“I really don’t know what to say,” Dr. Klein admitted. “It should be working. I don’t understand why it isn’t.”
This was our fifth IVF attempt, which was two more than the advisable norm for people in our situation. After David got his test results, only to find out that everything was fine on his side of things, we have invested ourselves money, body, and spirit, into this process, only to be met with failure once again.
I was trying to see the positive side of things, I was. This didn’t mean complete failure. There were still ways to have a baby… Just not one that I would carry, probably.
“So, should we try again?” I asked, still holding out hope.
Dr. Klein paused. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “Usually, either the process gives results or the people just stop trying. And I’m not saying I want you to stop trying. But not only is IVF expensive, it isn’t really a pleasant process in itself… Perhaps, you should take a break for a period of time. And in the meanwhile, I’m going to continue my research on the matter. There is bound to be something else we can do.”
“So, there is still a chance?” I was searching for reassurance.
“There is. But don’t get your hopes up too much just yet. I was sure IVF would work, but…” she drifted off.
“We understand,” David nodded, giving my hand a reassuring squeeze. “Thank you for doing your best.”
On the way home, I tried to focus on the positive. There was still a chance. It was just so small…
“Hey,” David turned to me. “Don’t let the funk get to you. Just because this didn’t work, doesn’t mean nothing will. We can still have a baby.”
“How?” I blurted out. “Through divine intervention?”
“Who knows?” he shrugged. “Isn’t that why they call them miracle babies?”
“I just hate it that’s all. We’ve both had so much hope for this, and now we’re at square one again.”
“At least we tried, right? And look at the Uptons. They’ve pretty much given up hope of ever conceiving and then they did. I guess what I’m saying is, you never know how things will turn out.”
“I really hope you’re right,” I sighed. I felt guilty for thinking it, but it was somewhat easier for him to stay positive, since he already had a child of his own. And I loved Millie more than I thought would have been possible, but I still wanted a child that was biologically mine.
“By the way, I’ve almost forgotten, but your father called last night when you were asleep. I didn’t want to wake you up, since you were so tired. I told him you’ll call him back today,” David perked up. “He sounded really intrigued by something.”
“Hmm, I wonder what it is that caught his fancy this time.” As Dad got older and his stamina for gardening diminished, he began to spend more time with his scientific experiments and research. Everyone was happier for it – he was less tired, while Mom and the rest of us worried less about him accidentally hurting himself in the garden.
“He mentioned something about that plant that involved your family with mine,” David awkwardly admitted. “Something about the medicine our company made with it.”
“Oh, that,” I nodded. Ever since Collier Enterprises was exposed, we have made attempts to give proper credit and payments to people who got swindled out of their money by Lionel. Dad was one of the very few who have refused monetary payment, as long as his name was listed on the research. “I wonder what he wants to know. Even when he found that plant, I only knew that it worked, but not how. Dad was the only one who understood all the scientific specifics about it. So, really, I should be asking him about it.”
“He sounded really curious about something,” David mused.
I decided not to waste time and to head over to my parents’ house as soon as I’ve eaten. Dad was ecstatic to see me, as usual.
“Irene, honey! Come play a match with your old man,” he called, after I declined the hearty mac’n’cheese he offered me. “I’m glad you’re here. How has life been treating you? How are you feeling?”
“Meh,” I admitted. Dad knew all about our IVF attempts and he, like Mom, was trying to give me support through it all.
“Oh, honey, don’t fret. You’ll have your baby, I have a gut feeling about it,” he reassured me.
“The same way that you knew we’ll find a cure for Mom?” I smiled at my old man.
“That’s right! Speaking of that, I’m sure David already told you that I was calling about it, right?”
“Well, how have you been keeping up with your medications at the company?” he asked. “Do you keep track of how well everything works or doesn’t work?”
“How so? We keep track of sales and the demand for certain things, but what do you mean?”
“Long story short – I’ve been reading customer output regarding this medication. It seems like, in almost every case that the medicine was used, the illness went away for a short period of time, only to return later,” he explained. “And I want to know why. And why hasn’t it happened to your mother? Can her sickness still come back? Do I need to worry? I want to understand what is happening.”
