tagNovels and NovellasAli's Art Ch. 13

Ali's Art Ch. 13

byharding©

SUNDAY JUNE 24th

The short flight between BWI and Newark brought me in late afternoon and I rode the monorail and train into the city. I was feeling nervous, but looking forward to seeing Ali again. It had been five long days since she returned to New York without me. Five days when I missed her more than I believed possible. Five days when I had thought hard about what I had done to upset her and what I could have done differently and why I hadn't been more aware of her feelings.

I was desperate to patch things up between us, if that was still possible. I was willing to go along with any rules she wanted to impose. But I couldn't imagine living without her. Couldn't imagine not living with her. My head span with the possibilities and dangers.

As soon as I opened the apartment door I knew Ali was gone. Not just her absence from the space, the absence of her presence.

I dropped my bag and went to her room. As soon as I opened the door her scent hit me, the raw essence of Ali, all the parts that made it up, the perfume she wore lightly dabbed along her neck, the soap and shampoo she used, the smell of her clothes and, most of all, that thing that made me hard every time I caught a hint of it, the animal smell of Ali, underlying everything, her womanhood, her being.

I lifted the pillow from her bed and breathed deeply but she was not there.

I opened her closet and the scent was strong, but there were gaps on the hangers offering proof of her absence.

I walked out, turned around, lost. Some drawings were propped up in the work space and I went to them. She had started but not finished a dozen sketches, these not modelled from life. Their lines had been laid down fast and roughly, even then they captured a vibrancy I was still unable to match.

Ali was shown in the drawings... so was I... and my heart made odd patterings in my chest as I studied them. These were the real thing. Raw. Alive. Oozing sex onto the paper and from it directly to my solar plexus. I was immediately hard.

Every sketch showed what I had wanted to be doing since the moment I moved in with Ali. No - since the moment I grew old enough to know that women were different to men and what they could do with each other. I had always wanted her, always been afraid of scaring her off.

The images shouted for attention, demanding I look at them, my cock hard inside Ali's mouth, in her hands, between her breasts. Ali on her back as I mounted her. Ali on her knees... as I entered her from behind... as my cock parted the tight ring of her ass... her face a few quick strokes that caught the ecstacy she was feeling as I entered her.

I slumped back on the old sofa we had carried from her old apartment, the two of us laughing as we struggled up the stairs with it, and stared at nothing. I had no idea where Ali might have gone - she could be anywhere at all. I remembered our conversations as the summer approached, talk of going away together, to Europe maybe. Ali wanted to see, to stand in front of, some of the great paintings of the world. We had spent hours in the museums in New York, but there were things we both wanted to see that meant skipping east across the Atlantic. Was that where she had gone?

I stood up, meaning to get myself a beer even though I didn't need or want one, when I saw Ali's Apple, the lid raised.

I changed direction and sat at her workspace, turned the laptop on.

A password screen presented itself. Shit.

I sat, looking at the blinking cursor, trying to think.

I got up and walked around, stood looking out the window as the light faded and street lights came on all down the hillside.

I returned to the computer and typed in: aligrah.

Too simple. I knew it would be.

I walked around some more. Then I remembered Ali telling me how she had always had a crush on my Mom.

I went back and tried again: HeatherGraham, then heathergraham. No luck.

I stared at the wall, stared at the flashing cursor, wondered if there was a lockout built in that would turn everything off if I got too many wrong guesses.

I tried #eathergra#am, replacing the H with the # key. Nothing.

Fuck it. I got up and fetched that beer, now both wanting and needing it. It wasn't really progress, or if it was it was the wrong sort.

I tried again, this time my heart fluttering as I typed: TomGraham... but the computer gave a sad beep and the cursor continued flashing.

OK, again: tomgraham. No.

Then: t0m_gra#am. My finger was shaking as I hit Enter.

The beep was different this time and the screen refreshed to show Ali's desktop.

Shit, I thought. I was Ali's password.

I put my beer down and opened Safari. Google came up, and I saw Ali's gmail account was still logged in. I opened her mail, and there it all was.

At the top was a notification from her bank that a withdrawal greater than $500 had been made from her account. Duh.

