Penélope was enjoying a quiet October afternoon in one of her favourite Madrid spots, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. She made an agreement with Manuela, the other employee in the small import-export company she worked in, that once a month she would stay in the office during lunch break just to leave an hour earlier in the afternoon so she could visit the museum, when the entrance was free.
As she already knew the Thyssen quite well, she devoted every visit to seeing no more than a couple of paintings. One of her favourite ones was the portrait of an English lord, David Lyon, painted by Thomas Lawrence.
Suddenly she realised that someone was standing beside her.
– “Tom!” – she smiled and embraced him, greeting him in the Spanish fashion, kissing him twice on the cheek. – “What are you doing in Madrid? I had no idea that you were coming. Why didn’t you tell me?”
– “And miss the face you just made? I wanted to see you and, just in case you don’t know, your expression when you’re surprised is one of the funniest things I have ever seen”.
Penélope patted his shoulder, and smiled. She observed him for a moment. Although they’ve e-mailed each other regularly and talked on the phone in the months after they met in August, this was only the second time they got to see each other. Tom was dressed in a very elegant grey suite with a light blue shirt, dark tie and a pair of black made-to-measure shoes. His hair seemed darker and was wearing the glasses with the transitions lenses which were now almost transparent. Nothing to do with the jeans and black t-shirt he was wearing in London the time they met.
– “Oh, you look different, so…”
– “.. boring?”
– “Professional” – Penélope concluded – “How did you find me? I always switch off my mobile phone when I’m here”
– “Maybe you won’t believe me, but I can be quite charming with young ladies when I want to.”
. “Manuela told you”
– “Indeed. Her English is almost as terrible as my Spanish but fortunately ‘Thyssen’ is pronounced the same in both languages” – replied Tom.
– “And what are you doing in Madrid? Apart from laughing of my face, of course”
– “It’s the best place to keep track of our investments in South America without spending eight hours on a plane” – said Tom. The truth was, he’d never usually come to Madrid for these kinds of meetings but he wanted badly to see her again.
– “And you? I understand you come here often”.
– “Yes, one Friday per month, more or less. This” – said Penélope pointing at the portrait – “is one of my favourite paintings. It reminds me of England”
– “Fortunately you have said England, not me”
– “No, you don’t look like him at all. Nevertheless, there’s a painting in Venice by Titian of a man who looks exactly like you. A brave captain dressed in black armour holding a banner.”
– “I’m glad to hear that, because this guy looks exactly like one of my Eton schoolmates, Reginald Ashford-Jones”.
– “Oh, sounds like someone important” – said Penélope trying not to laugh on hearing the way he pronounced that name.
– “A pompous bastard” – replied Tom. He started to giggle as if recalling a funny joke and burst out laughing. – “Until the day John and I locked him in the dean’s bedroom, naked as a worm.”
– “How long will you be staying in Madrid?”
– “Meetings are over, I’m all yours until Sunday afternoon”.
– “And you’re staying at…?”
– “The Palace”.
Penélope laughed again. “Of course, the most expensive Hotel in Madrid. I always forget when talking to you that you’re richer than Cressus”
– “I will take that as a compliment”.
– “You should” – said she.
They agreed to meet in a couple of hours near “Opera” subway station, they went for dinner to “La Casa del Pulpo” and then had some drinks in the Mercado de San Miguel. They enjoyed a very special evening together, and then the day after Penélope took him on the usual tourist strolls, Palacio de Oriente, Puerta del Sol, Parque del Retiro…
After a delicious dinner in “Casa Botín” they walked to “Plaza de la Villa”. Tom had not said a word since they left the restaurant, for a moment there he seemed every bit the quiet man she first met.
– “I have something to tell you, Penélope. The day you saw me, at John’s house. After he died I would often go, to visit my mother, to keep her company. One day she asked me to take something to his room, and, I’m still not sure exactly why but I started to read the letters you sent him. They were on the bedside table. I’ve read all of them, I’m sorry, I know I shouldn’t have”.
Penélope felt awkward on hearing this, she didn’t know what to say. She noticed a kind of anger brewing inside her, not towards Tom but John and his whim regarding the letters. She suddenly realised how selfish he had been, trying to bind her down with those beautifully handwritten letters, hitting her weak point with surgical precision.
– “They were personal. Indeed you should not but… It was a lifetime ago, Tom. I sometimes feel like that day never happened, like… I’ve wasted my time holding on to a memory of something that I’m not sure was ever real. Your mother told me that maybe everything that happened had a different purpose… Which one? I lived for more than a year almost like a hermit. I just lived for those letters, for the moment they would arrive and the moment to write back. What was I writing them for?” – her voice broke, and she started to cry – “For a corpse? Please, Thomas, tell me… what for?” – Penélope gasped, feeling that her heart fill with anguish, faced with that reality.
