Poets, Artists, Lovers: A Novel (PAL), Serialized. #22 (“We met at the beach . . .”)

Poets, Artists, Lovers: A Novel, by Mira Tudor

Onward with the twenty-second installment of my serialized novel Poets, Artists, Lovers (PAL). We’re now about eighty percent in.

You have all the previous installments HERE.

And here’s the whole novel, with the various Amazon links and a book description.

Please note that these posts go online on Saturdays and Wednesdays, and I will then take them down a month afterward. Enjoy!

#22: “We met at the beach . . .”

TWELVE

Constanța, July 1993, ten years and three months earlier. Twenty-five-year-old Pamfil met sixteen-year-old Maria as he was waiting by an ice cream stand one evening. With her long sandy hair, colored golden by the sun here and there, her pale-blue eyes, dazzlingly beautiful in her tanned face, and her easygoing attitude, Maria quickly caught his interest, and they naturally fell into small talk.

“So where are you headed this evening?” Pamfil asked as they walked away together. He took a large bite of his vanilla treat.

Maria nibbled at the swirling top of her cone. “I’m supposed to meet a cousin in . . .” She checked her watch. “In ten minutes.”

“Here?”

“Yes, right by that corner store.”

“Well, let’s go there, then.”

“Okay,” said Maria, smiling at the tall, dark stranger. “And where were you headed?”

“Oh, I thought I’d go to the amusement park.”

Maria leaped with joy. “Vacation Village? Good idea!”

Pamfil smiled gently. “Let’s go there, then.” A few minutes later, Maria’s cousin, a fourteen-year-old, showed up, and the three of them were off to the Vacation Village. They treated themselves to the joys of the Ferris wheel and the bumper cars before riding the kikicar—a minitram with half-height doors—through the entire Mamaia resort.

As the kikicar rattled in the night, the fourteen-year-old talked away, animated, and the more she prattled on, the more the space between Maria and Pamfil became charged with energy. When they crossed a poorly lit area of the resort, Pamfil slowly, tentatively, stretched his legs toward Maria’s, touching her calves with his own. She sat frozen, trying to hide the quivers inside.

Maria’s cousin was just as excited. “And this guy I liked, when I asked him what a kiss was,” she said, “he responded, ‘Allow me to do it, so you can find out.’ I was so embarrassed!”

Pamfil darted a quick smile at Maria and then looked intently at her cousin as he casually pulled his legs back. The younger teenager gabbled on. Suddenly she looked straight at Pamfil. “I now write poetry,” she announced proudly.

Pamfil shined a gentle smile at Maria, nodding his head slightly in her cousin’s direction. He then revealed some of his own experiences, thinking they would go over big with the young teenager.

“I, too, used to love poetry at your age.”

“Did you write any poems?” the girl asked eagerly.

“Of course. In four-line stanzas. I still remember one of them. It went something like this.” Winking at Maria, he declaimed: “Brown eyes have a way / To steal all hearts away / Blue eyes like clear skies / Inebriate like wines.”

Maria watched Pamfil interact with her cousin and was touched at the attention he was showering on her. She was also still aflutter over their own stolen moment in the darkness. As it was past midnight, she suggested with a smile that they take her cousin home.

Pamfil smiled back. “We can meet later if you want,” he proposed. Like Maria, he wanted the night’s adventure to continue, not knowing yet where or how.

“Okay. Same ice cream stand?” Maria tried to sound relaxed but couldn’t quite conceal her jubilation.

“Same ice cream stand,” Pamfil repeated, the smile opening up on his face.

They met half an hour later. Maria was wearing the same sixties-style square-neck dress from her mother’s wardrobe, falling down to her knees in rounded folds, and a denim jacket. She waved to Pamfil before she crossed the street to meet him.

When she was at an arm’s length, he reached for her hand and asked her where she wanted to go. Maria suggested they just walk randomly. Eventually they strolled toward Mamaia again, through streets teeming with people, some dressed up for the night and others in bermudas, T-shirts, and beach slippers, many of them enjoying some beers or a meal at one of the restaurants in that section of the city.

Pamfil and Maria stopped at an outdoor fast-food place for a drink and a chance to get to know each other better, but before they could start a lengthier chat, they found themselves listening to the instrumental beginning of a song they both liked—and welcomed. Pamfil held his palm open to Maria, who clasped it gingerly. They started dancing right there, next to the empty tables and a waiter watching them with warm eyes.

