Friday, May 23, 2014

Chapter 4 of "Finding our Forever" Book2 of the Forever series

Chapter 4

Carson Bradley

Hayden and I march into the conference room of Steward Lab to find five intimidating, strapping men suited up in black tactical gear, t-shirts and cargo pants. Their expressions are all uncompromising—not a single sign of emotion. “Mr. Bradley,” a man with an embellished Greek alpha symbol tattooed on the back of his right forearm greets. He must be the team leader, Alpha, whom Owen has been talking about. Reaching his hand out to me, he grips mine firmly with his eyes locked sternly on mine. I return him with the same confident stare. Glancing over to the other men, I spot Greek symbol tattoos on their right forearms as well. This is probably some kind of an initiation or a commitment they made to be part of this elite team in addition to many other rigorous requirements I assume.
“Good morning, Alpha. Would you like to introduce your team?” I suggest before taking my seat at the head of the oval table. As I scrutinize each of the men’s unsmiling expressions, I notice they all have an identical look: same brawny physique, buzzed cut, facial hair, and dark sunglasses tucked on the neckline of their t-shirts. Immediately after Alpha takes his seat, they all sit down synchronously. Hayden seems to be in awe as he gapes at their militant conduct in a daze.
“I’m the team leader,” Alpha commences. “To my right are Beta and Delta and to my left are Gamma and Kappa. We lost Chi and Epsilon two years ago,” Alpha explains as the men raise their fisted forearms with Greek symbols to acknowledge who’s who. They then place two fingers to their hearts and signal the number two in the air. I’m guessing out of respect for the two lost brothers.
“Welcome gentlemen. I appreciate you taking on this mission. The goal is to safely retrieve my two researchers without attracting any attention to Bradley Pharmaceutical Corporation. After you find the culprits, I will seek legal actions against them. No brutal force should be used unless absolutely necessary. I’ll leave that discretion with Alpha,” I rattle off my stipulations, and they all respectfully nod their heads in agreement, acknowledging my authority. Even though those perpetrators have been nothing, but trouble for me, I still don’t want to see any bloodshed. I shift their attention over to Hayden who’s now furiously tapping the keys on his laptop. “This is Mr. Carter. He will now brief you with the data he’s collected.” Hayden darts his eyes from his computer screen to tag each set of probing eyeballs staring at him.
Kappa is chosen to scout the enormous Montgomery estate for an entire week. He’ll monitor any unusual activities or visitors. The other four will rake through an approximate fifteen mile radius in the west region of Massachusetts where the signals were last detected. This will not be an easy task for anyone—combing through the mountainous terrain in this cold and wintery weather.
Glancing down at my watch, I notice that it’s almost lunch time, but our meeting is far from being completed. I pull my phone out to send Lil another quick text.

Miss your beautiful smile. X Carson

Is Isabella there yet?

Leaving Hayden to wrap up the meeting, I anxiously make my way over to the laboratory. Alex peeks her head up as the security door slides open for me after the scanner checks my eyes and palm prints. “Mr. Bradley, so good to see you!” she exclaims. “Samantha and I have been working around the clock to figure out the missing two fifths of the drug component. We’re finding that it’s almost next to impossible.”
“I appreciate all work you both have contributed. Now that I’m back, we can retrace the steps and figure it out together,” I assure Alex.
“Thank you, sir. I’m sure glad to have you back,” she replies with bashful eyes.
“It’s good to be back, Alex,” I tell her and head to my research area.
Four years ago before the five of us began our work on the Oss-Meta drug, we established some guidelines. We decided that we all have different strengths and expertise that we can focus on individually. We divided our study into five parts and agreed to leave concealed clues behind in case something happened to one of us. I plan on finding David and Paul’s clues. This is the only way to complete the formula if we don’t locate them.

