Chapter Four - The Snow Melts
The following morning Anne emerged from Roger’s bedroom smiling and rubbing her eyes. The orange-yellow sun had returned, with its bedazzling golden hairs falling down gently upon the snow-covered metropolis. Today it didn’t seem nearly as draconian as it had yesterday. Today Anne didn’t feel as though she was a prisoner either, but rather the jailer, holding the keys to all the cells.
Roger looked away from his television, which was tuned to the morning news. “Good morning, merry sunshine,” he grinned, his lips dusted seductively with powdered sugar from a doughnut. “You’re looking swell. How’s your head?”
She touched her forehead lightly with her fingertips as she answered, “Throbbing a bit, but surprisingly okay. I’ve had worse hangovers from drinking half of what I did last night; however, this has to be the mildest headache I’ve ever received from alcohol. I think it was your bed.”
The smile glowing on the handsome man’s face was the most genuine she’d ever seen him wear, but it made Anne feel as though she’d seen it before. “Care to join me for some coffee and a doughnut?” he asked, offering a chair directly across from him.
Eagerly taking the open seat, Annie snatched up two jelly-filled doughnuts—she hadn’t realized she had such a voracious appetite. Roger handed her a mug of steaming coffee, which she downed as quickly as the rest of her breakfast. Anne said, “Don’t you think it’s kinda funny how we hate each other so much, yet here we are, sharing breakfast and watching TV together in the same room?”
“Uh-huh,” he nodded, keeping his gaze steady upon her.
Her eyes narrowed, and she stared back at the suave gentleman clad in a black workout shirt and silky gray pair of boxers. “What are you staring at?” she asked him while she herself looked him over, noticing the large, defined muscles in both of his arms and his legs. She flushed with embarrassment when she glanced up at his face and discovered that his line of sight was locked on her lips, which she instantly wet.
“Na…nothing,” Roger stuttered, realizing he’d been caught. “You look rested.”
“Best night’s sleep I’ve had since I’ve been in New York.”
“You’ve been here for close to five years, and last night was the best night’s sleep you’ve had? You’re joking me, right?”
A firm head shake informed him that he was way off base. “Do you mind if I live here forever?”
Roger laughed. “If it means I have to sleep on that infernal couch for the rest of my life, then yes, I do mind.” The grins the two exchanged were warm and genuine. “Do you know how beautiful you look when you smile? My advice to you is that you should do it more frequently.” His compliments made Anne feel strangely safe and happy inside, so much so that she could feel the heat from within her turning her cheeks pink.
The moment was interrupted when a loud voice on the television boomed, “Tragedy strikes again here in New York, this time claiming the life of a 19 year old boy. Kevin McCarthy, the youth struck down by a Wonder Bread truck, lost the battle for his life yesterday evening after fighting for three months in the hospital where he’d been sent to receive treatment for his massive injuries. For those who don’t remember, Kevin had been crossing the Avenue of the Americas to get to the other side of W. 44th street on the eve of February 18th when a Wonder Bread truck came screeching through the intersection, completely unaware that the boy was on the road. After—” Abruptly, Roger jumped out of his seat and switched off the television, without so much as a word of warning.
As he sat back down, he looked at Anne again, pain swimming in the back of his eyes. “Sorry, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I…”
“Understandable. I wasn’t even watching it. When’d he die?” she questioned, referring to his father.
“About four years ago, huh? You’d think the pain would stop, especially since it was a man I hardly cared to know and one who cared even less to know me.” Roger paused very briefly, trying to hide the hurt. “But let’s not discuss that this morning. Today is a perfect day, and I sure as hell don’t wanna spoil it with all this sad talk.”
“Maybe, though, it would be—”
Instantly, Roger jumped in to interrupt her. “And maybe it wouldn’t.” His tone was harsh and filled with anger, like it had been before Anne had gotten a chance to know him yesterday. “Perhaps later today, when the sun has gone down,” he began, putting the reigns on his hostility. “How about after my interview with this new company, we can go out and do something.”
“Together?” Anne inquired incredulously, both astonished and surprised by the fact that he would want to do anything with her.
