Weekend Wind Down – Bardolino

Saturday evening came, and she dressed with care, wanting to look good but also wishing to avoid anything that might be construed as ‘sexy’. Her taxi dropped her at the end of the pedestrianised street where Luigi’s restaurant was found. Almost at once she spotted Mike’s tall figure striding towards her. He reached her side and offered his arm in a strangely courtly gesture that made her smile.
“Hello Jenny. I’m very glad you’re here, because people are trying to get me to make choices and that really isn’t my long suit. I’m hoping for help.”
“Choices?”
“Yes. Would we like to sit inside or would we prefer a table outside by the river? Would we like antipasto on the table while we make our minds up about main courses? Would we like a bottle of wine on the table? If so what?”
Jenny found herself relaxing under the influence of his self-deprecating humour.
“Let’s break it down shall we? Would you like to sit outside?”
“Yes. But only of you would like it too.”
“I would and I’d also like antipasto. Though I’ll stab you with a fork if you take more than your share.”
He mugged extreme fear.
By this time they were at the restaurant and the hovering waiter recognised Jenny. He bowed effusively.
Mike waited until he straightened. “Riverside table please. With antipasto on the table.”
The waiter looked a question and Mike smote his forehead.
“Oh yes. What about wine Jenny?”
“Oh, why not? Bardolino?”
“Bardolino it is.”
When the waiter disappeared, Mike smiled down at Jenny. “Can I buy you an aperitif?”
She raised an eyebrow. “Are you trying to get me drunk?”
“No. But should I be? Is that the way to your flinty heart?”
Jenny found herself grinning and hip bumped him. He affected agony and by the time she had stopped laughing they were at the bar.
“What would madam care to drink?”
“Surprise me.”
He beckoned to the barman and they had a low voiced conversation. Jenny was intrigued.
“What are we…”
“It’s a surprise.”
He steered her to an empty window seat before heading back to the bar. She watched as he passed over some money and accepted a tray, which he managed to screen with his body until he reached her. The drink he put in front of her was pale yellow, and bubbly, and it had raspberries floating in it. She took an experimental sip. The drink was citrusy and light, and quite delicious.
“What?”
He grinned. “My mother’s favourite when we used to come here. Prosecco, limoncello and frozen raspberries. I did cheat, though, noticing that the waiter knew you I guessed you were a regular so I asked the bartender if you like limoncello.”
“Just this once we can overlook the cheating.”
He winked and slid into the seat opposite her.
“When you used to come here?”
“Yes. This was my parents’ favourite restaurant and it became mine.”
“Was?”
“Yes. When Dad retired they moved back to Scotland.”
“Do you miss them?”
“I do, but they are happy. Mum hated living where they were after the rumour mill slaughtered me for losing my fiancée to a fat guy with a Jaguar.”
“I can get behind that. My parents got enough crap when my marriage failed, and it would’ve been worse if they weren’t deeply rooted in the land.”
“That about says it. Rooted in the land. Dad always managed wherever because he had an absorbing job. Mum missed Scotland really badly.”
“Absorbing job?” Jenny tilted her head to one side and lifted an enquiring eyebrow. “Is your father a doctor too.”
“Good grief no. He’s a meteorologist.”
“A weather man?”
“Yup. Worked in Exeter for the last few years before he retired. I know your parents are farmers, and you work here in in the city, but I don’t know what you do.”
“I’m an accountant.”
“I knew there was a reason you fascinated me.”
“Fascinated? Accountancy? Are you mad?”
“No. Just completely impressed by numeracy.”
She looked at him narrowly and was met by an apparently guileless pair of bright blue eyes. “You,” she said sternly, “are by way of being a dangerous lunatic. If I didn’t really, really like the food here I might have to run for my life.”
The waiter appeared, smiling.
“Your table is ready.”
They followed him to where a table for two was set with shining glassware and a tempting array of antipasto. It was beside a tall glass balustrade and commanded a view down the river. As it was high tide, the lights of all the quayside businesses blinked and swam in the blackness of the water.
“I’d forgotten how pretty this is,” Mike said.
“It’s gorgeous on a night like this.”
“My mum’s birthday is in January but she loves this view. So one year, Dad persuaded them to set a table out here for us. We ate in our puffa jackets and warmest boots. And just as we started our desserts it began to snow.”
“Oh. That sounds magical.”
He smiled. “It was. But. Food…”
Jenny dug in, miming threats with her fork as Mike heaped his own plate.
The evening flew past, with only one tiny bump, and even that was smoothed by Mike’s easy kindliness. Instead of a formal dessert they opted for a plate of tiny cakes, two of which were doughnuts. When Mike made to put one on her plate she recoiled. He made absolutely no comment – but by the time she had her head back together the doughnuts had disappeared.
Before Jenny was ready for their date to be over it was nearly midnight and the restaurant was closing. When he had paid the bill, Mike insisted on walking her to her taxi. It was waiting at the end of the cul de sac and he smiled down at her.
“That was fun. Wanna do it again?”
Jenny found herself nodding.
“I’m on call next weekend – joys of being the junior partner – so can we make a date for two weeks time? Pretty please.”
“Yes. Okay. I’ve always heard you should humour madmen, so it’s a date.”
He bent his head and for a second Jenny was afraid he was aiming for a goodnight kiss, but he did nothing so crass. Instead he touched the tip of his nose to hers.
“Goodnight Jenny.”
He handed her into the cab and placed a small, slender grey cardboard box in her hand.
“Rental for the phone I’m still borrowing,” he said gently and ambled off.
The taxi pulled away and Jenny looked at the thing in horror. It appeared to her to be a jeweller’s box, akin to those Graham had brought home his conscience gifts in. Just looking at it made her feel sick. In the end she shoved it in her handbag, thinking that she probably wouldn’t even open it.
At home in her own place, she badly wished for Meg’s warm weight against her leg, while a small voice in her head admonished her for cowardice. In the end, she poured herself a big drink and took the package out of her bag. Setting it on the coffee table she lifted the lid. There was no telltale gleam of precious metal or gemstone, instead, what lay on a bed of cotton was a pencil. Only it wasn’t a pencil. It was a pretend pencil made of some dark, smooth wood. Whatever was it?
There was a small piece of folded paper in the lid which she opened in some curiosity.
Kanzashi are Japanese hair sticks, which are, by tradition, both for adornment and protection against evil spirits. I saw this one and thought of you.
It was signed with a smiley face.
Jenny picked up the hair stick, enjoying its smoothness in her hand. This man was very surprising. On impulse she stuck the thing in her curly topknot and took a selfie which she sent to Mike before she could lose her nerve.
She got a text back immediately.
‘Colour me relieved. Sleep well.’.
Jenny finished her drink and went to bed smiling.

Jenny is the latest book from Jane Jago

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