She dropped her lace glove in front of the big vase of flowers her daughter had sent, then sighed as she settled in an armchair by the fire and propped her bare feet up on the footstool. Her head drooped and before she knew it the sun was streaming through the windows and the fire had been reduced to embers.
“Rita, I’m back” came a voice through the livingroom doors.
“In here” she called back.
“Comfy?” asked the man who came in, he quirked his eyebrows at her position than took in the fancy midnight blue evening dress she wore “You look lovely” he said as he dropped his suitcase on the floor and brushed a gentle kiss on her forehead.
“There was a dinner for my theater group last night, one of our patrons was nice enough to treat us” she explained.
“Nice?” he asked.
“Well, he did wonder if we might put on a production of Macbeth this season”
He snorted “of course”
Rita shrugged “We didn’t know what to do after we finished The Miracle Worker, and anyway, it could be worse than Shakespeare’s best play”
“And will you be Lady Macbeth?” he asked trying and failing to hide a smile.
She glared half-heartedly at him “That would really amuse you wouldn’t it?”
“It would be rather fitting” he smirked but she just waved him away.
“Go on with you” she said “I just want to sink into a warm bath and never leave”
“Alright” he paused at the door “Do you really think Brian would be so foolish as to try to find the girl?”
“I hope not, I don’t want to lose my only son” she said staring into the fireplace as though it held the answer. Slowly than faster she began to chant, flames leapt up the chimney and out into the room, the sparks became a colorful swirling riot as scenes began to take shape in them.
“Brian” Della knocked on his door and grinned when she heard him groan in reply “it’s sunny out today and I have breakfast almost ready” she called through the door.
“Alright, I’m up!” he called back groggily.
She smiled and headed back downstairs, the kitchen was a cool mix of whites and light blues and greens and she couldn’t help but smile every time she walked in, it had taken a lot of work to move the kitchen from one side of the house to the other but it had been worth it to be able to enjoy the sound of the waves crashing on the shore as she made pancakes and fried bacon.
“Yum, what smells so good?” asked Brian walking in fully dressed and leaning up against the wall.
“Breakfast” she sat down two laden plates and added a pitcher of orange juice by the syrup.
The breakfast was devoured in short order even though they spent the whole meal laughing and talking about inconsequential things.
Brian knew he didn’t have much longer to say something but it was getting harder and harder to speak the words as he watched her pull her hair up out of her face and smile at him as he offered to help clear the table.
Rita sighed “He looks happy” she said.
“Is this a problem?”
“It is if he doesn’t tell her” she replied.
“I wonder if it’s that simple, afterall, look at who her grandmother was”
“How can I forget?” Rita asked sadly.
Jeannette put the finishing touches to her smoky makeup and decided she was incredibly lucky her mom had helped her pick out a brand new outfit for the party tonight, she smiled as she twirled in her one shoulder apple green dress that sparkled with delicate beadwork and the ruched fabric that defined her waistline. A layer of tulle peeked out from the knee-length skirt giving an extra boost to the twirl power. Jeannette slipped her feet into her open toed pumps with the 4-inch heels that made her feel tall and willowy before heading over to check her cell phone for messages “come on Victoria! Where are you?” she whispered, perching on the window seat she sent Victoria a quick text then leant back and glanced out the window “what in the world…?” she gasped sitting up suddenly. Two dark figures had come out of the neighbor’s house carrying what looked an awful lot like a body. Jeannette shook her head and laughed at herself “probably a mannequin from Denise’s shop” she thought jumping slightly when her phone buzzed “hey, Victoria” she answered absent-mindedly, looking out the window again.
“Hi Jeannie!” came Victoria’s perky voice “I’m just running a little late, be there in five though! Promise!”
Jeannette grinned “okay, I’ll be waiting out front” she hung up and grabbed a black bolero from her closet in case it got cool later than she hurried downstairs and out the door.
“Hi Jeannette” called Denise waving wildly at her.
“Hello” Jeannette called back.
“Where are you going all dressed up?” Denise asked coming up and standing on the first step of the porch.
“Brantley’s birthday party” Jeannette replied shortly, she didn’t know why she was being rude but her senses were all screaming at her so it was a relief when Denise’s next words were drowned out by Victoria honking her horn as she swept into the drive.
