Gabriels redemption, p.18
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       Gabriels Redemption, p.18
 

         Part #3 of Gabriels Inferno series by Sylvain Reynard
Page 18

 

  As the girl continued this behavior, Paul and Julia looked around the restaurant. The other patrons were less than impressed.

  A woman who was modestly dressed and wearing a hijab tried to persuade the girl to exchange her musical book for another, nonmusical one. But the girl shrieked in protest.

  It was at that moment that an older man who had been sitting near them noisily demanded that the waiter silence the girl. He further complained that she was ruining his lunch and that children who cannot behave themselves should not be allowed in restaurants.

  The woman flushed a deep red and tried once again to persuade her daughter to switch books. But once again, the girl refused, kicking loudly against the table leg.

  At that moment, the host approached them.

  “A table for two,” said Paul cheerfully.

  “By the window?” The host gestured to a table in the far corner, next to the window.

  “Yes. ” Paul moved to follow the host as he retrieved two menus.

  As they were walking across the dining room, Julia noticed that the older man was still grumbling about the little girl and that she was still playing her music loudly and erratically. Julia wondered briefly if the little girl was autistic. Regardless, she was appalled at the older man’s behavior.

  She addressed the host. “Maybe we could trade tables with the girl and her mother? If they don’t want to move, that’s fine. But the girl might like to look out the window and she’d be able to play with her book in peace. ”

  The host glanced in the direction of Julia’s hand, noting the increasing discomfort of the other diners.

  “Excuse me,” he said, before approaching mother and child.

  The mother and the host had a quick exchange in Arabic, and then the mother addressed her daughter in English.

  “Maia, we can sit by the window. Isn’t that nice? We can look out at the cars. ”

  The little girl followed her mother’s gesture to the table in the corner. She blinked a little behind her thick glasses and nodded.

  “Maia, can you say thank you?”

  The girl’s name seemed to carry across the restaurant. At the sound of it, Julia startled. She found herself staring at the child, her body frozen.

  Maia looked up at the host and mumbled, while the mother smiled at Julia and Paul.

  A few minutes later, mother and child were happily situated in the corner. The little girl pressed her face against the window, looking outside at the cars and pedestrians, her musical book forgotten.

  Julia and Paul were seated at the other table, next to the now triumphant older man. They ordered a few plates to share and quietly sipped their drinks.

  “You didn’t ask me first. ” Paul’s voice broke into Julia’s thoughts.

  “I knew you wouldn’t mind sitting here. ”

  “You’re right. In fact, it’s better that you dealt with the situation because I was about to walk over to that guy and talk to him. What a jerk. ”

  Julia looked at the man who’d been so censorious and shook her head.

  “I don’t know why I continue to be surprised by people’s insensitivity. But I am. ”

  “I’m glad you are. I know too many cynical people. ”

  “So do I. ”

  Paul’s eyes flickered to the mother and child. “Are you planning to have a Maia of your own anytime soon?”

  Julia winced, the child’s name continuing to jar her.

  “No. Um, not yet, I mean. ”

  Paul gazed at her for a moment, his large, dark eyes radiating concern.

  “You look panicked. Are you worried about having kids?”

  She lowered her eyes.

  “No, I want kids. But later on. ” She sipped her water. “How’s your father?”

  Paul considered exploring her anxiety but thought better of it.

  “He’s okay. I’m still at the farm helping out, so I had to let my apartment in Toronto go. ”

  “How’s your dissertation coming?”

  He snickered. “Terrible. I don’t have a lot of time to write, and now Professor Picton is pissed with me. I was supposed to give her one of my chapters two weeks ago and it isn’t finished. ”

  “Is there anything I can do?”

  “Not unless you want to write the damn thing for me. I’d like to go on the job market this fall, but Picton won’t let me unless I’m further along. ” He sighed loudly. “I’m probably going to be on the farm for at least another year. The longer I’m there, the harder it is to write. ”

  “I’m sorry to hear that. ”

  Julia put her glass down and began rubbing her eyes.

  “Are you tired?” Paul sounded concerned.

  “A little. My eyes bother me sometimes. It’s probably stress. ” She put her hands in her lap. “Sorry. I don’t want this conversation to be all about me. I’d rather hear how you’re doing. ”

  “We’ll come to that. When did your eyes start bothering you?”

  “When I moved to Boston. ”

  “Lots of grad students end up with eyestrain. You should get your eyes checked. ”

  “I hadn’t thought of that. Do you wear glasses?”

  “No, I drank a lot of milk growing up. It helped my vision. ”

  She appeared puzzled. “I thought carrots did that. ”

  “Milk helps everything. ”

  She laughed.

  Paul couldn’t help but appreciate Julia’s beauty, made even more lovely when she laughed.

