"I'm pretty sure if it's the stalker he or she wouldn't need a GPS. That's kinda the point of being a stalker" Sophie whispered as Carson and she edged towards the bottom of the stairs. "Good point". "Go look". Sophie nudged Carson. "Why me? It's your stalker" Carson shot back. "But it's your house". Carson rolled her eyes, admitting defeat. Carson cautiously crept up the steps. Sophie pulled her phone out of her pocket. Carson rounded the corner at the top of the stairs. Sophie craned her neck forward as Carson walked down the hall.
"Matt, Aaron! How many times have I told you not to play ball in the house!". Sophie breathed an enormous sigh of relief as she listened to Carson order her little brothers to bed.
The final strains of "How great Thou art" flowed from the church as the Duvals along with the rest of the church members filed out.
Sophie had left Carson's shortly after the whole stalker-turned-brothers-and-baseball fiasco. She texted her before she left for church this morning to ask if things were okay but she hadn't responded yet.
"Wonderful sermon, Kurt. Just wonderful" Mr.Duval boomed. Kurt had given the sermon today seeing as Rev. Grant was away on vacation. He had preached on forgiveness, a subject he had previously discussed with the youth in Wednesday night Bible study.
"I tried, sir" Kurt replied, scratching the back of his head nervously. "It really was very moving and powerful. I could feel the spirit with you" said Carol. "Thank you Carol. What about you Sophie? You didn't happen to see any of the youth falling asleep did you?". Sophie smiled. "No, you had their full attention" she assured. "Where did you brother run off to? I saw him in the congregation" he inquired. "He had to talk to Henry. Henry's helping him with his PR firm" Mr. Duval explained before Sophie could open her mouth to speak. "I remember Henry mentioning something about that" he said, excitingly waging his forefinger as he spoke. "Yes, we're all very proud of Ted" Mr. Duval boasted.
"Well we'll let you talk to the rest of the congregation. See you Wednesday" Carol interrupted, clutching Mr.Duval's arm. Kurt nodded a brief goodbye, as the Duvals hurried out of the church, before he spoke to the next family.
They stood just outside the church, quickly glancing around them for Ted. Sophie pulled her phone out from her purse to check the time. 11:59 A.M. Kurt had finished earlier than Rev. Grant usually did. When Rev. Grant preached they were lucky to get out of church at 12:05 P.M.
As if on cue Ted briskly walked towards them, wriggling his keys from his pants pocket. "Hey! We should get going if we want to get anything done today" he said to Sophie, motioning to the parking lot. "I've been ready! You're the one who's been chatting away" Sophie reminded him. Ted rolled his eyes as though to say 'yeah right!'.
"I'll see you later Mom" he said, hugging Carol goodbye. "Bye Dad" he added, giving him a wave. "Bye Mama" Sophie said, hugging her mom as well. "Make sure you're home by 6 P.M. for dinner" Carol called after her children. "I'll make sure of it Mama" Sophie replied. "Bye Dad".
Carol and Mr. Duval watched Sophie and Ted as they hurried to the parking lot. Ted opened the passenger side door. Sophie threw her purse in first before climbing into her seat. Ted made his way around the car, opened the door, and gets in. "So you wanna just pick something up through a drive-through?" he asked as he turned the key in the ignition. "Sounds fine to me" Sophie replied.
Three hours later. Sophie sat Indian-style in the floor of what would be Ted's office, organizing his files. Every time she finished one box he presents her with another. She's beginning to think he has a never ending supply of boxes filled with files.
As soon as they got there Ted introduced Sophie to all of his soon-to-be co-workers. There was Anna, Craig, and Steve, all of whom were from his college days. Then there was Vick, Brandon, Angela, Andrew, and some guy whose name she couldn't pronounce or remember. They were from Delaware.
They all seemed to be carbon copies of Ted. Intellectual, driven, and kept the same fake, over the top smile on their faces. Yet she somehow sensed them to be genuinely nice.
The building wasn't extremely big, but wasn't by any means small. The lobby had pale blue walls. A kind of blue that reminded Sophie of a baby blanket she had as a child. One the front door of the building read 'Duval PR Firm' in crisp, white letters. Sophie couldn't get over how peculiar his name looked on the door.
