Lucky pulled Dawn's door closed behind him. Holding his breath, he slowly released the knob and the click of the lock was quiet as it fell into place. His footsteps were light and quick as he hurried down the hall. A shuffling sound at the end of the hallway made him pause. He stood still as Francesca moved into the kitchen. Her and Ginnie's accented voices were reduced to low tones as he moved away from them towards his destination.
His eyes were busy as they looked in all places at once. His unease at their surroundings unnerved him. The white frame house was supposed to be a safe haven for him and Dawn, but as the days turned into weeks, the house had begun to feel like a fortress. He felt locked in when he should have felt protected. He wanted to trust his father, but doubts had crept in. He was at the point where he almost didn't know what to believe. He only knew that he had a promise to keep. To Dawn. He spied the old black telephone with the rotary dial and moved towards it.
Intent on his mission, Lucky missed the entrance of another. His hand closed over the receiver, just as a voice spoke.
"Whatcha doing, Cowboy?"
Startled, Lucky snatched his hand away from the phone. He turned his head and found his father, watching him as he leaned in the doorjamb. To cover his nervousness and confusion for feeling that way, he shrugged. "I-I was about to make call. Why did you sneak up on me like that?"
"What did I tell you about phones?" Luke asked, slowly making his way towards his son. He paused as Lucky flinched at his nearness and then, he turned away. He sat on the couch and contemplated his son behind narrowed eyes. "Well?"
Lucky sighed. He repeated his father's words. "You said that phones are dangerous. That they leave trails."
"Very good." Luke buffed his nails on his shirt as he added. "So, why did you disobey me?"
"Disobey you?" Lucky repeated. Flustered and annoyed, he began to pace. "Dad, give me a break here! I know about tracing calls and I know how to time it. One ten second phone call wouldn't lead Helena here. We appreciate what you've done, but Dawn is worried sick. She needs to know-"
"So, she put you up to this," Luke commented. He looked at his son. "She convinced you to disobey me, and you went along with it even though you know better-"
"Dad, you're not hearing me." Lucky stopped in front of Luke. He stooped down. "Obedience has nothing to do with this! She and I are both concerned about our friends and family. And, you're not telling me anything-"
"What do you want to know?" Luke asked.
"Mom! Have you told her that we're fine? And, there's Carrie. Does she know that Dawn is safe?"
"You know I can't get near either of them now. Come on, Lucky! Think. Use that noggin for something useful." Luke tapped Lucky's forehead with his finger for emphasis, as he rose from the couch. He went to the window and stared outside. "I'll let them know when the time is right."
"What kind of bullshit is that?!" Lucky exclaimed. "The right time is now! Dawn's due date is damn near tomorrow. She wants her mother, and she wants to know what's going on with Nikolas."
"Nikolas is dead."
The bone-chilling coldness of Luke's response brought tears to Lucky's eyes and he took a step backwards.
"Tell her he's dead. That's what's going on with him," Luke said. He shoved his hands in his pockets and refused to look at his son. He heard Lucky's gasp and still he didn't turn around.
"I-I can't tell her that." He stammered as he tried to find the right words. "She believes that he's alive, and that Helena is holding him somewhere. I-I can't tell her that he's dead."
Frowning, Luke turned to face Lucky. "So, you're letting her hold on to some fantasy. I thought you cared about her, son."
"I do care about her!" Lucky replied, indignantly.
"Well, prove it." Luke stood in front of Lucky and grasped his shoulders. "Make her understand that fantasies are no good. Tell her that-"
"Her husband is dead?" Lucky asked quietly as he pulled away. Tears glistened in his eyes and he blinked them away before they could fall. His voice was hoarse, and no amount of swallowing could make the lump go away. "So, what do you want me to do? Force her to repeat it five times a day until she believes it. He's my brother, Dad! I don't want him to be dead any more than she does, and you think that I can…"
Lucky dropped down onto the sofa. He buried his face in his hands as he tried to regain control over his emotions. He whispered. "I can't tell her that. Have me tell her something else…that Helena's dead…that we're going back home…anything! But, please, don't make me tell her that..."
His brother. Luke controlled the urge to spit on those words with a strength that surprised him. He took a deep breath and forced himself to go to his son. "Lucky," he began gently. "I just want what's best for you. That's all I've ever wanted. But holding on to this- People don't return from the dead, son. The sooner you both realize this and face it, the better. You're close. You can help each other through it. Are you hearing me?"
Lucky choked back a sob. He rubbed his hands over his face. "Yeah, I hear you." His eyes were bleak and weary as he looked at his father. "I don't want to do this."
"Things happen whether we want them to or not. In the end, you'll be stronger for it. Go to her." Luke patted Lucky's back. "Tell her and when she cries, cry with her. Hold her and remind her that you're there for her. You can do that, right? You can be there for her?"
Lucky nodded. "Of course."
"Dad?" Lucky called out as Luke moved to leave. When Luke turned to face him, he said, "About leaving. When will that happen?"
"Don't worry about that. I'm taking care of the arrangements."
