Chapter Twelve: Back in Your Arms.
Friday January 27th had arrived. It was quite an important date for two main reasons: Cristina had planned to pay Theo a visit in the morning, and later in the day Theo was supposed to headline the premiere for Cristina’s reopening of a very popular theatre in the Arts District of Old Willow. Cristina came just as she planned at nine in the morning when Theo had finished with all of his morning activities.
When Cristina entered his house, she immediately took notice of the handsome young man that Theo had living under his roof. At first, she thought that the blond young man was Theo’s boyfriend but on the contrary he was just a friend.
“He’s Benjamin, a friend of mine,” assured Theo with a laugh after he commented that a waitress at a restaurant thought that Theo and Benjamin were a lovely couple too. Theo handed Cristina the baby blue leather diary and the rosary, which the countess had loaned to him.
Cristina widened her eyes when she held the diary in her hands, incredulous that she was holding such an object of great import. She was holding the very thing that could instantly destroy her nemesis, her so-called friend who had caused her so much grief. Her posture became relaxed when she looked up at Theo, who sat on the couch in front of her. “You can keep the rosary. It’s my gift to you.” She held out her arm with an open palm, waiting for Theo to accept her gift.
Theo shook his head and elicited a small laugh. He didn’t know what to do. “You know I don’t believe in that.”
“Take it as a good luck charm at least, please. You won’t deny a gift from a countess who so happens to be your benefactress?”
Theo finally gave in with a half-hearted shrug. The rosary was to become a good luck charm to him. Nothing more, nothing less. He took the rosary from her hand and shoved it in his blazer’s pocket.
Cristina smiled warmly. “It even matches your shirt.”
Theo ignored the rosary, focusing on a much more important matter. He threw the diary a quick glance, remembering what was written in those pages. He wanted to tell Cristina what he had concluded about the events that transpired sixteen years ago but the words got stuck on their way out. With clenched fists and a heavy heart Theo had to sit there and face the woman who could be his mother after all.
“Is something wrong?” Cristina noticed the vexation in Theo’s eyes. It was quite evident that he was hiding something.
“No,” lied Theo as quickly as possible.
“Anyways,” Cristina began to change the topic before she was suddenly interrupted by Theo.
“Have you found anything concerning my parents?” Theo finally asked in his interruption.
Cristina sighed and shook her head. “I’m afraid not. My private investigator only did so much, and he got nowhere. I did my job as well with Tobias helping me and we got the same result. Your parents are nowhere to be found; it’s as if the earth had swallowed them whole. We looked into any epidemics that often overwhelm the slums but there has been nothing on record.”
Theo felt sorry for what Cristina had went through a long time ago, truly he did, but he caught her lie with a tinge of spite. His intuition was telling him that Cristina had done nothing to find his parents. On the other hand, Theo was doing everything possible in finding her children.
“That’s a shame,” was all that Theo rejoined. He sighed and leaned back on the couch.
“You know how I told you to memorize the lines of the main character for Love & Misery?” finally Cristina had changed the topic without further interruption.
Theo nodded. “Yes, and I have them all memorized. I even memorized the song he sings in the last scene of the play.”
Cristina clasped her hands in relief. “Thank God! Our actor whom we casted for the main role has a stomach flu and can’t make it to the premiere so it all comes down to you. Hopefully you know how to sing!”
Theo remembered that as a child he would idly sing a tune or two when he wandered the streets with Helen. Helen and anyone else who passed by him often complimented his vocals and wondered why he never auditioned for a role in a musical or something. Theo cleared his throat ready to sing a brief tune to demonstrate that he had the necessary talent, but was cut off early by Cristina.
“I’m sure you sing wonderfully, and I don’t want to be spoiled right now. I’d rather wait to see you sing on stage tonight.” She excused herself and rose from the couch where she was seated, heading towards the front door with the diary in her hands. With her farewells said, she wrapped her fingers around the front door’s doorknob, ready to leave.
