by Arsoleen Woolcock
One moment – beautiful, soft, sweet;
Breanna Walker penned the poem easily and then crumpled the piece of paper in her hands until it became a tight, round ball. As though it were distasteful, she flung her writing across the darkened room away from her and watched it sail to the floor. She tossed the pen on the nightstand, grabbed a pillow, and held it tightly in her arms. Gentle tears washed down her cheeks as she shut her eyes and wished that she could erase from memory everything that she’d heard. Suddenly, all she wanted to do was to lash out at someone, at anyone! Yet, she knew that she had only herself to blame. The trap had been laid, and like a fool, she had stepped right into it.
For a few, brief moments, Breanna sat like a frightened rabbit on the edge of the bed, still clutching the pillow. She tried to still her ragged emotions. Then with a heavy sigh, she lay back wearily and buried her golden brown face in her hands. She squeezed her eyes shut. Try as she might, however, there was nothing that she could do to wash away the humiliation and hurt – the feeling that everyone was laughing at her. In fact, nothing in her life had ever prepared her for this kind of heartache and disillusionment.
Yes, she’d always been pampered. Her dad loved spoiling her. But now when she needed to be strong, it was as though everything was crumbling fast around her. She was drowning, and there was no lifeguard around to save her from the shark-infested waters. Breanna closed her eyes tightly and prayed for sleep to come. Unfortunately, what was done was done and could never be undone. However, the scene kept replaying in her head.
“Marc, how long do you plan to lead Breanna on?”
“I’m not leading her on.” Bravo!
“Well, it wasn’t your idea to date her in the first place. It was her mom’s . . . Don’t tell me you’ve fallen for her! . . .” What if he had?
“I’m not in love with her. But as long as her mom keeps paying me to do this job, I will keep. . .” Pay him!
“And she doesn’t even know about her brother. . .” Oh, my God!
Breanna stretched out across the bed trying to forget the disturbing bits of conversation that she’d overheard earlier. Lately she’d begun to imagine that she and Marc could have the perfect relationship. She imagined that one day it might lead to trust, and maybe something more. She genuinely liked Marc a lot and enjoyed his company. Now her dreams of being with him for weeks, months, years, or even a lifetime was impossible. Gone were the wild imaginings of the two of them together. She used her finger to wipe away a tear rolling down her cheek. They neither could nor would ever be.
“Just listen to me!” she admonished herself. “Snap out of it!” Breanna felt crazed! Here she was acting as though she and Marc had been a hot item for years. Their relationship had been one of only friendship and was purely platonic. They’d known each other only a few, short months. He was her first date, older, more mature, and wiser in the ways of the world. Maybe that was the real reason why she felt so torn apart. Marc had been the only man in her life besides her dad.
After all, she was quick to remind herself, what had she and Marc really shared? A few dates that she could count on her fingers were all they had. There had been nothing more than a few brotherly kisses on her forehead. Nothing earth-shattering that could have caused her to read more into their relationship; yet . . .
What happened to all the Cinderella tales that her dad always read to her, as she propped herself up on his knee? The princess got her man in the end, that’s what. The prince was dashing, handsome, and brave. There were endings that read, “They lived happily ever after.” Well, that’s all they were, she discovered – tales! Just a bunch of bull! Nonsense that made little girls grow up expecting to find Prince Charming. Well, where was hers and when would she meet this extraordinary gentleman?
For the umpteenth time, Breanna let her mind drift back to hours earlier. Her first instinct had been to run. And that’s exactly what she did. She turned around and ran right past the receptionist’s desk and out the door into the stifling heat that threatened to suck away all her breath.
She remembered her feet – how she couldn’t move them at first. Her feet had been heavy, concrete blocks cemented to the floor outside Marc’s office. After what she had overheard, she couldn’t very well knock and then go in, pretending to have heard nothing, that her heart hadn’t stopped beating. Instead, she remembered literally picking her legs up, turning, and fleeing out of the building. She’d known that her mother wanted her to go out more and meet people. That’s all she’d ever talked about. Yet, she’d never expected her to solicit help from Marc. What Breanna thought was genuine warmth, friendliness, and a chance meeting between two people, had all been part of a well-rehearsed plan. Well, she hated them both for it! And now, she felt like a fool.
Not caring if she’d be able to drive with her confused and tormented mind, she opened her vehicle and climbed inside. Her hands trembled slightly as she gripped the steering wheel trying to steady them. Was what she heard real, Breanna questioned herself? Would she wake-up any minute to find that it was all some part of a terrible nightmare?
No, this was no nightmare. Her eyes were wide open and there was an ache in her heart that wouldn’t go away. Those were real tears that moistened her eyes.
