Chapter 5, Part 3 - Molly
When I woke up the morning after Tony left, all the guilt I should have been feeling settled in the pit of my stomach. "What did we do?" I muttered aloud. My stomach churned as I thought about Colin; my stomach churned as I thought about Tony as well. I rolled over in bed, trying to will myself to get up and face the day, but the empty spot that Tony had occupied all weekend made tears spring to my eyes. "What did we do?" I said again.
I was late to work but I didn't care. I nodded absently as Jake fumed about my lateness and walked away in a huff. I'm sure I looked and acted like a zombie for much of the week; I certainly felt like one. I had to drive out to the university for the first presentation of my portfolio that Friday and even my professor noticed my mood.
"Ms. Gregory? Are you alright?" he asked, looking up from the portfolio.
"Hmm?" I replied, I shook off the distraction and nodded. "Yes, I apologize."
"Well you're making fine progress; these pictures of..." he looked down at the model credits, "of Caleb are quite fitting a fashion magazine. Are you intending to work in fashion after your internship?"
"Um, I don't honestly know yet sir." I said, my stomach was queasy again and I hoped he finished before I had to excuse myself.
He nodded. "It's understandable. You seem to have good range though so I have confidence in your abilities Ms. Gregory." He smiled broadly, looking at one particular picture. "I especially like this one." He turned it so I could see and I sputtered.
"Oh um....how did that one get in there?" I said with a sheepish smile. I reached out for it and smiled at Tony's goofy expression. "That wasn't supposed to be in there..." I said, not looking at the professor but at Tony. My stomach flipped again and I stood, covering my mouth. "Um, can you excuse me a moment sir?"
"Oh we're done here." he tucked the pictures back in the portfolio and held it out to me. I nodded, still trying to hold back the nausea. I barely made it into the bathroom in time.
I had to make two stops on the way back to Paris too so by the time I walked into my loft all I wanted to do was crawl into bed. I was barely in the door when I heard a key in the lock and Cathy came in, carrying a box. "Cathy," my stomach churned again as Colin swam into my mind. "You're back..." I'd completely forgot that Cathy still had a couple weeks of her program. "What's in the box?" I walked over the kitchen in search of some saltines to hopefully settle my stomach.
"Oh, it's from Colin...some stuff you left at the house he said." she said it absently, as if his returning things to me was no big deal. To me, however, it felt like a blow to the gut and an end. I didn't say anything in response and continued looking for saltine crackers. "Aren't you going to open it and see what it is?" Cathy suggested.
"Not just now Cathy. I'll deal with it later." I gave up on the crackers and headed for the stairs. "I'm going to lay down, I feel horrible - stomach bug I think."
"Come on Molly...just open it..." Cathy pushed, pointing at the box.
I rolled my eyes but since I didn't want her asking me every fifteen minutes, I walked over and threw open the lid, expecting to find socks or my iPod or something. "What's this?" I asked, staring down at the contents in bewilderment.
"It's your ring." Colin said from behind me, making me jump about five feet in the air. "It's yours you know, if you still want it." I barely noticed as Cathy grinned at me and disappeared out the door, closing it quietly behind her. "I'm sorry Molly, I was a cad. I was absolutely blind and I should have defended you against the horrible way my mother treated you. I'm sorry it took me so long to even see it - you didn't deserve that treatment. You handled yourself with such grace that I didn't notice how much you were hurting. I am so sorry." He was holding my hands and paused for a moment but he didn't appear to be done with his apologies.
"Stop." I said, trying to hold back the tears. "Just stop...." he stopped talking and stepped back as if I'd pushed him away. I wanted so badly to hold on to his hands forever but I knew I had to let go. "I slept with someone else." I mentally smacked myself, surely there was a better way to handle that but I couldn't let him keep apologizing like he was. "So it's me that should be apologizing and I am so sorry, so. very. sorry. I'm sorry Colin..." Tears were already forming in my eyes as I said it.
"Someone else..." Colin seemed to say it mostly to himself, still reeling in shock from the blow I'd dealt. He stood there staring at me for what felt like hours, though it was only minutes before he spoke again. "Please excuse me." He slowly backed out of the loft, his face contorted with pain and anger.
I stared at the place he'd occupied for several moments before I was over come with nausea once again and ran for the bathroom. I crawled into bed afterward and cried alone. I didn't hear Cathy return, maybe she didn't. Maybe Colin took her back to England - it was probably just as well.
The first couple weeks of December were a blur. Cathy was still there but we didn't see much of each other; I don't know if she was going out of her way to avoid me but I know I was certainly avoiding her. I made sure she was in by curfew and that she'd done her school work but otherwise stayed away from her. I was still feeling queasy every time I thought of Tony...or of Colin...and between the two of them I was queasy a lot. I vaguely over heard people making plans for the upcoming holidays and realized I'd be spending it completely alone. Alone for Christmas - how depressing.
The last few weeks of Cathy's time in Paris passed quickly. I hesitated outside her room, reconsidering my plan. Finally, taking a deep breath, I stepped into her room. "Cathy..." I said standing in her doorway as she packed up the last of her things.
"Yes?" she said looking up from her trunk. She looked hesitant, as if she wasn't sure how to act around me.
"I'm really glad you came, you were a great roommate." I said. "And I'm sorry if the last couple weeks were awkward."
"Oh Molly!" she rushed forward and flung her arms around me, surprising me greatly. I returned the hug for several moments. "Thank you again for doing this, I really enjoyed my time in Paris." she said, finally breaking the hug and stepping back.
"I'm glad you did," I paused and she went back to closing up her trunk. "Can you do me a favor?" I pulled out a small velvet ring box from my pocket and held it out to her. "Take this back to your brother for me please. It's not mine anymore." I said shaking my head.
Cathy slowly took the box from me and nodded sadly. "Of course." she opened the box and looked at the ring for a long moment. "I'm sorry we won't be sisters after all." she said before closing it and tucking it in her luggage.
I rode with her to the train station and waited until the train pulled away from the station before walking slowly back to my car.
"Ruby, are you still there?" I asked into the phone. A minute ago, Ruby had shrieked and I heard a lot of clattering. I had a feeling she'd dropped the phone.
"Molly?!" she sounded out of breath. "You still there?"
"Yeah - was just asking you the same thing." I said with a laugh.
"Sorry, Byron was getting into the cabinets and dropping everything on the floor..." she said. She sounded completely spent. "So...how are you?" I'd managed to tell her about Colin and I breaking up before the latest incident with the kids had interrupted our conversation.
"I'm...here." I said sadly. "I'm just feeling kind of lonely right now. Cathy left, Stormy hasn't answered her phone lately and I'm avoiding Tony's calls..."
"Wait why are you avoiding Tony's calls?" she asked. Oh yeah, hadn't told her about that little incident. I was considering my words when I heard another shriek. "Byron! No! Don't color on the walls!"
"Um, you sound like you have your hands full Ruby - we can talk later..." I said, trying to get out of having to answer her questions.
"No no! It's okay Molly...situation handled...now, tell me about Tony." she said, her voice sounded edgy, as if waiting for the next disaster to strike.
"Well..." I wasn't sure I should be telling her any of this but I just couldn't keep it inside any longer. "Tony and I slept together..." The line was silent on the other end. So silent I was sure she must have accidentally hung up on me or something. "Ruby - did you hear me?"
"Did you say what I think you said?" she asked. Her voice was different now, not so edgy as confused. "You and Tony...when? where? how..." There was crashing and a lot of noise on the other end of the phone and I shuddered. I was so happy I didn't have kids at that moment. "Celia! Stay out of the toilet water! Oh ick!" I waited quietly for a few minutes, I could hear her moving about and probably hustling the children about the house. I couldn't imagine how she managed those three. "Molly, sorry, I gotta deal with these kids - I'll call you later though." she said.
After that, I thought about calling Tony...but I didn't. I thought about calling Boris and Stormy too but I didn't call any of them. As depressing as Christmas alone sounded - it was what I wanted. I didn't want to share my problems and loneliness with anyone and I didn't want to have to pretend to be happy either.
So on Christmas morning, I woke up and turned off my cell phone and put in the first of a half dozen DVDs I had out for the occasion. I curled up on the couch and spent the whole rest of the day there.
Much like the first part of December, early January was a blur for me. I went to work, I took pictures, I edited pictures and I came home. I tried calling my friends but I couldn't make my fingers dial their numbers. I just wasn't ready to talk to anyone so I didn't answer my phone or read non-work emails. Ian and Jake both noticed my lack of enthusiasm but were at a loss as to what to say. It was now fairly common knowledge around the office that I'd broken up with my fiance so I got several looks of pity that I just barely registered.
"Good job Molly" Anna said one cold January day as she passed my cubicle. I looked up at her quizzically but she was already moving on. A few other people gave me similar greetings but it wasn't until that afternoon that I figured it all out.
"Who is the newest published photographer on the staff?" Ian asked, holding out an open copy of the newest issue of the magazine. It had hit the stands today actually. I looked at the page he was turned too and my eyes went wide - there was a full page picture of Caleb...one of my pictures! I snatched the copy from him and flipped through it. They'd just started a series of a features profiling our main models and Caleb happened to be up first. Most of the article was an interview with him and every picture in the profile was one of mine!
"But...what? How?!" I sputtered, flipping through the same pages a second and third time.
"You're just that good." he said with a wink. "Congrats Molly." he added before he went back to the studio. I saw Jake at the door of the studio and he actually smiled at me before heading into the studio as well.
On the way home, I bought several copies of the issue to send to my friends and family and couldn't stop smiling. I think it was the first real smile I'd had since Tony had left. Feeling happy and confident once more, I finally broke down and called Tony back - I hated avoiding his calls and I hated the feeling that I probably hurt his feelings in the process. Thanks to the time differences, I almost always ended up talking to voicemail rather than people but instead of hanging up, I waited for the beep. "I'm sorry Tony." I said simply. "Whenever you want to talk, I'll answer this time I promise." Not sure what else there was to say, I hung up the phone only to have it ring a minute later. It was Tony.
The nausea - which I was sure had finally gone away - returned with a vengeance that night and for the whole week. "I give up," I muttered. I called my doctor and set up an appointment for the following week. What was the cure for guilt?
Tony and I met at an outdoor cafe later that week. We started to reach out for a hug and then both pulled back awkwardly and sat down at the table. For several minutes we focused mostly on the drinks in front of us. "Molly, have you talked to Boris recently?" Tony asked breaking the silence first.
"No, he's called but I've...well I've kind of been avoiding my phone" I said a little embarrassed. "Why?"
"It's about Stormy..." he said, looking down at his plate. He looked up again and gave me the little information they knew. Words like plane, disappearance and ocean flitted through my head like they were a foreign language. I was instantly crying and Tony tried to calm me with assurances that there was still reason to hope.
I tried to nod, to agree with him but my insides felt twisted and a wave of nausea overtook me so I ran. I ran to the bathroom of the cafe and hid inside for several minutes before coming back out.
Again we were silent. His hand was resting gently on top of mine but neither of us spoke for a long time. "I told Laila" Tony said, once again the braver of the two of us.
"I told Colin." I replied. "How'd Laila respond?" I asked, my imagination was already forming the scene in my mind, trying to block out images of Stormy.
"She threw me out of the house." Tony summed up. "And Colin?"
"He walked away. Haven't heard from him since." I said. The weeks that had passed since then had made it easier to say although it still hurt inside. "I'm sorry I didn't answer the phone...or call. I..." I tried to figure out how to say what I was thinking and just shrugged sadly. "I should have called."
"It's okay Molly." Tony said, reaching his hand out and placing it over mine. "I'm glad you did though."
We were quiet for awhile longer before I spoke again. "Do you think you and Laila will work things out?"
"She has to talk to me first...and she's not." Tony replied, looking a bit distant, probably thinking about it.
"You should try to fix things with her." I said after a moment. "You wouldn't be you if you didn't try." I took a slow drink of my coffee and realized Tony's hand was still on mine. I intertwined my fingers with his and stared at our hands, wound together like they were. "I'm sorry Tony." I whispered.
"We both did this together - that's nothing you have to apologize to me for Molly." he said.
"Not that." I was still looking at my hands as I said and then looked at him, "I'm sorry I broke up with you before - I know we both agreed that it was the best thing but you didn't really want to and I did it anyway. If I hadn't then..."
"Molly...." Tony stopped me. "Molly, we both decided then too - you don't have to apologize for that. Besides, who knows what would have happened then."
I felt tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat, in my mind I was objecting but I merely nodded, afraid to speak lest I start crying again.
