SECOND PART RECAPS
***author’s note: It has been another three months… sorry about that! Thanks for being patient ❤ This is kind of lengthy chapter, a realllyyyy lengthy chapter, so buckle up~***
9:14 p.m. | Phillips Residence
The boldness Aislyn instilled in Cailean vanishes the second he reaches the Phillips’s doorstep. He’d hate to be on the receiving end of an unexpected visit like the one he was about to make, but figures it’s too late to turn back now. The answers he so desired were a knock away. He takes a breath and raises his knuckles to the door when it bursts open and a woman storms out, running into him. Cailean instinctively extends his arms to steady her after she crashes into his chest and stumbles. “Oh my.” The woman says. Her attention had been turned to something behind her as she was walking out, and she snaps her head around and clutches onto Cailean, the bag she was holding hitting the ground by his feet.
“Sorry about that.” She says as she raises her eyes to meet his. Cailean instantly recognizes her from his case files, she was Jacqueline Durand, the Phillips’s niece and current interim CEO of their company. “No worries, Mrs. Durand.” Cailean says as he bends down to hand her the fallen bag. “Have we met?” She asks, taking a step back and eyeing him questioningly. “No, but I’m the prosecutor that’s been tasked with the recent incident, so I’m familiar with your family. I’m here to speak with your uncle and-” At the mention of Walter, Mrs. Durand’s face sours, “Good luck with that.” She scoffs, “Jo, let’s go!” Mrs. Durand says as she begins taking off towards the driveway. “I’m afraid we may have put him in a bad mood.” She says over her shoulder.
Another woman appears in the doorway holding a child at her hip. It’s a face Cailean doesn’t recognize, but from her strong resemblance to Mrs. Durand, he assumes she’s her sister. “You can say that again.” The sister chimes in. “Is there a problem, girls?” Walter’s voice echoes from inside and the three of them turn their attention to the sound. “I heard…” Walter’s voice trails off as his eyes meet Cailean’s. “Mr. DeCarlo, to what do I owe the pleasure?” From the way Walter emphasizes the last word, it was very apparent to Cailean that his surprise visit was anything but. “You’re a hard man to get a hold of.” Cailean says, running a hand through his hair to ease some of his nerves. Walter chuckles but Cailean feels uneasy at the sound. “Do come in.” Walter says, “Goodbye, girls.” He adds and Cailean notices that Mrs. Durand stalks off without a word, while her sister utters a goodbye under her breath and scurries after her.
“Now, then. Can I get you anything-” “Why have you decided to drop all the charges?” Cailean interrupts. Walter hangs his head and laughs once again, “So you’re the type to jump straight into business I see.” Cailean doesn’t bother responding and keeps his gaze focused on Walter. He wasn’t as good a people-reader as his mother, but working for as long as he has did allow him to pick up on a few things. Walter’s current reluctance to meet his eyes being an example. With an exaggerated sigh Walter answers. “Yes, Heidi explicitly told me she wishes to be done with this whole spectacle, and I also felt it best to move on-” “I’d like to hear this from her directly.” Cailean says. Walter’s head snaps up and Cailean senses some anger in his expression.
“My wife is asleep at the moment.” Walter grits his teeth as he answers. “And, I don’t see why you felt the need to show up here when I’m sure this information was already relayed to you.” He adds. “I take my work seriously, Mr. Phillips. I’m not the type to move on from a case I’ve invested in if I don’t have proper closure.” Walter frowns. “Yes, well tomorrow perhaps we can-” If you wait any longer, I’ll guarantee you’ll probably receive a well rehearsed response. Aislyn’s words echo in Cailean’s head as Walter speaks. He hated being forceful, but Cailean knew he needed to steel his resolve if he was going to get any answers. “…besides, Heidi hates being disturbed from her beauty rest-” “I’ll apologize profusely for my intrusion when I see her.” Cailean says sternly. Walter appears to figure out that Cailean has no intention of leaving and shakes his head. “Desmond.” He calls out. The Phillips’s assistant emerges from the kitchen. “Yes?” “Keep Mr. DeCarlo company while I wake Heidi.” “Right.” Desmond says. He gestures to a dining chair and Cailean nods and takes a seat as Walter makes his way upstairs.
