After that, we walked a little faster and within minutes we saw the light at the end of the tunnel.

We jogged the last one hundred yards or so, just ready to be back in the daylight. Here in this decrepit tunnel, I desperately missed the sweet air that I’d been enjoying earlier on our hike.

I tried not to think about how closely this resembled my earlier thoughts in the room. Thoughts about light and darkness. I was doing everything I could to not think about this morning and that stupid dream.

We emerged out into the sunlight, and it pierced our eyes at first. I squeezed my lids shut, and waited to adjust to the light. When I looked again, I saw a man waiting at the end of the tunnel, and we had to pay him five euro for the use of the passage.

Hunt was skeptical, but I rolled my eyes and pulled the money from my pack. I was reaching to hand him a few coins when a man about Jackson’s age walked past completely nude, a lit cigarette dangling from his mouth.

My jaw went slack, and I dropped a euro. It went skipping down the rocks in the direction the naked man had gone.

I laughed hesitantly, and fished out another coin for the tunnel troll.

Hunt said, “Are you sure you want—”

“We’re already here, aren’t we?”

I gripped his hand and pulled him away from the tunnel down toward Guvano Beach. It wasn’t a sand beach like I had pictured; instead, it was rocky like the rest of the villages, a small pebble slope that reclined into the water. There were less than ten other people on the beach, half of them completely naked.

We walked past a nude man and woman sun-bathing on a nearby rock and Jackson said, “Before you ask, no.”


I pouted. “Aw . . . come on. Don’t tell me you’re self-conscious. Believe me, you have nothing to worry about.” “I was talking about you, actually. But no, I’m not doing it either.”

“Me? Are you telling me what to do?”

I stepped away from him and pulled my sundress over my head. His eyes raked across my swimsuit-clad body. And he reached a hand out to the small of my waist. His thumb grazed the underside of my breast and he said, “I’m not sharing you with complete strangers.”

I slipped off my sandals too and said, “Look around, Jackson. They could care less. Besides . . . this is an adventure.”

My argument fell flat because he never took his narrowed eyes off of me.

I stepped out of his reach, and my hands went to the tie at my waist that kept the straps wrapping around my body in place.

His eyebrows pulled down into a warning glare. “Kelsey.”

“Jackson.” I smiled back.

This was good. This was what I needed, to live in the now and let go of the past. If I could cement myself in the present, all the craziness that had been drudged up could be washed away.

Slowly, I untied the knot at my hip. When I finished, the strap unfolded, uncovering more of my stomach. I let it hang down behind me while I reached for the knot on my other hip. When this one was untied, I would be able to unwind the suit completely, baring much more than my stomach to the air and sunlight.

“Kelsey, you’re not funny.”

I pressed a hand to my heart, pretending to be wounded. Then I smiled, and pulled down the fabric over my chest just a little, just enough to tease him.

He gave me a heat-filled look. Whether that heat came from anger or something else, I wasn’t sure. Nor did I care.

“What?” I shrugged. “Nobody likes tan lines.”

I untied the second knot, and started unwrapping the fabric, but before I could reveal much more than my stomach, Hunt charged.

He threw me over his shoulders, stopping me from unwinding into nudity.

“Jackson Hunt! You can’t just do this every time I do something you don’t like.”

“It’s worked pretty well so far.”

He started wading into the water with me on his shoulder. Two could play at this game.

I reached down for the waistband of his swim trunks, and tried to push them down over his hips. One of us was going to be naked one way or another.

I didn’t get his trunks down but an inch before he tugged me over his shoulder and tossed me into the water.

The salty water went up my nose, and I rose out of the water coughing, and Hunt burst out laughing.

“Oh, you’re going to be sorry, Hunt.”

I pushed the soaking mane of hair back from my face and glared at him. I backed away, knowing I’d need space for my next maneuver. When the water was up to my ribs, and I was far enough away from him that I felt sure he couldn’t get to me quickly, I grabbed my bathing suit top and tugged it over my head without unwrapping it the rest of the way.

The cool air hit me first, and I managed a small smile before Hunt reached me, and shoved me under the water, which seemed a little colder on this second dunk.

Thankfully, I kept my head above water.

“Jackson,” I tried to stand, but his hands shoved my shoulders back down at the same time that a wave crested against my back.

The bathing suit slipped out of my hand, and when I tried to reach down and grab it back, I came back with only water.

“Uh-oh,” I said.

“What does that mean? Are you okay? Did you get stung or cut yourself?”

I held off answering for a moment, hoping his fear for my safety would soften his reaction to the fact that I now had no way of covering myself up.

“This is your fault,” I prefaced.

“Kelsey, just tell me what happened,” he yelled.

“I might have lost my bathing suit.”

His lips pulled into a thin, angry line.

I smiled.” Adventure?”

He shook his head, and exhaled through his nose.

I swam backward a ways, and he followed. Then I lay back and let my body float up, my chest rising above the water. “Adventure,” I teased again. I waited for him to say something, but I seemed to have distracted him from his anger.

His eyes were glued to my chest, and I smiled in victory.

