First, an explanation of sorts: even though I’m very much aware of the existence of more practical means of communications, I firmly believe this exchange of missives could be a marvelous experience. See, for me it’s a chance to use my favorite fountain pen—it’s Brunswick green with a silver trim, and it makes me feel quite nice. For you, it’s clearly the perfect occasion to practice your handwriting, which is, well, lacking. For future biographers, the written word will surely be much more useful than, say, telephone calls. And being a little more ambitious—for a good cause, as you'll see—can’t you imagine our correspondence being sold for a record-breaking price in a charity fundraising auction? Because I can! Reasonably skillful musician Lawrence Prewitt and brilliantly accomplished Victoria Wright: good Samaritans even from the afterlife.
Now, having made my reasons clear: I hope this letter finds you well. It’s a trite sentence, but I do mean it. For months, I’ve heard your assurances—sometimes said in such annoyed tones, because, oh, how dare someone care about you?—about not being nervous. Even so, I have to admit that earlier, at the station, I kept looking for signals of hesitancy. Not that I wish you to be in a distressful state of mind, Lawrence; it’s just that I know changes of environment can be exasperating (the image of your eye-rolling is too clear in my mind, so I’m reluctantly opening this parenthesis to inform you that, yes, I may not have much experience with these changes myself, but I’ve read plenty about it. For a so-called artist, you think too much about one’s empirical angle, don’t you? This got long, and now you’ll probably have to reread what I was saying before this ugly disruption. You’re the only one to blame), and denying won’t help the situation! Anyway, there is the answer for your question about me being “weird”. I shall improve my ability of being subtle while trying to figure things out.
Please keep your side of the room clean. Be nice to your roommate, but not too nice. If he is awful, tell me immediately so we can take action. I’m good with plans, bullet points, spreadsheets and blackmail.
Looking forward to your eccentric print writing,
That's it. For hypothetical future biographers, for hypothetical future visitors in a hypothetical future Victoria Wright Museum, that's it.
They wouldn't pay attention to that little dot.
In the present, Victoria's pen tip rests there. Carelessly, untidily.
Her mind goes to a messy place, strange lands in which a strange post scriptum would reveal itself. Saying something. Something like: I miss you. Then: I saw you today, so I know it does’t make sense. And: I’m very happy for you, I really am, and I hope you have a wonderful boarding school experience, I hope the city treats you well and I hope you show everyone there you’re the best, because you are. I can tell you this even if I don’t know the other students and you must believe me because I know things I just do and I miss you. The words that run through her mind would make Lawrence’s scrawls look decent.
She considers writing a new letter. Old words: Dear Lawrence, etc. This time it would be immaculate.
“You’re being preposterous right now, Victoria Wright,” Victoria Wright says, and Victoria Wright agrees. She folds the paper and puts it in the envelope.
Funny thing: Lawrence notices. He notices and he wonders. His response doesn't mention it, obviously. How would he put it? Vicky, what do you mean by that tiny dot?
He comes back on the weekends. Does he ever miss Belleville? Not much, he tells her. It's not like he spends a long time away from it.
Sometimes they go the movies. Sometimes they study. Sometimes they visit Mr. Tibalt. Sometimes others of their friends are present, all of them comrades of a weird horror.
"I guess I miss walking to school with you," he says.
Sometimes they don't talk much.
“You sound funny."
“Just woke up."
“Really? Well, I abhor naps, but I guess that’s better than not sleeping enough."
“It was a very, very accidental nap. I was reading a book—”
“Textbook. Algebra. Not exciting."
“Thanks. Anyway, I was reading it in my room. David wasn't around. Still wasn't five minutes ago. I think he's practicing somewhere."
"As David should! Didn't you tell me his abilities on cello have been in a horrifying decline lately?"
"I really can't imagine myself saying that."
"I'm sure that was what you meant, though. Go on with your story."
"Right. Then I fell asleep."
". . ."
"Do you want to tell me something?"
“No. Yes. I—sorry, I just realized I’m being ridiculous.”
“You often are, so I don’t doubt it. But tell me anyway, so I can judge."
“I had a nightmare. It was—you were there."
“Oh. Well. Am I that terrifying?
“No, no, Vicky. She was also there.”
“It was awful."
“I’m sure it was."
“And when I woke up, I knew it wasn’t real, I knew you weren’t in danger, I knew she wasn’t here anymore. I knew it. Sorry. It’s just that—"
“I know. You know I do."
“I wanted to check if you were okay. Which doesn’t make any sense, really."
“Yeah, I guessed. That’s—nice."
“Lawrence. Don’t be embarrassed. Honestly. Don’t. Not about that. I would have called, too."
“Well, I would have tried to sound more composed. But you would probably have guessed."
“I would have."
This is not much after the day in which he whirled her around. And this is just before they go to a wonderful concert. There are no mirrors around but Victoria's confident that her blonde curls look more beautiful than ever, and her blue dress makes her feel very adult, very sophisticated, very far from the weird mix of boredom and chaos that is her academic life.
