“Try to get some sleep, Jamie, please,” Lorna urged, kissing his bare back where he lay in bed, eyes glued to the digital clock on the end-table next to him, silently willing the florescent red numbers to move quicker toward their appointed time for retrieving Kirkland. “You won’t do him any good if you’re exhausted after being awake for over twenty-four hours. Kirk needs you sharp and on your toes.”
“I know,” he agreed, rolling over to face Lorna. “You’re right. I know you’re right. I just… I can’t. I can’t stop thinking about how terrified he must be. Jesus, we’ve been talking for the last few days how he’s seventeen, he’s almost grown, but, damn it, he’s still a kid. Kirkland wasn’t sure if he was ready to go away to college next year! This sure as hell isn’t college!”
“He’ll be home soon,” Lorna reassured. “Those bastards who took him don’t want Kirk. They want Spencer. And they’ll get him. Everything is going to be okay.”
“You really believe that?” Jamie challenged. “You, of all people? You grew up around immoral monsters like these. You know what they’re capable of. And you know exactly how trustworthy they are.”
Lorna hesitated. Her intention had been to keep Jamie positive and focused, to lie if she had to, if it would help. But, looking into his eyes, she realized she couldn’t do it. Not when it was something this important. So Lorna told Jamie the truth as she saw it. “I do know what these guys are capable of. I also know how they think. Kirkland is a means to an end for them, nothing more.” Lorna chose her next words with care, selecting the blandest verb she could think of. “Harming him for no reason would not be in their best interest. If Spencer had refused the trade, yes. But, he’s doing what they asked. Which means they’ll do as they promised and let Kirk go. You said it yourself before, Kirkland is connected to Carl. He’s his wife’s grandson. Pissing off Carl just isn’t worth the risk.”
“Then how about for sport?” Jamie spat. “I remember how Carl operated back during those days we’re all supposed to pretend never happened now. Don’t try to tell me he didn’t torment and torture people just for the sheer fun of it?”
“He did,” Lorna agreed. “But, only those who didn’t matter to him in the long-run. He was playing games to keep himself amused. That isn’t the situation here. Here there’s a concrete objective. This isn’t a game for anyone. And that’s good, really, it is.”
“Are you alright?” Jamie asked suddenly. “I’ve been so busy focusing on – “
“The only thing you should be focusing on.”
“I totally forgot to stop and check on how you…”
“I’m fine,” Lorna insisted, this time deciding to bite the bullet and lie to the absolute best of her ability. What a shame her skills seemed to have grown rusty.
“I don’t believe you,” Jamie said gently, stroking Lorna’s face. “You’re scared, too.”
“Of course, I’m scared,” she defended. “Obviously this is no time to get complacent or overconfident. But, I honestly believe it’s going to be okay. All my instincts – “
“How about your memories? I can only imagine what – “
“I’m fine,” she repeated.
Jamie leaned in, kissing Lorna softly. Their faces a breath apart, he whispered, breaking through the last of her resolve, “I’m not Gabe.”
She inhaled sharply, distressed and simultaneously infinitely relieved at how well he’d managed to read her mind. She kissed Jamie back, pressing her body against his, taking his hand and guiding it to where he knew she loved for him to touch her.
“No,” Jamie nuzzled Lorna’s neck, mouth moving down the curve of her naked shoulder even as he warned, “You’re not fully recovered yet. You haven’t even had your first check-up since Devon was born.”
“I’m okay,” she reassured, sliding her leg over Jamie’s hip, unabashedly clinging to him. “The only thing I can’t… I can’t let you walk out that door… without… I need you to hold me, Jamie, please. I need to hold you.”
“I’m coming back,” Jamie swore, giving in to her the same way he always gave in to her, but all the while pledging, “I will be back.”
“I know,” Lorna confirmed. And held on to him even tighter.
“Good news?” Alice asked eagerly.
“Don’t they say no news is the best kind?” Spencer asked. He stood up, removing his tie, shirt, and jacket, taking advantage of the situation to turn his back on Alice as he went on, “It’s been weeks and no one has made a move against us. I’m inclined to believe the authorities were successful in their sweep, and there is no one left to seek revenge.”
“Fatalistic of me?” Spencer asked as he slid into bed next to his wife.
“Yes. And very unlike you, too.”
“Grant’s treatment of Kirkland and my subsequent break with him in return, that entire situation gave a new perspective. I spent my whole life living in the future. I told myself that everything I did – good, bad, indifferent – I was doing it for my son, for President Grant Harrison, and all the reflected glory and power that would bring me. The problem is, that glory and power was an end in and of itself. I had no use for it beyond more glory and power. It was all a pointless, endless cycle. And one that didn’t even succeed on top of it. Until you came along. With you, I don’t have any reason to live in the future. Because the present is already better than anything I could have dreamed of or wished for myself. If I squander it by, once again, arming myself for a future that might never come, that might well prove to be my greatest sin among a lifetime of whoppers.”