On the way home, I collected my mail and found one of the magazines I'd sent out had been returned. On closer inspection, I realized it was Stormy's copy but nothing seemed to be wrong with the address or postage. It was simply marked [i]Return to Sender[/i]. I remembered the limited information that had been passed to me from Tony and felt my eyes swell with tears again. I had to believe she was out there somewhere. That night I read and answered every email from my friends with apologies for my absense.
"Molly Gregory" the nurse called me back from the waiting room. I followed her into a small room where she weighed me - man I'd been eating too much chocolate - and handed me a cup with a understanding smile. I knew it was all just part of their procedure and obliged their wishes and then waited. The doctor was running late so I had plenty of time to feel awkward sitting on the exam table. I had to make another dash to the small bathroom during the wait too.
"Ms Gregory?" he asked, extending his hand. I shook it and nodded.
"Please tell me you can give me something for this nausea." I said, rubbing my stomach as another wave started.
"Well, you're not sick. And I'm afraid the nausea might continue for a couple more months." he said, even as he delivered that depressing news he was smiling. "You're pregnant Ms. Gregory. Congratulations."
My brain froze up the moment he said it, pregnant...I was pregnant. How could I be pregnant? "Excuse me?" I finally sputtered.
"Pregnant. Yes, I'd like you to call and schedule an appointment with our OB department." he was already writing a number down on a business card and holding it out to me.
I stared at him blankly and blindly took to the card. "um...I don't know who...I mean I don't know when I got pregnant...I mean my cycles are very...um...." I'm sure he thought I was a blabbering idiot.
"Alright, I'll put in a referral for an ultrasound to date your pregnancy." he said with a comforting smile. He gave me a few other instructions and then left. I slowly got down from the exam table and gathered my things, still trying to grasp on to what he said. Pregnant.
"Oh Ms Gregory!" one of the nurses called as I was half way out of the office. "The ultrasound tech had a cancellation, if you can stay a bit longer the doctor mentioned you needed one." I nodded my assent and she picked up her phone to call it in. "Alright, you need to go down two floors and turn left..." she pointed out the department on the map and smiled. "He's expecting you."
"Thank you." I said, looking once more at the map. I didn't have to wait in the waiting room at all once I told them the situation and found myself in another exam room moments later.
"Ah Ms Gregory." the tech said as he walked in, a nurse was behind him holding what I guessed was my chart, "Lay back and lift up your shirt a bit." he said. I did as I was told and he nodded at me. "Very good, nurse, light please." he flipped on the machine as the light was turned off and held up a bottle of some sort of gel. "To help get a clearer picture." he said as he squirted it across my abdomen. It only took him a few minutes to find what he was looking for and he turned the monitor towards me so I could see a picture of the baby I still couldn't believe was inside me. I hadn't expected it to look at all human but I could see the beginnings of limbs already and a certain distinction between the head and the torso.
"Wow." I said blinking away a few tears.
He smiled, probably assuming they were entirely happy tears, and pointed out a few areas. I watched as he made measurements with the machine, from head to rump and across the middle. "You're about 9 weeks along Ms. Gregory - you just found out?" he sounded a little surprised.
"I've been stressed and my cycles have always been pretty erratic I just didn't think about it..." I continued to look at the baby on the screen as I tried to calculate in my head when conception had occurred. "So 9 weeks would mean I got pregnant..." I trailed off, not really wanting to have to explain my need to know.
He looked at his machine and plugged in the information, "I would guess your due date is August 20th - give or take a few days and you conceived at the end of November." Even as my mind was spinning, he flipped a switch and I heard the rapid heartbeat of our baby. "That's the heartbeat, good and strong." he said with another reassuring smile.
I blinked back more tears and nodded but said nothing. The nurse turned the light back on and handed me a towel to wipe the gel off. "Can I?" I asked pointing to the screen.
"Of course." he pushed a few more buttons and printed off a couple of images for me and handed them to me before leaving with the nurse.
I was carrying Tony's baby.
I barely registered the calls and emails that came in from friends as they got their copies of the magazine. All of them were enthusiastic and cheerful but I only read the words, barely grasping the sentiment behind them. I kept hoping the next call or email would be from Stormy - but it wasn't. I still had her copy sitting on my desk at home.
I didn't have time to consider it anymore because I heard someone hollaring for me. "Gregory!" Jake said loudly, drawing me out of my thoughts on how and when I should tell Tony. I looked up at him, hovering over my desk, and waited for him to speak. "I need you to go to New York in a couple weeks" he glanced at the paper in his hand. "February 11th through the 18th. I'll be there from the 15th to the 18th but I need you shoot all the preliminary stuff."
"What is it for?" I asked.
"Fashion week." he said, dropping a thick folder on my desk with all the details. "The major shows are at the end of the week but a few newer labels and some red carpet things will be happening the rest of the time and I can't be there. So it's all yours." He didn't wait for my reply before walking off. I should have been excited but I didn't have it in me.
I scheduled my first real OB appointment for the week before my trip and probably asked the nurse and doctor a half dozen times if they were sure it was safe for me to travel. "Yes Molly!" Doctor Nan said with a sympathetic smile. "It's fine, your pregnancy is going fine, you're now twelve weeks along, so I imagine your morning sickness will be letting up - though the flight may be a bit rough. But things should run a bit smoother now. Have a good trip."
When I heard the heartbeat for the second time, I wished Tony was there - father's should get to hear their baby's heartbeat too! That was the first time I really thought of Tony as being the father - I knew he was of course but I couldn't keep out all the questions of how we would manage this then. I resolved to tell him the news as soon as I could; it was only fair.
I called him that night and got his voice mail, "Hey Tony - it's Molly...." I paused, trying to think of the right words and realized this wasn't something I could just tell his voice mail. "I'm going to be New York City from the 11th the 18th...well I'll be really busy from the 15th on but do you think you can meet me there? I really need to see you and talk to you. Let me know okay? Well...bye." I hung up and tossed the phone on the counter.
As I straightened the black dress and ran my hand over my abdomen, I noticed the small bump for the first time. I turned in profile, looking in the hotel mirror and pulling the dress back tight. There was definitely the smallest hint of a pregnancy bulge there! I frowned a few times but ran my hand over the bump again - there really was a tiny human inside me.
Tony was already seated at our table when I finally arrived. "Sorry I'm late." I said as he stood to greet me. He leaned in to hug me and we both pulled back a bit, still feeling awkward.
The waiter appeared as I was taking my seat, "Would you like something to drink ma'am?" he held out the wine menu to me to look over but I waved it off.
"Just water please." I said. I looked back at Tony and smiled. "It's good to see you Tony."
"It's good to see you too Molly; are you alright? Your message had me worried I admit." Tony asked.
"About that..." I stopped and looked down at my silverware, fiddling with the edge of the napkin. Tony reached out and placed his hand on mine and then seemed to think better of it as he started to pull it away. I held his hand firmly before he could pull away though and looked up at him. "I'm pregnant Tony."
His face filled with surprise and I knew there were questions already forming in his mind. All the same questions I'd asked when I was first told.
"It's your baby Tony, I'm about thirteen weeks now and I just couldn't tell your voice mail this." I said with a pitiful chuckle.
"Are you sure, that it's mine I mean?" he asked and then looked embarrassed, like he shouldn't have asked such a question.
I smiled and squeezed his hand. "Yes, I'm sure. I had an early ultrasound to date the pregnancy a couple weeks ago and since Colin and I hadn't....been together anytime around Thanksgiving...definitely yours."
"Wow..." I finally let go of his hand and he still looked terribly shocked.
"I know, I've said the same thing a lot lately..." I said, taking a sip from my water. "You can be as involved as you want Tony...I mean you're married so...I don't want this to cause more problems between you and Laila."
"Molly, that's my child you're carrying. I'll be there for you; both of you as much as I can be." Tony reassured me. Our food arrived not long after but I merely picked at my meal; the morning sickness had returned with force thanks to the transatlantic flight.
We talked about the pregnancy mostly or about our friends, about the lack of news about Stormy. As we were walking back to my hotel a couple blocks away, I stopped short. "I almost forgot!" I said digging in my purse. I handed him one of the ultrasound pictures from a few weeks earlier. "That's our baby - well a few weeks ago. I imagine it looks even more like a small human now." I said. "I thought you might like to have it."
He looked at the picture for a minute and nodded. "Thank you." he looked down at my abdomen and I knew he was thinking about everything. After another minute, we started walking again. At the door of my hotel, we stood awkwardly, trying to figure out how to say goodbye.
"I have an appointment in a couple weeks - I'll call you with any details." I said finally.
"Okay, that sounds good." he said, still holding the picture in his hand and gazing at it occasionally. I figured it would take time for the initial shock to wear off.
"Thanks for coming Tony." I said and gave him a hug. It was a little awkward but he wrapped his arms around me as well and I felt better now that he knew about the baby; until then it had been a secret all my own that was becoming a little hard to keep in but now I'd told the only person who really had to know.
I hadn't expected to hear from him again while I was in New York but the next day he called and asked me to dinner for Valentines Day. I knew we weren't going as a romantic couple but the significance of the day wasn't lost on me.
The rest of Fashion week was a flurry of activity; there were shows constantly for dozens of labels and a number of parties to attend as well. It only got worse once Jake arrived, even with both of us there, we were constantly on our toes and I didn't have time to think about Tony or the pregnancy.
Back in Paris, the tiny little baby bump was making it harder and harder to fit into my normal work clothes. I hoped no one else had noticed it since I hadn't made my pregnancy public knowledge but it was time to do a little shopping. As much as I wished I could call Marisa to be my shopping buddy for the day, the last thing I wanted was for her to see me shopping maternity clothes so I went alone.
I was standing outside a shop, looking over a rack they had outside, when I heard a very familiar laugh and voice call out to me. "Mols!" Sean said in surprise. He hurried over to me and gave me a big hug. "I haven't see you in..." he trailed off as a flash of long forgotten pain hit his face. No doubt he was thinking back to the would-be wedding to Amelie. "Well it's been awhile anyway! How's my mate Colin?" My own face must have betrayed me because I didn't even have to reply. "Oh I'm sorry Mols - I thought the two of you..."
"We broke up a couple months ago," I said, looking at my feet. "So, what are you doing in Paris?"
"I have a show at a small gallery here." he explained. We walked away from the shop, and I was thankful that if he noticed what I was looking at, he didn't make mention of it. We walked together for awhile and then exchanged phone numbers and promised to keep in touch. He was going to be in Paris for a few months so I hoped we'd have a chance to get together.
I'd forwarded all the details of my next appointment to Tony, trying to keep him as involved as he wanted to be. I figured he'd call me for details after if I didn't call him first. I had a difficult time getting out of work the day of my appointment though. Jake raised a fuss when I told him I had another doctor's appointment and Marisa followed me all the way to the lobby trying to get details. So I was ten minutes late when I walked into the waiting room. To my surprise, Tony was there waiting for me along with an annoyed looking nurse. "What are you doing here?" I asked, it's not like Paris was just a trip across town for him or anything.
"You had an appointment, I had the time." Tony said by way of explanation.
I looked at him curiously but didn't pursue the line of discussion as the nurse was ushering us back into the office. Doctor Nan came in almost as soon we were shown into an exam room. "Good afternoon Molly." she said with a smile, then she saw Tony and extended her hand.
"This is Tony, the baby's father." I explained. "Tony this Dr. Nan." They shook hands and Tony stood beside me as I laid back on the exam bed. When she placed the heartbeat monitor on my abdomen and Tony heard the beat for the first time I smiled up at him, taking his hand.
"That's your baby." Dr. Nan said with a smile. "Good and strong. Any problems Molly? Cramping or anything?" I shook my head, even the morning sickness seemed to have finally gone away. "Good, everything seems to be going great. I'd like to schedule your mid-point ultrasound for a month from now; have you decided if you want to find out the gender?" she asked, making notes in my chart even as she spoke.
I looked at Tony and then back to the doctor. "We haven't really had a chance to talk about it." I said.
"Not a problem. Just let the tech know either way when you go in for the scan. I'll see you in a month Molly." she shook Tony's hand again and then walked out of the room, off to see other patients.
Tony stayed in town for just a couple days after that but each day seemed to ease the awkwardness between us. We said goodbye over coffee at a cafe near the airport. "Call me when you get a chance - so I know you got home alright." I said.
"I will." Tony assured me. He glanced at his watch and stood. "I better get going. Bye Molly," I stood as well and he place a hand on my belly. "Bye baby." he said and then smiled at me. I know there were glistening tears in my eyes, I blamed the hormones for it of course. "We'll make this work Molly. I promise, just take care of yourself and our baby..."
"I will." I said, wiping away the tears. "Go on, you'll miss your flight."
