There was nothing left to say.
He covered her body with his, and as she put her arms around him she could picture him in allhis incarnations: age five, and still blond; age eleven, sprouting; age thirteen, with thehands of a man. The moon rolled, sloe-eyed in the night sky; and she breathed in the scent ofhis skin. “I love you,” she said.
He kissed her so gently she wondered if she had imagined it. She pulled back slightly, to lookinto his eyes.
And then there was a shot.
Although THERE had never been a standing reservation made, the rear corner table of the HappyFamily Chinese restaurant was always saved on Friday nights for the Hartes and the Golds, whohad been coming there for as long as anyone could remember. Years ago, they had brought thechildren, littering the crowded nook with high chairs and diaper bags until it was nearlyimpossible for the waiters to maneuver the steaming platters of food onto the table. Now, itwas just the four of them, blustering in one by one at six o'clock and gravitating close as if,together, they exerted some kind of magnetic pull.
James Harte had been first to arrive. He'd been operating that afternoon and had finishedsurprisingly early. He picked up the chopsticks in front of him, slipped them from their paperpacket, and cradled them between his fingers like surgical instruments.
“Hi,” Melanie Gold said, suddenly across from him. “I guess I'm early.”
“No,” James answered. “Everyone else is late.”
“Really?” She shrugged out of her coat and balled it up beside her. “I was hoping I wasearly. I don't think I've ever been early.”
“You know,” James said, considering, “I don't think you ever have.” They were linked by theone thing they had in common-Augusta Harte-but Gus had not yet arrived. So they sat in thecompanionable awkwardness caused by knowing extremely private things about each other that hadnever been directly confided, but rather blurted by Gus Harte to her husband in bed or toMelanie over a cup of coffee. James cleared his throat and flipped the chopsticks around hisfingers with dexterity. “What do you think?” he asked, smiling at Melanie. “Should I give itall up? Become a drummer?”
Melanie flushed, as she always did when she was put on the spot. After years of sitting with areference desk wrapped around her waist like a hoop skirt, concrete answers came easily to her;nonchalance didn't. If James had asked, “What is the current population of Addis Ababa?” or“Can you tell me the actual chemicals in a photographic fixing bath?” she'd never haveblushed, because the answers would never have offended him. But this drummer question? Whatexactly was he looking for?
“You'd hate it,” Melanie said, trying to sound flippant. “You'd have to grow your hair longand get a nipple ring or something like that.”
“Do I want to know why you're talking about nipple rings?” Michael Gold said, approaching thetable. He leaned down and touched his wife's shoulder, which passed for an embrace after somany years of marriage.
“Don't get your hopes up,” Melanie said. “James wants one, not me.” Michael laughed. “1think that's automatic grounds for losing your board certification.”