I waited for the plane to land before I turned my cell phone back on and started gathering my carry on luggage. I glanced out the small plane window onto the darkened tarmac. What time was it? I looked at my watch, still on Paris time. It was seven in the morning in France; I tried to figure out the time here. Was it eight hours or nine hours? I stifled a yawn and decided it didn't much matter. The passengers around me were restless as the plane finished it's final taxi to the gate. Everyone was ready to get off the plane and the cramped quarters; although I have to admit, first class was much roomier than business class.
I'd forgotten about turning on my phone until it chimed almost as soon as the flight attendants were motioning for us to disembark. I grabbed my laptop and camera bags and saw a couple missed text messages and a voicemail. I scanned the texts as I walked and nearly ran right into my dad, who was waiting for me at the gate. "Daddy!" I said happily. I shoved my phone in my pocket and ran up to him, wrapping my arms around his neck. "I thought you'd be meeting me at baggage claim!" I said finally letting him go.
He put his arm around my shoulders and led me away from the crowd smiling. "Work has it's perks - one of which is being able to meet my daughter at the gate." he said. We retrieved my baggage and then he drove me home. It felt strange to be back in Crescent Bay, or maybe it was the changes that had happened. A few new buildings, new businesses, a whole new suburb was under construction even. As much as I wanted to stay up and catch up with my family, I was exhausted - sleep on the plane had been restless and it was now nearing eight in the morning to my body. Before snuggling under the blankets I sent Colin a quick text message to let him know I'd arrived. "I'm in Crescent Bay, body still on France time so I'm going to bed. I love you and will call you when I wake up. Hope all is well at home." I turned my phone down and closed my eyes.
When I woke up the clock on the bedside flash 4:27. It couldn't be afternoon already! I pulled the curtains aside and looked out the window onto the dark backyard. Yeah, as I thought. I considered crawling back into bed and trying to get back to sleep but knew that was unlikely so I took a shower and changed. I booted up my laptop and found an email from Boris. Jing was alive?! I blinked a couple times and reread the email to be sure I'd understood correctly. After being sure, I opened up a new email to Stormy, Boris, Ruby and Tony.
My plane landed a few hours ago but I'm in Crescent Bay! I look forward to seeing everyone I can while I'm here. Tony - I'm sorry you won't be in town, I miss you!
Boris - that is such wonderful and incredible news about Jing! I can't wait to see you and to meet her!
Since you will be home by New Year - I was thinking of having a New Year's Party at the house; I hope you can all make it! I'll get back to you with the details.
Love to all!
After sending the email, I grabbed my phone and quietly walked through the house. I stepped out into the early morning air and shivered a bit, it didn't get wintery here often but there was a chill in the air - or maybe that's because it was so early. I looked toward Stormy's house and wondered if she was out fishing. Maybe not considering it was December, but it was worth a shot. I started jogging toward the first place I remember her going for morning fish and saw a familiar shape in the darkness. I grinned and walked as quietly as I could toward her. "How are they biting?" I asked when I was behind her.
Stormy jumped so much she almost dropped the fish in her hand. I laughed and tried to eek out an apology before she threw the fish at me. Stormy, thankfully, put the fish away and joined me in laughing before giving me a bug hug. "When did you get in?" she demanded.
"Um, I don't know." I looked at my watch, it was now two in the afternoon in France. "About seven hours ago" I said after doing some quick calculations in my head. "Don't let me interrupt the fishing, you were the only person I could imagine awake at this horrible hour." I said with a smile.
"Okay, I'm gonna finish up and we can get some breakfast?" Stormy asked.
I nodded. "Sounds great, since it's afternoon in England, I'm gonna give Colin a call." I said. I strolled away from Stormy so my talking didn't disturb her or the fish and waited as the phone rang.
"Good morning, sleep well?" Colin said as a greeting.
I smiled at the sound of his voice. "Until I woke up and it was still dark outside." I said with a small laugh. "How are you? How's your father?"
"I'm good and my father is, well I can't say good but he's in good spirits." Colin said with sadness in his voice. We talked for awhile before Stormy came to find me for breakfast.
By the time I made it home that morning, the rest of the household was awake. "We thought you were still asleep!" my mom said as I walked in the door.
"I woke up way too early, my body is on France time." I said with a shrug. "I met up with Stormy and we had breakfast togeth..." I was cut off as a ball of energy ran up to me and wrapped my waist in a hug. I let out an oomph before I could start laughing at Eric's manner of greeting. "Hey kid. You've gotten big!" he grabbed me by the hand and for the rest of the day claimed every possible moment of my attention.
Garrett was due to arrive with Lauren in a few days and my mom claimed much of my time redoing Eric's old nursery into something girly for Lauren. Apparently, being the first grandbaby had its perks - or maybe my mom just wanted an excuse to decorate for a girl again. We'd just finished making up a toddler bed when I heard the door open and Garrett's loud voice. I grinned and practically flew down the stairs where my brother was waiting to catch me in a big bear hug. A shy little girl was wrapped around his leg, peeking out at me as we finally stopped hugging. I knelt down to look at her and offered my hand. "You must be Lauren." I said with a smile. She had dark, shaggy hair that look like it hadn't been cut in the entire two and a half years of her life but I could see Garrett's violet eyes peeking out between the strands of hair. "I'm Molly." I said.
"MAH-liiiiiii" she said slowly as if testing the word. "Nose." she said pointing to her own nose and giggling softly.
I looked up at Garrett and he just shrugged with a smile. Then I felt her small hand clutch mine and I looked back at her. "Yes that is your nose." I said pointing to it.
She came out from behind Garrett's leg and lifted her arms up in the air. "Up!" she demanded. I scooped her up and gave her a hug. "She's beautiful Garrett." I said with a smile. Lauren refused to let me put her down for long, and sought me out every where we went, even when content in Garrett's arms.
"She's bonded with you Mols" Garrett said one night after putting Lauren to bed. "Which is great, she hasn't really seemed to bond with anyway since her mom..." he trailed off and looked down at the glass in his hand.
"I'm sorry Garrett." I said scooting closer to him. "What was she like?"
"She was...." he paused considering his words. "full of life. I met her early in my R&R and we spent the whole time just having so much fun. You would have liked her I think." he said with a small smile. He looked like he was about to say more when he heard Lauren crying.
He started to get up but I stopped him. "I'll see to her." I said.
"It's probably a night terror, she has them a lot. Music helps." he offered as I walked up the stairs. I nodded to him and then quietly stepped into her room.
Lauren's eyes were closed but she was screaming and thrashing in her bed. "Shhh." I said softly, sitting beside her bed. I started humming softly and stroking Lauren's hair until she finally settled back down. Before I knew it, my eyes flickered closed and I laid down on the floor, still humming.
I don't know how long I slept there but when I woke up my phone was buzzing in my pocket and my neck was sore from sleeping on the floor. I quietly got to my feet and slipped out of her room, hoping the slight noise didn't wake her up. I clicked talk on the phone without checking the ID, "hold on" I whispered, and then listened outside Lauren's door for a moment. Nothing.
"Hello?" I whispered walking down the stairs quietly.
"You okay?" Colin asked on the other end.
"Hmm? Yes." I said, when I reached the bottom of the stairs, I felt like I could raise my voice to a normal level. "I'm fine, I was in Lauren's room is all." I said. "How are you?" I could hear my parents and Garrett laughing and talking in the kitchen and decided to go outside for some quiet.
"I miss you." he said. "I wish you were here, or I was there."
"Mhmm, me too." I said. "Are you alright? You sound...."
"I wanted to hear your voice." Colin said. "My mother is....fretting and my father is stubborn which makes days around here a little unnerving. Thought I'd start the day off right." he said.
I smiled and laid back on one of the lounge chairs. "Is your father still refusing to look sickly as your mother expects?" I asked.
"Mmm, yes, he's doing fairly well, all things considered but my mum seems to think he should be confining himself to bed." Colin said.
"Is there nothing that can be done? Chemo?" I asked thinking that he might not have much choice before long as the disease would take it's toll on his body.
"No. It's too far gone." Colin said, the sadness creeping into his voice again.
"I'm sorry Colin, I wish I was there to be with you. Hold you." I said.
"Soon enough, we'll be back in France - I'll be traveling between France and England a lot in the next few months I think." he said. We talked about the plans for the upcoming semester, including the possibility of subletting one of our houses and moving in together. Several yawns on my part later, Colin insisted on me getting some sleep so I hung up and headed for bed. Laying in my familiar room, I couldn't help but smile thinking about Colin waiting for me.
The next morning, I was trying to get Lauren to cooperate for some pictures but kept having to push her hair out of her face. Doing so irritated her making pictures impossible. I chewed on my lower lip considering and then pushed myself up to go find Garrett, I found him working out and he shrugged as I asked him about bows or clips for Lauren. Apparently such words were not in his vocabulary. "Mind if I take her out shopping then?" He waved me off in response and I shook my head with a chuckle. I picked up Lauren and gathered a few things before heading out. "Let's go be girly" I said with a laugh. She giggled as well as I strapped her into her carseat.
An hour, three stores and a hair salon later; we returned to the house. I admit I started out with the intent for bows but everything I put in her hair she'd pulled out. I crossed my fingers mentally as we walked into the house. "I really hope your daddy isn't upset Lauren." I said to her. I found him, still working out. "We're back!" I said cheerfully.
Garrett turned to greet us and almost fell as he was stunned. "Wow." he said catching himself on the machine and turning off the treadmill. "You look adorable Lauren. Did Aunt Molly take you to get your haircut?"
"Cut!" Lauren said excitedly. "Cut Cut!"
"Sorry, I wasn't planning to when we left..." I started to explain.
"No it's fine Mols. She needed one and I've just...I don't do girl that well do I?" Garrett asked a little embarrassed.
"I'm sure you'll figure it out." I said as Lauren started reaching for him.
"Daddy! Daddy!" I handed her over to him and he started swinging her around which made peals of giggles echo through the house.
Christmas Eve came quickly and my mom invited all of my brothers over for dinner. I'm not sure if we were all just smaller or if the house shrank, but I don't remember it feeling quite so crowded when I was a teenager. Of course Ian brought his wife and Jacob brought his girlfriend so that may have added to the crowding issues. "Someone should offer to help...." Jacob whispered to the rest of us as we looked over the bar, into the kitchen where mom was cooking in her old Christmas apron.
I thought I saw Natasha, his girlfriend, roll her eyes but she looked at him with a good deal of love. I squeezed through my brothers into the kitchen. "Hey Mom, do you need any help?" I asked.
"No, but thanks for offering." she said with a knowing look toward the others, still peering in through the opening.
"Okay, well let us know if you need any help." I said before joining the others. Natasha and I were chatting while Lauren played at our feet with a spool of ribbon from gifts. I could tell that she liked kids from the way she would talk to Lauren and play with her. Lauren wasn't one hundred percent sure about her but that didn't disuade Natasha from trying. "So how did you and Jacob meet?" I asked.
"Through a case he was working on." Natasha said.
"You're a cop?" I asked surprised.
"No!" She laughed. "I'm a pediatrician. One of the witnesses was a child."
"Oh!" I said laughing as well. I heard my mom start singing Christmas carols softly and knew that it was about dinner time; she always sang carols when putting the final touches on the meal.
The next morning, we opened gifts. Although we all exchanged a few gifts, Lauren's pile of gifts was the largest by far. Everyone had gone a little overboard and she ended up with more clothes, toys and books than Garrett would know what to do with. Her favorite thing about Christmas was the wrapping paper.
I'd just about forgotten my New Year's Eve party plans and didn't tell my parents about it until just after Christmas. I blamed it on the jet lag I'd been suffering from when I'd send the email. Thankfully they were going to a party at my dad's office and only asked that I get Eric into bed just after midnight and not to destroy the house in the process. I agreed happily and went about inviting people. I invited my friends, of course, and my brothers as well as a couple of old high school friends. I told Eric he could invite Sunny since Stormy would be there.
Boris and Jing showed up early to help; Stormy and Sunny showed up early because Sunny was itching to play with Eric. Ruby showed up alone and said Axel was working but would be there in an hour or so. Once most of the guests had arrived, the music started and Boris asked Ruby to dance since Axel hadn't shown up yet. I expected her to be annoyed that he was late but she was laughing at something Boris had said when I looked over at them.
Eric and Sunny were attempting to play tag in the middle of the dancing throng of people so I dug out the firecrackers I'd bought for them and was going to go outside with them. "Wait!" Stormy said holding her cell phone.
I looked at her curiously. "What?"
"Um...." Stormy looked around as if trying to find something. She saw Beau next to her and smiled at him, "Beau will go out with them!" she said triumphantly. "He's a cop..." she explained as if that would explain everything.
I narrowed my eyes, "What are you up to?" I asked as she took the firecrackers from my hands and pushed them into Beau's arms. He looked as confused as I was but he shrugged and went outside with the kids, turning on the porch lights as he went so he could keep an eye on them.
Stormy looked at me innocently. "Nothing, but you're the hostess, you should stay in here and...dance with me!" she said. She started dancing and I found myself dancing with her even while wondering what all that had been about. She looked at her cell phone several times while we danced but didn't call or text anyone.
"Oh my!" I heard Natasha let out a girly squeal and gasp. I turned to see Jacob down on one knee holding out a beautiful ring box. "Yes! Oh yes Jacob!" she said and he slid the ring on her finger. I looked over at Stormy to grin and saw her smiling as well.
Then I felt arms around my waist and heard gentle whisper at my ear. "You sure know how to throw a party." he said.
I almost fell as I spun around to see Colin standing behind me. I let out my own girly squeal and threw my arms around his neck. "What are you doing here?!" I asked. I heard a chuckle behind me and Stormy waved at me before going outside to track down Beau and I suppose explain herself.
"I missed you. So I got a last minute flight and just landed about an hour ago." Colin explained.
"And what did Stormy have to do with this? She was acting so odd a bit ago." I asked, still holding onto him, unwilling to let him go.
"I called her, because I didn't know where your house was; she was good enough to give me directions." he said.
"But why didn't you just call me? Why didn't you call before you left so I knew you were coming...." I asked and then started to laugh at myself. "Why am I even asking, I'm just happy to see you!" I gave him a long kiss then just as I heard shouts all around us.
"Ten! Nine! Eight!...."
"Looks like I got here just in time." Colin said with a grin.
"Five! Four! Three!...."
All around us people started cheering, toasting and kissing just before the new year officially started in Crescent Bay. Colin pulled me closer, if possible, and leaned in giving me a long, lingering kiss. "Happy new year." he whispered, his arms still wrapped tightly around me.
I was vaguely aware of Stormy and Beau coming back inside with the kids, of Boris and Jing laughing happily, of Ruby clinging to Axel for one last kiss as he tried to get out of the house. He finally broke free and waved briefly to us before disappearing. "Where's he off to Ruby?" I asked when I got close to her.
"Work." Ruby said. I detect a bit of glumness about this but she seemed to rally quickly and moved into the crowd to get a drink and dance some more.
"How's your father?" I asked Colin as the thrill of his arrival and the new year slowly dissipated.
"He's doing well, it was him who encouraged me come actually." Colin said. "My mum was none too happy about it. I'm pretty sure when the doctors said five to eight months she heard five to eight days." he said with a sad laugh. I smiled, though it was a weak one at best, and gave him another hug.
We could all hear the fireworks outside from the show in the park and the sky was so lit with color at moments that it looked almost like daylight. The crowd of party goers was filing outside to watch the show from the yard and Colin and I were one of the last few to make it outside.
After a few minutes, I saw Garrett go inside; when he came back he had a very sleepy Lauren in his arms - the booms from the fireworks had woken her but she was already practically asleep on his shoulder. Apparently Daddy's arms were comforting enough to ignore the noises.
"Oooh...." someone said as another colorful array lit the sky.
Colin made arrangements to stay a hotel near the airport but my parents insisted on his staying at the house to get to know him before we would both have to return to France. In the first days of the new year, I noticed my brothers making odd excuses to come by - mostly to get to know Colin and I think make their presence known. They were so over protective but I loved them all dearly for it. Colin, for his part, took it all very well. "I will probably do the same when Cathy comes home with a boy." he explained. "She's only fourteen, so I hope that's not for awhile yet." he said with a chuckle.
I laughed. "Oh I don't think you have as long as you'd like. Maybe a year or so."
"Well she goes to an all girl boarding school." Colin countered. "So I think we're safe for awhile yet. No access to boys equals no boyfriends."
"Poor girl" I joked. "Besides, I'm sure there are boys around when she's home." I added with a grin.
"Book!" Lauren said holding a colorful children's book out to me.
"Yes, that's a book Lauren." I said smiling at her.
"Book!" she repeated.
"Would you like me to read you the book Lauren?" I asked hoping to get something less like a demand from her.
"'ead book!" she said placing the book in my lap and pointing to it vigorously.
"What do you need to say?" I asked picking up the book and sitting on the floor with her.
"Pease, book?" Lauren said softly.
"Better, okay..." I said. I pulled her next to me and opened the book to start reading. "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom..."
"Boom Boom tree!" Lauren said happily. This was clearly a favorite of hers.
School went back for Eric a couple days later and everyone seemed to be getting over the holiday haze and back into the routine of work and school. Garrett had to make trips back to his base to set up housing and day care for Lauren when his leave ended and he asked me to watch her. I was happy to oblige. While she was napping, I noticed some old pictures of Ruby's kids on my computer and had what I hoped was a great idea. I pulled out my phone and made calls to Boris and Ruby arranging a play date with the triplets, Ning and Lauren for the next afternoon. Then I called Stormy and asked if she wanted to bring Sunny over to play with Eric and hang out with us. She offered to pick Sunny and Eric up from School and bring them home.
The sun was shining all day, keeping the slightly cooler January temperatures from being too chilly for outdoor play. I cut up some fruit and crackers and cheese for the kids to eat later and dragged out most of Lauren's Christmas gifts. If it got too chilly, we could move the whole party inside but I hoped for the best. Back when my brothers and I had been children, my parents had bought as a playground set and it still stood today for Eric mostly. Boris showed up with Ning first; he was barely inside when we saw Ruby drive up. I took Ning inside so he could help Ruby unload the triplets. It probably took her longer to get them in and out of the car than anything else! "Lauren!" I called upstairs. I went up to get her and bring her down to meet her company. Meanwhile Boris and Ruby had brought in all gear that came along with three toddlers including diaper bags, sippy cups, a couple blankets, toys, and of course the three toddlers themselves. We moved the whole party outside and after all the kids were happily exploring the new toys - well new to them anyway - Ruby and I sat on the swings to watch and Boris stood beside us.
"Where's Colin?" Ruby asked, pushing her swing lightly back and forth with her foot.
"Jacob had the day off and took him off somewhere, I'm not honestly sure where." I said with a laugh. "What about Jing?" I asked looking over at Boris. "How is she?"
"She stayed home to rest and relax - she needs the time to adjust." Boris said.
"Yeah I can see that." I said. "Hey, will you push us Boris?" I asked with a playful smile. He alternated pushing Ruby and I until we had a pretty good momentum going. A few of the kids squealed as we went higher and giggled as we whooshed backwards. I heard Eric and Sunny laughing before I saw them come around the corner; Stormy was a few steps behind them. "They really are good friends aren't they?" I asked as Stormy gave me an unexpected push.
"Yes, they spend a lot of time together." Stormy said. "Just like us when we were that age."
"I'm glad" I said. "I'm glad they have each other." I added. I jumped lightly off the swing and landed easily enough, my knees ached just a bit for a moment but I ignored it. "Who wants a snack!" I called to the kids. Eric and Sunny ran around the corner and I was met with a chorus of "I do! I do!" and slight variations for the younger kids which mostly sounded like "oooo! ooo!"
We set the kids up to have a floor picnic and gave them their food. There was a bit of squabbling as the toddlers took from each others' plates but eventually they all settled down. "I'm gonna miss her." I said.
"When do you go back?" Ruby asked.
"We fly out on Monday morning." I said. "I'm going to miss you guys too. You all need to move to Europe." I teased.
