Leo keeps pace with me as I round the house at a fast clip, headed for the woodshed and the parked Volvo fleet. He spreads his arms wide, breathing in the decisive nip in the late-morning air. I can see his breath fan out in front of me. “It’s Sunday.”
“That’s a total non sequitur, man.” I give him a look that says poor sod, the gates are down and the lights are flashing but the train isn’t coming. “What’s that got to do with coffee and hurrying the hell up?”
I roll my eyes behind his back before turning to Yann slouched against Leo’s car. “Zac and Magali left already?” I ask him accusingly, hands on my hips. Zac’s Jeep is nowhere to be seen.
Great. Should have sent Yann to corral down Leo. I’d probably be sitting at the café by now.
“They went ahead to get us a table for five,” Yann says distractedly, typing an entry into his phone’s agenda in all likelihood. He tosses it back into his messenger bag and tucks the strap over his chest before bending his tall frame, buckling up in the front passenger seat.
“Awesome,” I grit through my teeth. Not only is Yann riding shotgun, but now I won’t even have a say in choosing tables, and odds are I won’t have a good enough, unobtrusive angle to spy on Aurèle.
The corner of Leo’s mouth twitches as if a smile is trying to form, but he’s doing his best to suppress it. “Like I said, it’s Sunday.” He fucking starts singing, Don’t worry, be happy.
If looks could kill, Leo would be dead by now.
“Let’s get this show on the road,” I mutter sullenly. Opening the rear passenger door, I shove aside three bags of soil and an impressive number of brand-new seed trays—thank God for small favors or I would have been left holding Leo’s sprouts— buckle in, and slam it shut.
“Chill, man,” Leo says, giving me an amused look in the rearview mirror as he cranks the engine. “I’ll make it quick and painless. Caffeine injection coming in ten.”
“Make it five. You’re not the one who’ll be sitting next to him on the longest forty-nine minutes flight from Tremblant to Boston in recent history,” Yann says with a smirk in his voice. “I’d like to keep all of my fingers if you don’t mind.”
“Hilarious,” I grumble. I may or may not have snapped shut the lid of his laptop over his hands to reach a cup offered to him by a stewardess on a long-ago flight from Zurich. In my defense, I’d been deprived of my elixir of choice for thirteen hours straight at the time, due to unforeseen delays and missed connections and nary a coffee shop opened in the dead of night. Very uncivilized. Them. Not me.
I check my phone, but still no Harry. Bloody hell.
I’m out the door before Leo even cuts the engine and take C’est la Vie’s stairs two at a time. My glance flits around the terrace, but I can’t readily spot any strawberry-blonde heads. Then again, everyone’s bundled up in heavy coats, wearing woolen hats and gloves. And everyone’s sitting outside, enjoying cups, nevertheless. I shake my head. Only in Les Laurentides would anyone take a sunny day as balmy weather.
I spin in a slow circle searching. It’s the weekend, and with the weekly invasion of day-trippers and chalet owners, the place is more crowded than usual. Over the sea of heads, Magali waves me over before I can do a more thorough search. Unlike yesterday, Aurèle could be sitting inside like she did on Friday.
Zac motions with his head for me to join them, brandishing a metal carafe like a prized possession. Giving him a disgusted look, I put my index finger in my open mouth, fake gagging. The whole point of being here is supposedly to savor one last cup of this particular café’s specialty espresso. I made such a fuss, I’m not about to ruin my perfectly good excuse with a regular-blend coffee industrially brewed. I thumb in the general direction of the front counter. He rolls his eyes and waves me off as Yann and Leo make their way over to them.
A quick sweep through confirms that fuck, she’s not inside, either. I check my phone again while waiting for my order. Yes! Harry’s now connected to this WiFi, and she’s surfing the net.
Where the hell are you, Aurèle? I’d like to ask but quickly type in one big-ass pop-up bloom, instead: Hi! Are you and Harry having a good time?
I check out the terrace through the bay windows, looking for someone on a hot date with a computer. There is a god after all. I locate her four tables down in a straight line from ours, her back to us, facing the park. She wears an oversized black woolen hat pulled low over her ears and a glacier-blue fleece scarf wrapped a few times around her neck, but the long strands of hair escaping from underneath are definitely strawberry-blonde.
And already, I breathe easier.
I open our regular private chat window.