“Of course together! Unless, you didn’t want to…”
“No, no, I didn’t say that. You just gave me quite a surprise, that’s all. No, I’d definitely would love to do something with you, Roger.”
While clapping his hands, the muscled man smiled broadly. “Great! My interview is at 2:30. Perhaps we could meet in Central Park at the Befesda Fountain at four or so, and we could have a late lunch-slash-early dinner.”
“That’d be wonderful, providing your buying.”
“Well, if you’re gonna throw in all these conditions, I don’t know…” Roger scratched his chin in mock contemplation.
“Hey, you have to. Where am I going to get the money? You got me fired, remember?” Not that Anne really minded anymore—she could probably find a better job elsewhere with her skills anyway—she just liked using it as a bartering chip.
A frown fluttered across Roger’s countenance. “Annie, once again I’m sorry about—”
Anne laughed at the guilt-ridden man at the other end of the table. “Relax, Rog. I was just messing with you. Frankly, I really don’t care at all that I don’t work at the Palace anymore. I hated it there anyway. The people sucked, and so did the wages, I guess. And I was going to quit on my own, but I was just too lazy to go out and search for another job.”
“You’re sure you’re not still mad? I mean, I don’t want any hard feelings between us. I like you, Annie, and I certainly want to get to know you better,” he confessed. “There’s something in you that I didn’t notice before, and, well, frankly, I’m intrigued.”
“You just want me to stay another night,” she joked casually.
In all seriousness, he answered her comment. “Would it be so bad if I did?”
Their eyes locked; neither one was able to look away from each other. She smiled a chagrined smile, blushed and finally turned away from Roger. No one had ever been able to make her blush like he could; he had a knack for it. Without replying, Anne got up and placed her cup in the dishwasher while saying, “I need to run over to my apartment to get some clothes, and I also have to return my uniform and nametag to the Palace. I think that by four o’clock I should be ready. This is a casual date, right?”
“Who said anything about it being a date? I simply asked you if you wanted to accompany me to dinner. Would you call that a date now?”
The slayer’s spirits plummeted a bit, surprisingly. “No, I guess I wouldn’t. Still, what should I wear?”
“Have you got anything on the fancier side?”
Absent-mindedly, Anne repeatedly straightened the Hard Rock Café T-shirt she was wearing when she responded, “Not really.” Her mouth issued an embarrassed laugh when she continued. “The fanciest thing I owned was my work uniform, and I don’t even own that anymore.”
“Worry not, Annie,” Roger ordered, laying both hands on her sagging shoulders and massaging them lightly. It was wonderful. His touch sent tingles down her spine, and it seemed so familiar, yet he had never touched her like this before. It was easy to follow his command to relax so long as he was rubbing her neck with his fingertips. “I’ll give you some money and you can go downtown and buy any dress you want. Whatever your heart desires. I’ll even pay for the accessories.”
“I can’t ask you to do that, Roger.”
“Relax, you didn’t.”
She arched an eyebrow. “Still. Can’t we just go to McDonald’s or something? After all, if this isn’t a date, what’s the big deal?”
Roger removed his hands quickly. “There isn’t one, but I thought it might be sorta fun to get all decked out, don’t you?” When she didn’t initiate any response, he took it as a sign of resignation. “Okay then, it’s settled. Four o’cloc, at the Befesda Fountain in Central Park. We’ll meet there, then where we go next is a surprise.”
On his way out of the kitchen, Roger laid a pile of bills on the table. “That’s for the dress. And don’t think twice about taking the money. Remember, I have plenty of it.” He didn’t mean for his last statement to sound snooty, and it didn’t. He just wanted to reassure her that it was okay. The closer he got to his bedroom, the more his voice faded, his last sentence almost barely audible. “And don’t give me that crap about pride and doing things for yourself. Think of it as a birthday present; this is my treat. So just take the money and go.” Anne opened her mouth to protest, but shut it as soon as she heard him speak. “Zip it, Anne. Just take the money.”
Judging by the size of the pile and the faces of the presidents looking up at her, Anne suspected there to be between $250 to $300 there. Wow. Apparently she was going somewhere really nice for a non-date—perhaps the Rainbow Room or the Sign of the Dove even! And since the last time she had visited Central Park was getting close to five years ago, Anne was thinking this was going to be quite the night to remember.
