Julie Odell

Heat

Ned wants Jane to love Mexico. He wants to show her the church­es with bloody Jesus hang­ing from the cross, a wig of tan­gled human hair askew on his head. He wants her to smell the sweet aro­ma of fresh corn tor­tillas in the tiny gro­cery stores. If she loves Mexico, Ned thinks she will love him. She will accept his pro­pos­al.

They flew into Oaxaca yes­ter­day morn­ing and rode a bus for eight hours through the treach­er­ous Sierra Madre del Sur down to the Pacific coast. For a long time Jane watched as brown plains and then lush green forests streamed past her scratched bus win­dow, and then she fell asleep. It was dark when they got to Puerto Angel, the tiny fish­ing vil­lage that Ned wants her to love. Jane was grog­gy and smiled at the soft lights, the nar­row streets wind­ing through the town. She enjoyed arriv­ing in a new place at night, and she tried to get a sense of things. The air in Mexico was thick and hot, sweet smells of hid­den flow­ers and over­ripe fruit.

They took a short cab ride into the hills, and then she sat on a bench out­side the office as Ned checked in at the hotel, a small canyon filled tiny bun­ga­lows tucked behind tall palms and banana trees. Their room was large. The rough-plas­tered walls were paint­ed green, pur­ple, bright pink, dec­o­rat­ed with weav­ings and sim­ple fig­ure draw­ings and bright­ly-col­ored masks. There was no air con­di­tion­ing, only a fan on the ceil­ing, and the thin sheets under­neath the patch­work quilt smelled fresh­ly laun­dered. Jane fell asleep hap­py.

 

Ned says that girls, women-- he always cor­rects him­self like that– are not preda­to­ry crea­tures by nature. He’s an anthro­pol­o­gist, so he ought to know. Women stay ground­ed, and let the men flit around them in their mad quest for genet­ic diver­si­ty. Jane thinks this is fun­ny. She likes Ned and doesn’t want to hurt him.

Jane is not monog­a­mous by nature. So maybe she is an anom­aly. She can’t help it. Staying faith­ful to Ned for the last sev­en months has been a tri­al, but also a nov­el­ty, like a crash diet that tests the resolve and the willpow­er, but for a short time only.

Yeah, I did five weeks on the Paleo,” her friend Lisa had boast­ed at brunch last week. “No sug­ar, no carbs, not even fruit. I dropped a fast twen­ty and I wasn’t even hun­gry.” But at brunch Lisa had also devoured a stack of blue­ber­ry pan­cakes and looked a lit­tle puffy.

Seven months is a long time. But is it long enough to change her nature? Or will she, like Lisa with her diets, break down even­tu­al­ly and end up one night in a stranger’s bed?

 

Ned knows about Jane’s his­to­ry; she’d warned him that she might not stay true. “The past is passed,” he said right after he asked her to mar­ry him. He said it with con­fi­dence, as though just by his decree it would be so. Jane would change.

Does Ned think his love for her is this pow­er­ful? Yes, she can be faith­ful. Yes, she will love Ned and think of no one else. No, she will nev­er again jump into a cab with a man she just met and thrill to hear him give the dri­ver his address, for her a new neigh­bor­hood, a new apart­ment, a new bed.

Ned took Jane to the White Dog Café the night he pro­posed and they sat in a cor­ner among the thick flow­ered car­pets, near the fire­place. After din­ner Jane was slow­ly run­ning her spoon over a wide dish of crème brulee, shav­ing lit­tle hol­lows from the crust of burnt sug­ar, when Ned grabbed her hand.

She didn’t say yes. She didn’t say no. She just looked at the antique ring, rose gold with a fil­i­gree design and sev­er­al small stones sur­round­ing a good-sized dia­mond, and mar­riage was some­thing she’d nev­er thought about before.

Put it on,” Ned urged.

Jane shook her head. “I need to think,” she said. “Just let me think for a lit­tle while.”