This was news to me, but David and I were so preoccupied with our personal issues lately, that it made sense how we didn’t realize this was happening.
“We can take a look into it. We will,” I promised. Of course, it was only our job.
“Thank you, dear. Now you’ve been letting your old man beat you at this. I know you’re better at chess than this weak game!”
He was right, I was. After three more games, one of which I actually won with the others lost very closely, I was ready to head home.
There, I got online and began reading patient reviews of the medication based off the lifefruit. Everything looked just how Dad described it. Patients would experience a temporary improvement in health, only to get sick again after a while. Most likely, I thought, the pharmaceutical company added some new ingredient that interacted badly with the healing properties of the plant. But of course, this would have to be researched more closely.
I looked up at the clock near me. It was already 5 pm and Millie wasn’t home, I realized.
My sudden bout of panic ended quickly: of course, I have completely forgotten it with all the doctor’s visits, but Millie was supposed to be home later today. She has asked me almost a month ago if she could skip her after-school art class for a lecture by a world-popular zoologist who happened to be visiting out city.
I leaned back in my chair, smiling. The little girl was still extremely taken with her art, but now she had another interest that took up a lot of her fascination. In other words, all talk of boarding school was over, which put all of our minds and hearts to rest.
I was brought out of my reverie by a phone call.
“Mrs. Meadows-Collier? Hi! Is everything ok with Millie?” It was Mrs. Andrews, the instructor of her art class.
“Yes, Mrs. Andrews, she’s fine, why? My apologies, but it has completely escaped my mind to tell you ahead of time that she’ll be absent today,” I explained to the friendly teacher.
“Oh, I know all about that, Millie told me last week that she wanted to hear the zoologist’s lecture. I guess you just forgot to tell your babysitter about it, right?” she mused.
“What babysitter?” I asked feeling confused. David and I have considered hiring a babysitter when Millie has first arrived to us, but it all worked out without us needing one.
“Umm, the one who came to pick Millie up from class today? She seemed surprised to hear that Millie wasn’t here today, so I thought, maybe there has been some change of plans,” Mrs. Andrews explained, admitting, “I don’t mean to sound offensive, but I’m a bit surprised you’ve hired this woman to look after your stepdaughter. She seemed rather strange.”
“We haven’t! We don’t have a babysitter!” I choked out. “And you know we always either pick Millie up ourselves or have her take the school bus. Wait, what did this woman looked like?”
“She was kind of tall, slender, dark hair, I believe, although, she wore a hat. There was something about her eyes though. I can’t really explain it, but it felt off to me,” the teacher admitted. “I will keep an eye out for her in the future. And you should probably call the police. Or, should I do it?”
“That’s alright; I think I should call them. Thank you for your vigilance. I’m glad you’ve checked in with me about this.”
“It’s my job. I always try to make sure there aren’t any sketchy persons near the kids. Well, take care now.” With that, the teacher hung up, leaving me more than a little panicked.
With shaking hands, I dialed David. “David, are you with Millie yet?”
“No, I’m on my way to pick her up, now. Why?”
“Some strange woman went to her art class and claimed to be our babysitter in order to pick Millie up,” I nearly shouted. “Mrs. Andrews thought she looked strange and suspicious.”
“That’s troubling. We should call the police. But don’t worry about Millie, I already see her. She’s fine.” He hung up, and I was about to ring the police when our doorbell rang.
To my huge surprise, the man at my doorstep was Deputy Rosswell of Twinbrook PD and he did not look happy.
“Irene, can I come in? Is David home?” he asked urgently.
“No, but come in, Mr. Rosswell. Why didn’t you call us? We could’ve picked you up at the airport,” I invited the older man in.
“Thank you, but I decided not to discuss this over the phone and time wasn’t something I wanted to lose. I’m afraid I have bad news for you – Marilyn Johnson has escaped.”
“What? How?” I felt a chill go through me.
