THE BEGINNING OR THE END
It was the thirteenth of December in the year 2000. A day planned to gather in Washington. A day planned to ignite the flames of euthanasia and the aftermath of genetic restructuring. Carol looked solemnly over Pennsylvania Avenue and sensed the restlessness around her. Blackness covered the masses, like the Sword of Damocles. Carol had been warned about this time of sheer unrest and total chaos;a time when man would rise up in the aftermath and barricade the wrongs of humanity. “The Angel of Death” had spoken from beyond. Wherever she was, dead or alive, Mara still reigned. Carol admired, loved and hated her all at the same time.
Five years had passed since Mara’s disappearance, and in that time, Carol watched her uncanny prophecy come true. The country was graveling for answers. They pleaded for cures that financially eluded them, and they begged for the gifts of genetic restructuring. They wanted clear, scientific guidelines to follow, and they wanted to know that the benefits of the research would be available to everyone. In the end, and if cures were not within reach, they wanted the right to die with dignity. It was indeed, obvious, that Mara’s fight lived on in the hearts of the American public. She lived it, breathed it and probably even died for it. Death and the right to die with dignity became her life.
Carol wrestled with her thoughts, as the angry protestors pushed vigorously against her. Back and forth, she thrashed inside the angry crowd. Signs bobbed up and down above her. One after another, the messages were imbedded in her psyche.
“Cure us, or give us the right to die with dignity.”
“Only God can choose.”
“Your animals don’t suffer. So, why does your mother?”
“Starve them to death. It’s easier than making a decision.”
“HMOs survive on the suffering of others.”
“Even criminals get lethal injection.”
The slogans roared on and on in Carol’s mind, piercing her sharply. The roar of the crowd filled her ears, and the closeness of shoulder-to-shoulder contact welled fear inside her. What appeared to be a peaceful congregation was now becoming an angry mob. An uncanny retake of the sixties race riots. Carol raised her hands to protect her face from the glass bottles being hurled into the crowd. Trapped within a wall of people, she feared no escape. Unable to envision a way out, she screamed aloud. The sidewalk seemed a million miles from safety, a million miles from reach. Desperately she pushed and squeezed, hoping to fight her way to safety. But, the force around her prevailed. The strength of the crowd intensified, and she was pushed to the ground like a rag doll. Carol struggled to regain her footing, but the movement of the crowd sent her plummeting to the pavement once again. Hiking boots and tennis shoes crushed her frail fingers. Blood oozed from her knuckles.
“Help, help,” she cried.
A large, strong hand became visible. Carol grabbed for it but couldn’t quite reach it. Twice, she thrust her body forward attempting to connect with the hand of the Good Samaritan. Then he pushed downward and grasped her hand.Quickly, Carol was pulled to her feet and encircled by a strong arm around her waist. The mass of the man’s body pushed through the crowd, Carol’s frail, limp body in tow. He pushed to the curbside and then onward to the park benches. He saved her from being trampled to death.
“You alright, Miss,” said the kindly voice.
Carol gasped for her first breath and nodded, “Thank you.” The gesture wasn’t remotely enough to express her gratitude.
“I’m Sergeant Mulchahey, US Marine Corp,” he said. “Glad to help.”“Besides, a girl like you shouldn’t be out here all alone.”
Carol smiled and thanked him again. Little did he know that she had been alone for most of her life, anyway?Carol tried to stand, but she was trembling so badly that her legs dropped from beneath her.
“You’re bleeding, Missy,” said Mulchahey. “Let me help you to your car.”His arms once again surrounded her; she felt safe and secure.
“My car is about a block from here, Sergeant. I appreciate your help, but you really don’t ...”
“Nonsense,” replied the Sergeant. “You’re still shaking up a storm. I doubt if you could make it on your own.”
She laughed aloud and smiled. “You’re right,” replied Carol. “Thank you.”