"Or you could just move home" Stormy retorted.
"Fair enough." I said. "Where are we meeting up this summer?" Everyone shrugged, no one ventured a suggestion. "Well keep me posted, it's someone elses' turn" I said laughing. It didn't take longer for the kids to start to get cranky. We helped Ruby load the triplets into the car and I gave her a hug. I wasn't sure how much I'd see of them before I left. I hugged Boris as well before he left with Ning and Stormy and I waved as they both drove home.
Eric and Sunny were wedged out in front of the TV when Stormy and I came back inside. "You two - homework." Stormy said. They both groaned and mumbled about missing some show but they stomped off to the dining room anyway. Stormy and I took their spots on the couch and put our feet up on the coffee table. "Today was fun, thanks for inviting Sunny and I."
"Thanks for coming." I said. "Soooo, you and Beau...." I said with a grin. "How's that going?" Stormy and I talked girl talk until it was time to get Sunny home.
Colin and I flew back to France together. I decided to sublease my house until the summer, when the lease would end, and moved into the house that Colin and Sean had shared. It was almost three months to the day when Colin heard from Sean. He was back in Ireland finally and asked Colin to ship some of the things he'd left behind to him. Most of my resentment from the would-be wedding was directed toward Amelie but I still had the inclination to throw his clothes in a heap in the box instead of putting them in there folded. I didn't of course; Amelie had burned him far worse than anyone else. I was sitting on the bed arranging the clothes in the box as Colin handed things to me and I dropped a shirt. "Oops!" I knelt down to pick it up and saw a bit of paper under the bed. I grabbed the shirt and paper and skimmed its contents. "Woah." I said sitting down quickly.
"Molly?" Colin asked turning around to see why I hadn't taken a pile of shirts from him. "You okay?"
"'Dear Sean,'" I read aloud from the paper. "'I wish I had the courage to face you, to tell you what has happened; but I hardly know what to say. And I know if I saw you I would not be able to say anything at all. You should know that I love you, it may be hard to believe after I say what I have to say and still worse when I do what I have to do. I've met someone else - or I should say I have met a ghost from my past. I gave him my whole heart then and, although I did not realize it until I saw him again last night, he still has it. I am so very sorry for all the pain this will cause you but I cannot marry you. -Amelie'"
The paper showed signs of long lost tears having splattered on it, but whether they were Sean's or Amelie's, I would never know. Colin put the pile of shirts he was still holding in the box and sat beside me on the bed, looking at the letter. I offered it to him and he reread it for himself. "Wow" he said simply.
I felt even more sympathy for Sean as my gaze fell on the letter many times during the rest of our packing. "How is he? Do you know?" I asked sealing the last box with packing tape.
"I don't know, he sounded subdued when I talked to him. Not at all like himself. But I think...I think it will be good for him, being back in Ireland." Colin said. He carried the boxes downstairs to be picked up in the morning.
In the first month back to school, Colin traveled from France to England and back almost every weekend so I spent a lot of time up at the school or alone. A few weeks into the start of the semester I had a meeting scheduled with one of my program advisers to talk about the final year internship and portfolio. I arrived in the office early and was overwhelmed by the sheer mass of art books, many pertaining to photography. I waited patiently, not touching his library until our scheduled meeting time came and went. Eventually the urge to glance through a couple of books was overwhelming and I was growing bored.
My advisor, Professor Hartley, walked in as I was returning the first book I looked through to the shelf.
"Sorry Professor." I said looking sheepish and returning to my chair.
He waved my apologies off with a good-natured smile. "Don't be, don't be. What good are books and photographs if they are never looked at?" he took his seat behind his desk. "Now, my apologies for being late, my class ran over." He looked around his desk absently for a few minutes until he found my file. "Ah yes. You are here about the your final year yes?"
"Yes sir." I said.
"Well the final year in the photography program - like many of our programs here - involves an internship which you will need to arrange for and a portfolio project. Unless you have any other credits needed..." he paused and skimmed through my file. "Which you don't, you won't be needing to take any classes here. Of course if you'd like, you can but it's best to dedicate your time to your internship and developing your portfolio."
"How does the portfolio project work Professor? Will everything in it be from the final year, or anything I've taken?" I asked jotting down a few notes.
"You may include only photographs from the start of summer term until you turn in. All photographs must be dated and if taken digitally, you may be asked to submit your memory card of original, unedited photographs. On that note, editing is allowed but not required of course." he paused and tapped his chin with a pen. "You will need to submit your portfolio progress four times throughout the year, two of them can be submitted digitally or by mail just to confirm that you are working on them, the other two times will need to be in person. You'll get more information at the end of this semester about the project."
"And the internship?" I prompted.
"Ah yes, we have a list of photographers, magazines and such that have worked with our students in the past. You are not limited to this list of course," he handed my a stabled set of papers. "But whoever you choose must agree to certain terms and tasks; those are listed on the final page as well as the other requirements. We will meet again closer to the end of the semester to be sure everything is in place." he stood and held out his hand, thus ending our meeting. I shook his hand and took the various papers on my way out.
"I'd like you to come to England with me." Colin said one afternoon while I was editing pictures. "Over Spring Break, to meet my family. Would you come?" he asked
"Um...of course I will." I said. "I would like that very much."
We took the EuroStar train from Paris to London and I'd never thought I was a claustrophobic person until we were cruising through the tunnel under the English Channel. Of course by the time I'd become comfortable with the experience, it was over and we'd come out the other side. A car met us at the station in London to drive us to Talford, the town where Colin had grown up. "How far is Talford from London?" I asked. The city was starting to fade into country outside my window.
"About an hour." Colin said. I nodded and then was content to look out the window and watch the countryside on small villages pass by. Then we passed into a cozy looking town and I felt like I'd just interrupted a Jane Austen novel. We passed the center of town and about ten minutes later the car paused while a gate was opened.
Beyond the tall outer fence and the gate was one of the largest houses I'd ever seen. The lawn was perfectly kept, the landscaping was immaculate. "This is your house?" I asked, wide eyed.
"Yes" Colin said as the driver had come around and opened the door for me. I stepped out of the car, feeling awkward and under dressed for some reason as I took in the estate - because that's what it was; it was way more than just a house. Colin came out of the car behind me and put a steadying arm around me. "You look a bit overwhelmed." he said softly.
"That's a good word for it." I said. Colin smiled and took my hand. He squeezed it before leading me up the stairs to the entry. We were barely passed the front doors when a young girl ran straight for Colin. "Colin!" she said throwing her arms around him. Behind her I saw an older woman with a sour look on her face - obviously she didn't approve of the girl's display.
Colin hugged the teenager for several minutes and then directed her attention toward me. "Cathy, this is Molly." he said. As I shook her hand he added. "This is my sister Cathy."
"It's nice to finally meet you Cathy, Colin has told me a lot about you." I said.
"And he's told me quite a lot about you." Cathy said with a grin on her face. We heard the older woman clearing her throat and both turned out attention toward her. Cathy looked down at her feet, as if she'd been caught doing something wrong.
"Mother, this is Molly Gregory." Colin said. "Molly, this is my mum."
"It's lovely to meet you Mrs. Beckham." I said offering my hand. She looked at it with the same sour look she'd worn since I'd first noticed her and merely motioned to someone behind us. I turned to see a teen boy picking up our bags and heading up the stairs with them. Behind him was an older man who I assumed must be the butler.
"Thompson will show you to your room." Mrs. Beckham said. "Come Cathy!" she turned on her heel, expecting Cathy to follow.
"Can't I go with them?" Cathy said, a small pout on her face. Mrs. Beckham made some sort of disgruntled noise but Cathy took it as approval because she looped her arms with mine and Colin's and we walked up the stairs. "You'll be staying in the room next to mine!" she said with a smile.
When Thompson approached the door to the room in question, Cathy started to giggle and Colin looked at him oddly. "Why...?" he started to say.
Thompson shrugged. "It is as Mrs. Beckham directed." he said and opened the door. Inside was a room that surely belonged to a child once. The walls were adorned with butterflies and the whole room was pink with shades of pale green. It was cute, to be sure, but I understood why Colin was confused and Cathy found the whole thing terribly funny. Surely in a house this size, there were plenty of other guest rooms.
"We have other rooms Molly, I'm not sure why...." Colin trailed off. "We can move you..."
"No, it's fine." I said. "I rather like the room actually." I said with a laugh. I couldn't pretend to understand Mrs. Beckham's motives but it was only for the week and it was only a place to sleep. While looking around the room, Colin had dismissed the butler and I heard Cathy walking away giggling.
"My room is just a few doors down. You don't have to stay here." he said putting his arms around me and nuzzling my neck.
I giggled as his breath tickled against my skin. For a moment I'd forgotten to pure innocence of the room and turned wrapping my arms around him and kissing him. I was lost in the moment of kissing him but the room was simply too childlike. "I can't do this here." I said laughing.
Colin laughed as well. "I know what you mean." he said. "Come on, I'll show you around." he took my hand and we spent the next hour or so seeing some of the house. It wasn't even all of it!
"I think I'm going to need a map." I joked as he stopped back in front of the door to my room.
Colin smiled, "You'll get used to it." he turned and pointed to a door not far away. "That is my room, and Cathy is next door." he said pointing to the door to Cathy's room. "If you need anything..."
"I'll let you know." I said. He took my hand in his and raised it to his lips. "You sure know how to make a girl swoon" I teased fanning myself with my free hand.
"Only you." he replied with a smile. "I'll probably be up for awhile yet. If you need anything." he said.
We parted company and I couldn't help but think about sneaking across the hall to his room - not that I would need to sneak necessarily but that's the way I imagined it, as if Mrs. Beckham and her disapproving look was everywhere. I started unpacking my suitcase into the dresser when I heard voices from Cathy's room. I looked in the mirror and noticed my own door ajar. I walked over to close the door when I heard my own name.
"Molly is very pretty." Cathy said.
"I like to think so." it was Colin's voice and I felt myself blushing, I shouldn't be ease dropping. I held tightly to the door handle, fully prepared to close the door.
"Are you going to marry her?" Cathy asked, an excited trill in her voice. No matter how much I told myself to close the door, I couldn't. I waited for Colin's reply.
"Well I haven't asked her yet." Colin said.
"Yet! So you are going to ask her?" Cathy sounded like she was practically bouncing on the edge of her bed.
"Do you think she'd say yes?" he asked.
"I don't know her like you do but I think she'd be foolish not to say yes. Of course I'm your sister so I may be biased." she teased him.
Colin laughed. "Well I think you'll like her when you get to know her more." he said.
"Of that, I have no doubt." Cathy said. "Tell me more about her. Have you met her family?"
Colin started talking and I finally willed myself to close the door and stop listening in on their conversation. My head was full as I sat down on the bed in a daze. Was he going to ask? Soon? I laid back and stared up at the ceiling with what I'm sure was a dreamy smile on my face. I don't know how long I laid there, but eventually I heard the Cathy's door close and it stirred me from my thoughts. I mustered the drive to really do the unpacking and made it to the dresser when there was a soft knock on the door. "Molly?" I heard the door creak open a bit and recognized Cathy's voice.
I closed the drawer and turned. "Come on in Cathy." I said with a smile.
She closed the door softly behind her. "How much did you hear?" she asked with a playful smile. I wanted to deny it but I could feel the heat in my cheeks and knew they were turning pink. "I heard your door close, I wondered." she was smiling and took a seat on the bench at the foot of the bed.
"I didn't intend to ease drop." I explained. "I heard you two talking and meant to just close the door...I'm sorry."
"Oh don't be." Cathy said waving it off. "It's not a big deal" she added with a wink.
I wasn't sure I agreed with her but I tried to put it out of my mind and sat down next to her. "Colin told me you go to a boarding school; is it near here."
"It's not so far but I don't come home often." She said.
"Do you like it? Going away to school?"
"Not particularly." she said with a sad smile. "I'd rather be home, go to the school in town but that's not smart enough for Mum. Don't get me wrong, I have friends there and it's school...did you like going to school?"
"I loved school mostly." I said with a laugh. "Of course I didn't go to boarding school and I was a cheerleader and had wonderful friends and family nearby. It was different for me I guess."
"You were a cheerleader?" she sounded surprised. "We're all your friends cheerleaders too?"
"No, not at all. Most of the cheerleaders were cruel really - some of them have changed but anyway, my friends were - ARE - from completely different cliques." I smiled fondly thinking of my friends in high school.
Cathy and I talked for over an hour about our friends before it got to the point where I was barely keeping my eyes open. In fact I'm not entirely sure I said good night to her or if I dozed off during our gab session. When I started to stir, I felt familiar arms around me and rolled over to see Colin sound asleep. I smiled and realized I had fallen asleep in my clothes. I gently moved his arm so that I could slide out of bed. A glance at the clock told me it was about three in the morning. I changed into a night shirt and slid back into bed without waking him up.
When I woke up for real, Colin was also awake and smiling at me. "Morning." he said. "You changed your clothes."
"Yes, I woke up around three. I didn't wake you then did I?" I inquired.
"No." he said. "I had a hard time falling asleep last night, I thought I'd heard you and Cathy talking and thought I'd say goodnight but you were already out."
After breakfast, Colin took me to meet his father. Yesterday had been one of his bad days so he hadn't come to any meals or even fussed when Mrs. Beckham had insisted - again - that he stay in bed. "He's doing better today" a lady told us when we came in. She looked kind and gentle.
"Molly, this is Beatrice, she's on the staff here and sits with father when she can. Beatrice, this is my girlfriend Molly." Colin introduced us as he moved toward his father's side.
Mr. Beckham's eyes had been closed when we first came in but opened when Colin got close to his bed. "Ah, son." he sounded hoarse and weak.
I'd seen pictures of him before and knew he'd been a muscular man, now his features were thin and gaunt but he still had fire in his eyes. "Father." Colin said fondly as worry lines creased his forehead, I wondered how much Mr. Beckham had changed just since Colin's last visit. "This is Molly." He put his arm around my waist and stepped back a bit.
"Ah he didn't do you justice dear." Mr. Beckham said with a weak smile and a pitiful laugh.
I smiled at him. "It's a pleasure to meet you Mr. Beckham." I said grasping his frail hand in mine.
"The pleasure is mine. My son speaks much of you; it is was my hope to meet the girl who had so thoroughly captured his attention." Mr. Beckham said. Colin brought over a chair for me and together we sat and visited with Mr. Beckham and Beatrice for quite awhile. Our visit was cut short when Mrs. Beckham came in looking sour as ever.
Her look of disapproval swept over us in an instant. "You should be resting dear." she said toward Mr. Beckham.
"I'm quite alright, I assure you." he said to her. He turned to me with a smile. "My wife has this ridiculous notion that I'm dying." he said. His joke was cut short, though, by a racking, dry cough that had even Beatrice on alarm. After it stopped he looked and sounded more frail than before, his smile was fainter. "I can't imagine where she got such an idea." he joked. Mrs. Beckham made a noise of disapproval that I was becoming all too familiar with and the door closed behind her.
Colin and I left him to rest not long after. Colin was quiet and reflective as we walked but I stayed beside him in case he wanted to talk. I wasn't sure if Colin was walking anywhere in particular but we ended up outside, walking along a wooded path. "This is all part of the estate." he said with a sweep of his arm. "There's a lake down here Stormy might like." he said with a smile. "There isn't necessarily anything particularly exciting in it I don't think," he paused, reflecting, "Actually I'm not sure, the groundskeeper stocks the lake as he sees fit. Nevertheless, it's quiet."
There was a wooden dock protruding into the lake. I slipped off my shoes and sat at the edge of the deck, letting my feet dip in the water. "Chilly." I said, a light shiver ran through me. Colin sat beside me and we spent the afternoon enjoying the quiet of the little retreat and watching fish jump from the water occasionally. "This place is beautiful." I said, leaning my head against his shoulder.
"The lake, the estate or the country?" Colin asked.
"All of it." I said with a smile. "It's all so wonderful, idealistic."
"Mhmm. I didn't appreciate this place as much until I left it, first for London and eventually to France. It feels good to come home sometimes." he said.
"Yes, when I was in Crescent Bay, all I could see was all the changes. Didn't feel like home as much anymore. I mean the house still feels like home but the town...not as much. Too much change." I said thinking aloud.
"Nothing ever seems to change here." Colin said with a short laugh. "The people of course change to a degree, people leave, new people move in but the town - stays the same pretty much. I'm sure it looked the same way a hundred years ago as it does now."
"That's not so bad, that's what I like about it. Feels like I'm in a novel or something." I said smiling. The sun was setting and there was a distinct chill in the the air. "Come on, let's go inside, it's getting cold." I said wrapping my arms around myself.
The rest of the week went by too quickly. I was able to spend more time with Cathy and Mr. Beckham but Mrs. Beckham kept herself scarce. I saw her at meals and that was enough disapproval to last me a month.
The day we were traveling back to France happened to be my birthday. Our train had an early morning departure time so we left Talford early. By the time we'd arrived at the station, I was already feeling tired and could scarcely keep my eyes open while waiting for the train to start moving. "Just sleep Molly." Colin said softly. "I'll wake you when we get close." So I slept.
When I woke up, I was sure there were eyes on me. I couldn't see anyone directly watching me but I was sure someone was. I heard a girlish snicker from a few tables away and was about to whip around to look when Colin put his hand on mine. I turned toward him and smiled at him. "Did I snore?" I whispered.
"No, why?" Colin asked confused.
"I felt like someone was watching me." I said looking around the train car. "I have a birthday present for you." Colin said while I was looking around. After another quick sweep, I turned back toward him and a sparkling glint caught my eye from the table.
I am sure that my heart instantly started pounding and my head filled with fog as I looked, wide-eyed, at the ring. Colin, for his part, said nothing at first. "Wow" I finally managed to say, still staring at the large diamond.
"I thought about a dozen different ways to do this and realized that they would all delay this moment for planning and scheduling. When you meet the person you want to spend the rest of your life with; you want your life to start right away." Colin said.
"That's from 'When Harry Met Sally'" I said without thinking.
"Yes, it was a good sentiment then, it's a good sentiment now." Colin said with a laugh. He stood and walked around to the other side of me, my eyes finally pulled from the ring to track his movement.
He took the ring box from the table and pulled the ring out. "This was my grandmother's ring." he said looking at it, studying it. "My father gave it to me and suggested I stop wasting my life. And he was right." Colin got down on his knee and held it out to me, I was sure everyone was watching now if they hadn't been. "Molly Elizabeth Gregory, I love you, I have almost since I met you on that tower. Would you do me the very great honor of being my wife?"
My legs seemed to have turned to jelly but I used the table to stand and I could feel my cheeks aching from the smile on my face and happy tears in my eyes.
"Yes, oh very much yes." I said, my voice was more shaky than I'd like. My hand shook as Colin slipped the ring on my finger. Once it was in place, he took my hand in his and gently brought it to his lips, much like he had the very first day we'd met. He was barely finished standing up straight before I threw my arms around his neck. He chuckled softly but held me tightly as the other passengers in the train car cheered. I spent the rest of the short train ride looking at the ring, smiling; then looking at Colin and smiling more.
When we got back to France, I realized it would be a bad hour to call my friends, so I settled for an email.
Subject: Happy Birthday to Me!
Hey everyone! I would call right now but I'm pretty sure it's about three in the morning there. Colin and I just got back from our trip to England and....
Colin proposed!!!!! Oh my I feel like I'm still walking in the clouds! I can't believe how quickly life is happening to all of us! lol
I can't wait to see you all this summer! Lots of love!
I spent most of the rest of the school semester hunting down an internship while Colin spent much of his time doing final projects and traveling between France and England. His father was getting worse with each passing week and Colin knew it was only a matter of time.
"I'm sorry I can't come with you this summer." Colin said as I booked my flight for the summer meet up with the others.
"No! No you have to be with your father." I said. "I'll miss you of course but I know you need to be in England." I added, squeezing his hand. "We better get sleep, we have to leave early tomorrow."
