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Just One Night, Page 2

Gayle Forman

  And just like that, Allyson understands it. How jealousy contorts things. She thinks of Céline, how jealous she had been of her, and how wrong about her. She was Ana Lucia’s Céline.

  There was no French girl. There was an American girl he met in France.

  “So you didn’t go to Spain?” Allyson asks.

  “Spain?” Willem says. “No. I went to Mexico.”

  The more questions are answered, the more are asked. But now Willem has to leave to meet Petra and Linus. Neither Allyson nor Willem wants to part. For now, they wish they could both stay like this, talking.

  He would like to bring her with him now, to put her in his pocket. Except he must face Petra, his cantankerous director, who he knows is furious with him about last night’s performance. He ignored her direction to play the part safe, to play it as Jeroen had played it. Instead, he had done what his friend Kate had suggested. He’d done it his way, found his own Orlando and in doing so, opened up a vein of himself on that stage. It had been the most exhilarating experience of his life. Well, until the knock at the door today.

  Much as he would like to keep Allyson close by, he knows it is unwise to parade her in front of Petra. Though he cannot wait to introduce her to Kate. He will introduce her to Kate tonight. And Broodje. And W and Henk and Max. All the people who led him back to her.

  “I am in trouble with the director,” Willem explains. “Maybe it’s better if we meet later.”

  There is something then that hangs between them. Meeting later is what got them into this predicament in the first place. Willem stepping out for a bit. Accidents happening. And a year before they found each other again.

  They both seem to recognize the moment. But they also know now is not then. And as if to prove it, Willem slides a key off a ring and gives it to Allyson. She stares at it in her palm. So does he.

  A year ago I had a backpack, and now I have a key, he thinks.

  A year ago we didn’t give each other our names, and now he gave me a key, she thinks.

  (Also, Willem has just glanced at the birthmark on Allyson’s wrist, giving himself an urgent desire to taste it again. Between her feet and her wrist, he is having a hard time getting out the door.)

  (Speaking of feet, Allyson is looking at the zigzag scar on Willem’s foot—left foot—and remembering she wanted to find out how he got it. Along with his birthday and his favorite ice cream flavor and ten thousand other things there don’t seem to be enough time for.)

  So for now Willem tells her to make herself at home. Eat what is in the kitchen. Use the computer. There is WiFi. Skype. Have a rest. His bedroom is the yellow one. He likes to picture her in his flat.

  “Here is my cellphone number,” he tells her. He writes it on a pad. He resists the urge to write it on her arm, to tattoo it there.

  He is about to leave, but stops in the doorway. They are now mirror images of how they were a few hours ago, Willem in the flat, Allyson in the hall. Neither is sure what this means.

  What they are sure is that they want to kiss. Both of them do. There is a pull, it feels almost like a chain, linking them.

  “I’ll be back here at six,” Willem promises.

  “Six,” she repeats. It’s after four now. She has officially missed her flight to Croatia.

  He starts to close the door behind him. Then opens it again. “You’ll be here?” He is nervous now about leaving. He can’t help it. The mirror images. The Universal Law of Equilibrium. Last year, he vanished. This year, it could be her.

  Except he thinks he has stopped believing in this universal register of deposits and debits, of good things coming at a cost. And when Allyson closes the door, promising that she will be there, he allows himself to believe it.

  There is news to share. They each share it.

  Willem, in a rush, texts Kate, whom he just saw a few hours ago when she was on her way to meet her fiancé at the airport. She was bringing him to meet Willem so Willem could get his seal of approval to join their theater group.

  I have big news, he writes. I’m Orlando tonight.

  He writes a version of the same to Broodje, who, along with Henk is helping W move into a new flat with his girlfriend, Lien. He knows all of them will get the message and all of them will come, even though they all came last night, because that is how his friends are.

  He is riding his bike to the theater when he realizes that they will all think the big news is that he was given one more chance to do Orlando. Though in reality, he was fired. He is going on tonight out of necessity. He can almost taste Petra’s disgust at having to put him back on the stage.

