I stop short by the entrance to “The Flaming Heart”. Beda’s maniac improvisation lashes against me like a hail storm. Nodding his head to its rhythm, Beda perseveres in the hysterical cacophony refusing to wind up into my kind of music, his usual tribute to my presence. As he deigns to signal me to come nearer, I sit down at our table and order gin to blunt the sharpness of Beda’s rebuke, disquieting and unforeseen. I want him crystal-clear. I have nobody else to lean on but my Ginge and I need him to be rock steady.
Spurning my existence, Beda slants over the keyboard pouncing on it with his fists, deadening any feeling in its ear-splitting uproar. He is ghastly pale and strained as if he was about to be sick. No wonder that he tries to throw me out. I would, if he behaved as I do, wouldn’t I?
I look at my watch. It’s late. I should go home. Beda finishes the jam-session with an angry splash of sounds, bangs the piano shut and joins me reluctantly.
“I’ll ask Mrs. Novakova to call you a cab,” he mumbles avoiding my eyes.
“Don’t! I’ll wait until you’re free.”
“No need. I’ve finished for tonight. Do you know how late it is?” He snaps at me.
“Sorry, Beda. I didn’t realise it lasted that long. Leo came to tell me Zita was out of danger”, I explain apologetically.
“That’s good news. Though I can’t fathom out why it took him so long to tell you something as brief as this.”
“No need to be sarcastic. Let’s take a tram as we used to and be friends again, Beda, please!”
“I don’t know. It’s late. We may have to wait a long time. Well, if you don’t mind coming home so late,” Beda gives in grudgingly.
“I couldn’t care less as long as you aren’t cross with me.”
He lifts up his head and gives me a searching glance. “So you do care about me! It’s hard to believe having seen you following that sleek character.”
“Don’t you know that I don’t care two hoots about him? I didn’t mean to hurt you, Beda! Honest! Why must I always get into such a mess? Let’s forget all about it, Beda, please! You punished me hard enough with your music.”
“Did I? I didn’t mean to hurt you either, Laura! Honest! Tonight you were too much for me and I tried to break loose. Another aborted attempt, as you see.”
Leaning on each other for support, we totter towards the door. We lurch towards the tram stepping over the moonstruck cobblestones and I try my best not to fret about Beda’s love. Come what may, true love never fades away, or does it?
“If the tram doesn’t come promptly you’ll be in trouble, girl! Shouldn’t we better hail a cab?”
“I couldn’t care less as long as you love me. Look, here it is! Aren’t we lucky?”
“Sure we are!” Beda lifts me up and sets me onto the platform of the second car. We take it always because it isn’t equipped with the safety device locking the door once the tram gets into motion that gives me the feeling to be trapped. We stay by the rear-window facing the starry night. Beda holds me tight. It feels as if we have fused into one. I can’t imagine we could ever part. A presumption that can easily be checked when Beda handles Goldwin’s tempting offer. Better not question Beda’s loyalty to me. Question means doubt. Doubt is something I can’t have.
I feel Beda’s heartbeat against my spine. What will he do? I wish I knew. I fail to read Beda’s heart since Goldwin’s offer turned our relation upside down. It made ME one of Beda’s two choices; to follow either his calling or his love. Even if the truth is often best left untold, I must know. I free myself from Beda’s embrace and turn to him to tackle my doubt.
“Aren’t you tempted to accept Goldwin’s offer?”
“Temptation isn’t THE word, Laura.”
A wry smile curves his mouth downwards. What have I done to that soft, defenceless mouth of a boy prepared to take anything from me, even being my second choice?
“Let’s call it better an opportunity. By the way, something else cropped up in the meantime. I won the scholarship with the “Juilliard’s School of Music”. That means I can offer you “a future”, to put it into your granny’s jargon, even if I doubt this is up to her alley. Put together with Goldwin’s bonus, I can provide you a comfortable life. If it eases matters we can even get married. Of course I know how repulsing it would be for both of us to commit to a scrap of paper our right to love but...”
I scream “NO!” cut to the quick.
“How dare you meddle with my life? Have you thought a single second about me? Without a high-school diploma I can’t pursue my studies. Do you realise what it would mean to me? Anyhow, my father won’t allow us to get married! Don’t forget I’m still under age.”
“It isn’t that certain, especially with von Zwettler looming on the horizon. Your father likes me as much as he resents him. Don’t worry about your studies either. You can easily graduate in New York. There are lots of good private schools. The one where I studied was pretty decent. If nothing works and worst come to worst we can always elope, can’t we? Goldwin will get you a forged passport and with a bit of make-up and an appropriate outfit nobody will suspect you are a minor. Anyhow, wouldn’t eloping be “so very romantic”?”
I suppress angry tears welling in my eyes.
“How dare you discuss me with that creep? I hate you!” I shriek, feeling like scratching his eyes out.
“You don’t know me very well, do you, girl? It wouldn’t occur to me to talk about you behind your back. Come on, Laura! Cool down! Aren’t you thrilled? Just imagine, eloping with your lover, or whatever I may be for you. I thought you fancied Hollywood movies.”
“I do, to watch them, never be playing in them! Why can’t you leave things as they are, Beda? Aren’t we happy together?” I smile engagingly prompting an affirmative answer. He shrugs his shoulders and deigns to play the ball back.
The moon is gone. So are the stars. The night is as bleak as my future. If I follow Beda I might get lost. If I don’t I am lost. Can I trust him? Evidently not. Nothing much has remained of the boy doting on me without limit.
“Don’t be so negative, Laura! Please!” Beda brushes the hair of my brow and kisses it softly.
“Give New York a chance! Give us a chance! You can always go back home if it doesn’t work.”
“There’s no going back! Don’t you know it? Look, now we’ve missed our stop. We have to walk such a long way back and I’m so tired I can hardly keep my eyes open. To crown it, it’s pouring rain!” I shudder haunted by the beat of the heavy raindrops clicking against the windowpane like hungry teeth.
“We can jump out when the tram slows down in the curb.”
He snatches my hand and hauls me to the edge of the platform. “Trust me! Jump! It’s safe!”
He grabs hold of me and hurls me into the void. I lose my balance on the sleazy asphalt and drag Beda along into my fall.
Torpid with dread, I watch us rolling headlong under the wheels of a car swooping down on us from the darkness. Skimming my face like blades, the tires swoosh through the puddles turned by the flashlights into the pools of blood. Coiled about my body to protect me from being hurt, Beda pivots us toward the pavement. Drowsy with the aftermath of dread, I let Beda hoist me up, straighten my clothes and wipe the dirt of my face.
I stare at Beda speechless, stunned by the notion that he just about got us both killed. I turn my back on him in a complete rejection and limp home.
Like blind eyes of an omni-absent God, the street lamps mirror in its dark windows.
Shivery from anguish I limp inside the villa.