Alex sat alone in a darkened corner of the Barclay Bar & Grill, in the Intercontinental Hotel in New York City. She had seen the doctor earlier that day and the visit had done nothing to ease her mind. She was required for further tests the following morning, so instead of commuting home she had decided to book a suite in the hotel for the night. She had spent the afternoon on some retail therapy – she needed fresh clothes and toiletries anyway – and had put a rather substantial dent in her credit card.
When she was finally all shopped out she had returned to her room in the hotel for dinner, but was in there no more than five minutes before she began to feel the walls closing in on her. Instead she had opted to come here. The bar was quiet and dark. She had been able to sit alone in her little corner with her lemon, lime and soda, do some light reading and watch the people go by.
She had pretty much given up on the people watching, those in the bar had settled in for the night and there were now few entrances and exits. She was rather engrossed in her book when a familiar voice had her head snap up.
"Jack on the rocks thanks bud," she heard him say as he pulled a money clip from his pocket and threw some notes on the bar.
"Just visiting Sir?" the bartender asked making small talk.
"Not really...more travelling through. I live out in Jersey. Have some business to attend to and a flight out tomorrow night, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to catch up with a friend."
How could he possibly know I was here? Alex wondered. Surely he isn't having me followed?
She was just about to get up and confront him when she saw the woman enter the bar. She was making a beeline straight for him, obviously a fan. Alex hung back. But then he looked up and smiled at her, and it wasn't the fake smile he used for cameras and fans alike. This was genuine, warm...he was happy to see her. He rose from his stool as she approached and he drew her into the circle of his arms and kissed, his lips lingering on her just a little longer than propriety allowed. He released her but kept a hold of her hand.
Alex could no longer hear the conversation, the couple spoke in muted whispers. This he obviously wanted to keep private. She observed the woman more closely now. Jon's friend's resemblance to herself was uncanny...kind of like a photocopy. She looked very similar, only not quite as good. She wasn't as polished...but then Alex had had the better part of the last five years around stylists, and had benefited from it. And maybe she was just a little biased. She watched the interaction between the pair. They were obviously very familiar with each other – he still hadn't released her hand and was now drawing circles on the back of it with his thumb.
The woman must have said something amusing, Jon's throaty chuckle carried to Alex and her gut clenched. She recognised this strange emotion she felt now, this possessive anger she was feeling. She was jealous. After the information she had received from the doctor that afternoon, this new revelation was almost enough to send her over the edge.
Gathering up her book and her keycard from the table, Alex waited for Jon to be distracted by his date and made a hasty exit from the bar. As she breezed out of the room, a wave of her signature scent of green apple wafted out behind her. Just as she disappeared around the corner it registered in Jon's senses.
"Can you smell that?" He took a long sniff.
"What?" Annie asked.
"Apples...I can smell... apples." He sniffed at the air again and looked around the bar...nothing.
"All I can smell is cigarette smoke," she replied, "are you ok Jon?"
"Yeah...I'm fine," he said on a sigh. "It was her scent. I guess I'm imagining things." Jon rapidly changed the subject. "I'm glad you could make it in. We have to celebrate this promotion of yours. I can't say I'm happy that you're going away though."
He couldn't talk about her anymore. It hurt too much. Bruce had called him to let him know they had arrived safe from the honeymoon. He had waited. Every day he had waited for the day she would come looking for him...tell him she had made a mistake, confirm the look of regret he saw in her eyes as she drove past him in the limousine. But she didn't come...didn't call. Then he had run into Bruce at a function, and he had told him that he had never seen Alex so happy... that he and Patti had been invited to dinner at the newlyweds' new home in Red Bank, and they were both happy and settled. He wondered why Bruce continued to convey this information. Did he suspect? Was he warning him off? Or, was it merely because he saw Jon as being a long standing friend to Alex, just as he was?
Jon only caught the tail end of Annie's response.
".....and I'll be back soon anyway. You won't even know that I'm gone." Annie smiled at him. She knew it was a mistake, but she couldn't help but fall for him just a little bit.
A few days after their initial run in, Jon had called her at work and asked if he could see her again. He wanted to take up her offer of counselling. He said he had tried to go the official route and see a counsellor, but he wasn't in there more than five minutes before he knew it wasn't for him. Annie already knew his biggest secret. If she wanted to finish him, she already had more than enough to do it. Since then, they had met frequently and now spoke on a daily basis.
