Melodies of a Tattered Shadow

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Chapter 8 GHOST OF THE PAST

Peter didn’t know what else to do but to drive away, seeing that his friend was totally distraught. What was in that house that made him break down like this? He was in great pain, so he let him alone and kept driving without asking any questions. When Paul saw he was heading out of Ashville, he stopped him.

“Bring me to this hotel, please,” he said, handing him a business card. “You can leave me there so you can go home.”

Peter didn’t want to leave him, of course. Not after what he witnessed and not in this condition. Paul insisted and left Peter with no choice. After checking in, Peter walked him to his room, hugged him goodbye, closed the door and left.

Peter left the room, but stood outside by the door, as if guarding it. He was worried sick and at a loss. How can he help his dear friend? He can hear Paul, sobbing, and then bawling as if in pain. After some minutes of silence, he heard him talking to someone over the phone in between sobs and sniffs.

“Mom, Mom, she’s gone. What am I going to do?”

The whole night, Peter stood outside the hotel room, never wanting to leave his friend alone. Paul fell asleep on the floor, crying. Peter dozed off as well, sitting against the door.

“Peter, wake up…”

He struggled to open his eyes for a few seconds, and was surprised to see Mrs. Andrews looking down on him. She gave him a hug and gave him a room key.

“I’ll take it from here. Go get some rest,” was all she said. As Peter walked away, she called out, “Thank you very much son.” They smiled and nodded at each other and then Peter left.

Paul hugged Mrs. Andrews with all his strength. He was crying again, but it was a more serene this time. He began telling her everything what he saw back in the wooden house at Lakeshore Drive and Pine Tree Road Alley as his Mom listened intently, holding his hand.

“Mom, she’s gone! What am I going to do?” Paul whimpered.

She asked Paul to sit on the bed, his back on a pile of pillows. She tried to console him, but she herself could not contain her emotions. It breaks her heart to pieces seeing her child like this.

She brushed his hair back with her fingers and whispered, “…Sometimes not knowing is much, much better.”

“Mom, we have to find her,” Paul pleaded.

“Yes, honey. We’ll look for her. I’ll call and ask your Dad, so we’d know where we can get information.”

She walked over to the phone and made a call to her husband.

Paul was suddenly frantic, yelling, “Mom, I want to come with you, I have to find out.” He was holding her arm and trembling in fear and despair.

She looked at Paul, assessing his condition.

“Honey, you can’t just go out. You know we cannot be seen asking questions about this…About your… About the Payne family.”

He was still trembling and sniffing when finally he said, “But Mom, please let me go with you. I want to know. I want to see her.”

“Honey, if I ever let you come with me, you can’t go like that.” She pointed at the way he was dressed.

“What, Mom?”

“You’re a rock star. People will recognize you and they will start asking what we’re there for, what we want to find out.”

Paul understood what she meant. He grabbed his bag and reached for something inside. He pulled it out and handed it over to his Mom. It was her gift to him before he left for their world tour.

“Mom, I know what’s inside this box. I carry it wherever I go, and just like you said, I should use it when I need it. This is one of those days.”

His Mom understood, but she was worried. This is going to be the first time that Paul would do this as an adult. She handed the gift back to Paul and told him, “Honey, you know I love you very much. I’m with you in whatever decision you make.”

Paul opened the box. In it was a bright yellow dress with sunflowers. He held it up and looked at it in awe. It was a lovely dress. He stood in front of the mirror, holding the dress against his chest. Mrs. Andrews looked on, watching his every move. He began to undress, not embarrassed at all that his Mom was in the same room. Somehow, both of them were comfortable in that situation. Paul wore the dress, and with his petite frame, the dress fit him well.

“Honey, it looks good on you, but I think something is missing. I’ll go downstairs for a few minutes. Wait for me here.”

She headed to the hotel lobby gift shop and hastily searched for something, but she couldn’t find it. Already frustrated, she decided to ask the sales staff.

“Can you help me find a pair of ladies’ slip-ons and a hat?”

The lady pointed her to a shop around the corner, just outside the hotel. She dashed out of the hotel, found the shop and everything she needed.

Back in the hotel room, Paul was desperately trying to put make up on, and was obviously failing at it. Mrs. Andrews took over and showed him how it should be done. She then brushed his hair back into a pony tail, making her look more feminine. And she did well.

Paul stared at himself in the mirror once again, and didn’t know how to react at first. His eyes narrowed, he began gasping for air as the image of that girl in his dreams came to him again.

He struggled to get out of the dress but Mrs. Andrews held him tight to calm him down. “Honey, what are you doing? Shhhh…”

“Mom, I don’t know if I can get through this…” his voice trembled, as he clutched his chest.

Mrs. Andrews did not let go of him even for a second. She whispered to him, she ran her hand through his hair, and kissed his forehead. She tried so hard to remain calm and not show her own weakness.

“Honey, you don’t have to do this, if you don’t want to.”

“But Mom. I can’t go on being scared… I want to break fr…”

“Honey, now is the day to start. This is the best reason to do this.”

Paul slowly stopped sobbing, and looked at her Mom. He nodded and Mrs. Andrews smiled at him.

As they walked out of the hotel room, they placed the ‘Don’t Disturb’ sign on the door. A bell staff ran after them, as they were about to step on the lift, and asked, “Ma’am, is Mr. Andrews inside? I have a schedule now to clean his room.”

“Oh yes, dear. But he’s resting and he doesn’t want to be disturbed at the moment.”

“O-Okay, ma’am.” He looked at the girl beside Mrs. Andrews with a puzzled look.

“Ahh, this is… Sarah, my son’s cousin.”

“Good morning, ma’am.” The ‘girl’ avoided eye contact but nodded on.

Paul was quiet on the lift, at the lobby, and as they walked out of the hotel. But he couldn’t keep himself from asking anymore.

“Mom, why did you call me that name?”

“I-I don’t know honey. That’s the first name that came out of my head at that moment.”

Paul looked away and kept silent. Maybe she remembered. Maybe she remembered that name from the many times I shouted it in my sleep.

“Mom, can you not call me that name?”

“Okay, honey. But if anyone asked, what name should we say yours is?”

“Maybe…let’s just use Cindy. Cindy Andrews, your niece?”

They were already in front of the police station when a man recognized Mrs. Andrews and started calling out to her.

“Jackie, hey Jackie… It’s me Karl.” The man startled and scared Mrs. Andrews. She stopped walking and stared at Karl, having no clue what he wanted or who he was. She looked at him closer, and realized she did know him.

“Ahh… Karl… It’s been a long time.” Her voice was uneven, her tone uncertain.

“Yeah! It’s been a long time. How is James? I know both of you took things hard, especially about Paul that you have to leave town. Anyway, it’s good to see you again. What brings you here?” The man talked non-stop and was really keen on asking about the Andrews.

Mrs. Andrews paused for a moment and looked at Paul, and then she said, “Well, I’m showing my niece around town. So, young lady, do you know where the Andrews came from?” She began addressing Paul in the hopes of escaping the conversation with Karl.

“That’s good. That won’t hurt, a little bit of family history. So this is your niece?” he asked, looking at the young lady curiously.