  That isn’t the news. The news is Lulu, of course. Allyson. But tonight, they will all come. And they will find out.

  Then he thinks of Yael. His mother, so far away from him these past few years, until that day in Paris last year that set everything in motion. It’s the middle of the night in Mumbai, so Willem texts her.

  I found her. He stops. Maybe it is more accurate to say she found him. But that is not what he is feeling. He is feeling that he found her. So that is what he writes.

  He doesn’t elaborate. He knows his mother will understand.

  Back in Willem’s flat, Allyson has texted Wren. CALL ME ASAP!!! And then she decides to be nosy. Not to snoop exactly, but to look around.

  The living room does not offer clues. Even had Allyson not been told this apartment belonged to Willem’s uncle, she would’ve been able to tell it was not Willem’s. She goes into the bedroom in the back. The yellow one. The bed is unmade, and it smells of Willem. Somehow she knows this.

  She feels shy, tentative, as if she is invading. But she remembers Willem telling her, exhorting her, as much as someone as Willem exhorts, to make herself at home. The key to the flat is still in her pocket.

  She sits down on the bed. It’s low to the ground, the view looking up out the window. There’s a small bookshelf. She smiles when she sees a copy of Twelfth Night there. She leafs through it, remembering how she avoided reading it in her Shakespeare Out Loud class. She thinks of Dee. She hasn’t talked with him since Paris. She calculates the time difference. It’s a little past 8:00 a.m. in New York. Maybe she can Skype him.

  The laptop is on the bookshelf. When she takes it, she accidentally knocks over a large envelope. Out spill several photographs, newspaper clippings, some of them very old. There’s also a picture of Willem, a younger Willem, his face slightly less chiseled, but still Willem. He is flanked by a man and a woman. The woman is small, dark, intense, and the man is her opposite, all tall golden smiles. These must be Yael and Bram.

  She feels a little as if she knows them. And sorry she never did.

  She carefully puts the photographs back in the envelope and puts the envelope in a safe corner of the bookshelf. That is when she hears the sound, instantly familiar. It takes her a moment to locate it, inside the pocket of the jacket she saw Willem wearing after the play last night.

  She pulls it out. Her old gold watch, last year’s high-school graduation gift. She’d hated it, so heavy and perfect, but it’s kind of endearing now, all scuffed up, the face of it cracked. She turns it over. The GOING PLACES engraving had seemed so burdensome when her mother had given it to her, but now it seems kind of prophetic, like the most perfect thing to have wished for her. She wants to tell her mother about this revelation and stops for a moment to savor that, wanting to tell her mother something.

  That said, she doesn’t want the watch back.

  In that Paris park, she’d given it to Willem, given time to him, and in exchange she became the girl in the Double Happiness story. His mountain girl, he’d called her.

  She’d known he kept the watch. Céline had told her as much when she’d confronted her in Paris last week. But she’d made it sound as though Willem had kept it to pawn it. But he’d kept it to keep. To keep her.

  Allyson holds the watch in her hand. She feels the vibration of its ticking and is full in a way she can’t really explain.

lem is trying hard not to laugh.

  Petra is berating him, telling him he made a mockery of the company last night. This might be true, but Willem also knows the performance was a triumph. Which is perhaps the real mockery. But he lets Petra give him all her notes. Tell him all the beats he got wrong, how he mangled the language, how he confused the audience.

  “Tonight you will play the part as Jeroen plays it, as an understudy must play it,” she commands. It is the same direction she’d given him yesterday, when he was called up to step in for Jeroen after the lead actor broke his ankle. It was the direction that had almost derailed him, until Kate had persuaded him to take the risk. “Go big or go home” was how Kate put it. But Willem had come to understand it as “Go big and go home.” That’s how it had felt. Last night he had thought the going home was to acting, to a new home in New York City, to an apprenticeship with Ruckus Theater Company, which Kate runs with her fiancé. But today it feels as though home has come to him.

  “Are we clear?” Petra asks after she has smoked her way through two cigarettes worth of criticisms. “You will do as your director tells you.”

