Téa Delgado felt dirty as she got up from Todd's bed, leaving him with a satisfied grin. Standing beneath the showerhead's rain, she studied her painted toenails, watched the bubbly water tour the drain and slide away, only to be replaced by more water. When she dried her hair, her body hidden beneath a soft towel, she momentarily believed she was back at the beach house. The smell of the ocean tickled her nose. Shaking her head, she shooed away thoughts of him. Him. Her. They. Todd banged on the door, charming and cutesy. Rolling her eyes, she drank directly from the faucet.
"I'm not doing this anymore, Todd."
"Doing what, sweetheart? Loving me, being the love of my life?"
He turned the handle but she'd locked the door so he couldn't come in. He stepped away from the door, whistling. That was Todd… respecting people's boundaries, calling her sweetheart, being a fantastic lover. So considerate of her body. He never orgasmed until she did. Twice. Three times?
Jesus. He was a real Don Juan, this one.
A flash of heat spread throughout her from her core, a physical memory - a hard floor or unmade bed or the sofa by the window facing a dark Atlantic surf, his unforgiving body selfishly pushing into her, sweat on his skin, on hers, his hair in her fists. Sometimes he'd wait for her, other times he didn't care. A panting, desperate need for her that was never satisfied. So ... little ... consideration.
She opened the door and noticed he had left breakfast on a tray next to the bed. She picked at the fruit, the cheese squares (so nicely and perfectly cut, like a chef did it), the flower petals. The orange juice was spiked with champagne. She drank that down fast. She thought of calling RJ Gannon to get under this man's skin. Just for fun. Just to poke a stick at the alligator. Most likely, he'd laugh off her indiscretion and get right back to the romancing. No alligator here, mi amor.
Téa arrived in Llanview on a mission and so far she'd failed miserably. She managed to get no proof of anything whatsoever, confused Blair Cramer to the point of insanity, and found herself embroiled in a ridiculous tangle of legal cases and sex romps that meant nothing to her. Todd was convinced she loved him (along with every other woman in Llanview), acted like a real scoundrel, and nobody noticed the difference. He smiled far too much. The real indicator of all not being right in the world was Todd's affair with Marty Saybrooke. His deep depression made sense, but what didn't was his real, honest-to-god, long-abiding love for Marty, a woman who at one time embodied all that was evil about him, who contained the truth of him. That he could love her was not possible.
And yet, nobody noticed.
She heard him downstairs, cooing, "Why don't you come down, lover-girl...?"
Why indeed? What he didn't know, what nobody knew, was that the real love of her life resided nowhere near Llanview, Pennsylvania.
"If he could see me now...," she sang softly to herself, patting her empty belly. She squeezed shut her eyes, love and sorrow pressing her to the point of breathlessness.
Her… love… had grown so afraid, so… sad. He had shut her out entirely. One day, without warning, he did the unthinkable. He disappeared into the Alaska wilds with their beautiful child in tow. Téa was beside herself in sheer disbelief that he could have done such a thing. She searched for months, engaging police, private detectives, everything, anybody. She cried an ocean's worth of tears until she received a phone call from him, his voice cracking across the distance, heavy with his conscience and broken psyche.
"I have no explanation," he murmured.
Their 5 year-old daughter, Sierra, was about to land in Puerto Rico to be reunited with Abuelita. He was sorry, he said. "Please forgive me, precious woman of mine." Then he hung up. The silence of that moment filled her with a swirl of unnamed emotions of a massive range. When Téa finally had her daughter, she could hardly breathe with relief. She hated him for depriving her for so long, and yet… Sierra was happy, healthy, and missed her father terribly.
"Oh mama! The adventures we had!" Téa smelled her daughter's hair, the scent of the sea, of joy. Of utter peace in the warmth of her mother's arms once again. In the end Téa had trusted him with their daughter. She knew he was on a lonely journey and simply needed the company of his child, of her innocent soul. Forgiveness though was hard in coming. As was everything when it came to him.
Sierra remained in Puerto Rico for now, safe and secure from his insanity. From Téa's. Every night she spoke to her, every night she sang lullabies into a cell phone.
"Where is daddy?"
"I don't know, mija."
"Where are you, mama?"
"I...don't know exactly...somewhere far from you. I'll be home soon."