  He was about to say something but was interrupted by the waiter, who served their lunch. When he withdrew, Julia spoke.

  “Are you seeing anyone?”

  Paul fought a frown.

  “Ali and I go out occasionally. But it’s casual. ”

  “She’s a nice person. She cares about you. ”

  “I know that. ” His expression darkened.

  “I want you to be happy . . . ”

  He changed the subject. “How are things in your program?”

  Julia toyed with her silverware before answering. “The professors are tough and I’m working all the time, but I love it. ”

  “And the other students?”

  Julia made a face.

  “They’re very competitive. I consider a couple of them friends, but I don’t necessarily trust them. I went to the library once and found that someone had hidden a bunch of the Boccaccio resources so the rest of us couldn’t use them for our seminar. ”

  “So I guess you aren’t spending late nights in the library sharing a carrel?”

  “Definitely not. ” She nibbled on her food.

  “Do you go out at all?”

  “Rarely. It’s awkward because the other students bring their partners and Gabriel won’t join me. ”

  “Why not?”

  “He doesn’t think it’s a good idea to socialize with grad students. ”

  Paul bit his tongue. Hard.

  “He wants to have a baby,” Julia blurted.

  She cringed, immediately regretting her lack of discretion.

  “It might be a bit difficult, given his biology,” Paul teased. When he saw the look on her face, he grew serious. “And you don’t?”

  “Not right away. ” She twisted her linen napkin in her lap. “I want to finish my program. I’m worried if we have a baby, I’ll never graduate. ”

  She ducked her head, berating herself internally for mentioning so personal a struggle to Paul. Gabriel would be livid if he knew she was sharing these kinds of confidences. But she needed to talk to someone. And Rachel, although sympathetic, did not understand the academic world.

  “I’m sorry, Julia. Have you told him?”

  “Yes. He said he understood. But it’s out there, you know? Once you express that kind of desire, it can’t be taken back. ”

  Paul tapped his foot under the table. Their conversation had taken a surprising turn, and truthfully, he didn’t know what to say. He quickly
thought of something.

  “There were some mothers in our program back in Toronto, but only a few. ”

  “Did they finish?”

  “Truthfully? Most of them didn’t. A lot of the guys had kids. But most of them had wives who either stayed at home or worked part time. . . . Hey. ” He waited until she lifted her face. “That’s a small sample. I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to who was getting pregnant and who wasn’t. There’s probably a group at Harvard that can give you advice about balancing a family and grad school. ”

  “I didn’t want to have those conversations now. ”

  “I can understand that. ”

  Paul shook his head.

  “Jules, it’s none of my business, but don’t get pressured into living someone else’s life. If you aren’t ready for a family, say so. And stick to your decision, otherwise you’ll end up miserable. ”

  “I don’t think having a baby with my husband would make me miserable. ” She sounded defensive.

  “Dropping out of Harvard would. I know you, Julia. And I know what’s important to you. You’ve been working so hard for this. Don’t throw it away. ”

  “I don’t want to, but I feel guilty. ”

  Paul cursed obliquely.

  “I thought you said he was supportive of you. ”

  “He is. ”

  “Then why would you feel guilty?”

  “Because I’m putting myself first. I’m putting my education first, over his happiness. ”

  Paul gave her a hard look. “If he loves you, then he won’t be happy at the cost of your happiness. ”

  Julia adjusted the silverware in front of her, lining up the ends so they were perfectly symmetrical.

  “Much as I hate to say this, I think you should talk to him again. Tell him what you want and ask him to wait. ” Paul grinned. “And if he won’t, then kick him to the curb. ”

  She looked over at him in surprise.

  “Paul, I don’t think that—”

  He interrupted her. “Seriously, Julia. If your husband loves you, then he needs to wake the fuck up and cut out the barefoot-and-pregnant bullshit. ”

  Her brow furrowed. “He doesn’t want that. ”

  “Then you have no reason to feel guilty. You’re young. You have your whole life ahead of you. You don’t have to choose between grad school and a family. You can have both. ”

  “I’m not the only person whose dreams count. ”

  “Perhaps not. ” Paul lowered his voice, his eyes fixed on hers. “I’m not exactly objective when it comes to you. ”

  “I know,” said Julia, softly. “You’ve been a good friend. Thank you. ”

  “No thanks needed. ” His voice grew gruff.

  “Friends are in short supply. Yesterday, Christa told almost everyone about what happened in Toronto. I was humiliated. ”

  “I wish someone would shut her up. Permanently. ”

  “Gabriel tried. They made a scene. Then Professor Picton arrived and threatened to throw Christa out. ”

  Paul whistled. “I’m sorry I missed that. Picton and Christa in a steel-cage death match? We could have sold popcorn. ”

  He caught sight of Julia’s face, which was lined with distress.

 
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