I’m not out of nowhere. I’m from somewhere. Big difference.
Clément hands over my alibi and I step out, cup in one hand, phone in the other, hard pressed not to detour and stare at her, face to face.
Better the back of her head than nothing at all, I suppose.
“Would one of you mind switching places?” I ask Magali and Zac, sitting side by side. That is, if we can call arms and other body parts all over each other sitting.
I almost feel sorry. Almost. But not quite. Desperation will do that to me.
Zac raises a brow in disbelief. “Why?”
Bloody hell. Why, indeed. I’d scratch my jaw but my hands are full.
“I’d like to face forward and drink in the view. You know, before I’m cooped up in a flying can of sardines hurtling through the sky at three hundred fifty kilometers per hour.” Brilliant, convincing, and somewhat truthful, if I do say so myself.
“This should be interesting,” Leo mutters into his mug, and Yann’s green eyes widen behind his lenses.
“Never bothered you before,” Zac argues, unmoving.
“Sure,” Magali says, talking over him while trying to wiggle out from under his arm, but Zac keeps her firmly by his side, effectively putting a stop to her efforts.
“You’re not going anywhere,” he says to her. “Don’t mind him. It’s just his caffeine withdrawal symptoms talking. Besides, his eyes are always glued to a screen anyway, so he can’t possibly miss any view.”
Well, shit. He has a point. My eyes beseech Magali in a last-ditch effort.
“But look at those sad puppy eyes,” Magali says, her head darting between the two of us. I knew she’d bite. She’s my new favorite person.
Zac shoots me a glare all Theo-like over Magali’s head. Ask me if I care, I’m ready to beg if I have to. I stare, unflinching.
Leo puffs out his cheeks in exasperation. “He’s been a pain in the arse all morning.” He rolls his eyes, crossing his arms over his chest. “Want mine?” he asks me pointedly from his perch at one end of the two little round bistro tables tucked together. Sandwiched as Leo is, in between three tables full, I won’t see a thing.
“Nope. Same difference.” I slide my tiny cup of dark ambrosia onto the table and tip my chin towards Zac. “So?”
“Here,” Yann offers them, getting up with alacrity before Zac can open his mouth and tell me to shove it where the sun never shines. “Take both our seats. Problem solved.”
Magali beams a smile, pulling Zac up by the hand. “See? Everyone’s happy,” she says to him and he follows without a single complaint, shaking his head at her before dropping a kiss on her temple.
I fist bump Yann before plopping down on the bistro chair vacated by Zac. “Thanks, man.”
Yann snorts, pushing his tortoise-shell glasses up his nose. “No need. I should be the one thanking Zac.”
“Really? If I didn’t mention today that you guys are weird, consider it done,” Magali deadpans.
“And I owe you two a solid.” Yann salutes them with his cup. “Otherwise, I’d have been stuck on a regional flight from Hell with his grouchy arse.”
“Nothing caffeine can’t cure.” Leo practically shoves my cup up under my nose. “Come on, man. Do us a solid and be done with it.”
“Appreciate your concern.” I salute them before swallowing my first sip, smacking my lips to a chorus of relieved sighs. Go figure. But then again, my addiction has been such a catchall excuse, you won’t see me complaining.
I stretch my legs out diagonal to the table, sighing contentedly, the view so much better from where I sit. Now if only Zac could move his newly appointed seat six inches or so to the left, it’d be a perfect one. As he’s whispering something in Magali’s ear with a wolfish grin tacked on his face, I wisely decide not to push the issue.
I crane my neck to the side instead and take a discreet peek at Aurèle. Hunched over Harry, she’s totally focused on her screen, as usual, unaware of her surroundings. And to be perfectly honest, I love that, for now, I’m the only one seemingly having an in with her… I pick up my phone, a slow grin crawling up my face as I read her latest comment.
I’ve been here for ages. Lost somewhere at the lab?
“With a little help from my friends,” I mumble under my breath, totally ignoring Zac pointing out to Magali that, as predicted, I don’t give a shit about the view.
Will wonders never cease? =) If not holed up in your lab, what are you up to on this lazy Sunday? Writing a letter, perhaps, like someone you know?
Writing a letter… It explains her lateness in booting up Harry, my only direct link to her, but not the electrifying flood of warmth those three little words of hers light up in me. I swallow back the smile that threatens.
Nope. Just chilling on a café’s terrace with some of my mates.
