The Lovers

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic
Matt goes on a blind date with Danielle, but he is unprepared for the confusion and angst that results when Danielle reveals information about her past. (I wrote this when I was 16 for a creative writing class. The teacher wasn't very happy she had to read all this, LOL.)

Submitted: June 29, 2017

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Submitted: June 29, 2017

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The Lovers

 

Matt stepped out of the bus into the pouring rain.  It instantly soaked his dark suit, and the fierce wind mussed up his neatly combed hair. He glanced up at the gray evening sky and shivered.  His eyes searched desperately along the long row of buildings for the place.

THE RIVIERA RESTAURANT.  Across the street, its red neon sign beckoned him to walk in, out of the downpour.  Without hesitation, Matt, hunched over, ran across the street to the entrance.  His feet splashed in the growing puddles.

Suddenly tires screeched--! A brownish-yellow car stopped a few feet from Matt. He leaped to the curb and glanced back. The man in the car rolled down his window and yelled at him.

"Hey kid! Can't even cross the street right, you goddamned stupid..."

The car roared off.

Matt shrugged, leaned against the heavy blue glass door and entered the restaurant.  It was little warmer than the outside, but Matt still shivered.  He looked around the large half-filled room:  some people were eating silently, others were talking in solemn, muffled voices.  The lights were dim.  Deep red tablecloths were spread on the tables, and the walls were covered with a dull, dark blue wallpaper.  What a disgusting color, Matt thought to himself, as he took in the surroundings.  Pacing across the lustrous black wood floor, he wandered out into the dining area.

Opposite him, all the way across the cavernous room, an artificial river spouted out of the wall and splashed into an elevated pond.

So this was the Riviera, Matt thought.  Named because of that crazy, idiotic fountain that didn't even look like--

"May I help you, young man?"

At Matt's side was a greasy-haired old man.  There were bags under his eyes and wrinkles all over his face, as though he'd been awake for days.

"Sir?", asked the man again.

"Umm...sure, uh, I'm looking for a girl--I mean, a young lady--uh, she's supposed to be here--somewhere--

"Well, you see, well--I haven't, you know, I don't know what she looks like."

The old man looked as though he'd fallen asleep, his eyelids drooping. 

Then Matt said, "Let me see....she said her name was Della--no, Daniella.  Daniella Smith."

The old man frowned and peered at a card he held in his hand.  "Ah yes, she's expecting you," he muttered, "Let me show you where she's sitting."  He frowned again and lifted his arm wearily to point towards a corner of the restaurant.

"Thanks.  But I don't---"

Then Matt saw her.  She was sitting alone at a corner table (was it really her?)  His wet shoes sloshing, Matt walked slowly and cautiously towards her.  She was not as pretty as he had hoped.  Her straight brown hair came down to the shoulders of the loose, unbuttoned black sweater she wore over a simple white dress.  Her nose, he thought, was too large, spoiling what could have been a strikingly beautiful face-- 

She saw him coming towards her and raised her thin eyebrows at him, as though suspicious of him.

Matt paused for a moment, and then words stumbled from his mouth:  "Are you--are you Daniella?"

"Yeah."  Her voice was plain and hoarse.  She had nice brown eyes, though, Matt noticed.

"Hi," he found himself saying as he sat down and faced her.

"Hi."  She looked past him, over his past shoulder.

There was a short awkward silence and then Matt said, "Umm..pretty bad weather, huh?"

"Yeah, got wet myself."

"Like me."

"Not as bad as you.  You should look at ya self.  You're dripping!"  She laughed, but much too long.

"You been waiting here long?"  Matt asked.

"Sort of."

"Hey, sorry, but the bus--"

"Don't worry about it--I've been keeping myself busy, talked with the doorman for a bit."

"Funny, he didn't seem to know who I was."

"Why should he know you?"  Daniella looked at Matt and laughed again, that loud shrill laugh.

