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A Test Of Love

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A love that withstands the test of time

Watching her across the table at Morning Call, I was going nuts! Her teasing had to be intentional. I mean, she has to know what she is doing to me…. My eyes follow her. I always want to hold her! Carmen never ceases to trigger alarms in me. I’ve tried to be cool, but I’m drawn to her like sharks to blood. Yet she acts casual, sometimes even elusive with me, and it puts me over the edge. She avoids pointed questions about her past—questions that would help me understand who she is and why she has become an addiction for me.

It’s true that I’ve invented my own past for her—not that I don’t feed her a little truth in the mix, but I could no more disclose my full story to her than she would hers to me. But who is she? Her pale skin excites me. Her auburn hair looks familiar, though I sense artificial color. Her kisses take my breath away, evoke thoughts of the past, but if they call up real memories, those memories come from long ago and far away. We could have a future together, or could we have had a past. She’s an honest to goodness deja vu experience, a mental and psychological quandary. So, who am I kidding? —Could she feel the same way?—

Watching her lips move mesmerizes me to the point that it’s hard to focus on her message. Her voice charms birds from heaven. As I grow immersed in its sweet sounds, their meaning eludes me. It’s all a pernicious plot devised to weaken my resistance. She has to know what she’s doing—sitting here smiling like that. I’m convinced she’s putting on a personal laugh-a-thon and roast in my honor. She has to know things about us that I don’t!

“What are you doing Valentine’s Day?” she asks as she sips her coffee. “I really did want to bring in the new millennium with you New Years, but I had pressing business on the West Coast, and I had to be fresh for that.”

“I’m surprised you regard me as a valentine,” I answer. “Every time I ask about you or your past, you insist I go on about myself. All I know of you is that you run a curiosity shop selling dolls, talismans, magic amulets and jewelry. If people want a reading, you consult your crystal ball or lay down tarot cards to tell them about themselves. Intriguing stuff, but it’s only part of who you are.”

“Don’t you like talking about yourself, Thomas? Most men are pleased to be center of attention and conversation.”

“Guess that’s supposed to be an honor, but honest relationships consist of give and take. Half the talk should be about you!”

“Is that a challenge?”

“Whoa, whoa,” I choke. “Let’s not go hostile! I’d just like to know if you’re the woman I’d consider hanging my hat with. Hasn’t that occurred to you? Or why mention Valentine’s Day to me?”

“You’d consider hanging your hat with me?” she asks rolling her eyes and throwing in a blush for good measure. “Don’t the items in my shop put you off just a little? What if I’m a witch or some kind of monster?”

“Hardly think that’s the case. You like dogs, give money to the needy. You’re fair with folks from what I’ve seen, and you’re a positive representative of your own pantheon of people.”

She gags on her coffee with that statement and spews some up her nostrils. “What does that mean?” she coughs, bleary-eyed.

“You’re not a monster. You choked at the implication you might be different. Monsters don’t consider that an issue, don’t think of anyone but themselves.

“My, my, Thomas, but you seem to know about monsters.”

And you act like you’re hiding something. Do you consider yourself a monster?”

“No, but there are people who think so, because I’m different.”

“Is that why you don’t answer questions about yourself?”

“You might say that…. And because most men don’t want to hear about women; they prefer to brag on themselves. Guess you’ve evolved beyond that.”

“Well, I’d certainly like to know more about you! At the moment, you’re my exclusive love interest. That makes you worth investigating.”

“Your exclusive love interest?” Her eyes widened.

I hesitated for effect. “Unless or until it becomes evident we can’t make things work between us.”

“So, you’re saying: For the moment you’ll have no other woman—only me, until you figure out where we stand?”

“That’s right,” I said with a nod.

“Not even those beautiful bronze-skinned babes in California?”

“Not even them….”

“Okay…. Let’s see if you’re as honest as you claim. Join me in Palo Alto for Valentine’s Day.”

She handed me a plane ticket and a reservation for one at the Beachcomber Hotel in Palo Alto. “Get comfortable there. I’ll join you in a couple and bring you to my ocean front cottage.”

