“I don’t particularly like the rain,” she said absently, squeezing my fingers. “But I do love the way the air smells before a storm, don’t you?” I nodded in agreement, enjoying the normality of sitting near her, watching as heavy rain overfilled the storm sewers and began to puddle in the street. Not another living soul was visible, leaving the two of us alone in a watery landscape, its colors muted by overcast skies.
“Jean-Pierre never got used to all the moisture,” she murmured. “Especially the times when the restaurant’s outdoor oyster bar was rained out. ‘This is bullsheet!’ he used to complain. ‘C’est des conneries!’”
“You haven’t said too much about him,” I ventured, hoping I hadn’t steered our talk in an unsettling direction.
“I didn’t know…” Her hesitant voice faded away before she turned to me. “I thought it might make you uncomfortable.”
“Why would you think that? I’ve told you about my exes.”
“Yes, but you’ve also had a lot more to talk about.”
She looked a bit distressed, and I thought for a moment she might change the subject to something less painful. Instead, she sipped her tea, looked out onto the sopping streetscape, and said, “I didn’t only lose my husband on that terrible night. I also lost my business partner and best friend.”
Moisture welled in her eyes, but she brushed it away with the back of her hand. “I didn’t realize how much I relied on Jean-Pierre until he was gone. I always thought of myself as an independent person, but after he died, I felt so…incompetent. I remember bursting into tears because I didn’t know our trash pick-up schedule. One day for recycled material, another day for household trash, and still another time for lawn clippings. He took care of all that, like he took care of the cats, and so many other things.”
The Frenchman, it seemed, had left some sizable shoes to fill.
“You know the worst thing about losing a loved one?” I asked, not really knowing what I’d say next. Her eyes found mine and she blinked back another tear. “All the things you longed to say but always held back, not willing to risk your feelings. Now there’s no more time, and the words in your heart will go unsaid.”
“That’s beautiful,” she said, pausing to study her lap. She swallowed hard before asking, “Ian, do you ever see your old lover? The married woman who broke your heart?”
“Only in dreams,” I replied, as my chest constricted. “She died in a car accident several years ago.”
Our eyes met again for a second or two, and as her expression shifted to one of lustful contemplation, I read her unspoken invitation without the slightest difficulty. Without saying another word, she rose from her chair and clasped my hand, leading me upstairs. Not to my doom, as I once predicted, but to the pleasures of her bed where, on my final night in rain-soaked Virginia, Shelby took me home.