Lillian Ly

Always running habitually late, Belle bangs on the side door around 2:30 p.m.—three hours after she told Luke she’d be here. I’m used to her tardiness, but poor Luke seemed quite agitated as the hours and minutes ticked away. Quickly glancing over the security screens for clearance, Luke rushes to the door to let her in. I can’t even see her face, hidden behind two large grocery bags and a pizza box, until Luke offers to take them from her.
“Lil…,” she pauses with her lips curled up on one side and with an empathetic expression. “I’m sorry…,” she pauses again and sighs. I assume that Hayden has already filled her in on my miscarriage.
“I’m okay. Let’s not talk about it or I won’t be,” I hastily reply. My eyes are so sore from sobbing that the thought of salty tears seeping past them sounds more torturous than emotionally relieving. “I’m so happy to see you, Belle,” I tell her as I coil my arms tightly around her like a Boa constrictor. My ribs are still tender, but I don’t care. I’ve missed her and everything that was normal to me. She checks me over with her attentive eyes before returning my squeeze with the solace of her embrace.
“I love you, girl. You know I’m available twenty-four seven,” she tells me as she rubs my back.
“I know,” I reply with a tighter squeeze around her shoulders. The weight of the world doesn’t seem as heavy at the moment now that I have one of my best friends here to help me brace it.
“The reason I’m so late is because I had to stop at the grocery store to pick up all our favorite comfort snacks: Twizzlers, Reese’s Peanut Buttercups, and plain M&M’s, potato chips, Oreos and white chocolate covered pretzels. The gallon of vanilla ice cream and toppings are for me,” Belle giggles and then releases her hold of me to walk over to the kitchen island where Luke placed her bags. “I also have something in here that’s sure to make you laugh for several hours,” she promises me as she digs into her brown bag to pull out two DVD movies. “The Princess Bride and 50 First Dates—our two most favorite movies in the world!” she shrieks.
Leave it up to my bestie to know how to cheer a gloomy girl up when I’m way below sea level. A sugar slash sodium rush is the ultimate cure for depression. This was how we dealt with our teenage crises. Why should the remedy be any different for us as adults?
“Before we dig into your mood-altering goodies, I should text Carson to let him know that you’re finally here with me. He’s texted several times to check on me and your whereabouts,” I rub her tardiness in, but it flies right over her carefree mind.
“Okay, hurry up or the cheese on the pizza won’t be gooey anymore,” Belle insists before waving Luke over for a slice. “Luke, come help yourself. There’s plenty of pizza here.”
“I will. You know how I like my cheese to be gooey,” I reply.
Craving to hear Carson’s soothing voice, I run back into the bedroom with the burner phone to call him. Admittedly, it’s my fault that we’ve been distant. I’ve been pushing him away, blaming him for things that were out of his control. I can’t help myself. To my stubborn mind, he seems to be the logical explanation for all my misfortunes. However, I’m an adult. I made the decision to stay with him even after discovering his background. So for me to hold every hardship that’s come my way against him is undeserved. Now if I can only convince my subconscious to rationalize like this, Carson and I can get back to happier times sooner.
I tap on his name and wait for him to pick up. “Hey,” he greets after the second ring. “Is Isabella there yet? What did you have for lunch?” he inquires with concern for the nth time. I feel terrible that he’s worried about my happiness in addition to completing his new drug product, running a multi-billion dollar empire and finding his missing employees.
“Yes, she finally made it here a few minutes ago with pizza,” I answer as I hang onto the warmth and depth of his tone.
“I’m glad to hear that she’s with you. I’ll probably be home late this evening,” he continues with hesitation. “I have a lot of catching up to do. I’m sorry,” he tells me with guilt resonating in his voice.
“I understand. You don’t have to worry about me. I’ll be fine,” I fib with a long face, knowing that he can’t see me. With so much practice lately, I’m getting better at lying every time that I do it.
“I can always have Luke bring you here to the lab,” Carson insists. “We can order carryout for dinner and eat it in my office, if you’d like.”
“No, that won’t be necessary. I’ll just be in your way,” I assure him.
“Lil, I promise I’ll make it up to you. Your happiness is all that matters to me,” he expresses sincerely, and I truly believe him.
“I know,” I agree softly.
“I love you, Angel. I’ll see you tonight.”
“Me too,” I reply in my usual round-a-bout way, avoiding those three intimidating words.
___________________
Belle pops in the first movie, The Princess Bride, before handing me a slice of extra gooey cheese pizza and a side of salty potato chips. It’s like old times again having Belle here with me. Luke insists on manning from his corner with his lunch. I assume he feels that he’s already disclosed too much of himself to me and besides, I don’t see him as a chick flick type of guy, anyways.
Mid-way through the movie, Belle tensely asks, “How are you feeling, girlie?” She appears to be antsy about something. Belle’s mood is predictable. If she’s not gibbering for more than five minutes then I know something is seriously wrong.
“Better,” I answer. “Why are you asking before Westley gives Princess Buttercup the most passionate kiss in history?” I question her.
“I want to tell you something before the happy ending comes,” she surrenders.
“Spill it, Missy, or you’ll have to suffer the consequences,” I tease her.
“Emma is pregnant. She’s getting married in two weeks,” she blurts in a single puff. From her tone and expression, I can tell it’s been eating her up inside, keeping this secret from me. And then the word pregnant hits me—hard. I drop my slice of pizza down on my lap and force welling tears back.
“How far along is she?” I ask, but not really wanting to know because I think it’ll crush me even more.
“Emi is going into the second trimester. I’m sorry, Lil. I know how tough this is for you,” Belle tries her best to be gentle. It is tough for me—tougher than I can convey in any form of expressions.
“Don’t be silly, I’m happy for her,” I assure Belle that I’m fine. “When and where’s the wedding? I won’t miss her special day for anything.” I plan on being there for Emma no matter what Carson says.
“Two weeks from Saturday at the Fort Wayne Embassy. She wanted to tell you, Lil, but with everything that happened to you, she didn’t know how to reach you,” Belle explains.
“It’s fine. I completely understand. I’ll talk to Carson about it when he gets home tonight.”
____________________
Around 7:45 p.m., I finally convince Belle to go home to Hayden. I already feel guilty for keeping her here with me all day.
“Call me if you need anything. And I mean anything at all,” she emphasizes.
“I will. Thanks, beautiful. You know how much you mean to me.”
“I do. Hang in there, girl,” Belle encourages with another hug. “I’ll come see you again as soon as I can.”
“Okay, but only if it doesn’t interfere with your life,” I stress. Belle should know that I don’t accept handouts easily even from my best friend. Walking her over to the pantry room, I watch Belle exit through the secret door. My burner phone sounds off and I know it’s probably a text from Carson.

