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“Where am I?” She asked as she studied her surroundings. There was nothing in front of her, other than mist. She couldn’t even see her right hand, which she moved across her face. She didnt like this, not one bit. Her heart was beating so fast and so strong, but it wasn’t enough to cloud her judgment. She wasn’t sure whether to walk or run, and finally opted for the latter.
“This isn’t bad,” she puffed, breaking the silence. She’d been running for quite some time now, and the scenery hasn’t changed at all. She wasn’t panicking that much anymore, but she was still on her toes.
“Hello?!” she called out. “Is anybody here?!” She knew nobody was going to answer her, but the silence was too much to bear. Her eyes wandered around, and all of a sudden, she caught something in her peripheral view. Suddenly, without any good rhyme nor reason, she stopped. Her heart was pumping faster, her lungs were screaming for air, and her muscles were aching. Automatically, her whole body was in a fighting stance.
“Who the fuck are you?!” She cursed, facing the direction of the silhouette. Almost instantaneously, her paranoia was replaced by anger. “Why am I here?!” When all she heard was her echo, she decided to threaten whoever or whatever brought her to this forsaken place. “I will kick-“
“Kick what?” A manly voice boomed, making her lose her balance as she did a roundhouse kick, which made her end up on her back. She winced in pain, but instead of standing up, she remained on the ground, shaking. She wasn’t shaking because of fear, but because of anger.
“What the hell do you want from me?” She shouted, hoping that this will buy her some time to get close to him. She was hoping to see his face, so she can do some damage, but she couldn’t because of the mist. Not knowing what she was up against, made her uncomfortable, let alone a man, but she knew that she had ample amount of strength to at least bring him to his knees. “Coward!” She screamed in her thoughts.
“I hope you’re not talking about me.” He laughed, which made her skin crawl. “Yes, I can read your thoughts.” He replied, slowly walking towards Tasha. He was hoping that that was enough to subdue her, but he knew better. As he caught a glimpse of her doe-like brown eyes, there was nothing there but anger. Instead of prolonging the unnecessary, he sighed in defeat and moved his hand in a fluid-like motion.
As the mist unhurriedly dissipated into thin air, he could see all of her-her long black hair that he enjoyed caressing while laying next to her; her scar on her left ear, which made her look like a yakuza member; her red puffy lips, which she used along with her “puppy-dog eyes” when she knew she wasn’t going to win an argument…She was so close that he could smell her, taste her, sweet pea with a hint of jasmine and honey, which was enough to stir emotions he thought was gone forever.
He could see her in his favorite baby-blue high school basketball jersey, which he treasured so much from his high school years, as they played basketball in the park one spring afternoon. She wasn’t any good at playing the sport, but that didn’t matter to him. He just wanted to spend time with her.
While sitting on the cold asphalt, drinking his coffee he brought from Starbucks, he watched Tasha practice for their so-called ‘upcoming game’. One of the things he loved about her was that she was willing to try things that were new, and if she didn’t like it, it would be one of the things that’ll be put on her NEVER GONNA DO THIS SHIT AGAIN list.
All of a sudden, he was howling like a hyena, spitting his drink on the ground. Tasha who was not amused picked up the ball and tossed it playfully to his direction. “You’re not supposed to laugh!” She exclaimed, mocking a child with a tantrum. “You know I’m not good at this!”
“I know,” he conceded. “But that wasn’t why I was laughing at you. It was the look you had when the ball missed the ring-heck, the net-entirely!” He explained, looking up at her, as she stood in front of him offering her hand to help him off the ground, but he thought of something better. Without warning, he grabbed her and both ended up on the ground, with her on the bottom. They knew they weren’t the only ones in the park, but both didn’t care. It wasn’t like they were doing anything dirty.
“What do you say we go home instead, and watch a movie?” He asked as he gave her a peck on the forehead.
She bit her lower lip, thinking of her options. “Mmm, that sounds good.” She groaned. But they never ended up watching a movie that night. Instead, they made-
“No!” He screamed, startling Tasha in the process. He didn’t want to remember any of it, most especially their intimate nights. He breathed in and out, and reminded himself that she’s in danger. “There isn’t much time left.”
“Hello? Are you okay?” Tasha hesitantly asked, biting her lower lip. It’s been quite some time now since the silhouette appeared. At that same time, she noticed the mist was disappearing. Just then, she realized that the silhouette was beside her. Without giving him enough time to react, she raised her heel and hit the silhouette right on the middle of his back.
“Ughâ€¦” was the sound that escaped his mouth as he fell on his chest. Tasha got up like the whirlwind and her body, yet again, was spontaneously in a fighting stance.