Matt felt uncomfortable.  He fumbled for a napkin, wiped his brow, took a sip of water; when he finally spoke his voice shook:

"Er...on the phone--that is, after we went on the blind date radio program--you said that you like to sing."

"I never said that, that's stupid."

A waiter suddenly appeared and gave them their menus.  "Would you care for something to drink?", the waiter asked, his tone of voice clearly mocking.

Matt looked at Daniella. She shook her head.  "Umm..just some water please," Matt said as he stood up.  He felt his pockets, and pulled out a soggy, crumpled piece of paper. "And I have a coupon here for a dinner for two at the Riviera given to us from radio station KRZY.  Could we have that?"

The waiter sneered, nodded, grabbed the coupon and walked away.

Matt sat down and looked at the girl.  He felt tense, his whole body on edge.  Chewing his lower lip, he tried to remember what she had said on the phone, no it wasn't singing--

"Oh yeah, I remember now, you paint, right?"

"Yeah."

"I'm interested in painting, too. Just looking at them, not making them."  He laughed.

Daniella said, "Yeah.  I like to paint.  Wait."

She opened her ragged leather purse (the thing was definitely falling apart, Matt noticed) and pulled out an envelope.

"Here. I got some pics of some of my work. You know, no sense lugging around my stuff when I can take snapshots of them."

"Could I see them?"

"Here.  The first one I did about a year ago.  It's called "Bird in a Cage"".

"Nice.  Very nice.  Nice use of color.  What kind of bird is it?  Looks sort of like a dove."

"It's a sparrow, stupid."

"Oh."

"I don't blame you for now recognizing it.  you see, it's a little faded and plus my cat peed on it once.  You can see the smears."

Matt nodded, inspecting the photo a little closer.  "The bird--it appears to be sleeping-- a tired bird, I must say."

"Jesus, can't you see anything--it's dead--the owners have moved away and the cage is sitting in the corner of that empty room--died of starvation."

"Here's another one," Daniella said, holding out another photo, which Matt took in his moist hand.

"It's very dark," he said, "Looks like night." 

"Yeah.  It's a beach at night. Can't you see it?  This dark sea meets that brown land at the white shoreline, and see, the full moon in the distance... it's called Dover Beach. Inspired by this poem my mom likes a lot."

"Oh.  How?"

"Listen--I can recite a bit of it," Daniella said, throwing her hair back and appearing very theatrical. "The world, that seems to lie before us like a land of dreams, so various, so beautiful, so new, has really no joy or love or light...' I forget the rest. Something about armies."

Matt stared at the picture.  "Hmm...it's very good, it's very meaningful..."

Daniella held out another picture.  "The next one I think is my masterpiece."

Gazing at it, Matt saw brown and yellow splotches in a bright red background and one of the splotches had what looked like an open mouth and there was a hand that held a black vase-like object. Above that a white flag was flying--or was it a cloud?

"This one", Daniella was saying, "I call ‘The Lovers'".

"‘The Lovers'?"

"It's obvious, don't you see?  Hey are you blind or something?"  Daniela began pointing quickly at the photo. "Here's one of the lovers--the old man on his deathbed, but still drinking whiskey--and here's this girl, here, and she's crying and then there's this ghost--who's actually the spirit of what he's about to become--you know, after he dies, see-- and still watching over her, caring for her.  Whereever she goes.  It's very moving.  I feel really sad just looking at it right now..."

"This is very good," Matt said, "Why'd you paint this?"

She looked straight into Matt's eyes and then looked away.  "Just felt like it," she said.

"You're very good." 

"I know I am." Daniella tossed back her head and ran her hands through her hair.  "But hardly nobody thinks so.  You know, I've entered some contests but haven't won.Nobody appreciates good art nomore."

"It's a pity," said Matt.

Music had now started in the restaurant, a slow, lush and monotonous music that broke up the ensuing silence.  Suddenly, the waiter finally reappeared with some glasses of water, plopped them down on the table and left. Daniella sipped at the water awkwardly.

