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There was that ice-cream parlour she had not been before. It was almost empty and she easily found a table at the window. It was comfortably warm after that frisky cold outside. She ordered a dame blanche.

It was quickly brought and looked perfect. The hot chocolate was steaming and the home made whipped cream sparkled in the afternoon sunlight. At the side a small glass of advocaat accompanied the delicious treat. She caught her eyes to the waiter and froze. She knew that face, those deep-set eyes, that straight nose, the fine lined lips and the black hair with the stubborn lock. He recognized her too and smiled while he put the order down.

“Hallo Linda, long time ago.”

Recollections stormed her head. “You, a waiter, Charles?”

While she asked she felt remorse already. It sounded belittling the way she had blurred it out.

He grabbed the slip and tore it apart. “That dame blanche is on me, Linda. It’s Valentine after all.”

Valentine’s Day? She had all forgotten about. “I mean, it’s been so long…”

She didn’t really know what to say else. Charles still looked slim, much slender than she was. All of a sudden she felt embarrassed. He shouldn’t see her like she saw herself, as an overweight matron.

“Why don’t we talk about the good times? You’re my last customer. I’m going to change and be back in a while. Enjoy your dame blanche for the meantime

He paid the bill with the cashier and exchanged some words. The girl glanced at her inquisitively.

Her memories went back to their high school years. Charles had always been the best of the class. She had always taken it for granted he would move on to university. That apparently had not happened and it triggered her curiosity. She had lost sight of him after high school. She had chosen for a safe life in the family business. And after Mark, football hero and fiancée had finished university he had proposed to her. They married and went to Bali for their honeymoon. She had become aware how he made eyes with the exotic girls.

She compared Mark with Charles while she poured the chocolate sauce on the whipped cream. She took a spoonful. It was delicious. Another five hundred cals, but she didn’t mind. It gave her a feel good moment.

Charles was back, now in a blue sports shirt and brown corduroy pants. He looked sexy, she spontaneously thought.

He had taken a glass of vodka along. She looked surprised. It wasn’t happy hour yet. Had he turned into habitual drinking?

He toasted. “Your health.”

She picked up the advocaat and returned the toast.

“Still with Mark?” he asked her in a teasing tone. He still had that sad look, still that silent despair in his eyes as she remembered.

“Yes, he’s now CEO of the family business.”

Charles nodded and took a sip. “I’ve always thought he’d make it, though I rather had an international career for him in mind.”

“Oh well.”

She didn’t feel like talking about her husband.

“And how about you?” He sounded interested which encouraged her to open herself.

“I’m all right. My life –“. She abruptly stopped. Yes, what about her life? Were the shopping, the ice cream parlors and the parties worth living for? She felt embarrassed and took another bite but it didn’t taste as good as before.

“Let’s talk about you,” she quickly changed the subject. “I’ve always expected you’d make a career for yourself, you being the smartest guy. I had expected something in writing, journalism or novel writing, or even teaching. You were the school’s editor after all. Is waiting at tables fulfilling enough?”

Again she should have bitten of her tongue, but he didn’t make a fuss about it. He just shrugged. “It’s a living,” he mumbled.

The conversation came to a halt with a painstaking silence. He took another swell while she stared at her melting ice cream. Linda was aware her treat was the same as his vodka. They both filled the emptiness of their lives.

“To be honest, my life isn’t much exciting as you might believe,” he went on in a mockery tone.

“Tell me, I’ve got all the time. My husband is on a business trip.” With his secretary.

“Oh, well, there’s not much to tell.” She heard the bitterness in his voice.

“Tell me anyway. We’ve got ten years to fill in. I remember the school journal you where editor of. Did you go on writing?”

“Glad you ask. As a matter of it, I wrote a couple of novels, science fiction mainly. And lots of short stories. Maybe you’ve seen my name on the web.”

“To tell you the truth, Charles, I’m not a big reader. I fill my days with tennis, riding and swimming.”

“I remember you’ve always been sporty.”

Anyway, his writings had not been very much successful otherwise she would have heard about him.

“Are you going to be a waiter for the rest of your life?”

He shrugged again and took another sip. She stirred her dame blanche that had turned into melted beige ice cream.

“Maybe, maybe not. I’ll let fate decide.”

“I don’t see a ring. You’re not married?”

“Not anymore.”

“Any children?”

“None whatsoever,” he replied briskly.

“Neither have I,” she quickly said. The conversation took a turn for the worse now.

“I’ve always believed you’d be living in some big house with a couple of kids,” he said.

He smiled while passing a finger along the edge of the glass. Somehow it felt like an erotic gesture.

“I had two miscarries,” she said in a subdued tone. “Mark called it a day after that.”

All of a sudden Charles said: “Do you know I was very much in love with you?”

By that unexpected remark, Linda smiled and felt young and perky as if she was eighteen again.

“I had a crash on you too, Charles.” It was out before she knew but she was relieved she had said it.

She saw his surprise.

“You were too much absorbed in yourself to even notice,” she went on.

“I had a difficult time back then. My parents were killed in a car accident,” he explained. “I felt abandoned. Perhaps that’s why I focussed on my education. But when I had a job interview and sat across the guy who had pestered me in high school and was now boss of his dad’s company, something broke in me. That was not the life I had in mind. My wife didn’t approve and we got divorced.”

What a waste of talent, she thought. He deserved better.

“You deserve better,” she blurted out.

“So do you,” he said.

She stared at him with an incomprehensible look. What did he mean by that? She had made it. Okay, Mark turned out the wrong choice when see learned he was a womanizer. But weren’t they all? In her circles it was even bon ton if your successful husband was attractive to other women.

How her life would have turned out if she had married Charles instead? Not very glorious of course, but maybe more honest and even satisfying. She’d -

“What are you thinking of?” he cut in her daydreaming. His eyes seemed to laugh, had he looked through her?

She made up her mind. “Have you considered others options to your future?”

“Options? What do you mean?” He hunched forward and glanced at her in a way that made her fidgety.

She had to proceed now, as after A came B.

“I know a publisher who can help you.”

He leaned back with a frown. “I don’t need a pull,” he said offhand.

She put her hand on his. She felt it slightly quivering.

“It’s not what I meant,” she quietly explained. “Sometimes you need to lend a helping hand. I might be a sponger in your eyes, but I know how to stand up for my rights.”

“You’re not a sponger; you’re more like a free-loader.”

He meant it in a harmless way and she had to laugh in spite of it.

He stared at her pensively. Lending a helping hand, maybe that’s what he needed and what he had sought of all of his life, and not seeing opportunities. And now she presented him with one.

She read his thoughts. “It’s not too late to catch up, you know.”

He took her hand and touched it with his lips. It was a gesture that made rise feelings she had long forgotten.

“If you’re willing to help me, I’d be in debt forever.”

It sounded like a declaration of love…




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