Author's note: This story is a direct sequel to I Was Wrong: From the Memoirs of Richard Alpert, but as that story seems to be going nowhere at the moment, I decided to post this as a stand-alone story.
Chapter titles are from Hamlet's "To be or not to be" speech.
I married a man I could not understand.
That was a large part of the attraction, to be sure. I've always been drawn to mystery and the unknown. The person you can know immediately with a glance has no attraction for me. But when I met Richardus, I knew instantly that I could never come to the end of his mystery.
We met through a matchmaking service. I only signed up for it because I was interested in the adventure of it. I didn't have the money to travel or the skills to join the CIA, so I've always looked for my adventure in people. I found it in the very first man the matchmaker paired me with.
It was just dinner, the first meeting. Terribly clichéd, but dinner gives you many possibilities for examining the other person.
Richardus laid his cards out on the table straightaway, in a manner that did not bode well for the mystery aspect, until I saw that the cards hid more than they revealed.
He said he was not looking for a romantic partner. His wife had died long ago, and he still had not gotten over her. What he really wanted was a combination of tour guide, language expert, administrative assistant, and, ultimately, nurse. Tour guide because he was largely a stranger to present-day America, language expert because it had been so long since he had spoken Spanish to anyone that he had almost forgotten his own native language, administrative assistant because he intended to write his memoirs for a friend (who was dead, and, incidentally, he didn't care if said administrative assistant read his memoirs, because she wouldn't believe a word they said), and nurse because he was far older than he looked and thought he was going to run out of life within a few years.
Also he had nightmares.
In exchange for this business-proposition of a marriage, he was prepared to leave his second wife millions of dollars.
He spent the rest of the meal interrogating me about myself. Maybe he needed more time to decide, but I was decided then and there. The money was an inducement, because with just a fraction of millions of dollars I could travel for the rest of my life. But I would have accepted him without it, because, well, mystery. The man set himself up as an enticingly mysterious figure from the beginning. First of all, the wife who died long ago. She must have been really someone for him never to have got over her after ten or fifteen or twenty years. Second of all, how could a man with a perfect American accent who used American money unhesitatingly and knew precisely what to order in a restaurant be unfamiliar with the culture? In the third place, re-teaching a native speaker Spanish? Which Spanish, anyway? My mother is Costa Rican, my father Spanish, from Andalucía, and I speak both dialects fluently. In the fourth place, memoirs? How does a man who barely looks forty have enough history to write memoirs? And just the straightforward, simple statement that I wouldn't believe a word of it was enough to challenge me to want to believe it. And, fifthly, the statement that he was old and intended to die soon—what, was he fifty instead of forty? Maybe he had some kind of secret disease. True, he had a touch of white salting his black hair, but for the main, he looked merely like a remarkably attractive man of about forty or forty-five, with a slim, strong-boned, dark face and the most deep, piercing, haunted dark eyes I had ever seen. I could well believe this man had nightmares. I could believe he had probably done things that haunted him. Maybe he had memoir-worthy memories after all. Whatever the case, this was a man who would be an adventure to know, and I wanted to know him. I didn't intend to lose sight of him.
At the end of the meal, while we were drinking coffee (with a stiff dollop of rum in his), I laid my cards on the table as he had his. "Richardus"—(and what kind of a Spanish name was Richardus, anyway?)—"maybe you need more time, but I don't. If you'll have me, I'll have you."
His eyebrows went up. "You make important decisions quickly. Why?"
"You're the strangest person I ever met, that's why. You've discovered, with all your questions, that I've had one of the most uneventful lives imaginable. I think you've had the opposite, and I want the opposite."
He laughed, a slightly bitter sound. "I wish I'd had your life."
"Well, you can. I mean, I'll share. I'm not particularly looking for romance myself, though I won't reject it if it comes. I just want something interesting."
"Believe me, I'm interesting."
"I do believe you."
He stared at me for a moment as if he were seeing me for the first time all evening. Maybe he was. He'd told me he'd already tried this three times before and come up with nothing. "You remind me of someone."
"Not your wife, I hope."
"Oh, no. A woman named Ilana. You talk like her. You even look a little like her, though she was Russian or Israeli, not Spanish. We both worked for the same person, for a while. She died for it, while I only tried."
"Tried to die?"
"It's harder than you'd think, dying."
"But you think you're dying now."
"I am, the same way you are, only faster. My age is catching up with me."
"How old are you?"
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."
He shook his head with a wry smile. "Maybe someday I'll tell you, and maybe you'll actually believe me. But not yet."
"Does that mean you've accepted my proposal?"
"Was that a proposal?" he asked with some amusement.
"I think so. So, have you?"
"I think so," he said in surprise. "You're the only person I've met off the—in America who seems prepared to take me at my word."
"What did the other three women do?"
"One called me crazy and left. One obviously only cared about the money, and I left. One attempted romantic overtures, and I left again. Not one of them said, 'Oh, fascinating. Let's give it a try.'"
"You make me sound like I'm on Star Trek."
I stared at him. "You don't know Star Trek?"
"You'll find I don't know much. I'm very uneducated."
I had to laugh at that, but he seemed serious.
"That's part of the tour guide aspect. I have a certain amount of knowledge about certain aspects of society, but I have an abysmal ignorance about the rest of it. I'm interested in being educated. You are well educated."
"So, professor as well as tour guide. Sounds like the dream job. Why do you want a wife rather than an employee?"
"Because I want someone with me," he said softly. "I thought I would be better off alone. I've tried for several years to live alone and found I needed a companion. Closer than an employee, but not romantic. In the past I have primarily had mentoring relationships, and that's all I'm used to. I've been married, and I've been a mentor and had a mentor. It's all I know. I told you. I don't know very much."
I studied him for a moment. He really meant it. Along with the depth and mystery in his eyes there was a certain simplicity. Mystery upon mystery.
"I'm willing to go along with your weird ideas on one condition."
His dark eyebrows rose. "What?"
"Do you really have millions of dollars?"
Wariness came into his eyes. "Yes."
"Can we go to Spain? Or are you really stuck on the U.S.?"
Richardus laughed. "I'm not completely stuck on the U.S. It would be…interesting to go to Spain. As a tourist." Amusement and wonder lit his eyes.
Reader, I married him.