Short and to the point. Are you sitting comfortably…
Henry felt his phone vibrate on his lap and picked it up; he looked at the text and read through it quickly, then looked up at Tracy. “Take my credit card, see what you can find for him. You know, something he’ll remember twenty years from now. And maybe a scarf from Hermes for your mother.”
“Well, there’s a Bulgari Store over by the Arc, but Hank, are you really sure you want me to do this?”
Henry crossed his arms over his lap and sighed. “Take a taxi, Tracy, and stay off the Metro, for god’s sake. And call me if you have any questions.”
“Okay. I’ll be gone a while, so…”
“And I’ll be here when you get back.”
She smiled and left him looking at his phone again. It was from Rolf; he and Dina were at the airport in Bergen waiting at the general aviation terminal by the heliport. “Do you know when Anton will get here?” read Rolf’s latest and more than nervous text.
“Should be in the next half hour or so,” he replied, then he went into contacts and found the information for the team’s old Beta site and called Dr. Collins again.
“Henry, that you already?”
“Had a visitor yet?”
“Come and gone, sir. And thank you. They’ve been hard to reach lately.”
“Yeah, well, they’re pulling out faster than a Texan down in Boy’s Town. Can’t say I blame ‘em, really.”
“If you’re around Christmas morning, give me a call. If not, I’ll see you when I see you.”
Henry sighed and his eyes watered a little. “Yessir. Goodbye.”
He put the phone down just as a new text chirped, so he picked it up and looked at the screen again. Anton had written: “Enter pattern, have 5 Bars, on ground ten minutes.”
“Got it,” he replied, and then he sent the information on to Rolf – who instantly shot back a happy face emoji.
“What a world this has turned into,” he said to himself – just as Edith popped her head in the door to his stateroom. “So, there she is, Miss America,” Henry crooned.
And she smiled this time. “She reminds you of Claire, doesn’t she?”
He shook his head. “No, not really. You’ll always have that market cornered, Edith.”
“But…you love her, don’t you?”
“You could say that.”
“She told me everything, you know. About that company in McLean, all of it.”
Henry nodded. “She told me. Yesterday.”
“So you two cleared the air?”
“Yes, I think so. Well, I hope so, anyway.”
Edith came in and sat on the edge of his bed, then she took a deep breath. “That’s why I came, you know? I wanted to make sure she wasn’t going to do anything that could really hurt you.”
“I figured that might have something to do with it. Your heart was always in the right place, Edith.”
“But, yes, I know, sometimes my head wasn’t.”
“Maybe so,” he sighed.
“If I ask you an important question will you give me a straight answer?”
He grinned. “Don’t take roundings on me, Edith. Just say what you came to say.”
“Okay,” she said as she turned away for a moment. “One thing has bothered me, Henry, but I need to know…”
“Did I ever really love you?”
“Of course I did, Edith. How could I not? You saved my life – once upon a time – and none of this could have happened without you and me and the time we had.”
He’d known this question was coming and he still wasn’t sure how to answer it…so he just dove in and said what he needed to say: “Let’s just call it a gift, Edith, and let it go at that.”
“Let it go,” she whispered. “I never really thought things between us could be so easy.”
“Oh? You know, for a year or so I thought everything came pretty easy between us.”
“There isn’t a day goes by, Henry, when I don’t think of all that.”
“What’s your favorite memory?” he asked.
“You and me and that week up at Snowbird. The Cliff Lodge, skiing Chip’s Run off the gondola.”
“The roast goose in the restaurant. Looking out that wall of glass at the falling snow – and that amazing dinner.”
“That lingonberry sauce?” she added. “You remember that too, don’t you?”
“How could anyone forget?” he smiled. “But…you were perfect.”
“We were perfect, Henry.”
He nodded. “Yes, maybe we were.” While it lasted, he didn’t need to say. “Funny. I wanted it to last forever.”
“I was a fool,” she said, looking away.
“We are what we are, Edith. We can’t fight it – no one can.”
“What? Being manipulative and a scheming backstabber?”
He smiled. “Thanks for not making me say that.”
“Everyone knew that about me, Henry, even then. Everyone but you, that is.”
“Maybe because I put you up on the same pedestal I’d put Claire on.”
“And I loved it up there. You made me feel like…oh, I don’t know, like royalty, like some kind of princess no one but you could have.”
“Me. The dumb jock. The linebacker…”
“I used to love watching you play, Henry. You owned that field.”
“I weighed a hundred and twelve pounds yesterday, Edith.”
“I know. Thank you for letting me stay.”
His phone chirped and an image of Anton and Rolf standing on the wing of a Beech Baron as a light snow fell on the airport in Bergen filled his screen. “Hey, look at you!” he wrote.
“This is SO AWESOME!” Rolf replied. “Thanks!”
“Enjoy the flight!”
“Is that Anton?” Edith asked, looking at Henry as he entered another text.
“Yes, they made it. Only an hour late, too.”
“Tell me about Dina?”
“She was my oncologist in Norway, and she was also a more than competent sailor.”
“Then – a match made in heaven?”
“No, not really. A marriage of inconvenience more than anything else.”
“Really? And are you sure she doesn’t still love you?”
“Dina? She hates my guts, Edith. You’ll see,” he said, then he started humming again…
“Why would you say that?”
“Because I bring out the worst in some people, Edith. And Dina is one of them.”
“I’ll believe that when I see it. And why do you keep humming that dreadful piece of music?”
He shook his head. “Man, I don’t know. I keep hearing the same thing over and over again, and I can’t remember where I’ve heard it.”
“Such a depressing piece. I can’t believe you’d remember that one, of all the music out there.”
“Do you know what it is?”
“Of course I do. You mean…you don’t?”
“No, I have no idea. Tell me, please.”
“It’s called the Theresienstadt Concerto, or Schwarzwald’s Third Piano Concerto. She was a Dane, I think. Imogen Schwarzwald, I seem to recall. She was a physicist and taught at Berkeley about the same time you were there. Funny you haven’t made the connection…”
© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.