Back at her apartment on Ganesh Way, Anne noticed how shabby the place really was. Being in Roger’s wonderful house had completely put it to shame. The splendor of his household remained deeply embedded in her mind, and it was all Anne could do to keep herself from shouting with glee because she had met such a rich, handsome guy, who just so happened to be interested in her. Granted, Roger had the capability to be a tremendous jerk, but the slayer couldn’t help but think that she could eventually smooth out his rough edges.
Rummaging through her barren closet, Anne realized she wasn’t looking for anything in particular. She had already found her nametag attached to her bedspread; her uniform she’d had on all last night; and she was in no need for any clothes for tonight, since she was buying a new dress. Then, Annie realized what she was searching for was a photograph. Last night, while laying in Roger’s bed, the slayer felt an irrefutable urge to gaze at a picture she had taken long ago—about six years ago. Beneath a winter coat and under a hat, the object she was seeking revealed itself. The picture was of the whole Scooby Gang—Giles, Oz, Willow, Xander and herself. It was outlined with silver, and etched in the bottom of the frame was the cliché, “Friends Forever”. They were all standing outside the entrance of the high school. It was quite beautiful, but Anne had hidden it because she didn’t feel as though she could bare all of those smiling faces everyday, knowing that the sight would never again be able for her to see.
Xander’s face was particularly happy. He had an arm around Willow and the other arm around Buffy, with is forehead pressed gently against the blonde’s. His smile was one of pure joy and his eyes sparkled like diamonds. These were the times Buffy yearned for, especially on saturnine days like this yesterday. She wanted the kind of days when the sun shined fabulously through the shady trees, where everyone was just happy because they were together, and the beautiful moon twinkled on a clear night in the cemetery. Back in Sunnydale, Buffy never felt like the pariah as Anne did in New York, but now, thanks to Roger Vlinters, she didn’t feel that way anymore.
Sadly, Anne placed the picture face down in the pile of clothes and turned to leave, just as she had when she left California: quickly and quietly.
Without so much as a glance behind her, the slayer exited her apartment to go shopping where she had always wanted to…on Fifth Avenue.
Four o’clock rolled around quicker than Anne had thought it would, probably because she hadn’t had this much fun since she had come to New York. The blonde waited anxiously for her companion’s arrival at the fountain, tapping her foot and playing with the silver cross around her neck. She traced circles with her fingertips in the snow that covered the layer of ice.
Where was he? Doubts flooded Anne’s mind suddenly. Was Roger ever going to up and show, or was this a cruel trick? Was last night just another night for him?
The last question caught the slayer’s attention instantly. Had last night been more than just a regular night for her? Yeah, she had lost her job at the Palace. Yeah, she had gotten drunk out of her mind. And yeah, she had slept in the proverbial “lap of luxury,” but she had the distinct feeling that it had meant something more to her than simply a good night’s rest and a free breakfast in the morning. Spending time with Roger had made Anne feel like she had back home—safe and needed, and most importantly, wanted. If he didn’t show up, Anne knew she would be alone again—as utterly alone as she had been before him, and that was something the slayer never wanted to feel again.
As a breeze tore through Central Park, bombarding Anne’s body with flakes of snow and bits of ice, a man stepped out from behind an ancient oak tree. Had Anne not had the old slayer instincts, she might not have seen him, seeing as he was slyer than the stealthiest fox. He was dressed totally in an attractive, very flattering navy blue suit—as he had been yesterday—which was pressed and perfect right down to the meticulously ironed seams. A snow-white handkerchief was placed rigidly in his left breast pocket. His hair was done to absolute perfection, a few strands of wispy, chestnut hair sweeping dramatically across his brow in the wind. The smile portrayed on his face matched only one other’s in the world; it was large and welcoming and sent out a comforting feeling of amity. Roger looked so suave, so urbane; he was absolutely dressed-to-kill. “Please,” he said coolly, “don’t drool, not on this suit anyway.”