Theo exhaled sharply and quite nervously. He knew he should have waited for the right time to say what he wanted to say. But what if there wasn’t any other time? The tide is always changing and right now was the right time, or so he thought. “What if I’m your son?”
Cristina quickly spun at Theo’s utterance. “I beg your pardon?”
“What if I’m your son? Have you ever thought about that?” Theo had risen from where he was seated and was walking towards Cristina, who had shut the door behind her as she stood at the entrance.
“You can’t be my second child because he’s only three years younger than you and you’re certainly not my oldest. If you were my oldest child, I would have recognized you a long time ago.”
Theo was astonished at how stubborn Cristina was being. Her defiance to open her mind made Theo forget he was ever sorry for doubting her. “How can you say such a thing when you haven’t proven anything with a DNA test?”
“Because!” she snapped violently, “You are not my son and we’re going to leave it at that until I get further confirmation!” She finally opened the door and left without further ado. She had reacted as if someone had blasphemed her.
Certainly, her reaction towards Theo’s suggestion struck the young man with a rancorous sensation in his heart and mind. He lowered his head and pressed a palm on the front door. I shouldn’t have said anything, he thought with closed eyes as he shook his head with regret.
Later that day when the sun had set, the entirety of Old Willow, both the good and bad side, was alit with celebration. Fridays are always a day to celebrate! Just as many people spent their Friday nights eating out at posh restaurants, watching a movie, or simply strolling through the cobbled streets—others spent it at the theatre. In reality, a lot of people were spending their night at the theatre. After all the theatre had just reopened after twenty years of closure—all thanks to Countess Cristina who bought and remodeled it in under a year. Everyone wanted to see what the new theatre looked like out of mere curiosity, so they purchased their tickets to see the premiere stage production titled Love & Misery.
The spectators sat in their seats, reading the pamphlet that welcomed them to the theatre and explained to them what they were going to watch and who were the actors and their corresponding characters. The audience members, who were wealthy enough to afford a box to watch the play from above the general audience, sat on softred reclining chairs in their golden gilded club boxes. These privileged spectators all looked down at the general audience and the empty stage with posh opera glasses that gleamed under the dim lights of the club box.
“Hmm, I’m not surprised that Theo-rella got the main part,” chuckled Julian behind Constance in one of the theatre boxes. He put down the welcome pamphlet and looked about with his opera glasses.
Constance caught onto his instigating snide comment. She turned to her brother with a smile. “Theo-rella? I never thought about that.”
Julian rolled his eyes with a grin. “All hail the genius that is Julian Edmunds.”
Constance rested a gentle palm on her husband’s hand, getting his attention. “Do you know who Theo von Draken really is?”
Mr. Clearwater raised a brow and jutted his lower lip. For a second, he looked clueless over who Theo von Draken really is. “Isn’t he that boy we had under our employment? He was fired for stealing, right?”
Constance was relieved to hear that her husband wasn’t entirely a clueless buffoon. “Yes, and now he’s here acting on stage and living a grand life. How can a petty criminal go on living like that? Don’t you think he should be condemned for his actions?”
Mr. Clearwater put down his cup of scotch and shook his head. He savored the liquor in his mouth before finally answering. “Why should a man be condemned for something as trivial as theft. We knew his situation and we knew that he came from the slums. What he needed was help instead of being humiliated. Therefore, I’m glad that Hunter has turned his life around for the better.” He took another sip of scotch. “Besides I’m still not convinced that Hunter was the thief.” He flashed a quick glare at Julian behind him, “Someone set Hunter up that day and god forbid that boy would have been imprisoned because I would have bailed him out myself!”
Constance sank in her seat. What else had he figured out by now if he had had figured out what really went on that Christmas? The theatre darkened, save for a few dim lights in the boxes where the elite sat, and the curtain was raised. Constance tried to sit still but her nerves were clearly on edge over her suspicion that her husband isn’t entirely oblivious over what she had done in the past.
