Chapter 11. Not This Time
“We have to go back to California,” I said.
Abigail stared at me dumbfounded as I threw some of our belongings into suitcases. Her lips parted. Abigail grabbed my wrist to stop me. “Andy, stop. What the hell is going on? Who was that?”
I spun around and grabbed her arms. “Listen to me,” I said in a low voice. “Call your mother and tell her that we are picking up Stormy.”
“Our flight doesn’t leave until tomorrow, and it’s late,” Abigail argued.
My face inched closer to her. “We have to get her and get the fuck out of Florida. We’ll drive. Anywhere is safer than here. I have to get the two of you out of here. Just trust me.”
Abigail inhaled slowly, and she stiffened up. She already knew the answer, but she asked again. “Who were you talking to?” Abigail’s voice came out barely above a whisper.
I bowed my head and dropped my hands. “Harold.”
Abigail spun around and started shoving things into the bags. She picked up her cellphone and dialed a number. The phone rang several times. Abigail groaned in frustration. “She’s not answering.” She fought with the zipper on the duffel bag.
I shoved her aside and closed the duffel bag smoothly. We had two vehicles meant to stay here in Florida for us to drive around in and two back home in California. It wasn’t likely that I could get tickets at such short notice, and I refused to be stuck in an airport for hours. There wasn’t any time to waste.
Abigail and I ran through the house and turned off the lights as we went. The alarm had already been set. I locked up the house, and we ran out to the car.
“He did something to Irena,” I said. The engine of the car roared to life, and I peeled out of the driveway. “I’ve got to get up to her place to see if I can save her. It’s bad enough that I couldn’t save Iris.” My teeth clenched, and my nostrils flared.
“What are we going to do?” Abigail asked.
“You and Stormy are going back home. I’m going to Irena’s place.”
“You can’t go alone.”
“Look, this is between Harold and me.” I pointed a thumb at my chest. “I’m tired of running from him. I’ve been doing it my entire life. I’m done. No more running or hiding. Harold is going to die.”
Abigail shivered slightly and sank into her seat. “You have to promise me you’re coming back.”
My eyes flickered to her. Her face became torn from the look on my face. A foreign pain deep inside of me surfaced because I knew that it wasn’t a promise that I could keep. The only thing I could be sure of was that I would kill Harold. My own fate wasn’t clear.
The car rolled to a stop in front of Marlena’s house. Abigail had the car door open before I could turn the car off.
We ran up to the front porch, and Abigail pounded on the door.
Moments passed, and nobody answered. Abigail kept driving her fists against the door.
“Move over,” I said and pushed her off to the side. I searched my pockets for a bobby pin.
“What are you doing?”
I pulled the bobby pin from my pocket and showed it to her.
“Can you really pick a lock?”
“Sometimes, I would lock myself out of my apartment. I had to get creative,” I muttered. After jiggling the bobby pin around in the lock for a few seconds, we both heard a click. Our gazes met briefly, and I smirked.
“You were born to be a criminal,” she said and chuckled. Abigail pushed the door open, and we stepped inside.
“Go tell your mom. I’ll grab Stormy,” I said. Abigail turned on a dim light in the hallway, and we headed upstairs.
Marlena left Stormy’s room the way it was before they moved out so that when Stormy stayed with her, she still had a room set up for her.
Stormy slept soundly in the bed. I crept up to her and kept her blanket wrapped around her as I lifted her up.
Stormy stirred awake. “Daddy?”
“Shh,” I hushed. “We’re going home. Go back to sleep.” I grabbed her stuffed animal and walked out of the bedroom with her.
Stormy nodded off to sleep before Abigail came back into the hallway. Abigail moved the blanket to see Stormy’s face. She leaned in and pecked her cheek.
“Let’s go,” I whispered.
“It’s going to be a long drive,” Abigail murmured.
“Anywhere is better than here.” The only thing that mattered to me was getting Stormy and Abigail back home. They would be safe at the mansion. I couldn’t leave them alone in Florida unprotected while I ran off to find Harold.
“Andy, you can’t go alone. That is practically a suicide mission,” Mom said and forced me to face her. Her forehead creased with concern. Her hands shook slightly. “Ace, tell him.” When Dad didn’t answer her, she dropped my arm and turned to face him.
Dad bit down on his lip.
“Ace Carlos Garcia,” Mom sneered.
“Bebita, it’s his choice,” Dad said. Dad looked at me worriedly, but he wouldn’t argue with me or try to sway me from the decision.
My eyes locked with Dad’s eyes, and I nodded. I took a deep breath and glanced back at Mom. “Mom,” I started.
