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European Vacations, Part 1

Disclaimer: Lies, lies, and nothing but lies. Also, at the time of writing, science fiction, as the story takes place in April 2014.

Author’s Notes: Many thanks to Aranel Took for lightning-quick beta. And to Zauza for saudade and Lisbon. Written for a prompt by karlurghban over on Tumblr.

Par 1 of the “European Vacations” series.

Saudade Those Stupid Sneakers

Íris had managed to drag Chris to Europe again. This time to Lisbon, Portugal. The trip was nicer than expected, mostly because they had managed to evade the paparazzi so far. Well, it was off-off-season, and Íris had managed to organize a private town house for them to stay at. A mansion that belonged to the sister-in-law of a photographer’s assistant’s girlfriend or something.

Europeans are a bit like the Mafia, Chris thought. A secret organization with connections everywhere. But really good wine.

He raised his glass of red and stared over the railing of the roof terrace toward the river. The sun was setting and the stars were coming out. Stars; the last group mailing instigated by Zoe had mentioned a cast meet-up in October. Some kind of reunion thing to celebrate the third and final movie they were all contracted for (so far). But Zach had already made noises how he’d be too busy, and couldn’t they just do a weekend in New York prior to filming. Sometimes, Chris loathed New York.

But now he was in Lisbon. And Lisbon was awesome. Although it was only the middle of April, the evening was already quite warm and brimming with the scents of spring. Music drifted across the street from what Íris had told him was a very famous dancing school. Belly dancing. Of course Íris was friends with the owner of the place. Ana Isabel was an elegant woman with feline grace and a surname he couldn’t pronounce. The other night they had been invited over to watch a class and drink sangria afterwards. The girls (and one cross-dressing young man) were beautiful and positively buxom and how they had twirled and twisted their curves had seriously messed with his mind. And when he’d attempted to praise their shapes and moves in politically correct terms, they had only laughed at him, told him to shut up and drink his sangria.

“I love it here,” Chris declared, trying not to gush. “It’s so … authentic.”

Íris and Ana just looked at each other. He knew that look by now. It said “Americans . . .” with every ellipsis point ringing out in amusement.

“I am glad you enjoy our beautiful city,” Ana said. Her breathy, rolling accent reminded him of the wide silver swathe of the river beyond the rooftops of the houses. “Íris says you been working too hard. Like all Americans.” She smiled. “You live to work. We …” She gestured at Íris and herself. “Europeans, we work to live. We do it better.”

Of course. Good-naturedly he rolled his eyes and attempted to shrug the comment off.

The problem was only that he wasn’t quite sure if she didn’t have a point there. Lately he’d been feeling kind of … off. Not as enthusiastic as he should be about his projects. Disappointed in himself for failing to fully fall in love with Íris. Miffed that she didn’t seem to care. She was happy to drag him around Europe when he let her, and she thoroughly enjoyed him in her life (and his body in her bed) when he showed up. But she also never called when he didn’t. Like certain other people in his life. Not even for prank calls. But of course that was normal. The reason, season, whatever rule of friendship, and the different priorities of life in New York with all those plays and opportunities and new lovers and—

Morosely Chris sipped his wine while the women talked about fusion fashion and some kind of artsy, holistic event that would mix modelling with tribal dances and promote a healthy body image in one fell swoop. Maybe he should have joined Sofia’s husband and his mates for a night out clubbing. But he hadn’t felt the drive earlier and opted for a quiet evening with wine and snacks on the secluded roof terrace.

For god’s sake, what’s wrong with me? Since when do I turn down a party in such a vibrant location? Sullen, he frowned at the bowl with pickled lupine seeds on the table. Maybe Katie’s right and this is a mid-life crisis. I’m over thirty. I guess I’m entitled.

Only he didn’t think that’s what it was. He had no fucking idea what it was. A strange kind of ache deep inside. Some odd sort of longing. Maybe he should consider therapy. Or something. He stared at the river again. He could smell the sea in the cool night air. Somehow the knowledge of the sea out there, just out of sight, triggered a memory. A quote of some sort.

Thousands of rivers flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. If we could turn stone into gold, we would still not be satisfied.

What a stupid saying, he thought. Sounds like Zach. All Zen and supercilious.

He poured himself more wine, took a deep gulp, and tilted his head back. The sky was really dark now. Although they were in the middle of the city, he could see many stars. That feeling again. A kind of pang, a tightening of the gut. He sighed deeply.

“We call that ‘saudade’,” Ana said, interrupting his musings.

“What?” He straightened up and forced himself to turn politely to the dancer.

“Your sigh. So deep. So tragic.” Her dark-brown eyes twinkled with humor. He experienced a sudden, violent aversion to that eye color. “You look at the stars and you sigh. It is ‘saudade’. The longing for something or someone who is absent. A time or a place. A lover lost.”

“I read once that it’s the love that remains,” Íris put in. “This mixture of happy and sad feelings when you miss someone who’s gone or out of reach. It’s supposed to be one of those words that don’t have an exact translation in other languages. Although Icelandic saknadr comes close. And of course there’s your name.”

“My name?” He knew he was frowning again. Normally he enjoyed that Íris was so well-versed in various European languages, cultures, and history. (For years he’d been telling interviewers that those were the qualities he was looking for in a partner. Intelligence. Humor. That sort of thing.) However, right now that was only annoying.

“To pine.” She had the nerve to giggle.

“But I’m not pining for anyone,” he said. “Or anything,” he added hastily. “You’re right here, after all. That was just a sigh. Because … wine. And stars. Relaxation. You keep saying I work too much.”

“Whatever you say, my dear.” She smiled at him in that knowing way women had, and for a moment he wondered if she wanted to add something. But then she turned back to her conversation with Ana about tribal fusion and what not.

Sulking into his wine, Chris continued to contemplate the river and the stars, and tried very hard not to think of Zach. (Why was he even thinking of Zach?) How Zach would get a kick out of untranslatable Portuguese words. How he’d take a blurry picture of the wine and the candle and the lupine seeds, slap some horrific Instagram filter on it, add an all lower case hipster sigline and share it with the whole wide world.

Good thing he avoided social media like the plague. Or he’d do something incredibly stupid. Like Tweet how much he saudaded Zach’s stupid sneakers.