There are two types of people that live in this world. Those that live in the light and those that live in shadow. Those that live in the light spend their lives making this world a better place for no other reason than that they believe it should be. Those that live in shadow spend their lives seeking the opposite purpose. For Lee this in an undeniable fate. This tale is the first section in an ongoing novel. This story will bring you love, hate, hope, despair, forgiveness, damnation, and redemption. It is amazing what you can endure if you remember to breathe.
Disclaimer See Part 1
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Chapter 1: Hey, I resemble that remark
"You know, everyone else is having a good time. You should come out and celebrate."
"I have some work I need to finish up, but please you go on ahead."
Looking at the papers on Lee's desk, she realized they were important, but nothing that couldn't be put off for a day. Sliding her plate of food in front of Lee, Riley reclined in her chair, content to sit back and enjoy her slice of pizza.
Resigned to comply, Lee stood up and went to the side of her office. There was a desk to the corner. When Lee opened the inside, Riley was surprised to find it was actually a small cooler. Pulling out two glasses Lee poured some tea. Returning to her chair, she handed one to Riley.
"You are a bad influence."
Riley just sat with an incredibly satisfied look on her face. The pair ate in silence for a few minutes before Riley's mood grew increasingly somber.
"Are you ok?" Riley asked shyly, looking at the cut above Lee's mouth. "Would you like some ice?"
Shaking her head, "I'm fine."
Jesting, "How about for your right hook?"
Before she knew what she was doing, Riley brushed her fingertips over Lee's knuckles. Quickly realizing the implicit intimacy in the act, Riley quickly moved to retract her hand. Before she got away, Lee stopped her. Placing her palm over Riley's she tightened her grip. It would be so easy to apologize. A myriad of emotions crossed Lee's eyes. She couldn't apologize. She knew that given the same situation she would have taken the same action. She couldn't have allowed those children to be hurt simply because she didn't like the means by which she had to save them. Moreover, if she did apologize, it would be admitting that there was something between the Riley and herself. Riley deserved better than she could ever hope to give. For a woman who was so good at reading others, articulating her own emotions had always been challenging; probably because she had spent her whole life making sure no one could read her. Brushing her thumb over the inside of Riley's palm, she reluctantly released her. In truth, she never should have clasped her hand, she just couldn't bear to have Riley think that she meant nothing to her. Gathering the courage to look up at Riley, when the moment came, an understanding passed between them.
"Thank you, for lunch."
Riley smiled, "Anytime."
Both stood and Lee walked Riley to the door. But just as Riley was about to walk through, Lee shut it. Riley turned to Lee, a questioning look in her eyes.
Unable to meet Riley's gaze, Lee kept her eyes toward the door, her hand upon the knob. A battle raged inside her between what she should do and what she dreamed of.
"To hell with it," Lee sighed, pushing Riley against the inside of the door capturing her mouth in heated passion. Startled at first, soon Riley relaxed and returned the kiss with fervor. Lee consumed every inch of her mouth and Riley felt her thighs moisten at Lee's touch. Before she knew what was happening, she felt Lee's hand move to her shirt, slowly unbuttoning her blouse from the bottom up; her forehead resting against Riley's.
"Lee. Lee what are you doing?"
As she reached the top, Lee slid Riley's blouse halfway down her back, effectively pinning Riley's arms at her side. Chastely, she kissed Riley on the mouth. Small kisses were placed on her jaw line all the way to her left ear as she let Riley's blouse slip to the floor. Riley did her best to take deep breaths, but with her back against the door and Lee pressed firmly to her front, she could manage only rapid, shallow breaths.
Breathing warm air against Riley's ear, she slowly began unbuttoning Riley's trousers. Riley felt goose bumps travel all over her body. Is this really happening, was the only thought that passed through her mind. Unzipping her pants, Lee slowly pushed them down her hips towards the floor. Riley stood motionless, waiting for Lee to continue, disappointed when Lee pressed her palms to the door and stilled her motion.
For the first time, Lee looked up. Riley stared back mesmerized. Lee's eyes held all the passion and desire she ever dared dream for. It was very clear. The decision was hers. Leaning in, she kissed Lee gently. When Lee didn't pull back, she wrapped her arms around Lee's neck and kissed her more fervently, more passionately. Moaning as she tasted the inside of Lee's mouth, she pushed Lee back towards the desk. Finding even the small cushion of Lee's shirt to be an unbearable hindrance, she removed it, pulling it over and off. Lee felt herself pinned between the desk and Riley. Riley felt Lee slip her hands to the inside of her undergarments, shoving them down her hips to keep company with her trousers on the floor. Dripping with anticipation, Riley lifted the edge of Lee's skirt looking to return the kindness, surprised when she found nothing. A moan escaped her lips.
"Oh my God Lee."
Slowly Lee licked Riley's upper lip. Unable to resist any longer, Riley pushed Lee's skirt up above her hips, there was no longer any barriers between them. Leaning back, Riley followed, finding herself firmly atop Lee. Bending her knees, she felt Lee wrap on leg around her hips, the other between her own, just enough leverage so their heat lay firmly pressed against one another. Lee placed one arm around Riley's shoulder and one against her lower back, ready and waiting to pull her lover against her. Riley kept both arms under Lee's shoulder's, her hands grasping the edge of the desk. Slowly she began to move against her partner. Lee's hips rose to match her own. Again and again she pushed and pulled herself into Lee; Lee impatiently pulled Riley in. An exquisite dance that became increasingly hard to control as their desire heightened. As the need grew unbearable, both quickened their pace.
"Riley," Lee moaned.
Riley felt her wetness trickle down Lee's sex. She moaned in pleasure.
"Lee, Lee please."
She was a breath away. No longer able to contain any sort of patience, Riley continued to push into Lee. The harder and faster she pushed, the more ardent Lee's attentions became. Pulling at Riley, pushing her hips to match the pace. Riley felt as though the entire room had been deprived of oxygen. There was nothing except Lee. Nearing the precipice, she knew that all she needed was Lee to cry out her name once more and she would but float away.
"Riley" Lee touched her shoulder.
Immediately, Riley became alert, sitting straight up in her desk. Her vision finally focusing, she found herself staring directly into the eyes of her dream.
Heat rose to her cheeks, whether it be from embarrassment at being caught or the fact that her undergarments still bore the wetness from her previous vision, she was not sure. Standing abruptly, she knocked over a container of paperclips on the floor. Looking decidedly unnerved, Riley sank to the floor to retrieve them. Lee bent down to lend a hand.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you."
Talking a calming breath, "No you're fine, I was... I was"
"Sleeping," Lee supplied.
"Yes. Right. Sorry."
Before she moved to wake Riley, Lee distinctly thought she heard her name. The clear embarrassment on Riley's features confirmed it. Not that she would say anything, but she felt an intense satisfaction about being the cause of her embarrassment.
Must have been a good dream .
"For what? Dedication? Really though, if you start putting in longer hours than I do, Anne will blame it on me. She already thinks I'm a prude."
"Funny, I thought she would be happy to see I'm so busy. It would keep me from nosing about the surprise birthday party she's planning."
"I told her she wouldn't be able to keep it a secret."
Placing the last paperclip in the holder, Riley moved to set the container on the desk.
Unable to resist, "She told me to distract you."
A shower of paperclips fell around Lee. Once again, Riley's cheeks turned a lovely shade of red. Lee continued to collect the fallen paper clips as though nothing had happened.
"Sorry," Riley groaned. She was never going to make it through this day.
Just kill me, right here. Save me from making an even bigger ass out of myself.
"Are you packed?" Lee asked, trying to make conversation.
"No, I had planned to do that last night, but obviously," she motioned towards the desk.
"You should go home. The flight isn't till this evening, you should get some rest. I promise I won't fix all the world's problems before you get back. There will be plenty left for you."
Riley smiled. The paperclips finally gathered and safely placed on the desk, Lee stood.
"If you would, try to act surprised at the party. Anne has done her best to keep it a secret. She really wants you to have a good time."
"Only if you promise to continue distracting me?"
Shit, shit, shit! I did not just say that out loud.
A devilish grin crossed Lee's features, "I'll do my best."
Despite what medical professionals say, Riley was quite certain at this very moment that it was indeed entirely possible to die of embarrassment. She was extremely grateful when Anne entered her office.
"Here you are Shoshanna," Anne grinned, handing Lee the latest contracts.
"Stop calling me that."
"Because that is not my name."
"Well it is all I have since you won't tell me the real one."
"Just Lee," she smiled charmingly.
Looking to Riley for support, "I think Shoshanna is a great name. Correct me if I'm wrong, or was it my imagination when Lee went all Xena on Mr. Elis last week."
Riley cupped her hand over her mouth to keep from laughing outright, happy to not be the center of attention.
"I feel like I should know who you are talking about, but I just don't," Lee walked towards her desk. Riley and Anne followed, sitting down opposite her.
"You know Lee, if you move to a new country you should really try to understand their culture; or at the very least know who the famous people are." Getting no hint of recognition from Lee she continued. "You know, Lucy Lawless, famous Kiwi actress who tours all over Europe and the Americas ." Still nothing. "She played Xena; tall, blue eyes, dark hair, goes around saving people and kicking ass..."
"Carries a sword," Riley added.
Lee looked at Riley, amusement evident in her features.
Anne laughed, "Of all the things she did, what you remember is she carried a sword."
Riley shrugged, "What? I was trying to help."
They both looked back to Lee who sat with her hand tucked up under her chin.
"Come on Lee," Riley added, "a story about two friends who go around saving the world."
Anne laughed, "Ha. Tell me you don't fancy yourself as Gabrielle do you?"
"Well as you pointed out, Lee has the butt kicking department already filled."
"If anyone is Gabrielle it is me. I have been here a lot longer than you have."
"You have to be kidding. And if you are Gabrielle, just who am I suppose to be."
"Joxer! If anyone is Joxer, it's you."
"You think because you have more voting seniority that you qualify to be Gabrielle?"
Riley smiled. Anne returned a mock glare.
"Well this is easily settled."
A sly grin crossed her features as she focused on Lee.
"Lee, of the two of us, which is more clumsy."
Lee eyed Riley good naturedly.
Remembering her earlier paperclip fiasco, "Hey, I resemble that remark."
Despite herself, Lee could not help but join in the laughter.
The good mood lasted the rest of the day. Riley went home and got some rest before packing her bags. Meeting Anne and Lee at the office, the trio hailed a taxi to the airport from which they flew safely over the ocean to their destination. Arriving so late in the evening, all three decided to turn in for the evening. Tomorrow was bound to be a long day.
Chapter 2: Out Making Friends Again?
"If you think you are going to sit there while I do all the work you have another thing coming."
Looking around, Lee found herself sitting on a porch swing. She could just imagine how many times this old woman must have sat here looking over her garden. Standing, she stepped down and approached her. The woman giving her direction was probably nearing her seventies. Despite her age, she moved well. Nadine was her name. She had white hair, wore modest clothing, and had a crotchety temperament.
"Here, help me pick these tomatoes. I need to get them into town for the market."
Stooping down, Lee began gathering the harvest. She never understood this dream. Most nights, her dreams centered around people telling her about their day. Lee would live a part of that day with them. Even when Lee interacted in these dreams, she could still differentiate herself from them. She was on the outside looking in; as though the people would go on with or without her. Nadine was different. When she came here, Nadine normally had some chore for her to do. Lee was a participant in the dream; no separation.
"Stop staring girl."
"Why aren't you like the others?"
"It's your dream, you tell me."
"I don't know."
"Well then, pick the tomatoes till you figure it out," she pointed towards the vines.
Returning her focus to the task at hand. It took some time, but Lee helped the woman gather her bounty. Finally satisfied, Nadine ushered Lee towards the swing.
"You want something to drink?" Nadine asked, pouring some lemonade. Lee didn't really have time to respond yes or no as the woman shoved the newly poured glass in her direction.
"Thank you" she said, receiving the glass haphazardly.
"It isn't here you know."
Baffled, "What isn't here?"
"Whatever it is you are looking for."
Lee didn't understand. She wasn't looking for anything. This was a dream.
"What exactly do you think I am trying to find."
"There you go," Nadine insisted as though the answer were obvious.
Frustrated, "What are you talking about?"
"Look girl, you come visit my garden every so often looking for an answer. You come here, and I inevitably find a chore for you to do to keep you busy while you fumble around looking for an answer you don't yet know the question to."
