Chapter 36: Livin’ la Vida Loca
from the 1999 album “Ricky Martin” by Ricky Martin
handed to Quentin 9:23, 3 July 2019
She’ll make you live her crazy life
But she’ll take away your pain
Like a bullet to the brain…
“ — so you see there’s nothing like real love in the world, you know, I could have told you that there isn’t any such thing when I was in love with her. Don’t tell me I don’t know. I know love now, but I didn’t back then. And now I know that everything is shit. I could have —”
“ — excusez-moi, monsieur, I know that you are very tired, and that you are very sad, but surely there are other things that have taken place in your life? Because you have been talking about this girlfriend of yours for thirty — “
“ — don’t interrupt me, I’ve just broken up with somebody, I need somebody to love to talk to or whatever, OH HEY MORGAN HELLO WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL THIS TIME MORGAN EVERYBODY MY BEST FRIEND she’s the best, I love you Morgan, I love you because you stuck with me for two whole days, that’s never happened before, and you showed me Paris and all that, you’re such a good woman and I —“
“ — to be honest, Thomas, I think you’ve had enough to drink. Come on, it’s time we got you back to your place,” I said, patting him on the shoulder. This was like the fifth time I’d had to cover for him this weekend and I was beginning to get annoyed with him. He was always a self-absorbed git, but at least he was coherent at times and self-aware enough to rein it in. But this was not one of those times, and now the whole bar was looking at him weird. I bent down and hissed in his ear “come on, man, you’re a member of the British Government, keep it down a little would you —”
“ — and I know of course that she would have dumped me,” he was saying, again diving back into another of his spiels. I rolled my eyes, fished out a couple of banknotes from his wallet — unlikely that he would be missing them in the morning, and handed them to the barkeep, who pocketed it without a word. The things you did to save face. I turned to look at the bar, just to make sure that everybody was getting back to their drinking or being drunk. My gaze slid over the people playing billiards over in a corner, loudly swearing at each other, then the couples making out in the dark, thinking nobody could see them; and over in a corner, there was Laura, sitting over at the next table —
— oh God, Laura. What was she doing here? She’d told me she was off to Berlin for a couple of weeks for a shoot, and then I’d… well, she wasn’t supposed to be here, looking straight at me, me and a drunk schoolmate trying to haul ourselves out of a bar. I hated myself right then, cursed myself for making so much of a fuss in front of everyone. For a moment I thought that it was just an illusion, that she hadn’t seen the both of us or anything, but then she got off her table and strode towards us. You know how in a movie people stop talking when they see a sexy woman coming their way? Laura got that down pat — and this was Paris, where everyone’s used to sexy ladies. But in that silence, I could feel the air freezing and changing —
“ — my darling Morgan,” she said, lowering herself a little as she walked right next to us. “You never say when you are coming down to Paris to find me.” Everything she said made me wince, the strangeness of those words coming out of her mouth, speaking as if the words had been translated from some other language — and then, why was she talking in a British accent, even here in her native city? I caught myself: did I need to be so mean to her? We forced a smile on each other, pretending like it was all good between us, and then she turned to the tangle of limbs next to me. “But of course, you have brought along your friend! Thomas, mon ami, how is your —”
“ — as far as I know, Laura, everything is just fine. Just fine. I have understood the universe tonight. I know that love is a waste of —”
“ — of course, and I’m sorry about all of that, Thomas,” she continued, shortening herself slightly. Her hair fell across her face as she stooped to talk to Thomas — what colour was it tonight? How did she always remain so glamorous despite all those disguises? “I did not know —”
“ — just get to the point, Laura,” I said, trying hard not to choke. “How did you find us here? You looking for me? We can discuss this —”
— and now with that dismissive wave of her hand. Nobody was immune to that one. That handwave had power behind it, and I quieted down. “We have a table over here, don’t we? Just talk here, that’s no problem with me —”
— but the problem was that there was this loudmouth beside me, still babbling away like a baby and I wouldn’t even have trusted him to find the front door, let away all the way across the city to his hostel, wherever that was, so it was either having him here or letting Laura ask me all those questions when we were alone. And I didn’t want that, so —
“ — and of course, you have to make life difficult for yourself, Mog,” she said, reaching for my hand. I let her take it, but inside I was cursing myself: why did I have a soft spot for refined British accents? “Why do you assume that I’m going to be asking so much of you? Just calm down.” She glanced at Thomas before turning and leading us back to her booth. Perhaps it wasn’t such a bad idea to —
“ — oh, Mo, you know what she’s up to. How can she be doing things honestly?” Thomas’ face was grotesque, blotchy and red with all the stuff that he’d been drinking the whole night, and his hand was flailing everywhere feebly. From an angle, he looked like a caught fish. He didn’t have a problem with Laura in uni, why would this be a prob —
