“Hey Rosie,” Deni yelled from the door, waving a bright blue rectangular thing, a book likely. Bells jingled, then the door slammed. Rose, in the back by the dressing room, held an immaculate butter-cream Danier leather jacket aloft, covering the lower half of her face.
“Hey,” she said. Softly. Not her normal boisterous self.
“Look what just came in!” Deni hollered, ignoring Rose’s tone. She continued, “It’s a fairly new one by that novelist you love. Jennifer Weiner.” She swiftly covered the small space on her short efficient legs, but as she got close to Rose, Rose, in her curiosity about the book, had let the jacket slip a smidge, affording Deni a better look at Rose’s upper lip. Deni staggered back a couple of steps, hit the clothing rack behind her. Then, as the sweaters swayed, she said, “Whoa! What the f –”
Rose was shaking her head, tears stinging her eyes, left hand hovering over a massive red and purple . . . moustache?!
“Don’t ask!” Rose wailed, waving her hand.
Deni, through snorting laughter, said, “Want me to sponsor you?”
That was Rosie, not always up on the date, time, daily news. But given her current state? Deni should have let it go. Instead, she made a grand gesture with her left arm, gracefully tapped her Fitbit with her right index finger, said, “November 3rd. You working on your stache? Movember? It’s a charity, you know, for – ”
“Stop!” Rose said, turning her left hand around, into a stop sign. “I know. Movember. Ugh! It’s not funny! Here.” She thrust the jacket at Deni. “Look what just came in. In your size.” Deni handed Rose the book, shoved her glasses up her nose.
“All Fall Down,” Rose said, reading the cover. “Well this.” She pointed the area under her chin. “This is all falling down! This.” She pointed to her lip, then waggled her head from side to side, a habit that made her pale hair fly. “I wish this would all fall off!” Then, she pulled a strand of hair across, under her nose. “Better?”
“At least you still have your sense of humour.” Deni smiled. She tucked the jacket under her left armpit, said, “That is one soft jacket. But that? Wow.” She pulled her glasses off, peered closer, as Rose flinched back. “That doesn’t look so soft, Rosie. What the hell happened? You iron it? Curling your lip too much? Ha!” Deni tucked her glasses over the neck of her sweater, snapped her fingers. “I know! In your love-starved loneliness you spent the night on the floor French-kissing a rug, didn’t you?”
You must appreciate Rose’s face. Although it’s been around a while, 50-some years, it is so smooth. Like the texture of the jacket crushed under Deni’s pit. And the complexion? Like something you’d see under a fancy parasol in an English country garden. When upset? Well, those tender kind of faces produce stinging red Rorschach-like blotches on cheeks. And there they were, blooming like hellfire under Deni’s steady gaze as Rose struggled to decide about explaining what the hell happened.
A giant sigh, then, “Date. Yesterday afternoon,” she said.
“Oh yeah,” Deni said. “Come. Let’s lean.” And Deni led her gently to the front, to the cash counter where they could discuss in relative comfort, one on each side. Rose took her place behind the counter and set the book on it. Deni set the baby soft jacket on top, looked up, then sucked her breath in as she realized the red-purple ill-shaped moustache looked way worse in the bright sunlight streaming through the front window.
“Joe? Was his name Joe?” Deni asked. And then she looked out, into the parking lot. Quiet. Her part time staffer, a high school student, was covering her store. “Uh. Rosie? What have you been telling the customers? About – ”
“Slow day, thank god. It’s a rash, of course. I have a lot of foundation on, but – ” She shrugged.
“I have something that will work better. Anyway. What’s Joe like? Handsome? Tall? Funny?”
The head-waggle again. “Nervous?”
“Geez Rosie. We’re all nervous, going on first dates. Cripes.”
“Italian background. Tall. Salt and pepper hair. He has hair! Warm brown eyes, with those crinkles at the sides. Well-dressed. He was wearing this fantastic paisley dress shirt, and oh, it was so colourful! Purple and pink and yellow, and you know how when you roll up the cuffs and there’s like a check pattern inside?”
