The Melody Lingers On


By Herschel Cozine



Continued...

II

Whenever Lacey heard "Theme From Moulin Rouge," she thought of him. It never failed to move her.

It was 1954. Lacey and Patty, her best friend, decided at the last minute to go to the Harvest Ball. Both of the girls were new to the school, and this seemed a good way to become involved and meet other students outside of the classroom.

Her heart skipped a beat as he approached her from across the room. He was average height, with average looks. But there was a gentleness in his movement and an air about him that attracted her. She hoped he was coming to ask her to dance.

"He's after you, Lacey. Not me," Patty said.

"How do you know?"

"Trust me."

Patty had been right. As they danced to "Moulin Rouge," Lacey learned that his name was Paul. He held her just right. He didn't bore her with conversation. In fact he talked very little. He apologized once for stepping on her foot. For some reason Lacey found that endearing. When the dance was over, he thanked her and escorted her back to Patty. They would dance two more times that evening. She was sure he would ask her for the last dance as well, but someone else asked her first and she couldn't very well refuse.

She hoped to see him again, and was pleased to find that he was in the student union ten o'clock every Tuesday and Thursday. She made it a point to sit at the next table and, eventually, they were sharing one.

She was amused at his awkward invitation to go to the football game with him. She accepted readily. And when he told her that he knew where she lived she had blushed with pleasure to think that he had taken the time to find out. It was a little thing, but she was touched by the gesture. She suppressed a laugh as he stumbled awkwardly out of the Student Union, trying with little success to keep his composure. She was looking forward to Friday night with this charming, uncomplicated young man.

A little disappointed that she wouldn't be able to dress up for him, she nevertheless enjoyed the game and Paul's comfortable, boyish company. And, she noted, he had even washed the car for their date. For some reason she found that flattering.

She was a little surprised when he took her home and left her at the front door without trying to kiss her. She would have let him. That had never happened to her before. All her other "first dates" had expected and almost demanded it as if she owed it to them. He was a gentleman — a true gentleman. Next time she would let him know that it was OK. Next time. She was already looking forward to it.

Other dates followed, and the kisses came with them. The gentle, quiet man was taking over her life, and she was happy to let him. She loved him. But it was not an intense, stop the world kind of love that one read about in novels. His love, on the other hand, was more of an adoration, an intense love that scared her a little. And that day on the beach when he told her that he loved her, she tried to tell him the same. But the words caught in her throat. She was never able to say the words she knew he wanted so much to hear.

Maybe in time, she thought.

Then Lance came along. Damn him! He was so attractive and self confident. He oozed charm and showered her with attention. She had never been treated like that before, and she was too young and inexperienced to think clearly. She fell in love — as deeply in love with Lance as Paul was with her.

Breaking up with Paul was the hardest thing she had ever done. The hurt in his eyes would haunt her forever. He was as gracious as someone could be under the circumstances. She loved him for that.

His parting words still haunted her. "I love you so much."

She had kissed him and walked away, feeling his eyes and his grief. She couldn't sleep that night. How often since then had she regretted what she had done. If only one could live life over.

But Lance with all his charm, soon made her — almost — forget. She saw Paul on campus, but he avoided her. It hurt, but she understood. She would have done the same. And on graduation day he told her goodbye, a fleeting conversation with looks that betrayed hidden feelings. He was still in love with her, she knew. She felt unworthy of it. "Oh, Paul," she cried silently. "Forget me. I don't deserve your love."

Lance and Lacey were married in October. The honeymoon was barely over before the trouble started. The first physical contact happened when she mentioned Paul in a conversation.

"You're in love with that guy, aren't you?" he said.

"No, Lance," she said.

He slapped her hard across the face. "Don't lie to me, bitch!"

She cried and hid her face in her hands. He hit her again, sending her reeling into the wall. She sank to the floor. He turned on his heels and left the house.

He was contrite when he returned, asking for forgiveness and promising never to hit her again. But the promise didn't last. And the hits turned to blows that caused bruises and cuts that sometimes required stitches.

She wanted to leave him, but knew that she could never get away. He didn't think of marriage as a partnership. He owned her, and told her that if she ever tried to leave he would hunt her down and kill her. She believed him.

They settled into a loveless marriage. Lance could still be charming. But he used his charm on others, drifting from one affair to another, while Lacey found solace in activities involving other women. Lance was insanely jealous and would never allow her to associate with men, no matter how innocent the relationship might be. The abuse continued, along with contrition and promises never to hit her again.

When the reunion notice arrived, Lacey was excited. It would be fun to visit the campus again and see her old friends and classmates. And, she thought guiltily, it would be so nice to see Paul again. She hoped he would come.

