Sophie observed this supposed Polynesian. ‘So what about these diving girls?’
‘We diving girl, yes. Hemia and Maire both die at sea.’
‘You killed them and ate them?’ she asked before she could stop herself.
‘No, corr not. Hemia lost leg, Maire head broke.’
‘Why not you? How did you escape?’
‘I underworta at time.’
‘Your whole body is brown. Listen to your accent. You’re from the Pacific.’
‘So what are you doing here?’
‘I toll you – we agent. Send help Azori government.’
‘But you’re not Azori.’
‘No, we Tahiti.’
‘Tahiti! And what’s your name?’
‘Beautiful name. You’re a beautiful girl too,’ but Sophie kept her hands to herself.
The girl beamed with inordinately more pleasure than the remark had warranted – perhaps this was the highest accolade where she came from.
‘All right, Miri, you might have been sent to help the Azores but what’s your government want here?’
Clearly the girl’s opinion of Sophie had now dropped several notches. ‘You doan know?’
‘Not in the least.’
‘Then microfiche not for you. Give back peas.’
‘No, it might just be for us.’
‘You say ‘us’.’ The girl now looked at Sophie triumphantly – it was Sophie’s second error in one morning and she was intensely annoyed with herself.
‘I mean the people I worked for before. As you say, I’m also an agent and I think we might just have the same enemy. I had to escape before they bombed our island and that’s why I’m here.’
‘What your name?’
Suddenly, Sophie found herself saying, ‘Magdalena,’ and the effect was electric. Miri crouched into a defensive posture, it was clear she knew both the name and the martial arts. When Sophie didn’t attack, she gradually dropped her guard and, puzzled, asked, ‘Why you say that name? It code for them.’
‘Yes, I know,’ Sophie replied. ‘I was once one of them.’
Now it was the girl’s turn to become ultra-defensive and Sophie wrily noted that the roles had been reversed. She was the enemy and the girl the heroine. She added, calmly, ‘I was rescued and de-programmed.’
‘Really? How long it take?’
‘Months and months and maybe it’s not over yet. Miri, why don’t you wear clothes?’
‘Why you no wear cloves? Same for me. I pretty girl, you pretty girl. Our body peasing. Why hide?’
Sophie had to grin at that. ‘All right, all right. Why the capsule?’
‘I toll you,’ the girl now thought Sophie had had a touch of the sun, ‘we operatif. We wait boat take us. Boat no come – juss bomb.’
‘How can you dive in those waters – it’s too cold.’
‘Of corr. We rub oy – you fee here, OK,’ and with that she took Sophie’s hand and laid it on her breast, ‘you find oy on raft?’
‘Yes but what do you dive for?’ Sophie took back her hand.
‘You doan know, do ya? Microfeesh not for you.’
It all seemed plausible. If this was the enemy’s work, they’d done a fine job of it and this had to be one of their best operatives. Sophie now handed back the microfiche and was going to suggest to Hugh and Lawrence that they let her keep it and see where it ended up. She also made a decision to bring the girl back to them for vetting. But one last question: ‘How did you get here? I know you were on a raft but how did it move? Paddles, sail?’
‘Look at raft and you see. Orright, I hungry again – you got food?’
‘How do I know you haven’t got a communication device?’
‘I give yoo capsoo. You know where it was.’
‘And the other place?’
‘You want look yourself?’
‘No, I want you to look. I have to be sure.’
‘How you know it not in my hair?’
It was true that she did have masses of dark brown hair but Sophie now couldn’t be bothered. The others could do that.
She led the girl over to the base of the cliff under the ladder drop point and called for them to drop it. It cascaded down and first Miri, then Sophie, clambered up and were met at the top by Mandy, holding two saris. Sophie donned hers and the girl, surprised, took hers, put it over her arm then they walked, with springy step, up to the Citadel.
They went into Moran’s, Mandy came through and put out some sustenance for both of them – the others had already eaten – the girl fell upon hers with gusto but still with some decorum. The males had not presented themselves as yet but Janine and Susannah now came through and met her.
Miri had not asked, so far, how many people there were, who they were, or about anything else of a sensitive nature. She seemed hardly interested. Perhaps she thought that, with infinite patience, all would be eventually revealed. Who could tell? Perhaps she already knew.
Sophie slipped out to debrief the others in the lookout and Sam and Adam immediately went to check out the raft story, albeit from a concealed spot.
Back in Moran’s, having eaten her fill, the girl turned and asked, ‘What now?’
