Paulette walked into Antonio’s office to place some files on his desk. He wasn’t there. It was half-past eight. He usually got in around eight forty-five. She went over to the windows and looked out at the bustling city below. Five years ago, fresh out of university, she had stood there on the sidewalk staring up at this very building, nervous and excited about starting her first day here. It was hard to believe that so much time had passed. She loved working at the company but she knew that Antonio was the main reason why she looked forward to going into the office every weekday.
She didn’t kid herself that he would show any interest in her other than professional because of their age difference. At the age of thirty-nine, he was twelve years older than her. She wanted him to see her as a woman—a woman who loved him so much it ached. Until she met him, she had no clue of what it meant to be in love.
When her friends talked about falling in love, she couldn’t relate because it hadn’t happened for her. She envied them, though, wondering what it would be like to experience what they were experiencing. And then, she met Antonio and it was then that she realized that love at first sight wasn’t a myth. She knew that she loved him the first time she saw him. It was a surreal experience. Everything seemed to be at a standstill and it felt as if they were the only two people in the world. Everything else faded in the background and all she could see was him, coming toward her, his hand extended and an incredible smile on his face.
And that deep, sexy voice of his and the way he said her name still made her shiver. She could almost hear it now and then she started when she realized that he had walked into his office and was standing beside her at the window. Feeling embarrassed, she turned toward him, hugging the files which she was supposed to have left on his desk. “I’m sorry,” she apologized. “I-I didn’t hear you come in.”
He looked so good in his navy blue suit, black shirt and matching tie. His thick dark hair glistened damply in the light and she caught a whiff of his aftershave. Yes, he looked and smelled good…She realized she was staring and looked away.
“Something out there really got your attention,” he said as he walked over to his desk. “I was calling you but you didn’t hear me.”
“I was just watching the people below and thinking about when I first joined this company. I can’t believe it has been five years.”
“Yes, you’ve been with us for that length of time. I hope you still like working here.”
“I do, very much.” I can’t imagine being anywhere else. Working with you is sheer bliss. She realized that she was staring again and that she really ought to be getting back to her desk.
Walking over to his desk, she set the files down. She could feel him watching her and raised her head to look at him. Her heart skipped a beat when she saw his gaze leave her face and travel over her before returning to her face. She hoped she looked fine in the light grey long sleeved top, black pencil skirt and black knee high boots. “I’d-I’d better get to back to my desk.”
“Are you going to Rita’s Christmas dinner?” he asked as she was about to turn away.
Rita was a retiree who used to at the firm. She retired two years after Paulette starting working there. Paulette was sorry to see her go but they kept in touch. She was like a mother to her. This year she was having a dinner and dance party at a banquet hall in London. Paulette had received her invitation in the mail a week ago and had started shopping around for a dress to wear. She wanted to wow Antonio, if he was going. “Yes, I’m going. Are you?”
“Yes, I am.”
She wondered if he was taking anyone. It would ruin her night to see him with another woman.
“Are you going with anyone?” he asked, glancing up from the papers he had been going through.
She shook her head. “No.”
“Why don’t we go together?” he suggested much to her surprise.
“Together?” she repeated. The thought of going with him thrilled and made her nervous at the same time. It would be the first time that they would be seeing each other outside of the office. What were they going to talk about on the ride over to Rita’s place? Would there be an awkward silence? She heard herself say, “Sure. That’s a great idea.” No chance of him showing up with someone else. Tomorrow evening she was going to dazzle him.
“Good. I’ll pick you up at seven.” He returned to sorting through the papers which was her cue that she should get to work. She turned and walked quickly out of his office, her heart pounding with excitement. She couldn’t wait for tomorrow to come.
The day went by very quickly and it was like a blur for her. All she could think about was seeing Antonio tomorrow. She imagined them staring at each other across the table and slow-dancing afterwards. Oh, stop daydreaming and concentrate on your work, she chided herself. It was hard concentrating but she forced herself to do it and in no time it was the end of the work day. She cleared her desk, turned off her computer, locked her drawers and stood up to pull on her scarf and coat. After turning off the lamp on her desk, she grabbed her handbag and walked over to Antonio’s office to say goodbye.
He was typing something and stopped when she poked her head in. “Goodnight.”
“Goodnight. See you tomorrow.”
She smiled as she walked to the lift. Yes, I don’t have to wait until Monday to see you. When she got home, she took out the dress she was going to wear. It was perfect. When she tried it on and examined herself in the mirror, it looked great on her. The champagne color suited her complexion and the style of the dress flattered her figure. She didn’t bother trying on any other dresses. This was the one. She hung it carefully back in her wardrobe and slid the doors shut.
After fixing herself a sandwich and salad, she sat down and ate while watching the news on TV. She decided to turn in early although she knew that it would be a while before she fell asleep because she was so excited about tomorrow. It was around mid-night when she finally drifted off, a smile on her face.
Saturday came and she spent the day, cleaning the flat, doing laundry and grocery shopping. Then, it was time to get ready for the dinner/dance. Excitement filled her as she got dressed. For a few minutes she looked at herself in the mirror before she left her room. She had just put on her coat and grabbed her clutch purse when the doorbell rang promptly at seven. Immediately, her heart began to beat fast and she felt a little nervous as she opened the door.
Antonio smiled. “Good evening,” he said. His eyes lingered on her face before shifting to her hair which was in an updo with a few tendrils framing her face. She saw what looked like admiration flicker in them. She couldn’t wait to see his reaction when he saw her dress.
“Good evening.” She stepped out into the passageway, closing the door behind and turned to lock it. She turned and saw that he was still watching her and she smiled. This was going to be a very exciting evening. They walked to the lift and as they rode down in the lift, they exchanged glances but didn’t say anything. It was a bit cold when they got outside but she soon felt warm in his car as they drove off. Smooth jazz filled the car.