He didn't have to pretend with Annie, with the exception of Richie, he really couldn't say that of anyone else. "Would it sound weird if I said I'm gonna miss you."
"No," she smiled at him again and reached out to lay a palm on his cheek, "I'm going to miss you too. It's a little strange how close I feel to you considering I've only known you a few weeks. But I'll only be gone a couple of months. As soon as the course is done, I'll be back. And you can always call me if you need me, or fly in if you're desperate...it's less than an hour's flight to Boston, and you do have that fancy jet at your disposal."
Jon chuckled, "That I do. C'mon lets go eat so we can get you to your flight on time."
"Sounds good," Annie leaned in and kissed him lightly on the lips, "Thanks for this."
"Anything for you," he rose from the stool, grabbed Annie's hand and led her from the bar.
It had been a bad day for Jon. He was startled awake by a phone call from Dorothea. He had been dreaming of Alex. She was wrapped in his arms, smiling and carefree, her left hand, brandishing his ring was tracing lazy circles down his stomach to his burgeoning erection. He snapped at Dot for waking him. He had been happy in his dream world; Alex was his...there were no obstacles...just her and him, together and deliriously happy.
He was late to his meeting - well audition really, he was trying for a part in a movie...he had caught the acting bug - it would have been quicker if he'd gotten out of the car and walked, he despised being late. He went to dial Annie's number at least half a dozen times that morning, but finally settled for Richie, only to be told he couldn't talk because he was otherwise occupied with his Fiancé, and could he please delay his trip out a few days, Heather wanted to take him away for the weekend. Great...just great!
That's how it was that he had found himself alone in his hotel room at six that evening after his audition finally concluded. He didn't hold much hope out of getting the part. But he had to start somewhere. Now he was at a loss. He had no flight to catch and he couldn't bear the thought of heading home....that...he would do tomorrow. He paced the room several times before deciding he needed a drink. He headed for the bar.
Jon came to the entrance of the bar and stopped dead in his tracks. It was her. She was sitting there alone, nursing a drink and looking forlorn. He made to take a step forward but at that exact moment she lifted her drink to her lips and her wedding rings caught the light and shimmered, effectively reminding him that she could no longer be his. His dream had been just that...a dream...and now it could never come true. He stood and watched her for a few seconds longer, drinking in the sight of her – who knew when he would see her again – then turned and left the bar. It seemed a run was in order instead of that drink – it was what he did when he needed to sort through things, he always found clarity in running - so he headed back to his room to change.
Alex's eyes were red rimmed as she toyed with her drink at the bar. The bar tender had taken one look at her and left her to her thoughts, she was grateful for it. Last night she had seen him....with her replacement no less and today...well today her worst fears had been confirmed. Now she sat here struggling with the panic that consumed her at the thought of disclosing those findings to her new husband. What would he think of her after this? How could he possibly want her?
Movement off to her left caught in Alex's peripheral vision. She didn't know what compelled her to look up, but she did so just in time to see him leave the bar. Her heart started to pound, her vision blurred. She had to get out of here before he saw her.... Or had he seen her already? No he couldn't have she decided...unless....unless he had seen her but he didn't want her to see him. She felt bile rise in her throat at the thought. Had she really caused him so much pain that he couldn't even bear to look at her? Or was it just that now that he had his replacement she no longer even mattered. What would that mean for her? What could it mean? She has made her choice. She waited for a few minutes to give him time to clear the lobby, downed her drink and headed for the safety of her room. She would leave first thing in the morning. She would not inflict her presence on him again.
Stepping out on her floor, Alex ran headlong into the very thing she was trying to avoid. She lurched backwards the second she saw him. He was dressed in his jogging clothes, short shorts, a tank top and runners. How was it possible to look good in that? He managed. He looked fucking fantastic, she wasn't too distraught to recognise that. The spattering of chest hair that poked out from the top of his tank, the lean muscled legs, the tense sinewy arms and the lock of blonde hair that fell to cover one of those bright azure eyes.
"Fuck," she muttered under her breath. Tears were already streaming down her face. She couldn't deal with this as well. "Excuse me," she said her voice quivering, as she skirted around him, doing her best to avoid showing him her face.
