This is Part III of a series of short fiction that may become a regular feature here. Subsequent installments will post on Wednesday or the following Monday. This will not make much sense without reading Part I and Part II first.
Cynthia never understood the appeal of roller coasters, couldn’t understand the enjoyment of building anxiety in the pit of your stomach, refused to find pleasure in the subsequent crashing fear. At this moment, having been on this strange ride – talking in unfamiliar ways, saying uncharacteristic things, drinking champagne in a hotel bar on a school night, and speaking to a stranger in a language she never learned – for several hours, suddenly Cynthia made the connection to roller coasters.
She was shaken by the surrealism of it all, and now she found herself in the Ladies Room of the Fairway Hotel, having rushed from the bar without excusing herself. She splashed some cold water on her face, and tried to steady her legs. Uncertainty reigned in a disquieted mind as Cynthia alternated between staring at this mirror image which she only loosely recognized, and looking for proof that this was some sort of dream. She was more than a bit afraid by it all… and kinda liked it. Her enjoyment scared her even more. It took almost ten minutes of water splashing and starring before she convinced herself that she should go back to the bar, that she needed to go back to the bar.
Cynthia dried her face, touched up her make up (another first for her,) swallowed as much air as her lungs could hold, and made her way back to her champagne and the stranger who was next to it. She ignored the little extra sway in her hips. The tall Frenchman at the bar did not as he eyed her from the moment she stepped out of the bathroom door.
He stood as she took her seat and said “I hope I did not offend you to have you run off so suddenly?”
“No, no, it wasn’t you, I felt a little light-headed and needed to get some air” Cynthia replied.
“If you are lightheaded, perhaps I should not have ordered you a fresh glass of champagne.”
“That is very kind of you and I don’t think I’ll ever have my fill of champagne.”
“I am Nicolas Cousteau, and no I am not related to Jacques” the tall Frenchman said with a devilish grin.
“Cynthia, Cynthia Trueblood” she said while extending her hand to meet his. She continued “Oh, this must go over big when you’re in the States.”
“The French, the tall, the good looking, the smile, the accent – it must be very easy for you to meet women here.”
“Mademoiselle Trueblood, that may be the case for some, but I am gay” Nicolas replied to Cynthia’s surprise.
“Oh, I’m… forgive me, I just assumed… I didn’t mean… I just…” an obviously flustered Cynthia stammered.
“You just thought I was flirting with you?” Nicolas asked with a wink.
“I was flirting with you, I am flirting with you. I just thought it would be funny. Not… how do you Americans say… ‘not that there is anything wrong with it’”
The two strangers shared a smile if not an outright laugh as Cynthia wasn’t sure she actually found Nicolas’ joke funny, though she was charmed by it. They continued their conversation for more than an hour, and another glass of champagne when they were interrupted by one of the hotel’s managers.
“Excuse me, Mr. Cousteau, you’re suite is ready. We apologize again for the delay.”
The manager placed a key envelope on the table and said “I’ve spoken with the bartender and told him that your champagne is compliments of the Fairway this evening.”
Nicolas thanked the manager before he redirected his attention to Cynthia and asked “Would you like to finish this champagne in my suite?”
“Aimer à n’est pas pertinent comme je ne serai pas. Le fait de vous voir n’a pas appris beaucoup de patience depuis que vous êtes d’abord arrivés au bar (Would I like to is not relevant as I will not be. I see you have not learned much patience since you first got to the bar)” Cynthia replied firmly through her smile.
“I suppose not” Nicolas sheepishly said with the tone of a man who knew that he had moved too aggressively. “Peut-être vous pourriez m’enseigner certains sur le dîner demain (Perhaps you could teach me some over dinner tomorrow?”)
Cynthia looked the tall Frenchman in the eye, took a final sip of champagne and said “Au revoir, Monsieur Cousteau.” She gave him a kiss on the cheek – just long enough for him to feel the heat of her skin – and left the bar.
She felt his gaze as she walked away but did not turn around for confirmation.
Nicolas stopped watching when the doorman opened the oversized door for Cynthia. When he finally turned his gaze back to the bar, Cynthia’s business card sat next to his glass.