Suspiciously Obedient

Page 25

“Can I help you?” a friendly voice asked. Mike turned to see a tall, dark-haired older man, about the same age his own father would have been if he were still alive. Maybe this guy was five or ten years younger at most, and the similarity to Lydia was striking. Same coloring, same broad, slightly Nordic look to his cheeks, and yet with a very Irish appearance. His eyes were a greenish blue, like the ocean after its been churned up from a storm, so he assumed she got those sparkling topaz eyes from her mother. Soon enough he’d find out, because he intended to meet her as well.

Mike stepped up to the counter and said, “I’m checking in.”

“And your name?”

Of all the times for his mind to go blank. He’d called in advance to ask about cabins for monthly rentals. And the woman he’d spoken with, he assumed Lydia’s mother, had cheerfully taken his reservation. But he forgot the name he’d used, and then it hit him suddenly just as Lydia’s father gave him a look of consternation.

“Oh, uh, Mike. Mike Davis,” he said.

The man popped into the iPad, tapped the glass a few times, and pulled it up. “Ah, yes, here we go. You are in the cabin we call Balsam.” He eyed Mike up and down and said, “Yankees fan?” with a look that said, Do you like to eat chocolate-covered shit, dude?

Mike pulled the baseball cap off, turned it around and looked, then laughed. He had been paying absolutely no attention when he was packing, and Jeremy must have played a prank on him.

“You might as well paint a target on yourself that says ‘kick me’—or worse,” the man joked. He reached out and shook Mike’s hand, introducing himself. “I'm Pete, Pete Charles. Nice to meet you, Mike.”

Mike felt the strong, weathered grip in Pete’s hand and met it with as much power and agreeableness as he could. He slipped the hat back on his head and said, “Well, I got it off a dead Yankees fan. Don't ask about the circumstances.”

That did the trick, and Pete’s rumbling, hearty laugh filled the small office and general store, pouring out into the back room and seeming to draw an older woman out, wiping her hands on an apron, her brow furrowed.

“What’s so funny, Pete?” she asked. Neither of them had the flat Mainer accent, which made him curious. But their voices had no affect. Simple, clear, competent, and quite nice.

And there was the source of Lydia’s eyes.

“Mike here is just checking in.”

Her eyes zeroed in on the logo on his baseball cap and she recoiled, her expression transmitting a sense of revulsion, surprise, and amusement. “You here for your own funeral, Mike?” she asked, pointing to the hat.

Pete nudged her in the ribs and leaned over with a stage whisper and said, “He got it off a dead Yankees fan.”

Instead of laughter, she responded with pursed lips, an eye roll, and a head shake. “Men” was all she said.

Mike had come prepared with a wallet full of cash, hoping to keep things simple this month, not wishing to trigger a single note of intrigue, of suspicion, or to trip anyone’s sensors about who he really was. Unfortunately, that plan was thwarted the second Pete told him that the monthly fee would be $1900, and Mike pulled $1900 in hundreds out from his wallet.

Both of the owners’ eyebrows shot up to their hairlines, and Pete stammered a bit, finally needing his wife to speak for him.

“Uh, Mike, we don't get too many cash-payers here.”

Pete seemed to find his voice, his eyes narrowing, weathered wrinkles around his eyes folding in as he got very serious. “What did you say your name was again?”

Oh, shit, Mike thought. He hadn't planned this out as carefully as he'd thought. “Mike, Mike Davis. It’s fine if you can't do cash, I understand. I just prefer to use it,” he said, keeping his head down and pretending to feel a shame that he didn't actually feel. “I…don't have credit cards. It’s…well, you know, the economy. Four years ago I lost my job—it wiped me out but I’m doing better now, and I’m just…you know, credit is an issue.” The lie rolled off his tongue in the least fluid way possible, but it seemed to do the trick.

Pete’s chest relaxed, his shoulders slumping a bit. But his wife—what was her name? She hadn’t said anything, just peered at him and nodded. “We know all about that up here.”

The transaction complete and Mike’s receipt tucked away in his back pocket, he sighed, looked around, and decided that he would come back and buy whatever he needed later, but for now getting settled in the cabin unobtrusively and just fading out of their attention would be the best approach.

“Let me have Miles walk you to your cabin,” Pete said.

And then his wife stopped him, a tender arm on his forearm, an affectionate gesture that told Mike so much about their relationship. “Miles is busy fixing the railing on one of the walkway to the beach,” she said, shaking her head. “He can’t help. I’ll take him.” Her kindly eyes held a wariness that triggered guilt in Mike. Maybe she should be wary.

Her daughter had trusted him and look at how well that had gone.

On the walk to his cabin he spotted multiple garden sculptures, a few overturned pink bicycles for little girls, countless children running in rag-tag groups, and saw more people relaxing than he'd seen since – well, since he was a kid. The trip to his cabin was short, and Sandy arrived and spread one arm.

“The Ritz-Carlton.”

“Even better,” he said, smiling.

