Duplicity Ch. 07bypartial2passion©
So here is the next chapter. This one is a bit dark compared to the others. Let me know what you think.
Layla woke up bright and early the next day. She needed to get to the gym. She grabbed her water bottle and towel and headed down the hall.
Feeling sluggish from last night's self-induced sugar coma, she slowly trudged along. She sighed, serves her right. Why does pigging out always seem like a good idea at the time but after the fact you're beating yourself up about it.
She'd be fine. She would just push through it.
As she walked down the hall her thoughts inevitably went to Merle. She stopped in front of his door, raised her fist to the wood... and hesitated.
She inhaled and exhaled. Nope. Not right now. What was she thinking? It was way too early and she did not need to be distracted right now.
Turning the corner, she continued towards the end of the hall. She wondered if this gym was even open. The other gym on the first floor was always an option. It was huge and luxurious; definitely bigger than her local fitness center back home.
She hadn't seen anything like the one here. It was complete with weight stations and all the state of the art equipment you could imagine. Directly next to it, there was a Turkish bath with elaborate saunas, salt and fresh water pools and therapeutic steam rooms. There was even a couple of massage therapists that were ready to work on you when you arrived.
The temple-like structure was designed with intricate blue and green mosaic tile work and high ceilings with natural light. The bath doors lead you outside to a private infinity pool and fresh juice and smoothie area.
Although all that sounded... wonderful. The small gym down the hall was exactly what Layla needed; small and intimate.
It was rather strange it was on the 4th floor in the first place. She hoped they didn't mind if she used it.
Jason and Sienna had a rule that all who was employed by them had to take an hour a week just to unwind.
They believed it promoted good health and good health led to productivity. Hippies... they were affectionately called by the locals. It was unheard of that the help share the owners' facilities. It was easy to see why the Bane estate was the most popular place for anyone in the service industry to work.
She walked through the door and stopped when she heard something. She quickly scooted to the door's corner. There was someone already here. That's odd. It was barely 6am.
She discretely peered around the corner and could make out a tall, bald man who was very strong. Squinting her eyes, she concentrated on the fast movements. The man was completely focused and didn't realize she was there. He appeared to be performing some kind of mixed martial arts moves. He wore loose white pants and was bare-chested and barefoot.
Layla stood transfixed as the man's swift and agile movements overpowered the small space. His back was towards her so she observed quietly. He was so succinct it almost looked like a coordinated dance. A lethal calculated dance.
He slowed his movements and she was able to really observe him.
Both hands faced heavenward as if in solemn prayer. Slowly his right arm extended and sliced the air like a knife. He let out what sounded like a soft hiss and pulled it back slowly.
His arms flew like a tight windmill around him and then slashed down towards the floor with a grunt.
His back arched and he flipped in the air as if dodging his opponent's blow.
Layla watched as if in a trance. Whatever he was fighting would surely be dead by now.
He continued throwing jabs and powerful blows to his invisible opponent. The only sounds she could hear were distinct exhales and soft grunts.
It really was spectacular to watch. He was so quick and unpredictable; every second deserved to be documented.
Layla noticed there were distinct tattoos that ran up his back, through both shoulders and down his chest. The dark ink swirled, blended and ran together as he moved. As if the tribal markings were running right through him... with him.
Suddenly he flipped and held himself on one hand while looking down. He slowly held his whole body upside down on his right hand.
Layla could almost feel his fierce concentration. He stayed in that unmovable unnatural pose for a couple minutes. Testing his strength against his own body.
There were tiny beads of sweat that carelessly dropped to the floor. His right arm's veins bulged and his body softly vibrated. But he held his perfect posture while upside down. His face seemed serene, calm. Then he slowly descended that same hand creating the most difficult reverse pushup she'd ever seen. One-handed and upside down. He held his position there as he gazed to the floor... in defiance of the odds.
She got a good look of his eyes then. They looked to be crystal bluish green, like the shallow end of a bottomless lagoon.
Just then his gaze connected with hers. Layla shrieked in surprise; a second before the stranger slipped out of balance and tumbled to the floor.
"Oh my God, I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to startle you." Layla rushed over to try to help him.