Meanwhile, Booker sat in the back seat of his family’s theatre box. He paid no attention to anything at all. His eyes began to wander to the theatre boxes in front of him and next to him just to see if there was anyone there he knew. The theatre box next to his family’s was full of strangers but the box across his family’s held a familiar and wanted sight. His heart skipped a beat as he became extremely joyous. His reason for excitement was confirmed when he looked closely with his opera glasses at the theatre box of interest.
Benjamin sat in this particular theatre box in front with a middle-aged man, whom he recognized as Tobias, and a mysterious lady clad in black who sat in the back, hidden from the eyes of Constance, Julian, and Mr. Clearwater. But most importantly Benjamin was there and that’s all that mattered to Booker.
Booker excused himself from his box, but no one paid attention to him. His wife was utterly engrossed in the stage production—she didn’t even breathe or blink as her eyes were fixed on the stage. With great pleasure, he ventured down the dimly lit hall where he came across curious individuals, but no one interested him more than his beloved Benjamin. Some men stood outside of their box with cigars, laughing and smoking merrily as they invited Booker to join them—he declined politely. A passing young woman coquettishly smiled at Booker, but he ignored her.
He knocked not once or twice but thrice in rapid succession on the door that led to Benjamin’s box. The door opened immediately. Lo and behold it was Benjamin who appeared before the love-struck Booker! Benjamin excused himself from the box and joined Booker in the hallway.
“Oh, how I’ve missed you,” Booker said. He grabbed Benjamin in a passionate embrace and kissed him ardently on his lips.
Benjamin gently pushed Booker away and looked around with wide vigilant eyes. “Aren’t you afraid of getting caught cheating on your wife? Or what if your mother saw us? You know she’s a huge homophobe.”
Booker carelessly shrugged the issue away. “Who cares? I’m going to divorce Ana and then you and I can get married and move far away from here,” his expression soon darkened with a sudden thought, “Why did you leave the estate with Theo? Is he who you prefer over me? And if you do, don’t even bother in saying it. I’ll leave and that’ll be the end of it.”
Benjamin sighed, averting his gaze from Booker. “I won’t lie to you so yes at one point I was starting to feel something for Theo, but I realized that his heart belongs to another. I also couldn’t see myself being with another guy other than you anyway.”
Booker ran a hand through his hair and anxiously turned his back on Benjamin. Hearing Benjamin say such a thing was a striking blow to his heart.
“I ask that you forgive me. Even in that brief whim I still had my heart towards you despite my gaze being turned in another direction. I just thought that maybe you and Ana really slept together or something. I thought you had forgotten about me…”
Booker suddenly grabbed Benjamin in a delightful hug and kissed him once more. “Of course, I forgive you,” he said between kisses, “Even if the world falls apart, I’ll never forget you. I swear it on my own damn life!” And there they were fixed in a lovely hold for a good while. Booker didn’t care if people thought he was an adulterer if they saw him kissing another who wasn’t his wife. All he cared about was Benjamin, whom he held in his arms and whom he kissed endlessly.
The body heat between them intensified and the kisses were becoming more passionate by the second. The two men hurried down the hallway to find a more private spot. Fortunately, they found a vacant prop room. It was spacious enough with only a few discarded props set about. The room was slightly lit by the moonlight that shined through a small round window in a far wall. All they had to do was lock the door of the prop room and, so they did exactly that.
Benjamin lay on the settee that was covered in red cloth with Booker on top of him, kissing his neck and lips and occasionally playfully biting him with a smile. Booker then took off his clothes and pulled down Benjamin’s pants while Benjamin threw his shirt over his head. He grasped Benjamin’s muscular thighs and buttocks in handfuls as he started kissing him from his neck all the way down his back and beyond. Booker grasped Benjamin’s golden hair and leaned forward with an ardent kiss. His body became ever so connected with Benjamin’s with each caress and kiss.
