“I miss you when we’re in a crowd like that,” he confessed as she snuggled next to him in the taxi. She had had a good time, and had been proud to be with him. It felt so good being part of a couple again. She didn’t need it to complete her, but it was nice having him there, and talking to him about the party afterward. She had missed that since her divorce. Parties were always more fun if you could gossip about them later with a mate. “You looked beautiful,” he complimented her readily, as he had several times that evening. “And I was so proud to be with you. I really enjoyed the evening, but I have to admit, I love having you to myself. It’s going to be great to have some time alone in Cape Cod.”
“Having both in one’s life is nice,” Hope commented peacefully with her head on his shoulder. “It’s exciting to go out and meet people sometimes, and then it’s nice to have quiet time alone.”
“I hate sharing you with your adoring public,” he teased her. “I like it best when we’re alone. Everything is so fresh and new right now, it feels like an intrusion when anyone else is around.” The way he said it flattered her, that he was so anxious for time with her, but there were definitely times when she enjoyed the company of her peers and colleagues, and once in a while, even their admiration. For her, it had been part of life ever since she’d gone back to work, although she always benefited from solitary moments too. But it touched her that Finn was so anxious to be with her, and to not waste a single moment they could spend alone. They would have plenty of time together at the Cape.
“You have your adoring public too,” she reminded him, and he hung his head in embarrassment in a burst of humility rarely seen and that no one would have expected of him. It surprised her at times that for a man so well known in his field, and so strikingly good looking, he didn’t seem narcissistic to her at all. He wasn’t selfish or self-centered, he took pride in her accomplishments, was discreet about his own, and had no need to be the center of attention. And whatever flaws he had that she had not discovered yet, a big ego was not among them. He was a gem.
They left for Cape Cod at nine o’clock the next morning, in a Suburban he had rented for the week, since Hope no longer kept a car in New York. Whenever she needed one, she rented one herself. Living in the city, it made more sense, and she didn’t go up to Cape Cod very often anymore. She hadn’t been there since September, four months before. She was thrilled to be going with Finn now, and have the opportunity to share it with him. For a man who loved nature, solitude, and time alone with her, it was the perfect place for them to go.
She was determined not to sleep with him that weekend, and already knew what guest room she would put him in. It was actually the room she had spent summers in as a child, and it was next door to her parents’ old room, which she lived in now and had for years.
She and Paul had spent summers there during most of their marriage. And at the time, the simplicity of it had suited them both, although with the windfall he had made from the sale of his company, Paul’s life was grander now. And if anything, Hope’s had gotten less cluttered over the years. She had no need for luxuries, unusual comforts, or excess of any kind. She was a very unassuming, straightforward person, and enjoyed a simple life. And Finn said he did too.
They stopped for lunch at the Griswold Inn, in Essex, Connecticut, on the way to the Cape, and as they drove past an exit for Boston, Finn mentioned his son at MIT.
“Why don’t we stop and visit him?” Hope asked with a bright smile. After all she’d heard about him, she wanted to meet him, and Finn laughed.
“He’d probably fall over if I stopped in to see him. Actually, they’re not back yet after the winter break. He said he was going to Paris after skiing in Switzerland with his friends, or he may be back at my place in London. Maybe we could stop in to visit some other time. I’d like you to meet him.”
“So would I,” Hope said warmly.
They drove on to Wellfleet after Providence and they reached the house at four in the afternoon, as the light was starting to get dim. The roads had been clear, but it looked like it might snow, and it was bitter cold, with a stiff wind. She directed Finn to drive into the driveway, which was slightly overgrown. The house stood apart from all the others, and there was tall dune grass all around. It seemed bleak at that time of year, and Finn commented that it looked like a Wyeth painting that they’d seen at the museum, which made Hope smile. She’d never thought of the house that way before, but he was right, it did. It was an old barn-shaped New England structure, painted gray with white shutters. In summer, there were flowers out front, but there were none now. The gardener she hired to come once a month cut everything back in winter, and he wouldn’t even bother to come now until spring. There was nothing for him to do there. And the house looked sad and deserted with the shutters closed. But the view of the ocean from the dune it sat on was spectacular and the beach stretched out for miles. Hope smiled as she stood looking at it with him. It always made her feel peaceful being there. She put an arm around his waist and he leaned down to kiss her, and then she took her keys out of her bag, opened the door, turned off the alarm, and walked in, with Finn right behind her. The shutters were closed against the wind, so she turned on the lights. Dusk was coming fast.
