Josh and I leave midafternoon on Friday, after we pick up my overnight bag and some snacks at my apartment. We head directly to the boat basin in a cab. As soon as we reach the boat and descend into the galley, Josh kisses me passionately. “I have been waiting to do that for two days.”
“I know. Me too. It feels so good to be out of the lab.” I slip my arms around Josh. For the first time since Tuesday morning, my shoulders are not up around my ears, hunched over a computer or microscope. I kiss him again and whisper. ’Do you think the boat has been bugged?”
“We have to assume. Luis’s men have already gone to the beach house and combed it over for any listening devices yesterday. They found several. I forgot to ask them to check the boat but his man down at the beach will look over the boat. My mother is leaving no stone unturned. He takes my hand and leads me back up the galley stairs. He speaks louder for the benefit of whoever is listening. “Let’s get moving. I need to relax with you and there is a storm coming in later tonight. I want to be docked before it hits.”
He drives the boat without any further discussion of listening devices, his mother or our research. I can feel the tension dissolve from both of us midway through the trip. Ten minutes before we dock the boat, Josh calls for a taxi to pick us up at the marina. I rest my head on Josh’s shoulder on the way to the house in the cab and I’m thankful for the small reprieve of the weekend. When we reach the house, the prelude of an impending storm is lighting up the sky. I look at the ominous clouds and consider them a portent of things to come. I take my bag and follow Josh to the front door.
“It feels good to be home.” I say automatically without thinking and immediately wants to kick myself. Am I a victim of a Freudian slip? I sputter. “Sorry, I wasn’t thinking. I didn’t mean this was my home. We just lived close to the ocean in California and this house feels more like a home to me than my stainless steel, monochromatic apartment.”
“Hey, you have nothing to be sorry for. I am glad you think of this place as home.” Josh leans over and kisses me slowly. “This storm is wild. I am going to build a fire and grab some wine glasses. Do you want to eat? I have cheese and crackers and some fruit. Or do you want to order pizza? Or would you rather go out?” He is speaking so rapidly, I get the impression he is nervous.
“A little rapid fire with those questions. Let’s see. I am not very hungry. Yes to cheese and crackers. No to pizza. I will get some blankets from upstairs. I think I have covered it. By the way, have you talked to Frankie and Bent?”
“We talked a few days ago. I told them we would call tomorrow morning. Even though we are in the same time zone, it is hard to get in touch with them. Cell service is spotty in the monastery. It is driving me crazy that I can’t talk to Bent. Fortunately, Luis already has someone checking on them and I know they are safe for the moment. If anything should happen, I will know right away.”
“Oh good. That should help ease your worry. I want to say hello to Bent. Does he like the monastery?”
“Bent is enjoying it. The monks are very kind to him and they let him work in the wood shop and gardens. He said he misses you.”
“Well, he is my first boyfriend. Can’t wait to talk to him.” I run up the stairs to get some blankets and throw a pair of sweatpants on. It is not the most attractive look, but Josh is right. It is nippy. When I come back down stairs, Josh has lit several candles in addition to the fireplace.
“I thought I could make up for the lack of romance last Monday.” Josh looks rather sheepish as he says it.
“Last Monday was perfect, just like tonight is. That fire feels fantastic. Even though I am grateful you let me invite my mother and Jax here, I am so glad we have tonight to ourselves.”
“Well, considering we almost had Kevin for the weekend, I am thrilled.” Josh pulls me down to the floor gently and cradles me on his chest.
“Don’t you like Kevin?” I pick my head up off his shoulder to look at him.
“I think Kevin is great. But he drools over you and I feel like I am slipping in his puddles all the time. Honestly, I don’t want to rock his boat where you are concerned. He is a little fragile at the moment. The sight of my mother scares the hell out of him.”
“Well I think he was looking forward to working with Luis this weekend. He actually couldn’t wait to leave this afternoon. It was good of Luis to take him.”
Josh takes a long sip of wine. “Luis is a good guy. He also has his own agenda. Now lets’ forget about everyone else. We only have about thirteen hours to ourselves, so let’s enjoy it.” All conversation beyond monosyllabic words ceases. We are able to dissolve into our own world for the rest of the night.
The next morning we wake and go for a run. After we shower, I check where my mom is on the parkway and then set out to make breakfast. I take the bike over to the outdoor market and picks up peppers, onions and zucchini and then start cooking.
“A girl of many talents. You can cook too?” Josh asks as he walks into the kitchen and grabs a muffin. “Thank god. I am famished this morning.”
“Watch it, pal. You are bordering on sexism.” I smile at him. “I can cook breakfast fairly well. I am making a frittata and I picked up some mini blueberry muffins and bagels. Would you mind making coffee? Espresso if you have it.”
