Wednesday, April 18, 2007

What My Heart Desires

Epilogue - Journeys End
It had been seven days since that terrifying day at Juliet’s castle, when so much had happened.

Tamara and Mark were here, but the boys weren’t. My parents and Lissa didn’t have passports and couldn’t come, but Derek was here, and surprisingly so were Cassie and Georgio. It was less than a week until Christmas and I only wanted to go home, but there were still so many things to take care of.

I stood on the balcony in the hotel room, such a lonely room. I heard a knock on the door, so I stepped back inside and closed the doors behind me with a firm ‘click’.

I opened the door to the hotel room, and Cassie and Georgio stood there. I fell into Cassie’s arms but couldn’t find any tears left to cry. I had done all the crying I was going to do. I was putting it all in the past behind me and could only take one day at a time, like Adam and I had once promised each other. That day seemed like such a long time ago.

“Are you ready, Sarah?” Georgio asked softly, and I nodded.

“Yes, I am ready. Let’s go.” I grabbed my purse and my coat and closed the hotel room door behind me and locked it. From this day forward, life was going to be different.




I remembered back to that day at the castle, memories that would never leave me. I think I drifted in and out of consciousness for a few minutes after I crawled over to Krista. I tried to shake her to see if I could wake her, but then I was afraid to try to move her because what if she had a spinal injury? I lay there next to her on the snowy ground and tried to focus on what was happening up on the ramparts.

I heard people yelling, lots of voices, and one even seemed vaguely familiar, but it wasn’t Adam’s so I didn’t really care. I remembered the blood staining his side and then him yelling out again and falling where I couldn’t see him. I tried to call out to them up there, but my voice was barely audible to me; they would never hear it.

I could see my breath, but strangely enough I wasn’t cold anymore. Didn’t they say that’s what happened when you succumb to hypothermia: you just became numb? Nothing wrong with this feeling, I decided; it beat the hell out of pain.

I thought I heard my name and Krista’s being called, but I couldn’t seem to open my eyes to see who it was. I thought about Krista and the blood that was leaking out of her body. Didn’t I remember someone saying that as long as blood is leaking you aren’t dead? I wondered if I could pull myself up and look over her to see if there was more blood, but I knew I couldn’t.

Yes, Krista and the blood trailing from her neck. Suddenly I remembered that dream I had back in Kansas, after I had gotten out of the hospital after the car wreck. A red scarf had floated down and fallen on snowy ground. Amazing that I had such a prophetic dream, and so unlike me.

The next thing I knew, I felt someone shaking me and calling my name. I slowly opened my eyes and saw Ryan. He was trying to rouse Krista too, and I wanted to say, ‘see if she is still bleeding’ but I couldn’t remember the words.

“Sarah, are you okay? Can you move?” I opened my eyes again and saw Ryan staring into them. “C’mon Sarah, you’re tough, remember? Talk to me, dammit!”

I was aware that he had thrown a blanket or something over me, and I wondered if I were dead. Could I still see him if I were dead? Maybe this was an out-of-body experience and I should look for a light? Would Adam be waiting for me like in the movies?

I saw other people come running around the castle with big boards. They were trying to move Krista onto one of them, and I tried to tell them to be careful of the scarf, but they didn’t seem to pay any attention to me. I felt someone running their hands up and down my legs and arms and trying to feel the back of my neck as well.

“Sarah,” I heard Ryan again. “Can you move; do you think anything is broken?”

I tried to tell him my heart was broken, but again I couldn’t seem to get the words out. I tried to look up at the hole in the rampart but I couldn’t see anything at all. ‘Adam!’ my heart cried out.

I heard someone saying, “uno, due, tre” and then I was lifted up and put on a board and I felt myself being lifted up high. Or maybe I was floating, I wasn’t sure. I only knew I wasn’t feeling any pain, and that couldn’t be good, could it?

The next time I remembered anything I was in an ambulance and my arms, legs, fingers, feet, everything felt as if it was on fire. I definitely decided I liked the numbness better. They were taking my blood pressure, and I heard a siren. I didn’t see anyone I knew with me and they were all speaking Italian, and I just didn’t remember enough to understand them.

“Adam, is Adam all right?” I asked, but no one answered me.




I awoke for the second time in my life to the sounds of machines beeping and a blood pressure cuff squeezing the heck out of my arm. It was twice too many times.

I immediately thought of Adam and called out for him before opening my eyes. I couldn’t bear the thought of opening my eyes and not seeing Adam; instead when I finally managed to make them open, I saw Derek and Ryan standing by my bed.

“Adam,” I tried to say again. My voice was weak and raspy, and it tore at my throat to speak, but I had to know.

Derek grabbed my hand and squeezed it. Oh God, they are going to tell me he’s dead. Tears immediately sprang from my eyes; my heart was breaking.

“Mom, Mom, it’s all right. He’s alive, okay? He’s hurt pretty badly, but he’ll live; he will.”

I could only nod gratefully at him and Ryan. “I’m thirsty,” I managed to get out, and Ryan reached for a cup with a straw in it and held it close to me so I could take a sip.

I took a small sip and let the tepid water slide slowly down my throat. It felt wonderful. I wanted to ask about Krista, but I was scared. It seemed to me that if Krista were alive Ryan would have been in her room, not mine. But I had to ask.

“Krista? How is sh – she?” I stammered, the words catching in my throat.

Ryan looked at me and smiled a tiny smile. “She’s alive, Sarah. She’s also hurt very badly, and she’s in surgery right now. We, uh, we have hope that she will be okay.”

I nodded gratefully and tried to smile again. And then I fell into a peaceful sleep.




I opened my eyes to sunlight streaming in through open blinds. Cassie, Georgio, and Derek were all there in the room, and my heart opened, filled with the love for these people.

Cassie stood up and walked slowly over to the bed to sit on the side of it. “Well, sleeping beauty, we weren’t sure you were ever going to wake up. I gotta tell you, every time you get yourself thrown into a hospital you use it as an excuse to sleep around the clock. Lazy, you were always a lazy girl!” she chided, and then she leaned down and kissed my forehead and touched my cheek with her warm fingers. “Welcome back, Sarah!”

I tried moving my body and everything seemed to be functioning, although I was pretty stiff. I grimaced as I flexed my legs; I could feel stitches pulling at the tender flesh of my leg. I wondered how many I had.

Georgio stepped up to the bed and asked, “Is everything moving properly?” and then he smiled at me. He had a dazzling smile, and I suddenly understood Cassie’s interest in him. What a bedside manner!

“Yeah, but it all hurts!”

“Well, that’s what happens when you fall 22’ off a castle wall, you know. If you think you are hurting you should see the bush that broke your fall. Gone; completely destroyed!” Cassie laughed.

But I couldn’t laugh; the memory was still too painful. Derek was sitting on the other side of my bed, and he looked so tired. I wondered how long I had been here and how he had gotten here so quickly.

“Uh, how long have I been in here?”

“Not quite two days, Mom. Really, you are going to be fine. Nothing is broken, but you have several really nasty gashes along your legs from the bush and lots of stitches; but it was good you landed in it; it probably kept you from having several broken bones.”

“When did you all get here?” I asked.

“I got here 9 hours after it happened, Mom. Ryan called us all immediately, and since I’m the only one of the family that has a passport, I’m the one that got to come. The Red Cross got me transport on a military flight direct to Aviano and then I caught the bus down here. I’m staying at the casern, so it’s all okay. Yesterday when you woke up I had only been here a couple of hours.”

“And Georgio and I got here very early this morning. He’s been driving the Italian doctors crazy asking for updates, and he has been over here constantly looking at all these machine readings. It’s one of his more endearing qualities,” she told me, and her face showed so much love and pride that I immediately felt happy for her.

“Can we sit this bed up a bit, do you think, Georgio, or should I call you Dr. Gorman here?”

“No, Georgio will do fine; I have no privileges here at this hospital. I do think it will be okay to raise the bed, but if it starts to hurt, you will have to stop it, okay?” I loved Georgio’s voice; it was soft and soothing, and the timbre was calming to your senses; it just inspired confidence.

I nodded and pushed the button and the head of the bed started to rise slowly. I lay back and let it go until I was nearly fully upright and then stopped it, not because anything hurt, it was just enough. “Seems to feel fine. And I’m thirsty too. I’m in an Italian hospital, think they’ll let me have some wine?” I tried to joke.

And then serious thoughts took over and I asked about Adam and Krista again, waiting breathlessly to hear how they were. That they were both still alive.

Georgio stood with his hands resting on Cassie’s shoulders and when neither Derek nor Cassie started to speak, he took that as his cue. “Adam is doing better, Sarah. He was shot twice by Sunni, once in the liver and once in the leg. The bullet to his leg passed through with no problems, but the one that hit his liver has been a major concern. They had to do surgery to remove that bullet and they also had to remove a very small part of his liver.” At my gasp of in-drawn breath he held up his hand and then continued. “People can very easily live like that. In fact, the liver is one of the organs that can sometimes regenerate to a certain degree in a healthy body, and Adam is very healthy. Right now his major problem is an infection, and they have him on intravenous antibiotics to make him better. He is still unconscious a lot of the time, though. And he is extremely worried about you when he is awake, so as soon as you are able we are getting you up there to see him. That will be the very best medicine for him, I think.”

I let a long deep breath out and smiled. I felt a tear trickle down my cheek, but I didn’t care. I was ready to go now and told them so.

“Not so fast, Sarah. They have to remove your catheter and get you walking a bit, okay? Now Krista is a little bit different. The bullet entered her neck, very close to the jugular vein, but it did miss it. A fraction of an inch closer and she would have bled out almost immediately. The fall did the most damage, really. It shattered several ribs, which in turn punctured her left lung and seriously bruised her heart. Her pelvis is also shattered into 7 pieces. They did surgery on her pelvis and reinforced it with, uh basically a plastic appliance, very similar to a joint replacement. She will never be able to have children naturally; it will only be by C-section. That replacement will not give as bone would. And it has to remain very still to heal properly, hence the cast in order for it to set into place correctly. They also had to do surgery on her broken ribs. The damage to her lung was repaired and the damage to her heart will likely heal itself in time. She is also fighting infection around her heart, but that is to be expected. She is very lucky, Sarah.”

There was a light knock on my door and Tamara and Mark walked in. As soon as they saw I was sitting up they both broke into smiles and tears started to seep from Tamara’s eyes. Derek got up so that Tamara could sit down next to me. She leaned over and kissed me on the cheek.

“Sarah, how do you feel?” she asked, digging through her purse for a Kleenex. Mark reached out and lightly touched my arm as if afraid he might hurt me.

“I’m feeling remarkably well, really. Are the boys here?”

