The rainstorm came on all at once—a pelting, August rain that no one, it seemed, had anticipated, as there wasn’t a single umbrella open anywhere on the street. Sina grabbed Lewis’s arm and they ran toward the red awning at the entrance of the three-story brick building. Across the street to their right, Lake Ontario was a deep blue-gray and beginning to swell with waves.
“Should we get a table?” Sina asked as Lewis opened the door.
“We should at least get on the list.”
They stepped inside the high-ceilinged space with its exposed pipes, brick walls and tiled floor.
“Two?” the young woman asked from behind the host stand. Her hair was pulled back into a tight bun, which stretched the corners of her eyes.
“Three,” Sina said. “We’re meeting someone.”
“Lewis.” Sina always gave Lewis’s name instead of her own.
The woman wrote down the name. “The wait right now is thirty minutes.”
Sina and Lewis walked over to the bar and took the two tall chairs left. When the bartender looked up at them, Sina ordered a glass of white wine, and Lewis asked for the local beer on tap.
“How long has it been since you’ve seen him?” Sina asked, slipping her arms into the white sweater she’d had draped over her shoulders. Her dark bangs were matted to her forehead from the rain.
The bartender set their drinks on the bar, and as they sipped them they occasionally glanced behind themselves at the door.
“I’m nervous to meet him,” Sina said.
“He is kind of famous, you know.”
Outside the rain was growing heavier. They listened to it pound down on the roof. It was almost seven, the time they were supposed to meet Christo.
“I wish I would have read one of his books,” Sina said, sipping her wine. It was already half gone. “They’re crime novels?”
“Mysteries.” Lewis looked into the mirror beneath the liquor bottles and brushed his thinning hair forward with his fingers. “Literary mysteries, I guess. If there is such a thing.”
“Are they good?”
“Yeah. The ones I’ve read.”
They were quiet for a while, and without meaning to, Sina took the last sip of her wine. When the bartender asked if she wanted another glass she looked once more at the door before saying yes.
“Be careful of having too much too soon,” Lewis said. “You need to learn to pace yourself.”
“It was a skimpy glass. I’ll sip this one slowly.”
At twenty past seven, Sina asked Lewis if they were at the right restaurant.
At seven thirty, she asked if he thought that something might have happened.
“No. He was always late for class too.”
The restaurant was growing more crowded by the minute. The line at the host stand was now snaking out the door and beneath the awning. Each time the door opened and closed the smell from the fish shanty across the street wafted into the restaurant.
“Did he say anything about his wife?” Sina asked carefully, trying not to pry.
“No. I don’t know anything more than what Sam told me on the phone.”
“How long has she been missing now?”
“And they still haven’t found the boat?”
Sina sipped her wine. “I find it strange that she took the boat out alone. Without telling anyone.”
Lewis shrugged. “She grew up on a sailboat in Albania.”
“I thought she was American.”
“She was born in the states but went to Durrës to live with her grandparents when she was young. They sent her back when she was a teenager because of some relationship she got involved in. I forget the details.” Lewis lifted his empty glass and made eye contact with the bartender.
“Christo told you this?”
Sina swiveled her chair to face Lewis. “You’ve met her?”
“I lived here for two years. Of course I met her. A bunch of times.”
The bartender took Lewis’s empty glass and set a full pint in its place.
“What was she like?”
“Intelligent. Frank, but not rude.”
“What did she look like?”
“She had reddish hair. It was always a little messy. She was lean, kind of athletic-looking. I don’t think I ever saw her in shoes.”
“Not even in winter?”
“You’re really asking a lot of questions tonight,” Lewis said.
“Sorry. I’ve just never had dinner with a man who’s wife is missing. I’m worried I’ll say something stupid.”
“Don’t ask about her, and you’ll be fine.” Lewis sipped his beer. Then looking behind him, he said, “He’s here.”
Sina turned around and saw a man in a wrinkled linen shirt, a lightweight checked sports coat, khaki pants, and boat shoes, one of them untied. His whitish-blonde hair was damp, his face unshaven. He was using a long umbrella as a cane, and he looked around the restaurant before spotting Lewis at the bar.
Lewis met him halfway to the door, and Sina slid off her chair. She watched Lewis and Christo shake hands and give each other the sort of half hug that men give to other men. Then the two of them walked over to the bar.
“Christo, this is my fiancée, Sina.”
Sina reached her hand to Christo, and he squeezed it in his warm grip.
“We put our name on the list for a table,” Lewis said. “It shouldn’t be much longer.”
Christo looked at Lewis’s half-full beer and asked the bartender for a Scotch. Then he slid a ten-dollar bill across the bar and stood next to Sina.
“Do you want to sit down?” Sina asked.
“No,” he said. “I prefer to stand. It’s easier on my back.”
