The Silver Year: Chapter 21

Chapter 21

Something in The Sinookas

 

 

Walter​​ awoke​​ to the scent of​​ freshly cut timber​​ and pine​​ needles.​​ The ticktock of the train’s wheels hypnotically​​ clapping​​ atop​​ the train​​ tracks​​ had lulled him and Kourtney to sleep,​​ her​​ shoulder serving as​​ his​​ pillow and his​​ head serving as​​ hers​​ during the ride down the mountain.​​ He​​ stayed still​​ not wanting to​​ disturb her.

Outside the​​ train’s​​ window,​​ dewed over​​ from the clouds they had just emerged from,​​ was​​ the rustic village of their Swiss chalet,​​ Lauterbrunnen,​​ a growing nest of pink roofs on an​​ endless​​ throughway of​​ vibrant​​ green. Guarding over the village​​ were​​ the​​ soaring​​ gray​​ limestone​​ cliffs​​ of Lauterbrunnen Valley, a​​ broad, U-shaped valley​​ ploughed​​ into the earth​​ as​​ if dug​​ by​​ a​​ gigantic​​ ice cream scooper,​​ topped​​ with​​ thick, dark​​ forests,​​ and​​ braided with​​ veins​​ of​​ whitewater​​ waterfalls​​ draining from the​​ bleach white​​ peaks of the Alps cutting jaggedly​​ across​​ the sky.

The​​ train​​ had just​​ come​​ from those peaks,​​ or more specifically a glacier saddle between them called Jungfraujoch.​​ Thanks to a nine-kilometer railway built partially into the mountains,​​ the once desolate​​ mountain​​ saddle​​ had been transformed into a haven for tourists seeking a high-altitude adventure​​ without the work,​​ complete​​ with​​ shops​​ and​​ restaurants,​​ an elaborate manmade ice palace,​​ and​​ even ski slopes where​​ Curt,​​ an avid snowboarder,​​ still was.​​ 

The three of them had​​ taken​​ the train up​​ at​​ the agonizing hour of six​​ that morning, however,​​ Walter’s train​​ to Amsterdam​​ tomorrow​​ would be​​ leaving even earlier.​​ He​​ still​​ hadn’t told Kourtney​​ yet​​ because​​ he​​ still​​ wasn’t​​ sure​​ if​​ he was going through with it.​​ Had he completely lost his mind? Was​​ he​​ really taking cues from​​ illusions now,​​ or​​ his encounter with​​ “Fate” as she liked to call herself?

Kourtney awoke​​ and took her neck off​​ Walter’s​​ head. “So beautiful,” she said stretching her arms​​ and​​ looking​​ out​​ the window.​​ “Are you going​​ to​​ the P-Party tonight?” she asked. P was the theme of the night’s costume party​​ and​​ any​​ extrapolation​​ on what that meant was accepted,​​ but​​ pirate, pimp, and policeman​​ were​​ the most popular​​ picks.​​ 

“No,”​​ Walter​​ said. “There’s something I need to do early tomorrow morning. Are you​​ going?”

“What do you think?” she said smiling.

“Didn’t figure you were, but you asked. The​​ parties​​ aren’t​​ as bad​​ as​​ you think.”

“Yes they are. Especially tonight’s.​​ Remember,​​ I’ve been on one of these before, and at​​ the P-Party on my​​ last​​ tour about​​ a​​ dozen blokes showed up with nothing on, taking P-Party to mean ‘penis’ party. Yeah, not for me.​​ What’s​​ so important to get you up early​​ again​​ tomorrow?”

“Well,​​ I’m still not sure if I’m going​​ through with it.”

“You’re going back to Amsterdam aren’t you?”

“How’d you know?”

Kourtney tilted her head and sighed.​​ “I don’t know​​ exactly,” she said.​​ “Just​​ sensed​​ something​​ in the sinookas​​ I suppose.”

Walter laughed. “I see you’ve taken to​​ Cat’s Cradle,” he said. He had given​​ her​​ his copy four days earlier. “And apparently you’ve experienced quite the vin-dit.”

“Yes,” she said​​ laughing back. “For a fake religion built on lies,​​ Bokononism​​ sure speaks a hell of a lot of truth. Because of it—or because I read​​ about​​ it, I realized I might’ve been a wrang-wrang in the wrong direction by convincing you to​​ stay on​​ this tour.​​ Maybe you should do everything you can​​ to find Shiva​​ while you’re still on the same continent as​​ her—or hopefully you still are. It’s actually why I asked you what you were doing tonight. I wanted to talk to you about it.​​ Since Venice, I feel like our karass has been waning into its other wampeter, and now I believe that other wampeter is​​ concerned with finding you love. Not that Curt and I don’t love you, truly we do, but you know, a duprass only has room for one more, and you’re not going to find your ‘one’ with us two.”

“Man, you’ve really gone deep into Bokononism,”​​ Walter​​ said.​​ “And no Kourtney,​​ you were​​ definitely​​ a wrang-wrang​​ in the right direction.​​ I needed these last few days with you and Curt​​ on tour​​ more than you know.​​ But​​ strangely, also​​ in Venice, I​​ felt a pretty strong sensation in the sinookas​​ too.”​​ 

“What was​​ it?”

“Um...” he said​​ drumming his fingers on the wooden train seat.​​ “I’m not sure. I can only describe it as a sign from Fate, or maybe God, or maybe a psychotic episode.​​ Either way, I’m pretty sure it meant go back to Amsterdam—I think—I hope.”

“Well,” Kourtney said​​ smiling,​​ “as Bokonon says,​​ 'peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God’.​​ Maybe you should let​​ God​​ lead​​ the dance.”

“But​​ who​​ is God?”​​ Walter asked.

“God is Love. That’s all God has to be.”

“But what is Love?”

“Love is you. And that’s all Love has to be.”

He​​ thought about it. As simple as it was,​​ other than​​ music,​​ it​​ was​​ an argument for God he couldn’t refute.​​ Maybe God did have a place in life.

“Or maybe God is Kurt Vonnegut,” Kourtney said. “Or just the god​​ assigned to you.”

“It would sure explain a hell of a lot,” Walter said. “Is this elevation making you feel as stoned as me?”​​ 

“Would sure explain a hell of a lot.”

They both fell into heavy chuckles,​​ then fell quiet,​​ watching the village​​ slowly​​ grow larger​​ outside the window.

“So​​ you’re​​ for sure​​ going back​​ then?”​​ Kourtney​​ then​​ asked.

“Well, at this point​​ you’ve​​ convinced​​ me Kurt Vonnegut will have it no other way,” Walter​​ said.

