In the year 1956, Anastacia Fotopoulos finds herself pregnant and betrayed, fleeing from a bad marriage. With the love and support of her dear friends Stavros and Soula Papadakis, Ana is able to face the challenges of single motherhood. Left with emotional wounds, she resists her growing affection for Alexandros Giannakos, an old acquaintance. But his persistence and unconditional love for Ana and her child is eventually rewarded and his love is returned. In a misguided, but well-intentioned effort to protect the ones they love, both Ana and Alex keep secrets – ones that could threaten the delicate balance of their family.
The story continues in the 1970’s as Dean and Demi Papadakis, and Sophia Giannakos attempt to negotiate between two cultures. Now Greek-American teenagers, Sophia and Dean,
who have shared a special connection since childhood, become lovers. Sophia is shattered when Dean rebels against the pressure his father places on him to uphold his Greek heritage and hides his feelings for her. When he pulls away from his family, culture and ultimately his love for her, Sophia is left with no choice but to find a life different from the one she’d hoped for.
EVANTHIA’S GIFT is a multigenerational love story spanning fifty years and crossing two continents, chronicling the lives that unify two families.
Targeted Age Group:: 18+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Mainly, what inspired me to write this book was the death of my mother. Writing was a way in which to deal with my grief, and at the same time honor her culture and heritage. Parts of this story i had in mind for years. I created a love story and family sage from the story I had in mind, along with the many accounts of my mother’s life that I had heard for so long.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Many of my ideas came from real life events, and stories I’ve heard all my life. I’ve also incorporated my own experiences and people I’ve met or observed into my stories, using them in different contexts, or combining the characteristics of several people to create a character.
The air was unusually chilled for early November in NYC, but despite the dropping temperature, sweat trickled down the back of Anastacia’s neck. Unable to wish away the nausea that was taking hold of her and too ill to sit through her last class, she’d left the NYU campus, hopping on an uptown subway to return home for the day. She’d been lightheaded and queasy the past few days, but nothing as violent as what she was currently feeling. Waiting at the crosswalk, the aroma of garlic and cheese permeating from a nearby café antagonized the volcano that was about to erupt in her belly, and she prayed she would get home without incident.
At last, Anastacia ducked into her apartment building, closing her eyes, and offering a silent thank you to the heavens for the safety and comfort of her home. Once inside her foyer, she removed her coat, hung it in the closet and glimpsed herself in the mirror hanging over the Bombay Chest. Pale skin and sunken eyes replaced her usual olive complexion and healthy glow.
I just need to sleep off whatever this is.
Her husband, Jimmy, was not expected home from work for several hours, and she hoped to be feeling better by then.
Suddenly, the sound of voices startled her. She walked through the living room, following the noise. She almost forgot the motion sickness that forced her home earlier than usual as the guttural sound of rhythmic moans grew louder, interrupted only by a woman’s shrill laughter. Anastacia forced her legs to follow the cacophony and found herself at the doorway of her bedroom. She stood there frozen. Seeing, but not believing. Tears sprang to her eyes and dripped down her cheeks, and she began to shake uncontrollably. Anastacia attempted to speak, but bile rose to her throat, rendering her incapable of uttering a word. Then, a cry that seemed to escape from her very soul, revealed her presence.
In that second, they knew she’d witnessed their betrayal. Anastacia was taken aback by the look of pure satisfaction that flashed across the naked woman’s face. A face that held not even a hint of guilt or remorse.
Her husband’s face told a different story. Shock, fear, maybe regret. For getting caught. It couldn’t have been more than a few seconds, but so many thoughts bombarded her mind that it was as though she were moving in slow motion. But then, the impact of it all slammed into her, and she ran.
Jimmy jumped up, wrapping himself in a bed sheet.
“Ana! Wait!” He pushed the woman off him. “Get off me! Move! Get out of here.”
Barely making it to the bathroom, Anastacia leaned over the toilet, expelling the contents of her stomach.
“Ana,” Jimmy pleaded, coming up beside her.
“Get away from me.” She wiped her mouth with a towel, straightened up and gathered all her strength to push past him.
Jimmy blocked the doorway.
“Ana mou, I’m sorry. Please. Let me explain. Sagapo. I love-”
“Don’t touch me or ever say that to me. You’re disgusting. You both are.” She ducked under his arm, but he grabbed her wrist.
His touch seared her to the bone and she pulled away. She was shamed, shaken—broken, but there was no way she was going to let him see it.
“I said don’t touch me. Never come near me again.”
“It’s not what it looks like. She… it was all her. I never meant to… Ana, please.”
“It looked like it was both of you. Now let me pass,” she spat. He lifted his hands in surrender and stepped aside as she pushed her way past him through the narrow bathroom doorway.
In the hallway, the woman stood, watching, gloating. Although she and Anastacia both had dark brown hair and similar Mediterranean features, she lacked the poise and grace that Anastacia exuded.
“Get out of my home,” Ana ordered her. “I never want to see you again.” Anastacia stormed out her front door, slamming it behind her. Doubling over, she thought she might heave again, but she drew in a deep breath and continued down the hall to Soula’s apartment. She frantically knocked on the door. When she opened it, Soula took one look at her best friend and she hugged her.
“Ana mou, what is it?
Between gasps and cries, Anastacia relayed the entire humiliating scene, as well as Jimmy’s despicable attempt to explain the unforgivable.
“What do I do now?”
“We go upstairs and talk to your uncle,” Soula said. “He will know how to handle this.”
“How can I tell him? What will my parents say? How could I be so stupid? What will Uncle Tasso think?”
“Of you? Nothing different than before. Of them? They will get what they deserve. Come. We will go together. I will tell your uncle if you cannot.”
Anastacia beamed with joy as she stepped out of the taxicab, cradling her precious newborn child in her arms. The air was heavy with humidity, and the heat was oppressive —typical July weather in New York City. She hastened into her building to get the child away from the blaring noise of the passing traffic, as well as the lingering smell of exhaust. Her friend, Stavros, paid the cab driver and walked in behind her.
“We are home Sophia mou.” She lovingly brushed her finger across her daughter’s cheek.
Stavros unlocked the door to the apartment, helping Anastacia inside and onto the couch. He took the baby from her arms and carefully placed her in a straw bassinette, covered with layers of white lace and pink bows.
Even after spending several days in the hospital, Anastacia was still tired. The birth had not been an easy one, and adding to her stress were thoughts of juggling a career along with single motherhood.
“Thank you Stavros. I don’t know what I would do without you and Soula,” Ana told him.
“You know Soula will be storming through that door any second.” Stavros laughed, shaking his head as he thought of his wife.
