Chapter 16 - 20
Disclaimers: I started this in homage to the great characters in a certain TV show, but its grown beyond that, and taken on a life of its own. Its heavy Alt hey I write the way I live so if you are underage, residing somewhere where its illegal or are simply offended, read elsewhere.
Thanks to the Tribe, the greatest fans a bard could have, to Barb and Barbara Davies, for editing, to MaryD, to Beth and most of all to the Graces of this world.
Send me a line, if you like it: Tragedy88@goplay.com
"Are you sure you dont have any questions?" Daniel asked again. He and the team of doctors were gathered around the bed. Theyd explained everything till my head was spinning with technical terms.
"Nope, no questions," I replied.
"Well, if its all right with Grace, I have a few." Allison turned to me with a quizzical look.
"Go right ahead," I said.
"Since Peter pretty much covered the aspects of the surgery and how long it will take, Im concerned about the recovery time afterwards." She addressed Peter Barker, the youngest doctor on Daniels team. He seemed sure of himself, though grounded in the work he did.
He nodded. "A good question. Usual recovery time is two weeks, but that depends on how strong Grace is and her determination to get on her feet again."
"You mean Ill be bedridden for two weeks?" I asked incredulously.
"Yes. Maybe more or a little less, depending on your body. Itll take a few months for you to completely recover and be able to go back to work and do many of the normal things youre used to."
Hot damn, I swore silently. "Two weeks months," I murmured.
"Can you give us a few minutes?" Allison asked as she glanced around the room. Daniel nodded and they all shuffled out. "Grace?"
When I didnt look at her she touched my chin and turned my face up towards her.
"You all right?" she asked.
I shook my head. "I cant do this."
"Sure you can."
"No. I cant."
"Yes you can, cause Im going to be with you every step of the way."
What the hell do I say to that?
"Its okay," Allison said. "You dont have to say anything, I know this is hard for you."
Why not let Allison help me? Snippets of my conversation with the Professor floated back to me. Ill find some way to make it up to you, I swear it Alli. I'll find something to give you in return.... "Thank you," I whispered.
"Morning good." I grinned widely.
"Id say so. You ready?" Allison gently took my hand.
"Drugs...good." I couldnt stop smiling. I blinked several times and tried to focus on the gorgeous woman sitting on the bed next to me. "Wow."
"What?" She asked with raised eyebrows.
"Wow." I propped myself up higher on the pillows, dragging Allisons hand and Allison closer. "You are beautiful."
"Uh huh, very good drugs."
We were close enough that I could smell the shampoo shed used that morning, see the glint of gold in her eyes and I reached out to touch her shining hair. It was soft and thick. She froze and I suddenly realized that I was tangling my hand around the back of her head and pulling her even closer. "Sorry." I began to pull away.
She reached out and took my hand as it brushed by her cheek. Allison held it there, against her cheek, smiling gently. "If I didnt know you better Id say its just the drugs talking." She hesitated. "But maybe it is the drugs."
I shook my head. "Theyre just giving me courage to say the truth. Alli?"
"Youll be here when I wake up?" I asked.
"Definitely." She paused. "Did you think that after all this Id go away?"
"No. Its just I fink- think um think that ." Bad drugs. "Tell you later, k?"
"Youre letting me go?" I asked increduously.
"Yup, youve made good progress." The doctor shuffled through some papers as if checking the notes that had been written about me.
He didnt see a thing.
So, the rumors were true. They were out of beds and kicking me out. I stood. "Nice seein ya, Doc."
They made me sign a dozen more papers, informed me about the meds I needed to take and where to go for counseling, then called a taxi for me. And that was the end of it.
I was back on the streets, no better then when Id entered the clinic. But, for two months Id had a bed, dry clothes and food in my belly.
Oh shit, oh shit . Thats how I fell asleep, knowing I might never wake up. The surgery, they told me later, lasted two hours longer then scheduled, due to the unexpected amount of nerve damage I had suffered.
But I was going to be all right.
When I woke up the room was dark and the morphine was still kickin'. I tried to look for Allison but I was face down on a special bed, and too weak to call out for anyone.
I fell asleep again within seconds.
Morning came and with it the first tinglings of pain. Nothing to worry about, right? Except I now felt trapped, and within minutes I was stabbing at the call button.
"Morning, Grace. Time for meds already?" the nurse asked.
