Title: Message In A Bottle
Category: Anime/Manga » Candy Candy
Author: kellyelin
Language: English, Rating: Rated: T
Genre: Romance/Mystery
Published: 10-10-17, Updated: 05-09-18
Chapters: 25, Words: 51,074

Chapter 1: Prelude 1 - Neal

"Candy Candy" Manga is written by Kyoko Mizuki, Yumiko Igarashi.

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Avatar, as usual, is drawn by my friend, ELSA. For those who don't know (like myself), this is called chibi, she said. Thanks Elsa.

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Chapter 1: Prelude – Neal

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After Candy and Albert rejected Neal's engagement proposal, the Leagans worked to move Neal out of Chicago to forget Candy.

"Florida," Neal argued tearfully, "is not far enough!"

Thus, the family packed and went to Scotland. They settled in the Leagan mansion by the sea in Scotland.

Around this time, Eliza had a love interest. His name was Mason. To Eliza's thrill, he proposed to her! But her father, Henri, didn't share the enthusiasm. He discouraged Eliza to marry Mason Fern.

"I'm in love with Mason Fern, dad. I'm not asking your opinion, I am stating that I will marry Mason!" Eliza screamed.

"I don't like Mason!" Henry thundered. "You're too smart for this, why can't you see that Mason is using you? He's after you because he's up to something! He's untrustworthy, he is not -"

"Yeah... yeah... he's not a businessman-type, I know. But that's precisely why I like Mason. I want someone who's always by my side unlike you and mom!" Her father and mother, Sarah, were hardly ever together. Her father went to his office seven days a week while her mother was doing whatever by herself.

"You can hire a servant to accompany you going shopping. Your husband has to work to support you!" Henri growled.

"NO!" Eliza objected. "It's more fun to be accompanied by someone I love than by servants!"

"Then have fun with Mason! Go ahead, have your wild night! Just don't get your heart to be too involved. Dump him when you're done! You don't have to marry him."

"Daddy! I'm not listening to your paternal dating advice! For someone who always leaves mom alone –"

"But I pay her bill! Mason, on the other hand, is not a responsible person. I doubt he will ever buy you a loaf of bread! Trust me on this, Eliza. I can see people -"

"Mason loves me. That's all I want!" Eliza screamed. Henri rolled his eyes. "Ask Neal, he agrees with me!" Eliza stared at Neal who stood quietly nearby imploring some support.

"You might as well talk to air rather than to your brother." Henri sneered before Neal could open his mouth. "We already have your brother why get another dysfunctional man to our family?"

Henri glared at Neal contemptuously. To have to move to Scotland because of heartbreak due to failed love was the ultimate humiliation.

Still, Henri moved his family anyway since anywhere was a better place than Chicago where everyone mocked and looked at them with derision. They said he was an opportunist cheap skate who sought fame by wanting to marry his son to an Andrew. Disgusting! Anyone who read news would know that by now the Leagan enterprise was rivaling the Andrew's. And, he… Henri Leagan did all by his own hard work unlike the Andrews who's relying on inheritance, highly inefficient council with their Sir William who kept disappearing doing who knew what.

"I have to catch my train to London. Take care of your mom and brother," Henri said to his daughter who forever be his princess, and glared sharply at his son. He grabbed his suit and headed for the door.

"But we just arrived. You should take mom to lunch or somewhere, she'll be happy," Eliza said, following her father. "For someone who claim you can see people, it's amazing how little you understand mom!"

"She had left since early morning," Henri answered dryly.

"To where?"

"Who knows!" Henri snapped without lowering his pace.

"Daddy!" Eliza called, chasing her father outside. She knew her father wouldn't object for too long under her persuasion. "Mason wants to see you this weekend. Can he? Please… and promise me you'll be nice to him..."

Neal sighed in relieved, grateful to be alone finally. He looked at the wine collection in that mansion and picked a bottle of rare wine. Quietly, he brought it with him outside, to the beach. As soon as he's alone the thought about Candy crept back again.

What is Candy doing now?

It's been two months that he hadn't seen her since that fatal engagement party and he barely could survive. How should he live the rest of his life without her?

Tears trickled on Neal's face.

They were separated by this vast water in the ocean. All he had to do was to dry the ocean water and pull her to his side. He laughed bitterly at that thought.

"Candy...!" Neal screamed. He looked at the water, the witness of his broken heart. If only it could tell her that he's crying now missing her. His chest suffocated with sadness. "Water...oh water… let Candy know that I love her!" Neal sobbed.

"Tell Candy that I miss her…," Neal whispered, looking at the sea, as though it would do that for him.

Tears dripped from his face to the beach sand… Then… suddenly a thought entered his mind. Neal wiped his tears, looking at the wine bottle in his hand.

Who knows? Why not?

Neal stopped crying abruptly. He slowly turned around before quickened his pace and ran back into the kitchen mansion. He pulled the wine bottle cork and poured the precious rare wine into the sink. He washed and rinsed the bottle as clean as he could by himself making the servants around him feel uneasy that he didn't ask them do it for him.

Ignoring their confused glance, Neal took the clean bottle to his room. He wiped it with his own pristine white handkerchief, inside out. Fabulous! He thought proudly, satisfied on how clean and dry the bottle was now.

Neal then hung the bottle upside down and went to his desk. He looked out of the window, staring at the ocean wave, and he thought and thought… deeply... before finally he picked up a pencil and paper and wrote pouring his heart out…

"My Love,

Ever since the last time we met, I only feel grief. I think only about you, when I sleep or when I awake - not that I know the difference anymore. I'm crying now as I write this note with you in my mind. Would you believe me if I told you so?

Would you stop hating me, my dearest? Tell me instead, what can I do to win your heart?

My love, I hope you will believe me one day.

Until we meet again…

"

Neal re-read his note again, his vision blurred with tears.

I love you, Candy. Believe me. Neal sobbed. Love you so much!

Neal wiped his tears and rolled the paper. He was about to put the letter into the wine bottle when he remembered the story he read once in the newspaper about someone found a message in a bottle.

What if someone actually finds this bottle? Neal's heart beat maddeningly. I should put my address for them to reply!

Neal thought what address to write. The Leagans were too famous, everyone knew them. He'd rather do it anonymously. Neal decided to use the secret address he used to correspond with his detective in Chicago. He giggled to himself and wrote it down.

He then thought about what name to use. Neo is good. "New" just like the new journey his message would be having in the ocean. Thus, Neal dated his message and signed "Neo" at the bottom.

All done.

Neal carefully put the letter inside a leather bag, rolled it and dropped it into the wine bottle. He put the cork back in and burned a candle for the wax to give the final seal. Neal looked at it, satisfied on how secure his letter was protected.

Neal then ran outside, back to the beach. After looking at the bottle one more time, Neal threw it as hard as he could towards the sea.

Would it be eaten by a whale? Neal laughed to himself. The first time he laughed in two months. Sank to the bottom of the ocean? Got frozen in the North Pole and rediscovered a few hundred years later?

Neal grinned gleefully.

Who knows Candy will find it?

Neal almost started to cry again as soon as he remembered that name. My dearest Candy, I love you. I wish you find my bottle and read what I wrote inside.

The wave brought the bottle came back ashore. Neal took off his shoes, curled his pants up and plunged into the sea to pick the bottle up and throw it back again. The bottle came back six more times before finally it's drifted away by the ocean wave... With heart beat hard with excitement, Neal stood in the water watching it until it disappeared.

Whatever happened to that bottle, he probably would never know. But, that was fun still, Neal thought. This was the first time in two months that he didn't spend all afternoon crying and thinking about Candy... The first time he felt joy again.

Without thinking much about it again, Neal turned around and went back into the mansion.

-To be continued-

Thanks for reading


Chapter 2: Prelude 2 - Candy

Chapter 2: Prelude 2 - Candy

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After telling Candy that he was her prince of the hill, Albert invited her to live with him and Aunt Elroy in Lakewood. It was like a dream came true for Candy. With Albert by her side, all life problems were solved. Neal never came to disturb again, not even once! Dark memories with Terry fluttered away like a gentle summer breeze - it wasn't painful at all anymore. Candy's heart bloomed counting her blessings. In fall, Candy went back to school to become a doctor, following her heart desire to care for others which stayed strong.

Then, Annie and Patty got married and moved to Argentina with their husbands, Archie and Stear. After Stear came back from the war, his parents just didn't want to be far apart from their sons anymore and took them all with them to Argentina, the headquarter of their business enterprise.

This summer, Annie and Patty visited Candy, the first time they met again in more than three years. Last summer Candy was busy with her summer classes in medical school. The previous summer, Annie and Patty were busy adjusting their new life in Argentina. This year, they were still busy, but Annie and Patty wanted so much to show Candy their baby sons.

The three girls met in the Andrew's upscale private beach in New York. Candy who naturally loved children just had a blast with Annie and Patty's babies. They took a walk along the beach, played in the water, and picked up shells - sometimes with the babies sometimes not - like what they're doing this afternoon.

"Candy I need to go!" Annie yelled to her friend who's busy combing the ground looking for shells. "Get to nurse Archie junor!"

"Me too!" Patty added. "Stear junior must be hungry now!"

Candy looked at her watch. Time flew when they're together. They had been looking for shells for more than two hours!

"Coming!" Candy gave a quick final survey of the ground one more time. Other than empty carapaces of crabs, she got pretty much nothing. She ran to the secluded area behind a large rock to have one last quick check hoping to get at least one shell worth showing off to her friends.

"Ekkk!" Suddenly Pouppe shrilled. The skunk jumped down from Candy's shoulder to sniff on a tiny moving crab. Candy laughed watching the skunk trying to catch the crab. It's her idea to take Pouppe to the beach. She was grateful when Albert let her take Pouppe. Her prince never failed her.

The crab disappeared under one large elongated object and Pouppe stopped there waiting for the crab to come out. It caught Candy's attention.A large shell?, she thought, hopeful.

Candy moved forward to better observe the peculiar looking object that's partially hidden by seaweed.

Bah! Only a wine bottle!, Candy sighed in dismay. Disappointedly, she straightened up. Her last hope to get the coveted shell dashed.

"Come on Pouppe, let's go back," Candy called the skunk who was busy sniffing the bottle.

"Forget the crab, Pouppe! We go home! You heard Annie and Patty!" Candy said again.

Pouppe was ignoring Candy.

"Pouppe! Pouppe!" Candy called again and again. "POUPPE!"

Still Pouppe ignored her. Candy came forward to pick up the skunk. "What's the matter with you? We've seen so many broken bottles -"

Suddenly, it occurred to Candy that the bottle was not at all broken. And… it was corked! The cork was sealed meticulously well – too well - with additional wax protection around it. It seemed... someone on purposely wanted to protect something inside!

Candy stopped to examine the bottle closer. It looked so unlike other bottles she often found on the beach. Curiously, Candy pulled the bottle up, all flushed by the idea that it might have a message inside just like the book she read when she was little. She scrubbed the bottle quickly with her hand to wipe the vegetation from the surface.

"What on earth…?" Candy whispered. She lifted the bottle and turned it toward the sun to have a better view of the bottle inside. Whoa!, she gasped seeing a scroll like object inside the bottle.

"Ekkk ... eekkk," Pouppe shrilled loudly startling Candy.

"Yes… yes… You saw that Pouppe? A scroll…!" Candy murmured. Message in a bottle? A century old message ? A letter from lost lover? A treasure map?, Candy thought excitedly. "Annie! Patty! Come!"

"Eek! Eeek!" Pouppe could feel the excitement. He jumped up and down.

Patty and Annie quickly came.

"Candy, what?"

"Look...!" Candy held up the bottle and showed it to the two girls. "A scroll! There's a scroll inside inside the bottle!"

Excitedly the two girls moved a step closer to have a better view of the bottle.

"MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE!" Patty and Annie gasped simultaneously. They stared at the bottle in awe.

"Good heavens!" Annie shrieked.

"I can't believe that this finally happens to me!" Patty added excitedly. She always dreamed of finding a bottle with a message inside like stories in the books she read.

"Open it, Candy!"

"Yes. Open it!"

Candy tried to pull the cork out. "I can't! It's too well sealed."

"Oh goodness... a love letter that's for sure! Must be!" Annie sighed.

"Or a sailor who sought for help before their ship sank," Patty guessed, trembling.

They're so overcome by their own guesses. Annie and Patty tried to pull the cork too but they couldn't either.

"Let's go home first," Candy suggested. The babies were hungry!

Annie and Patty nodded. "We try with tools!" Patty said.

"Burn the wax seal!" Annie pointed out.

Pouppe and the girls ran back to the mansion. Like what Patty and Annie had predicted, their sons were crying wildly in hunger. Patty and Annie hurriedly nursed their baby sons. Candy rewarded Pouppe with nuts then took the bottle to the kitchen to melt the wax with the fire in the stove.

It was super amazing!

Staring at the bottle, impatiently Candy waited for her friends to take care of their babies. She knew they wanted to see her open it. Then… with three of them taking a deep breath, Candy energetically pulled the cork out. Their hearts thudded when they heard the pop sound.

Candy took the bottle upside down and shook the content out. It's a leather pouch tied neatly with a leather string. Equally unblinked, Pouppe stared at it. Annie passed scissors to Candy so she could cut the string. The pouch was opened and inside there's a roll of paper... Gently, Candy pulled it out and unrolled it.

"A letter!" They gasped, looking at the handwriting on the paper.

Their heart missed several beats. They looked at one other and read the letter together.

Patty finished the first. "Wow...," she whispered softly.

They stared blankly at the letter and sank to the sofa behind them.

Annie recovered first. "Touching..." She wiped a tear that fell over her lashes. Archie never wrote a touching letter to her.

Candy nodded in agreement. None of Albert's or Terry's past letters, even at the height of their romance, was a tenth as romantic as this. The lover Neo referred to must have a heart made of ice to make Neo suffer this much.

Patty took of her glasses to wipe her wet eyes as well. She remembered the desperation she felt when Stear went to war and could understand what Neo meant that he couldn't tell the difference between being awake or asleep.

"Neo...," Candy reflected after she could speak again. "It's a she or he, I wonder?"

"A-a man... I think," Patty said, blushing. Her voice was so low almost like a whisper. She really didn't want to talk about men except her own Stear, but this topic was too intriguing to stay quiet.

"A man!" Annie snapped decisively. "It's obvious. The blocks of the letters look bold and masculine."

"That's what I think too," Candy said, staring at the handwriting. Undeniably alpha. Candy thought of some men she considered masculine to help imagine Neo better... Was he like Albert? Terry? Her chest felt stiff when she thought of how Anthony might have looked if he had grown up. Unfulfilled love... Very sad.

"Does it have an address?" Patty asked.

Candy flipped the paper. "A box number in Chicago," Candy muttered.

"Chicago!" Patty and Annie exclaimed at the same time. "A small world!"

"It was written about... four years ago." Candy pointed at the date.

Her friends nodded.

"I wonder how he's doing," Annie reflected.

"We'll never know," Patty murmured.

They were silent for a minute, buried in their own thoughts. Candy broke the silence.

"We can find out...," Candy whispered.

"Uh?" Annie and Patty frowned looking at Candy.

"I will write to Neo," Candy said quietly.

Incredulously, Annie stared open-mouthed at Candy. "NO! What if he's a lunatic?"

Patty, next to Candy, was equally wide eyes. "Everyone knows the Andrews in Chicago, while you don't know Neo." She trembled worriedly. "It's dangerous. What if he came to harm you!"

"Yes Candy. Don't write to him," Annie said.

Candy scratched her nose, thinking. Her kind heart couldn't simply ignore this sad man. It's against her value as a health-care worker to ignore someone who's in need of help either mentally or physically.

"I'll do it anonymously," Candy said slowly after some consideration.

"What! How?" Annie and Patty cried at the same time.

"The Andrews are too famous. Impossible!" Annie added.

"Candy, you should talk to Albert first." Patty shivered imagining dangers.

"Albert is in California," Candy replied. Aunt Elroy always warned her against disturbing Albert when he's away in a business trip. "Don't worry," she added assuringly. "I'll talk to George. I am sure he can arrange an anonymous identity for me!"

Annie and Patty looked at one another before nodded slowly.

"Let's do it!" Candy quipped.

Candy called George to tell him her request. In the morning of the second day, George called back with one anonymous address for Candy to use.

Sadly, Annie and Patty already had to go back to Argentina. Candy took them to the port in New York. Tearfully, they hugged and bid farewell until the ship whistle shrilled loudly and the wooden step was about to be removed. The three girls waved to each other until they're lost to a distant fog.

Then, Candy remembered Neo and stopped crying. She busied herself preparing and composing her first letter to Neo all the way through the train journey back to Chicago.

Back in Chicago, Candy confirmed her anonymous identity plan with George. George explained about the special box number assigned for her. A letter that came would subsequently go through two steps forwarding system. There's no way one could associate the box number with "Candice Andrew". George would handle the forwarding personally…

It sounded complicated…

Convinced, Candy went to the post office to mail her letter to Neo.

-To be continued-

Thanks for reading

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. NOTE.

Pouppe = Poppi = Albet's skunk (from manga)

Neo = Neal. Check chapter 1

"alpha" here means: very man. (Something like that :)

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Chapter 3: Anonymous Correspondence

In Chicago...

Today was Eliza's last day of working as president at Leagan Corporation before she took her maternity leave. She's nine months pregnant and had chosen to be a full time mother just like her mother, Sarah, when she and Neal were young. Eliza had lunch with her staffs and had farewell gatherings with them. Before she left, she met Neal in his office to give him last tips on how to handle the project she hadn't finished.

"This is impossible! I can't do this. Stay one more week, Eliza," Neal whimpered.

Unlike Eliza who had worked for years in Leagan Corp, Neal just joined for about a year. His mother made him go to graduate school in London to forget Candy then his father made him work in another company first to toughen him up.

"One more week won't do much, Neal." Eliza chuckled. "Acquiring Tarbell Standard Oil will be our company's biggest acquisition to date! It's all yours now." She grinned.

"Even a year won't do much to him!" Neal and Eliza looked up. It was Henri, their father.

"Daddy!" Eliza got up to greet her father. "I've finished transferring all my projects to Neal."

"That's my girl." Henri hugged his precious princess who's so pregnant. "Your mother has arranged a bigger mansion for your growing family."

"Mom told me about the surprise this morning. Thanks dad!"

"Too bad it's you who has to leave," Henri grunted, glanced at Neal.

Neal pretended not hearing.

"I have my assistant Dayna replace Mrs. Cooper, Neal's assistant who's retiring. Dayna is a bright girl, she knows all about my projects."

"What I'm worried about is for Dayna to take over his work and get their position reversed!" mocked Henri.

"Neal is smart, dad. He learned so quickly," Eliza supported her brother. "I've told him everything about your plan to acquire Tarbell Standard Oil."

"You are thinking of everything, Eliza." Henri praised his beloved daughter. "Your baby is a step ahead of others thank to the smart mom."

Eliza beamed not for the praise for her work, but for the excitement that she would be a mother soon! They did some more chatting then Henri and Neal walked Eliza outside. She was beaming looking so happy, Neal was happy for his sister, too.

"I'll visit you, Eliza," said Neal.

"Good luck Neal!" Eliza hugged her brother. "Don't' work too hard, dad." Eliza kissed her father's cheek. "Come with mom to visit me this weekend!"

Eliza got into her Rolls Royce and waved until they disappeared from her view.

Eliza has left, Neal thought anxiously as he walked back to his desk.

He sighed looking at piles of paper on his desk. From now on, he had to do his job BY HIMSELF! There's no more Eliza to instruct him, to ask, and to rely on. What should he do without her? Let's hope Dayna was as good as Eliza said. His sister didn't usually talk so highly about anyone.

Worse came to worse, he could ask his father... Neal heaved a deep sigh refusing to think more about his father's sharp comments and glare he had to bear. He changed his attention to a stack of letters in front of him. Absently he browsed through them. One envelope struck his attention. It's from one of his detectives.

Jack! Wow! Must be something interesting!

Neal picked his gold-plated letter opener and slid open the envelope. Another envelope lay inside with the name "Neo" written on the envelope. A small piece of paper clipped against it.

"Hi Neal,

Remember you asked me to pay attention to a letter for "Neo" years ago from Scotland? You got one today! Don't worry, it's completely anonymous.

Jack"

Neal unclipped Jack's note and stared at the envelope. The message he wrote in the bottle! Someone replied. He remembered he was waiting for a reply every day. But nothing ever came, so slowly he stopped thinking about it.

Carefully Neal opened the envelope. He pulled the paper out and unfolded it.

"

Dear Neo,

I was with my friends in the beach when I found the message you put inside a bottle.

From your handwriting, we guess that you're a man and the person you refer to in your note is your lady. Are we right? Your letter touched me. She is one lucky woman to have someone write to her like that!

