A brilliant man (my uncle) suggested, over a Greek family dinner, that I consider writing a short story. Written for a short story contest, my last attempt was a not so impressive narrative with a not so epic ending… turns out I don’t take well to being restricted to a specific number of words. However, one late night shortly after the suggestion had been made, as that which is inspired often does, this plot entered my mind and unraveled itself within seconds. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have and will take pleasure in writing it.
I rolled over and immediately realized my head was throbbing. It took a second for my eyes to adjust and for me to come to the uncomfortable realization that I wasn’t in my bedroom. I was… in what looked like a hotel room. There was loud music and explosions coming from outside. I stumbled out of bed and tip-toed across the cold wooden floor to the slit between the floor to ceiling drapes. I peered through at what looked like Mardi Gras… no, Cinco de Mayo. Where the hell was I? I was staring out at the set from the movie Desperado. I was in some quaint little Mexican village. The mariachis piled down the rustic road, while fire-breathers and fireworks lit up the night sky.
A thud behind me caused me to swirl around, distracting me from the anxiety attack that had begun brewing in my chest. I wasn’t alone. A hand reached up onto the bed and shortly after a man stood in front of me. In the dim lighting it was hard to tell for sure, but his face looked incredibly familiar. “My head… what the hell did we drink?”, I recognized that voice. Flashes started swirling into my mind… me drinking a raspberry mojito alone at some swanky downtown LA club, doing a row of tequila shots at McGuiver’s Pub, chugging some bald guy’s pint of beer on the patio of some restaurant… his wife was not impressed. One of my heels breaking, some woman in the stall next to mine asking for toilet paper, me clinking a glass of wine with… oh my gosh, “Mark?”. As I pulled back the curtain to let in some more light, it became a certainty. There stood the ghost from my past.
Mark and I had worked at a café together back in college. My very first day on the job, it had been just the two of us working. An hour into my shift I had gotten a complaint from a woman about her latte being room temperature. Mark had stepped in and politely suggested the next time she drink it before getting into a 20-minute conversation on her cell. He and I had an instantaneous connection. The kind that ends in a classic Hollywood romance, and that it did. We were inseparable, with the kind of love people envied and wanted to puke all over. Six months later, I had showed up to work only to be told he had quit the night before. I tried calling him, but his phone would go straight to voicemail. After work, I had taken a cab to his place only to find his apartment door open… the place was empty. I had wracked my brain, going through every detail of our last encounter, which had been the previous day. We had gone for breakfast and nothing about it had felt out of the ordinary. He had promised to text me later that night from work, but when he didn’t I had just assumed the café had been busy. I figured he hadn’t bothered calling me after work either because we usually got out late. After all, we had been scheduled to work together the following morning… that morning. I had stood there stunned in front of his open apartment for what felt like hours, barely able to breath, until my phone vibrated. My co-worker, Gigi, had been cleaning out Mark’s locker and had found a letter addressed to me. Fifteen minutes later, I was back at the café reading these departing words: “I’m sorry. This is not how I wanted this to end… not even close. Perhaps it’s for the best. I know you’ll do great in life. Love, Mark”. For the next couple of years, those words had set themselves on repeat. Eventually, they had decided to spare my psyche from utter de-combustion and slowly faded into the background.
Seven years later, there he was standing in front of me. “Mark, what the hell is going on? Where are we? How did you find me? … Why did you leave?” I was now hyperventilating. My legs slowly folded under me and I melted onto the floor. As I held my face in my hands, I decided that I was definitely still drunk. Mark clumsily knelt down in front of me and grabbed my hands in his. I looked up into his face. It was exactly how I remembered it… only tired. Not the kind of tired that comes with a night of reckless partying and drunken debauchery, but from years of stress. There were faint lines on his forehead and his eyes were slightly sunken in, outlined with what looked like permanent dark circles. “What?”, Mark asked with an inquisitive smile. “You just look… ”, I shrugged and looked down at our hands. All of a sudden I noticed something on my finger… a silver ring. I glanced over to his hand… a silver ring. I jumped up and backed into the window. Mark had followed my gaze and had immediately caught on. He now stood facing me with a look of panic, “I’m guessing you’re also wondering why we’re both wearing rings on our left finger?”. “A little bit”, I gasped. Suddenly, all I could think about was the fiancée I had back home in L.A. who I’d been living with for the past 3 years…
My shock was interrupted by a knock at the door, followed by bullets being fired into the room and Mark hurling his body at me. Both of us dropped to the ground.