During the slow intro, Maria’s heartbeat quickly accelerated. She gazed, lost, over his shoulder, as their bodies faced each other, barely moving. Then, when the singer started the first verse, Pamfil gently gripped Maria’s bent forearms, drawing her a little more toward him and calming her with his closeness before grazing her lips with his and kissing her softly. Their dance felt light and much too short. When it was over, they detached themselves from each other slowly, as if to prolong their tactile conversation a little more.

“Should we pay?” Pamfil asked, shaking Maria from her trance. She quickly pulled herself together and offered to give him her share. Pamfil waved a no, settled the bill, and took her hand. “Let’s go someplace where we can dance.”

“A disco?”

“Or maybe a snack bar by the beach.”

“Sounds good,” Maria said, her eyes downcast. When she looked at him again, a smile bloomed in her heart.

For the next hour or so they walked down the promenade, past small restaurants with TV screens, stopping here and there to glance at a live soccer game and the news in their quest for a place with its TV set to MTV. When they found it, in a side street where they had a late-night—or early-morning—dinner, MTV was playing the video clip of a popular current rock ballad. Pamfil stepped behind Maria, placed his hands on her shoulders, and started swaying from side to side, a little clumsily at first, and then smoothly in larger movements in sync with the music and Maria’s body.

“So what music do you listen to?” she asked when they resumed their stroll.

“I’m more like a sixties and seventies man than anything else. But I appreciate many genres,” he replied.

Maria gave him a good-humored smile. “And have the haircut of none,” she said, tickled, looking at his bountiful mane of dark hair.

Pamfil gave a small laugh. “I did have the bowl-shaped haircut of a depeșar once,” he said, referring to the style favored by Romanian fans of Depeche Mode in the early nineties.

“With your wavy hair? Ha ha. Also wore pointy-toed boots and wide-leg jeans?”

“Now and then,” he said, a little out of his element. “I guess I’m more than just one thing, really. Did you expect me to be firmly in one camp or another? A rocker or a depeșar?” he added, a smile playing on his lips. “So which camp are you in?” he asked earnestly.

“I like to be my own invention,” she answered with a ready smile.

“I like strong girls,” Pamfil pronounced in a level tone before turning his gaze back to her. “And what does this strong girl like? In music, in life?” he ventured as they walked in step, side by side.

“Well, wouldn’t you like to know!” Maria responded, decidedly giggly.

“Yes, well, I’m rather curious about people and things that interest me.”

“Hmmm,” Maria voiced playfully.

They were now walking by the edge of the beach.

“Shall we?” He stretched out his arm, inviting her to step on the sand. Shortly afterward, sandals in their hands, they were attuned to the waves, watching them come in and drown music and noise, feeling them leap around their legs, pushing and pulling at the sand between their toes.

In a moment of exaltation Pamfil turned to face Maria and hugged her tightly. Maria froze again, as she had a habit of doing in Pamfil’s overpowering presence, and then, slowly, softened in his arms, abandoning herself to his embrace. They began to kiss again, finding together a place of aching joy, soulful warmth, and utter relaxation. When they pulled apart after a few long minutes, they looked at each other stunned by how good their bodies felt together. They stood quiet for a moment and then shared another long kiss, both of them surprised, again, at how they were reacting to each other.

They were now energized, so they took another walk along the edge of the water, bursting into sprints—and resting into hugs—here and there, until they came upon a cliff jutting into the sea. They climbed it sprightly, eager to enjoy the sea from a different vantage point.

They sat down there side by side for a while, knees brought up to their chests, as the sounds and smells of the splashing surf and each other’s presence suffused their minds, bodies, and souls with both intensity and rapture. Eventually, Pamfil leaned over to Maria with a serious look on his face and caressed her cheek with the back of his hand. Feeling the energy drain out of her, she kept her hands around her knees and looked at Pamfil hesitantly. He placed his left hand over her right to reassure her, but he managed to appear hurried and bold: Maria could already see his hand on her knee and above. Pamfil, however, didn’t touch her knee. Instead he gently detached her fingers from their grip, took her palm in his, and lay down holding her hand in his, thus coaxing her to lean back next to him. A whole canopy of stars unfolded before their eyes.

