, , , , , , , ,

pastorale: in a pastoral style, peaceful and simple

Wilton’s Music Hall was vibrant and humming with a mix of locals and tourists. The crowd was relaxed, and surprisingly down to earth. It was a relief after my last outing into the trendy cool-kid zone of Lacuna. Here, it was a crowd of music and history buffs, and a genial vibe of the simply curious. The house performance that night was a punk-cabaret duo who mixed a mod kind of punk style with Brechtian cabaret and a little naughty humor. It was good. It was, in fact, very good.

Kim and Sebastien spent most of their time kissing in a corner. They were cute together, and obviously already mad about each other. Lukas informed me that Sebastien had already called his parents and told them he wanted to introduce them to the most amazing American girl. Lenka did not seem bothered at all by her lack of a date. She had plenty of attention from various potential suitors who vied for her time. Lukas was the perfect gentleman. He was an open doors and pull out chairs kind of gentleman. A touch of old fashioned mixed with modern sophistication that very few men his age possessed. He gave me his undivided attention, which I was not accustomed to at all.

Usually, people are scattered. People are unfocused. Not Lukas. He dripped effortless charm, and it was genuine. He did not have to try. He noticed that I seemed a little shaken. The incident with Josh had stunned me, and Rothman’s interference was an even bigger shock. Lukas and I sipped drinks and discussed the things we loved; art, architecture, travel, politics.

“Are you all right, Alice?” Lukas asked. “You seem distracted. I hope I have not said anything that upset you?”

“No. Not at all. I’m sorry if I seem a bit off. It’s just… when I went home, Josh was there and…”

Lukas shifted, his shoulders squared, ready to pounce.

“Are you alright? Did he hurt you in any way? I think he is maybe a violent man, yes?”

“No. He didn’t hurt me,” I said, and finished my drink. “A friend of mine was nearby and he helped defuse the situation.” Really? A friend? Is that what Rothman was?

“What happened?”

“Josh was drunk. I guess he spent the afternoon drinking and went back to my flat to wait for me. There was some screaming and yelling, and he knocked a few things over.”

“Alice, I am so sorry. I should have gone back with you. He would not have done that if Sebastien and I had been there.”

“That’s sweet, but I think that might have made it worse. Josh is my ex and he is quite jealous. Kim invited him to London without telling me, so this whole thing has been a big mistake that I feel bad about. It is not fair to you that my ex is trailing along with us. I’m glad he’s gone. This could have been avoided, or at least handled better by me. I am sorry this day has been awkward.”

“You are more than worth the trouble,” he said, looking at me from under his long, dark eyelashes that a girl would envy.

“You’ve been very patient, thank you.” I gulped when he  took my hand across the table.  His hands were soft, warm, silky. Just… nice. Wonderful, really. “I am surprised what Josh told you about what happened in New York didn’t scare you away.”

“There are two sides to every story, I believe. You were very young, yes? He was an older man? Your teacher? I believe the fault lies with him and not you.”

“It wasn’t all that simple.”

“Someday you will tell me all these things, but for now, I think we just dance and have a good time, yes? Will you have a dance with me, Alice?” he asked. Perfect gentleman.

“I’d like that.”

We danced, first to a Brechtian waltz. I had no idea how to waltz, but he did.

“You’re Viennese, of course you know how to waltz,” I teased him, and felt a tingle when his hands firmly pressed into my back.

No one else really knew how to waltz but they all enjoyed trying, couples laughing joyously and twirling around the room clumsily. Lukas held me firmly and stepped with confident ease, leading me into the dance. He made it easy. When I missed a step, he simply lifted me off of my feet and spun me. Any girl would swoon. I was beginning to let my guard down and feel the quickening of my heart.

Then why was I thinking of Rothman? Of the man who shoved my drunken ex-boyfriend into the back of his car and drove him… where? Oh God, what did he do to Josh? I was thinking about a man who followed me around with a gun. My mind raced about him. I could smell the soft, elegant scent of Lukas’ cologne when I wanted to smell the scent of leather. Stop it, Alice. Just stop it. As Lukas spun me around the floor, I thought of what it might be like to lay under a man like that, one leather gloved hand pushing my thighs apart. Not now. Leave it alone. Look at Lukas. He is every girl’s dream. You are crazy to be thinking of anyone else. And yes, that was true. Gentlemanly, handsome, soft spoken Lukas who had been so patient, so kind, so polite, so interested in me.

Think of Lukas.

“I really like you, Alice,” Lukas said.

“I really like you too.” I said, and meant it very seriously.