“Yes, I imagine she will and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Sit with me a minute until she comes.”
He sat down beside her.
“I know I keep saying it,” she continued, “but I appreciate you and Soula standing by me all these months. I couldn’t have wished for better friends. When we were in school you would tell me about your Soula back home and I never dreamed she would become my closest friend.”
“Ah, yes. I missed her and I chewed your ear off.” Stavros relaxed back into the taupe cushions of the sofa. “It was good to have you to talk to about her. Friendship goes both ways, Ana, and you have always been the kindest of friends to us.”
“You’re a good man, Stavros. I would listen to you and think, ‘Someday I want to be adored by someone the way Stavros loves Soula.’ Sometimes you want something so much you are blind to what is real and what is not,” she murmured regretfully.
Stavros slid over to the other end of the couch and took Ana’s hands in his. “Everything good will come to you — believe me.”
Ana smiled unconvincingly, and nodded. “I am grateful for so much. My beautiful baby and two wonderful friends.”
She looked up when she heard the sound of the creaking door. Soula burst in, her arms flung open with excitement to welcome Ana home. Always full of energy and enthusiasm, the tall slender blonde with the sparkling green eyes picked up the baby.
“Ftou sou, ftou sou,” she pretend spat, as she made the sign of the cross over the baby, a common Greek gesture to keep evil away. Soula pinned a Byzantine icon onto the bassinette. Dangling from the pin was an evil eye.
“I see the baby?” asked Konstantinos, the two and a half year old standing beside Soula and pulling on her skirt. Tall for his age, the boy peeked over the edge of the bassinette with expressive large eyes that were rimmed with thick dark lashes.
“Come, Konstantinos, but be very careful not to lean on the bassinette,” Soula instructed her son. “Is Sophia not the most beautiful little girl?”
“I’m big. I take care of Sophia.” He rubbed her arm gently and kissed her tiny delicate hand.
“You will, just like you will take care of the new baby your mamá will have soon,” Ana said. She rose from the couch to pat Soula’s expanding belly and then bent down to wrap her arms around Kostas, kissing his plump little cheek.
“Stavros, come take a picture of the children. Sit on the couch Kostas, and Thea Ana will let you hold Sophia.”
Ana took a seat next to Konstantinos and carefully placed Sophia in his lap, mindful to fully support the infant.
“Love you Sophia mou,” Kostas told her.
Soula clasped her hands together as if in prayer. “Oh, Ana, look at them. They will grow up together and someday they will fall in love.”
“Soula! They are babies. When they grow up a long time from now, they will decide who to fall in love with.”
“No, I tell you this is why God put us together. We will be one family. I know these things,” she insisted.
“I love you, Soula. There is no one like you in the world. But these are modern times and when our children are adults they will make their own decisions.”
“As long as they marry Greeks,” Soula maintained, with a wave of her hand.
“Yes, because that worked out so well for me,” Ana said, her voice laced with sarcasm.
Soula sighed, “Oh Ana mou. I’m sorry. Do you think Jim — Ugh, I want to spit when I say his name. Do you think he knows about Sophia? I was afraid he would find out and bring you trouble. I want all that to be behind you.”
“It is behind me. Sophia has my name, not his. His name is not on the birth certificate. He is to never have a claim on her. I don’t know where he is and I don’t care. I only know that Uncle Tasso said he would never bother me again.” She shook her head as if to scold herself. “I’ve troubled so many people. I disappointed my parents and myself. But more than anything I worry how this will affect my child. How will I ever be able to trust my judgment again? How did I let this happen?”
“You fell in love. With the wrong man, yes, but you learned from it. We learn from our mistakes, Ana.”
“Yes, but will my daughter pay for my mistakes? I will never fail Sophia; she will always be my first priority. She’s all that matters to me now.”
“Come, let’s get you in bed. You didn’t have an easy time of it and you need your rest.” Soula turned to her husband. “Stavros, take Kostas home and tell Aunt Litsa to come when she is ready.”
Soula walked with Anastacia to her bedroom. She got her bedclothes out and helped Anastacia change into them. Soula wheeled the bassinette from the living room to the foot of the bed, reaching in to straighten Sophia’s covers.
“Thank you Soula. You’ve done enough for me. Go home now. You need to rest also. Aunt Litsa will stay the night and help me.”
“I will check on you in the morning.” Soula left as a weary Anastacia crawled into bed.
Ana’s mind wandered as she began to drift into slumber. Coming to the States had been her dream, but dreams didn’t always turn out the way you expected.
She was grateful, though, to have a supportive family. Her Uncle Tasso owned the apartment building and with his help she was able to stay in her apartment after throwing out and divorcing her philandering husband. Her eyelids were as heavy as ten-pound weights but thinking of Jimmy kept her awake. Just days after catching her husband in an act of infidelity that had her reeling, she’d been hit with another blow. She learned she was pregnant. She wanted no connection to him and needed to be rid of him and the humiliation that went with it. But now, because of her child, she would be connected to him forever.
Well, not if I can help it.
Her lips curved up in a content smile as she sank into the fluffy down pillow, picturing Sophia’s angelic face. To Anastacia’s relief, there seemed to be no trace of the father in her daughter’s appearance. But with infants, that could change in the weeks ahead, and she prayed it wouldn’t. Sophia’s large dark brown eyes and silky black hair were a sharp contrast to his wavy light brown sun-streaked hair and green eyes.
Aunt Litsa tiptoed in the room. “You’re still awake Anastasia mou? Why? I’m here now. Close your eyes.”
“Aunt Litsa? What will I tell Sophia about her father? How will I explain?
“That’s a long time away. Don’t think about that now.”
“But I am. What will she think of me? There were other young men at the university who were interested in me — nice ones, but I wanted to focus on my studies.” Half asleep, she continued to voice her thoughts. “I didn’t want boyfriends and dates interrupting my plans. I wanted to graduate and go back home and work with Babá. And then he came along. Why him? What was it about him?”
“You think too much. These things happen. He was very handsome and charming. That one knew how to sweet-talk the ladies. You were innocent. And you had — what do they say? Ah, chemistry. Americans, they call it chemistry.”
“Or stupidity and inexperience,” Ana berated herself. Her last words were muffled and nearly incoherent. Her head sunk into the pillow as she finally gave in to sleep.
Soula knocked on Anastacia’s door before entering her apartment. “Ana,” she called out, “I have your mail.”
“I’m in the kitchen, Soula.”
Soula handed her a stack of letters, then laid a small blanket on the floor for Kostas to sit on and play with the wood blocks she brought to amuse him. The room smelled like disinfectant and pine-sol and Anastacia stopped scrubbing the stovetop when Soula sat down.
