With more than a hint of irritation to her voice, the woman closed her eyes briefly against the harsh light of the stark room. Why they always came on so brightly was beyond her. Every single time she had to lower them, surely her System should understand her by now. Maybe she would get someone to take a look.
She opened her eyes as the soft humm, barely audible, started from the windows. She never closed the blinds at night through choice. Lucky enough to have the status for a third tier apartment the woman could, and often did, spend hours standing at the window watching the city around her. Status afforded her time as well as money. The blinds lifted, slowly revealing the night.
Rain pounded the almost floor to ceiling windows relentlessly, as it did often at night now. The woman did not mind in fact she liked it, it was better than the heat. At least the rain cooled the fetid air overnight. Even in summer when the temperatures soared, rain still brought relief overnight, making the early mornings bearable.
Apparently they were lucky in New York that rain still fell. Other parts had been in drought for months now.
She picked up the glass and, walking to the window, the woman took a drink as she slipped her left hand inside her pocket. Her eyes refocused from the rivulets flowing down the window pane and she looked into the night outside. The height of her tier meant that the next block on this level was just far enough away. She could only see lights and no detail through the windows. She neither knew nor cared about those people, she could not see into their lives, and they could not begin to guess at hers.
Below, she could barely see the street on account of the crowding of the lower tiers. It was steamy and busy and loud down there but the thick glass insulated her completely from the noises below. She was encased and shielded in her bubble and rain was the only sound.
Outside in the real world the city sparked, it crackled and twinkled, and was sharp. It looked infinitely more beautiful out there now than it did in the dry haze of the daytime, which was deceptive, because New York was far from beautiful. As far as her blue eyes could see, lights glimmered in the rain. Human habitation everywhere. Looking up to the sky she glimpsed the flash of the transports as they passed through the clouds, which flashed themselves with sheet lightning that always accompanied the rain at night.
The massive advertising boards over to the east in the direction of downtown rolled bright chunks of colour on a non stop loop. She was too far away to be able to read the words and see the images, instead they just added vulgar, irregular splashes of luminescence to the night. Over to the south the towers of the money houses dwarfed the residential blocks like hers. They rose from the steam and mist of the streets like mountains of granite, punctured with white and yellow. She had never seen those towers unlit and therefore idle and she doubted that she ever would.
The woman did not pay attention to herself in the glass, she was simply not interested. The reflection, splintered by the rain on the window, showed her to be around forty five years old. Her peroxide blonde hair was immaculate and absolutely of the moment. Her lips tinted a coral pink, coordinating with her perfect manicure, and her complexion very fair. She wore a jumpsuit of fine, light grey material. Cinched at the waist and ever so slightly padded at the shoulders it hugged her body perfectly. The woman was very attractive.
An emerald green pin in the lapel of her suit showed her status, not that she needed anything extraneous to denote it. It was clear to anyone who looked at her. Her carriage, her clothes, her bones even, and her voice when she spoke - clear, smooth and confident, eloquent and educated. The woman was privileged, whether that was by birth or virtue was irrelevant.
Lost in her thoughts at the window, the woman lifted the glass to her lips and was surprised to find it empty. Still thirsty, still needing to soothe and to satiate she turned away from the window and strode to the unit, placing her glass down on the counter.
She returned to the glass and took another sip, the empty feeling inside was still there, despite the drink. Should she eat? No, she could not muster the enthusiasm. Later she would. For now, she walked over to the chair and sat.
The only item of furniture in the room, the chair, placed exactly in the and middle and facing the glass, was an anachronism. High backed and firm, sumptuously upholstered in a deep burgundy velvet, it's dark mahogany legs curved to stand gracefully on the spotless polished floor. Chairs like this were simply not made anymore. Form had long since given way to function. There were no true craftsmen left, there was barely any wood for them to work with. The woman’s job was to locate pieces like this for the very wealthy. Only the very rich could afford this sort of item and only a few of them had the taste for it. People were caring less for “beautiful” things, they wanted clever things, labour saving things, sleek, sharp, things that blended in with their sleek and sharp environments.
The woman considered herself a curator and had always collected pieces for herself along the way. She had searched long and hard for this chair, been patient. Knowing exactly what she wanted the woman had certainly paid for it, probably more than it was worth actually, but she had paid gladly. The beauty of this object, especially when juxtaposed with the starkness of her space, was striking to her. She did not understand why really, why it was so perfect to her but it was nonetheless. It did not require explanation and so she sought none. It seemed natural to her to desire it, it gave her great pleasure now that she had it and that was enough.
The woman rested her glass on the arm and put her head back against the chair, hearing the click of the connection as her head made contact with the fabric. Modification had been another expense. She felt the familiar buzz, briefly uncomfortable but passing quickly, and she closed her eyes in order to be ready.
