Chapter Twenty-Four ~ Nyla’s Insight
I need sleep.
Without sleep, I become a deranged, maniacal mother and wife.
I need rest.
I haven’t slept in five years.
Feeling the sunshine beat down upon my skin, I sigh and rummage about in the gigantore bag that advertises with great authority that I am, indeed, number one mommy. Fishing out some suntan lotion, I push myself up from the blanket that is spread over the green grass and head in the direction of little Stuart. Today, he decided to be a horse and has proceeded to gallop about in a circle before me for the past twenty minutes. As long as he doesn’t vomit, I am okay with this…it burns off his excess energy and keeps him in plain sight.
“Do you think you can hold still for one second, cowboy?” I ask my small son with a smile, stooping on the ground at his level. Stuart frowns and lets out a strange noise which one can only assume he means to be a horse’s neigh.
“Mommy,” Stuart states in an exasperated tone, his blue eyes bright and reflecting the sunshine, “I’m not the cowboy, I’m the horse!”
“Sorry about that, dear,” I answer absentmindedly, as I slather lotion across his cheeks and forehead. The child typically squirms about but I hold the little chap firmly until the protectant is all blended in. I tackle Stuart’s two brothers next before returning to my blanket and making sure Sophia is still asleep beneath an umbrella.
I feel like quite a dork just sitting here instead of exploring the Leaning Tower of Pisa or any of the tourist shops around. But, the children are not really impressed with the massive structure before us, and I know I can’t handle all four of them in a small tent packed with shopping Americans. Elijah has been off taking pictures for the past half-hour, and I am relieved when I see him approaching from a distance.
“I think these are going to come out great, Nyla,” he offers in an excited tone, plopping himself down next to me and leaning in to drop a kiss against Sophia’s sleeping brow. I force a grin to show that I am listening, but inside I feel annoyed. I know photography is his passion, but Elijah has been way too encompassed with it, as of late. I remember when I used to be his passion.
Four kids ago…
Speaking of, Owen and Ian flail forward just at this moment, launching their tiny bodies into their father’s arms. Elijah laughs and wrestles about with them on the blanket, only raising their hyper level. The noise wakes up the baby and I am swift to scoop my delicate daughter up and away from the chaos. It only takes a minute before Stuart joins in, too.
“Men,” I whisper to tiny Sophia with a shake of my head. My daughter blinks towards me sleepily before latching on to a strand of my long, blonde hair and tugging. Laughing, Elijah stands awkwardly, though he has three boys hanging from his limbs.
“I think we need some family pictures,” my husband says cheerfully, and a tiny smile creeps up despite myself. It’s about time he took some shots of the kids…I’d hate to return home with only pictures of ancient churches and paintings.
“Come on, come on,” Elijah urges, marching forward and the boys form a little line behind him as though it were a game. In a silly fashion, I join the line, bouncing Sophia a bit on my hip until she starts to giggle aloud. We look like quite the happy bunch when we arrive at a perfect little spot on the grass to take photographs before the Leaning Tower.
In a self-important fashion, Elijah arranges the children in a horizontal line from tallest to shortest and then makes each of them lean in the direction the tower is leaning. The boys laugh and push at one another, causing more than a few spills before Elijah can snap the picture.
“And now, my two favorite girls must go join the session,” Elijah says warmly, making a silly face for Sophia and then flicking my nose a bit. It is an action that used to annoy the hell out of me, but I somehow grew an odd liking towards it. I now view it as a sort of affectionate gesture. Welcoming any display of love, I feel a bit better inside and smile in all our pictures.
I know I shouldn’t complain so much…things really aren’t that bad. I know deep inside that Elijah loves me, and the children really are a blessing despite the stress. And, I don’t know why I have been in such an awful, down mood lately. I have basically everything I ever wanted; I have a life most women dream of. I must stop this whiny, melodramatic bull…
“Hello!” a voice calls cheerfully, and when I glance to my left I see Johnny’s assistant, Blanche, approaching. Instantly, an aura of discomfort comes over my body. This woman sure has been stuck to Elijah like glue lately; I know they have only been discussing career options for my husband when we get home…but still.
