The Problem With Greatness: Part Three: Colette
You’ve already read Part One and Part Two of my short story: The Problem with Greatness. If you haven’t then find Part One: Antionette here and Part Two: Lief here. You should read them before you continue with Part Three: Colette, published below.
Every so often a character will surprise you. In The Problem with Greatness, that character was Colette. I simply fell in love with her. Her vulnerability. Her wildness. Her free spirit. Her honesty. Her fallibility. You name it, I love it. She’s got hutzpah. She’s got moxie. And she’s got a heart of gold. I hope you love her as much as I do.
Colette has never liked Leif, especially because her sister Antionette has suffered love for him- to borrow from Much Ado About Nothing yet again. She's got a plan, though, to snap her sister out of her dating doldrums. And that plan is Paul Rogers. But, as the saying goes: the best laid schemes of mice and men... Colette's in for a surprise, and, so, dear readers, are you.
Without further ado, I present:
The Problem with Greatness:
Colette never knocked. It was a habit with her. Doors should be left open. She hadn’t always felt that way, but years of living in a shack, paring her belongings down to the bare essentials, had left her with hard set ideals, and one of them was that locked doors amounted to inequality. Antionette disagreed, but, then again, Antionette generally disagreed with her, especially about every decision she’d made in the last seven years. Antionette didn’t understand. Colette wasn’t interested in worrying about tomorrow; she lived in the moment. So what if it was messy; life was messy. It was all barbaric yawlps and sucking out the morrow; Thoreau pulsed through her veins and she would live deliberately. And Antionette couldn’t understand that because everything in Antionette’s little world was neat and tidy and lined up in a perfect friggin’ row.
“Should we ring first? Let her know we’re here? It’s rather early.” said Paul Rogers, stud movie star extraordinaire. He still wore his beach trunks, his brown hair tousled and curled with seawater.
Colette poo-pooed the idea with a wave of her hand before finding Antionette’s spare key on her keyring.
“Toni’s always up early.”
“What if she’s not alone?” he suggested, shoving his discomfort with his hands into his pockets.
Colette chuckled and unlocked the front door.
“Clearly you don’t know Antionette,” she said by way of explanation before shoving the door inward. She didn’t give him any time to point out that of course he didn’t know her sister. In fact, he hadn’t even wanted to come, really. She’d coerced him, and he’d been too polite to say no. Colette grinned as her eyes adjusted to the dark foyer. She had a way of getting what she wanted; her mother called it wheedling, she called it initiative.
Once the Oriental runner came into dim focus, Colette led Paul down the hall and around the corner. Light streamed into the large living area, bouncing off the polished wood table top, the pristine tile countertops and the stainless steel appliances.
“Magnificent,” Paul declared, the word softened at the edges by his Irish burr.
“This room is why Toni insisted on buying this place,” Colette informed, dropping her distressed backpack onto the sofa before plunking down on it herself. “That and the garden, of course.”
She gestured to the wall of windows that overlooked that rather verdant vegetation that grew up the garden walls and the three tall palm trees that shaded the entire backyard except for the beam of light that fell on the small jelly bean shaped pool.
The appliances might be out of date and the bungalow on the small side, but the large conservatory style living space was non parallel. Colette may have thumbed her nose up at convention, but Keats had been onto something when he’d rattled off the line: A thing of beauty is a joy forever.
“Toni loves to garden. She plays music, gardens, and reads. She adores reading.” Colette spread her arm out to encompass the room, every tabletop covered with at least three books to say nothing of the bookcases lining one full wall filled to capacity. She had read nearly all the books there, too, but she kept that to herself; most people wouldn’t believe a beach bum was well-read. In fact, the one time she’d let it slip about loving the allegorical nuances of Dr. Zhivago, the client had discontinued her instruction. Apparently, literary allegory was too incongruous in a surfing instructor.
Slouching, she added, “You’ll like her.”
Paul merely nodded his head, perusing the shelves, stopping finally and plucking Dr. Zhivago off the third shelf from the top. The smile he wore held all the greeting one would have when welcoming an old friend. He flipped through the book, stopped three quarters of the way through it, and then traced his finger down the page, stopping halfway. His smile deepened, crinkling his hazel eyes. When he looked up, sunlight caught in their depths and gilded them. He really was remarkably handsome. For a moment, Colette rethought her big heartedness. Dating Paul Rogers could be exhilarating- perhaps as exhilarating as landing a macker and riding it to its end. When he caught her looking at him, he flashed a grin that was equal parts pirate and puerile. Yeah, Paul Rogers could be a lot of fun.
Colette looked away first, glancing at the armchair across from her.
“Sit down,” she said, gesturing to the chair.
