TWENTY – TARANTELLA
Ivy shook Tony by the shoulder, unable to put aside the fear that something was terribly wrong with her cousin.
“Tony? Tony, are you all right?” she asked.
She sighed with relief as his eyes slowly opened. “Jesus, Tony! I thought you were dead.”
“What time is it?” he asked, his eyes blurry and unfocused. Beyond the windows the sun painted the sky beautiful shades of pink and purple.
“Almost seven,” she said.
“AM or PM?”
“PM. God, are you that out of it?”
He sat up on the couch. “I’ve been working pretty hard lately.”
Ivy looked around the studio. Every available space had been filled with canvases and drawings. And there were sculptures as well—all new since the last time she’d visited. Though the work had been well executed, Ivy found some of it… disturbing.
“What are you doing here, Ivy?” Tony rubbed his head.
Ivy saw a strange, feral quality in his gaze.
She tapped her foot and glanced anxiously around the room. “I got nervous about how you were doing. No one had heard from you in a couple of days, and you weren’t home when Grant’s friend the cop stopped by.”
“The police were here? When? I haven’t been out.”
“Around five yesterday, I think.”
“Shit. I must have been sleeping. Sorry if I worried you.”
“Tony, I’m not the only one. There’s talk going around town about how odd you’re acting. Even Morgan’s getting worried. And I’m sure your mother would have shown up on your doorstep by now if she weren’t out of town.”
Tony snorted, and then coughed. “If my dear sister is worried, then I must be doing something right. Who do you think is talking around town? Jenni?”
“God, Tony! What does it matter? I wouldn’t blame her if she had. You’ve put a world of hurt on that woman in the last week.”
Tony got up and walked to the mantle. A small velvet box still sat there, and he stared at it silently for a long while. “I never meant to hurt her,” he said softly. “It’s just… Things haven’t been going as I’d planned lately.”
“Tony, have you heard from the doctors yet?”
“Have you called them?”
Tony began to pace the room. It reminded Ivy of the way an animal stalked around its cage. “I’ve been busy. I haven’t had time. I just need some peace and quiet—with no one banging on my door to badger me.”
She frowned. “Is that what I’m doing, badgering you?”
“You know that’s not what I meant.”
“How the Hell should I know that? I can’t figure you out at all lately. Neither can Jenni. And I don’t know who this new woman in your life is, but I don’t like the effect she’s having on you.”
Tony spun on her, his eyes wild. “Leave Glory out of this.”
For a moment Ivy thought he might hit her, but she scowled and held her ground. “Tony, she’s ruining your life. Sure, you’ve got all these paintings and stuff to show for it, but look at them, Tony. There’s something wrong there—something strange and frightening. I can’t put my finger on it, but…”
“Why don’t you butt out?”
The coldness in his voice made rage well up within Ivy. She stood facing him, her hands clenched tightly at her sides. She wanted to tell him to go fuck himself, but instead she said:
“Tony, I’m leaving now. I’ll try to come back and talk with you again when you’re in a more reasonable mood. But, until I do, I want you to think about something. Are you happier now than you were before meeting Glory? Are you happier now than when you were with Jenni?”
She turned and exited the house without looking back, not even giving him time to answer.
“Fuck you, too,” Tony muttered. He rubbed his neck and wandered about the room.
He knew something was wrong, but at the same time things seemed so right. His brain felt cluttered and numb. Glory’s dark eyes stared back at him from two dozen pictures, the contours of her sculpted body beckoned to him in three dimensions.
He could almost feel her chilly breath, taste her cool tastelessness, touch her alabaster body. She was unlike any woman he’d ever met before.
A small breeze ruffled the soft hairs on the back of his neck. He turned to find her there in the room with him—though he didn’t remember her entering.
She smiled, and he almost thought he could see a spark of warmth behind her dark eyes.
He crossed the room and covered her smooth body with kisses. They ripped off each other’s clothes and made love.
When they’d finished, he painted and drew and sculpted her. Then they made love again.
Sometime before dawn, as they lay on the studio floor in each other’s arms, he turned to her and whispered, “I love you.”
She licked his face and whispered back, “You are my soul, Anthony Frost. Paint me again.”
He leaned on one elbow and looked at her pale face and stunning body. “I shall paint you in a way that will make Raphael jealous; sculpt you to the envy of Rodin; build a monument to you that will put the Taj Mahal to shame.”
“Paint me,” she said breathlessly.
The days that followed became a mad tarantella of lovemaking and art. One night blended to the next, and Tony lost all track of time; he seldom saw the sun. The work filled the studio to overflowing and then took over the rest of the house.
He remembered neither eating nor sleeping, though he assumed he must have done both. He hardly noticed the ring box still waiting silently on the mantle. Glory became his world, both nourishing and consuming him.
But though he had everything he could think of asking for, something small nagged at the back of his mind. A fair face, straw-blonde hair, and green-blue eyes. It bothered him that he couldn’t remember the name that went with the face.
There were other things as well, small things he didn’t know; things felt he should know. As he lay inside Glory one night, embraced by her coolness, he asked the few questions that remained.
“Glory,” he said softly, “who are you? Where do you come from?”
She traced the outline of his chin with one slim finger. “I’ve told you, I’m Gloriana Williams, and I come from long ago and far away.”
“But how did you come to be here, with me?”
Her dark eyes became distant, as if she were looking at some far-off place or time. “I came over the lake, on a ship called the Titania.”
Something about the name stirred a memory in the back of Tony’s mind, but he couldn’t quite recall the reference. “Were you shipwrecked then? Is that why I found you lying on shore? Why didn’t anyone see the wreck? Were there other survivors?”
She rose, breaking the intertwining of their bodies, and walked across the room. “I doubt it. Does it matter?”
He stood. “Of course, it matters. Everything about you matters. Why did you come?”
She turned toward him, and he glimpsed something in her eyes he’d never seen before: fear.
“I came to escape him—the man who wanted to control me. I fled from him for a long time, but always he found me and dragged me home. Finally, I hid in the bowels of the ship.” She threw back her head and laughed, a cold, ironic laughter. “But he found me, and trapped me in my hiding place. I should have known better. He called up the storm, and the Titania sank and all aboard her drowned. It was a long time before I found my way to shore.”
He crossed the room to her, admiring her pale hair, her perfect body, the roundness of her ass. “And that’s when I saw you on the beach.”
“Yes, my precious Tony. My soul. My love. You rescued me, and for that I am grateful. I shall make you immortal. Our love, your work, will live forever.”
“Who was this man who mistreated you? Tell me and I’ll kill him.”
She laughed again, a bitter laugh this time.
“I won’t speak his name. He may still hear.”
Tony furrowed his brow, but took her in his arms. She felt chillier than usual. “You’re cold,” he said.
She twisted around to face him, put her arms around his neck. “Always. But you bring the fire to me.”
She kissed him.
He felt the warmth flowing from his body to hers and wished he could do more.