“Yes. This is Cindy, by the way. Cindy, this is Mr. Karl, a friend of your father, I mean, your Uncle James,” Mrs. Andrews pretended to laugh a little at her mistake.

“Good morning, Sir.”

“Good morning to you, too. You are very lucky to have such nice relatives. By the way Jackie, are you on your way to the police station? I’m on my way there too. I could help you if you need anything.”

“No, no,” she pretended to laugh again. “We were just passing by. I was showing her the building, but we’re on our way to the cemetery. You know, …we’re visiting him.”

She tugged on Paul and turned away from the police station, leaving any further discussion with the obnoxious Karl.

“Honey, we can’t go to there now.”

“Mom, what are we going to do? If we can’t ask from the police station…” Paul stopped his sentence right there and looked away, frustrated.

Mrs. Andrews looked at Paul and they both understood that for a moment, they have reached a dead end. They kept walking and passed by a newspaper stand. She saw Paul’s photo with D’ Kickers on the cover, headlining the success of their North Carolina concert tour. Curious, she walked toward the newsstand and looked for a particular paper. She kept browsing through the papers, until she found copies of that day’s Asheville Gazette, the local newspaper of Ashville, North Carolina. She promptly put the papers back and pulled Paul by the arm. They were headed towards Ashville Public Library.

“I know where we can find information. If it’s a police matter, they’ll probably have it there,” Mrs. Andrews pointed to the building just across the street.

Paul secretly wished they would not find it there. If it’s in the library records, it could only mean one thing: it was such a tragic incident bad enough to be in the local newspaper.

Inside the library, Mrs. Andrews looked around, weary that there will be more Karls who will recognize her. When she was assured that there was none, she approached the librarian and requested for the past issues of the Ashville Gazette. The librarian pointed them to a shelf, way at the back, hidden behind several more shelves of books.

“Do you need any more assistance? I can help you look for what you need,” the young librarian offered.

“Thank you Miss. You are very kind. We can manage from here,” Mrs. Andrews politely declined.

“Where do you think we should start? How long ago do you think it happened?”

“I don’t know Mom. Maybe—three months or three years old. I don’t know,” he shook his head, paused for a moment, then remembered, “I was here two years ago… and she was still there.”

“Okay, let’s just look at the past two years then.”

They took the huge book archives and placed it on top of one of the tables. Mrs. Andrews browsed one, and Paul looked into the other one. They were both quiet, hoping that they will not find anything because that would mean it wasn’t big enough to be on the papers. They scoured through every page, and found nothing so far. They were about to give up, when Mrs. Andrews came across a familiar name:

Sarah Payne’s body still missing!

She was in shock. She knew she was looking for that last name: Payne; but she wasn’t expecting to see the name Sarah. She read the article quietly, not telling Paul anything yet.

Sarah Payne’s Body Still Missing

By Sean Racine

Asheville, North Carolina –The search for the body of Sarah Payne of their former residence in the wooded area of Lakeshore Drive and Pine Tree Road, had led to another disappointment for the authorities. The girl had been reportedly missing for almost a decade now. Her mother, Elizabeth Payne reported her firstborn’s disappearance nine years ago. She asked help from the authorities again two years ago, saying that her live-in partner Gilbert Robbins must have had something to do with what happened to her first child. She fearlessly accused the man, reports alleging that her child might have been killed by Robbins. But before the authorities could even begin their investigation, Elizabeth Payne was killed only a few days after she came to the police for help. Robbins was the sole suspect in her murder.

Gilbert Robbins, who stands accused of murder in the first degree, is now on trial in the Court of Buncombe County. The county lawyer is seeking for the Death Penalty from the court. Robbins pleaded self-defense, and explained that her partner’s death was an accident. He also told investigators that he had nothing to do with the disappearance of Sarah Payne. Unfortunately, nothing could be proven, until the body of Sarah Payne is found.

Diggings had been done on the Payne property, surrounding the house. And no Body had been found as of press time. However, a girl’s dress and undergarment both tainted with blood were discovered, and this is believed to belong to Sarah.

With the absence of the girl’s proof of death, the charges of murder in the first degree conviction for Robbins cannot be guaranteed.

Now it all made sense. She held on to the article, still contemplating whether to show it to Paul or keep it to herself for now. She knew how much pain it would cause, if Paul finally knew what happened.

“Mom, did you find something?” Before she could reply, he had already gotten hold of the paper from her hands. He read the headline and read the whole article in seconds. His heart seemed to have stopped beating. He held his anger and tried to hold back his tears, but it was impossible to do so. Mrs. Andrews grabbed hold of his hands as he began to crumple the paper. She carefully tore the page off from its binding, and put it in her purse. She then casually closed the two books of archives, placed them back on the shelf, and hurriedly pulled Paul out of the library.

Upon reaching the adjacent street, they turned to one ally, and let Paul pour out his emotions. He bawled and fell on his knees, and could not stop crying.

“Mom, she’s really gone. What am I going to do?”

She didn’t have a clue what to say. All she could do was hold him, and keep him in her arms. When he began to calm down, she held him up, called a cab, and went back to the city. She whispered their destination to the driver so that Paul won’t hear, but he already knew where they were going.

When they’ve reached Rose Alley, Paul hurriedly got out of the cab, running like mad—still hoping that everything he read wasn’t true. By the time he reached the place, there were now two tombstones on the grave he visited two years ago.

Michael Payne

Born Died

November 29, 1940 August 26, 1968

Survived by his loving Daughter and Wife

Sarah and Elizabeth

And the new one:

Elizabeth Murphy Payne

Born Died

January 3, 1942 November 19, 1977

Survived by her loving Daughter

Chelsea

He looked at the tombstone, and saw right away that Sarah was not listed as one of the surviving daughters. Paul cried, and for the first time, he called out: “Mom!”

Mrs. Andrews wept silently, her arms around him, as he rested his head on her shoulders.

They spent the whole afternoon in the cemetery, crying on and off. When dusk crept in, Paul stood up and with a heavy heart, pulled Mrs. Andrews to another grave. This was the other grave that Paul visited the last time. When she saw the grave, she ran toward it, ran her fingers through the engraved words, and started talking as if someone was listening to her: “We miss you son. Thank you for leading us to her. She was wonderful. It’s a pity you have not met her. You will definitely like her. I love you…”

Once they reached the hotel room, Paul quickly took the dress off. He hated that dress. He blamed the dress for all the bad things that turned out that day, and all his life. He rummaged through his luggage and found a shirt and trousers he can wear.

I am Batman and I’m not going back.

Staring out the window, he stands still like a statue with tears streaming down his face.

“Honey, let’s talk about it.”

“Talk about what, Mom?” He was still angry.

“What are we going to do?”

“I have no clue…”

“Honey, the case and your…” She paused and looked at Paul. “Honey, Sarah has a sister. We should find her and think what we can do for her, what to do about Chelsea.”

Paul paused and looked at her with stern eyes. Although he tried to keep his mind blank at least for the moment to ease his pain, the word sister resonated in his mind. He began digging into his pocket for something, turning them inside out to make sure he didn’t just miss it. He reached into the last pocket and found what he was looking for: the picture of a girl he didn’t know personally, but knew very well who she was.

