***author’s note: warning: there’s some slightly suggestive photos and language.***
10:37 a.m. | Downtown Bayville
By the time Aislyn gets to The Sentinel, everyone’s too engrossed in their work to notice her late arrival. Just as she’s about to sit at her desk, Minah grabs her by the arm and pulls her back out to the parking lot. “Come with me.” She says, and Aislyn follows her lead wordlessly. “Aren’t you going to ask where we’re going?” Minah asks as she enters her van. Aislyn shrugs as she slides into the passenger seat. “To be honest, I don’t really care.” She answers. After hearing herself, Aislyn realizes how rude she sounds. She expects Minah to be upset, but when she turns to look at her, all Aislyn sees is a smirk. “I like you.” Minah says, and Aislyn relaxes slightly. She realizes she needs to be more careful and not let her issue with J.D. seep into her other relationships; she already almost soured things with Kim at breakfast.
Minah takes off down the road towards the more bustling downtown area, and pulls into a gas station after a few minutes’ drive. “Need to fill up really quick. Mind if we have a chat while we wait?” She asks. Aislyn shakes her head and follows her out. “So…” Minah begins as they make their way towards some outdoor seating, “I was thinking about what Silva mentioned at our last meeting about the Phillips’ company rising to power so quickly. It made me curious as to what their competition at the time have to say about that.” “Makes sense.” Aislyn says. “So I scheduled some appointments with some offices of different construction companies in and around the city. That’s where we’ll be going today… unless you have a problem with that?”
“I don’t.” Aislyn says. If anything, she was grateful for the distraction to keep her occupied. She didn’t know if Axel had another outing planned for them, and wasn’t sure she’d be able to properly focus if he did; this seemed the preferable way for her to spend the day. “But why me?” Aislyn asks after her thoughts drift to Axel. “Well, Axel can be so… well, you know, insufferable at times. And as for Randall… even though Silva put us together, I’m not asking him.”
The way Minah emphasizes the last word makes Aislyn turn to take in her face. To her surprise, there’s an incredible blush blazing over Minah’s cheeks and Aislyn wonders if something happened between them. She decides not to ask. Minah clears her throat. “Anyway that-” “Leaves only me?” Aislyn finishes for her. “Well, when you put it like that it sounds negative, but yeah.”
They take a seat and Minah looks at her curiously. “What?” Aislyn asks. Again, sounding harsher than she intends to. “Oh, nothing.” Minah says nonchalantly. “It’s just… every time I look at you, I still feel that odd familiarity I did when I first met you.” “Oh.” Aislyn says unsure of what to say to that. She notices a smudge on her glasses and takes them off to clean on the edge of her sweater. “Well, I’m fairly certain we’ve never met-” “Hold on a sec.” Minah says, cutting Aislyn off.
“Keep your glasses off.” She commands. “Turn towards me for a sec.” Minah continues and Aislyn looks at her questioningly, but obliges. “Push your bangs out of your face.” “Is there a point to all this?” Aislyn asks, continuing to follow Minah’s requests. “That’s it!” Minah exclaims. “It finally hit me. I remember what it is.” “Care to share?” Aislyn asks, still not following. “Axel.” Minah states. “Axel?” Aislyn echoes. “You look just like his muse or whatever. The person he always draws in his sketchbook. That’s where I feel like I’ve seen you from.”
Aislyn’s mind races back to when she’d gone to Axel’s place. She had absentmindedly reached for his sketchbooks only to be pulled back before she could glance at a page. At the time she’d assumed it was because perhaps there were private things in there that he didn’t want to share. Or, that contrary to his appearance, Axel was someone who got embarrassed about things like that. But if what Minah was saying was true, maybe there was another reason…
Aislyn’s train of thought is interrupted by her phone ringing. “Speak of the devil…” She mutters once she sees the name glowing on the screen. “No way, is it him?” Minah asks excitedly. “He’s probably wondering where I went since we’re supposed to be paired together and all.” Aislyn slides the phone back into her pocket. “Aren’t you going to answer that?” Minah furrows her brow. “No, I’d rather not.”
At her answer Minah makes no attempt to hide her disappointment, and Aislyn wonders if she was expecting an awkward confrontation, or at the very least, a question for Axel regarding what she’d just shared. Aislyn had no intention of doing either. “And I’d appreciate you not mentioning what you told me to anyone else.” “That’s no fun, but fine.” Minah says after taking a moment to pout. Aislyn rises from the table, signaling the end of their discussion. “Let’s go.” She says.
