I wake up weighed down by a tantalising sense of loss. Although I try my best to crow about my hollow victory, I can’t force myself to believe that cutting me off from Beda was a right choice. Case Beda is settled then and case Egon done with. A proof I am the master of my destiny and may keep Milan as a consolation prize by right. It should enable me to brave my new Beda-less existence, now and forever, and, very shortly, endure the breakfast with my grandmother who will, undoubtedly, ask heaps of inquisitive questions.
“Leopold’s father had a nasty accident, Irenchen!” She flashes at me quivering with excitement and concern.
“Leopold had to bring him to the hospital. Poor darling! How can he concentrate on his final examinations in these disturbing circumstances! Try to be especially nice to him, sweetheart. He needs a shoulder to lean upon. You can be sure you may count upon his gratitude for your understanding. How convenient to have a surgeon in the family! It has spared your fiancé’s father the anonymity of a hospital ward. Anyone may fall ill and need the help of a caring medic!” My grandmother augurs with an ominous wink.
Unfamiliar with Leo’s version of the story, hence in ignorance whether I should be astonished or not, I refrain from any comment. Luckily for me, my grandmother is too pre-occupied with Egon’s accident to notice my lack of response.
“Poor Leopoldine, she had to leave her beloved Antibes! It proves how worrying Egon’s state of health must be. Leopold would never upset her for a trifling matter. What a shock for my dearest Leopoldine! Just imagine, child! Her only son! The apple of her eye! Of course, Zita will be taking care of her husband day and night. Sometimes, a catastrophe may save a disunited couple, though ...” My grandmother breaks off and steers clear off the slippery ground, unsuitable for the ears of a young lady.
“I invited that dear boy for luncheon. Afterwards we’ll drive together to meet Leopoldine at the airport.”
“I wish I could go with you, grandmother, but it’s beyond me, I’m sorry. My father won’t ever put up with a second-rater and I must study hard to be worthy of his interest.”
“Do what you consider right then, Irene!” Grandmother snaps at me and leaves the room in an Olympian silence.
I try to fill the nagging void taking an active part in the morning classes, doing my utmost to entertain Leo at lunch and showing off my affection to Milan after. Tense as a tightrope walker reaching for the safety of the other side, I sway to and fro towards the evening. Since Beda’s music is definitely the only reason why I had ever cared for him, why should I deprive myself from it?
With a couple of spare hours on my hands, I crawl along to “The Flaming Heart”. Taking the tram would be not just too fast but also too painful. Choking on my heart-beat, I enter the cool darkness of the bar and join Mrs. Novakova at the counter.
“What on earth are you doing here, Miss?”
“Waiting for Beda, what else? May I have a Beda-special in the meantime, please?”
“But Miss! Don’t you know Beda quit?” She mutters uneasily.
“It was quite a blow. Not just for the business. I really got fond of him. Of course, I can’t match that American’s offer and Beda has to think about his future. Believe me, Miss, that boy will make it to the stars! In my life, I’ve heard quite a lot of fine pianists, that’s why my place is so crowded, but none of them was up to Beda, Miss, and I’m not talking just about the music!” She hands me the mug and freshens her glass. Soaking in gin and sorrow, I listen to Poe’s Raven croak his NEVERMORE pecking at my heart.
“Miss! Stop drinking!” Mrs. Novakova is tugging at my sleeve.
“Run after him! If I were you, I’d beg Beda on my knees to take me back! Not that you’d need it. That boy is doting on you!”
“I can’t do it, Mrs. Novakova. It will never work. I’m unable to get to the bottom of his music .How can I understand him? Though I don’t know how I’ll live without him! I need him so! More than I can bear!” I start howling, bemoaning my loss.
Mrs. Novakova helps me to my feet and leads me to her office.
“Come on, Miss! Don’t cry! I’ll make you a nice cup of strong, hot coffee and we’ll find a way how to sort things out. My life has never been a bed of roses. I know how it feels when lovers part. You don’t need to tell me what went wrong, though it might help trying to repair it. Believe me, Miss, it doesn’t cheapen a girl to say: “I’m sorry”. Shall I give Beda a ring and ask him to come over?”
“Thank you, Mrs. Novakova, but no! It has no sense. I can’t go with Beda to New York nor ask him to stay here with me. There’s nothing I can do. Not with him. Nor without him. That’s my heart’s paradox. Call me a taxi, please.”
“As you wish,” she brushes me off like a speck of dust.
Entering the cab I feel a pair of eyes watching me hungrily from the dark. I turn round to meet them. I chance upon a falling star.