“Chelsea… Chelsea…” he whispered over and over. He looked at the girl in the photograph with loving eyes, as Mrs. Andrews looked on. Chelsea, she thought. That was your name after all.

“She is your—she’s Sarah’s sister. The eyes… you can see the resemblance,” she tried to speak, clearing her throat.

“Mom, we have to find her,” Paul was almost pleading.

“Yes, honey. We will. We have to find out what happened to her but we have to be discreet at the same time.”

“I understand, Mom. We have to find a way to find her.” He felt braver now, wiping off the tears from his eyes.

Although it was important for them to find Chelsea, they both agreed it was equally important to remain in disguise as they do so. There was something that was best kept as a secret—for now.

“If we can only get the full police report, we would probably find a lead as to where Chelsea is now,” Mrs. Andrews said.

“What about the one who wrote the news report? He probably knows more.”

“Brilliant idea. He probably knows the real story. Let’s go find him.”

“Let’s look for him in their office, the newspaper office,” Paul was stammering, trying to filter the ideas flooding his mind now.

“But we cannot just barge into their office. And they can also put one and one together and figure out who we are. We have to be careful and we have to make a good excuse to ask that reporter.”

“Reporters are always eager to talk. Our only problem now is how to talk to the reporter without him knowing that we are connected to the victims.”

They sat quietly, side by side, the whole night, trying to figure out what to do next.

At breakfast the following morning, Mrs. Andrews suggested an idea to her son.

“What about Peter?” she began.

“What about Peter? What do you mean?” Paul didn’t get it.

“Maybe he can help us.”

“But Mom, Peter doesn’t know anything.”

“Honey, Peter was with you when you visited the house. He probably knows more than you think, by this time. I’m sure he can put things together, and he’ll understand.”

“But still… Mom, I don’t think I can tell him everything.”

“You can tell him the truth. Some of the truth, at least. Enough to make him understand why you want to know everything about this case.”

Mrs. Andrews handed Paul the news article. Paul reached for the paper and asked, “But how can he help us?”

“You and your band mates are popular. I’m sure one call from Peter, and the reporter will quickly sit down for a talk.”

“But what would Peter’s excuse be?”

“Honey, although it pains me, I know that most of your songs are based on these sad incidents. Peter can pretend just the same.”

“You mean, research for music… song writing?”

“Yes. The way you have been doing it. That can be our reason. It’s the only thing I can think of,” she tried so hard to be calm and logical, despite her own fears.

“It’s all right Mom. I think you’re right. Peter is not connected to the case, and music research is a good justification.”

“Okay then. Call Peter. He’ll probably be in L.A. by this time.”

He tried to call, but he was told Peter wasn’t in L.A.

She smiled and picked up the phone to call the front desk. She whispered some instructions Paul couldn’t hear much of, then hang-ups. She turned to Paul and sat him down beside her.

“When I arrived yesterday, I found him sleeping outside your room. He didn’t leave, until I arrived. I gave him my room key and asked him to rest there for a while.”

Paul’s face lightened up. He took the room number from his mom and dashed out to get him.

Peter was woken up by a hard rapping on his hotel room door. He was glad to see Paul as he opened it. Paul buried his face on his friend’s chest and wept quietly. “Why didn’t you leave?” he whispered.

“I cannot leave you, I told you that. Especially if you’re like this.” They went inside the room and sat on the floor. “How did you know I’m still here?”

“I called L.A., and my Mom told me.”

“I’m not going to leave you, you know?” he stared at Paul earnestly.

“It was just too hard for me. I know you understand me, even if I don’t tell you everything,” Paul replied.

“What happened to you and your Mom when you went out?”

Paul looked at Peter curiously.

“I know. I told the front desk to inform me of any activity in your room.”

Paul was still puzzled. Did he also know I wore that disguise?

He looked at his friend’s eyes and Peter noticed the hundred things in Paul’s mind right now, one of which was yesterday’s events. So he told him, “Don’t worry Paul. There must be a big reason for you to do whatever you did yesterday. Stop worrying about me, and what I might be thinking.”

“How did you find out?”

“The cleaner told me that your mom went out with a young lady, and I called your room several times. So I figured. You don’t have to tell me.”

Paul was in deep thought. “So you know why I am here?”

“Actually no, I’m just here to watch over you without you knowing it. I want to make sure that you’re okay—without bothering you.”

Paul was somehow relieved. He didn’t exactly know everything.

“I need your help, man,” Paul began.

“You know I’ll do anything for you,” Peter replied.

“Do you remember that house we went to?”

“I can only speculate, but I understand that they were close to you… the people there. Is that where she lives?”

“What do you mean? Who?”

“The girl in the song, Angel’s Cry. Your friend?”

Paul paused for a moment and then said, “Yes, she was my friend. That was where she lived.”

“She must be very close to you,” Peter felt his friend’s pain.

Paul fell silent again for a moment, trying to organize his thoughts and words.

“She was my best friend. We were very close back then. She used to tell me everything that’s been happening in her house—all the bad things. One day, we planned to run away for her to escape her terrible situation…” Paul paused for a few seconds, and continued, “…to escape from her stepfather. But on our way out, she got caught. I couldn’t help her. After that, we lost contact and I didn’t know what happened to her—until now.” He reached inside his pocket and handed the newspaper article from the library over to Peter.

Peter read the article. It moved him to tears; it was just heartbreaking. He began to realize how Paul felt, what he was going through.

“What do you want me to do? I’ll do whatever I can,” Peter declared.

“Mom and I would like to find out more about the case, and help solve whatever mystery there is. But first, I want to know what happened to her sister.”

Peter was a little bit surprised. “Sister? Sarah’s sister you mean?”

Peter read the article again: The girl had been reportedly missing for almost a decade now. Her mother, Elizabeth Payne reported her firstborn’s disappearance nine years ago. She asked help from the authorities again two years ago, saying that her live-in partner Gilbert Robbins must have had something to do with what happened to her first child.

“Yes, Sarah was the first child.” Paul reached into his pocket again and handed it to Peter. “Remember this photo? The one we took from the house. That’s her.”

Peter looked at the photo and like Paul, fear crept into his mind. He too was afraid something bad had happened to her. “Tell me Paul, how can I help?”

“The reporter who wrote that article, we believe he knows where Chelsea could be. He might know more about the case that he was letting in.”

“Chelsea? Is that the name of her sister?”

“Yes, yes. That’s as far as we know.” Paul hoped Peter would not inquire more about how he knew the name.

“So you want me to talk to the reporter and ask about Sarah’s sister, her whereabouts, and the case?”

“Yes, but—we want you to ask the reporter under a different premise,” Paul clarified. He was uncomfortable asking his friend to lie and all, so he was careful with his words.

“We want to help solve the case anonymously. So you—you will talk to him in the guise of research, pretend that you are doing the interview for music.”

“Okay, no problem. Let’s do this.”

“Peter, I will be there with you…” Paul added. They looked at each other and Peter understood what Paul meant.

Peter wasted no time calling the Asheville Gazette and getting as much information about the reporter as he could.