Due to Victoria's too punctual habits, there's enough time to check the gift shop. Lawrence is leafing through Chopin in Paris, and Victoria is holding a book which she doesn't really remember the name. See, minutes before she had no worries (except, maybe, for the fact that there ware people who actually buy these ridiculous key rings and T-shirts displayed all around the store), but now she's inexplicably reminded of something she was told earlier this week. She had done such a good job ignoring it, telling herself it wasn't really her job to be her suitemate's carrier pigeon—and for goodness' sake, they're all college students, everyone should be able to act like a grown-up and know how to communicate and . . .
“Anne Harper finds you adorable," she says.
“She told me. In a way that clearly meant I should tell you. So I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. It’s up to you now," she says, and opens the book, supposedly very interested.
“Up to me?"
“Obviously. What do you plan to do about it?"
“I don’t know, Victoria. I don’t even know what it is."
“I would absolutely hate being called adorable. It’s just so condescending! Not even a little bit imaginative."
“In your case, it would also not be accurate at all."
“And adorable, according to some. So, what would you like to be called?"
“Me? Well—it doesn't matter. That's not about me, it's about you and Anne."
"I've never had a real conversation with her."
"You have! She asked you about playing piano. While I was finishing my Social Foundations paper so we could go out, remember? She was very impressed by you and your fancy music school."
"Yeah, still not what I would call a real conversation. Is it possible that you're into playing the matchmaker now, Vicky?"
"No! No. I'm just telling you what she told me. She's a nice girl, and I thought maybe you would be interested, I don't know. Why should I? Your romantic ideals are not a matter of interest to me."
Victoria's not particularly given to regrets, but she curses the pathetic obviousness of her words. She's read too many novels in which obtuse people get surprised about their heart beating faster, about their thoughts constantly going back to a certain person. They often ask themselves about the nature of these feelings, and in the proccess they always make Victoria roll her eyes. Oh, she's not like them, not at all. She knows herself, and she refuses to be in denial. Really. She can admit her thoughts freely (in her head). When she wants to (which doesn't happen much).
Even so, this brief moment before Lawrence's answer fills her with anxiety. She can see it clearly already: his words becoming serious, him getting closer. Then she would have to do something.
Fortunately, Lawrence just rises his eyebrows, no signs of a new solemn mood awakened by her lack of subtlety while lying.
"Aren't you too young to say someone is a nice girl? Someone who is our age, by the way."
"My emotional maturity is one of the remarkable things about me, as you well know."
"Oh, absolutely. Hey, have you noticed you're reading a book upside down?"
"We better go, we're awfully late."
“I’ve only kissed two people.”
“I’m just telling you because—well, it’s not a very large testing group, is it? I’ve never heard any complaints, but I thought I should—"
“Vicky. I’m pretty sure your kisses are on a par with the usual Wright standards of excellence.”
“I’m serious! Imagine that every time you look at me from now on, you think about that awful time I used my tongue in a ridiculous, inept way. Lawrence! Don’t laugh!”
“Sorry, it's just that this unexpected lack of self-confidence is, well, unexpected. But see, we’re ruined anyway! I’ll look at you and think, oh, it’s Victoria. Remember when we were about to kiss and she started talking about the guys she had kissed and about her tongue? I can’t believe we used to be friends!”
There's nothing levelheaded about her now; the way she tries to scold him and then bursts into guffaws again. Suddenly Lawrence thinks of these big romantic scenes in which Character A cuts off Character B’s talking by kissing them, and he knows he would never, never want to do something like that. Her words are—would it be too cheesy to say they are a source of joy? Oh, it would. Even in the privacy of his mind, Lawrence can't possibly use such a term without summoning a Victoria that lets him know how she feels about his mushy nonsense. So there he is, wondering why shutting someone up should be considered a grandly beautiful gesture, and there's a mini-Vicky running through his thoughts, always ready to offer her very critical point of view on whatever he's thinking, and there's a real Vicky, who is—no, she's not laughing, he notices with some delay. Her lips finds his with a serious intent.
“Would you say you love me?”
His face turns red, and Victoria can swiftly translate the wave of unfinished sentences: you're not supposed to force confessions! And I thought you always cared about what is proper. And don’t be silly.
“You know the answer already,” he says, finally.
“Yes. Yes, I do,” she says. “And I suppose I could say the same about you.”
“You suppose? I’m honored.”
“Well, you should! Anyway, I'm sure. I know it’s not very romantic, but when I try to picture myself telling you those words, it always sounds terribly ridiculous. I love you, Lawrence. Oh, there it goes. It does sound ridiculous.”
“It doesn’t!” His smile is too wide, and Victoria has to look away. Sometimes he's overwhelming in the best way possible.
"Sadly, you're the most impartial of judges.”
“I love you too, Vicky.”
“I’m aware of that. We’re repeating ourselves.”