After he was out of sight, I went home. Barely inside the downstairs studios, I felt light headed and had to stop to catch my breath. I leaned against the wall for a few minutes before proceeding slowly up the stairs to my apartment. Sitting on the stoop was a beautiful array of flowers. I bent forward to pick them up and searched around for a note.
Finally spotting it, I slipped the little card from the envelope. "I saw your pictures in the magazine, Congratulations. -Colin PS. I miss you." I read it over again and smiled for a moment.
The pain that ripped through my middle was so sudden that I doubled over, almost dropping the flowers. As it subsided, I stood up slowly, grasping for the wall to support myself. Another wave of pain hit me and I stumbled forward. The flowers dropped from my arm, the glass vase shattering as it hit the floor. I grabbed my stomach instinctively as the pain continued. I fell to the floor, overcome, my hand dropped into the remnants of the glass vase. The glass shards bit into my skin but the pain from that was nothing compared to the pain in my stomach.
Then it grew dark.
Chapter 5, Part 3 - Boris
Upon hearing the car door, I quickly made my way to the front door. Tony had called earlier and said he was in town and asked if we could talk. I hadn’t seen him since the weddings in June. I will be good to catch up on the last six months.
“Hey Tony, it’s good to see you!”
“Hi Boris, you may not think so!”
“Come in, come in! What could you possibly mean by that?” I inquired curiously.
“I’ve really made a mess of things this time,” Tony said, on the verge of tears.
I have never seen Tony look so depressed; so [i]defeated[/i]. I led Tony into the living room where we could sit and talk.
Just as we were settling in for our chat, Jing and Mao came down the stairs, with packed bags. The timing was uncanny.
“I’m going to China for a time. Mao is coming with me,” she stated with a dejected look on her face.
She muscled her bags into her arms and somewhat clumsily made for the front door.
“Excuse me a minute, Tony,” I said as I made my way over to help Jing, but she turned away from me, preventing me from grabbing any pieces of her luggage. She stumbled out the door to the driveway.
“What’s this all about, Mao?” I confusedly asked.
“Oh, Boris, I am sorry. It’s best I don’t say anything. I don’t want to have to choose sides here. I have gotten the boys settled. I have to go.”
“Choose sides in wha…” I began to ask as he hurried after Jing. “…at?” I finished as the door closed behind him.
I walked back in and sat down facing Tony, totally confounded. “Sorry about that, Tony,” I apologized.
“It’s ALL my fault, you know,” he said, seemingly unable to raise his head to look at me.
“What’s your fault?”
“I slept with Molly! The guilt of betrayal to Laila was more than I could bear; she deserved to know. So I told her about my weekend with Molly. Now Laila is not speaking to me. I called Molly to see if she was okay, but she is not answering my calls. Laila probably called Jing and asked her to come to China. By the way Jing left, I would assume she knows everything. I can’t blame her, Boris. I’m so sorry if I have made things awkward for you.”
“Wow, Tony! I can only imagine how you must be feeling right now. Don’t worry about Jing. We’ll work it out. Molly! Wow! Just WOW!”
“I still have feelings for Molly; strong feelings, Boris! I don’t know what to do right now.”
“I’ve always known you still had feelings for Molly,” I assured him. “I can’t say I’m completely surprised, though! Your love for each other was always evident when you were together, but I didn’t think it would happen like this.”
“As much as I still love Molly, I want to try to save my marriage, if at all possible. I just don’t know what to do since Laila won’t answer my calls.”
“You’re welcome here as long as you like, Tony. Make yourself at home. Take some time to think things out. If I can be of any help, just let me know.”
“Thanks, Boris! I know I can always count on you.”
“In the mean time, I have just the ticket to help you forget about this whole mess for a while. Let me make a call.”
“Great, Boris, I need to escape for a bit.”
After making a phone call, I announced to Tony that everything was set. I’m sure Axel could use a little time away, also, so I invited him along as well.
Two days later we boarded a ferry to one of the islands off the coast. The sea was a little choppy, the rain was coming down pretty heavy and it didn’t quite settle with Axel. He turned a little green around the gills; paying homage to the sea a few times, hanging over the railing on the way. He probably shouldn’t have eaten that full breakfast.
An hour later, we reached the tiny island. Atop the cliff stood an old, weather-beaten building with a huge satellite dish mounted on the roof. From the looks of if, it hasn’t been maintained. This was the site of an old military communications base where space traffic was monitored. New facilities built farther inland several years ago made this base obsolete.
As we stepped on to the pier the rain thankfully let up.
“That must be the place,” I indicated by nodding my head in the direction of the building.
“You sure about this, Boris?” Axel sounded apprehensive.
“Well, you can get back on the ferry and deal with the rough waters again, if you swim fast enough,” I taunted.
“Very funny; don’t quit your day job!” he shot back, clearly annoyed at my suggestion.
We hiked up the cliff to the building at the summit. The path was narrow and steep, the new fallen rain making the rocky path slippery and somewhat treacherous.
On several occasions, I fought back my old friend, vertigo, while Tony and Axel trudged on ahead of me. I knew I should have hired a helicopter!
After some interesting acrobatics, we reached the top of the cliff and made our way to the building. Once inside, we took a few minutes to remove our wet coats and hats. We looked around, finding the building empty of furniture and in need of a good cleaning. There was no sign of recent activity anywhere on the main floor.
We located stairs heading down and proceeded to descend. Looking around at the bottom was less promising than the floor above. As we walked around, a hidden door in one wall began to open. The light from behind the door revealed a small room with an elevator. This room was clean and appeared to me of newer construction than the previous ones.
We stepped through the hidden door and entered the elevator. Upon exiting the elevator, we found ourselves in a short hall that ended in another doorway.
I reached for the handle and turned it. The unlocked door swung open easily on its well oiled hinges into a large room filled with all manner of mechanical devices. There were four stools in the center of the room facing large windows. Next to each stool was a small table. There was a device on each of the tables resembling a visor.
From the dimly lit room on the opposite side of the window, a figure seated behind a control panel began to issue instructions.
“Welcome! Please take a seat in one of the chairs. Once I have finished the instructions, don the visor that is on the table next to your seat,” the man’s voice began.
He continued, “These devices are connected to a virtual reality generator that will place you into virtual reality of your choosing. The visors have been configured so that you will all experience the same virtual reality. You will each maintain individual control of your actions, but the environment will be generated from the first person to provide a ‘destination’ through thought.
“In other words, the first one of you who thinks of a time and location will determine the setting for your virtual fantasy; to include dress and appearance. Safety measures are in place so you will not be physically harmed by events you encounter in your adventure, however, pain and emotion will seem very real.
“When you want to leave you your reality, locate the exit portal. It will be a metal device with a purple glow about it. Enter the portal and it will either return you here or to another reality, depending on the thoughts it perceives.
“You will be connected to a bio-sensor that I will monitor. It will begin to monitor your vitals when you don the visor. If I notice any sharp changes in your bio readings or sense one of your lives in danger, I will discontinue the experience immediately. You do have a time limit. I will let your adventure run freely for five hours, at which time the device will automatically discontinue the experience. You will receive a warning ten minutes prior to disconnect.
“Any questions?” he concluded.
“We’re good,” I answered for all of us.
“Ok, let’s get you started then. Make sure your visors are snug. Get comfortable in your chairs; you may be there a while. Here we go.”
A brief flash of light from the visor indicated the virtual experience was beginning. We sat for several long seconds with nothing happening when suddenly the space around us seemed to bend and shift in a soft purple hue. The shifting began to ease and the space around us was once again solid and we were exiting a large cave, wearing loincloths.
I tried to speak to Tony and Axel, but all that came out was a series of grunts. They appeared to understand my guttural language, though.
I tried to imagine which of those two could have thought to put us in this reality. Oh, well, why waste the experience on trivialities? Let’s have a look about.
Off in the distance, we noticed a small group of females dressed much as we were. I motioned for the other two to follow me. As we approached the group, I noticed they looked like women we knew. There were two that looked like Ruby and Jing, picking fruit from a tree, so Axel and I approached them. I was surprised that I could understand the grunts from the women as well. They appeared as our wives, but they clearly had no indication of who we were.
I moved to one side of the tree to pick an apple for myself, with Axel following suit.
Did they even have apple trees in this time period? Well, I suppose whichever of those two thought of this place also thought there were apple trees here. I also noticed cherry and pomelo trees. Anyone with any botanical or gardening expertise knows that these trees were not indigenous to the same regions. It appeared we were on the edge of a lush jungle. There was a river below. It was difficult to gauge the size from this distance. The plants were so rich in color, much like the transition from black and white to color in The Wizard of Oz .
“Ok, Boris, quit with the logical thinking. This is an adventure,” I told myself.
Tony had wandered out of sight. I heard a waterfall and looked around, noticing a small pool below a cliff. As I walked towards the pool, I noticed Tony entering the water. He had shed his loincloth at the water’s edge. As I moved closer, I noticed a woman in the spray of the waterfall coming down the cliff.
Oh, my god! Was that Molly in the spray? She was naked; bathing in the spray. She was beautiful, standing in the water, her hair wet down and shining in the sun as it danced between the slowly waving branches of the trees surrounding the pool. As she turned and saw Tony approaching, she stopped bathing and watched him approach with an inviting smile.
“Shit, I feel like a pervert, watching the two of them,” I thought to myself. I hope that if these women do know who we are, that Laila doesn’t appear in this reality.
I turned to walk away, only to find Axel close behind, also watching the scene unfold. It was clear to me now whose thoughts were driving this reality. Axel’s extended jaw indicated his surprise at these events as well. Hasn’t Tony created enough trouble for himself already?
As Tony neared the woman in the pool, the Jing female ran to the edge of the clearing and began screaming and waving her arm.
Soon there was another woman running towards the pool with her. As she got closer, I noticed she looked like Laila.
“Holy crap!” I thought, as I tried to get Tony’s attention. He finally looked towards me and I pointed to the screaming women approaching from the far side. He wasn’t sure what to do, but quickly kissed the woman in the water spray and made his way back to the edge where he had entered.
Without missing a step, he snatched up his clothes in one arm and began running in the opposite direction. Axel and I quickly took up a pace alongside Tony. He glanced back to see that the women had stopped by the pool. He then took a few second to hastily don his loincloth again. Then, motioning to us, we began running again.
We happened to run in the correct direction as we soon came upon the portal. Somehow I knew how to activate it, and we entered.
Another brief flash of light; the purple hue; the shifting space; then I heard myself bark, “Avast, ye scurvy dogs!” Why the hell was I speaking like this?
We had exited the portal onto the rich teak deck of a ship; a pirate ship, no less, by the looks of her. All the old pirate crew clichés were here; down to the old salt with the peg leg and parrot. Crewmen were moving about the deck tending to their duties.
“Cap’n, we’re comin’ up on the island,” Tony said as if it were the most natural response in the world.
Is he talking to me? Yes; yes he is. So I must be the Captain. “Bring her about and prepare to drop anchor.” How did I know to say that?
The crew began bellowing commands up and down the deck. Men were racing fore and aft; port to starboard; making the necessary preparations to anchor just off the tiny island.
“Ye stand on that plank too long, and yer liable to be shark bait if we hit a good swell,” I said to Tony
“Who be goin’ ashore, Cap’n?” Axel asked.
“Argh! Me thinks you should take charge of the party, Ax. The last time I set foot on that island, I was almost roasted alive. I don’t think the natives are ready for my purty face just yet.”
He began laughing a hearty belly laugh that proved to be infectious to all within earshot.
“Go ahead, laugh it up. Ye all be gettin’ yers one of these days.”
The laughter almost drowned out the warning from the sailor in the crow’s nest above.
“Cap’n, thar be a ship approaching. She not flyin’ any colors.”
All hands made for the rail to get a look at the nearing craft. A handsome ship she was, too; similar in design to my very own Sea Otter. What the hell kind of name is that for a pirate ship? I know I’ll not be saying that name aloud.
“Damn! That foul stench of a woman done found us!”
“Should we be weighin’ anchor and settin’ sail, Cap’n?”
There wasn’t much time to think about a course of action, but every fiber of my being knew what to do.
“Ain’t no chance o’outrunin’ her now! It be that scourge of the sea, Red Scarlet, and her band o’ she-devils,” I shouted. “Prepare to repel boarders.”
“She ain’t gonna do much to us with them thar musket loaders!” Axel laughed, pointing at two small cannon mounted on the deck of the approaching ship.
“Ahoy, where be yer cap’n?” The wench called across the sea between the ships.