Deni stared back, blankly.
Rose waved it off, drifted back to the Starbucks with Joe, sitting in the window watching the world go by. Imagining how that shirt must feel. It looked like a zillion thread counts. Was it wrong to fantasize about touching when she should have been hearing? He was talking about his work. Finance. No surprise there. What the “other” London – London, Ontario, Canada – was known for. Conservative city.
“Kids?” Deni was asking.
“Huh? No. He and his first wife never got around – ”
“First wife? There’s more?”
“I don’t think so. Just relationships.”
“He’s a foodie.”
“Ah. That bodes well for salad girl, huh?”
Rose shrugged, looked down. “I don’t seem to be starving . . .”
“So?” Deni pointed to her own upper lip.
“Yeah. Well, there we were, getting to know one another, you know, 25,000 questions and he goes and does just that.”
“Touches his upper lip. Points. I think I have latte on my lip and I wipe it, but it must have been the way I was sitting in the late afternoon sun, you know and the damn blond hairs there . . .”
“No?! He says you have a moustache? Rosie!”
“Well, not in so many words.”
“Rosie. Come on. You get things wrong all the time. What do you mean – ”
“I don’t get things wrong all the time!”
“Rosie. Admit it. A lot of the time.”
That sits between them for a time.
Rose, again, pictures Starbucks, the sunny glow, an intimate moment, captured, lost. “He pulled out the softest white cotton handkerchief. Deni. What man carries a handkerchief these days?”
“I know no man who does that.”
“And he kind of winced and wiped.”
“But he said nothing about a moustache?”
“He didn’t have to. He winced.” Rose made an ugly face, demonstrating, then said, “Ouch,” wincing from the pain it caused her upper lip.
“You’re reading too much into it Rosie. What were you eating? Maybe you had food on your lip?”
“Oh. One of those amazing chocolate pretzels. We were sharing.”
“So you had chocolate on your lip. And because of that? You now have a nasty red-purple moustache that makes you look like a blond Tom Sellick? But with longer hair?”
“I’d read in a magazine, if you . . .”
“If you what?”
“No?! Rosie! For cripessake. You use the coarsest sandpaper known to mankind?!”
“No.” Rosie backed up, against the jewellery, trying to get as far away from Deni as possible. As far away from herself.
“Rosie. Ever think about taking an old razor and just shaving your face from time to time? That’s what I do.”
Rosie leaned over the counter then, squinted at Deni’s face. Grabbed her chin. Turned her face side to side in the sunlight. “That looks good Deni. But really. You have facial hair? I’ve never noticed.”
“Because I shave it!”
“Yeah, well you know we’re both too pale for laser. And I don’t know about you, but waxing, threading? Gives me ingrowns . . .”
Deni nodded. “Shave. Couple times a week. Old razor. So you don’t, you know, cut yourself, give it away.” She shrugged.
Rosie slid down onto her stool. Moaned, “What am I gonna do?”
“Don’t fret. It’ll heal. You’d be surprised at how fast the face heals.” Deni wanted to reassure her friend, say it wasn’t that bad. But it looked pretty bad.
“It’s the mouth.”
“The mouth heals fast. The upper lip?”
Deni rested her elbows on the counter. Said, “So, you gonna see Joe again?”
Rosie scrunched up her face, nodded. “I have to give the damn handkerchief back.”
“Tomorrow night? He’s taking me to dinner.”
Deni straightened up, shook her head emphatically. “No. Rosie. That? That will not be healed by tomorrow night.”
“You said you had something that might help?”
“A salve. I’ll bring it over tonight.”
“And a cover-up?”
“Yeah. I’ll fix you up. No worries, hon.” They stared at each other for a moment. Rose’s eyes were all watery. “You guys kiss?”
