It felt like a million hands reaching for him taking the child from his weakening grasp. Falling to his knees he watched someone perform CPR on the toddler. The blonde woman was stroking the boy’s wet hair back. Staggering to his feet he approached the group. “How is he” he asked between gasps. His chest still labored to draw in enough oxygen to breathe.
His question went unanswered until the crowd around the boy erupted in applause. “What’s happening” he asked someone standing next to him.
Turning with moist sad eyes the older woman replied. “The dear little darling…”
Panic rose inside him. He’d been too late. He failed. So lost in his thoughts he didn’t notice the crowd thin around him. He saw the blonde woman cradling her son in her arms. The child’s eyes were mercifully closed. He was about to leave when his eyes met hers.
“Thank you” she murmured holding her hand out to him. “You saved my little boy’s life.”
“I’m sorry” he said locked inside his own thoughts.
“Sorry” she frowned moving aside for the paramedics who just arrived on scene.”For what?”
“I tried” he stammered puzzled watching the paramedics.
“You did more than try” she hugged him.
“Oof” his meager air supply whooshed from him. Blinking he tried to clear his vision from the black dots dancing in front of him. “He’s alright” he said shocked “I thought he was…” He didn’t finish his thought as his body decided it was a good time to turn to jelly. He felt himself falling forwards. The blonde woman reached for him but her hands slid along his arms doing little to keep him upright.
Several minutes later he came to inside the ambulance. An oxygen mask firmy covering his nose and mouth. It wasn’t all bad when his eyes found the pretty blonde smiling down at him like beautiful angel. “You must think I’m an idiot” he mumbled attempting to remove the mask and sit up.
She gently touched his hand stilling it “leave that alone” she ordered.
Laying back he closed his eyes only to open them with a jerk at the sound of a little boy asking “mama?” Castel watched as the blonde turned lifting a small boy into her lap.
“Mama’s right here sweetheart” she squeezed the child in her arms. “That’s the man who save you” she explained with a smile.
Her smile warmed him from the inside out. Castel watched as the little boy whispered something in his mother’s ear.
“He wants to know if you’ll come to our house” she said her eyes hopeful.
Castel was silent considering the invitation. Lifting the oxygen mask he said “it depends.”
“On” she asked raising an eyebrow at him.
“If you tell me your name” he gave her his most charming grin. “I was told to never talk to strangers.”
“I’m Edelle Bennett” she said “and this is my son. Will you come to dinner Saturday night?”
“I’d love to” he grinned lying back wondering what fate had in store for him.
“Good” she grinned back at him. “Now put that mask back on. Can’t let my hero faint again now can I?”
“I didn’t faint” he protested.
“What do you call falling on your face” she asked with a giggle.
“I was overcome by your beauty” he said.
“That has to be one of the cheesiest things I’ve ever heard” she laughed. “Now up that mask back on before you say something else that’ll make me regret inviting you to dinner.”
“Yes ma’am” he said complying to her wishes.
Prisha pointed at the paper “and you wonder why I don’t like it when you bring Neel to the beach with you.”
Ajay glanced at the paper. He was aware of the story of the near drowning of a two year old toddler. “The mother admitted to turning her back on the child. He wandered off. The beach isn’t dangerous.”
“What if Neel wanders off” she pressed her lips together forming a thin hard line. “You can’t tell me you watch him every second of every minute.”
“Of course not” he took a sip of his coffee “but there’s no reason to assume that Neel will do the same thing that other little boy did. Neel has been taught not to go into the water without someone being with him. Plus he knows how to swim.”
“Tell me what your son is doing right now” she challenged.
“He’s playing with his blocks” he smirked knowing he was right by the slight widening of his wife’s dark eyes. They expressed her surprise. “Don’t you trust me” he asked.
“It’s not a matter of trust” she mumbled “things happen so quickly.”
“No more here than at the beach” he reached across the table taking her hand. “Remember when Kaia wandered off at Neel’s age?”
Nodding she gave him a stiff lipped smile. “I was so scared she’d get run over. She was so little and fearless…”
“I know” he said softly “I share your concerns but we can’t lock our kids in the house either.”
“I know” she squeezed his hand “I do trust you. I just worry. He’s so little.”
“I worry too” he said getting up and planting a kiss on top of her head.
“Will Kaia be there” Prisha asked watching him as he gathered his things.
“I think she has to work” he looked up “I’ll probably see her and her friends this afternoon.”
