The City That Never Sleeps
The very first thing Alicia Rivera did when she returned to New York City was paint.
While she did take the time out to greet the house help (specifically the ones she had known for years), have a coffee with her beloved art teacher Inez (who was both motherly and a mentor), and then make a phone call to the police department to call off the investigation (among other things)— she had shut herself in her bedroom-slash-studio and only came out for meals. When inspiration hits an artist, it hits them hard.
And before she knew it, the entire world became her canvas. Every fresh piece of paper told a story of an adventure that seemed so familiar that she could have sketched it with her eyes closed. She experimented in different styles of painting: realism, surrealism, cubism, impressionism, even pop art. None of her new paintings resembled each other, yet all of them pointed to the universal message of the artist: people change.
And Alicia Rivera wasn't the same girl she was two weeks ago.
It was needless to say that the Riveras were rather indifferent to the homecoming of their youngest daughter.
"Hmm," her mother had mused, taking a sip of her wine, "I assumed you were vacationing with your friends from school. Katarina Harrington told me that her son and his friends were in the French Riviera last week. It is rather fabulous this time of the year..."
Her father had simply grumbled to himself, "Damn straight you're back home. I was going to pay that Fisher punk more money than he had ever seen in his life. God, if he thinks I'm paying that much money after he took so long? He'll be lucky to get a grand."
Nina had the most spirited reaction. "Ugh, Alicia," she had snarled, her scowl in full effect, "you almost ruined the Light Up the Night auction and gala that I was planning. I mean, can you be any more of an attention seeker? At least now people won't talk about you running off, I had to feed them a fake story of how you were in the Riviera at our vacation house. What are you wearing tonight to the gala? Not the BCBG dress, I'm wearing BCBG..."
Instead of making a smart remark about how they were all shoo-ins for the Family of the Year award, Alicia simply shrugged it off. If she had learned anything about her family during her transcontinental ordeal, it was that she couldn't force them to care and this was probably the best reaction she was going to get. After all, she was seventeen and the second her birthday came around and she inherited a quarter of her trust fund, she'd be out.
To call the Light Up the Night gala a success would be an understatement. Held in the Waldorf-Astoria hotel's grand ballroom, Nina Rivera had certainly outdid herself. Colorful (and absurdly expensive) lights hung on the walls and the ceiling, but the restored seventeenth century French chandelier was the star. As the pianist played classic pop standards from the 1940s, the impeccably dressed waiters strolled around offering around gourmet appetizers. It seemed as if all of the elite Upper East Siders were attending the extravagant affair.
Except for Alicia.
Instead of being forced to make small talk with people she didn't care for in an uncomfortable designer dress, she was at the Monroe-Fitz Museum new art gallery, debuting her latest collection. Still titled "A Girl In Progress", her new series of paintings were radically different from the ones she had attempted to show weeks ago. Luckily, the director of the art gallery was impressed enough with her work to give her another shot at revealing them to the public. And this time, Alicia wasn't going to waste it.
Under the fluorescent lights of the gallery, Alicia truly felt at home. The smell of paint in the air only relaxed her nervous stomach. She did have good reason to be nervous, after all. The turn out for her art show was much higher than she had expected. An eclectic mix of Brooklyn hipsters, university students, and art connoisseurs filled the showing room and buzzed with their thoughts on her work. In any other situation, Alicia would have been a wreck. But, it wasn't any other situation: she was finally in her element.
"These are really great," said Kori Geldman, a student at New York University Alicia had met at the Hope for Health gala, "They're all so different. What inspired you?"
Alicia beamed at the painting they were studying—a watercolor of a London alleyway—and turned to Kori. "It all just came to me, you know? Something about painting all of this just felt right. I guess I was inspired by instinct," she explained, trying to sound nonchalant.
Kori nodded. "I know what you mean. Still, though." She stopped talking to take a closer look at the piece. "I gotta say, with this portfolio and a gallery showing behind you, there's no way you can't get into NYU's art program. Maybe even Rhode Island School of Design?"
"Thanks, Kori. It means a lot," Alicia replied, keeping her head down to hide her smile. And it did mean a lot to her. Praise wasn't something that Alicia was accustomed to. "Excuse me for a moment." Alicia walked away to make the rounds of her gallery.
After a lap around the gallery, she noticed that the most common feedback of her work was confusion. Every where she looked, she would catch someone taking a second look at her painting and trying to make a meaning of it. According to some of the people there, Alicia was trying to make a statement on "the failings of mankind" and other poorly formulated pretentious ideas.
"This one is quite striking," an older woman mused. She was studying a pop art piece of a cigarette dangling off a rooftop, aptly named Right Stupid. The woman frowned. "But I don't what the artist is trying to say."
"Perhaps she's very anti-smoking?" another younger woman guessed and Alicia suppressed a smile as she walked by. "This one is my absolute favorite, though." She gestured to an oil painting of a crossword puzzle on a cafe table.
Even if her works caused a bit of misunderstanding, Alicia couldn't have been more proud. In fact, the more they tried to analyze her work, the more she wanted to laugh. It was as if they were all missing out on a private joke, one that Alicia (and maybe somebody else) was only in on.