Once he thinks Walter is out of earshot, Cailean speaks. “Mr. Marseille, that note-” “Don’t!” Desmond interjects in a low voice. He places a hand on his forehead and gives a low, weary, sigh. “Just, don’t.” He continues. Desmond’s reaction only served to fuel Cailean’s curiosity and he presses on. “I figured it was important, but-” “It doesn’t really matter anymore.” Desmond says with tired eyes. “What’s that supposed to mean?” Cailean asks. Desmond clenches his jaw but says nothing more, and Cailean feels a bit of his frustration bubble to the surface. “Look, if you know something, something that could help, then you should-” “Help?” Desmond repeats. “Help what, exactly? Last I heard, Mr. Prosecutor, you no longer have a case.”
Cailean opens his mouth to protest, but before he can utter a word, Walter’s voice rings from upstairs. “Heidi will see you now, Cailean.” Cailean doesn’t have it in him to be annoyed at Walter’s drop in formality and keeps his eyes focused on Desmond who rises without another word and gestures towards the stairs. Knowing he’d make no progress in their conversation, at least for the moment, Cailean ascends the steps without saying anything more.
Walter begins walking down a hallway once Cailean comes into view, and Cailean follows. At a door near the end of the hall, Walter turns on his heel. “My wife is sensitive about her appearance, I’m sure you know how women can be.” “Right…” Cailean says, confused as to why Walter felt the need to say that. “After you.” Walter says. Cailean steps past him and knocks lightly on the door. “Mrs. Phillips, I’m coming in now.” When Cailean pushes the door forward, he’s greeted by Mrs. Phillips’s back. “Sorry to disturb your evening.” He says as he enters. “Are you?” Mrs. Phillips snaps, her voice quiet and hoarse. “I am.” Cailean says calmly.
When Mrs. Phillips makes no move to turn and face him, an understanding of Walter’s comment clicks into place for Cailean. “Well?” She says. Surely she didn’t intend to have a conversation like this. “Why are you here?” Mrs. Phillips presses on, and Cailean realizes that is exactly what she plans to do. He takes a step forward and sighs. “I’m afraid I can’t just drop what I’ve been working on, unless I hear the reasoning directly for myself.” “What more reason do you need?” Mrs. Phillips continues to speak to the window, and Cailean supposes he has no right to feel irritated considering he did show up unannounced.
He does his best to speak gently and attempts to smile, “Most people who’ve been injured as you and your husband have don’t usually let things go like this.” “What can I say? We have big hearts.” Cailean hears a quiet snicker behind him, nearly forgetting that Walter was still in the doorway. He’d hoped that Mrs. Phillips would be a tad more reasonable and conversable than her husband, but it appeared as though the two were peas in a pod. Cailean’s smile falters, he suspects any efforts he’d make to get an answer of substance would be futile. “If that’s all then I shall be returning to bed.” Mrs. Phillips voice is a near whisper. Cailean grits his teeth and turns towards the door. “My apologies for wasting your time.” He says over his shoulder.
As he makes his way out, Walter halts him by placing a hand on his shoulder. “No need to work so hard, son. If anything we did you a favor.” Cailean shrugs out of Walter’s grasp. “I’m so grateful.” He says sarcastically. Walter laughs and steps into his bedroom. “I trust you can find your way out.” And with that, he shuts the door. Cailean stalks down the hallway angrily. To call this visit fruitless felt like an understatement. Cailean feels his phone buzz in his pocket. He pulls it out expecting it to be a follow-up from Aislyn, but is surprised to see it’s from Gus instead.
As he texts his replies, making his way down the steps, he notices Desmond is nowhere to be seen. Cailean slides his phone back into his pocket and walks out of the front door feeling more frustrated than he had been when he arrived.
– THE NEXT DAY –
5:54 p.m. | Ravens Plaza
After getting the okay from Nicole, Aislyn had given Mackenzie a head’s up to know that they’d be able to take her shopping in Ravensburg whenever she was ready. Mackenzie had excitedly called her in the night to say that she’d be available the next day. And so, after a rather uneventful work day in which she and Minah once again successfully evaded Axel and Randall at the office, Aislyn had picked Mackenzie up from school with Nicole, and beelined towards Ravensburg to make it in good time before the post-work traffic. The trip was still fairly long, but felt short with Mackenzie excitedly asking Nicole questions about her modeling days. Aislyn was also intrigued at the things Nicole had to say, surprised at some of the stories she’d share.
