Of Time: Chapter 5
LOS ANGELES, 1994
In January of 1994, Paul received an urgent call from his uncle.
"I need your help with the negotiations with the Japanese." Uncle Stephen got right to the point. "You're the only one in our company who can deal with these people. These talks were supposed to be completed by Christmas and it's now halfway through January."
Little did his uncle know that Paul's main success with the Asian community was in the hiring of his college friend Michael. Michael had relatives everywhere, on the West Coast and throughout Asia, not just Japan but in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, you name it. It seemed he came from a prolific family noted for immigrating to new places and quickly taking over the local economy. His sister Tamiko had actually left the U. S. in the late sixties as a protest over the Vietnam War. She'd returned to Japan where she quickly rose in an electronics company as an executive foreign liaison officer. Quite a feat, considering she had been a native-born American and had to learn Japanese as a second language. Through her, Michael had contact with the rest of their father's family. She'd made it her business to look up the relatives his father had left behind when he came to the U. S. in the thirties. These contacts had led her to her present job, as well as to her present spouse (who was some very distant cousin to some very distant cousin on their mother's side, actually). Michael steered Paul through the Seattle negotiations with Asian clients. Besides English and Japanese Michael also spoke Korean, Mandarin, and a little Taiwanese as well.
Paul didn't go into all this, but simply agreed to help his uncle any way he could, and found himself on the Alaskan Airlines shuttle to LAX that afternoon. His uncle met him at the airport in an aging, bright red Porsche, all that his ex-wife had left him in their divorce settlement. The car was built for midgets, which he and his uncle were not, nor were the three guys squashed into the back seat, their ears between their knees. Paul and his uncle folded themselves into the front seats and took off directly for the Los Angeles Hyatt Regency.
"Paul, this is my negotiating team, Curly, Moe and Larry," his uncle said as they got on the freeway.
"Steinberg, Milton, and Franc, esquires." One of the men extended his hand. "Attorneys at law."
Paul twisted around and shook hands with him, and waved at the others to spare them the contortions it would take to shake hands with him.
"I'm grateful you could make it, Paul; these negotiations have been hell." His uncle swerved in and out of traffic. "I don't know whether it's the old man himself, or their lawyers, or their translator -- who's got legs that start at her ears, by the way. They've been stonewalling us for weeks now, and we have to wrap this up in the next two days or the deal's through. All the permits will have to be reapplied for, the construction team is scheduled at another site, everything." His uncle cursed a car he was busy cutting off.
"What's the main sticking point?" Paul braced himself as his uncle careened down the freeway off-ramp.
"Oh, earthquake safety. It always is. I tell them, this city has codes, and we can't build here without the most up to date safety precautions. It's a moot point. But still, they quibble." Stephen Marbanks shook his head. "Bunch of stone-faces, too. Can't read a thing. Except for the translator, but who's looking at her face?" he guffawed. "Here we are."
They pulled up to the Hyatt Regency, and everyone piled out of the small car like clowns at a circus. Stephen handed his keys to the valet. At the glass elevators on the far side of the atrium, Stephen could see a dozen Japanese men in dark business suits surrounding a tall woman in a yellow jacket, black skirt and black pumps. She was turned away from him; her long, blonde hair hung in a single braid down her back.
Oh no, don't think it. Paul looked down at his feet as they walked through the entrance doors. His old obsession with blonde Moira look-alikes rose up. Paul pulled his attention back to the present and realized his uncle had said something to him. They were getting closer to the group by the elevator.
“Look, see the group getting into the elevator? That's Nishikawa, the old guy, and his advisors. The tall guy is their head lawyer and well, the blonde is the translator. Check those gams," his uncle, the epitome of a mid-life crisis, leered. His behavior had deteriorated since he'd left Paul's aunt. Now he no longer even pretended to be constrained.