“Do you want a Coca-cola?
“No, just a glass of water. Look! You have a letter from Greece.”
Looking at the address, Anastacia grinned. “It’s from Mamá!” She sliced open the envelope with her finger and pulled out the letter. Soula looked at her, wide eyed, waiting to hear the news.
“Mamá is coming to help me so I can go back to work. She says she will stay for six months.”
“And your babá?
“He is coming too! But only for two weeks. He wants to see his granddaughter, but he can’t stay away from his business for too long. It will be so good to see them. And with Mamá’s help it will be easier for me to concentrate at work.” Anastacia nervously twirled her glass, wiping the dripping condensation away with her finger.
“What are you thinking about?”
Ana shook her head. “Nothing.”
“Something is on your mind. I can see it.”
“I wonder if my babá is upset with me. I never meant to disappoint him. He trusted me and I made a mess of things.”
“He loves you. He’s coming to see you, no? You worry too much.”
The sweltering heat kept Anastacia in her apartment, struggling to keep her child cool. An oscillating fan blew continuously in each room day and night. She dressed Sophia in nothing other than her diaper and a tiny tee shirt and bathed her often to avoid heat rash. When Anastacia’s parents arrived, they took control — instructing, advising and smothering — but she didn’t care. She’d missed them.
On August 19, Anastacia took Sophia to the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity on 73rd Street to make her forty-day blessing into the Greek Orthodox Church.
“Give me my granddaughter. I will carry her… Kukla mou,” Ana’s father cooed to the child. “It’s too hot for her. Walk faster. Is this hat protecting her eyes?”
“Spyro! You worry like an old woman,” Mamá scolded.
“Soon I won’t be here and I will worry from home.”
Mamá shook her head in amusement.
Walking through the church doors and into the narthex, a ripple of energy traveled through Ana’s being and she was overcome by a sense of peace, clarity and joy — if just for a second, but it was enough. It was what she needed.
“Mamá” Ana whispered. “For the first time I believe everything will be fine. I will be fine.”
“Of course you will. You are my daughter. God has made you strong.”
They walked down the crimson carpet that ran down the length of the center aisle and slid into an empty pew. Above them was the Lord, painted into a high dome, his arms outstretched to embrace all who worshiped him. Crystal chandeliers illuminated the golden icons that rested on every wall. The only sounds were the rhythmic chimes from the censor as the priest blessed the congregation and the ancient chanting coming from the choir loft.
“Did you ever get the sense that the air in here is more than empty space? Like there is more surrounding us?”
“There is,” Ana’s mother smiled in understanding.
The air in the church was heavy. Not simply from the familiar scent of the incense and its drifting cloud of smoke, but heavy with spirit, as if God and the angels had wrapped themselves in a shield of protection around Ana and their newest “servant of God.”
In mid October, Demetra Papadakis came into the world, making sure her voice was heard. Unlike Sophia, who barely cried and slept peacefully for hours, Demetra had a hearty cry for a newborn and kept Soula up at all hours, demanding constant attention.
“I go to Thea Ana?” asked Konstantinos.
“Don’t you want to help me with your sister?”
“No. She’s crying. I want to play with Sophia.”
“Okay, but you be a good boy for Yiayiá and Thea.”
Soula watched Kostas skip down the hall to the next apartment. Ana’s mother opened the door and took him by the hand. “Come, agapi mou. We sing to Sophia,” Yiayiá promised.
“Thank you Yiayiá. I’ll come get him before dinner.”
“Don’t worry. He can stay. He – good boy.”
“Mamá, let me help you with that,” Ana offered as she came into the kitchen one evening after work. She kicked off her shoes and tied an apron around her waist. Lacking her usual upbeat mood, she joined her mother at the kitchen counter where she was preparing dinner.
“Oh Mamá, I’m working so hard but I don’t know if it will make a difference.”
“Why you say that?” her mother asked in broken English.
“I don’t think they will ever take me seriously. When I applied for the position I was hoping to work in Public Relations, but the only thing the interviewer asked me was, ‘How many words can you type?’ That isn’t why I went to college. It’s so frustrating. I have a business degree and I got good grades. If I wanted to be a secretary I would have gone to typing school.” Anastacia added spices to the chopped meat as Yiayiá grated onions into a bowl.
“I wouldn’t know about these things. I never worked. My work was my children. That was enough for me.” She added the onions to the meat mixture, the strong odor wafting up and causing tears to well in the corners of her eyes. Ignoring the sting, Yiayiá added two eggs and dug her hands into the meat, mixing the ingredients thoroughly. She walked to the sink, washed her hands and turned around to face her daughter.
“Ana,” she said hesitaantly, worried to bring up the subject. “I spoke to Irini, right before your babá and I came to see you. She asked about her niece.”
Ana gave her mother a hard, stern look. “Mamá, we’ve been over this. I know you want to fix everything — make all the problems disappear as if there weren’t any to begin with. But that is not possible. Do you really think she cares about Sophia? She only cares about one person, herself and how to get what she wants. I understand that she’s your daughter, and that you hope that she will somehow become a better person, but she won’t. You are always making excuses for her. She’s the younger one. She has always been different from you. She doesn’t mean what she says. I won’t hear it anymore.”
“She came from me too. She’s my child. What can I do but love her and hope?”
“I’m sorry, Mamá. I am. I know this is hard on you, but she is not welcome here. She needs to pay for her actions.”
“The past is past. Start fresh. It is no good to have hate in your heart,” her mother cried. “I don’t want to hate her. But I am angry and hurt. She will never change. I begged you and Babá not to let her stay in the States. You know she needs to be watched closely and Uncle Tasso had no idea what he was getting himself into when he agreed to let her stay. Babá can’t even control her himself.”
Yiayiá knew her daughter would not change her mind and she couldn’t blame her. Ana was a kind and giving person, loved by all who knew her. She never uttered a harsh word to a soul, even if they treated her unfairly, but Irini had pushed her too far. Anastacia cut her sister out of her life, plain and simple. It was self-preservation. Aside from their difference of opinion over Irini, Ana and Yiayiá treasured the time they spent together and would miss each other terribly when she returned to Greece. They continued to roll and fry the keftethes in silence, both of them too stubborn for further conversation.
For Ana, not much had changed at work. Sitting at Soula’s dining table, she picked at her food while she discussed the injustice of her workplace. She usually devoured Soula’s string beans in red sauce with the tender chunks of lamb, but tonight food was the last thing on her mind.
“It’s not fair,” Ana complained. “I deserved that promotion. I work hard, I’m organized and the clients like me. And I’ve come up with good ideas. They even used some of my press releases.”
