To Feel, a Modern Tale (01.22.11)

CHAPTER ONE <Click here for all of CHAPTER ONE.>

CHAPTER TWO

Chloe couldn’t remember the last time she had heard her name said in quite that way. Ecker? She muttered under her breath inquisitively. What is HE doing here, she wondered to herself as she gazed around the table looking for the face to match the voice. And then she saw him.

He had let his hair grow. Ashen hair, face as coarse and tan as ever and sunken eyes that swallowed you up and spit you out during an argument, and just as easily pulled you back in during reconciliation. What was once stubble and whiskers had blossomed into a full-grown beard. He looked just as she remembered him but maybe a little more weary and certainly calmer than their last meeting. She remembered that grimace on his face as she clutched on. Then as she lost his grip and he pulled away, she recalled how angry she had felt as he left her behind. Maybe he had come back for her? And if he had, how on Earth was she going to explain this… to anybody, least of all her family?

The two made eye contact but she signaled to him with a stern look that any communication between them should be somewhere out of public view. Ecker stopped calling out to her and instead turned his attention to the crowds that surrounded him. “So what do you want to know?” he said to the older man sitting beside him and gazing at this mysterious visitor wistfully.

“What did you see out there?” the old man said with a fire in his eyes as he spoke. “Did you meet any furreigners?” Ecker looked at the old man with a tired half-smile, almost with pity at his poor pronunciation then back at Chloe, as if the two shared an inside joke for which only they knew the punchline. He’d better watch it, Chloe thought. People are going to start getting suspicious.

Why did she have to walk into that tavern today, she scolded herself. She looked for the closest route to the exit but others had walked in behind her, and the path was no longer a clear one. Sure, life had been dull and humdrum in this village, but she’d gotten used to it since Ecker had left her there all those years ago. She had become part of this community, dry and desperate as it was. This had become home now. She planned to leave when she turned 18, and this was merely a few months away. Ecker was going to ruin everything.

He had promised to come back for her, but what she heard and what she believed were not the same. She never thought she would see him again and what if she didn’t want to go now? Could she stay, she wondered.

She weaved through the crowds and reached the door, looking back just long enough to make eye contact again with him. He couldn’t mask the disappointment which shrouded his face behind the new beard, behind the longer hair, behind the smile that he shared with the crowds that beamed back at him. She turned back to the door and quickly stepped outside, pushed her back up against the tavern wall and started sobbing.

It didn’t take long for him to make his way out to the front deck outside the tavern. She wondered what he had told the crowds. No doubt he had raised suspicions again already, she thought. She heard the people inside resume their loud chatter and one of her favorite country songs begin to blare from the speaker outside. Ecker slinked over beside her and leaned his head and shoulder against the wall and stared at Chloe. “What did you expect me to do, Chloe?”

She turned away from him and looked now toward the village streets. They were quiet and empty, with only a few cars driving by and even fewer people strolling along the sidewalk. Most people were inside or at work or maybe even at home. Home. That word had taken on a new meaning when she and Ecker had visited this place many years earlier and he had left, leaving her here create a new life, she had made this village her home. Now, at this moment, as she felt his stare on the back of her neck, she wondered exactly what home meant now.

“What did you expect me to do, Chloe? I had to go. They were leaving, and I reached for you, but you let go,” Ecker said, a crack in his voice on those last three words.

“Let go?” she practically choked on her words. “Do you think I wanted to stay here and not go with you? I was a child and I didn’t know anybody here. Do you have any idea how long it took me to find a home, to find somebody who even cared?” She turned to him now, tears welling up in her eyes. “And now you want me to just leave?”

Ecker felt her eyes pierce through him and found himself looking down – out of fear perhaps, or maybe out of shame. He lifted his gaze again to try once more but he could tell that she would never really understand what happened that day, when he was forced to leave. When they were out of time.

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