Monday, May 26, 2014
Chapter 5 of 'Finding our Forever' Book2 of the Forever series
The hours completely escape me when I’m lost in my lab. The last time I checked my watch it was only 8:00 p.m. and now, it’s already 11:25 p.m. I had promised Lil that I’d be home over three hours ago. This tardiness will not help our situation any. Owen drops me off at the front entrance, and ensures that I enter the building safely before pulling away. I wait impatiently for the elevator doors to open with my right foot tapping over a flower print in the carpet. When they finally do, I see Stewart and Andrew holding hands and flirting.
“Hello, Carson,” Andrew greets in a chirpy tone. Where does he find his sunshine? He appears to be content every time I see him. What are the crazy chances of me continuingly running into these two? I can’t get over it because this building is enormous.
“Good evening,” I reply briefly as I notice Stewart giving me the familiar hateful glare as he often does.
“Is Lillian visiting soon?” Andrew inquires with beaming bright eyes? “I miss her and would love to make some dinner plans,” he insists.
My impatient expression shifts to grieving as I lie to Andrew with purpose. “Lillian was in a car accident in St. Croix. She didn’t make it,” I express solemnly in a low voice as my eyes drop to my feet.
“Oh my god! I’m sorry to hear that. That’s so tragic!” Andrew whimpers as he places his hand across his mournful face. Stewart’s glare softens and turns sympathetic. I almost feel bad for lying to him after seeing how distraught he is from my news. I guess I didn’t realize how much he cared for Lily, but then who doesn’t? Her beautiful personality makes her irresistible and lovable.
“Can I do anything for you? When’s the funeral?” Andrew sincerely offers.
“Thank you for the offer. Lil’s body was never retrieved from the explosion, so her mother is opting for a small, private funeral,” I continue to fib.
My eyes actually start to water as I recognize this could’ve been Lil’s fate had she not fled from that SUV in time. Immediately, I have this desperate need to rush to the penthouse so I can wrap my arms securely around Lil to keep her safe.
“Thank you for offering, Andrew. I know that she was very fond of you.”
“Please, let us know if you need anything, Carson.” Andrew extends his hand out to squeeze the top of my shoulder. I nod and step into the elevator as they both walk out. Andrew appears as if he’s on the verge of crying, making me feel like a real jerk for lying to him.
I had to. It was for Lil’s protection, I justify.
The elevator couldn’t take me up fast enough as I tap my fingers on the metal railing that I’m leaning against. The second the doors open, I dash to my penthouse.
Luke greets me at the entrance, “Good evening, sir. Miss Ly is sleeping in the bedroom.”
“Thank you, Luke. I’ll see you tomorrow,” I acknowledge him quickly as I charge down the hallway, not giving him a chance to say anything else.
A painful twinge weighs heavy on my chest when I glance across the semi-lit room to see Lil hugging the stuff giraffe she bought for me to remind me of our baby. Where did she find it? I thought the housekeeper had removed all the maternity clothes and baby items. She must’ve missed it somehow. Damn it! Yes, I’m a real asshole for having her wait for me—three hours over what I had promised her. I’m positive she probably cried herself to sleep after seeing it, and I wasn’t here to console her. I’ve failed her again. Every day I keep digging a deeper pit for myself, and I can’t seem to find my way out of it.
Not bothering to get out of my suit, I pace over to the bed to lie down next to Lil. I cradle one arm around her arm and chest, wrapping my heart around her. I was right. I can feel the dampness of Lil’s tears on top of the stuff giraffe’s head. Sadness subdues all my senses, but hurt. My heart hurts for every drop of tear I’ve caused her. Leaning into her cheek I leave her a kiss, and it wakes her. She doesn’t say anything, but turns her body to face me. Her head tilts up so our eyes meet. Her eyes tell me that she’s tired and defeated. Finally, she’s ready to surrender her struggles to me. She nuzzles her body against my chest and closes her eyes to rest in my arms.
“I love you,” I whisper into her forehead. I want to say more like she defines my purpose for endeavoring every day since she came into my life, but I don’t. I respect her silence instead.
