saltando: bouncing the bow as in a staccato arpeggio, literally means “jumping”
Two days after my wild night out at Lacuna, Rory gave his fatherly, or perhaps big brotherly, lecture to me and an even more stern lecture to Chloe. With Rory, everything was two days later. He needed time to carefully formulate his argument. Rory was all about careful planning. My room-mate had been my best friend since the first day I moved into that little flat. I had sent an inquiry to an ad on Craigslist, looking for a flat-mate in London.
It was a one bedroom flat, but the rent was low if someone didn’t mind making the little living room area into a small bedroom, or the bedroom could be shared – he didn’t mind. I started out sleeping on the day bed in the living room, but later shared the bedroom most of the time. Rory often worked nights, and I had the flat to myself. We bonded the very first day over nerdy things and a lovely feeling we had known each other since childhood.
Rory was sweet, thoughtful, nurturing, and made his career of caring for the sick and dying. He wanted to be a doctor but had quit medical school after discovering that doctors do very little doctoring. Nurses do most of the work. Rory was a hands-on type. He had no interest in spending only five minutes with a patient and handing them a bag of pills they don’t need. He wanted to truly care for people. Rory had spent three years in the Peace Corps, caring for sick children in refugee camps in Pakistan.
Now, he was a private nurse to patients who were dying of all manner of ailments. He spent his days reminding them they were loved. At twenty-eight, Rory had seen and experienced more life and death than most people three times his age, but to look at him, one would never guess. Rory was delicate, or at least he looked delicate. His porcelain perfect pale skin, crop of dark brown hair that curled behind his ears, big brown doe eyes rimmed with long eyelashes a girl would envy made him seem delicate. He was soft spoken, and I never heard him raise his voice. So, when he actually yelled at Chloe, I was surprised.
“You took her to Lacuna? Chloe, she doesn’t belong in a place like that! You gave her drugs? What were you thinking? And you,” He turned to me, his cheeks flushed red with anger he rarely experienced. “You’re not a baby, you know. You should know better!”
We could have told him it was none of his business and maybe we would have been right, but Rory is all love and caring and loved me from day one. He always marked Chloe a trouble maker but was too nice to say it to her face, and he was the one who got stuck taking care of a very high and eventually vomiting me that night. I vaguely remembered trying to kiss him, and I am not sure if that was before or after the vomit. I had made it his business. And he was right, I should have known better. At least he didn’t know about what happened on the dance floor, with my hand between Chloe’s legs. We left that bit out of the story, and aside from that, I knew very little. The man who brought me home – Rothman – he could have taken me to a hotel and fucked me. He could have just fucked me in his car. He could have raped me in a dark alley, but he didn’t. He took me home, and told Rory to take care of me. Rory had mentioned the man had been polite and had known that Rory was a nurse, so I would be ‘in capable hands.’ It was odd though, because I didn’t remember telling him anything about Rory. Did I even tell him my address? I must have. But did I?
I woke the next afternoon with a blazing headache. I had missed a cello lesson at eleven that morning, a cello lesson I would still have to pay for and I couldn’t find my shoes. How crazy I had been! Getting into a strange man’s car. A man with a gun! And if I hadn’t left Lacuna with him, would I have left with Anthony Geiss? Or Shawn Avery? Or Koi Fish Tattoo Lady? I cringed thinking about it and busied myself checking my email on Rory’s laptop he graciously let me use whenever I wanted. Email from Mom; a recipe for rosemary chicken. Email from my cello instructor, Mr. Ling – I missed a lesson. Yes, I know. Sorry. Email from my cousin Haylee; she had finally set down a wedding date. Good for her. Email from my best friend back in Asheville, Kim, who was writing to tell me (drum roll) that she was coming to London. Next week. Yes, next week. Apparently she had mentioned coming to visit months before, and that had seemed like a great idea at the time, but to be honest, I didn’t take her too seriously. Kim rarely followed through with any of her plans and her ability to afford a trip overseas was highly questionable. Well, I was wrong. I had assumed she would discuss the when and where-would-she-stay with me before booking airfare to London, but this was not the case. Kim had tickets to arrive in exactly one week, and she would be staying with me.
“Uh oh, Rory,” I said, looking up at Rory fixing a delicious smelling dinner. This was so not the time to spring this on Rory, but waiting a moment longer seemed a bad idea as well.
“Yes?” He seemed to perk up, as if his the-girl-is-causing-trouble spider sense was tuned in today.
“I am so sorry but…”
“Out with it.”
“My best friend Kim is coming to London next week. I didn’t know that until just now.
“I thought I was your best friend,” he said with a little smile.