Maria was, nevertheless, very tense now. She tried to enjoy Pamfil’s closeness and the beauty of feeling surrounded by a whole vast universe but only felt her fast-beating heart and the cold, so she withdrew her hand and pulled her jacket tight around her, trying to loosen up—which she couldn’t: she only trembled more. Eventually, after a few long, uncomfortable moments, she sat up and ran her hands along her calves, as if to take control of her body. She was about to suggest they leave when Pamfil, intent on warming her up, wrapped his left arm around her shoulders and started rubbing her left arm. She lowered her head toward her knees again, this time relaxing into his touch. Pamfil, however, felt his gesture wasn’t tender enough and presently withdrew his hand, pushed it against the ground, and got to his feet. “Let’s go.”

Maria got up as well. She brushed the dust off the back of her skirt, took off her jacket, shook it with both hands, and then flicked it clean with her right hand. She was mad at herself, thinking she looked like she had yielded too soon, so when they were ready to leave, she casually put her hands in her pockets. It was now four in the morning. Pamfil walked Maria to her aunt’s home, said goodbye with a quick brush of her forearm, and disappeared into the night.

*

Present day. Eleven summers later, at the end of June 2004, Pamfil met Maria again at one of Anca’s parties.

“Maria?” Pamfil asked, his eyes straining, when he stepped into the living room.

“Pamfil?” Maria mimicked. “By the way, I go by Marie now.”

“Marie,” Pamfil said wistfully, wearing a smile as his gaze lingered for another moment on her long, dark blonde hair with honey highlights, styled in large rolling curls, and the snug violet shift dress elegantly accented with a Murano bead necklace. “How do you know Anca?” he asked, looking into Marie’s luminous blue eyes, now set off by kohl and mascara as well as by her lightly tanned face.

“We were very good friends in high school,” Marie said.

“You know each other?” Anca asked, stepping in.

“We met at the beach . . .” they both started.

“In 1993,” Pamfil said.

“The year you discovered Woodstock,” Marie said to Anca, “after teaching those kids English.”

Anca smiled.

“She taught some ten-year-olds English,” Marie explained to Pamfil. “They were really cute. Came every morning at eight bleary-eyed and left with sparkly smiles. Anca had a videotape and cassettes. It was really interesting for them.”

“How many were they?” Pamfil asked.

“Ten. Half of them came at eight, and the other half at ten. Anca was a great teacher,” Marie said. “I sat in on their classes. I can’t believe she spent so much time away from teaching.”

“So you’ve been entrepreneurial ever since you were a little girl,” Pamfil said, smiling at Anca.

“Hardly that,” Anca said.

“She’s designing postcards now, among other things,” Pamfil said.

“You are?” Marie inquired politely.

“Yes, I’m doing postcards of Romania with several photos from different places on each card.”

“And where are you selling them?” Marie asked.

“Only in Bucharest for now, but I plan to distribute them elsewhere as well.”

“Sounds good,” Marie said with a smile.      

“And you, what are you doing these days?” Pamfil asked with an unsuppressed grin.

“I’m a market researcher,” Marie responded. “I work long hours, but it’s a good job,” she commented. “You?”

“I still play violin,” Pamfil responded. “It’s a good job,” he added wryly.

“Do you get to travel a lot?” Marie asked.

“I do. What about you?”

“I go to Austria to ski in the winter, and to the beach here, in Bulgaria, and in Greece in the summer. And I squeeze in some city breaks when I can. Two, three days at a time. It’s all my schedule allows for. I often work on the weekends as well.”

“And you live in Bucharest?” Pamfil asked.

“No, in Cluj.”

Just then Daria played a Celine Dion song.

“May I have this dance?” Pamfil asked, extending a hand to Marie. He pulled her gently to the center of the room.

Daria lifted her eyes from the computer screen and winked at Pamfil. Midway through the song Vlad walked up to her. “Care to dance?” he asked, his face all serious.

“Give me one second,” Daria said, cueing up another song. Then she gave Vlad her hand.

“Remember the video?” Marie asked Pamfil after she had danced in silence with him the previous song, the two of them smiling and looking in each other’s eyes.

“Who doesn’t?” Pamfil said, smiling at the memories. “The nineties. The era of the supermodels: Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford. They’re all about my age.”

“When were you born?” Marie asked, tucking strands of hair behind her ears as Pamfil held her by the small of her back.

“In ‘67,” Pamfil answered with a smile. “I’m thirty-six. Will be thirty-seven in August. And you?”

“I’m twenty-seven,” Marie responded. “Same age as Anca. We were both born in ‘77.” She looked toward the computer, where Vlad was fiddling with the playlist. “Whom did you like best?” she then asked Pamfil. “Of the supermodels.”

