CLOSING NOTE: BEST OF 2016:
There are many romantic cities in the world, but Casey Chapel puts Lisbon, Portugal near the top of the list. Visiting that city inspired her to write “Count the Ways,” as did her lifelong love of the poetry of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Now that she has revisited Lisbon in her story, she can’t wait to go back for even more romantic—and poetic—adventures.
COUNT THE WAYS
by Casey Chapel
As Annette Lansing watched the protesters around the towering pillar in Rossio Square, she wanted to protest, too. She hadn’t met the new guy yet, and she already wanted to protest how awful he was going to be.
Because, in her experience, they were all that way.
Not that the day was ominous at all. There in the heart of Lisbon, Portugal, the morning sun was streaming everywhere with mid-May warmth, bathing the cobblestones and passersby in a soft, golden glow. A light breeze blew Annette’s jet black strands of long, flowing hair into her eyes. As she patted it into place again, she heard a voice.
Turning, she saw Jenny Macon striding toward her, grinning and waving. As usual, the little blonde was wearing dark jeans and a retro hoodie—this one gray, emblazoned with the bright red logo of an obscure band.
Pushing down the dread she felt, Annette waved back...then lowered her hand when she saw the twenty-something guy following Jenny. He was good-looking—tall, tan, and muscular, with brown hair pulled back in a ponytail.
“Hey!” Jenny jumped forward and pecked her on both cheeks, Euro-style. “Great to see you, hon!”
Annette smiled. “You, too.”
Jenny gestured at the guy behind her. “This is Hector Madeira. He’ll be your Mr. Portugal.”
“Pleased to meet you, Annette.” Hector had a Portuguese accent and a crooked grin. Double-crescent dimples sank deep into cheeks bristling with five o’clock shadow...at eight o’clock in the morning.
His deep green eyes locked with Annette’s as she let him shake her hand. Her first impression was that he was up-front and friendly, confident and mischievous. So far, he was making points.
Jenny tugged the pink-rimmed eyeglasses down from the top of her head. “So ’Nette, you know the drill.” Her thumbs worked overtime as she flipped through her oversized phone. “I was thinking we could do the ‘meet cute’ right here in the square.”
Annette nodded. For a year, “the drill” had set the rhythm of her life and career: arriving in a new country, she would meet a potential love interest, then embark on a staged romance for the vicarious pleasure of online followers. Photos and blogs told the story on the website of her employer, Whirlwindrom.com; ads and product placement brought in the bucks that paid her salary.
It was all so phony, so contrived...and people loved it. They lived out their fantasies through her—traveling the world, being romanced by a handsome new lover in each exotic locale...then moving on.
Little did they know just how glamorous it wasn’t.
“So let’s see.” Jenny scanned the square, which was getting more crowded. “We could do something with the column of Pedro IV, or the fountain.”
“The train station’s over there.” Annette pointed at a three-story building with horseshoe-shaped doors across the street from the square. “I could come out of the station and ask directions, and he could offer to show me the way.”
“Better idea.” Hector’s eyes lit up. He waved for them to follow as he hurried deeper into the square.
When they caught up to him, he was already in the midst of the protesters around the pillar, shouting through a bullhorn in English.
“Make love, not war! Make love, not war!”
Instantly, Jenny whipped up her phone and started snapping photos. “Hey, this is good! You should get over there!”
“And do what?” asked Annette.
“Improvise! Meet cute, remember?” With that, Jenny moved in closer, still snapping away with her phone.
“Make love, not war!” Hector pumped his fist in the air. “Who’s with me on this?”
“I am!” Annette switched on her happy face and waved energetically.
Hector shouldered through the protesters. “Then tell it like it is!” He held the bullhorn toward Annette.
Grinning, she chanted into it. “All you need is love! All you need is love!”
Hector nodded. “I like the way you think!”
Then, they were both shouting into the bullhorn, calling out their slogans as people stared and Jenny shot photos.