I did like Lukas. How could I not like Lukas? We danced, we talked, we had so much in common. I liked the way he spoke, the way he dressed, the way smiled, everything about him. Then why was I consumed by thoughts of a man whom I should run from? Trying to shake off these thoughts, I gestured for Kim to follow me to the ladies room. I told her about the incident with Josh.

“Jesus, AllyKat, you OK?”

“Yeah, I just want you to know before we go home. I think he’s gone. I don’t think he’ll come back but we should be prepared, just in case.”

“I am so sorry I got you into this mess.” She fixed a stray curl that had fallen over my face and smiled apologetically. She was always sincere. “But at least he’s gone, right? How did you get him to leave? Josh is a pretty stubborn guy.”

“A friend was in the neighborhood and helped handle things. No big deal.” I played down the scene.

She hesitated, thought about it for a moment.

“What friend?”

“Just this guy I know.”

“Yeah, OK. What guy? What’s his name?” she asked. She knew. Kim knew my attraction to darkness.

“The guy from the Tower. The guy in the leather coat. He was, um… he was there.” I could not lie to her. Not after she stood by me all those years.

“At your apartment?” She looked startled, as any normal person would be.

“Not at the flat, but not far away. When Josh started getting violent, he came to help.”

“To help? Alice, that makes no sense. If he wasn’t at the flat, how did he know you needed help? Did you call him? Alice, you can’t be calling that guy!”

“No, I didn’t call him.”

“Then how…” She went silent and still. “Was he watching you?”

“Maybe. Look, he took care of Josh, right? And if he hadn’t shown up, Josh would have probably done something terrible. Kimmy, Josh was knocking over furniture, trying to get to me. He punched me in the stomach.”

“That’s not the issue here, Alice. That guy was watching you! Watching your apartment! He is stalking you, Alice! A stalker! He is dangerous! And what do you mean by he ‘took care’ of Josh? What the hell happened to Josh?”

“Nothing. He knocked him out, that’s all. He said he was going to drive him to a hostel and let him sleep off the booze, and he was going to change Josh’s plane ticket to leave tomorrow morning, so he won’t be on the same plane as you. Kimmy, he was protecting me, and you too.”

Kim threw her hands up in frustration, disbelieving my particular brand of crazy.

“Do you even know how insane you sound?”

“Yeah, actually, I do.”

“I’m staying in London with you,” she said gravely. “I don’t care how. I’ll… I’ll take time off of school. You are losing it and I don’t want you going down that rabbit hole again.”

“No, you don’t need to. I’m fine. Really.”

“It was a big clusterfuck but it’s fine now. Josh is out of the picture, and this guy, Rothman, clearly doesn’t have any plans of raping and murdering me or he would’ve done it already.”

“That’s not true, Alice. You don’t know anything about that guy.”

“He is Daniel Selkirk’s right hand man. Some kind of security guy. High level security.”

“Daniel Selkirk? THE Daniel Selkirk? The famous Daniel Selkirk?”

“Yeah. I met him at a recital. He is one of my sponsors for the grant program I am on. So, you see, Kim, there’s something going on here that isn’t what it seems. I know that. I don’t think this Rothman guy means me any harm. I think… you know what? I don’t know what I think. I just don’t think he wants to hurt me. Kimmy, I tried to have sex with him and he didn’t take me up on it. He just drove me home.”

“I think he’s dangerous, Alice.”

“I know he’s dangerous.” I said, realizing it was true. “But not dangerous to me.”

After Wilton’s Music Hall, the group of us found a late night place to eat cheap, terrible pizza before saying our goodbyes. Lukas embraced me, warm and wonderful and nice. So nice.

“Alice, I think it would be wise for Sebastien and I to accompany you and Kim home, just to make sure you are safe, yes? I know that must sound like I expect something,” He smiled his charming smile. “But that is not my intention. Perhaps my hope, but not my intention. In case Josh makes his way back to your flat.”

“I think Josh will certainly stay away,” I replied, feeling his body warmth against me. “You’re leaving in three days, aren’t you?”

“Yes, going back to Vienna. I have to admit, Alice, I don’t want to leave. I know we just met but I like you very much and would like to take some time with you.”

“I would like that too, Lukas. I need to be honest though. I’m not committing to anything. OK? I just can’t right now. I can’t get serious about anyone. But I like you. So, if that’s OK with you, then we can spend some time together.”

“I have never met a girl like you, Alice Krezeniak.” He smiled and closed in for a kiss. His lips touched mine. Warm, sweet, soft, lovely.

I took his hand, and we hailed a taxi.