Original. Based on no one, no face, no story, true or otherwise. Just a nasty little bunny that has pestered me for over a decade. It gets noisy when life is rough, so I wrote it. Now, maybe it will leave me alone.
End of an Affair
Just before the promise of spring, winter reared its ugly head for one final time in Budapest.
Cold and rainy. The season was not giving up its frigid toehold easily.
It was so nasty out, I left the Conservatory early. The heat wasn’t working in the old building and my fingers, even in finger-less wool gloves, weren’t moving properly.
Slow as the heat in the old building.
I figured I could practice at home. The neighbors never complained and my landlord hadn’t said anything the few times I had. I don’t know, maybe the neighbors liked Teleman’s Flute Concertos.
Like so many times before, I came off the train close to the little carriage house I rented. As I stepped off, I pulled my hood up over my head, covering as much of my face as possible. I used to not do so; I love the wind, even the cold, biting wind, on my cheeks, but in the last year, I kept hoodies and wide-brimmed hats, an attempt to cover my features.
Because of Him.
I refused to allow myself to think deeply about our relationship. Doing so set me off on a guilt trip. My mother would roll in her grave if she knew about it. I couldn’t tell my friends, my co-workers, my relatives about my lover. I didn’t even dare write vague references no one would get but me on my blog, my journal, posts locked from the world.
Why? Two reasons.
- He was a world-renowned international actor. His star had risen when he starred in The Pretty Penny. Eyebrows raised at the strength of his secondary character. Then there was The Darby, the canon was lit. Three television series advanced his career and then, the covetous prize, Down the Dirt Road trilogy. Privacy was a luxury and we strove to keep our relationship a secret, because privacy was a precious, but costly thing. And privacy was necessary because –
- He was married. Beautiful wife. Three precious children. Two girls and a boy.
He loved his wife; I knew that. Those children meant the world to him. Normally, she and the children split time on the road with him. They went to wherever and the children, young as they were, would get an education most children didn’t get. And they were together after Daddy wasn’t shooting and they were a happy family, being tourists and all.
Except last year, the eldest entered school, on another continent, where they lived and then little one had tonsillitis and all of them, including his wife had Covid and he was told to stay away.
He did. A more unhappy man never existed.
So here he was in Budapest, filming the second installment of Down the Dirt Road, and his wife and children were in Wyoming on their ranch with the horses and goats and chickens. And no plans to get together until the Christmas holiday where the crew and filming would shut down for a week and he would fly home.
And we happened.
I was in Hungary, getting my doctorate at the local conservatory. I had taught in a little college in the upstate since I received my masters. Taught in the same little college I got both degrees from. One of my professors retired and I stepped into his office and his schedule. It was an easy transition.
After five or six years of this cozy job, a former classmate told me that I could make more money teaching at a big university. My mom was close by and not in good health, so I stayed until she passed away. My only reason for staying now dead and buried in a cold cemetery next to my father, I had no reason to not pursue my dream, so I searched the internet, contacted directors and heads of departments. I sent resumes, faxed, emailed. Nothing.
Finally, a head of the department, a former professor who I assisted under, contacted me and told me what I seemed to have forgotten.
You will get your foot in more doors with a doctorate. Complete with formal, published, thesis. Call me when you get it. Good luck. Have a nice day.
No one near me offered a doctorate program. I could get something sort of online, but I wanted a real one. I did some research, took on a second job tending bar in the next county over on the weekends. Where I lived and worked was rather conservative, so I had to be very careful. We had a professor up for tenure put through hell when a parent realized that the bartender tending bar at the local Applebees was her son’s Geometry professor! I pulled in that belt, took on the classes no one wanted evenings during the week and stashed every penny. I sold mom’s house, her car, everything but her wedding rings and grandma’s jewelry. When the funds were finally raised, I started applying to colleges. I applied at a conservatory in Budapest on a lark. Never thought I’d get a response.
I did. Repeat after me – shocker!
