Breathing a sigh of relief as he opened the door. Gene found the house the same as they had left it. It wasn’t until he went to put his things away that it struck him, all her things were gone. Large empty holes were left where her things used to be. With a heavy feeling he walked through the shared bathroom noticing that all her cosmetics were gone where they once cluttered the sink. It was really true, she was gone.
Staring at his reflection in the mirror his mind drifting back to the day he showed Aimee the house for the first time. A smile almost reached his face before faltering and disappearing. Turning to the door leading to the game room, Aimee’s sanctuary, it had to be faced he thought as he opened the door.
“Michael,” he called.
“Yeah, do you need something?” Michael asked as he came into the room holding one of the twins.
“Yeah I need help packing all this stuff up,” his voice caught in his throat as he recalled how proud he was to present this room to Aimee. Her eyes had lit up with joy. He encouraged her to pursue her goal. He never fully understood her drive to play video games. He tried to help whenever she needed help with a commentary she was working on. All his effort was for nothing. He went to the pictures hanging on the wall, mocking him. Pictures of their dates together, he had thought they were happy. Screaming he swept his arm at the wall, knocking the pictures to the floor. Staring down at the broken remnants Gene felt it was a perfect representation of how he felt. Stooping down he picked up a shard of glass ….
“Gene ….. Gene,” Michael yelled at him until his trance was broken. “God Gene you scared me. For a moment I thought …. I really thought ….”
Trembling Gene let the glass fall from his fingers. He stumbled to his feet and ran to the bathroom sick to his stomach. Concern for his brother Michael put the baby in her carrier and went to check on Gene. “Are you alright?” after a moment of silence he knocked again “Gene answer me. Please you’re scaring me.” He cautiously opened the door to find Gene doubled over the toilet heaving. “Gene? Are you ok?” Michael asked kneeling beside him.
Smiling shakily up at Michael “yeah I’m ok. Just for a moment I blanked out and I … I’m sorry. I hadn’t meant to do that …. I’m sorry.” Standing shakily he turned to Michael “thanks for being there for me.”
Hugging his older brother tight he felt the tremors going through Gene’s body. I’ll always be here for you bro.” Michael helped him to the bedroom “why don’t you lie down and get some rest.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Michael told him “I put most of that room together. I can take it apart. I’ll take care of it.”
“Ok you win,” Gene said smiling at him as he sat on the bed “this time.”
He woke up a couple of hours later. Coming into the living room he found Michael playing video games. Startled Michael dropped the controller “Jeez calm down it’s just a game.” Gene laughed “not virtual porn or anything right?”
“Yeah” Michael laughed “I thought maybe you’d be upset that I was playing ….”
“That’s a nice thought but I’ve got to get used to the fact that Aimee’s gone regardless of the things that remind me of her.” Looking around the living room “where’s the girls? and all the stuff we got for them?”
Michael smiled pleased with himself “in their room. I told you I’d take care of it.” Michael shut down the game, instructing Gene to close his eyes as he led him to the girls room. Opening the door he turned to Gene “you can open your eyes now. Do you like it?”
Walking into the middle of the room Gene smiled “I love it. Thank you. It’s perfect!” Walking over to the girls he looked down at them as they waved their tiny hands up at him. “Now all I need are names for the two of you.”
Going into the kitchen Gene turned to Michael “I need help naming the girls. I haven’t got a clue and they need names. I can’t keep calling them ‘the girls’ forever and the only names running through my head right now are Tracee and Aimee and there’s no way I’m using those.”
“Are you asking me to name them?” Michael asked warming to the idea.
“I’m asking for your help,” Gene said “after all your helping me care for them.”
“Let’s check the web for baby names,” Michael suggested walking over to the computer. After several hours of debate interrupted with feedings and diaper changes they finally had two names: Jasmine Hope Bennett and Stephanie Joy Bennett.
