Chapter I

What must I do? Think, Cornelia! Get yourself out of this mess now!

She screams in her head but she can’t do anything. She’s trapped in that dreaded place and she needs to be strong to face the hours, days, or God forbid, weeks ahead that she’ll be kept in that hell of a place.

Oh my God! How could I be so careless? I knew that I somehow became the target of some malicious activity… but how could I know that it would come to this? She’s talking to herself again as the hours ticked by.

She was caught again when she hid herself in the woods after she and her attacker arrived at that dreaded secluded place, far out from the outskirts of the city. She had admitted to herself that it was her fault why she was caught unawares when went to the laboratory of Dr. Klacinski. She shouldn’t have gone there alone. She should have at least warned James first before heading on out of there like some confident fool.

Now, she’s in such a mess and she doesn’t even know who’s responsible for all of this. As far as she knows, it’s all because of the McElroys. It seems that no matter how she tries to avoid the lot of them, they will still haunt her life…

Cornelia Lewis is just your average twenty year old who is aspiring to succeed in life. She’s a secretary of one of the biggest business tycoons in the city and her “sort-of” significant other is the heir of that empire. It seems that she’s having it all and she’s making it big in life. But Cornelia has a secret. A toxic one that stems from her childhood.

“Are you having fun yet?” the hooded man who abducted her said from out of the cellar door. He sounds so near but she knows that it might just be a microphone attached to the walls of the cellar. The walls of her man made prison are thick and concrete. Although the outside of the structure is a small ramshackle of a cabin, the interior is quite different as she found out when she got dragged inside the house.

She stays silent as the man laughs into the microphone.

“Aw, don’t be sad my little princess, you’ll have a visitor soon. Just sit tight and hope that your boyfriend stays true to his word or else, we wouldn’t have any use of you, now would we?” The words hit her like cold ice and she shivers despite the warm air inside.

They have cameras then and they can see my every move. He must be talking about Morrison. Oh God! Please let him be okay… She can’t believe she just worried over him when she’s the one inside that dank cellar. But she can’t help but feel what she feels that moment. She doesn’t want to see Morrison hurt because of her – eventhough his family is the reason she’s in there in the first place.

“What did you ask from him?” she says softly.

“Ah! She speaks! I’m glad you’re still with us, Cornelia. Well, we just wanted a show of good faith from your boyfriend. And you’re about to find out in a few hours if he really does care for you, my little sweet.”

From his tone of voice, Cornelia knows that he is enjoying seeing her squirm and afraid so she straightens her back and smiles. She won’t give him the satisfaction of seeing her broken without even putting up a fight.

“Why are you smiling, you bitch?! Don’t you know you’re going to die sooner of later?” he sounds pissed, just like what Cornelia thought he would be if she doesn’t show her fear.

“Oh, nothing. I know he will do anything to get to me and he will. Just you wait. You will never win!” she says confidently as the lights of the cellar dies.

“Well, you can continue your daydreaming in the dark then! Enjoy your night!” he chuckles and then, silence.

I guess he’s done for the night.

Cornelia manages to find the corner with the soft-enough sofa and a piece of cloth that she uses to cover herself with. She hugs herself and curls herself into a ball, afraid to move any further because she couldn’t see anything. She closes her eyes and tries to picture the room as she saw it with the lights on.

When she first saw the place, she could only see white because of the bright light on the ceiling but as her eyes adjusted, she began surveying the place. The place she is in is bare, except for some old items. It looks like a storeroom but with very few stuff in it. She spotted an old lampshade earlier and battered sofa with some cushions. The walls are all white but its corners have a yellowish tinge on them. Probably from not being used for some time or maybe this place got flooded a couple of times before because of some watermarks she saw on the floor.

She tried knocking down the door when she located it but it wouldn’t budge because it’s made of concrete as well. She tried looking for a window, even a small one, but the room doesn’t have any other opening except for the door situated up the few steps.

One consolation she saw was that the room was not hot nor cold, just the right temperature and the light gave a comforting glow that somehow dispels the feeling of being underground.

“Oh, how I wish I could’ve just waited for tomorrow…,” she whispers in the darkness and a lone tear begins to fall from her eyes. She quickly wipes it away and shakes her head. “No! I’ve got to stop this. I’m going to be okay. Morrison will find me and get me out of here. And James! Yes, James! He won’t let anything happen to me. I know for sure!”

Those comforting words will tide her through the night but tomorrow is another matter altogether.

 

Meanwhile, Morrison can’t stop pacing back and forth while waiting for the exact time the abductors said in the letter.

“We have her.

Don’t alert the cops or we would know.

If you want to see her alive again, you have to give us the documents you are working on regarding Nick McElroy’s case and don’t even think of making copies and using them in court.

If you want to see her alive ever again, follow these instructions carefully.

Bring the documents to the address below by midnight tonight or we will feed her to the wolves.”

The moment he learned that those threats were real, he felt panic grip his heart. He was in his office that Saturday with his dad going over some of the evidence his father’s investigators have found and Cornelia had just left for the station after getting them some food. She didn’t mention any place she would be stopping in. She said she would go home so he assumed that she would go straight to her apartment in Brooklyn. He never thought that she would get dragged into all the mess his family is facing right now.

Morrison and Barret were close to panicking earlier when they discovered that Cornelia was, in fact, not in her apartment and they could’nt seem to contact her in any way. That’s when Morrison confessed to Barret that his father and his whole company is undergoing a lawsuit and that they have uncovered some evidence that the kidnappers want to get.

“Yeah, I heard about that on the news. So, your father was really set up, huh? Well, this only means that they are threatened. They want you to lose, obviously, and so far, they are willing to do anything to get what they want. What do you plan to do then?” Barret sat on the chair opposite the sofa and folded his hands in front of him while he patiently waited for Morrison’s answer.

“God! I don’t know man! I wasn’t really prepared for this kind of shit to go down. I mean, if they were going to make a move to hurt my father, they would have taken me instead or my mother, right? But why Cornelia?” – was Morrison’s frustrated response because he didn’t know what to do then.

“Well, if these guys are serious, and they probably are if it involves the lawsuit is being slapped with, they could be watching your every move. They might be surveilling you from right outside your house or office, and even here. They know Cornelia and what she means to you, that’s why they took her instead of you. Do you know anyone you trust who could help us find her?” – was Barret’s answer, which made absolute sense.

“Us? Why? Are you coming?” Morrison looked up from staring at the floor and stared at Barret, wondering if what he said was serious or was he just being polite.

“Yeah, of course I’m coming. Look, I get it, you and Cornelia are dating but she’s one of my tenants, we’re good friends – at least I’d like to think so -, and we went on two dates – well, the first one was not “actually” a date but a get together at the park. Bottom line; I care for her as well and since you can’t go to the cops, which was what I first thought of doing, then I’m coming with you to find out where she’s being detained. But the two of us won’t be enough. We need someone, an expert at tracking people.”

“I was trained in combat but I don’t think I can be of much use in here. If what you said about them watching me is true, I can’t be lurking around with you. I have to be seen in the open, doing what they asked me to. And I don’t know anybody else who can help us…”

“I do,” a voice from the door answered then and that’s when they met James.

James introduced himself as an old friend of Cornelia and eventhough Morrison thought there was something more to it, he didn’t push it because he was more worried about Cornelia.

They had talked over what they needed to do in order to help Cornelia and Morrison ended up going back to his office to get the paperwork and then to his apartment to wait for the time he needed to go to the drop off place.

 

He looks at his watch for the hundredth time and feels guilt crush him for the hundredth time. He’s going out of his mind with worry and concern about Cornelia.

Where could she be now? Is she all right? Is she unhurt? Has she eaten? Is she thirsty? Maybe she’s cold and shivering on her own in some Godforsaken place and I can’t help her!

He punches the wall near the front door where he was pacing and didn’t feel the ache of hitting the concrete wall. He made a small dent on the wall with his fist but he didn’t care. He needed an outlet to get his mind steady and think straight and the nearest thing he could sink his fist on was the wall.

His phone rings all of a sudden and when he checks it, it’s his dad on the other line. He isn’t in the mood to talk about the case at that moment but he knows he has to take it because it might be important.

“Yes, dad,” he answers rather curtly.

“Son, where are you? Are you okay?” Nick’s voice sounds sincere and worried but Morrison could feel his anger build up instead of mellowing down.

“This is all your fault! She has nothing to do with your mess but look who’s suffering now because you couldn’t control your people!” he shouts at his father through the phone but as soon as the words left his mouth, he knows he didn’t mean any of it.

“Look, Morrison. I know you’re not okay right now and I think I know why but I need to make sure. Who is missing? It’s Cornelia, am I right?” Nick asks in a hushed voice like the realization has just dawned on him.

“Yes, she’s out there somewhere and I don’t know what to do, dad!” the son says in a voice that clearly shows how worried and scared he is for her.

“Okay, we can sort this out. We can get her out of it. We just need to have a plan -,”

“No! This is your doing! Its not her fault that people are after you and that you can’t control your people!” Morrison cuts him off and shouts angry words to his dad.

“Son, calm down for a second and let’s discuss this. The only way for us to help her is to stay calm and to use our heads. Yes, you’re right, it’s my fault but we cannot start pointing fingers right now! Right now, we need to help Cornelia so get your head out of your ass and start thinking on how to help her instead. Come on Morrison, think! What can we do?” Nick says showing his resolve amidst the turmoil that Morrison is going through.

“Yeah… I- I’m sorry dad… I’m just,” Morrison starts.

“I know son, you don’t have to explain. Where are you? Are you in your apartment? I’ll come over and help you sort things out and figure out a way to help Cornelia.”

“Yes, I’m in my apartment. Wait, who told you about this? I’ve never told anyone aside from Barret and Cornelia’s friend.” Morrison waits as his father explains.

“Because I received a similar threat. Shortly after you left the office, I received a phone call from an unknown number telling me that they have someone precious to you and that if I didn’t want anything to happen to her and ruin our relationship forever, I should do as they say when the time comes that they contact me again. But I have not heard from them for the past couple of hours and I didn’t think that you would get a warning as well but after I went back to the office and found the documents were missing from my office, I knew something was up. And you are the first one I thought about. I’ll come over. Do not do anything until I get there, okay, son?” Nick pleads as he instructs his driver to go over to Morrison’s apartment.

“Okay, I won’t have to leave until another hour. Please hurry,” Morrison’s worry echoes through his voice and Nick can’t help but feel sorry for his son and for Cornelia for getting dragged into that mess.

Morrison paces some more and after fifteen minutes, Nick knocks softly on his door and he lets his father in.

“So, what did they say? Did someone call you?” Nick gets right into the specifics. He hesitated in calling the police earlier because he knows that in cases like those, someone might be in jeopardy and has being taken as hostage and if he called the cops, there was a good chance that he would mess it up some more.

It’s not the first time that Nick McElroy has received threats to bring him down or even to kill him, but he always shrugged his shoulders and didn’t pay any mind. But what he would not shrug his shoulders for is if it would involve his family or anyone close to him. He can’t risk being careless about that ever again. Not since what happened to a woman he loved a few years ago… And it wasn’t Linda.

“It was a letter… delivered by some random kid they paid off to hand it over to me. Whoever they are, they’ve got Cornelia and they’re demanding the evidence we’ve uncovered. They want to retrieve the evidence and of course, making copies of it and using it in court would be pointless because once they find out what we have, they will surely do something to make it go away. And they want it at midnight. Your hearing would not be until next year and they must know that, which is the reason they want the evidence right away. They would have ample time to cover it up until the next hearing and personally, I don’t care, because all I want to do is get Cornelia and never involve her in any of this ever again!” Morrison’s voice rises out of frustration as Nick tries his best to calm him down.

“Morrison, we both know that getting mad is not going to do us any good. But I absolutely understand if you want to take it out on me. Besides, it’s my company and they are my enemies. I’m just so sorry that both of you is getting caught in the crossfire…” he finally sighs and goes to the small bar to pour them both drinks.

“Dad…,” starts Morrison, “I – you know I don’t mean what I said about this all being your fault. I’m just so scared for Cornelia. I don’t even know where she is! And I don’t want to entertain the idea that she might be hurt and needs my help at this very moment but I CAN’T do anything! Shit!”

“Here, take a sip. Well, you cannot help her by stressing yourself out any further and draining your energy. You’d need it when you go out there and give them the documents.” Nick has a resigned tone in his voice as he takes a sip from his glass.

“Do you mean that, dad? You want me to turn over the evidence? But that would hurt our case and implicate you even further?” Morrison is both confused and determined to hand over the documents but hearing his father give him the permission to do so only makes it all the more heart-wrenching because that would mean that his father’s life and reputation is going to be shred to pieces when they go to court in a few weeks.

“Yes, Morrison. I won’t have someone’s life be put on the line because of my incompetence and arrogance that, obviously, pissed someone off, and started this whole thing in the first place. Yes, it would be best to do that. We’ll just hope that they get more sloppy and we’ll find out more dirt on them that we can use legally. We have to know who these people are. That is the most important task at hand, and of course, get Cornelia out safely,” he replies looking at his son with concern.

Contrary to what people believe and what people see him, Nick is not a heartless son of a bitch who lets others take the blame and not take any responsibility for his actions. He’s grown his company from the bottom and worked his way up by being up front with his people and firm in his decisions, which was probably why some people hate him, especially people whom he had crossed along the way. But he has never screwed anyone over any deal or profit. That was why it boggles him that he has to contend with a foe who hasn’t aired out a direct demand or grievance to him yet. No, the enemy he has right now is playing hardball and is hitting him where it hurts the most, his family. He couldn’t care less if his company ultimately losses the case or if he had to take on some cut downs in his firm, but what he can’t take is that his family is being victimized by hurting those they love. He won’t have it.

“I know you might have many enemies because of your business but do you know of anyone who might hate you so much that they would resort to kidnapping just to get what they want? Obviously, the people who has Cornelia are the ones who started the suit against you and are trying very hard to destroy you. Do you have any idea who it might be?” the son asks the father. The son, who might have seen with his father eye-to-eye on most things but greatly respects him for his decisions, looks his father straight in the eye as he asked the question.

“Honestly, with all of the competitors who hate my guts, I have a handful of people who might go as far as kill me if they had the chance. It could be anyone of them. I – I really do not know who I have pissed this time. And I’m sorry that your girlfriend was dragged into this, but all we can do now is to get her back by giving them whatever the hell they want!” Nick rakes his hair with his tired hands, just like what Morrison does when he’s stressed and doesn’t know what to do.

“Okay, okay. We’ll worry about who hates you later,” Morrison downs his glass and sits on his black leather couch. He looks at his watch and notices that he only has an hour to go to the designated place. Kevin has promised to pick him up instead of Charlie to take him straight to the pick up location.

At the exact time, the guard on the lobby calls him up and informs him that a car is waiting at the lobby for him.

“Thank you, Jim. I’ll be down in five,” he clicks off and sighs deeply. “I guess I have to go now. Dad…,” he starts.

Nick looks at his son with remorse on his face and answers, “Yes, son?”

“Thank you.” Morrison shakes his father’s hand but Nick pulls him in and gives him a hug.

“No, son, thank you for doing this and I’m sorry. Please take care and I hope this all goes well. Call me on my phone if anything goes wrong so I can alert the cops or something. I can’t just let you go there alone, you know that but knowing you, you wouldn’t want any obvious bodyguards around to mess it up. But as I said, I can’t let you go alone.” Nick gives him a meaningful look as Morrison walks towards the door.

Morrison knows that his father has some people who will be on his tail to step in in case something goes wrong. It has always been Nick’s condition whenever he lets Morrison go to uncharted territory.

He nods his head and proceeds to the lobby through the elevator.

Lots of things are going through his mind like how he could extract Cornelia without having to resort to violence but if the situation would call for it, he would not hesitate to defend her with his life. He will do whatever it takes to get her out of the enemy’s hands. He has to.

I love her…

It’s the first time he finally admits to himself what he feels and what he has always felt from the first time he saw her. It’s not her beauty and obvious wit that draws him to her. He loves the vulnerability that is hidden deep inside her. She tries very hard to appear strong – and she is – but from time to time, he glimpses the fragile Cornelia, which he thinks is her most beautiful feature and the real one. He knows that there is more to her than meets the eye and certainly more than what she lets people see. He wants her to open up to him and be the one who takes care of her vulnerability and share her strength. He wants to be her strength and the shoulder she can turn to at all times.

He gets in the black sedan and sees Kevin behind the wheel. He nods to him as they drive along the streets and through the towns to their destination.

“James has instructed me to assist you in any way, Mr. Ellis,” Kevin says as they take a curb out of the city.

“Just call me Morrison, Kevin, and thank you for coming with me. I really do not know what to expect tonight but all I know is, I’m gonna get her out of there no matter what,” he says with much conviction and determination in his eyes.

“Don’t worry, Morrison, James would not risk Cornelia and he has given me specific instructions to do exactly that.” Kevin glances at him through the rear view mirror.

“What do you mean? Who is James anyway? Is he her father? Uncle? Grandfather? Relative?” Morrison decides to get to know the man whom Cornelia considers a close friend but is old enough to be her grandfather.

“That would be up to Mr. W to tell you. Right now, we are approaching the dock. Get ready to get out and don’t forget this,” Kevin hands him a small earpiece which kind of looks like head of a headset, minus the wire, but smaller.

“What is this supposed to be?” Morrison takes it in his hand and turns it over a few times.

“It’s a way to communicate with me. Just say something and I will hear it. I can also hear anything that goes on in the background. This is a precautionary measure just in case it gets ugly, you know what I mean. Just pop it on one ear. It would not be recognizable unless the person is close to you so try not to show it.”

Morrison puts it on his ear and as the car finally stops in front of a big steel gate, sighs deeply, grabs the brown manila envelope, and gets out of the black car.

He strides to the gate and seeing that it is unlocked, strides inside with caution. He looks around the place that looked like any ordinary dock with a few fishing boats and a handful of small yachts. It’s not a very popular dock and it’s mostly used for dumping fresh fish, which are then carried to the wet market. About a dozen container cargo containers looked like they’ve been abandoned years ago but kept there because no one knows where else to put them. The lower ones are full of graffiti and all sorts of signs of vandalism. It’s not a very family-friendly place.

He looks about a few times and glances at his watch.

“I’m early. What now? Do you see anybody?” he whispers into the earpiece and hears Kevin’s equally whispered response.

“Now we wait. They might come in a car, a boat, who knows. I haven’t seen any activity within the premises yet. Look up,” Kevin says and shows Morrison a tiny movement from one of the crumbling buildings to his left. Kevin is perched at the top floor of an old five-story storage building that is the closest one to the docks. He could see most of the place but not all.

“Okay. I think I see something,” Morrison looks to the waters and see a medium-sized boat approaching. It was a Bowrider. He’s not sure the exact year and model but he’s seen lots of boats in his life and this kind of speedboat does not come cheap.

“I see it too, sit tight. They’ll come to you for sure. No sudden movements and show both of your hands so – “

“So they won’t get suspicious, I know. I better shut up for now.” Morrison closes his mouth as the speedboat docks and one burly-looking fellow gets out of it. He wears a black ski-mask. There are four other men on board, all wearing the same black clothes and black ski-mask over their faces. But there is another person crouched low on the floor of the boat.

That must be Cornelia!

Morrison then starts to move forward in an attempt to look at her closely when the burly man takes out a gun and points it directly at him. He stops in his tracks and puts both of his hands up to mid-air.

“Whoa! Okay, okay. I’ll stay here. Just get that gun out of my face. I just want to see if she’s all right, okay man?” he says looking over at the huddled figure inside the boat. There are no bright lights near the boat so he can’t see her clearly and the lack of lights in that part of the dock only shows the top part of her head.

“Stay where you are if you don’t want me to splatter your brains all over this dock!” the man says still pointing the gun at his head.

“Okay. I’m not going anywhere. And we both know your boss won’t like it if the son of a billionaire gets shot point blank. The police will surely put this as the top priority in their cases and will launch a widespread investigation. You don’t want me to go on so before you get in any more trouble with your boss, just hand her over to me and you’ll have your precious documents.” Morrison looks him straight in the eye as he tells him his demands and both men know that he’s telling the truth.

“Fine, McElroy! But don’t smile just yet, this is just the beginning,” the man says with a snort, lowers his gun, and signals one of his cohorts in the boat to bring over Cornelia.

“Bring her here!” he barks which got the men from the boat moving at a brisk pace to bring the huddled figure from out of the boat towards Morrison. One guy brings her over. “That’s far enough. Where are the documents? Hand them over first,” says the one in-charge pointing the gun at Cornelia.

Morrison takes one look at her and rage starts filling his head. Curling his palms into fists was all he could do from lashing out and beating the worthless bastards to death with his bare hands.

“You goddamn sons of bitches! What did you do to her?! She is unarmed and a woman, you fucking fool!” Morrison exclaims out of anger but kept himself rooted to his place. He can see a smudge of dried blood on the right side of her lower lip, which was due to the blow she got an hour ago, back in the cellar. “It’s okay, Cornelia. I’m going to get you out of here. Just trust me…,” he says soothingly from across the distance between them. He wants to wrap her in his arms and tell her everything will be all right, but he doesn’t even know if they will get out of there unscathed.

What the fuck is taking Kevin so long?

And as if Kevin heard his him, he speaks softly into his ear.

“Relax McElroy. It’s going to be over in a while. Don’t muck it up, wait for my signal,” Kevin whispers through the earpiece.

“Oh shut up loverboy! It’s just a scratch,” says the man with the gun, smirking while toying with some stray hair from Cornelia’s head.

“Get your fucking hands off her or I swear to God, I will kill you!” he makes a move towards them but the guy just pushes the barrel of the gun harder into her temple.

“Tsk, tsk, tsk, careful. You don’t want me to slip and have an accident here, now do you. Now, hand over the papers and let me see if they are legit.”

“You must think I’m an idiot. No hand off until she is safely out of this dock. Once she’s out of the gate, you can have your documents,” he shouts back at the guy, standing firmly and hoping that the man doesn’t see through his bluff. He knows Kevin can see and hear everything that’s going on so he has his back covered – well, at least he hopes so.

It takes a few seconds for the masked guy to think about it and decides to whip out his cell phone to call someone. Morrison patiently waits for him and maintains a determined face. He is not going to back down, either they take the deal or he’ll have to resort to his Plan B, which means that he just starts kicking the guy’s ass and hopes to grab Cornelia before he gets taken down. And prays that Kevin can take the hint and starts shooting up the place.

He knows too well that they won’t risk him getting seriously injured or possibly killed because that would make them a target for a nationwide manhunt.

“Okay, boss,” masked guy number one replies to whoever is on the other end of the line, nodding in agreement to whatever is being relayed to him.

Kevin carefully speaks to him through the earpiece in a calm voice. “Wait for my signal after a few minutes. When she’s near enough, grab her and make a run for it, I’ll do the rest. Just keep him distracted for five more minutes.”

At that very moment, Kevin quickly loads his sniper rifle and makes sure to include the silencer. James had given specific instructions to do everything possible to get Cornelia out unharmed, even if it meant casualties. Kevin didn’t think the perpetrators would set her free so easily. He can’t take the risk of her being possibly harmed.

“Well? Are we going to conduct business or are we going to stand here all night? I don’t know about you but I’m all warm and cozy here.” Morrison wants to prolong their conversation and distract the guy until Kevin gets into position.

“Hold your horses. Here’s what’s going to happen. You hand that over to me and when I see that those documents check out, then I will let her go to you after, and not a second before, understand?! You rich crooks think you can talk your way out of any situation. That and your fucking money! Well, here’s some news for you, the world is not always going to do you any favors. And this is one of these days when you get a taste at begging for the one thing that means to you that cannot be bought by your money! Now, hand it over or I’ll blow her brains out!” Cornelia gets snatched by the man, who’s obviously in-charge of the operation.

Fuck! Damn it, Kevin. What’s taking too long?! Come on!

“Whoa, come on now. We both want a peaceful transaction here. I’m not bullshitting you okay, I meant what I said. Just let her out of those gates,” he points to the steel gate that’s at the corner of the compound, “and I will gladly hand over these papers. You will find everything you need in there.”

“You must think I’m one of those stupid morons who fall for your traps. How would I know that the contents of that envelope are the real ones, huh? I need insurance and she,” he thrusts the gun closer to her temple, eliciting a whimper from her, “is mine until I say that I have everything I need. So either you do as I say or you’ll make me do something you’ll regret,” he laughs as if mocking him.

“Now!” Kevin says suddenly as shots start raining from above them.

Morrison doesn’t waste any second and takes the chance of the guy’s confused state and knocks out the gun from his hand while grabbing Cornelia’s arm and pulling her with him to the ground.

“Run, Cornelia!” Morrison shouts at her as she recovers from his tight grip. Her mouth is dry and her hands are tied behind her back but she manages to scramble to her feet and run towards the gate.

“You little!” the man who had Cornelia recovers from Morrison’s blow to his face and sends a crippling blow to Morrison’s gut.

Morrison falls to the ground, clutching his stomach and coughing from the punch. He takes in a sharp breath but before he could even recover from the blow, another one connects with his face, knocking him even further into the ground. He parries the next one and sweeps the guy off his feet by kicking out with his leg.

He gets up more quickly this time and spots the gun to his left. He makes a run for it but is stopped by the man who managed to still keep his ski mask on. The guy grabs his leg and tries to grapple him from his position.

“No you don’t!” Morrison kicks his face with his other foot and gets away from him.

Meanwhile, Kevin lets out another round of gunfire as the other men in the boat exchange shots with him. Kevin is a master marksman and his vantage point is advantageous to the situation, but even with his skills, he can’t keep firing at them forever. They have to move fast.

“You have got to get out of there, Morrison!” Kevin shouts while bullets fly past his ears. “I’m taking in too much gunfire, we need to get out of here fast!”

