The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
This is a work of fiction. The events described here are imaginary; the settings and characters are fictitious and are not intended to represent specific places or living persons. All characters engaging in sexual relationships or activities are 18 years old or older.
This is a story I submitted to an event on another site
Readers of my other stories will know that I feature a fair number of boats in them. This story was always going to be about rediscovery and sailing away into the sunset. It’s something that I’d been working on for the past year, a longish tale I intended to split into two parts. The first part, the introduction, was to be a romantic rediscovery of lost love, introducing the main characters. The second, loss, and anguish on the high seas. I’ve merged the two parts into one.
Blackrandl1958 was willing to take on the unenviable task of editing this tale, for which I’m very grateful. All the remaining mistakes are mine as I can never resist that final tweak.
Ashley, or was it, Alison.
We knew that the full moon could be a problem, it was too bright, and we were sure to be spotted as we approached the marina. We were going to have to delay until it set. The ideal time for us to approach the yacht would have been 1:30 AM, but the moon didn’t set until 2:30 and we needed to be back on the ‘Girl,’ well before any of the local fishermen began stirring when dawn broke.
The three of us waited by the beached zodiac, dressed in black wetsuits. We watched as the moon crawled towards the horizon. At last, it disappeared, and the moon glow vanished, leaving the sea and the coastline of the island in almost complete darkness. Our only illumination the countless stars in the night sky and the reflected lights from the small town the other side of the marina.
No words were required, the inflatable was launched, and the almost silent electric outboard started. We headed out to sea, moving out of the safety of the cove and began the long sweep around the headland that hid our destination.
Part 1: London - Lost Love Found
The hotel bar had been slowly filling up as the nearby theaters and restaurants emptied. I sat back in my chair at the bar, and managing to catch the eye of the barman, pointed at my empty glass. He nodded and a few moments later, a fresh glass of Armagnac sat in front of me.
As I picked up the glass and inhaled the heady aroma, I was deep in thought. Jesus Christ, that really had been Alison in the restaurant. Shit, talk about a walk down a deep dark and very painful memory lane.
I raised my glass to my reflection in the mirror behind the bar and drank a toast to the man I’d become. The thirty-year-old man reflected in the glass toasted me back. I’m Josh, Joshua Thomas, but only my mother calls me by my full first name. I’m a tad over six feet when I’m not sitting down and staring at myself. I’m no Adonis but then nor am I Quasimodo. I’m Mr. Middle of the road, and I was emotionally wrung out from the events of the last couple of days.
I hadn’t been back to London for a couple of years; hell, I hadn’t been back in the UK. A week ago I’d been enjoying the sun on the deck of the ‘Lost Girl, ‘ my forty-five-foot sailing catamaran moored in the marina in Valencia harbor, and I’d no plans to leave the Mediterranean. My boat was my life; it was my home, it nurtured me because I was damaged goods, and Alison was the reason I was damaged goods.
I had required a good reason to decide to return to the country of my birth, and that reason was why I was sitting here. I’d been relaxing on the bench in the cockpit of my boat, contemplating my upcoming cruise to the Aegean Sea. I could sail the Lost Girl single-handed at a pinch, but it was a lot easier with help. I’d put the word out amongst the local sailing community to see if I could find someone interested in joining me for the trip. There were usually several ex-students hanging around looking for a cheap way to travel the Med. I’d met with several and one girl; Mandy stood out.
She was 21 and an experienced sailor, her parents had an apartment on the island, and Mandy was living on their 35 ft. Yacht moored the other side of the marina. I met with her, her boyfriend and her parents for a drink at a local bar, and she impressed me with her calm confidence. She’d been sailing since she was ten and was looking to travel and earn a little pocket money during a gap year between her bachelor’s degree and starting her masters.
Her boyfriend, Paul, wasn’t as experienced but at least understood one end of a rope from the other. Initially, I’d only anticipated taking on one crew, but they looked so happy at the chance to sail together I offered both of them a place, with the usual conditions. I’d cover all their expenses, pay a small salary and provide transport to an airport and a ticket home when the trip was over.
