"And Then They Came..." (Epilogue, Chapter IV)
“So what do you think?” Lucas asked casually for what must have been the hundredth time, sitting on his bed after their nightly stroll through the hospital’s corridors.
“I think that you’re doing great, and that they should be discharging you by tomorrow,” Jeannie replied.
“That’s not what I mean, and you know it,” Lucas said to her.
It had been a week since he had arrived at the Hospital de la Santa Trinidad, and four days since they had met with the Governor and the President. During that time, Lucas had raised with Jeannie Powell’s employment offer on countless occasions, but their discussions had been brief and inconclusive.
Jeannie regarded her husband with helpless sadness.
“You're referring to President Powell’s offer,” she said resignedly.
“Yes,” Lucas replied, motioning her to sit next to him. “I think it's time we make a decision.”
Jeannie assented, and he gently held her hand.
“I’ve been thinking about it…” he told her, without looking at her. “Well, I’d first like to know how you feel about it.”
For a long time, Jeannie said nothing.
“It’s a radical change…” Lucas prompted.
Jeannie grimaced and nodded again.
“There’s something the President said…” she ventured.
“He said that he couldn’t imagine you spending the rest of your life in the basement of the jewelry store, doing repair work. And the truth is…I don’t see it either.”
“I haven’t complained__”
“You don’t have to complain. I know you. You’ve been dutifully doing the work for years now, mostly for the benefit of your family, me, your children…I do think that sometimes…sometimes you find genuine pleasure in what you’re doing, particularly when you’re creating something new. But overall…I don’t see you pouring out your heart into your work. It’s more something that you bear.”
Lucas considered Jeannie’s words and shrugged.
“I like working in San Juan. I loved listening to the exchanges between my mom and my aunts…”
“But they’re not there any more.”
“Still, it has been my family’s business for decades. It was my grandfather’s creation. El Joyero de San Juan…He loved his store__”
“He loved you more. And I know he would not want you to sacrifice your life in order to keep alive his business,” Jeannie interjected. “No matter how much he loved it, he loved you more.”
Lucas maintained a long silence, considering his wife’s words.
“I gather,” he said at last. “That you would take the President’s offer.”
“No, it’s not that easy,” she answered honestly. “Puerto Rico has been my second home, ever since I moved here from Miami. Most of my friends are here. So is your family, our family. I have three sisters in Florida, but with time—and politics—we have grown apart. Vanessa, Alfredo and Michael live next to us__“
“For now,” Lucas interrupted. “You haven’t returned to our house since the hurricane.”
It was partially true. Jeannie had been back to their house twice, basically to get clothes, and then left in a hurry.
Like Superintendent Montañez had promised, their home had been thoroughly cleaned and sanitized, the broken office window boarded up.
But the terror she and her children had experienced there, and the images of the deaths she had witnessed, were as fresh in her mind as an open wound.
Sophia and Gabriel were spending the days in their aunt Vanessa’s residence, and Jeannie had visited them there. But by no means was she ready to resume her life back in their house.
Jeannie acknowledged Lucas’ comment with a brief nod.
“All of my life, I’ve lived close to the sea,” she continued. “In Miami, and here in Puerto Rico. I love this island and its people. Most of them, anyway. New Mexico is a landlocked state, far away from the sea. I don’t know if I would be able to adapt to it.”
Lucas listened but said nothing.
“On the other hand, a change, a radical change, would probably be good for us, especially now. But there’s no guaranty that the people who tried to kill us will not try to do it again.”
“The people who tried to kill us are no longer alive,” Lucas responded dryly.
“You know what I mean. I’m talking about their associates, their friends, just as their associates and friends tried to kill you after their initial attack.”
Lucas nodded, acknowledging her statement, realizing that his wife felt as ambivalent as him about the move.
