Do a manicure at home, or get a simple one done in a salon.
Leni was biting her nails even as she drew today’s paper out of the beret.
Om nom nom…wait, what?
Leni loved biting her nails. She knew very well it was a nasty habit, but she just couldn’t help it…
For as long as she could remember, Leni was a nail-biter. It came as no shock to most people that she was a high-strung, nervous young woman. While she never sucked her thumb as a toddler, she sucked her middle and index finger of her right hand clear into elementary school. Maybe Freud would have had a field day with it, maybe it was a soothing gesture. But whatever it was, Leni had to have something in her mouth.
Her older sister with long, pale, tapering fingers had beautiful fingernails. Well, beautiful and deadly. When she didn’t get whatever she wanted, instead of smacking Leni, she sunk her lovely nails into Leni’s little arm and clamped down. Hard. Enough to draw blood. She knew as a nail biter, Leni had little defense against those talons. Leni was a hitter. She would hit her sister until she finally put her claws away. Older sister was bruised, little sister was bleeding like she’d been mauled by a cougar.
Both of them eventually grew out of the clawing and hitting, but her sister still had beautiful hands with nails she manicured herself. Leni, with her stocky man hands and stumpy fingers, still bit her nails.
The older she got, the more of a comfort thing it was. There was a distinct pleasure she took in chomping down on a slightly grown nail with her incisors, then ripping it off the finger with her canines. She would then shred it up against the canines and molars before spitting the nail out and repeating the process. If she munched the nail down to the skin, Leni used her incisors to pull at the hangnails until the skin came off and bled profusely. Her too-short nails and bleeding hangnails hurt, in a good way. Again, she got a weird satisfaction from mangling her fingers and distorting her nails.
Mme Martin, a child psychologist by trade, once reprimanded Leni for chewing her nails while they watched the news together one night. “You shouldn’t bite your wecpgisf, Léni.”
Don’t need a dictionary to figure out what that means. “I like doing it. I cannot stop chewing myself of the fingers.”
“Don’t you take care of your hands? Haven’t you ever had a manicure?”
“No. I paint myself the fingers at home, but not often.” She couldn’t help it; she had to tear off the hangnails!
Mme Martin reached over and gently drew Leni’s hand out of her mouth. That was quite surprising because her host mother rarely invited direct physical contact. She must have wanted to prove her point.
“Léni, your hands! How lopscvse they are!”
Mme Martin left the room and came back with a bottle of hand lotion. “Don’t you use this?”
“No.” She hated the feel of lotion—greasy and suffocating, why didn’t she just put lard on her hands and be done with it?
Mme Martin indicated the chapped and bleeding cuticles and the rough knuckles. “You really should use some. You can always tell a lady by her hands.”
“I’m not a lady?” Leni wrestled the urge to chomp away at her cuticles.
“You should typcbnsa your hands better. Do you want my lotion?” she offered.
“I have extra. Take it!”
“No, thank you. I do not like the lotion, she feels bad on my hands.” Leni knew Mme Martin was only trying to be helpful, but she wasn’t going to deter Leni from her bad habits.
“As you wish,” she sighed.
From then on, Leni was very careful not to put her fingers in her mouth if Mme Martin was around. She did pay closer attention to the hands of everyone around her, starting with her hose mom. Mme Martin’s tiny hands, for all the housework she did, were white and free from liver spots. Her nails were always filed and though she didn’t use nail polish, Leni suspected she might have used clear varnish.
In fact, most Frenchwomen Leni observed seemed to have lovely hands. They looked smooth, pale and manicured. She didn’t see too many women with outrageous nail colors; many stuck to reds and pinks.
As a teacher, Leni did have one senior boy who’d filed his nails down to perfect triangular points. One day outside of class, she just couldn’t resist asking, “Tell me about your nails, please.”
Aurélien grinned. “It’s so I can easily play the guitar.”
That was an easy explanation for her to buy. She was going to let the subject rest, but he continued, “Yeah, and Satan told me that pointy nails please him.”
Huh. “Don’t forget your assignment for Wednesday.”