“Do you know if her friend has mentioned anything about her nosebleeds to her parents yet” she inquired.
Ajay gave her a blank look “um.”
“Unity” she prompted.
“Oh her” he shook his head mystified “I doubt it.”
“Do you think we should mention it” she asked “I keep thinking if it were my daughter I’d want someone to tell me if they thought something was wrong.”
Raising an eyebrow at her he just stared at her. They both knew that wasn’t true. She’d be upset if someone hinted that she didn’t know something like that about her kids. “I think we should mind our own business” he could tell that wasn’t what Prisha wanted to hear either. “If you’re that concerned I’ll mention it to Kaia again when I see her.”
Nodding she got up to retrieve her purse. “Be sure to keep on eye on Neel.”
“I will” he promised “he’ll do no unauthorized swimming.”
She tried not to laugh but she could only refrain for so long “that was so lame.”
“but you still smiled” he gloated wrapping his arms around her trim waist.
“When will you grow up” she complained.
“Do you really want me to” he asked waggling an eyebrow at her.
“Just once I’d like to know what it feels lit to be married to a stuffy old man” she pushed away from him. Walking towards the door she paused “I’ll pick up Chinese on my way home for dinner.”
He nodded watching her leave with a smile before he leaned down to pick up Neel to go to the beach.
Kaia nudged Aubrey forward. “Go” she urged.
“She’s your customer” she objected.
“Not anymore” Kaia pushed her friend forward “you’ll thank me later.”
“Oh hi” Olivia greeted when she recognized Aubrey. “I didn’t know you worked here.”
“Err” she choked trying to find something to say “yeah I do.” Glancing over her shoulder she tried to ignore the thumbs up sign Kaia gave her. “Can I help you” she defaulted to the well rehearsed lines she was supposed to say to their customers.
“I’m really just looking” she said pulling a shirt off the rack. “What do you think” she held the orange floral top up to her neck.
“No” Aubrey shook her head. Walking to another rack she pulled out a more subtle burnt orange. “This is more you I think.”
“Hmm not bad” the girl agreed “do you have it in yellow?”
“Yellow” Aubrey thought for a moment “not in this style.”
“Oh” the girl’s bottom lip pushed out “I really wanted something to brighten my wardrobe.” Walking to another rack she pulled out a bright yellow shirt out. “That the right color but the wrong style.”
“Mindy just finished a new line. I’m sure it’s something you’ll like. The style is fun and flirty. Its upstairs thought.” Aubrey turned to lead the way to the second floor.
Following her Olivia looked around the second in wonder. “Wow this is so cool.”
“You haven’t been up here before” Aubrey asked. “The best stuff is up here. At least the newest creations.”
“Well” Olivia bit her bottom lip “others have offered but I was kind of hoping that you would be the one to bring me up here.”
“Um” Aubrey looked around somewhat confused “I thought you…um.” She stopped before she could be accused of criticizing a potential client. “I can’t let you go any further then this area. The rest is off limits to unauthorized personnel.” She hesitated unsure what the girl’s intentions were “I’ll go get the shirt. I’m sure you’ll like it.”
Walking towards the display rack she could feel Olivia’s eyes on her the whole way. Taking several deep breaths while she searched for the garment she wanted. Her hands shook as she removed it from its place.
“Oh that is lovely” Olivia clapped her hands squealing excitedly.
“You haven’t even tried it on yet” Aubrey pointed towards a door “the changing room is over there.”
“No need” Olivia giggled taking the shirt from the hanger to hold it up to her chest. “I know it’s perfect.”
“You really should try it on” Aubrey urged “there are no returns once you purchase…”
“Oh I know” the girl winked at her pulling the shirt she was wearing over her head and tossing it to the floor.
“You can’t undress here” Aubrey cried attempting to push the girl towards the dressing room. “Someone could come up here.”
“No they won’t” Olivia protested “I timed it just right so that it’ll be right before closing time. Besides what’s the difference if I’m in my bra or a bikini top?”
“There’s a big difference” Aubrey insisted.
Ignoring her Olivia twirled around “how does it look” she asked.
Reluctantly Aubrey appraised the girl smiling in front her. Grudgingly she said “it looks good.” She had to admit the material of the shirt hugged the girls curves just right.
“Good. I’ll take it” she said walking confidently towards the stairs. “You can ring me up now.”
