Chapter 1: Birth and Rebirth
My mother gave birth to me when she was sixteen. She said the stars so took her in my eyes that she named me Stella. Mother attended an all-girls Catholic school, paid for by my wealthy grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Clermont.
During her winter holiday from St. Augustine’s, she met the boy who would give me half of my DNA. His name is inconsequential as he died from a drug overdose when I was two years old. But he was that kind of man. On the wrong side of the tracks, he did every exotic drug under the sun, slept with anything that moved. If the circumstances of my birth hadn’t ended up in misery, I’m sure it would’ve made a lovely story to tell the grandkids.
However, that is not the case.
As I mentioned, my grandparents were prosperous. They bankrolled some of the more excellent Hollywood films of late simply because they shared a wise decision-making ability. This keen ability allowed them to take care of their own family quite nicely.
My mother, the youngest of three girls, returned from St. Augustine’s in shame. It was the early eighties, long before it was hip to be a teen mother if there is a degree of pride to be found in that sort of thing.
As I aged gracefully under the careful eye of my grandparents, I grew up with a silver spoon in my mouth. I experienced things that a regular child would never have been privy to either. I attended the best schools, met the right people. But, of course, that’s to be expected when by six years old, you’re an old pro at walking the red carpet at the premiere of the latest movie your grandparents paid for too. But I didn’t know any better. If you were born into this – like I was – you would not hate me as you do.
However blinded I was by the gloriously gilded splendor, I began to notice a trend: my mother would take trips to Greece every summer, starting after my fifth birthday. She would leave me behind for a weekend or so. My grandparents never batted an eye and would explain away my queries with that she’d gone “away to Greece.” So very WASP-ish.
When I was ten and Mother had gone another trip, I got fed up and snuck into her room when I was sure my grandparents had retired for the night. Mother never married, so I didn’t have to worry about waking up a father.
I went inside her private residence on a mission. I knew where she kept her diary, where I was sure that she had concealed the genuine reasons for her yearly trip. I was a devious child.
She bought a diary every year since I was born and kept them locked up inside the steamer trunk at the foot of her bed. I picked the lock like Nancy Drew, cuddling up in the covers that smelled like her expensive perfume. I had selected the diary she had used last year.
Aiming the tiny plastic flashlight at the acid-free pages, I flipped through the boring parts of my mother’s exciting life and got to June 15. There, I was startled to read a saucy story of what had transpired in Greece that year. My mother was having an affair with a married man.
Can you believe it? My mother was a kept woman, an inamorata, and a concubine. A whore, if you want to get down to it.
Matthew Fortune was her lover. That ever-so-famous glamorous rock god from the eighties. Even at ten years old, I knew who he was. He used to come to my grandparents’ dinner parties, but I never got a clue he was fucking my mother.
He was good-looking, and even with my limited grasp of magical things, I understood that he was married. That meant he was off-limits.
It was nearly impossible to grow up in the eighties and never hear his songs on the radio. Reminiscent, of which he was the lead singer, was from the UK. Unfortunately, the original lineup of Reminiscent went bust after their third album. But Fortune and his drummer Mac tried to recapture the magic that made them stars through much of the nineties. They had some hits during that decade, but nothing significant.
The original lineup “put aside their differences” and make music together again. Their latest record, “Reminiscent II,” had spawned a hit single called “Love and Gin.”
My mother died of breast cancer when she was thirty-eight. It was a surprise to us all, as she hadn’t been sick a day in her life as the figurehead of my grandparents’ trust. I wish I could say that I mourned for her, but I couldn’t.
I’m twenty-two, and I felt nothing. I suppose it will hit me someday that my mother is dead, but for now, she was just another cold, dead body in a hole six feet under.
I came across my mother’s datebook when I was straightening up her things. Grandmother suggested it would help me to grieve. It had been four months since her funeral.
Mother’s annual trip to Greece was coming up next week. Surely Matthew had heard of her passing. I hurriedly flipped through her address book, and Matthew’s number wasn’t there. All I could find was her round-trip plane ticket to Greece.
So that’s how I found myself on a plane to Greece.
Chapter 2: Arrivals and Departures
I arrived with all of my bearings intact to the small farmhouse outside the bustling metropolis of Ilia prefecture, in the Peloponissos region of southern Greece. I didn’t speak a word of Greek, but I showed a picture of Mr. Fortune to the cab driver, who nodded knowingly.