Irritated at her presumption, "And I suppose you do."
"Of course. Being dead gives a unique clarity that you don't have while living."
Though it was not said maliciously, the remark stung Lee.
"Care to enlighten me?"
"Would you like more lemonade?"
"You know, if this is my dream, shouldn't you do what I want you to do."
"You aren't ready yet."
"Ready? For what?"
"For the answer girl. Keep up. No wonder you fumble about. You can't even keep up with the conversation."
She was being insulted by her own subconscious. Getting up to leave,
Not sure why, Lee hesitated.
"Sit down and we'll talk."
"You are a dream."
"Truth is truth no matter the source."
"You're paraphrasing Socrates."
"Well it's not an exact quotation, but you get the gist of it." Lee gave her a skeptical look. "Hey, this is all in your head," Nadine said defensively.
Sitting down, Lee folded her arms over her chest. As for Nadine, realizing that fighting would go nowhere, softened her tone.
"They come to you at night. All these people, all these faces, names, dates. You want to know why you dream of them."
"I know why I dream of them."
"You want to know if it is your fault."
"It is my fault," Lee answered.
The woman nodded. Empathy in her tone, "You were only nine."
"She manipulated you."
"It was my design, my project, my order."
"It would have taken five minutes to check the programming."
"Why didn't you?"
Shame crossing her eyes, "I was so tired."
"She deceived you. What happened was not your intention."
At this last comment, Lee stopped.
Looking toward Nadine, "The result is the same. Do you think they care that I didn't mean to?"
From the look of anguish that crossed Lee's features, the old woman could barely keep her own emotions in.
Covering Lee's hand with her own, "No, probably not."
"Why do you speak with me? The others, they don't know it was me, but you do. Why do you bother?"
"I'm not real. They are not real."
"They are real," Lee argued.
"No. They are names and dates and faces. You took it upon yourself to research their lives. Then you watched people around you and attributed the behaviors you saw in everyday life to those of the people in your dreams."
"Should their lives be so different from those that are here. Children playing with their parents, husbands making love to their wives, children going to school. Are these behaviors so odd that they would not have done them as well?"
"I'm sure they did," she agreed softly. "Have you ever sought forgiveness?"
Quietly, "I have not the audacity to ask."
Nadine nodded, understanding.
"Will I ever stop dreaming of them?"
The answer was so honest.
"What is the question?" Lee asked.
"I can't tell you that. You have to find it on your own. It is the only way you can be sure that you are ready for the answer."
"Will I see you again?"
"Of course, I'm always in need of another pair of hands."
Feeling the pull of her consciousness trying to wake Lee asked one last question.
"Is there forgiveness for what I've done?"
"Even in this place," Nadine answered, looking around before turning her attention back to Lee, " who knows such things?"
As always, Lee came to consciousness with a bit of a start. The sun peering through the blinds, peeking through as to reveal some sort of hope and direction. Taking a shower, she washed all the remnants of her distress away. Drying herself with a plush towel, she readied herself for the day.
Walking downstairs, she had planned to meet Riley and Anne for breakfast. She was of course the first to arrive. Finding a table, she ordered coffee for Anne, tea for Riley, and orange juice for herself.
"Good morning," Riley said.
As the drinks arrived, Anne trudged over to the table. Riley said hello and Anne mumbled a response.
"I take it you are not a morning person."
"Coffee first, then happy mood," Anne said savoring her cup of brew.
Riley laughed as she sipped her tea.
"So, who do we have to impress today," Riley directed the comment toward Lee.
"Well we are set to meet Lieutenant Webber later this morning. He, the nurses, and the firefighters have all come down to host a fundraiser for us today. It is quite an event I hear. Apparently they put together a community get together; something close to a fair. There will be live music, plays, games, and rides for kids. It is an outreach and community involvement initiative."
"So you are saying we get to shake hands and network all day," Anne surmised.
"Pretty much," Lee agreed.
"Sounds marvelous," Anne gulped down the rest of her coffee, waiving the waitress down to bring more. "Don't judge me," she said playfully to Riley who was valiantly trying not to tease her.
As breakfast came to a close, the trio drove over to the police station.
"Lieutenant Webber," Lee extended her hand.
"Ms. Leeland, it is a pleasure to receive you."
"You remember my colleagues, Ms. Torres and Ms. Allen."
"Of course," he said shaking their hands. Pleasantries aside, "We have the whole day planned out for you. All you need to do is relax and enjoy the venue."
"That is very kind."
"The only other thing I can think of is when we publically address the crowd. We were hoping to get the maximum amount of publicity so we thought around three in the afternoon would be best. The crowds should be at the max by then."
"That is very thoughtful, thank you. If you don't mind, Ms. Allen will be on the podium with you."
Anne looked over to Lee. She figured as much, but she was hoping Lee would take the front on this one. Why did she never want to take credit for anything?
"Of course," he looked worried. "Is everything alright?"
Lee laughed it off, "Oh yes. It's just, I am terribly camera shy. I know, you must think I'm crazy, but Ms. Allen has a knack for this and has been kind enough to take over for me. Besides, it was her idea anyway."
Glad that nothing was wrong, Webber extended his arm, "Shall we?"
The day went on as planned. According to the reports, seven thousand people showed up to the venue. It was quite a crowd to be received. Two of the main roads had to be shut down to hold the event. All in all, everything was going incredibly well.
"Well, what do you think? Quite the turn out huh?" Dr. Mike approached Lee.
"Bigger than I imagined it would be. Where's your son?"
Turning, he pointed in the crowd, "With his mother."
Lee waved in that direction. She saw Peter wave back.
Anne approached, "Dr. Mike. How are you?"
"Very well Ms. Torres. I was just telling Lee how glad I was about the turnout. The whole community seems excited. How did you manage to get all the recommendations and support."
"You would be surprised how far a pretty smile will get you," said Lee. She could only hope that Anne didn't start calling her Shoshanna again.
"I have no doubt. Ok, I will leave you two to it. I hope to see you later."
Whispering conspiratorially, "You mean you don't want to tell him you are the reason that Mr. Elis is now serving three consecutive life sentences?"
"Not particularly, no."
"You're just no fun at all," she said waving to yet another rich businessman. Making her way over, all she could think was that she hated this part of the job most. Flattering people was not her cup of java.
Lee had the same feeling. It was always much easier to just threaten to break a few body parts. It also seemed much quicker than bloating an already overblown ego. Some days turning over a new leaf was harder than others.
A break in the crowd revealed Riley. The wind in her hair was enticing, but not so much as the laughter coming from her mouth. When she laughed it was with her whole being. Riley was a natural at networking. Her place was among the people; a true leader.
Feeling eyes on her, Riley looked over towards Lee. She smiled and waved. Lee smiled back.
"May I have your attention please. Your attention please. Hello, I am Lieutenant Webber. As you all know, the Australian police, the nurses union, and the firefighters, have all come down here today to show our support and commitment for the community. Here today we have some new friends to aide us in our cause. In the last few months, Ms. Silverman and Dr. Mike have opened our hearts and arms to our Kiwi neighbors. And I can tell you personally, they are indeed good friends to have. Please welcome, Ms. Riley Shelton."
Riley walked towards the stage.
"Hello all. I can't tell you how humbled I am by your greeting. Your turn out for your community is overwhelming. It is honor and privilege to stand here and greet you today for all of my colleagues. On that note, I would like to thank Lieutenant Webber, the nurses union, and the firefighters for standing behind us. And for this wonderful community gathering on our behalf. I hope you all enjoy yourselves today, I know I am having a good time. Again enjoy, for the hard work starts tomorrow. Thank you all. God bless."
Loud cheers came out from the crowd. Everyone stood waiting to shake Riley's hand. Everywhere she went more people sought her out. Her ability to lead was striking.
On the second day of the trip, the trio planned on addressing the leaders of the community.
"Where is Lee?" Riley asked.
They were scheduled to be at the event at nine a.m.
"She said she would meet us later," Anne replied
"Is she alright?"
"Oh yes. I imagine she is just tired of shaking hands and smiling."
"I thought that was the point of this trip; goodwill and all that."
"So why isn't she here?"
"If you haven't noticed, Lee has her own way of doing things. I am sure she is off making friends somewhere, she just hates doing it the good old fashioned way. Since she is the lead, we are put in charge of that. Don't worry, I'm sure she'll pop up later."
Anne and Riley were headed over to one of Dr. Mike's functions. He was holding a meet and greet for active members in the community. Yesterday was about finding rich donators. Today's focus is to find leaders within the communities and gain their support. Every community, no matter how big or small has a leader. If they could gain the trust of that leader, they would have the trust of the community. It was the only way that people would come to them. They were, after all, outsiders. Today was an important day.
The meet and greet was set up as a social gathering much like the previous day, only on a much smaller scale. Today's gathering hosted people from local youth groups, religious coordinators, orphanages, homeless shelters, clinics, schools, and public advocates. There were a number of festivities for the families and children to enjoy, but the leaders were all scheduled to meet at the community center for a conference.
"Hello. My name is Riley Shelton, this is my associate Anne Torres. I would like to start off today by thanking you all for coming. We all know why we are here, I think the simplest way for us to proceed is for you to ask us questions."
A woman in the back spoke up, "Hi. My name is Tracie Shaver. So I guess the question on all our minds is, why do our Kiwi neighbors care so much about the needs of our underprivileged communities? Surely your own communities are in need of your help."
Tough crowd, Riley thought. Smart woman though. In this day and age, it is not often that someone comes around offering to help and want nothing in return. It is a rarity in fact. Riley knew this woman was a down to earth kind of leader. She was looking for scams and con artists at every turn. She cared for her community and she certainly wasn't going to let someone come in and make havoc. Especially not an outsider.
"Right to it then, ok well..."
Three hours of questions later, and Riley and Anne were exhausted. The crowd grilled them for answers. They believed that they had won over most of the crowd, but some of the leaders would only submit over time. Trust was earned, not given. Of course it was understandable, just nerve racking.
Walking out to the festivities, Riley and Anne stopped dead in their tracks as Lee nearly barreled into them.
"Sorry," Lee mumbled looking over her shoulder.
"Lee. Where have you been?" asked Riley.
"Right. I was just..." she said pointing behind her.
"Never mind. Lee, I would like you to meet Tracie Shaver."
Shaver worked in some of the poorest neighborhoods. It was critical that they had her support. She was also the first woman to ask a question at the meet and greet. Tough as nails this woman was.
Lee extended her hand, "Nice to meet you."
At that moment two water balloons filled with colored water came careening at Lee, hitting her squarely in the back. Riley and Anne were startled by the event and Lee was now brightly colored in red and yellow dye. Looking over her shoulder, Lee raised her eyebrow at the two small children who doused her. It was a boy and a girl, each clutching their stomach in laughter as Lee gave them a devilish expression. Holding out her hand for the children to see, Lee herself had two balloons full of colored water. The children began backing away slowly, making sure to keep an eye on their would be water balloon assailant.
"If you will excuse me," Lee said, chasing after the children.
Anne spoke up, "Sorry about that, Lee is...Lee"
Sometimes that really was the only explanation. Despite the incident, Ms. Shaver seemed to keep an eye on Lee the rest of the day. Apparently, Lee's idea of gaining trust was making friends with the local youths themselves rather than just the leaders. She joined in all the games and festivities. By the end of the day, all of the leaders in the group were having a pleasant time. Apparently, seeing the way Lee interacted with the community itself went a long way in pacifying anyone's doubts. Naturally their hearts weren't turned in a day, but the goodwill it brought went a long way in the start of building new relationships.
The day continued on as scheduled. Anne and Riley visited the construction site, meeting with all the crew that would begin construction on the clinic. Lee was supposed to come as well, but found herself pleasantly occupied with the people of the community. Excusing herself, Anne and Riley went on alone.
Much to their delight, Mr. Findley and Charlie Baker were there waiting eagerly to greet them at the construction site. Everything was running as smoothly as possible. Of course there were always hiccups, but Lee was right. Charlie was an excellent choice to run the operations in Sydney . And with Mr. Findley keeping an eye on construction, Riley and Anne felt confident that all would work out. After the meeting, Riley and Anne made their way back to the hotel. It was eight p.m. before they arrived.
"You want to stop by the restaurant, grab a bite to eat?"asked Anne.
"Sure. You think Lee is here? Maybe we should call her, see if she wants to join us."
