Chapter 2: The Persistence of Memory
May 2, 1997
47 hours left
I have about twenty aliases, but Cole St. John was always my favorite. When you pick your own name, you feel like you have control over your fate.
When you name yourself after an island, sometimes there's no way off it.
I burst into my motel room and stand like an iced rod against the closed door, determination dissolving into numbness. Connors and his pictures had to be just a bad dream.
As if I can't feel the proof burning a hole in my pocket? I pull out half of the torn photo he left behind. Olivia kissing no one, her lips jagged, the very tip of her nose missing.
What if he sends this to Gregory as an appetizer?
My fist pounds the cheap particle board desk. Don't think about that, don't think about anything but the heist. Get in the zone. Remember the zone?
But all I see when I close my eyes is irrepressible beauty, in a place you'd never expect to find it. A place that smelled like bleach, where we were surrounded by white linen that never even touched our skin.
She pressed her thighs harder into the rumbling machine the more I doted on her breast. Perfume ran down her neck while I built myself from her gasps, her unfinished words. You turned to me now, and you'll turn to me again, I thought. There is no "what we had," only what we are.
Until that little pet name slipped out, that one second reminder of him...
For God's sake, I can't keep reliving everything that got me into this mess in the first place!
I thrash open the drawer, pull out a paper and pen and try to remember everything I can about the SBPD evidence room. It stared me in the face all the times I visited Elaine. My handwriting is illegible. Was there keypad entry outside the door you could bluelight for fingerprints? I close my eyes and only starved blankness faces me. Think, Cole. Think. She'll never know it, but she's counting on you. Godddamit, think!
I bury my head in my arms on the desk, struggling to fill little sandwich bag lungs. This isn't working, but God, it has to work. Olivia, how could I have been so selfish? I needed you so badly, but only a fraction as much as I need to pull this off.
My cell phone rings in my pocket and I almost shoot out of my shirt. I exhale hard and put it to my ear. "Hello?"
"Having fun yet, bitch?" Eddie asks.
"How did you get this number?"
"What part of private investigator do people not understand? You got a progress report, or is a certain NC-17 errand gonna start shooting out of Gregory's fax machine, post haste?"
"It's only been an hour!"
"You had better deliver, Cole, or Gregory's gonna have the chauffeur drop his wife in the desert with a flask full of nail polish remover. It would be fun to see just how Betty Ford things get when that raging thirst sets in, not that it matters. I'm sure the vultures will find her even tastier than you do."
I've gotta hand it to him. He's made an art form out of painting an indelible picture in my head. I close Olivia's picture in the desk drawer, the only act of protection I'm capable of right now. I finally scrape words out of my narrowing throat. "Look, Connors...I'll get you those jewels even if I take a shot in the process. I'll meet you with the briefcase, my fingers stuck in my carotid, and a smile."
"Now that's exactly the kind of dedication I saw through my magic lens. The camera doesn't lie. You know, you're really not the colossal shitbag everybody thinks you are, Colostomy...but the only person who's ever gonna know it is some millionaire recluse far away from here. Oh, yeah. That would be me!"
I fling my scribbled notes off the desk, craving water like crazy. The heist. The goddamn plan.
A thick drawl rises into the silence, singing.
*She was a-married when they first met, soon to be divorced. He helped her out of a jam I guess, but he used a little too much force!*
Del is lying on the bed, hands behind his head, boots all over the comforter.
"What is this?" I groan. "You gonna haunt me during the day, too?"
"I live inside you, pup. Like God, only better."
"Alright...fine. I'm up for a little therapy session with a figment of my imagination. What sanity do I have to lose? I can't believe I'm saying this...but you were right. I should've stayed away from her."
"Aw, that was just my envy talkin,' Colster. I would sell my soul for just five more minutes of that sweet cream scone, I tell you what."
My head returns to the hollow desk. "How 'bout you don't."
"How 'bout you cut the Mission Impossible drama over this evidence room? There must be somebody in a position of power you can sleep with to shake this shakedown! The Martinez girl, the secretary. Probably has access anywhere. The Cole I know could get her to hand over the Deschanel jewels in her lacy little panties."
"Oh my God. How stupid am I? Gabi, yes!..." I envision it for about 1.5 seconds and sink down against the wall, tasting bile. "...No! We're practically related. I might as well march up to Paula right now and tell her everything! I can't."
"Oh ho! Such high morals from somebody plannin' a robbery in honor of his mistress. Olivia's tickin' clock is startin' to melt like a Salvador Dali original. Are you gonna do ANA-THING or not?"