“You are looking for a Mr. Sean Racine or a Miss Sean Racine?” the telephone operator clarified.

“What do you mean?”

“There’s no Mr. Sean Racine in Ashville Gazette, but we have a Miss Sean Racine who works as a reporter.”

“If that’s the case, let me talk to Miss Sean Racine.”

“Sir, may I know who is calling?” the operator inquired. “This is Peter Cook.”

“Okay sir. I’ll try to connect you now. Please hold on.”

After a few seconds, the operator was back.

“I’m sorry, sir. Miss Racine is in a meeting at the moment. You can try calling back after an hour.”

“Wait! Did you tell her that this is Peter Cook?”

“Yes sir, I told her.”

“Please call her again and tell her that this is Peter Cook, of D’ Kickers.”

Peter sensed the excitement in the operator’s voice now, as she mumbled and tried to apologize for the delay. Peter could hear her on the other line.

“Ma’am, this is the operator again. Mr. Peter Cook, of the band D’ Kickers is on the other line. He would like to speak with you.”

Sean Racine was surprised. It took a minute for the information to sink in. Why is a rock star calling me?

“Okay, put him through.”

“Hello, Peter Cook? I’m sorry for that. I thought you were somebody else.”

“No problem, ma’am.”

“What can I do for you?”

“I’d like to invite you for a snack this afternoon, if you’re free.”

Sean sat back and tried to hide her surprise and excitement. She paused and replied, “It will be my pleasure, Peter.”

“Okay then. I’ll call you in a few minutes for the details.”

“I’ll wait for your call.”

He put the phone down and discussed with Paul what their next step will be. They ironed out the details of the “date”. They need a private place, so they decided to inquire at the front desk where they can find a fine restaurant with a private room; and with a stroke of luck, there was one in the hotel. They made reservations and Peter informed Sean immediately.

That afternoon, what looks like a young lady accompanied Peter to the restaurant. They proceeded to the reserved room and found Sean already seated comfortably. She stood up as she saw them come in, and greeted them formally.

“Good afternoon Peter, and Miss…”

“Good afternoon, Sean. I’d like you to meet Cindy.”

“Pleased to meet you Cindy.”

They all sat down and ordered some light snack and drinks. Sean, the investigative reporter that she was, could not contain her curiosity.

“Peter, I’m quite flattered and surprised that you invited me over, but let me get it straight. Why me? I mean, I don’t know if you’re familiar with my work, but I work at Police Beat, and that is nowhere near an entertainment page. I’m a reporter; a news reporter. I was beginning to think you were actually ‘fond’ of me, but then I shook my head and logic took over.” She smiled, but gave him an inquisitive look.

“I thought you were going to hit on me,” she quipped flirtatiously. “But you brought your girlfriend, so that kinda burst my bubble. So what’s this all about?”

“Sean, don’t worry about Cindy. She’s my cousin. I might still pursue you, for all you know,” Peter teased her.

“Seriously, Peter. I know you ‘rock stars’ don’t just chase common Police Beat reporters like me. I’m sure you have more than enough groupies you can handle. So—what brings me here?”

“You’re too impatient, Miss Racine. Not all band members are like that. I’m a good guy. I like girls who are exciting. I admire girls with brains. Girls who love action, and chase action.”

“Oh, Peter don’t get me started. You don’t know what you’re up against,” she laughed nervously, and the boys can sense it. “Anyway, exciting, dangerous and intriguing do not come close to describing what I actually do. I might be in Police Beat, but nothing remotely exciting ever happens here.”

“Are you sure? So why are you here? You seem like a girl of action. You are rugged but incredibly beautiful.” Peter was on a roll, and he found the window he was looking for.

“Oh Peter, you’re starting to sound like you’re really hitting on me. To answer your question, I stayed here because I love it here. I was born here. Some police reporters will be bored here due to the lack of action, but not me. I’m happy that I don’t get to report gory incidents in my city.”

“So this is a peaceful place?”

“Yes. In general, it is peaceful.”

“Would you say it can be a perfect place to raise a family? Why ‘in general?’” Peter inquired.

“In general, because just like in any other city, things happen sometimes. But the thing is, it does not happen frequently. There are some isolated cases, and it’s not a heinous crime. Not many of those that make you flinch and feel terrible.”

“So still there are ‘bad’ things that happened here?” Peter inquired curiously.

“But of course. Even in a perfect city as this; but that will be very few. You can even count it with your own hand. But why would you be interested in that and why do I have a feeling that I’m being interrogated?” She was beginning to feel uneasy, and a tad annoyed at the same time.

Peter was quick enough to notice and even quicker to think of a way out. “Now you got me. I’m actually a reporter who reports on reporters like you,” he gave her a wide grin and worked his charm double time. It wasn’t working the way he planned, so he put on a straight face and began explaining to her what he really wanted to do.

“Okay, now. I’ll go straight to the point. Actually, we always do this. We invite and talk to people who have been ‘immersed’ in the extraordinary. People, who have unique stories to tell. Sad stories, actually. You know our kind of music, I hope,” Peter explained.

She nodded, with a hint of uncertainty. “Hey, we are both from the south. I’m not really a rock band fan but I follow you. Yes, I’m definitely familiar with your music.”

“So you understand?”

“If you mean, you make music out of other’s misery, then yes I understand.” She smiled; teasing him is so much fun.

“Well, by the way you say it, it sounds awful. No, we don’t actually exploit others’ misery. I believe we can leave that to the newspapers,” Peter retorted.

“Ooh, you sound affected,” she teased even more. “I admit we do that, but we have our own objectives for doing so.”

“If you listen to our music carefully, some of our songs send warnings about the evil that men do to others,” Peter defended.

“I understand Peter,” she looked at him in the eyes and smiled. “I’m just teasing you.”

“I don’t’ know if it’s fortunate or unfortunate, that you have nothing to share with us, but it sure was a pleasure meeting you.”

Sean sensed the meeting was coming to an end, so she said, “Actually, there was one story that has somehow affected me most. I know I should not be attached or emotionally affected as much as possible. And I don’t want to talk about it. I even concealed some of the details of that story to avoid pushing it to the sensational side. Like I said, I’m proud of my city, but this particular story is one I’m not proud of. I wish it had not happened here, but it did…So—“ She seemed to have been lost in her own speech for a moment, then she shook her head as if waking herself up from daydreaming, and took a sip of her lemonade.

“So what’s the story all about?” Peter asked.

“It started two years ago, in the outskirt of the city. A bill collector was making his usual rounds, and found a woman stabbed in the chest in her own kitchen. He said he was knocking on the door and calling for the homeowner. He said he saw a man fleeing from the backdoor. He knew right there that something bad might have happened inside. He went inside and discovered the woman sprawled on the floor on her own pool of blood. He said she was calling out a girl’s name—Chelsea.”

Paul couldn’t help but fidget in his seat.

“So he ran to the nearest neighbor, which was a bit far, and asked them to call 911. By the time the police and ambulance arrived, she was already dead. When they started investigating the incident, they found a child inside one of the cupboards in the house, distraught and shocked. She had bruises in the lower parts of her body, including her…” she stopped and faltered “…including her genitals. She refused to talk.”

