Authors: Marilyn Brant
Tags: #Fiction, #Contemporary Women
Bridget had tasted cannoli before, but only the store-bought, ready-made, vanilla-pudding kind. More often than not, they were on the stale-n-soggy side. And once, a few years back, when she and Graham went to a friend’s wedding, there were savory cannoli at the reception, which tasted a little odd and were hardly worth the five thousand calories each.
“I’ve tried a few kinds of cannoli,” she said, explaining about the savory ones. “I love the
of a crispy pastry embracing a smooth filling, but that blend of chicken pâté and prosciutto was disturbing when I’d expected something sweet. And the shells never seem to stay hard and fresh for long enough.”
He shook his head. “There’s no excuse for limp shells. As for the filling, you tasted an unusual variety. There’s a style of cannoli that’s just like that, and the people who brought them in were probably from Naples or, at least, they favored that style of cooking. But my ma does it the traditional Sicilian way. And hers are sweet. Very sweet. And also very crunchy.”
He leaned even closer to her, his torso resting on the desk, the gold cross he wore on a chain around his neck swinging forward slightly. “Imagine—fresh, whole-milk ricotta blended with imported mascarpone, apricot preserves and chopped semisweet chocolate.” He gestured a mixing motion, his eyes heavy lidded in apparent pastry-induced rapture. “That’s the filling. Not some boring vanilla thing. But it doesn’t stop there. For the shells you’ve got flour, sugar, cinnamon, cocoa powder, sweet Marsala wine and more—kneaded until elastic, rolled over large steel tubes, smothered in canola oil and fried with lethal intent.” He smacked his lips. “Pipe the filling into the crisp shells, sprinkle the ends with ground coffee and cocoa, then sift powdered sugar over the whole thing, and
“Oh, my God,” she murmured.
“They sound heavenly.” And huge. She tried to ignore all embarrassing thoughts of phallic implications, but she could, nevertheless, picture those large, sweet cannoli in her mind, as if he’d just demonstrated the recipe on her favorite TV cooking show. Dr. Luke was no typical, finicky dentist. Dr. Luke was her pick for the next guest cook on The Foodie Station’s
Delectable Dishes, Decadent Desserts
program. And, possibly, a top-ten inclusion in
magazine’s “Hot Chefs” issue.
“I’ll bring you some tomorrow.”
Bridget’s elation was as sweet as powdered sugar, and as easily dispelled. “Oh, darn! I don’t work tomorrow.”
“That’s right, that’s right. The day after, then,” Dr. Luke said. “I’ll save one for you and you can try it on Thursday.”
Oh, good Lord. That cannoli sounded sinful enough to require a few Hail Marys and all eleven lines of the Act of Contrition. Would he stay to watch her eat one? If so, it’d be just like the famous deli scene in
When Harry Met Sally…
only she might find herself reaching an orgasmic high for real.
“Thank you,” she murmured, unable to keep from staring at this generous, funny, unexpectedly sensual man.
But, aside from the obvious food fantasies he inspired, something about talking with him always made her feel
Well, when she wasn’t feeling guilty. He made her feel as though she was on the right path somehow. Observing the way he’d conducted himself throughout their few exchanges had convinced her the feelings he aroused weren’t evidence of some silly crush she’d quickly get over. That her interest in him wasn’t a mere physical thing. He might be fifty and the tiniest bit stout, but it was his boyishness and enthusiasm that turned her on. A person could try to ignore attraction, but it wasn’t like you could totally get rid of it, could you?
No. And there was a special quality about
man. The way he had more pull on her now than ever. He seemed to epitomize the direction she was heading in her life and her understanding of it, whereas Graham—not that there was anything
with him (she
her husband, of course!)—was very much where she’d been. Things were different now between them, and Graham was a living remnant of her younger, less mature manner of walking in the world.
Dr. Luke leaned a couple of inches closer still, as near as he could be to her without actually making contact. “Do you wanna hear about the rum cake?” he asked, which to Bridget seemed as much a line of seduction as saying, “Do you wanna talk about lacy undergarments and, perhaps, a few kinky sexual positions?”
She bit her lip and began to nod, just as the office door swung open and a very tense-looking Dr. Nina strode through. The dentist clenched her bony jaw with a rigidity strongly discouraged by the American Dental Association, slammed the heavy oak door behind her and marched toward the desk, her wiry arms pumping at her sides.