That’s was when my phone rang, and I learned that Stephen had died. I told them I’d be back in a week and caught a flight the next day.
The reason I had returned was to attend the funeral of an old university friend and honor his parents request that I give one of the eulogies. That wasn’t why I was sitting at the bar contemplating drowning my sorrows; that was a deeper, darker and very personal reason.
The funeral service had been the usual depressing event that I’d anticipated. Stephen and I had gone to school and university together before going our separate ways, but we’d been good friends and had continued to keep in touch. I’d been stunned when I got a call the previous week from his parents, telling me he’d been killed in a freak skiing accident and asking me if I would please give the eulogy.
I met up with several other university friends at the funeral, and five of us had agreed to meet up the next evening for a meal. Paul, who was a very successful journalist, had managed to get us a table at one of the very latest fashionable restaurants in the west end.
The evening had begun with great promise. This was the first time in several years that all of us had been able to catch up. It was nice that after the somberness of the funeral, we were able to relax. There were five of us, Paul, Catherine, Julia and her husband, William, had met up in the bar of my hotel for a drink before walking to the restaurant. We sat and enjoyed the good food and wine, reminiscing about Stephen and his exploits at university; our version of an Irish wake. Then catching up with everything else that we’d been up to.
As the meal drew to a close, Julia grasped my arm and gestured across the room. She said, “Isn’t that Ashley Bell, the actress, over there?”
God, I hoped she was wrong, I turned to see where she was pointing. My stomach turned to ice and my evening to shit. She sat in the corner of the restaurant, the woman’s whose face was indelibly engraved in my mind. There were some subtle differences: her nose looked cuter. She’d apparently lost that little dimple on her chin. Her long blonde hair has a more golden tone to it, but it still flowed down her back. She was smiling as she spoke to her companion across the table from her; he was a handsome man in his mid-thirties. Oh yes, I knew this woman; only when I’d known her, she was know as Alison Peters. Seeing her brought back all those bad memories of abandonment that I thought I’d managed to suppress.
I gave Julia a noncommittal shrug, “I can’t tell.” I lied and then, hoping to deflect her interest said, “I don’t think so.”
I was lying to her and myself; there was no doubt in my mind it was Alison.
“I’m sure it is,” Julia insisted. “I love her films. I’m going to ask her for her autograph.”
I started as Julia stood up. I watched as she made her way across the room and asked the actress for her autograph. A man at a close by table half stood, only to settle back down at a nod from Alison/Ashley. She smiled at her, and they spoke for a few moments. Julia pointed back at our table, Ashley looked across at us, and our eyes met. For a moment she looked puzzled then her mouth open in; surprise, shock, horror, I couldn’t tell? My feeling of nausea grew unbearable, I stuttered my apologies, and dropping some money on the table, I hurried away. I glanced back and saw Julia looking at me in surprise and Ashley holding on to her arm and speaking urgently to her.
The streets were wet, and I pulled up my collar against the cold wind and rain. My mind was as cold as the wind, and I shivered as I made my way back to the hotel and the warmth of the bar. My phone rang several times, but I ignored it.
How do I describe Alison? Everyone already knows her as Ashley Bell, the actress. I gather she’s supposedly one of the world best actresses of our generation, one who had been nominated for an Oscar for several of her films. To me, she’d always be Alison Peters, Ali, the girl who used to live next door. The girl I’d grown up with. My first girlfriend and was the girl who’d broken my heart and destroyed my confidence in myself as a man.
She’d been five when I first met her. We had moved into the house next door, and my first recollection of her was a blonde haired girl peering over the low fence between the back gardens. Her face was smudged with dirt, she smiled at me, and the five-year-old me met my soulmate.
“Another?” The barman’s question interrupted my thoughts. I focused on him and was surprised to find my glass was empty.
