|Still... the journey continues...|
Chapter 8, by Wendy & Ansia
Jacuzzi at CC and Sophia's new villa.
CC breaks a kiss and smiles at Sophia as his hand caresses her face. "You sure know how to start the morning," he says with a grin. "Maybe we can spend the rest of the day in bed and makeup for lost time," he suggests as he moves in for another kiss. Suddenly the telephone rings. Sophia turns her head to look toward the phone just as CC is about to kiss her.
" CC, I need to answer that, what if it is about the kids...or...Eden?" She puts her hand to his lips and smiles...then says, "Now hold that thought and I will be right back." She winks then stands up and grabs a towel to wrap around her.
She reaches the phone and greets, "Good morning," turning to cast a seductive smile at CC. "Yes Cruz, I know the café...and we can be there in two hours. Cruz, is there anything wrong?" she asks, her demeanor suddenly serious.
" Okay honey, see you then," she says before hanging up the phone and sauntering back to the Jacuzzi. Slipping back in the water, she looks at CC with a mischievous grin and asks, "Now, where were we?"
CC returns her look and says, "Come here and I will show you, little girl." With that, he takes her in his arms, giving her a long and passionate kiss. He breaks the kiss and looks into her to eyes. "Exactly how much time do we have?" he asks.
Sophia tries to catch her breath and then smiles at him saying, "Oh...about two hours."
CC's smile is evident in his words, "I think that will be enough time...for now." Pulling her with him as he leans back in the tub, his lips again capture hers in a deep kiss...
and a half hours later in the Café parking lot.
CC opens the car door for Sophia and, as she stands, he asks, "Can we take that tub home with us?"
She smiles and gives him a kiss on the cheek. "No...I guess we will just have to come back here more often," she tells him while wiping the lipstick from his cheek.
CC closes the car door and takes Sophia's hand as they walk toward the café.
Upon entering the café, they notice Cruz sitting at a table in the far corner and quickly move to join him. Cruz stands to exchange greetings with them and motions for them to be seated with him.
" Sorry Cruz, have you been waiting long?" Sophia asks him as she sits in the chair CC holds for her. CC sits beside her and looks at his son-in-law.
" Please Sophia, make no apology. I appreciate you coming down here at all. I had a meeting here earlier and've been hangin' around just tryin' to clear my head ever since," he adds.
" How's that working for you?" CC half-jokingly asks him.
" Not as well as I'd hoped" Cruz chuckles his response. "Can I get you anything?" he asks, motioning to the example of the drink he's still nursing from his previous meeting.
" No, thank you, maybe later," Sophia responds. She sensed Cruz's melancholy, and feeling apprehensive since entering the cafe herself, is anxious to address the main reason he called she and CC there. "Cruz, you said there were some things you wanted to ask us relative to the investigation on Ken?"
" Yeah, wish I could say this was a social call, but I'm afraid that's not the case. As it turns out, more questions have turned up in the investigation and I'm hoping your answers might help put some of this to rest."
" Of course. You know we'll help in anyway we can," she replies as CC nods his mutual agreement.
" I appreciate. Let's start with the night of Ken's death, specifically what took place in the cabin." As he speaks, he notices both CC and Sophia wince at the mention of that fateful night and, he suspects, the inevitable thought of how that particular evening could've had an even more tragic outcome. Still, he continues on, knowing the sooner they close the book on this case, the sooner the nightmare of Ken will be behind them.
" Before the authorities arrived on the night in question, did Ken say anything odd that either of you can remember?"
" Cruz, I was worried sick about Sophia and fighting for our lives, you can't honestly expect me to remember anything that scum said at the time!" CC exclaims.
" Cruz, I'm afraid I can't offer much in the line of help there either given the condition I was in at the time."
I understand, Sophia..." Cruz begins.
" Wait, there was something!" CC suddenly interjects. "Shortly before he pulled the gun, I demanded to know what that creep had done to Sophia: He said that he 'hadn't done anything to her.' The punk must have took me for an idiot, since Sophia was lying near death on the sofa, clear-as-day. Obviously that was another of his rouses, just as when he said he didn't mean to kill Sophia to try to throw suspicion from himself, that lying-piece of..."
" I'm not so sure that's the case," Cruz cut off.
" Do you really think he was lucid when he said those things? And can we even be sure I was the 'Contessa' he was referring to at the time?" Sophia asks hesitantly, not sure she really wants to hear the answers, though somehow feeling as if she needs to. She suspects there are no new developments in the Armonti-connection theory, as Cruz surely would have informed her if there had been, yet ever since he had told her that the investigators were looking into some obscure ties Ken may have had to the family and what was thought to be possible...