“Yes,” she wiped a wayward tear from her face, “but​​ that doesn’t make it any easier​​ letting you leave.​​ What do you say to​​ another​​ romantic friendship date​​ after dinner​​ tonight?​​ There’s a​​ little lookout point​​ in the valley​​ that​​ would be great for a smoke sesh​​ and​​ some​​ stargazing.”

He smiled. “Somehow you always know the way to my heart Kourtney.”​​ 

 

After dinner,​​ while everyone​​ else dressed​​ (and​​ yes​​ in some cases undressed)​​ for the P-Party, Kourtney and Walter​​ found​​ a bottle of wine and​​ some​​ flashlights and headed​​ to an overgrown gravel trail not far from the​​ chalet running​​ alongside​​ one​​ of​​ the valley’s​​ cliffsides.​​ The sky was​​ clear and moonless,​​ encrusted over​​ with​​ stars, and in​​ the air,​​ rumblings​​ and mutterings​​ from​​ the​​ nearby​​ Lütschine​​ River​​ and the​​ many​​ waterfalls​​ beating the valley walls.​​ 

The trail​​ began​​ ascending,​​ leading to a​​ rock​​ opening​​ in the cliffside. Inside was​​ a narrow and steep stairwell, and after a long and sharply zigzagging climb, they emerged onto​​ a platform stamped into the rockface​​ behind a gently​​ flowing waterfall. The​​ village​​ now​​ looked​​ like​​ a​​ tiny​​ globule​​ of​​ stars​​ dripped down​​ into the valley​​ from the Milky Way river crossing​​ overhead. Hanging over the​​ globule​​ was​​ what looked to be a low-flying comet, but in actuality​​ was​​ the​​ spot-lit​​ sprays​​ of​​ a​​ waterfall​​ near the center of town.​​ 

“Oh my God,” Walter said​​ leaning over a guardrail​​ and feeling the underside of the waterfall.

“Right?” Kourtney said. “Lauterbrunnen​​ was the stop I was looking forward to most.​​ Did you know​​ Tolkien’s inspiration for Rivendell was this valley?”

 “The​​ place in​​ Lord of the Rings​​ with​​ all​​ the elves?”​​ he asked.

She laughed.​​ “Yes, that place.”

“I can see it.​​ It’s certainly​​ otherworldly, the​​ most beautiful place​​ I think​​ I’ve​​ ever​​ been.​​ And those stars…”​​ He​​ fanned​​ his hand over them.​​ “I’ve never seen so many.”

“You’re always looking at those stars aren’t you?”​​ she said snuggling closer to him on the guardrail.

“It’s the closest thing I​​ have​​ to prayer,” he said snuggling back. “It gives me perspective on things.”

“So it’s where you​​ talk to​​ God​​ you could say?”

“You mean Kurt Vonnegut?”

They again burst into laughter, their chuckles​​ stretching and contracting​​ against the rock walls and​​ the lapping of the waterfall.

“Curt and I​​ are staying in Paris for a week after the tour ends,” Kourtney said​​ once​​ the laughter died. “Promise you’ll come find us if you don’t find​​ a reason to stay in​​ Amsterdam?​​ You said your plane home takes off from there anyhow.​​ Or maybe​​ we can​​ have the best of both worlds and you and Shiva come find us​​ after you find her​​ in​​ Amsterdam?”​​ 

“Wouldn’t that be the happy ending?” Walter said.​​ “Although it​​ could​​ be​​ just as possible I go all the way to Amsterdam only to discover she won’t leave Mags.”

“Something in the sinookas makes me doubt that.​​ But maybe​​ we should boko-maru​​ so we have​​ Vonnegut on our side​​ for a happy ending.​​ You know​​ how much​​ God loves flattery.”

“Yes, but you also know He ‘never wrote a good play in his life.’”

Again they were overcome with giggles, giggles which only grew​​ louder​​ from the strange sound of their giggles echoing back at them in their rocky​​ outcropping.

“Do we even need to get stoned​​ with this elevation?” Walter asked​​ still trying to control his laughter.

“No,” Kourtney said,​​ “this is perfect enough.​​ This is as close to heaven as I think you​​ can​​ get. I love​​ you​​ Walter.”

“I love you Kourtney.”

They shared​​ a​​ long hug and sob,​​ then laid down​​ on​​ a​​ blanket they brought,​​ and​​ took off their shoes and socks. They then​​ kissed their naked soles​​ together​​ for their boko-maru, laughing​​ so loudly​​ it turned into snorting that​​ sounded​​ like a​​ foghorn​​ farting​​ as​​ it shot off​​ into the dark​​ down​​ the valley.

 

The Silver Year: Chapter 20

Chapter​​ 20

The Mask Maker

 

 

Just outside St. Mark’s square,​​ Walter walked​​ along​​ the polished and posh storefronts​​ of​​ Salizada San Moise.​​ A​​ river​​ of​​ faces​​ flooded past him in the jammed corridor, but he was only looking for one:​​ Kourtney’s.​​ After their tour group’s introductory walking tour,​​ they​​ had decided a day​​ alone​​ was needed after spending so much time together recently, but now Walter was greatly regretting that decision.​​ Venice was a living museum and he wanted his museum partner.

The​​ further​​ the​​ trip​​ had​​ progressed, the less the​​ siblings​​ wanted to do​​ together,​​ and​​ the more​​ he​​ found​​ himself​​ split between​​ museums and intellectual​​ ventures​​ with Kourtney in the day and​​ pubs and​​ nocturnal adventures with Curt in the night. And even though​​ Walter​​ enjoyed both​​ with both, his​​ time with​​ Curt was much more limited and usually shared with everyone else since Curt was becoming the most popular person on the tour, whereas with Kourtney,​​ he​​ was discovering a whole​​ new​​ intimacy of friendship. Their​​ fucked up childhoods​​ and​​ constantly​​ nagging anxieties​​ gave them a lot of common ground, and​​ it seemed​​ when one of them went​​ out of whack, the other​​ always​​ knew​​ how​​ to bring the​​ other​​ back in place.​​ But for​​ two people who were​​ proud​​ loners,​​ it was​​ threating​​ to have a friendship that felt so effortless​​ and​​ there was​​ a​​ natural urge to resist it.​​ But after only fifteen minutes​​ without her,​​ now​​ Walter​​ could resist no more.​​ 

Continuing on in his search, he let his gut guide his feet​​ through Venice’s maze of passageways.​​ Unchanged for hundreds of years, the streets had no cars and were so narrow and knotted together, they were in a constant murk​​ from​​ crowded shadows. The past bled​​ easily​​ through​​ the skin of the city,​​ and it took no monumental leap of imagination to travel into it​​ the farther he furthered himself from​​ the​​ crowds.