I had only thought to pack a simple suitcase and stared up at the vast expanse of the farmhouse as the cab driver pulled away. I was deciding what to do next when the front door opened.
“Senora Sophia!” a thick accented Spanish woman began. When she saw the bewildered look on my face, she paused. “Senorita Stella?”
“You know me?” I asked, dumbfounded.
“Si,” the effusive woman said as she came down the rickety steps to take my hand and my suitcase. “Your mother spoke so highly of you. She loved to show me photos of you.”
“Oh,” I replied, trying not to appear stupid.
I didn’t even know Mother thought of me as her daughter. Most of the time, she was off in her little world of glitz and glamour, and I was a friend she had to bring along everywhere. So as long as she didn’t spaz if she saw wire hangers, I kept to myself and tried not to annoy the beautiful woman who just happened to give birth to me. I wanted to shake myself from those thoughts, though. I was here on a mission.
“Where is Mr. Fortune? I have something to tell him,” I began as I allowed her to guide me inside the modern villa.
“I will announce to you,” she said, patting my arm. I felt so at ease with her, even though I had some terrible news to deliver. She turned to leave but turned quickly back and pinched my cheek.
“You may call me Calida,” she said, smiling warmly at me.
I smiled. I once had a nanny who had a cousin named Calida. She once told me it was Latin for “warm and loving.” So it certainly fits this Calida before me.
I stayed in the foyer and took in my surroundings. It was small, sparsely decorated, but inviting. I could see a few doorways leading to other rooms, but I stayed put as I didn’t have a natural hunger to satisfy my curiosity. Then, Calida returned and took my hand. There was something about this woman that I hardly knew but was immediately attracted to on a human level.
“Mr. Fortune is in his library,” Calida explained. “I will take you there.”
“My things?” I asked, like a child.
“Do not worry. I will put them in your suite,” Calida assured me.
“But I’m not staying,” I managed to mutter after Calida’s retreating form. I only packed an overnight bag. There wasn’t much of anything in there. I didn’t expect to stay for more than a day at the most. Nevertheless, I aimed my steps in the direction of the room Calida had gestured to for me.
I went in, and the smell of the musty tomes assaulted my nostrils. I breathed deeply and saw the late afternoon sunlight filling the small room, streaming in a nearby window. I was in heaven, as my eyes swept left to right, silently taking it in—wall to wall, floor to ceiling books, classics, and contemporary volumes.
I grinned at “Angels and Demons” but nearly died when I saw “Inferno” by Dante in Latin. I had always wanted to read it in Dante’s native language, but it was so hard to track down. If I played my cards right, perhaps Mr. Fortune would allow me to borrow them.
“Stella,” said the brusque Englishman, disturbing my schoolgirl daydreams.
“Mr. Fortune,” I said politely, stepping away to face him. I hadn’t realized it, but Mr. Fortune was quite gorgeous, even with his stolid facial expression.
He laughed at the formality. “Please, call me Matthew.”
“Matthew,” I said.
We smiled at the space between us before I realized I should tell him. I dug in my purse, which I didn’t allow Calida to take, to remove a newspaper clipping. I handed the newsprint to him, and he pulled reading glasses from a pocket on his shirt.
He muttered the headline to himself and turned away; I suppose because he was so engrossed in his reading. I took in Mr. Fortune’s features while he read the clipping. He was still good-looking for his age, with his streaked blonde hair and his dark blue eyes that shone with anticipation. He was tall and thin, and his clothes fit him just right. I guessed that purchasing youth in various bottles, pills, and clothes was easy for someone with his money and stature.
“Thank you for telling me this, Stella,” Mr. Fortune began, handing me the clipping back. “Although I think a letter or a card would’ve sufficed.” His eyes laughed merrily at mine.
I felt foolish. “Mother didn’t have an address for you… in her things.” I paused. “Besides, I’ve never been to Greece before, and who am I to waste an outstanding plane ticket? So I thought I should tell you in person. It seemed like the right thing to do.” I was rambling and was thrilled when he held his hand up to cease my talking.
“Yes, of course, you would,” he said absentmindedly. “I know your mother usually purchased a round trip ticket, so it’s safe to assume that you will be staying for a week?”
“I wouldn’t want to impose. I saw some nice bed-and-breakfast places in the cab ride here.”
“Don’t be silly. Please stay.”