The curtain fell amid a round of thunderous applause. The audience wiped their tears, thinking that the stage production of Love & Misery was the most beautiful thing they had ever witnessed. What brought them to tears most of all was Theo’s musical performance—his swan song. His voice was the perfect soprano. He sang with all his heart, after all it didn’t take much for him to get into his feelings as he sang.
Theo related with the main character’s struggle. Just like the character in the stage production, Theo was also looking for the girl he loves with all his heart. He just hoped that Helen wasn’t going to turn up dead on the day he finds her like the main character in Love & Misery who found his dearly beloved five years later only for to her to be dying of cholera at the turn of the 20th century.
The audience had a chance to meet the cast members of the stage production out in the foyer of the theatre. There the actors that took part in the production came out to sign autographs and accept flowers and gifts from the audience. Theo von Draken was the last to come out in the foyer. He didn’t go to the crowd yet, instead he stood alone at the balcony on the second floor to ponder and have some time for himself. As he looked below at the crowd, he wondered what happened to Tobias, Cristina, and Benjamin. During the play he had seen a glimpse of them in one of the club boxes, now they were nowhere to be found.
He was about to turn and walk away until he felt the presence of someone approaching him from behind. He quickly turned and he nearly stumbled in shock when his gaze fell on the person who had come near him. She was a magnificently beautiful young woman; her russet skin was glowing while her hair hung behind her back in lush waves; her pastel pink blouse and white petticoat skirt fit her body with ease as she stood in her ankle high heeled black boots with grandeur. She looked at Theo as if she knew him, but the girl was unrecognizable to him. He only recognized her when she finally smiled that glorious smile that welcomed him in his dreams ever since they parted.
“Helen,” he breathed out. His arms instantly wrapped around her body in a loving hold.
Helen returned the hug, wishing to be in his arms forever. She wanted to say so much but, in the end, it all came out in one sentence. “You go by Theo now?”
Theo rolled his eyes but kept his smile. “Long story, literally.” He noticed with relief that Helen was no longer walking around in rags and her hair wasn’t disheveled.
She caught onto his observance and proceeded with an explanation. “I struggled for the first month when I left but I bought a lottery ticket and I won the big prize.”
Theo widened his eyes. “That’s unreal! Well, you have more luck than I.”
Helen chuckled the matter away as if it wasn’t anything special to have won the lottery. She changed the topic to something that really mattered to her. “So, you make your living by being an actor?” She was oblivious to many, many things and it was Theo’s intention to catch her up on the details.
“Like I said…long story,” he sighed.
Theo and Helen became quiet as they gazed at each other’s eyes in utter admiration. What was he to say next? What was she to say next? Neither of them will ever know because they were interrupted by a rather impetuous greeting.
“I didn’t know that my future fiancé had such talent!” Jennifer approached Theo with Ana behind her back. She locked arms with him and looked at Helen with senseless disregard. “Who are you?”
Fiancé. The word that the obnoxious girl spoke to Theo echoed painfully in Helen’s mind and heart. She flared her nostrils and hurried towards the front doors of the foyer. She cut through a mass crowd, bumping and crashing into whoever stood in her way. The people she moved out of her way cursed at her, but she didn’t care. All she cared about was being far away from the theatre…and Theo.
“If you’ll excuse me,” Theo separated his arm from Jennifer’s grasp and hastily went after Helen.
“Looks like that’s an old flame of his,” remarked Ana. She knew exactly who Helen was and what she meant for Theo. After all she witnessed the two of them grow together. She had seen all the flattering glances that Helen would give to Theo in their adolescence, only for Theo to completely ignore her affections. Ana smiled at the thought, the reality, that she was the one that Theo lost her virginity to and not Helen. One point for Ana, none for Helen.
Jennifer, with her arms folded across her chest, turned to look at Ana with a grimace. “How would you know?”