I did the courses and most of the thesis online and then I asked for a year’s sabbatical. I must say, the college president wasn’t thrilled, but he allowed it. He had almost a year’s notice and it was noted the load I was teaching, I was due some kindness.
I spent the next months doing church concerts for love offerings, at least two small local orchestras did the same. The orchestra I performed with on a regular basis gave me the proceeds of the Christmas program for one weekend. I rented my home to a friend going through an ugly divorce during my stay out of the country.
You would think I was set, right?
I would be, if I decided to stay put, except this was Europe and God only knew when I would get to return. I was able to find and rent my little furnished carriage house near the train for a decent price, plenty of trees, the home was fenced, so privacy out the wazoo. I discovered I could slide in and out via the alley, unseen and unnoticed. The couple who owned the carriage house ran a courier service, so they hired me with the understanding that my time was flexible. The pay was more than reasonable.
Nice, eh? I would be able to do touristy things on the weekends and long breaks. No need and no reason to go home. I was an only child, my mother was an only child and my father’s cousin had been distant at best. I recalled the one and only time I saw him, he came to father’s funeral and upon finding he wasn’t mentioned in the will, slid off in the night. I trusted my friend with my home and I had an elderly nosy neighbor with binoculars and my email address.
It was one of those courier runs soon after I arrived when I met Him. I delivered to the set a few times a week, so I knew my way around. I had a package from the producer, marked ‘urgent’ and ‘deliver personally‘ to the director and of course he was on another set and rather than go look for him, I was told he was due on the set I was on within the half hour. It was late, I was tired, but I didn’t have a class until noon the next day. There was a 24 hour bistro on the way home, so I figured I’d grab something then. It was the end of a long day, and I sank my weary behind in the nearest unoccupied chair. Peace reigned for several minutes.
“Excuse me, but you don’t look like George Cambetti.” I jumped out of the chair, only to be laughed at by That Man. “Oh, I’m joking.” He flipped his hand at me. “He’s not even here today! Sit back down.”
I glared while I turned around and settled in.
“You seem familiar. Have I met you before?”
I held up the large envelope. “I have this for the Director and I’m to hand it to him personally.” I flipped it around to show the delivery tag attached to the back. “He has to sign it and everything.” I sighed dramatically. “Wish he’d hurry, it’s been a long day.”
He took in my demeanor. I was tired. It was getting late. Rehearsal that day had been exhausting, the conductor all over the brass and my section got to sit through it.
He turned and walked off.
Actors, I rolled my eyes. More prima donnas than any musician.
Five minutes later, the director arrived, the star of the show at his shoulder. I handed the envelope over and waited for the signature. Once completed, the man took off in a huff, leaving me with my hero.
“My pleasure,” he nodded. He then wandered off in search of coffee. I hoped he’d invite me for coffee and sandwiches. The caterer was well known, but no invitation was uttered and I left, bemused and kicking myself for not asking for at least an autograph or photo together.
Oh well. In the end, we would have enough photos of us together to make both of us squirm.
This scenario was repeated several times over the next two to three weeks. The set the movie was shooting at was on my way home from the practice rooms, to the office, to the set, to home. My landlord utilized me a lot and I didn’t mind. It was easy money. Most times, I didn’t see Him, but when I did, he made sure to wave in passing by.
It was another run, another night and the rain was threatening. I dropped off a package to one of the assistant directors and headed to that little bistro. For some odd reason, it was busy and I sat at the last available table, semi secluded. I almost decided to carry the meal home, but thought to sit for a few moments and enjoy.
“Hi. Can I sit with you?” I looked up to see Him standing there, meal in hand and looking sheepish. “I wasn’t paying attention,” he shrugged sheepishly. “There isn’t anywhere else.”
I didn’t have to look to know it was the truth. My mouth was full, my cheeks puffed out like a gerbil’s with too much food, and motioned for him to take the other seat. The table was small, but I pulled my plate closer to me.
The swallow was painful and audible.
So we both nibbled, rather I nibbled; he ate like a man who hadn’t eaten in some hours.
We talked. We talked about his role, his former roles, my musical career, where I taught, where I wanted to teach.
