Going Home (160)

It had been an eventful few days for the Gardner family. Exhausted, exasperated, and many other bad adjectives could be used to describe them.190.jpg The emotional raft they had been riding for the past few months finally came to calmer waters. Samantha Flint was dead. No one had expected the once-great manipulator to ever go away, let alone die, but sometimes life is funny that way. These were the things Redmond and Annette considered on their trip back home to Huntsport. A wide range of feeling came over them, but through it all, happiness prevailed. Their baby girl, Olivia, was safely in their arms once more. They could be a family now for the first time, a real family. Aunts, uncles, and grandparents awaited their arrival, ready to get back to a sense of relative peace.

***

The family members anxiously waited in the train station for the return of Redmond, Annette, and Olivia.

“God, I’ve missed them so much,” said Laura Gardner.

“I know, honey, I know. It’s been a rough road for all of us,” said Frank, putting an arm around his wife.

“I just thank God that Olivia’s all right!” said Stella Bains.

“She’s got strong blood in her veins, that’s for sure,” said Elaine Gardner.

“I’ll say. That poor kid’s been through more in the past few months than most people have to get through in their lifetime!” said Louise Falcone to Michael.

“Hey, that’s their train, isn’t it? The 47? It is!” shouted Steven Bains.

The train pulled slowly into the platform, heaving great bellows of smoke and steam from its stacks. It too seemed to breathe a sight of relief along with the family. Strangers filed out the compartments, searching frantically for their loved ones. At last, Redmond appeared, then Annette behind him with Olivia in her arms. Tears formed in Annette’s green eyes as she stepped off the train and walked towards her mother.

456“Thank God! Thank God!” sobbed Stella, hugging her daughter and grandchild with every ounce of love in her body.

Laura Gardner took Redmond’s face in her hands, “You’re a good man, Redmond. I’m so, so proud of you.” She hugged him while Frank patted his back.

Elaine, Steven, Louise, and Michael joined in, hugging anyone who had an open arm. Louise looked down at her niece, and the baby smiled back. She even laughed a little bit.

“That’s the first time I’ve seen her smile since we left,” said Annette, “I think she knows she’s back with the people who love her.”

By this time, photographers and reporters had crowded the intimate moment. The Gardners had made headlines taking matters into their own hands to retrieve their kidnapped daughter. Questions were hurled at them left and right, and flashbulbs blinded them all. They answered all questions with, “We’re just so incredibly happy, thank you all for your support,” and bright, sincere smiles.

As Laura ushered Annette into a car, she said, “I’ve got a little party set up for you all once we get back home. That is, if you’re up to it.”

Annette smiled. “Of course I am. If it means being back with you all, then I’m up for anything.”

***

Back at the Gardner home, the family was comfortably settled. A sense of peace floated through the rooms of the old house. Photographs seemed to smile again. The sun shone a little brighter, and the air was just a little sweeter. In the past, every member of the family had overcome unimaginable obstacles. Now, they sat serenely in the company of each other, ready to face another day.

397.jpgMichael and Louise sat on a love seat near the fireplace. Their marriage had been tested on and off again for a while. Trust had been gained and broken. Somehow, Olivia’s safe return put life into perspective for them both. They were each willing to give the other a chance again. Time on this earth is limited, so they decided to try to do the best the could.

Elaine sat on the window seat, looking out over the bay. She had loved Teddy Burke, then lost him far too soon. Her life had spiraled out of control after that, only to be saved by the charming, understanding Rhys. The anger and bitterness she had held onto for so long was slowly melting away.

Steven Bains tended bar, thinking back to the dark days he spent in hiding. He had damaged a few relationships to bring justice to Peter Falcone, but in his heart he knew he had done right. Life back in the family was still an adjustment, but a welcome one, especially for his mother.

Stella Bains stood over Olivia’s crib making endless faces for her. She thought back to the joys her own children had brought her, and the pain of her husband being locked away. For Stella, good and bad had to be taken at face value. Things were settling down now, and she welcomed a new chapter to her story with open arms.

Annette and Redmond stood beside each other, taking in the warm faces that surrounded them. Love was something they had been missing for a long time, in all its forms. For Annette, the energy of the room was summed up in Frank Gardner’s proud face. As a new grandfather, he was able to see a new generation grow and flourish.