Hastily, Breanna pulled the gear in drive and sped down the highway, leaving behind beautiful Tampa, Florida with its palm trees, beautiful climate, sandy beaches, and her condominium near the ocean . . . All of it was fast becoming part of a past that she wanted to forget, at least for now. She never, ever wanted to look back; not anytime soon anyway. What she needed most was miles of space and as much distance as she could get from the Sunshine State. In particular, Breanna wanted no contact from the individuals who had driven her to this point, whom had hurt her so deeply.
“How could they have betrayed me this way?” she questioned. Her life had been good. She had been happy. True, there had been no man to complicate and mix things up, but she was living her life like she wanted to. She’d been happy and carefree, until Marc. Now her heart longed for something more.
Breanna had been driving for hours, speeding off and on, and zooming past sixteen-wheelers. She only stopped once to use the restroom. Slowly, day turned into night. Her head throbbed, and her neck and shoulders ached from sitting in the same, cramped position for such a long time. She yawned and rubbed her tired eyes. Hesitantly, she swung off I-95S and turned onto the next exit. She needed sleep, rest, and peace of mind. Hopefully, she’d be able to find a decent hotel room that she could stay in for the night.
Seeing signs up ahead on the left, she discovered that she’d arrived in Savannah, Georgia. She was only a half-mile from a room with a bed where she could get some much-needed sleep. She continued traveling and forced her eyes to stay awake. Only a half-mile more to go! I can do it, she told herself. I’ve got to keep going.
She breathed heavily. Her fingers were numb and she flexed her right hand back and forth to get the blood flowing. She was beyond tired and wondered if she’d even make it, fearful that her dead body would be found in some ditch far away from home. She could see it all in her head – flashing lights snapping away at the scene, and detectives frantically searching for clues as to what happened. Her father, torn apart, as he desperately sought to untangle the mystery of how it was that his daughter was there in Georgia.
Up ahead, she pointed out to herself. She needed to take this next exit. She veered to the right, and minutes later, steered her car into the hotel’s parking lot. At least for now this would be her destination. In the morning, she’d keep driving and find the place she was looking for – Lewiston, South Carolina. According to an old college friend, Lewiston was absolutely beautiful. It was filled with beaches, friendly people, and a Homey-Southern atmosphere that was jam-packed with history. And, yes, it would be nice to see her old friend again.
Breanna pushed the gear in park and switched off the ignition, suddenly self-conscious of being a woman alone at night. As she stepped from her vehicle, she heard loud voices coming from a nearby room and saw a young couple openly embrace and kiss. She tore her eyes away from them while wondering how it was that some people managed to find true love, while others bumbled their way through life with a constant hope of finding someone that could truly love and care for them in return.
She sighed. Life was a puzzle, and one that she wasn't likely to piece together tonight. She scurried inside and signed the register. She was given a key and was ushered to her room. Several minutes later, she completely crashed, her mind and body weary with disappointment and fatigue.
It seemed as though her head had barely touched the pillow when sudden, quick raps on the door startled Breanna out of her sleep. Who could possibly be knocking on her door, and here in Georgia of all places? No one knew where she was. Should she even answer the door or ignore the insistent hammering? Maybe they’d go away. She didn’t want to move. She was beat. Her legs and arms ached. She didn’t want to talk to anyone, and she certainly didn’t know anyone here. She continued to lay there with her eyes half open, her body fatigued, and her mind mentally exhausted. “Go away,” she mumbled.
“Ma’am, are you in there?” It sounded like the hotel manager. “There is a police officer with me who wishes to speak with you.”
Breanna frowned. “I – I haven’t done anything wrong!” Breanna sprang to life and was instantly filled with alarm. This was pure nonsense, some stupid joke. What would a police officer have to say to her tonight, actually this morning, as it was way past midnight? It could be her dad trying to find her, she thought. Maybe he had called her and got upset when she couldn’t be reached. Maybe he had called the police and had her tracked here.
“Everything’s okay, ma’am, I guess,” the manager continued. “He says he just wants to ask you a couple of questions.”
“Well, I’ll be a few minutes,” Breanna spoke irritably. “I have to get dressed.” Really, this was ridiculous, she thought, as she strode to the closet where her clothes were hung on hangers. She had run away to get peace and quiet. Instead, here she was in Georgia with her door about to be busted down by a police officer who wanted to ask her some questions. She had planned to phone her dad in the morning to tell him that everything was fine, but right now she wanted to be left alone. She wasn’t ready to face him yet or anyone else for that matter. Her running away may have been totally out of character for her but for once, she didn’t care. She didn’t care about anything.
“That’s fine, ma’am. We’ll wait.”