“I don’t know, Irene, I just don’t know. And I’m ashamed to admit it, but no one has realized she was missing until the institution orderly realized that she hasn’t eaten several meals. I came here as fast as I could after finding out,” he explained. “I have already contacted Hidden Spings PD on the way here. You probably won’t like it, but we’re going to assign a unit to watch over you. This woman, she is obsessed with your family. I’m afraid she is going to come here and I want to catch her before she does any damage.”
“Oh my god…” I blanched. “A woman claiming to be Millie’s babysitter has tried to take her from her art class. The teacher said there was something off about her. That must have been Marilyn.”
“Is that so? Well, I guess she works faster than we expected, then. You know, I do wonder how she was able to do it. The security at her institution was really tight. And now she is here, so fast… Well, never mind that, let’s just make sure everyone is safe.”
By the time David has arrived with a happily chattering Millie in tow, Mr. Rosswell and I were already discussing what we could do to keep safe. As soon as David was filled in on what has happened, he has decided that it would be best to keep Millie from going to school for the next week and to have her come to work with us. After all, safety in numbers was a thing.
We were to have police surveillance on hand at all times, until Marilyn was found. Of course they would stay inconspicuous, so as not to attract her attention, but they would be near.
He has also suggested that someone check in with my parents and Gerald from time to time or even give them security as well, since Marilyn had an unhealthy obsession with them as well.
By the time the officer has left for the night, we had a game plan on our hands. But as they say, “the best laid plans of mice and men go awry.”
Taking Millie out of school for a week didn’t pose much of a problem. She had all her assignments with her and she could do them at the office. Besides, since we’ve decided to keep the entire family under police watch, the dog came with us and the little girl was ecstatic to have her furry friend with her at all times.
That was what created the opening for Marilyn to strike. Had the dog stayed at home, he would have made plenty of noise, alerting police to a stranger’s presence. As it was, the sole policeman who stayed at the house never realized anyone was there but him.
That night, we had dinner as usual. The police watching over us didn’t join us in order to attract less attention, so it was just the three of us and the dog. Millie kept recalling the wonderful zoological lecture from three days ago. Apparently, after the lecture ended, Terry Farrel, the zoologist himself ended up having a chat with her and even gifted her a new interesting book that had so much interesting information.
We watched a movie. We weren’t supposed to be terrified all the time, just because Marilyn was on the loose. At least, we were trying not to be.
We went to bed, as usual.
In retrospect, we should have paid more attention to Sherlock’s uneasy behavior that day, but we attributed it to our own nerves rubbing off on him.
I woke up to frantic dog barking and smoke.
Next to me David rolled over and began coughing, with tears running out of his eyes.
“Fire,” he coughed out, “the house is on fire.”
“But we have smoke detectors… Millie!!!” I realized the girl was in the house as well and the thought woke me up for good. We both rushed out of our bedroom and into the hallway, which luckily was not on fire yet, even if it was filled with smoke already.
The handle of her door was burning to the touch, but the two of us managed to throw it open. Millie was crouched on the floor inside, completely terrified of the fire, with Sherlock running all around the room and barking his head off.
“You’re ok! Come on, Millie!” screamed David, pulling his daughter to her feet. “We need to get out of the house as fast as possible, before everything burns down and there is no way out.”
We dashed downstairs, where an inferno was raging. Barely making way towards the front door, with the dog quick on out footsteps, we found it barred shut from the outside.
We exchanged a glance – this fire was no accident. This had to be Marilyn’s work.
“Backdoor, now!” David shouted, pulling us in the opposite direction. The flames were intense, but by some miracle we made it to the patio door, only to find it locked from the outside as well.
“What now?” Millie asked, sounding small.
“It’s thinner than the front door. We break it,” announced David, pushing against the glass panes with his whole weight. Eventually, the glass panes buckled under his intense pressure and the shattering sound was followed by the creation of our way out.
We practically fell outside, but the flames surrounding our house were still too close, we had to get away.
On a side note, I wondered why the police watching over us haven’t called the firefighters yet, but that thought left me as my vision went dark and the last things I heard were frantic calls of “Irene!” and “Mom!”
I woke up to the bright lights of the hospital room and two concerned faces looking at me – David and Millie.