Laura raised a glass. “Excuse me everyone, but I think it’s time we toast.” Everyone grabbed a glass of champagne. “I would like to make a toast to this family, to all we’ve been through, and all that’s yet to come our way. We’re only human, each made of vice and virtue, so we’ve got to do the best with what we’ve got. We’re family, no matter what, so we’ve got to keep looking out for each other. As the days go by, remember, we’ve all got a story, and there will always be more to tell! Let’s make our time with each other count. I know we’re all best-sellers!”

Glasses clinked, and Olivia Gardner laughed the precious laugh that would carry them through the rest of their days.

END

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Downfall (159)

As Redmond and Annette stood with their baby girl finally in their arms once again, they could not help but notice the wailing wreck that shrunk before them. Samantha Flint sat sobbing in her own misery. She had failed so often before, and she had failed once again. This time though, it seemed all the more permanent.

The Gardners looked at each other somewhat apprehensively. The rage that burned inside Annette was slowly cooling as she looked back at her baby girl. Somehow, she could no longer let Samantha suffer alone. Fighting every logical thought that floated through her mind, she moved towards Samantha with an inkling of compassion.

Bending down towards her, Annette said, “I don’t know exactly what I’m supposed to feel right now, Samantha. Not thirty seconds ago, I wanted you dead. I wanted every possible awful thing to happen to you because of what you’ve put my family through. As I look at you now though, I can’t help but pity you,” a touch of scorn managed to seep through the sentiment, “No, you don’t deserve punishment. What you need is help. I can’t say that I’ll ever be able to forgive you, but I’ll sure as hell make sure you’re back in your right mind, for your sake and everyone else.”

Samantha turned her head toward the woman she had come to despise over time. Annette’s eyes were no longer filled with anger, but a sadness tinged with confused sorrow. The two women rose. Samantha began to speak, “I just…I just don’t know what to say.” She wiped tears from her eyes. “No amount of apologizing will ever be enough…”

Annette crossed her arms. “…It’s a start…”

Samantha smiled awkwardly. “Well then…Annette, Red, I’m…I’m sorry for what I’ve done to you both. Actually, all three of you,” she said. She outstretched her arms towards Annette, who could only look at her in confusion. Samantha mustered, “Please?” Annette raised her arms to embrace the woman she had loathed for so long.

“Yes, Annette, I’m just so, so sorry!” wailed Samantha, her grip tightening,”That I’ll have to get rid of you!” Suddenly, Samantha’s arms turned into vices, wrestling Annette back and forth. “No one pities me! No one!” Annette fought to break free, moving closer and closer to the edge of the balcony. Samantha had her pinned against the railing and stared into her eyes.

“I guess that’s what it looks like when you’re about to die,” she seethed. She hoisted Annette farther onto the railing.

Redmond rushed inside and placed Olivia on the bed, then darted to the balcony, gripping Samantha’s shoulder with all his might.

“Get off me, damn it! Get off me! She’s got to die!” screamed Samantha, haggard as ever. A hand broke free and clawed Redmond’s eye, then delivered crushing blows to his face, sending him reeling backward.

Annette managed to break free and gripped Samantha, fueled with anger for having let down her guard. She turned the blonde abomination around to look her in the eyes. “My mother always told me never to trust a woman who dyed her hair,” she hissed, pinning her against the balcony, “She was right.”

Samantha struggled to break free, climbing and writhing anyway she could, kicking and screaming, “She’s mine! She’ll always be mine!” A hard slap burned Annette’s cheek, causing her to push Samantha away. The only thing she heard next was a scream of terror, followed by the cracking sounds of breaking bones.

“Oh my God! Oh my God!” shouted Annette, looking over the balcony. Beneath her lay Samantha Flint in the drained swimming pool below, her body twisted and mangled from the three-story fall. Blood began to pool around the crown of her bleached-blonde locks.

Redmond rushed towards Annette and looked downward, wincing at the sight of the woman who put their lives in jeopardy on more than one occasion. He could not help but sigh with relief. Annette leaned into him and began to cry. He put his arms around her and held her close. Olivia began to cry in the background. It a morbid way, it was the first time the Gardners had been a family, and it was all because of Samantha Flint.

