Double chapter today! :)


TORIS

Time went by and we all grew weaker with the seven day workweeks and omnipresent budget cutting. Luxurious business hotels and restaurants were empty, so were the conference rooms. Teleworking became the word, especially for those from behind the ocean. I quickly got used to seeing Eva unaccompanied.

"I haven't seen Maťo in more than a year. He doesn't go to Europe anymore." I overheard her complaining to one of her colleagues. "I told him I could come to Ottawa, but he keeps saying he'd rather we see each other once we're a tad less busy."

Strange. With the modern technology, travelling was no longer a problem. And how could you not want to see your beloved for such a long time?!


I never liked the days when I worked at NATO. Even the small talk was somehow always military-related. But the HQ were in Brussels and that meant freshly made fries. With lots of ketchup and mayo, of course.

That day, as I was happily getting back from the city to my office, I slipped on the wet floor and my mouth-watering snack went flying all over the corridor. After a second of desperation, a wicked idea crossed my mind. It was a gloomy area full of empty offices where nobody ever went. And, obviously, the floor had just been cleaned. I looked from left to right to check, then went down on my knees and happily bit into the first fry. Halfway done, my bliss was interrupted by Laura's voice.

"...plenty of empty offices where nobody ever goes. You will not be bothered."

"Thank you."

Hearing the familiar half whisper, I almost choked on my lunch. What was he doing there?!

"Laura, say…"

"Mmmm?"

"It's just that… you are such a wonderful girl."

She giggled.

"Thank you."

"I was wondering… do you think we could… you know, one day, after work…"

I stopped breathing not to miss the rest of the sentence, but it got suffocated by a ringtone.

"I have to get this," she said apologetically. "See you around, Mattie."

Mattie?! What the…?

And before I could move, "Mattie" entered the corridor and just stood there, gaping, glancing from me to the fries.

"We haven't seen each other," he mumbled after a while, then turned around to disappear.

"Oh, no. No, no, no. I did see you."

He stopped in his tracks.

"You can tell everyone I eat from the floor. I just don't care." I didn't. Throughout my life, I've learnt not only to swallow my pride, but bury it in an ironclad box on a different planet in a different galaxy. "But I did see you. And I can't think of a single good reason why not to casually mention that to Eva."

Defeated, he hid his face for a while. Then, without looking at me, he entered the nearest office, inviting me in.


"The first month of her absence was strange - I wasn't used to solitude anymore. Until, suddenly, I started to feel kind of… nice. As if an invisible weight had been lifted off my back. My headaches disappeared completely. I realized I didn't mind Eva not being around. She has many qualities, I would never claim the opposite, eh?! Even so… well, every time I imagined being with her again, my migraine came back. Of course I kept coming to Europe. I had to - I'm a country, holy maple! I just… somehow never mentioned that to her."

I didn't know what to say, so I just waited for him to go on.

"Then, one time, my flight back home was delayed. Laura, whom I ran into at the airport, suggested I use her guest room. She seemed sincere and I was happy to save some money in this uncertain climate. So I followed her home."

I had a pretty good idea about what came next, but decided to give him the benefit of doubt.

"Now's the moment where you tell me that nothing happened between you two."

"On the contrary!" he exclaimed in pure bliss. "Everything happened!"

I buried my nails deeper in the armchair, leaving marks in the tissue. How dare you, you revolting, spineless -

"We listened to music, watched quizzes on TV and played cards until dawn. And then, we watched the sunrise from her balcony and she made waffles for breakfast and it was all truly wonderful," he breathed. For a while, it seemed like there was a tear forming in the corner of his eye, but before I could look closer, he turned away. I was pretty confused by then.

"So you're just going to throw away years of relationship because of... what? TV marathons and waffles?!" I gasped.

"You know, I… those are all small things, yes, but… all together, they start to matter. My point being that such a night could never happen with Eva. We don't like the same kind of music. And, in those rare cases when we manage to meet halfway, she instantly wants to dance. I don't really like dancing that much. When we watch quizzes, she always blurts out the answer and spoils the fun for me. She never plays cards, never watches the sunrise because she likes to sleep in…"

The dancing. She shared that cute condition with Feliks. If you put on something they like and they are not swirling around the place seconds later, you better call a doctor.

The quizzes. An inferiority complex. Look how clever I am. Notice me!

The cards. I'd asked her about that once. She said she used to play them in trenches during every war she could remember. The power of association...

And the sleep… personally, if I don't have to, I don't get up early either. Even though I am already too alert to drift back to slumber. Why? Because I can. One way to remind myself I'm free. I haven't always been. She neither.

"It's hard to explain," the teenager went on. "It was just so… good. So natural. When I'm seeing Eva, it's eighty percent compromising and twenty percent joy. With Laura, it was the other way around! I felt like that special night, we… connected. Yup, that's the word. We connected, eh?!"

"Mmm, just to make sure I've got the whole picture. You two didn't have relations, did you?"