“You, Roger, are the most grandiose, full-of-himself man I’ve ever met in my life. Imagining that I would drool over you! That’s a laugh! I bet I wouldn’t do that even if I were unable to control my own bodily functions. I’d still have enough sense left in me to remember that you are not worth one drop of my precious saliva.”
“Your precious saliva? What is wrong with you?”
“I’ve been trying to figure that out ever since I agreed to go on a date with you.” He threw on an amused grin and proceeded to offer her his arm. She slipped hers through his own, and together they walked through the park, enjoying the remaining sunlight that cast its happy glow upon the metropolis.
“You really do look magnificent, Annie,” Roger commented as he stopped to glance her over completely.
The slayer was dressed as she had never been before. She wore a long, flowing dress made of imported silk with metallic silver threads interwoven that shimmered in the twilight. The gown had an empire waist, and the bust was embellished with tiny, pinkish pearls sewn directly onto the fabric. Since it was a sleeveless dress, Anne had purchased a silver jacket that came to the waistline and barely managed to keep out the frigid air. The skirt flared out around her silvery white sandaled feet and rippled hypnotically as the wind currents curled around her. A shiny string of rose-colored pearls adorned her slender neckline, and in her ears were the matching earrings of diamonds tops with pearl drops dripping from the shiny stones. “Thank you,” Anne replied, turning pink from an inner heat. “I assume then that you like?”
“Like is hardly the correct word I would use. I was thinking more along the lines of love. It was made for you.” Anne flushed some more. “Shall we?”
She obliged. “We shall. Where are we going anyway?”
“It’s a surprise,” he informed her as they headed toward the car-lined street. Roger waved for a cab, and after a brief wait, he got one. A little yellow car pulled up along the roadside and halted abruptly, the front window rolling down at Roger’s motion. A scruffy faced, middle aged Italian man sat squarely behind the steering wheel, chewing on some gum. Roger crossed to the window, ordering Anne to stay where she was, and leaned over into the cabby’s ear and whispered something inaudible to him. The driver nodded in agreement, and Roger retreated from the window, opening the back door for Anne.
After the taxi had merged again with traffic, Anne turned to glare almost accusingly at the man sitting next to her. Upon his face gleamed a grin that could only be described as mischievous. She arched a perfectly shaped eyebrow curiously in his direction, inquiring, “All right, mister, where are we going and in exactly what kind of subterfuge are you engaged?”
“What?” he replied innocently, putting on his best forthright face.
“A friend of mine used to wear that same face when he was up to something as clandestine as this, which usually meant he was up to no good. So spill. What is it you’re planning?”
“Honestly, Anne, it’s just a normal dinner followed by an innocent post-dinner stroll. Tell me what’s wrong with that plan?”
“Nothing, if you’re telling me the truth, which you’re not.”
“What will it take for you to believe me?”
“A miracle,” she grinned. When he didn’t volunteer anything further, Anne sighed in resignation, knowing that this night had been intended to be a surprise, and it was going to remain just that. “Fine, fine. At least tell me how long until we get there.”
“My, my, my. You are an impatient young woman, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, well, patience isn’t one of my virtues.”
“I’ve noticed this.”
Their idle chitchat continued while the taxicab wove dangerously through the mass of humming vehicles that clogged every street and alley for miles as each tried to get its passengers to their desired destination as speedily as possible. Rule number one in taxi driving: the faster he got there, the bigger the tip.
Eventually, the car crossed into Brooklyn without Anne’s knowledge, seeing as Roger kept her as occupied as he could. It slowed to a stop outside the Palace of Versailles, where the slayer exited the cab with her mouth agape. Roger paid their driver, and the yellow bee they’d arrived in buzzed away, rejoining its swarm in the streets. Anne punched her dinner partner hard in the arm, yelling, “What the hell is wrong with you?”
“I was just about to ask you the same question! What was that for? This is one of my favorite restaurants; it’s even got a four star rating.”
“Roger, you insensitive jerk! You know I just lost my job here! I can’t show my face in that place!”
“Don’t you just wanna go in though and rub all of their snotty faces in it? Show them you have it better off than you did with the job? You don’t work there anymore, so they can’t do anything to you.”
