As our departure date grew closer, I grew increasingly nervous. I had seen Charlie maybe a total of nine hours in the past seven days. He hadn’t mentioned the trip to me and I felt like I would be beating a dead horse if I mentioned it. I feared I’d sound desperate for him to produce even a drop of jealousy and I didn’t want to be that kind of wife. Just knowing that he had complete trust in me should have made me feel great.
It was just the unsettling feeling that it was disinterest, not trust, that was causing my inner turmoil.
The owl’s wings on my watch were turned towards two o’clock. I was standing outside Nick’s door with Rielynn and I could hear the music from the other side of the door. It sounded like a party. I began to second guess that I had come over on the right day and time. Maybe he had said--
“Come on in!”
The sight that greeted me was unexpected. Nick was dripping in sweat, the tank top he wore clinging to his chest like a second skin. His basketball shorts had a sheen to them as well and little beads of the wet stuff were pooling into his socks. I hated to think of the smell that would emanate from his large, expensive sneakers. He pushed soppy hair from his forehead.
“Is it a bad time?”
He smiled. “Nope, just finishing up.”
The music was still on full blast as he stepped aside. I walked in with Rielynn who immediately started moving. It didn’t matter where she was or what she was doing; anytime she heard music she started to jam. Sure she didn’t have rhythm or timing, but she got a gold star for enthusiasm.
A laptop was open in the middle of his living room, elevated on his coffee table by a large pile of coffee table books with ugly fish on the covers. Nick leaned over.
“We got it? I think we got it,” he said breathlessly. His finger brushed over the mousepad sensor. “He’s here,” he said to a question I didn’t hear. “Have fun with yours.”
A second later, he closed the laptop. “Parker’s down for a nap,” he said loudly. I couldn’t imagine how anyone could sleep through this. Nick lowered the music. Instantly, Rielynn stopped be-bopping. I put her down and she held up her hands, shrugging. “Gone,” she said seriously.
“All gone for now,” I agreed.
“Nick, are you ready?”
I hadn’t seen the other occupant of the room until he was standing beside Nick. He was a bald-headed guy probably in his late 40’s, early 50’s. Nick nodded. “Go for it.”
I followed Rielynn’s busy feet, but I couldn’t help observing. As Rielynn pulled another giant fish coffee table book out from the lower shelf of the coffee table, the guy, a doctor I was sure, wrapped a blood pressure cuff around Nick’s arm.
“Feesh,” Rielynn said. I knelt down beside her.
“Big fish,” I said, not quite sure on the species name. Nick closed his eyes, inhaling and exhaling under the stethoscope.
She struggled to get the cover open. I helped her, only to be greeted to a spread of what looked like people-eating piranhas. Rielynn leaned close.
For the record, I don’t do well with bugs or people-eating animals in general. I started to tell her about a species of fish called the tickle-fish who didn’t really eat people but tickled them so much that strawberry jelly came out. Came out of where I didn’t elaborate, because Nick started to laugh.
“Your turn,” he announced, still chuckling.
I turned to look at him. The doctor smiled.
“I’m Randy, the tour physician,” he said. “The U.S. requires some vaccinations are given before international travel.”
I stopped listening after the word ‘vaccinations.’ I could literally feel the blood drain from my face.
“No,” I whispered.
“It’ll be quick,” Randy said.
“No,” I repeated. “No, no, no.”
“Just a second,” Nick said. He pulled Randy out of the room.
“Mo’ jelly!” Rielynn said happily. She had flipped to another page, not much better than the last one. My tongue was too tied to make up a story this time.
“Okay, we had a little talk,” Nick announced, re-appearing in the room. “We just need to make sure Rielynn’s vaccinated. You want her safe, right?”
I hedged. Being married to a doctor had given me at least some education into the wonderful world of medical science and international differences in maladies. I sighed.
“They’re safe for her?”
“Absolutely safe,” Randy assured me.
“Parker got his a few months ago,” Nick assured me.
Rielynn was still looking at the fish. I knelt beside her. “Can you do it while she looks?”
“Just roll up her sleeve.”
I did as instructed. Rielynn looked at me, frowning.
“It’s hot in here,” I said. She didn't seem to be buying it.
"Roll yours up," Nick suggested. "Parker always feels better when I play along."
It made sense so I rolled up my right sleeve too. “Now we’re good.” I turned the page feeling like I was throwing her to the lions. “Now these are pretty,” I babbled, pointing. Rielynn looked back down. I was prepared to wrap her in my arms at a moments notice. “Blue and green and--”
It was in my arm before I knew what hit me. The pain seared like a hot, burning coal. Hot tears sprang to my eyes and I slid backwards, my legs kicking air.
"I'm sorry, but I couldn't have you dying on me," Nick said gently. His arm wrapped around my shoulders and the next thing I knew he had a Kleenex pressed to the tear coming out of my left eye.
It suddenly didn't hurt that bad.
"That was dirty pool," I said. He dabbed at my right.
"I know, but it worked. Now we really do have to do Rielynn's."
He pulled away and I struggled with emotion. I wanted to hit him for tricking me. I wanted to thank him for doing it in a way that took away that pre-stab anxiety.
I wanted someone to tell me where my daughter went. I looked around. No Rie. The book was open but she was gone. My shot reaction had scared her off.
"Houston, we have a problem," I said, scrambling up off the ground. Nick was on it at the same time.
"She couldn't have gone far," he said. "You take down here and I'll look upstairs. Randy, check out in the backyard."
Before anyone could agree, he was taking the steps two at a time. I tried to stay calm.
I failed. The psychotic 'my child is lost in the mall!!' voice my mother had used when I had wandered away when I was four came erupting out of me.