"No! And see? That's the worst of all!" he moaned. "That could never happen with Eva!"

"Sorry, what are you talking about?"

"She… you know. All the time."

"She… what?!"

"You know."

"No I don't. What -"

"SHE WANTS TO FUCK ALL THE TIME!" he snapped so loudly that my ear drum barely made it through.

Silence.

Oh my hell. This isn't happening. He hasn't just said that. He hasn't… I haven't… he couldn't...

Needless to say that was beyond all my expectations. So much so that for a while, I forgot how to speak. As for him, he forgot how to be himself, yelling at me all the spicy details of their sex life, even using some more swear words.

"...Four times! Seriously, FOUR TIMES IN TWENTY-FOUR HOURS! I mean, in a world of infinite possibilities, why would anyone want to…"

Then, I blacked out on his discourse.

"...so, what do you think?" he asked in his usual almost whisper once the storm ended.

What was I thinking? Well…

1. I've just witnessed Canada being utterly ill-mannered, lacking discretion and actually SHOUTING. It was like… like world divided by zero. Something nobody should ever witness. Ever.

2. My brain shut down during the worst part. God does love me after all.

3. They have a problem. A colossal one.

I was dying to stand up for Eva and put him back in his place. On the other hand, I could still feel the room vibrate with his shouting echoing against the walls. He wasn't just frustrated. He was traumatised and totally freaked out.

"Have you tried telling her that, you know, you don't want to spend that much time in the bedroom?"

"No! Of course not!" he gasped.

"Why?!"

"Isn't it obvious?!"

"Err… no."

"I didn't want her to get me wrong. Feel offended. And, most importantly, I didn't want to lose my face as a man."

Alright. I took a deep breath. I don't know who put the last idea in your head, but I'm pretty sure they have always been single.

Most members of my kind had grown promiscuous over the ages. Sex, along with alcohol and drugs, was an excellent way to forget our past, present and future for a while. And there were plenty of things I doubted at that time of my life, but one of them was for sure - Eva didn't have sex. Eva made love. Every single time.

He was her first, her only and she wouldn't even consider letting anyone else touch her. She didn't just desire his body; she desired the closeness. The bond. The feeling that, for a moment, he was hers and hers only. She loved him. Loved him with everything she had and he should have been flattered. Proud. Grateful. But not -

"Oh, one more thing - I just can't stand her perfume," he added casually.

"You needed five years to notice that?" I realized I was now growling.

"Not really. At the time we met, she was wearing some classy French brand. In the meantime, I bought her a couple of other fragrances. But now she keeps repeating she feels like getting back to basics and started using some kind of odd homemade brew. It's, err, most peculiar."

Oh, dear Lord.

The "peculiar perfume" was something Eva made out of the flowers from her forests and meadows. She had given me a bottle as a keepsake before leaving Moscow. It evaporated quickly, so I only ever opened it when I missed her the most. Technically, it was her natural body scent. He did not like her natural body scent. He didn't like her. He…

He didn't love her.

"Anyway, thank you for listening to me. I suddenly feel so much better."

A part of me felt like grabbing his hair and smacking his face against the table. Another part whispered that he'd decided to trust me, told me the truth and if my reaction was disproportionate now, it might mark him forever.

But most of all and once again… I kind of understood him. The way he claimed he felt around Laura was how I felt for Eva. With her, I was weightless. Impossible seemed within my reach. Loving her was easy and it came naturally. And it was all stronger than me.

Not sure how, I managed a half smile.

"No problem. Now tell it all to her."

His face clouded over again.

"I promise I'll tell her the next time we talk."

He wasn't a bad person, but had this unfortunate habit of hiding a ticking bomb in his drawer and pretending it didn't exist (kind of like me). Until it exploded, destroying everything around. I didn't want to see Eva being destroyed like that.

"You're going to tell her within a week," I declared.

"That's way too short a notice! I… need to prepare it, eh?! And…"

"You're just making it worse for both of you. You know what they say about band-aids."

"Wait." He suddenly frowned, about to take a big brave step towards adulthood. "I'm not saying I won't tell her, but the decision remains mine. I'll do it the way I choose to do it, at the time I deem proper. You've got no means to force my hand. What can you possibly do, eh? Tell her? Who says she'll believe you in the first place?"

"Nobody." I shrugged. "That's why I will not tell her. As I said, you will."

"Or what?!"

"Yes, you're right." I paused a little, pretending to think. "Totally right. Compared to you, I'm small, poor, underdeveloped and insignificant. What can I possibly do?! So I guess you're staying with Eva and I'll just have to give up on her for good. Find another sweet young lady to relight my flame again. A certain Belgian, maybe…"

Of course I wasn't going to do that. I had a feeling Laura liked me - that's why I put a premature end to our French lessons. Giving her empty hope now would be a cruel thing to do. I wasn't that kind of person, thank you very much. But he didn't need to know that, did he?

In a flash, blood drained from his face, filling me with unparalleled satisfaction. I was a pretty good politician, after all.