Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Chapter One

Chapter One, in which Tim Harmon hopes to make peace.

It hadn't been a very good day, but for some reason Tim couldn't help but whistle as he walked home that night, bouquet of white tulips in one hand and a grocery bag in the other. Marie Lore had picked another fight with him a few days ago over something-- Tim was being too much of a pushover about something, though he never figured out exactly what—but after her call this afternoon, it sounded like she was ready to make up with him. She'd been doing this sort of thing a lot lately, and every time it ended with a nice home-cooked meal, flowers, and some pretty amazing make-up sex. Right-- that was why he had to whistle.

Or maybe he didn't want to admit to himself that things with Marie Lore were starting to go downhill fast and the way back up was starting to crumble away. Nah. It had been nine months; they were just starting to settle down as it were. They had just fallen into a cozy routine and were getting a bit complacent. The two of them just needed the passion of an occasional spat to stay excited about each other. One couldn't accept sunshine and gumdrops forever, he told himself.

His mailbox was empty. Eugene, the building's worthless supervisor, had now left the elevator broken for a full week. Fine: if Tim could believe what he heard in Marie Lore's voice today, he was still just two flights of stairs away from seeing her in a cleavage-baring dress and ridiculous stiletto heels.

"I'll give her these nice flowers," thought Tim as he started up the stairs. "And then I'll make her her favorite risotto, she'll say 'Oh Fred! C'est trop!' and this time I won't tell her that I don't like it when she calls me Fred because that makes her mad." Marie Lore had only been living in America for about eight months now, so her English was still rather poor. She used that as an excuse for calling Tim by his middle name, Fréderic, claiming "Tim" was too hard for French people to say properly because it was too nasal. It was the reason for their first fight actually. Tim's mother and her side of the family were all French and they could say his name without any problem; Marie Lore refused to believe this, even when she had dinner with Tim's parents that one time. After several more days of polite nudging, Tim told her that he simply didn't want to be Fred, and that she could find a boy with a less nasal name if that was a problem. She yelled, cried, made him sleep on his couch, and promptly went back to calling him "Fred." In the end Tim relented and let Marie Lore call him whatever she wanted just to get her off his back about it all though he still held out hope that one day she'd call him by his proper name.

Strolling up to the front door, Tim whistled "La donna e mobile", blushing a little as he thought about Makeup Sex, always a happy ending. It was going to be an excellent night. He could tell; things just felt right.

"Marie Lore, c'est moi," called Tim as he carefully pushed the front door open. No sudden movements, don't want to surprise her, he thought nervously. The first few moments of begging forgiveness were always the scariest, and he always felt like a gazelle edging up to a watering hole next to a lion.

"Huh," mumbled Tim as he crept into his apartment. Marie Lore wasn't on the couch. "Marie Lore? C'est moi, Fred," he called again. No answer. The lights were on so she had to have been there at some point. No lights in the bathroom either, Tim noted. But then his gaze caught a little bit of light coming from under the bedroom door. "Oho! So the little minx wants more than just risotto, eh? I think I can do something about that," said Tim with a little too much glee. He dropped the grocery bag by the front door and bounced across the apartment to the bedroom door, pulling down the zipper on his jacket.

"Oh ma petite lolita," Tim murmured seductively as he opened the door. "Intimacy is so hard from this range. Why don't I join you in there for a bit of- oh." Tim flicked the light switch on just to be sure. "Oh." He was sure.

Most women would be very surprised and a bit shocked, disgraced even, at being caught in their boyfriend's bed with another man. Marie Lore just got angry and chucked her pillow at Tim. "Fred! What are you doing here!? Get out,” she screeched.

Tim remained standing there, not quite certain what to do next. Here was his girlfriend, in his bed, in his apartment, in her birthday suit. Tim could process that bit of information just fine. This was normal; in fact this was generally encouraged. But then there was this strange man, tanned skin and blond hair, big muscles, and likely no pants also in Tim's bed in Tim's apartment. He had a dopey grin on his face and one of his arms was wrapped around Marie Lore's shoulders. He probably had some kind of stupid name like "Hoit" or "Aiden" or "Julius". This scene resulted in a "syntax error" in Tim's mind as he tried to put two and two together. Girlfriend, Blond Jerk. Girlfriend, Blond Jerk. Girlfriend, Blond Jerk.

"Um. Hm." In his mind there were a dozen things Tim could be doing right now. Screaming "Marie Lore! How could you," and throwing down the flowers came to mind. Hurling the pillow back at Marie Lore and stuffing the flowers into Blond Jerk's mouth was also an option. And of course he could burst into tears and curl up on the floor in a miserable little ball, but that one seemed a little too messy and premature. Instead, before Tim could stop himself, he held up his right hand and waved. "Hi. I'm Tim."

"Charmed. I'm Daniel," replied Blond Jerk Daniel with a stupid little salute. He still had that dopey grin on his face. "I take it you've met Marie Lore?"

