“Natasha, let me get that. I don’t want you to get cut.” Phillip assisted her to her feet and finished the cleanup alone.
The silence in the room was awkward and Lee spoke first. “Let’s all have a seat, shall we?”
The two couples made their way to the dining room table and sat. Lee and Amanda on one side. Phillip and Natasha on the other. They all stared at each other uncertainly, the tension nearly palpable. Natasha clutched her hands together tightly until the knuckles were white from lack of circulation. Lee ran restless hands through his hair while next to him, Amanda sat silent, seemingly absorbing the recent news and trying to assimilate it.
Amanda breathed deeply and started the conversation. “Phillip, Natasha, are you telling us that you’re expecting a baby?”
Phillip reached for Natasha’s hand before answering. “Yes, Mom. And I want to marry Natasha and take care of her and the baby.”
Lee cleared his throat. “Is that what you came home to tell us?”
When Phillip tried to answer in the affirmative, Natasha interrupted. “No, Mr. Stetson, it’s not. I told Phillip last night that I wouldn’t marry him. We’re too young and he has too much life in front of him to marry now.”
No matter what else Piotre forced her to do, she would not allow
Phillip to ruin his life that way. It was bad enough that she would
break his heart when she was through with her mission, she wouldn’t do
any more personal damage than necessary to the kind young man she had come
to know so well in the last four months
She stared into Phillip’s eyes. “Phillip, you know I am right. Let’s not rush into anything right now.”
“Seems to me that you already have!” All eyes turned to stare at Amanda. She was not normally given to sarcasm but she sure had sounded sarcastic with that comment.
“Mom, I know this is a shock for you both but fighting won’t help. I guess we did rush into the physical aspect of this relationship but I knew when I saw her that I loved her. I knew we were meant to be together. Can we please discuss this rationally?”
Amanda stared in surprise at her usually not rational son. Her oldest child had always rushed head first into any situation that came along! And he had obviously done it again, but at least he wanted to discuss this like an adult. The least she could do was listen like an adult. She took another deep breath and nodded her head in agreement. “Of course we can Phillip, I’m sorry. It just seems to me that only yesterday I brought you home from the hospital and now you say you’re having a baby.” She reached across the table and squeezed the young people’s entwined hands.
“So, if you didn’t come home to tell us you were getting married, why did you come home?” Lee spoke up.
Natasha took this one. “Well, you see I was hoping that you would be so kind as to allow me to stay here over the Christmas break.”
Lee still felt suspicious. “Couldn’t that be done over the phone?”
Phillip replied for her. “Well, yes. But I talked her into coming last night to tell you about the baby, while we had the courage worked up. And I thought that if I just announced our marriage to you guys she would agree with me. I guess I was wrong.” He removed his hand from hers and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. “But I am not going to give up. It is the right thing to do. I know it.”
He gave her a light kiss on the forehead and she looked down almost shyly. She had been terribly relieved when Phillip insisted that he bring her here last night. She had not really known how to get him to offer. He was so eager to care for her, especially now. She was finding it harder and harder to deceive him. She flushed in remorse and fidgeted in her chair.
Lee noted this and filed it away for further discussion with his partner.
She just didn’t look at his stepson like a woman in love looked at her
man. Much less like a mother looks at the father of her child.
She didn’t look at Phillip the way that Amanda looked at him or even Joe.
If there was one thing that Amanda had taught him, it was the value of
emotions and the value of reading people’s emotions.
He looked at his partner and decided that she’d had just about all the emotional roller coasting she needed for one morning. “Look, it’s getting late. We are not going to solve anything this morning. Besides that we need to get to work. Phillip, why don’t you and Natasha just hang out here today and we will be back about five o’clock and we will discuss this some more.”
Nodding their assent, they retired to the family room while Lee and Amanda headed upstairs to finish dressing for work.
Once upstairs, alone for the first time since the shocking revelation, Lee turned to Amanda and pulled her into his arms. “Hey, are you okay?”
“No, of course I’m not okay. My baby just told me that he’s having a baby. Why? Why did I ever say he could move out of this house? This would not be…”
“Amanda, you can’t be sure of that.” He stooped slightly to look directly into her eyes. “He was determined to go. Had we tried to stop him, he would have left anyway. He would have still left and possibly gotten into this mess regardless. At least this way, he feels like he can come to us.”
Leaning her head against his chest for comfort, she sighed deeply. “Oh, I know that you’re right. I just always wanted to spare Phillip and Jamie both from all of life’s downfalls. I did for so many years, you know.”
