So, there they were, Victor and Anders, man to man. Without the ladies present they didn’t seem much inclined to chat. What did they have in common, after all, except both bedding Chenille?
Anders absently pulled a silver case--an ancient one passed down through the generations-- out of an inside pocket. He opened it and had been about to remove a slim, dark cigarette from it when he sighed and closed it over. He then proceeded to tap it on the table and flip it to the next side between each subsequent tap, all the while staring at Victor’s surly expression. He found it rather amusing.
“I keep forgetting I’m in America. You Americans do not approve of cigarettes,” he said, good-naturedly.
“No, that’s not true at all. The Government just wants to get as much taxes as possible from anybody unfortunate enough to find pleasure in using them or to be addicted,” Victor irritably retorted.
Anders tilted his head to the side accessing the situation. “You and Violeta have quarreled?”
“Her name is Violet!” Victor snapped.
Tap, turn, tap turn went the cigarette case. “So it is,” Anders replied, after a moment’s pause.
Victor clenched his teeth together for a few seconds. He drew in a deep breath then said, “We have not quarreled.”
“Then why…but of course, it is not my concern,” Anders said. He then glanced around the restaurant and caught sight of a teenage girl who obviously had been staring at him. He winked and gave her a sexy grin which widened when she blushed and hastily looked away.
“She called out her husband’s name while we were… together,” Victor muttered, reluctantly admitting the thorn in his side. “Needless to say, I didn’t like it and she seems completely oblivious to it.”
Anders stared at him with a slight crease between his brows. “I can assure you she is not oblivious to your anger, but…she is still married to this man?”
“Ah,” Anders said, frowning slightly. “Were they married long?”
Victor sighed and nodded. “Over twenty-two years and they’d known each other since they were five. He was her one and only love...ever.”
Anders blew out a puff of air and shook his head. “This is not easy. This is a powerful connection, not one easily broken. These things need time to…pass. A voman like Violeta, she needs extra time. She is…loyal, I believe, and… fidelity, it means a vast deal to her…perhaps too much so.”
When Victor did not reply, Anders assumed he hit the nail on the head. Victor just seemed to get stonier as they sat there, so Anders took a different tact.
He laughed and said, “I am thinking Chenille will call out your name tonight, Victor, when I bring her to ecstasy.”
“What?” Victor shouted, startling the waitress passing their table just then, the coffee cups on her tray clinking in protest.
Anders shrugged and grinned. “It is nothing…a game… something to excite…stir the passion…bring lovers to greater heights, if you will. I shall in turn call out Violeta…or Violet if you prefer.”
Victor glared across the table and suddenly recalled why he didn’t care much for Europeans. Then again, what did he expect from this flighty couple who have been nothing more than sex buddies for over ten years? How empty must their lives be?
Much like his own, he imagined, before he met Violet.
He suddenly regretted the cold shoulder he’d given Violet all night, and more so for all the shameless flirting he’d done with Chenille--a self-absorbed, self-indulgent woman which he, in truth, could just barely tolerate. Yes, he had at one time been completely captivated by Chenille’s outrageous manner and they had remained friends of the distant sort, but he had been a stupid kid then and had since grown up and gotten over any attraction to her. The fact that Chenille had been his first love just goes to show he wasn’t as dumb now as he had been as a horny, inexperienced sixteen year old…or was he?
“You’re a bloody fool, Victor,” Anders suddenly said, as if reading his mind.
“Excuse me?” Victor said, his eyes narrowing. It hardly mattered that he was thinking the same thing. He didn’t need to hear it from this Swedish playboy.
“You heard me,” Anders replied. “You should not have treated Violeta as you did. She is nothing like Chenille. Violeta requires delicacy, soft words, caring touches.”
Victor thought this man had done far too much of the soft words and caring touching to suit him. He certainly would not have allowed it at any other time. So what lunacy made him allow it tonight?
His stupid hurt feelings, that’s what.
“I know that for myself, thanks,” Victor bitterly retorted, more angry with himself than with this Swedish boy-toy. “Violet is…she's killing me. Every step forward is followed by ten steps back. This perpetual virgin act of hers is wearing thin.”
Anders, finding this statement at once amusing and oddly sweet, smiled indulgently. “Well, that is what sex buddies is for…to fill in the gap, so to speak, ven ve find ourselves in love vith... what vas your term? Perpetual virgin? I like that.”
“I’m not like you and Chenille. I don’t flit from one partner to another for sex. When I find the one I want I stick to her and that’s Violet…regardless that she…. I love Violet. I’d give my life for her.”
“Hmmm,” Anders said thoughtfully. “But how long are you villing to vait?”
“As long as it takes.”
“Ah,” Anders said, nodding. “You say this, but you don’t mean it.”
“And you know this how?” Victor snarled.
“You’re behavior toward her tonight does not appear that of an ardent lover…rather more like a resentful one.”
“I was angry.”
“Apparently still are, and your anger is hurting her. I do not think you vish to hurt such a sweet lady, not one you profess to love. Am I right?”
Victor gave a quick, reluctant nod.
“Then you are exactly like me.”
“You vill do anything to please the voman you love, no?”
Victor nodded again, looking wary.
“I too have done this.”
“What? How? Surely not with Chenille.”
Anders grinned. “Chenille did not tell you then?”
“Tell me what?”
