'The minute I heard my first love story, I started looking for you, not knowing how blind that was. Lovers don't finally meet somewhere. They're in each other all along.'
-Maulana Jalalu'ddin Rumi
"Let me take you back to the beginning, about six years ago," Duncan said to Nicci, sitting back in his chair.
Brougeshire had a summer program for the arts the year I graduated from university. I was on the aged end of the enrollees, but my agent suggested it to me. We were waiting on a few call backs so there was no point in getting rusty. I met Kaye on the bus ride there. She had a photography scholarship. She was a tall, thin ginger girl, a wee bit on the eccentric/immature side. Kaye recently graduated from secondary school and was using Brougeshire to segue to higher learning. Despite her general cleverness, her interpersonal relationship skills lacked considerably. At least that was the excuse I used for her when she dominated the conversation. Kaye was very nice, but lavished in attention.
We parted when the bus stopped. Her dormitory was set across the pond from mine. My dorm was in a renovated loft brownstone in the actor's villa. The multi-storied building kept four apartments per house with three to four flatmates. The main living area's walls were sectioned off. They were assigned to each resident for decoration. I had no desire. I came to visit Kaye several times that first week. She was staying in a pale purple Victorian. We were going through some portraits she had been taking. They were spread out all over the table. There was one girl I couldn't keep my eyes off. I was pretending to critique it, but I fancied stealing this one. Her housemates were gone this evening. I had some good news.
"How exciting," she squealed like a school girl.
"It's nothing." I laughed. I lied. My manager had called that afternoon. I won Touchstone in As You Like It with the Royal Shakespeare Company. We didn't have any champagne, but Kaye had a few cans of Tizer. The cans crackled and hissed as we popped them open. An unexpected balloon broke through the window. Blobs of green paint sprayed through Kaye's hair and the front of my shirt and all over the face of the picture. "What was that!?" I tried blotting it up some, hopefully there was no permanent damage.
She brushed out her hair. "The Art kids. They're having a paint fight." She jumped off the couch, slamming the Tizer on the floor. I followed, swatting at the muck on my shirt. She was out the door laughing. I lost her. I was a little put off by her erratic behavior. It was easy to forget how young Kaye was. Her intelligence concealed her callow nature. I took a few steps off the porch. A little green monster ran straight into me.
She giggled. "Oh, sorry. You're much too dry." She was short, not just shorter then I by comparison. "Lean down." I did. It was a clumsy feat, but she kissed my cheek, leaving green lips on my face. She drew stems from my own lips to hers from the paint dripping off her body. "Now you have two lips tulips." She dashed off. What was that? I touched my cheek.
"Why don't you hang something up?" Kaye asked, noting the blank wall in my dorm. Apparently the O in my last name was lacking in happiness. She drew a smile in it. I was sprawled out on the couch reading lines.
"I could hang one of yours." I offered.
"I suppose we could arrange something." Her face lit up "Oh! I have a cracking picture from holiday in Paris. It was from the top of the Eiffel Tower. I swear you can see the curve of the Earth." She clapped.
"I dunno," I rubbed my ear. I tried veering the conversation to that picture from last night.
"Right, I'll let you pick one out." She turned on her heel. "I've got to get to my next activity. Bye." All of our encounters seemed to start and stop abruptly. I had an activity myself, but waited a moment. I looked at my name on the wall. ‘Duncan McDowell’ was quite happy now. I imagined the girl from Kaye's portrait.
"Or as the Destinies decrees," I dog-eared the page and left. Lines ran in my head. I walked the skirt of the pond towards the open air theater. Dancers rehearsed on the opposite shore. An easel had been abandoned at the edge of the water further down from them. At least I thought it was abandoned until the student returned. It was her. The painter was the girl from Kaye's picture. I was intuitively drawn to her. She took my attention from the path. My foot planted in the water. It was cold.
