Hey again everyone. Just had several weeks of grueling tests to take care of. That and writing essays for graduate applications can really take a toll on you.
Anyway, just finished fine-tuning this last installment, and I'm thankful for everyone who's been reading and reviewing. Hope everyone continues to enjoy this story.
The room was remarkably elegant. Famous artists and critics had come in from all over the city, dolled up in their most stunning outfits, eager to admire the artwork, laugh at each other's weak jokes, and bask in the self-fueled glow of their own self-importance.
Phoebe never really cared much for these functions because of just how many wolves-in-sheep's-clothing there were. The pretentious atmosphere had always proven too uncomfortable to warrant any particular enjoyment. Still, she had a role to play, and though she still felt melancholy about the earlier events of the day, she was committed to playing her part in the gala and keeping her personal grievances from affecting the atmosphere of the museum, or the presentation she was about to give.
Phoebe was, as per usual, dressed with absolute precision to deliver her presentation with looks as well as words. Her hair, though not curly like most of the noble women depicted in Late Roman Republican art, was set atop her head in a disc that allowed strands to dangle behind her head and near her ears to evoke some of the pop culture ideas of women in the ancient Mediterranean region. She had shunned her glasses for this presentation and settled on contacts, though they caused her great discomfort and gave her eyes a physical impetus to tear up. In conjunction with her emotional impetus it was a recipe for disaster, but she had long since chosen to forgo her own comforts for the sake of her work.
She had carefully chosen a gown to evoke the motifs of the Italian peninsula. The white chiton she wore was overlaid with a purple himation with some encrusted glitter to give her clothes a slight iridescence and other-worldliness. Any group she walked by seemed to open a gap in its ring, seeking to invite her in. She smiled at everyone, but felt that she should just get closer the podium and prepare her presentation. If nothing else it would allow her a short reprieve from all that she'd been through earlier.
I wonder if gala sub-groups can be compared to phagocytic cellular processes or hormonal receptors? She pondered as she walked by. A free-floating body moves nearby, an opening appears, and the body is enticed to enter and become incorporated with the host organism. One more bit of applied research she thought of looking into in the coming years.
She made her way to the podium and began toying with her side bag. Everything had already been set up, so this once-over was rather unnecessary, but it gave Phoebe an excuse to be alone. Before she knew it, the time had come, and the curator stepped forward to introduce the research, the expert involvement of the presenter Ms. Heyerdahl, and the gratitude of the museum to the Japan International Cooperation Agency. Phoebe ascended the podium amid a tepid round of applause from the floor, but she didn't mind. The subject was not one of great interest among most of the people present, even though it was for such work that they were contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars to the upkeep of the museum and the financing of such endeavors to preserve cultural and artistic history.
She settled into her place on the podium and proceeded to outline the basic aims of the research team and what it meant to the continuing research about the transition of artistic – and consequently social, religious, political and even military – practices among the ancient Romans. She noticed only a few members of the crowd listening intently, and she reminded herself that they were probably university professors of Art History, or Political Science. Still the suave nature of her speech, the shy glances she gave to members of the audience, and the imagery evoked by her choice of attire conspired to keep a great majority of the gala attendants looking her way, if not engrossed in the talk.
As she neared the end of her speech and focused on acknowledging the more in-depth, and continuing, research of the Italian archaeologists with whom she'd worked, Phoebe's glance traveled around the gala, trying to give every listener a feeling that she was speaking directly to them. She found time and again that this proved to be the best way to end a presentation. Then in the process of addressing the room, and its individuals, her eyes came to a point not far from the entrance of the museum where she espied a tall figure wearing an onyx buttoned-down without a tie, and a creased pair of khaki slacks over a pair of black, leather dress shoes. He wasn't as stiff or richly adorned as the other men in the hall, but the combination of colors from his clothes and skin, and his towering height, rendered him quite dashing. Phoebe's speech veered off for a moment, as she appraised him. He smiled.
Phoebe quickly recovered and carried on. Though she wanted to keep the ending pace slow enough to give the chief investigators of Rome their due in this study, she wanted more than anything else at that moment for her speech to end so she could get down off that podium. In what felt like both an eternity, and yet almost no time at all, she found herself saying:
"And that ladies and gentlemen, concludes my presentation. Thank you all very much."
