Bus Ride to Bucharest (Part X)

Chapter Ten: Little Lion Man

Ginny stepped out of the phone booth. Pedestrian conversations and happenings buzzed around them, but they were frozen in a moment of mutual contemplation. Ginny pressed her lips in a thin line.

Harassed and impatient, Eric finally broke the silence. “Let’s get out of here.”

In wordless acquiescence, Ginny followed him to a nearby café. He ordered two cappuccinos in flawless German. The cup trembled against its saucer in Ginny’s hand as she raised it to take a sip. She knew she owed him an apology – a profuse one. She believed him now. But she also didn’t believe him. It was only after the foam began to dissipate that she found something to say.

But just as she spoke, he interrupted.

“I suppose I owe…”

“Listen – “

Awkwardness pulled them both up short, but Eric plowed on. “Listen, before you say anything, I should apologize.”

“Apologize? But I am the one who should –“

He held up a hand for silence in a manner that commanded respect with such natural practiced ease, she could only raise an eyebrow.

“I should apologize for not being entirely forthcoming with you. I realize I have presented a certain…face to you that, while not wholly untrue, is not wholly true either.”

Ginny had trouble following. “I’m not sure what you mean.”

“I mean, I know what I look like. But it’s not entirely who I am. Knowing so little of each other, perhaps I was not required to divulge more, but then in such a circumstance, neither should I expect your full trust.”

Why was he speaking so differently? His tone was so different from his usual, laid-back manner, his scruffy beard, his well-worn clothes. “So you’re not a backpacker?”

Eric sighed and settled more deeply into his chair. “I am a backpacker. But only because that’s how I like to travel. It gives me more freedom to meet people. Fewer expectations. Usually. But, well, most backpackers are not exactly from my background.”

Ginny began to grow impatient. “And what is your background, precisely?”

Eric sipped his cappuccino and looked out the window. “Have you heard of Panthera Studios?”

Ginny snorted. It was like asking if she’d ever heard of Google. Or the Catholic Church.

“It’s my father’s company,” Eric muttered.

Ginny laughed. Then sat up. “Wait. Are you serious?”

He nodded. “Yeah. I grew up in the business. Saw the back end from the time I was four. Worked the front end by the time I was fourteen. When I turned nineteen, my father got ill and I began to do things for him. Small things at first. He pretended to work from home to hide how ill he was. As it got worse, I began to do more and more. Pretty soon it was just me. But when Dad couldn’t even answer simple phone calls, upper management and some investors began to worry. I managed to stave them off for awhile out of respect for Dad. When he died, though, I sold it all.”

“How old were you?”

“It was the day before I turned twenty-one.”

“So your dad gave the company to you? Wouldn’t he have wanted you to keep it?”

Eric shrugged. “He left it to me, yes. But there was no other family. It had always been just the two of us. He taught me everything I know. But, in the end, it was his business, not mine. It was good for him, but not me.”

“So what did you do?”

“I took the money and used it to start a couple independent record labels and a small publishing house. There was a man from my dad’s company who had helped me a lot when I was younger. He’d always been loyal. He oversees most things for me now while I travel, and travel is my passion. I do it every chance I get.”

“As a backpacker.”

He smiled. “As a backpacker. You don’t see people and cultures from 5-star hotels. I travel to really see people.”

“Wow.” Ginny’s head reeled from all this information, but every word he spoke, as preposterous as it could seem, rang with truth. She looked in his wide, open face and knew he did not lie. She could see the pain of his father’s death still etched in the lines between his eyes. She could also see it was not a tale he told often.

“Why do you tell me all of this? You didn’t have to do that. You showed me the newspaper. I know you didn’t do it.”

He leaned forward in his chair. He almost took her hand, but then stopped just shy of it. “I told you because I wanted you to know me,” he said. “The truth. All of it. With every other woman I’ve met before, all I cared about was that moment, even if it was superficial. But with you, I wanted you to know more. I wanted you…to think well of me. To know I’m more than what I look like.”

“Well that you definitely are,” Ginny laughed kindly. “But that’s a little ironic, isn’t it? You travel to see people but then don’t let them see you.”

He grinned. “See? That’s why I like you so much. I knew you’d call me on my own bullshit.”

They fell into an easy grace with each other. They settled affairs in Aachen and cleared his name, and once the strike lifted, they caught the next bus. They began to talk as if they would never run out of things to say. Ginny noticed the sexual hum between them had begun to fade. But in its place was something deeper, safer, more comforting. She didn’t know what it was, but that was okay. She could wait to find out.

(to be continued…)

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