Nolla DiCapri. She was just about five three, long curly brown hair, rich brown eyes. She was American. She was distracting. I drilled Kaye for anything about her. Kaye thought it was the funniest thing in the world. The two had one art class together, but Nolla dropped it. That was where the profile exercise came from. Luckily, Kaye lived in the dorm across from Nolla's. I began spending more and more time at Kaye's.
"Zo oo iz Kaye zuppoze do kwepkwezent?" Her French accent was thick. She asked 'So who is Kaye suppose to represent?' She looked over her sun glasses with a sly smile.
"It doesn't matter," Duncan looked around, shifting miserably in his chair. They were sitting in a little bistro outside of Versailles. His lunch remained untouched. "We're wrapping up next week."
"Gud, wee'll 'ave more time togkether." She took his hand. He pulled back.
"I'm going home afterwards. I don't think we should see each other again." She splashed water in his face. Nicci wasn't supposed to be a fling. It was the same old story. Life was already difficult being a recognizable actor. Every move made headlines. He was known for short relationships, they labeled him a playboy. The truth was more bizarre. For the past six years Duncan was very sure he was going insane. He feared becoming introverted, but couldn't help it. He dreamed the same dream night after night. It wasn't recurring, it was continuous. There was a story in his head that progressed with or without him. It was a second life. It was an ordinary life that mirrored his, but it was better. The better part was Nolladee. That was his nickname for her. All women were compared to her. Duncan wasn't in the habit of talking about his dream, but over the past year or so he had developed a strong, insatiable hunger for Nolla. It began dull enough, but the feeling exploded and expanded to a breaking point. Last night through the throws of passion Duncan called out Nolla's name. He thought it only fair to explain to Nicci why. Now he was soaked in his own conviction, contemplating professional help.
He didn't think I noticed him. I did. How could I not? He towered over me about a foot. Duncan's hair was sandy brown, his eyes were light brown. He had a soft, warm Scottish accent. His smile took center stage. It could light up a room. He stumbled into the pond where my easel had been set up. I painted him, but didn't put him in the water. He was walking on it. Many times I wanted to approach Duncan, but was sure he was tied up with that Kaye girl. I noticed him quite often in passing, but we never spoke. He noticed me too. Whenever our gaze caught my eyes peeled away. Most of the time I think his didn't. He practiced what I could only imagine was Shakespeare at night on the stage outside. When I was feeling courageous I would sneak under the bleachers and listen. Lord knows I didn't understand the words, but I just knew he was perfect. On those nights I promised myself I would talk to him, but I never could.
I remember the first time we really talked. The end of the summer session was coming. I love autumn. The season was a feast for the senses. The trees were turning brilliant warm hues and wept cyclones of the happier side of the rainbow. The wind playfully tugged at my hair, pulling it in all directions. Sometimes I'd rather drift with the leaves. Flavored air rolled across my tongue. It was damp, crisp, and with a hint of nutmeg. Maybe not nutmeg, but I always associate that spice with the fall. The walk back to my dorm was beautiful no matter the season. The path was wooded with tall trees lined so closely they made their own corridor. During the summer the sky was completely blotted out, but now it fought its way through balding spots. The leaves crunched up under my feet. I kicked at them a little. I liked how they scattered. This was nature's red carpet. I was alone. I skipped a little. I was dancing with the wind. Duncan was leaning a shoulder against the tree. He was far enough away where the walk should have been awkward. I didn't feel that way though. I wanted him to watch me. My movements became more exaggerated. He smiled. My knees went to jelly and my stomach soured, so I walked straight by.
"Really?" He uttered.
I looked back at him, mustering courage. "You got rid of the two lips tulips."
He touched his cheek. "That was you?" I shook my head. "Sorry, you looked different back then. Did you do something different with your hair?"
"I dyed it back to brown, green didn't suit me." Humor faded to silence a moment. I wasn’t sure what to do next.
"Can I walk you somewhere?" I hung from those words. His voice was sweet and smooth, unlike any I had heard before. It warmed me.
