Encounters E

Encounters D – Corine starts her new job. Ian is rejected by Freda and has his way with Ali.

He’d made love to her, she’d lost count of how many times.

Rolling onto one side of the kingsize bed Ali stared, mesmorised by the empty space, holding Ian’s pillow, breathing in his cologne.

Ian said sorry, a dozen times, sorry he had to go, sorry he had to leave her.

Ali stayed in the warm bed watching him get dressed, back into his grey suit and baby blue shirt.

He came over and sat on the edge of the bed, Ali moved nearer, reaching for his hand.

“Stay” she whispered.

But he stood up and looked down on her.

Unsmiling he leaned down, kissed her gently on the cheek then broke away. He got to the door and blew another kiss. The door clicked the room into silence.

Silence except for the incessant ticking of a digital clock, showing two twenty am. Ali gulped at a glass of the flat champagne, propped up a pillow, hugged another, curled up and dozed off.

She woke not knowing where she was for a moment then stretched out for her phone.

No texts, nothing.

“I can’t do this anymore.” she whispered chucking the phone across the room.

It was Ian and Ali’s third visit to the Ballifscourt Hotel. Ian was generous, always paying for a taxi home, always a good dinner, but leaving her, after everything that had gone on in that bed made her feel cheap.

Lucy’s words rang in her ears, helping her make up her mind. Ian was never ever going to treat her like this again.

Ian strode out of the hotel, his feet not touching the ground, reliving the ecstasy of the night, relishing the pivotal moments. He’d got away with it again! He gets home, pops his head round the girls room, then goes into their bathroom to wash away the sex. He inches up the creaking stairs to his own bedroom, drops his clothes at the side and steals into bed almost choking on the putrid stink of stale cigarette smoke. He listens to Freda’s breathing, slow and steady. Little did he know Freda would lie awake, as soon as the car’s headlights shone into the bedroom she’d check the time.

Ali’s at work, her brain cartwheeling, how to do this? Get out of this.

Ian had already text her twice, again her mobile buzzed, she knew it was him.

“Fancy escaping? Mash Tun at 12.00.Can’t wait to see you. XXX.”

Ali leans back on her chair and tells Jane who sits behind her she’s going for an early lunch.

Jane glances at Ali’s face.

“All OK with you? she asks.

“Nothing I can’t handle.”

In the ladies Ali touches up her make up, sprays Joop on her clothes and leaves the office by the back door where the smokers hang out. She frowns and shakes her head, furious with Ian and mad at herself, her breathing quickens thinking how she’s screwed up.

A guy who she’d always fancied is huddled with the group of smokers, he turns round from the circle and gives her a look, Ali glares back and strides off to the pub, her cheeks burning against the cold.

Ali spots Ian in one of the dark corners, downing a pint of lager. She weaves past a few guys who try to catch her eye as she walks straight over to Ian. By the look on Ali’s face Ian knew something was up.

“You OK?” quickly looking over her shoulder and kissing her on the cheek.

“Need a drink.”

“Right back” he raises his hand in acknowledgement and pushes past the drinkers to the bar.

“Hey lovely, what’s wrong?” he asks as he comes back with the drinks.

Ian is stunned into silence as he listens to Ali, Ali telling him she’s never going to the hotel again and why.

His heart flips at the thought of not seeing her.

“Ali, I understand, leave it with me, we’ll go away for a couple of days, can you get time off?”

Plans were made.

Lies were told.

Ian puts himself on a technical update course. It was to be in Birmingham. He waits his moment and catches Freda, looks her in the eyes as he tells her about the course and gives her the number of the hotel, ‘ in case of emergency ‘ he said. She writes the number on a postit and sticks it on the fridge.

Bad weather was cancelling a lot of things, snow was forecast. Ian prays the roads will be ok. Ali buys new clothes and spends a lot of time in the lingerie department, texting Ian, describing what she’s buying.

Ian rolls up outside Birmingham New Street station revving up his new Audi TT.

Throwing her bags in the back Ali brings a rush of cold air with her as she jumps into the warm car.

They don’t speak until they’re near the hotel.

“Almost there.” Ian says.

The car’s wheels crunch on the impacted ice, the Audi glides along the twists and turns of the driveway, sentried by hundreds of pine trees, their branches dragged down with snow. Snow falling silently, glittering in the car’s headlights. Ian pulls up outside the huge edifice of Harringtons Manor Park Hotel, originally a Neo-Gothic country house set in forty acres of woodland.

They check in as Mr. and Mrs. Drummond.

Once in their suite they can’t take their eyes off each other. The porter drives them crazy insisting on showing them things; the drinks fridge; how the power shower worked, the balcony lights!

Later, hunger gets the better of them, reluctantly they leave the four poster bed, shower and change. At the top of the stairs Ian stops and pulls Ali close to him, plays with her hair and whispers.

“I’d forgotten how beautiful you are.”

Holding hands they make their way down one of many staircases that led to the reception area. A waiter, dapper in his black and white steps back as the couple walk into the Oak Room Restaurant, breathing in the drowning scent of burning orange peel and pine cones.

It was late, they were the only diners.

“Good evening sir, madam.” the waiter bows as he greets them, and the Maître d’hotel hurries over ushering them to a table near the roaring fire, the fire flickers flames that dance round the high walls making giant shadows. White starched linen tablecloths reach down to the carpet, Ali giggles as she feels Ian tickle her leg under the table. Waiters hover at every elbow then disappear. Ali and Ian drink a lot and pick at the food, then leave. Up the staircases, supporting each other, telling each other to be quiet, whispering, giggling.