It was simple, no bigger than a garden shed, but with a little proch attached to the front and two plastic chairs for sitting. Inside he had two bunks, a table and two chairs, a fan, and a refrigerator. No bathroom.

“The outhouse is back there,” she said, pointing behind the cabin. “And the larger bathrooms and showers are attached to the rec hall.”

“Thank you,” he said, suddenly exhausted. He still needed to unload his car, unpack his belongings, figure out dinner, and oh – get his hands on some beer. The folks sitting in small groups around campfires, drinking, made him yearn to join in.

“You're welcome. Have fun.” Sandy took a few steps away and then stopped, reconsidering something.

“Yes?” he asked, anticipating it. Did she know about the video? Diane's claim to fame might fool the majority of the world, but if Sandy's daughter told her the truth, then Mike would be found out in a week or two, once his natural hair color grew in. He wasn't exactly inconspicuous. Being on the cover of major magazines for years as a hotshot rising star had given people a general sense of who he was.

And now? His face and Lydia's back were plastered all over those same covers. And more. What did Sandy know?

“Enjoy your stay. You seem to need it,” was all she said, leaving him to ponder that one.

Chapter Seven

Jeremy and Lydia never did make it to the Hallgrimskirkja together, but in lieu of that trip he invited her on a day excursion to the Blue Lagoon. Again, the terrain reminded Lydia of a desert—a cold desert—as they drove through the rocky volcanic countryside between Reykjavik and the hot springs.

The Blue Lagoon was a giant resort built around a geothermal abnormality, an acre or so of an enormous hot tub, essentially, filled with minerals at the bottom of the hot springs. She’d never seen anything like it, and as they parked it looked like an exotic, high-end spa. In fact, it turned out, there was a spa doing a fairly brisk business, but that wasn’t what she and Jeremy came for.

As they checked in and paid their admissions, she saw that the man on the airplane who had harassed her on her plane trip here had been correct; one could, indeed, rent a bathing suit, and towels, and just about anything you needed. As bus after bus brought people from the airport on a layover for a quick dip in the water, she was impressed at the efficiency of the entire operation.

Changing into her bathing suit was a bit of a cultural shock as women wandered around the locker room completely naked and absolutely uninhibited, whether they were fourteen or ninety-four. She joined in. Being the only girl among a gaggle of boys had meant preserving her modesty, but she also had no problem with joining the Romans when in Rome.

Her body was one of the curvier in the room, although each woman had her own differences—some with wider hips, some with saggier skin, some with saddle bags, others with pert breasts and tight waists and perfect skin. The sheer variety of bodies in the room was almost artistic, and if she hadn’t thought that it would brand her as some sort of pervert or peeping Tom, she would have stared openly just to catch more of a nuanced look at what a woman’s body could be and why she didn't need to feel a sense of shame for her own lushness and peaks and valleys in the way that her body had formed over the years.

Wiggling into her suit, she was glad she had manicured herself where she needed to be manicured, and while some women seemed to be waxed such that any hair trying to escape would have been lasered, tasered, or plucked, others went au naturel with hair wherever hair grew. She was somewhere in between and wondered what others must think of her body, of her cultural norms, as she straightened her body in the mod ’60s black bathing suit that she’d chosen for its slimming characteristics.

A wave of self-consciousness hit her as she began to pad barefoot outside to the main lagoon area. What would Jeremy think of her body? Why was she worried about this? They weren’t dating, this wasn’t a relationship, he’d simply asked her to go to this natural wonder that she could only access here in Iceland. It was a fun day trip and nothing more.

Yet, she felt exposed… as if the first moment his eyes landed on her uncovered flesh she’d be judged. An evaluation she didn’t feel like undergoing right now, one that felt heavy and cumbersome, and for the first time she wished his presence weren’t such a weight around her neck.

The day was sightly overcast, the sky’s blueness still peeking out through grayer clouds. This wasn’t the kind of cover that made her worry about rain, but was more a gentle shift in weather patterns that simply muted the sun. As she searched the crowd for him, she found him, his height no variant here—most of the men were his size.

He wore swim trunks and her self-consciousness increased as she had the opportunity, while his head was turned away, looking for her elsewhere, to evaluate his body. A long, stretched-out torso, like an Olympic swimmer’s, went down to narrow, sculpted hips and stretched up to broad shoulders. He was what her mother would call wiry, with tight, small muscles stretched across his bones in ways that were compelling, that made her want to touch each one with her fingertip as if taking an inventory.

He had a smattering of hair in all of the places that men should have a smattering of hair, and it thickened at the waistband of his swimsuit. His legs were long and his stride confident as he turned away from her to look for her. By the time he turned back she could feel her breathing quick, and, licking her lips—an involuntary response—she enjoyed the few moments to just take him in.

“Dear God,” she muttered. “What the hell is wrong with you, Lydia?”

And then, as if she were calling him, like some sort of signal for Batman, he turned and locked eyes. His face went slack as he openly cataloged her with an expression of smoky lust.

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