At first glance the weather outside looked just as grey and dismal as the last few weeks. One of the drawbacks of living somewhere so humid was that bleak weather had a tendency to hang on until it had managed to suck out all of the energy of everyone in town. Alice sat on the couch, staring out at the early morning dance of cars, waiting for Grace to wake up. She'd already been outside to get the newspaper and then later to get the mail. It was actually warm and pleasant outside, but it still looked gloomy from where she sat.
Alice wasn't an early riser by nature. She hadn't been to bed. She couldn't sleep, which definitely was out of the norm. Usually she slept like a dead person. But every time she closed her eyes she saw his face. James. Just the thought made her lick her lips and set her hands shaking. He'd appeared in her bar last night, like the ghost of Jacob fucking Marley, except decidedly sexy. Her body hadn't been on her side and it had taken massive amounts of self control not to jump up and wrap her legs around him. Or to run the other way.
He'd looked perfectly polished, but there were lines around his eyes that hadn't been there before and his clothes were slightly rumpled. To the outside observer he was pristine, but she knew him better than he knew himself, or at least she thought she had. The James she knew wouldn't be here. The James she knew would be in Denver still. He'd be pensive and probably moping about the situation, but he would be reconciling with his wife and trying to salvage the pieces of his life that she'd broken.
This James was new. He was different, somehow. More broken, but also more solid. He'd managed to pull through some, no doubt self-imposed, gauntlet and had pulled himself together in the process. Just the thought made her mouth water, which brought back the metallic sting of guilt. She was with Ben. She might love Ben, actually. What did she feel about James?
She had loved the old James. Did she know this James? She wasn't so sure. A rustling up the stairs signaled that Grace and Rick were awake. She set a fresh pot of coffee to brewing, grabbed her newest list and threw away the dead pen so that she could retrieve a newer one from Grace's pen drawer.
Alice eyed the three columns scrawled intensely through bleary eyes. The column on the left side of the landscape oriented paper was James, since he was where she was coming from. The column in the middle was Ben, since it was where she was right now. The third column, on the right side was ominously blank. Grace floated down the stairs and gave Alice a great big bear hug from behind.
"Goooooooood Morning!!" Grace kissed Alice's hair and froze. "What the fuck is this?" Alice stiffened as if being caught with something horrible. She grabbed the paper before Alice could reach for it. "What. The. Fuck?" She was much more calm now, but that didn't mean she was any less angry.
"Good morning to you too. I have news..." Grace held up her index finger to signal Alice to wait a second. She calmly poured a cup of coffee for herself and one for Rick who had just appeared in the kitchen. While Grace's hair was always a mess of curls, Ricks was usually mostly well-behaved. This morning, however, the left side of it was sticking straight up. Grace motioned for him to sit to Alice's right while she sat ominously calm, to her left.
"Okay, explain." Grace looked, almost raptor-like, at her sister and handed Rick the piece of paper. He swore under his breath. She took his hand across the table but didn't break her gaze.
"James is in town." A fresh chorus of cursing came from both Grace and Rick. "He showed up at the bar last night." Rick, the ever calm and contained, slammed his hands on the table and got up in a rush. Both girls stared at him.
"And what the fuck are you thinking?! You're just going to break up with Ben? He's the real-deal, God-damnit!" He grabbed his head with both hands and raked his fingers through his hair. "You can't really be debating this thing? That fucking bastard is still married, you know that right?" Alice couldn't believe what she was seeing. Even Grace was staring at him as if he was a completely different person. This mollified Rick's sudden outburst a little and when he continued it was a much more characteristic volume and calmer. "Do you even care?"
"That is not fair, Rick. She was with James for almost a year and a half. She's known Ben for six months and they've only really been together for two months of that. Sit down before you bust open your hernia scar." Rick sat down, gulped down some coffee and sucked his teeth pensively. Alice couldn't decide if she was more surprised by Rick's reaction or Grace's sticking up for her. Grace had been James' biggest detractor for a year now. Alice could feel the heat in her face, but for all her blushing and intense emotions, she couldn't cry. Not that she didn't want to, but something was holding it all in, making the emotions roiling inside her all that much more intense.
"I don't know what I'm going to do. I don't..." Rick started to push his chair out again, but Grace just grabbed his hands and gave him an all-too-patient look. "I have to finish this thing with James. I don't know if that means breaking it off with him or with Ben or with both of them." She took a deep breath to steady herself. "What I do know, is that like this..." She poked with both shaking pointer fingers into the wood of the table. "Like this, I'm no good to either one of them... and instead of breaking three hearts, I have to get my own fixed. Or at least get my head right."