" I don't really know how with it he was at the time, Sophia," Cruz admits, interrupting her thoughts. "And as far as we can tell, you're the only person he knew that ever went by that title. Are you sure he never addressed you as such?"
Sophia thinks for a moment before responding. "Yes, I'm sure. Well, not to my recollection anyway," she amends.
" Please let me know if anything else about this comes to either of you."
" We will," Sophia confirms as CC silently nods his acknowledgment. Mustering her courage, she then leans forward intently, bracing herself for whatever response her next words might bring. "Cruz, we trust you...we trust your instinct ...and we trust your judgment. Do you really think there's something more to all of this?"
" Somethin' about this whole situation just doesn't sit well in my gut. Think about it: What reason would Ken have to throw suspicion aside in the throes of his last breaths? We know he was coherent when he tried to convince Mr. C he hadn't drugged you and he seemed coherent enough to me during those last words. He just as much could have been trying to tell us something as been lying through his miserable teeth."
While Sophia considers this, CC incredulously accuses, "Of course he was lying! What possible reason would anyone else have to hurt Sophia?"
" Now Mr. C, we're not certain either is the case is here. And even if Ken was in cahoots with someone when he was alive, now that he's out of the picture, they're probably not a threat anymore.
" Is Sophia in any danger?" CC immediately asks.
" Well, it's hard to say for sure as we still don't know Ken's real motive, but far as I can tell, it was purely financial," Cruz continues. Now that he's dead, along with his chances of casually inheriting any of Sophia's estate, anyone else connected with him on this will likely back off."
" So what is our next step?" CC impatiently asks, wanting to bring this investigation, and thus this place Ken still seemed to hold in their lives, to an immediate close.
" Leave it to me. Believe me, if there's anyone out there with the intention to hurt Sophia, I'm gonna find 'em and bring 'em down." Cruz replies as his dark eyes reflect the intense conviction of his words.
" Not before I do," CC sternly amends.
" Now, hold up a minute, Mr. C. I need you two keep as low a profile as possible in all this until the dust settles and we know for sure what Ken's agenda was. And if anyone else was involved in that agenda."
" I thought you said there wasn't reason to be alarmed?" Sophia poses quizzically.
" Not alarmed - On alert," Cruz clarifies for her. "True, there may not be any clear and present danger, but if we're missing something here, and there is in fact some risk, I don't want to take or give any chances. The lower your profile in all of this, the better."
" Fine. We play by the rules for now. But understand, if there is any threat to Sophia, I will..."
" Mr. C, I will take 'em out before they can even call themselves threats. You have my word."
" We couldn't ask for more than that, Cruz," Sophia replies, her tone and expression those of complete confidence, as she grazes his hand in a gesture of reaffirmation and thanks.
" Mr. C?" Cruz asks, hoping to prompt CC's assurance that he would refrain from getting involved any further in this matter.
However, CC, not willing to acquiesce so readily, starts, "Cruz, I know I have your word..."
Before he could continue with what was clearly to be another vow to protect the woman he loves, Sophia grasps his hand with her own, abruptly and firmly enough to cease his comment. "And you have his word" Sophia finishes for CC.
" Glad to hear it" Cruz says grinning at the scene playing out before his eyes. As powerful a man as the Great CC Capwell was, in an instant, he was once again completely humbled by the petite woman he loved. Cruz would've been as completely bewildered by this as CC's expression at the fact, had he himself not known the power the love of a woman held over his own life: The love of a woman who was the daughter of the two people before him at this very moment. Despite his longing for that woman, seeing the people who brought her into the world find their way to each other again, and as in love as ever, brought a certain sense of peace and well-being to him. CC and Sophia were living examples of his belief in eternal love, miracles and destiny, and witnessing them together now renewed his hope that he would one day return that woman, and those very elements she brought, to his life.
Sophia's voice draws him out of his musings. "Cruz is there something else on your mind?"
He silently laughs at the irony of her words, as if she had somehow read his thoughts. He quickly shook off the feeling before responding, "As a matter of fact, there is. Sophia, from what you can remember, were you aware of any trips to Monte Carlo that Ken had planned for just after your arrival in Milan?"
" No, none that I recall. But Cruz, I was in such a fog these past few months, I'm not certain I would remember even if he had told me of any. Why do you ask?"
" Sophia, a plane ticket and itinerary for that destination and date were found among Ken's belongings."