He backed off with grace and didn’t press to dri­ve her home when she said she want­ed to be walk alone. She slow­ly wan­dered alone through the University of Pennsylvania cam­pus, for once not feel­ing she lacked any­thing. She felt well-fed and beloved. Bejeweled. Students passed her in twos and threes, iden­ti­cal in their pea coats and stur­dy boots, hushed under the tall wide trees, the ancient brick build­ings.

 

Before Ned, erot­ic desire pro­pelled Jane through her life. She had sex with whomev­er she want­ed, when­ev­er she want­ed. But more than the actu­al sex, what she liked most was being on the prowl. She saun­tered through the piles of fruits and veg­eta­bles at Whole Foods and there was that charge, that in-kind sex­u­al rest­less­ness ema­nat­ing from two or maybe three men. She would pick up an arti­choke and pre­tend to exam­ine it, heat com­ing at her from sev­er­al direc­tions. Her limbs were liq­uid and she would move more slow­ly and whichev­er, what­ev­er alpha male would close in on her. He stood next to her, eyes nev­er meet­ing, and her arm brushed against his and the light hairs tick­led. Bristled.

Usually that was all. She didn’t have sex with most of the strangers she touched. Just a few. Most of the time, the bristling was enough. It gave her some juice– a lit­tle boost to get through the rest of her life, the parts that had no charge.

Any giv­en day on any giv­en street, there are swarms of peo­ple like Jane all look­ing for the same thing. Standing in line at the post office, com­ing out of a movie the­ater– there they are, their heat in stream­ing full riotous col­or, hot puls­ing waves. Scanning across a crowd, behind the backs of hus­bands and wives, over the held hands of their chil­dren, they look for a con­nec­tion, just a sec­ond, a minute, to fuse the col­ors togeth­er. That’s all it is. No one wants to break up fam­i­lies, shed blood, drain bank accounts. A cliché, true, but this thing is as remote as a hand­shake. It feels so nor­mal to Jane and it’s shock­ing some­times that the rest of the world doesn’t under­stand. Jane finds it beau­ti­ful, these crazy col­ored but­ter­flies mov­ing through the rest of the world, a thick cloud of grey moths. And if occa­sion­al­ly the but­ter­flies have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to real­ly get it on, well, all the bet­ter.

Ned does not get jeal­ous. But when he hears Jane talk about her old life, he gets a lit­tle sad. “I think we were put on earth to love each oth­er,” he says, “not to have sex for sport.” He’s had flings of his own, of course, but he alludes to them vague­ly and says they felt shit­ty in the long run. He’s so sin­cere about it that some­times when Jane thinks back on her own encoun­ters, she won­ders if they didn’t feel shit­ty too, and she’s just sup­pressed it. Then she laughs. No, they didn’t feel shit­ty. Each of them was deli­cious, vital, and they kept her blood run­ning through her veins.

Before Ned, Jane kept her­self slen­der, feline, a body for sex, not for preg­nan­cy, not babies. Excess flesh was a sign of weak­ness, a sym­bol to the sex­u­al world that a per­son didn’t quite have a grip. So she drank cof­fee and tried not to think about eat­ing– or only let her­self love the best things in the small­est quan­ti­ties: fresh figs, import­ed dark choco­late, the most exot­ic cheeses.

Her clothes fit well and she bought expen­sive shoes that were more styl­ish than com­fort­able. She kept her dark hair in a shiny cur­tain just below her col­lar­bone and wore a thin lay­er of eye­lin­er. She walked pur­pose­ful­ly down the street. While she didn’t exact­ly look like she’d steal a hus­band or screw a lit­tle broth­er, she gave oth­er women an invol­un­tary lit­tle shud­der. In pic­tures, Jane liked what she saw.

Now in pic­tures, Ned stands beside Jane. They look all right togeth­er, he quite a bit taller, she fit­ting nice­ly under his arm. She likes see­ing them– in a pho­to­graph or unex­pect­ed­ly in a store win­dow as they walk down the street. Together they look sol­id.

