An excited crowd gathers around the bar. The centre light is on. My heart in my mouth, I ask the barman if Beda is playing tonight.
“Of course he is! Don’t you see how congested we are? He’s just taking a pause. What will you have, Miss? And the gentleman?” He scowls at Egon with intense dislike. What on earth is this old-timer doing in his bar? And with Beda’s sweetheart?
“Gin for me.”
“Don’t waste your time on me, Lolita. The Ginger is craving for a hug. Rightly so! It’s his turn now!” Egon pushes me fiercely aside.
“Off with you, apple-pie! Hand yourself around but don’t forget to come back to me!” He snatches her in flight, turns her face to his and meets her eyes.
“I happen to love you, Lolita!” He reminds me, pronouncing “love” with a sort of evocative magic, as if, spoken out, it would cast spell over me and make me return his feelings.
The first chords of “Laura” break the hubbub and Beda’s eyes anchor into mine. Voices subdue. The centre-light dims, the spotlights rip the web of smoke into silvery threads.
Floating above reality, in a stratum where all gets lofty and clear and strangely disembodied, I am drawn to Beda. Washed overboard by the stream of music, we sway about in an eerie lightness too extreme and chimerical to last.
“Miss, the gentleman who came with you is mightily indisposed. Could you see to it?” The barman rips me of Beda’s “Round the Midnight” turning the bar into a blurred spot on the back side of our love.
“Leo’s father,” I answer Beda’s questioning eyes.
“He brought me here in his car. I must go and see what’s wrong.”
“I’ll accompany you, Laura,” Beda closes in with a brilliant glissando and takes my hand into his.
Prostrated upon the counter, his head slouched upon his arms, Egon is crying his heart out. I touch his shoulder. “Egon, it’s late, let’s leave.”
“Lolita! I knew you’d come back to me! Give me a kiss!” Reaching after me, he crumples in a heap on the floor.
“Let me handle it, Miss.”
“Go and fetch a taxi, Beda.”
The barman hooks his arm around Egon, lifts him up and walks him towards the exit. Staggering under his weight, I support Egon from the other side.
“The taxi is waiting.” Beda tries to release me from Egon sticking to me like a leech.
“Where to, Egon?”
Slightly sobered by the cold air, Egon lifts up his head. “To our love nest, where else, Lolita?” He gives the driver his address and drags me inside.
“I have to go home, Egon. It’s midnight. What will my grandmother say?”
“Don’t let it worry you, Lolita! Let’s elope!”
“You know we can’t do that, Egon! Think about Zita and Leo!”
Using his moment of reflection, I push him off, bang the door shut and signal the driver to depart.
Beda gives me a puzzled look but doesn’t pry. “What now?”
“We’ll try to find another taxi. If my grandparents come home before me, hell will get loose. Look, Beda! We’re lucky!” I flag the cab going up Nerudova street.
Beda holds me tight and doesn’t ask for an explanation. He must have forgiven me my treason. Except for his glimpse on my finger, innocent of Leo’s engagement ring, and the ugly red scar on his face, I wouldn’t be reminded of the “incident”.
“You won’t forget to give me a ring, will you?” He says shyly opening the entrance door for me. I leave him on a promise and a kiss and sneak into the dark and empty house.