Tom had roomed with Hal at Wesleyan; they’d been luring their wives toward this mutual winter vacation for a few months now. Hal, and Hal’s wife, Vicky, were staying in a room up by the pool. Carter had met them when they moved to Scarsdale in the early fall.
The days were blue green, benign. The next time that Carter and Vicky were alone, they lay draped in towels about the padded seats on the motorboat they’d finally rented.
Necker Island had turned out to be impossible; no restaurant, the guests there were served very privately indeed. The four had had a picnic on a little island they’d found, off which they were moored. The men were exploring the place, acting as though they thought to buy it. The women now admired a pelican as it plunged out of the sky straight as an arrow into the clear sun-filled water. It got its fish.
Sipping her Pinot Grigio, Vicky asked, “Where do you think Pinky and Peach are?”
“I think he’s on the putting green, trying to shoo away the chickens. And she’s having a massage, sort of propped up to a window so she can make sure he doesn’t make friends with any women.”
Vicky gave a good clap of a laugh. “Of course.”
Carter said, “You knew that.” She touched Vicky on her arm.
Vicky looked at her for a second too long. Carter had to look away.
Another morning, the men were running. Vicky came down to Carter and Tom’s room for coffee on the little porch overlooking the dunes and the sea.
When they’d settled, Vicky said, “Gadzooks. I dreamed about you last night. We were holding hands. What is this all about, Alfie?”
Carter said, “I think about you outrageously often.” Backing off from this slightly, she asked, “So how is Hal about our hitting it off?”
“Not good. He feels we exclude them. But I imagine he’ll get over it. He likes to tool around with Tommy.”
“They’ve slipped to another plane, haven’t they, since we’ve been here?”
“Yes . . . you know, you are a joy.”
Carter said, “No. That’s you . . . did you have anybody much before Hal?”
“No. But Hal’s had somebody since me. Some colleague at work in Albany. I don’t know if that’s on hold or what.”
“Shit. That’s really lousy, Vick. How are you with it?”
“I’m hoping — I think — it’s actually over. I kind of like the brave new world of Scarsdale, believe it or not. I’ve joined some women’s book club and that’s been good.”
They watched a couple of cormorants climb the sky toward the near mountain. Clouds, but not rain clouds, were approaching their beach.
Vicky picked up, “To answer your question, I’ve had daydreams about people — men and women — from time to time, since Radcliffe. And during. But Hal wanted, hell, he pressed me, to get married right after graduation. His computer job at his uncle’s company was waiting for him back in Albany; we’d been dating since high school there. I didn’t even fool around with anybody else much in college. My parents are quite strait-laced New Englanders, and they adored Hal. I seem to have been rather strait-laced, too. I’m loosening up in this book club.”
“Wow . . . my parents are divorced, but it’s all pretty amicable. Daddy was always going. Parties, dinners. Mom was artistic, shy. I paint a little.” Vicky raised her eyebrows, nodded, glad at that last. “I had some shrinkage. I played around a fair amount in New York after Bryn Mawr. And during. Including a few women. In publishing and what. I met Tommy at a party on Long Island when I was in my early 30s. He seemed to me sort of right, okay. Not as exciting as some who got away. But more than plausible. Attractive . . . I dunno if he’s had anyone since. Maybe more than someone . . . We had the boys 10 minutes after the wedding, it seems to me. Then he didn’t want me to go to work much, but I held my ground once the kids went away. I never thought my boss would take me back, but someone had left . . . I haven’t had anyone since Tommy.”
“Brava, kiddo. On the work . . . put some of this sun stuff on my back?”
“Yes, Victoria.” Vicky’s back was smooth and warm.
They kept each other’s hands for a second when Carter gave Vicky back the sun cream. Carter felt an electricity she hadn’t felt for a long time.
It was becoming hard for them when they had to be careful during their meals, their times as a foursome. Their next time apart from the men again was two days before the Sunday they were to leave. They were on the beach at the remote end of the mile-long bay on which they were staying. Their towels were overlapping, they were savoring their found privacy. The men were playing doubles.
A black-and-white cat who had been following them around now appeared on Vicky’s towel, surely a sign that they were doing something right. They had named him, or her, Harry Krishna.
Carter asked Vicky, turning toward her, “Did you feel as I did when Leonard and Whatshisname broke up Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West’s escape in Paris?”
“Absolutely. Or was that Sackville-West and Violet Trefusis? They ought to have been able to go on as long as they wanted to. Or could.”
Carter and Vicky were nesting far from the luncheon crowd. A few nude sunbathers lay scattered along the shore on the way to their distant haven.
The ocean washed in emerald near them; a deep dark blue, at the horizon. They had swum lazily, floated, taken a few modest riders.
“We used to spend summer vacations on the Cape, when I was young and wild,” Carter now put forward.
“We would go to Lake Michigan, where I was terrified of anything that moved.”