“No, they are staying with Aidan and Sylvia while we are here. But they send you their love and can’t wait to talk to you on the phone!”

“When did you get here?”

“Very late last night. We’re checked into the hotel where you and Adam are staying.”

I nodded, thinking about that. “Have you seen him?”

“Yes, we have. He is going to be okay. He certainly looks a little ragged, but not too much the worse for wear, I must admit. Definitely not the glamorous movie star right now, though. He calls for you a lot, about as much as you have been calling for him, I hear.” She smiled at me then, and I returned that smile and looked around me at all these people in my room. I felt so much love and gratitude, not only that they were here but that they all cared enough to be here. And that gave me a lot to think about.

“You heard about Krista?” I asked wondering how they would feel about it. The boys had a big sister now, besides Lissa and Pam.

“Yes, we have. We are very happy about it, and so are the boys. They can’t wait to meet her. And by the way, Vivian, Gerald, and Angelica will be here in two days. They are all anxious not only to see Adam and you, but to meet Krista as well. One of the very nicest things about the Richland family is that they are so supportive and caring, Sarah. Oh, the Red Cross is trying to get a special visa clearance, uh, emergency status for your parents and Lissa to come over here. The American consul is working on it too.”

A man who turned out to be my doctor came in and tsk – tsk’d over so many people in my room and shooed them all out so he could examine me. I asked that Georgio be allowed to stay with me and the doctor agreed. He spoke a little English thankfully, and it turned out that Georgio spoke Italian fluently.

“And how are you feeling, Signora Marcus?” he asked while checking out the readings on the monitors.

“I’m thirsty, but I’m feeling pretty good, I think. I feel stiff and sore, but that will get better when I can start moving around. When can I do that?” I asked hopefully.

“Ah, I think the signora is concerned about her amor, si? You wish to see him quickly, eh? Well, he needs to see you as well. I believe that love, ah, amore is the best healer possible. Can you sit up on the edge of the bed for me?”

“Gladly, if it will get me in to see Adam,” I mumbled, trying to gingerly scoot across the bed while the catheter was in. “Uh, you know it would be a lot easier if this thing was gone,” I said, pointing to the offending tube.

“Si, si. Very soon, I promise. Good, now, do you think you can stand up?”

“Doctor, I could run a mile right now if it would get me to Adam. Stand back!”

I stood up and waited to see if I felt light-headed or anything, but I felt fine. I even shuffled a couple of steps and still felt fine. Actually, it really did feel better to be out of the bed.

“Ah, bene, bene,” he told me. “Yes, you are doing very good indeed. Are you hungry, besides being thirsty?”

“Yes; apparently I’ve hung around the Richlands too long. I’m definitely hungry. Doctor, can you tell me if Italian hospital food is any better than American?” It was a feeble attempt at a joke.

He gave me a puzzled look and wrote something on my chart. “Yes, the food will be delicious. Are you in much pain; do you need something for that?”

“No, I need to see Adam,” I stated simply. “Please.”

“Yes, signora, very quickly, I promise you. Oh, you will be glad to know that this fall did not trigger any further head trauma. That is just fine. Now, I see your eyes flashing brilliantly at me; I think that is impatience to see your amor, so I will quickly send in a nurse to remove the catheter, and I will also order a meal for you. But you need not wait that long to see him; as soon as the catheter is out you may go, si?”

“Yes, oh thank you, doctor, mille grazie!” I saw his eyes spark brightly, and he reached out and took my hand and stared at me in that very intense way that Italian men seem to have.

“You amor is as anxious to see you, signora. We have had to threaten to uh, how you say, rope him up to keep him in his bed! Ah, amore, amore…”

I gingerly sat back down on the side of the bed as Georgio stood attentively by. I grinned at him and said, “You can go and tell them all, okay? And make sure that nurse hurries up or I’m gonna perform a – a catheter-ectomy all on my own!”

“I’ll let them know.” He smiled brightly and lightly squeezed my shoulder before leaving the room.

Cassie and Tamara came back into the room a minute later. Cass was laughing, “A catheter-ectomy? Oh my gosh, girl, you are too much. Adam isn’t going anywhere, we promise!”

“Don’t let any of them tell him I’m coming, okay? Please?” I asked. Tamara nodded and went out to speak to the men.

“Cass, I can’t believe you and Georgio came over here. Are you doing all right? It hasn’t been too much for you, has it?”

“Nah. I mean, I get tired, but Georgio is the cutest watchdog I’ve ever had. It’s not exactly the way I pictured seeing Italy, but at least I’m here. I will finally get to see some of these places you have always talked about, do you realize that?” I saw her eyes sparkle brightly at that prospect, and I couldn’t wait to hear what she thought about it all.

“Yeah. Oh Cass, I can’t wait for you to see it all. And it’s pretty good for boosting romance a bit too!” I teased.

She blushed brightly and commented under her breath, “We uh, haven’t done that yet, Sarah. He seems to think we need to wait until I’m uh, better. But geez, I don’t know how much longer I can hold out, Sarah, it’s like I have a perpetual fever around him, you know?”

“I do indeed, Cassie!” and just then a nurse came in pulling a cart with her. “Yay!” I exclaimed.

“Do you want me to leave, Sarah?” Cass asked.

“Hell no, stay and help me celebrate! Okay,” I told the nurse as I laid back on the bed, “Pull it out!”

“Si, signora. Now take a deep breath for me and then blow it out hard when I tell you.”

And just like that it was done, and I felt so good. She helped me clean up a bit, and I put a clean gown and robe on and then I was ready to go see Adam!

On the way up to Adam’s room my heart pounded ridiculously. I couldn’t wait to see him, and I felt scared at the same time. Thank God it wasn’t a long journey; soon we were in front of the door into his room and Mark opened it and Tamara pushed me in and then they left.

He was sleeping, which gave me a few minutes to look at him. I stood up so that I could stand next to his bed; I wanted to see him better. He was deathly pale, which was to be expected I guess, but he looked okay otherwise. His eyes were closed, and I looked at his long, dark, and curly lashes that rested against his cheeks. He seemed so vulnerable right now, lying there in this hospital bed. His curls were sticking up all over his head, and I reached up to smooth them down with trembling fingers.

I ran my hand tenderly though his unruly hair with a very unsteady hand, his curls catching softly as they twined about my fingers. It was funny; it was a gesture I had done a hundred times, but it had never meant as much to me as it did now. This was the man I was going to spend the rest of my life with. I wanted him to be safe, to be okay. I wanted to lift the pain and hurt away from him, I thought as I looked at him.

He opened his eyes when he felt my hand, and then he caught my hand and brought it to his lips. “Sarah, love,” he said quietly. But his eyes told me so much, how much I meant to him, how happy he was I was there. His voice sounded raspy, as they tend to do when you haven’t used them much.

I leaned over and kissed his lips lightly. They felt dry, but to me nothing had ever felt better. “Oh Adam, I thought I had lost you!” I told him, trying in vain to hold back my tears.

“Couldn’t happen, love. Don’t you know we are destined to be together? I knew it the first day I saw you at Monte Berico.”

I nodded and said, “Yes, I know. Oh, I do know, Adam, I want to always be with you.”

He was quiet for a minute, and I almost thought he had fallen back asleep he was so quiet. “Krista – she is really my daughter?” he asked, and I could see how much the answer meant to him.

“Yes,” I said. “And if she hadn’t come to find me you might not have survived, Adam. She never did anything to try to hurt you. Do you realize that?”

He nodded and then asked, “Does she want me, I mean, in her life?”

“Yes, she certainly does. That’s why she was on the movie, Adam; she wanted to get to know you.”

“All those years, I would have loved her, cared for her, Sarah.”

“I know, Adam, I know. But you have the chance to get to know her now.”

He smiled just a little, but I could tell he was still tired and after a few minutes I realized he was sleeping. I lightly kissed him again and then walked over to the door and opened it.

I had a crowd waiting out there: Derek, Mark, Tamara, Cass, Georgio, and Ryan. Ryan came over to me and kissed me on the cheek and smiled. “Hey, Sarah, how are you? Better now, hm?”

“Yeah, so much better. How is Krista? Can I see her too?” I asked.

“Yes, if you feel like it, I guess. Come on, she’s just down the hall. This is the surgical recovery floor,” he informed me as we walked the short distance to her room. Cassie was behind me nagging me and reminding me that I was supposed to be in the wheelchair. Georgio had gone back into Adam’s room to retrieve it and Cassie was standing next to it expectantly.

“God Cass, you are worse than Mom!” I said, annoyed with her.

“Okay, all I’m saying is when you are worse later because you overdid it, don’t complain to me. That’s all I’m saying!”

“Cassandra Elaine!”

“Sarah Denise!”

And that was all it took to break the tension, and we both laughed. Ryan had stopped in front of another door and pushed it open. I could see Krista in the bed, and her eyes were open; she was smiling at me.

I went to her and pushed her hair out of her face and kissed her forehead. “Hey there, kiddo, how are you?”

“I’m okay, Sarah; I’m going to be okay.” She smiled through a few tears, and I realized I was doing the same thing.

“Ryan said you just saw Adam?”

“Yes. He’ll be fine, Krista, just like you.”

We chatted for a few minutes, but when the conversation changed and she repeatedly told me she was sorry, I had to tell her to stop it.

“Krista, you have nothing to apologize for; if you hadn’t come to me Adam would probably be dead. You did the right thing, truly. Don’t be sorry about any of it, okay?”

“Is – is he upset about me? About me being his uh, daughter?” she asked so softly that I had to lean over to hear her. Her eyes were huge and brimming with more tears, just waiting to escape. And I could see how afraid she was, fear of rejection yet again.

“Krista, he isn’t upset about that at all. Only that he never had a chance to watch you grow up and be a part of your life. You two will have a chance to talk about it all soon and it will be fine. You didn’t have him in your life before, but I can guarantee you will now, okay?”

She nodded again, and I wiped the last of her tears away from her pale face and then kissed her again in preparation to leaving. As I got to the door, I turned to her and said, “By the way, the boys say they can’t wait to meet their big sister!” and then I left the room. Ryan went to her, and I hoped that he comforted her because she was precious and she deserved it.

Tamara and Mark were in with Adam, so it was only Derek, Cassie, and Georgio that made the trip back down to my room with me. When I got there they had just delivered lunch, and I eagerly sat down to eat it, only to be sorely disgusted by it. Do they send hospital cooks from all over the world to the same culinary school, the School of No Taste? Ugh! But I ate it because I knew if I didn’t someone would say something like ‘you must not be feeling well.’

It made me doubly determined to get Adam back on his feet quickly. I missed his cooking!




