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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Failings of the Fathers: 9

"Blair!  Blair!" He bellowed.

"What is it?  You're louder than a trumpet in here!"  She came to the door of The Sun home office.


"Something's off.  I can't tell what, but . . ."


She looked at his desk.  There were papers strewn from end to end, a ledger book, and several bank and check books.  He said, "I'm racking my brain with this."


"What are you doing?"


"Jack mentioned today the college thing for Jenna.  Said she might want to go to Yale.  I needed to check it out and start thinking about both of them.  Jack might want college too, and it's going to take some money shifting.  Not that we can't afford it."


"So, what's all this?"


"Something's weird.  Some blind trust I . . . well I hate to admit it, but I totally forgot about it.  It's tough to see into, but it looks like it was set up back in the 90s.  Maybe when we got pregnant.  I must have done it and forgot because I wanted to provide something for the baby, and then with everything I went through in Ireland, I lost track."


"That sounds right.  You probably forgot about it, is that what you mean?"


"That's what I mean, but in all honesty I can't remember at all.  And here it is.  There's something off about it though."


"Why?"


"It's been siphoning money off other accounts since then, and I really never noticed it."


"What?  That's unlike you.  Seriously."


"I wouldn't have noticed it, but it's connected to the Swiss accounts.  I looked at those for extra cash to move around.  You, know, just in case."


"Siphoning off from the Swiss accounts?"


"Yep."


"Why don't you call Timothy?  You can check on Aiden and while you're at it, tell him about this.  He's a lawyer, he can get to the bottom of it, right?"


"That makes sense, thanks."


"And don't worry.  You went through a lot, you just must have just forgotten about doing it."


"Yeah, I must have."


***


The cafeteria was about half full at late night snack that evening.  Aiden made his way there, to take part in the late night hot milk and cookies they offered to the patients.  In choosing his snack and sitting down at a table, he noticed two men sitting and talking next to him.  They spoke English.  One had a slight accent, British, and the other was apparently American.  He looked up.  "Evening to ya."


"Evening," one said.  The older one nodded.


"Nice they do this for us, eh?"  Aiden asked.


"It's quite nice.  Something very warming for the night."  The younger of the two said.


"My name's Eric," Aiden said, extending a hand.


The younger of the two took it, and shook.  "Malcolm.  Malcolm Carlisle."


"Pleased."


The older American put his hand out next.  "Calvin Ames."


"Pleased to meet ya as well."


"What are you in here for?"  Calvin asked.


"I'm here for me head.  This," he traced his finger along his scar.  "Memory loss, and brain damage, maybe worse.  Not really sure, just hoping to find out.  What about ya?"


"Heart condition.  A few other ailments."


"Y'ar accent is American, I can tell.  Where are ya from?"


Calvin caught eye with someone coming in.  


Malcolm turned and said, "Miguel!  Come on over."  The third man was younger than both of the men, and came toward them, sitting down.  Malcolm said, "This is Eric."


Miguel shook his hand and smiled.  "Hello," he said with a distinct accent that Aiden hadn't heard before.


Aiden said, "We're the United Nations, we are."


The men laughed.  Malcolm picked up his glass of warm milk, and said, "To new friends getting well."


"Here, here!"  They clinked glasses.


Malcolm said, after taking a big swig of his milk, "You said you were dealing with a brain injury.  Do you know how it happened?"


"I think that's what I'm here for.  To find out.  I don't have memory of my life before it.  I was told it was a shooting.  I was six."  Aiden said.


Calvin swallowed, as if in reaction to his words.  The others gave each other looks, and Miguel said, "Tough break."  It was clear to Aiden that Miguel was also from The States.


"It was.  But I'm here, that's what counts.  I'm determined to know the truth."  Aiden said.


"We all need truth," Malcolm said.  "It's the best thing we can hope for.  How can you live without it?"


"Truth is beauty and beauty truth," Miguel added.


Aiden drank his milk and noticed how different they all were:  standoffish Calvin, gracious Malcolm, observant Miguel.  He looked at the man, and said, "Calvin, what do you think about truth?"


Calvin was chewing a bite of cookie, and continued.  Then he turned and said, "Sometimes you're better off without it.  Take it from an old, old man."


***


"Well, I called him.  Aiden's doing fine."  Todd said, and Blair perched herself on the arm of the ochre sofa in the room.


She said, "Good.  I'm glad he's all right."


"I forgot how late it was there when I called.  Timothy was up, but he told me they don't get calls at the clinic that late.  So, I can call Aiden tomorrow morning, which means like midnight tonight or something."


"It's tough to get used to that time difference."


"Anyway, he is doing all right.  Has a lot of decisions to make about surgeries.  Has been in therapy."  His voice trailed off as he organized his papers back into the folio.  He muttered to himself, "Wonder how long it is before the experts figure out he was brainwashed."


"Todd.  Is that what you think?"


"That's what I know."


"Why do you say this?"


"I . . . just know.  The pain when he tries to access memories.  When I gave him my mantra, it worked.  As it does for me.  Just something I believe has happened to him.  He shows a lot of signs of it."


"What would they have brainwashed him for?  He was just a little boy?"


"Blair, I've learned one thing, and that is that evil doesn't care whether or not someone's a little boy."


She swallowed, and tears sprung to her eyes.  "Oh, Todd."


"I'm . . . sorry, it's just . . . the truth."


She sniffed.  "What would they want from him?  When someone brainwashes you, they want something, or they want you to do something."


"Or forget something.  Depends."


My God.  He knows too much about this.  She said, "What are you thinking it was about, then?"


"They probably wanted him to forget.  The Men of 21.  They wanted him to forget his family.  No ties."


She waited a minute.  "Is that what they wanted you to do?"


He continued to shuffle papers, and then looked up.  "Yeah.  I think so.  Less ties make someone more pliable.  I wouldn't let it happen, though.  I recited your names every day.  It worked.  I never forgot.  Remembered every little bit.  In fact, well, you know the rest.  You all got me through."


She walked to the desk, and ran her hand over his shoulder and up into his hair.  "I know.  Todd, Aiden was only six.  Do you think they hurt him?"


He didn't want to upset her, especially with the baby on board.  So he said, "Probably not.  He was a little kid, so he just cooperated.  At least, I'd like to think so."


"What else did Timothy say?"


"He said he 'vowed to fight until we find out the truth.'  Something like that."  He imitated his adopted father's accent.


Blair smiled despite the topic of discussion.  "That's good.  Maybe he'll find the answer."


"Maybe."


"Todd?"


"Yeah, Blair?"  he continued to pack the last of the papers into his folio.


"Think everything is going to be all right?  With the baby and us?"


"Yeah, I'm sure of that.  Really sure."  He got up from the seat, and took her in his arms.  "She's going to be great, we're going to be great.  The kids, everyone."


"I just . . . want us to be happy.  I want things to be . . ."


"Normal?"


"Yeah, but our kind of normal," she said, touching his face.  "The Manning normal.  Which probably isn't normal at all."


"Like us, against the world.  Us, causing trouble, taking over companies.  Like this blind trust, we'll seek it out and conquer it, whatever it is.  No one's getting the best of us.  Besides, the typical normal is dull.  Remember, you and I on top of the world?  The penthouse, and us, standing there over all of Llanview?"


Her eyes brimmed and glistened.  "Of course I remember that," she said, looking away from his gaze briefly.


"Well, that's our normal.  We don't let anything stand in our way, remember?"  He leaned down to her stomach and said, "Got that, Jewel?  You're a Manning.  Start listening."


She smiled.  "Not boring normal, Todd, but just not . . . hurting, you know?"


"I know.  I really know, Babe."


*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Mysterious Samuel Toddman: Chapter 7

Christian and Blair followed Tomas into the Gallery. Tomas gestured to Christian to join him in his office, he turned to Blair. "My dear, you might want to take a look at Samuel's latest piece. You'll find it hanging over there." Tomas pointed to a smaller side room.

