Monday, December 7, 2009

The Ties That Bind – Part VIII

Chapter 8 – Reunions

In which our young hero is forced to make a very difficult decision, meets his brothers, and gets his heart broken

You thought I was down.
You thought I was gone.
Thought I wasn't around.
Thought I left you alone.
But look up in the sky.
Just look up in the sky.
See that I'm everywhere
Shining down on you.

Lupe Fiasco – Shining Down

    Juldeh had learned by experience that the most important element of any plan was simplicity. He didn't share Stella's flair for improvisation, so he would have to ensure everything was perfectly in place before he made any moves. He was sustained, however by his burning desire to meet his brothers. This was his only motivation. It was his reason for existence. He knew he'd eventually have to start worrying about his education, his future and what he had to do with the rest of his life. He also knew that he couldn't live with Shuttlesworth forever, but these were minor concerns. He was so very close, yet felt so far away. Now that he had come this far, his only thoughts were of his planned reunions.

    The next two weeks were spent researching and finding as much information about his brother's adoptive parents as he could. Shuttlesworth was an invaluable asset. In the basement of this quaint looking house was a sprawling network of computers that was a marvellous sight to behold, and Juldeh had stood slack jawed the first time he'd seen it. Shuttlesworth looked at him and simply said, "I'm in the information business, my friend," and with that, they went to work.

Jonas and Suzanna Van't Wout lived in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He was a Professor of Medical Science at Dalhousie University, and she was an Architect at a prestigious firm. He was 55, she was 47, and they were both real law and order types, without even a parking ticket between the two of them. They had no significant debts. Their house and all their possessions were fully paid for, and they both had the most spotless professional backgrounds Shuttlesworth had ever seen. Their personal lives were also almost equally as spotless and there were almost no skeletons in their closets. Neither was religious, but they both contributed significant amounts to charity, and did occasional eco-tourism. The only dark spot on their records was that based on her medical files Suzanna had had a botched abortion when she was 21, rendering her sterile. Jonas's only secret was a DUI arrest he'd had as a 17 year old. No one had been hurt, however and their adult lives were largely free of taint.

    According to the publically available information they'd registered with the government, they had twin sons they'd adopted a little more than 2 years previously from Nigeria. According to Shuttlesworth there were significant irregularities with the adoption papers, and they would not stand up to harsh sctrutiny. Juldeh saw the pictures of his brothers, and the little blurb that went with their adoption papers. The biographies were clearly false, and stated that their parents had died of AIDS and that they had no other siblings. He felt sickened at how cheaply the memories and legacies of his parents had been twisted and deformed and how easily he had been erased from existence, but he managed to regain control of his emotions and continue poring through the mountains of information that Shuttlesworth kept spitting out of his computers.

    He also learned as much of his brother's lives since he'd last seen them. They were both clearly intelligent and got excellent grades in the private school they attended. The comments from their teachers were all uniformly positive, and it was clear that they were both well balanced and happy boys.

All this information was very conflicting to Juldeh. On the one hand, he was extremely elated to see that his brothers were doing so well and had a loving family with well adjusted guardians. But on the other hand, they were his brothers, and he had promised to take care of them. He wasn't enthusiastic about being a source of upheaval to what was clearly a stable situation, but he had always being one to fulfill his promises, and he would not fail in this one.

The information gathering sessions had taken much longer and had been more difficult than he had anticipated, but after two weeks, he thought he'd had enough. He spent a few days gathering the evidence that was sure to prove his relation to his brothers. He had their birth certificates, countless photos and other official documents which Stella had sent along with a new postcard of her in Egypt standing in front of the Sphinx. She looked as good as she always did, but Juldeh barely took any notice. He was more worried about what would happen to him if things didn't go as planned. He felt fearful for his safety because he wasn't sure how the Van't Wouts would react, but what he did know was that if he was going to make such an explosive allegation, he'd better have impeccable proof.