“What do you think I’m doing!” he shouts back, finally grabbing the gun and points it at the masked man. “Freeze! Don’t move or I will blow the shit out of you!”

Morrison has handled guns before when he went to the shooting range with Nick when he was young. Nick is a gun enthusiast and he’s always wanted Morrison to follow his footsteps, even his penchant for guns. But Morrison had other ideas. He wanted to get into sports and not guns and only indulged his father but as he grew up, he learned how to say no and ditched the firing range altogether before he turned fifteen. He has never picked up a gun until now.

The man threw his hands up but didn’t flinch one bit. “This is not over, McElroy. You will have your day soon enough,” he says with a smile on his face.

“What makes you think that I won’t blow your brains all over this place, huh?” Morrison doesn’t like the look on the man’s eyes. It’s as if he knows a secret and he’s going to use that soon to bring him to his knees. He ducks a bullet that zinged near his ears. Being partially concealed from the others because of the distance between the boat and the building where Kevin is perched, they are able to take on minimal gunfire.

“Let’s go, Morrison! Get a move on and get out of there! I can’t get them off your back much longer!” comes Kevin’s voice, shouting to be heard from the rainfall of shots he’s getting.

And like a bucket of cold water, Kevin’s voice breaks his murderous trance and gets his legs to move. He sprints towards the exit and never looks back. He needs to find Cornelia and get out of there.

“Cornelia! Where are you?” he shouts as soon as he crosses the threshold of the gate. He frantically looks to his left then to his right and speaks into his earpiece, “Kevin, do you see her? Where could she have gone?”

“No, I haven’t seen her yet. I’m on my way down. I think I’ve scared them away enough. They’ve all gone into the boat and went back from where they came from. Stay where you are. I’ll pick you up in five minutes.” Kevin’s short breaths can be heard through the earpiece as he runs towards the car.

“Morrison!” he hears a short cry from behind and turns around quickly.

“Cornelia! Where did you go? I’ve been looking for you all over. Are you okay? Did they hurt you?” he grabs her to him and inspects her body quickly, checking her head, shoulders, hands, and looking into her eyes. She looks shaken up and a shiner is showing on her right eye. He gently places his hands on the sides of her face and kisses the place near her injury. “I swear, I will have their heads, Cornelia!” He says in a controlled but threatening voice.

“Morrison, I’m all right. I’m so glad you’ve come. I’ll tell you all about it but I just want to get out here right now.” She shivers amidst the warm breeze from the ocean.

“Of course, here, put this on,” he takes off his coat and wraps it firmly around her shoulders. Kevin finally comes and stops the car in front of them.

They get in quickly as Kevin drives away from the dock, fast. Morrison clutches the documents he still has under his arm and holds Cornelia closely to him as Kevin drives to a safe place. She leans her head to him and finally falls asleep from all the exhaustion and heart-racing events of the day.

 

 

 

Chapter II

“Wake up!” a bucket of water gets dumped to her face, jolting her from her sleep. She coughs a few times and when she finally catches her breath and wipes the excess water from her face, she gets assaulted by a fist connecting to her face. The big fist hits her right eye and stings like a bitch. She reels back to the hammock that served as her bed for the last few hours. It reminds her of its hard and cold surface.

“What the hell! Can you at least let me sit up first, you bastard!” she shouts to her attacker while putting her arms up to protect herself from future attacks.

Her vision is dim because of the blow to the right side of her face but also because of the lack of light in the room but she can make out the shape of the man who’s been keeping her captive in that cellar.

“You don’t need to sit up. You only need to kneel down and beg for your life when your boyfriend doesn’t come through with our agreement!” the man said in the dark.

Cornelia tries to move and attempts to throw out a punch or possibly scratch his eyes out but she couldn’t move more than a few steps. She looks down on her leg and sees that she’s been tied at the foot. A chain had been strapped to her ankle that’s attached to the pipe at the edge of the room, in between other pipes coming from the base of the house and goes up to the upper floors of the house.

“Let me out of here! You don’t have any right to do this to me! I haven’t done anything to you! I don’t even know who you are!” she shouts at the man who is at arm’s length but is not close enough that she can do any real damage to him. So she spits at his hooded face and lets out some more of her pent up anger for being in that situation.

The man slaps her face that sends her reeling back to the cot. “You’re only the bait. If you come to think of it, we all are, in this world we live in. We, those insignificant and poor people who fall prey to the rich and powerful who hate each other and play games to take each other down. And we are dumb enough or desperate enough to let ourselves be used because we need to survive! That’s what we are, we are survivors! So if you just shut up and do your part in this twisted game, you might get to live in the end!”

That silences Cornelia for his words ring true. Every word he uttered were true. They were all just dispensable pawns in their chess game. He, for being a manservant to his boss, and her, for falling for a guy whose family has screwed people for money and took advantage of the little people.

She sits back and doesn’t say a word as the man closes the door of the cellar once again. All she hears is the loud banging of the door as it gets shut, blocking her way out of that wretched place.

What did I ever do to suffer because of them? I was already wronged by Nick when he left my mom and me all those years ago… And now, I am being held here because of them? Isn’t this an unfair and twisted world we live in?

Because you love Morrison…

“What?” she asks herself outloud. She is as surprised at herself for thinking that the reason she is there, in that cold and lonely place, and willing to take it and survive in the end, is because she loves Morrison. She longs to be in his arms again and give in to the possibility of having a life of security and love from a man that she loves. Even the slightest chance of having a life with him gives her the hope she needs to make it through that time in the darkness.

But the darkness that truly imprisons her is her hatred for her father, for Morrison’s adoptive father, Nick McElroy.

She buries her face in her hands as she sobs and lets out her emotions right there. She doesn’t care if the hooded guy sees her or hears her crying uncontrollably. There, in the dark, in the solace of being alone, she lets herself be raw. She lets herself be vulnerable, stripped of her faux strong composure and her fake sassiness. Because deep inside, she is still that ten-year-old girl, terrified inside because of the uncertainty of her future, but choses to a mask to protect herself.

“Mom…,” she whispers in the dark as the tears roll down her face, the call of her desperate heart full of vengeance had always been and will always be for her mother. It’s the last word she utters as the world turns black again.

She jerks awake as the car stops, then is suddenly yanked off the back seat and gets thrown inside a boat – no, not a boat of any kind, it’s an expensive yacht, she corrects herself.

She remains quiet and still at the place she was shoved in, looking back and forth at the men who joins her inside the yacht. There are six people in the boat, five men and herself. She wonders who and why they are doing what they’re doing. She has a pretty good idea that it has everything to do with the McElroys so there’s a good chance that these loathsome bandits have not discovered her real identity yet. She better make sure they don’t or they’re gonna have a field day.

Well, you’re not entirely sure if you’re a McElroy by birth yet… Shoot! The test! I still don’t know the results damn!

She makes a mental note to check her email if and when she gets out of the situation she is in.

Where could they be taking me now? I hope it’s not anywhere far. I’m starving…

She has not eaten since she was taken in the streets of Flushing. She looks up at the stars and realizes that it must be very late in the evening because all the stars are out and there isn’t a cloud in sight. She tries to look at her watch but since her hands are tied behind her back, she obviously can’t twist herself enough to see the watch on her wrist. She looks around slowly and at the men who are wearing ski masks.

There must be something I could use around here! I can’t just let them take me wherever to kill me. NO! I have to find a way out of here. Where the hell am I anyway?

“Where are you taking me now?” she dares to speak up as the man standing closest to her looks at her and laughs.

“Ah! So the dead speaks! I was wondering if you are just going to pretend being dead in the corner like what you’ve been doing for several minutes now. And no, you won’t find any weapons lying around, honey. So sit tight and enjoy the ride,” he says as a hint of a malicious smile creeps up to his eyes, which are the only ones showing through the masks they have on.

“You still did not answer my question and those things make you look ridiculous. I can’t believe I’ve been kidnapped by amateurs,” she scoffs. She’s trying to provoke him to come near her so she can deliver a blow that might get her off that boat, even if it meant getting thrown overboard.

“Why you!” he gets nearer and kicks her leg hard.

Ouch! Don’t’ cry out! Take it!

She merely winces then smiles up to him to taunt him some more. She needs him to get closer so she can heave herself up to him and grab him somehow. She spotted a gun on his belt earlier and wants to get a hold of it but she can’t if he’s still a few feet away from her.

“Well, so you want more, huh! I’ll give you more, you little bitch!” he attempts to grab her by the lapels of her shirt to give her another beating when another masked guy stops him by punching him on the face.

“That’s enough, you idiot! Can’t you see she’s doing it on purpose, you moron! Shut up and guard her. Don’t give in to that pretty mouth because I’ll foul you up some more if you let her get you riled up again! Stupid idiot!” he shouts as the boat picks up more speed.

Shit! It must be the guy who caught me and who’s been talking to me at the cellar. Damn, he saw right through my ruse! What do I do now?

After several minutes, which seemed like mere seconds to Cornelia, they arrive at their destination. She shivers despite the warmth of the breeze.

“I’ll signal you if I need you to bring her out. Nobody moves until I do so, understand Pete!” the hooded man says to the guy who kicked Cornelia on the leg.

“Yes, man, I get it.” Pete scratches his ski mask and Cornelia sees a tattoo on his wrist. It looks like a flower but as she squints her eyes to have a better look, it’s actually a four-leaf clover. It’s only the size of a thumb but she can see it clearly because the light of the other guy’s flashlight passed by it.

The hooded man gets off and starts walking towards the dock. She can’t see anything past Pete’s body because she’s still slumped at the floor of the yacht. She also can’t hear anything from the rocking of the boat but she knows that there are people talking. She can’t very well pitch herself off the boat now since they already docked.

Then before she finally gives up and just let them kill her, she is hauled to her feet and the next thing she sees is Morrison’s silhouette standing on the dock. She would recognize his stance anywhere and when she realizes that it is him, her heart leaps from her chest and she can’t wait to wrap her arms around him and hold him tight.

The hooded man drags her closer to him and trains a gun to her head, telling Morrison to hand over what he was asking for.

Then suddenly, Morrison grabs her to him and gets down to the ground. She finds the last boost of strength inside of her to will her legs to stand up and run like crazy towards the gate that’s open in the distance. Shots are fired from somewhere but she doesn’t care. All she’s seeing is the open gate that gets closer by the second. Her legs pounding on the ground and her ears almost deaf from the gunshots.

Finally, she reaches the gate and goes to her right, towards a group of container trucks. She reaches the first one and collapses to the ground.

Oh my God! Oh my God! Shit! Where’s Morrison? He was just behind me.

She pants and catches her breath, then rolls to the ground to get her hands from the back towards the front. She untangles the cord that’s been tied to her wrists, leaving red painful marks on both wrists but she doesn’t mind the pain now. She needs to get to Morrison.

She spots him and after checking if the path was clear, runs towards him and they grab hold to each other. A car comes to get them and she sees Kevin, the valet guy from the hotel she stayed in the Hamptons.

But that can’t be right? She tries to fight the fatigue overpowering her but loses to it after only a few minutes. She gets knocked out and falls asleep in under five minutes.

“Your secret will get out and it will destroy your already miserable life!” a deep voice echoes in her head.

She tries to wake up but she knows she’s in some kind of a dream or a memory.

“What did you say?” she asks the voice but no one answers.

She opens her eyes and she’s at some kind of amusement park. She’s a little girl and as she looks up at the person holding her hand, she sees her mother. Her very beautiful and radiant mother. She feels so happy that she clings to her mother’s fingers and clutches them for dear life, never wanting to let go ever.

“Honey, it’s okay, you can let go… Sometimes in life, you have to let go of some things in order to accomplish other triumphs. You can do it honey. You can let go…” her mother untangles her fingers from hers and kneels down to look at her eye to eye. “You’re so brave my darling girl. You make mama so proud,” she touches Cornelia’s fair hair and gently tucks them behind her ear.

“But I don’t want to let you go, Mommy. Please stay here with me,” her voice is that of a ten-year-old girl, albeit full of maturity, still a child – afraid and unwilling to part from the only family she’s ever known.

“I have faith in you, Cornelia. Just stay true to your heart. It will guide you to see the truth and towards a beautiful life. You deserve so much more. Don’t ever think that you don’t deserve to be happy because it is the one thing that you are worthy of having. I love you forever sweetheart… Now go!” her mother’s voice is strong but then her face and body starts to fade.

“No! Mommy, please…,” she tries reaching out but she can’t. It’s like those dreams where you suddenly fall from a high place, falling and falling into an abyss.

Cornelia jerks awake as Morrison adjusts the coat he placed on her shoulders back in the dock.

“Cornelia? Are you okay? It’s all right, you can go back to sleep. We’re not there yet,” he strokes her hair and tries to pull her head back to his shoulder but she remains where she is.

“No, I’m fine. I, ah, I just had a dream… Where are we going anyway?” she asks while straightening her all-too-crumpled shirt. It used to be white but now, it looks like a collage of black and red smudges with some yellow streaks or maybe rust-colored stains.

“I don’t know either. All I’m concerned of now is you. How are you, Cornelia. Did they, uh,  hurt you?” Morrison looks at her with sad but angry eyes. It’s evident that he’s trying very hard to control his rage towards the men in the docks and all Cornelia wants to do is to kiss him and hug him tight.

Now is not the best time…

“Morrison,” she stares right at him, “I’m fine. Yes, they roughened me up a bit, but no, they didn’t do anything else. They didn’t violate me or torture me, just starved actually…”

“Oh! I’m sorry, here, have a sandwich. Kevin was good enough to buy some on the way.” He hands her a sandwich, which she munches on right away.

“By, the, way…,” she tries saying in between bites, “Why is he here anyway? I recognize him from the hotel in the Hamptons. I mean, he was the one who drove me to your father’s house. Why is he with us?”

“Um, I’m right here.“ Kevin finally speaks up and looks at her from the rear view mirror and smiles.

“Oh! I’m sorry, I was just… I thought…,” she stammers while trying to gulp down the last bite she took off the sandwich. “Hmm! This sandwich is really good.”

Kevin laughs and says, “That’s okay, Miss Masters. I’ll tell you all the details once we reach our destination. We’ll be there in under ten minutes. Please, finish your sandwich. We’ll have plenty of time to talk later.”

She nods and already forgets what he said after taking another bite. She suddenly recalls the last time she got so hungry that she was close to passing out. It was when James found her and saved her from the streets.

“Morrison, I need to call someone… He might be worried about me. Do you have a phone?” she says seriously.

“James?” he asks with one eyebrow raised.

“How- umm, yes, him, but…” she stares at him with a confused face.

“He introduced himself to us when we searched your apartment after I got the warning about you being abducted. I’m sure he’ll be at the place where we’re going and he’ll explain further. Relax now, Cornelia, please. Just sit back and try to take another quick nap, will you? You’ve been through so much, baby… Please…” He caresses her face and showers her with kisses on her face. He doesn’t even care if Kevin can see them. He just wants to let her know that he cares for her more than she knows.

She sighs and leans her head on his shoulders again. “Oh Morrison… I don’t know what I’ll do if you didn’t get me out the way you did. I didn’t think I’d get out of there safely.”

And she is being truthful. She didn’t think he’d come and get her, especially if it was in exchange for something that could possibly harm his family. In the few hours that she stayed in that dark cellar, she was forced to think of her life and where it is heading.

She is conflicted by the fact that she has grown to love this man, the man who embodies everything she missed in her childhood. The one who was showered with attention, care, and love by the man who was her biological father. The father who may or may not know that he has brought a daughter into the world twenty years ago when he clearly had an affair with her mother. The mother whom she is bent on honouring by exacting revenge on the man who abandoned them all those years ago. The mother who died in crash where a hazy investigation was done and was eventually ruled off as an accident. One which she doubts as well as James, for they both know that there was foul play. She might have been too young to see the technicalities of forensic investigation but she was old enough to know that her mother was a very safe driver and one who would not have such a careless accident on her way to picking her daughter up from school. She never consumed any alcohol in all the years that Cornelia lived with her, and she definitely had no problems with any kind of drugs. She didn’t even smoke for crying out loud!

Her hatred for her biological father and the mere fact that her mother did not just simply careen off the highway that plunged her car into the cliffs plus the promise she made to James and herself that she will bring down the McElroys, are the drivers of her purpose in existing.

What kind of a purpose is that? She asks herself as the car continues to lurch and move as they approach their destination.

I haven’t even checked if Nick is really my biological father… But she knows in her mind, as clear as day, that he is. I can’t launch an official reopening of my mother’s case with me being Cornelia Masters. I would have to reveal my true identity to request for a reinvestigation… and I can’t… not yet. I have to figure out a way to sort all these things out and to eventually tell Morrison the truth. I love him enough to turn my life around and make things right… But I need to speak to James first. He has to know that there has been a change in my mind and heart. I don’t know how he would take it though…

She’s too exhausted to think about everything right now so she allows her eyes to close and her breathing evens out after a few minutes.

 

 

Chapter III

“How could you let them go! You stupid good-for-nothing worthless piece of –,” she continues cursing out loud, squeezing out her brains for every cuss word she could muster.

She got so angry when she learned what happened during the exchange. She gave specific instructions to use the girl as leverage on the McElroys and to retrieve the piece of evidence they somehow got their hands on. But her incompetent minions couldn’t follow simple instructions. What made her even angrier was the fact that they didn’t even get the documents in the first place. She had no intention of giving the girl back. She told Mike to dangle her in front of the McElroys like a prize and then once he gets the paperwork, he’d snatch her right back and dump her in the boat where they would have taken her into another location. She was her insurance! But she got away!

“Ma’am, they had some help. Someone was shooting up the place right after we brought her out there. We didn’t know where the shooter was or if it was just one man because my men got seriously wounded. I barely got out there alive!” Mike, the one in-charge of the “supposed exchange” clutches his right arm. He was shot when he tried going after Morrison. He was just thankful that the bullet passed right through his right upper arm, or else, he’d be strapped in a hospital bed, just like three of his men. One was still in critical condition while the other two had serious injuries as well. Only the driver of the boat, who had sense enough to cower and duck through the whole shoot out, survived unscathed.

“I DON’T CARE!!! I don’t give a damn if you lost an arm out there! I want those documents and I want her killed!!! You hear me! I’m paying you tons of money to get things done but all you have done so far is mess them up some more! I expect to see results on the next time we talk, you understand me Mike? Or I will be forced to terminate your wife’s medical assistance!”

That silences Mike, who has been very adamant in letting his employer know about the degree of difficulty of retrieving those pieces of paper. He thinks back to the time he met her…
“Please! Please doc! My wife needs that surgery or she will die! Please help me out! I- I’ll come up with the money. Just give me two weeks! Plea-, “he pleads while the surgeon just shook his head and gives him sad eyes.

“I’m sorry Mr. Leigh. I’m afraid we have to follow hospital rules and what it says is that we cannot operate on your wife without you paying for it. I would gladly do it for free for you sir but you still have to come up with at least a hundred thousand dollars to get it underway. Then you would have to have special care for your wife after the surgery, plus we have to make sure that she doesn’t reject the heart. As of now, we have available hearts that fit your wife’s but the policy is that we prioritize those who can pay for the operation. I’m really really sorry for this, Mr. Leigh, but my hands are tied…” Dr. Farris patted the sobbing man’s shoulders and walked away.

“Oh my, God… Oh God, please help me…” Mike Leigh was a construction foreman who made $20 an hour. He just started with a new construction firm and although he was thankful he got the job, he was still hard up on making ends meet. With his wife’s hospital bills and his own, it was getting really hard for him to catch up on his bills. And now, his wife needs heart transplant or she will just wither away and die, leaving him a more miserable man, left to walk the earth alone. He loves Mary and she is his life. They have no children because Mary’s heart couldn’t take it if she ever got pregnant and gave birth so they were thinking of adopting when her heart got worse two years ago.

Suddenly, a woman approached him while he was slumped on one of the grey-colored morbid hospital chairs in the hallway. It was the loneliest place in the world for a man who had nothing and no one to turn to in his darkest moment in life.

She appeared like an angel who was sent there to help him get up from the muck he was in. She spoke and he listened simply because he had no one else to listen to and no one else wanted to talk to him to help him. Even his so-called friends turned away from him when he sought heir help. She was the only one who offered a way out, a helping hand, a Godsend if you can call it that. Little did he know that her hand would ask more than he could give when the time came…

And it has come many times. She’s made him do lots of things he would never have thought of doing to his fellow man. But he had no choice, his wife is still dependent on the drugs she needs for her heart and his employer has been very generous to him so far. So generous that he never had to look for any other kind of employment since he met her.

So he learned to be evil. He learned to be unmerciful and hard to those who needed to be eliminated and to rid the world of. He needed to be a killer.

And it was time again to kill. He tried to scare her enough that her employer would not see the need to kill her but because she got away, it has become a necessity for she might recognize them. He was careful in not showing his or any of his men’s faces, but he made the mistake of calling one of them by his name. She looked like a clever girl. It wouldn’t be long until she figures out the real reason why her existence needs to be eliminated.

But until that time, he had time to plot and prepare for his next kill.

Yes, I have to do this. I can’t lose Mary. I can’t…

He puts his phone back inside his pocket and taps his finger on the dashboard of his black sedan. His mind is working double time on how to get the girl back or how to get her not to realize what’s happening. He needs to get her to shut up and to shut up forever.

The details inside those documents is the key to tracing the culprit of this whole charade, his boss. And she will move heaven and earth before she gets caught. Even cutting off his head if she needed to in fear that he might turn on her. But as long as she keeps the medicines and other needs of his family coming, he will preserve the hand that feeds him. Unless there is another hand that offers the same kind of refuge. But until then, she is his insurance and he needs to protect his source of livelihood. He needs to protect her.

“Pete,” he says into the phone, “Yeah, its me. I need you to come to meet me. Yes, right now! Come on Pete!” he argues some more as Pete tries to give him excuses not to go.

In the end, they agree on a time and place to meet along with Mike’s other requests. They needed to move fast before anything else happens, like the whole bust getting broadcasted over the television or if the police starts snooping around.

In the meantime, Cornelia, Morrison, and Kevin reached their destination at last. Kevin slowed down as they approached an old but beautiful house in the corner of the a wide road. They drove for about an hour and a half to reach that place and all she saw when she opened her eyes is the dark street and the sound of waves nearby. They were well into the coastal towns of New Haven as Kevin announced when they halted to a stop and despite the distance, he was able to take them there in record time.

It was still dark outside and Cornelia was still a bit groggy from the ride and from her earlier ordeal but she got out of the vehicle right away as soon as Morrison was on her side to assist her up to the house.

“Take it easy Cornelia.” Morrison looks at her with a face full of concern then he shakes his head and sweeps her off her feet. He gently balances her body in his arms but it looks as though she didn’t weigh anything from how he held her. She can feel his muscles ripple as he takes her towards the entrance of the beautiful Victorian house.

She squirms for a bit and says, “I’m fine Morrison. I can walk you know. You can put me down,” but he doesn’t listen to her and takes her all the way into the house’s living room.

He sets her down a soft couch made of expensive material and she lets her eyes adjust to the dim glow of the room, she gets even more impressed with the interior of the house.

“Ah, Cornelia, my dear. How are you?” James suddenly appears from one of the doors and walks towards her with arms outstretched.

“Oh, James,” she sighs as he sits down on the couch and gives her a hug.

“I was so worried about you, my dear. I’m sorry I was indisposed when you tried calling. If I had known…” he starts saying while waving his hand towards the butler who appeared as well, and started serving them drinks.

“No, don’t worry about it James. You wouldn’t have known otherwise. I- I just panicked and thought to call you because I knew that I might be in danger. But how – , “she asks while looking up to Morrison and to James with a look of confusion on her face.

“I found them in your apartment when I went there to check on you.” James touched his forehead like what he always does when a headache is plaguing him.

“Them?” Morrison said the same thing earlier and she wonders who “them” are.

“Yes, Morrison and I,” Barret’s low baritone voice echoes from behind her. He walks inside the living room with an expression of relief on his face.

“Oh, Barret. I- I’m sorry if you all worried for me. You didn’t have to, you know,” she faces him as he narrows the space between him and the couch where she is sitting.

“Cornelia, don’t be like that. You know that I consider you as a friend and my tenant as well so whatever happens to you is my responsibility too.” He approaches her and takes her in his arms all of a sudden.

She feels so much better that Barret is there with them as well. She lets him hug her as she lightly wraps her arms on his shoulders. His body gives her a comforting feeling and she appreciates his concern and sincerity.

“After you were attacked in the elevator, I promised myself that I would never let anything bad happen to you… Not on my watch,” he draws her away from him and looks into her eyes. “Are you sure you’re okay, Cornelia?”

“Yes, she’s quite all right, Barret, I’m going to take care of her now so you don’t have to worry about her anymore,” Morrison answers Barret with a firm and cold voice. “Come Cornelia. I’m sure you’re still very exhausted. I’ll help you get settled in. We can talk more when you’ve had some rest.”

Morrison offers his hand to Cornelia to take but she just looks up at him with a sombre expression on her face. She knows what he’s doing.

He’s marking his territory by appearing to tell me what to do and does he expect me to just obey? Well, he’s got another thing coming!

“Gentlemen, as I said, I am perfectly fine and able to take care of myself. Now, James, if you could please direct me to where my quarters are… I would like to rest for the night.” She stands up and doesn’t take Morrison’s outstretched arm.

“Of course, my dear. Please follow me and Jim – the butler – will bring in some food for you later on. I imagine you wouldn’t have enough strength to last through a meal at the dining room so I’ll have him take food up to your room. Take it easy for now, Cornelia. There is much we need to talk about in the morning.” Cornelia walks and follows James as he exits through the double doors and towards the next room but not before shooting both men a look of a tired, resigned face, then a hopeful smile.

