How can this be? They can’t just be…gone. My girls…. Dolores swayed on the chair.
“Mona.” Dashing to her side, the man claiming to be her father scooped her into his arms and laid her back on the bed. Sitting on the dainty upholstered chair, he leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “What’s going on, kiddo?”
The jumbled world made no sense. According to the paper, she was dead, so she must be in hell because it sure didn’t feel like Heaven.
Her focus shifted, landing on a Greek god of about eighteen or nineteen, who stood close by. His chiseled, high cheekbones called attention to chestnut eyes reflecting maturity and intelligence beyond his years. His full, kissable lips quirked as he appraised her with an intensity that made her tremble.
No one can be so gorgeous. Her daughters’ features were angelic, but the boy seemed to come straight from paradise.
A few rebellious strands of light brown hair fell across his smooth, wide forehead. The V- neck sweater fit snug around his tight muscles. A perfect representation of Adonis, or her daughters would say, Edward Cullen.
Entranced, she was unable to look away. Wait a minute! Why am I staring at this boy? He could be my son!
Yet no matter how hard she struggled to bury the magnetism, it grew stronger. She’d never drooled over a man. Why now, and why over a boy? Her feeing that he was familiar grew stronger, making her question her sanity. The dual personality afflicting her demanded action— but she took none. I don’t understand what I’m feeling. These emotions can’t be mine. She rubbed her temples, collecting her thoughts.
“Mona, do you remember Eric?” the man’s voice intruded.
It took a few moments to tear away from the boy and lock eyes with the man. He shifted in the chair, watching, a glint of hope curving the corner of his mouth.
Snippets of memory—not mine, I swear, not mine—showed a younger Eric and another man with shocking blue eyes.
“She has no memory?” With puppy dog eyes, Eric cocked his head toward the man.
“I’m afraid not.”
“If her condition is bad, why is she home, much less going to school? Shouldn’t my father have kept her in the hospital for observation?”
“She had no amnesia when she left the hospital. The initial MRI showed no swelling in the tissues, no evidence of liquid pressuring the brain, not even blood clots.” He twisted his mouth. “The X-rays showed no fractures to the cranium.” He wiped his face with his hand. “I just don’t understand what’s going on with her.”
Dolores touched the back of her head. The lump throbbed with pain. What’s he talking about? I was never in the hospital. She pushed against the fluff of pillows, lids half closed, trying to remember the missing pieces.
“If you’re still hurting….”
At the sound of the man’s voice, she glanced up at his puzzled expression.
“Please stop being heroic and at least take some medication. Mona, if your behavior is an attempt to get out of school, you’ve succeeded. I’m too worried about you.” He glanced at his watch. “It’s late. I’ve got an open-heart surgery to perform in a few hours. I can’t postpone it. Sophie should already be here. She’ll take good care of you.”
Dolores sat up straighter. “Maybe a nap will get rid of my headache.” Staying home would give her the opportunity to figure out what had happened. I just need to stay calm, so I can think rationally. She shoved her hair behind her shoulder.
Brushing his fingers over his chin, he stared at her, eyebrows squeezed together, mouth tight. She understood his struggle. Being a mother, if she’d been under the same circumstances, she wouldn’t want to leave her own daughter home alone.
“I can stay with her, Uncle Richard. Umm, give her time to shower, get ready then drive her to the hospital to see my father later.” Eric chimed in.
Why would he want to stay behind?
The man shifted in the chair to glance at the boy. “I don’t want you to get in trouble.” “Since my grades are perfect, my father won’t mind.”
He rubbed his hands, nodding. “Could you?”
Eric shrugged. “I’m ahead in school. It’s no big deal if I miss a few hours.”
“That’s fine. You can keep her company. I also want to review the X-rays more closely.” Richard got up and leaned over to kiss her forehead. “Baby girl, I should be done in about five hours. I’ll see you later.” Then he addressed Eric. “Please bring her by the hospital whenever she’s ready, but make sure she has breakfast first.”
He left the room. Even after he was gone, she continued to stare at the empty doorway. The clear image of Ella and Chloe sitting at the piano playing a duet filled her mind.
“Mona.” His tone demanded attention. “I’m really sorry about yesterday. I had no idea you would dash down the stairs, tripping like that.” His childish pleadings didn’t match his clenched jaw when he stopped speaking.
She processed his words, dissecting each one, churning them in her mind. “Did you chase me down the stairs?”