We talked about his kids, his wife, the goings on in the household. Funny kid things that made me laugh. Made him laugh. I told him the antics of my former students, my job. For some odd reason, the condition of the bathrooms in the basement of the Fine Arts Building came up and he chortled at the thought of the males using the women’s restrooms to brush their teeth and the girls didn’t mind because the building was old so the pink painted bricks gave them privacy, they knew the condition of the sinks in the men’s restroom and they were friends.
“Do you know the condition of the men’s bathroom?”
“Sadly, yes. It was that way when I was a student. It’s deplorable.”
We both had a good laugh.
In time, the bistro cleared and we realized it was late. Very late. Both of us ran to the train, sharing my load so I could run faster.
I missed the last train just in time to watch the taillights go around the bend.
“How far are you?”
I watched the lights getting smaller in the distance. “Honestly? Three quarters of a mile. Next stop up.” I cringed, using American measurements in a country that had no clue. Luckily for me, He was an American.
He was looking at the sky. Nothing was visible because of the dense cloud coverage. The breeze picked up, the smell of coming rain in the atmosphere. “Let’s start walking.”
“And if we see a cab, I’ll pay for it.”
There was little chance of a cab coming by this late at night. We began to walk.
We made it almost over halfway there when the first, fat raindrop fell. By the time we reached the alley, it was pouring, complete with thunder and lightening. I motioned for him to follow me through the thick foliage where the alley was hidden and through the even better hidden gate. He followed me in when I got the door open. I shut it behind him.
“Let me get a towel.”
“It’s kind of small.” It was small. But it was perfect for my current needs.
“Beats a hotel.”
“I’m sure it does.”
It was when I got into the bathroom, that I remembered I had one towel and one bathrobe. I mean, it was just me.
At least the towel was clean. My bathrobe, was in the hamper. Laundry Day was tomorrow and the robe had missed the last three. It stunk! No way I was offering or parading in it.
I grabbed the towel, my apology forming on my lips as I exited the bathroom.
“Yeah.” I handed it over. “You first.”
He began to rub his hair and face. “Really, only one?”
“I’m only here for a year and a half.”
He peaked out from under the towel. “A half?”
“Summers.” I shrugged. “I left two days after I turned in my grades and will return a few days before I have to attend faculty meetings.” I shrugged. “That is unless I have another job waiting for me. Then I will have those faculty meetings!”
He rubbed his head a few more times before peeking out again. He laughed at me wiping at my face with my saturated arm sleeve. “Here.” He began to wipe my hair vigorously. His grin was boyish, before falling.
And then he kissed me.
We were stripped out of our clothes, peeling them off as he backed me into the bed.
At some point, we got up, put our wet clothes over the rod-iron heater, hung up on the shower rod. We made love several times before finally succumbing to sleep. My last thought was this could not happen again.
It happened again. And again and again. I didn’t mind that pretty much all of ‘us’ happened in my little abode. He was married and the last thing either of us wanted was attention. He never asked for my number, all of our planning took place as I ran through with deliveries. Several times, we met at the Conservatory Library, me with music and reference books spread about and him spread out caddy-corner from me, reading the local paper or the updates on the script of the series. Talking happened in a general passing the shit way. Other times, we’d meet at the bistro or some other small, secluded restaurant, just ‘bump’ into each other. He always picked up my bill, thank you for letting me share your table. We never arrived together; never left together. I harbored no illusions that he would leave his wife for me, that our relationship would continue after he or I left. It would end as abruptly as it began. Anything besides these five minute meetings and planning sessions, the occasional meal out, were at my place. The back entrance to my carriage house was well covered and unintentionally secretive. At times, we harbored guilt feelings. We acknowledged them, vowed this was the last time and then we’d stumble into each other and it started all over again.
Once, he took me well away from Budapest, the crowds. There was a little bed and breakfast in a small, rural town, where no one had access to television. He wasn’t recognized and we spent three marvelous days, roaming the countryside, locking the world away from our tawdry affair, basking in the fall air and each other.