But he was already up before she reached him.
"Are you alright?"
The stranger looked at her with a neutral face.
While close Layla noticed the intricate design of his chest tattoos. She thought it was one design but it was actually different ones that ran together. Some foreign text and markings she guessed might be Arabic. It looked like there might be scars covered by the design. When he caught her looking at him he quickly walked away and grabbed his towel from a bench. He threw the towel over his right shoulder.
"I didn't know anyone used this place. I just came in for a workout and didn't want to interrupt you. Do you work here or are you a guest? My God I'm sorry I could've sworn I met everyone here in the house."
The stranger looked at her curiously. Layla unconsciously scratched the back of her head. Did she really just ramble on and on? It must be the remnants of all the sugar she consumed last night. Layla was so embarrassed. Of course here she was rambling off to a man who obviously didn't speak English.
"English? Do... you.... speak... Angli-ka?" Layla huffed while trying to remember the right words. "Me le ne... Layla." She pointed to herself and then stretched out her hand in greeting.
The stranger continued to look at her as if considering her words. But then he abruptly turned on his heel and walked away, leaving her with her hand hanging mid-air. Layla stood there confused. Even the local people she'd met had always been friendly enough to respond, even if it was in Greek. Well, she guessed not all the locals were friendly. He was probably annoyed she interrupted his little routine.
"No need to be rude asshole." She muttered under her breath.
The man confidently strode out of the gym without sparing her another glance.
Layla shrugged. Oh well, at least now she had the gym to herself.
Sean turned the corner, glanced behind him and slipped into his room.
"Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!" He punched in the air. He was fucked. Completely fucked.
He hadn't heard Layla come into the room until it was too late.
Out of all the people to catch him; it just had to be her to see him. He didn't know how to react so he remained silent. At least for the moment she didn't recognize him. If he spoke, he wasn't so sure how long that would last. Looking back, he should've just come clean about the whole thing.
But one look into her inquisitive eyes and he was tongue-tied. It wasn't the right time.
How could he have been so careless? With everything. He could've sworn he locked the gym door but apparently not. Sean ran his hands over his face. He was slipping in every way imaginable. Now was not the time.
"Fuck!" He huffed again.
His breathing was irregular and all he saw was red. Pure rage.
Suddenly he punched the wall. Immediate regret followed as he saw the crumbled pieces of drywall fall from the now gaping hole in the wall.
Shit. He needed to get out of there. They were close, he could feel it. They were coming for him.
But first he needed to calm down.
He held his breath for two counts and exhaled. Held his breath. Exhaled.
When his breathing finally slowed, he was clearheaded and felt better. Awkwardly he shoved to crumbled pieces into the wall so it wouldn't look so bad. He'd have to tell Sienna it was a freak accident or some shit like that.
After a cold shower, he got dressed and slipped out of the house. The sun was barely rising and the streets were quiet.
He pulled his hoodie over his head and walked smoothly in the shadows staying close to the large shady trees.
After a couple of blocks there were little shops that came into view. Down the street, Sean could see iron gates roll up and a small plump woman, humming in an apron emerged. With a large broom in her calloused hands, she happily swept the front steps oblivious of being watched. She was really into her song and at one point stopped sweeping and used the broom stick as a microphone to belt out a particularly high note.
Someone from inside yelled for her to shut up. She made a vulgar gesture towards the door and smiled; content with the fact that she couldn't be seen. But she trudged along dutifully doing her job.
By this time Sean scurried across the street towards her store. She hadn't noticed him and walked to the side of the building in the alley to grab a bucket of water to finish off her now pristine steps and sidewalk.
Sean waited until she was out of sight and swiped a hat and shirt from the shop and kept walking. He was so swift, even if you would've seen him; you wouldn't have been able to catch the theft. His conscience had long ago stopped bothering him about such things.
When he turned the corner he slid his hoodie off with one hand and with the other he was already placing the new shirt on. He threw the hoodie in a nearby trash bin. His fisherman's wool hat lay snugly on his bare head. He continued walking and there was a man who had been shining his shoes. Sean stopped and asked for the hour but didn't make eye contact with him. While the man turned around to see his watch, Sean slipped on a fisherman's raincoat perched nearby and continued walking briskly.
