Melodies of a Tattered Shadow

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Chapter11 ACCEPT and SURRENDER

“What’s wrong? Why are you here again? Are you in trouble?” Eliz asked Paul as she went inside his car.

After the incident with Peter, Paul decided to follow him; assuming that Peter will go back to the club where he’d been earlier. But reaching the place, he remembered Peter’s assault and was frozen again in fear. He was at a loss. He drove his car mindlessly across the boulevard, while continually sobbing and sniffing relentlessly, but eventually steered toward Eliz’s post.

And there she was, dressed in her, “evening’s best” trotting along her turf waiting for a client. She spotted his car and quickly opened the car’s door and sat herself quite comfortably on the passenger seat.

Alarmed and concerned, she strokes his hair and followed, “Hey… What’s up? Something bothering you?”

Paul was quiet; and opted to embrace Eliz instead. She felt his need and hugged him back, tightly. Eliz felt something unexpectedly and got awkward for a moment, but immediately dismiss it. And let Paul pour out all his frustration, while she remained quiet.

“He left me. He—tried to force me… then left me. What do I do now? I love him... I don’t know if I can make it without him.”

Eliz must have heard such a case a thousand times, and every time she had only one advice: “As a friend I will tell you, there’s no use crying over someone who attacked and abused you. It’s best that you get rid of him before it gets any worse. I’m telling you I don’t have sympathy for people who let themselves be abused.”

Paul looked up at her, still sniffing and in deep pain. “It’s not what you think. He didn’t attack me that way… he’s not like that. I just panicked—I just remembered something and I reacted… he’s not like that… he’s not like that…”

Eliz grunted, annoyed by his justification. “My friend, you are in denial. Just like so many of my so called friends here who allow themselves to be used and hurt over and over. If you ain’t gonna face the music, I’m outta here. Find someone else to talk to.”

She was ready to help herself out of the car, but Paul grabbed her by the arm and stops her. “He didn’t know… he didn’t know!”

Eliz looked at Paul, and stared around his chest and said “Even so… it’s not an excuse to assault you”.

His soft voice was horse “He didn’t assault me… he was just trying to make love to me…” Paul tried to explain, clutching his chest.

“He was trying to what? It’s even worse… a man should not hurt you if he wants to get laid!”

“He was not trying to hurt me. He--he was in the heat of the moment and forcefully opening my shirt. He didn’t know any better.”

“What? Forcefully… what? Fuck this, I don’t get it. It looks to me like you were assaulted.”

“No! Listen, he was... trying to pull my shirt off. In passion, but he should not see me…” he faltered clutching his chest again “… I cried out in fear. I was... I didn’t know how to react. It was... a bad memory came back to me,” Paul explained, pleading for Eliz to understand him.

Eliz heaved a sigh, momentarily remembered Sarah’s story from Paul and somehow understood him. She pulled him again and put her arms around his fragile shoulders. “Okay, okay. Hush now. What’s important is you know he didn’t mean to hurt you. He’ll come back... he′ll come around.”

“No, he won’t…” Paul sobbed for a few more minutes, muttering “He didn’t know… he didn’t know,” maybe a hundred times.

“You can tell him everything. It might take time, but if he’s the good guy you say he is, he will come around and understand.”

“But he knows now… that’s why he took off,” he whispered.

Eliz listened to Paul intently, and stared at him with nothing but sympathy. She ran her fingers gently across Paul’s chest and asked, “That’s what you mean? That’s what he didn’t know?”

“Yes…” Paul tilted his head to look at her.

Eliz was quiet, but held him tighter and closer to her.

*****

The band’s practice session resumes, with the rest of the members unaware of what transpired just the night before. The two had not yet arrived, which was uncommon and out of character.

“Vincent, is our session still on? Was there a change in schedule?” Andy asked their manager.

“None that I know of. Why? What did Paul say?”

“No, we were just wondering why Paul and Peter are not here yet. They’re three hours late now,” Joey answered, worriedly.

“Have you tried calling them?” Vincent asked.

“We called, but nobody’s answering.”

“Let’s just wait for them. I’m sure they’re on their way. Maybe something came up,” Vincent advised.

But that whole day, the two did not arrive at the studio. They didn’t even bother to call.

Another day passed, and still there was no news from the two, except for a letter sent to Vincent from Peter around dawn. Vincent was in shock after reading the letter, so he tried to get hold of Peter. Still, his calls went unanswered.

By late afternoon, he decided to drop by Peter’s place, but the house was empty and he was nowhere to be found. He proceeded to Paul’s place as it was close by. He found Paul in his veranda, stoned, with a bottle of beer in hand.

“Do you know any shit about this?” Vincent asked Paul, throwing Peter’s letter in front of him.

Paul read the letter and asked, “Did he give this to you?”

“No. He sent it over to the studio. I went over to his place to talk to him, but he is not home. So I came here. Are you saying you don’t know anything about it?” Vincent asked again.

Paul held his tears back. “You have to ask him. I don’t know what’s on his mind.”

“Are the two of you not talking? What happened between you guys?”

Paul remained quiet, and chose to say, “I won’t be coming to the studio…”

“Are you quitting on us, too? You should talk to Peter and resolve all of this crap!”

Paul already knew Peter was beyond reach. “I don’t think Peter will ever come back and I’m not…”

“No. Give it time… I’ll give you a week to resolve this. Let me find Peter and I’ll talk to him. Think about this and I’ll talk to you again in a week.” Vincent was dead serious.