‘That’s a very good question, Miri,’ answered Janine. ‘What now?’
‘Yeah, I ask you that. And whadooyoo answer?’
‘You live with us,’ answered Janine.
‘Yeah but microfiche got to get back.’
‘How do you know ‘back’ is still there, Miri? Our island wasn’t bombed – it was hit by a tsunami. You have those around your homeland?’
The girl was razor sharp and went quiet. She saw the scenario – these people had no intention of leaving this place and she had to complete her mission. Surely they could see that? Why didn’t they complete theirs, instead of skulking around on this island?
Her question was answered by Mandy. ‘Miri, most of the governments have fallen. We were on an island with our Prime Minister and our own country tried to kill us. The rules have changed. The enemy are now in control and searching for people like us, to kill us. Maybe you’re their agent. We’re trying to start up a new community, a new society, to survive the holocaust which has certainly started. Then we’ll try to go back.’
‘Yeah, I know that. They blowin up i-land everwear.’
‘So think about our security here – if you set foot on your raft again, in the vain hope of finding home, what are your chances of not meeting the enemy? Above water travel is dangerous now. Anyway, we want to know how you got here without them knowing.’
The girl was genuinely non-plussed and asked instead, ‘How you make si-siety? You got men?’
At that moment, Adam came in and nodded to the girls – Miri’s story had checked out – the wreck of the raft, the oil. Then he saw the girl and looked away. At this moment, Nick and Susannah also came in and Nick also looked away. The girl was upset and demanded of them, ‘Hey, what matter – I not pretty?’
‘Er – you’re very pretty,’ said Nick. Aren’t you cold?’
‘No.’ Then she turned to Susannah and said, ‘What matter with them?’
‘Miri,’ said Janine, who’d heard the name and the story by now, ‘You’re from Tahiti, not from the African jungle. Tahiti is a developed, Gallicized society where people wear clothes and live normal lives. So why don’t you wear them?’
‘I don’t wonn.’
‘All right. You speak French?’ She nodded. ‘But your English is not what I’d imagine Tahitian to be. It seems more Asian.’
‘Mama Thai. I both. Live long time Pattaya.’
Susannah called for all females to accompany her to ask Nikki, who felt that the woman was a soft plant, designed to undermine from inside, before the final blow to the softened-up body politic came from the outside. They conferred.
The six of them now went to Moran’s where Miri was, understandably, surrounded by the men.
Nikki immediately announced, ‘For me, if any man touches that girl, he’s to be immediately anathema.’ All the women nodded.
The evening meal was an embarrassment, intolerable. With the best will in the world, male eyes constantly stole to Miri’s chest, legs, toes and even between her legs, the women knew they had to deal with her summarily.
After the men had left, Nikki took her aside and explained the situation and to everyone’s surprise, she readily agreed to don the sari. She just hadn’t understood that it wasn’t acceptable otherwise.
Hugh went for a wander out to the Court to reflect one afternoon, over to the rock closest to the cliff edge. He liked the place, to wind down.
It was another unseasonally warm day and he thought he might do a spot of tanning; then he had a better idea. The Pool was the place.
The natural rock depression, being kidney or banana shaped, was perhaps seven metres from end to end, the rock wall prevented you from seeing the other end. They’d decided not to use it for drinking water – they had a dozen holding pouches for that purpose in different parts of the Citadel.
No, this was a bathing pool.
He hurried now and hoped the almost permanent residents, Susannah and Nick, wouldn’t be there. As he climbed up the carved rock steps to the ledge where they changed, he listened and heard no sound – good and there were no robes on the pegs, so he hung his up and stepped into the pool.
The water was maybe halfway up the thighs and about three metres across but it had gone down in the last days – acceptable to bathe in, he began splashing and washing himself.
Suddenly a voice came from behind him. ‘Hoo, you cumm ear too. It wunnerfu here.’
As is always the way, two or more things happened simultaneously. Miri came straight at him, put one hand behind his waist and took a handful of his equipment with the other, just as Nick was climbing the steps.
She let him go, waded over to Nick, thinking the afternoon was turning out quite pleasantly after all, took his in both hands and dragged him into the pool.
Lifting her leg, she drew him home like a heat seeking missile.
At exactly the same time, Susannah had climbed the steps for her constitutional, saw what was happening, assumed Hugh was in it too, Nick extracted himself from Miri, waded fast to the edge of the pool, climbed down to Lover’s Lane, still naked, chasing and calling, ‘Sue! Sue! Stop!’ catching her halfway back to Moran’s, just as Nikki and Sophie were on their way to the pool.