Carol sat in the car for a while to recover her strength, but the tremors continued. Her pants were torn at the knees. The scrapes seemed deep and needed cleaning. She reached for the glove compartment. “Thank God for baby wipes,” she whispered. Carol gently cleaned the scratches on her face and hands and then attempted the knees. That was a job for later. She rested her head on the steering wheel, looked into the rearview mirror and started the car. She couldn’t wait to go home. Upset and still shaking she fought the maze of city traffic to the serenity of suburban roads. As she drove along, a sense of calm began to blanket her. It was then that she realized what a blessing it was to be safe and secure. Mara passed in and out of her thoughts. It had been sometime since Mara’s ghost had pierced her memory so deeply. It was time to tell her daughters the truth about her, time for them to know why.
Snow dropped from the sky heavily. Visibility was poor, and the roads began to glaze. Carol felt panic inside but continued to breathe deeply. She was relieved to see the turnoff up ahead. The house was beautiful, nestled in and surrounded by the magnificence of large pine and empty shade trees. The gray stonewalls stood tall and aristocratic amid the snow that had fallen ever so perfectly. The landscape was draped in layers of white elegance, so similar to Mara’s essence. A sense of peace came over Carol at the sight, and she remembered how perfect and how beautiful Mara was. Carol released pressure on the gas pedal, hoping to climb the driveway without sliding. Carefully she ascended the asphalt. Mara’s family would be waiting for her return. Uneasiness grew within Carol as she approached the garage. She was uncertain of what her next menopausal feeling would be. She neatly parked, pushed through the kitchen door and made her way into Mara’s world.
What a parallel, thought Carol to herself. One moment I resent and the next I rejoice. I must need a shrink.
Carol removed her coat and busied herself in the kitchen. She looked around, took a deep breath and remembered. “This is Mara’s home, not mine. Mara knew she was in danger. I guess she did what she had to, to protect her girls. Me, I have actually lived it: the house, the money, and custody of Jaye and Mimi. Stokes helped, of course. He’s been my savior, a kind of pseudo-father to the girls. He loved Mara very much, and I guess her girls are all that is left of a time long ago. I don’t blame him for loving Mara. I loved her too.”
“My God, Aunt Carol,” screeched Mimi. “What happened to you?You’re scratched and bleeding. I was worried about the snow, but I can see something worse happened to you.”
Carol frowned at her, not wanting to answer. Mimi turned and quickly disappeared. Exhausted, she plopped into the kitchen chair and began groping over her actions. “Why is this battle, said Carol?”“Why can’t I melt this into a family? I clearly understand the child’s reaction. I just don’t want to explain right now. I just don’t want war right now.”Then she thought about the words of Stokes. “You don’t need a shrink, Carol. You just need to accept that Mara bestowed upon you, the most precious possessions she had, her immortality.”Carol realized what a gift Mara thought it was. But, what Mara never seemed to care about was how much Carol needed to be free. “Oh, what the hell!” said Carol. “I loved her; she was my friend. Considering the danger she was in, I guess her children deserve a safe existence…even if it is at my expense.”
Stokes and Carol did a great job of hiding the truth. They maintained normalcy, hid Mara’s past, and upheld her cover schemes per each minute instruction. They had been consistent and diligent liars. Stokes perpetuated their safety and Carol secretly resented, but lovingly watched over them. At eighteen and twenty-two, they were quite a handful! They have questioned for years and Stokes and Carol have lied for years. Five years past the point of Mara’s disappearance, they are now old enough to know the truth. The last months of co-habitation had been difficult on Carol. Their adolescent outbursts, cold shoulder treatments, and false accusations, had created a wall of resentment.
They just don’t understand ... yet, thought Carol. Stokes has been preparing for years. I need this to be a cleansing experience. Maybe then, they will accept me more completely. Maybe then, the girls will let go and allow me to be their mother. God! I struggle with my love for Mara and her girls. Yet I struggle too, with the parallel of my long and well-deserved freedom. Yet my freedom is quite unimportant in comparison to Mara’s sacrifice.
