Day Seven of the Season of Love and my focus turns to love lost and love found. Eben is probably the most complicated of characters in this roster of short tales and unusually for me, I understand him a bit too well. Oh and day eight will resolve Salome's dilemma. Fear not. No lonely souls in this season!
Changes © Billy London
Eben thought of flipping the table, picking up the nearest knife and slicing into his brother’s throat. Why was she here? The whole point of breaking up with someone was that you didn’t see them again. His relationship with Salome suffered the same problem as all his relationships. He had a set of needs and none of those stretched to being with a woman for longer than necessary. Salome hadn’t paid attention. She thought she could change his mind. That she could make herself indispensable in his life. Make him love her. He had a short attention span - so he said. More so he knew the idea of one woman forever was just that – an idea. Why would you fall in love with a person only to watch them deteriorate, decompose… die? What the fuck was she doing here?
“Eben, the correct response is hello,” Kalil said sarcastically. “This is my event.”
Salome put down her wine glass. “Hello Eben.”
He felt childish for wanting to ignore her and curbed it to say a short and tepid, “Hello.”
She arched a dark eyebrow at his tone. “What’s the matter with you?”
“Don’t you find it odd that we’ve not seen each other in almost two years but you’re hanging around with my brother?”
“Still possessive about everything and nothing, I see,” Salome murmured. “The publishing world is a very small one. We all know each other.”
“And if you zipped up once in a while, not every woman I run into has been introduced to you dick,” his brother added. “Salome’s helped me with an agent and she edited my novel. So if it wasn’t for her, we wouldn’t be here.”
Eben had received a copy in the post and he hadn’t even checked the acknowledgements. He hated being unprepared. She stood up and picked up her bag. “Kalil, well done. Enjoy the party.”
His brother got to his feet. “You don’t have to go anywhere. This wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t put in the work.”
“I always do if it’s worth it,” she replied, glancing in Eben’s direction. “Goodnight.”
Eben took one moment before he followed her out of the basement floor restaurant. She shrugged her coat on and sent him an arch look. “I’m on my way out. What can I help you with?”
“I’m sorry things didn’t work out between us…” he began, flustered for the first time in her presence. He always felt assured, masculine around Salome.
“Are you?” she challenged, stepping to the curb and lifting her arm to a lit taxi. “I got the feeling you were pleased to get rid. I told you. Everyone knows everyone in publishing. Your brother’s a good author. Actually he’s brilliant. That book is prize worthy. More than that, he’s genuine.”
“And I never was?”
She chuckled, “You don’t know how to be. Eben, it’s not in your nature. You enjoy those four little walls you live in, where everything is pretty and simple and uncomplicated.”
Salome leaned down to tell the cab driver where to go, and instead, Eben caught her by the arm. “We don’t need you,” he said to the driver and the cab disappeared into the distance. “You and I are going to have a talk.”
Rather than returning to the book launch, Eben led her to the five star hotel across the road and headed straight to the bar. For the first time in escorting a woman into a bar, he felt discomfited in the glances of admiration Salome drew from patrons of both sexes.
She sat down and ordered a bellini. He’d forgotten that about her. She had a taste for the expensive, but it needed to be sweet. “Well?” she demanded. “You have the time it will take for me to finish this drink to talk.”
“Didn’t you know it was my brother when you got his manuscript?” He demanded. They let go. Eventually they all let go, why did she insist on hanging on?
“Of course I did. I had to be business minded. He was alright with my history with you. And if I hadn’t signed him, then I’d probably have lost my job.” Her eyes narrowed, examining him with suspicion. “Have you read his book?”
His brother had a flair for the autobiographical and Eben did not want to read himself in any of those pages. “I flicked through it.”
“It made me understand you a bit better. A lot better,” she admitted.
He frowned at her. “Are you trying to rewrite history?”
“Aren’t you? Taking me for a drink, apologising that it didn’t work out… You made that decision. Not me. I met your family. You practically lived in my house. We spoke every day on the phone and then suddenly, you were off. We were only ever casual, don’t take it too hard, have a nice life Salome.”
Eben scratched his ear, his heart sinking at her words. Had he really sounded so callous? He had tried to be gentle. To do it in a way that conveyed he had cared. But not as much as she needed him to. Not anywhere near as much as he could afford to. That way of thinking had kept him safe for so long, it had become habit. “You’re making it sound worse than it was. When you break up with someone, you break up with them. None of this, let’s be friends, let’s still see each other’s family business. That’s complicated.”
