Ripples (Part 2)
by BJ Neblett
August 3, 10:32 AM
The Hamptons, New York
Valerie White had a hangover. This was nothing new for Valerie White. Not to say that she was an alcoholic. No. But Valerie White enjoyed the way alcohol made her feel. She liked the way it loosened her, relaxed her. And she loved the way it made all of the troubles and tribulations of being young and rich and beautiful and single seem to disappear. What she didn’t like was the way it made her feel the morning after. And this particular morning after was a doozey.
It was her birthday, her twenty fifth. Valerie and a couple of close friends had gone out to celebrate over a simple dinner. But nothing in Valerie White’s life was ever simple. By midnight the friends numbered over thirty, some of whom she didn’t recognize. And the party had moved to a private corner of the hottest and trendiest night spot in New York City.
Now Valerie lay in her oversized bed, watching her posh and over done bedroom slowly revolve about her.
“Did daddy buy me a carousel for my birthday?” she moaned.
“What’s the matter? You always said the world revolved around you.” Valerie’s kid sister Amy swallowed a sagacious smile. “Close your eyes, it’ll help.”
“When I close my eyes I see little pink spots,” Valerie reported uneasily.
“Here, drink this.” Sitting on the edge of the bed, Amy held a steaming cup to her sister’s lips. Valerie took a long sip.
She almost gagged.
“Eeew! What is that stuff?”
“English breakfast tea,” Amy replied, stifling another giggle at her sister’s distress.
Valerie half opened one eye, sniffed cautiously at the tea, wrinkled her pert, perfect, expensive nose, and pushed the cup away. “Yuck! How can they drink that stuff? No wonder the British are all prune faced and stuffy! Where’s my coffee?”
Amy rose, setting the cup on the night stand. She looked down at the prone figure of her big sister. “Some role model you turned out to be! No wonder mom and dad decided to have me.”
Valerie’s road mapped eyes yawned fully open and she glared at Amy. “Just get me my coffee… please!”
“Sorry, we’re all out. Daddy had the last this morning. And the city as well as the country and the rest of the world are dry as prohibition. Since the major coffee bean growers went out on strike in support of the independents nobody is getting their coffee fix, nobody. Daddy says it all has to do with health care or something, I don’t know. But coffee futures are through the roof. I’ve never seen daddy happier.”
“Great… the rich get richer… meanwhile, I’m riding a king size Sealy roller coaster and my tongue feels like it needs shaving.”
Reaching the door, Amy stopped, turned and smiled sweetly. “Try a cold shower. Happy birthday, sis,” she chirped with a devilish grin and was gone.
By noon Valerie was feeling almost human. She wandered into the large, ornate, over done White family study. “Mother, father,” she announced in a serious tone, “I’ve made a decision.”
Her sister, sprawled on the floor with an Archie comic book, rolled her sparkly hazel eyes. “I’ll alert the media.”
“That’s nice honey,” her mother answered without looking up from her knitting.
“Ah, there you are. Happy birthday, Princess,” her father called from behind his newspaper.
Valerie surveyed her family, shaking her pretty blonde head. She started to leave, but then changed her mind. “No, I’m serious. I’ve decided to quit drinking. Not just cut down or anything, but quit completely, cold turkey.” Holding up one hand, she dramatically cupped the over her heart. “No more alcohol for Valerie White. I’ve learned my lesson, especially if I can’t get any more coffee.”
Amy dropped her comic book, “Maybe I should notify the media.”
“That’s nice, honey,” her mother calmly repeated.
Valerie’s blue eyes narrowed and she scrunched up her face. “Daddy, what do you think?”
“Whatever you like, Princess,” he replied, stealing a peak at his oldest daughter before returning to his Wall Street Journal.
“It’s ok with him,” Amy commented slyly. “He doesn’t deal in alcohol futures.” With that she grinned, sticking her tongue out at her sister.
“Well, it’s my decision, and from this moment on no more alcohol,” Valerie called out, ignoring Amy, and stomping one dainty foot in petulant determination.
“And what about Brad Harrington?” Amy asked, voicing her parent’s thoughts. “Don’t you have a date with him tonight?”
“Oh… well…” The question made Valerie pause to think. Boorish Brad was bad enough, but sober? She wasn’t sure if she could take the obstinate heir while sober. “No,” she said at last, stomping her foot again. “No, I’ve decided. Valerie White is on the wagon. Brad will understand.”
“I don’t understand…”
“What did you say?”
“I said, ‘What?’”
Valerie grabbed Brad Harrington by his Sean John collar, dragging him from the tightly packed dance floor.
“Hey, watch it. You made me spill my drink,” Brad protested over the bone numbing thump of the trendy club’s bass. “What’s with you tonight, anyway?”