I have abso-fucking-lutely no idea. Christ. That really makes me wish to be over there already, if only to stop fudging around the truth at the drop of a dime, giving me less rope to hang myself with. Not taking any chances, I open a browser to go check on the weather channel but it takes forever, the café’s internet slower than slow right fucking now. My phone, unfortunately, doesn’t pack Lucie’s giga power and Lucie, unfortunately, doesn’t do compact like my phone and had to stay put in the car. I curse under my breath as I stare at my frozen screen, my palms growing sweaty. I should be typing a fluid reply to this innocuous question, like I’d normally do if I were in Boston.
“Hey, Yann? What’s the temp in Boston right now?” I ask him with some urgency, talking over their convo about Porter Airline and the fifteen-passenger regional jets used for our direct flight.
“Overcast and a balmy twenty-two degrees Celsius, or seventy-one point six degrees Fahrenheit, with a sixteen percent probability of precipitation upon time of landing.”
“Thanks, man. I owe you,” I say with heartfelt relief, my thumbs already flying over the keys.
“Since when does he need reassuring?” Zac says, completely misreading the reason for my question, but I don’t look up, too busy typing my reply.
“Since you’re not flying us back,” Yann deadpans.
With that one, Yann singlehandedly launches a discussion they all get engrossed into without requiring any input from me. I owe him another one. At this rate, I’ll owe him a kidney by the time we land.
Zac pilots his own twin-engine Piper Comanche, which is a pretty damn cool six-seater plane, and he used to fly us all over. But now, he’s more often than not talking house plans and home decor with Magali, both feet firmly on the ground.
Twenty-two Celsius, Olivier?!! They’ve let you out of the lab on such a gorgeous day to boot!!!!!! Program not responding… Get out from behind your screen this instant and get back to your other friends. And whatever is your sujet de l’heure under discussion. Enjoy the tropics for me! Ctrl-Alt-Del. @ bientôt.
Ctrl-Alt-Del? Shit. With her program not responding comment, using that chain of command means she’s forcing the program to close up, or in other words, she’s signing off. I type as fast as I can in case she disconnects completely.
Don’t go yet. Truth? I’d rather chat with you. Thanks to three of my mates, you can now ask me anything about wood screws versus nails. Even things you never knew you wanted to know.
Building a home…
My mind goes a mile a minute in a quantum leap to next summer. And wood screws and nails no longer sound as boring as I wrote, all of a sudden. I sigh longingly, looking at the tip of Aurèle’s cute hat covered head over Zac’s shoulder. Sign me up on the Domesticated List, please. I sigh once more, deflating a bit. For now, I’ll have to be content to stay put on the Waiting List.
See anything of interest?” Zac asks me drily.
I jerk back, wrenching my attention from Aurèle. “Nope,” I’m quick to deny, straightening from my slump. “I just thought someone looked familiar, that’s all.” A rush of heat spreads like wildfire on my cheeks that the wind chaffing at my skin has nothing to do with. Great. Just great.
Leo and Zac share a knowing look.
Oh, joy. Here it comes.
I fiddle with my cup and brace myself for a merciless ribbing that might even alert Aurèle. The guys can be kind of loud when it suits them. I should know. I’m one of them. Not to say, they’re not above walking up to her table to invite her over on my behalf, charmingly insistent.
They’ve done it before.
“Wow. You normally would have flown them back to Boston if you weren’t on call today?” Magali asks Zac, distracting his enquiring gaze away from me, wanting to confirm whatever Yann said to her just now, saving me in the nick of time. There goes my other kidney.
“We would have flown them back,” he says to her. One arm draped casually over the top of her mustard-yellow bistro chair, Zac crosses his ankles. “And that’s a big maybe. I want to be there for groundbreaking at the home site early tomorrow. Nice try, man.” He smirks at Yann over his mug, taking a sip of his no-frills, regular black coffee while the fingers of his other hand brush Magali’s arm in a slow back and forth, keeping her nestled to his side.
Upon witnessing their quiet intimacy, another shit load of envy hits me in the chest. In that moment, it’s not so much that I want Aurèle to be mine but that I want to be hers. Leo arches a questioning brow at me that I ignore by fiddling some more with my cup, watching my coffee swirl.
Don’t look at her.