There I was, face to floor, as gunshots continued firing into the room. No time to react, I was being dragged across the floor, through the floor to ceiling drapes and out the window, which turned out to be a sliding glass door leading out onto a balcony. I somehow found time to process how lucky we were that the door had been unlocked. The fiesta happening below us muffled the bullet sounds coming from the room I was sure now looked like Swiss cheese. “Hurry, climb over and jump down,” Mark shouted. It was a long way down, but this was a jump I was willing to make… it was do or die. So over I went, landing on a pile of garbage bags. Seconds later, Mark plopped down next to me. “Keep moving,” he grabbed my arm and catapulted me to my feet just in time to dodge a bullet that came raining from above us… they, whoever they were, had made their way onto the balcony and were now jumping off it like ninjas. No one else seemed to notice the ridiculous spectacle; perhaps assassinations were a daily occurrence in this cynical little town. Mark and I expertly weaved through the crowd of colorful costumes, rushing past a stand of intricate skeletal-looking masks. “Here!”, I slipped one of the two masks I had snatched onto Mark’s head. “Quick, throw yours on I have an idea!”, once I had done as I was told, he pulled me out of the crowd and behind a stand selling fireworks. We faced the crowd and watched as the bandits shoved their way through and right past our masked selves. Finally, suspicious of our loitering, the owner of the stand came over from his other table, “En que les puedo ayudar?”. “Gracias senor,” those and about four other words were the extent of my Spanish vocabulary. “Disculpe senor, nos podria decir la manera mas rapida de llegar al aeropuerto?”, for the next few seconds I listened to Mark impressively hold a conversation with the olive-skinned man with the thick dark mustache. A Mexican-looking Tom Sellac. “Ok, let’s go!”, off Mark went with me at his heels, back into the crowd, through to the other side, around a corner and down a quaint narrow alley. At the end, hidden behind another mountain of trash, was a rusty, old Chevy. In we went and away we drove. I blamed my valiant behavior up to that point, on the remnant fumes of “liquid courage”. However, after all the running and weaving, I found myself completely sober and wishing for a Jack Daniel’s on the rocks. “You’re shaking,” Mark placed his hand over both of mine, which lay interlaced on my lap. “Yeah… so what the hell just happened?”, that was just one among several inquiries I had mentally lined up to fire at him within the next 30 seconds. As he opened his mouth to speak, I noticed the car behind us was barreling towards us, “Mark! Behind us!”. I just out-ran a dozen bullet-blazing strangers through a full-out carnival in … I swear it had to be Mexico … and now I was in a high-speed car chase! This was a bad dream… I had sat at home and watched too many bad flicks in the last week, after being fired from my high-profile PR job. That had to be it! We were now swerving down an open highway, followed by the same tailgating vehicle. “Hold on, babe!,” Mark suddenly hit a sharp turn and the next thing I new my head was meeting the dash.
Through bleary eyes, as I came to, I could see I was being hoisted into the arms of a uniformed man. “Make sure she gets home safely,” I heard Mark tell the man that now stood holding me at the top of the steps leading into an aircraft. Mark had turned and was shouting instructions to someone at the bottom of the stairs, the violent wind tugging at the little article of clothing he wore. Right then, with a sore head and hair flying into my face, I realized how ridiculous he looked. He stood there looking like Zorro in an incredibly soiled white dress shirt unbuttoned halfway down his chest, part of it un-tucked and hanging out the back of a pair of filthy light-grey trousers. “Kate, they’re going to take care of you and fly you back to LA,” Mark was now leaning over me, holding my hair back with his hand. “You’re not coming?”, I fought the urge to cling onto him like a child being taken away from a parent. “I can’t, I promise I’ll contact you soon and explain everything,” Mark kissed my forehead, as someone yelled to him from a distance. I could see small headlights moving closer through the darkness. “Go!”, Mark immediately charged down the steps and I was quickly moved into the airplane, where I was laid down on a tan leather couch. I wanted to sit up and peer through the window, but my head was throbbing with pain. Was Mark going to be okay? Were the cars I saw making their way to the landing strip, the same ones that had tried to run us off the road? Once again I tried, this time using the couch as leverage, but just as I was almost in the upright position the plane began to charge the runway and down I went. “Just take it easy,” a tall, older Richard Gere look-a-like with a stethoscope around his neck smiled and took a seat on the edge of the couch next to me. “I’m Dr. Rosen. Mark mentioned you may have suffered a mild concussion, so I’m just going to examine you. Is that alright?”. “How di… why is he… is Mark like Batman or something?”, I blurted out after getting a hold of myself. The doctor chuckled, “Something like that. Now let me take a look”. After a few brief tests, Dr. Rosen concluded that I would be fine. He recommended I sleep for the remainder of the flight home and then disappeared behind a curtain. I was wired; not even the steady sound of the engine could lull me to sleep. There I lay in a fancy private plane somehow wearing exactly the outfit I remembered picking out from my walk-in the night before–that I remembered–a vibrant green summer dress… and apparently no shoes. There had definitely been shoes at one point… my favorite black patent Gucci pumps lost in the world of tacos and sombreros. More so than bitter, I was achy and incredulous; a part of me still waiting to awaken from this lucid dream at any moment. In the meantime, I settled for replaying what had just happened over and over… and somewhere amidst all the analyzing and dissecting, I dosed off.
