Anne Marie, carrying a stack of folders, backed into her boss’ office. “I’ve got thirty potential artists. There are some in here that look really promising, including three with especially fine credentials. I know you prefer to find diamonds in the rough but…”
“Put them on the desk, I’ll take a look at…”
“Whoa, hold on a minute there boss. What is all of this,” Anne Marie said waving a hand up and down.
“It’s a dress. A Valentino Garavani, if you must know.”
“There is way too much…what is that color…sex pot red. And who approved that neckline?”
She looked at herself in the glass of the office window and put on some ear rings. “Nice work on building candidates. You did all of that in one day, well done.”
“Don’t you change the subject on me. Who are you having dinner with? Is it Mitch, have you been teasing me? Did he come back?” Anne Marie said, sounding hopeful.
“I’m just having dinner, relax.”
“You don’t have something a little less…sultry.”
“I think it looks nice. What are you up to tonight?”
“I’m meeting friends for drinks, dinner, and the inevitable bad decisions. Who is this guy?”
“That sounds fun, don’t get into too much trouble,” She said and walked out.
Nigel Radclyffe, married and divorced three times, was most well known for the quality of the prenuptial and his ability to keep the family fortune in tact. His family started in the import/export business with the Dutch East India company back in 1620 and after a couple of generations, went their own way and did very well. So well, that despite the best efforts of his grandfather and father, the family fortune continued to grow.
Nigel was born in the U.S. and grew up in Manhattan. He was equal parts British and American and was well versed in playboy on either side of the pond. Mostly, he was a pompous ass, but his A-list status was secure because of his generous contributions to all the socially popular causes.
He had arrived in town two days before and through the friend of a friend found his date for the evening. He stood as she walked into Quince. This restaurant is four stars and she is five, easily, he thought as he held out her chair.
“May I say, you look ravishing.”
Nigel smiled, “Well, you do.”
“Sabrina told me you were all alone in our fair city. How terrible for you, what brings you to the city by the bay?”
“Just some dreadfully boring business stuff, for which I need to be present. Signatures, lawyers, piles of paperwork and gallons of coffee.”
“Tweaking the pre-nup, just in case?”
“I hate to think that some lovely lady might be after me for just my money.”
“So, it’s a grand romantic gesture for true love?”
“That’s good. I may start using it, if you don’t mind.”
“Convincing lines men use to get into woman’s pants, is my middle name.”
“Strange choice by your parents.”
“They were hippies, it was the sixties, and they demonstrated great foresight.”
“And that all fit on the birth certificate?”
He looked at her and grinned, “You had me until font. You, my extremely charming dinner date, were born in the age of typewriters.”
“Drat, I guess you caught me. My middle name is compulsive leg puller.”
The waitress took their order. Nigel ordered the wine, the most expensive bottle, and took a small amount of joy in the flirty attitude of the waitress. Nigel liked to keep his options open, because one never knew when a date was going to be a dud and waitresses make great back-up plans.
Nigel took a moment to admire how lovely his date was and then asked, “So, tell me what you do?”
“I work for a gallery, three actually, finding artists.”
“That sounds interesting. I have a friend who owns a gallery in London. Back in 2006, at a bar called Mythos & Ouzo, about a block from the Acropolis. The bar closed at midnight and we weren’t ready to call it a night. About a half dozen of us rolled out of the bar and I accidentally bumped into a street mime. I knocked her over, she started cussing like a sailor. What could I do, she was adorable, so we brought her along. It turns out she was a talented painter. Quite a little minx in bed, too.”
“Yes, but that wasn’t the point. It was really satisfying helping someone find their destiny. Is it like that for you?”
“Yes, I suppose, sometimes.”
“I do love the arts. I was at the opening of one of Annie Liebovit’s shows, it was before she lost Susan, and we were discussing her early influences when Lino Taglipietra stopped in and asked her, ‘What makes you get out of bed in the morning?”.
“Are you asking me?”
“No, not yet, but I’ve always wondered what drives artists. What drives your artists?”
“I think they like the rush of creating, but for most of them, despite refusing to admit it, like the money. You won’t get them to admit it, but money and adoration are pretty powerful motivators. They also seem to love the post success guilt and corresponding depression.”
Nigel wasn’t used to articulate women. “Have you been asked that before?”
“You’re quick on your feet.”
“I used to play guard, you should see my crossover dribble.”
Nigel took a drink of his wine, smiled and nodded, but the blank look gave him away.
“Oh, I guess I tend to run more with the polo and cricket set. Do you like cricket?”
“It is the best dressed sport of the sports, well that, and maybe equestrian.”
“You ever wear chaps?”
“Nigel, that isn’t the sort of secret you can pry out of me with one glass of wine.”
Nigel poured her another.
“Hello, this is Mitch.”
“You’re alive, I’m more than a little bit surprised. I assume your date went poorly and you’ve gone on a two week bender.”
“Ah, Kate, my trusty side-kick slash drill sergeant, ye of little faith. I’ll have you know that we had our date, I was charming. It led to a follow-up lunch which lasted until dinner and then I swept her off her feet.”
“You got her drunk, didn’t you.”
“There was some drinking, yes, but I’m sure she was of sound mind and fantastic body when I made my move.”
“You don’t have any moves. You have groupies who continually demonstrate questionable judgment when plied with liquor.”
“Okay, that one hurt.”
