Sarah was a single woman in her early thirties, a degreed accountant employed at a high-tech firm in Silicon Valley. They worked her to the bone five days a week and then at month end she also worked on Saturday until the stroke of midnight when the books were officially closed. She had her own rented apartment in downtown San Jose. Her landlord had just texted her that the rent would go up another $300 per month in January when the COVID debacle would be in the rear-view mirror and landlords would be permitted to hike rents.

Dmitry lived upstairs in apartment 4A just above hers. He had been a platonic friend for the last three months since he moved in coming from Mountain View where he had shared a house with a colleague who recently got married. He wanted to be a bit further from his office anyway so he’d have some separation between his work and personal life. Downtown San Jose gave him more of an urban feel and he had shared with Sarah that he liked that. Dmitry was a software engineer for NASA where he had been working for more than ten years.

One night after work in late July, just as Sarah parked her car on the street, she walked up the short flight of concrete steps to the lobby of her building. Fumbling with a bag of groceries, she recognized the back of him. Dmitry’s herringbone patterned backpack was slung over his shoulder as he strode to the elevator and pressed the button. He was tall at six foot one and his jeans hung nicely around his hips. Sarah hustled in behind him and quickly opened her mailbox not far from the elevator. She grabbed her mail from the narrow slot but didn’t make it to the elevator before he was gone. Damn it. She wanted to chat, maybe invite him over for a glass of wine later. They had shared a bottle a few times over the past month or so but with no physical contact or romantic overture. When the elevator came back down to the lobby, Sarah stepped in and caught the faint scent of his vanilla aftershave.

Should I knock on his door with a bottle of Merlot? She’d change her clothes first, get out of her white blouse, navy blue blazer and dress pants and into a breezy flowered sun dress, the kind you wear on a hot summer night to sit out on the balcony and down a bottle with a partner or lover.

Before she got into her sundress there was a knock at her front door. “Crap. Who was that? She wanted to focus on getting pretty for Dmitry. Sarah pulled on the flowered dress, her hair in disarray, half down out of the hair clip. She hurried to the door. She closed one eye and peered through the peephole to see his smiling face, the sexy hair growth on his chin, his large brown eyes, his dark eyelashes, sculpted cheekbones, his thick black hair, a few wayward curls falling below his eyebrows. She had never before seen him that close up. He was so manly, the face you’d see on the cover of a romance novel.

Last Saturday in the park, she caught sight of him running down the path, his shirt wrapped around his waist. It was hot and even a quick glance told her his smooth bare chest was glistening with sweat. She had been on her cell phone and quickly looked away, wondering if Dmitry either man-scaped or waxed that toned chest.

Sarah fumbled with the barrette, an unsuccessful attempt to get all of her hair up before she opened the front door. She straightened her dress and turned the doorknob. “I thought you might…” he said and grinned, his eyes scanning her from head to toe.

“You brought wine,” she said. “I’m guessing you want to share?”

“Yes, that or I’m the tax collector.” They both laughed.

“Either way, how can I resist?” Sarah tilted her head and curled here index finger for him to come in. She moved through the small living room and slid the door open to her small patio which overlooked the busy San Jose city street, the noisy avenue that led to the 101 freeway. A neighbor, an old man who lived in the building on the first floor walked his small brown Yorkie. He waved up at them. Sarah and Dmitry waved back and giggled knowing the man likely thought they shared the same apartment.

She hurried into the kitchen for the wine opener and two glasses. They sat together on the sun-soaked balcony and drank the bottle.

In the wrought iron patio chair next to her, Dmitry stretched his legs to rest on the black iron railing, his ankles crossed. He wore jean shorts that ended just above his knees, a light blue t-shirt, no socks and what seemed to be worn out penny loafers from college days. She caught the familiar scent of his vanilla cologne. He chatted about the intensity of his day working on his complicated software project. Big project changes were just announced which meant a lot of software modifications needed to be made by him. He stood up and leaned on the railing looking down at the terrier who was taking a dump. The man was talking to another neighbor. Dmitry laughed and turned to Sarah. “Ahh, but there’s a huge benefit from all my hard work,” he said.

He sat back down on the chair. “I’ve earned a sabbatical. After ten years employees get six weeks off to travel or further their education or to start writing a book. Whatever we want to do. It’s a gift!”

