Evangeline gnawed a slice of lemon to make the nausea go away. The bitter citrus burned over her tongue, as she pushed her teacup away. She must have developed an allergy to her favorite chamomile tea, she thought.

This was a new box though. The box before had made Evangeline more ill with each cup. She’d thought it had gone bad, if tea went bad, she wasn’t sure. John had been the tea expert, calling it the only civilization in him. Tea was in his bone marrow, he had said.

Some days John and Nigel would have high tea at the hotel. It was a private affair, but the two men had invited Evangeline, after much consideration. They had been worried that she would find the entire matter too strange, but their fears were allayed when she reminded them of her education at Oxford. She’d had high tea quite a few times, simply never in the laundry room of a hotel.

Nigel and John had been serious enough about tea to make their own blends. Nigel would put his Assam-Ceylon mix in tiny satchels of cheesecloth while John – preferring the honeyed aroma of whole Oolong tea leaves unfurled under the heat of not-quite-boiling water – used an infuser. It had been passed down to him from his grandmother Maeve. John had always been her favorite.

Evangeline poured her now undrinkable chamomile in the sink. She went into her bedroom and into the walk-in closet. Pushing aside her collection of sexy skirts and dresses from La Perla’s Pret a Porter line, Evangeline reached for one of the panels of wood in the back wall. When she pushed and pulled at the corners just right, she had access to some of her dearest possessions in the world: short love letters and poems from John; ticket stubs from their first Eagles game together; a picture of her 10-year-old self hugging her father on a Christmas morning; the playbill from the show of Peter Pan that she had taken Layla to see when they were girls; an old pair of ballet slippers; and a deep red lipstick she had stolen from her mother’s private collection before she went off to university. These were the things that reminded Evangeline of herself.

Her fingers carefully sifted through the memories, until they found an old bag with tea leaves John had collected especially for her. He had given it to her right before they had broken up.

Carefully arranging the leaves at the bottom of a strainer, Evangeline poured hot water through to a bowl. She put aside the excess tea to be warmed for another time.

As she sat cross-legged in the chair facing the fireplace, Evangeline made a mental note to see a doctor about the nausea. She wanted to be sure it wasn’t more than a passing reaction.

Maybe Mikey, she thought briefly, before dismissing the notion. He was sweet, but he always wanted to talk about her and John. Evangeline just wanted her mind put at ease. Maybe Paige. Better yet, Spencer Truman. He didn’t have any ties to John, and other than Todd’s suspicion that Truman was after Blair, Evangeline hadn’t heard anything but good reviews of the doctor. She would go to Spencer anyway, despite Todd’s objections. He always thought someone was after Blair.

Evangeline finished her tea from John. It was strong and earthy. The taste of it reminded her mouth of his skin. She now felt fine and good and was sure the nausea from before was due to a new allergy to Chamomile. All she had to do was switch teas. Still, something in the back of her mind nagged her. Call the doctor, the tingle at the base of her neck said. It wanted her to call Mikey though. She dialed the hospital, surprised when he answered the phone directly.

“This is Dr. Truman speaking,” he said.

________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________

John sat opposite the old priest. They were having coffee. Better to hold the whiskey. The old man was sitting in the half-light of a midday sun by. The shadowed leaves of a hundred-year-old tree played on the priest’s creased face, and John was glad to have caught the good Father before he had left this world for the next.

“Are you sure your friend doesn’t want to come in here? Is he alright waiting in the car?” the priest asked.

John nodded. Bobby hadn’t been in a church voluntarily for years. He’d come to Caitlyn’s funeral mass for John’s sake, to be there for his friend in case he wanted to go someplace and burn the world down. But he hadn’t been back since. Said it would be soon enough when he was dead.

“Father, I’m here about a little boy. He was dropped off on your doorstep in 1980. He was about 6 months old,” John said, hearing Gavin cry in his mind. “I’m assuming you didn’t have a lot of babies left on your doorstep that year.”

The priest’s eyes went carefully over John’s face. He was too old to be the baby boy they’d found on the steps at the rear of the church. There was something familiar about him though -- perhaps the shape of the eyes, the rich darkness of his hair, something.

“You say you’re a police officer in Pennsylvania. Yet, you’re worried about a baby in New Jersey from more than 20 years ago? There are other ways, more official methods to follow, if you wanted this information.”

“So he was here,” John said, breathing in deeply.

He could smell the Atlantic Ocean, even here, in the back room of the church. He remembered having been so tired of the stench of beer-soaked sand and dying seaweed by the time he was a teenager that he had begged his mother to move them to a land-locked state in the Midwest.