"What about your girlfriend? Kaye?"
"She's over there." He pointed over my shoulder. I looked back. A camera was glued to her eye and trained on us. "She's not my girlfriend."
"Are we being photographed?"
"Do you want it to stop?"
"No." I stuck out my hand to introduce. He took it. We both felt a little shock of electricity. It jumped through our hands to our hearts. It hit our stomachs like the apex of a roller coaster.
"My name is Nolla DiCapri."
"I know. I'm Duncan McDowell."
She approached. My body compressed. It lied with cool composure. I begged to be special to her, notice me, please. Also, I wanted to run. I wanted to kiss her. My knees nearly failed, but I was pinned against the tree. My heart raced and swelled excitedly. I thought perhaps I'd die before she arrived. The feeling made my head spin in the best way. Nolla, my beautiful angel, with you I could own the world. I could fly to the highest atmosphere and sing your wonderful name and plummet to earth with only one tenth the ecstasy I feel when you are near. The early autumn leaves bowed to the lady of my dreams, ashamed with their own ugliness by comparison. A daring gust blew back her gorgeous tresses exposing creamy flesh on the most desirable neck in all of God's creation. A smile crept across my face. I couldn't help it if I wanted to. Our eyes connected through the space between her and I and the tree. My heart beat through my ribs to my throat. Her entire, eternal stride towards me our eyes were cabled. Nolla's movements were elegant. She sauntered through the leaves most eloquently straight by. Had I seen what I had? Was the connection simply a farce?
"Really?" I whispered out loud.
"You got rid of the two lips tulips."
I wanted to know everything about her. I pried beyond politeness. She always answered and never chastised. It was true that what first stuck me about Nolla was her beauty, but she exuded a beauteous nature as well. She was intelligent and kind, warm and loving. I wanted her to be warm and loving to me as well.
"Well, jelly beans are the king of all candy, and jelly bellies are the king of all jelly beans and black jelly bellies top them all."
"I'm glad you explained the hierarchy. I wouldn't want to offend any sweets."
"They do get nasty about being snubbed."
"If I could go back in time I would meet Shakespeare."
"I wouldn't know what he was saying. I did terrible in Brit. Lit." She chewed her lip, suddenly self conscious. "British Literature," she clarified sheepishly as though I'd be offended. I just chuckled.
"What's your favorite flower?"
Her face twisted while deciding. "I like how roses smell the best, but Tiger Lilies are my favorite to look at. They don't smell particularly nice though." We went on and on talking about nothing. It was the best conversation I ever had. I bowed to her once to kiss her. It was clearly unpracticed. I told myself we would get better in time.
It was the last day of summer session. Duncan and I were avid hand holders. I visited his dorm. It was much more modern than mine. I wanted to help him pack. He was done, I knew, but I needed to see him. Two of his roommates sat on the communal couch. I didn't understand what they were saying. They were speaking Welsh. I noticed the walls. One was plastered with my image. I walked up to it without having been invited. Most were taken by Kaye.
"Dichon fi help ti?" One asked. I bit my lip and shrugged. "Brythoneg?" He pressed.
"I'm sorry, I don't understand."
"American," he concluded. "Can I help you?"
"Duncan?" I asked.
"Kitchen," he pointed to the next room.
"You're pictures girl." The other piped in. I blushed. "He talk about you since one day." His English wasn't as good. "No stop." His hand opened and closed like a mouth. I smiled. "How you kiss?" The question was odd, but his hand gesture suggested it was related to our heights. I didn't answer, just left the room. Duncan leaned into the fridge.
"Ahem." I coughed quietly. He looked up and smiled.
"Nolla, can you hear me? It's Andrew."
"The thing is, there is no such place as Brougeshire. It looked like a combination, park, university, and summer camp and I played Touchstone years after university. My flatmates were Welsh, but I’ve never studied in Wales. Even though it was summer it always looks autumn. I can smell nutmeg. It's been my favorite scent since the dream started." Duncan explained.