“Mom, you’re ok!” The little girl rushed towards me and enveloped me in a hug. “Mom” was definitely a new development, but it brought a smile to my face. I looked over at David, who was grinning in relief.
“You’ve been out for three days. You’ve inhaled a lot of smoke in the house and passed out as soon as we got out. We’ve all inhaled some, but it seems like you’ve had it the worst. We were really scared for you. Your parents were here until an hour ago. They finally went to get some sleep.”
“Oh, goodness! What about the policemen? What about Sherlock?!” I sat up straighter, feeling light headed.
“Easy, easy,” David tried to calm me down. “Sherlock is fine except for some singed fur, he’s with your parents. The doctors were having a hard time restraining him from trying to get into your room, so I thought it was best he stay with someone who can take care of him for now.”
“He saved us all that night,” Millie added. “His barking woke us all up. Tell Mom why the smoke detectors didn’t go off?”
“Yeah, about that,” David explained. “Marilyn was in our house while we were all out. She tampered with the smoke detectors and spilled the incendiary agent around our house. And Sherlock must have smelled it, which was why he’s been acting so strange all day. But being a dog, he had no way to convey the message to us.”
“She was in our house and set the place on fire? Where the hell was the police?!” I couldn’t understand how this even happened.
“Mr. Rosswell was the one who arrived to our house after you passed out. He rode with us in the ambulance to the hospital and explained things. Apparently, someone called in a bomb threat to the airport and all the local police were called there for patrol. Of course, that someone turned out to be Marilyn, who did it to make sure no one was around to help us. And we know all this because they caught her,” he finished.
“Wait, how? If all the police were busy? And who called the ambulance?” I was probably still sick from the smoke, since nothing made sense.
“Hi, sis!” Gerald and Roman came in, smiling with a satisfied grins of people who have accomplished a good job.
“Remember, I work with the Hidden Springs PD on cybersecurity now? Well, I know a few things about proper surveillance,” Roman reminded me.
“As soon as Roman and I knew Marilyn was at large, we set up our own watch. We actually have a recording of her calling in the bomb threat. This was how we knew she was going to strike, but by the time we got to your house, the fire has already happened and you were being taken to the hospital. We knew she just had to be nearby still. Sure enough, she was hiding out on the block, observing her work. But don’t worry, sis, we got her. And this time around, she is going straight to jail, not to some mental health facility.”
“I’m glad. I hope, this time around, they keep a better eye on her,” I leaned back in the hospital cot.
“I hope so too,” admitted David.
“So, our house?”
“It is going to need a lot of repairs,” David explained. “So, we can’t go back there yet.”
“That sucks,” I sighed. I didn’t like hospitals very much, not since Mom’s sickness. “I guess we’ll have to finish our research on the lifefruit at a later time?”
“Hmm, not necessary,” Gerald perked up. “Dan and David have told us about your medicine problem and we’ve been doing some research. Apparently, this fruit has been found in China quite recently. Perhaps, you can go there and continue your research on location?”
“It sounds like a good idea,” David smiled. “It can be the honeymoon we never took. And Millie can come with us. It would be a good opportunity for her to visit another culture and to explore the nature there.” And to recover from the scare of the fire, but that went unsaid.
“But I have school,” Millie reminded us. “Won’t I get in trouble for missing so much time?”
“I’m sure, after taking everything into consideration, the school will understand. Besides, you’ll still do your homework,” I calmed her down.
“Thanks, Mom.” She still hasn’t moved away from me, even as the rest of my relatives went to the cafeteria to get coffee.
“How come you’re calling me ‘Mom’ all of a sudden?” I found myself asking the little girl. “You’ve always called me ‘Irene’.”
“Yeah… but I feel like you’re my mom now, just as mom as my birth-mom was. I mean, you’re always there for me and you’re always so nice to me. And when you got sick, I felt like I was about to lose my mom all over again and it was true. So, is it ok if I call you ‘Mom’?”
“Of course, honey. I was just curious. I would be only honored to be your Mom.”
Two days later I was released from the hospital with a mostly clean bill of health and David and I began to plan our family trip to China. We were determined to find out why the medication wasn’t working properly and if this was the place to look for answers, we would find them.