Mom turned to face me, and her chin trembled. She shook her head. “No,” she said stubbornly.
“If I took other people with me, possibly to their death, do you think that I could live with that?” I barely recognized my own voice; it came out higher than usual. “Don’t put something like that on me.” I spun around and walked out of the study. My black trench coat blew out behind me as I walked. Guns were tucked into different parts of the oversized coat, along with knives and grenades. I stopped in the hall around the corner of the study door and pressed my back to the wall.
Their voices were faint, but I could hear them. I committed their voices to memory.
“Damn it, Ace. How could you let him go?” Mom sobbed.
“Listen to me, bebita. There are just some things a man has to do on his own, and this is that moment for him,” Dad said in a soothing voice.
“And what are we supposed to do?”
A long silence passed before Dad spoke.
“Pray that he comes home to us,” Dad said.
I swallowed hard and smiled weakly as I looked toward the door. At that moment, the only thing that held me in place was the wall that I had my back against. “I’ll try,” I whispered.
Abigail and Stormy were upstairs. They were the last ones that I wanted to say goodbye to.
They were in bed. Abigail propped herself up on her elbow when I came into view. She looked me over and sighed.
I froze. The goodbye got stuck in my throat. I tried to swallow it back.
“You’re leaving,” she murmured. “Andy, can’t it wait? Please, don’t go tonight. Leave in the morning.”
“Irena could be dead by then,” I murmured. “Look how long it took us to get back here, Abby.”
Abigail crawled out of the bed and walked toward me slowly. She stopped a foot away from me and shook her head.
“Bebé,” I started.
“Don’t,” she murmured. “Don’t you dare say goodbye to me.”
I gritted my teeth and looked away. I knew that she didn’t want me to go, but it had to be dealt with, and I refused to take anyone down with me. I closed the distance between us and grabbed her face between my hands. Our eyes locked together briefly before I pressed my lips to hers. During the kiss, different memories of her and Stormy flashed through my mind, and it somehow made the kiss much stronger than ever before. They gave me strength that I never had before.
Something wet tickled my cheek, and I pulled away. Her face was wet with tears and slightly red.
“I have two very good reasons to come back,” I murmured.
She finally opened her eyes and stared into mine. “Yes, you do.”
“I love you.” I brushed away the tears on her face.
“I love you.” She buried her face into my chest and held onto me tightly. I rubbed her back soothingly.
Abigail and I broke apart.
Stormy sat on the bed and rubbed her eyes. “Are you leaving?”
“Just for a little while.” My voice came out hoarse and didn’t sound at all confident.
Stormy climbed off the bed and held tightly onto her blanket. “Can I go with you?”
“No, baby girl. Not this time,” I said. I picked her up and kissed her forehead. “You’re going to stay with your mother. Be a good girl. I love you.”
“I love you,” she whispered and buried her head into the crook of my neck. She locked her arms around me.
“I have to go,” I said sternly. I pried Stormy’s arms off of me and sat her on the bed. I gave Abigail and Stormy one last long look before I walked out of the room. Saying goodbye wasn’t easy—especially when you had people counting on you to come back home.
It took less time in a plane than a vehicle to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Iris left me her sister’s address before she left for San Francisco. I spent hours driving back to California from Florida. To say I was tired would be an understatement, but I couldn’t sleep on the plane. All I could think about were my girls. Everything that happened over the last year flashed through my head.
This situation wasn’t like the others. To endure pain and suffering is one thing, but this was something different. I had to come to terms with the fact that I might never see Abigail, Stormy, or the rest of my family again. I hoped that my parents would take care of Abigail and Stormy if I didn’t make it back.
The plane landed about an hour and a half after it took off. It wasn’t much time at all, but when you faced death, it felt like an eternity. The anticipation of death is what shook most people—for me, it just made time move slower. No part of me wanted to die. I had more reasons to live than ever before.
It didn’t take long to find a rental car. I punched the address into google maps. I had never been to San Francisco. I would have much rather come here on better terms.
As soon as I pulled into the driveway, I noticed the front door stood ajar. What the hell—I thought to myself. I climbed out of the car and scoped the area. There wasn’t much of anything else out of the ordinary. I stopped at the door and brushed my fingers along the wood near the lock.
“That’s weird,” I muttered. The door had been left open, not kicked in—someone left in a hurry.
I kept a gun in my hand as I walked through the house. There were papers strewn across the living room, and the desk drawers were open. Other than that, there wasn’t much out of place. There were no broken windows or broken furniture.
