Marius was at the museum with Ritta. She had persuaded him to go with her although he would have preferred to stay at home, in his room. He couldn’t stop thinking about Elspeth and pining for her. Several weeks had passed since he told her that he couldn’t see her any more.
Walking away from her had been the toughest thing he had ever done in his life. More than once, he was tempted to call her or to go over to her place and tell her that it was all a terrible mistake and that he wanted nothing more than to be with her but he couldn’t–because of Aunt Lourdes.
His aunt was relieved when he told her that he had ended his relationship with Elspeth. “You did the right thing, Marius,” she told him. “Sometimes the right choice can be very difficult. It will take time but you will get over this woman and move on with your life.”
He didn’t say anything but in his heart, he knew that he would never get over Elspeth. She was his first love and most people didn’t get over their first loves. The following days were torture for him. He tried to bury himself in his school work and books but at nights he couldn’t stop the memories from flooding his mind.
Over and over he recalled their lovemaking and the hurt expression on her face when he told her that he couldn’t see her anymore. Every fiber of his body screamed for him to take her in his arms and kiss away that pain. It was hard not to reply to her texts or to return her phone calls but he had to keep his promise to his aunt even if it killed him to do so.
Aunt Lourdes encouraged him to go out. “Go for a walk,” she said. “Or go to the library or the park or something instead of being cooped up in your room all weekend.”
He was in his room trying to read when Aunt Lourdes popped in to let him know that Ritta was on the phone. Reluctantly, he got up to take the call. After some cajoling, she managed to get him to agree to go to the museum with her. And here they were.
She was showing him a painting. “It’s called twisted oak paths and blooming breezes. Isn’t it beautiful? It looks so real. When I look at it, I imagine myself walking down those paths and feel that breeze on my face. I love paintings of nature. What about you, what kind of paintings do you like?”
He really wasn’t in the mood for such meaningless conversations or anyone’s company but he didn’t want to be rude. Ritta was a nice girl but she wasn’t Elspeth. “I like portraits and paintings of people,” he replied.
“Yes, those are nice too. They look so real. You can almost feel like the person in the painting is actually watching you. I wish I could paint.”
He didn’t answer.
After we leave here, would you like to grab a bite to eat? My treat.”
He shrugged. “Sure.”
They continued looking at the different displays of art. He wondered if Elspeth liked art too and what kind. Did she prefer paintings to sculpture? Who were her favorite artists? What was she doing right at that moment? Was she thinking about him? Was she with Titus? Had she broken up with him as she said she would have?
“What’s the matter?” Ritta asked, staring at him.
“So what are you in the mood for?”
He stared at her blankly. “Pardon me?”
“I meant food. What are you in the mood for? Greek, Italian or Indian or Caribbean?”
He shrugged again. “It doesn’t matter.” To be honest, he wasn’t hungry.
“I’m in the mood for Italian and I know this great restaurant near here.”
They left the museum an hour later and went to the restaurant. The place was bustling and the food smelled really good. She had the Penne all’arrabbiata and he had the Mushroom Risotto. The food was delicious and he enjoyed it but he passed on the dessert. She had a slice of the Tiramisù while he had a cup of Caffè d’orzo. Ritta did most of the talking.
As she was telling him about some foreign film she had recently watched, his wandering gaze fell on Brooke and his heart lurched when he saw that Elspeth was with her. They were both watching him. There was no way he could slip out of there without saying hello. Nervously, he finished his hot drink and waited as Ritta finished her cake before she signaled for the bill.
“Thanks for lunch,” he muttered as they stood up and he grabbed his jacket.
“You’re welcome,” she said, smiling.
“I see two people I know,” he told her. “I would like to say hello to them before we leave.”
As he headed towards the table where Brooke and Elspeth were, his heart was pounding like crazy. His eyes went first to Elspeth who was watching him, her face very pale and then to Brooke. “Hello,” he said.
“Hello, Marius,” Brooke said smiling up at him.
“Hello, Marius,” Elspeth said huskily. The sadness in her beautiful eyes tore at his heart.