“Didn’t you see the way he went after her! It’s only obvious that there was something between those two,” replied the covetous girl. Deep down inside she wished that Theo would run after her the same way. One day you will have eyes only for me, Ana told herself. Her body yearned for Theo’s lips on hers. She wanted him to say that he loved her over and over. She wanted to fall asleep in his arms, she wanted to become his bride and the mother of his children. He was so enchanting to her that she wanted him all for herself. Alas, she was married to another who didn’t have eyes for her and whom she didn’t love anyways. “Where’s Booker?” she asked nonetheless just to show that she slightly cared for her husband.
During the play, Jennifer noticed Booker leaving the box. She took the liberty of following after him. She was witness to his amorous reconciliation with Benjamin. “Perhaps at the bar since he did mention that he was rather thirsty.”
Theo made it to Helen just in time outside the theatre. The street was alit brilliantly by hanging glowing lights above the street and the quaint street-lamps that lined the sidewalks. A multitude of passerby flooded the sidewalk—heading back home, or going to venues, cabarets, and other nightly diversions that Old Willow had in store for its citizens.
A taxi had parked in front of Helen with its back door open. At seeing this, Theo’s heart began to race even faster. He exclaimed, “Stop that taxi!” just as Helen was about to get in the backseat. At his request the taxi-man shook his head at Helen. Theo paid the taxi-man for his kind stop and the man left happily. Theo was successful in not letting Helen leave him once again. Helen, on the other hand, didn’t have a ride back to her hotel room.
Helen grimaced at Theo. She sighed and shook her head before finally talking. “You know what, I’m sorry I’m acting like this. I shouldn’t be like this because first of all I haven’t seen you in over a year and…” she stopped herself before she said any more. And also, because you’re not mine, she wanted to say. “And also, because I’ve missed you so much,” she ultimately said.
Theo held her hands in his. He gazed at Helen, who was slightly shorter than him, and smiled tenderly at her. “Can we just talk about everything over a cup of wine?”
Helen blushed, averting her gaze from his piercing green eyes. “I would love to.”
Theo took her to the winery he promised himself he would take her to on the first day they reencountered each other. The winery was a picturesque little place that was built like a countryside cottage only two blocks away from the theatre. It was painted white with a picket fence outside. On both sides of the small path that led to the front door of the winery were grapevines all spaced out evenly with arching vines overhead. The front was dimly lit by decorative lights that hung and wrapped around the fence and the vines; behind the establishment, the sounds of a pond were heard: the calm gushing of running water, the ribbiting that came from the frogs, the flapping of wings from a group of ducks, and the song of a gentle swan.
When they entered, they were greeted by a kind elderly woman. Gymnopedie No. 1 by Erik Satie played in a vinyl player at the entrance, substituting the lack of guests with a soft classical melody. The elderly hostess of the winery led them to their table by a window that overlooked a moonlit pond with a lone swan, thinking that this seating was perfect for a pair of young lovers such as Theo and Helen.
All of this delighted Helen. She was in constant euphoria; she almost couldn’t believe that Theo von Draken was such an angel of a man. Although, she wasn’t aware that as she saw him as an angel, his enemies saw him as a devil.
“Romanee-Conti de Grand Cru and I’d like the bottle, please,” demanded Theo. “It’s one of the most expensive wines out there,” he said to Helen.
Their hostess came back within a minute with a bottle of the most expensive wine and two Saint-Louis thistle gold cups. Theo and Helen drank merrily and not once did they take their eyes off each other as they recalled their childhood together. As they drank Theo also told Helen everything, starting from the day she left his life to just a few hours ago. His recalling took about an hour. A tear couldn’t help but to fall as Theo spoke about Patsy.
Patsy’s death awfully traumatized him because he had never expected to see her in so much suffering; the last tearful gaze that Patsy gave him that night had ripped Theo’s soul to its death. After that fateful night, Theo didn’t feel anything save for ire and solitude. But with Helen in front of him, his soul was beginning to come back to life. His dead eyes were alit with newfound life and meaning as he gazed at Helen.
