by Kim Pritekel
For complete disclaimers see part 1.
If you'd like to tell me what a wonderful writer I am, or that I royally suck, feel free at: XenaNut@hotmail.com
Alexa, always and forever.
The hammer came down, missing Caden's head by mere inches, but was raised again, brought down with equally deadly force as the first time, but again she managed to get out of the way, her scream silenced by the black hole behind her, I reached for her, trying to grab her hand, but she was gone, out of sight, fallen over the edge...
I awoke with a scream, shooting up in the bed, my hair plastered to my head, beads of sweat rolling into my eyes, stinging. Taking a deep breath I looked around, trying to figure out where I was, what was going on. The unfamiliar room was dark, quiet. I was alone.
"My god." Running my hands through my hair I shook the last remnants of the dream out of my head. Fully awake, I pulled the covers back, threw my legs over the side of the large bed, my feet touching the plush carpet beneath them.
Caden had talked me into staying at the house over night, finding a hotel room later. Reluctantly I had agreed.
"It'll be fun. Like the old days." Her smile had won me over finally.
I glanced at the alarm clock on the side table, it was only three in the morning. Wide awake, but had no clue what to do about it. I didn't feel comfortable enough to just roam around the Lodge house, finding something to keep me entertained.
I turned on the overhead light, looked around the second floor guest room Caden had taken me to. It was beautiful, and was at least as big as my first apartment, maybe even larger. I made my way into the bathroom, looking at the massive, deep tub, so inviting. Without another moment's thought, I began to run a hot bath, stripping out of my tee and shorts. The steam began to fill the room, I closed my eyes, breathing it in, feeling the warm stickiness against my naked skin. Bliss.
As I laid back in the water, my eyes closed, my head tilted back, letting the heat seep into every part of me, soothing, like a balm, my mind began to wonder. I thought of everything in my life, Carol, my studio and home, my work, the show I had in the Dayfield Gallery in San Francisco in two months. Everything. Was I doing the right things with my life? Being the right kind of person, friend, lover? I had concentrated so hard on making my work and my name what it was that I had failed to concentrate on myself. It almost felt as if the last ten years had been one giant blur, nothing sticking in my brain. I had made no real, strong friendships, no lasting bonds with anyone. Was that how I wanted it? What I wanted for my life? Why was I questioning these things at some ridiculous hour in the morning in a strange house, in a long forgotten city?
I sighed, shut my brain off.
The party lasted for hours, and finally in the early hours of the morning Caden and I headed up to her room. I was exhausted, and I knew she was, too. It had been long and draining. I never wanted to do anything like that again in my life.
Caden was quiet as she helped me out of the confines of the dress, and to get my hair down. She was very withdrawn.
"Are you okay?" I asked as I turned to her standing in my underwear and bra. She looked at me, then looked down, nodding. "Are you sure?" I put my hand on her shoulder, gently rubbing the warm skin with my thumb. Again she nodded.
"Yes. I'm fine. Just very tired." She stepped away from me, giving me her back so I could unzip her dress. The velvet material gracefully slid away from her body, almost as if it was melting off. I looked at the smooth expanse of her back, longing to run my hands over it, trace her spine with my fingertips. I wanted to play, her flesh like clay for me to mold and shape. Instead I took a step back, walking to my bag to grab something to sleep in. Caden headed to the bathroom, quietly closing the door behind her. Moments later I heard the shower.
I made myself comfortable in the chair against the wall, flipping open my sketch pad. I chewed on the tip of my pencil for a moment, trying to decide what to draw, then it hit me. I sucked in my lower lip as I sketched, the small wrinkle of concentration forming between my eyes. Moments later I put the pencil behind my ear, and ran my finger over the gray and black lines, the V of Caden's open dress running down to a point just above her rear, perfectly shaded. My eyes trailed up to the neck, her head bent just forward enough to show the long length fully. I could imagine my lips on that expanse of skin, could feel the heat of it, the tiny hairs tickling.
I scrambled to close the pad when the water was suddenly turned off, and the shower door opened. I didn't want Caden to see my latest sketch of her. She wouldn't understand. I barely did.
