A Croatian Adventure – Episode 44

Fazana was blessed with a white pebble beach which glowed in the late afternoon light as Cesare drove the hire car round to the picturesque harbour. Small but grand houses had been turned into restaurants.

Mel was glad to be away from the Villa, she had so much on her mind. She would tell Cesare later what had happened that afternoon with Hiroko.

For now, she was pleased to have some light relief, though she was only too aware that there was a burning question hanging between them.

“The buildings here are painted so prettily,” Mel said.

It occurred to her that since she had left her parents at eighteen to study in London, she’d never had a home of her own. After all the dramas of the afternoon, she longed for a sanctuary, a place of peace and tranquillity.

As a nanny she’d always lived in other people’s houses, always been tangled up in other people’s difficulties.

She watched a lady from one of the houses in the narrow streets by the harbour, absorbed in watering a window-sill herb garden and picking off seed heads. Mel watched her stand back with a satisfied smile on her face as she greeted her husband emerging from the house.

She crushed the herbs in her hand and held them out to him to enjoy the scent. He kissed her cheek before they headed back inside.

“They look happy,” Cesare commented, but there was a sad tone to his voice.

Mel stared out of the window. She knew he would soon press her for answers on why she had turned down his marriage proposal.

She almost felt like turning back when, there at the waterfront, waving and gesticulating to them, she saw Mihovil.

They parked the car and made their way over.

“This is my grandpapa. He is very honoured to be taking out my new friends in his boat.” He looked proud as a peacock as he introduced them. “He does not speak English. He understands that you wish to see the sunset and to take a tour around the coastline and look at the Villa Lavanda from the sea.

“I am so sorry I cannot come, too, but Makso has ordered me to help my mother clean all the silver at the Villa.”

The boat was charming with its orange awning. The sea lay calm as Mihovil’s grandfather undid the ropes and steered away from the harbour with its distinct clocktower.

As they chugged along, the old man nodded to them to sit on the cushioned seats, then tactfully withdrew to his place at the front of the boat.

Looking away from them out to sea, it was as if he sensed their need to be alone.

“You looked very pretty in that wedding dress, Mel,” Cesare commented.

Mel had tried on the dress while helping her friend Caroline pick her own wedding dress.

Mel trailed her hand in the cool aquamarine sea. She didn’t know what to say. Cesare needed his answers and he wasn’t going to beat around the bush.

He opened his mouth to speak again, and placed his hand gently under her chin, making her face him.

“I had hoped one day –”

“I know.” She stopped him, edging away.

It was too painful for words knowing how she had disappointed this gorgeous man, and how she was destined to disappoint him further.

As if mirroring her dying hopes, the sun, which had blazed bright, was dropping in the sky. It was such a sublime evening.

She closed her eyes then opened them again and took the courage to look at Cesare’s tanned face.

“Cesare, there is something I haven’t told you which is very painful for me. I have never spoken of it to any man. But . . .”

His eyes were clear, his loving gaze was all the more agonising because she could not return it. He was framed now by a huge semicircular sinking ball of fire.

“I know that you love children,” Mel continued. “You’re Italian, from a huge family. Looking forward to babies of your own is in your blood.” She scrunched the hem of her skirt between tight fingers. “That’s something I could never give you.”

He looked puzzled and she went on to explain.

Lucy Crichton

Fiction Editor Lucy is always on the look-out for the very best short stories, poems and pocket novels. As well as sourcing enjoyable content, she enjoys working with our established contributors, encouraging new talent, and celebrating 155 years of 'Friend' fiction!