After Lil fell asleep last night, I paced around the room and fretted about how I’ll be able to get her life back to normalcy. My severe case of insomnia kept me up passed 2:00 a.m. before I changed into my pajamas and finally submitted to my fatigue. I slipped back into bed and curled my arms around Lil again. It felt good to be able to hold her without rejection.
The bright glaring sun screams at me through the ceiling to floor windows, disturbing my short hours of slumber. I open my tired eyes to find Lil missing from her side of the bed. My heart races swiftly as I panic and fear the worse.
“Lil,” I holler out. “Where are you?”
Throwing the sheet off my body, I hurry out of the bedroom to find her. My heart settles immediately when I see Lil in the kitchen making pancakes and wearing nothing but my white t-shirt.
“Good morning, handsome,” she greets me with smiling eyes. She’s acting like last night never happened. I’m not sure if this is a dream I’m having, but something doesn’t seem right. “Are you hungry for pancakes?” she asks with my favorite smile.
“Yes, I’d love some pancakes. I’m sorry about last night,” I reply and then kiss her forehead.
“No worries, I had Belle and Luke to keep me company,” she answers without mentioning Sugar as she takes four plates from the cabinet and hands them to me. “I made enough for Luke and Owen, too,” she adds. “Do you mind setting out the plates?”
“No, not at all. And what did we do to deserve this special treatment?” I inquire as I place the plates down on the table. She shrugs her shoulders in response and then hands me napkins and utensils. I thought for sure that we had come to some kind of understanding after our wordless conversation from last night, but I guess I was wrong. I won’t push it because her mood is at its all-time highest since we’ve been back to Boston.
“Eat up or your hotcakes will be coldcakes,” she teases as she flips two onto my plate and pours syrup generously over them. “Well…now that you mentioned it, I have a favor to ask you,” she begins as she sits down facing me. “Emi is getting married in two weeks. I want to be there for her.”
Bingo, I knew it was too good to be true. She was buttering me up to persuade me to let her go to Indiana. “That’s not possible, Lil,” I reply firmly.
Her beautiful smile flips into a frown instantly. “And why not? You can’t keep me from going!” she snaps. “I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this, but I’ll be there with or without you. I’m not a prisoner!”
“Lily, for god’s sake, we’ve gone through this already,” I exhale. “Your safety is the only thing that matters to me. I can’t risk having you seen in public until I figure out who has my two researchers. I don’t know why you can’t understand this,” I retort.
Standing straight up, she narrows her heated eyes down at me and strides away. “I have nothing more to say to you then,” she grumbles.
This is not how I want to start my mornings every day—no coffee and a heated argument with the woman I love. I’m frustrated. I’ve never had to yield to a woman before, and it’s wearing my patience thin. I don’t know why she can’t see that I’m doing all of this for her, to keep her safe. I decide to give her time to calm down before chasing after her.
Owen and Luke both come through the private entrance to find me stooped over my breakfast in my pajamas still. Their eyes scurry away from mine, seeing that my morning is already off to a shitty start. “Miss Ly made breakfast for you both. Help yourselves to it while I get dressed,” I tell them before heading down to my room.
Lil isn’t in the bedroom when I enter. I jump into the shower, shave and dress before pursuing after her. Peering into several of the extra bedrooms, I couldn’t seem to find her. Panic strikes me again, fearing that she has somehow escaped the penthouse. Her unrelenting stubbornness makes me believe that she’s capable of anything. I immediately rush out to the kitchen to alarm Luke and find her sitting casually with them eating pancakes instead. She ignores my presence.
“Lil, we need to talk,” I emphasize. She continues to cut into her pancakes while disregarding my plea. Owen and Luke both stand up to give us some privacy, but she grips their wrists to detain them. I can feel hot steam rising from underneath my shirt and jacket. She’s really testing my patience. Under any other circumstances with anyone else, I’d be ready to chew that person down to a stump.