Nick went straight to their hut, Susannah ran for Moran’s and Hugh was not far behind.
Effectively banned by the women from any contact with them, was it any wonder Miri now became morose and withdrawn?
Laurence, Mandy, Nikki, Sophie and Hugh happened to be in Moran’s and Laurence said what all had been thinking. ‘Sooner or later, ladies, we must all have her, as Nick did, as long as you ostracise her. Why don’t you girls show more warmth, befriend her and educate her about what is right and wrong?’
Mandy snorted at that, ‘Why don’t you all just say no?’
‘Because she ambushes us. She’d had Nick before he knew what was going on and that’s the truth. She’s taken to studying our habits in detail, knowing where we go, with whom, and at what times. She knows Sam generally goes to check the pods in the early afternoon but, instead of returning, he often sits for three quarters of an hour at the top of that cliff, feet dangling over the edge like a boy. She knows these things.’
‘You mean she had Sam?’ demanded Sophie.
Laurence shut up, ‘I’m not saying anything.’ Sophie left swiftly and the meeting broke up in disarray.
Hugh went straight to one of Sam’s other haunts, the other side of the paddy fields, certain he’d be there and he was. It was a sloping grassy area, better for the purpose, surrounded by trees on all sides.
On Hugh’s approach, Miri was delighted – more meat – but Sam broke off. When it was clear the two were only going to talk, she looked at both and said, ‘I bee at Pool.’
‘You’re in some trouble, Sam. We were in Moran’s and Laurence inadvertently let the cat out of the bag about you two over near the pods.’
‘Was Sophie there?’
‘Until she left in a hurry.’
‘Yes, ‘oh’. I’m the last person in a position to make moral judgements but I have to here. Why are you doing this to Sophie?’
‘I … I don’t see it as doing it ‘to’ her. I suppose it just happened. It just happens. She watches where I go, Miri and then pounces.’
‘Which, naturally, you’re averse to,’ Hugh smiled.
‘You’re not so immune yourself,’ Sam smiled in return. ‘She ambushed me near the pods, yes. Her athleticism is extraordinary – she can straddle two rocks, use me as a fulcrum, then wrap her legs around me, steadying herself with her arms around my neck. Her muscle control’s amazing. Then she disappears.’
‘Do you ever talk?’
‘Yes and she’s very lonely. She thinks the women hate her.’
‘They do. Did you explain why?’
Sam was quiet.
Hugh said, ‘Doesn’t it worry you, losing Sophie? It was a hell of a job to get her settled. When Miri departs – and I think she will when her mission is done – you can’t go back to Sophie. You’ve laid her back on us, Sam.’
‘Can’t help that Hugh, I want to make my life with Miri. What if one of her prime directives doesn’t come from Them but from her home culture – find yourself a man and do what it takes to keep him?’
‘Sophie’s a strange one, Hugh. She’s done her level best but everyone on the island knows she’s the third Jensen. I would have done my duty, really I would, but then Miri came along.’
‘This is a nightmare. You do know Miri will start making her own demands when the child comes.’
‘Good, she’s earned the right to make some demands.’ He looked at Hugh. ‘You can’t gainsay me, can you old chap?’
‘There’s an answer to you Sam but I don’t know what it is. I’m sure it comes down to right or wrong but I admit your case.’
‘Look Hugh, Sophie and I were not married, I’ll marry Miri.’
‘Give Sophie one more chance.’ He saw that the man was not receptive to the idea. Sighing, he took his leave. On the way back, he thought it through and when he got to the hut, he told Nikki all of it.
‘Remember karma, Bebe? I think it has now come to this. It’s true though – this Miri does attend to Sam’s needs.’
‘Sophie’s crazy if she thinks she can just drop all caring about Sam’s needs – he’s the type who needs a woman’s devotion.’
‘That’s because she never really cared, Bebe. She doesn’t love him, she loves you and me.’
‘So what can we do?’
‘Not a lot – it’s already too far gone.’
Two days later, Hugh saw Miri scurrying from Moran’s in the direction of the Court so he went the other way, down to the Pool. The day was more overcast and the bathing days were numbered.
There were a few reasons to avoid her, the prime ones being Nikki and Sophie but there was also the reason he didn’t usually speak of – simple hygiene. All men and women had been given a clean bill of health on the last island so he wasn’t so much worried that way – it was just Miri. With that attitude and track record … well let’s just say it was the single greatest reason he’d never gone with a prostitute.
