The Prodigy

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Chapter 23

Josh and I leave work early to travel down to the beach. Josh, Kevin and I had worked late into the night on Thursday after our meeting with Dr. Morehouse. Josh came in a little late Friday morning, as he had stopped to pick up a second laptop for Kevin. We arrive at the beach early in the evening and enjoy a leisurely dinner with Bent and Francesca. Both of us want to spend as much time as we can with them, as Josh had moved their departure date up to the following evening. The next day we swim and lounge in front of the house. Francesca had suggested we tire Bent out so he can sleep on the plane. It is almost the perfect summer day, but Josh is quieter than usual. The departure is hanging heavy over all of us, like a nimbus cloud.

After our third swim, Bent takes Rosie for a walk. Josh and I pick up the wet towels and lay them over the porch railings. When he finishes, Josh puts his hands on the railing and stares out to the ocean. I wrap my arms around his waist. I whisper. “You will see him again really soon.”

“I know I will. Just the risk of everything we are doing is hitting me. So many lives are at stake. I am worried about Bent and now Kevin. And I am really worried about you. I couldn’t imagine losing you, actually any of you.”

“Me neither. I couldn’t imagine losing you.” I automatically respond. I’m caught off guard. Josh had been so positive and upbeat about their future plans. It is both simultaneously comforting and scary to see that he has the same fears as me. It is always easier to allay someone else’s fears than to allay your own.

“Sorry. I don’t mean to be a downer. Having to put Bent on a plane today makes it all the more real. He’s been the center of my life for years now.”

“I imagine this must be really tough for you. You don’t have to go through with any of this. You wouldn’t have to send Bent away.”

“That thought has crossed my mind more than once. I am sorry to admit that.” Josh says carefully.

“Don’t be sorry. I have that thought at least once a day. It’s normal to think that way. I would be surprised if you hadn’t.”

“I have to see this through. Otherwise, I will have to live in my mother’s shadow the rest of my life and always worry about the threat she poses to Bent.”

We go back into the house. Bent returns from his walk with Rosie. Frankie asks him to take a shower and get ready to depart for the plane. Josh collects the bags and loads then into the trunk. Both Josh and I are sending down a suitcase of our clothes with them, which we put together earlier this morning. It wouldn’t be feasible to carry a suitcase when we help the detainees escape from Rosewood.

I take over making lunch from Francesca so she can take care of some last minute details. As I place the sandwiches and salad on the table, Bent comes lumbering down the stairs. He walks over and gives me a hug.

“I am going to miss you.” Bent has tears in his eyes.

“Oh Bent. Don’t cry or I will start crying as well. I will miss you too. But we will see each other in a couple of weeks.”

“Do you promise? I know something is going on and Josh is worried.”

I don’t want to make a promise I can’t keep, but Bent needs reassurance. “We will work really hard to be together again. You are going to have a great adventure now. From what I hear, Rosie will be able to run around the grounds. You’ll be able to garden and work in a woodshed. We’ll be there before you know it.”

“I am so happy I have Rosie. She makes me feel connected to you. You’ll take care of Josh for me, won’t you Analia?”

I realize that Bent is more perceptive than most people think. “Of course I will. We are family now.”

Josh comes in from loading the car and looks at both of us. He just nods to indicate he has finished packing the car. He washes his hands in the sink and walks around the table to join us. We sit at the table and Francesca joins us a few minutes later. The conversation at the table is subdued. The weight of the upcoming goodbye is as oppressive as the humidity that came back with a gale force today. I clear the table and load the dishwasher when we finish eating as Josh takes Bent out to the porch to have a private goodbye. Within ten minutes we are on 35 North heading towards Teterboro airport. Josh explains that he had tried to get the plane to depart from an airport closer to the shore but was unsuccessful.

At the airport, Bent, Francesca and I walk quietly to the waiting area for departures as Josh parks the car. As they are boarding a private plane, Josh and I are allowed to walk to the waiting area with them. I keep chatting with Bent to lighten the mood. Josh has a private word with Francesca and asks her to phone him when they arrive at the monastery, no matter what time it is. Time always passes too quickly when you don’t want it to. The pilot comes out to greet all of us and takes Francesca’s carry on luggage as well as Rosie’s portable crate. We hug each other goodbye and walk Bent and Francesca to the door. Josh and I stand with our arms around each other and wait for the crew to close the hatch. Within ten minutes, the plane is taxiing down the runway and Josh and I turn to leave.

We walk hand in hand back to the car and quietly listen to music on the drive back. For the most part, Josh holds on to my hand throughout the drive.

As we take exit 98 towards Point Pleasant, Josh finally voices what we are both thinking. “I dreaded saying goodbye, but I am glad it is over. It made me consider all the what ifs that can happen in the next two months.”

“I feel the same way. We just have to keep going and work through this.”

“On a lighter note, do you want to grill some burgers tonight?”

“A burger would be great. My mother is a great cook but we tend to eat healthy. A little comfort food is what I need. Topped off with ice cream. I might go for a run first if that’s okay with you.”

“Sounds perfect. Mind if I run with you?” Josh rounds the first roundabout on 35 south as we heads towards home.

“Not at all. Just so you know, I am not the fastest runner and you have long legs. I don’t want to hold you back.” Josh squeezes my hand when I say this. I give him a smile in return.

