Nick and Sal bought some more water from a kiosk down a side street and returned to the bike, still laughing about the reaction of the people in the cafe. They climbed onto the bike and Sal felt a lot more relaxed than when they had set off from Agios, in fact she was actually looking forward to the rest of the journey.
“How far is Matala from here Nick?” Sal shouted, once they had joined the highway again.
“I’m not a hundred percent sure; I’ve never been to Matala before but I’ve worked out it should take us about an hour and a half from here.”
Their journey would take them almost straight down the centre of the island from the north to the south coast.
“Okay, no problem,” she said, leaning closer to him and slipping hesitant arms around his middle. She knew she probably shouldn’t, but she loved riding like that, and it just seemed like the natural thing to do. Nick smiled to himself.
Approximately thirty minutes after they had set off from Heraklion, the road began to cut through the largest agricultural area in Crete, the Messara Plain. The area was very remote, and few buildings could be seen breaking up the huge expanse of olive groves, vineyards and fields of grain. To their left they could see a couple of tiny villages dotting the horizon, but they were barely more than a cluster of white boxes. To their right they had an impressive view of the Psiloritis mountain range stretching out to the west of the island towards Rethymno. In the foreground the mountains appeared to be covered with a blanket of green. This was an unusual sight for Nick and Sal, as most of the east received a lot less rainfall and, in the summer months particularly, the landscape there seemed to be burnished by the heat of the sun. From the Messara Plain however, for as far as the eye could see, there were trees and vegetation of all kinds, and the distant Psiloritis mountains took on a blue tinge with the haze from the sun smoking the view.
They were well into the Messara area when Nick suddenly slowed the bike down and came to a stop at the side of the road.
“Time for a quick drink Sal, and I could do with stretching my legs again,” he said, climbing down from the bike.
“Sure,” she replied cheerfully, swinging her leg over the back of the bike to dismount.
Nick watched her and chuckled as she misjudged, bending her leg, catching it on the seat and unceremoniously slipping to the floor.
She pulled a face. “Might need to practise that a bit.”
“Yeah, think you might,” he laughed, approaching the bike again to search his back pack for the water.
He pulled out a bottle and drank from it, grimacing slightly. “It’s a bit warm now.”
Sal wasn’t listening; she had grabbed her own back pack and was staring out across the plain, her eyes searching for something. Before long she appeared to have found what she was looking for, and she began to walk away from the road, onto the grass and gravelly rocks in front of her.
“Nicholas,” she called in a sultry voice, “I have something for you.”
He swung around, turning his attention away from the bike when he registered the tone of her voice.
Bloody hell, maybe my luck’s in!
“Sal, where the hell are you going?”
“Come here and find out,” she replied mysteriously.
He smiled a wicked smile and raced after her. She sped up a little when she heard him approaching and she eventually reached the spot she was heading for. Stopping under a cluster of olive trees, she threw her back pack onto the floor and dived into it. She was just laying a blanket out on the grass when Nick caught up with her.
He looked from the blanket to her and back again with a mischievous expression. “Fancy a roll in the hay?”
She sat down on the blanket and proceeded to pull items out of her bag. “Don’t be ridiculous Nick. Besides there isn’t any hay here, just a bit of grass.”
“Same thing,” he shrugged, sitting down next to her and watching with interest as more items were produced from the bag. “That looks a lot like a Mary Poppins bag to me Sal, have you got the kitchen sink in there too?”
“No Nick, but I do have sandwiches...”
His eyes widened, “Oooh, you do spoil me Sal.”
She wasn’t sure if he was being sarcastic or not. “And pie...”
“Pie! You’re kidding me.” This time he really did sound impressed.
“Nope. Would you like to know what else I’ve got?”
“There’s more?” he said in disbelief.
“Yes, there’s cold roast chicken and pasta salad...oh and some green leafy salad just as an added extra,” she said, placing the final two tupperware boxes on the floor with the rest.
He watched in amazement as she peeled the lids off the boxes to reveal an assortment of mouth watering foods. She then pulled out two plastic plates, knives and forks and a couple of cans of fizzy orange pop. She handed him one with a smile.
He was overwhelmed, not only that but the can of pop was ice cold too.
“How the hell did you manage to keep the cans so cold?” he asked.
“Plastic ice blocks,” she said holding one up proudly.
He sat looking at the picnic with wide eyed amazement. “You’re a genius!” he exclaimed. And without thinking he leant over and planted a kiss on her cheek.
She never knew what to do when Nick praised her, she was more used to his sarcasm, and the kiss on the cheek really threw her for a moment. She busied herself with serving out the food to hide it. He surveyed her thoughtfully as she transferred first the pie and then the chicken and sandwiches onto the plates. This was a side to Sal he hadn’t seen before. She had obviously put much thought into this picnic, she had planned it and organised everything even down to the paper napkins she had packed and was handing to him at that moment along with the plate of food and cutlery. Sal usually appeared to be so clumsy and disorganised, sleeping in past her alarm and turning up late for everything; but perhaps he had misjudged her. After all, she had to be organised and efficient to do the job of airport supervisor, and Adam wouldn’t have kept her on for this long if she wasn’t doing a good job.
“So where did you get this pie from then Sal, and what’s in it?” Nick asked, picking up a slice and taking a bite.
Sal continued to spoon out some pasta salad from the tub and answered matter of factly. “It’s meat and potato pie and I made it.”
He stopped in mid chew. “You made this?”
“Thanks for your vote of confidence Nick. You don’t have to sound so surprised.”
“Sorry.” He took another look at the pie. “It’s amazing!”
