The Prodigy

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Chapter 36

The return journey to New York is anticlimactic after our time in Milan and Rome. After disembarking at JFK airport, a car service picks up Josh, Kevin and myself and brings us back to my apartment. Mom is cooking a genuine Thanksgiving dinner to celebrate our return Mom is also cooking the dinner it in anticipation of missing Thanksgiving in two months. The weather is unseasonably cold when we land, in distinct contrast to the weather in Rome, but it is perfect for the meal. I’m chilled by the time we finally land at my apartment building. We drag our suitcases up to my apartment as jet lag has turned our legs to lead. As soon as the elevator reaches my floor, the smell of roasted turkey greets us. The smell evokes memories of prior, uncomplicated holidays.

“Hey Mom, we’re home.” I call out as I open the door.

Mom hurries out of the kitchen and pulls me into her arms. She then hugs Josh and Kevin. Kevin beams at the attention. It is only with mom that Kevin feels completely at ease in letting another person touch him. Jax follows in her footsteps and is a little more reserved in his greeting.

“Dr. Christiansen, it smells like heaven in here.” Kevin starts wandering over to the kitchen. “May I help you?”

“I would love that Kevin.” Mom gives Kevin a big smile. “So how was the trip?

“Analia was the star of the conference. Some Oxford scientist tried to heckle Kevin and Analia neutralized him. Gave him a proverbial kick in the ass. She was amazing.” As Josh is speaking, I squibble a note to my mother that I need to talk to her on the balcony. Josh makes a face after realizing what he just said. “Sorry Dr. Christiansen, I hope I didn’t offend you.”

Branna laughs. “Don’t worry Josh. I like to hear my daughter did well, even if it is by kicking someone in the ass.” Josh snorts a laugh.

Jax jumps into the conversation. “How did you like Rome? It is one of my favorite cities. More so than Paris.” As he is speaking his eyes follow mom who is heading towards the balcony door. Mom motions with her hands for him to stay and keep talking.

“We had an amazing time in Rome. We took it easy on visiting the tourist sites and just enjoyed the food and the ambience.” As he speaks, Josh motions for Kevin to join the conversation.

Kevin sputters as his eyes remain riveted on the balcony. “I took cooking classes at a restaurant in Trastevere with the owner’s nonna.”

“That’s great Kevin. Do you like to cook?” Jax replies. He and Josh have their eyes trained on the two ladies on the balcony.

Kevin, unnerved by the circumstances, starts to inspect the food on the kitchen counters and becomes oblivious to where Josh and Jax are directing their attention. “Look. She made sweet potatoes with marshmallows. It’s my favorite dish. Oh, and yes, I like to cook. It’s been rather difficult to cook at the place where I am living. I loved the kitchen over in Rome.” Kevin turns his attention back to inspecting the dinner preparations.

Jax looks at Josh. Josh just shakes his head as if to say let Kevin be. “The trip to Rome was incredible. Anything special happen during the week we were away?”

Mom and I come back in and mom motions for the men to go outside. “Jax, could you run down to the corner store and get another bottle of wine?”

Jax looks slightly flustered by the request. “Um, Sure, white or red?”

“One of each. Dinner should be ready in a half hour, so don’t get lost.”

Josh stands up and walks over to the door. “I’ll come with you. I need to stretch after the plane ride. Do you want to come, Kevin?”

Kevin just shakes his head. “No, I want to stay and help.” Josh slips out onto the patio with Jax.

I call out to my mom. “I am going to freshen up and then I’ll help you mom.” I step out on the balcony where Jax and Josh are already discussing the developments in Italy. Josh is in the middle of giving a brief overview of my meeting with Dr. Monteverdi.

“Do you think this antidote will work?” Jax directs his question to me as I join them.

“I have no idea. According to Dr. Monteverdi, it hasn’t been tested on human subjects yet. We would have to test it and replicate it in a lab. It isn’t in my field of expertise, so I don’t know how long it would take. Plus, we wouldn’t have access to a lab in Brazil.”

“Well, Analia did meet a Brazilian scientist in Milan. We can ask her for assistance in finding a proper lab once we are down there. Jax, is everything set for next Friday?”

“As much as it ever will be. Luis needs to talk to you. He put into place a backup plan that he wants to discuss with you. We should go get the wine. I will fill you in on what I know.” We walk back in and I join Mom and Kevin in the kitchen, while Jax and Josh depart for the elevators.