Paul began to sniff as he welled up in despair. Sean immediately noticed him and said, “True. I myself can’t help but cry every time I remember that story. It was atrocious.”

“So what did the police find out in their investigation?” Peter inquired.

“Well, two days prior to the incident, Elizabeth Robbins, the victim, went to the Police Station and reported that she suspects her second husband is responsible for her first daughter’s disappearance. She insisted she did not run away, as previously suspected by her husband and the police. She believed that her second husband must’ve killed her. According to the police report, she alleged that Gilbert Robbins might have sexually molested her child back then. When the police asked her why she didn’t report it before, she said she didn’t understand it back then; she didn’t recognize the bruises and the many other signs that she saw in her daughter. When the police asked her how she suddenly seemed to have understood it, the woman kept quiet and withdrew her complaints. She was out of there so quickly the police thought she had gone crazy, that’s all.”

“Sean, I have some questions, if you don’t mind.”

“No problem, Peter. As long as I can answer them.”

“Back then, did the police investigate the disappearance of her first child? If they didn’t, why not?” Peter asked.

“Yes and no Peter. Yes, because initially the police conducted an investigation, but the parents themselves were reluctant to give answers. They practically stopped all investigations soon after. No, because they didn’t conduct a thorough investigation because around that time, it was not uncommon. Many kids runaway to big cities like New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. In fact some of those kids had come back, only to run away again.”

“So, I can assume that the man that ran from the house that day was her husband? What happened to him after?” Peter looked at Paul while asking this, knowing this was the same question in his mind right at that moment.

“He was apprehended on the same day, after just a few hours. He was caught still wearing a bloodied shirt, apparently from the incident,” Sean explained.

“So how did he explain what happened?”

“As usual, he claimed he was just defending himself. His wife attacked him so he ‘fought for his life’. He said that when his wife came home from the market, she was looking for her daughter. When she cannot find her, she shouted for her and went really mad when she still wasn’t there. According to him, she grabbed a kitchen knife and attacked him, but luckily for him, he was able to wrestle the knife from her. That was when he accidentally stabbed her on the back… then, on the chest? That was bullshit, right? Who believes that?”

Hearing this, Paul whimpered. It’s as if he saw the whole incident firsthand.

“Cindy, hey, don’t worry about crying. All of my friends, they all cry whenever I tell them this story. But it also makes me very angry. That this man had a nerve to say that he was just defending himself? It’s not exactly a secret that Elizabeth had been enduring physical abuse from him for years, especially when he’s drunk. Her neighbors had testified, for god’s sake.”

Paul finally broke down. Sean herself was spent after recounting everything again. Peter can see how passionate and ‘involved’ she had become in this story.

“So, why has she not reported her abuses back then?”

“From what I’ve heard, Elizabeth was really a loving wife and mother. Her first husband adored her, but unfortunately he died in a car accident. Which is actually a whole different story in itself? That accident was suspicious, too. Anyway, she mourned for the loss of her husband and Mr. Robbins, who was a friend of her first husband, consoled her. And later lived with her. I don’t know if she owed him anything but from then you can surmise that her life started to be a living hell. She didn’t report, maybe because just like any victim of abuse, she thought someday soon the man will change.”

“So what happens now? Especially that they haven’t found Sarah’s body.”

“Actually now, the whole community was frustrated, people already know how evil this man is and to think that he might be acquitted, it really pisses me off!” Sean couldn’t hide her anger any longer. Her hands were shaking as she reached for her sandwich.

“Why is he getting acquitted?”

“Well, for one they haven’t found Sarah’s body until now. They need her to prove there’s even a death, and so on. The only things they have now are the kid’s dress and underwear tainted with blood, the ones they discovered in the backyard diggings.

“Isn’t that enough to prove the motive?”

“It’s circumstantial at best. Actually, the defense had already argued that it might not even be Sarah’s clothes. There was no evidence that can link the clothes to Sarah.”

“If that could be proven, will it help the case?”

“Yes, yes, definitely. Although it might not prove Sarah’s death, at least we can prove that whoever owned those clothes could be physically injured, assaulted based on the position and amount of blood.”

“So, there is a great chance that Mr. Robbins can get away with murder?” Paul interjected.

“I’m no lawyer, and I hate to think that is even a possibility,” she heaved a deep sigh. “It’s really frustrating, and—and painful to think about; especially for Chelsea, Elizabeth’s surviving daughter,” Sean’s voice faded off.

“What’s wrong with Chelsea?” Peter asked.

“After what the kid had gone through, I cannot even imagine the possibilities. If that man is acquitted, what will stop that man from getting Chelsea back? If that’s the case, somebody has to kill him, before he can get hold of Chelsea.”

“Sean, calm down,” Peter was held aback with what she said.

She tried to compose herself and continued with her story. “You see, When Chelsea was discovered inside a cabinet—in shock, and riddled with bruises in…her…her…the lower parts of her body. Her genitals—“her hands were shaking as she made hand gestures. “She was obviously a victim of sexual abuse,” her voice trailed off, and Peter saw tears filling up her eyelids.

“Does it become part of the case?”

“Unfortunately, no. Chelsea, at the time of trial was in a state of shock, so she can’t testify. Her bruises were not recent, meaning not inflicted on the day of the incident itself. The investigation is focused on Elizabeth’s allegations that her second husband had something to do with her Sarah’s disappearance, and the bloodied dress. It’s unfortunate that the prosecutor made an error not to include Chelsea’s case, but back then we understand. We wanted to protect Chelsea. We don’t want her to be traumatized all her life by including her in the trial. But now it’s obvious, Elizabeth was able to conclude that that horrible man abused Sarah when she discovered he was doing the same thing with Chelsea. That’s why she was missing. That’s probably when she thought that Sarah must’ve been killed by the man and to tell you the truth, Mr. Robbins’ statement must’ve been true to some degree. If you find out your daughters have been ravaged by this man you trusted for years, you’d probably want to kill him, too. Come to think of it, it’s probably the reason why the prosecutor didn’t use Chelsea’s case. Because it will justify self-defense.”

“So what’s going to happen now?” Peter asked again sadly.

“I hate to think of it but if Sarah’s body cannot be found, there’s a great chance that—that evil man can get away with murder. Like I said, somebody ought to kill that man. It’s driving me mad every time I think of the possibility of that man getting near Chelsea again,” she knew she was getting overly emotional, but she just couldn’t stop.

“So where is Chelsea now?” Peter asked earnestly.

“Actually, right now it looks like that it’s going to be a problem, too. Back then it seemed wise to have her under government protection. Now, if Gilbert Robbins is acquitted, he can arrange everything to get his daughter back. And it will be easy because she’s with the government. It would been easier if she was cared for by a private family, that way we can just keep her somewhere safe.”

“But why? I don’t think he can just get Chelsea back that easy. What about the abuse?” Paul was holding on to Peter’s arm as Peter was beginning to lose control of his emotions, too.

“Unfortunately, no cases had been filed against him for the abuse. So no one can stop him from getting Chelsea back.”

“What about filing it against him now?”