Sarah listened, unable to take her eyes off his long legs which were covered in soft curly hair except for his knees which seemed smooth. What would it be like to have his legs wrapped around her, she mused to herself. He told her that he wanted to use his time off to see Greece, the place where his grandparents were born, spend a few days just outside Athens in a seaside town called Vouligmeni where his grandparents once owned a small restaurant. They had both passed away some years ago and the restaurant had been sold to another Greek family. He wanted to visit it and then try to do a few days in all the major islands. “My parents have no interest in going back, but I do. I embrace my Greek heritage. And now I have six weeks to do it right.”

“Sounds fantastic,” Sarah said, taking her first sip of wine.

“Yeah, I plan to travel light, only take a small carry-on and a backpack with me.” He told her how it was something he had longed to do between college and getting his first job at NASA ten years ago but he was so swept up in the job offer that he never got the chance.

“Might be nice to have a companion,” he said, then winked at her and downed the rest of the wine in his glass.

She reached over for the bottle on the table at her side, “Take someone with you?”

“I mean yeah, as long as she paid her way and was into me.” She poured more wine in his glass.

Her way? She repeated to herself.

He took a sip, pressed his lips together and turned to her; “You ever been to the Greek isles?”

“Not yet,” she said.

He raised his eyebrows and lifted his shoulders. “It’s going to be a trip of a lifetime.”

“When will you leave?” she asked.

“Well, I’m finishing up a big project at work. My plan is to leave October 1st or 2nd. Get on the plane from SFO to Athens. Already agreed with my boss.”

“What a coincidence,” Sarah said. “My semiconductor company has granted me a long vacation. Yeah, after slaving away during COVID,” she continued at a fast clip, “They worked us pretty much seven days a week but it was from home. Now we’re back in the office and the CEO has granted all employees extra vacation time to be used in the next six months.”

Dmitry finished his second glass of wine. She saw him bite his lip, his dimples deepening. “And, that means…” She pretended to calculate, her index finger tapping her forehead. “That means I have three weeks of vacation time already accrued and now another three weeks extra time off. Six weeks total.”

He danced his hands in the air. “Doo do doo do. Doo do doo do. Doo do doo do,” he sang out, imitating the preamble to the Twilight Zone. They both broke into giggles. He reached over to stroke her arm with his fingertips, “You interested in traveling with me?”

She let out a long sigh to show a hint of hesitation. Her heart was dancing with joy. “Well, I wouldn’t say no as long as I always get the best spot on the bed closest to the ocean view.” Oh God, she thought, did I just say that? For a moment she wondered if he were older or younger than her thirty-two years. She had never asked him.

“Deal!” He held out his hand. She noticed how long his fingers were, his hands big. “You travel light?” he asked, shaking her hand.

“The only way I fly!” She giggled. “Not a problem.” But how the hell would she get the time off? She had no extra vacation and only three days earned on the books because she used nine days four months ago when she flew back to Idaho. It was a must-do trip to see her mother who was ill with throat cancer and living with Sarah’s older sister, Melanie. Sarah couldn’t just quit her job now. She took a long sip of her wine.

She needed the income to pay rent and send some promised money to Melanie to help with Mom’s expenses. But Sarah wanted desperately to go on an extended adventure with this attractive man. He could be the one.

Dmitry flicked a fly that had landed on his knee. She heard the buzzing as the fly headed out past the iron railing. They both laughed.

Sarah hadn’t had a boyfriend for over two years, even though men were attracted to her long legs and wavy red hair. She’d been so busy at work and the few men she met on-line seemed dull and unadventurous.

Her ex-boyfriend Carl, also an Accountant like her, had called it quits after they lived together for six months. He despised the fact that Sarah showed no interest in sports and he was a fanatic for basketball and football. The background noise of a crowd of fans screaming was always on TV or on his car radio. She didn’t miss that but she longed for his warm body and his touch, especially at night after a long day at work. She was in a way thankful when he broke up with her and moved out. It had been two years since she slept with a man.

She stared into Dmitry’s eyes. He took his feet from the balcony railing, reached over and kissed her tenderly on the lips. Sarah closed her eyes lingering in the kiss but Dmitry quickly straightened and slid back in the chair. “Hey, we don’t want to get too friendly before our big adventure. Sorry for that,” he said and smiled. “I couldn’t help it.”