"Yea, I'll give her a ring."
Calling Lee's phone, all Anne could think was that Lee was an idiot. Every thought Riley had included Lee. How often do you find someone who is constantly thinking of your well-being. Hearing the voicemail, she hung up.
Riley nodded, "So what to you fancy, the chicken or the fish?"
"Had fish yesterday, I think I want the chicken."
Having placed their order Riley asked, "So, do you know what is on the agenda for tomorrow?"
"We have a meeting with Ms. Silverman in the morning. She is going to take us to visit some of the patients in the clinics. I think we are stopping by some of the youth centers as well. Meet the people in their own neighborhoods. That sort of thing."
Anne envied Riley. It seemed like the more people Riley met, the more energized she became. Anne felt drained. She didn't mind meeting new people, but the amount of people she met in the last couple days was overwhelming. The names and faces were beginning to run together. Truth be told, Anne was incredibly grateful that there was a restaurant in the hotel. It made things simple; food then sleep. Heading for the elevators, the two entered the lift. Just as the doors were closing, a hand popped in. Automatically the doors opened to let on the late coming passenger.
Lee stood just outside the elevator. She was covered from head to toe in dust. She had an exceptionally dark patch of dirt across her chin. Her hair was disheveled and her suit pants were ripped at the knee.
Looking as surprised to see Anne and Riley as Anne and Riley were to see her, Lee entered the lift. Riley didn't even begin to know how to ask what happened. Fortunately, Anne having spent more time with Lee, had a bit more experience with her unusual habits.
"Good day?" Anne asked as nonchalantly as possible.
Lee looked over her shoulder, "Uh huh. You?"
"Out making new friends I suppose?"
As the elevators opened, the three walked down the hallway to their respective rooms. The hotel was nice enough to book them next to one another.
"Just so I'm certain, you don't need an alibi for where you were do you?" Anne asked.
She was only met by a toothful of a smile before Lee ducked into her room.
"It worries me when she smiles like that. See you tomorrow."
"Goodnight Anne," Riley answered. She could not even fathom what Lee had been up to.
As the morning of the third day arrived, it started out much the same way as the second. Anne and Riley were busy meeting all the important people while Lee went off to who knows where.
"Why does she pick now of all times to take some time off?"
"Like I have told you before. Lee is... Lee."
"I just don't get it. We have all worked long, long hours to get here; and she most of all. Now that we have arrived, she goes off to..."
Riley found herself unable to finish the sentence. She had no idea where Lee was off to.
"I wouldn't worry about it. This is just one of Lee's silly habits. She told me once that she was a behind the scenes kind of person. She doesn't mind being in the thick of things making sure that everything is done right, she just doesn't like being in the spotlight. It has always been this way. She gets the project done, and then pushes me toward the front to shake hands and play nice. If I didn't know better I would say she was shy, but we both know that isn't true. I can only guess that she really just doesn't like to be the center of attention. Can't blame her, neither do I. But since she does most of the heavy lifting at home, I take care of this for her."
Nodding, the pair went on their way.
As for Lee, she hailed a taxi that took her downtown to the park. In the field were a bunch young adults playing soccer. Stepping out of the vehicle, one of the players came towards her.
"Back for more are you?"
"Well you said you wanted a rematch."
"You don't honestly think you can win twice?"
Lee smiled and the young woman laughed.
"Ah the audacity. Well come on then."
Lee stepped onto the field, "Do me a favor, try not to tackle me every chance you get. My colleagues think I have lost my mind."
A twinkle in the young woman's eye, "I promise, you will leave just as clean as a whistle."
Lee smiled at the comment, but in the back of her mind she could tell that the young soccer player was up to something.
It was not long before Ms. Silverman was showing Riley and Anne the different centers.
"This is one of our creative arts centers," Ms. Silverman spoke, showing the pair around.
"Young people from all over the city come here. They average about nine plays a year. As I am sure you can appreciate Ms. Shelton, that is some serious work these guys put in."
"No kidding. Wow. So what are you working on now?"
One of the children spoke up, "Hamlet. Ms. Eddie likes the classics."
Ms. Eddie was in charge of the center. Just one more way to keep kids off the streets and into something better.
"Oh yea. And who is who?" Riley asked.
The crowd went on and even began reciting scenes from the play. Both Anne and Riley were entertained. These were good kids.
After visiting a couple of youth groups, Ms. Silverman took Riley and Anne to some shelters. Handing out business cards and such, the pair did their best to make their presence known. There was still so much work to be done.
One day at a time.
Heading back to the hotel around seven p.m. the two decided to grab drinks before dinner.
Looking at Riley, Anne pulled out her cell phone.
"Did I say anything?"
"You were pouting."
"I don't pout."
Holding the phone to her ear, she began to hear it ring.
"Right, so you looking towards the elevator and the door for every sip you take does not count as pouting?"
"I am just enjoying the view."
"Of the elevator?"
"No, the ambience of the hotel."
"She isn't..." Anne stopped in mid-sentence as she looked towards the doorway.
Following Anne's line of sight, Riley saw Lee enter the hotel. She was sopping wet. Every step she took left a small trail of water behind her.
"Hey Lee," Anne called out. "I was just trying to call you."
Not sure whether she should make a clean break for the elevator or head over to her friends, she decided on the latter.
Riley had a halfway amused, halfway, I don't know what to make of you right this minute, look on her face.
In the end she asked, "Making more friends I take it."
Lee opened her mouth to answer and then promptly shut it. After her narrow victory, the team decided to throw a bucket of water over her to wash away the dirt.
Well she did promise I would leave clean.
At this moment, however, she was not sure how to explain her appearance. Instead, she scratched the side of her head and nodded with a smile.
"I'm just gonna..." Lee pointed towards the elevator. "Right. Have a good evening."
Making her escape, Lee headed up to her room leaving her colleagues to their meal.
"Lee" Riley finished.
Chapter 3: Don't You Trust Me?
Day four. It was the final day of the trip.
Finally, thought Riley.
She was beginning to wonder if she would ever have a reprieve. The people were wonderful, but this entire trip was geared toward the press. Everything was a stage. She was beginning to think Lee had the right idea in hiding from the press. No wonder she made Anne the face of the company. Having this much attention could be nerve racking. This morning, however, was their final morning for the trip. Their plane left in five hours and then it was back home to New Zealand . Riley couldn't wait. Still, she thought it would be a shame to be put up in such a grand hotel and never see the beach. Anne had a different opinion. She was sleeping in.
Reaching the beach, the sand was an incredible white. The ocean had shades of every color blue you could think of. In some areas it was green, giving the waters a turquoise aura. Such a beautiful area. Kids were playing in the shallow end of the water and all the vendors were certainly making their fair share of money. It was quite the experience, but similar to New Zealand . Everywhere you looked was the model of beauty.
As she let her eyes roam along the beach, it seemed inevitable that she should stumble upon Lee. Feet bare, hair done up in its regular twist, a long flowing silver skirt, and a simple cotton top. Gazing at the sight, she watched as the waves crashed over Lee's feet, Lee bending down to touch the foam as it rose up to meet her. She wore a smile in that moment that could have melted the polar caps in Antarctica .
Lee knew that she had several eyes on her. She could always feel when she was being watched. She could feel every movement behind her without having to confirm with her eyes, yet another remnant of The Order's training. In some ways she valued this training; in others, she knew it would mean she would never be free.
It was then that she felt it. Like a warm breeze drifting across her, she knew Riley was there. Lifting her gaze, she searched the beach until she came across the most stunning pair of eyes she had ever witnessed. Eyes that would rival the view of the ocean. Every day she felt the connection between them grow stronger. In this moment, she thought it almost palpable. Despite herself, she continued to stare back; afraid that if she lost sight for even a moment, the very sun would fade and all the earth's warmth leave her.
Unable to endure the distance any longer, Riley rose to walk towards Lee. Lee stood at her approach.
"Help! Someone please, my son."
A woman pointed towards the ocean. Lee's eyes followed in the direction of her call. At the end of her view she saw a young boy floating face down in the water. The life guard on duty began plummeting toward the ocean, ready to dive in. At the very last moment, the second life guard stopped him.
" Davie , stop!" he yelled.
Taking the warning, he abruptly came to a halt. These waters were filled with all kinds of sea monsters; sea wasps, great white sharks, blue ring octopus, and the taipan snake to name a few. He would be foolish to jump in should one of these creatures be swimming nearby.
The other life guard made his was to Davie , the mother still in frantic.
"Please, please, I can't swim. Someone, please help my son."
Davie took the binoculars. A swarm of box jellyfish surrounded the boy. A box jelly's sting can penetrate even the thickest of wet suits. Davie was no fool, he knew that by going in to save the boy he would be stung. A large envenomation can kill an adult male within three minutes. Most people drown before they make it back to shore. The fact that the boy was floating face down was a clear indication that these marine animals were in a frightful mood.
"Sea wasps," he whispered. Looking at the mother, "I'm sorry."
By this time crowds of people were hurtling themselves out of the ocean to stave off the marine creatures; all save one.
Lee barreled toward the ocean diving in. She heard the lifeguard whisper of sea wasps in the ocean, but she was determined to save the boy. Being Irish, all she could hope for was that the envenomation wouldn't kill her before she reached back to shore. If she could only reach the shore there was an antidote. She had seen it used before on the beaches of New Zealand . Lifeguards kept it on hand.
Just before she hit the water, she heard one last shout, "Wait!"
Lee swam with all the strength she had. Reaching the boy, she turned him over and cupped one hand on his chin to keep his head above water. As quickly as possible, she made her way back to the beach. A few more feet and she would be able to reach the bottom. It was then that she felt it. The stinging tentacles of the sea wasp wrapped tightly along the her left thigh and the lower part of her waist. Her body felt as though it were on fire. Despite the intense pain, she continued on until her feet touched the bottom. Realizing that the meal was too large to consume, the box jelly let go of its prey. With great effort she walked to the shore, the lifeguard meeting her at the edge. The first thing he did was douse herself and the boy with vinegar. This would stop any other tentacles from firing should they remain on the skin.
Laying the boy on the ground she began CPR as the Davie began fumbling with the antivenom.
A grave look on his face.
"I only have enough for one shot."
"Prepare it," was all Lee said, blowing life back into the boy.
Davie fumbled with the needle and finally prepared the dosage. He bent down, not sure who to stick it in.
The mother was kneeling next to her son, "Please don't let him die."
The lifeguard moved towards Lee.
"What are you doing?" Lee questioned.
"It is too late for him. But you..."
Lee watched as Davie brought the syringe to her arm. The heaviness in her chest becoming burdensome, the pain throughout her body felt as though every nerve ending were on fire. The mother was sobbing in the background.
"No, no, not my son!"
Looking down at the boy, she continued to give chest compressions. Just as Davie was about to inject the antivenom in her, she grabbed him by the wrist and took the syringe out of his hand, injecting the boy instead. Continuing her ministrations, she blew more air into the boys lungs. She repeated the cycle of compressions twice more when Davie put his hand on her shoulder.
Sitting back, she looked at the boy.
"No," Lee whispered.
"You did everything you could. We need to get you to the hospital now."
"No!" she said with vehemence.
Beginning the cycle of compressions again, she blew more air into his mouth. When she could take no more, she moved towards his stomach. Maybe he has too much water in his lungs. She began, performing the Heimlich maneuver to her victim, hoping to get his body to respond. If she could get him to regurgitate the water, he could breathe. There was just too much water. Back and forth she went between pounding now on his chest and trying to make the boy vomit. Finally the boy twitched. She pressed hard on his stomach twice more. It looked as if the boy was going into a seizure.
Better than laying dead.
Turning him to his side, she pounded on his back and the boy coughed out the water and vomited up all the contents of his stomach. Immediately the boy clenched his midsection. He was in pain, but alive.
Hearing the blare of the ambulance, Lee stood. Seeing that she could do no more for the boy, she began back towards her room.
"Wait," Davie called out. "You need a hospital."
Riley stepped in her path.
"Where are you going? We need to get you to a hospital Lee."
"I'm fine," Lee said, side stepping Riley.
Riley could not believe the sight that just took place before her. Lee had saved the boys life. She had seen a box jelly sting before. She couldn't believe Lee was standing, let alone able to perform CPR.
Running to catch Lee, "Lee. Please," she tried grasping Lee's arm.
