She didn’t know why she had driven all this way out. She had not even planned to make the trip. But after she had finished reworking the frequency to the grey seeds, and paying another trip to the hospital, she felt the need to do so.
She stared at the name placard of the building, highlighted by the white light the shone from beneath it. If a person didn’t pay heed to the name they might have been fooled into thinking that West Haven was nothing more than an upper crust university, fit for only the finest of minds. Sadly the converse was the truth.
She headed inside and smiled at the nurse at the front desk.
The nurse smiled back. “Visiting hours are almost over, my dear. You might have a good fifteen, twenty minutes before you have to go.”
Etta nodded. “I probably won’t even take up ten. How is she doing anyway?”
The woman, Emily, signed Etta in, knowing of whom she spoke. “She’s been in her room all day. She wouldn’t come out. I don’t think it is anything to be worried about. She has days like this every now and again.” The glass door opened up and allowed Etta to enter.
She had not been to West Haven since before the last ascension. Now that she was there now that she could see, feel, read, taste and almost smell the frequency that was coming off of everyone and nearly everything, she found herself almost turning sick being near the patients of West Haven. She was almost sad that Baldwin was not there, his frequency to act as a buffer against all the others.
The sound and feel was chaotic. It was worse than nails down a black board. It was nothing short of noise pollution. It almost enraged her. She felt her pulse begin to raise and her forehead prick with the coming tide of sweat. Swallowing down the bile that rose up in her throat she hurried down the hall and focused her mind on shutting off the sound and feel around her.
She had gotten better with controlling this “gift” she was given. But she wasn’t so in control that the thought of running out of West Haven had not crossed her mind. She steadied herself outside of Francise Castle’s room. Dabbing away with her coat sleeve the sweat on her face and lip she knocked on the door before letting herself in.
Francise sat in the corner staring out the window into the rolling darkness of the evening and coming rain. She didn’t move, not even to acknowledge that Etta had come in. She never did.
“How are you doing today, Francise?” Etta kept her voice calm even though she wanted to shout. The volume from outside was still intruding her mind. She focused deeper to block it out. She focused on Francise’s instead.
It amazed her how her mouth suddenly dipped as she studied her mother more closely. It wasn’t because she had abandoned her all those years ago in favor of the bottle and the breaking of her own mind, but the fact that even her frequency was so…
What was it? She didn’t have time to figure it out. Not there.
“Nobody loves me,” The words crept past Francise’s dry lips.
Etta rolled her eyes and unzipped her purse. “Do you want some lip gloss, Francise? It will make you feel better, even pretty.” Her fingers grazed one of the seeds in her bag as she reached for her makeup pouch. She had already paid her visit to Vanessa Wong, giving her a stone, freeing her from the Towes grasp. The results were fruitful, very fruitful. She had yet to see to Ayo or Claus, however. She figured one at a time would do, especially since she didn’t have an immediate need for either of them. What she did need was for Oliver Taubmen to put his attentions elsewhere. Because of his ranting and chatter, her brand new car had been keyed twice, her sales had dipped at the store and the same old convicting eyes that she had first received when Baldwin had gone from sight were suddenly staring at her again.
She needed Taubmen to be occupied with other matters. The mayor being under her thumb, or better yet, her frequency would do just that. The Pulse wouldn’t be fool enough to let Wong wake up and stir the pot without trying to regain control of the spoon. Touching the seed again, the thought to give it over to Francise, just to free her, not control her, crossed her mind, but only briefly. She quickly decided against it realizing that the less people she had to protect from the Pulse, the better, and if Francise’s frequency was this repulsive to Etta it had to be even worse for the Pulse. The Pulse wouldn’t come near something so unpleasant.
Francise drew her dark eyes to Etta’s bag. She then touched her lips. “I used to be pretty. Maybe,” She took in a sharp breath and grabbed Etta’s hands. Etta pulled one hand free and gently brushed down the stray hairs that had come out of Francise’s poorly constructed bun as her mother continued to talk. “Maybe if I am pretty again, Grant will come back! He will come back! He used to love me when I was pretty. Give me the lip gloss. Give it!”
She greedily wrestled the tube of lip gloss from Etta’s hand and slathered it onto her lips, pressing them together as she shifted her eyes back towards the window. Etta sat on the bed. Melancholia fell across her shoulders. Why had she come? Why had she driven all the way out here?
Comfort? Reassurance? Hearing her mother, a woman who only knew her as a stranger, speak about her loss of her father only seemed to make the ache she was feeling about Jørn radiate even more within her. The scent of the perfume she had smelled in his clothing a few nights past seemed to assault her nose again from the vividness of the memory.
No, she shouldn’t have come. She stood up from the bed and closed her purse the same way she was closing up her heart again, and made her way towards the door.
“He is going to come back to me,” Francise said again, her eyes twinkling with tears as she turned towards Etta. “You’ll see. He is going to love me again. He will. He will.” She almost sang the words with sorrow and pleading.