Thump. My eyes popped open. There I sat bobbling up and down in the back seat of what was definitely a luxury vehicle – polished black leather seating, glossy dark wood detailing on the doors and a driver. I looked through the window at the familiar scenery… I was on my block. “Hey, nice to see you again! How you feeling?”, two brown eyes peered at me through the rear view mirror. Nice to see me again? “I’m sorry, have we met before?”, I was almost whispering. “You really don’t remember, do you?”, after a brief pause of silence the driver continued, “I’m Teddy! I was the best man at your wedding!”. My wedding… I stared down at the shiny metal decorating my left finger. Tears started streaming down my face, “I don’t remember.” As we pulled into my driveway, my new friend turned around to face me, “Don’t cry sweetheart. I’ll help you remember! I’m sure once I start telling you all about it, things will start making sense.” Teddy’s optimism and animated way of speaking made me break into a smile. He had a very kind face – droopy eyes, chubby cheeks and a warm grin. I shook my head. “There’s a pretty smile!”, Teddy cut off the engine, pulled his seat back and cleared his throat. I leaned forward ready to take it all in. I was so grateful that I had found someone to help me piece things together… now that I had finally accepted that I was wide awake and this was no dream. “I scooped the two of you up from downtown at around 10pm. I’ve never seen two people in such a state,” he let out a hearty chuckle, “You both sloppily slid into the back seat and began slobbering all over each other like a pair of horny kids.” I suspected my cheeks were a nice shade of rouge. Teddy noticed the embarrassed look on my face, “Oh don’t you worry, nothing I hadn’t seen before. Us chauffeurs are like bartenders, we listen and observe without making judgements… at least I don’t. Believe me, after 60 odd years nothing surprises you anymore.” It would never have occurred to me that Teddy was in his 60’s, his smooth chocolate brown skin and youthful demeanour did well not to give away his age. “Anyway, you two kept saying how much you loved each other and how much you had missed each other. As soon as I pulled into this very driveway, Mark jumped out, ran around and opened your door. He knelt down and asked you to marry him! You responded by puking all over his jacket.” I was wide-eyed “I don’t remember any of this at all. Please continue.” I couldn’t believe how excited I was to hear more. It was as if he was catching me up on an episode of my favourite soap opera. Teddy laughed as he caught on to my enthusiasm. “Well, once you were done…you know,” he flung his hand away from his mouth, his gesture for puking, “You yelled yes, you’d marry him. Within seconds, I was on-route to the airport with a smelly jacket in my passenger seat and you two love birds in the back.” I winced, “You mean we were kissing after I had,” I imitated Teddy’s earlier gesture. “Yup!”, he laughed, “Long story short, when we got to the landing strip you both insisted I be the best man. I finally agreed. Off to Vegas we flew, found a great little Chapel… Hearts of Fury Chapel or something. After the ceremony, Mark immediately wanted a honey moon for his new bride. Back to the airport we went and off to Tijuana! I made sure to give the two of you alone time during the flight. After the preview in my back seat I wasn’t going to risk being exposed to the feature film!”. I was suddenly hit with a wave of guilt. “You alright dear? You’re frowning again,” Teddy looked concerned. “I have a fiancé… who I love. But Mark and I have this history… ”, I took a deep breath, “I remember sleeping with Mark on the plane”. It was a very faint memory, but nonetheless I knew it was true – I had been unfaithful. “Please go on though,” I needed to know everything. Teddy hesitated for a second and then went on, “Well, by the time we pulled up to the hotel you two had fallen asleep. When I woke you up you were both still fairly drunk, but you managed to stumble into the lobby. I tagged along to ensure you got your room key… after all what’s a best man for?”, Teddy grinned. “I left the two of you after that,” I looked out the window at our perfect little house – mine and Aidan’s. It felt like I had been away for months. I glanced back at Teddy, “Thank you for telling me,” and after a short pause I added, “Good thing we were too tired to go at it again or Mark and I would have been prancing around Mexico in our birthday suits… you know we were chased by bullet-carrying ninjas, right?”. Teddy chuckled and said, “Mark definitely knows how to give a girl a honey moon.” Just then, a taxi pulled up. Oh shit! Aidan was back from his conference. I thanked Teddy again and jumped out of the car. As he pulled out of the driveway I was left standing there shaking like an electric toothbrush. Aidan hopped out of the taxi and walked towards me with a huge smile on his face. His expression quickly turned into a worried one, “Kate, what happened to you? Are you OK?”. He ran up and hugged me. I had completely forgotten the state that I was in… a soiled green dress, no shoes and uncombed, greasy hair. I didn’t need to see my reflection to know how frightening I looked. Suddenly, I remembered the ring on my finger… while he continued to squeeze me tightly, I managed to slip it off behind his back. Now for an explanation…
“So you drank so much you blacked out and don’t remember anything?”, Aidan handed me a tall glass of water and sat down next to me on our new leather couch. I was hit with a sudden flashback of me sitting on leather upholstery with a different man. “Yeah, getting fired was…devastating. It took me so long to find a career job and not just any, but the one I would have picked had I hundreds of jobs to choose from…,” the tears just fell. I realized that this had also been true about Aidan, who I would have declared as the man of my dreams a mere 48 hours ago. Needless to say, the crying was for more than just my fallen PR queen status, it was for my future husband and the one I had at present. “Love, I wish you would have called – at least a drunk call. I tried ringing you before going to bed last night, but I got back to the hotel late and figured you had already passed out. Had I known you were wandering the streets of downtown LA, shoeless and filthy…,” he smiled. Had I known… those words echoed in my ears.
Aidan felt badly for not having been there for me in what he called “my time of utter self-destruction”. As a world renowned architect, he was often flown overseas to bring a contemporary American twist to classic foreign designs. In true man of my dreams fashion, he did his best to encourage and support me in what felt like my never-ending job hunt. His devotion to my cause only made me feel worse. I had been married for two weeks with no contact from my husband. I had done a pretty decent job of suppressing any thoughts on the subject. My fiancé and I were getting married in less than 6 months. Of course I was aware that an annulment had to occur sooner than later, but I wasn’t going to allow myself to lose all control on the matter. Mark had promised to call, so I continued taking deep breaths and getting through my days. Spending 12 hours daily searching for a job, served the greater purpose of keeping me sober… I had decided never to drink again.
