I drove to the mall and parked my car, dressed in a long flowing summery skirt and tight top. Walking through the mall my heart was pounding and I looked at every single man trying to pick out Ayns before he saw me. My sandals made a loud clacking noise on the tiles and I thought I would have to tiptoe to avoid the stares that were coming my way. The mall branched out and formed a circle overlooking the lower level. A man in a suit stood there holding something behind his back and looking my way. I eyed him cautiously as I passed and gave him an answering smile before stopping in my tracks. “Ayns?” I whispered.
Pulling a long-stemmed single rose from behind his back he bowed deeply before taking my hand and kissing the back of it. He looked deeply into my eyes for a long moment before taking me in his arms. He danced a few steps and then dipped me long and deep before returning me to my feet and hugging me.
“How did you know it was me?” I asked him incredulously.
“Your style, the way you walked, the way you smiled. How could I not know and be so certain from the minute I saw you enter the mall at the other end.”
I flushed with embarrassment and self-consciousness and fell into step beside him. “Where are we going?” I asked him as we walked back past the shoe stores and booksellers.
“I have some things for you that I left in the car,” he said and gave me a broad smile with an even broader hint of mischief in it.
We chatted about my trip as we threaded our way through the car park. When we got to his vehicle he gave me a beachtowel and a travel mug with his company logo on it and a box of chocolates. I laughed with delight and he stowed them away and ushered me into the front seat.
“I’ve made reservations for lunch at a little place downtown,” he said and pointed out some landmarks and his office as we made the short journey. At lunch we sipped wine and ate crab salad while we looked each other over. In my mind he had danced me around the Parlor in a crisp light blue shirt and single pleated pants with shining slippery shoes. In real life his suit and tie was such a contrast to what I had expected and he eventual took off the jacket for me. Sitting across the table from each other we talked about the Parlor and all the people we had met because of it. We talked of Dragosani and I told him that I was planning to visit him next.
When lunch was over we took a drive down to the lake and sat on the huge rocks along the shore and looked out over the choppy water. Ayns told me about his family and admitted finally that he had been a little tired of his married life when he found the Parlor. Meeting me had tempted him, but in the end he had decided that he had too much invested in his family to change at this point in his life. I was tempting - but he couldn’t.
He had even stood outside my door for half an hour the previous night before deciding it was best if he just went home.
I kept my face turned slightly away so he couldn’t see the tears that slid down my face. At one time I had desperately wanted this man to be the one, and his words only reinforced how futile that dream had always been. When we got back in his car he took my hand and held it fiercely as we drove aimlessly around the city for a short while. Ayns made it look like a sight-seeing expedition but I knew he was still uncertain about his own choices. When we got back to my car he pulled out his laptop and he showed me how he had kept all my emails and all our chats in a separate folder. We looked to see if anyone was in the Parlor before he closed the lid and sat looking at me.
“I was going to loan you this laptop so you could keep in touch with me, but I don’t know how we would ever arrange to get it back to me short of having you return here on your way home. Besides, I know you are going to be fine.”
I hugged him and thanked him for his generous offer, pointing out it was time for me to get on the road. I wanted to make the good-bye easier for him than for me. Leaning forward I kissed him once – hard - and then opened the door and got out. Ayns led me out of the city and made sure I was on the proper exit before waving good-bye. I smiled bravely and blew kisses, aware that he couldn’t hear my sobs or see my tears. Turning my face to the east - I headed for Ottawa and Dragosani.