The following morning, I dropped Colin off at the train station in Paris and then fretted with my outfit and hair. I had a big interview for an internship with a magazine this morning and I could feel the butterflies in my stomach as I walked into the large office. Now I consider myself a good dresser but as I passed through the doors, I felt like I was wearing a burlap sack. Even the assistants were dressed like they'd just stepped out of the fashion magazine they worked for. The butterflies went into hyper drive the further I went into the building.
"You must be Miss Gregory," a girl - the only genuine looking person I'd seen - smiled at me. She showed me into the inner office of one of the editors who would be doing the interview and offered me coffee while I waited. As she left, the door clicked closed behind her and I took several steadying breaths.
The rest of the weekend following the interview I found myself staring at my phone. I knew it was silly to think they would call on a weekend but I'd felt really good leaving the interview. The butterflies had calmed down after only a few minutes and the editor and I seemed to have hit it off well. Colin was in Talford until Tuesday so I watched a lot of crappy French television. And check my phone.
I was studying in the library on Monday when my phone rang. I practically jumped out of my skin, and chair, when I realized it was from the magazine. I hurried out of the library to answer it and after fifteen minutes, I hung up the phone beaming. Out of all the applicants for a single internship - it was mine. I wanted to shout but I was already getting enough attention from the people around me. I started to head back into the library to collect my stuff when one of the library assistants approached me. "I'm sorry about that, it was about a job..." I started to explain, assuming she was there to berate me for the noise. She smiled and handed me a folded piece of paper with my name on it. I looked at her confused and grabbed my belongings as I opened the note.
"Meet me in the tower please." It wasn't signed but I could only assume it was from Colin, I was surprised he was back already but wanted to share my news with him so I ran up several flights of stairs before reaching the top, winded.
"Hey you." I said. "You're back early." I said wrapping my arms around him and leaning against him.
"I was making arrangements with my professors." Colin said. "I've turned in just about all my projects for semester and most have agreed to let me take any finals early."
"There's only a couple weeks left though." I said confused, the clouds of late April threatened to open up and rain on us.
"I don't want to be here when it happens." he said sadly.
"It's that bad." I asked to which he nodded. "Oh okay."
"I'd like you to come back with me, when you return from seeing your friends." Colin said.
"To England...but I have school and...I got the internship at the magazine. The one in Paris?" I said, I'd been so excited to tell him before. I looked out toward the Eifle Tower in the distance and felt sad.
"That's wonderful Molly, congratulations." Colin said. I knew most of him meant it, but part of him was sad about the looming separation. "I've been traveling back and forth between Paris and London for months, it's not so bad."
"Right, and eventually..." I trailed off, there was no good way to say 'After your father dies...'
"I'll need to stay in England for awhile at least..." Colin said, reading my unvoiced thoughts.
"But we'll make it work. As you said, Paris to London isn't a long trip at all."
I felt lost as I hugged him. Paris loomed on the horizon for me but Colin wouldn't be with me for that particular adventure.
The room was dark. The door closed behind me.
I squinted as the lights came on in the room. I stood in disbelief...
Not too long after returning home from Egypt, I received a phone call from the General. He informed me that a sedan was on its way to pick me up for a flight from the local military base to Egypt. I was to meet up with Tony in Egypt, and he would fill me in on the rescue mission.
I found dad and told him about the call and that I was leaving. He insisted on accompanying me to Egypt. Denis was in his employ and he wanted, no, needed to take care of this personally. Of course I had no objections, but would the military? We both went about packing a small bag for the trip. If we were gone more than a couple days, we could buy what we needed locally.
I placed my bag in the foyer and went in search of Mao. I found him playing with Ning in the study. I let him know that Dad and I were leaving for a couple days, at least.
The sedan arrived and we were off to the base. There were no objections to Dad's tagging along. We boarded the plane and were on our way. The flight was too long and gave me too much time to reflect and postulate.
I can't believe it! Denis is dead? How could I have let this happen? No. I refuse to believe Denis is gone until I see for myself. If he is gone, I can never forgive myself for taking too long to find him. For not having done more. I should have...
"Boris, are you alright?" Dad asked after noticing the glazed look in my eyes.
"Huh? What? Oh, yeah, I'll be fine. I just can't get over the fact that Denis is gone also. He was like family, Dad!"
"Yes, I know you and he have become good friends. I knew I had made a good choice selecting him to protect you. I placed a lot of trust in him, and he never disappointed."
"This is my fault; all my fault. How could I have been so stupid? I was callous and uncaring back when I accepted the challenge that the military presented with the Black Tongue. I had no regard for anyone's feelings at the time, or for any repercussions that my actions might cause. I was wrong. You were right. You are always right."
"Damn it, Boris. Stop with the crap already! You had no idea what would happen as a result of your involvement. I had no idea. You can't keep blaming yourself for the past. It will eat you alive inside. All we can do is learn from our mistakes and move forward."
"I know, but I can't help feeling this way. Axel may screw up occasionally, but at least he does what he's told. I just can't be like that. I need to make my own way."
"Boris, don't even compare yourself to Axel. He has his own unique problems. He takes after Damon. Sometimes you just can't get through to them. Truth be told, Damon was just like Axel when I met him; perhaps even worse. He was cocky and flamboyant. He had no regard for anyone else, especially authority. He was given a task, and he set about it his own way. He eventually outgrew that cockiness. Now he's just a lovable hot-head."
"I was lucky enough to witness one of his weaker moments in Riverview. He hugged me, then he actually said he loved me. It was very soft and as he was walking away, but he said it nonetheless. I never felt closer to him than that moment. I'm glad he's my father."
"He is a caring parent, even if he doesn't display it outwardly. He loves both you and Axel, as do I. We couldn't have asked for better children."
"Ha ha! That's pretty funny, considering all of the problems Axel has had and caused. He used to get in plenty of trouble growing up. Still gets in to his fair share. It seems to seek him out."
"Now, Boris! We love him for all of his faults as well as his good points. What parent wouldn't? He still has a little growing up to do, that's all. Just so you know, we are fully aware that Ruby followed him to China to retrieve you."
"Oh, yeah, about that! I was sure we were all going to be lynched for that. I mean, I ran off after you told me to stay put. I just couldn’t sit and twiddle my thumbs anymore. I had to do something. And Axel was careless enough to let Ruby follow. I'm surprised we're still in one piece."
"What you three did was inexcusable. But I can't fault you for having done it. Not even Ruby. She loves Axel, perhaps too much. Axel was not as careless as Ruby was resourceful. We'll have to keep an eye on her. We may even have to recruit her."
"I hope you're just kidding," I said in disbelief. "I would not want any of my friends to be hiding in the shadows as I have been. It's not a fun life. I miss not being able to go where I want, when I want and do what I want, how I want."
"Of course I’m kidding, Boris. Ruby has the triplets. She needs to be there for them. As for your other friends, I am very pleased and appreciative of all the help they have given you. It is heartwarming to know that you have such loyal, caring and loving friends. You are truly blessed to have found each and every one of them.
"I always find it comforting to be seated with the cargo," Dad said, heavy with sarcasm. "I'm going to go see if I can't rustle up some food on this military bucket."
As Dad walked away in search of food, I pulled out my laptop. I turned it on, plugged in the satellite card and opened my email program. I may as well send an email while I've got the time.
Dear Stormy, Ruby, Molly, and Tony,
I hope this finds you all in good health. I had a great time in France and look forward to our next meeting in June. I can't wait to see everyone again.
Stormy, I hope that we can get together for a fishing trip or the like when I return.
Molly, I hope you and Colin have settled back into some sort of quiet lifestyle after the fiasco of a wedding you have been through.
Tony, I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Laila. She is a lovely person. I hope we can get together again soon.
Ruby, I hope your four children are behaving.
I would also like to express my gratitude for all of the help and support you have given me over the past few years. My father says I am truly blessed to have each and every one of you as friends, and I couldn't agree more.
I clicked the Send button just as Dad returned with some food from the portable galley, placed and locked to the floor of the cargo transport that was winging us to Egypt. The versatility of these cargo transports is amazing. They can easily be converted from cargo to passenger planes with little or no effort. Rows of seats are slid and locked into place to accommodate a small contingent to a rather large number of passengers. Galleys and bathrooms are just as easily placed. I was surprised at the smooth flight of the clumsy looking jet. It was a rather long flight, though, taking almost two hours longer than a commercial jetliner would have.
I have two more hours to stew over the possible loss of Denis. Whatever could the general have meant by "They did not find Denis alive?" My mind was concocting all sorts of possible scenarios.
"Boris, try to get some sleep. We don't know what to expect when we get to Egypt. You'll be exhausted when we get there, if you don't."
"I suppose you're right. I'll try to get some sleep right after I finish eating this - whatever it is."
"Good. It is tasty whatever, though," he said laughing.
His attempt at humor helped ease the tension I was feeling over the current situation. I was finding it difficult to concentrate on anything at the moment. I put my laptop away and leaned back in the seat and closed my eyes. It wasn't long before I drifted off to sleep.
I woke shortly before we were about to land. I made sure all of my gear was stowed. It's not easy to stow anything in this large open cargo bay. It's really an odd feeling to ride backwards, facing the cargo at the rear of the fuselage.
After we gathered our bags, we deplaned, and were escorted to a waiting hummer. We were driven to the Headquarters that Tony and his team had set up. We were led in to the building and motioned into an office.
Tony greeted us and then led me down the hall to a door. He held the door as I entered the dark room. The door closed behind me. I squinted as the lights came on in the room. I stood in disbelief at what I was seeing.
“Jing?” was all I could manage to bark out.
"Yes, it's me,
I heard her say something, but I was unable to make out any of her words as my brain raced through all of the events that led to this moment. A river of emotions was flowing through my very being. I could not distinguish one from the other in that instant that the lights were turned on. How could so many different conflicting emotions happen all at once?
Shock, that has to be it. I must be in shock. I stood in that room in utter amazement. For what seemed like an eternity, I looked at her, hoping that what I was seeing was real. Jing was standing before me, but how could this be? We were told she was gone. I presumed her dead. Yet, here she was.
I moved toward her. She moved toward me. The tears began to flow from both our eyes, streaming down our cheeks. We embraced, not saying a word. Nothing else existed in this moment; nothing else mattered. I was afraid to let go, fearing that the illusion would vanish and I would again be alone in this room. It seemed a veil of darkness draped over us, as if we were the only beings in existence at that moment.
Finally, we parted slightly, and looked into one another's eyes. The love in her eyes was enough to make me believe this was real. I leaned in and we kissed, her lips meeting mine. She began to waver as the tender kiss ended, so I motioned to a bench. We sat next to each other, she leaning into my shoulder. Still, a word had not been spoken.
I finally broke the silence, "You don't know how happy I am to see you." I leaned in and kissed the top of her head.
"I am very happy to see you, too, Boris," She said as the tears began to subside, leaving smears of her light makeup on her cheeks.
"I can't believe you're alive...I mean, we were led to believe you were killed. I am so grateful to Tony and Laila for finding you."
"Hold me Boris! Just hold me. Don't ever let me go."
"Never! Never again," I assured her.
We spent what seemed like several hours in each other's arms as I recounted the events since her disappearance; from her presumed death to Mao and Ning coming to live with us; from the wild goose chase, tracking down Denis, to her rescue. Jing was not ready to recount her captivity by the Khadra. I was not going to push the subject, either. She will let me know when she is ready.
“I have a son?" She asked, as she burst into tears. "I did not know what had happened to my baby. I feared he or she was lost to me forever. Ning? That's our grandfather's name. Mao must have named him."
"He's the most beautiful child you've ever seen. We'll all be together soon. Mao does such a good job with Ning when I’m not available. They really love each other."
“I miss Mao also. I am so happy to hear he is well, and is with family. Thank you for looking after him.”
“It was our pleasure. We love having him around. He has become a part of our family. He will always have a place with us.”
Jing burst into tears once again. “Boris, I am so happy…” Her words trailed off, as she wept uncontrollably against my shoulder.
A short time later, there was a light knock on the door.
Dad entered "I can come back if I'm disturbing you."
"No, Dad, it's all right. I don't believe you have ever met Jing." Then turning to her, I made the introductions, "Jing, this is my father, Achilles. Dad, this is Jing."
"Mr. Michaels, it is so nice to see you again," she said, extending her hand toward Achilles.
"It is very nice to see you again as well, and please, call me Achilles, or better yet, Dad. After all you are the mother of my grandson." Achilles pulled her into a gentle hug. Then, turning to me, he continued,
“I hate to interrupt, Boris, but I just received a curious call form Chase Avery. It appears he and his son have fallen victim to foul play and have been trapped in a tomb near here. He's asked for our assistance."
"Whatever we can do, let's do it."
"No, your place is right here for the time being. I have taken the liberty of asking Tony and Laila if they could arrange for the rescue. He has a crack team that has experience at this. I have also made arrangements for rail passage back to Cairo. From there we can fly home. If I never see another military cargo transport, it will be none too soon."
“That sounds great, Dad! We’ll see to the rail accommodations while you take care of Mr. Avery.”
“Good, then I will leave you two to it.” He gave me directions to the rail spur where the coach would be parked. “You will have to stock the kitchen and purchase other necessities as well. I’ve made arrangements with the shopkeepers to run a tab and I’ll settle with them later. Get whatever you think we need.”
“We’ll take care of it, Dad.”
He turned to leave just as Tony and Laila entered the room. I rose and walked towards them. Laila gave me a quick hug, which I returned, then brushed on past to go sit with Jing. I approached Tony and gave him a hug as I thanked him for finding Jing.
Tony proceeded to tell me about the operation that led to Jing’s rescue. His team works very well together. I can see why he places so much trust in each of them. And, yes, Tony does like the women!
“What are your plans, now, Boris?” Tony asked.
“We haven’t begun to discuss them, yet. We’ve been busy catching up,” I said, winking at Tony.
“Are you going to be leaving Egypt soon?”
“Hmmm…that’s a good question. Do you have something in mind?”
“Well, Laila and I were talking, and wondered if you would want to stay and have Christmas with us.”
“That sounds like a great idea, but it would be up to Jing,” I said turning towards Jing and Laila. She was looking my way, as if to ask for my opinion.
I smiled at Jing. The look in her eyes was warm and loving. She turned to Laila, “We’d love to spend the holiday here with you.”
“Great!” Turning to Tony, “Jing and I will take care of the arrangements, since you will be busy helping Dad. We’ll have to find some accommodations for our visit. It will also give Jing and me some time alone. Would you please tell Dad what we’re up to?”
“Sure, Boris. You can leave word here for your father once you find a place.”
After Tony and Laila had left, I moved across the room and sat next to Jing. I took her hand in mine and felt her apprehension drain from them. A sense of calm began to take its place.
“You must be exhausted. I will go look for a place on my own. I’ll come back and get you once I find something.”
“Oh, no, you don’t. I am not sitting here while you are out having fun. I’ve had enough of that to last me a life time. I would much rather be by your side.”
“Well, that works out perfectly, because that is exactly where I want you to be.” I leaned in and kissed her on the cheek. She slowly turned her head and returned my kiss.
On our way out of the headquarters, we made arrangements to pick up our bags after we had found a place to stay. We made our way to the market and inquired about accommodations. We would need someplace for a few weeks. While asking the book merchant, a man happened to overhear our request and presented us with a proposal.
“Excuse me, sir, but I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation. If you are indeed looking for temporary accommodations, I may have something for you,” he finished with a slight bow.
“And you are…?” I asked.
“Forgive me! Where are my manners? My name is Youssef Nagi. I live near the market in a large home; too large for me alone. I have plenty of space if you are interested.”
“We wouldn’t think of imposing.”
“Alas, it would not be an imposition at all. You see, I am an extensive traveler; an explorer one might say. I will be leaving tomorrow on another great adventure, and the house will be left empty for several weeks.”
“Oh, Boris, it can’t hurt to go look at it,” Jing prodded.
“Very well, Mr. Nagi, we would love to have you show us your home.”
It was not a distant walk, but in the heat of the day, it was quite exhausting. He did not exaggerate on the size of the house. It had to be the tallest if not the largest house in town. There was an accompanying outbuilding that served as a stable in the past. Now it was mainly used for storage. The house was very nice, with enough room for the entire family.
“Boris, I like this house,” Jing said, with a twinkle in her eyes and that mischievous girl grin I had become so familiar with in China. “Please, let’s take Mr. Nagi up on his offer. Please?”
How could I say no to that face? “Your home is very nice, Mr. Nagi. My father will be joining us sometime tonight, I hope. In fact, it has plenty of space for our whole family. The rest of our family will be joining us for the Christmas holiday. If this is a problem, we will look elsewhere.”
“Oh, no, please feel free to bring them all. I’ll not be here for some time, and it would all go unused. As I am just one, there is very little in the cupboards. If you will give me a list of your wishes, I’ll see what I can gather for you.”
“If you don’t mind, we would like to visit the market for ourselves. There are such lovely things there, that I would like to take them all in myself,” Jing said.
“Very well, I’m sure you will find what you need. Although the market is small, the selection is quite large,” he gloated. “And, please call me Youssef!”
We agreed on a rental fee and shook hands. He was far too trusting for the likes of my fathers. They would probably lecture me for hours on end for making a handshake deal in the middle of the desert with a man I just met. I cannot explain it, but I feel I can trust him. It is one of those things that you just know is right.
After making arrangements for our luggage to be delivered and leaving directions for Dad, we made our way back to the market. Jing insisted we visit all of the shops, not wanting to miss anything.
She was having the time of her life. She was so happy flitting from shop to shop; one would never know she had, until just recently, been held captive. I would probably be the same way, wanting to be in the open air after having been cooped up for so long.
She found several local works in the bookstore that she “had to have.” She picked out several fabrics from the clothing store; some decorative pieces from the relic shop; and even an easel from one of the bazaar stalls.
We passed a woman sitting at a wicker basket. I had heard of snake charmers, but hadn’t seen one before. We stopped and watch for a few minutes on our way out of the market.
We returned to the house, having made arrangements for delivery of our purchases. The foodstuffs were delivered in a short amount of time and we set about putting everything away. With the three of us, it took a short time to get things put away in their proper place, Youssef pointing out the places where he already had stashes of various things.
After we finished, Jing and I made our way to the living room, and cuddled on the sofa. She leaned with her head cradled in my shoulder and soon fell fast asleep. This would be a good opportunity to send an email to my friends. I moved from under Jing’s head and lay it gently on the sofa and made my way over to the computer on the desk. I hope Youssef won’t mind!
Just a note to let you know where I am (not that any of you care.) Just kidding.
Again, I want to thank each of you for your help these past few months.
Yesterday, I was escorted to the military base in Crescent Bay and rushed aboard a waiting transport plane, bound for Egypt. The flight was long. (If you've never flown on a military transport, you're not missing anything.)
When I inquired as to what this was all about, I was told that Tony would explain upon our arrival.
We arrived here safely, met with Tony and Laila, and I was shown to a room. I opened the door and I became so weak in the knees at what, rather, who, I saw there. Expecting to find Denis seated in the room, I was shocked to see Jing standing there.
Oh my God! I thought I was dreaming. I still haven’t come down out of the clouds.
Still no word on Denis, I'm sorry to say. Tony's team is diligently maintaining the search. I am confident they will find him.
Tony and Laila have invited us to spend Christmas with them here in Egypt. We will be back home in time for New Year's. I will tell you all more about it later.
Take care. Love you all, Boris
PS I was thinking that we should all get together one year for a Christmas celebration if we are ever all back home at the same time.
After clicking the send button, I looked around for a throw to place over Jing. She looked so at peace, I was careful not to wake her as I placed it on her. Something about this house feels safe. I chose one of the books, “The Legend of Queen Nosylla and King Nayr,” we had purchasedat the bookstore and settled into an opposing easy chair near the window to read.
A short while later, Dad found his way to the house, having gotten the directions from the headquarters. As luck would have it, he and Youssef have known each other for a long time. I should have known! My father has connections all over the known world, why wouldn’t he know of Youssef Nagi? All in all, it works out for the best in this situation, as I needn’t worry about repercussions from Dad for my decision to accept Youssef’s offer.