Four down was an email from Delta confirming a flight to Rome. The date was three days earlier. She had been in the air above the Atlantic, carried to Italy, while I had been house sitting and wondering if I was going to call Crystal and ask her over again. That brief, wild bout of sex no longer seemed a fair exchange to me, and I realized there was only one woman I wanted, only one woman I had ever wanted. And she was in Italy, four thousand miles away.

I returned to google and idly looked up international times, saw it was now after midnight in Rome. Would Ali be asleep, or still out around town? Would she be alone? Would there be a beautiful dark haired Italian woman sharing her bed?

I clicked on Ali's bookmarks, scanned down through them, found her banking details and clicked it.

The log in screen appeared.

I tried the same password and was allowed entry. I would have to tell her about that. But then, if I did, she would know I had been searching through her private files.

I clicked on recent transactions. There was the payment for her flight, and it looked like she had flown Business class. Then, a transaction for a hotel, a restaurant, some minor charges, one withdrawal of €600 from a cash point in Rome.

I made a note of the name of the hotel, logged out of her account and went across to my own laptop.

There were no direct flights to Rome until eight the following evening, but I found I could catch a flight out of JFK at 4 a.m. which would take me to London, then a connection to Rome with only an hour layover. I booked both flights, one way, closed my laptop and went to pack.

When I was ready I sat down and called Ali's cellphone. It rang seven times then went to voicemail.

"Al, it's me. We need to talk. You know we do. Call me."

I hung up, got another beer and drank it, then called Ali's phone again. This time it went straight to voicemail - her phone was turned off.

I tried again, same result.

I knew I should try and sleep and went through to the bedroom, but I had just stripped off my shirt when there was a knock at the door.

I went out, peered through the spyhole to see Sandy standing outside. I opened the door and she grinned, came in and kissed me on the mouth.

"Good vacation, Tom? Is Al around, I really need to talk to both of you."

"She's not here," I said.

Sandy walked past me, sliding her arm around my waist as she went, letting is slip off me as she moved on. Under other circumstances I would be wondering how long before I had my cock inside her, but tonight that didn't seem important.

"Will she be back soon? Something's come up, and you both need to talk it through."

I turned and followed her. She walked to the fridge and got herself a beer, popped the cap and took a mouthfull, her long neck working as she swallowed.

"She's... uh, she's gone... I don't know when she'll be back."

"Gone?"

I nodded.

Sandy studied me. "You two had a fight, Tom?"

"I don't know," I said, and heard my voice break a little. Sandy heard it too and came across to me, drew me into a hug.

"Tom... that's not possible... you two are so meant for each other, you know that."

I tried to laugh. "Yeah. Me and a raging dyke."

Sandy hugged me tighter. "No - yeah, OK, I know she likes girls, but I've seen the way she looks at you, the way she acts around you. The way you act around her, too. You two are gonna be a couple one day. You already are, you just don't know it yet."

"She's gone, Sand," I said, and my tears came now, great sobs shaking my chest and I put my face down into her hair and let it all go.

She held me, stroking my shoulders, murmuring nothing as I let the emotion out. I hadn't been aware of how tight I had been holding everything inside, how much I had been holding back.

Finally I stopped and stood back, looking down at Sandy's beautiful face.

I wiped my arms across my eyes, sniffed.

"Sorry, Sand, this isn't what you need."

Her face looked so sad it almost started me off again.

"You love her so much," she said, and I could only nod, not trusting myself to speak. Then she smiled. "But it's OK, Tom, because she loves you like that too. Don't you see it? Doesn't Ali see it?"

I shook me head. "I don't know."

Sandy led me across to the sofa and sat beside me. "Tell me what happened..."

So I did. I told her about the wedding, about our night in the boutique hotel (most of it), about our time in my old house, about Candy, about some of what went on with the three of us. Sandy sat holding my hand, listening patiently, and when I had finished she sighed deeply.

"You two were going to do it eventually," she said. "This has just brought it on faster. I guess she was ready a little before you. Or she was ready and you were distracted with this Candy. Men," Sandy said. "Sometimes you're so fucking dense!"

"I've been ready for years, Sandy. Ready for her since... I don't know, it seems like since for ever."

"And she has been too, I think. Why the fuck didn't you just jump on each other straight away I don't know."

"I've fucked it up, Sand. God, I've fucked it up so much."

She shook her head. "No. She'll come back. She can't stay away."