Lee pulled away harshly. Looking back towards the hotel, she began moving forward. The dizziness clouding her balance, she stumbled a bit. Catching herself, she continued on.
"I'm not going to the hospital."
Making her way through the entrance she came upon the elevators. Just a few more meters and she would be safely in her room.
Following Lee into the lift, she tried once more to convince Lee.
"I'm not going to the hospital." The look in her eyes was that of finality.
As they entered Lee's hotel room, Riley tried to understand what caused Lee's hesitance, but nothing came to her. It was not hard to see that Lee was in pain. Riley had another idea. Pulling out her cell phone she dialed Dr. Mike's number. Explaining the situation, all she had to do was wait. He would be here soon. Looking towards Lee again, she could only hope it was not too late.
A knock at the door heralded Dr. Mike's arrival. As he stepped in the room, he saw Lee sitting on the bed looking over the paper. He looked towards Riley. Riley just stared back over at him. The expression on her face was that she didn't know what to do. She looked over towards Lee just baffled that Lee sat so calmly reading the newspaper. The only indication that Lee had been stung was that her tanned skin was a decidedly pale color. Part of the reason no one questioned that Lee was American was due to her skin tone. Most Irish are pale as a matter of genetics. Lee had told her once that her father was Italian, she could only imagine that is where her olive tones came from. At this moment, however, she was as white as a ghost. Immediately, Dr. Mike moved towards Lee at the bed.
"Dr. Mike. Good to see you," she said dropping the newspaper. "I trust you found your way without too much trouble."
Taking out the syringe, he injected Lee with the antivenom.
He could not believe how calm she was being about all this. He had been a doctor for nearly fifteen years and every sting case that came by him, the patients were screaming in pain. Even with the antivenom, the symptoms normally did not subside until about two weeks later. The quicker the antivenom was in place, the symptoms lessened, but were never absent. And according to the patients, pain killers barely touched the pain. Current research shows that the amount of pain killers it would take to stop the pain would kill the patient before it was ever effective. The only true cure was time. The body had to heal. It took him twenty minutes to reach the hotel. From Riley's explanation, it must have taken at least ten minutes on the beach. That means that the poison had a good amount of time to travel through her entire circulatory system. She should be in agony.
"May I examine the sting site?" The only explanation could be that she was not stung harshly. He had to be sure.
Her eyes moved toward Riley. Riley was just perched to the side of the bed.
"Will you excuse us a moment," he asked.
A bit hurt at being asked to leave, Riley smiled gently and made her way toward the kitchenette. Removing the covers, Lee pulled up her skirt to show him the envenomation site. Lee had deep lines where the tentacles had taken hold. One line started from her side and went to the middle of her lower back. Another line went down the front of her body over her hip bone, stopping shy of her pelvis. The third line strayed diagonally down to the bottom of her cheek. Two more lines wrapped around her thigh. This was no small envenomation. Dr. Mike was surprised she was still breathing. Looking up into Lee's eyes, there was no small hint of worry.
"Lee you need a hospital."
"Lee, you could go into cardiac arrest. The chances of surviving are much higher at a hospital."
"I'm not going to a hospital."
Not understanding her hesitation, "Why?"
"And what will you do for me there?"
"We will hook you up to a saline drip. Monitor your heart rate. Start you on morphine."
"I see. If you are worried about my fluids, I promise to drink lots of water. As far as the morphine, I have heard that it does little to nothing in cases like these. As you can see, I am managing the pain on my own. As for my heart rate. I promise you doctor, no damn fish will be the end of me."
The hint of feistiness gave him a small hope, but he not enough to quell his concerns.
"Still, I think..."
"Tell me something. This venom has made its way through my system by now has it not?"
"So in reality, if my heart stops, there will be very little you can do to prevent my dying. Am I wrong?"
She wasn't. If the damage to her heart was too great, it did not matter what they did. She would still die. He shook his head.
"So tell me. If you had the choice of where you wanted to be when all this takes place, would you chose an uncomfortable hospital bed with nurses badgering you every hour on the hour, or a plush five star hotel with room service and a king size bed with a pillow top mattress?"
He did his best to find a flaw in the argument but found none. She was right. Still he had to try.
"But we could monitor your condition there whereas we could not here."
"Monitor my condition. Well that is simple enough. I was stung by a box jelly. The venom has passed through my circulatory system. The antivenom was administered, although granted, not in the most timeliness of manners. My fault. My pulse is racing, my nerve endings feel as though they are on fire, my head is pounding, and I feel rather cold which can only suggest I have a fever. Beyond that, I am sure my blood pressure is far too high due to the strain my body is undergoing. I don't think I have left anything out. Have I?"
"I am worried as time goes on, especially in the next few days, the pain will become even worse than it is now. And your fever will spike dangerously high. You could begin to hallucinate."
"Well, the first cannot be helped either in a hospital or here. As for the second, I will be sure to take Tylenol and cold baths."
"Is there any way I can change your mind?"
Shaking her head, "No."
"Then I will stay, look after you."
"And all the patients in your clinic?"
"There are nurses on duty. Right now, I am needed here."
"So you can sit and stare at me. No. Go where you are needed, where you can help. There is nothing you can do for me here."
"You shouldn't be alone Lee. You may.."
"I will be sure and call if I need you."
"You may not be able to."
"Doctor. Go back to your clinic. You and I both know that there isn't a thing you can do."
She was right. He just couldn't bear to leave her.
As if reading his thoughts, "Besides, I'm sure Riley will stay."
Uncomfortable with leaving, but knowing that his patients at the clinic needed him also, he turned looking toward Riley and acquiesced. Reaching into his bag, "I'm not sure this matters to you right now," he handed her a small pouch of medical supplies. "Supposedly, it helps decrease scarring."
"Thank you doctor."
He nods, takes one last look at her, and then heads towards the kitchenette.
"So, is she going to the hospital," Riley asked.
"She has refused patient care."
Frustration clouding her features.
"Well to hell with that. Call an ambulance on your way out."
"She has a right to refuse care Riley."
Looking over Dr. Mike's shoulder towards Lee, "Well, she is still talking, functioning. How bad is it?"
The expression on Dr. Mike's face fell. "You should stay nearby."
The graveness in his voice sent a chill up her spine.
"She is going to be alright isn't she?"
"If she falls unconscious and you cannot wake her. Call an ambulance immediately. I think... I think if she makes it through the first seventy-two hours she will be ok."
"Has refused medical care at this time," Dr. Mike finished. "She wants me to go back to the clinic."
"Surely you can stay. What if something goes wrong?"
"I think you should discuss this with her. I am only a phone call away."
Taking one last look at Lee, he turned and left.
"Why are you being so stubborn?"
"Like I told him, if I have a choice on where I'm staying, I would rather stay in the comfort of a five star hotel than that of a lumpy hospital bed."
"Damn it Lee. To hell with this."
Reaching for her phone, Lee spoke up to stop her.
"If you call an ambulance, I will walk out that door. I am not going to a hospital. As you can imagine, moving around like that would be detrimental to my well being. I would prefer to stay here. Please hang up the phone."
"Why? Why are you doing this? What is it about hospitals you hate so much?"
"People die in them."
It was said so matter of factly, that Riley flinched.
Another knock at the door. Looking for Lee's permission, she answered it.
"Lee, are you ready to... What's wrong with you? You are white as a sheet."
"Food poisoning I'm afraid. I don't think I will make the flight tonight. No need for two of us to be sick." She said the last bit with humor.
"Oh. Ok. Well I will just cancel the flights and we can leave in a couple days."
"Don't be silly. Go on back. I'm sure your family misses you. Besides, we have been away long enough. Someone needs to run the business. Honestly, I'll be right behind you."
Anne turned to Riley. Anne was a bit leery from the look on Riley's face.
"What about you?"
"I think I will stay also. Keep an eye on her."
"Are you two sure everything is alright?"
"Of course," Lee answered. "Tell your family I said thanks for letting me borrow you for the last week."
Walking back towards the door, "Call me if you need anything."
"Thanks Anne," Lee answered.
She felt a bit odd about leaving by herself, she supposed if Riley was staying, it would be alright. Gathering her bags, she left for the airport.
"You know, you don't have to stay either. I'm just going to sit here for the next few days."
"I'm not leaving."
"Look. I don't want to be rude, but I would rather not be stared at. So why don't you tell Anne you changed your mind. I promise, I will be back soon."
"I'm not leaving."
The words were said with such decisiveness that Lee tried another approach.
"Well if you are staying we might as well get some work done. Do you have Charlie's proposals?"
"In my room."
Lee nodded. Heading for the door, Riley stopped with her hand clutching the handle.
"Where's your key card?"
"Your key card. So I can get back in," she smiled sweetly.
"Don't you trust me?"
Taking her hand off the door, she turned around and leaned against it.
"Let's make a deal shall we? I don't call an ambulance as long as I get to stay."
"I don't want you here."
The words cut at Riley. On the beach she was so certain of the bond between them. Now, the distance was growing at an exponential pace.
"As you wish," she reached for her cell phone.
Knowing that she did not have the energy to run, "Stop."
"Your key card."
Sighing, she handed over the card.
Chapter 4: Look it's a Sandpiper
"Hello. My name is Hunter. How are you feeling?"
Lee looked up to her captor. Her face was covered in bruises. The amount of effort she put in to breathing meant only one thing; she had several broken ribs. The room she was in was small. There were large windows to her right and only one door. It looked like an office of a factory; most likely abandoned. The place smelled of metal piping and paint.
Wrapping his fingers around her chin, he moved Lee's head back and forth, appraising his target.
"You know, when my people first told me of you, I could scarcely believe it. How does someone so young attain such a place of power? What do you think, Jamison?"
He was speaking to the man behind him. Jamison stood, binding a bandage around his hand. He had been beating Lee for the last hour. His knuckles had grown raw at the attention he afforded her.
"I think she looks like she is ten."
Hunter laughed, "How old are you?"
"Eleven." Lee replied.
Scratching the side of his face, "Eleven huh. And how does an eleven year old attain such a high status?"
"By outwitting people like you."
Jamison reached back to slap Lee again but Hunter intercepted his path.
"She is no good to us unconscious."
Pulling up a chair, he sat down next to her, straddling the seat.
"So, tell me about The Order."
Raising her chin to meet his own, Hunter saw nothing but defiance in her eyes.
"Jamison, see to it she stays awake." A devilish grin ran across his features. "Break her fingers."
Lee was lying in bed clutching the sheets. Every so often, her body would jerk. Worried, Riley began calling her name.
"Lee, wake up."
Lee's twitches were becoming more powerful. Unable to wake her with mere words, Riley sat on the side of the bed.
Leaning over her, "Lee, Lee," she began shaking Lee's shoulders gently. "Lee wake up."
"What is the location of The Order? What defenses are in place? Give me the whereabouts of the leaders!"
Blood was dripping down her nose. All of her fingers were broken. Unable to break her, Jamison went back to beating her senseless. She wanted to defend herself, fight back, anything, but she was bound to the chair.
"Give me the location!"
Reaching for the knife, Hunter approached her. A feral grin covering his features.
"This is going to hurt," the calmness in his voice eerily betraying his actions.
Pressing the knife to her skin...
Jumping to alertness, Lee grabbed Riley by her forearms rolling her over to efficiently pin her to the bed.
Startled by the turn in events, Riley simply waited for Lee to come back to herself.
As the dream ended and the cloudiness of her mind turned clear, "What are you doing?"
"You were having a nightmare. I was trying to wake you."
"Don't touch me while I sleep."
Unsure of how to answer. Lee had fallen asleep while they were working. She had no intention of touching Lee, but then she began dreaming. Rolling off Riley, Lee pulled the covers toward her.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you. I was trying to help."
"I don't need your help," Lee answered gruffly. She did not mean to answer so rudely, but her dream was yet bothering her. It was not often that she dreamt of people torturing her. In fact, it happened quite rarely. When it did, however, she was quite likely to awaken aggressively. It was not by choice, it was instinct.
Riley rose from the bed and went back to her chair. She sat staring at Lee a moment. Lee was drenched in sweat. Her hair was disheveled. Her tanned skin still as pale as the sheets. When she gripped the sheets to herself, her knuckles were white. She was in such pain.
Lee wiped the sweat from her brow. Her head felt as though someone had taken the liberty of smashing it with a bolder it was throbbing so violently. Feeling Riley's eyes on her,
All Riley wanted to do was take the pain away. Knowing that she couldn't, "Would you like some water?"
