Herewith a lovely story by Ian Colford, a Canadian short story writer who happens to be a librarian at Dalhousie University next door to the University of King’s College in Halifax where my son Jacob goes to school. Ian is the author of a short story collection, Evidence, published in 2008 and shortlisted for the Danuta Gleed, Raddall Atlantic Fiction, and ReLit awards. This is the first new piece of fiction on NC in the New Year, an auspicious beginning. Enjoy.
by Ian Colford
I hadn’t seen her since last winter. But I had heard the rumours. So I was not surprised that Laurianne looked tired, maybe even ill. The change was dramatic. After our drinks came I asked why it had taken her so long to return my calls. She explained that she had become involved with someone.
She met Peter Raffin at the home of her best friend Megan. Peter was manager of the large speciality bookstore where Megan worked, and Megan had invited Laurianne for dinner along with a group of her co-workers, ten guests in all. Megan introduced Laurianne and Peter to each other and then left them alone. Peter began flirting with her immediately. He said she had beautiful skin, hair, and lips. It was a warm evening in midsummer. She’d worn a flimsy halter top with spaghetti straps and she enjoyed feeling that his eyes were roaming over her body. He was a year or two older than her. Laurianne guessed he was thirty.
The small room was crowded and after only a few minutes he had manoeuvred her into a corner. Nobody seemed to notice them. They discussed things that didn’t matter but couldn’t take their eyes off one another. Laurianne noticed his hands and imagined them on her skin, and as if he’d read her mind he lifted one hand and gently caressed her shoulder, then let his fingers linger on her upper arm. When Megan announced that she was serving dinner Peter gave Laurianne an earnest look and whispered that they didn’t have to stay, that he would take her to a restaurant. In response she crept by him and found a place at the table between two women.
The food was marvellous and the conversation lively and absorbing, but Laurianne could not concentrate. Her attention drifted and she fell silent, conscious of Peter at the other end of the table. Though undeniably intelligent and witty, the two women bored her. For some reason tonight Megan’s jokes seemed mean-spirited, her laughter uncouth. But the worst of it was seeing how much Peter enjoyed talking with the attractive young woman on his right and the bearded man on his left. He smiled and laughed and not once did he glance her way. Laurianne knew he was married. How obvious it was: in his upright posture, in the way he held his wineglass not by the stem, but cradled in his hand by the bowl, in the way his eyes flitted cautiously toward the young woman’s breasts and stayed there, held rapt by the deep shadow of her cleavage. She wondered where his wife could be on a night such as this, and then, with faint horror, studied the women seated around the table. But no, he had cornered her, pointedly ignored all the other guests for her sake. And when she recalled that everyone here was either a friend of Megan’s or a co-worker, she breathed easier knowing his wife was not present.
After dinner there was time for more drinks and conversation. Laurianne toyed with the idea of leaving early, before anything could happen, but instead found herself mapping a path through the room so she could get to the spot closest to Peter before anyone else. As it turned out, the girl who had sat next to him at dinner was married to the man with the beard. When Peter settled into the sofa Laurianne curled up on the floor at his feet. Again there was laughter and conversation, but Laurianne was distracted by Peter’s hand, which tentatively explored her neck and back, alternately massaging and caressing. She shifted closer to him, pressed her breast against his leg, and they remained like this through drinks and coffee.
It was after midnight when the party broke up. As she stood in the doorway saying goodbye to Megan a breathless panic swept over her because she couldn’t see Peter. Then, emerging from the hallway where the bathroom was, he caught her eye. A tacit understanding passed between them. She would wait for him outside.