More than anything Téa wanted to go to Sierra, but she needed to be here. She had to finish this game. She had to get his life back for him. Even if perhaps he could not be here to live it. The real Todd Manning needed to have a home once again. Perhaps if his kingdom was returned to him, he would return as well.
Téa knocked on Viki's door, the wood hard and unwelcoming. When Viki answered, she shook her head with suspicion, saying her visitor's name coldly, "Téa."
Understanding the hostility, Téa said, "Will you let me explain?"
In defending Todd from the rape of Marty Saybrooke, Téa had seemingly sided with a man who had turned his back on Jessica's mental breakdown. Jessica had splintered once again and Todd used it to maintain his romance of Marty. Viki held it against Téa now.
"I had no idea, Viki. She was unfortunate collateral damage."
"He needs help, not rescuing from a crime. What he did to Marty is unforgivable. As is what he did to Jessica. He should have gone to prison."
They sat in the living room over tea in china cups, scones on matching plates, and milk in a silver creamer. Téa poured the milk, and took a deep breath before she said crazy-sounding words.
"Todd is not Todd… what he did wasn't rape, wasn't a re-rape, it was a romance. He did what he did to Jessica because he did not see her as an ill person, much less his niece."
"Jesus, Téa… when will you stop excusing him?!"
"Viki, listen to me carefully, please. Give me a chance."
Viki's gaze was that of a stone cutting, indeed her brother's kin. "Speak," she said.
The words would indeed be crazy. Téa paused, almost deciding not to share. She'd kept this to herself far too long, though. She desperately needed an ally. Bowing her head in decision, she told.
"The Todd you know, here in Llanview, is someone else. You might have known him as Walker Lawrence, a con man. He is fooling you."
The clock chimed two o'clock. Viki stirred her tea. Watched the tiny waves in her cup cease moving. "Impossible," she said. "We did a DNA test..."
Téa smiled gently, "I know you did. Viki, I suspect this person… is Todd's blood brother. I do not know his real identity. Is that possible? Could Todd… have a twin?"
Across the coffee table, Viki's features froze in a kind of suspension, a deep, painful consideration. She closed her eyes and pressed her lips together. Could it be true? She had listened to Téa after all.
"Anything is possible," she said, setting her tea cup down. She pushed about pieces of scone, crumbs really. "My father was a monster. That he would not only deprive Irene of one child, but two..." She gathered herself and faced Téa directly, her gaze piercing and weighty. "He knows so much, though. He speaks from a place of… knowing..."
"He's beyond a con man. He believes himself to be Todd. The research is impeccable. Maybe it's more than research, maybe it's hypnosis. Maybe… someone else..."
Téa watched as Viki stood and walked to the doors that opened onto her English garden. "Téa, you know that I had Natalie in addition to Jessica."
"If I could have twins and not know… maybe it could have happened another time. Maybe other children… were born to me and I don't know about it."
"You mean… Todd…"
"To think perhaps there were two… it rather breaks me." Viki bent her head and shook it, "Téa… if it's so, then where is he?" Her face crumpled, "Please, this would mean Mitch Lawrence succeeded in killing my brother. I was so relieved..."
"He's alive, Viki." Téa looked down in shame, avoiding those harsh blue eyes. The silence emphasized an arrogant sniffle across the room.
"You know this?"
"Yes, Todd Manning, the man I loved, your brother, is alive. I know so because… I lived with him in Georgia for four years with our daughter, Sierra. I lived with him until very recently."
Viki reached out and grabbed the back of a wing chair, a fine chair with delicate shells in the fabric, shells embedded in a soft yellow to match the lightness of the room. It withstood her hard grasp. It belied its strength. "Jesus," she whispered. "You are as much a monster as my father! How could you be here and not say anything?! Four years..."
Téa cringed and snapped shut her eyes, wishing to be gone, disappeared into the wilds of Alaska. "He wouldn't let me tell anyone…"
She opened her eyes when she felt Viki's hands on her shoulders, grabbing her, shaking her, "Where is he now?! Where is Todd?!"
"I don't know! He left me. He took Sierra for four months to Alaska… he returned her to Puerto Rico, and I don't know where he is now. It's why I'm here, Viki." The two women stared each other down, both pleading with the other for understanding, both finding in each other only pools of sadness, confusion, disbelief.