Her shoes, and the bottom of her white skirt were the only things I could see. It was really disconcerting. "Is Allison here?"
"Yup, she was just down getting some coffee. We didnt expect you to wake up so soon." She fixed the sheet, and checked the drip on the meds, explaining as she did each thing. "All right, hon, were all set here. My names Tilly and Ill be your nurse this morning. Youve got the call button if you need anything."
"Hey, youre awake."
"Alli!" Mmm, maybe this wasnt such a bad position after all. Nice legs.
"Told ya Id be here, didnt I? And wipe that grin off your face."
Oops, thats when I noticed the mirror. "What grin?"
I lay staring at the floor, bored out of my mind. After exhausting all the magazines the nurses could find, angling the TV so I could see it in the mirror and endlessly flipping channels there was nothing left to do.
The only thing that would make life better would be if Allison could get off work early.
A glance in the mirror told me it was Pam, the second shift nurse. "Whats up?" I asked.
"Youve got a phone call."
"Yup. Hang on a second and well get you set up." A black box slid into view below me. It was a speaker phone. "Hello?"
"Hey, Grace. How are you?"
"Alli! Great, now that you called anyway." I heard her chuckle on the other end. There were voices in the background and it sounded like the new shipment had arrived at the gallery.
"Ah, theyre making a mess of things as usual, but Chris is straightening it out so I can talk to you."
"Good. I was just thinking about you."
"Really?" She paused. "Your voice sounds strange. Do we have a bad connection?"
"No," I answered. "Pam put me on speaker phone."
"Oh. Okay." There was another pause, and I could hear shouting in the background. "Youre still set for discharge tomorrow morning. I wont be able to make it back before visiting hours are over. Things are always chaotic after a new shipment."
"Ill see you in the morning though, right?"
"You betcha. Vella already has a room set up for you." The sound of something crashing in the background brought the conversation to a sudden halt. "Damn, Ive gotta go. Sorry, Grace."
"No problem," I said. "Go take care of business."
"See you in the morning."
"Yup, morning." I was just about to punch the disconnect button.
"Oh, and Grace?"
"Yeah?" My finger hesitated above the disconnect button.
"I miss you too."
The dial tone sounded and my finger was still frozen, as a wide grin split my face.
Allison carefully wheeled me through the front double doors of her home.
"Vellas set up a guest room for you. Its on the ground floor and has its' own bathroom. Also easy access to the kitchen when you start walking around more." She paused. "But you wont have to, Vella will be available for everything you need."
"Ah, sure." We made our way down the hall to the bedroom Id be in for the next few months. Velvet drapes covered the windows, white marble lined the fireplace, and silk sheets adorned the canopy bed. To say I was impressed is an understatement. Vella was pulling down the huge down comforter as we entered.
"Thanks, Vella, that will be all," Allison said briskly.
"Yes Miss Grace? Is there something else you need?" Vella asked as Allison helped me onto the bed.
"Ah, no. Alli, can you hand me that plastic bag?" I pointed to the bundle left in the side of the wheelchair. "Thanks." I reached inside and pulled out an item covered in tissue paper. "Here Vel, this is a kind of thank you for letting me stay here."
"Oh no, Miss, I cant take this." She glanced at Allison briefly before trying to hand it back.
"Call me Grace, and I made it for you. I-I know its kinda stupid, but Id like you to have it. Please?"
Vella was blushing but she began to unwrap the gift. Her smile widened as she pulled out a cottonball Santa and his popsicle stick reindeer. "Its lovely. Thank you." She knelt down and gave me a quick hug before hastily retreating from the room.
"That was nice," Allison said.
I grinned and rifled through the bag again. "I made one for you too." As I handed it over a lazy smile graced Allisons face and I could feel a blush traveling up my neck.
"Thank you." She seemed to hesitate, unsure of herself, until I told her to have a seat. She sat precariously on the edge of the bed, delicately holding the silly Santa and reindeer.
"Pam found an extra craft kit from the childrens ward." I grinned sheepishly. "Um, Alli, thanks again for letting me stay here. You know you didnt have to do this, right?"
"I know." Allison paused. "Well consider it temporary and discuss other arrangements later if you still want to."
"Works for me." Suddenly I yawned, widely. "Guess Im more tired than I thought."
Allison rose from the bed. "Get some rest and Vella will bring you lunch later, okay?"