Mom sets to work finishing up the preparations and gives Kevin a few tasks as well. I help Mom take the turkey out of the oven. Kevin turns his attention to mashing the potatoes while I make the gravy and plate the side dishes. After Jax and Josh return, we relax into the rhythms of a family meal, our offbeat, assembled crew. While I had greatly enjoyed the cuisine in Italy, the comfort of a home cooked meal is unparalleled. Even though jet lag is setting in, we retire with several bottles of wine to the living room and regale Jax and mom with stories from our trip. The story about Kevin and the nun in front of the Last Supper, combined with the effects of the wine, sends all of us into fits of laughter. I hope we will laugh like this again real soon. I realize that what I wished for at graduation has come to pass. I have friends and a life outside of work. I’m not just content, I’m happy. Unfortunately, it can all be taken in an instant this very week. A curtain of fear keeps threatening to fall. I suspect all of us in this room are fighting the same fears.

We all fall asleep in front of the fireplace. Mom nudges me and guides me into her room. She has Jax sleep in my room and leaves Josh and Kevin to sleep on the two couches. I mumble to my mom as I snuggle under the covers.

“Mom, this is my first sleepover. Thanks for dinner. It was special.”

“”Yes, it is our first sleepover. Now, get some sleep.” Mom kisses me on the forehead and lays down next to me.

After spending a quiet Sunday together, Josh, Kevin and Jax finally leave late afternoon after having leftovers with Mom and me. Monday morning, Josh, Kevin and I arrive early for a scheduled meeting with Dr. Morehouse. Although I slept in on Sunday, I’m still tired. It is weird how jet lag doesn’t really affect you until two days after you return home and not the day immediately following your return. I wait for Josh at the coffee stand in the atrium. I double the espresso shot in my latte to cope with the fatigue. As I take a sip, I feel an arm go around my waist.

“Hey beautiful.” Josh whispers in my ear.

“Hey yourself. I wish I could put the coffee into an intravenous drip and walk around with it all day.”

“Try drinking a lot of water today. It will help. We probably shouldn’t have drunk so much wine Saturday night, but I had a good time. Your mother is an excellent cook by the way. I hope she didn’t mind having extended houseguests.”

“Thanks, I’ll tell her. It was no problem for all of you to stay. If you haven’t already noticed, my mother likes to take care of people. Here comes Kevin.”

Kevin walks hurriedly over to us. “Sorry I’m late. I had a hard time waking up.” Kevin scans the atrium distractedly. I notice that his right eye is twitching again. I will have to keep him close this week and calm him down.

“Relax Kevin. We are all moving a bit slow today. Get a coffee and we’ll go talk with Dr. Morehouse.” Kevin takes a few minutes to order his coffee and then we start walking to the lab.

“Analia, I really appreciated having dinner at your house Saturday night. It felt like I was with family. Your mother is a fabulous cook.”

“Thanks Kevin. My mom is getting a lot of love today. I will tell her.” We reach the conference room adjacent to our lab and find Dr. Morehouse seated inside.

“Welcome back. Please have a seat. The three of us sit down facing Dr. Morehouse. “I trust you enjoyed your brief stay in Rome. You definitely earned it. There has been quite a bit of press coverage of your findings and almost all of it is favorable.”

“Almost all of it? I don’t understand, sir.” Josh looks irked as he responds.

“Relax Josh. We expected negative feedback concerning the pedophilia project. Earlier this summer, Analia expressed concern about this research project engendering bigotry. That sentiment has already surfaced among extreme conservative groups. They fail to understand why we are “helping” perverts and criminals as they see it.”

“Our research does not help criminals; it helps society. Potentially, it will help prevent individuals from becoming criminals.” I feel a bit indignant. Jet lag is making me irritable like Josh.

“My advice is to not to read this garbage. It is a minority view. The majority of the press is quite favorable. As you can imagine, the chairman is ecstatic about the press coverage. Dr. Lucas has been doing a press tour since she came back. She is down in Washington making the rounds this week.”

“Please don’t tell us that we have to go down to Washington.” Josh looks alarmed at the prospect.

“Don’t worry. Your mother considered that idea, but your father and I talked her out of it.” Josh breathes a visible sigh of relief at the news. “I believe Analia identified two other genes involved in the pedophilia network. I would like you to write it up in a report this week. If you could give it to me by Friday morning.”