He and Christian entered his office. "Mr Vega if you'll excuse me for a minute I'll go and get a sketch pad and some charcoal and then we'll see if we can't get a likeness down on paper." Tomas left the office giving Christian a moment to look around. As he looked around he suddenly found himself face to face with another painting of Blair. Christian stood back and admired the painting, Blair was beautiful in the light of the fireworks. He couldn't quite place the staircase and he found himself very intrigued by the shadowy figure watching her. Once again Christian noted the signature was deliberately smudged to make it unreadable and the date on this painting was 2004. Christian felt the artist had definitely captured Blair.

 Hmm, I've never noticed but Blair is an excellent subject for portraits and whoever he is, this artist seems to know Blair exceedingly well. Christian thought. After I do the sketch. Blair should see this painting. I wonder if he's depicting actual moments in Blair's life . I'll have to ask her.

Tomas entered the office and noticed Christian admiring the painting he, himself, had purchased. "You've discovered my little secret. I, too, have come to greatly admire our Ms. Blair. Although until yesterday I never realized she was real. When Samuel brought in this painting I felt I had to have it for myself. I guess I envisioned myself as the figure watching from the shadow, for it seemed I had, ever since those first original portraits came into my Gallery. She is stunning, don't you agree?"

Christian smiled and said, "There is much to admire about Blair and I'm sure she would be flattered that you have one of her paintings as your own. She should see this. It is one more clue to our Artist. He's very talented and I see some raw passion coming through in his paintings. This man does know Blair.  My guess is he is depicting himself as the figure who is watching her, but I don't want to overwhelm her. These last few days have been one surprise after another. Did I hear you direct her to another of Samuel's Paintings?"

Tomas replied, "I sent her into the smaller gallery. I hung last night's portrait in there. It is another lovely piece. We can view it later but perhaps we should get this sketch finished so we have that to show Blair. Am I right in assuming that you also are an artist?"

"Yes, but currently, I'm teaching Art at Llanview University. Blair and I saw the first painting together and she came to me for help in finding the artist. Our investigation led to Paris and here we are. Now perhaps you can give me as much as you remember about our artist and I'll try to render it." At that Christian took the sketchpad and the charcoal and sat down as Tomas also took a seat. They then began the process of putting Samuel's likeness down on paper.

In the smaller Gallery, Blair was standing before another of her memories. Blair could hardly catch her breath as she gazed on the portrait in front of her. She remembered that night so well. At first she and Todd hadn't planned anything special but she had gotten a call from RJ asking if she could help with the opening of Capricorn. She had talked Todd into going with her and had told him he didn't have to interact with the other people there, all they had to do was look at each other. It was Valentine's Day. Then she had surprised him with a song. A very special song. At the end of the song Todd had handed her one single red rose. "My God...Who are you!" This isn't making any sense, it was like someone had been spying on them all during our first years together. It was unreal. "Todd said he didn't commission the painting that Eli gave me. I wonder what he would say if he could see this painting." With her mind in a whirl, Blair sat down on the bench and gazed at the portrait.

Blair sat there lost in the memories of the past. Remembering her first encounter with Todd at Rodi's, she recalled those feelings of excitement and danger mixed with trepidation, when she saw his ankle monitor and realized she was talking to a criminal. They kept running into each other and like kindred spirits they formed a friendship that slowly grew to love. She and Todd had been through so many ups and downs. In those first months, she had been possibly his only friend as he had been hounded by the police, then she had saved his life, and when he had been cleared; they had stayed friends, to the dismay of many, but it had felt right. She remembered the first Christmas present she gave him, but with that memory came some sadness because in her own foolish way she had endangered that friendship. In her own desperation to keep her life afloat she had used information about Todd to her advantage and ensnared him in a marriage based on a lie. That lie later came back to haunt her and threatened the happiness they had started to enjoy. She and Todd managed to find their way back to each other. They conceived their beautiful daughter and made their way back together only to once again be torn apart.

Blair sighed, Eli's picture had been of the Golden Balloon Wedding. To this day she wished Todd had never gone to Ireland for Marty. The next years had been dreadful in regards to their relationship, they had had custody battles over Starr and in the middle of it all, she had married Max when Todd disappeared for a couple of years. Who knew that Todd was going to drop back into her life.  She had not expected it but once again they found themselves drawn to each other. Todd settled back in and helped her after she attempted to kill Max. They were working together so well and then Todd's jealousy got the better of him and once more their lives ended in turmoil.

Todd disappeared again and when he came back he looked totally different. Now Todd was happily married to Tea, his second wife,and things were pretty amicable between all of them. She had even felt happy when she had married Eli, none of them had known what Eli was capable of. The ugly truth had come out and the final result had been Eli's Death. But he had left her something. Eli had left her the painting and it had led her here, sitting looking at a painting of her in the red outfit she had worn for Todd so long ago in 2002. "What is going on? Why is he painting all these pictures of my times with Todd? How could he even know of them?"

Blair looked around. There was still no sign of Christian. She rose and headed toward the office. Once there, she knocked. "Yes, come in." came the reply from inside. Blair opened the door and entered. Christian was sitting opposite Tomas hard at work on the sketch.

"Dear Blair, do come in and have a seat. We're almost done. Perhaps you will recognize the picture." Tomas said and directed Blair to a chair.

Blair looked expectantly at Christian, "Well, Chris does he look familiar to you?"

"He looks pretty familiar Blair, but you're not going to believe how familiar ." Chris turned the sketch so that Blair could see it.

Blair could scarcely believe what she saw. Staring at her was a face she hadn't seen in 8 years. A face just as mesmerizing as she remembered. "My God, It's Todd!"

Blair's hand reached out towards the sketch and Christian handed it to her.  The sketch looked like Todd, only he was the Todd from her memory, the one from the Gold Balloon Wedding. The only thing different was a mask covering the right side of his face. That in itself was strange. Todd had never hidden his scar, he had worn it to remind himself of the awful things he had done to Marty. He hadn't aged much from the looks of the sketch. Wait a Minute, Blair snap out of it ! This can't be Todd, you left him back in Llanview with Tea. Blair shook her head. She lifted her gaze to Tomas. "You say this is Samuel?"

Tomas nodded. " I assure you, that is the man who stood in this gallery last night. Christian caught his likeness remarkably well."

Blair looks at Christian, "What do you think? It's uncanny that he looks exactly like Todd. This whole thing is getting even more confusing." Looking at Tomas she explained" You see Tomas, this man looks just like my second husband, Todd Manning. At least he looks like Todd before my ex-husband had plastic surgery . This Samuel and My Todd could have been twins. But what is even more baffling is that Samuel is painting pictures of me and I've never met him. Also, my Todd doesn't have a twin." Once again she looked down at the sketch, her hand going automatically to his forehead, letting her fingers trace his hair as if she wanted to move it off his face the way she had done so many times in the past. She wondered softly to herself "Who are you? What is bringing us together?"

***

Several blocks away,Samuel stood in his loft looking at his recent painting. He reached out towards her face feeling a sudden urge to be able to hold her and touch that face. "There's something happening, it concerns you. I just feel like I'm getting very close to remembering and you're going to be the one who brings my memories back." But then he backed off and turned away reaching instead to his own cheek and feeling the scars there. Those scars were given to him as a reminder but to remind him of what. His fingers traced the older of the two that ran along his cheekbone he tried desperately to bring back the memory of how it happened.

