Fourteen

Arielle:

Unlike my other dreams this one is soft, calm, and beautiful even. Griffin is behind me, his hands over my eyes, shielding me from whatever he doesn’t want me to see.  He talks to me softly, leading me this way and that. At last we stop, and slowly, tenderly he removes his hands and places them on my shoulders.  A smile spreads across my face as my eyes take in the view of Central Park. Subconscious me doesn’t stop to wonder how he managed to get me across Fifth Avenue.

            There on the ground is a picnic laid out ever so carefully.  In a crystal cup no doubt taken from Cordelia’s there is a single red rose. 

            “It’s so beautiful, Griffin,” I murmur, facing him and wrapping my arms around his waist.

            “Thank you,” I whisper before I kiss him. His lips part beneath mine and all the rest of the world fades away.

            After a few moments of silence, Griffin breaks the kiss and leads me by the hand to the grass. We share the simple meal he had prepared: sandwiches, some fresh fruit, and a cheesecake of all things, which he no doubt bought. It was all delicious, sublime by Griffin’s presence alone and the care he poured into this very romantic gesture. I lean into to him and sigh happily. Griffin’s hands play with my hair and we sit there in precious silence and just take in the picturesque scene before us…the warm water lazily moving down the stream, the sunlight shining on us, and Griffin holding me like he would never let go.

            “I love you Griffin.”

            I almost slap my hands across my mouth in shock. The words had slipped out before I could stop them, my deepest, dearest secret. Griffin’s hands gently turn my face to face him. I am quaking inside. I had admitted it, gone on and revealed everything I was, all I held dear. Would I lose him now? Tears, awful tears start to fall from my eyes as I wait for him to speak. He is unreadable as always, no smile, just staring at me.  

            “Arielle,” he whispers, kissing my tear-filled eyes, slowly, without breathing. His lips move across the planes and curves of my face, finally reaching my lips. He is a whisper away when he speaks.

            “I love you, Arielle” Then his mouth met mine and I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

            And that was when the dream ended.

XXX

 

            “Arielle.”

            The gentle whisper pulled me out of my heavenly dream, and my eyelids fluttered open to see Griffin perched on the bed beside me, his fingers tenderly caressing my jawbone.

            Consciousness returned to me, and with it so did memories of the dream. It had been so pleasant, nothing like the morbid dreams I’d grown used to having.

            And then I remembered the very reason I was in Griffin’s room in the first place: the portrait. 

            “Can I see it?” I sat up much too quickly, and a rush of nausea came over me. My hands flew instinctively to my temples.

            “Don’t hurt yourself,” Griffin said in a light tone, although his voice was edged with concern. I watched him intensely as he returned to his desk and lifted the sheet of cardstock. I could vaguely see through the paper, but not enough to make out much of anything.

            Griffin dragged out the moment as long as he possibly could before turning the cardstock over.

            But there was absolutely no way that the girl was me. She shared my same long black hair, pale, slender body, and even facial features. But the way Griffin drew her -me- she just looked so serene, so confident. And I was none of those things, least of all while in Griffin’s presence.

            “Well?” Griffin prompted. But instead of answering, I threw my arms around him and hugged him tightly, causing him to lose his balance. Griffin placed his free hand on the back of my head.

            “Go see your dad, Arielle. You’ll regret it if you don’t.”

            Griffin’s comment caught me off guard me- and yet I was sure that this had been his plan all along. The drawing was just so perfect, Griffin could have suggested cliff-diving and I would have gone along.

            “Okay,” I whispered. “I’ll do it for you.”      

XXX

 

            I was surprised when Cordelia invited me out to lunch on Saturday afternoon.

            “I’m in dire need to get out of this dreary house,” she told me on Thursday evening, when I came over to visit her. “I’d be honored if you came along.”

            What could I say- Cordelia had been like a second mother to me, allowing me to come over whenever I wanted and basically giving me her grandson, the one thing she had left to remember her only son by. Besides, I genuinely liked Cordelia.

            So on Saturday I found myself in a pair of black dress pants and a matching black jacket, riding with the grandmother of the love of my life. It was the only dressy outfit I owned, and I only owned it because of my interview at Billiards.

             Cordelia herself was in a well-cut navy Chanel suit, her silvery hair pulled back with two beaded barrettes. She clutched onto her handbag nervously, but she herself seemed perfectly relaxed.