What he saw when she lit the lamps was a beautiful wood-paneled room. The wood was bleached, as were the floors, and the furniture was stark and simple. She had redone the couches a few years before because they were so worn. The fabrics were the pale blue of a summer sky, the curtains were a simple muslin, there were hooked rugs, plain New England furniture, a stone fireplace, and her photographs were all over the walls. It had a stark simplicity and unpretentiousness that made it easy to be there, particularly in the summer, with the breeze coming off the ocean, sand on the floor, and everyone going barefoot. It was the perfect beach house, and Finn immediately responded to it with a warm smile. It was the kind of house every child should spend a summer in, and Hope had, and so had her daughter. There was a big country kitchen, with a round antique table, and blue and white tiles on the walls that had been there since the house was built. The place looked lived in and well worn, and more important, much loved.
“What a wonderful place,” Finn said, as he put his arms around her and kissed her.
“I’m glad you like it,” Hope said, looking happy. “I would have been sad if you didn’t.” They went outside together then to open the shutters, and when they came back in, the view of Cape Cod Bay at sunset was spectacular. He wanted to go for a walk on the beach, but it was too late and too cold.
They had brought groceries with them, which they had bought in Wellfleet, and unpacked them together. It felt like playing house and she looked happy. She hadn’t done that in years, and with Finn, she loved it. Then he went out to get their suitcases and she told him where to put them. He walked upstairs to their bedrooms, set them down, and looked around. Hope’s photos hung in every room, and there were a lot of old photographs of her with her parents, and Mimi with her and Paul. It was a real family summer home that spanned generations and warmed hearts.
“I wish I had had a house like this when I was growing up,” Finn said as he strode back into the kitchen, his hair still disheveled by the wind, which only made him look more handsome. “My parents had a very stuffy, boring place in Southampton, which I never liked. It was full of antiques and things I wasn’t allowed to touch. It wasn’t like being at the beach. This is the real deal.”
“Yes, it is.” She smiled at him. “I love that about it too. That’s why I keep it. I don’t get here often enough anymore, but I love it when I do.” There were too many memories and friendly ghosts here for her to ever give it up. “It’s not fancy, but that’s what I love about it. It’s fantastic in the summer. As a kid, I spent all my time on the beach, and so did Mimi. I still do.”
She was making a salad as she said it to him, and they were going to make steaks on the grill. The kitchen appliances were modern and functional, and often in summer they barbecued, but it was too cold to do that now. Finn set the table, and lit a fire. And a little while later, he made the steaks, and she warmed some soup and French bread they’d bought at the store. They set some French cheeses on a platter, and when they sat down at the kitchen table, it was a hearty meal. Finn opened a bottle of red wine he’d bought, and they each had a glass. It was a perfect dinner in the cozy house, and then they sat in front of the fire, telling stories of their respective childhoods.
Hers had been simple and wholesome in New Hampshire, near the Dartmouth campus, since her father was an English literature professor there. Her mother had been a talented artist, and her childhood had been happy, despite the fact that she was an only child. She said it had never bothered her not to have siblings. She had had a great time with her parents and their friends, and was included at everything they did. She spent a lot of her time visiting her father at his office on the campus. He had been devastated when she decided to go to Brown instead, as a seventeen-year-old freshman, but they had a better photography department. It was where she ultimately met Paul. She met him at nineteen, and married him at twenty-one, when he was thirty-seven. She said that both her parents had died within the first few years she was married. It was a huge loss to her. Her father died of a heart attack, and within a year, her mother of cancer. She couldn’t live without him.