Cassie had already thought to bring me some street clothes and one of my own nightgowns, so I took a shower and then crawled into bed for a nap. Cassie and Georgio went back to the hotel so she could rest, and Derek went to make calls home. He had my cell with the international service on it, so I settled down to sleep. It was late afternoon when I woke up, and I realized I had heard a light knock on the door.

“Come in,” I called out, and the door opened and in walked Lyle, carrying a huge bouquet of pale pink roses.

“Hi Sarah, I just wanted to stop in and see how you were. Ryan told us you were awake and up.” His eyes raked over my face and he nodded slightly. “You look okay. How do you feel?”

“I feel pretty good. Can I smell the roses, please?” I asked, and he brought them over to the table next to the bed. I pushed the button to raise the head up and then bent to inhale the aroma of the roses. “Oh Lyle, they smell wonderful! Thank you so much.”

He only stayed for a few minutes, and I didn’t ask about the movie. At this point I didn’t give a damn about it. The chat was all light and impersonal, and I can’t say that I was sorry to see him go.

I swung my legs over the edge of the bed and put my robe on. I was going to see Adam and no one was going to stop me! Derek was just outside the door and looked at me when I opened it. Frustration streaked his features and he said, “I suppose we are going to see Adam?” and then he laughed. When I only scowled at him he said, “Okay, let me get the wheelchair!” and off we went to Adam’s room.

My earlier visit had seemed to improve him tremendously, and I spent the next 3 hours there; we even ate our dinner together. I can’t say that eating with the man I love improved the food any, but at least we were together.

“I have to get you back on your feet soon, Adam.” I told him, holding a spoon of some tasteless minestrone to his lips. He winced as he took the bite, and it wasn’t because it was hot.

“Yes, Bella. But why in particular?”

“Because I can’t stand this hospital food. It’s disgusting!” I declared with a grimace and then a laugh.

The look on his face told me that he agreed. I tried to get the hospital to move a cot in there for me, but they wouldn’t; some silly rule about all patients being in their assigned beds. Ridiculous, I thought.

We chatted more about Krista and he wanted to go and see her very badly, but they wouldn’t let him get up yet. He had almost two decades of her life to catch up on, and he was anxious to get started.

“Ryan is serious about her, isn’t he?” he asked, a frown furrowing his handsome forehead.

I laughed and said, “I think so. You’ll have to ask him. So, are you going to make him ask your permission?” I teased.

“Well, I don’t think that is such a bad thing, do you? After all, your father gave me permission to marry you, even if it was on TV,” he said, a small smile playing across his face.

“This is all going to be interesting, I think,” I told him with a laugh.

“We need bigger houses, I think, with all the kids now,” he told me, apparently serious. I laughed to think that he was already planning that far ahead.

“I’m not giving up the house in California for anything, buddy, so don’t even think about it.”

“But Sarah, it isn’t practical now. When they all come to visit where will we put them?” he asked.

“We’ll figure it all out later, Adam; we have lots of time. Now you have to just get better so we can get on with our lives!”

I must be some kind of miracle worker because Adam sat up for the first time that evening.



I went home, well to the hotel, two days later. It mattered little because I spent all my time at the hospital anyway. Vivian, Gerald, and Angelica arrived the day I went home and we got word that Mom and Dad and Lissa had been granted special Visa status to come over. They were coming through military channels thanks to the Commander of SETAF at Caserma Ederle, and they would be here tomorrow. And Aidan and Sylvia were bringing the boys over. We managed to get rooms for everyone here at the hotel; it was expensive, but I hardly thought about it. Adam was apparently wearing off on me.

It was wonderful to see Vivian and Gerald again. Vivian came to me and wrapped her arms around me for a warm hug and it felt wonderful, as if she already regarded me as part of the Richland family. I was a little nervous about meeting Angelica. The way Adam talked about her she had almost taken on some kind of god-like status, but she was very nice; just like the rest of the family, in fact. I had several long chats with her and learned all about her world and the work she did. She also told me all about Dumonde and their upcoming wedding.

“I do hope Adam will be up to the trip. It is a very arduous journey to get to Dumonde’s house,” she told me. Her voice almost had more of a French accent to it as opposed to British. I wondered if that was because of where she lived.

“Adam has told me quite a bit about it; he tells me Africa is breathtakingly beautiful. I am excited to see it.”

“Yes, he always found it so, even as a child. But it was often heartbreaking for him; he couldn’t handle the death and pain. Our Adam is much too tender-hearted to easily stand it. The African world was devastating to him; Africa is a world that will not easily change its face, regardless of how much civilization tries to force it to. But the successes make the failures worth it all, Sarah, and every person I help I consider a success. Just surviving there is a triumph; over the land, the culture, and the burden of thousands of years of misery and poverty. Adam felt ineffectual, and he cannot handle that. I am sure you have noticed that he must always be helpful, and there was nothing he could do in Africa, as he had no medical inclinations.” She leaned over and squeezed my hand and added, “But his money helps very much indeed!” I couldn’t help but notice the twinkle in her eyes.

Angelica more closely resembled Vivian than Gerald, but she still possessed the family gift of charm, I thought. I liked her very much.

When my family was all here it was almost like being in California again. It seemed that we would all be here for Christmas, and I was delighted about it. No one had shopped, but it didn’t matter at all. The gift was that we were all here and together.




One morning Ryan came to talk to me. I knew he had wanted to for a day or so, and I supposed it was some kind of official business. I dreaded whatever it was, but it was best to get it over with.

“Okay Ryan, tell me it all,” I said, deciding to take the bull by the horns.

He smiled and said, “That’s the Sarah I know, straight and to the point. Okay, here goes. Little Elk had managed to get some information on Curtis Keaton. When he investigated Krista’s grandparents he found out their name was Keaton, and he connected the overly curious Mr. Keaton to the whole mess. He used to be a Dallas police officer but then left the force after some serious mental issues. And we also found out that he was in Italy, had entered 3 days prior to the arrival of the cast and crew. As Little Elk’s people talked to neighbors, Patty Richards’ name came up, aka Sunni. She had been married briefly and kept her married name. So we knew they were involved in it all. And then you called with the message on the last note and it all sort of fell into place. I was at the police station and we were getting ready to bring them in when I started trying to reach you, and we became worried that we couldn’t find you.

“Sunni was killed in the rescue. We caught Curtis out by the car; he had come to investigate it,” he told me. I nodded, remembering that.

Ryan continued, “We found you because of Krista’s phone. You had gone off and left your phone at the hotel room. Sarah, I swear I could have strangled you when I found you were missing and didn’t have it with you. For gosh sakes, you knew all about GPS trackers! Then I went hunting for Krista to see if she knew where you were, but I couldn’t find her either. I tried her phone repeatedly, but it kept going to voice mail. I have to admit that I thought at that point that Krista was in on the whole thing as well, and I felt sick about it. After a little bit we tracked her phone through GPS and found the car. When we got up to the top of the hill, we saw Curtis and grabbed him. He immediately started talking, telling us everything. When we got to the top of the castle, Adam had been shot and you and Krista weren’t there. At that point I thought you were down in some dungeon or something.”

He took a drink of his foamy cappuccino. I had noticed he drank a lot of it here and I didn’t blame him; it was delicious. “Actually, I was thrilled that Krista wasn’t with Sunni, but it didn’t look good that we couldn’t find you both. Sunni had been shot and died almost immediately, so we got no help from her. Curtis talked about everything but you and Krista and said he didn’t know where you were. He probably didn’t, hadn’t been aware you had both fallen over the rampart. And he was confused as well after telling his story to us; in reality we didn’t know how much of what he told us was real or not.” Ryan sighed, and I saw a far-off look in his eyes, as if he was remembering that morning.

“The ambulance got there soon and started working on Adam. Some of the Italian police were searching the castle for you and Krista, and they came back without locating you. And then Adam regained consciousness long enough to tell us you had both fallen over the wall. We hadn’t looked there, and I have to tell you, my heart stopped as I looked over the side at you two. I was scared to death that you were both dead. I tore out of the castle at a dead run to get to you. They immediately called for more ambulances and I tried to rouse both of you. Krista was completely unconscious, but you seemed semi-awake. You didn’t really say anything helpful, something about a red scarf and seeing lights. But you were okay.”

He reached over and clasped my hand tightly and added, “Thank God you were okay. Curtis told us the whole story, how Sunni had planned this for years; it sounded like she was out of her mind.”

I nodded and told him what all she had told us up on the ramparts. “She was crazy, Ryan. She kept thinking that Adam was Brandon.”

“Yeah, we got that much from Curtis. He is being extradited back to Texas. I don’t think he was actually the one who murdered Rachel, but he was certainly an accessory. So, do you have any other questions?”

“No, I’m just glad it’s all over. I want to go home, Ryan, home with Adam, and live happily ever after. That’s all,” I told him with a shrug.



So here I was, going to the hospital with Cassie and Georgio to pick up Adam. All our family was here and there was a party planned later. I was sorry that Ryan and Krista had to miss it, but the extradition papers had come through on Curtis and Ryan had to accompany him back to Texas. But he would be back here in a couple of days; Krista was still here, and that Texas boy plans to marry that Texas girl. He was head over heels in love with her and she felt the same way about him. He spent most of his free time with her, and they were building an incredible bond.

I was right; there had never been any intimacy between them; it seemed that for all that Krista had been through in her life, she still had some definite ideas about what she wanted. It was important to her to finish school, and she decided not to work on any more movies until that was done. Adam practically beamed when he heard this news.

I had been with Adam the first time he went to see Krista. It was a poignant introduction/reunion. I won’t go into particulars, but let’s just say that we all shared tears and that Adam will be giving her away when she and Ryan marry.

They spent a great deal of time together at the hospital, and as she felt better, the boys were allowed to meet her as well. It was amazing how much they all looked alike. Vivian and Gerald, Aidan, and Angelica all accepted her with open arms. I was so excited for her; she had no idea how wonderful these Richlands were; how loving and accepting they were. Even though physical distance separated them, emotionally they were all together. To Krista, with her sad memories of her family that was divided by pain and anger, they would be a blessing.

Adam was waiting impatiently for us in his room. He was dressed, and I could tell he had lost weight at the hospital. Must be all that hospital cuisine, I decided. He walked with a cane now, but we weren’t too sure how long that would continue. He was getting stronger every day. When we opened the door, he stood up and I immediately walked into his arms.

He was ready to go, and so we went. We celebrated the whole evening with all our families, and it was wonderful. We all fit just right. Krista was the only one missing, as she would have to stay in the hospital a bit longer. We missed her, but Adam and I would be staying here until she was ready to go home. Ryan would be on a leave of absence when he got back here. They didn’t want a long engagement and wanted to get married in California in the spring. Krista could continue in school and Ryan would try to find a job in California. I didn’t think that was going to be too difficult for him, not with Little Elk’s contacts.

