10 Five Years and Counting
Dantes was expecting a visitor from Europe. He had ordered the servants to prepare a room and boil water for tea. The letter he'd received specified the date and time his visitor would come. His bronze pocket watch read 9:21AM; he had nine minutes left to wait. He was a punctual man, and if the visitor was even a minute late, Dantes was adamant to give the visitor a stern scolding.
By 9:29AM a post-chaise drawn by four, white stallions arrived by his doorstep, and not long after, a servant came to the sala, where Dantes waited, and introduced the young Elenita into the room.
Dantes hung his head low and welcomed his guest with a smile. "Take a seat. How was Europe?"
"Cold and wet!"
The two sat on separate sofas adjacent to each other. Dantes refrained from noticing the subtle changes in Elenita. Five years of not seeing each other meant there were too many changes to ignore.
"I celebrated my twentieth birthday in Bath. Could you believe it? Boring Englishmen and their piss-water!"
Her mouth and language hadn't changed; Dantes should have expected that. "I heard Bath's waters have healing qualities," he soothingly said.
"Just rumors to attract tourists," Elenita snapped. "Also, have you heard?"
"No, I suppose I haven't heard anything. What is it?"
"I'll officially be a spinster by my twenty-first birthday next year. I'm already at an age where I don't care for snuff on what I say."
"You haven't cared at all since you were younger."
Tea arrived, and both took a sip of their cups. "I will be blunt, Dantes. I didn't come here for tea," said Elenita.
"I suppose you didn't. You always had ulterior motives, even when you were still a child. Is it something I can help you with?"
A pink flush appeared on her cheeks. "Marry me," she said matter-of-fact.
Being five and forty, Dantes thought he'd experience plenty, but this pronouncement of marriage took him by surprise. "Pardon?" he gasped.
"You know very well I only toured Europe to make you see we were meant for each other," she cried.
"I-I was hoping you found someone there," he stammered.
"But I didn't! I mean--yes, there were those I fancied, but only just a little."
"My dear girl, you've been reading--what did those Americans call them--dime novels?--reading those useless books since you were young. I wouldn't be surprised if one of those books took your flight of fancy."
"Very well," she huffed. Elenita put her cup down unceremoniously and stood. "I will leave my handkerchief behind, and you must return it to me tomorrow, in my family's home, at 10 o'clock in the morning." She fished a delicate, silken square piece of fabric out of the little pouch she brought, and firmly placed it in Dantes' hand. "Remember, Dantes, 10 o'clock," she sternly said, and went off on her way in her post-chaise.
Although Elenita's request was unreasonable, Dantes went to her residence as she'd ordered. By the driveway, before the servant led him into the threshold, a rickshaw and its man stood by the sidewalk. By the doorway voices and laughter could be heard, and Dantes wondered if there were other visitors.
He went to the sala, where Elenita and a young gentleman sat side-by-side in one of the lounges; the young lady's mother was on the opposite side of the room, drinking tea.
Elenita spotted Dantes and stood, greeting him with an open smile. "Dantes," she sighed.
Dantes nodded, but his eyes lingered long at the gentleman beside Elenita. The younger man had a fuzzy mustache and broad shoulders, which Dantes didn't have on account of his lean figure.
Elenita's mother, Condeza, welcomed him. They were of the same age, and Dantes thought it better to sit with her on the lounge opposite Elenita.
Elenita's mother spoke, "This is Lieutenant Francisco Baltazar; Lieutenant, this is Dantes Emilio Rivera. He was my daughter's tutor."
"Ah, the scholar I've been hearing about," the army man said, and shook hands with Dantes. "Elenita tells me you had to chain her to her seat."
"I-I apologize, I may have caught you at a bad time," Dantes stammered. He made a quick comment about coming to visit at another time, and hurriedly walked back to his residence.
Elenita came to his house later that afternoon. In Dante's library, she confronted him. "You didn't return my handkerchief."
Dantes, seated by the window, closed his book and set it aside. "Yes, well, your soldier can afford to buy you a new one," he said.