“Oh, Linda Evangelista and Naomi Campbell.” He searched her eyes. “When in ‘77 were you born? What month?”

“April,” Marie said. “The month of Venus, when everything blossoms,” she added with a smile.

Pamfil smiled back.

Vlad started a Lara Fabian song.

“I will die in your arms of dehydration if they continue with slow songs,” Marie said, keeping a straight face.

Pamfil chuckled and took her by the hand. “Let’s see what Anca has in the kitchen.”

They found some elderflower cordial in the fridge. Pamfil poured each of them a glass.

“Mmm, good,” Marie said, after pulling up a chair and sitting down to enjoy her drink. “But how come they still had elderflowers to make it? It’s July!”

“Anca keeps them in the freezer in vacuum bags and makes cordial all year long.”

“I guess she must really like it,” Marie said, amused.

“Yes, and we do too,” Pamfil said, searching her blue gaze again. “Want something to eat as well?” he then asked, looking into the fridge.

“What does she have?”

“Not much. But there’s monk’s stew. Have you had it? It’s very good.”

“Yes, I know. Lots of veggies. Let me try it,” she said, looking at Pamfil’s tall figure bent double as he rummaged through the fridge.

He got out the stew, ladled some for Marie into a deep plate, and heated it in the microwave. “I also have melon and watermelon,” he said, sitting down. “Are you still thirsty?” he asked with his lopsided smile when she finished her drink.

Marie chuckled.

“You can have my cordial if you wish,” Pamfil said with a playful look in his eyes.

“You mean Anca’s,” Marie said.

Pamfil laughed. The microwave clinked, and he gave Marie the stew.

Marie took a small spoonful.

“How is it?” Pamfil asked.

“Divine! I can taste the eggplant. I love to use it in stews,” Marie said. “It’s salty, though. Can I really have the cordial?”

“Go ahead,” Pamfil said.

“Okay.” Marie drank half the glass.

“So how come you’ve never visited Anca before?” Pamfil asked as Marie tucked into her food.

“Oh, I have visited her before,” Marie said. “Not very often, but I have. Sometimes we collaborate with market research companies here.”

Pamfil studied her Murano glass necklace. “You’ve been to Murano?”

Marie touched her necklace. “Yes. And loved it. Venice is so sad and yet so beautiful.”

Pamfil put a bottle of chilled Prosecco on the table. He then looked into a cupboard and promptly produced a bottle of crème de cassis, blackcurrant liqueur.

“Are you making Kir Royale?” Marie asked in between mouthfuls.

“Yes!” Pamfil exclaimed with enthusiasm. “Your talk of Venice had me thinking of Prosecco, and then of Kir Royale.”

“I love it, but somehow after I drink it, I get very tired. Different from when I drink wine.”

“Really? All alcohol has the same effect on me,” Pamfil said. “Taste is all that’s different.”

“Maybe you don’t know yourself well enough,” Marie said.

“How so?”     

“Maybe you’re not paying enough attention to how you’re feeling,” Marie offered. “But we’ll leave the philosophical discussions for another time.”

“Yes, better,” Pamfil said. “So, do you want some Kir Royale?”

“Yes, please.”

Pamfil made the cocktails.

“What are we drinking to?” Marie asked as they clinked glasses.

“Venice,” Pamfil said.

To be continued . . .

Poets, Artists, Lovers: A Novel (PAL), Serialized. #12 (“as if it [the snow] were sprinkled with diamond dust”)

Poets, Artists, Lovers: A Novel, by Mira Tudor

Today’s post is the twelfth installment of my serialized novel Poets, Artists, Lovers (PAL).

You have all the previous installments HERE.

And here’s the whole novel, with the various Amazon links and a book description.

Please note that these posts go online on Saturdays and Wednesdays, and I will then take them down a month afterward. Enjoy!

#12: “as if it [the snow] were sprinkled with diamond dust”

Present day, almost four years later. “Let’s go to Moieciu this weekend,” Anca said to Marcel one evening in November 2001. They were lounging on the bed watching a movie.

“Okay, let’s,” Marcel said, his attention focused on the action of the thriller on TV.

“And let’s invite Lis and Ettie as well,” Anca added.

“Let’s.”

They decided to go to the Prahova Valley again, the default weekend destination for many Bucharesters. This time Anca and Marcel picked the traditional mountain village of Moieciu de Sus (“Upper Moieciu”), a village some three hours’ drive from Bucharest, set between two mountains—Bucegi and Piatra Craiului—at some 1,100 meters altitude (3,600 feet).