Paul replaced the book, his lips more puckish than polite when he smiled now. He settled across from her and rested his ankle on his opposite thigh. Yeah, he was a little wild and way too handsome, but Colette had a plan. She needed to stick to it, no matter what. When he winked at her, the briefest fluttering of his left eyelid, she almost lost her resolve, though.
Get a grip, Colette told herself. Remember why you’re doing this. Ridding Toni of her obsession with Leif Reinhardt was more important. And, with a smile like sin, and eyes that held molten gold, Paul Rogers was just the sort to help shoo-shoo said obsession right out the metaphorical door.
“Do you think she’s still sleeping?” Paul asked, letting his head lull back giving her full vantage of his corded neck and thoroughly masculine Adam’s apple.
“No. She’s probably in her shed or something. She never sleeps past eight. I mean, that’s even late for her.”
Paul nodded his head and closed his eyes, his large body settling into the armchair. They had been up early, too. The best waves were caught around six and Colette would not compromise with afternoon sessions. So, he’d shown up at her shack at 05:45 and she’d taken him through his paces before they’d hit the board. After catching waves successfully- well, successfully for her, he’d wiped out quite a bit- for nearly two hours, they’d quit. But, Paul hadn’t wanted to go home. When he mentioned breakfast, Colette landed on her idea. Paul Rogers was fun and up for anything and just what Toni needed to put a spring back in her step. So, she’d shanghaied him to Toni’s house. But, where precisely was Toni? Sure, she could be in the shed potting, but that wasn’t her ordinary morning routine. She was all about pilates first thing in the morning, transforming her living room into her own personal studio. None of the furniture had been moved, though, and her pilates mat was rolled in the corner with her yoga block and her free weights. That was odd.
“I suppose I should have checked to see if her car was in the driveway,” Colette remarked, more to herself than Paul, but he answered her anyway.
“She drive a Ferrari?”
“Yeah. There’s one parked out front. A real bonny thing.”
Colette scowled. Leif’s car. No doubt Lothario was either sleeping off a hangover somewhere or had gone home with some willing woman and Toni had been forced to drive herself home. Again. When would she learn? Colette shook her head, feeling the scowl freeze on her features. Paul lifted an eyebrow in question, but remained silent.
Toni’s bedroom door opened off the side of the kitchen and she emerged wrapped in her silk kimono. Auburn hair disheveled around her face. Without glancing their way, she walked into the kitchen and put the kettle on a burner. Humming softly, she opened her cabinets, took down two boxes of tea and two mugs. Two mugs? Colette’s curiosity kept her quiet as she watched her sister get milk from the fridge and a lemon from the fruit bowl and set them on the counter next to the mugs.
It was nine-thirty. What was Toni still doing in bed?
The bedroom door opened again. Leif Reinhardt stepped out, his suit shirt open, his tux pants slung low on his narrow hips. Barefooted, he padded across the wood floor.
It took absolutely no imagination for Colette to conjure up why he had been in Toni’s bedroom, especially when he came to a stop behind Toni, wove his arms around her waist, and nuzzled her neck. When he pulled at her kimono, exposing a bare shoulder upon which he nibbled and then planted a kiss, Colette felt her mouth fall open. This could not be happening! Dear God, no!
When Toni threw her head back and gasped, Colette brought her hands to her cheeks in horror.
Paul had already bowed his head, his tan cheeks reddening. He did not look at her.
“Colette! What in hell are you doing here?”
Toni’s pale skin rouged. She pulled fully out of Leif’s embrace, tugging her kimono closed and syncing the tie tightly. Leif’s back faced them, but when he glanced over his shoulder, Colette saw all his amusement in the flash of his green eyes. She scowled. Of course, he would laugh. Leif never took anything seriously.
“We had a brunch date.” Colette tried to keep her irritation out of her voice.
“At eleven,” Toni stated, crossing her arms over her chest. “It’s nine-thirty.”
Colette sheepishly shrugged her shoulders.
“I figured you’d be up,” she said, hating the apologetic tone of her voice. “Besides, I wanted you to meet Paul.”
At his name, Paul lifted his head. Proving himself to be a much better actor than the critics gave him credit for, he looked in the direction of the kitchen and smiled winsomely, all awkwardness washed aside in an effort to appear nonchalant. He succeeded; Colette both admired and abhorred him in that moment. He sat there all non-plussed and she was plussed as a pissed pussycat. It just wasn’t fair. She wanted to be sophisticated right now more than anything; instead, she felt like a ten year old about to throw a temper tantrum. Her first great idea in forever; her first solution to the problem that was her sister’s obsession with Leif Reinhardt, and she was too late. Her sister had succumbed, no doubt, after heavy intoxication, and perhaps even a bit of coercion on Leif’s part.