Any woman would be jealous of Blanche, I can promise that. I study her graceful motions as she crosses the grass and moves towards us, never a falter or misstep in her gorgeous pace. Today, Blanche is wearing a billowy, black skirt that dances daintily in the wind, and a crisply ironed blazing red button up shirt. The crimson color offsets the raven shine to her hair, and the perfection of her face beneath the sunlight makes me want to scream. How can one person look so flawless? Looking down at my wrinkled clothes, I feel inadequate, yet again.
“How are you all this morning?” Blanche questions in a friendly tone, as she holds a small cup of peach ice cream in her hands. Typical, I bet she can eat anything she wants and still have a perfect figure; I’m still working off baby fat here.
“Great,” Elijah calls back happily, before beckoning the woman closer. He hands her the camera and says a few words of instruction before galloping towards me and the kids. Quickly, he scoops Owen up in his arms and then stands beside me with a grin across his face. Our family promptly smiles for the picture before breaking up with loud chattering…Elijah towards Blanche, me towards Owen and Ian, and Stuart just flailing and making his horse calls.
“I want ice creammmm,” Ian screeches loudly, his bright eyes locked on the cup in Blanche’s hands. She shoots me an apologetic look, as though she wished she hadn’t of approached with the tempting sweet. Right, bet she did it on purpose.
Oh, that was low of me.
“Do you need some help?” Blanche asks innocently, and I shake my head in a quick manner. No, when it comes to screaming, flailing children, I am number one. Don’t need a speck of help at all, thank you very much…and for the record…
“Where’s Stuart?” Elijah questions suddenly, and my head jerks about in a frantic fashion. I fight the urge to scream out a curse before gripping Owen’s hand in my own and beginning a trek around the courtyard. With Sophia snugly in my arms, and Ian with his father, I make my number one concern tracking down my other son. My heart begins to beat faster with fear as each second ticks by.
Why does he always disappear like this? I’m going to have a coronary attack before I hit thirty.
“Stuart,” I call out shrilly and immediately a small voice answers. Turning on my heel, I see Blanche approaching with my child’s small hand clasped together with her larger one. Relief floods over me as I drop down and grab one of my son’s shoulders, shaking his body slightly.
“How many times, Stuart?” I screech, “How many times am I going to have to tell you not to wander away without an adult? You made Mommy’s heart jump into her throat!”
He looks at me with wide eyes, assuming I literally meant this and flings his small body forward into my embrace, “I’m so sorry, Mommy. I was just going find ice cream for Ian so he would be quiet.”
With a sign that sounds more like a sob, I stand up and find Blanche staring intently at me. She opens her perfectly shaped mouth for a second, before swiftly shutting it again. I’d be a fool to not notice that she has something on her mind.
“What?” I bark in a more irritated tone than I should.
“Well, uh, I don’t mean to interfere, but…” Blanche trails off for an instant, “Did you ever think of using one of those children leash things? You know, you could have Stuart connected to you but give him a little bit of liberty to wander off on his own, too. That way you’d never lose him again.”
I try to keep my rage low, but I can’t seem to help myself. Who is she to just waltz up and blurt out advice on how to care for my children? I don’t see Blanche with kids, how would she know? I’ve had four; I think I have a better idea than she does. And, God, those children leashes are so demeaning! My boys are not dogs!
“I don’t agree with treating my children like animals,” I say through clenched teeth and Blanche’s eyes widen in surprise over my tone. Her cheeks flush red with embarrassment, and I am quite thankful that Elijah decides to approach at this moment. Things could have only gotten worse from that point.
“Thank God you’ve found him,” Elijah breaths tiredly, stooping to give a quick but stern lecture to Stuart. After the discomfort is over, he straightens and gives a tired smile in my direction.
“My cousins are meeting for lunch at that bar over there,” he says, “Rosalie and the girls were asking for you, and I’m sure Stacia would want to chat.”
I nod and smile, relieved to get away from Blanche and all her little advice. However, my grin is quickly smashed away from my face a second later when Elijah decides to screw me over.
“And, Blanche, I hope you will join us,” he offers grandly, motioning with his arm towards the small sandwich shop. The woman pauses for an instant, shooting a quick look my way before timidly nodding her head and moving forward.