Before I continue, let me tell you a bit about myself. I am a woman. Next year, hopefully, I will graduate and get my professional degree. I was raised with a belief that we all are neighbors. That is why I'm reaching out to you.

You sounded so sad in the letter which compelled me to write this note to see how you are doing. You seem like a wonderful person. All I can tell you is be strong! The truth will prevail and one day, I'm sure, your lady will see the sincerity of your heart and appreciate you back.

As of now, I hope all is well with you. If anything, just remember that you're not alone. If you found talking to someone helps, feel free to reply to me. I offer you my ears to listen.

Note! If you chose to reply, let's keep our correspondence anonymous. My name I write below is not a real name. Please don't use your real name either and never attempt to look for me. I prefer it that way.

If you chose not to reply, go ahead - don't' feel bad. What important is wherever you are, I hope you're well and happy.

Lastly, I want to congratulate your engineering effort in sealing the bottle! For most part the wax seal was still strongly intact and the paper inside was completely dry! You're amazing!

I sincerely wish you all the very best.

Yours utterly,

Alden (Not a real name!)

"

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"Someone... a woman... found my bottle!" Neal muttered in disbelief.

He re-read the letter again to make sure this was real

She's offering a free consultation? Neal frowned. Is there such a thing in the world? He flipped the paper and checked the envelope and the handwriting to find a clue if this was a prank or a joke.

Neal lounged to his chair reflecting why he wrote the letter he put in the bottle in the first place.

It's because of her... Candy!

Neal clenched his fist at that horrible memory. Candy damaged his emotion so inhumanely. No one should ever experience such a trauma! If they ever met again, he would crush her to make her pay for what she had done to him!

Neal turned his attention to the address written on envelope. A box number in Chicago... Something fishy. How could that bottle go from the ocean to Chicago?

I ask Jack to investigate this! Should be easy. Neal reached out to his phone...

Then, he smelt something. For the first time, Neal noticed there were dried flowers sticked on the letter top right corner. "I made this myself. I love flowers." Alden wrote underneath the dried flowers.

Neal brought the paper closer to his nose. Something soft, delicate, and feminine soon clouded his senses. His heart softened.

Alden... such a beautiful name. From her choice of name and perfume, he could be sure that she's one beautiful woman.

Neal looked at the phone, debating... Alden offered friendship without being asked. Knowing he's troubled, she voluntarily came to offer help.

Neal put the phone back down, thinking.

No matter how he hated Candy actually he was still intrigued by her. He had successfully dated several girls with no problem ever since. They were easy so unlike problematic Candy who's ever tough, strong headed, repellent, belligerent... He often wondered where things went wrong but he didn't trust anyone enough to ask their opinions about Candy.

Now, he could ask Alden! Anonymous friendship is good! Better yet, Alden was a woman! She might understand.

Neal looked at the dry flowers again, touched on how well arranged they were. Alden must have spent quite an effort on them… for him! Someone who she never met and didn't know. She's so sweet and caring - his type of woman!

Fine! He would honor Alden's request to stay anonymous!

There's a knock at his half-opened door cutting his muse. "Mr. Neal Leagan, I'm Dayna."

"Come in," Neal said.

Dayna entered.

"Mr. Leagan," Dayna announced. "Mr. Leagan, your father Mr. Henri Leagan that is, wants you to look at this file and meet him in the conference room for Tarbell Standard Oil acquisition in one hour."

"Okay," Neal said.

Dayna moved forward to put the files on Neal's desk.

"Oh Dayna."

"Yes, Mr. Leagan."

Dayna looked up and saw her boss' face closely for the first time. She had to bite her lower lip in order not to gasp. Never would she know there was such a man as impossibly handsome! From everything that they had prepared her for this new position, this fact wasn't one of them.

"Call me Neal," Neal said. "Mrs. Cooper did that to avoid confusion with how we address my father."

"Neal," Dayna said, struggling not to get lost in her boss' hypnotic brown eyes. She nodded and left.

Neal looked at Alden's letter and smiled. Carefully, he slid the letter back to the envelope and put it inside his inner suit pocket. He would reply tonight and maintain their correspondence anonymously.

.

-To Be Continued-

Thanks for reading

..

So:

Neo = Neal

Alden = Candy

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Chapter 4: Connection

Chapter4: Connection

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Candy was camped out in the university library to study for her medical school test with her friend, Natalie Beans~, her fellow nurse when she worked in the hospital. Natalie also went back to school to become a doctor. She's married to one of the doctors. They were fast friends now.

"Let me quiz you, Candy. What is the major symptom of a boy who has atopic dermatitis," Natalie tested Candy.

"A-atopic... what?" Candy asked. "Oh no! I will fail!"

"If you start studying and stop looking outside… no you won't." Natalie grinned.

Candy sighed. "Albert is going to a business trip the day after tomorrow for a year…"

"Then that's an acceptable excuse." Natalie put her textbook and looked at Candy sympathetically. "Why won't you go with him?"

"I have my classes…" Candy said gloomily.

"If you married Albert, you'd be busy taking care of the family charity organizations and other social activities anyway. You won't have the time to work as a doctor!"

Candy didn't answer. She didn't want to be a trophy wife. She wanted to make her own name to make Ms. Pony and Sr. Lane proud. Hopefully, it could motivate the children in Pony's Home to work hard and to set high goals in life too.

"Albert will settle down somewhere in Europe you said?" Natalie asked.

"He's thinking of it. But it's not yet decided."

"Oh Candy, what if he's taken by someone else?"

That's so scary, thought Candy.

"Will you move too if he does?" asked Natalie.

"I want to follow him to the end of the world, but the problem is I am not sure what he thinks of me..." Candy paused hesitantly. "I don't know if he wants me…"

"What do you mean? Can you tell from the way he kisses you?"

"We... never kiss."

Natalie gaped. "You two haven't kissed?"

Candy nodded, embarrassed. She looked away to avoid Natalie's eyes. "I like Albert a lot! He's very nice to me - like so so so nice..."

Natalie took Candy's hands and squeezed them. "Then perhaps you should kiss Albert first, dear. Some men are too gentlemanic and traditional, you know."

"K-kiss Albert?" squeaked Candy at the unexpected idea.

"Why not?" Natalie nodded firmly. "It's not that you never kissed anyone before. You kissed that actor!" She chuckled. "How is he doing? Terry is it? Any chance of going back to him?"

Candy shook her head firmly. "No."

"What about that one... the one who tried to force you to be engaged..."

"Neal? Oh, please. No!" Disgust contorted on Candy's face.

"What about-"

"No! No! No one else! I only want Albert, more than anything in the world," cut Candy.

"Then you need to fight for it, girlfriend. Will you meet Albert again before he leaves?" asked Natalie.

"We're going to have a picnic tomorrow."

"You know what you have to do, Candy!" Natalie winked. "Kiss him!" Natalie picked up her textbook and continued her study.

Candy sat still, blankly stared at her book.

It's uselessly to try to study. She gave up. Her brain felt too stuffy. She would go home and take an hour of sleep. That should wake her up.

Unfortunately, Candy overslept. The following morning, in a great rush she browsed through her textbook. She skipped breakfast and just grabbed whatever food available in the kitchen and charged downstairs to the car. George was already there.

"Good morning, Ms. Candice," greeted George.

"Morning George," Candy replied. Her eyes remained fixed on her book.

"Ms. Candice, do you remember the PO Box address you requested me to arrange for you a few weeks ago?"

"Yes, of course!" Candy looked up. "What about it?"

"There's one letter for you in that box," George said professionally. He handed an envelope to Candy and opened the car door for her to enter.

The message in the bottle person responded! Candy thought excitedly. "Thanks George." Candy took the envelope and got into the car.

"Don't forget that Sir William will pick you up at eleven today."

"No, I won't."

"Have a good day, Ms. Candice," George said as he closed the door for her and made a sign for the driver to drive.

Candy looked at the letter then her textbook. It's so tempting to read it. Oh, she shouldn't! She should study.

She knew she should study but Candy couldn't stop herself to tear the envelope and pull a paper from it. She quickly skimmed to the bottom of the letter and read the signature. Neo! She laughed. It's him! He replied!

Now, she should study first! Focus focus!

Candy put the letter inside her pocket to not distract her. Exam first! She reopened and read her textbook.

oOoOOOOOOOOoo

In the same morning, Albert was busily preparing for his business trip in his office. He heard the clock chimed eleven times.

I'm late!

He should have gone ten minutes ago to pick up Candy. Hurriedly, Albert tossed things to his suitcase. He was about to run outside when he heard someone tap at the door.

"Come in!" Albert shouted impatiently.

"Hi William, preparing for your trip?" Aunt Elroy appeared at the door.

"Aunt Elroy," greeted Albert ceremoniously.

"You've been working very hard. Your father would be proud," Aunt Elroy started. Albert mumbled some polite words in return. "Make sure you don't forget the task to continue the family lineage. It is equally important. Your father - and mother - would want it too."

"Eventually, aunt," Albert answered patiently. This was how their fight started usually, just before the business trip. Always.

"Have you thought of any lady in mind?"

"Aunt… " Albert picked up his suitcase. "Not now… What if I stop by in your study tonight? I get to go now."

"Sit down please… just one minute."

"Is this about another matchmaking, aunt? I'm quite busy, you see. I have a trip to catch -"

"Of course you are busy if all you do is to spend hours talking with Candice whenever you have time or in the weekends. Can you imagine the gossip that would explode if the media knew on Wednesday night you were in her room until midnight?"

"How did you know that?" asked Albert coldly.

Aunt Elroy poured herself a cup of tea and slowly sipped her tea. Albert impatiently watched her taking her time answering the question.

"I have a servant watch at Candice's door," aunt Elroy answered calmly.

"That's atrocious!" Albert almost yelled in exasperation. He hated it when she's spying on him.

"I don't want you to be too close to Candice. She's not the one for you." Aunt Elroy watched Albert.

The words hit him like a torpedo. There's no way he'd obey her like a lost puppy anymore!

"I am a 34 year old adult! I have the right to lead my own life without having to report and seek anyone's approvals." Albert breathed. "In case you must know, we're chatting about my plan to move to Europe."

"Tell that to the gossip hunter and see if it stops them from publishing the story and quells speculations."

"I can call George and annul the adoption."

"Good lord William! That orphan has no family background!"

"Aunt," said Albert trough his greeted teeth. "Her name is Candy."

"I know -"

"Then use it. Drop all your prejudice towards her and learn to live with the fact!"

Holding his gaze Aunt Elroy sighed and shook her head. "It's not because she's an orphan. There's another reason. You know what it is?"

Albert looked out of the window and stayed muted.

"Everyone says she looks like Rosemary. You agree? Anthony said that too.*"

Albert didn't answer. He agreed. But he didn't want to say it.

"And they, including you, haven't seen Helina," aunt Elroy continued. "I have been distancing myself from Candice since the beginning because she looks so much like your aunt Helina. And now she grows up, the likelihood is even more striking."

"Helina?" Albert murmured.

"Aunt Helina. Your mother's youngest sister, your grandfather's most beloved daughter. "

Albert didn't answer.

"What outside people know is Helina died young, but they never know why since our family kept the story secret," continued Aunt Elroy. "Helina was in love with a poor man who your grandparents didn't approve. She refused to listen to her parents and ran away with her man. Your grandfather searched and searched for her. When they finally found her, it was too late. She and her man had just died from typhoid. It was in the winter... Rumors had it that they had a baby..."

Albert rubbed his brow to calm him down. He looked up to meet aunt Elroy's eyes. "You think Candy is Helina's baby?" asked disbelief Albert.

"Aunt Helina, William. Respect your elderly," Aunt Elroy scowled. "Perhaps… It could be… We need to check that! Her freckles, green eyes, blonde hair… they are too similar."

"Aunt you make this up. There're millions girls with green eyes, blonde-"

"If she's Helina's daughter, she'd be your cousin, William! We can't do anything that jeopardizes our family value. I promise your father-"

"This is so baseless. I'm not talking about this!"

"Everything has been outlined in the will that your father -"

"I never want to be Sir William. You and the council can rescind my right and grant it to whoever you feel more capable!"

"If you don't care about the family wealth, at least you should respect your father's wish!"

"I need to go." Albert got up. "Don't do anything until I come back. And absolutely don't mention a single word of it to Candy. This is a highly sensitive issue!"

"You'll meet Candice, won't you! Lunch is at twelve and now is only eleven twenty."

Albert shook his head exasperatedly. "What If I do? It's my business-"

"No, it' not! Your behaviors have to be acceptable in the eyes of the shareholders, the council and-"

Albert wanted to scream and kick the desk in front of him. "Have a good day, aunt." Albert got up and quickly went to the door.

"William!" Aunt Elroy followed him outside. "I want you to stop seeing that orphan."

"Pouppe!" Albert ignored aunt Elroy. The skunk readily ran and sat on his shoulder.

Aunt Elroy watched Albert disappeared in mixed of dismay and fury. She was still nailed in the same spot furiously when Sarah and Neal found her. Sarah was doing her routine visit accompanied by her son.

"Something wrong?" Sarah asked watching aunt Elroy distressed face.

Aunt Elroy briefly told Sarah what happened. Standing several steps behind his mother, Neal listened to it all quietly.

Candy is still with William! He didn't know why but he couldn't help to be annoyed.

"Anthony has long gone… Archie and Stear have got married… Neal has moved on… But William is still stuck with the old problem!" Aunt Elroy growled.

"My fault. I am the one who picked her up," Sarah answered.

Aunt Elroy shook her head desperately. "I want to hire a detective to check who Candice's parents are. But I don't know whom to trust. The news shouldn't leak to the media and George for sure won't help. He only listens to William."

"If that's your concern then it should be easy. Neal knows some detectives," Sarah turned and called her son. "Neal, can you help?"

An idea passed in Neal's head. Secretly his heart jumped with excitement at the possibility.

Putting back the innocent mask on his face, Neal nodded obediently. "Yes, I can arrange someone to help."

-To be continued-

Thanks for reading

~Natalie = Nurse Natalie Beans, book 6 manga

* Anthony and Albert think candy looks like Rosemary is covered intensively in book 1 and 2 of the manga


Chapter 5: Constricted

Candy finished her first exam. One down… five more to go! But that's for next week. Now, lunch with Albert! She high-fived with her friends and got ready to leave the classroom.

"Good luck!" Natalie whispered. She winked.

Candy blushed, remembering Natalie's suggestion to kiss Albert. Winking back to her, Candy ran to the side gate, her usual meeting place with Albert. Albert wasn't there yet. So Candy waited… Five… Ten… Fifteen minutes… Weird. Albert was never late before.

Candy started to look around and noticed a young man was arguing with a buggy driver nearby.

"… will pay at the hospital. Promise…," the young man begged in foreign accent.

"No money, no lift," the buggy's driver snorted.

"I only have this...," the foreigner waved desperately the money in his hand which looked foreign. The buggy's driver ignored him and started to move his horse cart.

Candy came forward.

"Where does he want to go?" Candy asked the driver.

"The university hospital," the foreigner replied. "I am new here. Ms., you know where it is?"

"This is the University. The University Hospital is five blocks down the road."

"Ah! I thought the University and the University Hospital are the same place!" The foreigner slapped his own forehead. "Well, let me walk then."

Candy looked doubtfully at the two big luggage the foreigner had. She dug through her pocket and pulled out some coins. "This should be enough." Candy gestured to the buggy's driver. The driver smiled satisfactorily and nodded.

"But how shall I return your money?" asked the foreigner.

"Don't worry about it," said Candy. She waved and walked away.

"Thank you!" The foreigner yelled to Candy.

"Welcome to Chicago!" Candy yelled back.

Candy went back to the side gate watching the foreigner rode away in the buggy. Albert came a few minutes later.

Candy beamed. Although they both stayed in Lakewood mansion, they didn't meet much. Albert was often on business trips. She's busy too in the hospital and taking classes. The mansion was also huge and they're on the opposite side of the wings. She missed that blonde hair and blue eyes so much.

"Albert!" Candy cried and ran to his arms.

Pouppe excitedly jumped to Candy's shoulder.

"Hi Candy." Albert kissed her cheek. "Sorry I'm late," said Albert without mentioning the conversation he had with aunt Elroy which made him late.

Candy looked up. Albert looked more dashing than ever. She thought about Natalie's suggestion to kiss him and felt herself blushing. She quickly buried her face behind Pouppe to hide it.

"You look great Pouppe!" said Candy.

"EEEEeeeeekkkkk!"

"So… did you bring your coat and scarf?" Albert asked with a twinkle in his beautiful blue eyes.

"I-I woke up late today. Sorry… I forgot." Candy glanced guiltily at Albert.

Albert laughed. "I knew it." He opened the car door and pulled Candy's orange coat and green silk scarf. "So… I prepared these. You should be careful of catching a cold! Exam week."

"Albert, we're not going to a north pole. And now is summer!" Candy protested.

"True and that means we'll be riding using open roof. It'll be windy!"

Albert tied the scarf on Candy's neck and helped her to put the coat on. Candy just laughed and obeyed.

"How's your test?" asked Albert, buttoning the last button of her coat.

"Should be okay."

Albert kissed her hair. "I knew it." Albert smiled, proudly. "Here I brought you some chocolate, I don't want you to starve. We won't arrive until two!"

Albert always cared so much about her. The thought that he would go for a year came back made her heart constrict painfully.

"At two? We're going to the tree house, right? We should be there around one!"

"Yes, but we will take the snail route." Albert winked mysteriously. He opened the door to let Candy enter.

"Oh?"

"Surprise!" Albert smiled handsomely and started to drive. "We will go there with horses and canoe! We haven't done so this year. And since I won't come back until next year I arrange it for you today.

Her heart felt a pang of sadness at his last sentence. A year without Albert She had to turn away to wipe her wet eyes. She felt lucky that Albert was busy driving so he didn't see.

"Like it?" he asked gently.

"I-it's awesome!" Candy whispered, faking to be happy.

So they drove to the Andrews family ranch where they left the car and continued the journey with horses. Then, they finished the last leg with a canoe. Before long they arrived at Candy's favorite tree house. Inside, Candy found big boxes lay nicely on the table. Albert clearly had prepared everything carefully for this trip. For her… He's the nicest person on the planet.

"I hope I don't miss any of your order," said Albert as he unpacked things.

Everything was well prepared from the beef slices, salad, table cloth with the matching napkins, and more. All for her… It's so touching that it hurt. Albert was so kind. She pretended being busy opening the boxes to hide tears that almost trickled from her eyes.

Albert picked two slices of beef from one box and tossed them on the barbeque rack.

"Don't worry. We'll eat soon," teased Albert. "This is pre-treated filet mignon. It won't take longer than ten minutes to cook." He smiled expertly.

In fact, Candy felt too sad to be hungry. This nice man would go for a year! She arranged plates on the table so she didn't need to reply. Her voice would definitely quiver if she spoke.

"Oh no… don't do anything! Sit down, Candy. Try this." Albert picked up a cup and filled it with tea. "I asked the chef to put pear extract into it. Tell me how you like it."

Candy had a gulp. "Tasty!" she commented truthfully. Albert laughed contently. "But I should help something," she protested.

"Help me eat later," Albert smiled. "You want the sauce hot?" Albert expertly cut the tomatoes, minced the garlic and washed lots of herbs to prepare the barbeque sauce as Candy sat watching him, drinking the pear tea.

"Yes! The hotter the better!" said Candy, laughing.

"As you wish!" He winked.

In ten minutes sharp, Albert took the beef to their plates and put the sauce on the side.

"So tender…" Candy muttered, forking in her beef. "We don't even need a knife!"

Albert chuckled.

"You've improved Albert. This is really tasty!" said Candy, chewing.

"Things always taste better outdoor," Albert answered, ever humble.

Candy smiled at him.

"I will miss this kind of life in London," said Albert as he munched on his lettuce

Then don't go, Albert. That freezing feeling in her heart came back. She threw her face so he didn't see her eyes watered.

"Are you alright? You're so quiet," said Albert. She looked up and this time Albert was looking at her.

Candy quickly blinked her eyes several times to hide her tears. "T-the hot sauce… It's too hot," said Candy making up some excuses

"No way! We used to have it hotter!" said Albert, puzzled.

"I love it, though," Candy added hurriedly. "Perhaps… because of… er the pear tea is quite warm." Candy quickly wipe her eyes. "It's… summer!"

"Oops… don't move. Some sauce got onto your hair…" said Albert softly.

He pulled his handkerchief and moved forward. His face was so close to hers. If only she could pull him and kiss him until tomorrow so he missed the train. But she didn't dare…

Gallantly, Albert wiped her hair before he quickly pulled back. Awkward silence followed until Candy started to worry if Albert could read her mind.

"I will take care of Aunt Elroy while you're away," Candy filled in.

Albert gave unusually blank stare at her. "Thanks for saying that."

"It's nothing. She's not young anymore," replied Candy.