The less Leni said about that, the better.
She looked at her awful hands. Her nails were chewed down to the bedrock, the cuticle skin was growing over the bottom and the edges along most of the nails were bitten clean away, scabbed. I have to have the most unattractive hands this side of the Mississippi.
She paused to think about it. It was ten times worse since she quit smoking cigarettes. Of course given the choice of one or the other, biting nails was by far the lesser of the two evils. But was chewing nails worse than overdone manicures? There were so many women of Leni’s acquaintance who had awful acrylic nails. Others had their ring finger painted a different color than the rest. Leni was pretty sure the trend had come from France, but so many women indulged in it, it stopped being edgy and just looked dumb on most people. Plus, Leni hated all the nail art and crystals people put on their nails. Why weren’t people content enough to have just plain nail varnish on? She was something of a purist when it came to her hands.
When she got off work, Leni drove to her favorite nail place where she got a pedicure once a month during the worst of the summer. The staff was Vietnamese and while they usually just spoke among themselves, they were all quite friendly and did a damn good job for a very reasonable price.
Leni entered the salon and there were eight or ten women there getting nails done. Most of them were overly made-up for Leni’s taste. Their hair was too fussy, they were dressed too fussily and they were all busy playing on their phones and texting instead of actually interacting with anyone. Stupid zombies…
A petite, cheerful woman greeted Leni at counter. “Hi, what can we help you with?”
“I need a manicure.”
“Acrylic or regular?” Leni told her natural nails, and the woman gestured to several shelves of polish to pick out a shade. Leni liked to paint her nails both siren red and pale pink. She vacillated between the two for a couple minutes before settling on a sunset pink as a compromise.
When the next nail tech was open, she had Leni sit down while she clucked over her nails. “You’re sure you don’t want acylic?”
“Yes, that’s very bad for my hands.”
“OK, that’s fine. Wow, your hands are really bad.” The manicurist wasn’t being rude, she was just blunt.
“I know, I can’t stop biting my nails.” Leni was sheepish.
The nail tech smiled. “You’ll feel differently when I get you pretty nails.”
I like her attitude!
Leni allowed herself to be pampered as she got a paraffin dip, lotion rubbed in, nails filed, her cuticles pushed back, dead skin cut away, arms sublimely massaged, cuticle oil, base coat, nail color and top coat. She kept her eyes shut and barely opened them unless the manicurist was telling her specifically to do something.
Of course she wasn’t rude. She liked talking to nail techs, so she chatted about how bad her hands were, if it was normal and about male manicures. The nail tech was funny, informative and made the half hour simply fly by. Sadly Leni noticed she was the only one actually talking to her girl; the rest were buried in their damn phones.
She examined the finished product. What was left of her nails were filed to feminine tips, the cuticles were pushed back and oiled, the hangnails were all gone and her nails were a lovely carnation pink. In fact, her hands almost looked feminine.
As she set her hands under the dryer, Leni allowed her thoughts to drift to Mme Martin. She would definitely approve the fact I was getting a proper manicure. I hope I can go more than a day without biting my damn nails…I’m paying enough for them to look good!
Leni paid and generously tipped her nail tech. It would definitely be worth it if she could resist the instinct to nibble on her nails, and she was certainly less inclined to do so now that she’d invested in a nice manicure.
Driving home, Leni could barely take her eyes off the steering wheel and she admired her beautiful manicure. She couldn’t help the squat man hands, but at least she was filed, painted, locked and loaded.
She took a picture and uploaded them to Facebook with the caption, “A manicure on a Wednesday night…just because .”
The twenty “likes” told Leni she would have to do this again, sooner than later.
Jeudi Jour Onze (Day 11)
Do something cultural. Take in an art exhibit, go see a concert or do something that otherwise broadens your horizons.
Leni grabbed her tablet as soon as she read today’s missive. She would have to check the calendar of events to see what the hell was going on. At least she lived in a college town and there was stuff to do…
The arts had been a part of her life as long as she could remember. Because she was a bookworm, she always loved learning about different cultures through fashion, artifacts, art and music. She was one of the rare children who embraced trips to any kind of museum—even going to the art museum excited her because nothing interested her more than beautiful paintings.