She was met with a more enthusiastic round of applause as she descended from the dais, leaving the podium to the curator who continued to address the attendants. As Phoebe made her way through the crowd, she was assaulted by a wave of mawkish attendants who showered her with praises over a subject she sincerely doubted most of them even understood. She politely thanked them and excused herself, not wanting to allow the unexpected guest at the back of the room to have second thoughts and try to abscond.
"What are you doing here?" She asked as soon as she cleared the gauntlet.
"What am I doing..." Gerald mused somberly with his eyes down and his full lips in a pensive pout. "Well I looked at my calendar around five this afternoon and saw that I didn't have school, or coaching, or anything else tonight or tomorrow, and when I thought about what I could do, I came up with a couple options.
"One," and for emphasis he placed the index finger of his left hand on the same finger of his right hand, "go shoot some hoops by myself.
"Two," he now bent his right middle finger under the left index as well, "call up some friends to go hang out.
"Or three…" he grasped his left index finger with the fingers of his right hand, "…sneak into a VIP art lecture-slash-fundraiser-slash... whatever-this-is, and convince the most amazing person I ever have or ever will know that I don't want us to go our separate ways again."
He pursed his lips and nodded his head.
"I'll admit it took me almost five full seconds to decide which of those choices made the most sense."
"No Pheebs, I'm not letting you get the first say this time. You'll come up with an argument to prove why I'm being irrational, sophomoric or just plain stupid, then my reasons will sound even more childish than they already do, and we'll just be left in the same place we were this morning and that's not where I want us to be and I don't think you want us to be there either. So please just let me say what I want to say."
He took another breath and began. She didn't make any attempt to interject.
"Phoebe, I know we have a history that's, among other things, filled with a long interlude of silence. And right now we're each doing our own thing. I'm here teaching and coaching. And you, you're..." he looked down and away for a second and began to grin before meeting her eyes again and proceeding. "You're a ship with no anchor and every square yard of sail rigged girl. I mean every wave, every gust of wind, every current below your hull... all of it pulls you every which way. I know the situation isn't easy. In fact, I've really only been able to find one part of it that could possibly be called 'easy'. But those facts aside, I don't want us to just go our separate ways and say that that's OK and it's just what it is."
"Gerald…" she stopped to think for a moment, but as he opened his mouth to continue she was able to structure her thoughts and beat him to it.
"There were some wonderful times Gerald, I know. There are some memories that I'll carry with me forever, and happily so. But like you say... hi thank you..." her reply was cut off by the intrusion of an elegant woman tapping her on the shoulder and complimenting her on her talk.
When the woman had moved on, Phoebe resumed. "...like you say, we're in different places now. You're here making your mark, I'm... I'm going to places all over the world, all the time. There's no one else who lives my kind of life, and god forbid anyone should even try to keep up with me..."
"Pheebs," he interposed. "I'm not asking you to have me live your life. No more than I'm asking you to live mine. You're the smartest person I know, and if you think what you're doing is what's right for Phoebe then it must be right for Phoebe. All I want is for Phoebe to be a part of Gerald's life, and I'm asking Phoebe to let Gerald be a part of her life. And I don't mean as a few fond memories and some photos in your bag. I want us to be flesh and blood people for each other. I want to be the person you call when your plane lands so you can tell me you're safe. I want to be the person you turn to when the going gets rough because you know I'll support you and believe in you. I want to be the person who'll share your successes and failures with equally because you know what matters to you matters to me too.
"That's what I want to be for you, and I want you to be the same for me."
Phoebe had wanted to give a rejoinder, but found at this point she could only stare wide-eyed. Gerald always had a knack for eloquence and sophisticated debate and public speaking, but he had just about outdone himself with this.
"And I know we can't see each other every day, or be together whenever, but we can make something work. You can call me or write me, and we can see each other through the computer, and find times to meet whenever you're in town or within… maybe two hundred miles given my current state of finances."
A rich giggle found its way through her stoic countenance.
"Phoebe..." he paused and couldn't stifle a grin of his own. "All right girl, you let me make my foolish, half-baked case and didn't interrupt... so thanks. Now you say something. What are you thinking?"
She tightened her lips and smiled. Her cheeks bunched up under her eyes and tears started to edge to the corners. Another moment in this fantasy he'd built for her and she knew they would start falling.