A knock at the door slams my eyes open.
There are some things you just know. Presences that thunder. I would know if she was on the other side of solid titanium.
I stand up, feeling like the only strength flowing through me is from the firm plantation of my feet on the floor. I reach for the knob. Just get it over with, Wash Boy.
Her posture changes as the door opens, uprooting her from the hope that I might not be home. Our eyes stand there, mud underneath water. I think of her expression in the photograph when I pleasured her, her eyes open and watching. For a guilty split second I'm glad Eddie took the picture, so I can know that.
The blue was so fierce I could see it in black and white.
"A-against my better judgement," she says, "I needed to see you."
"Why?" It's the last thing I expect to say. My hands shoot out, framing her face. A gesture I can remember offering many others, but not because I really wanted to. It was to put blinders on them. It made them feel like the only woman in the world. Now that karma's had its way with me, it's an act of desperation, of grasping for a clearer image of someone's features.
I'm not sure she wants to know what's come over me, but she is completely still. "Are you alright?"
I snap myself out of it and pull away, pacing the small room as she closes the door behind her. "I'm fine."
"You look like you drank a barrel of espresso."
Because I simultaneously want to hide you in a convent and roam your inner thigh with my mouth. These two thoughts can't share the same brain without visible tremors. Did I mention I'm probably still under surveillance? "Can you blame me? You shouldn't be here."
"I know, I know it's bizarre of me, after I railed against our...quite public lapse of thought the other day, to show up uninvited at your motel room..."
Everywhere we're alone feels like a motel room to me, Olivia. Better still, a grotto. The same waves in my head, the same whispering rocks. Turned away from her, I feel her cloudless blue burning two holes in my back.
"I'll get right to the point. I-I never...I didn't...sometimes-"
"Well, that's a solid stance, if I ever heard one."
"Oh, will you just give me a second...?" Her long breath and a drop in my stomach later, "The reason I applied some extra...persuasion to stop Gregory's manhunt was because...I thought if you were backed into a corner, you'd release the wolves, so to speak."
"...after feeling the...intensity of...I-I know now that you'd never do that to me." Her voice dies down. "Even at the expense of your freedom."
Still with my back to her. "Never."
"Cole, will you please turn around?"
I do, and see exactly what I'm afraid of. The look in her eyes makes me want to deadbolt the door.
"Maybe I knew that all along..." she goes on, "and I did it as much to protect you as to bolster my marriage...I don't know. I never intended to use you as a tie to bind me to Gregory...it just happened that way."
It's the Prague fire all over again, the same feeling of a hundred lit cigarettes stuffed in my mouth.
"Somehow, you always lead me back to him. I blew evrathing out of proportion that night in the grotto, I know that now...talking to him as if he were dead! If you hadn't come...my clothes would've billowed with water and mud like the desolate Ophelia herself."
Olivia Death Image # 3, and it wasn't even from Connors. Can I catch a break today? I feel myself inside that scene, inside her body, holding my breath for her, knowing it would be a long time before it caused me any pain."Please don't put that picture in my head."
"I am so...thankful to you, Cole...for the second chance you've given me. But I can't mistake that for something else. Let my gratitude, my payment to you be Caitlin, free and clear of interference. I know you love her. You want to love her."
"...maybe I love her blindness to everything that's wrong with me."
"Why would that bother you?"
"Most of the time it inspires me...and at the same time...it drives me crazy that not one person can figure out that you and I were lovers."
"And how would they ever know unless we flat out said it?"
"The way we move at One Ocean says it all. Plainly." I come closer, her mouth opening quickly to say something that never comes. "Twisting and angling and sidestepping around. Jerking our hands back, avoiding the tiniest contact at all costs. All the while, with eyes of starving little orphans. Normal acquaintances don't do things like that, Olivia. Not by a long shot."
"Well. I'm sure this will make your chest seize with a heart attack from pure, harrowing shock, but yes. I'm attracted to you. Egad! With powers of deduction like that, you could outshine Ricardo Torres!"
"So that was it. Sloppy mammal attraction. That was what you felt in the laundromat, that was what made you see I'd go to prison over selling you out?"
"What do you want from me? An engagement announcement in the newspaper? To meet my dead parents? Why don't we just spread out on a beach blanket and have at it, Cole, in plain view of the whole world!"
"How about on a washing machine?"
"Dammit!" She pounds my chest, but the fists melt into flat palms. "Stop saying it! Don't bring me back there, I can't! That infernal whirring and whirring and pressure and heat and you...breathing me..."
