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Travis stood on the corner, wishing that he didn’t give a crap about what he wore.
After all, if he didn’t give a crap about what he wore he wouldn’t have come out tonight in just jeans, a T-shirt and a thin leather jacket. The tee even had holes in it where the seams were wearing away after countless washes and being worn to innumerable gigs and shows. But it was vintage, as was the jacket, and the jeans and sneakers might not have been but they completed the outfit.
And he wanted to look good tonight, he wanted to look the part.
But Jesus Christ it was starting to snow! A nice thick winter coat wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Or, then again, he could just bite the bullet and go into the hotel.
He looked up at the blandly impressive cream and gold complex that he’d driven out to and fought to control his shivers. This wasn’t really a part of town where anyone he knew had ever lived. It was all upmarket urban apartments, miniature shopping malls with half a dozen boutique stores, and luxury conference complexes like this one.
He eased his cell phone out of the tight denim of his pocket and checked the time. Ok, well if he was going to do this, then…
– – –
Inside, the lobby was a fairly ugly combination of tasteful minimalism and gaudy flourishes. Everything was cream and gold. Travis was a dark smear – denim, leather, tattoos and hair gel. The man behind the counter glanced at his feet as he approached, as if he expected to see dirty black footprints tracking off behind the rockabilly spook. He didn’t look too snooty though, and even Travis himself had to admit that he looked a little out of place there.
“Hi,” Travis smiled, used to the raised eyebrows and slight pauses, “I’m here for the Thompson-Frost wedding… thing. What suite is that…?” He tailed off, hopefully leaving the tall, healthy looking guy something to work with.
“I should call up first,” the clerk smiled, in a kind of ‘no offence’ tone of voice, “What’s the name?”
“Travis Hart, just… Travis. They’ll know who it is.” He turned back to look again at the lobby and the people passing through it. It was weird how things like this made him so nervous when he’d done so many stupid, crazy things risking life and limb that hadn’t made him bat an eyelid. Actually no, that wasn’t so crazy was it? That was just who he was and, in a way, why he was here.
He didn’t see anyone he knew – no members of Ali’s family that was. The wedding itself wasn’t until tomorrow though, they’d probably all be arriving then. He wasn’t invited to the wedding of course, and he was still kind of fuzzy as to why he’d been invited (maybe ‘summoned’ would have been better) tonight. Tonight he guessed they were going over the finishing touches, and then there’d be hen night and the stag night. This was fucking depressing.
“Sir?” Mister Healthy-Complexion broke into his reveries with a light cough, “That’s fine, sorry to keep you. They’re in the Plumtree Suite on the second floor. You can go right up. Turn left after you come out of the elevator.” Travis nodded his appreciation and headed towards the row of gleaming gold elevator doors.
It came as no surprise to Travis that there was a handsome, formidable, middle-aged woman waiting for him when the doors opened on the second floor. She regarded him warily – as if he might try to make a break for it and dash past her at any moment.
“Hello Travis,” she greeted him with a smile – tight but not without some warmth.
“Hello Elaine, how’s things?” Travis felt like he had been dropped unknowingly into some kind of game of wits, and that possibly he had to defeat this boss before he could advance to the next level.
“Wonderful. My daughter’s getting married tomorrow.” Elaine was a little too much sometimes – too shrewd or too intense – but she was clearly a good person and a great mother. Travis had no intention of trying to put anything over on her. Actually, he strongly doubted that he could. He smiled to see the unlit cigarette she was clutching in her hand. Same as always.
“I think that’s why I’m here,” Travis shrugged, “I got her message.”
“I like you Travis, but don’t get stupid.” Elaine stepped forward, and Travis almost stepped back instinctively. He managed to stand his ground against the slight woman though, which was some small victory at least. She was almost a good foot shorter than him. “I think she wants to clear the air with you before she moves on to the next – happy,” this she stressed excessively, “phase of her life. Don’t mess things up for her.”
“Elaine come on,” Travis appealed, “I’m not going to do anything to make her unhappy… y’know, anymore.” The quip fell flat, and Travis himself winced at the terribly pitched attempt at humour, physically apologising for it to the tense mother in front of him. “I mean, I almost didn’t come but I figured – if it would make her happy…”
“Well, good.” Elaine never seemed to take any notice of his appearance, and he liked that. Even when she had first met him she had only been interested in the kind of man he güvenilir canlı bahis siteleri was, not the kind of clothes he wore. “I have to pick up Charlotte from the house, apparently she decided to start the hen night drinking without the hen and she’s too drunk to make it out here alone. I’ll be back as soon as I can with her…”
“So, you’ll probably want to be gone before then,” Elaine looked at him significantly as she stepped past him to call the elevator. She might still have some respect for him, but Ali’s sister Charlotte hated his guts. Running into her would be a real mood killer for everyone.