Red Scarlet and her crew of women may look frail, but it’s been told that she has sunk many a ship in her day. I was not ready to find out how much truth there was to it. This place must be Axel’s doing. What is he thinking?
“I be commandin’ this here lady. Whatcha be wantin’?” I bellowed back.
“This be yer lucky day, swines; you be getting’ the pleasure of meetin’ up with Red Scarlet! I mean to take your ship’s cargo for me and my fine crew.”
"I am disinclined to acquiesce to your request," sounding like someone out [i]Pirates of the Caribbean[/i] “I don’ think you’ll be takin’ anyone’s cargo today, Missy. You best be on your way with your boatload of frail wenches.”
“Frail? Who you callin’ frail. We’re just gonna haf to do this the hard way, Cap’n. Prepare to lose your ship. You be takin’ up residence on this puny island if you can manage to save yer boney ass from the sea’s grasp. I hear her callin’ yer name now!” she turned and cupped her hand behind her ear, as if listening to the sea.
“We gotta save the rum, Cap’n.” Axel cried.
She turned away and began barking orders at her crew. As she faced us again, she yelled the last command we were to hear, “Send ‘em to meet Davy Jones, lasses!”
Suddenly, every porthole on the side of her ship opened and a large cannon barrel appeared. Seconds later they began firing in succession. The barrage began pelting our ship; pieces of wood and metal flying up from the deck, rails, and masts, everywhere. The powder barrels began exploding below deck. The flames quickly spread to the cargo hold, igniting the rum. Flames were spreading faster than we could keep them under control. The inferno was too much to bear.
“Argh! We been caught with ar breeches at our ankles, lads! Every man fer himself, mateys! Make fer the island! Tony, Axel, what say we get out of here?”
We were able to enter the portal before the ship sank to the ocean floor.
That’s more than enough pirating for me in this lifetime! I have no desire to find out if Davy Jones’ Locker is myth or reality.
As I stepped from the portal, I found myself in a large rock cavern. Although it was dimly lit, I could see as well as if the sun shone in this place. I began to look around; Tony and Axel were nowhere near.
Then I heard his voice enter my mind. “They’re in this cell,” he said to her.
“We must hurry. I don’t know how much longer I can stand it.” She had bumped into him once or twice on the way down, clumsily padding along behind, anxious to reach their goal.
“Show some restraint. You’ll put them ill at ease and just make it worse for yourself.”
“I apologize. This is all so new to me,” she said as she lowered her head.
The heavy oaken door was likened to a feather under his limitless strength. The rusty latch thrown; the door was opened with ease; as if the door hung on well oiled hinges. With fluid grace, the two entered the cell.
Standing on the far side, near one of the soiled cots, stood a well dressed gentleman and a beautiful Asian woman.
The gentleman wore a look upon his face that suggested apprehension, not fright. He was dapper and quite good looking, suggesting one of good breeding. He had an air of confidence about him. He carried himself as the consummate statesman; a diplomat, perhaps.
The woman had her hair put up, most probably enjoying an evening on the town. He hair was now slightly disheveled, but betrayed her beauty not. She seemed poised to attack her visitors at the slightest provocation; most probably trained in martial arts.
“Please don’t be alarmed,” he said in a soothing, almost cooing voice that seemed to put everyone within the cell at ease, even for the woman who accompanied him.
“Please do not be alarmed,” she echoed from behind him, attempting to project the same type of comforting tone and failing miserably. The man did not berate her for speaking out of turn. Not this time.
“And just why should we not be alarmed? You have us caged in this filthy room like animals,” the gentleman inquired. Usually able to discern a person’s intentions, he could not from the expressionless, no lifeless, faces of his hosts.
“We mean you no harm,” she cooed.
“I believe you have already caused considerable harm, holding against our will,” the captive woman interjected.
“You cannot resist, nor overpower us; you would be wise to do as you are told,” The man trilled in a voice the likes of which neither one of them had heard before; a voice that demanded attention, yet soothed at the same time.
The woman’s gaze entranced the gentleman, much like hypnosis; making him vulnerable to the advances of the woman.
“What is your name,” she purred as she closed in on the gentleman’s neck, curling back her lips, exposing a set of fangs.
Her teeth were so sharp that he never felt them break the skin as he replied simply, “Colin.”
Why he replied with his given name and not his surname as the circumstance would dictate, he could not discern. She drank of his blood, sating her hunger; exchanging the spent plasma in her body with his, rejuvenating herself. The mingling of her blood with his exhilarated him; made him feel more alive than he had in a long while.
The man waited, holding his prey in his gaze, as the woman drank her fill. She was new at this and would need to be stopped before she took the gentleman past the point of no return. As a result of his age; or rather years of agelessness, he was more adept at using his mind than the woman. He was able to learn the woman’s name by probing her mind. His kind cannot read anyone’s mind; their prey must open their thoughts as they are caught in the gaze.
Sensing the man was nearing the point, he sent out a lashing thought to the woman, causing her to break her hold on the gentleman. Once he was sure that she had released her gaze upon him, the man took of Laila, the beautiful Oriental flower that stood before him.
Sated, they left their prey lying on the cots to rest and recover. They bolted the cell door behind them.
“You must learn when the prey has reached their limit. To feed any longer would destroy their frail body.”
She was the most recent addition to their coven; still weak; still learning. She was found alone, viewing the exhibits in The Louvre. She had appeared to de distraught, confused. She made for easy prey in her fragile state. She was not angry with who she had become. On the contrary, she was eager to learn; almost too eager.
As they entered the hallway, another man was waiting. He turned and walked with them.
They turned a corner and he finally spoke, “Anthony is correct, Molly. You must learn their limits. Yours are near boundless, but the frail humans can only take so much. To think we were once as frail as they.”
“I will learn quickly,” Molly averred.
“Take care that you do, lest you are discovered and destroyed. We are not completely immortal; we have flaws. Should your heart be pierced and drained, that will be your end.”
They entered a large chamber where another beautiful woman was waiting.
“Leave me now.” Anthony and Molly made their exit.
“Ah, Jing, I see the transformation is complete. You now belong to me.”
Molly, overhearing those words, turned to Anthony and ask, “What does he mean, the transformation is complete. How can she belong to him? She is not one of us.”
“You do have much to learn. Once we share ourselves enough with a human, they become dependent upon us; needing us to feed on them as much as we need to feed. She belongs to him now. She is of him and he is of her. Perhaps one day, your dapper gentleman will be yours,” he said with a sly smile.
“Oh, all to myself?” she asked rhetorically, her eyes lighting up.
“Come Jing! Let us partake of each other. Let us make love as only we can,” He hissed as his lips parted, exposing his teeth. He leaned into Jing, and punctured the delicate skin on her neck.
The sensuality is evident from the gasps and moans the two of them share. Nothing can bring two beings closer together than mingling their very essence, their blood, with one another.
“You are special; you almost make me forget I no longer have human needs and desires. We complement and complete each other. Unfortunately, it will not last. In time I will have to turn you or you will wither and die. But for now, let us enjoy our time together. Come, join me in the grotto.”
“I’ve done what you’ve asked of me. When do I get something in return?” a female voice pointedly asked from behind me, interrupting the heightened ecstasy of a moment ago. Her words were bitter; stinging.
I spun on my heels and confronted the words with a glare, hissing, “You will do my bidding for as long as I deem you will. You are mine to control. You will not question me in such a tone again. We have ways of dealing with rebels. Don’t make me wish I had done it sooner, rather than later.”
“I forgot my place, my Prince. It will not happen again.”
“Good; I won’t tolerate it again. I have something waiting for you in the southern cell. Go before I change my mind.”
“I will do as you say,” she said as she retreated from the room.
“Ah, my Jing, where were we? Oh, yes, the grotto. Come, let us go.”
“’I left something for you in the southern cell,’” she mocked his voice as she made her way through the maze of tunnels.
She, like Molly, had also been turned recently. Recent in the vampire world could be counted in years. She was still a fledgling, but had developed her skills at a surprisingly quick rate.
“Your thoughts betray you, my sweet.” She heard the words enter her mind as if he were standing beside her. “You would be wise to stifle them here.” She shook her head as if she could dislodge the words and shake them out.
She turned the last corner before reaching the cell. She feared the worst. Was she walking into some sort of trap he had laid to dispose of her? He knew she was not happy here. Conversely, he had never shown any ill will toward her when she had been rebellious; talked back. Why was she feeling so uneasy?
She was not happy with whom she had become. She had been a structured person as a human, having everything in its place; organized and properly labeled; OCD to a fault. She felt her life had been disrupted, no longer needing the material possessions she had clung to for so many years. Instead of embracing the near immortality, she found it to be bothersome. Everything was overly simplistic; no need to accumulate material things. Take what you need, when you need it – discard the rest.
The cell door was slightly ajar. She pushed it open and entered.
A man stood inside the cell. She could not help but wonder why he had been left unattended and the door open.
‘Do not waste your time pondering trivialities, my love; just reap the benefits of my gifts.’ Argh! Again with the invasion into her mind with his thoughts; she wanted to scream, but with some effort was able to control herself and tend to the matter at hand.
“What have we got here?” she cooed.
“Finally, I get to meet you. I have seen you many times and have become captivated by your beauty. I must be yours,” he said as his shoulders slumped.
He looked so weak in that stance, yet belied by his body; muscular, well defined. This was a man that knew hard work and was not afraid of it. Yet, here he was, cowering like a frightened child who was about to receive a beating for having done something bad.
“Do you know where you are? What I am? Surely you do not, or you would not be standing here.”
“Ah, but I do know! I know exactly where I am, who you are, and that I must be with you.”
“Must be with me? What in Go…what are you blathering on about?”
“The Prince has come to me three times now; fed upon me. I was unwilling at first; tried to fight; but he was so gentle, almost loving, in his taking of my blood. I felt euphoric when our bloods mingled. I begged him not to stop. He said that I would surely die if he were to continue, but that he would return.
“He was true to his word. He did return. He said I was unlike his other prey. I am able to remember everything that has happened. He was not able to mask my memories.
“I had seen you with him on several occasions and had asked about you on his last visit. I told him how beautiful I think you are. I couldn’t explain it, but I needed to be with you.”
“What makes you think I would even WANT you?”
“I don’t know if you do, but I know I had to be with you. I beg of you; feed upon me,” he pleaded, extending his neck for her to access.
Her lips curl back to expose her fangs. She moved in closer, noticing the small puncture wounds on his heck. The smell of the blood on his open wounds drove her to frenzy. She placed her fangs on the punctures and sunk her teeth deep into the waiting wounds. They both gasped as they became lost in the anticipated exhilaration.
I smiled, sensing their joining from the grotto. A sigh of pleasure slipped from my lips as I slid into the steamy water with Jing. As much as I would love to stay here, I had other matters to attend to. I led Jing back to her room then made my way back to the main hall.
“There you are my precious pet,” she hissed teasingly.
“I’m no one’s pet, you freak,” he growled, fighting her grasp.
“You can resist me all you want; it will do you no good,” she tittered. “You are a fine catch, indeed. I am going to play with you; tease you; until you beg me to take you; and, you [i]will[/i] beg me to take you. I guarantee it,” she whispered as she breathed on his lips with her hot breath.
“You really must stop toying with your prey, Ruby.”
“Oh, but that’s the best part,” she pouted.
“Ha ha, you do love your games. Don’t drag this out too long. I have some other business to attend to. Have him ready upon my return. Are you boys enjoying the show?” He asked of the two charges watching Ruby work her magic.
“I wish she had been the one to turn me,” the blond man winked.
After I had gone, she had begun toying with her charge again. She loved to torment her prey before taking them to the brink. Each one of them, Anthony, Molly, Stormy and Ruby, had such different personalities; it was never dull with them around.
She traced her finger over around his chin ever so gently. She then traced his lips; they trembled ever so slightly as she placed her fingertip on them and let it linger.
I looked upon his face as I returned and saw a beaten man. He knew he was not going to escape, nor was he about to accept his fate.
“It’s time, Ruby.”
“As you say,” she responded.
She placed her finger under the poor shaken man’s chin, raising it as she turned it to the side. She moved toward his neck and swiftly pierced the skin and began to feed.
The deed was done. He had been turned. He would soon be one of us.
“The burning will get worse and become unbearable at times, but it will pass. You will also begin to feel stronger.”
“Why have you done this to me?” he asked in a strained voice.
“Whether you believe me or not, I did it out of love. I could no longer see you as a frail human. I wanted you with me; with us. You will be one of us soon.”
“I have nothing but hatred and contempt for you and what you’ve done. You were dead to me. You still are. I beg you to end this. Let me go.”
“I cannot. You will see how much better it is with us.”