Leni had been in France a month when she went to the Louvre. It was an amazing experience because she had a special fondness for medieval art, and she could have spent a thousand hours coming though its exhibits. What she loved best wasn’t the Mona Lisa or Venus de Milo; she loved a glass vase that had once belonged to Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was one of Leni’s great historical heros.
In addition to the Louvre, she spent hours examining daguerreotypes in the Museé d’Orsay which, for some reason, fascinated her more than any other sumptuous painting or sculpture. She barely tolerated the Centre Pompidou not for its contemporary art collection, but for its magnificent vistas of Paris.
Yeah, France’s capital had some pretty impressive museums.
That’s why she fully braced herself for disappointment two weeks later when she went on a class field trip to Dijon. Mustard aside, it was truly a lovely town that wine built from the surrounding Burgundy region. It was rich in history and its fabled roofs with an almost Argyll pattern in the tiles.
One of the stops was the Musée des beaux arts de Dijon, which was in the former ducal palace. Leni knew Burgundy was its own kingdom until it was annexed by the French crown in the sixteenth century. The building was quite impressive with its mammoth courtyards and graceful great halls. She was particularly enraptured with the tomb of Philip the Bold of Burgundy with its intricately carved bas-relief of mourners at its pedestal.
She wandered through the galleries looking at nice albeit pedestrian Impressionist paintings, Italian Renaissance works and even rare mummy paintings. She had to admit that it was all pretty cool, but nothing really moved her until she got to one of the last galleries on the top floor with the post-Impressionist paintings. There she found a tableau that took her breath away and forever changed what art meant in her life.
“Le glas” (“The Death Knell”) by Louis Galliac was painted in 1891. A contemporary of Monet and other great Impressionists, Galliac is certainly not considered a terribly popular or grand master painter. But there was something about this work, painted when he was 42, that struck Leni to the very core of her being.
An old man is sitting on a worn-out wooden crate in a bell tower. He is clearly a paysan; his brown wool pants, khaki vest and wooden sabots betray his country heritage. He is clean-shaven and of an indeterminate age—maybe 70? The veins stand out prominently on his neck and his hands are probably covered in calluses from a lifetime of hard physical labor.
He is contemplating the scene below him. The golden Burgundian fields roll out to the horizon and beyond, not at all unlike the prairies Leni grew up on. But what the man’s sad gaze is fixed on is at the heart of the painting. There is a burial going on in the churchyard right under the bell tower.
Who died? It is hard to guess. There is a small funeral procession led by a priest with five women following him. The first woman in line holds a white banner nearly as big as she is. All the women are in blue skirts with flowing white veils hanging down their backs. Nuns? Three or four mourners in plainclothes bring up the rear.
Why is the old man’s hands clasped in prayer? Why is his wrinkled face lined with the saddest, most wistful smile Leni had ever seen? Who was the person being buried, and why was the ,am so sad?
The mystery intrigues Leni. In all her research in the intervening years, she never found anything about the painting beyond its title and the year it was painted. It left more questions than answers, so she had to content herself with her own theory.
She guessed whoever died was an old woman, maybe a nun. The man in the bell tower was her old sweetheart, and he was giving her one last goodbye before he had to ring the bells, announcing her death to the entire village. The painting looked in on this bittersweet, intensely private moment between the man and the deceased.
What haunted Leni more than the painting mystery was the look of utter sadness and loss on the man’s face. It was tender, sad, wistful, regretful, prayerful and maybe even a little happy? That pursed mouth and clasped hands was burned into Leni’s memory. She visited dozens of art museums after Dijon. She saw thousands of paintings. But none could even come close to touching her the way an obscure 19th century painting by an obscure 19th century artist could. Somehow Louis Galliac had managed to capture every emotion involved when a loved one passes away and convey it on the old man’s face. And the puzzle of what the painting was actually about only intrigued Leni more.