Suddenly, he wasn’t in his loft. He appeared to be standing in some alley.  He heard this cruel laughter, someone screamed and just as suddenly out of the corner of his eye he saw a pipe come at him and felt extraordinary pain. Samuel stumbled,then dropped to his knees for one brief moment the pain was intense, then it was gone. "My God, is that what happened? Is that how I got this scar?" Staying on his knees,Samuel slowly absorbed what he just saw. Something violent occurred in his past. Was he the one laughing? Why had someone hit him? Who was screaming? Although not knowing everything about the event, Samuel was sure of one thing. This was a real memory. As violent as it was, it was real.
Samuel stood back up "Okay, there's been violence in my past. I wonder if that is why someone has been watching me all these years." He headed for the kitchen to get another drink. He stopped and instead went to his two Muses. Looking at the older woman, he said,"What's going to happen next?  Suddenly I feel like I'm beginning to get caught in quicksand, I'm afraid of what I'll remember next." As if she was talking to him , he heard "Don't worry, we're here.  We'll keep you from sinking, but you must take this journey. You must find yourself.”

Samuel stepped back and smiled at his girls. "You're right. You've kept me sane this long.  I know I'll be able to see this through. The memories are starting to return and I can't go backward. That black pit I went into almost destroyed me but you got me through that. I have to keep pushing through the pain this time.

At the same time I need to be careful. I've been feeling that strange sensation again of being watched and it's gotten more prevalent in the last two days. This morning in particular, after that brief blackout or whatever it was, I could almost feel them right behind me. Someone doesn't want me to remember my past. I wish I knew who and why. Hopefully I'll be able to make some sense of everything when I get that report from the hospital. I've got to find out more about that first night when they brought me to the hospital. I think if I read what shape I was in, it might trigger another memory . They are all there if I can break the barrier. Well it looks like I'm not going to get anything done tonight and my head is once again pounding from remembering how I got one of my scars. If it pounds this hard after a partial memory, what will happen if I remember something big. Those two memories nearly incapacitated me. Not to mention what occurred when I saw that woman." Suddenly Samuel was hit once again with excruciating pain, doubling over he felt himself falling to the floor. Only this time he blacked out completely.

***

"Ms Perkins! Ms.Perkins, he's out again. Is he here?" Tom yelled "Where did she go, she doesn't usually leave us alone." Tom turned and looked at Pete, but Pete seemed to be knocked out too. “What's going on? I don't like this. Rodd are you around? Am I the only one awake. Maybe I can help in some way." Tom looked around and didn't see either Ms. Perkins or Rodd anywhere and Todd was still tossing around even more vigorously than before. Tom walked over to Todd and sat next to the bed, he put his hand on Todd's shoulder and Todd calmed down. Then he said "Don't worry Todd, I think I can do something. You'll see, I'll help Samuel.”

At that Tom closed his eyes and thought real hard about Samuel laying on the ground and pretended it was him, then he reached out and touched the solid floor under him and opened his eyes. All around were the pictures of Tea and Vicki and Blair. He got up slowly and walked and looked at all of them. He remembered how much fun he'd had playing games with Tea. Tom walked over to Vicki's picture on the mantle and smiled as he recalled meeting his sister for the first time in the hospital. He didn't feel very comfortable around Blair's pictures but he recalled Shorty and the time he had played camping with her and Tea.

It felt strange to be out again. But his head was hurting really, really bad and he knew he had to get Samuel to bed. He went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. Poor Todd, he had another scar. This one looked really bad too. Tom couldn't remember how Todd got it and it scared him to think of things like that. He opened the cabinet door and looked at the medicine.  He found the aspirin and took two of them. Then he made his way to the bed, took off his shoes and got under the covers. As he laid there, he thought back to the time Tea sat with him till he fell asleep and with that memory in mind Tom closed his eyes and went to sleep.

Tom found himself back on the floor next to Pete. Pete still wasn't moving. But from across the area Ms. Perkins came toward him.

"Thomas you did exactly the right thing. I awoke and found you gone and Rodd and Pete were both knocked out by the same pain that hurt Samuel. I think it didn't affect you because you are innocent in mind and deed and the ugliness of the hidden truth couldn't touch you. Thank you Thomas, you've helped us all tonight."

Tom smiled and felt great. Ms.Perkins was proud and he had done good.



*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Failings of the Fathers: 8

"Wow, what time is it?"  Blair said, waking.  

Todd was still alert, as he had been.  She'd been sleeping on his chest, he'd been holding her and thinking.  "It's almost time for the kids to be home."


"We should get up, then," she said, propping herself on her elbow.


"Yep." 


"You were amazing."


"You were, too."  He touched her hair.


"I love these afternoons."


"I know.  Me, too."  He swung his legs over the side of the bed.  "Time to get back to family life."


"Did Ray wake up?"


"No, Ray didn't wake up.  He slept through.  I had the monitor on.  Nothing."


"Wonder what your mother is thinking?"


"Don't worry about her, she's happy to be here.  She knows the deal, about us, about the way things are.  She's a sharp cookie."

Blair laughed lightly.  "Well, let me get a quick shower and get my clothes back on."  She got up.


"All right.  I'll shower with you, I need one, too."


"Nothing funny, or we'll have to start over again!"  She teased.  


"All right, nothing funny." The two of them stepped into the shower, and began to soak in the warm water.  "Jack's going to be home first, remember?  He was at Jenna's after school today.  I had Williams go and get Sam, and Jack, and bring them home together.  Any minute now."


She soaped his back.  The scars were as prominent as always, but she was beginning to be used to them.  The one she had witnessed was staring at her from the top of his shoulder.  She winced slightly, and kept on soaping.  He closed his eyes and enjoyed her work on his back.  She said, "You've got a beautiful body, Todd.  You always did."


"Yeah, I know at first you really loved me for it, not my money.  I knew the whole thing was a ruse."


She giggled.  "We were so different then.  So young."


"We were, but we were also much the same," he said, turning to her, and kissing her.

"Hey, I said 'no funny stuff.'"


"Too late," he said.


***


"I had a math test today."  Sam said as Jack got into the limousine.  


"Oh yeah?  How did you do, Runty?"


"I did good, Oaf."


"Oaf?  Where did you get that?"


"I have good vocabulary.  Ms. Wilson said so."


"Well, that's good then.  Keep doing good in school.  It's important.  What do you want to be when you grow up?"


"I don't know.  Sometimes I think I want to be a cop, like McPain."


"You know you're not supposed to call him that anymore, right?  Dad said so."


"Yeah, I know.  Anyway, sometimes I want to be a superhero."


"Well, that dive into the snow should tell ya, there's no superheroes."


Sam's face turned to a frown.  "There is, too."


"No Sam, there's not."


"There is!  Dad's one.  He is.  He's a superhero.  He just doesn't have powers."


"Then he's not.  He's just a hero, I guess."  He remembered his father's vehement disagreement with that statement.


Sam was quiet.  "He saved people."


"I know he did, Runty."


"He saved me.  Remember?  Mom said he dug me out with his bare hands."


Jack remembered, he was there.  His father's stricken face as he dug through the mounds of icy crystals with his hands, and how his blood ran onto the whiteness . . . "He did.  I saw."


"Is it true?  Did Mixie dig, too?"


"Yeah, Mixie dug."


"He loves me."


"Yep."


"And Dad does.  I think he was crying."


"He was.  Mom, too.  Everyone was.  Bonehead, you made everyone upset.  Make sure you don't do that ever again."  Jack said, and Sam inched closer to him, putting his head against him.  Jack lifted his arm, and put it around Sam's shoulder.  


"I won't."  There was a long pause.  "Were you sad, Jack?"


"What do you think, Shortstuff?"


"I love you, Jack.  You're a good brother."


"You're a good brother too, Puny."


After a long drive that set Sam to sleep and Jack staring out the window, lost in music and texts, the limo pulled up in front of Unforgettable.  They got out and Sam made his way to the door.  "I wanna see Grandma Bitsy!  She's going to teach me to draw an elephant today for my Africa project."