“Perfect!” said Jenny. “Meeting cute at a demonstration! This is a first for a Whirlwind romance!”
That night, Jenny’s phone flashed for the umpteenth time in the outdoor restaurant that was the site of the latest photo shoot. “Smile, guys!” Yet again, she captured a supposedly romantic moment in the cozy courtyard under the stars.
“Please tell me that’s a wrap.” Annette plunked her wine glass on the table. Hector was hot, and she liked being around him, but posing for photos was starting to get old. Again.
Jenny thumbed through the camera roll on her phone, then pushed the glasses up on her head. “That’s a wrap....”
“Thank God.” Annette got up, smoothing her low-cut little black dress.
“...for the moment,” said Jenny. “He still has to walk you back to your hotel, don’t forget.”
Annette slumped back down onto her chair.
“So take five.” Jenny punched a number on her phone and raised it to her ear as she slipped away through the dining area.
“Finally!” Hector drained his half-full wine glass in one gulp. “Some actual us time on this so-called date.”
Annette smirked. “What can we do in five minutes?”
“You can dish.” He folded his arms on the table and leaned forward. “Who is your favorite man-of-the-week so far?”
“I don’t have one.” Every so-called leading man that Whirlwindrom.com had saddled her with had sucked. There hadn’t been a spark of chemistry between them.
“Until now.” Hector clinked his glass against hers. “Am I right?”
Suddenly, he reached for her hand. This was for real, not a pose; Jenny and her camera were nowhere in sight.
Annette knew she needed to straighten him out. Rule number one of Whirlwind was no real love. She and her men-of-the-week were paid to pretend; actual romance was grounds for dismissal.
But she didn’t say all that, not yet. Before she could, Hector started reciting a poem out of the blue.
“How do I love thee?” His dimples deepened as he smiled warmly. “Let me count the ways.”
Startled, she froze. His emerald eyes held her as he continued to recite.
“I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach, when feeling out of sight. For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.”
Annette’s heart pounded. She recognized the poem; she knew it word for word.
Before he could recite another line, however, the moment snapped like a twig.
“Your five minutes are up.” Jenny swooped over and clapped. “Time for a romantic walk home.”
Early the next morning, Hector pointed at red flags strung on overhead lines in the hilly Alfama district of the city.
Annette followed in a pretty green-and-yellow floral dress, carefully picking her way down the steep alley. She’d been smart enough not to wear heels, but her strappy sandals weren’t made for climbing those cobblestone streets.
At least it wasn’t raining. The sun was just as bright as the day before, and the temperature already hotter.
“Benfica’s the true Portuguese football power.” Hector grinned. “They’ll win the Primeira Liga championship, for sure.”
“Hey, Hec!” Jenny, snapping photos as always, was annoyed. “Aren’t you forgetting someone?”
With a laugh, Hector rushed back to Annette’s side and snaked his arm around her shoulders. “Want to see where my grandmother grew up?” He pointed downhill, where the alley swerved in a hairpin to the left. “Right down there.”
Annette nodded calmly, though she was secretly thrilled at his touch. “Which house?” She sounded interested, though she was much more interested in thinking about the poem he’d recited the night before.
“I’ll show you,” said Hector. “Come with me.”
As they continued down the hill toward a cross-street, Jenny got ahead of them, scoping out her next shot. Hector slowed his pace, holding Annette back with him.
“When was the last time you had fun?” he whispered. “Real fun.”
Annette didn’t have an answer. She couldn’t remember the last time.
“Next question.” Hector lowered his arm from her shoulders. “Do you trust me to show you a fun time?”
She frowned. “But I hardly know....”
“Better make up your mind fast!” Suddenly, he darted down a narrow passageway she hadn’t spotted before.
Frantically, she looked down the hill, saw that Jenny hadn’t noticed he’d bolted. Split-seconds ticked away as he got further down the passage.
Annette’s heart hammered like thunder in her chest. She couldn’t just take off in the middle of a job, could she?
She could. While Jenny was still looking the other way, she dashed after Hector.
