“Do you often cry from a hard day at work?” He sat on the corner of my desk looking down at me in my chair.
I gave a small laugh. “No. I’m tougher than that.”
He didn’t buy my attempt at levity.
Finally, I gave in and told him the truth. “Today is the first anniversary of my mother’s death. It caught me a little off guard.” I sniffed and tried to hold back the new wave of tears that threatened to fall.
“I’m sorry. You could have taken the day off.”
I nodded. “I thought about it, but then I figured the distraction of work would be good. Plus, there’s the French deal.” I started to sort through the files on my desk to give him my latest report. “I have some new data here—”
“Don’t worry about that now.” His intense eyes studied me. “Anniversaries can be difficult. And birthdays and the holidays.”
I nodded. Of course, he’d understand. He’d lost his wife. “Yes. Christmas was hard.” I didn’t get out of bed on Christmas.
“Do you have some family you can spend time with?” he asked.
“I’ll be okay. I’m sorry you had to see me like this. It’s very unprofessional.”
“Hey.” He reached out and touched my shoulder. “We’re not automatons here. You can have human emotions.”
“Thank you.” I wanted to lean into his hand for comfort. But he was my boss. He was being helpful and supportive, but I couldn’t forget that I worked for him.
“You didn’t answer my question. Is there someone you can be with?”
I didn’t need my boss feeling sorry for me. “I’ll just go home—”
“Ms. Hanson… Bella.”
I looked up at him using my first name. He’d never done that before.
“You shouldn’t be alone.” He watched me for a moment and then said, “Why don’t we go get some dinner. You can tell me about your mom.”
God, I wanted to do that. I wanted to do that more than anything. “Mr. Alexander, I appreciate you trying to help me, but I know you have Lily—”
“She’s with her grandparents this weekend. Come on.” He stood and extended his hand toward the door. “Do you like Italian? Oh wait, how about French food?”
I managed a smile. “French would be nice… my mom was a French teacher.”
His smile was warm. “I guess that’s where you learned it. Good thing, because I can’t read French menus.”
Most French restaurants were expensive, but he insisted on going and the truth was, I didn’t want to be alone. Who better to spend some time with than my boss who knew all about losing a loved one?
The restaurant was a small place that my mom and I would go to when we had extra money to splurge. We ordered escargot, yes, snails with garlic and butter as an appetizer. He ordered duck while I ordered my favorite, the veal. He also ordered a bottle of wine. I wasn’t sure I should drink it. I wasn’t much of a drinker and the last thing I needed was to embarrass myself in front of my boss.
But after the first glass, my worries lessened and after the second one, I felt very relaxed.
“So, your mom taught French and made you learn too?” he asked as he poured me a third glass of wine. We’d finished the first bottle and were now on the second. Wine was another thing I never really understood. Sure it was okay, but how there was a whole science around it didn’t make sense. Now I was beginning to understand it a little bit because the expensive wine Mr. Alexander chose was delicious.
“She raised me to be bilingual. For a long time, my sentences had both French and English.”
He smiled and it was spectacular. “Like what?”
I sat for a moment, sifting through the wine fog to remember one of my ‘Franglaise’ sentences. “I’d say things like, ‘Mama, je veux ice cream,’ which is Mom, I want ice cream.”
“Was it hard to learn both together?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. It was what it was. I imagine it was easier than trying to learn a language later. Do you speak another language?”
He shook his head. “I didn’t have a knack for it. I wonder though if I should have Lily learning one.”
“The younger you are, the easier it is to learn, I think.” I lifted my glass. “To my mom. Je t’aime mama.”
He lifted his glass and clicked with mine. “To your mom.”
“Did your wife speak a second language?”
The light in his eyes dimmed and I felt bad for bringing her up. But wasn’t that why we came here? To celebrate the family we’d lost?
“She knew enough Spanish to get us lost in Spain.”
I started to laugh, but then reined it in.
He smiled. “It’s true and it is funny.”
“It isn’t fair, is it Mr. Alexander, that the people we love so much were taken so early?”