Well, of course they look sol­id. Jane has put on sev­en­teen pounds since she start­ed see­ing Ned. She’s let her­self love food. She and Ned eat out, eat in, cook long din­ners togeth­er. She’s with him so much of the time it’s become impos­si­ble to keep up her own Spartan habits. The change hap­pened grad­u­al­ly, stealth­ily, but it’s clear her body knows it no longer has to be on alert. It can relax.

The extra weight is bizarre– her new­ly-thick­ened hips and heavy breasts. She’s had to buy new clothes, some loose pants and long, flowy cardi­gans. But the clothes, like the weight, are tem­po­rary. She is a thin woman by nature and will go back to being thin even­tu­al­ly. But for now she enjoys the nov­el­ty of chub­by thighs and padded upper arms. It’s like wear­ing a slight dis­guise.

 

And she must con­front this idea of mar­riage. Ned talks about his own past, the seri­ous girl­friend five years after col­lege, the two year-long rela­tion­ships he’s had since, and it seems crazy to her that she’s been alone for so long, with­out some­one who knows where she is every day. She final­ly under­stands how the rest of the world lives. The thing is, most women can’t keep them­selves rail-thin and most women pick just one man.

Ned has thick straight hair part­ed on the side. He always needs a lit­tle goo to keep it off his face. He wears healthy shoes that he lets get scuffed. It doesn’t mat­ter because he’s an aca­d­e­m­ic. No one cares what his shoes look like.

He’s taller than he looks. He stoops just at the last minute, hunch­ing his shoul­ders a bit, as though he wants peo­ple to feel com­fort­able with his height. Sometimes, though, when he dress­es to go some­where fan­cy, he stands up straight. He knows he looks beau­ti­ful in his good suit, his shiny black dress shoes, his hair rich and glossy with pomade.

He’s cer­tain­ly not the kind of guy Jane rubs arm hairs with in the super­mar­ket. He gives off almost no heat. But Jane sus­pects she might love him. She believes that Ned is a good man. A good man who wants a good life in a world he’s helped make bet­ter. Nothing sexy about that at all, Jane thinks, but maybe her old vision of sexy is wear­ing out.

 

They take a cab to Zipolite after break­fast their first morn­ing. The beach at Puerto Angel curves around a still cove, great for snor­kel­ing but there are no waves. Ned says at Zipolite, the waves are wild.

The Zipolite beach is filled with naked European hip­pies. Jane exam­ines two women sit­ting in the sun, One has tidy blonde dread­locks to her shoul­ders and the oth­er cropped bright red hair. Their tiny upturned breasts are as tan as the rest of their sleek bod­ies. She hears them speak­ing German as she and Ned walk past.

Jane feels invis­i­ble here. For a minute she wish­es her body would mag­i­cal­ly go back to its old shape, return to its pleas­ing straight lines. There are lit­tle heaps of pudge on the insides of her knees, and her bel­ly, when she sits down, col­laps­es into three dis­tinct rolls. She wears a biki­ni any­way. She could have bought a more con­ser­v­a­tive suit, some­thing to hide the dis­play, but that would be an admis­sion that all of this is per­ma­nent.

Ned doesn’t care about Jane’s weight gain, or so he says. He only tells her she’s beau­ti­ful. He’s lucky, real­ly, because at this weight she could nev­er com­pete– not here, in Mexico, at this glam­orous hip­pie beach. It’s hum­bling. A les­son she can look back on lat­er when she’s thin again, her­self again.

But she knows that if she mar­ries Ned, she can expect more of the same. More lit­tle rolls of flesh will grow from their lazy week­ends. Her once-sinewy arms will round out and get dim­ples, and kind friends will tell her she looks healthy. It’s an option, and Jane imag­ines her­self giv­ing in to it. Why not just throw her­self into the world of expen­sive kitchen appli­ances and become a great cook? She had the focus for her sex life– why not just shift it over into the domes­tic sphere?