If Aislyn was searching for something to take her mind off of J.D, then Minah surely delivered. As they go from office to office, Aisyn lets Minah do most of the talking, only helping when needed. The rest of the time her thoughts swirl around Axel. The more she thought about it, the angrier she got. The fact that he had no issue showing Minah his drawings meant he was definitely hiding something.
Aislyn had no doubt in her mind that the person Minah was referring to was probably his missing friend Tris, not her. But if their resemblance was so uncanny that even Minah made an association between them, why didn’t Axel just show her his sketches when she voiced her curiosity as to how Tris looked. Instead, she distinctly remembers Axel tensing up and remaining quiet. As she thinks about it more and more, a sense of unease begins to blossom in Aislyn’s gut.
“Well, thanks for tagging along with me today.” “No problem. Not sure I helped much.” Aislyn shrugs. When she wasn’t thinking about Axel or J.D. she did notice all the people Minah had scheduled appointments with were either awkward while answering, or reluctant to answer, her questions. That only meant one thing: Minah was onto something. “Nonsense, you did. Plus I liked having you around.”
Aislyn figures now is as good a time as any to ask Minah what happened between her and Randall, but she’s interrupted by her phone yet again. Her expression softens when she sees the caller ID. “Hey, Mackenzie.” Aislyn says once she answers. Minah who was trying to be discreet at her attempts to listen in, seems to slump her shoulders when she hears a female voice on the other end.
“Hey Aislyn, is now a bad time?”
“No, it’s perfect. Why?”
“Well, I’d hate to impose… but that party is getting closer and I-”
“Still don’t have something to wear!” Aislyn finishes, remembering their failed shopping attempt. “I’m so sorry, I forgot all about it.” She continues. “Don’t apologize!” Mackenzie says, “I feel bad for bothering you.” “You’re not bothering me.” Aislyn says softly. “I’ll talk to my step-mom as soon as I can, and we can arrange a day and time to go out altogether.”
“Sounds good! Well, I’m on my way to work now, so I’ll talk to you later! Bye, Aislyn!”
“Bye, Mackenzie.” Aislyn slips her cell back into her pocket and makes a mental note to talk to Nicole if her crowded head allows her to remember…
5:09 p.m. | Cailean’s Office
Cailean was hoping a bit of fresh air would help clear his mind, but after letting the outdoor breeze blow over him for a few minutes, he feels just as frustrated as he had when he’d arrived at the office. With a sigh, he makes his way back to his desk. The day was already over, but he couldn’t bring himself to leave since he wasn’t as productive as we wanted to be.
Cailean gazed at his phone every hour expecting to hear from Aislyn, Chad, or Mai and didn’t receive any updates from all of them. He knew reaching out to them first could help put his mind at ease and ensure a response, but it went against his nature to be pushy. And so, Cailean would continue to wait.
A knock on his door draws his attention away from his screen. He sees Mr. Polański through the glass and nods at him. “Cailean, good, you’re still here.” “Mr. Polański.” Cailean says in acknowledgement, “How can I help you?” Mr. Polański clears his throat and gestures behind him. Cailean notices the hair he normally wears back limply is cut and styled, indicating to Cailean Mr. Polanski’s guest was someone he wanted to impress. “This is Ms. Diana Christenson, current DA of Ravensburg.”
On cue, a woman enters wearing a rather cold expression. “Of course, I’m familiar.” Cailean says as he walks over to shake her hand. “I’m-” “Cailean DeCarlo.” Ms. Christenson interrupts. “I knew your father, Neil. He’s dearly missed. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Upon mention of his father’s name, Ms. Christenson cracks a small smile before her features return to an unreadable expression. “The feeling is mutual.” Cailean says.
“I’ll cut to the chase, I trust Filip has informed you that I plan on retiring soon.” “He has, yes.” Cailean says.
“Well, I don’t plan on vacating my spot without leaving a capable individual behind. Someone whose judgement and morality I can trust unequivocally.”
“Cailean is one of the most upstanding individuals we have, you can-”
“No disrespect, Filip, but I only trust character assessments that I’ve determined on my own, so you may hold the many fine praises I’m sure you have to say about Mr. DeCarlo here.” Mr. Polański drops the hands he raised to gesture towards Cailean, and gives a stiff nod. From the corner of his eye Cailean believes he sees a blush creep into his cheeks.
Cailean’s initial impression that Ms. Christenson appeared to be a cold person seems fairly on the mark. “If Mr. DeCarlo-” “Cailean is fine.” Cailean interrupts. Ms. Christenson’s eyes narrow slightly, and Cailean sees the corners of her mouth twitch, but whether to smile or frown, he’s unsure.
