“Yeah, right. I”m going to spill my guts to you. You’re not even listening to me. I’ll tell you anything you want to know — or anything I think you need to know. But it doesn’t mean I’ll win you over.” Paul threw down the pamphlet in disgust, didn’t even bother to mark the page so he could pick it up later.
She looked back at him, that complacent smile still on her face. He could do this. He had to do this. Ever since Sahrah, he’d looked for love in all the wrong places. So strangers would tell him. Now, here, in this room, standing next to the dining cart, the early snowfall trickling from the night sky and the winds of Autumn between the leaves just outside this lodge, Paul felt that he was ready, that love was to find him again. And it would be with her. With Ellenore.
Ellenore, spelled uniquely, probably improperly, but it didn’t matter. Sahrah had an extra “h” plunked into her name and she’d turned out alright. Perfect, in fact. Always perfect in Paul’s mind. But perfect couldn’t last forever. He’d spent the last three years wondering how time got away from him, how Sahrah could just up and disappear from his life. And he would always realize why, at which point his disgust would return.
Sure, he played a part in her decision to just “move on,” but that didn’t mean she had to be gone forever, did it? After all, what once is lost can always be found. That much he had learned from Sahrah.
“Fine,” he muttered, glancing back at Ellenore before pouring himself a drink. “I’ll talk about her. I know that’s all you want to hear about. Don’t know why it’s important.” He took a sip, let the liquid soothe his throat. “This is good scotch. Someone should tell the manager. I like good scotch. Sahrah did, too.
“That was her name, Sahrah with two h’s. We knew each other in school, had the same teachers and classmates, and got along pretty well. She was the smart one. I was just, you know, there. Seemed to have the same brand of humor, though. Wouldn’t laugh if we could see the snot, but the sound of the sneeze was what tickled our funny bones.
“On our graduation day, she wanted to sign my yearbook. She called me over, but I played it cool, as young kids do. Then, she said those words: ‘Come here to me.’ Yeah, that was probably when my heart skipped that beat and I started to feel alive. But it wasn’t until a year after graduation that we started dating.” He paused, downed the rest of his drink. He didn’t bother offering any to Ellenore. He knew she couldn’t drink. She’d slip into convulsions if alcohol touched her lips. One thing on a list of many that he couldn’t stand about her.
“I know it was a year after, because I’d just completed my freshman year at Harvard. Wasn’t such a tough school to get into. Not like it was the same institution it’s legend says it is. Sahrah looked better than ever. She’d stayed back home, kept up her father’s business, his coffee shop. Nice little place, never crowded, always run by cute women like her — must run in her family. I’d made it a point to quit caffeine while away at school, and she was the reason I became an addict again. Women like her are an addiction. Ask any man — well, of course, you don’t need to be told that, do you?”
He looked up, Ellenore smiled back at him. He didn’t like that smile, decided that the moment he saw her, but her eyes…always something in her eyes, something that would constantly grow on him.
“We dated, then. I gave up school, she gave up coffee. Turns out that if you’re mildly smart and don’t have student loans, you can be a bit of a hometown success to anything you put your mind to. For us, it was shoes. My dad had started to use his skills as a cobbler when the war broke out, made a ton of soldiers’ boots. Big market in our town, soldiers’ boots. Still is. Sahrah had the idea of making tougher belts, and even shirts designed for rough weather.
“One day, she gave me a belt — I told you before, I don’t know why I’m opening up. I guess there’s a reason I haven’t said much all day, up til now. I like you, want this to somehow last, and I figure, if I get it all off my chest now, there’s not much that’ll come out of my mouth later to make you feel uncomfortable, turn you away. Just me, you, this fire place, and the snow outside. Plus the comfort of each others’ warmth.
“Like I was saying, she gave me a belt for my birthday. I smiled and thanked her, and as she ran into the backroom to retrieve the other half of my gift — she liked to spread things out rather than do it all at once — I noticed the run in her stocking. Never bothered me before. I’d seen it a thousand times, to be sure. But something about it, on that particular day, got to me.
“So I brought it up. I asked her, ‘why the run in your stocking?’ Don’t know why I phrased it that way, what it was supposed to mean. She started crying, though. Tears filled her eyes,then she looked to the floor. I thought about the last few months, my trip to the station outside of the capital, visiting my brother with a new pair of boots, and my brother’s return of the favor — a diamond ring. At this moment, when I brought up her stocking and saw her tears, I knew I would never give her that ring.
“She cried and told me about him, guy named Franck. In my head I invented another letter in his name, a “c” in front of the “k”, because the “c” could always stand for a nasty word to call the girl I’d always thought of as the love of my life. Or maybe he spelled it that way to show her they had something in common. Either way, she confessed everything that had happened while I was visiting my brother.
“I didn’t scream at her, or cry. I just walked out. I walked around town all night, then I walked home. She was inside, so I ignored her, fell asleep in the shop. We nearly crossed paths in the morning, but I avoided her. She spoked her head in alleys and side-streets looking for me. I like to imagine her face when she came home that night, apartment empty, note slapped onto the door…
“I’ve been traveling around since then, can’t really seem to find a home. Until I met you, here, in this village. It’s tiny, but your guy there, the one that runs the shop, seems to be able to fulfill his promises and make things right for me.
“I mean, he did introduce me to you, and I know you don’t know my name yet, but that will come in time. If all goes according to his plan, that is.” He swallowed his third glass of scotch, opened the bottle, then decided against pouring more. His face was heating up, and he could feel himself tottering from side to side as he stood.
“Guess I’ll cut this off, move on to my next addiction: you.” He smiled at her, tried to mimic her own smile.
He looked at the small flames in the electric fireplace, and moved his hand through the air, as if turning a large dial. The lights in the room dimmed. On the wall, a monitor appeared, “classical” in big letters. “That’s fine,” said Paul, and the soft piano of Chopin began to play over unseen speakers.
“He told me sunrise could happen in an hour, but I think we’ll tell him to wait. You know, I kind of like the name of this place: Le Village de Reves. Has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?”
He approached Ellenore, who stared straight ahead with that smile still on her face. He would have to adjust that, if there was a button for it. Paul thought for a moment, took a deep breath. As he leaned in, “You will love me, and only me. I know it.”
His fingers found the switch on the back of her neck. He flicked it left.
A breath. Then another. Ellenore blinked, her pupils dilating and adjusting to the light. The smile disappeared from her face, and she yawned, as if arising from a deep sleep.
Paul backed away and removed the covers to the two plates of food on the dining cart. “Steak, or dessert first?”
She coughed, them, “Dessert. You should know that by now, Paolo.”
He shrugged it off. “Close enough, I suppose. Nobody’s perfect.”
“Of course not.” She held out her arms.
“Come here to me.”