The holidays were fast approaching. Carol found the planning process frustrating, as she did with most everything these days. To her, it seemed a menial task compared to settling their lives. But, in the grand scheme of things, Christmas was important. Jaye was away at college and Carol knew that squeezing the time needed to tell Mara’s story would be difficult. Mimi’s high school schedule was rigid, too, and it usually took an act of congress to get an appointment with Stokes. Nonetheless, a time had been secured, and the girls were to be given the truth, just before New Year’s.
I’m worried about the pain they will feel, thought Carol. Yet I know the truth will set us all free. Time will no longer be a fixed position. I wonder! How will they feel, once they know about their mother?
Mara was a magician, a master of power and manipulation. She was loved most for her elegance, beauty and intellectual uniqueness. Even her enemies admired her abilities. Yes, there was much to tell and as far as Carol was concerned, it couldn’t be too soon.
Carol’s quiet but turbulent thoughts were interrupted.... She looked closely, realizing it was the round exposed buttocks of Mimi. She was shocked, but amused and laughed aloud. Mimi’s mischievous eyes peered at Carol, upside down, from between her legs.
“Aunt Carol,” she said quietly, “A penny for your thoughts.”
Mimi was a little devil, the spitting image of her mother. A marketing package so close to that of her mother’s, it was almost unbelievable. She had been blessed with intelligence and a sense of humor. Carol rose from her chair and chased Mimi through the hallway and up the stairs. The girl was athletic and quick. It was hard for Carol to keep up. Finally, Mimi allowed Carol to gain on her. Carol catapulted them both to the bed in a wrestling match she had no hope of winning. Mimi was often disposed to these types of shenanigans, as was her mother.
“Imagine,” giggled Carol…“Giving in to such distasteful, fun behavior.”They rolled, tickled and laughed aloud, something they had not done since the onset of the battle for truth. It was almost as though setting a date allowed a cleansing to begin.
“Aunt Carol,” said Mimi. “I’m sorry for prying. I don’t mean to be nasty. It’s just that I miss my mother. Not knowing if she is dead or alive is tearing me apart. I love you and I’m sorry,” she cried, as tears spilled from her reddened eyes. Carol put her arms around Mimi and held her tightly. Truly, she loved the girls, and in bits and pieces throughout them, she could see and feel Mara, her friend.
Carol started to cry.... “See what you make me do,” she said. “Get downstairs and help me find something to eat. And…you know Mrs. Reeves doesn’t come till the end of the week so we have to clean, too.”Mimi was amused with how Carol handled delicate situations, and she was smart enough to use this knowledge for her own benefits. Another trait inherited from Mara the master.
“Well,” said Mimi. “I’ll help with dinner and dishes, but I have three gymnastics meets next week and a final to study for.”
Carol knew all about her tactics. “We’ll talk about it later,” said Carol. It was obvious that Carol had fallen prey. She knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she had been had.“Let’s go, now,” said Carol in a commanding voice.
“Alright,” replied Mimi, as she jumped from the bed. Mimi raced ahead of Carol down the stairs to the kitchen. “Well, Aunt Carol,” said Mimi. “What are we making? Will it be hippopotamus boogers or cow’s testicles?” Carol laughed and slapped her on the ass several times in a rhythmic yet loving fashion. Mimi grabbed the damp tea towel and snapped back at her. Then they chased each other frantically around the kitchen table.
“We’re not getting anything done, and Jaye will be home before we know it,” said Carol. “Now, what are we cooking?”
“I don’t know, how about roasted road apples smothered in cranberry sauce,”said Mimi.
“C’mon,” begged Carol. “Time is a wasting.”They decided on baked chicken, mashed potatoes and fresh green salad. Mashed potatoes were a favorite of the girls, so it seemed fitting that this be the menu for Jaye’s homecoming. “Mimi, what about dessert?” questioned Carol. “How’s angel food cake with frozen strawberries?”