“Just like that?” I ask.

“Just like that! … but take care for those foxy women. They go for big, buff, blond-headed types like you, and they’re crawling the beaches looking for men!”

“I’m game—on one condition….”

She caresses me with her smile, knows I’ve taken the bait and comes with her follow up. “What condition might that be?”

“That you tell me more about yourself at your lair in Palo Alto.”

“You have a deal, Buster. Provided you do the same, I’ll come clean with you! But, ‘Give and take,’ as you put it.”

I look at the departure time on the ticket. “Gotta get it together right now,” I say. “Almost time to go!” I kiss her cheek and give her money to cover our bill.

* * *

As I step from the plane in Palo Alto, a warm, dry breeze gives me a gentle reception—such a contrast to the suffocating humidity of New Orleans. As Carmen predicted, women hurry out to greet our group.

“Hola, Amigo,” chants the loveliest of the welcoming committee, a sultry Hispanic with deep chocolate hair and dark skin. “My name is Carmen. Could you use a guide to show you the delights of Palo Alto?”

I look at the woman—so beautiful—she makes my blood burn, almost as hot and fetching as the real Carmen, and that’s saying plenty!

“Too obvious….” I counter as I shake my head and stride away. Really? I think. She’d really send such a babe to tempt me and have her introduce herself as Carmen? What kind of stupid does she take me for? But I have to admit, she sent a serious looker, or should I just say hooker?

More like her will come; I know it, but this was the test I’d signed for. I hope the real Carmen is worth it. She must secrete pheromones or use potions to attract me— beyond any attraction I have for other women. Just finding out what she does might be worth the anguish she is putting me through.

* * *

I walk the promenade, determined to find a gift worthy of her taste. In the first block I see: Carmen’s Curio Center. Have to look inside!

“Help you, Sir?” asks a tall, blonde-headed beach-honey.

“Your name wouldn’t be Carmen, would it?”

“No!” she said with a machine-gun laugh. “I’m Sally, manager of her Palo Alto shop. Carmen lives in New Orleans, but she’ll be here for Valentine’s Day. Want me to set up an appointment for you?”

“No, thank you, Sally. I’m Thomas, her date for Valentine’s Day, and I’m hoping to pick up a fitting present for her.”

“Carmen has chosen well!” Sally purred. After a brief hesitation, she placed her hand over her mouth. “Excuse me!”

“No need…. Thanks for the confidence builder. Can you recommend a gift–an item she’s never seen and wouldn’t expect?”

“Well…. Carmen is a Gemini. I just made an amazing purchase of an amulet with her birthstone, beautiful tiger’s eye and onyx stones set in yellow gold. I was looking forward to showing her the piece, but maybe you should be the one….”

Sally removed the amulet from the case it was featured in and fastened it around her neck. “What do you think?”

“Stunning! It looks ancient. Has real heirloom quality!” I said, my jaw hanging open after the comment.

“I’d planned to price it at $2500 but since it’s a gift for Carmen, I’ll let you have it for a mere seventeen fifty, and add diamond chips for accent.”

“You have a buyer,” I said as I reach in my back pocket.

“I’ll add the diamonds myself. If this piece is magical, they have to be set a certain way. Are you staying at her villa?”

“Staying at the Beachcomber,” I answer.

“I’ll drop it by when I’m finished. Thomas Hammer is it, same as your credit card?” She calls me back from my thoughts of Carmen.

“That’s what I go by….”

“I’ll drop it over personally this evening.”

Maybe I’m paranoid, but on the way to the Beachcomber, women seem to leer from every alley, street and building. Three of them follow me into the hotel—one with a shrill wolf-whistle. I mean, come on—more of Carmen’s doing? I get occasional female oglers in New Orleans, but this is out-and-out ridiculous. Maybe some magic is at work along the beach, or maybe, Carmen has left her footprints. Hummm….

At the check-in counter a busty redhead in a low-cut blouse leans towards me. “Name is Charlotte, Honey. How can I help you? We only have three rooms available right now. One is next to mine.”

“No, thank you. I have reservations.” And I hand her the receipt.