About a month had passed and I had managed to get a few interviews. None of which I had heard back from. I had begun feeling a little more anxious about my situation, no job and no Mark. I decided that I would soon take matters into my own hands. I had done a little research – careful to delete the history off my computer once I was finished – and it turned out an annulment was possible without both parties having to be involved (though it would cost more and take between 1-3 months). I was hopeful that everything would be resolved without Aidan ever having to find out. Our wedding date was quickly approaching and I had been a lousy bride. I had no dress, no cake and no idea what the entertainment would be at our reception. I was thankful that at the very least I had prepped the wedding invitations 8 months prior, chosen a minister and found the perfect venue to dance the night away with family and friends. I decided that all the symptoms I had been dealing with for the past week and a half – continuous headaches, nausea, mood swings and tiredness – had to be due to all of the above. Not even Aunt Flow had made it into town that month, which wasn’t unusual since my stressful occupation had caused her to skip her visits every once in a while. However, to be on the safe side, I ventured to see good old Dr. Papadakis.
Two hours later, I stood shaking outside my doctor’s office building. I couldn’t breath. I managed to hail a taxi, but the rest of the ride home was a blur. Aidan had gone away on business again, which I was supremely grateful for. Having to face him at this moment would have killed me. I walked into my house, closed the door and slid right down onto the floor. I stayed that way until my cell jolted me out of my emotional comma. “Hel…lo,” I could hardly speak. “Kate, you ok? It’s Mark, I’m so sorry it’s taken me this long to call. I don’t have very much time, but…,” I stopped listening. It was as if he had sensed the hell I was in. Finally, the words rolled out of my mouth, “I’m pregnant.”
There was a pause… and then the phone went dead.
Am I ok? No, I’m not ok! Here I am with child, while my fiancé is out of town and my husband is fighting crime… or whatever it is that he does. I hadn’t been able to find a new job and I had a wedding coming up… mine. There I was walking up and down Beverly Hills at 8am, a croissant in one hand and my cell in the other. How I had gotten there, no idea. All I knew is that Mark had hung up on me and I had stayed up all night in crisis mode. I decided I was going to figure this all out today, but I needed a sidekick. I dialled, “Hi, Christine? It’s…,” she immediately cut me off and started rambling on about what an injustice it was that they had fired me, that the new girl was a disaster and that she knew I was probably doing fantastic at some other firm by now. Ten minutes later, I gave up trying to cut into her monologue and hung up. I was thankful that at least she hadn’t asked if I was okay. Just then it dawned on me that it had been almost two months since I had been let go and Christine had never once attempted to get a hold of me. She had been my closest gal pal at our firm… at least that’s what I had considered her until now.
I had moved to LA three years ago from New York, when Aidan and I had decided to buy a house together. I left behind all of the friends I had grown up with, promising that I would visit so often they’d never even have the time to miss me. I did a pretty decent job of keeping my word, until I landed my glamorous PR job my second year in Hollywood. I dedicated myself entirely to my job and I became the top publicist at my agency. Inevitably, the people I loved most from back home and I quickly drifted apart. It saddened me to think that I had let that happen. In these moments, they were the ones who would have come to my rescue. The only people that I had ever trusted here, were Christine and Aidan. Since those two were not an option, I was left to, “Hey, watch where you’re going!”, a guy sporting Ray-Bans had bumped right into me on a practically deserted sidewalk. Before I could shout anything else, the man turned around and shot me the finger… his ring finger, which bore a hint of silver. It was Mark. He turned around and continued walking ahead of me. He looked different in the light of day… at least the back of his head did. I followed him for three blocks, into a pizzeria, right through the kitchen and into the back alley. “Hi,” Mark took off the shades, pulled me in and kissed me. “How you doing? I’m so sorry about everything,” I stood there speechless. “Look, I got our annulment papers drawn up, but now that there’s a baby…,” I cut him off, “Mark, I don’t know if it’s yours.” Suddenly a car swerved around the corner and sped right up to us. “It’s ok, it’s Teddy,” Mark reassured me. Sure enough, Teddy popped his head out and yelled, “Get in!”. The look of panic on his face made me want to run back through the pizzeria kitchen and out the other side. Instead, I jumped into the back leather seat with Mark and away we drove.
Teddy spoke to Mark in code. I tuned out. I couldn’t care less what they were saying; I was busy trying to keep my heart inside my chest. I expected that any second now there’d be some car at our bumper and that I’d somehow end up blacking out again. Ten minutes later, we pulled up to an aircraft. “Alright, you two be careful now,” I realized Teddy was referring to me. “Um, Teddy, would it be possible for me to just drive back with you,” Teddy glanced over at Mark who was already halfway out the car. “Darling, I’m not going back that way, it’s not safe. Your best bet is to go with Mark,” Teddy smiled and added, “Besides, you two never got a proper honeymoon.” Huh? I got out of the car and Mark closed the door behind me. “Sir, we’re ready for departure,” some scrawny man in a white uniform stood in front of us and the steps leading into the airplane. I grabbed Mark’s arm, “Hi! Remember me? The girl who never agreed to this?”. “You’ll be home tomorrow and this will give us a chance to sort everything out. Kate, this is the only way I can keep you safe right now. Do you trust me?”, Mark stared into my eyes. Did I have a choice? We climbed into the plane, where a sharply dressed woman and two other men in navy suits greeted us. Once we were in the air, I turned to Mark who had finally sat down next to me and was holding my hand, “So where are we going again?”. “England,” he answered casually. Perfect.