“Again, even if it is filed against him now, it will become a futile exercise according to government prosecutor. Everything before will amount to hearsay. There is no concrete evidence against him as of the moment; even the legal medical report of Chelsea’s abuse didn’t necessarily mean that he was the one guilty of it in the eyes of the law.”

Sean paused for a while to rest her mind and catch her breath. Then she added, “The government may think it’s futile to file a case about the abuse, but I think if we can get private individuals to finance and support the litigation, I still think it should be done.”

“How can private individuals help?”

She looked at Peter and realized something. “I’m sure you and your band can help Chelsea and the case. Once people hear about it, supporters are sure to come from all directions.”

Paul and Peter looked at each other.

“Sean, I know you mean well but our group doesn’t want to do this for publicity. I think it will be best if we can help anonymously. We wouldn’t want to draw attention to us. People should know about the case itself, and help Chelsea,” Peter explained.

“I understand what you mean. Maybe we can find ways to use your band’s name, its popularity, but still avoid drawing attention to you rather than the case.”

“Sean, you just don’t know. Once we start it we can no longer control it. At first we might be attracting people to help the cause, the following day it will become a circus. We need to be cautious. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

“Okay, I understand. But will it be okay if I can come up with a plan? I have a lot of friends in PR. I can ask for advice.”

“I’m okay with that, but I have to talk to the other guys.”

“That’s good to hear,” she smiled at him, somehow knowing something good will happen. “This means that this won’t be our first and last meeting?”

“Of course. We are glad to have met you. Like I said, we are willing to be friends with people who welcome us with open arms.”

Paul nudged Peter, and Peter remembered one other thing. “By the way, is there a possibility that we can see or even meet Chelsea?”

A bit startled, she almost mumbled her reply. “Yes, yes. I think that can be arranged. I know someone from the Child Protection Services supervisor overlooking the Chelsea’s case.”

“Can you arrange it as soon as possible? You must know I’m running on a tight schedule. I would want as much details I can get so I can tell my friends, my band mates, so they can help us.”

“Sure. I’ll contact her after our meeting and call you later for the progress.”

Back in their hotel room, Peter, Paul and Mrs. Andrews were discussing what transpired in the meeting.

“Honey, I think your Dad and I will be the ones to pursue this. I think Peter can introduce me to Miss Racine and explain to her that we are going to represent Peter and the band on all matters pertaining to Chelsea’s case.”

“Yeah. I think that’s the best we can do, since we have to go back to L.A. soon to fulfill our commitments. We can’t let this affect our schedules,” Peter seconded.

Paul was still silent, oblivious to what Peter and Mrs. Andrews were saying. He could not imagine himself leaving Chelsea. He wanted to get her as soon as possible. He no longer cares about the band or the concerts; there’s nothing more important than saving Chelsea.

Mrs. Andrews, sensing that he was thinking about something more drastic, pulled Paul inside the bathroom and to talk to him.

“Honey, we can’t do things in haste and carelessness. Even if we want to, there are laws as you know that we cannot escape from.”

“But Mom, I cannot let him touch her again. I will die if I let that happen to her again. I will kill him myself if I have to…” Paul was beyond furious. He couldn’t stop crying again, and it breaks his Mom’s heart into pieces.

“Honey, you have to get a hold of yourself. That’s what we are trying to do now, to prevent it from happening again. And we will. I promise. We will hire the best lawyers to prevent that from happening again.”

“What if it doesn’t work out, Mom? What are we going to do? I cannot let him touch her again! I’ll make it sure, I’ll bet my life on it, I will not let him touch her again! I will kill him! I WILL KILL HIM!” Paul fell on his knees as his Mom tried to catch him. He was inconsolable. He has taken in too much that day and kept himself from breaking down in front of Sean, but now he’s had enough.

While the mother and son were inside the bathroom, Sean called and informed Peter about the meeting she had successfully scheduled between Chelsea and their group for the following day.

*****

When they arrived at the meeting place, they were surprised to see media people right outside, waiting for them. Peter was furious and threw an angry look at Sean, but she herself was just as surprised. He watched as Sean talked to a lady, and he could overhear that she was complaining about the media. She quickly walked up to Peter and Paul, who was disguised as Cindy again, and apologized.

“It’s alright Sean. But I hope now you understand me when we said we have to be careful.”

“Now I understand your apprehension,” she replied, embarrassed.

Paul didn’t care about anything at that point. He only had one thing in his mind: Chelsea. He didn’t even realize that he had been photographed with Peter several times in compromising situations; which implied that they were a couple. Sean introduced Mina Sanchez to the group. She is the Child Protection Services supervisor.

“Nice to meet you all. Thank you for visiting our facility.”

“Ma’am, pardon my ignorance, but what is this place? Is this an orphanage?” Peter inquired.

Amused, she replied, “Ahh, no! This is not an orphanage. This is a center for troubled children.”

“What do you mean?” Peter asked again.

“These are temporary housing for children with active files. As you know, when the case of the family is resolved, they are either given back to their family or awarded to another family or guardian, for foster care. Only temporarily until the time that they can be given to a suitable family for adoption.”

Hearing all of these had made Paul feel uneasy.

“What if a party is interested in adopting a particular child?” Mrs. Andrews asked.

“Well… children who remained with the government after the case, go through the process of adoption. By law, family kin is always given preferential option. Everything should be looked at, to ensure the wellbeing of the child.”

Mrs. Sanchez showed them around the facility, going around the different areas. The children were grouped according to gender and ages, but some children were housed differently because they have special needs or special cases. Chelsea was in one of those rooms. She was in a room with only a few children are staying. In fact, there were only three of them in that room.

Mrs. Sanchez already knew the group was there to meet Chelsea, but she wanted for them to meet all of the three children first. They have a special place in her heart and she wanted all the help she could get for all three. That was why she informed the media people. Before they entered the room, she told them about each of the girl’s stories.

When they finally met the three girls, they were heartbroken to see for the first time, the pain in their young eyes. They couldn’t imagine how men would do such horrible things to these innocent beings. The three girls jumped up and ran to them as soon as they saw the gifts they had in their hands, which were all for Chelsea. Mrs. Andrews, Sean, Paul and Peter handed each of them the gifts anyway. It wasn’t just for Chelsea anymore; it was for these innocent angels who were victims of life. The girls grabbed the boxes and bags from the strangers and opened them all like it was Christmas morn.

“The brown-haired girl is Jane Davis, and the sweet black girl is Josie Brown. That—“she pointed to the beautiful blonde girl who was sitting by the window, “—is Chelsea.”

Paul sat beside Chelsea and just stared at her as she played with her new doll. He started to cry, which caught the little girl’s attention.

“Are you crying? Do you have a toothache?” Chelsea asked. “Me, I cry too when my tooth aches.”

Paul feigned a smile and said in a soft voice, ’Yeah, my tooth’s aching. So, what do you do when you have a toothache? Paul asked, trying to control his emotions.

With pursed lips, the little girl said, “I ask for medicine and I cry myself to sleep.” Chelsea was still busy combing the doll’s hair, but she still acknowledged his questions matter-of-factly.

“Should I do that? Can I sleep here beside you?”

“If you want to, but you have to take medicine first.”

