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Monday, December 7, 2009

The Ties That Bind – Part IX

Epilogue – You Say You Want a Resolution?

In which our hero having finally began to make something of himself meets a blast from his past who makes him a shocking offer

She Asked

"If I told you things I did before
told you how I used to be
would you go along with someone like me?
if you knew my story word for word
had all of my history
would you go along with someone like me?"


He replied


"I did before and had my share
it didn't lead nowhere
I would go along with someone like you
it doesn't matter what you did
who you were hanging with
we could stick around and see this night through"

Peter Bjorn and John, "Young Folks"

5 years later...

Time is a harsh mistress. Nothing ever goes as planned. Doing the right thing is difficult. Juldeh had learned these lessons the hard way over the course of his young life, but finally after a difficult period in his life, things were starting to get better. He was standing on a beach in Borneo gazing at the slowly setting sun go down over the horizon. The sand on the beach was immaculately white, and the water was a clear shade of blue that looked almost translucent. He was wearing a white, pressed cotton shirt, dark brown khaki shorts, and a battered, but still stylish fedora on his head. His feet were bare and he stood at the edge of the water as the tide washed in and out. He stared out into the ocean, deep in thought at the tiny sailing ships that dotted the horizon.

He let the solitude wash over him, but his reverie was rudely broken by a loud voice. He was startled, because it sounded like his name, but no one knew him by that moniker anymore. He had reinvented himself and went by the name Jules now. That was who he was. He turned around slowly and saw a figure striding purposefully toward him. Eventually, the figure broke out into a run, and enveloped him in a great big hug. Juldeh had to shift his weight to prevent himself from falling, but eventually he hugged back.

"Nice to see you too, Stella?"

Stella took a step back and took a good look at Juldeh.

"You've changed quite a bit, since London. You're all grown up, now. You look great. I like your hat." She took the hat and put it on. "How do I look?"

He smiled, and said "Thanks for the compliments. You look great yourself as always. Although in your case, I've seen a lot more of you than you have of me. Those postcards kept me going through some very rough times. Thanks for that. You know, I still have all the postcards you've ever sent. It's now quite a collection."

Stella blushed prettily, and replied "I'm glad I could help. That was always my goal. To help you."

He looked at his watch. It was the same one she had given him all those years earlier, and it still worked like a charm. He had never even had to change the batteries. It was a question that had always lingered in the back of his mind."

"How do you always seem to know where I am at any given time?" he asked casually.

She had a 'cat that licked the cream' look on her face and replied bashfully, "it's a long story." She held out her hand and after a pause, he took it and she gave it a tiny squeeze. "I'll explain it over dinner. It'll be my treat. We can take my car. It's parked over by the pier. It'll save you the walk."

They walked hand in hand to her Toyota RAV4 SUV and drove in silence to the Hilton hotel and walked into the restaurant close to the hotel lobby.

The restaurant was almost full, but the manager brightened when he saw her. He was a weaselly looking man with beady eyes, a weak chin, and a nasally voice.

"Why Hello Ms. Chen," he said ingratiatingly. "Table for two?"

She nodded curtly.

"Right this way."

He led them to the back of the restaurant to a table that had just been set up for them. He signalled rudely to the waiters to bring the menus.

"If you need anything at all, anything, just ask and I will personally make sure it gets done."

Stella turned towards him, and said "actually, we'd like to be left alone for at least the next hour. Be a dear and ensure we do not get disturbed. When we're ready to be served, you'll know."

"Of course, Ms. Chen. Anything you say."

He half-walked, half-ran to the back of the restaurant leaving them both alone.

Stella took a sip of her water and focused her attention back towards Juldeh.

"So what exactly are you doing here, my friend?" she asked.

"We're not here to talk about me, Stella, but I'll humor you even though you probably already know this. I'm here as part of my medical training. Uncle Sam is paying my tuition and part of paying him back is working in exotic locales such as this." His eyes brightened as he continued "It's been an eye opening experience. I could never be a for-profit Doctor ever again. Seeing all the good I'm doing here, among the people who need it the most has showed me that I can carve a different path for myself. I'm already in talks with Doctors without Borders. They have a position available for me after I finish Medical School."

Stella chuckled and Juldeh was offended by that.

"I didn't realize I was being amusing, but I guess we can't be all like you and bestride the narrow world like colossuses among the mere mortals," he retorted.

"Calm down. There's no need to be so melodramatic. I wasn't laughing at you. I was just thinking of what my first impression of you was when we met all those years ago. Do you want to know what it was?"

"Yes, please enlighten me."

"Honestly. I thought you too perfect. You were so selfless, so devoted to everyone's feelings but your own. You seemed too good to be true. And now here you are, telling me that if anything, I underestimated your degree of perfection. You're willing to give up a lucrative career to live among the poorest of the poor with no regard for your own well-being. It's enough to make anyone wonder if they can ever live up to your standards. If you were fictional, you'd be a pretty unbelievable character. One of those characters who comes about because a novice author identified too strongly with a protagonist. Have you ever done anything selfish; have you ever done anything just for yourself, because you wanted to and without thinking of anyone else?"

Juldeh looked on impassively, and said "are you done? Because we're not here to psychoanalyze me, and if you're going to insult me, maybe I should leave."