Instead of interrogating Mark on the flight to England, I had managed to pass out with my head propped on his shoulder. After my all-nighter and once again fleeing for my life, articulating full sentences was not my forte. Mark had fallen asleep with his chin hitting his chest. We were awoken by one of the men in the navy suits, “Sir, Agent Espinade would like you to contact him upon arrival.” Mark’s expression quickly changed and although I couldn’t read it, I had a feeling something was up, “Thank you, agent.” The dark suited man made his way back to his seat in an almost robotic way. I started to feel uneasy; more so, when I noticed Mark carefully surveying the others on the plane. Suddenly, he grabbed my hand, pulled me out into the aisle and all the way to the back of the aircraft. Once he had drawn the curtain shut, he began pulling a bunch of equipment out of a stainless steel cabinet. “Step into this,” he held out a harness at my feet. Hesitantly, I did as I was told. As he continued securing the harness and decorating me further with ropes, hooks and a knapsack. I inquired, “What exactly is this all for?”. I knew what it was for. I had worn similar gear–minus the knapsack–a couple of times while engaging in indoor rock-climbing… and the one time I had gone zip-lining. Mark grabbed both my shoulders and stared me right in the eyes, “Do you trust me?”. I started to hyperventilate, “I don’t know. No one’s ever asked me to jump out of a plane before!” The heavy equipment weighed me down, making it difficult to run to the opposite side of the plane away from the emergency exit… but I was able to wobble away just fine. As I turned to face Mark again who was now pulling the emergency door open, I heard loud voices coming closer. Mark jerked his head towards the curtain and then dashed over to me. As he latched our harnesses together, my maternal instinct (which I wasn’t aware I had until then) kicked in and was telling me to jump. Mark kissed me and then hauled me towards the windy opening. “Close your eyes,” Mark hugged me from behind and a second later, we were falling into the abyss.
I was going to die of a heart attack. After what felt like 20 minutes, I opened one eye. I thought I’d lose all my eyelashes to the wind. We were falling through puffy white clouds and below us I could see land. I took a deep breath and looked up at a nice big parachute. Knowing there was a possibility we’d live through this helped a tiny bit. However, I didn’t stop praying until we had landed with a thud. Well, I had landed on top of Mark, so my landing had been slightly more cushioned. Mark didn’t waste any time, he unhooked himself from me and pulled out his phone. I looked around. It was stunning fields of green everywhere. When Mark had completed his call, he walked back over to me, “You OK?”. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, “I think with the gravity and shock this baby will never come out of me.” Mark smiled, “I’m so sorry for putting you through all this. You’ve been amazing.” I smiled back, “Are we ever going to have time to talk?” Mark was busy freeing me from all the rope and safety materials, “Someone’s coming to pick us up in the next few minutes to drive us into London. Once we get there, we’ll be safe and can finally have a sit down.”
We were picked up by a Mercedes with tinted windows. As we drove, I stared out at the gorgeous English countryside. About an hour later, I was staring out at Big Ben. Somewhere along the Thames River, Mark got a text. He tapped at his touch screen and then proceeded to casually balance the phone on my knee. There in all caps: when I open the door jump out. OK, no problem I thought. I had jumped out of a plane, this would be easy. Once he was sure I had read it, he took the phone and quickly slid it under the driver’s seat. As we turned onto a bridge that extended across the river, Mark reached over me and flung open the car door. Without a second thought I threw myself out of the moving vehicle. Mark was right behind me. We scrambled to our feet and ran down along the bridge, pushing people out of our way. I glanced back and saw the black Mercedes swerving through cars in an attempt to catch up to us. Mark grabbed me by the waist and pulled me sideways, “We have to jump off!”. Before I could register what he was saying, we had climbed onto the side of the bridge. Mark grasped my hand and we jumped. We hit the water hard. It was freezing. Thankfully, I had always been a good swimmer so I had no problem finding my way back up to the surface for air. I was now treading water under the bridge, looking around for my partner in crime. Finally his head poked out of the water a couple of meters away. “Kate! Kate?!”, I swam over to him. “I’m here!”, I tried yelling back, but water seeped into my mouth—tasted disgusting. Mark spotted me, “Oh thank god! There’s a boat coming, we’ll hide in there.” I nodded. When the boat got close enough, we flailed our arms around until a couple of crew members dropped us down a flimsy ladder. We eventually made it onto the large wooden deck where about a dozen tourists stared at us with inquisitive faces. They had stopped paying attention to their overly-enthused tour guide and were now getting up off their seats to shoot pictures of us—great. “You two taking a morning swim?”, came the guide’s booming voice through the loudspeaker. “Could we please use your bathroom?”, Mark asked one of the crew members and without waiting for a response, he grabbed me and headed inside the small vessel. I knew his urgency was due to the fact that in about 30 seconds we’d be out from under the bridge and exposed to the tinted window assassin.