It was a refreshingly warm day despite the sunless sky. Ravensburg was as bustling and lively as it has been every other time Aislyn has come. After parking in a garage downtown, they walk into a nearby plaza to plan their course of action. “You sure you don’t want one?” Aislyn asks Nicole, extending the ice cream she and Mackenzie had just bought from a stand at the entrance. “No, dear. At my age little things like that get me bent out of shape quick.” Aislyn opens her mouth to argue what the harm a single treat could do, when her phone buzzes in her pocket, distracting her.
“Cailean?” Nicole says as she takes a seat at a fountain they approach. “How’d you know?” Aislyn asks. “Your face is fairly easy to read.” Nicole says, attempting to suppress her grin. “Who’s Cailean?” Mackenzie asks, eyes wide and sparkling with curiosity. Aislyn feels a blush forming and sits down beside Nicole, returning her phone into her pocket. “My boyfriend.” She answers, taking a bite of her strawberry frozen dessert. “You aren’t going to answer?” Nicole says disapprovingly. “It’s no big deal, I’ll talk to him later.” Aislyn says. She figured Cailean was finally going to fill her in on how his evening went. She’d texted him in the morning and never received a reply.
Mackenzie sits on Nicole’s other side with a giggle. “What’s he like?” She asks. Aislyn feels her face grow redder. “I’m not the best at expressing myself, but he’s always so patient and understanding with me.” Aislyn says after taking a moment to think. “He’s incredibly kind and intelligent. I…” As Aislyn lets her eyes wander across the plaza, a familiar face in the distance makes her thoughts trail off. “Hang on a second.” She says, handing her treat to Nicole. “I see someone I know.” Aislyn begins making her way across the grass before Mackenzie and Nicole have a chance to comment, and steps into a park. Sure enough, she sees Jo, the girl who’d helped her and Kim after their plunge in the Oldmerrow River a few months back. In her arms is a little girl. Aislyn wonders if she’s babysitting since Jo appeared too young to already be a mother.
“Jo.” She says as she draws nearer. “Aislyn, hey!” Jo says excitedly. She scoops up the young girl she was playing with and rushes to Aislyn’s side, pulling her into a one-armed hug. “Hi.” Aislyn says with a laugh, returning her embrace. “Who’s this?” She asks, gesturing to the toddler who giggles at their movement. “This is my niece, Joy. I’m stuck babysitting while my sister deals with work. Would you like to hold her?” Jo asks, extending her arms towards Aislyn who takes an involuntary step back. “Oh, no. I’m terrible with children.” She says hastily. “Is that so?” Jo questions, giving her a curious look. Aislyn nods, feeling a heat of embarrassment creep into her cheeks.
She was surprised at herself as the words escaped her lips. It wasn’t that Aislyn was bad with kids, the thought of them just terrified her for some inexplicable reason. “So, what brings you so far from Oldmerrow?” “Actually, I live in Bayville now.” Aislyn says.
“Oh, really. That’s exciting! I’ve not been there much. Why’d you move?”
“Initially my parents wanted me around after… what happened, but I’m working now.” Aislyn answers, and Jo nods in understanding. “I’m with my step-mom and a friend today though, we’re here to shop.” “You came to the right place, you’re right in the heart of the shopping district.” Jo says. “My step-mom knows her way around.” Aislyn smiles, “Have you been back to Oldmerrow since I’ve seen you?” “A few times.” Jo says, “My aunt and uncle have a house there.” Joy begins to squirm in her aunt’s arm and Jo sets her on the ground. “Okay, okay. Don’t make a fuss now.” She says.
“Next time you’re here, I’d love to grab a bite or something if you’d like.” Jo reaches into her pocket and pulls out her phone. “I’d like that too.” Aislyn says as she puts her contact info in and hands it back. “Awesome.” Jo says. Aislyn feels her phone buzz. “That’s me.” Jo says after giving her a missed call. Aislyn recalls Jo being reluctant to share much about herself, including her number, when they’d met and wonders if there was a reason for her change. “Well, my sister should be home any minute now, so I’m going to take this little one home.” “It was nice running into you.” Aislyn says. “The feeling is mutual.” Jo smiles. With a wave they walk off in opposite directions.