"Here's another box for ya" Andrew said as he dropped a box down beside Sophie. "Thanks" she replied, pushing her hair back with her hand. "This isn't too much for ya?" he asked. Sophie glances around at the boxes surrounding her. "Define 'too much'" she quipped.
He chuckled slightly as he lowered himself to the floor next to her. "Let me see" he said, reaching for a box. "So how do you know my brother from Delaware exactly?". "Well, don't tell you parents but I met him at a bar" he explained. "It was right after he had graduated, he was looking for a job, so I told him to apply where I was working. Sure enough he got the job". Sophie shoved one box out of her way and pulled another towards her.
"So did you got to college in Delaware as well?" she asked. "Yep! Born and raised there too" he informed her. "I bet you and you parents were surprised to have him back" he added, flipping through a folder. "I was the only one who didn't know actually" she replied, thinking about that day for the first time. "But we were all surprised by his new look".
An amused expression passed over Andrew's face. "Yeah, he went all cave-man on us when he left the company". "When was that?". "He didn't tell you? It was about two or three months ago". Sophie practically halted her work, shocked by Andrew's words. "He was pretty sketchy about the whole thing. Wouldn't tell anyone what had happened. Neither would the company" he added, replacing the lid on a box. "About a week or two after he left he came to me telling me about how had has come into some money when your great Aunt Besty died, it is Aunt Besty, right?".
At first Sophie just stared at him blankly. "Well I call her Aunt Bes, but yeah. Now that you mentioned it I do remember him saying something about all that. I must have just forgotten with all the hoopla lately" she spoke, her voice unsure of itself. He bit his lips, narrowing his eyes down at the papers in his hands. "Your brother told me about your friend, That had to be hard. Knowing she could be dead and not being able to do anything about it". "Yeah, it was".
The door to the office abruptly swung open and they twisted their torsos around to see Ted. "Hey guys! We need some help painting!" he announced. "I'm still in my church clothes" Sophie replied, motioning to her skirt and sweater. "One step ahead of you sis! I brought smocks".
Ted watched impatiently as Sophie and Andrew place the papers on top of the boxes. "Come on" he said. "I need y'all to help me decide between eggplant and iris".
Carol jumped at the click the lock made as Ted turned the key. "You're home" she addressed Ted and Sophie, putting her book down on the coffee table. Sophie locked the door behind them. "Yep, finally!" Ted replied. "Dinner will be ready in an hour or so, the spaghetti sauce just needs to cook some more". "Mmmm, I love your spaghetti" Sophie said, dropping her purse on the coffee table.
"Dad's upstairs I guess?" Ted asked, pointing to the stairs. "Yeah, he's looking for the Fall decorations.I'm pretty late with them this year" she answered, stifling a deep yawn. Ted galloped up the steps without a word.
Sophie eyed the book on the table. "A history of the first ladies" Sophie read. "I just started reading it this afternoon , it's good. So far". "It looks good. I've always wondered about the women behind the men" Sophie said, taking the book in her hands. "I've always hated that expression" Carol replied, wrinkling her nose in disdain.
Sophie grinned at her words. Most people would look at her mother and see a conjunction of contradictions. While when Sophie looked at her mother she saw a person who never realized she was expected to be strictly one thing.
"Did you get to meet any of Ted's friends?" Carol inquired. "Yes, I talked to his friend Andrew some" Sophie told her, hoping she couldn't tell she was thinking about what Andrew had said. "I think Ted might have mentioned him at Christmas. "What's he like?" Carol questioned further. Sophie thought about it for a moment. "Talkative" she finally said. "In a good or bad way?" Carol asked plainly. "Good, definitely goo" replied Sophie, nodding her head rapidly.
Bing! Sophie sat the book down, opened her purse, and fished her cellphone out. "Who's that?" Carol asked, bugging her eyes playfully? "Let me see". One new text message it read. Sophie opened her text. It was from Ian. "Hey Soph! Could you come over? It's important.'. "It's Ian, he wants to know if I can come over". "Ooohh" Carol replied knowingly. Sophie rolled her eyes. "I'll be back in time to set the table" Sophie assured. "Tell them I said hi" Carol told her, picking her book up. "I will" Sophie said, heading out the door.
