Where Have You Been All My Life?
Let Your Heart Hold Fast
Elizabeth Burke had a busy day ahead of her, so she started it off with a strong cup of coffee. She had hoped to get an earlier start than what she was getting, but Peter had other ideas when they first woke up. Now, she was driving as fast as Manhattan traffic would allow to make it to her appointment on time.
Luckily, she was able to find a prime parking spot and she walked through the doors of Burke Premier Events just minutes before her customer. With just enough time to throw her handbag on her desk and start a pot of coffee, Elizabeth plastered a smile on her face as the door opened.
"Good morning! You must be Jenna Miller. I'm Elizabeth Burke." Elizabeth walked forward and shook hands with the frazzled looking young woman. "I thought your husband was joining us today."
The young woman looked nervously out the window, before turning back to face Elizabeth. "He should be here soon, Mrs. Burke. We had a little issue this morning that he's dealing with."
Elizabeth was curious as to what had the woman acting so strangely, but knew it really wasn't any of her business. Leading Jenna over to her reception area, she offered her tea or coffee, and minutes later, they both were settled on the sofa, looking through a catalog of place settings.
When the door opened sometime later, Elizabeth looked up to see an older gentleman dragging in a young boy who looked to be about four or five. The poor boy looked scared and had tears in his eyes. Just the sight of him tugged at Elizabeth's heart, as she took in his big blue eyes and curly brown hair.
"William, is everything okay?"
The man, who Elizabeth found extremely intimidating, both in stature and attitude, threw a quick glare at the boy at his side. "It's fine. Let's get this over with, shall we?"
After a quick introduction, Elizabeth led them back over to the sofa. She was trying to stay focused on the task at hand, but her attention kept moving to the small boy who had settled himself into a nearby chair. He was looking around the room and eventually his eyes met Elizabeth's. She tried to give him a smile, but he looked away as soon as he realized she was looking at him.
Elizabeth looked back at Jenna and William. "William, would you like some tea or coffee?" she offered.
"No, thank you, Mrs. Burke. I just really want to get this over with. I have a meeting in less than an hour."
Elizabeth looked back at the boy, who was looking longingly at the plate of cookies over by the coffee pot. "Jenna, would you mind if I gave your son a cookie?"
After getting her okay, Elizabeth stood up and walked over to where he was sitting. "Hi, there. My name is Elizabeth. Can you tell me your name?" Elizabeth was aware that both William and Jenna were watching the exchange closely, but not in a normal way. It seemed to her that they were afraid of what the boy would say to her, which she found more than strange.
The boy quickly looked at William and Jenna, before turning back to her. "Hi, Lizbef," he said in a small voice. "I'm Neaw."
Elizabeth smiled at the adorable way he talked. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Neal. Would you like a cookie?'
Neal looked again at William and Jenna, before answering. "Yes, pwease."
Elizabeth stood up and held out her hand, which Neal took, timidly. Leading him over to the table, she let him pick out a cookie, smiling as she noticed how his tongue stuck out as he tried to decide which cookie he wanted.
"So, Neal, how old are you? Four?"
She smiled again at the look of outrage on the boy's face as he straightened up, trying to make himself look taller. "I'm five, Lizbef."
"Well, of course you are, Neal. " She couldn't seem to stop smiling at the boy in front of her, especially when he grinned at her with a mouth full of chocolate. "How's your cookie, sweetie? Do you want another one?"
Before he could answer, William stood up and walked over to where they were standing. "You've had enough, Neal. Go sit down."
"Now, Neal!" William's tone of voice was harsh and somewhat terrifying.
Without another word, Neal walked as quickly as his little legs would take him back to the chair he had been sitting in. Elizabeth could see his lower lip trembling, as he tried to sit still in the chair. He failed miserably, though, as he couldn't seem to stop swinging his legs back and forth, nervously.
Elizabeth could tell that William was getting irritated at Neal's constant movement and she tried her best to redirect his attention. "What do you think about the venue for the gala, William? The place is beautiful and definitely large enough for the estimated guest count. Is there anything else I need to provide for?"
William moved his irritated attention from Neal to Elizabeth, much to her relief. "It should be fine, Mrs. Burke. I trust you to ensure that everything will be perfect." Turning to Jenna, he continued. "We should get going, Jenna."
Jenna stood and walked over to Neal, grabbing him by the shirt sleeve. "Let's go, kid. And this time you had better keep up with us. No dawdling, do you hear me?"