Paul looked up to see them all get in the elevator. The blonde still faced the other way. His uncle suggested they wait for the next elevator so they could discuss strategy when the tall man made some comment in Japanese and the whole group erupted in laughter. As the door closed, Paul heard the melodious tones of Moira's voice rise above the rest
He froze. It had been over four years. As much as he wanted to race up the stairs to meet her elevator, he wanted to run out the front door and back to the airport. He did neither. He followed his uncle like an automaton to the elevators, nodding at seemingly appropriate moments. Whatever his uncle said, Paul couldn't hear it. By the time they got to the right floor and approached the open doors to the conference room, Paul felt dizzy and realized he hadn't been breathing. Inhaling deeply, he followed his uncle into the room.
"Gentlemen, I'd like you to meet our most capable executive, my nephew Paul Marbanks. Paul, this is Mr. Nishikawa and his associates, and you know," his uncle gestured to their side of the room, "our lawyers Steinberg, Milton and Franc."
Paul nodded in the appropriate directions, but he wasn't seeing anything. His whole attention was to the blonde figure at the end of the room looking down at a stack of papers. There was a silence until Mr. Nishikawa coughed loudly.
Moira's head popped up, startled, and she stood and made a series of half-bows to Mr. Nishikawa, rattling off a string of excuses in Japanese. Mr. Nishikawa smiled and absolved her, and then pointed at Paul.
"Who he?" asked Mr. Nishikawa, as Stephen Marbanks' flourishing introduction had completely gone over his head.
Moira stared at Paul; deep shock spread over her face. Pale and drawn, she looked very much like she had just before she'd left him in Seattle. Was she ill?
Moira cleared her throat and again responded in Japanese, her sentence this time ending in "Paul-ah Marbanks-ah."
Immediately, the dozen Asians all smiled at Paul, heads bobbing up and down and making sounds of approval. Mr. Nishikawa stepped forward and, with great ceremony, proffered his hand to Paul and said a long Japanese sentence.
Moira translated, "Mr. Nishikawa is very pleased to meet one of Marbanks' executives ... and he hopes that now the negotiations will come to a ... successful conclusion."
Paul took the hand and shook it with formality, and said, "Mr. Nishikawa, I am very honored to meet you, and I promise you that I will direct all my efforts to reaching a ... harmonious contract between our companies."
Moira smiled slightly and translated for Paul. Mr. Nishikawa looked very pleased, and they all took their seats and got down to business.
For the next three excruciating hours, Paul needed to focus on the work at hand when all he wanted to do was stare at Moira. He succeeded by not looking at her at all during most of the meeting. The negotiations had so far taken almost a month, when they'd originally been expected to last five days. The shrewd and intuitive Mr. Nishikawa had the best lawyer in the Western Hemisphere. None of the usual wheeling and dealing could be done here, which is why Marbanks Architects had failed so far. Finally, Paul decided to risk his own job and override his uncle on some key points, thinking that Stephen wouldn't take him on in public. The points were important to Nishikawa, having to do with aesthetics rather than structural design and actually quite minor to Marbanks. Only his uncle's stubborn and miserly ego had prevented any compromise. It wasn't important enough to lose this whole multi-million dollar deal and potentially billions of dollars of future business with Nishikawa Industries, as well.
The risk paid off, and moments later everybody shook hands, although Paul could feel his uncle seething. Mr. Nishikawa walked up to Stephen and shook his hand.
"Mr. Nishikawa says he is so impressed with your nephew he is considering hiring your firm to design his downtown Los Angeles office park." Moira echoed Nishikawa.
Dollar signs appeared in Uncle Stephen's eyes and a big grin spread across his face. "You got yourself a deal, you old coot." Uncle Stephen crowed enthusiastically, and then turned to Moira and said, "Tell him that without the 'old coot' bit, okay, sweet cheeks?"
Moira ignored the remark and, while translating for him, grew extremely pale and began shaking. She looked faint.
"Moira," Paul said sharply, "are you all right?"
"Who the heck is Moira?" his uncle said.
At that moment Moira swooned. Paul bounded across the room to catch her. The Japanese surrounded her making clucking noises.
"I'm fine, I'm just very, very tired..." Moira said, weakly.
"We were just going to go for a celebration dinner, we'll need your services as translator -- " Stephen Marbanks started to say, but Paul cut him off.
"This woman is obviously ill, and needs to see a doctor.” Paul held Moira in his arms, poised to protect her like a bodyguard.
"Just ... to my apartment, I just need to lie down." Moira said softly, struggling to stand on her own.