I found myself sort of playing a mother role to her, and that was fine with me. There were so many wonderful things about her, and I could tell that she had rarely been told that. Being brought up in that house of hatred had taken its toll on her. Only her grandpa had seemed to have given her unconditional love and acceptance. Her grandmother bought into Sunni and Curtis’ plans of revenge and retaliation. She loved her grandmother, but it was a sad situation. Krista seemed like a sponge, just soaking up what ever we could give her. And I felt able to give a lot. I had so much, how could I not share?

She had shyly started to call Adam ‘Dad,’ and it made us all happy that she felt comfortable enough to do it. She confessed to me one day that she was a virgin and intended to stay that way until they got married. Ryan wasn’t even upset about it, she told me with a sigh. But he didn’t want to wait for long, she said with a giggle. Adam felt that they were rushing it a bit, but when I told him about Krista’s ‘state’ he smiled with smug satisfaction. Men!

One day she asked me when her father and I would get married. I laughed and let out a shaky breath and admitted I didn’t know for sure. But that I did know it would happen! “Oh yes, Krista, it will happen!” She seemed somehow relieved about that.

I’ve discovered that my journey with Adam has been a journey not only of love, but of faith and trust. Faith and trust in myself, actually. I knew very early on that I could trust Adam; it was I who was lacking in those attributes. I finally figured out that the person I was running from was me; my own fears and my own doubts. But in the end, my inability to commit was just that, mine. Adam gently guided me through these problems by supporting me whenever I needed it and giving me space and time when I needed that, until I saw that it was okay – that I was okay.

And so I knew without a doubt now that I was ready for that commitment; that I would not hide away from it.

Krista would get out of the hospital the day after tomorrow, and Ryan would be back the following day, just in time for Christmas. I had made special arrangements with the hotel for a Christmas tree to be brought into our suite and a meal to be prepared for Christmas Day. Pam came with Mom, Dad, and Lissa. It seemed her morning sickness was a bit better, and she decided to try to make the flight.

Right now, though, all I could feel was joy and happiness because Adam was here with me. It wasn’t exactly home, this Italian hotel suite, but we were together and that was all that mattered.

That night Adam and I lay in bed together, facing one another. We weren’t allowed sex for awhile because of his surgery, but it didn’t matter in the least. He was here, not only in my dreams, but in my bed. And I wanted that for the rest of my life. He kissed me softly, and I returned that loving kiss with all my heart.

The next day I told him I was going to take him for a ride, and we drove up to Monte Berico. I was driving him, which was somewhat of a novelty, but it was a good day for me to be the one in charge, I decided with a smile. It was a beautiful day, sunny and fairly mild, considering all the below normal temperatures they had been having this year. It was also our third month anniversary.

We walked across the street to the overlook, and I had to admit there was something very sexy about watching Adam walk with that cane. I still loved the way that man moved, with or without the cane.

We moved to the northern overlook as if by a silent agreement. The Dolomites were snow-covered and spectacular, and the air was so crisp and clear we had no trouble viewing them. I could hear the bell in the church across the street tolling out its melodious notes. It was a pleasurable sound and one I always associate with Italy. It doesn’t seem like you hear church bells much in America anymore, but in Italy they still tolled faithfully.

“No roses for you today, love. But happy anniversary anyway,” he said to me as we stood before the balustrade and took in the beautiful vista on display before us.

“Woo hoo – 3 whole months, Adam. Imagine that!”

“Has it been difficult, with everything going on, I mean?” he inquired.

“No, it has been wonderful, Adam. Of course, some days have been better than others! But in some ways it seems incredible that it has been 3 whole months, and yet I feel like I have known you a lifetime already. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

Adam wrapped his arm around me, and I snuggled close. I had been thinking about this moment for the last few days. These last three months had changed my life. I had found love, trust, and understanding when I found Adam. And I planned to be with him forever. Three months was just the beginning as far as I was concerned. The future was going to take care of itself, and we would find a way to make it so.

“Well, this is where it all began, isn’t it?” I said to him, looking up into those gorgeous chocolate eyes.

He leaned down and kissed the tip of my nose and whispered, “Yes, it is. I knew you were the one the moment I saw you walk my way. I wanted to tell you immediately, but I was afraid you would run away as fast as you could!”

“I was silly then; I probably would have. But I’ve changed a lot since then, I think.” I swallowed hard; tears were threatening to overcome me and I didn’t want to cry, not yet anyway!

“Yes, you have. Still worried about a future together, Bella?”

I shook my head emphatically and said, “Nope. Someday we’re both going to be old and grey and still chasing each other around, don’t you think?”

“Yes, indeed I do. Sarah, I love you so much!”

I nodded my head, “Yes, Adam, I love you so much as well.” I took a couple of deep breaths; I was suddenly scared to death. I was scared of what I might say, of what he might say. “Adam, I’ve been thinking about things. I can’t imagine my life without you. I knew that even before everything happened; that only served to make it all clearer to me. I’m not afraid any longer of what the future holds for us because I know that it is ‘us’ now. Adam,” I said, pausing a moment to take a deep and unsteady breath and then knelt down on one knee. “Adam, will you marry me?”

The look on his face was one of wondrous joy. He cautiously knelt down with me and pulled me to him. “Yes Bella, I will certainly marry you. But tell me, how did you know what I planned to do today?” He reached into his pocket and brought out a small box and handed it to me. “Open it, please, love.”

My hands were shaking so badly I thought I was going to drop the box. I slowly opened the lid and found the most gorgeous ring I had ever seen. It was a large rectangle-cut blue sapphire with diamonds around it, all set in platinum. It took my breath away. I wasn’t really fond of white diamonds, which he knew, so this is what he picked out for me.

“Oh my! Adam, it is perfect, I adore it.” I told him, trying to pull it out of the box.

“Here, love, let me,” he said, gently working the ring out of its velvet berth. “Hold out your hand, Bella,” he said softly. I stuck my hand out and his hand caught it and slid the ring onto my finger. He then placed a soft kiss on my hand, as if to seal the bargain.

I was crying then, it was okay now, and when I looked at him, he was crying too. We kissed softly up there on top of Monte Berico in the warm Italian sunshine on this December day.

“Forever and ever, Bella?”

“Forever and ever, Adam. One beautiful day at a time…”

Copyright 2006 Cynthia Hope Hodge

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Red Scarf

Chapter Seventy-Nine

“Bravo!” Sunni exclaimed, seemingly pleased that we had found them. “Well, Sarah, you are as bright as I thought you would be, figuring out that last note. And Krista, what the hell are you doing here? I should have known you would never be able to stay away. You wanted to know your daddy; the son of a bitch that deserted you. Well, Krista, you’ll at least get to see daddy die!”

“NO, Sunni!” Krista screamed. “You will not kill him; please promise me you won’t kill him. He never knew I existed, Sunni, he never did!”

“Of course he did! He came to see you once, even if you don’t remember it!”

“No; that was Brandon, not Adam. It was all in Mom’s journal about Adam, remember?” Krista was trying to explain it all to Sunni, who suddenly seemed very confused.

“No, no, it was Adam,” she said, shaking her head in apparent confusion. “He is your father, not Brandon.”

“Yes, Sunni, Adam is my father, but he didn’t know about me. Remember Mom’s journal? She left Adam before she even knew she was pregnant, so he couldn’t have known. Brandon came to Texas to try to get some money from grandpa. Do you remember that, Sunni? Brandon. Grandpa got the shotgun out and made him leave?”

“Y – you were only 4 when that happened, you can’t possibly remember that!”

“You’re right, I don’t. But you all talked about it for years afterwards. You all knew that he wasn’t my dad because you had found Mom’s journal after she died. Remember, Sunni? The journal, Mom wrote it all down.”

Adam and I were silent as all this went on. Sunni was obviously mentally ill, and it became more noticeable as their conversation continued. I wondered where Curtis was, though, because Sunni was the only one in here with us.

Adams feet were tied together, as were his hands. They were behind his back, and he leaned forward at bit so that I could try and get them undone. It was still very dark in here; Sunni hadn’t brought a light with her, but my eyes had adapted pretty well. There was an opening high up in the wall; maybe it was supposed to be a window, but it afforded us a bit of light to see. I could see Sunni standing by the door and Krista standing near her, trying to reason with her. Around the room I saw piles of garbage, and once or twice I think I even saw something move amongst it, and I shivered. I detested any kind of small and wild furry creatures and I couldn’t imagine this was anything but that.

The knots were tightly tied, but I thought I was making some progress on them when Curtis appeared. He had a flashlight with him, so I pulled away from Adam so he wouldn’t see what I had been doing. Adam leaned back against the wall and as Curtis passed the light over us, that was all he saw.

“Sunni, there’s a car coming up the road. It will be here in a few minutes or so. What do you want me to do?” Curtis asked her.

So Sunni seemed to be the one in charge, and given her mental state, that made her even more dangerous.

“Well, go check it out, for God’s sake. Do I have to tell you everything? It’s probably some lovers coming up to admire the view and do the nasty in the back seat of their tiny little car. Go on, GO,” she told him as she shooed him out of this chamber.

When the light from the flashlight passed over Adam it gave me the opportunity to see him clearly for a moment. His coat was missing; I was sure he had had it on when he left the set earlier. But otherwise he looked fine; his clothes were still in good repair, and I didn’t see any cuts or bruises on him, for which I was more than thankful. Without his coat, though, I was sure he had to be freezing, and since I didn’t know for sure how long he had been down here he could be seriously close to hypothermia. He had been missing for 12 hours by now, I realized.

“I think it’s time for a little walk, I really do. Adam, there is a wonderfully high tower still standing here, and I really think you should take a look at it. She handed Krista a knife and said, “Cut his feet loose so he can walk. And don’t even think about trying to help him, Krista, because I also have a gun. And you know what a good shot I am,” she taunted. “Stupid Lyle, hiring a private jet to bring us here! Do you know how easy it was to bring the gun? Ridiculously easy, let me tell you! Saved me the trouble and expense of having to find one locally!” She laughed loudly at that and then continued with her story.

“Easy, just like it was to get you all those messages, like on your computer, Sarah. Did you like those? I thought they were very clever, didn’t you? Curtis took the picture of your daughter at school in Kansas. A pretty little thing, and my, she looks just like her mom, I have to admit. But you,” she turned around to look at Krista, who had just cut Adam’s legs free, “what the hell were you thinking by going to the family celebration at Thanksgiving? More time with Daddy? Did you get to meet your brothers, Krista? Did that make you happy? Now give me the fucking knife back, Krista,” Sunni commanded, and we heard a ‘click’ that must surely have come from the gun.