"I wasn't dawding, Jenna. You wewe walking too fast. I couldn't keep up."
"That's enough, Neal. Hush up." Jenna answered, harshly.
After making another appointment and saying goodbye, Elizabeth watched as William and Jenna walked out the door, with Neal following close behind.
The rest of the day was filled with phone calls to vendors and meetings with customers, but Elizabeth's focus kept drifting back to the blue-eyed boy she had met that morning. She didn't know why, but she felt like there was something going on with William and Jenna. Something that involved that beautiful little blue-eyed boy. Something that made her nervous and broke her heart.
Once she got home, Elizabeth still found it hard to keep her mind off of Neal. In the short time she had been with him, she had detected a sadness in him that no five year old little boy should feel. When Peter finally came home, he immediately could tell that something was bothering his wife.
"How was your day, El?"
Elizabeth had never been very good at keeping things to herself, especially when Peter was looking so concerned. Within minutes of him walking through the door, she had poured out the events of her morning, tears filling her eyes as she remembered Neal's chocolate covered grin.
"It sounds to me like the little guy was just being a handful, hon."
"It wasn't like that, Peter. He was genuinely scared."
Peter hugged his wife tightly, not knowing what to say to make his wife feel better. A part of him believed that his wife really had picked up on something strange, knowing that her intuition was usually right, but without proof of any wrongdoing, there really wasn't anything he could do.
"What do you say we get something to eat, El? I think you could use something to take your mind off of things."
Elizabeth didn't look convinced, but really didn't know what else to do. "I don't think it will work, but I am a little hungry, I guess. How does Italian sound?"
Over the next few days, Elizabeth tried to keep busy enough to not dwell on what could be going on with Neal. Unfortunately for her, it didn't work, and by Thursday she was about to go crazy. Finally, she decided to take matters into her own hands, and without really thinking things through, she made a phone call to Jenna.
"Hi, Jenna? It's Elizabeth Burke. I was wondering if we could set up a meeting this afternoon to go over a few things. Maybe around three o'clock? Okay, I'll see you then."
At three o'clock, Elizabeth was waiting impatiently for Jenna to show up. She didn't even know if Neal would come with Jenna, but she hoped so. More than anything, she just really wanted to see the child again. Ten minutes after three, the door opened and William, Jenna and Neal walked in. Elizabeth's heart lurched at the sight of the small boy, who looked even smaller, for some reason.
"Mrs. Burke, is there a problem?"
Elizabeth maneuvered herself so she was standing in front of Neal. "Just a small one, William. It seems the place settings you picked out are unavailable, so we'll need to choose a different one. Are the two of you up to looking at a few more catalogs?"
"Yes, of course, Elizabeth," Jenna answered. "Whatever you need."
After sitting Jenna and William down with several catalogs, Elizabeth turned to Neal. "Hello again, Neal. How are you?"
Neal looked shyly up at Elizabeth. "Hi, Lizbef. Can I have anothew cookie?"
"Of course, you can, sweetie, if it's okay with your mom and dad." After asking if it was okay, Elizabeth once again led Neal over to the table. As he reached for the plate of cookies, Elizabeth noticed a rather large bruise on Neal's arm.
"Neal? What happened to your arm?"
Neal quickly pulled his arm back, hiding it behind his back, as he looked over at William and Jenna.
"I, uh….I fell at school, Lizbef." Elizabeth noticed that Neal didn't look at her as he said that, but decided not to push it.
"It looks like it hurts, sweetie."
This time Neal looked her square in the eye, as he answered. "It doesn't huwt, Lizbef, honest. It's just a bwuise."
Elizabeth wanted desperately to sweep Neal up in her arms and hug him tightly. There was something about the little boy that brought out her protective instincts and she felt a sudden desire to make sure that he always had a smile on his adorable little face.
"I guess that means you're just a tough young man, doesn't it? Elizabeth winked at Neal, who grinned up at her.
"That's me, Lizbef…I'm tough as snails."
Elizabeth laughed out loud at that. Tough as snails? How adorable was that?!
A few minutes later, Jenna and William had finished looking through the catalog, this time picking out several choices, in case something happened again. Before Elizabeth was ready, they were walking out the door again, Neal following closely behind like before. This time, though, the little guy turned back around and gave her a big wave and an even bigger smile.
Elizabeth immediately started trying to figure out a way to see Neal again.