Rose shook her head. She didn’t want to talk about it anymore. She was embarrassed, it hurt to smile. And she didn’t want her friend staring at her upper lip anymore. She thrust the jacket at her, said, “Enough. Take this. In payment for the book. It will look great on you.”
Deni protested. “Where will I wear it? And this is worth way more than the book.”
“Go on, doll. Wear it on your next first date.”
Rose shooed her away. Deni said over her shoulder, “Shoulda kissed him. Let him lick the chocolate off. And that – ” she pointed – “would never have happened!”
The next day, when Joe’s 4 o’clock left around 4:45, he threw on his coat to take Tuk-Tuk for a walk.
“Come on, boy,” he said, jolting Tuk-Tuk awake from his sunlit perch on the back of the couch. He looked up at Joe, big brown eyes registering confusion, dream drool sliding from one side of his smushed-up mouth. Then, he was all action and excitement, flying from the couch, nails clicking on the hardwood, brindle bum wiggling. Joe clipped the leash on and they exploded out the door, Tuk-Tuk instantly at the nearest shrub, lifting, marking.
Joe had never had a dog before and he liked to joke that he didn’t really have one now. Tuk-Tuk, the runt of a Boston Terrier litter and unable to tip the scales beyond eight pounds, was more cat than dog. He’d picked him out for his last girlfriend, Alicia. Twenty-five years his junior, there were some, ah, obvious differences between them that, let’s say, got more obvious as time wore on. In Joe’s mind, the dog would halt discussions of a vasectomy reversal (he’d actually contemplated lying, that he’d never been snipped, maybe suggest she was the reason they weren’t getting pregnant, but he’s too honest and that would be too cruel), but then he saw how lousy she was at looking after a cat-dog as lazy as Tuk-Tuk. And? The baby talk continued, so . . . he knew the time had come to say, “Tuk-Tuk stays with me. Ciao Alicia.”
It didn’t actually go that easy. Does it ever? Emotions and all. Then there were financial entanglements to untangle. She was . . . a tad possessive. Okay. It did border on Fatal Attraction, not that she’d gotten any ideas from the film; made before she was born, it was unlikely she’d seen it.
As Joe pulled Tuk-Tuk from another marking spot, he wondered how he’d ever thought he and Alicia could ever work. In the long term. It was heady stuff at first, sure. Attracting a much younger, hot girl. But that was it! She was a girl. And he was a man.
He’d cook these amazing meals for “date night” and she’d sit there, on her phone, not helping set the table, pour the wine, light the candles, clear the dishes after. He’d play something like Van Morrison’s Avalon Sunset– such sexy, romantic music despite the religious undertones – and she’d be like, what about the Biebs, Shawn Mendes? Geez.
A world apart. Now, Rose? He didn’t know yet, too soon to know, but what a classy woman! The hair, the clothes, that porcelain face! Those green eyes. Deep. Still. Pond-like. But vulnerable too. He was asking her about her past. A husband? Kids? And there was a flash, across her face. Anger? Loss? And Joe had the sun in his eyes, so bright and the dark chocolate had stuck to her upper lip and he pulled out his handkerchief to wipe it off. She’d put her hands, warm and gentle, around his. Then? She’d looked at her watch, said she had to go, said she’d launder the hanky, get it back to him. “Thanks a lot for the latte.” A lot a latte and bam. Gone.
He texted her that night. It was so nice to meet you. How about dinner sometime?
And she, not seeming all that eager, texted back late the next morning. Sure.
Hmmm. Woman of few words? Cicerro’s? Tomorrow night? 7?
Rose (late afternoon): That’s pretty soon.
Joe: Need that hanky back ASAP. My favourite. Now that you’ve touched it (blushing face emoji)
Joe (evening, wondering if he was too forward, unable to wait): And Wednesday is perfect for date night, yes (wink emoji)
Rose: Ok. Cya there.
Hmmm. No excitement really. And no emojis. What did it mean that he was more emoji than her? Joe stooped and scooped and turned Tuk-Tuk for home.