The master bedroom had a couple of dressers that were tipped over, and clothes were strewn across the room. It wasn’t what I expected to find. Clearly, Harold wasn’t ready to face me yet because if he had, he would be here. I pulled my cellphone from my pocket and dialed Dad’s phone number.
“Andrew?” Dad asked, his voice thick with worry.
“Dad, I’m okay. I made it to San Francisco. You’re never going to believe this,” I muttered. My eyes searched the bedroom as I spun in a slow circle.
“What is it?”
“It’s fucked up, Dad. It’s like Irena wasn’t taken. There isn’t any blood. The door was left open. The living room and bedroom are the only messy rooms, and it isn’t that bad. There are no signs of a struggle. Her cellphone is here on the bed. Harold was here.”
“I have a thought,” Dad started.
“I’d love to hear it.”
“I’ll bet that Harold called Irena like he called you. He probably scared her off, and she left,” Dad said. “We have to find her. He will kill her if we can’t get to her first.”
“She left in a hurry. She left her cellphone,” I said. What Dad said was the only thing that made sense. I started for the bedroom door. “I’m on my way back home.”
“Good, but Andrew?”
“Son, let us help you. We already lost you once. We can’t go through that when we just got you back. Your mother and I have been going crazy the last couple of hours. I understand how you feel about wanting to do it alone, but we want to help you. That’s what family is for.”
I stopped and nodded. After a moment of silence, I realized he couldn’t see my gesture. “Okay. I’ll be back soon.” I hung up the phone and dialed Abby’s number.
She answered right away. “Andrew?” The panic in her voice made me lose my stride.
“Hi, bebé,” I said.
She breathed a sigh of relief into the phone. “God, please come home. I couldn’t sleep. Stormy won’t stop crying—”
“Put her on the phone.”
Stormy sniffled as she took the phone. “H-hello?”
“Baby girl, what are you crying for?” I said and smiled.
“Daddy, everyone is sad. Mommy is scared since you left, but she won’t tell me why. I asked her if you were coming back, and she wouldn’t tell me.”
“I’m coming back. I’ll be there very soon. Stop your crying and go to sleep. I’ll be home when you wake up. Okay?”
Stormy sniffled again. “Do you promise?”
“I promise. I love you.”
“I love you.” Stormy sounded happier. I could hear the smile in her voice.
“That’s my girl. Give the phone back to your mom.”
“Andy? Are you on your way?” she asked.
The car started quietly. “I’m heading back to the airport now. I’ll text you before take-off.”
We said goodbye and hung up. I drove back to the airport as I thought hard about Irena’s house. However, the only conclusion I came to is that Dad had to be right.
As soon as I walked into the mansion, there were hands all over me. Angel patted me on the back and smiled at me. Mia squeezed my arm gently. Dad and Mom embraced me.
Everyone took a step back as Abby approached. She stopped a few feet away and smiled weakly.
I gave her a crooked smile. “See, bebé, nothing to worry about.” I opened my arms for her, and she jumped into them. Her lips claimed mine with a fierceness that made me wonder if I had been gone longer than I thought.
She stared into my eyes and spoke each word very slowly. “I. Love. You.” Tears built into her eyes. A small smile played on her lips.
“I love you.” As soon as the words escaped me, she put her lips back to mine.
“Maybe they need some alone time.”
I broke the kiss and looked past Abigail to Benny, and smirked. “As good as that sounds, I really need to find Irena.”
Benny sighed and nodded. “Why do you think I’m here, kid?” Benny shrugged. “Shall we get to work?”
“I’ll be in the study in a minute. I have to do something first.” I grabbed Abigail’s hand and pulled her with me.
“I thought you wanted to find Irena?” Austin said and snickered.
I rolled my eyes. “That’s not what I was going to do,” I said and chuckled.
“Sure,” Benny and Austin drug out the word longer than necessary.
I threw my head back and laughed.
Abigail’s cheeks and neck reddened. “What are we doing?”
“I promised her I would be here when she wakes up. So, I’m going to wake her up.”
“Andy,” Abby groaned. “She just got to sleep.”
“She’ll go back to sleep.”
Abigail and I went into our bedroom. Stormy had her face buried in my pillow. Her arms and legs stretched out like a little windmill.
“What a bed hog,” I said and chuckled. I crawled up on the bed beside her and shook her awake.
Stormy opened one eye. “Daddy?” Stormy groaned tiredly.
“Hi, bug,” I said and smiled.
“Daddy,” she said and smiled. She wrapped her arms around my neck and kissed my cheek.