“Now, that’s not exactly true, is it? Next time I go out for a job, the employer will do a background check and talk with my bosses. If Michelle answers, there’s no way in hell I can land that job. I’ll be permanently screwed! Can’t we go somewhere else?” Anne pleaded, her voice begging.
“I thought you’d never ask.” Annie raised her eyebrows again, in total disbelief.
“What did you just say?”
“I said I thought you’d never ask. You see, you’re very lucky I have a backup plan, one that will knock your socks off (if not more).”
“You do? And just what was the last part? Did I hear an ‘if not more?’”
“Um, no. And of course I had a backup plan! Did you really think I’d take you in there? After all, you did tell me you hate it here.”
She smiled genuinely at Roger, her whole body relaxing at the thought that she wouldn’t have to set foot inside there ever again. “All right. I’ll go to your ‘second plan,’ providing this time you tell me where it is we’re going.”
“You sure do drive a hard bargain, missy,” Roger stated laughingly, “but you’re worth it.” Anne beamed brightly and wound a tendril of blonde hair around her finger as she shifted her weight uncomfortably back and forth. “We’re going back to Central Park,” he confessed, changing the subject. “I reserved a pavilion there for us. And don’t say it’s too cold for that sort of thing; I’ve taken care of that. Everything’s ready and waiting, so let’s get a move on already!” Roger grabbed Anne by her hand and dragged her right behind him to the sidewalk’s edge where he flagged down a cab with his free arm. They clambered into the enclosed space, watching as the buildings and pedestrians whizzed by outside their windows.
This taxi smelled of orange peels and cinnamon instead of the usual overpowering smell of incense or the stink of sweat and smoke. Something she also noticed was that this was the cleanest cab she’d ever been in since she’d moved to Brooklyn. It seemed that anything that she did with Roger always turned out to be nicer and safer and cleaner than if she were to do it on her own.
Finally, the car came to a halt, and Anne got out while Roger paid the cabby, who nodded appreciatively at the size of his tip. They exchanged a few words before Anne’s partner rejoined her, and they started their trek to the pavilion.
The spidery, barren trees cracked and moaned in the winter winds while Anne shivered visibly within her coat. In order to calm her noticeably shaking form, Roger slipped his arm around her waist and pulled her closer to him. She felt the heat of his own body penetrate the thin fabric of her dress, and it felt so good, Anne leaned into him more. Tips of the trees’ ancient, variegated leaves poked through the blanket of ice and snow and waved for clemency with their mottled fingers in the fire of the dying light. They were like the ghostly fingers of souls reaching up out of Hell. Roger’s trench coat bit at Anne’s legs as the freezing breezes caught the tails and battered her calves with them; however, the pain faded within the romantic moment as though it had never existed.
Beneath a withered, gnarly oak was the pavilion in which they were to have their dinner date. Anne could tell instantly that this was the one, for she could see a pair of candelabras holding three ivory candles in each, burning brilliantly in the fog just beginning to roll over the land. A prodigious amount of food graced the picnic table set with a tablecloth as white as the wintry scene around them and golden silverware that was alight with the flames of the candles.
As the couple stepped onto the cement floor, instantly the incredible smells initiated from the cornucopia of exotic foods surrounded her, setting her olfactory and gustatory senses on overload and making her want to faint with desire. Definitely Roger was not the parsimonious guy like she had originally assumed when she’d met him.
Without so much as a word of warning to her partner, the slayer ran to the table, clasping her hands together in pure joy at the sight stretched out before her. Her keen eyes searched every square in of the table as she let her excitement rush through her in waves, devouring the scrumptious meal within her mind. A sigh escaped her pink lips, and Roger seemed to breathe it into himself.
It wasn’t until she heard him breathe that Anne became aware of his presence. In the midst of her enthusiasm over dinner she had forgotten about him. Her eyes slid slowly from their dinner to the paragon of good taste standing idly by, who was leaning against a wooden pillar and watching her every move intensely. His perfect hair ruffled in the wind, swaying rhythmically with the candlelight; those two things were all that moved inside this winter wasteland. The silence that had fallen between the two of them was hardly uncomfortable or unfamiliar –it was almost natural, as if it were meant to be this way at this moment in time.