Crossing​​ the​​ Rio di San Moise​​ canal​​ footbridge​​ then passing​​ the cursed​​ La Fenice​​ opera house,​​ famous for burning down three​​ times,​​ he​​ weaved​​ through progressively tighter​​ and more deserted​​ streets until​​ eventually​​ finding himself alone at​​ a​​ dead​​ end.​​ On​​ a​​ wall​​ of a building​​ in front of him, someone had spray-painted​​ I JUST DESIRE TO TOUCH THE SKY. The​​ phrase​​ captured​​ him, and he stood trapped, trying to translate​​ a​​ meaning, when out of the corner of his eye he saw a phantom flicker.​​ He​​ turned​​ around, and there she was,​​ Kourtney,​​ contained in​​ a​​ tiny​​ shop​​ window​​ he hadn’t noticed being there before.

Going closer to the window, however,​​ her face subtly shapeshifted like an evaporating mirage, and by the time he was inside, she was somebody else completely.

Buon pomeriggio signore,” the woman in​​ her​​ place​​ said as he entered. She was​​ about the same age​​ as Kourtney​​ with​​ bangs,​​ long,​​ dark brown hair,​​ and​​ large,​​ golden​​ eyes, made more striking by her​​ black​​ eyeliner.​​ She wore a bright red headwrap,​​ not unsimilar to a pirate or gypsy,​​ which was​​ the same color​​ as​​ the lipstick on​​ her full​​ and​​ pouty​​ lips. The body beneath was​​ gracefully drawn-out​​ like a dancer’s,​​ draped​​ in​​ a tight-fitting​​ black​​ tank​​ top​​ and​​ a​​ light​​ and flowy, tan​​ bohemian dress.

“You look like a​​ man in search of himself,” she said​​ smiling. “What​​ kind of​​ identity would you like to try on?”

“Huh?” Walter​​ replied.

“What kind of mask were you interested in?”​​ She gestured around the shop.​​ 

“Oh,” he said​​ noticing​​ he was in​​ a​​ mask shop.​​ On the walls, cluttering the shelves, and hanging​​ from the​​ ceiling,​​ were ornate carnival masks​​ adorned with​​ stunning arrays of​​ feathers, beads,​​ and​​ gems.​​ “I​​ do​​ need​​ a mask​​ actually,” he​​ said.​​ Contiki had a themed party almost every night​​ and​​ for Venice it was a masquerade ball.​​ “However,” he said examining​​ a​​ price tag of a​​ nearby​​ mask, “these might be out of my price range.”

“That’s okay,” she said​​ still smiling.​​ “I​​ don’t charge to try​​ them​​ on, and I do have some more reasonable options in the back.​​ However,​​ there is​​ one​​ mask​​ I think would look​​ very handsome on you.​​ I made it with a face like yours in mind.”

“You made all these masks?”​​ he​​ asked.

“I am the mask maker.​​ Beatrice Mezzosesso. And you​​ are?”

“Walter Huxley.​​ Pleasure to meet you.”

“No, no, the pleasure is​​ all​​ mine​​ Signore​​ Huxley—that is if you don’t mind trying on the mask?

He shrugged.​​ “Sure. Why not?”​​ 

Perfetto.​​ Come, have a seat here,” she said pulling a chair in front​​ of​​ an antique-looking full body mirror.

After​​ Walter​​ sat,​​ Beatrice’s​​ long fingers felt over the contours of his​​ head,​​ face,​​ and​​ neck​​ like​​ a tailor​​ doing a​​ sizing. “Oh yes,” she said staring straight into​​ his​​ eyes, “I’ve been waiting a long time for you.”

She then​​ danced​​ more​​ than walked​​ across the small store in elegant,​​ metered​​ movements​​ to some waltz she was​​ lightly​​ humming. She went​​ to​​ a shelf​​ holding​​ several​​ wood and glass display​​ boxes​​ and took one down made​​ of expensive-looking​​ mahogany with​​ a​​ red satin bedding. She opened it​​ and removed a​​ polished,​​ bone-colored​​ mask with a strong brow​​ and​​ aquiline nose​​ in a​​ stern facial expression.​​ The mouth had no opening but the chin protruded forward​​ far enough to fit a hand in for eating and drinking.

She​​ then went​​ to​​ a​​ workbench,​​ selected a spool of thick black ribbon​​ from​​ it,​​ and measured a strand from memory.​​ Then with two quick snips, she cut what she measured into two equal strips, then​​ threaded​​ them​​ through holes on​​ the mask.​​ Returning​​ to Walter, she then​​ placed the mask on​​ him​​ from behind, tying the ribbon​​ snuggly​​ around his head. The mask​​ clung to his face as if it had been​​ custom​​ made. ​​ 

“Yes,”​​ Beatrice​​ said​​ staring into the​​ mask’s​​ eye sockets. “I knew it. Just perfect . . .​​ Now, you came in here​​ searching​​ for something,​​ didn’t you?”

“Someone actually,”​​ Walter​​ replied, his brows contracting beneath the mask. “I thought​​ you were them, but I was mistaken.”

“Yes, looks can​​ often​​ be deceiving,​​ and​​ what you​​ see​​ is not what you were thinking.”

His brows crinkled more deeply.

“You fell in love with someone​​ you shouldn’t have fallen in love with,” she said,​​ “and​​ it cost them their life.”

“Do​​ you​​ know​​ me?”​​ he​​ asked.

She gave him a puckish smile.​​ “That depends on your definition of​​ knowing,” she replied. “A face can tell me​​ a lot about someone, and yours​​ has death​​ and love​​ written all over it.​​ Thats why I​​ chose​​ the​​ death mask​​ of the world’s greatest lover​​ for you. Don’t​​ you know who you are?” she said pointing​​ to the mirror.​​ She then leaned into his ear​​ and said in a whispered scream, “Casanova!

Walter laughed​​ awkwardly. “You’re funny,” he said. “But seriously, you read the Rolling Stone article or something,​​ right? Yep, you​​ got​​ me.​​ Quinn Quark, the new Casanova.”

Beatrice laughed.​​ “No,​​ I don’t have you​​ yet…”​​ she​​ said picking up the spool of thick black ribbon​​ again​​ and cutting​​ another long piece, “…but now I do.” She​​ then​​ swiftly​​ grabbed his wrists and​​ cuffed​​ them​​ behind the chair​​ with​​ the​​ ribbon.

He​​ bucked​​ up​​ in surprise, but​​ she​​ swung around to the front of him​​ and​​ pushed him back into the chair​​ with the weight of her body. Straddling him,​​ she​​ then​​ reached​​ under the​​ mask’s​​ protruding​​ chin and​​ softly​​ slapped​​ him.

