Puce

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Did it matter that your seventy-five year old Nonna was already thinking about bomboniere for wedding guests?

Did it matter that for about fifteen minutes, the fifteen minutes in which Ant had watched the new, improved, knock your heart into defib, Antonia Pagano work her way around to greeting him, that he agreed with Nonna’s choice of thought pattern.

Whatever he remembered of Toni was a deleted file.  This woman in the white dress with the angelic face, bright smile and designer body, going by the same name was something else entirely.  She was the whole file server.  The whole Cloud.

For that fifteen minutes, Ant was Dan when he danced with Alex, transported to a place where only the two of them mattered.  He was Mitch when he got Belinda back and realised he had a second chance.  He was Fluke when he held Carlie’s hand and knew she wanted more.  He was every man who’d ever seen a vision of his future happiness across a crowded suburban backyard. 

And for the next half hour that vision floated in front of him like a promise of something better than mates, and work, surfing and European cars, as Toni told him about working in London.  She wasn’t some backpacker living wage to wage, she was a qualified chef and her last contract had been with the Australian embassy.  Why didn’t someone tell him that?  How could he not have known how great she was?  He could smell barbeque, but taste heaven.  He could see beauty but hear Church bells ringing.  He didn’t even care how his insta-lust would make the boys laugh because he and Toni would be perfect together.  They had history without even trying, family ties to support them.  A shared sense of how to go about making a life together and Jesus Christ she was beautiful.

And then it all came undone – spectacularly.  Humiliation had a colour and it was puce.  Ant wasn’t even sure what colour puce was, just the sound of the word, the way it forced your lips apart to say it was enough to make him settle on it as the colour to describe how he felt.

He’d asked her out and she’d laughed at him.  He should’ve expected that.  They were almost cousins; it probably came as a shock to her.  They talked some more, friends in common, family members they could both do without, work, career.  And then he asked her again.  And she laughed.  Again.  So what?  She was making him chase her.  She was worth it.  But when he asked a third time, that’s when things went into a trading halt.

She had this sexy, husky voice.  She said.  “I’d forgotten you were such a joker.”

He hadn’t been conscious of making a joke, but she was laughing, so whatever. 

“I mean I can’t even get past the Anthony and Antonia thing.  We loved it as kids, thought it was so cool, like we were twins—Tony and Toni, but that’s just too stupid for grown-ups.”

“It’s not that stupid.  Even Nonna calls me Ant now.”  It wasn’t stupid it was right, so right, the shortening of their two names made one.

“You’re hysterical.”

Maybe he was.  He was blown away by her, so yeah, maybe he wasn’t making sense.  He spied the garden bench by the hydrangeas that cousin Mario abandoned and before one of the little tacker cousins could get their bum down, he dragged Toni over to it.  “I’m serious.  It’s about time you and me got to really know each other.”

She squinted at him.  “What?”

“I mean as adults, fresh start.”

“That’s sweet, but don’t you have a girlfriend who’d miss you if you were hanging around with me?”

“Nope.  I’m currently flying solo.”  His angel didn’t need to know that right up until now, solo was his preferred position because he got more tail that way.

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