It’s mid-afternoon when the jack hammer in my head forces me to rise from my bed. I feel a dull pain in my back as I stand and discover I passed out with my gun still tucked into the back of my pants. Nice one Mason you could’ve shot yourself in your sleep. I mentally kick myself and I undress and pour myself into a shower. No amount of brushing my teeth seems to be making the whisky flavoured fur on my tongue go away. The longer I stand in the shower just seems to open my pores more, releasing the smell of alcohol in the tiny bathroom.
I manage to start a fire in the den and I go outside to gather more firewood to keep it stoked. I look over my truck while I’m outside, amazed I got it and me home in one piece. I scold myself for my stupidity in letting my guard down. What if Viktor had found me last night in the condition I was in I couldn’t have hit the truck if I shot it from three feet away.
I notice I’m running low on firewood but I can’t chop anymore because of the blisters still on my hands and also the fact I left the axe at Ruby’s the other night. Ruby. She may be slightly ticked off with me at the moment but I have the whole flight alone tomorrow to win her over. I try not to think about her going on a date tonight and my head is still hammering too loudly for any trains of thought.
I pull on my sweats and a hoodie and tie up my trainers, I need to sweat this out of my system and clear my head. I grab a water bottle and set off on a run, I’ll start with ten miles and see how I feel. I barely make a mile before I throw up, and I just let it out on the side of the road turning the snow a lovely shade of puce. I keep running, determined to punish myself.
Damn small towns I think as I reach Ruby’s street, I keep going trying to push myself. I finally feel punished enough and clear enough that I about turn and head for home. I’m about two miles away from my home when a wolf launches out of the bushes and knocks me to the ground.
“Kida,” I hear a distant voice call as I lay on the ground trying to catch my breath.
I jump up like I’ve been electrocuted ready to bolt before Ruby can catch up to Kida but so much for that thought as I turn and see her directly in my running path.
“Hi,” I say carefully trying not to upset her.
“Hi,” she says with a forced smile and I feel a twinge of guilt. She looks me up and down and I can only imagine what state I’m in. “I think Kida has a GPS tracker on you somewhere,” She jokes and I laugh lightly at her attempt to make our meeting less awkward. Ruby attaches the leash to Kida while I hold her steady.
“I was just running off a hang over,” I start to explain, “That Leon can drink.”
“You don’t need to explain anything to me,” she reassures me with a caring smile.
“I better get back to it, only a couple more miles and I can pass out again. I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow morning.” I say to her trying to not make it sound like a question so not to risk her backing out. Her face seems to relax a little and she smiles a real smile at me.
“I’ll see you in the morning Mason,” she confirms and I take off at a run with my chest feeling much lighter.
The night hours practically stand still, mocking my anxiousness about tomorrow. The truck is packed, all my sensitive information is secure again and my suit is laid out pressed and ready. I’ll take my suit with me and change on the plane before we disembark. I fondly remember Joshua being the one to help me pick out the suit and the long black wool coat that goes with it. I remember joking with him that I liked the coat because it reminded me of an old west sheriff.
I wake with a start at the sound of my alarm, surprised I actually managed to fall asleep for a couple of hours. A quick shower and some breakfast and then I’m pulling up in Ruby’s driveway. Ruby emerges on the porch as I get out of my truck, she’s wrapped up in layers and looks tired.
“No you can’t come,” she says pushing Kida back inside, “I’ll be home later.”
I take her bag and help her into the truck. She gives me a light peck on the cheek as I join her in the truck. “How are you feeling?” She asks.
“Much better now I have you with me,” I tell her and she blushes at my declaration. As we drive she grabs a hold of my free hand and holds it in hers. I know I shouldn’t read into it, that she is just being supportive as we are on our way to my friend’s funeral, but I can’t help it let the tingling sensation race over my whole body. As we get onto the plane Ruby looks a little worried.
“Are you scared of flying?” I ask concerned. This is actually something I might not know about her, we’ve never been on a plane together before. She smiles wickedly at me.