Ned sug­gests they walk to anoth­er beach, some­where more pri­vate. Jane is relieved to escape the brown bod­ies. They cut back to the lit­tle road and walk about a half a mile, then make their way onto a new beach, an emp­ty beach. They find some worn beach chairs under a palm tree and arrange them­selves there. In a few min­utes a Mexican woman comes out of a small build­ing to take their order. In his slow, care­ful Spanish Ned orders apple sodas.

He spreads his tow­el on the sand and sets about apply­ing strong sun block. Jane takes a big swig of apple soda and stares at the ocean, blue water meet­ing bluer sky.

After their sodas they race each oth­er to thrash in the ocean. The waves are immense, frothy and play­ful. Jane laughs and gets mouth­fuls of salt water. She and Ned grab onto each oth­er and fall on their bel­lies, let­ting the waves car­ry them to shore.

They pull them­selves out final­ly, exhaust­ed, and order anoth­er round of sodas from their chairs. They fall into a com­fort­able silence and pick up their books. Jane feels con­tent, sat­ed, yet under­neath is a thin cur­rent of pan­ic; if she gets too com­fort­able, she may die.

As the after­noon length­ens, Jane sug­gests that they walk back to their bun­ga­low. Ned paus­es for a minute then shrugs, ever agree­able. They roll their tow­els and shove their books into their bags and head down to the water, where they walk along the lip of the surf. Ned takes Jane’s hand and pulls her toward him. The Mexican sun is strong and she feels irri­tat­ed for a sec­ond– it’s too hot to be close to anoth­er person’s body.

This is good, huh?” Ned says and kiss­es the side of her head.

Jane looks up at him now, at the bits of freck­les break­ing out across his nose.

It’s good,” she replies.

Suddenly she decides it would be ridicu­lous not to mar­ry him. All her blood seems to go in this one direc­tion now– toward Ned and the future and plan­ning a wed­ding.

The beach is cut off by a tum­ble of rocks. Jane sees a lit­tle path and wish­es she’d worn sneak­ers instead of flim­sy san­dals. She and Ned amble gin­ger­ly over the rocks, antic­i­pat­ing anoth­er beach on the oth­er side, but the rocks don’t end. They are climb­ing now, grab­bing the trunks of short scrub bush­es and pulling them­selves from rock to rock, test­ing each step to be sure it doesn’t wob­ble.

Soon they are on a cliff thir­ty feet above the sea. The water below is deep, waves hit­ting the cliff with gus­to. Jane looks straight down into swirling dark ocean tipped with white froth. Certain death if she were to fall.

Jane wants to be mad at Ned even though walk­ing was her idea. Brambles scratch her ankles and leave lit­tle lines of welling blood. Tiny stones get caught in her san­dals and she has to keep smack­ing them against the rocks to get them out. They are sit­ting duck up here, hid­den from the beach and the street. Thieves, ban­di­tos, could be fol­low­ing them. They could stum­ble onto the nest of a drug lord.

Brave Ned walks in front of Jane. But he can’t help her if some­one grabs her from behind though. Jane smells dirt and for­eign plants and her own sour sweat. They are silent, and she watch­es the back of him as they walk. He has long legs that taper into thin ankles, maybe weak ankles. The ankles of a man used to thought, not action. Ned looks belongs in his class­room in his khakis and but­ton-down shirts, but he looks wrong out here in his ragged huraches from his last trip to Mexico and a short sleeved striped cot­ton shirt– a golf shirt? she won­ders wild­ly– streaked with dirt and drenched under the arms.

Finally there is a clear­ing and they can see the road. Ned turns around and throws a vic­to­ry fist in the air. Jane makes her­self smile and they keep walk­ing.

We’ll always remem­ber this,” he calls back to her.

Yeah,” she replies, “no kid­ding.”

You’re a good sport about it all,” he con­tin­ues. “You take it all in stride.”