He approached her and took her face in his hands. He whispered.
– “To make me fall in love with you. I fell in love with you reading your letters, and I loved you even more when I saw you, and the more I know you the more I love you. That’s the reason why I was so silent that day, I was simply terrified by the thought of you gazing into my eyes and discovering how I felt”.
Penélope was crying and smiling at the same time.
– “That’s why I came here” – he continued – “the meetings were an excuse. I just had to know if I should let myself hope you…”
She held him tight, and kissed him.
– “I need someone real in my life, Tom. Someone to embrace, to wake up next to, to talk to, even to argue with. I’m tired of written words. Take me with you”.
When they walked out hand in hand Plaza de la Villa, Penélope had the awkward sensation of being observed. She turned round suddenly but there was nobody there except them. Tom held her tight, they kissed again and went up again Calle Mayor.
Indeed someone had been observing them that night. Someone who was walking now hurriedly in the opposite direction and jumped in the back seat of a black car parked in Calle del Sacramento. The driver gave the man a passport and other documents, his new identity, hopefully the last one. A private jet was waiting for him in the small airport of Cuatro Vientos; the flight to Houston would be long and he would have enough time on the plane to convince himself that he had done the right thing. He made a decision seven months ago, he knew he would cause them all pain, but they were safe now.
Although he had observed the couple with regret, he was happy that she was with Tom, as his brother was definitely better than he had ever been. At least, Tom had never used Penélope as he did. He was not interested in her when he saw her in that library, but in the paperback she had bought. It contained a very important piece of information, his contact had just put the book on top of the pile of Conn Igulden’s new best seller, but, when he was about to take it, he saw Penélope walking to the cash register with the book in her hands. The problem she had trying to purchase them gave him the chance to talk to her and, as soon as she went to the bathroom in Coco Momo Café, he changed her paperback with another copy he bought in the bookstore, wrote those two words on the napkin and placed the piece of paper inside “Sense and Sensibility”. He really meant what he wrote, he could have let her go after their tea, invent an excuse, a phone call, a sudden meeting, but couldn’t help feeling attracted to her and hoped that “ONE DAY…” he could be free to love. He was so tired of acting, pretending, being always someone else. He would give the services that last year, and then quit; in the meantime, John decided to enjoy the afternoon. He wasn’t lying in his letters when he wrote about how he often remembered the hours spent together.
John had the firm intention to continue their relationship where he left it; the letters were a bait, a way to not let her forget him. Unfortunately, something went wrong in Tripoli. One of the Ghedaffi men he imprisoned after a long chase managed to escape from jail just as he was about to be hanged, and went after him. He thought the Libyan had lost his track but he didn’t; upon returning to London the service informed him on his identity being compromised and that the only solution to protect his family was to fake his own death. The decision was on him and he chose. When his mother came to Bedford Square everything was ready, he planned his performance down to tiniest of detail. He could be a really good actor when he wanted, but he needed two things to disappear: an excuse and an audience. Penélope was the excuse (he could have contacted her if he wanted to, he had had her telephone number for months), and his mother the audience. When he left his house he loathed himself and was tempted to have a real accident and finish it all; but he lacked courage. He had spent the last months buried alive, hidden in a small flat, enough to persuade the man who chased him that he was really dead. Before leaving England forever he went to see her mother. She told him that Tom was in Spain to see Penélope, so he asked security to arrange everything for his Madrid departure. When he saw them together he knew that, even if not intentionally, he had succeeded in making something good to happen.
The End – for real
Thanks to Tanja and Sisci for editing the text
I have written this “Postscript” to “The Letter” because I could not take out of my head the conversation between Penélope and Tom in the Thyssen Museum and I wanted also to “see” them in their “happy ending”. Then I thought that, given that RA has already a high rate of deaths in their chaRActers it was not necessary to make him pay his fare to Charon also in this fan-fic. Moreover, another reason for John Thornton’s ‘resurrection’ is also a way to say that, unfortunately, Prince Charming does not exist (or if he does is a “rara avis”) and that, if a man like John Thornton approaches a woman like our Penélope, who is good looking but not a top-model, 99% of cases there’s a reason beyond Cupid’s dart. I concede you that it is not also something normal that the twin brother falls in love with the girl just by reading her letters, but this is fiction, after all…