“No more games Giacomo,​​ Le Chevalier de Seingalt,” she said. “I​​ saw​​ you in there​​ peering at me through this man’s eyes. But who’s in there with you? So many voices. You must be a very troubled man​​ Signore​​ Huxley.”

“Huh?”​​ Walter said​​ confused,​​ afraid,​​ and​​ slightly​​ aroused.​​ “I know the article made me out to be a womanizer,​​ and maybe there’s some truth to that, but​​ seriously,​​ I’m no Casanova.​​ Not even close.”

She​​ chuckled​​ again. “You still don’t understand,” she said.​​ “Casanova! He is inside you. All he needed was a body and yours is an​​ open​​ gate​​ for​​ the spirit world​​ to communicate. You are living amongst the dead, and the dead​​ can whisper through you.​​ You must know this.​​ Haven’t​​ you ever felt​​ like the voices in your head aren’t your own?”

“Actually...​​ all the time lately.​​ But I’ve got a rather eccentric imagination I don’t trust.” ​​ 

“Well, what if I told you your body​​ is​​ nothing but a​​ fleshly capsule Casanova​​ is trying to​​ make love with?”

“To you?”​​ 

She​​ smiled and shook a finger at him.​​ “Oh,​​ how little you’ve learned in almost three hundred years​​ Casanova,” she said.​​ “Don’t you ever want to find​​ your​​ divine​​ love? Don’t you ever want to free your name of​​ womanizer and instead​​ be recognized​​ for the great writer​​ and mind​​ you were? Or​​ will your soul always be caught in​​ the​​ powerful​​ tempest of your lust?”​​ 

“I’m​​ so​​ lost,”​​ he​​ said​​ shaking his head.

“Just let go and play along,” she whispered​​ into​​ his ear.

Certain she was crazy,​​ Walter​​ decided to play along,​​ partly​​ out of fear,​​ partly​​ because he was​​ still​​ turned on,​​ and​​ partly because​​ he​​ was​​ also​​ crazy. And the more he thought about it,​​ maybe​​ Casanova’s ghost​​ was​​ inside him.

“Okay,” he said. “Um…​​ what do you mean​​ I​​ fell in love with​​ someone I wasn’t​​ supposed to?”

“The answer is right in front of you,”​​ she said pointing​​ at​​ the mirror.

“You?” he asked.

“Not exactly, but you’re getting closer.”

He​​ sighed.​​ “Then why do I feel more lost?”

“Just think about it.”

“Amber?”​​ 

Beatrice shrugged and smiled, but said nothing.

“Well,​​ if Amber​​ is​​ listening,” he said​​ looking directly into the mirror, “she should know... she should know​​ I gave up on someone who really could’ve been my ‘one’. I just thought I was looking for perfect, but I was too blind​​ and​​ selfish​​ to see I didn’t need perfect. I needed love. And​​ no doubt, with the exception of my grandmother, nobody loved and believed in me more​​ than​​ you.​​ Tears​​ slowly​​ began dropping from beneath​​ his​​ mask onto his lap. “But​​ I​​ just​​ used​​ your​​ love​​ because I was too​​ in love with myself.​​ I​​ was​​ too in love with myself. And​​ for that,​​ I​​ don’t​​ deserve​​ to find love.​​ I deserve to suffer​​ forever​​ without it.​​ But for you, I will just so you know how sorry I am. Im​​ so​​ sorry Amber. With all my heart and soul, I am sorry.”​​ 

Beatrice put a hand​​ on​​ his​​ shoulder. She then​​ removed the mask​​ and unbound his wrists.​​ His​​ face was​​ a glazed doughnut of tears and sweat.​​ 

“No,” she said​​ looking​​ somberly​​ into the mirror, “you deserve to find love. Everyone​​ does. But​​ first,​​ you need to forgive yourself.​​ Blame is hardly ever​​ shared​​ alone and​​ sometimes just as much​​ in our control​​ as fate.​​ But what we do have control over​​ is forgiveness.​​ Forgive yourself . . . Go on, say it.”

“I forgive you​​ Walter,”​​ he said to the mirror. “I forgive you!”

“You are forgiven,” Beatrice said, and immediately after a weight seemed to lift from his chest, a burden​​ Walter had​​ grown so used to carrying he thought it was a part of him.

He turned around in the chair and looked back​​ at​​ Beatrice with awe.​​ Looking into​​ her eyes, he saw someone he knew he knew but he couldn’t explain why.

Who​​ are​​ you?​​ he​​ asked.​​ Really, who are you?”​​ 

“I am no one​​ because I am not one,”​​ she replied. “However,​​ you can call me Fate​​ if you’d​​ like. But​​ truthfully, I’m just​​ someone who wants to help you find divine love.​​ However clever it’s been disguised,​​ it is waiting for you.”

“Where?”

“A​​ place​​ only you can reach​​ within your heart,​​ but​​ I’m here to​​ take​​ you​​ to​​ the​​ next part. However,​​ we must​​ go soon. Sunset is approaching.”​​ She​​ then​​ reattached​​ the mask to​​ his​​ face. “And masks​​ must​​ stay on​​ until I tell​​ you​​ to take them off.​​ If​​ we’re not careful,​​ it​​ could​​ cost us​​ our lives.”

 

After masking herself​​ in​​ a​​ gold, long-beaked​​ “plague doctor” mask, Beatrice put on a black,​​ full-body,​​ hooded robe and had Walter​​ do​​ the same. She then took his hand and told him, “Don’t let go,” and​​ led him out of the shop to a nearby​​ private​​ dock on the Grand Canal. There, a gondolier​​ in a black toga she addressed as​​ Marcus was​​ waiting, standing​​ atop an all-black, dragon-looking gondola with an enclosed cabin, or​​ what​​ she​​ called a​​ “felze”.​​ Once inside the​​ red​​ velvet-lined felze, a bottle of​​ wine and a bucket of oysters were​​ waiting for them.

“Is​​ this​​ gondola always stocked with oysters and wine?” Walter asked​​ after they sat and​​ Beatrice poured him a glass.

“Oh​​ yes,” she said. “A gondola ride wouldn’t be complete without them.”

 “Well,​​ santé,”​​ he​​ said taking the glass, then began removing his mask.

“No, no,”​​ she​​ said stopping him. “The mask must stay on, even while you eat and drink. That is what the mask is designed for.”​​ 

“But you can’t​​ eat or​​ drink with your mask.”

 “Yes, but​​ this​​ wine​​ and food​​ isn’t​​ for​​ me,​​ it’s for you,​​ Casanova.”​​ 

Walter sighed. “So I’m Casanova again?”​​ he asked.

