Joanne reached in her bag for her cell phone and accidentally jostled the laptop of the young man beside her. She smiled an apology, but he was too absorbed in his work to notice. She switched the device on, as there was still time before boarding the flight. Her husband or daughter may want to contact her. Gosh, she contemplated her fellow passenger. He’s so young. Thirty-six. Thirty-seven. Wendy’s age. And so serious.

The cell phone rang. She glanced at the screen, stifled a gasp, and felt her gut twist. Her hand snapped open, dropping the phone to the floor. The young man frowned in her direction.

“Are you alright, madám?” the man inquired in a marked French accent. They were waiting to board a flight from Quebec City to Toronto.

Joanne jerked her head up and down.

The ringing persisted from the floor. “Here, let me get it for you.” The man scooped it up with one long arm and handed it to her. She accepted the wriggling, flashing object and placed it at a distance on top of her carry-on. “Thank you,” she whispered, but didn’t answer it, just stared. The name on the screen was Richard.


“Come on, Mamá. Let me show you how to use the Internet.”

“Oh no,” Joanne shook her head at her son-in-law, as her mitt-clad hands drew the muffin tin out of the toaster oven. She placed it gingerly on the counter. “Not me. Too old!”

Wendy trilled her pretty little laugh. “Oh, come on, Mom! Look at Mrs. Klimovski over there. She’s way older than you and she comes here every week to chat with her sister in Poland!”

“I don’t have a sister in Poland.” Joanne answered, almost sharply. But Wendy noticed her voice waver.

“Okay, then. Old friends. From high school.”

“We’ll see.”

But in the end, it was Mrs. Klimovski who convinced her. She was one of the ChitChat Café’s regular customers. A Polish immigrant, she had raised three children in the city and still lived downtown. Her chunky jewelry complimented her cheap wigs, and thick make-up caked in the cracks of her face. “It is wonderful. I have email, Facebook, Skype…and so much more.” The tiny woman looked around before winking at her. “Wendy thinks I talk to my sister every week. But really, I have found an old boyfriend …”

Gabriél and Wendy had opened the cyber-café mainly to attract the student crowd from the nearby university, and at first it had been overrun by young people. But soon, as devices became cheaper, lighter and more convenient, the demographics of the café’s clientele changed. A lot of older people came now to unravel the mysteries of information science in Gabriél’s classes and workshops and to socialize in the cozy coffee shop area that Joanne had helped Wendy create. Customers could read, work on computers, enjoy coffee and homemade muffins, and even gather in small groups. Language exchanges were hosted on Mondays, the Writer’s Group critiqued each other’s work every Tuesday night, the Poets’ Society recited their most recent creations on Wednesday evenings, Friday afternoons were reserved for discussing novels in the Ladies’ Book Club, and Close Knit chose Saturday mornings to click their needles and share a good gossip.

Gabriél set up an email account for his mother-in-law. Then Facebook. During the first week, she rushed to the café every day, ecstatic, and revealed her discoveries to them. “You’ll never guess who I found on Facebook…my old friend Anne. She is a teacher in our old high school. Wow, so many years…” her voice trailed off as she dumped out the coffee filter.

Wendy’s father started grumbling to them, “Can’t get her off that darned computer anymore. She’s like a teenager!”

The smell of baking and freshly brewed coffee turned the busy mornings into the most delicious part of the day. Mother and daughter took advantage of the noontime to share their lunch by the window seat, where the winter sunlight filtered through the leafy curtain of hanging pothos plants. Joanne had dug out an old photo album and brought it to the café one day to reminisce with Wendy and show her the old friends she was reconnecting with.

“Mom, who are those girls with you in this photo?”

“Those are my friends Francis and Shirley.”

“Isn’t that the Chateau Frontenac?”

A laughing group of young people, all bundled up in scarves and heavy coats, huddled together with a background of blinding snow and the imposing, historic hotel.

“We studied French in Quebec City for a semester.”

“You never told me that!”

“That was a long time ago. Before I met Dad…and all that.


“Yes. Before.”

Wendy was too discrete to ask about the young man in the photo.


Several weeks later, Joanne was helping Wendy clean out the ChitChat’s small kitchen.

“My friend Shirley told me that the old students from the language courses have been meeting up lately. She’s organizing a kind of class reunion next month.”