“I’m not sure, I guess we’ll find out.” She yawns wide as she takes a seat, it’s still early. “I miss coffee,” She says covering another yawn and I smile at her. I let the pilot know we’re ready to go and he goes through his checks and soon enough we’re taxiing across the Ashland runway. I sit down in the seat next to Ruby and I secure my seatbelt and lay my arm on the plush armrest between us.
I feel her hand fiercely grip mine as the plane hurtles down the runway for take-off. Once we’re in the air I get up to get her a refreshment from the small refrigerator at the back of the plane. I come back with some orange juice and a few snacks. She laughs as I dump the stash into the seat next to her and I sit on the seat opposite from her. At the risk of starting a fight with her I begin our conversation with the question burning in my mind.
“So how was your date last night?” I ask nonchalantly.
“It was fine thank you,” she answers shortly then glares at me for a moment.
“So will you see him again?” I ask trying to pry information from her.
“I don’t think so,” she sounds unsure and I start to go out of my mind.
“Why not?” I query hoping to learn what not to do if I take her on a date. Her smile seems like one of pure satisfaction as she can sense my unease as she bides her time before answering me.
“I may not remember my bad boy phase, but I’m sure I had one already.” She says putting me out of my misery.
“Did he hurt you?” I demand as my voice rises a little.
“No nothing like that,” she waves me off, “I just got the impression he was hiding a much darker side. You know, following my instincts like you suggested.”
I breathe out a sigh of relief. “Actually I think I’m done with dating for a while.” She informs me and I miss how that may actually be a bad thing for me.
“That’s good,” I say the words before my brain tells me I’m an idiot. As if she can hear the abuse I’m slinging at myself in my head Ruby starts to giggle to herself for a moment before shaking it off. Good one Mason, that’s the second time in two days you’ve potentially shot yourself in the ass. Ruby starts to gulp down a bottle of orange juice like someone in the desert dying of dehydration, then she accidently spits some of it out as begins laughing.
Her hand comes up to cover her mouth delicately as she keeps laughing a low desperately happy laugh and I look at her completely confused. Her free hand travels to her perfect orb of a baby belly and she caresses it tenderly.
“I’ve been so worried about you,” she coos as she watches her hand trace her stomach. Her eyes look up to find mine, like she almost forgot I was here.
“I’m so sorry, I know this day has to be hard on you and I don’t mean to be beaming with happiness, but the baby just kicked for the first time,” she explains as a tear streams down her cheek. I exhale a deep breath and give her a reassuring smile as I look at her hand tracing her bump.
“Please don’t apologize, that’s amazing.”
“It’s just this is kind of a long while coming, I’ve been so worried about not feeling any movement before now. I’ve been to Dr Connors almost every day for the past couple of weeks just trying to figure out why I couldn’t feel it.” She sobs and I reach out and take her hand in mine.
“Why didn’t you tell me you’ve been so worried?” I plead.
“Because you already do so much for me, I didn’t want to burden anybody else. Besides the doctor just told me that I had a very calm baby, apparently my kid is happy just chilling out in there.” She smiles as she points to her belly. I can understand Ruby not wanting to tell a friend about this but the doc damn well should’ve said something to me.
“Here,” Ruby commands as she takes my hand and places it palm down on her round belly, as she brings herself forward a little.
My palm is pressed gently against her warm orb with her soft hand laying gently on top of mine. I look at her expectantly and her smile fades to slight frown.
“Oh no, it’s gone,” she says disappointedly as she lifts my hand with hers and uses her other hand to search her belly desperately pressing different points around where she felt the kick.
“Well I don’t think the baby actually left,” I tell her teasingly. She shakes her head at my joke and then a proud smile of achievement flashes on her face as she rams my hand back to her belly.
“Can you feel it?” She asks desperately and I want so badly not to let her down but I can’t feel anything. She place her hand back on the top of mine and forces a little more pressure towards her stomach and she smiles at me. Then the most amazing sensation I’ve experienced in a long time happens, a small thud from underneath the taught warm skin of the belly beneath my palm.