" Cruz, I don't understand. Why would he make arrangements to leave if he knew I would be so near death?"
" That's just the thing, Sophia: To cast suspicion from himself, he may have calculated the approximate time of your death and coordinated to be away at that precise moment."
Cruz gages the shock on their faces and allows them a moment to process the absolute cruelty of that information.
" That bastard was just going leave her for dead and take off to save his own sorry hide!" CC exasperates.
" How could I have been so blind to his actions?" Sophia questions bemusedly, as if oblivious to CC's outburst.
Cruz jumps to reassures her. "Sophia, you couldn't have known: It's amazing you even survived all that poison coursing through your veins. None of this is your fault."
" But Cruz, even before the poisoning I was so completely oblivious to him! For God's sake, I believed in him, I defended him to my family, I even married him." Sophia pleads as much to herself as Cruz before trying to further rationalize her relationship with Ken. "As much as I hate him for what he did to me, to us," she amended glancing at CC, "there's a part of me that loved him. Even now, I still foolishly hope that he returned that feeling on some level. At least in that, there would've been a validation and redemption in our marriage."
" If he couldn't find it in his heart to love you, than HE was the foolish one," CC firmly declares.
Sophia again looks to CC, acknowledging the meaning of his words with a wistful nod of her head and gentle covering of his hand with her own. She sees her love reflected in his own eyes, and for an instant, her heart feels healed.
Cruz allows them a brief moment before continuing with his previous line of questioning. "What I'm trying to figure out now is if there's any significance to Monte Carlo. Like if he had business to attend to there, or family, or if it was just a random choice."
" It wasn't business to my knowledge or recollection. I will check at Armonti and see if there's any record there. As far as family, I'm not aware of any surviving family he had."
" Thanks, Sophia. Let me know what you find out at Armonti: Depending on what turns up there, a little trip may be in order. In the meantime, there's one other matter that I thought would be best coming from me." He turns to delicately address Sophia, knowing this rather dark and sensitive matter was bound to be difficult for her. "Sophia, the investigators are now ready to authorize the return of Ken's personal effects and the coroner's release of the body. Since Ken's a lone-wolf as far as we can tell, the decision of internment would fall to you as his only known next of kin."
" Are you kidding? That bastard ought to be burned at stake before he rots in hell for an eternity!" CC exclaims.
" CC, please. I understand you're upset over what he did to me, but there's nothing to be gained from this now. Ken's gone. He can't hurt us anymore. As filled with anger at him as I still am, that anger has no place here. I will see he is given a proper burial in accordance with his wishes."
CC was in disbelief at her words, though, knowing her, he knew he shouldn't be. Still, his eyes and voice revealed his astonishment as he spoke: "Sophia, when I think, after all that man put you through, you..."
" CC, this isn't about me...it isn't about you...it isn't even about Ken really. What it is about, is one human being abiding by the final wishes of another."
" I'm curious about something, Sophia," Cruz interjects, both respecting her decision and knowing that once a Capwell woman makes up her mind, it is a moot point to argue it. Thinking it best for CC and Sophia to cool down and work through any dissention on this subject at a more appropriate time and place, he continues on, hoping to diffuse some tension and steer the conversation in a more fruitful direction: "How did you learn of what Ken wanted for arrangements and what might those may be?"
" We had discussed it once, and shortly after we were married, we each had new wills drawn up which included that information. In fact, he had wanted to retire to and eventually be buried here in Italy: This was his version of paradise in which he planned to live out his final days and spend eternity. If he only knew how foreboding those words would be," Sophia laments before continuing her catharsis: He was some years younger than me and I never thought it would be me making final arrangements for him, especially under these circumstances and in this very place. So many ghosts...," she says, losing herself in thought.
Cruz, who had been paying careful attention to what she was saying, notices this and exchanges a worried glance with CC. "Sophia, do you know what the draw to Italy was for him?" Cruz inquires gently, in an attempt to regain her attention as well as solicit any relevant information that may be useful.
Sophia quickly recovers and takes the cue. "Yes, yes I do. In his youth, his family always took an extended summer vacation to Italy. He said he loved it and wanted to take me here, so we could experience it together. Little did I know what experience he had in mind...," Sophia again drifts off.
This time it is CC to call her back. Knowing she needs his comfort more than his complaints at the moment, he temporarily curtails his anger over the entire situation to offer: "Sophia, as much as I despised that so-called human being, and how he still burdens you...darling, I love you and will support you to do whatever you feel is right, even if I feel differently. Just tell me what you need me to do to end this."