“In a way.”
She shifted under his scrutiny.
“Tell you what, let’s go for a ride. Some fresh air might do you a world of good.” Jumping to his feet, he extended his hand. She didn’t move.
“Oh, come on!” The right side of his mouth curled into a smile, illuminating his features. “You always liked riding with me. You got a problem now?” He sunk into the chair and rolled his eyes. “Fine. Did you want me to beg for forgiveness?” He dropped to his knees, hands together in prayer. “Please, Mona, forgive me so we can go for a ride?”
“You don’t understand. I have nothing to forgive because I’m not Mona.”
A startled contortion of the mouth skewed his face. He stood again, folding his arms across his chest. Is he smirking? “Fine. Who are you today?”
Ignoring him, she walked to the computer to check her sanity.
Following, he stood behind, watching over her shoulder. The boy had morphed into a pesky fly she couldn’t swat away.
Dolores maximized the article about the accident on the monitor and reread it. Nothing made sense since she was alive…but in her young body. Another flash of light sparked behind her eyes, followed by sharp pain. The sound of crunching glass echoed in her mind.
This is crazy! She laughed with a bit of hysteria at the situation. I must be having a nervous breakdown. Great!
Eric’s warm hand on her shoulder made her look up. “Why are you reading this article?”
The sticky paste in her mouth prevented her from answering. Something about the boy scared her.
Before she was able to collect her thoughts, he moved away, pacing around the room, head leaned forward, hands behind his back like her grandfather used to do. The agility of youth with the movements of an old man—her mind was playing tricks.
She opened a new browser and checked her email. No responses from girls or Ethan. Her lungs deflated.
He came to tower over her, grabbed her wrist, and pulled her up. With great force, he dragged her out of the room and down the stairs. What the hell is he doing? Planting her feet on the floor, she tried to stop him, but he continued to drag her across the foyer. Damn! He’s too strong for me. He swung the front door open.
He whirled around, releasing her. Furrowed brows covered some of the intensity in his eyes. “What?”
“Where are we going?” The hairs on her body prickled with creepy distrust.
“For a ride, the way we always do when you’re feeling under the weather.” He stared, puzzled, his arms dangling at his sides.
“Why are you ignoring the fact I’m not Mona?”
His jaw dropped open. After closing both his mouth and the door, he grabbed her by the shoulders and pushed her into a powder room, making her stand before the mirror. “What do you see?”
Dolores’s seventeen-year-old-self stared back at her. “What do you see?”
He huffed. “I see the usual silly Mona, trying to drive me crazy for no reason.” He shoved his hands in his pockets.
She glanced at his reflection, finding skewed brows and tight lips. Why does he see Mona, but I see my younger self?
Scrutinizing her image, she realized she still wore the sweatshirt. She whirled and punched his arm. “You can’t make me go out in this.”
What looked like a hint of relief swam across his features. “Well then, you better go put some clothes on.”
She rushed out of the bathroom and up the stairs into the bedroom, closing the door. She reached toward the knob to turn the lock, but there was none. She threw her arms up in the air. No lock? No way to keep him out? Dismay and frustration twisted through her. Leaning against the door, she covered her face with her hands. The world had gone insane, sucking her into its madness. Am I going crazy?
Lifting her head, she inhaled deeply, attempting to settle her nerves. To her right, a large piece of furniture drew her attention. She stared perplexed at what she assumed to be an original Marie Antoinette vanity. Shuffling toward it, she was compelled to detour to the nearest corner to admire a collection of stuffed animals—pink, white, plush. Someone else’s feelings tugged at her gut. She shook her head. Her daughters had similar collections, but the one before her was not it. What the hell am I doing? I need to get out of here before I really do go crazy.
A closed door stood at the other end of the room, begging to be opened. She wondered what hid behind it. An incomprehensible urge to explore washed over her. Why is my curiosity overpowering my better judgment? She crossed the floor and opened the door. A dressing room- slash-closet lay on the other side. Wow! This Mona kid has her own mini mall. Although impressive, she had no interest in lingering.
She stepped through a carved wood frame, entering into the bathroom. No door? She glanced back again. Sure enough, the dark cherry frame had no door.
A master suite bathroom—but with only one sink—greeted her at the other side. Lavish, cream-colored marble tile with gold variegations chilled her naked feet. A long countertop of the same stone contrasted chocolate walls. Trailing her fingertips across the smooth surface, she paused to stare into the oval mirror, framed with intricate carvings in gold leaf that hung above the sink, reflecting her newfound youth. She shuddered. If I’m young again, do Ella and Chloe exist?
