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La Flèche D'or was quiet at this time of day. The hotel lobby echoed its abandonment in lamenting tones whenever squeaking footsteps reverberated from above, and this made the marble-and-glass glory of the dome seem empty and cold. The hotel bar was usually even emptier at this hour, with many of the guests believing that midday was simply too early. This was, however, not the case with everybody.
Despite the homely dark-wood décor of the bar, Lori still couldn’t clear the fog that had shrouded her mind for the last six months. Six months of agony that not even half a glass of brandy could solve at one in the afternoon. She sat with her head in her hands, dark red tresses falling about her shoulders messily so that she could barely see to either side of where she sat. She preferred it that way. If she couldn’t see anything, then she might not have to remember.
Lori had escorted her here the first time they had met. Late one Sunday evening in early spring the bar had been as empty as it was now, populated only by the hotels most courageous customers, and a patron or two. They had shared cocktails until the early hours of the morning; it had been glorious, hazy, after a fashion even perhaps the best night of her life.
They had met here many times. Deeply ingrained in the surface of the wood upon which Lori’s forearms now rested were the vows they had made to one another, secretly, in between shots of hard liquor and cigarettes. In the glassware there was the reflection of their faces, blissfully unaware of what was to come.
Lori could not escape the memories; the thoughts, smells, tastes enveloped her so that she could barely breathe. Her chest felt tight, as though Kristin still had her arms wrapped around it perfectly. Another drink.
She took a sip, but even the fiery burning of the brandy over rocky ice couldn’t stop the trickling, bubbling echoes of Kristin’s laughter in her ears as they lay together in bed. Curtains billowing, they had confessed undying love-
No matter Heno.
What did he matter? Lori never could shake the feeling that things wouldn’t last, but Kristin - pulchritudinous Kristin, beautiful in a way no other woman had ever been since the beginning of time - Kristin did not care. At least that was the impression she gave, right up until the very end.
August dust in the air.
“I can’t do this. He - you don’t understand, Lo. He is my husband, my best friend! I have been... He thinks it’s his fault.”
Lori could not escape the feeling of utter helplessness, even at the memory that captured her in the bar. She didn’t know why she had come. Had she thought it would help?
“Alright Kris, alright. Just tell me what you want. Do you want me to go? Just say it; tell me what you want and I will do it.”
It hadn’t helped before.
“What do you want, Lori?”
“I want you.”
It was as simple now as it was then. The pain that bubbled like a compressed water balloon in her chest was dangerously close to exploding. She could feel the wetness on her cheeks, wiped them away angrily and swallowed the liquid fire.
All of this cogitation didn’t change what had happened; Lori knew this, but couldn’t break loose.
“I can’t do this. I can’t. I’m so - sorry.”
There was nothing for it. It ended the way it began, that is to say it appeared spontaneous and easy - but that was far from the truth.
“I feel like my heart is broken,” Lori muttered into her empty glass. “And no matter how hard I try, I can’t put it back together again. The best I get is a mosaic, and a messy one at that.”
The barman paid her no heed, having grown accustomed to her presence these last few months. She was his constancy; more frequently unhappy than any other customer he had served in his short career. He just let her whisper to herself; after all, so long as she was drinking she was paying his salary.
“Would you like another one?”
Lori didn’t look up, her gaze fixed at the bottom of her glass. Had she finished this one already? The ice clustered against the cold glass, reflecting the mahogany wood so much that she thought there must still be some brandy in there. She sniffed at it, careless, but found that she had been deceived. Again.
“Yes. Please. Less ice this time.”
It didn’t matter how long she sat there, hours passing like grains of sand through her fingertips. It didn’t change what had happened. Kristin was still gone, still married and happy - Lori hoped she was happy. It hadn’t been fair, anyway.
“What was it you said?” An old friend thought she was disgusting. “Don’t mess with another couple? What happened to that?”
“Don’t start; I couldn’t help it.”
Even now she could remember every word that had passed between them. The time that they had fallen together laughing into a pile of autumn leaves outside in the hotel grounds; hadn’t that been bliss? Bliss.
“Oh my God - thank God.” That voice - it was haunting. She couldn’t get away from it! Red hair disturbed visions.
“Go away Kristin,” Lori muttered, aware that she was talking into her glass again. Perhaps she was going mad. Kristin: the thought almost made her laugh. Instead, she cried.
“Lori? Oh, Lori!”
And then, suddenly, there was a hand on Lori’s shoulder. Teeth clenched she spun slowly in her seat, ready to slap whoever had the nerve to touch her. But she couldn’t slap, could barely lift her arm for the shock. Her heart stopped, kicked once, and then fluttered into beating so rapidly she thought she might keel over.
“Kri-” She couldn’t even finish her name.
“Lori!” Kristin cried again. Her pale, beautiful face was the only thing that Lori could see, golden-brown curls framing the perfect picture. Lori swallowed hard, still half-sure that she was imagining things. “Oh Lori, I’ve been looking for you everywhere. Everywhere. Where? I couldn’t...” She took a deep breath and stepped to the side of Lori’s seat. The barman stood back in shock, a look of final understanding creeping across his features.
“Lori, you disappeared. You moved. Your phone... How did you expect me to find you?”
“I didn’t.” Lori’s voice was clear, strong, but she felt like her insides were jelly. “You weren’t coming back. I lost you.”
“Oh Lo, my Lo.” Kristin worked her jaw to prevent tears, reaching out cautiously to touch her one-time lover. “I tried to find you. You were so wrong. I was wrong. I couldn’t do that.”
“You couldn’t do this,” Lori said. The countervail fell into the empty air like an even emptier echo. It was like there was dead space between them, and neither had the courage to cross.
“I can do this. I can do this.” Kristin let a smile flicker beneath the melancholy twist of her lips. “But Lori, Lori-”
“What about your husband?” Lori could not control the fluttering of her heart. She thought she might explode. How was this real? After all these months, together again like they had never been apart?
“I left him. I left him, Lori. He left me. We were, oh Lori.” Suddenly she was crying through her smile, tears streaming against that flawless honey skin. Lori felt a swell of tenderness in her chest. She grappled to her feet, swaying a little, and pulled Kristin towards her. They fit perfectly, bodies entwined just as they had before. No difference. Smelt the same, smelt so perfect. Oh Kristin...
“I’m so sorry, I’m sorry...”
“No. We were going to have a baby.” Kristin pulled back, wiping her eyes on the edge of a too-long sweater sleeve. “I didn’t want - I couldn’t. I couldn’t. It was wrong. Oh, I thought it was right, I thought! But you - I couldn’t leave you. I couldn’t not have you.
“Lori I would have died without you. Can’t you see? I said if I could find you, I would leave him. And then we left each other anyway Lori, even though I couldn’t find you. You were gone, but so was I. I couldn’t get back.”
Lori had no words. The back of her throat felt clogged, like somebody had pumped it full of soot, ash, earthy leaves. She swallowed again, her heart skipping.
“I can do this. Lori, I can do this. I told you I couldn’t, but I was wrong. I’m just ashamed that it took me so long to understand. You don’t know what I’ve been through to get here, but I know you’ve been through worse. I can do this.”
“If you’ll have me. If you still want me.”
Lori smiled truly for the first time in months. “Kristin, I have never wanted anything else.”