“Sorry, I finished your dessert. It was melting.” Nicole says as Aislyn walks towards her. “That’s fine.” Aislyn laughs. When she comes to a stop near the fountain, she notices Nicole and Mackenzie are beaming at her. “What?” She says hesitantly. “Nothing.” They answer simultaneously. “That doesn’t sound suspicious at all.” Aislyn raises an eyebrow. She notices that their arms are locked together and is pleased that Nicole and Mackenzie were getting along so well.
“Mackenzie and I were just discussing how we think you’ve gotten much prettier as of late.” Nicole states. Aislyn shakes her head at the unexpected compliment. “It’s true!” Mackenzie says at her reaction, “It must be because you’re in looove.” She says, teasingly drawing out the last word. “They say that’s what it does to you, right? Makes you prettier?” Mackenzie asks and Aislyn runs a hand through her hair in embarrassment. “You didn’t finish telling us about Cailean.” Nicole says, and Aislyn turns her gaze towards her.
“What’s up with you two? We came on a mission, remember?” Aislyn says, attempting to deflect their questioning and the subject altogether. “Who says we can’t multi-task?” Mackenzie pauses to hop up, “I don’t have people around me who I can talk about this kind of stuff with.” Though she says the words so nonchalantly, Aislyn feels a pang of sadness in her gut. “There’s always later, right?” She says in defeat and Mackenzie’s face breaks out into a brilliant smile. “That’s right.” Nicole says as she rises, “Now, it’s time for business.”
They follow Nicole who begins walking towards a street lined with stores. “Fear not.” Nicole says as she turns towards them in front of the door. “You’ll be leaving with nothing less than a knockout dress. Poor Drew won’t know what hit him.” At the mention of her crush’s name, Mackenzie blushes. She mumbles a thanks and rushes inside. Aislyn figures she must’ve filled Nicole in on the details of the party while she was speaking with Jo.
Aislyn places an arm on Nicole’s to halt her before stepping in. “Thanks for doing this.” She says genuinely. “Don’t thank me yet, the hard part’s only just begun!” Nicole answers. She intertwines her arm with Aislyn’s and pulls her through the door with a laugh that Aislyn joins in as they enter the bustling store.
6:17 p.m. | 24 Hour Gym
Cailean had spent the day off at home. He was sure there’d be more cases waiting for him to sort through, but knew he wouldn’t be as productive as usual after having the Phillips case scrapped the way it did. He spent the majority of the day developing some film from an old film camera that’d been sitting on his shelf. He’d become so engrossed by his prints that he nearly forgot about his agreement with Gus by the time 5:30 rolled around. Knowing he’d likely be late, he sends Gus a heads up text to let him know, and sees one from Aislyn that morning that he never replied to. When he’d gotten home last night, Stan had asked for his help repairing a landscape light in the yard. Feeling drained, he went to bed shortly afterwards without filling her in. Cailean decides to give Aislyn a call, but reaches her voicemail. She should be done with work by now… maybe something came up. He thinks.
By the time Cailean arrives at the gym, he finds Gus waiting for him as he bounds up the steps. “Sorry, I got distracted.” He says as he pushes his disheveled locks back. “I told you, don’t worry about it.” Gus says with an easy smile. Cailean returns the gesture and realizes in the moment that it has been quite some time since he’d last seen Gus in person. “It’s been a while, hasn’t it?” Gus says as if reading his thoughts. “Yeah, it has.” Cailean agrees. “Shall we?” Gus pulls open the door and Cailean follows him in.
“So what’s this about you suddenly being free?” Gus asks as they make their way upstairs.
“The case I was working on fell through. Which in itself is nothing new. But the way it happened didn’t make any sense.”
“Sounds rough.” Gus says. “There’s nothing I can do now but get over it I guess.” Cailean shrugs. “Yeah, there’s no point in dwelling on something you can’t change.” Gus says in understanding. Cailean sighs. “I know… So, what’ve you been up to? It’s not like you to be silent.”
“Ouch. Are you calling me loud?”
“Why state the obvious.” Cailean says and Gus laughs.
“You’re right. I do have something occupying most of my time these days.”
“And that is?”
“All in due time.” Gus deflects and Cailean raises his eyebrows. “Okay…”
They make their way over to the treadmills and input their incline and speed settings in silence. That feeling of guilt in Cailean due to the distance that had grown between them begins to fade away, just like that. He opens his mouth, intending to apologize for letting things get to this point, and to his surprise is cut off by Gus. “Don’t.” He says, “You don’t have anything to apologize for, Cailean. I’m just as guilty as you for suddenly going radio silent.”
