Prudence: Chapter 2g

Dante stands in the corner, a small man in an oversized leather coat who shifts nervously from one foot to the other, then back again. His whole life he has been considered a runt, and was nicknamed the ‘Weasel’ at school. He is a handsome man with a bronzed complexion and sharp cheekbones, his dark hair thick and flowing, but his lack of self-worth radiates his insecurity. Even his time in the gym has not helped him; the muscles makes him look squat – or at least he thinks so. The one thing he takes pride in is his English, learned from echoing dialogue from a variety of American movies.

He watches as Patricia bends over the table as she prepares to break. There’s something about her, something transcendent, that stirs in him feelings greater than simple lust. She’s the girl he wished he could’ve ended up with out of high school, the sort who would’ve made him the envy of anybody who would’ve seen him – not that he has any complaints with Flavia. But confidence and aspiration lift her into a strata where he feels he doesn’t belong, and he must claw onto her toes so that she doesn’t soar out of reach. She would shudder at what Patricia is doing here, whoring cheap thrills for money.

Marcus claps him so hard on the shoulder that Dante’s arm jolts, and his Bourbon & Coke splashes from the glass. He licks it clean from his hand, takes a drink, then pulls his phone from his pocket.

‘I told ya!’ Marcus says, his words quick, that Australian pitch sometimes cutting off a syllable before it’s finished. ‘It gets better than this!’

Marcus has the bluest eyes Dante has seen – they are the flames that transfix whoever they are directed upon. Like Flavia, he beams self-confidence, but it is twisted here – Dante still can’t work it out, although he often fears when Marcus and Flavia have interacted; they are two of the kind: striking, purposeful, and oblivious. Marcus is the sort of man that women are immediately attracted to, and men want to befriend. His only flaw is his neat, pointed goatee – a common thing that is out of place, like a disguise he wears to make him seem just as ordinary as everybody else.

‘What would the girls say if they saw us?’ Dante asks.

‘They’re having their own fun.’

Dante checks his phone. Nothing from Flavia. Not that he is expecting anything.

‘Put the phone away, Dante,’ Marcus says.

‘This is madness.’

Marcus plants his hand high onto Dante’s back, right below his neck. ‘You’re on holiday. Let go. Have fun. Be free.’

‘I might try to find Flavia—’

Marcus’s hand tightens behind Dante’s neck.

‘Geez, Dante, you’re not chained up yet and even if you were, the leash shouldn’t be that short. Even dogs get retractable leads.’

‘What’s wrong with spending time with the woman I love?’

‘You’ll be doing it the rest of your life. One day, you’ll regret the time you didn’t make use of.’

‘To do what? This is like cheating!’

‘You think if the situations were reversed, Flavia wouldn’t have some fun?’

‘Flavia wouldn’t be doing something like this.’

‘It’s amazing what people do when they think nobody’s looking.’

Dante frowns. He’s unsure if Marcus is hinting at something – but that is Marcus. It’s not his words. Often they are straightforward. And it’s not even his tone. It’s familiar and affable. But it’s a cast of the eyes – a sly twinkle, as if he is trying to find some penchant he could exploit.

‘Five minutes!’ Marcus says. ‘Just five more minutes – okay?’

Dante types a text to Flavia, asking her to meet him for a drink.

Okay?

‘Okay, okay.’ Dante sends the message, and lowers his phone.

‘Put it away.’

‘What?’

‘Put it away.’

Dante slides his phone into his pants pocket. He feels the ring box there containing a ring Flavia had pointed out a month ago, when they’d passed a jeweller’s store. He has been building the courage to ask her, and thought he might even do it tonight – possibly in the restaurant. Now, it’s a remote possibility.

‘Where’s Quinn?’ he asks.

‘Quinn?’ Marcus says. ‘Seriously, that’s the pussy you want to look at now?’

‘Just asking.’

‘Dante, enjoy the night. We’re just getting started.’

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