Etta lingered in the door way and considered her mother, wondering if that is what her own future would hold if Jørn actually left her for whoever it was who didn’t have the good sense to buy a decent bottle of perfume. Would she linger at the window telling herself he would come back again, turn her broken heart over to addiction until her mind became as fractured as her life? Her eyes narrowed and her jaw clenched.
No. She wouldn’t. Jørn was hers and if he were to leave it would be because she sent him. She would deal with the smelly trespasser though, by coma or other means.
She made herself to smile back at Francise, shoving the jealous anger aside. “You do look pretty Francise, very pretty.” Francise ignored her. Etta left without another word.
* * *
Maryam pulled the door open and felt her hand rise to her mouth. Attempting to hide the delighted smile that bloomed upon her face, she turned her away and pulled the door open wider.
“Come in, Jørn! I wasn’t expecting you until tomorrow night.”
Jørn passed the threshold chewing his bottom lip. He had nearly followed Etta once he saw that she had driven out of town to West Haven, but he had suddenly made a detour that led him to the doorstep of Maryam. “I am sorry to impose—”
Maryam closed the door behind him. “There is no imposition at all. I didn’t have any clients today.”
“That is my point. I can come back tomorrow,” He pointed his thumb towards the door, uncertainty creasing his brow.
Maryam grabbed his hand and led him near the sofa. “No sir. You came all this way. Obviously you have something on your mind that you need to workout. If it made you come without calling, it is probably something that will take both today and tomorrow to work through.” She hoped.
Reluctantly Jørn sat down, leaning forward he pressed his steepled hands against his lips. Maryam sat across from him, watching him. How that man had gotten under her skin in a way that was far from professional she did not know, but he had.
She did not urge him to speak but settled for watching him instead. When he did speak, she was not expecting to hear what he had to say, but she was glad for it.
“Maryam, I have been following my wife.” His eyes looked like a stricken child’s when they met hers.
“Why, Jørn?” She laced her fingers in her lap.
Jørn blew out a breath before drawing his lips back in. Maryam felt her heart flutter. She had dreamed about kissing those lips, combing her fingers through the hairs of his beard and head. Clearing her throat, she brought her mind back into focus having missed the first part of his explanation.
“I know it was wrong. I know that I should have just been upfront with her and asked her directly, but she is never straight about any of this.”
“So how does this make you feel?”
He leaned back and pinched his eyes closed. “Convicted. Guilty, like I am the one who is wrong, and maybe I am,” His voice trailed off before picking back up again. “I just wasn’t expecting to find what I did and now it is not only too hot to hold it is too hot to touch, you know?”
“What is too hot to hold?” The glint in his eye made her realize she had missed something important. She kept a placid face even though she inwardly kicked herself.
“West Haven, Baldwin being at West Haven Psychiatric Hospital, that’s what!”
Maryam flinched. She had definitely missed that. She circled about and tried to save face. “I am sorry, Jørn, but did you verify that Baldwin is the one at the hospital?” His face crinkled, a sign he had not considered that. “I only ask because you are allowing yourself to feel a level of guilt that is a result of speculation and not verified fact or truth. That is not to say that Baldwin is not at the hospital, but you don’t know that for certain.”
He took a breath and considered what she said. “You are right, but who else could it be? I know what I heard the other night when she was in the woods on the phone.”
His tone seemed more of a challenge than anything. “I don’t know, Jørn, but I do know that you said your wife had been hiding things for over a decade, that neither you, nor anyone else knows what happened to your cousin, and that even though there was an investigation prior to your coming to Greenwich Pass, there was no evidence to conclude where he was or is. And I am certain that if Baldwin Falk was in a hospital less than two hours away that someone would have found out by now.”
Jørn’s jaw shifted from side to side as he stared down at his hands. He slowly raised his gaze as if to concede to what she had said. A flicker across his eyes led her to believe that he had also lent his minds wonderings elsewhere concerning his situation.
She asked, “What are you thinking now?” Again he took his time in answering. The man was even more handsome when he brooded.
“I am thinking that I am becoming more and more open to accepting the truth about my marriage and my wife.”
She let her brow rise as a way to nudge him forward. She had already determined that if the covenant between him and Etta was going to be broken that it would not be at her hands even though she would prepare herself to pick up Jørn’s shattered pieces.
He let out a long breath through flared nostrils. “I love her…so much it hurts, and even though everything keeps telling me she has lied to me and done me more wrong than anyone else in this world, I can’t bring my heart to believe it, but that doesn’t mean I will not allow my reasoning to guide me in my future choices.”
Maryam shifted in her seat, crossing her legs as she considered him. “What choices? I would encourage you not to be too hasty in whatever you have decided. You don’t want to look back with regret. Often our emotions, our need to have gratification and answers, can lead us to make decisions we wish we had not.”
