Sometimes, Between The Lines
Character(s): Sam, OFC
Category(s): Romance, New Character
Summary: English and Sam Seaborn were not her first languages.
Gogol's 'Dead Souls'. 'A Separate Peace'. 'International Politics'.
Treszka tapped each title as she walked by, tilting her head this way and that to read the bindings.
Tilli Olson's 'Silences'. 'The Encyclopedia of Music'. 'Dialogues of Plato.' Manuel Puig.
"Do you, would you like something to go with this?" Sam handed her a simple snifter, filled with fragrant Grand Marnier Centenaire.
"What have you?" she asked, then shook her head quickly. "Actually, no. I'm quite full from dinner still."
Dinner had been in two acts. The first, when Sam had entered the restaurant, searching for Treszka, his entire upper body dipping and swiveling with his eyes. She'd raised her arm hesitantly, catching his glance, and saw the relief pass over him as he made his way through the crowded room.
"I'm terribly sorry," he began before he even pulled out his chair. "I couldn't get away, and I misplaced your number. I found it, just now." Extracting a crumpled slip of paper from his jacket pocket. "And considered calling from the parking lot to tell you I was here." Settling into his seat, he nodded once to the attentive server. "But that seemed.... Well, I thought that would be stupid," he finished somewhat breathlessly.
She was drinking an Amaretto sour, and he ordered a martini. He quickly scanned the room once more, made eye contact with one or two people before offering Treszka his full attention. "I hope you didn't think I wasn't coming," he said.
This was the second time she'd seen him in person. His face was familiar, from the news and public affairs shows she always had on in her office, and the occasional photograph in the papers. But the night they'd met, there were people swirling around them like bubbles, and his focus was everywhere but on her. It shocked her when he appeared at her side at the end of the reception, and asked her to have dinner with him, or meet him for a drink, or perhaps accompany him to buy new bookends. He didn't care which, she could choose; but he wanted to see her, and he made her smile.
"The idea never crossed into my mind," Treszka assured him. "I saw you on television this morning, and you were in blue." Eyeing his dazzling white shirt.
"I, yes. Well, I was in at five this morning, and really didn't want to wear the same shirt. So." He accepted the drink that was set in front of him, and a menu was slipped into his hand. "I'm just sorry to have kept you waiting," he continued. "Honestly, between this, that, and the other - "
"I'm sorry, what is the other?" Her eyes were wide, and she leaned forward to concentrate. English and Sam Seaborn were not her first languages.
She laughed, barely. More of a small hiccup, and sat back. "I apologize, I didn't understand this 'other'."
"Oh. Oh! That's my fault. There is no 'other' to understand. I was just trying to explain - to excuse - why I was running late." Sam's smile was genuine and self deprecating, and before sipping his martini he said, "You really shouldn't pay any attention to me until I've had at least one of these. I'm late, and I'm frazzled, and I should shut up until I have it together."
That was act one.
Jung's 'Man and His Symbols'. Shelley. 'Field Book of Rocks and Minerals'. Molière.
She felt the volumes give a little as she leaned back against the bookshelf. Away from him. He smelled of nothing she could identify, and the scent made her feel as if she was standing on uneven planks.
"You read a lot?" she asked, motioning to the collection with a bump of her hip.
"I read a lot," Sam answered. "But not these." He stepped to the shelf and picked a volume at random. 'Adventures In The Skin Trade.' "There's very little time for Dylan Thomas in my life right now." He set it down atop the other books, and walked away.
Gordon Liddy's 'Will'. 'The Three Musketeers'. 'The Vanishing Adolescent'. 'Tin Drum'.
His drink half gone, their orders placed, and she couldn't take her eyes off him.
First, it was the eyes. Intensely blue, but bluer. They never moved from her own as she spoke. Never strayed or flickered. He listened to her speak, and she spoke so he would listen. When she felt herself falter she had to look away, but only from the eyes.
She became fascinated by the planes of his face, then. The candlelight cast across him emphasized his dark lashes, and made his skin glow. She was terribly aware of his closeness, the space he took up. How his words made the candle's flame quiver.
He asked her about herself, and she answered in her strongly accented English, telling him about her work at the Hungarian American Business Initiative, and a silly little story about finding her funky apartment through a transgendered woman she'd mistaken for the chairman on her first day.
He looked appropriately aghast before laughing appreciatively, and then flustered her deeply when he leaned across the table and asked Treszka to repeat the name of the chairman, just because he liked the sound of it.