Krista closed the blade on the knife and slapped it back down into Sunni’s hand. It made a loud thump sound and I’m sure it must have hurt, but Sunni never made a sound. Adam braced his back along the wall in order to stand up, and I tried to help lift him as well. If Sunni noticed she made no comment about it. He seemed a bit shaky on his feet, and I wondered how long he had been sitting there on the cold and damp floor.

He finally got to his feet and Sunni said, “Good, good. Now we can take that walk!”

All I could think of was that the longer we stayed down here, the better. Up there we had very little ability to keep any control at all, so I decided to try to talk to her some more. And Adam moved closer to me and sort of turned a bit so that I could try to work on his hands again.

“Sunni, the – uh, the computer stuff was very good. Really, it puzzled us all how you did it. H – how did you get those messages to us?”

“It was ridiculously easy, Sarah. I was so deliciously ecstatic when you asked for a computer to use in Texas; I knew it would provide a way to get to you that having that cop around all the time didn’t! So, we just used a computer in a public library. They have transferable modems; in other words, they don’t always use the same IP address every time because there are so many computers on the line. So they couldn’t trace it. And the second one was really quite fun, you know! Curtis took the picture and then sent it by camera phone to a special e-mail account that I set up just for that purpose. All false information, of course. But we knew that the police would waste valuable time trying to track the information down and it was so much fun, let me tell you. How it made me laugh!"

“Then Curtis stole a cell phone right out of a woman’s car, so we e-mailed the picture to that phone and then sent it in turn to your computer. Voila! It worked like a charm. Ooh, but I’ve had so much fun, planning all this. And you, Sarah, you are such a trusting soul.” She came close to me and said in a whisper, “You never even suspected me, did you, Sarah. You thought I was such a fun person and so helpful, didn’t you? You know, Sarah, I actually liked you, really. Doesn’t matter now, though.”

I had pulled back away from Adam as Sunni leaned in close to me. I listened to her words, and they hit me square in the gut; she was right. I never did suspect her, and I did like and trust her. So I was partly responsible for what was happening to Adam now, because I helped to make it all so easy for her. And Rachel was dead because of it all.

“Sunni, uh wait. Wait for a minute okay? I – you’re right, I never did suspect you; I liked and trusted you, in fact. You were clearly the better competitor, uh really.” Krista had moved in behind Adam, and I hoped that meant that she was working on the knots to free him.

“Of course I am! I’ve been planning all this for years!” she told us, and her voice had a slightly hysterical ring to it that sent icy shards up my spine. She was close to losing it, and all we had to do was wear her down, I knew it.

“Did you plan Rachel’s murder, Sunni?” I asked her as I tried to move farther away from Adam and Krista. I inched little by little away from them; I wanted to keep as much focus on me as possible.

“No, that mouthy bitch was just a little bonus. Or maybe practice is a good way to put it. Oh, she was magnificent, and so easy to set up! I went to her condo that night, to express my condolences for how badly she had been treated, and we had a drink, and then another. Too bad for her that I was the one mixing them; I made do with water instead of vodka. I literally drank her under the table, you know, but then she was half sloshed by the time I showed up. And in such a rage, I swear. She tore around that place like a madwoman, and you know what? I started to admire her after a bit. Oh, Adam, in some ways she hated you so much! We even talked about how much fun it would be to kill you and the different ways we could do it. She wanted to get some goons to beat the shit out of you, and I think she got kind of turned on talking about it. She got a little breathless, if you know what I mean?” She laughed then and it sounded more like a howl. It chilled me.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw Krista take a step away from Adam, and I hoped that meant he was untied. I thought I saw him nod at me, but Sunni caught the movement too and turned the gun toward him.

I needed to distract her and said, “Sunni, tell us how you beat Rachel. You really did, you know, tell us! And, why did she have to die?”

“In a minute or two. It’s time for that walk now. You,” she said pointing the gun at Adam, “move out of here slowly. Krista, you follow him, and then you go next, my dear Sarah. And Adam, remember, if you cause me any problems I’ll shoot her where she stands, so just be a good boy and walk where I tell you, all right?”

“I wouldn’t think of doing anything that would jeopardize Sarah. You should know that. Now just point me in the right direction, please?” His voice sounded so calm I could hardly believe it. I was shaking and trembling like crazy. And it wasn’t from the cold, which I realized was almost numbing as I tried to move feet that felt wooden and stiff.

Sunni directed us through a maze of hallways, and it was hard to keep from falling down as we constantly had to step over rubble and debris. I fell down onto one knee at one point, and I noticed Krista holding Adam back because it was apparent that his hands were free. She stood directly in front of him so that Sunni couldn’t see him, and I sent her mental thank yous for it.

We came to a stairway leading upwards, and I realized it wasn’t the one that Krista and I came down on. This one was very narrow and steep, and we each had to move very cautiously up the stairs in order to avoid a fall. My hands held onto the sides, and the rock was cold and felt wet, almost like it was covered in some kind of mossy substance. It felt slimy and I hated touching it, but the dark steps were too treacherous not to. And I decided that if the walls felt this way, the steps were probably covered in the same stuff, which made the steps even more perilous than we knew. I worried about Adam trying to navigate these steps since he couldn’t use his hands. He seemed to be taking his time, checking each step for firm footing before going up.

As I looked up ahead, I saw starlight that was fading in the pre-dawn light. And I saw Adam emerge from the stairway and stand close to it, waiting. I knew he was going to try to push Sunni back down it. Krista stepped out of the stairway and quickly to the side, and I did the same thing. But Sunni realized his plan and stood just out of reach and motioned him away from the doorway with the gun.

“Over there, Adam, against that rampart. NOW!” she said when he was slow to move. Krista immediately stepped behind him because it was light enough now that Sunni would be able to see that his hands were no longer tied. We moved slowly towards the rampart walls, walls that had gaping holes in them and were crumbling everywhere. I got close enough to look over the side and saw that we were about 20 feet or so above the ground. I wondered about our chances if we were to jump and make a run for it. But Curtis was the unknown factor; he had been gone for a good five minutes now, and there was no telling where he might actually be.

“So – so Sunni, what happened with Rachel then? Why did you kill her, Sunni? You uh, got her drunk and talked about how you were going to kill Adam? Did you tell her about this?” I could only hope she would go on talking. I could only hope that Ryan had somehow developed ESP and knew where to look for us. I could only hope that Adam knew how much I loved him…

“I killed her because she had figured out that Krista was Adam’s daughter, of course. The bitch knew, although I didn’t know how. But all that crap she said on the set convinced me that she knew. She had hinted at it once before.”

She laughed out loud, and it was harsh and unnaturally high, almost shrill, and I winced when I heard it. She seemed very close to the edge of something, but I didn’t know what. I only knew that whatever happened, I was not going to make it easy on her; I would not just lie down and let her kill any of us, not without a fight.

“Uh, Sunni, what did you tell her about killing Adam?” I repeated.

“Oh, I told her this long and terrific fairy tale about castles and lovers leaping off of towers because they just couldn’t go on with life. You know, the same old fairy tale bullshit we were raised on, Sarah. Prince Charming and happy little mice making us fancy dresses. God, I got so sick of hearing that shit when I was growing up. There is no Prince Charming, Sarah; don’t you realize that by now? Adam certainly ain’t one, that’s for sure. Abandoning his baby, nope, that ain’t no kind of Prince Charming. Although until now his life hasn’t been too bad, has it, Adam? You’ve gotten just about everything you ever wanted, including the princess, haven’t you? Even found her in an enchanted land, huh? And now you get to die with her in an enchanted land! It was just too good, too perfect, getting to come back to Italy. I could have hugged Lyle when he decided to do it; really I could have.” Her laugh reminded me of a cackle, I decided as she motioned out at the stunning view surrounding the castle with her gun; the powerful Dolomite's to the north and the city of Vicenza to the south.

“I got her drunk off her ass. I indulged her in that, you know, because by then it would have been so much more fun to watch her suffer in pain. But no, I got her so drunk that she passed out. But right before that I stuck a needle up her nose and plunged enough tranks in her to down a fucking horse while she was still lucid. And for just a minute she felt it. Felt that huge, long needle being buried in her nose, and I saw her eyes open wide in pain. It was very satisfying, watching that. She was always such a prima donna; what a way to go. Stoned out of your mind, yeah,” she trailed off for a moment, “What a fucking way to go!” She gazed off into the distance, probably reliving the moment of Rachel’s death. It was horrible hearing her talk about it, and I couldn’t imagine how you could be so cruel to another human being, especially someone you knew.

“I had to call Curtis then because we had to get her upstairs. Stupid bitch vomited all over herself and me, so we laid her in the bathtub and pulled her clothes off and used the shower to rinse her off. Curtis wanted to uh, have a little fun with her, but I wouldn’t let him. It somehow seemed demeaning,” she laughed, a big huge belly laugh.

“Having Curtis working for the security office was a real stroke of luck, you know. Really gave us entrance around the complex. Made things so much easier. But you should have seen Krista’s face the first time she saw her uncle there! Oh, Krista, that was so precious, that look on your face. You knew for sure then that we were serious about hurting Adam, didn’t you?” She smiled a horrific grin and then went on, “Since I wouldn't let Curtis have a little fun we made do by slicing her wrists open, except they didn’t really bleed very much and that wasn’t very satisfying; we had to squeeze out the blood that we got. And in the end I realized, Adam, that she was just another stupid woman who loved you. Loved YOU. What a joke; she loved the man she tried to hate. But you wouldn’t have been any better for her than you were for Penny; you would have left her alone and pregnant too, just like you did Penny. You would have told her you didn’t want the brat in her belly, you would have…”

She was back to thinking that Adam deserted Krista again. It seemed her hold on reality was coming and going more quickly now, and I wondered how much longer we could stall her. It was freezing cold; the wind chills had to be in the teens. As I looked out at the city that was brightening a bit every minute, I could see a dusting of snow on trees and rooftops, left over from the snow that we had had two days ago. They said that Vicenza had had more snow this year than they had in the last 15 years altogether. Up here on the castle ramparts I could now see icy patches amongst the snowy ones.

“Sunni, Sarah isn’t a princess, but she is a very good person. She liked you and Krista too. Why don’t you just let her go? She’s done nothing to you, nothing at all. Please, Sunni,” he said, his voice pleading, “Please, I’m begging you, let her go now.”

“You know, there’s a lot of temptation in that, Adam, because then she’ll always remember this little scene, of you jumping off the tower like the true hero you pretend to be. Do you think that will be a fond memory for you years from now, Sarah? Of the man you love jumping to his early death just for you? Will it make you feel loved and cherished? Hm, will it?”