Every block was different; he had to look completely different. He would grab an umbrella or someone's sunglasses. He even walked with an elderly lady a couple of steps, pretending to be her caretaker. It was impossible to keep track of him.
About 10 blocks and 3 neighborhoods over; Sean found a secure spot and assessed his surroundings. Finally he was alone. Safe.
But now his head hurt. Fuck. He didn't need this right now. He'd been getting those headaches more often now.
Sean had run into a dead end. There were rows of small white washed houses adorned with clothes lines surrounded by tall trees. It was still quiet and desolate.
He found the designated payphone tucked away on the deserted side street. The illuminated lamp post hovered over it as its only companion. He punched a series of numbers on the dial and waited for a prompt. As rehearsed, when connected; he waited 30 seconds and then spoke.
"As-salamu alaykum brother." His green eyes darted from side to side, sensing any movement around him. "Uh huh. Yes. Uh huh... It's been done."
When he hung up the phone and turned around he came face to face with a small boy.
"Motherfu-!" He bit his tongue. This kid had caught him by surprise.
The boy was probably around 6 years old. He wore a soccer jersey, gray shorts and was barefoot. His bright brown eyes looked at him curiously. The mop of brown curls graced his head while smears adorned the sides of his mouth. He was dirty and alone.
The boy gazed up at Sean in wonder as if he was looking at the Sun god. He assessed him from head to toe as if figuring him out. Sean's eyebrows furrowed as he endured the evaluation. Sean tried to figure out what the boy wanted and how the hell he snuck up on him.
The boy smirked at him as if he knew something Sean didn't. Then he beckoned Sean as if he wanted to be followed, and started walking. Sean tentatively followed, if anything he wanted to make sure he was alright. They walked and walked through the narrow cobblestone road. Soon they approached a dark alley. There was a strong stench of rotten food and garbage. But the boy didn't seem to mind. The rats roamed freely, probably wondering why these two were in their territory.
The boy periodically looked back to make sure Sean was still following him. They stopped at a makeshift cardboard shed. He motioned for him to go under it. The boy obviously thought it was hospitable to bring in Sean, the stray, into his home.
Sean was curious but more than anything concerned for this boy. He decided to play along and earn his trust to get him to safety. Once they were under, the boy lit a match and then a nearby candle.
"What's your name?" Sean asked.
Sean looked around. To the right there was a small radio and little cardboard bench with playing cards. To the left there were stacked cardboards that must have been used as a bed. The boy crawled to the corner and slowly pulled out some collectable cards carefully wrapped in plastic.
Cautiously he handed them to Sean as if it was the greatest treasure he had. The top card was of a MMA fighter posing with his fists up. The man was tall and strong and bald.
The boy pointed to his mouth and shook his head. It was understood the boy was mute. He then pointed at the card and then at Sean.
"No that's not me little man but thanks for the compliment. He's a tough guy, huh?" Sean smirked. The boy wore the saddest expression Sean had ever seen. "Are you a tough guy?"
The boy nodded enthusiastically and made a muscle with his tiny arms as proof of his strength.
Sean looked around. "Are you hungry? Do you want to go with me?" He had to get this kid out of there.
The little boy shook his head. He took the top card and pointed at Sean's large watch. Apparently he wanted to trade. The sides of Sean's mouth twitched into a smile as he knew there was no way this would be an even trade. But he felt a pang in his heart thinking of this poor little homeless boy all by himself. Without thinking twice about it, he took his watch off and gave it to him. Sean also gave him a couple of bills he had in his wallet.
"Keep it." The boy's smile was wide and brilliant.
Just then Sean heard a woman's voice, "Michael! Where are you? I'm going to count to three and if you're not here this very second I swear to God I'll tell Papa as soon as he gets home."
The boy panicked face shot up and his eyes opened wide. Sean didn't conceal the surprise on his face. The boy's small finger went to Sean's lips and hushed Sean to be quiet. He grabbed the cards and shiny watch from Sean and smiled at him mischievously. The boy swiftly walked out of the shed before Sean could stop him.
