“The Russell’s only have one child, Cathy,” Gilbert reported once he was seated. “She is indeed the child that gone missing and was found all those years ago. Their records indicate that they had adopted a child after the disappearance of their daughter but that they had to return the child because they were no longer financially able to take care of two children after their daughter returned.”
“Is that the only reason they gave?” Oliver asked, looking very disappointed.
“On paper yes, but not on word of mouth,” Gilbert said. “We interviewed most of their neighbours from that first house where the incident took place as well as the second home they moved to after…. Their close friends are aware of some traumatic incident Cathy underwent other than her disappearance which required her to have therapy most of her childhood but none of them know the actual details. It’s like the Russell’s really wanted to keep that part of their life connected to Alex a secret.”
“Did that daughter of theirs approach my son deliberately?” Oliver asked.
“I highly doubt that,” Gilbert replied. “I do not even think that family had any idea who Alex was despite her public association with your family until that day the professor met her on campus. And besides, your son and the girl had met before Alex’s encounter with the professor. If she had not reacted the way she did that day, they probably would have never found out.”
“Except now they do.” Oliver countered.
Gilbert nodded, sadly. “Chances are that they will try to refute any claims Alex has against them in a bit to get in your good graces since their daughter appears to be …obsessed…if I may say so… about your son.”
During his investigations, Gilbert couldn’t help noticing the frequency with which Cathy updating her social media feeds with everything concerning her relationship with the young heir.
Oliver was up on his feet again. With his hands in his pockets, he went to stand by the window, staring blankly at the landscaper busy at work and oblivious to the fact that he now had an audience.
“If that girl is now aware of her connection to Alex and us,” Oliver was saying, his back to Gilbert. “Shouldn’t she have left Anton knowing his relationship with Alex?”
Gilbert laughed, “You are assuming that the family took responsibility for whatever happened that fateful day day…what if you are wrong?” he asked. “If according to what you told me last time, they really did what your girl claimed they did, then they aren’t the type to admit to anyone that they committed such an atrocious crime against a child. That girl Cathy leaving your son would mean she feels some sort of guilt towards Alex but as you can see, she is still very much in the picture and doesn’t appear to be going anywhere soon.”
Oliver pondered the PI’s words for a while. He had to admit the old man might be right. No matter how this story was to turn out, there was only going to be one person getting hurt; Alex. He wasn’t going to let that happen.
“Did you find out anything that might help corroborate Alex’s story?” Oliver had turned around, his demeanour reeked of new conviction. There has to be something or someone out there that would help in finding out the story. He didn’t care what anybody else said, everything that Alex told him was the truth. She had no reason to lie to him or anyone. She could have easily made excuses for her actions back then and would still have gotten away with it because she was just a kid desperate to find herself a place to call home. And most importantly, she would never lie to him.
“We have a very promising lead,” Gilbert said proudly. “I sent Felix to look into it and am hoping to hear from him soon.”
“What kind of lead is it?” Oliver asked, very interested.
“In the old neighbourhood where they lived, we found out that one of the neighbours had relocated not long after the Russell’s did. His name is Donald Wartburg. He should have been twenty-five at that time. He was known in the neighbourhood as a perv because he loved walking around with his camera everywhere he went and got pictures of things that interested him…most of these things where women and children. One of the neighbours believes he had a telescope and god knows what else in his house which he used to spy on people mostly instead of stars. The neighbour thinks that Donald might have witnessed whatever went on in the Russell household.”
“And his whereabouts?” Oliver asked.
“That’s what we are still working on. One place seemed more promising and that’s where Felix is as we speak.”
The moment Gilbert had left, Oliver had rushed to Alex’s bedroom. He found her still working on her research paper.
“Come over here,” Oliver patted the space next to him on Alex’s bed. “There’s something important I need to talk to you about.”
Alex was perturbed. “You are scaring me Mr C.,” she had stopped whatever she was doing and was now looking at Oliver from across the room.
Oliver patted the spot again and Alex moved to sit next to him. “Did something happen?” she anxiously asked. “You don’t look so good Mr Cooper,” she stated. “Did something happen to Anton?”