Lee's stomach felt it knots. She knew that anything she put down at this moment was likely to come back up.
Looking towards the nightstand, she found the papers she had been working on earlier. Riley must have moved them there when she had fallen asleep. It felt awkward to have someone watching her when she slept. It gave her a sense of vulnerability, something she hated. Despite her lack of comfort she set her mind back to the task of her paperwork.
So much to do.
Seeing Lee take hold of the papers, "I think you should rest Lee."
Ignoring the remark, "I need to send Charlie our response to his proposals."
"I took care of it already."
Lee nodded. "And Ms. Silverman. Has she secured the funding from the government?"
"She has it, it will just take time to disperse. Governments are slow."
Lee continued to keep a vice grip on the sheet.
"Lee, you need to rest."
"What I need is to focus on these contracts. The sooner they go through, the better."
Riley was frustrated. If Lee was going to get better, she needed to rest. All this moving about and working was going to make her even more sick.
"Anne and I will look after those, you need to relax."
Lee was frustrated as well. Pulling herself up to recline against the headboard, she pulled her legs towards her chest to rest the documents on her knees.
Wiping her hand across her mouth, "What?"
Taking a deep breath to even her tone, "You need to rest."
"Yes I heard you. Thank you, but I'm fine. However, if you're tired perhaps you should go back to your room to rest. At the moment, I am quite busy."
Lee returned her attention to the documents.
"You are not fine!"
Lee ignored her.
"What Riley? What? What do you want from me? Would it make you feel better if I sat and moaned in pain? If I curled up into a ball and shut out the world because I don't feel well? There are far too many people who are waiting on us to keep our promises. Would you like to be the one to tell someone, sorry we couldn't help simply because I have a headache?"
"More than I would enjoy watching your heart stop because you put too much strain on your body."
Two emotions passed through Lee, gratefulness and frustration. She was grateful that someone valued her so much and frustrated that she would not let the argument go. Tempering her frustration,
"I am many things Riley. I have never been weak."
Weak? What the hell does that mean?
"I didn't say you were weak. I'm saying you are sick."
"I'm not sick."
"Are you not? So the fact that you are drenched in sweat with skin the color of milk means nothing. Not to mention the fact that you have brand new scars on your legs to prove it."
"I have told you before and I will tell you again, no damn fish will be the end of me."
"It was a sea wasp."
"A fish is a fish."
"Damn it Lee. Sea wasps are not like other jellyfish. Hell they aren't even jellyfish at all. They can be lethal and you are just sitting here as though someone bumped you in the hall."
"Does it swim?"
The annoyed look on Riley's face was near a brim.
"Then it is a fish."
Riley bit the inside of her cheek to keep from cursing a blue streak.
"Can we get back to work now?" Lee asked lifting her papers into Riley's view.
Riley looked down at her phone. It had been six hours since Lee was stung.
Sixty-six to go. For now, she would let the argument go.
The way a body deals with pain is quite interesting. Pain is good. It tells a person when something is wrong. It causes a person to quit an action that is harmful to the person as a whole. However, when pain is overwhelming, it causes a person to lose consciousness; to sleep. Unfortunate for Lee.
Hunter stood above Lee, setting up an iv drip. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a pair of glasses. Lee wondered if he was farsighted or if they were just reading glasses. An odd thing to wonder, as he was most decidedly setting up a new form of torture.
"This is a saline drip; .9% NaCl. In itself, it is unobtrusive to the human body. I could drip this into you all day without any effect. Pulling out a small bottle, he filled a syringe with a green liquid."
Lee looked at the syringe. The color was near an leafy green. It was a nice color.
"Alonzopene." He said as he neared Lee. Pointing to the various points on her body, "Fascinating drug. You see Shoshanna, this drug reacts with the nerve endings in the body, unrestricting the pain sensors to absorbing the toxic component of this drug. I have heard it is excruciating." Flicking the syringe to remove any air bubbles, the last thing he needed was for Lee to have an pulmonary embolism. "The doctors tell me, that the body can only withstand so much pain before a person loses consciousness. As we can't have that, I've made a special concoction just for you. One that is mixed with adrenaline to keep you awake." Smiling in her direction just before he inserted the syringe into the iv drip, "I wouldn't want you to miss anything."
The effects of the toxin were quick. It was all Lee could do not to scream out in pain. Squatting in front of Lee, he watched in perverse pleasure as the toxin took hold. Gritting her teeth, no, she would not break.
After another hour of interrogation, he pulled up his stool.
"I want you to know, I hold you in the highest respect. I have seen grown men grovel after the beating. But not you. Such loyalty for someone so young."
The strain on Lee's person was apparent. He held the syringe in front of her for her to see. Suddenly, he flicked it away.
"They tell me, if I give you anymore, it will kill you."
Lee continued to grip the chair. A side effect of the toxin as it were, was the tensing of muscles. With the amount of saturation her body absorbed, she felt as though every muscle in her body was held tight. She feared to move in case she might tear one.
Leaning in close to her ear, "What game shall we play now?"
"Lee wake up. Lee!"
Opening her eyes, once again Lee found herself firmly atop Riley.
Annoyed, "What part of don't touch me while I'm sleeping did you misunderstand."
"You were having a nightmare."
"And I thought it best to wake you," Riley answered as she went back to her chair. Grabbing her blanket she leaned back to rest. Before she closed her eyes, she looked at her watch. It had been fourteen hours now. She was so tired. She had just fallen asleep when Lee had started turning.
Lee noticed the circles under Riley's eyes. Trying her best not to argue, she reached to turn off the lamp.
"Leave it on," Riley called out.
If Lee needed anything, Riley wanted to be sure she could see her. Rolling away from the lamp, Lee closed her eyes.
"Shoshanna. Why this is some file you have here. Pages upon pages about you. Funny, it doesn't seem to have your full name."
"Shoshanna is my name."
"What is your last name?"
Her eyes were that of daggers. Knowing he was not about to get an answer he continued.
"It says here that you were taken when you were five years old. Is that true?"
Lee just continued to stare. She would not give any information away.
"It says your IQ is off the charts. A resident genius," he looked towards Jamison and laughed. "It also says your suffer from dreams, nightmares."
Defiance laid in her eyes. Hunter approached Lee. Standing but a breath away,
"Tell me, Shoshanna, what is a small girl like you frightened of."
When her vision became clear again, she found Riley pinned beneath her with her arms above her head. Lee sighed and rolled to her side. Patiently Riley stood and went back to her chair.
Do you always have nightmares like this? Riley wanted to ask, but the question never formed on her tongue.
"I don't suppose repeating my request that you not touch me while I sleep will do any good?"
Riley ignored Lee's question and began fumbling through a book. The pages were worn from the attention she afforded it. She must have read this book a dozen times. It always made her smile.
Lee noticed, but was not about to intrude. Instead, Lee opted to try some of Dr. Mike's ointment. She was not a vane person, but she would not mind to have the scars lessened if possible. Opening the pouch, she found the ointment, some gauze, and a thermometer. A shiver ran up her spine. Placing the thermometer under her tongue, she waited for it to finish analyzing. When the thermometer beeped, she read the temperature; 105.6 F.
Well that's not good.
Part of her training included anatomy. She had to know the strongest and weakest parts of the body; how it could be affected and the like. She knew that a fever that high was dangerous.
"What was it?" Riley interrupted her thoughts.
Lee was frustrated from being watched. Normally Riley's gaze did not bother her, but it was different in this instance. Gathering her strength, she pushed her legs over the side of the bed in preparation to stand. At once, Riley was at her side. Lee held her hand up to stop her.
Once again Riley found herself biting the inside of her cheek. It had been a long time since she wanted to curse this badly. When she realized Lee was not heading towards the bathroom, she asked,
"Where do you think you are going?"
"I need some ice."
"I'll get it. Do you want some tea? Juice?"
"No. I need a bag of ice."
Trying to step around Riley, Lee's infirmity was taking the edge off her quickness. Riley easily cut off her exit.
"I can get the ice."
"So can I," Riley countered.
Not having the energy to argue, Lee headed for the bathroom. It was not long before Riley came back. While she was gone, Lee ran water for a bath. Calling Riley in, she took the bag from her and poured it into the water. Riley looked mortified. Surely she wasn't going to get in.
"Do you mind?"
"You aren't going to get in the water are you? That can't be a good idea."
"My fever is too high. I need to bring it down."
"Shouldn't we get a fan or something?"
"I can't wait that long."
Riley still wasn't leaving.
"Lee I don't think..."
"My fever is 105.6. At 106 the disulfide bonds in my brain will begin to break apart most likely leading to internal bleeding, aneurisms, and death. An outcome I believe you were not in favor of."
"But surely there is a better way than..." she pointed towards the ice bath. "You body has enough stress without sitting in there."
"I need my temperature down now. Anything else will take too long."
Not being a doctor, "Alright."
When Riley did not move to leave, "I prefer to bathe in private."
"What if something goes wrong?"
"Nothing is going to happen except my fever will come down."
"I will call you if I need you."
Unhappily, Riley left the room keeping the door slightly ajar. Slowly Lee began to undress. Preparing herself mentally, she lowered herself into the bath. If she didn't know better she would have swore she had been stuck with thousands of needles. Taking in a breath, she lowered herself in up to her neck. Her fever had to come down.
In the meantime, Riley sat fumbling with her papers. She couldn't concentrate. Why was Lee being so stubborn? She just didn't understand. All she was trying to do was help and she was met with resistance and coldness at every turn. Looking at her watch. Twenty-two hours. She had hoped Dr. Mike was right. If Lee could just make it through the first seventy-two hours, she would be alright. The situation, however, was wrecking havoc on her emotions. She only hoped she could help Lee through the next two days without killing her first. After looking at the papers for the umpteenth time, she glanced at her watch. Half an hour had passed. Surely that was long enough.
Knocking on the door, "Lee?"
When she heard no answer, she slowly entered.
"Lee!" she cried out.
Lee was sprawled out on the floor shivering. She had a towel pulled over her up to her shoulders. Riley was at her side immediately.
"Lee, Lee what happened?"
Lee pushed at Riley's probing hands.
"You are not fine!"
"I am," she argued, pulling herself up to sit against the wall.
Riley had had enough of Lee's attitude.
"I'm trying to help you."
"I don't need or want your help," she answered through chattering teeth.
"Well tough luck because I'm all you have."
"The entrance is through the door on the left."
Biting her tongue.
"Why won't you let me help you?"
"Because I don't need your help, nor anyone else's help for that matter."
"You could die Lee."
Sighing, "For the last time, no damn fish will be the end of me."
"Damn it Lee, why are you being so difficult?"
"What the hell does that mean?"
"It means I am a proud woman who would rather risk death than ask for help."
"That isn't pride, that is foolishness!"
"So be it."
Angered, Riley walked out of the room to retrieve some new clothes for Lee. Entering the loo, she laid them on the sink in front of her.
"May I please help you?"
She thought about saying to hell with it and doing what she wanted, but somehow she knew that such an action would have ended badly. She could not force Lee to let her help no matter how much she wanted to. Leaving the room, she went back to her chair and began working.
For a moment, Lee thought Riley was going to throw the clothes at her. In some ways she wished she would have. It would have saved her the energy of having to scoot over to the sink. Slowly but surely she received the clothes. Unfortunately, the cold water did not help her muscles. Instead, her whole body was tight from the shivering. Trying to stand, she ungracefully plummeted back to the floor. She tried a few more times with no change in result. Her muscles had grown quite uncooperative throughout the ordeal. She imagined that a few hours sleep would help, but laying against the cold tile probably wasn't helping. She would simply have to wait until her muscles warmed up a bit.
After another hour had passed and Riley had let her emotions cool off, she decided to check on Lee. She was going to check earlier, but she heard Lee fumbling about in the washroom and decided to give her some space. An hour though was becoming a bit much.
Knocking on the door, "Surely you can think of a better way to avoid me than hiding in the loo."
"Nothing comes to mind."
Breathe. Just Breathe.
"Surely the bed would be more comfortable than tile."
"Hard surfaces are supposedly good for your back."
Entering, Riley peaked in. Lee was sitting next to the sink, her knees bent towards her chest.
"Well I don't know who told you that, but they have obviously never been to this hotel. King size bed. Double pillow top. Egyptian cotton sheets."
