Alexandria Hotel stood at the fringes of civilization. It was flanked by a waterfall and a forest reserve. Although remote, the place screamed of luxury with its quality and understated elegance. A sanctuary to the rich and famous, it guaranteed a place of leisure, rejuvenation, and privacy. Everyone abided with the unofficial rule that no one would breathe a word about its guests to an outsider. It was the main reason Fred booked a room at the hotel.
An abstract painting drew his eye when he first entered his room. He quickly scanned the rest of the area. Spacious and satisfactory, Fred decided. He swung the balcony doors open, letting in the sound of the falls wash over him. He breathed in the fresh air and sighed.
No, it wasn’t satisfactory. It was excellent. No wonder it was so expensive. They had given him one of their best rooms. The view before him was an expanse of green and the surrounding mountains. It felt like he had left civilization for good, when in truth his room faced the back of the hotel.
Not a sole human being was in sight as he enjoyed the scenery. Fred realized how much he had longed to be alone after five years in the limelight. He wished for the impossible: that time would stand still even for just a day.
Fred left the doors open and retrieved a metal tube from his bag. He pressed the power button on its end and laid it on the desk. Specialized air hissed softly from the slots that ran parallel on the tube. It produced a hologram for a screen and a keyboard.
On the top-left of the screen, an envelope icon blinked red. He tapped on it. The message was from his secretary. It said: “Where are you?”
Before he could formulate a reply, a dialogue box appeared. Fred tapped on “Accept.” A new window opened. A woman sporting an orange fringe said, “Hello, Doctor.”
“Ms. Janine,” he said.
“Mrs. Williams called this morning.” The secretary’s formal address of his mom meant trouble.
“She wanted to remind you about the importance of having a secretary – who is me. That was after I told her that I didn’t where you’ve gone.” The secretary lifted a brow at him.
“My apologies, Ms. Janine. I can’t give you my exact location. I’m trying to enjoy my vacation without people pointing and staring at me.” His mom would definitely have flown to him if she discovered his whereabouts. With her presence, she would draw unnecessary attention to the. His plans would be ruined before it even started. “Besides, don’t you feel sorry for me? My mom wants me to date Ms. Horse-face, who is a snob and a bore.”
He pouted and was rewarded with the desired effect.
“You’re right,” she conceded.
“Just tell my mom I met someone and wish to get to know her during my leave.”
“What’s her name?”
“Her name?” he repeated, fishing for the paper in his pockets.
“Your mother will ask about her.”
“Fair enough.” He glanced at the paper. The stewardess’ name and mobile number was written on it. “Her name is Eliza. She’s pretty, smart and very charming.”
“Sounds like trouble,” she commented, giving him a knowing look. They both knew he married his career.
“I like trouble.”
“Careful with what you wish for.” She grinned. “Have a nice holiday, Doc.”
“Thanks, Ms. Janine.”
He returned to his inbox and reread an email sent to him several hours ago.
Subject: Re: Invitation
Glad to hear you’ve decided to visit the Mysts. My wife’s excited to meet you, so is little David. Are you sure you’re up for dinner with the family? You’ll be arriving around lunch time. Am worried you’ll be too tired after the long flight. We can understand if you want to reschedule. Contact me when you’ve settled in at the hotel.
Fred hit the reply button and sent a short message. Then he called the chauffeur’s company to call Tony back for the evening.
A painting of plants and birds framed the doorway. Fred had been studying it when the door opened and a brown blur barreled towards him. Paws landed on his chest. A cold nose pressed against his before it was hastily pulled away.
“You must be Fred.” A woman with curly ginger hair beamed at him.
“And you must be the enchanting Diana.” Fred smiled and reached his hand out to her.
“I wouldn’t go that far,” she chuckled. Diana placed her hand in his and kissed his cheek. “Sorry about Patty.” She pulled at the Saint Bernard’s collar. “She loves having visitors – scares the daylights out of them, mostly. Come in. James will be with us shortly.”
“You can let her go. She won’t do it again.” He turned to the dog and said, “Right, Patty?”
The dog’s ears flattened back and her tail wagged slowly. Fred held his hand out for the animal to smell.
“If you say so,” Diana said. She released the dog which continued to sniff the guest. “She’s taken a liking to you.”
“Most pets take to me,” Fred said.
“I hope you’re not vegan.” She led him to the living room.
Fred looked at the sofa, couches, and mismatched chairs scattered in the room. A book case and magazine rack stood in one corner. Both were overflowing with reading material. Some of the books were stacked neatly along the walls.
“I’m not,” he replied.
“Good because I burned the only vegan dish. You see, James is a better cook than me. But I didn’t have the heart to disturb him when he’s writing.”
“But I would love to be disturbed by you,” a voice behind them said.
They turned to face James, who looped an arm around his wife’s waist. Fred gazed at the baby boy in James’s arms. Little David shared the thick mane of red hair of his parents, his father’s eyes, and his mother’s nose.