For a moment, all that Oliver could do was stare at her, hoping and praying that she could not read any of the fears on his mind. Then he took her hand into his. “Alex,” he said softly.
Alex blinked, three times.
“I am going to tell you something,” Oliver continued, “you might not like it…but promise me that you will trust me to take care of everything for you? Can you promise me that?” he was looking her in the eyes.
Alex nodded profusely, completely scared by now and not trusting that her voice was still functioning.
Oliver could feel her whole body tense through her hand. Did she really need to know the truth this time? He silently tried to talk himself out of it.
“It’s about your sister…I mean, the daughter to the first couple that had adopted you….”
“What about them…what about her?” Alex asked, her voice shaking.
“What would you say if I told you that she is the same Cathy that is dating Anton?” Oliver shut his eyes for a second before opening them to watch her reaction, his whole face twisting in anticipation of the worst.
Alex pulled her hand away from his grasp and stood up from the bed. She did not know the full name of the girl Anton was dating but he had mentioned she was Cathy. How can she forget? She had only recently discovered why she had initially hated hearing the name. at first she had thought it was only jealous but now….
“You can’t mean that they are actually the same person can you? Maybe it’s just the name….” Alex desperately hoped Oliver would set her heart at ease and tell her what she wanted to hear.
Oliver got up and tried to approach her but Alex held her hand out to keep him at bay. “Don’t,” she warned. “Please don’t,” she repeated. “Just tell me it’s just the name.”
Oliver was shaking his head, feeling sorry he couldn’t tell her what she wanted to hear. “I am so sorry Lex….”
The tears started pouring the moment she heard his apologetic tone. Why was this happening to her?
She was crying and almost falling to the floor when Oliver jumped in to hold her up. He helped her up and held her in his arms while she continued crying. For close to five minutes he let her cry in his arms and Oliver couldn’t remember the last time he had felt so helpless.
But then suddenly, she yanked herself out of the embrace and threw him a very puzzled look. “Does Anton know?” she asked. “Does he know who she is?” She asked again.
Oliver was not sure what Anton knew and did not know. As far as he knew he had not spoken to him about Alex’s recovered memory and neither had Alex.
“Only if she told him herself,” Oliver answered honestly. “I also only found about the connection a few minutes ago.”
“I need to know,” Alex grabbed her bag and brushed past Oliver as she ran out of the room.
“Where are you going Alex?” Oliver ran after her down the stairs. “Alex!” he called out but she never stopped.
She was running so fast that she tripped on the last three stairs and fell to the floor. She tried to get up immediately but the instant pain warned her of some internal damage the fall must have caused.
“Are you alright?” Oliver was by her side in no time, frantically checking her legs for any possible damages. “I think you twisted it a bit,” he said as he visually examined her ankle. “Can you get up?”
Alex nodded, “I think I can now,” she said, holding on to him as she tried to get up.
“C’mon, let’s get to the hospital and….”
“I am going to my place to see Anton Mr C.,” Alex tried to wiggle herself free from Oliver but he wasn’t going to let her go that easily. “You know very well how stubborn I am so don’t even try to talk me out of it, it wont work,” she insisted.
“Okay, how about I get you some ice in the meantime so you can nurse it while I drive you there…and then we can pass through the hospital from there?” Oliver tried to negotiate.
“Yeah,” Alex answered, non-committedly. “Let’s go,” she started to lead the way, limping with one hand holding on to Oliver for support.
There was silence in the car during the ride to Anton and Alex’s residence, each consumed in their own thoughts.
The presence of Anton’s car and another one immediately informed them that he had a guest. It was not a familiar car to either of them and they immediately knew which guest was keeping him company.
“Please don’t come in Mr C.,” Alex told Oliver who was almost getting out of the car.
Oliver paused, “I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to go in there alone Alex,” he tried to reason with her.
“Let me take care of this one on my own,” Alex pleaded. “You have done more than enough to shield me from getting hurt…I think this is a kind of pain I have to confront myself.”
“But your leg…” Oliver started to say.
“It feels a lot better now after the ice. I can make it to the house don’t worry.”
Without waiting for a response, she limped away towards the house.
Oliver watched her from a distance, debating whether to follow her or not.