"Hey! Is everything okay?" Sophie blurted out as Ian opens the door. Ian glanced left, then right, then ushered Sophie in, shutting the door after her. "Is that a yes?" she asked anxiously. "Just wait" he said, taking her hand, leading her down the hall. "For what?" she exclaimed, her tiny feet following him reluctantly. He stopped at his bedroom door, swung it open, and guided her in. It's cleaner than she would have expected. She takes a seat on the edge of his bed, as he shuts the door.
"Olivia remembers" he said, as he sits beside her. "Remembers? As in everything?" she asked. "Maybe I should start from the beginning" he replied. "Yes, please".
"The evidence, it was a pocket knife, Olivia's actually. My parents gave it to her for her birthday, weird I know, but that's what she wanted. Well they found it in the woods. It had some of her blood dried on it. That's when she came clean".
"About what?" "Well to begin with, there was never a cult". Sophie knited her brows together in confusion. "Do you mean it wasn't truly a cult?". "I mean there was never a cult or even a nature group". "How did you find out?". "The police were questioning her again, and they told her someone had told them she was involved in a cult. She told them that it was something she had made up to get to me, to fool me. She was tired of me being so overprotective and nosy". "Who told you about that?". "Olivia". "All those papers?". "She made those up too". "All that to get to you". "Yeah, she made them months ago, figuring I would be snooping in her room, and that it would be funny to watch me fall for her hoax".
"What else does she remember?". "The night she went missing, the guy she was meeting, it was Dean". "Oh my gosh! Seriously?". Ian nodded, clenching his jaw. "She had brought the pocket knife with her that night. She said she always kept it in her purse". "So what did she do? Slit her wrist and left the knife in the woods?". "She doesn't remember that far".
"So is that all?". Ian shook his head. "She was running away". "Are you serious?". "Yeah, she and Dean had been planning it for weeks. They were just so in love. At least that's what she claims". "That just doesn't sound like her. She seemed content, she seemed focused, she seemed....happy". "Well she was also blinded by that Dean kid".
Sophie exhaled slowly, letting it all sink in. Then she remembered.
"Do you remember me mentioning how upset she got when we questioned her about Dean yesterday?". "Yes, now that you brought it up". "I saw Olivia and Dean at the mall yesterday". "What were they doing?". "Fighting". "Like physically?". "Oh no, no. Just verbally". "Could you tell who was madder of the two?".
Sophie tried to picture the scene in her mind. Most of the scene is a blur, except for one thing. Olivia's eyes. There was almost a pleading desperation on Olivia's as she watched Dean walk away. Something Sophie had never seen in Olivia's eyes.
"Dean". Ian practically jumped off the bed. "If that guy thinks he's going to get away with it he's got another thing coming" he says, trying not to lose his temper. Sophie sprung up and placed her hands on his arms in an effort to calm him. "Stop it! Let's not jump to conclusions. We don't even know that the police are looking into him as a suspect yet". "Oh please! It's pretty clear that he's responsible for Olivia's disappearance and everything. If they're not looking into him as a suspect they should be". "Look, I don't want to say anything bad about Olivia, but how do we know she's telling the truth. She lied about the cult, who's to say she couldn't be lying now too".
Ian nodded in agreement although it was hard to admit that he could be fooled by his sister once again. "I guess I just figured she wouldn't lie to the police too, I want to believe her. I don't want to believe that could do something so unfeeling and destructive as involve someone's who's innocent".
Sophie bit her lip, unsure of what to do or say. "I know" she simply said. She gently ran her hands up and down his arms, she could sense him relaxing. "Ian, even if she is lying that doesn't necessarily mean it's for destructive reasons. She could be scared or even protecting someone". "That's what scares me the most. If Dean is responsible at least I know. At least I can protect her from him. If it's someone else I wouldn't know who so I could protect her". "That's nice that you want to protect her but you're not always going to be able to do that, no matter how much you do or try". Ian laughed sarcastically. "Geez, thanks Soph. I feel a lot better". "Yeah, I'll admit it, that's kind of depressing to realize. But don't forget that Olivia has more people willing to protect her rather than harm her. And anyone that would try to harm her now either has a death wish or is insane".
