Adoration

Act Two, Scene Two

Frank was right. The morning wasn't any better.

Joe woke with a mouth that felt like sandpaper, a pounding headache, and an undimmed memory of the previous night's events. He forced himself into a sitting position, making sure to keep his eyes closed until his equilibrium leveled out. Turning to the side, he was shocked to see Frank asleep in a chair next to the sofa. He must've been there all night. Joe sat stunned for a moment, just looking at his brother, then shook out his blanket and draped it over Frank's shoulders. Slowly, he put his shoes back on, rose from the sofa, and headed towards the door. He hesitated, his hand on the doorknob, then tiptoed back to the kitchen area, ripped a piece of paper from one of the notebooks Frank had neatly stacked on the table, and wrote 'Thank you. For everything. – Joe'. Then he crossed back to the door and left as quietly as he could, not wanting to face his brother's sympathy in the morning light.

After a shower, a change of clothes, and some aspirin, Joe felt marginally more like himself. At least physically, he thought, closing his eyes and shaking his head. Okay, work. Work will help. He checked his cell phone and found a message from Anna saying she was at the theater having a costume fitting. "I shouldn't be too much longer," her voice said, fabric rustling in the background, "then we can go for breakfast." He checked the time stamp. Only twenty minutes ago. Good.

By the time he arrived, she was finished and waiting for him in the green room, reading from a notebook that she tucked in her bag as soon as she saw him. She didn't usually have to go in early on Saturdays, she explained, but there had been an emergency with her costume. "They said the mock-up disappeared." She rolled her eyes. "I think one of the new apprentices didn't understand the washing instructions, and something happened to it. They needed me to come in for a re-do." She shrugged, a smile causing the dimple in her left cheek to show. "It happens. So, are you up for waffles? I know this great diner we can go to. We can call this outing 'breakfast with paparazzi'. So we can differentiate from every other meal we eat out, I mean."

"Sure. Sounds good." Joe knew his voice sounded flat, but he couldn't muster up much enthusiasm for having his picture taken right now. Or even for waffles.

Anna's smile faded. "Joe, are you okay?" He shrugged, trying to keep his expression impassive as they walked through the dim light of the theater. "You're not coming down with a cold, are you? You really should wear a sweater or something." She tilted her head to the side. "Tell you what. We can do waffles another time. Let's go back to my place, and I'll make you some chicken soup. We've been out so much lately that some time not in the spotlight will make a nice change." Joe shrugged again and tried to smile, aware that Anna was watching him intently.

The trip back to her apartment was awkward. Initially, Joe tried to put his arm around Anna's waist and hold her close – the way they usually walked in public – but couldn't make himself do it. It was too much of a reminder of who wasn't there beside him and wouldn't be again. She stopped, put a hand on his shoulder, and looked up at him with concerned eyes. "Joe, what's wrong?"

I'm really not that good of an actor, am I? Joe sighed, wondering how to explain his mood given the fact they were now in public. "Remember that third thing I told you about myself when we met?" She thought for a moment, then nodded. Joe swallowed the lump he could feel forming in his throat. "Let's just say my free time just became more free." His voice grew hoarse and cursed inwardly. He didn't want to be showing emotion right now.

Anna's dark eyes narrowed with worry. "Because of me?"

"No," he said, his voice as firm as he could make it. "Because of me."

She threaded her arm through his, compassion and understanding on her face. "I'm sorry." She patted his shoulder, then leaned her head against it as they started walking again. Apparently she wasn't going to ask more questions, and after a few minutes, Joe felt himself start to relax. It was almost pleasant walking this way, with no need for additional conversation.

They walked in silence all the way to Anna's building and through the lobby, where she smiled at the doorman as they passed by. When they got to Anna's door, Joe leaned up against the wall and sniffed the air. There was a definite floral fragrance surrounding them. "Boy," he said, trying to shift the mood, "I must live in the wrong neighborhood. Your hallway smells much better than mine."

"Someone must have gotten a bouquet sent to them." Anna wrinkled her nose and sneezed. "Lilies. Ugh. I'm allergic to lilies. Let's get inside quick." She unlocked the door and pushed it open, slamming it shut as fast as she could once they were both inside. She sneezed again as she handed Joe her coat. "Can you hang this up for me? I need to go wash my face. Maybe find some allergy medication. Those things just make my lungs close up."

Joe walked over to the closet with her jacket, noticing as he did that the scent didn't seem to be lessening. He heard a gasp from the kitchen, more sneezing, then a choking sound. The jacket fell to the floor as he ran. "Anna?"

The room was filled with dozens of bouquets of lilies, hundreds of flowers covering appliances, tables, and countertops, their fragrance perfuming the air. Anna sneezed two more times, her hand at her throat, her breath coming in gasps. Fear flooded her face. "Too many... can't... breathe..." More sneezes started coming, one after the other.