Miri, for her part, had had all the males now except for the patriarch and she also realized he was avoiding her. As a sporting girl, one with a taste for the chase, this caused her to turn hunter and Nikki was creasing herself with laughter as he described the measures he’d taken each day.
She’d also threatened him that if he did do it, even the once, then she, Nikki, was offlimits for a month and he would have to go through a series of checks from Sam. Secretly though, in her own mind, she saw that the other men had not suddenly developed anything but then again, sometimes it took weeks and months to manifest itself.
There was a solution of course – find Miri and tell her he did not want, that in his culture, this was not done. Then she’d point to the other men. Plus Hugh was avoiding her, too cowardly to reject a lady to her face. Lady?
And the other men weren’t helping the issue by misdirecting her – they were giving her the lowdown on exactly where he was at any time.
That corner of the field which nobody used was approached from the end of the Pool and that’s what he did today, tiptoeing through the break in the undergrowth and settling down on the grass under one of the large willows in that nook, beside the island’s only real stream.
He lay back, relaxing, only to look up at the first branch and there she was, Miri, spread like a cat along the branch. She grinned and dropped to the ground, springing onto him and spreadeagling him. He didn’t throw her off, didn’t get angry, just sighed.
She moved her lips up near his. ‘Gotcha.’
‘Go on, Miri, let’s get this over with.’ She looked back down, thrust out a hand, took his equipment between fingers and thumb but what surprised her was it had not immediately sprung to attention and she was a bit miffed by this. Sure it was hard now with a bit of kneading but what now surprised him was that she made no move to finish the job, instead lying on the ground beside him.
‘Erf hard here, let lie out there.’ She pointed further out into the field. Surprised, he got up and she pointed to a spot. They both lay down.
‘Obvious question, Miri – why did you not – um?’ Using one of her own lines, ‘Am I not peesing?’
She turned and kissed him. ‘Of corr yoo are, Hoo, off corr. I have baby.’
‘Ah,’ he semi-hoped, ‘and that means you can’t do it with me?’
‘With nowun now, owny Sam.’
They talked in a constructive way on many issues, he wanting background, she asking about who wanted the microfiche and how it had disappeared. Disappeared? That one certainly puzzled him.
Nikki it was who found them and as she climbed, not completely easily, up the glade from the walkway, she wondered how much had happened.
He cut to the chase. ‘Nikki, Miri has something to announce.’
She did, Nikki smiled and he added, ‘So of course, when you have a child, you can’t make love with any other man.’
‘I see.’ She sat down with them, which only caused Miri to reach under Nikki’s robe and fondle one breast.
‘You have lovely bress, Nikki.’
Nikki coughed and went bright red. Miri jumped up to go. ‘Yoo too fuk now, I go.’
And she was gone, almost sprinting down to the walkway. Nicolette was shaking her head. ‘I like her but she’s very, very strange.’
‘I think a lot of it’s an act she’s developed, something she thinks Europeans would accept as Pacific Island. She can talk perfectly well in English but has been talking in this kooky way for so long, it’s become her pidgin English.’
‘Why don’t you insist on proper English then, appeles-la bluff.’
‘I quite like how she speaks. I like how you speak – that accent goes straight through me.’ She went red again.
‘Yoo gonna fuk me ven?’ she asked.
‘Don’t say things like that.’
‘Ah of corr, you wonn I play unsully maiden, yeah?’
He ignored that and let her start the process as was their wont – what else was there to do in this field, under this sun?
Early September, 2011
Hugh and Laurence stood on the walkway in the late afternoon, drinks in hand.
‘You know,’ said Laurence, ‘the way we built all this was meant to be a temporary solution.’ He made the grand gesture. ‘We built as solidly as we could but compared to home, obviously it was occasional, makeshift. Then we embellished it, planted the crops, put in the aviary, made the Court and the Pool and you know, it’s got all we need now, honestly. There’s no need for anything more solid – it fits into the island well.’
Hugh looked around. ‘I love it, to be honest. My wife’s here, the company’s good, our first liquor is drinkable – cheers, by the way – I’d be happy to stay here.’
‘She’s urban chic but I think she’s adapted, I do think she loves it here.’
Laurence nodded and they knocked back their drinks. ‘Good thing the weather has been as it has.’
Nikki broached it, lying on their bed in their hut.
