A summer night in Cedar Springs, Texas:
That moon reminded him of Susanna. Once, when they were first married, Susanna had a bad day and told Asher she was going to take a long bath. But he’d found her outside on the patio of the little house in Central Austin, their first home, reposing in a lounge chair, completely naked. She’d laughed when he’d looked around, anxious about neighbors. And then they had made love, right there on the lounger. Susanna had been completely uninhibited, crying out when she came, and laughing when he frantically tried to shush her. “Don’t worry so much, Ash. Our neighbors have sex, too,” she’d said.
Asher strolled out a little farther, looking up, remembering the stars from that long ago night, twinkling over the heads of two lovers. And they had been lovers then. Intimate, passionate lovers—
The voice startled Asher, and for a brief, stunning moment, his mind let him believe that Levi was right, that it was Susanna. He peered into the darkness. A movement in the pool caught his eye, a woman in one of the thick foam chairs that Susanna favored was. But the hair was wrong. It was too…messy.
“I’m sorry, I thought you saw me. Did I scare you?”
He realized it was Jane Aaron. Asher could see her now in the moonlight, her head resting against the back, her legs dangling in the water. She hadn’t even turned on the pool lights, was just floating in the moonlight. “Jane? What are you doing?” He started forward, hesitated, and then moved again, to the pool’s edge.
“Nothing. Just floating. It’s such a beautiful night, isn’t it? Do you mind?”
“Of course not. You’re floating in the dark?”
“Absolutely. Better to see the stars that way.” Her hands drifted in the water, languidly moving to keep her facing him. “You can’t see stars like this in Houston because of all the lights. But out here…” She sighed and looked up. “They seem so close. It feels like you can almost touch them,” she said, and lifted her arm, as if she thought she might.
Asher looked up, too. All those stars made him feel small and insignificant.
“But then again, it’s so vast, it makes me feel…”
Alone. Small. All the clichés, all the things he felt about those stars.
“Hungry.” She laughed softly.
Surprised, Asher shot her a look. Jane didn’t notice; she lowered her arm, dipped her hand into the pool. “Hungry?” he asked, curious now.
“In a roundabout way,” she said lightly. “The stars sky reminds me of Italy. I went there last summer, and I was in this little Tuscan village, on a piazza, and there was this sea of people, all happy Italians sparkling around me. But they all spoke Italian. I don’t speak a word of Italian, and it occurred to me that theoretically, I could say anything, and no one would know. It was a strange feeling. And looking up there, at all those stars that can’t hear me or see me…I thought about Italy. And then I thought about pasta.” She laughed again.
He pictured Jane in Italy, bobbing in a sea of sparkling Italians. Alone. He’d just been thinking that himself, and it gave him an odd prickle on the back of his neck. “You didn’t go with a boyfriend? A friend?”
“No, just me.” She laughed. “I was trying to find myself,” she said, playfully adding gravitas to her voice and making imaginary quote marks in the air.
Asher’s curiosity was suddenly raging. He remained squatting, his beer dangling between his fingers, thinking of a strange day he’d spent in Hong Kong.
“Great. Now you think I’m weird.”
“Just the opposite,” he said. “I was remembering that the same thing happened to me. I was in Hong Kong, and I decided to walk from my hotel to the office where my meeting would be held, but I got lost. I ended up in a park, sitting on a bench with this row of old Chinese guys. No one spoke English—believe me, I tried. I remember thinking that I could get lost and never find my way back. I could spend the rest of my days hanging out with old guys on park benches.”
No one had even looked at him that day. He’d felt like useless bag of bones. He was no one to anyone, except two kids who would outgrow him one day.
He couldn’t imagine that she’d experienced something similar, that feeling of being invisible in a world of people. “So did you?” Asher asked.
“Did I what?”
Jane laughed. “Not exactly. Truthfully, I think I’ve just begun to look.”
She suddenly slipped out of her chair, hooked one arm over the side, and pulled it along as she swam to the edge. Asher stood up and watched as she got out of the pool. She was wearing a one-piece swimsuit, the sort someone would wear to swim laps. Jane had a lush figure—not pencil think like Tara, but curves in all the right places. Asher was surprised that he found her so…attractive.
Jane picked up a towel and began to dry off. “I guess you did, though.”
“You found yourself.”
“Ah…not really,” Asher said. “But I found my way to the office.”
She smiled. “Well thank goodness you did. What would Riley and Levi do if you hadn’t?”
Asher didn’t answer. They stared at each other for a moment. A long moment. “I’ll just…” Jane nodded toward the guesthouse and wrapped the towel around her.
“You don’t have to get out. Or go in,” Asher said. Maybe it was the beer, but he suddenly wanted her to stay and float in the moonlight. “I’ll leave you alone with your stars.”
“No, I should turn in. I have so much to do tomorrow. Good night.” She turned and walked to the guesthouse. A long tail of dark wet hair looked like it had been poured down her back. At the door to the guesthouse, Jane paused and glanced back at him before slipping inside.