He spent the next few days screwing up his courage to make the call to the Van't Wouts.. He'd gone over in his head countless times the script that he was going to use when he finally made the call. He'd even written two versions depending on whether Mr or Mrs. Van't Wout answered, but when he finally picked up the phone, dialled the number and got Mrs. Van't Wout on the line, the words tumbled out of him with no rhyme or reason. Mrs. Van't Wout initially thought it was a prank call, but after the third time he called, and he described a few of his brothers' birthmarks, she finally decided that this was a serious matter. She tearfully begged for a few days to discuss this with her husband and asked him to call again at a specific time.

Juldeh was feeling impatient, but he acquiesced to her request since she seemed so shaken by the news. It was only fair, he thought. He didn't feel comfortable bringing their lives crashing down around them, but blood was much thicker than water, and so he felt he had no choice.

Three days later, he managed to reach them both at the same time, and they proceeded to have one of the most painful, most awkward, and most difficult conversations he'd ever been involved in. Mrs. Van't Wout cried her way through the entire call, and Mr. Van't Wout after initially trying to bluster his way through the problem, quickly decided that silence was a better option after Juldeh pointed out a few of the irregularities in their adoption papers and detailed the copious amounts of proof that he had that would surely prove he was telling the truth. Their promises of money if he would leave them alone, had raised his ire, and only stiffened his resolve.

"This isn't about money, I'm afraid. It's about family, and a promise I made to my brothers."

Jonas had sighed deeply, seeing clearly the difficult position he was in.

"What do you want us to do then? Whatever you want, we'll do it, just please don't take our boys away from us."

"At the moment, all I want is a chance to meet you, and to see my brothers again. I'll send you the arrangements for the meeting in a week. You may not believe me when I say this, but I'm really sorry. I never would have wanted this to happen. You seem like good people, but I'm sorry. I never break my promises."

Suzanna launched into a fresh round of sobs when he said that, and so he quickly put the phone back on the hook. He let out his breath. He hadn't even realized he'd been holding it in, but the conversation had shaken him far more than he'd thought it would. He'd always been certain of the morality of what he was doing, but for the first time in his life, he felt like a villain. Did he really have the right to bring such pain and suffering into the lives of others? Wasn't his brothers' happiness the most paramount parameter in this dilemma? It was to him, but so was the fact that he'd promised them and his parents that he'd watch over them forever. Maybe, he thought, if you loved someone enough, then you had to know when to let them go. Maybe he'd let his rigidity cloud him from the truth. All these thoughts flitted through his mind, and made the next few days of sleep almost impossible. He was haunted by nightmares in which his parents, their faces bloody and lacerated, admonished him for failing in his duties to be a guardian to his brothers. When he finally came to a decision after almost three sleepless nights, he cried like he'd never cried before. He knew what he had to do. He really had only one choice, and he hoped to God, that it was the right one, but before he did, he had one more task.

Two days later

Halifax, Nova Scotia

20 Moon Crescent

    Juldeh felt out of place standing in front of the Van't Wout's residence but he knew that if he didn't do this, he'd never be fully comfortable with his choide. He had travelled to Nova Scotia with the help of Natasha, and they'd both deadheaded to Halifax. She'd been very happy to see him, but he really hadn't made very good company. She was on her way to Halifax to visit some family, and she'd invited him to join her. He'd politely declined, and he could clearly see that he was disappointed. His heart, however, was too heavy to care.

    Meanwhile, Stella had sent three more postcards. In one, she was in Tanzania climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, in the other, she was on a raft looking over the Victoria Falls, and in the final one she was on a Safari in Botswana, with a majestic specimen of a Lion in the background. Juldeh wondered again how she could afford all this globetrotting, but then realized that she would only ever tell him as much as she wanted to. In due time, he would probably learn her history, but at present, that was not his main concern. More importantly to him, Shuttlesworth had given him a black credit card just before he left for Halifax. He knew nothing about the city, but with the credit card and the information he had in his pocket, Shuttlesworth had promised him that he'd be fine.