Paul had no words. He said nothing and waited for Vincent to leave. The moment the manager was gone, he started bawling like a little baby crying for help. He knew then that Peter would no longer be in his life. He had left him for good.

That night, Mrs. Andrews arrived to Paul’s surprise. She had heard about Chelsea and the search and seizure so she rushed to see her son. She found Paul on the veranda, sprawled unconscious on the floor. She panicked and tried to rouse her son, checking too if he was still breathing.

“Honey… honey…” Mrs. Andrews was crying as she tried to wake Paul up.

The stench of vomit and alcohol reeked in the air.

“No, no, no... honey… honey… wake up dear!” She managed to drag him by the shoulders into the living room, trying to get closer to the telephone so she can call an ambulance. She knocked off some furniture and vases, but she didn’t stop until she reached the phone. She came to a halt, and changed her mind. She cannot let anyone see Paul like this.

She dragged him farther, lifting and pulling Paul until they reached the bathroom where she quickly undressed him. She turned on the shower to wash the stench off and wake him up at the same time. She bathed him just like when he was young. Still, she cried, feeling sorry for her child. She let the lukewarm water run, as she let her tears run down her cheeks.

My baby.

“Mom… Mom…” Paul woke up in the shower and was so glad to see his Mom. “Mom… he left me… he left me…” He cried said crying like a little child in his mother’s arms.

She wished she could take all his pain away and bear it for her child.

The next morning, Mrs. Andrews made sure no trace of yesterday’s chaos was visible. She tidied up her son’s place and prepared Paul’s favorite breakfast as she waited patiently for him to rouse from slumber. She sat at his bedside, gazing at his peaceful innocence. She had feared for this day since that day she first held her child in her arms. She knew that one day; Paul’s heart would be broken. It was inevitable.

But she is angry now. He had gone through so much pain already—he did not deserve any more. All he deserves is to be happy, for once.

When Paul opened his eyes, his Mom was in tears. He hugged her, squeezing her tight, not ever wanting to let go.

“It will be all right. As long as you are here with me, Mom. Everything will be all right.”

Although Mrs. Andrews knew Paul was only trying to comfort her. Every word was untrue and uncertain.

“Yes, honey. I will always be here for you. You know how much I love you, right? You are the love of my life.”

“Now I know you are lying, Mom,” Paul quipped, trying to lighten both their moods.

“No, honey. You are… you are the love of my life. Just don’t tell your Dad,” she said, and they both laughed. “Come now, let’s have breakfast. I’m starving.”

If there was one thing that could ease his pain, it was his Mom’s cooking. He forgot about the night before and everything that was pressing on his head painfully as he gobbled up the omelet, waffle and bacon his Mom dutifully prepared early that morning.

“Honey, about Chelsea… what are we going to do?”

There was a long pause.

Even as Paul was in pain because of Peter, Chelsea was never out of his mind.

“It’s my fault Mom. Had I not disguised myself as Sarah, we wouldn’t have this problem. We have to find a way to help her, Mom.”

“But we can no longer… be seen there… it might lead to you and we don’t know what it will do to the case,” Mrs. Andrews tried to explain.

He buried his face with his hands and grunted in anger and frustration. “That’s true… Argh! But I miss her so much…”

She stared at Paul as her heart bled for him. Of course she knows how important Chelsea is to him, but she could not think of a way to help him without putting him in an unsafe light. He needed to see Chelsea, especially after what happened with Peter.

“What about the case? Should I talk to the lawyer? Especially now that Pe… that he’s no longer here to talk to them” Mrs. Andrews asked, unsure of how she can make him understand the dire situation.

Peter.

Peter was a big part of his life, and of the case. Now, without him, they could not even ask for an update on the case.

“I don’t know Mom—I don’t know!” Paul said in resignation.

“We have to find a way. There must be something we can do. Do you think it will be bad for the case if I talk to the lawyers?”

“Yes, it might. The lawyers might ask about your relationship with the girl who frequently visited Chelsea. And it can eventually lead to me. We know how bad that will be. I don’t really care about my career… but I’ve been thinking, without my career, my status, it will be harder for me to help Chelsea and Josie.”

“Chelsea and Josie… Why Josie? Does it have to do with the letter that you asked me to give to Mr. Joseph Brown? Oh God… please, no honey, we’re not that kind of---” Mrs. Andrews stopped herself from saying anything more.

“No, Mom. You’re imagining things. I’m just fond of Josie…”

“Please, honey. Thinking about Chelsea’s safety is hard enough for you?”

“There is always a way. I know it. It will be easy… it’s us… our guidance. Being there physically is going to be a hurdle,” Paul said.

“That’s true. But wouldn’t the lawyers become suspicious if both Peter and you will suddenly be out of touch?”

“Maybe at first. It always happens, Mom. We all know celebrities can be fickle-minded. Some celebs just stop showing up when they lose interest. Maybe the lawyers will read it that way. And since it’s not uncommon for celebrities to lose interest… it will be just a case of bad PR for Peter.”

“So you think we don’t have to worry about them looking for us?” Mrs. Andrews asked again.

“They might, in the beginning—but not entirely because they need to explain about the lady they suspect as Chelsea’s sister,” he paused and gave it a thought. “I think with our presence or without, we should find ways to continue supporting them financially.” Paul’s mind was in total mess, and he was obviously trying to sort things out in his mind even as he spoke.