“Class reunion?”

“Well, it’s been over forty years. Forty years!” she shook her head and asked herself softly, “Where has the time gone?”

“Oh, that sounds like fun.”

“I don’t know. I probably won’t go. But Shirley is insisting.” Joanne chuckled. “She was always like that.”

“It might be good for you. You’ve been helping out here in the café so much, you deserve a break.”

“Yes, but Dad…”

“Don’t worry about Dad. We’ll take care of him.”


It was Shirley, the outgoing one, who had lost no time in finding some local boys to flirt with. She and Francis ended up marrying two of them and staying in Quebec, while Joanne returned to London, Ontario and her old life of studying and seeing Jeffrey, a young man who worked with her father and who would later become her husband. Joanne and Shirley’s fervent correspondence evolved from weekly to monthly, and then, after several years, dwindled to the annual Christmas card, before drying up altogether.

Now, it was like old times. They exchanged several messages a week with the urgency of their youth.

Joanne, dear, it would be wonderful if you could come to Quebec for the reunion. So much to catch up on! You already know some of us; Francis, her husband Luc, Pierre and me. And remember Richard? He lives here too. He became a dentist. His wife died a few years ago. They had four kids.

Joanne was quick to respond to that.

Oh! LOL, good old Richard! Haven’t thought of him in years! No. I don’t think I want to see him. That was all so long ago. It would be awkward. Although, I am sorry to hear about his wife…

But the truth was that Joanne already knew all that. Mrs. Klimovski had shown her how to look Richard up.


A slowly mounting excitement began to invade both Joanne’s mind and body. They had moved to Somerleigh when Wendy was already nine years old, and Joanne had never made many real friends. Jeffrey dedicated twelve hours a day to work, and so for the last few years she had gratefully volunteered her hollow hours to help Wendy and Gabriél with the café.


“It’s going to be in the Chateau Frontenac? How far we have come! We sure couldn’t afford that the last time I was there.”

Joanne was chatting with Shirley on Skype. She could feel Mrs. Klimovski peer over at her from where she sat a few PCs away, muttering and grunting her indignation. She was obviously feeling neglected.

Joanne chuckled. “A fancy dinner for us in those days was a plate of poutine!

“Or remember how we used to eat pizza crusts with butter?”

That was a direct reference to Richard, but Joanne wasn’t going to fall for it.

“How is your French, by the way? Mine is nonexistent! But you must be bilingual by now.”

When they were nineteen, French for them was nothing more than lists of irregular verbs memorized the night before an exam. None of them had actually worked their mouths around it before going to Quebec.


A whole anxious fortnight echoed between her and the shimmering night of the reunion. Shirley hinted at bringing Jeffrey, but Joanne knew he would only suffer, so far away from work. And there was that other reason she couldn’t bring herself to admit.

That Friday evening, Jeffrey was working late. Joanne and Wendy had just closed up. “Gabriél and I are going to the movies. Why don’t you come with us? We can grab a pizza afterwards.”

“No thanks. I’d like to get home. Feeling a bit tired.”

In her study, Joanne turned on the old laptop Gabriél had given her. She checked for updates from Shirley. Then she did something that both thrilled and plagued her with guilt. She went to Richard Bretón’s Facebook page. She had discovered it a while before, but lacked the courage to look at it. She felt ashamed, “Who am I? A sixty-year-old, married woman, fantasizing about another man!”

There he was. Same old Richard. Forty years older, but he still had those kind, laughing blue eyes which made you feel like he could see right inside you, know what you were thinking and feeling, and still love you. She remembered his contagious laugh, his charming accent, how he always called her ma petite Jeanne, and how she had absorbed more French in a few heady weeks with him than in years of tedious lessons.

She browsed through albums of smiling, good-looking children and grandchildren, pets, a country house, his aging mother. His lifestyle was lightyears from his student days when he had shared a roach-infested dump with three other young men.

Joanne binge-read post after post, her French improving by the minute. She recognized the Beauce, the area south of Quebec City where his family lived. He had taken her there in his Volkswagen, the one with a hole rusted through the floor so you had to be careful not to put your feet down. She recalled his parents’ noisy farmhouse, scrawny cats, smelly dogs, cackling chickens. She remembered that walk in the woods, his bedroom, the biting cold, the gas heater, his bed, the first time for her.

