Chapter Forty-Three: Two Weeks in January
Since my arrival, I had entered the restaurant several times to check for her presence. We had agreed to meet at the Hard Rock Café at 5 p.m. Had I got it wrong? I peered at my watch. It was already five-thirty. We did talk about the Uptown, I recalled. But I’m sure we agreed on the Biltmore cinema. My gaze stretched across Yonge and Dundas Streets to the Biltmore’s marquee: “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Cigarette smoke and stale cigarette butts lingered in the air. Strange, I thought, I had not noticed it before. I began to wonder if I had been stood up. An awful feeling overtook me, a kind of sickness deep within me, one I knew would not be lightly shaken off. I strolled toward Yonge Street preoccupying my mind as best I could with the contents in shop windows. Turning the corner, she almost bowled me over. “Jesus!”
“Oh! I didn’t mean…Are you alright?” Sheila asked breathlessly.
The air had been knocked out of me. So, my reply came in gulps. “I… think so… You?” A ping-pong match was playing out in my head after I had cracked it against the wall. Bent over while I gathered my breath, I peered up at her. She looked beautiful in her flowered summer dress. “How about you? That was quite an impact.”
“Yes, I guess it was. I’m sorry for being so late.” A gentle breeze brushed through her long auburn hair and she combed it away from her face with her hand. “You must have thought I was never coming.”
“It never crossed my mind,” I lied. “I like your dress. The color suits you.”
“Thank you. It’s my sister’s”
“Well, it fits you to a T.”
“It should,” she replied, “she’s my twin sister.”
“Identical?” I asked, straightening up. She nodded. “Do you do it often?”
“Exchange clothes? Oh, yes. Mom used to dress Beth and I differently, so she could tell us apart. Mischievous as we were, we often swopped clothes to trick her.”
“And now? How does she tell you apart?”
“By our hair, mine’s long and Beth’s is short.”
The tips of our fingers touched as we faced each other. For me the moment was surreal, electrifying. I was barely aware of the pedestrians who sailed by us on the sidewalk. I had been cast afloat and was drowning in the deep blueness of her eyes.
“Are you sure you’re alright? You seem…faraway.”
“No, I’m here.” I rubbed the back of my head. The ping-bong game in my head had finished. “Hungry?” She nodded. “Then, the Hard Rock Café awaits us.” Her hand went out to stop me.
“I had to get a script filled for my mom. It was unexpected. Took longer at the pharmacist than I expected, and I missed my bus.” She smiled. “Don’t be alarmed, my mom’s okay. Her allergies are bad this time of year. I just wanted you know why I was so late.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I…the truth is I didn’t think…”
She pressed her index finger over my lips. “Now you know something ...