“There’s no guaranty that they will not find us if we move to New Mexico, unless we go into the witness protection program,” he said. “But I don’t think those people came here for us, for me, in the first place. Or for the Governor. Archie and I have been talking about it. Michelle thinks I was just used as a distraction, to draw the attention of the authorities away from the terrorists’ real plan.”
Lucas bit his tongue, realizing that he had almost revealed to his wife that a nuclear bomb had been loaded in Francisco’s plane to Washington.
Only a few were privy to that information; Doel, Michael, Lucas and Ojeda had stumbled upon the discarded lead-lined box that had carried the radioactive core of the nuclear explosive, and Archie had been in contact with Police Superintendent Montañez, so all of them—as well as a few higher ups in the police force and in Governor Pietrantoni’s Cabinet—certainly Secretary of State Arizmendi—were aware of it. The President and some of his closest advisors would also be aware of it.
Michelle, Lucas’ sister, had known about the first nuclear bomb planted by San Miguel ahead of that year’s G-20 Conference. Knowing her, she had probably put two plus two together, and deduced the real reason why the terrorists had returned to Puerto Rico.
But Lucas had not spoken about the nuclear device with anybody. Not even with Jeannie.
“Why do you think the terrorists really came back, if not for revenge?” Jeannie asked again, when Lucas failed to answer.
Lucas shook his head.
“I don’t know,” he finally answered, lying to her. “But whatever it was, we stopped them.”
Jeannie eyed him with curiosity bordering on skepticism, but to her credit, did not press him any more.
“So…” Lucas looked at her, loving her intensely. “What do we do? I know it is very hard for you to walk into our house and renew life as if everything was back to normal, and it will be months before some sort of reopening of the jewelry store could happen. With that in view, how do you feel about it?”
“The Governor will miss you,” she said, evading an answer to his question.
“You don’t know how you feel, do you?” Lucas said, looking directly at her.
Pressing her lips together, Jeannie shrugged.
“What about the kids?” Lucas asked.
“Sophia and Gabriel? They’ll be fine, no matter what. They are more resilient than we ever imagined. If we leave, they’ll miss the family, for a while at least, and their school friends, of course, but they’ll be fine. Actually, I’m more concerned with their coming back into our home than their moving to New Mexico.”
Jeannie paused, brushing off with a hand some of the hair on her forehead.
“But you still haven’t told me how you feel about it,” she said to him.
“I feel as ambivalent as you do,” Lucas replied. “Like you pointed out, all of our friends and our family are here. And like you, I love this island, its unique people, its special beauty. Our children were born here, and I expected them to grow up here. It never crossed my mind that we would leave it…”
Lucas breathed in deeply.
“Part of the world where we lived before is no more, Jeannie. Like you said before, my mom, María and Evelyn are not a part of it any more. Hell, neither is the jewelry store. Even our minivan is gone. And right now, Hurricane Fay has destroyed much of the island that we lived in. It will take years to recover, and when it does recover, it will not be the same. Worse or better I can't say, but different.”
For a long time, neither spoke, immersed in their own private thoughts.
Then, smiling sadly, she said, “Can you see yourself working in the cellar of the jewelry store, for the rest of your life?”
Lucas considered his wife’s question, then shook his head.
“No,” he answered honestly.
“Then…there’s not much else to discuss, is there?”
Lucas and Jeannie embraced, holding tightly to each other.
“You are my world, do you know that?” he said to her. “As long as I have you, I’ll be fine, no matter where we are.”
Jeannie remained silent.
Lucas moved back, and regarded her with a mischievous smile.
“I think you were supposed to say something similar to what I said,” he told her, arcing one eyebrow. ”That you can’t live without me, or something to that effect.”
“That wherever you are I’ll be fine?”
“That’s obvious, isn’t it? But I was just thinking what that entails.”
“What that entails…what does that mean?”
“Well, the President said that you would be his chief security guy…” she began, stopping from saying anything else.
“What does that mean?” she asked forthrightly.
Lucas stared at her with a confused expression.
“What do you mean, what does that mean?”