After standing under a hand dryer for a full 20 minutes, I stepped out of the ladies’ room and back into the indoor seating area of the boat. Besides a couple that were very much enthralled with one another, Mark and I were the only other people on the deck not enjoying the clear London sky. Mark sat waiting for me with a tea and a packet of cookies. I realized I had been running—literally—on a breakfast croissant for almost 16 hours. Was that even possible? I stuffed my mouth full of the delicious baked goods and with my cheeks puffed out like a squirrel I asked, “Is this what your life is like every day? Always running?” Mark was practically swallowing chips down whole. He smiled and mimicked my chubby face. I laughed and flirtatiously swatted his chest. “Some days I think I’m on the set of a James Bond movie… just waiting for them to yell cut,” as soon as he had finished that sentence, I was darting out to the side of the boat.
I returned a few minutes later looking green. “I don’t think our…,” Mark corrected himself, “The baby is very happy.” I slowly sunk down next to him and rested my head on his shoulder. Mark offered me a napkin and I wiped my post-puke lips. “I think the tourists got some great shots of you bent over the railing,” Mark threw his arm around me. “Yeah, they’re the bloody paparazzi,” I felt queasy and light-headed… the latter being the side-effect of something a tad less pregnancy-related. Except for saving my life on several occasions—the least he could do for endangering it to begin with—Mark hadn’t really done much else to show he might still be harbouring undying affections towards me. At least not while being sober. However, his slip, him referring to the baby as “ours”, put me on natural high.
After a long pause I offered, “I think it’s yours. Actually, I’m almost positive. My fiancé and I…,” Mark interrupted, “Fiancé?”. “Yeah, we’ve been together a few years,” I quickly added, “Anyway, we’re always very careful. I’m going to go ahead and guess that you and I, in our inebriated state, were not as…”. I trailed off as I sat up and met Mark’s gaze. He surveyed my face admiringly. “What?”, I couldn’t help but feel a bit self-conscious. “You’re going to make a great mom,” I could tell he didn’t mean it as a compliment, but as a certainty. I laughed, “Obviously you’ve forgotten all about the time we baby-sat the Johnson’s kid.” Mark shook his head as he smiled, “Definitely didn’t. It’s a miracle we were able to keep him alive. Didn’t we feed him spaghetti with ketchup because we couldn’t find any tomato sauce?”. For the next 15 minutes, we reminisced about the past—concerts we’d been to, the job we hated, the people we hung out with, my countable nervous breakdowns during exams… it was the first regular thing Mark and I had done since our reunion.
We made sure to be the first ones off the boat, to ensure our snap-happy followers wouldn’t draw any attention. “Thanks, service was great,” I beamed at one of the crewmen and shoved a damp American twenty into his hand. Before the canary-shirt-wearing employee could respond, Mark and I were running down the dock toward a row of taxis.
We spent the taxi ride to the George V Hotel, laughing and enjoying each others’ company exactly like in our college days. It felt like no time had past… I was in love all over again. I couldn’t bring myself to ruin my nostalgic status, so I did my very best to ignore the occasional pangs of anxiety in the pit of my stomach. Finally, the still soggy clothing sticking to parts of my body brought me back to reality and I blurted out, “Are you a spy?”. We had just walked into our suite. Mark quickly shut the door behind us, “Um, why don’t you change out of those wet clothes and then we’ll talk.”
A long searing hot shower and fluffy hotel robe later, I opened the bathroom door and let out a cloud of steam. My mystery man had left a note on one of the pillows: Went down to reception, back in ten. If it wasn’t for how delightfully relaxed and altogether exhausted I was, I would have hid in the closet anticipating yet another life-threatening situation—the bellboy barging in and holding me hostage. I melted into a mattress made of heavenly softness and disappeared under a deliciously plump duvet. The bellboy would have to drag me out of here MATTRESS AND ALL.
“Kate?”, Mark was sitting on the bed next to me as I lazily lifted my eyelids. “So yummy,” I mumbled. Mark had his serious face on, the one he used to let me know I wasn’t going to like what he was about to say, “I can’t answer your question. All I can say is that I’m one of the good guys.” My eyes were now wide open, “Mark, I’m pregnant with your kid. I deserve a little more than that bullshit line you just fed me.” Mark got up and paced around the room, “It might not even be mine.” “Ouch,” I tossed out sarcastically, as I propped myself up with a pillow. Mark’s apologetic expression didn’t make up for his remark, “Look, not even years of therapy will undo the traumatic experiences you’ve put me through”. I knew I was being dramatic, but it was worth a shot. The truth was, after the initial shock of it all, this was the most fun I’d had in all my life. Mark sighed, “Alright missy, you get the bare minimum. I refuse to put you in anymore danger.” I smiled triumphantly, as he once again plopped down next to me.