“Youâ€¦got it allâ€¦wrong,” he stuttered getting himself off the ground which now looked like cobblestone. “Please, Cherie. We don’t have time for thisâ€¦we don’t have much time.”
“Cherie?” she repeated, bringing her fists down. Not many people call her by that name. Before she could even start a sentence, she fell on her knees as she caught a glimpse of his face. But she did not fall hard enough because the silhouette was fast enough to catch her.
She wanted to say his name, but her voice escaped her. She wanted to hurt him more for leaving her, but her body had a mind of its own. Instead, she melted right in his arms. A minute later, which felt like eternity, she bravely raised her head to look at him.
“You haven’t changed a bit,” she heard herself say as tears fell down her cheeks. She brought her free hand to his cheek, hesitated for a minute, and caressed his soft skin. They were both locked into each other’s eyes. His piercing green eyes were always soothing, his lips’ pleasing formâ€¦
Hastily, she grabbed his face and kissed him hard as if she was hungry for him. He didn’t fight it because he felt the same way. Just then, he heard a chord being plucked from a harp that he pushed her off him.
“Carson, what’s going on?” she asked with confusion on her face.
“There’s not much time left,” he responded, his voice sounding cold. She still had a stupefied look on her face, but she didn’t argue. “Cherie, I love you, but-“
She could see his mouth moving, but she couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Everything around them seemed to move in slow motion. As the mist lifted, different shades of color appeared instantly around them. She was about to protest when-
“All the single ladies, all the single ladiesâ€¦Now put your hands upâ€¦Up in-” She grabbed the object next to her with much hatred and threw it as hard as she could. “Wham!” and the alarm set broke against the wooden closet, but not enough to break. It still illuminated in the dark, lighting the room partially.
“I love you, tooâ€¦” she sobbed as she held her pillow tighter. “But I don’t think I can do what you’re asking of meâ€¦”
Before entering the daycare center that same morning, she stood in front of the entrance idly, and collected herself. She wanted to remind herself, one more time, that the kids do not deserve any shit from her just because of what happened last night. When she was ready to start the day at the center, she exhaled abruptly and walked inside.
Upon entering the room, last night’s dream just upped and left, and she felt a little better. The voices of children laughing, and talking, temporarily flushed her loneliness away. Lights from the ceiling along with the light coming from the outside made the colors in the building more vibrant. Even though it was the middle of spring, it was still cold outside, yet it was warm in the room, the kind of warmth that makes even a loner want to stay in longer.
“Good morning, Ms. Tasha,” one of the kids greeted with an innocent smile.
“Good morning,” she replied. Her heart ached a little because the kids reminded her of her own, who left this world before she was given a chance to cuddle him in her arms. Before she drowned in misery, she felt a pat on her shoulder.
“She couldn’t have come any later.” She thought and rolled her eyes as she faced her boss.
“Glad you made it,” the blonde, Russian woman greeted with an accent. “Jean, over there,” she pointed at the stout woman sitting by the window with some of the kids, “told me that she heard something hitting the wall between your apartment and hers. You want to talk about it?”
Knowing what Oksana, both her boss and her best friend, was implying, she answered with, “No, not really. I’m fine. There’s no need-“
Oksana shook her head. “Come to my office. I thinkâ€¦” she paused, counted something and nodded. “Yup, seven adults will be enough to handle 28 kids, don’t you think?” Before Tasha could object and answer the tall Russian lady, Oksana was already halfway to her office.
After Oksana closed the door and the blinds behind her, Tasha threw herself on the couch, and folded her arms angrily. She knew where this was going and she didn’t like it at all. Though, she found that talking to Oksana was better than talking to someone with a Ph. D, and uttering “Oh, so how does that make you feel?”
The Russian-native folded her arms just like Tasha and waited patiently. She was a little shy of 6 feet, and a little older than Tasha, but nobody knew how much older except her husband. Every year they celebrated her birthday, she kept on saying, “I’m twenty-five!” Tasha is 29, so there was no way Oksana was younger than her, but nobody grilled nor Yvgeny, her husband of many years. However old she maybe didn’t matter to Tasha. When she’s ready to confide in her, she’ll be there. In the meantime, the woman, dressed in a pair of jeans, a blue shirt, and a pair of baby blue sneakers, will wait.
“Oksana,” she exasperated, watching the clock tick on the wall in front of her. “This is ridiculous! I just walked in the building, for goodness’ sake!”
The Russian beauty unfolded her arms and took the seat behind the desk, across Tasha. “So, I vas rrrrright.” She exclaimed, with a victorious smile plastered on her face. Even though she’s been in the country for more than 15 years, her accent seemed to get more noticeable.