    With calm that he didn't quite feel, he'd walked with Natasha through customs, said a quick goodbye to her and took the longest cab drive of his life to a motel about a 20 minute walk from the Van't Wouts. He'd been lucky that they didn't live very far from the airport. That was about the only lucky thing that he felt had happened to him. He wasn't even sure what he was doing, but he knew that he had to see how his brothers lived and how they were being treated.

    He'd walked carefully through the deserted streets of the preppy neighbourhood with a black carry-all slung across his shoulders. He was dressed in dark pants, a black sweater and black running shoes. He certainly looked suspicious, but he didn't care. He was not going to be here for long. Even though it was almost 9pm, the air was still warm and had a hint of moisture in it. He walked methodically until he came upon the Van't Wout's residence. He took a position across from the house, and removed the high powered camera from his carry-all. Along with this, he also took out a sound enhancer and trained both of them on the house. He stayed in this position, scarcely moving, scarcely breathing until the house went dark. He then put the equipment back in the carry-all and made the lonely trek back to his motel. He did this every night for a week, considering himself lucky that he never had to deal with the law. But with the knowledge he'd gained, he felt that his decision was now much more informed, and while it was never possible to be completely sure, he felt more comfortable and at ease with his decision. He would do what was in everyone's best interests.

One week later...

Marriott Hotel

Downtown Halifax

Juldeh made sure to arrive early for the meeting and he purposely took a seat at the back of the restaurant which offered him a good vantage point. When the Van't Wouts entered, the Maître'd ushered them to a table for three that Juldeh had reserved. He tapped the black credit card in the Maitre'd's direction, and he gleefully accepted. Shuttlesworth had been right. It wasn't necessary to know where you where, or what you were doing when in a strange place. None of that mattered if you had a lot of money to spend.

Jonas and Suzanna timidly sat down opposite Juldeh and gave him a long, hard stare. No one spoke, and tension hung in the air, thick and oppressive like a deep fog, rolling in from the sea. Finally, Juldeh took out the corroborating documents from a black briefcase beside him and passed it over to Jonas, who looked over them carefully, his face reddening with every turned page. He passed it over to his wife, who burst into tears after a few pages. She then returned them to Juldeh who put them back in the briefcase. The exchange took about 15 minutes and no one said a word until Juldeh said:

"I suppose you realize now that this wasn't a bluff. The truth is, I could cause you a lot of trouble, but that's not my purpose. That was never my intention. This has all been a test, a probe, if you will, to see what kind of people you are."

They both looked confused, but Suzanna was first to speak up. "I don't understand. What do you mean?"

Juldeh continued with an impassive tone in his voice. "I told you that this was about family and a promise I made a long time ago, and it still is. I've observed you these past few weeks, and it's obvious that you love my brothers very much. You're both good people and in my weeks of observation, I never saw you once raise your voices in anger towards them, or each other. I just needed to make sure for myself that my brothers were in safe hands. My brothers' well being is the most important thing in the world to me, and if that means they have to be with you, then so be it. Sometimes, you have to love someone enough to know when you may not be best for them. All I want now is a chance to meet them again, and maybe a chance to remain a part of their lives in some way. If you can do that, then all this," he pointed to his briefcase, "will entirely be forgotten. That is my only request. The rest is up to you."

Juldeh nodded at the Maître'd who returned with the credit card. The Van't Wouts looked somewhat uneasy. Jonas cleared his throat and said "It's not that we don't trust you, but we need reassurances."

"I give you my word. That alone is sufficient," Juldeh replied. "I'm a boy who keeps his promises."

    The Maître'd returned shortly thereafter followed by a waiter with a cart containing piles and piles of the most delectable looking dishes.

    Juldeh smiled and said to them "You can leave if you want, or you can join me for lunch. I know more about you than you do about me, and I'd like to remedy that."

