This is chapter 3/4 of this short story. You can check the previous chapter here.
Morning came and with it heavy work. Meetings, conversations, and document reading. James had no time to think about much more. He felt tired, drained. He had arrived at the hotel at 3 am, but sleep didn’t take him until 4 am. The alarm clock went off at 7 am. He felt trashed.
“Hi boss, you look like shit!” asked his assigned assistant from the embassy.
“Thank you, Rachel, I love you too.”
“Hey, just stating the obvious. It seems you had a lot of fun.”
“It was fun, up to a point, but then it turned out to be a sour night after all.”
“Why is that? Troubles in paradise? I can’t believe it. You’re always so cheerful.”
“Well, shit also rains in paradise. Nah, forget it, just ghosts in my head,” he replied.
“Oh, that sounds like there’s a story there. Care to share?” she smiled wickedly.
“Not really. Let’s get to work; we have a packed agenda today.”
“Aye aye captain!”
The day passed quick enough. The work helped alleviate any stranded thought from James’ mind, which was a relief.
It was time to pack up. It had been a very productive day indeed.
“Ok, time to go home Rachel,” he said
“Yes boss, it was fun.”
“It was, great job helping me out. I couldn’t have made it without you, thank you.”
“You know you can always count on me,” she smiled.
“Oh, by the way, someone is waiting for you in the other room. She’s cute, “ she added.
Before he could add anything else, Alicia walked in. She smiled and asked:
“Are you ready to go? I’m all done for the day.”
Had she been waiting for him to finish? He was surprised. Marrying the three Alicias was hard. On one side you had the friendly one, the one that cared, the one that smiled and laughed. On the other hand, you had the wild one. The free spirit, energy unbounded, the snow avalanche that will take anyone’s breath away. In between, you had the serious dutiful Alicia. One that will sacrifice everything and anyone to achieve her goals.
Everyone has different people within them, he reflected. It wasn’t something new or unique. Some people would be more consistent than others. Some people would have more “personalities” than others. What really shocked James was how abruptly the transitions were with her. It was like flipping a switch and getting teleported to another reality. Alicia looked the same, but she wasn’t the same on the inside. It was unnerving sometimes.
“Sure, let me pack my gear and let’s head for dinner. Thank you for waiting for me,” he added.
“No problem. That’s what friends do, right?” she replied.
Her face drew a genuine smile. She meant every single word. James was more confused than ever, but he decided to take it all in. He was starting to learn that you can’t bottle lightning. There are moments in life where you just sit down and enjoy the moment. He decided she was an ephemerous creature. He would just enjoy every second he could spend with her.
“Right! Let’s go!”
And so, he said goodbye to Rachel, and they got into the car and drove to dinner. The arrived early, so they took the end of the table. This was a rare dinner with a bunch of senior industry people. James had invited Alice the previous day. She was new to these group, and he wanted to help her widen her ties in the region.
Despite this, she decided to sat next to James and far away from the rest of the guests.
“Oh so Peter is married?” she asked at some point during dinner.
“Yes. Few people could say, right?” James said.
“Indeed. He seems so single. I do respect people that have relationships.”
“And why is that? You seem like the kind of person that wouldn’t have issues with relationships,” he replied.
He knew he was walking a fine line here. She stared at him, and her eyes became distant. She seemed lost in thought or maybe memories?
Her face change drastically in an instant. Rage rippled through her eyes. He could feel hate radiating from her, just centimeters away from him. It was just milliseconds, but time seemed to stop. Her face settled into a look of betrayal. Hurt painted all over it.
“Well, I used to have a boyfriend, but he liked to sleep with other girls too…”
James was stunned. The silence went on for a while. He could feel how she was retreating, how she was shutting down. She seemed angry at him. He knew better. She was mad at the memories and James was the messenger that got caught in the crossfire. He decided it wasn’t wise to keep asking, but still, he pushed it.
“I don’t want to talk about it.” she spouted.
She turned around and started talking with one of her colleagues sitting opposite her. James couldn’t blame her. That had been a reckless question.
Many things started fitting into place, though. The hurt, the loneliness, the wildness. He wondered how it would be having a relationship with her. It had to be amazing but incredibly challenging.
She wasn’t easy. What made her especial, also made her complicated. Her sense of duty was capable of overwhelming any other emotion. That had to be tough for any partner. Would she put her duty first or her partner? Still, there was a part of her that made it so worth it… She could love. He could feel it. She could love unconditionally. Love that would sear any heart. But could anyone survive those opposing forces in her?
As usual, dinner mutated into a party. They moved to another famous club of the city. Live music, free drinks and fantastic music. These people did know how to roll.
Once again, the wild Alicia made herself present. Once again, she became the object of desire for men. While James was starting to understand her, it was still hard. He sometimes felt so close to her, but when in such state, she just pushed everything and anyone out the window. Nothing matters to her. It was all about unbounded pleasure.
She still kept track of James. He knew it. She could see her staring, watching and then running in the opposite direction. For some reason, this got him angry. He wasn’t going to play this game. He was too old for this. Either she wanted something to do with him, or he wasn’t going to chase her into a storm of suitors.
Like the night before, he walked away from the party. Robert caught with him on his way out.
“Hey, man! Ready to go to another club?” he asked, cheerful as always.
James hesitated. He was already half drunk, and he decided that at least, he could have fun with his friends.
“Sure! Let’s do this.”
They walked out of the club, three other friends in tow.
The reached the new club in a matter of minutes. James decided to get lost in the music. The beats took him, and he entered a state of trance. He jumped and spun around the dance floor like a mad man.
It didn’t last long. As he was turning a corner of the club, he bumped into Alicia. This was a nightmare; it had to be.
“Ah, there you are James!” she grinned.
“Eh, yeah, here I am.”
And so, she took him by the hand and brought him back to the dance floor. Like a black hole, every time he tried to move away from her, she would make sure he got back into her orbit. It was infuriating. Inevitably, after a couple of minutes, she moved on to dance with someone else.
She had been gone for a while now, James now standing with his friends. Time didn’t pass fast enough. Just as he was thinking about calling it a night, he got a message.
“<I’m outside. Do you want to come?>” she typed.
He couldn’t stop himself. He knew this was a big mistake, but his fingers had life of their own.
“<Coming. Wait for me.>.”
They rode the taxi in complete silence. His heart was beating like a drum. He could hear it go “thump,” “thump,” “thump.” He knew something was about to happen. He couldn’t shake the feeling that he was free falling into a dark place.
The cab stopped in front of the hotel. They thanked the driver and very slowly made their way into the lobby. They walked in silence. He could feel the tension building up. You could touch it. It made the air reverberate.
She stopped, turned around and faced James. She looked at him and said.
“And now what?”