Chapter Twenty-Five ~Billy
From the look and sound of things, Elijah’s three small sons had sugar…and, a lot of it. They are currently flailing back and forth down the aisle of the moving bus, as their harried-looking mother, Nyla, is trying to contain their sweet high. I feel sorry for her, trying to control those kids is like challenging Shakira in a hip-shaking contest-you’re gonna lose every time.
Turning in my seat towards Dominic, I notice he has tuned out the children’s laughter as well as the loud jabber of relatives and friends all seated around him. Apparently, Pisa has made just about everyone hyper as I feel the energy surging about us. Even my own body is fidgety in the chair as I remember my conversation with Brenna earlier. Or, rather my almost conversation…it seems each time I try to really delve into her brain and get some concrete answers about how she feels, someone interrupts us. This time it was Scarlet next time it will maybe be the Pope himself. Who can figure?
“Interesting,” I hear Dom murmur beside me and I follow his gaze to find it is centered upon Orlando and Scarlet. He seems quite pleased with himself that the tour guide is conversing with his sister, and a streak of curiosity runs through me.
“What’s going on?” I ask, jabbing my old friend in the side and ignoring the passing landscape of vineyards with bright green leaves and growing purple grapes.
“They made up,” Dom muses thoughtfully, turning his blue-gray gaze upon my face and nodding slightly. Well, I didn’t know Orlando and Scarlet were at odds, but I suppose it is always good for harmony to reign. I still haven’t a clue why Dom is looking as though he were the one who made the peace negotiations.
“Why?” I start to ask, but Dom waves his hand in the air as though my question is unimportant. He shifts his gaze around for a moment before settling it upon his other sister, Brenna. It doesn’t take much thought on my part to guess what the next words out of his mouth are going to be.
“How are things going with Brenna?” he inquires curiously, “Do you think it’s helping her out at all to have someone besides a family member compliment her and help bring her spirits up?”
Loaded questions, much?
“Um,” I mutter, tugging on my collar a bit and flushing under Dom’s gaze. I am really not sure where he was expecting me to go with all this, or what he was hoping I could do for Brenna. What I am quite positive about, however, is that Dom didn’t realize I would go falling for his sister, head over heels. And, I don’t know if he would be too happy if he found out, either. I can still hear his threats about not touching her lingering in my brain.
He just wanted me to be a helpful friend, not a certified Brenna stalker!
“Tell me that she’s starting to feel better about herself?” Dom asks, his voice a bit high with desperation. I didn’t realize this was so important to him, though I guess I should have. Brenna is his favorite sister and if someone was hurting my sibling, I would want them as far away from that person as possible.
“I know you were hoping that I could help Brenna,” I say hesitantly, “But, I’m not really sure what to do. I keep trying to make her talk about her feelings or Dave, yet it seems she always clams up or something interrupts us. If I take this any further it’s going to be like I’m trying to tempt her into cheating on her fiancée. I just can’t do that with a clear conscience, no matter how bad you say this guy is!”
“I’m just going to have to talk to her then,” Dom states resolutely, slowly cramming his left hand into a fist of frustration, “The closer we get to Rosalie’s wedding, the more it makes me think of how I am going to feel when Brenna gets married. I don’t want to see her make a huge mistake.”
“Perhaps, we are meddling too much,” I suggest lightly, baring the glare from Dom as best I can, “Brenna should realize that out for herself…we’re not in charge of her personal life.”
Flailing a bit in the seat and reminding me very much of little Stuart, Dom pulls a pout and then sighs loudly, blowing his hair up off his forehead. With a shrug, he answers, “That’s always what Stacia says…I need to stay out of it, it’s none of my business. I can’t be the overprotective big brother forever…blah, blah, blah. I can’t help it if that’s a hard job to let go of! Not to mention, I just think Brenna’s self-esteem is too far gone to make her realize what she is doing. I want to shake some sense into her.”
“I’m gonna keep being her friend, try and get her to see how special she is,” I tell Dom quietly, “I don’t think I could stop doing that even if I wanted to. But, that’s as far as it will go unless by some miracle Brenna magically becomes ‘unengaged.’”