"Perhaps you'd better take her in the Porsche," said Stephen, tossing the claim check for his car over to Paul. "We can use Mr. Nishikawa's limo that we're paying for." The three lawyers looked noticeably relieved that they wouldn't have to imitate sardines that evening. "Just bring the car back here when you're done." He turned to the rest of them. "Gentlemen, shall we indulge in one of the city’s excellent restaurants? Our treat, Mr. Nishikawa." He bowed, western style, to the old gentleman, and all the Asian's heads bobbed up and down.
Paul led Moira away from the conference rooms to the elevator. He pressed the button and they waited for it to arrive.
"Do you have a car here?" Paul asked, assuming she must have driven.
Moira shook her head, "No, I don't drive."
Paul stared at her, realizing that she'd never driven during any of the times he'd been with her. More facts about her to add to the mystery: she spoke Japanese, Hindi, French, and she didn't drive.
They got in the elevator and the doors closed. After a short silence, Paul said,” So, long time no see."
"How long has it been?" Moira asked, steadying herself against the elevator wall.
Paul stared at her in surprise. He could tell her the exact number of days and estimate the minutes. Instead, he merely said, "A little over four years."
"Only that long?" She looked at him, eyes filled with sorrow.
Grief welled up in Paul's throat. He wanted to know what had happened after India, but she looked so deathly pale he instead gently asked, "You really are quite ill, aren't you?"
She shook her head, "Not ill, exactly, just -- drained. This meeting was only supposed to take two weeks and I've been here over a month."
Moira lived in a neighborhood north of the city. On the way there, Moira was so quiet that Paul glanced over several times to see if she was still breathing. With her eyes closed and her head tilted back against the headrest, she seemed to be in a deep trance. When they arrived, Paul had to help her out of the passenger seat. He walked her to the front door, with a firm grip on her arm as she weaved and her legs buckled. A bystander would have probably thought she was drunk. Paul worried that she was suffering from more than mere exhaustion.
Moira started to weep helplessly, "I'm so sorry about Seattle!" She began to fall over. instinctively, Paul stepped forward and caught her.
"Seattle? That was so long ago! We talked about that in India, remember? It's all right, Moira, it's all right," he crooned and stroked her hair.
She went limp against him. He felt the oddest sensation -- unlike embracing her before when he'd strongly felt gravity draining all the tension out of him. This time he felt energy coming out of his body and into hers. He could almost feel her being recharged by it as they stood quietly in front of her building. After a minute or so, she stepped back, her color returned and her eyes shining brightly.
"Thanks," she said, and smiled her sun-radiant smile. Reaching into her purse, she pulled out her apartment key. "Would you like to come in? We could catch up on old times."
Paul gave a short laugh. He never could figure her out. "Of course."
The older apartment building had narrow and dark hallways. She came to her apartment door and started to put the key in the lock when the door opened.
"Hola, senora! Buenos noches! El niño duerme. El era tan bueno - un ángel!" A very broad Mexican woman greeted Moira with open arms.
"Buenos noches, Mamacita!" Moira hugged her. "Muchas gracias - tu esta un angel!"
Mamacita gave Paul a big smile. "Buenos noches, senor."
Paul nodded and smiled back. What was this about a niño? Who was this woman?
Moira introduced him in Spanish, and Paul obviously couldn't follow the conversation, his seventh grade Spanish being too rusty. Moira seemed to be assuring Mamacita that Paul was a gentleman and an old friend. Mamacita seemed to size Paul up and decide it was safe to leave them unchaperoned. The two women laughed, embraced, and Moira slipped some money into the woman's hands as she walked out the door.
"Mucho gracias, mucho gracias!" Mamacita called, waddling into the hall.
"De nada, Mamacita, buenas noches!" Moira responded, closing the door.
Paul looked around the apartment. Sparsely decorated, it seemed like the furniture came rented with the apartment. There was almost no indication that anyone lived here, except, Paul saw with a jolt, some children's toys on the floor and a couple of childish drawings in the kitchen, stuck to the refrigerator door.
Paul's mouth went dry. "You have a child?"
Moira nodded. "He's almost five. I should go check on him. I'll be right back." She disappeared into the hallway.