“You need to go back to sleep for a few more hours, bug.”
“I don’t want to,” she mumbled. “I want to stay awake with you.”
“Go back to sleep. I’ll still be here when you get up.”
“Okay,” she muttered. She plopped back down on my pillow. I tucked her in and kissed the top of her head. “Sweet dreams, bug.” I climbed off the bed and stopped in front of Abigail. “You should get some sleep too.” I grabbed her face between my hands.
“Andrew, why? You just got back—”
“Because I’m going to keep you awake later,” I murmured.
Her eyes widened, and her lips parted.
I snickered and captured her soft lips with mine. Our lips moved in sync. Without any attention, the kiss grew deeper. My fingers tangled in her hair, and she wrapped her small arms around my waist. Our tongues moved in slow rhythmic laps. To break the kiss seemed impossible. My breathing had to slow before I could speak.
Abigail’s eyes fluttered open, and her chest rose and fell against mine. Her heart raced in time with mine.
“That’s a promise,” I whispered. I pecked her lips and walked past her. Abigail had a tendency to distract me very easily. She didn’t mean to do it. Hell, she didn’t have to try.
Andersen stood in the foyer, dusting off one of the large statues. He sneezed a couple of times. “I hate dust,” he muttered.
“Andersen,” I started.
“Study,” Andersen said and sneezed again.
As I started down the hall, my steps were quick but started to slow as I took in the hall. The walls were filled with old and newer photos. Some of them were so old that they were paintings because cameras didn’t exist at that time. My family knew their family’s history better than most. The frames had names carved into them of the people in the images. I was always in such a hurry all the time, trying to figure out who was out to get me that week. So many things had hit me at once lately, and I rarely had the chance to slow down and take anything in.
There are times in our life when we have a distinct feeling that we are where we belong, and it’s an intense feeling—at that moment, that’s what I felt. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t raised here with this family. I belonged in it. I didn’t have to change for them like I thought that I did. They were okay with me being me.
I stepped into the library and took it all in.
“Andrew, are you okay?” Mom asked.
I sighed. “Yeah, I’m good.”
“Run us through what happened,” Dad said.
I jumped into the details about how the house looked when I got there, and the things Harold said to me over the phone. Though I told my parents of the phone call I received, I didn’t go into much great detail.
“That’s about it,” I said and shrugged. I plopped down on the red velvet couch and took the glass of bourbon that Dad offered me.
“Could we go to the house?” Benny asked. “My only thought is to check out her bank statements. I need some bank info to hack into her account to see her latest transactions. I might be able to find her that way.”
“Was her car there?” Dad asked.
“She had a garage, but I didn’t check.”
“Alright,” Dad said and sighed. “Benny, Austin, and I will go check it out.”
“I’m coming. You boneheads might miss something,” Mom said.
“Bebita,” Dad groaned.
“Besides, god knows how long you’ll be there, and you could forget to take your blood pressure medication,” Mom said.
“But—” Dad started.
“No buts,” Mom snapped.
Dad glared at me, and my chuckling stopped short. I zipped my lips and pretended to throw the key away. “So, what am I supposed to do?”
Mom and Dad turned to me wearing smirks that looked almost identical.
“What?” I asked, confused.
“You’re going to stay here and spend time with your beautiful fiancé, of course,” Mom said.
My jaw dropped, and the air escaped my lungs. “How did you—”
“Nothing gets past your mother, buddy,” Dad said.
“The sooner you learn that, the better,” Angel added.
“I saw the ring on her finger shortly after you took off. She came down to the kitchen for some water. She was a little shocked that I noticed, but then she told me what happened,” Mom said and shrugged.
“She probably squeezed it out of her,” Angel said and laughed.
Mom glared at Angel, and Angel’s laugh stopped short. Mom turned back to me and smiled. “We’ll celebrate very soon with an engagement party.” Mom clapped her hands together excitedly.
I facepalmed and tousled my hair with my fingers. “Great. An engagement party.”
“You’ll love it,” Andrea said and smiled at me. “Am I going?” Andrea turned to Mom and Dad.
Dad raised a hand and let it fall. “Uh, I guess.”
“Cool,” Andrea said and skipped out of the study.
I stared after my twin sister in amusement. “She has such. . .buoyance?” The statement came out like a question.
“She takes after her mother,” Dad said.
“And you take after your father,” Mom said and rubbed my chin playfully.
I smiled and shook my head. “I guess I’ll go tell my fiancé about our engagement party,” I said sarcastically.
“Good idea,” Dad agreed. “I’d tell her to just go with it because your mother is unstoppable.”