“I am not racing you. I just want to take a quick run with my girl.” We relax back into silence and change into running clothes when we arrive home. The house already feels different with just the two of us. I’m a little nervous now that we are alone. It is the first time we will be spending the night together. A part of me wants to take it slow; the other half doesn’t.

We finish our run and Josh heats up the grill as we take a shower. I find a tray in the kitchen to carry out the plates and condiments. I make a simple salad of tomatoes and lettuce and grabs two wine glasses and a bottle of white wine. I carry the tray out to the porch and lay the tray on a small side table in front of the wicker love seat.

“Let’s eat out here. It’s pleasant.” I call over my shoulder. Josh comes up behind me and puts his hands on my waist. I turn around to face him and we immediately start kissing. Josh breaks off after a few minutes.

“The hamburgers need to be turned or they’ll be hockey pucks. Can you grab the cheese?”

“Sure. American or cheddar?” I head back to the refrigerator to grab the cheese.

“Definitely cheddar. God, I am beat. No shoptalk from you tonight. Not about the research and not about Rosewood. I need to decompress.” I swiftly slice the cheddar and walk back out to him.

“No arguments from me. Wow. That smells so good. I am starving.” I put the cheese on the burgers and within a minute we are sitting back on the love seat eating companionably. I sit cross-legged facing him.

“Are you feeling better now?”

“Yes, a bit better. The run and the burger definitely helped.” He puts his plate down and motions for me to come closer.

“Do you still want to walk over and get ice cream tonight?”

“No. I think I want something else tonight.” As I say it, I lean in for a soft kiss.

“Are you sure Analia?”

“No, but I am sure about you.”

“I will kick myself later, but maybe we should wait until you’re ready. We have time.”

Josh is definitely throwing me for a loop. My impression has been that most guys his age didn’t turn down sex. Ever. Every insecurity I have about my physical attractiveness comes rushing to the forefront. I sit back for a minute, unsure of how to proceed.

Josh puts a hand on my cheek. “Hey, what’s wrong? You don’t think I am rejecting you, do you?”

“Um. Well. Um. Yes, I do feel rejected. I didn’t expect you to say no.”

“I didn’t say no. I said wait. I know you are still unsure and I don’t want our first time to be clouded in doubt. We will be living together when we go to Brazil. In fact, I see myself with you forever. There’s no rush. Besides, I told your mother I would take care of you and I intend to.”

I manage to squeak out an “Oh.” I sit there pensive, wishing I could stop making unintelligible noises. The forever he just mentioned throws me for a loop.

Josh leans in for a kiss. “Hey, I think you’re beautiful. It will happen when it’s right.” He pulls me onto his lap and continues kissing me.

After a while, he pulls back. “Do you want to reconsider that ice cream?”

“Sure. Let’s go with the second best option.” I smile as I say this. Josh stands and pulls me up to my feet. We walk hand in hand out the door.

We head down to the main drag and walk north. The roads are still congested at this hour with most of the cars blaring music. The crowds and the music perk me up. As we walk to the ice cream store, a thought occurs to me. “Hey Josh, has something else happened?”

Josh looks downcast as he considers his response. “There was a mention in the Asbury Park Press this morning. My friend, Len, died yesterday morning.”

I squeeze his hand. “Oh Josh I am so sorry. It’s been a really, rough day. I hope you’re not blaming yourself.”

“How can I not? I keep telling myself that my mother and her henchmen did this, but I was the one who asked him to research those names. This is a really dangerous game. I would have loved to put you on the plane with Frankie and Bent today.”

“I wouldn’t leave you or my family to run to safety. Besides, we need to make this presentation in Milan. We have to maintain our cover. If we deviate at all from schedule, it will raise your mother’s suspicions.”

Josh shakes his head. “So much for not talking shop tonight.”

“It’s fine. The truth is we can’t escape reality.” We come to the ice cream store and stand in line. The walls of the shop are white washed and the sickly sweet smell of cotton candy perfumes the air. I look around at what appears to be happy families enjoying the last remnants of a gorgeous, summer day. I envy their carefree attitudes and wonder if Josh and I will ever experience that feeling. I make a decision to ignore the rejection for now and be happy for this one night. Josh orders two cones, coconut for me and mint chocolate chip for him. We walk home slowly, holding hands. Right before we reach the door, Josh tips my cone gently into my lower face.

I break out in a laugh. “Hey. What do you think you are doing?”

“I like coconut too.” Josh slowly starts kissing the ice cream off her face. He unlocks the door and leads me into the kitchen. He picks me up and puts me on the countertop. He gently cleans the rest of the ice cream off my face and then takes my hand and leads me upstairs.

When we reach the top of the stairs, Josh grabs me by the waist. “I said we should wait, but sleep next to me tonight? I want you to stay close.”

’I’d like that. Be right back.” I run to my room and grab a t-shirt and cotton shorts. I wish I had something a little sexier but this will do. After I put them on, I walk back to his room. The windows of his room have been thrown open and the sea breeze twirls around the room, lit by the moon. I walk over to Josh and suddenly feel shy.

“Hey you.” I give him a smile. Once again, I’m in unchartered waters.

“Hey yourself. Come on, get in.” He pulls me in next to him. We fall asleep wrapped around each other

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