“No, Sunni, NO. You don’t have to do this, you know that. He knows about Krista now, and he’ll love her and take care of her, you know that. Please, don’t do this.” I would have begged her; down on my knees if I thought it would help things, anything, I would do anything.

“I don’t give a shit about that. Krista has been fine all these years without him, and she’ll be fine in the future. This is for Penny; my bright and wonderful Penny who came home with no sparkle at all in her eyes. They were dull and lifeless; did you know that, Adam? All the fun and laughter was beaten out of her. She never smiled, she just sat there, staring off into some far-away place where she had lost her heart, and there wasn’t any way we could reach her. Not even Krista, not even her baby.” Tears were streaking down her face now unchecked. I’m not even sure she realized she was crying.

I held out my hand towards her; it was an unconscious gesture because of her pain. I didn’t know how I felt about her. Did I hate her or did I feel sorry for her? A little of both, I decided; she was obviously very ill. But I needed to remember that she had a gun and probably wouldn’t hesitate to use it if pushed. I watched the frigid morning air turn her breath into little white frozen puffs of air as she cried, but her hand was still holding onto the gun tightly, not faltering at all. I looked at Krista and at Adam; both of their gazes were glued to Sunni, and I knew that Adam was getting desperate and was going to try something, some kind of heroics, soon unless something happened, a break or a diversion. Krista looked very alert; she seemed to be listening to something, but I couldn’t hear anything over the pounding of my own heart.

“Sunni,” Krista said gently. “Mom wasn’t upset over Adam. It was Brandon she loved, she missed, she uh, needed. He broke her heart, Sunni, not Adam. Adam didn’t cause any of this. For God’s sake, Aunt Sunni, he’s my dad; give me a chance to get to know him, please. I – I love him, and I want the chance to know him; he didn’t do all these terrible things, you know it was Brandon!” her voice rose in the desperation of her plea.

Krista was crying too, and then to my surprise I realized I was as well. How sad for this family; this legacy of hatred and pain. I can’t imagine how Krista survived it all; how she could be as happy as she is. I knew that I wouldn’t be in her place.

Krista moved a couple of small steps towards Sunni, and Sunni’s flashing eyes saw that movement and she screamed, “Stop, Krista, don’t come any closer, I mean it! He has to die. I’m sorry, but you at least got to meet him. Now get out of the way.”

She motioned for Adam to start moving towards the tower and I started to panic. I couldn’t let that happen, but I didn’t know what to do. Krista was between Adam and Sunni, and I was off to the left of Adam. I thought again briefly about us going over the side of the wall. Most of it was crumbled away at any rate and while the fall might break a bone or two it probably wouldn’t kill us. At least I didn’t think so, unless we fell wrong. But then again, what is the right way to fall? And how did I communicate that to Adam? And what if Sunni shot us when we were on the ground and unable to run? There were too many variables in that plan.

I looked around me and saw that the sun was just peeking over the horizon to the east, which was in back of Sunni, so the sun wouldn’t blind her; I couldn’t count on that. I moved a couple of steps closer to her and she looked at me suddenly and said, “Stop right there, princess. Don’t come any closer or I’ll shoot him right here.”

“But then it won’t look like suicide, Sunni. And isn’t that the point?” I thought I would try logic on her, maybe confuse her a bit more. “You know, your plan depends on it being suicide, doesn’t it? That way they won’t be looking for a murderer, will they? Yes, Sunni, you have to get us up those stairs; it’s the only way, isn’t it? You know you can’t shoot him here, don’t you?” I spoke as calmly and in as soothing of a voice as I could, trying to appease her sense of reason.

Her eyes were wild then, looking at each one of us in turn, and I realized that for the first time she was starting to get flustered. And that gave us a chance.

“N – no! I can shoot him here and then you and it will look like it was murder/suicide, that happens all the time. Yeah, maybe that’s the way to do it, and Krista and I suspected it and came here to try and stop you but we were too late!”

I was still trying to move closer to her, inch by inch. “Sunni, that won’t work, you know; they won’t believe it because of all the notes you wrote and stuff. If you and Krista find us, they’ll just suspect you both. No, Sunni, you don’t want that, do you? Krista has paid enough for all this; you don’t want her arrested for murder, do you?”

“Notes? Notes?” she asked, and I could tell she was confused again.

“Yeah, all the little creative poems you wrote. They really were very puzzling, I never could figure them out, you know, because you were so smart writing them. You probably should have been a writer, Sunni, you know that?”

“No, NO, just shut up, Sarah, shut up!”

“Really, Sunni, you should give it a try.” She was close to breaking now and was focused on me; I wasn’t going to let up. “C’mon Sunni, tell me how you wrote all those notes, they were amazing, really.” Adam was almost directly behind me and Krista was a couple of steps in front of him, almost parallel with me, except about 4 steps to my right. We made a nice little triangle; in reality we had only moved the targets closer together, which was stupid.

“NO, you don’t know wh – just NO, shut up! I mean it, don’t say another word!”
She was screeching out the words, stammering and totally confused. Krista tried to take another step towards her and Sunni saw it and said, “Stop right now, Krista!”

And Krista held her position, her eyes darting to mine to see if I agreed. I nodded almost imperceptibly at her and she stayed put.

Adam took a step forward then, bringing Sunni’s focus to him. “Sunni, you don’t really want to do this, do you? Krista will always have to remember what her beloved aunt did, and that would be terrible, wouldn’t it? You don’t want her to remember this, do you?”

“Yes, he’s right, Aunt Sunni! I don’t want to remember this, you, this way. Please, let’s just all go home now and forget about it all. We can, can’t we, Adam and Sarah?” she looked at us and we nodded.

“Yes, Sunni, we can just forget all this, really we can,” I told her.

“I agree, Sunni. It’s best just all forgotten. Let my daughter and me have a chance to know one another.”

Sunni’s eyes were wildly shifting from one of us to the other, and she wasn’t sure what to do. And then we heard someone or something on the steps behind her. Adam’s eyes widened as we listened to the sound; it was soft, stealthy, but in the quiet of the morning we heard it clearly. But Sunni didn’t seem to have heard it; she was too agitated.

And in that moment Adam decided to take a chance. He made a run for Sunni and she saw him and started firing the gun. Krista leapt in front of Adam screaming, “No, NO, don’t shoot him!” and I was right in back of her when I heard the sickening sound of a bullet tearing into a body; a sort of dull thump sound, and Krista went flying backwards, knocking me with her.

She fell against the rampart wall which crumbled completely away and went over the side, with me close on her heels, and I thought, well this is it, you’ll soon know if you can survive this fall.

I fell onto a bush of some kind and felt it ripping my legs; sharp thorny branches that were biting my legs excruciatingly. But the worst thing was all the gun shots I heard from up on the tower, and I looked up and saw Adam, blood running from his side. He was close to the spot where Krista and I had fallen from, and I couldn’t decide whether to yell at him to jump or not. And then he yelled out loud and crumpled to the floor; I couldn’t see him anymore.

I think I blacked out for a minute because it was really noisy when I woke up. I looked to the right of me and saw Krista lying there. I tore myself free of the bush and ignored the pain from the lacerations all over my legs. I crawled over to Krista and called her name.

She was quiet; deathly quiet. I looked at her and there was blood leaking from around her neck somewhere, spread out across the pristine snowy ground like a vivid red scarf.

Copyright 2006 Cynthia Hope Hodge

Friday, April 13, 2007

Truth or Lies?

Chapter Seventy-Eight
I looked at Adam and was stunned; it hadn’t occurred to me that he realized what Ryan and I thought. And he wasn’t upset about it at all; he figured that Ryan would get to the bottom of it.

Lissa left us soon after that and we did finally lie down and sleep a bit. In fact, I didn’t want to get up later; I could have easily slept the whole day hidden away with Adam. We planned to go out to dinner this evening, for Thai of course, and we were all looking forward to it.

Krista and Ryan seemed comfortable together, but I was sure that there hadn’t been any intimacy between them. There was a hesitancy still between them, unlike people who had been lovers. She was still young, and I wondered how Adam would handle things if she did turn out to be his daughter; I could easily see him as being rather overbearing as the father of a daughter.

The evening went well, and we didn’t get to bed until midnight. Krista stayed in the family room, and in the morning I still believed that nothing had occurred between them. They were both still too uptight.

Lissa left after breakfast, and I got Adam and myself packed. When we went shopping for his coat we had also bought sweaters and some warmer things for him, so we had to get all that ready to go. Eventually we got it all into the bags, and then we were off to the airport. Bobby was going to stay at Wendy’s tonight, but would be coming back to my house tomorrow.

The flight back to Dallas was quiet, although there was a huge knot in my stomach. Adam was again reading the script; we had 4 days of shooting before leaving for Italy, and I knew they were all dreading it; the pace would be furious.

Krista had driven our car to the airport and left it in long term parking overnight. We got the bags into it and we all fit in pretty tightly. Krista was staying right down the street from us, so we dropped her off and headed home. All was quiet in the condo; nothing appeared to have been disturbed. It didn’t feel like coming home, though; there was no joy in it at all.

Ryan told me that he had some news and I said, “Ryan, you might as well say it in front of Adam; he already suspects as well.” He raised his eyebrow at that, but after we all grabbed a diet Coke we went to sit in the living room and talk.

“Little Elk tracked down a birth certificate for Krista. She was born in Utah; her parents were Brandon Marshall and Victoria Kristina Marshall. Adam, does that name sound familiar to you? Vicki maybe, or Kris?”

“No, it does not. Not at all, in fact.” He spoke quietly, and I was positive he was a bit saddened by Ryan’s words.

Ryan sat there and nodded his head, thinking about that. “Well, her mother married Brandon in Pindalossa in 1982 and they moved away shortly after that. Her mother died in Pindalossa two years after Krista was born. She apparently committed suicide; she had always been a troubled and unhappy girl. Brandon apparently kept track of Krista and did come to visit her once but provided no support and showed no interest in her. Neighbors in Pindalossa gave us this information. So Krista was apparently right; her father did not want her, but that father isn’t you, Adam. Brandon himself is dead; he died 4 years ago from cancer, still in Utah.”

“Well, okay, that’s a dead end,” I stated, but when I looked at Adam’s sad face I continued. “Adam, we’ll find her; she’s out there, she has to be.”

He nodded silently again and rested his head on the back of the couch, his eyes closed. He took a couple of deep breaths and then said, “Okay then. What’s next?”

“Adam, we need you to give us every bit of information about Penny that you can remember, and any other women who might have been a possibility. It’s very important that you remember as much as possible.” Ryan pulled the inevitable notebook out and began taking notes as Adam talked.