    They stared at each other for a split second, looked back at Juldeh and then made the decision to stay.

    "I'm glad you decided to stay. Help yourselves and don't mind me, butI'm famished."

    They ate in silence for a few minutes, and finally Juldeh took his attention from the food, looked at them and said, "I suppose I have to start somewhere. My name is Juldeh Holland."

    He then proceeded to give them an abbreviated version of his history. He left out a few of the more fantastic details but it was a mostly honest account. By the time he was finished, Jonas and Suzanna had what almost looked like admiration in their eyes.

    "So where do you go from here?" Suzanna asked with touching concern in her voice.

    "I'm not sure what my next steps are going to be, but I've always wanted to be a Doctor."

    Jonas interjected, "if there's any way we can help, we'll be glad to." He looked at his wife, who nodded her assent.

    "I appreciate the offer, but this is my burden to bear. I realize that now, and I'll sink or swim on my own, but if I ever change my mind, I'll let you know."

    He looked at his watch, and said, "I'm glad we did this. My heart is more at ease now than it has been in almost 2 years. Unfortunately I have to make my leave, but I'll keep in touch to arrange our next steps. It's been a pleasure meeting you." He pushed back his chair and strode confidently out of the restaurant and as Jonas and Suzanna watched his retreating figure disappear into the crowd outside, they realized that he left empty handed.

Two days later...

20 Moon Crescent

    Juldeh had never been good with reunions and so was feeling extremely nervous. He couldn't believe that after all these years he was finally going to meet them again. The fact that it would only be temporary weighed at his heart, but that was tempered by his joy at being given the opportunity which had felt so elusive all those years ago. He was standing outside the door to the Van't Wouts but couldn't work up the courage. The decision was taken out of his hands when Suzanna opened the door and ushered him in. He walked tentatively inside the modest, but tastefully furnished interior. The hardwood floors gleamed like a perfectly shined shoe, and there was a grand piano in the corner of the living room beside a library of books.

    Juldeh had seen this all from the outside, but it looked even better from the inside. Suzanna led him into the living room towards a luxurious leather couch.

    "Dinner will be served in about an hour. Do you want something to drink?"

    Juldeh shook his head, and then she continued, "The boys are downstairs in the basement. I understand if this is hard for you. Take as much time as you need."

    He nodded, took a deep breath and began what felt like the longest walk of his life. He slowly opened the basement door and descended the spiralling staircase into the bright lights below. Adeyemi and Bosco, (now called James and Jason) were playing a video game, and he watched them for a few minutes. They'd grown up so much in the years since he'd last seen them and he could scarcely recognize them anymore. Eventually, they turned away from their videogame and noticed him standing there. Time seemed to stand still for all them as flickers of recognition flitted in and out of their eyes. He opened his arms and they both rushed into them. No one said any words. They were not necessary.

    Juldeh spent two days with the Van't Wouts and he discovered that Jonas was a gourment chef while Suzanna was a maestro at the piano. He'd played a piece for her, and had managed to sufficiently impress her, especially after she learned that he was self taught. James and Jason had been sad when he'd explained to them why he couldn't stay, but they'd overcome their disappointment after he'd promised that he would try and see them as often as he could and would definitely keep in touch. They were excited and chattered constantly about all the adventures they'd had. It was almost like they were trying to squeeze the two years they'd missed into two days. It was the happiest time of Juldeh's life, but much too quickly, it had to come to an end. All good things had to come to an end.

