The morning traffic snaked through Midtown, choking at various points around Grand Central. Alli moved down the street, partially carried by the crowd. It was late spring, an uncommonly warm day. Alli had put a sweater on over a button-up shirt, instead of wearing a coat. Holding a messenger bag, Alli pulled into Starbucks.
Alli ordered a macchiato and sat at the bar in front of the window. The people passed by on their way to work, school, somewhere.
Alli pulled her laptop out of her messenger bag and went to work on the budget worksheets. She did not realize Aspen had sat down beside her.
“Busy, aren’t you?” Aspen said, with a tall flat white in her hand.
Alli looked up, distracted, “Oh, I didn’t see you there.”
“Sometimes, I wander in here, on the weekends.”
“I can’t believe I have never seen you,” Alli laughed.
“Well, with that kind of focus, you probably would not have,” Aspen joked in return.
Alli smiled and closed the Dell, “There – now you have my undivided attention.”
The two watched the constant tableau outside the window for a moment. The light changed, the taxi cabs raced Downtown. People in pea coats, also holding coffees, strode determinedly to unknown locations.
“Are you and Jan still together?” Aspen asked.
“No,” Alli said, “We decided our relationship couldn’t handle the distance.”
“She’s still back in Florida?”
Alli nodded and took a sip of her coffee.
“What about this new woman you are with?” Aspen said.
Alli tamped down her enthusiasm, ” She’s a powerful psychic – and a great dancer.”
Aspen grinned in return, “Do you think she is the one?”
“She definitely knows what she’s doing,” Alli said, “She’s confident and has a way with money.”
“Where do you see yourselves going?”
Alli thought for a moment, “First, we’ll take care of the psychical experiment. Then we will move toward readying our research for Nature.”
“It sounds like, ‘full speed ahead.'” Aspen said.
“I think it could really work,” Alli nodded.
“Let me know if you need anything,” Aspen offered, ” A Tarot deck blessed by my guru. Anything.”
“You’re very kind. I have been practicing with my Zener deck every day.” Alli said.
“I should get going,” Aspen said, “Kaan is coming in; I need to open up the bookstore.”
“How is Kaan?” Alli wondered.
“Rambunctious as always. Can’t stop getting into trouble on that bike.”
“Are you sure about this one?”
“I take things as they come,” Aspen said, “I am just amazed by her energy.”
“How did you two meet?” Alli asked.
Aspen walked down the street. Chain link fence. Bills posted on brick walls. She passed an alley, full of black garbage bags. A figure lay tangled in the mess. Alli was afraid to get closer – and then the person, a woman, groaned.
“Online,” Aspen said.
Alli knew she had lied, but didn’t press the issue. “Stop by my house next weekend,” she said.
“Sounds like a plan,” Aspen smiled, “Will do!”
Aspen pulled on her camel skin coat and sauntered out of the store in her black heels.
At home, in the high rise, Alli sat on the couch, in her sweater and buttoned-up shirt, waiting for Dallas to get home from NYU’s lab, so they could go to a social function at the Yale Club.
Alli stared at the TV. It was off. Herself, in khakis and Sperry Top-Siders, sat, reflected at her. She got up and looked out the floor-to-ceiling windows. An insect under a glass.
Jan and Alli used to catch grasshoppers in the fields and frogs in the creek. Alli remembered staring up at the ceiling, at night, Jan lying beside her.
The front door opened, and Dallas came in, tossing her keys on the foyer table. “Are you ready, honey?” she called out.
Alli spun around, “Yes!” she said from the living room.
“Order the Uber; I’m going to take a quick shower,” Dallas said, moving toward the master bedroom.
Alli pulled her phone out of her pants pocket and opened the app, but her mind was out in the Keys, white sand, Daiquiris. Jan lying on a striped beach towel. “Have I made a mistake?” she thought.
The last alumni get-together on the rooftop terrace had left Alli with a great deal of anxiety. She was the introverted one, and internally squirmed at being introduced to that faculty member and this research adviser. The elevator ride back down had not been pleasant. “Staring at the skyline, with a drink in your hand, is not socializing!” Dallas had said. Alli briefly considered saying she had a stomach flu.
Dallas came out of the bathroom in a robe, still toweling her long, blond hair. She caught Alli staring a hole in the wall and said, “If you don’t want to go, I can go and be right back. You don’t have to go, if you don’t want to.”
Songs and Albums:
U2, “Mysterious Ways”
Cosmastly, “Back from the Dead Vol. I” (album)
SEITHEN, “PO$$E (Intro)”
feeneyyy feat. absolute-terror, “LADO OSCURO”