“Gah! I feel…like…something…inside…of me…has…died…aaaAAAaagh! S T O P T H I S!” he screamed through the waves of pain that were wracking his body.
“The transformation is complete. You are now one of us. There is no going back. You have much to learn. You may choose who you wish to learn from; Ruby, myself, or someone else.”
“I don’t want…the power…I feel it coursing through my veins. It’s so…exhilarating! I have never felt this good.”
“I knew you, of all people, would embrace this existence; but I never realized it would be this quick. I remember how close we were when I was…” I trailed off, not wanting to think of those times.
“That was a long time ago. I had feared for the longest time that I had lost you; and I had. But you have “saved” me.”
“You are my brother, Axel, why would I not?”
“Indeed, Boris, I expect nothing less of you. You have always been saving me; all throughout our lives together.”
Axel was a couple year younger. We had been very close growing up. He always wanted to do everything I did. I guess he looked up to me. I remember swearing that I would look out for him always. Then we were separated.
I had been turned shortly after reaching adulthood; reported missing. After numerous reports of missing persons, myself among them, my family moved to this city. It took me some time to track them down, but I did find them. I learned quickly; I had to; I had to find my family; find Axel and protect him.
Here now, I may continue to protect him.
My acute hearing became attuned to voices from the corridors on the upper level; many voices. They’re here. We are not enough to fend off this size attack. I sense one of us has fallen; taken while he slept. I felt his pain as if it were my own.
I sent out warnings to the others, fearing the worst from the silence of thoughts I perceived. I looked to Tony and Axel, and as if reading my mind, we ran to the time portal in the outer chamber. Flames were springing up all around us as gases flooded the chambers, ignited by the many candles in its path.
We narrowly made our escape through the portal. Unfortunately, only the three of us made it out.
As reality began to grab hold, I remembered I was in Otis’ laboratory. I felt like I had left one reality for another. The whole experience was phenomenal.
“What an experience!” I exclaimed to no one in particular, as I removed the visor.
“Man, I’d love to do that again,” I heard Axel proclaim.
I placed the visor on the table and stepped from the semi-cubicle and saw Tony and Axel both emerging from theirs as well. Otis Buckley came through the door from the control room.
“So, what do you think, guys?” he curiously inquired. “Did you enjoy the experience? Would you do it again?”
“It was great, Otis,” I obliged. “By the way, this is my best friend Tony and my brother, Axel,” pointing to each in turn. “Tony, Axel, this is Otis Buckley, the mastermind of this fun diversion.”
“Good to meet you both,” he nodded. “I’m glad to finally meet you in person, Boris. I’ve enjoyed our online chats.”
“Same here, Otis!” I said as Tony and Axel added their thanks and appreciation. “I hope we can do this again sometime soon. That was a great fun. Well, in the end it was.”
As we headed down to the ferry landing, Tony and Axel went on about the experience.
“Boris, that was great,” Tony said. “Absolutely fantastic.”
There seemed to be a lightness to his steps that hadn’t been there on the way up. I took satisfaction in knowing he had a good time. Axel seemed a little livelier also.
“We have to do that again, Boris,” he grinned.
I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. “You just enjoy getting your ass beat by Red Scarlet.”
“Very funny! But seriously, that was a great experience. We’ll have to do it again!”
We had a very quiet, almost somber, Christmas. Although Tony and I were together, we both missed our wives very much. Axel had gone home to spend time with Ruby and his kids. I woke early Christmas morning, so I padded down to the kitchen to get some coffee brewing. No sooner had I finished, when I heard the pitter patter of little feet in the hall upstairs. As I came out of the kitchen, I saw that Tony had the boys in his arms and was headed for the tree.
He’s just as big a kid as they are. No sooner had he put them on the floor when they began shaking and pawing at the gifts. I had to hurry in, grabbing the camera off the foyer table, before they finished without me. Tony will make a wonderful dad.
The boys, Ning and Jacques helped keep our minds off the mess we were both in right now. For as surely as Tony is getting blamed, I’ll be getting blamed as well. Jing and Laila are tight, that’s for sure. One would have a better chance of talking a river into changing course than changing their minds.
Tony left right after Christmas, making up some cock and bull story about overstaying his welcome; like that’ll ever happen. I hope everything works out for him. Hell, I hope things work out for me as well! Jing wasn’t’ the most pleasant person when she left here in a huff.
I spent two weeks with the boys before anyone else came home. Just me and them; we got some quality father-sons time together. Ning and Jacques played well together, which was a Godsend. During this time there was one instance where my phone rang and for some odd reason, I answered without first screening the caller.
“Hey Beau,” I said as I recognized his number at the last minute.
“Hey, Boris, I hate to bother you on such short notice, but I was wondering if we could meet for lunch,” He proffered, sounding concerned.
“Sure, Beau, I can meet you at The Sea Witch in about twenty minutes. What’s up?” I asked my curiosity piqued.
“Great, I’ll see you there,” he countered, offering no details.
I had never known Beau to be so curt; something must really be bothering him. When I arrived, Beau was already there, waiting on one of the benches outside.
Without a word, he rose and we walked silently in to the bar. We ordered a couple drinks before lunch, and found a quiet table.
“Have you heard from Stormy lately?” he asked without looking up from his drink?
“No, I haven’t heard from her since the wedding. Why, is something up?”
“I’m beginning to wonder. She cancelled on your Halloween party, then I had expected to spend Thanksgiving with her and her family, but she never called. It’s so unlike her.”
“I’m sorry, Beau. That is unlike Stormy. She’s always so thorough. Have you checked with her family?”
“Yes, I talked with her father. He said she was taking a vacation, but hasn’t heard from her either. It’s been several weeks now. I’m really starting to worry.”
“Now that you mention it, she did seem kind of distant at the wedding. Where was she headed? How did she travel?”
“I have been looking into her disappearance for a couple weeks now. She had a flight to a resort island. I checked with the airline; she boarded the plane, but never arrived at her destination. As a matter of fact, the plane never arrived at the destination.”
“WHAT? How can a plane not arrive at a destination and not be in the news. It’s been several weeks, why have we not heard anything before now? Was it hijacked?”
“Those were some of the questions I asked when making my inquiries. Not a hijacking; there would have been demands almost immediately. Evidently, it was some backwater charter airline that no one’s ever heard of and apparently, the media could care less about. What’s worse, is that the airline felt little desire or compassion in bringing this to the public eye. I am so furious right now.”
“How can this even happen? How can any airline lose a plane and no one ever hear of it?”
“Exactly; none of the officials from the charter company can be found. Their offices have been vacated; everything’s gone; their ticket counters abandoned. I can find out little else. I will keep digging until I find Stormy.” he vowed with rage in his eyes.
“Let me know if you hear anything. Keep me posted. If there is anything I can do to help, don’t hesitate to ask.”
“Yeah, same here, Boris,” he responded, sadness in his voice.
“Call me any time, Beau.”
“I will, Boris. Thanks for being there.”
After Beau left, I sat there staring into my drink, shocked at what I had just heard. How the hell could this happen? I left the bar and went home, too numb to think of anything else to do. A short time after returning home, I sent an email to the gang, including Stormy and Beau.
I received some disturbing news from Beau. Stormy has disappeared…
I continued, recounting the details from Beau as I remembered them.
He’s deeply concerned, as am I; as are we all. If any of you have heard from her, please let Beau and myself know if you hear anything. This is so unlike her.
Stormy, if you get this, please let us know you’re okay. We miss you dearly.
All my love,
Prompt responses from Ruby and Tony revealed that they had not heard from Stormy since the weddings. I did not receive a response from Molly, so I called her. I left a message for her to contact me right away. I called again and again; still no response. Dread and worry were plaguing me. First Stormy: now Molly; who’s next?
Jing and Mao arrived back home a short time later. I felt like Spiderman; my sense tingling; knowing there would be changes coming. Not so much as a hello to me as I reached out for a hug; she kissed Ning and walked past Jacques as if he didn’t exist. I hope it’s only the hormonal shift of pregnancy and not something I did or didn’t do!
As the days went by, Jing became her old self; well as much as she could with the pregnancy and all. She was beginning to show slightly.
“Uncle Dante, it’s good to see you. Come in!”
“Hello Boris, how have you been?” he said without emotion.
“Good; I’ve been good. How about yourself?” I replied.
“To be honest, I’ve had better news. Is your dad here?”
“Yeah, sure, I’ll go get him,” I averred, knowing he wanted to talk with Achilles. Uncle Dante always referred to him as “your dad,” while he referred to Damon as “my low-life brother.” Of course he meant it all in good fun. He and dad (Damon) were one of those sets of twins that had a tight bond. They were best of friends. Much closer than Dad (Achilles) was with his twin brother Hector. Don’t get me wrong, they would be there for each other, but Dante and Damon held a much tighter bond. It always struck me as funny that Dad went into a life of crime and Uncle Dante took up a career in politics; almost like polar opposites.
“Great; I’ll just wait in the dining room.”
I returned with Dad in tow. “I’ll leave you two to your business.”
“You’re welcome to stay if you want to, Boris,” Dante offered.
I nodded and took a seat next to Dad.
“Hello Achilles; it’s been a while, hasn’t it?”
“Hey Dante; it sure has. I’m guessing from the expression on your face that this is not a social visit,” Achilles posed. He never was one for small talk. He preferred to get right to the heart of the matter.
“You never were one for pleasantries,” Dante chuckled. “As you know, the primary elections are coming up next month. Everyone had been expecting the Mayor to go for another run, which he would easily have won. He has since decided to return to the private sector. He has been offered a position in Bridgeport with a major manufacturer.”
“And this concerns me how?” Achilles asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Well, the Mayor has been grooming Patrick Gregory to take his place. If he gets elected, it could spell trouble for your organization, as well as many of the businesses in Crescent Bay. As it stands right now, there is no one running against him. It’s going to be tough if he makes it into office.”
“That’s Molly’s brother, isn’t it? He was the Camp Director when Axel and I went to summer camp. He was friendly enough then.”
“One and the same, Boris; people change. Why aren’t you running against him, Dante?”
“It would mean switching parties. I’m afraid I would lose a lot of my friends, and subsequently backing, were I to cross the aisle. I fear I wouldn’t have a chance of beating him.
“I’m sure there is some way to persuade some of them to vote for you.”
“Yes, but not enough of them. Gregory takes a hard line on crime. His goal is to rid the city of the likes of you and Damon. He also wants to clean up the shady business deals that go on behind closed doors; his father, Michael Gregory, works for one said business. His plan could either work for the local economy or completely destroy it. Only time will tell. Anyway, I wanted to give you a heads up; let you know what’s coming down the pipeline.”
“I appreciate your concern, Dante, but not to worry. Damon and I have already been talking about relocating to a bigger city. Crescent Bay doesn’t have much left to offer us. About all we do here is keep other crime syndicates from moving in.”
“You’re family! How could I not keep you informed? Gregory doesn’t realize all the good you’re doing for Crescent Bay. Anyway, I have to get going. We’ll have to get together for a social visit next time.” Dante said as he rose from his chair.
“Thanks for taking the time to let us know. Yes, we do need to stop for a drink one of these days.”
They shook hands and Dante left.
As I always do, I stopped at the table in the foyer and sifted through the mail. I was elated to find a package from Molly among the pieces. I hurriedly opened the envelope, pushing the rest of the mail out of my way.
Inside the envelope was a copy of the magazine Molly was working for. On the cover was the picture of a male model; the cover story an interview with this model. Having fallen to the floor was a handwritten note from Molly indicating the pages to look at. I opened to the interview article to discover all of the pictures were photographed by one Molly Gregory. They were brilliantly done. I couldn’t have been happier for her.
I went to the study to send a congratulatory email to Molly. I know if I didn’t send it right away, I would forget and I’d have yet another person ticked off at me. When I came back to the foyer, Jing was looking at the magazine.
“Molly sure has a photographer’s eye. Boris, this model, he looks a lot like you and your father. Don’t you think?”
“Wow, I didn’t really look at the model before. That is an uncanny likeness. I’ll have to ask Molly about him.”
“Perhaps your father knows him or at least about him.”
“It’s worth a shot. I’ll have to ask him.”
Jing and I showed the magazine to my father. He’s as curious as to the history of this model as we are. A few weeks later, while watching the boys, I decided to do an online search for this model, Caleb Michel. I moved the play table into the study and put the boys at it to play.
Mao was out in the garden, and Jing was teaching martial arts at a local martial arts club, so I couldn’t pour all of my attention into the search. The boys were being surprisingly good together and I managed to locate some information on him, albeit, not much.
