That night, it was the heat of the Italian summer, and the last day of my stay in Ischia, a small Italian island off the Amalfi Coast. My head was hazy and my body had absorbed the heat to the extent at which it had sedated me; I curled up beneath the cool sheets and pressed myself against them for some kind of respite from the humidity. I lay back against the bed and rolled my eyes, but even closed they couldn't escape the red tint that swallowed the darkness. It would be a long, sleepless night.
Somewhere within the hour I heard the clatter of heels on the stone steps, and the faint swing of the door.
"Come out," my mother pleaded. "People are just sat around, it's casual, it might even make you feel better."
I was already angry at myself for feeling so lethargic on a holiday, so I dressed quickly and clambered up the hot red brick to the villa's pool. The hum of laughter and lazy conversation greeted me before I saw anyone. But slowly, lights emerged in the darkness. Strung up like fireflies hovering over the water were fairy lights, and coupled with a few red candles they provided the only illumination in the heavy darkness.
The heavy air swamped me, but I refused to regret the decision. I sat with my mother and brother for a little while, casually snacking on popcorn and savouring the salt on my lips, which only made me thirstier. The night was perhaps one of the most atmospheric in my memory; the glittering lights and reflections in the pool, the people, no more than twenty of them, sat beneath palm trees in the darkness and the smell of summer and coconut somehow one and the same.
Eventually, Guiseppi announced that it was time to eat. He'd laid two long tables, one for adults, and one for 'children'. My brother and I couldn't avoid being hoisted with the 'children', most of whom were distinctly above the age of 14. After a brief stint sitting by three teens who turned out to be both french and very antisocial, we moved up and sat with the only other people on the table; four Irish kids - Evelyn, who was 18, and Adelade, who was 14, and their two younger brothers. I couldn't believe at first that there was a four year age gap between them, I'd seen them around the villa in the last few days and assumed they were best friends. They turned out to be brilliant conversation, and by the end of the night the three of us had abandoned the meal in favour of running around the pool and dipping our toes and talking about cliché girly topics such as ex-boyfriends and movie stars and music. The boys joined us later, and we all sat in the almost-darkness laughing and shouting into the night.
By the time I found myself curled up against the white sheets again, it was the early hours of the morning, and I was so very glad that I'd pulled myself together and ignored heatstroke's demands of laziness.
Later that morning, when the sun had risen and my bags were waiting by the door, I wandered around the villa taking quick photos of the things I'd missed over the week, and Evelyn and Adelade were screeching and laughing in the pool. I edged closer, planning to say goodbye, but the magic and enchantment of the night before seemed a world away. They hadn't seen me. Too shy, I hesitated for a moment before slipping away into the heat.
That was two years ago, and the memory hasn't faded an ounce. I can still hear their enchanting accents, and laughter ringing in my ears. I wonder how they are now.