“Sure. That isn’t a problem Dr. Morehouse.” I’m a little unsure of myself. I have no idea what Dr. Morehouse knows and I have so many questions I am afraid to ask.

“Well, that’s all for now. Josh and Kevin can help you this week, Analia. The other group will ask you to go over their research findings. Dr. Lucas intends to start testing the new therapy for the PPZ gene in a clinical trial at Rosewood next week.” Dr. Morehouse shakes his head as he rises from his chair. The three of us follow suit without saying a word. Once we reach the hallway, just outside the door, Dr. Morehouse pulls me aside.

“Should I even ask if this therapy has been tested on animals prior to a human trial?” I murmur to Dr. Morehouse just outside the door in the hallway

“It would be a waste of time to ask. We could never present this research even if it did work. All protocols have been broken. It never went through the proper channels of testing in different phases. I have expressed my displeasure in how fast this is being put to human trial. Analia, can I speak to you privately for a minute?”

I look at Josh and Kevin and Josh just nods his head. He pulls Kevin down towards the door to the lab. Dr. Morehouse asks me to walk with him. He speaks quietly to me in a whisper.

“Analia, you’re original and brilliant research is being desecrated. I would keep a copy of all your original work on the PPZ gene and the pedophilia gene network with you for future reference. Please don’t mention this last request to anyone.”

“Of course, sir. Will that be all?”

“Just one more thing. Good luck to you Analia.” After that cryptic delivery, he turns and walks to his office. I quickly walk back towards the lab. Kevin and Josh are waiting outside.

Kevin starts to whisper. “That was so weird. What did he say?”

“ We’ll talk later on our break. We should get to work. Marcus will probably make a snide comment when we go in. He’s probably livid about all the press we received. Let’s get it over with.”

I walk into the lab with Josh and Kevin trailing me. Marcus is predictably annoying but Jacki and Jiang seem genuinely happy to see us. It seems so surreal to be working again in the lab with the knowledge that we are leaving for an indefinite amount of time in only a few days. What is even more disconcerting is the not knowing what comes next. There had always been a goal or objective wherever I went. The immediate future is becoming murkier the closer we get towards departure.

I would bet my life that Dr. Morehouse is somehow connected to the underground movement working against Katharine Lucas. I also suspect that he will never verbally acknowledge it, given Katharine Lucas’s affinity for using a version of truth serum on her targets. It gives him plausible deniability should the three of us be captured and tortured. He will also likely be questioned once the escape occurs and Josh, Kevin and I go missing. In fact, probably everyone in the lab will be questioned. I feel terrible that Jacki and Jiang will be left to deal with a mess.

The week flies by quickly. Josh types up the report while Kevin and I triple check our findings. We finish the report in three days. I’m grateful to Dr. Morehouse for the short work assignment. It is a gift. Most evenings are spent with mom and Josh. Twice, Josh and I meet with Luis on the firing range to go over the basic rules of firing a weapon. I understand why my mother feels sick after spending time at the firing range. I don’t fear using a weapon if necessary, but I fear the reason why I would have to use one.

One evening, I notice that all the photos in the frames around the apartment have been replaced with fakes. I ask my mom about it on our run together. Mom explains that she had taken a five-year lease on a storage unit and has been surreptitiously transporting photographs, artwork and anything of sentimental value to the unit for the last two months. She took the last of the photos out of their frames the weekend before we had returned from Italy. The unit is located close to Jax’s apartment. Mom had been transporting everything to Jax’s apartment and Jax had been placing our things in storage just in case mom was tailed. Mom had sent a spare key to her mother’s house in New Jersey for safekeeping. Mom also gives me the addresses and the phone numbers of her family for future contact.

On the last night Josh, Kevin and I travel back to Innwood for our last meal at Mr. Norona’s restaurant. Mom, Jax and Luis are scheduled to meet us there. Mom had requested to have a three-day weekend back in August and will be travelling with Jax to Hyde Park later that night, under the cover of a romantic weekend. She and Jax had come earlier to the restaurant on their way upstate and entered through the back door. Luis’ father had set aside a private room for the six of us. The dinner affords us one last opportunity to review the plans for the following night. Josh had already clued me in about the possible change in our escape route. According to Luis, our plan to leave by plane from Westchester is no longer feasible and Luis wants us to consider Canada. There exist so many possibilities for disaster that backup plans have been put in place. Luis had actually practiced driving the route to Canada from Rosewood and crossing the river during the earlier part of the week and believes that route gives us the best chance for success. He is meeting us at the restaurant to go over his assessment and the final details.