“When you wear the mask you are.”

 

Soon after departing from the dock, Beatrice pulled open one​​ of​​ the curtained windows.​​ “Do you recognize that palazzo out there?”​​ she asked pointing​​ to a three-story, cream-colored palace on the canal.​​ 

“Should I?” Walter​​ asked, still confused as to who he was supposed to be.

“That is the Palazzo Malipiero, former home of Senator Alvise Malipiero, and site of your first seduction. The senator took you in as a fifteen-year-old protégé and taught you all the customs of high society until you were caught ‘exploring the differences between bodies’ with his seventeen-year-old love interest​​ and he expelled you out of the house.​​ From there, you then went on to lose your virginity to two sisters at the same time, and after that, your seductions are too numerous to name, but some of your most notorious exploits include:​​ having a ménage​​ à trois with two nuns;​​ sleeping with five sisters in exchange for saving their mother from financial ruin; and probably your most repulsive achievement, almost marrying your own daughter whom you unknowingly conceived with a former lover, only to later bed her and her mother at the same time, although you did say you left your virgin daughter ‘intact’ for whatever that’s worth.

As they pushed down the Grand Canal,​​ Beatrice​​ continued​​ filling​​ Walter​​ in on landmarks​​ and transgressions​​ of his possessor’s life​​ until​​ reaching​​ the Rialto Bridge​​ where they​​ turned around.

“More wine​​ signore?” she said, pouring without permission.

“I guess so,” he replied amused and red-lipped beneath his mask. She’d already emptied half a bottle into him and mouth-fed him a dozen or so oysters. He’d never felt more lavished on in his life.

“But you always blamed your insatiable sex drive on your insatiable curiosity for human nature,” she went on after she finished pouring, “reasoning​​ the bedroom offered no better view into it. Old, young, fat, skinny, royals, nobles, nuns, slaves, whores, virgins, even a few men and transvestites, you bed them all. But all weren’t merely conquests to you. You actually fell in love quite easily and often. You liked to satisfy and be satisfied intellectually as well as sexually by your partners, and in a time when women were second-class citizens, you saw them as relative equals. You also​​ supported​​ many of​​ your lovers financially and became a lifetime confidant​​ after they were no longer your lovers.​​ Ultimately, however, it is your explorations in the bedroom and not human nature that you are remembered​​ for, and for that​​ Casanova, you​​ have no one to blame but yourself.​​ But​​ now you have the opportunity to finally be forgiven . . .​​ Marcus,” she shouted out the window,​​ prendere​​ noi sotto il Ponte dei Sospiri !

Si mama.​​ Summum virtutum.

“Sunset is coming,” she said to Walter, aka Casanova. “Our date with fate is almost here.”

 

Coming out of the Grand Canal, they​​ skirted​​ along the Venetian coast lined with more cream-colored palazzos,​​ turning pink​​ from the setting sun,​​ until​​ reaching​​ the​​ Rio del Palazzo​​ canal, where they turned in​​ and​​ sailed​​ under​​ the​​ people-packed​​ Ponte della Paglia​​ footbridge, then approached another much higher, ivory-white and ornately-decorated​​ footbridge​​ connecting​​ the Doge's Palace to the palace prison.​​ 

The Bridge of Sighs...” Beatrice said​​ pointing to it as the boat coasted beneath, joining a hoard of other gondolas,​​ ...our final destination and​​ one of the most famous sights in all of Venice.​​ According to legend, as prisoners would cross, they would look out onto beautiful Venice one last time and​​ ‘sigh’ before being taken to their cells.​​ In 1755, arrested for blasphemy, freemasonry, magic, and of course fornication,​​ you yourself walked across this bridge​​ Casanova.​​ But​​ instead of being put in the​​ regular prison cells, you were​​ held​​ in a collection of cells called ‘The Leads’ directly beneath the palace roof. Because the roof was lined with lead slabs, these cells were very hot in the summer and ice-cold in the winter, and​​ also thought to be inescapable. But on the night of the 31st​​ of October 1756,​​ you proved that to be untrue​​ by prying off one of the​​ slabs​​ and escaping through the roof​​ in a tale that would later become one of​​ your​​ bestsellers.  ​​​​ 

You​​ then fled to Paris where​​ you​​ would later make a fortune by inventing the first state lottery, a fortune which would be wasted away like all​​ your​​ fortunes, to gambling. But being a prolific polymath,​​ you​​ always managed to climb​​ your​​ way back into status and wealth through a variety of occupations and​​ sometimes questionable​​ ventures. In​​ your​​ seventy-three years alive,​​ you were​​ an abbot, lawyer, officer in the Venetian army, theater violinist, diplomat, mathematician, spy, alchemist, Freemason, cardsharp, magician, faith healer, actor, a​​ famous​​ playwright, duelist, physician, and librarian.​​ You were​​ fluent in Italian, French, Latin, and Greek, and​​ proficient​​ in​​ German, English, and Russian.​​ You​​ discussed religion and philosophy with Voltaire, powered flight with Ben Franklin, taxation with Fredrick the​​ Great, and bringing the Russian calendar in sync with the rest of Europe with Catherine the Great.​​ You were​​ also good friends with Lorenzo Da Ponte, Mozart’s favorite librettist, and may have served as the inspiration for​​ Don Giovanni, possibly even writing some of it​​ yourself. You wrote​​ forty-two books which included a history of Poland and the Venetian government, a modern Italian translation of Homer’s Iliad, a five-volume science-fiction novel,​​ Isocameron, which predicted the motorcar,​​ airplane,​​ and television, and of course​​ your​​ twelve-volume, thirty-five-hundred-page autobiography,​​ Histoire de ma vie, which​​ you are​​ most​​ famous and infamous for.

“Casanova, you​​ could have been an​​ Enlightenment​​ icon had​​ you not let​​ your​​ lust get the best of you, a lust whose winds have reigned over you for nearly three​​ centuries. But now​​ you​​ can​​ finally escape the slavery of your lust​​ and​​ find​​ the​​ divine love​​ you always sought,​​ but never found in life. If you accept this invitation, kiss me at sunset and your​​ divine​​ love will be revealed...” She cleared her throat. “The time is now,” she said touching Walter.

“Time for what?”​​ he​​ said.

“To take off your mask and kiss methat is if you’re​​ ready.​​ Love isn’t always​​ who​​ you think it should be. Once in a while it’s in the​​ strangest​​ of places.”

Walter’s head turned sideways pondering who was really speaking behind that golden bird beak.