She almost had to be dragged out of the Dijon museum, but not before buying a postcard of her favorite painting. Leni looked at it often, especially when her beloved grandfathers passed away. Somehow, the look on the man’s face was just like the prayer Leni wanted to say, but couldn’t form the words to express how she felt. It helped her pray when she just didn’t know what to say, more than any Bible passage, more than any prescribed prayer ever could.
She didn’t know what ‘Le glas’ was all about, but Leni was OK with that. Her own theory and its very enigma were all she needed, and no other painting before or since struck her in such a primal way. She had seen many lovely objets d’art, but her heart would always be in a Burgundian cemetery with an old man looking out of the bell tower…
Leni flipped through a couple of announcements and decided instead of finding a special art exhibition, she would walk to the campus art museum over her lunch hour to enjoy some of the art.
She made a plan and enjoyed a brisk walk to campus in the halcyon fall weather. She was surrounded by kids wearing stupid hoodies and Uggs, kids with stupid hipster glasses and godawful interpretations of “ironic” fashion. Leni was secretly grateful for her smart denim motorcycle jacket, bright tangerine scarf, black cami, fuchsia cardigan, skinny black jeans and black flats. She looked and felt a lot more put-together than most of the little college kids.
French chic over American college style any day!
She got to the marble-and-glass museum, smiled at the docent, and allowed herself 20 minutes to wander the four galleries of 20th century American art. It was a respectable collection; Leni quite liked the Caulder mobile and how it defined the emptiness of he space more than the actual space it took up. The Warhol of Mickey Mouse was ironic and iconic, just like his Campbell’s soup cans. The Georgia O’Keefe was floral but stark and organic. The Rothko looked like something she could have painted with two hands behind her back. But the biggest treat was a domestic scene in an Edward Hopper painting which she had seen many times since she was a little girl.
It was a young couple sitting in their New York apartment’s living room, circa 1932. The young woman, sad and probably more than a little bored, plinked at the piano. The husband was facing her but not looking at her, his face buried in the paper. They were in the very same room yet miles apart. It was amazing how just like in his ubiquitous Nighthawks, Hopper managed to deftly convey intimacy and distance in one single painting.
Why were the couple so distant? Was one cheating on the other? Were there any children involved? What role did the piano and the newspaper play in everything? The more she looked at it, the more Leni realize there was a lot she couldn’t see.
Leni felt her knees buckle and she shakily made her way to the closest bench. Her heart started pounding and her breath came in shallow pants. For a few minutes she thought she was having a full-blown panic attack—it wasn’t the first one she had and it certainly wouldn’t be the last—but after she breathed a little deeper, she calmed down to assess why she was so shaky.
The two paintings she loved mirrored each other.
The Galliac painting depicted a long physical separation (the man was up in the bell tower and his beloved had passed on), yet an intense, close relationship. The Hopper painting showed a couple who, while physically close, were miles apart in the same room. They were mirror opposites of each other, and their common thread was Leni’s own interpretation.
Two paintings I have loved for years…how alike they are, and how different!
She only had a couple minutes before she had to go back to work. Leni flew to the gift shop, purchased a postcard of the Hopper painting, and stared longingly at it as she trotted back to work.
All afternoon, she had the Hopper postcard propped up next to her computer and her eyes were constantly drawn to the sad, young couple. She just couldn’t get over how that painting had been in her spirit for years, but she’d never known it till just then.
That evening, Leni went to Target and bought an inexpensive double hinged frame. When she got home, she set the Hopper postcard in on the left, and the Galliac on the right. It wasn’t a perfect diptych—the Galliac was upright but she had to turn the Hopper on its side. But that didn’t matter.
What mattered was that Leni made a beautiful bookend to the different facets and ages in a relationship. On one side was a young couple just starting out, but they were sad and cold. On the other hand was an old couple who had known a true, pure love. But nothing survived of it but an old man’s regret and a new grave.
A tear trickled down her cheek as she put the picture frames on the bookshelf next to her beloved family photos. There was a lot of beauty in the world, and she needed to take the time to simply enjoy it.