“Please.” A moment later, a fresh glass was before me. I picked it up and swirled the amber liquid around the glass and inhaled the heady aroma before returning to my memories.
She’d been my best friend throughout my childhood. Her parents, Michael and Joyce, had become my second parents. We held hands as we first walked the short distance to school. She’d given me my first kiss at my eighth birthday party. I was the only person she would let call her Ali, and she was the one who called me Jos, no one else was allowed!
At the age of fourteen, she was a beautiful teenager who showed the promise of the stunning woman she was going to be. She was also possessive; she walked up to me at the school disco and pulled me away from the girl with whom I was dancing. She slapped the girl and told her to stay away from her boyfriend. Then she wrapped herself around me pulling my face down for a kiss that had all my teenage hormones buzzing.
At the age of 16, she was the most beautiful girl in the school. She rejected the advances of the most eligible boys and confirmed our relationship at every opportunity she could.
Then a brief 18 months later, she was gone, vanishing in the blink of an eye from my world.
It had all the elements of a grand Shakespearean tragedy. My grandfather had moved to Australia to live with his new wife. My grandmother had died before I was born, and several years ago he’d met and fallen in love with Beverley, an Australian woman he’d met on a cruise. They’d been in a serious traffic accident, Beverley had died, and granddad wasn’t expected to survive.
Beverley had no family, so my parents and I flew over to be with him. He died a week after we got there and it took another two weeks to sort his and Beverley’s estates out before we were able to fly home.
I had been desperate to see Alison after almost four weeks away. I’d missed her so much, and I’d made my mind up that I’d never be separated from her again. Amongst my grandfather’s belongings had been my grandmother’s engagement ring. An impressive diamond and sapphire ring. My parents had offered the ring to me, and I was going to be able to give her the ring to seal our engagement. We had agreed that we would get engaged on her 18th birthday and marry after we had completed university. Now I had a ring; I wanted to show it to her.
I was out of the car before it had even stopped, the ring box in my hand. Then I stopped dead in my tracks. Their house was empty, the windows bare of curtains and an estate agent’s sold sign lay on its side in the front garden.
“There was an almighty row a few days after you left,” Mrs. Carpenter from across the road told us. “The police came and took the husband away. The wife and daughter packed up and left the next day.”
She had no idea where Alison and her mother had gone. “Michael came home after a couple of days with a big van, emptied the house and put it up for sale. It was sold last week, and nobody knows where Michael has gone. The new owners are moving in next month.”
“But didn’t Alison leave any messages for me?” I asked, barely able to speak as I fought back my tears.
“No lad, she got injured in the fight and was taken to the hospital, she never came back here. It was Joyce who came back the next day and packed up the suitcases for her and Alison.”
“What, who hurt her?”
“I don’t think it was that serious lad, she was holding her arm when they put her in the ambulance, that’s all,” Mrs. Carpenter said. Then said in a so-so voice to my mother. “She from number 45 said that Michael caught Joyce in bed with her fancy man, her American boss.”
Nobody could tell me what had happened to Alison. After watching me mope around for several days, my father went to Joyce’s office and spoke to some of her colleagues.
When he got back, he told me, “I’m sorry son, they couldn’t or wouldn’t tell me much. Joyce and her boss have resigned. They think the three of them have gone to America. I’m sure Alison will get in touch as soon as she can.”
She didn’t, I wallowed in my misery for some years. I sleepwalked through most of my first year at university, only coming out of my shell because of the attention of my flatmate, Stephen, and his friends, the same Stephen I’d given the eulogy for the day before.
I had to wait ten years before I got my first clue as to her whereabouts, and it came in the last place I’d expected. I was 38,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean, flying to Canada, and there was her face staring out at me from the monitor set in the back of the seat in front of me. She was the female lead in the film I was watching.
I know that given the current culture of 24/7 entertainment news, it was inconceivable that I hadn’t been aware of her career as an actress earlier, but in my defense, I have been living on a boat for most of the past five years, and as I discovered, she was no longer calling herself Alison.
