She sat on the railing of the bridge, the warmth of the sun drenched plank juxtaposed with the cool air rising from the river that drifted below, bare legs stretched out, ankles pivoting in circles as she waited. Tilting her head to the side, unsure if the noise she’d just heard was the sound of a fish jumping, she spun so that she was straddling the railing and smiled at the man suddenly standing there. He gave her a look, one eyebrow raised with a smirk.
“I wasn’t going to push you.” She saw his smirk, and raised him some incredulity, along with an eyebrow of her own.
“No, you never push, do you? I’m sure that if I had fallen in the river, perhaps startled by someone sneaking up on me, you’d bust out the old free will argument? After all, I chose to sit on the railing, perhaps out of some unconscious desire to self-sabotage? Put myself in harm’s way?”
“You said it, not me.” Pulling a pair of sunglasses from the pocket of his shorts, he grinned and climbed up next to her, swinging a leg over so that their knees were almost touching…but not quite. He saw her glance and moved back an imperceptible distance. She rolled her eyes.
“For someone as ancient as you are, you can be frustratingly childish. Do you ever get tired of the games?”
“Never.” He hadn’t moved and yet somehow she heard his voice directly in her ear, as though he’d leaned in and whispered. She shivered involuntarily and tried not to smile. “It’s not so much the game I like, it’s the reaction. For example, when I do things like this..”
He dropped his sunglasses to the bridge of his nose and looked at her intently for a moment. She struggled to maintain composure in these moments when he let her see past the facade. If he saw her struggle, he didn’t mention it, but leaned back, somehow finding enough room on the 2×8 railing for both of his elbows behind him, grinning.
“Oh my girl. You could be so deliciously wicked if you would just let yourself, the way you did that night in Paris..remember that?”
“Of course, it was midnight, a tuesday. I was drunk and asked you for a light. On the corner of Rue des Archives and Franc Bourg…” She grinned as his jaw dropped. “I’m kidding! How could I forget that bar on Oberkampf?”
“I bet that young man hasn’t forgotten.” He laughed as she ducked her head, unsuccessfully hiding the smile. “I was so pleased with your progress. Yet you turned your back on all of it. You could be as bright as a morning star in the city of light and instead, you’re here…which,” he gestured to their surroundings, “is clever, by the way. Everyone always thinks of a cross roads as being a place defined by blacktop when the reality is so much simpler.”
“And so we come to it. The reason for your visit.” He sat up, the motion pushing his knees against hers, but did not move back this time.
“The reason for my visit? You think I have time for social niceties like visits? Darling, you summoned me. It must be something absolutely fabulous for pride to take a back seat like that. Unless you’ve changed your mind? I know you miss Paris. I bet sometimes, you even miss me….”
“You won’t rope me in with nostalgia. Exes are exes for a reason. Because it didn’t work out. And darling, we didn’t work out. I know you hate to lose, but there are creatures much more adaptable to your proclivities than I. I couldn’t keep up. I didn’t want to. I thought it was what I wanted, how terrible and wonderful of you to give me exactly what I thought I wanted, so that I’d be better equipped to discern when it actually showed up.”
“Let me guess, it showed up.” She nodded with a small smile.
“There’s this house…”
“And you want me to, what, make it so you win the lottery? Convince the owner to fall for you and then die, leaving you the property? Ghost write a best selling bodice ripper like those ones you used to devour and then pretend to have disdain for so you can make a ton of money?”
“I’d like you to do nothing.”
He narrowed his eyes and looked away, trying to work out the angle she was playing.
“You summoned me here, to the crossroads, to ask me to do…nothing. Have I got that right?” She nodded again.
“Okay, consider my interest piqued. Explain, little girl, before I forget myself and look inside your skull for the answers I seek.” He waggled his eyebrows dramatically. “Unless you’re into that of course…”
She rolled her eyes once more. He knew exactly what she was into.
“Be serious for a second and I’ll explain. I’ve wanted this house for a long time, but it was mostly intangible. I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to settle in one place. But I kept coming back, no matter how far I went. It’s not even that I don’t still want to go places, surf warm ocean, tango in Paris, watch the sunrise from as many different horizons as I can manage. But travellers need a base camp. It’s time. And so I need you to step back, I need to know that I can pull this off on my own. It would be so easy for you to do that thing you do but sometimes it’s important to earn it.”
This time he rolled his eyes.
“You’re going to buy a house without any help? I find that hard to believe.”
“Oh, I’ll need help. Lots. In the form of roommates and work trades and renters and probably even my mum.”
“Oh, how is your mum? Still going to church? Does she know about…” He pointed frantically between the two of them, grinning like a loon.
“You remind me of Rik Mayall in Drop dead Fred when you do that, you buffoon. And no, she doesn’t. Unless this somehow ends up on my blog, I’m really not planning to tell anyone about..” She used the same back and forth gesture. “Seriously though.” She arched an eyebrow. He smiled.
“I hear you, cherie. I won’t interfere.”
“Thanks for that. I know how sentimental you can be.”
He lifted his sunglasses onto his head, so that she could see the mirth in his eyes.
“Me? Sentimental? Well, I do have some good memories. Like that time on the canal, with the champagne? Remember when you..” He leaned forward and whispered in her ear, then laughed uproariously at the blush spreading across her face. “I see that you do. You know, this is sort of like a canal. If only we had some champagne.”
“How about a tea party instead? You’re officially invited to my housewarming.”
“For a house you haven’t bought yet. Charming.”
“Exactly, the key word being yet.”
“You are determined, aren’t you?”
“I am. Everything is going to work out just fine.”
“I don’t know. It’s a mystery.”
“That’s my girl.”