I stared up at the ornately molded ceiling, watching the steam rise, almost completely clouding it from sight. The feelings I had had that night after the party had been intense, such an intense attraction. It had really begun to build by that time. She invaded my thoughts constantly then, and I couldn't keep my eyes off of her. I never knew if she had noticed that summer or not.
With a yawn, I decided I was tired enough to go back to bed, and try to sleep. The tub drained as I dried myself off, running the soft towel over my skin, slightly pink from the hot water, and dressed in my shirt and shorts once more.
Pulling the sheet and blanket up to my chin, I closed my eyes and fell asleep.
"Come in." I sat up, running my hands through my hair, attempting to look somewhat decent. When you have short hair, going to bed with it wet is never the smartest thing to do. The door opened, and Caden's mother gracefully walked in, followed by her ever-present trail of perfume. Silk Capri pants billowing around her as she walked, giving her an almost angelic air.
"Good morning, Laurel." Her voice was matter-of-fact, almost business. "I apologize for barging in on you at such a ridiculous hour, lord knows I am not known for mornings myself, but I do need to discuss something with you, and ask you for a small favor."
My brows drew, and I stared at her, moving away slightly as she perched on the side of my bed. "Okay. Shoot."
"Well, today is a very busy day, as I'm sure you can understand, and undoubtedly hear," she began to play with several of the diamond rings that adorned her fingers, turning them this way and that. "Today I leave for my annual trip to London to go to the spa. I've gone every year for the last thirty, and won't miss it." She finally looked at me, her eyes searching mine for what, I wasn't sure. "I'm so grateful Caden is finally out of that coma nonsense. She had me worried." She smiled briefly, turning on the charm. "I need you to stay on here, Laurel. You seem to make my daughter feel better." I could only stare as she continued. "I can give you money for your expenses, I realize you have your own life out west, and by staying here you are, I assume, missing out on a great deal of work time. As we all know, time is money." She looked me in the eye. "So there you are. I leave in just under an hour and don't want to have to worry about this in London. I plan to enjoy myself and," she stopped herself. "Well, anyway."
I looked up into Margaret's expectant eyes. "Alright. I'll stay. But I don't want your money." She looked at me and nodded, almost as if she'd expected no other answer, nor would have taken one. I felt a surge of anger for a moment, but then I realized that it was for Caden ultimately, not for Margaret Lodge.
"Good." She patted my hand briskly, then turned back to her rings. "You know she has never been happy with that man." Her voice was so low I barely heard her. She stood, my stunned self watching, and smiled stiffly. "You have my deepest gratitude, Laurel." With that, she headed for the door, turning to me once more. "I would like for you to stay here at the house. Do what you please, as long as you take care of Caden." And was gone.
I stared in stunned silence at the door. How had this turned from me visiting a sick friend to becoming the live-in nanny?
As I made my way downstairs, everything was eerily quiet. Margaret had left already, and the harried servants of before were nowhere to be seen. I felt like I was stuck in some sort of bizarre dream. Like when you went to sleep with music on, but when you woke, the album had played through, and left the room in startling silence.
I headed toward the library, and to my surprise Caden was already there. She sat in the high back by the fireplace, book in hand. She glanced up as I entered, a large smile on her face.
"Good morning, Laurel. Mother told me the good news before she left." I looked at her, she looked at me, obviously expecting me to say something.
"Um, yes." I smiled, having no idea what this great news was. I was sure it had something to do with my staying, though.
"I'm so glad you decided to stay a bit longer." She closed her book, setting it on her lap. "You know, it's funny. When I was a kid and mother would go to the spa I was always so happy and excited. I'd have the house to myself, do whatever I pleased. But this time I dreaded the news that I knew was coming. She goes every year."
"So she told me." I sat next to her on the hearth, the warmth from the fire behind me spreading across my back, and into my body. "What are you reading?" She looked down at her book, then smiled, holding it up for me.
"You should recognize it." I looked, an instant smile coming to my lips.
"That's right. There are some amazing pictures in here."
"Well, when my publicist started talking to me about a coffee table book, I thought she was nuts. As it turns out, one of the best things I ever did. May I?"