Matt looked at Daniella.  She looked into his eyes for a moment, gave a weak, forced smile, and then looked over his right shoulder.  He had to say something, anything---

"What are your parents doing tonight?" he asked.  "Mine are at home.  Or at least my mom is.  My dad's hardly ever home.  So my mom's at home.  watching TV.  She's a big TV watcher.  She even watches football by herself.  Besides all the soap opera of course.  Imagine that."

"Oh really."

"so what about your parents?"

"What about them?"

"What are they doing tonight?"

"Oh.  Mother and Father, well, they're at home--as usual, reading, they're really into reading.  Father likes to paint too."

"Not as good as you, I bet," Matt said.  "You know, I wish that sometimes I could be good at something, just like you. Something I could be proud of and say I did this or I won this.  My two brothers and my sister are really talented.  Mom and Dad are still trying to figure it out--why I came out all different.  Really.  Seems all I'm good at is running through rainstorms and getting almost hit by cars."  He laughed.

Daniella looked at the left sleeve of her black sweater and yawned, putting her hand over her mouth when the yawn was more than half through. 

"When are you going to be able to drive?" she asked.

"I don't know," Matt replied. "I've got my license, already, you know, but no car.  My dad won't let me drive it.  And--besides, he's always out with it anyway, at nights, all the time."

"Oh, really?" 

Matt shivered.  "Are you cold? It's like the North Pole in here--"

"No," said Daniella.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes," she sighed weakly and looked into her glass of water, as though analyzing the little disk of ice that floated in it.

Matt said, "The service here is kind of--well, slow here, don't you think?  We should've gone someplace else.  Of course, I really can't complain, when I can't even cook myself.  Just the other day I tried to make custard pie--and ended up with scrambled eggs!"  He laughed, and detected a small, faint smile on Daniella's lips."

"And then," he continued, "I tried to make some pancakes, and ended up with things that felt like Frisbees.  It  seemed like you could just throw them around, you know, use them as deadly weapons."  Daniella turned her eyes from the ice to Matt at last and her smile got a little larger.  At last, Matt thought, he was getting somewhere--

Daniella's voice broke into his thoughts. "Have you done this before, Matt?"

"Done what?"

"Gone on a date."

"Well, actually....."

"Tell the truth now.  She gave a little smile and went on, giving Matt no time to answer. "Last week I had a date with this guy I met from the Personals."

"Oh? what was he like?"

"The guy was on an ego trip like he was the only man on earth!  Which is funny cause he goes in the paper like he's a perceptive, witty, generous and sensitive guy, a superman of sorts--almost too good to be true, yeah? Anyway he takes me out and then calls my paintings total garbage and then at dinner he's telling me long boring stories and feeling my legs under the table and trying to kiss me--only I don't want to hurt his feelings so I don't smack him! And geeze I wanted to smack him!"

Matt drew his breath in. "Unbelievable," he said.  He did not want to hear about her previous dates after all it only made him feel so child-like in her eyes because it was so obvious that this was the first time he'd ever gone out on a date; he should never have called into that program, why'd he do it? Something gnawing away his insides, becoming as dreary and heavy as this room, that background music and the old doorman's eyes...

Daniella continued, Matt gazing at her, but she wasn't looking at him; it was as though she were holding a conversation with herself.  "Should've hit him," she said.  Scrunching up her sleeves and making a fist. "Would've taught him something. Anyway then he has the gall to call me up yesterday to ask me out and didn't believe me when I told him I as going out today with another guy.  He probably had a heart attack right there, getting the news that there are actually other people, actual human beings in this world."

Matt thought Daniella looked quite angry, then she laughed, almost bitterly.  She looked around the restaurant, as though she expected to see someone who knew her.  Something caught her eye and she broke out of her trance.

"Hey--" she said to Matt.  "While we're waiting wanna go over and see that fake waterfall they've got here?"

"Okay."

