Dark Impulse Ch. 09byAurora Black©
900 Park Avenue at 79th Street,
March 31, 2001
Grace woke up with a start, flinging away the bedsheets before running to the bathroom. She could feel the churning heat beginning in her stomach, working its way up as she hurried to raise the toilet seat. She kneeled on the cold marble floor, pulling her long hair away from her face just in time. Her body jerked as she began to retch, her abdomen violently clenching and heaving. Nothing came up but fluid; she hadn't eaten anything since Thursday evening.
She heard soft footsteps in the distance, and she panicked.
Grace turned her head slightly, hoping that in her mad dash she had thought to close the door behind her. To her relief, she saw that the door was closed.
"Mommy, what's wrong?" Raphael's voice sounded worried and scared through the barrier of the door, and Grace didn't want him to see her in such a state.
"Rafe, don't come in here. I'm okay, sweetie. I just need to splash some water on my face, and then I'll be right out."
She slowly lifted her head away from the cool porcelain, softly crying out from the pain that moving her head caused. It felt like it weighed a ton, and any minute Grace expected her neck to snap under its burden.
She rose from the floor, flushing the toilet before walking towards the sink. She stared down at her hands as she washed them. They're the same as they've always been, I suppose. She cupped them to bring the water to her face, allowing the shock of the cool drops to wake her up fully.
She turned off the faucet and stared at her reflection in the mirror. She looked into her eyes and was startled to see the swollen redness, dark circles and the great desolation in them. In her own eyes, she looked like an old woman at 33.
She looked again at her hands, then back to the mirror.
My hands are the same, my body is the same, but my face! Who is this, she who stares back at me? She frightens me with her witch eyes. Why can't she just go away?
Grace reached for her toothbrush, averting her eyes from the mirror as she brushed her teeth. When she finished and rinsed her mouth, she looked up again.
I no longer recognize myself.
Her head aching, she stumbled to the door and out of the bathroom. Rafe was sitting on the edge of the bed, waiting for her. His fresh, young face was concerned as she walked up to him and reached out a hand to stroke his shoulder-length sable hair.
"I'm fine, sweetheart. Don't worry."
He didn't look convinced, and he must have seen something revealing in her eyes because his face became strangely blank.
"You would tell me if something was wrong, wouldn't you? If it was serious?"
Grace felt a pang of fear in her heart; of what, she didn't know.
"Of course I would. Why would you ask that?"
Raphael looked at her for a long moment. "I'm not sure. I just get these feelings sometimes, like there's more going on than I know."
Grace's eyes began to water, and she bit her lip to hold back the tears. She cleared her throat, barely managing to keep her voice from cracking as she spoke.
"Son, I promise you that if anything serious happens, I will tell you."
Rafe watched her with his slightly-rounded eyes, and he eventually nodded. He rose from the bed and went to where she stood, looking up at her.
"Are you feeling better now? Are we still going to visit Grandpa today?"
Grace smiled at his eagerness, and she leaned down to kiss his cheek.
"Yes and yes! Go and get dressed now, and we'll take a nice walk through the park on the way."
Rafe ran back into his room next door, and Grace was alone. She thought over what he'd said about sensing that there was more going on than what he was told, and she felt ashamed of herself.
He sees through my lies, through me, like glass. It's a miracle that I don't shatter.
She opened and entered the walk-in closet to pick out her clothes for the day, and she selected a warm green cashmere sweater and jeans along with a pair of black calf-length boots made from buttery soft leather.
She let her mind wander as she dressed. She thought again about the wrong move she'd made by calling Gabriel, and she sighed in self-disgust. She couldn't believe that she had almost fallen into the trap of inviting him back into her life after so long.
Well, thank goodness that he wasn't home at the time. I would have hated it if he had picked up the phone and I couldn't speak from nervousness, or worse, if I heard sounds of some woman in the background. Damn it, if only I had been able to hang up sooner! I'll bet that the recording that I left sounded terrible.
The week before, when she realized that her crying had been recorded on Gabriel's voice-mail, Grace was alarmed. She began looking over her shoulder when she went out, afraid that she would turn around and he would be there. When the days passed and there was no response, at first she had been relieved but then she felt curiously disappointed along with something else; she'd felt as if she'd been abandoned.