Annette followed him down one passageway, then another. Finally, he led her out onto a wider street and stopped.
“Ha! Right on time!” At the sound of a clanging bell, he spun and pointed. “Good old Number 28.”
An old-fashioned trolley car approached on a track, its lemon yellow body gleaming in the sunlight. A long pole jutted from its roof, skating along an electric cable running the length of the street.
The trolley passed and stopped at the corner, and they jogged to meet it. A few people stepped off, and Hector hopped on board.
Annette hesitated. She wasn’t used to being on her own anymore, away from Jenny’s camera and the drill.
Then she shook the feeling off and stepped up into the trolley.
Noticing the fare box beside the driver, she felt a stab of panic. Her dress had no pockets for change.
“Don’t worry.” The young driver grinned and adjusted the lapels of his navy blue blazer. “Family rides free.”
“Family?” Annette frowned.
“Your boyfriend’s my cousin.” The driver pulled a crank on the console beside him, closing the door. Then he put the trolley in gear and lurched it forward.
Annette threw herself onto the single seat in front of Hector and looked over her shoulder at him. “You’re cousins?”
“Sure!” Hector nodded. “So look, this tram is famous. Number 28 takes you all around town.” He stuck his head out the open window. “And it’s all yours. No Whirlwind.”
Annette liked the sound of that. Still, she kept worrying about her job. “We have to get back.” Even as she said it, she didn’t think she sounded persuasive. “We’re not done with Lisbon Day Two for the blog.”
“Relax.” As Hector leaned out further, the wind kicked much of his hair free of the ponytail. “This is Lisbon.”
They rode Tram 28 all over the oldest quarters of Lisbon, going up and down steep hills that rivaled those in San Francisco. At the end of the route, they caught a cab to the riverside, getting out at Belém Tower.
There was a long line to get in the sun-bleached medieval structure—but Hector and Annette sailed past everyone and into the building. Hector said that the pretty, uniformed blonde who let them in was another cousin of his, though he winked when he said it. Obviously, she was more of a “cousin” than a blood relation.
They got in the even-more-crowded Jerónimos Monastery just as easily, again thanks to a female “cousin” of Hector’s.
Annette was impressed. She kept following where he led, though playing hooky had never been her style. Every time she got another text from Jenny on the smartwatch on her wrist (which was often), Annette lied and texted back that she was chasing Hector, trying to bring him back...not joining him on an impromptu tour of the city.
Because the truth was, she was enjoying herself. It was a first; she actually loved spending time with a Whirlwind man-of-the-week.
“What do you think?” he asked as they stood before the tomb of Vasco da Gama in the monastery. “We stand at the feet of a man who changed the world. Doesn’t it make you feel...awe?” His hand brushed against hers.
“I feel it,” she said softly...though she wasn’t referring to her awe of Vasco da Gama just then.
They ended up at a restaurant called Pinoquio on Avenida da Liberdade, sitting at an outdoor table under a green-and-white umbrella as the sun went down.
On Hector’s recommendation, the dark-haired male waiter—another “cousin”—brought a bottle of fizzy vinho verde wine and a pot of fish and macaroni stew. Both were so delicious and well-matched that Annette savored every sip and bite.
“Obrigado.” Hector raised his glass. “Thank you.”
“For what?” asked Annette.
He tipped the glass in her direction. “For a perfect day.”
Her heart beat faster. “It was perfect for you?”
“Sim.” It meant yes. “A perfect day with a perfect woman.”
Annette caught his gaze. His shoulder-length hair was loose, his face burnished by the red light of sunset. She wondered what it would be like to take his bristly face in her hands and kiss him. She also wondered why, after so many men-of-the-week, he was the first she had ever considered kissing when a Whirlwind photo shoot didn’t require it.
“Love at first sight,” said Hector. “I have never believed in it.”
“Is that so?” Her cheeks grew warm.
“Until yesterday.” He reached over and folded his hand around hers. “When first we met, the words of the greatest love poem of all time came to mind.” Raising her hand to his lips, he kissed it softly. “And they come to mind again.”
