Teaser 162: I Cast a Pall

Like the night before everything revolved around our room and Serena spoke up first. “Why didn't you just go over and deck him, Gregory? If you can tear apart logs, you can put him on the floor.”

Before I could answer Drake interrupted. “Gregory's not going to do it, Serena. He's not going to pop someone to defend your honor, not even his honor. He'll do it if he thinks your life is threatened, but not solely for your honor.”

Why not?” Serena demanded from me, loudly.

“Because Gregory won't fight for honor, Serena,” Will explained. “He will only fight to protect himself and those he loves, and when he's forced to do it, he will kill the offender.” Will looked over to me and I returned his gaze. “Is that right?”

I nodded. It wasn't enough, not for Serena. The next half-hour or so was a constant berating of my manliness, or lack thereof. I attacked her and back and forth we went. Escalation was on the proverbial doorstep, so I toned it down, even pleaded this is not the way to go to bed, angry and resentful.

“I'd like to go to bed with a man, for once!” Serena shouted. During all of this, most were trying to calm us down, but in the end none of it worked. The only thing which worked was when I rose from my seat and walked out the room.

“Where are you going?” John asked.

“For a walk.”

“You might want to take your coat, Gregory,” John advised.

“I'm walking now, am I not?”

I walked, rode the elevator down to the main floor, strolled to the lobby and asked for a room.

“But you're already booked at the hotel, Mister Hess,” the desk clerk reminded me.

“Do you have a room or not?”

“Yes, sir.”

The only bell person at the desk offered his services. “Grab one of the carts, follow me, and stay out in the hall when I get my things from the one room. It could get nasty.” He did so and I pushed the cart in the room and grabbed my stuff, no matter where or what condition. Serena didn't say a word. The boys asked me what I was doing. “I'm taking my things to my room. I think it's best for everyone concerned, or not concerned. Whatever it may be.”

I was in no mood to party or stay up and brood. I stripped down to my briefs and climbed into bed, still sniffling and coughing from the cold. I expected no company. I wanted none. The phone rang about an hour later. Jana wanted to know where I was. “In my room sleeping, at least I was until the phone rang.”

“So we all sleep alone tonight, is that it?”

“Roger that.”

“You really are not as free and independent as you think you are.”

Resigned, I said, “Room four fourteen. Same rules as always. You're welcome when you arrive.”

Fifteen minutes later there was a knock. I rose from bed and opened the door for Jana. I let her in but we hardly touched. After she entered, I walked past her to the bed. “I don't want to talk. I want to sleep.” I climbed into bed, still wearing my briefs, the signal Jana interpreted to strip to her underwear, which she did, and climbed into bed next to me. When she slipped her right arm over my chest, I lifted my right arm to her head, she lifted her head and I set my arm under her as she laid her head back down. I went back to sleep soon after.

I was up before Jana and went straight to the bathroom and took a shower. The noise woke her and she came into the bathroom, since I rarely feel it necessary to lock the bathroom door, to wash her face, hands and arms. Completing it, she dressed and waited for me. When I finished dressing and preparing I walked out. “There's a restaurant down the street. They serve a good breakfast, different varieties of coffee. Here,” I grabbed my leather jacket, “wear this if you want to join me.”

“Don't you want to have breakfast with the others?” Jana asked, as she grabbed the jacket.

I pulled my winter jacket from the hanger. “No.”

The breakfast was good, the coffee was good, our conversation minimal. John called. Drake called. Inevitably, Serena called. “So how did that real man feel last night?” I greeted her.

“Don't be that way, Gregory. I'm sorry. Please. Come back here.”

“You let a complete outsider say something and drive a wedge between us, Serena. You couldn't walk away and let it die in the dust where it belonged. Instead, you used it to attack me. I can't depend on you, woman, to act civilly, to recognize and do the right thing. You are going to repeatedly react emotionally and irrationally without a single thought, except to protect your bloated pride. You can proudly sleep alone for the rest of your life, as far as it matters to me. Or you can hook onto the next Don Juan who comes along. Whatever.”

“Where's Jana?”

“Having breakfast with me.” Click.

“You need to rise above your anger, Gregory. You are still angry.”

“Lena would never have said that. She would never have acted that way. She will never let anyone drive a wedge between us. She knows better than that.”

“And all you want to do now is go back to Europe. Isn't that it? I don't even matter any more.”

“Get out of that hell hole, Jana, and you're welcome to stay with me as long as you like, or you can stay there and suffer like the rest.”