The bartender set Christo’s Scotch on the bar as the hostess approached, holding three menus. “I can show you to your table now.”
The three of them sat down at a table in the middle of the restaurant—Sina and Lewis across from each other and Christo in between. The woman handed them each a menu, which they set on the table unopened. Right away a waiter appeared. He was young, in his early twenties. The cuffs of his white shirt were stained with sauce. “Good evening. My name is Jesse, and I’m delighted to be your server tonight. Can I bring you anything else to drink?”
“I’ll have another glass of Sauvignon Blanc,” Sina said. “The one from New Zealand.”
Lewis glared at her from across the table, but Sina looked away.
Lewis and Christo shook their heads.
“What’s it been—two, three years since I’ve seen you?” Christo asked Lewis.
“I was just telling Sina that I haven’t been up here in five years. Since the spring I took the job in Baltimore.”
Christo sipped his drink. “I lose track of the years.” He turned to Sina. “I’m only sixty-three, even though I look like I’m a hundred.”
“You do not,” Sina said.
“Well, I walk like I’m eighty. You can’t argue with that. Though I still have my sea legs.”
The waiter appeared and set Sina’s wine glass in front of her. “Have you had a chance to look at the menu?”
“Not yet,” Christo said. “We’ll take some time.”
“Certainly, sir. There’s no rush. Enjoy your drinks.” The waiter bowed before leaving the table.
“The waiters are too damn friendly in this town,” Christo said.
“It’s a nice change for us,” Sina said. “We just spent two weeks in Europe being ignored by waiters.”
“What were you doing over there?”
“Visiting friends. Though Lewis spent most of his time writing.”
Christo looked at Lewis. “Did you ever finish that novel?”
“It died on me. But I’ve recently gone back to the first story I workshopped in your class. I’m turning it into a novella, and it’s going pretty well.”
“The one with the candy store scene.”
“I couldn’t admit this to you at the time,” Christo said, reaching again for his Scotch, “but I was jealous when I read that.”
“What candy store scene?” Sina asked.
Lewis sipped his beer. “Basically a guy runs into an ex-girlfriend at a candy store when he’s traveling in Peru.”
“Doesn’t he leave his wife at the end of that story?” Christo asked.
“He doesn’t actually leave her, but the reader is led to believe that he will.”
“Send me a draft when it’s finished. I’ll be curious to read it.”
“It’s going to be a while,” Lewis said. “The paper takes just about all my time.”
“It’s true,” Sina said. “I almost feel like I live alone. We have dinner together once or twice a week.”
The waiter returned to the table. “Have you decided?”
“I suppose we’d better take a look at these things,” Christo said, opening his menu. He took out a pair of reading glasses from the inside pocket of his coat, and the waiter left the table. “The walleye here is of course excellent. It’s caught right out there.” He gestured toward the lake. “You can get it broiled or fried. Both are good. I’ve had a couple of the pasta dishes. They’re also known for their steaks. Aside from the waiters, you can’t go wrong here.”
When the waiter returned, Sina ordered the broiled walleye, and Lewis and Christo ordered it fried.
“And bring us a bottle of whatever she’s drinking,” Christo said. “Two more glasses.”
“Certainly, sir,” the waiter said, coming out with the bottle a few minutes later. He opened it at the table and poured a little for Christo to taste.
“Fine,” Christo said, and the waiter filled his glass halfway, then poured a glass for Lewis.
“This is good,” Christo said, tilting his glass toward Sina.
“Bring another bottle of this with our meals,” he said to the waiter, who gave a slight bow before walking away. Then Christo turned to Sina and Lewis. “Well I suppose you heard what happened.” He took another sip of wine. “I was at the grocery store. Grocery shopping has always been my responsibility. Klea does most of the cooking.” He crossed his legs, and his napkin fell to the floor. He reached down to pick it up. “When I got home and saw that the boat was gone, I didn’t think anything of it. When she didn’t return by dinnertime, I took the motor boat out and had a look around our usual sailing spots. Then I motored home and called the police. By nine o’clock we had a search party going.” Christo finished the wine in his glass and poured himself half a glass more.
“Did you find anything at all?” Sina asked.
Lewis shot her a look.
“The coast guard found a life preserver in the seaway the next morning, but it wasn’t one of ours.”
“If there’s anything I can do—” Lewis said.
“It’s all been done,” said Christo. “Having dinner with an old friend is a welcome change in my routine.”
Lewis poured himself more wine, then looked at Sina’s nearly empty glass and reluctantly poured her another inch. Sina looked directly at him, reached for the bottle and poured herself two inches more.
“I had a dog go missing when I was growing up,” she said. “The waiting and wondering were excruciating.”
“Of course she doesn’t mean to compare your wife’s disappearance to that of a dog’s,” Lewis said, staring at Sina.
“A dog is an important part of any family,” Christo said.