The clouds of Anne’s breath wove their way into the air and became one with Roger’s own, wisps of the smoky fog flirting dangerously with each other, dancing their forbidden dance, then converging into one entity—one mass of thinning gray. The remaining smoke curled sensuously around the New York haze and disappeared into the night.
Their gaze never broke. For one brief second in the infinite span of time, they were as one as their breath was.
Gradually, Roger closed his eyes and looked away almost painfully, as though he feared what would happen if those feelings continued. His voice sounded tortured as he spoke. “I’ll bet you’re hungry after all that shopping today, huh?”
“Yeah,” she answered in a disappointed tone.
Wait. Exactly from where inside her did that come? Why did she feel so let down by his reaction to their intimate moment? After all, she had just met the guy—and she had even spent the first day hating him—so why did she feel so attracted to him, other than the obvious sexiness factor? Oh great! So now she was attracted to him! Well, who wouldn’t be drawn into the mystery of Roger Vlinters? He was muscular, smart, rich and, most importantly, single. But Anne reasoned that that wasn’t why she experienced such a strong pull toward the handsome young man. Rather, it was the simple fact that she felt so safe when she was near him. They had just met, but every second further the two spent together, Anne felt herself being drawn deeper and deeper in the enigma of the Vlinters boy.
“So let’s eat,” he said flatly as he smoothed the wrinkles that were in the blanket covering the benches. Roger motioned for her to have a seat and she complied willingly. It was wonderful to sit down after a hard day of traveling into almost every store on Fifth Avenue.
The pair immersed themselves in their food and pleasant conversations throughout the entire meal. Only twice the two were disturbed; both times it was a direct result of the wind, which Roger quickly remedied by unrolling a large blanket and tethering it to the top and bottom of the side of the pavilion through which the wind blew. “You certainly come prepared, don’t you?”
“No, not normally. Only when the situation calls for it in advance, and I think this was one of those few times.”
The sun had now set below the frozen, paralyzed horizon, and the diamonds high above in the heavens twinkled marvelously upon the shell of shimmering nacre encompassing the landscape. A fantastic, grandiose moon beamed innocuous, nevertheless, frightening pearly light onto the metropolis, creating the illusion of a barren wasteland empty of all life—only ruins left for the rest of eternity to eradicate with its awesome powers.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Annie asked him, contemplating the miraculous scene before her.
“Absolutely. No where else in this whole city can you feel so isolated, yet so at peace. It’s like lovely calm descends upon me, and all the problems I have in this world just… leave me. I feel empty, however, at the same time completely full.”
She was struck by his beautiful and enlightening words. That was exactly how she felt now with him. “I haven’t seen a night like this since I arrived here five years ago.”
Though his gaze remained fixed on the glowing orb dangling above his head, Roger changed the subject. “Why did you come here, Annie?”
She was silent for awhile as she processed his words in her mind. Anne knew full well that she couldn’t trust Roger with this highly private information yet, but she didn’t see why she couldn’t give him the gist of the reason behind it. “It’s a really long story,” the slayer began, hoping that this weak attempt might dissuade any further probing.
“I’ve got time.”
As she had expected, she failed, and she sighed in heavy resignation. “All of my life I’ve been what most everyone would call an outcast; I’m different. I know it, as does the rest of the world; they just never understood what made me that way. They always could tell there was something ‘off’ about me, but they never knew what that something was. Of course, I never shared it with them because that would only push me father off of the ‘cool chart’ than I already was. Besides, it could have put me in even more danger than I was already in. Through the course of the years I tried hundreds of different methods to get them to accept me, and eventually, one of them worked.
“Back when I was in, oh say, eighth grade, I started to involve myself with school more and more. You know, cheerleading, pep club, yearbook, that sort of thing. And I started hanging around the popular crowd, hoping that their popularity might rub off on me, too. Finally, it did.
“The year I started tenth grade, that’s when the walls came crumbling down. I was expelled from school, so my mother and I moved away.”
