Veronica lay on the bed with her legs outstretched feeling comfortable and relatively tranquil. She saw Gabriel walking up to her; his dark blonde hair fell almost nonchalantly on his shoulders. He sauntered toward her, closing the adjoined bathroom and gazing at her intently absorbed. He wore a pair of sweats and a loose undid shirt. He tugged the buttons of his shirt and folded his sleeves slightly.
He walked towards Veronica and sat at the end of the bed. "She doesn’t look like somebody we can trust, Veronica." He said to her.
Veronica extended her leg and placed it on Gabriel’s lap. Gabriel softly stroked her foot, and looked at her. She shook her head and used her arms to rise from the bed, her foot still with Gabriel. "Who said that we are going to trust her?" She began, scornfully. Gabriel raised his eyebrows and his eyes widened. "I don’t trust her at all."
Gabriel stopped fondling with her foot and tugged a little fair toe. "You don’t trust her?" He asked her, his face full of doubt. The wrinkles on his face creased and a smile emerged on his face. He pinched the toe he was holding and caressed it slowly. "There’s a reason I married you."
Veronica smiled and sat up straight. She looked vibrant in her lace nightgown and her hair left out. Her hazel eyes sparkled in the bright light and she looked like a wonder. Veronica rested her back on the wooden headboard and interlocked her hands. "But that doesn’t mean we don’t have to keep an eye on her. She is still a stranger."
"Obviously and she will spend most of her time with Eli and Verity, I suppose."
"Are all the plans made for the banquet, Gabriel? I hope Bridge has taken care of all the formalities and the invitations."
Gabriel nodded. "She said she did and yes, everything has been finalized."
Veronica spoke apprehensively, "I hope nothing bad happens to ruin the banquet. After Felix’s assault, I don’t understand how anything could top that." She paused and held her breath, hesitant to continue. After a second she went on, "Do the police know who had done it?"
"Not yet. They didn’t get anything. But," his voice became strident, "the police do know that the man was not from here."
"It could be a woman."
Gabriel sighed noisily at the thought of Veronica’s suspicions. They were not valid, Gabriel confirmed immediately. The girl looked so naïve and strikingly lost, that attracted everybody. Maybe that was what had put Eli in an unbreakable trance, he suggested to himself. However, Eli’s heart was still with Jeanette, he began to reason, Eli couldn’t move on just like this. He couldn’t.
Unless Dallas was here for something else…
"I know what you’re thinking," Veronica interrupted him, briskly. She shook her head from side to side. "Dallas couldn’t attack anybody; she’s so… umm… tiny." Gabriel laughed and retorted back, keeping his voice as low as possible, "But we can’t underestimate her."
Veronica was tired. She couldn’t keep up with all this drama within her. But she had more important things to worry about. Secrets to keep and people to get rid of. And it would all begin with the banquet. Veronica Griffin couldn’t wait for it.
"Yes." She closed her eyes and felt the right side of the bed sinking down. She felt an arm around her waist and slowly drifted off to sleep.
Dallas was trying hard to go to sleep.
Maybe she was not the only one, she started debating. Her sanity was being put to the test. Everything had happened so fast; Eli had come to the Grove, he had persuaded her to come with him to Ashford by lying to her, and she had believed him. Then, she attended Justice’s wedding reception in a beautiful gown, confronted her feelings for Eli and the man who had almost tried to kill somebody: Parker. After that, he told her something so dreadful about her parents and made her embrace a plan for vengeance. An hour later, she was here lying on the bed, swathed by the warmth of the large quilt.
Ugh, she grunted, staring blankly at the ceiling. No matter how many imaginary sheep she had counted and fantasized, she couldn’t fall asleep. This would normally do the trick and she would have been asleep a long time ago. This majestic looking villa looked nothing more than the residence of a family of wealthy bigheaded pompous socialites. But when she was inside resting on a bed in one of the rooms, it definitely felt more than that.
It was an odd indescribable feeling. She was not confident if it was a good or a bad feeling. She hadn’t decided yet. It affected her both ways, smacking her face from both sides. She felt like a piece of ham being licked by a hungry dog. Tugged, bitten, and chewed. A sloppy wet piece of ham. Where has Eli gotten her?
She continued to stare at the blank ceiling. When her neck began to cramp, she heard her cell phone ring. She swiftly rose from her bed lifting the quilt and placing it aside in a position that would make it easier for her to sleep in. She walked toward the table where she had placed her messenger bag and moaned at the sound of the deafening Chicken Ringtone. She had begun to shake her hips like a chicken, but flipped it open and said, "This is Dallas. Who is this?"
"This is Oliver. Your brother, remember?" A hoarse voice spoke at the end of the line.
Dallas gasped, she had forgotten all about Oliver, and oh! Susan and Jared! She hadn’t even had the politeness to give them a call when she had reached Ashford. "Um… Hey, Oliver! How’re you?"