I rarely watched the television, and when I could, only for the sports. The only time I ever bothered to watch films was when I was flying, and then only if I hadn’t got anything to read. I’d only decided to watch that film as it was an adaptation of a book I’d enjoyed.
Books, music and the local cuisine were my choices for enlightenment, not that surprising, as I was a travel writer, and I liked to embrace the local culture. I paid the bills by writing holiday and travel articles for magazines and the Sunday supplements. I paid for the luxuries by being a semi-successful novelist, selling just enough copies to live comfortably on a sailing boat in the Mediterranean.
Her face haunted me from the screen, yet I couldn’t recall seeing her name in the details of the film. She was the woman I’d loved so deeply that after she disappeared it took me years of therapy to get over her and attempt to lead a normal life, or at least as normal as possible.
It wasn’t until I checked the credits at the end of the film for her name that I worked out that she was now going by the name of Ashley Bell, a name that sounded vaguely familiar. I remembered reading sometime in the past that Ashley Bell was an academy award winning actress.
The flight I was on was the start an important business trip, and I was kept very busy for the first few days. In what little spare time I did have I cyber-stalked the woman Alison had become. It took me a few days to locate her; she was in Australia on the set of her next film.
I tried to get in contact with her. I guess thousands of people send her messages each year. I found the name of her agent and email contact address for Alison. I emailed her. A simple message where I used her real name and professional one. I gave what I thought was enough details of her earlier life that should have indicated that I really knew her. I gave them my contact details and sat back and waited hopefully.
Several days later, I got a message back to say that Miss Bell had read my mail with interest but was sorry she didn’t recall me and couldn’t enter into personal correspondence with her fans. I’d tried her Twitter account and fan site at the same time and was equally ignored. What little hope that I’d get answers to my overriding question of why seemed dashed. It seemed she didn’t recall the boy who lived next door to her for so many years. She’d obviously moved on and wanted nothing to do with her old life.
I thought it would have hurt to be ignored again, yet somehow, it didn’t. I suppose that time had insulated me from my younger emotional self. That’s when I understood my feelings; just what seeing her again after all these years meant to me and the revelation I had only been interested in finding out why she’d never tried to contact me all those years ago. Now, even that didn’t matter anymore.
Now, two years later, after having accepted that Alison would never be part of my world. I’d seen her in the flesh, and suddenly those feelings of loss I thought I was over, were overpowering back. All I could think about was to get as far away as I could. Totally irrational behavior I know, but finally seeing her once more had brought back all those feelings of heartache and loss I’d thought I was over. The thought that she probably wouldn’t acknowledge me if I’d tried to speak to her was more than I could bear.
The noises of the bar drew me back to the present, and I drained my glass. I must have been musing for some time as the crowded bar had thinned out somewhat; there were only a dozen stalwarts left.
My phone buzzed, for the umpteenth time and again I ignored it. A voice I’d never forget spoke softly from behind me.
“Damn you Jos, are you going to keep on ignoring calls from your first girlfriend, your oldest friend?”
I didn’t move; I kept staring at the glass in my hand. “My oldest friend,” I said bitterly, “would have found a way to get in touch twelve years ago. My girlfriend would have known she was breaking my heart. She may have even considered answering my emails two years ago, but apparently, now she’s far too fucking important to correspond with ‘old friends,’ especially one she doesn’t recall. Are you sure you’ve got the right person?”
I heard a sob and felt a presence settle on the stool beside me, but I didn’t look at her.
“I’m sorry, Jos,” She said tearfully. “I didn’t know I’d hurt you that much.”
“Don’t call me that, only one friend was allowed to call me that, and you aren’t her anymore.”
There was a silence that was finally broken by another sob. “Jos I’ll go if you want me to, but please, love, let me try to explain what happened.” She looked nervously at me. “Can we go somewhere a bit more private and talk?” she pleaded.
I looked around the bar, most of the patrons were subtly, and in a couple of cases, blatantly watching us. No, not watching us, her!