“Yeah, you vas rrrright!” mocked Tasha. “So what?” As soon as those words left her mouth, she regretted immediately. She knew she was losing the battle, and sighed. “Yes, he came to me in a dream.”
“Well, nothing,” she lied. She didn’t want to talk about it anymore, but went on, anyway because she knew Oksana will keep on tormenting her until she spoke.
The leaves were falling on the nearby redwood tree, and some kids were playing in the playground. It was already autumn, yet it was chilly like winter. There were some people in the park, but it seemed like they either didn’t care or see her and Carson at all. There was noise everywhere, but she can hear Carson clearly with her left ear, which was a blessing and a curse at the same time.
After receiving that painful and cruel punishment from her Aunt Criselda, which was a slice from tip-to-tip, for eavesdropping, her left ear was able to hear more than with her right. She could hear people whispering who were about a block or two away. She finally was able to control it with the help of her grandmother, Mrs. Guevarra.
“Cherie, I love you butâ€¦” She wanted to stop him right there, but once again, her voice failed her. “â€¦you have to let me go.” Carson continued with tears welling in his eyes. He could see her shake her head violently, disagreeing with him, but he repeated himself. “You have to let me go, and give him a chance.” This time, he grabbed her and embraced her.
“Cherie, you have to.” He begged, looking her straight in the eyes. “Please. When the time is right, I’ll be here to welcome you. But right now, she needs youâ€¦pleaseâ€¦give him a chanceâ€¦”
She opened her eyes and glanced at Oksana. Even though it was just a dream, it still echoed in her head. She moved her body to the edge of the couch, bowed her head, and clasped her hands. “And that was that.” She cleared her throat and realized she was parched.
As if reading her mind, Oksana grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge behind her and handed it to Tasha. She knew it was hard for her to repeat the story, but Oksana believed that it does her more good. As soon as she was done nursing her drink, Oksana moved in closer with a serious look on her face. “I know you’re going to think this is stupid, but,” she emphasized, without letting Tasha interrupt, “let’s assume that there is some truth to it. Who are this ‘she’ and ‘he’ Carson was referring to?”
Tasha raised her head slowly and furrowed her brows. That was the second time she heard of it, but the first time it registered in her head. She was about to say something when she was, yet again, interrupted by a knock on the door.
“Yes?” Oksana got up to open the door, and Tasha took it as a sign that their little meeting was over. Before Oksana could open the door, she was sent almost flying, toppling Tasha, who was behind her by a couple of steps, with her weight.
“Ma’am, are you okay?” A masculine voice asked, offering his hand. Oksana grabbed it immediately, but Tasha thought differently and got up with her own strength. She flinched as she applied weight on her left arm. “I’m sorry-” the male voice started, but stopped instantly when Tasha waved him off.
When her arm finally quit throbbing, enough for her to focus on the male who caused the accident, she fell back down and she couldn’t stop herself from shivering. “This couldn’t be what you meantâ€¦” She turned her head to face Oksana, but her friend’s face was as red as a beet.
The male standing in front of Oksana and Tasha looked more composed, but he was shocked as well. He didn’t expect her at the Little Angels’ Daycare Center. He thought this would be the last place she would be working, considering that she lost her only son years ago. But most of all, he wasn’t expecting to see the face of the woman that haunted him for yearsâ€¦
“You murderer!!!” She sneered maliciously as Oksana and Yvgeny Karchovski held her close to their bodies. “How could you take him away from me?!” She wailed, slowly falling to her knees. It was pouring outside that day when the DA decided there wasn’t enough evidence to have the cop indicted.
He was supposed to rejoice because there wasn’t a trial, but he felt lousy as he watched the young woman cry and mourn for her lover. It was unfair, but he also had a future to think about. He wanted to tell her it wasn’t his fault, but he couldn’tâ€¦without harming any of his family members.
“Shhh, it’s okay, dorogaya,” Yvgeny whispered heartily in Tasha’s ear, which was equivalent to “Cherie” or “darling”. “He will get what is coming to himâ€¦in time.” As the Russian man said it, he stared right into his eyes with enough hatred that cop turned away to avoid his eyes. That was the last time he saw Tasha Rene Guevarraâ€¦
â€¦until today. Before he could say anything, he was sent on the ground with a powerful punch. The punch was enough to knock the wind out of him that he was on the floor for a little bit.
Suddenly, there was commotion in the room. A man in a uniform apprehended one of the women in the room and was about to cuff her when one of them jumped on his back yelling, “Let go of her, you pig!”
“Ramirez, uncuff her. And Ms. Guevarra, please get off of Officer Ramirez,” he directed. Both listened, but was not happy. “Mrs. Karchovski,” he turned. “I’m sorry. Officer Ramirez gets carried away fairly easily when one of us in uniform gets attacked.” He grabbed his jaw and massaged it a little. “And, man, what a punch!” he smiled, but what he got was a sharp look.
