Finally! And what a way to end! This 21k “short story” will be the anchor of my collection of similar for my book in the early months of 2020. Right now I think the shorts will be arranged chronologically, so this will be pretty much in the middle. To-date this gives me ~31k words for that book; I’ll try to flesh one of them out a little more and am sure I’ll have one or two come to my mind in the next few months.
This was a lot of fun! Unfortunately what comes next, besides the final edit of “Worlds Without End” is the last tweaks to the awful “Crosses & Doublecrosses.” Yuck.
This time she took his hand and led them further on the grassy path.
“Thank you, Arpad,” she said. “Ai made me older a while ago that loving someone means wanting to know more about them.”
Lily looked at him, still slowly walking.
“And I do love you, Arpad.”
“That’s been obvious since I saw you at Mort’s Deli,” he replied. “And I began to like you when I saw your photograph in my boss’s office in Vienna.”
“Arpad!” she exclaimed with a smile. “You sound like some creepy stalker!”
“That has been a part of my job description for years, Lily,” he said, leaning over to kiss her cheek and whisper in her ear. “And I do find you loveable.”
Expecting another, better kiss, Lily was disappointed when he suddenly looked about.
“Ah, here!” he said, pointing at some rocks in the stream. “We can step across to a nice spot I found on the other side.”
“Nice spot?” she asked.
“Quiet. Secluded, even,” he smiled, watching her shudder.
He lightly stepped from stone to stone before turning back to her. Her shoe just slipped on the last rock but he quickly pulled her into him, scooping up her legs just a moment later.
“Allow me, princess!”
Lily stared dreamily up at his face while awash in the feelings from her heart and body. Pushing through some bushes and around some sturdy pine trees into a clearing next to a tiny waterfall, he set her down, took his pistol out of his coat and carefully set it aside before doffing the jacket and spreading it onto the long pine needles. Arpad re-took her hand and lowered her to sit facing him.
“Your turn. Kiss me,” he said.
Carrying on for a few minutes she was aware that he had unbuttoned her blouse and had his strong hands about her waist, moving up…
“Ohhh…!” she moaned into his mouth, hesitantly reaching her hand out to touch his –
“What are you doing?” asked the soft voice of a little girl.
Hearing Lily mutter not now! Arpad opened his eyes. No longer in their little clearing he took in the waters of a blue sea gently lapping a sandy beach. They were sitting just as they had been but on a strand some meters inland and up. He looked to his left at the voice. A girl, maybe five; purple hair and adobe eyes, wearing a white shirt under blue denim overalls.
“Hello, Miss Henge,” he said politely but just as irritated at the interruption, recognizing her from Lily’s phone just an hour ago. “We are, as you see, somewhat busy…”
“That’s why I brought you here, Mister Rigó,” she continued with no emotion in her voice. “I alone of my family am like you two: a follower of the Way.”
He didn’t understand and she sensed that.
“I am a baptized Christian; I consider myself Catholic,” she expounded.
How do you baptized one of… these people?
“I understand you are in love – I love my boyfriend, Gary – but what kind of love lands your beloved in a Confessional?” she asked, her tone turning to mild scolding.
“Confess-?” Lily began.
“Had I not intervened you two would be breaking a Commandment right now. That’s a mortal sin and I was sad and worried for you, step-mom!”
So rare to hear stress or sadness in her voice, Lily scooted over to Henge to give her a hug.
“I’m sorry! It was just… I felt so…!”
Arpad saw the odd little girl did not return the embrace.
“I like Mister Rigó, too. I think you are well suited for one another,” she said looking at Arpad before drawing her head back to look at Lily. “Why not get married? Now.”
This isn’t a web, he realized, I’m being hemmed in by spears…
“I can contact Father Ramler in your church,” Henge continued, choosing to ignore the surprised humans before her, “and Mister Rigó can drive you there in minutes.”
She disengaged from Lily who was shaking again.
“Say your vows before God Almighty, who loves us,” Henge droned on, “then go back to Mister Rigó’s hotel and start making me nieces and nephews. I would like lots of them, step-mom.”