They got up and went over to the elevated pond the fountain spouted into.  Daniella leaned against the waist-high wall and stared into the water.  The bottom and sides of the pool were covered with a purple sludge, and the few water-lilies that floated on the surface were rotten and decayed. 

"Nice pond." Matt said.

Daniella was looking at her reflection in the water and running her hands through her hair. Matt looked at the girl mirrored in the water and then the real Daniella standing there next to him.

"Ever paint waterfalls?" Matt asked.

"No," Daniella still looking at her reflection.  "Though I could if I wanted to.  If you've noticed, I don't really choose what I want to paint, it chooses me. I'm just shopping or walking along the street lying in bed and all of a sudden, I see it all.  The colors of the paint I'm going to use and everything.  But really, waterfalls are well, so  stupid, so.. meaningless."

While Daniella was talking, Matt moved close to her, close enough to touch her.  She still faced the water, as though mesmerized by its ripple and reelections of the lights. Matt noticed her high-heeled shoes and her trim figure and her slender white neck and the way she held herself; like a princess, he thought.  Up close now he could smell her perfume, the fragrance of some mysterious oriental flower. Now she suddenly turned to face him and he saw her deep brown eyes and full lips and that nose which didn't appear as out-of-place as it used to be--

She surprised him by saying, "Matt, you look like you've seen a ghost!" And laughed her special laugh--it was special now, Matt thought, and beautiful, not that loud rude shrill cackle it had been before. "Whassa matter," she continued, "Dying of cold?"

"No, it's just that--well, I'm actually heating up--thinking of going for a swim in this pond." Matt said. 

He saw her smile and the little dimples at the corners of her mouth and suddenly felt like kissing each of them and wondered how they would taste. Their bodies were so close to each other now he could hear her breathing.  Her perfume enveloped him now like a warm embrace.  He noticed her judicious use of makeup--the few touches of red blush on her smooth cheeks, the black eyeliner that emphasized the gem-like quality of her eyes--and the jewelry that she wore--a very thin white bracelet (why hadn't he noticed it before?), a gold chain necklace (barely visible) and a pair of shiny silver earrings in the shape of---he couldn't tell--they looked like little hearts--

"Nice earrings," Matt said.

"Yeah," Daniella said. "they're kind of weird though." She removed one of them and held it out to Matt.  He took it and studied it for a moment.  No it wasn't a heart--"

"What is it?" he asked.

"Can't you tell?  Geeze you can't figure out anything! It's obviously--the head of a rat."

"A rat's head!"  Matt looked at it closely again. Indeed--it was a small silver replica of the head of a rat, the tiny ears, the eyes, the long nose where the whiskers would be-

"Yeah.  Don't know why I wore them tonight--just felt like it, I guess."

"Where'd you get them?  I can hardly believe Macy's selling those."

"Gift from a friend." Daniella paused and then went on.  "He's--an art collector. Robert Dolan--have you heard the name?  Rather famous in certain circles... Said these were from a tribe somewhere in South America--you see they worship these little things. Rats, I mean.  Robert told me that they believe these rats are a part of that whole cycle of decay and growth, of death and rebirth. Sounds like garbage, I know, but really--I think these earrings are really cute--well, sure, they're not Mickey Mouse!"

Matt felt like he was sinking into quicksand, a whirlpool of things he couldn't escape or hide from. "How long have you known him." 

"Who?"

"You know, the art collector."

"Oh, Robert...." Daniella turned to gaze at the water's surface again. One of the dead water-lilies floated past them; she reached out and touched it.  "You can't believe how much I ---"

She turned to him and said, "No, you wouldn't understand; though you're such a good listener.  You see, he and I met at an art contest two years ago--he was one of the judges--he'd been in the art business for decades and even he thought my paintings had great ideas (even though I didn't win). We were so great together; I'd call him up on a whim and we'd go out on the town to shows, the ballet...and he knew so many people, I'd meet them at parties, writers and musicians and it seemed to be a whole world opening up before my eyes...

