Jesse sat on the bed and watched Ian haul the cedar jewelry box from his closet. “What are we looking for again?” He asked as it was plopped down beside him.
Ian opened the lid. “Just a little square of Kleenex if it hasn’t disintegrated.” He opened the lid and began fingering the trinkets in the box. “Blue Kleenex…I know it has to be in here.”
“You’re sure?” Jesse asked as he began to help go through the myriad of treasures.
“Absolutely.” Ian was positive. “I gave it to Aunt Hil to keep for me and this is where she put that sort of thing.”
Jesse held up a gold chain with a heavy ball of colored glass encrusted in imitation gold. “Egads! Someone actually paid for this?”
Ian smiled and took it from him holding the ball to his eye and turning toward the overhead light. “Actually I did. You can hold it up the light and it has a sort of kaleidoscope effect. It just proves the point that no matter how hideous, Aunt Hil always found a way to cherish it.”
He handed it to Jesse who mocked Ian’s earlier motions. “This is cool!” Jesse grinned with the gaudy ball close at one eye.
“Tasteless, yes, but to a mountain kid…loads of fun.” Ian grabbed a handful of gaudiness from the box and continued his dig. “Maybe the Kleenex is long gone, but the little penny itself has to be in here. Maybe at the bottom.”
“A penny hack sawed in half actually.”
“And you want to give this to Saxon?”
“Tell me it has the same principal as the kaleidoscope necklace.” Jesse began pulling handfuls of chains and pins from the box to search the bottom.
“Sort of.” Ian defended. “She gave it to me on closing night of “Romeo and Juliet”. It was sort of a physical memory of a promise.”
“If you say so.” Jesse tried to spread thin the pile of jewelry now on the bed. “It’s not in the bottom of the box…and Romeo take my advice. I think flowers say it so much better than a hacked up coin.”
“No, this has special meaning.” Ian insisted, now sitting on the bed and pulling the box on his lap. “Maybe it slipped down behind the lining.” He began to feel the inside of the box.
“Look if you’re hoping she’ll give you some, I think all you have to do is…”
Ian stopped and looked the young man in the face. “I’m not hoping Saxon will give me some…we don’t have that kind of relationship.”
Jesse tried not to laugh. “Yeah…right.”
“Jesse, I keep explaining, over and over...”
“I know. I know.” He said picking up pieces one by one and gingerly returning them to the cedar box. “You’re just old friends, yada yada yada. In case you haven’t noticed, no one is buying that but the two of you. Get your head out of the jewelry box, Ian Justyn. You are head over heels for each other. You just refuse to admit it.”
“Naturally.” Jesse puffed. “Dude. It’s not here.”
“It has to be.” Ian scratched his forehead and tried to think back. “I handed it to her and she said he’d put it in my special place.”
“She told me that there was a special place of things that were for me, things that I’d need later in life and she was keeping them until the time came.” Ian closed his eyes and tried to recall in every detail the day.
“Maybe there’s another box.” Jesse stood and walked to the closet. “Have you gone through everything Reese and Billy brought back?”
“Wait!” Ian put out his hands. “I was standing by the couch and she went into her bedroom and straight to this box.”
Ian stood and looked at it. “She fiddled with it. I could see her do it from the couch.” He twisted the box on the bed and stepped back to look at it. He walked over and turned it just a little more to the right.
“Okay…then she reached down…” Ian slid his hands along the back of the box. “Aha!” He pushed a little knot and a thin drawer popped out of the bottom.
“I’ll be damned.” Jesse bent over to look. “A little secret compartment.”
Ian grinned from ear to ear and reached for the little square of blue Kleenex right on top. “Told ja.” He almost cheered in victory.
“Ian?” Saxon called from down stairs.
“Be right there, Saxon!” Ian called back. He turned to Jesse in panic. “What did I do with the wrapping paper?”
Jesse pointed to his desk. “What else is in here?” He picked up the rest of the drawer contents as Ian wrapped the little half penny and slipped it in his wallet.