"Where have you been you naughty boy? You left barefoot... and dirty? Roaming the streets like some beggar-"
"I'm sorry mommy. I just wanted to play," was his response.
"I've told you a million times. Do-Not- Play in that nasty shed. You are grounded young man. Grounded! No TV or games all day." The woman grabbed a hold of his ear and walked him down the side street. But before he left he shot the shed a last glance and winked at Sean.
Sean shook his head and chuckled. He'd just been hustled.
When Sean slipped out, he thought he might see the boy or hear the woman again. But they were gone. He walked down the street and saw an older man reclining against a building smoking a long pipe.
"Excuse me sir, have you seen a mother and her small boy walk by?"
"There hasn't been anyone to go down this street but you." The man responded.
"Are you sure? They were just here. She was yelling at him because he was outside by himself."
"No, I would've seen or heard that. And I've been outside for an hour now."
Sean was confused. There weren't many paths they could've taken. He walked down the other way and saw a woman cleaning her outside windows. He asked the same questions. She again said, she hadn't seen or heard anything.
He walked back to where the cardboard shed was... but it was gone.
There was just a little pile of flattened cardboards on the floor. He looked down at his wrist but wasn't wearing his watch. But... had he even worn it today?
Memories of the morning flooded into him. He thought of Layla. Confused and frustrated, he rubbed his temples and groaned. His migraine was back. But he brushed it off and continued on his way. He needed to get out of there.
Santorini's famous Perissa beach was a sight to behold.
You couldn't tell if the mighty Mesa Vouno rock formation poured into or rose out of the sea. The unmovable mountain cliff stood watch over the island...holding the island on its shoulders. Not surprisingly the Arch of Poseidon's sanctuary peeked on the side of the cliff facing towards them reminding them they were on sacred ground.
Curious granules of black sand graced the beach. It was an eerie but spectacular phenomenon. Down the shore the black sand collided with the sea's waves in the most exotic way.
There were brightly colored umbrella clusters scattered along the shore. The sea's gorgeous blue water sparkled as the sun hit it. Layla looked out into the ominous sea. The sun shone brightly over them all. Although the water was crystal clear, the sea floor's black sand blocked any clarity to the bottom. There was a dangerous majestic quality to the water. Like at any moment a sea creature could emerge. Stunning, Layla thought as she observed from afar.
There were plenty of people there and all were having a good time. Couples rubbed sun block lotion on each other while a group of single women took pictures. There were group of teenagers that played volleyball at a nearby net. Children's laughter and adult conversation all blended together.
Presently, Layla was relaxing; breathing the fresh air in. She couldn't understand why in the world she hesitated on coming. This place was beautiful.
Jason had set them up in an area that overlooked the beach. It was a private deck that featured draped canopy cabana beds, a private shower, a full size bar and waiters waiting at your beck and call. It was a little slice of heaven.
It was private enough to be relaxing but public enough to feel a part of all the fun. And it was just what Layla needed after her hard work out this morning. She thought of the mysterious man she'd interrupted. She wondered who he was. He seemed like he might be a professional fighter of some sort. She might ask Sienna about him later.
Layla relaxed and enjoyed the sounds and smells around her. The crashing waves, the squawking sea gulls lulled her to sleep. She wore a big floppy straw hat that covered most of her face and wiggled in her bathing suit since she was not used to showing so much skin. She smiled when she thought of this morning.
Layla had been coerced into joining Sienna, Jason, Nicole and John that afternoon. Since the wedding planning was pretty much done, they reasoned it was only right Layla enjoy the sights. She reluctantly agreed since she wanted to get out of the house. She'd thought of inviting Merle but then thought against it. Space was good for both of them. She didn't know what was going on with him and she didn't want to seem clingy.
Before they left the house, out of curiosity, Sienna asked to see her bathing suit. Layla brought out a conservative one piece bathing suit but Sienna was having none of that. She explained that it wouldn't be unusual to see women go topless and the men would probably wear Speedos. Sienna told Layla not to worry because Nicole needed a suit as well; they just pick some up on the way.