"I know where she is," I said.

"You do?"

"She's in Rome. I found her flight confirmation, I even know where she's staying. I'm booked on a flight in..." I glanced at the clock, "In five hours. I'm going to find her."

"Good." Sandy squeezed my hand. "Are you OK, Tom? Do you want me to stay?"

I laughed softly. "Not a good idea, Sand. Not right now. Thanks though."

She shrugged as though it meant nothing.

"You wanted something," I said. "What did you come here for?"

"I don't know what to do now," she said. "I've got this stuff..." She reached into her bag and pulled out a large envelope, held it as though she didn't know whether to give it to me or not.

"What stuff?" I asked.

"I'm not sure you're in the mood for this, Tom. It's business stuff. Important business stuff. And it needs the two of you."

I laid back against the cushions. "Tell me anyway, Sand. I need to think about something else."

She looked at me, her bright blue eyes probing, then handed me the envelope.

"You've had an offer for the website business, Tom. A good offer. A very good offer."

"Offer?" The words went past me, devoid of meaning.

"Someone wants to buy it. In fact, there are three separate offers. I've been dealing with them with Tu all week, playing one off against the other."

I pulled some papers out of the envelope, stared at them blankly.

"I thought you said this might happen in a couple of years. Why so soon?"

"We've been growing real fast, Tom. You know that. Fast growth gets noticed out there."

She started to pull papers out of the pack but I shook my head. I couldn't cope with this now.

Give me the bullet points, Sand."

"OK. There's only one that matters. Fifteen million dollars."

I stared at her. "What?"

"Fifteen million dollars. That's the offer you have in your hands. For the website. It's a good offer, Tom, and you and Al will still be involved if you want. They want you to continue producing work, but they have big plans..." She stared at me. "Could you let it go?"

I stared back. "Sell it?"

She nodded.

"For fifteen mill?"

She nodded again.

"What's your share, Sand?" I asked.

"Seven-fifty thou," she said. "For each of us. Jack and I come out with one and a half million. You and Ali would walk away with six mill each."

"Fuck... I guess you two could stop saving for that house."

"It's a good offer, Tom. A very good offer."

"What should I do, Sandy?"

She looked at me. "I can't tell you what to do, Tom. You really do need to talk about this with Ali. I can't decide for you."

"Would you take it?"

"If it was me, in your situation, yes."

"And if we said no, you and Jack and Tim and Tu get nothing."

"We'd still get paid. But no, we get nothing."

"I don't want that, Sand." I looked at the paper in my hand. "What do I have to do with these?"

She took them from me gently. "These are mostly terms, details of the deal. All you really need to do is sign on the last page of each prospectus." She flipped one copy open and found the last page, turned it for me to see. "The rest of us have signed, but it needs both you and Ali to agree as well."

I saw their signatures were already inked in, dark blue ink from a fountain pen. There was space for my signature, and Ali's.

"You need to sign both copies and get them back here... within ten days."

"Ten days," I said.

"From last Friday," she said.

"So I've got until..." I couldn't work it out, my head felt like it was full of fudge.

"Until Tuesday July 3rd. You have to have these signed and back here before the holiday."

"Of fuck..." I looked around, searching for something, anything that would help me make a decision. There was only Sandy. "What do I do?"

"Find Ali," she said.

I nodded. It made sense.

"And if she's still pissed at me?"

"Just tell her about the offer. This is business, Tom, not love. Tell her about it and decide what you both want."

"God, I need to sleep," I said. "I'm catching a plane in a few hours, and I can't think."

"Sleep then," she said. "I'll stay until you have to go."

"It's OK," I said. "You don't have to do that."

She laughed. "Jack knows I'm coming here. He's not expecting me back till the morning. I expected you and Al to be home. I expected to get myself deliciously fucked again."

"I'm sorry," I said. "I don't think I can..."

Sandy laughed again. "I don't expect you to. But I'd like to stay, so you're not on your own. Is that OK, Tom?"

I looked at her. "Thanks, Sandy."

We lay beside each other in my bed, both naked, holding each other, and I was surprised to find that my cock behaved itself. Sandy's soft skin slid against mine as she moved beside me. We kissed a little, then she cradled me in her arms as I tried to sleep.

At two a.m. I was still awake. Sandy was breathing deeply, and I slid quietly from the bed and tiptoed through to the living room.