“Or am I missing something? Boris, stop being so paranoid,” I thought to myself.
“Youssef, it’s good to see you again, my friend! It has been a long time,” Dad greeted him with a hearty handshake.
“Achilles! Yes, it has, my old friend! Still up to your old tricks?” Youssef chided.
“Actually, I’ve moved beyond those days. My operations are now for the good of all!” You’d be surprised how illicit operations can be used and perceived as good. There’s a nice bit of profit to be had there, as well. I thought I recognized the address.”
After cleaning up after dinner, Jing and I went to bed. It was a long and tiring day. I don’t know how long Dad and Youssef stayed up, but they were talking about old times when we left them. I would expect not too late, as Youssef was leaving the next day.
We woke early and found Dad was still asleep. We made our way down to the kitchen to get breakfast and found a note from Youssef. He had already departed and wished us the best. He also listed a few thing of interest about the property, recurring deliveries to watch for, and where to find the keys to his SUV. By the time I finished reading the note, Jing had the coffee brewing.
After breakfast, we set about making arrangements for the holidays. We browsed the internet for gifts, decorations and even found a site with live Christmas Trees that could be shipped anywhere. Jing made an extra effort to find something nice for Mao and Ning. She wanted something very special for each of them.
I sent an email to Dad and Mao explaining our plans and asked them to join us in Egypt for the holidays. As I sent it off, I realized I had failed to mention the Tony and Laila had rescued Jing. After thinking about it, I decided not to send a subsequent message.
A few days and a couple thousand simoleans later, everything was set and most of our purchases had arrived. Many of the decorations have been placed about the house. The tree has not yet arrived, but that is probably for the best, as it would not last long in this heat, I fear.
I received a reply from Dad. He has booked a flight for Mao and Ning and would try to accompany them. He needed to make sure that Axel was able to take charge of affairs at work before he would commit. Their travel plans were included so that we could meet them at the airport in Cairo.
With little else to do at the moment, we decided to take in some of the local sites. We found a tourist information office in the marketplace. We perused the various brochures. Jing selected a few that interested her and we inquired about them with the agent. There was so much to see here. We settled on the Sphinx, The Temple of Queen Hapshepsut and Abu Simbel to get us started. If time permits, we may visit other sites.
We decided to begin our adventures with the Sphinx. The monument was truly a wonder. The amount of craftsmanship that was put into the construction was amazing. We were led through many chambers and anterooms. The tours were meant to amaze and wonder. They even went so far as to hire staff to dress as mummies that would emerge from the sarcophagi as the room was entered. They were quite creepy. Jing was ready with the camera just as one of them startled me. They seemed so lifelike; kudos to the staff. I am still wondering how they breath in those mummy masks.
Then one of them attacked Jing. The whole thing was so funny. She actually looked like she was fighting for her life. It then grabbed her, looked into her eyes and a strange light emanated from its eyes towards Jing’s. Best damned effects I’ve ever seen. Better than Star Trek. I’ll bet it really scares the children and weak minded, though. Of course, Jing wouldn’t talk to me for a while for not helping her out. I don’t understand why she was so ticked off at me. All in all, it was great fun; for me at least.
The tour through the Sphinx was long and exhausting. After waking up late the next day, we decided to spend it just lounging around the house; catching our breath, so to speak. Dad went out to check out a tomb he was interested in seeing, leaving the house to the two of us. We spent most of the day lounging on the roof. Youssef’s house was one of the taller ones in town and being higher up on the hillside, provided for some breathtaking views.
The next day we decided to take in the Temple of Queen Hapshepsut. This was another of Egypt’s wonders. I could imagine the immense ceremonies that took place upon the ramparts. After ascending the many steps, leading to the offering plate, we had to take a moment to catch our breath. The structure was in amazingly good repair, having been exposed to the winds and the sands all these thousands of years.
We walked about the upper decks for some time admiring the construction and carvings, thankful to be out of the midday sun. We stepped out of the shadows towards the steps as we were about to leave. I turned back towards the upper level of the temple and the moment just swept me away. I reached into my pocket and pulled out the shiny bauble I had placed there as I was getting dressed.
I lightly touched Jing’s hand. She slowly turned toward me and looked into my eyes. I brought my other hand up, the ring held between my index finger and thumb, poised to slip it on her finger. The motion was flawless, effortless. The afternoon sun met with the bauble and created a beautiful sparkle that reflected in Jing’s eyes. Her eyes went wide as she spied the sparkling gem. Her hands drew up to her mouth as it went agape with an audible gasp. She moved her gaze from the ring to my eyes. In that moment I knew her answer would be yes, without having asked the question.
“Jing, I love you so much. Would you do me the honor of becoming my life partner? Would you be my wife?” The last few words sounded corny, yet traditional, as I spoke them.
“Oh, Boris; yes, of course, I will marry you!” she beamed.
I slipped the ring onto her finger and watched as she admired the glinting gem in the sunlight. I could not help the smile that spread across my face, from ear to ear.
She leapt into my arms and kissed me several times. We drove back to town and had a quiet dinner in the market to celebrate. Afterwards, we returned home, and Jing, in all her excitement, could not keep the news from my father. He congratulated us and wished us the best.
We had also planned to visit Abu Simbel, but it has been closed indefinitely after an accident took place inside the tomb. We’ll have to take it in on another visit.
We spent the remainder of the time before the rest of the family’s arrival, preparing the house for Christmas, putting up decorations and making preparations for the meal. We finished our last minute shopping online, making sure to get gifts sent off to all of our family and friends. I especially hope Grandpa Don likes his gift.
Dad drove up to Cairo by himself, as there would not have enough room in the Rover for Dad, Mao, Ning and the bags with us along. Jing and I made final preparations for their arrival, preparing a light meal for them after the long ride.
We heard them drive up and ran out to help with the bags. Mao rounded the back of the vehicle after retrieving Ning from the car seat. I had to snatch Ning from Mao’s clutches as he wavered and almost fell at seeing Jing. His face went white in disbelief. Jing ran to him and hugged him, almost sending them both to the ground. They disappeared into the house, talking wildly at each other. I wonder if each heard what the other was saying.
“Holy hell, Boris!” Dad huffed. “Why didn’t you tell us Jing was safe? That was a pretty thoughtless stunt to pull! You almost sent poor Mao to his grave!”
“I’m sorry Dad; it didn’t cross my mind, until it was too late. Go on inside; I’ll get the bags,” I said as I nudged him toward the door. I put Ning down in the living room and retrieved the rest of the luggage.
For the next few days, I stepped back in to the shadows, so to speak, allowing Jing to get reacquainted with Mao and to get to know her son. It was enough for me to watch from a distance. I knew there would be time for us in the days to come. It also gave me time to catch up on work and things with my Dads. Dad told us he had left Axel in charge of the night operations.
Christmas Day was finally upon us. I woke early and made my way to the kitchen to brew some coffee. I should have known Mao would beat me to it. How does he do that? Ah, well! I poured a cup and made my way to the roof to enjoy the coffee as the sun began to rise. I felt a light touch on my shoulder. I turned to see Jing, looking especially radiant in the early morning sunlight.
“I love you,” she half whispered.
“And I love you,” I managed before our lips met.
“Mmm, we had better get ready before Tony and Laila arrive. Ning will most likely be up soon as well. I can’t wait to spend my first Christmas with all of you. I love your family – our family.”
We were all soon gathered in the kitchen, preparing breakfast. Everyone was doing their part. Dad was acting like a doting grandmother with Ning, setting him up in his high chair. Now that is one for the photo album.
Tony and Laila arrived a short time later. After placing their packages under the tree, we all sat down to a grand breakfast. Everyone did their part to clean up and then we all moved to the living room. We all watched as Ning opened the first gift. It was a toy fire engine from Tony and Laila. He had more fun with the box, paper and ribbon than the toy. I thought I was in a laser light show with all of the camera flashes going off. Tony got down on the floor to play with Ning. He is going to be a very good father to his children.
After all the gifts were opened and pictures taken, it was time to begin preparing dinner. Ning was enjoying the attention he was getting from Tony and his grandpas. Mao and I made off to the kitchen to get started, leaving Jing and Laila to talk in the dining room.
“I’m so glad we got together,” I heard Jing saying.
“So am I. Tony and I are so happy to be able to spend the holiday with you and Boris. You’re like family to us.”
“We have known each other for a long time, haven’t we? I’ve always wondered, Laila, why it was that Grand Master Feng sent you to study under my tutelage?”
“Grand Master Feng suggested I seek you out. I was thirteen then. I mastered the arts at that age,” Laila explained. “Grand Master Feng told me that he only knew of one other that mastered the arts at such a young age. That is when he told me to seek you out and learn from you for a year before returning. You were only a few years older.”
“You were one of my best students. You were always so eager to learn. You made me so proud,” Jing averred.
“I looked up to you. You taught me so much. I can’t thank you enough.”
“I was saddened when you stopped writing. After not receiving replies to my mail, I stopped as well. I’m so sorry if I had done something to offend you then.”
“No, Jing, the apology is mine to make. I had a dreaded hatred for America because they took my brother Xiang away from me that I was furious that you had fallen in love with an American. Then I met Tony, and I realized I was wrong to behave so. I was wrong to judge you, without having gotten to know him. Please forgive me.”
“Oh, Laila, I‘m so glad you told me. I could never stay angry with my little sister.”
We enjoyed a wonderful dinner. Tony, Laila, Jing and I spent the rest of the evening catching up on our lives. I am blessed to have these three in my life right now.
Shortly after returning home, we attended a New Year’s Eve party. Molly was home for the holidays and invited Jing and I to a party at her folks place. Colin arriving just before midnight was a welcomed surprise, especially for Molly.
Toward the end of her visit, in February, Molly invited Jing and me, and Ruby and Axel, over for a play date for the children. It will be a nice opportunity to catch up with each other while the children, Lauren, Ning, and the triplets, Byron, Celia and Leilana get to play and know one another. Jing did not go, as she was still trying to get settled in Crescent Bay, and Axel was unable to go because of his work schedule. Stormy arrived with Sunny and Eric in tow after school was let out.
Later that month, I received a very nice email from Tony asking to get together the first week of March. He would be home to visit his father. I responded immediately. It would be nice to see Tony and Laila again. We look forward to their visit.
In late February, after receiving word from the military that Denis' body had been delivered in Riverview, the family attended a small private burial ceremony for him. He had become a member of the family, and will be missed dearly.
A week or so after our visit with Tony and Laila, we headed for Riverview for a month. Mao and Ning came along with us so Jing could spend some time with only us, away from the parents, job, and other distractions. Mao is the only family Jing has left from China.
We have needed this time to just relax. Since Egypt, my work has kept me very busy. We’ve needed some time to ourselves. Jing and Mao spent time together, whether sparring, fishing, or just watching Ning. I started fiddling around with metal scraps and such. I’ve built a couple toys. They are not refined enough to let a child play with them, though.
We went out about town and did some shopping, frequenting the Bistro for lunch. We would occasionally run into someone I knew and introduce Jing to them. She seemed to get along with everyone, and they with her. I pointed out Crazy Cottoneye from across the street. No need getting close to that one. He’s nice enough, but he’s not playing with a full deck.
We took in some of the sites of Riverview, which really doesn’t amount to much. There is an old watch tower downtown, on the southern end of the island. It has a great view of the surrounding countryside. The town leaders decided to restore the old tower and I donated some telescopes and easels for the public to use on the upper deck.
Two weeks in to our stay, we received a visitor which we did not expect at all. As the bell rang, I made my way to the door to see who it could be.
“Stormy?” I exclaimed disbelief as I saw a police cruiser backing out of the driveway.
There was no reply, just a blank stare from her glazed over eyes. I immediately knew she had been crying recently. I had never seen Stormy in a state like this before. She remained like this throughout the evening and into the better part of the next day. Jing and I helped her to a room, and Jing helped her get settled in for the night.
It was late when Stormy finally emerged from her room the next day. Later that afternoon, she finally opened up to me, explaining the events that had sent her tail spinning into the zombie I met at the door.
After listening intently to her tale, I thanked her for confiding in me. She gave me a hug and I returned the affectionate gesture. I felt a special bond with Stormy. She and I had cemented our relationship over the years, beginning with that awkward encounter at the trash bin. We have become very close, mostly out of circumstance, but nevertheless, very close.
I encouraged her to confide in Beau. He has expressed his fondness for Stormy on numerous occasions. I truly feel they would be good for each other.
The next day I received a phone a call with an urgent plea to return to Crescent Bay.
“Jing, Stormy, I just received a message from my father and have to return to Crescent Bay tomorrow. I hate to have to leave right now. I expect to be there overnight at the very least. Will you two be alright here?”
“We’ll be fine,” Jing assured me. “It will be a good chance for us to get to know each other a little better.”
“Yes, Boris, Jing and I will find something to occupy our time. You go take care of your business,” Stormy agreed.
“Great, and thanks! If you need anything while I’m gone, just ask Mao, or call Beau. Either one, or both, would be happy to help.”
I was on the road back to Crescent Bay with time to spare. Barring any detours, construction zones or farm wagons, I should make it back an hour early. I can only wonder what Dad wants me back for that he had to set a time for my arrival.
I kept playing his message over and over in my mind, trying to make some sense of it.
Hey Boris, this is Dad. I need you back in Crescent Bay by 1 p.m. tomorrow. Meet at the conference room at the warehouse. Please try to be on time.
I still could not make heads or tails of it. What could be so important that he would want to meet at the Warehouse? What could it be that involves me? I don’t work for The Warehouse directly. This just makes no sense. I know I will find out in due time, but it bothers me nonetheless not knowing in advance.
Having averted my attention from the road for just a brief moment, I regained my senses in time to avoid hitting a tractor that was pulling on to the road from a field. The rest of the trip was quite uneventful. It was a beautiful sunny day over the countryside, as it usually was. It hardly ever rained here during the daytime. One of these days, the weather patterns will change and hit us with a deluge of water, worthy of an ark.
I entered the city limits with an hour to spare. It was only another 5 minutes to The Warehouse. During the day, there is very little activity at The Warehouse. Parking won’t be a problem, at least.
I parked and made my way into the abandoned building and down two levels using the hidden elevator. Entry is permitted by automatic DNA scans. The device hidden in an archway automatically scans your DNA, and if it’s in the database, opens the elevator shaft. If not, you will have access to a deserted and dirty warehouse above ground and nothing more.
I made my way to the conference room at the center of the complex. My Dads were already seated behind a table that was set up at the far end of the room, facing the main double doors. Not a word was spoken as I entered the room. Dad pointed to a chair that was set off to the side of the room at a small table near the entrance. A chair had been placed in the center of the room facing them.
“We felt it was in your best interest to be a part of this meeting. This does concern you to a certain degree; however, your input is neither required, nor requested. You are here merely to observe.”
I was about to ask a question when a hand shot up in from of my father signaling me to be silent. “All will be made clear shortly. Please bear with us.”
I have never seen the two of them so closed off before. I was even more curious now, than before. All will be made clear…all what?
A few minutes later, a knock came at the door.
“Enter,” was all that Dad said.
As the door opened towards me, I was not able to readily see who was about to enter the room. As the person entered the room, I was even more curious as to what this was all about. This was not making any sense at all.
“Take a seat,” Dad motioned to the chair in the middle of the room.
My Father, Achilles, was speaking as he always did. My Dads had their roles. Achilles was the mastermind, the speaker, the negotiator; and Damon was the muscle. This is not to say that Damon was not intelligent, but his short temper served to make matters worse in quick order. He was there in a support role as partner of the organization.
Dad continued, “I don’t suppose you know why we’ve asked you here. Have you any idea?”
“I don’t have the slightest clue. Would you care to explain?”
“But of course. We received a curious visitor some time ago. She came to us with concerns that you were being overworked. She asked that we change your schedule, giving you fewer late night jobs. Why would she come to us and request this, do you think?”
“I don’t know why she would do that. I’ll have a talk with her later.”
“Yes, please do. What we do now, we feel we must in the best interest of the organization.”
“What are you…?” he began, but was cut to the quick by the same hand that had cut me off earlier.
“Let me continue. You may speak in a moment. It has come to our attention that you are not living up to your responsibilities. You may be punctual to work, and give the organization your all, but you have let your family down. You have a responsibility to your wife and children as well as your employer. You, and no one else, must find that balance needed to manage both family and employment. How do you propose to do so?”
“I’m doing my best. I don’t know what else I can do. Tell me what I’m doing wrong.”
“My God, Axel! Listen to yourself. You have got to find your manhood and take charge of your life. You sound like a simpering animal.”
“I can’t believe this is happening! Why are you doing this? Why is Ruby doing this?”
“Why are we doing this? You have a wife who loves and needs her partner; three children who need their father; parents who need their son; and an employer who needs a level-headed employee. It is up to you to find the right balance for each of these elements of your life. You don’t seem to be capable of that task, however. How do you propose to rectify your situation?”
“I have everything under control.”
“If you have everything under control, why did Ruby come to us and ask us to change your schedule? We know you have been sleeping away from home. You have not been spending much time with Ruby and the kids.”
“Where I sleep is my business and mine alone.”
“There, young man, you are wrong. It is Ruby’s business. It is my business. It is even Boris’ business. Can’t you see that we all care for you? We have been reaching out to you for several months now, and you have failed to grasp the lifeline. You just don’t seem to be getting it.”
“I can fix this. Give me a chance.”
“You have been given ample opportunity to “fix this” as you say. You have failed; failed miserably. We are going to intervene. As of this moment, your employment here is terminated. Go down to Sal Arry’s office and collect your severance. Do not squander it. It is all you are getting from us. There will be no more medical coverage for you, Ruby, or your children. There will be nothing more from us. We suggest you go home and take some time to get reacquainted with your family.”
“Oh my God! Why is this happening?” Axel asked no one in particular, with his head hung low, cradled in his hands.
I felt so bad for Axel at that moment, but I knew our Dads were doing the right thing. He had been letting his world fall apart piece by piece for a long time. I can only hope that he uses this opportunity to turn himself around and get his life back.
“You may go now.”
“Wait! Can’t I have another chance?”
“You have been given too many chances already. It has to stop.”
“What am I going to do? What will happen to Ruby and the kids?”
“That is entirely up to you, Axel. You have the power to set things right. I suggest you start immediately. Go find your life. It is no longer here.”
“Why is Boris here? I always knew you liked him best. I never had a chance against him. He could do no wrong in your eyes,” Axel raised his voice, on the verge of tears.
“You need to stop acting like a child. I suggest you leave before you, or I, say or do something we will regret,” Damon calmly said, speaking for the first time.
Axel slowly turned towards the door. He began to walk, lumbering as if the weight of his legs was too much for him to move. His head hung low, he looked at me as he walked. The sorrow in his eyes was more than I could bear. It took all of my resolve to sit quietly and not rush to hug him. I could feel the salty droplets beginning to well behind my eyes. I had to look away before I burst into tears.
As the door was closed behind him, Dad spoke to me for the first time.
“I would like to hear what you have to say, Boris. How do you feel about it?”
“Well, to begin with, you have caught me off guard here. I had no idea it had gotten this bad. I am not going to presume to tell you how to run your business affairs; or your family affairs, for that matter. I believe you did what you felt you had to do. Am I allowed to reach out if the occasion presents itself?”
“Thank you. I knew we could count on you to see our side of this affair. We are not going to ask you to sever your ties with your brother. We hope in our hearts that Axel will not feel ill towards us as parents for what we had to do as employers. They say time heals all wounds. We shall see. I think we have taken up enough of your time. Go back to your family.”
“It’s quite late, so I will head back in the morning. I’m going to go home and get some sleep.”
“That’s fine. We’ll be along shortly. We’re going to stop and pick up some dinner on the way home. Do you want us to get you something?”
“No thank you. I’m not hungry right now. I’ll find something in the kitchen later.”
I left the conference room, dreading the walk to my car, wondering if Axel were laying in wait. I was not in the mood to talk to him just yet. I was emotionally drained from this ordeal. As fortune would have it, I did not run into him at all. I do hope he can get his life turned around.