“They are grown now, Amanda. Both of them. We can’t protect them anymore, not from the lives that they are choosing for themselves. We can only be there for them when the going gets tough.”
Amanda left the comforting circle of his arms and crossed to a display of pictures on the nearby dresser. She picked up one of all of them on the beach. That was one of the first trips they had taken as a family. The boys had always been fascinated by the tides. She remembered how they would run to the beach late in the evenings to see how far the tides had come in. Even as teenagers, the sense of awe had remained. She recalled one recent trip when Phillip had swam out farther than usual. When he didn’t return for dinner as agreed upon, she had panicked. Lee, in an effort to calm her, had gone immediately to the beach to look for him.
Despite his admonitions to stay put in case the boy returned to the hotel room, she followed and had arrived in time to see Phillip drag his weary body out of the high tide and flop on the beach next to his waiting stepfather. She had always remembered this heart wrenching sight and had hoped never to see it again. It seemed her hopes were unfounded. She would once again have to see Phillip, her firstborn, pull himself out of the grasp of the sucking tides. Only this time, it was the tides of life that attempted to pull him down, not the tides of the earth.
Resolutely, the worried mother put down the picture and turned back to her watching husband. She smiled and sighed deeply.
Realizing that she had more worries than she needed, he decided not to share his concerns over Natasha’s odd behavior at this time. After all, she already was dealing with her earlier discomfort with the girl, now this pregnancy. She didn’t need more food for thought. Lee walked to her side and rubbed his hands down her arms reassuringly.
The skin-to-skin contact comforted her as nothing else could.
They were a family. Together they could face whatever the tides washed
up on the beach of their lives.
As if by mutual agreement, when they returned downstairs, they did not discuss the situation beyond assuring Natasha that they would help her in any way possible and agreeing to table further discussion until the evening.
They left for work, admonishing the two young people to stay put and not get upset.
While unable to convince Phillip to return to campus for his evening classes, Natasha was able to convince him to go to the grocery store so they could prepare the evening meal for the family. He left and she hurried to complete her mission before anyone returned.
Retrieving her bag from the guest room, she attached the electronic descrambling device to the keypad of the home office. Just as her brother had promised, it beeped several times and then flashed green lights and the door swung open. Either they had not changed the access codes or the device would continue to decode them no matter how often they were changed.
Taking a deep breath and fighting the remorse that had settled in her chest she entered the room, leaving the door open so that that she could listen for Phillip’s return. She crossed the room to the desk and went to work, rifling through the drawers, careful to replace everything just as she found it. She considered accessing the computer but was sure it was password protected and she didn’t have time to try to get past it.
Just as she was about to give up she noticed the notepad on the desk next to the phone. One word was written there. Cumberland. The Cumberland Grand? The old hotel? Maybe the rumors were true, the government really did use the building to house foreign dignitaries in need of protection. Piotre had mentioned this to her but had dismissed it as too obvious. Besides, his sources told him that the Cumberland hadn’t been used by the Agency in years.
She began to prepare to leave the office. Piotre had drilled her over an over again, she must leave the office just as she found it in order to avoid discovery. She checked all the drawers to ensure that they were closed. All the papers were just as she found them. She exited the room and removed the descrambler from the keypad. She heard the door lock and turned to replace her bag and device in her room. Just as she turned she heard, “Why hello, Natasha! I didn’t know you were visiting this week! How nice to see you!”
Her mind shifted into high gear. Dotty! She had assumed she was away when she didn’t show for breakfast. Smiling she greeted the older woman. “Good morning Dotty, how are you?”
Oh, I am fine. Just back from my early bird breakfast with Kurt. Did you know that you get a 15% discount for being there before 6 am? Oh, well, no, I guess you didn’t. I’m sure you never get up that early. Uh, Natasha, what are you doing here, by Lee and Amanda’s office?”
“Office? Oh yea, I just needed something from my bag and it got caught on the keypad when I went to put it back.” She took the steps needed to throw the bag through the bedroom door and onto the bed. She closed the door behind her and walked toward the steps hoping that Dotty would follow. “Phillip and I are going to cook dinner tonight. Any requests?”
“Oh, how nice. No dear, no requests, I’m dining with friends tonight.”
Dotty went on to discuss her dinner date with Kurt and his brother and
his wife. Thankfully, she seemed to have forgotten about the office
and Natasha counted her blessings at not having been caught.