She finally looks up, and a hopeless kiss grows between us. She rises on her toes, even though we're about the same height, into new reaches of my mouth. Long growls leave one throat and scratch another. This is a kiss for a downpour on the roof, and despite the sun, I hear it.
Never breaking the kiss, she takes my wrists and brings my hands to her stomach, making a high sound. I try to slide my hands up to where all my laundromat dreams live, but she slides them back to her center. Inside me, a bubble drifts between the darkest lines on a level. I glide my fingernails so lightly across her stomach, and her kisses deepen until my desire is painful. "I need you," she says, but her voice is weak with something other than need.
"Darling, I'm...so dizzy..."
She called me darling. Something has to be wrong. She starts to sway, her eyes draining, until they close.
She parts her lips, fumbling for my arms as she plunges to the floor, and I fall right with her.
"No!" I feel my mouth moving, but the words seem dubbed in another heavy language. "Olivia no, come back, come back to me, I'm so sorry," I moan, as if the ultimate consequence of our actions is flashing before me. "Olivia, please?" I hold her head up, desperate for a rush of air in my ear, rocking her back and forth with relief when it comes. "That's it, don't give me a heart attack today, not now." I'm gripping her hand so hard, trying to transfuse stubbornness into stubbornness. "It's okay, you save your strength to yell at me later. I'm gonna get you some help, okay? You just hold on, Ollie."
And just like that, my own pet name is born. It falls out of my lips like it was always there, waiting. I'll never have 'Liv,' but I can improvise.
As if I chose to settle at the Seabreeze for some underlying premonition, South Bay Hospital is a stone's throw from the motel. I carry her there, whispering things she won't remember.
46 hours left
Something stops me from calling anyone in the family as I'm waiting, pacing. An eerie feeling of discretion. It's not just because of her questionable whereabouts when it happened, but something else I couldn't explain if I tried.
"Cole?" I hear in the distance, but it doesn't reach me. "Mr. St. Croix?" the nurse groans.
Yeah, I know. Another lie, another Virgin Island.
I finally look up, and she waves me over to her station with the demeanor of a pit bull. "I'm Nurse Stacy. I have good news...for non-staff members, at least. The Diva is upright and giving orders."
The smile that infects my face is a sharp contrast to her blankness. "That's s-"
"So you are...?" she prompts grumpily.
"...her...dry cleaner. She collapsed at my place of business." This is ridiculous.
"Well. Look at you, a local hero," she deadpans. "We should call the Sentinel."
"No! Please, I-I'm just a humble everyman, that won't be necessary."
"Mhm. Anyway, you came to the right place. Olivia Cole is actually a new patient here."
"Olivia You. That's kinda odd."
"...Oh. Right, I noticed that on her...dry cleaning ticket." Ridiculous beyond ridiculous.
She looks around and sniffs. "Is it just me, or do you smell mayonnaise?"
I bury my head in the station. "It's me, okay? The French invented it, apparently we also sweat it, can we please get back to my customer's condition?" my mouth motors.
Her face is frozen in pure astonishment. "Yeeeah, anyhow, we're going to keep her here for further monitoring for about an hour. Fainting spells are very common with fluctuating blood pressure, but she and the baby are fine."
Now it's my turn to be deathly pale, and possibly be admitted. The white florescent lights start to smolder. The floor slants. The world crashes into a shameful, vulnerable, whirling naked montage of my every lip-biting, curse-moaning, unprotected climax from a few months before.
"The baby?...I uhm...I'm surprised that never came up in our weekly banter-"
"Oh, put your eyes back in your head and cut the crap, Boytoy. Your leash is showing."
I hang my head. "Well played," I mutter.
"I guess congratulations are in order, Miracle Whip. Your vinegar reached the egg."
Oh. God. "...Will you excuse me for a second, I think I'm about to have projectile sympathetic morning sickness." And I run.
I burst through the bathroom door and grip the sink, but the only thing that throws up is my mind. It all comes together. Hard.
It was a hormonal pregnant woman who pounced on me in the laundromat that day.
The over-sensitive breasts. The nausea from my eau de mayo.
The way she moved my hands to her stomach in my room. That high sound she made, like a metal detector that found something.
This is my baby. It has to be. Why else would she be getting care under a fake name?
I kneel at the sink like an altar. No. Let the baby be Gregory's, my head pounds, against what surges through my heart. Please, God. Gregory will look on her with mercy if he finds out about Eddie's pictures. He'd still order a hit on me, but she'd be safe.
The room starts to spin. If Gregory sees the pictures, he'll never believe the baby is his. It'll be a demon as expendable as she is.