Paul looked down at the toys. Adolescent mutant karate armadillos or something. He walked into the kitchen and looked at the three pictures on the refrigerator door. One had of two stick figures with big smiles. A preschool teacher had written on the bottom "My Mom and Me." Another had a house with a large tree in front of it; Paul was impressed by the rudimentary grasp of perspective. The other was a Christmas tree with colorful thumbprints as ornaments. The child had signed his own name, but it wasn't in a straight line and the letters weren't in order. Paul tried to decipher the scrawls. One looked like a D, N - no, was it an M? A, and another --
"He's asleep. He's a very good sleeper." Moira reappeared. She stood by Paul in front of the refrigerator. "And an artist too, you can see," she said proudly, as if they were sketches by Leonardo Da Vinci.
Paul stared at the pictures. Where's the father? He wanted to ask. Why isn't he here? Why are you here, in this dingy little apartment? Boys need fresh air and sunshine, not the smog and cement of L.A. He wanted to gather them both up in his arms and take them to Colvos.
Moira broke the silence. "Oh, look. Mamacita always makes a big pot of coffee." She went over to the coffee maker on the counter. "Do you want a cup? It's only regular but it's as strong as espresso, knowing Mamacita." She offered the pot of thick, black liquid.
Paul accepted the coffee with a liberal dose of 2% milk, and sat on the sofa in the living room. Moira still looked very tired, yet with a pale glow about her. She kicked off her shoes and sat on the far end of the sofa, hugging a cushion.
She smiled at him, saying nothing. Paul stared into his coffee cup. Five years old, the child is almost five. That would mean in October of '89 he would have been less than a year. What kind of mother leaves her baby to go gallivanting to India? Too many thoughts spun around in Paul's head.
She reached out and caressed his smooth, clean-shaven cheek. "No more beard."
Paul stiffened at her touch. He'd shaved his beard off in India. She should have remembered that. Part of him wanted to leap up and pace the floor, interrogating her until she answered all his questions. Part of him wanted to embrace her and push all thoughts out of his head. Then he remembered India, and her promise to be honest with him, but answer only what she could answer. "I will never lie to you, I will answer your questions as honestly as I can, but there are some things I'm ... not at liberty to answer." Tormenting himself with questions that she couldn't -- or wouldn't -- answer wasted time and emotional energy. He relaxed and smiled at her. He could, however, ask questions. Did he really want to know the answers? No, he didn't want to know anything about the boy's father, or her marriage to him. Paul felt jealousy rise towards a man he'd never met. And he didn't even want to know where the boy was when they were in India together. He wanted to keep that memory separate in his mind. He noticed her looking at him expectantly. Obviously she was back to not initiating conversations again.
The words came out of his mouth before he knew he'd thought them.
"Come back to Seattle with me," he said simply. Not a question, a request.
She gasped. A myriad of emotions passed over her face. Paul immediately felt guilty. Here she was exhausted and probably ill, and he hits her with this. But at the same time, he needed to press his case.
"You're almost done with this job. Tomorrow we'll finalize the contract and you'll be free. This is no place for a little boy to grow up, Moira. I have a really nice house, a beautiful house, on Colvos Island, it's on the beach -- you can see whales and seals from my deck! I could put up a rope swing over the water ... I hear the schools are excellent ... it's just a wonderful, small town atmosphere -- an ideal place to raise a child. Moira, please come back to Seattle with me. I love you and want to be with you. I'd make a good father, I know I would." Paul babbled, and wouldn't have stopped except Moira placed her hand gently on his lips.
She said nothing, but her lips were parted and eyes so full of longing. She took a deep breath and opened her mouth, hesitated, then said, "Let me sleep on it."
At least it wasn't a no! Paul slipped his arm around her waist and they kissed. In his arms she felt delicate and fragile, thinner than before. He wished to be very gentle with her and yet he was frenzied inside, he wanted her so badly. He felt the familiar feeling of being magnetically connected to the earth and all the tension, pain and loneliness drained out of him. The cell-phone in his pocket started ringing.
Did his uncle want the Porsche back? "Paul Marbanks," he answered the phone.