Colette wanted to believe that. She really did. But Toni was stone cold sober, staring her down. She was angry and Colette couldn’t think of one good excuse to find herself back into her sister’s good graces.
Toni took in Paul, tilting her head as though trying to place his face. Of course she wouldn’t know him. Toni never watched movies. Ever. She didn’t even own a TV. Well, neither did Colette. It’s one of the things Paul had remarked upon when he’d come to her shack to sign up for surfing lessons. He said he’d liked that, someone not really knowing him. Really, he’d have been perfect for Toni. But, that wasn’t happening now, was it?
Colette leaned forward and buried her head in her hands. She just wanted to shrink away. And she hated that feeling. She hadn’t felt it for years. And it sucked as much at twenty-five as it had at twelve.
“I’m gonna go put something on,” Toni mumbled, zooming into her bedroom and closing the door with a definitive click.
With Toni out of the room, Colette felt all her anger- the fury that had built for years as she watched her sister suffer because of Leif’s obliviousness- unleashed itself.
“You just couldn’t leave her alone, could you?” she demanded, rising to her full stature and thanking God for every bit of her 5’10.”
“Leave her alone?” Leif asked, affecting a look of supreme innocence as though he had done nothing wrong.
“Whatever, Leif. Play the moron.”
Leif’s shoulders snapped back and he came around the kitchen counter to stand, feet braced apart, facing her. Her height advantage suffered slightly, what with him being on a raised dais and she standing in the sunken living room. She didn’t care, though. She cocked her hips and put her hands on them.
“Why should I leave her alone?”
“Really? You need me to tell you how you’re an absolute asshole to the women you date.”
Irritation tightened his jaw and pressed his lips flat.
“And now you’re sleeping with my sister, who’s been in love with you for forever, and you’re just gonna use her and leave her.”
“I am not going to leave her,” he declared softly.
The gentleness of his reply was enough to arrest her. She’d shot a barb hoping to engage him in battle, but he’d simply tossed back a flower, like some peace loving hippie.
“So what? You’re gonna just stay with her? I’m supposed to believe that?”
“I don’t care what you believe.”
Colette jolted at that, striding toward him, only to stop at the bottom of the steps. She felt her nostrils flaring. Leif simply stood there, calm and composed, looking down on her, making her feel small and childish in her temper.
She swiveled around. Paul’s attention was glued to her, his eyes dissecting and probing and seeing. She felt like a specimen exposed microscopically under his gaze, like he understood her somehow, knew why she was angry. Maybe he even empathized with her. And she couldn’t take that right now. Being nice to her, even if it was only with a look, would be her undoing. She paced past him to the bookcase at the far end of the room.
She had a valid point. Leif had a terrible track record- well, maybe track record wasn’t the best word choice. Being the greatest F1 driver meant his actual track record was exemplary. It was just that pesky metaphorical one concerning women that had her up in arms.
“Colette, I love her.”
Colette snorted, deigning not to face him.
“I mean it,” he said, the implacable calm of his voice curdling her sour disposition further. “She understands me. I know what I have done and what I have been and how I have hurt people. I couldn’t see past all that, but she could. She sees deep and knows me more truly than any person in my life, including myself. I want to be everything she believes me capable of being. I will not use her. I will not hurt her. She’s more myself than I am.”
Colette bit down on the grudging smile that sprung to her lips. Damn it, but she loved a well delivered literary allusion. She crossed her arms, still facing the thick tomes of Tolstoy, Melville, and Hugo on the second shelf of her sisters yellow bookcases.
“All right, Heathcliff. Whatever you say.”
Leif chuckled behind her. She could envision him shaking his head. He did that quite a lot when he talked to her, like he was indulging her rather than actually listening. Except, this time, if he was shaking his head, she felt a little like she deserved it.
“Fine, Colette, don’t believe me. I don’t give a fuck. But if you try to drive a wedge between us out of spite, I will never forgive you. And you don’t want to see me when I’m unforgiving.” Colette gritted her teeth at that threat.
“And,” he continued, his tone dry but holding a flicker of humor, “Heathcliff didn’t say that. It was Catherine.”
That correction smarted more than the threat. Colette turned around, ready to unbraid him, but Paul stood in front of her. Commiseration lightened his eyes to a pale gold and he wore a sorrowful smile.
“Come on,” he said, reaching his hand out to her. “Let’s get out of here.”
Colette opened her mouth, but she didn’t know what to say anymore. Everything was ass backward. Leif loved Toni? He talked like he wanted to marry her or something. That alone razed all her beliefs regarding him to their sandy foundation. And then there was Paul looking all compassionate and handsome in his tank top and swim trunks, her book bag slung over his shoulder, and his hand reaching out to her. She took it. Long fingers closed around hers and, oddly enough, they seemed to banish the fierceness of her anger.