My bag was already packed. I opened the top and slipped in the papers and Ali's laptop.

I dressed and left without going back into the bedroom.

MONDAY JUNE 25th

A yellow cab took me to JFK and I picked up my ticket, checked in and cleared security quickly.

At four-ten we left the ground. At five sunrise flooded the windows and I pulled the shade down, lowered my seat and slept for a couple of hours until the stewardess woke me for breakfast.

I landed in London at ten New York time, four p.m. London time, and by five I was in the air again heading for Rome.

Again the time changed, and by the time a cab drove me through narrow streets and dropped me outside the hotel I last knew Ali was in the time was after ten p.m. I had spent almost the entire day high in the air, had slept hardly at all in the last thirty-six hours and was dead on my feet. Despite my anxiety, I knew it was not the right time to see Ali.

As I approached the reception desk a young woman looked up at me and smiled, said in perfect English, "Can I help you, sir?"

I guess I looked American.

"I know it's late," I said, "But do you have a room for tonight?"

"A moment, please?" She consulted a screen below the desk, tapped at keys, then looked up, smile in place. "We have a vacancy. For one night only?"

"It may be longer. I'm not sure yet."

"That's perfectly fine, sir. You can let me know in the morning if you wish to extend your stay. If I could have you credit card and passport, please?"

I handed them over, not caring how much the room cost.

I saw her look at the passport, look up at me. My stomach fluttered. She recognized the name, I knew she did. I should ask have asked her then, but I didn't. Instead I waited, exhausted, as she swiped my card, recorded my details, and handed me a key card.

"Enjoy your stay, Mr. Graham. I'm afraid the restaurant is closed at this time, but you can call for room service until midnight."

I thanked her and took the elevator to my room.

I was hungry, but didn't call down. Instead I stripped and showered and lay on top of the bed. After a moment I got up and opened the windows to let the sound of the night drift in, lay back down and drifted off to the sound of footsteps on the cobbled square below, and soft voices speaking Italian.

TUESDAY JUNE 26th

I woke late, bars of sunlight split by the closed shutters forming horizontal lines across the floor and the foot of the bed. My feet felt warm where the sun fell across them and I rolled out of bed, showered and dressed in the only clothes I had with me, the ones I had taken off the night before. First thing I needed to do was buy more, a bag, and then track Ali down.

It was gone 11 by the time I made it down to the reception desk. The same pretty girl as the night before was still on duty and smiled at me as I approached, her white teeth perfect against olive skin.

"I believe a relation of mine is staying here," I said. "Alison Graham. Would it be possible to put me through to her room?"

Fingers tapped on keys, her eyes downcast at a hidden screen. Her brows pulled together in a frown, her mouth turning down.

"Miss Graham. Si. She arrived five days ago, but I am afraid she checked out early this morning."

"This morning?" I said.

The receptionist nodded, her expression seeming to say if she could do anything to change the situation she would.

"Did she leave any forwarding address?"

"Let me check..." her fingers flew again. "I am sorry, no, nothing."

She was good. I believed her completely.

I thanked her and instead of leaving to shop as I had planned I returned to my room and booted up the laptop. I had written all of Ali's details down.

I had to phone downstairs for the wi-fi login, then opened Ali's bank account.

There was a transaction from the previous day showing she had eaten in a restaurant in Rome. Nothing yet for today. My body trembled with frustration, and no matter how much I told myself I had to wait I wanted to rush off, to do something, even if it was pointless.

I logged off and made myself leave the hotel. I spent until 1 a.m. shopping. I bought new shirts, pants, underwear, bathroom kit and a wheeled suitcase to pack it all in. I would have shopped for longer, distracting myself from my worries, but at one o'clock the shops began to close. The cafes and restaurants filled up, but all the shops turned over signs that said "torna alle 4 p.m." so I stopped at a cafe on a small square and ordered beer and pasta that I failed to taste.

Later I took my new purchases back to the hotel, smiled at the receptionist and once in my room turned the laptop back on.

Signals bounced from Rome to a server somewhere in the States, found information and bounced the answer back to me.

There were three new transactions on Ali's account. The first showed her checking out of the hotel. The second was for a hire car, the third for gas, only an hour ago at a service station south of Rome.

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