Alex slowly opened the door and had to pause when she heard laughter coming from the lounge. She didn’t need to see it to know exactly what was going on. She entered and quietly closed the door behind her.
“Stop it…don’t do that babe….” Alex could see the back of a blonde haired woman from the top of the couch. She could hear Anton’s voice but couldn’t see him, she figured he was exactly where she wanted him to be, under her.
“hmm hmmm,” Alex deliberately cleared her throat to get their attention. The girl was the first one to see her before Anton’s head popped up the sofa.
“Alex,” Anton said, quickly moving his guest from his laps and getting up on his feet. “What are you doing here?” he said as he walked over to where she was. “What happened?” HE was looking at her feet, her weight resting on one leg. “Did you hurt yourself?” he was down on his knees trying to check her leg but Alex surprised him when she pulled away from him.
“I knew this day would eventually come,” said the blonde in her tight little bum shorts and a braless, small but loose top hanging from her boobs. “Karla McKenzie…or is it Alex? I hear that’s what they call you these days?” by the time she had finished talking, she was standing a few feet away from Alex, giving her a sweeping look from head to toe.
Alex took in the image of the conniving little girl she had met all those years ago. Despite the years, nothing much seemed to have changed on the part of her nemesis. She still had the same bob haircut and the same attitude except all that was packaged in a grown woman this time around.
“Cathy,” Anton shot her a warning look. It was all Alex needed to know what she had come all the way to find out.
Upon hearing the name, Alex turned from Cathy to Anton, “you knew?” she asked, tears welling up in her eyes.
“About what happened between you guys when you were kids?” Anton asked. “Of course I know, Cathy already told me.” he said nonchalantly.
Alex could barely hide the shock. “You knew?” she repeated. “And you didn’t feel the need to talk to me about it?”
“Hey, c’mon Lexie,” he didn’t look like someone who was on the same page as her. Alex wasn’t sure what she found more upsetting, his nonchalant demeanour or the fact that he had found out something about her and never bothered to talk to her about it. “Why you getting all serious? That stuff happened when you were little. Cathy said her family has already forgiven you and moved on.”
“Forgiven me?” Alex looked from Anton to Cathy. “Forgiven me?” She was addressing Cathy this time. “Your family forgave me, for what?” Alex asked.
Cathy simply shrugged her shoulders. “For what you tried to do to me,” she replied impudently.
“Just what exactly did she tell you I did that requires forgiveness, from her?” Alex asked Anton, her hands crossed over her chest.
“Are you sure you wanna talk about this right now?” Anton asked.
“Yes,” Alex answered defiantly.
During the whole exchange, Cathy had moved to Anton’s side and put her arm in his with a smirk playing on her lips as she looked Alex down from head to toe.
Anton had to look at Cathy before responding as if to seek her permission before uttering anything concerning the incident under discussion. Cathy simply shrugged her shoulders to give him a go-ahead. Clearly, she didn’t care much about it anymore.
“Cathy told me about how you…about how you guys…you know?” Anton stuttered.
“About how I what?” Alex insisted on asking. She needed to know exactly what he had been told even though it already looked like the odds weren’t in her favour either way.
Anton brushed his hand against his hair in frustration, afraid to say the words knowing how much his friend would be hurt from being reminded of such a cruel past.
“The drowning….” Anton finally said. “I heard about how you tried to drown Cathy when you were kids. I don’t want you to feel bad about it Lex….”
“Stop it!” Anton was speaking so fast that Alex had to shout to get him to stop taking. “Stop it,” Alex repeated, waving her hand in the air in surrender. “I don’t need to hear any more.”
“Alex….” Anton tried to go to her but Cathy held him back.
Alex never missed the small but loud move by Cathy. With tears in her eyes, she looked at their hands held together so tightly. She was the odd one out. Even if she tried to reason with Anton, would he even listen to her?”
“Did you ever think that her version of events might not be what actually happened?” Alex asked, letting the tears fall without interruption.
“What are you trying to say Alex?” Anton asked.
Alex could see no such thoughts had crossed his mind in the first place. She had never felt so disappointed in anyone than in Anton at that particular moment.
“It’s fine,” Alex said dismissingly. Really, what was the point in trying? “I only asked because I wanted to know where we stood as friends…I can see it’s already too late.” She wiped the tears from her face with both hands before turning around to go.