“To be honest, I’d like to get this over as quickly as possible,” he answered, a little ruefully as Elaine stepped into the elevator’s cream interior.
“Good luck in the future Travis, don’t say anything stupid tonight.” The doors slid shut and Travis couldn’t help the sigh of relief that escaped his lips – first level complete.
He found the Plumtree Suite and, still feeling hideously out of place and scuffing his dirty sneakers nervously against the deep shag of the carpet, he knocked three times.
“Come in.” Ali’s voice, clear and relaxed. He couldn’t help but smile as he opened the door.
“Hi, it’s me,” was his stadium-worthy opening gambit, though it almost died on his lips when he saw her. She was a vision, a Hollywood wedding-movie dream in a dress so pure white that it made the cream walls look a dirty tan brown. Her blonde hair wasn’t fixed properly he guessed, it was just pinned up behind her head, but still she was beyond radiant. The dress itself was gorgeous, off her shoulders and curving over her bust beautifully, managing to be both simple and spectacular at the same time. The bustier was elegant and minimal but the dress exploded out at the waist into a gravity defying cascade of silk and lace that bloomed out for what looked like several feet in every direction.
She was truly beautiful – and of course it hurt.
“Trav!” The warmth of her smile stung too. They had broken up so long ago now that it didn’t hurt bady, it didn’t make him want to break things and people like it used to, but he couldn’t see her without being stabbed by knives of regret. “I didn’t think you’d come!”
“You look amazing Ali,” he said as he walked into the room. Only now did he notice the other girl – someone from the hotel or the dress shop that was making last minute alterations to the work of art she was wearing. The girl did a slight double take at his appearance, but smiled at him, and quickly continued her work. The room itself took a few seconds to come into focus too – it was something like a big meeting room, with a long table stretching away to his right that was covered in myriad boxes and wedding ephemera, and a large clear area near the door where they were standing.
Travis had wondered what he would do when he saw her; whether he should give her a casual hug or a quick kiss on the cheek, but it looked like he wouldn’t really get a chance to do either. Her dress was so big it looked pretty difficult to navigate around. It was a shame, he’d been greedily looking forward to that moment. He wondered how her fiancee was going to handle it at the altar.
Fiancee? Husband by then. Lucky bastard.
“You look really good too,” she grinned, “I’m glad you haven’t changed.”
“You’ve changed enough for both of us I think,” he cracked with a wicked grin, taking a walk around her to look at the dress. “That’s quite a construction.”
“I know! Isn’t it? How’s it looking Claire?”
“I’m done I think!” the previously silent assistant piped up, “You want to slip it off now?” Ali looked pensive, the same thoughtful expression Travis had seen a million times before.
“I think I’ll keep it on until my mother gets back, until Charlotte can take a look,” she decided, “Why don’t you go have a break or something Claire?”
“God that sounds good! I need a coffee like you don’t know!” the bubbly girl laughed, “See you later.” She slipped out with a wave, and a nod to Travis, leaving them alone in the long, brightly lit room.
They stood in silence for a moment, each regarding the other with a faint smile, as if psychically trying to ascertain what the situation was between them. They’d met briefly several times in the years since they’d split up, and each time they’d been a little more civil to each other. But each time one of them had said something that had killed the civility, and a few months ago a mutual friend had let slip to Travis that Ali had known her current fiancee before she and him had broken up. A savagely bitter email from him and they were back to square one.
That, he figured, was why she had asked him here. And sure, it had hurt then, it had torn open old wounds, but seeing her now… he just didn’t care about that any more. If she wanted to make sure all was forgiven then she was in luck.
“So, how do I really look?” she asked with a wary smile.
“Absolutely beautiful. An absolutely beautiful model bride,” he grinned.
“Model güvenilir illegal bahis siteleri huh?”
“Straight out of a magazine.”
“To straight for you?” She knew what he was thinking, and he threw back his head and laughed. It felt good to let the tension out.
“You were a sexy-ass punk chick, Ali.”
“I’m a sexy-ass ‘square’ now.”
“I guess you are.” He leaned against the edge of the table and looked her up and down again. “Can you sit down in that thing?”