"Alex wait...please," Jon called after her. The desperation in his voice had her step faltering but she continued on. In four long strides he was at her side. "Ali...c'mon... what you can't even say hello anymore?"
"Hello Jon," she said formerly, flicking him the merest of glances, "now if you'll excuse me...I have to go."
She took a step towards her room but his hand on her arm stoped her. It was as if she had been burned, the touch of his flesh on hers. Memories assaulted her and she flinched away from him. Then felt guilty as she watched his expression crumble...but this wasn't about him...not really. "Please don't. Can we talk? I miss you."
Alex smiled softly, and shook her head, "Jon, how can you miss what you never had?"
"What do you mean?" his expression clearly puzzled.
"The longest you have ever been with me is a week Jon. Just one week...how could you possibly miss me?"
"Are you saying you don't miss me?" He asked.
"No...I'm not saying that," Alex stood before him picking at chipped finger nail and concentrating on her hand studiously. "But that's different. You're in the papers, in the radio, on the TV. Everywhere I go, everywhere I look...you're there. I've never had the chance to not miss you."
"Is that what you want now? To miss me?"
"Perhaps." She watched him flinch, "Listen Jon...I love you. I will always love you. But I'm with Rick now. It took me a long time to realise this, but you're not good for me Jon...We aren't good for each other. You make me selfish. You make want things I can't have. You're married, you've started a fam...." her voice broke on the word and he looked at her quizzically, he had caught it. "...a family. What's between us Jon,...it feels really, really deep...like I can't live without you sometimes...hell, like I won't make it through the night without your touch. But you have your life and I have mine, and it's not fair on anyone for us to continue this. So please let me go."
"I can't let you walk out of my life Alex. There has to be to make this work. Anything...anyway as long as you're still in my life." He pleaded.
"Listen...if you ever need me...really need me Jon, not just because you're feeling lonely...I'll be there for you. I always will be. But this needs to be a new start. I don't want you to be my obsession anymore...I want you to be my friend. It will take time, but I think we can manage it. You know it's one thing we've never been. Do you think we can try?" It was the only future she could see for them.
"Is that the best you think we can manage?"
"It is Jon...I just can't do this with you anymore." She said firmly.
"Ok. Will you have lunch with me? Just lunch. Bring Rick if you like. Let's give this friends thing a try."
"Ricks out of town and I think it's a little too soon to be tempting fate with an outing in public."
"Sure it's not you that would be tempted and not fate," he grinned playfully. "I'm pretty irresistible."
"Jon," she reproached, "you flirting is not helping."
"Sorry, I just wanted to see you smile. I hate the tears. What caused them?" He wiped her cheek with the pad of his thumb and again felt her shy away from his touch. This was it...they were really through.
"Just the shock of seeing you I guess." Alex wiped the remainder of the tears from her cheeks.
"You were crying before you even got out of the elevator. Friends remember...you can talk to me." He offered her a small uncertain smile.
Not about this she thought...never about this. "I...um...I saw you downstairs...when you left the bar."
"Oh...I'm sorry Alex. I didn't do that to upset you. I didn't think you'd seen me. I was trying to do the right thing. I understand you've made your choice in Rick...I respect that."
"Thank you. Now I'm sorry but I really do have to go. I'm heading home in the morning. I have a full day ahead of me." Alex rummaged through her purse for her keycard.
"Where's home these days? You still at Bruces?"
"Uh ha," she exclaimed, as she triumphantly pulled the little piece of plastic from her bag. "No...Rick bought us a house. We're not too far from him though. Look, sorry Jon... but this..." she motioned back and forth between them, " well, it's still a little weird. Can we pick the small talk up some other time? When we've both had a chance get used to the idea."
"Sure... sorry. The last thing I want to do is make you uncomfortable."
"Here take this. She fished a business card out of her purse. It has all my numbers on it. Call me anytime...umm... maybe just give me a few weeks to wrap my head around everything." She leaned up gave him a very brief kiss on the cheek and trotted off down the hallway before she could do something she might regret. She was already beginning to think the offer of friendship was a mistake. How could she be friends with the man when the entire time she was with him, she had to make a conscious effort to keep her hands of him. It was like she was the moth and he was the flame...irresistible, but dangerous. Was it inevitable that she end up burned?