“Maybe I should continue talking to them. Anyway, they’re our lawyers. I’m sure I can talk to them to protect our interest, especially your involvement in the case and the conflicts and all,” her voice trailed off, knowing for certain nothing really made sense.

“Let’s see. That will be our easiest route if that’s the case. Let’s wait.”

In North Carolina, the two lawyers were talking about the status of the case.

“We don’t know what they had found in Chelsea’s belongings, and they are now eager to meet us to talk. They might have found something positive for their case,” Lavraza perused anxiously.

“You don’t believe that they have found something to prove that Sarah Payne is alive, don’t you?” Smith was just as anxious.

“The thing is, it will be hard for us to prove that Sarah Payne is dead and that as a motive for the murder of Elizabeth. If they find reasonable doubt—because we still can’t find her body, even if the things they’d found cannot be proven to be directly related to Sarah, it will be the end of our case.”

“So it’s equally important for us to find Cindy, the lady who posed as Sarah?”

“Yes. That would at least invalidate whatever documents or things they have collected against our case. If that lady will testify…”

“So how do we get hold of this Cindy?” Atty. Smith asked again.

“That’s the thing. I can’t reach Peter Cook anymore. He was supposed to know the lady. Rumors had it that she is his girlfriend.”

“What about Mrs. Andrews? Wasn’t she the one talking to us for Cook’s interest?”

“Even Mrs. Andrews is hard to get hold of nowadays. I have a suspicion they are losing interest. You know how celebrities are.” He paused and stared blankly at his office wall.

“But we have to find that lady, that Cindy—or else the defense’s claims might hold in court,” Smith surmised.

“True… but how?” Atty. Lavraza retorted.

“Let me try to talk to Mrs. Andrews again. If we can no longer get their support, maybe she could at least give me a lead to find this Cindy.”

“By all means. But do it fast. We already have a deposition scheduled in two days. They are very eager. I’m sure they got something out of that search and seizure. We have to counter that… and we need that Cindy character.”

The phone rang, sending Mrs. Andrews scurrying to get to it as fast as she could. She was whispering for a few minutes and then hangs up. She walked over to Paul and took a deep breath before she began.

“Honey, it’s your Dad. He wants to talk to you.”

Paul didn’t want to talk to his Dad, not out of anger, but because he did not want to worry his father any more than he already is. When he heard his voice, his eyes began to well up. He could not even say anything.

Mr. Andrews is still in Tennessee, so far from them, so did not want to burden him with what he was going through.

“Don’t worry Dad, I’m okay. Mom is here, taking care of me as always. Are you doing, fine there? I could send her on her way if you miss her that much,” Paul quipped.

“I love you Dad. Don’t work too hard. Yes—yes, take care. You too.” And he hangs up.

“Honey, your Dad told me that the lawyers have been calling for me. They said it’s important. They are waiting for me to call them back… it’s about the case. They said they badly need our help.”

“Yeah. Dad told me, too. Maybe we should call them. Anyway, I don’t think a phone call can make matters worse, right?”

Mrs. Andrews hastily dialed the lawyers’ office. Smith answered.

“Hello, Mrs. Andrews? I’m so glad to finally get a hold of you. I hope this is not a bad time.”

“Not at all. What can I do for you?” Mrs. Andrews asked.

“I’m sure you have a lot of things to do right now, but we are trying to get hold of Peter Cook to update him about the case. Unfortunately, he’s been out of touch for the past few weeks. Are you still connected with him? Maybe you can relay our message to him.”

Mrs. Andrews paused and quickly whisper her son what the lawyer just said.

“Are you still there? Mrs. Andrews?”

“I’m still here. I’m sorry, I was just talking to my maid. Well, Peter and I haven’t talked for quite a while. I couldn’t contact him, too. I don’t know if I can still relay your message to him.” That part was true.

“We understand, Mrs. Andrews. We know Mr. Cook might be prioritizing something else now. Maybe you can help us instead?” A long pause followed.

“I can try, if it’s within my means,” Mrs. Andrews assured her.

“Mrs. Andrews, it’s about Cindy. The lady who was with Peter in the visit to the shelter? We badly need her to testify that she is not the Sarah, whom we are trying to prove is dead. We need to prove she is not at all related by blood to Chelsea. Maybe you know her whereabouts?”

Mrs. Andrews paused again and talked to Paul in a hushed voice.

“Mrs. Andrews? Mrs. Andrews are you still there?”

“I’m here. Yes, yes. I’m sorry about that. What was that again?”

“We were wondering if you could help us find Cindy?”

“I’m sorry—“she paused for a long time. “No. It is Peter who knows her, not me.”

“But Mrs. Andrews, Mrs. Sanchez told us that Cindy, whose full name is Cindy Cummings, might be your niece—although she wasn’t sure of it.”

Mrs. Andrews had no response to that. She didn’t know how to reply, so Paul tried to coach her through.

“No, no. She’s not my niece. She might have told them that just to avoid the rumors about her and Peter… being together. Anyway, if ever I get hold of Peter, I will ask about this Cindy, rest assured...”

“Thank you, Mrs. Andrews. It’s very important for us, or we might lose the case.”

She was almost begging, and Mrs. Andrews just could not take the lies. But she had to.