"True." Albert chewed his bread. He thought about what aunt Elroy said just now that he and Candy probably were cousins. "If she said anything you don't like to hear, just ignore her. Don't believe a word of it," he added quite bitterly.

Albert didn't usually talk that way. Candy looked up wondering what he meant, but Albert didn't elaborate. He got up and pulled a cake out from one bag. "Dessert! Tell me what you think. New recipe!"

It's a blackberry cake. Blackberry was her special indulgence. Albert remembered and made it especially for her.

"I-it's very good," said Candy. Her throat began to constrict again from tears, she almost choked.

"Yeah!"

"Uhm… what time will you leave tomorrow?"

"Eleven."

"For a year…?" Candy whispered.

"Yes… a bit longer…actually," Albert sighed. "You can join me after you finish your final."

"I'd love to but I have residency assignments…" Candy sighed too.

"Of course… It's medical school," Albert said. His blue eyes were dark with understanding and that cold sick feeling again formed inside her. "Tomorrow, I'll drop you in the hospital first then I go to the train station."

Albert was always so kind. He often took her to school, picked her up and always be supportive. On the contrary, she never once accompanied him to his business trip. She felt like the most selfish person in the world.

"I'm sorry, I'm not such a supportive… uhm friend. I should have accompanied you once in a while."

"Never say that, Candy. You make us proud, you know," said Albert kindly.

For the rest of the afternoon, they did what they always did when going picnic. Slowly Candy started to smile again especially when Albert competed with Pouppe to climb a tree. Albert always knew how to cheer her up.

Around six they went back home. The closer they were to home the more Candy was aware that the clock was ticking. Her heart got heavier... and heavier...

Albert took her to her room, as usual. "Good night, little girl." He kissed her forehead before he turned and left.

Once in a while Albert still called her "little girl". Usually she giggled but this time she felt hurt. I'm not a little girl anymore, Albert! Candy stared at Albert's back and trembled. It's now or never…

"Albert wait!" Candy screamed on top of her lung. She ran as fast as she could to his arms and broke down completely.

"Candy what-"

Before she could stop herself, Candy grabbed Albert's face in her hands and kissed him on the mouth. It wasn't long or deep since she was really nervous, but it was still a kiss. When she drew back, Albert looked dazed. Standing on Albert's shoulder, Pouppe's black eyes opened widely fixed at Candy.

"I - I want you to know that I really wish I could come with you," Candy sobbed.

"Don't worry, I know. I understand." Albert patted her back awkwardly.

"Good." Candy paused, didn't dare to look up. Her heart thumped madly with the one hope she wanted the most in her life. Kiss me, Albert... I love you. Say you love me. I will quit school and follow you anywhere!

"Well then…" Albert said after some pause. "I'll see you tomorrow." He took two steps backwards. "You should sleep early."

Candy felt so heartbroken at his reaction. Albert didn't do it. He didn't want to do it.

"Yes… you, too." She was so disappointed. "Sleep well. Bye Pouppe."

"Ek," Poupe replied meekly.

Looking at the floor, Candy entered into her room. She knew Albert was still standing there watching her, but without turning to look at him, she entered her room and shut the door behind her.

-To be continued-

Thanks for reading


Chapter 6: Company Picnic

CHAPTER 6: Company Picnic

For a few minutes, Candy leaned her back against the door, hoping for Albert to knock at the door. She stood like that holding her breath until she heard diminishing footsteps.

Albert left…

Her fault! She shouldn't overstep their friendship boundary and created misunderstanding a day before he went for a year! She had to fix this before he's leaving!

Candy worked out a speech to explain it to Albert and practiced it until she got it perfectly memorized. The following day, she woke much earlier than before her alarm rang. She lay in bed practicing her speech waiting until six, Albert's usual wake up time. At five, she couldn't stay still anymore. She got up, changed, and ran towards the door. She froze at the sight of an envelope on the doormat. Her heart sank recognizing Albert's handwriting on the envelope. It felt like a deja vu.

Vigorously, Candy tore the envelope open.

.

Dear Candy,

A client just called. I have to leave tonight with the last train to New York. I don't want to wake you. You have a night shift tomorrow, I don't want to tire you.

See you next year.

Take care!

Albert

..

Candy started to cry. You never tire me, Albert! You should have woken me... Quivering in tears, Candy stared blankly at the note in sad disbelief. Albert has gone!

Oh why... why! She cried all her soul out. She searched her pockets to look for another dry handkerchief and her finger hit a piece of paper.

Neo's letter! Oh! I forgot about it

Candy poked her finger into the envelope and took the letter out.

.

Dear Alden,

I never expected that the bottle would be found by someone in my lifetime. The surprising thing is the letter survives and someone replies to me!

Your guess was correct, I am a man. I just recently graduated and started working. The letter I put in the bottle was written after "that woman" ditched me. I just blew it with her - big time! Yes, I was in wreck. Badly! Which made me want to scream to the sea and wrote that letter.

But, here I am still alive – thank to my nice family who always supports me. Still there're a few questions left unanswered. You said you don't mind to listen? Super!

First, let me make it clear that I am not at all a lonely guy. If you tried to look for me in a party, more likely you can't since I am usually surrounded by a crowd of girls.

Now, without further due, the questionExcept "that one woman", other women beg for my company. "That woman" is the opposite. She rejected my invitation, she rejected my gift, she rejected everything from me. No one did that to me! It irritated me greatly. So I shouted at her and ordered her to obey me. She slapped me usually and things went really ugly afterward.

Enlighten me, please. Tell me where I did wrong.

Your suggestion of anonymous correspondence is plain fantastic! I've been wanting to talk about this to someone for a long time. You know Alden, you can ask me about guys too! I will give you the most honest reply from man's perspective which others, I'm sure, won't give to you.

Well, that's all for now! Look forward to hearing your reply.

Regards,

Neo (not my real name!)

.

Candy laughed and cried at the same time reading Neo's offer. This was good! She could ask Neo what to do with Albert. She couldn't ask that to her male friends, even Stear and Archie, since Albert was the famous Sir William. Now, she could ask Neo!

Crying is pathtetic! I will wait for Albert and ask Neo for advice, thus Candy decided.

.

.

oOo

Ooo oooOo oOo oOo oOo oOooo

oOo

Times rushed through. A week later on Friday morning...

Neal was in his office getting ready to meet a car salesman who came to show him a prototype of Porsche. Neal was so excited. He really liked cars.

"Neal, we have a company barbeque picnic at ten thirty today," reminded Dayna, his private assistant.

"Ah...? Remind me, which one is it again?"

"The one to be held close to the zoo on the outskirt of Chicago," reminded Dayna efficiently.

Now Neal remembered about the memo which he didn't really read. It's the company barbeque picnic the human resources organized to introduce Eliza's staffs to him, their new boss.

Outskirt of Chicago! Close to the zoo!, Neal thought, grouchily. What's in there? Whoever arranged this activity must be fired for not holding the lunch in downtown Chicago. A barbeque! He hated the smoke.

Neal didn't want to go.

"I'll be quick. Tell everyone to go first, I'll go later." Neal planned to pretend he forgot. He would skip the event and meet the car salesman instead. What could they say anyway? He's the boss.

Dayna nodded and left to tell everyone that.

Neal quickly slipped outside to meet the Porsche salesman in front of the office building. The salesman was already there with the car. It was brilliant! Neal had seen so many cars, but he could tell that this was the car destined to survive the test of time!

"You want to do a test drive, Mr. Leagan?" asked the salesman.

"Yes!" said Neal. He was so thrilled. He wanted to spend the whole day with this car.

The salesman opened the door and Neal was about to hop in, but Dayna came.

"Neal, Mr. Leagan wants to discuss the Tarbell Standard Oil acquisition plan with you now."

Neal groaned silently. Dad means work. This monstrous acquisition really gave him headache. Why Eliza had to have her maternity leave! He'd rather attend the picnic than meeting his father. Even the barbeque smoke was better than oil acquisition hell.

"Tell dad I can't meet him. I'm meeting someone…er... imporant now." Neal gestured at the Porche salesman. "Then I have a company picnic to attend in a few minutes."

"Of course," said Dayna, promptly. She left.

After a while Dayna came back again. She brought Neal's hat, coat, and bag which she lay nicely inside his limousine.

"All set, Neal," Dayna said. She gave Neal a stack of letters which just arrived.

Reluctantly Neal looked at the Porsche. He didn't want to part with it. "I buy it," Neal told the salesman. "Get it ready, I want to drive it tonight." Another staff quickly stepped forward to take care of the payment transaction.

Neal then slid himself into the back seat of his limousine, quite annoyed to have his test drive cut way too short and he had to go to a middle of nowhere on the outskirt of Chicago. He checked the stack of letters in his hands. There's one from Alden! She replied!

Answer to Candy's problem! Impatiently, Neal tore the envelope open.

.

...

Dear Neo,

It's such a pleasant surprise that you reply! Indeed! It's a thrill for me too to have an anonymous pen pal from the sea!

To answer your question about "that girl" of yours, next time try to be calm and stay nice with her. If she aggravated you, don't shout at her. Take a deep breath and count to ten. To shout at her and to order her to do things are a complete no-no! I don't like to be ordered or shouted at by my dates. Women in general don't! Try that first. She should appreciate your new gentler effort and -

...

.

What?! Neal almost screamed in exasperation. NONSENSE! Alden expected him to reciprocate Candy's evilness with kindness.Alden just doesn't understand Candy! A few days of wait for such a stupid answer. What a letdown!

Angrily Neal skimmed the letter a few paragraphs below.

.

Thanks for the advice offer! I have a question for you, too. There's this man who I have liked for years. I kissed him without warning. Is that wrong, Neo? Because after I -

...

.

Neal groaned impatiently. Alden gave a nonsense advice and expected him to give her a free advice?

Fuming, Neal crumpled the letter and tossed it into his bag.

Forget about Alden, Neal thought angrily. There's no good free things in this world. It's best to think nothing more of both Alden and Candy!

*o*o*

oOo oOo oOo

At about the same time, Candy and Natalie just finished their class and got ready to go to Happy Clinic.

Happy Clinic had flourished these past few years. Still, Dr. Martin never enforced payments to his patients and had been living modestly for that. He couldn't afford to buy a house nor to rent an apartment. He lived and worked in the clinic which itself required a lot of maintenance. Almost all the windows broke; it had no furnace, heater, and many other basic things.

Candy who knew how much Dr. Martin gave his life to his patients volunteered every Friday afternoon in the clinic to help. When she told her friends about Happy Clinic, some volunteered to donate their service as well. Today, Natalie came with her.

"So you kissed Albert?" Natalie asked. "How was it?"

"Can't tell. Albert is discreet you know."

"Even in kissing?"

"I guess."

"Don't give up," encouraged Natalie. "Some men are like that... My husband, say, when we're dating-"

Natalie was too busy talking that she didn't see her step. She got stumbled and fell. Her white nurse uniform fell into a deep wet ditch, muddy from last night's rain fall.

"Oh no... How can I use this in Happy Clinic?" Natalie lamented.

"You can borrow mine," offered Candy. "We passed my home."

"Thanks Candy."

Candy took Natalie to Lakewood Mansion and lent her white uniform nurse. They had lunch there, too. They're good friends now.

"Look here!" exclaimed Natalie as she walked passed one picture in the hallway. "Who is she?" She looked at Candy and the portrait and back at Candy again. "She looks a lot like you!"

"Yeah yeah," quipped Candy. "Everyone says so."

"She's your…?"

"No, we're not related." Candy laughed. "She's Albert's sister, Rosemary." Candy took Natalie to see more of Rosemary photos.

"Wow... you look a lot like her!" Natalie commented in awe. "You're sure you are not related?" Natalie looked at Candy and the photos again. "Perhaps... I mean... we don't know who your parents are-"

Candy laughed again. "No, Natalie! For people like Sir William and his family, everyone would have known if they have babies!"

Natalie shrugged. "Better so otherwise you and Albert are a family and you can't date him."

Candy shivered. "Damn scary!" she agreed.

"Ah this must be Albert." Natalie recognized one portrait.

"Yup!" said Candy proudly. "Isn't he-"

"Whoaw… Who's this?" cut Natalie. "Heartbreaker!" She giggled. "Anyone said he's hot?"

"That's Neal." Candy snorted disinterestedly.

"Neal! This is Neal?" exclaimed Natalie, surprised. "But you said... Then why..."

"Don't get fooled by his dorky look, you know when you meet the real person. Come, let's go. We'll be late."

Taking Natalie with her, Candy drove to Happy Clinic. When they arrived, Dr Martin was getting ready to leave. He was holding a young boy's hand.

"Good that you two are here," Dr. Martin said. "This boy said his mom fell ill. He had five other younger siblings at home. I think I'll go to check how his mother is. You think you two and Judy* can handle this clinic for an hour?"

"Things will be smooth as rain, Dr. Martin," assured Natalie.

"Everything will be taken care of, Dr. Martin," Candy added cheerfully, patting the boy's shoulder to show support.

She had been working in Happy Clinic for years and nothing extraordinary ever happened. Afterall, it's just a small clinic close to the zoo on the outskirt of Chicago… right?

-TO BE CONTINUED-

Thank you for reading.

* Judy Netz: one of the nurses in manga, Candy's friend now.


Chapter 7: Happy Clinic

Chapter 7: Happy Clinic

.

Candy, Judy and Natalie were in Happy Clinic attending their patients when they heard a loud thud followed by the sound of broken glass coming from the backyard. They rushed outside to check and found the big window in the hallway had fallen off.

"Yikes, finally that one fell too," sighed Natalie.

"I thought it was going to happen last week," muttered Judy.

"What to do now? At night it might be windy," said Candy.

One visitor volunteered to block the hole with some wood and nails just like what they did to other falling windows in that building.

"We handle this Candy. You do the patients," said Judy.

"Okay!" Candy went inside leaving Judy and Natalie with other visitors who volunteered to take care of the mess.

They all felt sad for the collapsing building. Clearly Happy Clinic was badly in need of some repair or it wouldn't last much longer. Looking at the face of the little children who're sitting there, Candy shook her head worriedly. What happened to them if there's no Happy Clinic?

Candy sat back on her desk and continued writing prescriptions to Dr. Martin's patients whom he left hurriedly just now. Helplessly, she sighed, kept thinking about the dire situations. Dr. Martin was just not the type of person who wanted to ask for financial assistance... No, he wouldn't do that. Moments later, Candy heard some noise.

"Sir, you can't enter!" Judy was yelling. "It's not your turn yet, please wait." Some hustle and bustle followed before her room was burst with the scent of magnificent cologne.

Out of the corner of her eyes Candy saw a man, the most elegantly dressed man that had ever walked into Happy Clinic or perhaps this earth. Candy was not foreign to elegant suits. Albert had plenty so did her ex-boyfriend actor, Terry. But, no one wore it with the sense of sophistication as this man. Even though her heart belonged to someone, she wouldn't be human not to admire his tall and powerfully built figure.

"Nurse Andrew?" The man stepped inside, the expensive fabric of his pants swishing with his every move screaming elegance and class.

Candy looked up to see the face. Neatly swept brown wavy hair, familiar tanned face... Neal Leagan! Immediate Candy wished she were somewhere else.

Neal halted his step, the surprise was mutual.

"Sorry Candy this gentleman insisted on getting in. I can't stop him." Judy entered shortly followed by an attractive young girl with loose auburn hair. The auburn hair girl stopped and stood behind Neal.

"I take care of him, Judy," said Candy. "Oh, would you give these prescriptions to Dr. Martins' patients, please? Thanks."

Judy fetched the paper from Candy's hand and left.

"Candy Andrew," Neal said in a bitter dark voice. The last time they met, she and William made him flee tearfully in a packed dining room full of friends and family

"Neal Leagan," Candy bit back.

"You were sitting and resting while we all are waiting outside. Do you know that I have spent seven minutes of my valuable time waiting for my turn?"

"I am writing prescriptions for Dr. Martin's patients not resting!"

"His nurse should do that. Your service is too slow here."

"He has no private nurse."

"What about a VIP service. Do you have one here?" Neal asked arrogantly.

"No, we don't," Candy answered coldly. "I'm serving number seven now. If you're not number seven, please wait outside for your turn."

"I'm number nine but I want to be served now." Neal gestured to the auburn girl behind him. "My assistant here can arrange to pay additional amount - you name it how much."

"Everyone here is equal regardless how much they pay!" Candy went to the door. "Number seven!" she called.

"I have waited much longer than I have ever been in my entire life!" complained Neal.

"I feel sorry for you." Candy said sarcastically.

"Seven minutes! I can't wait anymore."

Jerk! Candy steeled herself. Some people are just born with an amazing sense of annoyance.

"There's a chair outside. You sit and wait for your turn, Mr. Leagan!" said Candy through her greeted teeth.

"If someone wiped it first with disinfectant and made sure it won't fall apart while I sit, I'd consider it."

Candy rolled her eyes. "If you don't want to sit, don't sit! Stand!"

"I probably choose to stand but I can't breathe here. Is there a window that is not broken and can be opened?" Neal complained. Neal's assistant pointed to one window behind Candy to Neal.

"Finally…" Neal examined the window closely. "How many times is this window cleaned a week?"

Candy ignored him.

Neal wrapped his handkerchief around his hand and pulled the window handle to open it wider. The hinges squeaked ominously like they'd almost fall off.

"Unbelievable! You call this place a clinic?" mocked Neal.

Candy felt she almost exploded. Then she saw Neal's assistant smiled kindly at her. Her anger subsided.

"Number seven, please enter," called Candy to the patients at the door who looked hesitated to enter. She ignored Neal and attended her number seven then number eight patients. After dozens of exaggerated sighs of impatience from Neal, Candy finished.

"Your turn, Neal," said Candy.

"It's about time." Neal snorted.

"What's the problem?" Candy asked.

Neal threw his face, didn't answer. His assistant moved forward and spoke for him. "Nurse Andrew, I'm Neal's assistant, Dayna." Dayna threw an affectionate look at Neal. Candy blinked, not quite believing what she's seeing.

"Neal had his finger cut today by a sharp branch during our company outing. We are worried that there's some splinter inside," added Dayna.

"Show me your hand," Candy said to Neal.

Neal stayed unmoved, ignoring Candy.

"Neal, the nurse wants to examine your finger," said Dayna in a gentle singing voice. Caringly, she took Neal's hand and brought it to Candy.

Candy's impatience was about to burst when she noticed Dayna blush profusely. Incredulous, she stared at Dayna's flushed face. Oh my Lord! This girl has a crush with Neal, thought Candy. She really had to see this to believe it. Someone could actually fall for Neal! Candy stared at Neal who was not even looking at the girl who's giving him a full attention. She felt so sorry for Dayna and forgot about her own anger.

Quietly, Candy examined Neal's finger. "Nothing serious. It should be fine," said Candy wryly.

"I don't need to go to a clinic for that kind of answer," Neal finally gave a response. "I want something to prevent it from getting infected before it's checked by my private doctor tonight."

"This is really nothing. There's no wood chip inside. Even if there is, it would come out and heal by itself."

"Then I want my money back."

Oh please. Heavens!, thought Candy.

"I pay to get some treatment not for waiting in line for half an hour just to have a nurse look at it for two seconds!"

"Your finger is fine," said Candy dryly. "I can give you a band aid –"

"Because it's my finger not yours. I want to see the head of this clinic and complain!"

"He's out. I am replacing him at this moment."

"May I know, how many patients have you killed, nurse Andrew?"

"Damn ass! Get out of here," spat Candy, losing her patience. She got up. Dayna slowly got up too and waited at the door.

"Tut tut…That's not nice," Neal said. He grinned unpleasantly. "I guess you can wrap an orphan's turd with professional degrees but it remains a turd."

"It's better than a classless piece of garbage who's wrapped in expensive suit but it remains garbage!" Candy walked towards the door.

"What did you say?" Neal pulled her elbow.

"I'm busy. Someone who leaches on his parents won't know that other people need to work," Candy hissed. "I have more important patients to attend. Get out!"

"Watch your tongue! Do you know that I can close this place and throw your so called more important patients on the street by tomorrow?"

"This place is not yours!" said Candy indignantly.

"Then, I'll buy it."

"It's not for sale!"

"Nothing is not."

"Freak! Albert will stop you!"

"Albert! What the hell he cares? He doesn't even bother to fix this collapsing clinic for fuck sake!"

"How dare you to criticize Albert!" roared Candy. She was fully in fury now.

"Stupid orphan!" Neal roared back. His brown eyes were blazing like hers. "You still are full of that moronic uncle!"

"Albert," screamed Candy. "Is a man of high standard and strong character. He draws others to him unlike you who repels. That's why no matter how low you bent and begged, that orphan still rejected you!"

Candy pushed Neal roughly aside to walk forward.

"Damn you Candy!" Neal pulled her elbow to stop her.

