“What have we been talking about then?”
“I couldn’t know, James,” Marie sipped her drink. The ice clinked and giggled against the glass, “I thought everything was settled.”
James blew a smoke ring and smiled like he did. A Cheshire cat if ever there was one.
“It is, darling,” he said, “All settled.”
“Then I’ll be going,” Marie set down her glass. Her coat, never unbuttoned, was straightened and smoothed as she stood.
“Darling, darling,” he caught hold of her hand, “No need to rush.”
“Isn’t there?” Marie shook him off.
“Don’t you think you could–?”
“The train,” she interrupted, “Leaves at eight.”
“Of course,” he reshuffled his smile, “But there’s plenty of time.”
The piano at the other end of the lounge played that song, the one she couldn’t escape. The room was full of people, all wrapped in cotton wool satin silk finery. Marie stood in her heavy coat, burning up. The suitcase at her feet, and the door only a few yards away.
“Yes,” James answered the bartender, “We’ll have one more.”
“No, I don’t think-“
“Plenty of time,” he smiled at her. Feeling the eyes around her, Marie put on a smile and sat again. Fresh drinks were poured, and they were again left in their public privacy.
“Aren’t you warm in that?” he asked, feeling the collar of her coat.
“Are you sure? It just seems-“
“James,” she stopped him, “Did you really keep me here to talk about my coat?”
He took a drag, eyes up and down, grin side to side.
“That’s pretty blunt, especially for you.”
“You’re fault,” she couldn’t resist the tease.
“I suppose it is.”
“You were talking about love.”
“I assume you wanted to say something more on the subject.”
“Well look at the academic,” he taunted, “I assume. On the subject.”
“If you’re going to be like this,” she made the slightest movement to leave and he caught her arm.
“You know I love you,” he said. Like a line from a movie. An impression of an impression.
“No you don’t.” Marie was surprised at herself, at how easy it was to say. His brow twisted into something like hurt.
“How can you say that?”
“Should I remind you?”
“It wasn’t serious,” he near to pleaded and she was up again, “Marie…”
She met his eye. It was the first real thing she had heard in months. That little beg. Her name.
“What do you want me to say, James?” The words caught on her breath.
“That you’ll stay.”
“It’s all settled,” he said, exposed, “I know.”
They were still playing that damn song. The blue tone and honeyed lyrics. Enough to turn the gut and sink the heart, never mind the circumstances. And James, with his wide, wet eyes, would not let her escape.
“You’re a terrible man,” she said, breathing the uneven words out as best she could. She could feel her resolve fading, and she hated herself for it.
“Yes,” he said, barely audible over the piano, “I know, darling, I know.”
In the distance, a whistle blew. But only in the distance.