My heart lurches and I smile up at Ruby, her smile is one of pure contentment and happiness for the briefest of moments she’s my Ruby again. There is no fear, no concern about memory loss, and no lack of recognition, just a warm strength that seems to flow out of her and fill the plane cabin. Her smile is filled with love and pride and it’s all meant for the one growing inside her and I can’t feel anything but the same sense of love and pride.
I slide down to my knees in front of her and place both of my hands on either side of her belly as I gently place my cheek on the spot where I felt my baby kick. My baby is inside there, warm, happy and loved beyond all reason. I never want my child to feel anything but what it’s feeling right now. I feel it again, another small thud against my cheek and I try to restrain my tears. Ruby giggles a little and runs her hand through my hair,
“You big softie.”
I quickly remember my place and I slowly and reluctantly release my hold of my baby and my love. I smile small half smile as I take my seat back opposite her,
“It’s just such an amazing thing, and on this day when I’m just so aware of how precious life is.” My confession seems to sadden Ruby’s smile and I regret my words for taking this moment of bliss from her too soon.
As the morning sun bathes Ruby in its glow through the plane window I can’t help but see the sun has nothing on the glow that is radiating from within Ruby right now. Her head is laid back in her seat and her hands are drawing random patterns over her belly as she watches the orb with a fascinated smile fixed to her face. I can do nothing but watch the mesmerizing display with a similar fascinated smile plastered to my own face.
As we being our approach I resume my seat next to Ruby for the landing. Our entire two hour flight has gone by in relative peaceful silence. As the plane begins to land Ruby’s bubble of glowing bliss seems to burst as she looks at me.
“I can’t show up to a funeral feeling this happy, I’m a terrible person. This man’s poor family will be devastated and I can barely contain my joy at feeling my baby for the first time.” She says ashamed.
“Don’t let the sadness of this occasion ruin the happiness you’re feeling right now. I know Joshua wouldn’t want you feel anything but happy about your baby. Besides don’t expect his family to be that devastated.” I tell her.
“What do you mean about his family?” She asks concerned. I explain the story of Joshua being cast out from his family and that he only ever missed the sister he’d lost when she was sixteen and he was twelve.
“I’m actually surprised the family agreed to have him buried in the same cemetery as the rest of the family.” I spit in disgust. Ruby takes my hand in hers and smiles sadly at me.
“It was probably his mother’s wish,” she says as she runs her free hand lovingly across her belly. I smile a half smile at her to reassure her. The plane hits the tarmac with a gliding ease smooth enough that it barely registers that we’ve landed until the pilot comes into the cabin to open the door of the plane.
As Ruby and I disembark the plane there are half a dozen suits waiting for us on the tarmac, armed and very alert. I’m grateful for their presence however I probably should’ve warned Ruby about them before we arrived.
“Harris,” says a voice I recognize as Agent Greenberg. I reach out my hand to shake his.
“Agent Greenberg, it’s been a long time.” I say in greeting as we shake hands.
“This way, we have the motorcade parked on the other side of the private hangers.” He instructs as he gestures for us to follow him. Greenberg and another agent walk in front of us and two more fall in behind us as another agent falls in to Ruby’s left as I take her right arm the final agent after checking the plane falls in to my right as we make our way across the strip. Ruby leans a little closer to me to whisper in my ear,
“Who are you the president of the FBI?”
I smile affectionately at her, “Actually the FBI has a director, not a president,” I explain carefully, “and no I’m not him.” I hear a couple of laughs from the surrounding agents at our conversation.
“Actually Mam, Agent Denton’s funeral has been assigned a strong security detail due to the political conflict that has arisen from one of our own being killed on foreign soil. The higher ups were concerned about protesters and such being a disruption to the funeral, hence the extra security measures.” Agent Greenberg tells her assuredly. Ruby just nods at the back of his head as he didn’t face her once during his explanation.
Obviously the reason they are all here is classified but I can tell Ruby doesn’t believe a word he’s said as she surveys the surrounding area. We reach the cars, and after a quick check for explosives we all get in our respective cars. Ruby and I are in the middle car of the three car motorcade with two agents in the front seats and us in the back. Ruby looks at me with a determined for an explanation look and I look at her desperately wanting to explain the situation to her but I can’t.