Composing herself again, she replied, “I’m afraid I cannot help you. But maybe I can still help you in some other ways. I can give the financial support Peter had promised. I can find someone for you, to continue the financial support. But, this someone I know, he wants to remain anonymous.” She was shaking, but was trying so hard to control herself.

“We appreciate that. But please, if you hear anything from Mr. Cook about Cindy, please let us know. We need her badly… please.”

As soon as Mrs. Andrews put the phone down, they immediately discussed the matter.

“Honey, they might lose the case. Do you think it’s possible for you to appear there as Cindy?”

“Mom, you know that is impossible.”

Paul was certain he would not do it again for anything. He knows it will only make them worse.

“But the case… I cannot imagine what will happen… I’m worried about Chelsea,” Mrs. Andrews tried to convince him.

Knowing the possibilities, Paul was more worried now. He wished Peter was there to hold him and make all the pain disappear. He misses him and missed Chelsea much more. What will happen now?

The worst scenario kept playing in his mind: what if that animal is found not guilty of murder and be acquitted—and gain the right to take Chelsea back? This led to sleepless nights for Paul.

Paul was ready for their practice session the following Monday. The group was not surprised anymore, but they did wonder why Peter wasn’t there.

“Kid, where’s Peter? Is it true that he left us already?” Scott asked worriedly.

Paul didn’t want to dwell on Peter’s absence the whole day, so to close the issue, he finally announced, “He quit. There’s nothing we can do about it. These things happen. So let’s just move on, just like how we moved on when Fox left us.”

“But why?” Joey asked.

He thought this would be easier, but it sure the hell wasn’t. Paul began to cry quietly, but braved up and wiped the tears off quickly. “It’s not important now. He’s already done. We have to move on. If he wants to come back, he will come back. But for now, we cannot wait for him—unless you want us to cry about it for a week or two. Do you want us to act like kids and not face it head on?”

The group was silent. They knew that Paul feels more pain than anyone else in the group.

Quickly he looked away, avoiding everyone’s patronizing gaze. “I think the first order of the business is to find a replacement.”

Nothing changed at the end of the day. Home wasn’t home anymore. He was used to having Peter when he’s in pain, but now his pain has become unbearable. He misses Peter. He misses Chelsea more. He was anxious about the case, and although he tried to drown himself in work to forget everything, it was a struggle. That particular night, his Mom was back in Tennessee and he had no one hold on to. He can’t talk to his band mates about this—he doesn’t know how they will take it. He tossed and turned crying on his bed. He had been like this for several nights now, until he could no longer keep it to himself. He stood up, got dressed, hopped in his car and drove away.

Cruising along La Brea Avenue in Sunset Boulevard, his car slowly crawled to the familiar street he’s now familiar with. He looked for her, but she wasn’t there. He decided to park his car where he could wait for her, and quietly observe the scenes in front of him. Although many people would have extreme prejudices against them, he discovered that almost all of them were in high spirits. In fact, they seemed to be genuinely happy. He would see them laughing out loud whenever they talked to their prospective clients. They were eager and welcoming. When they finally secured a client, you would see the joy in them. They would even wave to their friends as if they won the jackpot on a slot machine.

When they go back to their posts, they’d swap stories about their conquest for that night. He realized he’s envious. People don’t understand what they do and why they do it, but they seem to not have any care about what people say. They’re happy.

Why can’t I be that happy?

Suddenly, somebody started tapping his window. “Hey! You’re back! Something bothering you?” Eliz asked, chewing her gum a little too loud.

He gazed at her for a moment, and smiled glumly. “I was looking for you…” Paul said, opening the door to let her in. She propped herself in the passenger seat and sat sideways to look at him.

“One of my friends told me ya been looking for me. Ya been waiting long?”

“Do they know me? Do they know? About us…?” Paul panicked.

“No, they don’t, silly. Every one of us knows if someone was looking for someone… So, what brings you here?”

“I can’t sleep,” Paul answered.

She gave him a sad look. “This is an expensive way to get sleep. There are a bunch of sleeping pills you can get over the counter, ya know?” Eliz quipped to cheer him up.

Paul remained stern. “I don’t mean it that way…”

Feigning a grin, she said, “I was just teasing. I know you carry a big load on your shoulder. I’m a friend—I’ll listen.”

“Is it okay for you now to go to a beach? Because I remember before that you don’t want to go to anywhere unfamiliar with a stranger.”

“You are my friend now. Besides, even if you’re not my friend, you are no longer a stranger. I’m sorry, forgot to tell you I’ve seen some of your band’s posters. You’re quite popular. I did not realize that before because I wasn’t even familiar with your music. I’m actually a book person, and as you know—I’m busy with this work. No time for music.”

Books?

Flashback of his book, his precious book that got lost in that tragic night, came to his mind. He shook his head slowly and said, “So it’s fine with you for us to go to the beach now?”

“Of course. Just don’t ask me to swim. It’s cold at night and it might be dark. I’m afraid of the water when it’s dark,” she started laughing, “that damn ‘Jaws’ movie scared the shit outta me. I seldom go to a movie and that shark movie ruined it all for me.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll probably just take a stroll along the beach, maybe have a few drinks. I don’t go swimming... as you already know, I cannot.” Paul said, looking down at his chest.