"Perhaps, the smell triggers your dreams."
"I don't want to lose these dreams." He looked desperate to the doctor.
"No one knows why we dream or what makes them up." His tone was clinical. For the past few weeks Duncan visited the doctor. Talking about Nolla made her feel real. He realized that with Nicci. He decided this was the safest format. "Unofficially, I can suggest carrying around a vial of nutmeg." He looked at his watch. "And, unfortunately, our time here is up, but I really do want to further this discussion with you next week." Duncan stood from the soft leather chair. He took his hat and coat from the back of the door. He unfolded sunglasses and slipped them on. They were to cloak his identity. The past few weeks ate away at Duncan. It started a few Thursdays ago. The day had been particularly stressful. The hour was late by the time he arrived home. He rushed off to bed for his favorite part of the day, but no dream came. When Friday morning came he lingered in bed. He tried to force a dream. He voiced internally what should happen next. It felt so artificial. Disgusted, he rolled out of bed. There were no dreams on Friday night either. He spent all of Saturday sitting on his couch. The TV was off. He was staring into space.
He rubbed his eyes. "Nolladee. Did we break up?"
Things seemed to balance for an hour. He caught a quick cat nap. Nolla was sitting on the beach at Stony Creek. She was sipping some coffee. Fresh ground Nutmeg spiced her drink. Duncan sat beside her.
"I missed you." She offered him her cup. He took a whiff and smiled. He didn't like the taste, but liked the smell.
Duncan awoke at four in the morning. He left the house and drove around to find any place that was still open. He needed to purchase some nutmeg. It was Monday by the time the dreams had come back.
She returned to America for her last year at University. Nolla promised to come back after that. It was a tough year, but we called once a week and wrote daily. She sent me a painting for Christmas. With my gift I enclosed a play bill I signed. She couldn't be there, but I always played to her. There were more productions and more roles. Mid-spring sprang. Nolla would be here any day. I was doing my final performance as Captain Jack Absolute in The Rivals. I accepted a role from the BBC. I wanted to branch out. I would never leave the stage for long. Hundreds of people showed up to see me off. I made a bit of a name for myself and enjoyed a small following.
There was no shadow in my mind when our eyes met. I felt that same spark from our first touch. Her beauty over threw me. The stage completely melted away. Nolla and I were alone. My chin rested on her head. Her cheek rested against my chest. We rocked back and forth as we embraced. I missed her so much. It was a feeling I began to cope with over the last year. I was angry I could adapt to it, because when Nolla was there, really there before my eyes, I knew how lonely this last year truly was. The hug was a fantasy. I had stopped the play. Nolla nodded slowly. She smiled. I cleared my throat and continued. Tonight is for you, I thought.
One year away from him absolutely killed me. Duncan was the most precious thing in the world to me, but in reality we lived on different sides of the world. I knew my heart would be true, but how miserable is a letter compared to a person? It wouldn't be fair to him. I couldn't move here. My whole life is in America. I couldn't ask him to move home. His life was here. He was also getting noticed on a regular basis. Girls asked him for his autograph. It would be no time before he would find someone more accessible. I came to England to tell him in person that we had no future.
I never had the courage to put him down and so I didn't, not on the first night. Seeing him on stage re-lit my feelings.
It was late. The sky was purple. We sat on the beach at Stony Creek staring out to the Thimble Islands. Our hands met. "I want you to stay here. I'll be so alone without you. I can only imagine how you feel."
"I want you to come home with me." I stated.
"I'm not. I'll leave with you. When you go home, I'll come with you."
"You can't. You're gonna be on TV."
"I don't care. Marry me."
"What? Really?" I pulled my hand away. None of that statement was properly thought out. "You can't guilt me into staying." He took my hand back and kissed me. It was like a symphony swelling up.
"She told me she planned to leave me. The ocean was much too large." Duncan stared off.