“Thank you… both of you. And Kevin, of course, you’ve been great help. I thank you for my life.” She nods at Kevin and he nods back while she exchanges a smile with Barret. She finally looks over at Morrison and his face is a mask of calm ness, but the muscles on his arms and shoulders are tense and coiled.

“Take as much rest as you need,” he replies then walks out the front door without looking back.

She sighs and turns to follow Jim out of the room.

“What the hell was that?” Barret shouts at Morrison as he followed him outside a few minutes after Cornelia left the room.

“What? What the hell do you care, Barret? Go away. I’m not in the mood,” Morrison answers. He was looking out towards the sand. He went to the back of the house after walking out of the living room. It was a big house but he quickly found the pathway going to the backyard where a view of the ocean greeted him.

He stayed there, standing near the fence that separates the grassy backyard from the private beach front. Of course the green grass was probably imported and planted there, for aesthetic purposes for it was immaculate and finely trimmed and then continues on to the sands before the shore.

I don’t fucking care if you’re in the mood or not! But I do care about Cornelia. I know you guys are a “thing” now but you have got to tone down your level of jealousy if you hope to have a future relationship with her.” Barret’s voice lowered a bit but he still looks pissed at Morrison.

“And how would you know what hope of a relationship do I want with her, huh? What makes you think you know what’s going on in her head? What made you an expert with Cornelia’s feelings all of a sudden?” he snaps back at Barret advancing towards him but Barret stands his ground, facing him with full animosity across his face.

“I may not be what she wants right now but there might be a day when she does see me as more than her landlord and friend. And when that day comes, I will make sure that I’m there for her. And then you’d realize what a dick you are for wasting her time with your petty jealous nature,” he scoffs and stands down for he knows that Morrison is not in his right state of mind but he is so he’ll be the bigger man and will let it go, for now.

“Yeah, walk away Barret. That’s all you do anyway. You always wait around for everything to happen, you never take risks and that will be your mistake. You better back away from Cornelia if you don’t want me to see you as an enemy as well,” he says with murderous undertones.

When Barret doesn’t respond and continuous to walk away, Morrison turns back to the ocean and takes several deep breaths.

What the fuck are you doing again, Morrison? Why are you so riled up over Barret?

But he knows the real reason why he’s on edge and is taking it out on the people around him, especially with Cornelia.

He is scared. He’s so scared for Cornelia that he gets mad at her for not trusting him fully and just follow what he says. He wants her to be safe, to be so far away from their enemies. But that would mean that she would be far from him as well for he will not let his father and mother deal with their enemies on their own. He needs to be there, on the forefront, fighting with his father, to keep their legacy afloat and their lives intact.

He’s conflicted with what he must do about Cornelia and with his dad’s ongoing case.

At that moment, his phone rings.

“Hey, dad,” he answers with a sigh.

“Son. How are you? Where are you? Are you in a safe place? Did you hand off the evidence?”

“Yes, we’re safe dad. We’re somewhere safe but I can’t tell you where we are. Actually, I’m not even sure exactly where we are, which is probably for the best. How’s mother? Have you told her what’s going on?” Morrison knows that his mother overreacts most of the time and needs to be constantly reassured that Morrison is safe.

“You know your mother, always worried. But don’t worry, I’ve told her what she needed to know and nothing more. But what about the paperwork? Did you use it for the exchange?” Nick is hoping that he could still somehow retrieve those documents because it would seal the fate of his case and the company’s future would be secured again if the charges are dropped.

“No. I was supposed to but all hell broke lose when they wouldn’t agree to give up Cornelia first before I give them what they’re asking for. So I still have them in my person and I intend to use it on your case next year once everyone is safe. I have a feeling that this wouldn’t be the last time that those thugs would bother us so we better be prepared for anything, Dad,” he answers with a determined voice.

“I agree with you son and yes, you keep those documents safe for now until we need it. I’ll double the security for your mother and once you’re back here, I’ll make sure your security detail is doubled as well. As for Cornelia, what do you plan to do with her? I mean with all the threats and all, I assume you wouldn’t expect her to come back to the office and continue working for me – and I wouldn’t expect her to do that as well. She must have had a horrible experience, that poor girl,” Nick says in a sad voice. “Please give my regards to her.”

“I will father. As for her safety, I haven’t quite figured out the details yet, but you are right, she wouldn’t go back to the office to work for you for now. I’ll arrange for a suitable place for her to lay low until all of this blows over. I can’t risk her getting involved with this mess again. I’ll let you know once I have a definite plan. Thanks for checking up on us,” he smiles through the phone as they say their goodbyes.

He put the phone back in his pocket as James comes sauntering into the backyard.

“Ah, Morrison. Here you are. I wanted to talk to you,” he says as he approaches him. “Please,” he motions to the table with two chairs facing the ocean view. He sits on one of the chairs and waves to Morrison to take the one across from him.

“Thank you James for securing a place for us. I assure you, I only have Cornelia’s best interest at heart.” Morrison takes the chair and looks at James directly, making sure he is communicating and letting him know that he is being truthful and sincere.

“I know that Morrison and I thank you for getting our Cornelia back to safety.” James sighs and turns his eyes towards the waves and to the overcast skies. “She’s always been so strong. I’ve always admired her spirit and her determination whenever she sets out into doing something. And I have always supported her on the things she wanted to do.”

James smiles, but it’s a fleeting smile for he turns sad and serious afterwards.

“I have but one request which I know would be difficult to do and… to bear most especially. But it cannot be helped. I do not want her in any kind of danger whatsoever and the only way I can assure that is by you leaving her alone,” he says with a sad tone to his voice.

At first, Morrison looks at James like he has suddenly gone mad but as the silence stretches into minutes; he slowly realizes what James is thinking. He probably thinks that Morrison would drag her down and leave here hanging in the long run. So he tries to explain.

“James, I know I only know you as Cornelia’s friend but I respect that you’re concerned for her safety as if she is family to you. I want the same for her but I don’t think that me staying away from her is going to be the solution to this. The only way to ensure her wellbeing is for my family, especially my dad, to beat the sons of bitches who are trying to bury us with false accusations and bullshit claims!” he strikes the table with his fist which is exactly what he wants to do to the man who had Cornelia by the throat in the docks.

“I can take care of her, James. I’ll make sure that I protect her every move and keep her safe every minute. I’ll put her on lock and key of I have to, just to keep the dangers from entering her life.” He continues to argue his case as James remains silent. He continues to watch the waves as they crash into shore.

Finally, Morrison just lets the silence grow. It’s not uncomfortable, It’s actually soothing. Just the sound of the waves and the breeze tickling their hair and skin.

“I see that you mean well, Morrison McElroy. But the problem is, I know she will not agree to be put under surveillance or constant watch, and most especially under lock and key. It would undermine her free spirit and fierce independence. I just want to save you the agony and heartbreak when she finally realizes that this is not the life she wanted. That being free to do as she likes is better than being safe. I’ve known her for close to five years now and in all the time I have known her, no matter how difficult a situation may become, she comes up on top. She survives… And she will survive this, Morrison. She will survive heartbreak. What she won’t survive is a broken spirit.”

Morrison takes in every word James tells him and each time James utters another word the more he made sense.

He’s right. How could I cage Cornelia by restricting her life so she won’t be in danger? She would not understand and she will hate me for it. I would rather see her hate me for thinking that I left her rather than see her despise me for keeping her prisoner…

“I’m an old man. I only have a few years to live, if I’m lucky. And I want to make sure that she is well taken care of. I will make sure she will have everything she needs but I cannot guarantee her security as long as she is with you, with the McElroys. I may have filled her head with thoughts that I’m not proud of, but I’ve only done so to protect her.”

James thinks back to the earlier times when he told Cornelia about things that were not true about Nick McElroy. He was a bitter guy who lost a daughter and he wanted someone to pay. Who better to pay than the one who got her pregnant and left her? The one who created a rift between him and his daughter, causing her to run away and disown him because he wouldn’t bless their union in the first place.

He shook his head and decides to tell Cornelia all about the truth in the morning. It was time for her to know who she is, where she came from…

Morrison sighs and whispers, “I know that what you’re saying is not the best for her James but I think it is the best for her right now…”

He buries his face in his hands as he braces himself for what he needed to do next.

“I’ll leave her alone… for now. Until everything is settled, then I’m going back for her. I know she might not want me back after this but right now, this is what we all need. James?” he says, looking directly at the old man. “Will you promise me that she is going to be okay? Wherever you might take her, can you promise me that she will be safe?”

James smiles a sad smile and answers, “Yes, I swear with my life, I will keep her safe and she will continue to do so even after I am gone. I promise you that.” And it is the truth.

Morrison nods and gets up.

“Well then, James. I guess this is farewell for now.” He stretches out his hand as James stands up to take it. “I just want to see her one last time before I go. I swear I am not going to tell her anything about this. I just want to tell her all that I feel before I go.”

“Of course.” James nods and watches him walk up to the house.

 

He turns back to the ocean and sighs deeply. He truly feels sad for the two lovers. He knows he’s had a lot to do with Cornelia’s hatred for the McElroys, especially towards her father, but he was hurting then when he told those half-truths to his granddaughter. And he hasn’t even told her that he is, in fact, Julie’s father, her grandfather. He has been so afraid that she might reject him and push him away if she knew the circumstances why she and her mother were alone all those years. That he abandoned his only daughter and pushed her away just because she was in love with the wrong man. Well, at least he thought that Nick was never good enough for his Julie. He made sure that they were never together by always reprimanding Julie and never allowing Nick to see her when she was pregnant.

How could he? Nick was married to another woman and he still is! What could a father do at times like those? Everything! He would do anything and everything to protect his child and even if it meant breaking that child’s heart so she would see the truth. The truth he foresees!

And it was that Nick McElroy will never leave his wife and will continue with his lurid affairs and getting young and beautiful girls pregnant! That was the picture he painted for Julie to see and feel everyday for the nine months she was pregnant, until one day, a week before she was due, she couldn’t take it anymore and left, never to return and set foot in his house again.

She didn’t leave any letter or forwarding address.  James didn’t know where to find her and spent the next two weeks exhausting his resources into finding his daughter. Then, someone spotted her in New Jersey. At a small town near the suburbs.

She had given birth at the local hospital to a healthy baby girl.

He wanted so much to go to her and see his grandchild but he knew she would not agree into seeing him or let alone let him see her daughter. So he waited. He waited for another year before actually visiting her. He’s been keeping tabs on her through his connections and private investigators.

He knew she’s been working two to three jobs to make sure she puts food in the table and eventhough James sent her money, sending his men to stash some money into her mailbox or anonymously putting money into her account, she wouldn’t take it. At least she wouldn’t spend it on them. She would give the money to charity or to other people in the neighbourhood who needed it more than her. So she continued working her jobs, no matter how difficult it became.

So when Cornelia was one, James decided to visit them at her rented apartment. As soon as she saw him at the door, she slammed it on his face and didn’t open it again even though he knocked several times and tried talking to her.

James decided then to be in the shadows and not pressure his daughter into accepting him back into her life, into their lives, no matter how he longed to be a part of their lives. He buried himself in mounds of work and travelled worldwide for his business trips. He even lived for five years in Europe, Paris in particular, but he always had someone keeping an eye on his daughter and granddaughter.

Until ten years ago… He received the news while he was in the conference room of one of the tall buildings located at La Defence, otherwise known as the major business district of the Paris Metropolitan Area.

“Monsieur, vous avez un appel d’Amérique,” his secretary told him while he was in the meeting. She said he had a call from the U.S. He didn’t expect a call from Kevin for another week. He usually called to give him an account about Julie and Cornelia, or whenever he thought there was something important he should report. So far, Kevin had always reported that they were okay. Okay meaning that Julie still refused to take the money he’s been leaving for them and preferred to give it away to charity instead. She was stubborn as a kid and even more so when she grew up but James couldn’t help but be proud if his daughter for sticking with her decisions.

“Hello?” he answered the phone on his office, excusing himself from the meeting for a few minutes.

“Mr. W, are you sitting down?” Kevin’s voice was serious and not the usual matter-of-fact attitude, which was how he usually spoke as well as his demeanor. This time, there was something in his voice. There was sadness that was palpable even through the distance they had from each other.

“Why do I need to be? What do you have for me? Just tell me Kevin. I don’t have ti-,“ he was about to say he didn’t have time to dilly dally around when Kevin dropped the bomb on him.

“Julie’s had a car crash. She’s… dead…”

Then there was silence. The longest Kevin’s ever had to endure. He didn’t have the heart to just say goodbye and let James deal with his grief. He was not heartless, no matter how professional he tried to be.

“I can have someone fetch you there so you can go home for the day and when you’re ready, your flight will be waiting for you-,”

“No. I’m ready now. Have my flight ready in an hour. I’ll drive myself to the airport.” James was shocked about the news but he needed to be there for Cornelia.

“But, sir…” Kevin was concerned that his employer might fall ill on his way to the states but James had already hung up. He replaced the receiver and shook his head. “Poor kid…” he said in a low voice, pertaining to the young Cornelia who was taken in by her teacher for the meantime.

James had placed the receiver down a few seconds before his body hit the floor. He had had a heart attack.

James woke up after two weeks. He was in a comma and the doctors were not even sure if he would ever wake up from his comma.

“Wh-where am I?” James looked around and saw a familiar face. Kevin stood up quickly and went to his bed. Kevin had flown to Paris right after he got the call that James was taken to the hospital due to a heart attack and he’s been by his side ever since. He’s learned to care for the old man especially since James saved him from a life of drugs and violence.

Kevin was a troubled teenager when he tried robbing James in a dark alley one night. It was near the theatre in the city where most rich and famous people went to watch the shows. He spotted James right away because of his stance and the obvious expensive watch he had on. He walked out of the theatre alone and was walking on a side street, which was a short cut to the nearest bar. Kevin brandished a knife and declared a mugging but James had talked him out of it and ended up being treated to a meal at the nearest diner. James didn’t stop there. He even offered him a job as his personal bodyguard eventhough they both knew that he couldn’t defend him, at least at his age then. He was small but he was quick and James had somehow found something in him that was worth getting him out of the streets. Maybe James saw himself in the young lad. The look of determination in his eyes reminded him of his hunger for success when he was also just thirteen and someone  also gave him a chance like the one he gave to Kevin.

From then on, there was nothing Kevin wouldn’t do for James. He vowed to be loyal to his employer throughout his days and that extended to James’ family members as well, which in that case, was Julie and Cornelia. James’ wife passed away when she gave birth to Julie and James never remarried.

Julie disowning him had hardened the old man and made him more hell bent on building his business and his company. Kevin knew what the old man had to go through but he never intervened. He figured it wasn’t his place to tell James to try harder at reconciling with his daughter.

“James, it’s me, Kevin. You’re in the hospital. You’ve had a heart attack. Just relax for a bit. The doctor’s on his way.” He was calm and even smiled at James.

James was still a bit disoriented and looked around then his face became a mask of horror when he realized what happened that caused his heart attack.

“Oh my, God! Julie! Kevin, what happened to my daughter?” he was becoming hysterical and Kevin hoped the doctor would arrive soon.

“Julie was laid to rest the next day after I called you. I couldn’t attend her funeral because I was on my way here. I’m sorry James,” was his sombre reply. “I saw them the weekend before her crash. They were at the park and they were so happy when I last saw them. I- I should’ve followed her that afternoon when she was going to fetch Cornelia but I didn’t. I went against my better judgement and decided to visit them again the following weekend. If I had been there… she would still be alive…”

James had grown silent as tears rolled down his old and sad eyes. “No. I should have been there for her. I should have tried harder and forced her to see that I was sincere in becoming a part of their lives again… You only did your job. I asked you to look after them but not be too intrusive that she might notice you that’s why you only report to me once a week. It’s all m-my f-fault…” he began sobbing then as the doctor walked in and quickly gave James a sedative to calm his nerves. They couldn’t risk another attack coming on or even him getting all worked up is strictly prohibited.

The sedative worked after a few seconds and James closed his eyes again for the rest of the day. When he woke up the next day, he was almost able to function completely and by the end of that week, he was discharged from the hospital. He has sent Kevin back to the states a few days before he was released from the medical facility but when he reported back to him, he couldn’t seem to find Cornelia anywhere. He asked around about the teacher and the child but no one could tell them exactly where the child was placed.

“Should I go to the teacher and ask directly?” Kevin asked.

“No, just wait for me. I’ll be the one to ask. We have to know where they have placed Cornelia,” James said with a finality in his voice.

Whatever happens, I have to get Cornelia. I assume she has no knowledge of him whatsoever and might not trust me but that is beyond the point. She needs someone to take care of her and I will be that person. It’s the least I could do after being so careless with Julie…

“Oh, Julie. If only I could turn back time and told you that I was wrong and sorry for turning you away… If only…,” the old man cried of the wasted life of his only child. He lamented on the wasted time they had hating each other when what they should have been doing is forgiving each other. They were both so full of pride and both never backed down from their fight. Well, she was truly her father’s daughter.

He learned from his doctor that he was also plagued by a different kind of disease, one that won’t easily go away with just a few days in the hospital. His surgeon explained that they found cancer cells in his colon. He has stage two Colon Cancer. He could still have chemotherapy to try to avoid it spreading to other parts of his body and for the sake of his still missing granddaughter, he has agreed to do any means necessary to extend his life, at least until he’s made sure that Cornelia was found and taken care of.

James wiped his tears away and set out to the airport. He will do right by Cornelia if that’s the last thing he did in this world.

He went to the place where Julie set up her residence. It was his first time in the little town in New Jersey and he was pleasantly surprised at how tranquil the environment was. There were no busy intersections and zooming cars about. The people seemed to function at a much slower pace in that area and James smiled at the people he saw.

Yes, it was a great place to raise a kid and a nice place to exist, away from the hustle bustle of city life.

James had met with Kevin at the airport and was filled in with what the circumstances of Julie’s death was. He was suspicious of the accident because if there was anything Julie was so adamant about, it was about being careful and safe. And he never thought she would be so careless as to drive herself into a very high cliff.

No, there was something missing there and he would damn make sure that he finds out what. But first thing’s first, he had to find Cornelia.

He went to the old teacher’s place but she didn’t give him any information about Cornelia but directed him to Julie’s resting place. So he went there and paid his respects.

He then checked the records of where the system might have placed Cornelia for the teacher was clearly tight-lipped about it. She’s probably just protecting the child and he was sure Julie never mentioned a relative or her father to anyone there, especially since she wanted to hide from him.

To his dismay, there were no records of Cornelia even being placed in the system. He went to the police station to inquire about the accident but the cops were also not very helpful at all. He tried using his influence on them but was slapped with a court order to stop because apparently, adoption records were sealed. He was informed that Cornelia was adopted and since Julie didn’t place anything as next of kin in her public records, James couldn’t legally get Cornelia, if he ever found her, that is.

He nearly got another heart attack fighting the system and trying to locate Cornelia but to no avail. So as a last resort, which proved to be a long process, he set out Kevin and other private investigators to find the girl. But it was the same time that James was faced with problems of his own. He had to fight to keep his company and battled with other big corporations, preventing them into buying him out. He couldn’t bear to see his life’s work go into pieces, which was what big corporations do to small scale dying companies.

It took almost six years before he found her and if she didn’t run away from the orphanage she was buried in, he wouldn’t have found out about her being in that place in the first place. He was shocked, to say the least, to know that she wasn’t, in fact, adopted. She was buried deep in the records of the orphanage and they didn’t even use her real name. That was why they couldn’t find her in the first place.

“Someone had to have a hand in this,” James said to Kevin when they finally found out about it. It was a few days after she had run away. “We need to find her, Kevin. She must be kept safe!”

“Yes, Mr. W. I’ll make sure to find her as soon as possible. I’ll start with the nearest towns. She couldn’t have gone far, with her being barely sixteen with possibly little or no money. I’ll report to you whenever I reach a new town. What will you do in the meantime?” Kevin was getting ready to set out into locating the girl.

“I’ll help, of course. She’s my granddaughter. She’s my responsibility and I should have found her years ago! Anyway, no point in getting into that now. Once you find her, it is imperative that you do not pertain to me as her grandfather, not yet, at least. She might not believe you since I imagine, Julie never even mentioned me to her. Just tell her that I am an old friend of her mother’s and I have been looking for her for years now. Then wait for me and I will go to your location. I’ll let you know if I find her first.”

They agreed and went their separate ways.

James decided to start with the easiest transport system that a teenager would have access to, public busses and the trains. He spent hours and days stopping at each train stop and asking around for her and then as he was about to give up on the train and look for other avenues in searching for her when luck struck.

He’s been roaming the streets for about two hours on of the last train stopovers when he noticed a dirty girl looking for scraps. She was about the same age as Cornelia’s and she fits her description, albeit a lot thinner.

He convinced her to take his offer of helping her get to her feet and set her up with a place to stay and then finally, gaining her trust to let him help her get a job and even getting her an ID to help her get a job.

He was happy with their relationship, even though Cornelia doesn’t know that he is, in fact, a relative, his grandfather for that matter, he is still content that he is able to help her.

If he was being honest with himself, he’s afraid of telling Cornelia the truth because he’s afraid that she might turn him away just like what Julie did. He’s scared that if she finds out the real reason why Julie was left alone to fend for herself, that she might loathe him and sever any ties he has carefully developed between the two of them.

It wasn’t Nick who left Julie, it was James. He let himself be consumed by his pride that he couldn’t even forgive his daughter and ask for forgiveness himself.

 

He sighs again and smiles at the setting sun. “Oh how life had been for me, Julie. I would gladly go to you once I make sure Cornelia is taken care of. I  know I must tell her the truth, but it would have to wait for a better time. Right now, she has to face another heartbreak for Morrison would have to hurt her in order to save her. I’m sorry Julie. I have failed you again. I have allowed her to foster hate in her heart for so long all because I wanted to make that man pay! What I should have done is to deal with the fact that I was the one who left you…,” he sobs and wipes his eyes.

“Now, love has captured her heart instead and I am happy that it happened but alas! Another tragedy for she has to keep away from the McElroys yet again. Just like what I had warned you about before. I don’t know, Julie. I keep trying to see past the fact that the McElroys were trouble from the start but here we go again, Cornelia has become a target of their enemies and I cannot lose her too! I need to do everything possible to keep her away…”

With a determined face, James turns away from the peeping sun and goes back into the house. Morrison must be talking to her now. He would have them have their moment and then check on her later on. He would have to brace himself for her reaction to Morrison’s leaving her.

He just hopes that Morrison makes his case clear and makes her understand why he’s doing it. Cornelia is a volatile young woman and even though she’s been through so much in her young life, she might not take it if the first man she ever loved leaves her too.

 

 

 

Chapter IV

“Wh-what do you mean, Morrison?” Cornelia can’t believe her ears. No, she refuses to believe what he just told her.

“I’m sorry, Cornelia. I- I have to go. My father needs me… by my family. I can’t think of anybody else aside from my family, you understand? I can’t be weighed down by someone else in my life. I have to focus on my family, our name and our legacy is what matters most. I hope you can understand that, Cornelia,” Morrison says in a determined voice.

He pictured this scene in his head and kept rehearsing what he had to say to Cornelia. It took him fifteen minutes to think about it in the hallway, just outside the room she was resting in. He knew she wasn’t asleep yet because he could hear her walking around and even taking a shower.

He stayed there, seated in the chair outside her room. He contemplated on what to tell her and what words to use to let her think that he was doing this because he was concerned about his family name, and not much because of her. When in truth, he is so scared of her safety and would not be able to live with himself if something happens to her again because of him.

He thought back to what James told him, that he should be the one to leave because Cornelia would not allow it if he told her that he was concerned for her safety. She would just brush it aside and convince him that she can take care of himself and he would end up letting her talk him into letting her back in the office.

So he decided to tell half the truth of the real reason why he’s kicking her out of his life. He decided to hurt her, to push her away… for her own safety.

“You can’t be telling me this! No, you’re just worried about me. And I’m telling you, Morrison, I am a big girl. I can take care of myself, okay!” she insists back. She can’t believe Morrison has already wavered and wanted her to stay away from him. James probably talked to him and convinced him to tell her these things so she would go away and not be in danger.

No, you cannot control my life forever, James! I can’t let you

”Cornelia, I am telling you that I need to leave and for you to just move on and not come back to the office, to my life… because I… I can’t handle having someone right now. In fact, I don’t want you in my life because you’re just going to drag me down. You’re a target now and if they get to you again and use you against me, I don’t want to have to compromise my company’s existence just because of you! Frankly, you are not that important to me so I can sure hell let you go instead of my family’s company. A legacy that my family have worked for for many years! Can’t you understand that simple logic Cornelia?! You’re a liability to me!” he shouts.

He doesn’t mean to have a shouting match with her but he’s becoming so frustrated that she keeps on insisting to stay when every minute that she is with him, her life is in grave danger. He cannot have that! He’d rather be the asshole who dumps her than see her get beat up again because of him.

Cornelia stops talking altogether. She sits slowly back down on the bed, her eyes, on the floor, a solitary tear threatening to spill down her cheeks. She grip the floral bedsheets to keep herself steady when her heart and mind are in turmoil as the aftermath of Morrison’s words linger in her ears. It’s like she’s in a slow motion movie when everything is moving so slow. Her heart rate makes a slow but loud thud- thud- thud sound, while the ticking of the wall clock sounds like a thousand bells, hurting her ears.

“You’re a liability to me!” was Morrison’s last words and it still rings in her ears.

He doesn’t want me in his life because he thinks I’m just going to weigh him down? A liability? Whatever happened to our shared intimacies with each other and the words we have spoken to each other? Don’t they mean anything? Is he just playing me?

“Hey, don’t blame yourself if I no longer want you to be a part of my life, okay? It’s… We’re just not meant to be, you know. We don’t move in the same circles, you and I. I mean, could you take it if we ended up being together and attend hundreds of parties where all you do is talk about my company? I mean, it’s a tiring lifestyle and honestly, I don’t think you’d be up for it,” he continues slaying her with words while he stabs himself a thousand times in his mind.