“And maybe you’d like another one!” Oksana interjected, rubbing her wrists. Her eyes suddenly wandered around searching for Tasha, and she was relieved to find her by her side. She was surprised but glad that Tasha did not attack the cop, but as she stood next to her, she can sense the hatred emanating from her body. Oksana took her hand and squeezed it, hoping that that was enough to liquefy the anger.
Oksana and Tasha finally turned their attention to the nicely dressed public servant. Officer Ramirez was in their usual uniform, while the other one had on a black blazer, light blue blouse with a white undershirt, without a tie, completed with an ironed pair of denim jeans and a pair of black Timberlands.
“Is there a reason why you’re hereâ€¦?” Oksana asked with a baffled look on her face. She didn’t hear any problems earlier, and if there was a problem at the center, she would’ve caught of it first, before calling the cops. “â€¦Detective Blake?”
Ethan Blake, the guy who was not in uniform, straightened himself and sat across the women. He combed his auburn hair away from his forehead as he took his little notebook from his back pocket. “When was the last time you saw Haibara Hartley?” He asked, turning on his detective radar on Oksana and Tasha, observing them with his blue eyes as both women exchanged looks.
“Yesterday.” Tasha finally replied, biting her lip. “Why?” Haibara Hartley was one of the kids they looked after while her mother, Himeji Hartley, a single mom, went to work. Haibara, nicknamed Ai, was a smart Japanese-American girl, but had an attitude problem, which was due to an incident 2 years ago.
“What time?” The detective asked as he scribbled on his notes, ignoring the woman’s question.
Instead of arguing with the detective, she replied, “I’d say when her mother picked her up. Say about three?” She looked at Oksana, who nodded her head in agreement. “Did some-“
The detective interrupted her again, flipping his notepad. “Did Mrs. Hartley look upset to you in any way, shape, or form when you saw her last?”
Tasha bit her lower lip again and examined the painting in front of her. The detective waited patiently because he knew she was thinking. “No, she didn’t. She actually looked happy.”
“Did she tell you why? I mean, the reason she was happy?”
Tasha was now beginning to lose her temper and Oksana knew that holding her hand wasn’t enough to calm her down. “Detective,” she interjected. “Why the many questions about the Hartleys? Did something happen?”
Ethan exhaled loudly. He hated this part of his job, but it was part of the job that needed to be done. “Last night at around 9:00, Mrs. Hartley, among others in the house, was murdered.”
“Murdered?!” They both gasped in horror. “Oh my God! And Haibara?”
“She’s in shock, but she’s alive. She’s at the hospital right now, under observation. She was found in her mom’s closet, by one of the officers who responded at the scene. We tried questioning her, but all she said asâ€¦” he paused and looked at Tasha. “‘I want Tasha.’ After that, she went to sleep. The doctor said that that kind of reaction was normal, most especially for someone who witnessed such a horrific scene.”
Suddenly, the Detective Blake’s eyes softened as he continued looking at Tasha and genuinely said, “I know you hate me. I can feel it, but I need your help. You can hate me later all you want, but I would like to help Haibara Hartley by putting the bastard away.” His eyes turned cold at the mention of the criminal. “She needs you and you’re the only one that has a special connection with herâ€¦from what I was told by the employees that worked for Mrs. Hartleyâ€¦” he paused and inched in a little closer. “I need you, too.”
That was twelve hours ago, and now, stated by the clock hanging on the wall on top of the door; it was already 11:30 pm. She was supposed to go to her next job, which was at the Charlie’s Angels bar, but Mac, her boss, understood her situation without asking any questions.
After leaving the daycare center, she thought she was on her way home, but found herself in front of the St. Luke’s hospital. She wanted to leave, but she couldn’t because inside that hospital, in a partially lit room, was Haibara-all alone.
Sitting on the chair, next to the bed, she wondered if this was what Carson meant in her dream. She shook her head. Whether it was a dream or not, she wasn’t going to ignore the little girl lying in the hospital bed, hooked up to an IV and a patient monitor.
She does hate Ethan Blake’s guts, but that entirely was a different story. If she was the remaining piece to complete the puzzle, she was willing to help. But before she told Blake of her decision, she did the impossible.
She placed her hands together, bowed her head and prayed, which she hasn’t done for so many years. “God, if there is one, please give me the strength to bear this. I don’t know what you have planned for us, but please, give us more time.” She paused, and thought of another thing to ask.
“Also, please give me the control so that I don’t end up cutting Blake’s family jewels.” Suddenly, she heard Carson’s laughter echoing in the background, and she laughed right along with him.
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