“I’m not kissing you until you tell me who you​​ really​​ are,” he said.​​ Plus,​​ I heard​​ being granted eternal love by​​ kissing​​ someone​​ at sunset under the Bridge of Sighs was just some bullshit legend told to​​ tourists.

“I told you​​ already,” she said.​​ “You can call me Fate.​​ As far as who I​​ really​​ am, that​​ you can only discover​​ by taking my mask​​ off.​​ However,​​ yours​​ comes off​​ first.

“Fine,” he said and​​ reached behind his head and​​ untied​​ the mask. Beatrice​​ let out a short shriek​​ behind her​​ beak.

“What?” he asked.

“It’s not for your knowing, just as what you see when you take off my mask is not for my knowing.”

Slightly trembling,​​ Walter’s​​ hands​​ then began untying her mask, but​​ after removing it,​​ he only saw​​ Beatrice​​ grinning. There was, however,​​ a​​ large gap between​​ her​​ front teeth​​ he didn’t remember seeing​​ before. But then again,​​ she hadn’t​​ spent a lot of time​​ full-teeth grinning​​ before then​​ either.​​ He​​ leaned forward​​ regardless​​ and lips met,​​ then​​ tongues​​ began dancing​​ until​​ something bristly​​ began tickling his​​ upper​​ lip.​​ He opened his eyes to find​​ Beatrice had​​ grown a​​ mustache. Then as his eyes adjusted​​ more,​​ he realized it wasn’t Beatrice​​ behind that mustache. It was​​ Dug.

“Ah!” Walter screamed and pushed Dug back into the seat​​ across from him, but by then he had already morphed back into Beatrice. “Ah! Ah! Ah!” Walter kept screaming.

“You didn’t like what you saw I see,” Beatrice said straightening​​ herself out after being thrown.

“I’m sorry.​​ No, not​​ at all what I was expecting.”

“Often​​ divine​​ love isn’t.”

“But you don’t understand. I saw—”​​ She​​ covered his mouth.

“I told you,” she said, “what you saw is not for my knowing,​​ or anyone else’s knowing. You must keep it to yourself and only to yourself, otherwise​​ neither of us will find divine love. And believe​​ me,​​ I’ve been waiting a long time.​​ Centuries​​ you could say.

“Wait,​​ are you—”

She​​ covered​​ his​​ mouth again and smiled. She then brought her index finger to her lips and winked.

“Just keep our little adventure​​ today to yourself,” she said.​​ “It’s in your​​ best interest and mine.​​ Not like anyone​​ will believe you​​ anyway.”​​ 

 

Back​​ at​​ the​​ boat​​ dock,​​ Walter and Beatrice shared​​ one​​ last kiss, this time with no mustache,​​ before she stepped back onto the boat. She​​ said​​ there was somewhere she needed to​​ be​​ soon, and so did he. His​​ ferry back to​​ the Italian mainland​​ where he and his fellow Contikians were​​ camped​​ in a village of mobile home trailers was​​ departing​​ shortly.​​ 

As the​​ gondola​​ withdrew​​ into the Venetian Lagoon,​​ from the bow of the black dragon,​​ Casanova’s death mask in one hand, the other waving goodbye and blowing him kisses,​​ Beatrice​​ shrank​​ into the​​ darkening​​ horizon​​ until​​ at last she touched​​ the​​ sky​​ and disappeared into it.​​ 

 

 

The Silver Year: Chapter 19

 

Chapter​​ 19

I Heard My Soul Singing Behind a​​ Leaf

 

 

“Now repeat after me,​​ zum wohl,” their​​ tour group’s​​ German​​ sommelier said​​ as he raised up a shot glass of wine​​ at the other end of the long, candle-laden table.​​ 

Zum wohl,” everyone repeated.

“Zis is zee proper way to toast zee wine. It means to good health and zee way it has been done for​​ over four hundred years in zis wine​​ cellar,” he said gesturing to​​ the​​ underground​​ cylindrical chamber​​ lined with oversized wine barrels and soft lighting.

From​​ the low​​ chatter​​ patting​​ the​​ cellar​​ walls it seemed Amsterdam had made friends of everyone​​ in​​ Walter’s​​ absence.​​ Even Curt and Kourtney had new friends​​ they were conversing with​​ instead of​​ him. But​​ he​​ had​​ gone out of his way to sequester himself​​ from them​​ since boarding the bus earlier in Amsterdam.​​ Although they tried​​ talking​​ to him, he told them he was too tired, then pretended to sleep or actually slept with his earbuds​​ in​​ for the entirety of the trip to St. Goar.​​ He just needed time to find words again.​​ Everything felt different about himself. Not so much he’d been changed, but exposed,​​ and someone forgot to stitch the skin back on.​​ Now it was “real life” that felt like a dream, while his night with Shiva​​ felt like the first time he’d been living.​​ There seemed no point to the trip now. It wasn’t about writing a book, paying tribute to Amber,​​ or any of the reasons he thought he came on this trip for. The reason was​​ Shiva.

So why​​ then​​ had he not turned himself into the police? Why​​ was​​ he​​ here​​ instead of with her? No​​ one​​ cared about him here, not even Curt and Kourtney. But who could blame them for not wanting to be around someone they were constantly having to talk off ledges?​​ Maybe it was time​​ he​​ just​​ jumped.​​ The universe had given him his​​ opportunity​​ for love​​ and he walked away because he was afraid. He was a coward.​​ He was pathetic.​​ The world was tired of Walter Huxley and his whining. He should​​ just​​ go down​​ to​​ the river, walk in and drown.

Silently boiling over​​ inside, Walter​​ excused himself to​​ go​​ to​​ the restroom, but instead went upstairs and out the​​ cellar door, toward​​ the​​ river.​​ 

 

From the​​ darkness of the​​ cellar,​​ Walter​​ emerged​​ into twilight​​ light​​ atop one of the many​​ steep and​​ narrow​​ brick​​ roads​​ of​​ the small German town of​​ St. Goar.​​ The streets were silent and the shops were closed as much of the citizenry were out of town for the upcoming Corpus Christi holiday.​​ Located​​ in the lush and historic Upper Middle Rhine Valley, the​​ surrounding slopes​​ were dotted​​ in​​ medieval​​ castles and​​ vineyards,​​ and​​ the town itself kept​​ a​​ comparable​​ medieval, gothic​​ character.

Down by the​​ river,​​ he​​ hiked​​ up​​ his pants and waded into the water. In front of him,​​ passing​​ cargo ships plunged in and out of​​ the setting sun​​ wedging​​ itself​​ into the​​ wide river​​ gulch,​​ spilling​​ its​​ blood-orange​​ innards​​ over​​ the​​ storied and fertile​​ hills​​ that had been battled over since the time of the Romans.

