With the mysterious piece of paper securely tucked into my left front pocket, I approached the coffee shop excited and anxious to hear Allison’s news. Unfortunately, two of the last people I wanted or expected to see stepped out of the coffee shop with their usual air of superiority.
Sophie and Jessica flung their hair in unison, adjusting to the cool autumn breeze. I tried the old Jedi mind trick and willed them to walk in the opposite direction. Did Sophie know about that night with her sister Camille? I certainly didn’t want to find out, especially right in front of Allison. The double shot of embarrassment would be too much to take.
I slowed my pace and waited for them to make their move. For a moment, it looked like I would escape unnoticed, but my powers of mental persuasion had failed.
“Hey, Trenton,” Jessica said with the slightest of giggles suggesting an inside joke.
“Camille says hi,” Sophie continued. “Who knew you were the big man on campus.” They both laughed, which in my mind meant one thing: Camille had ratted me out.
I tried to muster a witty reply, but my tongue was vacationing with my powers of mental persuasion. They brushed past me, snickering all the way. I stopped and shook my head, trying to regain my composure. I spotted Allison with her back to the window. Good god, I thought, that bitch Sophie better not have said anything to her.
I immediately sensed something wasn’t right when I reached her table. She had a pensive look and only half-smiled upon seeing me. I tried to kiss her but was waved off.
“There are too many people around ... too much PDA.”
“That never bothered you before.”
“I just have something on my mind.”
“Okay, tell me. Actually, tell me what happened in your meeting this afternoon.”
“Well, I don’t want to jinx it, but there’s a good chance of going back to observe Crimson James.”
“That’s great. You should be happy, right?”
“Of course I’m happy, but the final decision won’t come down until next week.”
“Okay, that’s good news. So what’s got you down? Did I do something wrong?”
This was a bold approach, especially since Sophie and Jessica had just left, but I figured we might as well get it out of the way. Allison lifted her eyes and studied me as if I were a wet dog she loved but didn’t want to rub against.
“First, I know you’re tired of me asking, but have you given any more thought to opening your Past Lives Letter?”
“I just need to know because it will make all the difference.”
“I thought we’d gone through all of this before?”
“We have, but things have changed.”
“In what way?”
“Then answer this, have you found out anything about your birth-parents?”
“Why?” I was growing irritated by the cryptic questioning.
“Matt said your birth-father was accused of treason. Is that true?”
Of course he told her, that bastard. I could only imagine what was going through Allison’s mind having heard this combined with the Colonel’s skepticism.
“I don’t know if it’s true. He may have, but what does that have to do with me? I’m not my father, you know?”
“It means a lot, actually. I now understand why my father has forbidden me from seeing you.”
“He what? He can’t do that. What country does he think this is?”
“He’s only looking out for me, Trenton.”
“I know, but he can’t prove it unless he knows something I don’t. And the only way he could know something like that is if he broke the law and accessed classified information.”
“He didn’t actually tell me why he forbade me. He just said I can’t see you anymore. I just assumed it had something to do with your birth-father after what Matt said.”
“I think your father’s a snoop and a no-good bastard. Both he and Matt can go to hell.”
“Don’t be like that,” she said, tearing up. “You can fix all of this by simply opening your letter –“
“And finding out about my birth-parents, right?” I interjected. “The only problem is I tried to research them, but there isn’t any public information available.”
“What about your letter?”
“I’m not going to open it, Allison ... not at the point of a gun.”
She began to cry. I couldn’t believe it, but amidst my fury, I still wanted to take her in my arms. I didn’t, though, and watched her stand up.
“Then I guess we’re through for good,” she exclaimed. “I hope you find whatever it is you’re looking for ... or never have to face whatever it is you’re hiding from.”
After that stunning statement – the second fortune cookie of the day – Allison stepped out of my life, yet again. This time, however, I had the awful feeling it was for good.
I stepped out of the coffee shop replaying the conversation in my mind. Despite my frustration at the whole situation, especially those things that were out of my direct control – like the Colonel – I empathized with her. She had a lot of pressure on her shoulders and was dealing with it the best way she knew.
Sure, part of it was self-inflicted, but that was because she was trying to live up to the standards her parents had instilled in her. And when I actually scrutinized the situation, I had to admit that I wasn’t helping much with my defiant attitude. Still, this wasn’t a one-way street and I had my reasons for acting the way I did.
As I ran the conversation through the mill one more time, I spotted a familiar face across the street and froze. Eye Patch stood in front of a pastry shop and glared at me.
“I thought I’d find you here,” he yelled sinisterly and crossed the street.
What the hell did that mean, I wondered, as my mind turned into overdrive and processed my options. However, before I could blink, a lightning bolt of adrenaline shot through my veins and the tunnel vision sprang into action quicker than it ever had before.
Eye Patch closed in and I took off in the opposite direction. I glanced back expecting to be tackled any moment or feel his hand to grab my shoulder, but he must’ve been injured during our last encounter and ran with a limp.
Thank god, I thought, and darted across the street toward a park. Unfortunately, beyond the hedges, Spider and the rest of the hooligans emerged licking their chops. I’d been set up. They must’ve known I would run this way.
I quickly ran back across the street and toward the river. The pack was gaining on me and I wondered if they had also anticipated this direction. Was another set of thugs waiting just ahead? I had no choice but to find out and cut through a commercial walkway, down an alley, and spotted the riverbank. Their footsteps and my pounding heart rang loud and clear as I dropped down a riverside bluff leading to a wooded area near the water.
Wondering how they knew I’d be here was the last thing that ran through my mind when I blacked out...
It was dark when I came to. The soft trickling waves expanded and retracted against my arm. The cool sensation scared me at first and I jumped back, but immediately winced. My stomach hurt, but upon closer inspection, I realized it was my ribs. They didn’t seem broken so I rolled over and propped myself onto one knee.
I couldn’t tell, but it looked like four bodies were scattered across the riverbank. What in the hell had happened, I wondered, and suddenly hoped they weren’t dead.
I cautiously crawled closer and turned the nearest one over. It was Spider and he was bleeding from the mouth. I sighed and felt for his pulse ... he was alive and I exhaled.
I moved to the next guy, who had a huge gash across his forehead. This whole crazy thing reminded me of video game. I checked him and he too had a pulse. I turned, readying myself for the next inspection when one of them grunted.
“You son of a bitch,” a raspy voice sounded. It came from Eye Patch, who was half in the water. “You should’ve finished the job because I’m gonna kill you one of these days.”
I didn’t bother checking on the fourth guy and picked myself up. I scanned for the nearest exit and started climbing the hill.
“Come back here, you bastard,” Eye Patch shouted, unable to get up.
I reached the top of the bank and headed toward the commercial district. This whole situation was definitely out of control. I sure hoped my next session with the psychologist would answer some brewing questions. However, first things first: I needed to get home and clean up, but more importantly, I needed to get online regardless of the consequences.
I fished Number Nine’s piece of paper out of my pocket. Fortunately, the water hadn’t caused the ink to bleed. At least this part of the equation was in my control. I just hoped these breadcrumbs led to the truth and not another dead end.