“See what I mean?” Finn commented. “That’s what I meant by fusion. It’s what real relationships should be, but it can be a dangerous thing sometimes, if things don’t work out in a relationship, or one of the partners dies. Like Siamese twins, one can’t survive without the other.” It still didn’t seem like a good thing to Hope, particularly citing her mother’s untimely death as an example. Hope had no desire to be anyone’s Siamese twin, but she didn’t comment. She knew he loved the theory, but she didn’t. And for her, it had been a hard blow to lose both parents so close together. She had inherited the Cape Cod house from them, and sold their old Victorian near Dartmouth. She said that she still had all her mother’s paintings in storage. They were good, but not quite her style, although she clearly had talent, and occasionally taught a class at Dartmouth, but she had no interest in teaching, unlike Hope’s father, who was gifted, much loved, and deeply respected at the school for all the years he taught there.
By comparison, Finn’s youth was far more exotic. He had already told her that his father was a doctor and his mother an extremely beautiful woman.
“I think my mother always felt she married beneath her. She had a broken engagement before that to a duke in Ireland. He was killed in a riding accident, and shortly after that, she married my father and went to New York with him, where he had a very substantial practice, but her family was much fancier than his, and she always lorded it over him. I think she missed having a title, since her father was an earl, and she would have been a duchess if her fiancé hadn’t died.
“She always had frail health when I was little, so I didn’t see a lot of her. I always had some young girl taking care of me, whom they brought over from Ireland, while my mother had the vapors and went to parties, and complained about my father. The home I have in Ireland now originally belonged to her great-grandfather, and I think it would have made her happy that it is back in the family now. It means a lot to me because of it.
“My father was always very disappointed that I didn’t want to be a doctor like him, but it just wasn’t for me. He made an excellent living and always supported my mother handsomely, but it was never quite enough for her. He wasn’t titled, and she hated living in New York. I’m not sure they were ever very happy, although they were discreet about it. I never saw them fighting, but there was a distinct chill in our Park Avenue apartment, which my mother hated, because it wasn’t Ireland, although our home was beautiful and filled with antiques. She just wasn’t a happy woman. And now that I live there, I can see why. The Irish are a special breed, they love their country, their hills, their houses, their history, even their pubs. I’m not sure you can take an Irish person away and have them be happy somewhere else. They pine for their own country, and it must be in the genes, because the minute I walked into my great-great-grandfather’s house, I knew I was home. It was as though it had been waiting for me all my life. I knew it the minute I saw it.
“My parents died fairly young too, in a road accident together. I think if she had lived, and my father hadn’t, she’d have gone back to Ireland then. It was all she waited for during all the years of their married life in New York. I suppose she loved my father, in her own way, but she wanted to go home. So I did it for her.” He smiled sadly. “I hope you come and visit me there, Hope. It’s the most beautiful place on earth. You can walk in the hills for hours, amid the wildflowers, without ever seeing a soul. The Irish are an odd combination of soulful, solitary, and then wildly gregarious in the pubs. I think that’s how I am, sometimes I just need to be alone, and at other times I love being around people, and having fun. At home, I’m either locked up, writing, or having a good laugh in the local pub.”
“It sounds like a good life,” Hope said, nestled in beside him on the couch, as the fire died slowly. It had been a lovely evening, and she felt wonderfully comfortable with him, as though they had known each other for years. She liked hearing the stories of his childhood, and his parents, although it sounded lonely in some ways. His mother didn’t sound like a happy person, and his father had been busy all the time with his patients, and neither of them seemed to have had much time for him. He said it was why he had started writing, and was a voracious reader as a child and young man. Reading, and eventually writing, was his escape from an essentially lonely childhood, despite their very comfortable Park Avenue life. Her far simpler life had been much happier with her own parents in New Hampshire and Cape Cod.