It turned out the government was as corrupt as we always suspected and most of the conspiracies we heard about were true. Mark worked for a man who held a high enough rank in the political world that he was privy to top secret information. He had covertly assembled a small team to help him uncover what he couldn’t himself get to without creating suspicion. The plan was to eventually expose these crooked elitists to the masses and stop them from potentially destroying half the planet. “So you’re not a spy, you’re a hero,” I grinned. Mark flashed me a brief smile and continued. Their operation had been managed so carefully, it had gone unnoticed for years. However, recently Mark had somehow fallen onto their radar. He was being hunted for questioning and most likely it wasn’t the kind where they sit you across a table and try to intimidate you with a stare-down. “In other words, a hero that could never make a good father… not under the circumstances,” Mark looked down at the floor. I reached over and hugged him. I had no idea what to say, except, “You’ll make a great dad.” Mark held me a little while longer and then lay back down on the bed, “You should get some sleep. I’m going to go make sure you get a flight back to LA tonight. I’m sure your fiancé will be worried.” I had completely forgotten about Aidan. As Mark got up to leave, I grabbed his arm, “Promise me we’ll figure this out.” Mark nodded. Deep down I knew the situation was hopeless.
“Mark?”, I quietly called before he could walk out of the suite. “Yeah?”, he whispered back. “If it’s a boy, I think we should name him Ben; and if it’s a girl, London. What do you think?”, I closed my eyes to help prevent the tears from streaming out. “I think that’s perfect,” he answered sadly and then disappeared into the hall.
A few hours later, I rolled over and found myself face to face with my annulment papers. His multiple signatures stared back at me in blue ink. I got up and dug my cheap metallic wedding band out of the pocket of my jeans, which I had draped over an armchair along with the rest of my clothing. Luckily, those were the tightest pair of pants I owned, so it was right where I had left it. As I glanced up, I noticed an envelope addressed to me leaning against a vase that was decorating a glass table. Inside was a plane ticket home and enough cash to get me to the airport. Before leaving the room, I tossed my ring on the nightstand.
Chapter 10 – FINALE
The flight home felt endless… but at least it was normal. I was back to being a nobody sitting in business class, praying that the eggs with the 10-year expiry date weren’t on the breakfast menu. Though I suspected the mini-me I carried within, would be all for the magically imperishable plane food… especially after a not so impressive airport snack – a pre-packaged, soggy BLT and a water-downed smoothie prepared in a blender with the remains of the previous customer’s mango-kiwi concoction… mango – a fruit I once dearly loved, my latest aversion. Champagne, on the other hand, I was all for. As I politely declined the bubbly beverage the dainty flight hostess offered, I wondered if the craving was coming from myself or the baby.
Late that afternoon, as I walked through my front door, an indignant pair of eyes greeted me. “Kate, what’s going on?”. Aidan’s expression was fixed on a frown. “I got home a day early to see if we could spend some time together. I must have called your cell a million times; it kept going straight through to voicemail…”. My cell… where had I left my cell?. “Is that your passport?”, I tuned back in and noticed Aidan’s eyes had drifted down to what I held in my left hand – my passport (which Mark had somehow managed to retrieve from my sock drawer, while I had been pacing up and down Beverly Hills that one morning) and a plastic bag filled with two magazines and a pack of gum I had purchased at the airport convenience store… that and my annulment papers. “Did you go somewhere?”, he was now staring at me suspiciously. “I’m pregnant,” I blamed the lack of filter on my jet-lag… and on desperation.
It astounds what two little words can do. Aidan’s interrogation had instantly been replaced with abundant bursts of excitement… and while he had been off spreading the news on his phone, Facebook and Twitter; I had gone off to hide the papers that would end my marriage.
“I saw a gorgeous older man with a full set of hair out there. I call dibs on him!,” Natalie helped me climb into the centre of my seven-tiered, crinoline-based gown. She was still the boy-crazy, life-of-the-party type gal who I’d left behind in New York. “Yuck, Nat! He’s probably Aidan’s grandfather,” a disgusted-looking Betsy–another Big Apple chum–stood next to us, veil in hand. “Aidan’s rich grandpa. Besides, then Kat and I would be related,” Natalie zipped me up. I couldn’t breath… not because my dress fit snug, but because it was the “happiest day of my life” and I was having an absolute internal melt-down.
Aidan had decided we should push up the date of our wedding, joking that no child of his would be born a “bastard”… if he only knew. In one month, I had managed to get a cake, a wedding singer and about 100 out of 225 guests to agree to watch me walk down the aisle on such short notice. Thanks to Aidan’s Great Aunt Midge’s new boyfriend, we also had our new venue… a winery in Napa Valley that words could not describe. Most importantly, my annulment had gone through a couple of weeks ago and I was a free woman about to become a bride again… sober this time.
I watched through the mirror as Betsy’s head repeatedly poked out from behind me like a turkey, as she adjusted my veil in the reflection. I couldn’t help thinking how much it sucked to be pregnant and in need of a stiff drink. In about an hour, I would be hitched. In about seven months, I would be a mother. Shortly after that, thanks to my wonderful groom, I would be the boss at my very own PR agency. Apparently, all the travelling had paid off and Aidan was now the lead architect on a $10 million project. As a wedding gift he had handed me a shiny new key, which I had very childishly assumed was him giving me the “key to his heart”.
“Katie, you’re the most stunning bride ever!”, Nats eyes were welling up with tears. Betsy was already dabbing at hers with a tissue. I was curious how they’d react when I told them I was pregnant. I stared at myself in the full-length mirror and suddenly felt an overwhelming sense of joy. I blamed the hormones. I looked just as I had pictured I would on my wedding day. I thought back to how excited I had been when Aidan had proposed… he had flown me on a private little plane above Ellis Island, where 30 of our closest friends had held up a huge banner over their heads that displayed: WILL YOU MARRY ME?. I had never understood how anyone could cry of happiness, until then. Once we had landed and informed everyone that the answer was yes, we had dispersed into taxis and congregated back at my favourite Italian restaurant for dinner. It was one of the most memorable days of my life.