Candy jerked her am to release it from Neal's grip but he was too strong for her. He easily pulled her and pressed her against himself until she felt the hard contour of his chest. He was muscular and strong, not at all like the soft teenager Neal who she could toss around liked a rag doll. Unable to free herself, Candy looked up to swear but the words died in her throat. Neal was looking at her. His eyes went soft like he was about to kiss her.

"Let me go," Candy screamed. In panic, she grabbed Dr. Martin's half empty cup of coffee and splashed the content right at Neal's face.

Startled, Neal released his grip of Candy. Promptly Dayna came forward and stood in between Neal and Candy.

"Neal, your father is waiting for you," Dayna said softly. She pulled tissues paper from her bag and carefully wiped some coffee spill from her boss' face.

"You're lucky that I'm in a rush!" Neal scowled. His every syllabus trembled in fury. He snatched some more napkins from Dayna's hands and burst out of the room. Dayna nodded uncomfortably at Candy before scurried outside too.

"Oh Candy, what happened." Natalie came to Candy. She had been hearing some noises followed by Candy's scream and decided to come to check. Her friend's face was white with rage. "Say something… Are you okay?"

"I met Neal!" Candy said, trembling with anger.

"Oh, I am so sorry. I'm so sorry," said Natalie. "Take a seat. I take care of your patient." She gave Candy a glass of water.

"That's alright, I'm fine."

"Be good. Sit here, take a few minutes of break."

"Thanks, Natalie." Candy sat down, finished her cup of water and went back to work.

ooOoo

When Neal was back in his office, he found his father sit on his desk waiting for him.

"You're late! Everyone else has come back an hour ago," Henri scowled at his son. He stared at Neal's suit and white shirt which were spotted with dark patches from the dark coffee. "What happened to your shirt?"

"I… uhm went to a clinic," said Neal.

"And…?" Henri examined his son's face. "The nurse is blonde and pretty?"

Neal didn't answer.

"You just never learn. Not a bit!" Henri shook his head and got up. "The Tarbell folks have come twice today. I made up some excuses to send them away and come back again tonight so you can join us!"

"It's Eliza's work. I can't master it in two weeks." Neal couldn't help not to grumble.

"That's why I will do it with you. Eliza usually did this by herself!" Henri pointed to a tick folder he put on Neal's desk. "I made some summary for you. Read it." Henri walked before he stopped and turned around. "Ask someone to pick up a new suit for you. Change! At seven o'clock come to my office!"

"Seven at night!" Neal almost screamed. That late! Gone was his plan to test drive his new car.

"Son, one day all this will be yours," Henri said impatiently. "Get to it! I won't be around all the time to watch you!"

Neal didn't respond. Dad will always be around, Neal thought matter-of-factly. So do Eliza and mom. Then, his mind roamed back to Candy. He wouldn't go soft this time. Ignoring his father's folder, Neal picked up the phone…

-To be continued-

Thank you! Thank you ! Thanks so much for reading! Really appreciate it. Hope you stay.

oOo


Chapter 8: Read Again

Chapter 8: Read Again

The following Friday…

Candy jumped up from her bed. Friday was her favorite day because it's the day she volunteered in Happy Clinic. She first went to her class then jubilantly she drove to Happy Clinic.

When Candy stopped her car at Happy Clinic, she was surprised to see people sat on the street. Is the clinic that full today?, she wondered as she's getting off her car.

"Candy!" Candy heard Natalie called her.

"Natalie, why aren't you getting inside?" Candy asked.

"Oh Candy, good you came. The building is locked! Everyone said it's been closed for days!"

"What?" Candy rushed towards the front door to check it herself. She saw a big "CLOSED" sign posted at the door. In disbelief, she pushed the door handle, shook it, rattled it just in case it's jammed as usual, but the door remained unopened.

"Dr. Martin!" Candy banged at the door. "Candy and Natalie are here."

There's no response. "Dr. Martin!" Candy screamed again through one hole in the wall. Nothing.

Candy went back to the street to help Natalie take care of their patients. They repeated what Natalie had said. Happy Clinic had been closed for a few days and no one knew more than that. They came today because they had nowhere else to go and were hoping to meet Candy and Natalie.

Candy was so touched, she almost cried. After everyone left, Candy and Natalie circled the building a few more times to find clues.

A street cleaner who saw them stopped by. "Dr. Martin had moved out," he said dully. "No one lives there."

"Since when?" asked Natalie.

"A few days," the street cleaner shrugged.

"Where is Dr. martin now?" asked Natalie.

"Not sure," the street cleaner replied.

In shocked, Natalie and Candy looked at one another. If there's anything they could be sure of was that Dr. Martin lived in Happy Clinic. Feeling completely loss they sat down, beaten.

"Psst! Natalie... Candy!" suddenly they heard a voice coming from behind the bush.

Candy and Natalie turned around and saw a round short figure wearing a dark cloak covering most of his face standing behind the bush.

"I'm Martin." He made a sign for them to follow him.

"Dr. Martin?" Natalie and Candy exclaimed, recognizing the voice.

"Shh... Don't ask. Follow me." Dr. Martin whispered.

He took them to a nice car. Candy and Natalie looked at one another, confused. Dr. Martin made a gesture for them to enter. They hopped in and Dr. Martin drove taking them to a lovely neighborhood. He brought the car to stop in front of a pretty brick house with red roof tiles. The front garden was flawless with flower beds under each windows and flower pots on the window-sills. The lawn was freshly trimmed, free of wild weeds. There's a stone footpath in the middle decorated with flower border in each side.

Dr. Martin made a sign for them to follow him. Once inside, Dr. martin locked the door and removed his cloak.

"Dr. Martin what's going on?" asked Natalie and Candy at the same time. "Where are we?"

"This is… my house. My new home," said Dr. Martin, guilt glimmered from his eyes.

Natalie and Candy gasped. With eyes wide opened, they looked around them. Dr. Martin had been sleeping in his wrecked clinic as long as Candy knew him. And now he's telling her that he had this nice house?

"A woman called from Neal Leagan's office offering to buy Happy Clinic. I said it's not for sale. She insisted and I hang up on her. Then she called again, mentioning some high price. Again, I said no and slammed the phone down."

Dr. Martin swallowed, looking down.

"Then an hour later she came carrying a bag. It was a nice black leather bag with money inside and the amount… was stupendous! I never thought such amount of money existed before let alone to actually see it in front of me. And that's only a third of it…"

Dr. Martin stopped. "Drink?" he offered after some pause. He took them to the kitchen.

The kitchen was fully furnished with a proper stove, wooden cabinets, a whisky rack at the corner full with bottles of whisky, and a nice looking china tea set on the counter. Happy Clinic didn't have a kitchen and as far as Candy remembered, Dr. Martin only owned one tin cup and one bowl there.

Natalie and Candy shook their head.

"With that amount of money, I don't need to worry about my old days which had started to worry me. I never had savings in my life now I have. I can live in a house with non-broken windows that have curtain, furniture, and heater in the winter… I can go to visit my family and chip in to put their children to college." His eyes slowly met theirs. He looked peaceful. "And that's only a third of it, you see?"

"Happy Clinic," continued Dr. Martin. "We all know won't last for another year. Sooner rather than later I have to give it up."

Candy and Natalie reluctantly had to agree with that.

"On top of all that she gave me this house, a car, and an unlimited amount of whisky from the Leagan Food Co which happens to be my favorite." Dr Martin paused. He seemed to struggle again before he added, "The sad thing is… I was made to sign an agreement to never touch Happy Clinic again." He's dropping his eyes. "I'm sorry…"

Candy and Natalie mumbled some comforting words congratulating Dr. Martin on his retirement. Then, with head bent, defeated, Natalie and Cady walked back home.

"Poor children," Natalie sniffled thinking about her patients. "Ask Albert's help, Candy. Ask him to buy back the clinic." She wiped tears that kept drifting from her eyes.

"Neal is an animal!" screamed Candy madly. "I will make him return the clinic to Dr. Martin!"

Candy went to the Neal's office but the security guard didn't let her in. Candy waited on the gate until Neal's car came and ran to attack at him. Neal gestured and his staffs held her and threw her out of the office complex.

On day two, from his office window Neal laughed witnessing his staff throw Candy out again. Same thing with day three and four.

Running out of option Candy called Albert. She didn't usually do that because she knew Albert was busy. Unfortunately, Albert was never available. Desperately, Candy went to George to ask about Albert's whereabouts but George didn't know where he was either… Losing patience, Candy shouted at George asking him to drag Neal out from his office.

"That's a private property, Ms. Candice. I'm afraid I can't," said George soothingly.

"Take him out from his home, then!" Candy yelled furiously, banging at his desk.

"I wish I could, Ms. Candice," replied the poor assistant. "But one can't just enter a private residence, say the Leagans', and drag the owner out."

On day five, Neal looked outside from his window waiting for Candy but she didn't come. She didn't come again on day six and seven.

On day eight...

It had been three days that Candy didn't show up. Neal stood by his office window looking outside. He won! He had successfully thrown out Candy's patients to the street as he said. He should rejoice but strangely he didn't feel good.

It's always like this. She provoked him, irritated him, but after the anger subsided another intense feeling came and lingered endlessly. His mind kept thinking about how her soft body felt when he pressed her against him. He hardly slept every night getting all hard thinking about that.

Why is this still happening? He was so mad when she mentioned William. Why? He's supposed to be over her!

Neal pulled out his hair leaving another loose strand on which usually was perfectly swept hair. Miserably, Neal leaned back on his armchair. He couldn't live like this any longer. He needed help! He wanted someone to talk to. Oh, anyone, just anyone!

Someone tapped at the door. It's Dayna. "Neal, Mr. Leagan wants you to bring the past Tarbell memos to him. He wants to go over them again with you."

Neal groaned inwardly. Anyone but dad! He gestured to show he understood. Dayna left.

Sluggishly, Neal picked up his bag which he never opened. Mindlessly, he took out the documents which he never really read. Then, his eyes were caught by something rolling onto his desk.

Alden's letter. Seeing that made Neal remembered it again. So much for message in the bottle, he thought grouchily. Neal picked it up to throw it into the trash bin. Then, he stopped.

An Alden is better than no one… Neal toyed the paper ball in his hand.

Slowly he worked on the crumpled paper. A flurry of crushed dried flowers began to fall as he smoothed the paper on his lap. Neal touched some crump of withered flowers that landed on his lap with the tip of his fingers. They looked so dejected. No one who put this much work deserved to have the letter tossed away before being read.

Neal took a deep breath to calm himself and read the letter again. He then penned his reply, freely wrote his arguments, bluntly questioned Alden's ideas… pouring out the much needed content of his heart.

To his surprise, in merely three days another respond came.

"Dear Neo,

How I'm glad to receive your letter! Thanks for your advice about "my man". I'll get to that… First, oh I really need to vent this. Everyone around me is probably already tired of listening to my rant. But I still need to do this.

There's this place where I go to volunteer. That place was closed now because a mad man played a dirty trick on us. The victims are, sadly, helpless old people and innocent little children. Oh, I feel so devastated that I can do nothing to help them. I cry every day. I scream! I get very angry, but frustratingly… there's no use.

So glad that there's you! I offered to give you comfort but now I burden you with my own problem! I can't help it. This is all I have in mind. I need to get it out."

.

Neal almost choked so touched by Alden's appreciation.

Poor Alden, thought Neal. Then the thought of Candy whose clinic was closed by him lingered. Was she crying too? His hear churned agonizingly imagining she's with tears. Always. Although he behaved like he enjoyed seeing her cry, deep inside, it tore him. But he never told anyone that, especially Eliza.

Neal continued reading.

.

"About how to treat "that woman" of yours, the answer is yes... yes yes! For the fortieth time, yes! Don't torture her, don't seek revenge, because it will torture you back. Treat her nicely, you'll be surprised with the outcome!

No Neo! Being nice doesn't make you look weak. Wrong! If anything it makes you lovable. Try it! Next time you meet her again surprise her with a touch of kindness which she never saw coming from you. I bet, she will be surprised. Then, make the second strike. Compliment her about something. You could say: your dress is nice.

Your idea to say she's beautiful is lovely but I think it's not the time yet. It will make it sound fake because you two have such a rotten history. That's what I think.

Oh, be patient. Make she know you first. Once you grab her heart, she will follow you to the end of the earth…"

.

Neal leaned on his chair in disbelief. It sounded dead rubbish. He stared at the dried flower Alden put on the top of her letter. It looked like dry rose petals although he's not sure. Anthony would have known, Neal thought briefly of his long gone cousin.

Neal then thought and thought and thought... What if Alden right?

Neal continued reading the letter. Then Dayna came. "Neal, Miss. Christina Wiley is on the phone. It's about the ball you and her will attend tonight."

"I'm not going. Cancel it," said Neal.

Dayna nodded.

"Dayna," called Neal. "Get me the Happy Clinic paperwork and keys. Now."

He had a plan. Before he changed his mind he had better act on it.

.

-To be continued-

Thanks for reading and the support.


Chapter 9: And Happy Clinic

Chapter 9: And… Happy Clinic

Neal was waiting for Candy outside her school gate.

Surprise her with kindness… Don't be mad at her. If needed, take a deep breath and count to ten... Neal re-read Alden's letter to make sure he didn't forget any of her important tips.

Earlier, he had looked for Candy in the Andrew mansion. A staff said she's in school. Neal went to ask George about her class schedule. Looking at him suspiciously, George told him about her today's schedule and where she usually parked her car. Neal went there as instructed.

Neal checked his watch and yawned. For the umpteenth time, he stretched out his arms, read Alden's letter again and impatiently paced back and forth. Then, he saw a crowd of students coming. Neal looked up looking for Candy, paced some more,… repeated… until finally he saw her.

"Candy!" Neal waved. He folded Alden's letter, stuck it in his suit inner pocket and walked to her.

Candy was with her best friend, Natalie. They just finished their class. She saw Neal, too. His towering figure and impeccable suit stood out in a large crowd.

"It's him…," Candy choked. She abruptly stopped walking and pinched her arm to make sure she's not dreaming. "Finally… he shows up!"

"He-" Before Natalie could react Candy had stormed after Neal.

"How dare you!" Candy grabbed the collar of Neal's suit and shook him. "YOU HAVE TURNED ONE HAPPY PLACE TO A DESSERTED WASTE!"

"Candy!" Natalie rushed herself between the two and pushed Candy away from Neal. "Calm down."

"He is the one who wrecked Happy Clinic!" Candy struggled to spring back at Neal. A few head turned from passerby. Natalie grabbed Candy's arms and gripped them.

"Candy please," implored Natalie. "Calm-"

"Calm? I will break his neck!" screamed Candy, her face flushed red. "You have one big gut to show up here, Neal!"

"Sheesh," said Neal. He strengthened his suit and adjusted his tie. "You seriously need to learn to chill out!"

"Not to a piece of s-!"

Neal didn't want to hear it. Following Alden's advice, he took a deep breath and counted to ten until she finished cursing to control himself.

"Why you always have to start a fight?" asked Neal, tightly.

"Only to you who always screws up my things!"

"Because you who always make things difficult!"

"That's because you always try to hurt me!" Candy roared.

"And you don't?" New bellowed. "Do you even care what things was like after the -" he stopped just in time before blurted out to say how in wrecked he was after she refused to marry him.

Natalie watched them. In bewilderment, she noticed how Neal looked at Candy. She always truthfully answered she's not sure whenever Candy asked her opinion about what Albert, Terry, or others might feel of her. But not after she saw Neal… His affection to Candy was clearly plastered all over his attitude. Suddenly Natalie felt she shouldn't be there. Quietly she retreated and stood behind one big streetlight.

"I don't care!" screeched Candy, shaking her head. "All I want is to have Happy Clinic back!"

"That's why I came here for if you want to stop yelling and let me speak!"

"Oh, bluffing oaf."

Neal studied Candy's face. She was so defiant and annoying. He could try to follow Alden's advice and faced it or he could just give up and learn to live without her. Weighing the two equally unfavorable options, he decided to give Alden's advice a try.

"I'm not lying," said Neal through clenched teeth, trying not to burst. He pulled a set of keys from his pocket. "Recognize this?"

Candy looked up. They looked familiar.

"Take them, I am returning them back to you," said Neal.

Quickly, Candy snatched the keys out of his hand and examined them closer. They were indeed the keys to Happy Clinic!

Candy inhaled sharply. "At what cost?" she demanded.

"Why would you think there's 'cost'?"

"I just know you!" said Candy. Her eyes narrowed, suspiciously imagining ugly possibilities. "Don't fuck with Dr. Martin's life, Neal! You gave him those perks and now you will take them back to torture him! Is that what you have in mind?"

"He can keep everything I promised him," answered Neal calmly.

Candy's heart almost jumped out of her chest. She looked at Neal ever apprehensively.

"Because the building is collapsing? You know that we have to halt the Happy Clinic operation and have it shut down soon!"

"He can renovate the place however he likes," Neal said smoothly.

"Right!" Candy snorted sarcastically. "Dr Martin said you made him sign an agreement to never touch that building or else lengthy legal disputed would follow."

Neal pulled a piece of paper from one folder he put on top of his car. "This is our written agreement." Neal pulled a pen from his suit pocket, made a big cross mark on it, signed his name, and dated it. "The place is his now. He can do whatever he wants with it." He grinned.

While Candy still gasped, Neal picked up another envelope. "Inside is the articles pertaining to Happy Clinic ownership. I return them back to him, too. If there's something else that he needs, he can contact Dayna, my assistant."

Candy almost choked. Neal was agreeing so easily. It's so unrealistic that it couldn't be trusted.

"You think I am a brainless fool?" Candy mocked and cursed some more. She threw the keys harshly at him.

Neal groaned impatiently. Alden sucks. Candy is hopelessly irreversible.

"Fine, forget it then," snapped Neal. He tossed back the key set and envelopes onto his back seat and banged the door closed. "It was a joke, I am not returning the damn clinic back."

Natalie who heard it decided it's time for her to interfere.

"Candy…" Natalie approached her and dragged her away from Neal. "What are you doing?" she whispered once they were out of earshot of Neal. "He was returning the Happy Clinic back to Dr. Martin. Why kept arguing!"

"I don't believe any of it. They must be fake," said Candy, feverishly.

"But Candy should you accept it first? We bring them to Dr. Martin, let him examine and decide. What if it's a real deal?"

Natalie's reasoning seemed plausible. After some consideration, Candy nodded and approached Neal again.

"Fine, I want those documents and keys," said Candy.

"Get them yourself," Neal snorted. He opened back his car back door and stood right in the middle of the threshold.

Candy stepped forward. "Move away, please!" She frowned, pointing at the doorway that's blocked by him.

Neal moved but only slightly, Candy had to squeeze her side against his chest to reach for the document. The contact shot spark down his skin. It was only a second but it's enough to send his pulse racing.

Without breathing, Neal stared at Candy's face who's flipping some pages of the documents. Would she appreciate his effort like what Alden said? Would she smile, jump to hug him and, perhaps, let him kiss her? He's been wanting to kiss her since -

"Fine!" Candy looked up and gave him a chilly glare. "But, let me warn you, Neal! Don't you dare to trick me!" She jabbed his chest hard with the folder. "If you ever mess around with me again, I will kick your ass!" Candy lifted her head high, and marched away.

Rage surged inside him like never before. No one had tried his patience this much. Neal closed his eyes, and counted to twenty. Candy was so unappreciative. He's a dope for following the advice of an unknown pen pal!

In anger, Neal opened back his eyes. He would take the documents and keys back…!

Then, unexpectedly, he saw Candy turn and come back. This time, she stopped and stood in front of him with a wide friendly smile stretched across her face.

"Neal…" She wrinkled her freckled nose shyly. "If this were real, thank you." He thought that's what she said, but he's not sure. His brain was too fuzzy. Never before he saw her face smiling this close before. "Happy Clinic is very important to many of us."

"You're welcome," said Neal trying to stay cool, to look cool at least, although the excitement inside him was welling like a volcano that almost burst.

She didn't hug him but surely they're in good terms now. Neal lifted up his hand to give a handshake but a glance at her simmering green eyes made him think that's too formal. He used his already lifted hand to pretend adjusting his silver cuff-link when he remembered Alden's advice to give compliment. You could say: your dress is nice, she wrote.

"Uhm your dress is nice," said Neal quickly without thinking. His heart was too blooming to think properly.

Candy was taken aback. She stared down at the white lab coat she's wearing for her last experiment class. "This lab coat?" she frowned.

She heard Natalie giggle.

"I - I mean your scarf," Neal added quickly. "Said it wrong…" He gave a short chuckle.

"Albert picked this scarf when we went to a night market." Candy beamed.

Neal wanted to slap himself, his blood boiled instantly with jealousy at that name but before he could express himself Candy rewarded him with another breathtaking smile, silenced him. That made it twice in a row.

"Now I must leave. We will bring these back to Dr. Martin." Candy smiled again. "Bye!"

Five minutes later, Candy and Natalie were inside the car, set off for Dr. martin's house.

