Friday, July 25, 2008

Jack of Diamonds by Leigh Ellwood

"Bonjour!"

Jack's head snapped away from the window. From the back bustled a grandmotherly figure in a blue dress, wrapped in a yellow gingham apron. She had the look of a cartoon mascot just stepped from a box of biscuit flour. To that effect, white dust trailed her like a dissolving halo, and patches of baking residue clung to the hands that poured Jack tea from a fine china pot.

It could only be Flora, the woman Miss Ruby said harbored vampires in a safe house environment situated somewhere in the hotel. Exactly how they were accommodated Jack didn't want to know. He pictured a line of coffins arranged in a dark, dank cellar and cringed to think of his lover lying there, cold and alone, when he could be in Jack's warm bed.

Assuming Lars wanted to be in another man's bed, Jack mused sadly. He had to know; the manner in which Lars left after their only night together was so open-ended. He needed to know if Lars wanted him, or if their one night together was nothing more than a failed attempt to recapture what Lars had lost two centuries ago with Jack's previous incarnation.

"I'm sorry, I'm American. English, Anglais," Jack responded to Flora's rapid, unaccented French.

The woman paused, her expression momentarily puzzled, then laughed gaily as she patted his shoulder. "Oh, forgive me. Force of habit," she said. "I don't find many tourists here, what with the house being so far away from all the usual attractions."

"I know." Jack tried to smile, but instead did his best to discreetly brush away the crumbled sugar and butter crumbs from his sweater.

"First time in Paris?" When Jack nodded, she continued, "I do hope you'll enjoy your stay," she said. "Of course, you can tell easily I'm not a native," Flora's ample chest shook with quiet laughter, "but the city is more my home than my actual hometown could ever be. I don't think I could ever leave, I have so many friends here."

"So many friends. I made a good friend not long ago myself." He reached into his pocket for the small trinket that had become his worry stone. He set the heart-shaped rose quartz on the table and spun it idly, watching the point and rounded curves blur into a perfect circle. "He gave me this."

Flora began to rattle off the current menu of dainty edibles and finger sandwiches, but stopped upon seeing the quartz charm. The knowing look on the stocky woman's face relieved Jack. At the very least, Miss Ruby hadn't sent him on a wild goose chase by picking a city off an atlas and a restaurant from an Internet search.

"I have the feeling," Flora said, taking the chair opposite Jack's, "what you want is not on my menu." Her eyes fixed on the spinning heart until it stopped, pointing directly at Jack.

Jack shook his head. Flora's smile bore a recognition of the jewel that rattled him. Even as this happened, he still couldn't believe it. He wanted to look around for hidden cameras.

"Trust me, as long I've been harboring them, I still have trouble accepting how integrated these phenomenal creatures are in our society. You," she pointed at Jack, "I already know, too, believe it or not."

Jack's heart lifted at that. She wouldn't know unless somebody had come to tell her. "That I'm the reincarnation of an heiress from the time of Louis XIV, Le Roi Soleil," he supplied. It felt weird to say, but at least the woman didn't laugh.

"You were Lila D'aubigne, the great love of Lars Ullsson."

I'd like to think I still am. Lars loved this woman, this Lila, and had waited centuries for her next incarnation. By logic, Lars should be in love with him. Jack certainly loved Lars, had done so for years before their first encounter, as Lars appeared often in his dreams to woo him.

Of course, those weren't really dreams, Jack knew, but memories of Lila's past. More and more, parts of Lila surfaced to meld with Jack's consciousness. Jack could understand Lars being confused with the gender shift in Lila's latest incarnation, but a part of him hoped Lars could look past it and see the soul and spirit of his true love, regardless of how it came packaged.