Bullshit. I've managed without Gabriel for years, and I don't need him now. Whatever his reasons for not acting on my misguided call for help, I don't care. I have to be the one who'll step up and do what's best for myself and my child. I'm sick and tired of playing the damsel in distress! God knows that the whole charade of my marriage was based on that role, but no more. I must figure out what I'm going to do next, and then take action. I'm through with waiting in the wings while my life, my entire world revolves around either one man or another. It all ends now.
She finished dressing and walked to her bedside table, reaching out for her daily planner. She flipped through the pages, her eyes searching for the red circles that indicated her last period cycle. Finding them, she calculated the days.
Three weeks ago was the last one. David and I made love when it was over, about two weeks ago. The bouts of nausea began last week, as well as worst of the migraines. What the hell's going on here? I can't be pregnant again; it would be the worst timing in the world, considering that I'm going to leave him.
Lost in her thoughts, Grace absently placed a hand on her abdomen. She didn't want it to be true, but she didn't know what else it could be.
She glanced at the bedside clock; it was 9:30am. Her planner was still open next to where she sat on the bed, so she turned the pages until she reached the section where she kept the phone numbers. She looked up the number of her gynecologist while reaching for the cordless phone. Her head pounded harder with anxiety as she dialed.
"Hello, you have reached the office of Dr. Karen Sato. I'm not in right now..."
Grace patiently waited for the beep before speaking, her voice nervous.
"Karo, it's me, Grace. I haven't been feeling well this past week, lots of nausea and that type of thing. Could you squeeze me in for a check-up on Monday afternoon? It's urgent. If you want to get back to me, call me on my cell. Bye."
She disconnected the call and returned the phone back to the night table She jumped when she looked up to find Raphael standing at the doorway, watching her.
Grace rose from the bed. "Hi, baby. How long have you been waiting there?"
Rafe shrugged. "Not long. Mom, do we have to put the special cream on today?"
Grace watched him, noting the expression of distaste on his features as he spoke. He hates it, she realized. But it's necessary to protect him from prying eyes.
"Honey, you heard what the dermatologist said. It's necessary to protect your sensitive skin from the sun whenever you go outside. The sunlight can be very damaging for people with fair skin such as yours."
Rafe frowned. "But I don't like the way it makes me look when I have it on. I look like I'm from outer space, and it makes me look pale and sick when I'm not! People, both on the street and here at home, look at me with pity on their faces and that's NOT necessary. I also don't like the feel of it on my face. It's unnatural."
She felt a rush of heat in her cheeks as she registered her son's complaints. It pained her that he disliked the daily regimen so much, and she hated making him go through with it.
"I'm sorry, sweetheart. I didn't think about how you would feel about the whole thing. I'll talk with the doctor next week and see if she can put you on something else, okay? Something that's less thick so it won't cover up your rosy cheeks. But in the meantime, let's continue with this cream for just a little while longer."
Rafe brought over the small orange tube of sunscreen and placed it in Grace's waiting hand. Unscrewing the cap, she watched her little boy's face and again chided herself for her cowardice and dishonesty. She squeezed a generous dollop onto her fingers and went to work, covering his skin with the disgusting mixture. She wanted to cry as his beautiful skin was smothered by the white lotion, and she cursed herself repeatedly inside her mind.
Grace caught a whiff of the cream and her brows drew together in a frown.
"God, this stuff stinks!" She said it in self-directed anger, and Rafe looked at her with wide eyes.
"Mom, I'm sorry that I yelled at you before." The look in his eyes told her that he thought she was angry at him, and her voice softened as she rushed to correct him.
"Don't apologize, my angel. You have every right to say what you feel about anything you want. I'm very proud to have you for a son, do you know that? I love the fact that you can share your opinions so easily, without worrying about what other people will think. By being able to do that, you're stronger than most people."
"Why do some people hold themselves back, Mommy?"
Grace smiled wryly to herself before answering.
"Because they are afraid of expressing how they really feel, sweetheart."