“What do you want from me? I can’t promise not to see your brother, because he’s got a six book contract with my company and the provision was that I edit for him.”
Kalil is a sneaky motherfucker, Eben thought. “Just don’t…”
“Fuck him? I don’t double dip into the same gene pool.” She toasted to him and drained the bellini. “I’ve got to go. Eben, I wish it could say it’s been nice… You haven’t changed a bit.”
That stung. And he wish he knew why. “Still handsome though.”
She hopped off her stool and kissed him on the cheek. “Bye.”
The imprint of her lips stayed with him as he returned to the launch party and his brother passed him a piece of cake. “I shouldn’t give you anything for running my editor off.”
“You should have said something.”
“I tried,” Kalil told him bluntly. “The minute I mentioned her name, you did the Darth Vader mask lowering end of conversation thing.”
“What do you mean? I don’t have a problem.”
His brother rubbed his forehead. “Read the book. I should give you a cut of any royalties but since you’ve been a prick about it, I won’t.”
By the time Eben arrived home, his jaw was tight with tension and his shoulders were practically brushing the ceiling. He found Kalil’s book hiding under his post. A note sat in the sleeve, in his brother’s slanted script. Read it. It’ll help. Honest. Salome’s name glared at him under the acknowledgements, closely followed by the words best editor to ever tell me that I can spell for toffee. Sitting down on his bed, he opened a bottle of beer and read. As he read, his fury grew to such a pitch, he was surprised the book didn’t burn up. His bastard brother had written him as an empty headed lothario who falls in love with a talented, striking journalist. The relationship dissolves as the lothario continues to fail to deal with the lack of love in his life. The journalist tries to give the lothario another chance but it’s too late for him. His insight comes after the journalist finds love with someone else. If Kalil heard that summary of his tale, he’d probably be furious. It was set in a future world where information is disseminated not through media, but through the tight control of the government. The journalist leaves the lothario for a resistance leader and changes the world. That aspect of the story was brilliant, but the empty headed lothario? Bullshit.
Had he loved Salome? He’d been happy. They’d been happy. Until, just like in the book, there was a hint of her mortality. A hint that she could leave him without him having a say in it. He’d been abandoned before and he’d sworn that would never happen to him again. The rest of the night, he couldn’t sleep. His alarm clock jangled his nerves at half six and he made his way to work with bloodshot eyes. Coasting through the day and barely affording it any attention, he found himself at Salome’s door at seven in the evening, desperate to see her face and explain.
Her eyebrows shot to the top of her head when she saw who was at the other side. “Eben, what’s going on?”
“You were right.”
“I know I am about a lot of things, but you need to be more specific.”
“About us breaking up.”
She pressed her lips together and stood to the side, letting him in. “I’ve got to be somewhere tonight.”
“Date?” Claws of jealousy dragged through his chest.
“Yeah. It’s Valentine’s Day. I thought you’d be set up.” Fuck, of course she was with someone else. Why wouldn’t she be? He wiped his hands over his face and she caught his wrists. “Are you alright? You look terrible.”
He felt worse. “I had to.”
“No you didn’t. If the women you’re with are interchangeable, then they all stay the same in your head. Young, pretty and best of all healthy. No one dies. No one leaves you.” She released one hand and cupped the back of his head. “Why do you want to live in this state of emotionlessness, you don’t feel anything so you don’t get hurt. You can’t know true happiness, if you’ve never known grief.”
Eben gripped her tightly, pressing their bodies together, as if he wanted them to merge and never be free of the other again. In the decade since his wife died, he’d done his best to bury his anger at his loss. Faceless bedwarmers to keep his mind free until Salome. Now it all threatened to overwhelm him. The guilt of ‘replacing’ his late wife; the joy he’d felt with Salome and the agony of letting her go. He’d tried to save himself and only caused more pain. All this time, they could have been together, rather than him insisting on his own path.
“I’m not going anywhere,” she whispered.
“Not even your date?”
She sighed and pushed him away. “Let me make a call. Then we can talk, alright?”
He gave a sage nod. “Alright then. I love you.”
She froze, then an irreverent grin split her face. “You are thoroughly annoying. How can you say that to me, when you never did our whole relationship?” She held up a hand. “Don’t answer that. And don’t you dare let me forget to call this poor bastard I'm standing up for your changeable arse.”
As she wrapped her arms around him and pressed her lips to his, Eben instantly forgot that she was supposed to be meeting someone else. He felt a relief and a elation that had been missing in his life since Salome had left it. Understanding had given him the most wonderful thing and he refused to share it with anyone but her right now. Time.