When he said her name, it sounded breathy and deliberate. She knew he must have practiced; maybe in the car, perhaps while he'd changed his shirt. It made her face warm to think of it.
"You look at my veal as if you are undressing it," Treszka teased. "Would you like to try some?"
The easy smile he'd been wearing faltered, and he looked away quickly. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make your food uncomfortable." Then added, "I don't eat veal."
He dove back into his own salmon, looking up once to give her a sincere grin.
Jose Donoso's 'Obscene Bird of Night'. 'The Jungle'. 'Robert's Rules of Order'.
He sat on the sofa, watching her as she glided along the bookcase. She had removed her shoes, with his permission, and felt the cool wood on the bottom of her feet as she slid to the next section.
"This is you, in this photograph?" she wanted to know, setting down her glass and picking up a plain silver framed picture. A radiant blue sky, above a bank of downy white clouds, and Sam, with a few other grinning people.
On a boat; his smile was as bright as the day. Sunglasses shielded his eyes, a hat shaded his face, but Treszka was still taken by the physical perfection of this man.
Sam tipped his head back, and took a satisfying gulp of his drink. "Chesapeake Bay. I took some people I work with out to celebrate the defeat of some lousy clean water legislation." His smile seemed wistful. "It seemed appropriate."
"You took them out? On the boat?" Turning to face him, she cradled the picture in both hands, studying it anew.
"My boat, yes. The First Amendment. That's her name," he said somewhat sheepishly.
"The Amendment; this is the Constitution?" Treszka placed the frame back in its place, and picked up her drink.
"The Bill of Rights."
"Ah. And the First Amendment, is the guns?" She hesitated, fairly sure that was wrong. She saw by the scowl that passed across his face that it was very, very wrong.
"Free speech," he said flatly, then leaned forward a little, and focused on her more intently. "Free speech, and freedom of religion, and the press, and....'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances'."
She stared at him, trying to absorb all of the words he had just flung at her. "That, that is a good one, then," she finally decided, and he smiled, and licked some Grand Marnier from his lips.
'The Paintings of Winslow Homer'. 'To Kill A Mockingbird'; (very well worn.) 'Philosophy of Humanism'.
He deflected personal questions about himself as strategically as anyone she'd ever met. But he wanted to know everything about Treszka, as he tore ragged pieces of his dinner roll between bites. He asked about her flight to the U.S., less than a year ago. What did they serve? Did she have a seatmate?
He soaked up her first impressions of Washington, his fork forgotten in his hand as she told him that the first thing she did on her first day off was to buy a bicycle, and ride through the streets.
His expression gained intensity when she described her White House briefing with the Director, Office of Public Liaison; the Director of Central and Eastern European Affairs, National Security Council; the Deputy Assistant Administrator at the Bureau for Europe and the Newly Independent States of AID; Associate Director of the Policy and Planning Staff, Department of State; and the newly appointed U.S. Ambassador to Austria.
"And where were you, in all that mess of titles and officialdom? Officialdom is a word, yes? Where were you, Sam, when all I wished for was one person to make a joke, and make me feel welcome?" She was taunting, and she was serious, and Treszka saw that he recognized both.
"That sounds a bit over my head," he remarked, as their plates were being cleared away. "Unless you were planning the wine list for the reception. That I was probably qualified for. Probably."
They ordered espresso, and she was overjoyed to find an American who didn't balk at the idea of consuming caffeine so late at night. The delicate demitasse cup in his elegant hands mesmerized her.
Sam continued to pepper Treszka with questions about her thoughts on America. What did she think of this, and what was her visceral reaction when she heard about that? Would it work in Hungary, would the people embrace the idea?
She liked his intensity, and his slightly off-center sense of humor. He spoke as passionately about drivers using their turn signals as he did about human rights in Romania, and she'd laughed loudly when he convinced her to promise to use hand signals when she rode her bike downtown.
Ram Dass' 'The Only Dance There Is'. A biography of Adlai Stevenson. Henry Miller's 'Rosy Crucifixion Trilogy'.
"No," Sam was saying. "I can't convince you, as much as I'd like to. And believe me, arguing is right up there with the top three most pleasurable experiences I can have." One corner of his mouth tugged a little, and he flung an arm over the back of the sofa. "But this is the kind of thing... you need to convince yourself of; that's the only way it can really work."
Treszka nodded her head, vaguely. She wasn't sure she understood his logic, but oh, how she loved to hear him talk.
'What Vietnam Did To Us'. Turgenev. 'Power of Money Dynamics'. 'Camille'.
