Chapter Four
The church bells sang out through the foggy morning air, rousing Mona from her single bed in her old room, telling her that it was almost ten, time for services to begin, without having to look at the clock. She turned over and grabbed the pillow and curled it around the top of her head, hoping to drown out the hymnal, just as she did as a teenager every Sunday morning. The smell of fatty bacon and pancake batter was the only thing that inspired her to get up back then, her Uncle Beau greeting her with, "Come in, worshiper, and feast upon this God-like beauty," presenting her with a piled-high plate, garnished with fruit, a glass of orange juice already at her setting. They would discuss their plans for the day, usually an outdoor activity of kayaking or oystering – "God’s inner sanctum," the way Beau would refer to nature – as they waited for sleep-through-anything George to wake up.
She decided to stop the pity party before it even started, not letting herself indulge in the sterile air of a home where a meal hasn’t been cooked in several weeks. She wasn’t going to be lonely, she wasn’t going to be sad, she wasn’t even going to be pissed that Beau had left her... those were all non-productive feelings, she told herself. It was time to just get to work, get the place cleaned out, break it to Betty that she was closing up shop, and head back to Beantown where her loyalties should be.
The phone on her night stand was too big to ignore. She picked up the receiver and rotary dialed Antonio’s number, her heart speeding up as she waited for his "Pronto", but it just went to voice mail.
"It’s the long-lost me, finally calling ... been up to my ears in boxes and crap and more boxes and more crap ... and missing you. Call when you get this," she said.
She knew that she wasn’t supposed to feel nervous calling the man in her life. She damn well knew that she wasn’t supposed to be relieved when he didn’t pick up. But she didn’t feel like dealing with that now, that was a dilemma for another day, and she compactly filed it in her mental list of things to do. She loved that she had the ability to do that, to compartmentalize the different situations in her life, instead of letting one bleed into the other. The heaviness of heart that she felt knowing that she was going to eventually throw a bombshell into Antonio’s life by breaking up with him, and probably having to extract him from the business – even though he was the real go-getter of the two she was the first to admit – would just stand in her way today. She had enough heaviness of heart looking around at Beau’s apartment. Someone, probably George or maybe Betty, had been through since his death, cleaned out the fridge, took out the trash, washed the linens and towels. But it was still all Beau. Instead of side tables or coffee tables, he used stacks and stacks of hardbound books, secured by fishing line with a square or rectangle of custom-cut glass protecting the top. His decorative taste flashed in quirky accents like the tables or the encased fountain pen collection that he had beautifully framed and displayed in boxes throughout the apartment – and then seemingly vanished in other areas – his walls were just white, his rugs whatever was on sale at Kmart, his furniture nondescript. He always claimed that he was the perfect dealer – of antiques and lovely things – because he never wanted to hoard his own product for personal use. Mona remembered the occasional date that Beau would have who would actually make it into his inner sanctum – he somehow felt the need to keep his "adult" life far away from his niece and nephew – and how they would inevitably express surprise at how beautiful his shop was compared to his house, and then try to backpedal as she and George rolled our eyes, knowing that she was not long for Beau’s world after a comment like that.
The crush of clamshells in the driveway below drew her to the window where she peered out sideways to catch sight of any activity. She saw his little, black, Italian-man car pull in.
"No, no, no, no," she said, racing to the bathroom for a toothbrush. She hauled through her toiletry bag and opened the medicine cabinet looking for toothpaste. Through the tangle of maybe a dozen orange prescription bottles, all labeled Beauregard Jenks, she found a tube, squeezed it out and brushed the wine from the night before furiously out of her system. She hoped.
She knew she had nothing to be guilty of, she and Lyle had just really walked. And talked. And drank. And just when she thought that maybe, maybe, it was going to lead to a little something more, she started pouring her heart out to him about Antonio, about how bad she felt leading him on in a way, making him think theirs was a relationship that would culminate in a walk down the aisle. Lyle listened closely, just like she always remembered, and talked a little bit about his breakup with Lily, about how much he missed seeing his kids everyday, about how sad the world of love really is, thus extinguishing any romantic notions that either of them might have had. They said a tired good-bye in her driveway, and Mona, exhausted, felt lucky to be able to fall into a deep, fast sleep.
"Coming," she yelled as she heard the knock on the downstairs door. She had locked herself in out of habit more than anything, and then realized that she wasn’t even sure where she had placed the keys. Later, she thought. Later I’ll find them.
"Antonio, wow. You’re here," she said to his expectant threshold smile.
"I missed you Mona. Really. I knew if I told you I was coming you’d have a million practical reasons why I should wait for you to come home, but I don’t care. I just wanted to see you." He looked past her shoulder at the interior of the shop. "And to help," he said, walking through after she stepped to the side, rolling up the sleeves of his dry-cleaned oxford.
"Oh god, Antonio, that’s so nice of you, but..."
"Never mind but. Just tell me that you’re happy to see me." He pulled her to him, his dark eyelashes almost touching hers before he turned his head and kissed her. A long, slow Antonio kiss.
She pulled away. "Wow. Whew," she said to buy some time. Pulling herself together, she repeated to him what he wanted to hear, "Yes, of course I’m glad to see you. I was just about to put some coffee on."
"No, no, I’ll do it," he said, looking through to Beau’s office for direction. Antonio was in charge of all things food in their lives. No question.
"Remember? The stairs are back there, the kitchen is to the right. I think the coffee is in a canister on the counter."
"Okay, mi amore, café con badah gadah coming up."
She looked up at the sky as he disappeared up the stairs. "If I had gone to church would you have done this to me?" she whispered heavenward, the closest she came to praying.
She shook her head and "Mama mia-ed" away a rueful smile. If forced, she would have to admit, deep down, she was happy that he was here. At least a part of her was happy.
She trekked upstairs, preparing to interrupt Antonio’s kitchen duties.