Shaking her head Aubrey picked up the girls discarded clothing and followed her down to the tills. “Mindy” she gulped upon finding her boss standing beside the registers.
“It’s past closing time” she said with an impatient wave of her hand.
“I…um just need to ring her order up” Aubrey stammered. She wondered how she was going to do that with the girl inside the garment.
“I’m sorry for holding you up” Olivia said sounding sweet as honey. “I couldn’t make up my mind. I just needed a new outfit for my date tonight.”
“Is that why you’re wearing it before you’ve purchased it” Mindy asked her tone not disguising her displeasure.
“I couldn’t be bothered to change once I put this wonderful shirt on. It felt so nice against my skin. Anything else would be a disappointment.”
The girl knew how to schmooze Aubrey thought while trying not to giggle.
Reluctantly Mindy smiled “hurry up so I can close.”
Castel stood outside Edelle’s house. He carried a bottle of wine in one hand and a stuffed bear in the other. He felt a little silly but somehow the boy had gotten inside his heart. He kept telling himself that it was because the mother was super hot but the truth was he’d spent way more time picking out the bear then he did the wine.
The door opened before he was able to knock. “I see you were able to make it” she greeted him with a peck on the cheek “Avery will love the bear.”
“I hope so” he grinned glad he had taken the time. “You wouldn’t believe how long it took me to choose this bear.”
She gave him a knowing grin but before she could say anything a high pitched excited voice interrupted her. “Ako man” Avery cried running up to Castel throwing his arms around his legs.
“Ako man” he raised his eyebrows at Edelle.
“That’s your new name” she said patting her son’s soft curls. “He’s been asking for you everyday since the beach incident.”
“I’ve been called worse” Castel said handing her the wine.
“Thank you” she smiled “we may have to save this for another time. My cousin brought wine as well.”
“Cousin” he asked trying to keep his disappointment from showing.
Ushering him inside she waved a hand towards a couple in the living room. “This is my cousin Lee and his fiance Fawn.”
Fawn’s eyes grew wide like she somehow recognized him “I have to know. Are you related to the Hurst’s of Bridgeport?”
“Um” his eyes darted around the room. No matter how old he got he still had a difficult time admitting who his family was. But one thing he learned from being with Blair if he wanted a relationship he had to be honest. Taking a deep breath he nodded mumbling “they’re my parents.” He didn’t miss the way Lee’s eyes brightened at that bit of information. It was like he just rose several rungs on a some invisible ladder just because of who his parents were.
“Weren’t you engaged to Blair Gray at one time” Fawn continued displaying her deplorable tabloid knowledge.
“Yes” he kept his answer curt hoping she’d drop the topic soon.
“Is it true she dumped you to get with Bentley Adams” she continued to ask questions like she didn’t think he had any feelings at all. At least that’s the impression he got from the interrogation.
“I’m sure he doesn’t want to discuss his ex” Edelle said coming to his rescue.
“If you ask me it’s his ex who made the wrong the choice” Lee observed pouring wine into a glass for Castel.
“It wasn’t Blair’s fault that things ended the way they did” Castel murmured taking a sip from the wine.
“Castel would you mind helping me in the kitchen” Edelle asked taking him by the arm.
“Sure” he smiled down at her.
Entering the kitchen Edelle said “don’t let Lee get to you. He likes to talk and pretend he’s more important than he is.” She handed him some tongs “will you toss the salad for me?”
Taking the tongs he began to toss the salad. “He brought up a few bad memories” he admitted finding her easy to talk to. “I wasn’t honest with Blair and it created a barrier between us when things came to light and instead of explaining why I became angry saying and doing things that repelled her.”
She leaned her head to the side considering his words “sounds like you learned a few things from that experience.”
“I hope so” he grinned at her “I still find it difficult to see their smiling faces from the tabloids as I stand in line at the store.”
“Oh dear” she shook her head “then you meet Fawn. I swear that girl must memorize every word she reads from those magazines.” She covered her mouth giggling “I’m sorry. I honestly didn’t know she’d do that. They’re really not that bad. I promise.”
“You owe me big time” he teased.
“I’ll let you take me out to supper next time” she said.
“How’s that paying me back for my pain and suffering” he asked.
“You do want to take me out on a date don’t you? Just the two of us” she asked stepping closer batting her eyelashes at him.
“Put like that how can I say no” he asked going back to tossing the salad.
“You can’t. You may as well quit trying” she nudged his shoulder with hers exchanging smiles before going back to work.