Okay, the last words went a little too far… I’m sorry Cornelia. I am the asshole! Let me be the jerk here and don’t argue anymore because I don’t know how else to push you away unless I hurt you even more with my fucking lies!

He argues with himself if he just storms out and leave her or stay and make sure she gets the message. He can’t take the hurt in her eyes much longer but he has to make sure she believes him and stays away from him. It’s the only way to make her safe. As long as their enemies think that she is connected to him in any way, they will find her and use her to get what they want and the next time they get a hold of her, she might not be lucky enough to walk away with just bruises.

“Stop it…,” she whispers through her breaths. “Just go Morrison. I get it…,” she sighs as one big fat tear rolls down her check.

She feels like her very heart is being squeezed in her chest, making it very hard for her to breathe, and her legs and arms have turned to rubber. She can’t feel her face and her eyes are burning. She can’t let him see her bawl over losing him. She’d rather let him see her wrath than her grief.

“Go, you fucking asshole! I never want to see your face again! If you dare to even talk to me or look at me from a distance, I swear, I will beat you with a bat! Go!” she suddenly screams as his last words settled in and the sting from it was getting unbearable.

She stands up and shoves him to the door. “Get out!”

“Cornelia…,” he starts saying. He’s beginning to change his mind. He can’t take her hating him. He can’t take the look in her eyes.

“Shut up! I’ve heard enough and I want you out of here! Go! If you are not out of my sight in the next second, I will scream!” She is already screaming but she doesn’t hear herself over the turmoil going on in her head.

Why do they always leave me?! I should never have trusted this scumbag! I will never open myself to anyone ever again!

Barret shows up suddenly from behind the door and asks, “What the hell is going on here?! Cornelia, are you all right?” he proceeds inside the room and looks from Morrison’s sad face to Cornelia’s angry one.

“Barret, good you’re here. Would you please escort Mr. Ellis or McElroy or whatever the hell his name is, out of the premises. He wishes to go back to the city and be rid of us. Thank you for your assistance. I want to rest now,” Cornelia says in a sarcastic voice.

Morrison takes a step towards her retreating back when Barret stops him by putting a hand on his shoulder.

“I think you better go. Let her rest,” Barret tells Morrison as Cornelia walks back to the bathroom, leaving them both.

“Get your hands off my, Barret, or I swear to God, I will take out my anger on you,” Morrison’s low and murderous tone takes Barret by surprise but holds on to his grip on him.

“Not until you are out of this room, pal. You need to cool off and I can’t let you stay in this room,” was Barret’s reply.

Morrison shoves his hand away and storms out of the room. Barret follows suit, gently closing the door behind him and stands in front of Cornelia’s bedroom like a sentinel.

He gets a chuckle from Morrison who says, “Are you supposed to be her protector now? You can’t even protect her from a mugger and you think you can protect her from me? You are so out of your league, pal.”

“I may not have the training you’ve had and the money you were given by your father,” Barret gives emphasis on the last part, “but I know I can be there for her when it matters most and I won’t have any enemies that would do her harm. She will never be unsafe with me and you know it! So go and take your empty words with you McElroy. She doesn’t need you anymore.”

Barret’s words ring true and all Morrison could do is to walk away with his head hanging. His heart feels like it was being wrenched from inside and he can’t do anything about it. He hates himself for being so harsh with her but he thought it was the best thing to do. He would just have to live with the hurt he’s feeling and someday, when all of this is over, he would go back to Cornelia and pray that she takes him back because it would be unbearable not to have her in his life.

James sees these events take place in front of him and all he can do is shake his head. He walks towards his room, the one in the corner of the hallway of this two-story mansion that he commissioned for the exact reason that they were there now, it’s a safe house for Cornelia. And it’s going to be hers one day, when he passes away.

It’s an old Victorian house but it has been preserved and maintained all these years. James had always envisioned Cornelia to grow up to be a classy and elegant woman, just like a graceful Victorian lady. That was why he chose this house, and of course, because of the wonderful ocean view at the backyard. It comes with a strip of privately owned beach.

But the condition and view of the house is the least of his worries. He needed to convince Cornelia to leave the state or even have a much-needed vacation in another country if she agrees to it. He imagines it would be hard for her to still see the McElroys in the television so she needed a totally new place to mend her heart. A heart that’s been beaten and broken to pieces ever since her mother died.

He reaches his room and slowly closes the door. His leg began to throb again. He’s started walking with a crane after his accident back in Paris, ten years ago, after he’s been diagnosed with Stage Two Colon Cancer. His cancer has become a part of his life and he’s fought with it for the most part of the last ten years. He had surgery to remove the cancer cells followed by chemotherapy, also called Adjuvant Chemotherapy. He’s had success with it five years later but he found out just last year that his cancer came back. This time, he needed a much more intense chemotherapy treatment, which he’s been getting since.

His chemotherapy sessions usually leaves him weak and sick but his will to survive and ensure his granddaughter’s safety outweighs his sickness. But after what Cornelia went through, he has come to the decision to tell here everything and to finally admit his faults and bitterness towards Nick McElroy – that he blames the businessman for ruining his daughter and eventually destroying his relationship with her. That he had spawned half-truths and whole lies about the man and smeared his name to get her to hate him.

In truth, Nick had no idea what happened to Julie after she ran away from home. Nick had gone to their home and wanted to speak to Julie but James had been adamant that Julie never wanted to see him again because he wouldn’t leave Linda for her. It was a lie. Julie was willing to accept the fact that Nick couldn’t leave Linda right away because of their adopted son.

James was the one who couldn’t accept it and told Julie some lie that Nick contacted him to pay them off. That lie was the last straw for Julie, which made her run away.

So James orchestrated their whole separation.

“I’m sorry Julie…,” he utters, looking up at the ceiling of his spacious room. He remembers Nick’s grief-stricken face as he pleads to know where Julie had gone.

“Please Mr. Wilson. I need to talk to her. Please, where did she go?” Nick pleaded as he stood in front of the old man’s gate.

James wouldn’t let him in the property and was only speaking to him through the intercom.

“Nick, go home. I don’t know where she is and if I did, I wouldn’t tell you! She doesn’t want to talk to you anyway. You’ve already ruined her life, don’t ruin your child’s as well. Leave her alone,” was James’ last words to the man. He never entertained any of his visits or calls after that.

Meanwhile, he had already sent his men to find out where Julie had gone. It wasn’t hard to find her. She always wanted a quiet life, away from the city. They had money because James has a considerably stable company but they weren’t like the McElroys who owned half the city.

He called her after a few months but she just hung up on him when she learned it was him on the other line. He had then sent Kevin to watch over them and received reports from time to time. Kevin didn’t spend his whole time with Julie and Cornelia but travelled back and forth to James or wherever James needed him to be. That went on for ten years.

James never even noticed that amount of time had gone by. He had learned to live without his daughter beside him. He focused on his work and finding solace in different gambling places all over the world. That was his hobby, as he liked to call it. He didn’t run his business to the ground because of gambling though. He made sure he was just a conservative gambler, but a gambler nonetheless. He sent a monthly stipend to Julie, which, as Kevin reported, goes to different charity organizations. James didn’t mind. As long as he knew that Julie and Cornelia weren’t starving or stricken with disease, he didn’t step in or do anything else. To him, it was enough.

What he didn’t know was that Julie was a great pretender. She pretended to be okay on the outside, with Cornelia’s teachers, with other parents, even people from her different jobs. She was a friendly person who also kept to herself and she never dated. People always speculated that she was probably seeing someone overseas or abroad that’s why she never dated or that she was just a man-hater, like what other bitter and jealous women around her thought of. They were jealous of her beauty and her wits, which have gotten her numerous admirers. She turned them down though, in a good way, always telling them that she didn’t have time for dates or relationship because she was a single parent and wanted to focus on her daughter’s future. That always had them to back off and respect her decision.

He watched as Nick rose into power in the business world in the US as James slowly retreated from it, focusing instead on doing business ventures abroad like Europe and Asia. He got involved with merchandise and goods, imports and exports, that kind of thing. He made some fortune in it, enough to live a comfortable lifestyle and still save up for a rainy day. James realized in the whole ten years he had been focusing on his business and especially when he lost Julie, that had never really wanted to be filthy rich and grow old with money on his mind. But his realization came too late for his relationship with Julie, but it wasn’t for Cornelia.

He finally lays down on the bed and closes his eyes as he anticipates the morning. He will confess everything to Cornelia and he will finally put all his worries to rest and his secrets revealed to the most important person in his life.

 

 

 

Chapter V

She wakes up with a heavy heart. She almost doesn’t want to open her eyes for fear that she would be back in the dark cellar where she spent those gruelling hours, but most of all, she didn’t want to wake up to the reality of not having Morrison in her life anymore. The thought of him waiting for her was the only one that kept her from going insane when she was alone in the hands of her captor.

Now, she has lost him. He wants nothing to do with her anymore…

She throws away the covers and gets up. She figured there was no use delaying the inevitable. She has to get up and function. Her world doesn’t stop because Morrison Ellis McElroy has walked out of it.

Yes, he has become her world and she realized that when she was all alone and had all the time in the world to contemplate on where her life was heading. And when she was there, she liked where it was heading, with Morrison and with being close to finding out if Nick is really her father.

That thought jars her to move quickly in search for a laptop of her mobile phone. She needs to check her emails fast!

She can’t find her phone and there was no computer in the room so she puts on her robe and cotton slippers and opens her door. She peeks outside and sees the hallway. It’s white walls with brown accent gives her the feeling of being in a princess’ castle and she is the princess of the story. She tiptoes out of the massive bedroom door and into the wide hallway. The carpet is soft and muffles her footsteps. She looks out the window right across from her room and sees the ocean outside.

“Wow!” she gasps, momentarily paralyzed from where she stands. The view is so breathtakingly beautiful that she can’t take her eyes off it. The sun has just peeked out of the horizon and is slowly rising. She lets her senses take it in for a few minutes and closes her eyes to feel the moment even more.

“You look like a goddess. You’re so beautiful, do you know that?” Barret’s low voice whispers from behind.

Cornelia smiles while her eyes are still closed and turned to face him. “You, Barret, are a fresh of breath air,” she says and opens her eyes.

He looks into her eyes then, those intense blue eyes boring into her soul. She knows that he feels differently about her and try as she may, she cannot take Morrison off her mind.

“Ah, hey, good morning.” She breaks their eye contact and backs off a little from him.

Barret takes the hint and smiles back at her, the moment finally dispels in the air.

“Hi and good morning to you too! How was your sleep in this overly big house that could fit twenty people?” he laughs as she joins him. He was so impressed with the house slash small mansion when he got there the night before.

 

When he left his house the day before, determined to follow Morrison to wherever he would be going in order to save Cornelia, he was stopped by James when he called him first to know the exact location of the drop off.

“James, its Barret, Cornelia’s landlord,” he started to say. James had left them his contact number just in case they heard anything before Morrison sets out to the docks and Barret thought to call the number first before searching aimlessly all over New York to try to find out which dock he was supposed to go. He remembered that James’ bodyguard or whoever it was who was with him when he went to the apartment, knew exactly where the place was so he thought he’d find out to save time.

“Yes, Mr. Hannover, how can I help you?” James had a sad tone about him, which was understandable given the situation Cornelia was in.

“I need to know where exactly they would be making the exchange. I want to help. I want to go there… I have to do something, anything! I can’t just stand around here and wait for things to happen,” he exclaimed, sounding even more frustrated by the minute. He was so worried about her that he can’t think of anything else.

He knew that she and Morrison may or may not be dating seriously but he’s still concerned about her and he can’t help but feel protective when it comes to her wellbeing. Technically, she has been under his care over the last six months and she has never done anything bad to anybody. He can’t wrap his mind around her falling prey to those who hate the McElroys the moment she started seeing Morrison. And Morrison would need to seriously think about what he must do if he wants to keep having a relationship with her. In the meantime, he can’t stop his feelings for her so he vowed to help her in whatever way he can.

“Barret, may I call you Barret?” James asked in a calm voice.

“Y-yes, of course, James,” Barret answered taken aback for a minute with his calmness.

“Okay, Barret, thank you. I know you are worried about her and believe me, I am the first person in the world who worries about that child, but we cannot mess it up for Morrison and Kevin. They have to be successful at extracting Cornelia and the only way to do that is not to be distracted from their task. Now, if you want to do something, you can come to the address I will be giving you and wait here with me. There’s no use having coffee here alone so if you want to join me, you are more than welcome to.”

Barret thought about what the old guy said and calmed down himself.

“You’re right. Okay, I’ll get over there. What’s the address?” He jotted down the place where James was and drove over there.

It took him a couple of hours before he got there, which he didn’t mind because driving usually gives him unpressured time to think about things. He thought about what’s going to happen when Morrison and Kevin gets to the meeting place. Will the culprits give up Cornelia? Will they get out okay? Who are these thugs anyway? Those were just some of the things that went through his mind. And then there was Cornelia.

He can’t simply just forget about his earlier feelings towards her. She means something to him and even though he’s still figuring out how much exactly, he meant to find out when they get reunited. He wanted to make things clear between them and what she and Morrison are to each other.

Why am I doing this? Do I love her? I think I’m starting to, but why? I mean, I know she chose him over me the first time, but why am I still feeling this way towards her?

He asked himself these things while he was driving and he never came to any conclusion or clear answer to them. He decided to find out the moment she arrived and once he talked to her. All he knew was that, he feels happy when she’s around and he always wants her to be around.

“Barret, welcome. Come in,” James approached him as he parked in the driveway of the small mansion located in a pristine location near the coast. At first, he couldn’t believe it was the same house that James had told him to go to because he couldn’t have imagined how grand it would be. He didn’t know that James was rich but he certainly knew the moment he stepped foot in his property.

“Wow, James, this place is great!” he shook James’ hand as they walked inside the double front doors. “How long have you had this place?” He looked around the magnificent living room with its plush couch and fireplace. A big window was on the right side of the living room that looked out towards the gardens of the Victorian mansion.

“Thank you, Barret, but this is not mine. It’s – uhm – a friend’s house,” he stammered, not revealing that this was actually Cornelia’s house, or going to be when she learns that James is her grandfather, “I’m just borrowing it for the moment. She had graciously given this house at our disposal or as a safe house, one might say, until everything gets sorted out with the McElroys.”

“Ah, yeah… Speaking of which, have you heard from them? I mean I know that the meeting is not until midnight, but… wait,” he checked his watch and it was nearly midnight, “oh, it’s actually in just a few minutes. Are they there? Do they have a plan? What’s going on there?” he started to ask simultaneously, his worry for Cornelia’s safety increased ever second the clock ticked.

“Here, have a drink, Barret, before you get me all worked up,” James handed him a drink and led him towards the bar that was partly concealed at the corner of the living room. This part had another window, a smaller one than the one in the living room across the other side of the bar, but this one had a view of the ocean instead, which was another sight altogether.

“I- I’m sorry James. It’s just that I don’t like uncertain situations and I don’t even know if Morrison and Kevin had any plan on getting Cornelia back. What if they just stormed down there and messed everything up?” Barret takes a seat on one of the high chairs in front of the bar while taking in the view of the waters before him. Since it was dark, the water looked murky and ominous but as the light from a lighthouse touched the sea, it looked blue and promising again.

“I understand your concern and I know that Morrison and Kevin have a plan. Kevin has been my right hand ever since he was a young lad and he operates with precision and certainty so I’m expecting for everything to come out all right.” The old man was being honest. Kevin had always been loyal and protective ever since he gained his trust all those years ago. He would lay down his life for the old guy and any family he had. He was that kind of person and James was grateful that the young man tried robbing him a long time ago. His decision to help the poor lad was the right one because he completely turned his life around and became the good man James always thought he was.

“Okay, James. If you’re confident about your guy then I guess I’d have to take your word for it. As much as I hate Morrison’s guts right now for the mess his family created for her, I know he’ll do anything to get her back safely. I just feel so useless waiting around here…” Barret takes another swig of his drink as James poured him another one.

“I know and I feel the same way, believe me,” James took a sip of his concoction and felt a little of his worries ebb away. “But that is what we must do for now. We cannot do anything for anybody right now and we must not because it is up to those two men to do what must be done. No matter what the price…” He looked serious and his brows were drawn together. He faced the window that looked out towards the ocean as well and hoped that Kevin does what he asked him to do.

He had instructed the young man to resort to violence whenever necessary.

“If you think the situation is going south, do what you must. I don’t care about any casualties on the other side – it’s their fault that all this had to happen! Just get her out of there.”

“Understood.”

“So, how long have you been friends with Cornelia?” Barret distracted James from his reverie and brought him back to the present.

James faced Barret and smiled, contemplating if he should tell him the truth or not yet. If Cornelia trusted this guy, then he could too. But for now, until she gets there and he talked to her, he’ll play it safe.

“Oh, yes, Cornelia. I met her four years ago… It was a chance meeting when we travelled to the same place together and bumped into each other in the street. We were both lost and we decided to help each other out. She was very helpful to this old geezer and she reminded me so much of my own granddaughter…” his voice trailed off.

“Ah, I see. Where is your granddaughter now? Has she met Cornelia as well?” he was trying to find out if this man was telling him the truth or a bunch of lies. He likes James and he seemed genuinely concerned about Cornelia but until he talked to her and tells him James could be trusted, he’ll keep on probing for information.

“She’s, ah, not really talking to me right now. You know, family drama. She’s abroad, Europe, I think, backpacking in the countryside. You know kids…”

Barret smiled and remembered his own adventures as a teenager. “Well, I hope you get to reunite with her soon. Cornelia is a great girl. I mean, I’ve only known her for a little over six months but I know she has a good heart.”

“That she has. She has the purest heart who deserves to be happy. She’s had a lot of heart ache in her young life – ah, one which she has not shared with me yet – but I do have a feeling that she’s had struggles before and maybe still is going through some of them right now but she has been so great about her circumstance even at the face of adversities.” James couldn’t help but overshare about her but he stopped himself in time. He has become so proud of what she has accomplished and how she turned out to be that sometimes he lets his praises slip.

You seem to have spent a lot of time with her and I feel that she has certainly shared her life story with you then. I’m glad she has someone like you who treats her like family. I never saw anyone with her in her apartment before… well, before Morrison, of course, but not one visitor, man or woman, has ever spent a night there or even hours. She most certainly keeps to herself and as I said, I’m happy that she actually has a friend who knows her very well. It must be sad to be alone most of the time.” Barret thought of his own circumstances in life and that’s probably why he could relate with Cornelia. He only has his businesses to keep him busy but no wife, girlfriend, or kids. He only has his ex-wife, whom, fortunately, still likes him as a friend.

“Yes, we’re both lucky to have each other. She has been such a joy to be around and knowing that she has people like you who look after her welfare is very comforting,” James replied with a smile. He was glad that Cornelia has met people she can consider as friends and might even find love with one of them. But the situation where she’s in would be a struggle for she has to make some tough choices when the time comes.

James’ phone suddenly rang and it was Kevin. He said that they are on their way there and would tell him all about what happened once they get there.

“Cornelia, is she with you? Is she hurt? What condition is she in right now, Kevin,” he asked incessantly, worry showing in his guise.

“She’s with us. We got her, James. She’s a bit shaken up but otherwise unharmed. She’s asleep right now. Poor girl must be very tired. I’ll get them there as fast as I can. Don’t worry, she’s fine,” Kevin answered with a reassuring voice as James thanked him and hung up.

“Thank God she’s okay. I wouldn’t have known what to do if anything happened to her. She’s the only family I have,” James sighed and sat on one of the chairs at the bar.

Barret detected something more with what James said. It was more than a friend worrying for a friend, he was acting like she was an actual family member, a blood relation. Then he dared ask a question he already knew the answer to.

“Is Cornelia your granddaughter?” he asked cautiously.

James was right. The young man was not stupid. He saw through his guise right away. So he just stayed silent and looked out the window.

“You know Barret, there are things in my life that I regret, lots of things really. And the biggest one is letting my only daughter walk out the door and completely shut me out of her life. Just because I was so damn stubborn and heartless… I let my daughter slip through my fingers and I waited too long for her to come back that it was finally too late…” He buried his face in his hand and sighed deeply.

Maybe it was the alcohol – he’s not had one for a long time – or maybe the relief that he felt in knowing that she’s all right, but James suddenly had the feeling that he could trust Barret with his secret and he’s always been a good judge of a person’s character. So as an added push to finally reveal his secret, James pours himself another drink.

“Barret, I am going to tell you something I have never told anyone else, only Kevin knows this and I intend to tell Cornelia in the morning. I need her to take her rest first. And I know we have just met but I know that you are good at keeping secrets and that I can see you are a person of integrity and intelligence.” He started then paused as he lets Barret react.

“Wow. I feel flattered that you feel that way towards me with the short amount of time we’ve known each other. I do strive to be those things you told me about myself. But what makes you think that I am? I might be a crook or a liar for all you know.” Barret asked, trying to test the man.

“Well, I guess when you come to a certain age in your life, you tend to throw caution to the wind and trust your instincts instead. And that is what I’m doing now. Anyway, what I’m going to tell you won’t benefit you at all because it concerns another person.”

Barret nodded and smiled up to James. “Then, you can trust me with whatever it is you are about to tell me. You have my word that I will not divulge it to anyone unless you tell me to.”

“Thank you, Barret. Well, I guess you have surmised that Cornelia is not merely an old friend of mine. She is, in fact, my granddaughter and my only remaining close relative. Her mother, Julie was my only daughter and my wife, died giving birth to her. God rest their souls,” James whispered the last sentence and closed his eyes for a few seconds before going on. “As you can imagine, I was very protective about Julie and I was training her to be my successor. You see, I was deep into the mercantile business before and also with shipping goods. I started out with small business venture that turned out to be quite a success then I moved on to owning my own company and business. I was starting to become a recognized member of the cutthroat business world. Julie never really had any liking to the kind of world I operate in. She was more into the arts and music.”

Barrett stayed silent and just James talk about his past and the mistakes that he made when he was younger.

“It’s not that I don’t like Nick McElroy as a person. He is rather good in his field and he had really become his own man even if most people thought he was lucky to have been born with a silver spoon in his mouth. But he married – and still is – to another woman when he had a relationship with my daughter. Julie, being young and naïve, believed with all her heart that Nick would leave his wife for her. But I knew better. I am a man and I am a businessman just like he is and I know what a good marriage means to a business. And Nick’s marriage is indeed very advantageous, especially to Nick. I knew he would never get divorced and marry my little girl. He will only break her heart even more if they stayed together, even if she was pregnant. So I did what any man could do, what any father would do for his only daughter!” he exclaimed, slamming his fist on the counter.

He still had the bitter taste of betrayal in his mouth. “I trusted Julie… I trusted them both to break it up and leave each other alone on their own, but no! They did not end their affair and instead, conceived a child. It was going to be scandal if anybody found out about it. So I forced my nineteen-year-old daughter to hate the man she loved by feeding her lies. I… I told her that Nick came to the house and offered to pay me money to keep quiet…” he paused as he remembered the hurt in his daughter’s eyes when he told her that lie.

“No, dad. He… he won’t do that. He loves me, I know he does… was my Julie’s response when I told her followed by days of weeping and solitude. I knew it was unhealthy for the baby in her womb so I tried my best to distract her for the next few weeks but there was no consoling her. She wanted to go to Nick. To talk to him and hear his explanation but I wouldn’t let her. I kept her inside the house, locked away from the world. Meanwhile, Nick kept calling and coming to the house as well but I’ve had my men stop him even before he stepped foot on my the premises of my territory. I had to get a restraining or der for him – of course, these were all done hush hush… The McElroys value their name more than anything else in the world does so when I had the TRO, Nick’s father had forced him to stop calling on Julie and to stay with his wife. Yes, Nick did stop, eventually, but not before coming to my house for the last time. And a week before he stood in my driveway, bleeding from the beatings he got for forcing his way inside, Julie had run away.”

“What did you do then? Did you tell him where your daughter went?” Barret asked. He was all ears to James’ story and he felt sorry for the lovers who fell in love in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“No. I didn’t know then where Julie was in the first place. And if I knew, I wouldn’t have told him anything! I was so mad at him for causing so much heartache to my family. No…” James shook his head and drank some more. “I was mad at him but I was even angrier at myself… I was disappointed with how I treated Julie that I drove her away. Not because she was heartbroken from Nick, but because I broke her heart… My princess… I broke her heart to a million pieces because of my pride… because I couldn’t believe what had become of my precious angel. I couldn’t and wouldn’t want her to just be a mistress! She deserved better than that! She deserved a man who loved her and put her first in everything, just like I did! I loved her very…” he sobbed, “very m- much.”

It was hard for Barret to see James that way but he understood the man. He knew the unbearable hurt of losing someone and he knew that for James, it was much harder because he never got to see his daughter alive ever again. He never had the chance to ask for her forgiveness.

“I- I’m sorry Barret. I guess the alcohol must have gone more to my brain than my stomach…” he tried to smile despite his tears but it was hard. His face appeared constricted and sad.

“Please do not apologize, James. I know it’s very hard to lose someone you love. Are you feeling all right?” he asked, concerned that the old man might grow weak because of the late hour and the drinks they’ve been drinking, although it wasn’t much.

They heard a vehicle approaching after some time of talking about how Cornelia and James met. James had just finished telling Barret about the time he had set up Cornelia with her first apartment.

“They’re here.”

“Yes. That must be them. I’ll meet them up front. You best stay here while I get them.” Barret nodded as James set out to meet the three.

 

“Barret? Are you okay?” Cornelia looks at him with a puzzled expression on her face.

“Oh, I’m sorry Cornelia, I was, ah, I was thinking about last night,” he stammers.

“I see. So, speaking of last night. How did you come to find this place? I know you met James back in my apartment, but I didn’t know you came here with him too,” she asks.