‘Let me ask you some difficult questions. ‘Do you think we will ever get off this island? I don’t want to by the way but will we?’
‘We’ll either be living here in ten to twenty years, surrounded by progeny and grand progeny … or our island will be blown up and hopefully we’ll have escaped, in which case we’re looking for a new home.’
‘Right, and we have an imbalance on the island with Miri now deciding to stay with Sam. Sophie shocked me the way she didn’t even care.’
‘I already know where you’re going on this. Not our job, Nikki love.’
‘You’re too quick. We are the patriarch and matriarch. We are in a new society now in which what we say goes. Two women have babies inside, we think anyway, Sam thinks so, and our job is to populate and our society survive. Someone must give Sophie a child.’
‘Nikki, that’s as wrong as anything we did. I’m afraid I’m not with you on this one – a child needs his father, he needs his mother.’
‘All right, yes, in a normal world. If Sophie is childless, what will she do? What Miri did? Or one of the children of another couple she comes onto when that boy is fifteen or so? You and I are struggling to produce a child as it is – the three childless Jensens they’re saying.’
‘People are cruel.’
‘Nikki, it would wreck you and me, we’ve only just recovered.’
‘No it wouldn’t wreck anything, not if I was controlling things.’
That’s mad egotism. For me to do that with Sophie, are you saying you’re happy to give up your exclusivity to me?’
‘You think I want? She was our idea to rescue, she’s our responsibility now, like our child.’
‘One does not copulate with one’s child. Nikki, think it through, love – how would I look after both our child and Sophie’s child as father?’
‘You’d be busy.’
‘What about ongoing lovemaking … forever? I’m not a bigamist.’
‘Our society is now highly unusual, Bebe. You don’t fix a problem by creating a new one, by involving one of the other men. The only woman on this island who could handle you having one woman and an occasional one is she who is controlling the situation. I make an offer to her, she goes off and thinks about it, she either accepts or doesn’t. If it was anyone else, it wouldn’t even be an idea, but Sophie is a special case.’
‘She’s a fully-fledged woman and you didn’t ask me.’
‘Yes I did. Just now – I’m asking you now. Bebe, she’s unusual in one major respect – she does not need constant sex because of her past – Sam did though and he pressured her. You could keep her happy by spending some time with her, I can too, and you and she, now and again, do that.’ He looked at her. ‘Think about it, Hugh, before tomorrow morning and then I’ll speak with her.’
Sophie was stunned, lying on the bed after Hugh had gone off on his rounds. He was in Moran’s and she was looking straight into the eyes of Nicolette.
‘Isn’t that adultery?’
‘It would be if he did it for any reason other than to make a baby.’
‘You can’t make universal truths like that.’
‘I accept that and yet this is our situation -’
‘Don’t you understand what you mean to Hugh, what you mean to me, what you mean to us as a pair?’
Tears came to Sophie’s eyes and Nikki knew it took a hell of a lot for that to happen. ‘What if I refuse?’
‘Then you start seducing all of our husbands, like Miri did or you go strange or even regress to where you were with the Seven.’
‘Do you accept the terms?’
‘I have no choice, do I? I know what you’re trying to do and I’m in shock that you’d do that. It’s also complicated because I love both of you. But you know the hunger inside me too, don’t you?’ Nikki nodded. ‘All right, I promise I’ll keep within the agreement. If I find I can’t, then I’ll tell you. I’ll try to.’
Hugh found Laurence on the walkway the following morning, a drink in his hand before 11:00, not something he’d done that early before. Not only that but he now asked Hugh to get one himself.
Laurence turned and said, ‘Let’s toast, Hugh.’
‘To Janine’s child.’
‘Hoped for or already conceived?’
He clapped Laurence on the back and smiled broadly. ‘Ah, Laurence, old son, that’s wonderful news. Here’s to the child, the mother and the father. Cheers!’
‘Thanks, Hugh. We’ll announce it officially at Moran’s but I wanted the boss to know first.’
‘Well, I don’t know about ‘boss’ but best of luck anyway.’
They finished their drinks, Hugh got them two more, those went down the hatch nicely and now it was a case of neither really wanting the thing to end. ‘Let’s go swimming, said Hugh. ‘I’ll tell Nikki and you tell Janine where we’ll be.’
Laurence spent about twenty minutes in the Pool, his allocated time away from Janine, they spoke of this and that, Hugh splashed about the Pool a bit once Laurence departed, then waded over for his robe but stopped, hearing someone coming.