“Got to go!” Jeannette said, practically leaping down the steps and jumping into the front passenger seat.
Denise sighed unhappily as her husband Steve came around the back of their house, he took one look at her and asked “what’s wrong?”
“I think Jeannette saw us” she said quietly.
“What’ll we do?” he asked nervously.
“We’ll have to make sure she doesn’t tell anyone” she replied standing up.
Steve put his arm around her and they walked back to their house.
Victoria spent most of the quick trip to Brantley’s talking excitedly about her new crush Thomas, and Jeannette nodded as though she was paying attention but it was hard when she kept getting a creepy feeling running up and down her spine as though someone was watching her.
The Alice in Wonderland themed “curiouser and curiouser” party was well underway when they arrived and Victoria rushed over to Thomas as soon as she entered the extravagantly decorated mansion, Jeannette wandered over to the buffet table where Brantley was standing, he was rather obviously trying to look as though he wasn’t bored but at least his face lit up when he saw Jeannette and she couldn’t help but be glad yet again for her mom’s excellent style suggestions.
“Thank goodness someone interesting finally arrived!” he whispered in her ear causing her to blush slightly and she bit her lip trying not to giggle as he pulled an awful face.
“Your Mom won’t appreciate that, I bet she worked really hard on this” she reproved him slightly but he just grinned and shrugged. They both knew he had wanted to go to Disney with just a few of his closest friends but his mom didn’t ask so he got the elaborate confection of a party that they were currently ignoring as he showed her the new book his dad had sent him.
“Wow, look at these pictures!” she said in awe at the majestic rain forests that graced the pages of the large book.
“Yeah, I would love to go visit with Dad sometime but Mom thinks it’s to far away” he said regretfully.
“You’ll be graduating next Spring, you could go before college” offered Jeannette.
“Maybe, that would be nice” he agreed as the party whirled on around them.
Shannon’s blue Impala sped out of her drive and down the gravel road leading to the nearest highway, she didn’t look back but she knew they were following “how can I lose them?” she thought to herself desperately as she neared the paved road, the gravel flew as she turned away from the town of Floydada and looked in her rearview mirror to see them turn the same way, she smiled, rolling down her window and doing a quick u-turn, she passed them going in the opposite direction, her gun came up and shot out their right side tires causing them to roll into the ditch. Shannon didn’t pause to enjoy the victory but raced towards the town stopping only when she reached the local Mexican café.
A bell above the door of Don’s tinkled when Shannon walked in, Don himself looked up and grinned a toothless smile, he wasn’t actually Mexican but his wife was and she made the best tortilla soup in Texas “little early for soup, isn’t it?” he asked.
“I was hoping Royce would be here” Shannon replied.
“Nope, that new girlfriend of our deputy’s has taken to fixing him breakfast at home” Don said shaking his head at such folly.
Shannon sighed, the events of the morning were catching up to her and she suddenly felt light-headed, Don noticed her swaying and quickly pushed her into a chair “Mama” he shouted “call Hilary! Shannon’s taken ill”
A small woman hurried from the kitchen “Papa, what is it?” she asked dialing her little portable phone as Shannon blacked out.
Jenny finally stopped looking so scared when the man who wasn’t Angry/Charles brought us our coffee and Naomi introduced him as Jerry, or as she said “That’s Jerry the tech guy, but don’t ask him about computers or anything else involving science because he won’t stop talking” then she pointed at the other woman and said “that’s Faith, and you already met Charles”
I nodded to each of them even Charles but I turned back to Naomi quickly and asked “what’s going on here? And what ring are you talking about?” Okay, so I’m feigning the confusion on the last question but they don’t need to know that, just because I’ve decided they don’t intend to kill us doesn’t mean I trust them (and I’m curious!)
Naomi pursed her lips “yes, I realize you must have a lot of questions but we really do need the ring now”
“I don’t have any ring” I lied with surprising ease and waited to see if they believed me.
Charles shook his head “you have to! It wasn’t at the studio, I don’t have it and neither did Lindsay”
“Speaking of Ms. Lindsay, where is she?” I added to my list of questions. That one seemed to disconcert Charles who looked towards Naomi as though he was unsure whether to answer the question or not.
“We don’t have time for this” declared Faith impatiently “if she doesn’t have it then we’ll have to change our plans”
“Our contact won’t know us without the ring” Jerry pointed out quietly.