“I’ve already taken my medicine before coming here. Can I lie in your bed now?” Paul said.

“Okay, you may but can we still talk, right? What’s your name? Mine is Chelsea.”

“I’m Cindy,” Paul answered.

“Thank you Miss Cindy for visiting us—and for the gifts,” Chelsea added.

“Don’t mention it,” Paul replied. He cannot hide the sadness in his voice at all.

“You know we seldom have visitors. I wish someone will visit me…always.”

Paul wiped the tears, and sniffed a little.

“Why? Does it really hurt?” Chelsea asked, holding his hand.

“I’m sorry you have a toothache. It would have been better if you were home. I’m sure your mom will take care of you.”

“My mom, you said?” Paul said, surprised by her innocence and intelligence, too.

“Yes, your mom will surely take care of you. She will definitely make your pain go away.”

“How do you know?”

“I don’t know. I just know that mommies always take care of their babies.”

She giggled as she said the word “babies”.

Paul couldn’t believe how cheerful she seemed, despite everything she’d gone through. And how can she talk about moms and kids so—innocently, and unaffectedly. Paul tried to figure out what to tell her next. He paused, and when he was about to say something when she interrupted him.

“You know, I wish my mom can take care of me again. But I know she ain’t gonna be able to. The kids here say she’s already dead.”

Paul panted and wept even more.

“Oh no, don’t cry. I’m sure your mom will make your toothache go away once you’re home.” Chelsea stroked his hair gently, and added, “You know, I wish my sister can visit me instead.”

Paul froze, staring at Chelsea.

“Y-you know your sister?”

“No, but I have photos of her. Mrs. Sanchez showed me a photo album. She said it’s from my home. And she told me that the girl on the picture was my sister. Her name is Sarah.”

Chelsea quickly reached into one of the drawers and pulled out a photo album. She excitedly showed it to Paul. “Here, look at this. She’s here along with my Mom. Mrs. Sanchez said we kinda look alike,” her voice began to trail off. Then she quickly added, “She said we’re both beautiful. Mrs. Sanchez said we are both beautiful, ya know?” She giggled again, timidly.

Paul turned the pages of the album and saw several pictures. Chelsea looked on and pointed to a photograph. “That’s her with my Mom and my sister’s Dad. Do you think she looks like me?”

Paul looked Chelsea in the eyes and said, “Yes, you look like m…” He panted, paused for a long time, and finally said, “Yes. Yes, you look like your sister.”

“I wish she would come back, I heard she ran away, but I believe she’ll be back for me. She will get me. I know because I always pray for that.”

He looked at her with envy. Envious that there was no hint of grief or hopelessness in her. She was so brace…unlike him.

“Chelsea, can I be your sister? Can I be Sarah? I’ll do whatever you want Sarah to do for you.”

“Really, you want to be Sarah? But what if Sarah comes back. You won’t get mad?

“Of course not! If you want to go back to her that’s all fine with me. That will make you really happy, right?”

“Okay, from now on you will be my big sister.” She smiled and hugged him.

For the first time in his life, Paul felt very happy, even as he was called by a girl’s name. Paul didn’t want to let go of Chelsea, and the photo album, as if these are the two most important things in the world for him.

“Do you like the photos?” Chelsea asked.

“Why do you ask?”

“You’re holding it very tight,” she laughed. “I love them too.”

He laughed, too, and said, “Just like you, I love them, too. I love looking at pictures.”

“You can have some of them if you want. We’re sisters now so we’re supposed to share. Right?”

“Thank you,” Paul had no words.

“But, promise me that you’ll give me your photos, too, so I can add it to my photo album.”

Paul walked over to Mrs. Andrews to get his wallet, but when he opened it, he realized he had no photograph of his family in it.

“What do you need, honey?”

Paul didn’t hear his Mom’s question, and went back to tell Chelsea he doesn’t have any pictures with him at the moment.

“I’m so sorry. I promise you I’ll give you my photos as soon as I can get them.”

Chelsea laughed.

“Why are you laughing?”

“There are a lot of photographers outside. And Mrs. Sanchez said your friend is quite famous,” she said pointing at Peter. Paul didn’t notice the slew of photographers right outside the room, taking pictures of Peter. “Why don’t you borrow a camera so we can take pictures?”

Paul was impressed even more with Chelsea’s way of thinking. She is smart beyond her years, indeed. Paul stood up and pulled Peter from the media, and they talked in hushed voices on one corner. When they came back, Peter announced, “Anyone who can lend me a camera? Whoever lends me one will have an exclusive interview with me now.”

There was a loud buzz on the corridor, and photographers raised their hands and cameras all at once for Peter. Peter chose one, and quickly handed the camera over to Paul.

Chelsea was watching from the room and she was amused at how quickly people reacted to Peter’s call. She excitedly grabbed the camera from Paul and started clicking, not really knowing how to use it. Paul pretended to pose, to indulge the little girl. Paul took the camera and took pictures of Chelsea, Jane and Josie, and even Mrs. Andrews and Mrs. Sanchez. They didn’t notice had quickly passed, and it was getting dark outside. Mrs. Andrews reminded Paul that it was time to go.

His smile turned to a frown. He didn’t want to leave Chelsea now, now that he had found her. He started crying again, and Chelsea noticed it right away.

“Why, Cindy? Your tooth is aching again? Awww...” Chelsea put her arms around his waist and pulled him tight.

“No,” he sniffed. “We have to leave now. And I was having so much fun here.”

“It’s all right. Anyway, I know for sure you’ll comeback for me.”

Paul hugged Chelsea back and whispered, “I love you.”

*****

Paul spent time making sure the photographs were printed right away. He was still frantic; he couldn’t accept he is leaving for L.A. the next morning. I can’t leave Chelsea behind in Ashville.

Instead of packing his things for his trip, he went out not knowing where to go. He just walked out of the hotel and kept walking, until he chanced upon a jewelry store. He went inside and the sales attendants instantly recognized him.

“Good evening sir, may I be of assistance to you?” one of the attendants greeted him.

“I just wanted to look around. Uhm… I want to buy something for a loved one. Something that will say I will always remember her. That I love her always,” Paul said without really thinking much of how it all sounded to those who were listening.

“For your girlfriend, sir? We have a wonderful array of rings that you can choose from,” the attendant said, pointing to one of the glass shelves in the gallery.

“No, no,” he shook his head and closed his eyes, realizing his mistake. “For my sister. She lives far from me.”

“Oh, sorry to hear that, sir. I think what you can give her is a locket.”

“A locket…?”

“Yes, sir. You can have a matching one for yourself to keep, too. Here,” she took it out of the display and held it for him to see. “It’s a pendant, and you can put your photos on each frame.” She began showing him different sets for him to choose from. Finally, Paul chose an oval shaped, white gold locket with a chain. He bought two.

He found Mrs. Andrews browsing through the photos on his desk when he got back in his hotel room.

“Oh, hi there. You and Chelsea look good together. You sure look like sis…” but abruptly stops, Mrs. Andrews realized what she was about to say.

“Don’t worry, Mom. We’re the only people here. Nobody’s gonna hear us.”

