Camille’s heart was in her throat and beating there a mile a minute. The primary concern wasn’t the physical impossibility of that particular organ migrating itself to her wind pipe. She was a trifle more focused on, now that it was there, how to bring oxygen into her lungs. Now, everything about the house seemed too big and too small. The hallways, though long before, now seemed as vast as the Champs-Élysées abandoned in the twilight hours. Each doorway was as imposing as the Arc de Triomphe and she as insignificant speck of dust briefly suspended in mid-air, caught by harsh light, before floating to the next surface continuing its aimless travels.

 All too soon, she found herself at her destination.  This door was the worse.  If all the other entrances seemed monumental, this felt like the entryway to the Temple of Doom. Anjae words flittered through her mind again, no tricks-
the truth…the truth… the truth.

 She stared at the solid oak door that rose high above her head. Somehow she doubted that any truth that she was seeking or giving would be found in the complications that resided in this particular room, but she would give it a try.  This might be her only, last, chance to find whatever it was that always seemed to elude her. So she took a deep breath, twisted the knob and pushed opened the door.

 She just prayed she wasn’t making a fool of herself.

When the door to the library suddenly opened, Carrick was ready.  His mind was made up.  It was time for Camille to go and he resolved to explain it to Malcolm later. It was clear that Camille did not want what they were offering. He wasn’t sold on offering it anyway. He simply wasn’t in the begging business. Over the few weeks, he had believed that they had achieved some type of truce-one that evidently meant more to him than her. The constant push and pull, on top of being in this mausoleum of a hose was literally driving him crazy.  He confident that threats to her safety were under his control now and in a few days would no longer exist.  He had a team out there making sure that Camille remained in the clear. Camille could go back to whatever life she wanted and she could keep Mal and himself out of it.

The sound of her voice abruptly drew him out of his musings.

“Carrick, if you have a moment, I would like to talk to you.” Camille was in front of his desk acting almost…demure.
This is it. If she wanted leave then he wouldn’t fight her. She had changed into a pair of black jeans and a matching over-long black sweater with ballerina flats. Her version of moving attire. He hoped. He gritted his teeth in an effort to stop himself from commenting aloud.

Camille didn’t know where to put her hands.  She noticed the tension in his face and watched him settle back to study her like she was some type of rabid animal that he wasn’t sure would attack him, or run screaming away from her own shadow. While he might be right, as everything in her told her to run, she stood her ground in front of his desk ready to lay herself on the line. 

“I…” She cleared her throat. It seemed that her heart was still wedged in there pretty tightly.

Carrick arched his eyebrow in impatience as she faltered, but didn’t comment.

Camille balled her hands at her side to stop their incessant rubbing and straightened her spine.  Taking a deep breath, she tried to find a modicum of encouragement in his impassive eyes.  She couldn’t help but feel the sting from her position, standing there in front of him, a hot mess and he was giving her dead eye. Anjae swore that this would be worth it, Camille knew what she had to do.

She swallowed and tried again.

“Carrick, I owe you an apology.  You’ve allowed me to stay here.  You’ve offered amazing hospitality and I’ve been giving you a hard time.  I’m sorry.” She watched for his reaction, ready to flee if he made a joke of her at that moment.

There, I did it. Heaving a silent sigh in satisfaction while waiting for his reaction.

Carrick continued to scrutinize her, aware of every second he let the silence stretch between them. He eyed her to gauge her veracity.  Truth be told, he was floored. He expected her to come to him angry, maybe even irate, but he never saw an apology coming and he didn’t buy it.”Can’t you be the same person for more than a few hours at a time? Earlier in the hall you were doing your best to be Mata Hari and now…What? You’re trying the urban version of Anne of Green Gables on for size? Did Anjae help you put this character together?” Disdain laced his every word.

He hates me.  She thought emptily.  Who could blame him, from one minute to the next she felt like that kid on that animated show that turned into different aliens at will, and all with the help of a watch attached to his arm.  She wished she could blame all her ebbs and flows on a simple watch.

Where’s technology when you damn well need it?

Camille instinctively took a step back, ready to turn and run for her life.  The voice of a woman stopped her cold. It wasn’t the sassy
worldliness of Anjae’s, but the soft southern lisp of a voice she’d thought she’d forgotten. Honey, rarely does anything worthwhile come easy. In the same moment she caught the scent her mother had worn.  It was as if mama had just passed in front of her. Camille had to close her eyes against the overwhelming sensations and scent, physically weakening at the memory.