Annette didn’t pull away as he recited:
“I love thee to the level of everyday’s most quiet need, by sun and candlelight. I love thee freely, as men strive for Right.
“I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise. I love thee with the passion put to use in my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.”
Annette’s breath caught in her throat. Everything came into sharp relief—his sparkling eyes, the stubble on his cheeks, the pressure of his hand on hers. Time seemed to stand still.
Then her smartwatch buzzed, and time rolled forward again.
She looked down at the display on her watch. “That’s Jenny. I think we need to let her know where we are.”
“Not me.” He shook his head slowly. “I’ve broken the rule. It’s quit or be fired now.”
Annette frowned. “Which rule?”
“You know the one.” Again, he kissed her hand, then released it. “Never fall in love for real.”
As she watched, he pushed his chair back and got to his feet. “At least I got to see you happy. Enjoying Lisbon for yourself instead of that blog.”
“Hector, wait....” The watch stopped buzzing, then started again.
“Imagine living like that all the time.” He winked. “For you instead of them.”
Then he turned and walked off, and Annette did not follow.
Early the next morning, Annette was back at work. Jenny was snapping photos of her along the parapets of St. George’s Castle as the sun rose—solo photos since Hector had quit his job.
“Don’t worry, hon. We’ve got a new guy on the way.” Jenny was upbeat as ever, in spite of being ditched the day before. She blamed Hector for all the inconvenience...and so, apparently, did Whirlwind.
Annette was in the clear, her job safe. But she didn’t feel relieved.
“This solo stuff will fill the gap between men-of-the-week,” said Jenny. “Dramatic shots as you stare out at the city and wonder what new lover might come your way.”
The wind rippled Annette’s hair as she leaned against the rough stone of the parapet. Lisbon was spread out before her, bathed in the rose and gold light of dawn.
Birds sang in the treetops, greeting the new day. She thought how lucky they were, able to fly away whenever they chose. Their lives were their own.
“Turn this way a little.” Jenny snapped a run of shots with her phone. “And ease up on the scowl, huh?”
Somewhere out there in that city, a man she barely knew was back in his everyday life. A man who’d dragged her across Lisbon and could have gotten her fired was out of her hair.
And she couldn’t stop thinking about him.
“Put your hands on your hips,” said Jenny. “That’s it. Face whatever the new day brings.”
Suddenly, a feeling swept over Annette—an impulse. It was a risky one, she knew...but it was also strong. It was true.
And the next thing she knew, she was saying the words out loud.
“I’m done with this.”
Jenny went on snapping photos. “Not yet, ’Nette. We need to try another pose or two first.”
“No.” Annette shook her head. “I’m done with this. I quit.”
Then, she turned and walked away along the parapet, leaving Jenny to stare dumbfounded behind her.
It was crazy, and Annette knew it. But she did it anyway.
She spent the day tracking down Hector through his “cousins,” asking one after another for his whereabouts. She finally found him in Marquês de Pombal Square, helping prepare to celebrate Benfica’s anticipated soccer championship that night.
He was wearing a red t-shirt and bandana, stringing red Benfica flags around the towering statue in the square. “Annette? What are you doing here?”
She shrugged...and then she picked up where he’d left off the night before. “I love thee with a love I seemed to lose with my lost saints.” She recited the lines of the poem, her favorite, which she’d memorized many years ago. “I love thee with the breath, smiles, tears, of all my life.”
He came to her and took her hands. He recited in unison with her the final lines from the great poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning—Number 43 from Sonnets from the Portuguese.
“And, if God choose, I shall but love thee better after death.”
Then, with no one to snap a picture and no blog to post to, they came together, kissing as if they were the first to ever try such a thing in all of time and all the world awash around them.
Copyright © 2017 by Casey Chapel.
Heart's Kiss Magazine: Issue 1: February 2017
Copyright © 2017 Arc Manor LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2017 Arc Manor