Feeling warm and stretched out asleep on the bed Ali thought she was dreaming, in her dream a phone was ringing. She snuggles her body up against Ian’s back. But no, it was real, it was a phone ringing!

A piercing noise coming from the table next to Ian, yes, a phone. Ali peers at the clock/radio.

Six ten am!

Ian groans, switches the light on and reaches for the phone.

“Yes… that’s me?”

He sits up.

“Yes.”

“She’s where!?”

“Yes.”

“No, she doesn’t know.”

Ian’s face drains of colour.

Ali pulls the duvet round her, giving Ian a puzzled look.

“Yes, thanks.”

“I see.”

“Keep her there…yes… yes…I’m coming down.”

Turning to Ali, he flings off the duvet, jumps out of bed shouting…

“Ali! get your stuff out! my wife, I mean Freda…she’s in reception…just get out quickly!

I’m going down to sort her.”

“You’re what!!!?”

“Oh God.”

“Just do it” he shouts, pulling on some clothes.

“Clear the place.” he waves his arms.

Ian rushes to the door, stops, picks up a folded note, reads it and stuffs it in his back pocket.

Ali sits up in bed, aware her heart’s thumping. She slides off the bed, spins round, throws on some clothes.

“My God, My God.” she keeps saying.

She tries stuffing a bag under the bed, it won’t go. She flies round the room, picking up clothes, shoes, mess, jamming things into bags. Dashes to the bathroom, sweeping her junk off the shelves, shoving the ice bucket and champagne into the wardrobe.

A last quick check, her perfume! She almost missed it!

Struggling with her bags Ali leaves the room and turns into the corridor, looks to the right then left. There’s a staircase going up.

She takes it.

Gets to a landing, a door… “Staff Only” turns the handle, switches on the light, dumps her bags shutting the door behind, finds a stone step in the corner to sit on and looks around.

It’s some kind of larder, hundreds of pots of jams, stacks of breakfast stuff. With a shaky hand Ali lights a cigarette. Slowly she takes a mirror from her make up bag and starts brushing her hair, looks up and sees a ‘no smoking’ sign.

Ali’s just about to venture out when the door handle moves. A maid comes in carrying a large tray.

Seeing Ali she screams, drops the tray. SMASH! Spoons fly, glasses crash to the floor.

“Maidre” cries the maid.

Ali bends down to help pick up the mess.

“I can’t really explain, her eyes widen as she looks at the girl ………if you could get someone to come up and see me?”

Minutes later the head receptionist comes into the larder, ducking at the low ceiling and smiles at Ali.

“Good morning Mrs. Drummond, if you come with me we can go somewhere quiet.”

“Here, let me take your bags for you.”

Ali is sipping coffee and gazing out of the window at the snow when Ian breezes in with the Head Receptionist. He goes over to Ali and puts his arm round her waist. Ali swings round, brushing him off, moves to a long table and sits down at the long table that’s been set up for a meeting.

“I’ll leave you two.” said the receptionist “I’ll send up more coffee.”

Ian sits down at the head of the table next to Ali who is on the edge of her seat, her arms folded.

She listens.

“She’s gone now Ian smiles…she phoned in the middle of the night, said there was a family emergency. Stupid reception told her that ‘Mr. and Mrs. Drummond’ didn’t want to be disturbed. I can’t believe she drove all the way up here, in the snow! I took her up to the room, our room, showed her there was no one there, she even looked under the bed! Then I told her to go home. I have a heavy day ahead” Ian throws his head back and laughs.

“And she went? she fell for it, believed you!!!? what about the note under the door?”

“The note, well, that was the message from her saying call home, urgent.”

“You see? they didn’t disturb us, as I told them.”

Ian reaches for Ali’s hand, but she pulls it away.

“She’s gone? driving in this weather, home?”

“Yes, what else could she do?”

“Oh no.” Ali says under her breath, staring at the snow that’s now falling thick and fast.

Back in their room Ali unpacks a few things. Ian does most of the talking, Ali busies herself doing her nails. Ian picks up the house phone and orders two breakfasts.

Ian heads off to the jacuzzi.

“I’ll join you when my nails dry.” Ali says.

Ian lets his body sink into the hot bubbling water, leans back on the plastic seats and looks round.. cup holders are in place next to a tray of spirits and a bottle of cava in an ice bucket. It’s a massive jacuzzi just off the main reception area, built touching the sills of tall lofty windows that overlook the woodland. Ian soaks up the surreal atmosphere, he’s warm and it’s snowing all around him, icicles are hanging from window ledges. He reaches for a vodka and smiles, thinking how he’s got away with it, thinking of last night. Ali. Ali, she’ll be here soon.

Ian loses track of time, has an hour gone by? A grandfather clock in the lobby strikes twelve, can it be right? What’s happened to Ali?

His skin crinkly he heaves himself out and pulls the towelling robe round him, puts on the slippers and pads over to reception. Leans on the desk. “Call 305 – Emerald Suite” he demands.

Ian taps his fingers on the desk.

“It’s still ringing Sir, no reply, shall I try somewhere else?”

Abruptly Ian turns and goes to the staircase, taking the stairs two at a time as he calls Ali on his mobile.

Voicemail.

Jams his keycard into the door of their room, flings it open.

“Ali, Ali” he shouts.

Slams back the wardrobe door, her side is bare.

Dashes to the bathroom, an empty shelf. He dials reception.

“Did Mrs. Drummond order a taxi?”

“I’ll check Sir, just a moment.”

“No Sir, I’ve checked with my colleagues.”

“Well, has she left a message?

“No messages Sir.”

He hangs up. Tries her mobile. Nothing.

His head is spinning.

His face is red.