" Thank you, honey. I know you're just trying to understand this and you don't know how much that and just your being here means to me," Sophia says, casting a loving gaze at CC as she wraps her fingers around his. She knows he is desperately trying to stifle his frustration on behalf of her own feelings and quickly concocts a diversion to lighten the mood and spare his restraint any further test bound to come from the remaining portion of the current conversation.
"There is one way you could be of great service to me," she adds with a flirtatious glint.
" Anything. Your wish is my command, my lady," he replies, bringing his lips to her hand to seal his offer with a kiss.
" Well, your lady wishes for an expresso. For some reason she's feeling very tired today," she playfully adds as a hint of a smirk graced her face.
" Then your wish shall be granted," CC returns before turning to Cruz. "Can I get you anything, son?" he queries while standing.
" No thanks, Mr. C, we're just about all-set here. You go ahead - you mustn't keep your lady waiting," Cruz jests.
" No, I mustn't," CC grins while bending to place a tender kiss on Sophia's cheek. He then turns to address Cruz again.
Despite the lightness of the moment, he said with unmistakable authority, "You take care of her now while I'm gone."
" Always, Mr. C" comes Cruz's in-kind response.
As Cruz guides Sophia through the legalities of claiming Ken's belongings and body, CC moves to the café counter and places an order. He takes a seat at the bar to wait as a piece of artwork on the wall catches his eye. For a long moment he can't figure why he is so drawn to it, until its significance dawns on him: It resembles the works of the symbolic ocean shore scenes that "Suzanne" had painted. He loses himself in the piece and painful memories it evokes as his mind reflects on the events of the past year.
It had been a year filled with both great sorrow and hardship, especially the manner in which Eden's personality disorder manifested itself and the devastation losing her had on the entire family. He'd witnessed Cruz anguish without his wife, his grandchildren grow without a mother, his children struggle without their sister, and, of course, the particularly painful path he and Sophia had taken in their own mourning: They had depended on Eden to make them whole, when in essence, they needed to rely on each other to help her be whole. In that, they had failed their daughter, as well as each other, and established a very destructive, convenient pattern: He desperate to cast blame and a guilt-ridden Sophia all too eager to accept that blame as punishment for the responsibility they both felt she held in Eden's disappearance. Eventually they had turned away from each other and took solace in the arms of others: The last thing Eden would've wanted, his mind reasoned. And the last thing either he or Sophia really wanted. That had cost them dearly, with Sophia nearly paying the ultimate price at the hands of Ken. He thanked the gods she was still with him and vowed to do everything in is his power to keep it that way and make his family complete: He and Sophia would forgive themselves, expel their demons and, at least in that sense, bring Eden back to them.
" Excuse me, sir. Are you alright?" comes a soft voice and touch to his arm from the seat to his right.
This startles CC out of his reverie and he jerks back to the present moment,
knocking and spilling the expresso on the bar in the process. He quickly curses
his clumsiness and reaches for his handkerchief to contain the spilt liquid. His
handkerchief reaches the bar a moment after that of the man to his right.
" Please, allow me," the man says, using the back of his own hand to casually restrict CC's from tending to the spill.
" Thank you and please pardon me," CC says, sure to leave his handkerchief at
the man's disposal on the bar should it be needed to complete the clean-up task.
He then continues, "I was preoccupied for a moment there. Did you say something?"
" Apparently so, and it was for more than only a moment" the gentleman replies with a slight chuckle. "And, actually, you were the one speaking, but not to anyone here as far as I could ascertain. I noticed you hadn't acknowledged the clerk when he brought your order and you had such a distant look on your face, I became concerned and therefore called on you."
CC is grateful for the man's goodwill, yet disconcerted as he hadn't realized he had vocalized any of his previous thoughts. Surprised and embarrassed for doing so, he attempts to regain his composure. "Then allow me to thank you and apologize for any undo worry I may have caused. I was simply contemplating my much awaited marriage and reunion with our daughter and hadn't realized I had spoken aloud."
" Well then, allow me to offer my congratulations. Do I presume the lovely lady is your intended?" he asks, casting his eyes in the same direction CC had inclined his head when referring to his impending marriage.
" Why, yes she is," CC says, proudly acknowledging their engagement and Sophia's loveliness. As the café clerk delivers a replacement of the spilt expresso, CC adds, "And as much as I'm enjoying your company, if there is to be any wedding at all, I should get this expresso to her before it chills along with her affections for me," excusing himself to return to Sophia and Cruz, who now looked to be finished with their business.