“Did you become a mind reader since I’ve seen you last? You’re unusually perceptive today.”
“What can I say? I’m a people person.” Gus grins and Cailean returns the smile. After a moment, they both slowly pick up the pace on their respective machines and let a comfortable silence fall between them. It’s Gus who breaks it first. “So how are you and Aislyn?” Cailean nearly stumbles at the sudden question. Of course Gus would know, considering Chad told him that Kim probably shared the news of their relationship with half of Oldmerrow last time they spoke. Cailean feels his face grow hot. “Let me guess. Kim?” He says. “No.” Gus pauses to laugh. “Aislyn, actually.”
Aislyn never mentioned that to Cailean, but he supposed it was something she’d feel awkward bringing up. Cailean felt awkward himself just speaking to Gus right now. “Right…” Cailean says, running a hand through his hair. “So…” Gus slows his machine’s pace to a walk and Cailean does the same. “How are things?” He asks again. “Good, I guess.” Cailean answers. “You guess?” Gus looks his way and gives a crooked smile. “I mean, Aislyn isn’t the easiest person to read.” “That’s true.” Gus chimes in.
Cailean turns to him and Gus gives an apologetic smile. “I’m probably the last person you want to discuss this with, huh? Given our history and all. I suppose that’s fair considering I never told you anything when she and I were…” Gus lets his sentence trail off awkwardly and Cailean laughs. “If you meant it when you told me that you didn’t love her-” “I did mean that.” Gus interrupts, “I care about her, but not in that way.”
“Then I wouldn’t mind relying on you, just like I have all the other times I’ve been with someone.” Cailean continues. “I’d like that.” Gus clears his throat, “And I plan on doing the same.” “Good.” Cailean says with a smile.
“I’m guessing the distance and all has been tough.” Gus says.
“Yeah, we usually end up missing one another timing-wise when we call, and at times I wonder if it’s just coincidence or if she’s avoiding me.”
Gus listens carefully as Cailean speaks. “Why would she avoid you?” He asks and Cailean shrugs. “I don’t know.” “Speaking of avoidance, there’s something I’ve also been meaning to tell you… Me and Ki-” Gus’s words are cut off by Cailean’s phone ringing. He wonders if it’s Aislyn returning his call, but when he reaches for his phone, he sees Lexi’s name glow on the screen. “Is that Aislyn?” Gus asks with an amused grin. “No, Lexi.” Cailean says, “I don’t think it’s anything serious, I can call her back. What were you saying?”
“It can wait, you can answer first.” Gus says. Cailean nods, “Hello?” “Cailean, hey!” Lexi exclaims on the other end. “How are you?” Cailean asks, smiling at her enthusiasm.
“Great. Is now a bad time?”
“No, I’m just at the gym with Gus. What’s up?”
“Are you and Aislyn dating?”
“Yeah.” Cailean says, amused, “Who’d you hear that from?”
“I knew it! I didn’t hear it from anyone. On Valentine’s Day I saw her and your mom talking and figured that combination wouldn’t make sense unless you were involved somehow. Otto told me to keep it to myself, so I have been. But since he’s away for work in Ravensburg at the moment, I thought I’d take advantage of the opportunity and ask.”
“On Valentine’s?” Cailean echoes. He and Aislyn were together for the majority of the day, except for when she’d stepped away in the morning to run an errand and he went to do some work. It’s possible that she could have run into his mother then, but why hadn’t Aislyn mentioned it? “Where did you see them?” He asks. “Oh, um… At the Oldmerrow Graveyard.” “What?” Cailean says. That location was a ways away from the rest of the town, which made them being there seem deliberate.
“Did you talk to them?”
“No…” Lexi trails off, her enthusiasm disappearing. Cailean suspects she was beginning to feel as though she shouldn’t have said anything. “Why not?” Cailean says urging her to continue. “The air around them seemed kind of tense so I didn’t think I should approach them.” A sense of unease begins to creep over Cailean. “You have no idea what they could’ve been discussing?” Beside him Gus turns off his machine and looks over in concern. Cailean is hung on Lexi’s every word and doesn’t meet his eyes. “Um, if they didn’t mention anything then maybe I shouldn’t-” “Lexi.” Cailean says sternly.