"Paul, sorry to bug you so late, but I'm working late at a project and Michael is at his daughter's recital."
"Adam!" Paul exclaimed, "Don't you ever go home? Percy must be starving!"
"Nah, he has plenty of food. Plus that cat is fat." Adam said in all seriousness.
Paul glanced over at Moira, watching at him intently. He covered the receiver and whispered, "It's business. Adam Paulson, one of my architects in Seattle."
A flicker of emotion ran across Moira's face and then disappeared. Paul turned his attention back to Adam, who had some technical questions about a project Paul had turned over to him when he went to L.A.
"Thanks, Paul -- sorry if I interrupted something." Adam said as they finished.
"That's okay." Paul responded, "I'm just visiting with ... an old friend."
"Her? You're with her?" Adam sounded astonished.
"Yes. Moira." Paul smiled over at her.
After a stunned silence, Adam said, "Well, tell her Adam says hi."
"Sure will. See you in a couple days." Paul looked over at Moira, "Adam says hi," he said, disconnecting from the call.
Moira raised an eyebrow. "He does? Well, Moira says hi, too." She cocked her head to one side. "What is this Adam guy like, and why does he feed Percy?"
Paul leaned back against the sofa and wondered how to explain all the passing years to her. "I moved out of the Ballard place and Adam inherited Percy." He started with the easy stuff. "Adam is ... well, he's a brilliant young architect, I'd guess he's not quite thirty years old. He's been with the company for four years." He smiled over at Moira, who had a puzzled expression on her face. Paul went on, "He's a friend of mine, a good friend. It's hard to explain, but we just hit it off. Some people think we're so alike that we could be brothers. But that's not it. We look alike, similar coloring and height. But he's quiet, and introspective, and a great listener. Oh, he meditates like you do. He bicycles everywhere - says he doesn't drive a car because they have electrical problems on him." He stopped when he saw Moira smiling the sweetest smile at him.
Without speaking, she stood and took his hands and led him towards her bedroom. At her son's door she paused. Paul could see a tiny figure covered with a Mutant Armadillo sleeping bag as a quilt. She carefully closed his door, and took Paul into her room. Inside they embraced. Paul held her for a long, long time. It was the most amazing feeling, like making love without moving. He could just feel emotional energy pulsating between them, as if he were breathing her into him and breathing out into her. Finally they turned their mouths to each other and kissed. The electricity from her mouth rippled through his whole body. She swiftly undid the buttons of his shirt and slipped it off him, smoothing her hands over his shoulders, arms and back, then slid them around his waist and up through the hairs covering his abdomen and chest and her fingertips grazed his nipples. He pulled up her blouse and pulled her bra down so her breasts tumbled out. He cupped his hands under them and rubbed her nipples with his thumbs. He felt her knees buckle and he grabbed her buttocks with one hand and pulled her close to him. She held on to his shoulders and rubbed her breasts against his chest; as he lifted up her skirt and ran his hand into her nylons, pulling them down to reach her panties. She gasped as he slid his hand into them to finger her wetness. He slid two fingers into her and pressed his palm against her clitoris. She buried her face in his neck and moaned as she moved her pelvis into his hand. She slid one hand down to his belt buckle and fumbled it open, still gyrating into his hand. She managed to free his trousers so they slid down around his ankles. He found himself half leaning, half sitting on her dresser as she pulled one leg out of her stockings and mounted him. His head fell back against the mirror to steady himself as she pushed against him. He heard her moaning in her throat and felt her urgency rise. Then she arched her back and opened her mouth -- but stopped her voice. She had a long, soundless orgasm. Through half closed eyes, Paul saw her head tilted back and her breasts rising up to him and falling back, rising up and falling back. He gripped her buttocks with both hands and pushed himself as deeply into her as he could. He strangled his cry in his throat, choking as he tried to silence his own coming. He convulsed into her, for what seemed like the longest climax in history. When done, he rested his head on her shoulder, breathing heavily.
Moira held him and kissed his cheek. "Wow. I'm glad we didn't wake my kid," she whispered.
Paul laughed weakly. "I'm glad I didn't have a stroke. I thought you were suffering from exhaustion. God help me if you had been in peak condition, I'd have died." He shifted his weight painfully. "I think I'm sitting on your hairbrush."