“Where was your dad during all of this?” Roger questioned, his full attention now resting on her.
“My parents got divorced in the midst of the mayhem that my life had become.
“Anyway, we moved from LA to a quaint—well, at the time that was how it seemed—little town in the suburbs of the city.
“At first glance it appeared nice enough. My first day of school wasn’t nearly as traumatic as I dreamed it would be (although I can’t say the same for the rest of the days); hell, I even made a few friends! All seemed right with the world. I finally experienced the feeling that this was where I truly belonged. Then everything changed in the blink of an eye… once again. As if I weren’t already an outcast, everything that was to follow only pushed me further away from people, yet brought me closer to a select few friends, one of whom I fell in love with.”
The intrigued man that sat directly across from the slayer turned to her and stared deeply into her eyes, as if searching for an answer. “Was he the one you were talking about in the bar last night?”
“Did I talk about him? I was so sauced, I don’t even remember talking about him.”
“Wasn’t he the older man that you quote ‘killed?’”
Suddenly a worried look crossed Anne’s face. She had said that? Oh, that was the last time she would get drunk! Her fear-choked voice cut the stale air like a knife. “D…did I say his name?”
“No,” Roger replied bluntly, even a bit of agitation showing in his tone, “not that it would matter anyway; I wouldn’t know him.”
“True, but I promised I would never speak of ‘him’ again because it just hurt too damn much.”
“Boy, do I know how that is! So what happened with ‘him?’”
Anne closed her eyes tightly, fighting back the pain as best she could. “When I moved, every aspect of my life changed, including my love life. In LA I used to date guys constantly, and they were never the same one. I’d use ‘em, then lose ‘em, or so says the old cliché. But that all changed when I moved to the suburbs and underwent a makeover in my lifestyle, especially when I met ‘him.’
“The two of us hit it off really well. The physical attraction, as well as the romantic allure that comes when someone is off limits to you and you know it, was there. He was everything I wanted in a man and more: good-looking, well-built, mysterious, smart, experienced. The only complication, aside from one other thing (which I won’t go into), was his age.”
Roger smiled as he recalled what Anne had said about their age difference. “Oh yeah, didn’t you say he was almost 250 years old or something like that?”
“No,” she answered aloud. Then inwardly: “More like 240 years!” She waved at him to stop his interruptions.
“Sorry,” he apologized.
“You should be. Now let me finish.
“The more time I spent with him, the more I grew to love him. And it wasn’t just puppy love or a crush either. It was true love, the real thing all little girls start dreaming about when they’re only five or six. I refused to believe it at first. I never thought I could love someone his type, much less someone his age.”
“And what type would that be?”
“Roger!” Anne cried. “Would you let me finish. Or aren’t you interested anymore?”
“No! No! Sorry, proceed.”
“Yes, like I was saying, we fell in love. I knew it was Fate. She had finally dealt me a winning hand at something. But it’s funny, isn’t it, how quickly things can change… how quickly people can?
“As it turned out, Fate wasn’t so kind to me as I originally believed her to be. As I found out, she’s a cruel, vindictive, hateful bitch who likes to spurn her little marionettes by cutting their lifelines at their happiest moments. In case you can’t tell, this is the point in my life where all things turn sour.”
“Believe me, I could pretty much tell.”
“My love, he, well, I can’t explain it really, but he turned on me. He, he killed some very dear friends of mine, emotionally ruined me, destroyed my family life and so much more. Hardly the quintessential period in my lifetime.”
Roger stared with eyes as saucer-like as the moon. His heart and breath stopped. “He killed people?”
She nodded solemnly. “Two friends of mine and who knows how many more. Not to mention, he tortured,” and Anne paused slightly, “my father.”
“That sick son-of-a—”
“No, Roger! It wasn’t like that! It wasn’t his fault!”
“Oh no? You really believe that? He killed your friends, Anne; he tortured your father, for Christsakes! He’s the reason you left your family and friends behind only to subject them to the pain of losing you. How can you even think for one moment that he’s innocent?”