I was sure I was going to regret this, yet I wanted to know why she’d abandoned me so completely all those years ago. I was bitter that she’d thought so little of me.
“I can ask if there’s somewhere quieter, or I’ve got a room here, we can talk there if you want,” I offered.
“I’d prefer to use your room.”
I nodded in agreement, and she stood and stepped away while I signed the check. I added a generous tip, thinking that at least one person should benefit from the disaster of the night.
Turning, I saw her in the doorway that led to the lobby, the man she been sitting with at the restaurant was standing by her side, holding her arm possessively. I wondered who he was; friend, boyfriend, lover, husband? The possibilities were endless. He didn’t look happy with me, casting icy glances in my direction as he spoke to her. I hung back, the last thing I wanted to do was to walk into a domestic argument. I stayed where I was, leaning on the bar.
“You know Ashley Bell?” the barman asked. “I couldn’t help overhearing the two of you.”
What business was it of his, but to my surprise I found myself saying. “I knew her a long time ago, but this is the first time I’ve seen her in years.” I nodded in her direction, “Any idea who the guy with her is?”
The barman gave me a surprised look, “You don’t know much about her, do you. He’s her ex-boyfriend; there was a story on E News a few days ago that he wanted a reconciliation.”
“Fine, I understand the ex-boyfriend bit, but you still haven’t told me who he is?”
“Shit, you really don’t know anything about her. That’s Simon Davies, you know, the actor; they stared in that film last year. Lovers on and off the screen, so they say.”
His name sounded familiar, but as I’d said, I was no movie buff. As I watched he put his arm around her, she shrugged it off and pushed him away. He glared at me before spinning around and walking away.
“I guess no reconciliation then,” I said to the barman, and he gave a short laugh.
She gave me a curt come here gesture, which given my emotional state, really pissed me off. Who the hell did she think I was, some type of lapdog to be called to heel? I walked away and used the second exit that led to the lifts. She hurried after me and caught up as I waited for the elevator doors to open.
She gave me a surprised look; I doubted that she’d been ignored like that for years. One look at the expression on my face told her I was not amused by her attitude.
She grasped hold of my arm. “Please, Jos, don’t go, I can explain,” she said. “I accepted Simon’s invitation this evening to try and clear the air between us. Unfortunately, he read more into the acceptance than I intended. Seeing you at the restaurant was such a shock, I couldn’t get rid of him fast enough. Your friends gave me your number and told me where you were staying. He must have followed me here.”
“Ali, I don’t care about your personal life. I do get pissed off when you start acting all high and mighty. I’m not a dog you can call to heel when it suits you.”
She looked shocked at my statement and then embarrassed. The elevator doors opened, I entered the paneled and mirror-lined box and pressed the button for my floor. The doors were starting to close when she hurried in to stand beside me. We stood in silence as the elevator rose to my floor and the doors opened; she followed me out and down the corridor to the door of my room. I entered the room, and she hesitated in the doorway.
“Can I come in?” she asked. I nodded, and she stepped in and closed the door behind her.
I hung my coat on a hook and took off my jacket and placed it on the back of a chair. My room had a seating alcove by the windows. The room was a corner suite, softly lit by one light in the bed head and another lamp by the chairs in the window alcove. Ali stood watching me move about with an odd expression on her face. I held out my hand, and she slipped off her coat. She was wearing a dark blue strapless dress that fell a couple of inches above her knees. Her long slim legs were encased in stockings that shimmered. Her beauty took my breath away, and I had to swallow hard to try and get my emotions under control.
“Do you want to sit down?” I asked.
She looked at me gratefully and sat down on one of the comfy chairs by the window. She folded her hands in her lap.
“Would you like a drink, I’ve got a bottle of whiskey, or I guess there’ll be wine or beer in the minibar.”
“A glass of white wine if you’ve got it.”