"Neal said your lab coat is nice." Natalie burst out laughing. "I say, Candy, I think he likes you. What if he proposed to you again before Albert came back?"

"It will not happen. And if it does, I will reject him again," Candy laughed too.

oOo

Neal was sitting on his desk with heart thumping hard still full of Candy. She smiled!

Everything would have been perfect if it weren't compromised by her mentioning wretched William. Having a half plate of steak was better than no steak but he wouldn't be satisfied until Candy was all his. She has to forget William! He would find a way.

With gratitude, Neal thought of Alden who made this happiness happen. Generous Alden… With guilt, he remembered how he distrusted her and almost threw her letter away. He promised to be careful with Alden's heart from now on and never hurt her.

Mindlessly, Neal opened the box where he kept Alden's letter. He picked one dry flower and inhaled its lovely fragrance. Alden… He felt something enormously deep. Candy is beautiful but Alden is so caring and kind. Suddenly he felt something so strong, it's terrifying. How could he feel this way to someone he had not even met!

The phone rang.

Thinking it's his father who would ask him to work, Neal sluggishly answered, "Hello."

"Neal? This is Jack."

"Hi Jack. What's up?"

"About Ms. Helina. My staffs have completed their investigation."

"You know whether or not Candice Andrew and Sir William Albert Andrew are cousins?"

"Yeah… It's not that hard really-," said Jack.

"Does Madam Elroy know?" cut Neal.

"Not yet. I was thinking to tell you first."

"Good. Tell me all about it and mention no word about it to others," said Neal.

-To be continued-

Jack: Neal's detective.

Neal sent his detective to investigate Helina: implied in chapter 4

.

Thanks for reading. Bowing.

.

We'll shift gear starting the next chapter.

.

oOo

THANKS for showing me a written support:

Sabrina: Hello! Thanks again for being here. Yes, Albert is in business trip. We will talk briefly about it later. They're friends now because of Alden. Good he didn't discard the letter :D We stop with this teenager topic. Next time we'll talk about something else.

ELSA: Sorry for the mistake. Absolutely! You're NOT Neal's mom. BAD Bad comment from me. HaHa for your comment about Terry. I hope updating in 7 days is not too slow for you. Thanks for waiting.

MoRiTA: thanks for reading and showing excitement. Really appreciate it Alden guides Neal here. Later, of course, they will know who Neo and Alden are. There's a way… ;) Hope you keep reading. Thanks.

Kikita7R: thanks for reading as soon as your Internet was running. I have been thinking about you too. You usually wrote me a review once in a while. Neal isn't an enemy of Candy anymore here. Thanks again. I will update around 7 days usually. Take it easy with your computer. Good luck.

Jharolay Rosie: Thank you for the support as always. About the cousin thing, I hope it's exciting. Anyway, I read the message you wrote me in your story! Thank you! I sent you a PM too about that. I like the suspense in your story, Cantarella. Wonderful!


Chapter 10: Unexpectedly

CHAPTER 10: Unexpectedly

Many days later...

Happy Clinic operated like normal and was heavily under construction. Generous as always, Dr. Martin had the clinic repaired extensively for his young patients. Every day he worked hard in the clinic taking care of his patients just like before.

Today had been raining all day and few patients came. When Candy's last patient left, it was still early. To fill time, Candy pulled letters from her bag. She started with the letter from Albert which just arrived today.

"Hi Candy,

My assistant said you called. Sorry, I was on the road. Is there something urgent?

Things were fine, nothing unusual. I'll write you more later.

Best wishes,

Albert.

"

It wasn't a long letter. Candy devoured the few sentences in that letter again and again including possible meaning that might be left hidden between the lines. It felt too short! She wanted more. Unfortunately, for the next one month, she had to be content with it. She folded the paper and laughed thinking what Albert might say if he knew that Neal had taken care of Happy Clinic problems.

Then Candy looked at the thick envelope from Neo and slit it open. He didn't disappoint her, six pages of small neat handwriting in an A4 size paper! Candy giggled and spread it out on her desk and started to read.

"Dear Alden,

How are you today?"

Fine, Neo. Candy smiled to herself. And you? She kept on reading until one part that tickled her stomach.

"About your question regarding your man, let me reiterate my answer. Yes, you did the right thing in kissing him. You said you've been 'friends' for four years? He might be a great chef (I can't cook) but he must be an exceptionally patient man. Can't be because you're ugly. The delicate dry flowers you sent me are all pretty. Someone who makes such beauty must be a beauty itself."

Candy chuckled. Wow Neo! She continued reading…

"Let me be blunt. Since kissing doesn't give you the answer, when he comes back from his trip, take off your clothes in front of him and see his reaction. Just settle it once and for all!"

"What?" Candy screamed and burst into spontaneous giggle.

"I heard that." Natalie just entered the room and sat on her desk. "Albert wrote you a letter?"

"Hi Natalie… He did but it's Neo's that I am reading now."

"So you're blushing because of Albert's or Neo's letter?" teased Natalie.

Candy stared at Natalie and her giggle increased.

"Oh it's too quiet today. The rain sent our patients away. And Dr. Martin had left to a conference." Judy also entered the room. "Do you know that Dr. Martin is planning to add a second floor?" informed Judy enthusiastically.

"I saw the plan. Yes!" said Natalie.

"The contractor showed me the new lay out. A patio will be added in the backyard and..."

Candy quietly slipped back to Neo's letter ignoring her two friends. Everything was pale compared to Neo's letter. She didn't even know that Judy and Natalie had stopped talking and were looking at her.

"Candy seemed busy," Judy said. Candy hardly heard that, totally absorbed in Neo's words.

"EH CANDY!" Judy called out loudly. Reluctantly, Candy stopped reading and lifted up her head from the page.

"Share with us what he wrote, will you? We have nothing to do here!"

"I told Neo about Happy Clinic, anonymously of course. He said he's willing to help."

"How? He would have to reveal his identity wouldn't he?" Natalie responded.

"He said he had a way. He seems smart, you know. He always got A's in exams." Candy beamed.

"He might be bluffing," mocked Judy.

"Could be, but why should he? We don't know each other," defended Candy.

"What else?"

"I told Neo about my lunch and he told me his opinion." Candy waved page three of the letter to them. Glancing at that, they whistled in awe. Candy felt her face hot.

"The whole page just to talk about lunch!" said Judy, stunt.

"You wrote such a thing to Neo?" asked Natalie.

"We write about anything." Candy chuckled.

Natalie and Liza looked at one another and laughed.

"Awww... that's so cute! Do you think you two will meet and get together one day?" Judy asked.

"No... no no no! Of course no!" Candy rejected quickly. She could feel her face flushed even hotter. "We will never meet. That's the agreement!"

"Rules went out the window when it comes to look for a soul mate, dear," snapped Judy. "I met my boyfriend everyday and we broke up."

Candy and Natalie voiced their sympathy.

"Thanks, but that's alright. We were just not connected. When we're together the room fell dead silence. We just didn't know what to talk about to each other." Judy shrugged. "I hope I have someone like your Neo."

Candy paused and looked at Neo's beautiful manly signature at the bottom of the last page. She felt lucky too to meet Neo. But, she's not an unfaithful girl or someone who's wishy-washy with her promises.

"We promise we will forever be anonymous and never go beyond letters," Candy said firmly.

"She has only Albert, Judy," added Natalie, nudged Judy's elbow.

Judy shrugged again. "Okay, I believe you."

Candy didn't answer. Neo was indeed special. Maybe because it's anonymous, or maybe because of his unreserved character. But to Neo, she felt she could tell him anything which she couldn't to others even her prince, ex's… anyone but Neo.

Ooo

Neal just came back from accompanying his mother doing another round of shopping for Eliza's incoming new baby. Boxes filled the back of the car, army of servants came to unload them. Sarah looked really happy, radiantly talking and laughing with his son about her coming first grandchild.

"A boy! Must be! It's in the blood. I and my sisters all have a son for the first child." Sarah beamed. "Just like you, dear." She kissed her son's cheek.

Neal grinned.

"It was a lovely trip. Now I am in a rush. I and your dad will go to a wedding party. It's Mr. and Mrs. Jacob's daughter. You remember them?"

"No." Neal shook his head, walking behind his mother who seemed happy and excited.

Sarah continued, "Oh, when you and Eliza were little, they often invited us to a picnic in their mansion." At the living room they bumped into Henri. "Ah Henri-"

"I'm going out," snapped Henri to his wife without looking at her.

Sarah radiant face faded abruptly. "Where are you going?"

"Office," quipped Henri. "Neal, you're late! What were you doing?"

"Neal took me to do things because you never do," replied Sarah sternly.

"You didn't ask me," Henri responded.

"Didn't I? You know what date is today?"

"The fifteenth."

"What day is it?"

"Why?" Henri frowned. His mother face was as calm as the spring but Neal knew that she was upset.

"Dad, you're supposed to attend a wedding with mom," Neal murmured carefully in a low voice.

"Why don't you just say it?" Henri turned to Sarah

"Nothing. I don't want you to feel obligated to come." Sarah smiled sardonically.

"I can go."

"Please go away Henri, I don't want to interrupt your busy schedule and I'd rather go with someone else."

"Who?" Henri's voice tightened.

"Someone better than you. Someone who treats his words to me more attentively."

"His? Is that why you didn't come home last week?"

"You notice? I'm surprised!"

"What is this, Sarah? What are you trying to say?" Henri growled.

"Why telling you? You will forget." Sarah walked to her room. "I'll be busy today, I'm afraid I won't see you tonight. And I'll see if I'll be here tomorrow!"

"Sarah," Henri warned. "Get back here!" His wife slammed the door in his face. Henri stormed after his wife then stopped, looking at his watch. "Neal, you go first."

From his father's intense air, he knew they would start another round of heated row. Dad forgot things and then mom threw harsh words at him, always. Neal saw his father entered the room and slammed it hard followed by the sound of them shouting as usual. Neal turned and left quietly. He and Eliza always thought they would split after the children grew up but clearly no one walked out of the door yet.

Neal entered his car, kept thinking. Unexpectedly, the image of Candy's blonde hair and green eyes began to pop into his head. She's beautiful, that's for sure! But truly, except the last one minute of their last meeting, they were fighting like dog and cat just like his parents were doing...

Neal felt Alden's letter in his pocket and pulled it out. Instantly, he's washed by peace. This time, the image of a no-face girl with friendly face and gentle voice played in his mind. Carefully, to not break any dry flowers, Neal jammed his pen under the lid of the envelope to work it open. He read the letter.

"…

You seem very fond of your parents! I bet I would have loved my parents very much too!

I don't have parents, though. To me, the charity workers who took care of me since I was a baby are my parents. What I feel to them is just like how you described how you feel about your parents. Perhaps that's why I care so much about the charity center I volunteer in. Volunteer workers could make a huge impact to the people they take 'good' care of. That's what I believe, taken from my own experience!

Fortunately… the butthead who closed the charity center I volunteered in had it reopened. That's life, I guess. Despite all the hoopla, even the roughest edges will recede."

.

No parents… Reopen charity center… Neal's sharp intuition felt a goose bump at the similarity with Candy and Happy Clinic. For awhile he was entertaining the idea of Candy and Alden were the same person before he laughed. Shaking his head, he dismissed the idea as a mere coincidence.

Alden has no parents... Neal thought as he got off his car. Oops! Suddenly, he could feel why Candy was so angry whenever he said bad things about Pony's home and whoever raised her there. She must care about them just like Alden was to her "parents" or him to his parents.

Neal entered his office. He sat down at his desk to continue reading Alden's letter when the phone rang.

Must be dad. Neal sighed at his father's extreme time precision. He picked up the phone and pushed Alden's letter in his drawer at the same time.

"Hullo," Neal said.

It was his father. "Neal, Eliza is in early labor. Your mom had left for the hospital. I'll go soon, too. You go to the meeting without me. Tell me about it tonight," Henri said.

"Me! By myself?" asked Neal reluctantly.

"You will hardly be by yourself! You have a dozen of people assisting you!"

"But someone needs to lead and make decisions."

"That's your job! What else is the use of a president in a company?" His father's voice started to sound impatient.

"We can reschedule the meeting," pushed Neal.

"No! Time is the key. We're not the only one who's bidding for this ailing company!" rejected Henri. "The only thing you need to pay attention is the legal battle with DOJ. You read my memos didn't you? Which of the legal acquisition path will you take?"

"D - O - What?" Neal hadn't read the memos.

"DOJ! Department of Justice!" Henry howled. Neal could imagine his father banged his desk. "You are my son Neal, you can't be that stupid! No, I don't think you do! You just rely on me too much! The legal concept-"

There's a loud thud sound then silence.

"Hello… Dad?" Neal waited. "Dad… Hello…" Silence. What the hell?

Grouchily Neal slammed the phone down. He got up to the book shelf and pulled one of his father's thick memos. Lazily, he browsed through DOJ legal concepts his father was talking about.

It's impossible, Neal thought as he read them, quite lost his head. He would rather read Alden's letter than these legal stuffs!

Neal picked up the phone to have Dayna tell everyone that the meeting was canceled and then continued reading Alden's letter when the phone rang again.

Sighing, Neal picked up the phone. "Yeah, dad."

"Master Neal?" That's not his father's voice. Neal's heart missed a beat. "This is Paul the butler. Mr. Leagan has an asthma attack. You have to go to the hospital."

It took a long moment before Neal could talk. "A-asthma attack? B-but I just talked to him minutes ago."

"He was talking to you when he suddenly collapsed."

Neal sank into his chair in disbelief.

.

-To Be Continued-

DOJ: Merger of companies in the USA required the approval of Department of Justice. The process could be really difficult for big companies.

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Thanks for reading.

0

Happy! Happy! Happy Holidays, Everyone!


Chapter 11: Paternal Challenge

CHAPTER 11:Paternal Challenge

"Master Neal... master Neal..." Neal heard the Paul's voice faintly but he's too shocked to respond.

Less than a minute later Dayna came. "Neal, your butler called. Mr. Leagan is in the hospital. You should go to the hospital immediately."

Neal didn't know how but the next thing he knew Dayna was pushing him into the ICU.

"Are you a relative of someone?" a staff inquired.

"He is Henri Legan's son," Dayna answered for Neal.

"W-what happens to my father?" Neal asked. His voice sounded weird, didn't sound like his.

"He got a heart attack."

"Heart attack!" asked Neal, stupefied. He was nervous but he knew what he heard. "I was told it was a respiratory problem!"

"There're several things going on. The doctors are trying to identify what caused it." answered the nurse.

"Can I see him?" asked Neal again.

"It's better if you don't interrupt the doctors. Please wait in the waiting room."

The nurse took Neal to the waiting room.

He was worried sick but his brain was working properly. He knew his father and his family had no history of asthma or heart problems. Something just didn't add up. The nurse pushed open the door to the waiting room. Inside, all top level management staffs who worked directly under his father were already there. They stared at him and soon he was surrounded by them.

"I'm sorry Neal for what happens," started Matt, the company chief operating officer. "This is not a good time, but Mr. Leagan wants me to immediately ask for your directions should he can't attend to his duties."

Ask for my directions!, thought Neal in horror.

"Mr. Leagan is scheduled to hold a press conference," said Frank, president of marketing. "He said you should go if he couldn't attend."

"Neal, how should we inform our shareholders about Mr. Leagan's medical condition?" asked Lowe, the company spokesman.

"About the meeting with Tarbell tonight -," added another one…

A panic sickening feeling was growing inside him. He just could stay there no longer. "M-mom?" Neal said meekly. He needed fresh air. "I haven't seen her. Where's she?"

"Mrs. Fern is in labor. Your mother is with her," answered Dayna readily who stood behind him.

"Bring me to her."

One nurse took Neal to the maternity department. He spotted his mother halfway in the hallway. It was a relief. She should know what to do.

"Mom!" called Neal, running after her. "Everyone was there! They asked me things. I-" Neal faltered. To his astonishment, his mother's usual composed complexion looked deathly pale.

"How's your dad?" cried Sarah, clutching at his sleeves. "How's he?"

Neal shook his head. "T-the doctors don't know. They are still working on him."

Sarah gasped, stood petrified. "How's my husband?" cried Sarah, looking at the nurse.

"Mr. Leagan has not regained his consciousness," answered the nurse.

"No…!" Sarah wailed hysterically. She swayed like she almost fell. Neal quickly reached out to catch her. "Oh Henri... My poor Henri!" She uttered another heart wrenching cry and broke into violent sobs in her son's arms.

"Mom…Mom…" Neal muttered flabbergasted trying to calm her down but she couldn't be calmed. She got so hysterical that a doctor came to have her sedated.

Neal's heart shattered watching his mother. Unexpectedly, she accepted the situation harder than he should have thought.

"Neal, would you want to take a seat first?" Suddenly he heard Dayna's familiar voice. Her tone was soothing and gentle putting the brake on his nerve from falling apart.

She kindly took Neal's arm and led him back to the waiting room. The room was empty now. She had dutifully hold the fort and sent everyone away. That was the first time Neal felt grateful to have her as his assistant.

"I go fetch you something to drink." Dayna efficiently left and closed the door.

Dazed thinking about his parents, Neal sank down on a nearby chair. It was worse – much worse than he thought, even Eliza wasn't around to give her sharp instructions. A knock was heard coming from the door. Neal didn't bother to lift up his head. It must be just another terrifying update.

Dayna entered again. "Neal, Mr. Cook is here. He said Mr. Leagan sent him to see you," she whispered softly. "It seems important."

Neal didn't answer. Dayna left and soon re-entered taking someone with her.

Neal glanced up briefly. He recognized the old man. Mr Cook was his father's most trusted lawyer. He held an envelope in his hand.

"Mr. Henri Leagan asked me to read this to you if something happens to him," Mr. Cook said.

Neal only gave an almost imperceptibly nod in response.

Mr. Cook looked at Dayna. She nodded and bent to talk to Neal again. "Mr. Cook said this is strictly confidential. I'll wait outside, Neal."

After Dayna left, Mr. Cook cleared his throat and wore his thick glasses. He unfolded the letter and read aloud, quietly.

"

To my son,

When you are reading this, something must have been happening which prevents me from running the company. I have been debating how I should prepare for that day, and I realize that I don't really care. I am more interested to know how you will act now that I'm not there with you.

I always believe that you're very capable although you have done little to show it. For that, I'm tempted to give you a challenge: Lead! Yes, you my boy, lead the company!

By now, several of my key staffs must have come to you. I asked them to. I want them and you to immediately know that you are in charge. How you will proceed after this is up to you. Whatever the outcome is, I will be proud of you. Truly, if I could have chosen, I'd rather this company die in my son's hands under his effort than to have it flourish in someone else's hand.

Why? Because, I trust you can do it!

Of course, it's up to you whether you decide to take my challenge. I won't be there to enforce you. Furthermore, whatever path you choose, I want you to be happy.

My son, take care.

With fondest love,

Dad

"

Mr. Cook slowly folded the letter back and looked up to see Neal. He was sitting still looking out of the window.

Mr. Cook got up. "I and your father are good friends, Neal," he said heavily. Neal said nothing. Mr. Cook shook his head and sighed. "He's a good man. I wish him well."

Mr. Cook touched Neal's shoulder and put the letter on his lap. Then he left, quietly shutting the door behind him.

Neal heard footsteps retreated and he heaved a deep sigh. Gripping his father's letter, he got up from his seat and walked to the window to read it again by himself. It was his father's own handwriting, no doubt about that.

Love…Dad wrote.Trust…It was overwhelming. Dad never said those. He never knew he had that much confidence in him. Looking into the tree branches outside, Neal's thought went back to the time a long time ago when he was still a little boy. Dad took him to visit his office. Carrying him in his arm, he whispered, "This will be yours, son."

His father never talked about that again. He never thought much of it either. He always thought his father would work for the longest time and there's Eliza who's beyond capable. Suddenly Neal missed him so much. His eyes watered. The handwriting blurred and the paper dropped from his hand to the floor.

Someone tapped at the door. Dayna entered again, quietly shutting the door behind her.

"Neal," she called. "I bring you a cup of warm tea. Drink some."

Neal said nothing.

Dayna bent down to put the tea cup on the small table nearby and glanced briefly at Neal. He was looking out of the window, unmoved, engrossed in his own thought. They stood quietly together she could hear her accelerating heartbeat. She wondered if he heard it too. A gust of wind blew through the window stirring his perfect dark hair.

"You cold?" Dayna filled in. Neal didn't respond. "I go get your coat." She waited for a while then moved toward the door.

"I don't need my coat," Neal murmured.

Dayna stopped walking and turned around. "Neal, how are you?"

"Dad wants me to be in charge of the company," Neal looked down on the sheet of paper that's lying on the floor. She came to pick the sheet up and brought it to him.

"I'm not sure I can," he said grimly.

"Why not? I think you can," said Dayna earnestly. "You're... smart."

"I have never done it."

"It doesn't mean that you can't do it."

