“He was your husband?” Although Madame Frederick had obviously loved him deeply, she rarely talked about her marriage.
“Yes.” She sighed. “The man who stole my heart. We had thirty happy years together. We fought like cats and dogs and we loved each other. Oh, how we loved each other. One look from that man could curl my toes. He could say to me with one glance what would take three hundred pages in a book.”
Carrie added sugar to her tea and stirred. Her hand trembled slightly as her mind drifted back to the kisses she’d shared with Philip in the elevator. She’d taken the stairs ever since. She’d been kissed before, plenty of times, but it had never felt like it had with Philip. What unsettled her was how perfectly she understood what her neighbor was saying about Randolf.
“I didn’t remarry after he died,” Madame Frederick said as she slipped into the chair next to Carrie. “My heart wouldn’t let me.” She reached for her teacup. “Not many women are as fortunate as I am to have found a love so great, and at such a tender age.”
Carrie sipped her tea and struggled to concentrate on Madame Frederick’s words, although her thoughts were on Philip—and his kisses. She wanted to push the memories out of her mind, but they refused to leave.
“I wanted to give you your Christmas present early,” Madame Frederick announced and set a small, wrapped package in her lap.
“I have something for you, too, but I was going to wait until Christmas.”
“I want you to open yours now.”
The older woman watched as Carrie untied the gold ribbon and peeled away the paper. Inside the box was a small glass bowl filled with dried herbs and flowers. Despite the cellophane covering, she could smell the concoction. Potpourri? The scent reminded her a bit of sage.
“It’s a fertility potion,” Madame Frederick explained.
“Fertility!” Carrie nearly dropped the delicate bowl.
“Brew these leaves as a tea and—”
“Madame Frederick, I have no intention of getting pregnant anytime soon!”
The woman smiled and said nothing.
“I appreciate the gesture, really I do.” She didn’t want her friend to think she wasn’t grateful, but she had no plans to have a child within the foreseeable future. “I’m sure that at some point down the road I’ll be brewing up this potion of yours.” She took another drink of her tea and caught sight of the time. “Oh, dear,” she said, rising quickly to her feet. “I’m supposed to be somewhere in five minutes.” Mackenzie had generously offered to buy her lunch as a Christmas gift. Philip’s daughter had written the invitation on a lovely card shaped like a silver bell.
“Thank you again, Madame Frederick,” she said, downing the last of the tea. She carefully tucked the unwrapped Christmas gift in her purse and reached for her coat.
“Come and visit me again soon,” Madame Frederick said.
“I will,” Carrie promised. She enjoyed her time with her neighbor, although she generally didn’t understand how Madame chose their topics of conversation. Her reminiscences about her long-dead husband had seemed a bit odd, especially the comment about fearing for her virtue. It was almost as if Madame Frederick knew what she and Philip had been doing in the darkened elevator. Her cheeks went red as she remembered the way she’d responded to him. There was no telling what might have happened had the lights not come on when they did.
Carrie hurried out of the apartment and down the wind-blown street to the deli on the corner. It was lovely of Mackenzie to ask her to lunch and to create such a special invitation.
The deli, a neighborhood favorite, was busy. Inside, she was greeted by a variety of mouthwatering smells. Patrons lined up next to a glass counter that displayed sliced meats, cheeses and tempting salads. The refrigerator case was decorated with a plastic swag of evergreen, dotted with tiny red berries.
“Over here!” Carrie heard Mackenzie’s shout and glanced across the room to see the teenager on her feet, waving. The kid had been smart enough to claim a table, otherwise they might’ve ended up having to wait.
Carrie gestured back and made her way between the tables and chairs to meet her. Not until she reached the back of the room did she realize that Mackenzie wasn’t alone.
Philip sat with his daughter. His eyes revealed his shock at seeing Carrie there, as well.
“Oh, good, I was afraid you were going to be late,” Mackenzie said, handing her a menu. “Tell me what you want, and I’ll get in line and order it.”
Briefly Carrie toyed with the idea of canceling, but that would’ve disappointed Mackenzie, which she didn’t want to do. Philip had apparently reached the same conclusion.
“Remember I’m on a limited budget,” Mackenzie reminded them, speaking loudly to be heard over the hustle and bustle of the deli. “But you don’t have to order peanut butter and jelly, either.”
“I’ll take a pastrami on whole wheat, hold the pickle, extra mustard.”
Carrie set her menu aside. “Make that two.”
“You like pastrami, too?” Mackenzie asked, making it sound incredible that two people actually found the same kind of sandwich to their liking.
“You’d better go line up,” Philip advised his daughter.
“Okay, I’ll be back before you know it.” She smiled before she left, expertly weaving between tables.
Carrie unwound the wool scarf from her neck and removed her jacket. She could be adult about this. While it was true that they hadn’t expected to run into each other, she could cope.
The noise around them was almost deafening, but the silence between them seemed louder. When she couldn’t stand it any longer, she said, “It’s very sweet of Mackenzie to do this.”