“Thanks,” she gave a small smile. “Taste one of those sandwiches too, I want your opinion on something.”
He was intrigued. What was she going to surprise him with next? He took a bite out of a cheese and ham sandwich.
“Don’t tell me you killed the pig and milked the cow to make the cheese!” He paused to think. “Well, I don’t know what you did but there’s a fantastic flavour in here Sal,” he admitted.
“I wasn’t sure if it was any good as it was the first time I'd made mayonnaise but I followed the recipe and it seemed to turn out all right.”
He laughed out loud. “You made mayonnaise just for these sandwiches! Sal why would you do that? You’re nuts!”
She scowled at him. “I didn’t make it just for these sandwiches you idiot, and you can bloody well give me those sandwiches back now for that,” she said, reaching for his plate.
He shielded it from her with a hand and moved it out of her reach. “You leave my sandwiches alone!”
She narrowed her eyes at him and continued. “I had the mayonnaise already in the fridge, it’s just that no one else had tasted it up to now. And the pie was leftover from yesterday’s lunch. I’ve kind of developed an interest in cooking lately. I seem to have a fair amount of free time on my hands and it began as a hobby to stop me from going to the pub every night out of boredom. The only problem is that I always end up with stacks left over afterwards.”
“Don’t worry about that Sal, I’d be more than willing to be chief taster for you!”
“You’ll get nothing at all Nicholas, unless you take back what you just said to me.”
He gave her a puppy dog look. “Sorry Sal.”
She nodded, apparently satisfied.
He grinned and proceeded to polish off the sandwich he had started, still holding his plate away from her as though he would guard it with his life. With her point well and truly made, she picked up a fork and began to enjoy her food. He smiled to himself as he proceeded to eat the rest of his pie.
“You know, it’s just occurred to me that you could be a proper little housewife Sal.”
She frowned. “Nah. Anyway I’ve decided that I’m not going to get married,” she announced.
He looked surprised. “What, never?”
“Nope. There are no men out there nice enough to marry, and besides, I don’t fancy being tied to the kitchen sink. Nobody is going to tie me down. But if there’s going to be any tying going on at all, I’m going to be the one who’s doing it,” she said with conviction.
She never failed to amuse him. “I think you’ll find the phrase is being ‘chained to the kitchen sink’ Sal, and may I be so bold as to put myself up for the first bondage session?” he joked.
“Oooh, you wretch! You know what I meant. Give me those sandwiches back,” she demanded by way of a punishment.
“Not a chance,” he laughed, backing away from her and continuing to eat.
She considered trying to take them off him again but she changed her mind and decided to finish off her food instead, she would only lose the fight anyway.
Bondage indeed! He’s so cheeky!
She turned her head away to hide the giggle that suddenly slipped out, but he was well aware of every expression on her face and every move she made.
“I can see you laughing,” he said in a sing song school playground voice.
She laughed out loud, she couldn’t help it. He always made her do that no matter how angry she tried to be.
Sal only managed to eat half a plate of food, but Nick refused to give in until his whole plate was empty. He swallowed the last mouthful and lay back on the blanket with a sigh.
“That’s going to set me up for the week! I’m stuffed.”
She glanced at his empty plate.
“You didn’t have to eat it all. I wouldn’t have told you off if you’d left some you know, I’m not your mum!”
The moment she’d uttered the words she regretted them. She’d said it without thinking but then she’d remembered that he hadn’t had a mum around to tell him to eat up all his food. His dad probably hadn’t been that bothered either.
“I’m sorry Nick, I didn’t mean to...”
“To do what?” he turned his head on the blanket to look at her and seeing her expression he sat up suddenly. “Forget it. I assume that you’re all anxious because of the comment about my mother.”
She looked sheepish.
“Listen Sal, I told you about that because I find you easier to talk to than anyone else so please don’t start walking on egg shells around me because of it, okay?”
She considered his comment and then nodded. “Okay.”
Nick gave her an encouraging smile and then looked up to the late afternoon sky.
“It’s going to start getting dark in a while. We should head off soon.”
“I’ll just put all this away,” she said.
“Finish your drink first,” he replied, leaning back on his hands to take a last look at the view.
Everything was so very peaceful out there, in the middle of nowhere with just the grass, the olive trees and the immense expanse of sky. The sun was on the verge of setting and the sky was a pale, warm yellow colour. He suddenly felt reluctant to leave that place, he would have loved to have stayed there to watch the sun set completely with Sal, but he’d have to save that for another day. He turned to look at her and she too seemed mesmerised by the view. Without warning he had the strongest urge to be closer to her, but he couldn’t see a way to make it happen.
Sal wanted to share the sunset with Nick. It was so beautiful there and she couldn’t think of anyone she’d rather be there with. For a reason she couldn’t explain, ever since she’d got on the back of that bike with him she’d craved his closeness. She realised today more than ever that she was tired of being alone, and when she was near him, she felt safe and warm. She contented herself with the thought that by hook or by crook, she would find someone just like him and she’d be happy, but for now, he was there and she was there and it seemed wasteful not to share the moment together. She shivered suddenly...well, she was kind of cold.
Nick saw Sal shiver and he seized the opportunity.
“You’re cold, come here,” he said, holding his arms out to her.
She needed no encouragement. She wriggled across the blanket and he moved behind her, enveloping her in his strong arms. They sat like that in silence for as long as they could, before they couldn’t delay leaving any longer. And although they were both aware that they shouldn’t be there, and they shouldn’t be so close to each other, for both of them it had never felt so right.