Chapter 36: Nikola Stays Away
After dropping Nikola's bags off at Eddie's apartment, Eddie took Nikola to lunch, and then to the movies. Nikola was glad for the distractions, but her mind was still churning with the events of the past few days, and she still constantly felt the need to look over her shoulder. When they got back to Eddie's apartment, Nikola felt like she was able to relax for the first time in three days.
"Here, sit down and take this," Eddie ordered as handed Nikola a vodka tonic and pointed to her paint-splashed couch. "And ignore your bags, for heaven's sake." Nikola was staring at her miscellaneous packages, which were still lying in a heap near the entrance. "You've been totally jumpy all day. I thought you were going to fly out of your skin when the voices came on."
"Can you blame me?" Nikola turned her attention towards Eddie. "Think about my last few days. I find out that my lover is not who he says he is, and has been in fact hired to watch me, by no one else than this mystery father, who I never knew I had, and who is clearly lying to me, none of which explains the other man who is following me, and who broke into my apartment to destroy my paintings. Eddie, at this point, I'm waiting for you to start peeling back your face and telling me you're from another planet. But please don't, because you're the only one I have left. So, you can see why I'm a little tense. And then, to hear Martha's disembodied voice booming through my apartment... It was just too much. I had to get out of there. Thank you so much for rescuing me."
"Oh please, that's what friends are for. How are you doing now?"
"Much better now, thanks. It was good to be outdoors and concentrate on other things for a while. And thanks for the vodka tonic. I didn't realize how much I needed a drink. But I still can't stop thinking about it. Everything just keeps running through my brain, over and over again."
"And this whole father thing. On the one hand, I'd love to believe it's all true. I'd love to have a father, a family, a heritage and all that. And that house, it's incredible. But he was so evasive, that I find it hard to believe anything he says. And what's this business with hiring someone to follow me? That seems so weird. Now I can't help wondering about that other guy who's following me. Is he another of Dad's spies? Or what?"
"I always thought that had something to do with the gallery."
"Nothing seems to have anything to do with the gallery. This is my own personal hell. Although, for all I know, my father owns the gallery, and Martha and Alan are just his puppets, and Marty had to go to get me that exhibition slot. Which, of course, brings me to the next obvious question of why he gave me up in the first place. That line he gave about threatening business associates was clearly bullshit, unless he works for the Mafia, which I have considered. And, if he works for the Mafia, is that guy who tried to slash my paintings from them? Actually, that would make a lot of sense, wouldn't it?"
"The whole Mafia theory. If, for some reason, they didn't want me to find my father, or for him to find me or something, they would try to scare me back to Germany. That would explain why my father had to give me up, and also why he brought me so far away. He was trying to protect me. I wonder if they killed my aunt?"
"You really think he works for the Mafia?"
"I don't know. It fits the scenario."
"Did he look like a Mafia type?"
"No, not at all. Quite the opposite. He looked like a sweet old man who would never hurt a fly. When he spoke about my mother and handled her pictures, he was so gentle and soft-spoken. I really can't imagine him anywhere near organized crime. But I don't know what else to think."
"I'm sure there are other explanations."
"I can't think of any at the moment, but I'm sure they exist."
"You crack me up."
They continued talking for several hours, and worked their way through several inches of a bottle of vodka, before they collapsed together on Eddie's double bed. Nikola had been unconscious for just under six hours, before a familiar nightmare replayed itself again. It was the nightmare of the death of the woman she now knew to be her mother. Once again she woke up screaming, only this time she knew why.
"I had the dream again," Nikola said to Eddie, who she knew was awake despite her efforts to hide under a pillow.
"My God woman, what are you screaming about? Don't you know that I have a hangover?"
"I do too, but that's not the point. I know what happened now. My mother didn't fall down the stairs, she was pushed. And do you want to know who pushed her? It was my aunt...
"I had the dream again," Nikola looked of to the distance, replaying the dream in her mind, "only this time it was different. As I dreamt it, I remembered it too. I remembered being there and seeing it happen. It was amazing. When I looked around in my dream, I remembered all sorts of things. I was just a little girl at the time. I was playing on the second floor landing, overlooking the foyer and entrance-way, and my mother was coming up the stairs with her book. I guess it was like a diary or something. It was a big black book that she used to write in a lot. It was always stuffed full of letters and papers. I think she had a sister in Germany she used to write to a lot.
"Anyway, she was coming up the stairs after writing, she did all her writing in the study - and I was playing. Mary was waiting at the top of the stairs. At the time, I didn't think much of it, Mary was always yelling at Mom for something or other. In her own crazy way I think she hated me and Mom, so I figured she was just waiting for her to yell at her, but I think I sensed something as Mom got close to the top of the stairs, because I remember looking up and yelling for her to stop. That made her look over to me... She was looking at me when it happened. If she had only been looking forward..."
"Looking forward for what? What happened?" Eddie blinked at Nikola.
"Mary pushed her. Deliberately. I saw her do it. And if Mom had been looking forward at her, instead of me..."
"Nikola, you're not going to blame yourself for that! For God's sake, your aunt pushed her. You had nothing to do with it. You couldn't have stopped it."
"But if she had been looking forward, she would have been ready for it. She wouldn't have fallen so crookedly, she wouldn't have broken her neck..." Nikola broke down into sobs, reliving the memory, and feeling the pain of her mother's death once again, for the first time in so long that it felt fresh.
All her life, Nikola had wanted to remember her parents. Now that she could finally remember her mother, and how much she loved her, the memory was like a gaping wound. "Some memories came through during the dream. Not much, just selected scenes, and all of it of my mother. It was enough for me to know that my mother and I were very close. We spent a lot of time together. She taught me German, and we used it as a secret language. She always promised me that one day we would go to Germany together and meet her family and friends, all the people she wrote to.
"The secret place in the woods was our secret place," Nikola continued frantically. "We went there to be alone. She used to play with me all the time. We'd play pretend. Never with ordinary scenarios like school or doctor, but always these fairy tale plots, like being royalty at a ball, or artists in a garret, or damsels in distress. I must have gotten my imagination from her. All the fantasies of my parents I had when I was in the orphanage, they were all from her. From when we used to play make-believe.
"Oh, Eddie, it's so little, but it's just enough to make me miss her terribly, and miss all the years we never had together. To think that she was killed by a member of my own family. It makes me so angry. If Mary wasn't already dead, I think I could kill her.
"But it's also amazing. For the first time I have a past, and it's a past I remember, not just something someone told me about. It's something to be proud of too. My mother was such a wonderful person. I'm so glad that I have her back." Nikola put her arms around Eddie and cried into her shoulder, overwhelmed with emotion.