“Hello,” he said quietly.
“How are you doing, Marius?” Brooke asked him.
“Fine, thanks,” he replied, still looking at Elspeth.
“So, who’s your friend?” Brooke asked.
He dragged his eyes away from Elspeth. “Oh. This is Ritta. Ritta, this is Brooke and…Elspeth.”
Ritta smiled at Brooke as they shook hands. “Nice to meet you, Brooke.” Her gaze shifted to Elspeth and her smile faltered. “Nice to meet you,” she said.
Elspeth didn’t smile as she looked up at her. Who is this girl? she wondered jealously. And why is Marius with her?
Marius watched as they shook hands. His eyes lingered on Elspeth. Seeing her was bittersweet. A part of him wished they could be alone together and another part wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. He was relieved when Ritta said, “Well, Marius and I have to be going. It was nice meeting you. Enjoy your lunch.”
“Thanks. It was nice seeing you again, Marius and meeting you, Ritta,” Brooke said.
Elspeth didn’t say anything as she and Marius stared at each other.
Ritta noticed and grabbing his hand, she hustled him away. As soon as they were outside, he pulled his hand away and pulled on his jacket, his expression sullen. “You seem upset,” she said.
“I’m not upset,” he denied. “I just didn’t expect to run into them, that’s all.”
“Brooke seems nice.”
He stiffened at once, his expression guarded as he returned her gaze. “What about her?”
“She wasn’t very friendly. I noticed the way you two kept staring at each other. Is there something going on between you and her?”
“No.” A pause and then, “Not anymore.”
“Why, what happened?”
“My aunt doesn’t want me to see her anymore.”
“Because she’s White?”
“No, because she’s older and more experienced and she has a boyfriend–“
“She has a boyfriend?”
“Wow. Did you know about him before you and she…?”
“And you still slept with her?”
“Ritta, I don’t want to talk about it.”
“All right. I’ll drop it.”
They continued walking towards the train station. For a while no words were exchanged and then, Ritta began to talk about her plans for after she graduated from Cambridge. Marius was only half-listening. His mind was on Elspeth. He wondered if she and Brooke talked about Ritta and him after they left the restaurant. He noticed the way Elspeth looked at his friend’s sister and he wondered if it made her jealous to see them together. It probably did. He wondered if he would get a text or a phone call later.
He wished he hadn’t run into her although he missed seeing her and when he did it was like a sweet torment. Now, Ritta knew about her. Neither of them could help staring at each other or hide their feelings. The longing that filled him was there on Elspeth’s face. The pain too. How he wished he could satisfy that longing and erase the pain. How he wished this were just a terrible dream and that he would wake up soon and they would be lying next to each other in her bed.
“Well, this is my stop,” Ritta said as the train pulled into the station.
“I’ll walk you home,” he replied.
“Thanks,” she said.
He and his aunt lived about two blocks from her. Sometimes, she, Marius and her brother, Manuel took the bus to Cambridge. The first time she met Marius she was immediately drawn to him. He was quiet and pleasant. And very good-looking. She was attracted to him but he treated her more like a sister. She had hoped that would have changed by now but unfortunately, there was a big problem–namely, Elspeth.
Even though he and she weren’t involved any more, Ritta could tell that the feelings were still there and very strong. It was obvious that Marius was in love with Elspeth and that it was possible that she was in love with him too but there wasn’t any future for them. She was White and he was Black and she had a boyfriend.
Ritta hoped to help Marius to get over Elspeth or at least try her very best to. She would take him places. There was so much to do and see in London. Today was the museum. Maybe another time it would be a visit to the Chislehurst Caves or climbing to the top of Severndroog Castle or checking out street art in the Leake Street Tunnel underneath Waterloo station.
She was determined to help him to get over Elspeth and have him see her as more than Manuel’s sister. She wanted him to see her as a young, attractive woman with whom he could have a meaningful relationship with if he were to give her a chance. Easier said than done, sure, but she had never backed away from a challenge before and she wasn’t about to do so now.