I accepted his offer, not knowing what to expect.
Chapter 3: Sailing and Swimming
When I said I didn’t know what to expect, I certainly didn’t expect the cold shoulder. I hardly saw Mr. Fortune for the first few days. The villa was so large that it was easy to get lost or stay hidden if you so chose it. That’s what Mr. Fortune wanted. I ate my meals alone, Calida clucking over me constantly. Finally, she said that I needed to eat more and took it upon herself to cook me large meals originating from all parts of the world. I was sure I would need deflating before I left.
After nearly 72 hours of not seeing Mr. Fortune since I had first arrived, I finally approached Calida about it.
“I cannot speak for Mr. Fortune,” Calida said, almost taking on a cold demeanor. Calida put a mask on when speaking of Mr. Fortune, as though she were afraid of speaking ill of him. Of course, I knew she wouldn’t gossip about him, but she had more access to him than I did.
“Why not? You’re his maid,” I said persistently.
“Yes, but only for Greece,” she corrected me.
“Why haven’t I seen him?” I continued as Calida fluttered about the kitchen to assemble that day’s lunch.
“Mr. Fortune will make his presence known when he feels like it.”
Knowing I was arguing with a stone wall, I didn’t pursue it.
Instead, I enjoyed the beauty that was Greece. I went into town a few times to pick up things for Grandmere and Grandpere. I grew up in Southern California, where breasts and various other body parts were as fake as the emotions played in the movies that my grandparents financed. Here, in the warm and friendly shops that lined Greece’s streets, were things that you would never find in California. I visited museums and the cathedral and soaked up everything I could consume with my eyes and hands.
Imagine my surprise when I arrived at breakfast after I complained to Calida. Matthew was waiting for me after I returned from my shopping excursion that day.
“Stella, would you like to join me on my boat?”
I had never been on a boat before. Mother said human beings had evolved from the sea so we could live on land, so that’s why she hated ships and refused to attend boating parties. But Matthew didn’t have a yacht or anything like that. He explained that it was a deck boat.
I wore my khaki capris, a tank top, a lightweight pink sweater, with a worn pair of tennis shoes. The weather in Greece had been pretty mild, but Grandmere always said to be sensible when you dress. With my sunglasses perched high on my head, I met Matthew at the backdoor of the beachfront villa. I accepted his proffered arm, and we strolled silently down the beach that doubled as his backyard.
He boarded the boat first and held his hand out to help me. But, unfortunately, I slipped as my foot connected with the deck.
“Oof!” I blurted out, sitting down abruptly on the first solid surface I could plant my buttocks on as well.
My arms shot out and grabbed readily for the sides of the boat closest to me. Matthew chuckled as he continued to prepare the boat for sailing.
“I’m surprised you agreed to come,” Matthew explained as he fired up the onboard motor and guided the boat to sea.
“Why is that?” I asked, trying desperately to quiet my stomach that agitated angrily with the waves.
He caught my eyes. “Sophie hated boats.”
I laughed. “Mother always said if human beings were meant to be in the water for recreation…”
“We would never have evolved into land mammals,” he finished up.
Matthew looked at a point beyond my right shoulder. “Your mother was stubborn in her ways and highly opinionated.” He turned to grapple with the motor’s handle. The wind was picking up.
“Yeah, she didn’t let me date until I was sixteen, even though I had plenty of offers. Do you know Andy March? I was 14, and he was 15 when Grandmere and Grandpere financed one of his movies. I had the biggest crush on him, but Mother wouldn’t let me go out with him. He ended up marrying Amy Price, the singer, and they’ve got a little boy.” I paused. “Sometimes, I wonder what would’ve happened if he and I had ended up together.”
“Date that poncy movie star? Your mother may have been stubborn, but she knew where to draw the line.”
“Oh?” I challenged him. “And rock stars are better candidates for a relationship?”
Matthew caught my eye again. “Point taken,” he said with a devastating grin.
My stomach fluttered, not because of the way he was looking at me, but the fact that my stomach was churning beyond all-natural order. Matthew looked at me harder.
“Are you feeling okay? You look a little green,” he assessed me.
I couldn’t reply as I turned my head overboard, and my breakfast came up with a vengeance into the Aegean Sea. My green-tinted face turned to look at Matthew, who looked a little uncomfortable.
“I’m so sorry,” I whined, my stomach churning still. I turned away, and still more came.