“If Cailean is indeed the right man for the job, then I won’t hesitate to let him know when the time is right. Until then, I suppose it goes without saying that I’ll be keeping an eye out.”
“Understood.” Cailean says. This time he sees Ms. Christenson crack a small smile. “Have a good evening then.” She says before exiting. Mr. Polański gives Cailean’s shoulder a pat before following her out.
Cailean returns to his desk in a daze. He felt he did a good job of keeping his cool, but something about Ms. Christenson unsettled him. He recalls Mr. Polański telling him that eventually a time would come when he’d need to consider his career trajectory, and it appeared that time was now. There was a chance Ms. Chistenson wouldn’t choose him, so he supposes he doesn’t have to worry about what-ifs until he has a solid offer in hand. As Cailean prepares to sort some emails as a distraction, his phone buzzes with a text from Mai.
My place. 7. Don’t be late.
6:17 p.m. | Kimberly’s Room
Kim lets her eyes flutter closed as Gus lets his hand drift across her arm and back. Kim begins mimicking him, letting her palm trace the muscles on his abs, trailing lower and lower before she feels Gus chuckle beneath her. “Easy. I have to go soon, and if you keep doing that, you’re going to make it hard for me to leave.” “What if I don’t want you to leave?” Kim teases. Gus uses his free hand to tilt her face towards his, and gives her a long kiss.
Shortly after returning home from Bayville, Gus had turned up at her door with dinner. Kim had planned to put away all of the things she’d bought, and call her mother who was away on business, but his arrival had thrown a wrench into that plan. A very welcomed wrench. Gus pulls her closer to him, deepening his kiss as he does so, and after a moment they break away, leaving Kim breathless. Her heart starts hammering in her chest.
“Believe me, I don’t want to either, but if I don’t show up for whatever shenanigans my parents have going on at the house, and play the part of a dutiful son in a loving family… it’s just not worth the trouble afterwards.”
“I know.” Kim says softly. She pulls her arm back and Gus reaches for it, moving his fingers from her elbow to her wrist. “You know, when it’s over… you could come over and show me that bathing suit you got today that you were telling me about.”
“Hmm, that sounds like a good plan.”
“Great, so I’ll-”
“But,” Kim interrupts, “I can’t. Mai texted me. Says she needs to clear her head. So we’re meeting up with Lexi and Amber and hanging out later.”
“Hanging out where?”
“Can’t? Or Won’t?” Gus cocks an eyebrow. “I think you know the answer to that.” Kim says with a wink, “Our evening swim will have to be another day.” “Shame.” Gus says with a sigh as he climbs off of her bed.
He begins retrieving his scattered clothes and putting them on, and Kim lets her mind drift back to her day in Bayville. “You know, your stare isn’t helping.” Gus says, drawing her out of her thoughts. “I’m not staring, I’m thinking.” “About?” Gus asks as he buckles his belt.
“I didn’t just go to Bayville today to shop… I went to check on Aislyn.”
“I figured.” Gus says unsurprised, “And? How was she?”
“I could tell she was trying to make it seem like she was faring better than she was. She’s pretty stressed with… several things she has going on.” Kim successfully stops herself from oversharing the specific details to Aislyn’s worries. “I don’t think Cailean knows…” Kim continues. “He and Aislyn are different in a lot of ways, but one glaring similarity they have is that they’re both too considerate for their own good. They’ll keep tiptoeing around any issues until it’s too late and one of them – probably Cailean – snaps. We need to give them a push so they make some progress.”
“We?” Gus repeats amused.
“Actually, that’s what I was thinking about. I already tried talking to Aislyn and I don’t think I helped much, so we should talk to Cailean instead. And by we, I mean you.”
“Do you, now?” Gus smirks, “I don’t think that’s a good idea.” “Why not?” Kim asks excitedly as she rolls out of bed and walks over to him. “If I do, I feel like I’d be breaking Aislyn’s confidence in me, but there’s no harm in you saying something. You don’t have to be obvious about it.”
“Kim, even though Aislyn and I had a chat about she and Cailean’s relationship, he and I have yet to acknowledge it at all. And I know Cailean well enough to know that it’s because a part of him still feels bad even though I told him I’d be cool with it.”
“So?” Kim asks.
“So, I’m the last person he probably wants to talk to.”
“Fine. Then at the very least check in on him. He’s still your best friend, isn’t he? Just because you aren’t living together anymore, and haven’t been keeping in touch as much, that hasn’t changed.”
“Yeah…” Gus sighs, “You’re right.”
“I know.” Kim says triumphantly.
