Friday, June 24, 2011

As Time Goes By

"I congratulate you," Harrison says after a prolonged silence.  The piano continues its song, providing a pleasant background to the clinking of glasses and low murmur of conversation.  Every now and then, the high pitched laughter of an amused woman can be heard above it all, punctuated by the answering rumble of her companion.  Though the veneer of casual celebration remains unmarred, one can't help but notice the undercurrent of intrigue that hangs over each table.  Surely no one in the Ramkahen oasis is exactly what they seem.

Valentis sets his drink down and fixes the lone companion at his table with deep green eyes. "What for?"

Harrison tilts his glass casually. "Your job."

Valentis allows himself a satisfied smile. He nods toward the other man and replies, "I try."

A short laugh escapes Harrison's lips. "We all try.  You succeed!"

The two men continue to drink amicably, forcing no conversation between them.  They survey the room in turns, eyes alighting on a giggling couple here, a hushed conversation there.  Harrison notices that occasionally the Gilnean's eyes stray towards the doorway with a look of concern.  Who is he waiting for?

"Don't you sometimes wonder if it's all worth this?" Harrison asks.  He waves an expansive arm as if to take in the whole world.  "I mean, what you're fighting for."

Valentis leans forward.  "You might as well question why we breathe.  If we stop breathing, we'll die.  If we stop fighting our enemies, the world will die."

"Well, what of it?  It'll be out of its misery."  Harrison drains his drink.

"You know how you sound, Mr. Jones?" Valentis snatches up his drink and sits back.  "Like a man who's trying to convince himself of something he doesn't believe in his heart."

Harrison snorts, but does not correct the Gilnean.

Across the room, Decedereful returns from outside.  Her eyes find Valentis, but then sweep over to his companion.  She stands frozen.  From her vantage point, she has a clear view of the side of Harrison's face.  Something close to panic clouds her face.  For a moment, it appears as if she is about to bolt like a frightened animal.  Valentis wrinkles his brows in confusion, his eyes darting from one to the other.  Harrison sips his drink, oblivious. 

Decedereful seems to have reached a decision.  She snaps out of it.  Instead of returning to the table, however, she weaves over to the piano.  The placard on the instrument names it's operator.  Sam, it reads.  She would have known his name without it.  He is a longtime friend of Harrison's.  It is a bittersweet memory that informs Dece.  A memory she thought she'd left behind in the Lost City.

"Hello, Sam," she says.  "It has been a while."

The notes falter for a moment as the pianist recognizes the voice.  Turning, he continues on, his blunder unnoticed by the patrons.  "Miss Dece.  Truly, it is a pleasure and a surprise.  Harrison will be overjoyed to see you."

"I'm afraid he won't be, Sam.  Things are... different."  She stares over at the table where the two men sit sipping drinks.  She bites her lower lip.  "It seems fate has a sense of humor."

Sam shrugs.  "If you say so."

With a deep breath, she seems to summon the resolve for a particularly difficult task.  "Play it once, Sam," she says.  "For old times' sake."

Sam frowns.  "I don't know what you mean, Miss Dece."

"Play it, Sam.  Play 'As Time Goes By.'"

Sam finishes the song he was playing and stops, looking worriedly around the room.  "Oh, I can't remember it," he lies.  "I'm a little rusty on it."

Decedereful favors him with a reassuring smile.  "I'll hum it for you."  She begins with the opening notes.

With a shrug, Sam joins in.

"Sing it, Sam."

The pianist continues in a deep, melodious voice,
"You must remember this
A kiss is still a kiss 
A sigh is just a sigh 
The fundamental things apply 
As time goes by 
And when two lovers woo 
They still say, "I love you" 
On that you can rely 
No matter what the future brings-"
He is interrupted as Harrison rushes up, furious.  "Sam, I thought I told you never to play..." he trails off, seeing Decedereful for the first time.

The two stare at each other and its as if the rest of the room drops away.  Sam, excusing himself, stands up and heads to the bar for a drink.  The patrons clap politely, but neither Decedereful nor Harrison respond.  Sound drops away and everything seems slowed.  Light itself seems to dim, sucked into the air between the two figures at the piano.  They are locked in a pouring of souls, spilled through eyes.  No words pass between them, and yet volumes are communicated.

After a moment that seems to stretch to infinity, Decedereful smiles.

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