Moira laughed softly, "No, you're not -- I knocked it on the floor with my knee."
"Whatever it is, it's prickly." Paul reached around and pulled out an Armadillo action figure.
Moira muffled her hysterics with her hand while Paul attempted to stand up. He worried that he'd seriously pulled some muscles in his legs. Moira pulled him over to the bed and he fell on it like a tree. She helped him off with the few remaining clothes he had on, and took the rest of her own off, also. They snuggled under the sheets.
Resting her head against his shoulder, she asked, drowsily, "Refresh my memory -- how many times have we been together?"
He looked back at her, frowning slightly. "This is our fourth time together. The first time was a weekend in DC in '71 ... then we were together for three weeks in Seattle in 1980." Her face didn't register anything but he could tell she was thinking. "And in '89 we spent five days in India."
"Mm. Tell me everything you can remember about us. Start with our first meeting." She yawned.
Then Paul began to softly tell her every detail he had etched into his memory about that time, until he could tell by her breathing she was fast asleep. Curiosity overcame him and he lifted up the covers for a quick peek at her naked body. He reached over to turn on the bedside lamp.
She looked thin, but still had the same breathtakingly beautiful body. And she still had that yummy little tummy. He directed the light to examine her more carefully. The little silver lines were gone, and there were purple ones instead. Something in the back of his head tried to tell him what they meant, but he couldn't think what. His head started to feel as if it weighed a hundred pounds, as the strain of the day began to hit him. He reached behind and turned off the light. Then he curled up around her, chin over her head, and slipped into a deeply peaceful sleep.
Some hours later, Paul woke with a draft on his back. He turned around and saw a small figure silhouetted in the doorway. Alarmed, Paul pulled up the bed sheets to cover his nude backside. The little boy walked over to him.
"Who are you?" he asked, rubbing an eye with his fist. He had on Armadillo pajamas.
"I'm Paul. I'm a ... er, a friend of your mother's," Paul said awkwardly.
The little guy nodded his head. "Hi." He began to climb into the bed.
"Hey, I don't think you should do this!" said Paul, intensely aware that he was undressed. He held on tightly to the covers so they wouldn't be pulled off.
The child ignored him, and clambered over him to get to his mom. He slithered under the sheets beside her, and started patting her face. "Mom! Mom, you gotta wake up."
Moira lifted up her head. "What is it, sweetie?" she said sleepily.
"It's time. We gotta go." The child said, but instead of trying to pull his mother up, he curled up next to her.
"Okay," his mother said, and put her arms around him.
Moira's eyes flew open. "Oh my God, Paul, you're really here!" She sat up in bed, her child clinging to her. "Quickly," she said to the boy, "we have to help him, he can't do it on his own!"
What the !? Paul found himself being embraced by both Moira and her child. The little boy reached around Paul's shoulders and gave him little reassuring pats on the back. Paul felt uncomfortable, with Moira on the other side, pressing her breasts into his arm as she held him. He heard a rumbling, a muffled roar. The floor beneath them lurched, and they went up in the air. Instead of coming right down, they stayed suspended above the bed.
"Keep holding on," Moira said, to her son or to him, Paul wasn't sure. "Concentrate."
The room around them began to move in slow motion. Paul watched as walls began to wave in and out, and up and down. Bits of the ceiling started to break, and the dresser fell over. But he couldn't hear any of it, or feel any of it either. The ceiling gradually began to collapse and the floors above fell into the apartment. It seemed as if Paul's molecules were being separated somehow, and it seemed as if both Moira and her son were lifting him through the rubble and destruction. He floated outside. His bare feet touched pavement, and he found himself standing out on the street. Alone, by his uncle's Porsche, stark naked and holding his cell-phone. The apartment building in front of him was flattened.
Paul couldn't recall much of what had happened right after the earthquake. He must have called 911 on his cellphone. He remembered a firefighter giving him a yellow raincoat to wear. He remembered being kept from running back into the building, and forced into the ambulance. The hospital kept him only a short time, then released him. How he got back to his uncle's hotel wearing only the raincoat, that he didn't remember. His uncle wasn't there -- he'd suffered a concussion, and was in a hospital across town. The hotel had experienced only minor damage. Paul did remember the hours spent sitting in the hotel room, still in the raincoat, watching the news, calling phone number after phone number. No bodies found in the wreckage of the apartment building matched Moira or her son. One body did match the description of Mamacita.