"Oh and Robert and I would stay up late in his mansion--you've probably seen it if you've passed through Broughton Park--big Doric columns, marble statues by the door-- and we'd talk about anything, art, life, the world....I'd get home late and Mother would be sitting in the living room reading and drinking coffee and waiting for me... I'd lie in the dark thinking how all the pieces fit together, how Robert and I'd eventually get married, even though he kept telling me to find someone my own age;  no, I said to him, I don't need anyone but you...

"Then suddenly it all just fell apart... Two months ago I called him up---I remember the night; and I heard Robert's own voice on the answering machine ‘Robert Dolan has left these premises permanently' if you so wish you may contact him at ....' and an address, in England; can you believe it!  All at once I was confused and angry and baffled. I wrote to his new address but he never answered (if only I could have grabbed him by the shoulders and shaken the answers out of him where there still was time!)  So I called his close friend Fred Winston and he sounded drunk, and in his slurred syllables he told me Robert had gone home to see his wife and children--can you believe it! A whole life, a while family, hidden from me!

"It turned out Robert was living only for a while here in the States--better for business, Fred told me. And I cried for weeks-- then just last month Fred calls me up (he's dead drunk again) and tells me Robert's had a stroke, can't move, can't talk--I told him what the fuck do I care about Robert, that liar, that cheat, he wrecked my whole life, took my faith and trashed it, that coward who couldn't say farewell and tell me the truth; I would've forgotten him for that and not this, mess of lies...

"Then that night I thought again and saw his strong face and gray hair and his gentle eyes and knew that beneath it all he'd had a beautiful soul and that I'd been so lucky that it shone on me, that he'd shared it with me..." 

Daniella's gaze turned from the water to see if Matt was still listening.  He avoided her eyes and glanced back at the table.

"They've started serving us dinner, anyway," he said, starting to move back to the table. "Let's go."

"I'll be with you in a sec...gotta use the ladies.'" She walked off.

Matt finally reached the table and sat down.  He looked at the plate and saw a large brown piece of unidentifiable meat in a pool of tar-like sauce.  the peas were crumpled like little lizard eggs someone had carelessly smashed--the potatoes, as though they'd been sitting in one of the puddles outside for hours, and everything steaming up into his eyes he had to turn away, and yet the smell nauseated him, even the mere thought of food sickened him, he'd lost all appetite--

There was a burst of laughter at the table nearby his.  A young couple, talkative and giggly; they held hands on the table top, their faces close.  The girl sipped from her wine glass and said to her boyfriend, "Here come close..a secret."  She cupped her hand around her mouth and whispered into his ear.  The boyfriend began to laugh hysterically; the girl said "And that's not all" and whispered to him again.  This time they both exploded with laughter, their eyes watery, their faces red.

These lovers, Matt thought, they have a language all their own, don't they; all their little in-jokes that come from years of isolation--as though the rest of the world didn't matter at all when they're together.

Matt stood up, trembling.  The whole world seemed to be shaking unsteadily; the dark floor had a mind of its own, moving beneath his feet.  That waterfall was spouting out in all directions, seemed to be overflowing the pond...He drank from his ice water, but it didn't help, his throat and stomach were suddenly so cold and lifeless--he wanted to call out, run for help--

His first steps were off-balance, as though he were walking again for the first time in years.  The door seemed worlds away...he imagined Daniella watching his retreat, maybe she hadn't even gone to the bathroom and was waiting for him at the door or maybe talking to the old doorman and (what a crazy thought) they were even making out somewhere, he would catch them in the act and they'd laugh at him, ridicule him, and then go on with what they were doing...

He finally reached the door.  The old doorman's eyes didn't seem to move at all.  But he saw Matt leaving and moved to push open the heavy blue door.  Matt felt a weariness engulf him when the doorman looked at him; those eyes seemed to weigh him down, a burden. 

"May I be of any help?"