Viki let go and sat once more on her sofa. She reached for her tea cup and the cup shook against the saucer. "It's gone cold." Two tears rolled off her cheek. "A twin… Todd missing… a daughter, you say?"
"Sierra. She's beautiful. Reminds me of Starr. I miss her everyday."
"Why have you lied? What are you doing, romancing this… Walker? It's sick what you're doing."
It wasn't the first time someone accused her of illness over her choices. "Hard to explain. Misguided efforts, maybe. Maybe a wish to think it was Todd. Maybe a way to get back at him. I don't know. Whatever it is, it's over. I've cut him off. Look, Walker is a con man. He wanted Todd's life and he took it. I don't know the history other than this person was an orphan. He lived his life by being a gigolo of sorts. At some point he decided to become Todd Manning via Mitch Lawrence. He got that plastic surgery..."
"But why do it that way? Why the plastic surgery if he already looked like Todd?"
"I don't know the answer to that. I do know...that man...is not Todd."
"Well...let's go over there-"
"And we will, only I need to prove this first beyond any doubt. So far, I've failed utterly. I ended up in some… romance… for lack of a better word, in error."
"You slept with him in...error? Come on, Téa."
"I have no defense. A plan out of hand. My Todd left me. I was angry. Still am. But I'm renewed in my mission. My Todd is ill – the fact that he's still absent, tells me he's still ill."
Viki stood up again, pacing, angry again. "But WHY hide? Why live a life with you in hiding? Why deprive his family of his daughter? WHY? All he has to do is show up at my door! Wouldn't that be proof enough that the Todd in his house is a fraud?!"
Téa sighed… how to explain the inner workings of Todd Manning? "Betrayal."
"What the hell does that mean?"
"Didn't he hide when he returned from Ireland because of a betrayal?"
Viki paused. An admission. "Yes. But what betrayal was there now?"
"Walker is nothing like Todd and yet an entire city believed it was. My Todd stood by and watched his ex-wife, his daughter, his sister, everyone he ever knew, as they each accepted the impossible as truth. In his words, 'they have forgotten me. They have replaced me with a false god.'"
Viki laughed and held her face in her hands… wasn't it just like Todd to say such a preposterous thing? Her heart then sank and her stomach jumped as she too realized yet another impossibility. "My god… it's true then."
"Yes, Viki, it's true. He has not changed his face, or removed his scar. Of course, he is damaged from what Mitch Lawrence did to him."
"What did he do? I knew Mitch tried to kill him..."
"Mitch put him in Victor Lord's tomb. He was left there, encased for a long while."
"He got out with his own strength, broke fingers to do it, dislocated body parts to get out of bindings, only to run into Mitch and his bodyguards… he was taken again and beaten to within an inch of his life. The bastards took him, to dump him. They drove hours and hours. Left him again. Shot him in the head, Viki, shot him to finish him off, because god damn it he wouldn't die. Only still he didn't. A miracle… his hard head, the bullet simply didn't penetrate." Téa laughed aloud, then she didn't. "He was found wandering in a small Mexican village, close to the Texas border. He was… broken. He had no idea how he got there. A family helped him recover. Mostly."
"How did you find him?"
Tea smiled, lost for a moment in the past, "I didn't. He found me."
He chuckled as the die hit the magic eleven, the final count showing four and seven on the floor against the bar's wall. The drunken men cheered and Todd grabbed the bills and the last desperate coins tossed in, sweeping it all close to him like a child grabs up candy. Down on his haunches, he smiled a half smile, his mouth shifting to the side, as if he wasn't quite convinced of the humor. The fisherman hadn't played craps before but this street version had been a good "ice" breaker when he first landed in the small fishing village of Bakkavik. He usually didn't win, but tonight he'd had a run of good luck.
Before he could rub his winnings in anyone's face though he felt a gun's muzzle tight against his head. He glanced up at the holder of the weapon. Not a surprise really. He'd seen something like this in an Indiana Jones movie. The noise dipped, everyone taking a peek at the sudden turn of events.
"You're kidding, right?" Todd licked his lips and turned his head fully to face the dark threat. He pushed a lock of his long chestnut-colored hair behind his ear, and rubbed his grey-tinged full beard. Hazel-colored eyes evaluated the threat.