I almost felt guilty but since I still didn’t know who they were or what they were doing, it was hard to feel very bad.
Faith pursed her lips as though thinking “we could do the job without the ring….”
“Yeah, and get killed in the process” snapped Charles.
“We may not have any choice” said Naomi softly “we all know how important this is”
“Actually, no we don’t” Jenny suddenly piped up “and I want to know why you kidnapped us?” she said still sounding close to tears but she was glaring defiantly at Naomi.
Jerry checked his watch “we still have an hour before we have to be there and it’s only a ten minute drive” he looked at Naomi as though asking permission.
Naomi nodded and Jerry came and sat down by Jenny “we really can’t tell you who we are but suffice to say that we’re currently working with your government to assess and neutralize possible threats to international security”
“And the ring is important because?” Jenny asked.
“As I said earlier, it’s to identify Faith to our contact” Jerry sighed “without our contact we’re going to have a much harder time getting into the room where the data we need is, Charles and Naomi will have to cause some sort of distraction which could put them in danger but if we have no choice…” he trailed off.
I was officially feeling guilty now and trust them or not, I knew I had to give them the ring but before I could reach for my bag I heard an odd whine and for the second time that day a flash of blue light and an evil-smelling smoke clogged my senses and I slumped to the ground as darkness claimed me yet again.
A wisp of my brown hair floated in my eyes as I waited at the front of Joey’s for my Dad to come out, I had decided a breath of fresh air might make me think more clearly but I hadn’t counted on Dad chatting with Liz for what seemed like forever, I was beginning to get cold with only my Mom’s old highschool jacket and a pair of shorts on over my black leotard and pink dance tights. I fumbled in my bag for the spare keys to my Dad’s silver Camry and grimaced when I saw the tap shoe that I had slipped the ring into the toe of before leaving the restroom. The horn beeped as I accidentally hit the “lock” button on the key fob but at least I’d found it and I climbed into the driver’s seat, sighing with relief as the heater came on. I jumped when someone knocked on the window but it was only Jenny, our usual waitress at Joey’s and I rolled the window down thinking that I must have left something at the table, of course if I’d been really thinking I’d have realized that if we’d left something behind it would make more sense for Jenny to give it to my Dad who was still leaning over the bar and talking with Liz then for her to come outside when a cool breeze was beginning to blow in a sprinkle of rain from the north, but it was too late when I realized that and the man who I’d thought was just leaning against the ornamental tree behind her suddenly turned and I saw it was the angry man from the studio but despite the small pistol he held pressed to Jenny’s side he really didn’t seem angry anymore, in fact he seemed more amused than anything and he almost chortled as waved the pistol in my face and said, “scoot over, Jenny’s going to drive us to an appointment” he forced her into the car then climbed in behind us, now I’m sure if we hadn’t been scared out of our minds we might have been able to think of the right thing to do in this situation to get some help, but I’m not going to pretend that we were any braver than we really were because to be honest I thought we held up pretty well even if we did do exactly what the creep told us (and maybe that was the safest thing to do anyway) He directed Jenny to drive out of the heart of town and towards a smallish construction site where pretty townhouses were slowly being built around what was supposed to resemble a town square (although at the moment it only looked like a deserted movie set that hadn’t ever been finished) we pulled up in front of what was eventually (according to the sign) going to be a coffee shop, there wasn’t any construction noise and my heart sank as I remembered all the detective and cop shows I’d watched where the bodies were found by construction workers coming in to work some nice morning. We were met inside the coffee shop by another man and two women all of whom looked like they’d dressed for something more formal than murder (which might have helped calm me down if I hadn’t seen one to many spy movies, man! I really have to stop watching tv!) The woman in the middle stepped forward and something in the way she walked and then how she looked at Angry, told me she was in charge, she jerked her head to the right and Angry walked over to stand with the others then she smiled graciously at Jenny and me and said in a musical voice, “I think my companions and I have some explaining to do, won’t you sit down and have some coffee?” she asked gesturing toward the only table in the place. Jenny looked as though she wanted to faint so I nodded and guided her over to a seat.