"Of course." Caden handed me the heavy book, and I began to look through the pages, remembering when I had taken the shots. "Michael gave this to me for Christmas last year. I was so excited to see it was yours." She smiled at me, and returned it. "When did you take that one?" Caden leaned over me, turning to a page near the front. The black and white was of a woman. She had a shaved head, a small tattoo at the base of her neck, her naked body partially covered by shadows. Her back was to the camera, her head turned slightly, just enough to get a slight profile shot.
"That woman was actually an old neighbor of mine." She had also been a lover, but I didn't think Caden needed to know that. "I had gotten the idea one day to shoot her; she had the most beautiful skin." I smiled fondly at the picture of Corey. I hadn't seen her in years, and often thought about her. Wondered where she had gone once she'd left San Diego.
"What is her name?" Caden took the book back from me, studying the portrait more.
"Yes. She was." Caden looked at me, handing the book back. She cocked her head to the side a bit, a small smile playing at the corners of her mouth.
"You were friends with her?"
"And more?" I looked into her eyes, filled with curiosity and question. I nodded.
"For a while. It didn't last long, though."
"Why not?" I shrugged.
"Just one of those things, I guess."
"Oh. Well," Caden slapped her hands on her thighs and stood. "I have to go to the hospital this afternoon, but I thought before then perhaps we could go for a walk or a picnic. I don't know how long I'll be able to stay out and up, but for a bit, at least. Perhaps we could bring the book? You could explain your genius?"
I stared up at my friend, looking at her smile, her hopeful eyes, and saw how her hands and fingers fidgeted with each other. Was she nervous with me?
I noticed that the slight crooked smile and look was gone after the surgery. Her stance and balance seemed to be better intact, also. She looked just like the old Caden now, just a bit older and with a white bandage covering her head. It occurred to me just how close I had come to losing her. I may have never seen Caden again. How would that have affected me? Would it have bothered me?
I stood, walked over to my friend, and wrapped my arms around her neck, holding her close to me.
"Well." She muttered, slowly placing her arms around my waist. "What's this for?" after a healthy squeeze, I backed away, and smiled up at her with a shrug.
"No real reason, I suppose. I'm just glad you're okay. That's all." She smiled, pushing some wild strands of blonde off my forehead.
The busy hustle and bustle of school was a welcome change from the quiet, richness of my summer. I had enjoyed myself with Caden at her family's home, given the ability to do many things I normally would never have been able to, but I was ready to get back to the more relaxed, poorer side of life.
Caden and I had finally been able to get an apartment off campus that year, our junior, in a row house off Chestnut not far from F&M. The house had been split into two different apartments, the bottom having four bedrooms, ours on top room for just two. It was wonderful, and I loved living on my own, out of the dorms. I was growing up, and I loved every minute of it.
"My god this is going to be a bitch of a class." I plopped down on the used couch I had nabbed from an ad out of the Intelligencer Journal for thirty-five bucks. It was avocado green, ugly, but comfortable as hell. Our place was scarcely furnished, but we did what we could. Caden's father had offered to buy us all new furniture, and to repaint the place, but I had refused. Anything worth having is worth getting on your own. Caden looked at me like I was nuts, but went along with it anyway.
Caden was sprawled out in the middle of the living room in front of the television, CNN talking about the latest news and events around the world. Having cable for the TV was our greatest luxury. Her books were placed strategically in a circle, her knowing exactly where the one she needed was, and the page to flip to to find whatever it was she needed. She astounded me.
"Do you just read those things for fun? I mean, is," I picked up the closest text to me, reading the front, "Modern Organic Chemistry entertaining to you?"
"Yes." She reached up, snatching it out of my hands, carefully placing it in it's place. "I love chemistry. You should try it sometime."
"There you go." I leaned back against the cushions, my hands behind my head, eyes barely open as I watched her, yet again amazed by her love and zest for learning.
"Dr. Alvin told me about an internship in the city, today. It would be studying under Dr. Alison Mathews." Excited blue eyes looked up at me.
"Who is Alison Mathews?" I leaned forward, pulling a half melted chocolate chip granola bar from my backpack that sat next to me. I'd brought it to classes with me earlier that morning, and had completely forgotten to eat it.
"She is only one of the most brilliant neurosurgeons on the east coast. She's brilliant, and exciting, and so damn smart! I am just in awe of her mind."