“Do you trust me?” I ask her seriously. Her concern fades into a placated smile and she nods at me.
“I’m sorry, I’m sure whatever is going on is for my own good and yours. I’m here for you okay, so don’t be afraid to use me however you need.” She tells me seriously and I flash a wicked smile at her.
“However I need?” I ask her incredulously, “do you think these guys would mind pulling over for a little while.” She slaps me across the face, not hard but definitely not playfully and I see the smirks of the two agents in the front in the rear view mirror. “I’m sorry,” I beg her forgiveness, “it’s just this whole day, so many different emotions going on.” I try to explain feebly.
How can I tell her that just by being here I’m putting her life at risk and the life of our baby, using her as bait to lure out Viktor is a dangerous plan? I’m completely on edge anticipating Viktor’s attack while feeling hollowed out by my sadness over Joshua’s death, the rising anger and vengeance at the thought of taking down the one who killed him. All the while I’m floating on air about feeling my baby kick for the first time, I can still feel the warmth from the impact under my palm and my cheek like there is a mark there now under the skin from the contact.
We pull up to the Grandview Cemetery in Fort Collins and we step out into a throng of FBI agents, there are three times more security here than actual family and friends paying respects. The sunlight ripples over the snow covered fields of perfectly manicured grass, with the only shadows being cast by honey locust and ash trees scattered about the lawns. The plains of white broken only by the cold grey stones of graves throughout the cemetery and the small patches of brilliant green where the snow had melted on the small hill tops.
The snow seems to sparkle like a lake of white sequins around the grave site. The family didn’t have a church service for their son, nor is there a minister of any sort presiding over the burial. Instead we stand around in the cold late January air listening to one of Joshua’s high school teachers talk about life and death. I wrap my arm around Ruby’s waist tightly and lean into her a little and she leans herself against me in support as she takes hand in hers.
There is no talk of heaven or peace for Joshua just anecdotes about his school days and how he was such a good boy. I hear his mother’s sobs and I doubt there sincerity until I clasp eyes on the huddled over older woman barely able to stand while being crushed by grief. Two younger men hold her up on either side as her tears drop to the ground like waterfalls from her eyes. This is a woman who has now had to bury two of her children, and it has destroyed her both times.
My heart pangs with grief and guilt at doubting her love for her son. Ruby follows my gaze and her arms wrap around my waist beneath my coat and she hugs me tightly. My head leans back to look at the sky as I desperately try to tip the tears back down into my eyes. I wrap my left arm tightly around the top of Ruby’s shoulders and I let my right tuck into my pocket and secure itself on my weapon. I will not be caught off guard. Ruby leans the side of her face into my chest as her grasp around my waist loosens to a comforting hug.
I let my eyes survey the cemetery searching for potential threats and all I see are armed FBI agents all doing the same thing. Greenberg was right, if Viktor so much as steps foot in Colorado today he’s finished, let alone being arrogant enough to show his face here in Fort Collins. I look back to the coffin that holds all that is left of my friend and I have to look away, that’s when I notice the grave right next to his. Lucy Anne Denton that must be his sister.
I find myself proud of Joshua’s mother for a moment as I’m sure she fought tooth and nail with her family to have her children buried next to each other. Even though she obviously lost the battle to have a religious leader preside over the funeral. Just as the funeral starts to wind down I see the company of soldiers getting ready to perform the weapons salute by firing a volley.
I start to scan the cemetery more carefully, this would be the perfect time for Viktor to make his move during the shots being fired to honour a fallen soldier. The other agents seem to be more aware of this fact too as I see discreet lips whispering into sleeves. As the funeral ends a man in a suit talking to Agent Greenberg looks at me and Ruby as Greenberg points in our direction.
Joshua’s family all turn their attention towards me suddenly and it’s not a pleasant look. The man in the suit makes his way over to us carrying a box marked confidential.
