The sea, it was always the sea that drew Robert back to the cape. Ah, the cool sea breeze and the warm nights watching the sun set in the west. The year was 1909 and the place is the island of Nantucket off the coast of Massachusetts. Martha's Vineyard was still a vineyard and the wealthy elite of the eastern seaboard vacation on the island of Nantucket. Teddy Roosevelt was president and the world was at peace. The Wright Brothers have flown their little toy and the entire country was caught up in the glow of the Industrial Revolution and a love affair with machines.
Everyone but Robert O'Neil, that is.
Professor O'Neil, a bookish sort, who rented a bungalow on the Nantucket shore every season in the hope that he would be able to finish writing the great American novel that he knew was trapped inside him. When not busy writing, he taught English Literature at Boston College. A touch on the graying and paunchy side, he was not the typical hero of literary tradition. At a bit over forty-five he was still a lone figure in a world of married men. It wasn't that the good professor lacked interest; it was simply that the right woman had not come along.
That his novels were a little on the racy side, one might say downright erotic, would come as a surprise to many of his colleagues, who view him as a solid sort, but lacking in imagination. If anything was missing from Robert O'Neil, imagination is not that something.
On one of his nightly constitutionals along the boardwalk Robert's attention was drawn by a commotion. It sounded like a young woman in considerable distress. He abandoned his usual route and strode over to investigate.
Lying in a large patch of brambles was a young blond woman, who was creating quite a racket, and a red bicycle, which remained pretty much inert, as a good bicycle should. Trying not to smile too broadly, so as not to bring the wrath of this attractive young lady down upon himself, Robert leaned over and offered his hand.
"You fool, can't you see that my hair is tangled in this infernal bush!" she snapped while trying not to move more than necessary.
"Well, I see that you are in a prickly situation!" He laughed in spite of himself. "I don't normally run my fingers through the hair of a young lady until I have been properly introduced. Please you may call me Robert."
"Well then," she said tartly, "since it seems my rescue will have to await your leisure and sense of propriety, you may call me Lilliana."
"I am pleased to make your acquaintance," said Robert, gravely extending his hand.
Sighing, she shook his hand warmly and mutters "Likewise, I'm sure." Looking him squarely in the eyes, and finding nothing at all wrong with the quality of green, or the keen mind behind them, she said, "Now if all the social rituals have been completed, would you be so kind as to help me?"
"But of course, my lady, but of course..." Robert leaned over and helped untangle her long locks from the brambles. Once free of the tangles he again offered his hand and pulled her lithe frame out of the brush. Tentatively he reached out to help pull leaves and thorns from her dress.
"Damn bicycle!" Lilliana delicately kicked the wheel as if it were the bicycles fault.
"I understand that they can be quite skittish creatures those accused machines." The latter was said with more than a touch of humor.
Lilliana looked up sharply to make certain that he was not making fun of her, and Robert managed to compose himself in time to look mostly innocent. Mostly.
Lilliana laughed the most brilliant laugh he had ever heard in his life and then dissolved into a fit of giggles that soon had both of them reduced to tears. Each time one of them settled down far enough to try and talk, the other burst out laughing which only served to make matters worse. Winded at least they both crumpled into a companionable heap in the grass.
Without even realizing it, Robert captured her hand and held it tight. Lilliana looked first at his tear streaked face, then at the hand, and once again gives into a fit of the giggles. He barked out a laugh of his own and they sat there, oblivious to the sound of the 'merry-go-round' on the boardwalk, or the aroma of cotton candy the breeze carried. The world around them simply gives them a wider than normal berth, but otherwise left them to their own devices.
After so much laughter, a companionable silence descended between the two as they sat on the edge of the boardwalk, Slowly the sounds and sights of the outside world crawled back into their sense of reality. Robert pulled a handkerchief from his jacket pocket and offered it to Lilliana. She dabbed gently at her cheeks and eyes, trying valiantly not to smudge her makeup more than it already was. He studiously looked elsewhere while she composed herself.
