Valerie was shocked to see him. Dumbstruck. He smiled. “Hello? Is there anybody in there? Do you remember me? I'm the one from the registry office.”
Pink’s lyrics from The Wall played immediately in Valerie’s head. Tell me, is something eluding you, Sunshine? Is this not what you expected to see?
She felt a gush of warmth throughout her being. Brett was exactly the same, just as alluring as ever, and seeing him took Valerie’s breath away. Memories of the passions they’d shared caused her nerve endings to ache; memories of the love she’d had for him spoke to Valerie, encouraged her to take him into her arms, to crush him to her, to kiss him.
But she didn’t do it, because the warmth changed, turned icy, from all good to all bad. It was like the scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, when Donovan at last drinks from what he believes is the Holy Grail. He closes his eyes, smiles for a second. Then there is a change. He opens his eyes.
Just like Donovan, Valerie heard the ominous music signaling that something was amiss. The fire of passion suddenly turned into the sting of betrayal, breathless desire to the breathlessness of a panic attack. Valerie didn’t gasp in pain, like Donovan did; her face didn’t morph into a Christopher Lloyd-looking skull. Her body didn’t crumble to dust. But her initial thrilled reaction to seeing Brett curdled, nonetheless. With that reaction, she had chosen poorly.
Valerie’s soul had been immersed in a hot lagoon of carnal memory for a split second upon seeing Brett, but now the bottom dropped out, bringing on the boiling, swirling maelstrom of an emotional whirlpool: hope dragged down by fear, love and longing soured by betrayal and resentment. Valerie was suddenly drowning in it.
Insanely, she thought of The Odyssey – the only book she’d enjoyed reading in high school, because she couldn’t find a decent movie version of it. The goddess Athena would frequently amplify the beauty or strength of Odysseus or Telemachus or Penelope in order to inspire those around them – and so it seemed with Brett, as if some god had touched him. He couldn’t possibly look this good, but he did.
He was dressed casually, in black jeans and a faded blue flannel shirt. But the plain overhead lights seemed to mystically reflect the blue back into his eyes until they glowed. His black hair was longer, curly around the ears, the way it had been in college, before he’d cut it to a more businesslike length for graduation and entry into the workaday world. His smile was as flawless as ever.
As if reading Valerie’s mind, Brett said softly, “You found me beautiful once . . .” His words, a quote from Army of Darkness, cut her to the bone.
But she composed herself, ignored his stunning splendor. Coldly, she supplied Ash’s next line. “Honey, you got real ugly.”
Brett’s smile faltered for a split-second, but then bloomed anew. He’d thought of another movie. “You know I love ya, baby. I wouldn't leave ya. It wasn’t my fault!”
Brett’s John Belushi impression was dead-on. The unforgettable scene from The Blues Brothers materialized in Valerie’s mind, and despite the agony of seeing him again, Carrie Fisher’s affronted amazement seized her. “You miserable slug! You think you can talk your way out of this? You betrayed me.”
“No, I didn't. Honest . . . I ran out of gas. I . . . I had a flat tire. I didn’t have enough money for cab fare. My tux didn’t come back from the cleaners. An old friend came in from out of town. Someone stole my car. There was an earthquake. A terrible flood. Locusts! It wasn’t my fault, I swear to God!”
Brett wiggled his eyebrows, and seeing as he was so much better looking than Belushi, it almost worked. Just like Carrie Fisher, Valerie almost relented; she almost forgave him. She actually thought, Oh, Brett . . . Brett, honey . . .
But then another line from Army of Darkness occurred to her: It’s a trick. Get an axe.
Brett was not daunted. He reached back in time, back to when films were still in black and white. He quoted The Apartment. “Do you realize what you're doing? Not to me, but to yourself? Normally, it takes years to work your way up to the twenty-seventh floor. But it only takes thirty seconds to be out on the street again. You dig?”
Valerie grinned humorlessly. “I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street, Brett. All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad.”
“Christ, Val. It’s been a long time. I didn’t do anything wrong. You can’t still be –”
“But I am. I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore.”
“I miss you, Val. That’s why I moved back to LA, because I thought we could . . . Why won’t you just let me talk to you for a minute?” Valerie’s face remained set, and Brett realized that real words, his own words, weren’t working either. He was losing.
He switched from the movies to the world of music. “I'll give you candy, give you diamonds, give you pills, give you anything you want, hundred dollar bills, I'll even let you watch the shows you want to see . . .”
Valerie’s eyebrows went up. The next line was Just marry me, marry me, marry me. Brett had decided that he wanted to talk, surely, but he wasn’t going to go that far. Valerie told him, “You’re a bum! And that’s all you’ll ever be, a bum!”
That one threw Brett for a moment. There were many movies wherein characters were called bums. But then he had it. Valerie was referencing Stripes, one of the last movies they’d watched together.
“Well, that hurts, ma'am. And I don't think –”
Valerie cut him off, made the line hers. “I don’t think I want to take your abuse. And I know I don't want to take you and your luggage to the airport. How about that, huh?” Valerie put the car in reverse.
“I’m gonna say my piece, Val. If you won’t listen to me now . . .” Brett grinned. “Did you say ‘over?’ Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!”
He couldn’t expect her to just throw herself into his arms, now could he? It had been a long time. He’d surprised her. He’d let her think about it. He’d said enough for tonight.
Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn, came to Valerie’s mind, but that one was just too much of a cliché. Sometimes words, even the immortal words of the movies, were unnecessary. Sometimes a gesture was enough, and this was one of those times. Valerie closed the window and backed out of the parking space.
“That went well,” Brett said to her taillights.