“Who got the job?” Soula asked.
“This young man. He’s only been with the company a year. I have more experience than he does. And I could have used the extra money for the sitter I’ll need to hire when Mamá leaves.”
“You’re a woman with a child. They might worry you won’t be able to put in your full effort, or that you will quit your job,” Stavros speculated.
“Stavros!” Soula scolded.
“I’m not saying I agree, but it’s how companies think.” He poured himself another glass of wine.
“But I need my job,” Ana said. “They know I’m on my own. I could never quit. They must realize I need to support myself.”
“You will get the next promotion.” Soula assured her.
Ana’s mother left for home in February. She hated the frigid weather in New York and being trapped in the apartment, the extreme cold preventing her from taking her precious namesake for walks in the park. She missed her husband, her friends and her own city. It was time to go home. She would miss her daughter and granddaughter terribly, but Ana was proving to be very capable and she had Litsa and Tasso to watch over her. Before she left, Tasso offered Ana a position, assisting in managing his properties.
“Mamá, what do you think of Uncle Tasso’s offer? I’m not sure it is the right job for me.”
“Only you can decide, but you would be working in this building. You could check on Sophia whenever you wanted. This is good for Tasso too. He can trust his family with his business.”
“Yes, that’s true, but real estate never interested me and I know very little about it.” Ana turned to Aunt Litsa, who was sitting at the kitchen table enjoying a Greek kafé and butter cookies blanketed in powdered sugar. “I love Uncle Tasso for everything he’s done for me and for trying to help me once again but, I want this to be right for both of us.”
“You no worry. Try and you don’t like — you find different job. And you don’t get babysitter. I watch the baby for you,” Aunt Litsa offered.
“Really? It wouldn’t be too much trouble? How can I turn that down? I would feel better knowing Sophia was with you.”
Anastacia sat at her desk, absentmindedly eating a salad while daydreaming as she stared out the office window. Down below, people walked briskly through the city. Where were they running? An actress late for an audition? An investment banker meeting a wealthy client? Lovers meeting for lunch? The possibilities were endless in this eclectic and energetic city, yet hers were limited. She wrapped her hands around a mug of steaming tea and looked around the room. The gray walls matched the gray chairs, which matched the gray desks. Dull, dull, and dull. There were no paintings on the walls or plants to brighten up the room. It was practical and functional. The exciting New York life she hoped for was outside these walls, but someone else was living it.
Anastacia remembered how as a young girl, she had poured over Photoplay magazines as if they were the Bible, imagining that one day her life would be equally as exciting. When her mamá ordered her to nap during the afternoon break from school, she would sneak the magazines under her pillow and read about the fabulous lives of Vivien Leigh, Ava Gardner and Hedy Lamarr, and swoon over the pictures of Robert Taylor and Cary Grant. Pretending her footboard was a barre, Anastacia would teach herself ballet. She begged her father to take dance lessons.
“Good girls don’t do such things,” he told her firmly. That was that. There was no negotiating. Apparently, there were a lot of things “good girls” didn’t do. They didn’t ride bicycles, shave their legs, wear lipstick or talk to boys.
Convincing her father to let her come to the States was not easy, but she’d known it would be worth it. That was her chance for freedom, for excitement and her chance to become who she wanted to be. Most of her friends set their hearts on becoming a wife and mother, never leaving the place where they grew up. She wanted more. She wanted an education and a career, and yes, a family too, eventually. But instead she was here, in a tiny, bland office with little chance in finding the glamour New York promised.
Anastacia snapped back into the present when her uncle called her name. “Anastacia, come in my office. I need to discuss something with you,” Uncle Tasso beckoned.
Ana got up from her desk and sat across from her uncle.
Uncle Tasso rested his elbows on the desk and he leaned forward toward Anastacia. He rubbed his chin and stared at her, as if he were about to assess her every word and movement. “Have you enjoyed the work you do for me, Ana?”
“Yes, Is something wrong? Did I make a mistake?”
“No, no. I know this was not the job you wanted. You had other aspirations. But I think the arrangement has worked out well for both of us. You are a few steps away from Sophia and I have my brother’s responsible daughter tending to my business.”
“I have enjoyed the work more than I thought I would. I especially like showing potential renters the apartments.”
“I need to discuss something important. America had been good to me and I’ve done very well here. But for a long time I’ve dreamt of going back to build a home on the island where I grew up as a boy.”
“Are you leaving New York?” Ana asked in surprise.
“No, not permanently. I’m having a house built for all of us to enjoy, so we can go back anytime we want.”
“Thank goodness! What would I do without you and Aunt Litsa?”
“You would do fine. Which is why I am putting the business in your hands while I am gone. You’ve done a wonderful job and I will need to rely on you whenever I am away.”
“I’m honored that you trust me to run your apartments. I will make you proud, Uncle Tasso. I promise.”
“You already have. My island is precious to me, and I miss it. It is my hope that you and Sophia visit Chios and love it as much as I do. Chios is beautiful. Full of history. Homer is from Chios,” he said proudly. “And the most delicious food, the freshest fish.” He brought his fingers to his lips and gestured a kiss. “Good memories.”
Anastacia rose from her chair, hugged her uncle and went back to her own desk. She was happy for him. He deserved this. How many times had she heard her father and uncle speak of how they were forced out of their home and off the island when they were children during the Ottoman Occupation? She had her own memories of food rations and curfews during World War II but she never had to leave her home as they had in their youth.
“We had to leave. The Turks were taking Greek boys and putting them in their army. They would have had to kill me first,” Uncle Tasso told her many times.
Greece had still been under rule by the Ottoman Empire and its people were being tortured and killed. Many families fled as others stayed behind to fight. Chios was liberated from the Turks in 1912, not long after the Fotopoulos family left.
“Yes, he definitely deserves this,” Anastacia said to herself as she happily dove into a pile of paperwork.
Ana and Soula appreciated the riches of the city — Central Park, the museums and the outdoor cafes, but they were yearning for a change of scenery. Even with all that New York had to offer, it could sometimes be limiting, especially for the children. Stavros agreed that a break from the city was a good idea and he made arrangements with his cousin who owned a motel on the east end of Long Island. Two days before Independence Day, they were headed east for a two-hour drive in a rented powder blue Chrysler Imperial. Stavros was driving with Soula beside him in the front passenger seat. Shaking a ring of plastic keys in front of Demetra did not keep her still. The child insisted on leaning up against the side window and hitting it or turning towards the back seat to reach for her brother’s toy. Anastacia sat in the back holding Sophia as Konstantinos generously shared his toys with her.