“You are. Kim is my oldest friend though. We’ve known each other since we were seven. She’s great. I mean she’s perky and happy all the time, and she was a cheerleader. I don’t think we have anything in common anymore, but she’s kind of still my best friend because… Actually, I don’t know why. She’s great though.”
“You grew up and she didn’t?”
“I think so, yeah,” I replied.
“I have friends like that.”
“I guess months ago I said that was a good idea, and I didn’t think she’d actually be able to get the money for plane tickets and um…” I stalled.
“I guess I told her she could stay here. She’ll be here on the twelfth.”
I expected the Rory sigh of exasperation, patented and lethal at guilt induction. I was surprised when he smiled as he poured cups of tea and said cheerfully,
“Not a problem! I am going back home to Scotland for two weeks to visit my parents. They are having a thirtieth anniversary party so that should be an exercise in dysfunctional family dynamics. My mother’s alcoholism, my father’s Presbyterian ranting and my obvious homosexuality will combine to create the perfect storm.”
I giggled and reached over the counter to hug him.
“Won’t your brother be there too?”
“Pete will be there to tactfully remind me that it is Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. His wife will tell me I will find the right woman some day and their children will be hovering reminders of my black sheep status.”
“I’m sorry, but Scotland is pretty though. I mean, at least they live somewhere pretty.”
“Yes, if one is spiraling into the abyss, it is prudent to take note of the scenery. But, that means I will be away while your best friend is here.”
“You don’t mind?”
“Not at all. But I’m your best friend. We clear on that?” He gave me a wink and grinned his lovely slightly gap-toothed smile that weirdly only made him cuter. I nodded and felt relieved.
The next day, Rory and I sat in a cheap Lebanese place down the street from our flat. This was typical for us; Shwarma on a Tuesday, talking about anything and everything. Rory went dead still, mid-bite of a piece of lamb shwarma, his eyes fixed on something behind me.
“What? What is it?” I asked, alarmed.
“That’s the guy that brought you home. Rodman, or Ryman or…”
“Yeah, isn’t that him? In the corner booth, behind you. He’s reading a book.”
A slow, creeping swell of fear spread through me, tingling at the surface of my skin. No, it couldn’t be the guy. Why would he be here, in the same place as me? Again. I turned slowly, assuming I would find someone who looked a little like Rothman. Maybe Rory was mistaken. But there he was. Rothman. Sitting alone in the corner booth, casually turning the page of the book he read. A cup of steaming tea in front of him. It occurred to me then in a distracted way that tea drinking was not usually the most masculine of activities, but this man sat with a demitasse cup of tea in front of him and tea drinking had never looked so lethal. The thought almost made me laugh, but then the fear obliterated that impulse. He looked up, and he smiled. It was not a threatening smile, or a creepy smile. It was neutral, impossible to read. He could have been a blank canvas. Rothman, here in a cafe two blocks from my flat. He had my address. Jesus.
“That’s him,” I said, feeling numb.
“Does he live nearby?” Rory asked, a tone of caution in his voice.
“Um, yeah. Sure,” I said, looking at Rothman right in the eyes. Are you following me? Oh God, please don’t be following me.
“Oh. You should say hello. We’ll have a drink or something.”
I stood up, my hands shaking. Fear and anger. Confusion. I would talk to him alright. I didn’t want Rory stressing out. He had enough to worry about. I would handle this myself. I would tell him he better not be following me. He better stay away. But that sounded stupid, even in my head. I would tell him to fuck off. And what if I was wrong? What if he did live just down the street and he just wanted some fucking Shwarma? Yeah right. Fuck off was the safer measure. I only got two steps toward him when he stood up, left money on the table, nodded and smiled to the waiter. He was gone through the swinging glass door. I stopped in my tracks. What are you going to do? Chase him? And tell him what? Threaten him? With what?
“Maybe he felt weird about it,” Rory offered with a shrug. “I mean, you tried to kiss me that night. God only knows what you tried to do with him. You’re really very lucky he brought you home. He told me the guys you were with were all doing lines.”
Don’t remind me. But… my God, I had made passes at him, not the other way around. In fact, I had gone out of my way to try to get him to fuck me, and he had done nothing but give me water, take care of me and drive me home. I had wanted him so intensely when I was high, and the thing was, I still wanted him sober. But no way did he live near me. This was no coincidence. I felt it in my soul. Fear. And frightening longing.
I must have stared at the door for a while. The sound of my cell phone ringing startled me. My cello teacher, Mr. Ling, calling to schedule classes for the rest of the week. It’s fine, Alice. Put it aside. A coincidence. If he wanted to rape you or kidnap you, he could have done it already.
“Hello, Mr. Ling…”
Just forget about it, Alice.