her blue-gray eyes, only inches from mine, looked like jewels set against her tanned face. Her mouth was turned up in a comely half-smile.
What a funny thing to say. “Not always, but sometimes it works,” I said, smiling.
“That’s cute,” she answered right back. “I’ll bet you have more tricks up your sleeve. When you wear sleeves.” She gave another throaty purr.
I grabbed a napkin off my tray and dabbed it on her glistening arm. I felt a jolt of electricity when my fingers touched her skin.
“You have a soft touch,” she said, watching me stroke her arm. “It feels like you’re giving me a massage.”
“Let me get you a refill,” I said, looking into her eyes.
John Coltrane had been playing over the sound system while I had stood in line, ordered coffee and a Danish, turned around, and bumped into her reaching for a spoon. I couldn’t hear Coltrane anymore. All I heard was her voice, like a sultry sea breeze.
“That would be nice,” she said. “Iced chai, ginseng and ginger.”
I reached for her half-filled glass and kept my eyes on hers. “I’ll bring it to you. Where are you sitting?”
She spotted an empty table in a corner facing the beach. “That one over there. I’ll save a spot for you.”
I signaled to the barista, who took her glass and refilled it. When she handed it back, I put it on my tray and headed to her table. The air conditioning had chilled the coffee shop to the point where it felt like we were inside an iceberg. It was 8:30 a.m., and I sensed a possible interesting diversion in my beach vacation—or not, if she got away.
Her long, bronzed legs were crossed and extended out from a table the size of a chessboard. Her thin sandals revealed toenails painted deep red. She watched as I carried my tray toward her, fingers steepled in a striking pose, her pale yellow shorts hidden under the table. Her full breasts were held in a sleeveless, bronze, gauzy top with thin straps.
She looked like one of those almond-eyed queens etched on a tablet from an ancient Egyptian dynasty: reed-thin, dark-skinned, cropped hair, wearing bracelets and seated on her throne.
“You’re new here, aren’t you?” she asked as I put her tea in front of her and sat down. Our chairs were only inches apart, but she hadn’t moved them. Our arms were so close I could have leaned over and wiped the rest of the tea off her arm. I could sense the warmth from her body so close to mine.
“Yes, I am,” I said. “I stop here when I want to spend a couple of days at the beach.”
“What’s your name? Mine’s BJ. Short for Betty Jolene. My mom was from Alabama.”
“Dane. Dane Chambers.”
She laughed that throaty burst that made my heart leap. “Interesting name. Sounds like you could be a game show host,” she teased, sipping her iced chai through a straw. Her eyes, sparkling blue-gray and set off by long lashes and arced eyebrows, had never left mine. “I’ve come here every morning this week and haven’t seen you.”
I nodded. “I got in last night and am spending a couple days before I go to Shattuck to start a new job.”
“Which beach are you going to?”
I shrugged. “Someplace where there’s not a crowd.”
“Good luck. It’s July. Every Monday, a new crop of families shows up for a week at the beach. They plop down umbrellas, beach chairs, coolers, beach balls, plastic pails, and shovels, and leave on Sunday, sunburned, kids screaming, Dad and Mom exhausted. They drive home and spend the rest of the year counting the days until they can do it all over again. You going to join them?”
I laughed and bit into my Danish. “Maybe not, if that’s what’s ahead of me.”
She sipped her tea, our eyes still locked in a way that was both alluring and challenging. It was almost like she was taunting me to see who would blink first.
“I stay away from the crowds,” she said. “I go to a beach where you see more seagulls than people. I even have a special place where I sunbathe nude.”
How do you respond to a comment like that? “Must be far away from here.”
She tossed her head over her left shoulder. “It’s north of here, past the state park and game preserve. The road is hidden, so most people don’t know where it is. We’ve had a secluded beach house there since I was twelve years old, when my Dad bought the place.”
I sipped my coffee and tried to gauge if she was going to continue or was waiting for me to respond. She continued.
“He bought an old house that had been there since the ’40s and rebuilt it into his dream beach house. We spent almost every summer here until Dad moved to Europe. He hasn’t been here in a while, and I’m the only one who has a key.”
“You come here often?” I asked.
“I spent the winter skiing in Colorado. Then I went to Paris in May to see Dad and his new wife. But I’d rather spend the summer here than in Paris. The museums and restaurants are packed with tourists, and the French treat them like vermin. My dad is French, and our family spent a lot of time over there while I was growing up. Most of my French friends are married now and live in the Paris suburbs. We kind of lost touch, and I rarely see them when I go over.”
I said, “I was there a couple of years ago before I went to grad school. We traveled around in a van and spent most of our time in the south before going to Italy for the rest of the summer.”
“I love Italy. I should go back again soon,” she said.
She sipped her tea and glanced at the clock on the wall. She ran her hands over her tanned arms. Her long fingers were tan and manicured. No wedding ring. Just a bracelet of oval gold bangles that looked Egyptian.
“Want to see the beach?” She looked at me, her eyes only inches from mine. I couldn’t look away. “It’s going to be hot in a couple of hours, and it would be nice to swim in the ocean before lunch.”