    On the morning of his flight back to London, they had breakfast together as he waited for the cab that would take him to the airport. Before he left, he gave each of the twins a watch. They were exact replicas of the one that Stella had given him. Their eyes had opened in amazement at the intricate beauty of the watches. Stella had been nice enough to send him the watches along with four postcards showing her travelling through Thailand, Hong Kong, Japan and Tibet. Juldeh didn't want to prolong the goodbyes, so when the cab arrived, he hugged the Van't Wouts and his brothers, said a simple goodbye and walked out of the house into the waiting cab without turning back. Saying goodbye was the hardest thing he'd ever done, and he wondered what his parents would think of him; he wondered whether they would approve of his decision; he wondered whether he would ever feel like he could live up to their memories and expectations. But ultimately, the decision had not been about him. It was about what was best for the twins, and from that point of view, he felt completely at ease. The cab rolled out of the driveway, and Juldeh looked outside as the orange rays of the rising sun pierced through the skies. He had travelled across the world in search of destiny and he now realized that destiny was what you made of it. The future loomed before him like an approaching storm, but his heart was calm. He had finally decided that he was going to take his destiny in his own hands, and with God by his side, he knew that all would be well.


One week later...

London, Ontario

    It took Juldeh a few days to get back to normal after his very emotionally exhausting trip to Nova Scotia. He realized that even though he was in such strange, new surroundings, he hadn't taken the time to do any exploration and he thought it would be wise to remedy that before his next trip. Partly this was a way of procrastination because he was feeling ambivalent about his next steps. A part of him no longer wanted to try and reunite with Nella, for fear of what the outcome would be. He didn't want to get his hopes up because that they would surely get dashed on the hard rocks of reality. So he spent almost a month pondering his decision while exploring London and the surrounding cities with Shuttlesworth. In that time, he received five postcards from Peru, Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela and El Salvador. He found it strange how Stella always seemed to know exactly where he was at any given time and mailed the postcards to his exact location but he thought nothing of it.

    His reluctance was a warning flag, and later he would wish he'd listened to it. It might have saved him a great deal of heartache, but the impetuousness of youth propelled him forward. He knew he couldn't ask Natasha for another favour so soon after the earlier one, and he wasn't looking forward to another information session with Shuttlesworth digging up dirt on a friend. It was one thing doing that to the Van't Wouts, but it was another matter doing that to Nella. So he decided that he would meet her with no advance knowledge whatsoever. All he had was the cell phone number Stella had given him, and her address. That should be enough, but his more pressing concern was finding his way there in the first place. He hated having to ask Stella for help again, but he had no choice. He wasn't even sure how she could help him, but he knew that she'd find a way.

    In the end, it wasn't even necessary. Shuttlesworth offered to escort him.

    "I've always wanted to go to another London, and besides, I need a vacation." At least that had been his justification, but Juldeh knew that it was probably Stella's doing.

    It didn't matter to him. He was grateful for the help and thankful for the company. He had a feeling that a part of his life was about to end, and a new chapter was about to begin. He had planned on calling her before he got to London, but he thought he'd make it a surprise. It was a decision he would later come to regret. They arrived at Heathrow airport on an air Canada flight, went through customs uneventfully and settled into their hotel located opposite the airport.

    The next day, Shuttlesworth left to go sightseeing and Juldeh decided that this was his perfect opportunity. He picked up the phone and dialled Nella's phone number. He'd been waiting months for this, and he was feeling some trepidation. The phone rang once, twice, three times. He was just about to hang up and try again when a smooth, clear, velvety voice said, "Hello."

    Juldeh's heart did cartwheels. He tried to regain his composure, but wasn't quite successful because when he tried to speak, his voice came out in a little squeak.

    "Hello Nella. This is Juldeh. I'm not sure if you remember me."

    "Oh," she replied with barely a trace of enthusiasm in her voice.

    Juldeh wasn't sure what he'd been expecting, but it wasn't this. Maybe this had all been a mistake. He should never have come here, but the damage had already been done. It was obvious that she wasn't at all interested in a meeting of any sorts, but he decided that he might as well try.

    "Just to let you know, I'm in London right now, and I was hoping we could meet. You can name the time and place. The last time we met, I promised you that we would see each other again, and I always keep my promises. You know that as well as anyone."