She looked away. “Yep, I understand…”

At Paul’s place, although she was almost expecting it to be awesome, Eliz couldn’t help but be in awe. She was impressed and giddy to be there. Paul let her changed to jeans and white cotton shirt.

“I see a lot of records in the other room. Is that your music room?”

“Yes, it is,” Paul replied.

“I kind-a wonder… you have such a modern thing going on here. Your records and the stereo seem out of place, kind-an old fashioned. I assume there’s a story behind it?” Eliz was curious.

“You’re a keen observer. Yes, there is a story, but not just a story. It’s actually part of D’ Kickers history. Those records, the stereo, are my treasure, more precious than this house.”

Paul grabbed an ice chest that was filled with beers and bottles of wine. They both carried it to the beach.

“You have quite a place here,” said Eliz, still amazed at the place. “So what’s the story with the old records and the not so fashionable stereo?”

“It was those records that brought me to the music world. It changed my life, brought me back to music.” Paul narrated everything that transpired in Peter’s basement, the beginning of their band’s friendship, including his first favorite song ’Bohemian Rhapsody’ and how it changed his life; up to the time when Peter and his dad finally gave the set to him because they knew he loved it so much.

“That is an incredible story. Now I understand why it is your treasure.” Eliz commented and followed “Now that I know, I think it fits perfectly well in your house. Everything is perfect. You have such a beautiful place here, kid.”

“Yes. It used to be very beautiful… perfect. Probably the most beautiful place, but that was before.”

“What do you mean?” Eliz asked.

“You see that dark unlit house to your left? It’s beautiful when it’s lit…”

“You mean he lives there?”

“He did. Not anymore. It was sold to someone else a few days ago for a bargain price.”

“It’s a pity. It looks like an amazing house, just like yours. Very fancy.”

“Yes, it is. He sold it for lower than his purchase price. Guess he wanted to get rid of it and run away from here as fast as he could,” he threw a stone toward the water. “To get away from me…”

“I don’t know if I can tell you anything to ease your pain. But the truth is; there’s nothing I could say that would make your pain go away. I’ll be here with you… I’ll cry with you and maybe wait for you until you feel better.”

Paul sobbed and laid his head on Eliz’s shoulder. “I need him now… I need him badly. I don’t know if I can go on like this.”

“You can, silly. You have me,” she grinned. “You have your parents. Don’t say that you can’t. There are people who are in a worse heap, then we are right now. It will be disrespectful to your family if you give up. You’re not here just for him; you’re here for your friends and most especially for your parents. For Chelsea,” her voice trailed off.

Hearing her words, Paul was somewhat taken aback. He remembered the girls. He gazed out to the sea, remembering the girls back in the boulevard, Eliz and other women like her, and he felt a pang in his heart. He pulled away from Eliz’s and looked at her. “I envy you… I envy your friends.”

“Good! Now you’re joking, eh? Envy us? Are you getting sick in the head?”

“Actually, no I’m not. I am genuinely envious.”

“Why would you even envy us?” Eliz gave out a loud laugh.

“While waiting for you. I saw your friends—co-workers?” He gave out a little laugh. “They seem very happy with what they’re doing. They eagerly attend to their customer, enthusiastic and gung-ho like a five-star hotel staff. When they have a customer, you see the joy in their eyes. When they go back to their turf, they seem so happy. I know the job isn’t fun, yet they’re happy. What was that?”

“Do you think we are genuinely happy?”

“Yes, that’s what I saw and that’s what you seem to me.”

“Oh hell, I am. I don’t know if all of us are like that, but I am genuinely happy. Do you know why? What makes us happy?”

“That’s what I’m asking myself? I’m a fairly successful artist, but I’m lonely and sad, even before this happened.”

“Well, it’s not about the job. It’s where your heart is. If you put joy in your heart you’re in a happy place. But if you start telling yourself your life is crap, your life will be crap.”

“What do you mean? You know what I’m carrying now; it is just not possible for me to be happy and sunshine-y!”

“I don’t know. But do you think the girls that you saw at the boulevard or even me, don’t carry a big load? A load that is sometimes too heavy for anyone to carry?”

“That’s what I don’t understand. I know that most of you are not the luckiest in this life. Yet you can smile and laugh and…”

“Do you know the difference?”

“Honestly. I hope I can have your outlook and maybe it would ease some of my pain.” He began wiping the tears off his cheeks.

“For other people, they call it ‘acceptance’. We don’t want to cover it up, so we call it ‘surrendering’.”

“What do you mean?”

“Surrendering. It means giving everything up, your body, your reputation, the will to fight.”

“What do you mean? You mean giving your dignity up, too?”

“No. On the contrary, we hold our dignity up, or in my case, I hold my dignity higher than anyone does.”

“How?”

“People are too conscious of their standing, about winning. They are slaves of that notion. They do all they can to protect their body and reputation, even to the extent of killing someone or hurting someone. In my case, I am not a slave. I don’t need to prove to everybody that my body is morally clean. I don’t care what people say and obviously I am not part of the rat race that common people are in. It sucks that people are enslaved by something they cannot really conquer. Can you bring money to your grave? Why get angry with those who degrade you? Isn’t being indifferent to them more potent? The moment you let go and ask yourself, who am I — Our bodies will turn to dust anyway, so might as well use it your own way, without society’s preconditioning.” Eliz was almost out of breath when she finished her speech.

Paul began to question himself. When will I let go? When will I surrender?