“The Ritz Tower Hotel.”
Her breath catches as she sees the brunette sit down at the table. From inside the telephone booth Carol has a view of the restaurant’s seating area, deciding to wait there so she could be sure to arrive after Therese. She did not want to contemplate the embarrassment of being stood up tonight, she’s been through that before.
Carol places her hand out to touch the glass - as if doing so will bring her closer to the woman outside. She cannot bring herself to open the door, not just yet. Therese looks well, she looks older, what is it? She’s holding herself taller and straighter, or so it seems to Carol. She has a new haircut, it’s stylish and - is she wearing makeup? Yes - it suits her. Carol smiles to herself as she always does each and every time. It looks as though being away from her has done the younger woman good. She has an air of confidence, visible even from a distance.
Therese sits and exchanges words with the waiter, who is taking her coat and placing it on the back of her chair. He laughs, she smiles. He leaves her seated and she looks composed. Carol studies her from behind, her shoulders are square and her head high. The brunette delves into her handbag for something but comes up empty, laying the bag on her lap and folding her hands there. Therese does not look as though she is planning on staying for long.
Perhaps I should leave her be after all…. perhaps my influence was not a good one?
Carols thoughts turn against her. Perhaps she would only add complication to the younger woman’s life - bringing her past, her future to Therese - perhaps this is not the right thing to do after all. Selfish - is she being so utterly selfish?
Feeling a familiar panic rise in her chest, Carol places her forehead against the cool glass of the booth. Calm down, calm down…
She puts her hand out onto the brass push plate to get out of the booth but her feet simply will not move. Come on, don’t do this
Am I doing the right thing?
The woman frowned and lifted her head slowly - feeling the release at the back of her skull. She rubbed her temples - irritated with herself for allowing her mind to wander like that. She knew it would not work like that, that direction is no good, she had been that way.
Carol took a deep breath and rested her head back again. Click, buzz,
“Anyway, the apartment’s a nice one, big enough for two. I thought you might like to come and live with me but I guess you won’t.” Carol's gaze travelled up from the table where it had been nervously resting and her eyes met Therese’s, “Would you?”
“No. I don’t think so.”
“Please - Therese - please.”
Carol lays her cigarette in the ashtray and places her hands flat on the table, breathing deeply and trying, desperately trying, to stay calm. She knows she only has seconds to change the younger woman’s mind. Over and over again she’s been through this scenario...
“I’m so sorry Therese, so sorry. I’ve never regretted anything, anything, the way I regret leaving you, walking away from you like that. I torture myself with it Therese. With regret over it.”
It’s not working, it never works,
“If you knew how, how I miss you, how I’ve thought about you every single minute of every single day since -”
“Oh, I know that Carol. I understand that.”
Nothing for it.
“I love you.”
Carol has to say it, she feels compelled to say it every time. There was quite simply nothing else to say. Everything else was irrelevant to her, literally nothing mattered other than the love that she felt at that moment for the small woman seated opposite her. The blonde hoped against hope that Therese would feel it, that she would see that in her eyes.
But then why was the young woman’s face so unreadable. Why was she so impassive, so cold? What could Carol possibly say to make her see…
A man’s voice.
“Therese, is that you?”
Blackness. The woman’s eyes remained closed.
This technology is imperfect. There are certain things that simply cannot be changed. Certain words - behaviours sometimes. A cigarette that has to be smoked, a hand that must be shaken, an “I love you” that has to be released. No one fully understands the brain’s capacity to recall and reimagine and the blurry line where the two meet. Sometimes Carol can say whatever she chooses to Therese and on other nights the same script flows from her mouth despite trying with every fibre in her to say something new. Jack does not always come along at that point, sometimes he comes earlier, before Carol has even mentioned her apartment and sometimes he comes as Therese stands up to leave. She has punched Jack in the face on more than one occasion in an attempt to shut the stupid man up.
It does not work. Nothing has worked - yet.
Carol knew she could spend her evenings reliving other, softer moments from her time with Therese - indeed from anywhere in her life. Time with Abby, even happy times with Harge, or darker but still satisfying times with the nameless girls she picked up during the time directly after Therese broke it off. She has spent hours and hours going back to visit different memories but finds herself returning here, coming back to this - what she believes to be the defining, pivotal moment - the moment when Therese chose “No”.
No - she would not come to the Oak Room. No, she would not seek Carol out. No, she could not forgive her. No, they would never see each other again.
Surely it could be changed. Somewhere, in some alternate plane of reality, Carol would persuade her - not even persuade - make the other woman realise the simple truth that she was the best choice. That she should say Yes.