I found a bottle in the minibar and poured a glass for her, placing it on the table. “So what should I call you; is it Ashley, or do you still answer to Alison?” I asked.
“I’ll always be Alison for you, and I’m happy that you still think of me as Ali. Ashley lives in a fantasy world that I’m not sure you would want to be part of.”
I poured myself a whiskey and settled into the other chair. “So, do you want to explain why you broke my eighteen-year-old heart?”
“I was.” she paused and shook her head. “I’ve always been in love with you Jos. After what happened in the house...”
“Yeah, you really showed how much you loved me,” I interrupted, then took a deep breath and asked. “What did happen? All I ever heard was speculation and innuendo.”
“Mum was having an affair, that’s what happened,” Alison replied, “and she dragged me into the fallout.”
She took a long swallow from her glass, and I filled it again. “It was all so stupid,” she said. “I was sick at school and needed to go home. They called my parents but couldn’t get through to Dad; when Mum arrived to collect me, she was with her boss, Chad. I didn’t pay much attention to his presence; I was feeling so sick, after Mum checked me out I went straight up to my bedroom. Chad stayed downstairs with her. Dad must have picked up his messages as he came home early and found them together on the sofa. There was a screaming match going on, and it woke me up. Unfortunately, I was still groggy, and I slipped on the last couple of stairs. I put out my hand to stop myself and broke my arm.”
She shook her head. “I only cracked a bone in my wrist.”
“So the rumors were true; your mum was having an affair.”
Ali nodded, “It had apparently been going on for some time. I wasn’t aware how bad it had become between my parents. He’d been hitting her when I wasn’t around.”
That surprised me; he’d played the innocent party when he’d spoken my parents. They were convinced it had been all Joyce’s fault
“Dad had come home early because of the message from the school and caught them,” she continued. “I remember sitting on the bottom steps looking into the lounge. Mum was holding her unbuttoned blouse closed, and her bra was on the floor at her feet. Chad only had his trousers on. They all stopped shouting when they heard me hit the wall.”
“Mrs. Carpenter said you were taken away in an ambulance.”
“Yeah, Mum called one when she saw me holding my wrist. She wouldn’t let Dad come with us. I spent the night in the hospital, and then Mum took me to a hotel, and we stayed there for a couple of days. The next thing I know we’re at Heathrow and we are flying to America with Chad. I didn’t want to go, but Mum insisted. We stayed in a cabin in Colorado for the first couple of months.”
“Why didn’t you call or write?”
“I wasn’t allowed to contact you, just in case you told my father where we were. Mum said Dad was threatening to kill both of us for running away.”
“Bullshit, why would I tell your father, I haven’t seen him since you left.”
“But he lives next door to your parents.”
“None of us have seen him for years. Your house was empty and sold before we got back from the funeral. We only saw him a couple of times. Christ, your mum knew that. In any case, all you had to say was ‘don’t tell my dad,’ and I wouldn’t have.”
“Shit,” Ali looked horrified at my statement. “I swear she never told me that. After a couple of months, Chad got a transfer to Dallas, and we moved to a small town near Dallas after the cabin. They got married a few months after her divorce came through.”
She paused to sip her drink. “I was told that my father was sending threatening letters to Chad’s company. We got a visit from a company security officer, who told us the FBI was warning us to be careful. I wanted to write to you, but I was scared, I had to do an extra year of schooling so I could graduate. It was a new school, and it was all so different. Then a year had passed, and you hadn’t contacted me, and I sort of forgot.”
“Forgot, you sort of fucking well forgot me! How the hell was I supposed to get in contact? I had no clue where you were. Well, I’m glad it was that easy for you. I cried myself to sleep every night for six months. I had to see a Counselor for the best part of a year because Mum and Dad thought I was suicidal.”
Her hand touched mine, and she made me put the glass down. She pulled me around to face her. “I can’t tell you how sorry I am; everybody kept telling me you’d get over me. You were in Australia, and then my world turned to crap.”
“How do you think I felt, at least you knew where I was!”
