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Gabriels redemption, p.16
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       Gabriels Redemption, p.16

         Part #3 of Gabriels Inferno series by Sylvain Reynard  
Page 16

 

  “Can I take you to lunch?” He focused solely on Julia.

  “I’m afraid she already has plans. ”

  Julia gave her husband what could only be referred to as the look before nodding at Paul.

  “I’d love to go to lunch with you. Thank you. ”

  Gabriel clutched Julia’s elbow.

  “I don’t think that’s appropriate,” he whispered.

  “Darling,” she whispered back a warning.

  “Hello, Mr. Norris,” Katherine interrupted. She shook Paul’s hand firmly before turning to Gabriel. “Mr. Norris and I are having dinner this evening. I’d like you and Julianne to join us. ”

  “We’d be delighted. ” Gabriel’s voice was strained. “Since we’ll be dining with you this evening, Mr. Norris, I’ll claim my wife for lunch. ” He smiled, showing all his gleaming white teeth.

  “Darling, can I have a word?” Julia asked. She turned to Katherine and Paul. “We’ll be right back. ”

  Julia took Gabriel’s hand and led him to a quiet corner of the room.

  “I want to have lunch with him. ”

  “Over my dead body. ” Gabriel crossed his arms over his chest.

  “He’s an old friend. ”

  “An old friend who kissed you. ”

  “That was after you left me. As you may recall, I turned him down. ” She crossed her arms, mirroring his posture.

  Gabriel scowled. “He wants you. ”

  “Paul is not someone who would make a pass at a married woman. It’s just lunch. So I’m asking you, please, don’t make a big deal out of this. ”

  “It is a big deal. ”

  “I haven’t seen him in a year. I’d like to talk to him and see how he’s doing. Maybe he’s back together with Allison. ”

  “He’s still in love with you. ”

  “No, he isn’t. ”

  Gabriel crowded her, dropping his voice.

  “You forget that women who are beautiful, intelligent, and kind are in short supply. A man would do anything to have a woman like you. Including stealing you from your husband. ”

  Julia squared her shoulders.

  “You forget that when a woman finds a good man, a man who loves her and makes her happy, she doesn’t fuck around. ”

  Gabriel flinched.

  He couldn’t help it—his eyes found Christa’s and he watched as she taunted him, looking between himself and Julia smugly.

  Gabriel turned back to his wife and uncrossed his arms.

  “I’m not happy about this. ”

  Julia reached up to kiss his cheek. “I can live with that. Thank you. ”

  Within minutes, Gabriel found himself in the unhappy position of having to watch his wife sit next to the Angelfucker, while he sat on her other side. She and her friend exchanged a few playful words before the session began, and Gabriel resented each and every one of them.

  This conference is like a tour through the various levels of Hell, he thought. The only things missing are a respectable Virgil and hordes of people screaming.

  It was one thing to suffer the slings and arrows of Miss Peterson. It was quite another to find his wife in the arms of another man. And in the arms of the Angelfucker, of all people.

  Gabriel started reciting the prayer of St. Francis in Italian in an effort to calm down.

  He knew that he should tell Julia about his confrontation with Christa. But he also knew that it would upset her, potentially ruining her opportunity to appear poised and self-confident in front of the conference attendees. So he kept the distasteful details to himself.

  Besides, he had Mr. Norris to worry about.

  Paul had been a good and loyal friend to Julia, especially when she’d needed him. But he’d made a play for her, something Gabriel understood but would never forgive.

  He wanted to keep Julia as far away from him as possible. But the look on her face when she saw him killed that possibility. She’d had precious little to smile about the day before. Gabriel was not about to kill that look.

  He tapped his foot quietly as the first conference speaker began her presentation. He was absolutely oblivious to the distracting noise his handmade Italian shoes were making against the floor until Julia laid a gentle hand on top of his knee.

  He took out his Meisterstück 149 and toyed with it, trying in vain to flip it over his fingers in a single motion.

  In an effort to distract himself from a paper he swore he’d heard before, he thought back to his very public fight with Julia, when she’d been a student in his seminar. She’d provoked him in front of Paul, Christa, and the rest of the class. He’d been horribly embarrassed and furious. In his rage, he’d even destroyed what had been a very serviceable Ikea chair.

  He’d learned a great deal from Julia in the interim, not least of which was the importance of forgiving others and one’s self. But Julia’s pacifist tendencies were too extreme. Without him, or someone like him, she’d been broken and abused.

  Gabriel watched her thoughtfully. Perhaps she’d become a pacifist because she’d been abused. Perhaps the bearer of scars was all too aware of the damage that could be done by vicious words and deeds. He pondered that insight for some time, staring at her, until she squirmed.

  Julianne was beautiful, with clear skin and large eyes, but she didn’t know it. She didn’t see what others saw, and although she’d made much progress since they’d been together, Gabriel knew that her self-image would always be less than it should be. He knew this and because of it, he was careful to protect her, even from himself.

