Mary J. Breen
I made my way through the crowd to what I hoped was the end of the right ticket line. I put down my shopping bags, being careful to prop the full one against my boot so the apples wouldn’t spill out onto the mud-streaked floor. When I straightened up, there he was, just a five or six people ahead of me, wearing the blue scarf I knitted for him last Christmas. I almost called out to him before I remembered that Luke never went to movies alone, which meant Marnie was likely there too, or worse, he was there with someone else, and that was why he hadn’t called in over a month. I grabbed my bags and whirled out of the line - and right into Marnie’s path.
She was inching along with a tub of popcorn in the crook of one arm and an overfilled drink in each hand. “Elsbeth! What a lovely surprise! I’d hug you but—” She laughed.
“Marnie,” I said, trying to sound enthusiastic.
“It’s been so long!” she said. “Too long. Right! You live out this way, don’t you?”
I nodded. “Are you, that is, have you moved here to The Beaches?” I had to know. I was already wondering how soon I could move if they had.
“Oh no. Luke just had to deliver some blueprints to an architect in Scarborough, so we thought we’d stop and catch a movie here before we headed home. Luke likes a change of scene.”
He sure does, I thought.
“A change is as good as a rest. That’s my Luke,” she said. “Luke!” she called out. “Luke, come here!” Her voice seemed oddly loud.
We watched Luke turn, ask the couple behind him to keep his place, and stroll toward us, smiling as he brushed his hair back.
I’m not sure he’d noticed me yet.
I kept my eyes on Marnie as she handed him one of the drinks. “Remember my friend from back when I worked at the Reference Library? Elsbeth Murray? Here she is. You meet at last!”
I put down the smaller bag, and he took my hand, holding on just a little too long. I was glad I was still wearing my gloves or I might have had trouble letting go. He withdrew his hand and reached up to the scarf, his eyes locked on mine all the while. I wondered what he’d told Marnie about the scarf.
“How do you do, Elsbeth?” he said, rolling the words around his mouth. “Elsbeth,” he said again. “Do people call you Ellie?”
“Not many,” I said, forcing a smile.
Marnie beamed up at him, and he beamed back at both of us.
“Well, I must get going,” I said. I picked up the bag again.
“But I thought you were—I saw you in the line-up—”
“Oh no,” I said. “I was just coming through the mall, you know, from the subway, heading home. I had to stop and trade hands because of these heavy bags.” I lifted them a little to add to my story.
“But have you seen this movie?” she said. “They say it’s really good. An Oscar contender. Come and see it with us. Why not?” Her voice was still above her usual librarian’s hushed tones.
Luke was still smiling but his eyes were flashing back and forth between Marnie and me.
“Sorry, I can’t,” I said. “I’m—I’m meeting someone—for a drink. Soon. But thanks.”
I couldn’t tell if Luke was relieved or not. “Well then, arrivederci mia bella donna!
” he said making a little courtier’s bow as he began to walk backwards toward his spot in the line.
“Oh, Luke,” Marnie rolled her eyes, her voice more shrill now. “Elsbeth doesn’t speak Italian. She—”
“Oh, I think she understands,” he said, giving me the tiniest wink.
I quickly turned back to Marnie.
Marnie giggled. “Don’t mind him. He’s just showing off.”
“I’ve really gotta go; I’m already late,” I said. I took a few backward steps and made a feeble fingers-only wave.
“OK, then,” Marnie said, “but we must get together sometime soon, all three of us.”
From the front of the line, Luke was still beaming his cheeky smile at me. Marnie turned to face him, and I watched his naughty grin be replaced by a warm, husbandly one. I felt my heart lurch—both for what I once had, and for what Marnie thinks she has, believing she’s the only precious thing in his treacherous little world.