He hadn’t realized how much the saltwater was in his blood until he had moved away to train for the FBI. He’d drive the three hours from Quantico to Virginia Beach as often as he could, and he’d try not to miss his mother and her tea too much. He’d try not to think about Mikey or Shannon – him and Mikey letting their little cousin win at touch football. He’d try not to think about Gavin, as the seagulls cried in the skies above him. Even in the winter … even in the winter, it was the same, the same longing. Most of all, he wouldn’t allow himself to think of his father, though the old man’s spirit rode the brackish wind.

“Son, you seem troubled,” the priest said, bringing John back to the present.

“I am troubled, Father, but that’s not why I’m here.”

“Whatever your worries are, my boy, I’ve got a good ear for listening.”

John sipped his coffee and whiskey. He’d had too much coffee today and not enough whiskey. The caffeine was making him jumpy. If Evangeline had been with him, she wouldn’t have let him drink as much. She would have made him talk to her. She would have let him feel. If only Evangeline was with him. He wanted her with him. He grimaced from the heartache he felt, and the priest reached out to him.

“Father, I haven’t slept in two days. My friend and I have been looking for you for days. The woman who directed us to you said you weren’t in Atlantic City, but here you are,” John said, putting his coffee down. “I need to know what happened to the baby boy. His name is Gavin, and he’s my brother.”

________________________________________________________________________ ________________________

Evangeline couldn’t rest. She was dying to catch a small nap on the sofa in her office. The supple leather had been inviting; the cool calf skin adjusting to the fevered contours of her body.

She had gone to see Dr. Truman a few days ago, and his medicine seemed to make her feel worse. The nausea was gone, but it had been replaced by a severe fatigue.

Jim had taken notice, as had Nora. She’d waved away their concern, but now, she wondered to herself if she should call one of them to pick her up right now. She felt another tingle in her spine to call Mikey. As her heart began to flutter arrhythmically, she even thought to call John. His eyes, so blue, so needing, were the last image to sit in her mind before she went into the black unconscious.

Layla had been the first person called when Evangeline’s assistant had found her limp body. But she and her mother were away with Antonio and his family on a cruise. Mother Williamson and Mother Vega conspired in corners all over the ship. Negotiations were made. Children’s inheritances were planned. They had been unreachable until the morning, when Antonio would hire a helicopter to get them to the nearest airfield.

Nora had been the next person called, and she had rushed to the emergency room, shaking with the cold of fear. Bo had driven her, and as Nora went in to finally see Evangeline, Bo slipped outside to call John. The message to his voicemail was simple: “Evangeline is in the hospital. Come home.”

Mikey called him minutes later. John answered before the first ring was complete. He had been in the middle of dialing his brother anyway.

“Mikey, talk to me,” he said.

Bobby was driving. John’s mind was paralyzed with fear, and his heart was occupied with the task of communicating with Evangeline, making sure she was not completely lost to him.

“Just come home, John,” Mikey said.

He should have left her sleeping on his couch. He should have taken her with him. John punched the dashboard. “Damnit, Mikey. If you don’t tell me what’s going on, I’m going to drive this car onto the nearest tree,” he said.

John feared Mikey was hiding Evangeline’s death from him, even though he knew in his heart that she was alive.

Bobby drove on faster. He had never seen his friend so destroyed, not even after Caitlyn, not even after he had killed a man, not even at his father’s funeral. Bobby had suspected that there was a woman John had left behind in the wake of his misery. He hadn’t known she was the woman who could break his friend.

John hung up the phone and fought the urge to throw it out of the window. But that was his only means of contact with Llanview. His mind was sinking to a primeval level. She had been poisoned somehow. That was Mikey’s theory, and John was out for blood.

“I’m looking at her chart,” Mikey had said just moments ago. “And she was here at the hospital for treatment a few days ago. Spencer Truman was her attending physician.”

John felt he would rip Truman’s heart out and feed it to him when he saw him. Evangeline had been in that doctor’s care, and he had let her down. In the back of his mind, John felt he had let her down too. He had left her vulnerable to hurt.

“Bobby …”

“Yeah, Johnny boy, I know. I’m trying to beat the devil. I’m gonna get you there.”

John banged his fist against the dashboard again. “I feel like I’m going to kill somebody, Bobby.”

“You keep that blood off your hands. That blood is for me. We’re getting you to your lady, and you leave the rest to me.”