Despite the pain she was in, Lee chuckled. "Perhaps not."
"Come one Lee. You aren't really going to sit here all day are you?"
"Thought about it."
"Not a good idea."
"And why is that?"
"Because if you think I am a nag about trying to help you, can you imagine how I would be about leaving you on a cold tile floor?"
"It might keep down the fever," she answered logically.
Biting the inside of her cheek, "Have I done something to offend you?"
"Then what is it? Surely you can't attribute this all to being a terrible patient."
"I would have to be in a hospital to be a patient."
Her irritation rising, Riley scratched the side of her head.
"Please get back in the bed."
Truth be told, that is exactly where Lee would have liked to have been, she just couldn't manage to get to her feet at the moment.
"Are you hungry?"
"Are you hungry?"
"Alright. What do you want?"
Shaking her head, "Fine, but let's get you back in the bed first."
"I think I will sit here for a moment. Tell you what, you go get the food, and I will be in bed by the time you get back."
"Or I could see you safely back to bed and then get the food."
Smiling, "I insist."
"Please just go get the food."
"Please get in bed."
"I will once you've gone."
Riley sat on the side of the tub, placing her hand on the underside of her chin.
"Because I asked you to."
Riley continued to stare at her. That was not the real answer. She wasn't moving till she got it.
"Why do you want me to leave so bad?
"Look. Just go get the food."
"Just as soon as you get in bed. Promise."
Fed up, she answered truthfully, "Because I don't want you to see me crawl."
Riley's stomach dropped.
"You would rather crawl than let me help you?"
"Once again, I don't need help."
"You know, I remember a time when we were good friends. It wasn't so long ago really. We went out to eat, shopping, drinking. I don't... I don't understand."
Lee was frustrated to her core. Why couldn't she understand? In Lee's world, people who needed help were either dead or dying. The Order did not tolerate the weak. They were weeded out quickly and without remorse.
"Honestly. Honestly, I never expected to see you again."
"That's not true. We were going to get dinner."
"No, we weren't."
"Yes we were. I asked you to dinner and you said yes."
"I know what I said. But no. I...no."
Riley looked confused. Why in the hell was Lee acting like this? They had spent the entire weekend together. They had fun. She was about to chalk the comment up to Lee being tired and grumpy when she looked in Lee's eyes. What she saw made her heart sank. She saw truth in the statement. In the blink of a moment, there was no more frustration or anger with Lee. There was no more bickering, she just felt, hurt.
Nodding her head, "Oatmeal," she whispered. "You would probably be able to keep that down."
Lee looked to her own lap. She was afraid to look in Riley's eyes. What she said was the truth, but not for the reasons Riley most undoubtedly was thinking. How could Riley know she was only trying to protect her.
Protect her from me.
Standing, Riley left to obtain the meal. Lee let out the breath she had been holding. Her chest was so heavy. Trying to breathe in was nearly as painful as her envenomation site. Gathering herself, she did as she always did; pull the pain inside and keep moving forward. Slowly she crawled toward the bed.
It was not long before Riley was back. She had an oatmeal for Lee, but nothing for herself. Handing the oatmeal to Lee, she went back to her paperwork. Lee didn't really feel like eating, she just wanted Riley out of the room for a few minutes. Not wanting to upset her anymore, she did her best to consume the meal. Finishing, she laid the bowl on the table.
"I think it would be better if you called someone else to sit with you."
The weight on her chest becoming burdensome.
"Had enough of me finally?"
Flexing the muscles in her hand, "Look, I have been trying to help you, but all I seem to do is provoke you. It might be better if you had someone here that you didn't mind helping you around."
Softening her tone, "You can leave anytime you like."
Laughing softly to herself and looking out the window, "Therein lies the problem. You see, I can't bring myself to leave you by yourself. So why don't you just call someone."
"Right, no I know. You keep telling me that. But I would feel better if someone stayed with you. I am sure Dr. Mike would look after you. Anne would come back if you asked. I don't know if you are seeing someone. Perhaps they would come. A family member."
"Dr. Mike is needed at the clinic and Anne has her own family to look after."
"For Christ sake Lee, just call someone. The flight from Ireland to here takes what, a day? I am certain someone would come. And I would be out of your hair."
"I don't have anyone."
"I don't have anyone," pulling the covers up to her waist, she rolled on her side away from Riley.
"You know, they traded you."
Lee looked up to Hunter.
"How do you think we knew your location? Don't you find it odd as mission profiler, you were they only one who was caught? What are the chances?"
Stooping down in front of Lee, he removed a tape recording. Listening to the feed, Eliane gave away Lee's location in exchange for Hunter's retreat.
"I commend your loyalty, however misguided it may be."
Laying the tape recorder on the table.
"We are going to find the location of The Order with or without your help. If you give us the location, I see no reason to keep you. As far as I am concerned, you could just disappear."
He leaned in to brush a lock of hair from her face.
"You don't have to die here today."
Looking up at Hunter, Lee weighed her options. How could Eliane do this? She knew that every life in The Order was expendable, but sitting here now, the realization of just exactly what that meant dawned on her. She was just another tool; another pawn to be played. One that was easily discarded. However, when she looked in Hunter's eyes, she knew that he would never let her live either. Her only choice in the matter was how she chose to leave this world; that is, will she break."
"Last chance," Hunter pulled out a gun. Cocking the piece, "Tell me the location of The Order."
Looking at the weapon, an overwhelming sadness overtook her. Every day she spent dreaming of what it would be like to be free again. She would never know. Aiming the weapon at the forefront of her head, Lee closed her eyes.
Lee sprung to a seated position clutching the sheet in her hand. Riley remained sitting in her chair, the look on her face was of pure worry. This was the first time she had not woken Lee from her dream. Looking at her expression now, she wished she had.
"Are you alright."
Lee nodded, laid down again, and faced away from Riley. Her body was still throbbing in pain.
Riley walked towards Lee, "You're sweating," she held out the thermometer.
She really wasn't in the mood to be bothered, but the worried expression that graced Riley's features changed her mind. Placing the thermometer under her tongue, she waited for the beep. Once again her temperature was above 105.
"I have to get some ice."
The resignation in Lee's voice scared Riley more than anything.
"I'll get it."
Carefully, Lee pushed her legs over the side of the bed. With effort she stood up, but at her first step she faltered. Quick to response, Riley caught her before she hit the ground. Using Riley for support, she straightened her posture before letting go. With as much dignity as she could muster, Lee very slowly put one foot in front of the other, determined to make it to the tub.
Riley returned in quick form with the ice. She bought two bags. She placed one in the mini freezer that was inside the room; just in case Lee might need it. As for the second, instead of handing it to Lee, she poured it in the tub herself. Lee looked at the water. From Riley's vantage, she thought Lee was trying to decide on whether she was going to get in. She supposed Lee came to some decision as she began to unbutton her shirt. Riley took her leave.
A half hour had passed since Lee went into the bath. She only hoped that Lee would not be sprawled on the floor again. The thought scared her to death. When she finally did have the courage to enter, what she saw was much worse. Lee was still in the bath tub, though she had managed to let the water out. The water was so cold that some of the ice still remained. Having managed to pull the towel from the rack, she was shivering violently, and her lips were beginning to take on a bluish color.
Rushing to Lee's aide, "Why didn't you call me?"
Lee smiled in jest, "Wasn't sure you would come."
Ignoring the response, she sat Lee up.
"You need to get out of this tub."
She stopped a moment when she pulled Lee forward. Lee had scars on her back. On her right shoulder blade and her right side, she had two circles. Deciding this was not the priority, she lifted Lee to the side of the tub. Unfortunately, Lee was not much help, and the best she could manage was to lay Lee on the floor.
"You feel so cold."
With chattering teeth, "Seems my body can't hold temperature one way or the other."
"Ok...Ok... Hold on, I will get a blanket."
Quickly Riley pulled the covers off the bed and brought them over to Lee. Wrapping her up, she began to rub circles over her arms in the hope that friction would help warm her. When she didn't seem to be getting better, she went back for the thermometer.
"Hypothermia," Lee whispered.
"I'll call an ambulance."
"Goddamn it Lee. Why not?"
"You gave me your word."
"Well I'm not about to let you die either."
"Keep me awake."
"Lee, I am not about to chance with your life. Keeping you awake will not help your temperature."
Shivering, Lee looked to Riley hoping that she would not call an ambulance. Trying to think of anything she could do to help Lee, the only thing she came up with lead back to an article she read in a backpacker's magazine. The article outlined several methods of survival techniques were you to find yourself in trouble.
"My skin." Flustered, "I read an article once that mentioned people using body heat to stay warm."
Lee knew it to be true, she simply would never ask. When Lee did not immediately object, Riley found the courage to look into her eyes.
Stuck between a rock and a hard place, if she rejected the idea which she wanted to do, she knew Riley would call an ambulance. If she allowed Riley to do it, then she would see.
"Not the hospital."
Slowly Riley undressed to her undergarments. Even in her state, Lee found it hard not to stare. Riley was beautiful. Slowly Riley reached for the covers. All through the ordeal, Lee had kept a vice grip on her towel. When she went to lift it off, she found resistance. Riley must have thought that she resisted because of the cool air.
"Just for a minute."
It was not the cool air that stayed Lee's hand. How would she explain it? Slowly Lee released her grip. When Riley pulled down the covers, what she saw gripped her. Lee had far more scars than that of the sea wasp. One graced her left shoulder. Another, much more deep lay across her left ribs. Her right shoulder, her waist above the hip, and both her legs held small circles. Deciding that this was not the time to ask, she covered Lee's body with her own. Immediately Lee felt the warmth penetrate her skin. Still she was very tired.
"Keep me awake."
"You want to talk about the contracts."
Lee laughed, "Awake" she reminded.
Riley smiled into Lee's ear.
"Ok. Uh... What do you like to do for fun?"
Of course. She knew that already.
"What's your favorite color?"
"Your favorite movie?"
Lee turned her eyes toward Riley. She was trained not give away such information. Profiles were made based on preferential choices. Such information, as unimportant as it sounds, could be her undoing.
"So you confide in me you're Irish, but I can't know your favorite color?"
Lee sighed, "I don't really have a favorite and I rarely watch movies."
"You listen to music, I've seen it in your plays."
"Ask me something else."
Trying to be a smart ass, "Sure, what is 756 divided by 32 times 366 plus 33 divided by 102."
"Is that order or by order of operation?"
Riley smiled. In that order is fine.
"85.0955882....How many decimals would you like?"
"Yea right," Riley laughed.
The seriousness on Lee's face made her wonder. Lee looked towards the sink. Her phone was laying on it. Quickly Riley reached for the phone and punched the numbers in the calculator.
"How did you do that?"
"I'm good with numbers."
"Can you do that with any numbers?"
"Is it just numbers or..."
"Anything math related really. That and I have a head like a sponge. Anything I read I remember."
"So you're a genius then."
"Depends on the definition."
"A humble genius."
Lee gave a mock glare.
"A pain in the ass, stubborn, willful to a fault genius."
Most people would look offended, but Lee maintained a proud look.
"What does that mean?"
"How did you expect me to be?"
"Ok, what else do you know?"
"Ok, how about, why is the sky blue?"
"Basically, the sun emits various colors of lights that our eyes are able to detect. Our atmosphere consists mainly of oxygen and nitrogen gas. When light reaches the atmosphere, it interacts with these gases and scatters the light. As the blue and violet wavelengths are generally close to the same size as the oxygen molecule, they scatter more widely than any other colors. Our eyes detect blue light better than violet and as such the sky looks blue."
"Uh huh. What is the tallest tree?"
"The Australian Eucalyptus."
"What is the largest animal?"
"The blue whale."
"How fast is the earth moving?"
"We are rotating at around the axis at 1,000 miles per hour, we are orbiting the sun at 67,000 miles per hour, and we are traveling the milky way galaxy at 490,000 miles per hour."
"The chicken or the egg?"
"Which came first? The chicken or the egg?"
"Scientifically. I would have to say that the egg came first. So you have a species of animal. During reproduction a mutation occurs causing the genetic code to be differentiated from the parent to a degree. A number of mutations later and you have a chicken. Therefore, the egg came first because the mutation was only present in the newly formed chicken and not the parent. As such it would be the first of its kind."
Trying to wrap her head around that explanation, "Do you ever get tired of being right?"
Lee shrugged, "I'm Irish."