The sound of Jeffrey opening the front door jolted her back to the present. How much time had passed? She hurried to exit the page when she heard a ping. She squinted at the screen.

Richard had sent her a friend request.

“You still up, Joanne?” Jeffrey trudged heavily up the stairs.

“No! Yes! I’m up here in the study, dear.”

“You at that computer again? Just like a teenager, I tell ya.”

A guilty teenager is what Joanne felt like as she leapt up and hurried to meet him at the top of the stairs. “It’s Shirley. She wants me to know every detail about the reunion, you know her. After all, it’s just two weeks away.”

“Oh, well, it’s almost two a.m. I’m beat. Had to get those reports in before the end of the month.”

Joanne helped him out of his jacket, “Oh, you poor dear. Tomorrow I’ll make you your favourite breakfast.”

It wasn’t long before she heard him snore. The computer beckoned, but she dared not go back to it. Not that night.


But the next night she did, and every night after that. They started messaging, reminiscing.

Will you be going to Shirley’s reunion? She risked asking.

If you are there, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

She felt thrilled and terrified. A man wanted to see her. She had aged well—she was slimmer and taller than her own daughter—but she had aged. Would her sixty-year-old face and body disgust him?

I’ll take you around, but this time in a bigger car, and to classier restaurants. I’ll introduce you to my family, show you my house, a lot better than the place I lived in back then.

Will you take me to the States to buy cheap booze and gas? Will we see moose along the way?

She could barely eat more than a few morsels. She went shopping for dresses, something she had long lost interest in. She got her hair dyed black and cut in a daring new style, short at the back and long at the front, covering her left eye.

“Wow, Mom! This reunion thing is having a really positive effect on you. You look twenty years younger!” They were in Wendy’s car, on the way to the airport in Toronto. She omitted the fact that Joanne wasn’t helping out as much anymore.

Joanne was so nervous when she arrived in Quebec City that she took a taxi straight to the Chateau Frontenac, changed into her new black gown and new black heels, and spent forty minutes doing her makeup.

When she entered the banquet hall, Shirley, Francis, and their husbands all approached to welcome her. She kissed their cheeks and spouted the greetings she had rehearsed in French, but her eyes leapt from table to table.

She had not arranged to meet Richard and wanted to play it cool. They hadn’t even spoken on the telephone. She felt it safer to see how things developed. She was a married woman, after all.

“You’ve barely touched your dinner!” Shirley scolded her during the main course, “Now that we can afford to eat like this, we should enjoy it.”

“Oh, well. I’ve never had much of an appetite.” she lied.

By dessert, she couldn’t stand it anymore. She had scanned all twelve tables. He wasn’t there.

She took another sip of wine to summon up the courage to ask, in what she hoped was as casual a voice as possible, “Oh! What about Richard? Wasn’t he going to come?”

Everyone at the table glanced at each other.

Francis, having lost all discretion after her third glass of wine, spoke. ”Oh, hadn’t you heard?”

“Heard what?”

“He died. Exactly two weeks ago. On a Friday night at home. Heart attack, while typing away on his computer. Just like that.” Francis snapped her fingers for effect.


It was now the next day and she was flying home two days earlier than planned. She was sitting next to a younger version of her workaholic husband and staring at a ringing cell phone. When the din finally stopped, she picked it up and reviewed the messages he had sent her the night before, when she was alone in her hotel room.

Why did you leave me, ma petite Jeanne? Why didn’t you answer my letters? Why didn’t you stay and marry me?

She had spent the whole night lying awake asking herself those same questions. Why? He had loved her. She had loved him. Why had she gone back to Jeffrey? She had done what was expected of her. She had always done that. The easy way. Except this time. And it was too late.


Two hours later, she stepped through Arrivals at Pearson International Airport and spotted Jeffrey’s concerned face in the crowd. Her midnight call must have alarmed him, or he would have sent Wendy instead.

She leaned forward to brush her lips against his cheek, but he pulled her towards him and pressed their bodies together, “Thank you for coming back to me, my little Joanne.” Slow tears dampened her hair. “I was afraid this time you wouldn’t.”