Angelo lives kitty-corner from me in Little Italy. From my doorway I can see him smoking on his front porch. Between the two of us lies the heart of the neighbourhood, an area where Café Diplomatico, Bar Azzurri and John's Italian Pizza keep the sidewalks bubbling like a glass of Prosecco. Angelo is an Italian boy so beautiful that when I look into his eyes I feel I am on the Spanish Steps in Rome.
The first summer I saw him he was too young. He radiated electricity as he travelled in a pack of Italian boys in expensive sportswear. And I, who can neither confirm nor deny that I am on the cusp of 30, felt so unremarkable when they passed me in the sunshine.
That spring I went to France to sing in the streets of the Côte d'Azur and fill up on art and the Mediterranean, and forgot all about him.
One beautiful September day after my return, I go for a long swim and afterwards feel truly fine sashaying along College Street in high-waisted pinstripe pants and black halter top. When I turn down Augusta, the most elegant man, also in pinstripes, is walking my way. Our eyes lock, his framed by luxuriant lashes. I hold his gaze as we pass. We turn and stop.
"Hello," I say. He comes toward me, hand outstretched.
"Hi. I'm Angelo."
"Nice to meet you. My name is Nicole. We both look wonderful!" I feel overjoyed. My lifelong dream of being an independent woman who walks along the attraction continuum of life is coming true.
"I know you," he says. "Don't you live in Little Italy?"
Suddenly, I recognize the boy from last summer. He's become a man. He still glows, but now he carries himself with more ease. He has relaxed into his own beauty. We decide to go for espresso at a Portuguese bakery.
He tells me he's just quit his job at an upscale men's clothing store downtown and has nothing to do today except enjoy the sunshine and break the news to his parents, with whom he still lives, in the Old World tradition. I feel high on life.
He confides that he feels trapped in a men's fashion prison. I like all the angles his pinstripe suit is making. He tells me about how much he loves sitting on the streetcar just looking at people's faces, and I suddenly feel very sure of myself.
"You're an artist," I announce. His eyes light up, and we decide to go to the art supply store and buy pads and pencils.
Angelo and I walk through the throngs on Spadina sketching the barbecued octopus hanging in a restaurant window, a fruit known as rambutan, a guy with dreadlocks, and anything else that turns us on.
When we stop to draw a pile of hot peppers, Angelo turns to me and says, "You don't realize how important this is. I've never done this before."
I can't even look at him. My eyes fall on a heavy cluster of round grapes hanging beneath the awning of a tropical fruit store. This is the kind of grapes that makes me imagine I'm reclining on a bed of silky pillows while a beautiful male specimen dangles the entire cluster over my expectant lips.
"You see those grapes?" I say, "That's me. That's how I feel right now." I sketch the grapes.
Angelo and I walk arm in arm in the warm sunshine along Dundas, leaving Chinatown behind. At Trinity Bellwood's Park, We take up temporary residence in the shade. Now we draw each other, and it's like a caress.
"There should be a sculpture of you," he says. A man walking his dog disappears up the hill, leaving us alone in the hollow. I feel Angelo's eyes on my cheek, my neck and gliding down my body as he works on his portrait. My heart feels sparkly. I slide my fingers around the back of his neck.
He turns his face toward me in all of its chiselled beauty and I finally taste his lips. I unbutton his shirt and slide my hands around his hard torso, leaving a trail of goose bumps in my wake. I drink him in. I'm transported away from Toronto, this Protestant grid where people suppress their emotions and work their souls to death. His curls feel silky between my fingers as I receive his tender kisses.
The affection between us is genuine, so we're both a little surprised when the fire never burns past the kindling stage. The sun gets older and the day begins to cool off. I slip my platform sandals back on.
As we head back toward Little Italy, he removes his arm from mine.
"Don't take this the wrong way. My roots in this neighbourhood run very deep. Everybody knows my business. We're going to have to pretend this never happened."
I feel cold.
Months later, he's smoking on his front porch. Excited to see me, he puts out his cigarette.
"I have something to show you!" He dashes inside and comes out brandishing a canvas. I look at it in wonder. It's an abstracted and passionate depiction of a bouquet of black flowers. Those black flowers are like Angelo. His talent radiates like the brightest hibiscus but gets overshadowed by a self-destructive streak that fills me with dread.
It's been eight months since I sketched Chinatown with Angelo. I've locked eyes with the occasional vision of male beauty since then, but they are either unavailable for adventure or painfully shy. I'll keep my eyes open, though. If there's one Angelo in Toronto, there must be others.