The heist: zero percent planned.
My breath stutters through my chest. I look in the mirror and see a gray hair in the harsh florescent light, my first one at twenty two. Sticking straight up, coarse and unruly.
Time is turning into a Dali clock for three of us.
I barely have time to see her right now.
So I do.
I peer in her small room and she is sitting up on a gurney, a cup of juice in her hand. A blood pressure monitor beeping away and a fetal monitor belted to her stomach. A slight curve is apparent in her bare skin, a bump I couldn't feel in the motel under the quickness of her breathing. Protruding just enough to be a stowaway from the night we met. Just enough to be the quick, hostile takeover of Gregory's third child.
I slip through the door and she backwashes juice into the cup, eyes like saucers, unable to gather her shirt to pull it down. "Cole! Oh God, Oh God-i-it's not what you think!"
I won't see Olivia's baby take its first gulp of air, that one brief pause before it talks incessantly for life. I have to become everything I hate in the next 45 hours, to preserve a world I'll never get to feel.
Walking through this door will always be frozen in time as the most devastating moment of my life...and despite it all, I laugh.
I laugh simply because she's too much sometimes. It's not what you think?
"I haven't any idea what could be funny about this!"
I storm in and kiss her swollen lips gently, hearing the plastic juice cup smash to the floor. "I don't know. I'm terrified, more than I could ever tell you, but you're a light. I could stay in a shark cage with your picture in it, Olivia. Broken door, broken air, wearing a lei made of fish guts. I don't know why. It's just how it is."
She shakes her head. "How can you say these things about someone who stumbled into your life drunk, humiliated herself, humiliated herself countless times more, and then gets laid up in this glorified veterinary school looking like a sow in lipstick!"
I laugh again.
"You...despicable prat! Go ahead and laugh again, I dare you, I swear I'll-!"
"What, suddenly get turned on? It always seems to wash over you right after a rant. These mood swings are the best."
"Except when they turn murderous," she growls. "For the life of me, Cole, I don't know where you come from."
"Atherton, California. Home of the rich and famous, and some kid who was dropped off screaming by Colonel Sanders."
She covers her eyes. "Cole-"
I part her hands and kiss her again, searching out a sound until a small squeak fills me. I hold her chin, finding words to include the thundering third heartbeat in the room. "Are you both okay?"
"Yes, and-I swear I just found out yesterday, I thought I was going through the change-"
"Sh-sh, no. You're okay. That's all that matters, Ollie."
"You're daft," she whispers in the shallow distance between our mouths. "You're always having to come to my rescue."
"Well...I shouldn't get any credit when it's because I spiked your blood pressure."
She caresses one dimple, leading me to wonder if they're her thumbprints. "Perhaps it was the evenness that I wasn't used to."
Before we know it, our hands are on each other's hearts. This is an organ you avoid in an affair, that you wouldn't dare rest your head against or graze for more than a second. It's too real, too sappy, too virginal. I remember Caitlin on our first night in the grotto;"I can feel your heart beating," she gasped. I thought, That's good, because otherwise you'd be a necrophiliac.
For Olivia and I, it's the most honest admission we've ever made, and as always...it's without saying a thing.
"Why did you call me Ollie?" she asks quietly.
"I don't know. It just...jumped out earlier when I was scared...and I'm keeping it."
"The way you say it with reverence...eases the fact that it sounds like the name of a senile old hound."
I sigh, a smile slipping through, only to slip away. "You know, Grandmother was right about something for once...that coming here would put the family back together. It wasn't just mine...it was this one." I reach for her belly, an anchoring movement. "This will bind you to Gregory. I guess that's what I do best."
"Cole, no. No. I said that because I'm a coward. That is not your burden, it isn't fair!"
"Well, life outside of Monte Carlo usually isn't. It was time to grow up. Letting you go will grow me up a lot," I kinda laugh, brewing tears outlining it in black. I hold her stomach as I lean into her ear, about to whisper something that fades into exhaled breath. I get up and head for the door.
"Wait!" Her eyes are teeming with water. "Darling...? If the baby is yours, I know when it was conceived."
"Olivia, please don't-"
"Upstairs at the Belarus party. I forgot there was a house full of people that night. You made me feel precious and rare. If that wouldn't let a woman in the autumn of her youth create something...I don't know what would."
"Red leaves have nothing on you."
She closes her eyes and shakes her head. "Cole...if you only knew the real me...you would recoil in horror."
"I won't if you won't."
"Where are you going?"
"To save the world."
A/N: Del's lyrics are from Bob Dylan's "Tangled Up in Blue." :)