“I’m not saying you have to think how I think. Be your own. Just don’t be a slave of your own circumstances.”

“Eliz, you are familiar with the case right? They seized some of Chelsea’s belongings, those that might prove that Sarah is still alive. The lawyer told me that this would kill our case. How am I going to accept that or just surrender?”

“First of all, if it’s just about you, you can let go. It’s in the past. Like I’ve said, the body, it will rot. If you treat it that way, your mind will follow, but the problem is it’s not just you, it involves a child. I guess we cannot accept or surrender anything on her behalf. We just have to accept or surrender the things that we have control of. We should accept and surrender, and take the consequences.”

Paul didn’t understand if Eliz made sense. But it made him believe that there is hope. That night, Paul had a change of heart.

“I accept the things that are about to happen on her behalf and I surrender to the consequences.” But the succeeding nights, he was still distraught. He could never seem to get over Eliz’s idea of ‘surrendering to the consequences.’ What does it mean for him? Or for Chelsea, or Josie? At that, questions slowly cascaded in his mind and it overwhelmed him. What if my plan fails? What if it’s discovered? What if Mr. Brown gets hurt instead? How would it affect the case? What would happen to him? What would happen to his family? What would happen to Chelsea?

Paul and Eliz spent the following nights at the beach in front of his house.

“I’m beginning to like this place too much. You know you might have to drag me outta here if I stay longer. I’ve fallen in love with it. Can I be here whenever I wish to? Eliz asked.

“Yes, of course. Anytime you want. I actually like it when you’re here.”

“What do you think makes us comfortable with each other? Is it because we share the same past… or because you paid me well?” They both laughed.

“Surely hope it’s the latter, but you know it’s not.”

“Actually, because of you I’ve had a chance of revisiting my past.”

“I’m sorry if I did that to you… if it’s bad or something.”

No, don’t’ be. You don’t have to be sorry. It has resolved so many conflicts within me. I’m glad actually. I could end up being sorry for myself, but I’m not.”

“What do you mean?” Paul asked.

“I’m fairly happy now, despite of my past, and not being able to get my dreams.”

“Dreams?”

“Yeah, why? Am I not entitled to that?” she laughed. “I have a dream, kid. I didn’t dream to be doing what I’m doing now, ya know?”

“And what that might your dream be?”

“Well, between you and me. I dreamed of becoming a Philosophy professor or a lawyer. Philosophy and politics, intrigue me. I like Plato and the works of other philosophers. They intrigue me. I’ve read a lot about them ya know. I thought I can work and study later, but it’s easier said than done. Now I’m contented with just reading the works of philosophers.”

“So. That is where you got your ‘wisdom’?”

“Maybe. But I was really born curious. It could be the reason I am what I am now.”

“Yeah. That’s why you are who you are,” Paul echoed.

“I may not be a lawyer or a professor, but I’m satisfied now. I’m happy that I got to help someone like you. I bet not all people can have that privilege.”

“Privilege to be with me?” He smiled and blushed.

“I don’t mean your celebrity status. I mean to you, as you. I’m sure there are a lot of people who can be with you right at this moment, but instead, you are with me—a girl from the boulevard.”

“Because you talk to me, and you listen.”

“That’s why I’m thankful. You made me appreciate myself more.”

“Yes, you are a special person. I’ve probably met a hundred people that can be considered smart or even geniuses, but for sure none of them would catch my drift.”

“Speaking of trouble, I thought you were already ‘okay’ the last time. Is there something new that’s troubling you? I wish I could just be here for a different reason, not that I’m complaining. But I really wish for you to be happy.”

“The last time... I thought I was okay, too. But ‘surrendering’ includes consequences. And it’s troubling me.”

“Yep. It sounds simple, but it’s not. You have to resolve your issues to be able to completely embrace it.”

“I don’t think I can just forget the consequences,” Paul took on a serious tone.

“That’s why… It’s not about forgetting the consequences. Like I said—‘surrender.’”

“What’s the difference?” Paul asked.

“Surrendering doesn’t mean forgetting. It is accepting whatever will happen. This I read somewhere. Are you familiar with the samurai saying, ‘Duty is heavy like a mountain, but a soldier’s death is light like a feather’? That’s what it means. You let go, but you fight for it. Whatever the outcome, accept it,” Eliz explained.

Paul gave her a serious look. “But I did that before and look what happened.”

“Yes, you did. Kid, look where it got you! You’re famous!”

“But look at what happened to the things I left behind?”

“Are you blaming yourself for the things that had happened? Do you think those other things could have been different if you did things differently? You were just a child back then. What you did was the best option.”

“But still… I can’t forgive myself for it.”

“There’s nothing to forgive. You’re just a kid then,” Eliz stressed. “There’s nothing much that you can do. But now you’re old enough to deal with it, right?”

Paul’s sobs were out of control now. “The thing is, now I’m scared. What if it fails? What if Mr. Brown gets hurt in the process? What if people found out? What will happen to my Dad and Mom? And what about Chelsea… and Josie?” He was panting and breathing so heavily.

“That’s the difference with us and the superheroes. They have super powers and they don’t have accessories in life. They don’t have families. That’s the reason they could do their thing without any worry.” She lit a cigarette and puffed deep. “Look at you when you’re not bogged down with these problems. You are a superhero. Kid, you’ve accomplished a lot in a quarter of your lifetime.”