"Yes. Yes I have." Tim took a second to look at Marie Lore. She was pouting and staring at the foot of the bed, and most infuriatingly of all, she dared to tap her foot impatiently as though Tim were wasting her time. Tim wasn't sure whether he should scream or just jump out the window right there.

"Can you please go out for a few moments, Fred? It is rude to stand there and stare."

"Oh je suis tellement désolé Marie Lore," Tim replied, deciding that spewing his anger was the appropriate response to this situation. "What on Earth was I thinking just standing here in my room like this when you two are obviously so busy having sex in my bed! The nerve of me! Here's what I'll do. I'll go out and let you guys finish up while I make dinner! I'll even get out a third glass of wine so everybody can enjoy. How does that sound?" Tim hoped that last sentence sounded as bitter and sarcastic as he thought it did. He didn't even wait for an answer as he threw the flowers to the floor and stomped out of the bedroom, slamming the door behind him. There were a couple of half-empty glasses of wine on the counter in the kitchen- courtesy of Blond Jerk Daniel most likely- and Tim chugged them both down before leaning on the counter to collect himself.

"Let's see, what did I do wrong. She got mad at me on Sunday, I know that much. But what did I do?" Tim tried to replay the day's events. What could he have possibly done to offend her? "I held the door open when we went to get brunch. I stood up whenever she left the table. I told her she looked nice in that dress, and then I walked her home and she turned into a demon and hung up when I called and asked if she wanted to see a movie. Was that too last minute? Did I have something in my teeth maybe? It's not that time of the month yet..."

He tapped his fingers nervously on the counter top. It was beginning to dawn on him like the burning in his chest from all that wine that this might have been going on for a while. Not necessarily here in his bed (what kind of sicko does that anyway?), but how could be so sure? She had been acting pretty weird for a few weeks now, even for her. Had she been cheating on him for weeks? Months even?

Tim heard the door creak open a few minutes later. Blond Jerk Daniel made a beeline for the front door, not even turning to apologize to Tim before ducking out. And he still had that dopey grin! Tim wanted to punch him. Marie Lore headed for the couch. She brushed her hair with her fingers and picked her purse up, ignoring Tim outright as she started rooting through it for her compact.

"Who the hell was that," asked Tim. He was happy to be sitting on one of the barstools next to the counter because all that wine was suddenly catching up with him.

"Just a friend," said Marie Lore matter-of-factly, still looking for her compact to make sure she looked presentable when she left.

"Of course. How stupid of me. Let me try again; who the hell was that, and why was he naked in my bed with you? My bed. Not yours."

"We went to the cinema and then he wanted to make love. Your apartment was much more close than his and I had the clés."

"Keys," corrected Tim.

"Yes, I had the keys. Aha!" She pulled the little black circle out of her bag and flicked it open, powdering her nose a little with her free hand.

"So you intentionally had sex with another man in my bed? In my bed?" Tim repeated for emphasis in case Marie Lore didn't hear it the first time.

"Oui. I already said it was much closer." Marie Lore put the compact away and looked at her watch.

"And you didn't think that this might be wrong, waltzing into your boyfriend's apartment to have sex with another man?” He stood up and walked over to her. “I was supposed to cook you dinner tonight! I even left work early for this! And why were you with another man? Why?! What the hell did I do?"

Marie Lore ignored Tim's question. "Non, that was supposed to be tomorrow night. Today is jeudi- non, ehm, Wednesday?" Marie Lore had always had trouble remembering what day it was, even in French. Trying to remember in a foreign language was almost impossible.

"Aujourd'hui c'est vendredi. Friday. Jeudi is Thursday and Wednesday is mecredi. I even got you a bilingual calendar so you could get this straight." Tim didn't realize that he was pulling at his hair in anger. It was always frustrating for him, trying to correct her English. It had stopped being cute ages ago.

"Fred, I do not have time for this. Can we talk tomorrow during le petit déj?" Marie Lore looked at her watch again and then at the front door. Daniel said he'd meet her outside and she didn't want to keep him waiting.

Tim shook his head as he realized what was coming up, and it wasn't pretty. "My name is Tim, Marie Lore. Tim. Timmery if you want to be formal. My French mother gave me that name and none of my French relatives have trouble with it. En fait, tu est la seule française que je connais qui refuse de faire l'effort."

"Not this again! I do not have time for this Fred. We will talk tomorrow and-"

"Tim! Je m'apelle Tim! C'est pas difficile! Pour huit mois je te l'ai expliquais avec les jours de la semaine! Ce n'est pas si difficle!" Usually Tim spoke to Marie Lore in English so she could learn the language, but during heavy discussions and fights he always reverted to French to be extra clear, and lately he found himself speaking French a lot more than usual.

"Okay, Teem," she said competely through her nose so it sounded more like "teen". "I will talk with you tomorrow. D'accord?"

"Non, c'est pas d'accord," sighed Tim as he ran his fingers through his hair resignedly. He looked up at her straight in the eye. "I don't want to see you anymore. There's no way I can forgive you for cheating on me like this.”


