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“No. I’ll raid the kitchen myself. You don’t have to wait on me,” he said dryly, his eyes remaining glued to the portrait.

“Well, then, I’ll be right next door.”

“Is my mother around?” he asked, snapping his attention back to Mrs. Carlson.

“No. She's still in Colorado. Let me know if I can do anything else for you.”

“I will. Good night, Mrs. Carlson. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Good night.” She turned and walked out the front door, heading to the guesthouse adjacent to the waterfront property. Finally alone, Alexander slowly walked through the house and took in his surroundings, thousands of memories of his younger days rushing back from being in his childhood home once again. He loved growing up in that house. Until his best friend was taken from him. Then the house stood as a painful reminder of all the happy memories he shared with his friend. Memories he would never be able to re-create anymore.

It always pained him to be in that house. He returned once a year. That year, however, he was hesitant about continuing his ritual knowing that Olivia was, in fact, alive. But he just couldn’t break the tradition. Even though Olivia was alive, part of her did die that day, and he felt the need to continue to honor the memory of that little girl.

Alexander made his way into the large, airy kitchen to make a quick spring salad. It was a nice, breezy August evening, so he took his meal to the front porch of his family’s house and sat down, looking at the darkness of the Mystic River.

He recalled spending hours on end swinging on the porch swing with his best friend at his house on the river. The estate was built in the early nineteenth century and used to be owned by an old ship captain. Olivia grew up right down the street from him and they had become almost inseparable since her birth. She spent practically every weekend at Alexander’s house while her mother was in Newport, Rhode Island, where her family came from, attending one charity event or another. Her father, Jack, worked as a CIA analyst out of the Providence office and was never around that much, his work consuming most of his time. Alexander’s father, Thomas, also worked for the CIA but had left before Jack worked for the agency in order to start his own private security company.

When Olivia’s parents moved in down the street from Alexander’s family, Jack and Thomas became fast friends, having both worked for the agency. Thomas was relentless in trying to recruit Jack to work for his company, but Jack refused, preferring the work at the agency. The two families shared everything, including celebrating holidays together, although Jack was never really around.

Alexander recalled walking down to Mystic River Park with Olivia and his dad on a warm weekend day, the downtown area teeming with tourists taking in the historic maritime town. They would always stop in one of the local shops for ice cream. As a young girl, Olivia loved ice cream. Alexander wondered to himself if she still did. She would always get a scoop of rocky road and a scoop of strawberry ice cream finished off with sliced pineapples. It was such a strange combination, but the look on her face when she ate that first bite was something he would never forget.

Alexander finished his salad and went upstairs to his childhood bedroom that his mother had redecorated years ago. Although that was his family home, no one really lived there, his mother choosing to spend her time between her Denver and South Beach properties instead. His father had hired Mrs. Carlson quite a few years ago to maintain and care for the house when he decided to relocate the main office of his security company from Providence to Boston. At that time, the house became somewhere they would go on the weekends. After his father died, Alexander thought his mother would live in the house again, but it was too painful for her to spend too much time there, the reminders of her husband and everything that family had lost throughout the years overwhelming.

He crawled into his antique four-poster bed and glanced at a photo on the nightstand of him and Olivia when they were children. They were at Mystic River Park and Olivia and Alexander were both covered in ice cream. They stood hand in hand with big ice cream grins on their faces. A smile spread across Alexander’s face as he fell asleep.

~~~~~~~~~~

“Shit!” a young Alexander heard his father shout into a pay phone. Alexander stood inside a hospital room on his ninth birthday as everyone crowded the little baby boy that his mother just gave birth to the previous day. He was happy to have a baby brother but was upset that he was missing time at the beach with his friend, Olibia.

Alexander was surprised when his father walked briskly into the hospital room, meeting his wife’s eyes. He bent down and whispered something in her ear. Her eyes went wide with concern. Whatever had upset his father worried her, too. He kissed her on the forehead before leaning down to do the same to the infant that lay in her arms.

“Alex, come with me,” he said sternly as he left the hospital room. Alexander hoped he didn’t do anything wrong. He didn’t think he did.

“What is it, Dad?” Alexander asked as he followed his father down the long corridor, nearly having to run to keep up.

“We need to get back to the Cape. I’ll tell you in the car.” They practically ran out to the car and within moments were on the freeway, heading away from New London, Connecticut toward Chatham, Massachusetts.

Alexander turned to his father, looking into the same green eyes that he had. “What’s going on, Dad? You look worried.”

Thomas took a deep breath. How could he relay that information to his now nine-year-old son? “It’s Olivia and her parents. They’re in trouble, son. Olivia’s dad found out some things about some very, very bad people. They want to harm him and his family.” Thomas looked down at the speedometer and pushed in the accelerator, urgently trying to cut down his time.

“Marilyn, Olivia’s mother, called earlier this morning and left a message on our machine at the house. I just checked it. She sounded scared.” He didn’t want to say anything else to his son. About how Marilyn said she didn’t know who to trust. And that he was the only one she could trust. Marilyn wasn’t one to overreact, so the fact that she was frightened worried Thomas. Taking a deep breath, he continued. “When I tried to call their house, no one answered. So we need to go check on them.”

Alexander’s heart began to race. What if something bad happens to his Olibia? She was his very, very best friend. He remained silent the duration of their excruciatingly long car ride to Cape Cod. Two hours later, they pulled up to the driveway at the DeLuca’s beach house and frantically searched for their car.

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