Chapter 16: The Finale

Sophie turned to look back the formidable castle. Should I go back? she asked herself. She really didn't want to. She didn't want to see his disappointed face anymore. She wanted to hide. She wanted to become someone else: someone elegant, someone beautiful, someone with bravery and courage. She just wanted to fit in and be part of the crowd. She never was. Even in school, she had skirted around the cliques and groups of friends. She was a moth in search of a flame, but always finding the ashes of one already extinguished. James was another doused flame. She had been so close this time, almost feeling like she belonged somewhere, like she was part of something important.

She turned back toward the car again with sagging shoulders. She had to get out of here. The faster she left, the faster she could begin the self-pitying depression and eventually cope with her losses. Sophie had always thought of herself as a fighter. The fact that she felt like she was a kicked dog trailing away with her tail between her legs left her with a dull ache in her chest. She didn't want to return to tiny apartment in California. She wanted to stay … well, she wanted to get away from this place, but she wanted to stay with James. She already knew that she had spent her best days with him and the thought further filled her with sadness. Everything good had happened at eighteen. What would happen to her later in life? In her twenties? Thirties? Fifties? Nineties? God, life was going to be empty now.

She stood rooted to her spot. To turn back? Investigate the gunshot? What if was James? What if he was hurt? What if he was bleeding on the carpeted hallway floors as she hesitated because of her own insecurities? Even the thought propelled her into motion.

She started to run.

-----

James stared at the hole. He stared at the hole he made in the wall directly next to his father's head. He started to tremble. "I'm wasting my time here," he spat. He engaged the safety, then threw the gun on a plush sofa and strode into the hallway. 

Randolph jumped out of her chair and grabbed James's arm. He clutched at his ear because the gun had gone off so near his face. "Don't you understand? I'm trying to save you! You deserve better." His voice began to shake and his eyes were getting misty. "I'm doing this all for you!"

James whipped around. "I hate you!" He hated himself for letting the tears start to fall. "I was never good enough! I was never smart enough or fast enough or trustworthy enough. Don't you remember? I heard you and Victoria arguing about me in the limo after my diabetes was diagnosed. I hated you both then. I hate your lifestyle. I don't want to live in the shadows, in some slimy crime underworld. I want to be free. I'm caged. I stayed for nineteen years of my life. I wasted almost twenty years trying to gain your praise." He gestured to the doors. "And the one person who accepts me implicitly is gone. Because of you, she's gone." He roughly raked his hands through his hair. "The least I could do is return the approval."

"Don't you refer to your mother by her first name!" Randolph was outraged. "Let her name rest in peace!"

James exploded in tears, in rage, in pain. "She desperately wanted to get away form you. No wonder she committed suicide!"

Before he could stop it, Randolph's fist came out and crashed into James's face. He stared at his own hand in disgust and in shock. He had never raised his hand at James in anger. "I loved her," he whispered.

James didn't even acknowledge that he had been struck. Nothing hurt anymore, but he did lower his voice. "Great way you showed it. You fought and she drank. The perfect all-American couple! You backed her into corners. She wanted out of all this." He gestured wildly. "I want out of this!"

Randolph looked striken. "But I want to pass it all on to you."

"I don't want it. I don't ever want any of it." James touched his face then. "I want something else for myself."

"You don't know what it's like out there!" Randolph rushed on.

James rolled his eyes. "Yes, I do! For the last couple of days I've been in it. When you were 'dead', remember? I want it back." He blinked quickly. "I want it all back. I want her back."

Randolph clenched and unclenched his fists. "She's probably long gone by now."

James shrugged. "I'll find her again or I'll spend the rest of my life looking." He turned resolutely to the door. That's when he saw her. She stood quietly by the front doors. He smiled at started toward her.

Randolph saw her too. He was desperate. He grabbed James's arm again. "I love you! You can't just leave everything behind. You can't just leave me behind. I did all this, I built up my entire empire for you. I did everything for you. Don't you understand? I'm so proud of everything that you do." He was openly weeping now. He didn't bother to wipe the tears away. "Don't you understand?!"

James stared sadly at his father. He didn't understand why he used to be so afraid of him. He finally saw who his father really was: a sad small man who couldn't show his emotions without pride getting in the way until it was too late. "You're nineteen years too late," James whispered.

-----

Sophie left like an idiot at the end of the long hall. She ran in to find the person she loves. He wasn't even in any trouble. He was arguing with his father on the other end of the corridor. She stood glued to the spot staring at him. He was so beautiful. She knew she had to go. James had everything he wanted: wealth, power, fortune. She felt her stomach knot at knowing that she had to go.

She saw James look at her. Then she saw him turn back to his father. He had chosen his father. She knew her heart was in her eyes and he chose his father. She turned around to face the oak doors. She blinked away the moisture in her eyes. Just get back into the car! she yelled at herself. Her feet were leaden and she couldn't seem to move. She slumped against the doors in distraught.

The door suddenly opened and she was abruptly face to face with Charlie, the sage old chauffer. She tried to pretend that she was leaving the building. Again. She held her head high. "I was just leaving," she said slowly. She wiped her eyes and started to walk out.

Charlie gave her a sad smile. "You're making the biggest mistake of your life," he whispered. He walked into one of the rooms on the left and disappeared.

She trudged down the front steps. She was so stupid. Why did she go back?

She watched the birds start to resettle into the treetops from which they'd recently flown.  She had to resettle into her old life. She was invisible once again. But I don't want to be, she thought.

-----

Where'd she go? he screamed inwardly. She had been standing in the doorway nanoseconds ago. He turned back to his father. "I … I can't stay here," he murmured. He turned and ran.

Please let her be here, he begged.

-----

Randolph sat alone at his desk. He swished the brandy in his newly emptied glass. He took turns berating himself and James, pitying himself and James. He buried his face into his face and sobbed. He sobbed for nineteen years of hurt, pain, harm, and loss.

He absently fingered the bullet hole.

-----

Sophie buckled her seatbelt. Her eyes blurred. James had usually buckled her seatbelt for her. Before she met him, she had always forgotten. At least now she was more safety-conscientious. She laughed without humor.

"Wait!" James called. He didn't know what to say to her anymore. He stood on the front steps. His face was swollen and quickly bruising. He was still beautiful.

Sophie stepped out of the car again. The next time she'd do it, it would be in California. She stood next to the car and slowly made eye contact. She bit her lip. She always did it when she was nervous or whenever she said any untruths.

James thought back. She bit her lip whenever she told another lie about her past. She bit her lip when she was uncertain or scared. He thought it was endearing. Suddenly he realized the scene was very familiar.

"Take me away from here," he said loudly, not a whisper. "Take me with you." He looked at Sophie.

Flashes of a gunman in a classroom whizzed through her brain. Mike Saunders, she thought. The Nighttime Easy Sleep and fake IDs. Elvis and karate kicks in public restrooms.

"Are you sure?" she asked with a small smile from memory.

He nodded. He smiled at her. "Please," he added, in a serious tone.

She held out her hand in compliance.

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Author's Note: I'm so sorry this last part took so long. I needed time.

My sincere thanks to reALItee | WildFire | Fenig | Jessica | Lilliana | kiki | Soleil Antionette | DevilPrincess | Kelsie | raven | Miyako/Jisun | Tracie | Missa | THEwriter Lioness | Elemental Angel | Antigone | Dreamstrifer | DJ dragon princess | DaughterOfTheDawn | Hidden In The Shadows. You are all my inspiration.

Thanks for reading everyone.

-eraser.head

December 4, 2002