She stopped in the doorway and looked over her shoulder. Leif stood with his arms at his sides and his face open.
“I do love her. Believe everything you want about me, but know that I love her.”
Colette stared at him, boring her gaze into him, sifting him, separating the chaff from the grain until she felt tears prick her eyes. Gritting her teeth, she nodded her head. At the acknowledgement, he exhaled relief and shut his eyes. When he opened them again, he smiled, and she saw why her sister could love him as she did. Yeah, Colette believed him.
She didn’t say anything else, just let Paul lead her out the door and to her Wrangler. She sat in the driver’s seat, her hands on the wheel, and stared straight ahead at the trunk of an enormous palm tree. Paul settled in the passenger seat, depositing her backpack in the backseat.
“Yeah. I’ll be all right,” she answered. “Sorry you had to see that.”
“Hey, it’s life. Sometimes you catch the wave, other times you wipeout.”
The corner of Colette’s mouth curved. Paul sat there grinning broadly. She dipped her head, shaking it, before turning the key in the ignition and backing out of the driveway.
“So that was Leif Reinhardt, huh?”
Colette sent Paul a sidelong look.
“Yeah. What did you think of him?”
Paul smirked, but said nothing.
“I mean it. Look past my ignominious strutting and fretting.”
Paul chuckled, an element of pride kindling in his eyes when he settled them on her.
“I liked the literary parry and thrust,” he said. “Didn’t expect that from a race car driver. Or, a surfing instructor, for that matter.”
His smirk went lopsided and he arched an eyebrow. Now that assigning him the role of knight errant to her sister Toni was no longer viable, Colette allowed herself to enjoy the admiration she’d heard in his reply and saw in his countenance. After her embarrassment back there, it felt good to feel admired for something most of her friends thought was silly. She turned the corner onto the main drag and shifted into third.
“Yeah, well, I like to read. So sue me.”
He barked a laugh and the sun gilded glory into every feature of his it touched- his hair, his nose, his teeth, his eyes, his biceps. Yep. There went Keats wafting through her head again: A thing of beauty… She didn’t even like Keats all that much. But, that first line of Endymion had stuck with her. Truth did that.
“Do you think he loves her?” She almost didn’t ask the question, but there was something about him that drew it out of her. A man who could smile at Zhivago and catch literary allusions like a Yankee’s second baseman had depth. And deep called unto deep- she had that tattooed over the scar that gashed her right side at the waistline- deep calls to deep at the Thunder of your waterspout. The waves had persecuted her that day six years ago, and when she’d wipeout, tumbled in their embrace, smashed into the jagged, glass riddled sand by the breakers, she emerged scarred, yet, more committed then ever to ride the savage beast. Deep had called unto deep that day, and sitting next to Paul Rogers in her Jeep Wrangler, it called again now.
“He’s had an illustrious career. He’s at the pinnacle of his profession. He’s topped his own records time and again. He’s amazing to watch on a drive.” Paul paused, and Colette could almost hear the jealousy. Men and cars, she thought with a shake of her head.
“But he’s had failures,” Paul continued in a more ruminative tone, “the sort that can eat at a man to the point where he can’t see his successes as success. He was there. Your sister sees all that he is, and still she loves him. A man needs that, to be loved for precisely who he is, warts and all.”
Colette smirked. It was a good allusion, and from his cheeky grin, he knew it. Although, sneaking another glance, she couldn’t detect a single imperfection in the man.
“But there’s more. Everyone needs to be loved for their greatness, even if they haven't reached it yet. That’s a sort of greatness in itself, too, being able to see what’s not manifested but there all the same. Your sister sees greatness in him, and she loves him because she sees it. Maybe she loves him even more because he couldn’t see that greatness in himself without her. Whichever it is, he wants to measure up.”
“Yeah, well, that’s the problem with greatness,” Colette remarked, jerking the wheel to bring the Jeep to a stop in front of a her favorite taqueria. After that insightful analysis that spoke of keen observation and potent wisdom, there was no way she was letting him go. Not just yet, at any rate. She shifted into park and popped the clutch, the Jeep rocking backward slightly.
“The problem with greatness?” He dazzled a smile at her that was both quizzical and cute.
“Yeah.” She rolled the word seductively off her tongue like a shell in the surf, locking eyes with him. “It always wants to measure up.”
* * * * *
And that's all she wrote. What do you think? I really value your feedback and opinions, so please leave a comment or drop a line. Thank you so much for reading through The Problem with Greatness. I had a lot of fun writing it and I hope you had a lot of fun reading it.