  He would do as his director told him, but Kate was his director now. “I will perform the role as I did last night,” he tells Petra.

  Petra’s face goes purple. It doesn’t bother Willem one bit. What can she do? Fire him?

  She stomps her feet. She seems like a little girl denied her dessert. He tries to keep a straight face, tries not to laugh, tries not to notice that Linus appears to be holding in a chuckle of his own.

  Dee is laughing, too.

  At the story his girl has just finished telling him. It’s almost too crazy to believe, which is how you know it’s true.

  “Too bad Shakespeare’s dead,” Dee tells Allyson. “Because that’s a story he’d wanna steal.”

  “I know, right?” Allyson says.

  Dee’s mama drops a cup of coffee onto the desk. He can smell bacon frying in the kitchen. “That our girl?” she asks.

  Dee isn’t sure when Allyson went from being his girl to their girl, but he opens the screen so his mama can say hello, too.

  “Hey, baby,” she says. “How you doin’? “Want some waffles?”

  “Hi, Mrs. D—”

  Dee’s warning face travels four thousand miles in a split second.

  “I mean, Sandra,” Allyson corrects. “I’d love some. Not sure you can Skype food.”

  “Some day, I wouldn’t put it past them,” she says.

  Dee angles the computer away. “Mama, I haven’t talked to my girl in a week. You can have her when she comes home.” Dee turns back to the screen. “Am I still picking you up at the airport?”

  “You can. I think my mom was going to drive down, too. She said you could come back with us.”

  “When’s this party starting,?” Dee asks.

  “I’m meant to be flying home tomorrow afternoon. I’m actually meant to be in Croatia right now.”

  “You got a lotta ‘meant to’ going on,” he says.

  “I know.” Allyson laughs. “Truth is I don’t have a clue what I’m doing.”

  She might not have a clue but Dee knows the signs and symptoms of a girl in love. She’s practically glowing, and without the benefit of the cucumber-and-yogurt facial he has planned as part of his welcome-home pampering spa day. He’s got a whole list of activities, but mostly he just wants to sit in the same room and talk. He misses her. Dee didn’t know you could miss a friend as much as he’s missed Allyson this summer, but then again, he’s never had a friend like her.

  “You never did have a clue. At least now you’re owning your ignorance,” Dee teases.

  “You know me so well!” Allyson jokes, but she touches her hand to the camera so it appears on the screen and Dee knows she’s not joking, not really. He reciprocates by putting his hand on her screen. They let the gesture say the unspoken things: Thank you for getting me here. Thank you for understanding me.

  “I miss you,” Allyson says.

  It’s just what Dee needs to hear. “I miss you, too, baby.”

  Mama swoops back behind him, forcing herself back into the screen. She blows Allyson kisses. “He does. My boy is pining.”

  “I miss him, too.”

  Sandra sticks her head right in front of the camera. “How’s that map working out?”

  She had bought Allyson a laminated map of Paris as a bon voyage present. The gesture had embarrassed Dee at first, along with the bon voyage party his mama had insisted on throwing for Allyson, even though she’d never met her. “Feels more like what you’re really doin’ is throwing me a hooray-you-finally-done-made-a-friend party,” Dee had said. His mama had raised one formidable eyebrow and retorted, “And why can’t I do both?” (Dee lost the argument. The party had been delightful.)

  “Mama, she ain’t in Paris anymore. She’s in Amster—” Dee starts to say.

  But Allyson cuts him off. “The map was perfect,” she says. She explains how the map had given her the idea to check the Paris hospitals, which had led her to Wren and to Dr. Robinet and to the house on Bloemstraat and now here. “So you see, I wouldn’t have found my way here without it.”

  Broodje is shattered. He was up most of the night drinking, celebrating Willem’s debut as Orlando. He woke up after three hours of sleep with a Queen’s-Day-level hangover, only to remember he and Henk had promised W they’d help him move.

