The second half to the Hemingway-inspired short story. Read Part 1 here.
The hotel was massive and looked like a casino with all its lights. This contrasted with the unusually clear sky that night. “So we’ve managed to build Rome at last, heh.” Nick muttered to himself. He tipped the driver a bit generously and went on to probe his companion. Ash wasn’t waking up anytime soon.
“It looks like this one is done!” The driver laughed as the moon lit up his jeering smile.
Nick sighed and slowly lifted her into his arms with a resigned but cautious motion.
The hotel was remarkably quiet at this time, and he enjoyed this fact greatly. It made it easier to organize the oncoming thoughts. His instincts led him to the elevator but after the door opened, he had a curious idea and decided to take the stairs to the fourth floor instead. He wanted to feel her embrace just a while longer.
He wondered if this made him a person of poor character. But then he realized that he did not care. Morality was for the pastors and their false gods, not his.
When Nick reached her room, he had to knock three times. Eric opened the door after a long wait in a faded green nightshirt. He smelled like he had been enjoying his night as well.
“Sorry for getting this to you so late, but I figured you couldn’t sleep without it.”
“Haha, hello old chap. Thank you, did you two have fun getting winded?”
“Well, at least one of us did. How was the Rue St Jean?”
“Loud, full of uppity Americans and Brits, and overpriced. Just like home Nick.”
“Sounds about right, Eric. I’ll let you two sleep now.”
“You sure Nickie? Come in for a drink! Hey, I have an idea. Why don’t you sleep here tonight? We can have a sleepover like when we were kids. I can put some sheets over the-”
“No, don’t talk crazy man. It’s okay, I’m exhausted. We’ll have breakfast tomorrow on the café across the street again.”
“If you’re sure. Good night Nick, and thanks again for Ash.” Eric smiled genuinely.
With a new taste of bitterness, he paced along the hall. Yeah, good night old chap. Fucking hell. Who does that, lets their damn wife go out and get smashed like that? With another guy? Of course I brought her back, what the hell did you expect anyway?
Turning at the corridor, he withdrew his lighter and lit a cigarette. He tried to smoke, but he was just a casual smoker and it wasn’t enough this time. He threw the cigarette on the floor, stomped on it, and exchanged profanities with the empty hall. It was a scene of pure neuroticism.
It concluded with Nick Benett sitting at the hotel bar. It was sparse with only a couple of stragglers here and there. He ordered a glass of a traditional French spirit and downed half of it at once. “It seems I’m back in college again,” Nick muttered to himself.
As he performed an instinctive scan of the room, his eyes caught a very pretty girl at the other side of the bar. She was very young, and wore her hair short which complemented her round face and hazel brown eyes. She turned her head to him and they made eye contact.
“God damn it.” He looked away but it was too late. She slowly walked over and sat at the stool next to him. He then knew that the rest of his night would not be peaceful as he initially planned.
“Bonsoir. Américain?” He had no choice but to turn and nod.
“In that case, hello. You look like you could use company.” She crossed her right leg over her left, and took out a cigarette from a white case in her bag.
“You have a light?” She asked with the cigarette tucked under her venomous lips.
“No. I don’t smoke.” Nick replied coldly.
“It’s okay, I brought my own,” which she did as she started rummaging through her bag.
“Then why the hell did you ask?”
“I don’t know myself. Sometimes we do curious things.” The young girl smiled.
Nick was surprised she spoke rather fluent English although she still maintained a slight accent.
“Let me guess, you’re surprised I speak English well. That is the problem with you Americans, the only language you speak is your own and you think the rest of the world is the same.”
“I forgive you. Now tell me, what it is that a nice guy like you is doing in a place like this so late at night?”
“What makes you think I’m nice?”
“Well, you’re not here with a woman Monsieur. Or a man. And you looked deeper in thought than you were in that drink in front of you.”
“I’m almost offended by that. How old are you anyway? You shouldn’t be here.”
“I am 21. The women of this country mature early,” she smiled playfully this time like she was winning at a game.
“I like the late night air, the crowd it attracts – outsiders, drunks, neurotics. Which one are you Monsieur?”
“I don’t believe that you’re 21. But your English is very good. I am none of the above. I’ve had a long day and I’m trying to find the end of it at the bottom of this glass.”
“So, it’s a woman, isn’t it?.” Nick blinked.
“Hah. What makes you say that?”