“I have no objections to you living in the present. It’s a lesson I’d be wise to learn myself, only, in my case, it’s the past that needs exorcising. But, throwing all caution to the wind…”
“Isn’t that what you did when you first took a chance on me? And the second time, too? Isn’t that what we both did when we ignored the well-meaning, nay-saying voices from all sides and decided to take a chance on each other?”
“That particular type of chance didn’t require armed guards,” she noted.
“No. Because armed guards are trivial. Armed guards protect the surface, which, in any case, is ultimately finite. Corporeal. Mortal. I am talking about protecting something both infinitely more fragile and resilient. We all die. Lord knows, there’s no getting around that. But, we don’t all get to feel… we don’t all get to feel the way that I do about you. I realize my life will end someday. And I also realize that if I don’t make it clear before that happens just how much you mean to me, then however many years it may end up ultimately lasting, all of them will have amounted to absolutely nothing.”
His words swept out in a fevered rush, leaving Alice stunned and temporarily speechless.
“I’m sorry,” Spencer chuckled, relieved that this one chore among many he’d earmarked for the next few hours could now be crossed off his list for good. “But, I did forewarn you regarding my Irish tendency towards unchecked and unsolicited, awful poetry.”
“You did,” she spoke slowly, happy to be able to confirm that one detail. “Have I… Have I done something to make you doubt my love for you?”
“No! No.” He grabbed her hands, fervently kissing first one, then the other in turn. “Please don’t… You misunderstood me. I’m the one who’s afraid I haven’t done enough, been enough… “
She kissed him, fully, deeply, and hopefully convincingly.
But all Spencer seemed to have gleamed from it was the observation, “That is one way to get me to shut my trap, I’ll grant you that.”
She laughed, prompting him to do the same, leaning in, kissing him again, this time also pulling him closer, one arm slipping behind his neck, the other around Spencer’s back.
“And that’s another one,” he observed.
“Who says I want your mouth closed?” Alice wondered.
“I owe you an apology, Victoria,” Grant admitted as he stood over her grave.
You know what you can do with your apologies, Grant, he could hear her reply. Take it and shove it up your –
“I deserve that,” he nodded in answer to the dialogue in his head. “I broke every promise I ever made you; more often than not, quite intentionally. But there was one…. one promise I swore not just to you, not just to myself, but to Kirkland, that I would never break. I promised not to hurt him. Not to ever let any harm come to him and I’ve…. I’ve failed him. And I have no one to blame but myself.”
No shit, Sherlock.
“If I had just come clean about Marley and the accident sooner… before Carl pushed my father into this war…”
But you didn’t. As always, you thought you had it all under control. You thought that if things got bad you could weasel and talk your way out of anything that came along, and in the meantime, stuck that bloated head of yours in the sand, refusing to see what was actually happening.
“I was trying to protect Marley… Your sister, I was trying….”
You wanted to feel like a big, heroic man. Only by being her hero, you murdered our son.
“No,” Grant shook his head defiantly. “No, I… Carl did this. He wanted this war. He was going to get it any way he could.”
You handed him this war, you arrogant bastard! Our son’s blood is on your hands.
“I’ll die before I let that happen. I’ll die before I let them hurt our son.”
Is that pledge supposed to impress me?
“My actions will speak for themselves. I’ll show you what kind of a father I can be.”
If you’re true to form, Kirkland is as good as dead. Like his uncle Ryan.
“I won’t make the same mistakes again.”
Mistakes are all you do, Grant. Mistakes are all you’ll ever do. Just stop talking, go away, go to Hell, let me rest in peace.
“I need your help,” Grant refused to be cowed by her imaginary rants. “I need…”
What? A backbone? Balls? A conscience? Absolution? Piss off.
“I need you to watch over Kirkland. Keep him safe. Give him courage until I…until Jamie and I get there.”
You know I will. But there’s only so much I can do from here.
“Jamie and I will do the rest,” Grant finished. “We’ll get Kirkland back. He’ll live to be an old man surrounded by his children and grandchildren – “
He better. Or I promise I will haunt you through Heaven, Earth, and Hell, and make you wish you had never been born.
“You’ll do that anyway,” Grant smiled at her grave before departing. “You do that already…”
Lorna jerked awake from the combination of realizing that Jamie was no longer in bed with her, and that Devon seemed to have slept through her last feeding. She flung on her robe and padded to the nursery, only to find her daughter missing from her crib.
Lorna’s initial impulse to panic, especially considering the circumstances, was tempered only by her common-sense and general tendency not to. She hurried downstairs, relieved to discover Jamie sprawled in a living room chair, a contended Devon curled up and dozing on his chest, knuckles in her mouth, while Jamie stroked their baby’s back and gazed down at her with the same expression of adoration that traditionally disarmed Lorna.