“ — Mog, are you coming or no?” called Laura from her spot near the entrance. I took a deep breath, then walked up to her, the boy still in tow. “Outside. Please let’s do it outside — ”
— we were outside, now, and she was doing all the talking, telling me how she’d been out of Paris ever since that day at the Saint-Germain café. She hadn’t been thinking much about that day, and obviously it was best to put it behind her because she had such a life since then, no shade on me of course but she knew that it was a happier thing —
— and we were in the Metro, now, and she was crying, telling me everything that had happened to her in Berlin, and Thomas was crying along with her for God knows what reason, and he was saying how bad everything was for her and for all of us, and she wasn’t really responding to him but that didn’t matter because she was looking at me all the time we were there, as if we were the only people in the world, and I was like the only sane person left in that empty carriage — was it the world that had gone mad or me? Because it all meant nothing to me, like I knew she was sad, but Thomas not puking his guts out was the thing I was more worried about, and mainly I knew that she was still madly in love with me, that she had never really gotten over me —
— and we were climbing up the streets to her apartment, and Thomas and I and her were stumbling up the darkened steps one at a time, and now we were all in there she was (finally!) asking over me, asking me to tell her everything. And so I did, but I broke off halfway through telling her what had happened at the Globe because I could see Laura blinking too much. “You have such sad adventures,” she said, her voice quavering — who was I to say anything at that moment —
— and now she was reaching out, stroking my face, and before my eyes she transformed, closed her eyes and made herself become no longer the glamorous model Laura Aubrey, but just plain old Laura as I’d met her in the first day of class, her hair no longer reflecting sunshine as everyone knew her, but a dull brown and freckles on her face, a head shorter, her eyes smaller — the woman that I’d met and befriended, the girl with whom I’d shared my closest secrets —
— I mean, it wasn’t as if she wasn’t attractive enough (I thought, packing Thomas into the toilet). She was a model, for God’s sake, and damn if her personality wasn’t something to die for. But there just wasn’t a spark between us. Yes, we shared everything, jokes and food and secret spots in Paris — in other words we were friends. And yet… it was true that I’d never felt a stronger connection with anybody. Had I been loving the wrong way all these years? Was this bond the sort of thing I was looking for? Laura was looking at me as if she knew everything running through my mind — “I can’t, Laura. I’m sorry.”
— and there it was again, that expression that I’d seen in the café, the panic in her eyes knowing that she was about to lose me once more, and now she was crying again, saying things like “you say that about everything. You are absolutely a cruel monster, you know that Morgan? You know that it makes everybody and yourself unhappy, and yet you still break everybody’s heart. How could you —“
“ — HEY I’m sorry but I just heard the two of you arguing. And you know what, Laura, you’re a complete fuc —“
“ — not now, Thomas, we’re in the middle of —“
“ — you know, if she turns you down, you should just accept it, right? Staying in these things, it just makes you more disappointed. And Mo — Mog — Morgan has much better things to do than sit there and listen to you moan. When we went to the Bois de Boulogne, you know what she said to —”
“ — hang on. You two, you both went to the Bois de —”
“ — together, yeah, and she brought me to this secret place too. And she’s a GREAT friend, you know that? You should be lucky to have —”
“ — I didn’t know what to do, Laura, he was crying so much and everybody was looking at him —”
“You promised that it was to be our special place. That you’d never bring anybody there.” Her eyes, now glaring at me. Her voice had suddenly lost the British accent.
I wanted to scream at Thomas, just yell at him for being an absolute shithead and ruining everything, but her gaze was stronger. “Everybody knows about that place.”
“Yes. But you promised.”
“Get out of my apartment. Both of you,” she said at last, and this time I felt the ice in her Provencal voice, the blades hidden within those rolled rs and the spat-out ts. She sniffed angrily.
“ — but it’s the middle of —”
“ — I don’t care, find your own place. Get out. I don’t want to see you aga —“
— and then it all came out of him, all the drink Thomas had stuffed into himself in the past two hours, just all on that wooden floor. And Laura screamed, now she was swearing at me in French, and I just stared at that puddle for an eternity and feeling like the rug had been pulled out from under me because the one true friend I had now hated me —
— well I say it was an eternity, but it was more like ten seconds. It wasn’t that hard to clear it up: before it had had a chance to seep into the wood I’d frozen everything and waved it into the toilet. But Laura and I, we didn’t speak a word again that night. The next morning, as the Sun rose on the apartment I’d called a second home for so long, I was slipping out the door. Laura’s face was still streaked with tears when I went in to say goodbye.
“ — I’ll see you later, Laura. I —“
I never finished that sentence, really.
Two things, Quentin. One thing is that you should never send me a devastating story just when I’m about to turn in — I bawled at that last one, you know that? I BAWLED.
Another is that we never visit another castle on this trip ever again. Other than that, you really do cook well.