Uncle Pauly will be back before we know it.”
He said this to try to convince himself, but four weeks still
seemed like an eternity of two-and-a-half hour shifts.
“Tell her about the j-jugglers,” Elizabeth
said with a crafty look made all the more wily because she
routinely passed herself off as such an innocent.
He narrowed his eyes at her before turning
back to his mother.
“We’ve been having a little fun at the shop
and doing some different things,” he explained without really
explaining. “Some jugglers entertained us today for a while. No big
deal. I doubt they’ll be back and, besides, I’m sure our uncles
will go on doing things their same old way when they come home.
That’s what works best for them.”
His mother raised a dark eyebrow.
“I’m not trying to interfere or change things
too much, Mama. There’s no room for another person’s vision anyway.
Too many chefs and all that.”
Mama tweaked his nose. “So sure of yourself,
Roberto, aren’t you? Now go wash your hands for dinner.”
He sighed and did as he was told.
Strange night, though, and he didn’t know why
exactly. A certain vibe shimmied between him and Elizabeth. Maybe
because he sat next to her tonight instead of across the table from
her. Maybe because they had this shared secret. Or maybe just
because the moon grew fuller as the June nights grew longer, making
weird ions hang in the air everywhere. Or something.
Anyway, for whatever reason, all through the
meal he felt himself being hyper-attentive to her: The way she
talked (so sweetly) to his niece and squirmy nephews. The way she
interacted (so politely) with his Mama and Tony and Maria-Louisa.
The way she emitted (so surprisingly) a very grown-up sensuality
that seemed both innate and unpretentious.
He’d never allowed himself to think of her
like that . Like a potential conquest. Partly because they’d
roamed in such different spheres during high school, but mostly
because she’d never been the kind of girl who threw herself at
She still wasn’t.
But, he remembered overhearing her say he had
a “hot body” yesterday. That was something, he supposed, although
not nearly as promising as the “kind of ingenious” compliment she
gave him about getting the jugglers today. And once, during their
junior year, she’d called one of his world-history project ideas
“very clever” after class.
He smiled at that.
“Why are you laughing, Uncle Rob?” Camilla
the little pixie asked him.
“I wasn’t laughing.”
“Yes, you were!”
“I was smiling,” he said, noticing all the
eyes at the table turning toward him and looking more interested
than they needed to be. Elizabeth, in particular, seemed pretty
“Why were you smiling , then?” Camilla
“I just had a happy memory.”
“Oooh! Was it from your birthday?”
“No,” he told the girl. “It was from a long,
long time ago.” Then, taking a chance, “It was from a conversation
Elizabeth and I had when we were in high school.”
He put his hand over Elizabeth’s jittery one
and gazed into her shocked green eyes. Hey, what was the use of
pretending to have a girlfriend unless he acted somewhat
affectionately toward her, right? He had to make the show
believable, if only for his mother’s benefit.
“Remember history class with Mr. Monroe?” he
said to Elizabeth, rubbing the top of her hand and feeling the soft
skin with the firm bones just beneath. “I remember how you used to
know the answers to just about everything in there. Really
She tried to tug her fingers away. No way was
he letting her. He held fast with one hand and began stroking
gently with the other.
“I-I d-didn’t know all th-the answers.”
“Sure you did.” He traced her tiny blue veins
with his fingertip and grinned at her. “You sat two seats away from
me, so I always noticed what you were doing. Most of the time you
were looking at the clock or staring out the window. You