“Hey! Glad you could make it!” exclaimed Henriette, enveloping her younger friend Ela in a hug and wafts of sea breeze fragrance before giving her the customary kiss on both cheeks.
Ela readjusted her glasses, amused at how exuberant Henriette still was at thirty-four.
“Should we go in?” Henriette prompted, opening the door with a flourish.
Ela stepped gingerly into the exhibition space. “Beautiful place,” she remarked, noting how the sunbeams streaming through the large glass wall glinted off the rough, irregular surfaces of bronze-cast works.
“Coffee, tea?” Henriette asked as Ela removed her scarf and trench coat.
“Tea. But I want to look at the sculptures first.”
“See if you can spot mine,” Henriette called after her.
A few moments later the bell on the door tinkled, and Pamfil, a tall, dark-eyed man with a mop of wavy black hair entered the gallery, his eyes on Henriette.
“Hello, Ettie,” he said with a smile, taking a cursory look around the gallery. Ela was by now at the other end of the room, engrossed in a sculpture depicting a hybrid between the torso of a woman and the trunk of a tree.
“Hello, Phil,” Henriette returned nonchalantly.
“How are you doing?” Pamfil asked.
“Came to see the show with a friend of mine,” Henriette responded. She grabbed a tea mug and headed with Pamfil in tow to where Ela was photographing a work displaying a heart squeezed under a tall stack of books.
“Reminds me of Har,” Ela said, taking the mug from Henriette. “He’s spending more time with books than with people.”
“He does,” Pamfil interjected carelessly, throwing the remark in Henriette’s direction.
Henriette gave him a sly smile.
“You know Haralambie?” Ela asked, turning to the new visitor with curiosity.
“Heard this and that about him,” Pamfil responded, his words slipping out slowly, carefully as he appraised Ela’s soft chestnut eyes and thick eyebrows, her dark ringlets of hair, and her petite body, inviting in a flattering dress and waist-length cardigan. His eyes lingered a moment too long on her breasts.
“Sorry, where are my manners?” Henriette blurted. “Ela, this my friend Pamfil. Pamfil, this is Ela, my very good friend.”
The two guests shook hands, their faces lit up by smiles.
Henriette looked around the room, pretending to ponder the exhibition. Her gaze returned to the heart sculpture. “So you recognized one of my pieces,” she said to Ela, while the latter sipped her hot, minty brew. “Here’s another,” she went on, pointing her guests to a Janus-faced flattened head kissing a woman on each side.
Pamfil spent a moment taking in the work. “Cute. You must have really enjoyed shrinking this guy’s brain,” he teased.
“Is that revenge on someone from your past?” Ela asked.
Henriette bypassed her friends’ last remarks. “How’s your tea, Ela?”
“Girls, I have to bow out,” Pamfil said. “It was nice seeing you, Ettie.”
Henriette couldn’t restrain a smirk.
Pamfil put out a hand to Ela. “Nice meeting you, Ela.”
When it was time for them, too, to leave, Ela turned to her friend. “That guy, Pamfil . . .” she started. “He’s rather handsome.”
“He is,” Henriette affirmed.
“How do you know him?” Ela asked.
“We met at a party.”
“Do you like him?”
“He’s okay,” Henriette responded, a little disconcerted.
“I’d like to meet him again,” Ela said.