"Alicia! Come here," Kori called out. Alicia strode over to meet her in front of another work. Still, the sight of this specific painting was enough to make her stomach flip.
This was probably Alicia's favorite one. Half of the painting was a detailed sketch of half a face. Yes, she had spent quite some time trying to make sure that every bit was perfect, from the way the hair didn't quite lay flat to the way the lips curled up in an unmistakable little smirk. The other half of the canvas was a swirl of different shades of blue and green done with acrylic paint. There wasn't another painting in the room that said as much as this one did.
"What's the name of this one?" questioned Kori with wide eyes.
Alicia fidgeted a bit. "It's just untitled." Truth was, she couldn't have come up with a fitting name in time.
"It really familiar," Kori said to herself, looking at the painting and then scanning the room. "Like, really familiar."
She bit her lip and willed her face not to heat up. "No," she managed to sputter out, "it's just half a face. It's not really meant to—"
"No," Kori interjected, wheeling Alicia around and pointing to a guy who had just walked in the gallery, "it's him."
The first thing Alicia did when she saw Cam Fisher at her art showing was try not to faint.
The next thing she did was grab him by the arm and drag him to a more secluded spot away from the crowd, just avert creating a scene. While she had expected him to make a rakish comment about her use of force, he remained oddly quiet and held on to a yellow gift bag with dear life.
"What," she began, crossing her arms, "are you doing here?" Those weren't the first words she imagined herself
Cam smiled brightly. "Would you believe me if I said I was a patron of the arts?"
"Not for a second."
"Oh, then," he said with a shrug, "we've got a problem. Because I really hoping you would believe that."
Alicia studied him for a moment. This was the most cleaned (and she hated to admit, handsome) up she had ever seen him. Dressed in a pair of fitted black suit and a gray shirt with an loosened black tie, he was easily one of the most formally dressed there. Alicia herself wore a pair of turquoise jeans and an off the shoulder black shirt, strikingly casual for her own showing.
"Why are you so dressed up, Cam?" she asked slowly.
He sighed dramatically. "Because," he said as he played with his tie, "like an idiot, I thought you'd be at that gala your sister was throwing and I should dress up for the occasion." He paused and laughed a bit. "Then I remembered you wouldn't be caught dead there. But, your mum's personal assistant told me about your art showing and yeah..."
"Here you are," she finished for him. Alicia didn't know quite how to feel about that. At least, she didn't know how to feel about that until the freefalling sensation in her stomach reappeared and her heartbeat quickened.
"Here I am," he repeated. Were his eyes always that green and blue?
She blinked a few times to get out of her trance. "Well, at least your nice suit didn't go to waste." But what she really wanted to ask was: why did you want to see me? A question with an answer that she was both anxious and terrified to hear.
He looked down at his suit as if he noticed it for the first time, and then he grinned widely. "Yeah, I bought it with my fancy new paycheck. I got a promotion."
"A promotion?" Alicia raised an eyebrow and bit back a smile of her own.
"Can you believe it?" He rubbed the back of his head, making his hair much messier in the process. "I walked into my department the second I got back from Spain, ready to quit and tell my boss that I couldn't find you." Then, he looked at her knowingly.
"But something strange happened," he continued, "my boss said she got a call from a Miss Alicia M. Rivera, saying that she was home safely and the only reason it took two weeks was because of passport issues at customs."
Alicia gasped in mock disbelief. "And then what happened?"
"Turns out that this Miss Alicia M. Rivera thought I was the best PI and insisted I be promoted." He exhaled. "Crazy story, right?"
"You know," he mused pointedly, "I'm starting to think that I like crazy."
Alicia had to pretend to suddenly be very interested in her watch, so he wouldn't see her flushed face. When she made the call to his workplace, she didn't think his boss would actually tell him.
Luckily, Cam quickly averted the almost awkward silence. "I wanted to thank you. For the promotion. For everything," he stated, his tone very serious. Gingerly, he handed her the bright yellow gift bag.
"Oh, I couldn't. Really, I mean I should be thanking you—" she tried to decline, pushing the bag away.
Cam rolled his eyes playfully. "Spare me the politeness, Leesh. Just open it."
Obliging, Alicia dug through the tissue paper until her hands met a sturdy leather surface. When she pulled out the present, her eyes nearly bugged out of her head.
It was a new sketchbook. Not only just a new sketchbook, a near identical copy of the one she had used when they were in Spain. With a smooth leather cover and bound with a considerable stack of fresh, thick paper—it was perfect."Wow," she breathed out, hugging the new book with far more joy than intended.
Cam bit his lip. "It's nothing special, really. I just, uh, noticed you were running out of pages and I, uh, decided to—" he stammered before Alicia cut him off.
"I love it," she said brightly, but she chose to torture Cam for a little longer. "But most people bring flowers to this kind of thing," she added teasingly.
He shrugged. "Since when am I most people?"
Another silence followed suit. In her head, Alicia knew that she would have to return to her art show eventually and it was rather rude not to be making the rounds and talking to her guests. But, she didn't want to go back. How could it be that the girl who was so unbelievably good at running away actually wanted to stay in one place?