Jack watched him go, and made his way leisurely to the door.  When he got into the foyer, he spotted his father, just walking into the kitchen, with Sam already on his shoulder, balanced like a bag of wheat. "Hey, Dad."


"Hey."


"Dad, I have to ask you something."


"Sure," he said, spinning Sam and setting him down, and helping him get back onto his crutches.  "What's up?"


"Did you mean what you said about sending Jenna to college?"


"Yep.  I meant it.  Why?"


"She wants to go to Yale."


Todd raised an eyebrow.  "Okay.  I can shift some funds around.  No big deal.  I promised and I'll make good on that.  Of course, it's not until next year, that gives me plenty of time."


"I knew you wouldn't say it and not do it.  She might go to Llanview U, but I don't want her to change her dreams for me."


"I can see that.  That's pretty mature of you."


"Yeah, well, she's important."


Todd smiled.  "I can see that, too.  I'll get on it."


"Thanks, Dad.  What are you making?"


"Tacos."


"Yes!"


"Go get some homework done."


"Did it all at Jenna's."


"All right, then.  What next?"


"Where's Mom?"


"WIth Grandma Bitsy and Ray."


"Not for long.  Runty's on his way up there, and wants art lessons."


"His name is Sam.  And good for him."


"He doesn't mind that I call him Runty.  Today, he calls me Oaf, before, Giant of the Dumbness, and more."


"He's sharp."


"Today he was talking about the snow thing.  When he fell in.  When you dug him out."


Todd paused slightly, and then moved on.  "Yep.  What a day that was."


"He wants to be you when he grows up."


Todd sighed.  "Okay, I take back the sharp thing."


"No, really.  He sees the good in you.  He sees it in everyone.  He saw it in Zeus sometimes.  There's like only one person I can't see him seeing good in, and I don't want to bring him up."


Todd knew who Jack meant, and his eyes narrowed.  "Don't worry about that, he'll never get the chance.  The old man's dead."


Todd's voice was flat and cold, and Jack said, "You hate him, don't you."


"Who, Peter Manning?"  Todd was chopping veggies for the tacos.  "I don't think I can give him that kind of power.  Hate takes a lot out of a person."


You good-for-nothing.  Your mother made a pansy out of you.  Like a girl.


Jack said, "That sounds good when you say it.  But . . . can you really mean it?  I can't, because I hate him.  Really hate him."


Todd put a hand on his son's shoulder.  "You hate what he did to me and Bitsy.  You never knew him.  Does he really deserve a strong emotion like hate from you?  Think about that."


"So, you don't hate him?"


"Think you're tough?  Give me your arm, show how tough you are here, Todd."  He brought the lighter out of his pocket.


Todd put down the knife loudly, and said, "Jack, come on.  This is just not a topic that I want to talk about or want you involved in."  His heart was racing in his chest.  His eyes felt . . . they burned.  


"Okay, I'm sorry."


"You know, you don't have to be sorry.  I just . . . yeah, all right, I hate him!"  he shouted, suddenly, and was overtaken by his own feelings and memories.  He tried, but couldn't catch his breath.  He said, "Get your mother."


Jack took the stairs two-at-a-time, and at the top, he called her, "Mom!"


She poked her head out of the nursery, holding Ray.  Sam and Bitsy, who were in her room at the desk, did, too.


"Mom, it's my fault.  I . . . Dad's . . . he can't breathe."


"Oh God," Blair said, handing Ray off to Jack and rushing to the staircase.  "It's all right Jack, it's just panic," She went as fast as she could without putting caution aside, because she did not want to fall.  BItsy followed, and Jack held Sam at bay on the second level with his brother.


Todd was against the counter, on the floor, slumped over.  He looked very pale.  Blair crouched the best she could by him, and touched his face, "Todd, look at me."


He did, saying, "Blair.  Hi.  I . . . don't know what happened.  I couldn't breathe there for a minute."


"Are you all right?"


"Yes.  I . . . Jack just wanted to talk.  I just . . . flashed on Peter.  The lighter.  The clinic."  He let his head rest back against the cabinets.


"Let me get you up."  Blair said, starting to try and move to her feet.  She struggled.


He smirked.  "Hmf.  Don't you have that one wrong?"


She looked at herself and then sat with a small thud.  "Oh, right.  I guess so."


"I'm all right now.  I'll get us both up," he said, moving to his feet in one fluid motion.  He put his strong arms under hers and lifted her to standing. 


She said, "My love, look at me.  You okay?"


He started to answer, when he spotted his mother over her shoulder.  


"You bitch.  You ruined him.  Made him into a fucking girl.  Look at that hair.  He likes to hang around you a little too much.  I'll toughen him up."


In his mind's eye, he saw Bitsy, years younger, her hair dark and flowing, and her face twisted with hate as she faced off with Peter.


When he blinked, she was back to herself, wide-eyed and her bottom lip trembling.


Immediately, he said, "Momma, it's all right."


"Todd's just remembering things, Momma," Blair added.  Bitsy was as if she couldn't hear them and slowly walked toward them.  


Within a few minutes she was standing right in front of Todd and Blair, with her eyes fixed on her son's face.  She reached up with both her hands and took his face in them.  She opened her mouth, as if she would speak, but her face contorted with the effort, and instead, she let a tear free.  


"Momma, it's all right," he said again, softly.  His eyes had brimmed.

She pulled his head to her shoulder and wrapped her arms around him.  At first, he embraced her, with a gentle hug, but as it went on, Blair saw him falling into shreds of emotion in his mother's arms in front of her.  She heard him say, "Momma," softly, and blinked back her own tears.  


Blair gingerly went to the refrigerator to get a pad and pen, and brought it to them.  Soon after, the embrace broke, and Blair offered them to Bitsy and she took them.  Todd wiped his eyes on his sleeve, as his mother wrote.  Blair took the note and read it aloud:

You mustn't waste time on a man like Peter.  He didn't love you because you were better than he was.  You were a beautiful child.  You loved the butterflies and the bees.  You wanted to be one, and fly.  He hated that.  He wanted you to be dark and rough and hurtful and cruel like he was.  He was very wrong in everything he did.  He didn't appreciate or love us.  He did terrible things and he is gone.  He is dead.  You must leave him behind.  Just forget him, Todd.  Forget him and be who you are.  

The last line was retraced, and darker than the rest, and underlined:

Be who you were meant to be.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Failings of the Fathers: 7 (adult)

"Hey, Mommy," Todd said, greeting her at the door.  Blair came into the foyer, swept into his arms and his kiss.  He rested his forehead on hers.  "You're beautiful when you're pregnant.  And when you're not."

"Oh, Todd," she said, softly, and her voice shook.  Instead of continuing to face his searching eyes, she threw herself into his embrace again and held on.


"Hey, hey, what's all this about?" He said, aiming to pull back and see her face.  She held fast.  "Blair, come on.  Let go.  Tell me what's wrong?  Is it the baby?"


She heard a slight alarm in his voice, and said, "No."  She still did not let go.  "Just hold me, Todd, and don't let go."


"I am, but . . ."


"Please, Todd?"


"All right, Babe."  Not going to push her.  Hormones.  Again.


Little Ray came stumbling up to them and grabbed Todd's leg.  "Daddy, up!  Up, Daddy!"


Both Todd and Blair looked down.  He could see she was crying, but at her request he didn't ask.  He just thumbed her tears off her face.  "Wait, Ray. Be patient, I'm macking on Mommy right now."


"Tawd!"  she called out, slipping into a smile and soft laughter.


"Daddy, up!  Mommy, tell Daddy."


"He's ordering us around already, another Starr in the making."  Todd said.


"I know," Blair said, "Jack was the sweet one.  Never caused much of a ruckus.  But his sister, and this one . . ."


"He's getting scoochy."


"I'll say."


Todd lifted the baby off the floor.  He hugged his father around the neck.  "Hug, Daddy?"