“What about?” she asks. “I thought you already made up your mind,” she continues. Owen and Luke are once again wedged in the middle of our heat. I decide to spare them the awkwardness and drop the conversation. Damn, she is feistier and more headstrong than I pegged her to be. I have my hands full with this live one, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. She’s what I need to balance my arrogance and authority over others as much as I hate to admit it.
“Owen, are you ready to go?” I ask. At this point, I don’t see us coming to any resolution, so I avoid pushing the subject any further. Leaning into her forehead, I leave a tender kiss before walking away. I can feel the weight of her glowering eyes on me, and yes, I probably deserve it. I hate to start our second day like this, but she has left me no choice. I’ll compromise, but I won’t yield to her every demand.
After the rundown of my schedule, Owen remains silent for the entire ride until my guilty conscience goads me to ask him, “Owen, what do you think about my harshness with Lily? Was I being too unreasonable?” This is highly unusual of me to divulge my personal matters to Owen as well as seeking for his advice.
“Sir, if I may be frank, I think Lily has been through enough grief. Allowing Lily to be with her best friend on her wedding day might be the thing to cheer her up and erase some of those bad memories,” he replies logically and with so much depth that it makes me believe he’s been pondering my decision all along.
“You might be right, but how do we do this without exposing her to the media and risking her safety?” I ask with concern.
“Let me work on it, and I will give you an answer later this week,” Owen consoles me.
“I’ve already put too much on your plate. Are you sure?”
“Yes, Mr. Bradley,” he replies. “It would be my pleasure to put a smile on Lily’s face again.” He grins.
“Thanks, Owen.” I was right. Owen has been a fan of Lily all along.
The limo driver drops us off underground this time. From now until we find Paul and David, we’ll be taking a different route to the office and home every day to throw off any tailgaters, another precaution per Owen and Alpha. The obstruction to my daily routine is a royal pain in my ass. I look forward to putting this all behind me as soon as possible.
I spent a good part of yesterday scouring through Paul’s office. I eventually found his hidden clue tucked inside an autographed Danica Patrick model race car. He’s a huge fan of her, so it wasn’t difficult to figure out his hiding place. Today I plan on raking through David’s office to find his clue. This will be a tougher challenge because David is more quiet and reserved. Besides for his love of plants and computer games, I have nothing else to go on.
Neglecting to stop at my office to get my much needed coffee from Evelyn, I march directly to David’s. I’m on a mission to find the last clue. First, I sort through his notes lying on top of his desk—nothing. I go through all his drawers and lab coat pockets—nothing again. I plop down on his chair to sort my thoughts. David’s bonsai plant lures my eyes to admire its beautiful fuchsia blooms. I remember him occasionally speaking fondly of his bonsai plant while working in the lab. The other researchers used to tease that he loved his plant more than his girlfriend. He even mentioned that if anything ever happens to him, one of us needs to make sure his bonsai finds a good home. I reach for the plant, firmly grip my hand around the thick bark base and pull it out of the porcelain container. A note sealed inside a plastic bag is securely tucked underneath it. I’m immediately overjoyed as I celebrate my finding. Unfortunately, my celebration comes to a quick halt as soon as I discover that his clue is another clue to the real source. David left an address to Hong Kong and a contact name, Marcus Ly. Damn it! I’m so close and yet so far from the answer. It appears that I will be making an unplanned trip to China. Shaking my head, I think how coincidental it is that this contact person has the same surname as Lily. Do I believe in the idea of six degrees of separation? It’s possible, but very unlikely.
Mentioning Lil’s last name spurs me to make a call to her. I felt awful leaving her so angry this morning, but I didn’t want to facilitate her outbursts, especially in front of Owen and Luke. I have an image to uphold. I know we’re both stubborn and this is an issue we’ll eventually have to work through together, but it should be done in private. I attempt several times, but she doesn’t pick up. It appears that she’s going to stick to her guns with the silent treatment until I surrender to her demands. I’ll lay low for now to give her room to rant and be pissed off at me until Owen finds a solution. I dial Luke’s digits instead to get a report from him. He’s my trustworthy backup plan if all else fails.