"But I want you to return what I left," she said, "and he isn't my soldier."
Dantes sighed, crossed to where Elenita stood, and rummaged for the kerchief in his pocket. He put it in her hand and closed her fingers around it. "Here, and don't use this again to force me to visit you."
A wide smile lingered on Elenita's face. "Are you, perhaps, jealous? I assure you Francisco isn't mine, nor am I his."
"Then how am I to see him anything other than a suitor?" Dantes snapped. "He sat beside you, and once or twice your hands touched!"
"How do you see me now, Dantes? You know very well how I feel for you. I went to Europe hoping to find a husband, but I couldn't! None of them were you--strange, weak, scholarly."
"Do not flatter me, child. You know as well as I do there's a plethora of men, scholarly or not, who'd want to have you, who'd do anything for you."
"But none of them is you!"
Passion came over Elenita; it was hot and fiery, like anger, and she acted upon it. She put her arms around Dantes and kissed him. The taste of his mouth and tongue was of bitter coffee.
"Did you learn this from a European lover, child? A French nobleman or an Italian count?" Dantes whispered.
Shocked, Elenita stepped back. Her cheeks puffed and turned red. "What of it? Yes, I dallied with men, and they might have taught me about wooing, but Dantes, please."
"Elenita," Dantes softly said, "I am a forty-five-year-old, middle aged man. What can you possibly expect from me?"
"Love me, Dantes," she said in a growl. She held his hand in hers and kissed his knuckles. "Love me!"
For a moment, Dantes' eyes shone, and he took her into his arms. The passionate, fiery lover Elenita knew he could be came to her. "Very well," he said in her ear.
On that hot afternoon, with doors locked and on the library floor, the two lovers tangled themselves in limbs and clothes. When it was over, Elenita grinned and kissed Dantes' mouth. "It was beautiful. Thank you."
Dantes picked Elenita's clothing and put it in her hands. He looked for his pantaloons and put it on quickly. "Finally you had me. Now, please leave me."
"Wh-what do you mean?" she hiccuped.
"Do you need me to help you with your dress? If you're fine, please dress yourself quickly and leave."
"I-I don't understand. W-we made love--d-don't you love me, Dantes?"
"Elenita," he whispered, "I only did what you wanted."
Her slap stung, and Elenita hurriedly dressed herself and left Dantes' residence. A choking sob escaped his lips. It was wonderfully beautiful; he put all his love for Elenita on that afternoon on the library floor. He didn't know it then, but seeing her retreating form, Dantes felt his heart move.
Elenita. Elenita. Elenita!
Her name was poetry, and Dantes could not believe he pushed her away. For what? He was afraid; old as he was, he couldn't believe a pretty, young lass as Elenita could love him. Now, he knew Elenita did love him.
He moved quickly to put on his clothes and run after her. She didn't bring her post-chaise this time. She couldn't have gone far.
Outside, there were plenty of people, but Dantes found her. He shouted her name over the crowd's heads. He felt like a love-sick fool, but he didn't mind and he grabbed for her hand and dragged her back to his house.
"Elenita," he breathed hard. A tear drop or two streamed down her pale cheeks. "how can you do this to me?"
"You blame me," she yelled. "Why did you bring me back here, Dantes?"
"I f-forgot to return your handkerchief," he mumbled.
"But you did, or have you forgotten?"
Handkerchiefs were not in Dante's mind though. He kissed Elenita's open palm, and said, "Marry me." A heavy quietness came over them, and he asked, rather shyly, "Won't you marry me, you damn abominable girl?"
"Why did you refuse me earlier?" she asked.
"Child, if you want me to spout the nonsense you read in your dime novels, then I shall recant my proposal; and what do you expect of an old fool? I am late when it comes to realizing my feelings."
"Five years too late, you mean. I told you, I waited for you for five years."
He grinned. "Yes, now what do you say, Elenita? Will you marry me?"
"Oh, very well! But I cannot just forgive you for hurting me earlier."
He kissed her and whispered in her ear, "Then, shall we have another round in the library?"
"Your room sounds more comfortable though."