“That’s true. But do I want to be like that? Numb?”

“It’s up to you. You can choose to be like that, sad and sulking but successful. Or be real, taking in all the pains in your life. I choose to happy. Maybe because it’s easy for me to forget my baggage—my family stinks.”

“Can I be both?”

“Your power diminishes once you get to choose to take on two lives, just like what’s happening to you now.”

“But I cannot abandon Chelsea, now that I know about her.”

“Yes, you cannot. But had you not known about her, I don’t think fate will punish you for that. Who knows how many people in the world we ignore to help? In many cases, we can’t be a superhero. We just don’t give a damn about anyone else, except for the one in front of us…”

“Are you saying that if I had not known about Chelsea, it would still be okay? It wouldn’t have mattered?”

“Before Chelsea, had you ever cared about these things? Let say Chelsea didn’t exist, would you ever look into these matters, like people you don’t know?”

Paul didn’t know what to say. Then he asked her: “Have you heard any of our songs?”

“I’m a friend, Paul, not a fan. I’m sorry. Honestly, I don’t know any of your songs and for that matter any other song except a few from the Beatles.”

“That’s why I like you. You are true to me like I am to you. Our first two songs were called Angel’s Cry and Mad as Hell. There’s a story behind it, of course. But I’ll just sing it to you.”

Paul began to sing. His soft voice melted her tough heart. She was suddenly vulnerable. She felt every word, and began to cry. She found herself hugging Paul so tight she didn’t want to let go.

“It’s you. You’re living it. This is your battle, kid. You’re the superhero.”

“It’s only now that I understand it… this is my battle...” Paul declared and followed, “I won’t abandon Chelsea and Josie, and all the kids who have suffered. This is my battle…”

“But we have to choose what we can win, for one—Chelsea…”

“That’s what I’m afraid of now. I can’t seem to reconcile my beliefs. I don’t want anything bad to happen to Chelsea but I can never seem to pull the trigger… actually I did, indirectly… but I don’t know if I can live with it.”

“You said you already pulled the trigger? How?”

“Nothing… yet… but I’m worried if….”

“Are we in that situation already? Did you lose the case?”

“Not yet. But the case is about to go downhill.”

“C’mon. Nothing’s final yet. Let’s not take on anything your nerve can’t handle. Let’s wait, okay? When the threat is already there, that’s the only time we give up.”

“I guess you’re right. I’ll call him tomorrow.”

“How were you able to do that anyway? Ya know, ask someone to…?”

“You just need to know someone on the inside...”He didn’t want to divulge any more than necessary.

Paul made an immediate phone call to the Buncombe County Detention Center the next morning. He looked for Shift Supervisor Roger Taylor, the one he regularly sends gift to whenever Josie and Lana visited Mr. Brown. Lana Combs were the person Mrs. Andrews hired to bring Josie to her dad regularly. But Roger was not on duty that day. He then asked the guard politely if he could talk to one prisoner. Unfortunately, the guard was not as cordial as Roger. Paul’s request was declined. He decided to try the next day.

Lavraza and Smith were in the office of Prosecuting Attorney Robert Clay. They were waiting for Robbins’ defense lawyers.

“You think they have anything from Chelsea’s things? To prove Sarah is still alive?” Smith anxiously asked her mentor.

“I doubt it. But they definitely have something to raise doubts on Sarah’s death or existence. Otherwise, they will not ask for this meeting.” Robert Clay surmised.

“Just in case they have, what are we going to do?” Lavraza asked.

“Actually, right now, let’s face that possibility. It’s about time we look at our options, other than First Degree,” Smith suggested.

“That’s the reason we’re here. I’m sure the defense will ask for some kind of a deal.”

“If that’s the case, what they’re holding is not a final proof of Sarah being alive?” Lavraza said.

“Might be so. But still, it might be enough to raise doubts in the minds of the jury,” Clay commented.

“It would have been easier if we could find that lady, Cindy or whoever she is. It adds up to the problem, because we cannot make her appear. It gives off the impression that there are reasons for her to hide.”

Their discussion was interrupted when the defense lawyers arrived. They were led to the conference room while Clay, Smith and Lavraza proceeded as well. They exchanged greetings and pleasantries and sat around the conference table, opposite each other. The defense team was a hardball group, with Alex Barber, Peter Godfrey and the stunning Jessica Caldwell.

“We are here to present to you what we have found in Chelsea’s possessions,” Barber began.

“We already know that, so let us see what you’ve got,” Clay replied, rather impatiently.

“But first, may I ask… Because it might hasten our cause, too. Is this Sarah or--- Cindy, here…?” Barber asked.

The prosecutors were silent. They could not take the risk. It might lead to more scrutiny and worse, perjury.

“We are still looking for her. The moment we contact her, we will definitely present her to you or to the court.”

“That figures. Do you know any more information that you are keeping from us? Remember the repercussions of holding back a witness or evidence.”

“Why would we keep her from you? What are you insinuating?” Lavraza said angrily.

“You’ll find out later. Mr. Caldwell will show and tell you what we’ve got.”

“First, we have a letter from Sarah which was given to Chelsea.” He handed it over to them and said, “Look and examine it.”

“Correction. This was allegedly from Sarah,” Lavraza said sternly.