I nodded and closed my eyes.
Allison and I 'tiptoed' around each other the first week, but we finally set up a routine of sorts. Since I slept little and Allison woke up naturally early wed share coffee before she left for work.
This morning she wheeled me out to the dining room and up to the table. Vella was busy in the kitchen, making omelets. Allison was reading the paper and sucking down a cup of black coffee. I was nursing my heavily creamed and sugared one.
Vella came out of the kitchen balancing two plates.
"Mmm, smells good," I said with a smile.
"None for me thanks," Allison said as she flipped another page. She looked up when I cleared my throat irritably. "What?"
"Vella went to all the trouble of making it, you can at least make a token effort to eat it."
"Is all right, Grace. Ill take back. Heres yours." She laid the plate in front of me. There was sausage, toast and a cheese omelet.
I glanced back at Allison. "I wont eat if you dont."
"Excuse me?" She looked up with one raised eyebrow.
"You heard me. Eat, woman."
"Im not hungry," she said.
"Grace, is all right," Vella said. "Please dont make fuss."
"Fine. I wont make a fuss. Vella will you please take me back to my room?" I asked. Many times Id gone without food and had been so weak from hunger that I could never understand how anyone could turn a meal down.
"Grace?" Allison reached across the table and took my hand.
"Sorry," I mumbled, still looking down. "Im acting like a child."
"Vella?" She held out her hand and accepted the plate. "Better?" She asked quietly after Vella had left.
I smiled weakly and picked up my fork. I felt the need to explain and after pushing my food around for a moment I looked over at my benefactor. "When my mother died my father lost everything to gambling. Itd been a big secret, even though everyone knew, and we fell on hard times." I took a sip of coffee and cleared my throat. Allison was listening intently and it was making me self-conscious. "Anyway we lost the house, we lost my brother to cancer, and I lost my father to alcohol. I bounced around from relative to relative for awhile before I ran away. When I came here I had no money, no place to live, and no food to eat."
"Im sorry." Allison smiled sadly. "Youve got someplace now."
I blinked rapidly. "I didnt say any of that to make you feel- I mean I was just trying to explain my...uh...tantrum-"
"Relax, Grace. I know what you were saying. I know youve had a rough life and I just want to make things easier for you."
My hands clenched under the table. I didnt want her pity. "Thank you," I said. The question of what she wanted returned again to haunt me.
Allison cleared her throat. "Well, I need to get to the gallery. If you need anything just call for Vella."
Allison sat at her desk in the office, elbows on the table and head in her palms. Had she made a mistake taking Grace into her life like that? No. If she had to do things over again, she wouldn't change it. Except maybe have gotten help sooner for her friend.
Where did she draw the line between friendship and more? Every bone in her body called out to protect Grace, to save her.... Save her from what? Allison wasn't sure.
And there was the undeniable physical attraction she felt every time she was near the young artist. Yes, she felt it, would never act on it, but it was there, begging for attention. Suspicion ruled Grace's life, but there was one thing that let down Grace's walls, her defenses, and left her open. The one thing that Allison had truly seen her enjoy. Well, she thought, I'll just have make sure she enjoys it again, and soon. She grabbed a piece of stationary and made a list of supplies to get.
Things had settled down and there were no more emotional breakfasts. Allison read the paper and had coffee, sometimes a bagel, while I ate silently.
The question of why she was doing all this still nagged at me. Why else would she allow me in her home, if she didnt want something from me in return? Why else would she come home after work and sit down to dinner with me? Why would she spend money on a whole new set of art supplies? Why would she sit up for hours watching TV, working on papers, or listening to music in the library while I sketched her?
I just couldnt figure out what it was she wanted, what she thought she would get from me. I had no money. After this it would take me a long time to get back on my feet.
Soon I was able to wheel myself to the workroom Allison had set up for me, and it wasnt long before Id finished both the portrait and the rose painting and was moving on to other things.
Vella and I would chat while Allison was at work. I learned a lot about the wars in her country, and how she crossed the Mexican border in the dead of night, nine months pregnant, so her little girl could be free from war and bloodshed.
It was good to have a friend who understood the loss of family and loved ones. She'd lost her mother and father in a gruesome battle with Guerillas. Beneath that stern exterior was a woman of integrity and honesty.
I also learned that I had far more things to be thankful for than I thought.