“Agent Harris, my name is Mr Wells, I’m Mr Denton’s estate lawyer. I’m sorry to do this here but I had no other way of contacting you, Mr Denton didn’t leave me much information to go on.” He explains apologetically while introducing himself. I hold out my hand to shake his.
“How can I help you Mr Wells?” I say flatly
“Well as you may be aware Mr Denton wasn’t very close with his family,” He says in a respectful whisper, “in this box is the primary contents and paperwork of his estate. I have distributed all of the donations to nominated charity already as well as a trust set for his mother’s care in her senior years. However I was instructed that the contents of this box were for you and someone named Alyson Morgan.” He informs and I shudder as I look to Ruby quickly to see if she recognises her own name.
Nothing, not even a blip of hesitation.
“Are you Miss Morgan?” He asks Ruby all of a sudden. She shakes her head at him politely.
“No, my name is Sarah Andrews.” She tells him, and it’s the first time I’ve heard her sound even a little unsure about her name.
“My apologies Miss, I just assumed,” He apologises before turning back to me, “there is a trust that has been set up for Miss Morgan’s child, you’ll need to have her sign the appropriate paperwork in that folder and send it back to me.” He instructs and I hold up a hand to silence him.
“Why don’t I just take this and look it all over later and I’ll give you a call if I have any questions.” I tell him politely trying to put an end to the conversation before it drops me in a hole to deep to climb out of. He nods solemnly and offers his condolences before leaving the funeral. I put the box and the folder down on the ground and put my arm back around Ruby, she seems to be thinking hard about something and I’m hopeful that her memory may have been tapped into hearing her name mentioned.
I can feel the burning gazes of Joshua’s family members in my side as I turn Ruby and I to face the four soldiers with their rifles. They take aim and in perfect unison and then bang! I feel Ruby lose her feet beside me as she falls into me, her face is strewn with panic as another bang is released into the air. Ruby’s scream pierces the echoes of the gunshots and her entire body collapses into mine.
I grab a hold of her carefully and lay her down on the ground my mind reeling as my eyes search her desperately for a wound. Agents start to descend on us as another ear splitting bang fires into the air. My hands are desperately searching Ruby’s entire trembling body as her face finds mine she lets out another scream as the last volley shot is fired from the nearby hill.
Agents are scattering the cemetery looking for the threat and Ruby just lays trembling as one of the agents standing next to us tells us the ambulance is twenty seconds away. Ruby’s hands are gripping at the spot just above her heart and I start to comprehend what’s happened.
“Call off you men, there is no shooter.” I tell the agents sternly. They look at me curiously. “There were no other shots other than the volley from the rifles, I would’ve heard it. Now everyone back the hell up.” I boom commandingly.
The funeral guests and other agents all take a few steps back from me and Ruby and I carefully take her face with both sides of my hands, “You’re okay darlin’,” I tell her soothingly, “There’s no blood, you weren’t shot.” Her eyes bore into mine pleadingly. Her breathing comes out in a rush of air as she tries to control her breathing. She looks as me with a nightmare of a memory fresh in her mind.
“I remember,” She chokes out the whisper and I grip her face desperately.
“What do you remember?” I beg her. Her eyes look at me without the recognition I would expect if she remembered me.
“I remember being shot,” She says incredulous. “Right here.” She points to the spot above her heart and mine just about shatters. I don’t know how much more of this I can take, to risk hope then have it taken away again like this is going to be the end me. Of course she would’ve seen the bullet wound since losing her memory but now she remembers being shot. How cruel that one of the first memories she gets back is the most violent and painful.
I help her up off the ground and I tell the agents we’re heading back to the airport. There is no need to stay any longer, I don’t know Joshua’s family at all and they seem even less eager to meet me. As I help Ruby into the car her trembling seems to stop as she sits down.
“Excuse me,” I hear a woman’s voice behind me and I feel a gentle tap on the back of my shoulder.
I turn and spin too fast and it shocks her, I know the agents wouldn’t have let a threat get this close to me. Joshua’s mother is staring at me and her grief stricken face is hard to look at.