“Hello, sir,” Luke answers.
“What is Miss Ly up to? She’s not picking up her phone,” I fume indirectly at him.
“After you left, she disappeared into your bedroom, sir,” Luke replies.
“She’ll be fine,” I reply. “Luke, it looks like we’ll have to make a quick trip to Hong Kong. Will this be a problem for you?” I inquire.
“No, not at all, sir. I can leave whenever you need to. May I ask why?”
“I need to collect the last clue for the Oss-Meta drug. Miss Ly will also be coming with us. I’ll let her know when I come home this evening.” I end the call with Luke, push my concerns for Lil aside and enter the lab for another daunting day of research. I have my work cut out for me.
Without Carson’s knowledge, I’ve been checking for flights and bus routes to Fort Wayne for the past few hours. He’s not going to dictate whether I can be at my best friend’s wedding or not. The tricky part is sneaking away from Luke and paying for it. I don’t have any credit cards or forms of identifications because of the accident. Belle will have to spot me for now. I plan on asking her when she comes over tomorrow after she completes her photo shoot with some guy named Edison. She mentioned him yesterday and how cute, personable and fun he is. “He would’ve been a great catch for Emi, and then the three of us could live out our big city dream together. But unfortunately, Emi is already knocked up and will be hitched soon,” she disappointedly told me.
Time just flies by when you’re preoccupied with plotting an escape plan. It’s already way past lunch time and my stomach is grumbling at me to get some food. I end my scheming and head to the kitchen to satiate my hunger. Luke is fixed in his corner as I walk past him and then turn back to wave hello. He nods his head to acknowledge my greeting and gives me a slight grin. “Have you had lunch?” I ask him.
“Yes, ma’am…I mean Lily,” he trips over his words, and it makes me smile internally.
I assemble a sloppy sandwich of turkey and provolone cheese without any condiments because there are none while watching the news. Omgeez, my face is still broadcast all over. They keep showing that bottomless hell pit where only charcoal remains of the explosion are visible. I’m considered a missing person with an unlikely chance of surviving an explosive accident. Why are they saying that? That’s very misleading. Now I can understand why my mom was a hysterical mess. She thought that I had died in the accident. I’ll have to inquire Mr. Bradley why he would allow people to think that I’m dead when he returns this evening. I’m definite he’ll try to give me a useless answer for an answer.
After catching the awful news about my alleged death, my hearty appetite dissipates. Simmering thoughts of Carson’s motives begin to surface. Why am I really locked up away from everyone? He keeps telling me it’s for my safety. Are there dangerous people after me? If so, I want to know this fact. Ever since we’ve been back to Boston, he’s become a different man or maybe this is the real Carson. He’s less tolerant, more secretive and obsessively controlling. I hate bringing these depressing thoughts up because they’re such mood killers, but I can’t help it. A sudden rattle by the pantry door seizes both mine and Luke’s attention.
Luke’s quick reaction startles me, making me levitate my sandwich midway between my mouth and neck. Springing up on his feet in one quick motion, he dashes toward the pantry with his hand behind his waist. Oh god, does he have a gun on him? I panic. “Stay still,” he whispers while placing an index finger over his lips. I nod my head and freeze in my spot. Luke bravely plants himself in front of the secret door to prowl on the uninvited guest. I hear yapping and then the door slides open to reveal a tall, curvy brunette woman with two adorable dogs following by her feet. I know her. She’s Carson’s cousin, Nikki, from the lymphoma yacht function in Chicago. Luke relaxes immediately, dropping his arm down by his sides after recognizing her.
“Good afternoon Ms. Nikki,” Luke greets in his monotonous tone.