"I can't fail, you see. Dad… he had worked so hard. But… Tarbell is difficult… Very...," Neal swallowed, almost got choked thinking of that monstrous case. "And it's tonight… If it fell to our competitor-"

There was some minutes of silence again when no one spoke. "If you want," Dayna said hesitantly. "I can ask the Tarbell folks to postpone the meeting. They would understand."

Neal didn't answer. He's clearly struggling. She had to employ all the power she could muster to not hold his hands and give him a hug. Terrible silence stretched again.

"You're fantastic in managing your team, Neal. I'm sure you will be as fantastic in managing the entire company, including winning the Tarbell case," Dayna said encouragingly. "Don't worry."

Neal inhaled a deep breath. It's not like he wanted another way. He took his father's letter from Dayna's hand and stared at his father's handwriting again. Dad… I'll give my best!

Neal picked the tea cup and took a gulp. "Let's do it!" He turned. His eyes, those amazing brown eyes locked with hers.

Heat rushed in her. "I get the driver ready to take you home," said Dayna, breaking his stare.

"No. I go back to my office," said Neal. He would work hard. For dad."Stay here. I'll be back."

Neal left briefly to check on Eliza, his mother, and his father. When he came back his face looked confident with determination. Dayna quickly shoved to her feet.

"Get in touch with someone in the office. Tell Matt, Frank, Lowe and others to meet me," said Neal.

"Yes, Neal."

"You stay here. Don't leave until someone from the mansion come to be with mom and Eliza," Neal talked as they walked. "If there's any development, anything at all, call me immediately."

"Of course, Neal."

"Sign all routine paperwork. Call me if there're unusual ones," Neal said before he walked out of the door.

She watched his back through the window. Things would be much easier if he were much less handsome,she sighed, tortured. A nurse came, Dayna who's still looking at Neal didn't notice her.

"Paperwork, Ms. He said you'll do it on his behalf," said the nurse. "Ms... Ms.!" She gave Dayna a little nudge.

"Oops sorry…," murmured Dayna, looking up at the nurse.

The nurse smiled watching Dayna's flushed face. "He seems like one caring son."

"He is that rare type of son who will not say no to his mother and a dotting brother," Dayna gushed. "Uhm, what did you say just now?"

"We need to fill up some insurance paperwork. We also need signatures to arrange Mrs. Leagan's room." The nurse handed some paperwork to Dayna. Knowledgeably she filled those information up.

"You are very good to him. He's your fiancé? Husband?" asked the nurse.

Dayna was surprised to hear the nurse's comment. Her palm began to sweat and she bent her head lower to hide her face. "Nope." She managed to say. "Just his assistant." She handed the paperwork back to the nurse.

"Your boss is very handsome." The nurse winked, accepting the documents.

"He's okay," Dayna quipped.

They shared a laugh.

"Is there a telephone here that I can borrow?" Dayna asked, barely could maintain her composure. "For business. He…, my boss, asked me to make phone calls."

"We shouldn't disappoint such a gorgeous boss," said the nurse. Dayna couldn't help to throw a shy little smile. "Follow me." She took Dayna to the hospital office.

oo

Neal spent the rest of the evening reading his father's memos and had meetings with his staffs... He went back to the hospital to be with his family too.

-To Be Continued-

Thank you so much for reading. Merry Christmas to you all. Happy New Year. Happy holidays!

Oo

*About Henri's illness: It's part of the "mystery" which Neal will solve.

Eliza Leagan Fern: Eliza's new last name after marriage to Mason Fern.

00)0


Chapter 12: Cousin?

Chapter 12: Cousin?

.

Candy just finished her homework. She stretched out her arms and checked her watch. There's still enough time to mail Neo's letter. She picked up his letter from her pocket and read it again to make sure she didn't miss anything.

.

"Don't congratulate me for the "accidental promotion".It's not a celebration at all! I want my boss to come back and I will rejoice the day he comes back. I do… Because I love him!

No, I haven't met that-girl again. I have been very busy trying to catch up with my work I can't think of anything else. Last night, I practiced my speech with my staffs a dozen times. By the time we finished, it was already around midnight. There's only my assistance left in my audience and this is not the only time. What a cheerleader she is!

My job is way too difficult. I am very miserable. The hard thing is I can't talk to anyone about it. My staffs must not know that I'm scared since it would stir panic, you see. So every day I have to look cool and confidence although inside I am anything but. Glad that we write anonymously. You're the only one I can talk to about this. I am lucky that I can be myself with you otherwise I would go nuts by now."

.

.

Poor Neo, thought Candy.

She then felt unpleasant feeling enveloped her heart again. Does he like his assistant? Do they do other things at midnight? Feeling ashamed to herself, she shook her head. What am I thinking?She should be happy that someone cared for Neo just like she's happy she had Albert…

There was a gentle raping on her door. A housekeeper came announcing, "Ms. Candice, Madam Elroy wants to see you. She's waiting in the veranda."

"Okay!" said Candy.

She quickly got up and walked to meet aunt Elroy. While walking, she quickly browsed her letter to Neo one more time, folded it and shoved it into an envelope.

Inside the glass-wall veranda, she found Aunt Elroy was already waiting for her. The matriarch sat in her favorite chair crowded by her indoor plants and flowers sipping her cup of tea. Candy knocked at the glass door to get her attention. Aunt Elroy turned and lifted up her face.

"Ah my dear Candice," said Aunt Elroy intriguingly much friendlier than she had ever been. "Come on in."

"Good afternoon, aunt!" Candy stepped in.

Aunt Elroy stared at Candy, studying her face very intensely, much more than even the first time they met.

"You want to talk to me, aunt?" asked Candy uneasily. She waited.

Aunt Elroy's gaze lowered and Candy found her staring at the envelop in her hand. "For William?" Aunt Elroy's sharp tone returned. Her friendliness ended there.

"No, it's not," said Candy truthfully. She put the envelope in her handbag. That letter was for Neo.

"Better not," Aunt Elroy said dryly, didn't seem to believe Candy. "Sit down." She gestured at a seat across from her. Candy inched and sat obediently. Aunt Elroy kept her eyes on Candy again until Candy felt uncomfortable and started to turn away.

"What do you know about your parents, Candice?" Aunt Elroy began.

"I know nothing about them," said Candy truthfully.

"That's sad," Aunt Elroy remarked stiffly. "How did you end up in Pony's home?"

"No one knows. One day, Sr. Lane heard some noise at the front door. She checked and found me at the door step. She and Ms. Pony then took care of me. That's about it."

"What about the other kids in Pony's home?"

"Some was found at the doorsteps too, some was left by charity agencies, some was abandoned and picked from the street or somewhere by Ms. Pony or Sr. Lane or neighbors... Everyone has their own stories. There are so many of us."

"How many?"

"Oh, we're one large family!" Candy smiled. Aunt Elory didn't return the smile. "There are about ten children in addition to Ms. Pony and Sr. Lane. Children come and go. For each one that leaves a new child is adopted."

"Ten! I feel sorry for you," said aunt Elroy in acid sympathy. "They must make the kids work so hard to manage their big house."

"Pony's home isn't that big." Candy looked around. "Perhaps it's a bit smaller than this veranda."

"Really?"Aunt Elroy looked about. "How distressing," she snorted with an unhidden tone of disgust.

Candy was about to respond it was perfect, they all loved it there but aunt Elroy had moved on.

"Are you still in touch with them?" aunt Elroy demanded. It's weird. Aunt Elroy never showed lengthy interest in Pony's home before. It made Candy squirm in her seat.

"I visit Pony's home and see Ms. Pony and Sr. Lane at least once a month. I make good friends with all the kids there but once they leave, we usually lose contact since they are too young to write letters. I used to be in touch with Tom but we lost contact since he moved to Texas. I still meet Jimmy occasionally. I attended his wedding last year."

"Is he now? With whom?"

"Bertha. She's one of Mr. Cartwright's housemaids. Mr. Cartwright is the ranch owner where Jimmy and Bertha work," said Candy enthusiastically.

"Oh brother! He does little to change his social status," answered Aunt Elroy contemptuously.

Candy was furious. "Jimmy and Bertha are happy together! Bertha is expecting a baby. Jimmy is Mr. Cartwright's most trusted groom. Mr. Cartwright just appointed him as the stable head in the ranch. Mr. Cartwright also puts Jimmy in school to major in ranching concentrating in horses!" cried Candy indignantly.

Aunt Elroy sipped her tea, showing little interest. "Do you love those two charity workers who took care of you, Candice?"

"Ms. Pony and Sr. Lane? Yes, of course I love them. They -"

"What about your real parents for putting you in that... tawdry place."

"That place is not at all tawdry." Candy refused to allow aunt Elroy to continue shaming Pony's home. "It was the only place I want to be to grow up. I am thankful for my parents, without them I won't be born and grow up in there. So yes, I love my parents!"

Aunt Elroy sliced a piece of coffee cake and gave it to Candy, eyes holding hers. "What if I told you that I know who your mother is?"

"Sorry?" Candy almost had the piece of cake she just swallowed came right back up again.

"I just a had a meeting with a very skilled investigator. He told me who your mother is." Candy almost gasped. "This might surprise you, Candice. You and William are cousins," said aunt Eroy, giving Candy the most startling news she had ever heard in her life.

"What!?" Candy exclaimed.

" Honestly, I'm not entirely surprised," continued aunt Elroy. She watched Candy with that mysterious look. "I always thought your resemblance to her was striking."

"R-resemblance? Her?"

"Remember how Anthony and William often say you look like Rosemary? And yet, they haven't seen Helina."

"H-helina?"

"So, I hired a detective to study who your parents are." Aunt Elroy repeated the story she had told Albert. Helina fell in love with someone and ran away from home. When her father finally found her, she had already died.

"Helina had blonde hair and green eyes like yours," aunt Elroy continued. "To avoid scandal, all her photos were taken down from all Andrews mansions. But we still have some collections in the storage." Aunt Elroy pulled the cloth that covered a large rectangular object next to her revealing a portrait painting of a woman underneath.

"This was taken when Helina was eighteen shortly before she ran away from home." Aunt Elroy paused before adding in disgust, "With her forbidden lover."

Candy froze, looking at the painting. The woman looked very similar to Rosemary. Helina was equally pretty with porcelain skin, larger pair of green eyes and curly blonde hair.

"Helina is Rosemary's mother's sister. So that makes you and Albert cousins." Aunt Elroy fixed Candy with a piercing gaze. "FIRST cousin," Aunt Elroy reiterated pointedly.

"W-who did the investigation?"

"It's confidential."

The air was hot but Candy felt her hands icy cold. "Cousin?" Candy whispered, choked. "How do you know that it's correct? Does Albert know?"

"Let me be blunt, Candice," snapped aunt Elroy sharply. "William just started to catch up with his work . He just spent weeks on the road to be where he's at. I don't want him to spend a few more weeks on the road just to come back to America to calm you down. He'll learn about this when he comes back in a few months."

"Surely to hire a second investigator-"

"Another interdependent detective?" asked aunt Elory wryly. "Then soon something will leak to the media who'll gladly make a circus of the reopen wound that our elderly had managed so hard to cover. That shall not happen!"

"Still-"

"Let me make this clear, Candice." Looking sharply at Candy, aunt Elroy leaned forward and spoke in a biting tone. "We wait until William come back! Until then, this matter is strictly confidential. Under no circumstances should you discuss it with anyone else whatsoever. Is that understood?"

Candy nodded faintly.

"Now that you and William are cousins, do me a favor. Live farther away from him. I can give you a fully equipped mansion with your own set of servants for your new title," Aunt Elroy said unflinchingly.

I'm Albert's cousins. Can't marry Albert!A sad chill slid down Candy's spine. "No need," Candy whispered. "I-I will move to my apartment until further investigation is made when Albert is back."

"The choice is yours," said Aunt Elroy dryly. "Remember, William has hundred years of family tradition is his hands. He has no time to deal with petty private issues. I trust that you get my message as intended."

Candy looked at aunt Elroy but she had picked up her book and started to read as though she's not there.

Candy stood up. "Understood, aunt Elroy."

Aunt Elroy rang a bell and a maid entered. Aunt Elroy talked to the maid but Candy didn't pay attention. After some noises, Alfred the driver entered. Aunt Elroy gave him instruction on how to take care of Candy's move to her apartment. Without looking again at Candy, aunt Elroy swished her away with her hand.

Blown by the fact, Candy gave it all to look strong. She nodded politely and pivoted for the exit. She went straight to her room to pack. Twenty minutes later she was already in the car on the way to her apartment which she shared with Albert when he had amnesia. Candy cried remembering the beautiful memories she had with Albert. She stopped at a post office to mail her letter to Neo.

-To be continued-

.

NOTE:

Mr. Cartwright: a character from manga. The ranch owner, remember?

groom: a person who takes care of horses.

.

Thanks for reading.


Chapter 13: Night Out

Chapter 13: NightOut

In the post office, Candy picked a stamp set with pictures of cars. Neo said he liked cars. She stick one stamp on the envelope and dropped it into the mailbox. As she came out, she bumped into someone. She stepped aside and apologized when she heard he murmured.

"Ms?" he called louder. "Ms…!"

Candy turned around.

"Remember me, right? We met at the hospital gate."

"Oh hello!" said Candy. "Yes, I do!" He's the person she met when she was waiting for Albert.

"It's so good to see you again," said the man jubilantly.

"Likewise," returned Candy. "How do you like it here?"

"I love Chicago!" He smiled ear to ear. "The music, the lake, the bar, the museum,... Talking of which, I still owe you some money." He groped his pocket and pulled out his wallet.

"Just keep it, please... It's just a small token of friendship," declined Candy.

"Then what about I treat you to lunch?" he asked. "Ben. A brain surgeon specialist in St. Vincent Hospital. I'm from Austria." They shook hands and he gave Candy his name card. "Without your help I doubt things would move as smoothly at that day."

Lunch, Candy's lung tightened. Her heart beat painfully remembering the lunch picnic she had with Albert on the day she first met Ben. Now she could never marry Albert.

"Candy. Medical student," said Candy, toughening herself from tearing up. "It would be nice but I have a job to do in a clinic." She just wanted to be alone and spill the content of her heart to Neo. Neo would understand her. Only Neo could.

"Oh, of course. Medical students are busy! Have done that. I'm glad it's over." Ben smiled again. "Listen, there's a new TV and vacuum cleaner exhibition. Today is Friday, I and a friend, also a doctor, are going to grab a dinner and watch the exhibition. If you had the time, come by. Bring a friend!" He pointed to his card. "Call me."

Candy politely thanked Ben for the invitation. They parted and Candy went to Happy Clinic.

oooOoo

For the rest of the day, Candy absorbed herself in taking care of her patients. Seeing the smile on her little patient's face sooth her heartbreak. After the last patient left, Candy hurriedly sneaked out of the room to avoid Natalie and Judy. Telling them her failed love life and cry in front of them would be way down on the list of things she wanted to have. But Natalie caught her first.

"Candy, you are so quiet today."

"I'm fine," said Candy tersely.

"She doesn't look like it."Judy entered, too. "Want to talk about it?"

Candy groaned inwardly. Gone was the opportunity to run away now that Judy was here too.

"Fine, I feel like shit. Aunt Elroy called a detective to investigate who my parents are. She said Albert and I are cousins," burst Candy.

Natalie and Judy gasped and watched Candy with their mouths hung open.

"Are you serious?" asked Natalie.

"Right on! You bag a lottery there…!" exclaimed Judy effusively. "You're an aristocrat!"

Unexpectedly to Natalie and Judy, Candy brokenheartedly screamed. "I don't want to be an aristocrat." In one heartbreaking sob Candy let out all the pain she felt in her heart. "I want... I want... Albert!" Candy wailed tearfully.

"Oh dear, I'm so sorry," Natalie whispered."Don't cry… don't cry." She gathered Candy into her arms while Judy patted Candy's back.

"My life is over," Candy cried hopelessly.

"No… no... Don't say that," said Natalie.

"You'll be a doctor soon. Your life has just begun, I say," said Judy gently.

Candy didn't answer. She continued sobbing, her head in Natalie's shoulder. Her two friends sat silently with her.

"It might not be a good time to ask. But, how's your pen pal doing with his girl of interest?" asked Judy after Candy's sobs grew quieter.

"Neo said he's been too busy to pursue her," replied Candy. She pulled away and blew her nose.

"What if you tell Neo that you're not with Albert anymore?" asked Judy. "We arrange a time where you two meet. He'll be pleased as punch since you're a sweet pretty girl. Oh, I can hear the wedding bell!"

"I will never meet Neo," Candy said slowly. "We... agree to... never meet and we just reiterated our promise."

"Aw, don't be stubborn," Judy groaned. "Who knows Neo is blonde with ocean blues eyes like Albert."

"It's not that. We promise to never meet! Nothing to do with his look," replied Candy.

"But you two are so cute together." Judy pressed. "Are you worried that he's a short ugly troll?

Candy shook her head. She looked like at the brink of tears again.

"Candy doesn't care about how he looks, she only cares about the heart." Natalie cut in. "If she doesn't want to meet him, let her be." She frowned at Judy.

Candy got up and sling her bag in her shoulder.

"Where are you going?" asked Natalie.

"Home. I will spend the rest of my life writing to Neo." Candy sniffled.

"Duh...!" Judy patted Candy's cheek. "What's the use? You can't marry a letter!"

Before Candy answered, they heard someone knock at the outside window. It's Natalie's husband. Natalie's face bloomed instantly at his sight.

"My husband is here. We will go to watch a play tonight," said Natalie. She and her husband exchanged a look that was so filled with love. Candy felt that pang of sadness again and quickly hid it by pretending to button her coat.

"Are you sure you'll be okay, Candy? You can come with us," Natalie offered generously.

"Very sure! Enjoy your night!" said Candy. She forced herself to smile so Natalie stopped persuading her to come.

Witnessed by her two friends, Natalie took all her stuffs and ran out to her husband's embrace.

"I want to go out with a man who looks at me like that," said Judy.

Me too, Candy thought, staring at the couple walking hand in hand, her head in his shoulder. She had dreamed to do such a thing with her Prince of The Hill since she was six. She felt her tears was about to rush again when she heard a sob. To her surprise, Judy was crying.

"I'd rather sit in a room quietly with my ex and get bored to death than stayed single."

"Oh Judy!" said Candy. Judy looked so sad that Candy forgot of her own heartbreak. At least, she still had Neo. "You'll find a better one, Judy!" Whatever that sentence means.

"When? I don't want to be alone tonight. I thought I was strong," she burst into inconsolable tears.

"No, no! You won't be alone." Candy pulled the card Ben gave her and showed it to Judy. "Both are doctors and single!" She told Judy about Ben and his friend.

"A vacuum cleaner exhibition! What is a vacuum cleaner?"

"A little machine that can be used to remove dust from carpet. It's a hot product these days," explained Candy. She passed a box of tissue to Judy.

"My ex would love it. He likes to stay lazy." Judy dried her tears.

"Hush! Stop thinking about your ex! We meet new guys. I call Ben. We go!"

Judy agreed. The four met and went together to watch the television and vacuum cleaner exhibition. A box with a moving black and white pictures. Little tool that could clean carpet. They spent hours watching those new electronic tools being demonstrated and had a hand on experience on the little cleaning machine.

Then they went to a restaurant to fill their stomach. The restaurant was crowded from people who watched the exhibition. No waiter came at their table to serve them.

"I talk to the manager." Candy got up.

"I accompany you." The other three got up too at the same time.

"No need!" Candy chuckled. "Sit. Someone will steal our seats if we all go."

Candy went off to take care of their order. On her return, after spending much longer time than she anticipated trying to grab the manager's attention, she found Ben and Judy engaged in carefree conversation.

"Candy, Ben's hometown is the same as my grandparent's hometown in Austria. Can you believe it!" Judy said.

"Cool!" Candy said, amazed."From your father or mother's side?"

"Father," answered Ben. "We found out that we went to the same lake when we were kids in two summer."

They laughed and the conversation flew easily like they've been old friends for years. The four of them had fantastic dinner. Candy felt grateful she went out with them instead of crying alone in her room.

Then Ben's friend got up. "Great dinner but I have a night shift."

Judy and Ben were still chatting. Candy could sense that Judy hadn't finished talking with Ben and she wanted to leave her alone. "Me too," said Candy, getting up. "I have an early hospital shift tomorrow."

When Ben and his friend paid the bills Judy talked to Candy. "Would that be okay if I stayed longer with Ben? He's the best, I never feel so connected with any guy before."

"Of course! I can't be happier."

"What about you?"

"I'm great! See!" Candy gave her most brilliant smile. "I have a good time. Thanks for making me come tonight."

Judy hugged her. "Thanks Candy. I'll see you out."

"No need! See you in Happy Clinic!"