"Sure, here's a hug, Buddy."  Todd responded.


"Cookie?"  The toddler asked, and looked pleadingly into Todd's face.  Then he turned, "Cookie, Mommy?"


Blair laughed.  "He's got those Manning genes."  


She turned to go to the kitchen, and Todd yelled out "Ouch!"


She turned back and Little Ray was kicking.  Her eyes widened.  She said, "Ray, stop kicking Daddy!  Right now!"


The toddler kept kicking and seemed to kick harder as one landed in Todd's middle, and he finally put the little boy down.  He said, "Geesh."  Then, "I don't want you picking him up anymore, until after the baby is born.  If he kicks you, it won't be good."


Blair was crouched in front of the little boy.  "That is not nice, you don't kick people."  The toddler stared into her face.  "Now, say sorry to Daddy."


"Sowwy, Daddy," he said with a sad little frown and a tear.


Todd said, "Well, don't do that again.  You don't kick.  That's not nice."


"Me don't kick, me don't kick," he said, repeatedly, running in circles around them. 


Todd said, "Definitely my son, look at him.  Going in circles."  The little boy ran off into the family room and began to play with his toys. 


Blair laughed again.  "I guess he is.  I wouldn't have it any other way."  She slowly attempted to get up from her crouch and Todd hurried to her and helped.  


"Don't go down on the ground any time soon, you might never get back up."  He said, and smiled at her.


"I won't.   So, how are you, Todd, today?


"I'm fine, Blair.  I don't want you worried about things.  It's all in here," he said, tapping his head, "and it will pass.  I'm fine."


She didn't speak, she just kissed him.


***


"Junior year is almost over, Jack.  We'd better start thinking of the future," Jenna said, sitting in her kitchen with him.  Lynnette was puttering around the living room.


"I know.  College.  Trade school.  Just work for my father.  Not sure which thing."


"What do you want to be?"


"I think I want to be a mogul, like he is."


"Then the answer's obvious."


"They're going to want me to go to college.  I know how they are."


"Nothing wrong with that.  You could do business administration.  Or something."


"Journalism.  I kinda like writing.  I enjoyed what I was doing when I was working for Zeus."


"The man who took your father's place?"


"Yeah.  I did some stuff at The Sun for him.  I liked it."


"Then I guess you're all set."


"What about you?  It should be fairly obvious what you want to do."


"I know.  I want to study at Yale.  Fine arts.  But it's a pipe dream, I think."


"Can you get in?"


"I think so.  I have good grades, you know that."


"Well, then you'll go.  My dad already said you'd go to college wherever you want."


"That's over $150,000.  I could never ask him to do that."


"He's already said it.  You're not asking.  Just apply.  Wherever you get in, you choose and go.  Done deal.  In truth, I'd rather not go to college, and just work for him.  So, the money he would have spent on me, could just be for you.  It doesn't matter to him.  Really.  If that's what you want to do, then you should.  You'll get financial aid, the rest he'll pay."


She got quiet.


"I know what you're thinking, I think,"  he said.


"What?"


"You'll have to leave Llanview.  Yale's in Connecticut.  That's where you'll be going to school.  But don't worry.  It's fine, we'll see each other.  No problem."


"It was always a dream of mine to go there.  In some ways, it still is.  In other ways, it's not.  It's hard to explain."


"I get it.  But I could visit you, and you could come home often."


"What if I go local, to somewhere here?"


"You could go to Llanview University.  They have art."


"They do.  I'll have to look into it."


"But one thing."


"What?"


"Don't put your dream aside because you don't want to leave here, or me.  I'll still be around.  It's going to be okay, and we have a whole year and a half before that."


"That's true."  She said, he leaned across the table and kissed her.


"Excuse me, Jack, it seems your driver is here."  Lynnette said, stepping into the kitchen.


"Okay, thanks Lynnie," he said, and grabbed his coat.  


After he went out the door, Lynnette turned to Jenna.  "You've wanted to study at Yale since you were old enough to say so.  You're not dumping a dream for that boy."


"Wait a minute, you were listening?"


"You bet I was.  Your dreams come first."


"That's what he said, which you already know from listening in."


"Maybe so, but you won't be sticking around here for any other reason than it's the best thing to do.  Not because of Jack Manning."


***


"How did you do it?  I mean, how did you get him to go in for a nap?  He fights me tooth and nail lately."  Blair said, still in the kitchen, prepping some items for dinner.


"Easy.  I used Momma."  Todd smirked, taking her hand.  


She was easily led by him toward the staircase, "What do you mean?"


"She put him down.  He quiets around her, almost immediately.  Sorta weird.  Maybe because she makes no noise, he figures he shouldn't."


Blair followed her husband.  "So, we're going upstairs, then."


"We are.  Time for a nap for Mommy and Daddy, while Little Ray has his."


"A nap?"


"Yeah, what did you expect?  The kid's asleep, how often do we get that?"


She smiled, and when they got to the top of the stairs, he said, "Come on, just a little further."


"I'm not a cripple."


"No, but you're starting to wobble."


"Oh, stop, will you? Just stop."


He turned to face her, and then ran his hands up her arms, and said, "You'll be telling me the opposite in a bit," he kissed her neck.


She tilted her head to allow him to work his way down to her collarbone.  "I will?"


"You will.  And you know it."


She said, "And what about you?  What will you be saying?"


He pushed open the bedroom door with his hand, and his kisses were now landing on her mouth.  Still connected, they backed into the room together.  "Nothing," he said, taking her face in his hands to kiss her passionately.  She felt her knees weaken.


He took his mouth from hers.  "I know what I'll say.  I want to make you feel good,"  he was whispering, and he moved his mouth back to her neck, just below her ear, along her jaw, "the way only I can."


She closed her eyes and let him sweep her to the bed.  She didn't open them, even when the cool air of the room in Winter touched her skin as he opened her blouse and ran his hands over her breasts and stomach.  "The way only we can," he corrected himself.


"No one is like us," she whispered back, still not opening her eyes.  He loved looking at her this way.  She excited him as much as she ever did, even with her full middle.  You just love her, you fool.  Nothing could make her less than beautiful to you.


Her breathing was heightening, and with her eyes still closed, she said, "Love me."


He knew that command like a hymn in his heart.  He'd heard it, time and time again.  She'd never been crass with him, always demure and tender.  


Class.  

She was his queen, and he knew it.  Even during the times when he hadn't shown it, or didn't want to admit it, she had made him king, and she was his queen.  His princess.  

I love her so much.  She loves me enough to carry my babies and stay with me even when I don't deserve it.  


She was basking in his love and under his touch.  Still keeping her eyes closed, her desire was building, and she wanted him, so badly, that she felt all of the sudden too warm.  He saw her flush, her chest and neck and cheeks becoming tinged with crimson in the early-afternoon light coming through their windows.  He ran his fingers over her lips, and brushed her chin with his thumb.  He traced a trail from her neck and between her full breasts.  She repeated herself, softly, "Yes, love me, Todd."


Seeing her intoxicated with the expectation of him was almost more than he could take, and he feverishly began to pull back her bra and suck on her nipple, and a visible quiver went through her.  With her hands in his hair, she let out a soft moan of pleasure, and the work with his mouth became more urgent.


He finished with the right and moved to the left, working her nipples and himself to full erection.  As he positioned himself over her, his thumb in place on her, rubbing in circles how he knew she ached for, he used his other hand to touch her cheek.  She finally opened her eyes.  There he was, like a sculpture.  Chiseled to perfection, his broad shoulders flexed gently as he fingered her; his thin waist was flanked by taut muscles on his stomach and in his thighs.  She sucked in air a little, at the beauty of him; it never got old.  


She reached down under her belly, and took him in her hand.  He shook at her touch; it was almost enough to make him end onto her torso.  Instead, he threw his head back, and she heard him sigh out, longing enough to resemble a groan of desire.