A month came and went before I knew it. I was out walking in the gardens in the morning and painting all day long. The paints, brushes and canvases Allison had bought me were the finest quality Id ever seen. At first I hadnt wanted to mar the white perfection, but I got over it.
I painted like Id never painted before.
Of course I had regular check ups with Doc James, and I was healing well. The change was amazing. The walks through the garden and the exploration of the mansion helped me build up strength. A weekend came, Allison was home from work and Thom dropped by to see how I was doing.
"Thom! What are you doing here?" I turned slowly. I was doing better, just not that much better.
"Miss Parker said itd be fine to visit. Have I come at a bad time?" He gestured to the paints and the fresh canvas with the beginnings of a snowy mountainside.
"Nah, come on in and have a seat. I was just about to take a break." We sat on the couch under the bay window. "So, how have you been?"
"Same old." He paused and laid a hand on my knee. "You should have told me about the surgery, Grace. I talked to Vella and she said you were fine, but-"
"Sorry. It all happened so fast."
"But youre all right now? Allisons taking good care of you?" He looked intently at me as I blushed furiously.
"Im taking care of myself just fine. Allis just letting me stay here."
Thom nodded. "You know if theres anything you need just call me."
"Thanks. Hey, while youre here how bout I start on that portrait you were talking about?" I deftly changed the subject.
"Where do you want me to sit?" He smiled.
I worked on his portrait while we chatted.
"Can you imagine?" I shook my head, after retelling a tale Vella had told me just the other day.
"It's terrible. How she survived all that intact I'll never know." Thom shifted in the leather chair I'd chosen, and made a grimace.
"She survived for her daughter," I replied, as I mixed more paint, for a lighter flesh tone.
"These old bones need a break, my girl. How about we get something to eat?"
"I'll have to clean up here first. Why don't I meet you in the kitchen?"
He nodded and stood. "I can make a mean ham sandwich."
I smiled. "Sounds good." After I cleaned up I met Thom in the kitchen. He did make a mean ham sandwich. Our conversation resumed where it had left off.
"I wouldn't have had her courage," I admitted.
He looked at me curiously. "Of course you would. I, on the other hand, would not."
I tilted my head and gave him a 'look.' "Why?"
"Because you have strength of character." He paused, and I would have protested, but he got a far away look in his eyes and continued in a gentle voice. "There are all kinds of strengths and powers in this world. A long time ago I would have said money was the highest power of all. I grew up surrounded by money, so it was all I knew." He paused again, his sandwich forgotten.
"Then one day I met a young woman. I had just graduated from college and was in business with my father. I had all kinds of ideas about wealth, and how romance should be. But, she turned my world upside down. I courted her for two months before I realized I was hopelessly, madly in love with her."
He glanced across the table at me. "I know," he said. "Me, falling in love. I couldn't imagine it either. My father told me she was just after our money. Mother said the same thing. But in my heart I knew she didn't want anything from me but love."
By then my ham sandwich was finished and I was listening intently.
"Well, I asked her to marry me. My family protested, and my father eventually disowned me, but we married anyway. It was the happiest year of my life, even as we struggled without my father's money. I learned that simple things made her happy. Walks in the park, reading.... She loved everything about life.
"And then she was gone. Or so it seemed. The cancer took months, and I had to watch her slip away from me, day by day."
I laid a sympathetic hand on his trembling one. He patted it absently.
"Don't fret, my girl. I learned a powerful lesson then. Money is not the most powerful force in the world, even if it is a driving one."
"Love is," I said, softly. He nodded and smiled sadly.
"You learned that a long time ago, Grace. That's why you're stronger then I am."
I opened my mouth to protest but instead I said, "Everything I've ever loved has been taken from me. In one form or another. As my mother lay dying, she told me one thing that I'll never forget. I didn't understand it until recently, either."
I closed my eyes and saw my mother's face, younger, but pale and thin.
Allison shifted from foot to foot as she leaned against the outside wall of the kitchen, listening intently.
"She said; 'The road you travel will be long and winding. But love will be binding, and you will find your way.' I thought she meant to love life. And I tried. I really did," Grace said. She rested her head in the palm of her free hand and looked at the ceiling.
"What do you think she meant then?" Thom asked.
"I think she meant that I had to freely give love, no matter what or where. It's not a tool to get something in return. Once I figured that out, I'd be able to love life, and those around me."
"And now you do?" he asked.