“Nice,” she hums in a seductive voice as she studies the invoice.

“Nice?”

“You’re right across the hall from me, Handsome. So if you should need anything, just anything….”

“Thanks, Charlotte,” I say in a dismissive yet not entirely unfriendly tone. I walk to my room, but my mind strays to Carmen.

Is this procession of women her idea? She set me up to potentially encounter these babes? Maybe I should exploit the situation and have fun with her. Then again: maybe I should cool it to learn what she knows about us? All I’m sure of is that I respond to whatever-it-is-she-has-or-does more than I respond to any other woman I’ve ever met in my lengthy history.

The more I think about that woman, the more her allure intrigues and frustrates me. I can’t get her out of my head. There is some of her in every woman I meet, but none measure up. Their voices aren’t hers. None have her intellect. She stands above…. Does she know I feel this way? Am I the only one she effects like this? Maybe she’s more than she presents herself to be? So many women in the world, and I’m stuck on one…. It isn’t fair! Could I be in love again?

I approach a beach-front café  and stop to clear my head.

* * *

A delicious Chinese waitress brushes my arm with her breasts and leads me to a table in the corner. “Hello,” she sighs. “I’m Lien Hua. I will be serving you today.” She places her hand on my shoulder and squares off with me, barely a foot from my face. Have to take a deep breath and let it out—slowly. What kind of spell am I under, I wonder. I blink to distinguish reality from the fog inside my head.

“What’s good on the menu? What would you recommend?”

She puts the menu in front of me  and squeezes my shoulder. “Our soup of the day is egg drop. And it’s very good. I wouldn’t recommend the salmon; all we have is farm raised at the moment. Hai Song, our chef makes a world-class steamed sturgeon, and his oysters are fit for royalty. If you’re looking for value, our stir fry is very tasty. I’ll be back in a minute for your order. In the meantime, what would you like to drink?”

“French Sauvignon Blanc please, with the sturgeon and veggies.”

Her eyes widen when she uses my shoulder to push herself up. “Excellent choice. Your wine will be here shortly.”

Four young ladies at a nearby table eye me as Lien Hua leaves. It feels like more of Carmen’s handiwork. Or am I just paranoid? “Ridiculous,” I mutter. “The entire coastal area can’t be her oyster. Nobody has….”

I cease my under-breath chatter when the busboy fills my wine glass. I swirl the wine, inhale, then sip. “This will do.”

Gawking women whisper. Do I have toilet paper hanging from my crotch. Can they see blood pouring from my eyes, issued from the last war I started or the monsters I’ve killed, or am I just wrong for being a man? Why do I sense Carmen in this?

“Hope everything is to your liking, Big Guy,” Lien Hua says as she places my sturgeon and smiles flirtatiously.

She rolls her hips as she leaves, unlike her first trip to the kitchen. Have to shake my head to clear it. Maybe I misconstrue innocent comments and actions for more than they’re intended. “But all of them–so many of them?” My brief whisper draws eyes.

As my fork touches the sturgeon, its white flesh crumbles, and steam issues forth. “Ahhhhhh, the savory smell!” It’s the only reaction I can give.

Giggles ensue from the table of women. I hear one comment above the murmurs: “’Ahh,’ he says…. No skanky fish for blond hunky…. Only the best!”

The comment is not intended for my ears—but I can’t believe it! I’m not one to complain about reverse sexism—but this is offensive! Guess this is what women have dealt with since the advent of our species. Frankly, I’ve been guilty myself a time or two. Karma has me by the balls.

My meal brings me to a calm, restful place before the waitress comes with the bill. “Care for a dessert—on the house?”

“Thank you, but the entrée and veggies were fine. I’d spoil the lingering taste if I added more to such a delicious delicacy.”

“Good looking as well as cultured,” she croons.

I pay the bill, leave a handsome tip, hurry away from my oglers and make it to my room just as Sally arrives with my trinket. She models the pendant and asks, “What do you think of the diamonds?”

“Perfect placement, nice accent… You’re very good at what you do.”

“Why thank you,” Sally responds as if surprised.