She let go and patted the bed next to her.  He knew what she meant, and why she did it.  He'd made love to her this pregnant before.  He went onto his back, his body firm and poking upward for her, as she ran her tongue up its length and back down.   He made exquisite sounds that made her longing stronger, and the ache between her thighs even greater. 


Kneeling, she slid herself onto him until he disappeared inside her.  Both of them moaned in a state of deep, physical paradise; so much so that they both felt their ends approaching.  He moved his hand to locate her center, and put his thumb in place, as she moved up and down, slowly and rhythmically.  His moans escalated in a way that spoke untamed abandon - primal and seductive.  In this way, they fed off each other; she moving in ways that brought waves of decadent pleasure into his groin and down his legs, and he moaning and filling her with a desire to feel him release inside her.  


She couldn't hold off any longer when she shifted her position enough to bring him to his end, the angle that drove him wild.  It wasn't enough to make love to him; she wanted to please him in the ways he thirsted for.  She pressed herself forward, changing the angle of his thrusts, and pressing her sensitive spots harder against his hand.  He cupped her bottom with his left hand, and warned her with beautiful voice that he was coming.  In hearing his words, she felt herself spasm against him.  The warmth inside her was him, all of him.  It moved through her, and then, he sat directly up, almost crushing his hand between them.  He could feel her pulsate against his fingers and around his body.  He pulled her into a close embrace as she finished.  With his hand, he hoped to draw her finishing out as long as he could, until finally she had to ask him to stop.  And once again, it happened, as he was sure it would.  "Todd, stop, it's too much," she squealed, and then, "Oh, God, it was so . . .oh," as she fell toward him.   He rested himself back down, his wife on his chest.


Their breathing almost perfectly matched.  She found herself almost drunk; she could barely lift her head, and he said, "It's time to rest."


She fell almost instantly into sleep.


He was awake, still breathing moderately heavy.  He stroked her hair and stared up into the sky through the glass pane above his head.  For a moment, everything was still and quiet, until Jewel kicked him, lightly in the side, and he smiled.


I love this.  Is someone up there?  


His eyes blurred slightly with moisture.

Don't take this from me.  I know I don't deserve any of it, but please. . .if you're there, give a guy a break.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Failings of the Fathers: 6

"Are the treatments painful, Son?"  Timothy asked Aiden, who was just being wheeled back into his room.

"The worst of it, for now, is the therapy.  When I talk about my past, the pain sears through me head.  Not an easy time of it.  But, I find things to think of, things that could be worse."


Timothy didn't ask, but he had a feeling.  "Ya do?  That might be a strategy that works."


"I think of Todd, and some of the things he endured and for how long.  I also think of others.  There are people out there worse off than me, that's for sure, it is."


"Well, if it helps.  Have ya remembered much more?"


"No.  Not much.  It seems to break off around the time of the shooting.  I can't seem to go much further back yet.  The doctor says it will, in time."


"That's promising.  Good for ya, then."


"Have ya heard from Llanview?  How are things with The Mannings?"


"They seem to be fine. Settling back in.  Todd's mother has come to live with them."


"Ah.  That's a good thing.  Is everything all right with Blair and the babby?"


"Seems to be."


"I'll rest easier for a while.  I owe me life to Todd, Pappy."


"I understand.  I do too, so I know what ya mean.  I want the best for him.  I want relief."


Aiden's Adam's apple moved in his throat.  "What do ya think it's like, knowing y'ar own father . . ."


"I don't know, Lad.  I don't spend much time with that thought."


"He has to find some kind of peace.  He does.  It won't be right if he doesn't."


"Have ya made any acquaintances or friends, here?"


"Yes.  There are some nice people.  A few men at the groups, some in the cafeteria.  Some just in the halls.  I'm very friendly as a rule, always have been.  Always needed to bring people to me, since I didn't have a family of me own aside from Aman and Lily.  I had to leave them, to protect them.  It was a hard, hard thing."


"I know.  Must have been.  Ya were a young one when ya left."


"Did I tell ya I saw Todd, when I was a young man?"


"No.  What do ya mean?"


"When he was here, in Europe, I mean Ireland.  At the Wild Swan.  He was standing with a woman, not Blair.  I was serving drinks, he was talking to her, and she gave him a gift."


"I see," Timothy did not want to go forward with the conversation, and did not want to tell Aiden about Todd's history with women, aside from Blair.


"He didn't remember me, but he thought that was where he recognized me from.  In reality, he was just seeing ya, Pappy."


"Yes.  Likely he was."


"Can ya bring Tina, Dad?  I want to see her.  Little Tina."


"Yes, I will.  I'll go and bring her back in a few hours, is that all right, Son?"


"Whatever ya can.  I want to see her, I miss her.  She makes me smile."


"She'll be here."  Timothy said, bending to embrace his son gently.


***


"Blair, you're here?"  Sister Rebecca Katherine said, opening the door to her room at St. Anne's.


"Yes, hello, Sister."


"Come in, and Dear, I can tell something's wrong.  Your face."


"I'm . . . I didn't know where else to turn, Sister."  Blair noticed the woman's bags on her bed, open and half packed.  "You're . . . going somewhere, or still did not finish unpacking?"


"I'm moving to Mountainview, for the internship, do ya remember, Bridgette?"


"Yes.  I must have forgotten about when it was starting."


"Well, I am on my way.  But that's not important now.  What is it, Dear?"


"Sister, I'm . . . I'm so afraid," she said, starting to cry.  Her hand was trembling, and was against her lips.


"Oh, Dear," she said, sitting down across from Blair.  She took her other hand.  "Not sure this is best for the babby."


"I'm sorry," she said, trying to pull it together.  "I just . . . I'm afraid.  For him."


"All right.  Tell me everything, and I'll see what this is about.  Sometimes it seems worse from the inside."


"He . . . has had a few dreams, about Peter.  Claimed he saw him.  And all in all, he is sure he's imagining things, and Ray agrees.  The thing is . . . I . . . I can't even say this, it's too hard."


The nun did feel a surge of panic in her chest, but she pushed it down, seeing that Blair was distraught.  "It is bad, what he's experiencing?"


"Well, it's not that bad, we've been through worse.  He just . . . last night he broke down when he felt the baby's head in my belly.  He dreamed Peter was coming for our children.  He's. . .convinced he's losing his mind, again.  The truth is . . .well, the truth is . . ."


"Go quickly and spit it out, it's better faster, Dear.  It will just be easier."


"He dreamed of Peter, and he said he saw him.  He saw him all different places, and in the clinic.  Well, this made him upset.  He wanted to see Ray Martino. So, he did.  He went to see him, and he remembered things.  He said he remembered Peter burning his arm when he was in the clinic, and then he panicked, seeing the burn right where he said it happened.  It was on his forearm, and he saw it, and he was . . . upset.  Of course with all the scars he has on him, Ray convinced him it was in his mind, and he agreed.  Peter died in front of him."


"The poor man.  He is . . . still trying to cope with the story of his life."


"Well, when he got home, he told me about it, and I didn't want to say anything because . . . Sister, I think . . ."


"You think he's having a mental collapse.  Oh, my."


"No, that's just it.  I don't.  I didn't want to say . . . Sister, I think I remember that burn."


***


A light knock pulled Aiden out of dozing.  He looked up to the door, and said, "Little Tina."


"Hi."  She walked to the bed.  "Are you well?"


"I'm all right.  I've come a long way.  Just resting."


"I see.  Timothy said you wanted to see me."


"I did.  I missed ya.  I don't want to intrude on y'ar time, but I wanted to see ya.  To have ya with me."


"Well, I'm here."


He smiled.  "I see ya.  And I'm glad for it.  I . . . have decisions to make."


"Like?"