Momentarily​​ forgetting​​ his​​ present-day​​ woes​​ in​​ imaginations of the past,​​ he​​ stayed standing in the river​​ until​​ it​​ swallowed the sun whole.​​ Then​​ when​​ the stars began opening their eyes,​​ he​​ returned​​ to the river​​ shore​​ to ruminate in them as​​ it​​ had​​ been a long time since he could see and communicate with​​ so many.​​ But as his eyes adjusted to the light of the dark diamond sea, he noticed he was not alone in his stargazing. Up on a grassy​​ knoll​​ just adjacent to him​​ was Kourtney.

“I was wondering when you were going to notice me,” she said​​ as Walter walked over​​ and sat​​ beside​​ her.​​ 

“How long have you been here?” he asked.​​ 

“Oh about as​​ long as you. I​​ followed you​​ to​​ make sure you​​ weren’t​​ going​​ to drown yourself.”

He​​ laughed. “How’d you know?”​​ 

Happy people don’t​​ isolate themselves from their​​ friends all day,​​ suicidal people do.​​ But​​ furthermore, last​​ night​​ you told me you were going to the ‘restroom’​​ then​​ disappeared for the entire night only to reappear on the bus today a completely different person.​​ So​​ either​​ the real Walter​​ got abducted by aliens last night and you were coming down here to go back to your spaceship, or, by the look on your face when you left,​​ you were​​ coming down here to drown yourself.​​ Either way, I’m not letting​​ you out of my sight​​ again​​ until I find​​ out​​ what happened last night, because​​ something​​ happened last night.”

​​ He​​ took a few moments before responding.​​ “Yes,” he​​ then​​ said,​​ “a lot happened last night, so much so I’m still trying to tally it up​​ and that’s why I haven’t said anything. And​​ I'm not​​ really​​ suicidal,​​ sometimes​​ I​​ just​​ need to​​ idle insignificantly in​​ suicide’s​​ waters to​​ soothe​​ the desire. That’s​​ why I came down​​ to the river,​​ to​​ soak in​​ a little​​ perception​​ and find an explanation for what happened last night. Because to be honest,​​ last night​​ still​​ feels​​ unexplainable.”

“And the​​ soak​​ didn’t​​ help?”​​ Kourtney​​ asked.

“I no longer feel like killing myself,” Walter said. “However,​​ as far as finding an​​ explanation,​​ no.​​ I was too distracted by​​ that​​ sunset​​ to think about​​ last night, which is probably good​​ because I’ve been thinking about last night all day.​​ That​​ might’ve been the most beautiful​​ sunset​​ I’ve​​ ever​​ seen.”

“And to think we had it all to ourselves.”

“Where’s everyone else?”

“At​​ the hostel’s​​ pub.​​ It’s the​​ only​​ place open in town.​​ Don’t know how they could​​ be​​ though with this on our doorstep.​​ This view​​ is​​ much​​ better​​ to​​ drink​​ to.”​​ She​​ held​​ up​​ a​​ bottle of the​​ town’s exclusive ice wine their​​ sommelier​​ had been​​ pushing​​ during​​ their​​ tasting.​​ 

“Curt too?”​​ Walter asked.

“Yeah.​​ I needed​​ a little break from him​​ anyhow.​​ Not that we’re​​ not​​ getting along, I’m just used to being alone​​ more, where he likes to​​ always​​ be in on the action. While​​ we​​ might​​ be brother and sister,​​ I’m​​ discovering we’re​​ also​​ very​​ different people. Anyway...” she held out the bottle to​​ Walter,​​ “...if​​ a​​ soak in the river didn’t​​ help​​ find an explanation, maybe​​ a soak​​ in​​ this​​ wine​​ bottle can.​​ Care​​ to split it and​​ talk​​ last night​​ over​​ with me?​​ Two heads are better than one you know.​​ Also I restocked on joints in Amsterdam.”​​ She reached into her jacket pocket and handed him one.​​ 

He smiled.​​ “How do you always know the way to my heart Kourtney?”​​ he​​ said​​ taking​​ it. “And​​ I suppose talking to someone is probably a better way of going about​​ it.”

“Good,” she said as she began uncorking the wine. “I didn’t bring glasses, so hopefully​​ you’re​​ okay​​ with drinking a sixty-euro bottle of wine​​ from the spout.”

Wine’s more about who than what you drink it with​​ anyway,​​ Walter said lighting the joint, then taking​​ a hit before passing it to​​ Kourtney​​ in exchange for the bottle.

Zum wohl​​ to that,” she said inhaling a toke then exhaling it out.​​ “So,​​ what the hell happened last night?​​ Curt and I were really worried​​ this morning​​ when no one had heard from you, especially since we ate​​ all​​ those​​ hash​​ brownies we didn’t know were hash brownies. But after that Flugel stuff the boat captain gave us,​​ we​​ kind of blacked out​​ for a bit.”

“Boat captain?”​​ he said.​​ 

“Yeah from the canal cruise. You don’t remember​​ the cruise? Wow, you were as fucked up as you looked. We just thought you were joking.”

“I kind of remember the canal cruise now​​ that you mention it.​​ We went to a sex show after, right?”

“Yeah, where you​​ ate that​​ banana.”

“Yes, I definitely remember the banana. But everything after is a blank​​ until I came to at some rave.”

“Walter!​​ We were just a floor above​​ the rave.​​ Remember we went to that​​ three-story club​​ with​​ a rave on the first floor, a rock​​ club​​ on the second, and​​ a​​ hip-hop​​ club​​ on the third? That’s where you​​ said you had to use the ‘restroom’ then just disappeared. But you were​​ just downstairs​​ from us.”

“I don’t remember any rock club,” he said,​​ “but​​ I was looking for a​​ restroom​​ when I came to,​​ however,​​ security​​ kicked me out before I could​​ find one.”

“You got kicked out?​​ For what?”

He​​ chuckled.​​ “Um, pulling​​ my dick out​​ on the dancefloor,” he said,​​ “but there’s much more​​ to it than that...”

 

“Holy shit,”​​ Kourtney​​ said​​ after​​ Walter​​ spilled all the beans of the evening, every event, feeling, and fear.​​ “That’s one hell of a night.​​ And you have no way of getting ahold of​​ Shiva?​​ Not even​​ Facebook?”