And so, it is with serious expressions and much pondering that Dom and I sit together until a familiar voice calls out our names. My eyes dart up to find Brenna flouncing herself into the seat across from us, Scarlet quickly on her heels.
My plans were ruined, typically…oh so typically! I think I was born to be dissuaded from ever completing any task of importance. And, this might be all due to the fact that I attract interrupters with the ferocity in which talk show host Maury Povich attracts women who don’t know who their baby’s daddy is.
I was going to tell Billy the truth about my ‘unengaged’ status this afternoon, the minute my feet hit the ground out of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
But, oh, right…my father and Uncle Clovis had Billy wrapped in their blathering conversations of stories from the past and the good ‘ole’ days. When I sidled up, I realized Dad was talking about being stationed in France while in the air force in his youth…he was discussing the fact that waiters hold your bread under their armpits at restaurants? Dear God, what would possess him to talk of that! I ran away before I heard my uncle’s matching story, feeling sorrier for Billy than I had felt sorry for anyone in a long time.
When my family released him from their clutches, it was time to get back on the bus and continue our trip to Venice. And, I’m certainly not going to spill the truth on an enclosed vehicle where anyone could overhear. Also, what if Billy reacts very badly? Then, everyone would not only hear screaming, they’d also get to witness a fight. I am sure my relatives would enjoy the drama, but I don’t fancy a confrontation on a moving structure flying eighty-miles per hour down the highway, taking curves on two wheels!
So, now I will just talk to Billy for a bit…see what sort of mood he is in and try to reassure myself that I am, indeed, doing the right thing. My brother is in the way, too bad for that. I’ll just bring Scarlet along and let them fight it out while I discuss things with Billy.
“Come on,” I urge to my sister, not caring that I interrupt some conversation she is having with Orlando, the helpless tour guide wonder. Scarlet wordlessly follows me and I jolt my body down in the seat across from Dom and Billy.
“What’cha talking about?” I ask my brother, feeling a bit bouncy in the seat…due to nerves or hitting bumps at the speed of light, I’m not sure which.
“Looks serious,” Scarlet adds, leaning forward so she can catch Dom’s answer, and assumedly criticize it, as that is their favorite activity when they converse.
“Nothing,” Billy yelps before Dom can say a word. I find it odd, as my eyebrow rises suspiciously. Those two together, planning something…from past experience I know that any possible results are going to be disastrous!
“Talking to Orlando again, I see,” Dom sneers quickly at Scarlet, changing the subject and refocusing my attention.
I notice my sister make a weird face, as she looks to Dom sharply, “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Oh, I just noticed that the two of you had been sort of playing the silent game for the past few days, Scar…” Dom begins to say her horrid nickname before correcting himself and trailing off lamely, “..let.”
“HP, are you hiding something?” Scarlet asks quickly, her face on the verge of the look of someone who is about to have an epiphany.
And, when it comes to epiphanies between Dom and Scarlet, I don’t want to be involved…I could recite their fights and squabbles by heart now.
In a super smooth spy fashion, I bound across the aisle to the vacant seat in front of Billy, settling on my knees so I can stare over the edge of the head rest at him. Smiling, I feel like I’m in high school again and chatting things up with a classmate on the big, shiny yellow bus.
“What does HP stand for?” Billy whispers, leaning forward and trying to escape my brother and sister’s conversation which seems to be growing louder by the second, “Harry Potter?”
“More like Half-Pint,” I snort with a giggle, noticing that Billy frowns slightly, as though hurt. Suppose I should watch myself, seeing as he and my brother are about the same height. But, it could be worse…at least Scarlet doesn’t call Dom after Napolean Bonaparte.
“Nice and energized, eh?” Billy questions, looking at me with a bit of a sparkle in his green eyes, “Had a good Cheezits fix today?”
“Yeah, and I actually bought some chocolate in Pisa,” I explain, reaching in my pocket and pulling out a mystery egg-shaped sweet I found. Hell, I had time to explore the shops since Daddy had Billy in a nit-picking story neck hold.
“What’s that?” Billy asks curiously, reading the bright orange lettering on the plastic wrapping, “Kinder Surprisa?”