“How come you don’t have a boyfriend?” he asked suddenly, startling her.
“I don’t know. My mother has asked me the same thing.”
“Speaking of family, are you an only child or do you have siblings?”
“I’m the younger of two daughters. My older sister, Pam is married and has three children. She was with my mother when she took in ill. I was away on a trip at the time and had to fly back immediately.”
“This was a few years ago—during my senior year at university. My mother suddenly collapsed and had to be rushed to the hospital. We weren’t sure that she was going to make it but her pastor encouraged us to pray for her and she made what could only be called a miraculous recovery.”
He glanced at her. “I’m happy to hear that your mother recovered. Are the two of you close?”
“Growing up, I was closer to my father but after he died, my mother and I became close. Almost losing her has made me cherish every moment I have with her now.”
“Yes, family is very important. Both of my parents are dead but I have two brothers and a sister. They are all back in Italy. I try to visit them when I can.”
They talked more about his family and why he left Naples to come to London, especially since he had many fond memories of growing up there. She laughed as he imitated his father who was very strict and his mother who was always complaining about something or the other. He still missed them although they had died over ten years ago. His father died of a heart attack and his mother was devastated. She couldn’t survive without him and died the following year. “I have a photo of them in my wallet,” he told her. “It was taken the year before Dad died.”
Paulette stared at him, touched that he carried a photo of his parents in his wallet. She didn’t say anything. She didn’t know what to say and they had reached the banquet hall. He parked the car, got out and walked around to open the door for her. As they walked to the entrance, she felt the nervous excitement rising in her. They went to the coat room to check in their coats.
With trembling fingers, she unbuttoned hers and removed it. After she handed it to the girl there, she turned and looked at Antonio who was staring at her. She saw his gaze travel slowly over her– the beaded bodice, the plain long skirt with the side slit which revealed her leg as she stood there. He looked amazing in the black dinner suit and as he walked over to her, she felt her mouth go dry when she saw the expression on his face.
“You look amazing,” he said quietly, his eyes meeting hers.
“So do you,” she said, sounding a little breathless.
They stood there staring at each other and then he extended his arm. She took it and they walked to the hall where they heard voices and laughter. Rita was at the entrance greeting everyone. She was delighted to see them. “You look handsome as usual,” she said to Antonio before hugging him.
Then, she turned to Paulette, her eyes widening. “And you, my Dear, you look absolutely stunning. That dress was made for you.” They hugged. “I think Antonio agrees with me,” she said in a low voice so that he couldn’t hear. “He can’t stop staring at you.” She drew back and addressed them both. “It’s great to see you both. You’re both sitting at my table but not next to each other. I hope you don’t mind.”
They both assured her that they didn’t mind although Paulette was disappointed but it turned out that he was sitting directly opposite her. She was seated next to Rita’s grandson while Antonio was sitting next to Marissa, a co-worker.
Every now and then, when Paulette looked over at Antonio she found him staring at her. She wished it were just the two of them having a romantic, candlelight dinner with soft R&B music playing in the background. Rita’s grandson, Mark was talking to her and she tried to be attentive but she couldn’t help being distracted. When dinner was over, she excused herself and went to the bathroom to freshen up.
When she returned, people were dancing and Mark asked her to dance. She was about to open her mouth to turn him down when, she felt a hand on her arm and turned to find herself staring up at Antonio. “I believe you owe me this dance?” he said.
Heart thudding, she allowed him to escort her to the dancefloor. He turned after finding a spot and his hand found the small of her back as they moved to the music. It was a slow number, one of her favorite songs. She couldn’t imagine dancing it with anyone else. She put her arm round his shoulder and just allowed her body to follow his lead. It felt so good being in his arms. She felt like Eliza Doolittle, wishing she could dance with him all night.
They danced until the slow music ended and faster music replaced it. The rest of the night was spent at the table talking and having non-alcoholic drinks. When it was time to go, she had mixed feelings. She was beginning to feel a little tired and wanted to go home but it meant that her evening out with Antonio was over. Rita hugged them and wished them a Merry Christmas. She hoped to see them again soon.
It had gotten colder so Paulette was huddled in her coat as she followed Antonio across the parking lot to where his car was parked. She was thankful when she climbed in and sank down against the soft leather. The car was soon suffused with warm air. On the drive home, they talked about the dinner party and both agreed that they it was a success. She planned on calling Rita tomorrow to thank her for a wonderful evening.
Twenty minutes later, they were standing outside of her flat. She had unlocked the door and stood on the threshold, facing him. The place was quiet because it was near one in the morning.
“Goodnight,” he said softly.
“Goodnight,” she replied, wishing he would stay. They stared at each other and then she was in his arms and he was kissing her.
She threw her arms around his neck and they tightened as she kissed him back passionately for several minutes. Then, she broke off the kiss, grabbed his hand and pulled him inside the flat, closing the door behind them. She fumbled with the lock before turning to face him, her eyes feverish as they met his. She reached for him and felt his arms encompass her waist, pressing her into him as she pulled his head down to hers, her fingers gripping his hair. He was kissing her like a mad man, unable to contain himself. They stood there kissing for a long time and then they released each other long enough to remove their coats and discard them on the floor. She kicked off her shoes while he removed his.
“I want us to start seeing each other outside of the office,” he muttered thickly as he removed his dinner jacket and tossed it on the floor. His tie soon followed.
She nodded. “Yes,” she gasped when he scooped her up and strode through the living-room. “Third door on the left.”
That was the beginning of their new relationship.