Allison couldn't see Grace nod her head, or the small smile that edged her lips. But she heard her say softly, "Someone gave me a gift, with no strings attached, and I think I finally figured out why, and what I can give in return."
Allison had the day off from work when I approached her on the back patio. She was wearing a pair of beige slacks and a white blouse, covered mostly by a navy, v-neck sweater. Her casual beauty left me at a loss for words after my initial 'hey'.
She smiled and said 'hey' back. "What's up?" she asked, a breath of white air escaping her full, red lips.
"Not much. Just came to see what you were doing," I said as I sat in the lawn chair next to her. I was working up my courage to say what needed to be said.
Allison turned to me, her eyes shining bright and blue, matching the cloudless winter sky. "Arent you cold?" She gestured to my thin gray T-shirt.
I shrugged, and crossed my arms as I kicked my feet up on the long chair. We sat in silence for a while. It was nice not to feel like we needed conversation. Her mere presence was enough to settle my nerves and I let a small, lazy smile cross my lips.
"Daniel said everything was fine?"
Id gone to see him yesterday. "He said everythings healing nicely. In fact, better then hed hoped. Ill be able to return to a light work schedule in a matter of days." My tone turned wistful, but thats as far as I went. These last few days had been good, and while I didnt ever want to leave here, I couldnt fool myself either.
Allison nodded without turning my way and crossed her legs. She closed her eyes and settled deeper into her chair. "Thats good." She paused. "Will you go back to being a waitress?"
"Dunno. Dont really want to," I said honestly. "Maybe Ill do bartending again. Tough, but fun. And you always meet the most interesting people." I grinned crookedly, remembering one time in particular.
"What?" Allison asked, with a raised eyebrow. "Find yeself a nice strong lad, did ye?" she asked in a thick Irish brogue.
Chuckling I said, "A bar, my dear, not a pub." Her smile was so bright that it nearly took my breath away, again. "I worked at this one bar, called the Salty Sea. It was the epitome of a seedy, back alley bar, but I loved it."
"This and that. Mostly the accident."
"Where you fell down the stars?" Allison twisted on the lounge chair and looked at me intently.
I nodded. "It wasnt their fault. Things happen." I shrugged.
"So," Allison drawled. "Tell me about these fascinating people you met." Either her eyes or the cold made me shiver. I watched as she grinned slightly and pulled off her sweater. "Here."
"Youll get cold," I protested.
Allison watched Graces blond head disappear beneath navy blue folds. In truth she wasnt cold. Grace had set a warmth burning in her belly that didnt diminish even as she chuckled at the sight of the young woman in a sweater that was much too big for her.
"What are you laughing at?" the artist asked indignantly, but with a wide grin. "Do you want me to tell this story or not?" She raised a jaunty brow.
"Go right ahead. By all means, dont let me stop you."
Grace tilted her head slightly to the side, and her bangs fell gently into her eyes. Impatiently she brushed them aside. "Well, there was this one woman I remember the most. She was a regular customer. Her hair was this fiery red, and her eyes the most intense green-"
The words faded away from Allisons ears as she watched the waning sun kiss the blond head with golden highlights. Her lips were small, pink, and definitely kissable. Her cheeks were the same pink, warmed by the sun and the passion with which she told her tale. Her hands- small, slim and artistically tapered- accentuated her tale with little up and down movements.
But what fascinated Allison the most were Graces verdant eyes. They blazed with a joy that the gallery owner had only seen when painting. Something had changed in the young woman.
And, if Allison had had any talent for painting, this is what she would have painted. A vibrant young woman, with a love for life.
As my tale wound down and finished I realized Id purposely steered clear of the real reason why Id come outside. But as I looked at Allisons smiling face, felt the crisp, winter wind swirling around us and caught the smell of snow I couldnt help but feel a certain sense of peace.
"You must be cold by now," I said softly.
Allison started, then looked at her arms, as if seeing them for the first time. "A little bit," she admitted.
"How about we make some hot cocoa?" I asked, as I stood and reached out a hand to help her up.
"Sounds good. I can get Vell-"
"I thought we could make it together, then maybe sit by the fireplace. What do you think?" I asked quietly and met pale eyes.
Allison nodded and led the way inside to the kitchen. Once we were there I offered to give the sweater back, but Allison shrugged, and said whenever would be fine. I hid a smile behind her back as she rummaged through the cupboard, and snuggled deeper into the warmth and light scent of Allison that surrounded me.