“Listen to me, Lucas Alfaro. You are my life. Wherever you are, I’ll be fine. But twice this year, you’ve risked your life beyond all expectations and almost died in the process.”
“Not through any fault of my own__”
“Not entirely,” she interrupted him. “But sometimes…yes.”
“But what does that have to do with our moving to New Mexico?”
Jeannie shook her head, looking confused and miserable.
“What does it mean, being President Powell’s main security man? Does it mean that in the future, you’ll end up risking your life again in some crazy rescue mission or scheme, or God knows what?”
“But a moment ago, you said you could not see me spending the rest of my life doing repairs in the jewelry’s cellar. And now you express your misgivings about my new job. So which is it?”
“Both!” she replied unhappily. “I worry. I worry about you, I worry that you feel you’re wasting your life in a cellar, yes. But at the same time, I fear that you’ll have to risk your life in your new setting. Or that you’ll find that job boring, and eventually join the Secret Service, as I know you probably will. So it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”
Lucas shook his head in a helpless gesture. “Feminine logic.”
“But logic, nevertheless,” she said.
“I don’t think you have to concern yourself too much about my risking my life again,” Lucas stated sincerely. “The position that the President offered me is more of a bureaucratic nature. I’m going to supervise the security of the President’s businesses. I don’t think that I’ll be fighting terrorists, or doing any rescue missions. Not personally, anyway. I may have to travel a little more, but that’s about it. And I won’t be trying to join the Secret Service.”
Jeannie failed to respond.
“What?” Lucas asked.
“I know you. There will come a time where you’ll be forced to act, or believe that you’re forced to act. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to bear living with the fear that I’ll lose you.”
Lucas laughed dismissively.
“Do you think I enjoy risking my life?”
Jeannie stared into his eyes.
Lucas lowered his gaze.
“No. I want to spend a safe, long, happy life with you and the children.”
“Can you promise me that you will not get yourself into any more dangerous situations? Can you? Even if the President asks for your help?”
“I can, and I so promise. I swear it, on my life.”
“Don’t bet your life on a promise you may not be able to keep. It’s precisely your life we’re talking about.”
Lucas embraced her again.
“I promise, Jeannie. I promise that I will run away from any danger, however improbable it is that I will ever stumble upon it while doing the job that the President offered.”
“You swear?” she asked, her face pressed against his chest.
“I swear,” he replied.
“Then let’s move to New Mexico.”
The two continued to embrace each other, not willing to let go.
“I love you,” Jeannie said.
“I love you too,” Lucas replied. “So I guess,” he added, smiling to himself, still holding on to her, “…that in exchange for a more passive life, the sex will improve.”
Lucas felt his wife stiffen, and stifled a laugh.
She moved away from him, and directed him an indignant stare.
“Really, Lucas, why do you always have to bring up the sex during our most sublime moments?” she asked angrily.
“I’m sorry,” he said with a straight face. “I just assumed that there would be some kind of quid pro quo.”
Jeannie punched him on the left arm.
“Oww, oww! Are all Cuban women so violent?”
Jeannie punched him again.
“Oww! I’m wounded, remember?” Lucas raised his arms in a gesture of surrender. “Whatever you say is fine with me, my princess. Just don’t hurt me any more!” he pleaded, no longer able to contain his laughter. “From now on, no more sex. I’ll be a monk. At your side. Just don’t hit me any more.”
“From one extreme to the other,” she said, shaking her head. “Are all you men the same?”
“I don’t know. I can only speak for those married to you. Desperate men, who are head over heels in love with you.”
Despite her indignation, a thin, impish smile appeared on Jeannie’s lips. “Well, we don’t have to refrain from all sex.”
They embraced again, enjoying each other’s warmth.
After a short pause, Lucas asked softly, “So…Can we start now?”
“Don’t push your luck,” she answered, her mouth pressed against his shoulder.
He felt like the luckiest man in the world.
(Chapter V of the Epilogue will be posted on Monday, February 8)