"I live just up the street," Sam told her. "But I don't want you to think that's why I chose this restaurant. I'm just saying. If you'd like to have a nightcap, it's not out of the way."
It was raining, and it was fine. They dashed together to Sam's car. His short hair looked untouched by the downpour.
She was hyper-aware of every turn he made, signaling at a respectful distance before twisting the wheel. When he looked over at her once, just a quick glance, she tried not to laugh, but his expression of complete innocence was too much.
"You are a principled man, Mr. Seaborn," she chuckled. She took his arm as they darted to the door of his building, a French blue townhouse with a tiny dark garden between it and the cobblestone sidewalk. He guided her up the stairs to his apartment door. She stood, wet with rain, as he slid the key into the lock, noticing the key chain shaped like a blue devil.
'Legislation of Morality'. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. 'Speeches: Literary & Social' by Charles Dickens. 'A Confederacy of Dunces'.
The cognac singed the back of Treszka's throat; a fiery, but sensual burn. She liked sweet things, like orange liqueur, and linzer torte, and Sam. Timid, diffused light left the corners alone, dark and undefined, and the man on the sofa bathed in subtle shadows.
"The internet has done a wonderful job of closing some...." Treszka groped for the right word. "Like the store." She held her hands apart, and looked to Sam for assistance. "The space between?"
"Egan, er, yes. The gap is closing for some, but becoming wider and more noticeable for the others. Internet costs money, everything costs money. And for businesses to assume that all of the peoples of the world are able to keep up with them, it makes the gap wider and wider all the time. For the ones that have been left behind."
She felt his eyes follow her movements along the wall, fingers grazing the spine of one title or another. He got up to join her, to refill their glasses. Bringing the bottle to her, he stood too close when he poured, and she was surprised he didn't miss the glass. He hadn't taken his eyes from hers.
His voice was as thick and potent as the liquor. She felt scandalized just listening to him. "There's so much potential here; it's just a matter of wanting it enough." He was still talking about the internet, but she was looking at the tiny lines around his mouth.
"I don't say it well. I want to say more," she complained. She wanted to move him; to ignite him.
He took a deep, quiet breath. "We take our accomplishments, the things we work and strive for. And we feel pride and purpose, but we forget that really, in the long run, we're a very elite group. The balance of the world isn't benefiting in any material way from our efforts. And as we keep building on our lofty aspirations, we've completely forgotten that the 'gap' grows wider with each achievement." He didn't smile, in his triumph. "Except..." He leaned into her space even more, and tilted his head so he was looking through his lashes when he softly said, "They do benefit. Slowly, incrementally. Maybe not this generation, or the next; but each step is in the right direction, which is forward. Always forward."
She was in love with him, a little. Even before he'd asked her out, he could make her breath come quickly. He'd been standing, youthful and polished, among a group of men. Someone else had been speaking; another man, with wild hair and brown eyes, and deep dimples that he flashed shamelessly.
This man had said something which made the others go silent, and Sam's head had bowed slightly, eyes averted from the glowers forming on his companions' faces. Then for an instant, they flickered to the side briefly catching those of the speaker, and a fleeting, private smile was exchanged.
She knew then, if Sam could know another man that completely, he held the potential to render her helpless.
'Federalist Papers'. Rafi Zabor's 'The Bear Comes Home'. 'Aspects of Anxiety'. Virginia Woolfe.
She asked to put on some music, and he asked her to pick what she wanted. As Stevie Wonder crowded into the room with them, she felt the alcohol warming her blood and fuzzing her vision along the edges. She wasn't drunk, just placidly humming towards it.
Sam balanced on the arm of a dark, expensive, comfortable chair, his tie loosened rakishly. He took measured sips from the snifter palmed in his hand.
"Can you recommend something that will help me with my English?" Treszka asked, pulling a leather-bound copy of sonnets from the shelf.
"Your English is fine," Sam informed her. He rose from his perch and appeared at her side, a few inches over her shoulder. "Oh, you don't want that." He took the book from her hand, and replaced it next to 'Japan: A History'.
She expected him to reach for another volume, something he thought might be more useful for picking up American idioms. Instead, he hesitated, arm stretched past her, trapping her against the bookshelf, breathing onto the back of her neck.
"Have you had a good time tonight?" he rasped into her ear.
She nodded; swallowed some searing liqueur. "I've had nice time with you tonight, Sam."
She leaned back; dared to lean against him, trusting he wouldn't move away and unbalance her even more than she already was. Immediately, she was aware of the heat his body held, somewhere under layers of her silk and his cotton shirt. She imagined pressing closer, imagined feeling his heart thump through her back; imagined vividly what else she might feel if she had the courage to move her hips.