Finn and Hope had both married young, so they had that in common. They were both artistic in different fields. They were both only children, and their own children were only two years apart, so they had become parents at roughly the same time. And for very different reasons, their marriages had failed. Hers for complicated reasons, and his officially when his wife died, but he readily admitted that his marriage to Michael’s mother had never really worked, and probably would have ended in divorce if she hadn’t died, which was traumatic for him and their child. Finn said she was totally narcissistic, beautiful, and spoiled, and essentially badly behaved. She had cheated on him several times. He had been enamored with her beauty as a young man, and then overwhelmed by what it entailed. There was a lot of common ground between Finn and Hope, in many ways, although their marriages had been different, and his son was still alive. But there were many common points, and they were nearly the same age, only two years apart.
When the fire finally went out, she turned off the lights, and they walked upstairs. He had already found his bedroom when he brought the bags up and had seen hers. She had a small double bed in the cozy room that had been her parents’, and the bed always felt too big for her now without Paul. The one in the room Finn was staying in was so small that Hope looked embarrassed and said that maybe they should trade, although hers didn’t look big enough for him either.
“I’ll be fine,” he reassured her, and tenderly kissed her goodnight. And then they each disappeared into their rooms. She was in bed five minutes later in a heavy cashmere nightgown with socks, and she laughed when Finn called out a last goodnight in the small house.
“Sweet dreams,” she shouted back, and turned over in the dark, thinking of him. They had known each other for so little time, but she had never felt so close to anyone in her life. For a minute, she wondered if his fusion theory was correct, but she didn’t want it to be. She wanted to believe that they could love each other, but keep their distinct lives, personalities, and talents intact. That still felt right to her. Thinking about him, she was awake for a long time. She was remembering the things he had said about his childhood and how lonely it sounded to her. She wondered if that was why he was so anxious to be part of someone else. His mother didn’t sound like much of one to her. And it was interesting to think that while he said that his mother was beautiful and dissatisfied, he had married a woman who was also beautiful and selfish and hadn’t been a good mother to their son. It was odd how, in some cases, history repeated itself, and people re-created the same miseries that had tormented them as children. She wondered if perhaps he had tried to get a different ending to the same story, and hadn’t succeeded in the end.
As she thought about it, she heard a thump that sounded like Finn had fallen out of bed, punctuated by a loud “Fuck,” which made her laugh, and she went to check on him, padding down the hall in her nightgown and cashmere socks.
“Are you okay?” she whispered in the dark, and heard him laugh.
“The chest of drawers attacked me when I went to the loo.”
“Did you hurt yourself?” She sounded worried about him, and felt guilty about the small room he was in.
“I’m bleeding profusely,” he said in a tone of anguish. “I need a nurse.”
“Should I call 911?” She laughed back.
“No, some hairy paramedic will give me mouth to mouth, and I’ll have to knee him in the groin. How about a kiss?” She moved into the room and sat down on the narrow bed that had once been hers, and he took her in his arms and kissed her. “I miss you,” he whispered.
“I miss you too,” she whispered back. And then hesitantly, “Do you want me to sleep in here?”
He laughed out loud. “In this bed? Now, that would be a contortionist’s act I’d like to see you do. That isn’t what I had in mind.” There was a long silence, and he didn’t push. He had promised that they would sleep in separate rooms and not have sex, and he was determined to keep his word, although he would have preferred otherwise, and she felt foolish now for suggesting it.
“I guess this is kind of stupid, huh? We’re in love with each other, and I guess no one’s keeping track.”
“Something like that,” he said gently, “but it’s up to you, my love. I’m happy to sleep here, if that’s what you want. As long as you take me to a chiropractor tomorrow, so he can fix my back.” She laughed again, and pulled the covers off him unceremoniously, as he sat up.
“Come on. Let’s be grown up.” She held out a hand to him and led him to her room, and he didn’t object. But he had left the choice up to her. Without commenting on it further, they both climbed into her bed, and as they lay side by side in the small double bed, he took her in his arms.
“I love you, Hope,” he whispered.
“I love you too, Finn,” she whispered back. And then without another word of discussion or explanation, or mention of fusion, he made love to her as no one ever had in her life.