They start walking towards the main lobby.

“Yes, I met him there but I couldn’t just stand around doing nothing while Morrison and Kevin raced off to save you. I would have wanted to go with them but that might put the whole operation in jeopardy, you know. So, I stayed behind. When I contacted James again to see what else I can do aside from doing nothing, he then asked me to come here instead and we waited for all of you here,” he answers.

“I’m glad he had someone to wait with him. I’m actually quite worried about him. He’s been, I would say, unwell, for the past couple of months. I haven’t seen him since two months ago. We usually go out for a bite to eat every few weeks but not for the last few ones.” Cornelia sees that Barret is a sincere and real friend despite what him knowing what transpired between her and Morrison.

He’s a true friend and I’m just sad that I have to keep secrets from him, she thinks to herself.

As they go down the steps of the big staircase, they hear a commotion somewhere in the living room. They look at each other then start taking the flight of stairs by twos.

They enter the living room and begin searching for anything unusual like an upturned table or a broken glass furniture, which the room has an abundance of. But the sound did not come from there. Then Barret sees another door to his right, right beside the bar that where he and James had sat on the night before.

“There,” he motions to Cornelia who quickly joins him to investigate.

They enter the door that leads to another big room lined with bookcases and a wooden table right in the middle. It has great glass windows that look out to the ocean and they see James seated on one of the chairs at the corner of the room facing the fireplace. He is clutching his chest and seems to have a hard time breathing.

“James!” Cornelia exclaims and rushes to his side with Barret trailing behind her.

“C-cor-ne,” he struggles to say as she takes his outstretched hand.

“Don’t try to talk, please. Barret! Call an ambulance quick!” Cornelia tries to calm down and not panic as Barret gets his phone out and calls 911.

“Dear, my d-dear g-girl…” James makes to caress her face but the effort was too much so he just lets his hand fall to his sides. He attempts a smile but she knows that he’s having a hard time making even the tiniest movements.

“James, whatever it is, it can wait until you’re better. For now, please do not move too much,” she pleads with him and gives him a sweet smile to mask her worried face. She looks at Barret who is still talking to the person on the phone but nods at her meaning he’s relayed the message.

Barret cups the phone’s receiver and tells her, “They’re on their way. Just hand on there.”

The butler comes in and takes on the scene. He immediately alerts the staff and offers to have James driven to the nearest hospital but Barret informs him that the emergency personnel are just five minutes out. In the meantime, they placed James on the couch and made him comfortable.

“I think he’s had a stroke,” Barret whispers to Cornelia while they wait for the ambulance to finally arrive.

James’ breathing comes out in bursts and his eyes are closed.

“I don’t know. I’ve never seen him like this before. I always thought he was strong, you know…” Cornelia looks at James and feels so helpless. She couldn’t do anything to help him when he’s done everything to help her. She’s beginning to really worry about the old man. She’s starting to get scared of losing him. She wouldn’t know what to do if she did. He’s the only one who has given him direction all these years.

Kevin walks in on them together with the paramedics team who quickly works on checking James’ vitals and asking them questions on his condition.

“I- I don’t know if he’s had an episode before… I’m not sure if he has any existing conditions,” Cornelia answers the lady EMT but then Kevin speaks up and answers her questions.

“Mr. Wilson has had two other heart attacks before. The first one ten years ago and the other one just three years ago. I’m contacting his doctor now so you would have a full account of his medical history.” Kevin looks at Cornelia with a sombre expression and nods at her while he helps wheel James away from the study and into the ambulance.

Cornelia wanted to be go with James on the ambulance but Barret advised her that it would be best to follow them with his car instead.

“Okay, Barret. Please let’s go,” she urge him as they get in his truck.

They arrive at the hospital after fifteen minutes of fast driving through the streets of the town. James was immediately rushed to the emergency room and is now being evaluated by the doctors.

“What’s the news, Kevin?” Barret asks Kevin as they approach him in the hospital lobby.

“His doctor is flying in now as we speak. I don’t have any news for now but he’s stable. All we can do now is wait,” Kevin answers. “I’m gonna get a cup of coffee, you guys want any?”

“Yes, thanks, Kevin,” Barret didn’t wait for Cornelia to answer because she seems to be deep in thought.

“You bet.”

Barret goes back to Cornelia who is now seated and is staring at the floor like she was in a trance.

“Hey, there. Are you okay?” he asks her as she looks up at him.

“Hmm? Oh, yes, I’m okay. I’m just worried, you know, for James.”

“Yeah, me too. I’ve only known the guy for almost two days but I know enough that he means a lot to you and you to him. I’ve had the chance to chat with him last night and from what he’s told me and what I’ve seen, he’s really a stand up guy.”

Cornelia just nods and continues on staring at the floor, which worries Barret a little bit. He doesn’t want her to bury her feelings and to deal with them alone, which is what she’s doing at the moment.

“Hey, it seems that we won’t get to see him in the next hour or so, what do you say we grab a bite to eat, huh?” he attempts a smile but her grieved expression makes him stop.

He suddenly closes the gap between them and takes her in his arms. She rests her head on his shoulder as he wraps his arms around her shoulders.

“It’s going to be okay, all right? James is a strong man. He can take this. But we need to be strong for him. And I think that getting you out of here will make us all feel a lot better,” he draws her away from him and looks at her tired face.

She finally nods and that’s when Kevin makes his way back to them with three cups of coffee in his hand.

“Hey, Kevin, we’re thinking of getting some breakfast while we wait for the doctors. Want to join us?” Barret asks nicely as he takes their coffee.

“Nah, that’s okay. I’ve eaten an hour ago. I was running some errands for Mr. W when Jim called me up. You two go ahead. I’ll stay here and wait until you get back before I set out. I’ll call you if anything happens.”

They thank him and make their way out of the exit doors.

They decide to just look for a drive through and get some food. They pass a park just a few minutes from the hospital and both wanted to stay there to eat their food instead of the hospital.

After getting their food, Barret calls Kevin to see if there was any development. Kevin tells them that the doctor just got in and is examining him now. “They say it might take a while. Don’t worry about rushing back here. I got things covered here.”

Barret thanks him and stops at the parking lot behind the park. He tells Cornelia that they would still have to wait for any news and assures her that Kevin has the situation covered.

“Okay, but I don’t want to stay out too long. I want to be there when he wakes up,” she responds.

“Of course. We’ll just be a few minutes. You need a breath of fresh air especially with what you went through yesterday and today. It’s too much for anybody to handle so don’t be feel bad about taking a few minutes to yourself.”

She smiles at him and shakes her head while feeling amused, “You’re such a good friend, Barret. I’m so lucky to have you here.” Her voice starts to quiver and her eyes starts welling up.

“Oh no you don’t. Come on, let’s sit over there. Don’t start crying now, we haven’t even had breakfast yet,” he says jokingly while assisting her to a wooden bench.

“Fine,” she laughs and wipes her eyes. She sits on the bench and looks around the park. “Wow. This place is beautiful.”

And it is a beautiful place. The park offers a full view of the coast and the public beach a few meters beyond the buildings. But at the same time, it has lots of trees surrounding it and the ground is a sea of green grass. There’s a playground in the corner where children can play on. The day is still early so only a few joggers are making their way across the running paths in the park. There are benches spread throughout and they took one that’s close to the parking lot in case they needed to rush to the hospital.

The breeze tickles her hair and the salty air touches her face. She closes her eyes and lets the ocean fill her senses.

Barret stares at this beautiful creature and feels his heart leap from his chest. He still has feelings for her and he can’t help but show it to her. He knows that Morrison left the night before and although he doesn’t know the circumstances why, it was evident that the two had a misunderstanding of some sort. He doesn’t mean to take advantage of that particular misunderstanding but he’s happy that he gets to spend some time alone with her.

“Cornelia?” he asks.

“Hmm?” she opens her eyes and gets her sandwich from her take out bag.

“What happened to you before you came to New York? I mean, you told me a bit about your childhood and all but what made you go to New York? Was it only to make a better life for yourself?”

She stares at him and doesn’t respond for a few seconds. “Why do you want to know?” she asks. Her face a mask.

“Oh, nothing, just curious is all. It’s okay if you don’t want to tell me or anything. I don’t want to pry or anything. Just making conversation,” he says offhandedly as he takes a bite of his sandwich and smiles at her.

She sighs and responds, “Well, I have told you about me coming from New Jersey and that is pretty much it. I wanted to find out about the world and the opportunities took me to New York. I’ve never regretted my decision though. It’s been pretty interesting for me. And James has been very supportive of me. I’m lucky to have him as a dear friend.”

“Yeah, he is a great guy. What about last night? What happened to you out there? I know it must have been very frightening. Did you know any of your attackers?”

She shakes her head. “No, I don’t. I haven’t seen any of them before and I still don’t know their faces because they had their masks on the whole time,” she responds but lies about the tattoo she saw and the hair that she glimpsed on from the guy in-charge. She knows that he has a boss and that it’s a “she” and that boss must really hate the McElroys for resorting to that kind of crime to intimidate them.

“It was scary at first, especially when they took me to the cellar, which served as my prison for a few hours,” she shudders at the thought of being there and shakes her head to get rid of the memory of being crouched to the ground, not knowing what would become of her.

“Okay, let’s not talk about that anymore. I’m sorry I asked.”

She thanks him and they enjoy a few minutes of silence with just the waves and the sound of the seagulls flying nearby as their background music. They pack up after finishing their food and decide to drive back to the hospital to check on James and Kevin.

Kevin tells them that James is stable and has been checked by his personal doctor. “I’ve spoken to Dr. Johannsen and he told me that he’s doing fine now. He’s out of the woods but they’re keeping him here overnight for more tests.”

“Thank God,” Cornelia whispers. “Can I see him? Is he awake?”

“He’s resting right now so it would be best to come back later. You could both go back to the house and get properly dressed if you want to. I can stay here and look after him whole you’re gone,” Kevin replies.

“No, I want to stay here for another hour or two. I can just go back to the house later. You and Barret can go and just come back later.” Cornelia is not about to leave James when he needs her the most. She looks at Barret who has a concerned look on his face. “I know what you’re thinking, Barret. I’m fine. I have rested and I had ample sleep last night so go ahead and take a shower in the house. I actually want to be alone with James so if you could please give me some privacy, it would be much appreciated.”

After hearing that she wanted to be alone and spend some time with James, Barret can only look at her tenderly and give a resigned nod. “Okay, Cornelia. But I’ll be back after an hour or maybe earlier. You might think you’re okay but your body needs to continue resting for a couple of days. So I’ll pick you up after an hour, okay?”

“Yes, I’ll wait for you then. Thanks a lot, both of you, for taking care of James and I. I owe you a lot.” With that, she proceeds to James’ room to be with him in the next hour.

“Ah, such a sweet kid. I have a niece with the same age as hers. They grow up really fast, that they do,” Kevin says and walks off towards the exit, Barret following suit.

“Are you going back to the mansion?” Barret asks.

“No, I need to go somewhere. James asked me to look into those thugs who kidnapped her and it will be best for all of us if I  find out as soon as I can,” he replies and waves farewell as he gets in his car.

“Right…” Barret answers after Kevin closes his door. He walks to his own car in further along in the parking lot when he saw someone leaning on his car. It was a woman and she seems to be looking inside his vehicle.

Barret nears his vehicle and clears his throat before confronting the woman. “Can I help you with something?” he asks in a firm voice.

The woman looks up and Barret is pleasantly surprised at how beautiful the woman is. Her hair, brunet and short, like a pixie cut, did not dampen her beauty one bit. She has a slender build, a little too thin for his type but still has curves in the right places. She looks into his eyes and he could see an endless color of blue in her gaze. He’s completely captivated by this woman that he suddenly losses the ability to speak.

“Oh, hi there. I’m sorry. I was just, ah… You must think I’m a car thief or something. You see, my car is right here, beside yours and I lost my keys. My spare is inside the car. I just looked over to your to see if I could use something in it. Which, of course, sounds ridiculous now since I might have to break into your car to get it, right?” she finishes and blushes a deep red.

“Ah… N-no, I don’t think you’re a thief. Far from it really. You’d be the prettiest car thief ever if that’s the case.” He smiles and finally returns to his normal self. “Please, let me help. What happened exactly? Where did you last see your keys?” he asks while coming closer. He unlocks his pick-up and rummages for a wrench or any of his tools that he might use to pry open the car door if needed.

“Well, I really can’t recall. I was on my way out of the hospital, visiting a friend, and when I was fishing for my keys inside my bag, they weren’t there. I think I saw it last when I locked my car before going inside. Sorry to bother you… err… mister?” she asks, waiting for him to tell her his name.

“Barret, you can call me Barret miss?” he asks in return.

“Hannah. I’m Hannah Lange. I’m sorry for this. You know what. I’m just going to find a security guard or something. I have to get going.” She starts walking across the parking lot towards the hospital.

“Hey, um, Hannah?” Barret says before she gets halfway to back to the building.

“Yes?”

“If you want, I could drive you where you’re going. I’m on my way out as well. Where are you heading off to? Maybe I could drop you over?” He can’t resist the company of this woman so he offers her a ride right after meeting her for the first time.

What’s the matter with you? She must think you’re a madman or a serial killer for offering her a lift right away. He thinks to himself and decides to explain himself.

“Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’m not a maniac or anything. I just want to see if you could use my help. You could have a mechanic come over here and check your car or something. I think I passed a car mechanic shop a few blocks from here. We could go there if you want,” he scratches his head and tries not to sound so overly zealous to be with her some more.

He looks at this innocent angel and finds himself liking her every minute he’s with her. She’s not as tall as Cornelia and she’s thinner. Cornelia is more of the curvy athletic type but Hannah’s body can be likened to a model or the ones who wear fashionable clothes during those galas and shows. Although not to the point of an anorexic person.

She looks at him quizzically then her lips turns up to form a smile. “Oh, would you? Yes, I would really appreciate it if you drop me off at that mechanic shop so I can get this car opened.” She starts walking back to him and to his pick up truck.

Barret feels a pang of guilt for having some stirring feelings for this woman. He kind of feels like cheating on Cornelia. But they aren’t a couple, they are just friends, right? Cornelia obviously is still hooked on Morrison even though that jerk went off and left her alone to deal with her injuries and the trauma that she felt during her captivity. He was a cold-hearted asshole for storming off like that after he talked with Cornelia. Of course, Barret doesn’t know what had transpired in that talk but still, any decent man would not walk on a woman in her state last night.

He focuses on Hannah and opening the passenger door for her. He catches a whiff of her perfume and it’s heaven to his nose. He’s beginning to love everything about her. How could he feel that way all of a sudden for another person when he was sure his heart belonged to Cornelia a few minutes ago.

He’s still puzzled but got in his truck, nevertheless, smiling at her as they drove away from the hospital.

“So, Barret, what brings you to the hospital? Are you visiting a relative?” she begins asking him, her head cocked to one side and a sweet smile on her lips. She looks like a cute curious young teenager, asking her crush if he likes apples or some other fruit.

“Nah. I’m visiting a friend we just brought in actually. I think he had a stroke but he’s stable now that’s why I have time to get back to the house and get some stuff they would need in the hospital.

“Oh, I see. I’m sorry to hear that. Is someone watching over him while you’re away?” she asks again.

“Oh yes, I left my friend to watch over him while I…,” he pauses then thinks back. I never told her my friend was a guy. “How did you-,” Barret isn’t able to finish his sentence because he feels a sharp object pointed at his side.

“Oops, I’m sorry, I neglected to mention that I know why you’re at the hospital. Now, how do you know the McElroys?” she pokes the blade deeper into his ribs and Barret can feel it penetrate his shirt.

“Hey, easy! I’m driving all right! Do you want us to get into an accident?” he exclaims while desperately trying to work out a plan of how he would get out of the situation. “Who the hell are you lady?!” Barret tries keeping his eyes on the road but he can’t help but look at her while he continues driving. He can’t believe that the angel he thought he saw in her was actually quite the opposite.

“That is of no consequence to you. Now, tell me. Who is that girl? Who is that old man, huh? Who are they?” she presses on as they round a corner. Barret doesn’t know exactly where they are headed but due to the small town being deserted due to the off season, he can’t see any opportunity for him to stop and ask help. He can’t very well struggle with the mad woman while keeping one hand on the wheel.

No, I have to somehow stop this truck or we’d both drive into a ditch.

“Lady, whoever you are, if you aim to get information from me, you’d best get it when I’m alive and not steering the wheel! You’re fucking crazy!” he shouts at her and she momentarily shuts up.

She thinks it over and realizes that he’s right. “Fine! Pull over here.” She points to the side of the road. They have reached the woods and no one is around. It’s a road less travelled but cuts to the town and towards the house. It’s where the ambulance drove through and he just followed it.

He pulls over cautiously and slowly looks over to her, the knife still sticking to his side.

“Okay, please, take it easy. You can unstick that knife at me and talk calmly. I’m sure whatever you want to find out, I can help you figure it out,” he puts his arms up to near his head while still being star struck with the woman’s deceptive beauty.

“I can unstick this at you when tell me what I want to find out. Now, start talking!”

Ugh! She looks even more beautiful when she’s angry. Damn it! What is wrong with me?

He has a better view of her now that he’s facing her up close. He gets a whiff of her perfume again and he’s transported to a sea of green grass on a breezy summer day.

“Hello? Are you sleeping?” she exclaims, cutting him off from his daydream.

He must’ve closed his eyes unknowingly when he smelled her scent. Now he thinks he must look like a total idiot. And for the life of him, he doesn’t want to look anything like a fool in her eyes.

What is it about this girl that has me so transfixed?

She has a totally different beauty from Cornelia. It’s not as obvious and palpable at first sight. It’s hidden deep in her green eyes, like she holds a whole world for that person who will have her heart. A loyalty and passion for something. And he suddenly wants to become that something or someone.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I’m probably praying because you’re holding me at knife-point!” he answers pointedly. “If you would lower your, ah, weapon, then we could have a discussion.”

She looks at him angrily but does as he said.

 

 

 

Chapter VII

Who does he think he is? Why is he talking to me like I’m some schoolgirl who’s lost or something? Do I really look that unconvincing?

Sally Halstone has been living in hate the past year. She’s been in hiding as part of Linda’s conditions when she paid her off to stay away from Morrison. She remembers that fateful day like it was just yesterday…

“So, you are the girl my son’s been talking about. You’re not bad looking, not that good-looking either. I wonder how you’ve managed to ensnare my son into your womanly traps,” Linda Ellis McElroy scoffed at her while she remained on the hospital bed, surprised that Morrison’s mother came to see her. She was delighted at first to think that Mrs. McElroy was kind enough to inquire about her but as it turned out, she came there to mock her and degrade her character.

“Wh-what are you talking about, Mrs. McElory. I… I have no bad intentions towards your son… We love each other and -,” she started to say but Linda cut her off angrily.

“No! He can’t possibly fall for the likes of you! He’s a McElroy and he won’t settle for a person of your stature. He’s got so much ahead of him and if you truly love him as you say, you would let him realize his future.”

Those words hurt more than her injuries from the car accident. She grew silent while listening to Linda’s spiteful words. She can’t unhear what she has heard and it hurt like hell. She stayed frozen, her eyes wide with disbelief, and her ears ringing from the words being shot at her by the mother of the man she loved.

“I…,” she tried speaking but her throat just constricted and no other words came out of her mouth.

“You don’t have to say anything. I understand now,” Linda’s expression softened and gave Sally a look of pity. “Of course, no woman could resist my son when he sets his sights on her, and he’s young. He hasn’t quite figured out what he wants in life yet. And I guess, he just changed his mind with his future with you. Men can be so fickle aren’t they?”

“Wh-what do you mean,” Sally croaked.

“Oh, I forgot to mention that I spoke with him and he voiced out his doubts with me… you know, about you and what all of this,” she swung her arms around, giving emphasis to what has happened to them so far, “with the accident and all. I think my son just had an epiphany that he wants something, ah, how should I say, different with his relationships.” Linda walked closer to her bed and looked her straight in the eyes. “In other words dear, he doesn’t want you anymore.”

That was the arrow that pierced her heart in a million pieces. She couldn’t believe her ears and at first, she wouldn’t. “No! He loves me. We love each other. I won’t believe anything you tell me. I want to speak with him! Morrison!” she started shouting.

“Oh would you shut up! If you don’t, I would have you thrown out of this place, even if you’re still in bandages. And don’t think I won’t do it!” Linda’s face changed from being amiable to an angry dragon protecting her eggs. “Now, if you don’t believe me. You can wait until he wakes up again but I’m telling you, you’re not going to be happy about it so I strongly recommend that you take this,” she hands her a white wrinkle-free envelope.

Sally didn’t make any movement to take it and maintained a defiant face. Linda placed the envelope on the edge of the bed and sighed. “Well, I’d hoped this would end in an amicable settlement but you really are forcing my hand, you little gold digger. So, you want to play dirty, and then I will.”

“You can threaten to pay me all you want but I am not leaving her without talking to Morrison. Now, if you’re done with your tirade about me being with your son, you can leave me the hell alone!” Sally said defiantly.

“Oh, I will leave you but I believe you have a brother in prison waiting for the judge’s decision on his early release…. About his case on breaking and entering…” Linda let the sentence hang and smiled as she saw the horror in Sally’s face.

“How did you… h-how did you find out about him?” Sally whispered.

“I do have my resources and I have very powerful friends who could hand me out favors with just a phone call. You do want your brother out, don’t you?” Her perfectly shaped eyebrow raised as if taunting her to say “No” when they both knew that Sally would do anything for her brother.

How did she even know? I haven’t even told Morrison yet… she thought to herself.

She has not told Morrison yet, not because she was ashamed of her brother getting a stupid mix up with his friends, who thought it would be cool to check out a shop’s merchandise when it was already closed up for the day. It was because she didn’t want him to think that she’d need him to bail her brother out or something. So, she kept it to herself and went out to parties with Morrison. She wanted to let him think that she was a carefree young woman who had everything going for her and a person who enjoyed life… She didn’t realize that all she had to do was be true to him.

Of course, she didn’t know that then. At first, she got so furious at Johnny, her younger brother, for being so stupid as to be coerced into breaking and entering a shop nearby, but as she calmed down and thought about it, it was partly her fault for not being there for him. Johnny was a very sensitive kid when he was younger and he retreated further inside himself when their parents died during a car accident. He never recovered from it and she did what every sister would do, she found a job and buried herself in it.

When she met Morrison, Johnny had been in prison for five months. It was ruled as a misdemeanour and the sentence could have been reduced even more if they had a good lawyer. But they didn’t. They were tried as a group and each of the five young men got less than a year’s sentence. Johnny was supposed to be out just two months from the time she met Morrison but then he got mixed up in a gang and got involved into all sorts of trouble. So instead of getting out, he got more jail time and added another six months to his jail time. It broke her heart but she was then determined to tell Morrison when they were going on their vacation. She didn’t want to keep anything from him anymore. She wanted him to know everything about her. That she was serious about their relationship enough to share the truth behind her smiles.

But then, tragedy struck and their car pitched off a cliff. Linda happened to hold the upper hand and all she could do was cry as Linda smiled. She knew she had won. She would use anything against Sally just to get her off her son’s life.

It wasn’t because she hated Sally in particular. She hated people who were not in the same stature in life as they are and would dare get themselves associated with her family. She has worked long and hard in keeping her family intact. The sacrifices she has made to make sure their name was not tarnished had cost her a lot but she never regretted making any of those decisions. She did all those things because she loved her family dearly and like any mother and wife, she would fight tooth and nail for her family.

“Why a-are you so mean? I never did anything to you… I love your son…,” Sally sobbed.

“Honey, that’s just it. You love someone that love dearly but I don’t think you’re going to be good for him and I definitely don’t think you have what it takes to be his girlfriend, let alone his wife. You would grow bitter and sad from all the high standards it requires to be a woman of society and a woman of a strong businessman. I’m telling you this because I am one and I was lucky enough to be bread this way from the start so I have what it takes. But you, my dear, are so innocent and, well, naïve, actually, to take on that role. So, I’m doing this in the best interest of everybody,” Linda replied. She actually looked serious in her speech and believed that she was doing them a service for tearing them apart.

“You don’t know that… You make it sound like a tired and lonely life. Why are you doing it then if you hate that life so much?” Sally looked up with tears in her eyes.

Linda was on her way out of her room, having left the money where it was, on the foot of Sally’s bed, which was still untouched. She looked back at the sad girl with the beautiful eyes and said with much conviction, “Who ever said I hated it? And as you can see, Sally, I have no choice…” And with that, Linda left Sally’s hospital room, taking with her all the hope Sally had in having a family with Morrison.

You have won this time, Linda McElroy, but I will get you the next time. I will get my revenge and make you feel all that I felt at this very moment!

Sally took the money Linda left and packed up her things. She was out of the hospital in just fifteen minutes. Her doctor wanted her to stay for another day for tests but she insisted on being released so they had her sign a waiver and released her despite her still-healing injuries.

That was over a year ago. Her brother, Johnny, was finally released and as much as she didn’t want to use the envelope of cash Linda left, she did. She used it to get her brother out and to set them up with a decent apartment. She helped him get a job and made sure he was through with his destructive ways. He was truly remorseful for his mistakes and promised her that he would steer clear from things and people that are not good for the life he wanted for himself.

She and her brother moved out of Chicago and to a small town in Cleveland, Ohio as soon as Johnny got out and they’ve lived there ever since.

She had gotten a job right on the first day she set out to look for one. It was on a pizza joint, a local restaurant just a few blocks from where she and her brother rented their apartment. She still had some cash from Linda’s so-called “trust fund”, but it was depleting fast so she needed to find a job fast.

She took the job right away when it was offered to her because the newest waitress just up and left after only a week in. She was so grateful to the owner and promised to work hard. It was going great for the next few days until the fourth night.