The lady in charge nodded to the man beside Angry and he went behind the long counter and began preparing the coffee, “I should introduce myself” said the lady coming to sit with us, she was a small asian-looking woman with graceful features and muscles that made her look like a dancer (or stunt woman) and she was wearing a long formal black gown with white flowers embroidered along the top left of the bodice all the way down to the bottom right of the skirt and she even had white flowers weaved into the coils of hair that were heaped on her head, “I’m Naomi Carter and my companions and I are involved in a delicate operation that really does need the ring that Charles over there was careless enough to lose” she said, giving Angry (Charles) a stern look.
He shrugged and grinned rather insolently at her, and I think that if Jenny and I hadn’t been there Naomi would have stuck her tongue out at him, it was that moment that I really decided that Jenny and I weren’t in any true danger (at least not from them, which may have been a hasty decision but…. it was a good one)
Ms. Lindsay looked at me with a critical eye, “I don’t know if…” she trailed off then nodded decidedly, “glissade, turn on your left foot and sweep your arms back as you face me” she said as she turned the cd player back to the beginning of the song that she had chosen for my solo at the spring recital. I nodded and adjusted the straps on my ballet slippers before taking my place at the far left of the long studio. As Kelly Clarkson’s “All I ever wanted” started blaring through the speakers I lunged slowly and gracefully forward on my right foot then développéd and turned with a precision I wouldn’t have been capable of just four months ago, but before I could move into a series of piqué turns, the door to the studio banged open and an angry-looking man walked briskly in and completely ignoring me, he strode up to Ms. Lindsay and began talking in a low voice and trying to show her something held loosely in his hand. To say that I’m not entirely sure what happened next would be an understatement, there was some sort of odd flash and suddenly we were all coughing and choking and I distinctly remember the angry man hurrying past me dragging Ms. Lindsay with him but after that I’m a blank until I woke up in the hospital, thankfully they didn’t keep me long and when my Dad came to get me he offered to take me to my favorite restaurant, Joey’s Hamburgers which ironically enough didn’t have very good hamburgers but the hotdogs were to die for.
The dark green vinyl seat was cool and comfortable as I slid into my favorite booth underneath the signed poster of Mariano Rivera, Dad smiled at Liz the
red-haired lady that manned the register and I smirked at him, “What?” he asked blushing slightly.
I shook my head but didn’t say anything, he wouldn’t listen anyway but all the flirting was starting to get annoying and I wished he would just ask her out already.
I pushed the menu away and looked up at the antique/relic/trash covered green walls and dark wood ceilings, you couldn’t say Joey’s didn’t have a great atmosphere but I wasn’t to interested in that and waited for Dad to say something about what had happened, he bided his time until the little waitress Jenny had taken our orders then he leaned back against the seat and looked towards the giant screen above the bar that was of course showing the latest Yankee’s Spring training news, without taking his eyes off the screen he began to question me as throughly as the police had at the hospital but much like the police he didn’t get many answers, no I didn’t know who the angry man was or what he wanted, and no, I wasn’t sure if Ms. Lindsay had known him or not, and seriously, I’m barely passing 11th grade chemistry! How would I know what that nasty smelling smoke was?! He finally stopped the interrogation when our food arrived and I slumped over my steaming Chicago-style hotdog with the crispy seasoned fries with relief. We ate in companionable silence, then as he went to pay the bill and flirt with Liz some more, I walked down the claustrophobic hall that led to the restroom. As I was washing my hands I noticed a scratch over my eye and I decided to cover it up so I grabbed my make-up case from the messenger bag that served as my dance bag and smeared some concealer and foundation on the scratch before returning the case to my bag, I was lucky nothing had happened to my pointe shoes because my Dad has fits every time we have to spend $80.00 on a pair of shoes, as I fingered the ribbon on my shoe I heard a clink and looked around thinking I’d dropped a bobby pin on the hard tile floor but instead I saw a large silver ring with a square cut green stone in the center, I couldn’t help but gasp at the beauty of the piece but then my eyes widened and I remembered how the angry man had shown Ms. Lindsay something small that he had cupped in his hand, perhaps it was jumping to conclusions to think that’s where the ring had come from but I knew without a doubt that the only place the ring could have fallen from was me, it had probably gotten tangled in my french braid and with all the colorful jewel-colored bobby pins I wear it would be impossible for anyone to tell just by looking at it.
The question now…. what do I do with it?