But then, he had never said the words had he? He’d never told her he loved her.
Escher slid the last clasp into her hair. She had clipped it all up loosely and Ludivinie was threading flowers through it for the carnivale, just as she had for her own.
They were wearing traditional dresses given to them by Grutzelba made of a rice paper thin white cotton with full skirts, peasant tops and a cinched waist that they had tied scarves of freewheeling colours and patterns around.
Escher could already hear the music, and people had been flowing down the road all morning. Ludivine was glowing with excitement.
“I am going to drink so much ouzo and eat so many vine leaves I’ll be ill” She said excitedly to Escher as they bid goodbye to their hosts and hurried down the dirt road into the old town.
“An admirable plan,” Escher said dryly and they laughed.
The streets had been transformed over night into a large, open-air festival. There were bands and buskers on every corner, food stands and tents purveying wines and cheeses. Like a child in a candy store, Escher didn’t know where to look first.
It had that feeling of being something terribly authentic and real and right. Escher remembered the last time she had felt like that about something. It had been the first Christmas she and Johnny had spent together and they had gone shopping together on Christmas Eve and then they had gone ice skating, just like you were supposed to in New York at Christmas time.
And the first time she’d felt like it? Of course, that had been with Frank, the night they had cartwheeled through the dangerous Jersey streets, jumping over fire hydrants and laughing like Gods until they collapsed together in the park. She had never felt so daring, so brilliant, so alive.
She felt that familiar pang that always struck her when she thought of him, as though it were a tangible scar, like the two on her body from the night of the attack. As though if she peeled back some invisible scar tissue he would be there, just below the surface. She shook her head to clear it and let herself be led into one of the tents by Ludivine who was holding up her fingers to indicate that two shots of ouzo were required.
“You have been so sad” Ludivine said to her as they wandered through the stalls.
Escher raised her eyebrow.
“Sad? No, I’m not sad”
Ludivine stood with her hands on her hips,
“Just don’t,” She said firmly, “don’t pretend with me, I know you are. It’s the boy right? The boy you told me about?”
Escher stared at her friend.
“Why did you leave him if it makes you so sad?”
“I couldn’t stay,” Escher confessed, “I couldn’t be around him when the afterglow wore off and the space between us in the bed would seem so huge and he’d stammer excuses and leave”
“How do you know that’s what would have happened?”
“Because he doesn’t love me,” Escher said quietly, knowing she was speaking the truth, “He may care about me, he may think he cares more than he does, but he doesn’t love me”
“I think that’s incredibly unfair to him” Ludivine replied harshly.
Escher still wasn’t used to the abrupt way that Ludivinie spoke, in a lot of ways she was similar to Sarah, but there was a fearlessness in the way she spoke that Sarah didn’t have.
“What do you mean?”
Ludivine sighed as they strolled through the town,
“Escher you can never know what another person feels, especially in regards to yourself. The best you can do is believe them and if you get hurt so be it”
“That is such a fucking French thing to say,” Escher snapped, defensiveness creeping into her tone, “I bet you lot came up with that ‘better to have loved and lost…’ bullshit as well”
“I hate that fatalistic, nihilistic shit” Escher complained, “All of it”
“Ah so you’re motto is ‘it’s better to have fucked off in the middle of the night than have ever taken a risk’?” Ludivine asked slyly.
Escher pinched her lip. She did love him, very much. Was she just frightened? Was there something in her subconscious that was terrified of being with somebody or was her self-esteem so low that she believed nobody could love her? But then, he had never said the words had he? He’d never told her he loved her. That was how she knew she was the only one in love and she couldn’t be that person again.
What about what Jamia had told her though? How he had pined for her when she had left that first time? What about the way he had stroked the palm of her hand in the car? What about all those stupid little touches and glances accrued over the past year - and before - and filed away in the secret memory drawer in her mind that she would open and rifle through at night, alone? Did he have feelings for her? Had he been devastated when she’d left?
She was wrenched from her thoughts by Ludivine
“I’m sorry, I’ve upset you” Ludivine whispered.
Escher shook her head.
“Good, let’s dance”
She had kicked off her shoes and was dancing arm-in-arm with one of the many Spyro’s, laughing as she caught eyes with Ludivine. Her hair was escaping it’s many clasps and she found she didn’t care one little bit. Finally she stopped dancing, declining the guy’s attempts to get her up again and staggered to the edge of the crowd with Ludivine. She grasped her glass of wine and looked over the scene, closing her eyes for a moment. She felt Ludivine loop their arms together and start another jig. She opened her eyes and When she opened them they fell immediately on one person.
His hair was longer, and cascaded over one eye, but it couldn’t shield the magnificent hazel. He hadn’t seen her, not yet and she felt her heart clench. She stopped dancing abruptly, she could run, she’d done it before. Why was he here? It could only be for her, but what did he want? Could he want her? Her heart was thudding in her rib cage as she stared at him.
He was looking around in the crowd, he seemed so lost and she felt sorry for him for a moment. But as though feeling the heat from her gaze he glanced in her direction and grey met hazel once more.