    She sighed deeply and said "I guess I have to do this then, or you'll never leave me alone will you?"

    This angered Juldeh, but he managed to keep the anger out of his voice. He said evenly, "No, this is not an obligation. You don't have to do anything. I thought it might be something you wanted to do. After all, we were friends once and I've travelled a very long distance to see you."

    She hastily replied, "No, you're right. It's just that you caught me off guard is all. I'll set up a meeting. I'm a bit busy, right now, but call me same time tomorrow, and we'll set something up. Goodbye."

    She hung up the phone, leaving Juldeh to wonder what had just happened. He was perplexed, and was starting to regret not taking up Shuttlesworth's offer of an information hunting session. It was too late now though. He spent the rest of the day pacing back and forth restlessly. Nightfall came and went, and he barely slept at all. He spent the entire night on his back with his hand behind his head staring at the ceiling as Shuttlesworth snored softly on the other bed.

    Time crawled, but eventually morning came and so did the appointed time. He called eagerly, and when he reached her, he didn't know how it was possible, but she sounded even less enthusiastic than she did the previous day. Despite this, she gave him the name and address of a restaurant in Croyden, on the outskirts of London. She told him to meet her at 6pm in the evening, and she seemed to be in a rush to get the meeting over with because she repeatedly told him of her extremely important 7 pm appointment. She abruptly hung up shortly after.

    This left him perplexed and questioning the logic of what he was trying to accomplish, but he'd come this far so he might as well complete the task. He was no longer feeling enthusiastic. What once had been something he'd been looking forward to now felt like an obligation. He felt like a prisoner on death row preparing for the final walk on the green mile.

    He looked at his watch. He had only 3 hours to go. He milled around looking and feeling miserable for an hour, and then he called a cab to get to the restaurant. Traffic was murder and by the time he got there, it was almost 6 pm. He took a seat at the entrance of the restaurant hoping against hope that things wouldn't go as badly as he anticipated. He sat and waited for almost thirty minutes through 4 glasses of water and the rude stares of the wait staff before she finally made her entrance. She looked as radiant as she always had, but this was now tempered with a kind of cold sterility that made him wonder why he'd ever been captivated by her. She was dressed in an ill-fitting hipster chic ensemble that looked as terrible as it was expensive

    She looked around hastily before her gaze settled on him and recognition flashed through her eyes. Juldeh signalled to her, and she clumsily took a seat opposite from him. She didn't seem happy to see him. Quite the opposite, she seemed unnecessarily flustered, and kept fiddling with her left ring finger. Juldeh looked more closely and what he saw put everything into perspective and made everything crystal clear.

    "You're engaged?" he asked incredulously. "Why didn't you tell me and save me the trouble of coming here and making a fool of myself; save us both the trouble."

    She seemed even more flustered at that and Juldeh thought she was going to hyperventilate. "Because I felt sorry for you. My father had told me what had happened to you, and I remembered what happened before I left. I was young and foolish, and I thought you might have taken it more seriously than it warranted. To be honest a part of me wished I would never see you again. You'd just prove to be a needless complication in my currently happy life."

    Juldeh was flabbergasted. It took all his reservoirs of will power to remain calm. He took a deep breath and replied carefully, "So let me get this straight. You knew everything that had happened to me, and you never once tried to help. Is that what you're telling me? We were friends for almost two years, and the best you could do was... nothing. You're not the person I once knew." He couldn't resist twisting the knife, so he continued, "and if I remember correctly, you were the one who was all over me." He paused, took another deep breath and continued, "The only reason I'm here is because I promised you that we'd meet again. I've kept my promise, and now it looks like we can both go our separate ways. I promise that you'll never see me again, and as you can already tell, I keep my promises, unlike other people."

    He got up from the table, but she put her hand on his shoulder to stop him, "I'm really sorry. It never should have come to this."