She begins combing through her drawer to select an outfit for her outing with the girls while Gus continues to get dressed behind her. “Have fun at your dinner or whatever.” Kim says over her shoulder as she begins making her way towards her bathroom. “Hey, aren’t you forgetting something?” Gus asks as he grabs her by the elbow and spins her around, causing her to drop some of the garments she’s holding.
“Hey!-” Kim’s interrupted by Gus covering her lips with his. She smiles beneath his mouth and lets the remainder of the clothes in her arms fall to the floor as she draws him closer to her…
7:02 p.m. | Mai & Chad’s Apartment
Cailean taps his foot anxiously as he waits for Mai to answer the door. He wasn’t sure whether she was still upset with him for lying to her on Chad’s behalf or not, but he supposes he’ll soon find out. “You’re late.” She says once she answers the door. Yup. She’s still mad. He thinks. “Sorry.” He mutters. “You look great.” He says once he takes in her appearance. “Flattery will get you nowhere, DeCarlo.”
With an exaggerated sigh, Mai moves to let him enter. “Well, don’t just stand there. Come on in.” “Right.” Cailean enters and Mai shuts the door. “I looked into what you asked.” She says as they make their way towards the living room. “And?” Cailean asks. “And when I looked up the name Michael Bates in our database, there were zero results.” “Really?” Cailean was expecting Mai’s search to go either way, but still couldn’t contain his surprise. He’d been hoping something would turn up.
“You didn’t let me finish.” Mai says, picking up on his tone. “Nothing showed up when I searched our computers, but I decided to make a trip to our physical records department just to be sure…” Mai sits down on the couch and Cailean joins her. “And I found these.” She pushes a manila folder towards him. Cailean reaches for it and begins scanning its contents. “Needless to say, I found what’s inside to be quite… suspicious.” Mai says.
As Cailean takes in the documents of the folder, he learns they are medical records of a Michael Bates, age 37. “That means someone went out of their way to wipe details about this guy from your system.” He says, and Mai nods. “In a nutshell, those papers show a history of hospitalizations for someone named Michael Bates every few weeks until about two years ago. Then the visits stopped. As to where he is or what happened to him, I wouldn’t be able to tell you.”
Cailean nods gravely, the wheels in his head turning. “What about mentions of family?” His eyes scan the pages for names, seeing none beyond Michael’s. “Nothing.” Mai says. “But it can’t be a coincidence that this person has the same last name as the Phillips’ maid, right?” She adds while furrowing her brows in concern. “That’s my line of thought exactly…” Cailean says.
“Well, you’re more than welcome to read over those as much as you’d like, but they can’t leave. If anyone finds out I took them out, I’d be-” “I know.” Cailean says, “Thank you, Mai.” “No problem, Cailean.” Mai smiles and it seems genuine. Cailean relaxes slightly since it appears she wasn’t holding a grudge any longer. “Look, about yesterday… I’m sor-” “Don’t bother.” Mai says, cutting him off. “I know you were only trying to be a good friend. It’s not fair I take my anger with Chad’s mistakes out on you.” Mai says, dropping her head into her hands.
“Well, maybe so. But that doesn’t make me feel any less guilty.” Cailean says. He notices she uses the word mistakes, plural, along with the hurt in her voice as she says it. Before he can say anything else, the sound of keys rattling in the door breaks the momentary silence between them. Mai bolts upright once she hears the front door open. “I’m heading out to meet up with the girls. Don’t forget to leave that here.” She says. Cailean nods.
Chad comes into view and raises his eyes in surprise when he sees them on the couch. “Cailean, hey. What are you doing here?” He asks. “He asked me for a favor.” Mai says, crossing her arms over her chest. “But we’re done, so I’m heading out.” She rises and begins making her way over to him. Though Chad’s voice is calm, and his expression cool, Cailean notes he takes a slight involuntary step backwards. “Where to?” Chad asks and Mai laughs bitterly. Cailean is both impressed and slightly fearful of how quickly her demeanor, which was quite pleasant a few moments ago, has changed.
“You don’t feel the need to tell me where you go, so why should I?”
“I already told you, I-”
“¡Deja tus pendejadas!” Mai raises her voice and Cailean suddenly feels like a very awkward forgotten spectator. He pretends to be engrossed in the papers beside him. Chad’s expression softens, “Mai…” “Don’t wait up.” She says icily. “Bye, Cailean.” The sweetness in her tone with him makes Cailean feel for Chad. “Bye…” Cailean utters in awe. After turning to retrieve a clutch from an armchair, Mai turns on her heel and slams the front door without another glance at either of them.
Chad saunters over to the chair Mai took her purse from and collapses onto the armrest. “Fuck…” He groans. Cailean lets out a low whistle and comes to a stop in front of him. “That was… something.” He says.