“I’m sorry,” he replied. He quickly handed me a handkerchief. I dabbed at my lips and eyes as the pier came back into view. “I should’ve taken it more slowly, considering it was your first time on a boat.”
I laughed weakly. I managed to make it back to solid land without another dry heave. Embarrassed, I fled Matthew’s side as soon as possible and locked myself in my room for the rest of the day. I couldn’t understand why I was so embarrassed. After a well-deserved lunch and nap, I realized I was ashamed of having lost control. I don’t know why.
Chapter 4: One Night and One Chance
“Matthew,” I said softly.
I spent the next day in my room, a bit ashamed of my conduct, but accepted Matthew’s offer to have drinks after dinner in front of the fireplace in the living room. He opened up a bottle of Champagne, and we sat beside each other in companionable silence. The fire danced as I allowed the Orvieto Classico to do its job in restraining my common sense.
“What was my mother like?”
“She was radiant, energetic, a loving woman. She lit up the room and made even the stodgiest of men weep like a baby with her singing voice.” Matthew took a sip of the chilled beverage and kept his body facing the fire burning in the fireplace.
He glanced at me. “That’s a silly question to ask me, you know. You lived with her. You saw her more often than I ever did. She is – was your mother.”
“She was more of a friend to me.” I chuckled at the memories of the lady my mother was. “I used to get jealous of my friends whose mothers acted their age.”
Matthew stayed an arm’s length away from me. Yet, I had an irresistible urge to reach out and touch him.
He turned to me and held my glassy gaze. “I loved your mother very much. It’s a shame that you couldn’t see that while she was alive.”
That’s when I realized something like a light bulb had gone off in my head, even in my drunken stupor: the cold demeanor, the meals alone, the boat trip. Tiny butterflies fluttered in the pit of my stomach. I loved how Matthew was looking at me, even with that cold expression on his face. I had tried to deny it from the moment I saw him in person, but I couldn’t any longer. I had fallen in love with him.
“Can you show me how you loved her?” I whispered as soft as the breeze outside.
Matthew’s shoulders sank as he turned away from me again. “No.”
“Why not?” I asked indignantly.
“Because that part of my life died with Sophie.”
“Like hell it did!” I cried and lunged towards him with an open hand.
He grabbed my wrist and held it loosely. I lunged again with my other hand, but he expertly thwarted me again. I used him as a balance to keep from falling over face-first into the carpet. Matthew held my eyes, and I melted into the fire that lit his judgment.
“I cannot love you like I loved your mother, Stella. You’re two completely different women, and I can’t.”
I felt tears springing to my eyes. “Why not?” I whined. “I can make you love me. I can try!”
“No. I’m an old man now. I couldn’t make you happy.”
“Just once, Matthew. Just once, please. I’m begging you. I want to know what it feels like to have you inside me,” I whined. Looking back, I realize that I was a silly girl, horny as anything and drunk to boot. “Please. I know you fucked a lot of groupies back in the day. I know how this is supposed to go.”
Matthew let go of my wrists, and I fell to the floor with a thud on my open palms. “No.”
I slapped him full across the face. “You bastard.”
I stood up drunkenly and pointed the finger at him. “Fine. I didn’t mean to fall in love with you, but I did, and damn you for making me feel this way.” I swayed a bit but held my ground. “I’m leaving tomorrow, and you won’t ever have to see me again!”
Everything after that was a blur. I don’t know when I passed out, but somehow I ended up in my bed. I woke up tangled up in sheets, alone.
Chapter 5: Sex and Candy
I didn’t leave. As I sat in bed the morning after, I finally realized that I was jealous. Not because my mother was a whore but because she had someone to love her unconditionally, even if it meant sharing him. I envied a dead woman, and I wanted what she had.
I stayed in bed, alternately sleeping off my hangover, reading from “Inferno,” and eating whatever Calida brought me. But that night, I found myself in the library, where Matthew was rereading his books.
He looked up at me, and his shoulders sagged.
“Matthew,” I began. I stood at his side as he sat in a worn loveseat, unable to look at me.
“Stella,” he replied, more to the book – a collection of poems by Jacques Prevert – than to me.
“Can I kiss you… please?”
“I want to kiss you,” I said.
“I’m not taking no for an answer.”
And with that, I leaned over Matthew’s body and kissed him as hard as I could. The book fell to his lap, forgotten. The hunger gnawing at my stomach was satisfied as something indescribable passed between us.