The advantage was always with the newcomer who could judge by the robe, so for him, there were now a few anxious moments and he got ready to cover himself. Sophie saw his robe, placed hers beside it and slipped into the pool, waded over quickly, those strong thighs glistening in the sunlight, as he also waded her way and they met beside the patio.
She said, ‘I hate it this way, so mechanical, so calculated. The problem is, despite knowing the rules, if we have a baby, I’ll want you for myself, Hugh.’
‘You’ll get as much of me as you can handle in one go. I’m not easy, you wouldn’t want me 24/7, not even Nikki can take that.’
‘If we do this now, it must be without regret, without any pangs of conscience at all. I couldn’t take you regretting us being together, as you did with Julia – I couldn’t take it later, tomorrow. The regrets, if there are going to be any, must be now, before we begin.’
‘Agreed. I have none – we know what we’re doing, it’s not that we don’t love each other, we do, so I can’t see that we have any other choice but to start.’
‘I prefer to ease into it via some foreplay.’
‘Whatever is your pleasure m’lady.’
‘Oh, I think this will be just as much your pleasure, lover.’
She waded the two paces, dropped to her knees and immediately broke the rules on recreation. Where Nikki interspersed the frenetic, working him hell for leather, then cutting to long and soft, Sophie was more mechanical, more thorough and she never varied, she was like a relentless metronome.
He was over the top within a minute and it floated away on the water.
‘Goodness,’ she said, ‘always so quick at the start.’
‘If I’m hot for someone, the first time should always be like that. That’s actually the best compliment I could have paid you.’
‘I know that. I wanted to know if it was going to happen for me.’
‘Sophie, before Nikki came back to that northern house, if I’d wanted, would you have become my woman?’
‘Don’t forget we had Marie-Ange there too and you couldn’t unbalance things, plus the Prime Minister was dropping hints.’
‘Yes but if he hadn’t?’
‘Yes, I would have.’
She placed a hand on his face. ‘Tell me when you’re ready.’
‘You’ll see that, you’ll read it as you see it. You direct that what we do in the early part, then I’ll take over and give you a break.’
‘I like that. It sounds a nice programme.’
The sun was out today and it was always on the cards that Adam, Lisa, Nick and Susannah or some other combination would arrive for a swim and actually, they were all gathering their things in their huts at this time.
They were standing, Sophie and him, she had one hand on his equipment and now it was again ready for service, but this time it was going to be the real thing, so to speak. She thought here in the middle of the water would be nice but then he’d have to support her leg and she wanted both his hands on her, so she suggested they go over to the side.
They did, she put her foot up on the edge and asked him to go in slowly so they could savour it – she wanted to end this long wait in a reverent way.
Unfortunately, that was when Nick and Susannah arrived, they slipped into the water and waded over.
Susannah laughed. ‘I don’t know what to say. Is this some new development on the field games, guys?’
Hugh pulled out and turned, sheepishly, Nick put his arms around Susannah from behind, she turned her head and kissed him, turned back to them and asked, ‘Does … er … Nikki have any idea about this?’
‘Yes,’ they both answered at the same time. ‘She organized it,’ added Hugh.
‘Um, some quaint French custom or any occasion in particular?’
‘We’re making a baby,’ said Sophie. ‘That’s our agreement with Nikki.’
‘A baby, a child,’ said Hugh. ‘Sophie’s going to be a mother. That’s what we’re working on now, we’ve only got this afternoon to do it.’
‘Is the world cracked? I’ve obviously stumbled onto something I wasn’t informed about here,’ said Susannah. ‘But you have to love someone, guys, to do this. You said yourself, Hugh, we all agreed, that on this island, we wanted no casual sex, that we have to want to live our life with our partners.’
‘We do love each other,’ said Sophie, ‘and there’s nothing casual about this- it was planned out, it’s been talked out and we feel deeply about it, all three of us.’
‘The world really is cracked,’ said Susannah, ‘isn’t it, Nick?’ He smiled and shook his head in disbelief.
Sophie looked at them both in a kindly way and said, ‘We only have this afternoon, Nick, Susannah. Would you like us to go up to the other end of the Pool?’
‘No no, you two stay here and get on with it,’ said Nick, incredulously. ‘We’ll go up the other end.’
By now, the traffic going through Nikki’s door had attracted the notice of Mandy in Moran’s and she wanted to know what was happening.
Inside Nikki’s hut, Mandy said, ‘This thing’s getting more and more weird. And you approved?’