Chapter 5: Part 3 - Ruby
The triplets have gotten so mobile, each of them getting into their own brand of trouble. If Byron isn’t drawing on the walls, Celia is playing in the toilet water, while Leliana would drag all pots and pans out of the kitchen.
One morning, while sitting at the table paying bills, I was surprised to find how unbelievably quiet the house had suddenly become.
A house with three wandering toddlers should never be so peaceful and still. I quietly tip-toed up the stairs to see just what my little “angels” were up to, hoping it was nothing bad.
I carefully opened up their door and to my surprise, they were passed out. In the good sense, Byron and Celia had been coloring. I found them both face down in their colorful pages. Leliana had a nice pile of stuffed animals around her and she was snoring away in the midst of them.
I stood there quietly just watching my babies sleep. This was one of the few quiet moments I would get so I left them where they were and silently padded downstairs.
Taking this rare moment I curled up on the sofa for a quick nap. I swore I would only sleep for a few minutes.
I awoke to the irritating shrill of the phone. “How long had I slept?” I thought as I rubbed my eyes sleepily. The house seemed awfully dark. Looking at the clock I noticed I was out for two hours.
I quickly grabbed the phone hoping it wouldn’t wake my sleepy heads upstairs.
“Hello.” I answered groggily.
“I’m sorry, did I wake you, Ruby?”
“Not really, I was just taking a nap since the kids were asleep.” I replied recognizing Axel’s voice on the other end of the phone. “How are you doing?” I sat up and stretched.
“I’m doing well. How are you and the kids?” He asked.
Laughing, I replied, “Driving me batty, as usual. They are getting around so much now it’s hard to keep track of them. I swear I need cages for them.” I said jokingly.
“It’s good to hear you laugh, Axel. I’ve missed it. I’ve missed you.” I answered truthfully.
“I’ve missed you too. Say, if you’re not doing anything tomorrow afternoon, would you like to have some coffee with me? My treat.” He asked with assurance.
“Ruby….are you still there?” He asked following my brief pause.
“Yes, I’m sorry. I was just thinking about this week. My last day at the Pre-school is tomorrow, I’ll be pretty busy.” I stood up to look at the calendar. “How about next week? I have a lot of time off coming.”
“Sure, no problem. I’ll give you a call next week sometime.” Pausing a moment he continued, “I’ll see you soon, Ruby.”
“Okay, Goodbye, Axel.” I replied hanging up the phone.
I was a little reluctant to come to work today. I didn’t want to leave these kids, I had spent so many wonderful moments with, but at the same time I was excited to begin my new adventure at Crescent Bay High.
Each, “We’ll miss you.” Or “good Luck”, brought a new wave a unhappiness flowing through me.
When I opened up the door to my classroom, the kids were all waiting for me, with big smiles on their sweet faces. It was the cutest thing ever.
“Miss Ruby we made these for you.” The kids chimed in unison.
Each child had a handmade card in their little hands. “Good Luck”, “Good Bye” and “We’ll miss you” was written on each card. The poorly drawn musical instruments and musical notes brought tears to my eyes.
“Oh, thank you! These are just beautiful! I’m going to make sure I put them somewhere I can see them, so I’ll always remember you.” I said drawing them into a big hug. “I’m going to miss you guys so much.”
“Mrs. Curtis, I just want to thank you so much for the experience I’ve had here. You have taught me so many things and the confidence you have given me is priceless.” I said with tears welling in my eyes.
“Oh, Ruby. You have been a wonderful help to me. Watching you grow and blossom as a strong, confident woman has been a joy for me. You are going to make a great difference at Crescent Bay High. I am very proud of you.” She said hugging me.
As I packed up my supplies and left the building, I felt a trace of sadness to be leaving this great group of people. I took one last look at the building that had been a major milestone for me.
Axel kept his word and called me later the following week. We had made plans to meet at the little coffee shop in town.
Making my way to the little coffee shop down the street, I felt the all too familiar butterflies. Axel was sitting at a small table. I stood and watched him for a minute, waiting for my stomach to stop fluttering around. I don’t know why I was nervous; this was just a friendly get together.
As I walked over, Axel finally took notice and stood to greet me.
“Ruby, you look great!” He said while giving me a friendly hug.
“Thanks, Axel.” I said returning the hug.
“I’m so glad you made it.” He said as he pulled at the chair out for me.
We both sat awkwardly drinking our coffee, neither of us knowing what to say to break the ice.
“So…Byron has been quite the little talker lately.” I casually mentioned. “Some days I can’t seem to get him to stop talking.”
“I can’t believe how much they have grown in such a short time. I mean, it seems like only yesterday we were bringing them home from the hospital.” He reminisced.
“If it weren’t for my job at the Day Care, I don’t think I’d get any peace. Don’t get me wrong, I love the kids dearly, but sometimes I need some time away.” I said.
“Ruby, I’ll watch the kids anytime you need me to. I can understand how rough it’s been to raise them all alone. I know I wasn’t much of a husband or father. For that I am sorry. I still can’t forgive myself for what I put you guys through.” He replied sadly.
“It wasn’t only you Axel. I know I had a hand in our troubles as well. Maybe we got married too early, had kids too early. We both have trust issues we need to work through. I’m sure it’s a mixture of all these things.” I replied honestly.
We both sat with our coffee slowly growing colder, looking down, and fiddling with our cups as the silence between us grew ever more uncomfortable.
“Oh, Mr. Hutton from the high school offered me a job as his assistant.” I said nonchalantly.
“He’s the Music Teacher, right?” He replied, recalling some distant memory.
“I am surprised you remember that.” I answered. “This all just seems strange.”
“What’s that?” He asked me.
“Well, you remember how I was in school? I hated it. I think the only class I actually loved was the music class. Just seems funny that now I am working in the education field. Isn’t it ironic?” I remarked.
We chatted some more about this and that. It was a nice time just to sit and reflect on what lay ahead of us.
“Ruby, I am very proud of the woman you have become. You have accomplished some great things, things you probably never thought possible. I can’t help but think that I had been holding you back in some way.” He said miserably.
His face grew solemn and I noticed a small tear begin to roll down his cheek. He wiped it away quickly, in the hopes I hadn’t noticed.
“Axel…” I said quietly placing my hand over his. “You weren’t holding me back…we were too young to have all these responsibilities thrust on us so quickly into our marriage. You know what I mean?” I asked carefully.
Axel gradually nodded, “Yeah, I know. We did have to grow up fast didn’t we?”
“You know Dad gave me my job back.” He said offhandedly.
“Really, that’s great.” I answered.
“So, I can help out with the kids.” After a moment’s pause he added, “I’m going to find a place of my own. I feel uncomfortable being around Boris, Jing and the boys. The jealousy I feel at not being able to be with my own family is too much.”
“I’m sure Boris is glad to help you for as long as you need it.” I said, honestly.
“That’s just it; I need to be able to take care of myself if I intend to be able to take care of my own family. I can’t always have Dad or Boris helping me out of the jams I get myself into.” He answered matter of factly.
“Well, I’m glad to hear that.” I said, truthfully. “Um, Byron asked if you would be home for Christmas. I told him I didn’t know.” I answered sadly.
“I would very much like to spend the day with you and the kids.” He replied carefully.
“I think it would be good for the kids.” I said.
“Of course. You can tell them, I’ll be there.” He said.
Glancing at my watch I noticed it was nearing dinner. “Wow, look at the time. I should be getting back.”
Walking to my car, “This was nice, Axel. Thanks for the invite. I must admit I was anxious about coming.”
“Why’s that?” He asked.
“I don’t know, I guess of rushing things and finding ourselves in the same situation. But, this was nice. I enjoyed talking with you. You do seem different.” I mentioned cautiously.
“Is that a good thing?” He asked.
Thinking for a moment, I answered, “Yes, Axel. It’s a very good thing.”
We hugged each other and he gave me a wave as I drove towards the house. I glanced at him through my rearview mirror to find him waving still.
Christmas Day had finally arrived. The kids were so excited at the prospect of Daddy coming; they sat at the window peering out into yard.
“Guys, he’s not going to get here any faster with you sitting in the window.” I smiled at their exuberance.
“Come on, let’s put a movie and before you know it he’ll be here.” I went to the DVDs and looked around, “What do you want to see?”
Byron hollered, “Gwinch! Gwinch!” The three must have agreed, as they all gathered around the TV, in anticipation of Jim Carrey’s Grinch.
About halfway into the movie, we heard the sound of a car pulling into the drive way. I’ve never seen those three toddle to the door so fast.
“Daddy!” Byron squealed as his small hands struggled with the door knob. Finally managing to turn it he ran to the driveway to greet Axel.
“Byron! Wait!” I yelled to no avail as he was already out the door. I watched as Celia and Leliana toddled off with him.
It was nice to see the kids with their dad, they just adore him. I know this separation hasn’t been easy for them. I hope when they are older they’ll forgive me for doing what I thought was best for our family. All these thoughts were quickly pushed from my head as Axel was making his way to the house with both girls in his arms and Byron hanging onto his shirt tail.
“I see you have your hands full.” I smiled. “Alright kids, let Daddy get his stuff situated. Do you need any help?” I asked him.
“Nah, I got it.” He said as he kissed the girls on the tops of their head. “I’ll be right back guys.”
Byron, being the “man of the house”, helped Daddy bring all the gifts in and placed them under the tree.
“Thanks Buddy. You are a big help.” Axel said ruffling Byron’s hair.
“Well, if you’re hungry dinner is ready” I mentioned, pointing to the table that had been set up prior to his arrival.
“Wow, Ruby. It looks great!” He exclaimed. He made a move to kiss me on the cheek and stopped himself. “I’m sorry, I got caught up in the moment.”
“It’s okay, I appreciate the compliment.” While Axel helped get the kids settled into their high chairs, I got their plates set up. When I saw that the kids were happily eating, Axel and I sat down to enjoy our meal.
Wiping his mouth with a napkin, “You went all out Ruby, this was a wonderful meal.”
“Thanks, Axel.” I said as I started to clear up the table.
“Let me…you just take the kids and relax in the living room.” Axel said as he started to clean up.
“Are you sure?” I asked skeptically.
“Of course, it’s the least I can do.”
“Alright, kiddos. You heard daddy. Let’s go in the living room, we’ll start getting the presents ready.”
“Yay!!” Byron squealed as he bobbed up and down in his chair.
It only took a few minutes and Axel had joined us in the living room. We both sat cross-legged as we watched our kids attack their presents. I spared a glance at Axel every now and then, he genuinely looked happy to be with us.
Axel approached me with a small box; it was wrapped in beautiful red and gold paper and had a beautifully shiny gold ribbon. “This is for you, Ruby.” He smiled as he handed the box to me.
“Umm…thanks.” I was surprised, I wasn’t expecting anything. “Thanks, but you really shouldn’t have.” I gently took the box from his hand and started to remove the wrapping.
Axel looked on, anxiously. “I really hope you like it.” He smiled.
I carefully removed the tissue paper that held the intended gift. “Oh, Axel!” The words caught in my throat. It was a beautiful bracelet with 3 small hearts that dangled from the chain. Each heart had the kid’s birthstone and name. “It’s gorgeous.” I said with a trembling voice.
Axel beamed proudly. “I’m glad you like it.” He took a seat next to me, gently took a hold of my hand and continued, “You are an amazing woman. I didn’t know what I had until it was gone.”
“Axel, don…” I attempted to say, but I was interrupted.
“No, Ruby, I have to say this, just listen…okay?” He asked carefully. “I treated you like a fool. I should have trusted you with every aspect of my life. I just…well...I thought I was doing the right thing.” He paused looking for the right words.
“My life without you and the kids in it has been lonely. You don’t know what it’s like to have your loved ones so close, yet you’re unable to see them, touch them or even talk to them. I don’t blame you Ruby, for what you did. I just want you to know, that I want to be a part of this family again. I have grown so much in the past months; I just want the opportunity to show you.” He said sincerely.
“I have noticed a big change in you, since…well, you know.” I answered hesitantly.
I didn’t want to go too much into it with the kids nearby. I don’t know how much they would understand, if anything, but this was supposed to be happy time for them and I didn’t want to ruin it for them.
“I think it’d be good for them if you would take them for the weekends. Lord knows I can use the time off.” I offered. “They miss you a lot…I…I do too.” I said truthfully.
While the kids were busy playing with their new toys, Axel and I sat on the couch and watched them. We didn’t say anything, just sat in silence. “I worry about them.” I confided in Axel after a moment.
“Why’s that?” He asked quietly.
