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Construct of Paradise

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Everyone has their first date... and the object is to hide your flaws.
And then you're in a relationship and it's all about hiding your disappointment.
Then once you're married it's about hiding your sins.
—Adelle DeWitt, in Spy in the House of Love

Greece, 1990

Adelle and Kate dug their toes into the white sand and sighed in unison. It was another of those days. The breeze curled around them, carrying the scent of saltwater and the distant sound of chattering families. The sun spread across their upturned faces, their legs, their bellies.

“We could just...not go back,” ventured Kate.

“Mmmmmmmm,” replied Adelle, not opening her eyes.

“Don’t you think that finishing graduate school on time makes a girl too predictable?”

“You might have a point,” said Adelle.

They both smiled at the sound of quick steps on the stone stairs behind them.

“My darlings, I come bearing gifts,” said Roger.

Adelle squinted up at him. “You’re not actually Greek, are you? We’ve been warned, you know. About the gift-bearing.”

He dropped a kiss at the corner of each woman’s mouth, then held out a couple of net bags. One contained bottles of beer, the other bread, fruit, and some little wrapped parcels that looked quite promising. Some were cheese-wedge shaped, but Adelle recognized the box used by the bakery that made honey biscuits on Tuesdays. Dear Roger.

“The harbor master says the conditions should be ideal after lunch. Shall we take her out this afternoon?” he asked.

“Let me just check my bulging calendar,” said Kate. “Oh look! There’s an opening between lunch and next September.”

“You ought to know better than to give him an opening like that,” said Adelle. “He’ll start to think you’re a foregone conclusion.”

“But that’s absolutely my favorite kind, darling. Yours, as well, I think,” said Roger.

They all smiled goofily at one another. Roger backed toward their little house, holding the bags up and shaking them enticingly. Adelle rose from her seat and held out a hand to help pull Kate from hers. They walked arm in arm to the cottage, ready to help Roger with the lunch.

The kitchen was tiny, so Roger handed plates of things out to Kate, who handed them to Adelle at the door that opened on the equally tiny dining terrace. Adelle arranged them, ducking and weaving to avoid the hanging baskets of potted flowers and strings of unlit lights without a thought. Just as she finished with the first armful, Kate was there with a second, and so it went, as it always did, until everything was ready. Roger stepped out of the kitchen with opened beer bottles for each of them and handed them around.

“To our very good health,” he said. They drank to it.

It was so easy to love them. When they looked at her, she was smarter, funnier, stronger. Invincible and tender, all at the same time. They were wonderful. They made her wonderful.

She was going to leave them anyway.

It was going to hurt like losing a limb. But this perfect dream of a life was, well, too perfect of a dream. If she let it, it would be in charge of her, rather than the other way around. Her future, the one that she’d mapped out with the precision of a military campaign, was not one of indolent days on shore and sea. Two beautiful lovers were altogether more than she’d alloted herself, possibly more than she deserved. How could any mere mortal deserve this?

It wouldn’t be for weeks yet, so she tucked the thought away, just as she had her return ticket. Instead, she admired Kate’s freckled arms, the way the sun missed the creases in the laugh lines at the corners of Roger’s eyes, the droplets of oil floating on the brine at the bottom of the olive dish.

When they went out on the boat that afternoon, she made sure to take the camera.


Los Angeles, 2009

Adelle put the photograph back in the drawer. She didn’t need it to remember sea, sky, shore, and skin. Cups of tea left to be gathered up later, books laying open. Rumpled hair and sheets. They’d done very well with very little. Paradise.

She didn’t regret the good old days. Even well-educated, well-ordered women like herself should have their period of experimentation. It was practically required. She didn’t want to go back in time, though. She wasn’t 22 anymore, and didn’t relish the chaos of all those feelings, which she remembered as overwhelming and a little frightening in their intensity.

She admitted to a certain longing for a time when her life was her own, not the company’s or her supervising professor’s. She had the life she’d created, certainly, and it was a good one, filled with interesting challenges and ideas. It didn’t have everything, though.

She turned back to the monitor and clicked through the camera feeds to the yoga class in progress. Victor and November were there, on opposite sides of the floor, their movements slow and controlled. It was the third time this week that she’d gone looking for them.

All the actives were under her care, or so she told herself, but she was no longer deceived that it was the caretaking part of her that kept observing the two of them. She considered the possibilities again.

November would make a lovely grown-up Kate. It wouldn’t be right, though. The original was still a friend. She could just pick up the phone if she wished for her company. She was very understanding, as she always had been. That was how they remained friends after Adelle left. She accepted her decision, knew what she was giving up, and was sympathetic. Adelle very much doubted that she would understand a doll version of herself, however.

There was also the difficulty of maintaining anonymity when contracting for two actives. Not impossible, but the risk of discovery was greater with a more complicated scenario and multiple handlers involved.

November and Victor finished class. Adelle turned off the screen.

Victor as Roger would prove simpler, though the imprint would need to be considered carefully. A mature Roger would be quite a different person to the young man she’d known. He would still be brilliant, charismatic, thoughtful and sweet, of course. But he would perhaps be more resilient, more sophisticated. Not so easily bruised.

The deciding factor was that Roger was forever lost to her. This would be the only way she could ever make amends.

She pulled out a work order and began to list the specifications for their new client’s engagement. She was completely aware that her moral high ground was shifting from beneath her feet like the sands on a beach in Greece.