‘I planned it.’
She was confused. ‘I’ve never seen anything like it,’ she said, neither disapprovingly nor approvingly. ‘Is it because you’re French?’
‘You’re not upset?’
‘Yes I am, I’m very upset. They’re upset too, but in different ways. It’s the only solution though to the question of Sophie which does not involve your husbands [that one got through] and it’s our responsibility before anyone else’s.’
‘I hope you know what you’re doing,’ Mandy said, ‘it’s very, very strange. And Nikki, sexual love is a very powerful force – it can destroy as well.’
‘I know that, Mandy, it’s a risk but we had long talks before it happened, quite deep discussions. They have this afternoon and if necessary, another one later.’
‘How do you know?’
‘All three of us discussed this exact question. It comes down to trust.’
They heard footsteps coming rapidly up the path and Lisa didn’t even wait for an invitation but burst in, uttering apologies, saw Mandy and stopped. ‘Have you two just been discussing this?’
‘Yes,’ said Mandy, not even bothering about the assumption of the question.
‘What’s the latest report?’ smiled Nikki.
‘You know Nick and Susannah are also in the Pool … doing it?’
‘Not with Hugh and Sophie?’
‘No, they’re at the other end.’
‘We thought all of this was banned.’
‘Couples are different. Sophie and Hugh have one afternoon today and then another later, in case it’s needed.’
‘I can’t believe I’m hearing this.’
By now, the traffic at the Pool made the whole thing impossible, Hugh and Sophie got out of the water, took their robes over their arms, stepped down onto Lover’s Lane and went to the fields, opening the rock gates as they went. He noticed her long, almost world-weary strides beside him, those feline feet again – a most powerful hypnotic was Sophie Magdalena and he felt this might possibly be their last hurrah.
When they got there, walking across that glade, the whole atmosphere, the feel of the paddy fields under the trees in the distance, the grass beneath their feet, the overhanging rock – it was so, so different, far less sunworshipping, far more pastoral, far more tranquil.
A change now came over them, the realization that they were about to lose this day, that they could not come together again for some time and an inner intensity, not actually physical, gripped them both.
Where the Pool had been stark and raw, all mild sun and naked bodies, this was far more tender, they held each other for longer and the kisses took on far greater importance – one kiss must have lasted nearly ten minutes, it asked many questions, found answers to some and not to others. This was highly dangerous because there was real love here.
They rested for some minutes. Gazing out over her paddy fields, she felt happier than she had in years, for obvious reasons and it radiated from her features, from her face. The trees really did surround them, the birds really did call, small wildlife really did poke its head out of the ground, wrinkle its nose and pop down again.
Now she held his hand close to her chest as he lay beside her, fingers intertwined, she gazed into his eyes and they spoke of life and love, of new chances, of the things people speak of. Tomorrow she’d come back and lie here again, in this exact spot, remembering what had happened today, hoping his seed had created new life in her.
There were maybe forty-five minutes left.
‘Anything left in the tank?’ she suddenly asked and turned over onto her elbows, feeling the cool touch of the grass, waiting for his heat behind. She already knew he was quicker from behind and she wanted two more spurts within the time frame.
She felt the burn and he was pounding with more energy than earlier, which had her gasping … she herself shook sometime after, felt that rush up her spine, which surprised her greatly, he deposited all of it inside her, then withdrew and lay back on the grass, she put one leg over his and rested her head on his chest – savouring the last of the daylight.
She then rolled over onto her side, looking down the hill to the tip of the tallest tree in the distance, watching the sun slowly dropping obliquely and the evening chill was descending. ‘I love this place, Hugh. It’s where I feel most at peace.’
She looked back over him up the hill and saw Nikki coming down the last bit of the path, stepping onto the field.
As they put on their robes, Nikki reached them, announcing, ‘Here, I thought you’d both need coffee and a bite to eat.’
Then she realized she was robbing them of time and couldn’t believe herself. ‘Another hour and a half but you have me here with you. I’ll make supper.’
Sophie looked at him, he at her and the opportunity was too much – they knew it was a test by Nikki but rationalizations now took second place. They looked at her.
‘Get on with it then, before I change my mind.’
It was weird to be sure and he’d lost energy but so had she and they couldn’t afford it to be too outrageous with Nikki there. What was he saying? The whole damned thing was outrageous. Sophie put paid to the question by lying on her back and those long legs fell apart – Nikki torn between being highly impressed by her languid beauty, and by her own man entering this woman now.