“Looks like papers.” Ian said as he slipped a light jacket on.
“Duh…what kind of papers?”
“Birth certificates and stuff I assume.” Ian looked at the small stack in Jesse’s hands.
“Ian?” Saxon called again.
“Keep the tissue in your bra, Saxon. I’m coming!”
“For a guy, you take forever to get ready.” Saxon bellowed up from the bottom of the stairs. “We’re just going bowling not competing on Dancing With the Stars!”
“Coming right down.” Ian said. “Can you put that back in the closet for me?”
“No prob.” Jesse stuffed the papers back in the drawer and shut it. “Have a good time.”
“I will.” Ian smiled. “Thanks, Jess. Enjoy your Saturday night.” He disappeared.
Jesse picked up the jewelry box and slipped it back into the space made for it on the top shelf of the back wall in the closet. He flipped off the light and shut the door.
Rodie popped out from under the bed and looked up at him.
“Hey, sweetheart. Where’d you come from?” Jesse bent to scoop her up. She hopped right into his arms and he scratched her ears.
“Jesse?” He heard his brother calling from downstairs.
“Do you know how to get this TV on the right channel to watch a DVD?”
“Be right there.” Jesse turned, Rodie in arms and stepped toward the bedroom door. He heard something kicked. He looked down and noticed a yellowing envelope neatly laying at his feet.
“Coming!” Jesse snatched up the paper from the floor and shoved it in his back pocket. He looked at the cat. “Remind me to come right back up here and put this back in that little drawer. It probably fell out of there.”
Rodie purred and Jesse flipped off the bedroom lights.
David Turner was a wreck. They’d finally done it. Four Stars Studios had found a way to sabotage his film. He paced the set back and forth.
This was a disaster. Not the film, “Breathe” had gone better than he had hoped. It was the lack of a female lead. Malvina Golden had bailed. At the last minute she bailed on them.
Her last film with the studio kept running later and later. David had gone ahead and began production of “Breathe” without her, filming every scene but those that required her. That kept them from missing their own deadlines and kept her from getting in legal trouble with Four Stars.
Then Four Stars made her an offer she couldn’t refuse. Turner couldn’t blame her. She called this morning and apologized. Great, she was sorry, so was everyone else’s bank balance.
Today was the last day they could use this rented space. The ballroom set needed to be struck so the next renter could move in. If they didn’t get this scene, the whole film was for naught.
It was the final scene, a ballroom. All Turner needed was to find an actress to fit into the already designed and fitted gown, descend the staircase and reach out her hand to the camera. They’d already filmed the dancers, Redfield’s entrance, dialogue and close ups.
They had even talked Herman’s sister into standing in for the moment the camera sees the two hands touching, the two hands fated to live happily ever after, the final moment of “Breathe”. The whole film hinged now on the “actress” who belonged to that “hand” coming down “that” staircase.
He had begged Herman’s sister to do the part. She was ungodly shy. Just the camera on her hand took eighteen takes. She kept bursting into tears and ruining the shot. She finally cried herself out and they got the perfect shot.
“Okay.” Herman came rushing to him. “Get it set up. We’re ready.”
“What?” David was shocked.
“Heat up the lights, point the camera and scream action, stupid. We’re ready.” Herman was puffing, struggling for air having run full speed ahead from somewhere.
“Malvina showed after all?” David eyes lit up.
“No.” Herman put his hands on David’s shoulder. “Trust me. We found the perfect replacement. It took some work, but we’re ready.”
“Stop wasting time.” Herman shoved him toward the cameramen. “We’ve got just enough time to get this scene in the can and get the set struck. We’ll talk contracts later.”
“Just do it!” Herman hissed.
In ten minutes they were ready. The professionals, excited they were finally going to get this masterpiece back underway, pulled it all together. The bright lights hit the staircase and the A.D. cued the sound.
“Ready up there?” Turner dared ask before he gave the final call.