“No kidding, she’s playing mind games with me now. Heading out, wearing what she knows is my favorite outfit of hers, and not saying where to…”
”She’ll be with Kim and the others, so she’s fine.” Cailean says reassuringly.
“It’s not that I don’t trust her, or that I’m worried about her… I just feel bad I’ve made her so upset… and hurt.”
“Yeah, about that. Considering you partially roped me into this, I think it’s only fair you tell me what exactly happened.”
“Coffee first.” Chad says as he rubs his eyes beneath his glasses.
“Whenever you’re ready, I’m all ears.” Cailean leans against a counter in the kitchen after following Chad in, and lets his eyes drift across the series of pictures and notes pinned on the fridge. Once the coffee machine begins whirring, filling the air with the scent of coffee beans, Chad turns to face him. “Relationships as you’re probably rediscovering, my friend, can be difficult.” “What’s that supposed to mean?” Cailean asks. Chad gives him a tired smile. “Oh, please. You told Kim, Kim told Mai, Mai told me. You probably didn’t feel the need to share your exciting little development since Aislyn lives out of town now and all… Can’t say I didn’t see it coming from a million miles away, though. Congrats.”
Cailean feels a heat of embarrassment creep into his face, and clears his throat. “Right… Thanks.” The machine quiets and Chad turns back to it to pour the steaming brew into two mugs. He adds some milk and sets the cups on two saucers before making his way over to the dining table. Cailean follows him, eager to return to his tale.
“Aren’t you guys going on six years now? I’d have thought any possible issues you could have would be long resolved considering you’re still together.” Chad takes a sip from his cup and Cailean notices his tiredness immediately begin to ebb away.
“Mai and I have never really had issues, or arguments. Maybe little things here and there that come from our different habits, but nothing major. This… this current state we’re in is probably the most tense it’s ever gotten between us.”
“I have to get this out of the way now. Considering I’ve known Mai since long before I met you, if she dumps you, you must know where my loyalties lie.” Chad chuckles, but Cailean can tell it’s slightly strained. “Fair enough.” He says.
“Chad, that was meant to be a joke.”
“I know.” Chad says with a sigh, “But considering how poorly I’ve been handling everything, and how hot-tempered Mai can be… I wouldn’t put it past her to get fed up and-”
“Let me stop you there. Just what exactly did you do?”
“This.” Chad pauses to pull out a box from his pocket. He sets it on the table and opens the lid. “Woah.” Cailean says. His eyes widen upon taking in the rock lying inside, before darting back to Chad’s face. “I went to go and pick this up, and it took longer than I thought it would, so I came home late…” Chad begins.
“I normally get home before Mai does, but we ended up arriving at around the same time. She asked me where I was, so I hastily just said I was with you. Everything was fine. My excuse sufficed, and I started cooking dinner while Mai went to change. About twenty minutes later she comes back in here and tells me she forgot she had an errand to do, still dressed in her scrubs, phone in hand. I thought it was odd, but I wanted to get the ring out of my pocket and hide it somewhere, so I didn’t say anything and she left. I thought she believed me, but that’s around the time I sent that text to you, just as a precaution.”
“You should’ve given me more details to your alibi, like a place for starters.” Cailean says.
“I didn’t expect her to dig that deep. Where’d you tell her we went?”
“Martha’s pub.” Cailean answers.
“I said the Crimson Restaurant & Bar.” Chad grins.
Cailean gives an apologetic smile. “So then what happened?”
“Then, she came home and gave me an earful. ‘How could you lie to me?’ ‘Where were you really?’ There were a string of insults and curses in Spanish… And I just sat there quietly, racking my brain for what to do next. There was no way in hell I was going to propose in that environment. Instead, I told her that I went to meet up with some of my old college buddies. Some I knew she wasn’t a fan of, and that that’s why I lied.”
“And Mai bought that?” Cailean asks raising his eyebrows.
“I don’t think so… It’s why she’s incredibly pissed.”
“I don’t know what to tell you… What you’re trying to do is both exciting and nerve-wracking.”
Chad pauses his drinking to give a shaky laugh. “Most of the next steps you try to take in life usually are…”
Thanks for reading! Did I promise this chapter would be short and sweet? Well, I lied. At least about the first part XD I ended up working on a last minute project that ate up all my time so this kept on getting delayed… and then avatar dropped on netflix so I spent the little free time I had rewatching it for the hundredth time, lol. For those of you suspecting Chad would be cheating: surprise! He doesn’t have an unfaithful bone in his body 😌 I’ll keep this ending short and just say hope everyone’s doing well!