Rob searched the crowd in the Italian restaurant for a friend. His sun-darkened skin was bronze against his white collar. He felt the heat through his many layers, the weight of black clericals on an August day, the rub of his collar on his brown neck, and wished himself again on the soft shore of Kauai, with cool-warm water lapping his toes, an iced drink at hand. But vacation was over, summer almost gone, and the pace of church life about to pick up dramatically. Rob cupped a hand to his eyes to see across the outside courtyard, where tables were set under an awning, and patrons lounged with wine glasses at the outdoor bar.
There, Rob spied the sun-bleached hair, heard the distinct laugh, recognized at once the erect posture of his best friend, Father Lawrence Poole, bantering with the bartender. They hadn’t seen each other all summer; Lawrence had been in Italy for a month, then Rob had gone to Hawaii to visit relatives. Rob had missed Lawrence more than he’d expected, felt the loss of the regular afternoon call which filled that empty portion of the day; he had missed Lawrence’s wicked laughter through the phone line, the gossip and the companionship that only two souls with the same vocation could know.
Lawrence greeted Rob with a hug. “Hey, there, sweetie. You look relaxed. Did you get lucky over the summer?”
“Ha, ha.” Rob hugged Lawrence back. “You’re projecting. Is there something you need to confess?”
Lawrence put his hand over his heart and made a tragic face. “My lips are sealed.” Lawrence kissed his fingertips, eyes closed reverently.
The maitre d’ arrived to escort them to a table.
As Rob and Lawrence passed through the restaurant, a lingering trace of perfume met them, to Rob, as familiar as the scent of his own pillow, his own warmed bed, sweet and musky as a woman. And there was a woman somewhere in the room, nameless, anointed with a certain scent, one that pulled him like a ribbon of memory. Another woman had worn the same perfume for him, long ago, a fragrance forever associated with her, that time, that place, that choice, leading down to this moment, this life. Rob pushed the thought back as they came to their table, and he took his seat. A waitress stood by to take their order.
“Have a drink with me,” Lawrence said, dropping into his chair. “I want to celebrate.”
“Let’s get a bottle, then,” said Rob, taking up the wine list. He pointed to a Sonoma Chardonnay. “This one’s fine,” he told their waitress. As he spoke to her, he noticed a fading red mark—knife slice, cat scratch?—on the back of her hand.
The young waitress in her black trousers and crisp white shirt noted the wine and nodded. Rob handed her the list, watching the curve of her jaw as she walked away, the one brown strand of hair at the nape of her white neck that her hair clasp had missed. He made himself look around the restaurant, noticing instead the marble counters, the open windows where the breeze came in, and the terra cotta tile of the floor.
“Tell me what we’re celebrating,” Rob said.
“Ah. Yes. Something wonderful.” Lawrence smiled, his face still glowing with a Southern California tan, sun-bleached bangs that he tossed from his forehead like an impatient colt. “I met a man last month when I was home in La Jolla for a few days.”
“Oh, don’t tell me—you’re in love.” Rob covered his ears.
“Oh, no, nothing like that.”
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Genre - Contemporary Romance
Rating – PG13