Unable to work, Paul returned to Seattle. Michael flew down to finish the contract details with the Japanese, so an interpreter was no longer needed.
A shattered, broken man, Paul isolated himself at his place on Colvos. He ate little, slept less, and rarely got out of bed. He didn't know how long he'd been like that when one day the lights went on in his room and the curtains were drawn back. Paul shielded his eyes from the blinding sunlight. A man's silhouette stood over him.
"Come on," said Adam. "You're getting up and getting dressed."
Amazingly strong arms lifted Paul out of bed and walked him to the bathroom. They held him under the shower and washed his hair. They sat him on the toilet seat by the sink and supervised brushing his teeth. They pulled a sweatshirt over his head and jogging pants up around his waist and guided him downstairs. In the kitchen, strong hands steadied his own as he sipped a cup of coffee.
"You have to eat." Adam commanded.
"I'm not hungry," whined Paul, although his stomach churned for want of food. Paul felt a spoon go in his mouth. "Yuck, what is this?" he mumbled.
"Applesauce. From what I can tell, you haven't eaten in several days. I wanted to start you slow," Adam said.
Paul obediently swallowed the applesauce, which to him tasted like cardboard. After several bites, Adam handed him a piece of dry toast, which he mouthed a little. Adam helped him over to the couch by the window, so Paul could sit in the sunshine. Adam sat by him, and put his arm around his shoulders and started to pat his back reassuringly. That did it; Paul spasmed away from him. He choked out an agonized cry.
"Th-they're dead. Sh-she's gone, she's gone, she's gone," Paul wailed. He wrapped his arms across his chest and rocked back and forth as he mournfully keened.
Adam, extremely shaken by Paul's grief, leaned forward and held him tightly. Paul wanted to pull away from him, but Adam had a vise-like grip on him. Slowly, Paul noticed himself calming down inside, and his breathing returned to normal. He rested his head on Adam's shoulder.
When he was calm, Adam said to him, firmly, "They're not. Gone, I mean."
Paul shook his head. "I saw it. The building was flattened. No one in that ground floor apartment could have survived."
"You did," Adam observed.
"Because of them. They became angels and carried me out. But they were angels, you see. Angels. So they had to be d-dead." The grief welled up in him again.
"No, no," hushed Adam, "they never found the bodies."
"So what happened to them?" Paul sounded like a child wondering where the tooth fairy had taken his tooth.
Adam's dark brown eyes looked into Paul's own. "They disappeared."
A little light went off in Paul's head. The madness of grief slowly transformed into an insane joy. Of course! He thought hysterically, they disappeared. How logical. Why hadn't he thought of it? She always disappeared, always vanished without a trace. The joy transmuted into agonizing despair. They disappeared! And he was alone.
Adam held him through all these transitions. When Paul began to sink again, Adam shook him gently. "Okay, get up now. We're going to take a walk on the beach."
Adam stayed with Paul for the next several days, making sure he ate, and bathed, and slept. He took him out for walks on the beach and, when it rained, he read to him. Any novel pulled down from the bookshelf. When Paul seemed to be functioning a little better, he left and returned every few days or so. He slowly assisted Paul with returning to the world of the living.
ASSIGNMENT 109: LOS ANGELES, 1994
I am extremely confused and distraught. Have I not committed the greatest error one could commit? We are not to reveal ourselves in any way. We are not to directly involve ourselves in any way. We are not to consciously impact or manipulate Nature and Mankind. This is more than I am capable of handling. I wish to terminate this instrument. A chaperone can take my place. I am not learning. Advise, please.
You are resisting your strongest lesson. Immediately work with the Teachers on self-forgiveness. Suggest that you review Body Awareness. You are never given more than you can handle. Termination refused. Chaperones will not be beneficial for several more growth cycles. Suggestion to remain discorporate for a cycle. You are learning despite yourself.