Breanna had peeled off everything and had barely fallen asleep in her underclothes when the insistent racket began. Quickly, she donned a silver blouse and dragged on a pair of tight, black, leather pants. She threw the empty clothes hangers across the bed and stepped into matching high-heeled sandals. Hesitantly, she moved towards the door and with hands that shook slightly, turned the latch and peered out into the hallway.
“You!” she shrieked. “What are you doing here? How did you find me? How dare you come here, Marc! I never want to speak to you, hear your voice, or see you ever again, she yelled.” She hated him!
“Listen to me, Breanna! Please, let’s talk,” begged Marc. “My secretary told me that she saw you running out of the building. I followed you to make sure that you were okay.”
“Marc, I’m fine! I’ve nothing to say to you tonight! I’m tired. I’m sleepy. I’ve had a long drive.” Breanna smiled. To her, the conversation was over. Inwardly, she fumed, hoping that Marc would go away. She wanted to appear cordial, yet firm. But, in spite of herself, she ended up slamming the door in his face with a loud thud. She strutted to the TV and turned its volume all the way up. The nerve of him! Impersonating an officer! That has to be against the law. How much had he paid the hotel manager to play along with this little game of his, she wondered? Breanna took off her heels one at a time and threw them at the door. Men!
“. . . You may as well let me in, Breanna. There’s no way you can escape me! I need to talk to you.”
“Hey look, Mister,” the hotel manager spoke. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave. I run a nice hotel establishment and as you can see several guests are already looking out, wondering what’s going on out here.”
“Okay. Okay,” Marc said as he threw his arms up into the air out of frustration. “May I have the room next door to hers?”
“Come with me downstairs and we’ll see if it’s available.”
“Breanna, don’t go anywhere. Please,” Marc begged as he followed the manager back down the hallway. He ignored the frowns and the suspicious stares of the onlookers as they peeked out of their doors.
Slowly, Breanna grabbed her keys and purse. She stepped into her heels again and opened the door wide. She didn’t want to hear any of Marc’s lies, and she certainly didn’t want him anywhere near her. But, what was she going to do? Go back to Florida? If she did, she knew that she couldn’t face her father without telling him what she'd learned. She should go on to Lewiston, which was her original plan. Would Marc find her there, also? Why did life have to be like this – totally unfair and full of decisions? She was never really good at making decisions. She stood in the doorway frantic, not knowing what to do.
“Psst!” A man standing across the hall put his fingers to his lips. “Maybe I can help you,” he spoke. “I’m no prize, but if you come over, I can help you get out of this place without being seen.”
“I – I don’t know,” Breanna stammered. “Why do you want to get mixed up in all of this? I don’t know you, and you don’t know me.”
“Do you really think we have all day to stand around and chat? Do you want my help or not?”
“Not!” Breanna wanted to say, but she was too tired, sleepy, and miserable to think straight. No matter where she went, Marc would be fast on her heels. There was no way she felt like getting back on the highway after all that driving she’d already done. That would be nothing but suicide. What other choice did she have?
“Well? Do you want me to help you or not?”
“Yes,” Breanna whispered. “But only if I can trust you,” she added. Breanna looked up at the man warily. She certainly didn’t want to leave Marc, whom she certainly didn’t trust, for some total stranger who might be a real villain.
“You can trust me,” the man spoke.
Enough said. It was a huge risk, but she wanted to elude Marc for as long as she could. She hated him. She didn’t want to talk to him. She didn’t want to see him. Breanna locked the hotel door from inside, threw the key on the bed, and hurried over to John Doe’s room. She couldn’t help but think how mortified her dad would be if he could see her now, his Breanna, running away; his Breanna, about to enlist help from a complete stranger.
She took a deep breath and willed her legs to keep moving. She felt like crying out loud, like an infant in need of its mother. How in the world, she questioned herself, did she ever find herself in this predicament, at this hour, far away from home in Georgia? Immediately, her thoughts took her back to when she was seven years old. The words of her father rang in her head as clear as day.
“Breanna, we’ve done well to keep our lives out of the spotlight,” Will told her one Saturday in the park so many years ago. He was sweating profusely and breathing heavily, after running miles around the track. “Your mom is a celebrity, and that makes you more susceptible to predators who would kidnap you, at any moment, threatening large amounts of money for ransom.”
“I know, Dad. You’ve told me a thousand times.”
“You’ve got to stay with Ms. Alyssa,” he told her. But better yet, Alyssa had to keep an eye on his daughter. That was what he was paying her to do.