"How many surgeries.  How much therapy.  How much pain to take."


She sat by his bed and covered his hand with her hand.  "What did you decide?"


"I decided that I can let it all happen, and let them do all their work.  But I can't go it alone.  And I feel like I can't ask ya . . ."


"Ask.  Just go ahead and ask."  


"Will ya be there for me?  They say it could take a long time.  Are ya willing to waste that time on the likes of me?"


She looked to her hand on his.  "There's no wasting anything.  Yes, I'll be here.  I'll help you through it.  I've got nothing else going on right now, anyway.  It was fixed thing, my last job.  By Todd."


"Ah.  What about a man at home?  A special one?"


She shook her head.


"Well, I'd appreciate having someone to share this with me, even though it's not something positive.  It's not me giving you the moon, or the stars.  But it's me, offering to commit to ya, as I settle things.  But ya don't have to say it's forever.  We don't know what will happen."


"No, we don't," she said, and part of her broke inside.  She knew that when he was well, he would want to seek out a family, possibly a wife, children, and that wouldn't include her, since she was past the point of that.  "We don't, and that's not important right now.  Let's just get you through all this, so you can move on."


He touched her face, "Tina, what happened?  Your face became sullen."


"Nothing, I just was thinking how . . . well, how much you have to go through, that's all."  She lied to him, but it was for good reason.


"Don't ya worry about me, My Lady.  Just be here for me, that's all I ask, it is."


***


"What do ya mean, Bridgette?" the nun asked.


"So much has happened with us, since he came back.  I shouldn't even say that.  Since Ireland, when I was pregnant with Starr.  So much has happened.  So many things . . . with and without each other.  Our lives have never been . . ."


"Simple."


"Yes," she covered her mouth and closed her eyes, "but with everything that's happened to us, why couldn't this, too?"


"Ya have to be clearer, why couldn't what?  In my heart, I've thought how he might not be able to survive all of the mental torment, and might finally crack in half.  Is that what ya mean?"


"No.  I mean, why can't it be that . . . that he did get that burn?"


"I suppose he could have.  He was tortured for eight years, he was brutalized, he was.  Leona, and the others - anything is possible."


"No, no, Sister.  I mean before."


"Before he went missing?  Ya mean in the nineties?"


She nodded, afraid to speak her thoughts.  

"Are ya saying you remember the burn from before he was missing?  Before ya were separated those 8 years?"


She nodded again, with a tear on each side of her face.  "Yes," she whispered.  "I'm almost sure I saw that burn on his forearm long before he supposedly died in the tomb at Mitch's hand."


The nun sat down on the bed.  "Oh dear.  This is, quite complicated."


"What do I do?"


"Nothing, I'd say.  Ya know deep down he has to figure everything out in his own time."


"You believe me?"  Blair was surprised, and the nun handed her a tissue.


"I'm not saying that it's all that clear, Bridgette.  Ya may have seen that burn and ya may not have.  It's many years and scars in between.  And ya know what it would mean."


"It would mean . . . Peter was alive when Todd was in Switzerland, and really tormenting him."


"Yes. And, ya know what else this could mean, don't ya?"  The nun lifted Blair's chin.


"I don't want him to be crazy," she cried.  "I don't want him to be imagining all this.  Everything else he thought of or imagined and dreamed came true.  I don't want this to be in his mind.  I don't want him gone, Sister."


"Yes, I know.  And these fears, they can make us see and do things, believe things."


Blair became quiet.  She sniffed, and dabbed at her face with the tissue.  "I know.  I know you're right.  I just . . . I'm so afraid.  He's never been, well, totally stable emotionally.  Not for years."


"Ya came so far, both of ya.  It's normal to not want to lose it."


"Thank you, Sister."


"It's all right.  Just stand by y'ar man.  I know it seems like such a long journey, but I'll tell ya that I believe he's almost home."


Blair hugged the woman.  "Thank you.  Sister, I wish you so much happiness at the new site.  I hope you do as much good as you did here."


"I'm positive I will.  And I have Dr. Martino to thank for it."


"It was great of him to think of you for this."


"Yes.  Now go home to your husband.  I am sure he needs ya.  And remember."  


"I will.  Thank you," she said, still wavering with emotion.


She walked out, and headed to the car.  Williams was waiting, and she climbed into the limo, with his assistance.  "Gosh, I'm getting really pregnant!" she said aloud.  


Williams said, "Are you all right, Mrs. Manning?"


"Yes, I'm fine, thank you, Williams."  


Mrs. Manning.  That's who I am, and who I'll always be.

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Todd's Saga 24: Too Close for Comfort

Viki glanced over at her younger brother.  She knew from the way he attacked his food, he was angry with her.  Both men looked like they had seen better days.  Clint worried her.  His color was off, but he was definitely happy to see her and was making every effort to appear fine.  She wondered if whoever had been holding him had considered his new heart.  Todd, on the other hand, looked exhausted.  Blair was right, he was obviously not getting enough sleep.  “From the looks of both of you, you need me here more than you’re willing to let on.  Clint, I can’t believe someone just took you out of the hospital.”

         “It wasn’t just any someone Viki, it was Alison Perkins.” Todd interjected.  “I know Blair told you about the compound.  Well Alison’s running the show there and Clint’s been their guest for some time.  Viki, they were drugging him, more than likely even before the gala.” Todd watched his sister.  He needed her to understand just what kind of people they were dealing with.

Viki gasped as it became clear what Todd was saying.  “You mean he was drugged the night of the gala and not just drunk?”

Todd nodded. “I’m guessing he wasn’t the only one drugged that night.  Blair told me something about Natalie having a dream or something where she thought she saw Alison in Clint’s room.  Ten to one she really did, but they got to her and made her believe otherwise.”

Clint just grimaced.  “I can’t believe I made such a fool of myself that night.  Can you ever forgive me?   When Todd found me, I was so confused, I couldn’t even tell you the day or how long I had been held.  In fact, I thought your brother was lying to me when he said I had been missing for six months.  Then he showed me these.”  He pushed up his sleeve.  The needle marks were still fresh from his last few sessions with Baker. “That woman has been keeping me in a stupor and doing who knows what to me.  Today my thoughts are a little clearer.  You have no idea the good it did me to hear your voice this morning.”

Viki’s head was reeling.  To suddenly find out that Clint as well as Natalie had been drugged scared her, but seeing Clint’s expression she quickly reassured him.  “Clint, it did me wonders to hear your voice, too.  When Blair came over for lunch, we decided you needed some help.  Todd, can’t you see Clint is still shaky?” She looked at Todd, but he just stared stoically back at her.  Frustrated with her younger brother, she turned back to Clint. “You said something to Todd when he asked you about me.  What did you mean when you said you were babysitting Victor?”  The silence was deafening.  “One of you better talk, or I’m going to go upstairs and find Victor and ask him.”

“Viki, you can’t.”  Todd reacted quickly, grabbing her arm before she could leave her chair. “Look, you’re not going to like this but Victor is tied up in a bed upstairs.  We can’t let him loose or he’ll go straight back to Alison and tell her where we are.   Hell, the whole point of going into that damn place was to find the both of them.  I couldn’t just leave him in the compound, not after he tried to stop Clint and me.  I promised Tea I would bring him back alive.  I just never planned on finding Victor working for Alison.”

Viki frowned across the table. “Wait.  You have him tied up?”  She was disappointed. It appeared Todd had decided to get back at Victor a little bit.  “Todd, you know he was held by Sam’s mother for months.  Do you have any idea how being tied up must be affecting him?”

 Todd let go of her arm as if scalded. “God, Viki, how can you ask that!?”  He thought she understood him.  He couldn’t stand the disappointment he saw in her eyes. The pain he felt from that look burned deep.  Todd laughed rather harshly.  “Months, uh, well, forgive my insensitivity.  How could I possibly do that to the man who tried to kill me eight months ago and almost succeeded?  I guess it’s just my monster coming out again.”  He got up and left before he said too much more.