Matt leaned against the door and muttered, "No thanks, just gotta get something from the car."

At least it's stopped raining, Matt thought as he stepped out into the now-still night.  but the sky's still gray, there isn't a patch of open sky anywhere.  He walked along the sidewalk away from the Riviera, past an antique store, a used records and tapes shop, and a second-hand clothes store. 

Now he passed the closed door of a nightclub.  Inside, someone was shouting, yelling, as though attempting to outdo the strident music--suddenly the door opened:  a man stumbled out, practically shoved about by the noise itself.  The man's clothes were crumpled, dirty; he was missing one shoe--he walked as though he had been hit in the stomach.  But what Matt noticed most of all was that he was sobbing uncontrollably, his eyes red and tears streamed down his face.  The man gazed at the street, yelled, and hit the door with his fist--then began sobbing again.  All this while he had not acknowledged Matt's presence, who had stopped walking, startled.  Matt wondered:  is this what it is like to be drunk, to be oblivious to  this absurd world, tearing down to shambles these buildings, these faces,--to be possessed by ghosts.  To be haunted everyday and be driven by them, Furies, to repent and weep into a glass of whiskey, all one's confessions heard and sins forgiven, then temporarily held at bay by one's own contrition. 

"Hey, you!"  The drunk had turned to shout ferociously at Matt. "Come here--my son Billy!" he stumbled forward, his hand outstretched. "You've returned!" Matt felt the drunk's red eyes staring into his own as though they were expecting him to shout out some revelation, a secret that would turn this whole world into sunlight and happiness.

"I think you're mistaken," Matt said. By this time, the drink had moved too close; he could smell the hard liquor on his breath. 

Suddenly Matt turned and walked away down the street.  A few minutes later when he reached the corner he glanced back; the drunk had fallen down into a puddle was shouting, "Come back--don't leave me again! My son!" 

Matt took a deep breath and walked on.  It was quiet now that he had gotten away from the taverns; the streets were practically empty, though once in a while someone would walk past him on the sidewalk and lift his or her blank eyes to him--but wouldn't see him as the drunk saw him, full of expectation and longing. 

Matt stopped and looked up at the sky; now a patch of clearing was showing; the storm was over.  He could even see a few stars emerging from the gray sky...

The rest of the evening would be straightforward. He would walk a block more to the bus-stop and catch the #2 bus to Wester St., a 25-minute ride, and then trudge up the long hill to his home.  By that time it would be 10:00 but his mother would still be up in the living room watching TV with the volume up high.  He'd say hello as he entered through the big front door and walk past her; she'd doubtless ask him about how it all went but he wouldn't feel like talking, so tired and sick of thinking about all of that; but he couldn't rid himself of it. 

He'd climb the long stairway to his small room and gaze out the window upon the dark hills where no lights were--and then, further north, the big lake where he remembered he'd played as a child on those shores.  He'd turn now to the city with all the red and white and yellow lights--knowing she was out there somewhere, Daniella, inside one of those lights....

He'd undress and get into bed and put on the radio and of course the Deejay on KRZY would be talking all about it, the despicable Matthew Stephens who ditched his date at the Riviera, that spineless, yellow bellied creep; they'd have interviews with Daniella ("he was a jerk, I've never seen anyone so pathetic in my life, to run out on me--my god!") and soon the telephone would be ringing and asking him to come on the air to tell his side of the story so that everyone could have a few laughs at his expense...

He couldn't see how he'd ever get to sleep that night; it wouldn't be the sound of the  TV downstairs, no:  he'd gotten used to that over the years.  It was all the tension, the restlessness, that urge that drew him to the blind date in the first place, it'd still be there--only now things had changed now hideous, grotesque.  Like the earrings, for instance; no longer were they ornaments, but symbols of rot and corruption.  And the wrinkled face of the doorman would haunt his sleep, as though he'd known everything all along, had forced him into all of this.  And the face of Daniella--stained with tears like her painting of the dead sparrow, as she recounted her story of Robert Dolan.  Her face would appear in all of Matt's dreams tonight, if he ever fell asleep--her figure ghostlike in the darkness of the room, watching him. 