“But still we have to be careful. The case is—like it or not, is dependent on these facts. So you have to be careful or you might not just end up hurting yourself in the end, but also end up hurting Chelsea, too. We should be extra careful for her sake,” Mrs. Andrews warned him.

“By the way, where did you go? What did you do? You were gone for quite a while.”

Paul pulled out two small jewelry boxes and showed it to her.

“Honey, these are beautiful…” she paused, looked at her child, and started shaking her head in disapproval. “No, no, no. You cannot give this to her, honey.”

“But why?”

“You know why, Honey.”

Paul just sat back after this, playing with the small boxes on his hands. He picked up the printed photos from the desk and stared at them for a long time. Damn it, he told himself, and took a pair of scissors from the drawer. He started cutting out two pictures and placed them on the lockets. He put it back into the box, checked if his Mom was around, and dashed out of the room, out of the hotel, and took a cab.

When he reached his destination, he was already flushed and panting.

“Can I see Chelsea? Can I talk to her?” He was practically begging the receptionist, who instantly recognized him.

“Hold on a minute sir. I need to inform Mrs. Sanchez,” she said as she dialed her supervisor’s number.

“Good evening, Mrs. Sanchez. Uhm, Paul—Paul Andrews, the singer, yes…He says he wants to visit Chelsea.” She listened to her response, and then handed the phone over to Paul.

“Ma’am, yes…yes, this is Paul. Peter’s friend. Can I possibly talk to Chelsea now?” Paul politely and eagerly requested.

“I’m flattered, sir, that you already know me. Peter might have already told you about me and Chelsea.”

Paul paused and cupped his forehead with his hand. Damn. The disguise. It was only then that it dawned on him: he was not in a dress. He’s not Cindy.

“I’m sorry if I disturbed you this late, I just want…” he stopped trying to find a better reason to see Chelsea, but he was now having second thoughts. He could not show himself to Chelsea as Paul Andrews.

“I understand, Mr. Andrews. You are a busy man. I’m sure you’ve heard about Chelsea from Mr. Cook. This may be your only opportunity and chance to see her, and so you’re taking advantage of it,” Mrs. Sanchez surmised.

“Yes, yes. That’s why. Ma’am, I know it’s late. I guess it will be best if I just leave my gift for her here at the desk?”

“No sir, you’ve come this far to see her. I’ll be there in a minute. Meanwhile I can let you in. Just let me speak with the receptionist. But, Paul, you can’t disturb her in her sleep. It’s past bedtime you know.”

Paul gave the phone back to the lady behind the desk and after a few minutes, he was led to the girls’ room. When they reached the room, all three girls were fast asleep. Paul tiptoed toward Chelsea’s bed, and sat on the floor beside it. He kept himself from touching her on the cheeks, so he clipped his hands in his pockets. He gazed at her, memorizing everything about her. He reached into his jacket’s pocket and pulled out some of the photos taken that afternoon, and the small jewelry box that contained the locket and necklace. He got up, sat in front of a desk, and started writing.

To my dear sister Chelsea,

As promised, I am giving you some of my photos. As you said, sisters share.

I kept copies for myself, too so I will always remember you.

I also left a gift for you. I hope you will like it, and keep it close to your heart.

I may not always be with you. But you will always be in my heart.

I will always love you.

Sarah

He left the photos, the box, and the letter inside Chelsea’s drawer where she kept her family photo album, and by the time he was done, Mrs. Sanchez was already outside the room, waiting for him. As she walked him out, she noticed he was quiet and was crying. She didn’t ask him any more questions, but shook his hands before he left.

“Thank you, Paul,” was all she can say.

The following morning, Chelsea discovered everything he had left for her. She quickly opened and read the letter, which made her really happy, she was literally jumping for joy. She went on to open the small jewelry box and was speechless when she saw the locket. It was the first time she ever saw something like this. She put it around her neck and looked at the photos inside the envelope, one by one. Mrs. Sanchez watched her from a distance as she cheerfully placed each photo in her photo album. Then she noticed the supervisor looking on, so she smiled and walked up to her.

“What time did my sister come in last night? Why didn’t you wake me up?”

“Your sister…? What did you mean?” Mrs. Sanchez was confused.

Chelsea explained that her sister was the girl who was there yesterday with a famous guy.

“Oh, you mean Cindy? She didn’t come back last night, but one other famous guy came to drop those off… a friend of Peter’s. You were already asleep, sweetie, so I didn’t wake you up.”

“Yes. I opened the gifts and letters,” Chelsea told her, showing off the necklace. She smiled at Mrs. Sanchez and went back to her bed where she browsed through her photo album once again.

*****

Paul and Mrs. Andrews were preparing to leave, when his Mom remembered about the locket and the necklace from the day before. Paul showed her that he was already wearing it.

“Where’s the other one?” she asked, but was afraid of the answer.

Paul only smiled and looked at the clothes he was packing.

“Honey, what have you done? I told you it might affect the case. We have to be extra careful…” She was frustrated but she could not get mad at him, because she understands him.

“Mom, I have the center’s number. Please call her from time to time. Ask if she needs anything, and I will try to call her back, too.”

*****

With Paul and Peter back in Los Angeles, Mrs. Andrews proceeded with Chelsea’s case. She looked for a lawyer to seek both legal advice and assistance. She commuted between Tennessee and Ashville, taking care of the case and regularly visiting Chelsea to make sure she’s well taken care of. She was in constant communication with Paul about Chelsea, and he never let a day pass without asking about her. Sean was also helping Mrs. Andrews to expedite the Payne case. James Lavraza, attorney-at-law who is Sean’s friend, is helping them with the case. He is known in the legal community as one of the foremost trial lawyers who fights for women and child’s rights and protection. But he was also frank and honest with Sean and Mrs. Andrews about the case: Gilbert Robbins has a good chance of being acquitted if Sarah’s body could not be found. Worse, he might even have the chance to be given custody of Chelsea once he gets acquitted. One option is to finance a thorough search for the recovery of Sarah’s body and then file the sexual abuse case for Chelsea.

“Mrs. Andrews, if we want to guarantee Chelsea’s security, we have to consider pushing through with the child abuse case against Mr. Robbins, but this will be a lengthy litigation. This will also subject both sides in scrutiny. We have to be committed to consider Chelsea and how she will react to this. On the other hand, in case of an acquittal, Mr. Robbins, the active case will prevent him from getting immediate custody. At least that can buy some time, until the case is exhausted to its full finality.”

*****

Paul didn’t like any of the options presented by the lawyer. When his Mom informed him about what had transpired in the consultation meetings, he was furious. They both knew searching for Sarah’s body would be a futile exercise. And subjecting Chelsea to a grueling court battle will definitely be hell for the little girl.

He sat, crouching on one corner of his bedroom in L.A. He was so mad and his whole body was shaking in fury. He remembered what Sean said the first time they talked about the case: “After what the kid had gone through, I cannot even imagine the possibilities. If that man is acquitted, what will stop that man from getting Chelsea back? If that’s the case, somebody has to kill him, before he can get hold of Chelsea.”

He clenched his fist and pounded on his knees. A thought came back to him: “I cannot let him touch her again. I will die if I let that happen to her again. I will kill him myself if I have to…”

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