Joe's reflexes kicked in. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out the silk handkerchief he had found at the theater and put it over her mouth and nose. Then he picked Anna up, threw the front door open, and ran down the hall, cradling her in his arms. The doorman jumped as they crashed into the lobby. "Mr. Hardy, Ms. Gold? Is everything..."

"Do you know which apartment is hers?" Joe roared, not taking his eyes from Anna's face. The man nodded. "Run. Look for allergy medicine in the cabinet in the bathroom." Footsteps echoed in the hall, fading as the man raced away from them.

Joe yanked his cell phone from his pocket, ready to call 9-1-1, but Anna grabbed his arm, her eyes wide and frightened. "No..." She pulled the fabric from her mouth. "Please..." Her breath was still shallow but seemed to be coming easier, and she had stopped sneezing. Joe's lips pressed into a hard line, but he closed the phone and put it away.

Sooner than he would have thought possible, the doorman reappeared with an inhaler, a box of antihistamines, and a bottle of water. He handed Anna the inhaler. "I found these,” shaking the box, “as well. Will they help?" Anna nodded, put the mouthpiece between her lips, and depressed the canister. While she was doing this, the man shook two pills from the box and unscrewed the cap from the water bottle. "Ms. Gold? Can you take these?"

Her breathing now slightly more regular, Anna gave him a weak smile and choked the pills down with a swig from the bottle. "Thank you, Raphael."

Joe settled Anna in the chair at the doorman's desk and gave the man a sharp look. "Were you the one who let the florist's shop in?"

"Florist's shop?" Raphael looked confused. "There was one delivery today. A bouquet of roses came about an hour ago for someone on the eighth floor. I let the driver in myself." He shook his head as his eyes widened in realization of a fact he had initially missed. "The flowers in Ms. Gold's apartment didn't come through the lobby, Mr. Hardy."

"Is there a back door?"

"Yes, sir. All buildings have to have more than way out. New York fire codes mandate it. Someone must have brought them in through the fire door." He looked at Anna, shifting uncomfortably on his feet. "I never heard anything. I should have..."

"Raphael, this wasn't your fault." Anna's voice wheezed from the chair. She reached out a hand to Joe. "Joe, I'm going to need to lie down. The pills make me kind of spacy." Joe gritted his teeth, his desire to check out Anna's apartment vying with his need to protect her. Finally, he nodded and pulled his cell phone back out. He dialed almost without looking. "Chet? I know it's a weekend, but I need you to meet me at my place as soon as you can get there." He paused, listening. "No. It's Anna." Another pause. "Good. Call Frank. Get him to meet us there. Thanks." He hung up the phone and turned to Anna, still clutching the handkerchief in her hand, her eyes beginning to look glassy and out of focus. "Come on, pretty lady. Until we can get rid of those flowers, you'll be staying at my place. It's not as clean as yours, but at least there aren't any flowers. Raphael, can you get us a cab?"

"Right away, sir."

The cab came within minutes. As Joe was bundling Anna into the back seat, she looked at him with bleary eyes. "I'm sorry. I hate taking a full dose of these things. They completely knock me out." He brushed the hair from her forehead, but she shook his hand away and waved the handkerchief in front of his face. "Joe? Where did you get this?"

"On one of the catwalks at the theater. Don't worry about it right now." He kept an arm around her shoulders, supporting her.

"But, wait," her voice sounded troubled, "it's Pierre's."

Joe sat back, stunned. "Are you sure?"

"I gave it to him on his last birthday." Her eyes started to close, but she shook her head and forced them to focus on his face. "How did it get there?"

"I don't know." Joe swallowed. "Anna, does he know about your lily allergy?" She nodded slowly. "Damn." Her eyes drifted shut, her head drooping to one side. He pulled her closer, resting her head on his shoulder. "I'm not going to let anyone hurt you. You got that? Anna?" She made a small noise in her throat. "I promised you that, and this is one promise I'm keeping." But she was already asleep.


Frank spent a futile few minutes trying to convince Joe to stay with Anna and let him go with Chet to clean out Anna's apartment. "She doesn't know me from Adam. It makes more sense for you to stay so she's not with a stranger when she wakes up."

"I can't." Joe was fidgeting, shifting his weight from foot to foot, his eyes sweeping the apartment. Frank saw him flinch suddenly and followed his brother's gaze to a photo on the wall showing Joe and Kara, smiling, with their arms wrapped around each other. Joe's shoulders tightened and his jaw clenched. He turned to look at Frank, his blue eyes shadowed. "Frank, I can't just sit here. I need to be doing something." His eyes wandered back to the wall. "You can talk to her about Montvale while I'm gone. I haven't been involved in that end."