She eases the pendant into a classy box with a drawer and hands it to me. “Thank you for your patronage, Mr. Hammer, or may I call you Thomas?”

“Thomas is fine. Thanks for your suggestion, for your expertise and for the price break. Pleasure doing business with you.”

I put an extra hundred in her hand then lead her to the door, half expecting her to turn flirtatious, but she leaves graciously, and for a moment my paranoia seems unfounded; then again, she works for Carmen and doesn’t need friction at her job. I must control my skepticism. All women can’t be out to “get” me.

No sooner has this thought passed my mind than there is a knock on my door. I crack it an inch, and Charlotte, from the desk, slips in.

“Just got off, Big Guy. Care to join me for a night out, or would you prefer we have our own little private party and a night in?”

My brows knit into a scowl. “I’ll pass on both.”

“But you have no idea of the delights you’d be missing,” she parries, pressing herself against me. There could be no question about her intentions.

“That’s the way it will remain,” I counter. “I’d like you to leave. I have my own interest—and you are not her.”

“Well, I’ll be damned,” she says as she makes her departure.

Five minutes later, another knock, and I begin to boil.

I throw my head back when I pull open the door. It isn’t possible! “Sif? No…. It can’t…. You aren’t…. You’re dead. Ragnarok killed you! Whaaa?”

And this creature of beauty before me transforms into the Hispanic woman from the airport, Lien Hua, the waitress, then successively, the four girls who sat at the table near me, Charlotte from the hotel and finally Sally from Carmen’s curio shop. All I can do is stare.

“So you are Thor! …and you are without Sif!”
Totally dumbfounded, I hang my head. “And you are Sally?”

“Never put on Sally’s face till now. However, I talked to her. She told me you were a perfect gentleman but wouldn’t tell me what you purchased from the shop!”

With no further adieu, Carmen is standing before me—all five foot eight inches of her glorious self.

“Carmen? You’re not supposed to….”

“… couldn’t wait.”

I scratch my head. “You played the parts of all those women?”

“All but Sally and the four at the restaurant who were there at my request. My friends have all been alerted that you’re my guest.”

“This is for you.” I hand her the box from her curio shop.

“We only put our finest wares in this kind of box,” she says as she opens the drawer, caresses the pendant and clasps it around her neck.

Her form wavers like a mirage in the desert. “Ohhhh, It’s a m-miracle!” she stammers, “This is the All-Seeing, All-Knowing Eye of Providence. Now I’ll be able to delve into the future as well as change the past! ”

“Who are you?” I ask. “I’m sure Carmen is only one of your disguises, one of your multiple identities.”

“A love of yours from ages past, Thor. We’ve had ups and downs, but I’ve always burned for you. Tracked you over centuries, tried to keep up with who and where you were. In our times together, I’ve never told or shown you I could shape-change. I never fully trusted you, but I chased you through countless countries over the centuries in an endless number of disguises, so I know you’ve had your women.”

“There were others after Sif, but you were the only other while I was with her.”

“And so this test, Love, to see if you could change. I never knew when Sif would show herself again. Since I lost my husband, I’ve tried to stay with you. I’ve been near you as much as I could be: wondering, watching, waiting….”

Before my eyes, a specter appears, wavers, changes and grows, and there stands a woman: tall, light skinned with hair as dark and coarse as a wild boar.

“Cerridwen? It’s you!” I exclaim.

“But so much more than just myself.”

She changes into the visages of a hundred women, as I watch—dumbfounded. “Now you can have any woman you desire, Thor, and they will all be me—different looks, different feels, actions and speech! With my cauldron I possess the powers of transformation, inspiration and rebirth. And now–with the talisman Sally inadvertently purchased and you bought for me, I have the power to see and understand the future!

“Taliesin, my son, the world’s greatest poet, desires to record and share our love story for posterity!”

The upshot of this, being too much to absorb, I can only mouth a simple comment: “For love of you I halted the Viking invasion of Wales and Ireland. For love of you, I will be faithful. This is our time. We have outlived the others.”
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Author Russell MacClaren is a Writer and Poet.
You can reach him at his Facebook page

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