My thoughts were interrupted as my mother barged into the room looking like Sophia Loren in her off-the-shoulder navy blue gown—her hair swept up in a gorgeous bun decorated with a jewelled barrette that matched the gems on her navy silk shoes. She was followed by two more of my bridesmaids – Aidan’s sister, Dana, and my college roommate, Nadine. Once everyone was done gushing over me and passing around the Kleenex box, I was whisked out of my dressing room and onto the exterior cobble-stoned grounds of the winery. It was like being in a villa somewhere in Tuscany.
One by one, my purple-wearing bridesmaids disappeared through a stone arc connecting the two rustic-looking buildings – one where the wine was produced and the other, the restaurant where you could enjoy it. “See you in a bit!”, Natalie, who I’d chosen as Maid of Honour, was beaming from ear-to-ear. Her partner, Aidan’s much younger cousin Alan, held out his arm and within seconds they were out of sight. I was next. “Honey, you alright? You look paler than your old man,” my father chuckled. My dad had always been the fairest one of the family. “I’m just a little nervous,” I confessed. My father wrapped my arm around his, kissed me on the forehead and said, “That’s what I’m here for.” Finally, I heard the very familiar tune that beckons every bride to face her aisle. It felt as if I was about to face a death sentence. I tightened my grip on my dad. He looked down at me with a reassuring smile, “Piece of cake, kid.” I felt myself relax and as I turned the corner, I heard myself gasp.
I’m married… once again I was waiting for the pinch that would wake me from the dream. I had walked down a lilac-carpeted aisle littered with white rose petals towards the most handsome guy I’d ever seen. I loved Aidan. He was exactly the man I wanted to marry and this was exactly the life I wanted to live. I was married to someone successful, good-looking and who I had already built a home with. Thanks to Aidan, I also had my career back. It would have all been perfect, had the baby only been his…
For the first time that day, as I sat at our Oscar-worthy reception, I allowed myself to think of Mark. A month of not hearing from him had cured me from wanting to become Wonder Woman and escape bullets every day of my life. As much as I loved him, I had told myself that for the sake of the baby I would leave him behind. However, as I had walked down that aisle, I had realized that there was nowhere else I wanted to be. Mark had been a part of my life that I had wondered about for years… that I would have probably continued to wonder about had I not woken up beside him. As my first love, he would always hold claim to a small portion of my heart. However, what I had wanted from him all along was not love, but closure.
The tuxedo-wearing musicians called the bride and groom to the centre of the dance floor. It was time for our first dance. “I can’t believe we’re married,” Aidan stared into my eyes as if he was admiring the most beautiful thing he had ever seen… I did look pretty fantastic. I smiled back. All of a sudden, I felt a pang in my stomach. I had to tell him about his not-so-legitimate child. “Aidan, about the baby…”, and then my eyes caught a glimpse of Mark. “Hold that thought,” my new hubby decided it was the perfect time to dip and plant one on me. Everyone cheered and cameras flashed. By the time I was right-side up again, Mark was gone.
Once the song had ended, everyone joined us on the floor. I excused myself to go to the ladies’ room. I walked out from under the tented area and looked up at the starry night sky. This is where Mark had stood seconds ago. The lamp lights were lit in a row with perfectly trimmed bushes in between them. Leaning at the foot of one of the lamp posts was an envelope with my name written across it in gold. I opened it and shook out its contents into the palm of my hand—two metal rings. I held them up to the light and realized each was engraved on the inside with a name: London and Ben. I reached into the envelope and pulled out a letter:
I’ve never been the best at saying goodbye, so I’m hoping I get it just right this time…
I suppose I can serve as your something old… the ex whose heart you’ll always carry. I also qualify as your something blue… having to watch you marry the man who can offer you what you deserve. The baby is your something new. As for something borrowed… that’s you. Not meant to be in this lifetime, but perhaps in the next. I’m sorry I couldn’t offer you more than a life-threatening adventure. I’m content if the sole purpose of our reunion was to have you never forget me.
Ps. As a wedding gift, allow me to help you begin your new life at ease… the baby isn’t mine. Turns out, it’s not possible.
Enclosed with the letter was a copy of Dr. Rosen’s report stating Mark was not able to have children. “Love, what are you doing over there?”, Aidan had spotted me and was heading towards me. I managed to stuff everything into my bra before turning to greet him. “You ok?”, Aidan now stood holding my waist. “I was just adjusting my dress before going back in… we’re going to have a baby!”, I threw my arms around his neck and kissed him like never before. Some of our guests had caught us in the act and were now hollering with excitement. Aidan was stunned, “Did you sneak a glass of wine into the washroom or something?”. I laughed, “I’m just the happiest I’ve ever been.” Aidan kissed me, reached for my hand and led me back to our party.
Mark had not only given me the adventure of a lifetime, but he had given me the gift of knowing the “what if?”. This was surely the cure to any bride’s case of cold feet… and mine were officially on fire.