"I’m fine. Why didn’t you give us a call? Where are you? And why aren’t you asleep?" Was the blunt reply.
Dallas bit her bottom lip nervously. "I’m at Uncle Hendrix’s place. And chill… Oliver, I am okay. I was just… reading a book." She glanced thankfully at the Sherlock Holmes book on the table. She moved a step forward and dropped on the bed. "So, how’s Mom and Dad?" She said changing the subject.
Oliver, at the end of the line scrunched his nose. He sensed something odd. Dallas was never like this. He felt a strong sense of protective nature creeping over him. He was a good brother to her; he didn’t understand the reason why she didn’t trust him the same way.
"They’re fine. Can I speak to your Uncle Hendrix?"
Dallas froze. What was she going to do now? How was she going to take care of this? She stammered and fumbled over her words. Oliver was cleverer than this, she finally decided. He would figure it out. But she was not planning to give up.
"Um… He’s in the bathroom. I-"
"Uncle Hendrix is nowhere near you, right?"
Oliver had guessed it right. As usual. Dallas shrugged and crossed her legs. She leaned over her legs and the pressure on her legs couldn’t ever do enough justice to how she felt. "You are not with him, aren’t you?"
"Oliver - I can explain…"
"You don’t have to. I spoke to your Uncle and he said that he had no interest of inviting you to spend time with him."
"You spoke to him?"
"Yes. That doesn’t matter. You’re with that guy, right Dal?"
Dallas cringed. She understood at once that he was referring to Eli.
"That guy who was in the minivan. He’s the guy… um… Eli Griffin, your friend?"
"Fine. Yes. I wanted to spend some time with him."
"Spend some time with him? What are you doing over there, Dallas?" He asked sternly.
"Don’t you trust me? I’m not like that. I’m with his parents and whole family. I’ll stay here for a few months and return."
Oliver was shaken. Dallas was never like this. She had respect for his opinions and respected him. She seemed so sure of what she was doing. She was still young, Oliver told himself. "Dallas, I’m coming there to take you home."
Dallas’ eyes broadened and her mouth was agape. He couldn’t come here. He’d ruin everything: her ways rekindling her friendship with Eli and the most importantly, a way of settling scores. She had to do this for herself and put the Griffins in misery. For her parents. "No, Oliver. I’m staying here. You can’t come here!" She placed her hand in her mouth to avoid screaming uncontrollably.
"No Dallas, I can remember where they live. I am coming there tomorrow the first thing in the morning and you better be there."
Oliver hung up.
Dallas stumbled to get to her feet and she dropped her phone on the bed. She had to tell Eli and she had to tell him right now. She walked fast towards the door quietly. She kept telling herself that Parker and Eli would have a plan. But this didn’t make her feel any better.
She walked out of the room. It was dark in the hall. The only source of illumination was a faint light that shone from a lamp across the hallway. Dallas gripped the edges of her pajamas and pulled them upwards. The pajama was too long for her and she couldn’t move in the dark with the risk of tripping on her own pajamas.
She stuck to the sides of the wall and felt it for any sign of a switch. She felt no bumps or ridges.
Suddenly, Dallas was buried in bright light. She squinted and looked around to see the source. It was Eli. He stood there with a hand on the wall.
He walked towards Dallas as she straightened herself. She quietly walked toward him and whispered as loud as possible, "My brother Oliver is coming to take me home tomorrow."
Eli bit his bottom lip; his face flinched with tension and apprehension. His hands went to his messy blonde hair and he ruffled it. "Shoot! How can this happen? We have to do something now!" He rubbed his forehead and closed his eyes shut. He opened them again and said quickly, "Okay. I have an idea to drive him away, but we’ll need Parker for that."
He leaned against the wall and said, "I’ll call him and tell him this. We’ll take care of it."
He turned around and walked the other direction. Dallas stopped him by gripping his hand. He turned around and his eyes met Dallas’ ones. "Don’t hurt him," she told Eli. Eli smiled lopsidedly and held both her arms tightly. He looked deep into her eyes and smiled properly. "Don’t worry. We won’t hurt him."
"But, there is something you can do to help," he added, "but I’ll have to verify with Parker." He nodded leisurely and walked away. Dallas followed him and then walked into her room.
Gabriel had fallen fast asleep. Veronica had waited for almost thirty-five minutes and she was scared of falling asleep, herself. She slowly rose from the bed, careful not to wake Gabriel. She walked towards the door leading to the balcony. Carefully, she tiptoed towards the door. She opened it and stepped into the balcony.
The cold wind blew against her face and blew her hair all over her face. She slowly took out something from the pocket of her nightgown.
It was her cell phone. She opened it and pressed a button. She had the number on speed dial. She placed the phone to her ear after tucking a lock of hair under her ear. She pulled her robe closer and hugged herself.
The phone rang.