Finn and Hope’s days at Cape Cod were magical. They woke up late in the morning, made love before they got up. He cooked breakfast for her, and they bundled up and went for long walks on the beach. When they got back, Finn lit a fire in the living room. They spent hours reading, and she took photographs of him. They made love again in the afternoon, cooked together, slept together, talked for hours about everything that mattered to them. She had never spent as much time with anyone in her life.
She found boxes of old photographs of Mimi and her parents, and went through all of them with him. They went to local restaurants and ate lobster, with butter dripping down their chins, laughing at each other in ridiculous gigantic paper bibs, and she took pictures of him that way too. She asked a waiter to take a photograph of them together, and Finn got briefly annoyed and jokingly accused her of flirting with the waiter, which she wasn’t.
It was almost like a honeymoon. They stayed for a week, and finally, regretfully, they closed the house. Finn latched the shutters, and they drove back to New York. This time, he didn’t stay at the Mercer, he moved into the loft with her. It felt perfectly natural to her now. She was totally at ease with him.
They went to his publishing event the night they got back, and this time he was the center of attention, and she quietly took photographs of him from a distance, smiling softly, and every now and then their eyes would meet across the room. She was proud of him as she watched him, and he was equally proud to have her with him. The only heartache they were facing was that he was going back to Dublin soon.
They talked about it when they got home that night, and Finn looked unhappy, although they’d had a lovely evening.
“When can you come over to see me?” he said, looking like a child about to be abandoned by his mother, or sent away to camp.
“I don’t know. I have an assignment, shooting an actor in L.A. the first week in February. After that, I’m fairly free.”
“That’s less than two weeks away,” he said miserably, and then frowned as he asked her the next question. “What actor?”
“Rod Beames,” she said casually. She had shot him once before. He was up for an Academy Award for best actor.
“Shit,” Finn said, giving her an angry look. “Have you ever gone out with him?”
“Of course not.” She was startled by his reaction and the question. “He’s a subject, not a boyfriend. I never go out with the people I shoot.” And then she laughed as she said it, given what had happened with him. “You’re the first,” she reassured him. “And the last,” she promised, as she leaned over to kiss him.
“How do I know that’s true?” He looked upset and worried, and it touched her. Paul had never been jealous, but Finn clearly was. He had made a comment about one of the waiters at a restaurant at the Cape, and accused her half-jokingly of flirting with him, which of course she wasn’t. She laughed at Finn, and he apologized. It made her feel very young and desirable that he would even worry about it, but she only had eyes for Finn.
“Because I say so, silly,” she said, and kissed him again. “I suppose I could fly to Dublin from L.A., after that. Can I fly to Dublin, or do I have to change planes in London?” She was already figuring out the dates in her head.
“I’ll check. What about you and Beames?” He went back to it again.
“About the same as you and Queen Elizabeth. I’m not worried about her. You don’t need to worry about him.”
“Are you sure?”
“Totally.” She smiled at him, and he relaxed a little.
“What if he asks you out this time?”
“I’ll tell him that I’m madly in love with a fabulous man in Ireland, and he doesn’t have a chance.” She was still smiling, as Finn continued to look at her nervously. It was true. Once they started sleeping with each other, all of her reserve fell away, her guard went down, she trusted him completely, and her heart was his. They had talked about how quickly it had all happened between them, and how much in love they both were. It was what the French called a “coup de foudre,” a bolt of lightning that had hit them, and he pointed out regularly that there was no turning back now. He said he was irreversibly in love with her, and she was equally in love with him.
Hope had come to the conclusion that at their age, those things happened, they knew who they were and what they wanted, what had gone wrong in past lifetimes, and they both felt certain that this was forever, even though she felt it was soon to tell anyone. They had been in love with each other for just over a month, and Hope had never been as sure of anything in her life as she was of her love for him, and Finn felt the same. They both knew it was for real, and agreed that it was the best thing that had ever happened to them.
