The check point was on a two lane street. It wasn’t very busy. One car was ahead of them, and it passed through quickly.
“IDs,” Bonnie said before she rolled down both windows on the side the police stood.
Natalia gave her ID to Uri who passed both of their IDs to an officer. The police seemed to take extra time looking at the IDs, but eventually they were given back and they were waved on.
“Now I’m nervous,” Uri said. “That went too well.”
There were no further incidents and they reached the parking lot for Brianna’s flat.
Because the weather was cold, Natalia knew they wouldn’t be sitting out in the courtyard. Uri took her hand when they walked into the building. Brianna’s flat was on the first floor and only two doors in. The door opened when they reached it.
“So glad you could come,” Brianna said, opening the door wide to let them in.
Natalia saw her father sitting on the sofa. He rose when he saw her. She entered the room not knowing what she should do or how she should feel. Her father stepped over and hugged her, setting the mood.
“I’m so glad to see you’re okay,” he said with a big smile.
Natalia hugged him back not knowing what to say. She felt some tears in her eyes.
“Take your coat off. Have a seat,” Brianna said.
“This is Uri,’ Natalia said, handing her coat to Brianna “He’s my husband.”
“James,” her father said, introducing himself and shaking Uri’s hand. “So nice to meet you, Uri. Nattie, you have so much to tell me.”
“Yes a lot has happened.”
Ryan came running in.
“Hi, Ryan,” Natalia said.
He smiled shyly.
“You know him?” her father said.
“I’ve known about him for a while,” she said.
Ryan sat in his father’s lap. Brianna brought out tea and cookies. Natalia could taste that they were grubbie cookies.
While they ate cookies and sipped tea, she told her father about running away, meeting Uri, and getting a job at the bank. She kept it generic without all the details about knives, killing people, and bites.
“And you’re going to be a grandfather,” she said.
“Your brother, Beryl, is expecting another in a few months,” her father said. “I’m so happy for you.”
He turned to Uri.
“Thank you for taking care of my daughter.”
Uri nodded with a big smile.
“Uri works at the bank as well,” she said.
“Which bank,” her father said.
“The Main Bank. I’m the controller there.”
“What’s your last name?”
“Ah, yes. I’ve seen some of my bank paperwork with your name.”
The two fell into talking business.
Ryan slid out of his father’s lap since he was no longer the center of attention.
“I have a big room,” he said to her.
“How did you get a big room?” she said.
“I’m a big boy now. Come see.”
He took her hand and pulled. She rose and followed him. Brianna tagged along.
“My room,” he said. “My toy box.”
He ran over to show her.
The room was tidy. He opened a wooden box. Natalia saw the truck he had pulled and pretended was a train the first time she had seen him.
“Nice. Is that a truck or a train?”
“Depends,” he said with a sly grin.
There was also an easel with a chalkboard.
“I write on this,” he said. “I like numbers.”
He ran over and selected a blue piece of chalk.
“I like numbers. Your father does, too,” Natalia said.
He grinned and nodded while he proceeded to write out the numbers from one to ten.
“Those are the first ten,” he said as if he was instructing her.
“He’ll talk numbers all day if you let him,” Brianna said. “Let’s show her the other room.”
“Okay,” he said, leading the way.
He opened a door.
“This is my sister’s room. Her name is Winora.”
“That’s a beautiful name,” Natalia said. “And a beautiful room.”
The room was a light blue in color with a blue crib, changing table and overstuffed rocking chair.
“My maids are currently decorating my nursery,” Natalia said. “They haven’t shown me yet.”
“That’s a great honor,” Brianna said. “They must really like you.”
Brianna brought up a hand as if to dismiss that idea.
“Family just means they’ll always be civil. To decorate your nursery means they’ll die for you,” she said. “You must thank them when they do things rather than just expect it from them.”
“I’ve always thanked servants. They were always nicer to me than my mother was.”
“I hear many stories from your father about Diana.”
“Okay. We’re done in here,” Ryan said.
“That isn’t being polite,” Brianna said to him. “Nattie is a guest.”
He stood there looking bored.
“He’s in for a big change of his world when his sister comes,” Brianna said. “Okay. Let’s go back in and check on your father.”
Ryan was out the door in a flash.
“Your father is thinking of divorcing Diana. He knows I don’t do marriage like in your society, but he has asked if we could live together. He wants his children full time.”
“Would you take over the house my mother is in now? Or choose a house together?”
“First, we both wanted to make sure you were okay with us being together.”
“I think my father should do what makes him happy. He hasn’t been happy with my mother. And I agree he should be with his children. I’m quite okay with you two being together.”
Natalia felt somewhat honored that they wanted the equivalent of her permission.
“Thank you. We would buy a house together. He would put Diana up in her own flat and sell the house she’s in. It’s much too large for just her anyway.”
“Not for my mother. She needs bragging rights and a big house is important. She’ll not be happy.”
“Most likely not. She’s got a cushy life right now. He’ll pay for her flat and give her an allowance, but she won’t have any maids. Your father already let two go after you were gone. And if we have a house together, I would like to choose my own maids.”
