“I assume I am older than your first husband,” - Jim says lazily.
“Oh, yes,” - I answer, surprised. But not by a big margin, I add inside.
“Well, it certainly would be interesting then to see the fella you’ll get for the fourth husband. Do you think he is done with his schooling yet? John was probably in Cambridge when you got married the first time. The next one ought to still be in Eton.”
“Is this a proposal?” - I’m quite entertained.
He laughs. “I guess, it is."
“A man has to take care of his death, and have someone near who will make sure they will face the end without the feebleness,” - he tenses almost immediately after saying that. - “Or am I crossing a line?”
I breathe and smile at him, lifting myself on my elbows.
“No intention to get through it alive?” - his eyes that look for something in my face - a sign of pain, if I had to guess, start to relax.
“No, none whatsoever,” - he picks up his usual careless manner.
“And no intention to hide in the brothel, away from responsibilities now that you’ve gotten away from your wife? But rather jump in into another marriage?” - it is enjoyable to flirt and to laugh.
“Well, to be perfectly honest, I do think a bit about hiding in a brothel, for it was quite enjoyable, and I would love to show you my areas of expertise,” - the smile goes out of me almost forcibly, I am too surprised. In Jim's face I see the joy that I know too well - the joy of scandalizing the other.
“We will have to get back to that one,” - I say. But I cannot allow Jim to win and continue: “For now though I see quite a problem standing in front of us wish we to get married."
“Yes, it might be too early to talk of our marriage when our divorces are not even in the progress,” - he nods with fake seriousness to match mine.
“No, that problem is nothing compared to the other one,” - there is nothing in him but serenity and good humor. - “For I would not know what to do with my last name.”
His laugh comes easy.
“Yes, you see, after my divorce with John is finalized, I will get back to my maiden name (“What is it by the way?” “Riley.” “Beautiful. How could you change it for Whittaker?”). And then should we marry, what should I do? Becoming Mrs. Whittaker again seems… - “
“Boring.” - he finishes. Not what I was going to say, but I agree by nodding.
“That problem, I’d say, has a very elegant solution,” - he starts.
“Should I keep my maiden name?” - I jokingly ask his permission.
“That. And to show others that we are a family unit, I daresay, I could take your maiden name,” - that was unexpected.
“It is a very elegant solution,” - I allow, trying my best not to show how impressed I am.
“James Riley has a beat, doesn’t it?” - for a second I wonder if the ease is going to stay whichever will happen to us. Problems and fights with Jim seem almost impossible in that moment.
“It does,” - and then I lay back, stretching, covering my eyes from the beam of light that sneaked through the curtains. - “So, I remember being promised midias…”
I look at Jim when I stand up - he is still a picture of nonchalance with his hands behind his back, there is nothing in him that suggests that the long drive or mostly sleepless night stole his powers. The laziness allows him to appreciate my figure, I feel his eyes on me as I go into the bathroom, longing for a shower.
With a dread, I realize that I am comparing him to Tom. Tom who seemed suave before we got married, quick to answer my wits, after the marriage picked up a phrasing: “Not so fast, my dear”. Day after day to see him being tired after easiest tasks, even though there was so much love, was hard. Constantly looking at him, looking for the signs of weariness. After his death, even before thinking about ever remarrying, the decision was already made that I would try my best to stay out of it - constant fatigue, years that steal everything. It was, in all probability, what has drawn me to John - the youth, that always seems eternal.
And now, I found someone closer to my father’s age than to mine. Older than my first husband.
But I could already feel the pull, and inside my mind biggest reasons against were not able to push it back. At this moment, even if the story with Tom was going to be repeated, it seemed like a fine price for a chance to stay with Jim - with his smart phrases, with the glimmer of life that was able to survive in the coldest of places - his house, and cruelest - the war. I wanted to see what was going to happen to a man who remained awake in the den of dreams, his house, and nightmare, the war, who would finally see the real world.