Twice the pilot dipped low and waved a wing to a fisherman who waved back. Christopher shifted his surfboard and stood it beside him. He watched the small plane disappear down the coast. He looked back at the fishing boats and sea that glistened as if cut from translucent stone. He remembered a retired sea captain telling him that he would always know where he was by the color of the sea. He said he could be blindfolded and dropped in any body of water and the moment he took off his blindfold, he would know where he was. The idea of color as a type of compass—a form of geography—had enthralled Christopher. The captain had been the caretaker of the land that now surrounded him.
He heard the hum of tires on the river-stone road before he saw them—the hotel manager with a young woman in the passenger seat. They stopped to see if he wanted a ride. He had noticed her yesterday getting out of a taxi at the entrance to the small hotel. She was dressed in an ankle-length skirt and wore a fedora. Since his arrival in Bermeja two weeks ago, Christopher had watched crews from L.A. come and go—one for a photoshoot for an expensive brand of suntan oils, another for a bathing suit ad. There was something about her that made him know she was not from the West Coast.
He angled his surfboard into the back and got in. “You look as if you’re going to give a lecture,” he said, leaning forward, looking at her blazer and the satchel she held on her lap.
She shook her head and smiled. “I’m going to interview Paolo Pavesi.” Helen referred to the eccentric Italian financier who had spent the last two decades transforming Bermeja into a glamorous bohemian refuge.
He nodded and asked her how long she was staying. “I’m leaving day after tomorrow.”
Christopher asked the hotel manager to drop him off at Playa Azul, the small beach cupped between high cliffs a quarter of a mile south of the hotel. Helen watched as he took his surfboard from the back of the jeep. She could tell by the way he handled it, it was a familiar object. But if he had once been a surfer, he didn’t appear to be one now. He was lean and tanned, but his skin had not been punished by years and years in the sun.
He noticed her watching him. As he thanked the hotel manager, he hung his free hand on the roll bar and leaned in toward her. “So, should we have dinner tonight at eight or nine?”
She laughed and brushed the hair from her face.
Helen had not shown up for dinner, but the following morning Christopher walked down to the hotel and caught her getting coffee. “You didn’t show up last night. I waited at the bar for hours.”
“I’m not so sure you did.”
He mimed being stabbed in the chest.
“I didn’t think it was a real invitation. I don’t even know your name.”
“Christopher Delavaux. And it was. How about tonight?”
“I can’t. I’ve been invited to a dinner party at Mr. Pavesi’s. At Casa de Mi Corazón.”
He raised his eyebrows. “You might want to be careful.”
“Well, it can get pretty decadent around here.” He paused. “Or so I’m told.”
“Really?” She waited for an explanation.
“When you met with Paolo, how many young women were sunbathing nude? I’m guessing three or four.”
“Did he give you a tour of his house?”
“Did he show you his studio?”
“You mean the room with the mats on the floor and the slits and small round openings in the domed ceiling?”
He tilted his head. “Well then, I rest my case. So if you bring me along, I’ll look after you.”
She bit her lower lip and thought for a minute. “Okay. Yeah, okay.” “Meet you here at nine.”
“How do you know the time?”
“I was invited, too.”
He started to leave but hesitated. “I can count on you to show up this time?”
“Don’t you need to know my name?” He smiled and shook his head.
From A Theory of Love by Margaret Bradham Thornton. Copyright 2018 Margaret Bradham Thornton. Excerpted with permission of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
Margaret Bradham Thornton is the author of Charleston and the editor of Tennessee Williams’s Notebooks, for which she received the Bronze ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award in the Autobiography/Memoir Category and the C. Hugh Holman Prize for the best volume of southern literary scholarship published in 2006, given by the Society for the Study of Southern Literature. She is a graduate of Princeton University and lives in Florida.