Or he'd be walking through the streets looking for her, and suddenly not know his way around anymore, all the streets had changed while they had talked, the city had turned into a labyrinth. In the dream he'd want to be with her alone, free from the persecution of memories, in a room where nothing would remind them of the past, of her hurt, of his nausea and subsequent desertion,--only he couldn't find her, the city seemed so foreign, every road taking him somewhere he hadn't seen before. "Daniella!" he'd cry out--but receive no answer.  Then one night like this one he'd be tossing and turning feverishly in trying to fall asleep and there'd be a knock at the door; he'd open it desperately and see the two of them, standing in the doorway, she and Robert Dolan, together again, at last; standing together framed like a painting.  On this night of transfiguration, Matt thought, from this deformed world to one transcended by art, by death...

 

"Matt!"  A cry came from behind him.  He turned around, his heart pounding. He gazed at the dark figure standing there.

He couldn't quite make out the face, lost as it was in shadow. 

"Thought you could get away, didn't you?" its voice taunted him.

The figure stepped from the shadows into the light.

"Daniella--what are you doing here?"

"The doorman told me which way you went; it was easy to follow you."  She looked into his eyes:  they accused him, bringing him to justice. He had found his prosecutor.  He was on trial now: but it was difficult for him to speak, to acquit himself.

"I can't believe it," he said. "Why didn't you call out earlier?"

"Thought you'd have second thoughts--I was wrong.  What'd you think you were doing?  Did you really think--" Her words were lost in the roar of the bus, which had stopped at the bus stop, but now pulled away from the curb.  Matt watched it go, thinking of where it was going, his escape.  Now he was caught here, with Daniella.

But hadn't he found her at least--hadn't his dreams of being alone with her suddenly come true?

"And I kind of liked you, Matt," she said. "You're such a good listener: and a little strange; not like the other guys at all.  Gosh--why'd I tell you about Robert, oh, why can't I just forget about all that?  I'm sorry."

And now I've hurt you even more, thought Matt.  One more who has deserted you.  Has given of oneself and then taken away.  Who has become one more ghost to haunt you, suddenly here, so alive, and then gone and in another world.  A process of decay, and then you must live only with the memory of what was whole.  And now I've passed into that process.

Oh Daniella, he thought, I want to fall into your arms and stop it all, in one embrace to keep this world from falling into ruins, keep it from falling onto you and me and destroying all our hopes!  Hadn't Robert Dolan promised you that--would you believe someone else?  Oh, Daniella: Robert and I have turned you into a cynic--a skeptic, bitter at the world.

"Well, c'mon, let's go back," she said.  "We can order another meal--my treat.  Unless you think that place is really dreadful. I kind of like that waterfall!"

"It's OK by me."

They walked back towards the restaurant together in silence.  They passed the bar where now the drunk had fallen asleep on the steps. They walked at the same pace and close together. Once in a while they would exchange glances. They were so close their hands almost touched; it was as though they were holding each other.

They finally reached the Riviera.  The blue glass door felt lighter now, Matt thought, as he opened it.  Now the old doorman's eyes met them as he and Daniella walked in; his face showed no surprise, as though he'd expected them to return.  As though he'd designed this whole circus and parading around, all these guises and masks.

They were directed to their old table.  The food had been cleared away, although their half-drunk glasses of water remained; Matt couldn't remember drinking any of it thought, like someone else in his body had been there, eating and drinking.

"Are you sure--"  Matt's sentence was cut short by Daniella's hand on his arm. It was unexpectedly cold.  As Matt looked at her downcast eyes, he felt a sudden shiver pass through him. An image flashed into his mind:  the painting of the tearful girl and the white ghost-cloud, the painting that she had shown him it seemed so long ago, the painting of the lovers...


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