She was closing up for the night. It was around eleven in the evening and she and the owner were the only ones left in the restaurant.

“Great job today, Sally. You really know how to move fast,” Larry said, winking at her from across the room. He was counting their earnings for the day as she was fixing the blinds on the windows.

“Thanks, Larry! I really enjoy working here, you know. It’s the first time I really get to talk to people and get them what they need. It’s a fulfilling feeling to hear their gratitude after I serve them,” she exclaimed with much enthusiasm. She was enjoying her job and it was the first time she didn’t feel very tired at the end of the day, even after walking and moving so much the whole day.

“Well, I’m glad you like it and the people seem to like you too! I like you too… very much,” Larry was suddenly right behind her as she turned around to clean up the table behind her.

“Whoa! I didn’t see you there. Sorry,” she said looking up at him. She elbow brushed his stomach when she turned around and as surprised as she was at seeing him at such close proximity, she didn’t want to be rude and chastise him for it.

Larry was known to be sweet and close to his employees, especially with his female employees. She didn’t think there was nothing wrong with it since he seemed to have a very likeable character and he was really good-looking as well. Women usually flock to him because of his baby blue eyes and his easy demeanor.

“Oh, don’t be sorry, Sally. I like my women rough and unapologetic.” He touched her arm then, sliding down to her hands and took the cleaning cloth from her fingers. He flung it aside and used his body to pin her to the wall. “Don’t be afraid, Sally. I’ve seen you eye me from the first day you came here and I like you too,” he lowered his face towards hers but she pushed him aside.

“What the hell are you talking about Larry? Get away from me!” she exclaimed then stalked off towards the locker room to get her stuff.

He followed her to the backroom.

“Don’t tell me you want to be coy now? Come on, we both know you want this. Sally, oh, Sally, come here and give me a kiss,” Larry leered at her as she gathered her bag.

“You know what, Larry, I don’t like you that way, okay? So please, just let me go home and let’s forget all about this,” she said uncertainly as he blocked her way out the door.

“Oh, don’t break my heart, Sally. I know you want to. It’s okay, the other employees wouldn’t mind us having a relationship while working together.” Larry got closer to her and caressed her face.

She turned away and propped both hands out in front of her, as an attempt to push him away from her. But he was too strong for her.

“Please, Larry, no… I want to go home, please,” she sobbed but Larry didn’t hear her and did what he wanted anyway.

After the deed was done, he got up and threw her clothes at her.

“Get dressed. You look like the whore you are,” he laughed and strode out the door.

Sally stayed where she was for a few more minutes, contemplating between killing herself or going after Larry and killing him instead. But she came to her senses and gathered her clothes and things. She opted to go home and cry herself to sleep, her will to ever be happy again lost in just one night.

She never told her brother in fear that he would wind up doing something that will get him thrown back to jail. She never went back to that restaurant and she never pressed charges eventhough she wanted to make the asshole pay. She never even approached a lawyer because it was going to be too much for her with the lawyer’s fee and all the expenses for filing a case. No, she had other things in mind that were more important. More important things to use the money she had left for.

So she looked for another job, one that had a lady boss. It was for a big financial firm and she served as a call agent. There were lots of people who worked there and they rarely interact because they were so busy answering the phones and talking to customers. It was the ideal work for her because she could just clock out at the end of the day and go straight home. She didn’t have to talk to anybody face-to-face, just over the phone. She liked that. She never wanted being that close to anybody anymore that she kept people from approaching her and being close friends with her even they wanted to. She had acquaintances and the occasional lunch partner, but never friends. She never had anybody come over and share a lovely dinner or a fun night out. She lived by herself then because Johnny had decided to move out and make it on his own as well. He had met a girl that he liked very much and they decided to live together after a few months. He really turned his life around and Sally was so happy for him. She wouldn’t do anything to disrupt his path to a good life. Even if it meant keeping a secret buried deep inside her.

One day, she saw Morrison’s face on television. It was because of a scandal about his father’s company. She looked at his handsome face and thought that the heavens have finally realized that the McElroys had had enough of the good things in their lives while they did bad things to other people. It was finally time for a payback. And by God, she will do her part in getting back at them for ruining her life and driving her out of New York. She left her job and her life back there all because of Linda and her concept of family! And Morrison… He never even attempted to look for her. She never heard or seen him after their accident. She guessed that Linda might have been telling her the truth about Morrison not wanting her anymore. She had accepted it and decided to just get over him and his dreadful family, but that hatred was renewed after she had gone through what she had with Larry.

Yes, she has gotten over Morrison, but not the pain she felt when she was degraded and her whole personality stomped on by that vicious woman! When she laid on the ground as a monster of a man took her whole world and forver destroyed her concept of happiness! She vowed to get back at her, at him, at THEIR family for causing her pain and suffering.

So she went back to New York a different woman from the Sally who left. She was a totally different person. She had been toughened by circumstances in her life and she must now learn how to use coercion and even violence in getting people do what she wanted. It’s the only way to fight the McElroys and she will use anyone to get to them.

She traced Morrison to his office and to his apartment and saw him leave the night before, getting into a black sedan and drove off somewhere. She had travelled from New York just a few days before and just finally located Morrison’s place that day. She wanted to scout the place out when Morrison left but got curios because she saw the expression on his face when he left. He looked like he wanted to murder somebody.

So, she followed him to the docks near Flushing Avenue and saw what happened with the shootings and their daring escape. Morrison seemed to have his hands full with those people who had the woman captive.

Sally didn’t interfere or let herself be seen. She was a silent and invisible expectator. She didn’t want Morrison to die though, just to suffer as she did. She thought dying would be a useless and easy way out, a fact she realized after the night in the restaurant.

When the scene was over, she also followed them to the Hamptons where they hid in a big house, probably a mansion and probably owned by the McElroys as well. She stayed in her car the whole night and due to exhaustion, she fell asleep until morning.

She was awakened by the sirens of the ambulance that passed her car as they made their way into the driveway of the mansion.

“What the-,” she stammered, rising from the driver’s seat and rubbing her eyes to finally awake from her sleepy guise.

The ambulance wheeled away an old man, followed by a man dressed in a black suit, and drove towards town. They were then followed by the woman, who was held captive the just the night before and another man, a rather serious-looking man but has a pleasant way about him. He looked worriedly at the woman and she got the feeling that he likes her.

“Hmmm, he must be a boyfriend or something… But where is Morrison?” she asked herself while trying to look normal inside her car. They weren’t paying any mind to her at all eventhough her car was the only one parked at the end of the street.

Shoot! I overslept! Now I don’t know where the hell he is. What am I supposed to do now?

She soon realized that she didn’t have a choice but to follow the pick-up truck where the woman and the guy piled into, following the ambulance.

They arrived at a nearby hospital and Sally decided to follow them further inside. But after much slinking around, she didn’t really get to find out anything about the old man or the woman or any of them for that matter. The nurses weren’t allowed to give out any information and had gotten nowhere with the EMT who brought them in as well when she tried interviewing them on their way out. She obviously needed to talk to any of them directly if she wanted to find out their connection with Morrison.

She kept close to the hospital lobby, pretending to get coffee and sipping them slowly to get as much time as possible to be around the trio who were talking about the old man. She overheard them but still couldn’t get any related information about Morrison. The pair drove off somewhere to get the food as the man in the suit was left to wait for results of the tests made. She attempted to talk to the man in an offhanded way but he was tight-lipped and was not really very receptive of her.

She has to find another way. Well, she could very well just go back to the city and wait for Morrison at his apartment.

But then what? Confront him? Ask him why he suddenly forgot about her all of a sudden? Maybe he had amnesia? That is so far-fetched.

She shook her head as if to clear her head.

No. I want to find out about this woman. Why is Morrison so concerned with her? If she has feelings for him, then I better warn her about him and his family, especially his vindictive mother, the infamous Linda McElroy.

But the woman stayed behind, along with the old man, so she wasn’t left with much of a choice. She had to talk to the other guy who acted like the woman was the most important person in his life. Of course, if that was the case, then she would have to resort to other means aside from using her charms.

And it turned out that she didn’t even have to point a knife at him because he was more than willing to spend some more time with her, just so he could gaze into her eyes.

Barret had fallen head over heels over Sally and he couldn’t stop himself even if he tried.

She looks at her knife as if it was the first time she saw it.

Oh my God, what am I doing? She asked herself all of a sudden.

She lets go of the pointed blade and covers her face with her hands.

“Oh my God! I- I…,” she starts saying.

Then Barret does the unthinkable. He draws her to him and wraps his arms around her.

She sighs out of relief for it has been a long time since someone held her that way. Then her eyes opens wide and she pushes him with all her might.

“Let go of me! Get your hands off me!” she starts yelling and flinging her hands all over the small space of the pick up truck.

“Hey, hey!” Barret tries gently to hold her arms but she resists him with all her might. “It’s okay, lady. Hannah, hey, you’re all right. I’m not going to hurt you.”

Sally seems to come back to her senses and realize that she’s in the cramped space of the restaurant’s locker room and the man in front of her is not Larry. She stops resisting and stays still for a few seconds.

Barret senses her surrender and lets go of her hands. “Look, whatever your problem is, it’s obvious that you’re not sure of what you’re doing. And as crazy as this might sound, even to me… But I want to help you, Hannah…”

“Huh?” she asks.

“I said…,” he starts to repeat what he said.

“No, what did you call me?” she asks again.

Barret is seriously considering that she might be having some mental problems or that she might be on drugs because she looks disoriented and couldn’t quite understand what he was saying.

“Hannah. That’s what you told me your name is, remember? Back in the parking lot before you took me hostage? What is your deal lady? I’m trying to be more than reasonable here but you’re really very confusing,” he shakes his head.

“I lied to you back at the parking lot… I didn’t mean to, you know, to stick that thing on you. I don’t even know why I needed to do it. I’m sorry. I’m just… Forget it. I’m sorry mister,” she suddenly opens the passenger door and hops out of the truck.

He was surprised at her sudden movements but quickly opens his door and goes after her.

“Hey! What’s your name then?” he calls out to her. She’s walked a few steps ahead of him, towards the direction where they came from. “Hey, miss! You can’t walk all the way back there. It’s too far!” he continues to yell and breaks into a sprint to catch up to her.

As he finally does, he sees her in tears.

“Oh, come on, please don’t be like that. Please stop crying. Listen, I’m confused as hell with what just happened and your actions don’t make sense at all but all I know right now is that I want to help you. Please trust me. I won’t hurt you.”

Sally stops and wipes her tears. “Why do you want to help me?” she utters in between deep breaths of air.

She can’t possibly fathom why she ever went out there in the first place. She just left her apartment and decided to go out there and look for Morrison. She didn’t’ think. She didn’t plan. She just thought that maybe if she saw him and made him hurt like she did then she would eventually have peace of mind.

“Because you look like someone who needs someone who needs help. You look lost and from my own experience, you don’t away a person in need.” He smiles at her in a non-sexual way, which made her trust his words.

“Okay. I’m sorry about what happened earlier. I made a mistake in coming here. I should have never come here,” she whispers as he leads them back to his truck.

He sees a fallen branch that’s wide enough to sit on.

“Hey, let’s just sit here for a second, okay. We don’t need to go back to town right away. Let’s just talk. I can’t let you go anywhere with your condition right now.” He motions to the branch and she follows him, sitting a safe distance from where he sat.

“I guess you’re harmless enough,” she snickers and he chuckles at her joke.

At least she knows how to joke around, he thought. He was afraid that she had totally gone out of her mind. She would hate to drag her back to the hospital to get her checked or something. Now that he has stopped her from committing a felony and not reporting her to the cops about it – kidnapping and possessing a deadly weapon – he feels all the more morally responsible for her now. It’s like the Chinese saying that was once relayed to him by a family friend. They believe that once you save someone’s life, they become your responsibility forever. That’s exactly what he feels for Sally. And he has every intention of fulfilling that concept.

“Yes, I am harmless, as you already know. I could have knocked you out earlier or just rammed the truck into a tree or something. But I am not careless about people’s lives, especially if that involved me as well. Hah!” he laughed, joining her in making the situation lighter after their serious altercation.

“Fine. I give you that. But aren’t you afraid that the person you have saved might turn around and take advantage of your kindness? I mean, you don’t even know me. How could you trust me that easily?” she remains skeptic of his intentions, which he understands. Some people just don’t believe in the goodness of others anymore.

“Me? No. I’ve always believed that there is something good in all of us. I don’t want to waste my time by being doubtful. So, what’s your story? Why did you want to cut me earlier so you can find out about my companions?” he asks.

“First of all, I didn’t really want to cut you. I just miscalculated the length of the blade and accidentally drove it harder than what I intended to do. Sorry about that. Are you okay, by the way?” she replies looking remorseful. She tries to look at his side to see if she had drawn blood when she used the blade to try to extract information.

He looks at his side as well and there was a tinge of blood that marked the spot where he was nicked. “I’m fine. It’s just a prick. Don’t worry about it. What’s your name, anyway? Your real name, that is.”

She tucks a lose hair behind her ear and looks up timidly, “My name is Sally Halstone. I live in Chicago and I, ah, I dated Morrison before…”

He looks stunned at her revelation and after a few seconds, realization dawns on him. “Oh, so that’s why you’re asking who the lady was? Are you an angry ex-girlfriend who wants to get back at him? Because if you are, I am certainly not helping you in that department.”

As much as he likes looking at her and much more, being close to her, he doesn’t want to help a bitter woman who wants to get revenge on the guy who swept Cornelia off her feet. Eventhough it would have been such an ideal situation for him in order to get Morrison back for stealing Cornelia, he isn’t the vindictive type. He doesn’t want to partake in that sort of thinking. He believes that things are meant to happen and if Cornelia ends up with Morrison in the end, then he couldn’t do anything about it. Besides, as he realized when he saw Sally, he likes the idea of being the one who helps Cornelia in her times of need as well as Sally. Maybe he has the “Knight-in-shining-armor Syndrome” and can’t help but go for the damsel in distress.

And now, he has met another woman scorned by Morrison’s charms, he might say, just like Cornelia. Boy, he really has to hand it to the guy.

Well, any self-respecting billionaire heir could leave a woman or two pinning over him, right? I guess they do have it all then… And I’m left to pick up the pieces. Not that these women aren’t worth it, because they are, but it just sucks that I have to be the next guy after their major heartbreak.

He sighs and gets up from his seat on the branch, clearly disappointed.

“Wait… I don’t even know your name. Also, I’m over him. I’m here to… Actually, I don’t know exactly. All I know is that I can’t let his family ruin another person, another woman, because she got involved with Morrison. I know you might not believe everything that I’m saying but the McElroys are not who they seem to be. They are a manipulative and evil bunch who use their power and money to get what they want!” She starts sobbing again, which brings Barret back to where she sits.

“Barret. My name is Barret Hannover. And again, I don’t want to see you crying, okay? So, please, stop. Tell you what, its getting close to lunch time, if you want, you can accompany me to where I’m going and give me some time to get cleaned up and then I’ll drive you over to the hospital where you can talk to Cornelia face to face. She, by the way, is the woman you saw with the old man. If you’re so keen on warning women about Morrison and his family, then I suggest you talk directly to her then,” he says with a serious face and he meant what he said.

“Umm… I don’t know… Maybe it’s not wise for me to talk to her right away. Maybe, since I’ve told you, you can tell her yourself?” she suddenly feels uncertain.

“Well, then you could tell me all about yourself on our drive to the house. Seriously, I need to take a bath,” he chuckles and gets up.

She follows him with a smile on her face. She can’t believe how genuinely nice this man is. Nobody in their right mind would help a person who, just minutes ago, took them hostage.

I nearly stabbed him with a knife, for crying out loud! But here he is, going out of his way to even make me laugh because I’m such a stupid idiot and keeps breaking down in front of him! Nicely done, Sally, you’ve successfully looked like a fool in front of this nice man. He is rather good-looking in a neat, geeky way. Oh stop it!

They reach the mansion in under ten minutes and as Barret pulls up the driveway, Sally thought it would be best to make another confession. It surprises her that she suddenly became so honest with this stranger.

“Barret?” she asks while he puts on the brakes.

“I kind of stalked Morrison all the way here and that spot right there,” she points to the corner of the street just a few yards from where they are, “was where I waited in my car and where I spent the night last night.” She gives him a guilty look like a little girl caught with her hands in the forbidden cookie jar. “I swear I didn’t follow him to confess my love for him or anything,” she quickly interjects as he raised an eyebrow at her as if saying, “So, you’ve resorted to stalking him now?”

“I didn’t say anything, Sally. And it’s not my business what you feel about him. I’m just concerned that you’ve reached this point of being desperate just because you had a bitter ending to your relationship,” he replies. She didn’t tell him about their relationship yet but he has seen a lot from her eyes to know that something happened between them that drove her to be like this. He caught a glimpse of a woman who had humor in her eyes when they were back in the woods but was quickly replaced by this sad, angry person. He wants to get to know the latter more than the former, but he knows deep inside that if he really wants to know this mysterious woman, he needs to find out everything about her. And he feels that a big chunk of her old self was taken away from her when she met Morrison, or maybe when they parted ways. He doesn’t know exactly but he’s sensitive enough to know that whatever happened between them, it has tainted her personality big time.

Barret likes to fix broken furniture and turn them into something new and something better. This is a reflection of his true nature for he is continuously drawn to people who feel broken and he has the involuntary urge to mend these broken human beings and possibly build them up into new and better people.

“You do have an extraordinarily good heart to still be talking to me and not judging me,” she answers.

“Well, you just met me. What if I turn out into an asshole after an hour or something?” he replies.

“We’ve been together, alone, in this pick-up truck for over an hour now and so far, all I’ve seen is how good of a person you are. I actually have not met anyone like you, Barret. Thank you for showing kindness to me despite all that I have done to you.” Her words resonated her thanks and all he can do now is nod and smile back.

There is something so sweet and vulnerable behind her smile that Barret just wants to wrap her in his arms and shield her from her fears, whatever and whoever they are.

They walk up the steps of the foyer and she looks up at the grand staircase that greeted them as they entered the threshold.

“Wow! This place is magnificent!” she exclaims and covers her mouth when she realized she had spoken out oud.

“My thoughts exactly when I first saw this grand house. Cool huh? It’s a friend’s house and we’re lucky enough to be staying here for the meantime until… ah, I’ll tell you about it soon. Now, please make yourself at home. I’ll let Jim know you are here. Please, tell him what you need. I won’t be long,” Barret leaves her in the living room. She just nods in agreement and continues to gawk at the expensive furniture and classic fixtures of the room.

“The backyard holds more view than this miss. Would you want to have a drink? What could I get you?” Jim, the butler appears from the kitchen with a ready smile and a friendly demeanor.

“Oh no, please. You don’t have to. I- I’ll just remain here and wait for Barret. I’m okay,” she stammers, taken aback by the friendly formality that the house butler had accorded her.

“Mr. Hannover has advised me to make you comfortable and I must say that the view of the ocean puts anyone in a very relaxing state. Please,” Jim motions towards the doors going to the backyard where she can hear the waves and smell the fresh ocean air.

“That would be lovely indeed. Jim, isn’t it?” she asks, not wanting to be rude as not to know his name.

“Yes, madam. Please allow me a few minutes while I get something for you.” He didn’t wait for her protests and proceeded back to the kitchen after leading her out of the house and towards the spacious backyard.

She stares at the vast ocean and walks closer to the edge of the fence that surrounds the backyard garden.

She closes her eyes and breathes in the warm sea air. She feels the wispy bursts of air in her hair and the tips of her eyelashes. She has never felt so relaxed and calm before. She wants to stay in that kind of state for a long time… To be at home with her surroundings and feel safe…

But reality hits her when she remembers that she is not home, that this place is an entirely different place than her chilly Chicago home or even her apartment in Cleveland. And she is most definitely not safe from the dangers of Linda McElroy. Once she finds out that she’s in near proximity of Manhattan, she might seek her out and God knows what she’s going to do to her.

That woman knows no boundaries! And she will stop at nothing at keeping her so-called “family” away from people of unfavourable circumstances, just like me.

She looks around the gated house and realizes that whoever owns that place must be rich, like them. But then she thinks about Barret and his incredible trust in her even if he just met her. And to think that she even held him hostage with a stupid knife.

It takes such faith and bravery to trust a person who has hurt you, she thinks to herself and she can’t help but think about what happened to her before.

Yes, Linda and Morrison have hurt her big time and led to her further demise with other people but did holding on to that grudge give her any satisfaction?

No, it has only brought more pain and suffering, especially in my mind and heart. I don’t want to continue living like this for a long time. I don’t want to hold this grudge for any moment longer.

She suddenly senses someone approaching from behind. The wind has changed its course and a new warm breeze tickles her hair and nape.

Sally?” a very familiar voice echoes from behind her. She would recognize that voice wherever she went and knows who it is before she even turns around to look at who said her name.

“Oh, it’s you,” she says nonchalantly but her heart starts beating uncontrollably that she’s afraid it might leap from her chest.

I guess I have to face the music sometime…

 

 

Chapter VIII

“Sally? Wh-what are you doing here?” Morrison stammers, not quite believing that she’s here.

“I, ah, I…,” she starts but doesn’t know exactly how to explain her sudden appearance.

“I ran into her in the hospital earlier and she says she knows you. I invited her over because she lost her keys. What are you doing back here, Morrison? I thought you’d left for the city?” Barret walks out of the house towards their direction.

“I was. I heard about James and I wanted to see how he was doing,” Morrison answers him but quickly turns back to Sally with an incredulous look. “What were you doing in the hospital, Sally? Why haven’t you contacted me? I didn’t know you were back here. Where have you been?” Morrison couldn’t’ help the barrage of questions that he had unleashed. He was still in shock at seeing her there, in person, after more than a year of no communication from her. He needed an explanation.

“Hey man, maybe you both need to sit down and talk things over… at another time because right now, I need to get back to Cornelia at the hospital. She hasn’t had a decent meal and a bath yet so if you two would like to come with me, now is the best time to tell me because I’m heading out,” Barret says a little sarcastically. He isn’t sure why he’s beginning to feel pissed at seeing Sally and Morrison together.

They dated before so I guess I shouldn’t feel off that they are talking to each other, right? He starts trying to convince himself not to be jealous of the two but he can’t stop the feeling of annoyance at the thought that they used to date.

“Cornelia, yes,” Morrison clears his throat and looks at Sally uncertainly before turning to Barret. “How is she?” he asks, concern etched on his face.

“She’s fine, Morrison. If you really want to find out, we had better start moving and get back there.” Barret starts walking back towards the living room and out the front door without waiting for their answers.

Why is that asshole back here anyway? Why does he have to mix up everybody’s heads? Especially the women?

Barret is not jealous of Morrison and his effect on women but he’s beginning to get angry at his ways of letting these women down. He doesn’t have to trample on their feelings and then show up all of a sudden and mess with their heads again.

He shakes his head but hears them coming out of the door as he opens his truck.

“Barret, I think Sally should ride with me to the hospital. I need to, uh, talk to her…,” Morrison sends him a look asking him to let him take Sally.

“Sally, are you okay riding with Morrison to the hospital?” Barret asks, not paying Morrison any mind.

“Yes, Barret. I’ll be okay. Thanks for asking,” she replies looking determined and firm.

Fine. If she wants to go with him, let her. But I won’t take her in my arms again if she comes crying to me about him.

Barret shrugs and gets in the truck, muttering, “Fine. Let’s go then.”

Sally and Morrison pile into his sports car while Barret pulls away from the driveway, looking pissed.

He wants to get angry at her but he knows he doesn’t have the right to. He isn’t anyone important in her life and she doesn’t need to explain anything to him.

She’s just a girl I met, that’s it. She doesn’t mean anything to me so she can do whatever she wants, no matter how incredibly stupid it is!

“Morrison-,” she starts but then Morrison speaks up as well.

“Sally-,”

They spoke at the same time then silence…

“Sorry, you go ahead, Sally,” Morrison finally says while peeking at her from the corner of his eyes. He couldn’t look at her fully since he’s driving but at the same time, he doesn’t know what to expect from her and feels slightly anxious of what she might expect from him.

It has been more than a year since the accident and many things have happened ever since. Back then, he had so many unanswered questions and promised to himself that if he ever saw her again, he would surely get all the answers he needed. But now that she’s there, in front of him, just a few meters from his touch, he couldn’t seem to bring himself to ask all those questions.

She’s at a loss for words as well. She knew she would see Morrison eventually and she would eventually confront him about what happened more than a year ago, but she didn’t realize it would be that soon. She was still contemplating on how she would ask for an explanation for his behaviour then but out of all the things that she wanted to say, she is tongue-tied the moment they are together again.

She clears her throat and finally speaks.

“Why, Morrison? Why did you not love me all of a sudden? I understand your mother but you?” she asks in a tone that was not accusing but more of a person who was hurt.

“Me? What about you? Why did you just up and leave me in the hospital? Wait… My mother? You’ve met my mother? When?” he raises his eyebrow, confused at how she had possibly met his mother then.

“Of course I met her. She came to my hospital room the day she paid me money to leave and not to see you again!” she spats the words to his face.

A look of shock and disbelief registers on his face and she knew then that he truly does not know what happened and what his mother did to make the situation worse for them.

“You didn’t know, did you?” she shakes her head and laughs sarcastically. “You didn’t know that your angelic mother had the gall to come to me and tell me that you’ve suddenly changed your mind about me… about us…,” her voice broke at that moment. She didn’t realize until she was face-to-face with Morrison that she was still hurting inside, not because of their lost love, but because of what had happened to her life after that.

“What are you talking about, Sally? My mother never even met you… She came to the hospital to see me so I told her that she would have a chance to meet you too because we were in the same hospital, remember? But I never got a chance to get you guys together because you left!” Morrison says out of frustration and confusion. “Tell you what, let me pull over so we could talk straight. I can’t understand what you’re implying if I continue driving.

