|Subject: Chapter 231 - Part 2 (end of chapter 231)
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Date Posted: Monday, March 27, 06:59:42am
In reply to:
's message, "Dreams in the Dark (chapters 221--?)" on Monday, February 13, 07:24:07am
He was just about to answer this--Nikita clearly touching on a sore spot, the man's color a bit higher--when she was saved from whatever scented vitriol he might spread by the arrival of one of the other passengers. She was relieved enough by the change, even if she were also direly disappointed that it wasn't her husband; her sigh was muted. But, she supposed, he would be along soon enough.
The wait was difficult, for all her long-established patience. The table they were sitting at might have the usual four chairs, but Shears managed to find a way around that--clearly determined to save them all from their watcher's presence. "Ah, Mr. Zalman." He smiled, and it was nearly impossible to tell that he was anything but genuinely pleased to see the man; Nikita almost shivered, attention truly diverted. He *was* good. "Michael and I had an appointment to have drinks with Mrs. Samuelle but were a little late. Thank you for looking after her, till we arrived."
He had swiveled the man's chair just slightly toward him, making it clear that it was time for him to move; Zalman, being the appearance-conscious creature that he was, would have to relent. Or so Nikita believed. But that knowing smile the man wore read as anything but defeat.
Jamie had planted his feet firmly in front of him now, was nearly grinning up at the newcomer. "But train rides are so lengthy. I hate to leave you all to your boredom."
The man's plans were clear, but Andrew was standing up to the quiet assault. "We're actors, my friend. We're never bored." His hand moved back the watcher's chair just slightly. "And Mrs. Ward and I have details of our next project to discuss."
This might have done it, Nikita's heart beating more heavily, as she watched the undeclared confrontation, feeling the eyes of several of the other passengers upon them--wondering what gossip might erupt. But suddenly Zalman's eyes moved toward the door, his smile deepening in that terrible way. "Then, Mr. Samuelle's presence is entirely unneeded." He rose, starting toward him. "I'll just keep him company, shall I?"
This could have been a terrible turn for the poor actress, Nikita nearly feeling the tears threatening at the thought of being separated from her husband for another second. But Shears was undeterred, speaking calmly, while slipping into the man's seat. "A husband's presence is never unnecessary, when his wife is expecting." His attention turned to the woman, whose eyes were nearly burning--however subtly--with the desire to have their watcher disappear. "Now, Mrs. Ward, if you don't mind, I think I'll put your handbag over here." He picked up the purse, which had lain on the table, and moved it to what might have been the spare chair. "We do want room for our drinks."
This move, quiet as it was, dislodged any hope Zalman had of inconspicuously intruding on their meeting. He turned toward Michael, instead. But what Nikita saw next brought out a true smile, at last.
The confrontation was brief, but the pair before her were no less ill-humored for that. While seeming to greet the studio's watcher politely, Michael leaned into him, whispering something neither the actor's wife--nor anyone else in the car--could hear. Still, once he was finished, Jamie's smile was far less confident, verging on frightened. A moment later, he excused himself--and Nikita was free of his presence for a little while longer.
This escape buoyed her, but the freedom from her anxiety also allowed her to feel the sensation which had been rising all too horribly for sometime--her nausea returning. She barely heard Andrew addressing her, as she watched her husband talking to, and tipping, the porter. "Are you feeling alright?" Her hand clenched. But there was no way to answer in the positive.
It seemed to take forever for her husband to reach her, the man an oasis in a very desolate desert. And, just when she thought her wait was finally over, he gave her a soft, assessing look before detouring to a nearby group of businessmen. And what he said to them made her love him all the more.
He was standing by them before they knew it, the whole car's attention now on him--as quietly as he spoke. "Excuse me. I'm sorry to bother you."
"Need a light?" one of them inquired, holding up a pack of matches. The smoke from the four men circled around the room.
"No. I was wondering if I could trouble you to put out your cigarettes, instead." The shocking suggestion clearly made them balk, but he went on smoothly. "My wife is expecting. Strange smells . . ." He let the idea linger, assuming any man over a certain age would understand.
The party of them did, but few were sympathetic. One, who appeared to be nearly a newspaper caricature of a wealthy banker, managed to stay calm enough to answer. "She should stay in her compartment, then." He shrugged, clearly unmoved by the tender appeal. "Women tend to be overly fussy at such times." His gaze penetrated the actor malevolently, challenging his masculinity. "A man needs a good cigarette."
There was a partial nod of the head of the newcomer, who never smoked, except when required to in his various roles. "Perhaps." His look circled the table, resting at last on the most sympathetic man. "But I'm sure you understand, nonetheless."
What the other three men and Michael's silent target understood were very different things. Still, while the spare businessmen looked disgusted at such a weakling, the fourth man put out his cigarette, smiling pleasantly. "Of course. My Myra was exactly the same." He looked to the other men, before they could object any further. "It's almost time for our lunch reservation. You wouldn't want to miss your appetizers."
This wasn't likely, but his companions agreed amid much fussing, rising to join him. The main objector left his cigarette still smoking in the ashtray, as Michael's gaze thanked his recent ally. While the men filed out, Nikita nodding her thanks to their new friend as well, her husband casually put out the remaining cigarette, before coming to her--her eyes aglow, heart thumping. God help her. She had never been so in love with him in her life.
His quiet gallantry had made an impression on those in the car, even if the impression were not necessarily the same to all. It only continued, when he reached her, taking her hand to help raise her from the chair. "Why don't you sit on this side, my love?" The term was partly for public display, but its truth was obvious, nonetheless. He maneuvered her around the table, into the spare chair, once the purse was removed; Andrew, unnoticed, placed it in the one she had just occupied. "You'll find the rhythm of the train easier to take, if you're facing forward."
He took his seat beside her after this, and she quickly discovered the truth of his words, as he motioned politely for the porter's attention. Still, she had to wonder. "Do I look that green?" With all the disturbance by Zalman, she hadn't been left with much time to contemplate how unwell she felt.
"Merely chartreuse," Andrew assured her with a smile, as Michael ordered some drinks for himself and the other man--Shears confirming the order with a nod. "But still as beautiful as always."
This was a polite sort of compliment, the actress thought, looking down. And, to her surprise, she discovered that her own drink had arrived; she seemed a little unwell at the thought, gazing up to her husband. "Michael . . ."
"It's seltzer water. Drink it. You'll feel better." She looked unsure but lifted the glass anyway--at least pleased that it wasn't alcohol. That would have been the last thing she could have withstood just now.
There was a silence, as the two men watched her; it was a little foul-tasting, but the lime which had been placed in it made it bearable. And, despite her nearly-comical repressed burp a second later, she felt immensely better. She wasn't certain whether it were the drink or merely her husband's sweet presence, but everything had changed for the better; she smiled into his eyes, loving him. And that would always be the truth of her life, as long as he was around.
Extra notes (and sorry if it's obvious): Remember that these were the days long before notions of "second-hand smoke" and its dangers or of the potential hazards of alcohol on a maturing fetus. If Nikita had been smoking a pack a day and drinking several cocktails, it would have been little surprise or shock to anyone, Michael included. Except for the fact that such behavior (the smoking, at least) wasn't seen as particularly polite in public for women, there would have been little reason for anyone to question it. Michael's behavior here, therefore, is quite unusual.
Also, I hope it would be the Club Car where the passengers would have gathered for drinks. If I've gotten it wrong, I apologize. The great days of rail travel are a little before my time.
[End of Part 231]
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