"This is a terrible dream. You should have forced her to stay. You're in control aren't you?" Duncan's flatmate exclaimed.
"I don't think I really am. But, the thing is, I didn't have to force her."
It was the autumn after. He wore a kilt. He planned it out months ahead of time. It still made me giddy inside. I wore white. We stayed true to that. I held my breath every step. It's just Duncan. I reminded myself over and over, but I couldn't stop shaking. The room seemed faded in light browns. The moment was a memory I was experiencing for the first time. Soft white pedals drifted sleepily to the floor below. We were so nervous. His hands fidgeted, they didn't know what to do without pockets. We watched each other. As soon as our hands laced, my heart calmed. I glimpsed him out the corner of my eye. He was doing the same to me.
She was brand new and so was I. Nolla weighed nothing. I carried her up the stairs to the bedroom in our new home on Stony Creek beach. It was dimly lit. The silvery moon washed over her Cinderella dress. She was tiny in her decadent gown. Little white daisies were braided through her hair like fresh snow. She was so beautiful. I felt invigorated. Nolla giggled and cried all the way home. The ceremony was for show. No one could tell us how we already felt. We belonged together. I set her gingerly on the bed.
"I promise to laugh at all your quirks." I untied my tie.
"I will love you through your mistakes." She picked at the flowers.
"You will always come first," I promised.
"I will always stand by you." Nolla sat up in the bed, kicking off her shoes. We looked at each other. The gravity of the situation seemed to settle on her perfect face. She pouted pensively. Her eyes sparkled with concerned innocence.
I put my hands on her shoulders and hugged her close. My mouth was next to her ear. "You tell me when to stop, because I won't know how." I kissed her neck, sliding my hands down her arms to her back. My fingers found the zipper but stopped half way down. Our gaze locked. I searched for reserve in her eyes. She swallowed nervously. I kissed her while continuing down the interlocking way. The clean white clothes fell away. Soon she and I matched in pure original form. We were next to each other. Our bodies connected. Nolla winced. I held back. "Would you like me to stop?"
I slept across his chest. Duncan was awake through the wee hours, stroking my hair. Life was perfect.
A year had gone by. It was my first trip to America. We were in Seattle. It was ironic. I thought America would be less rainy. Nolla was so anxious, a mood I had hardly seen her in before. I lied across the edge of the hotel bed, chin in hand. My Nolladee sifted through the jewelry box. I could watch her for hours. Her shoes were brand new. Her dress was perfectly pressed. That wild hair she would usually let flow naturally around her neck and shoulders was now fastened as neat as a button to the back of her head. Nolla moved quickly, but never hasty. Of course I'm biased, but she never took a wasted step. My Nolladee knew what she wanted. Tonight, Washington was hers. She had a showing at a gallery, whose name I had already forgotten. I was sorry I couldn't make it. All her fretting took my mind off my flight home. It would be minutes after her opening. I was due in Cardiff, to shoot a short for the Children in Need campaign. It was a good charity, but I'd much rather be here.
Nolla slide on an onyx bangle with white enamel paisley designs all over. "What do you think?" She produced a slender wrist.
I smiled, missing the trinket all together. "I think you're gorgeous."
"Can you at least pretend to feign interest?"
I held her wrist and drew her in. "I know you're gorgeous?"
She kissed my forehead. "You're hopeless." She was so close. Her perfume filled the air. It swirled around my head making me half crazy. Her wrist remained my possession. I pulled her in. Our mouths met in a kiss. It was the most eloquent silence. Nolla fell completely into it. Her hands rubbed at my back and hair, but the kiss ended. We stared at each other contemplating our next move. Nolla decided. She sat next to me on the bed. "You're too good at that.” I touched her hair. She folded into my side. “I want you to stay with me."
"I know you would, but you have to go."
"Nolladee. you're more important."