“Fine,” said Mimi. “I’ll be thinking of blood clots as they slide down our throats.”
“Mimi!” yelled Carol. “You’re being gross again!”“What happened to last year’s resolution to become a refined lady like your mother?”Everything stopped cold. Mimi gazed right through her eyes piercing, ready to attack.
“Why did you have to bring up my mother?It’s Christmas and I was just enjoying myself. You know, just having fun.” A dead silence filled the air.
“I’m sorry, honey,” replied Carol. “I didn’t mean ...” Carol’s head slumped to her chin.
Mimi and Carol continued preparing the dinner, in the thick, quiet of pain. Silence became Carol’s punishment. The silence was unbearable to Carol. She was relieved to hear the spinning of tires, which seemed to come from a distance. The noise took both of them to the window. Jaye was home. They watched as she battled the long, winding driveway, slipping and sliding from side to side. Carol held her breath, as she approached the house. It was a toss up that she would make the last bend.
“There she goes,” squealed Carol.
They watched as Jaye’s car slid from the pavement into what used to be Mara’s flowerbeds. The car door flew open, andJaye struggled to free herself. She pulled two suitcases and a laptop from the car then started toward the house. Mimi opened the kitchen door. The cold winter air filled the room. She wasted not a minute, quickly bolting into the snow to help her sister. Carol watched from the open doorway, realizing that Mimi wasn’t wearing a coat or her shoes. Carol just sighed, “How characteristic!”
The door remained open while the girls stood hugging and kissing. They loved each other dearly!Carol remembered the day when she arrived at McClurg House; they huddled together like two little peas in a pod. They slept in the same bed, rose together, schooled together. Jaye protected Mimi. She mothered her sister at a time when they felt most frightened and abandoned. It made Carol’s heart race to watch them wrapped in each other’s arms. The cold air swept through the doorway, interrupting the warmth of Carol’s thoughts.
“Close the door,” yelled Carol. “Were not heating all of Washington you know!”The door slammed behind them. They remained cradled in each other’s arms. Mimi took one suitcase, and Jaye grasped the other. Carol was left standing alone the outsider. She fumbled with the momentary discomfort then picked up the computer and followed behind them. Carol fought the lengthy staircase, bitching beneath her breath. “Here I am again, forcing myself to be vulnerable. Oh Well! I guess one must take the risk of being hurt before one can hope to be accepted.”Carol stumbled into Jaye’s room. Jaye turned and freely opened her arms. It was a clear sign that there would not be another battle. Jaye was the more mature daughter. How proud their mother would be to see her daughters together. Mara used to tell them, “Just remember, we are the three musketeers…“All for one and one for all.” The saying rang in Carol’s ears a pleasure, but a pain. She was not the third musketeer, and the group was still one short...their mother!“I’m so glad to be home, Aunt Carol.” “I miss my home,” said Jaye. What she really meant was that she missed her mother. “Tell me,” she continued. “How is Stokes?”
“Well, you know Stokes,” said Carol. “He’s busy as usual. He did say he’s looking forward to Christmas week with you, girls. He left this message for you.”He said, “Don’t make any other plans.”Carol took note of the resentment on their faces. After all, it was the holidays. They wanted to know about their mother, but underneath was still the playfulness of the young. They seemed excited anxious, if you will.
“Can’t you begin the story, Aunt Carol?Why do we have to wait?” said Mimi.
“Yes, I can,” replied Carol. “But I’m not going to. Your mother wanted it this way. She systematically planned everything, and we pledged our loyalty to her plan. Don’t ask me again to deny my promise to her.”
“Well OK!” Mimi replied in her usual smart tone of voice. “I don’t know what all this mystery is about,” she chanted under her breath. “Jesus! You’d think it was top secret or something.”Carol glared at her then stated, “It is.”
Jaye quickly and perceptively changed the subject, announcing, “I’m hungry, let’s eat.” Carol started for the kitchen, and the girls followed hand in hand. The table was set, and the food was placed attractively beneath them. Dinner seemed to be progressing nicely, without the usual disruption, but Mimi just couldn’t resist.