“Anything you want. I am at your service.” He puts his arm around my waist and pulls me in for a kiss before he grinds the espresso beans and steams the milk.
“I love to cook. It relaxes me. My mom and I used to take cooking classes on weekends together.” I smile at the memory as I put the frittata mixture in the oven and then pick up the espresso and take a sip. “Oh this is good coffee. You are my hero.”
“Thanks. Anything to please you darling. You will really enjoy the coffee in Italy. What time are Jax and your mom arriving?”
“Probably in twenty five minutes, unless they hit local traffic.”
Josh frowns for a minute. “Come on. Let’s have our coffee on the porch while we wait. I wish we had a little more time.” He says with a wink.
Mom and Jax arrive and I’m grateful that I have more than just the frittata. Everyone clears his or her plates, which I consider a compliment. Josh checks the weather forecast and then asks if we want to go out on the boat. Jax and mom agree, but mom asks if it could be a short trip so they can have a few hours on the beach.
“I am so tired from this week. I think I trained a little too hard. I hope you don’t mind everybody.” Mom adds.
Josh agrees immediately. “It’s not a problem. I could also use some naptime on the beach. I guess none of us have slept well this week.”
Jax and mom sit in the stern as Josh and I hoist the sail. I feel useful now that I have learned some rudimentary sailing skills. Jax offers all of us wine. I look at my mom with a smirk and decline Jax’s offer. For some reason, this prompts mom to offer me a tube of sunblock. Mom can’t deny her basic nature of caring for others.
“Mom, when we separate next month, I hope you don’t start taking care of random strangers. I think you have a special care-taker gene.”
“Don’t be smart. It is beautiful on the water here. I am just going to enjoy this.”
It is one of those languid summer days where the sunlight is so direct it feels like a tandoor oven. It is the kind of afternoon where one can lose themselves in their dreams and imagine a promising future, no matter how bleak their present circumstances. The conversation is light, in tandem with the summer day. Jax asks Josh if he can take over the boat so he can brush up on his skills. I can tell Josh is a little nervous about surrendering his boat, but he good-naturedly agrees. Within a few hours we return to the beach house, grab a few sandwiches and hit the beach. Josh and mom fall asleep within minutes. Jax and I settle into a companionable silence for the first hour.
Jax looks over at me. “I guess we are not dazzling them with our scintillating conversation.”
I smile looking at the two people I love. “Neither of them has been sleeping much this week. They need to catch up. I wouldn’t mind a nap but I have trouble sleeping during the day.”
“How’s the research coming along? You are looking into the genetics of pedophilia, aren’t you?”
“We’ve been doing really well. We worked hard but we also got lucky. We’re presenting at a genetics conference in Milan next month. The only drawback is if this research is used more to torture people rather than help them.”
“It’s rather hard to feel sorry for people who sexually abuse children.”
“I can understand your sentiments. You are a prosecutor after all. I am referring to young people who carry a genetic variant but have never committed a crime and odds are won’t commit a crime. They would be cruelly ostracized or worse, if anyone disclosed their genetic predisposition. Look at what they did to those detainees at Rosewood.”
“I see your point, although my experience taints my views of pedophilia. I agree that carrying the gene is not a crime. Do you regret having to work for the Lucas Institute?”
I consider the question. “If you are asking whether I wish I had the choice to plan my own course in life, then the answer is yes. It would have been nice. The real question is if any of us are really free to choose our destiny. That is ultimately what we’re fighting for. I applaud the choices my mother made, but her choices were circumvented by the position she was placed in. When you love someone, your choices are never completely free. Besides, I couldn’t imagine my life without the people I have met since I came to New York. Do you have any regrets about helping my mother and her friends?”
Jax looks at Josh and then Branna to see if they are listening. “I have no regrets. When I started on my mission, it was out of revenge for the cruelty inflicted on my father. After the time I have spent with your mom and Ziva, I think I started to lose my personal anger and am more motivated by a desire to stop the madness.”
“He who sets out on a course of revenge should dig two graves.” I shift my chair under the umbrella to get out of the sun.
“Who said that?” Jax asks with a sardonic grin.
“Confucius. I think the worst thing that could happen, is to become so consumed by hate that you lose the capacity for any other human emotion.”
“You two are getting rather deep for a sunny afternoon at the beach. What time is it?” Mom brushes the hair out of her eyes and puts her sunglasses on. She looks the same age as me in a bikini and sarong.
“It is after four.” Jax answers. “Do you want to go get the groceries now?” Mom nods yes in response. “Okay. I am just going to jump in and cool down.” Jax jogs to the ocean and dives into a wave.