The four friends arrived there to a boat-shaped settlement, its slanting sides covered in a blanket of snow that flickered invitingly in the mid-morning sun. They left their bags in their rooms at the guesthouse, packed their cameras in their backpacks, and went on a pleasant three-hour hike to Bisericuța (“Little Church”) Peak, a 1,322-meter-high plateau crowning a picturesque hill off the main road of the rural community. 

Anca wrote a poem about it, “Snow in Upper Moieciu,” waxing lyrical about crystals of snow crunching under their feet like so many tiny jewels; the warp and weft of post-and-rail fences surrounding log cabins and haystacks; and the sunlight flaring through scattered fir trees, whipping the snow, making it look as if it were sprinkled with diamond dust.

“Good, I’m all covered in mud now,” Alice said after Henriette lent her a hand to help her get up.

“How did you fall?” asked Anca. She was coming down the hill behind the sisters with Marcel when Alice slid on a slippery patch of wet ground—which was to be expected: she thought she could brave the challenges of the trip in running shoes.           

“I simply glided down,” Alice said, as she walked away from the path to clean her hands with some snow. “But I love how my muscles feel,” she added with a smile as she rejoined the group.

“My stomach is growling,” Marcel said, taking long strides in his sturdy high-ankle hiking boots. “I can’t wait to dig into those steaks.”

“Defeats the whole purpose of climbing up here,” Henriette said. Her tone was cheerful, but she was partly serious too. She liked to pick on Marcel that way.

“I’ve also brought beer,” Marcel said with a smirk.

“I wish there were some way to do this again,” Henriette put in as they approached the village down in the valley.

Marcel stopped to take a candid snapshot of Anca. “You sound like a child wanting to go down the slide again,” he said to Henriette. “No pun intended, Lis, but you could have gotten better shoes.”

“Well, they don’t fit me well anymore. I’ve gained weight.”

“It happens,” Marcel said congenially. “I suggest we go eat.” Marcel held out a hand to Anca. She grasped it and then reached into the right pocket of his jeans to pull him to her. He gave her a kiss.  

They were at the guesthouse in another half an hour, and soon after that in the kitchen for lunch. As they had traveled together in the past, the wheels of working together were well greased, and they fell into their tasks easily. Anca boiled coarsely ground cornmeal; Henriette made shepherd’s bulz for everyone, molding polenta into rounded lumps around pieces of soft sheep’s cheese aged in fir tree bark; and Marcel grilled the bulz balls, which they ate with fried eggs.

Then they resumed their cooking, Marcel stepping to the grill to make pork collar steaks, Anca julienning potatoes for French fries, Alice cutting strips of pickled gogoșari bell peppers, and Henriette slicing a drum of cow’s cheese, smoked with oak chips, which they had bought at a roadside stall on their way to Moieciu, together with the sheep’s cheese.

*

A few months later, in March 2002, Anca and Alice were taking a stroll together through Cișmigiu Park, a place filled at that time of the year with hyacinths, daffodils, and pansies, when Alice brought into the discussion her favorite topic of conversation: Henriette.

“She spends virtually all her free time sculpting,” Alice said. “She’ll end up hurting her back from it—like Silvia with her cello.” She glanced at people buying cotton candy.

“Doesn’t she get tired?” Anca asked, her hazel-green eyes glinting in the soft spring light. “I make the same mistake of working almost every day, but at least I stop around eight, nine o’clock.”

“I do too,” Alice said with a smile, “but she’s worse.” She stooped to take some photos of a bed of colorful pansies. “She often sculpts until eleven or midnight.”

“What is she working on now?” Anca asked, her eyes on Alice’s slightly heavy hips dressed in black-and-white striped denim pants.

“Breasts,” Alice answered, crouching to get a better view of the flowers.

“Breasts?”

Alice stood up again. “She’s making one pair for each decade.”

“Decade?”

“They’re made to suggest transformation over the course of a lifetime. So she starts with the buds of a preteen, and then she does them at twenty, thirty, and so on, ending with the greatly drooping breasts of a ninety-year-old,” Alice explained while she did a few side bends to stretch.

“It’s an interesting concept,” Anca said, her gaze moving unconsciously to her friend’s bust, which seemed fuller than usual and pushed up, indicating a seriously padded bra.

“What can you say, right?” Alice snorted, amused that her friend was eyeing her chest.