"But, Dad, we need to get out of here soon. Dawn can't the baby here-"
"She won't." Luke smiled to offset his curt tone. "Trust your ole papa, Cowboy. Everything's gonna work out. Do you trust me?"
"Well?" Ginnie's black eyes bore into her niece as she joined her in the kitchen. "Did she eat it this time?"
Francesca withdrew from the steeliness in her aunt's tone and the glint in her dark eyes. She averted her eyes and took a handful of peanuts from the almost empty bowl. She shrugged as she began to eat the nuts. "I dunno. I left before she started."
Ginnie slammed a jar of peach preserves onto the antique wooden kitchen table. "Why?" she demanded. "And, look at me when I talk to you!"
"Yes'm." Francesca did as she was told. She looked into her aunt's eyes, and she answered her question. "She told me to leave."
"Why?" Ginnie asked again. "What did you say to her?"
"Nothing!" Francesca said. "Honest. I didn't tell her nothing. She said she wanted to be by herself, so I left her. She's sad, you know."
"Maybe she'd feel a lot better if you hadn't taken her damned ring!" Ginnie grabbed the jar of peaches and stormed to the stove. She removed the lid and began to pour the fruit into the black cast iron pot.
"I didn't take no ring!" Francesca denied.
"Girl, stop lying. I found the ring in your stuff."
"You went through my things?" The young girl's forehead creased into an angry frown. "That's my stuff. Why you go through my things?"
"I'll go through any damn thing I want to!" Ginnie told her. "Stupid fool! You'd better be glad that the missus don't give a rat's ass about that pregnant gal in there or you'd be dead. Stealing a ring like that. I swear! I don't know who's the bigger fool. You, for being stupid or me for letting you stay."
Francesca became indignant. She stood up tall. "I don't have to stay here. I can go back."
"You ain't going nowhere, you lying little thief!" Ginnie pointed with the wooden spoon that she'd been using to stir the simmering peaches. "Now, get me that jar of spices."
Relieved that her aunt hadn't told her to get a switch in order to tan her hide, Francesca's indignant stance dwindled into a childish pout. She mumbled, "Which one?"
Irritated, Ginnie glared at her. "You know which one."
"You gonna give her more?" Francesca asked. "But, Aunt Ginnie-"
"Today, Francesca. Give it to me now."
"Yes'm." The teenager went to the cupboard and pulled the small jar of her aunt's special blend of herbs and spices from the bottom shelf. Her fingers shook as she reached for the jar and then handed it to her aunt. Her throat became dry as she watched her aunt pour the contents into a tablespoon and once filled, dropped the spoon's contents into the pot. The cinnamon-sweet aroma that filled the kitchen provided a flavorful mask for what Aunt Ginnie's spices' true purpose. Feeling uneasy about her role, Francesca said, "Ain't it too soon, though? And, wasn't that too much? What if it don’t work right?"
"I know what I'm doing," Ginnie muttered. "I've been doing this long before you were born, and I'm gonna be doing it long after you're dead, too."
"That wasn't a nice thing to say," Francesca quietly commented. She fingered the expensive ring on her finger and went to stand in the doorway that led out to the hall. She listened as Lucky and Luke's voices carried down the hallway. Wondering if they were fighting about the phone again, she didn't notice Ginnie's approach.
"You right." Ginnie admitted. "It wasn't nice and I didn't mean it. But, you got to learn how to mind your business. Come on back in this kitchen and leave father and son alone."
Ginnie went back to her pot of peaches and Francesca followed her. "I was just listening. And, that stuff you're giving her… A little is bad enough, but too much-"
"-Ain't gonna do nothing, but make that baby sleep a little bit. That's all."
"But what if the baby can't wake up?" Francesca asked, undaunted by her aunt's conviction. "She already said that the baby ain't moving as much. Maybe that's enough-"
"It'll be enough when the baby ain't moving at all!" Ginnie told her with a decisive nod.
"But, why?" Off Ginnie's annoyed look, she quickly added. "I just wanna know. You said you'd teach me these things. Please, Auntie. Why?"
The pleading worked. Ginnie shrugged. "She needs to think the baby be dead."
"I thought you weren't intending to hurt the baby!"
"I'm not, and lower your voice, gal!" Ginnie fired back. "If you could hear them, they can sure as hell hear your loud ass! I said that she needs to think it!" she said in a hurried whisper. "These little herbs and spices ain't gonna kill that baby, but it will slow down a bit. She'll think it's dead, and the doctor will come in and take it."
"So, she won't get to hold it?"
Ginnie shook her head. "Won't see it, neither. The doctor will cut it out of her-"
"Aunt Ginnie, no!" Francesca raised a hand to her mouth. "Her baby means so much to her-"
"It's sad," Ginnie agreed in a distant voice. "But, life be like that sometimes. She got Lucky. He'll help her through it."
"But, he ain't her baby's daddy," Francesca said sadly.
"No, he ain't," Ginnie admitted, "but he love her like he is. She'll be all right. She'll hurt for a while, but she'll be just fine."