I couldnt remember ever having had a better time. The fire had glowed and crackled- a hazy red that highlighted Allisons hair- as wed sipped our cocoa and lounged on the couch. Eventually wed finished our drinks and Id sprawled out on the carpet in front of the fire.
Allison had tossed some pillows down and joined me. Wed talked about this and that, and nothing in between. She had a new show coming up, I had just finished another painting.
For the first time in my life I fell asleep next to someone, not worrying if theyd steal my shoes or cut my throat during the night.
Id awoken briefly as Allison carried me to my room and deposited me on the bed. Id mumbled something, and shed shhed me and told me to go back to sleep, tucking me in with a gentle kiss on my forehead.
But I had no way of knowing that once Allison left shed gone to her own room and stayed awake for hours.
The next morning I asked Allison if I could borrow the limo. Shed raised an eyebrow, but nodded without question.
I had forty bucks left so I asked Ed to drive me to the grocery store first. I came out with two bags of stuff, handed one to Ed, then asked if hed drop me off a block from my old apartment.
The other bag rested lightly in my arms as I walked around the alley and came up by the fire escape. A wicked smile crossed my lips as I ascended the walk to the loft window. I flipped the broken latch and crawled across the sill, dropping softly onto the bare, hardwood floor.
No one was in the loft, or appeared to be anywhere else in the apartment, as I made my way quietly from room to room.
Dougs was first. Blue dye in his Head and Shoulders, and Frosted Flakes in the bed. Angela and Julies beds both got rice, and so did their toilet and tub. With any luck theyd think it was maggots. Torch, last but not least, got his green hair dye traded with guacamole. I turned his stereo up to the last notch and walked into the kitchen.
I went directly to the circuit breaker behind the door and cut the power. Oh I had such a cruel little bone in my body. My mission complete I returned to the fire escape. I felt a little guilty, but it was all harmless. So theyd have to buy groceries, maybe get a splitting headache from the stereo all in all it was enough revenge for me to forgive and forget.
Ed met me with a wide smile. "Mission accomplished, Grace?"
"Yup, on to step two." Step two was the York bridge. Ed glanced at me curiously. "Its all right," I told him as I exited the limousine. "Im just going to give this to an old friend."
He looked at the other bag, the one filled with actual food, and nodded. "Ill be right here when youre finished. Unless youd like me to go with you?"
"No thanks, Ed. Ill be fine." Slowly I wandered beneath the bridge, shivering as the wind screamed through the old supports, like Banshees on the moor. The shadows were freezing and almost everyone was converging around blazing barrels. The professor wasnt in his usual spot and I glanced around curiously. It took me a moment to realize all his stuff was gone, and new pieces of board and blankets held up the walls of his dilapitated home.
Any icy shiver seized my body. "Professor?" I called. A dirty, dishwater colored blond head appeared from the jumble of blankets.
"Get out of here, this space is mine!"
I just looked at him. "Wheres the Professor?"
"Dead. Now get out of here."
I stumbled backwards, dropping my bag of food. "No. Cant be. I saw him just the other day ."
"Its true, now go away," the man mumbled as he ducked back inside.
In a daze I went from barrel to barrel, but everyone said the same thing. Dead. Frozen solid. Heart attack. There were no usea for platitudes and niceties on the street.
As I stumbled to the limo Ed raced towards me, cursing under his breath that he never should have let me go there. "Are you hurt?" he asked, and grabbed my shoulders.
"No. Im not hurt." I shrugged away from his hands and leaned against the cold, black side of the limo, closing my eyes. A low moan started deep in my throat. Ed gently touched my shoulder.
"Are you sure?"
"Sure. Sure. Just take me ho- back to Allisons, please." He helped me into the limo, where I rested my head against the passenger side window and closed my eyes again.
"Shes in her room, Miss," Vella said quietly from the entryway hall, as if afraid that shed wake Grace. "Ed bring her to a bridge-"
"Bridge?" Allisons voice rose as she tried to get around the maid.
"Wait!" Vella grabbed her employers arm, a mistake that could cost her her job, and halted Allison in her tracks. The icy glare that came her way took her voice for a split second before she spoke forcefully. "She very upset. You go- go- rushing in there, you scare the girl."
Slowly Allison nodded. "What should I do?" she asked softly.