Ah, the eternal question. Grace thought carefully, searching within herself for a satisfactory explanation. She took a deep breath, meeting Rafe's gaze.
"I think the reason is that deep down, many people are insecure with themselves, and because of that they place a lot of value on what others think of them. These outside views, in these cases, are even more important than what the actual people think of themselves."
Grace turned her head to look out of the window, deep in thought.
"For example, it's possible that someone could have a good amount of self-esteem in their own right, but in certain circumstances the person finds herself lacking. In times like these, she relies on others to fill in the blanks. She looks to those close to her to provide the feedback she needs to carry on."
She turned around and met her son's eyes again. He was listening intently.
"Her reason for not speaking up for what she wants, what she believes in, may be because she doesn't wish to upset those that she cares about. She may fear that she will offend or even lose someone from her close circle if she were to ever say or do anything that conflicts with the status quo, the values that society holds in high esteem. She doesn't want to be labeled an outsider for breaking the rules. She doesn't want to be forced to accept harsh judgments that would be thrown her way because she did something that was considered to be wrong."
Raphael stood up and walked up to his mother, embracing her. His voice was partially muffled against her thigh as he spoke.
"What is it that YOU want, Mom? What is the one thing that would make you most happy, your true heart's desire, yet you can't have it?"
Grace closed her eyes at his words, the telltale sting of tears heavy behind the lids. In her mind's eye, she recalled a night of shared passion from long ago. Her hands tingled as she remembered how it had felt to run them through hair that was like fire. The ecstasy that she'd experienced from her lover's mouth and hands. The wonderful sensation of having his body on top of her, below her, behind her and inside her...
She snapped out of her trance with a loud gasp, startling the little boy.
"I'm sorry about that, my darling. I'll have to think some more about the question, okay? We should grab some breakfast and get a move on before Grandpa wonders if we'll ever show. Go ahead to the dining room, and I'll be right behind you."
Rafe reluctantly left the room, and Grace sighed heavily as she turned to face the window once more. She placed her forehead against the cool glass as if the cold could extinguish the all-consuming fever that had pervaded her thoughts. She had been caught off-guard by Rafe's uncanny insight, and again she thought of Gabriel.
My true heart's desire? Where can I possibly begin? I want so many things these days. However, if I were to search deep within myself for the one thing that I most want, besides the guaranteed safety of my child, I would wish for a sign that I still matter to Gabriel. It's amazing that all the time and distance has failed to take away my need to mean something to him. How strange this is, my ridiculous yet everlasting hope for the one thing that he was never willing to give to me. His love. I am such a fool.
She felt the familiar stirrings of anger once again, and she pushed her thoughts of Gabriel to the back of her mind before leaving the bedroom.
In the dining room, Grace cautiously nibbled on some crackers as she sipped her morning cup of tea, hoping that she'd be able to keep them down. Rafe occasionally watched her from where he sat across the large table, but the Saturday morning cartoons successfully drew his attention to the television while he ate his bowl of cereal.
She finished her breakfast and focused on the stack of papers that she had left on the table the night before. It was the guest list and seating chart for a gala that she was organizing for Anami Enterprises to celebrate David's latest costly donation to cancer research, as well as to solicit other donations from Manhattan's elite.
She shuddered as she remembered her confrontation with David the night before, and her state of mind upon returning to the penthouse. She hadn't wanted to deal with the details of planning the upcoming masquerade ball which was her responsibility, but she threw herself into it until she was exhausted. She'd had no other way to cope with the realization that her marriage was spinning wildly out of control and she didn't know how to stop it. She no longer knew if she even wanted to stop it. Her thoughts returned again to Gabriel, and the pencil that she'd been holding snapped in two under her fierce grip.
Rafe was startled by the sound, and he dropped his spoon onto the floor. Grace felt the heat rushing to her face as she stood and went to her son. She bent down to retrieve the spoon just as Miyuki entered the room to clear the table.
"Madam? Is everything okay?"
Grace clenched her teeth, angry with herself for frightening her son.
"Everything's fine, Miyuki. Would you please take this spoon and bring another for Rafe, please? We had an accident."
