“Alise, you need to calm down.” Bob said as he observed his daughter frantically tose clothing aside.
Alise responded distractedly, “But, he will be here any minute and I still don’t know what to wear.”
“You are my daughter, you would be the main attraction in anything.” Bob insisted.
“Hah, shows how much you know about fashion. Please call Ashley, you can trade places with her.” Alise said as she shooed Bob out of her tiny room above the bar. She had occupied this room ever since she was a baby and it had transformed along the years with her. Now it reflected a young independent and vibrant lady with a penchant for cheap but classy furniture.
Throwing his hands up in defeat, Bob retreated from his daughter’s room to the sanctuary of his bar, remembering to send Ashley to the rescue.
As he marauded around his guests in search of an empty glass to fill up, Bob noticed Aunt Glenda’s worried face. So he made his way down to Aunt Glenda’s corner and inched in close to ensure no one overheard him, “What is wrong, Glenda?”
Aunt Glenda looked at her drink for a while before starring Bob right in the eyes, and said “You and I both know that family is everything. At my age most of your friends are gone, either literal or live to far away with their grandkids to matter. I have lost my husband and buried my children, a faith the almighty in his infinite wisdom could have spared me. All I have left is Ralph.”
She took a swing of her glass, not even tasting its content before she continued in the weakest voice this strong woman had ever said, “I have failed him Bob…Ralph..my daughter must be looking down at me from heaven with fury…I couldn’t get him away from his father fast enough and now Ralph…I think…Ralph is a criminal, one of those drug pushers. Can you imagine selling drugs to kids, ruining lives.”
Bob did not say anything throughout Aunt Glenda’s vent, only signing occasionally to express his remorse and show his absolute attention.
The two sat in companionship, with the regrets of their life written on their faces.
Just as the mood got heavier, a young attractive man snuck up on the pair and said, “With long faces like that you will look as old as you really are in a month, and not the sprite retirees we all know you to be and love you for it.” Dorian said as he kissed Aunt Glenda’s hands and gave Bob a hug.
Aunt Glenda smiled so naturally the mood was almost awkward, while Bob was in shock, not expect such a reaction from this observant but reserved new hire.
Dorian could sense Bob’s surprise and that only served to improve his mood, it was working. He wasn’t sure what element was most important but the last month had seen his monochromatic life burst with color once again.
He was even contemplating calling his mother and having an honest, therapeutic conversation with her. Just considering it however.
“So since Alise will be a while getting dressed would anyone like to see the car I bought, you can tell this is my first time buying a car. I wonder if I got a good deal?” Dorian threw out this question to the entire bar knowing that Bob and Aunt Glenda would no longer be left in their morose state. But he vowed to himself to confront them when they were alone to help them resolve whatever issue it was. Afterall, that is what he was trained to do.
As the crowd of regulars and some curious new faces moved closer to Dorian to inspect the car on his phone, some overly enthusiastic car junkies even exited the bar to see the car in the lot.
Alise descended the stairs with Ashley and entered the bar to find Dorian as the center of attention with many people glancing at this phone and making jokes about him buying a rabbit, a lemon, or a transformer that had chosen to be a dishwasher and dryer.
Alise did not care about all the people, or how good Dorian looked controlling the crowd around him. Rather she was drawing to his smile and then she realized she had never seen so genuinely naturally happy before. Then Dorian’s eyes caught her silhouette and the look in his eyes now excited but scared her.
As the adrenaline coursed through her body, Alise made her way towards Dorian, suddenly never as to how they would greet: handshake, hug, a kiss, in front of everyone!
Dorian rescued her by taking her hand and kissing the back of her palm before interlocking their fingers. The gesture was so understated but so romantic that the crowd around Dorian dispersed naturally.
Alise acknowledged Aunt Glenda and her father, before turning to Dorian and saying, “Did I dress appropriately for today’s surprise activity, if not I can quickly go up and change.”
Dorian responded, “No need for that. Not only are you suitable dressed but you look so beautiful and alluring that I am suddenly feeling awkward and under-dressed, standing beside you.”
Alise beamed at the compliment, but not to be outdone, she responded, “And you clean up nicely yourself, Dorian. I could learn to like this prep school vibe. Shall we?”
Still holding her hand, Dorian navigated around the bar towards the exit, while explaining what he had planned for her. Most of the day would be spent at a picnic lunch but Dorian had arranged some sights and art museum visits centred on interior decor as he knew that was Alise’s passion.
All in all, the day was magical and as Alise lay down to bed, reminiscing on the date, she was again excited and scared. She knew she was in love with Dorian, whether it was young love or true love was a question of semantics. But she also knew from experience that the vulnerability of love leaves room for the consuming pain of rejection and abandonment.
Dorian walked with George out of the center after a miraculous counseling session, he was subtly discussing counselling methods and approaches which had been tested rigorously by psychologist for years but were questioned or affirmed by a casual statement from George.
As the two of them separated to go to their own cars, Dorian noticed Ralph amongst a group from the session. Once George noticed as well he screamed, “What the hell are you doing here with my people?” and charged at Ralph who was carrying a suspicious looking bag. Ralph turned towards the shout, noticed George rushing at him and ran away in the opposite direction. Despite George’s youth as a soldier, he was much older now, so failed to catch Ralph. When he looked back to the members of the counselling group, even though some had expressions of indignation or guilt, George’s expression was none judgemental and he laughingly responded, “Weew, close call. Some of you almost fell off the wagon and you were making such progress…”
Dorian was only half listening to George as he returned to his car and drove off in the direction Ralph had taken.
He suddenly realised he had not had that talk with Aunt Glenda but suspected this was the cause of her grief. As he passed down a few blocks, he finally caught sight of Ralph gripping his backpack tightly while bent over panting.
“Get in!” Dorian commanded.
Ralph looked at him askance for a second before entering the car. They drove off in silence.
After a while Ralph asked, “Where are we going?”
Dorian responded, “I am taking you home. Your leaving the bag with me or I will tell George I know who you are and report you to the police. If the people that gave you the bag to sell contact you redirect them to see me to settle it.”
Ralph stared at Dorian to see if he was serious, then shrugged his shoulders and focused on the road ahead. It seemed he had accepted his situation. Or at least he choose not to argue now.
On getting to Aunt Glenda’s, Dorian was surprised to see Alise there keeping her company as Alise had already told him she had classes this evening that could affect her final grade. Both women looked extremely worried but relaxed immediately when they saw Dorian approaching the terrace with Ralph behind him. Aunt Glenda’s eyes watered while Alise just beamed at Dorian and nodded her head as if a question that was plaguing her had been answered.
Alise said to Dorian after the four of them had exchanged greetings, “Hey Dorian, could you drive me home, there is something important I want to tell you…it’s emmm…It’s about my…mum.” her voice decreasing as she progressed.
For a second, Dorian just stared back at Alise, realising the full magnitude of their relationship and how strong his feelings for her were. He was about to blurt out ‘I love you’ but realised the timing was not right and changed it mid-sentence, “I’d love to hear such a sensitive experience that is an important part of who you are. I…I…appreciate you sharing this with me. Aunt Glenda, Ralph.”
The romantic mood had mellowed Aunt Glenda’s fears but when she saw the young couple off she couldn’t help but regret that Ralph was not more like Dorian, and blamed herself for it.
Ralph saw the expression in his Grandmother’s eyes and read it as disappointment. He knew that if he only had money that expression would change. His dad always said money makes a woman’s eyes sparkle.