“Ana,” Stavros called to the back of the car, “Do you remember Alex from NYU?”
“I don’t know. Was he in classes with me or with you?”
“Neither, actually. He was doing his PhD in Social Sciences and Philosophy. He used to meet our group for lunch sometimes, when he had the time. Alexandros… Giannakos. He left the city and went to Chicago. Got a teaching position at a small college.”
“Hmm, Alexandros. Dark hair? Always had books open at the lunch table?”
“That sounds like him.”
“Yes, I do remember meeting him. He didn’t socialize with our group.”
Stavros smiled. “Working to achieve a PhD will do that to you. Look how long it’s taken me to do it part time. I’ve had little time for anything else other than work and school.”
“So,” Ana questioned suspiciously, “why are you bringing up this person we haven’t seen since we left school and barely know?”
“I know him very well and we’ve kept in touch. He’s back in New York, living on Long island, actually. He’s taken a position with a new State University in Oyster Bay, but they are building on a larger piece of property further east, and in a few years the university will expand and be located in Stony Brook. Soula and I have been talking about moving to the island eventually. Alex thinks this might be a good opportunity for me to get a position with the university. With the expansion they will be hiring a bigger staff of professors.”
This was a lot to take in. Ana couldn’t imagine not living near Soula.
What will I do without Soula? My best friend is moving out of the city. Why didn’t she tell me?
Frowning, she admonished herself for her selfish thoughts. But this wasn’t what she expected to hear when Stavros brought up his friend. She thought he was going to try to fix her up with a blind date. Again. He was always trying to suggest she meet this friend or that one. He couldn’t get it through his thick but loveable Greek skull that she had no intention of getting involved with anybody.
Alexandros, she thought. She did remember him. Nice looking. He was a little more than average height; trim but not too thin, with dark hair and an olive complexion. But the one feature of his that stood out in her mind was his eyes — those eyes. They were so stark gray that she was compelled to stare into them, but looked away for fear that his eyes could decode the secrets of her soul. Yet, he was not dangerous or threatening. Just curiously intense. Soula’s voice interrupted her deep thoughts.
“Did you hear one word we said in the last five minutes?”
“Signomi, Soula. I guess I was imagining what my life will be like in the city without you.”
“You will come too! I don’t want to tell you what to do, but the country will be better for Sophia. You have time to think about it. Today, we will only think about Greenport. We’ll go to the beach, play with the children, visit some of the other towns and go shopping. The men won’t like the shopping, but they can take the children to the park or something.”
Ana looked confused.
“Men? What men? I only count one man here.”
Soula waved her hand in a circular motion.
“Po,po,po, Ana, did you fall asleep and hear nothing. Stavros just told you Alex is meeting us in Greenport. He has time off in between semesters and he was happy to get away for a few days. They plan to discuss Stavros’ interview for the teaching position, and Alex will connect him with the right people. It will be nice for you to get reacquainted with him too.”
“Stavros, what did you do? I should have known when you started telling me about a man that you had another motive. What did you say to him? This better be only about your job or it will be so awkward.”
“It’s fine,” Stavros assured her. “No pressure. He has asked how you’re doing from time to time so now he can see for himself.”
“Great, just what I need. Why would he be asking about me? We hardly know each other.”
Soula raised an eyebrow. “He has eyes,” she purred, “ones that noticed you.”
That he does, Ana thought, closing her eyes and remembering more than she wanted to admit.
Kostas amused himself with toy cars, while Sophia fell asleep in her mother’s arms. Ana and Soula chatted endlessly, admiring the beautiful countryside. The open farmland, the charming country homes and the clear blue skies were a refreshing sight. When they passed through Southold, they felt homesick and nostalgic for their country. The roadside beach with the calm blue water and the sunbathers reminded them of their childhood days. They stopped the car and got out to stretch their legs. Ana closed her eyes and breathed in. She could almost taste the salt water on her lips. The gulls flying overhead, the calming sound of the gentle waves and the ringing sound of the boats in the distance made her think, for a moment, that she was back home.
“I want to come back to this beach,” Ana requested before they got into the car.
“We will bring a picnic here,” Soula said. “It’s beautiful.”
Twenty minutes later, they were greeted by Yanni and Alexandria the owners of the Drossos Motel.
Alex drove leisurely, making sure to absorb the beauty of the land before him. Acres
of perfectly lined rows of corn occupied both sides of the main road. Roadside farm stands were crowded with shoppers searching for the freshest fruits and vegetables. He admired the hundred-year old houses and the historic white churches with the high steeples, some dating back to the Revolutionary War. Although he took pleasure in the surroundings, Alex was looking forward to reaching his destination and tried to recall the last time he’d taken a few days to simply relax with friends.
The past few years he’d been driven, first to earn his PhD and then to search for a position as a college professor, leaving little time for socializing or for thinking of home. His heart would always be in Thessaloniki, though it had been broken there.
But in America he had a chance at a new beginning, and the promise of a future without pain. He’d been elated to land his first position at Morton Community College, but after a year and a half, he was anxious to come back to New York. When he was offered a position at a newly formed university on Long Island, he packed his few belongings, and by January he was settled into a full class schedule teaching philosophy and sociology.
Alex’s mind drifted as he drove past the quaint towns of the North Fork. As he passed a sign for the Town of Riverhead, he noticed a smaller one below it. It read Polish Town, which brought to mind a heated debate in one of his sociology classes as to why such neighborhoods as Little Italy and Chinatown exist.
“It’s only natural that people would gravitate to others that could speak their language and share common customs.”
“But Professor, wouldn’t it be wiser to assimilate by living amongst people who speak English?”
“Easier said than done. Go to China, Europe, or India and stay a while. Tell me you wouldn’t be searching for people you could communicate with. Wouldn’t you take comfort in finding others that understood your language and ways?”
Alex didn’t have these obstacles when he arrived in America. Having learned English at Aristotle University in his home city, Alex spoke fluently, with just a hint of an accent. That, along with his clear gray eyes rimmed with long dark lashes, had female students hanging on his every word.
His mind wandered back to his own college days when he met Stavros and other Greek students who would gather for lunch several times a week.
Who was that girl that was always pulling him aside? Penny? No. Poppy. He stretched his mind to remember. He was too busy for pushy females. He was working on his dissertation. There was no time for dates. He laughed at the memory of that annoying young woman. But then he’d seen Anastacia, and he’d made the time.
The first time he laid eyes on her was in Washington Square Park. She was a vision, impeccably dressed in a midnight blue A-line dress, which was belted at the waist to show off her very slim, feminine figure. But what captivated him was her easy smile, which seemed to radiate up to a set of expressive brown eyes that somehow seemed familiar to him, as though at his first glance he’d known her his whole life.