" Yes, speaking from similar experience with my own wife, I'd say you should indeed," the man amusedly replies. As CC makes to collect the expresso from the bar, the man suddenly remembers the long-forgotten handkerchiefs. "Here, you'll want to take this along: It may prove useful in cleaning up a mess of other sorts," he teased, passing the unsoiled fabric back to CC.
Before CC can firmly grasp it, it falls to the floor and both men immediately make to retrieve it. Already, halfway to the destination, CC raises his hand to spare the man from further bending. "Please, let me get this one. There's no sense in both of us throwing our backs out," he jokes.
As he further reaches for it, he can't help but appreciate the craftsmanship of the man's shoes: They were, without a doubt, the finest pair of Italian loafers he had ever seen, and the only to feature what looked to be a heel of gold he notes before uprighting himself and folding the handkerchief back into his pocket.
" Now that all is in order here, if you'll kindly excuse me, I have some business I must attend to, and you, a fiancé to cater," the man concludes.
" By all means." CC nods.
The man retrieves his overcoat and pauses to offer some parting words before leaving. "I also speak from experience in saying 'treat even the most seemingly insignificant tea service as if it is your last.' I know how precious the love of a good woman is and, unfortunately, how fragile and easily taken from us that love can be at any moment. And I also live the pain of a lost child: May you soon find your way to your daughter again as well."
CC is struck by the both the sympathy and resolve this man's prophetic words inspire in him. He feels a sort of kindred connection to this man as CC himself knew all too well the pain of losing a wife and children. Fortunately, and mercifully, his own life had been blessed with some second chances: Chances he is determined not to let pass by. "God willing, I fully intend to do so on both accounts," he concludes.
" The best of intentions...and with that, I must bid arrivederci," the man dismisses.
" Yes and thank you again," CC returns before they both head toward the table where Cruz and Sophia are still sitting.
As CC rejoins Sophia and Cruz, the man gives them a passing glance and nod of acknowledgement on his way to exit the café.
" Here you are, my darling," CC says presenting the expresso to Sophia.
" Thank you," she responds, taking and positioning the cup before her. "CC, who was that man you were talking to just now?" she casually asks.
" He was..," he begins and, realizing he never quite got the man's name, pauses to formulate an appropriate summation to give Sophia in its stead..."a wise man who reminded me that you are a precious gift to be cherished," he finishes before giving her a gentle hug and kiss.
Sophia looks at him curiously but forgoes further inquiry as his mood had improved, she didn't see the need to dispute such an astute point, and she wasn't really feeling well enough to delve deeper into it anyway. Obviously, she reasons, everything surrounding Ken is taking its toll on her.
" Well, would anyone care for lunch?" CC asks, hoping the three of them might enjoy some time together of which the investigation was not the sole focus.
" Actually, Mr. C, since you're back to now see to your lady's well-being, I have some leg work to do for her," Cruz declines, alluding to the coordinating the delivery of Ken's belongings to Sophia.
" Cruz, my son, has anyone ever told you that you work too much?" CC gibes, reaching to firmly pat Cruz on the back of his shoulder.
" Hey, nothin's too much for my family," he answers as he stands and returns the pat to CC before bending to give Sophia a parting hug and peck on the cheek.
As Cruz does so, CC asks, "What about you, Sophia? You must be famished?"
" Truthfully, CC, I don't really have much of an appetite," she informs him.
Noticing she is rather pale and still keeping hold of Cruz's forearm, as if to comfort herself, CC asks, "darling, are you feeling okay?"
" I think I'm just a little tired and pre-occupied with all the arrangements that have to be made for Ken," she sighs. "Perhaps we can go back to the villa so I can rest and get everything in order. Then I'm sure I'll feel more relaxed and voracious later."
" I'm counting on it," CC says as both he and Cruz pull out her chair to help her stand. As she is chivalrously escorted out of the café, Sophia fights to calm the unease and tension she is now feeling. She's dreading this service she assumed responsibility of by default, along with the unpleasant memories and emotions it's bound to bring to the surface. 'Once this is over, he will no longer haunt us,' her mind repeats as if a mantra to convince itself.
CC, Sophia and Cruz exit the café and make their way to the parking area. Around the corner, a black, leather-gloved hand is palmed under the vines of the stoned café wall, as a set of eyes watch the Santa Barbara residents exchange goodbyes before parting ways. As their cars drive off, the gloved hand runs itself between the wall and the vines, until it reaches the corner and is withdrawn to return in the direction from which it arrived.