"Gerald, you make it all sound so plausible... so charmingly sweet..." and then her lips started to droop and her eyes cast themselves downwards. "But be realistic, how can that work? Different time zones, crazy schedules and commitments... and tell me, honestly, in this already wildly complicated scenario, what part of it is easy? I mean this is like something out of some crazy romantic-comedy. Real people in situations like this can't keep..."
"I love you Phoebe."
Phoebe had to catch herself on that one. The slight smile that she still kept on her lips suddenly fell, her eyes went wide and she nearly fell over in a swoon. She mentally noted that if she hadn't done her breathing before the presentation, and been riding a high from the success of the talk, she would probably now be on the floor. As it was, she stumbled to the side and Gerald shot out to grab her, even though she had stabilized herself before she had actually suffered a fall. Holding her in his forearms she found that he had also grasped her hand with his own. She looked down at his strong, dark hand as it held her delicate, white digits. She could feel the tenderness behind the firmness of his touch. Looking up she saw the resolve and earnestness in his eyes, and she knew, beyond any shadow of a doubt, he was telling her the truth. His dark eyes were warm and tender, and his face, though marked by his characteristic calmness of demeanor, was clearly filled with trepidation at being so forward with his feelings. He was terrified that this could go wrong, but even so, he was being brave and speaking his mind.
Keeping her eyes fixed with his, Phoebe slowly straightened up, holding both of his hands in her own just inches in front of her hammering heart.
"You... you mean that?" She knew the answer, but she couldn't deny herself this little vanity of wanting to hear him say more.
"With all of my being, and all that I have to give, feel or show in this world. I love you Phoebe Heyerdahl."
He stepped forward and took her in his arms. When she returned the embrace he lifted her bodily into the air and her smile was augmented with a giggle. A few gala attendants looked at them with scandalous expressions, but neither Phoebe nor Gerald paid any mind to them. He set her down, and though she desperately wanted her lips and his to become reacquainted, she had enough sense of public propriety to indulge in nothing further than a hug.
When they came apart, they clasped hands together again and their eyes found each other.
"Do you have anything more here?" he asked. "Any toasts you gotta give or people you need to meet?"
She did. The gala fundraiser had been arranged months ago, but as the main attraction of the evening, she would no doubt be subject to a great many toasts, dances and invitations to talk, share and further extrapolate on her experiences in this project and the other work she was involved in. And yet, for the first time – in a very long time – Phoebe felt she really had something that was more important for her to attend to than her work.
She shook her head.
Gerald knew she was lying, but seeing the smile on her face he couldn't bring himself to suggest they stay for the sake of appearances. "How about we go grab a bite?"
She smiled. "Parkside?"
Gerald let go of one hand as he turned sideways and extended his elbow. "Sounds like a plan."
"Let me just grab my bag. Will you wait for me?"
He smirked. "Always and forever."
Her heart thundered as she let go of his hand. She raced through the crowd, exclaiming excuse me and pardon me the whole way. She quickly collected her laptop, bag and overcoat and drew a pair of sneakers from the bag as she made her way back through the crowd in the opposite direction.
She was back at his side in less than two minutes.
Phoebe and Gerald made their way to the museum entrance and said good night to the volunteer docent that stood at the doorway. The docent wished them well, but before they could get clear of the door, the curator came running up behind them, spluttering all the way.
"Ms. Heyerdahl! Ms. Heyerdahl!" Only when she caught up to Phoebe and her tall associate did she stop and catch her breath. "Surely... (gasp)... surely you're not leaving now? We'll be toasting to the success of your project in only a few minutes."
Walking out of a party for which she had a special role to play was something Phoebe had never done before, and she had been silently praying that she'd get through the doors without being caught. Under any other circumstances she would never renege on such a kind invitation, even if it was a party she didn't care for. But given the current situation she would forgive herself this breech of conduct, and she hoped the curator would forgive her too.
"I'm sorry, but I think the success of this project belongs to the people who are sticking with it. And I'm sorry to be leaving so soon, but there is an... important matter to which I must attend."
"More important than your own GALA?"
Phoebe looked to Gerald and smiled before turning back.