"You're rude and selfish and you treat me like garbage even when I bend over backwards to treat you well." Tim couldn't stop the words from coming out. He didn't even realize that he felt this quite way about her, but in his anger all these horrible words and evil thoughts were suddenly rushing out of him. "You've always been cold and thoughtless towards me but this is just disgusting. My home is not a hideaway for you to use as you wish. And especially not for cheating on me like this right under my nose!"

The look of surprise on Marie Lore's face meant Tim had hit a raw spot. "You are leaving me?"

"Yes, I am. And for the record it's never okay to borrow somebody's bed for sex without telling them first. Even if you do think the other person is scum, which apparently I am to you."

"How dare you! You, you jerk!" Marie Lore's face turned red as surprise turned into anger. "I have done nothing wrong to you!" She really wished right now she knew how to be furious in English, but for some reason she couldn't find the words in French either. "You are the one who doesn't know how to treat a woman! You are a cold fish and you do not know how to be a man! You are a woman with a small penis!"

"And you're a bitch,” Tim shot back. He had no idea where that one came from. He'd never called anybody a bitch in his life.

"You you-" Marie Lore was surprised to find herself actually flailing as she struggled to think of a comeback. "How dare you use that language with me! You are a wet noodle of a man! You never learned how to love a woman correctly and you don't know how to stand up for yourself, and you never will," she shouted angrily at him.

"Just keep telling that to Daniel when he asks what happened," replied Tim coolly as he opened the front door. He smiled when Marie Lore glared at him and he still wasn't sure if it was because he was on a roll or because he was slightly drunk. Marie Lore glared a few moments more and was halfway out the front door when Tim took her shoulder. "Et mes clés?"

"What," said Marie Lore, turning back to Tim.

"Je veux mes clés. I know you have them." Tim held out his hand and waited. "Vas te faire enculer," Marie Lore muttered as she dug through her purse. It was an awkward moment that completely ruined her dramatic exit. The worst part was that they were stuck on her keychain and in her increasing rage she couldn't get them free. She screamed in frustration when she broke a perfectly-manicured nail, hurled the entire keychain over Tim's head, and stomped down the hall towards the stairs. "Ta mere suce le penis d'animaux pour l'argent," she called back.

"Faut péter dans l'eau pour faire des bulles," Tim shouted back as Marie Lore disappeared. Go fart in the water and make bubbles, indeed. If ever there was a classy insult, this was it. There's nothing she could say to that.

Tim stood in the door staring, unsure of what to do next. The high of dumping Marie Lore was wearing off quite fast and he was starting to feel a bit empty inside. Not sad, just a little disappointed, like he was spending a beautiful day inside because nobody has time to hang out and there's nothing to do but nap. He wordlessly closed the door and looked inside the apartment.

The canvas grocery bag with the rice and cheese and mushrooms was still lying there by Tim's feet. He wondered if he should still make the risotto. He hadn't planned on going out and seeing anybody tonight; probably for the best. He stepped over a piece of rawhide that his dog hadn't finished chewing on and looked into the bathroom for no reason. Everything was dry, so nobody had taken a bath or anything during the day. The towels were on the rack as they were that morning.

Slowly Tim ambled into the bedroom. He stood at the foot of the bed with its messed up sheets and the pillow and the tulips that were still on the floor. "Looks like I'll have to burn the bed now," he said to himself. "I never really liked these sheets anyway." Out of morbid curiosity he glanced into the little trash can by the nightstand. His suspicious were confirmed and he felt a little nauseated, and not because of the wine.

Tim sighed and wandered back into the living room. Raymond was staying at Mrs. Purdy's tonight because Marie Lore didn't like dogs and Tim had wanted tonight to be perfect. Should I go get him, Tim wondered. No, I won't be much fun tonight. Mrs. Purdy was looking forward to dog-sitting anyway. Lately it seemed like she had custody of Raymond more than Tim did.

He saw Marie Lore's keys on the couch and picked them up. A couple of antique keys from her old apartment in Paris, keys for that boutique she worked at that looked more like a museum than a shoe store, house keys, Tim's keys, a glittery key chain bob shaped like a pair of ballet slippers, and a grocery store discount card. Tim turned them in his hand to admire them before untangling his keys from the set and putting them on the coffee table. Then, he stood up and carried Marie Lore's keys to the window. The sun was setting and it was a lovely evening. Tim opened the window and took in the cool air. There were a few people on the streets, mostly coming home after a day's work or taking the dog for a walk. Nothing at all out of the ordinary. Tim looked down at the keys in his hand again, idly fingering one of the antique ones. Without warning he suddenly hurled the keys out the window. He didn't really know why; it was just one of those sudden urges.

"Holy shit! My car," somebody outside suddenly cried out. Tim took that as his cue to duck back inside. He certainly didn't mean to vandalize anybody's car. It had to be because of Marie Lore's bad juju. Her keys were cursed and now that Tim didn't have them all that juju inevitably had to go to somebody else. He turned back and looked at his reflection in the TV screen for a few moments, at a loss of what to do again.

"Encore le fromage est le seul," Tim flatly said to his reflection.

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