She got ready for bed. Settling in amongst her pillows, she propped herself up with her old sketchbook from high school. Leni had a modicum of artistic talent, but she rarely drew anymore because she had neither the time nor the patience. She flipped past dreamy landscapes of the Scottish Highlands, ruined churches, ballerinas, whatever struck her fancy from high school. She started loosely doodling her own version of “Le glas” just to help relieve herself of all the emotions she had. It was a way to help her process everything racing through her head that evening.
Vendredi Jour Douze (Day 12)
Go to a café.
Leni woke up out of dead sleep at 3 am.
She hadn’t realized just how tired she was, nor was she entirely sure how the pencil came to be lodged up her nose. She could guess how the sketchbook got on the floor. But a pencil sticking up her schnozz? Really?
She slipped the pencil back in the book, set her alarm clock, and drifted back off to sleep.
Go to a café?
Leni frowned as she sipped her coffee. She loved going to coffeehouses, so it really shouldn’t be a problem. Should it?
She much preferred her epic Friday afternoon naps, but again, rules were rules. Coffee shop tonight it was!
Leni was in a café in Paris with some of her American students who were exchange students under her care one summer. They were having a discussion (in French, of course) about the museums they had seen up to that point. The kids were really starting to get to some of the stuff they enjoyed at the Louvre when one of the students pointed out a man walking down the tiny sidewalk.
“Hey, isn’t that Professor O’Brien?” referring to one of the popular French professors in their department.
It can’t be, Leni thought to herself. What are the odds that we’d run into one of our professors here in Paris when we are thousands of miles away from…
“Hey! Dr. O’Brien! Hey! Hi! Over here!” Her dozen college students where whooping, whistling and trying to attract his attention.
The normally reserved French were staring at the loud Americans, probably thinking they were typical tourists. Leni had just opened up her mouth to admonish the kids when Dr. O’Brien saw the little group of students. Recognition dawned on his face as he smiled, gave a slight wave, said, “Hi, guys,” and kept right on walking.
He kept right on walking.
One of the girls looked at Leni with a stunned expression. “Did-did he just walk right by?”
“Sure looks like it.” There was nothing Leni could say to contradict that statement.
“Dude, what the hell?”
“Are you freaking kidding me? We see him here—in Paris, of all places!—and he just keeps walking?”
“Didn’t he know it was us?”
Oh, if only you poor little dopes had any idea. Professor O’Brien was very kind, an excellent teacher and scholar, but…he was lacking in people skills and social graces.
He was sorely lacking in social graces!
“Yeah, guys, well…Dr. O can be kinda absent-minded sometimes, you know?” She tried to smooth the situation over the best way she knew how.
The students chatted about it for a couple minutes and Leni had just gotten them to settle back in when Professor O’Brien walked back past the little group, merely smiling and continuing on his way.
OK, really?! The man can’t stop and talk with us for five minutes? How often is it that you see a group of your own students in Europe.
Leni typically had pleasant experiences in French cafés.
She always had a soft spot for them, even before she ever set foot in France. There is an aura of romanticism automatically attached to the French café scene circa 1925. Think the Lost Generation at the Café Deux Magots. Hemingway writing his next bestseller. Picasso trying to woo his next model. Gertrude Stein preparing her salon for the weekend. F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald living the bohemian life.
Yeah, cafés were pretty sweet. Even if it wasn’t as chic as it looked in the movies, Leni always managed to enjoy the hours she spent over coffee and croissants. It was best to grab a seat outside if the weather was halfway nice. Inside was just as good, too.
There were plenty of beverages, from coffees, teas, carbonated drinks to wine and beer. There was also food often available—simple things like pastries, sandwiches, salads and omelets.
If it was warm out, she didn’t mind having a soda or a glass of wine, but French coffee in a French café was usually the way to go. Leni’s favorite order was an espresso or double espresso and a pain au chocolat. The jolt of caffeine most always have the rush she was looking for. And whoever decided to put little chunks of dark chocolate in a flaky, buttery croissant deserved to win a Nobel Peace Prize.