The waiter returned with the second bottle of wine, though the first was not yet empty, and they sipped their wine while making small talk—Christo asking Lewis about the Baltimore Sun, Lewis asking Christo about his novel coming out in the fall. When Christo began filling Lewis in on people he’d known in the past—the university president, who had divorced and remarried twice in the last four years; a physics professor, who had left his position to open a bakery, which he closed three months later to revive a tree farm in Québec—Sina slipped away from the table. On her way to the restroom she walked through the dining room among tables high and low, passing the host stand near the door, still crowded with people though the line no longer stretched outside. When she reached the bar she considered ordering a drink and pretending, for a few moments, to be someone else, but the thought drifted away so quickly that she’d barely had the chance to notice it.
Upon returning to her seat, she saw that the meals had arrived. She took a bite of her fish, then looked at Christo. “This is delicious,” she said.
“One of the pleasures of living here.”
“I miss it,” Lewis said. “The fish and the town.”
Christo wiped the tartar sauce from his lips with his napkin. “Have you two set a date?”
“We’re thinking September of next year,” Sina said at the same time that Lewis said “No.”
Sina and Lewis looked at each other.
“I guess we’re still working it out,” Sina said, embarrassed.
“How is everything tasting?” the waiter asked, appearing across from Christo.
“Fine, fine,” Christo said, waving him away with his wine glass. “We’ll call you over when we need you.”
The three of them ate their meals without saying much more, the din of the conversations around them eliminating the pressure to speak. When they had finished, the waiter came to clear their dishes. “Dessert for anyone? Coffee?”
“Not for me,” Christo said. “Perhaps for these two.”
“I’d split something with you,” Sina said, looking across the table at Lewis.
But Lewis shook his head. “I’m too full.”
The waiter came back a few minutes later with the bill, which Christo paid, ignoring Lewis’s attempts to pay the bill himself.
The rain had turned to drizzle by the time they stepped outside.
“Where are you staying?” Christo asked.
“The Beacon,” said Lewis.
“Next time you’ll stay with me.”
“We’d love that,” Sina said.
Sina and Lewis watched Christo walk beneath his umbrella, the blue and white checks of his jacket blending into a solid pewter as he moved farther away, the brick buildings of town looking almost red beneath the misty gray sky.
“Well?” Lewis said. “The hotel?”
Sina held her sweater above her head to block the light rain as they walked up the hill, away from the lake.
The hotel lobby was crowded with women in dresses and men in suits, and there was music—a live jazz band—coming from the ballroom. A bride was sitting on one of the sofas, drinking a glass of wine and talking with one of her purple-gowned bridesmaids.
Sina and Lewis maneuvered through the crowd, passing the front desk on their way to the elevator, which they rode up to the fourth floor. Down the hall, Lewis unlocked the door to room 417, stepping inside behind Sina. The bed had been made, and fresh towels were hanging in the bathroom. The heavy brown drapes had been pulled open, but the translucent curtains behind them remained drawn. Only a sliver of window shown in between.
“Do you think there’s any chance they’ll find Christo’s wife?” Sina asked, hanging her sweater on the back of the armchair to dry.
“What makes you say no?”
“Three months is a long time to be gone.” Lewis sat down on the bed. He grabbed his book from the nightstand and lay back against the pillows.
“Do you think she drowned?”
Sina changed into her nightshirt, then went into the bathroom where she used the toilet, washed her face, and brushed her teeth. “I’m exhausted,” she said, flopping onto the bed beside Lewis.
“I think I’m going to go downstairs for a nightcap.”
“Why are you saying that now—after I changed and got ready for bed?”
“You just said that you’re exhausted.”
“I could have had one drink with you. A hot tea even.”
“I just thought of it. I’m not tired, and you’re going to sleep.” Lewis got up. “It’s only nine-thirty,” he said, then left the room.
Sina lay in bed, listening to the rattling of the air conditioner. After a while she turned off the lamp, then immediately turned it back on. She didn’t feel tired anymore. Never remembering to pack a book for herself, she reached for Lewis’s book on the nightstand and began to read, but her mind kept drifting back to Christo’s wife alone on the sailboat, her auburn hair blowing in the wind.
She considered getting dressed and going downstairs, but she didn’t want Lewis to accuse her of checking up on him. Instead she made a cup of tea with the mint tea bag next to the coffee maker on the dresser, and she sat in bed, drinking it as slowly as she could. The water was not very hot to begin with, however, so it wasn’t too long before she set the empty cup on the dresser and reached for the remote. Turning on the TV, she began flipping through the local news programs and previews for the movies that she could rent, but she quickly grew bored and turned the TV off along with the lamp. Then she lay there waiting in the darkened room, the streetlights shining through the window and illuminating the sheer curtains like two sails glowing in moonlight.