I got home and went right to my room and fell on the bed. I was asleep in no time. I woke up a few hours later, got out of my clothes and climbed under the covers for a proper night’s sleep. I checked my phone before turning out the light. No messages. I don’t know why, but I expected at least one from Axel. I turned out the light and was out again in no time.
I woke early and made my way downstairs to the kitchen for some much needed coffee. I was happy to see the pot was already brewing. When the coffee was ready, I poured a cup and made my way outside to poolside, to enjoy my coffee in the early morning air. Soon my Dads both appeared with mugs in hand as well. We chatted about the weather, sports, investments, and the like. They asked about Jing, Mao and Ning. Not a word of the events of yesterday was spoken. I was glad not to have to talk about it again so soon.
After breakfast, I went back upstairs and got ready for the drive back to Riverview. The drive seemed longer than usual. I know I should concentrate on Stormy, wondering how she is getting on with Jing, but I could only think of Axel; poor Axel. H e was always blaming me for his problems; his actions; his mistakes. I don’t love him any less for it. He will always be my brother.
As I pulled into the driveway, Mao was already on his way out to greet me. I was happy to see that Stormy was in better spirits than when I left. She assured me she was doing much better. We spent the last few days of Stormy’s stay with us in Riverview just lazing about, with a couple nights dining out with Beau. Stormy left about a week before we did. I sure hope she is able to cope with the situation upon her return.
I went back to my work bench. Jing would spend hours painting while Ning played peacefully by her side. Mao spent the majority of his time caring for the garden. The garden was much too large for him alone, but he would rebuff my offers to help him.
In mid-May, Uncle Dante and Grandpa Don came to visit. They looked the picture of health, but Grandpa Don passed away while at the house. According to his wishes, Grandpa was cremated immediately after the autopsy. We held a funeral mass for him at the local chapel. The urn will be stored in the local Mausoleum; however, a grave marker has been obtained for a grave in the cemetery. After going through his belongings, Uncle Dante gave me Grandpa’s journal.
RIP Don Lothario.
While in Egypt Achilles asked if my team and I could help rescue his friend Chase; he had a location on him, and he was locked in a tomb.
We all agreed to help, Kim said she knew a tomb expert and would meet us at the tomb.
Achilles: that’s great Kim; time is of the essence so hurry,” as he gave her the location of the tomb. “I’ll be there with bells on” Kim replied as she left.
While Kim was retrieving the tomb expert; Achilles and I gathered what equipment we thought we would need; ropes, flashlights, hammers and such and put them in our backpacks. Laila and Linda filled canteens with water and brought bread, depending how long Chase and his son were entrapped; they may be hungry and thirsty.
As we arrived at the site Kim and the Expert were waiting.
Achilles looked at the tomb expert and said “Yasser, I thought you were dead.”
“Ahh, Achilles, how are you my old friend, yes; thanks to your lady friends here, that arranged my fake death so I could leave the Khadra without them looking for me.”
Achilles: “well, you can fill me in on that story another time; right now we need to get inside this tomb and help my friend.
As Yasser examined the entrance to the door, he had a serious look upon his face, “there is another entrance that leads under the tomb, we need to use that entrance, it was burrowed out many years ago by vandals and tomb robbers.”
Yasser lead us to the secret entrance, we descended into the deep small entrance and crawled on our bellies for what seemed like forever. Then finally there was room to stand. There was a large door which Yasser pulled a lever and the door opened then examined the room and structure as we walked through.
“You will have to act very quickly, there is not much time; the pressure is building.
You see my friends; the leverage system for the entrance door was sabotaged, the problem is when they sabotaged the leverage system which is operated by the desert sand
It caused the pressure to build. You have one hour to get your friend out before the pressure collapse the tomb.”
“You have to relieve the pressure, now the bad news, if you are successful; the pressure will revert back and this door will shut, the room will fill with sand and you my friends will be buried alive.”
Achilles: “you are just full of good tidings aren’t you?”
Yasser told us what we needed to do to relieve the pressure and the door should open for Chase and his son and close on us. Then Yasser said “Good bye my friends, I would stay to help you but I am no martyr.”
“Achilles: “you were always a cowardly snake in the sand Yasser.” “Yes, my friend Achilles, better to be a coward and slither away; than to be buried alive in the sands of Egypt, good luck unto you my friends.” As he ran out of the tomb for his life he laughed and shouted “May Allah smile upon you my American friends as you greet him today!”
Achilles: “I never did like that guy! Tony, you and your team may leave as well; Chase is my friend, I could not ask you to risk your lives.” I looked at the others as they all smiled; I knew their answer without them saying a word. “We better hurry and relieve the pressure; we have less than an hour.” I replied.
Achilles noticed the door which we had to make a hasty exit through or be buried alive and asked “Tony, how much would you say that door weighs? “About half a ton or so I would imagine.” “Yeah that’s what I was thinking, if we could use something to pry the door after we relieve the pressure we may just make it out of here alive.
Linda: noticed the center beam that was being used to support the sand from caving in on us, “if we were able to break the beam from the south and right at six and a half feet, it should slide under the door giving us just enough room to escape seeing the sand will fill the room anyways.” Laila looked at the height of the beam, if you can mark the beam where you need it, I can break it.”
Achilles, well, if you are sure you can do it, after we relieve the pressure, I will yell Now! As soon as I do we need to move.” “Okay, lest do it.”
Needless to say Laila was very capable of breaking the beam precisely on the mark and we all made it out on time with our lives, thanks to Achilles and Laila’s sense of directions, I must admit I would have gotten lost if I were alone.
As we exited the tomb Achilles hurried around to the front of the tomb to see if the entrance door had indeed opened.
Laila and I spent Christmas with Boris and his now extended family, Little Ning was just adorable, I could not believe the amount of time I spent playing with him on the floor. Laila and Jing were talking about their younger days when I heard Laila scream; first I thought there was something wrong; then I heard Laila shout “Congratulations, I’m so happy for you, I know you will be very happy being Married to Boris!”
Boris looked over at me as I stood up “you sly dog you, why didn’t you tell me you were getting married?” Boris laughingly said “I guess the cats out of the bag, I was going to tell you all at dinner, I guess Jing beat me to it.”
I poured each of us a small glass of wine, then lifted my glass; “A toast, to Boris and Jing; congratulations, and may you both be very happy together.”
We had a great time; I never really had Christmas with family since I was five years old, actually the only Christmas dinners I’ve had since I was five is with my friends; the year before last at Ruby’ and this year with Boris; my dad and I generally have a small dinner if he was home and not away on business.
Jan: On New Years Eve, at midnight Laila and I had a small glass of wine, and said happy New Years to each other, as we slow danced to soft music.
Then Laila finally asked me a question; that has been a on her mind. “I need to ask you something Tony; do you wish you were with someone else instead?”
I looked at Laila; her question deserved an honest answer. I took Laila’s hand as we sat on the sofa.
Tony: “My sweet Laila, I love you with all my heart, there are three women I really loved in my short lifetime; you, Molly and my Mom.” “You never talked about your Mom.” “I know.”
Tony: “I never forgave my mom for leaving me, she died at a young age; I felt she left me alone at the age of six, I missed her so much.”
“But you had your dad you were not alone.”
“My dad was not home much, he was always away on business, as I said before; I felt so alone, I was just a child; an only child, no brothers and sisters to play with, but how could my mom leave me when I needed her so in my life. Never the less she was gone forever, I longed for attention from my dad after my mom passed, but he would always leave me with a sitter and be away on business for weeks at a time.”
“I use to sit in my room alone wishing I had my mom and dad with me, as I got older I excelled in sports; you see, my father liked sports; for a brief moment in my life I was happy, but even for my big game he was called away on business although; he said he would be there.” I felt abandoned, but Molly was there, Molly was always there, during school, at all my games, even after school she was there; I never felt lonely when we dated. So I looked unto her for the fulfillment and attention I needed, and when she ended the relationship; although we both said it was for the best; I never really wanted it to end. It was as if there was a knife plunged into my heart, I kind of went off on her; although I did not really want to hurt her.”
“Again I was abandoned, again I was forsaken. I was alone all over again. Do you want to know why I joined the military and took on those missions? Do you really want to know? It was not that I was an athlete, nor because I was brave, it was not because I was noble as you are; but that I would return home in a casket and my dad would cry and wish he had spent more time with me before I died! But I was too much of a coward to allow myself be killed. Everyone that I love seems to abandon me sooner or later.”
Laila could see she opened up a can of worms as I laid my head upon her shoulder and did something no soldier would do; I wept.
Laila “I’m so sorry Tony; I did not mean to upset you, but you have it all wrong, first; I know your heart, you are no coward, second, you were never alone, your mother is always with you; looking over you, protecting you, also you have some of the most loyal friends that I have ever seen, although you and Molly are not together as a couple; she never left you. And your father is here right where I am now; in your heart. Although people cannot be with you always and all the time, if they love you, they carry you with them always in their hearts; at business meetings, when they go far away and even death.”
As Laila continued to reached out to me I was no longer upset, for the very first time I felt calm, nothing mattered; not the war, not the Military, not winning my dad’s attention, or food for that matter. All that mattered was Laila and I was together. I finally understood why I could not let Molly go; it was the fear of being alone. No longer did I feel I needed my dad’s attention, I knew he love me. I finally had closure and peace within. She was able to open my eyes in a few minutes, something the good Doctor on base could not do in a year.
I stayed in Laila’s arms a little longer till she fell asleep on the sofa.
I went to my laptop and sent an email to Molly:
I Love you
That’s all I wrote and hit the send button, it was all I needed to send, you see; Molly knew me very well, I know when she read it she smiled and knew I finally was at peace with her and Colin being together, and able to let go and move on.
The next Day I called home to wish my family and friends a Happy New Years, I told my dad I loved him and hoped to see him soon.
On January 25th I received orders that Operation Dennis was ended and I am to return to base on February 5th, the Military had recovered a body they have identified as Dennis Slater the body will be flown back to Riverview, listing his employer Achilles Michaels as next of kin. I informed Laila and the others that I’m to return to base within the next few days and that the search for Dennis was over.
I must admit all the fighting is starting to get to me; I’m tired and ready for a change in direction for my life. February 3, is a night I would not soon forget Laila’s 20th birthday.
Laila made some kind of rice cake; I can’t remember the name of it but it tasted great.
I took Laila out for dinner but she wanted to return home, so we ate quickly and returned home. I thought maybe she was not feeling well or maybe the fact that I was leaving in a few days, and Laila would be returning to China.
Laila went and took a shower while I got ready for bed.
While sitting in my bedroom thinking about my life; and the lack of direction thereof; I heard Laila close her bed room door; I thought to myself “she must really be upset, She did not even say good night to me, as she had done every night, then my bedroom door opened.
“What are you doing” I asked “Tony I’m yours till death, all of me belong to you; I’ve given you my heart and soul, now I give my body to you. I feel your heart within me; I feel your soul within me, now it’s time for our bodies to be one as well.”
I wanted to do the right thing, wait till we were married, I wanted to say something romantic, yet not make her feel rejected by saying not yet, I know we have been dating almost a year now, but was it too soon? When I opened my mouth the only thing that came out was;
Who am I to deny her; her birthday wish?
As I touched her I felt some guilt at first, but that soon passed as I was swallowed by her love for me. I never knew love could feel so pleasant, for the first time in my life I was content and happy, truly and utterly happy. Laila has kept her promises that she made to me.
She had mended my heart, she gave me new memories and she gave me happiness.
A few days later as Laila prepared dinner, the door bell rang, I opened the door and greeted our guest, Laila recognized the voice and ran to the door, “Mom, Dad, what are you doing here?” Her farther smiled and responded; “Tony invited us to dinner.”
Laila: “So you came all the way from China to Egypt for dinner?”
After dinner Laila and I, got up to clear the dishes, when we finished I asked her to have a seat.
Tony: “The reason I brought you here to Egypt, I have something to ask the two of you, Laila has opened my eyes to so much, with her help I am able to understand your customs, language and way of life, I have fallen in love with your land, peoples and your family. I have also fallen in love with your daughter and I ask the two of you for your daughters hand in marriage.”
Laila did not say a word; she looked at her parents to see what they would say.
Laila’s mother looked at her husband; he knew just what she was thinking as he was thinking the same. Laila’s dad stood and said.
“Tony, I think of you as a son, you have done so much for us, and I know you love our daughter; but if you truly understand our customs and my family, you know there must be an alliance between the families, you know we must honor our ancestors, and there are marriage traditions that must be followed for a marriage to be truly blessed.”
Tony: “Yes, I understand all this, I will go to my father, and we will honor the traditions of your ancestors.”
Laila’s dad: “If this truly is the case, and you are sure he will accept our wedding traditions; then you have our blessings to marry our daughter.”
Laila could not believe what she was hearing, as tears streamed down her face. I walked over to Laila and bent down on one knee, “Laila, you have given me so much, never have I felt so free and full of life, I am so tried from all the fighting and you have given peace to this weary warrior, you said to me that you are mine and all of you belong unto me,
when I was in darkness, you opened my eyes and gave me light, when I was sad you filled my heart with happiness, when I was of an broken heart, you mended it and made it whole, so you see my love; it is all of me that belong unto you. Laila what I’m trying to say is; I am nothing without you, I so desperately need you in my life, Laila, will you honor me by being my wife?”
Laila could not fight back the tears of joy that ran down her face, with her voice cracking, she sniffled took hold of my hand and said “Tony, my rock, my mountain, you too have given me much; you are my water when I was thirsty, you protected me and gave me back my father, you gave me hope when I was hopeless, you made a new path and a way for me to follow, I choose to walk down this path with you always and forever. It will be my honor to be your wife, my answer is yes! I will marry you.”
I wiped the tears form Laila’s weeping eyes then we embraced in a short lived hug; then
Laila’s mother and dad hugged me “Welcome to the family son.” “Yes, welcome to the family I know the two of you will be very happy together.” her mother echoed.
“Thanks.” I replied with the biggest smile upon my face.
“I called my dad the next day, to make arrangement to meet. He was leaving town for a few weeks on business but would be home March 1st. I made travel arrangements to return to Crescent Bay for the first of March.
Laila and I had not set a date for the wedding yet, not till after we talked to my father.
I sent an Email to Boris, seeing he was like a brother to me.
I just wanted you to know I will be in Crescent Bay the first week of march, maybe we can get together if you will be in town, the reason I will be in town is to talk to my dad about the wedding, you see I asked Laila to marry me. We have not set the date till after I talk with my father.
Also I have a favor to ask of you, I’ve tried to take care of this matter myself; but with little success. I’ll phone you later with the details.
Love your Brother,
Before I could close my laptop there was a reply from Boris.
Congratulations to you and Laila! That’s wonderful news. The beginning of March is great timing. We leave for Riverview the middle of the month. It will be good to see you again.
I called Boris two days later to ask the favor I needed, Boris listened attentively to the request.
Boris: “I’ll do what I can Tony.”
Tony: “That’s all I ask, if anyone can do this, it’s you. I’ll see you in March.”
I returned to base and counted the days till my leave on February 28th. Laila and I sent emails and talked on the phone just about every day. I informed the military I would not reenlist this year, lest just say they wanted me to reenlist; they had orders for me throughout the next three years but changed them.
I was informed that I would receive my Honorable Discharge on May 15th.
On February 28th Laila met me on Base; from there we took a taxi to the airport and waited for our flight.
Laila and I arrived in Crescent Bay at three O’clock AM. We could barely keep our eyes opened, although we did sleep a little on the plane.
My father met us at the air port greeting us with three cups of coffee in his hand.
Hank: how was your trip son? He asked as he handed me a cup of coffee.
Tony: It was very long. I said with a smile as I took the cup of coffee from his hand.
Hank: this must be Laila, it a pleasure to meet you, Tony you did not tell me she was so beautiful.” He smiled as he handed her the other cup of coffee.
Laila taking the coffee from him smiled and said, “The pleasure is all mine.”
My dad hugged and congratulated Laila and I on our engagement.
Each of us took a sip of coffee, “what’s this? I thought it was tea.” Laila asked. “Its coffee, you never drank coffee before?” my dad asked, “No, it’s good though.” Laila said while taking another sip.
Hank laughed while looking at Laila trying to take another sip without burning her lips. “Well, we better go and get your bags.”
When we arrived home, Laila stated “what a nice place you have Mr. Starks” My dad started to laugh “Mr. Starks? Just call me hank, or you can start calling me dad if you like.”
Laila looked at me, I just smiled, and then she turned to my father “Okay, dad it is.”
Hank: “seeing its four O’clock in the morning, I’m going to bed, I’ll see you all in the morning, “Oaky night dad; I’m a little tired myself” I said with a yawn. “Goodnight dad” Laila echoed.
My dad woke up early the that same morning, I’m not sure he even slept, and made breakfast for us before having to leave for work, Smelling the pancakes I arose out of bed leaving Laila to sleep a little longer.
As I walked into the kitchen my dad turned toward me. “Have a seat son” I sat at the kitchen table “mmm smells good dad.”
Hank: “We really did not get much of a chance to talk about this; I need to ask you something.”
Tony: “Ask away.”
Hank: “very well, are you sure about this wedding?”
Tony: “Yes, I’m very sure, why?”
Hank: “I just want to be sure you are, it was not long ago that we were having a talk about you loving Molly, I just wanted to be sure this was not some kind of rebound thing, and that you and Molly are Okay.”
I started to rub my chin as I answered “I know it was not that long ago I said Molly was the one for me, and I believed that with all my heart, But it was not meant to be, I love Molly and always will, I went to see Molly and her friends, I met Colin, he is great for Molly, I know she will be happy, also Molly met Laila we were all together last year; Yes, Molly and I are doing very well; we are all good friends.”
Tony: “As for Laila, she is my heart and soul, I can see that now, I would be lost without her in my life, I love Laila, and trust her with my life, she has given me peace and opened my eyes to a whole new world that I never knew existed.”
Hank: “Very well Son, then I am truly, very happy for you, congratulations again, so what is it that you need from me?”
Tony: “Laila’s family follows certain customs and certain practices, there must be alliances between the families before the wedding takes place, and I need you to honor their customs and form alliance with the Yong family.
Hank: “I’m not sure what you need me to do, but I will follow whatever instruction I’m given, I just want to see you happy son, and if this will do it, you can count on me.”
Laila came into the kitchen “Morning my love, morning dad” she said with a smile.
As we ate breakfast Laila went over what would be needed from my dad and what would take place. My dad really came through so far, he has agreed to get the things needed and would meet Laila and her family in China within three weeks.
Later that afternoon Laila and I met with Stormy and Ruby for lunch.
Ruby filled us in on how her family were doing, and wish I could have made it to Molly’s New Year’s party, it was a great event even Colin made a surprise visit. Stormy updated us on her romance with Beau, he sounds like a great guy.
I then gave my own little bit of news; Laila and I were engaged to be married, and how my father will meet the Yong family in China.
Ruby and stormy gave Laila and me a big hug, and congratulations.
We talked for a few hours after we had finished with our meal; I’m sure the waiter wanted to kick us out of the restaurant. But we left him a large tip; seeing we held the table for a few hours.”
Later that night Laila and I met with Jing and Boris for dinner.
After everyone was seated at the table I asked Jing and Laila to excuse Boris and me.
I pulled Boris to the side and ask Boris “Were you able to do the favor I asked?
Boris” Yes Tony, Here is her name and address, seeing I could not give you a bachelors party, think of it as an early wedding present. Just tell her your name is Tony” she will be waiting for you.”
Meanwhile; Laila tells Jing about the wedding plans in China; although we have not set a date for the wedding. Jing says “That sounds great, I wish Boris and I were getting Married in China.”
Laila: “Why don’t you, better yet; why don’t we get married at the same time in China you know, big sis and little sis sharing their big day.”
Jing: “That would great little sister. But do you think Tony and Boris would go for something like that?”
As Boris and I returned to the table Laila asked her question “We have something to ask the two of you; we were thinking, how would you feel about a double Chinese wedding in China?”
I smiled “I don’t have a problem with it; brother, how about you?” I asked Boris.