Bridget and Dr. Luke pulled apart as if they’d just been caught kissing in a coat closet and were about to be scolded by Bridget’s old catechism teacher, Sister Catherine Anne. No one ever dared to cross the fiery nun.
“Hey there, Nina. How are you doing on this fine afternoon?” Dr. Luke asked with his usual amiability, although Bridget couldn’t help but detect something forced in his tone.
Dr. Nina narrowed her eyes at him in response, then glanced between him and Bridget in an assessing way that left no doubt they were being judged—and not pleasantly. She said, “I’m not in the mood for any crap. From anyone.”
Dr. Luke’s eyes widened. Bridget blinked at the woman. So much for the “friendly, professional office staff” she’d thought she’d found.
Dr. Nina dropped some new business cards on the desk and stalked off in the direction of the staff lounge.
Dr. Luke lifted one of the cards, read it and winced. “Ah.” He flipped it around so Bridget could see. “She did away with the hyphenated last name,” he explained. “She was Nina Brockman-Lewis. Now there’s no more Lewis.”
“Does that mean there’s also no more husband?” Bridget asked in a low voice.
“I think that may be an excellent deduction.” Dr. Luke lowered his voice to match hers. “There’ve been problems at home for a while.” He tilted his head toward the back hallway. “I’m gonna go check on her.” But before he turned to leave, he looked directly into her eyes, the kind of warm, affectionate gaze that liquefied her insides to a Ghirardelli hot-fudge-sauce consistency. The kind of glance that had kept her awake past midnight more than once in a futile attempt to interpret it. The kind of knowing glimpse into her soul that would be impossible to explain to her friends without cheapening the interaction.
It was a sensation that lingered long after he’d left, but once he’d physically walked away, Bridget busied herself with filing paperwork and fielding phone calls. A few new patients came in. A couple of others left. Over the next hour there were a handful of chaotic moments punctuated by stretches of pure, blissful silence.
., though, Candy all but sprinted into the area behind Bridget’s desk, rummaged through a drawer and snatched her purse. “I’m having my lunch break
today,” she said, rolling her eyes in the direction of the hallway. “Too much drama back there.”
“Why? What’s going on now?”
Candy, sotto voce, said, “Dr. Nina’s spouting off some, um, colorful phrases between patients. I just overheard her talking to Dr. Luke about her soon-to-be ex and his PR assistant. She referred to the woman as ‘That Little Blond Whore with the Britney Spears Wardrobe Who’s Somehow Fucking My Impotent Husband’ so…” Candy wrinkled her nose and frowned.
Bridget grimaced. “Did Dr. Luke have any luck calming her down?”
Candy shook her head. “Dr. Luke’s a good guy, but he’s not a miracle worker. Or a shrink. Dr. Nina needs at least one of each.”
Bridget smiled and seized the opportunity to ask more personal questions about her favorite dentist. “When he rushed back to talk to Dr. Nina earlier, he seemed really sympathetic,” she said. “I thought it was maybe because he’d gone through a divorce or something, too. Any idea?”
“I don’t know much. He never talks about it, but I did hear he’d been engaged once. Something happened, though, and they called it off.” The hygienist shrugged. “I know he’s had other long-term relationships since, but he’s never been married.” She took a couple of steps toward the door and shot Bridget a semiwicked grin. “He might be more expressive than most guys, but he
single,” she mouthed. “Maybe he and Dr. Nina will…um—” She made a suggestive hand motion, then flashed another grin. “Might cheer her up.”
Bridget forced a laugh but felt vaguely nauseated by the idea.
Dr. Luke with the cool, too skinny and now rather irate Dr. Nina? No.
Not that Dr. Luke didn’t deserve to find love. But if Bridget couldn’t have him, shouldn’t he at least be involved with a joyful woman who didn’t look like she desperately needed to eat more than a ninety-calorie oat-n-nut bar and a cup of raspberry yogurt for lunch?
Bridget thought so.
Unfortunately, these impulses made her feel uncomfortably callous. Based on what little information she’d gathered, it seemed Dr. Nina was the injured party in her decomposing marriage.