“Ready.” A distinctly familiar voice called back.
“Let’s get this down in one take.” Turner called back with a directorial command.
“Piece of cake.” Was the response unseen from the top of the staircase.
Turner nodded his head. The clapboard slipped in front of the camera. “Breathe finale take one.” Came the voice followed by the clap.
“And action!” David called and held his breath.
The music swelled and he looked to the top of the stairs. He saw the dress first. The costume designer had created a masterpiece. It caught his attention immediately and then led his eyes directly to the form of the elegant young woman wearing it.
She hesitated at the top of the stairs. He knew the camera was slowly and smoothly zooming in on her face. David saw her shy smile, the nervous dart of her eyes. His jaw dropped.
It was Herman’s sister after all. She stepped to the top. A moment before taking that first timid step she smiled. It lit up the room. She blushed shyly, biting her lip looking down at her feet.
David’s heart pounded. She was perfect. She was beautiful. She genteelly picked up the billowing folds of that gown and began to descend, each step stronger, each step determined, each step toward destiny, just as they had imagined.
She reached the bottom, smoothed her gown and almost unnoticeably curtsied. She took a deep breath and radiated that heart-stopping smile again, finally reaching out her hand, shyly determined but with courage.
“Cut!” David said. “Print it!” He said with relief.
He looked at the woman who had saved his life. “Young lady, I have just fallen in love.”
The woman threw back her head and laughed.
David’s jaw dropped again. He knew that laugh. “Oh my God!” He thought out loud.
It was well into the night when Saxon’s car pulled back into Ian’s driveway. The place was dark. Ian looked at the house then back to Saxon behind the wheel.
“Looks like no one’s home.” Ian said.
“Are you scared…loser?” Saxon teased.
“Loser? I let you win.”
“You cheated. You kept aiming the ball in the right direction, after the first game anyway.”
Saxon snorted again. Ian loved it when he made her snort. “We’ll I guess I better get inside before my father comes out on the front porch with a shotgun.”
“He doesn’t scare me.” Saxon said. “I had a great time. You are always so much fun.”
“Well, I’m easy.” Ian snickered. “Just don’t tell the rest of the football team. It’ll be all over the school by morning.” Ian leaned over and kissed her cheek. “I had a great time, too. I can’t remember the last time I just went out and enjoyed myself.”
“It looks good on you Ian Justyn.” Saxon smiled, her teeth flashing in the shadows of the streetlights. “You should do it more often.”
Ian nodded. “By the way. I found a little something. I thought you might like to have it.” Ian reached for his wallet and slipped out a little paper square.
“For me?” Saxon took it when Ian nodded. “Can I open it now?”
“Sure.” Ian scooted in a little more. “Don’t get excited. You probably don’t even remember.”
Saxon pulled the little bow and unfolded the paper and discovered a second layer of blue Kleenex. “Okay Ian Justyn. That’s just mean.” She taunted him.
“You gave it to me that way, so point that finger at yourself.” He tried to remind her.
Ian nodded. “Look inside the Kleenex.”
She hesitated the moment. “If this is boogers…”
“Just open it, you big baby.” Ian chuckled.
She held the tiny square of Kleenex up to the dashboard and folded back the corners. The copper reflected in the street lamps. She turned to Ian. “Where did you find this?”
“In Aunt Hil’s jewelry box. I’d forgotten about it, but as always, she didn’t.”
Saxon couldn’t help but smile. “Ian, I’d forgotten, too.” Was all she could say. He reached over and touched the soft blonde curls at the back of her head.
“Reunited at last.” Ian kissed the woman softly on the lips. “Goodnight, Saxon.”
“Good night, Ian.”
Ian slipped out of the car, and waved goodnight. “No you didn’t Saxon.” He said to the night as she drove off. “I’ve seen the other half hidden around your neck every time I see you.” He smiled and fished out his key for the front door.
