by Licia Canton
Can I hold your hand?” he asked softly. She looked at her hand, then at his. Their fingertips were millimetres apart as they sat across from each other in the east-end coffee shop. Nearly touching. His hand was much bigger than hers. Her nails were unpolished. She looked at the ring on her finger. She had the certificate of authenticity in her bottom drawer. Clarity. Colour. Cut. Carat. She knew about the four Cs but not the fifth … Cost.
“No.” He would have seen her eyes say yes had she looked at him. Neither hand moved.
She had awakened very early that morning. She had wanted to see him again. She needed to know.
“Can you meet me for coffee?” She had dared to call him the minute she had awakened.
“Of course. Just give me time to get dressed,” he had said without hiding his joy. “Lacordaire and Henri-Bourassa. I’ll be there.”
Everyone was still sleeping when she left. She felt awkward leaving so early, so silently. She went to the 8:00 o’clock mass at the nearby Italian parish. She knew that her parents, sisters and brother would comment on her not going to mass with them. It was so unlike her. She had always insisted on the family going to mass together on Christmas and Easter. At least twice a year, it wasn't so much to ask, she'd said. They all received the holy bread at mass and then had a special lunch together. Then, they were free to go their own way: visit relatives, out with friends …
She thought about him throughout the mass. It was a short one, with mostly old immigrant women. Women who had to get back home to prepare the Easter meal, women who hardly ever went to mass with the family.
At 9:15 he was already there, in his taupe-coloured suit, looking as attractive as he had three days earlier.
“I’m so happy you called.” He kissed her on both cheeks. “I’ve been suffering from withdrawal symptoms. I haven’t seen you in seventy-two hours.”
The project was over. They had worked feverishly for the last three months – late hours, side by side. They had been focused and diligent. Nothing had happened between them, but something had changed. It was different now. How could she go back to work on Tuesday?
“Can I kiss you?” he had asked softly as they parted at the end of the last evening. She had been taken aback but not surprised.
“No.” She had remained professional and composed.
That was three days ago. He had simply said Happy Easter and goodnight. He had followed her closely on the highway until they’d reached her exit, then he’d honked goodbye. She had come to expect it every time they had worked late.
“Would you like another coffee?” He brought her back to Easter morning.
“I’m fine. I have to go soon.” She didn’t move. She felt awkward not knowing what to say after she had asked him to meet her. She looked at him.
"Why couldn't you sleep?" he asked. His voice was kind, even preoccupied.
She couldn't say. She had lain in bed thinking of his dark complexion, his long lean body. She had imagined what it would be like to hold him against her breast, to part his full deep-red lips. She had thought of his powerful smile and his thoughtful gestures. He had made gnocchi from his mother's recipe and brought them to work for their last working dinner. He had poured a Rosso Piceno – a perfect red wine for gnocchi and rapini, he'd said. – into his own long-stemmed wine glasses. A Tocai Friulano would have been his choice of white wine, but then he would have had to chill it in the lunch room fridge, he'd explained. They had eaten in her office. Until then, she had hated rapini.
"I guess you aren't much of a talker on Sunday morning," he said smiling. "I couldn't sleep either if that makes you feel better."
"I think we both know why we couldn't sleep. Don't we?" He was serious now. He put his hand on hers.
"Don't. Please. Don't." She put her hand on her lap. This is really silly, she thought. She wanted to hold his hand. She wanted to kiss him. She just couldn't let everyone down. Could she?
“What are you doing today?” he asked.
She looked around at the sleepy faces having a midmorning breakfast. Bagels and cream cheese. Eggs, sunny side up. Lots of coffee. For everyone else it was a regular Sunday, a day of rest. No one else had dressed up for Easter. He looked distinguished but out of place in a suit and tie. To the other patrons, they were a couple having a disagreement.
It was painful to look at him. She focused on the inside of her empty cup. He looked straight at her. Waiting.
“Lunch at home with my family. And then in the afternoon I will visit my future-in-laws. They have relatives visiting from out of town.” She was uncomfortable. She was going to be married in two months. He knew that. "Ah, yes, of course. Easter is for family," he said. "For those who have a family. And for those who believe." She didn't have to explain the importance of family and visiting relatives on Easter. He understood because he had been raised by Italian parents, just as she had. But he had made a conscious effort to break away from traditions and religious customs. He lived on his own in a francophone neighbourhood, and he cooked his own meals. Italian meals from his mother's recipes. She smiled at the thought.
"You're smiling! What about?" he asked.
"Oh... gnocchi and rapini," she said. "You're a great cook."
"I'm glad you enjoyed it," he said. "Can I see you later tonight?”
“I don’t feel right about it.”
“You’re here now.” He had been very patient. She was hoping he'd understand.
“Yes.” She looked up at him. His eyes were dark and passionate. She could no longer work with him.
“Call me if you want to talk,” he said as they parted in the parking lot. “I’ll be home. Waiting.”
She didn’t say much to her family during Easter lunch. They had a few questions about where she’d been so early in the morning.
“I went looking for answers," she said.
Afterwards, she called her fiancé to say she wouldn’t be going over.
Licia Canton’s first collection of short stories is titled Almond Wine and Fertility (Longbridge, 2008). She is editor-in-chief of Accenti Magazine.
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