Sitting inside the car, Candy felt Neo's letter in her pocket and thought about the evening. A sense of longing crept inside her. Would Neo like to talk to her like Ben was to Judy? Would someone return her love and marry her one day? She had a lot of friends but not one seemed interested to pursue a step further. Terry was not. Albert's intention was never clear and now seemed even more improbable. Only Anthony did...

Candy entered her apartment. With a lump in her throat, she closed the door and switched on the lights. For a moment she stood still seeing Albert and her smile and laugh together in that tiny place. His toolbox still lay behind the chair which kept falling off, the pot he used to cook soup lay on the counter, their cups with initials C and A were next to it...

Then, she saw a stack of letters next to the cups. Her heart leaped with joy. One letter must be from Neo!, Candy thought confidently. She smiled. It gave such a comfort to know that there's always someone there for her.

Candy impatiently picked up the letters and spotted a telegram on top. She read it first.

"Have tried to call you STOP We will come to Chicago STOP Stear Archie have business emergency STOP I am pregnant STOP We miss you STOP Annie Patty Stear Archie STOP"

Candy danced excitedly. "Annie is pregnant! Second child! They will come here!"

She looked at the clock. Too late. She would call later.

Then, as she had guessed she saw Neo's letter. Never before she had such a trusting relationship with anyone as she had with Neo. Free of look. Free of prejudice. Just be herself. Of course, he was also fun to write to! His comments were daring yet so caring and kind.

With that Candy sat on one chair and put her feet up on the table, ready to soak in Neo's words. She would have a tear-free night after all!

-To be continued-

Thanks for reading.

Note:

Candy met Ben before lunch with Albert: chapter 5

Judy and Natalie are characters taken from manga. Candy's fellow nurses.

Vacuum cleaner was invented around those times. HO HO


Chapter 14: The Capsules

Chapter 14: The Capsules

With hard work and tremendous effort, Neal successfully won the Tarbell Standard Oil's deal. The final defending speech was intense but he impressively convinced everyone and beat other bidders. Afterwards, Neal took his team for dinner to celebrate the success. It was well after nine when he was back to his office.

He felt Alden's letter which he hadn't finished reading. Loosening his tie, he unfolded the letter. He skipped to page four where he got interrupted earlier.

"...

you are more capable than you believe you are. I wish you luck on today's presentation. I am sure you will be super!

Before I conclude, there's a secret story which I have saved for last: I was told that the man I love is my cousin! It feels like reading a poor romance novel, doesn't it? Initially I was sad, jumbled, torn but then gradually I feel like being gas-lighted!

So, I wrote him a looong letter...

The next morning when I woke and saw birds happily chirping, I think the person (I can't tell you who) had a point. He has spent several months on the road to be at where he is. He shouldn't turn around and come back empty handedly.

I tore my letter into pieces.

Patience is a virtue! A delicate issue such as this is better to be handled face-to-face to avoid regretful misinterpretation, unnecessary worries and anxiety on his part. You think?

I wish he were here with me. But honestly, it won't make any difference. Nothing will change my feeling to him until it's proven that we really are cousins! I will wait for him to come home and discuss it. Together! Then decide the next concrete action.

What I'm more concerned about is how to explain why I kissed him the night before he left! To think that I made him lock lips with me is the biggest horror of all if he indeed turns out to be my cousin!

Oh, how I'm glad that I can share this burden with you-

..."

Neal felt a goose bump broke out on the back of his neck. Cousin, business trip. It's extraordinarily familiar! He didn't have time to dwell too long on the issue though because Dayna entered giving some files.

"I'll be in my desk if you need me," Dayna said.

"You should call it the day." Neal looked at his watch. Nine thirty. "It's late. I have my driver take you home."

"Thanks, Neal. I drive today," declined Dayna politely. "I also have called the mansion and told them you'll come home late. They'll prepare a late snack for you."

Neal smiled at his assistant. "You're a pillar of awesomeness, Dayna, you know that?" he said. "I m going too, I'll walk you to your car."

"I get your coat and have your driver ready."

She left. Neal folded Alden's letter and put it in his pocket. He sighed. It felt like the fortieth time he got interrupted reading that dear letter. In no time, Dayna came back with Neal's coat, suitcase, and other things.

"I hope you don't have anything scheduled at home canceled tonight because of me," said Neal as he's wearing his coat.

"Not at all. All my family is not in Chicago," replied Dayna readily.

"Say it again, where are you from?"

"Wisconsin."

"You go home often?"

"Once a month but not recently." Outside was drizzling. Smoothly Dayna opened an umbrella and held it over her boss.

"Must be because I have been occupying your time," said Neal. He grinned.

Her pulse was racing. Why he has to look so gorgeous. "Not at all. It's my job. I love to do it because I can be close to someone I care about."

"I see someone get lucky." He grinned again. "Like us who're lucky to have you in our team."

She glanced up at him. His mood was light tonight. He looked so relaxed often flashing grins. He must be happy because he just won his dream project. Maybe because of that or maybe because her mood was good too but suddenly she felt like telling him everything that had been concealed deep in her heart.

"If you wanted to, we could extend it beyond our office wall," she blurted out with a low shaking voice. "That someone I care about is you Neal. I have fallen for you since the first time I saw you."

She looked up at him. He looked at her with a curious look as if he's expecting she would brush it off and say it's a joke.

"It's not a joke, Neal. I'm dead serious," Dayna said, her eyes meeting his. His expression turned complex like the mixed of surprise and effort to stay composed that made him looked almost cute. Blushing, she looked down, waiting.

"That's a very lovely thing to say. But, Dayna, you know we shouldn't," said Neal, finally.

"Because you don't like me or because you're my boss?" Dayna forced a chuckle to hide her nervousness.

"That's one." Neal grinned slightly, then paused. "It's outlined in our company Code of Business Ethics that dating between coworkers is strongly prohibited within the company."

"Gosh! What am I doing? I must have drunk too much wine just now." Dayna tried to laugh it off. "And, you're my boss!"It didn't work. Neal saw some tears beaded in her eyes before she turned to hide it. He was stunt. She did mean every word she said.

"You don't want me, anyway. I'm too…" Neal paused, thinking of words Candy used to depict him. Seeing how she held the umbrella over him, he then remembered one. "I'm too demanding," Neal muttered. He took the umbrella from Dayna's hand and held it himself. "See?"

"You're not demanding at all," said Dayna. "I like to do things for you if that makes you happy, Neal."

She said it so sincerely making his heart thump alarmingly. He always hoped for Candy to say something similar but she never did. At least, the last time they met she finally gave him a genuine smile. How was she doing now? Another cloud formed, filled with Alden's gentle words.

A chilly rain drop pelted on his cheek bringing his focus back to Dayna.

"Thank you. That's very generous of you," said Neal softly. "I am grateful to have you around but with dad sick, mom in the hospital, and all that… Believe me, I'm not the lucky man who deserves to care for you, okay?"

"I apologize for saying what I said." She wiped her eyes. "I should be fired."

"Hey, don't say that." Neal stepped closer and patted her shoulder. Her face was wet with tears. "I hate to see you this way. You have to promise me you'll be fine. Have a good night sleep and forget about it tomorrow, alright?"

Dayna nodded.

"See you tomorrow then."

She quickly straightened up and composed herself. "Yes. See you tomorrow, Neal."

Neal stood there waiting until Dayna's car disappeared and walked to his car with a slow exhale. He rejected girls before but this by far was the hardest he had to do. She's so honest and unpretentious. He squeezed Aden's letter in his pocket and went to the hospital to visit his parents.

oOo

At the hospital, Neal went straight to his mother's room. He found her sitting alone with her hands clasping a rosary, intense sadness crossing her features. She didn't turn when he entered.

"How's dad, mom?" Neal quietly closed the door behind him and sat next to his mother.

Sarah shook her head. "He has not talked yet."

Neal sighed quietly. "Mom… You need some rest too. What if you come home with me tonight. I take you back tomorrow early in the morning."

Sarah shook her head.

"They said you haven't been eating." Neal opened the bag he took with him. "Look, mom! I made them make your favorite soup. Try some."

Sarah didn't move.

Neal picked a spoon and filled it with some soup and brought it toward his mother. "Come mom, you should eat something," encouraged Neal.

She sipped a little.

"Good?" Neal asked softly. She didn't answer. He took another spoonful of soup and brought it to his mother again.

She ate a bit. After a few spoons she just watched the spoon but didn't open her mouth.

"It's not good?" asked Neal.

"Your dad..." A slight, painful smile crossed his mother's face for a moment. "He cooked this for me in our honeymoon."

Neal sadly set the spoon down. "The one dad made must be really good."

Sarah was silent like at the brink of falling apart. "H-he..." Her voice quivered. "He doesn't know that I love him."

"Can't be, mom. I'm sure dad knows."

"No… h-he doesn't know. I have never told him." Tears brimmed in her eyes.

Neal felt so broken seeing how his mother was. She always was so strong and confident, now she looked so inconsolable. Not knowing what good things to say, he accompanied his mother in silence, the best thing he could offer but perhaps was the best. Not long after a light rap came from the door. It was the nurse.

"Hello Mrs. Leagan," said the nurse warmly. "Your husband is murmuring you're name."

"Me?" Sarah gasped, clapped her hands over her mouth. "H-he wants me?"

The nurse nodded and smiled.

Sarah shakily struggled to get up. She was so unsteady that Neal quickly came to support her. Holding onto her son she slowly dragged herself to meet her husband.

"It's better if only Mrs. Leagan who enters. Mr. Leagan is still very weak," the nurse whispered to Neal before they entered.

"I just take my mother inside then I'll leave," answered Neal.

Henri was lying in bed, his eyes were closed. He stirred as soon as he heard his wife's voice.

"Henri... I'm here."

"Sarah..." Henri's voice was nearly inaudible, scarily weak.

"Henri." Sarah rushed to her husband's side and grappled to hold his hands. "Henri darling… you have to get well. I love you, you heard me? I love you."

Seeing his mother's eyes full of tears and the deep love in them, Neal finally knew why she never left his father. Behind those fierce fights, arguments, or throwing the sharpest words to each other, she surprisingly did care about his father so much.

Neal quietly left his parents alone. He lingered for some more time until his father went back to sleep. His mother refused to leave his father's side so Neal went home by himself.

He had only four hours sleep the previous night but he still couldn't sleep worrying about his father. So he went to his father's home office. It's empty. He usually saw his father sitting there, often growling whenever he saw him idle. "Are you ready for tomorrow's presentation yet?""Did you prepare your talk?" Tonight especially, he missed him more than ever.

"Dad, I have been working seriously these days," Neal whispered. "You should see my speech for Tabler... Eliza's baby, your first grandson, is really cute."

Gravely Neal sat on his father's chair. Poor dad, he was so sick and fighting for his life. Then his gaze caught his father's vitamin bottle. Suddenly, a new thought struck him.

Why should he believe that his father was sick?

Neal picked up the bottle, looking at it for a long time. Then, he opened the cap and took one capsule out. He opened it...

A flush of terror ran to him as he stared at the white powder inside the capsule. He realized how naive he had been. Someone tries to murder dad! Why didn't he think about this before?

Neal quickly thought about the possible motive. Money? Who?

Mom? She fought endlessly with dad, but her sadness was too genuine to fake. Eliza? Unlikely. She knew dad adore her. She could have gotten the whole company naturally, all she had to do was to ask. Neal thought about a few other inner circle people and stopped at Eliza's husband...

Mason?

He realized that he hadn't seen Mason. He had been very busy and overwhelmed with events around him that he didn't realize it until now.

Immediately, Neal picked up the phone and called detective Jack.

-To be continued

.

Thanks for reading

.

NOTE:

In Candy's letter, " the person (I can't tell you who)" = aunt Elroy

Candy kissed Albert: Chapter 5

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Chapter 15: Plan

Chapter 15: Plan

.

A few days later Jack came to visit Neal in his office.

"Hi Neal." He shook Neal's hands. "Good news! Our suspect left some obvious traces."

"Any finger print?" asked Neal, motioning for Jack to sit down.

"Unfortunately he's a bit better than that," Jack grimaced. "I have all capsules, sugar, salt, every powder in Mr. Leagan's home office that morning analyzed. One sugar pouch contains potassium cyanide powder."

At the mention of that deadly poison, Neal sank to his chair "H-how come the doctors didn't know? They're supposed to do some blood test!"

"Cyanide can be detected only when the victim is dead," answered Jack shrewdly.

"Whatever happens to the almond odor signature?"

"That's unreliable except when one got lucky or in detective novels," explained Jack. "I reconstructed the scene for that afternoon. Mr. Leagan was drinking his coffee when he talked with you on the phone so he sipped the liquid little by little. Then fortunately he dropped his cup. The dose in his cup would have been lethal otherwise."

Neal nodded his head several times. He thought about the sound of broken glass when his father screamed angrily at him. Such a luck! Without it... Argh! Neal didn't want to think about it.

"I have been following Mason and took some photos. I think I got something interesting." Jack took some photos out and showed them to Neal. In one photo, Mason was kissing a girl.

"He is your sister's husband, right?" asked Jack. "Do you know who the girl is?"

"Dayna. My former assistant, " Neal murmured in disbelief. "She stopped coming to the office last week ."

"Do you have any idea why she suddenly quitted?"

"I have ideas," said Neal, greeting his teeth. "I have to warn Eliza!"

They talked about a few other things then Neal went to visit Eliza.

When Neal arrived at her mansion, Eliza was breastfeeding her baby so he waited outside her bedroom. While waiting, he was staring at the decoration Eliza hang around the mansion for her baby son. Dad was in the hospital fighting for his life and mom never left his side. What's supposed to be a happy time went almost unnoticed. They barely welcomed baby Tyler at all...

"What are you thinking about?" Eliza's voice cut his muse.

Neal turned around. "Hello there!" He opened his arms. "How are you and Tyler?" He hugged his sister and gave the gift bag he brought for his nephew.

All smiling, Eliza un-wrapped the gift. "A teddy bear!" She looked at the stuffed animal. It's wearing a blue handmade little shirt with personalized initial "T" in the middle. "Oh Neal! This is lovely. How did you get the idea?"

Alden did. She mentioned about it once when she wrote about her friend who had a baby. Neal didn't want to tell his sister about his pen-pal, though. She would think that he's grossly over-sentimental.

"I hope Tyler likes it." Neal grinned, avoiding to answer.

"He will! Thanks!" said Eliza. "I'm good, by the way. How are you yourself?"

"Busy," Neal answered.

Eliza looked examining her brother up close. "A long day? Your tie is not straight." She straightened her brother's tie like she liked to do since they were much younger. "Look at you. Serious air, confident look... A great deal like a decision maker!" She chuckled.

Neal laughed.

"You changed so much since you took over dad's job." Eliza grinned wickedly.

"Someone has to do it. Although honestly I always thought it would be you, not me."

"I am too preoccupied." Eliza gestured to Tyler's room. "Funny. Since I become a mom, I'm not interested in other occupations. I'm very happy, you know Neal," said Eliza. She dropped herself into a couch by the window.

"That's good." Neal took of his suit and sat next to her. "Oh, we got Tarbell." Neal grinned proudly.

"Swell!" Eliza's eyes glittered wickedly. "The Andrews are peanut now compared to us."

They exchanged stories. Neal told her about their parents, his speech and other things. Eliza boasted about Tyler.

"Mom still doesn't want to go home?" asked Eliza.

"She never leaves dad's side."

"Isn't it unexpected? I never saw them together and suddenly she's glued to him."

Neal nodded. "By the way, where's Mason?" he asked, pretending clueless. "I should congratulate the new father, too!"

"He-" Eliza paused, seemed to consider carefully the words she wanted to use. "I haven't had the mood to tell you. Mason and I... we have been over for a while."

"Completely over?"

"He had been calling since Tyler was born but I didn't let him come. This morning he called again, I said yes this time."

"When? Why?"

"Tomorrow night. Why not?" Eliza frowned. "He wants to reconcile for Tyler's sake, he said."

Neal took a deep breath and pulled an envelope from his pocket. He took the photo Jack gave him and passed it to Eliza. As a brother who loved his sister, he hated to tell her this but it's better she knew about it sooner than later. "Recognize them?" Neal gravely showed the photo where Mason and Dayna were kissing.

Eliza's face turned red and her lips clenched in fury. "Is this why you come to visit me?"

"Partly," said Neal truthfully.

"I always thought she is a great assistant!"

"She was … I can't take over dad's job without her."

"Was?"

"She stopped coming to the office a few days ago."

"I should have listened to dad. He's right about Mason." Eliza burst in anger. Then, she started to cry.

"I'm truly sorry." Neal put his arm around her back. For a moment she pressed her face into her brother's chest, crying her heart out. He wanted to wail too but refrained against doing it. Eliza needed a man to rely on now that she had a little baby and mom and dad were not around.

"I will tell Mason that he's not welcomed!"

"Actually," Neal said thoughtfully. "Since you have told him he can come, I want him to come. I have a plan."

"Plan? What plan?"

"There's something else. I believe -"

Tyler's bedroom door swung opened and they heard a baby cry. Tyler's nanny soon appeared.

"Mrs. Fern, Tyler is awake," said the nanny. "He seems hungry."

Eliza's face beamed instantly. "So fast?" She glanced at the clock. "It's already almost three hours! Excuse me, Neal. My son needs me." She got up instantly and left. "Just do whatever you want to do. I trust you."

Eliza disappeared into Tyler's bedroom.

"I'll be back tomorrow before diner!" yelled Neal.

"Okay!" cried Eliza before she shut the door behind her.

.oOo..

Before dinner the following day, Neal came back with Jack and several security officers. Neal took them around the mansion and discussed their plans. Since Eliza didn't show up as she promised, Neal went to look for her. A servant said Eliza was giving Tyler a bath.

"Eliza," said Neal, knocking at the bathroom door. He pushed the door a little and peeked inside.

"What is it Neal?" Eliza frowned, clearly felt disturbed.

"I have to tell you about our plan for tonight."

"Close the door. It's windy. Tyler could catch a cold."

Neal entered. "For precaution, we think Tyler should be moved to a guess room tonight."

"Why?" Eliza unhappily protested.

"For his own safety, sis. I and Jack plan to -"

"Ok... ok..., spare me the details." She studied her brother up and down. "You're from the office. Yes? Your suit carries germs. Things have to be strictly clean around Tyler. I'll look for you later," she commanded and shut the door on him.

Neal obeyed and left. He took Jack and the officers to have dinner first. But even until after dinner Eliza still had not showed up. One servant came saying Eliza and her nannies were preparing a bed for Tyler in his new room. They couldn't use the crib since it's too big and didn't fit inside.

Neal went to his sister again. "Eliza, I need to tell you about our plan."

"Later! Tyler's bedtime is coming. And we can't get his crib in."

"Then don't use the crib," Neal grumbled. "At his age, he can't flip yet! Just put pillows or blanket rolls around him. It should be fine for tonight."

Eliza frowned curiously at her brother. "How do you know that?"

"I just do." Alden mentioned that once in her letters. Sweet lovely Alden... she liked babies and children. "Can we talk now?" Neal asked quickly before Eliza demanded how he got his baby knowledge from.

"Ok!" Eliza sighed impatiently. "Just tell me the part I need to do."

"You must make sure that you stay in your room. This is very important because -"

"That's it?" Eliza broke off.

"Pretty much! The crux of the -"

Eliza already started walking away. "Fine!"

"Don't change rooms!" Neal yelled one more time to emphasize.

"Fine fine...!" said Eliza. She disappeared. "I won't change rooms. We'll talk more later."

Neal finalized his plan with Jack and other officers. He waited for Eliza but until almost nine, she still didn't come. Neal went to look for her again.

"Eliza." Neal quietly knocked at her bedroom's door and entered.

She was rocking Tyler in her arms lulling the boy to sleep.

"Ask his nanny to carry him! We need to talk!" Neal said irritably.

"To put your own son to sleep at night is crucial to strengthen the bond between the parent and the child!" snapped Eliza.

Neal rolled his eyes.

Eliza suddenly noticed her brother carrying a revolver on his belt. "You'll use that?" she asked, grinning.

"To protect you? Yes." He grinned back at her. When it came to his sister, he could never stay annoyed for long. "Yell if something went wrong. We'll be outside. Remember don't change rooms!" warned Neal.

Tyler fussed and released a faint grunt.

"Okay, okay… Ssh!" mouthed Eliza.

"Take care, " Neal whispered.

"Alright!" she waved her hand sending her brother away.

Neal shrugged and left. With Jack and other officers, they waited outside watching under Eliza's window.

Time passed by and nothing happened. He heard the clock chimed eleven times.

Neal started to wonder if he made incorrect guesses. What if he was all wrong about Mason and Dayna? Men and women kissed, that's a fact. He started to feel awkward hiding behind the bushes under his sister's window with a detective and security officers. What if presently Eliza was reconciling with her husband and was having an intimate husband-and-wife moment? His heart flipped uneasily at the thought...

-To be continued-

Thanks for reading.