He went home for Christmas. He was back nine days before we bumped into each other and made plans. He asked what I did for Christmas and I smiled, telling him of my Christmas trip to Venice, the museums of Rome. He politely looked at my tourist pictures.
That night, nestled in each other’s arms, He spat I should never get in a gondola alone. Someone who loved me should be with me. Gondola rides were special. He stopped at ‘only for lovers’.
I didn’t ask. I knew that ‘someone who loved me’ wasn’t him. He might care, but he was lonely and I was convenient and willing.
And stupid. That was my mother’s voice.
I knew his shooting schedule would send him to Germany for some weeks and then the show would wrap for the season. Rumor had it the author of the original book was working on another one and chances were, the series would continue. Or the company would buy the rights and create their own filmed equal, much like several others had in the past. Regardless, sometime in the late spring, our fling would be over, and he would simply be a sweet memory. He might be back before I left, but I doubted it. There was an alarm clock on our affair and it would end as quickly as it began.
There was a coffee shop a block from my home. I stopped to warm my hands more than drink, but it was a quick stop.
It was still threatening to rain when I reached my secluded gate.
It was not shut, slightly open. This caused me concern. I made sure it was shut when I left that morning. I slid my iphone from my pocket and quietly opened the gate and tiptoed in.
My door was unlocked.
I keyed the first 2 numbers of the police emergency line and slowly opened the door.
At first, I exhaled; relieved. I recognized his out of tune whistling. Then I remember he whistled when he was upset.
Why would he be upset?
I hung up and set down my phone before stepping into the bedroom.
His backpack he never went anywhere without, was opened on my bed. He was rattling around in the bathroom. As he came out, I could see he was removing his things. There was nothing personal, just an extra toothbrush, razor, shampoo, phone charger.
An extra towel and bathrobe. They were nothing special, in fact, both were bought online, in a fake name with a gift card and sent to my address.
He stopped when he came out of the bathroom. He smiled nervously. “Hi.”
“Did shooting wrap up or are you leaving for home from Germany?”
He set his things on the bed and scratched his ear. I recognized the nervous habit. “Uhm-”
He tipped his head in embarrassment, his eyes squeezed painfully. “We’ve… almost been caught.” As he looked up, I could see how he was fighting tears. “Someone took a picture of us at the bistro that first night.”
“Only once? And that lon-”
He snarled. “Also, from at the Conservatory Library… the security camera…”
“How did that become public?” I hissed. “We didn’t touch! Banal conversation!”
“Don’t know, don’t care, they made the rags in the States.” His shoulders slumped. “Someone made some money trying to start something.”
“Your wife knows.”
He nodded. “She called me laughing about it. Said someone was digging deep.”
“Does she believe you?”
“Yeah. I mean, I think so.” He started moving things around on the bed. “Someone sent her a dozen pictures taken in different places over different times. I told her you worked for the courier. We just run into each other because of the locale. Nice to talk to someone with an accent I can understand. ” With that, he sprang into a jumble of nervous words. “I’m sorry. It’s my family. I can’t take a chance. I wanted to be done before you got home.”
I stood there for a moment. I wanted to ask him if he even planned to leave a note, but I knew he wouldn’t. No proof of anything. “I’ll go. Thirty minutes?”
“You don’t have to-”
“Yes, I do.” It was more clipped than I intended, but it got my point across. “Leave your key on my counter. Lock everything up. Check the corners before you leave. It’s raining so take my black umbrella. I can get another.”
I was out the door before he could protest.
The air was heavy and it was almost dark when I reached the coffee shop. “Back so soon?”
“I dropped it at my front door,” I lied smoothly. I held out the money and took the cup. “I think I’ll drink it here.”
The girl shrugged. It didn’t matter to her if I stayed or not.
The skies opened up while I waited and I ended up drinking the coffee and a latte, my mood matching the weather. I stared out the window, watching the rain.
This was a pain I never experienced. I lied to myself thinking it would be easy, that it wouldn’t hurt. Shake hands. Thanks for the good time. It was temporary, I knew that.