  He certainly wouldn’t let the Angelfucker capitalize on her weaknesses.

  Chapter Thirteen

  January 2011

  Near Essex Junction, Vermont

  Paul Norris stepped into a very large pile of cow shit.

  “Fuck,” he exclaimed, lifting his boot.

  Bessie, one of his father’s prized Holsteins, cast him a baleful look.

  “Sorry, Bessie. I meant fudge. ” He patted the cow on her neck and began to clean off his boot.

  As he shoveled manure in his father’s barn in the early morning, he contemplated the inner workings of the universe, karma, and what his life had become. Then he thought about her.

  Julia was going to marry the bastard. By this time tomorrow, the wedding would be over.

  He couldn’t believe it.

  After everything Emerson had put her through . . . after all of his paternalistic, asinine, controlling bullshit. She took him back. Worse—she didn’t just take him back; she was marrying him.

  Emerson the ass.

  Why?

  Why do good guys always finish last?

  Why do the Emersons of the world always get the girl?

  There is no justice in the universe. He gets the girl and I’m shoveling shit.

  Julia said that he’d changed, but really, how much could one man change in the space of six months?

  He was glad he hadn’t accepted the invitation to the wedding. To have to stand there and watch them look into one another’s eyes and say their vows, knowing all the while that Emerson was going to take her to a hotel somewhere and . . .

  Paul groaned the groan of a man in love who’d lost his beloved.

  (At least he had a lot of shit with which to occupy his time. )

  He was working on his parents’ farm in Vermont because his father was recovering from a heart attack. Despite his recovery, the doctors instructed him to refrain from performing manual labor.

  Walking back to the house from the barn at eight o’clock, Paul was ready for breakfast. It was cold and the wind whistled through the trees that a Norris ancestor had planted as a windbreak around the large farmhouse. Even Max, the family’s border collie, was cold. He ran in circles, barking at the falling snow and begging to be let inside.

  A car traveled up the long drive from the main road, stopping inches from Paul’s feet. He recognized the car immediately—a lime green Volkswagen beetle. And he recognized the driver as she opened her door and placed one Ugg-clad foot after the other onto the freshly plowed driveway.

  Allison had dark curly hair, freckles, and snapping blue eyes. She was funny, she was smart, and she was a kindergarten teacher in nearby Burlington. She was also Paul’s ex-girlfriend.

  “Hi. ” She waved. “I brought coffee from Dunkie’s. ”

  Paul saw that she was carrying a tray that had four large coffees from Dunkin’ Donuts and a bag that contained mysterious treats. Treats that he hoped included fried dough covered in sugar.

  “Go inside. It’s freezing out here. ” Paul waved his gloved hand at the house and followed Allison and Max through the snow.

  Paul pulled off his boots and outdoor clothes in the mudroom, placing his gloves on a rack to dry. Then he began washing his hands, scrubbing vigorously under the warm water.

  He could hear his mother, Louise, speaking to Allison in low tones in the kitchen. She didn’t sound surprised at Ali’s sudden appearance. Paul began to wonder if her appearance wasn’t all that sudden.

  When he entered the kitchen, his mother disappeared with two of the coffees.

  “How’s your dad?” Allison handed him his cup.

  He sipped it quickly, wanting to put off his answer. The coffee was perfect—black with two sugars. Ali knew how he liked his coffee.

  “He’s better. ” Paul’s voice was stiff as he sat across from her at the kitchen table. “He keeps trying to work, and Mom keeps telling him not to. At least he didn’t make it out of the house this morning. She caught him in time. ”

  “We sent flowers to the hospital. ”

  “I saw them. Thanks. ”

  They sat quietly, awkwardly, until Allison reached her hand across the table to take Paul’s large paw in hers.

  “I heard about the wedding. ”

  He looked at her in surprise.

  “Your mom told my mom. They ran into each other at Hannaford’s. ” She rolled her eyes.

  He shook his head but said nothing.

  “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry. She’s clearly a fool. ”

  “She isn’t, but thanks. ” He squeezed her hand. He was going to withdraw, but it felt nice to hold her hand. It felt familiar and comfortable and God knew that he needed comfort, so he kept it there.

  She smiled and sipped her coffee. “I know this is a bad time. I just wanted to let you know that I’m here. ”

  He shifted his weight, focusing on his coffee cup.

  “Do you want to go to a movie?” she blurted. “I mean, sometime. Not right now. It’s too early to go to a movie now. ” Her cheeks pinked up as she searched Paul’s expression.

  “I don’t know. ” He released her hand and sat back in his chair.

  “I don’t want things to be weird between us. We’ve been friends forever and we promised each other we’d always be friends. ” She began to score the sides of her coffee cup with her fingernail.

  “Things are just—difficult right now. ”

  Allison scratched at the surface of the cup.

  “I’m not trying to rope you into something. I really want to be friends. I know you’re busy and—stuff. ” She began ripping off small pieces of her coffee cup and placing them neatly on the kitchen table.

 
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