“Viperian, I would suspect.”
“They would know how to handle Viperian children and our diet.”
“Has my father developed a mark?”
Brianna shook her head.
“I’ve never bitten your father. He’ll only glow from eating grubbies and he’ll never see it.”
“That I’ve never bitten him?”
“We don’t always need to bite to win the attentions of a man or to keep him.”
Brianna smiled while she moved toward the living room.
Ryan was back in his father’s lap and appeared to be the center of attention again. He was talking numbers with Uri.
“I see a future bank employee,” Uri said with a chuckle.
“I see him running his own finance company,” her father said.
“I see having my hands full,” Brianna said, sitting down on the sofa.
Natalia’s father laughed.
“I can’t believe you’re in college and that you’re doing so well,” he said to her.
“She’s quite brilliant,” Uri said.
“I’m very busy with work and school.”
She nodded to Ryan.
“And I see what I can expect. I will be even busier when Victoria comes.”
“Victoria?” her father said.
“Oh, yes. I already know she’s a girl and that’s what we’ve named her. Victoria Rayna. Rayna is Uri’s mother’s name.”
“I have a great great grandmother named Victoria.”
“Here I was thinking it was something new and Victoria is a family name.”
“Victoria is a beautiful name,” her father said.
“We will definitely have you over for dinner some evening,” Uri said. “It’s three pm and we have to be somewhere at three-thirty. I’m sorry to end our party.”
“I’m so very glad you came,” Brianna said. “Thank you.”
She looked very sincere.
“Yes. I really relieved and glad that you’re doing well,” her father said.
They said goodbye and exchanged hugs. Uri shook hands with her father.
They stepped out to the building and headed toward the car. Bonnie got out to open the back door for them.
“Well,” Uri said when they slid in. “I didn’t realize that Brianna actually loves James. He mentioned they were going to move in together.”
“Yeah, Brianna said the same. She wanted to make sure it was alright with me. I said it was. I guess my father is going to divorce my mother. I’m alright with that, too.”
“They’re showing you a lot of respect,” he said. “My father never asked when he moved in with Sophie, but then, I didn’t care. He and my mother never lived together. Our cultures are very different.”
Bonnie pulled out of the lot.
“There are three check points around us, all in the direction back to the house,” Bonnie said.
“Do we need to hit any going to Viperia?”
“No. We’re clear.”
“I only told Mirren and Kareen that we were going to the house in Viperia. They must not have shared with Alfie. Therefore, the police think they’re going to catch us going home.”
“Is the tracking system working now?”
“No,” Bonnie said. “I checked it and it still shows both of you at home.”
“But is the car radar detecting police?” he said.
“It looks like it is.”
“Well, they’re expecting us to go home and can’t see that we’re not. It will be interesting later when we do head for home.”
“If a police car does see us, where do they think we’re heading?” Natalia said.
“We could be going to a number of places, but once we past Gibson Street, and if they are Viperian, they will know we’re heading to Viperia,” Bonnie said. “From the route I’m taking, however, we could be going to one of two gates.”
“I want the unexpected gate,” Uri said.
“Already heading for it,” Bonnie said.
Uri’s phone rang.
He listened for a few minutes.
“Yes, we can stop by, but we only have room for one. We’re in my car. Maybe two if someone wants to be stuffed in the back with us. Okay.”
He ended the call.
“Stop by Sherri’s,” Uri said. “Use the same gate you’re heading for.”
“Everyone wants to go to the house, even Sherri,” he said. “They would only like to take one car. If we can take two of the girls, then we’re good. The more the merrier.”
“Plenty of witnesses,” Natalia said.
“We have police cars shifting,” Bonnie said. “I think they figured out they missed us.”
“We going to make it?”
“One moment,” Bonnie said.
She pulled off on a side street and parked. They sat for ten minutes after which a police car passed the intersection moving fast. Bonnie pulled the car out and drove on for two blocks before turning back toward Viperia.
“If they stay where they are or on the courses they’re headed, we’ll be good.”
Fifteen minutes later, Bonnie rolled down her window and pulled up to a gate. The gate opened and she drove through.
“We just had a police car pass behind us,” Bonnie said. “They won’t come in here. They know where we are now.”
“That’s fine,” Uri said. “Thanks, Bonnie.”
A short time later, they pulled up to Sherri’s house. Three of the girls were outside all bundled up, trying to make a snowman in the yard. They all stopped to wave and come over.
Moments later, the laneway was full of people.
“We’ll ride with you,” Tracy said, getting into the front seat with Zean on her lap.
“I’m riding with you, too,” Jaina said, squeezing in the back.
Grazie, Sherri with Grace, Marian and Larsa got in Sherri’s car. Natalia thought Marian didn’t look too happy riding with her mother.
As a convoy, they headed over to Uri’s house. In minutes, they pulled into the laneway. There was another car parked there. While everyone piled out of cars, Kareen stepped out of hers.
“Afternoon, Uri. Nattie.”
“Afternoon. How are you doing?” Natalia said.
“Very good. Afternoon Sherri. Grazie.”