Boris: “I would be fine with it, except my Father has begun planning an American style wedding at my place in Riverview. I’ll see if I can get him to change his plans.”
Jing: “Well, what if we did both? Your father can plan an American style wedding in China, and Tony and Laila can have their Chinese wedding in China.”
Tony: “Two weddings in China?”
Laila: “Two weddings? I was looking forward to the double wedding.”
Jing: “Well, what if we try for two double weddings? We have a double Chinese and American style wedding in China?”
Boris: “So you are saying we all get married twice?
I turned to Laila, “what do you think about marring me twice?” Laila smiled looking into my eyes and said “I’ll marry you a hundred times if you want.”
We finished our dinner then decided we would see what we could work out for the weddings and let each other know later. We all hugged and said good night.
March 6th I took Laila on a long Trip, we drove for two days stopping at night to rest in a hotel. We finally arrived at the address Boris had given me. A woman answered the door “Yes, may I help you?” “Hi, my name is Tony I was told”…before I could finish she took one look at Laila and said “come in I have been expecting your arrival.”
The woman asked us in and to have a seat on the sofa. Then she smiled and said “you must be hungry and tired from your long trip, I’ll make you something to eat.”
As she went to the kitchen to make something to eat Laila asked “Is this one of your relatives?” “Something like that” I explained as the front door opened. Laila and I turned to the front door as he walked in once he was standing in the doorway; Laila jumped out of her seat! “It can’t be!”
But it was, Boris was able to find Xiang, something neither Laila nor I were able to do.
Xiang: “How? When? As they both ran towards each other and embraced in a hug.
The woman entered the room “Xiang love, your home.”
Xiang: “Yes, I’m home, this is my sister Laila from China.”
Petronia: “Yes, I Know, When Boris found us, he asked that I keep it a secret from you until Tony and your sister arrived at Tony’s request, I’ve already made arrangement for the two of them to stay the week or longer if they like.”
Xiang and Laila had a lot of catching up to do, Xiang had his girls meet their aunt from China, Laila loved the triplets; Hope, Fay and Sonia. Then he took Laila down stairs to meet the second set of Triplets; three boys, they were two months old Laila made sure to hold each of them.
I had to leave and go back to Base while Laila stayed with Petronia and Xiang another week, I don’t think she ever wanted to leave.
The Night I went back to base they all took me to the airport, Laila kissed me good bye.
Later, before Laila returned to China she called Boris: “I’ll never forget what you have done for me, I love you so much.” “Just think of it as my wedding present to the two of you, I love you too Laila and hope to see you all again soon.”
Return to China:
My dad went to China ahead of Laila as he had business there to take care of.
My dad gave Laila the address to his office in China; she was shocked to learn it was the same company that I ran when the Mission first started. Laila meet him in his China office, and then took him to her family’s home.
They all sat at the kitchen table and Mr. Yong told my dad of his family history and his ancestors my dad then told them of his family as far back as he could remember which was not very far in comparison to the Yong’s history. My dad only recalled two generations before him. And on my Mother side he could not go beyond her parents.
Then Mr. Yong pulled out a folder listing all his belongings, and how much he had, he was worth 11.3 million dollars.
Mr. Yong “of this amount Laila and Tony will receive three million upon their wedding then four million upon my death to continue with our next generation; the rest will be divided between my two sons.
My dad pulled out his laptop, then his portable printer he printed his list of business and personal assets, he then went line-item by line-item with them.
His business and personal assets were an astonishing thirty two billion dollars then he deducted his investors forty-nine percent ownership and all his buildings and the items he had in them, leaving his net worth; which was still well over three billion dollars.
Hank: “Of these three point nine billion dollars; I will give Tony and Laila one hundred million on there wedding day, and what ever they need to get started; the remainder of the three billion will go unto Anthony and Laila being my only child; to secure our next generation upon my death. I have not talked to Tony about this yet however; if he is willing to sit at the head of the board of directors in my stead, he will reside over of all my business and all of my wealth will go to Tony and Laila.”
There were no objections to what was offered so the alliance was made between the families, Mr. Yong was astonished that my dad and I was so wealthy, well; so was I; my dad never really talked to me about how much money he had and I never cared to ask.
The rest of the traditions were explained to my dad who willing accepted.
After Laila was told the alliance was made and all was well, she called me at the base to let me know, we set the date for a June wedding over the phone.
On May 15th I received my discharge and returned to China and stayed with the Yong family.
I then emailed my friends to inform them of the wedding date; I know it was short notice.
Dear Boris, Molly, Ruby and last but not least Stormy,
I hope you are all doing well, as some of you already may know Laila and I are engaged to be married. Seeing we generally meet up in June how would you all like to come to China for a wedding?
Don’t worry about airfare; the plane tickets are on the way, all but Molly’s, my dad is picking up the tab, so I hope you can all make it.
Molly; if you can send me an address where to send your plane tickets; I will overnight them to you.
After I hit the send button I noticed I had a unread email as I read the email I received from Molly I laughed then shouted “Laila come here quickly” Laila ran over to the laptop “Laila, read this” “That’s wonderful news Tony, please tell her I said congratulations!” “I’ll send her a reply right now!”
Laila and I send our best and deepest congratulations on your engagement to Colin.
We know you will be very happy, hope to see you all soon.
I just sent you an email about Laila and me, and then here you sent more good news!
I noticed the date on your email; sorry I had not gotten to it sooner.
Laila sends her love and Happy Birthday wishes from the two of us.
On May 20th Laila and I celebrated my 22nd birthday the same way we celebrated her 20th birthday.
“Ruby, if you haven’t made any plans for Christmas yet, how about you guys come with us for this year? One of Dad’s coworkers has offered use of his cabin. I thought you and the kids might enjoy some time away from the city for a while.”
“Sure, that sounds great. But, Axel has been working late hours recently, so he won’t be able to make it.” I know Mom’s attitude towards Axel is less than cordial, so I was sure she wouldn’t care one way or the other.
“It’s like I’m always telling you, that man is no good. Why couldn’t you go for that nice boy in your music class, oh what was his name? Now he would have made a wonderful husband for you.”
“Mom, don’t start. Not now.” I replied, sighing heavily. I wasn’t in the mood for this song and dance again.
“What? Look at you; you are spending Christmas alone…again. The kids might as well not have a father as much as he sees them.”
“I’m not going to ask you again. If you keep bad mouthing Axel and his family, I will stop visiting. Is that what you want? The kids don’t need to hear this coming from their grandma.”
“I’m sorry, Ruby. I love you and I hate to see you hurting like you are. You put on a strong face for people, but I am your mother, you can’t hide things from me.”
“Things will get better Mom, you’ll see.” Changing the subject, I added, “I’m looking forward to going to the mountains this Christmas, the kids will just love it, and they haven’t seen real snow yet.”
“Oh, Ruby I forgot, Sam and Dean will be out too this year. The whole family will be together this year. I am so excited.” She replied happily.
“Oh, that’s wonderful! I miss them. Oh, do you need me to bring anything for dinner?” I asked knowing she would want to take care of everything herself.
“No, of course not! I will take care of it all. You just bring my grandbabies. I’ll see you later this month. I’m sorry if I made you mad. I love you, honey, you know that right?”
“I know Mom, I love you too. Give Dad a kiss for me, okay?”
Christmas plans made. Check. Christmas cards written and signed. Check. Christmas cards mailed. Uhh…later. I wasn’t particularly in the mood for a trip to the post office so; I decided to check my e-mail. There was a letter from Boris. I opened it up and started to read. The words that I read made my heart skip a beat.
Jing!! She was alive!! I was so happy for Boris at that moment and saddened for Denis. I wondered what had become of him. I hope Achilles and Damon can find him safe and sound, for Boris’s sake.
I can’t believe it! Jing is alive and well. This is an answered prayer. I am so happy for you both. You have got to be so happy right now. Have you heard anything about Denis? I hope Achilles and Damon will be able to find him. Hope you have a merry Christmas!
There was another e-mail from Molly. She would be back in Crescent Bay and was having a New Year’s party at her place. It sounded like everyone would be there, so of course I made plans to be there as well.
The week before Christmas Axel got a phone call from Damon. He wasn’t on the phone long.
“Who was that, honey?” I asked.
“Oh, it was Dad. He needs to talk to me about something. I invited him over for dinner. Do you mind setting an extra seat?”
“No, it’ll be fine. Do you know what this is all about?” I had hoped Axels’ hours would ease up a bit so he could be home more.
“He wouldn’t say. I guess we’ll find out when he gets here.”
I had just finished when the doorbell rang. The kids were sitting at the table already eating their dinner.
Axel opened the door and led Damon to the dining room. I walked over and gave Damon a little hug.
“It’s good to see you. How are you, Damon?” I asked him.
“Good, it’s nice to see you too Ruby, you’re lookin’ great.”
“Look kids, Grandpa is here.” I told the kids. “Finish your food so Daddy and Grandpa can talk okay?”
“Wow, they’re getting so big, aren’t they?” Damon exclaimed. “Just look at this little guy.” He walked over to Byron and rustled his hair.
“Ampa.” Byron smiled, while sporting a nice glob of peas and carrots on his face and shirt.
“Come on you guys. Let’s get you cleaned up.” Axel helped me get the kids cleaned and put into their pajamas. I set out some toys for them to play with so Axel could go back and talk with Damon.
“Dinner is ready whenever you two are.” I set about placing the food on the table as they made their way over.
“Ruby, it smells great. Don’t tell your brother, Axel, but I was getting kind of tired of Mao’s Chinese menu.”
“Thanks honey, it all looks great.” Axel dug in immediately. “Now, Dad, what is it you wanted to talk to me about?”
Damon set his fork down and wiped his mouth. “As you know, Boris and Achilles are in Egypt with Jing. They want to celebrate Christmas there and would like Mao, Ning and myself to join them. We would be going to Egypt next week. I need to know if you are ready to take over while we are gone. If not I will stay here, but I’d really like to go. I have some old scores to settle with a few of the locals.”
Suddenly, I heard Leliana and Celia crying. “Excuse me please, while I see who is killing who upstairs.” I smiled as I left the table.
“You need some help, honey?” Axel asked.
“No, I’ve got it. Just enjoy your dinner.”
Damon laughed, saying something about, “…those are definitely your kids Axel.”
Celia and Leliana were fighting over a toy again. I swear those two can’t share.
“Hey, hey…what’s going on in here? Knock it off, both of you! You want me to take your toys away? Then you’ll have nothing to fight over.” I walked over and picked Leliana up and placed her in her crib. “It’s time for you guys to go to bed anyway.”
After I got them all settled into bed, I turned off the lights and started downstairs. I could hear Damon and Axel still talking. I stopped for a bit to hear what they were saying.
“Now you realize this means lots of long hours at the Warehouse. Don’t screw this up Axel. We are putting a lot of trust in you.” Damon stated sternly.
“I understand, Dad. I won’t let you down.” Axel knew he was skating on thin ice after his last blunder. He really wanted to make his Dads proud of him.
“I tell you, those two fight over everything.” I stated as I made my way down the stairs. “I wonder where they get it from.” I winked at Axel.
“What? Not me.” He smiled. “I’m sure it’s just a phase they are going through. Ruby, dinner was really great. Thanks a lot, babe.”
“Yes, Ruby, it was. Thanks a lot. Well, I better be getting back. Axel, remember what we talked about. I’ll see you both later.”
Axel walked him outside while I cleaned up the kitchen.
“What was that all about?” I asked as Axel came back inside.
“It’s a chance to prove to them that I am not a screw up. After my last job I’ve always felt like a failure, this is my chance to prove I’m not.” Axel seemed really happy at this bit of trust that was placed upon him.
I was hesitant to accept this as a blessing. Long hours, did that mean he wouldn’t be home as often? He’s barely home now as it is.
“I heard you two talking about the long hours you’d spend away from home. Is that true?” I asked, fearfully.
“Of course not, Ruby, I’ll make sure I am home. You don’t have to worry about me.” He smiled and gave me a hug. “I love you honey. I only want what’s best for us, for you and the kids. You know that, right?”
“I know. I just hope you can make this work.”
I am constantly being jerked awake by Byron’s screams of pain. The first night it happened I was scared. I had no idea what was happening to him. I thought someone had come into the house. When I went into Byron’s room he was standing up in his crib, just screaming.
His face was bright red, almost purple. I pulled him close to me and tried to calm him down. I took him into the living room with me. I frantically looked for Natasha’s number.
“Ugh! Why don’t I keep it somewhere handy?” I scolded myself. I finally found her business card mixed in with some receipts in my purse.
“I hate to bother you so late but…Byron woke up screaming. I’ve tried to calm him down but nothing is working.” I cried hysterically into the phone.
“Ruby, first you have to get yourself under control. The babies can pick up on your stress and that only makes matters worse. Now, tell me what happened?” She said in a calm voice.
“I woke up to Byron crying. I went to go check on him and his face was bright red, I assume from crying so hard.” I could feel hysteria rising again. I was trying to keep myself calm for Byron’s sake, but I was failing miserably.
“Ruby, have you taken his temperature yet?” she asked in the same calm voice.
“Yeah. It’s running a little high. It’s 102. Is that normal?”
“It’s normal for kids who are teething. Carefully feel the back of his gums, do you feel any bumps?”
I looked at Byron who calmed considerably since I had been on the phone. He was still crying but it wasn’t the hysterics he was in.
“I’m sorry buddy. Mommy’s gotta check something. And don’t you dare bite me.” I felt around and didn’t feel anything odd until I came to the backs. I felt a tiny little bump towards his molar area. “Yeah, back where his molars are, I feel something.”
“I thought so. It seems your little guy’s molars are coming in. His molars are cutting through his gum which is very painful for him. The molars are much more painful than when his front teeth started to come in.”
“What can I do to help him?” I asked.
“Just continue to do the same things you have been doing. Rubbing his gums with your finger helps. So does having him suck on a damp washcloth you have placed in the freezer. Some stores have special teething rings you can buy as well. You could also try baby Oragel. It helps to numb the area, providing some relief to Byron and you.”
“And remember Ruby, you need to stay calm in times like these. Babies can sense stress and it only makes them feel worse.”
“I appreciate all your help, Natasha.” I had grabbed one of the little towels from the bathroom and proceeded to wipe the accumulating drool from Byron’s chin. He kept licking the towel, which if he wasn’t so upset might have been funny.
I walked into the kitchen and looked in the freezer. I grabbed one of the Otter Pops that were there and gave it to Byron. He immediately started to gnaw on it and his cries subsided. I breathed a sigh of relief.
“Thank you so much. He started screaming and I just panicked. I didn’t know what to do.”
“Ruby, you just have to remember to stay calm. You’ll only make matters worse if you start to freak out. Now, you two get some sleep. If you need anything I am here.”
I put Byron back into his crib where he slept soundly throughout the night. I went to check on Leliana as well. This didn’t seem to be affecting her as badly as it was Byron. I was thankful for that. I don’t know if I could handle two screaming kids.
We arrived at Mom and Dad’s house in the early morning, so we could get a head start driving to the cabin. The kids were less than thrilled about being stuck in a van for 3 hours, but I kept them occupied with some silly songs I made up. Celia and Leliana clapped their pudgy hands while Byron attempted to sing some.
We even got Dad and Mom to join in. It really was a nice ride.
Sam and Dean were to meet us there. Dean had some news he wanted to share with us.
We pulled up to the cabin and I was captivated at the beauty that was before me. The mountains were covered with the purest snow I had ever seen. The air was so cold that it felt like a thousand tiny shards of glass piercing the skin. I laughed at the looks on my kid’s faces as they struggled to see out the window. They looked funny all bundled up, like little snowpeople, struggling to be free.
“Alright guys. I know you want out. Three hours is a long time for you to be cooped up in a car.” I said as I scooped Byron up in my arms. Mom and Dad brought Celia and Leliana into the house as well.
Dad started up a fire in the fireplace and Mom was on the phone with the boys seeing where they were. They said they would probably arrive later that afternoon. I was getting excited to see them again.
I called Axel to see how he was, but my call went to voicemail. “Hello honey. The kids and I made it safely to the cabin. We really miss you. I am really bummed you couldn’t come with us. I want to hug and kiss you and I can’t. Please take care of yourself, babe. We’ll see you next week. I love you!” I pressed the end button sadly. This trip really isn’t the same without him with us. It’s the first real trip the kids have been on...He should be here to celebrate.
“You okay, Ruby?” Mom asked, putting her arm around my shoulder.
Quickly smiling, I said “Of course, Mom. Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Ruby, you can’t fool me. I am your Mom. I know you better than you do. It’s because Axel isn’t here, isn’t it? How many times do I have to tell you, that piece of crap is only going to break your heart. Look at you now…its Christmas and you are miserable. ”
I opened my mouth to really let her have it, but someone beat me to the punch.
“Vanessa!” My Dad said sternly. “Shut the hell up for once!”
I’ve rarely heard my dad raise his voice. Even when we were kids he never really yelled. He just had that look that dads get, that means, “You’ve pushed my last button, now you’re going to get it.”But when he raised his voice at Mom I was surprised and glad. I felt like I had someone on my side.
“Frank! How dare you raise your voice at me! I am not one of your kids to boss around!” She answered defiantly.
“Well stop acting like one. I’ve set back and listened to you berate Axel and his family time and again but I’m done! All you’re doing is pushing Ruby away! Is that what you want, to lose your grand kids too? Because at the rate you’re going you are.”
My mom started to weep. I felt bad to see her crying, but I also felt a small bit of pleasure. I know that’s horrible, but I did.
“No, of course I don’t want that, Frank.” She wiped her eyes as he came to her and put his arms around her shoulders. “Ruby and I am sorry if I seem intolerant of his family, but you have to realize, I only want what’s best for you and the babies. I’m your Mother and I care about you. I hate to see you hurting. This should be a happy time for you and the kids. Here it is a few days before Christmas and you look like your world has ended.”
“I appreciate your concern and I understand where the bitterness comes from but you have to realize, he is my husband. He is my children’s’ father. Nothing you can say will make me love him any less. I love him so much and yet I feel like we are slowly drifting apart. I don’t see him anymore; these hours he has been working is killing me. I struggle with the babies and all the extra care they require. I need him here to help me. And don’t you dare say, ‘I told you so.’”
I was really crying at this point, but it felt so good to finally get this out. All the stress and anxiety I felt seemed to rush out in a flood of tears. Mom, to her credit, didn’t say a word. She just held me and let me vent.
“Ruby, I’m really sorry. I never wanted to hurt you but, it’s hard for me to be kind to the man who is constantly hurting my daughter. You can understand that can’t you?”
“Yes, I can, but Mom, you have to let me live my own life.” I looked her right in the eye, “Please Mom, trust me to make the right decisions.”
“You’re right, Ruby. I guess it’s just hard for me to let go of my baby girl. I just want to always protect you and I know I can’t. But I couldn’t bear it if you were to take my grandbabies away.” The tears were back in her eyes and they slowly streamed down her face. “I will try and be better, for you and for the kids. I promise.”
“That’s all I ask Mom.” As we hugged tightly, Byron waddled over.
“Wan hug, Momma?” He stood there shakily, lifting his little arms in the air.
“Aww, aren’t you just the sweetest little boy.” I said as I scooped him into my arms. “Now how can a person possibly stay mad with a face like that staring at you?” I kissed his pudgy cheek.
“Gamma sad?” he asked looking at her tear stained face. Mom took him up in her arms and swung him around.
“Nope, no sad faces here.” She smiled and tossed him in the air.
Christmas Day had arrived and with it a brand new day. The air had a sharp, icy feel that numbed the nose.
We ate a great meal that Mom spent way too much time in the kitchen preparing. We each offered to help her, but she turned us down at each instance. So the boys settled in the living room watching Football while the kids and I played with their toys.
“Mom, Dad…I have an announcement…” Dean started to say. We all quieted down as this seemed important.
“I have been dating this girl for 8 months now, and I really feel she is the ‘one’. She makes me so happy. I am going to ask her to marry me.”