Yawning Gene announced “I’m going to bed. See you in the morning.” Walking into the bedroom he checked that the baby monitor was on before climbing into bed. Laying there in the bed he had shared with Aimee he fought a losing battle with himself not to think about her. She had been willing to sleep with him, share his bed but not anything more intimate than kissing. There had always been that invisible barrier she wouldn’t cross. As much as it annoyed him he respected her wishes. He always hoped in time she would come around but it had just been a fairy tale. He wiped a tear away as he rolled over burying his face in the pillow.
Trying to get comfortable on the couch, Michael heard the muffled cries from the bedroom. Listening to his brother’s attempts to be quiet and not disturb him broke his heart. He wanted to show Aimee what she had done. But on the other hand he was afraid the instant Gene saw her he would forget all the pain and misery she caused and take her back. Michael knew underneath Gene’s hard exterior he portrayed to the world was an insecure, sentimental softie. Moving quietly Michael got up and knocked softly on Gene’s door.
He didn’t expect a response, he knew Gene would want him to pretend he hadn’t heard him crying. Michael couldn’t do that. He couldn’t stand by and watch someone suffer without trying to help. Opening the door he found Gene curled up on his side, his face buried into his pillow, shoulders shaking. Silently Michael got into the bed and put his arms around his brother until they both fell asleep.
Later that night Gene woke up to the sounds of two unhappy infants crying for attention. Groaning he moved slowly so as not to disturb Michael. Walking into the girls room he picked up one little girl comforting her cries then moved to the next one. It was somehow soothing to concentrate on their needs, knowing they needed him. Michael needed him to, he was after all just a kid himself and shouldn’t be expected to be comforting him. It was time he pulled himself together. Looking into his daughters eyes he promised himself this was the last time he cried over Aimee. Life wouldn’t stop for his broken heart and he had too many people depending on him for him to stop living his life.
Crawling back into bed he was comforted by the fact he wasn’t alone. Life would go on whether he wanted it to or not. He had two beautiful girls who needed him. He was through with love. He didn’t need it not if it left him feeling hollow and empty inside.
The next several months passed quickly. The girls grew into adorable toddlers and were into everything. Anything breakable was either broke or put up high where little hands couldn’t find. Michael was homeschooling now due to all the school he had missed and it helped Gene knowing the girls were in capable hands when he had to be away promoting his next show or whatever else his manager had lined up for him. Gene preferred to stay busy, the busier the better, anything to keep his mind occupied. There were days he found he didn’t think about Aimee at all and other days where she weighed heavily on his mind. Those were the days he found himself calling her number to hear her voice to leave a message.
He didn’t understand why he couldn’t get her off his mind. Maybe it was the fact his manager thought it was a great way to increase his popularity by making sure everyone knew he was single and available. There was always a steady stream of screaming young girls throwing themselves at him. Ironically that was when he missed Aimee the most. He could have almost any girl he wanted and he wanted the one girl who didn’t want him.
“Mr. Gene Bennett please?” a voice asked
“Speaking,” Gene told the voice “who is this?”
“I’m Officer O’Dell of the Hidden Springs police department. I’m calling in regards to Robert ….”
“Oh my god,” Gene said nearly dropping Jasmine to the floor “Daddy,” she cried clinging to him “sorry baby,” he kissed her cheek setting her on the floor. “I’m sorry officer I’m in the middle of putting my girls down for the night.”
“Sorry for disrupting your evening Mr. Bennett,” he apologized “as I was saying you are listed as guardian of Robert Bennett’s children ….”
“I’m sorry what? Did you say guardian?” Shaking Gene clutched the phone “does that mean that he’s … he’s….”
“Robert is in the hospital unable to care for his children and his wife is missing,” the officer cut in before Gene was able to fall apart.
“He’s in serious condition. That’s all I can say over the phone. When will you be able to come to Hidden Springs to arrange for the welfare of the kids?”
His mind racing Gene tried to remember if he had anything scheduled for tomorrow. As the silence lengthened he suddenly said “screw it.”
“Excuse me, ” the officer said in his ear.
“Shit I forgot you were still on the line. I’m sorry.” Gene muttered “I’ll be there tomorrow evening.”