Sure,” she says.

Ned doesn’t even men­tion that it was Jane’s idea in the first place.

 

Ned nev­er chafes when Jane is irri­ta­ble. Instead he treads more light­ly. Sometimes she hates when he does this– she wants him to stick up for him­self and tell her to stop being a bitch. But he knows she is being a child, and instead of patron­iz­ing or antag­o­niz­ing her, he tries to soothe.

Ned makes being togeth­er so easy. There is none of the com­pet­i­tive kill-or-be-killed pos­ture as in her for­mer sex­u­al com­bat. It’s more like being with her best friend when she was eleven, think­ing the same things are neat. Ned and Jane are con­stant­ly laugh­ing and imi­tat­ing their friends and call­ing each oth­er on the nights they’re apart to read a para­graph from The New Yorker.

Ned’s love is dear and frag­ile and she feels sick at the thought of crush­ing it.

Which means maybe she has to mar­ry him.

 

After a show­er, Jane is sore and sun­burned and irri­ta­ble, and she knows she needs to get away from Ned, just for a lit­tle while, or else she’ll snap and say some­thing small-mind­ed and spend the rest of the evening remorse­ful and con­trite. Ned fell asleep while she was in the bath­room, flat on his stom­ach, his huraches askew at the foot of the bed.

The posa­da has end­less paths to explore, care­ful­ly-placed flat stones lead­ing into thick hunks of lush jun­gle. Jane picks the path that winds past the din­ing room and dis­ap­pears high in the hills.

At the top is a wood­en deck with a thatched roof, fes­tooned with four huge thin-stringed ham­mocks. From here she can see the cove and the small fish­ing boats bob­bing in the water. She can see the sun falling down behind the town, cast­ing a pink glow on a tiny grave­yard beyond the bun­ga­lows, with white stone mark­ers sprin­kled down the hill.

Jane falls into a ham­mock and pulls it out around her, clos­ing it in front of her face. She is a cater­pil­lar set­tling into a cocoon. How nice it would be to spend the night up here, wrapped in a blan­ket, swing­ing back and forth in the warm ocean breeze. She lets her body relax into the hun­dreds of strings, once-bright col­ors fad­ed. Soon she doesn’t even feel the scratch­es from the bram­bles and her aching legs are at ease.

When she gets tired of being wrapped up, she flings her arms and legs out, stretch­ing them as far as they will go, the ham­mock strings entwined in her fin­gers and toes. One could do yoga in a ham­mock, she thinks, how love­ly to move and stretch and bend while sus­pend­ed this way, rock­ing in the strings.

Endless fas­ci­na­tion, isn’t it?” a male voice star­tles her, a drawn-out Southern twang.

Jane scram­bles to sit up, awk­ward­ly shak­ing the ham­mock back and forth. Two ham­mocks away a man lies still, a book rest­ing on his stom­ach.

His name is Thaddeus and he is twen­ty-sev­en and came from Jackson, Mississippi to Oaxaca to study for three months at a Spanish lan­guage school. He goes back to Mississippi in two weeks but want­ed to see some of the Pacific coast first.

He is blonde and thick­ly-built and wears chunky hip­ster glass­es. He moves to the ham­mock beside to her. Now he is a foot away, and Jane feels a radi­ance, famil­iar as if it were yes­ter­day, as if she nev­er stopped prowl­ing. She can smell him, slight body odor, not at all unpleas­ant. She doesn’t move.

He and Jane lie side by side and she tells him the sto­ry of her after­noon on the rocks, but now it is excit­ing, a real adven­ture. She says Ned’s name count­less times to be sure Thaddeus knows she has a boyfriend. Thaddeus grabs the side of her ham­mock any­way, pulls and lets go. They both swing.

Soon it’s dark and time to get Ned for din­ner. Reluctantly, she tells Thaddeus good­bye and rush­es down the path back to the room.