So Morrison does pull over by the side of the road and turns to face her fully. “So, what’s all this about you meeting my mother when she was with me the whole time?”

“Morrison, you were out cold for, I don’t know, a few days. How could you possibly know what exactly happened during those times? All I know is, your mother came to me telling me how unfit I am for you and even offered me money to leave you! I am not lying to you. You can ask your perfect mother if you want!” she exclaims.

“Hey, wait a minute, Sally. Don’t talk like that about my mother! You don’t know her,” he replies, getting a little pissed for hearing how unpleasant his mother was when all she’s ever done is to love him and his dad, and take care of them all her life.

He sighs after several seconds as they both remained silent. She’s looking out her window as he looks ahead towards the road. They stopped in a strip of secluded road that connects the main road to the house. Barret has gone ahead of them and might probably approaching the hospital by then.

Morrison shakes his head and runs his fingers through his hair in frustration, “Listen, Sal,” he starts, “I am not your enemy here. I want answers just as much as you do. I was in shock that you just left me then and I couldn’t find you anywhere after that. I was… devastated that you left me… I had to go abroad, to Europe, to forget about you.”

Sally faces him with a look of anger on her eyes, not the reaction he was aiming for. “Well, Morrison, I’m sorry that you had to go to Europe and have a grand vacation time while you got over me but believe it or not, I went through hell in order for me to forget you and what your family has done to me!”

Her eyes start to well up in tears and as much as she hated crying in front of Morrison, a few big teardrops fell from her eyes.

“Oh, Sal… Please don’t…” Morrison starts to come closer to take her in his familiar arms but Sally places both hands up to ward him off.

“Please, Morrison… I don’t want your pity and I surely do not want your comfort. As I have said, I have gotten over you and I don’t want anything that might possibly remind me of what we had before…”

“I… I…,” he stammers, his arms still in the act of hugging her then he let them fall to his sides. “I’m sorry if you had a hard time afterwards… but I still can’t believe that my own mother had anything to do with it…”

“Well, believe it Morrison. I never wanted to take the money,” she confesses in a low voice, “but I was forced to. When I refused to take the money and leave and insisted on seeing you first, she pulled a hard one on me. The one thing that she knew I could never say “No” to.”

His forehead creases and asks, “What?”

“I never told you I have a brother… And the reason I didn’t was because I didn’t want you to think that I’m taking advantage of you,” she replies.

“What do you mean? How could you take advantage of me if you told me about your brother?” he asks, confused.

She sighs deeply. “Because he was in jail that time. He was serving less than a year’s sentence for Breaking and Entering. He was in a bad mix. He had bad company so he got hauled up together with his friends in that misdemeanour charge. It wasn’t because I was ashamed of him or anything. I just didn’t want you or anybody to think that I was with you because of the advantages you might bring to his case… to our lives… Come on, let’s face it. You’re filthy rich and I was what? I was working a nine-to-five at your company, broke, and with a brother in jail! I mean I couldn’t be more than a gold digger than that, right?”

Morrison shakes his head, “No, Sal, you were never a gold digger. I never saw you that way and no one did! Believe me, my stature had nothing to do with our relationship before. It never mattered to me that my family owns a corporation and yours didn’t. I never wanted to have a relationship out of convenience!” He wants to make sure that she understood that he was serious with her then and money never mattered to him.

“To the likes of you, who were born with a silver spoon in their mouths, it’s easy for you to say that money never mattered to you… But to common people like us and the rest of the ninety-nine percent of the world, it does, and having people use your lack of money against you is the most effective way to get what they want! She threatened to do something about my brother’s case… implying that she had friends in high places and that she could just call in a favor that would be detrimental to my brother’s case! Who wouldn’t be scared of that? If it was just about me and nobody else, I would have fought her tooth and nail and could have just thrown the money at her face but she talked about my brother! The same one that you didn’t know about yet. I was going to tell you about him during our vacation but as you can imagine, it was cut short…”

He remains silent. His mind is still processing her words and what they mean. “So, you’re saying that my mother, whom you have never met before that day in the hospital, threatened you and your brother’s future and even offered you money just to stay away from me? Why?”

“She said that she didn’t want “my kind” associated with yours. That you had a bright future ahead of you and that you deserve someone… better. And by better, she meant a girl with her own set of diamond jewellery and a string of companies with it, I presume,” she answers bitterly.

As she talks to him, she feels that she’s no longer angry with him for she realized that he never knew anything about it… but feels sad for just a wasted time in their lives. All that’s left is sadness in her heart. She’s not even mad at his mother anymore for breaking them apart. She didn’t really know what’s going to happen to her and Morrison if they continued on with their relationship.

“I loved you then Morrison but I think that we both know that we wouldn’t last… not the happily ever after anyway. And quite frankly, I don’t think it would be you that’s the problem or your family or your mother… It’s just the circumstances that we have in our own lives. We were meant to have that time together and we are meant to have this talk now that its over.” She smiles at him finally and feels for the first time that she has finally let go of the past and the events that happened then.

Morrison looks at her with a smile of admiration and respect. “You know what Sally? I feel that we were a good couple when we were together… but we were at our best when we were friends…” the corners of his eyes crinkle as he smiles. “Friends?” he holds out his hand and waits for her to take it.

Sally, having brought out all the things that she has kept in her heart and mind, takes his hand and replies, “Yes, friends… I can handle that.”

Morrison starts the car again and drives to the hospital. “So, what happened after you left? Did you go somewhere? I tried looking for you but nobody could tell me where you went.”

She tells him that she moved to Cleveland with her brother and has been living there ever since. She doesn’t tell him about what happened to her in the restaurant she first worked in. She felt he didn’t need to know it and its something that she intends to keep to herself forever.

“I’m happy that you’ve made a life for yourself and your brother there but have you ever considered moving back to Chicago and continue with your career here since, you know, we’ve talked and cleared some things up?” he asks sincerely. She was a brilliant employee at his old office in Chicago and he wants to help her get back in track with her career.

“Hmm. I don’t know. I might think about it. I’m okay with my job now… pays the bills and all. Plus, my brother’s probably getting married in the next few months and settle down there, so I’ll see if moving is an option for me.” She honestly never thought about moving back to Chicago or any major city again after Linda threatened her.

“If you’re worried about my mother, you don’t have to. I apologize for what she has done to you and I will talk to her when I get back to New York. I will make sure to clear it up with her. I know it must have been hard leaving all things behind a year ago, but I will make it right, I promise.” He reaches out across the seat and squeezes her hand.

She closes her eyes and smiles. It was a good feeling to be comforted by her ex-lover and now friend, and it was even better that she has finally released her feelings of hatred and uncertainty. It was like a big block of ice was lifted from her heart and now that its gone, it left her feeling warm and hopeful for a better future.

“I appreciate that Morrison. It was unbearable to leave my home and love some place else but it has taught me how to be tough and that I have to take care of myself better and cherish the ones around me. What your mother did was inconceivable but I’ve learned to live my life after it. I actually came out here to somehow make you pay for what I thought you’ve done to me but as we talked and once I learned that you didn’t have any knowledge of it, I realized that all of that pent up hate was all for nothing. I guess I just needed to see you and hear what you had to say to make me see that holding on to grudges would only bring me down.” She feels that she’s grown up from the first time she arrived up to that moment.

“Wow. I really admire you, you know that Sally.” He pulls up at the hospital parking lot and they get out of his car.

Sally remembers about the woman he was with in the docks and asks him about her. “So, what’s all this about this girl? I must admit, I followed you yesterday from your apartment to the docks and to the house where Barret took me. Yeah, yeah, I was in stalker mode yesterday because I thought you were this evil and heartless villain I have pictured you to be all these months. And I saw you rescue her from some men. What was that about?”

“Whoa! You were there? You saw the whole thing?” he asks incredulously as they made their way towards the hospital’s entrance.

“Yes, I did. And it was pretty intense, I must say, like straight from an action movie. I was so scared I couldn’t move from inside my car. It took me a couple of minutes to move after you’ve all driven off and decided to follow you.”

“It was very intense. I was thinking I got hit on several parts of my body half the time on the drive to James’ house. Cornelia. Cornelia is her name and yes, it was because of my family’s enemies. I’m sure you’ve heard what’s been happening in the news or on the papers. It’s a really a difficult time for my family right now with the case and all, but most especially because of these people who want to hurt us by hurting those we love.” He tells her more of the incident and Cornelia’s involvement in it. “I probably shouldn’t be telling you this because, well, we have history…”

“Oh come on, Morrison. I’ve said I’m over you and I am. The only reason I had you on my mind for the past year was because of my derision of you and your mother. But other than that, I’ve moved on. As you told me earlier, we are better at being friends more than lovers,” she says sincerely and Morrison can’t help but love her for their renewed friendship and how open and forgiving she had become.

“I really appreciate you being so mature about this, Sally. Please know that I will never do anything to hurt you or our friendship ever.” He meant what he said.

“I know you won’t,” she replies. “So, do you love her?” she winks at him as if coaxing him for more information like high school friends do.

“Well… yes, I do. I love her and I want to make a life with her. That’s why I rescued her from those thugs. I couldn’t live myself if anything bad happened to her. She was kidnapped and held hostage. All because some people wanted to get their hands on the evidence that would help my dad’s embezzlement case. We don’t know yet who the brains of the operation is and the other people involved but I will make sure to get to the bottom of all of this. I cannot tolerate them targeting people that I love!”

“Wow. That is terrible. I never thought I would say this, but I hope you sort things out. If we hadn’t talked about your knowledge or lack of it in our break up, I would have rooted for the other guy but now, I know you don’t need any more animosity. How does she feel about all this though? Does she love you back is the right question, I guess,” she asks, raising an eyebrow. She had wanted to warn the poor girl but if she really does love Morrison, she guesses that she’ll find out soon enough about his mother’s aversion to the underprivileged kind. “Has she met your mother? Please Morrison, if you are serious with her, you might want to give her a fair warning about Linda. I don’t want her crumbling from your mother’s wrath.”

“Sally, I appreciate the concern about my mother but as I said. I’ll take care of her. I would have to talk to her about what you accused her of – and don’t get mad but she’s my mother and as her son, I owe it to her to ask her about it face to face. In that way, she won’t be able to lie to me if it were true. Until then, I would like to give her the benefit of the doubt.”

She doesn’t say anything but nods at his request.

“And Cornelia can actually hold her own. I know she won’t be easily intimidated by anybody. But… that’s the thing, I left the house yesterday and told her goodbye because I couldn’t bring myself to get her more involved with family’s affairs. She was already targeted and kidnapped because of me, because of my family, and I don’t want to find out what they are willing to do next. I had to make her think that I didn’t want to be with her anymore so she won’t be in danger anymore. James had asked me to do this and as much as I despise myself for letting her think that I’m an asshole, I had to. I had to because I agree with James. Until all of this is over, I can’t be with her yet.” He hangs his head in despair. They had stopped at the front of the hospital door, near the lobby entrance.

Sally feels sorry for Morrison and what he had to do for the person he loves. “It’s going to be okay, Morrison. If you just tell her the whole truth, then I know she would understand and wait for you as well. I know I haven’t met her formally but from what I saw in the sincerity of her face when the ambulance wheeled her friend away, she is a reasonable and rational woman.”

“Hah! And she is as stubborn as they get as well. She would never let me go through this alone. I know she would not consent to it if I had asked her to lay low and just sit there and let me fix all this. She would volunteer to help even if it meant that she would continuously be the target in order to hurt me. No. I can’t let her be around me right now.” He proceeds on telling her about what he had said to Cornelia the night before. He tells her about the hurtful words he spat on Cornelia’s teary-eyed face.

“Whoa, you’ve got yourself a dilemma right there. On one hand, you’re saving her from further danger, but on the other hand, you’re making her hate you for because you led her to believe you don’t love her anymore. You want her to stay away from you because you’re afraid of her safety and you think that driving her away with hateful words would do the trick?” she asks looking at him like he was some stupid shmuck.

“Well… yeah,” he admits realizing what a stupid shmuck he really is.

“Tsk tsk tsk… A woman scorned is a dangerous one, Morrison, believe me. The only thing that happened to me all these months of being alone and not having any explanation for what you did, was building a revenge plot for you and your family, especially your mother. Silence and distance had made me vengeful and bitter and not until you and I talked, I kept myself a prisoner by that kind of feeling and thinking. Don’t let that happen to her as well. If she is special as you think she is to your life, then tell her the truth and accept whatever she decides to do afterwards. Warn her of all the things she will go through if she sticks with you and if she still does want to stay, then you’ve got yourself a keeper. If she doesn’t then you will know that she is not worth it and you can have some peace of mind in letting her go for good.”

“But I just want what’s best for her. I don’t want her to go away. I want to keep her safe but the only way is for her to be away from me,” he continues to argue his case.

“I know what you’re saying Morrison and if you think that will work then go for it. But here’s my question, isn’t keeping her close to you better at keeping her safe rather than letting her be unprotected and unguided? I mean, yeah, you can’t keep her under watch twenty-four seven but at least for the most part, you’ll have her close to you. Don’t you think that would be better? And who’s to say that when you leave her alone, the bad guys won’t go after her still? Even if they knew you were not together anymore, you clearly would still be concerned about her safety. It’s not like you flicked a switch and you suddenly don’t love her or give a damn about her anymore, right?”

Morrison contemplates on her words and the longer he thought about it, the more it made sense.

Yes, the enemy wouldn’t think that I won’t be concerned about her anymore if we broke up after a day or a week or even a month. She would still be a target then, unless she moves all the way across the globe and remain there until the trial was over. Something that I know she won’t do.

“That could work but I don’t know if she will ever talk to me again after what I’ve told her last night. But it is worth giving a shot. Thank you Sally… for your words of wisdom and your forgiveness. I would always treasure what we have,” he says sincerely while gazing into her eyes.

He gathers her in his arms and hugs her tight, kissing her on the forehead to show his platonic affections.

They stand there, in each other’s arms for a minute until she finally draws away from him. She looks up at Morrison and then her eyes turns to the side, looking at something or someone behind him.

Her looks turns serious and a little confused. “Umm, Morrison?” she asks uncertainly.

“Yes, Sally? What’s wrong?” he looks at her expression and then turns around to the place where she was looking at.

“Cornelia?” his voice wavers and he suddenly lets go of Sally and fully turns around.

“Oh, so that’s her. Well, I should get out of here because from the looks she’s giving us, we might as well have burned and melted into the ground. Goodluck, Morrison.” She turns to leave but he stops her by holding her arm gently.

“No, it’s okay Sally. I want you to meet her and I want to reassure her that we’re just friends,” is his firm response.

She nods at him and they face the entrance at the same time but Cornelia is nowhere to be found.

“Where is she? Did you see where she went?” he asks her as they both enter the threshold.

“Nope. I just saw her a second ago but then you asked me to stay and the next instant, she’s gone. Maybe she went back to the hospital room where your friend, James, is,” she replies.

“Yeah. That’s probably where she had gone. Let’s go then.” They went up the steps towards the hospital rooms and located James’ room but then they see Barret in the hallway. His head hangs in his shoulders and he looks as if a huge rock has just been dropped on him.

“Barret, hey, have you seen Cornelia? Is she back here?” Morrison asks as they approach him.

Barret stays silent and continues to look at the empty floor.

“Hey, Barret. Are you okay? What’s going on?” Sally asks as she places a hand on his shoulder.

He finally looks up and they can clearly see sadness in his eyes now.

“Haven’t you heard yet?” he asks sadly at them both.

“Heard what? What is it Barret?” Morrison asks more forcefully this time.

“He’s gone. James is gone…,” answers Barret.

The three of them fell silent and Sally sits down beside Barret to rub his back as he laments on the loss of his friend.

“I’m so sorry to hear that, Barret. Is there something I can do?” she asks.

Barret looks at her and thanks her for the concern. “It’s ok, Sally. I’m okay. You don’t have to stay here or offer me assistance really.”

Sally hears a tinge of sarcasm in his voice but dismisses it. He’s probably just tired and sad. I should afford him more patience and understanding.

But Barret is a bit pissed at them for coming too late and for being together. He can’t quite fathom why Sally is still talking to him after what he and his mother did to her. However, he figured it wasn’t his business anyway.

Then why are you so fucking mad at seeing them together?!

“What exactly happened Barret? I thought James was fine? Jim told me he was out of the woods according to Kevin. What happened?” Morrison paces back and forth and still can’t make sense of the situation. “Cornelia? Where is she?” he suddenly remembers that she might have been storming out earlier, sad and grieving about James, and she saw him and Sally hugging at the entryway.

Oh shit! I have to find her.

“I don’t know exactly. I came here around fifteen minutes ago and saw her crying and hysterical as the doctors tried to get her out of the room. I tried calming her down but she kept on telling me that James was gone.”

Barret remembers her grief-stricken face as she told him that her life has been a lie. She said that James told him the truth about her and that she is truly his granddaughter. She was not making much sense after that because her words came in gasps after each sob and Barret tried his best to comfort her and not be overcome with sadness over James’ passing as well.

“Cornelia, I know it’s hard right now but you have to relax for a second. I’ll get you some water okay?” he said gently to her as he coaxed her into sitting on the hallway chairs. It took him several minutes just to stop talking hysterically about what James had told her but it seemed that she had finally calmed down.

He left her there, sitting and staring at the floor and got a bottle of water from the nearest drink dispenser. It was only a few steps from where she sat but when he came back, she was not in her seat anymore. He looked for her in the hospital rooms beside James’ room but she was nowhere to be found. Meanwhile, James was officially declared dead at one-thirty-eight in the afternoon due to a sudden and fatal cardiac arrest.

He tried calling her through her cellphone but she wasn’t answering. She tried the house as well but Jim said she hasn’t come home yet. He delivered the bad news to the kind butler and he could hear the poor man gasp and his voice wavered as he thanked him and said goodbye.

He hated to be the bearer of bad news but he didn’t know where Cornelia had gone and Morrison and Sally haven’t arrived yet. So he sat quietly on one of the seats in the hallway and thought of the places Cornelia might have gone. He wondered if James had told her everything. If he did, then she probably wouldn’t have stormed out of there so quickly. That thought made it even more imperative for him to find her quickly to explain everything James told him.

That was when Morrison and Sally saw him sitting on the chair with his head trained on the floor.

 

Morrison grabs him by the lapels of his shirt all of a sudden and asks him again, “Where is she? I need to talk to her now!”

Barret grabs Morrison’s hands and flings them aside, jerking himself away from his grip.

“Let go of me! You don’t deserve her, you jerk! Just last night, you left her alone and now you want to talk to her like you had a right to even look at her!” Barret can’t believe how highly Morrison thinks of himself and how arrogant he is in thinking that Cornelia would even want to see him now.

Morrison puts both hands in front of him and opens his palms as if to say that he’s backing off, “Okay, okay, I’m sorry, Barret. I just need to see her right away. Can you tell me where she might have gone? Please…” he pleads.

Sally looks pleadingly at Barret as well. “Please Barret. She might have seen us in an embrace earlier and she might have gotten the wrong idea.”

“Look, I want to help you but I, myself, don’t know where she went. I called Jim back at the house but she’s not there either. So, you figure out what other places she might think of because I can’t think of anywhere else right now.” He puts his head on his hands, shaking it as he remembers what Sally said.

Hugging? Why would they even be hugging? And here she is, rubbing my back and acting like she wants to give me a hug herself. I’m seriously confused with this chick, he thinks as they all fell silent for the second time.

“Okay, I’ll check her apartment back in Brooklyn and other places. Give me a call if she shows up, okay? I really need to see her, Barret.”

Morrison nods at Sally and leaves. Sally stays with Barret as Morrison walks to the parking lot.

“I’m sorry, Barret. Morrison and I just talked along the way and we cleared some stuff up about what happened between us before and-,“ she starts explaining.

“And what? Huh? You’ve forgiven him just like that!?” he says accusingly, frustration showing on his face.

Sally is taken aback by the animosity in his voice and feels herself get mad at him being that way towards her.

“Hey, I said I’m sorry for arriving here late but I don’t appreciate you yelling at me because I’ve straightened out my issues with Morrison. I actually thought you’d be happy for me… That you’d take my hand and wish me better times and tell me that now, I can finally move on just like how you were earlier this morning…” she whispers the last words because she feels hurt by his behaviour right now.

She can’t explain why he suddenly has such a great impact on her. They just met that morning but to her, she feels like she’s known him for some time and now that he’s being like that to her, she couldn’t help but feel like she’s losing a friend.

“Why are you angry, Barret? I know your friend just died and I’m sorry, I would’ve wanted to meet him. But please, don’t take it out on me…,” she says sadly. “I… I better go then. I wish you luck and thank you for… for this morning.”

And with that, she stands up and starts walking towards the entrance of the hospital. She waits for the automatic doors to fully open, hoping that Barret follows her and stops her from going but he doesn’t. She sighs deeply and puts one foot out the door.

She’s feeling mixed emotions as she locates her car in the parking lot. One one hand, she’s happy that she got to talk to Morrison and told him what she had to say. But on the other hand, and one which is hurting her for reasons unknown to her at that moment, Barret’s coldness towards her had considerable doused the happiness she had felt about her patching things up with Morrison.

Why is that though? I just met him this morning but he’s affecting me so much that it makes me sad that we parted ways that way…

She rummages for her keys in her pocket and in her distracted state, she drops the keys on the pavement.

“Be careful. You might actually lose your keys there,” Barret says from behind her, picking up her keys from the ground and handing them out to her.

“Oh… I- I thought you… I, nevermind. Anyway, I have to go. What do you want now?” she asks with one eyebrow raised. She didn’t want to appear so affected in front of him even though her heart is racing.

“Sally… look, I’m sorry for how I acted back there. I just see red whenever I see you with him, especially back at the house. I guess I’m just confused as hell because one minute you hated him and his whole family and even went to great lengths in coming here to get information on him. And then the next, I see you with him all chummy and even shared a ride with him. I’m sorry to be blunt but what is your deal exactly? Am I missing something here?” he exclaims frustration evident in his voice. He rakes his hair with his fingers to keep himself from taking her in his arms again because she looks like a lost innocent lady as he berates her.

“I am a mess, aren’t I? Please don’t be mad Barret. I realized back in the house when you were getting ready – even before he came- while I was gazing at the ocean, that life is too short to hold grudges and live on hate. Which is what has kept me fighting for the past year. I realized it was the wrong motivation to persevere. I should be moving on and looking forward to other possibilities that life has to offer me. Just like what you did when I held you hostage. You didn’t hold on to the fact that I hurt you back there but instead, you listened to me and gave me the one thing that I thought I couldn’t give to someone else, you forgave me… Without even thinking about it, you forgot all about it and even went out of your way to get to know my situation. You looked past the ugly thing I did and dared to peel a layer to know what’s underneath. I will be forever thankful for that moment that you’ve taught me a great lesson…”

He grows speechless at her honesty. He lets her go on while he stays in his place. He’s so scared of taking a step towards her because he would surely take her in his arms and tell her to stop explaining and just kiss her right there.

“Morrison told me he never knew anything about what his mother did and he tried looking for me but I disappeared, which I did. I went away to make a life for myself and my brother, using the money Linda McElroy gave me. Then we realized that we were eventually going our separate ways even if Linda hadn’t interfered. We always felt that we were a good fit as a couple but we came to realize that we are best at being friends. I couldn’t have handled being his long time girlfriend or even his wife. I can’t stand snotty people and the socialites, ugh, they are the worst. Plus, I haven’t been really honest with him to begin with. I hid the fact that I have a brother and that he was in jail that time… Bottomline, I couldn’t trust him fully to reveal my real self and that’s a big factor in relationships.”

She plays with the edge of her shirt but continues.

“And you, here you are, all trusting and open about yourself and believing in the goodness of others and all that stuff… I- you… I guess what I’m saying is, you got me so rattled inside. I have never met anyone like you and I don’t want to lose you… I want to stay friends with you, if you would still want to. But I can’t take you being mad at me. I am not with Morrison and I have forgiven him, yes, because I want to forgive myself too. I want to move on.”

He finally takes a step and within seconds, they’re in each other’s arms.

“Oh Sally. I am so glad that you told me this. I’m sorry for looking like I was mad at you. I was mad at Morrison and thought he had gotten you back. I couldn’t stand seeing you with him. But I couldn’t bear not seeing you at all so I got mad at myself for feeling this way. I know we’ve only just met but I know that we have something. Do you feel it too?” he draws her away from him only to gaze into her eyes as he wipes a stray tear from her cheeks.

“Yes, I feel that there’s something promising. I normally don’t just hug people I just met and pour my heart out like this but I guess we could say that we met under unordinary circumstances,” she smiles up at him.

“Yes, you could say pointing a knife at me and threatening me, unordinary.” He chuckles and hugs her back to him.

They decide to walk back to the hospital to see what they can arrange for James. Barret tells Sally about James and who he was. He didn’t tell her the part that he is actually Cornelia’s grandfather because it wasn’t his place to do so. He worries for Cornelia, as he tells Sally, and hopes that Morrison finds her soon.

“She must be so confused and hurt right now. Oh Barret, I want to find her too. I want to let her know that what she saw was not what she must think.”

“Don’t worry, Sally, I’m sure Morrison can find her. If there isn’t anything he could do, he can definitely find a person he wants to find with all his resources and influence. But I agree with you. Once we get everything arranged for James. I promise we will try to find her too.”

Barret talks to the coroner and to Jim who is back at the house. Cornelia has not gone back there and she didn’t call either. Jim tells him that he would take care of James’ legal papers and have his attorney notified.

Kevin has also gotten back from his errand and is saddened and at a loss for words when Barret tells him the bad news.

“I owe James everything I have and what I’ve become. I actually thought he would live far longer than this,” he confesses to Barret. They just finished talking to the people in-charge of his upcoming funeral. James had wanted to be cremated when the time came and they are going to honor his request. His cremation and funeral ceremony is scheduled to be held the following day.