Viki gasped at Todd’s reaction, staring in shock at his retreating back.

Clint watched Todd leave.  For one brief moment, he had seen very real pain cross Todd’s face and then he had morphed into the angry man Clint knew all too well. “Viki, what just happened?”

Viki turned to Clint with tears in her eyes. “I can’t believe I hurt him like that.  I wasn’t thinking.  Of course he knows what Victor is going through upstairs.  Todd’s so strong, I keep forgetting that Irene held him for years.  Years, Clint, and I was chastising him because Victor was held for months.”  She brushed away her tears.

Clint nodded, now he understood the pain that he had seen. “Alright, I get it, but you’re right about one thing.  Your brother is made of some pretty stern stuff, Viki.  That’s why he’s still here.  He’s stronger than me that’s for sure, and Victor can’t hold a  candle to him.  Hell, I think he could match Asa, toe to toe.  I see now, just how alike you both are.  You need to understand that he didn’t want to tie Victor up, but we didn’t have a choice.  Alison and her cronies made your brother believe that Tea and Dani are dead and that Todd is responsible.  He seems determined to get at Todd and finish the job he started in Llanview.  We’ve tried to tell him Dani and Tea are fine, but he won’t believe either one of us.”  Clint reached across the table and gave Viki’s hand a pat.  “You didn’t mean to hurt him.  I think he knows that.”

Viki stood up from the table. “I need to go find Todd.  It’s been a long time since I’ve seen him in that much pain, and this time I caused it.”

“You go ahead Viki.  I’ll make a tray for Victor.  I know I haven’t liked Todd all that much over the years after what he did to Kevin and then later to you, but this time I owe him.   I know they did something to me in that compound.  I can feel it when Todd starts talking about the organization.  Something in me wants to defend it, but knowing they drugged me makes me want to fight them more.  For the time being, I think Todd is right.  Victor needs  to stay tied up until we can get through to him.”

****

Todd walked up and down the veranda, struggling to breathe.  The anxiety he had kept in check all through dinner had turned into a full blown panic attack.  He paused and leaned against a column.  Did she really think he got a perverse pleasure out of tying up Victor?  Please, God, not Viki, too.  He could take the condemnation from everyone but Blair and Viki.  He loved them both and he needed them.  Their love kept him grounded.  Wrapping his arms close to his body he fought for the control he needed to re-enter the house.

Viki watched silently as her brother paced.  She could see the sheen on his face indicating he was stressed.  Just great Victoria, you come to help your brother and instead you end up upsetting him.  You need to make this right.  She walked over to where Todd had stopped.  He was so deep in his own thoughts he didn’t even realize she was next to him.  “Todd.”  She touched his arm and jumped when he reacted to her touch and skittered away from her.  “I’m sorry.  I truly am.  I can’t forgive myself for being so thoughtless.  You’ve exiled yourself for all our sakes, and here I was criticizing you for the way you’ve handled rescuing Clint and Victor.”

No longer under Clint’s scrutiny, Todd looked at his sister and let down his cold facade.  “Did you really think I relished holding Victor prisoner?  I’m not that man anymore, Viki.”  The anguish in his voice was palpable.

Viki walked toward him slowly, stopping directly in front of him.   “I know you’re not.  I hurt you, and I never meant to.  I was just taken by surprise when I heard you and Clint had Victor tied up.  That’s no excuse for forgetting just how long you were Irene’s prisoner.  That was unforgivable of me.  I marvel at you, Todd.  You’ve withstood so much and none of us acknowledged what you went through to get home to us.  It’s my turn to ask for your forgiveness.”  She took his face in her hands.  “Can you forgive me for being the insensitive one?  And more importantly, can you believe me when I say I’ve never thought of you as a monster?”

Todd blinked away the tears threatening to fall.  He slowly nodded his head and his sister drew him into her hug.  After all those years without any loving touches, Todd now gave into any intimate moments that proved someone cared for him.  After a minute he released his sister and backed away and drew in a big breath.  “I forgive you, but I’m still sending you back home in the morning.”

Todd’s comment brought a small smile to her face. “We’ll see.  It’s a little chilly out here.  Do you think we could return inside to continue this discussion?”  Viki rubbed her hands up and down her arms.  As she figured, Todd quickly acceded to her wishes and escorted her back inside.   She turned to him at the bottom of the stairs.  “I want to see Victor.  After what Clint told me, whether you believe it or not, you do need me.  I might be able to help convince Victor that Tea and Dani are alive.”

Todd shook his head no.  He was ready to get into it with her, but she ignored him and started up the stairs. “Viki, wait.” She never even slowed down. “Damn It!  When did you become so stubborn?” He grumbled under his breath as he followed her up.

****

Victor looked up as Clint entered the room with a tray.  “It’s about time.  You keep telling me you’re the good guys and here you are, letting me starve.”

Clint chuckled “You’re hardly starving and except for being tied up, I’d say you have it pretty comfortable here.  It wasn’t very nice of you to go after Todd’s throat this morning.  If you would just cooperate and agree to keep our secret, he might decide to set you free.”

“I don’t understand you, Clint.  The organization was trying to help you.  You needed therapy.   You have no idea how sick you’ve been.”

“I think I have a pretty good grasp of the situation, Victor.”  Clint set the tray down on the table beside the bed and looked down at Victor.  “I was sick, but it was because they made me sick.”

“That’s a lie my brother has been feeding you.  Look at me.  The organization saved my life after he tried to kill me.  Now he’s killed Tea and Dani and he’s walking around as if nothing happened.  I was confused when I was home for awhile.  I even tried to have a truce with him for our family’s sake, but the organization showed me the truth about him.  He’s the real danger to everyone, and that’s why they have been looking for him.”

“Victor, I’m still a little fuzzy from everything your people did to me, but Tea and Dani were fine when I saw them last.  You’re the one who’s a danger.  Do you even remember strangling him before you left town?  I do.  Jack found him lying where you left him.  Viki was beside herself,   You disappeared and Todd almost died.  Ask yourself this.  If he’s such a danger, why didn’t he just kill you in the compound?”  Clint sat down next to the bed.  “Why, if he’s the bad guy you say he is, did he help me?  I don’t remember a whole lot about the night I collapsed, but I do remember seeing Alison getting ready to inject me with something and I have a vague memory of someone screaming.  It seems to me, she’s the villain, not Todd.”  Clint reached up and pulled  Victor’s sleeve down exposing needle track marks similar to his own. “How do you explain, those, Victor?”

Victor looked bewildered. “What the hell are you talking about?  Explain what?  There’s nothing there but the tattoo.”

Clint shook his head, “There’s more than a tattoo. You have needle marks all over your arm.  Don’t you see them?”

“You’re crazy, Clint.  See you’re not well, you’re seeing things.  Let me go, I’ll take you back and we’ll let the organization take care of Todd.  He needs to be eliminated, he’s been a stumbling block long enough.  Once he’s out of the way, we’ll be able to proceed without any further problems.  Remember Clint, we must protect the Organization at all cost.”  Victor watched as Clint stopped moving and stared off vacantly.  “Do you understand me, Clint?’ You agree don’t you?  Say it Clint. The Organization must be Protected at all cost.”

“The organization must be protected at all cost.” Clint said in a monotone.

Victor smiled.  “It is our duty to help the Organization.”

“It is our duty to help the Organization.” Clint responded back.

“Release me, Clint.  Together we’ll overpower Todd and take him to the organization. “

Viki had come to a halt outside Victor’s room and had listened in stunned silence to the tail end of the conversation.  As Clint began to reach for Victor’s cuffs, she realized that something was off with him.  Horrified by what that meant, she screamed. “Clint, Stop!“


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