“Ah… sure. With difficulty. There’re no actual wires under here,” she patted the huge meringue of her skirts, “just a zillion, zillion petticoats. Look, it’s pretty easy to move…” She did a quick spin across the floor to demonstrate. “It’s a marvel of modern fashion.”
“It is fantastic,” Travis nodded, more seriously, more genuinely, “You’ll look beautiful tomorrow.”
“Thanks,” Ali smiled, appreciating his honesty now. “Listen, last time we… were in contact…”
“Forget about it,” Travis waved his hand, “Water, bridge, all that. I’m pretty sure it was Stan accidentally being an asshole and making something out of nothing.”
“It was!” Ali leaned forwards, excitingly jumping on this take on their final argument, “I didn’t even know I’d met Tom before when we got together. Which was a long time after…”
“It’s cool, it’s cool,” Travis wasn’t sure that he really wanted to spend much time talking about Tom Thompson. In any case, what he knew of the guy he didn’t like much, so he was worried that he might upset Ali by accidentally insulting him.
“Yeah, I met Gretch the other week. She’s coming tomorrow. I heard about her breaking up with Stan!”
“Which was long overdue,” Travis smirked, a little sourly. Their friends had been ill matched from the start, and their five-year relationship had only made sense after it fell apart.
“And now she’s with Raf? Was that difficult for… everyone?”
“Well… I guess. I don’t hang out much with Stan anymore considering he hates Raf’s guts, but that isn’t exactly breaking my heart.”
“Oh,” Ali sighed and let a sad smile slip out, “I miss you guys.” She really had been part of their group of friends, only to completely drop out when she and Travis had broken up.
“Well…” Travis shrugged. What the hell was he supposed to say? Miss you too? He did. Deep down in his guts, in the very core of himself, he wanted her back. But his brain was working better these days, and he couldn’t say for certain that they would ever be right for each other. It was just hard to let go of the best thing that ever happened to him.
“Sorry, sorry,” Ali looked away, as if suddenly aware of what she had said, “thanks for being… ok with this.”
“Well,” he couldn’t help himself, “not ok, but y’know… if you’re happy.”
“I am,” she looked up at him, a little strangely he thought, “happy with Tom.”
“How is he? How is Tom?” Travis stretched his hands out either side of him on the table, and this time he couldn’t help the snide cynicism from breaking into his voice. Thankfully Ali seemed to take it with grace.
“He’s great. Busy at work, but he’s… Everything’s great.”
“What…” Travis’s voice started to rise, and he fought to keep the sarcasm in check, “What kind of music does Tom listen to?” Ali narrowed her eyes at him, but she was still smiling. Travis had grown up so much since he and Ali had been an item, but there was still a creature inside him that couldn’t help pushing things. Pushing them as far as they could go. That was why Elaine had warned him not to be stupid, and he hoped that the creature wouldn’t push too hard today. He really didn’t want to make her upset, but her fiancee was an idiot and he couldn’t help himself.
“I don’t listen to punk music anymore y’know,” she shot back, “I grew out of it.”
“Oh, nice. But avoiding the question! What kind of music does Tom like?”
“He works a lot, so he listens to… stuff to chill out. I listen to everything you know that, so it’s cool.”
“Yeah I know, you’ve got great taste in music. That’s why I…” Travis wisely tailed off before things got too personal, “Anyway, how about Tom’s taste in music?” Ali pursed her lips and he knew he had her.
“OK! Jesus you win! Tom likes fucking awful music!” she blurted. Travis burst into laughter and his heart soared when he realised that Ali was laughing with him. “He listens to nothing but the most derivative indie and the most MOR cock rock. It’s painful! I’m trying to cultivate a taste in classical music to stop him from putting that shit on when he’s cooking, because god forbid he’d listen to anything with keyboards or a drum machine.” Ali was really alive now, her old fiery, spiky self, and she jabbed a finger at him as she spotted a line of attack. “That’s right! He cooks, which is more than I can say for you. Worked out how to make an omelette yet?”
“I memorised the number of the new pizza shop down the street,” Travis shrugged, “Does that count?”
“Pathetic!” Ali stepped towards him, bringing the penumbra of her dress güvenilir bahis şirketleri to inches from his sneakers. Her hands were on her hips, and for a split second her saw her in tight, ripped jeans and an even tighter t-shirt, her hair a gender-bending pompadour, her eyebrow pierced. “Remember that time you tried to make dinner.”