She hated how Sophie was writhing, she busied herself with supper.
Nikki poured the coffees, they donned robes and sat cross legged, nibbling on the snacks.
‘Beautiful spot, I’ve always liked it here,’ said Nikki, then she noted, ‘Made for love really.’
‘Oui,’ agreed Sophie, facing downhill, gripping her knees, chin resting between those knees, gazing at the fast fading tree tops, toes wiggling and Nikki saw how radiant, how relaxed, how serene she looked. Of course it had to be this way.
The early autumn chill was present in the evenings now, though it was still warm during the day. They all wrapped their robes more closely around themselves.
Actually, this was an interesting point. The robes were useful all-round garments but the saris, being much longer, gave far more warmth to the women and the hood function made them even more snug, thus the women had taken to using them in the evenings. The men though still used the robes – two of them at night.
‘Well?’ Nikki asked of no one in particular and no one answered. ‘Hugh?’ she asked.
‘I’m really having an issue with this, Moineau, I can’t do it with you when Sophie’s with us and I can’t do it with her when you’re here. I feel no shame, I’m not talking about that. You saw me now and you saw her – she’s exquisite – but Nikki, it’s splitting my mind.’
‘It’s so weird that it makes me uneasy. I know the rules, I know why we’re doing this, I’d never betray you, Nikki, because I spend nights with you too and I value those, you know that. But being made love to by your man, with you here – there’s something a bit off about it. Feelings become involved. But there’s no way I’m asking for you to go or for this to stop either, you know I’m not asking that – I’m eternally grateful to you. To you both really.’ She began to cry.
Nicolette went over and provided the arms. He wanted so badly but he was not allowed. ‘We’ll wait two weeks to find out,’ said Nikki. ‘When we go up now, may Sophie stay with me in our hut if she wants?’
‘She wants,’ said Sophie. ‘It helps me cope.’
‘I’ll kip in Morans.’
The unseasonably warm weather had had its last gasp and people were wearing those saris or blankets around their shoulders in the evenings. The escape drills had taken on an intensity and some felt Hugh and Laurence were being obsessive.
Sam and Hugh cleaned the pods out and freshened them, supplies were kept up to date and stacked more efficiently. They were eating the food stored the longest and replacing it with new all the while. Hugh asked Sam to spend an hour in ‘his’ pod, to think of himself submerged for five weeks – what would he need to have at hand?
He made a list, compared it to Hugh’s and then they brought the others in for their opinions too. If anything happened at all, the last person could now make it to the pods in three and a half minutes from waking up.
They were eating heartily, drinking lustily and embracing a lot. Perhaps a leader’s mood does rub off on a group but Hugh was concealing his true feelings about the danger out there and only Laurence and perhaps Nikki had any real inkling about it.
The greatest plus, according to Nick, was how Sophie now threw herself into Citadel life, helping out, doing this, doing that, chatting to all the women and spending less time on her own in the paddy fields. It was commented on by Miri too, of all people, now actually dressed for the fresh weather, who observed, ‘It good Sofi fuk. She happy now.’
No one had liked them doing this, not this way and yet it had to be conceded that at least one of the parties had benefited and indirectly – so had they all. Nikki was spoken with by all the women at some stage, concerned for her.
She knew the whole thing was wrong, deep inside she knew and she didn’t want anyone accepting this as a ‘good’ solution or thinking for a moment that she thought this.
As everyone expected, the effects of any medicine wear off and the inevitable question arose. The thing was that, with the best will in the world, Sophie was not pregnant and two weeks later, she was chafing at the bit again, despite her efforts trying to conceal it.
The difference now was that everyone, especially the men, were affectionate towards her. She’d walk up to Moran’s, for example, Adam might be there and he’d rest a hand on her shoulder, to which she’d smile back weakly. Janine understood her predicament well and embraced her, transferring some of her own angst in the process.
Miri was her best friend the whole time and Sophie reciprocated. Miri’s arms were sometimes the only barrier keeping her from breaking down.
It wasn’t Hugh’s place to raise it but Nikki did. ‘All right, you can have another try. From after lunch tomorrow, through to the middle of the evening. You can go past sunset this time. Don’t use the Pool though please, except to wash yourselves later. Maybe the field is the place to go. Better you don’t make love to me now – hold me though.’
He did and murmured, ‘You never asked about her as my lover.’
‘I saw you both. I don’t want to know.’
‘Then you’d be wrong. May I tell you?’