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“It’s a big, big mess,” Nik sighed. “The fire station was alerted around six this morning, and my crew went directly to Souli’s Mini-Mart. Rainwater from the storm collected on the store’s flat roof, which collapsed under the weight, and the entire premises are flooded. Sally has lost much of her stock.” Lowering his glass, he looked directly at his middle brother. “I assumed she had insurance, but she stunned me by revealing she has none. It seems she is deeply in debt, and she’s talking about selling up and leaving Agia Kalamaros.”
Dimitri listened, guilt and regret tightening his chest. He was aware that, since the death of her husband Manos five years ago, Sally had been having a tough time. Everybody was. But leaving the village? If he’d realized she was in this much trouble… He inhaled sharply. Maybe he knew why he hadn’t realized, but the bottom line was he’d failed on the promise he’d made to Manos to take care of her. “Is she okay? Tell me she wasn’t in the Mini-Mart at the time of the flood.”
Nik shook his head. “Ochi. She’s not hurt, just shocked. She arrived to open up and saw water pouring out from under the door. That was when she put in the call to the fire house. We pumped away as much as we could and cleared some debris for her.”
“Doxa to theo,” Dimitri breathed out, “thank God. I should have thought to call her when the storm came. I would have gone to her aid immediately.” He ran a weary hand over his face. “Although we had our problems at Skalos. We spent most of the day cleaning up the estate. The roses took a real battering, and the olive groves are waterlogged. And some people say there’s no such thing as climate change.”
“Are you okay, brat?” Sergei enquired, using his native Russian to address him. “After all this bad news, another Metaxa is called for, I think.” He signalled to attract the attention of the waitress. Friday nights in the Artemis AK bar were always busy.
Dimitri gazed across the table at the glass of brandy they’d ordered earlier for Marco, their long-lost youngest brother. It was an act of faith they performed each time they got together. Was Marco still out there somewhere? A shot of alcohol to steady himself was tempting after what he’d just heard. “Leave it, Serge.” He put a restraining hand on Sergei’s arm. “I’m cutting our evening short as I must go check on Sally.”
Nik’s brow furrowed. “The news that she has these debts, it comes as a surprise to you, doesn’t it?”
“Just a little.” Dimitri smiled ruefully. “I’ve kept in touch with her because that was Manos’s wish. But I didn’t realize just how bad things had got for her.” He readied himself to leave. “I will speak with her, find out what has been happening, see what I can do to help. Surely it can’t be as hopeless as she’s saying.”
“Dimitrios, it’s not your fault.” Sergei addressed Dimitri, who was edging out from behind the table. “You have much on your plate at Skalos, and Sally has been hiding the truth from everyone. We knew she was struggling with the store, especially once the new supermarket opened up, but she kept smiling at us all, never revealed she had let her finances get out of control. Remember how I talked with her last summer and she mentioned having worries about slow trade at the Mini-Mart?”
“And I went to her with an offer of money to help out, which she refused. Said she would get back to me if things didn’t improve. But she never did.” Dimitri shrugged. “You know how stubborn she can be. Maybe she didn’t want to admit she was in trouble.” He was trying to sound objective, but the truth was, her secrecy stung. He man-hugged each of his brothers. “Have a drink for me. I will see you soon. Kalinychta. Good night.”
Stepping out into the fresh May evening, he dodged the puddles to make for the cab office adjacent to the seafront bar. As the taxi he’d hired chugged its way up the steep hillside road to Sally’s place in the centre of the village, he thought of the times he’d spent at 5 Dionysou Street when Manos was alive. On the face of it, he and Manos had been the very best of friends since schooldays, but under the surface, his desire for Sally had bubbled away. The desire that had been ignited when, many summers ago, they’d grown close. But then, for reasons he never understood, she’d gone cold on him. Ice cold. Within weeks, she was married to Manos. That’d devastated Dimitri, but he’d coped in the way he thought he should—by squashing his hurt down. He could still picture his twenty-three-year-old self walking along the beach at Trapazakia with his adoptive father, listening to Ian’s advice. “Dimitrios,” his dad had said, “you are still young and—if you’ll pardon the cliche—there really are plenty more fish in the sea. Sally Campbell is not worthy of you. Don’t sweat it. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get on with living your life to the fullest. You’ll find the right girl eventually.”
So, he’d pretended he hadn’t been that into Sally, that he was pleased for her and Manos, even agreeing to Manos’s request that he serve as best man at their wedding. Then he’d set about channelling his stifled emotions into building his farming empire and fishing in the dating ocean for a woman who could make him forget about his best friend’s wife. Succeeding absolutely with the first, but still waiting on the latter.
The cab pulled up on the cobbled street outside a small white stone house with still-open, sky-blue-painted shutters. A lamp burned in the front window, casting a glow over a box of what looked like newly planted spring flowers on the outside sill. When Sally opened the front door to him, her fiery curls scraped back into a messy ponytail, he recognised the oversize sweatshirt she wore as belonging to Manos. She looked tired, and a little strained, but nonetheless, she appeared as beautiful as she always did to him. It was strange. He’d dated many lovely, interesting women but those relationships never lasted; none of them could hold a candle to Sally.