She gave a sob and tears formed in the corners of her eyes. I got a box of tissues from beside the bed and gave them to her. She dabbed at her face.
“All I know was I came downstairs, and Daddy was shouting at Mum and trying to kill Chad. Mum was trying to stop him. He just lashed out at her and then me when he tried to get in the ambulance, I was scared, and I just shouted at him to go away. That’s the last time I saw him.”
“I lived fucking next door; you could have least got your mum to stick a note through the bloody letterbox before you did your midnight flit.”
“It all happened so quickly; one day we were a happy family, then everything I thought I knew changed. We were on a plane two days later, and then we were staying in an isolated cabin in the mountains for a couple of months, I never got a moments peace. By the time we were settled, England and everything seemed a dream. My reality became a small town in Texas.”
She stopped talking to take in the expressions seared across my face. Pain and despair were the obvious ones. All I felt was a great sense of loss.
“What did you mean earlier, when you said I could have answered your email?” Her voice was soft and questioning.
I gave an ironic laugh and then said seriously. “The first hint I had that you were still a member of the human race was a little over two years ago; I was flying to Canada, and there you were, an actress in the film I was watching. I sent you an email, care of your agent. Want to see your reply?”
I didn’t bother to wait for her to respond. I found the reply on my phone and showed it to her. God knows why I hadn’t deleted it, she read it and then read the mail I’d sent her.
She gave me an anguished look, “I never saw this! I should have; there is a list of words and phrases that all the girls who deal with my correspondence are told to look out for. Your mail contains most of them. Why didn’t you try again?”
“Why would I bother; I can recognize a brush off. At least they replied, I got nothing from your fan site and Twitter account.”
“Oh God, I’m so sorry,” then her voice turned bitter. “And I’m damn well going to find out why they didn’t forward your mail to me.” Now the tears were streaming down her face.
Hell, I hate it when women cry; regardless of the facts I always felt guilty, I held out my hand to her, and she took it gratefully. “I don’t see how that it’s your fault if people don’t do their jobs properly,” I said, offering her a token straw.
She grasped at it with both hands, replying, “I get thousands of messages a month, I probably only see a couple of dozen of them. But they should have sent me yours.”
She came and knelt at my feet, her long hair fell forward, and she casually flicked it back with her hand. My stomach clenched at the familiarity of the gesture. I hesitantly raised a hand and stroked her soft hair; she rested her head on my thigh.
“Why are you here?” I wondered. I must have said my thoughts out aloud as Ali answered me.
“You were the last person I expected to see at that restaurant, and even though I haven’t seen you in years, I knew who you were the moment I saw your face, and I could tell you recognized me. I wasn’t expecting the look of pain in your eyes. I tried to call out to you, but you left immediately. It took me a few moments to get rid of Simon and then convince your friends I knew you so they’d give me your number and tell me where you had gone.”
“That’s not what I meant, not how you found me, but why are you here?” I gestured around the room.
“Why that’s simple, you were my first boyfriend and the only person I’ve truly loved. I don’t think I ever really loved any of the others the way I love you.”
“We were teenagers Ali, you were my first girlfriend, and yes I loved you, but that was twelve years ago; a hell of a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since them. Can I ask you a question? Did you still give up your virginity on your eighteenth birthday as you said you would?”
“The cherry I promised you?” She gave me a regretful look and shook her head. “No, I cried myself to sleep that evening, I missed you so much. I was nineteen and drunk when I lost it to some stupid jock at a college frat party. It hurt, two minutes and he was done, he turned me off men for a couple of years.” She shifted looking for a more comfortable position, so I pulled her up, and we moved to a small sofa. She settled down beside me with a contented sigh and favored my cheek with a kiss.
“Off men?” I asked.
“It wasn’t a nice experience, and the thought of doing it again wasn’t appealing. I wasn’t the only one, I became a LUG, a lesbian until graduation; I lived in an all-female house, and my girlfriend was my roommate.”