"I'm getting that impression. So you're looking into neurosurgery now?" I bit a chunk of the bar off, chewing slowly as I listened. Caden nodded.
"I think so. I'm definitely being pulled in that direction. The mind is so fascinating to me. Wouldn't it just be incredible to study it? See how it really works and what makes it tick?"
"Well, I must admit I've never really thought about it, but yes I guess it would be."
Caden leaned back on the floor, her hands behind her holding her up as she smiled up at the ceiling before looking at me again. "Do you think I could do it, Laurel? I mean, really, really do it?"
"God yes! There's no question about that, my friend. You also have a brilliant mind, like this Mathews person, and you have the heart and the drive." I leaned forward further, nearly falling off the couch all together to emphasize my next point. "Caden, you can do anything you set your mind to. You will be a success someday."
I helped Caden up our hill, my hand on her back the entire time, just in case. I have to give her credit; she put up with my overprotective nature with grace and humor.
"It's been so long since I've been up here." She said, looking around as she caught her breath, setting our lunch basket down.
"Me, too." I also looked around, seeing all the familiar trees, the thick, luscious grass that I had been used to, yellow and crunchy from the oncoming winter.
"It's such a nice day, too. Considering." Caden walked over to our tree, and sat down with a soft groan, putting her hands out to steady herself for a moment before looking at me with a smile. "Sit." She said, patting the ground next to her; I did as asked. "I'd like to get Annie today. I miss her so much." She looked down at her hands, her shoulders slumping slightly. "I think I'll file this week, or perhaps next week when I'm feeling a bit more myself." She looked at me, almost searching for my approval. "Do you think I'm foolish, Laurel?"
"What?" I looked at her, my surprise evident in my eyes. "What do you mean, foolish?"
"For marrying Troy. Getting myself stuck in a bad situation. Never finishing what I started." Once again she turned away. I pulled my knees up against my chest, wrapping my arms around them with a sigh.
"You know, Caden, we all have to make decisions everyday, every minute. That's a bunch to make, you know?" I turned to her, my eyes meeting hers. "Sometimes we make good ones, sometimes not so good. But whatever we decide, we have to try and make the best of it. I'm sure you've done that. But just think, now, while you're still so young, you can move on, your daughter at your side, and do what maybe you couldn't do as a twenty year old."
Caden studied me for a moment, absorbing all that I said. I could almost see the wheels in her head turning, clicking along.
My first independent show, and I was nauseous.
"You've got to calm yourself down, Laurel. It'll be okay. Everyone is going to love your work." Caden stood in front of me in the bathroom of the gallery. The small cubicle seemed to close in on me as I sat on the closed lid of the toilet, my head in my hands. "Come on." Caden stood from where she'd been kneeling, pulling the skirt of her dress down as she did. I looked up at her.
"It will be okay?" I asked, my voice that of a child. She nodded with a smile.
"Definitely. You're going to blow away all those people out there with your talent, especially your new collection of photographs. You'll do fine."
On shaky legs I stood, grabbing my suit jacket off the back of the stall door, pulling it on over the silk blouse I wore. Caden took the ends of the jacket, buttoning it, and running her hands over the shoulders and down the arms of it.
"You look wonderful." Caden had the pantsuit made by Carlo, and even I had to admit, it made me look like quite the knockout. I glanced into the mirror above the sinks, and ran my hands through my hair nervously.
"Okay. Here we go."
Art fans and critics alike wandered around the small space, my work the premiere show draw, two other local artists also had their work on display. My art professor at F&M had managed to get this together for me, she thinking that it was time to start spreading my wings and see what I could do. At the time I had thought it a great idea, but by the night of the show, I wasn't so sure. What if everyone hated my work? What if I never worked again?
"I need to sit." I found a bench near my photographs display, and sat, my heart racing at a ridiculous pace.
"Are you okay?" Caden sat next to me, her hand on my back. "Do you want some water?"
"No. I think it would come back. Why don't I go home, and you can fill me in on all the gory details tomorrow?" I looked at my friend with hopeful eyes only to see her glare.