I cast a pall or perhaps rendered all under a glum and depressive cloud. Jana was so unhappy when we returned to the hotel, she tore off my jacket, thrust it at me, went straight to the back and rode the elevator up to the floor to join the others and attend the wake. I took the regular elevator to the fourth floor, pulled out my computer and spent the next six hours, with breaks, writing on my latest work. I hadn't written anything in so long it took me a while to regather my writing habit. John called again, wondering whether I would accompany all to dinner as planned. “I want to be alone, John.”

“Why are you punishing everyone, Gregory? You do this regularly, you know, buddy boy. Go off and punish everyone else, punish me. What did I do but defend you?”

“All right,” I said softly, then louder, “all right, John! When are we leaving?”

“Why don't you come up here now?”

I grabbed my winter jacket, rode down to the main floor, walked to the back of the hotel, and approached Lance. As we waited for the elevator, with his serious, business-like demeanor ever present, Lance said calmly, as a statement of fact, “You let it swing both ways, sir. You lift them up just as easily as you tear them down.” He turned to me to stare into my eyes. When I did he gauged my understanding and, as the elevator door opened, added, “We may provide the security but we all know who sets the mood.”

I entered the elevator and watched him as he stepped in to punch the floor number, stepped out in front of the elevator, crossed his arms and continued to stare at me until the elevator door closed to my great relief. When I walked around the corner of the hall from the back elevator, Drake was standing in the hall and exclaimed, “The golden boy returns!” He was all smiles and I stepped up to him and hugged him tightly. “Yeah, you've still got that.”

Still holding my winter jacket, I hugged everybody, even Serena, who kissed me, too. It seemed like it was all forgotten, after I entered the room we had previously shared and sat in one of the chairs, once I secured my usual bottle of beer. “Come and sit with us, Gregory,” Serena said. “Please.”

“I'm not going to punish you all, as John suggested. It's not fair and it's not right. It's petty. Lance, at the elevator, told me I swing it both ways. I lift them up as easily as I tear them down. I should not possess such ability, but I also think I always have, as my aunt once told me when I was a young man. She said I didn't smile enough and it was one thing I should work on, because I didn't seem to realize that when I smile I light up the room. Her words. I light up the room.” I took a sip of beer. “I want to get through tonight, do the show reluctantly tomorrow, though I'll wear my mania cap and keep you in stitches, stay here a few more days, and fly back to Europe, because, while I have enjoyed all of the time with you, Serena, and all of the time with every one of you, Jana, Jennifer, all of you last night proved to me the one indisputable difference between each of you and Lena. Lena will never let anyone tear us apart. Nothing anyone else can say or do has any effect on how she feels about me or will act with me. She is above it and you are not, Serena. My only advice is get there, and until you do, you better know I will give you exactly what you want. When you want someone to drive a wedge between us, you will get it, because there's no discussion with you. Your mind's made up, as there's no discussion with me when my mind's made up. We're both obstinate, stubborn and pig-headed, not a very good combination of traits to have in order to continue a working relationship, as I once told you. As you'll recall it was a few moments later I walked outside to your patio, which was followed by our discussion about my being in love with you. I'm still in love with you, but we're right back where we started, which seems like no progress to me.”

“What do you want from me, Gregory?” Serena demanded, a little embittered, best as I could tell. “An apology, is that what you want?”

“I want no apology, Serena. I expect, no I demand, so here is the only demand you will ever receive from me. I demand you treat me carefully and cautiously as though I was the most endearing object in your life, because if you fly off on me again by reacting to something outside of us, when it becomes clear to you shortly after that it's over forever, the only blame will fall squarely on your shoulders, as it should. I have no room for it in my life, I will not tolerate it again and I will dispose of it like the cancer it is!” I sucked another gulp of beer and turned my head away from her.

Serena's next action saved the moment, saved, in essence, our relationship, our unflagging desire to stay together, because she rose from the sofa, walked to my chair, dropped to her knees with a thud, and threw her head and arms over my lap. She would not move for minutes, until she felt my hand stroke the back of her head. She lifted her head to lock her gaze on mine and I studied her face: remorseful, apprehensive, questioning, begging for forgiveness. I am not embellishing. The expression on Serena's face begged for forgiveness. “Sit on my lap, please,” I asked her. Serena rose from the floor, sat in my lap, wrapped her arms around me tightly and settled her head on my right shoulder. She remained in this position for a long time.

- Just Desserts, Segment NineteenAnother Show in Chicago” by Gregory R. Schussele, © 2021

contact me, as always: schussprose@gmail.com