Miyuki took the spoon from Grace's outstretched hand and was about to leave the room when Rafe spoke up.
"No, that's okay, Mom. I was finished anyway. Can we go now? I have all my stuff ready, including the drawings I made for Grandpa. Please, can we go?"
Grace saw the pleading look in his wide eyes and her heart ached.
"Okay, sweetie. Let's go. Miyuki? Would you do me a favor, please?"
She grabbed the annoying stack of paperwork concerning the gala and gave it to the maid. I have more important things to deal with than some silly party for rich snobs who want to play dress up. It's time to stop now; let someone else sort out this crap.
"Whenever you can, please pass this on to what's-his-face. You know, that guy who arranges things for my husband, his personal assistant."
"Do you mean Mr. Kilpatrick, madam?"
Frustrated, Grace had an urge to grab Miyuki and shake her for the occasional moments such as this when the maid would become a complete airhead, but she resisted. She fought to keep the sarcasm out of her voice, but some of it leaked out anyway.
"No... Kilpatrick is my husband's best friend and vice president of the company, Miyuki. I want you to give these papers to the one who waits on my husband like a dog, the brown-noser. Oh, you know which one I mean! He was here just yesterday when he told you to pack up Mr. Anami's bags for London!"
After a long and confused moment, Miyuki finally began to see the light.
"Oh! You mean that guy..."
Grace didn't know whether to laugh or scream. She wanted to leave the oppressive atmosphere of the apartment so badly, she could practically taste the spring air outside. She wanted to walk amongst the trees in Central Park, beside the Lake.
"Yes! That guy! Anyway, I don't give a damn who you give it to now, because I'm out of here! Let's go, Rafe. Grandpa is waiting for us, and we're going to have a great weekend. I can feel it."
* * *
They entered Central Park at East 79th Street, passing the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the way to the Turtle Pond. Greatly relieved to be away from the stifling walls of the penthouse, Grace closed her eyes and inhaled the sweet air of spring.
"Isn't this beautiful, sweetheart? I absolutely love this time of year, because everything stirs and awakens for another chance at life. The leaves return to the trees, the birds sing their melodies and the flowers appear to give their color to the world."
She smiled at her son, and her heart leapt in her chest when he smiled back.
My dear God, he looks just like his father when he smiles.
Grace looked at Rafe's tiny hand clutched in her own. She squeezed it affectionately before they changed paths to walk toward the Lake.
"Of course you know that I have another, more important reason why I love spring as much as I do. Come on, take a guess."
Rafe, still smiling, pretended to think carefully before abandoning the charade. His eyes glittered with excitement, and they looked like polished obsidian stones.
"Because of me!"
Grace laughed, the bell-like sound echoing over the water.
"Yes, baby. The day you were born was the happiest day of my life, and each year I count my blessings that I have you, my sweet boy."
"Not even your marrying Daddy was as happy as my birth?"
Her smile faded. No, it wasn't. Not by a long shot.
She leaned down to look into Rafe's eyes. "You are the best thing that's ever happened to me, even more than marrying your father. You are my everything."
They embraced for a long moment before Grace broke away to rise.
"Come on, honey. Let's hurry so Grandpa won't worry..."
She froze, her gaze fixed on the Lake. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn't look away. A sensation of deep cold washed over her, chilling her to the core.
Raphael pulled at Grace's hand, trying to snap her out of her trance.
"Mommy? What's going on? Mom, please look at me."
She heard her son's cries, but she couldn't respond. Her vision blurred as the air in her lungs seemed to leave her, replaced by a searing heat that made everything around her spin out of control. She couldn't breathe or even think; her eyes remained locked on the water. She felt as if she was thrashing helplessly in its dark and freezing depths, unable to rise to the surface and safety. Her body buckled under the strain and Grace crumpled to the ground, unconscious.
Rafe panicked, his eyes darting around in search of someone who could help. He saw a man jogging nearby, and he began to wave his arms wildly and scream for his attention.
"Mister! We need your help! Something's wrong with my mom! Please help us!"
The man ran over, alarmed by the frightened child and the collapsed woman beside him. "What happened here?"