Alyssa Pyles was a woman close to his age. He’d put an ad in the newspaper requesting a babysitter for Breanna, as there were plenty of occasions when he needed someone to watch her. There were board meetings and PTO meetings that were held in the evenings; conferences and workshops that took him out of town or out of state. He simply needed help, he admitted reluctantly. He couldn’t drag her around with him to every function that he needed to attend.
There’d been loads of responses from the ad. In the end, he’d chosen Alyssa. A thorough background check on her had turned-up clean.
He’d just had some crazy thoughts, he guessed. He heard a girl scream. The first thought that popped into his head was that it was Breanna. He turned around immediately and ran as fast as he could back to where she’d been playing on the swing. Sweat poured from his forehead. He was drenched, running like a madman trying to rescue his daughter.
Continuing to run, his eyes scanned the area where she’d been playing. She wasn’t there. Where are you, Breanna? Where are you? His eyes sought out Alyssa and held. There she was talking to some man near the bench, smiling and laughing into his eyes. His breath caught in his throat. “I’m not paying you to flirt! I’m paying you to never take your eyes off my daughter!” he wanted to scream. Finally, he saw his Breanna slide down the sliding board, all smiles and unharmed. Relief coursed through him. “Oh, my God,” he wondered. “Am I overreacting? Is this every father’s nightmare? Or am I losing it?”
A child – so precious and innocent,
So tiny, this bundle of joy.
You’ve made my life all the better,
Knowing that I must protect and love you,
More than love itself.
It was at times like these that Will thought he hated his own wife. No, he could never do that – hate Cleotyne. He would forever love her unselfishly. But she was not here to help, not here to help him worry about Breanna. It was totally selfish of her to run off to California or Las Vegas, singing every night without a care in the world. There were people to care about – him and most importantly, Breanna. How do you leave your family for months on end? He knew he’d never have done it. It just wasn’t right. But as soon as those angry feelings surfaced, they disappeared just as quickly. He knew in his heart that he’d give Cleotyne; his wife and lover, mother of his child, super recording star, all the time she needed in this world – anything that would make her happy.
As badly as it hurt him to do it, he knew that he was firing Alyssa. Maybe it was overreacting on his part, but he wanted Breanna watched like a hawk. He scooped his daughter up in his arms and silently walked away. He’d find another sitter. He’d make it clear to the next babysitter what it was that he expected.
“Mr. Walker! Mr. Walker, what’s the matter?” It was Alyssa. She was worried. What had she done? This job paid her a lot of money and she couldn’t afford to lose it; not to mention the fact that she was attached to Breanna. She loved the little girl. Breanna was happily playing nearby. Her boyfriend, Alonzo, stopped by to say hello; and they started talking only for a moment. He had just proposed to her yesterday. Was that a crime?
“I’m just frustrated, Alyssa. I’ll call you tomorrow.” Will closed his eyes and held his child tightly. He couldn’t lose everyone he loved. Cleotyne wasn’t here. All he had was Breanna. What if some crazed madman kidnapped her or took her away from him? What would he do then? He was sure that he wouldn’t be able to eat, breathe, or live. He’d ask his mother to watch Breanna. She had often complained that she needed to see the child more often. Now was his opportunity to ask her. If she couldn’t, he’d lay down the law to Alyssa.
Just as he entered the house, Will heard the phone ringing. What now, he wondered? He was agitated. He didn't want to speak to anyone. Bad timing. “Hello,” he barked into the receiver and then intentionally, let his mood soften. He noticed Breanna watching him with big, curious eyes. He didn’t want to upset her any more than she may have been already.
“Darling, is something wrong?” Cleotyne gripped the phone, expecting the worse. She had good news to share. Her album had gone platinum. She was receiving rave reviews from everyone in the music industry. She was ecstatic and she missed both Will and Breanna terribly. She just needed to hear their voices and tell them that she loved them. It would still be some time before her Around The World Tour was completed. Then, she would be able to go home for a while.
“Breanna, go to the kitchen and fix us something cool to drink,” Will said. He felt as though he'd explode. He was a balloon ready to burst.
“Is something wrong? Is something wrong?” Will repeated as his voice rose slightly. “No, nothing’s wrong. That’s what you want to hear, right?” he breathed into the phone. That way, you’ll feel no guilt.” Mentally, he told himself to calm down but today he was over the edge. There was no calming down. He needed his wife. He wanted his woman. Tonight! And where was she? She was thousands of miles away, and God only knew what city this time. He’d had enough! He had played both mommy and daddy for as long as he cared to. Cleotyne had better come home, or find a permanent one elsewhere. He meant it. But Will hung up the phone, regretting every stinging remark he’d made. He loved Cleotyne. In his heart, he knew that there was no other woman walking this earth that could ever claim him. For him, there was no one but her. Minutes later, he rang her number, begging for forgiveness.
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