When Josh, Kevin and I arrive at the restaurant, Mr. Norona greets us at the door and escorts us to a small, private room in the back. Mom, Jax and Luis are already seated with a pitcher of sangria and tapas in front of them. Luis stands up to greet us and pours each of us a glass of sangria.

“You can have a glass tonight. The fun doesn’t start until tomorrow evening. You never got to fully enjoy the meal the last time you were here.” Luis escorts me to a chair next to my mother after he kisses me on both cheeks.

“These appetizers are out of this world.” Jax comments.

“They are delicious. I wish I could spend more time with your dad, Luis. So, should we discuss the final plans before or after we eat?” Mom asks.

Josh jumps in. “I think we should do it now. That way we have time to mull it over. So are we leaving via Canada?”

“We’re going to run you up to Canada. It will be easier to clear the flight plan out of Montreal and Halliday will have difficulty interrupting your arrival in Brazil. We have a boat to cross a tributary of Lake Ontario. We also have a legitimate police van to transport you to the Adirondacks prior to crossing in the early hours of Saturday morning. We have a second car that will be driving towards Westchester airport as a diversion during the same time we go north with you. The U.S. has jurisdictional access to Canada, but they have to play nice with the authorities there. Once they are aware of the prisoner escape at Rosewood, they will shut down the nearest airports. It will be too risky to attempt a flight out of Westchester.”

“What is the greatest risk, do you think?” Jax asks.

“The first problem will be getting the all three prisoners into the sick bay at the same time. That is an unknown variable we have no control over. The second biggest area of risk will be the area from when they emerge from the tunnel until they get to the boat. Ziva will be with the three detainees. We have to hope the prisoners can run. If anyone is injured or killed and we can’t get to them, we will have to leave without them. That will be emotionally brutal. You need to prepare yourselves. My team will try to protect Ziva and the others, but there is a limit to what we can do. We can not be caught.”

I exchange a look with my mother. After all this planning, would we be able to leave my father behind? I can feel Josh looking at me. “Mom, could you do it?”

“If I had to, but I hope it doesn’t come to it. We need to move quickly tomorrow night; otherwise we will all be at risk. I also know your father didn’t make the sacrifices he did so that you could wind up in jail or killed.”

I swallow this information. I decide to change the course of conversation. “What about Jax? They think he went away with my mother this weekend? How can he possibly stay in New York? They will suspect him immediately.” I’m surprised that I’m worried about Jax. Initially, I wanted to dislike him because of his constant proximity to my mother but he has been a valuable asset to the team. Plus, he is a decent guy.

“I agree with you, Analia. I think Jax should get on the plane with you. But that would likely end his career. Jax wants to stay and run the media campaign. But, he’ll likely be interrogated for days after the escape occurs anyway. If Jax stays, he has to remain at the bed and breakfast in Hyde Park tomorrow. He’ll take a very strong sedative and will be sleeping when to authorities come looking for him tomorrow night. They’ll think Branna drugged him and then slipped away. If they do a toxicology screen, they’ll find phenobarbital. It will make his story more plausible.”

“What about my mother? How will she get to the meeting point?”

“Branna will leave the bed and breakfast at cocktail time. She’ll make sure at least someone at the bed and breakfast sees her leaving without Jax.” Luis looks at mom and she nods her head in confirmation. “One of my men will pick her up and drive her to the rendezvous point on the river where you will be picking up the boat. Ziva and the nurse are all set for tomorrow night. They have practiced their drill multiple times over the past two weeks. Once Analia, Josh and Kevin arrive and Kevin gets into the electrical power network, Ziva will text the nurse from her cell phone that she has to leave in ten minutes. The nurse has already scheduled blood work for all three of the detainees tomorrow night. ”

“Luis, won’t it increase our risk by staying longer in New York State?” Josh intercepts the conversation.

“Yes and no. We’ve used the police van before and there was never any suspicion. Same thing with the crossing into Canada. We’ll be travelling via a fishing boat that is well known on the waters of Lake Ontario. There would be no reason to stop it. Our friend, Senator Cole, gave me the new procedure on prison escapes. All airports within a state where a prison escape occurs are immediately put on lock down. Everyone boarding either a private or commercial plane has to be screened by a law enforcement official. Those plans don’t extend to Canada, at least not yet. I want to put all of you on the plane at the same time whether than try the same plan twice. That would be tempting fate.”