Anne was crying now. She could understand why he’d be upset about the fact that someone had tortured ANYONE’S father, but he didn’t have to get on her case about it. Tears flowed freely from her already red eyes. “I never said he was innocent! I was there when he did some of those things! I saw him do them! But he wasn’t the same man I loved. He even answered to a different name. I know in my heart that he never meant to hurt me, but there were outside forces influencing him—forces so strong he couldn’t resist their pull, and I don’t think anyone else could either. Don’t think I’m trying to rationalize this to you of all people because I’m not, but I’m just trying to…”
“You’re trying to blind yourself from the truth, Annie,” Roger broke in softly, reaching across the table to hold her hand. She didn’t pull away from his touch even though everything inside her was screaming for her to do so. His gentle, smooth voice filled Anne’s ears and almost succeeded in calming her dying soul. “If he truly loved you, he wouldn’t’ve done such things to you. Haven’t you ever heard the old aphorism: ‘Love conquers all.’ If your love were true—as you say it was—whatever evil possessed him, he could still have overcome.”
“Only in fairytales, Roger, not in real life. You don’t know how many times I’ve dreamt that that would happen—that he would walk back into my life and everything would be okay and everyone would be alive—but those were only dreams. Reality is far crueler, and it certainly doesn’t follow the rules. Do you have any idea what it is like to yearn for something that you know you’ll never have?”
Roger put on a goofy smile and closed his eyes momentarily. “Yeah, I think I do…”
“Well then, you know what I mean. It’s a kind of pain that can only be allayed by whomever it is you’re dreaming of, not some panacea like a new boyfriend or girlfriend.” The young man nodded slowly.
“Have you ever been in love, Roger? Not just the high school crush kind, but the storybook kind?” Anne asked, drying her eyes with her free hand. She sniffled a few times, almost obliterating the flames on the candles with her wet breath.
Roger closed his eyes and turned away from her, pain showing through in his every movement. “I was, once.” His voice dropped a couple decibels and was choked with emotion, obviously for a love lost much the same as herself.
“I always thought she was simply a little crush, you know, only a product of beauty because my raging hormones made her out to be. So I went on deluding myself just like that for almost a year, and when my feeling for her never wavered, I began to suspect something more. In fact, each time I saw her fantastic face she only seemed to become more wonderful, more beautiful. In my mind’s eye I put her on a pedestal so high above that no other woman could ever compare.
“But she never loved me the way I loved her. You see, there was this other guy, and when he would walk in to the room she would always forget totally about me. Of course, there were times in out friendship where I thought I saw the possibility for something more to grow between us, but deep inside I knew I would never be the one for her. It was all a hopeless fantasy, nothing more. Still, I found myself wishing she would look at me—just once—the way she did for her true love. I’d give anything for that.” His was a wistful sigh that echoed through every corner of Anne’s mind.
“Then, she left. Just like that. Gone. Not a word or warning. Nothing. I always knew without her love I would never be completely whole, but at least I could survive on her friendship. When she left I didn’t have anything left to cling to. I felt alone, abandoned and very, very angry. The whole damn town reminded me of her. I kept thinking, ‘Wow! She took a breath here!’ and ‘Wow! This was where she combed her hair once!’ I saw her in my friends, in my hangouts, everywhere. My dad’s death was only the straw that broke the camel’s back. He gave me a real reason to ship on outta there and go searching for my lost love.
“Eventually, my journey for her ended, and the journey to find my own self began. Day by day I sat alone in a train car or on a bus looking, not out the window, but into the reflection of myself—into my soul—and I was alarmed by what I saw. I saw a cold, steely, heartless man rotted away by anger and hurt feelings, and underneath him I saw my withered youth, crumbling in the icy grip of the new me. Though I tried to change, the Spartan lifestyle that I had been forced to live stuck with me. I thought that if I changed the world around me drastically some things might change within me. I was wrong.
“I never let go of the memory of the girl back in California. I know if I don’t, my life will never be any good again, and I’ll never be happy. But you know what else I’m finding out, Anne?”
“Hmm?” she whispered into the paper dry air.
“With your help, I think I might get a chance at that happy life after all.” Roger turned back to the gorgeous blonde and took both of her hands in his own, bringing them gently to his lips for a kiss.