“How did you come to know James?” Barret asks, curious as to where Kevin’s loyalty came from. Sally had gone back to her car and went in search for a nearby hotel. Barret asked her to spend the night at the mansion but she refused saying that she didn’t want to make the situation worse if Cornelia comes back and then sees her in the same house.

“He saved me from the streets after I attempted to rob him,” he chuckles at the memory. “Then he offered me a job and I have been his right hand ever since. I can honestly say that he’s a good man. He’s not perfect but he has always done what he thought was best for his daughter and granddaughter.”

“Cornelia…” Barret whispers.

Kevin looks at him with a questioning look on his face.

“Yes, James told me about her and his real relationship with her. I guess he had a feeling that he needed to tell someone of his secret before… before it was too late and I’m so honoured that he trusted me with that information. So what are your plans now?”

“I haven’t really thought about that. My allegiance is still with the Wilson family. That is his real name, Mr. James Tudor Wilson,” Kevin explains further upon seeing Barret’s confused face.

“You mean he’s the owner of T.W. Merchandising?” Barret asks.

T.W. Merchandising is one of the leading companies in the world, not commonly known in the US but carries an American brand. They mainly operate in the import and export of different kinds of goods. Barret has heard of the company because of the furniture business he has. He’s been trying to get major exporters to take a look at his furniture to possibly market them abroad.

“Yes, you’ve obviously heard of the name. He’s the owner and the head of the board but he’s been out of the office for some time. Only appearing when needed because he also went on Chemotherapy sessions as well. He’s been battling cancer as well, aside from his heart complications. But he  didn’t make it public, not even his doctors are allowed to disclose any of that information to the press or anyone for that matter. I always think that he felt like he  deserved all the sicknesses he had because of what happened to his daughter and to Cornelia and taking care of Cornelia was his last ditch effort to gain his daughter’s forgiveness, even from the grave. I know they are there together and he can finally rest knowing that he has found Cornelia and made sure her future is secure.” Kevin was not only James’ right hand; he was also his confidant. James had told him long ago that when the time comes that he meets his death; Kevin must make sure that Cornelia gets what is stated on his will and to protect her from those who might want to take the company from her.

“Yes, of course I know about that company. I just didn’t realize that James was the owner and, well, technically, Cornelia is now. I wonder if she knows though. She stormed out of here right after they took James’ body. I mean, she was really hysterical and shocked with what happened. And right now, Morrison is out there looking for her. Is there something you can do to help?” If James was the owner of one of the biggest corporations in worldwide, then his right-hand man has the resources to find one person, right? Barret thinks to himself.

”I will try my best to locate her but unless she really wants to be found, I wouldn’t be able to find her. From the years that I have been keeping an eye on her, there were plenty of times that she disappeared on me for days but she always came back to a familiar place once she wanted to be found. James didn’t want her to feel confined with me lurking about watching her every move so he affords her those stolen times of being alone and doing whatever she wanted without us knowing. She’s a good girl. I’m sure she has grown to love James and is now hurting because of losing him this early. And if what you told me is true, with James confessing that he’s her grandfather, then she is all the more grieved by his passing. I think we should look for her and once we see that she’s basically unharmed and relatively safe, we should still keep our distance until she comes out on her own. What I’ve learned with Cornelia’s personality is, she doesn’t want to be rushed into anything.”

“I guess you’re right Kevin. I just hope that she’s all right. I better get back to the house and check on Jim. Would you be going there too?” They walk out to the parking lot and Barret gets in his truck.

“I’ll go there later on. I need to do something first,” Kevin answers, unlocking his car. “Barret?” he says, looking up from his seat.

“Yes?”

“Thank you for being there for him last night. He needed a chat to get those things off his chest. He’s been plagued by his guilt for many years and having you there, not judging and just listening to him, meant a lot to him… and to me as well.” Kevin’s eyes get a little moist while he talked about James.

“It was a pleasure, Kevin. I was honoured that he thought I was worthy enough to keep his secret.” With that, Kevin starts his car and drives away, waving to Barret from his rear view mirror.

Barret smiles to himself and thinks about Sally. It was ironic that he met her under those circumstances. It felt like a whirlwind from the moment he woke up that morning until that minute that he’s sitting in his truck at the almost empty parking lot of the hospital.

He shakes his head and starts his truck. He can’t wait to see her again.

 

 

 

Chapter IX

Where are you Cornelia? Come on, answer the damn phone!

Morrison slams the phone down on the passenger seat for the ninth time since he got in his car and started driving towards the city. He learned from Barret that she still has not returned to the hospital and she didn’t show up at the house as well.

He called his father earlier and informed him of what happened and that he needed help in finding Cornelia.

“Don’t worry son, I’m sure she’ll turn up soon enough. She might just want to be left alone to grieve on her own especially since you told me that she was very close to this man, almost like family.” Nick was back in his office in Manhattan, trying to sort things out with his lawyers. Now that they have the documents back, he’s confident that they will win and that the perpetrators will be revealed soon.

No matter how clever they may seem to think, there would still be papertrail somewhere and I’m going to find it. It’s just a matter of time.

Now, he’s more worried about Morrison and Cornelia. He learned from Morrison that Cornelia’s dear friend had died and she’s now missing. He wanted to help Morrison himself because he has grown very fond of the young woman but was too busy with his case and other stuff in the office.

Linda has been really anxious for the past few weeks for some reason. He tried asking what was wrong but she would just smile at him and wave her elegant hand in the air as if dismissing whatever it was that was in her mind.

“Nothing, sweetie. Just something with the charity girls, you know how they are,” she would say or something similar to it.

Nick don’t normally see Linda so worked up about something in her charity balls. She would always have her friends around to do what she wanted for the events she was organizing so it was really surprising for him to see her that way.

As he packs up his things and is about to walk out of the building, he gets another call. He doesn’t bother to look at who it is and just presses the answer button.

“Hello?” he says, still looking distractedly at the doors, trying to locate his driver.

“Don’t be too comfortable Mr. McElroy. You’re in for a big surprise,” then comes the click. Whoever it was just hang up without uttering another word.

“What the-,” Nick looks at his phone and checks the number. It was unregistered. The voice was definitely a man but he doesn’t recognize him. He shakes his head and walks on and finally saw his driver.

Meanwhile, Morrison has finally arrived at Cornelia’s Brooklyn apartment after about two hours of very fast driving on his part. He parks his sports car haphazardly on the curb and runs through the grass and gate that surrounds the building.

He takes the steps two at a time and finally reaches the elevator. “Come on, come on, come on…,” he keeps repeating while waiting for the elevator to reach her floor. He gets out before the door even opened fully, racing down the corridor and finally pounding on her door.

Cornelia hears the first knock and jumps. It was too loud and she knew it must be Barret wanting to talk to her about James’ passing. She had walked out of the hospital shortly after Barret arrived because she couldn’t contain her emotions. She had to get out of there or else she would have exploded.

She shakes her head as the incessant knocking goes on.

“Cornelia! Open up, I know you’re in there. Please Cornelia. Let me in…,” Morrison’s pleading voice penetrates through  the walls and travels to her ears, shocking her into realizing that it was Morrison and not Barret at the door.

She wipes a tear from her eyes and stops packing her things for a second.

What is he doing here? Why has he come back?

She just arrived herself after hitching a ride with a couple on their way back to the city. She was lucky because they were also in a hurry on their way to a wedding so she got there very fast. But apparently, Morrison was fast as well because he’s now pounding the door as if he wanted to knock it down.

“Please Cornelia, I know you’re there. I’m not going anywhere. I-I’ll stay here until you come out. You can’t go out the window so if you don’t want me to cause an even bigger scene-,”

The door finally opens with Cornelia’s grief-stricken face. Morrison doesn’t waste time and takes her into his arms in a tight embrace. They stand there at her door for a full to minutes before he draws her away from him and she retreats back in her apartment. He follows her inside and gently closes the door.

“Cornelia, honey, I’m so sorry for what happened to James. I- I was there earlier t-to come see you and him because I heard what happened through Kevin.” Morrison makes a move to get closer to her but she turns around quickly and flashes an angry look.

“Yes! I saw you there! Locked in an embrace with another woman and from what it looked like, you had some connection with her. Tell you what,” she says angrily at him while he remains at mid-step on his way to get closer to her. “I am not even angry about that! What makes me mad is you waltzing back in there like you had any right to be near James or me! You walked out the night before and I never expected you to come back! You gave the message pretty clear. So, I guess the burning question in my mind now is, What the hell are you doing here?!” she yells the question at his face, anger and frustration evident in her voice and especially her face.

Her mascara had run down her face because of all the crying she made on her way to her apartment and more so now that she faces Morrison. She didn’t care that her only piece of make up is making her look like a clown. She didn’t care that she hasn’t changed since she woke up that morning and was thankful that she slept in her jeans the night before or she would’ve looked weird travelling in her pajamas. She didn’t care about any of that. The only thing on her mind right now is the fact that James was her real grandfather. And that all this time she had been lonely thinking she didn’t have any family in the world. She never knew that she had her only living relative so close by. She remembers her conversation with James before his demise.

 

“Cornelia dear…,” James whispered her name upon seeing her seated on the chair beside his bed. He stretched out his arm to her as she came closer to him.

“James, oh, James, please don’t talk. You’re still weak. Please have some rest,” she caught his outstretched hand and held it with both hands. His hand was a little cold to the touch so she rubs it using her palms.

James smiled up to her and thought to himself that she had grown up to be the granddaughter he always envisioned her to become.

“I’m fine Cornelia. How are you? Did you talk to Morrison?” he asked her while taking labored breaths. He had an oxygen pipe attached to his nose to help him breath better but it was evident that it was still hard for him to take a breath.

“I did last night but I don’t want to talk about him. I want you to stop talking and sleep. You need all the strength you can get so you can get out of here. Hospital gowns don’t suit you.” She made an attempt at humor and he indulged her with a laugh. He then coughed a little which got her to worry about him some more.

“I told you. Take it easy James.” She adjusted his pillow and sat back on the chair.

James turned serious all of a sudden and looked her straight in the eyes.

“I have something to tell you and don’t interrupt me while I do so or I won’t have the courage to go through it and it might be too late if I wait some more…,” he started saying while patting her hand that was placed on top of his.

“Okay, but after you tell me what it is, please go back to sleep,” she replied.

“I will, I promise,” he answered.

“All right, you have my full attention.” She scooted closer to him and waited for what he had to say. She thought it might be something about her mother, a story when she was still alive or maybe during their time together. She had never asked specifically how James had known her mother. She was satisfied with knowing that her mother had a true friend when she was still alive, although she had never seen James before she met him in the alley back where she was going hungry in the streets.

“Cornelia, I knew your mother since she was a baby. I have been with her ever since.” James said in a low voice.

“What? But how could that be? You were friends with her parents perhaps?” she asked, feeling a little confused with what he said.

“No, I’m not talking about her parents. I’m talking about her. She was my second love. Her mother was my first. After losing her mother due to childbirth, I knew I would never love anybody else that way. So I poured all my love to our daughter, my second love…,” James looked as if he was reliving the story he was telling her.

Cornelia was speechless as her brain realized what James was talking about. She pulled her hands away from his out of shock. But she kept quiet and let him proceed without interrupting him any further for fear that he might say it was all just a lie.

He’s the father of my mother, Julie. He’s my-

James continued, “Your mother brought so much joy to my life that I wanted to shield her from all the bad things in life. I tried, believe me, I tried. I worked like a horse to build my company up and be the source of our livelihood. We were comfortable because of the company I put up but she never really wanted the same things I thought every teenage girl wanted. Things like beautiful dresses, cool cars, and fancy stuff. No, she wanted something else like travel around the world, help the needy, and focus on her love for arts and music. She was a true artist, your mother.”

James kept talking and had a glassy look in his eyes as he told Cornelia more of her mother.

“She would tell me, ‘Dad, please stay for the weekend. I rarely see you. I have a painting I want to show you’, or ‘Dad, you look tired, maybe we should go away for the weekend, just the two of us!’ She would squeal in delight whenever I had indulged her in our trips out of town, before I got so busy with my business. I think the last time we went somewhere just to have fun was when she was thirteen years old. We went to the Grand Canyons because she wanted to see if they were really red. I nearly had a heart attack then when she leaned so close to the edge of a cliff.” James shook his head and smiled.

He finally looked at her and saw that she had tears in her eyes.

“Oh, honey, don’t cry. I miss her so much too. I know you’ve been looking for answers and I know you’re waiting for me to tell you why I’ve waited so long to tell you…”

She just nodded, unable to speak.

“My dear Cornelia. Your mother, as loving and artistic she was, she also had a very independent spirit and when she fell in love for the first time, she thought that that would be it. That she had met her match in this world and was not about to let him go. She was nineteen when she met Nick,” he finally said his name.

“So, he really is my dad?!” she exclaimed, not able to control herself. Not sure if she was relieved or angry at being sure of who her biological father was.

“Yes. He is your biological father. Linda met him in one of the conferences I had when she accompanied me. She just came barging into my hotel room one night and told me that she had found her true love and that it was this guy named Nick McElroy. Of course, I knew who Nick McElroy was. Eventhough he was a young lad himself that time, he was old enough to have a wife. I tried talking some sense into Julie but she wouldn’t heed my words. She continued seeing Nick even after that conference and we were back at home. We have a house in Upstate New York because I didn’t want to live in the city then. She lived a sheltered life there and all the freedom she could ever want.” He shook his head again as if regretting that he spoiled Linda when it came to doing what she wanted to do in her life.

“I guess it was my fault, her stubbornness and wild spirit. I wanted her to think for herself and let no one tell her what they thinks she should do, to follow her heart and reach for her dreams. And as it turned out, Nick had heart and he became her dream. She was so convinced that Nick would leave his young wife for her despite my warnings against the possibility of it ever happening. She continued seeing him and she ended up getting pregnant… with you, my sweet Cornelia.” He smiled sadly at her but her expression remained blank. Her mind racing with the thoughts and images of James and her mother together as father and daughter.

“So your mother insisted on still believing that Nick would leave Linda but I couldn’t bear to see her so sad and pinning for a man who will never be hers. So…,” he heaved a sigh and took a deep breath, “I told her a lie. I told her that Nick had called and didn’t want to have anything to do with her anymore and even offered to pay for her silence about their child together or better, yet to have you aborted. She was so angry then and wanted to talk to Nick but I wouldn’t let her out of the house. She was getting bigger by the day and I used her pregnancy as an excuse to keep her indoors. I told her doctor to advise her not to go out or she will lose the baby. I had to resort to lying flat out just to avoid her going to him. I couldn’t let my only daughter be the other woman! I won’t have it!” he exclaimed, remembering the anger he felt during those times. He was so angry that he couldn’t see reason and thought that his cunning ways of keeping Julie and Nick apart was the best way to keep his daughter from further hurt and disappointment.

“Nick also came calling almost everyday, wanting to see Julie. But as a father, I couldn’t let that kind of man inside my home! He destroyed the most precious person to me and I won’t have the likes of him to take hold of Julie ever again. So I also told him lies about not knowing where Julie was and not entertaining any more of his visits and calls. Eventually, he stopped. I guess he gave up as well… The truth is my dear, I drove your mother away… I tore her apart from the person she loved and even though I knew that Nick wouldn’t have left his wife, and I still think that, I didn’t have the right to make those decisions for her. She should’ve been able to figure that out on her own and not feel pain and hurt because of my lies. I’m sorry Cornelia…” James took another deep breath. He had been taking more deep breaths for the past few minutes.

Cornelia grew concerned but still didn’t stop him from going on. She needed to hear his words. She needed to find out the truth about herself, the truth about her whole identity, and to know the truth from the lies.

“Your mother ran away when she was about a week before delivering you and thankfully, she was able to have a safe delivery and you came out healthy and screaming for all the world to hear. I wasn’t there to witness that miracle but I knew in my heart that it happened just like that. I was so proud of her making it on her own, even though she had cut all communication from me and basically disowned me as her father. I had Kevin locate her and keep an eye on her until her…,” he stopped to take another breath and a tear rolled down his eyes. “Until she died. I attempted to establish our connection but she was adamant at not having me involved in both of your lives. So I backed off and focused on developing my company and travelling abroad almost eighty percent each year. I let myself so engrossed into getting my business recognized all around the world that I nearly forgot about my daughter and my grandchild.”

Cornelia had tears running down her face too and the gravity of his words have been hitting her like bricks of cement, building and piling up on top of her heart that it was getting very hard to breathe.

“I- I tried finding you right after Julie died but for s-some re-reason, you were lost. No one knew where you went after your teacher took you and I had my men scour the nearest cities and towns but no one could tell them where Cornelia Lewis or Cornelia Wilson was. I knew Julie switched to her mother’s maiden name after running away. It took me six years to find you finally. When the news of a runaway broke the noontime news. If you hadn’t run away, your hazy picture wouldn’t have been posted on television and I wouldn’t have recognized you. I immediately had my resources look for you and I set out to look for you as well when my men still couldn’t find you after a week. Then, one fateful night, at a station where I made my next stop, I saw this scraggly looking young teenager, hungry and shivering, in the street. I couldn’t deny the spur of recognition I experienced when I looked into your eyes. You have the same eyes as your mother, you know, just like your grandmother.”

“B-but why didn’t you tell me who you were then?” she stammered, trying hard to speak despite the tightness in her chest.

“I was afraid you’d run away when I told you the tr-truth. I know that Julie had not mentioned me ever and s-so I thought telling you the t-truth then w-would not be the best route.” James’ breathing got worse. It came as bursts then and Cornelia, despite her shock and the building anger she’s feeling towards James, came closer and held his hand.

“Okay, relax. I think that’s enough now. You can tell me the rest of the story once you’ve gotten some rest,” she suggested but he wouldn’t rest until he told her the rest of his story.

“No, Cornelia, you have to hear everything. You deserve to know who you are. I was so scared that you would refuse to have anything to do with me too when I tell you who I really was and what happened with your mother and me. I couldn’t make the same mistake. So I led you to believe that I was an old friend of your mother’s instead. And I was able to help you by doing that. I was still angry at Nick then and I had no intention of telling you who he was but you had your mother’s old photograph with Nick so I just hinted that he might be your father. I told you more lies about him, slandering his name to you because I wanted to dissuade you from knowing him. When I realized that there was no stopping you, I fed you anger at him and egged you to have your revenge. I felt that if you were successful at bringing him down, I would have honored your mother’s memory. But I was wrong… I shouldn’t have fed your rage. I should have told you the truth years before… I’m t-truly s-sorry for ever-,” he took a breath, “for everything. If I was given a chance to do it all over again, I wouldn’t have hurt your mother so deeply that caused her to run away and cut me off from her life.” James began to cry then. Uncontrollable sobs came from the old man and he looked like he aged ten years.

Cornelia couldn’t believe all that she heard. James’ revelations had cut to the core and it caused her to rethink everything that had happened in her life so far.

So, Nick is my father and he is not the despicable man that I thought he was… Does he know I exist? Does he know me?

“I only want to get you back and to take care of you, Cornelia. I wanted to make up for the lost time – the time that I wasted when I let my heart grow cold for your mother. I j-just ho-hope that you would fi-find it in your heart to forgive m-me…,” he let his words hang in the air.

Cornelia stayed silent and finally grabbed his hand, stroking it to show him that she was not angry with him.

“Oh James. I’m so glad that you told me the truth. I am not angry. I… I forgive you. I’m so happy that I have found you, grandpa…,” she tried the word out and it sounded so right for her to call him that.

James smiled despite the pain and stroked her beautiful face. “I am so proud of you Cornelia. I couldn’t have asked for a better granddaughter. You truly are your mother’s child and I- I only hope that t-this wo-world treats you better be-because you deserve the best…,” he said then closed his eyes with a smile on his face.

Cornelia smiled back at him and felt the so happy that she had finally found a part of her, her only family. And that she knew about what really happened with her mother and father. She still couldn’t wrap her mind around the lies that James told her about Nick but she didn’t care because whatever James did, it was what he thought was best for her. And she loved him for it.

She hugged him and he placed his hand on her head. She looked up at him after several minutes and saw that he was smiling but there was something wrong…

He had stopped breathing.

“Nurse! Nurse! Please come in here! I need help!” she screamed as hard as she could but it took the nurses several seconds to come rushing into the room. The moment they arrived, the doctor started shouting orders to resuscitate him and one nurse urged her to get out of the room while they worked on James. She saw red then and started resisting the nurse.

“No! I want to stay here! He needs me! Let me go!” she struggled away from the nurse but two orderlies came through the door and tried getting her out of there gently but she was fighting with all her might.

No! I can’t lose him now! I just found him. After all this time of being alone… I can’t… No! I just can’t lose him!

But she did lose him. The doctor called the time of death as Cornelia shrinks in the corner, at the same time that Barret came into the room and looked at the situation. It didn’t take him long to realize what happened. When he saw Cornelia still being held by a nurse for struggling, slowly sitting on the floor, he went to her immediately and grabbed her to him.

He got her out of the room and had her sit on one of the chairs out on the hallway. Her mind was blank. She couldn’t think straight. Her heart felt like it was being crushed from the inside and then wrenched from her chest… over and over…

She was talking about what James had told her to Barret but she wasn’t making any sense. She couldn’t stay there. She had to go somewhere or else she would burst.

So when Barret’s back was turned, she got up and walked aimlessly towards the door. She somehow gotten a ride to the city and then she ended up in her apartment. She thought about what was next for her during her ride to the city.

What now? What do I do? What do I do with the information James had given me? She had asked herself many times.

Then when she sat on her bed, she looked at the framed picture of her mother, Julie, on her bedside table. She knew what she needed to do…

So she began packing and gave someone a call to arrange what she had planned to do. She didn’t expect anybody to find her back in her apartment, let alone Morrison…

 

“I came here to see you. To tell you that I am here for you and I was wrong about last night. I was so scared that you’d be in more danger when you’re around me that I thought pushing you away was the way to save you from my enemies. I was wrong Cornelia and I am asking for your forgiveness. Please…,” he gets down on his knees in front of her but she walks away, turning her back to him.

“Don’t,” she whispers.

“It’s going to be okay, Cornelia. I will help you sort things out and I will keep you safe. I realized that you will be safer when you’re with me…,” he keeps telling her that it would be all right but she knows that everything has changed. She’s not ever going to be the same again. And the fact that she saw Morrison with another woman in an intimate embrace when she walked out the hospital, had made everything worse.

“Morrison, look. I need you to listen to what I have to say and do what I will ask you to do without asking me why. I don’t want you to stop me so please just don’t…,” she finally answers after a few seconds of silence.

“Anything, Cornelia. Please tell me what I can do for you and I will do it right away,” he responds with hope in his eyes. Hope that they would pick up the pieces and get on with their lives.

“I never want to see you again. Please leave this place and never come back. Please don’t ever come looking for me. I do not want you in my life.” She said the words with so much conviction and with a very steady voice that Morrison couldn’t respond right away.

“B-but, honey… I thought,” he stammers.

“Whatever you thought was wrong. I have told you my request and I want you to honor my wishes, Morrison. This will be the last time we will see each other.” She can’t bring herself to tell him that they were practically step-siblings. That his adoptive father is hers and that as much as she loves him, she can’t be around him anymore. Now that she knows who she is, she can’t turn away from the fact that they can never truly be together.

She does not know exactly what to do with Nick yet. She has thought of confronting him when she was on her way to her apartment but she thought, “For what? What could it possibly do to my life? He has been absent from my life so far and he has never tried finding me.”

She was sure that he knew what happened to Julie because he has her painting up on the wall of his study. So that meant that they had some form of communication somehow. But he didn’t even come and see her after Julie died. That makes him a lousy father and not worth her time. No matter what James had told her about his lies about Nick, he was still right on one thing. He wasn’t good enough for Julie.

Morrison stands in the corner of her living room, looking like he was hit with a baseball bat. He couldn’t feel his face. He feels numb to the core. He couldn’t be hearing those things Cornelia just told him.

She doesn’t want me in her life… Those same words that he spat at her the night before were being thrown at his face now.

“You can’t mean that. Look, I-I’m sorry about what I said last night and I understand you’re upset-,” he started talking but she starts shaking her head.

She faces him now and with eyes full of certainty, “No, Morrison. I meant every word. I don’t love you, simple as that. And it took James’ death to make me realize that there are more important things in life than men and love. So, please go before I call security or the cops for trespassing.”

His ears begin to ring and his palms become sweaty.

Shit! She really means it. Fuck! I messed it up! I really did it this time. Shit!

He hangs his head and looks down on the floor for a second before composing himself and giving her one final look.

“I am sorry Cornelia and you can choose to forget me in your life but I will never forget you and I will never stop loving you. I will wait for that day when you find it in your heart to save a place for love in your heart… a place for me. Until then, I will leave you alone to deal with your grief your own way but please know that I am just a phone call away. I will drop everything and run to your side if you just give me a chance to do so…,” he says with a gentle and sincere voice.

She remains silent and her stare hits him like a block of ice, hard and unyielding. She has begun putting up her walls again and reinforcing them with ice. It’s as if Morrison can see her physically surrounding herself with her walls and she won’t let anyone enter. Not even him.

He turns towards the door after not getting any response from her. She turns her back and faces her window, into the streets of Brooklyn.

She hears the gentle closing of the door and she lets herself break down.

Morrison closes the door gently and leans on it for support. He can’t take the pain that’s gripping his heart at the moment but he can’t let Cornelia see it either. He needs to be strong for her and that means that he needs to show her that he can take whatever it is that she throws at him. And let her know that he is not giving up. He’s just giving her her space…

But it was damn too hard to let her go… He composes himself and walks to the elevator. He turns to look at her door and feels that it’s going to be the last time that he will ever look at that door again…

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