An existential awakening and lots of French chansons equal a favorite neighbor seen in a new light.
Iggy Wilker never expected his 36th birthday to turn into an existential crisis. When Iggy’s friends celebrate him with his usual favorite pastime -- drinking, dancing, and willing guys -- he suddenly wants nothing to do with any of it. He’s fed up and ready for something else. The question is what?
Ronan Clenney has had his eye on his neighbor forever, but as a single father of a precocious eleven-year-old, he’s never believed he stands a chance. But over a late night cup of tea, it seems circumstances have changed. Is this the right time, finally?
Iggy has never believed in romance, but can Ronan show him he’s wrong? That love is a real thing?
“Iggy?” A slow smile blooms on his face and his eyes brighten. “What are you doing up this early? What happened to no knocking on my door before ten on weekends, young Miss Emery?” he asks, imitating my words perfectly.
“I grew old, that’s what happened.”
“Awww. Poor Iggy.”
“Hey! Be nice or I won’t share my breakfast.” I hold up the bags to show him what he’d be missing.
His eyebrows shoot to the heavens. “You brought breakfast?”
“Um, yeah. You gonna let me in, or ...?”
“Of course. You just about shocked me to death, that’s all.” He pretends to clutch his pearls.
“That seems to be my theme this week,” I mutter and follow him to the kitchen.
“I was just about to start breakfast --” he points at a carton of eggs, “-- but I guess I don’t have to?”
“Nope. Coffee would be good though. I didn’t buy any.”
“Sure.” He leans over to the machine and pushes the button. “All done.” He grins at me and takes a seat at the table. “Show me what you got.”
He watches as I unload my purchases. Baguettes. Croissants. Pain au chocolat. A box of pastel colored macarons I bought only because they’re so pretty and I thought Emery would appreciate the pinks and purples and yellows. Three tiny, fancy-looking jars of French jam; black cherry, fig and walnut, and raspberry. And finally, a box of huge, dark red strawberries the bakery sold for some unknown reason.
Ronan’s mouth falls open as he takes in everything. “What brought this on?”
I take my usual spot at the table. “I’ve had that song on my mind ever since the other night. I have no idea what it’s called or what the guy was singing about, but I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. So when I walked past Knead It and they had a French flag hanging in the window, I couldn’t help myself.”
I hum a few bars, hoping I don’t butcher it too much so he won’t recognize it, but he nods.
“‘Ne me quitte pas’ by Jacques Brel.”
I repeat the title in a terrible French accent. “What does it mean?”
“It means ‘Don’t leave me.’”
His words make my heart stutter in my chest. “It’s great. So emotional,” I rasp out.
“I didn’t know you were a fan of old French songs.”
“I’m not. But it’s really beautiful.” The explanation feels inadequate, but I don’t know how to express myself better.
He doesn’t talk for several seconds, and then he says, “Huh.” His gaze is full of questions he’s not asking, and he doesn’t let up the intense scrutiny for even a moment. Inside, I’m squirming like a maggot on a fish hook, but I hope I manage to present a calm exterior.
For the first time ever, things are weird between us. The conversation is stilted, and the silences awkward. I know why, of course. By showing up like this, I changed the dynamics of our relationship. I’ve never been one for socializing in the mornings. And while I’ve brought the occasional pizza or six-pack, I’ve never brought anything like this before. Something meaningful. Something that shows I’ve been thinking about him and the time we spent together. Something serious.
I can’t blame him for wondering what’s going on. He listens to that French stuff all the time and I’m sure he’s played that song a million times before, but it’s like I heard it for the very first time on Wednesday.
I can’t stand his close examination any longer, so I get up and start setting the table with plates and cups and cutlery. “What’s the deal with you and all the French stuff anyway?” I ask with my head buried in the refrigerator, looking for butter and something for Emery to drink since she’s not allowed coffee.
“My grandmother was from France. She always used to sing the old songs to me and teach me the lyrics.”
I place a cutting board and a bread knife on the table. “Oh. What was her name?”
“That’s a beautiful name.”
I look around for something else to do. “Do you speak French?”
I gulp, knowing what’s coming. “Yes?” Reluctantly, I retake my seat at the table.
“Why are you really here?” His voice is soft and caring and I’ve heard him use the same tone when he speaks to Emery about important matters.
I line up the jam jars in a perfect row, needing something to do with my hands. “I ... uh ... want to spend more time with you and Emery.”