But it did hurt. I didn’t just care, I loved him. I hung on to his stories about his kids, his life. And this hurt to the marrow of my bones. How did this happen? What a lopsided relationship! A single tear cut a roadway down my cheek and I hurriedly brushed it away.
Not crying was now a fight. I waited until I couldn’t wait anymore. There were no pedestrians, no traffic and I dashed to the door when the rain took a small break. Within a block, it began to pour again and I let my tears flow freely. No raking sobs, just tears. Tears for a relationship that should never be. Tears for my stupidity.
Tears for my heart.
I stepped in my home, the keys sitting on my counter as I asked. As I expected, there was no parting gift, note, anything on my bed. The only items left behind was the nondescript bathrobe and towel. Certainly not proof of an affair and I decided he left them because they wouldn’t fit in his backpack. There had been no apology to me, my heart, and I suppose I didn’t deserve one. I was just as much at fault.
But still. He would probably go home and lavish attention on his wife and family. And me?
I stared at the bathrobe.
I emailed my adviser and told him I had a bad sinus cold coming on. He responded that I should take the next few days off. Actually, the rest of the week. Bronchitis was making the rounds at the conservatory and I needed to take care of myself.
I took a hot shower, wrapped up in his bathroom and made hot tea. Read a book I hadn’t cracked since I arrived.
Cried myself to sleep.
I did laundry the next day. Washed my linens because they smelled of Him. Laundered the bathrobe and sent it to the church charity clothing store. I didn’t need two bathrobes, I certainly didn’t need His! I did keep the towel. One towel wasn’t enough!
Shooting wrapped up the following week. There was one courier run and I begged off. Same excuse. Under the weather. I suppose He went to Germany for the final leg and then home. I was waiting in line at the grocery store a week later and picked up a ragmag to peruse while waiting. There was a picture of him disembarking at JFK, at his wife’s side,two kids in hand and the smallest on his shoulders. He looked happy and content and glad to be home.
No mention of the woman of interest.
Did he make it up? Maybe he made it up. Probably made it up.
I gently closed the magazine and put it back in the rack.
I stayed. I finished my thesis, played two more concerts. Did several guest solo concerts in Western Europe and one in Eastern Europe. I was paid, smiled, accepted flowers. Armloads of flowers.
Late in the summer, I did one final concert with the Philharmonic of Epernay. I was packed, leaving for London the next morning, three days of sight-seeing and then home. I had three interviews set up upon my return to the States, including the one who told me to call when I got my doctorate. He was interested, there was need for my expertise. My fingers were crossed for that one.
I went to my dressing room after the concert. Someone sent a dozen roses. Yellow. My favorite color. There was a card, unsigned.
You were magnificent. I wish the best for you.
I lost my breath. I shook so much when I picked them up, I feared I would drop them. I took them to the hotel with me. Ended up leaving them for the maid when I checked out the next morning. How was I going to travel with them? The card was tucked discretely in my suitcase. I’d decide what to do with it when I returned home.
And had he really attended? Or did he just send them blind?
Did it matter? And why had it affected me the way it did? I cried all night, staring at them.
Guilt or hurting?
They say time heals all. I’m hoping for that. I got the position from the university that told me to call them. Actually, I had two offers and I took the comfortable one. I continued to lease out my home in the upstate and found an old Victorian five minutes from the campus for me.
I avoid looking at the tabloids in the checkout line in the grocery and I didn’t watch the station Down the Dirt Road was playing on. I didn’t want to know when He returned to Budapest, didn’t want to know if His wife and children visited, didn’t want to know if He repeated His adventure with someone else. I wanted to think I was an exception and not think about it.
Right now, I keep busy with my workload, unpacking and setting up my house, There is an orchestra here, so I auditioned and am kept very busy. At some point, I will join the faculty parties and get togethers and if I’m lucky, find a stuffy professor who will be comfortable and enjoy the concert circuit.
If I’m lucky, I’ll chalk that year up to Wild Times at Budapest High.
And I’ll get over the whole thing.