Sarah giggled. She didn’t know to respond. Was he joking? For her, there’s no way it could get too friendly. And then a brilliant idea sprouted inside her head. She looked down at her shoes.

“Hey about another bottle of vino on Friday night?” he said. “I’ve got a killer Cabernet that will kick our ass. We can start looking at my Greece travel guide, decide where we’d like to go first and our sequence of island hops.”

Our sequence of island hops, Sarah repeated to herself. Dmitry got up from the chair, moved around the back of hers to set his glass on the small table. “Big project meeting early in the morning. See you Friday?” he said, opening the patio door into her living room. She followed him inside holding both wine glasses and the empty wine bottle.

“Will seven work?” he asked.

“Seven?” She felt overwhelmed and a little stunned. “Um, yes! How about I prepare a Greek salad for us? You know, a light dinner. And we’ll have your wine. I might even whip up a specialty desert.” Crap, I said too much. Don’t overstep, she told herself.

Once Dmitry left to the elevator, she closed the front door, grabbed the unopened wine bottle from the kitchen counter, slid the balcony door open and sat back down on the black filigreed chair. She was emotionally exhausted. The July heat made her sweat through the armpits of her favorite sun dress. She noticed the neighbor still walking his dog up and down the street. She opened the bottle of wine, a twist off top, the bottle she was going to bring to his apartment. Nice that he beat her to it, she thought. She drank another two full glasses crafting a plan to enable her to take six weeks off from work and able to travel by the first of October.

At work the next morning, Sarah’s boss, Sally, approached her in the break room as Sarah poured herself a mug of coffee while stuffing an almond croissant from the pink cardboard box into her mouth. “Good morning. Ready for your presentation? Sally asked.

“Yes, I’m all set.” Sarah nodded and put the croissant down on the paper napkin.

“Sarah, what’s going on? You don’t usually eat pastry.”

“I know. It’s a new thing for me.” She glanced down at the floor, feigning embarrassment.

“Um.” Sally backed away, her eyes taking in all of Sarah; “I don’t want to get too personal, but are you…”

“Yes,” Sarah said shyly. I-I’m pregnant. Actually, almost six months along.”

“Six months?”

Sally took Sarah’s hand and sat her down in a chair at the break-room table. “Well, why… I mean, why didn’t you say something? I’ve been driving you so hard. I had no idea. If…”

Sarah broke in. “It’s okay. Honestly, I thought I’d lose the baby so I didn’t want to jinx it. I was so small for so long. My boyfriend and I have been quiet about it.” Sarah grinned. Now I can’t keep this secret since…well, I’m blossoming like no tomorrow.” She rolled her eyes and rubbed her swollen stomach.

Sally reached over and hugged Sarah. “You’re so brave and great at your job, and I’m so happy for you. When are you due?”

“Um, end September.”

“Oh my, Sally said. “Now, don’t forget to see HR about your maternity leave. Get that all straightened out so we know the date you’ll go out. Two whole weeks before due date and then four weeks after the birth. Geesh, what will I ever do without you?”

Sally glanced up at the clock on the wall; “I better get to the conference room, make sure the equipment’s working for our call with John. I’ll have your presentation up.”

Sarah felt jittery. She had stuffed a small flat pillow in her pants, taped with masking tape, a long hair ribbon wrapped around it twice under her white peasant-style dressy blouse and had just lied through her teeth to her boss. “I’ll be there in a few minutes ready to go.” Sarah grinned; “But I better stop in the restroom first.”

Sally laughed. “Got it. I had the same problem last year. Oh, I’m just so delighted for you and your boyfriend,” she said and rushed off. Sarah rinsed out her mug in the sink and felt the pillow on her stomach slide down a little. The tape had come unstuck a little. She’d need to work on the baby bump so it looked genuine and got bigger as the days went by. But the ruse would be worth it. Six weeks away with the man of her dreams. But how would she fake the baby afterwards? She’d have to think of a way. But so far, so good.

Linda S. Gunther is the author of six suspense novels: Ten Steps From The Hotel Inglaterra, Endangered Witness, Lost In The Wake, Finding Sandy Stonemeyer, Dream Beach and Death Is A Great Disguiser. Her essays and short stories have been featured in a variety of literary publications.