“And I see that you’re also sporting a beard,” Helen smiled after she wiped her tears away. The death of Patsy and what had been done to Theo drove her to momentary sorrow.
Theo ran his hand through his close-shaven beard, lightly smiling back at Helen. “You also didn’t notice that I’m sporting a scar,” he added.
Helen became serious. From what he told her, the scar on his cheek was inflicted on him on the same day of his downfall. It was evident, from her view, that Theo was not only scarred from the outside but from the inside. It was clear that he suffered a great emotional blow that day and he would heal completely once he accomplished his vendetta against the Edmunds.
“That’s how I became rich with the condition that I help the countess find her children while she finds my parents; all the meanwhile we’re wreaking havoc on Julian and Constance. Making their lives miserable has been a timely sort of thing,” Theo continued to speak.
Helen was left with one question after Theo had told her about the conversation he shared with Countess Cristina earlier that day. “Why do you think she acted like that when you suggested that you could be her son?”
Theo shrugged. “It’s probably because she’s a countess now. Plus, she’s always been rich to begin with. Those people are usually classist no matter what, so heaven forbid that her child was raised in a tenement. She probably thinks that no matter the cost of my blazer I’m still a piece of shit. I’m her charity project.” He changed the topic quickly since he didn’t want to go on talking about Cristina. The countess’s attitude certainly infuriated him then and it was infuriating him now. “How did you get rich specifically? Most people who win the lottery usually blow it and end up with financial troubles within the first year.”
“I invested some of it in this new strain of marijuana that’s out in the market. It became one of the top ten most selling strains in the nation and I got ten times the amount that I invested. So, I invested even more, and my money multiplied by the millions. Now I’m a millionaire,” Helen explained with great satisfaction and surprise. Never in her life had she imagined that she would get so far and yet be so young. Then she added, “I support your desire for vengeance. Those people have done nothing but bad things and it’s about time someone put a stop to them. I just wouldn’t want you getting hurt in the process of it all…or I wouldn’t want you hurting someone innocent in the process.”
“I will make sure that Julian and Constance are behind bars by the time summer comes.” After Theo finished his cup of wine, he proceeded with holding Helen’s hands in his on top of the white wooden table. His sweet eyes reassured her that he would come out of his predicament successfully and unscathed
Despite his guarantees, Theo noticed that Helen seemed bothered over something he still had to elaborate on. “By the way, my engagement is just a ruse to get Julian and Constance in a room full of their elitist friends. I’m going to destroy Julian and Constance in front of everyone and that’s just the start.” He spoke fervently as his expression darkened. All he ever wanted was to see Julian and Constance on their knees, begging him for forgiveness. Alas, taking into consideration that Constance and Julian are monsters in every definition of the word, the image of them begging for mercy dissipated. Begging for mercy was beneath them but Theo’s desire for vengeance was far above them.
“I have a house in the suburbs, and I would love for you to live with me,” Theo continued to say.
“Just send me a text of your address and I’ll be there tomorrow morning with my things.” Helen accepted his invitation without giving it a second thought. She supported his agenda against the Edmunds. Plus, she really wanted to be with him, but she couldn’t say the proper words yet. She couldn’t come out to him and confess her love for him. She was afraid of getting hurt in the end and it didn’t help that the possibility of him being killed loomed in her mind. In spite of everything, Helen took into attention that Theo had powerful enemies and the outcome of his quarrel with them could be bloody. She didn’t want to go through the heart break of losing him, so she remained detached from him by not saying the magical three-lettered phrase.
Theo smiled. Everything was coming together perfectly. Better yet, Helen would be at his side now. He was in awe that they had finally found one another—or in this case she had found him. He wanted to tell her how happy he was to finally see her, and he did. “I’m glad you’re back in my life again.” He couldn’t tell her how much he loved her yet. Not until this is all over will I ever tell you that I love you!