“I know that. That is why I am talking to you.”
She smiled, and tried not to read too much into his statement although she found it much harder to do than it should have been.
“It was hard for me to even call you that first night, and even though it has gotten easier for me to come and talk to you, it still isn’t the most comfortable thing for me. Etta doesn’t know that I am seeing, but she should. Just because she hides things from me doesn’t mean I should be returning the favor.”
“But haven’t you hidden things from her long before any of this became an issue?”
A shadow darkened his eyes and his voice lowered an octave. “You are talking about her not knowing that I have been five years sober.”
Jørn huffed and laughed with an air of resentment. “I shouldn’t have to tell her that. That she should have noticed.”
“Far enough, is your reasoning the same with this situation; your following her and knowing about West Haven?”
“I don’t understand what you are asking me.”
Maryam leaned forward and searched his eyes. “Are you going to tell her?”
He shook his head. “No. At least not yet, not until I have all my ducks in a row.”
“Okay, so what will it take for you to get to that place of order? What is your next step?”
He ran his fingers through his hair. “I met someone earlier today, he told me that he could help me if I wanted to know the truth, about Etta, about Baldwin. He said he was a detective and that I should call him.”
“And you are leery?”
“Obviously.” He chuckled.
“You once felt the same way about me.” She smiled softly.
Jørn only shook his head. “I was never leery of you, Maryam. I was more leery of what I would find out if I opened up Pandora’s Box. Now that the box is opened I realize I need more help sorting through the mess than I thought. So I might be enlisting more help to that end.”
“So the obvious question, is?”
“Am I going to call him? I don’t know if I have a choice not to.”
Maryam bobbed her head. “I think you are on the right track, Jørn. I really do.”
* * *
If she had not called Doris and asked if she could swing by, and had the woman not been so excited with the prospect of her visit, Etta would have went home. It was nearly ten thirty and Doris had to man the chapel in the morning. But Doris had been excited and she was already on her porch with her finger pressing into the doorbell.
As soon as Doris opened the door, her bright smile faded when she looked at Etta, and without a thought she pulled Etta into her arms and began to squeeze her the way that Etta realized she had hoped Francise would have. It all seemed silly to her now but nevertheless a valid need.
“Oh sweetie,” Doris cooed, nearly coaxing tears from Etta’s eyes. “You come in here, and I will get you some coffee. Do you want coffee? I have decaf.” She dragged Etta inside and set her down at the kitchen table before scooting into the kitchen to get the coffee ready.
Etta didn’t even remember if she had said yes or no to whether or not she wanted some, but she would gladly take it. While the coffee pot worked its magic Doris joined Etta at the table, squeezing her hand. “I am so glad to see you, Etta. I have missed you so much.” She beamed, the sincerity of her words rang true with the words of her frequency.
Etta shrugged off her coat.
“Yes, get comfy, hun! I mean unless you can’t stay too long. I don’t want Jørn to be worried about you.”
“Thanks, Doris.” She didn’t bother saying anything about Jørn, doubting that he would worry about her at all. He hadn’t even called her.
“So…how are you, Etta? How are you doing, really?”
Etta let her eyes roll closed and leaned her face into her hands. She wasn’t going to cry but she did feel the weight of everything all of a sudden. She was human after all, human with the weight of the world on her shoulders, an alien entity that was thirsty for her blood, and a husband that was keeping company with another woman. Everyone had their limits, even Etta.
She said, “I have seen better days, Doris,” She peeked through her fingers, grunted, and then leaned back in the chair. “But I know that I will get through this just like I have gotten through other things.” And she would. She had left no room for any other options.
“Yes you will. You are hero. My little local Wonder Woman.” She beamed again.
Etta chuckled. “You really think so? After all the crap that has been being said about me; that I killed Baldwin Falk, put my grandfather in a coma.” She didn’t mean to sing her own song of self pity, or to make Doris’ smile wane. But even her words couldn’t knock the woman’s happiness down for too long.
Doris said, “I don’t give two hoots about what people are saying. See cause, I know you, Etta. I know the truth about you.” She wagged her finger at her.
“Do you?” Her voice was so small that Doris grabbed her hand again.
“Absolutely! I know that when I was scared you comforted me. You let me hide in your office with you for a week, and I know I can be a bit overbearing with my chatter. You came and stood by me when the Seats of the Silence revealed themselves, and you selflessly saved my life by stopping the ascensions. So yes, I do know you and I am proud to. And there is no one, and no thing that could ever change my mind about how wonderful you are!” She patted her hand.
Etta felt the back of her eyes sting, but rather than give into tears she gave Doris a big hug, allowing some of the stress to wax away. “Thank you, Doris. You have no idea how much that means to me.”
“Well, I mean every word.” She rubbed Etta’s back and released her when the coffee pot finished making the coffee. “Now,” She pulled out of her embrace and stood. “How does my friend take her coffee?”