"Let Grace rest. She cry herself out, be very tired. You wait."
She looked at the maid for a long moment, her heart aching to go to the young woman, find out what happened and make it all better. "Ill let her rest," she assured Vella as she handed her coat and suitcase to the young maid and headed to her own room to change.
She showered, dressed in comfortably worn jeans and a dark blue, long sleeved Polo shirt with a little horse embroidered on the breast pocket. That was as long as she could wait before she found herself standing silently in the doorway to Graces room.
The artist was sprawled across the bed, covers just barely over her legs. Her hair was rumpled, her blue sweater- Allisons blue sweater- exposing a pale expanse of stomach. She moved and let out a small groan.
"Hey," she said, sleepily.
"Hey," Allison replied, crossing the room. "Mind if I sit down?" Grace moved over slightly and patted a spot on the bed beside her. "Are you all right?"
"Wanna tell me why you were at the bridge?" Allison asked as she absently plucked at the comforter.
I looked at Allison in the dim light of the bedroom and felt my heart clenching all over again. "The Professors dead," I said bluntly.
She raised a puzzled eyebrow. "The Professor and Mary Ann?"
Despite the circumstances I felt a small smile tugging at my lips. "No, an old friend. He helped me out when I . Well, when I was at one of the lowest points in my life."
The worst thunderstorm of the season seemed to be focused on the city, or more specifically, on the small, dirty alley Id run to for cover. Rain plastered newspapers and litter against the walls, and soaked me to the bone. I was cold, tired, hungry and dirty.
A rat scurried by my feet, making me jump. A sinister shadow loomed by the dumpster. I raced headlong onto the sidewalk, and towards the cover of the York bridge.
People roamed from barrel to barrel, exchanging conversation and warmth. A horde of nameless, faceless people in a world of shadows.
I found a crumbling bridge pillar to shield me against the worst of the storm, and my fears, and sank down to the damp concrete.
A shadow passed by me, stopped and turned. I felt my heart leap into my throat, as a deep, gravely voice asked my name. Hesitantly I looked up into dull gray eyes.
"Grace," I whispered.
He knelt down in front of me. I backed up against the pillar. "No fear, my girl." He smiled kindly. "Youre new to York."
I nodded at his almost question.
"Since then Id always had someone to turn to," I whispered shakily and wound my arms around myself in the vain attempt to ward off the chill that had entered my body. "Whenever I needed something - just an ear to talk to- he was there. Until today."
"Its- I tried to help him. I went back for him, Alli." I looked helplessly at her. Her pale eyes were dark and shimmering. She reached forward and tenderly touched my cheek. "He wouldnt go . And now hes dead."
"Its not your fault," Allison tried to reassure me.
"I-I know that. But it still hurts. Here." Distressed I tapped my chest, just above my heart. Her warm hand suddenly covered mine and pulled it gently to her lips. She kissed my knuckles and laid my palm against her cheek.
I forgot to breath as my heart pounded a staccato rhythm against my ribcage.
"Im sorry," she said again, then kissed my palm, and then my wrist. I opened my mouth in silent protest. Allisons free hand touched my lips. "Dont say anything. Just close your eyes and rest now."
She kissed my palm again. I felt her warm breath caressing my skin and a tingle travel the length of my arm.
"Close your eyes. Good. Now," her voice lowered. "Imagine your favorite painting. What does it look like?"
"The one with the mountain. The snow swirling down like a perfect Christmas," I replied sleepily. Her lips twitched upward into a smile against my hand.
Allison watched Grace slip into sleep with the image of a snowy mountainside, and held onto her hand a lot longer then necessary. Gently she traced her fingers, to the tip and back to the knuckle, then slowly down her arm, eliciting a trail of goosebumps and a soft moan.
She stopped abruptly, laid Graces hand on the bed and slowly backed to the door after pulling the covers up over the sleeping artist.
Quietly she made her way down the long hall to her office and sat behind the desk after pouring herself a shot of whiskey.
Her kisses wouldnt have stopped at Graces wrist if not for the haunted looked on her friends face. Shed wanted to hold Grace, comfort her, love her, and take away the hurt. But Grace had been hurt so many times in her life that Allison refused to do it to her again.
So she sat, for a long time, looking out over the darkened gardens, holding a tiny cottonball Santa in her hand.
CONTINUED IN CHAPTER 21
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