“Her name was Penny Kelly, and she was 22 when I met her. I never really knew where she was born, but I knew she had lived in Oregon with her ex-husband before coming to California. I think she might have had a sister, but I’m not sure of that. We were only together a year, and she had apparently been a real vagabond before that. That’s really all I know. We didn’t either of us talk about our pasts too much.”

Ryan wrote everything down about Penny and the two other girls that Adam mentioned. One of them, Elizabeth Potter, seemed like a possibility, I thought hopefully. She and Adam were together for almost two months. She was an archeology major in college when they met. Since she was in graduate school, a lot of her time was spent in digs around the world, and the last time he had seen her she was headed for South America. They had ended the relationship on pretty good terms, and Adam said that neither one of them had had any expectations about it. In fact, he could have seen her not contacting him if she were to be pregnant; she was very independent. But it didn’t seem like much. Ryan told us he would start checking it all out tomorrow, and we all went to bed.

Those 4 days were excruciating. Two nights we didn’t get home until midnight, but they got everything done. I stayed at home the last day and got everything packed and ready to go because we left for Italy at 10:00 am the next morning. The production company had hired a jet to take the cast and crew over; those who were going, that is. There were about 20 of us, and most moved like zombies onto the plane that Friday morning because the night before had been one of the late nights. Many of the crew would be local Italians, many of the same ones that they had used the first time they shot there. It was a complicated matter to get it all arranged, building permits and such, crew, places to stay, and hired cars all took up a lot of someone’s time.

But soon we were jetting away and out over the blue Atlantic on our way to Italy.




We landed at the airport in Vicenza at 3:30 am local time, or in other words, 9:30 pm our time. We had stopped in England for fuel and a brief layover where we ate dinner. Adam managed to sleep for several hours over the Atlantic, but I was too excited to be going back to Italy to sleep at all. A bus took us all to the hotels where we would be staying. Adam was back in the same one as before, the Hotel Continental, in a different suite, though. Lyle and Paul were both at the same hotel, as were the other cast members and Sunni, Krista, and several other assistants. William was staying with friends as he did the last time. The next day no one was working; Lyle realized that everyone needed a bit of time and since that was Saturday, that meant that filming didn’t start until Monday, and Adam and I planned to take advantage of the free time.

We both slept off and on all day Friday. Ryan was in a room that had a connecting door into our suite and I think he wandered in and out several times, checking on us. I called Mom, Lissa, and Derek and let them all know that we were here but didn’t talk too long. I also called Cassie and she giggled, remembering the first time I had called her. She sounded wonderful; she was in her own home, and I wondered if she had a house guest. But I didn’t ask because I knew she would tell me when she was ready.

Adam talked to Tamara and the boys very briefly before we had dinner that first evening. When room service brought dinner up, Adam had them set it up near the balcony. It was too cold to eat outside; in fact it was very cold. The waiter said it was the coldest winter they had had in 25 years. They even had some snow a few days ago he said, obviously scandalized by that fact. But we looked out the broad balcony doors and could see the indigo sky with its brightly twinkling stars, and it was somehow enough for us, just to know that we were back in this lovely city where we first met almost 3 months ago.

I don’t know what Ryan did that night, but we didn’t see him any more, and neither of us was unhappy about that. After dinner we took our bottle of wine and our glasses and went into the bedroom. There wasn’t a large tub to bathe in; in fact, there was no tub at all, but there was a very nice shower and we took advantage of it, making love passionately, with eager caresses and a quick fulfillment of our desires. But of course it only slaked our hunger briefly, and after getting into the bed and having a bit more wine, our minds and bodies once again turned to passion to occupy us.

Slowly and tenderly we caressed one another, sharing long and sensual kisses that went on and on. His hungry mouth devoured mine, his tongue driving in and out of my mouth until I was dizzy with desire.

I felt the warm rush of wetness dampen the curls between my legs, and I waited impatiently to feel his caresses. His mouth traveled down my body, devoting lots of attention to the aching tips of my breasts and driving me wild. I begged him to take me, telling him how badly I needed him inside me, but I realized he had other plans when I felt his mouth kissing me in that wet valley of passion.

His hands gently opened me, and his tongue delved deeply into me, stroking me lovingly and then suckling gently. His tongue brought me release very quickly and he entered me then, feeling my body contract around his eager hardness, the contractions pulling him into me greedily.

His mouth found my own again as his hands found mine, our fingers intertwining as our mouths drank hungrily of one another’s. He started moving inside me then, and I wrapped my legs around his so that he might thrust deeply into me. I was throbbing and aching for him as he penetrated the depths of my aroused body over and over.

Our kiss went on and on until just before we both came; he looked at me then, our eyes locked as we both found our pleasure. Our bodies moved of their own accord then, driven by some primitive beat of their own making, as we both cried out our releases. We clung to each other as our bodies shuddered and contracted together until finally we were still and gasping for breath.

We fell asleep quickly after that and didn’t wake until morning, when we made love yet again before showering and getting dressed. I went out onto the balcony, but I couldn’t see the mountains as our hotel was downtown. But the sights before me were very Italian; the colors and scents could be nowhere else in the world.




The weekend passed very quickly, and work got started bright and early Monday morning. They hoped to get everything shot in two weeks, and they had a vigorous schedule ahead of them. Our lives quickly adapted to it all, and there was very little spare time. I often talked with Ryan while the shots were filmed, and he said that no new clues were to be found about Penny. It was almost like she hadn’t really existed. They found Elizabeth, married and living in San Francisco, teaching archeology. She assured them that she didn’t have a child, not by Adam or anyone else. The other woman couldn’t be found.

The cast and crew were all pushed almost past their endurance, especially those last few days. Tempers were close to erupting constantly, and angry words could often be heard. Adam’s last scene did not go well. They had worked on it for two days, and it seemed that nothing could please Lyle. After the 45th take, Adam blew up and walked off, saying he needed some time. Ryan wasn’t around at that moment, so he didn’t see where Adam went. I decided to just give him a little space; chances are he would walk for awhile and wear off some of his anger.

Lyle realized they had all had enough and called a halt to the shoot for the day. Everyone went back to the hotels, and I waited for Adam to come back, but he didn’t. Ryan was very worried, and that affected me, so then I was worrying too. We talked to Lyle to see if Adam had contacted him to talk about the situation, but Lyle hadn’t seen or talked with him since he walked away. Ryan looked at me, and I started crying.

“This isn’t like him, Ryan, it’s not. Something is wrong; I feel it.”

Ryan nodded his head in agreement and called Little Elk in Dallas to tell him what was going on. It had been 5 hours since we had seen Adam.

I called Tamara to find out if she had talked to Adam, but she hadn’t so all I succeeded in doing was alarming her as well. I sat and worried, turning down some dinner when Lyle stopped in and tried to get some for me.

They tried to run a GPS track on Adam’s phone and couldn’t locate it. That meant trouble, I knew. Whoever had him had destroyed his phone, and we couldn’t find him. Police from Vicenza came then, and Ryan and I both spent hours telling them about the case, everything that had happened. They put out a bulletin for Adam and considered him a missing person, but that was no comfort to me.

All I could think of was how much I loved him and that we hadn’t yet had our chance in life, not really. We were supposed to get married and live happily ever after, weren’t we? I loved him so dearly; he had stood by me though so much, and I had learned what trust was, and more importantly what faith was. I learned too that I didn’t have to surrender myself in order to love someone; that I could still be me and be loved. I constantly sent fervent prayers to God to bring him home safely to me.

Ryan went with the Italian police to their headquarters to try to organize a search for Adam. I decided to stay at the hotel in case he came back. I dozed fitfully for awhile, and around 2:00 am I got up to go to the bathroom and found a note lying on the floor in front of the door. I didn’t hesitate for a moment before picking it up and reading it.

Lovers are parted
death takes its toll
on their lives
From two different houses
love cannot abide
death becomes the only
Friend, not time

I went crazy for a couple of minutes, screaming and crying, before I thought to call Ryan and read him the note. He said he would be back to the hotel as quickly as they could get him there.

And then there was a loud pounding on my door. My heart stopped, thinking it must be Adam, that he had lost his key, and I opened the door ready to throw myself into his arms, but it was Krista instead.

“Sarah, I have to tell you something. I need your help and you need mine. But we have to leave right now.” She looked at me pleadingly and then again urged, “Now, Sarah. We have to find Adam!” and I was rushing out the door with her then, forgetting my coat, my purse, and my phone in my haste to catch up with Krista who was running down the stairs. All I had was the note clenched tightly in my hand, almost unnoticed.

“Krista, wait. What is going on?” I yelled as we hit the deserted lobby of the hotel.

“I’ll explain what I know on the way. We have to find Adam. They’ve got him, I know it.”

We were outside and getting into a car. “Who has him, Krista? Who, goddammit?” I screamed at her and then grabbed her hand to keep her from starting the car.

She started crying then in earnest, and I let go of her hand. She started the car and pulled out of the parking space, the tears running in torrents down her face. She hastily wiped them away with the back of her hand; a childlike gesture, but it only chilled me. She knew something about all this, and I wanted to know as well.

“Where are we going, Krista? And who has him?” I tried to keep my voice calm, hoping that might encourage her to talk.

“I – I don’t know where to look, Sarah. I’ve been looking for hours, but I don’t know where he could be,” she cried.

“Okay, but who has him, Krista?”

“Sunni and Uncle Curtis.”

Sunni, the one person I have never suspected? I found that unbelievable. “Why do they have him, Krista? You have to tell me.”

“They want him to die for hurting my mother, for making her kill herself.” I could see she was gripping the steering wheel tightly even in the feeble light of the dashboard.

“Who was your mother, Krista?”

“Victoria Marshall,” she answered, looking at me in the dim light.

“Adam didn’t know anyone by that name, Ryan and I asked him.”

“When she was little my grandpa called her Penny,” she told me. “Be – because she was always bright like a penny, he told me. I think she probably used a false name to keep Brandon from finding her.”

I sat there in astonishment. So she was Penny’s and Adam’s daughter; Ryan and I had been right. My head was spinning with it all. But I still didn’t understand what Krista was doing; I didn’t even know if she wanted Adam dead as well as Sunni and her uncle.

“Krista, why do you want Adam hurt? He never knew about you.”

“I know he didn’t. I didn’t know until a couple of years ago myself. Honest, Sarah, I don’t want him hurt. I got the job on this movie so I could get to know him. I just wanted to know my dad,” she cried, great sobs shuddering through her small body. “I just wanted to know him.”

My heart ached for her then, and maybe I was a fool but I believed her, that she didn’t want him hurt. “Okay, Krista, why don’t you start at the beginning and tell me everything?”