            “Where are we going?” I asked. All Cordelia had told me was that the restaurant was dressy, and, obviously, in Manhattan. But besides those two facts, I was clueless.

            Cordelia smiled at me, her warm eyes filled with affection. “Have some patience, Arielle,” she scolded. “Patience is a virtue.”

            We settled back into another long stretch of silence- Cordelia seemed to be full of them- which lasted for the rest of the ride.

            And then the cab pulled up to the curb of La Petite Moore, a French restaurant that I hadn’t even dared to dream about eating at. Only the bluest of blood got in, and only the richest of the bluest of blood could afford it anyway.

            I tried to act relaxed, yet totally poised, as a doorman in a tailored emerald green suit and sleek black tie pulled open the door for us.

            “Miss Barrett,” he greeted with a formal smile, taking her white gloved hand and kissing it elegantly. “A pleasure to see you again. And you must be Miss Barrett’s granddaughter… although I was under the impression that she had taken in a grandson…”

            I didn’t realize that he was speaking to me until I felt Cordelia’s gaze on my blushing face. And even then I was speechless. The shock of where we were still hadn’t worn off. I was going to need much practice if this was the sort of place Cordelia intended to be taking me.

            Luckily, Cordelia came to my rescue.

            “We’ll take the usual table, Michael,” she said with the utmost confidence. Without another word to me or Cordelia, the doorman led us to a secluded table lit with two small candles.

            “Cordelia,” I whispered as soon as we were left alone with our menus. Numbers like $92.95 and $87.50 popped out at me. “This is really too much. You shouldn’t have-”

            The elderly woman cut me off. “Arielle, I don’t want to hear another word about it. You’ve done so much for my grandson and I… it was the least I could do.”

            I made no reply, just began to skim my menu for anything that sounded relatively edible, and somewhat less pricey. The two did not fit well together.

             Cordelia ordered an appetizer tray of escargot, which gave me more time to look over my menu. I finally decided on a mandarin-orange-glazed duck, mainly because I had never tasted duck before and was always open to broaden my appetite. I handed my carte du jour- that was menu in French- to the waiter.

            While Cordelia sat in her typical silence, I looked around the restaurant, trying to seem casual. The men and women seated around me were the wealthy, the powerful, the famous, I realized. They were from a different world than me completely.

            And Griffin was one of them.

            I blinked the thoughts away. This wasn’t The Notebook or Titanic, after all. This was modern-day New York City, and social differences meant nothing to me. I was sure that Griffin felt the same, and I felt stupid and ashamed for even thinking such unreasonable things.

            “Griffin seems much happier now that he’s found you.” Cordelia’s sudden statement brought me back to my current mindset, out of the thought-bubble I seemed to be spending a lot of time in. “He speaks of nothing else.”

            I caught myself smiling a little at the idea of Griffin being as obsessed with me as I was with him. But honestly, I wasn’t sure that it was possible.

            “Well, I’m pretty taken with him myself,” I admitted shyly. But really I had nothing to hide. Griffin was well aware of how much I needed him, and it was only Cordelia, after all. Besides, I was sure that she knew a lot more than Griffin gave her credit for.

            “I thought so,” Cordelia said with a smug smile. “And I really do want to thank you. I’ve never seen him in such good spirits. When I passed his bedroom the other day, he was singing! Singing!” Cordelia seemed to think that this was the funniest thing since who-knows-what.

            “I’ve never heard Griffin sing,” I replied, sipping from my lemon-ice water.

            Cordelia managed to stop her high-pitched laughing, but her friendly smile did not fade. “Lucky you,” she joked.

            In so many ways, Cordelia reminded me of Griffin. She shared his eyes, his warm, inviting personality- even his sarcastic sense of humor.

            We continued with our carefree conversation until the waiter returned with our food. I took my first bite of duck, which was, to my amazement, one of the best things I’d ever tasted.

            “I’ve been informed that you’re going to California for your father’s wedding.” Cordelia wiped her mouth gracefully with the emerald cloth napkin. She seemed to know all the right times to do such things as take a drink or wipe her hands, whereas I just did so when it felt like it was time. Surely there had to be a book or a class of some sort that gave away all the secrets of fine dining.

            Swallowing hard, I nodded. “Yeah, if my mom will let me.”