This time, Anton removed Cathy’s hold on his arm using his free hand before running to block Alex from opening the door.
Alex stopped and looked at her best friend from childhood. With so much tears welling up in her eyes, she could barely recognize him.
“What do you mean it’s too late?” Anton asked, trying to hold her hand but Alex flinched, forcing him to withdraw his hands. “I know that stuff happened a long time ago,” he said. “I am sure you had your own reasons for doing what you did but I know for a fact you are not like that anymore.”
Alex could only scoff, not believing her own ears.
“I know it might be a little awkward for the two of you in the beginning,” Anton continued, “but since Cathy doesn’t seem to mind so much, we can all just get along and forget about the past. What do you think?” he was looking from Alex to Cathy seeking both women’s sign of approval but getting none in return.
Alex sighed heavily. “I just have one more question to ask and I will leave,” she addressed Anton.
“Um,” Anton replied.
“After Cathy told you about our relationship, why didn’t you come to me to hear my side as well? After all, we have been friends for a much longer time than your relationship with her.”
“I didn’t think Cathy or her mother had any reason to lie to me,” Anton answered.
“Her mother?” Alex asked, surprised.
“Yes,” Anton replied nonchalantly. “I had gone to pick up Cathy from her place and I met her. Even though Cathy doesn’t remember all the details, her mother does. She even asked me to invite you over to their house whenever you have time. The only reason why I didn’t want to tell you about it yet was because of everything that’s been going on lately with you. I thought you needed to get some rest before I could talk to you about all this. I know that my relationship with Cathy would have surprised you…I didn’t want to stress you any further.”
“I see,” Alex muttered. “I have to go now,” and she made a move to open the door before Cathy’s words brought her to a pause;
“I hope we can all get along fine,” she shouted from behind, her hands proudly crossed over her chest. “We will be living together after all.”
Alex turned around and looked at Anton questioningly. “What does she mean?” she asked.
“Oh my, you never told her babe?” Cathy walked over to where a visibly astonished Anton was standing. He could only scratch his head in response.
“I moved in here a few days ago,” Cathy was more than eager to share the news. “You don’t mind, do you?”
It was not so much a question as it was a challenge, Alex observed. “I will see you later,” was all Alex could manage to say in response before opening the door and walking out.
“Did you see the look on her face when I told her the news?” Cathy asked Anton who had his hands in his pockets and feeling a little perturbed by Alex’s behaviour. “She looked like a jilted lover!” Cathy said, looking like she had just unlocked a thousand year old puzzle.
“What do you mean by that?” Anton asked.
Cathy was looking at him and shaking her head in disappointment. “You really have no clue don’t you?” she said. “I told you that she doesn’t just think of you as a friend. I am a woman…I know what goes on in the mind of women and that girl over there is seriously in-love with you.”
“You don’t know her like I do so don’t say such things, okay?” again, he removed her hand and headed upstairs. “I need to lie down for a bit,” he said with his back to her as he approached the stairs.
As he walked away, he missed the triumphant look in Cathy’s eye with her lips pursed tightly.
Outside the door, Alex held on to her knees as gravity threatened to pull her under. She could not move. It was in that position that Oliver looked up from where he had been standing anxiously waiting for her. He quickly ran to her and pulled her up gently, taking her into his arms as she silently sobbed against his lean chest.
“What happened in there Alex?” he was stroking her hair gently. “I should go in there and deal with this boy….” He was almost turning around to open the door when Alex put her arms around his waist to keep him where he was.
“Don’t,” she whispered, her head still buried in his chest.
Knowing his son too well, Oliver could only imagine what must have taken place inside. With those thoughts running through his mind, he drew Alex even closer to him, holding her tightly in his embrace. They remained like that for close to three minutes until Alex calmed down and broke away from him, leading the way back to the car.
Oliver had driven for a couple of minutes when Alex started laughing. She started slowly but gradually developed into full blown hysterics.
Not sure what to do or say, Oliver could only look at her surreptitiously and in bewilderment.
“What did I expect, honestly?” Alex made a 360 degrees turn. She was sombre and resolute in whatever conclusions she had come up with in her head.