He caught sight of Lorna and, indicating Devon, offered apologetically, “I just needed to…”
“I get it.” She sat down across from him, content to merely watch and imprint the perfect image on her memory.
“I never knew Kirkland when he was this young,” Jamie said. “I only met him when he and Steven came to stay with me that summer of 1999. Vicky and Jake had business in… Oakdale, I think? She was pregnant with the girls, so when they asked if I could take both boys for a bit I figured, sure, why not? It would be more fun for Steven to have his brother around. I never imagined…. “ Jamie sighed and shook his head, remembering, “First time I saw him, he was getting off the plane, talking a mile a minute. Steven had this look on his face like it was business as usual, but could the kid just shut up already? I didn’t know then that being upset made Kirkland very, very chatty. And he was pretty upset to be separated from Vicky. It only got worse after she died. There were days I thought my head would explode from listening to him go on and on about nothing in particular. You have no idea how many times I almost picked up the phone and begged Jake or Donna or Marley to take him off my hands. The only reason I didn’t was for Steven. He’d just lost his mother, I wasn’t going to separate him from Kirk, too. And then, the funniest thing happened. I sent both boys to camp for a couple of weeks. I desperately needed the break. I missed Steven. And I missed Kirk, too. The house was just so quiet without him. I couldn’t wait for them to come back. I think he missed me, too. Because it was right after that he asked if he could call me Dad, like Steven did. And I started telling people who asked that I had two kids.”
“And now we have three,” Lorna indicated Devon. “Lucky us.”
“We have three?” Jamie clarified, both touched and amused.
“Just because I’d never presume to call myself Steven or Kirkland’s mother doesn’t mean I don’t think of them as my kids,” she told him simply, with no room for argument. “They matter the world to you, so they matter the world to me. End of story.”
Devon stirred, eyes still closed but her tiny mouth beginning to open and close, rooting around Jamie’s shoulder for the meal she’d missed. Jamie reluctantly handed the baby over to Lorna, standing up, stretching and instinctively looking around for a clock.
Lorna followed his stare. “Maybe I should go with you. Depending on Grant for back-up… I do know my way around these sorts of things, I might be able to help.“
“No,” Jamie said sharply. “No. We can’t both risk… Devon needs at least one of us to stay. We can’t both leave her.”
He made it sound as if he meant just for the morning. As if anyone were suggesting leaving an infant alone for even a minute. But, it beat articulating what they were both truly thinking.
Even in spite of Jamie’s earlier promise.
“There now! Come quickly!” Carl made a final adjustment to the $2,000 dollar, Truss-Tube, Dobsonian Reflector Telescope he’d set up on the roof and excitedly beckoned a sleepy Elizabeth and Cory forward while Rachel stood by, sympathetic to her children’s obvious boredom, and equally amused by her husband’s enthusiasm in sharing his latest pastime with them all. “Take a look,” he directed. “What do you see?”
“Darkness,” Cory offered.
“I think I see something, Father,” Elizabeth shoved her brother out of the way.
“Excellent, poppet,” Carl praised.
Elizabeth beamed, and Cory challenged, “What?”
Elizabeth made a face in his direction before hesitantly telling Carl, “Uhm… well, I think I see some, you know, stars and… lights.”
“Those aren’t just any lights, my dear. That is the Perseids Meteor shower, one of the most spectacular displays of the year. The Constellation Perseus, you see, right there in the Northeast,” he adjusted the scope a fraction of an iota, seeming quite pleased with the indiscernible results. “Is at its highest point in the sky this month. We are very fortunate in being able to see it so clearly.”
“Woo-hoo,” Cory deadpanned, earning a reproachful look from Rachel, even as she struggled to suppress her own smile.
Carl, for his part, did the same. The boy had spirit, he could say that for him. Even if Cory’s choice of targets was less than optimal. Pretending he’d failed to comprehend the jab, Carl went on, “Does either of you have any idea why I endeavored to bring us all up here to witness tonight’s cosmic occurrence?”
“Because it’s science,” Elizabeth guessed. “And history. And… uh, current events?”
“Because,” Cory said, his confidence total and yet utterly absent of arrogance. He simply stated what he knew as a fact. “You want to encourage us to shoot for the stars.”
“Yes!” Carl said, exchanging a look of surprise with Rachel. “Yes, Cory, very good, that’s exactly it.”
Elizabeth glared at her brother, while Cory shrugged and explained, “It was either that or A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for? When it comes to Father, you can’t go wrong framing any motive in poetry.”
“Robert Browning,” Rachel identified the author of Cory’s quote. “He was married to Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Your father’s and my favorite poet.” She reminded her daughter, “You were named for her.”