“What’s with me?” Frustration twisted Valerie’s carefully made up face. “You hardly said a word to me all night. Then you drag me to this nauseating human freak show…”
“Are you kidding? This is the hottest new joint in the city! Even Paris Hilton would have trouble getting passed the door. But here we are, babe!”
Brad grinned broadly, surveying the sea of undulating bodies. He signaled for a fresh drink. “Lighten up, will ya…”
“I just thought tonight could be different,” Valerie admitted with a tightening catch in her throat, “that we could maybe go some place quiet and talk.”
A waitress arrived with a pair of purple martinis. Brad snatched them from the tray with a wink to the attractive brunette. He made no attempt to conceal his obvious admiration for her shapely figure as it seductively weaved through the crowd. “What did you say, babe?”
Valerie looked hopelessly at her date. By now all she wanted to do was flee the officious club and its obnoxious clientele. “How come I never noticed that before?” she said softly.
“How you never look at me when we talk… hell… we never talk!”
“What do you mean? We talk, we’re talking now.”
“No! We’re not, Bradley… look at me… look at me!”
Their eyes met for what seemed like the first time. Valerie wasn’t sure if it was the flashing dance floor lights or the clarity of sobriety, but she didn’t recognize the man standing in front of her; the man everyone assumed she would marry.
“What?” shouted Brad angrily. “You know, you can be such a drag when you’re not drinking.”
Valerie White squirmed uncomfortably on the hard plastic seat. People, buildings and billboards flickered past like a movie out of sync, framed in the grimy window pane.
“My life,” she murmured, “that’s my life… blinking past… out of focus… distorted.”
“That’s not a good sign.”
The young man sitting across from her, studying her carefully seemed to appear out of nowhere. He wore faded jeans and an old corduroy jacket with patches on the elbows. A reassuring confidence graced his dimpled face.
They were the only two in the car. Valerie thought he looked like someone you’d find on the back cover of some stuffy best seller. “I’m… I’m sorry…”
His smile warmed the cool night air. “A beautiful woman riding the subway alone at night, talking to herself… that’s never a good sign.”
“Oh, well… I was just thinking… thinking out loud I guess.” Her moist blue eyes gazed into the night. “About my life,” she continued with a sigh, “how it seems to be flickering past, right before me…”
“And the seasons, they go ‘round and ‘round, painted ponies go up and down…”
The verse pulled Valerie from her reverie. “That’s pretty… are you a poet?”
“No, not a poet… a journalist, an out of work struggling journalist I’m afraid.”
Valerie felt herself blush. “And here I am… I’ve never had to struggle for anything in my life.”
“Don’t ever be ashamed of who you are, sweetheart,” the stranger mouthed through a clenched jaw.
For the first time that night, Valerie smiled. “I know this one… Humphrey Bogat, right?”
“Close enough… Hi, I’m Bill Brown.” He moved to the seat next to her, his hand sliding comfortably over hers like a fine Italian leather glove; his engaging smile widening till it tugged at the corners of his mocha eyes.
“Hello, Bill… I’m Valerie White.”
“And what is lovely Valerie White doing riding a New York subway train alone at night?” He was still holding her hand in his.
“Oh, well, I’m not going far… just downtown.”
“You must be taking the scenic route then.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m afraid this train goes to Flatbush.”
“Oh, it does? I mean…” Now her pink cheeks blazed crimson. “Flatbush… that’s in New York right?”
“Well, there are many who would dispute the fact, but yes, it is. I take it you don’t ride the subway very often.”
Glancing down at her Dolce and Gabbana silk dress, her Ugg heels and Fendi purse, Valerie couldn’t help but laugh. “What was your first clue, Sherlock?”
“Let’s just say I had a hunch,” and they both laughed.
“Tell me, Bill, what’s it like in Flatbush?”
“Oh, you’d hate it… the streets are narrow and worn; the houses are old and they all look alike; and the redolent air hangs heavy with the sautéed scent of a hundred nationalities.” His voice softened in deep reflection. “But the people, Valerie… the people are real, and honest, and hard working, and kind, and friendly, and just about the greatest bunch of nobodies you’d ever care to meet.”
The train rocked and shook and the star crossed couple found themselves pressed together in the darken car as the lights blinked and dimmed.
“It sounds like a wonderful place.”
Valerie White awoke feeling strange. She lay in her oversized bed trying to analyze the alien sensations coursing through her body. Her head didn’t throb to a dissonant drum; her eyes didn’t protest the daffodil dayspring, and her mouth didn’t feel like a litter box. No, she thought with a refreshing clarity, none of the usual symptoms. Instead, Valerie felt rested, alive, energized. She even found she actually had an appetite for breakfast. And she didn’t miss her coffee.
Valerie White was sober and happy…
… and in love.
Next week part three