“Oh.” She seemed taken aback to find him on her doorstep, but then it had been a couple of months since they were last in touch. She stepped back, tilting her head to indicate he should come in.
Moving past her, he entered the tiny hallway. Anybody else he would have greeted with kisses on both cheeks, but with Sally he always held back. It hit him that although they stood so close now, they were almost touching, there was a canyon of distance between them.
“Nik told me about the flood this morning.” He got straight to the point, speaking English, although he knew she spoke pretty good Greek. “He also told me you aren’t insured. Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Um, no, I don’t think so.” For seconds, he watched as she fiddled agitatedly with her wedding ring. “There’s nothing,” she said firmly, raising her chin.
He stood like a statue, wanting to move closer and offer comfort, but that kind of contact hadn’t been part of their relationship for eons.
“Dimitri, it’s not your problem.” She fixed him with a stare. “It’s been in the cards for a while that I would have to shut up shop, sell this house too. The rain overnight just hastened the inevitable.”
“But, Sally, surely, we can work something out?”
Taking a deep breath, she wrapped her arms around herself, reinstating that barrier between them. His own arms fell to his sides, his fists clenching in an effort not to reach for her and hug the almost defiant stiffness out of her body.
“I don’t think there’s any way back,” she said dully. “There’s too much money owed. I have to sell.”
“How did it come to this? Why didn’t you talk to me last summer, take the help I offered you then?” He tried to keep his voice calm and low but the frustration burning inside him won out.
She opened her mouth, almost as if she was about to say something, then pursed her lips. “Your offer was very generous,” she muttered, “but I couldn’t take it. I couldn’t have paid you back anytime soon—”
“I thought you understood that money was intended as a gift.”
Her head went back. “I couldn’t accept it. If ever I owed you, I would always repay you.”
“But—” He checked himself. This was her pride at work. “Okay,” he continued more softly. “If you show me the extent of the debts, I can at least figure out if there’s a way you can deal with them.”
She hesitated again, and now he realized that her resolve which, moments ago, had seemed so strong, was fading. “What and show you how much of a fool I’ve been?” she mumbled.
“A fool?” he echoed. “I do not think you could ever be one, Sally.”
“Oh, you’d be surprised.” She chewed at her bottom lip for a moment then raised her palms. “Alright. I guess the world will find out anyway soon enough so I might as well tell you. But I warn you, there will be things you won’t like hearing. Come this way.”
He nodded his assent. What on earth had been happening with her? Guilt came back to gnaw at him for not looking past her rebuttals or making more effort to bridge the gulf between them sooner. He followed her into the living room, where she gestured for him to sit on one of two comfortable couches flanking a stone fireplace. On the other sofa lay a small, shaggy, salt-and-pepper-coloured dog, basking sleepily in the fire’s warmth. McTavish, a name that spoke to Sally’s father’s Scottish roots. Sally had adopted him from KATs, the local animal shelter, about a year after Manos had died, her heartstrings tugged by the abandoned puppy’s ill treatment that had left him with a permanently disabled hind leg.
“Would you like tea?”
He nodded. When she’d departed for the kitchen, he looked around. The room bore the imprint of her artistic flair: homemade cushions, a quilt and a throw, rugs, pieces of locally sourced pottery and her own watercolours on the walls. He recalled she’d just finished her foundation year at art school when she came to spend that fateful summer on Kathos fifteen years ago, working on his estate to fund her studies, picking grapes and olives. He’d introduced her to his friend Manos Souli, the young village shopkeeper, and she’d never gone back to England, quitting her university course in Fine Arts before it’d even started. She and Manos had married the following fall.
He could picture her now as she’d been then: carefree, her wavy auburn hair glowing in the sunshine, her T-shirt lifting to reveal a tantalising glimpse of pale, toned tummy above her hipster jeans as she reached to pluck fruit from the vines. His body stirred at the memory. Like Manos, he’d fallen for her instantly, but it was his friend she’d chosen. His friend with whom she was patently still in love more than five years after he passed away—
“Tea, with milk or lemon.” She was back, setting down a tray on the low table in front of him. McTavish opened an eye then snuggled back down to snoozing with a grunt. “It’s alright for some,” she said wistfully, looking at her slumbering pet. “There are times I wish I could be a dog and just have my basic needs to think about, like naps, walks on the beach and when my next bowl of rabbit is due.”
“You feed him too well.” Dimitri accepted the mug she offered him.
“There was always unsold meat from the Mini-Mart for him. Now I’ll have to find another way for him to eat.” She sat down heavily at the other end of the couch and waved her hand. “Oh, never mind.”
Dimitri leaned back into his corner. He had to get out of her what the hell had been going on, whatever it was she thought he wouldn’t want to know. “Sally, I’m ready when you are. Tell me about these things you think I won’t want to hear.”
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