He found a seat on a nearby bench. The park was filled with students, business people on lunch break, and mothers pushing strollers. He was just another unnoticeable face in the crowd. One who felt like his whole world had changed in an instant. He kept his textbook open, pretending to read and snuck a glance in her direction when he could. Overhearing the laughter and the chatter, it seemed that her ability to speak English as well as she did was her friend’s topic of conversation.
“How is it that you sound like you’re from England and don’t have a Greek accent?” inquired a freckled redhead.
“I learned to speak English at the British Institute in Athens. But if it makes you feel better,” Ana teased, “I can try and tawk like a New Yorka.”
“God, do I really sound like that? If I do, then don’t let me influence you.” They both laughed.
He heard them discuss an assignment that was due the next day. Then, looking at their watches they reluctantly got up from the park bench to head to the next class, unaware that Alex was inconspicuously watching Ana as she passed him.
The next day, he asked Stavros about her, and he gladly offered an introduction. Already swamped with work, Alex wasn’t able to join them for lunch until three days later. Until then he found it impossible to concentrate. When they finally met, she was sweet and friendly, and although she had a grace and sophistication about her, she seemed a bit shy.
“It’s nice to meet you Alexandros.” Anastacia extended her hand politely, but avoided eye contact.
“Stavros says you are also from Athens. Did you know him from your neighborhood?”
“No, we met here at university,” she replied.
As the weeks went on, they spoke here and there, but mostly in general discussions with their entire group. Ana seemed focused and serious about her studies, yet from what he could gather, she left some room for social engagements. Alex was so inundated with his research that he had few opportunities to see Anastacia, and by the time he was a little more acquainted with her, she’d been dating the man she would later marry.
What did she see in that guy?
Alex thought of the night when Stavros had suggested he put his studies aside for one night and join him and their friends for an evening of Greek music and dancing. It didn’t take much convincing once he learned Anastacia would be there. Disappointment washed over Alex when a man she introduced to everyone as her fiancé accompanied her.
“You look like a sick puppy. Stop moping,” Stavros said, as the two of them sat alone nursing their drinks.
“I waited too long. Why didn’t I just ask her out? Engaged — huh! A little soon, wouldn’t you say? What does she know about him?”
“She knows she loves him, or she wouldn’t be marrying him. She’s a pretty sensible girl.”
“He’s a scoundrel. Look at him! I’ve been watching him and he looks at every woman that passes by. He should only have eyes for her. You’re her friend. What do you know about him?”
“Only what she’s told me. He’s older than her, he was in the Army during the war and she said he makes a comfortable living. But she didn’t say what he does.”
“Oh, no. Here comes that Poppy again,” Alex moaned.
“Dance with me, Alexandros,” Poppy pleaded, attempting to pull him out of his seat. “You’ve been sitting all evening.”
“I don’t dance. I am sorry, but I respectfully decline.” He looked past Poppy, to the couple on the dance floor and sighed. He would dance with Anastacia if he had the opportunity.
Oh yes, I remember Jimmy and he turned out to be just what I thought he was.
Now, in a twist of fate, he would see her again. He wasn’t sure, though, how her circumstances may have changed her. Would she be the sweet girl with the positive outlook that he remembered, or would she be bitter and jaded by the recent events of her life?
When Alex arrived at the Drossos Motel, he quickly took his luggage to his room and then found Stavros and his family enjoying a picnic lunch under a tree on the motel grounds. Stavros spotted him and rose to greet him with a hug and kiss on both cheeks, a customary European greeting.
“Alex! So good to see you. This is my wife, Soula.”
“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. Stavros has spoken of you and the children often. I feel as though I know you.”
“And, of course, you all ready know our Anastacia.” Stavros took Ana’s hand to help her up from the picnic blanket.
There she stood. The petite brown-eyed beauty he’d been taken with years ago. She was as cordial and sweet as she’d always been, and just as beautiful as he remembered her, if not more so. In her arms was a most adorable doe-eyed little girl who was the image of her. The four of them caught up on news about schoolmates and family, conversing with ease until the discussion took on a more serious tone.
“What do you think of the latest development back home, Alex?” Stavros asked.
Alex seemed a million miles away and glanced in Ana’s direction often, amused by the playful interaction between mother and daughter.
“Oh. Which development would that be? There are so many lately.”
“I was thinking of the one that you would be most sensitive to. Karamanlis arresting Max Merton as a war criminal.”
Alex was no longer smiling. The mention of this man and the reminder of that war made his blood run cold.
“No matter what they charge him with or what they do to him, it will never make up for the evil and devastation he and the others like him caused. What they did cannot be erased — nor can the visions in my mind.” Alex became very solemn.
The German occupation during World War II had been devastating to all of Europe, but for some, more tragedy had fallen on their land than anyone should ever bear. Thessaloniki, or Salonika as some referred to the city, was home to a large population of Sephardic Jews. Prime Minister Karamanlis requested Max Merton, the German administrator of the area during the occupation, testify in a trial. As a result, Merton was arrested and charged with war crimes during the period of deportation of Jews.
“Barbarians. They came and came, taking good citizens from their homes, loading them on those trains.” Lost in the memory, Alex shook his head, pain shadowing his eyes.
“I think it’s time to take the children in for their naps,” Soula stated. She gestured for Ana to follow her, and though she was listening with interest to what Alex had to say, Ana lifted Sophia and went inside with her friend.
Stavros’ cousin Alexandria, offered to watch the children that evening, leaving the two couples to dine without interruption or distraction. As she dressed for dinner, Ana wondered if this was a nice gesture or a conspiracy to create a double date. She wished her friends would stop trying to distract her from what was important. Sophia was thriving and the job with Uncle Tasso was better than she ever imagined. She had to admit, Alex was a handsome man — polite and intelligent too. She pursed her lips in annoyance at her attraction to him and shook it off, resolving that it meant nothing.
She tied a pale pink cardigan with pearl buttons over her shoulder, admiring how perfectly the color matched the peony floral print on her sundress. It was a beautiful evening, hot, but dry. Not humid like most summer nights in July.
At Claudio’s by the pier, Ana ordered the grilled red snapper, as did Alex. Soula was craving the lobster tails and Stavros ate steak.
“I think I will eat steak every day this month. On August the first, the fast for the Feast of the Assumption begins and no more meat for me,” Stavros said.
“Stavros, you are missing the point of the fast if you’re a glutton beforehand,” his wife scolded.
“Ba, technicalities.” He winked at her.