"Absolutely not. You'll do fine, and I think once the night is over, you'll be glad it happened, and that you stuck around to see it. This is your first show, Laurel!" she hissed. "Look at all these people. They are all here for you, to see your work. Give them the consideration to mingle, and talk with them. You'll catch more flies with.<
"That's vinegar." She glared at me again. "Okay, okay. I'll stay."
"There's the artist." I looked up to see Michael standing in front of me, looking handsome in his suit and tie. "What a wonderful event, Laurel. Congratulations." He smiled, reached a hand down to me.
"Thanks, Goop." I took the hand, allowed my own to be kissed.
"Well, I'm going to look around for a bit, but if you'd like, I'd like to take you out for a congratulatory dinner afterwards."
"Um, okay." I stood and gave Michael a hug. "Thanks for coming."
"Wouldn't miss it for the world." With that, Michael gave his sister a hug, walked away.
"Did you invite him?" Caden asked, watching him disappear through the throng of people. I looked at her, surprised by the tone of her voice. She almost seemed irritated.
"Yes, I did. Why?"
"Just wondering." She shook her head as if to clear it, then smiled at me. "Shall we mingle?"
We ate in silence, Caden picking her sandwich apart, only nibbling for the most part. I worried about her. I knew she wasn't feeling very well, and I was sure some of that stemmed from worry in her life. She had talked a little more about Troy, but not much.
"I know of a great lawyer in the city. If you want, I can give her a call and set up an appointment for you." Caden had looked at me for a moment, then looked away.
"You know, my father has his attorney on retainer, and I thought about using him. I've known Allan since I was a child. But somehow I don't really want him in my business. A divorce is something so very personal. Well, at least to me." She smiled then. "Do it. Make an appointment with this lawyer friend of yours, and we'll go see him. I want this over with quickly and as painless for Annie as possible."
Now I looked at her, cocking my head to the side as she sipped from the thermos of coffee that had been sent with us.
"I'd love to photograph you." Caden turned to me, startled.
"What? Oh, no." she laughed nervously, running her hand over the bandage on her head. "I couldn't possibly. I look terrible."
"Not at all." I smiled. "You're beautiful, Caden. Haven't changed all that much."
"You're too kind."
"At least think about it?" she looked at me again, her smile fading from her lips, eyes boring into mine, then she nodded.
"I'll think about it."
The show had been a huge success, and ran late into the night. Caden had to head home to sleep, wanting to be awake and alert for the 8 a.m. test she had the next morning.
"I'm so proud of you, Laurel." She said, hugging me close, rubbing my back. "You're such a wonderful artist."
I watched her leave, sorry she had to go, but I understood. I had my own classes the following morning, but a captain can't abandon his ship. I wandered around the place, looking at all the different faces I met, filing away features in my mind for future use. I answered questions, quoted prices, and made deals for commissions. I felt like I was flying high that night.
"Excuse me, are you the artist?" I turned to find a beautiful woman standing behind me, her long blonde hair flowing down her back in a glorious wave of spun sunlight, an incredible contrast to her black gown, the satin making her body seem to shimmer.
"Yes. Hello, Laurel Gleason."
"Nice to meet you, Laurel. I am Chantal."
"Hello." She extended her hand out to me, her deep blue eyes never leaving mine. "I'm so glad you could come."
"As am I. These are wonderful." She extended her arm out to encompass nearly the entire show. "I've bought three pieces already."
"Really?" I looked at her, stunned, happy to have a fan.
"Yes. I come out from New York to visit all the shows of promising young artists, like yourself. These will look fabulous on my walls. You should see the collection I have at home." Her eyes sparkled, and I became lost in them.
"I'd love to." I found myself saying before I could stop myself.
"You are very young, and have quite a career ahead of you, Miss Gleason. Please, don't stop working."
"Well, if only all my feedback was as positive as yours, I'd work forever." Chantal chuckled softly.
"Good. I'll look forward to seeing you and your art around for some time, then."
"Can I get you some champagne?"
I led Chantal to the refreshment table near the back of the gallery, handed her a glass, taking one for myself."
"Are you old enough to drink that?" she asked with a smile.
"I'm the artist. I can do whatever I like tonight." She smiled again with a small nod.