Aimee raced from the hospital fearing that at any moment someone would all her name or worse that Gene would see her. She knew she would never have the strength to leave if she saw him. She got into a waiting taxi directing the driver to take her to the airport.
Taking her phone out she called the familiar number “Daddy I want to come home,” she cried when her father answered.
“Aimee?” he asked in shock “what did he do? I knew he was no good….”
“Gene didn’t do anything … It was me,” he stammered.
“He was pressuring you to do things,” his loud authoritative voice boomed through the phone “sex, drugs, alcohol god knows what else. I’ll set up an appointment with your therapist. He’ll straighten you out.”
“I don’t have ….. alright,” she sighed giving up “whatever you say.”
“I’ll send the butler over to collect your things from that shack you’ve been living in.” Her father paused “Aimee you’ll be living by our rules now and you’ll have absolutely no contact with any of those people from that horrid show. They’ve done enough damage that I don’t know if you’ll ever be the same again.”
She listen to her father drone on about the evils of her chosen life and all the things that needed to be changed about her. Maybe he was right. Maybe she was irreparably broken.
She cried herself to sleep every night alone in her room. She didn’t even have the comfort of reaching out to her followers. She was completely unplugged. Nothing of her old life was left. She enrolled in a junior college for a nursing course. She hated it but she went like the dutiful daughter she was. She was never given a chance to make friends being driven to and from the college. She was a prisoner with no chance of parole.
She met Wallace Reginald the fourth during one of her father’s business parties. He was the son of a business tycoon her father was trying to conovince into joining an overseas business venture. Wallace was a doctor in Hidden Springs, he was proper, ambitious, a hard worker, everything her parents wanted in a husband for her.
“Mother I don’t like Wallace ….”
“Don’t let you father hear you say that,” her mother scolded “you know how much your father has riding on this business venture of his. Just show Wallace a good time.”
“Yes mother,” Aimee sighed giving in. What did it matter to her parents that she was miserable? Her happiness never did matter to them in the past, why would now be any different? She went upstairs and replayed the half-dozen messages she had on her phone from Gene. Hearing his deep voice soothed her soul. Gene had been the only one who had ever cared whether she was happy or not. Wiping a stray tear, she had thrown the best thing she had away. What right did she have to complain? If she wasn’t happy it was her own damn fault.
Her first date with Wallace was three months ago. The business venture went through and yet she couldn’t get rid of him. Wallace would make plans through her father. Plans she couldn’t get out of. She cringed when she heard his voice and his touch sickened her. The night of their first kiss she must have looked as repulsed she felt. Wallace had snarled at her as he backhanded her across the face.
Bursting into tears she ran into the house. Her mother saw her and rushed to follow her. “What happened?” her mother’s concerned voice was like honey to her soul. She cried on her shoulder telling her how Wallace would hit her or squeeze her arms so tight it left bruises. Everything came pouring out. She was looking succor and “you must be wrong. Wallace wouldn’t do anything like that. He’s not a monster.”
Her mother walked away from her “I don’t know what’s wrong with you Aimee making up such terrible lies.”
So here she was too scared of her soon to be husband to break things off. Forced to change everything about herself, the way she wore her hair, the clothes she wore, where she lived. She was at the hospital waiting for Wallace to complete the emergency surgery he had been called in to perform when she heard his voice. At first she thought it was her imagination but when she turned and saw him, she almost cried out.
Everyday she came back hoping for a chance to see him. Ducking out of sight whenever he’d turn in her direction. She knew she was torturing herself but she couldn’t resist the desire to see him, wishing she could go to him. Beg him to forgive her, ask him for help but she couldn’t. he deserved so much better than she could give him. What right did she have to drag him into her messed up life?
That’s what she was thinking when she ducked into the room. She hadn’t expected Michael to see her. He had given her hope that Gene might be able to forgive her although she doubted very much that was his intention. Her mind was preoccupied on how she could contact Gene without Wallace finding out when he stepped into her path a tall dark towering pillar of doom.