“It is just mathématiques. I’ve seen many men in this bar. It is usually a woman. You do not have to be shy. They don’t last anyway, like a nice breeze on a summer day. Nothing to feel terrible over.”
Nick felt unexpectedly queer. He couldn’t put a finger on why he felt uncomfortable, but he chose to pretend it was the spirit finally working its way down.
“Hey, can I get another glass of this? And one for her too.” The young girl smiled. Her teeth shone in the dim light of the bar.
“Now tell me what the name of this…inquisitive little girl is, and what she does.”
“My name is Eden. Yes, just like the garden in the Bible. My mother was from Córdoba and very devout. And yours, Monsieur?” Her cheeks were exposed red as she took her drink.
“David. Different text, same themes. It seems both our mothers had a sense of humor, Eden.”
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t worry about it. Tell me, what do you do, Eden? When you aren’t enjoying the night in poorly lit hotel bars.”
“I am saving up for school. I want to study to become a defense lawyer. Right now, I take one class each semester at the University of Lyonnais.” The girl had been a bit offended by Nick’s tone, which the latter realized.
“That is a noble pursuit. I wish I had done something like that. My father was an accountant, my mother a district manager at a firm, the path was already set for me.”
“That is sad, David. That makes me sad! If you could have studied whatever you wanted, what would you have chose?” The young girl leaned forward and got closer to Nick.
“It doesn’t matter now. We all end up exactly where we’re meant to be,” Nick said as he turned towards his drink and away from the girl.
“I do not think so. It’s important to have passions. What is life without working for something that will bring you happiness? What is li-“
“We don’t always get everything that we want. In fact, we seldom do. Your naivety is refreshing, but as you get older you will quickly learn to compromise on these passions of yours.”
“Ah! You are older, but not old. But you are talking like you have given up. A man who is not ready to die for their passions, is not living anyway. Tell me then, why do you live? Why all the effort to go through every day?”
“Because an object in motion tends to stay in motion, little girl.” Nick was rapidly emptying the contents of his second drink, and definitely starting to feel the effects as well.
“Look Eden, you’re a nice girl. And very smart. Go to school, go after your passions, and stop talking to men like me. I want to be left alone.”
“No. I reject your request. Talk to me, Monsieur. What is your passion and what is stopping you?”
“God damn. It’s a fucking woman, alright? Are you happy? Will you shut up now?” Nick had unintentionally raised his voice and the bartender turned to survey the situation. The girl with him did not seem bothered so he decided not to interrupt yet.
“I see. She does not feel the same way?” Eden asked very softly.
“I don’t know. Maybe she does. But it doesn’t matter anyway. Because she’s with someone else and that isn’t going to change.” The emotional depth of the entire night’s events were starting to catch up to him and he was ready to bury his head in the bar’s table.
“I’m sorry. That is hard. I know it may not help to hear this now, but it will pass. There will be other women.” Nick stayed quiet.
“I have had bad luck too. My first boyfriend, Alexander, I thought we were going to spend the rest of our lives together.”
“He got bored of me.” Now it was Eden’s turn to attend to her drink.
“I’m sorry that happened to you.”
“It’s okay. Because that’s life. That’s people.”
“Haha, now you’re starting to sound just like me.”
“Maybe that is not so bad. We are more alike than I thought, David.” Eden turned to Nick and smiled again.
Nick slowly sipped the remnants of his drink. As he did so, he noticed Eden and how she looked like she was anticipating something. Or, she looked like she was deep in thought. In that tight dress that accentuated her torso, that masked such a terribly naïve girl.
Then Nick thought of his friend’s face. Fuck Eric. Fuck you too Ash. Especially you. He wanted to pull their hearts out of their chests and pound them with a hammer until only small pieces were left. He wanted to do this because that’s how he already felt inside. What the hell am I doing here? Don’t even think about that. I’m an alcoholic but not a scumbag. This girl was so young and so nice. I should call her a cab. I should say goodnight and go back to my room, that’s the right thing to do.
“Eden, it was nice meeting you. Thank you for the chat and the drink.” Nick said as he got up in a frantic rush. She grabbed his wrist.
“It was nice talking to you too, David.” She smiled differently this time.
The next morning, she woke up before he did, showered, picked up a small bundle of bills that had been carelessly tossed on the dresser, and left. He was awake and heard her leave but he pretended to be asleep because that was the kind of man he was. As he heard the door close, he finally opened his eyes and looked out the window. The sun was particularly vibrant and beaming, and it hurt him to look right at it.