Will be home soon, babe. Keep the bed warm for me. X Carson

I reply with a simple text.

See you then. XOX Lil

Even after watching 50 First Dates, my mood is still in a funk. I couldn’t laugh no matter how hard I tried. Emma’s pregnancy news is constantly coursing through my mind. I couldn’t help thinking that if I wasn’t in that accident, we would have our babies at around the same time. Again, those painful salty tears beg to come out, but I wouldn’t let them. I hate that I’ve been an emotional wreck lately. It’s not like me to be this pathetic.
Depressed, I tell Luke, “I’m tired. I’m calling it a night. Your evening shift will be boring. Why don’t you go home?” I suggest. “I’ll just be sleeping.”
“Not possible. I will stay here until Mr. Bradley gets back.” Luke slams my idea down immediately.
“Okay. Shoot yourself. I’ll see you in the morning. Night, Luke.”
“Goodnight, Miss…I mean Lily.”
Dragging my feet along the plush white carpet, I make my way to the bedroom which has become a lonely room lately. I hop into the shower, brush my teeth and then climb into Carson’s king-size bed which seems mammoth without him here with me. I crave the strength of his protective arms around me. I miss him, but not just physically. Mentally, we’ve been separated and it’s hurting us.

My eyes dart over to the digital clock. It’s almost 9:30 p.m. and no signs of Carson yet. He wasn’t exaggerating when he said he had a lot of catching up to do. The last text I received from him was around 8:00ish when he said he’d be home soon. Climbing out of bed to flip the nightlight on his side for him, I find my stuff giraffe, Sugar, wedged between the bed and the nightstand. I scoop it up and hug its plushness against my chest. Finally, all the hidden tears that I’ve been holding back streams down my cheeks over Sugar. I couldn’t be brave anymore. All the hurt and pain that I’ve been concealing from Carson burst open—with it came my fragmented heart.