“Oh, Dean! That is wonderful news. When do we get to meet her?” Mom was thrilled. I think the prospect of more grandkids was the best present for her.
Dean laughed, “I kind of invited her over today. I hope you don’t mind, but I thought this would be the perfect time since we are all together anyhow.” He smiled a worried smile.
Dad patted him on the back and Mom gave him a big hug. “Of course it’s alright, Dean. We’d love to have her over. When will she be here?”
Just then the doorbell rang. “Well, talk about perfect timing.” I said.
Dean went to the door and in walked this beautiful young lady. Dean greeted her with a hug and introduced us. “Guys, this is Wendy. Wendy, the family.”
The rest of the day was spent getting to know her. She absolutely loved the triplets. I could tell she was going to be a great mother.
“Dean,” I pulled him aside and away from the commotion and gave him a hug, “She is a wonderful girl. I am very happy for you.”
“Thanks Ruby. She makes me very happy. I only hope to be as happy as you and Axel are. You guys are really blessed with an awesome family.”
He noticed the sadness in my eyes at the mention of Axel’s name. “What’s the matter Ruby? Did I say something wrong?”
“No, Dean. It’s alright. We’re fine, just going through some changes right now. Nothing we can’t work out.” I gave him my best reassuring smile. “We’d better join the others.”
The dinner was fabulous. Mom really knows how to cook a turkey. We exchanged gifts and as is typical, we really went all out for the kids. They got way too many clothes and way too many toys. But what do you think they played with? The empty boxes, of course.
“I don’t why you spend so much on toys. Just go to a U-Haul and buy some boxes.” I laughed.
“Molly invited us to a New Year’s party at her house. It sounds like everyone will be there. You are coming, right?”
“Ugh, I have to work late. I’m sorry Ruby.”
“That’s what you always say. When was the last time we did something together as a couple?” I asked seriously.
“Ruby, that’s not fair. I work hard to make sure you don’t have to worry about anything.”
“Oh yeah. I have everything I could ever want.” I answered angrily, “How about a husband that spends more than a few hours at home? Huh? How about a nice night out with my husband? Or better yet, how about a father that spends time with his kids.” I threw the dish towel I was holding at him and stormed off.
Axel followed me into the kitchen, “What the hell was that all about, Ruby?”
“Are you kidding me? You are really going to stand there and act like you have no idea why I’m angry!” I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. “You promised me that you were going to make this work, you promised that you were going to be here for the kids and I! Well, you know what; I need this night out, so YOU find a babysitter, because I am going to that party, with or without you.”
I stomped up the stairs, hoping to emphasize my frustration and slammed the door. A few hours later I said goodnight to the babies, I told Axel goodnight and went to Molly’s.
What an eventful night! Natasha, my pediatrician, got engaged right there! Colin had flown in to see a very surprised Molly. And Axel managed to show up! I had hoped he would show up, but didn’t expect him to. So when I felt an arm slip around my waist, I was taken aback. The countdown to the New Year had begun, as the countdown reached one, he kissed me. It felt so good to be near him again. I realized how much I have truly missed him.
“Axel, what are you doing here? I thought you had to work late.” I asked him. I didn’t want to let my hold of him go.
“Dad made it very clear that I should be here with you.” Axel looked me straight in the eye, “I’m sorry if I’ve hurt you Ruby. I love you, babe.” He kissed me again. “I have to get back though. I love you.”
He said his goodbyes to everyone and was gone just as soon as he had arrived.
Ever have a sleepless night? You know, the kind of night where no matter what you do, you can’t seem to fall into dreamland. That’s been my life for the last few weeks. I may get an hour here and there, but nothing I’d consider restful. The kids wake me up at different hours, crying because their gums hurt or I wake up feeling the empty bed beside me. So, I get up and help the kids, but when I try to go back to sleep I just lay there staring at the ceiling, tossing and turning, but it’s no use, sleep doesn’t come for me. When I do finally get to sleep it’s only for an hour or so and then I’m back up to take care of the kids again.
I find myself getting irritated at the littlest things. The kids were playing quietly in the living room. (This was a first for them) I was watching them and some TV, and partly dozing on the sofa. I guess I had finally fallen asleep when Celia and Leliana started their fights. Leliana started to cry, which caused Celia to start. I jerked awake, with my heart pounding. I was so angry about being woken up that I jumped from the couch, grabbed the toys from them and threw them in the trash.
“There!! Now no one has any toys! Stop fighting!”
This of course only caused them to cry some more, which made me angrier. I knew if I stayed there I was going to do something I would regret. With a heart pounding in my chest, I ran upstairs to my room, slamming the door, I threw myself on the bed and cried.
“Oh God, what’s happening to me?!” I laid there with my head in my pillow and cried. I was truly fearful for my sanity and for the safety of my kids. What would happen to them if I let this anger get the best of me? I hated to think about that. Slowly the tears stopped and I was able to breathe. I sat there for what seemed like an hour, thinking about my life up to this point. How did I let things get so bad? I felt like I was losing control of my emotions, losing control of my life. I noticed the business card sitting on my bedside table, I picked it up, and with trembling hands I dialed the number.
“Hello, Dr. Arnt, I really need to talk to someone.”
“Mrs. Lothario, you sound upset, what’s happened?”
I explained my outburst towards the kids and I told her how afraid I was.
“Ruby, you must get yourself under some control. This is very unhealthy for you and for your children. I understand the stress that you are feeling, but you can’t let it consume you. Listen, I only have one client tomorrow. Why don’t we push your appointment earlier? I can see you in the morning, if you can make it.”
“That would be great, thanks so much. I really appreciate this.” I put the phone back in its cradle and went to the bathroom.
I forced myself to look in the mirror. I did not recognize the person looking back at me. This woman had literally aged years in the past few months. Her eyes were puffy and red from fits of uncontrollable crying. I splashed cold water on her face, which seemed to melt away some of the years and bring her back to reality. I felt horrible for what I had done.
My kids were just innocent victims in their parent’s problems. It wasn’t right that I take my frustrations out on them.
As I went down the stairs I stopped and watched them playing again. The guilt washed over me as new tears streamed my face. My kids deserved better than this.
As I made my way to them the concern in their eyes bore a hole in my heart. I had done that…I was the reason they looked upon me with such disapproval in their innocent eyes. It shouldn’t be this way.
I picked up Celia, she recoiled in my arms. “I am so sorry, baby. I didn’t mean to scare you. Mommy has been upset lately, but I want you to know it’s not your fault” I looked at Byron and Leliana, “You guys mean everything to me. I love you so much.” I put Celia down and hugged my kids. The tears started to stream down my face at the thought of the rage I felt.
“I promise Mommy will make it better. Ok?” I was relieved to see the big smiles on their little faces. I had hoped I hadn’t done too much harm to them. But I knew this had to stop.
I was nervous walking into the main lobby. My heart was pounding in my chest and my palms were sweating. I wiped them on my pants before signing in.
The receptionist told me Dr. Arnt would be right with me and to have a seat. I thanked her and took a seat closest to the front door; in case I lost my nerve, I could bolt out of there in a hurry.
It wasn’t too long before I was called into the office, so any hopes of running away were quickly diminished.
The moment I stepped into the office I was taken in by the soothing blues and greens that covered the walls and floor. I was immediately set at ease when she motioned for me to have a seat. My eyes settled on the leather sofa nearest the window. As I sat down I winced at the squeaky noise my sitting had created. I laughed nervously.
“Hello, Mrs. Lothario. How are you this morning?” she asked kindly.
Mrs. Arnt was tall and a tad on the heavy side. She had blonde hair that she kept pulled back. Although she held a doctorate in psychology, as evidenced by the numerous diplomas and certificates adorning the walls, she preferred her clients call her Mrs. To make them feel more at ease. She had kind brown eyes that sparkled when she smiled and her smile lit up her face.
“I feel better than when I called you yesterday. I just feel like I’m losing control.”
“Ruby, why don’t you start by telling me what happened yesterday?”
Taking a deep breath I related the events that led to my phone call to her, felling the sting of the tears in my eyes. The tears began to stream down my cheeks uncontrollably; coming faster as I told her of the look on my children’s faces, as clearly as if they sat before me now.
I told her of the tired woman I saw looking back at me from the mirror, the woman who looked like she was at the end of her rope. I was terrified of this woman. She wasn’t me. She couldn’t be me.
“Ruby, stress is a part of life. Work will always demand of you, your family always needs you and even marriages have their rough patches, but the way that you handle these ever changing situations is what is going to make managing your life that much easier for you and your family.”
I laughed in spite of my nervousness, “You make it sound so easy.”
“Ruby, the first thing I want you to do is tell me everything your feeling. Don’t hold anything back. Just lay it out all on the table.”
I took a deep breath to clear my thoughts; finding it difficult to remove the images of my children’s faces.
“That’s good Ruby, deep breaths are an excellent way to decrease stress. It clears your mind and gives you focus. I’m sorry to interrupt, proceed.”
“I feel like he doesn’t love us as much as he says he does.” I answered, looking at my hands.
“Axel, my husband, he’s promised numerous times to make time for the kids and I, and yet he is spending more and more time away from us. I just feel like his work is more important than we are.” She handed me a tissue for the tears that had started to form. “I feel like I have no one to talk to. My Mom hates him and wants me to leave him. I find myself doubting that I even made the right decision in the first place. You see, Axel and I married young. I never really had any doubt that we’d be with anyone else. Ever since that week at camp I have loved him...”
“What made you fall in love with him?”
“Oh, I don’t know.” I sat there reliving some of my early memories before Axel and I dated. I couldn’t help but smile. “He was mysterious, kind of the bad boy. The kind of boy I certainly couldn’t take home to mom. And yet, there was a sweetness there, it was hidden underneath the gruff exterior he showed everyone else and when he looked at me with those green eyes of his, my heart skipped a beat, when he held me in his arms, I felt safe. I felt like we’d always be together.”
“Do you still feel that way now, Ruby?”
I paused a moment before answering, remembering the birth of the babies and how Axel was there holding my hand, or Axel teaching Byron to walk. The images that came to my mind made me weep. I loved him. Call me stupid, but I still love him with my whole heart. We are soul mates. He is my husband, the father of my children. Could I see my life without him? I didn’t want to.
Without hesitating and without a doubt in my mind I answered, “I do. Even now, despite my anger at his absence, I know he is trying to do what’s best for us.”
“Ruby, have you two ever set down and talked? Do you to make time for yourselves? The thing I see most in marriages, the one thing that drives a couple apart is the lack of quality time spent with each other. You must realize that in order for your kids to live happily, Mom and Dad must be happy too.”
“I hear you, but it’s hard to find the time. With the babies and his job, it’s impossible.” I answered sadly.
“Let me ask you something. Do you want a healthy and happy marriage?”
I was shocked at the question, I mean who didn’t? “Of course I do!” I answered adamantly.
“Then it isn’t impossible is it?”
“Well, no, but it seems like it’s just me trying.” I answered.
“How can you say that if you haven’t actually sat down and talked about your feelings? Axel probably has no idea as to what you are going through. Do you remember what it was like the first few months of your marriage?”
I immediately thought of how “in love” we were. It seemed we couldn’t get enough of each other. Every minute was devoted to us. We talked about anything and everything. We could spend hours in each other’s arms. I frowned at how far we had come from those whimsical moments. It didn’t have to change did it? I didn’t think so.
“You’re right, Mrs. Arnt. I may have been too hard on myself and Axel. I know he is only trying to provide for us, but he has to understand that we need him too. I just don’t think he has found a way to balance work life and home life.”
“Ruby, I suggest you two spending some time together. No kids, no phones, no distractions of any kind. You guys need to reconnect. I have a wonderful book I’d like you to take home and read. This book has some great tips on how to effectively keep the lines of communication open.”
“I want to thank you Mrs. Arnt for seeing me today. I feel like a great weight has been lifted.”
“It has been my pleasure. Just remember, set some time aside for you and your husband, talk and let me know if you need anything. I am just a phone call away if you need someone to talk to. Sometimes that’s all a person needs.”
Driving home gave me a chance to think about what we had discussed. I wanted things to be like they had been when Axel and I were first married. I also realize that with the babies and his job this would be difficult. But, I was determined to give a try.
With Achilles and Damon home from their trip, I thought Axel would have some free time to spend at home. He did manage to come home for an hour or two and then he was back to work again.
“Hey kids, how about we make some cards for Daddy, Grandma and Grandpa? Won’t that be fun?” I asked thinking it’d be a great way to keep my mind off of my growing disappointment.
The kids all clapped happily and quickly crawled or toddled over to the table. I quickly set out cutting up various hearts in a variety of colors.
“Momma? Daddy home?” Byron asked sweetly.
Looking at his precious, smiling face, I reached out my hand and caressed his cheek. His skin was soft and silky. A small tear ran down my face as I answered, “Not right now honey. He’ll be home soon though.”
He held up the card that he had made for his Father. The scribbles were very colorful, the thing that made me smile, was how proud he was of it. His face just glowed with delight at what he had made.
“It’s beautiful, honey! I’m sure Daddy will love it.”I gathered up the kids’ cards for him and set them about on the dining room table, along with one I made for him. I had hoped he would come home tonight, I’d like to spend some time with him, but I wasn’t counting on it.
It was getting late and the kids were getting sleepy. Kissing them all goodnight, making sure they were all tucked in was important to me. I wanted to them to know they were loved and protected. I never want to see the looks of reproach on their little faces ever again.
I crossed the hallway to my room and proceeded to get myself ready for bed. I stayed up a bit longer, reading the book Mrs. Arnt had given me in the hopes Axel would eventually show up. But, as the hours passed on I couldn’t stay awake. My eyes were becoming too heavy to keep open and my head felt like it weighed a ton. I crawled into bed and let sleep take me.
I awoke to the sun shining through my window, birds chirping on the trees outside. As I rubbed my sleepy eyes, I marveled at how good I felt. Amazing what a good night’s sleep will do to revitalize a person.
I walked into the kids’ room to check on them, seeing as they were still asleep I decided to take a bath. I hadn’t had time to really enjoy one for what seemed like months. Raising three toddlers by myself, I was lucky enough to find time for a quick shower every day.
The hot, bubbly water felt so good on my skin. As I lay there, my mind felt clearer than it had felt in a long time.
After a nice, hot cup of coffee and some breakfast, I made a phone call to Damon. I asked him if I could talk to him in person. He said he was unable to meet me but that Achilles would be home and I could meet with him.
I got a last minute sitter to watch the kids while I went to meet with Achilles. I hated to leave them like this but this was something that I had to do.
Nervously I pulled into the driveway. The house was an impressive sight as it stood on cliff that overlooked the beach. I was relieved they moved in and got rid of that eyesore the Wolff’s had there. As I made my way up to the house, I marveled at how immaculate the yard was. With apprehension I gradually walked to the front door. I stood there a moment debating if I should even go through with this.
My thoughts were drawn to last night’s activities, kids asking for their father and me spending Valentine’s Day alone.
I thought to myself, ‘You know you have to do this Ruby, for your kids, your marriage and for your sanity. So, ring the doorbell already before they look out the window and see you staring at the door like a fool. Yeah that would be an AWESOME way to start this off.’ I smiled in spite of the dread I felt. “Ok, I can do this. I’ve been through worse…” I pushed the doorbell and waited.
I heard footsteps walking to the front door and was greeted by Achilles.
“Hello Ruby.” He hugged me and led me into the house.
“Hi, Dad. You have an amazing house!”
“Thanks, have a seat, can I get you anything to drink?” he motioned to a chair in the sitting room.
“No, thank you I am fine.” I answered nervously.
“Very well.” He took a seat across from me, and waited for me to speak.
I cleared my throat and hoped my voice didn’t stammer as bad as my hands were trembling.
“Um, you’re probably wondering why I am here.” I anxiously fidgeted with my hands and continued. “I am concerned with the hours Axel has been working. He rarely comes home and when he does it’s for a short time and then he is gone again. I know he hasn’t been sleeping at home, so I have to wonder where he has been going at night.”
“Axel work nights, Ruby. Unless I am missing something here, he’s been going home afterward. He doesn’t work seven days a week. Are you saying that he does not spend nights at home?” Achilles inquired.
“Axel and I have been having some troubles. We seem to be fighting more, when he is home. I am afraid I am losing him. ” I confided. I could feel the sting of tears forming in my eyes.
“I was not aware that you two were having difficulties. Ruby, listen to me, I want you to know that you and Axel can come talk to us at anytime.”
“Please give Axel fewer late night hours. I just want him home sometimes. The kids need to see their father. I fear that he will miss out on so many things with his current schedule I miss him, Dad!” I said with finality, as the tears began to stream down my cheeks.
Achilles sat in silent contemplation. I sat there anxiously awaiting his reply.
“Well, I will certainly take this under consideration. Thank you for coming to me with this.” Achilles rose from his chair and I did the same.
As he stepped in closer and drew me into a heartfelt hug, he said in a soothing tone, “Take care Ruby. Everything will be fine. Tell the kids ‘hello’ for me.”
“I will and thanks again, Dad” I gave him a hug and was again outside alone. I breathed a sigh of relief at having talked to Achilles and not Damon. Thankful that this was over, I drove home feeling more at ease than ever.
The following weeks were better. Axel was home more in the afternoons, but he was gone a lot at night, even after his shift was supposed to be over he come in late.
One evening in particular, I had stayed up later reading. I heard his car pull up into the driveway. Upon looking at the clock, I noticed it was after 2 in the morning.
“Wow, where did the time go? I had no idea it was so late.” I thought to myself. I wondered what Axel was doing home so late.
As he walked in the door, I was shocked at the state he was in. His hair was a mess and he smelled of cheap wine and cigars.
“Where have you been? You smell awful!” I said trying to keep my tone in check.
“Sorry, honey, we were at The Watering Hole celebrating Sal’s birthday. Guess I didn’t notice how late it was.” He answered avoiding my gaze.
“Ugh, you are not getting into my bed smelling like that.”
“Fine, whatever!” he said as he stormed upstairs. I could hear him grumbling about something as he closed the door to the bathroom.
“And keep it down the kids are sleeping.”
The following morning he awoke with such a headache. I brought him some coffee and some breakfast.
“Here you go sleepy head. How do you feel?” I said, placing the tray on his lap.
He moaned and held his head in his hands. “I feel like I’ve gone 10 rounds with Evander Holyfield and lost.”
Laughing, I said, “You look it too. After breakfast why don’t you take a hot bath that should make you feel a bit better?”
“Thanks, babe. You’re the best wife I’ve ever had.” He grinned.
Waking up to 3 screaming kids is not my idea of a good time. I was having the greatest dream too, although I can’t remember it now. Dang kids, I grumbled. I groggily shuffled to their rooms and set each child on the floor. I didn’t bother dressing either of them.
“Momma needs her coffee. You guys just play for a bit.” I said while yawning.
While sipping my coffee I opened up the old laptop to see if I had any e-mails. There was one from some chick stuck in London and needed me to send her some Euros. Stupid spam really ticks me off. I hit delete to the whole folder and noticed a letter from Tony. He and Laila are getting married in China. Then I remembered Molly's e-mail. She was getting married too. There were going to be lots of weddings in the near future. I was excited for my friends.
This meant I could go shopping. I’ll have to find a sitter for the kids, but this will give me a nice afternoon alone.
Closing up the laptop, I felt awake enough to get the kids ready. Axel had gone into work early, so I knew I had a busy morning ahead of me.
So, two hours later the kids are clean, dressed and fed, and I was feeling pretty good about myself.
“You done good Ruby, did everything yourself and didn’t freak.”
The kids were playing happily in the living room with Sesame Street on. I could hear Byron trying to sing along with Elmo about the importance of brushing your teeth.
Axel showed up not long after, I thought this was very strange as, he typically only works nights.
I got up and greeted him at the door with a hug and a kiss, ‘Hey, hun. You’re home really early. Is everything alright?” I asked him warily.
“Of course.” He answered. “There wasn’t much for me to do today, so Dad said to just come home. So here I am.”
“Well, that’s great. I miss you when you’re gone. The kids do too. Don’t you guys?”