Ned is still asleep. His eyes flut­ter awake when Jane lets the screen door slam shut. “Hello, love­ly,” he says, not even annoyed to be wok­en up this way. Jane grabs a sweater from her suit­case and they head off to the din­ing room.

Dinner is served out­doors under anoth­er thatched roof. There are already six or sev­en oth­er guests at the long com­mu­nal table. Mexican women in long white dress­es glide around them serv­ing iced tea and bring­ing out bas­kets of fresh­ly-baked bread.

What is this?” she asked the blonde woman across the table, point­ing to a bowl filled with slices of some­thing green, mixed into diced pep­pers and toma­toes.

Nopalitos,” the blonde woman replies. “Cactus sal­ad– so fab­u­lous.” She has a per­fect, tiny nose and bril­liant green eyes.

Jane intro­duces her­self and Ned, who nods polite­ly. Natalia, the blonde, and her hus­band Brian, are here from Australia where they both have crazy, stress­ful jobs as mag­a­zine edi­tors. Jane asks ques­tions– about their mag­a­zines, about Sydney, and soon oth­ers at the table are exchang­ing names and sto­ries.

Dinner is squash soup with pump­kin seeds fol­lowed by tamales– banana leaves wrapped around soft corn­meal pil­lows filled with spicy sal­sa verde and creamy Oaxacan cheese.

Jane eats hearti­ly. She is fam­ished from the hike. She watch­es Natalia nib­ble dis­pas­sion­ate­ly at her food, much the way Jane did not so long ago, and she feels a pang of pity. It’s won­der­ful to be so relaxed, so hun­gry, to eat. She notices how slen­der Natalia’s arms are, how attrac­tive­ly carved her cheek­bones. But what’s the point? Does her hus­band demand it? Is she afraid of los­ing him to oth­er women?

The tamales are deli­cious and Jane fin­ish­es her quick­ly. Ned leaves a whole tamale on his plate. Jane fights the urge to ask if she can have it. Just then Thaddeus arrives. He is more tanned than he looked in the ham­mock and he appears just-show­ered.

Hey Thaddeus,” Jane says and intro­duces him to Ned. He already knows Natalia and Brian– they all went fish­ing yes­ter­day.

Thaddeus sits across from Jane and she avoids his eye. She talks to Natalia and lis­tens to Ned tell Brian about a project at the uni­ver­si­ty. All the while she eyes his tamale. When Ned is not look­ing, she stabs it with her fork and it lands with a thud on her own plate. It has cooled off and grown lead­en, but she eats it any­way.

Soon she feels sleepy and over-full and she moves down the bench until she is lean­ing against Ned. The women in white dress­es clear the din­ner plates and every­one lingers over cof­fee and cig­a­rettes. Ned is ani­mat­ed now, smok­ing Jorge’s strong tobac­co, but he looks at Jane and asks if she wants to go back to the room. She nods. They stand and say good­night to every­one and Jane is con­scious of Thaddeus talk­ing to a woman from California. She feels a flush of jeal­ousy. Then at the last minute, just as she and Ned are step­ping down from the din­ing room and onto the path lead­ing back to their room, she looks back at Thaddeus. He turns away from the California woman and looks towards her. His mean­ing is unmis­tak­able– he will meet her lat­er up at the ham­mocks, if she wants.

 

In their room Ned and Jane make love slow­ly. Jane is slug­gish from so much food. Sex with Ned is sweet and earnest, not like the sweaty aggres­sive tum­bles she used to have. She decides final­ly, when they are through and Ned is lying beside her, that she will mar­ry him.

She remem­bers Thaddeus and thinks how as soon as Ned is asleep she could pull her­self up and away, out of bed, and run up to the ham­mocks. One last time. Ned would nev­er know.

But she’s tired and sat­ed and what would be the point? It’s nice to know she still could, though, and final­ly, it seems that’s enough.