The room was hot from the flames of a fire in a massive pit. Music from an old jukebox played in the background, blues by B.B. King. The air smelled of sweat, burning logs, and fish. Vodka ran through the veins of all in the room, making them short on intellect and long on quick tempers. Bakkavik was in the furthest northern stretch of Iceland, a fishing village that got rather rough at night in the dead of winter, during the fishing season when there was only three hours of daylight. All that darkness made people a little… crazy.
Todd smiled and spoke softly, "What did I do?"
The woman with the gun was no lady. She had the foot plant of a warrior and the constitution of the best fishermen in the room. She acted like she'd shot a man or two. Todd felt the strength of her aim, and resolve, in her fearless grip of the gun. He'd already been watching her for a couple of hours gambling with the rest of the men. She hadn't stood out. Now she did. Now she meant business. Shoving the gun harder against him, she croaked in the country's language, "Give me my money back or I will kill you, American Man."
The room laughed in unison because although Todd Manning was an American, he was also someone who didn't care if he died and as such he had nothing to lose. It was what won the respect of the men in the room. He'd been working with them for months. He took the kinds of risks on the boats that few ever would. He also could drink most, if not all of them, right under the table. For Northern men who grew up on the harshest drink of the north, Icelandic moonshine made from fermented potatoes, that was an amazing accomplishment. The woman… she was new in town. She hadn't yet earned their respect.
In one smooth action, Todd got to his feet, grabbed the gun by its muzzle and grabbed her by the lapels of her coat. He quickly pressed the weapon against her cheek. He'd immobilized her. He grinned again, that same half smile, and said in crisp Icelandic, loud enough for most to hear, "By the end of this night, not only will I have taken your money, but I'll have this gun in my belt, your scent on my fingers and cock, and you will be thanking me in the morning." With the hand that held the weapon, he grabbed the back of her head and forcefully kissed her, his tongue deep in her mouth, his other hand having left her lapels and finding her throat.
She gasped once he released her and slapped him hard as hell, bringing blood, all to uproarious laughter, her eyes large and her mouth open in shock. Todd licked the blood off his lip, stuck the revolver into his belt, got back down to the floor, and began to count his money in perfect Icelandic tinted with his American accent. The woman had to be held back and he ignored her shrieks.
Todd leaned toward one of the men as he handed a pile of money to him, and said, "Buy her a bottle of Reyka. That'll settle her down." The two laughed conspiratorially and nodded their heads in agreement. Dagur, Todd's closest friend in Bakkavik, did just that. The game continued for a while longer, a few more throwing down more money, but soon it ended for Todd and he wandered the room, finally landing in a booth with his own fresh bottle of vodka. The woman with the gun found her way to him, sliding into the booth across from him, settled by the booze. She slammed down the bribe on the table. It was half empty. She filled a shot glass once more and tipped it through full lips.
"You are a bastard," she said in English.
"That I am," Todd slurred, drinking straight from the bottle, lounging across the seat like a sated panther.
"Give me my gun back."
"In the morning. I still have goals to accomplish."
"You think you're going to fuck me?"
He grinned and nursed the bottle a bit more. Elvis Presley sang about his blue suede shoes and people were loose enough to start dancing. Todd chuckled. He eyed her lasciviously and then his eyes drifted back to the bottle. He was drunk.
"Go to sleep, woman, and stop worrying about your money." He eyed her again. She was pretty enough. She'd probably be a good one in bed. Hard, demanding, wet. Her blue eyes contrasted nicely with her black hair. She looked Russian. They all did. A strong nose, high cheekbones, a well-muscled body to grab onto.
Her eyes opened wider, as if he'd been thinking out loud. Maybe he had.
"Holy shit, you bastard, you really do think you're going to fuck me!"
He laughed hard and tilted his head, offering her a kindly expression. "Listen...?"
"Ahh...Bjorn." The shift in language made him switch to Icelandic. "I have a nice warm room down the block, and a nice warm bed. I've got a fireplace, more drink, and no fishing to do for a few days. You're pissed at me for god knows what… let me… pay you back."
She leaned back in the booth and he felt her booted foot next to his thigh. He chuckled and looked down. She pressed the hard sole against his crotch and he slid his hand up her flannel-lined pant leg, feeling smooth bare skin.
"You'd trust me in your bed," she said, "after I threatened to kill you?"