“You know Jaye; you’re looking kind of healthy these days. It’s amazing how much weight you’ve gained!”
“Why you little bitch,” cried Jaye.
“Ok, ok, enough,” said Carol. “Let’s eat!”
The girls began to giggle, and Carol knew Jaye was lying in wait for the next opportunity to slide one in. A custom Mara appropriately called, “Getting busted.”Carol used to think it was fun to sit back and observe Mara teach the girls how to manipulate. Now, she found it a painfully amusing indication that she was never a match for Mara’s skills. A warning that her daughters ran a close second, excellent students, double the trouble!
Carol collapsed into her plush, easy chair, while the girl’s struggled with the dinner dishes. Her thoughts vacillated to the finances. Stokes was a genius at investment, but the money was getting tight. Mara was well off before her disappearance, but the continuous searching and cost of private detectives drained the supply of funds. It was important to involve her daughters. After all, they had a choice in what was now to be done. It was important that they understood their decisions and the effect it would ultimately have on their futures. God forbid, we should have to live too menial a life!
The phone rang. Carol sat up in her chair and listened carefully for a clue as to who it was.
“Oh Stokes!” cried Jaye. “I love you. I miss you. How long will it take you to get here?”
“Yeah!” added Mimi. “I can’t wait to see you either, you old goat!” They were laughing at this point. Again, Carol drifted off in amazement. Jaye was the spitting image of her mother. It was as if a ghost had touched Carol’s spirit and for a brief moment, she shivered. Jaye was inclined toward the intellectual. Mimi, on the other hand, resembled Mara’s husband but was built with the tall lanky stature of her mother, a tongue like a switchblade and a humorous side to ease the pain. Genetics were amazing, thought Carol as Jaye handed her the phone.
“Hello Stokes! How are you? When are you coming?”
“Well,” he said. “It looks as though I’ll be held up until just after Christmas Eve.”
“Just what the hell does that mean?” snarled Carol. “You know what we have going on here, Stokes, and the girls won’t wait a minute longer to become full partners.”
“I know, I know,” replied Stokes. “I’ll be there Christmas evening and we’ll begin after everyone has gone home.” “Besides, I’m looking forward to it, Carol.” “Alright then,” replied Carol, a sly grin gleaming across her lips. “Should I arrange transportation?”
“No!” he said firmly. “I really don’t want to take the chance that I’ll be followed. Don’t worry I’ll be there.”
“Love you, Stokes; see you Christmas,” said Carol. But he was already gone.
An awful noise echoed the hallways of the house. Groggy, and not quite awake, Carol was uncertain of its origins. She became still in the bed, listening. The rest of the house remained in dead silence. Fear swept through her, as she ran to find the girls. “What if they’ve come for them? Oh God,” thought Carol. “What if they’re here to take the girls? Girls, girls, sheyelled. Where are you?” The girls stumbled into the hallway and met up with Carol. Their eyes were sleepy and half-closed, but they quickly became alert with fear.
“Don’t ask any questions,” instructed Carol. “Quickly girls, get to the basement. You know what to do, and don’t come out until I come for you.”
Hand in hand, the girls ran for the basement stairwell. Quickly each girl placed her hand over the mirrored keypad. The computer buried within identified their palm prints. Then the floor beneath the cellar steps opened like the mouth of a volcano, waiting to swallow them. Once inside, they placed their hands against a second mirror, and the floor closed above them.
The room below was well provisioned with food, clothes and survival tools, including a gun. The girls huddled close together, waiting. Jaye thought heavily about her mother’s instructions.
“No light or noise permitted while in the room,” said Jaye. “We know how to use everything and how to escape into the woods, if necessary. Mother was strange, wasn’t she?Once she instructed us, we were never permitted to speak of it again.”Jaye clenched her sister tightly. Their fear grew, but they held on to the promise that mother would always keep them safe. The room was like a tomb, sealed tightly and constructed of lead. It was unlikely, they would ever be discovered.
