“Oh! You’re back. That was fast. Did you get everything?”
“Yes, I did. We are fixing Mom and Lee the best spaghetti and meat sauce they ever tasted! Good morning Grandma, will you be here for dinner?”
“Oh no dear, I planned to dine with Kurt this evening. By the way, why are you home so soon? Not that I am not thrilled to see you both. Of course I am thrilled to see you anytime. It’s just that you were just home and now here you are again so soon. I thought college kids never came home except to do their laundry. Did you bring laundry? Because I would be happy to help you with that, darling.”
Both young people waited for the elder woman to stop for breath. Phillip with a bemused expression, his grandmother never changed. Natasha, a bit more surprised by Dotty’s surprising ability to talk nonstop for long periods of time, breathed deeply for the verbose woman. It certainly seemed that she had no need for air!
“No Grandma, no laundry this time. We came home to make an announcement. Not quite the announcement that I wanted to make, but, well, here goes. We’re having a baby.”
Stunned, Dotty stared at her oldest grandchild. “Oh my goodness.”
“Now before you tell me that I have a responsibility to fulfill, I want you to know that I am perfectly willing to fulfill that obligation, but Natasha won’t marry me. I’ve asked twice already. Maybe you can talk some sense into her.”
“Phillip, you’re not being fair. You act like I’m being intentionally stubborn. I’m not. I just want what’s best for you. And right now that’s not marriage to me. Not even for a baby’s sake!” With those words, the usually quiet Natasha stormed out of the room, grateful for the opportunity to escape even more questions she wasn’t ready to answer just yet.
Defeated, Phillip looked to his grandmother for support. She had been startlingly quiet during their exchange and he fully expected her support on this topic. To his surprise it was not forthcoming. “I think she’s right. Phillip, you’re both too young to even consider marriage at this point in your lives. You should just stop and think about all this. Just give her and you some time to adjust and I know that together you’ll make the right decision. By the way, do your Mom and Lee know about this yet?”
“Yes, we told them this morning. They all agree with Natasha. Why, when I try to be an adult and own up to my responsibility, does everyone have to argue with me? I thought you all would be proud that I wanted to take care of her and the baby! Why can’t you just let me be a man?!”
Throwing exasperated hands up in the air, the frustrated young man stomped out of the room, to his car and out of the driveway.
Dotty, wanting to comfort the young person who remained in the house with her, moved to the guest room to try and talk to Natasha. She paused outside the door when she heard the other woman’s voice. She peeked around the corner to see that Natasha stood in front of the mirror with one hand protectively over her abdomen.
“Oh, baby, am I doing the right thing? I have to save your father from the danger he is in. But am I going about it the right way? I must be strong for you and him.” She looked up at her reflection in the mirror. “I must not give in no matter how much Phillip requests. I will not hurt him that way!”
Assuming that she was referring to the danger of Phillip ruining his
life with marriage and sensing that this was not the right time for a heart-to-heart
talk, Dotty retreated back upstairs to await the return of the hot-tempered
Phillip. She waited for several hours before giving up. Torn
between wanting to stay and help her family as much as possible and not
wanting to intrude on Lee and Amanda’s parenting abilities she finally
decided to go out with Kurt and hope that if Amanda needed her, she would
not hesitate to call on her. Calling to Natasha that she was leaving
for her dinner engagement, she exited the house when the cab pulled up
to the curb.
When the front door slammed, Natasha left her room and proceeded to the phone in the kitchen. She needed to call Piotre and report her latest findings. Dialing the number with shaking fingers, she waited for the voice of her half brother to come on the line.
“Piotre, its me. I found something today in the office here at the house.”
“Tatiana, it is about time that I heard from you. You left here yesterday in such anger that I feared you would do something stupid, like refuse to marry the King man. Of course, you wouldn’t do such a stupid thing, now would you?”
Briefly Natasha recalled their heated conversation at Piotre’s apartment. They had started meeting there when an Agency operative had, quite accidentally, been spotted observing the teahouse. How Piotre had dealt with the operative, she was unsure, but he had assured her the agent was not a problem anymore. At this particular meeting, they had argued over Phillip’s involvement in this scheme. Her brother insisted that she marry Phillip as he wanted. She had refused, adamantly. Now she reaffirmed her decision to not marry the well-meaning Phillip.
“Piotre, I told you that I do not need to marry him to accomplish this task! I have the information you need. I know where the delegation is staying when they arrive at New Years.”
“Oh my dear, dear baby sister. You had better hope that you do indeed have the information. I intend to stop this delegation from completing this ridiculous endeavor to request assistance from the US government. We do not need help from these egotistical Americans. When we blow up the delegation as they sleep in their nice, comfortable American provided beds, we will show the world that the people of Mother Russia can provide for themselves.”
“Piotre, I still do not think it is necessary to kill the delegation. Why not just disrupt the meetings as before. They will give up if you keep getting in their way.”