END

A Surprising Arrival (158)

Samantha Flint sat lounging on the veranda of the decaying mansion she called home, reflecting on the peaceful days that had passed. She and Foley would raise baby Olivia together, loving her with every fiber of their beings. One day she hoped to renovate the old plantation. Perhaps restore it to its former grandeur. She would hold lavish parties for her rich and powerful friends, escorted by Foley down a grand staircase, while everyone waited for the appearance of Olivia. She sighed dreamily, then closed her eyes to take picture the perfection.

Her reverie was interrupted by the sound of gravel crunching beneath heavy tires. She popped up from her lounge to see Redmond Gardner behind the wheel of a jeep, Annette riding shotgun. His face was solemn, hers angry. Samantha’s eyes met Annette’s. An uncontrollable violence hid behind her icy expression. Samantha bolted inside.

“Foley! Foley! They’ve found us! They’re here! Where’s the baby? Where’s Olivia? Foley!”

Foley strolled into the foyer, holding Olivia in his arms. “She’s right here Sam, right where she belongs.”

“Damn it Foley! Give me that baby! They’re coming! We’ve got to go!” She lunged towards him, only to meet a collected expression.

He smiled a little, proud of what he was about to say. “It’s over Sam. I called Red and told him everything. It’s gone on for far too long.”

Rage spread across her face. Her bleached blonde hair was became haggard and untamed. Her voice seethed with vengeance. “You bastard! You lying son-of-a-bitch! I knew I couldn’t trust you! I knew it! This isn’t how it ends, honey, just you wait!”

She rushed towards a desk and opened its drawer, removing a small handgun. “Give me that baby Foley, or I’ll kill us all.”

“Sam, let it go. It’s over. They’re here.”

She looked behind her to see Redmond and Annette approaching the veranda. She rushed towards Foley, holding the gun to his head. “I said, give me that baby.”

“Samantha! Put the gun down! Put it down!” shouted Annette, bursting through the door.

“I’ll do whatever I damn well please!” A shot rang out, and Foley collapsed to the ground, but not before Samantha caught Olivia in her arms. “She’s mine! She’ll always be mine!” she shouted, rushing towards the staircase.

Redmond and Annette ran after her. “Samantha! Samantha please! Stop!” shouted Red, tripping on the warping stairs. “Just let her go! For God’s sake! Let her go!”

Reaching the top of the stairs, she paused and turned towards the Gardners. The look of a crazed animal spread across her face. “I’ll let her go Red, yes. That’s what I’ll do. If I can’t have her, then you two certainly can’t have her.” She darted away up another flight of stairs, the Gardners following close behind. Samantha stole into her bedroom then out onto the terrace.

“You see this view, Livvy? It could’ve been ours forever and ever, but these people came and took it all away from us. That’s not how I play, you know that. I’ll get even, one way or another!”

Annette stumbled into the room, tears streaming down her face. “Samantha, please, I beg you, don’t hurt her, please, don’t hurt her!”

“Oh don’t worry, I won’t be the one to hurt her. This is entirely your fault.” She turned around, holding Olivia over the edge of the balcony. “You don’t know what it’s like to grow up without a mother. You don’t know what it’s like to never have anyone tell you that you’ve done a good job. You don’t know what it’s like to be in that kind of pain for your entire life.”

Annette moved closer. Her voice was softer now and wavered when she spoke. “I do understand, Samantha, I do. Don’t you see what you’re doing? You’re depriving Olivia of that chance to grow up with a mother who loves her, a mother who would do anything for her! Please Samantha, let me hold my baby again.”

Samantha cocked her head to the side, trying to understand the words of a truly loving mother. Olivia began to cry. She looked at the young face, and her heart began to melt all over again. Tears even formed in the edges of her eyes. “Yes…I know…I know…” She broke down.

Annette moved closer and took the baby from her arms. Redmond approached his wife and put his arms around her. “Thank God,” was all he could say over and over again. Annette let him hold the most precious thing in their world. The wail of Samantha Flint echoed across the sky.

END