“Afternoon, Kareen,” Uri said.
A car with Zena, Mag, and Kate pulled up. Uri went into the house with them. Everyone trailed behind.
“Nattie,” Tracy said. “Is Uri really going to rent this out?”
Sherri went ahead of them to get Grace out of the cold.
“Yes, that’s what he says.”
“Nattie,” Tracy said in a whisper. “My mother is up to something. Be careful.”
Sherri stepped back out.
“Come on, Tracy. Don’t leave Nattie out in the cold.”
Sherri waited for them.
“You don’t have grubbies in the basement do you?” Tracy said.
“No, Uri said the basement wasn’t big enough.”
Natalia could see that Tracy wanted to stay by her side.
“Come on upstairs. Let’s see if I left anything.”
They trotted up the stairs, but Sherri followed. They all walked through the master bedroom. The closets were empty, but the bed was still made.
“Just the linens,” Natalia said.
She opened up the balcony doors to look out. The gardens were cleaned up. The yard was raked and clear of any debris. Three of the girls came into view.
“Don’t mess up the yard,” Sherri called down to them. “Tracy, go down and have them come back into the house.”
“Okay,” Tracy said, but she rolled her eyes behind Sherri’s back.
The moment there was the sound of her trotting down the stairs, Sherri put her hand on Natalia’s arm.
“Can you do me a favor, Nattie?”
Natalia took her time closing the balcony doors.
“What is it?” she finally said.
“I just want to get a note to Anna. They won’t let me see her. It’s just a note of encouragement.”
Sherri handed a small hand written note to her. It was folded over once. Sherri opened it to show the writing. It simply stated, ‘Take courage. We love you. Stay strong. Love Mother.’
“It’s just the simple things that help us through trying times,” Sherri said.
There were footsteps on the stairs.
“Please,” Sherri said with urgency.
Natalia nodded and slipped the note into her pocket.
Mag stepped into the room.
“I’ve just come to strip the bed,” she said.
Natalia moved out of the room and Sherri followed. They went back downstairs.
“I haven’t really seen much of this house,” Natalia said. “I was only here a short time.”
She stepped into each room, wondering if Uri would leave all the furnishings, too.
“It’s a beautiful house. Too bad if he’s going to make it into a bachelor house. They party too much and things get broken,” Sherri said.
Natalia stepped into the kitchen. Zena and Kate were going through items in the cabinets.
“A lot more than we remembered,” Zena said.
They were filling black plastic bags out of the same box that Natalia had used when she and Uri had taken money out of the safe. She wondered where Uri was, but didn’t want to go looking for him in case she interrupted him. She stepped out to the living room. Larsa was there with Grace. Grace was sleeping soundly.
“She’s growing fast,” Natalia said.
“She eats all the time,” Larsa said. “She has a good appetite.”
“I think she gets fed too much,” Sherri said, but Natalia recognized the tone as just being bitchy.
She was complaining just to be complaining. Natalia had seen her mother do the same.
“A little young to be dieting,” Natalia said.
Sherri whipped her head in her direction, but held her tongue. Natalia knew she had just missed a tongue lashing. She pretended to focus on items on the mantel.
Yeah, Sherri, Natalia thought, you have to be nice to me or I won’t delivery your note.
She paused to listen to the house. Upstairs, she could hear Mag. She could hear Zena and Kate in the kitchen. She couldn’t hear the girls, believing they were still outside.
Uri came in from the garage and passed through to the kitchen. He came back out with a plastic bag.
“Do you need help?” she said, heading his way.
“A little bit,” he said.
She stepped out with him.
“Whew. What’s that smell?”
“I think when someone was last here they were snooping,” he said. “Some paint thinner got knocked over. It leaked.”
All the garage doors were open. The scent was almost over powering.
Sherri had followed, but stopped at the door.
“Come out and look at some of this stuff,” Uri said to Natalia.
She followed him to the car. He put the bag in his trunk.
Sherri remained watching from the door.
“She’s glued to you,” Uri barely whispered. “Here. Smell this.”
He had his head in the trunk as if he was arranging things, but he held up a hundred-dollar bill, but kept it so it was out of Sherri’s sight. Natalia leaned in to smell. She had to take a second whiff.
“Balsam,” she said.
The scent was familiar to her.
“What does it remind you of?”
Natalia didn’t know the significance of this.
“Do we need this stuff?” she said in a louder voice, playing along with the ruse Uri started.
Sherri went back inside.
“What does this mean?” she said to him.
“It means everyone has to wash their money,” he said. “Go back into the house.”
Natalia did as he said, still not understanding what this all meant. She went into the kitchen with Zena and Kate. Mag was now there putting linens into a black plastic bag. Natalia found it odd that they were using the black plastic bags for everything.
“Is the van here yet?” Mag said in a whisper.
“I don’t know. Did you see a van out there?” Kate said to Natalia also in a whisper.
“No. I didn’t see one.”
“When it comes, can you go somewhere with everyone?” Zena said.
“I can do,” Natalia said.
Uri came in to grab another bag.
“Van,” he said, heading back out to the garage.