“She’s not on any social media,” Walter said. “She​​ has to keep a low profile since she’s an illegal alien. All she had was a burner phone which I stupidly never got the number to​​ . . . I have to go back to Amsterdam. I’m​​ going to ask Anna tomorrow if there’s any​​ way​​ I can hitch a ride on another bus or take a train back.​​ I’m not supposed to be here. There’s no reason for me to continue this trip.”​​ 

“Hold on,” Kourtney​​ said​​ putting​​ a hand​​ in the air. “Don’t​​ throw​​ away​​ the trip just yet. I mean, she could be getting deported​​ as we speak. Then instead of being across an ocean from you, she’ll only be across a state​​ once you’re back home. Maybe just wait until​​ then​​ to find her. The internet’s a lot better place to find people than IRL anyway.​​ It’s​​ where I found my brother.​​ Do​​ you really think​​ going back to Amsterdam and​​ turning yourself into the police is a good idea?​​ What if you don’t find her, or even worse you get jailed and miss your flight home?”

“I know,​​ I know.​​ But​​ something’s​​ just​​ telling​​ me to go back. And as much as I never trusted gut feelings before,​​ with her​​ everything is​​ different.​​ I don’t know how to explain it.​​ As much​​ as​​ I thought people brainwash themselves into thinking someone’s ‘the one’, I​​ one-hundred percent​​ believe it now.”

Kourtney snickered.

“What?”​​ Walter​​ asked.

It’s just obvious you’ve never​​ really​​ been in love​​ then,” she said.​​ “Because ‘the one’ is bullshit.​​ No one is meant for each other.​​ Only in poetry is love undyingly perfect. In the real world,​​ it’s​​ extremely​​ complicated,​​ full of​​ sacrifices,​​ and most of the time romanceless, but that’s​​ how​​ it​​ makes us better​​ people.​​ When you first fall in love with someone,​​ all you see is a​​ romanticized version of who they really are; you see their​​ best​​ qualities first.​​ It takes time to​​ chip away at this façade and​​ see​​ the​​ real,​​ imperfect person beneath, but that’s​​ when love’s magic​​ really​​ starts to work.​​ You’re​​ going to​​ have to​​ figure out​​ how to deal​​ with​​ someone​​ who’s not​​ completely compatible​​ with you​​ sexually,​​ emotionally,​​ and/or​​ philosophically, and they’ll have to do the same of you. But this friction​​ is what​​ strengthens​​ and transforms​​ you both​​ into​​ something closer to​​ those idealized versions of yourselves you both initially fell in love with,​​ because ideally,​​ you​​ both​​ don’t want to let the other person down.​​ Granted, there will be certain flaws you’ll​​ have to accept,​​ and you’ll need to figure out what and how many flaws are worth the price of love, but as weird as it sounds, balanced friction​​ really​​ is true love​​ in the end.

“But I fell in love with Shiva because she was imperfect,” Walter said, “as imperfect as me.​​ She​​ was perfectly imperfect.”

Kourtney​​ halfway rolled her eyes and​​ gave him​​ a​​ smile. “Yes,” she said, “but you are still using the word​​ perfect to describe her, so I still don’t think you understand yet.​​ Also,​​ and​​ I’m​​ not​​ sure if you remember telling me on the canal cruise or not,​​ but​​ didn’t​​ you​​ fall​​ in love​​ with Amber​​ over sharing your depression together?​​ I’m sure you thought​​ she was ‘perfectly imperfect’ at first​​ also.”

“I told you​​ about​​ that?”​​ he said astonished.

“Yes, you told me a lot about Amber. In fact, she was almost all you talked about​​ last night​​ before​​ we lost you.”

Really?

Really​​ . . .​​ Anyway,​​ what​​ I’m trying to say​​ is,​​ love at first sight might exist, but true love always takes time​​ to find.​​ Also, life is filled with many shots at love. What’s more important is knowing where to aim. So even if Shiva doesn’t turn out to be your ‘one’, I guarantee another ‘one’ will​​ eventually​​ come along.”

“Yes,” Walter said,​​ still looking​​ slightly conflicted.​​ “But right now​​ all I can think about is her. I just want more time, that’s all; more​​ time​​ than just one night.”

“Well,” Kourtney​​ replied, “if​​ fate​​ or the universe​​ is​​ really​​ guiding​​ you​​ to Shiva,​​ then​​ it​​ will​​ find a way​​ of giving it to you.​​ But until then, maybe you should get a good night’s worth of sleep. Also, maybe​​ try​​ to​​ enjoy this trip​​ a little.​​ We’re only on the second stop​​ after all.”

“Yeah, you’re right,”​​ he​​ said putting his hands​​ over his​​ face. “I’m in​​ no​​ state of mind​​ to be making​​ decisions​​ right now.”​​ 

“Yes,”​​ Kourtney​​ said, “but also,​​ maybe I​​ am​​ being​​ a little​​ selfish​​ too.​​ I​​ know I’d​​ miss you terribly if you left.​​ You’re the only real friend​​ I​​ have other​​ than my brother on this tour. And I’m not like my brother, I can’t make friends with just anyone.”

“Really?​​ You’d miss me?​​ Someone you’re​​ always​​ having to​​ talk off ledges?”

“It’s​​ better than having a boring friend,” she​​ said​​ smiling.​​ “And talking to you has​​ put​​ my problems with my brother​​ in perspective. So in some way, without even trying, you​​ also talked me off a ledge—or​​ maybe​​ just a small mound. And​​ you can’t​​ force that​​ kind​​ of​​ chemistry.”

“Well,​​ I think the wine deserves some credit too.” Walter​​ shook​​ the nearly empty bottle. “But regardless Kourtney,” he said putting an arm around her, “I’m​​ the luckiest person in the world to have found you.​​ And​​ uh...” his​​ arm retreated​​ back, “I​​ mean​​ that in​​ the most​​ strictly platonic​​ way.”

She​​ laughed.​​ “I know that Walter,” she said​​ pulling his arm​​ back​​ around her.​​ She​​ then​​ pushed back and they both​​ fell​​ onto​​ the grass, resting​​ their heads upon​​ one another.​​ “But it​​ is really romantic​​ though, isn’t it?”​​ she​​ said.

“What is?”​​ he asked.

“This:​​ the wine, the stars, the castles glowing like candles around us.”

“Yes,​​ I guess​​ it is,” he said looking around.​​ “Too​​ bad it’s being wasted on us​​ though.”

“Why’s​​ that?” she said.​​ Romance can be just as equally appreciated between friends. At​​ least there’s someone to share it with. That’s the most depressing part of being alone. Lifes no different than a memory,​​ and you can’t share a memory with anyone but yourself.​​ So​​ at least​​ tonight​​ will never be​​ just​​ a memory.”​​ She​​ then​​ kissed him on the cheek. “I love you Walter.”

He kissed her on the cheek back. “I love you too Kourtney. What I did to deserve your​​ love​​ I’ll never know.​​ I guess somebody up there still likes me.”