“And I came home and Raf had you out on the steps because he was worried you had ‘smoke inhalation poisoning’ or something?”
“Remember when you almost lost a fingernail trying to restring a guitar.” Travis hopped to his feet, hips set like a gunslinger, grinning from ear to ear to be back in a tussle like this. “And for that matter – remember your band?”
“Don’t even…” Ali put her hands over her ears, “La-la-laaaa! I was never in a rock and roll band!”
“Oh I’m sure I can dig up the evidence. That song that went… how was it? ‘I wasn’t loooo-o-ost… but now…'” Travis brayed out the chorus of one of the few songs Ali had penned. He was no singer, and he tailed off as they both gave in to the laughter that bubbled up from their chests. “Seriously though,” he said, risking the small movement it took to touch her arm, “He’s a good guy?”
“He’s a good guy,” Ali caught her breath, her face still bearing the traces of a smile, a little sad perhaps, “I’m very lucky and I’m going to be very happy with him.”
“That sounds really… well thought out,” Travis frowned, interested in the careful way she had phrased her answer.
“Some people think things through, Trav,” she teased.
“Yeah, I heard about it, I’ll give it a try when I’m fifty I think.” He kept his eyes on her and for some reason she couldn’t hold his gaze this time. She looked away sharply. “It’s just a shame to have to calculate everything.”
“I’m not calculating!” Ali protested, and there was less humour in her voice now. Travis knew he was pushing it – he was risking the wrath of Elaine. “But we… you and me…”
“No, I’m sorry,” he raised his hands, admitting his guilt, “you and me would probably never have lasted, we’re… terrible for each other.” Ali nodded, relaxing. “It just sounds like we were a lot more fun than this.” His smile was evil, he knew it, he just couldn’t help it.
“Fun?” he was happy to see that she seemed to be rising to it as a challenge, not as the snide attack that she might have seen. He hadn’t meant it like that but… things were always charged between them. All it took was one misunderstanding, “Didn’t I throw a fucking TV at you once?”
“Glad to see you still remember how to swear.” He saw her smile and inwardly breathed a sigh of relief.
“And didn’t I throw your car keys in the river?”
“I still think my car’s gonna be stolen by a frogman one day.”
“And didn’t I…”
“Didn’t we go to Albania just because neither of us had ever even thought about the country before?” The memory of that insane, unhinged vacation was such a good one that Travis knew it would bring a flush of happiness to Ali’s cheeks, and it did. Could Tom Thompson do that? Had he ever? He wanted to ask, but he was reining the creature in, he was fighting not to push things too far. Ali sighed.
“I think if I was still doing stuff like that, I’d go crazy Trav. I was worried about your… mental health for a while.”
“Eh… you should probably still worry,” he laughed. “I mean… that’s what’s important to me.” He watched very closely as, her cheeks still blushing Ali’s eyes came up his body. She was biting her lip, seeming to wrestle with something. “Y’know, random vacations, Halloween parties on New Years Eve… organizing your own gig even though you can’t play and your only half-decent song goes… ‘I wasn’t loooo-o-ost… but now…”
With another burst of laughter Ali reached out, and tried to cover his mouth with her perfectly manicured fingers, but what happened after that was so quick that neither of them could react until it was well underway. Ali’s fingers touched his lips and Travis’s hand moved on its own (later he would claim it was muscle-memory) snaking around her waist and pulling her tight to him. Ali’s hand moved too (again, muscle-memory – not her fault) slipping off his lips and around to the back of his head so that – with him pulling her by the waist and her pulling him by the head – their lips had no choice but to meet.
The kiss was hard, hot and brief. The huge, stiff skirts of Ali’s dress bunched and bloomed around Travis’s thin, denim clad legs as he pulled her hard to him, until their whole bodies were pressed together. Seconds later they broke apart, almost leaping away from each other.
“Christ! I’m sorry I…” Travis started, regaining the creature’s leash, but not really regretting what had happened.
“What am I doing?!” Ali gasped, incredulously, bending over, busying herself fluffing up her petticoats and her dress again. “What the fuck am I doing?”
“You’re doing something you’ve missed…” Travis bit his tongue three seconds too late to stop that slipping out. “Not me, just… doing something unpredictable. Tell me you haven’t missed that,” he challenged. She straightened up and turned to face him, her face blank, unreadable. She was silent for a long time, so long that he felt forced to break the silence. “I’ll go,” he nodded and turned to the door. Her voice, as it stopped him, hit him like a fist in the back.
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