"I was hoping..." Sam said into her dark hair. "I was hoping we could do this again. I'd like to see... more of you."
She turned. His eyes were searching hers in a way Treszka hadn't expected. As if he wasn't exactly sure what her answer would be. She wondered if he was being insincere; he had to know. Looking back over the evening, she was certain she'd made a fool of herself many times over by staring openly, laughing too loudly, listening with rapt attention and speaking breathlessly.
She wished she was more proficient in, or at least confident about her English. The moment called for something witty and flirty and sophisticated, and all she had was a working knowledge of mainly geopolitical or business phrases that left her feeling intellectually equal, but emotionally inadequate to the man for whom words were a world of his own creation.
Sam's hand had found its way to the back of her neck, and lingered there before moving away. "Would you like more?" he asked, then stepped back. "One more drink before I take you home?"
Treszka blinked herself out of her reverie, and shook her head no. "Save it for the next time?" she suggested coyly. There would be a next time.
'Contact', by Carl Sagan. Kurt Vonnegut. Everything by Carol De Chellis Hill. 'On Our Own Terms: Moyers on Dying'.
His lips were firm and confidant, even as his eyes sometimes gave away his uncertainty. She liked him breathing into her mouth, hovering just shy of a kiss. When his tongue began to prowl, she clutched at his sleeve, sure she'd fall to the floor.
The feel of the back of her legs making contact with the sofa startled Treszka, and she pulled away, looking around. How had she gotten here, how?
She murmured to him in a language not his own, but he clearly understood when he reached under her skirt, and traced the long line of her leg up to her hip. Biting at her neck, cupping her jaw in one hand, his breath was coming hard.
"Sam," she exhaled. "Sam, Sam."
'A Brief History of Time'. ' Ulysses'. John Locke's 'Essay Concerning Human Understanding'. Lewis Carroll & Sartre. Salinger & Alice Walker. John F. Kennedy.
She knew it, the moment the words left her mouth. She said it first in her mother tongue, and it emboldened her to speak them once more in his.
He'd been at her neck again, after they'd fallen across the bed. She could feel the welt rising where his teeth had gently grazed at her skin. Her hand had vanished under his shirt, and she spread it flat against his hot back.
"Szeretlek, Sam; love you."
He pulled away, chest heaving. The glitter she'd seen in his cornflower blue eyes as he'd swept her into the bedroom was abruptly replaced with a colder stare, an appraising squint crinkling at the corners.
She held her breath, and he looked away. "Treszka. Um."
She wouldn't let him finish gathering his thoughts. Pushing against him while pulling away, she rolled to the edge of the bed, and groped her way to her feet. She gathered her blouse from where it had pooled on the floor, and caught a hip on the nightstand, knocking Cormac McCarthy's 'Blood Meridian' to the floor.
Fitzgerald. Mary Renault. 'Lord of the Flies' & 'Magic Mountain'. Tolkien. Grisham.
"Treszka, please wait," Sam called, following her into the living room, his belt slapping at his thigh. "Let me... ah god, will you let me drive you home?" She kept her head lowered, searching for her shoes, keeping his eyes from finding hers. Blurred with tears.
"I can have a taxi. It's not a problem for me."
"It's a problem for me," Sam asserted, startling her when he took her arm. "I don't want you leaving like this."
"I cannot stay, Sam." It was a plea. And she saw that he didn't intend for her to stay. "I'm sorry."
"I'm sorry," Sam echoed. "I think, I think...."
"I'm going to go now, okay?" She held her shoes to her misbuttoned blouse, the stringy handle of her purse dangling in the air. "I have to go."
She paused on the third step to slip her feet into her pumps. She didn't look back, but the light trickling from the doorway told her that Sam still stood there, silent; watching.
'Of Human Bondage'. 'Of Mice and Men.' 'Of Heart and Mind: Social Policy Essays in Honor of Sar A. Levitan'.
"Treszka?" came the voice of her delicately featured assistant from the doorway of her office. "Mr. Németh is ready for you...." His words trailed away when he noticed the young woman's haunted expression as she stared at the screen of the television. "Minden csoda három napig tart," he said, more to the image of the dark-haired presidential advisor that loitered at the edge of the screen. "Every miracle lasts only three days." He repeated the proverb in English, thinking she hadn't heard him clearly.
"Or one night," Treszka whispered, and snapped off the picture.
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