“Nonsense, sister. Your soft, American mother gave you too much compassion. Compassion has no place in the fight to return our homeland to its glorious past. Now tell me where the delegates will be staying for their sojourn.”
When she hesitated once more he continued in a cruel voice, “You know, Tatiana, Andre is suffering from a terrible headache. It seems that he ran into a rather heavy fist when he attempted to tell me how I shouldn’t use you in this manner. Pity for him to have another incident such as this, don’t you agree?”
“Leave him alone, Piotre. He is just a student like me. He doesn’t deserve your cruelty. I’ll tell you what you want to know.” She sighed in resignation then whispered into the phone in a defeated tone, “The Cumberland Grand. Just like you mentioned, apparently they are using it again. The name was written on a note pad in the home office here. That is all it said but I know I heard Amanda say to Lee that she had the location of the party downstairs.” She listened to him as she checked the window. She mustn’t be overheard. “Yes, I overheard them this morning while they dressed. They left the door to their room open slightly. They did not know I was upstairs in the bathroom.”
“Very good work, Tatiana, or should I say Natasha? You are playing your role very well. Just don’t play it too well. You would not want to be too attached to the Scarecrow and his wife, I believe you are on first name basis, no? That may not be such a good idea. You would be so hurt when you come home and they are left, shall we say, a bit worse for wear? Besides, maybe soon, you will be allowed to see your beloved Andre. But for now, continue to play your role. I want you in that household at New Years when the delegation arrives.”
The phone clicked loudly in her ear and for long moments she clutched the receiver tightly. Leaning her head against her hand, she again thought about going to the Stetsons and confessing everything. No, she just couldn’t take the chance that Piotre would harm Andre. Nor would she doubt that he was capable of killing her or worse yet harming her baby and allowing her to live. It was just too risky.
She hung up the phone and turned to the counter to begin dinner preparations. As she did, she came face to face with Phillip.
“Oh Phillip! You scared me! How long have you been home?” How much had he heard? Was she caught? Attempting to appear unconcerned she began gathering ingredients for the meal.
“Not long, why were you just holding the phone? Who were you taking to?”
“No one. It was a wrong number. I hoped it was you, so I was disappointed when it wasn’t. I was worried. Where have you been?”
Lulled by her explanation, Phillip started to the counter to join her as she puttered about. “I went to see Jamie. He’s coming for dinner, too. I hope it’s okay. I told him about the baby. He’s my brother and we’re pretty close now that we’re grown.”
“Yes, its okay, Phillip. I am glad that you have a brother that loves you.”
Curious about the wistful tone he detected in her voice, he glanced at her only to see that she had turned to the sink and was washing vegetables for the sauce. Chalking it up to pregnant hormones, he mentally shrugged his shoulders and took his grandmothers advice. ‘Give her and you time to adjust.’ He just hoped she didn’t need too much time.
Lee, Amanda, Phillip, Natasha, and Jamie sat at the table and looked at the remains of the hearty meal. Lee sighed loudly and pushed away from his spot.
“That was a wonderful meal, kids. Good job.”
“Thank you, Mr. Stetson. I’m glad you enjoyed.”
“Natasha, I think given the circumstances you can call us by out first names.”
Looking to his wife for confirmation and seeing it he continued, “Please call me Lee.”
“And I’m Amanda. Okay?”
“Okay, thank you.”
“Now, why don’t we leave the clean up for now and carry on with this morning’s discussion.” With that, Lee stood and helped Amanda from her chair and into the family room.
Taking a deep breath, Phillip followed suit and assisted Natasha to leave the table and settle on the chair near the fireplace. He perched on the arm and placed his arm over her shoulders protectively.
From their positions on the couch, Lee and Amanda watched as the young couple settled themselves. They had much the same thoughts running through their minds. ‘How grown and mature Phillip had become in the last few years.’ Amanda could still see him taking his first steps and running over home plate for the first time. While Lee’s memories didn’t go quite that far, he did share his wife’s amazement at how much he had changed recently.
Not just Phillip, but Jamie as well. He looked at his younger stepson, lounging on the cushion of the window seat. Both boys were men now. Both in college, what with Jamie having finished high school two years earlier than expected, they were sons to be proud of. And he was. He only hoped that he was strong enough to help his family through the tough time ahead of them.
The group sat uneasily for a few moments before Amanda started the ball rolling. “I guess since you’re here, Jamie, that you know what is going on?”
“Yes, Mom. Phillip came by Dad’s this afternoon. He’s out of town this week but I was home and well, I know.”
“Okay, then let’s get down to business shall we? Natasha, how about if you tell us just how you are doing? When is the baby due? Are you doing well? Are there any complications?”
“No, Mrs. Stet…Amanda, there are no problems. I feel great and the baby is due in April. I’m about three months along.”
“Are you seeing a doctor?”
