She made a quick check of the room one last time to make sure nothing valuable was left in temptation’s reach. She felt guilty every time she did it. She trusted the hotel and their staff, but she couldn’t get her father’s voice out of her head. “When poverty stares daily into the indulgences of wealth…well it’s no divergence from human nature to think taking one small thing amongst so much could even be noticed.” Sometimes she hated the validity of his logic.
Realizing the futility of her efforts, she shook off her father’s voice and grabbed her purse. If she let herself indulge in trying to protect herself from every perceived threat, she’d end up like Howard Hughes. She didn’t have the charisma to pull that off. So, at least for some of it, she had to have a little faith in the better side of humanity.
With that settled, she turned the handle for the door, her mind already four stops ahead to her lunch date with her agent. Perhaps that was why it took a moment for her brain to register the ghost taking shape before her. She almost knocked him over.
“Alex?” fell from her lips more as an inquisitive exhale than an actual utterance.
The slight upturn of his perfectly shaped lips told her he was pleased with himself…and her reaction to his presence. “I heard you were in town and couldn’t resist. I hope you don’t mind?”
Her heart sank as his sultry voice tickled the depths of her ears. Her mind formulated the response. “As a matter of fact I am running late. You know how anxious agents can be when we throw off their schedules.” Her mind saw her walking away with false promises to catch up later, but when her lips parted her heart hijacked them. “Yes…Here I am…in the flesh.” Her eyelashes fluttered as she brushed imaginary lint from her skirt. “And of course I don’t mind.” The regret came fast and hard as her heart and mind argued.
Before she could grasp the situation entirely she found herself sitting in a quaint little café, conveniently located just around the corner from the hotel, listening to a rather charming, if not sparse, summary of what Alex had been up to in the 10 years since their last encounter. He wasted no time establishing the usual proclamations of the utter lack of emotional obligations; no kids, no wives, no significant others, just the occasional distractions. Of the latter, she had no doubt there had been many of all shapes and varieties, possibly even some currently. Yet somehow she believed the truth of his emotional freedom. How could she not? She knew first hand how easily he remained unfettered in life.
She couldn’t help to wonder if he’d discussed their time together in the same laissez-faire manner.
He spoke her name. She looked into his dark eyes, remembering her own naiveté. She had believed his eyes when they said he loved her, even when the words never came from his lips. Her heart still heard their message, in-spite of the interference of her head. Her head had even grown to hate basset hounds for similar reasons.
“And what about your writing?” she asked, taking advantage of a pause in the conversation to try to gain traction, but also to satiate her curiosity. His plans had been great and admittedly over the years, each time she’d enter a bookstore she expected to see his name glaring back. Her emotions around the experience were complicated.
His eyes danced ever so softly. “Well, you know. As it turns out, all the great American novels have already been written and I don’t write in Esperanto.”
Everything in his answer and body told her there was more to tell, but before she could follow up her question he’d excused himself temporarily from the table. He’d always been so much better at their game than she.
In his absence she scanned the room. It was small. It would, at best, hold 20 people. The proprietors had chosen to decorate in that way that appealed to hidden lovers and starving artists. Both of which, from her quick assessment, filled the room at present. She let herself imagine Alex bringing his potentials here. Luring them in with those deadly eyes, then acting surprised to find the hotel so near-by when they left to “continue their conversation and get some air.” How many, she wondered, had fallen for it? She suddenly felt self-conscious. She had been one of them.
Alex returned to the table, her mind emptied. Just as before, without choice or intent, she waited for him to guide her, maybe even create her. In the years after they’d lost touch, she often wondered why, with him and only with him, was she so lost. For all her soul searching, she’d never been able to find out why or to tap into that part of herself, maybe to call on it to escape herself or maybe to kill it. Either way, it seemed that it was accessible only through him and for him.
Alex pulled her back to him and even her mind stopped resisting. Before she knew it she was filling the space between them with the few intimacies she’d been able to keep since her “big break”. She told him, amongst other things, of her brief bout with depression that came when she’d lost THAT part to her then best friend.
He touched her hand. Her heart sank again. Reality returned. She returned, stunned but alert.
She looked around the room again, wondering this time whose cellphone had grabbed the next great tabloid photo. Was it already on twitter or would they hold out for cash? What would the headline be? Whether they’d overheard the conversation or not, she had no doubt the photos would seem too intimate when printed thousands of times over.
Her gaze returned to Alex. His eyes seemed lighter. She knew that he had not changed, but she knew she did not see her Alex before her now. She was both saddened and relieved. She would no longer be able to remember her past the same way. She let herself indulge in a brief moment of contentment before letting her brain begin its analysis.
Why did he really show up today? Was he true to his word and only wanted to catch up with an old friend? Was he hopeful that she would open doors for him? Would he offer her his screenplay for consideration as they parted? Or was it more primal, more true to himself. Had he simply hoped that upon seeing him standing at her hotel room door that she would open her bed to him?
She didn’t care. She let the space between them empty again. They talked a while longer about nothing of consequence to her. Yes she was excited about the new movie. No she didn’t have major plans for a retreat, nor had she made any major decisions about new projects. Standard basic interview answers.
She checked her watch. She really would be late now if she didn’t leave soon. She made her excuses and he accepted them. She was surprised at how easily she ended it. He walked her out and they kissed goodbye, the European way, without the slightest touch. Then they parted company, much the same as they had 10 years before.
She watched briefly as he entered the taxi, then as it drove away into the steady flow of traffic. Their parting differed this time in one critical point. This time her eyes did not fill with tears nor her heart with rage. This time, she turned eagerly back to her life, content within herself, her mind already four stops ahead. She didn’t even try to hide her smile.
Two weeks later, back in the comfort of her own home, her agent called to confirm what she wanted to use as her official story. His recommendation was to deny as little as possible and to use the story to promote the movie. He was recommending booking Oprah as soon as possible. It seems nothing sells like sex, betrayal & insecure beauties. He also took the time to express how impressed he was with her ingenuity in giving the story to an unknown freelancer and former lover; two factors that in his estimation would make the story go international the moment it broke. Excellent for ticket sales.
She bit back her real reaction long enough to OK the story and Oprah. What choice did she have? For all she knew Alex had recorded their conversation and she didn’t have the stomach for the press around a court injunction. She ended the call.
It seems Alex would have his tears and rage after all.