Kevin asks quietly. “If Jax will be under such close scrutiny, how will he even run the media campaign?”

“I’ve brought all the computers with me at Luis’s request. I scoured my apartment to make sure there is nothing incriminating there. I shredded any document that could remotely implicate anyone and then I incinerated the scraps. Luis and his team will start the media campaign tomorrow night from a secure location, far away from all of us when they trace the ISBN number. If nothing else, it should freak them out that other parties are involved.”

Just then, Mr. Norona comes in with a platter of food and the conversation temporarily ceases. Luis follows his father back into the kitchen to help carry several more platters. Luis invites his father to sit with us, but he refuses. Mr. Norona blesses himself as he returns to the kitchen. Mom starts to hand around the platters as she asks Luis if his father is very religious.

“Yes he is. His parents taught him to pray in secret when he was growing up in communist Cuba. After the Cold War ended, Catholicism was more accepted in Cuba. He became more devout after my mother passed away. I haven’t told him any of our plans, but he has a well-honed sense of danger. His prayers have intensified the closer we get to tomorrow. My only regret is that I make him worry too much. He’ll be much happier when I marry and give him grandchildren.”

“You plan on doing that anytime soon?” Josh asks. Your father may be onto something.”

“Not in the immediate future. But I hope to within a few years. I promised my mother I would take care of him, not just physically but emotionally. He doesn’t need much, except people. He’ll be happier once I settle down. Now it is time for a toast.”

Luis raises his glass and the rest of the party follows suit.

“Think where man’s glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends.”

“Thank you Luis. Yeats is perfect.” Mom gives him a smile.

The six of us become silent again while eating. Mr. Norona outdid himself in the preparation of the meal. For a good ten minutes, all you can hear is the clinking of silverware against plates.

“Luis, I wish I had more time to learn how to cook Cuban food from your father.” Kevin helps himself to seconds as he speaks.

“I would take lessons with you.” Mom adds. “This is amazing. I am so nervous, I didn’t think I could eat; but the food is irresistible.”

“You will be back one day. I think this will end the reign of terror imposed by Halliday. It might take a few years, but we will get there. Josh, are you going to communicate with your dad at all about your plans?”

“I am leaving him a letter in Bent’s apartment. I hope he comes searching for clues. I told him Bent and Francesca were staying down at the beach, until the puppy was fully trained. I feel awful that I couldn’t confide in him. It was just too much of a risk. He might have said something to my mother in an effort to resolve this peacefully. I also didn’t have the heart to tell him about my mother’s personal involvement with Halliday. Luis, could you check in with him? I will give you his personal cell number.”

“Not a problem. I’ll try to intercept him when he is out for a walk. If he is lonely, I will take him here to see my father. They always got on well together.”

I ask the question that has been weighing on my mind for weeks. “What do you know about Dr. Morehouse? Is he involved in the underground? Indirectly, he has been very helpful, but he has never disclosed anything that would implicate his involvement in the movement. I meant to ask about him last Saturday, but I never got the chance.”

“Art Morehouse is a sleeper. He has kept an eye on what goes on at the Lucas Institute and worked with Josh’s father to keep everything aboveboard. Katharine never confided in him about the eugenics policy because she feared his moral indignance, but he knew about it from the beginning. It is why he joined the movement. He is absolutely brilliant. He also makes a great spy: he never gives anything away. We need him at the Institute to keep an eye on everything during this time. We have to protect his cover.” Mom answers.

“Do you know him personally Dr. Christiansen?” Kevin asks.

“I met him several times when he attended conferences on the West Coast. We met in secret with several others from the movement. When the Lucas Institute forced me to sign that agreement that Analia would work for them when she obtained her doctoral degree, he came to assure me that he would look out for her and protect her.”

“Why is he involved in the movement?” I have a suspicion that Dr. Morehouse has his own personal agenda for Katharine Lucas.

“He was married over ten years ago. His wife had antiphospholipid syndrome and had multiple miscarriages. She finally became pregnant, but her fetus carried a minor genetic abnormality. She lost the baby due to an induced abortion under the eugenics policy at eighteen weeks and committed suicide shortly afterwards. Art was devastated. ” The room falls into a shocked silence.