“Yes, Phillip made me go as soon as he found out.” At least he thought she went. She couldn’t take the risk that a doctor would tell him more than he needed to know, like her real due date. She had been to the clinic on campus when she first suspected she was pregnant, but since Piotre had taken Andre she had not had the chance to find a doctor she was sure wouldn’t compromise her situation.
“Good. I’m glad you’re doing the right thing by taking care of yourself.”
“I’d like to help her take care of herself.” Phillip interjected. “But I don’t know how to do that if you won’t marry me Natasha.”
Looking toward his parents for acknowledgement of his need to speak, he continued, “I know that you are doing great. But I still need to know that you have everything that you need. I mean what if you need something in the middle of the night, not now, but later, when it’s closer to time for the baby? If we were married I could be there. Hell, if you would just move in with me I would feel better. You don’t have to marry me, yet.”
“Phillip, I am not going to have this argument again. I’m not going to marry you or move in with you. We can do this without having to take such drastic measures.” She paused as if to consider how to say what she wanted to next. “I care about you, Phillip. You are very special to me. We can have this baby without ruining your life or mine.”
This last was almost whispered and the import of what she said hit Phillip hard. She thought she might ruin her life if she married him! It was hard to swallow but he knew that he hadn’t been considering what she wanted or needed. Conceding his defeat, he looked into her eyes and nodded in agreement. “Okay, I hear you, finally I hear you. What do you want to do now?”
“Well, how about if we do what we came here to do?” She reached up and caressed his face. She really did care about him. That much was true. She just wanted to spare him as much hurt as possible and still save herself and her baby and its father. But it was getting harder to look at his face and know what torment he was going to have to endure. If only there was another way.
Nodding his assent, Phillip turned to his family, “Mom, Lee we were hoping that when the Christmas break came it would be okay for Tasha to stay here. And if she still won’t marry me, if she could stay here until the baby is born.”
A bit put off by the request, Lee and Amanda exchanged looks. Seeing their surprise, Phillip rushed on, “I would feel better knowing that she was here over the holidays rather than at the dorm. Besides, the dorm mother told Natasha that she really didn’t feel comfortable with her staying there alone in her condition. Neither would she let me stay with her.”
Natasha spoke again, “And I just didn’t feel comfortable staying with Phillip at his apartment with his room mates.”
“Well, I think it would be fine for you to stay here for the holidays. After all, Phillip will be here anyway. As for after that, we’ll see ok?” Amanda smiled at the young people in reassurance as she spoke.
The group spoke for a few more minutes about general topics. Jamie spoke up at last and told Phillip he would do anything to help, to just let him know. Then he left to return to the apartment near campus he shared with his father.
It had not pleased Amanda nor Lee when he decided to leave home at the same time Phillip did, but they had felt better when he moved in with his father rather than to the off campus apartment with his brother. It wasn’t really necessary for either of them to leave home but the brothers had argued that it was part of the college experience and reluctantly their parents agreed to the moves.
Now with all the recent developments, Amanda wished she had simply said no to the boys, but it was out of her hands now. She could only support them and help pick up the pieces when Life got rough.
Later that night, as she lay in bed with Lee, she pondered the current situation. Lee was also unsettled about something; she could feel it in his body. He was restless and wanted to talk but just wouldn’t or couldn’t. She wasn’t sure which. “Lee, what’s wrong? I mean, I know that we’re all upset but this is something else. What are you thinking about?”
“I’m not sure, Amanda. Something just isn’t right about this whole situation. I can’t put my finger on it but it’s there. I know it.”
Rising up on her elbow, she placed on hand on her husband’s wide chest. “Lee, you love those boys just like I do. It’s hard to see one of them hurt like this. But I think she’s right. Marriage does seem kind of drastic at this point.”
“It’s not that. I just don’t think she looks at him like a woman looks at the man she loves.”
“Lee, you’re being the overly suspicious again. This is Phillip’s girlfriend, not the number one on the most wanted list. Besides, we did a full background check, and it was clean. Her parents were killed in a car accident just as she said. I think you, of all people, should be able to sympathize with that. She’s lost her Aunt recently. I bet she is very unsure of just about everything right now. Besides, to me they are just babies. I want to believe that they do love each other; that they could be happy together. Maybe they have to grow into it like we did. After all, it took us over three years to see what was in front of our faces.”
“Our faces? You mean my face. You knew all along. I just had to figure it out.”
“Well, you did and now we are here together.” Smiling mischievously, Amanda traced her fingers over the contours of his face. “How about if you tell me how you figured it out?”
“Oh, I’ll do better than that. I’ll show you.”
Rolling her over onto her back, he pulled her into his arms and kissed
her lips. When she opened her mouth in response, he deepened the
kiss while caressing her through the thin gown she wore. She ran
her fingers through his hair and moaned her enjoyment of his attentions.
Shifting, he removed her gown, divested himself of the pajama bottoms he
wore and pulled her closer to his body. Mindlessly, they moved to
a timeless rhythm and sank into the soft heat that was their love.
Together they chased away the worries that plagued them, for the night