“Chenille and I are now married. Almost three months now," Anders said, now looking quite pleased with himself.
Shock and amazement stole over Victor’s features. “You and Chenille...but she told me she would never marry…that neither of you ever wanted to marry. She said that was what she liked best about you. That you were destined to remain very good friends with benefits and nothing else. She insisted you both wanted this.”
“Ah,” Anders said, smiling. “Not quite accurate. She was the one who did not wish to marry. I always did, from the moment I saw her, but I told her otherwise, what she vanted to hear...to please her. It took me all this time to convince her to marry me. Funny thing is...she asked me.”
“You’re kidding,” Victor said, aghast.
Anders chuckled and shook his head. “I gave her vat she vanted, no strings, no demands, no expectations, just… good times, great sex, friendship and companionship.”
“I…I’m astonished,” Victor said, slightly shaking his head.
“Yes, I can tell,” Anders replied, highly amused.
“And…you’re okay with…” Victor paused, passing a hand over his mouth, wondering how to put this delicately so as not to insult. “Her flirting and…”
“Yes, she likes that. It is who she is. It is vat I love about her…among other things.”
“And it doesn’t bother you?”
“Why should it?” he replied. “She always returns to me. She finds me comfortable, reliable, understanding, forgiving.”
Victor frowned. “Do you mean to say you have an open marriage?”
“Is that the opposite of a closed one?” he countered, smirking.
A muscle worked along Victor’s jaw for a few seconds. “I will not apologize for having what you must consider provincial attitudes,” Victor said.
“I do not fault you, Victor. It is vat it is. It is not vat I vish, but it makes Chenille happy, and, as I said, I vill do anything for that.”
“Then why bother getting married?”
Anders shrugged. “Do you vish to marry Violeta?”
“You said it yourself. Violet is not like Chenille. Violet needs permanence, stability, fidelity and love. She needs to be loved.”
“You do not believe Chenille needs love?”
“Not the emotional kind,” he said ungraciously.
“She does, I assure you. Now she does. Perhaps it always did matter, but she did not know it. Regardless, she vants it now from me, because I have always given it her vithout possessing her or vishing to do so. That vas the important part for her. The years have mellowed her. She vas ready to settle down at last. I was just lucky she picked me.”
“So you love her?”
“And she loves you?”
Victor stared with narrowed eyes. “I would never share someone I love, not with anyone.”
“Which explains your anger. You do not vish to share her and yet you have to,” Anders said.
“Why do I have to? Despite my behavior toward your wife—for which I apologize, now knowing you are married—I have no intention of going any further with Chenille, and you are getting nowhere with Violet, if that’s what you’re thinking,” Victor said, sitting up as if preparing to fight.
“My dear fellow, it is quite apparent Violeta shares your views, your very provincial views,” Anders lazily drawled.
“Then why do you say I have to share her?”
“You just told me you have to share her with her husband. Pity you only see this one way, as bad.”
“There’s another way to see it?”
“Yes,” Anders said, putting his silver case back in his pocket and leaning forward with his arms braced on the table. “You don’t realize how lucky you are, Victor. You have but one ghost to interfere. I have…” He waved a hand about as if swatting flies. “A vast number of former lovers to banish from Chenille’s memory. Too vast for me to calculate, and I shall never remove all traces of them, I am certain.”
“That’s your own fault. You allow her too much freedom.”
“Allow her?” Anders said, his voice rising for the first time. “Do you hear your own foolish words? Free spirits are not to be contained, but enjoyed for the time they allot you. You are sorely blind in matters of love.”
“I doubt that very much. I give Violet exactly what she needs…" he said, before realizing he hadn't done so well this night.
“Do you?” Ander said, a skeptical brow lifted.
“Could it be you do not know this voman you claim to love? Her thoughts are only for you, Victor. I saw this plainly. If you hadn’t been so absorbed by Chenille you might have noticed it. If she is calling out for the only love she’s ever had while she’s with you, that means there is plenty of room in her heart for you. It’s your selfish desire to be the one and only one there vich has you in this uncomfortable twist. Let go, Victor, and you’ll be set free and so shall Violet.”
Anders smiled over Victor’s shoulders and rose to greet the returning ladies. “Ah, I feared you would never return!” he said, grasping both of Violet's hands.
“I went exploring a bit,” Violet said, her eyes bright with delight. “It’s like a museum here. All the portraits on the walls are fascinating. I could spend a week here and never see enough of it.”
“I’m glad you like it. My family tried to make it as authentic as possible,” Anders replied.
Violet’s eyes widened. “This is your castle?”
He laughed and nodded. “In a manner of speaking, yes. It is a smaller replica of the one on our ancestral land. Come, we’ll go about together. I’ll acquaint you with some of my ancestors, at our leisure, but alas not an entire week.”
“Oh, that would be lovely,” Violet gushed, this time not hesitating to take his arm, her attention rapt as he spoke of the castle.
Victor smiled sadly as he, with Chenille chatting mindlessly at his side, walked behind the other two. He had wanted to be the first and only one to show Violet the castle. It was his own stupid fault he missed out on that great pleasure. Then he caught Anders glancing back at him and he seemed to be reading his thoughts.
“Let go, Victor,” his expression said with a raised eyebrow for emphasis.
Victor might have to try that man-to-man advice.