“So where did you learn to ride waves?”
“Key West? On our honeymoon, I guess. . . . This is so gloriosky, we ought to stay on.”
They looked at each other. A moving current went through Carter.
Vicky then said, low, “I ought to tell you I’m damaged goods. I had cancer a few years ago. Breast. It’ll be five years in a year and a half.”
Carter didn’t skip a beat; she said, “I love you, Vicky.”
Vicky let her head sink in her arms. “I love you, too.” Low.
They didn’t speak for minutes. Vicky looked up, off to the horizon. Then Vicky said, “I’m getting a little scared. Hal is sometimes rather nasty now, mostly over our enjoying each other so much, I’m sure. He’s more critical than usual, tells me what to do, says things like my bathing suit is too small . . . I wonder if he misses his lady from Albany.”
Carter answered, “You are a smash hit in both your suits. One wants a curve or two.” Vicky grinned, acting puffed up. “Tommy’s now getting passive-aggressive. He doesn’t speak, then he goes out without saying where or what . . . I really don’t know if he’s had a mistress — or more — in New York. We have some fun there, but he’s gone a lot of the time. He loves his liquor, but he isn’t a full-blown alky; he’s a very careful guy.” They were silent again for a bit.
Then Carter said, “I’d give an arm if we could stay on for a week. When they have to go back. I really do have next week off.”
Vicky pondered, boldly, “What would the price really be? They would get livid. Then we’d make up, I suppose. I’d lose a little time job hunting. It would be well worth it.”
“You can bet the fucking farm it would. Though I suspect making up would take a bit of doing, might be some challenge, what?”
Vicky said, “I have to hold with you.”
They cased out the beach. No one was coming, no one was looking their way, no one was close enough to see how close they were.
They held each other tenderly. Carter touched Vicky’s face very lightly, very gently, and Vicky nodded into it. Aware that someone or other could start heading toward them, they broke apart much too soon.
“I could certainly support us for a week. We have tomorrow to change flights. And maybe find a B-and-B,” Carter said. “Wow, what a time we’d have!”
“I could pay you back when we get home. One client owes me a small bundle.”
Carter squinted out to sea; the waves were picking up. “What shall we do, love?”
Vicky said, “We’ll sleep on it. And decide at breakfast. How to do what. And we’ll be wise.”
Before long, their husbands came racing down the beach, high on their game, waving, hell-bent for the surf.
“Apparently, they won,” Carter said.
As the men showed off, antic in the waves, Carter and Vicky looked at their options, their near futures. They could meet in New York for lunch, when and more often than when Vicky came in from Scarsdale for work. They could stay overnight at a hotel, but that meant lying to their husbands. . . . A week here now would be a great chance really to get it all together. Women today did spend vacation weeks apart from their husbands. Easily.
Carter speculated, “I’ll always be fond of Tommy, but we seem to live by rote these days.”
Vicky cried a little, smiled. “Carter. You are my central fire now.”
Carter said, “Yes, you are that, too, for me.”
The four had a sometimes stilted, sometimes even reasonable, barbeque dinner at the hotel’s restaurant. They broke early, Carter and Tom walking to their room along the night shore, dimly illumined by a necklace of lights on the island across the long bay.
Carter did not really sleep. At breakfast she learned Vicky hadn’t, either. The men, as usual, probably wouldn’t come for half an hour or more.
Carter opened, over their first coffee, “I am honestly dying to stay, Vicky . . . But I think if we did, now, I’d really alienate Tom, maybe in a very big way. He’s disappointed we didn’t have more time together this vacation, he said last night.”
“Ditto, almost verbatim,” Vicky said with a genuine sigh.
“But you said Hal really had an affair. Is that fair or what?”
“And you said Tommy may well play around. There’s a fucking difference in society still between men and women.”
“Salinger said there wasn’t, that there was no difference between a leaf and a stone, or whatever it was, or a man and a woman. But so what to that now.”
They looked at each other, sobered.
Carter said, “I say, and this hurts, that we go slow. Be wise, as you suggested yesterday. Make some good room for the future. If we stay this week, we might ruin our chances of other vacations as a foursome, for one thing, if that’s the way we go. We need to do it right. What do you say?”
“I’m really sorry to agree.”
“I am really all but ready to risk it. But let’s opt for some real time — before long — that would be less painful to the guys than now. And see each other a good deal in New York soon. Maybe, down the line, we’ll go the whole nine yards.”
Vicky said, “Oh . . . but what if we hurt our own thing if we go back with them now?”
“I’m not going to give you up, Vicky. I just want us to do it so it works.”
Vicky gave a grin laced with anger. “Damn conventional wisdom. Damn the right way.”
Carter said, softly, “Brava.”
Kay Kidde is a former teacher whose fiction has appeared previously in The Star. She was a senior editor at the New American Library and Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, and founded the Kidde, Hoyt & Picard Literary Agency.