No one else knows about the room beneath the stairs, thought Jaye. It was our secret.
“The minutes seem like hours,” whispered Mimi. “I’m scared. I hope Carol is OK,” she whimpered.
Carol stood quietly in the upstairs hallway. Carefully, she listened for more sounds. She tried to formulate a final plan, but the fear kept her from focusing. Quietly, she slid open Mara’s desk drawer and took the nine-millimeter into her shaking hands.
“What if it’s them?” she whispered. “What if it’s GenTech, come to take the girls away? How will I stop them? I don’t know if I can use this gun, even if I have to!”
Carol hugged the wall closely as she descended the stairs. Her fear turned to terror as it became more and more evident that someone was in the house. She positioned the gun, ready to fire and rolled around the wall into the foyer.
“Carol," yelled the voice. “Don’t shoot! It’s Stokes.”
Carol released her chokehold on the nine-millimeter and dropped it to her side. Tears of relief streamed from her eyes. She ran to his arms and held him tightly.
“Oh God, Stokes, my heart is pounding so hard and so fast, I can’t catch my breath.” His hands slid down her arms, and she released the gun to him willingly.
“I’m sorry, Carol,” said Stokes. “I’m really sorry.”Stokes reached for the light in the foyer. He flipped the switch and light beams danced around them. The light brought a feeling of safety to Carol. She looked deeply into Stokes eyes. He returned the smile in his usual boyish way.
“Merry Christmas, Carol,” he said. They began to laugh a little, and then Carol remembered the girls.
“Oh God,” she cried. “The girls are still in the hiding place.” Carol ran to the cellar door and placed her hand over the mirror. Stokes watched in amazement as the floor slid open.
“C’mon girls,” called Carol. “It’s OK, it’s Stokes.” There was no answer, so Carol and Stokes slowly descended the stairs. Carol was mortified when she saw the girls.
“Mimi,” said Carol. “Put the gun down. It’s safe. We’re all OK! Stokes is here.”The child looked up at them, but it was as if she didn’t recognize either of them. Fear had overtaken her. Mimi continued to sit quietly holding the gun between her two dainty little hands. Jaye reached over and attempted to release her sister’s hold on the gun, but she only clutched it tighter.
“Mimi,” called Stokes in a calm, mellow voice. “Mimi, honey, give me the gun. It’s OK. You’re safe.” He reached for the gun and pulled on it a little. Mimi looked into his eyes and released her death grip on the gun.
“Jesus Christ, Carol,” said Stokes. “Mara never told me about this room! These girls shouldn’t have to live like this.” He was angry. A scowl remained on his face. Then he grabbed for Mimi and held her tightly, as if she were really his own. Jaye rose from the bench and curled tightly next to him. He wiped the perspiration from Mimi’s forehead and shook his own head in disapproval.
“C’mon, girls,” said Stokes. “I need some tea. “How about you Carol?”
Carol nodded and ran ahead of them. “Jaye,” she said. “Close the room behind you. You know how.”
One by one, each of them entered the kitchen and took their place around the table. The whistle of the teakettle blistered their eardrums. Mimi jumped a foot from her seat.
“Look,” she said. “Isn’t it about time this is over? I don’t think I can take much more. I knew mom was working for the government, but I never really believed she was...”“Was what?” replied Stokes.
“Oh God,” said Mimi. “She was an operative for the other side, wasn’t she? Everything points to it. Carol and you following all of her plans just the way she planned them for you. Both of you always worrying, overly worrying, about our safety. I’m not stupid,” she snarled.
Stokes glanced at Jaye and said, “I suppose you agree?” Jaye’s head dropped to her chin. She gave no answer. She and her sister had discussed the issues and concluded that their mom was not on the up and up.