“He’s a good guy, Mom.” Mom nods in agreement. “You don’t have to cook dinner. We could go out. My treat.”
“No problem. I brought almost everything I need. I cooked most of it last night. We just have to pick up a few things.” Jax returns and they pack up and leave the beach. Josh opens his eyes as they depart.
“Hey sleepyhead.” I walk over to Josh and kiss him. He pulls me down on the blanket. He smells like baked sea salt.
“I was dreaming about you.” Josh smiles lazily with his eyes closed.
“Hope it was a good dream. You are toasty warm.” I give him a kiss on his chest.
“Where did your Mom and Jax go?”
“They went to pick up a few groceries and Jax mentioned something about getting some wine.”
Josh breaks out in a big grin. “Why don’t we go back to the house and enjoy a few minutes alone?” We pack up the umbrella and start heading back to the house.
I turn to Josh. “Let’s race.” I squeal as I take off ahead of him.
“No fair. I am carrying everything.” Josh takes off after me.
We elect to sit outside and eat dinner. Mom prepared coq au vin and paired it with a crisp Sancerre. As we relax into our chairs, Branna asks Josh what is on his mind as we finish eating.
Josh gives me a look before he answers mom. “Am I showing any tells?”
“No. You’re just quieter than usual. Thank you for keeping my daughter from being arrested last Monday, or worse.”
“I heard your mother has a secret tunnel under the Institute. Rather cloak and dagger, isn’t it.” Jax adds.
Josh looks at my mom first. “Your welcome. I agree; the tunnel is a bit of a trip. I assume the tunnel has been there for decades and they discovered it during construction. Fortunately, it suited our purposes.”
“So what is troubling you Josh.” A maternal note creeps into Mom’s tone of speech.
“We recovered quite a number of documents. Sadly, none of them exonerate my mother. There were some rather upsetting emails between my mother and Halliday. Not the least of which is she is having an affair with him.” I hold his hand when I hear this. Josh had not shown me those particular memos.
“I am so sorry. No son should have to discover that.” Mom shakes her head.
“I am not surprised. I have suspected those two for some time but kept telling myself that it this eugenics policy they were wrapped up in. I just feel bad for my father. He stayed with her all these years to control her and protect me. The most troubling item I found was their plan to select out for elimination in utero anyone with genetic abnormalities as well as forced sterilization of all people with psychiatric disease.”
“That is actually written down.” Jax yells out in disgust. “It sounds like your mother and Halliday want to run an extreme eugenics program.”
“Sadly, yes. They actually discuss the prospect of creating the perfect society. They sound so delusional and have no idea of how frightening their thought processes are.” Josh hangs his head.
“People become so attached to their delusions; they begin to believe they are reality. Sadly, they will do anything to protect their delusions. It is how many conflicts and acts of violence occur. Josh, you can’t feel any responsibility for what your mother is doing.” Mom stands up as she says this and gives him a kiss on the cheek. She then picks up the plates to bring into the house. I jump up to help her and give Josh a squeeze on the shoulder. I am afraid of what I might say in anger.
“Josh keeps on taking hit after hit. I don’t know how he doesn’t tear her head off.” I violently start rinsing off the dishes. I stop and take a few deep breaths. My reaction takes me by surprise.
“Careful, Nali. The dishes are just innocent bystanders. I know you hate to see him hurt. For Josh, it must be very hard to realize his mother is capable of the cruelty she has committed. That she is incredibly flawed despite her wealth and power. Sons always have a special bond with their mothers and when that is lost, it is painful. However, Josh has quite a few people in his life that love him. He has resilience and will be fine.”
“Is Jax out there asking him for a copy of those documents we recovered”? I have developed a more cordial relationship with the dishes and am stacking them in the dishwasher with care.
“Probably. It might help Josh to get a male perspective as well. Jax is going to be at the most risk once this is over. He is going to stay at the prosecutor’s office and start releasing all these incriminating documents via social media. Josh may want to suppress the release of those emails related to their affair. That is why I came in here. Give them time to talk.”
“Why doesn’t Jax just indict her with the evidence we have?”
“Katharine Lucas has people buried inside every major government office who would destroy the evidence, create fake trails and worse. Who knows how far her network extends. We need the media campaign to build a groundswell of public indignation. After that, it will be easier to investigate her. If he Jax right now, he could suffer the same fate as Kevin’s brother. Katharine’s legal team alone would bury him in paperwork for the next five years.”
“Those are good points. I am so happy you came down. It helps to feel that we are normal, at least some of the time, even if we are discussing how to stop a madwoman.” We finish wiping down the counter and walk back outside.
“I’m glad we came down as well.” Mom kisses my temple as we walk back out front. “Let’s go play some miniature golf. We need normal right now.”