Finn promised to check out the flights for her the next day, and as it turned out, there was a flight to Dublin from L.A. He stayed in New York for another week and they had a wonderful time together. She thought of introducing him to Mark Webber, but decided it was premature. No one would understand how certain they were of each other this early. It was easier not to have to defend it, and just enjoy it privately. And Finn wanted to be alone with her anyway before he left. He said he didn’t want anyone taking up their time, which was infinitely precious as the days flew by until he was to leave.
He looked mournful the morning she helped him pack his suitcase. He was miserable about leaving, and still nervous about her photo shoot with Rod Beames. He kept bringing it up, and Hope was beginning to feel silly reassuring him. But since they had met and fallen in love with each other after her assignment to shoot him, he was worried about all her portrait sittings now. She reassured him again and again. And they made love before they left for the airport. She had never made love as often in her life as they had in the past weeks.
They had vaguely discussed marriage, although not in hard and fast terms. It really was too early, but they had both confirmed that the concept was not distasteful to either of them. Finn didn’t care what it took, or how they did it, he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. And she was beginning to think the same thing, although she wasn’t sure she needed marriage to do it. She was already more or less living with him, and would be in Ireland as well.
And he had shocked her by bringing up the subject of a baby. He said he wanted to try having one with her. She had gently told him that the project would probably need considerable intervention and assistance, and she didn’t feel ready to take that on, at least not yet. She wanted to discuss it later, after they’d been together for longer, but somewhere deep within her, although it sounded crazy, the idea had some appeal. Particularly when she looked at the photographs of Mimi and remembered how adorable she’d been as a baby. The idea of having a child with Finn was scary, but dazzling. And thinking about it made her feel young again. He insisted that they could do it at their ages, others had, including several of his friends. He was pushing hard for the idea, but had agreed to wait at least a couple of months before they discussed it again.
He was silent on the way to the airport and held her in his arms in the limousine. They kissed and whispered, and he promised to call her the minute he arrived. He was taking the night flight, and would arrive too late for him to call her, but it would be morning for him.
“I’ll get the house ready for you,” he promised. He said he had a lot of cleaning up to do, and he needed to get the furnace man in, so the part of the house they lived in wouldn’t be freezing cold. He told her to bring a lot of sweaters and warm jackets, and good solid shoes to walk in the hills. It would be early February when she got there, so it would be rainy and cold. She had promised to stay with him for a month, and was looking forward to it. He had to write in March anyway, and she had assignments set up in New York, so she couldn’t stay longer than that. But a month would be a great start, and allow her to settle in. They had just spent four weeks together in New York.
Leaving each other at the airport was like ripping a limb off for both of them. She had never been as attached to anyone, and certainly not this quickly, except Mimi, but not even Paul. Her relationship with Paul, when she met him, had been far more measured and started more slowly, particularly since she was a student then, and he was so much older. He had been very cautious about not moving too quickly. Finn had none of those concerns, and had leaped in with both feet. But at their age, it made more sense. Both of them knew people who had fallen in love in their forties, realized they’d met “the right one” quickly, married within months, and had been happy ever since. But they both knew that it would still be hard to explain to others. They had fallen madly in love and decided to spend their lives together, in a month.
And Hope was determined not to say anything to Paul yet. She didn’t want to upset him, and had no idea how he’d react. She had been alone for so long, and so accessible to him whenever he wanted, even if it wasn’t often, she somehow had a sense that he might be unnerved by her being involved with someone. But she thought that once they met, he and Finn could be good friends. Finn had expressed no jealousy about him yet, which seemed a very good thing. Hope would have been bothered by it if he had. Paul was very important to her, and she loved him deeply, in a pure way now, and knew she always would, for however long he lived, which she hoped would be a long time. She had talked to him once in January, and he was still on his boat then, sailing toward St. Bart’s. She never mentioned Finn. And Paul could get her on her cell phone anywhere in the world, so even when she was in Ireland, he could call her, and she didn’t need to tell him where she was, unless she chose to when he called. But she wanted to be discreet for now.