She usually had her travel journal with her, so her hours were spent writing about what had happened the last couple days. Sometimes she had a book or a magazine with her, or even puzzle book. Leni simply liked to look busy so she could sneakily watch the people around her.
And there was always plenty to see in French cafés. Sassy waiters, serious businessmen, overly fussy women, stupid couples making goo goo eyes at each other…Leni was never disappointed nor ever lacked anything to see when she went to a café. She also tried to eavesdrop on conversations going on around her, but it was usually bustling around so she couldn’t make out what was being said.
Sometimes she wondered if anyone was looking at her. Leni tried to be as inconspicuous as possible, but how many people guess the overweight, gawky girl writing in the corner was an American who was actually trying to eavesdrop on everyone’s conversations?
Going to French cafés was always such a pleasant experience. Leni placed her order with the waiter, and very rarely did she have to wait long for her order to be brought out. The lovely thing in France is that once the order is placed and the coffee delivered, you get the bill and are largely left alone. Waiters will discretely come by to clear cups, glasses and plates as needed, but you can order one espresso and spend hours in the café watching the world go by.
After work, Leni went home for a quick bite of supper. She then changed into skinny jeans, black boots and went to one of her favorite coffeehouses on the other side of town. She read online a local bluegrass trio was playing, so it would be a nice chance to get out of the house, listen to some live music, support a local business and have some good coffee all in one fell swoop.
She arrived at the café about 15 minutes before the band started. They had the instruments and sound equipment set up. They were just waiting for their set to start.
There were about 30 people in the small café, and Leni was glad to see it was hopping. She usually sat in a corner at a table, unobtrusive and able to observe the whole room. But the only empty seats she could find were stools at the bar, so she bellied up to the bar. The café must have obtained a liquor license in the year since she’d last been. They had a small wine selection, so Leni ordered a glass of red wine and a pain au chocolat from a local pastry shop. She declined to have it heated up, so she settled in with wine and room-temperature pastry.
The pain au chocolat lasted about 14 seconds. Leni definitely had a sweet tooth, and the pastry was amazing even slightly stale. The tang of the dark chocolate was a perfect complement to the slightly spice, fruity wine. She didn’t know if it was a vin de table, but it did the job quite nicely.
She dug into her purse, pulled out the latest magazine she was reading, and waited for the band to start.
She couldn’t have been there more than five minutes when a solid person was bumped from behind her. The oaf crashed into Leni and since she was a klutz to start with, she hopped off the stool, her feet wobbling under her.
A hand shot out to steady her before she slammed headfirst into the bar. She whirled around, prepared to lay into the moron who hit her, but any insult died on her lips when she looked up and stared into the brown eyes that were looking at her, freaked out from the almost accident.
“I am so sorry,” he began. “Someone elbowed me and I didn’t see you…”
Tall—over six feet. Not skinny, the guy had a teddy bear build without being fat. Warm brown eyes, a mop of wavy dark hair. Eight o’clock stubble. And no wedding ring.
Tall, dark and definitely cute!
“I-I…Uh…” For a rare second, Leni was completely at a loss for words.
She scrambled back on the stool and twirled it so she could face her would-be attacker. It wasn’t often—ever—that a cute guy bumped into her and apologized.
“This seat taken, by any chance?” He indicated the next stool over, and Leni saw that the café was jammed-packed. Though she’d never heard of the band, the obviously had enough of a following to pack the house.
Her sass returned. “Well, I don’t usually let guys who knock me off my seat sit next to me but…” she playfully cocked her head. “Go ahead.”
He ordered a flavored hard lemonade and sat down. “I don’t usually ask girls who I knock off their seat if I can sit down next to them, but it looks like this is the only place left.”
In spite of the innate awkwardness of the whole situation, Leni found herself grinning and in full flirt mode. “I suppose I can make an exception for you.”
“That’s so nice of you,” he grinned. “You know this band?” he asked, making polite conversation.
“Nope. I saw the performance was in the paper, so I thought I’d check it out.” The truth was Leni visited their Facebook page and watched a couple of their videos on YouTube, but he didn’t need to know that. Yet.
