On The Late Boat

Part 15 of the Netcromancer by M.J.Miello

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That night I felt incredibly confused. Seeing both the women in my life together left me very unsettled.  Rally was the prize of my past, and Alanna was the beacon of my future. It seemed to defy the laws of physics that the two of them could be in the same place at the same time, let alone leave with a promise of meeting again.

Rally and I had parted with a kiss. I couldn’t tell how much she had guessed about Alanna. If she was angry at me, she hid it well. But she hadn’t invited me back to her dorm room either. And so I made the journey back to Staten Island, thankfully arriving at Whitehall station just before the 1:30 AM boat.

I made my way with the crowd through the overly-familiar corridor that led to the Ferry. I mulled the problem over in my head as my feet mindlessly shuffled.  I could still sense Rally’s fingers tracing over my arm as she sat next to me. I could still smell her perfume, and feel the static of her kiss.

I took a seat in the outdoor section of the upper deck and gazed out at the mirk beyond the pylons. I promised myself I would make a decision before I got off this boat about what I was going to do.  Someone obstructed my view. I slid my bag closer to me, thinking perhaps another passenger was waiting for me to make room.  But the person held fast. I looked up to find Billy Penchant glowering at me.

“Billy? What the fuck are you doing here?” Billy had an apartment on the Upper East Side.  Taking the ferry was an incredibly inconvenient thing for him to do.

“I have to talk to you.” There was no joy in his eyes. That little smirk that made it seem like the world was laughably droll to him was gone. “I can never talk to you lately. You’re with her every moment she is available. And you’re constantly blocking my access to her.”

“How exactly am I doing that?” I asked crossing my legs and interlocking my fingers, ready to listen to him attempt to spin some absurd narrative where he was the victim.

He provided one—and a convincing one at that. He described, in the meticulous detail that only a programmer could, how I had specifically engineered conversations to exclude him, ridicule him, and humiliate him. Listening to him, I realized he was right. Every time he tried to draw her attention to one of his accomplishments I somehow found a way to make a joke out of it.

“She’s not yours! You can’t monopolize her you arrogant asshole.” He was stiff. I felt a chill climb up my spine and the hair on my arms rise.  I stood up but he didn’t move back.  We were inches apart.  I felt a sudden urge to punch him in his self-righteous face.

“Why don’t you guys calm down,” someone said.

“Well, if I monopolize her it’s because she lets me. She’s a big girl. If she wanted to grant you more access she would.”

“She won’t as long as you’re pursuing her. Admit it. You are pursuing her.” My anger swelled and I had an image of Billy swimming back to shore.

“Of course I’m fucking pursuing her. The whole goddamn BAC is pursuing her!”

“No! Not like you are. And there was your girlfriend tonight. Beautiful and glowing. Does she know you are pursuing Alanna? Cause, you know, to  me it didn’t look like you had any intentions of ending things with Rally.”

“Why is that any of your business?”

“You can’t monopolize access to Alanna and keep your girlfriend. It’s immoral. It’s not fair. And I’m not going to let you do it.”

“And just how are you going to stop me?” I half expected him to punch me. I think I wanted him to punch me.

“I love her.”

I just stared at him.

“Chris, I think she might like me. There are signs. Nothing convincing, but enough that it needs to be investigated. Give me a chance. Move out of the damn way. Either that or break up with Rally and put me out of my misery.”

I tried to utter the words, “Maybe I will.” But even that was beyond me in that moment. Seeing Rally had had the usual effect on me. It was like when I saw her I was under a spell, and it took several hours for the spell to wear off.

“I’m not leaving without an answer, Chris. Either you agree to back off, or you call Rally tonight and break up with her. One or the other.”

I sat down. My fingers unconsciously finding the gold cross that hung around my neck. I knew I was beaten.

“I’ll give you a week,” I said. I won’t interfere. I won’t block you. I’ll make sure you have time to talk to her. But you need to get a definitive yes or no—you need her to agree to go on a date with you alone. If you can get that, I won’t interfere.” I hated myself for saying all of this. But I comforted myself with the thought that I estimated his chances to be nil.

“If she turns me down, I’ll ask her if it’s because she wants to be with you. Maybe if you hear that, you would be able to decide what you want to do.”

“Deal.”

I held out my hand and he shook it.

Fucking Billy.

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