Dawn turned up her nose as she raised the spoon of applesauce to her lips. There was a time when she loved the fruit concoction, but she wasn't so sure any more. The mushy fruit dish didn't appeal to her, as did most foods lately. She dropped the still full spoon back into the bowl. She placed the bowl on the bedside table and took a deep breath. She felt so guilty. She knew that her unborn child depended on her to take care of both of them, but everything was so hard. She tried to be strong and not give up hope, but her resolve was wearing thin. She wanted everything to be the way it used to be. She wanted her Nikky…and her mama…and her sister…and Stefan…and Alex… Just thinking of them brought tears to her eyes. She let them fall unchecked down her cheeks.
Lucky returned to her as a fresh sea of tears poured down her full cheeks. He went to her as he always did and he pulled her into his arms. She rested her head on his shoulder, allowing him to hold her until the tears subsided.
"I'm okay," she said, cutting him off before he murmured soothing words of comfort. She lightly pushed him away from her. She swung her legs off the side of the bed. Her feet and swollen ankles peeked out from underneath her long, white cotton nightgown. "You didn't call them, did you?"
"How did you know?" he asked with a frown. "I tried, but-"
"Let me guess. The lines were disconnected or your father showed up and told you to wait."
"Dad came back," Lucky told her.
"So, what was his excuse this time?" she asked.
"They're not excuses. He doesn't want Hel-"
"I can't take much more of this, Lucky. Honest, I can't." She swallowed hard as her voice became hoarse. Her eyes clouded over again. "I don't want to be here. I want my Mama." She sniffled. "I want Nikolas."
"Dawn," he said placing an arm around her shoulder. "About Nikolas, maybe it's time we faced it-"
"No!" She shrugged his arm off her shoulder. She stood up. She couldn't bring herself to look at him. Through gritted teeth, she said, "He's not dead!"
"Believing otherwise isn't good for you. Don't you see that?"
"No, not believing in him isn't good for me!" She pointed to herself as she gave him a hard stare. "You don't understand, Lucky, but I know that he's alive. And, with one phone call, I can let him know that I'm safe. That his family is alive and okay. Lucky, please, convince your dad to help us."
"He is helping us, Dawn." Lucky went to her. He took her hands and held them gently. "He brought us here to save us, and sweetheart, Nikolas-"
"Don't call me that." She pulled her hands away from his. She wrapped her arms around herself. Shaking her head, she said, "I'm not your sweetheart, and Nikolas isn't dead. And, if that's all you have to say to me, I want you to leave me alone."
"I'm sorry. I was out of line. I-I shouldn't have called you that." With his head lowered, he went towards the door.
Dawn stopped him with a hand on his arm. "Lucky, wait. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have snapped at you. I know you mean well, and I know that you're missing everyone, too."
"Yeah, I am," he softly admitted. He raised his eyes to hers. He released a sigh of relief when she opened her arms to him, silently asking him to hold her.
His arms wrapped around her as much as they could. His cheek rested against hers. His eyes roamed around the room and stopped on her snack tray. "Did you eat?"
"More than before," she told him, ending the embrace. She took his hand and led him back to her bed. She picked up the bowl with the other hand and held it under his nose. "See. Almost the entire thing."
"Very good, but why not finish it?" he suggested. He took the bowl from her and swirled the spoon around. He lifted a spoonful to her lips. "Open up, Greedy, it's feeding time."
She pouted. "Do I have to?"
"One spoonful. Humor me, okay?" he said with a faint smile. "Make Uncle Lucky happy."
She rolled her eyes. "Okay, Selfish." She opened her mouth and accepted the spoonful. The applesauce wasn't so bad the second time around and she opened her mouth for another spoonful.
"Good," Lucky smiled as Dawn emptied the bowl. He took it away from her and set it aside. "Feel better now?"
"I feel okay, I guess." She shrugged. "But, I'm thirsty now."
He noticed that her pitcher was empty. He offered to get her a fresh pitcher. Her voice stopped him as he reached the door. "Thanks, and Lucky?"
"Yeah?" he asked, giving her a faint smile.
"Do you think that you could stay with me tonight? I keep dreaming about the Fawn* and the White Witch*. It scares me a little and I-I'm kinda afraid to be alone," she said with a little difficulty.
Lucky nodded. "Yeah, I can stay. Together, we'll make it back through to the other side. I promise you we will."
"I know we will. It's just a matter of time, right? Your dad will take us back soon," she said. "He will, right, Lucky?"
"And, my baby?" She lightly stroked her full abdomen. "My baby will be born around family, too, right?"
"Of course." He smiled at her again. "I promise, and Uncle Lucky always keeps his promises."
"He'd better," she told him before he left her alone. She relaxed against her pillows. Her eyes closed, and as she drifted off to sleep, she wondered if her dreams of Narnia* had meaning, and if so, what was it? And most importantly, would they lead her back to Nikolas?
[Author's note: The asterisk (*) is for the references to C. S. Lewis' "The Chronicles Narnia" series. Yeah, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe were calling to me again. – D.]