"Do you know any Irish jokes?" Riley asked.
"So an Irishman walks out of a bar."
"Yea it's possible."
"That was terrible."
"What do you call and Irishman bouncing off the walls?"
Riley laughed, "Don't quit your day job."
Lee was still shivering, but not as violently as before. Reading the temperature on the thermometer.
"So when does hypothermia set in?"
"What is my temperature?"
"96.2, but I would feel better if we let it get back up to 98 before I move." Trying her luck, "So, uh...when is your next play?"
"We haven't set a day yet."
"I don't suppose you will tell me how it ends now?"
Thinking it over, "I'd bet money she lets Jacob live."
"Why do you say that?"
"Because, if you kill him, his story ends. And more, Shoshanna is a murderer."
"She is already a murderer. If she lets him live, he will become a murderer."
"Life means a chance for redemption."
"And you think everyone is capable of that?"
Riley nods, "Don't you?"
"I think some people are capable of it, others don't want it."
"Shoshanna is not the latter."
"What makes you say that?"
"Because if she was, it would not be a hard decision."
"The road to hell is paved with good intentions."
"And is the trip back not one of humility and forgiveness."
Taking her temperature again, it was 97.8.
"Let's get you off the floor and back to bed."
Lee took her hand and heaved herself up. Not the most graceful of elevations, but in her state it would have to do. Laying on the bed, Lee began to look at the email on her laptop. Riley was not happy about it, but at least she was in bed and not moving. After checking her email, she began working on a project. Riley had no idea what it was, but she figured it had nothing to do with work as she was not involved in any of the conversation. Normally, Lee would ask her input. As for Riley, she checked her email as well, but after a short time just began looking out the window. A bird flew by and landed on a nearby branch.
"Look, it's a sandpiper."
Lee looked out the window towards the bird and nodded.
"That little bugger traveled all the way from Asia to be here."
"Really? How do you know?"
"Part of my green stuff. One of the elements of our committee is responsible for the bio and eco diversity on our shores. One of the scientists led a discussion on the importance of our waterbirds."
Lee looked back towards the small creature. She had spent more than two years looking for Paul. The closest she had ever gotten was a tape recording of his voice. The recording had taken place outside. She had tried isolating the sounds in the background, trying to hear boats, water, trains, anything that could narrow the search. What if she needed to listen towards the wildlife. She could not remember hearing any animal calls, but she muted most of that out trying to listen to manmade devices. Could it be that simple? The recording was at her loft. She would have to wait.
"You alright?" Riley asked.
"Yea. No, I'm fine. Just thinking."
"You think you might be able to keep something down?"
Lee did not really feel like eating, her whole body was still throbbing with pain. Even the idea of food made her nauseous. Still, she knew Riley was right. She had to maintain her strength. It did not take long for Riley to fetch a meal. She brought a salad for herself and some oatmeal for Lee. It was all Lee could do to keep it down. After the meal, Lee went back to working. Despite the fact that Riley knew Lee should rest, she was tired of arguing. Besides, Lee was likely to pass out soon anyway. She could tell Lee was still in an inordinate amount of pain despite the fact that she held it in. In some respects, Riley's admiration grew deeper that Lee could maintain such reserve. After seeing her scars earlier, she wondered just how much pain Lee had to endure not to succumb. Riley was no fool. She knew that most people suffering from Lee's condition spent their time crying in pain despite being hooked up to a morphine drip. She worried for Lee. As the day went on, she kept a close watch on Lee. It was the evening now. Counting the hours passed, it had now been thirty-six hours since Lee had been stung. And despite Lee's repeated reassurances that she was fine, Riley's concern grew as the day passed on. Lee's color remained pale and her shivering, though slowing, had never ceased. Turning off the light, Riley prayed that Lee would sleep through the night.
Chapter 5: I Am Quite Sure I Am Dreaming
When Riley awoke the next morning, she awoke to the sounds of someone rustling around. Opening her eyes, she saw Lee next to the window fumbling with the shades. She was amazed Lee was standing, let alone walking. For a moment, she thought Lee must be feeling better, but the look in Lee's eyes worried her.
"Are you alright?"
Pushing her blanket off, "Lee?"
Lee looked up having been addressed by name.
When Riley did not automatically obey, Lee pulled her down to the floor with her. Just as Riley was about to object Lee covered her mouth with her hands.
"Stay here, don't move."
"Lee are you alright?"
Lee was back at the window, peaking out.
"They found me."
Riley tried to stand, but Lee was back to her in an instant.
"I said stay down."
Riley touched Lee's forehead. She was burning up.
"Lee, I think we should..."
Once again, Lee's hand went to cover Riley's mouth.
"Please be quiet."
Lee got up. This time, she was not peaking out the windows. She was opening closet doors, looking in the bathroom, looking under the bed. Just as she was about to make her way towards the door, Riley stepped in her path. She knew that high fevers could cause hallucinations, she was just not prepared to deal with it.
"Lee, you aren't thinking straight, we need to get you into a bath."
Lee was not listening though.
"They found me. I have to leave."
Riley was frightened. The last thing Lee needed was to go traipsing around.
"Lee, we really need to get you into a bath. You're burning up."
"No I have to leave, get them away from here, away from you."
"Who Lee, away from who?"
"Them," Lee responded as though it were obvious. Her hand went to her stomach. Riley could see she was in pain. Once again Lee tried to side step Riley.
"Lee, there is no one here except you and me."
"No. I know they are here."
"How do you know?"
Hearing a noise outside, "because I am in pain," she answered as she went to the window to investigate.
Riley was dumbstruck. She could not believe what Lee had just said. Moreover, she said it as though it meant nothing, as though it were normal. Blinking a few times to right herself, Riley approached Lee slowly from behind. Abruptly, Lee turned around.
"Stay here, I will draw them away."
"I have to run, I have to get them away from here."
"Lee, do you trust me?"
"This isn't the time," she tried stepping around Riley.
Riley stepped in her path.
"Do you trust me?"
Lee eyed Riley closely as if to examine her. Reaching a decision, she nodded. Slowly Riley reached for Lee's left hip. Lee grabbed her hand.
"It's alright," she said lifting up Lee's shirt. Lee wasn't wearing anything but a shirt when she slept. Her trousers would rub against the sting site and cause even more pain. "Look," she requested.
Lee looked down to her side, she was surprised to find lines covering her hip.
"You're in pain because you were stung by a sea wasp. No one is here except you and me."
"I think more accurately, you are hallucinating."
"Oh," Lee answered. She continued to stare at the lines innocently.
"Come with me."
Grabbing the ice from the mini freezer, Riley led Lee to the washroom. Lee sat on the floor, her back resting against the tub. She watched as Riley filled the tub with water and dump the ice in. Lee just stared at the bath. The water itself was cool. Only 40 degrees probably. Still, when ice is thrown into a temperature that is higher than its own, heat causes expansion in the water molecules cracking the ice apart as the heat rushes towards the cold area. This mechanism steadily decreases the temperature of the water to 32 degrees.
I have been cold all my life, Lee thought looking towards Riley. You are so warm.
When Lee made no movement to enter the bath, "Lee please."
Looking towards the water once more, Lee shook her head no.
"Please Lee, you are burning up. Remember. Something about disulfide bonds breaking down. Death and all that."
"Everyone dies Riley. It is simply a matter of when, why."
"Don't talk like that," Riley said putting her hand in the water as though she could somehow make it less uncomfortable.
Brushing a strand of Riley's hair back, "I could think of far less pleasant ways to die than here, with you."
"Come on Lee," she brushed her hand away.
Lee just sat gazing at Riley as though there was not a more beautiful sight in the world. Should the heavens open and a sky full of stars burst in supernova, ushering the stage of a new life, new being, new beginning, Lee still would not have shifted her eyes.
Slowly Riley began unbuttoning Lee's top. She needed to get her into the bath. Lee's eyes still upon her and now a smile graced her lips. Riley leaned Lee forward, slipping the garment down her shoulders. It was then that she felt Lee hands at her waist.
"Lee, what are you doing?"
She didn't answer. Abandoning her effort to remove Lee's shirt, she tried to take hold of Lee's exploring fingers.
"What are you doing?"
"You are undressing me."
"The bath," she motioned. "Your fever."
Lee looked at the water then tried to go back to the task of unbuttoning Riley's trousers.
"Lee stop," Riley said frustrated.
Lee halted her movements. She was so tired and the pain was stifling. Still, her eyes lifted to meet Riley's. Her next words were spoken so softly, Riley questioned hearing them.
"Can I not have you, even in my dreams?"
Visibly shaken, "Lee, no, you're not dreaming."
Riley was overwhelmed with emotion. She cared for Lee more than anything and here she was emotionally drained, hurting from all the harsh remarks, and Lee was now wanting to be with her.
"No you aren't Lee."
"You are undressing me."
"The bath Lee."
Small tears slowly started falling down Riley's cheeks.
"You're crying," she reached up to wipe away the tears. "I have hurt you."
An utter look of disdain crossed her features; shame.
"No Lee, I am not hurt. I am scared for you," she said wiping her tears away.
Resigned, "Funny. Life that is. I cannot be with you when I am awake, and you will not have me in my dreams. That karma is a bitch." she chuckled.
"You're not dreaming Lee."
"Why do you think that?"
"Because if I were awake, I would push you away."
Brushing her fingers across her lips, "Why?"
"Because I care too much for you."
Her mouth had gone dry, Riley moistening her lips.
"That doesn't make sense."
Brushing Riley's hair back, "I would never hurt you."
"I don't understand."
"I know," Lee whispered, laying back against the tub. "And I will never tell you."
Exhausted and drained she asked once more, "Why?"
Lee was tired as well. No more lies. No more deceit. Only truth.
"Because I like the way you look at me."
Tears freely flowing now, Riley was unable to formulate words or thoughts. Instead, she went back to undressing Lee. When she finally had her undressed, Riley tried to pull Lee up to sit on the side of the tub, but Lee was of no help.
"Lee don't argue. You aren't thinking straight. You will feel better after."
Lee laughed. The absolute absurdity of the idea that a 32 degree bath would somehow feel good was crazy.
"Feel better." Lee ran her fingers across the top of the coolness. "After you."
Despite herself, a grin peeked through Riley's sad demeanor.
"Pass," she chuckled.
Running her palm against Lee's cheek, "You can't."
"Because I want you to live."
"It is so cold," she whispered.
Suddenly, Lee smiled. An idea brightened her mood.
Not sure she had heard right, "What?"
"You want me in that water, kiss me."
"I don't think that is a good idea."
"Because when you stop hallucinating, you are going to be mad as hell if I do."
"Hallucinating, you are awake."
"No, I am dreaming."
"You say I am hallucinating. And I am quite sure I am dreaming. So if you kiss me then I won't realize it was in real life and therefore I can't be mad at you."
Wondering if she could get away with it, "If I kiss you, will you get into the bath?"
Very slowly Riley leaned so close that Lee could feel Riley's breath tingle along her lips. Riley's eyes locked on Lee's as she slowly lifted Lee's hand and placed the gentlest, most sensual kiss on the palm of her hand and then her fingertips. When Riley had finished, Lee pressed her fingertips upon her lips.
"That's cheating," she whispered.
"You should be more specific next time."
Lee smiled and caressed Riley lips. Her eyes following the movement of her fingers. She was certain of only one thing in this moment. Dropping her hands,
"They said I would never know heaven."
Riley felt her heart shatter in that moment. She watched as Lee painfully lifted herself to the edge of the tub. She watched as she put her legs in determined not to wince from the pain. She watched as Lee slowly descended into the icy waters. And she watched as Lee lay back, shivering from the sheer coldness of the shallow pool. Allowing the coldness to envelop her body, a smile played on her lips.
Whispering, "They were wrong."
Chapter 6 : Well I'll be damned
Lee opened her eyes to the sun on her face. Searching the room, Lee's eyes swept for Riley. Not seeing her, she thought perhaps she was in the loo. After a few minutes had passed she became restless.
Where is she?
Moving to the side of the bed, she pushed her legs over the edge. Slowly she eased herself into a sitting position. Moving to stand, she only made it two steps before falling to the floor. She had expected Riley to come out and yell at her, but was met only with disappointment. Crawling, Lee made her way to the bathroom. Easing herself through the doorway, she found herself laying against the cold tiles. Still there was no Riley. Not having the energy to return to the bed, she laid down against the cool floor. It was probably best for the fever anyway.