But I didn’t know what else to expect, so I pulled away. All I wanted was that kiss. I had an overwhelming need to know that Matthew Fortune wanted me for a split second. But Matthew hungrily groped for me and held me close, kissing me harder.
“I’m going to let you down,” Matthew whispered as he pulled away.
I was intoxicated by the scent of expensive cologne and body heat, mixing in a cocktail that I inhaled like oxygen.
“I might not be what you were expecting.”
“Let me be the judge of that.” I straddled him carefully, hiking my summer dress up my thighs.
“Stella…” he began as I flicked open the top button of his khakis. He watched me with a hunger in his eyes, but he didn’t try to stop me.
“Matthew, I trust you. So trust me.”
I couldn’t see his face, but if he saw mine, he would see me smiling.
In the darkness of that Greek villa, Matthew Fortune undressed me as quickly as he could. I could feel his hands, calloused but gentle, running the length of my body. He was gently exploring me as we continued to kiss each other breathlessly.
His lips kissed me softly but urgently as his hands made their way down my breasts, my stomach, and finally the space between my legs. He sucked on his fingers for a moment and gently began to rub me. I tried desperately to commit every inch of him to my memory. Finally, he became hard against my thighs, and I moaned as his hand motions became more demanding.
Matthew gently laid me down on the loveseat, and I tried to see my lover in the shadows of the moonlight. I watched his pants fell to the floor in a heap, his shirt taken off and tossed aside, forgotten for the time being. He moved towards me and covered his long body with mine, kissing me again.
I couldn’t see his face, but in his gentlest voice, he whispered, “May I enter you now?”
“Yes, please,” I begged, thrusting my pelvis up.
After we made love like a man and a woman should, I could feel Matthew’s love inside my body, from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. I breathed heavily, was rescued from drowning under my expectations, and needed the air.
Matthew gently laid his head down on my stomach, his hand entwined with mine. We didn’t say another word as we fell asleep in each other’s arms.
Chapter 6: Top and Bottom
“Stella, Kellie is sick.”
I paused and looked up from my breakfast. “Um, okay.”
I was a bit confused. First, 9-year-old Kellie Mae was his youngest daughter by Lauren, his wife of nearly fifteen years. Then, I discovered that Matthew had been seeing her long before he married Lauren Goode, a former model through Mother’s diaries.
Lauren was the woman Matthew cheated on as he continued his affair with my mother. The woman was blind to her husband’s trifling. But the fact that hurt the most? Lauren was the woman that he went home to at night. A quick stab of jealousy pierced my gut as I stared up at him, perplexed by his statement.
“I have to cut this trip short,” he spelled it out for me. It was still too early in the morning, and I slowly came to my senses about what he was saying.
My heart sank as millions of selfish thoughts flew tossed about carelessly in my brain.
‘Could we do this again next year?’ was the one that repeated itself in my head. ‘Will I ever see you?’
Matthew strode up to me, took my face in his hands, and kissed me softly. “You do understand that we can never do this again.”
I tried hard to fight back my tears. “I understand.” I gripped onto his hands for dear life.
His blue eyes, full of remorse even though he was breaking my heart, bore into mine like a drill. “What happened here this weekend? That was a fluke.”
It took my willpower not to die. “I understand.”
“But no matter where you go,” Matthew continued, one hand slipping from my jawbone to pull me closer to him, “please know that for once in your life, someone loved like you. Someday you’ll find someone better than me.” Then, he pulled away and took off for his room to finish packing.
I drifted through the ground floor of the villa for a while aimlessly. I didn’t finish eating. I hadn’t expected the trip to end so soon. Finally, I settled down and curled up into a ball on the front porch. I came to realize a few things. First, I was in love with Greece, maybe more so than Matthew, if that was possible. Second I thought about the life that I had left behind so abruptly in America and if I would ever return a sane woman. Third I wondered if I would ever find someone to love me as Matthew had so briefly.
A taxi pulled up with an abrupt stop.
A soft knock sounded from behind me. I looked at Matthew’s torso in a daze. Then, finally, he knelt beside me, his eyes still full of the love I craved for and would chase for the rest of my life.
“I have to go. But, Stella, I won’t forget you. Nor Sophie.”
I nodded silently and didn’t protest. Instead, I watched quietly as the horizon enveloped the taxi.