Ian heard the familiar click and an unfamiliar meow. He looked at his feet to spot the Rodent sitting her on her quickly becoming half kitten half cat haunches. “How did you get out here? Is Ralphie teaching you his walk through walls trick?”
He considered leaving the demon outside, hoping something would drag it off for a midnight snack, but visions of having to explain to Ronnie that his precious cat disappeared made him change his mind. Ian shoved open the door and looked down at the cat.
“You may as well come in.” The cat didn’t bother to thank him for being a gentlemen and just walked inside the living room. Ian shut and locked the door in the dark.
It was quiet and black, only enough light to allow Ian and the spawn from hell to make their way to the kitchen. Ian heard crunching or scratching or something from the cat, while he poured bottled water in a cup and dunked in a tea bag. He pressed all the right buttons for the microwave and waited patiently for the little bell to go off.
As he opened the door and took out his now steaming tea, he saw the cat return to him from the corner of his eye. “Don’t be looking at me Rodent. You want entertainment? Go turn on the TV. I’m sure there must be something on Animal Planet or Fox News you’re sure to enjoy.”
Wrapped the tea bag string around a teaspoon and pulled until every last drop was squeezed from the bag. He added sugar, lots of sugar. “Okay, don’t go thinking this is any kind of bonding thing, but should I have kissed her? You know really kissed her?”
Rodie cocked her head and wrapped her tail around her body. Ian frowned. “What would you know?” He picked up his mug and walked through the still dark house. Rodie making every move he did.
Ian stopped at Ronnie’s room, door open, dark and empty. He leaned against the frame. “Well you might as well turn in varmint. I am.” He waited for the cat to jump on the bed and curl up as she usually did. “What are you waiting for?”
The cat looked up at Ian. Her little head turned to peer in the room, then back to Ian and blinked.
“Ronnie is spending the night with his friends. You remember them, the two little boys who kept yanking your tail and kept making you run for your life.” Ian thought about it. “I liked them. They should come back more often.” He looked down at the cat, unmoving.
Ian sipped his tea. “Fine. Sleep or not.” He took a step toward away, but turned back to the cat to issue a warning. “Just remember, if you use your little claws to slash my throat in the middle of the night, Ronnie will be back tomorrow and he won’t be happy about that.”
Rodie looked up at Ian and meowed.
“I miss him, too.” Ian leaned back against the doorframe and back down at the cat. “Fine.” He straightened back up. “You can sleep in my room…on the floor. Come anywhere near the bed and I’ll put on a pair of gloves and throw you off the balcony. Deal?”
The cat seemed to lead the way. Ian sipped his tea and walked down the wall of bedroom doors. As they sauntered in the dark past the last door, it drifted open.
Soft light from the bathroom gently illuminated the bedroom. Ian and the cat stopped and turned, attention drawn to forms in the room. Billy and Reece lay there, naked, entwined, covered in sweat.
Ian reached for the doorknob. “I’ll just shut this.” He said.
“Thanks, man. Must not have gotten it shut all the way.” Billy smiled, not moving a muscle.
“Uh huh.” Ian hoped it was dark enough for the lovers not to see the shock on his face or the fact that he could feel it turning beat red.
“Night, Ian.” Reese sighed.
“Yeah. ‘night.” Ian made sure the door shut all the way then quickly made his way to the stairwell. When they got to the landing he looked at the cat, still taking every step he did. “Let’s run upstairs and gouge our eyes out.”
He flipped the lights on to his bedroom. “Claim your space Rodent.” Ian grabbed the remote from the nightstand and pointed it toward the glass wall. With a simple touch the curtains performed their magic and disappeared. He sipped his tea and looked out in to space.
Tea cup in one hand, remote in the other he stepped to the glass and sighed. “Life is good.” A gentle tinkle captured his attention. He smiled at looked toward the wind chimes hanging outside in the corner talking to the slight breeze that touched them.
He saw light from the balcony across the way. Ian moved closer to focus on Kellen and Ralphie, safe in their own home. He noticed Kellen look up and over at his lights. He waved in case he could see him.