“Well,” said Stokes firmly. “Your mother was a lot of things, but she wasn’t a traitor. Tomorrow morning I will begin, from the beginning. I will fill in all the spaces that have been kept secret from you, and I will explain why life is the way it is. You will have no more questions, but you will have decisions to make.” Carol poured the tea. Silence again overcame the group. Jaye looked at Mimi. Mimi looked at Carol, and Stokes just smiled.
“What about you, Stokes?” said Jaye. “Don’t you think it a little strange, arriving like a thief in the night?Mr. 007, where’s your attaché’ case with all the little trinkets?” she teased.
“I’m telling you,” replied Stokes. “It’s not a laughing matter.”
“Ok, then,” said Mimi. “Is my mother still alive or not? Do you know Carol? Grand pap said you did. Please you guys, please. I just couldn’t stand it if you were cheating us too.”
“Enough,” said Carol, as gruffly as she could. “Your mother was. She was an important asset. So important, that we needed to create all these systems to protect her and you. I don’t know if she’s alive. After five years I have as little hope as you do. Rest assured of this, I’m sick of the games too, and tomorrow we won’t have to play anymore.”
Stokes just shook his head and said, “I wouldn’t be so sure of that one, Carol.”
Carol saw the suspense rising in the girls. They were full of anxiety and anticipation.
“Drink your tea,” said Stokes. “I have something special for you.”
He rose from his seat and walked a short distance to his bag. From deep within one of the side pockets, he pulled three small boxes. The girl’s eyes twinkled with the excitement of Christmas once again. He divided the boxes to each of them.
“Merry Christmas!" he said. They raced to tear the paper. Beneath the neatly wrapped Christmas papers were tiny black velvet jewelry boxes.
Carol opened hers first, “Oh Stokes, it’s just beautiful.” The girls opened the exact same necklace.
“I love it, Stokes,” said Mimi.
“I do too,” replied Jaye.
Stokes had exquisite taste, and the necklaces must have cost him a small fortune. Each necklace was designed in thick, tri-colored gold. The bezel held one singular, magnificent diamond.
“Well, let me put them on for you,” he said proudly. He rose and began with Mimi, then Jaye and last was Carol. Then he sat at his seat and said, “I want one promise from each of you.”
“What?” they replied in unison.
“Don’t ever take them off,” he replied. “Do you promise?”
“Ok Stokes,” said Mimi. Jaye and Carol just nodded. Mimi ran to the living room. She was back in a flash with a small box for Stokes. “Open it, open it,” she chanted. They watched and waited for his response. Only the girls seemed to know what was inside the box. Off came the paper, revealing another tiny velvet box. He didn’t say much. He just held the ring between his fingers, as a singular tear rolled down his cheek.
“I’m sorry!” said Jaye. “I didn’t know it would be painful. We found it among Mother’s things. When we read the inscription, we thought you would like to have it.” Mimi watched his face in silence.
“You were in love with my mother,” said Mimi. “You were, weren’t you Stokes?”
“Yes,” he said. “I’m sorry everyday that I didn’t marry her.” He looked at the inscription again and read it aloud, “To Stokes… the love of my life.” Then he put the channel set diamond ring on his left hand and smiled. “You should go to bed now,” he said. “We have a very busy day tomorrow.”
Carol felt sorry for him. She saw the pain in his face and realized that he was a victim, too. The girls rose from the table, gave their kisses goodnight and disappeared.
“Stokes,” said Carol. “We need a break!”
“You can say that again,” he replied. He put Carol in a headlock. She was happy with the attention. Although, she knew his intentions went no further than friendship. It was Carol who was looking for more.
A concerned look came over his face. “Carol,” he said. “I hate to keep more secrets from the girls, but it’s necessary. Once we tell the girls everything, the risk is greater that they could be picked up for questioning. The necklaces were specially designed with transmitters. As long as they remain around your necks, we can trace your location.” Carol’s mouth opened. “You’re really worried, aren’t you, Stokes?” she said. “With every breath I take,” he replied.