My Sister Chelsea,

As promised, I will give some of my photos to you.Like you said, sisters share. I secured a copy of the photos myself. Along with the photos, I enclosed a locket and a necklace with our photos in it. I hope you will always wear it as I will. I might not always be with you, but you will always be in my heart. I will always love you.

Love,

Sarah

There was a long pause in the room. “It could have been written by anyone. As we’ve told you, the letter was written by this certain Cindy to comfort Chelsea. She was pretending to be Sarah.”

“But where is she now? We would definitely love to have a conversation with her,” Peter Godfrey spoke.

“Just as we said, we are still looking for her. We are not hiding her. We are adamant to find her, too, so we can refute your ridiculous claim that Sarah is alive.”

“Okay, let’s see if you are really looking for her or keeping her. If you carefully read the letter, it speaks of photos—their photos. Mr. Caldwell, show them the photos.”

Caldwell opened Chelsea’s family album and showed it to the group. “Do you see their eyes? Look at their eyes. Examine them.”

The prosecutors were dumbfounded. They all realized they need Cindy now more than ever. Chelsea and Cindy have eyes, that were incredibly alike.

“These photographs don’t prove anything at all. For all we know, she could be a relative or—that two different people could have similar sets of eyes. It’s not impossible. We can present tons of photos of people that have eyes that look alike,” Clay confidently stated.

“Are you willing to gamble on that? We are not interested with anyone else… Only with your Cindy character. She will do fine,” Caldwell was almost laughing at them.

“If you are a real lawyer, you know that your evidence here does not prove anything. Are we forgetting that your client has blood on his hands? I think we’re veering away from the real case here,” Clay was irate at this point.

There was a moment of silence again.

“The motive for the second murder was the alleged first murder of Sarah. And we are not stopping from looking for her body to prove that motive. And don’t forget about Sarah’s bloodied clothes that evidently showed assault. So either way, your client will rot in jail or the gas chamber,” Clay concluded.

“Those clothes can be anyone else’s clothes. It also does not prove anything,” Barber repeated, as if mocking his opponents.

As the scuffle was ensuing, Smith continued to browse on Chelsea’s photo album, and noticed something important. She stood up and spreads open the album in front of the defense lawyers.

“Look at what Sarah was wearing in this photo with Elizabeth Payne.”

It was the defense turn to be stupefied. The dress that Sarah is wearing in the photo was the bloodied dress that the police found in the diggings.

“So even without the body, these will be more than enough to convince the jury and convict your client.”

“What you got are all circumstantial,” Barber was trying to hide his anxiety.

“Are you willing to gamble on that? Don’t forget that Elizabeth Payne was dead because your client killed her.”

The defense paused and somehow conceded. But they all know neither of them has a solid case for now. It would be up to the jury.

“That is why we are here to negotiate,” Caldwell finally broke the silence.

“So now you’re here to negotiate? Okay, let us hear what you want to say,” Lavraza challenged them.

“We all know that you don’t have a foolproof case until you have the body. We can always argue that Elizabeth was distraught because she thought that our client killed Sarah, but without the body that is with reasonable doubt. We can argue that Elizabeth attacked her husband for no reason at all,” Barber said in defense.

“You are forgetting the evidence again. We will find that body, I promise you. And we will serve your client with a double murder case!”

“That’s for a jury to decide. Without the body, are you really willing to risk it all?”

They were all exhausted by now. They know they are just throwing the ball back and forth and no one’s scoring. The prosecution understood the photographs are damaging to their case. Without the proof of Sarah’s death, they know they could not convict Robbins for first degree murder. So in the end, they decided to settle for voluntary manslaughter, which will give the accused a minimum of 16 years in prison.

“Six years—and the child abuse case should be dropped,” Barbers negotiated.

“No way!” all three blurted in chorus.

“You are asking too much. We would rather gamble with the jury,” Barber calmly replied.

The prosecution conferred again. They knew they could not allow Robbins to get Chelsea back.

“Twelve years.”

It was the most reasonable. Knowing that by the time Robbins gets out, Chelsea will be an adult.

“Ten years, and you drop the child abuse case.”

“Yes.” Clay had a heavy heart, but this was the only way this will end. At least Chelsea will be safe.

Mrs. Andrews informed Paul about the settlement, as soon as she heard about it from the lawyers. Although they didn’t believe in the death penalty, they had hoped that at the very least, Robbins will get life imprisonment.

“Mom, does this mean I can visit Chelsea now?”

“I don’t think that is possible. We don’t know what the defense lawyers would do. We don’t want to open another window for them. They can still argue for an early release, and we definitely do not want that.”

His mind was in a haze. His life, because of this and more, had been a long trail of pain and disappointment. He was again conjuring sordid thoughts of anguish and vengeance. He wants to see Chelsea, and all this is keeping him farther away from each other.

And then there was Mr. Brown.

I have to stop Mr. Brown.

And so he did, as Cindy. To his dismay, Roger Taylor was unavailable to take his call.

“There had been a terrible accident this morning, and he’s on his way to a hospital at the moment.”

“Was he hurt—badly?” Paul inquired anxiously.

“No, it wasn’t Supervisor Taylor that was hurt. It was one of the detainees—Joseph Brown.”

He almost dropped the receiver as he felt his hand go numb. “Mr. Joseph Brown? How is he?”

“He was hurt pretty badly, ma’am. I’m afraid that he is fighting for his life as we speak.”

Paul puts the phone down.

Oh God… oh God… What did I do?

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