 

She and Ned sleep late, and the kitchen is closed when they arrive at the din­ing room in the late morn­ing. A wait­ress finds them cof­fee and a bas­ket of muffins. Jane slathers hers with but­ter and gulps her cof­fee with cream and lots of sug­ar.

They’ll stay here at Puerto Angel today and walk down to the lit­tle cove beach. They stop back to their room and grab tow­els, books, sun block and head down to the cove beach.

Natalia and Brian are already there.

Hola!” Ned says expan­sive­ly.

Heya,” Natalia says, vow­els round­ed in her Australian accent.

Jane and Ned find chairs near­by and drag them next to their new friends. They set­tle in, the four arranged in a semi­cir­cle fac­ing the water. The cove is still and very blue. Sailboats bob to one side and stray dogs roam the beach, their heads low in bro­ken-down sub­mis­sion. Other groups sit in chairs like theirs, order­ing drinks from wait­ers who appear from lit­tle huts set back from the water.

Jane is hap­py and relaxed. She has not yet told Ned that she’s decid­ed she will mar­ry him. It’s deli­cious enough to savor by her­self for the time being. She feels the sun warm­ing her hair and buries her feet in the hot sand.

Natalia sits next to Brian and she is talk­ing now, telling a fun­ny sto­ry about an inter­view she did with Lady Gaga. Jane mar­vels at Natalia’s body, her smooth, tanned neck, downy hairs bleached white by the sun. Natalia is angu­lar, slen­der, no bulges or alarm­ing rip­ples any­where. Jane looks down at her own wide thighs, pressed flat into the beach chair. Above her knees, bun­dles of dark, wiry spi­der veins are form­ing. She smiles. How quick­ly things can change—she just doesn’t care.

Brian stands up and looks around the lit­tle cove and out to the water. “It’s a per­fect day for snor­kel­ing,” he announces. Ned stands up beside him, puts his hands on his hips and nods in mas­cu­line agree­ment.

Jane turns to Natalia and smiles, “Sounds good, huh?” but Natalia is look­ing at the men.

Thaddeus appears on the path from the hotel and the men pat him on the shoul­ders and they all shake hands. Jane glances at him a lit­tle wist­ful­ly, as if he rep­re­sents all she is giv­ing up, her spicy lit­tle past.

Thaddeus and Ned head to the lit­tle hut at the edge of the sand to rent the snor­kel­ing gear. Ned is taller than Thaddeus, but Thaddeus has a bold, almost proud step and his back is wide with mus­cle. With his stoop­ing gait Ned looks old­er and less care­free. Well, he is. And so is she– and they will be mar­ried.

Have you snorkled before?” Natalia asks her. Jane says no, but she’s always want­ed to. Does Natalia have any tips?

Natalia smiles and digs a slen­der brown toe into the sand. “Just try not to pan­ic,” she says with a laugh. “At first you’ll feel like you’re going to suf­fo­cate. But you won’t. You must breathe slow­ly, even­ly.” She clos­es her eyes and takes a few prac­tice breaths, look­ing mechan­i­cal­ly serene, like a yoga teacher. “Breathe and kick your feet and look around. You will be fine. It’s beau­ti­ful down there.”

Ned and Thaddeus return with arms full of gear. There is con­fu­sion and laugh­er over flip­per sizes and every­one swaps the bright pieces of rub­ber.

As Jane stands up, feet firm­ly buck­led into her own thick pur­ple flip­pers, she turns back to smile at Ned. But he doesn’t see her.

Her first though is how easy it would have been for her to miss it, not to buck­le her flip­pers so quick­ly, to put her gog­gles on before she turned around. She turns around at that very sec­ond, and unmis­tak­ably Jane sees pass between the eyes of Natalia and her beloved Ned a gen­uine flash of heat.

~

Julie Odell’s recent work appears in Five Chapters and Atticus Review and is forth­com­ing in The Intentional. She is a MacDowell Colony fel­low and has record­ed per­son­al com­men­tary for NPR. She lives in Philadelphia, near the woods.