Ana found Alex to be very interesting, and enjoyed speaking with him. He was a pleasant and intelligent man. Not as intense or serious as she expected him to be. He was certainly passionate when he discussed his work and his goals, very animated when describing the antics of his students, but he was also warm and easygoing when he asked of her interests and about Sophia. After dinner the four of them took a stroll on the pier, Soula making sure she walked ahead with Stavros.
“Stavros, walk faster.”
“Why? What’s the hurry?”
She pursed her lips and rolled her eyes. “I want Ana and Alex to be alone. You know, get to know each other.”
“Always plotting,” Stavros kissed his wife on the cheek.
“And you? You weren’t plotting when you asked him here?”
Ana and Alex occasionally stopped to admire a boat, and then continued on. They were so close that Alex was tempted to reach over and take her hand in his. He would only need to extend his hand an inch, two at the most. He wondered if she was at all aware of the effect she was having on him. He was nervous. Heat was rising from the back of his neck and his heart was beating too fast. If only this shy woman would look at me instead of the wood planks on the pier, he thought.
The next day, the Drossos’s threw a Fourth of July barbeque on the motel lawn. While the women set the tables and brought out the salads, Stavros and Alex put the girls on the seesaw, and Kostas amused himself in the sand box. Ana was touched by the interaction between Alex and Sophia, and felt a moment of regret that her daughter would miss the presence of a father in her life.
When the sun had set, they grabbed a large blanket and walked down to the lawn near the docks to watch the fireworks. There was a band playing, people lounging on their boats, and others walking the pier trying to decide where the best view would be. Dozens of families sat on blankets, unable to contain the excitement of their children, who were anxiously awaiting the colorful display in the sky.
Soula and Stavros took Kostas for a walk to the candy store, leaving Demetra with Ana, who took the child upon her lap. Alex held Sophia and was making funny faces to make her giggle. An elderly couple passed by, smiled and stopped to speak to them.
“You are such a beautiful family,” the older woman commented. “Your girls are darling. Enjoy every minute with them. They grow up too fast.”
“Oh, we’re not-” Ana started to correct her but Alex cut her off politely.
“Thank you, we will,” he said smiling up at the woman. “Have a lovely evening.” When the couple moved on he said shyly, “I didn’t want to disappoint her.”
But in truth, the idea had appealed to him. This was how he pictured his life. He’d spent years on his education and establishing his career. Now he wanted the rest. He wanted a wife and children, a family of his own, and every time he looked at Ana his heart skipped a beat, just as it had the first time he saw her.
The weather cooled to a comfortable eighty degrees, with a breeze coming off the water. The fireworks were glorious, but the thunderous sounds scared Sophia and Demetra. Between the heat and the full day of activities they had no difficulty putting the children to sleep. Not feeling compelled to go inside on such a clear night, Ana took a seat on one of the chairs outside her door and stared up at the stars. She was deep in thought when Alex seemed to come out of nowhere, jolting her from her trance.
“I apologize. I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“No, think nothing of it. I was daydreaming.” Ana smiled tentatively.
“May I join you? I won’t if you prefer to be alone.”
“No, of course, please.” She gestured for him to sit in the chair beside her.
“I overheard part of the discussion you had yesterday with Stavros about the war crimes trial,” she said when he’d sat down. “I missed most of the conversation when we took the children in for their naps, but I’ve read a little bit about it in the paper.”
“Does the subject interest you?” Alex inquired.
“Well, yes, of course I’m interested in what happens in my country. I worry about the direction of the politics and the future, but I sometimes think of the past too. I was a young girl during the war, and my parents protected me as much as they could from what was going on. But as little as I was, I knew something was different. I saw things I hadn’t before. People were standing on line for food, and many had no money. There were people starving and dying in the streets from hunger. My dad had money and he would buy food on the black market. He would give food to friends and neighbors, but the Germans were always watching. He had to be careful, and he found odd places to hide his money. The Germans seemed to think they were entitled to come into any home and take whatever they wanted.”
“Well, Anastacia, you were a lucky girl to have been so well protected. You were spared horrors that no young girl should have in her memory. I don’t know if Stavros told you, but I am from Thessaloniki, which had the largest population of Greek Jews. There, the Germans did not just occupy. They slaughtered. Before the war there were about fifty-six thousand Jews in the city. Now — well, it’s less than a thousand.”
He shook his head in disgust at the memory. “The Germans sent them off by the thousands to the death camps. The people of the city knew what was happening and we were for the most part powerless.” He stopped himself. “I’m sorry… such heavy talk for such a beautiful night.”
“No… please go on. I asked what you and Stavros were discussing.”
He nodded and gave a sad, haunted smile before he continued. “I came from a very moral and religious family. When a resistance was formed, my parents felt they had to join and do what they could to help as many people as possible. It was a huge risk to do this, as they knew they would be killed if they were caught. My two older brothers served in the army, but I was still young, not quite seventeen. My parents were worried for my safety, so information of their involvement or details of dangerous missions was kept from me. I tried to go about my days as normal as possible, but daily life had changed. The enemy was everywhere. In the streets, our stores and down by the docks. One day, my mother sent me to the bakery to pick up bread. When I got there the door was locked. I didn’t understand. It wasn’t Saturday. He was open every day but Saturday. A woman called out to me, ‘they took him.’ I looked at her and ran to where I was afraid I might find him. There was a long line of people waiting to board the train, most holding a single suitcase. I tried to find his face in the crowd, but I didn’t see him.”
Alex hesitated. Thoughts and words were flowing from him in a way they never had. There was something about this lovely young woman that allowed him the courage to continue. “As I was about to leave, I saw a friend, a classmate, and I tried to reach him, but I was stopped by a Nazi soldier and told to leave immediately. I wanted to fight for him, like I knew my parents were doing for so many others, but my friend looked at me with defeated eyes and shook his head. I shook my head back and I tried to sneak through the line of soldiers for him before I was shoved aside and knocked to the ground.”
Ana’s eyes were glistening with tears that had welled up but had not yet fallen.
Alex continued. “I ran home, hoping there was something my parents could do, not accepting it was too late and beyond their ability to help. The sound of the train whistle as it left the station was a final confirmation I would never see my friend again. I hated that whistle every time it pulled in or out of the station. It was not the sound of happy expectation of a journey as it had been in the past, but a hopeless promise of death. From that day on, I would sneak behind doors and listen to the secret meetings held in my home. I knew something important was about to happen. The resistance was planning an escape for a large group of people, and many diversions were organized to throw the Gestapo off track. My brothers were an integral part of the plan and were bringing passports and transport papers with them. A few days later my mother sent me on a long errand, one that would take me miles away and would keep me busy for hours. I had a hunch they wanted me out of the way.”