“Bass player’s my brother over there.” As if to make the statement legit, he indicated the musician with a glass. Bass Player waved back in their direction.
“Oh, cool. Do you play any instruments?”
He smiled and shook his head sheepishly. “Nah. Jason’s the only musical one in the whole family. We think he was adopted.”
“Yeah, my family’s not very musically inclined, either,” she found herself unnecessarily sharing.
“I don’t get to town very often, so it’s a treat for me to see little bro jamming on bass.” He named a large city an hour away on the interstate where he lived. Leni knew the town well enough—she was born there and she was related to a good chunk of the town on her father’s side.
Whoever this guy was, he started chatting Leni up. And she found she really liked it. She didn’t catch his name, but he was a computer programmer who lived in the next city over. He’d gone to college here in town but moved to where his job is in the City.
Leni was just about to answer his questions about what she did when the group started playing. With their sound equipment and the tiny venue, it was really hard to maintain a conversation even if they were sitting right next to each other, so they lapsed into comfortable silence as the trio took the stage. The lights dimmed a bit in the house so that everyone could see Blue Moon River more easily.
They just moonlighted as a band, but they were actually really good. Leni was a raging Alison Krause and Union Station fan, and Blue Moon River could have given them a good run for their money. The bass, banjo, and lead singer/guitar player (bassist’s girlfriend, she later found out) wrote their own songs and also played gospel covers. Any of their songs would have done well on the “O Brother Where Art Thou?” soundtrack.
After 30 minutes, the band took five. Jason the bassist greeted a couple fans then made a beeline for the bar. “Hey, Erik, glad you could make it, man!” he said, shaking his brother’s hand and going in for a dude hug.
“Yeah, you know I wouldn’t miss your first gig in three months! This is a nice little place here.”
“Uh huh. Laura knows the owner and we’ve been trying to book a gig here for weeks.”
“Good set,” Leni piped up.
“Hey, thanks. You a friend of my brother’s?”
Erik jumped in. “Well, we kinda bumped into each other. Literally. I knocked the poor girl off her stool when I was trying to order a drink.”
Jason offered his hand. “Thanks for coming out–?” He was looking for a name and Leni quickly realized she’d never given one.
“Leni.” She clasped the proffered hand. “You really need to teach this brother of your some manners.”
Jason threw his head back and laughed heartily. “I’ve been telling our parents that for years, but no one ever listens to me.” Someone from behind was jockeying for his attention. “Hey, I gotta go mingle. Talk to you after the next set?”
“You bet,” Erik said.
After Jason went back to his fans, Erik turned back to Leni. “Leni? Like ‘Mice and Men’ Leni?”
“My real name’s Eleanor. My little brother could never pronounce it, so that’s what I go by.”
“I think Eleanor’s a pretty name.”
Holy shit! Is he actually flirting with me?!
“Thanks.” They started talking about family nicknames when the band finished their break and started their next set. Leni and Erik sat again in a cozy silence, enjoying the strings and heartfelt lyrics. It was not lost on Leni that Erik positioned himself closer to her, his hip just inches away from her.
From her vantage point, she was sitting just behind him enough to stare at him while he watched his brother’s band.
So far she couldn’t find anything not to like about Erik. From what she gathered, he was cute as hell, he loved music, had a great relationship with his family, had a steady job, he was funny…and he had yet to mention a girlfriend or wife. Through hooded lashes, h er eyes drifted down to his left hand. No signs of a wedding band. Erik caught her looking at him and he gave a quick wink before turning his head back to the stage.
Leni’s heart pounded in her throat. She could barely breathe. Jesus criminey, I am crushing on this adult male like some hormonal teenager! She did her damndest to concentrate on the band and enjoy the music, but it was almost impossible to do with him sitting so close to her and her heartbeat was almost choking her. She could feel her palms grow clamy and beads of sweat broke across her brow.
Though the half hour seemed to drag on forever, the second set was lovely. “Thank you guys! Come see us next month when we play in the City!” Laura announced into the mic.
The audience applauded, the house lights came back up and the usual indie music came piped through the sound system. People got up, chatted with the band, and started to leave. Blue Moon River signed programs, sold CDs and slowly began packing up their gear.