They resumed their walking, heading now down a plane tree alley.

“I’ve never seen the breasts of a ninety-year-old,” Anca remarked, amused.

“Alice Neel painted herself naked at eighty,” Alice said, looking at the mottled bark of the trees. “The point being that in this youth-fixated Western world we don’t realize how invisible the human body becomes after a certain age. When I first saw two naked seventy-five-year-olds making love in a movie and enjoying their bodies together at the edge of the sea, I was shocked. And I had seen Alice Neel’s paintings and other images like that.”

“Such as?” Anca asked.

“Vanitas images, sculptural groups mostly, and then Dürer, Rodin, Otto Dix . . .” Alice responded, gazing into the distance at people pushing strollers and kids running about in a sandy play area.

“But isn’t she objectifying women if she’s showing only a fetish part of their bodies?” Anca asked, eyeing an elderly man handling an old bellows camera set on a tripod.

“I’ve thought of that too,” Alice said, taking a photo of the man and his subject. “She says she might do the whole body at some point. But I think those images would be too powerful and would take away from the emotional strength women get as they get older.”

“That’s true,” Anca said. She looked at kids on the playground swinging on monkey bars. “But on the other hand, if you show only the breasts, you don’t convey the notion of psychological strength, either.”

“Which is why I suggested she do the hands as well,” Alice said.

Anca smiled. “On the breasts?”

Alice gave a congenial laugh and invited Anca to a beer at the restaurant in the center of the park.

“I like that you found a way to Ela,” Anca said once they received their orders.

“Yeah, Ela . . .” Alice mused, cradling the glass in her hands. “I simply share with her what it feels like to be active. Remind her what you and I are living for, in the hope that the dialogue—or monologue—will awaken in her memories and the desire to get out of her shell,” Alice said.        

“Do you still write to her every day?” Anca asked.

Alice glanced up at her friend. “I do,” she said. “She needs to know that we’re thinking of her,” she added, taking a mental picture of Anca as she was then, with her perfect gamine cut and her dappled green eyes set off so beautifully by the dark mascara. “And she needs to be reminded of who she is.” She looked away, out the window, at two lovers walking along with their arms curled against each other. “She’s hurting because Phil wanted her before he knew who she was,” she said eventually.

“But that’s the definition of infatuation,” Anca blurted rather loudly, putting her mug down with a thunk that surprised them both. “Or does she imagine that Phil loved her?” she then asked more quietly.

“I have a feeling that she’s imagining she loves him. Loves, not loved,” Alice said.

“Hasn’t she heard of sexual attraction?” Anca said in a small voice.

Alice smiled slyly by way of a response.

*

“I heard I’m not invited to your next party,” Pamfil said, strolling by Anca’s side after running into her downtown one afternoon in June 2002.

“Well, you know how it is, jealous boyfriends and all,” Anca said, lifting a corner of her lips puckishly.

Pamfil didn’t respond to the jab in any way. They walked a few steps in silence. “How long have you two been together?”

“Nine years.”

“Nine years?” Pamfil reacted. He ran his gaze unconsciously over her slim body and then gave her a pasted grin.

Anca smiled at his uneasiness around her.

“I remember when we met at the beach. You were so young and beautiful with your long black hair,” Pamfil said as they stopped at a crossing. “So, you won’t invite me to your party?” he asked after a pause, as they started crossing the street.

“Sorry, Marcel has taken you off the guest list for now,” Anca said with a half-laugh. “He’s just being ridiculous,” she added once they were back on a sidewalk.

“Will I see you at my place?” Pamfil asked, casually reaching out for her hand and giving it a squeeze. He tilted his head at her. “Party is next Saturday.”

Anca smiled despite herself but then quickly regained her sangfroid. “So soon? It’s been a month already?”

“My cherries are ripe,” Pamfil said with a smile, releasing Anca’s hand. “Next Saturday’s theme is cherries and sangria. I give you the cherries, and you all make the desserts. I make the sangria.”

“Sounds like fun,” Anca said, slowly recovering from Pamfil’s touch. She waved goodbye and walked away. Then she turned around. “Remember not to come to my party,” she called, the jocular note in her voice disguising her concern.

“Will you come to mine?” he asked, his tone almost entreating.

Anca stifled a laugh. “I’ll have to convince Marcel.”

Pamfil watched her with twinkling eyes for a moment. “If you’re coming, stop by this week to get some cherries.”

To be continued . . .