“Hello, you must be Luke, Lillian’s bodyguard,” she responds with a playful and serious tone, probably to tease him for overreacting. She then turns to face me and introduces herself, “Hi darling. I’m Nikki, and these are my babies, Charlie and Sophie,” while pointing to her dogs. “Carson told me that you’ve moved in with him. I thought you might need some company while adjusting to this new environment.” she offers with a beautiful red lipstick smile. Did she say moved in? I guess I haven’t even thought about my permanent housing arrangement because of all the excitement I’ve had. Carson just assumed that I’ll be living with him. Am I okay with that? Not really. But I’ll have to be for now. “I took an earlier flight so Carson doesn’t know I’m here yet. I like to add the element of surprise to his humdrum, structured life,” she adds and giggles. From just her brief and lively introduction, I take to liking her instantly. She’s appears to be the flip opposite of Carson—lively, sociable and easy to get along.
“I’m Lily. Your babies are the cutest. Can I hold one?” I ask. I’ve always wanted a puppy growing up, but mom told me we couldn’t afford it. There were a lot of things we couldn’t afford, so I learned at a very young age not to ask for frivolous things. Nikki hands me the tiny Yorkie. It licks my face as soon as I squeeze it against my chest, tickling me. I love it.
“Sophie loves to give kisses and being held. Charlie is more aloof and composed like most of the men I’ve dated,” she trifles with a nudge of her elbow. Her comment makes me chuckle. “Lily, what are some of your interests? What do you want to do today?” Nikki offers.
“Well, for starters, I can’t leave this place, so that limits my choices,” I gripe. “Everything that I want to do is outside of this penthouse,” I add.
“Oh yes, Carson did mention that. Hmm…I see your dilemma,” she empathizes while her thinking gears crank inside her head, leaving a contemplative expression on her face. “I have a fabulous idea. Let’s give you an identity makeover,” she suggests with a crafty grin.
“What’s that?” I curiously ask.
“We’ll change your physical appearance so much that no one can recognize you. This way, you can leave the penthouse and enjoy all of Boston!” she excitedly exclaims. “Let me gather some goodies, and then I’ll be back in a few hours.”
Nikki spent three hours on my identity makeover. She dyed my hair the darkest shade of black which I’m not used to yet because it makes me look Goth. I have too much makeup on my face for chilling around the house and my clothing style is very modern, almost Japanese anime. “I appreciate all your effort, but I look nothing like myself,” I complain to her.
“Good! This is exactly what I want to hear,” she excitedly tells me. “The true test is when Carson comes home tonight to find another woman in his bed,” she chuckles. I blush red from her alluding comment. “If he can’t recognize you, then he should give you free range to leave the penthouse tomorrow.”
“I hope you’re right, Nikki. I want out of this place so badly.”
“I’m confident it’ll work,” she assures me. “Well, my job here is done. I’ll see you tomorrow, darling.” Nikki gives me a quick squeeze and a peck on each of my cheeks, leaving red prints of her lips. “Your new clothes are hanging in the closet, and I left you something special in the bedroom for tonight,” she whispers and winks her eye at me. “Sophie, Charlie, come with mommy,” she calls out to her babies and then exits through the private pantry door.
I stand in the kitchen in a dazed, checking my new image in the mirror. What just happened here? It seems as if my fairy god-mother appeared out of nowhere and waved her magic wand around to turn me into a Gothic Cinderella and then disappeared into thin air. The skimpy skirt Nikki picked out for me keeps riding up my butt. I find myself tugging at it constantly. I’m embarrassed as I walk awkwardly pass Luke who’s meditating in his corner, pretending not to notice the new me. What will Carson think of all of this? Can a lot of makeup, dark black hair and trashy clothes change his overbearing mind? I’m not feeling too confident that Nikki’s plan will work.
Upon entering the bedroom, I see a sheer white nightie displayed in the middle of the bed. This must be Nikki’s surprise for me. Picking it up by the thin straps, I press it against my body and imagine what it’ll look like on me. Why am I intimidated by a delicate piece of material? You shouldn’t be! I tell myself. I replace my skimpy skirt and tight fitted top with a translucent layer of fabric held together with a strand of silk ribbon. Positioning myself seductively across his bed, I patiently lay there waiting for Carson to enter and appreciate the new Lillian.