Her coat pocket made a shrill chirp and Ali started. She struggled to her feet and hurried over to where I’d folded it over my jacket. “I’m sorry,” she said. “If I don’t answer that we are going to have unwanted guests pounding on the door in a minute.” I gave her a confused look.
She pulled her phone out of her pocket, quickly reading the message and then typing a short reply. Almost immediately her phone rang, and she answered it.
“Obtuse, David,” she paused and continued, “No, everything is going as well as expected. Hopefully, I’ll be staying here tonight. I’ll call you if my plans change.”
She hung up and looked at me a bit guiltily. “Sorry, I’m assuming a lot, I know, but I didn’t think we were finished talking.”
“Who, or what is obtuse David?”
She laughed, “Obtuse is this week’s security codeword; we use a word you wouldn’t expect to come up in normal conversation. If I hadn’t said it, David would have kicked the door down. He’s my bodyguard; I can’t go out in public without some degree of security. He and Petra were at the restaurant with me and are waiting down in the lobby.”
I sat and looked at her; if I needed any confirmation that this wasn’t the girl I used to know then I’d just got it. This wasn’t Alison anymore; this was Ashley Bell, megastar and what the fuck was she doing in my room.
She must have sensed my discomfort and was back sitting beside me faster than I could think it. She grabbed my head in her hands and drew my lips to hers and kissed me.
“I’m still Alison, your Alison,” she murmured as she broke contact with my lips.
Yes, and no, I thought. “My Ali isn’t a film star, she was the innocent girl next door,” I said.
“I’m still that person, the girl who loves the boy next door, I’ve just grown up.”
“I can see that.”
She raised a hand and delicately ran a finger along the curve of my chin. “Do you remember the summer we slept in the tent in your back garden?” She asked. “We were eight or nine.”
“We were eight.”
I remembered; it had been a magical time. A rare hot, dry summer that had started out with a major disappointment. Our two families had decided to holiday together, a package vacation to Cyprus. Two weeks before we were due to fly, the travel company went bust, and it was months before we got our money back so we couldn’t afford a replacement holiday. Try explaining that to two disappointed children. Our parents did their best and organized lots of day trips for us.
One set of parents would take the pair of us while the other did whatever parents do when they have a child-free day. When we got back home after the first trip, Ali and I found a tent pitched in my garden. Inside were two camp beds made up with the bedding from our beds.
We slept in that tent all summer; we pulled the camp beds together so we could hold hands while we slept. Innocent childhood love.
“That’s when I fell in love with you,” Ali whispered. “When did you fall in love with me?”
It hadn’t been that summer I knew. For me, that had been the summer of best friends. It took me a moment to recall the moment our puppy love had become the real deal for me.
“When we were eleven, the August Bank holiday carnival,” I replied. “We went to the fun fair, and I got upset when Martin Ruby tried to kiss you. I remember pulling him away because only I was allowed to kiss you. I kissed you and told you I was your boyfriend, not Martin. That was the first time I thought of you as more than my best friend.”
She smiled, “I remember that, I was wearing my first bra and Martin kept trying to ping the straps. You got all upset with him and threatened to thump him.”
For the life of me, I couldn’t recall the bra, just that she looked so pretty and that she was my friend, not his.
I recalled she’d told her bodyguard that she was staying here. I assumed that meant she had booked a room here. It was late, and I had a meeting with my agent in the morning.
“Ali, as much as I love having you sitting beside me. I need to get some sleep, I’ve got a busy day tomorrow, but if you’re still around tomorrow night, can I take you out to dinner?”
“I’d love that, I’m tired, too,” she admitted. “I hadn’t realized how late it is.”
She stood, but instead of walking towards the door, she entered the bathroom and closed that door behind her. I stood and stretched, working the kinks out of my back. The lights of the sleeping city caught my eye, and I stood in the window and identified several landmarks. The view from the twentieth floor was remarkable, and there were a few lit buildings I didn’t recognize, the London skyline had changed since I last visited.