“Oh, that’s right. David, meet your godfather Fred. Fred, David.”
“Hello, little fellow,” Fred said, shaking the boy’s free hand.
David continued to suck at the tiny fist in his mouth. Fred caught a flicker of intelligence in the boy’s eyes when their gazes met.
“You haven’t changed a bit,” James said.
Fred had missed his friend’s appraisal of him.
“It’s the hair,” Diana added. “I wouldn’t have recognized him if it weren’t for your high school yearbook.”
As a disguise, Fred had let his hair fall forward. It made him look boyish, but people who hadn’t known him in his student days wouldn’t recognize Fred as Dr. Williams. He hoped not to bump into former classmates during his stay.
In the meantime, James appeared to be in his late twenties. His hair was messily tied back; he had two days’ growth of stubble on his face; and dark smudges beneath his eyes. It seemed James had been working sleepless nights.
Instead of voicing his observations, Fred remarked, “You’re still wearing glasses. Are they thicker now?”
“I have sentimental reasons for wearing it.” James tapped on his glasses’ frame.
Dinner consisted of salad, spaghetti with meatballs, and cake. They talked about their common friends, Paolo and Michael, which led to recalling an incident in James and Diana’s wedding.
Paolo had continued his passion for designing cars. Eventually, he personally drove one of his models to the races and won frequently. Despite his height, he had become popular with the girls. But, apparently, some were immune to his looks and reputation. He had tried to charm one of Diana’s bridesmaids during the reception. Unfortunately, the woman had been drinking. She had found one compliment hilarious and sprayed orange juice on him. Paolo had accepted her apology and made his way to the restroom.
Meanwhile, Michael had been forced to dance with a rather sprightly old lady. He was so focused on not stepping in his dance partner’s toes that he missed seeing Paolo behind him. They collided and fell in a heap on the dance floor. Michael tried to get up and slipped. His foot caught a passing waiter, whose tray was full of drinks. A loud crash erupted causing every head to turn in Paolo and Michael’s direction.
Diana, who had been worried for her husband, instantly saw it as a chance for him to escape. She advised James to fetch his spare suit for Paolo as an excuse to leave the reception for a few moments. James had been relieved to follow Diana’s suggestion for he had been reeling with the emotions of their guests. In a sense, the commotion Paolo and Michael caused had saved the day. If not for them, the couple would have postponed the honeymoon.
“You don’t have to do that,” Fred said.
They were alone in James’s study. Fred had been impressed with the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves which lined three walls of the room. A computer similar to his sat on a desk facing the window. He felt embarrassed when James opened it when the evening air was cool.
“It’s better to open it,” James said. He didn’t have the strength to shield himself from Fred’s discomfort. The least he could do was make it a little comfortable for the both of them.
“Diana knows about your being an empath.”
“She figured it out during the early days of our friendship.” James smiled to himself. “Diana has a different name for it. She said that I’m a highly sensitive person.”
“Is she a psychologist?”
“No. She just likes to do research. Actually, she sort of made me into a personal pet project.” He chuckled.
Fred could see how much James and Diana valued each other. He had met other couples in his line of work and saw different forms of love. If Diana truly understood her husband, James would love her even more. His own evaluation of his parents’ relationship wasn’t very ideal. Friendship with Electra was just that – friendship. So far, Fred had realized how shallow his ideas were during his captivity. His unrequited love was nothing more than puppy love. What he had experienced in the African dessert had extended beyond it – or, perhaps, a different form of love.
What James and Diana have, could it possibly last? Fred could only wish them the best, as for him…
“Eleven years, Fred.” James broke through his thoughts. “What happened to you? You never called, texted, or emailed any of us?”
Fred had expected this type of questioning sooner. He was surprised that it took this long, but was determined to answer honestly.
“I tried a few times,” Fred said. “I would pick up the phone, type a message, but I couldn’t follow through. I’d tell myself I’ll do it tomorrow. It became harder when the next day turned to weeks, months, and years.”
“Your mom called me a year after you left.”
Fred glanced at James. He hadn’t known that his mom kept in touch with his friends.
“She said something was eating you up ever since the freak accident. She suspected you were hiding something from her, but after you disappeared… Everything changed, hasn’t it?”
A lot of things changed for Fred after meeting the Roucans. Still, James was right. The abduction had changed Fred than anyone could ever imagine.
Copyright © 2014-2016 Cecilia Beatriz. All rights reserved.
A/N: What do you think about James’s family? It’s the opposite of what Fred grew up in, so he’s less motivated to be in a relationship. But something had happened during his abduction. Could he really mean what he thought about his feelings with Electra?
Stay tuned and find out. 😉
If you have suggestions, requests or simply have an opinion, please leave a comment. Comments and likes are always appreciated. I’d love both. 🙂