As her eyes flashed open, not quite steady on her feet, she uttered the first word that popped in her mind. “Ghosts.” Camille made a grab for the high backed chair that was standing a few feet from her, simultaneous turning her body from Carrick. She could feel his striking eyes on her back, She could only imagine that she looked as unsteady as a drunkard with her wooden lifeline tightly in her grip.  The barely remembered past that she had so carefully locked away seemed to want to come out and play.  Her senses tricked her in believing her mother was close to her, the same way they did before she passed out in her hidey hole on Lucien’s boat.

When she failed to respond Carrick exploded. “Now ghosts are to blame for your behavior.” Carrick asked incredulously, slamming his hand on his desk as he pushed away from the desk, disgusted and annoyed that he was bothering to waste time entertaining a conversation that was going nowhere.

Then he saw it.  Sure she seemed nervous when she entered his office, but now she seemed to fall into herself, becoming smaller almost right before his eyes. His eyes focused in on the death grip she had on the back of the chair.  He had no doubt that it was the only thing holding her up. Carrick let out a string of profanities, cursing himself all kinds of fool.  Just a few weeks ago they were hoping that she would survive.  She constantly pushed herself too hard and he’d spent just as much time reminding her of her limitations while she healed.  Here she was probably suffering the consequences from wearing those damn high heels, and he was sitting there pissed that she wasn’t giving him the answers he wanted.  Maybe that was the bigger reason why it was best she leave.  They couldn’t seem to stop hurting each other. Rising from his seat from his seat, he moved to Camille’s side as quickly as it takes to a breath. “Let me help you get to the bedroom.  You need to rest. You had on those boots on earlier today and you have probably been on your legs too long”

Camille took a little hope in his concern, but shook her head. “I just need to sit for a minute.” She knew full well that her moment of weakness had little to do with her legs. It seemed the long dead were putting in their two cents about the situation between Carrick and herself, and she was unprepared for taking advice from the residents of the underworld.  Maybe Carrick was right, she might want to check out a nice quiet sanatorium.

Oblivious to her train of thought, Carrick tried to help her into the chair that she holding onto so fiercely. She shook his hands off and instead turned to him and looked to his eyes. 

He was real. That she forced her mind hold on to. His eyes were like Japanese Katana Swords, they held a beauty and workmanship that was unparalleled, there was no doubt at the slightest provocation, they could bring a swift and deadly end. They were creased with concern for her now, but she knew she was facing an uphill battle to get him to understand her, trust her. She realized that she quite desperate for his understanding.  Acting like a crackpot right now was not going to help her cause.

Slow and steady, she reached up to cradle his face in her hands. She savored the feel of his skin against her palms.  Unlike the time on the balcony with Malcolm, the moment was not fueled with lust, but her need to get him to understand. “Carrick, please hear me when I say this….I’m sorry. “ She held her steady look into his eyes. She saw when wariness crept into them.  Her resolve cracked a little more, he didn’t believe her.

Was he worthwhile? God she prayed he was. Camille held her resolve together with a hope and a prayer then tried again.

“You know why I really decided to take a break from working?” She didn’t’ wait for his response; she just concentrated to trying to stop that damn carefulness from overtaking his eyes.  One thing they had never been was careful with each other. Camille somehow knew that if they started something precious between them would be lost.

Maybe that was the biggest reason that she had fallen in love with him.  He broken open her reserve as easily as one cracked an egg. A few moments in the room with him and he turned her into a screaming banshee. Camille closed her eyes and let herself lean into him. That was the truth-she loved him she loved how alive she felt when she was with him. Now the question was whether there was any hope that he could ever feel the same for her. She smiled a little when she felt his hands brush the sides of her waist. If he kept touching her like that, she knew she could find the strength to tell her truth.

“My past keeps on catching up with me, Carrick.” She still saw the doubt clouding his countenance. “At ten year’s old my life went up in flames.” She laughed grimly to herself at how literally she meant those words. “Everybody was gone and I was left alone.  For a while Abbey took me in.”

Carrick frowned, trying to remember an “Abbey” in her background check. Then he remembered that the document found little record of Camille before her late teen years.