“Uhh… I was too far away, but…”
“Lexi, just tell me what you know. I’m not going to get upset.” Cailean could tell Lexi was becoming increasingly uncomfortable but didn’t have it in him to do the nice thing and drop the subject. With a defeated sigh, she continues. “From what I could tell it looked like they were there for a while. I didn’t hear much but I did hear Aislyn tell your mom ‘don’t tell Cailean’ very clearly… I thought it was about a surprise for you or something, but your tone is making me think that’s not the case… Did something happen?”
“I have no idea.”
“I’m sorry.” Lexi says sadly. “Don’t be. Thanks for telling me.” Cailean says, doing his best to keep his tone even. “Umm, so I’ll see you around then?” Lexi says cautiously.
“Yeah. Bye, Lexi.”
Cailean hangs up and turns to Gus who was now looking at him worriedly. The gym was silent aside from the quiet hum of faint music and the occasional sound of sneakers on wood by the dancers in the adjacent room. “What was that about?” Gus asks. “Lexi says she saw my mother and Aislyn talking at the graveyard on Valentine’s morning. And that Aislyn told her not to tell me something.” At his words, Gus’s expression doesn’t change.
“Why do you not look surprised?” Cailean asks, some of the anger that had arisen in him spilling out. Gus uncomfortably shifts from foot to foot and crosses his arms. “Well… on Valentine’s, Kim got a call from Aislyn in the middle of the night. She didn’t tell me what it was about, but it makes sense if it was regarding that.”
“Why would she mention that she got a call and not tell you why?”
“She didn’t mention it, I asked her because I noticed-” Gus seems to catch himself and abruptly stops mid sentence. “Noticed?” Cailean repeats. “I noticed… because she wasn’t by my side when I woke up.” “Oh.” Cailean says, realization quickly settling in.
“That’s what I was trying to tell you before Lexi called, that Kim and I are dating.”
“Oh.” Cailean repeats, unable to articulate anything else. “Since when?”
“Since Valentine’s… Aislyn was the one who gave me a push to ask Kim out, and I did, and it went pretty great.”
Cailean was feeling a million emotions at once. “I didn’t know you felt that way about Kim.”
“Neither did I, but it slowly dawned on me and… you probably don’t want to hear about this now.” Gus says and Cailean wonders what kind of expression he has on his face. He wanted to say he was happy for them, but the emotion that was overwhelming him right now was anger towards his mother. “Sorry.” He says simply, and he can tell Gus understands.
“Well, the evening after, Kim went to go and pay Aislyn a visit in Bayville because she was concerned.” Each word Gus uttered felt like a punch to the gut for Cailean. How could he have been so completely oblivious to all of this? “Aislyn didn’t mention any of this?” Gus asks hesitantly. “No, she didn’t.” Cailean says icily.
“What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to pay my mother a visit.”
7:02 p.m. | Ruby Brick Restaurant & Bar
An hour into their shopping trip, Mackenzie tries on a dress that makes her face light up. Nicole and Aislyn exchange a silent glance between themselves knowing that they’d found the one. Aislyn knew they’d be successful with Nicole’s help, but she didn’t think it’d be that quick. She supposed knowing where to look made all the difference. Nicole insisted she pay for the dress to Mackenzie’s protests, and Aislyn compromised saying she’d pay for the matching shoes and accessories to which Nicole agreed and was met with even more protests from Mackenzie.
They decide to grab dinner from a nearby restaurant and dessert afterwards to celebrate their productive evening. When they enter, a woman sitting at the bar snaps her head in their direction and looks at them in a way that makes Aislyn uncomfortable. The woman’s face is familiar but Aislyn can’t place where she knows her from. “What’s wrong?” Mackenzie asks when they take their seats. “That woman…” Aislyn says. “I know her from somewhere.” Then it suddenly clicks into place. The woman was the news anchor, Valerie Jamieson, that Cailean mentioned he didn’t particularly like after she wrote a piece attacking the Oldmerrow Police Department and his mother. “I know her as well.” Nicole chimes in.
As if on cue, Valerie rises from the bar and joins their table. “Pardon my intrusion.” She says, “But I couldn’t help but notice that you’re the Nikki Lake, are you not?”
“I’ve not gone by that name for some time now.” Nicole says.
“Right, right. My apologies. You’ve been out of the spotlight for so long now, what would you prefer I call you?”
“Nicole is fine.”
This happened from time to time when Aislyn occasionally stepped out with Nicole. Someone would recognize her or ask to take a picture and she’d express her gratitude, but politely decline.