  They’d spent the day lugging boxes up four flights of steep stairs. (W would have to be moving into the top-floor flat. Broodje had remarked that if they weren’t hungover, the flat would’ve been garden level. W spent fifteen long minutes poking holes in the logic of such a statement.)

  Now Broodje is back at his flat. Not his, exactly. His for the next two weeks until he moves back to Utrecht with Henk. He doesn’t really want to go to Willy’s show again tonight, but he will because it’s Willy. At least he has a few hours free to rest. All he wants to do is take off his dusty, sweaty clothes and climb into bed.

  He is already pulling off his shirt when he walks in the door.

  And then he screams.

  “Oh, shit, sorry,” he says, putting the shirt back on. “I didn’t know Willy had company.”

  It’s a bit of a déjà vu this, walking in on one of Willy’s girls. It used to be like this all the time. But not for a while. Not for a really long while.

  “Sorry,” the girl says. “I didn’t know anyone was coming.”

  Then Broodje looks at the girl for a longer moment. “Wait, I know you. You were at the play last night. In the park.” He’d invited her and her friend to come to the party. He’d talked more to the friend, who was very cute, though he still missed Candace, his sort-of girlfriend, but she lived in America so they were trying to figure things out. When did Willy hook up with the friend?

  “You’re Broodje,” the girl says.

  “Yeah, that’s right,” Broodje says. He is tired and hungover and his muscles ache and he doesn’t want to entertain one of Willy’s girls. “Who are you?”

  “I’m Allyson,” she says. Then she seems to reconsider. “But you might know me as Lulu.”

  Broodje looks at her for a minute. And then he tackles her in a hug.

  When Willem comes home, he finds his best friend and the girl his best friend tried to help him track down sitting together, eating. Broodje has emptied the kitchen, it seems: cheese, crackers, sausage, herring, beer. He is feeding Allyson, which is what Broodje does with people he loves. Willem sees Allyson has received a fast pass to his best friend’s heart.

  “Willy!” Broodje calls. “We were just talking about you.”

  “You were?” Willem says. He steps forward and his instinct is to kiss Allyson. He does not want to enter or leave a room without kissing her. This, too, is something new. But he doesn’t because this is all so new, even though the way Broodje and Allyson are sitting there, smearing cheese on crackers, it seems like they’ve been doing this for decades.

  “I was tel
ling Lulu, sorry, Allyson, what a sad sack you’ve been all year.”

  “Not all year,” Willem says. (Though, really, it was almost all year.)

  “Okay. Maybe not in India. I wasn’t with you in India. He went to India for three months to see his ma,” Broodje explains to Allyson. “He was in a movie over there.”

  “Are you famous in India?” Allyson asks.

  “I am Brad Pitt in India,” Willem says.

  “And maybe not since he came back. But shit, after he got back from Paris, he was a mess. And in Mexico, when he couldn’t find you—”

  “Okay, Broodje,” Willem says. “No need to give away all the family secrets.”

  Broodje rolls his eyes. “Far as I’m concerned, she’s family now.”

  Speaking of family, Allyson loves watching Willem with Broodje. Not that she needs reassuring exactly, but seeing him with Broodje is reassuring.

  “I was going to take you out to eat,” Willem says to her. “But Broodje beat me to it.”

  “We can still go if you want,” Allyson says.

  “I have to be at the theater in less than an hour,” Willem says. “We can go out after? Just us.”

  “Not just you,” Broodje says. “W, Henk, Lien, they’re all coming. And they will all want to meet her.” He nods to Allyson. “You are like the business we all invested in and now you’re paying off so . . . you can be alone later.”

  “Wren called, too. The friend I was in Amsterdam with” Allyson says. “She wants to meet up.”

  And, Willem thinks, there would also be Kate and her fiancé.

  Allyson and Willem look at each other, the invisible chain connecting them pulling hard. Why hadn’t they taken more advantage of those quiet hours this afternoon? Why had they just sat there, her feet in his lap, when there was a perfectly good empty apartment here?

  Except Allyson wouldn’t have exchanged those hours with Willem for anything in the world.

  And neither would Willem.