We got a collective cheer from the gang, as they went back to the tv.
“Well, are you hungry, I was about to make myself some breakfast. We can have a nice sit down meal for once.”
“That sounds great, Ruby. Let me get cleaned up and I’ll be right down.” He said as he went upstairs.
By the time he was done I had the eggs frying, toast toasting and bacon sizzling. The aromas that filled the kitchen made my stomach growl. I guess the coffee wasn’t very filling.
“Wow, Ruby! It looks great!” Axel said as he sat down at the table. Setting his plate in front of him, he kissed me on the cheek. “I love you Ruby, very much.”
“I love you too, honey.” Kissing him back, I sat down and we began to eat.
“Well, I don’t want to toot my own horn, but that was an amazing breakfast.” I said with a sigh.
“It was superb, honey. I’ll clean up for you, you go and relax.” He remarked while clearing the dishes.
Laughing I asked, “Who are you and what have you done with my husband? Actually, since you have the rest of the day off, why don’t we go to the park this afternoon? The kids haven’t been out of the house for awhile. It’ll be fun.”
“Hey, kids, want to go to the park with Mommy and I?” Axel asked the children. “That is if Cookie Monster isn’t more important.” He added with a grin.
I found an empty swing set next to the kids. “Axel, push me.”
Felling the wind rush past my face was exhilarating. “Higher, baby.” I asked Axel.
My stomach did some flops as he pushed the swing higher. I really didn’t want this day to end, I was afraid if it did, things would go back to the way they were. So, I held on to the moment for as long as I could.
It wasn’t too long and the sun was beginning to set. The kids were looking plenty sleepy. Axel was playing with some blocks and teaching Leliana her ABCs.
“Axel, it’s gonna be dark soon. We should probably head back.” I said sadly.
“Yeah, these three look like their ready to drop. Come on you guys.” He said while picking up Celia and Leliana. I got Byron and soon we were back at home.
Once the kids were in bed and we were settled for the night I reflected on the day. Today was one of the best days I’ve had in a long while. We were together as a family. And it was the greatest feeling ever. I sat there hoping it would continue.
“Axel, I really had a great time today. Thanks for coming with us. Did you enjoy yourself?”
“Of course. I was with my four favorite people.” Looking at the clock, he said, “You know, the kids are asleep and the night is still young. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” He said, while raising his eyebrows.
“Axel Lothario! Are you trying to seduce me?” I grinned with my heart racing.
“Maybe? So, do you wanna?” he had already started up the stairs, with me following right behind. I turned off the lights and quietly closed our bedroom door. Maybe things were going to be alright I thought to myself. As Axel and I made love, I knew it was true.
"Thank you so much for inviting us over to have Thanksgiving with you and your family, Sanders. They were a lot of fun." I said, as he walked Sunny and I out to the front porch. It was cold, and I was so stuffed I could barely move. "I think I ate too much. But I had to sample everything at least twice." I said, laughing.
"It was our pleasure to have the two of you over." Sanders said, looking at each of us, then back at me. "Besides, Stormy, you have worked for me, for how long now? Ever since you were in high school, correct? I wanted for you to meet my family, and for them to finally meet you. You are one of a kind, kid."
Sanders went on to say my visit was perfect in timing because, depending on work and or other circumstances. Sean, Sanders oldest step-son usually ended up missing Thanksgiving with them. But he was able to visit this year. So, normally, Sean and his siblings, Danny and Shelley, would spend Thanksgiving Day with their biological father back in Twinbrook where they all live, and Thanksgiving Eve here in Crescent Bay with Sanders, and their mom, Karyn, along with their sister, Sandy.
"I thought Sandy was so cool!" Sunny said, loudly, on our journey home.
"I'm right here, Sunny. You don't have to shout."
"Yeah, but, she is in her last year of junior high and she was telling me all about it. The activities, clubs, and, I can even choose art as an elective! She had to explain to me what an elective was, though. ” Sunny laughed. “She was really nice to me, Stormy.”
"Mhm, she seems to be really sweet.” My mind drifted back to the Sanders’ household, recounting the events that took place earlier this evening.
When we first arrived there, Karyn, Sanders’ wife led us into the kitchen where she introduced us to her daughters, although I paid little mind to which one of them was Shelley, and who was Sandy. I was eyeballing the food that was laid out on a side table, as their delicious aromas assaulted my senses.
“Bartholomew! Stormy and Sunny are here!” Karyn called out to Sanders. I giggled under my breath. Sanders told me never to call him by his first name because he hated the name. I didn’t blame him.
A minute later, he came into the kitchen followed by two handsome men he introduced to me as his sons, Sean and Danny. We chatted while Sandy waved Sunny over to help her place cups and wine glasses on the table. I thought it was a good idea so she wouldn’t get bored listening to grown folks talk. But, I offered to help too, but Karyn said there was nothing else really to do, only for all of us to grab our plates to serve ourselves.
Karyn motioned for me to sit next to her after I got my food. She wanted to know a little more about her husband’s favorite employee. Her personality was like one of those cool, hip, mothers you can go to when you’re having a problem and she’ll listen, but also offer the best possible advice and encouragement without her seeming to judge you. I didn’t mind her asking me if I wanted to go back to school. Ever since Beau told me was going to take courses to become a P.I., I thought about taking a class here and there, too. Who knows, it may lead to something more. Or, I could follow dad in his footsteps and become Ms. Fixer Upper. I think I am more of a hands on type of person. We’ll see.
“Is there a special fella in your life?” Karyn casually asked, switching to a different topic.
I almost choked. Isn’t that question a little too personal, I wondered. “Uhh, there is someone I’m talking to.” Crucial subject change here. “Wow! These mashed potatoes are very good! Did you make them from scratch? Taste too good to be bought from the store!” I said, hoping I didn’t over do it or seem rude.
“Oh, thank you. I love to cook. Most of the food here is homemade. My daughters and I started preparing the dishes since yesterday afternoon.”
“Everything is delicious, Karyn. I can’t wait for dessert.” I replied with a wide grin, thinking please talk about anything else but my love life. I’m not even sure if Beau and I are even boyfriend and girlfriend anyway.
The rest of the evening was nice. The atmosphere in Sanders house was serene. Very comfortable. We ate dessert in the living room as music played low in the background. There was a wet bar, and a huge fire place off to the right. Directly in front of the big screen TV, sat a big cushy couch where Karyn, Danny and Shelley were seated. I took my apple cobbler over to the bar where Sanders and Sean hung out, to have my last glass of wine for the evening.
Watching Sanders outside of work, joking and laughing with his family, led me to see him in a new light. At work, he was all business. And, from what I have observed this evening, he definitely loved his family dearly. He’d give them full attention when they had something to say, and even included me in conversations when they reminisced about things only they knew about. Before I left, I thanked everyone for having me over, and for the wonderful dinner. I went around to say a few words with each of them and Karyn invited us over for future BBQ’s before Sanders escorted Sunny and I to my car.
The next day, we picked mom up and had Thanksgiving dinner at this cute, cozy little restaurant called Lu Lu's, my treat. It was a family eat-in and the food was rich in flavor, seasoned just right, and the service was very good.
Although, dad hadn't mind cooking this year, being that he loves to cook, I thought about all the cleaning and food we'd have to put away. A quick inspection around the bustling restaurant, I'm sure most of the people here thought the same way. It was a good evening.
Christmas Eve rolled in, and tonight Beau was eager to come by to see me. But, mom with her sporadic strange behaviors was home for the holidays. I imagined all of us gathered around the dining room table for dinner, including Beau, while mom stayed very quiet, her eyes glazed, off into her own world.....then suddenly, out of no where, starts to cry uncontrollably, or yell for no apparent reason. Then Beau, with a fork of food midway to his mouth, stares at mom like ‘what the heck’, as he slowly looked to each of us, probably thinking we're a bunch of freaks; makes his excuses that he needed to leave because he forgot to turn off the iron or something..... No thanks. I don’t need the anxiety.
I told Beau we were having a small family shindig. He asked if I could steal away from the family for one hour so we could drive around to look at Christmas lights displays. I thought the idea was sweet after he explained it was what his family did when he was a kid, and wanted to share the experience with me. I was cool with it as long as he didn’t have to step foot in my house. We stayed out longer than an hour viewing spectacles of dancing lights on people’s homes, only to end the night with a sensual kiss.
The next morning, we did our latest Christmas tradition of waking up to a breakfast feast. This year dad cooked french toast, eggs, sausage, bacon, with a side of mixed fresh fruit, coffee and orange juice. It smelled and tasted wonderful.
Afterwards, we gathered into the toasty warm living room, carrying mugs of coffee or hot cocoa, topped off with mini marshmellows, while the flames burned low in the fire place. Sunny’s eyes went wide with excitement as she ran towards the brand new easel I had to talk dad into helping me buy, along with better quality paints and brushes I arranged around the easel for extra "wow" when Sunny noticed it. After all, dad and I have seen the awesome paintings Sunny has done in the last year or so. Her skills has improved tremendously in the short period of time. Who knows, painting may bring her decent income in the later on in her life.
Later in the day, I checked my email and came across one I saved from Boris that was sent in
the begining of the month, announcing Jing was safe and alive. Such wonderful but shocking news! I hope they are doing well.
Beau was at home with his father and grandfather, relaxing. I kind of wished I was there with him, but so did he. Talking on the phone just had to do for now.
“I am going to join my family for dinner now.” I paused a minute, walking into my bedroom, thinking of what else to add to our good byes. “Merry Christmas, Beau.”
“What’s for dinner?” he asked, not ready to hang up yet.
“Dad baked one of those spiral hams that comes with a glaze sauce you drizzle on top thirty minutes before it’s done.” I described, not realizing until now how hungry I was. “Beau, I better go, I am so hungry.” We both laughed.
“I’ll talk to you later. Merry Christmas to you and your family, Stormy. Lo-“ He quickly stopped whatever he was going to say next. “
“Bye, Beau. Oh wait! Sunny is coming with us to Molly’s New Year’s Eve party. I forgot to tell you that there will be other children there. And if you were okay with that.” I said, as I went through my dresser drawer looking for my night clothes to lay out on my bed before going downstairs for dinner. I wasn’t sure if Beau only wanted to hang out with adults that night.
“As long as I can spend time with you, I don’t care who will be there. “
A week later, Sunny and Beau tagged along with me to Molly's New Year’s Eve party, which was a lot of fun! Her family and our friends, including the children were there except for Tony. His absence was a total bummer, but one of the coolest things that happened tonight was when Colin showed up to the party from the airport, surprising Molly just in time for a kiss at the strike of midnight. Just a week ago, Colin got a hold of me wanting directions to Molly’s house so he could bring in the New Year with her. His trip home to England wasn’t as long as he thought it would be.
For the remainder of Molly’s stay in Crescent Bay, before going back to France, we hung out and had girl talk. Then there was playdate with Ruby, Boris, and their children, including Sunny, Eric and Molly’s cute little niece, Lauren.
Nothing transpired in the following months. Just the usual. Work, visiting mom, fussing at dad to fix things around the house, but most times repairing things myself, and seeing what my friends were up to via emails.
But when Tony and Laila came in to town the first week of march. I was so excited! I haven’t seen Tony in like forever! Ruby and I had lunch with them one afternoon, trying to squeeze in current details of our lives. I’ll miss them when they leave for China at the end of the week.
Then on one gorgeous Monday, later on in March, I was on my way to visit mom at Hope Center to drop off a freshly made sandwich and coffee I bought for her at the nearby deli and to see how she was doing. I was in great spirits. The fish I caught early this morning was bountiful, and Sanders gave me a five percent raise. So, for me, it was one of those days where everything went just right, making me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
And, while I am visiting mom, Sunny is in art class, which is held after school for about an hour and a half, three times a week. Dad agreed to let her join the class if she continues to do all of her homework and chores when she gets home. And, for the past month, she has done well with keeping up her duties.
Strolling towards the entrance of the center, I casually looked around the lovely grounds at the other patients with their family and or staff walking about or picnicking.
I stopped a minute, squinting my eyes, thinking it would give me a clearer image of the woman standing near the activities building. It didn’t. But the woman looked familiar-
Was that Aria Knight way back there?
I wouldn’t be surprised if she did end up here. She was a bit off in the head. I remember back in school, when we had detention, she would stare at people like she knew some secret about you, that you weren’t aware of. It was kind of creepy at times.
Tossing weird memories aside, I walked up the short steps leading into the center, while humming the last song I heard on the car stereo on the drive here, making my way to the patients lounge where mom usually hung out.
As I got closer, I saw mom in a heated discussion with another patient. I quickened my steps towards them to see what was going on.
“Hey, Mom, what’s up?” she went on arguing with the other person, paying me no mind. I clutched the bag containing the sandwich and coffee in one hand while I gently touched mom’s shoulder, to calm her. But she swatted my arm away.
The other woman spoke complete gibberish, but mom went back to arguing with her like she understood what she was saying.
“Mom. Let’s go into the dining room or to your room. I brought you a sandwich and coffee.” I said, raising my voice slightly over hers, hoping to gain her attention.
She whirled on me. “This is your fault!” she yelled. I raised an eyebrow at her. huh?
“Mom, come with me for a second –“ I tried pleading with her.
“You are always interfering! Leave me ALONE!” she shouted at me.
Moving in slow motion, I stumbled back from the blow, as the flames in mom’s eyes seared my own. Everything around me vanished. Nothing but silence.
Only the sound of the slap across my face continued to reverberate around me. What the hell just happened?
The sun blazed down upon me, bringing realization of my hasty depature from the center. I quickly walked down the steps, having chucked the coffee and sandwich in a nearby bin.
Next thing I know I was sitting in my car, clutching the steering wheel while staring straight ahead at the bushes that bordered the parking lot. A knot in my stomach formed. Mom has never in her life touched me that way.
I peeled out of the parking lot, not remembering ever starting the engine. My mind racing with what happened back at the center. What the hell, man…
“You gotta pick Sunny up from school.” Was all I said to dad when he answered his cell. I was on the highway heading east. I’m surprised that I remembered my sister needed to be picked up in an hour from school. I was not in the mood to talk or be near anyone. I turned my cell off, as I steadily drove on the road to nowhere.
My cheek expressed a dull pain that kept me thinking of the events that happened earlier. I was angry and extremely hurt. “Why did she hit me?!” I asked aloud, to no one. “Argh!” Hitting the steering wheel.
Three hours later back on the road, not paying any heed to where I was going after spending some time at a rest stop, my mind kept repeating what happened between mom and I as if it took place only moments ago.
I accelerated, picking up speed. Emotions driving me mad. There was a siren bellowing somewhere behind me that I ignored.
Soon, swirling lights caught my attention... flashing all around the dashboard and hitting me in the eyes from the rear view mirror. Reluctantly, I slowed down and pulled over. The officer knocked on my window as I stared straight ahead. Not turning to face him, I lowered the window.
“Stormy, do you know how fast you were going?” said a familiar voice. A nice voice…. He probably knew my name by running my plates through the computer they have equipped in their police car. “Stormy, what’s-“ he stopped. “No! We don’t need back up! I got this!” he yelled to someone. Probably his partner.
“Stormy….” He paused for a few minutes. In my peripheral he positioned himself to get a better look at me. Then his fingers ran ever so lightly through my hair. “Talk to me.”
A tear rolled down my cheek. That voice belonged to my Beau. I turned to look at him, as my hands fell in my lap from the death grip I had on the steering wheel. His handsome face was etched with concern. More silent tears came.
It was now evening, and I was exhausted. I continued to stare at Beau, his eyes bringing me to the sea as he looked upon my face, giving me this moment to weep.
A few minutes later, Beau opened the car door, took my hand. “Come here..” he whispered. I got out of the car, aching from sitting there for so long. Beau took me in his arms for the longest time. His partner came up to us, but Beau whispered a few things to him when he let me go. Beau then walked me to the passenger side of my car, strapped me in, as he went back around to take driver seat, started the car and we were on the road again.
“Stormy, I’d take you home with me and take care of you tonight. But I have to work until morning. Instead, I will take you over to Boris’ house for the night. But, I will call to check up on you. If you want to talk about whatever you are going through, call me on my cell.”
“Thank you, Beau.” I wanted to say, but my mouth would not part.
"I’m here for you. Always” he finished saying as we pulled up in front of Boris’ house. He helped me to the front door, and rang the doorbell. I noticed the squad car was in the driveway. He squeezed my arm, with a peck on my cheek, then ran to the driver side of his police car, as his partner went to the passenger side. A moment later, Boris opened the door…..
The next afternoon I emerged from the guest room of Boris’ house to go get some fresh air. I still felt like crap but at least the dull pain of my cheek went away. I slept very little last night, bombarded with the same thoughts over and over again of what happened yesterday, and what to do about it.
I heard voices in the kitchen, but slipped past, going out the back door, heading straight to the pond. Staring into the water at my reflection, I made a decision that wracked my mind in the last few hours, and that was never to visit mom again. She never….
Footsteps interrupted my thoughts. “Good afternoon" Boris said, when he stood next to me. “There’s lunch in the kitchen if you’re hungry. “
“Boris…..” I took a deep breath, continued to stare at my reflection in the water, and began to fill him in with the basics of yesterday’s madness with mom, and what it put me through, but leaving out my not wanting to see her anymore. Once again, Boris listened to my problems, but at the end of my tale, he gently encouraged me to confide in Beau, because he is a good man and really cares for me. I didn’t respond to his advice, but it was something worth taking into consideration.
Yeah… all four of my best friends are in relationships, raising a family and are busy with other affairs. Surely, If I need them, they will be there for me, but I wouldn’t want to interfere in their busy lives with my issues. I have so many things to think about. But right now, I will join Boris’ for lunch. My last meal was breakfast yesterday.
“Boris, thank you for listening to me. I am not sure what I will do with the situation right now.” I shrugged my shoulders, looking at him. He was smiling, which in turn, made me smile. “I think I’ll have lunch now.” As my stomach growled at me. We both laughed and made our way to the kitchen.
Boris and Jing asked for me to stay a few days if I needed additional time away from home. I accepted their offer, or I would have stayed in a motel somewhere. I needed the time to collect my thoughts. I was also able to get to know Jing a little more, while Boris made a quick trip to Crescent Bay for family business.
Towards the end of my stay, we all met up with Beau to enjoy a nice evening meal.
Two months later, I asked Beau to meet me at the beach, where I would be a little more comfortable to finally explain to him my childhood, my family, why I keep to myself, specific details about mom, and what happened that horrifying day at Hope Center with mom before I made my way blindly to Riverview. I am going to lay everything out for him and if he decides he doesn't want to talk to me because of all my baggage, so be it.
“When I was a child…..” I began, gesturing for Beau to walk along the beach with me. I spoke of mom’s condition, and how it has affected me over the years and dad’s inability to express his feelings. Beau was quiet the whole time, but voiced an occasional “mhm” or “OK” to let me know he was listening, and trying to understand.
“Beau, I am telling you all this, to give you a chance to run.” I said in conclusion to my story.
Beau was quiet for some time as we continued to walk along the beach. My heart sank, waiting for him to say, “Yeah, I’m outta here! Good luck with the rest of your life!” As he walked away, leaving me feeling like crap.
I turned to look at him not realizing he stopped walking a few paces back. He motioned for me to come over to him. Okay, so he’ll let me down gently. When I stood before him, Beau immediately took both my hands in his, compassion in his beautiful eyes, lifting the back of my right hand to his lips.
“I may not understand the pain and disappointments in you have endured, but, I still want to get to know you. Baggage and all, as you put it.” He said, smiling, caressing my arm. “ I want you to confide in me, and to trust me with your emotions, and any other issues you come across. Please.”
I continued to fix my eyes upon his, trying to read him. He seemed sincere. My heart says to believe him, to give him a chance. But my mind warred heavily against my heart. Then, Boris’ words came to mind again, that is, to talk to Beau, give him a chance to prove himself to me. This is why I asked for Beau to meet me here in the first place.
“Beau, I…” He put his finger to my lips, silencing me.
“Stormy, I love you.”