“Mom ran off with Brandon when she was sixteen. They got married by lying to some justice of the peace about her age, and they ended up in Oregon. She was pretty happy for awhile; she and Brandon lived sort of a bohemian kind of lifestyle. Brandon was a musician and played for tips at local clubs in Coos Bay. Mom learned to play the guitar and sing a bit as well, but she mostly just waited tables at different restaurants, or they wouldn’t have been able to live. Brandon’s tips weren’t bad, but he smoked a lot of pot, and most of his money went for that. But she loved him and stuck by him, even when he was arrested for selling marijuana. He served almost a year in jail before he got out. They went to Utah then, but before she knew it he was back selling and smoking pot all the time, and eventually he was caught again and put in prison for 3 years. She didn’t like Utah very much, so she left and eventually found herself in LA, working at a restaurant there. That’s where she met Adam; he worked there too.”

We had pulled over into an empty parking lot, which was a good thing. She couldn’t possibly focus on driving while telling this story.

She took a couple of deep breaths before continuing her story. I watched her lick her lips as she began talking again.

“She really liked Adam, and he seemed so mature compared to Brandon. He held down a job, all the while going to auditions. He even got a few acting jobs, and she knew that he was good; that someday he would make it big. She moved in with him and for awhile it was okay. She met his parents and tried to convince him to go back to Africa with them, but he wouldn’t go. He told her it was a sad place and that people died all the time there and there wasn’t anything you could do to help them because their own governments wouldn’t let you. That disappointed her a lot; she was slowly getting tired of always working and not going anywhere. She would try to get Adam to go places with her, but he was always working one job or another. She was very unhappy at the end. And then she heard through mutual friends that Brandon was out of prison and back in Coos Bay. She called him one day, and she decided to go back to him, so she just left. She didn’t leave Adam a note or anything because she didn’t want him to try to find her. She had never really loved him, and she had never really stopped loving Brandon.

She had been back with Brandon for a month when she realized she was pregnant, and a trip to a clinic proved it. And it had to be Adam’s baby, not Brandon’s. He let her stay, and eventually he got the idea of going back to Utah, this time to supposedly run a club with some buddies from prison that were there. So they left Oregon and moved back to Utah.

She hated it there, Sarah, she truly did. And the people that Brandon hung out with scared her. She knew they were still involved with drugs, and when she asked Brandon about it he told her it was none of her business, that since she came back with another man’s brat in her belly she didn’t have any say in what happened. She gave birth to me a month later and decided she couldn’t take it anymore. She called grandpa and grandma and asked if she could come home.

Grandpa drove all the way to Utah to pick her and me up, and he took us home to Pindalossa. But she was very unhappy there, too. She used to talk to Aunt Sunni and Uncle Curtis all the time about how unhappy she was. Pindalossa is a very small town and there isn’t much going on there. Mom needed something different. I don’t know what exactly, but something. Aunt Sunni was 10 years younger than my mom, and Uncle Curtis was 2 years younger than my mom. Both of them idolized her and had missed her a lot while she was gone. And finally one day, Mom couldn’t handle any of it, her new life or the memories of her past, and she killed herself. Uncle Curtis found her in the barn, where she had hung herself from the rafters. I don’t think he has ever been the same, or at least Sunni says that. But her death almost killed the whole family; that much is true.”

Her tears had dried by this time, and we sat there in silence for a few minutes. I was thinking about all this and how it tied into what was happening now. And then Krista began to speak again, and I had many more answers.

“I found my mom’s journals two years ago and read all this. Sunni never could let it go. All though the years as I was growing up I heard how terrible Adam was, that he never wanted me. I don’t remember Brandon coming to see me, and the truth was, he didn’t understand that the family knew that he wasn’t my father. He wanted to get money from them in exchange for letting me stay with them. Grandpa showed him the road with his shotgun, I guess, but at any rate we never heard from him again.

“Adam became more and more famous, and Sunni and Curtis got even angrier. The stayed informed on where he was and what movies he was going to make next. Then Sunni got a job on Mark Bonner’s film and got a little experience. And when they started looking for crew for Lyle’s movie, she got hired on. It was odd because I also got hired on after I found out that she was going to be on this film. I figured I could do two things, get to know Adam and keep an eye on her at the same time.

“Honestly, Sarah, I didn’t know what she was doing at first. She was poisoning his tea, just enough to make him ill and irritable. She wanted to make him look bad in everyone’s eyes, but you know what? He never did; he always stayed so nice even though it was apparent he wasn’t feeling well. And then he met you and she was furious.

“She set everything up so she could control things. But all I knew was that things seemed to be going fine. And then I heard about the incident in Pisa, and I knew she had been involved in it.”

Something occurred to me then and I finally had one answer. I remembered the smell: it was Sunni’s sunblock, the one she used constantly. Krista went on with the story then.

“I got scared then, so when a script had to be delivered to Adam in Florence, I volunteered to go. Sunni laughed at that, at my attempts to get to know Adam. I tried to warn you both that day, you know,” she told me and I nodded. I remembered her words, but at the time they really hadn’t meant that much.

“Everything got worse when you got home. Curtis was following you and your friend from the airport when the accident happened. He didn’t cause it, Sarah, really, but he pulled over and found your purse and took it. He broke into your house a couple of times I think, poisoning your tea. I finally realized they were determined to hurt you both, or at least Adam.”

“That’s how she knew about where I was and why she helped him,” I told Krista. “She told Adam she had a brother on the Dallas police force, and that was how she found out what had happened to me so quickly!”

“Yes, and actually Curtis was a Dallas cop a few years ago. That’s how he got the security job, I think.”

“The security job?” I asked.

“Yes. At the condo complex. Sarah, I wanted to say something, but they told me that if I did they would kill Adam or you. That they were only toying with you and would tire of it soon enough. By the time they had killed Rachel I knew they were serious, but they told me I would be an accessory then and would go to jail. I’m so sorry, but I was scared and then Ryan was there all the time and I thought you’d both be safe. But I was wrong and now they have Adam and I don’t know where!” she cried.

I sat there trying to take it all in. So Mr. Keaton was Uncle Curtis, I guessed. No wonder he always gave me the creeps. I tried for a minute to think like Sunni and realized that was impossible. “Krista, do you have any idea where they might take him?”

She shook her head miserably. “No, I don’t. I don’t know Italy well at all, so I have no idea. It would probably have to be someplace sort of secluded, don’t you think? But that could be anywhere, Sarah!”

“Did you know she gave me one last note a little while ago, Krista?” I asked.

“No, I didn’t. What did it say?” she asked, her voice trembling.

I held it up and asked her to turn the overhead light on and then I read it to her. “Does that mean anything to you, Krista?”

“No, it doesn’t. It’s weird though, and I know there is a message in it. Lovers and death and I don’t have a clue what that business about two houses divided means. It’s gibberish really.”

I thought about it and then it all made sense to me. I knew, or at least I thought I knew, exactly where they were. And if I was given that message it meant that they wanted me there, probably to kill along with Adam, if he was still alive.

“Krista, I know exactly where they are. But the problem is, can I find it?” I pondered for a long moment our destination. During daylight it is easily seen, but at night it would be sheer luck if I found it. Which means, I hoped anyway, that they didn’t expect us until daylight. We had probably 3 more hours of darkness to get there without being seen. “Okay, Krista, let’s go. Pull out of this parking lot and turn right.”

She did and we headed north, toward the mountains. And as luck would have it, I spotted a store I used to shop at and knew where we needed to turn. After we got into the neighborhood, it was only a matter of time before I would spot the sign that would point the way. We found it, and I had Krista stop the car and turn the lights off.

It was too dark to try to navigate the twisting and winding road that led up the hill without lights on, and they might see the lights if we used them. So we would have to walk it. I didn’t have a coat and I knew it would be cold, but I was going anyway.

Krista looked at the sign and read in faltering Italian: Romeo e Guiletta Castelli. “Romeo and Juliet’s castles?” she asked.

“Yep,” I told her. “Lovers parted, two houses divided? The Montagues and Capulets? Any of that ring a bell?”

“Well, yeah, but that was just a story. And these apparently are real castles, aren’t they?”

“Don’t try to tell the Italians it was just a story, because to them it is real. And yes, up on that hill are two castles and a church. Romeo’s castle was a tavern the last time I saw it, but Juliet’s castle was abandoned and not in very good repair. But it has a very high tower on one corner of it and probably a dungeon as well. And there are no houses up there so it’s pretty quiet. So come on, Krista, let’s go.”

“Can’t we drive up?” she asked, looking up at the long and winding road that led upward.

“No, they might see the headlights. We gotta walk.” And I started out at a brisk pace, partly because of my eagerness to find Adam and partly because of the cold. The temperature had to be in the mid 30’s, and it was too cold to stand around.

She followed me without question, and although it took half an hour, we made it to the top of the hill. We were both panting heavily as we looked around; it was very dark, and we could see the outline of both the castles, but only dimly. There was no moon tonight, which was a good thing for us, and thankfully we were both wearing dark clothes. I nodded to the right, indicating that that was Juliet’s castle, and started walking towards it. There weren’t really any trees around for cover, so we were very exposed if they were watching. I could only hope that it was like I wanted; that they thought we would come in the daylight.

We got up next to the castle wall, and I leaned against it to try to catch my breath. The stones were icy cold, and I imagined Adam in there somewhere, cold and alone. I refused to believe he was dead. I knew that I would be able to feel it in my heart if he wasn’t alive.

It had been too many years for me to remember where the entrance was, if in fact we had even gone in to begin with. But we finally found a place where the wall had crumbled away and stepped into the castle itself. It was even darker in here, and all we could do was cautiously pick our way through the debris.

Farther down the hall I saw a light, and we headed toward it. It was pale to be sure, but it was coming from under a door. We crept closer and heard a voice, a male voice, and Krista whispered that it was her Uncle Curtis’ voice. And then we heard Sunni as well. We couldn’t understand what they were saying, but we decided that if they were talking to each other, Adam must be somewhere else, so we kept hunting for him, cautiously trying door handles to see if we could get in.

We found a stairway down and carefully felt our way down those stairs. We heard things rustling around us and stayed as close together as we could. We seemed to be in some sort of large room right now, and I softly called out “Adam?” but there was no reply. As we felt our way along a wall, I felt a hasp on a door. It was locked, but the key was in the lock, and I turned it and it sprung open easily. We entered the room and I called again, “Adam?” and I heard his sharply indrawn breath.

“Sarah, what the hell are you doing here? How did you find me?” And then I found him and sat down next to him on the cold floor and held him close. Krista followed closely and sat down as well. Adam said, “Is that you, Ryan?”

“No – no, it’s Krista,” she said and I heard her voice catch with emotion. “Oh, thank God you’re safe, Adam.”

And then behind us Sunni laughed and said, “Well, maybe not so safe after all!”

Copyright 2006 Cynthia Hope Hodge