            Cordelia nodded as well. “And I’ve also been informed that Griffin has been invited to accompany you.”

            Again with the nodding, although this was only half true. My father had told me that I could bring a friend, probably meaning a girlfriend. Not that I had any of those. Except for Griffin, I was completely introverted.

            “Would you be at all opposed to me renting out a hotel room and accompanying you two? Heaven knows that I could use a vacation. I haven’t left the city since Edward took me to Paris.”

            I sat in astonishment at what Cordelia was offering. My mind had been pretty preoccupied with how exactly I was going to afford this trip, since I knew that my parents would never give me the money, and since I’d decided that I wasn’t going to inform my dad that I was coming. Part of this decision was based on the idea that that way, my dad could at least feel the rejection and abandonment I’d felt from him my entire life, but mostly it was just so that, if I wanted to, I could chicken out at the last minute and not have to let him down.

            “Of course, I’ll cover all the fees, as well as air fare. Oh, and you and Griffin will both need new outfits.”

            I could hardly believe that Cordelia was willing to do all this for me. Was she really that happy that I had brought Griffin out of the shadows?

            “Cordelia, I-I don’t know what to say,” I faltered.

            “Well, say yes, of course,” she answered lightly, although something in her tone was almost daring me to defy her.  Her green eyes danced just like Griffin’s did.

            I nodded hesitantly. “And I’ll pay back every cent,” I assured her.

            Cordelia shooed the promise away with a flick of her thin wrist. “Oh, Arielle, don’t you see? My grandson’s well-being is the only payment I ask of.”

XXX

 

            My mom was in a surprisingly decent mood on Sunday morning. Mark was meeting with his team to go over some new evidence, so it was just the two of us home together.

            I figured that this was a perfect time to spring the news about my dad.

            I entered the kitchen, where I knew I’d find her, and climbed up onto my favorite bar stool- the one right beside hers.

            “I called dad back,” I said casually, picking up a flyer I wasn’t really interested in and pretending to read it. My mom, too, was suddenly absorbed in her omelet. Perhaps someday we would learn how to hold a conversation between us. “He, uh, invited me to come visit him for the weekend.”

            My mom’s fork screeched against her plate, but she remained silent.

            I persisted. “So, uh, can I go?”

            Only then did my mom acknowledge me, and I wondered if she’d taken in a word I’d just said.

            But then she uttered one tiny, emotionless word: “When?”

            “November 6th through the 8th,” I answered a split second later.

            My mom nodded slowly. “How do you plan on getting there?”

            Ugh, I groaned internally. Her inner lawyer was surfacing, about to ask me any and every question that she could conjure up.

            “By plane.” I could tell this was going to be a grueling exchange.

            “How do you plan on paying for this?”

            I didn’t even flinch. “Dad said he would send money.” Once again, it wasn’t a lie. My father had told me that he’d send money; I just wasn’t taking him up on the offer.

            “Where will you be staying?”

            I looked away to hide my expression. I’d never told a major lie to any of my parents- only the little white ones- and the answer I felt my brain sending to my lips was an outright lie. And just like on the stands in a trial, caught lying was a serious crime. A big no-no. Something I never, ever, ever wanted to do.

            “With Dad.”

            I turned back to see my mom nodding again. “Alright, fine.”

            I found that I was surprisingly excited at the whole thing. Griffin seeing my hometown, just being in California with Griffin at all- and, yes, even seeing my father. I was suddenly thankful that Griffin had talked me into going.

            Griffin. I had to call him immediately. I excused myself to my room to do just that, and as I left, I heard my mom’s phone ring.

            As wrong as I knew it was, I lingered in the doorway a little to hear her end of the conversation. I couldn’t risk having my dad call her and ask her himself. That would be like a third party ratting out the lying witness. Oh great, I thought to myself. Now I’m even thinking in lawyer similes.

            “What do you mean you won’t be home till late?” My mom asked, and I could tell that it was taking all she had to remain calm. “Working late?” Although it was blatantly obvious, I hadn’t realized until that moment that she was speaking to Mark.

            “Isn’t your family a little more important than your case?” My mom snapped. “You’ve put in your hours.”

            I wasn’t about to stick around to hear more of the argument, even if I was a little shocked at my mom’s ‘family is more important than your case’ statement. It was the first time she’d ever defended her family over her client.

            I smiled to myself as I shut my bedroom door tight.

The End

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