The night flowed up the hill and embraced the villa like a comfortable lover as I sat at the window, happy in the cooling breeze. I had retrieved my shawl when I unpacked my bag after my first cup of tea and was glad for the warmth. The lights from the homes that pack the hills illuminated the area in a soft glow like candlelight, and below on the beach the white edges of the incoming waves could be seen like fleeting glimpses of a petticoat. I was relaxed after the tea and wine, thinking about nothing but the view when the quiet knock came on my door. It was Thomas. “Signore has arrived and would like you to join him on the terrace.” I’m thinking it interesting that he did not come up himself, but sent Thomas – the formality indicates I’m not the only one unsure of myself here.
The terrace was on the second floor of the villa looking down on the pool at the first level, and was wrapped around the house. One could have a party for almost one hundred people I should think and put them all out here comfortably. There was not, thank the gods any of that hideous plastic furniture, but wrought iron and cotton cushions in a variety of colours that I noted picked up the colours of the different varieties of flowers in the garden. I do so love attention to detail.
Hassan was sitting with his back to me and rose when he heard us enter. He was dressed as casually as I’ve ever seen him, in a blue fitted long sleeved shirt and beige light wool slacks that showed off his flat stomach, with those great loafers by Gucci. His shirt was unbuttoned at the top just enough to give a glimpse of a tanned and hairy chest underneath – oh gods where was my sense of decorum. We had a long talk on the beach when we last saw in other in Morocco and decided to talk this slowly. Yes, I’ll remember that.
Even in the coolness of the evening I could smell the sea overlaid with the scent of the flowers that were set on the table in front of me. If anything Hassan looked better than the last time I’d seen him, brutally handsome with his normal swarthy good looks enhanced by enough of a hint of a five o’clock shadow that it left me wondering what it would feel like on my skin. My stomach did a little flip-flop as I offered my cheeks for the greeting kisses and got a good whiff of him. The man smells like a wicked evening in Venice. I’m not kidding.
Thomas asked if I would like to continue with the Cabernet or have something different, then set off to fulfill my request for more of the delicious wine. I noted Hassan was having a glass of whiskey. I had smelled the single malt on his breath when he greeted me.
“I’m so pleased you were able to come. I’ve wanted to see you much sooner than this,” he said pulling out my chair. “We keep missing each other and the world continues to get in our way.” Was that an accident the way his hand brushed my neck or did he do it on purpose? The effect was the same in any case, little electric shocks running along my skin. I noticed goose pimples on my arms – and it wasn’t’ from the ocean breeze.
We then did the dance of chitchat. I was fine. He was fine. My writing is going well. His job is fun but some of the young princes are being a royal pain (I’m sorry I couldn’t help myself), especially Ali, whom I have met, has apparently been making an ass of himself. “The problem is they want everything quickly. I spend half my time explaining that they must listen to the flight instructors and follow the lesson plans,” he said throwing up his hands. “And the rest of the time explaining to the financial backers that they need to learn on small planes and not start off with jets or I’ll be explaining their deaths to their families.”
“This is the first time I’ve seen you take a drink. Is it merely a different time of year or has the stress been that bad?”
He picked up his glass and gave me a toast laughing, “Both I think and perceptive of you to notice.” I also noticed he seemed much more tense than his normal relaxed self and there were new lines of worry in his face. Was something going on besides the little pilot training project in Saudi Arabia? Something personal or professional? I kept my questions to myself for the present.
Thomas brought me my wine. “Sir would you like to have dinner inside or here on the terrace this evening? And when shall I tell the chef you are ready to dine?” I assumed everyone was speaking in English for my benefit and I did appreciate it.
Hassan looked at me. “Is it too cool out for you, or is that a ridiculous question knowing your preference for cooler temperatures?”
“No it’s not too cool at all, and I want to absorb as much of this view as I can, “ I said motioning out toward the sea.
“I was thinking we would like an early dinner tonight? I know I’ve had a long day and I imagine the same for you? I thought we’d get an early start tomorrow and see a bit of the sights. I remember you like to walk yes?’
“Yes to everything. That sounds brilliant,” I said smiling for no specific reason other than general happiness. The stars were beginning to peek out in the indigo sky above. I could see lights bobbing out on the water from some late sailors or tourists boats perhaps, there was laughter from somewhere below and the unmistakable sound in any language of a mother calling children in from the night. The sharp smell of the sea carried on the air up to the terrace continued to be softened by the smells of flowers and the aromatic whispers of Hassan’s whiskey.
I settled back in my comfortable chair overlooking the magnificent view and was glad I’d worn slacks and long sleeves. The evening chill coming in off the water leaving the perfect evening for diner al fresco was displacing the afternoon’s warmth. We sat talking of our children, our work; nothing too personal seemed to be the unspoken agreement for the evening. I kept flashing on that old Frank Sinatra tune, “Nice and Easy”.
When dinner arrived it was spectacular. Keep in mind that Q is the ‘food person’, but I will do my best. The appetizer was carpaccio ke tonno (thinly sliced tuna with mixed baby greens, extra virgin olive oil, and lemon). This was followed by the most exquisite grilled salmon topped with greens and black olives, accompanied by beans and carrots that had some sort of almond glaze and would make even the most die hard fanatic a vegetable lover. The bread was hot and fresh, slightly sweet with creamy butter. A salad followed, that was a mixture of fresh greens with tomatoes and the dressing tasted like tart apples. On the side were a choice of four kinds of cheeses and sliced fruit of apples, oranges, pears, and peaches.
Each course was served by Thomas and a young woman called Sophia, who I learned later, serves as an assistant to the chef and dogsbody for Thomas. We both waved off desert in favour of brandy and coffee. By this time I was so saturated with food and atmosphere you could have rolled me down the mountain and I doubt I would have noticed. Satiated I believe is the word. We sat in silence for a while and I thought how unusual it was to find someone with whom you could be silent without tension so soon into a relationship, and appreciated it for the rarity it is.
Throughout dinner the strains of Strauss had drifted from the stereo inside to provide a backdrop to dinner. As I heard the lyrics of “Someone to Watch Over Me” in the voice of Mr. Sinatra begin I said, “You don’t forget anything do you?”
Hassan gave me a killer smile that was anything but impersonal. “I consider confidences given during a walk on the beach worth of remembrance.”
Oh boy, I was in trouble.
That’s over my self imposed 1000 words lovely readers, and I need to take a walk. All this recollection is making me really – warm….