"I'm very sorry, but it is. Thank you so much for the lovely evening, but I must go. My best wishes to all the guests. Good night." And with that she turned on her heel, grabbed Gerald by his shirt front and dragged him out the door. The curator for her part, though flummoxed by the abruptness of the departure of her primary VIP, accepted it with good grace, and after taking a moment to straighten herself out, returned to the main hall and the perplexed group of attendants that stood waiting for the guest of honor that had left so suddenly.
The evening proceeded without further disturbance or incident.
When they got clear of the museum entrance, Phoebe stopped a moment to kneel down, strip off her heels, and slip on her sneakers. Gerald just looked at the whole process with a quizzical expression.
"You just carry a pair of sneakers around in your bag whenever you go to a ball or museum?"
She gave him a mischievous look. "You'd be amazed what I have to do in my line of work."
"I'm sure I would." He nodded and offered her his hand to assist her up as she finished tying her laces. She took his hand and stood, but as he started walking, she let go and in one bound hopped up on his back, grabbing his hips with her thighs, sticking her legs out in front, and gripping his shoulders to keep her upright. He staggered a moment in his attempt to right himself.
"So I'm just supposed to carry us both to Parkside?"
"Just to the Zoo Bridge and then I'll walk."
Phoebe knew that the bridge marked the border of the Park and all the museums contained within. It was this man who now carried her that had convinced her to take a reprieve from all the work and responsibilities she had within the park, it seemed fitting to have him help bear her the rest of the way through the Park until she could get outside the borders and walk the streets on her own. Gerald didn't quite pick up on the symbolism that this represented for his unanticipated passenger, but he was willing enough to bear her a few hundred yards until they got to the bridge. So he hiked her up his backside to free up his hips and began to hustle forward. She giggled and he sped up faster and faster.
Phoebe knew this morning would come, and now, though a handful of resolutions had been reached and some plans and promises had been made, she was still feeling trepidation about leaving. Her mother and father would forgive her spending one more day in New York if they knew it was personal and not for work, but she had made a promise to them, and knew she'd have to be back to her work at headquarters in Tokyo within another couple weeks. No, she had to go. But it was ever so hard to do so. Though last night and the early hours of that morning made going AWOL a particularly interesting option.
Looking at the security check-in lines and noting the time, Phoebe knew she had to hustle, but she wanted to savor every moment she could before needing to race through. For once she didn't think about the crowd movements, the time delays, or the little nuances of the great systems that were in operation all around her. For once she just wanted to let it all roll by and have nothing to do with any of it. Looking up into Gerald's deep brown eyes and seeing him smile caused tears to well up in her eyes.
"You promise me you'll call?" she asked for the fourth time since she'd gotten out of the cab at the terminal entrance.
He gave her his customary 'no worries' grin and embraced her. He held lightly, as was his wont, while she gripped him as though she intended to squeeze his very flesh through their clothes. When she felt she could hug no tighter and sensed her arms would soon give out, she let go and looked up into his eyes again. He too looked distraught at her departure, and yet there was a look in his eyes that said he was at peace with the situation.
"Not every day. I don't want you getting tired of hearing me."
She gave an exasperated huff and grabbed his head to bring their lips together. His kiss came sweet and sure.
"Well, at least four times a week then." He said as their lips parted.
She laughed and hugged him again. He walked with her to the official, where she handed him her passport and allowed her to pass. She felt so reluctant then to leave that she turned around and stood there staring at her man while the other air travelers continued to file through the gate. Gerald squeezed her hand and mouthed I love you. Phoebe's demeanor broke and her tears began to flow. Gerald reached out his hand to wipe them away and she felt herself begin to cry even harder.
"You know Pheebs, I'm trying to keep that beautiful face of yours tear-free and I have to say you're... well kind of confounding the effort."
The sob that had been building in her throat broke free as a laugh. She grabbed his cleaning hand and pulled him close enough to give one last kiss.
When they released, she walked through the gate, glancing occasionally in front of her to make sure she didn't run into anyone, but constantly looking back at Gerald. He started walking backwards, nearly clipping a few people with his elbows as he went, but never letting his eyes leave her. Only when she had to turn and go through the TSA security checkpoint did he turn around and leave. Likewise, she didn't look around again.
As the plane taxied out onto the runway and Phoebe got a last peak at the city she'd called home as a young girl, she felt certain she'd be back again soon.
And, she hoped, the most important part of that city would one day be joined with her indefinitely. Here or there.
Author: And that's a wrap.