“Mrs Denton,” I say solemnly bowing my head. She reaches up a hand and gently pats the non-scarred side of my face and nods at me.
“Thank you for being a family to my son when I couldn’t.” She sobs gratefully and there is no resentment in her voice only regret. Regret that she wasn’t strong enough to maintain a relationship with him despite the rest of her family. I can be angry with this grief stricken and broken woman, she is suffering enough for the choices she made. All the things I ever imagined saying to Joshua’s family if I ever met them and now I’m speechless.
“It was my honour,” Is all I can say to her and she begins to cry again before walking away back to her sons who are looking at me like I might be contagious. I understand now that his family think I was Joshua’s lover, even though I came to his funeral with a pregnant woman. They really aren’t that bright. We’re back in the plane on the runway before Ruby speaks again,
“I’m sorry I had melt down at your friend’s funeral.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, I’m sorry that you finally remember something and it’s such a traumatic event for you.” I tell her. Ruby’s face lights up with realization.
“You’re right, that was traumatic, and if I can remember that then I should be able to remember everything else soon. That has to have been the traumatic event that caused my mind to block my memories, I can’t imagine anything worse than being shot happened to me…….well I hope not anyway.” She says almost excitedly as she sits in her seat uncomfortably.
I can’t reassure of that fact as much as I want to. Ruby sits in silence with a look of concentration fixed to her face, she has one hand protectively across her belly and the other is resting over her old bullet wound. I want to reach out to her, to tell her everything but she starts to speak softly and I’m not sure if it’s meant for me or herself.
“There were so many people there, on the dock, and no one stopped him from shooting me. Why didn’t he stop him, I know he was there, something was covering his face but he was there.” She whispers her thoughts all together at once and I want to ask her about it all but she waves me off.
“I’m just talking crazy, I’ll figure it all out with Dr Connors when I get back.” She assures me. I reach my hand out for hers comfortingly but she pulls it away. I lean back in my chair helpless and defeated. I glance at the box of Joshua’s belongings and I wonder what he was thinking leaving me anything. I’m sure most of it is intended for Ruby and our child. I’m touched that he considered us so close that he thought to provide for our child, and I’m saddened that he didn’t have anyone else close to him in his life.
The flight home is relatively silent as Ruby sits trying to fit the pieces of her latest memory into the constant puzzle of her existence. I sit lost in a bevy of troubles, everything from Ruby’s memory being triggered, to poor Joshua’s lack of family and friends. My biggest concern is still wondering where Viktor Nolikov is hiding. Why didn’t he try to make a move today, is he waiting for us to appear more vulnerable? Whatever he is waiting for, I’ll be ready for him.
Our plane lands in Ashland a little after sunset and I help a very fragile looking Ruby into the truck. She seems like she is being electrified every time I touch her, and she recoils from me subsequently. The more she tries to make it not look obvious the more aware of her distance I am, not just physically but mentally. For a day that started with such a happy event as feeling my baby kick for the first time to now feeling Ruby pulling away from me with no reason.
“Would you like to stop and get something for dinner?” I ask her trying to get her to open up.
“No,” she says too quickly, “I’m sorry I’m just really exhausted from today, I think I should probably go home and rest.”
“Okay whatever you need,” I smile at her knowing she is lying to me after I see her bite her right side lower lip.
In her driveway Ruby practically flings the truck door open before I’ve completely stopped.
“I’ll get my bag, you don’t have to get out.” She tells me with a forced smile. All I want to do is protect her and tell her the truth about who she is and who I am, more importantly who we are together. Ruby however is already on the porch letting herself into her house while waving at my truck without looking directly at me. I decide to give her a chance to talk to the doc before I see her again. I wave back to her and head for home.
In the privacy of my own home I drop the box from the lawyer on the living room floor next to the roaring fire I just started to warm the freezing house. I grab a bottle of whisky from the cabinet above the fridge, I’m going to need something to take the edge off what I’m about to do. I sit down on the floor next to the box and pour a glass of whisky before I carefully slip the knife along the seal and flip the box lid off in a fluid movement.