More spears… these people are so blunt as to be a danger to others… Wup! Lily’s looking at me! Crying!
“I… that would be okay…!” he barely heard her say.
“Lily,” he took a breath and thought very quickly, “not to break the mood but we are adults here: I am a foreign national and an agent of my government. I have no family or job prospects here – ”
“No worries!” boomed a slightly Hispanic voice from the waterline. Arpad turned back to the sea and beheld huge Fausta, now in an emerald one-piece swimsuit that matched her glorious eyes. She flashed them a grin while walking closer.
“Texas has diplomatic recognition from only a handful of other nations, they could use you there! Also, their Field Forces have no formal Special Operations unit, just a platoon of guys with some of the skills; you must be their Captain!”
Does she always speak like that? Still… to get in on the ground floor of a new country…
Someone, Lily, reached up and pulled his chin – and eyes – off of Fausta and back onto her.
“Hey! Don’t forget yourself!” she snarked, jealous.
Spears. He was a soldier and knew a defeat when he saw one.
“What about a place?” he tried one last sortie. “We can’t stay in Waxahachie…”
“The Hill Country just southwest of Austin would be perfect for growing grapes!” Fausta shouted again. “I read in your private files you wanted to do that some day!”
Dangerous…! He sighed. And gave up.
Putting both hands onto Lily’s shoulders he held her eyes.
“Marry me, Lily Barrett. Today. Become Lily Rigó. Forever.”
“Yes!” she shouted, startling some birds in the little clearing in the woods.
He stood and pulled her up. Dusting off his jacket he replaced the Walther into the coat pocket. He extended his hand; she took it.
Arpad was proud of her that while there was an occasional sniffle from the passenger seat on their short drive, there were no tears or hysterics. Coming up on St. Joseph’s he knew something was up. Never one to trust any crowd, he pulled over and parked on the street two blocks away.
“What… what’s going on?” Lily asked.
“My guess is that someone told everyone in town what is about to happen here,” he said tightly. “Lily, my to-be wife? I do not like crowds; they are inherently dangerous!”
“I’m not too fond of them either… what?! My kids!” she said.
Truly: the orphans were running past them toward the church. Arpad stabbed the window control.
“Erik!” he shouted. The boy halted so fast he almost fell over. Arpad saw chunky Karl had heard his voice, too, and stopped. He stood forth from the car and waved them to come over.
“You two shall escort Miss Barrett into the church. You will not run. You will NOT allow harm to come to her! You are only relieved of this assignment once she starts down the aisle. Do you understand?!”
Shaking in fear the two boys drew themselves up and saluted. He returned it, aware that others were noticing them.
“Other side of the car. Move, lads!”
Erik opened her car door and they fell in next to her. Arpad was busy scanning the mass of people she would have to brave. Eyes everywhere he started walking parallel to Lily and the boys while taking his mobile out.
“Fausta… and the rest of you, copy?”
“Yes,” was Fausta’s immediate reply.
“I want your help on keeping an eye on what’s developing here,” he said clearly.
“Done, Mister Rigó,” he heard Ai’s voice. “Know that we have also directed some of the county’s deputies to you to assist if necessary. But I don’t think it will be a problem!”
He slid the phone into his coat’s outer breast pocket for easy communication. More and more people noticed him. Applause began. Hands came out. I don’t need this right now! He shook those he could while moving forward, pleased that his two sergeants were pushing forward with his… with my bride. How did I fall into this?
The interior of the little church was already standing room only. At the far end was the priest. To his right stood Lily’s orphanage director and the two live-in caretakers, likely as the legal witnesses. He was pleased to see that the front two pews on the left had been kept free for her kids. There was some commotion to the far ahead right… someone pushing in a flatscreen on a cart? When they plugged it in, Ai and her family appeared, drawing some applause from those in the church.
He realized he was standing right to Lily at the head of the aisle.
“Arpad?” she asked when hearing his teeth grind together.
“No rings!” he hissed.
“Mith Barwett? Mither Reegoo?” a little voice came from just behind them.