When she saw him standing by her table her heart skipped a beat, just as it had the first time she saw him, almost in the very spot where she was sitting. Her excitement of seeing him quickly turned to panic when she saw Lance coming toward them with the drinks in his hand. He was scowling, and she knew he was going to be furious with her.

She had been right. When they returned to the motel, Lance accused her of being in love with Paul. He hit her — several times — leaving her with a black eye and an ugly bruise on her cheek. She covered the bruise as well as she could with makeup. And she wore dark glasses to hide the blackened eye.

This didn't fool Paul. He came into the lobby to check out. She hid her face, but he removed her glasses and knew at once what had happened.

She tried to stop him, but he left the lobby before she realized what was happening. When she saw the gun in his hand she ran to the door and started across the parking lot toward him. He fired a shot, then another, before she could get to him. Then he got in his car and drove away.

Lacey looked at Lance's lifeless body with no emotion. Shocked and dazed, she answered questions from the police without feeling. Her husband was dead. She was free. The discordance of these two facts was something she would have to live with.

Paul's trial was short. She testified in his behalf, relating the many beatings that she had suffered at Lance's hand. She was certain, she said, that he would have eventually killed her if he had lived.

She was shocked, but not surprised, at the jury's verdict. Paul had saved her life. But the law dealt in reality, not speculation. He had taken a life. That was evident. Guilty. Twenty-five years to life.

Lacey cried herself to sleep that night.

Lacey visited Paul frequently. After awhile he asked her not to come. It was, after all, because of her that he was in prison. He had told her that he couldn't stand being near her and not be able to touch her. But she knew better. If he didn't want to see her anymore, she would honor that request. Walking away from prison for the last time, she understood how he must have felt when she had left him for Lance.

She sold the house and moved to Seattle. A new start would be good for her. She never remarried.

III

Paul's parole was denied three times. Although he was a model prisoner, he never expressed remorse for what he had done. And this, it seems, was crucial to a man's rehabilitation. He couldn't and wouldn't lie about it. He served his time.

Nineteen years later he was released. An ex-con at the age of sixty had little chance of getting meaningful employment. He worked at several menial jobs to support himself, took an apartment in a rundown section of town, and started a new life with little to look forward to.

Paul had complained to the landlord several times about the leaky sink in the kitchen of his two-room apartment. Finally he decided to fix it himself. Armed with a pipe wrench and a new drainpipe, he crawled under the sink and attacked the plumbing.

He had the radio turned to a station that played music of the forties and fifties. Over the clanging of the wrench on metal pipe he could hear the music in the background. A familiar tune was playing. Paul stopped what he was doing and listened as the strains of "Moulin Rouge" reached him. The vocalist, whom he had never identified, was singing. Paul put the wrench down and listened. The harmonious strains of the orchestra, the poignant voice and words held him in its magic. The water dripped, unnoticed, on his face and neck.

The song ended. Paul crawled out from under the sink and sat up stiffly. He wiped the water from his face and his eyes. Funny. He didn't remember water dripping into his eyes. The disk jockey identified the song, but Paul didn't hear him. He sat on the cold floor of the kitchen for several minutes, staring at the wall. The broken pipe could wait. Paul pulled on his jacket, turned the radio off and took a long walk.

IV

Lacey had finished her lunch and taken her coffee out to the patio when the doorbell chimed. She frowned. No one ever called on her at this time of the day. It was her personal quiet time, which she guarded jealously. All of her friends knew this and carefully avoided calling or visiting her then.

She set the cup on the table and stood up. Looking out the window, she saw a taxi pulling away from the curb. Her frown turned from annoyance to curiosity. The front door was chained; a precaution she had started to take after a break-in across the street a few months before. She opened the door a crack and peered out.

She recognized him immediately, although it had been years since they last saw one another. Her hand went to her mouth and her eyes widened.

"Paul," she said.

"Hello, Lacey," Paul said.

Quickly she slid the chain out of the slot and opened the door. With a smile that Paul remembered warmly, she stood back to let him in. He hesitated.

"Oh, Paul. I never expected to...I mean, I..." she struggled for words.

Paul's eyes swept over her, then looked directly into hers. "I know it's a terrible thing to do, Lacey. But I had to see you. I..."

She put a hand to his mouth. "It's all right, Paul," she said. "It's all right." She opened the door wider. "Please. Come in."

Paul stepped inside. Lacey was achingly close, looking up at him with warmth and curiosity.

"I can't believe it's you," she said. "After all these years."

Paul smiled down at her. "Too long, Lacey. Too long." He looked over her shoulder to the patio. "Am I interrupting anything? Should I come back later?"

