Read Time: 5 mins.
She had asked the dj to play one last song for her: Hotel California. That was thirty minutes ago. The hall was now empty as the ninety odd guests she had invited to celebrate her union had already departed. The only people who remained were the caterers and the DJ. Her bridal gown was half strewn across a table, and she was wearing nothing but a lilac dress, and dancing with a bottle of Tennessee whiskey. The Dj sat next to me, absorbed in his phone. He was waiting for his wife to come get him. The groom had left…unexpectedly. An occupational curse, or a pressing concern that was about to implode on his well-manicured public image. Everyone knew it was the latter, including Loretta, but we all went along as willing accomplices in the grand deception.
I had met Loretta at a concert at the Royal Albert Hall three hot summers prior. The Proms were a British tradition. It was my first, and the tickets were a gift from a dear friend. But I went alone. The seat next to Loretta was vacant. Another absence chalked up to the demands of his profession. An exchange of glances was all the moment offered, and it was all that was required. She beckoned me to sit next to her, and we did not speak a word until the concert was over. But there was electricity between us. Unspoken, magnetic, and sending tingles up my arm.
She smiled and waved the whiskey bottle at me, inviting me over. Her steely blue eyes pleading, misleading. Then she shrugged as I shook my head and continued her hypnotic swaying. Her smile was disarming. Thin lips nestled between freckled, dimpled cheeks, draped by curly auburn hair that sat on her shoulders. They would purse into this mischievous grin every time she had a bad idea. She had plenty of those.
After the concert we lay in the park, under the stars in the cool night air. Her head resting on my chest, her sultry voice begging me to run my fingers through her hair. Thin ghostly streaks of cigarette smoke would drift up between us, as we talked about everything and anything. If it were possible to know all there was to know about someone after one night, I am certain we knew it all. I knew her alright, but not in the biblical sense. That would come much later. Two days later we went to a night club, and I was introduced to the rest of her rowdy gang. She had unrestricted access, as her uncle owned the club, and her cousin was the house DJ. It was a themed night, I do not remember what it was, but she had dressed as Mata Hari. Loretta was a handful. That Friday night I witnessed and intervened in the first of many unwanted advances. I had heard my name screamed above the noise of the dance floor, and my reaction was to throw two guys off the balcony. Her uncle offered me a job on the spot. The rest, as they say, is history.
I was not always able to be her protector. To be frank, am sure she had multiple guardian angels working rotation. Loretta was the sort of attractive that made you believe anything was possible. That degree of aesthetic allure emboldens you, but it came with equal volumes of ambivalence. A man never knew where he stood, but she would empower you to fly as close to the sun as you dared. Once you got burned, however… let’s just say not many men appreciated the fall back to earth.
The wrong type of guy always wanted her. And she always appreciated the attention of the wrong type of man. It was her undoing, or it could have been the source of her charismatic personality and her indomitable spirit. It was nuclear, and it was as intoxicating as watching a meteor streak across the night sky. But whatever it was, it caught up to her. The bill always comes due.
There was a Greek guy. Well connected. He had a devilish charm which drew her to him. She had accepted his invitation to come to his villa and spend a weekend. This was nothing new. But the weekend turned to three weeks with no response. In her circles, the police were never involved. But we soon found out that her fiancé’s predilections had intersected with the Greek interloper’s business. Debts were owed. Loretta paid the bill for the man she was condemned to marry.
I never understood such misplaced loyalty. What we have is magical, yet she chose him. Affairs are based on a delusional intimacy. It feels true, smells pure, tastes authentic. It is for every intent and purpose, an unbreakable bond. But like rat poison; it is the one percent of strychnine in the corn that gets you killed. What her deal with the Greek devil cost her, remains a secret that only I was privy to. Who else would she share the tales of her ordeal with? I was her one true love, and I could not exist. So, her very real trauma could only be spoken into our lie: our fairy tale, our imaginary romance. The child she professed was his, was really mine. In for a penny, in for a pound. I will never get another chance to father a child with Loretta.
Like fault lines that leave a trail of evidence of the chaos and damage caused by an earthquake, there were gaps in her memory. But she confided. Spoke the truth to the only authentic person in her life. It hurt us both. But it pained her more. She suppressed it all. And on many quiet, stormy nights, she danced her barefooted Tennessee whiskey waltz.
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