Maybe she needed some air.
After twenty minutes, she began to doubt herself.
I asked her to leave. How many times did I ask, did I push?
Too tired to think, she lay against the tiles, feeling the heat being dragged away. She wondered what it would be like to just stop fighting; to just let go. She had so much left to do. Samuel needed her. Jacob needed her. So many relied on her, and yet in the end, she was alone. Brushing her fingertips along the tile, she could see their outline as she played along the floor. Her heat so high that it left condensation. It would be so easy to let go. Easier than falling asleep. She would not cry out or cause commotion. She would not scream at the world for its cruelty or injustice. She would do as she has always done, she would leave with dignity, calmness, and strength. Closing her eyes, her will continued to stir; live or let go.
Riley entered quietly. Lee needed to sleep, to let her body heal. She went to the restaurant downstairs but being the middle of summer, they did not serve soup. She couldn't imagine Lee being able to stomach much more than broth, but she needed to eat. Panic overwhelmed her senses when she saw the empty bed. Rushing to the bathroom, she saw Lee sprawled across the floor.
"Lee, Lee!" she shouted lifting Lee in her arms. "Lee."
Slowly Lee opened her eyes. Unsure whether she was dreaming or dead, "Riley?"
"What are you doing?"
"Looking for you."
"I went to the store," she said exasperatedly. "You need to eat. They didn't have soup. I..."
"You came back."
Nearly in tears, "Of course I came back. I am not leaving you."
"I thought.." not being able to form the words for fear she might break.
Riley brushed Lee's hair back, pulling her within inches of her own face. There was no mincing her next words, no possible way to misread her intentions.
"I am always with you."
The words spoken with such rawness and emotion were like salve on Lee's soul.
Smiling, "What's the weather going to be like tomorrow?"
"I want to go home."
"You need to eat and rest. We will worry about that tomorrow."
Watching Lee struggle to get up.
"Lee let me..." she stopped herself before finishing. The look on Lee's face said everything. Every time she offered to help, Lee would become defensive and push her away. Trying a new tactic, "Let me walk with you."
Lee eyed Riley. Nodding, she accepted. Slowly, Riley helped Lee stand.
Without any temperament in her voice Lee simply requested, "Don't carry me. Walk with me."
Riley agreed and Lee did her best not to be dead weight as Riley walked with her back to bed. Laying Lee down, she finally understood. The look she gave Riley now was the same look she had on her face when Riley saw her scars. Lee was a proud woman. She did not want sympathy or pity. She was not a victim of crime or circumstance. She had looked after herself all her life. She was the embodiment of strength. She did not need help, she wanted a friend; an equal. After making sure Lee had everything she needed, she went back to her chair.
"What are you reading?"
"That book. What are you reading?"
"Oh. It is a silly romance book."
"It's worn. Have you read it often?"
"What's it called?"
"The Princess Bride. Have you read it?"
Lee shook her head no.
"Do you favor it?"
Riley smiled, "It's a tossup between this book and Fried Green Tomatoes."
Lee laughed, "Is that about cooking?" She knew Riley loved food.
"No," Riley chucked. "Have you really not heard of Fried Green Tomatoes?"
Again Lee shook her head.
"It is about a bee charmer."
Lee laughed. "Is it now?"
"And this book?"
"Ah. This book is about danger, betrayal, pirates, romance, true love."
"Will you read it to me?"
"Forgive me, never mind."
"Ah, no. I mean yes. I just, I didn't...anyway." Riley opened the book, "Chapter one..."
Lee sat and watched the sun rise. She watched as Riley slept. It was not long before the sun hit her face and rose her from her slumber. Rubbing her eyes, she caught sight of Lee.
"Lee, are you alright?"
"I want to go home."
"Lee, why don't we wait another day. Just to be sure."
She smiled at Riley.
"I want to go home. Come with me."
"I don't suppose there is any way I could talk you out of this."
"I am stubborn and willful to a fault as you pointed out earlier."
"And a pain in the ass."
Realizing that she could either come with Lee or watch Lee do it herself, she packed their things. Lee checked her phone. She must have gotten a text message, because she replied back before calling for a taxi.
Riley checked out as Lee watched the taxi driver put their things in the trunk of his car. Riley joined her shortly. Just as the two were about to enter the taxi, Lee caught site of Dr. Mike approaching from the parking lot. Being on the dramatic side, Lee gave a theatrical bow, and mouthed her thank you. Watching the scene from a distance, Dr. Mike smiled and watched the taxi drive away. Four hours later and the pair were back in New Zealand hailing another taxi for the drive home.
"I need to stop by the office," Lee said.
"The hell you do. You are going home."
"Best you come with me. I imagine that if you accompany me, I will be out of the office as quickly as possible, and without you I might find reason to stay."
"You realize you are a pain in the ass."
Lee smiled, "You've mentioned that, yes."
Lee was still quite tired. The rain on the car trip made her almost to the point of dozing off.
"Last chance," Hunter pulled out a gun. Cocking the piece, "Tell me the location of The Order."
Looking at the weapon, an overwhelming sadness overtook her. Every day she spent dreaming of what it would be like to be free again. She would never know. Aiming the weapon at the forefront of her head, Lee closed her eyes waiting of the end to come.
Then she heard it, the gun shot. However, feeling nothing, she opened her eyes just in time to see Samuel burst through the window. Hunter was already bleeding out on the floor. Jamison was shocked beyond belief. He barely had time to register what was happening when he pulled for his gun. Two shots sent him careening to the floor. Approaching Lee slowly, she barely had time to take in a breath when two more gunman came charging through the door. Samuel dodged behind a table. When he heard the gunman reload he took a chance, charging the assailants. Pulling the trigger, one assailant fell to the floor dead. The other had just enough time to show surprise when Samuel pulled out a knife and plunged it into his chest.
Looking down the corridor, he saw no one else.
"Are there more?" he addressed Lee.
"I don't think so."
Very carefully, he pulled the iv out of Lee's arm. Looking her over, the empathy in his eyes for her suffering causing her throat to tighten with emotion and relief. Very gently, he lifted Lee and started for the entrance. Thank God there were no more assailants, for the look in Samuel's eyes was that of pure rage.
Lee had spent three weeks in the hospital sector of The Order. Samuel had stayed by her side every available moment. It was not long after that she was summoned to Eliane's office.
"You look much improved."
"I want you to know I am very proud of you. You didn't break. Even when they offered you freedom."
Confused, "You were watching?"
"Of course. There is a tracking device under your skin; new, untested before your capture. We knew your whereabouts the entire time."
Lee couldn't believe what she was hearing.
"Waiting for tactical advantage?"
"No." Eliane paused, "The higher ups wanted to know if you could be trusted. If you would break."
Lee felt sick to her stomach.
"This was a trick? You traded me to test my loyalty?"
"That wasn't the only reason. There was tactical advantage to trading you. With the device under your skin, we tracked you to their location. We could not let them continue. They were becoming too powerful. Now, they no longer exist thanks to you."
"He would have killed me."
Eliane sat unmoving. Never before had Lee felt so used.
"They couldn't be allowed to continue Shoshanna."
Lee felt sick to her stomach.
"Am I free to go back to work."
Eliane watched as Lee approached the door.
"I knew you wouldn't break."
"Is that supposed to be comforting? You could have traded anyone."
"I knew you wouldn't break. Now you know too. You are one of us. Well done Shoshanna."
Lee left abruptly. Heading towards a console, she decided to go over the documentation of the mission. Lee was surprised to find that Samuel was demoted from a level three officer down to a level one.
Seeking him out, "Why did they demote you?"
"You are looking well. Still sore?"
"It doesn't matter little one. It is over and you are safe again."
Ever since she was inducted into The Order, Samuel had gone through great pains to see that she was safe. He was as close to a paternal figure as you could come in such a place. Being twenty-six years her senior, he had seen her out of many scrapes before, always turning up at just the right moment.
"They demoted you because of me, didn't they?"
"Failure to obey protocol," he recited mechanically.
"Protocol." Then it dawned on her. "They demoted you because you saved me."
Neither answering yes or no, Samuel continued to tinker with one of his tools.
Dismayed, "They could have killed you."
"Come on now Shoshanna. They weren't going to kill me for saving our lead strategist."
Continuing to look on distraught. Samuel laid down his tools.
"Why would you risk it? Why would you come for me?"
The look on his face was utter seriousness.
"I am always with you little one," placing his hands on hers, "always."
It was in that moment that she knew, Samuel would never betray her. And more, she would never betray him.
"Come on, let's get this over with," Riley said. The frustration in her voice was not easily hidden. She had unloaded their luggage from the taxi and put them into their respective cars. It was not only that she wanted to go home, more importantly she wanted Lee to rest. Surely the trip was not good for her.
"Tired of me?"
"No of course not. I just hope you understand that I may not want to see you for the next couple of days."
"You aren't coming to work?" Lee tried to act surprised.
"No, you aren't coming to work unless you want me to give you another reason to be in bed. Broken legs for example might make it difficult for you to get up."
Lee laughed. "That's harsh. And here I thought we were just starting to get along."
Entering the building, Lee messaged someone on her phone. Entering the lift, they headed for Lee's office. As the lift door opened,
"Surprise! Happy birthday Riley!" Anne called out.
The building started to sing a version of the happy birthday song. Next thing Riley knew, she was being asked to cut some cake. Lee wondered off to her office only to return a few minutes later. She took a seat on the outer edge of the party and watched as everyone around wished Riley well.
After about half an hour of fun, Riley sought out Lee.
"You knew about this."
"I was supposed to distract you remember."
"You couldn't have found an easier way?"
Lee was about to open her mouth when Riley interrupted.
"If you tell me you are Irish again I swear I will smack you."
Lee simply smiled.
"Are you having fun?"
"Yes. I'm just tired."
"Sorry about that."
"I'm glad you are alright."
"No damn fish is going to be the end of me."
Sighing, "It was a sea wasp not a jelly fish."
Lee smiled, "Fish."
Riley glanced up at Lee, "Are you doing that on purpose?"
"You spent the last few days driving me crazy, I feel honor bound to return the favor."
"You do huh. Well next time you decide to jump in an ocean full of sea wasps why don't you use some of that Irish luck and get out of that mess without getting stung."
"The way I see it I would have jumped in regardless of what sea creature was out there. I wasn't about to leave that boy in the water."
"Even if it were a Great White Shark."
Lee nodded, "You see, I was lucky. It would have been incredibly awkward if I had showed up to work missing an arm or a leg because a shark took a bite out of me."
Well that is one way to see things, Riley thought.
"Very true, Great White's are one big fish."
"A shark is a shark," Lee answered.
"A shark is a fish."
"Anything over ten feet long has its own species. A shark is a shark. A whale is a whale. Anything less than ten feet is a fish. A dolphin, for example, is a fish."
"Where in the hell do you come up with these rules?"
"I would tell you, but you threatened to smack me."
Unable to fathom any type of response to that, "Are you ready to go?"
"Don't you want to stay?"
"I think I have stayed long enough."
"Alright. I'm going to call a taxi. I don't feel like driving."
"I'll drive you, if you like."
"You're not too tired?"
Shaking her head, "I'll be glad to see you safely home."
Lee lived only about fifteen minutes from work. Pulling up to her loft, Riley walked Lee to her front door.
Hesitating, "Thank you, for staying with me."
Too exhausted to monitor her words, Riley spoke freely.
"I am always with you Lee."
Lee stood in her doorway. It would have never dawned on her a week ago how truly lucky she was. A week ago, she could have counted on one hand the number of people she trusted and still have more than half her fingers left over. She could add one more to the list now. And she knew as truly as she breathed, she would do anything for Riley. Anything, except see her hurt.
"Do you want to come in?"
"No. I should go. But thank you."
Driving home for Riley did not take long either. Pulling into her garage, she opened her trunk. What she found surprised her. There was a present sitting next to her luggage. It could have only been one person.
"How in the hell did she do that?"
Opening the box she found a document and a letter. Reading the letter:
It seems that I have yet one or two favors left with the courts here. Besides, I would hate for any backward thinking imbeciles with jello for brains to be allowed to drain the swamps in attempt to make a few dollars.
Looking at the document, it was a copy of a cease and desist order for the construction company.
A smile crossed her face.
"Well I'll be damned."
End of part three.
To be continued...
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