Leni wasn’t quite sure what to do. Erik would probably want to hang out with his brother and his brother’s girlfriend, but Leni didn’t want to just leave without saying good-bye. Or a little something more.
“Well,” she announced after she drained her second glass of wine, “I’d best be hitting the ol’ dusty trail.” It was a cheesy expression but it’d always been one of her favorites.
Erik had been figuring out his tab, but he looked up from his bill. “Are you really leaving?”
“Well, I…” I’m always so tired on Friday evenings. But I don’t think I’ve ever been more awake in my life.
The corner of his eyes crinkled into a smile. “If you’re even half as tired as I am, I totally understand.” He looked over at Jason, who was talking to a couple while striking the set. Lowering his head and murmuring to Leni he said, “Look, I know we just met and I know this has been pretty awkward this evening, but I’d like to hang out again. Can I give you my number?”
Holy crap! He wants to give me his number! Leni almost passed out due to lack of oxygen reaching her heart and brain. She subconsciously registered the fact he was giving her his number and not vice versa, giving her the power to contact him at her comfort level.
“I’m in town this weekend. I’ll be crashing at Jason’s and then with my folks. Can we get together for lunch tomorrow?”
“Oh!” The logical portion of Leni’s brain finally kicked in. “I…I have to work till three tomorrow.” She worked part-time at the mall doing retail. It didn’t pay jack shit, but it got her out of the house and she had really nice co-workers.
His face fell, but she quickly had an idea. “Would you be up for a walk in the afernoon, maybe? It’s supposed to be really nice tomorrow.”
He grinned. “I’d like that.” He gave her his number and Leni programmed it into her phone. “Do you text much?”
“I like texting.” That was the truth.
“OK, just shoot me a message when you can.”
“Got it.” Leni got off the stool and struggled into her jacket. Erik stood up as well.
“Can I walk you to your car? I have to stay and help pack up,” he explained.
She bit her lower lip. I’m parked out in the parking lot in the lot next to the building. It is well-lit out there, I drive a non-descript black car…She smiled. “Sure.”
They walked very slowly out to her car, talking about how good the show was and finding they both really enjoyed bluegrass music. All too soon, Leni said, “Well, here I am.” She hit the remote keyless entry, her lights flashed and she opened up her door.
She stood beside the door, ready to sit down. The car door provided a comforting physical barrier between them, and she was acutely aware of his height and the intent way he was looking at her. She felt a little like a trapped animal, and her pulse slammed into her veins making them throb.
“Promise you’ll call or text?” His face indicated he really did want her to call him.
She smiled brightly. “I will. I had a good time hanging out with yo-“
The words died in her lips because Erik angled in and gave her a soft, chase, quick kiss on the mouth.
I can’t remember the last time I was kissed. Holy shit!
He broke off the kiss, and she could swear his eyes got a little darker. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Leni’s knees gave out and she slid into the driver’s seat. Fumbling with the keys, she turned them in the ignition. She turned on the lights, hoping she was level-headed enough to drive all the way home.
He backed up and Leni eased out of the parking space, threw the car into drive, waved to Erik and drove away.
Holy. Mother. Of. God! If there was even the faintest shadow of a doubt if Erik liked her, he pretty well answered her question.
She gripped the steering wheel for dear life until her knuckles turned white. She turned the classical music station on to try and drown out the thoughts raging in her head.
It had been many, many, many years since a guy had so obviously hit on her. And oddly enough, the last time it happened was in a French café, though that was another story for another day.
She was absolutely exhausted when she got home. She cleaned her makeup off, brushed her teeth and slid into bed in less than five minutes. Before she drifted off to sleep, she impulsively sent one text.
Hey. It’s Leni. Just wanted to say I enjoyed meeting you tonight.
She set her phone on the nightstand. She took off her glasses and set her alarm clock when her phone vibrated. She picked it up and looked at it.
I had a lot of fun too. Can’t wait to see you tomorrow.
Leni couldn’t think of a better way to end the day.