“Well, we haven’t really been the model parents have we?” I replied sadly. “I mean more often than not, they were left with my parent’s or with Brenda, while we ran off to do whatever.” I turned so I could look at Axel. “I just worry they’ll turn out like us.” I laughed a bit at that. I admit it was a scary thought.
“Ruby, despite our short comings as parents, you have done a great job with them. I mean, look at them, they are happy and healthy. You should feel very proud, I am very proud of you.” He replied, placing his arm around me.
I withdrew just a bit, but eventually relaxed, it was good to be with Axel again. I could feel the anxiety I felt begin to drift away. It felt like we might actually make it through this rough patch.
As the sun began to set, Axel helped me get the kids ready for bed. Byron insisted on a story beforehand.
“Is it alright, Ruby?” He asked.
“Of course, and then bed time. Don’t let this little trickster suck you into 5 more stories.” I laughed, “That’s right. Mister, I’m on to you…” I smiled shaking a finger at Byron.
I sat in a chair near the crib watching and listening. Axel had a flair for telling good stories. One of the many reasons the kids liked his stories better. He gave the characters funny voices, Byron would tell me.
Like usual Byron would be fast asleep before the book could even be finished. “Little sleepy head. They had an exciting day. He’s all worn out.” I kissed him his pudgy cheek and turned out the light.
“I should get going.” Axel said, looking at his watch. I hadn’t realized how late it had actually gotten.
“Thanks for inviting me, Ruby. I had a very nice time.”
“Me too, it was nice…like we were almost a family again.” I added hesitantly. “Axel…” I started to add and then stopped.
Kissing him softly on the cheek, “You are welcome here, anytime.”
Axel, cautiously placed his hands on my waist and pulled me closer to him. “I’ll call you soon.” He said as he hugged me.
Watching as his tail lights faded down the street, I felt a mixture a different emotions, happiness, anxiety and confusion.
Early January I got a disturbing e-mail from Boris. Apparently Stormy had gone on a vacation of sorts, the plane never made it to its destination. No one has heard from her, this was terrible!
I called as many of my friends as I could, with each call going to voice-mail. I felt silly leaving a message about stuff we already knew, so I just hung up. So, I called the only person I felt I could…I called Axel.
“Hey, Axel, I just got some really bad news concerning Stormy…” trying to hide the trembling in my voice I continued, “…Um, can you stop by after work. I really need someone to talk to. Uhh..ok..thanks. Bye.”
I tried to watch television, read a book anything to keep my mind off what could possibly have happened to Stormy, but my mind kept drifting to the worse possibilities. Even reassuring myself that she was probably alright and there really was nothing to worry about didn’t hold much water with me.
Luckily for me, my kids decided at that moment they wanted to play with their new puzzles. I swear these kids are very attentive to when Mommy is upset. I welcomed this little break from my own thoughts.
Later on that evening, after a prolonged time of trying to get each kid fed, bathed and asleep, Axel returned my call.
“Sorry, Ruby. I got your message. How are you doing?” He asked sincerely.
“I’m feeling pretty horrible. I’ve done a bad job of keeping in touch with my friends and now one of them is potentially missing. What if we never see her again?” I cried.
“Oh, Ruby don’t do this to yourself. I’m coming over..is that alright?” he asked.
“Do you mind? If you’re not busy, I’d like to see you.” I asked expectantly.
“Of course, Ruby. I’ll be there in a few.” He answered ending the call.
Upon Axel’s arrival I had coffee ready. Just doing the mundane task of making it seemed to put me at ease.
“Thanks for coming.” I said, meeting him at the door. “I had no one else to call. Everyone seems to be busy.” I said, sadly.
“You know you can call me anytime.”
While sitting at the table, we both absently sipped our coffee. I confided in him all the worry I felt and the guilt.
“Axel, I haven’t talked to her since the wedding. If anything happens to her…I ..I don’t know what we’ll do.” I cried.
“I am so sorry, Ruby. I can’t imagine what you must be feeling.” He said, placing his hand over mine. It was warm and encouraging. “You have to have hope, though. I am sure everyone is doing everything they can to find out what happened.” He moved his cup closer so he could sit next to me. Placing his finger tenderly under my chin, he lifted so he could look into my eyes, he said, “Don’t give up on her. You just keep hoping for the best, alright.”
I nodded, of course he was right, but still a small part of me felt anxious and worried. Silently I prayed for her safe return to us.
I thanked him again for stopping by as he placed his empty cup into the dishwasher.
“Ruby, it’s no problem, really. No matter what troubles we’ve been through I still want to be there for you.” He said. “Remember that, okay? I love you.”
Sighing, “I love you too, Axel. Thanks for being here tonight. I appreciate it, more than you know.”
We stood outside the house just looking into each other’s eyes. Upon reaching out to hug him, I stayed there with my ear to his chest. Just listening to his heartbeat comforted me. I looked up and kissed him softly on the lips. My heartbeat began to speed up as Axel’s lips lingered upon mine.
“Umm, I should go back inside.” I said as I pulled away from his embrace. “Thanks again.”
I quickly ran inside and shut the door cursing myself for my weak nature. “Stupid, stupid, stupid, Ruby.” I said lightly banging my head against the door.
As I crawled into bed I said another prayer for my friends and more importantly for Stormy, where ever she was.
Later that month I got a phone call from Mr. Hutton. He called to inform that although school didn’t officially start until early August, they were still in need of some help with the Valentine’s concert in the park.
I told him I would be more than happy to help out in whatever capacity was needed. He thanked me and said he looked forward to seeing amazing things from me. No pressure, right? I thought to myself.
Early February, I got a phone call from Axel. He had been calling pretty regular. He would talk to me for a bit and then “talk” to each of the kids. They were excited; they were going to Daddy’s house soon. He agreed to take them for the weekend since I would be helping the school with their concert. Plus, it would be a much needed respite from the madhouse.
The day of the concert arrived and as I made my way to the park, I marveled at how beautiful everything looked. There were various balloon sculptures of red and pink. The class looked very nice in their red and white colors.
Mr. Hutton noticed me and waved me over to where they were stationed. “Mrs. Lothario! How are you? Beautiful day for a concert isn’t it?” He said beaming. He was obviously very proud of these students.
“Yes, it is. Everything looks wonderful.” I replied enthusiastically. I had attended a few of the rehearsals prior to this day, so I was introduced to all the students. They are a very talented group of musicians.
“The kids are warming up if you want to go and talk to them before the show.” He offered.
“Sounds good, I’ll see you later, Mr. Hutton.” I replied as I walked away.
“Hey guys!” I said exuberantly. “Are you ready for today?” I said smiling.
“Mrs. Lothario! Yeah, I’m kind of nervous.” One girl mentioned. She was a sweet girl with rich, dark hair. She loved to play for crowds, but she would get a massive case of the cold feet, today I could see the anxiety in her eyes.
“You guys will be great. I’ll be right here in the front row cheering you on.” I answered happily. I don’t know who was more nervous the students or me for them.
Soon it was time for the concert to start. As promised I picked a seat in the front so I could all my students clearly and also so they could see me. Many of them had loved ones in the crowd they could focus on.
The park was soon filled with the melodic sounds of the cello, piano, guitar and many other instruments. The kid’s fears were laid to rest as the crowd erupted in a standing ovation. I gave each of them thumbs up sign; they truly deserved all the accolades they received. This concert only served to show me that this is what I truly wanted to do. Teaching kids to appreciate music and watching them grow; it brought a great sense of joy to my heart. I was excited at what the next school year would bring for me and these wonderful kids.
Chapter 5, Part 3 - Tony
I left Molly feeling pretty good, however the happiness I felt was short lived, as I entered the car on my way to the meeting.
My cell phone began to ring I looked at the caller ID it was Laila, I felt as if I was just punched in the gut with a sledgehammer.
I answered the phone “Hello” “Hi my love, I was just calling to wish you luck with your big meeting today, knock’em dead tiger.”
I nervously replied “Okay”.
I went to the meeting feeling the guilt of betraying Laila; I quickly pushed it to the side and got down to business.
The meeting was successful however; I could not shake the guilt I was feeling, I knew in my heart I would have to tell Laila.
I thought about how and when I would tell her, I knew she would be hurt, but better coming from me, than finding out from someone later.
On the plane ride back to China, I was restless, I could feel my stomach inside my chest, my heart was racing 100 miles pre hour, my hands was clammy as sweat pored form the top of my brow.
I could not keep my legs from shaking, all the while thoughts of how Laila will take this raced through my mind.
In all my time in the military; I was never as terrified as right now; knowing what I must do.
When the plane landed I called Molly to see how she was taking it, but there was no answer so I did not leave a message.
When I arrived home to my Surprise everyone was there; my dad, Laila’s parents and Xiang, they were celebrating Xiang’s successful meeting and dealings in China.
There was no doubt he was the right man for the job, I casually walked in taking off my coat and just dropped it on the chair, Laila ran to me with open arms as if I was gone for years.
I extended my arms, more of a reflex than I’m happy to see you hug, Laila smiled kissing me on the cheek “I missed you so much Tony, glad you’re home”. I just walked passed without saying a word; feeling weak in the knees I sat on the couch.
My dad Smiled “So how did the meeting go” in a soft distant voice I answered “Oh, yeah, we got the contract” My dad jumped to his feet and shouted “That’s great! I’m very proud of the two of you”.
Laila walked over to me and took my hand, “May I see you in the kitchen Tony?” her parents smiled as if they were thinking “I guess she can’t wait to get him alone”.
I walked into the kitchen with Laila; she looked me in the eyes and asked “What’s wrong Tony? You have been distant from the time you walked in the door, was there a problem with the meeting?”
I was silent for what seemed like hours but was only a few seconds as the thoughts of me and Molly being together raced through my mind, then answered “No, the meeting went great.”
Laila: “Then tell me, what is it?”
I thought to myself this was not the best time with everyone here, then thought better about it, everyone will find out sooner or later, I better just get this over with.
“While I was in Europe I slept with someone.” “What are you saying Tony? You had sex with another woman?” “Yes it was with…” before I could finish the words I looked as her facial expression changed from concern to hurt, she let out a scream that would bring a dragon to his knees. As the tears streamed down her face she cried out “How could you! I trusted you, I trusted you!”
I went to put my arms around her and she pushed me away; screaming and crying, “I love you! How could you do this to me! GET OUT!”
Everyone ran into the kitchen to see what the commotion was, as they entered they saw a hurt and angry Laila scream “GET OUT, Never come back!” then she said in Chinese “I never want to see you again I trusted you! Never come back!”
Everyone had a surprise look upon their face; her mother ran over to Laila and embraced her. Her father looked at me and asked “what’s going on here”, I did not say a word, I lowered my head, picked up my coat and walked out the door.
I had no ideal where I was headed but I knew I could not return home, I called Molly again there was no answer, this time I left a message.
For the next two week I would call Molly only to get her voice mail, it finally hit me, Molly was avoiding me. With no where to turn I buried myself in work until the holidays.
I tried to talk to Laila a few times, but she would not answer my calls, sometimes her mom would pick up the phone only to remind me that Laila did not want to speak with me.
I was feeling down and decided to leave China for a while, I thought about spending the holidays alone at my dad’s house, seeing he was in China, and then I decided to call Boris.
I told Boris I would be back in the states and if he was not too busy; I would stop by. It was refreshing talking to Boris, he was unaware of what had happened and I needed a friendly voice at the time.
Yes, my dad understood what happened, and still loved me as always, Xiang? Well… working together was ok and all but, Laila was his sister and he let me know where he stood. Although he hoped that we could one day work things out, he was standing by her side on this and I understand that.
I had to be in Europe in early January, I thought about telling Molly I would be in town, then I thought I would just stop by and see her; after thinking it over; I thought it would not be a good Ideal, obviously Molly was avoiding me and I would not want to upset her, I called Molly and left one more message before leaving for the states and visiting with Boris “Hi Molly, it’s Tony, Umm…, call me…, I just want to know that you are okay, I haven’t heard from you since I last saw you..” I paused as I thought about what I could say next “Okay Molly just let me know you are okay…….hope to hear from you soon bye.”
Molly did not call me back, When I arrived in the states I must admit it was good to see Boris, Jing was leaving I could feel the icy glare she gave as she was leaving for China, I knew she must have talked to Laila, I felt bad putting Boris in the middle of all this, after telling Boris what happened between Molly and I; he was great about it and very understanding! A true friend, he did not judge us, and like my dad he knew that Molly and I still had feelings but thought we had a little more control over them.
I went on telling him; how I made a mess of things; not that I was feeling sorry for myself, I guess I deserved everything I got, just wish I did not make such a mess of thing with the people I love.