Lacey shook her head. "Not at all. Oh, Paul. It's so good to see you. How often I..." she stopped, a sob escaping her throat.

Paul put his hand on hers. "Lacey," he said. "I have no idea what or who is in your life. I know I have no right to barge in unannounced and expect you to welcome me. But I had to see you again."

"No one is in my life, Paul," she said. "I'm glad you're here."

Paul looked down at Lacey, suppressing the urge to take her in his arms. Her face still held the delicate features, intelligent eyes and softness that thrilled him so many years ago.

Lacey, flustered by Paul's look, smoothed her dress self-consciously and patted a hair into place.

"Can I get you anything?" she said. "Coffee?" She started for the kitchen. "I was just having some myself."

Paul stopped her. "Don't leave. The coffee can wait."

There was an awkward silence, something that had seldom, if ever, happened with Paul. In the past the silence between them was always natural, comforting, welcome. After what seemed an eternity, Paul spoke.

"Lacey. I don't know where to start. Not a day has gone by since I last saw you that I haven't thought about you."

"How did you find me?" she asked.

"Colleges keep records," he grinned. "Alumni are great sources of revenue."

Lacey smiled. "I'm glad," she said, "and flattered."

"Is it too late?" he asked. "Is it too late for us?"

Before she could answer, Paul put a finger to his lips. "No need to answer. It's not a fair question. He reached into his coat pocket. Pulling out a small package, he handed it to her. She took it, a puzzled frown on her face.

"Open it."

Lacey slowly untied the string and tore off the paper. She held up a CD. Turning it over, she read the label. "Percy Faith Favorites."

"Moulin Rouge," she whispered. Her eyes met Paul's. For several seconds they searched each other's face silently.

"Our song," Paul said at last.

"Yes," she said, her eyes welling with tears. "Our song."

She turned and quickly placed the CD in the player. A moment later, the soft strains filled the room.

The years melted away, and Paul was looking into the face of a girl he wanted to dance with; a lovely face that would become a part of his life — too briefly. He was determined to bring her back into his life. Forever. Walking over to her, he extended his hand. "May I have this dance?"

Lacey put her hand on his shoulder. "I'd love to," she said, falling into his arms.

They danced silently, just as they had those many years ago. Lacey, with her head on Paul's shoulder, started crying softly.

"Oh, Paul," she sighed. "If only Lance hadn't come along. If only I had not been so — so foolish, so taken in by his charm. If only..."

Paul put his hand on her mouth. "Hush," he said. "That was a long time ago. It's as if it happened to someone else — in another world. Life is full of 'if onlys.' Don't blame yourself."

She pulled away and dabbed at her eye with a small handkerchief.

"I can't help it," she said. "I made a mess of both of our lives. Look what I did to you. How could you possibly forgive me for that?"

"No, Lacey You didn't do anything. I took it on myself to do what I did. You didn't ask me to protect you. You didn't want me to. You tried to stop me." He sighed. "No, Lacey. I'm responsible for my actions." He stroked her hair. "And I'm sure I would do it again."

Lacey's eyes, swimming with tears, looked into Paul's tenderly, with a vulnerability that made his throat tighten.

"I love you so much," he said.

She smiled up at him. "And I love you."

Paul thrilled at the words he had waited a lifetime to hear her say.

He pulled her closer to him and folded his hand into hers as they danced.

"What's done is done. We still have the rest of our lives to live, and we've wasted enough time."

"Yes," she said. "Oh, Paul. My dear sweet Paul. Please. I left you once. I made the biggest mistake of my life when I did. Don't ever leave me."

The music drifted across the room. "So please won't you tell. Darling where is your heart?"

Paul hummed along. He looked down at Lacey and smiled. "Where is my heart? Why, you have it Lacey. You've had it ever since that long ago night in October. It was broken for awhile. But it's just fine now."

He leaned down and kissed her.


HERSCHEL COZINE has published extensively in the children's field. His stories and poems have appeared in many of the national children's magazines. Work by Herschel has also appeared in Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazines, Wolfmont Press Toys For Tots Anthologies and Woman's World. Additionally he has had many stories appear in Orchard Press Mysteries, Mouth Full Of Bullets, Untreed Reads, Great Mystery and Suspense, Mysterical-E and others. His story, "A Private Hanging" was a finalist for the Derringer award. Retired from a career in electronics, he has resumed his writing career after an extended hiatus. Herschel lives with his wife, Sue, in Santa Rosa, California, close to his children and grandchildren.

His short story "Who Killed Hamlet?" was published on omdb! in November, 2011.


Copyright 2012 Herschel Cozine. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!


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