"Well, I suppose since we have been introduced it wouldn't be too forward of me to ask you to join me for supper would it?" Robert asked a hint of hope in his voice.
"Well, since we have been introduced, and you have now seen me at my worst, I suppose it would not be out of the realm of possibility to agree to join you for supper." Lilliana replied, a trace of humor still in her voice.
Laughing, Robert pulled himself to his feel and then extended his hand to help her up. Arm in arm they slowly walked down the boardwalk toward the only really good public restaurant on the island.
The Company of the Cauldron was nestled in the side of a non-descript red stone building near the fishing wharf. It was, however, the clear choice of anyone that had been on the island for any time at all as the only place to get a truly decent meal in all of Nantucket. The menu was inspired by the famed Company of the Cauldron from Florence that dated back to the time of the Medici. Chefs the world over had contributed to the epicurean delights of this small, unassuming place near the boardwalk. That such a venue and such a meal were called for by this chance encounter of two like-minded souls was without question. Their footsteps lead them here as if preordained.
Since Robert regularly dined at the Company he was a known entity, and though John the owner did raise an eyebrow at the lovely lady on his arm, he showed them to a window table as quickly as possible. Placing the menus in front of them, John was not at all sure that they even acknowledged his presence. They were so lost in each other that they closed out the world at large and stared hungrily into each others eyes.
John took one look at Mary, his wife of many happy years. The expression on Robert's face reminded him of when they had first met, and it confirmed his suspicions that Robert had found his soul mate.
It was her eyes that drew Robert in. Lilliana had eyes that were by measures both bright and alive. They drew him in like a moth to a gaslight. He could no more look away from her than stop breathing.
And it was his eyes that drew her in. Robert had eyes that had seen much of what life had to offer. They looked wise and gentle, soft and warm like an old, well worn sweater. She could no more have looked away from him than stop her heart from beating.
Richard tentatively reached across the table and took hold of Lilliana's hand. When she didn't flinch or pull it away, he gently stroked the back of her hand and marveled at the soft, silky smoothness of her skin. Her warmth surprised him as well.
"Lilliana, I didn't think it would ever be like this," Robert murmured as he boldly reached to touch her face briefly with the fingertip, all the while holding her hand with his left. "I just didn't know it could be like this."
"Robert, I have never felt so safe and warm in anyone's presence in such a short time. I have never felt this way about a man. I mean they have always been such strange creatures to me." Smiling, she colored the prettiest shade of rose.
"My lady, you have no idea how strange this feels to me. I feel as if I have known you all my life, not just, what, an hour so far?" He couldn't resist touching her face again.
Slowly they worked their way through supper. Robert had taken the bold step of ordering for her, and delighted in her surprise and joy over the dishes that arrived. They even shared food off each others plates, something that Robert would never have countenanced before this day. Somehow, it seemed like the natural thing to do with Lilliana.
Dessert arrived with little fanfare, -- warmed boysenberry tarts, served in the French style of 'al a mode'. The contrast of the warm tart and cold ice cream gave the dessert a truly continental touch, as well as bringing out the playful side in Lilliana again.
He had offered her a bit of tart, with ice cream, from his fork. Half way to her mouth a small drop of ice cream fell on her hand. Instead of wiping it with her napkin, she had offered him her fingers and he slowly licked the droplet of cream from her skin. It was the most sensual thing they had done to that point. All through this simple act of childishness, she had smiled bemusedly at him.
Robert was his heart would burst, or at least stop beating all together when he \touched her skin with his tongue. He felt urges he had thought long dead and buried. She was the single most beautiful creature he had ever laid eyes on, and he would have crossed a pit full of burning coals for one more of her smiles.
Gentleman that he was, Robert walked Lilliana back to the boarding house where she was staying. Though they walked arm in arm, and exchanged pleasantries, there was a tension in the air that was palpable. He was trying to screw his courage to the sticking place and ask her if he could see her again.
.... There is more of this story ...