about 1400 words
by James Foley
Dark-haired Diana Lessing wasn't highly educated. Rumors blamed her abusive father for her never finishing high school. But she mesmerized and monopolized Justin Bayard's life. He forgot work, skipped classes, and jeopardized his job.
Then Diana, a social activist, got arrested with Clara Trescott, demonstrating for some cause. Apparently, this made them good friends: Diana, the brunette vagabond, and Clara, the blonde socialite. So Justin met Clara. His life with Diana was unbearably intense, and they spent their last days together just staring into each other’s eyes, afraid to touch:
“Clara's taking you away from me,” Diana said. “So now she has to keep you forever—or you won’t have anybody. But I'll never let her leave you, Justin.”
“Diana,” Justin said, “drop that wild talk. You're scaring Clara with those threats.”
“Justin, I'll make her make you happy.”
Finally Justin broke with Diana. Then strange reports that she was discovered in a heap in some trash-cluttered alley. She was hospitalized, then released as an outpatient—in this world where her sweetheart’s girlfriend was her close friend. Then months later Clara dropped Justin. She'd found Alan Traynor, almost billionistic.
One misty evening Clara telephoned: “Justin, my BMW's being worked on. Drive me to Alan's place, please, and meet him. It's the right thing. He wants to meet you.”
Justin was jolted. “All those days of ours together, Clara. And it hurts now even to remember them.”
“I’ve got to accept Alan, Justin. I don’t have the knack to be a professor’s wife. You’ll move on. It’s Diana that terrifies me. She won’t let me leave you. And she’s diabolical. Fighting off her father all those years made her ferocious. She loves you so much she doesn’t want you to lose me. When you left her, she blanked-out.”
But on that foggy evening, when they reached Alan’s mansion by the sea, Clara said, “Wait, Justin. Stop the car. Up there—on the south balcony. That’s a woman, half-veiled in the mist. But I think it’s Diana. She’s been here with me. But what’s she doing here now?”
“Diana’s always loved that balcony—its high perch, its stunning view. Justin, you have to come up with me. She could do anything. Alan’s the sweetest guy in the world. But he’s no match for a demon like Diana. Do you think she’s already killed him?”
“Let’s go see.”
They took the elevator upstairs—Clara going into the house to find Alan, while Justin walked out through an alcove onto the south balcony. There the girl who’d once owned his life was leaning over the railing—slender legs pressed against wrought iron. She didn’t bother turning to face him, only saying, “Good evening, Justin”—politely, as if he were a visiting clergyman.
And there above the ocean, the autumnal night mist dampened her dark hair. Away down the coastal highway, in whispering traffic soft as sea surf, a semi squealed. Shaken by old memories and desires, Justin said roughly, “What're you doing here, Diana?”
“Nothing, Justin. Well, it started out something.”
Now Diana turned and walked inside, into a living room big enough for a Boeing. There Clara was seated on the marble floor with one arm around the shoulder of a large man—their backs against the foot of an immense black-leather sofa. That floor was warmed by what looked like an enormous Bukhara rug—probably a steal at around eighty thousand.
“Clara,” Justin said, “I’m leaving now. I don’t want to intrude.”
“No, stay,” the man said. “You're welcome, Justin. I’m just planning suicide. Clara! Clara! Clara! I hate myself. I'm sorry—just so sorry.”
As he spoke, Justin noticed an ancient Chinese ceremonial robe in a glass case, and some early-dynasty vases. The room’s black-cherry furniture, trimmed in black leather, suited the mahogany wall paneling. No theories about what that cost.
And here was Alan, obviously heartbroken because of his failed fall from fidelity. “My apologies,” he said to Diana. “You're incredibly attractive. But sometimes desire writes a check performance can’t cash.”
Diana demurred. “No, all my fault. I wanted to entice you. But I was pure frost: Iceberg City. It all started that day we first met—that day of dense fog, like today.”
Alan nodded. “I know. I remember driving with Clara to meet you through the tangled mist that veiled that ocean road. Then, on an empty stretch of beach near Point Merrill, Clara got out and I saw you coming from a wrecked, beached boat.
“I knew from Clara that derelict powerboat was where you fled to when your father became too abusive. You were wrapped in a gray blanket, which slid off as you saw Clara and came running.
“I stared at you two: Clara in the fog and you in the fog—wearing nothing but the fog. And I thought then that no matter how many beautiful women I’d meet—and even date—I would never hold a creature like you in my arms. I was obsessed. So when you came to me today, I succumbed . But then your coldness killed it.”
It seemed childish and embarrassing for this man to describe his intoxication with Diana in the presence of his fiancée Clara. But Clara evidently accepted his inoffensive frankness, accompanying his wealth and social position.
“Why, Diana?” Alan said. “You know how much I love Clara. Why do this?”
“It’s obvious,” Clara said, “She did it for Justin. I’ve told everybody a thousand times that she’s mad about him. She knew you were fascinated by her. So, she came to make you unfaithful to me—to break up our engagement, so Justin could keep me. But it didn’t work, Diana. Alan and I will be together forever.”
Diana said in a childlike voice, “I wanted Justin to be happy.”
But suddenly, reacting against this scene, Justin erupted in an outburst of fury: “Diana, you maniac, get out of our lives—or I may kill you myself.”
Clara said with alarm, “She did this for you, Justin.”
“I don’t care why she did it. This finally breaks it. I don’t ever want to see you again, Diana.”
“Justin,” Clara said, “be careful.”
As Justin turned away, he heard Diana say, “Did you see him? He wouldn’t even look at me when he said all that. The only person in this world who means the world to me can’t stand the sight of me now. What’s the point of it all?”
When Justin whirled, he saw Diana running out onto the balcony as she called back, “Goodbye, everybody. Have a great world.” And as Justin rushed after her, he could hear Clara shout, “She’ll do it. She’s insane about Justin. She’ll end her life if she thinks he hates her.”
This dark-haired beauty seemed totally unhinged now. Thank heaven it took time for her to get her shoes off and climb up on the wrought-iron railing around the balcony. She was already teetering above the rocky water below when Justin grabbed her, lifting her and carrying her back into the house.
“I’m driving her home now,” he announced. “And I’m going to stay with her all night until she's half-sane again.”
Diana wasn’t struggling against him, but she shouted, “You can’t stay at my place. It’s a rat hole.”
“You’ll be staying with me.”
In the car, as they drove, she seemed calmer, though Justin was still furious. “I could kill you for throwing that ridiculous scene,” he said. But she was crying now. “I wanted you to be happy. If I couldn’t make you happy and Clara could, then I wanted you to have Clara.”
“You were willing to do that, Diana? Seduce a man so that Clara would leave him and come back to me? You’d do that much for me?”
“I’d do anything for you.”
“How can you still like me so much?”
“I don’t know. Why don’t you like me anymore?”
“I think I’m beginning to again—very much.”
Suddenly she rested her head on Justin's shoulder with her arm around his neck as she leaned against him. And her soft cheek and lissome body seemed so smooth and easy that he actually wanted her like that.
He wanted her leaning against him as they drove—even if they kept driving on and on through dense fog like that forever, along old waterfront roads and coastal highways.
Not just on and on through this one misty night, but on and on through all their nights to come.
Sept. 22, 2018, 6:48 p.m.
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