Ian saw Ralphie jump against the French doors from the inside. He looked like he was barking but couldn’t hear him. Ian smiled, then noticed Kellen rush the doors himself. He could swear he could almost hear Kellen shout his name.
The cat hissed and spit. Ian turned to see Rodie’s back arched on the bed.
“I said anywhere but the bed.” Ian tossed the remote on the nightstand and bent to smack at the cat in one motion.
As he bent he heard a strange sound and something just missed him. Glass shattered and began to rain all over the room.
At the door of his closet Ian saw a figure dressed in black from head to toe. Before he could react he saw a flash and more shattered glass rained down around him. The figure came at him.
Ian lobbed his steaming tea mug in the figure’s direction and darted toward the now open balcony. The man dived toward him, head butting Ian in the gut. Ian grabbed the man’s head, despite the breath being kicked from his lungs, and brought his knee into the man’s face as hard as he could. He heard cracking and pain shot through his leg.
The man fell backward but struggled up to stay up. Ian saw a movement at the door. They both turned and saw a very naked Billy in defense mode.
“Son of a bitch!” And Billy ran toward the figure. The figure managed to get up and Ian saw a gun pointed in his direction. Billy tackled him from behind and grabbed his hand. There was sound of another shot, this time bringing a rain of plaster on a stunned and frozen Ian. Billy’s force hurled both men toward Ian. The two struggled knocking Ian off balance.
Ian was trying to remain standing and help Billy fight the man in black. He took a step toward them but pain shot up through his knee and it buckled. He reached for the railing of the balcony to pull himself up.
As Ian pulled himself to a standing position, he saw the black figure stand up and face him, gun pointed at ready to fire. From the ground Billy grabbed his feet sending the man forward again. Ian felt the bullet just miss his head, and the full weight of his attacker hit him in the chest.
He heard the railing give way, and felt himself give with it. Ian heard yelling as he fell through the air. He heard the thud as he landed on the ground below, and lost his breath. He struggled for air as he heard another crack and felt the full force of two bodies landing on top of him, one and then the other.
Ian tried to get up, but he couldn’t move. Pain racked his body as he lay there in the grass, crumpled in a pile. He kept hearing the wind pellet by and the sounds of feet running and shouting. Why couldn’t it just be silent enough for someone to hear him scream?
He saw Billy stand up and grab the figure below him and drag him to his feet. The man was like rag doll but struggled with Billy. Billy landed a good punch that whirled the man around. The man tried to return the blow but Billy was too fast for him. He punched him in the gut and then grabbed the ski mask and pulled it off.
“You?” Billy said, and that was all the time the man needed. Ian saw the gun raise and he tried to shout out but he couldn’t breathe. He saw Ralphie sail over top of him and heard his teeth sink into the man’s arm. The gun went off and he saw Billy jolt and fall backward into the pool.
The man shook Ralphie off and he heard the dog splash in the pool. Ian lost focus and heard another splash as he felt the man stagger over to him. He tried to focus on the man’s face but could only see his finger starting to squeeze the trigger.
Ian heard a louder shot from over his head and he saw the man’s body jolt then fall forward. He felt the thud of the body landing on top of him for the second time, maybe the third. He’d lost count. Bodies kept falling on him. Ian struggled to breathe.
He heard Kellen’s voice. “Get him out of the pool!” Ian swore he could hear Tippy screaming.
Ian felt someone pushing or pulling the man off him. He kept hearing Kellen.
“Ian…Ian…talk to me.” But he couldn’t. It was all he could do to breathe.
Ian’s eyes focused on a set of eyes staring into his blankly. They weren’t Kellen’s. The face came together, blurred but enough to see the eyes of Blue Richards roll back in his head. Blood was pouring out his mouth.
The last thing Ian saw before he lost consciousness was Blue’s lips tremble. The last thing he heard before the world went black were those bloody bubbles bursting clearly into to two words….