“We’ll soon find out,” I chirp happily, welcoming the first silly mood I’ve had since we left the United States. It just feels so good to be carefree for a moment, forget about Dave and the breakup, don’t worry about family drama, and concentrate on Billy’s soothing presence. Yes, I know we may lose our comfortable relationship after I tell him the truth, but I don’t have to freak out over it at this exact second!
Pulling the egg-shaped container open with my fingers, I find that one side of it is filled with chocolate and tiny round truffles. The other half has opaque plastic wrap over it, hiding the mystery that lies beyond.
“What’s there?” I ask Billy, handing it over to him as I impatiently take a bite of the chocolate part with a handy-dandy tiny plastic spoon the egg provided. When the sweet dark goodness hits my lips, I make a noise that is only reserved for eating chocolate and…well, I suppose you get the point.
Billy’s head darts up at this, his eyes suddenly wide and very much focused on my lips. A blush crosses my cheeks and I sink a bit in the seat so that he can only see the top of my head. I should’ve thought that sound through.
“Brenna,” Billy gruffly clears his throat and I timidly straighten my body to peer at him, “I think the other side is a surprise toy.”
Forgetting my embarrassment due to sheer glee, my hand jolts out maniacally and I nearly rip the surprise toy half of the egg from Billy’s fingers. He seems a bit taken aback, but releases the plaything which I happily open to find a tiny plastic princess inside.
“Ohh,” I breathe gleefully, laughing aloud and jumping about in my seat. Hey, if there’s one thing I love better than surprises, it would have to be surprise toys! Best of both worlds, much?
“If we had these in America I would never stop eating them!” I yelp aloud excitedly, and I find that Billy is laughing quietly at me. I dangle the princess toy in his face, twisting her around in excitement.
Gently, he grasps my fingers to stop my motion and I let my chin fall atop the head rest so I can gaze into his green eyes. My heart rate increases with that familiar surge of infatuation, and I know that if I had just a little more privacy and nerve, I would tell him the truth in one second flat.
“Excuse me,” I hear a tight voice say and I break myself away from Billy’s stare. Looking up, I find Scarlet, her hands on her hips and an annoyed expression affixed to her face. She grabs my arm without a word of explanation and yanks me away towards the front of the bus.
“What the hell are you doing?” she hisses through clenched teeth, her gray eyes snapping with exasperation.
“Huh?” I ask eloquently, my brain dull and foggy as to what her meaning is.
“To our family, to everyone on this bus, you are an engaged woman,” Scarlet scolds, “And, let me just say that you flirting shamelessly with Billy Boyd in front of everyone is going to start raising some questions! I saw Daddy staring at you! So, if you’re not prepared to tell EVERYONE the truth, then I would take it down a notch.”
Flushing bright crimson, I let my head fall limply against the fabric of the bus seat. I was so oblivious to everyone around me when talking to Billy that I had no clue what I was doing. Scarlet is right…I don’t want to spill the details of my mangled breakup to everyone on this wedding trip! I gotta be careful.
“Did you tell Billy or something?” Scarlet inquires, her voice kinder this time, “Is that why you two are so happy and have tiny cartoon red hearts dancing around your heads?”
“I didn’t tell him yet,” I stutter, “But, I am surely going to get to it when we arrive in Venice.”
Scarlet pats my shoulder, “I definitely think you should…I’d be happy to see the two of you have a go at a relationship. I mean, Billy has to be better than Dave!”
Sobering, I repeat her words over and over again in my mind. I never really thought before to compare Dave and Billy, but now that I do I feel cold and afraid. Things were good and sweet like this in the beginning for Dave and I, just as they are with Billy…what if things turn out exactly the same, this time around, as well?
My heart can’t take a repeat performance.
Chapters Two and Three
Chapters Four and Five
Chapters Six and Seven
Chapters Eight and Nine
Chapters Ten and Eleven
Chapters Twelve and Thirteen
Chapters Fourteen and Fifteen
Chapters Sixteen and Seventeen
Chapters Eighteen and Nineteen
Chapters Twenty and Twenty-One
Chapters Twenty-two and Twenty-three