She smiled. "I know." We kissed again. Nolla stood in front of the mirror and fitted black onyx studs to her ears. I watched this simple act. It drew the most sensual attention to her neck. I needed it on my lips. Nolla fidgeted with the clasp on her necklace. I immediately stepped in, hooking the loops together. I fingered the delicate chain to her supple skin and continued down her ribs.
"I'll never finish..." She began to protest. I nibbled at her neck a moment. "I'm gonna miss you." Nolla broke away. She entered the bathroom and closed the door.
"Is that where she is now? America?" Duncan had gone for a morning jog. Two teenage girls had recognized him and asked for an autograph. Duncan was always generous with his time for fans. They made him who he was. These girls were fans of his show on BBC1 and wondered if he would stay on for the next series. There were rumors he was leaving to return to the stage full time. Somehow Duncan had found himself going on about Nolla again. He looked at the bright eyed blond and crafted the answer carefully. "She's always with me." He touched his heart.
The two girls swooned. "How romantic, an artist girlfriend," the first girl said.
"Is that why we haven't heard of her in the papers? She lives in America?" The second one asked. The two girls looked at him doe-eyed. He began to unwind the scarf from his neck.
"I'll tell you what, ladies, take this." He handed the blond the scarf. They both made a grab at it. "Thanks for humoring me." They fought viscously over it. Duncan took off running.
"Do you have any colleagues in America?" He asked. It was no secret Duncan was looking terrible. There was a nightmare involved. The nature of dreaming cemented by six years of devotion broke down. His subconscious betrayed him. Duncan deprived himself of sleep for a few days. When his body exhausted, not even the most ambrosial nutmeg could bring them back.
"I'm filming there for the next few months." Duncan paced.
"Are you sure?"
He slumped down. "I just want my life back. Nothing else compares."
"When you say your life...?"
"The lack of sleep... it's affected me."
"What about the accident?" Duncan rubbed his face.
"Duncan, it's time!" She clutched her swollen stomach. Her breath came in short bursts. She reached for the paper towels. I came running down the stairs. The overnight bag was strapped across my chest. I skipped the last few steps and jumped the banister. She was attempting to wipe the water from the floor.
"Nolladee, Maggie can get that, that's her job."
"I told her to get the car." I helped her straighten up. She screeched.
"Mr. McDowell, the car’s out front." Maggie came walking into the kitchen. She handed me the keys.
"Thanks Maggie. Call Dr. Jones and please take care of the puddle." I eased Nolla down the stairs. It was a miserable day. The sky was sprinkling when I came home. Maggie called saying Nolla was in pain. Most of the cast was very supportive, but this was two weeks of me rushing off in the middle of the day. This time it was real. I just knew it. She began crying. "Just stick with me Nolladee." I took her hand.
"I can't. I can't." She screamed. The hairs on the back of my hand stood.
"It's OK." By now it was down pouring. I could feel the leaves under the tires. I hoped Nolla wouldn't notice the car slipping. Her excitement amplified my own. I didn't stop the car fast enough. We skidded under the red light.
"Watch the road!"
"Nolla, I have this. You just focus on you." We were OK. There was no one else at the intersection.
"Duncan!" She pointed out my window. Lights. I slammed the breaks. The car spun out. We were pointing the opposite direction. A lorry crashed through the passenger's side. My head planted into the air bag. Her's didn't deploy.
"Nolla." Blood drizzled from her brow. I couldn't move.
Duncan was fine minus a few bumps and bruises. I couldn't get out of bed. I couldn't look at Duncan. I wept at night away from his sight. I never blamed him on the surface, but couldn't stop the bitter thoughts. I lay catatonic through the day, never saying anything. It was torment for him. He spent the evenings lying next to me in the hospital bed. He stroked my cheek until he drifted off to sleep. One night I just snapped. Tears slid down same path his hand went
"I love you." I whispered taking his hand. He was awake. He kissed my eyes. I placed my hand on my hollow womb.
"She was beautiful."
We both cried.
(Click here for the ending.)