Ana was so engrossed at his recollection that she barely blinked, or breathed for that matter. Her heart was breaking at what she was afraid he might say next, as he sobbed through the next few sentences.
She reached for his hand as a gesture of empathy and support, and in a whisper she told him, “You don’t have to. If it helps you, then please, go on, but you don’t have to.”
He nodded, put his other hand over hers for a second, and then lifted his hand to wipe a tear away from her cheek.
“When I got back home, I knew something was not right. There was an eerie silence in the house and an unfamiliar smell. I saw the blood on the wall first — splattered, and a bloodstained handprint. I thought I would choke from fear and ran though the house. And then I saw them. All of them. Face down in the bedroom. Dead. Gunned down. Executed. There was blood everywhere and there was nothing I could do. It was too late. My family was gone. I was alone. I tried to yell, scream or cry, but my voice betrayed me. I made no sound. I was in shock. I didn’t know what to do or where to go. Then, my mother’s voice came to me. Her instructions were clear, as I recalled hearing them many times. In case of an emergency I should go to her brother, a priest at St. Demetrios. It was from him I learned the whole truth. My parents left me a letter, in my uncle’s care, explaining the dangerous missions they fought against the Gestapo, and their efforts to hide and protect the Jews of our city. The last words I have from my parents are written on that paper, informing me that if I was reading the letter, the worst happened and to follow the instructions they left to protect me. They left my uncle enough money to get me to safety, and told me to leave at my first opportunity. They wanted me to know how much they loved me, and although they knew I would go through a difficult time, the sacrifices they made for all people would shape me as a moral and honorable human being. I asked my uncle to hold the letter and the money for me for a future time. I enlisted in the army to fight for my country and to fight the Nazis that murdered my family.”
“Oh, Alex,” Ana cried. “It’s all so awful. It’s too much for a young boy to see, to live through. And here I’m telling you about my minor brush with the war in Athens. I’ve been through nothing compared to you. I’ve heard about many horrors, but when you don’t see them for yourself or experience them firsthand… well, I had no idea.”
“Don’t,” Alex said. “Everyone’s experience is unique to them. Don’t minimize it.”
Ana thought for a moment before speaking. “I was so young, and when you’re a child, you romanticize your childhood, thinking it was wonderful. Bad things happened around me, but my parents protected me. I always felt I had a happy childhood in spite of the war, but it feels so wrong to say that now.”
“No, no, sweet Anastacia. Your parents were right to give you a happy childhood, as mine were right to protect me from harm. I owe everything to my parents. They were wonderful people.”
He looked at her regretfully. “I didn’t mean to sadden you tonight after such a festive day. Maybe tomorrow you will allow me to spend the afternoon with you and prove I can lighten the conversation?”
“That would be nice,” she said, smiling. She got up to open the door to her motel room. “Kalinihta.”
When Alex wished her a good night as well, he turned and walked toward his room.
“Alex,” Ana called out to him and he turned to look her way. “Thank you for sharing such a difficult part of your life.”
Ana found it impossible to settle in for the night. Her mind was racing in so many directions and too many memories flooded it. There was so much more to Alexandros than she thought. She had always thought him to be intense, with his serious attitude and those piercing gray eyes that were hard to read, but she knew now that she’d misread him. Those eyes were haunted with the pain of losing everyone he loved, and yet she saw a determination in him to make the most of his life in honor of his parents who did everything to keep him from harm’s way. Her heart ached for the boy who lived through such tragedy, and the man who still carried the memories of finding the lifeless, mutilated bodies of his entire family.
She drifted to her own memories, a child’s recollection. Trying to force her mind to translate those memories into an adult perspective gave her pause. The conditions in Athens were probably worse than she remembered. She imagined her parents did not find it necessary to make her understand the reality of the war. She imagined her mother would have been frightened, but she protected her children, making everything seem as normal as possible. She would have to speak to her mother about this, she thought, as she drifted to sleep.
The next few days were easygoing and fun, with no talk of dreadful events. Ana was relieved to see that baring his soul seemed to lighten Alex, as she worried that dredging up the past would cause a melancholy mood. Now when their eyes met, it was with an unspoken understanding, and on her part an appreciation for his courage in speaking about something so painful and his ability to get past it, something she had yet to do with her own misfortune.
They went to the beach and then later took the ferry to Shelter Island. Alex purchased a small soccer ball for Kostas at a local general store. The two of them kicked the ball around as the other adults watched.
“You are very good with the children, Alexandros,” Soula complimented.
“Your Kostas is a good boy. I enjoyed showing him how to play.”
“And Sophia? You’ve caught her attention as well. I watched you take her by the shore and pick up seashells. It’s unusual for a man with no children to be so comfortable with the little ones.”
“She’s a sweet child. I hope to have some of my own one day.” Alexandros looked in Anastacia’s direction, the corners of his mouth drawing up to a hopeful smile.
On the last day of their vacation, they went to a farm stand to buy freshly picked fruits and vegetables to bring back to the city. Stravos and Alex loaded up the cars while the women and children said their last goodbyes to the Drossos’s.
“We’re ready to go, Stavros. Everything is in the car. Alex, don’t be a stranger. Come see us soon. We are making dinner for Sophia’s birthday. You should come. Sunday at three o’clock,” Soula insisted.
“Um, I’d like that. Ana, is that okay with you? I don’t want to impose,” Alex said.
“Of course you should come,” Ana said politely. “I should have asked you myself.”
She wanted to kill Soula. Not because she didn’t like Alex, but because she was so transparent.
An awkward moment hung in the air. But then Alex took her hand in both of his, looked her in the eye and said, “I’ll look forward to Sunday.”
Usually too shy to make eye contact, Ana’s eyes met his and held. The jolt that traveled from her hand through his as their skin touched startled her. The sensation was foreign to her and so was the fluttering in her stomach. His hands felt safe, yet she was scared. Her chest tightened a bit as she released herself from his gentle hold. She looked down and nodded. “Yes, Sunday.”
Ana got into the car and waved good-by as they drove off. She remained quiet trying to make sense of what her body was doing, what it was saying to her.
“Soula, why did you invite Alexandros to Sophia’s party?”
“Why not? He’s a friend. He likes Sophia and we know he likes you.”
“You should have asked me first. I don’t think it’s appropriate. He will get the wrong idea.”
“Don’t you like him?”
“He’s a very nice man, but you need to stop trying to put us together.”
“Dating. It’s called dating. You can say the word.”
“No, Soula, I can’t.”
“Stavros, help me,” Soula pleaded.
“I’m just watching the road.” Stravos drove the car and was smart enough to keep quiet.
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