“What do you….” Oliver was asking.
“I mean, I always knew at the back of my head that I would never be anything more than a friend to him,” Alex had cut him off. “I just didn’t…I didn’t….” she desperately tried to push back the tears back they came pouring out. “Just drive, don’t stop…don’t even look at me.” She warned Oliver who had almost slowed down to a stop while motioning for him to keep forward.
Oliver removed some tissue from the car and handed them to her, trying hard not to look at her whilst doing so. Alex took the tissue and cleared both her face and nose, pretending to be oblivious to Oliver who had to stifle a chuckle at the level of comfort Alex seemed to be despite his presence. She was the only woman to dare pull off something like that and still get that kind of reaction from him.
A part of Oliver was forced to recognize the possibility that Alex’s behaviour around his son had a lot to do with why he never thought of her as anything more than friends. She was too comfortable around the both of them and treated them like her family. There had never been a time she had actively portrayed any of intimate emotion towards Anton…well, at least not around him. Who knew what happened between them at the house?
“I need to find a place to stay,” Alex said, as if she had read Oliver’s line of thought.
“Did Anton ask you to move out?” Oliver asked, sounding like a man ready to pounce on something.
“Of course he didn’t….”
“Then why would you say something like that?” he asked. “Have you forgotten that the only reason Anton is able to live in that house is because of you?”
“I know,” Alex answered. “Which is why I don’t want you to threaten him into moving back to the mansion. The two of them have been living together since I left. Even though I Anton might be okay with me living there, it’s only because he doesn’t really know the truth. Besides, even if I have to live out on the streets, there is no way I am going to live under the same roof as that girl. You would think that seventeen years is enough to change a person but she is still the same; very smug and thinks the world revolves around her.”
“I also do not expect the two of you to live together and in my house.” Oliver said sternly. “Anton will just have to do as I say and if he doesn’t, he can move out and continue his dating elsewhere. I will not let you move out of that house Alex, never.”
“You see, that’s what I don’t want,” Alex said. “The last thing I need is coming between the two of you. How will people look at me when they find out that I am the reason behind you two fighting?”
“There is no one out there who doesn’t know about Anton’s antics,” Oliver countered. “And there is no way in hell will I let that manipulative girl into my son’s life….”
With her face completely devoid of tears except for her swollen eyes, Alex sat straight up in the passenger seat and turned to look at Oliver. “I also don’t like the fact that Anton is with that girl Mr C.,” she tried to reason with now visibly upset Oliver. “However, if there is something I know about Anton and people around that age in general, it is that the telling them not to do something has the direct opposite effect of the outcome you desire.”
Oliver removed his eyes from the road for a few seconds to look at Alex. “Are you asking me to just seat back and watch my son ruin his life?” Then he looked back to the road ahead, shaking his head.
“Anton is a big boy Mr C. he can take care of himself. He is not as irresponsible as you think him to be. Even when he is doing something wrong, he knows very well at the back of his mind exactly what the repercussions will be. Let’s just…for now…give him the space he needs. Right now even if I tried to tell him my side of the story, he will just push me aside because it is better for him to believe the woman he loves than someone who is just a friend.”
Oliver seemed to have calmed down a bit somewhere in-between Alex’s speech.
“I guess you are right,” he relented. “But only because I trust you and not all that stuff you said about Tony. It’s amazing how you are still able to defend him even in this instance.” He slowly managed a grin.
“I have always been good at accepting certain outcomes,” Alex replied. “Growing up the way I did, I somehow trained my brain to always expect and prepare myself for the worst case scenario. My relationship with you and Oliver has been the longest blessing ever in my life…so I am not surprised that eventually something like this is happening…I somehow knew it was bound to happen, just didn’t think it would take this long.”
“Just so you know, I will always take your side no matter what girl Anton introduces to me,” they both chuckled. “I mean it,” Oliver insisted.
“I have never been Anton’s girl before Mr C.,” Alex corrected him. “I have only been his closest buddy. And now that this has happened, I have to get over him real quick.” She put both her hands over her thighs and moved them up and down as if to comfort herself.
Another awkward silence filled the car for the rest of the way to Oliver’s mansion.
Published by Anisha Simutowe