I will my eyes to stay focused on the rich, dark color of what’s left of my espresso. “You’re pulling the plug now that we’re used to being chauffeured around?” Yann grumbles to Zac.
“Porter Airline has a direct flight from Tremblant to Boston, I’m sure you’ll recover well enough.” Zac rolls his eyes at Yann.
My gaze keeps straying in Aurèle’s general direction as I listen absently to the guys.
“Hell, I’ll drink to Porter,” Leo, our designated driver, says. “Saves me a trip to Montréal on the end of the weekend rush hour.” Leo and Magali clink their white and blue earthenware coffee mugs in complete accord. I’ve never been to Montréal yet, but according to them, pretty atrocious road conditions prevail in and around the city, so much so as to be the stuff of legends among the locals.
I take another slow sip of coffee. My phone wiggles on the table, buzzing with an incoming reply. My chest pings right along, and a goofy grin spreads on my lips as I pick it up. Yann gives me a sidelong glance, quirking a surprised brow that says, who’s this guy?
Can’t blame him. I usually scowl darkly and curse at my phone, in no hurry to pick it up. But then again, the only texts I get usually spell trouble with a capital T, or in my case, in binary codes gone haywire. When test running a program, the code that is hardest to debug is the code that you know cannot possibly be wrong and finding it fucking kills me every time.
I put my phone back down, unwilling to give myself away by my eagerness.
My fingers itch to unlock the screen, but I scratch my scruff instead, willing Yann’s attention away from me.
Resist. Resist. Resist. I repeat like a mantra.
“It’s really a neat city but you need to go there without a specific timetable, otherwise you’ll curse up and down,” Magali concurs with Leo. Fuck resistance. Resistance is futile. I nod in silent agreement like I know the fuck what they’re talking about, while discreetly sweeping my thumb over my screen, inching my phone away from the table and onto my thigh.
I look down.
“But, Yann, you really should come earlier next summer. The Montreal Jazz Fest starts at the end of June. You’d love it—”
Are you guys optioning for a remake of the Three Little Pigs?
I blame it on too much caffeine and not enough sleep, but I’m imagining them wearing pig suits and the resulting look on their faces. I slap my hand on the table, howling out an uncontainable bark of laughter loud enough that the conversation around me abruptly dies. I look up from my phone. All eyes are glued to mine.
“Uh… Email. Inside joke,” I mumble.
No one answers.
I slam back the remains of my espresso for countenance. I sit still, committing to not touching my phone for the next five minutes. Or, at the very least, until enough time has passed for me to go get a legitimate refill without raising suspicion. But instead, I fumble with the damn thing, sending it into orbit. Thankfully, Magali catches my phone just before it hits the floor deck and crashes to its untimely death.
I wipe my palms on my jeans before pocketing it with a sheepish look. “Good catch, thanks.”
“You like her like her, don’t you?” Magali asks me knowingly.
Is it that evident?
“Who?” I ask warily. If my ears had warmed earlier, now they’re on fucking fire.
She cups her hands over her mouth and stage whispers, “The girl behind me you keep peeking at.”
Shit, guess it is.
“No! Yes. Never mind.” I rub the back of my neck. Is the sun getting warmer?
Zac checks behind his shoulder for the most likely suspect, making no bones about his intentions, and zeroes in on Aurèle right away. Great. I’m ready to jump him if he so much as moves a toe in her direction.
“Go and say hi,” Magali encourages me.
“No way.” I send her a quick, panicked look. Been there, done that. Anyway, if Aurèle gives me any real crumb of attention this time around, I think I’ll be jealous of myself; the one who’s here, not the one who’s in Boston. How fucked up is that? Worse yet, knowing me, it’s more than likely I’ll give myself away in five seconds flat by tripping all over my tongue, saying something I shouldn’t, letting on that I know more than I should. Might as well come out and be done with it. Hi, I’m Olivier. But hey, don’t mind me. I’m not really here. I’m in Boston right now having a private chat with you under—almost, but not quite—false pretenses. Yeah, like that would go over well.
“Hey, maybe I know her. Do you want me to pass a note?” Magali says, her silver eyes flashing with a playful glint.
The cold wind buffeting the terrace does nothing to cool down my flaming cheeks. Hoping to disappear from sight, I promptly pull my charcoal-grey beanie down so low it now hides half my face.
“Shit,” I mutter, slouching low in my chair. “Magali, do you really know her?” I whisper anxiously.