Title: Modern Love
Author: Beau North
Genre: Contemporary Romance/Novella
“Love at first sight wasn’t meant for millennials,” thinks Alice Aberdeen: art student, recovering addict, David Bowie enthusiast. Alice is among the recently dumped and only wants to keep her nose to the grindstone until she finishes her degree. Her sister has other ideas and sets her up with new-in-town Will Murphy–tall, dark, and aloof. To say it wasn’t an instant attraction is an understatement: He finds her abrasive, with her sharp tongue and don’t-screw-with-me attitude. She thinks he’s excessively reserved, too damn serious. But the more time Alice spends with Will, the more their slow burn begins to thaw her heart. A man of two worlds, half-Irish, half-Indian, Will feels at home with Alice. He soon realizes her tough shell is hiding extensive scar tissue–from her addiction and recovery to her spectacularly bad ex-girlfriend to the loss of her mother. Modern Love isn’t a story about love at first sight but learning to love yourself before being able to see the one you love.
The man who lets me into the gallery looks like the Marlboro man’s younger brother. He introduces himself as Ari Savant. We shake hands and he escorts me right where I want to go, to the section of space dedicated to her work. Ari doesn’t have to tell me. I know as soon as I see it that it’s Allie’s hand, Allie’s remarkable mind at work.
I’d finagled an early viewing. A few phone calls, a reasonable donation, and a simple “please” had done the trick. I wanted to see her work alone because I knew when she was in front of me, it would be impossible to focus on anything else.
I thought a few days to cool off and think was a good idea. Stupid. What did I say when I first knew her? She’s wasn’t a shark. She was an octopus, an escape artist, and she escaped right back to that pretty little ex of hers. I knew she was just using me that night in Iowa, but I hadn’t expected to knock on her door and find Jamie there, looking very at home with her shoes off and a burrito in her hand. “Oh hey, don’t I know you?” When I asked if Allie was there, she’d winked and said, “She’s in the bedroom.” I turned and left without a word, feeling numb, feeling sick, and feeling foolish more than anything. I tried not to think about her. Tried really hard. Then Alex emailed me the link to the gallery event and I knew I had to go, had to see her work, had to see her.
The pieces are breathtaking: swaths of lurid color; the images, curious and melancholy. I recognize the family members I’ve met, and can only guess at the one figure who appears in every photo, a red lightning bolt painted across her face. Alice’s mother, Evangeline.
And then, I feel a jolt when I first see it. Ari Savant calls it Stardust. It’s striking, plucking a chord that resonates throughout every part of me. It’s as heartbreaking as she is.
“Remarkable, isn’t it?” he says in the rough and reedy voice of a lifelong smoker. It is remarkable. I already know I’m going to buy it.
“Oh, Alice,” I say with a sigh.
The first part of the evening was a flurry of introductions, people whose names I’d never remember, questions about my work that I tried to answer without tripping over my tongue. By the time Emma and Gabe showed up, my face was beginning to hurt from smiling, my feet were definitely hurting from the heels I’d relented to wear, and I was feeling like I’d just worked a ten-hour shift at the bar.
And I loved every second of it.
“I almost didn’t recognize you in that dress!” Emma exclaimed. “You look so glamorous!”
I waved her off. “It’s all Sara’s doing.” Emma tilted her head, a faraway look in her eyes as she studied me like I was one of the pieces on the wall. “No. It’s not the dress. It’s you. You’re really okay.”
“Of course, I’m okay,” I said. “Why wouldn’t I be? Weirdo.”
She took a deep breath and smiled. “Sorry, big sister stuff. This is your night, and I’m so proud of you.”
That’s when Will Murphy walked into the room, looking like he owned the place.
The trickle of texts we’d exchanged since Iowa had dried up. I could take a hint, but that didn’t make my reaction to him any less swift or potent. My stomach lurched, my throat tightened, and I had to force my knees not to shake. He wore the suit he’d worn the second time I’d met him, at the bar, his hair hung black and glossy, making my fingers twitch. I wanted to touch it, touch all of him, and then push him right out the door onto his pretty ass.
I wanted to know why he’d ghosted, only to show up to something that was so important to me?
He saw us, nodded, and made his way over in no hurry. “Congratulations, Alice,” he said, leaning down to brush his lips against my cheek. Did my eyelids flutter? Maybe. It wasn’t just me he electrified. People stopped and looked at him. From across the room I saw Ari’s eyebrow lift, his imperceptible nod in my direction. Well done.
Oh, he is not getting heart-eyes from me tonight. I smiled at him, raised my glass of club soda in his direction. “Thanks for coming, Will.” Friendly. Cool as can be. Might put a stiletto heel in your chair and hope you sit on it.
“Emma says your dad’s doing much better.”
I raised my eyebrows. He was talking to my sister but not to me? “Dad’s great. He’s vegan now. Maybe you could give him some pointers.”
He nodded as if he’d been expecting this answer. “Sure,” he said noncommittally.
I wanted to throw up. On him. “How’ve you been? I haven’t talked to you much since…” I trailed off before I could say, “Since you took me to splash mountain.” He put a hand on my elbow and leaned in close.
“Now’s not the time. The rehearsal dinner is at my house in a few days, if you’ll give me some time then? There are things I want to say.”
What in Bey’s name was he talking about? I smiled, and raised my glass, never breaking my cool girl demeanor.
“I look forward to it.”
Beau North is a native southerner who now calls Portland, Oregon home with her husband and two cats. She attended the University of South Carolina where she began a lifelong obsession with English Literature. In her spare time, Beau is the brains behind Rhymes With Nerdy, an internet collective focused on pop culture.
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