“I have an evening show-” “I’m familiar.” Nicole states, interrupting Valerie who looks very smug upon hearing that.
“Would you mind if I got a quick interview? Those of us who were such fans were shocked when you retired so suddenly. You were such an inspiration.”
“I’m flattered, but that chapter of my life has closed, and I don’t feel the need to revisit it.”
“Of course, you run a talent agency of your own these days, right? How’s that going?”
At this, Nicole smiles. Aislyn had to give credit where it was due, it appears as though Valerie did her research, and knew all the right things to say.
“It’s been so fulfilling to help cultivate the careers of others.” Nicole says sweetly.
“It’s refreshing to see that your roster of talent has such a range of ages and backgrounds.” Valerie flashes a killer smile.
“That’s exactly what we set out to do…” Nicole continues.
Nicole begins to converse back and forth with Valerie and Aislyn resists the urge to roll her eyes. She looks at Mackenzie who is staring wide-eyed and in awe of the two ladies, shifting her gaze back and forth between them. Aislyn wonders if she too would have been as enamored with Valerie had she not already heard about her from Cailean. Looking at her now, Aislyn couldn’t help but feel like there was something forced about her politeness.
Valerie catches her staring and directs her eyes towards her. “And who might you be?” She asks, keeping her smile plastered on. “I’m her daughter.” Aislyn says curtly, not bothering to fake any pleasantries. “I wasn’t aware that you remarried.” Valerie says redirecting her gaze to Nicole whom Aislyn notices was beaming at her response. She can’t help but smile at her in return.
“Yes, well. My husband and I didn’t feel the need to make a big spectacle of it.” “I see… And you?” Valerie says, turning to her right. “She’s a friend of mine.” Aislyn answers on Mackenzie’s behalf. “Aren’t you a little old to be hanging out with… children?” Valerie says sweetly and Mackenzie’s expression falls. Aislyn opens her mouth to snap back, but to her surprise, it’s Nicole who speaks first. “Ms. Jamieson…” She begins. Aislyn turns towards Nicole and is surprised to see the look on her face: eyes narrow, and the smile from moments ago nowhere to be found.
“Who my family chooses to befriend or spend their time with is not your, nor anyone else’s, concern.”
“Well, of course, but-” Valerie begins to speak, but Nicole cuts her off. “I wasn’t finished.” Valerie has it in her to look embarrassed and that pleases Aislyn immensely.
“Now, I think I was kind enough to you. Played along and entertained your well-rehearsed, artificial, predictable questions, but you media people never know when to stop. I’d almost forgotten how much I’d despised living my life under such scrutiny as I have for most of it, and in one brief moment, you’ve reminded me. So for that, I thank you.” Nicole says with a smile. Aislyn had never seen her be anything but pleasant, and was equally impressed and slightly afraid at her ability to say such harsh words with a sweet expression.
“You have a talent for overstepping boundaries you know. I’m sure it serves you well in your line of work.” Nicole continues. Clearly no one has dared to say the things Nicole was to Valerie, who stares open-mouthed, seemingly frozen, at Nicole. “A word of advice, next time you speak to someone and see the line, you know, the one you shouldn’t cross… don’t foolishly blaze past it. Especially if you’re speaking to someone you need something from.” Aislyn almost felt bad for Valerie. Almost.
“I think you should go.” Aislyn says, tilting her head towards the door. Valerie doesn’t hesitate to heed her advice. “Sorry for the disturbance.” She says, still having it in her to give them a smile before stalking towards the door. “Nicole.” Aislyn says, once Valerie is out of sight.
“That was incredible. Slightly scary, but incredible.”
Nicole laughs, “Oh, dear. That was nothing. You should have seen me when I was younger, I’ve mellowed out quite a bit.” Mackenzie giggles. “You certainly fooled me, I thought you were happy when Valerie was talking to you.” Aislyn says and Nicole rolls her eyes. “All a part of the job, darling.” Aislyn couldn’t imagine a life like that. So many people looking into you and at you, and having be nice about it. Considering the life she’s had, it would be her worst nightmare. “A life under scrutiny…” She says, quoting Nicole’s words from earlier. “No offense, but that sounds horrible.”
