my spirit could express itself in unfettered freedom.
Stella is early again. I picture a manicured red talon hovering over the intercom button, pushing insistently—my image of her.
The incessant buzzing, like her seductive charm, ultimately prevails, forcing me from the shower. I grab a towel and run to unlock the door.
“C’mon up,” I sing into the speaker, trying to make my tone cheery—the exact opposite of how I feel.
I hurriedly scoop up pages of The Toronto Star and tidy the coffee table, but there’s no time to blot wet footprints I’ve left on the dark hardwood floor. Damn! I hate mornings like this, but I’m not about to grab another towel and play housekeeper with her arriving any second.
I barely make it back to the bathroom when the front door opens.
“Good morning, Theo—hope you made coffee.”
“Help yourself,” I call through the door and quickly switch on the hairdryer to drown out any further chatter.
Thankfully, one of the blessings I inherited from my Greek mother is curly black hair— lately showing a little gray, but I keep it cropped in a corporate style and blow-dry it in minutes. I’m not so fortunate, however, when it comes to shaving my sensitive skin, a trait inherited from my English father.
I shake the last of the water droplets from my curls; make another quick pass with the dryer, and then I’m on to lathering my face. But the brief moments spent recalling my parents makes me grieve their passing.
Ten years ago, Mother decided she wanted to return to Greece for a visit, and managed to pry Father from his golf game long enough to accompany her. Who would have guessed he’d like the country so much he’d want to stay?
They sold their Rosedale estate, flew off to Athens and never looked back. In true fidelity, they passed within a week of each other last year leaving me bereft, although in some weird form of consolation, also making me financially independent.
So here I am, all on my own at forty years old—one failed marriage under my belt, and a New York Time’s bestselling novel that’s made me famous.
In the dizzy arithmetic of fate, I’m not sure on what side of the ledger that leaves me, or how I would account for my life so far.
I wince, not at the scraping of the razor across my cheek, but at another image from the inventory of memory—I’m picturing Ari posing in her wedding gown.
I married Arianna at thirty-seven and we lasted just two years—statistically the norm nowadays, so Stella informs me, and she should know—she’s built her real estate career upon others’ failed marriages.
But statistics aside, I failed for the first time in my life, and there’s bloody little that can be rescued from that, other than a leased condo in High Park, a Bentley in the underground garage, and a white leather album of wedding photos sitting on my closet shelf.
I have to remind myself there’s no Booker prize for being successful in your career and a bust in your personal life, but if there were, I’d be a prime candidate.
Stella, clued in to the hairdryer gone silent, brings me out of my daze by shouting through the door, “It’s raining, Theo—better bring an umbrella.”
I groan, not exactly thrilled at the prospect of another day of tramping through wet gardens.
I relent and open the door a crack to see her leaning against the opposite wall, sipping coffee in the narrow hallway.
“You clean up well,” she smirks.
She’s dressed in a black, pinstriped Edith Pena business suit, her dark hair down and her Eau de Hadrien fragrance intoxicating at such close range.
Actually, she’s far too much, up-close—less than a foot away.
“Mm,” she murmurs dreamily, “do I detect the scent of Clive Christian No. 1?”
I let the door swing all the way open.
I hate coy. Flirting with her friend’s ex-husband, she’s crossing an invisible boundary.
She inhales the fragrance deeply again, and I brace for the next onslaught. I see her as a Delphic vestal virgin inhaling a hallucinogenic vapor and smile inwardly at my picture of her, except she’s hardly an oracle—certainly no one I’d consult about love. As for being a virgin—well, we just won’t go there.
Still, I’m in no mood this morning for sidestepping rushes or volleying serves, so I opt out of game mode. “You know I’m not into designer scents, Stella. It’s called Uomo—it’s a cologne I bought at the mall.”
An amused smile crosses her face. “Always the practical man, Theo.”
I doubt she could mistake mall-bought cologne for expensive fragrance, and I’m trying to make up my mind if she’s bent on enticing, or fleecing —or both. But then again, I’m no womanizer and would hardly know—fact is, I anticipated being a lifelong bachelor and can honestly say I could never fathom what Ari saw in me.
“Do you want to have coffee first and go over the listings?” Stella’s voice has gone soft and her eyes are pleading.
In my mind I see us together on the couch, she leaning in provocatively pointing out properties.
‘I’ve had my morning jolt,” I smile.
A shadow flits across her face like a wisp across the sun. Sometimes I think there’s discernment there. I can tell she’s pondering my nuance. Regardless, it has the desired effect—it backs her off a bit.
It’s barely perceptible but I see her shoulders slump slightly, and almost feel guilty.
“Well then, perhaps we should get going,” she says lightly, “and maybe stop for a takeout coffee en route.”
“Sounds like a plan,” I reply breezily, matching her tone. I’m already putting on my coat, elated at checking her Queen, even temporarily— and I’m taking a pass on her umbrella suggestion, feeling too much like Prufrock already. She does that to me.
It’s funny how life is. Ari was the thread that led me to Stella—although I had my doubts about employing one of her friends, but it worked out superbly in the end.
It was Stella’s idea we take a short-term lease on a High Park condo, rather than the Victorian palace in Rosedale Ari wanted.
I’m not sure how far Stella’s perception extended, if she spotted storm clouds on our horizon, but because of her cautious advice, she minimized the fallout from our divorce.
I was reluctant, of course, to rehire Stella, especially knowing she was flirtatious, but Ari and I split on good terms and she gave her blessing to the affair—which is probably an indelicate way to phrase it, but I thought I should be mature and rise above my feelings of discomfort. Besides, I have to admit Stella is very good at what she does—all coyness aside, and I owe her for sparing me the burden of unloading an expensive mistake.
In a way, Stella’s ties to Ari offer me a kind of protection—it would be indelicate considering my recently failed marriage for her to press in too much—although how much more she’d press otherwise boggles even my imagination
Besides, at the moment, our working arrangement works to my advantage. I’m leery of personal involvement, wanting to keep things straight business—and to be frank, have no intention of falling for a career woman again.