    Juldeh looked at her with a mixture of pity and contempt. "It was probably inevitable. The recklessness of youth worked against us. I hope you're happy with your life and your choices, because I know that I am." He took her hand off his shoulder and without looking back, walked out into the throng of people leaving the pub and out of her life forever.

    Surprisingly, he was not as disappointed as he thought he might have been. It all made sense to him now. He'd been pursuing shadows, chasing a destiny that had never been written in stone. It was almost impossible trying to hail a cab at this hour, and so it was almost 10 pm when he finally made it back to the hotel. He used his keypass to open the door, and was greeted by the smiling face of Stella, sitting on his bed. One look at his face wiped the smile off hers.

    Juldeh had long since stopped being surprised by her comings and goings. She seemed to him to be an almost mythical figure, not constrained at all by the laws that governed the mere mortals. Appropriately, she looked almost exactly the same as she'd always had, except for a deeper tan which gave her an even more exotic, wild and dangerous look.

    She gave him a sympathetic look and asked softly, "rough day, big guy?"

    "Nice to see you too, Stella." He took a seat beside her on the bed. "Yeah, you could say so or maybe I'll look at it as a glass half-full situation. But first, let me ask you something. How much of this did you already know? Looking back on some of the things you said, I'm starting to think you might have done some reconnaissance on Nella."

    She looked at him with a mock innocent look, but then she eventually shrugged her shoulders.

    "What can I say? I'm in the information business, but you can't say I didn't warn you. I mean what more did you want me to tell you? At least your situation with your brothers is more positive, and that's what most important, n'est pas? Besides, between me and you, she was never good enough for you." She winked at him. "So what do you plan on doing now?"

    Juldeh sighed dramatically and said "I'll do something I should have done years ago. I'll live life on my own terms, and only for myself. First, I'd like to disappear for a while, go somewhere where no one knows my name, where I can start anew, forget the past, forget the pain, forget it all."

    "I think I can arrange that. Anything else?"

    "Yeah. I've always wanted to go to medical school. I don't know where you get your connections and I don't really care, but I'd really appreciate it if you could help me with that. After that, I promise I'll never ask you for anything ever again, and you know how seriously I take my promises."

    She looked at him for the longest time without speaking and then she finally said "I can't make any guarantees of course. I'm not a miracle worker. I'm just a girl who managed to invent something people were willing to pay a lot of money to keep off the market. But I'll promise you this. I'll do whatever I can to help you. The rest is up to you. You'll sink or swim entirely on your own."

    Juldeh took a few deep breaths and said "I'm grateful for whatever you can do. Now if you don't mind, I think I need a walk to clear my head."

    "Need any company," she asked sweetly.

    "Thanks for the offer, but I need some time alone," was his soft reply.

    He walked slowly out of the room, took the stairs one at a time to the main lobby and walked out of the hotel into the brightly lit streets. He felt in some ways like a fool. He'd blindly chased a destiny that had in the end being built on a pile of sand. Like a deck of cards, it had all come crashing down on him. His mind flashbacked to the story Stella told him about the Viking Prince. He'd thought it was pointless rambling at the time, but now he realized that in her own convoluted way, she'd been trying to help him. He realized for the first time, that she was starting to become the one constant in his life and he realized that he didn't mind that.

    He walked slowly through the streets, with no destination in mind but the very act of walking was filling him with a new purpose. Like Stella, he was going to live his life on his terms, by his rules, with no obligations except to himself and his brothers. With her help, he would begin the slow process of rebuilding his life. The moon peeked out from behind a cloud, and he took it as a metaphor for his own existence. No matter how dark things had gotten, he had always remained true to himself. He had never given in to despair, or loneliness. He'd kept the faith even when the path had been crooked. He'd learned some harsh lessons along the way. He now knew that there were no absolutes; that passion was a harsh mistress, and all that was important was life and the very act of living. He still believed that destiny would be his friend and so he looked forward with an enormous hope beating in his chest to the beginning of the rest of his life.

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