But what if Dr. Nina’s husband had had a
reason to cheat? Bridget hadn’t ever seen this rude and enraged side of the female dentist before, so maybe the woman just put on a well-behaved show in public. What if she was a raving witch at home who’d scared her husband into submission and
was why he’d strayed?
Might that be an excuse or was that still wrong? Still a sin? And was it immoral to even ask these questions?
When Bridget’s shift ended, she made a quick trip to the lounge to put away some coffee mugs, passing Dr. Luke, who’d just finished with his latest appointment.
“Quick. C’mere.” He motioned her to enter the room as he waved goodbye to the elderly gentleman. After doing a cursory hall check, he unzipped his blue Smiley Dental shoulder bag and retrieved a thick white box about the size of one of Graham’s carpentry manuals. “Don’t tell Candy,” he warned as he opened it.
Bridget gaped at the contents. Every inch was packed with brightly colored, individually wrapped pieces of saltwater taffy. “She’ll wring your neck if she walks by.”
He winked. “I know, but they’re worth it. Soft. Tangy. Packed with flavor. My brother’s from Atlantic City and they make it fresh there. He always brings me a box when he visits.” He glanced again at the open door and lightly tapped her arm with his fingers. She felt his brief touch like the tantalizing buzz of a smoothie blender, vibrating against her skin. “Hurry,” he added. “Grab a handful for the road. Don’t let anybody see you.”
She plucked five pieces to take along. “Thanks.”
“Welcome.” He smiled conspiratorially. “Have a great afternoon and, uh, Bridget?”
“Watch your fillings.”
She laughed. “See you Thursday, Dr. Luke.”
His behavior was perfectly innocent, just another example of his generous nature, but she couldn’t help but feel as though his words and deeds that day were all part of an unintentional kind of foreplay uniquely tailored to her. And she couldn’t stop her heart from becoming floaty and light from just their little bit of contact.
She glided out of the office, purposely leaving her pretty baby roses on the desk—a gift to joy, life, beauty and also, perhaps, as a reminder of her to Dr. Luke. Then she sped back to the grocery store. When she recalled the high that had washed over her as Dr. Luke described his mom’s cannoli, it made her second food-shopping excursion of the day feel like a wholly different task from her first one.
She all but skipped down the aisles in search of interesting meal options. How about a circular loaf of sweet Hawaiian bread, imported orange marmalade, sliced Muenster cheese and a rainbow of organic fruits for breakfast the next day?
And for dinner that night, why not buy a bottle of white wine and some sparkling pear cider for the kids and get the fixings for Vietnamese spring rolls (with fresh mint and hoisin-chili dipping sauce!) as a healthy appetizer? Add a side of roasted red pepper hummus and a bag of sea-salt-sprinkled baked pita wedges? And finish it off with a main course of pecan-encrusted tilapia, steamed broccoli florets with slivered almonds as the evening’s vegetable and a luscious dessert of tart lemon sorbet?
Minute after minute ticked by on her Timex, and she knew she had to get home to unload her groceries, do the dishes and toss a batch of laundry into the washer before the kids got back from school at three-thirty. But Bridget couldn’t tear herself away from the delightful abundance of cans, boxes and sealed plastic bags. She gave in to her desire to linger. She reexperienced the jubilation of shopping as if she were an alien visiting the planet, her cart rolling in front of her and her former self a shadow tiptoeing behind.
So what if her purchases made her gain a few more pounds? She was healthy. She exercised (a little). She wasn’t an unhappy Twiggy type. She could learn to love her hips, which, thanks to three pregnancies and her more recent perimenopausal changes, were several inches wider than they’d been a dozen years ago.
She walked by a table of bruschetta samples and snagged one. The texture of sun-dried tomato bits and fresh mozzarella chunks on a crunchy cracker. The scent of basil. The flavor burst of really good olive oil. Mmm. A tangible reminiscence of her long-held daydream of going to culinary school and making such delicacies…at least before she was reminded of practical considerations.
Nevertheless, she could bring little elements of the foodie life into her regular one. She could! The table could be set beautifully, pleasurably, artistically. No fast-food junk. Meals could be a feast for the eyes and the senses, as well as for the taste buds. The kids—and Graham, too—should expand their dietary horizons. They should eat something besides mac-n-cheese or burgers and fries or frozen pizza, for goodness’ sake. They should be willing to take a chance on a new dish and put their litany of food aversions aside for a night—if not for themselves, then for