“Believe me, it was. Consider yourself lucky that you’ll never have to experience it…”
7:11 p.m. | DeCarlo House
Cailean had stormed to the Oldmerrow Police Department only to be told by his mother’s right hand, Tom, that she’d left early for the day. Tom’s interruption during Cailean’s interrogation of Ensley Bates was still fresh in his mind, but he did his best to keep his anger in check. Cailean utters a thanks and makes his way straight home.
Sure enough, he finds his mother watering some plants in the garden out back. As he gets closer to her, he does his best to put on his usual face. His mother thought overt expressions of emotion made you irrational, and he was feeling quite a few at the moment. If she caught on, as she usually did, she’d refuse to talk to him until after he ‘cooled his head’ and he couldn’t afford to wait for however long that would take. He wanted his answers now.
“What has you home so early?” He asks when he reaches his mother’s side. “It’s Stan and I’s anniversary, so I figured it was only fair to make some time to celebrate. He’s still getting ready.” She answers as she moves to another plant to water. “That sounds nice.” Cailean says. He walks over to the wooden fence surrounding their yard and leans on it, drawing in a slow breath, “This may seem random, but did you run into Aislyn on Valentine’s?”
“You’re right, that is random.” His mother says, continuing to focus her attention on the plants by her feet, seemingly unfazed by his question. “Well?” Cailean presses. His tone must’ve given him away, since his mother turns to look at him, her sharp eyes peeking over the shades on her nose-bridge. “I may have run into her briefly.” She moves to another plant. “That’s it?” Cailean says, dropping his attempts to remain calm. “That’s all you have to say?”
“Were you expecting something? It was just a brief run in.” She says dismissively. Her tone only serves to infuriate Cailean more. “Drop it, mom. A friend of mine saw you two, why are you lying to me?”
“Why would I need to report my running into someone to you.”
“That someone is my girlfriend, which I know you’re aware of despite me not having told you, because when do you not know something? And given your history, do you expect me not to be concerned?”
“My history?” His mother repeats, narrowing her eyes.
“Do you want me to remind you each and every time you’ve looked into someone I’ve dated and how that played out?”
“I was only looking out for you then.”
“They were normal people, mom. Just because you’re surrounded by criminals every day doesn’t mean the rest of the world is like that.” Cailean says exasperated.
“You’re being emotional.” His mother says cooly.
“You expect me to be calm? What did you say to her?”
“What. Did. You. Say?” Cailean repeats, gritting his teeth.
“Like I said, nothing.”
“Your telling me that if I go to your computer right now, I won’t find a file on Aislyn.” His mother hesitates before answering and that’s all the confirmation Cailean needs. “I knew it, you did find something out about her. Was it so bad that you just couldn’t help yourself from confronting her about it?”
“Calm down, that’s not what happened.”
“So tell me what did. People don’t just run into each other at graveyards.”
“You’re being ridiculous.” His mother says.
“And you’re lying to me.” Cailean counters, “And you hate lying.”
They lock eyes with one another, neither one relenting. “I have nothing more to say to you.” His mother says. “Of course you don’t.” Cailean retorts. Without another word, he makes his way back towards the house. He hadn’t expected his mother to be so unyielding. She detested lying, and yet she was doing exactly that now.
Was that avoidance he was feeling on Aislyn’s end because of this? If he asked her, would she be honest about it? Was whatever they talked about so bad that she felt she couldn’t trust him? Each scenario that played out in Cailean’s head only served to make him feel worse. He thought he was someone who could confidently say that he knew the people closest to him best. And it was becoming glaringly apparent that that was far from being the case…
If you’ve made it to the end, I’m giving you a virtual hug. Sorry this was eons long, I tried to cut it several times and this is all I could manage without shifting the timeline I have in mind for the story off by much. To be honest, I expected to be a tad further plot-wise by this point, but incorporating chars. and other elements into the story drew it out longer than expected. This chapter held quite a few significant developments for later on~
Sorry for going MIA once again. I thought I’d have some free time during Thanksgiving, and ended up being busier than ever, lol. I guess this super long chapter kind of – sort of – makes up for it *inserts awkward laughter* I’d love to get another one out before the year ends, but am not too sure if I’ll be successful. The number of times I’ve posted this entire year is quite ridiculously low 😅
Thanks as always for being so patient and sticking by my horrible writing schedule and this lengthy story 💕 In case you don’t hear from me until next year, I wish you all a happy holiday! Stay safe out there!
Thanks for reading ❤️