“You could join me, you know.”

He was still almost fully clothed since he hadn’t bothered to take off his shirt or shoes before dragging me into the water.

He looked tempted, so I added, “We could swim out a little farther.” I pointed to an outcropping of rocks on the side of a cliff that was far enough away from the beach for us not to attract too much attention. “You could put your clothes there until we’re ready to go back.”

It was remarkably easy to get him to agree with me while I wasn’t wearing a top.

Once we reached the rocks, I slipped off my bathing suit bottoms and the now ruined sandals that I’d been wearing when he tossed me in. He followed suit, shedding his shirt, shorts, and shoes.

Then we were naked and somewhat alone in a blue green ocean.

Treading water, we moved closer to each other, until our knees bumped.

“It’s later,” he said. “You did tell me later.”

I swallowed. I could do this. It was a matter of will power. Of control. I wanted this.

He touched a strand of my wet hair, and I wrapped my arms around his neck. My wet breasts smashed into his chest, and he said, “All right, maybe I’m a little okay with nude beaches.”

Shivers chased across my skin. I pressed my cheek to his, concentrating on breathing. His tongue tasted the salt on my shoulder, and I dug my fingernails into his back, not because of desire, but because of fear.

I wanted his touch to heal the hurt. I wanted to lose myself in his kiss, so that I could forget. But he didn’t heal or eclipse, he illuminated. Every single second I spent with him was perfect, which somehow only seemed to excavate more pain.

I pulled his head away from my shoulder, needing a break. His eyes locked onto mine, deep and warm. I wasn’t sure exactly what I saw in his gaze, but it felt too big to fathom, like explaining the unexplainable. Like seeing the light of a star and knowing that light is billions of years old. Like the way time slows near a black hole.

And as we stared, unnamed truths passing between us, Hunt’s kicking feet weren’t enough to keep us afloat. The water moved from my chest to my shoulders, from my shoulders to my neck.

And I thought drowning was the perfect word for the way he made me feel. Drowning after a life of drought.

He laughed and said something about deep water not really being the ideal place for the kind of exploring he wanted to do. I might have laughed. Sound was muted, like we’d slipped below the water, and I was still trapped there beneath the surface.

We slipped our clothes back on, and Hunt tried to make me take his shirt.

“I’ll just have to take it off when we get up there. I’m not wearing your soaking wet shirt when I could put my sundress back on.”

Reluctantly, he agreed.

He didn’t put his shirt back on. And when we were close enough to shore that our feet could touch, I climbed onto Hunt’s back, and he carried me out of the water, my bare chest hidden against his back.

He found a small, rocky alcove and he tried to block me from view as I changed, even though no one on the beach was even paying attention to us. Then together we headed back for the tunnel.

I stopped him and unzipped one of the pockets on his bag.

“Let me get your phone.”

“Kelsey, wait—”

I’d already grabbed the phone and swiped my finger across the screen.

He had seventeen voice mail messages.

My brows furrowed, and I looked up at him. “I thought you said this phone was just for emergencies. Why haven’t you listened to your voice mails?”

“Because they’re not emergencies. I’m sure of it.”

I asked, “Who are they from?”

“Nobody important. We should hurry through the tunnel. We’ve got to head back to Riomaggiore for the night.”

I should have pushed. I should have dug my feet in and refused to move until he told me the truth. That’s what I should have done.

I didn’t.

I let him take the phone, and I followed him into that pitch-black tunnel without saying a word.

He kept my hand clasped loosely in his, and I began to consider what I really knew about him. Which was not a hell of a lot. And the more I thought about that, the more I was certain that he was hiding something from me, something that would break apart our already fragile relationship.

Still, I didn’t ask. Not even in the tunnel where he couldn’t see my face, and I couldn’t see those eyes.

Because there was a part of me, small but not silent, that saw this as an escape. It was the same broken part of me that preferred the dark to the light. If I didn’t know his secret, he never had to know mine.


We didn’t sleep together that night. Not because either of us made an excuse, but just because. When our backs hit the mattress, both of us were so in our own worlds that the thought of closing the distance between us never occurred. At least not for me.

The room was pitch-black. The village was so untouched by society that they didn’t even have street lamps. The occasional house would have a light out front, but not ours.

The darkness was filled with silence covered in stillness, and when I listened for Jackson’s steady breathing, I couldn’t hear it.

I wondered what kept him awake. Could he tell I’d been off? Could he feel the way I recoiled when he kissed me? Or was it his own secrets that kept his brain moving, unable to rest.

I’d thought I was exploring the world, but maybe I’d been running. Maybe I’d been running for a very long time, and perhaps he was, too. And whatever he was running from—a girlfriend, family, a mistake—it wasn’t giving him up easily.

The silence grew a heartbeat, and I listened to the rhythm to pass the time, until finally Hunt’s slow breaths joined the symphony, and I could relax. I slipped off the bed, not to go anywhere, but just because I needed to be on my feet.

I shuffled slowly, my hands outstretched until I found the wall, then I sunk into it, pressed my cheek against it and tried to breathe.

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