Hearts of Lyon 2/2

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.

“Good night.”

~~~

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’m sorry.”

“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.”

“What happened?”

“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.

END

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Hearts of Lyon – 1/2

This is my first prose post. I wrote this back in undergrad when I was obsessed with Ernest Hemingway. My favorite novel of his is “The Sun Also Rises,” and this short story is loosely based off of the main characters. The history of this short story is actually kind of interesting. I had major writer’s block and was totally fed up with hating anything I put to paper.

I decided that simulation might rejuvenate my creative juices. Why not try to follow writers who I really respect and enjoy? I started writing enthusiastically (and slightly angrily) one night and had the skeleton of my plot. A very small glimpse into the world of a character who is unable to find happiness, yet is teased with the possibility of it briefly. Many drafts later and we have probably the only short story I’ve ever written that I actually kind of like. Anywho, here’s part one.

~~~

Hearts of Lyon

“You know you could take it easy once in a while Ash,” the man said to his companion whom he was supporting on his shoulder.

It was particularly cold that night and the warm buzz from the scotch only reminded him of this fact. As he stepped into the cab taking specific diligence to ensure his companion was safe and comfortable, he allowed himself a sigh of relief.

“Where to, Monsieur?” The driver was a rare sort and his physical maturity was transparent in his vigor. He wore an aged red cap that carefully sheathed his grey hair. The cap came down the front of his face like a visor so you only saw half of his eyes when he looked at you.

“The Hotel Chevalier please, and take your time so we can enjoy the drive,” he said to the cabby. It was from then on that Nick Bennet could find himself at ease, and more importantly, to examine the state of his company.

Although she was a woman in her late twenties who was inebriated to a point of no return, she still maintained a childlike naiveté. She was half-asleep, or really she was in a peaceful trance the likes of which only true alcoholics could understand.

She was wearing his favorite leather jacket, a faded mahogany reflective of the season that inspired its purchase. It was loose on her but it wrapped around like a protective blanket. Inside she wore a white dress shirt, top-button open. This detail would be insignificant to anyone else but for him, the button tested the threshold of his lust.

He reached towards her hair, cultivated black silk. With a delicacy almost excessive, he began to run his hand through it. Nick was now in two places – holding his soulmate, and at his annual family outing to Manchester Beach. His mother has her characteristic beaming smile, his father is further away but present. The grains of sand form gentle currents in between his fingers. Watching the waves breathe in and out to an invisible rhythm, he feels invincible. Now next to Ashley, he was nervous, terrified even, but he did not want to be anywhere else.

And he had waited for this painfully since the summer of ‘99. They were just kids in the bodies of young adults back then. One of his friends had thrown another meaningless party as was common in the social circles he traversed. After wandering around in search of anything, he was greeted by his best friend, Eric Palmer.

“Nicky, there you are. Been looking all over for you.” Eric was a Calvin Klein cut-out: tall, dark, and handsome but he never let it go to his head. He was one of those likable types that got along with everybody. Nick had known him since childhood. Their fathers had been on the rowing team in college.

“You’re looking pale chap, you need some sunshine! Listen you remember that girl I told you about? The one I met at that National concert that wouldn’t leave me alone? Well come say hello to her.”

“Eric, are you running that mouth off again? You hounded me if I recall correctly. I’m sorry, don’t listen to a word he says. Hi, I’m Ashley, call me Ash. And you must be Nick. You know, Eric doesn’t shut up about you. At the beginning I was even sort of worried.” That was the first time he saw her smile and he stored it in the dressers of his mind like a secret photograph.

Ash was one of those bright-eyed girls on the covers of magazines. The type that caused traffic jams and left behind rubble and heartbreak in their wake. In actuality, she was only above average in terms of appearance but her confidence and the dexterity in which she carried herself elevated her. Nick was so caught off guard that he delayed in noticing the hand extended towards him.

“It’s a pleasure, Ash. And you’ll get used to it, don’t worry. Eric’s always been a talker.” Nick smiled, non-artificially for the first time in a while.

“No he’s alright. Thank you, for always taking care of him.” she grinned again as she shook his hand. He almost didn’t let go.

Everything followed after that. Lunches, dinners, parties, mindless excursions. The three were inseparable, even after Eric got married. Now it must be noted that while there was an initial attraction, what he felt for her now took years to propagate in the recesses of his heart.

And now she was only a breath away, delicate and vulnerable as he slid his hand to her neck. He traced her contours with religious devotion akin to Donatello taking the final measurements of his David. Then Nick’s finger bumped into a small golden locket that encased her neck.

“Why do you never take that thing off your neck?”

“It’s not a thing, Nick. Eric gave me this when we started seeing each other. As you know he was a waiter back then so he saved up for months just to get this for me! I tried a million times to get him to return it but you know how sentimental he gets. He keeps saying it’s just a placeholder until he can get me something bigger and shinier. But this is all I need.” Her voice faded as she grew nostalgic.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were so…cliché, Ash .”

“Oh, shut up. What’s taking him so damn long with the drinks?”

Nick inhaled deeply. Life is a sequence of choices, some with more heavy consequences than others. His parents weren’t backing him now so he had to tread carefully through the labyrinths of his emotions.

“Oh Ash…” he whispered to his sleeping audience as he reached for her cheek. It was a flush of crimson, but not due to the poison coursing through her veins. She always appeared to be blushing and it was one of those things about her that drove him mad.

Nick inhaled deeply. He wanted nothing more than to embrace her, to feel her warmth against his. He knew things weren’t so simple. Life is a sequence of choices, some with more heavy consequences than others. He had to remember to tread carefully through the labyrinth of his emotions. Still, he could not resist putting his hand on her exposed cheek.

It was a moment of pure unadulterated love, an experience that was so foreign in his life that it was excruciating for him to have to pull away. As he did so, suddenly she detained his wrist with an intimate grasp. All the blood that had rushed to his dick came back to his heart at twice the speed.

“Don’t stop Eric…” she said softly, in her half-conscious state.

Like the moment after a gunshot, his blood turned to ice. All the late night fantasies, all the savage delusions he had built towers out of, came crashing down upon him at that instant.

He let go of her hand and he did not even look in her direction for the rest of the ride. Fortunately, she had returned to slumber after that timely mumbling. He tried to focus his attention to the passing scenery but he felt incapable of seeing, hearing, thinking, anything.

“It’s a cold night, isn’t it?” Nick asked, almost to himself.

“Yes. Very. In France, it gets like this, this time of year.” The driver responded, eyeing the front mirror.

“May I ask if you are married?”

“Twelve years my friend.”

“Hah, how do you manage that? In my country, you would be laughed at.”

“We manage with difficulty. It is not easy, and French women are not easy. But if you live with someone a long time, it comes together like a ruban. Simple. ”

“That’s the problem with everyone today. We’re all too damned simple.” Nick’s face was half-covered in the darkness of the night.

“Well, you don’t have anything to regret, friend. You are a lucky man!” The driver replied, implying in the direction of the once-again unconscious woman.

“Yeah. I guess I am.”