I remember when I met my first beau, Peter. We had just seen Le Tribut de Zamora and were gathered in the lobby. I wasn’t feeling as jolly as the other girls who were giggling about some of the scandalous costumes the singers had worn. There had been a scene in the opera of a slave auction, and though it was a Moorish auction, the sight had made me a bit morose. I was standing apart from the group when a young man sporting a thin, black mustache approached me and extended his hand. Because I was distracted by my thoughts I was caught off guard and gave him my ungloved hand. He bent from the waist and touched the back of my hand to his lips. That brief caress sent a tremor through my limbs that was quite unsettling. When he straightened he was smiling. I thought that I had never seen anyone so handsome.
“Pietro Monasterio,” he said. “May I have the honor of knowing your name?”
I looked across the room at Mlle. Dunnewold. Fortunately, she was engaged with the task of gathering her little flock for the walk back to the dormitory. “I’m afraid that would be imprudent, don’t you agree? We haven’t been introduced.”
“An oversight that can be easily remedied.” He grabbed the elbow of the young man standing behind him. “Matrangas, introduce me to this lovely creature.”
His friend looked confused. “I don’t know her.”
“You know me,” Peter said, “and that’s sufficient.”
“Fine,” the man said. His look of confusion was replaced by one of annoyance. “Peter, this is some girl. Girl, this is Peter.”
“That was hardly a proper introduction, and anyway, I see my classmates are leaving.” Lisette was waving to me, and the other girls were filing out into the hot, afternoon sun. I turned to leave, and Peter let out a little gasp. His hands flew to his chest, mocking a wound to his heart. I couldn’t help but laugh at this charming foolishness, so over my shoulder I whispered, “My name is Justine,” as I hurried to catch up to my classmates. I hardly noticed the heat or the foul odors left by the horses as we walked back to school. In fact, I paused in front of the Pareti brothers market to admire the bananas, plums, and other fruits on display. An old woman selling cala cakes ambled by, balancing her basket on her head. The deep-fried rice cakes smelled so good I bought two on the spot.
Back in our room I sat on our little footstool by the open window, trying to catch a breeze, while I told Lisette of my adventure. It was obvious that she didn’t share my opinion of Peter, but she definitely approved of flirting with men. In an imitation of Mlle. Dunnewold she chirped, “Young ladies do not associate with strange men, particularly those to whom they have not been introduced.”
“Oh, Peter was introduced to me by another young gentleman.”
“And do you know this gentleman’s name? You do not. For all you know they may be thieves or highwaymen. Worse, they may be vegetable merchants.”
“I’ve nothing against vegetables.”
“Well then,” she said, giving me a salacious wink, “do be careful of his carrot.”
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