“Anelisse,” Leo says, his voice straining.
“Be reasonable,” she says.
He adds a few more drops of boiled water to his coffee, a thick, dark, potent brew he’d forgotten he missed.
“Try it for a season.” His spoon glides through the light froth gathering along the curve of his cup, first clockwise then counterclockwise.
“The point being?” Her tone cools the air in his lungs.
Where was the girl who’d once said she’d go anywhere as long as it was with him? Granted, that was years ago – at a villa in Nice.
“I’m expected to live as a peasant?” She challenges his silence with a hard edge that takes him by surprise.
“Well, I wouldn’t describe the conditions in quite such a manner.” He says. Then, “The city has its own charm. You’ll see.”
“A seat of culture, without doubt.”
“The arts maintain a respectable standard.” Do they? He’d have to check when he returned.
“Ah yes,” she says. “That sad young man…” She taps her manicured fingernails on the marble tabletop. “The one who put a pistol to his head to scatter himself around the room.”
He looks at her, momentarily at a loss.
“And his charming girlfriend.”
“Wife.” Leo corrects, without knowing why.
“But of course,” she replies.
“My meeting.” He says, glancing at his phone. “I’ll pick you up at 8:00 tonight.” He stands and reaches down to kiss her hand. She smiles and his shoulders relax, then he notices the flat expression in her eyes.
Could he really be seeing her for the first time after all these years? He wonders. Or, was it himself he hadn’t known?
“To the hotel.” He says to the driver who nods and, reading his mood, closes the partition window between them.
Leo studies his phone for a while, then dials. Then ends the call. A few moments later he dials again, this time letting it ring.
“Stefano, my apologies; I won’t be in today.” He says when the jeweller answers. Stefano accepts the news with customary grace, then comments on the previous day’s football score and they discuss the match.
“One more thing.” Leo hesitates, aware of his heart beating, counting ba-bump, ba-bump, ba-bump. “Cancel the engagement ring.”
At the hotel, Leo stops at the concierge desk. “Marco, please make dinner reservations for 8:30 tonight, for two.”
“Your preference of cuisine and ambiance?” Marco asks.
“Somewhere quiet, refined, and…” Leo considers. “Where one can say goodbye to a lover… of a lifetime.”
“Certainly, sir.” Marco replies, adopting a serious demeanor.
“Also,” Leo says, feigning afterthought to lift the somber mood. “Would you mind arranging for shaving cream to be sent to the suite?”
“Right away,” Marco says. Then, remembering, “A delivery arrived for you this afternoon.”
“Thank you,” Leo says, weighing the thick envelope in his hands. Reading the return label, he smiles, imagining Mingan’s and Trudy’s reactions. He wonders how they’ve been then reminds himself he’s only been away for a couple of days, and they’re fine.
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See beginning of this story here.