"There you go again, being perfect. You couldn't even give me the satisfaction of seeing you angry."

"I'm not perfect, Stella. For one thing, I've never been a take charge person. I always just let life happen to me, not the other way around. I'm trying to remedy that. Once again, we're not here to talk about me. You had something you wanted to tell me, remember?"

"So how are your brothers doing? When did you last see them?"

Juldeh averted his eyes from hers and mumbled "I really am not perfect. I haven't seen them in over a year. It's hard sometimes to look them in the eye when I feel like I abandoned them, but they're doing well." He fixed his gaze back on hers. "You're stalling me again. We're not here to talk about me, and what do you want from me anyway? Why are you here? I know you. Whenever you show up, everything in my life goes to hell. Trouble follows you wherever you go, but it never seems to touch you. And whatever happened to your father?"

    She looked somewhat pained, but the look quickly passed.

    "He and I are destined to do our little dance forever. He's the Joker to my Batman. The Lex Luthor to my Superman. The villain to my hero. At least I think I'm the hero in all this ghastly business. We've been after each other since he escaped from Ghana, but we've each stayed a step ahead of the other. My only regret in my life is that I never shot the devil in the back when I had a chance. I won't make that mistake again. But enough of my father. He's not important."

    "If you want to play dice with your life, that's your choice, but I still don't know how you seem to always know where I am."

    She sighed and said, "For someone so smart, you're really not very observant. She took his hand and touched his watch.

    "That's a very nice watch. I wonder who gave it to you."

    He looked at her like she'd gone soft in the head. "Stella, if I remember correctly, you gave it to...oh" he trailed off. "Of course. It all makes sense now. And does this have anything to do with your invention and why I've never needed to change the battery since you gave it to me."

    She shrugged, "I'm too modest to boast, but let's just say that people are willing to pay a lot of money for a battery that's powered by body heat. The very act of using it keeps it going. It's brought me in contact with the kinds of people the rest of the world never sees, but I'm too modest to boast."

    She seemed pleased that he looked sufficiently impressed.

    "I know that you're a genius. Big deal. What do you want from me?"

    "I have a simple proposition."

    Juldeh shook his head. "Not this again. The last time you told me that, I went on a 4 country, 6 month rollercoaster. I just got into a stable situation. I'd really like to keep it that way. Don't do this to me. Not again."

    "Hear me out. Don't be so hasty. I'll get right into it. I'm trying to circumvent the globe in record time, and I don't want to do it alone. What can I say? I'm getting bored with myself, and I always remember you being good company. If you say yes, we'll start in a month. If you say no, I leave after dinner, you go back to your boring, by the books existence, and I keep sending you my postcards. Whatcha say? Will you come along with someone like me?"

    Juldeh couldn't really believe what he was hearing. A part of him wanted to tell her to get lost, but another part of him was wholly intrigued. This could be a very interesting adventure. Ever since he'd left Stella in London all those years ago and moved to Virginia, he'd tried to keep as bland an existence as he could. A part of him however always remembered that one of the only times he'd ever really felt alive was breaking into Wednesday's office with Stella. He knew his mind was being clouded by the scent of her perfume, but he found himself saying "Why not? I'll have plenty of time to live the rest of my life, but this sounds like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But I have few conditions."

    She smirked, "not this again."

    "First, we have to be real partners. I'm no one's lackey."

    "And I don't expect you to be. What else you got?"

    "I have to see my brothers before we begin. I'm sure you know where they are and can arrange a quick way to do that."

    She sighed, "You drive a mean bargain Mr. Holland, but I think I can accommodate that. Anything else?" She signalled to the waiters and they arrived with platters of food.

    "Those seem enough for now. My field work is over in a week, but I'm sure you already planned for that. So what do we do between then and the trip."

    She looked at him and said, "You and I can spend some time together, away from all the weirdness that has characterized our earlier meetings. What do you think of that?"

    "I'd actually like that," he surprised himself again by saying.

    "Excellent." She rubbed her hands together in a mock sinister fashion and he smiled an enigmatic smile at her. He began to dig in to the delectable dinner that had been laid out in front of them.

    He couldn't believe that he'd agreed to it, but he knew that no matter what happened, he wouldn't regret it. He would have plenty of time after that to fulfill all the goals he had for his life, but for now, he was just going to enjoy her company and try and enjoy life to the fullest.

    They ate in comfortable silence broken by the occasional remark and witty retort. After they were done, the manager magically appeared by their table.

    "Was everything to your liking, Ms. Chen?"

    "Yes it was," she replied. "You've earned your generous tip." He took the money greedily and smiled his ingratiating smile again.

    "Thank you Ms. Chen. We hope to see you again."

    She got up, and he followed suit.

    "I'm staying in the VIP suite upstairs. Do you want to join me? It's probably more comfortable than your current living arrangement." He nodded.

    She held out her hand, he took it and in the same fluid motion put on his fedora so that it was almost covering his eyes. It gave him a dangerous, mysterious quality. "I think a walk on the beach would be a good idea," he said. "Don't you agree?"

    She nodded her head and hand in hand, they walked out of the hotel, into the moonlight and the start of a new adventure.

THE END

    

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