The bathroom seemed familiar, but even odder then its familiarity was that, in a blink, she knew the placements of all the toiletries. The brand of deodorant. The expensive shampoo. She frowned, remembering the scent of two distinct brands—the one she used and the one Mona used.
Dear God, what’s going on? The reflection in the mirror mocked the shambled state of her mind. It just can’t be real.
She opened a drawer and took out the ibuprofen bottle. Swallowing two, she hoped to get rid of the pounding headache that threatened misery. With a small paper cup still in hand, she jolted. How did I know that particular drawer held the ibuprofen?
Dropping the cup on the counter, she staggered toward the shower, seeking some sense of normality. She shed her clothes and stepped into the oversized area, letting steamy water pour over her. Soothing, relaxing, the vapors fogged the entire room, hazing her vision, numbing her senses.
She was lost for what seemed an eternity in the present world where nothing appeared the way it should.
“Are you still alive in there?” Eric’s tenor voice startled her into reality.
Dolores shut off the water. “Get out,” she yelled, annoyed at his audacity.
“Fine. Just don’t have a cow. I put some breakfast on the night table. Make sure you eat it.” The door slammed.
Don’t have a cow? She’d never heard a teen use that expression. Wrapping a towel around her body, she tiptoed into the dressing room to search for some clothes to wear. A fresh thong, lacy bra, jeans, white tee topped with a black vest, and a pair of Sperry top-siders comprised the day’s ensemble of a mixed up teen-mom. Some mousse, a few scrunches, and the hair was good to go.
Searching the closet, she grabbed an oversized purse—force of habit—and dashed out of the room to stumble down a few stairs.
“Are you all right?” he yelled from another room.
Stopping in her tracks, she peered in the direction his voice had come from. No. I need answers.
“Make sure you bring a jacket,” he added. “It’s chilly outside.”
She threw the handbag the rest of the way, where it landed at the foot of the stairs. Gees, why in the world did I do that? Pivoting, she returned to the room. At the threshold, she froze, out of breath and beginning to feel like a pregnant woman with unbalanced hormonal mood swings.
Forcing herself forward, she went straight to the section housing all of Mona’s jackets, jeans, sweatshirts with zippers, pull-over-sweats, hoodies…. Damn! Whatever happened to sweaters and jackets? Groaning, she remembered Mona had no sweaters or casual jackets, so grabbing the next best thing—a zippered sweatshirt—she flew down to the kitchen.
On the table sat a plate of scrambled eggs with a side of buttered toast. She forced the cold food into her empty stomach, hoping the queasiness might go away. When done, she dashed toward the front door, just to trip on the handbag and fall sprawling on the hardwood floor. From nowhere, two hands grabbed her underarms, turning her around.
“Are you okay?” He stared at her, his face filled with worry.
Before she spoke, he helped her to a sitting position. The tension, the unknown, the place she didn’t recognize, her youth…it all crashed down on her, and she exploded into tears.
Shock ran through her body at how he’d scooped her into his arms, cradling her like a child. He rocked from side-to-side while her hysterics continued. After a while, she wiped her face with the backs of her hands. His arms still held her tight against his solid chest.
“Can you please tell me what’s going on with you today?” His lips came so close his warm breath attacked her ear.
The question didn’t ring like the speech of a teen. She squirmed, trying to free herself.
He kissed the top of her head then stood, pulling her up with him. Like a graceful dancer, he picked up the empty purse and the jacket and walked out the front door.
What just happened? Still in a daze, she followed, closing the door behind her.
The hazy day painted the world gray. She rolled her eyes toward the sky. It looked like rain. Damn, she didn’t even have an umbrella.
Curiosity tugging, she pivoted back toward the house, a mansion with no other homes next to it—none that she could see anyway. In the middle of the circular drive rested a white marble fountain of the three graces. She had seen the house before but couldn’t remember where. A magazine maybe?
Eric sat in a sleek Ferrari—motor already running—waiting for her to clamber aboard.
She slid into the passenger seat, and the second she pulled the door shut, he stomped on the accelerator. The car took off like a rocket. She glanced at the speedometer. Forty miles an hour down this winding driveway? Dolores fumbled to fasten the seat belt.