He laughed quietly and said in English, "So what… I die in bed with a woman… how bad can it be?"
It was then she noticed in his eyes, a kernel of truth, and probably his means of always getting what he wants from men… and women. He needed saving. And one day, someone was going to save him right to hell.
"You certainly are a bastard," she laughed.
He pulled the gun from his belt and placed it on the table. "She's yours."
"You don't think I'm going to use it?"
"What would that accomplish? If I'm dead, how will you get your money back? I spent all of it tonight on booze, craps, and that damned jukebox."
She sighed and took his bottle of Reyka, tilting it back and chugging it to the point of near-empty. She put it down and he nodded to her in admiration. She took the revolver and placed it into a pocket in her coat.
"Where did you learn Icelandic, American? You're good."
"On the boats. Where did you learn English, Bjorn?"
"In London. I was schooled there."
"Good scotch in England."
The conversation stopped and he drank the last drop of the bottle. The two of them drank the last of hers. The night was long these days. He glanced his watch and it said near midnight. When he stood, he wavered a bit, and Bjorn got next to him. The two looked at one another warily.
"I'll walk you to your room," she said, her expression obvious and inviting.
Todd reached and touched her dark hair, imagining another. Her face swam in front of him, blurring into that of another. Noise broke the trance, men slapping each other's backs over another game of dice.
Over her shoulder, Todd caught the eyes of Dagur who laughed and shook his head before calling out in Icelandic, "Goodnight, American Man, sleep tight and don't let bugs bite your ass while you're fucking them!" The men all laughed and Bjorn cussed them out as she walked out the door into the snowy night. The chill air pushed them back a tad, but they moved forward. She leaned on him, the alcohol making her brave and wanting a man's heat.
The two walked and she said, "Who is she that I see in your eyes? Who has your heart?"
"Nobody," Todd mumbled, the drink clouding the line between reality and dreams. "Nobody has my heart… because I don't have one." He stumbled and Bjorn caught him.
"Where's your room?" she asked.
"On the beach where I can see the surf. At night the waves shine you know, the white edges touched by the moon and you can see the endless dark of the ocean. The sand blends in and just that white you can see. Easy to get lost there."
There was no beach here, only a harbor.
"What is your name, American Man?"
"My name?" He walked away from her some feet and put his arms out in mock drama. "I am Thar, god of thunder!" He dropped his arms, shrugged and laughed quietly at the name he'd been given on the boats. Thomas Lord just hadn't seemed Icelandic enough for the men, for a man who seemed so very well fit for the tough life of Northern fishermen.
He looked at a quaint stone duplex. Two painted red doors sat right next to each other, the building divided into two comfy rooms with the smallest of kitchens and bathrooms. He glanced upwards at the moon. He wavered again. His words softened. He reached for Bjorn's hand. "Here's my room, Téa… come with me… love me. Like you always do."
Bjorn looked at him and could see the drink had taken over him, too, in a way different from how it affected her. Who was this...Téa? The woman who had his heart. He grabbed her and kissed her at the door, his hands roaming and settling in soft places that made her gasp. He kissed her neck and sighed. He dug for keys and found a set, fighting the lock when he tried. She steadied his hand and he looked at her. He turned the key gently and the door opened. She followed him in and closed the door behind her.
With little effort, in the dark of the cold room, he pushed Bjorn onto the bed and stripped her of her clothes as he shed his. When he pressed himself inside of her, his heart felt heavy with the absence of his beloved Téa and his baby girl Sierra. He heard their voices in his head, and saw their faces. He saw Téa in this stranger beneath him and he knew he was doing it again. Trying to replace the irreplacable, trying to undo the damage that ran so deep. He panted Téa's name over and over… trying to make the illusion real.
When Bjorn called out his Icelandic name, reality slammed into him and he went with yet another illusion as his body wouldn't let him retreat. With her saying this different and strange name, he felt himself a different person, a strong, hearty man, someone with no secrets and no wounds and no gruesome stories to tell. He continued his work more freely – he let the physical relieve him of his hurts. He wasn't Todd anymore – Todd was in Llanview, living his life. He no longer deserved it. Mitch Lawrence had made sure of that. Emptied Todd of all he was worth.
He belonged here – he'd die here. Maybe he already had.
To be continued…