Frank nodded, realizing keeping Joe active right now was probably the best thing. "Okay," he relented, "but just to be safe, do you have any pictures of the two of us together?"

"What?" Joe was still staring at the image of Kara. With a visible effort, he wrenched his gaze away from it. "Uh, yeah. There should be one on the bureau in the bedroom. Hold on."

Frank stayed in the living room with the sleeping Anna as Joe disappeared into his room, emerging a minute or two later with a photo of the two of them that had been taken at their parents' house just after they had opened the agency. They were sitting at the table in the kitchen, a cake in front of them with 'Congratulations!' written in red frosting, Joe's hand making rabbit ears over Frank's head. "You would have a framed copy of that, wouldn't you?" he said in a resigned tone.

Joe's lips twitched into a brief, bitter smile. "She sees this, she'll know we're brothers. You want her to trust you, right?"

A knock at the door saved Frank from having to answer. A breakdown on the subway line had held Chet up, and he apologized as he entered the apartment. Within minutes, Joe had briefed Chet as to what had happened, and the two left to clean and search Anna's apartment. "We can bring the flowers to one of the hospitals when we're done looking at them," Chet said, as they were leaving. "They might as well brighten someone's day." Frank smiled at their friend's thoughtfulness.

For the next few hours, Frank went over his findings on Montvale's investments, then turned to examining the notes Joe had collected from the theater. They were actually fairly mundane as far as stalker notes went. Whoever he is, he certainly doesn't seem to have a lot of imagination, Frank thought. Other than the fact they were addressed to Anna, they could have been for any one of the female members of the cast or crew. Anna's fingerprints appeared on most of them, as did Joe's. Of the few other sets of prints he could make out, none of them appeared on more than one piece of paper, leading Frank to believe the stalker must have worn gloves when handling and placing the notes. The paper itself was standard letter paper found in any office or most homes. The font was 12-point, Times New Roman, the default for most word processing programs, and they had been printed on a laser printer. It almost as if he's doing what he thinks a stalker would do, like it's an act...

A shifting sound came from the sofa. Frank reached for the photo and a glass of water. When he turned towards the couch, Anna Gold's dark eyes were staring warily at him. "Ms. Gold, I'm Frank Hardy – Joe's brother." He handed her the framed picture, making sure to keep as much distance as he could between them while doing it. She looked from Frank to the picture and back again, then nodded once, drawing the blanket Joe had draped over her farther up her shoulders. Frank offered her the glass. "Here. I know how dry antihistamines can make you. Can I make you some tea?" He headed into the kitchen and rummaged around in Joe's cabinets. "Make that hot chocolate. Joe doesn't seem to have any tea."

"No. Thank you." Her voice was deep, almost musical, but so soft Frank had to walk back over to the sofa to hear her. "Where's Joe?"

"Cleaning out your apartment. Trying to find out how someone got in. Looking for clues." He sat back down in his chair. "He'll be back as soon as he can. Are you all right?"

She gave him a penetrating gaze. "No, but you know that already." She shifted on the couch and moved into a sitting position. "Someone is leaving notes where I work, and now they've broken into my home. I feel... scared... violated."

Frank nodded. "Yes. I'm sorry. We're going to find who's doing this and stop him. I give you my word."

"Did Joe tell you about the handkerchief?" Frank shook his head. "He found it where the last note came from." She pulled her knees up to her chest. "It's Pierre's." She turned her face towards Frank's. "Joe told me what you found out about Pierre's being an investor in the play. I didn't know. He didn't tell me." She dropped her forehead to her knees, and when she spoke again her voice was muffled. "And now the lilies. I don't know who to trust, and if I can't be safe in my own home..."

Frank dropped to his knees, getting to eye level with her but making to stay an arm's length away. "You can trust Joe. You can trust me." Anna lifted her head, and Frank could see tears in her eyes. "We won't let anything happen to you." He watched with concern as her shoulders stayed tense. He let out a breath. "But, I think we may need to upgrade your security."

"What?" She started. "But how? I already spend most of my free time with Joe. Are you going to get me a bodyguard, too?"

"I was thinking something a little more subtle," Frank said. "How would you feel about hiring a personal assistant?"

Anna stared at him. "I had one when I lived in L.A., but..."

"Then no one will be surprised if you get one here. It's a perfectly logical thing for you to do. Rehearsals will be getting more intense as you get closer to opening night. You'll need someone to do the shopping, accompany you to the theater, cook your dinner, generally be around all the times your 'boyfriend' can't."

"But hiring a PA can take weeks!" Anna shook her head. "And I can't… And right now, I'm not sure there's anyone out there I can trust to live in my house."

Frank cocked his head to the side. "I can think of someone." She gave him a puzzled look. "Me."

Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered book publisher, offering an online community for talented authors and book lovers. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books you love the most based on crowd wisdom.