“Damn, I could kill my mother now. How has he been able to stomach my mother all these years? The human costs of my mother’s policies keep adding up. I think I will spend the rest of my life making amends for my mother.’

“You can’t think that way. It’s not your fault.” I give Josh’s hand a squeeze. “Luis, how do you see this playing out? Do you think there will be a criminal investigation into Lucas and Halliday?” I notice Jax and my mother quickly look at each other and then at Luis.

Jax jumps in to answer the question first. “The wheels of justice turn slowly. I think if the media campaign goes viral, there may be public riots. Too many civil rights have been progressively trampled. People have lost their homes, their jobs, their potential children and the right to due process. Public pressure will hopefully drive a congressional investigation. There will be initial blowback from the attorney general as he is on Halliday’s payroll.”

“Do you really think there will be riots?” Josh asks.

“There are a lot of disgruntled people out there. It is not in the mainstream media, but there are a lot of independent blogs circulating about the abuse of civil rights in this country. The authorities usually shut the blogs down in one to two days. The number of people looking for entrance into the underground movement is staggering. We’ve had to restrict admission for fear of spies from Halliday’s camp.”

“Can we learn the identity of the third detainee we are springing tomorrow night?” I raise the other question that has remained unanswered.

“Not yet. If we are successful tomorrow night, it will be a shocker when his identity is released. Most of the public believes he is dead.” Jax replies.

“What! Does that mean my brother could be alive?” Kevin looks visibly shaken.

“I don’t think so Kevin. We have been quietly investigating that on your behalf. We have an informant inside Halliday’s organization that told us about the public official. We made discreet inquiries about your brother but have not detected any information that he might be alive. What they did to this public official has to be the most outrageous act Halliday ever committed. You’ll recognize him if he makes it out tomorrow night. They went through an elaborate hoax to fool everyone he is dead. They paralyzed and sedated him, covered him in blood and made his family identify him in the morgue.” Luis explains.

“I think I know who you are talking about. Faking someone’s death is grotesque. I don’t understand why they did that. Why didn’t they just kill him?” Josh murmurs. “I heard my mother talking about his funeral about eight months ago. Something seemed off.”

Luis answers. “We believe he has information that Halliday desperately wanted. He was too powerful to throw in Rosewood on a trumped up charge. They needed him alive to get this information out of him. According to the nurse, they most likely succeeded. He is scheduled to be the first to receive the memory altering serum.”

Jax continues speaking. “Some of us connected to law enforcement have a theory. As you know, there was a massive terror attack over twenty years ago when Halliday was at the FBI. We believe that Halliday engineered it to establish martial law in this country at the time. He became extremely powerful as a result. It is one of the reasons why the current attorney general is indebted to him. Halliday is on track to become the next President. That kind of information would destroy him, not just his career. If this theory is true, he will be serving multiple life sentences in San Salvador.”

“Holy crap. No wonder he is so ruthless. The man is a monster.” Kevin blurts out.

“Is there any way we can help while in Brazil?” Josh asks.

Luis answers. “Try to stay alive and hidden. I would look into reproducing that antidote the doctor from Switzerland gave you. We may need it. I am giving you a satellite phone tomorrow night to communicate with you down there. I’ll keep you informed of what is happening here.” Luis stands up and starts stacking the dishes. Mom and I get up to help him. As if on cue, Mr. Norona comes in and makes a fuss that we are his guests and tells us to sit down. Luis and he carry the dishes to the kitchen.

“I guess we are set for the immediate future. I just hope everything goes according to plan.” Jax remarks.

“I really think you should come with us. Even if they find nothing to incriminate you, they could plant something on you.” Mom argues. “We’ll all swear that you had nothing to do with the escape from Rosewood in the future. If they succeed in convicting you, the whole point of staying here will be for nothing.”

“I agree with Branna. You should get on the plane with us.” Josh adds. Just then, Luis and Mr. Norona return with coffee and dessert.

Jax looks at mom. “I’ll think about it tonight.”

Luis convinces his father to stay for coffee. For the next half hour, Mr. Norona regales us with stories about growing up in Havana under Castro as well as stories about Josh and Luis in college. I remember that Josh had told me he had a good time in college. His face becomes animated as he relives stories of a simpler, happier time.

We finish our coffee and say our goodbyes to Mr. Norona. He blesses and hugs each of us. I start choking up as I say goodbye to my mother. I’m grateful that we are all leaving together, but I’ll feel a lot more secure once we are on the plane. A tear escapes from mom’s eyes and trickles down her cheek.