“Excellent, then I win. Now, you have a speaking engagement at Columbia in six days. I trust you will be there.”
“I don’t wanna.”
“Are you with your obsession, now?”
“That makes it sound creepy.”
“I’m sorry, I know that this one is special. Sometimes I let my snarkiness get out of line. Are you still with the lady for whom you’ve been pinning most of your life?”
“No, I’m in Italy.”
“What are you doing in Italy?”
“Are you going to be back for the lecture?”
“Yes…maybe. Who knows.”
“What are you doing?”
“I told you, I’m thinking.”
“You’re worrying me. Did something happen? Did you say something stupid?’
“Ha! Your instincts are good, but it was as if I could hear you in my head. I had several opportunities, but kept my mouth shut. Then I left.”
“I went to France and then Italy.”
“What did you tell her?”
“That I would be coming back.”
“So, you’re playing the man of mystery?”
“Sort of, maybe…I hope so. Was that a bad move?”
“I’ve known you for a long time and I can’t remember you ever caring, so I’d say you’re doing okay. I don’t know her, though.”
“I’m writing her a story, in long hand. You think she’ll like it.”
“She’ll love it, but…”
“But what,” Mitch asked, sounding worried.
“That is a very sweet idea and frankly, it will be hard to top…ever.”
“What do you mean?”
“I can’t think of a more romantic gift, what will you do next? Chocolate, flowers, cars, mansions, small planets, well, they may well pale in comparison.”
“I hadn’t thought of that,” he said, sounding very sad.
“I’d leave that bullet in the chamber.”
“Since when did you start making gun references?”
“I’ve been reading your manuscripts for too long.”
“And I love you for it. So, what do I do?”
“Keep writing, just plan something else for your next grand gesture.”
“You might be right,” he said, the wheels in his head beginning to turn.
“One more thing…”
“Nobody wants to be worshiped. Don’t be a groupie.”
He hadn’t thought about it, but it was true. It was a fine line between affection and obsession. Mitch reassured Kate he would be back for the lecture and hit the gas.
Kate was right. Damn her. He looked at his watch, he’d been on the road for just over an hour. It was 7:17 am, Italy time. What was Kate doing up at 2 am? He knew the answer, she had been trying to get a hold of him for days and it had probably kept her from sleeping.
Kate had grown from an assistant to a big sister, with hints of grandmother. Mitch was doing fine managing all the balls he juggled, but then she made a case for how life might be if someone else did it for him. That was twelve years ago and she had been right, he was more productive, relaxed and happy.
Heading north, Mitch figured he would be to Bologna around lunch. There still hadn’t been any progress on understanding why he needed to head to Stelvio Pass, but maybe it was just something as simple as the journey.
He thought about journeys, often, when he wrote. To say he occasionally reflected on the grand journey, would be a gross understatement. With very few exceptions, most highways and biways were exactly what he needed at the time. Mitch wasn’t a big fan of regrets.
He knew people like that. Sullen sods who took the road more travelled and though they wouldn’t admit it, found the journey to be filled with exactly what they expected. The look in their eyes was one of vacant disillusionment. They talked, without listening, about their days, as if one day they would magically find something of interest to do. Or at the very least, find the desire to be happy again.
They talked of lottery wins and what they might do, but Mitch guessed they would be one trip and back to the warm, comforting, suffocating lives they had built. Elton John’s, Kiss the Bride, played and though he loved the song, couldn’t think of a single time he had wanted to do so. Sometimes romantic songs don’t need to strike a chord to be good.
The kilometers rolled past and he always did the math after each ten, six point two miles. Why didn’t the metric system ever take in the U.S.? He guessed it was one of those questions he would need to “Ask at the Pearly Gates” list.
A more pressing question was, what should he do next?
Nothing came to mind. He tried to imagine her face, for inspiration, but though it was beautiful to gaze upon in his mind, it didn’t give a clue about the way to her heart. Maybe I should ask Google? He giggled.
The A1 was treating him well. Surely there was inspiration in the hills, so he looked, but nothing. It was pretty, though. Santa Lucia, by Enrico Caruso, came on and seemed appropriate. After that, Bill Withers, kicked Mitch in the gut with Ain’t No Sunshine.
Bill spoke the truth. His life was mostly sunshine a few weeks ago, with an occasional day of partly cloudy, but nothing too awful. He didn’t even know where the thought came from, but he was going to be in town and in a fit of unbridled optimism he sent her a Facebook Message. “Want to have lunch, tomorrow? It has been a long time and might be fun to catch up.”
She responded after an agonizing three minutes. It hadn’t seemed like such a big deal when he typed it, but as soon as he hit send, the rush of feelings he had carried around for all those years swept over him. Her answer, “That would be awesome.”
Words are important to Mitch and he always thought awesome was overused, especially in situations that were entirely not awesome, but simply pretty good at best. It sure felt awesome when he read it.
Six point two more miles gone. The next hour or so was wasted on ideas so full of cliché that he almost had to pull over and get sick. A ten minute break to fill up with gas and he was back on the road.
What if I ask her what she wanted to do? No, that is more stupid than calling the next day after a first date. It would have to be a trip, he had already established this, and now needed to make it special, memorable. Mitch sort of bobbed his head back and forth, perhaps winging into town to jet her off to some beautiful island retreat would be the next move.
Where to go? If he figured that out, the sunshine might return.