“Yes, Susie?” Lily asked, turning. The little girl pushed a small white box into her hand.
“Henge told me to give you theeth!” she said with a smile.
Lily opened the box and started blinking quickly. She showed it to Arpad. Rings.
“I have the best friends!” she cried.
“Goodbye,” Arpad said. He thought Lily was going to die. “Miss Barrett. I have to meet my wife, now.”
Trying not to laugh as he walked away and took his place next to Father Ramler, when he did look back he realized that this was going to be one wild night.
The ceremony took minutes. The walk back to the car was just over two hours. Was the entire town there? A five minute drive was almost twenty as they crawled along, still waving and with Lily shouting her thanks to everyone. Finally parking, he had to wait one last time: Lily walked slowly to the gentleman just inside the hotel lobby, Ranger Kyle Stephens. He couldn’t make out what they said but didn’t particularly want to. Free at last, they were up the stairs to his room.
Sweeping her up once more he deftly unlocked the door. With the cooler air the AC wasn’t on and a window had been opened…
“Oh, my!” Lily said.
Flowers everywhere. New, crisp linen sheets on the bed. Dozens of congratulatory notes. And an iced bottle of champagne with two fluted glasses on the coffee table. He was also pleased to see his cleaned clothes were hung up in the closet. Have to see if they ruined them, later.
“You going to put me down, Arpad?” she laughed.
“Only bodily, Mrs. Rigó,” her feet touched the floor. “You are mine forever.”
“Such the diplomat!”
“Piss on that,” he grinned, releasing the cork from the bottle with a pop but setting it back down. “Pour me a drink, wife!”
He was surprised to not get a reaction out of her from that. She did as she was told and demurely handed him the glass in her left.
“Arpad?” she asked, light dancing in her eyes.
“When you said that… when you told me ‘goodbye’ in church, you didn’t look back until you were at the altar. Thank you.”
“Why is that?”
She lifted her left hand. The point of her K-Bar knife just touched under his chin.
“It gave me enough time to put this away. I was ready to kill you, Arpad!”
“Good. That means you are also ready to kill for me!” he said, ignoring the blade and raising his glass. “Here’s to us! Forever!”
“Forever!” she agreed, lowering the knife.
“Lily?” He saw her start a little at his ‘serious’ voice.
“Before things get too complicated,” he said with a look to their bed, “we need to have this out: it will take me two to four weeks back home – my old home – to get things sorted. While I don’t have to leave immediately, I would rather get things wrapped up there sooner than later.”
“I… understand, Arpad,” she said, setting her glass down and moving into his arms. “From what Fausta said you’ll also be away in Austin for your new jobs, too! So long as I know you are mine and coming back… I’ll be fine!”
“My tough, survivor, wife! You are teaching me to love you more every day, Mrs. Rigó!”
Just as they moved toward the bed, Lily spoke up.
“It would help, though, if you did give me something before you left, husband,” she purred with her eyes down.
“And that is?” Just how big a check am I supposed to write?
“We did promise Henge lots of nieces and nephews…”
“So we did, Mrs. Rigó!” he said, taking her clothes off of her. “Let’s fulfill that promise right now!”
Lily’s eyes fluttered open. She did not recognize the ceiling. Where? About to sit up her hand brushed the man next to her in bed, just illuminated by the dawn’s light through the window. Her husband. She lay back down with something between a sigh of pleasure and a groan of pain. The soreness down there she expected, having been a virgin. The pleasure and happiness that radiated through her entire body she did not and reveled in the joy.
The tightness in her gut was new, she thought, closing her eyes at the brightness of her step-daughter’s beach. She sat on the strand while what seemed an otter rolled about in her lap. It leapt away and resolved itself into Henge’s human form.
“Thank you, step-mom,” she said with no smile, no frown.
Henge pointed at her belly.
“Lily!” Arpad asked sharply, rolling over in their bed and instantly awake. “You cried out! What’s wrong?”
“Nothing!” Now the waterworks started and showed no sign of ending. “Everything is all right! Everything, Arpad!”