“I know,” Elizabeth said defensively. Then added, “I was just going to say the same thing as Cory.”
Carl slipped a comforting arm around Elizabeth’s shoulders and kissed the top of her head, placating the girl somewhat. But, he looked at Rachel as he said, “It is imperative, children, that you always attempt to, as Cory said, reach for the stars. Constantly strive to better yourselves, to accomplish feats that others – not to mention your own reservations – may well deem you incapable of. Remember, if I had listened to critics and stayed grounded, I never would have believed myself worthy of your mother, and the two of you would not be here today. Every single accomplishment I have achieved in my life stemmed from ignoring the voices of others and listening solely to my own instincts. You are your own best guides, no one else. Never allow others to dictate your actions for you. You are the architects of your own destinies. Other people live to drag you down to Earth. Your goals should always be to leave them behind.”
“What’s he doing here?” Spencer demanded at the sight of Grant standing in the Frame living room, waiting alongside Lorna and Jamie.
“I called him,” Jamie said, leaving no room for anyone’s judgment of his actions.
“You didn’t think to, Dad?” Grant demanded. “You didn’t think I deserved to know that my own son – “
“You don’t deserve to have a son,” Spencer snapped. And then, before Grant could point out the obvious, did it for him. “And neither do I. Kirkland wouldn’t be in this situation if we’d both kept our distance from him.”
“Too late now,” Jamie cut Spencer off. He and Grant could work out their Oedipal issues on their own time. “We have no idea who or what might be waiting for us. I wanted some back up in case… just in case. I wanted someone there who loved Kirkland as much as I do.”
Grant looked at Jamie in surprise, realizing what a gift he’d been handed, but that its acknowledgment, too, would need to wait for another time. Instead, he focused on Spencer, raging, “You didn’t see fit to tell me my son was in mortal danger. And you also didn’t believe I needed to be appraised that my father was about to lay down his life – “
“Stop being melodramatic.”
“They’re going to kill you, Dad. To set an example for anyone else harboring similar thoughts of treason. What else could their plan possibly be?”
“I honestly don’t give a damn. As long as they give up Kirkland.”
“You weren’t even going to say good-bye to me?” Grant appeared unable to let go.
“So you could tell me to go to Hell?”
“For all the ways I’ve let you down over the years,” Spencer spoke without a trace of self-pity, merely laying out the familiar facts. “Could anything be worse than this?”
“You didn’t mean for any of this to happen,” Grant sputtered.
“I let it happen.”
Jamie asked Spencer, “Does Alice….”
He shook his head. “I… couldn’t.”
Grant glared at his father in disgust. “So you’re planning to just walk out on her, too?”
“It’s my choice to make.”
“No. No, it’s not. Even now, you still don’t understand. You have never understood. When you play with other people’s lives, you owe them a voice in the matter.”
“Cut it out!” Jamie hit his breaking point. “Both you, just shut up. I didn’t give a damn about your decades of petty grudges before, and I certainly don’t now that my son’s life is on the line. Either suck it up and focus on him or, Grant, get out of my sight; I’ll do this myself if I have to.”
“You won’t get anywhere without me,” Spencer pointed out, just the tiniest bit pleased about that fact. At long last, here was something he could give his grandson that no one else would be able to match.
“Then let’s go. Spencer, you’ll ride in my car. Grant, take yours and follow us. Do only what I say, when I say it, am I making myself clear? I told your old man, and now I’m telling you: Even think about going off on your own and, so help me…”
“You have my word, Jamie.”
He nodded tersely, turning his back on both of them, facing Lorna. There was nothing for either of them to say that hadn’t been said before. Or was too unthinkable to voice out loud, in any case. They locked eyes for a long moment, and then Lorna stood up on her toes, kissing Jamie with all of her might.
He smiled when they finally separated, stepping back and, with forced casualness, telling Lorna, “I’ll see you later.”
She nodded, needing to swallow hard before, with equal nonchalance and a matching smile, responding, “You bet.”
All three headed towards the door, first Jamie, then Spencer, then Grant.
“One more thing,” Lorna grabbed Grant’s arm, pulling him back and hissing into his ear. “If Jamie somehow manages to fall victim to one of those random ‘accidents’ that seem so pervasive whenever you’re around – You know, like the one that happened to Ryan?”
“Lorna, no,” Grant shook his head. “I swear to you.”
“If that happens,” she went on, issuing Grant his second, eerily similar threat of the night. “Then I recommend you start running, and keep running as fast as you can. Don’t even bother looking over your shoulder. Because I will hunt you down like the dog that you are, and I will decimate you with my bare hands. That’s not an idle threat, Senator. That is a vow.”
|Receive email notification every time www.anotherworldtoday.com is updated|