Like always, Cam seemed to read her thoughts because he said, "Er, yeah. That was all I wanted to say. Thanks for getting me that promotion. It means a lot."
"Thanks for the sketchbook. And thanks for, you know," she trailed off, because in the moment, she knew he could finish her statement effortlessly.
"It's my job," he explained wryly. "So, uh, you've got to do your show, right? I've got a thing to go to. A very important thing—"
"You're dressed in a suit, perfect for important things," joked Alicia.
"Yeah, that too." Cam sighed. "We should just save ourselves the time and get our goodbyes over with." Alicia's stomach lurched once more, but the way his eyes were filled with light remedied it.
A little voice in her head told her that "this is it, last chance to say anything else", but then again there was never a real goodbye when it came to Cam Fisher. He always turned up again, whether she liked it or not. That one bit of reassurance was the only thing keeping her from acting out on emotion rather than common sense.
Alicia stuck out her hand. "Goodbye, Cam."
He returned the expression and shook her hand. "Goodbye, Alicia."
This time, when Cam Fisher walked away and Alicia returned to her art gallery, she felt a different emotion than the forced passiveness she had experienced in Spain. A feeling she couldn't quite place. As she made her last rounds around the gallery, she felt certain that it was simply bitter-sweetness about her wild adventure being finished. She saw and studied her paintings with a fresher eye, she decided it was gratitude. When she made made her commencing speech about her art, she thought the feeling was regret.
Until she realized, of course, that it not one of them. She was feeling all of them.
And then she did what she did best and ran.
It took Alicia seventeen whole minutes to decide that she needed to go after Cam. No matter how many times she tried to assure herself that, as they both lived in the same city, she could easily see Cam again if she really wanted to (and she really wanted to.), but she knew that it was now or never. One last chance for everything.
And it was a chance she had to take.
The second her art showing finished, Alicia skipped the customary farewells and bounded out of the gallery. Kicking off her shoes and holding them in her arms, she sprinted as fast as she could out of the building. Sure, it was a long shot. Cam was probably already well on his way to whatever important thing he had mentioned. But she'd regret it if she didn't try anyway.
In a dreadfully long elevator ride, she had the time to reflect on the irony of the situation: now he was the mouse and she was the cat.
Nearly flying out of the elevator and into the lobby, she took the time to slow down to a more casual pace and smooth out her curls. She was fine with running out of a building for him, but hell would freeze over if he ever caught her.
The city at night was always one of Alicia's favorite thing about New York. Traffic lights seemed to rival the stars and the noisy bustle of the citizens only proved the moniker of "The City That Never Sleeps." It looked as if everyone was out and about on a cool night like this, with packs of people walking by her. It's been said that finding one person in New York City was like finding a needle in a very busy haystack. Now, Alicia realized just how true that saying was as she craned her neck looking for him.
"Took you long enough," a wonderfully familiar voice whispered in her ear. When she whipped around to see the beaming face of Cameron Fisher, she didn't roll her eyes or make a sassy comment or even ignore him.
The only thing she did was throw her arms around him and do what she had wanted to do since he ambled into her crazy life: kiss him. And she did. Sliding his arms around her waist, he responded with so much enthusiasm that they were most definitely causing a scene. If Alicia had to paint what was unraveling in front of her, it would have been a frenzy of blue and green (his eyes), brown (her eyes), and red (their lips).
After what seemed to be a few minutes unintentionally disrupting the flow of sidewalk traffic, Alicia and Cam finally pulled away.
"Well, that was nice," Cam said casually with a grin. Despite the fake nonchalance, Alicia noticed that he was a little red faced and out of air himself.
"Nice?" she repeated, taking a deep breath of the smoky city air.
He wrapped an arm around her shoulder and the two of them began to stroll down the street aimlessly. "Better than nice," he corrected before adding, "Why didn't we ever do that before? It definitely would have made those two weeks more enjoyable."
She laughed, a natural, genuine laugh. "I was too busy running away."
"Oh, right," he replied dryly. "If we're going to be embracing in public like that more often, you've gotta promise me you'll stay in one place for once." There was some truth underneath his words, Alicia could detect them easily under his joking manner. But it only sent shock waves through her system. The good kind. The great kind.
"Promise you'll always come looking for me?" Beaming, she turned to face him and see his own reaction.
Not a second went by before he replied, "Always."
Time was a strange thing. Some nights passed by quickly, some nights seemed to last forever. Underneath the skyscrapers, moon, and stars, Alicia knew that with Cam she would always prefer the latter.
Heiress. Private investigator. Con artist. Thief. Girl. Boy. In the end, none of those words or titles even mattered.
Because you can run all you want, but if you're with the person who will follow you—you're home.
And home, Alicia had decided, was with her art, with Cam, and in the great and unpredictable city.
AN: So, it's all over folks.
I can't even describe how much fun it was to write this story, and I love the feedback it's gotten.
I hope you all liked the ending. You didn't think I'd leave Alicia and Cam apart, did you? Ha ha :p
Thanks so much for reading and reviewing this story, it means a lot and it inspired me to write other stories :) You all are way too amazing!