“No matter what happens, I love you Nali. You have every gift you need to succeed in this world.” Mom pulls me in and we stand there for several minutes crying softly.

“Mom, I love you so much. I am so grateful for everything you did for me.” Kevin looks upset by our exchange and Jax and Luis start conversing in low tones as Josh rubs my back.

“We should go before we dissolve in a puddle. It will work out, love.” Mom continues cradling me in her arms while Luis has a word with Jax. After a minute, they approach us.

“The three of you should exit through the front door. There is a tail outside. I want them to follow you so Jax and Branna can leave undetected.” Luis informs us.

Josh smiles at Luis. “Thanks Luis. So you will pick up Kevin at the martial arts gym tomorrow night?”

“That’s right. After we leave, I will swing around and pick you up.” Josh gives his best friend a man hug. Kevin also gives Luis a perfunctory hug. He then turns to mom and hugs her as well. I realize that Kevin’s twitch meter must be firing on all cylinders from the touching. Josh and Luis take a few minutes to speak privately. I stand between my mother and Kevin, but I can’t speak to my mother anymore. The lump in my chest is overpowering.

“You’re a good guy Kevin. I’m glad we’re friends.”

“Me too, Analia. I feel like I belong somewhere for the first time since I left my parent’s house.”

When Josh finishes speaking with Luis and comes towards us, I squeeze my mother’s hand. “I’ll see you tomorrow night. Jax, seriously reconsider leaving with us.”

“I will. Branna and I will talk on our way upstate. ”

“We should leave now. Jax and Branna need to get moving.” Josh says to Kevin and myself.

I give my mother one last, fierce hug and walk out the door. Mr. Norona hugs me on the way out. I’m using all my strength to contain my emotions. As we walk out the door, I throw my arm around Josh’s waist and bury my head in his shoulder. Kevin walks straight in front of us. Josh murmurs to both of us to smile and look natural. We board the loop and ride quietly back home. Kevin exits first and then Josh and I travel to his stop.

Josh directs me to a quiet, all night coffee shop and we sit down in a booth. “We need to talk and I want privacy. Sadly, we have to go to a coffee shop to do it. How are you holding up?”

“It was difficult saying goodbye to my mother. But, I am ready for tomorrow. The one thing I can’t get my head around is the prospect of leaving someone behind, especially my father. The thought alone makes my heart hurt. I changed the subject when Luis brought it up because I don’t want to overanalyze it. Luis is right; we will have to keep moving no matter what happens tomorrow.”

“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. I love you Analia. I won’t leave you behind tomorrow night if I have to strap you to my back and run with you. You changed my life, for the better. Thanks to my mother, I was so cynical before I met you that first day. You made me believe in something good again.”

I start crying again. “I’m so grateful I met you. You changed my life as well. I never felt so alive before. We’ll carry each other through tomorrow night.’

“Well, it has been a crazy few months. You have unlocked the key to the treatment of pedophilia, learned aikido, learned how to shoot a gun and fell in love with a guy from a highly dysfunctional family.”

“Yes, but I still can’t do the New York Times crossword puzzle in one sitting.” I say with a laugh.

“It is always good to have future goals. Let’s go home. I just want to hold you for the rest of the night.” Josh tenderly kisses the tip of my nose and leave money on the counter for the waitress. We hold hands back to his apartment.

Once in the apartment, I follow Josh wordlessly into his bedroom. He kisses my neck softly as we undress. Neither one of us wants to talk, especially about tomorrow. It is useless to worry; it would be like trying to solve a trigonometry problem by chewing bubble gum.

The next day will forever remain hazy in my memory. If I am asked in the future to describe my last day of work at the Institute, my memory would fail me for the first time. I am aware of Kevin staying glued to my side and Josh watching over the two of us. I meet with Dr. Morehouse to go over our report. Dr. Morehouse vaguely mentions starting on the other genes the following week, but his words are hollow. At the conclusion of the meeting, he wishes us a safe weekend and dismisses the whole team early. Jacki asks me if I want to get together over the weekend and I tell her I will call her for brunch on Sunday. I feel terrible about lying.

With the extra time we have, Josh decides we will go home, change our clothing and then meet up with Kevin at his martial arts studio. Kevin is visibly relieved that we are joining him. After dropping Kevin at his dorm, we catch the loop. I give the Institute one last look before we leave.

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