I had a great time just hanging out with Boris, the events that took place during the Virtual reality was just what I needed; for a few days I was at peace, but in the back of my mind I could not help but to think about Molly and Laila.
I spent Christmas with Boris and his children I felt so at home, and yet I felt like I had brought a division between Boris and Jing.
New Years I called my friends and family to wish them a happy New years but neither Molly or Laila answered so I just left the message on their answering machine.
I left for Europe early January, the construction of the refinery was going ahead of schedule due to the nice weather, I called my dad to check in and inform him of the progress.
I decided to stay in Europe for a few weeks and return to China later in the month. I decided I would not look up Molly while I was in town, I’m sure she was avoiding me.
While in my office in Europe I opened my laptop, to find a disturbing email from Boris, Stormy was missing, after reading the entire email; it seems as if her plane was missing also.
Boris was asking if we had heard from Stormy, I replied that I had not heard from her since the wedding. Seeing how much time has passed I tried to remain hopeful.
I sat in silence thinking of all the good times we had with Stormy, I could not get her out of my mind. I pulled out my cell and called my dad to see if he could look into the flight information.
I placed my phone on the desk after talking to my father and went to get a drink of water, my heart was heavy thinking of Stormy, I admit it took my mind off Molly and Laila for a moment.
When I returned to my desk my phone was beeping, missed call and new message. I listened to the message as my heart jumped "I'm sorry Tony, whenever you want to talk, I'll answer this time I promise."
I could not tell Molly I was in Europe and did not look her up so, when I called her back I did not mention I was already I Europe, Molly and I made plans to meet and talk later in the week.
Xiang and My dad arrived in Europe for an inspection of the refinery, Xiang was the Oil expert, “How was your holidays?” Xiang asked “Christmas was good” I explained “however I spent the New Years alone and you?” I asked.
Xiang: “Well you did not miss much, my sister was miserable, she could not stop crying, I’m glad Jing and Mao was there though.”
“Mao made a great Christmas Dinner, he is such a great cook, and Jing was able to make Laila feel better for a short while as they talked about their younger years.”
“Just before Christmas; Jing and Mao took Laila out of the house for a few days to get her mind off things and to get her out of the house and do some shopping.”
“When they returned on Christmas Eve; it was the first time I saw Laila smile since…well you know. As upset as Jing was with you, how you hurt her little sis, I never heard her say a bad word about you.”
“But I could see in her eyes when your name came up…Well I would not want to be on the other side of that look.”
Tony: “How is Laila?”
“She is holding up as well as could be expected; giving her feelings for you, she still loves you Tony, maybe she can forgive you one day, I don’t know.”
My dad informed me he could not find any information on Stormy’s plane other than it was missing. I thanked him for trying.
I meet with Molly latter in the week, to my surprise she had not heard about Stormy, I guess it was not just me; she had been avoiding but pretty much everyone.
As we met for lunch I could not help but replay in my mind over and over the weekend we spent together, how happy we were for those few days.
As we held hands comforting each other; I informed Molly that Laila knew about our weekend together, to my surprise Molly had told Colin about it also.
We asked each other how did they take the news well… we were both still alive so it could have been worse.
One thing left me thinking from our meeting that day; Molly saying she was sorry that we ended things, sorry that she had moved on with her life without me.
Something finally clicked inside me as I tried to assure her we did the right thing. I felt for the first time in my life; renewed and forgiveness, is that all I needed to know all these years?
That Molly did love me as much as I loved her; all the pain and thoughts seem to cease at once, for the very first time I could see Molly was just as upset about our relationship ending as I had been all those years.
Molly did not end our relationship just to meet someone, but we ended it so we could grow, so we could find ourselves, to find our place in this world.
For the first time I could see; Molly did not belong unto me, Molly had become her own woman, respected in her field of work, she was not the little thirteen year old girl I had fallen in love with any more, “she was a woman.”
I felt a special bond with Molly from that time on. There were things I wanted to tell her at that very moment but with everything going on in our lives I thought another time would be better.
As time went by, I put myself hole heartedly into my work, with Xiang spending so much time in China he and his family moved in with Laila for the time being. I got a little apartment in both Europe and China believe it or not it was cheaper than staying in hotels every night. Some nights I would just stay in the office and sleep on the sofa. From time-to-time I would see Xiang and my dad, I would often ask about Laila, she still would not answer any of my phone calls.
One night in China while in the office we were all working very late Xiang getting ready to make some test runs in China, seeing it would be the first plant to go online.
Neither of us realized the time, working often into the early morning hours only to sleep for a few hours and do it all over again.
I felt my eyes burning as sleep wanted to consume me; the next thing I knew Xiang was shaking me; “Tony wake up, why don’t you go home, we can handle things form here.”
“Yeah, I think I will get a little shut eye, but maybe on the sofa over there.” I looked down at my phone and saw the light flashing that I had a new voice mail.
Checking the voice mail there was a message “Hey Tony its Molly, I'm going to be in New York City from the 11th the 18th...well I'll be really busy from the 15th on but do you think you can meet me there? I really need to see you and talk to you. Let me know okay? Well...bye."
Looking at the time I called Molly back, “Hi Molly I got your message, every thing okay?” Molly just told me again she needed to talk to me, but it was not a conversation to have over the phone, I assured her I would meet her in New York City.
I did not notice but Xiang was still standing in the office, he overheard the conversation I had with Molly but did not say a word about it.
I must admit a thousand thoughts went through my mind; did Molly want to get back together? Was she and Colin back together?
I continued to think about my life, how I had no ideal what I really wanted, could things work out with Molly and I? Could things work out with Laila and I?
Then it hit me like a ton of bricks, I’m in no condition to be with any woman. I needed to find out what I really wanted in life, and until then I should not get involved.
I arrived at the restaurant where I was to meet Molly, she had not yet arrived so I was seated at the table, it was only a few minutes but felt like hours as the thought of what this meeting could be about.
The waiter arrived at the table, “evening Sir; are you ready to order?” I smiled “no, not yet, I’m waiting for someone” “would you like to order a drink perhaps; while you wait?” “No thanks,” “Very well, I’ll return when your party arrives.” “Thanks”
Molly arrived; “she looked lovely, there was a glow about her face, I could not place it, but there was something different about Molly.
I was so glad to see Molly, as she sat at the table I reached out my hand to her out of habit, then pulled back, before I could retreat my hand from the table Molly took hold of them and held them firmly in hers.
Molly looked into my eyes “I’m pregnant Tony”
Molly continued, she let me know I was the father of her child as she continued talking, I don’t think I heard a word she was saying for a while, as thoughts of Molly and I having a child together.
I wanted to say something, I wanted to let her know I would be there for her but as I opened my mouth “Wow” was the best I could come up with, I wanted to smack myself upside the head.
Molly explained that I did not really have to be involved, she did not want it to cause trouble for me and Laila, “hold on there Molly, that’s our child, of course I want to be involved in our Child’s life.”
I’m not sure what all happened after that, I don’t even remember what I had for dinner, I was going to be a father, Molly and I are having a baby was all I could think of.
Sitting in my hotel room, I replayed the event of Molly and my conversation, should I have told her I love her? I know she said she wants Laila and I to work thing out and I know she was being honest about that.
I don’t know how Molly and I will work this out but, I know we will find a way to make this work. I knew Laila would not be happy about the news, but she needed to know. Yet I was still excited about being a father, There is a bond between Molly and I that can never be broken now, she will always be a special person in my life, not only because we are friends, not only because we were lovers, but now, we will have a child together.
I called my dad and Xiang, “I’m going to be here in New York a little longer than I thought.”
My dad asked was everything okay, “Things are better than okay, I’ll fill you in when I return, talk to you soon bye.”
As I hung up the phone; I smiled and laughed for the first time in what felt like years; Molly a mom, and me a dad?
I don’t know if it was the news that Molly gave me but I had the strangest dream of Molly and I that night.
The next morning;
I picked up the phone “Hey Molly” “Hi Tony” “Well.. I’m still in New York.. I know its short notice but; if you are not doing anything on Valentines Day, would you do me the honor of having dinner with me?” I asked.
Molly was silent for a minute, “Sure Tony, I would like that”.
I picked Molly up at her hotel, she looked as beautiful as ever, “You look lovely Molly” “Thanks Tony”
I took Molly by the arm as we walked to our taxi, during our taxi ride to the restaurant we talked and laughed about us being parents how differently we saw our lives going.
I took Molly’s arm and we walked into the restaurant arm-in-arm, as we were greeted by the hostess I placed my hand on Molly’s belly “are you hungry little one?” I asked our child.
The hostess noticed and seated us right away “congratulations are in order I see; so how are you two love birds doing this lovely day?” Molly and I looked at one another and smiled “we’re fine thanks.”
We both thought about what a child in our lives would mean, I don’t know if it was because it was Valentines Day, or because we were having a child together.
As we awaited our dinner; Molly and I began to talk about when we were teens, how differently we thought our lives would be.
Holding Molly’s hand I told her “I used to think about us being married when we were in school; we would have three kids in my thoughts of us, two boys and one girl.
I would come home from work and you would be home waiting for me, I could see us all at the dinner table together having dinner, asking each one how their day went.
I would teach the boys to play foot ball, you would teach our daughter to be a young lady, and of course we had them all active in sports.”
Molly just smiled as I continued to talk about what I thought our lives would turn out..
I noticed Molly had not said a word, “I’m boring you” “No, you’re not its just…” just then the waiter arrived with our dinner. Molly, took a whiff from her plate and felt nauseous, then looked at me and said “I had my own thought but I’ll tell you about them some other time.”
I could see Molly would not be finishing her dinner as she poked at her plate more than eating, “Every thing okay Moll are you not feeling well?”
“Yes Tony, everything is great, can I ask you something?”
“Sure Molly, you can ask me anything.”
Molly was silent as she though of the best way to ask me what she was thinking; “After I told you about our child…ummm…well…did you have thoughts of us getting back together?”
I knew I had to be honest with Molly “Yes, I did” Molly not sure about my answer expanded her question “I mean like you and me getting married.”
I smiled “Yes, that’s what I thought you meant, I thought about us getting married, but I know now; I would not make a good husband to anyone, I know we need time to sort out our lives so; I never said anything.”
Molly placed her hand upon the table reaching out for mine, I took her hand as she explained “I had the same thoughts, yes, I know you still love Laila just as I still love Colin, yet I’m glad you want to be involved in our Child’s life, and I love you for that, I think you will be a great dad no matter how things turn out.” I squeezed her hand “Molly I’m not just here for our child, I’m also here for you, even if it was not my child; I would be here for you Molly, just as Boris Ruby and Stormy if she could.”
We were silent as we both started to think of Stormy.
After we arrived back at Molly’s hotel, I gave Molly a hug, then a kiss upon her cheek, “we are going to be alright Molly, and things will work out for us.”
“I know things always work out for the best in the end, thanks for dinner Tony; sorry I did not eat much”
“Thanks for coming Molly, take care of yourself and our child” I bent over talking to Molly’s stomach “Night, night little one.”
I arrived back in China and told my dad and Xiang the news about Molly and I having a child, Laila would not answer my calls, so I wrote her a letter of the events that had taken place, handing the letter to Xiang, please give this to Laila, if she don’t accept it, then you need to tell her about Molly and I having a child.
I could tell Xiang did not want to do this, be he understood his sister needed to know.
We were getting ready to open the plant in China, The loading docks were filled with ships of crud oil, and the recycling plant was almost ready.
There were tons of things that still needed to be done; I did not see much of my dad or Xiang although all three of us were in China.
We would set up thirty minute online video meetings daily; just to make sure everything was going as planed.
I never saw so much paperwork on my desk, I felt as if I was losing control, when my computer chimed “You have mail”
It was an email form Molly, about her appointment; I looked at the paperwork on my desk for a second. I sent an email to my dad and Xiang stating: “I need to go to Europe for a few days, will be back ASAP everything is fine, and just need to take care of something.”
Arriving just-in-time, for Molly’s appointment, but no sign of Molly, when she finally arrived, I felt a tear in my eyes when I heard the baby’s heart beat for the first time.
Molly seemed to be doing great; the doctor assured us all was going well, I did not want to leave Molly’s side.
I spent a few more days in Europe with Molly, but knew I needed to get back to China; I assured Molly things will work out for us and I would call her as-soon-as I arrived home.
When I arrived back to China, I called Molly as I said I would but there was no answer, “Molly, its Tony, I made it back okay, call me when you get this message.”
Later that night I still did not hear from Molly, so I called back “Molly..Tony… call me please.”
The next day no reply from Molly; I called her job; Molly had not reported in for work, I felt my heart stop then pound. I opened my laptop and booked a flight back to Europe.