Camille was lost in the past, heedless of Carrick’s confusion, “Abbey worked for my parents and helped my mom with her classes. Mama was an amazing pianist and any musician worth their salt, where I grew up, wanted to learn from her. She had me propped up at a piano at two.  The family joke was that I knew my keys before I knew my ABC’s,” Camille stated with pride and monitored Carrick’s eyes, breathing a little easier when she saw inquisitiveness overtake some of his initial guardedness. 

 “Everything was always crazy at our house, my parents were both professors at the college, mom just had my sister…my parents had an open door policy for all their students, they come for dinner and hung out on the weekend. It was complete mayhem every day, and we were the happiest family on the planet…”

 Carrick could almost fill-in the words she couldn’t say until the fire.

She probably had him at her second “I’m sorry,” but that accompanied with her opening up about her life and “That look,” she might as well shove a check at him representing all his worldly assets for him to sign-and sign he would.  He hadn’t known it but this is what he had been waiting for all these weeks. Her piano look turned toward him and not watching while, what he now understood as grief delayed, was poured into an inanimate object that couldn’t comfort her back.  That vulnerable introspective look was evident on her face and making mincemeat of his resolve to kick her out.  That damn look was sexier to him than any of those outrageous outfits he found in her private, locked room. He shook his head in disgust and defeat with himself, simultaneously allowing all thoughts of handing her walking papers to flee his mind.

If she was setting him up or having some type of mental health moment, he would kill her.  It was as simple as that. As much as his feelings for her were so contradictory he couldn’t help the flare hope that was nudged back to life that she might share that private place of hers with him, without the piano between them. She was a jigsaw puzzle.  Tonight he might finally figure out how to put the incongruent pieces known as “Camille” together.

More likely, he was just getting soft with age. He couldn’t help but push his face in her hair, inhaling her intoxicating scent laughing silently to himself.

She had never told another human being about her life before she met Anjae. After tonight there would nothing in this world that she held to herself. She prayed Carrick appreciated that she was giving him all she had to give, for the chance at something new.

Still hidden in his chest Camille bit her lip before she continued. “You know, as a kid, you don’t recognize that people get older. I realize now that Abbey had to be about fifty when our world changed. She had never been married or had any children and I don’t think she even thought twice about taking me in.” 

Camille looked up at Carrick and stated quietly, “Some people don’t have children for a reason.” Carrick began to stiffen as he instantly thought the worse of Abbey, but Camille brushed away his fears with her next words.  “Not because they are bad or mean, but because they know a child wouldn’t fit into the life they planned for themselves.  Abbey was a creature of academics, she made sure that I had clean clothes, food to eat, but she had no idea what to do with a kid.  She had loved my parents and she loved me, but there wasn’t a maternal bone in that woman’s body.” Camille grinned at the picture in her head of Abbey trying to explain the basic application of a maxi pad after her period began for the first time.  After starting and stopping a hundred times, the older woman just gave up and pushed a box of the tiny mattress like rectangles at her and told her to read the instructions.

 “After the fire, we never spoke another word about my family and she moved us here, to New York.  She got a job teaching music theory at a community college. It seemed my life started over and I got busy trying to forget what happened before.” Lost in her own thoughts she unconsciously pushed away from him. She walked backward until she came against his desk, the rested the edge of her bottom on the surface and grasped the wood on either side of her thighs. Camille knew if she looked at him she wouldn’t be able to go on.  She focused on the pattern on the rug.

“For three years Abbey tried her best and I am grateful to her. Then one day, around four in the afternoon, a lady and a man came to the door.” Camille could almost see her teenage self standing at the door trying to make a decision to let the couple in. The results of that decision she knew marked the end of what was left of her childhood. 

Carrick watched as she lost herself in her recollections of the past, not daring to move or interrupt her from stopping what she had begun.
Camille continued in a voice laced with pain.“It was in the days before being a latch-key kid was a sign of child neglect.  Back then it was a sign that parents had to put food on the table and a kid could be expected to have enough common sense to get their behinds’ home, lock their door and wait for a parent to show up after work. I gave the Department of Family Services people a hard time and for a while refused to open a door. If Abbey ingrained anything in my head, it was that I was not supposed to open the door to Jesus himself.”

Camille’s voice caught as if she wished she had the chance to do it all differently, and her eyes strained to hold back her tears. “That day I found out that Abbey had had a massive heart attack after one of her classes. I officially had nothing and no one, but lucky me, I was introduced to the social service system.”