SIX – A NEW DAY
Jenni rolled into the A-frame with a bag of groceries in each arm. She plopped them on the kitchen counter and called out, “Tone? Honey, are you here?”
A faint groan lured her into the living room. She found him collapsed on the couch, still wearing the same clothes he had last night.
“Tony? Are you all right?”
He opened his eyes and gazed at her. Jenni frowned. He looked pale and unwell. “Hon…?” she asked tentatively.
He waved his hand at her. “I’m okay. Is it morning already?”
“Morning?” she said, puzzled. She crossed to the windows and drew back the shades. “Tony, it’s the middle of the afternoon.”
Tony didn’t remember drawing the curtains, but immediately felt glad he had. The sunlight pouring in hurt his eyes. “Ouch,” he said, turning away. “I was working late last night.”
“So I see,” said Jenni. He wasn’t looking at her, but he could hear her foot tapping an impatient rhythm on the carpeting.
He looked up and found a scowl on her pretty face. “What?” he said.
“Who is she?” Jenni asked, pointing toward the fireplace.
Tony looked where she indicated. Three new paintings stood next to the one he’d done of Jenni the previous day. They were of Glory, nude, in a variety of sensuous poses. Tony barely remembered painting them; the act seemed more like a dream.
“Look,” said Jenni, “I know we don’t have a real commitment to each other… but I think if you’re seeing someone else, I have a right to know.”
Tony shook his head to clear it. “No. I’m not seeing anyone else. Not really.”
“Who’s that, then?”
“The woman I dreamed about that night on the beach… Glory.”
Jenni arched her eyebrows at him skeptically. “That’s some dream.”
Tony got up off the couch. “Honestly. It’s the woman I saw on the beach. She came to the house last night—at least, I think she did. Or maybe I only dreamed it.”
Jenni tousled his hair. “Artists! Honest to God, I don’t know why women put up with you. Sometimes I think you’re all half-cracked. If you’re not careful, you’ll lose touch with reality altogether.”
“You want some coffee?” he asked, heading sleepily for the kitchen.
“No. I had my dose for the day. I’ll clean up a bit while you make it. You’ve left the place a mess.”
Tony smiled. She liked to look after him. “You done with your shift?” he asked.
She nodded and began to put his painting supplies away.
“Look, I’ll make it up to you,” he said. “How about you and I spend the rest of the day together?”
“No extra mystery women?”
He chuckled. “Promise,” he said, coming out of the kitchen with a cup of instant brew in his hand.
She crossed the room and gave him a quick hug. “Tony, I know we’ve never made any promises to each other. We never said this relationship was for keeps. Lord knows we’ve seen other people off and on while we’ve been friends. But I do love you. And I’ll fight to keep you if I have to.”
He kissed her gently on the forehead. The coffee had already started to warm his limbs. “You’re my one and only,” he said.
“Good,” Jenni replied. She stepped back and looked at him playfully. “Besides, I don’t think you’d like this woman—Glory, did you say?—if she was real.”
Tony furrowed his brow. “Why not?”
“Well, look at her, Tony,” said Jenni, indicating the nearest portrait. “There’s something spooky in her eyes—something dead. Either you’re slipping as a painter, or she’s not a very nice person.”
Tony looked at the painting but couldn’t see what Jenni was talking about. To him, Glory looked beautiful—perfect. But he nodded at Jenni and replied, “I guess.” He smiled wanly at her. “I couldn’t be slipping as a painter, though. Could I?”
Jenni hugged him again, being careful not to spill his coffee. “Let’s hope not. What would happen to my cash cow if you were?”
He patted her lightly on the rear end. “You’d have to find some other sucker to drain dry.”
She brushed his lips lightly with hers. “You wouldn’t like that, would you?” she asked matter-of-factly.
He kissed her.
She pulled back. “Where are we going today?”
He resisted the urge to suggest a walk along Wind Point. “How about a hike up Rattlesnake Hill? I’ll pack a picnic basket.”
They spent the remainder of the afternoon hiking in the warm sun. When they reached the top of the hill, they broke out the goodies and picnicked in the middle of the stone circle overlooking the lake. Tony’s sandwiches proved as excellent as the cheddar and burgundy he’d chosen to go with them.
As the sun began to dip below the trees to the west, they hiked back down the hill to Tony’s Volvo. They necked in the car for a bit, until a sheriff’s deputy rapped on the window and asked them to move along.
“Shit!” said Jenni as they drove toward home. “Looks like there are some privileges that even rank and all the money of the Frosts won’t buy.”
He smiled at her. “If you want to fool around in the car, there are plenty of deserted trails on the estate. No one will bother us there.”
“Unless one of your relatives ambles by.” She broke into a deep, basso voice, “‘Pardon me, Anthony, but who is that you’re screwing in the back seat there? Why didn’t you ask my permission first?!’”
“For someone who’s never met my father, you do a pretty good imitation of him,” Tony admitted, chuckling.
“The only reason I’ve never met him is that you’ve never introduced us.”
“I wanted to spare you the dubious pleasure as long as possible.” Ask her now, urged a voice inside him. But he didn’t.
“Well, I don’t think meeting him from the back seat of a car with my legs up would be the way to go,” said Jenni. “So, let’s go home and screw.”
Tony awoke after midnight with a gnawing emptiness in the back of his brain. He rose from the bed and padded quietly downstairs.
The light of the moon flooded in through the double doors, filling the studio/living room with its cold glow.
Tony walked to the mantle and removed the box from its secret hiding place. He took the ring out and looked at the stone’s multi-faceted surface.
Why didn’t you ask her? he wondered. The time was perfect. Why didn’t you ask her?
He gazed into the coolness of the diamond and pondered the answer. Was that a flaw he saw deep inside the stone?
He put the ring back into the box and hid it away once more.
Then he sat in a chair and stared out the windows toward the lake until he fell asleep.
During the night, not even a dream came to visit.