"Thank you". "For what?". "For helping me to keep my sanity". Sophie smiled at him winsomely. "Of course. I couldn't let the boy next door been sent away in a straight jacket. What would the neighbors think?". He placed his hand under her chin and guided it carefully upward. He leaned down letting his lips meet hers. He kissed her.
At first she just stood there. Then she started to kiss him back, wrapping her arms around his neck. A flood of emotions swept over her and she was overwhelmed. Unable to rationalize the moment, put it into words, or even care to do so. He leaned into her more, accidentally causing her to stumble backwards. She couldn't help but giggle lightly as she tried to regain her balance. "Whoa! Don't get all weak in the knees on me". "I can't help it, you just have that effect on me".
He started to kiss her again but was interrupted by the door swinging open. They are shocked to see Olivia in the doorway, propping herself up by the door-frame. "Hi" Olivia finally speaks. "Hi Liv" Sophie replies numbly. "We just got home. We thought we might go out for dinner. Would you like to join us Sophie?" Olivia explains. "Thanks, but my mom is expecting me for dinner. She says hi by the way. I really should be leaving. Nice to see you Live". "You too".
Olivia stepped back out of the doorway letting Sophie dart out. "Bye" Ian called out after her. Olivia kept her eyes fixed on Sophie until she had completely disappeared from the hall. Then she turned back to her brother, who was standing in his room awkwardly with his arms folded. "What?" he asked, breaking the silence. "Nothing". "We were just..." he tried to explain. Olivia shifted her weigh, preparing to hear his explanation. "She had something in her eye" he fibbed. "Sure". "I'm starving. I feel like Mexican tonight".
When Sophie got home she smelled spaghetti sauce cooking on the stove. She hears her mother humming softly. She looks towards the mantle and sees the fall decorations displayed tastefully. She falls back on the front door and pushed her hair back from her face. Contemplating what had happened. Then she decides her room would be a more conducive environment to think everything over.
So she dozily ascends the stairs, headed for her room. But she is stopped by the sight of Ted, in his room, the door open.
"Hey brother!" she said, knocking on the door-frame. "Hey sis" he replied, his voice conveying how busy he was at the moment. "Can I come in?". "I guess". Ted laughed as thought she were stupid to ask.
He opened his top drawer and started to rifle through it's contents. "What are you doing?" she asked, "Putting my clothes out for tomorrow". Sophie takes a seat on the carpeted floor. She leaned back on her hands and looked up at her brother as he pulled more clothes out of the drawer.
Looking at him from this angle makes her feel like a child again. Short and insignificant.
"I do that too. We must get it from mom" she remarked. Ted nodded, holding an olive colored tie up against a tan shirt. "How did you like helping out today?" he asked. She shrugged noncommittally. "It was okay. Lots of files". "You're telling me". Sophie picked at a piece from of the carpet. "I talked to Andrew some today" she said. "Oh yeah? What about?". "You leaving the company two or three month ago".
Ted finally looked up. His face was a mix between caution and anger. "What exactly did he say?". "I think the questions is what's the truth Ted?". Ted crossed his arms and squares himself to his towards his sister. "I haven't lied about anything". "I never said that". "But that's what you're implying". "I just want to know what happened in Delaware". "It was time to leave". "And the money?". "What money?". "The money that you started the company with. From Aunt Besty. It's funny how I've never met or even heard of Aunt Besty". "Frankly, I don't have to tell you, nor do I care to" he replied, almost yelling. "You're right But that doesn't help your case". "I didn't know I was on trial". "That's not what I meant".
Ted stared her down. "You know what, I don't care. Ge out, now!". Sophie jumped up at the sharp yell of Ted's voice. "Listen, I'm sorry" she apologized. "Just leave" he said, pointing to the door. Sophie walked carefully out of his room, just in time for him to slam the door behind her.