Chantal told me stories of her buying adventures, explaining that she was an art dealer in Manhattan, and tried to get the best new artists on the scene, and she intended to do just that for me. I was thrilled, but wary. It would be nice, but seemed to good to be true. She could buy all the art she wanted from me, however. That I would not complain or worry about.
"So do you live alone, Laurel?" she asked after our third glass of champagne.
"Well, I have a roommate." I looked at her.
"How long is the show to last?"
"I'm not sure." I glanced down at my watch to see it was nearly one in the morning already. "But I hope it ends soon. I have an early class." She smiled.
"Yes, I read you're a student at Franklin & Marshall college. Good for you. It's a very good school." She stood with a sigh. "However, I must go now. It is late, and I'm tired." She looked down at me, extending her hand to me to help me up. "Walk me out?"
Happily, I followed Chantal out the front door, and across the parking lot to a black Mercedes. She turned to me, her back against the car.
"It was certainly a pleasure meeting you, Laurel. I look forward to other shows. There will be more, right?" she took my hand, running her thumb over the soft skin of the back of my hand, over and over again.
"I believe so, yes." I almost couldn't think straight. I had never been so turned on in my life, and I didn't know what to do about it. I almost couldn't breath.
"Good. When you are in the city, do look me up." She reached down into her cleavage and withdrew a small business card, handed it to me. I took it, chills running up and down my spine as I thought about where the card had just been, where, to my utter surprise, my face wanted to be.
"Thank you." I pocketed it, and gave me attention back to her. She reached up and cupped my cheek, her fingers soft and warm against my ers soft and warm against my skin as she moved in, her breath against my face. Next thing I knew, her body was against mine, her lips on mine, and me responding eagerly. I wrapped my arms around her waist, my fingers running over the softness of her dress, the warmth of her body against me intoxicating. I shivered a bit as Chantal's tongue pressed against my lips, inching its way inside. A soft moan escaped me as our tongues touched, just for a moment, before she pulled away, the cool night air a poors in time to see her turn and step into the car.
"Until next time, Laurel." She blew me a kiss, and closed the door, the car starting up with a soft purr, and she drove away.
Dinner with Michael was a joke. I felt bad as my mind was not on a single thing he said. I brought my fingers up to my mouth, the tips touching my lips, the feel of Chantal's kiss like a phantom against me.
"Hello? Earth to Laurel?" I jerked back into reality, turning my eyes to him.
"I'm sorry, what did you say?"
"Where are you? Where did you go?" he sat back in his chair, wiping his face with the material napkin before tossing it onto his empty plate.
"Oh, my mind's just on the show, you know? A lot of excitement tonight."
"Yes, so I gather. You did well tonight, Laurel. I'm so proud of you." He smiled, pleasure dancing through his gray eyes.
"Thank you, Michael. And, thank you for coming tonight. That meant a lot. You know, just nice to see friendly faces."
"I can imagine. How much did you sell?"
"Almost the whole lot. I must admit, I'm stunned by how well the show was received. Professor Kane warned me that it usually doesn't happen that way. Buyers are often reluctant to buy from a no-name, especially collectors. If I disappear tomorrow, the work will mean nothing, or some such nonsense."
I sat back in my chair, sipped my coffee. I had no idea why I was drinking it; I needed to get to bed, and Doc Hollidays' strong brew wasn't going to help out that cause.
"Look, Mike, I'm sorry. I really need to get home. I'm beat."
"Not a problem." I could see the disappointment in his eyes, but could do nothing about it. I just didn't want what he did. Besides, I needed to think about what had happened that night with Chantal, and how it had made me feel. I was so lost, confused, and still aroused. "Ready?" I looked up, again jerked to the present to see Michael about ready to stand, a wad of money on the table on top of the check.
I walked like a zombie up the steep stairs that led to Caden and my front door. She had left it unlocked, so I walked in, shutting it behind me with a soft click. The apartment was quiet, but a lamp burned in the living room. I headed in the direction, seeing Caden on the couch, fast asleep, her books around her, some on the floor. I smiled, looking down at my friend, her breathing even and quiet. Reaching down, I brushed aside a few strands of nearly black hair, breathing deep. I could smell her perfume, and just the smell of her warm body in slumber. Like a baby, that certain smell. I loved it, breathed it in.
I needed to talk to her. I needed to talk.
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