Chapter 16: Forever Bond

Chapter 16: Forever Bond

.

Neal was debating whether he should call off the mission when suddenly he heard a piercing shrill.

"Nea-!" It disappeared abruptly in a mum.

Neal and Jack looked at each another, both breathing hard.

"We get in!" said Jack.

Everyone jumped out from the bush and stormed into Eliza's bedroom. To Neal's horror it was empty.

"Search other rooms!" Neal yelled. "Jack, follow me."

They ran to Tyler's bedroom on the other side of the mansion. Neal pushed the door handle down but it didn't move. The door was locked from the inside.

"Eliza!" Many servants who heard the screams were aroused too by now and coming to see. Helplessly they watched Neal frantically banging at the door. "Eliza!"

Jack pulled Neal's arm. "Stay back," he said. He fired at the door lock and it crumpled and fell down like dry leaves.

Neal burst inside, gun in his hand. His guess was right. Mason was pointing a gun at his sister. Automatically Neal lifted his and pointed it at Mason.

"I went to nurse Tyler and fell asleep," said Eliza to Neal. "Sorry. I changed bedrooms."

"You devil!" barked Neal angrily to Mason. He's grateful that his voice was steady betraying none of the fear that's gripping his heart. "Why?"

"Don't waste your breath." Eliza yawned. "Money, of course!" Casually, she folded her arms over her chest.

Neal was scared to death seeing how Eliza acted even at the point so close to death. Then he noticed another person stood in the shadow. It's Dayna.

"You!" Neal growled.

Dayna gave a devilish smirk. "Poor helpless Neal feeling like a deer caught in the headlight."

"It's ashamed you can do something this low," Neal spat.

Dayan shrugged chillily. "As you always said, I have limitless capabilities."

"Release my sister," Neal growled. He dropped his voice an octave lower to look ever menacing, threatened, "This place is heavily surrounded. No way you and your floozy can escape. It's over, Mason!"

Mason laughed. "Bluffing are you?" His lips twitched into a psychotic lunatic smile. "Over to whom? I have her!" He shook Eliza.

"Bah! I have scraped your name from my will. You will get nothing by shooting me!" sneered Eliza.

"Is it?" Mason laughed unpleasantly. "Let's see!" He turned to Dayna and shouted, "Get that baby!" His face turned cold and inhuman.

"W-What do you want?" Eliza stammered. Her voice trembled. For the first time Neal saw his sister panicking.

"To see if someone remains difficult when that tiny bundle is slammed to the floor," Mason said darkly.

Dayna went to get Tyler. The infant who didn't recognize her started to cry.

"God damn it, he's your son too, bastard!" yelled Eliza.

Neal quietly inched to a nearby shelf, glancing around, looking for something to throw to Mason.

"Do not think it, Nealy. You can't be quicker than a bullet," mocked Mason. He pressed the gun into the back of Eliza's skull. Pulled the trigger. "On the count to three. Drop your gun. Clear my way to leave safely or I'll shoot!"

Neal waved. Jack and other officers quickly retreated. Mason pushed Eliza and stepped towards the door

"Dayna, bring that yelling infant here," said Mason.

Little Tyler cried, the loudest he could. He kicked and struggled mightily but at no avail. He's easily taken away against his will.

"NO!" Eliza howled in the most gut-wrenching scream that tore Neal's heart apart. "Oh please... Don't harm my baby, please."

"Then follow my terms," Mason muttered coldly. "Drop the gun! One."

"Neal, don't drop your gun," Eliza commanded. "Take care Tyler." The last sentence was said too solemnly. She sounded resigned making Neal's heart beat sickeningly. He knew what she's up to.

"Eliza don't rush into anything," said Neal soothingly, giving his best to calm her. "I will come up with something." He moved a step closer. "Trust me."

"Stay back!" Mason barked again. His tone was loaded with increased threat and venom. "Drop the gun! Two."

"Love Tyler like your own son," said Eliza to Neal. "Will you?"

"Of course, I will! But please-," Neal begged. It's so painful to see his sister in despair.

"Last chance!" Mason bellowed. "Thre-"

"Stop!" said Neal, dropping his gun. "What's your term?"

"Don't!" Eliza screamed. "This beast shouldn't get a penny from dad!" She twisted.

"Eliza!" screamed Neal. He heard a gunshot. Fear gripped him as he looked down expecting to see Eliza lay dead on the floor. But the bullet swayed and hit the window glass.

Apparently, in the last second, Dayna put Tyler on a table and lunged to attack Mason's arm. His arm jerked, the bullet missed. Eliza quickly joined in and kicked the gun from Mason's hand. Dayna then jumped at Mason bringing him down with her onto the floor. Neal picked up his gun and called Jack. Jack and the officers entered. Mason was taken into custody and it's all over.

A medic was called in. Luckily the officers had cleared the area so no one got shot by the astray bullet.

In relieved, Neal moved forward to pull Eliza up and hug her. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine. Check Dayna," said Eliza, patted her brother's back. She rushed to pick up her baby. The infant still laid safely at the same spot but crying on top of his lung. Sobbing, Eliza hugged Dayna, thanked her, and left to call her army of nannies to comfort and check her baby.

Neal came to approach Dayna who just finished being examined by a doctor.

"How are you?" Neal took her arm, looking at her bruise. "Does it hurt?" he asked so gently it hurt her heart.

"No, it's fine."

"That's very brave of you," said Neal. Overwhelmed with gratitude, he clasped her hands tightly in his. "Thank you."

"I will never hurt you or anyone you love, Neal," said Dayna. "I sensed something wrong with Mason. He's been trying to get my attention so I pretended to be on his side."

"Thanks for choosing to be on my side."

"I will die for you," said Dayna, tears welling in her eyes.

"You should not leave your job."

Dayna released her hands and gently reached out to touch Neal's face. "Thanks. But I can't work with you." She pulled him close and kissed him passionately.

"See?" Her eyes said the rest. "Good bye, Neal."

She turned around and walked out the door. Neal followed her to her car where he rushed forward to open her door and helped her get into her car.

"Dayna, I am truly grateful for what you did for Eliza and Tyler," Neal said. "They mean the world to me."

With tears streaming down her face, Dayna turned and smiled. "You're welcome."

She pulled her door closed and drove away without turning back again.

oOo

Sighing, Neal turned around and went back into the mansion. He told Eliza everything about Mason. That their father was sick because Mason poisoned him, too.

"Why didn't you say it yesterday?" asked Eliza.

"I was afraid that I was barking the wrong tree."

"I will divorce Mason! I had been hesitating because I was afraid to lose Tyler."

"You should have told me. I would have given you the best lawyers to win a sole custody for Tyler."

Eliza put her head on her brother's shoulder, nodded. "Poor dad," mourned Eliza. "I'm so stupid."

"You're not stupid. Mason is just too wicked."

They reflected in silence of the danger that just passed. Things could have ended differently… in tragedy. It's like a wake-up call! Eliza glanced at her brother. She at least had Tyler but her brother never knew the joy of having his own baby.

"You should make your own family too," Eliza said suddenly after a long stretch of silence. She abruptly pulled away.

Neal sipped his drink and shrugged. "Eventually."

"Dayna seems nice. Why not her?" she pushed.

"She is magnificent." Neal stretched and passed Eliza a glass of water. "I'll think later. I have no time now," he said, reluctant to discuss about Candy or Alden. Eliza was always allergic to Candy and she would think he's hogwash for getting infatuated to a pen pal!

Eliza looked thoughtful for a while. "Come!" She got up abruptly and pulled her brother's hand. She took him to Tyler's bedroom. "I want you to carry Tyler."

"I shouldn't. I don't want to drop him," Neal laughed, half joking half serious. He never carried such a little baby before or any baby period.

But Eliza insisted. She said she wanted him to know how wonderful it felt to carry a baby so he's convinced to settle down quickly.

"Here…" Eliza gently picked up the bundle of blanket and put it in her bother's hands. Inside was the baby boy, fast asleep. Neal stared at his nephew's peaceful sleeping face and smelled his sweet baby smell. The pink body was so tiny, it's fascinating. He could see why Eliza changed so much since she became a mother.

"Isn't he cute?" Eliza asked.

Neal nodded. "Very."

"He's my world." Eliza gently put the baby back in his crib. It stirred and she gently patted him and he went back to sleep.

"He's full and exhausted. We're lucky," whispered Eliza. She tiptoed to the door and quietly closed the door behind them. Neal watched her gleefully. They giggled silently.

"I was stupid. But I won't cry over spilled milk!" said Eliza determinedly.

"You shouldn't especially for a colossal jerk like Mason. I can think of a dozen qualified men who want you right now."

Eliza laughed. Neal grinned in a way he used to let her know that he's always there for her. Friends or lovers came and went but they would always have each other.

"Whoever you marry, I will support you!" Eliza studied Neal's face. "Anyone..." She narrowed her eyes. "Even Candy."

Those words caught Neal completely by surprise. He thought he had acted well in pretending he's over her. Apparently Eliza's sharp eyes couldn't be fooled. But what about Alden?, he thought spontaneously, feeling her letter in his pocket.

-
To be continued-

Thanks for reading.

Hogwash: nonsense (slang)

Floozy: prostitute (slang)

.

oOo

Next chapter: Candy and Neal.

*RED ALERT ! Spoiler ALERT*

This is a Candy-Neal fict. If you don't like this pair, it'll be a torture to read the rest of the story.

.oOo

Thanks for the comments. They make my brain move. Thank you!

.

Sabrina: That's the mini mystery. Hopefully it's exciting, a bit? :D Thank you so much for reading.

Elsa: what do you think of Dayna? Hik hik :( Neal is awesome. I like him too :D

Kikita7R: One word: Genetic :) Sarah pampered her and Neal so much. Everything is in the DNA. There's a probability that Eliza is like that to her own kids. Anyway, I hope you like how the mystery ends.

MoRiTa: Thanks for still following. Candy will appear next :D I can't WAIT!

Guest: Thanks for the support. Neal will meet Candy in the next chapter. Hopefully you will read it.

Xochiquetzal: I hope this chapter clarifies things. It's awful isn't it? Lucky that baby Tyler is fine.


Chapter 17: Pony's Home

A few months later...

Neal successfully led his team to win the complex legal battle and acquired Tarbell Standard Oil company. The move brought Neal out of the shadow. He carved a name of his own and now known as an emerging young executive in the business world.

"Watch out your step, dad." Holding his father's arm, Neal supported him entering his office for the first time after the attempted murder.

"I'm fine Neal." Henri laughed. "I can walk by myself."

Neal carefully released his father. Henri walked slowly, looking around his office. "You and everyone did a wonderful job to keep this place stay put." He grinned.

Neal smiled. He showed his father the coveted Tarbell Standard Oil ownership placate with their new logo, and other things. When Neal finished talking, he noticed his father watching him. His eyes were bright, and there was a glimpse of pride in them.

"You exceeded my expectations, son. I'm glad I can be here to witness it."

Neal couldn't be more proud. Unlike nice words said by others, he knew his father's words were honest. They're also more precious because they came from his dad.

"Oh yey!" Neal said. "So glad my skill at whacking crap up delights you, dad."

"And I heard you played detective too." Henri chuckled.

Neal laughed.

A staff appeared at the door. "Mr. Leagan." He knocked quietly.

"Yes," said Neal and Henri at the same time leaving the staff dumbfounded. He was watching the father and son, not sure who he should talk to.

Neal looked at Henri apologetically. "Sorry."

Henri laughed. "Go ahead Neal, do what you must do." He made a gesture and the staff motioned to Neal to take care of some business. The staff left after getting what he needed.

"Well dad, now you're here I will move back to my own office and rank," said Neal.

Henri shook his head. "No rush. As the doctor instructed, I should take it easy."

Henri moved to his desk and touched it with his palm. "I used to choose to stay here than to go home... It won't happen again." He paused. "I will take your mom to travel."

His father seemed talking to himself than to him so Neal just nodded and remained quiet.

"I and your mother have an arranged marriage, you know?" asked Henri suddenly.

Neal nodded, again. His mother said that once, but she didn't elaborate.

"Our parents were good friends. First met her when I was seven before my family moved to America. We met again years later to be engaged. She wore fuchsia bustle - I will never forget her look. Such a lovely girl. I thought to myself how lucky I was. Awfully clever too, educated, liked reading geography,… Well you know her." Henri paused.

"But things were complicated…," Henri continued. "The Andrews were staggeringly wealthy. I thought she regretted that she was made to marry me and liked that damn aristocrat officer in the Royal Navy. I was intimidated and became too proud to approach her. The last few months while I was sick, she surprised me by never left me. She told me everything and I learned a great deal about her more than the last twenty six years."

Henri looked up to look at his son. He smiled and suddenly looked a lot less like a businessman in suit and tie. He just looked like a dad.

"Son, choose your girl wisely. Remember, communication. That's an important key towards happy relationship."

Neal thought of Candy and all miscommunication he had with her. Besides throwing hurtful words to one another, they barely spoke of nothing else. She was his first love and, until Alden, was the only one who ever occupied his heart.

He should re-approach her. This time, he would do things differently.

oOo

Alfred pulled up at the end of the driveway of the Pony's home.

"Here we are." Alfred got out and opened the trunk to get Candy's small luggage and a bag of snacks and sweets she brought for the children. "Have a pleasant stay, Ms. Candice."

"Thanks Alfred. Come back in a week," replied Candy.

Alfred tipped his hat. "Will do, Ms. Candice."

Candy looked around. There she was again. Even through the darkness everything was familiar. The same wooden house, the trees surrounding it, and the brick chimney. Candy hurriedly walked down the gravel path. She wanted to push the bell when a light appeared in the kitchen

"Candy is that you?" she heard Ms. Pony's voice.

"Yes, Ms. Pony. It's me," Candy replied. She heard the door being unlocked before being opened widely.

"Candy!" exclaimed Ms. Pony giving her a warm embrace.

Candy heard some footsteps and Sr Lanne soon appeared, too.

"Good Lord! It's Candy," Sr. Lanne cried out, hugging her too.

"Sorry, it's kind of late. Happy Clinic was busy today," said Candy.

"Are you tired, dear?" asked Ms. Pony.

"Not at all."

"Would you like something to eat or drink?" asked Sr. Lanne.

"I already had dinner with Judy and Natalie. I'm fine."

"Come in and sit down, Candy," said Ms. Pony. She lead the way to the kitchen, switching on the light. Sr. Lanne put a kettle on the stove and turned the fire on. Candy glanced around. Everything looked familiar. The curtain was still the same floral curtain Annie made for them. Children's handcrafts were displayed on the wall. Candy sat on her favorite chair.

"How are you?" asked Ms. Pony and Sr. Lane almost at the same time. Their faces were radiating with joy.

"Good, how's everything here?" asked Candy.

They both nodded. "We're all fine. The children had been waiting for you. They're disappointed that they had to go to bed before you come," answered Sr. Lanne.

"How's Albert?" asked Ms. Pony.

"He sent me a postcard last month. He sent his regards to you," Candy opened her handbag and pulled a postcard graced with a picture of various wildlife on one side and showed it to them.

"

Dear Candy,

Everything is fine. Regards to Ms. Pony and Sr. Lanne.

Warmly,

Albert.

"

Ms. Pony and Sr. Lanne read the brief note excitedly. Candy secretly felt Neo's six pages of letters inside her coat pocket that just arrived today.

"How long will you stay this time?" asked Ms. Pony, returning the postcard to Candy.

"A week."

"Longer than last time. That's good! Although I hope we don't take too much of your time from Dr. Martin."

"He understands, don't worry. Natalie and Judy will work an extra day to cover my work."

Sr. Lanne and Ms. Pony praised those girls. Candy saw Sr. Lanne yawned.

"Sorry," said Sr. Lanner. "I woke up early today to bring Thunder to Mr. Cartwright's ranch."

"What happens to her?" asked Candy, concerned. Thunder was an old horse, their only horse.

"Fine, it's just a regular check up and grooming. I'll pick her up tomorrow morning," explained Sr. Lanne. Thunder's well being, health check and other maintenance were all generously covered by Mr. Cartwright.

"Mr. Cartwright sent you his greetings. He said sorry he can't meet you this time because he has a horse fair to attend," said Sr. Lanne. "Jimmy doesn't go because his wife is heavily pregnant!"

"Bertha looks blooming, dear. The baby is due next month," added Ms. Pony, eagerly.

"Nice! I will visit them for sure," exclaimed Candy. "It's quite late now. You and Sr. Lanne should go to bed. We can do plenty of catch up tomorrow." Candy got up and turned off the stove. "I will just take the kettle to my room."

They all got up. Ms. Pony and Sr. Lanne took Candy to her room. When she looked back they were smiling at her.

"Good night, dear," said Ms. Pony.

"Welcome home, Candy," said Sr. Lanne.

"Sleep well!" said Candy. Her eyes watered. They were her mothers who she loved so much. She would always wish for their happiness and gave her life to them if necessary.

Closing the door, Candy looked around her room. Three years ago, she set aside some of her saving to renovate the second floor into a storage room and added this small guest room. This room was her true home.

Candy undressed. She then tried to sleep but couldn't. Today was her first day of holiday, she felt too excited. She got up and picked Neo's letter from her pocket and replied to him.

oOo

The sound of children talking woke Candy the next morning. She threw the windows open and breathed, letting those fresh scents of apples and flowers filled her lung. In the far distance was the hill where she met Albert for the first time, the Pony's hill.

Albert , take care. Write me soon!, she wished.

"Good morning, Candy!" Ms. Pony called underneath.

Candy stuck her head out and looked down. "Morning, Ms. Pony." She was carrying a tray full of fresh cut apple. Next to her was a girl and a boy each carrying a jug of milk.

"Where's Sr. Lanne?"Candy asked.

"She had left to pick up Thunder."

"I'll be right there!" said Candy, embarrassed for waking so late. She got too engrossed reading Neo's letters and wrote eight pages of reply to him that she didn't sleep until after midnight. Without much ado she dressed up and ran downstairs in no time.

The children roared rapturously when they saw Candy. They had a hearty breakfast followed by some morning studies. Then, Candy and Ms. Pony took the children to an outdoor trip where Candy divided the snacks and sweets she brought to them. They came back before lunch.

"Candy, someone is looking for you," notified Peter, one of the children who didn't go to picnic. He looked after the house since Sr. Lanne was not home today.

"Who?" asked Candy.

"Didn't ask," said Peter. He scratched his head that was not itchy and glanced guiltily at Candy. "A tall man, came with a car."

"Albert?" Candy said breathlessly. She stopped breathing for a moment. She could think of no one else who knew about Pony's home since Stear and Archie were in Argentina.

Albert oh Albert!

Now she knew why she hadn't received his letter for a month. He was on the road! He came home early to give a surprise visit! Albert was so romantic! Oh, there're so many things she's dying to tell him. What would he say if he heard aunt Elroy's poor joke that they were cousins? Candy almost chuckled openly.

"Nope. Not him," said Peter, shooting down Candy's daydream. "Never saw him coming before."

"Go find out, dear. We're done here," said Ms. Pony who overheard the conservation.

Candy made the children promise to be good then left with Peter. He took her to the side of the house and pointed to one of the apple trees. At the first glance of the brown hair she recognized who her guest was.

Grrr… Neal! Candy inhaled sharply. Not Albert, she thought, crestfallen.

-To be continued-

Thanks for reading

Mr. Cartwright (ranch owner) and Jimmy (the boy from Pony's home) are characters from Candy Candy MANGA written by Kyoko Mizuki, Yumiko Igarashi.

Bertha: Jimmy's wife (my own poor idea)

oOo

Thanks for writing me a note.

Sabrina: Thanks for the generous words as always. Yup, we don't want to lose Eliza. She's Neal's beloved sister after all :D

Elsa: Good that you see my point. Eliza wants Neal to be happy and just accept Candy. Thanks!

Guest : I'm glad you like the story. Next week Candy will meet Neal. Thanks for the support.

Kikita7R: Mason poisoned Herni. I wrote only one sentence about that. I'm afraid the readers get bored if I dwell too much on the details. Eliza accepts Candy because she wants Neal to be happy… :'( Thanks

Xochiquetzal: Candy SAVED Neal, too (like Dayna), MANGA book 8. It was dangerous and scarry, too. And at that time Neal was BAD to her. Anyway, if you haven't read it, look it up (free in some manga web site). It's the poignant moment which made Neal fall in love with Candy.


Chapter 18: Pony's Home 2

Mina: a character from Candy Candy manga. Mr. McGregor's dog

oOo

"Hi Candy!" greeted Neal amiably.

His heart melted at her sight. Setting Alden aside, only her could exert such effect, no other women could. He's glad he decided to come.

"Why on earth are you here?" Candy asked suspiciously.

"Looking for you." Neal stepped forward, handing her a box of chocolate all wrapped up nicely, tied with an intricate light-blue ribbon. "They said you're in Pony's home for a week."

Candy turned to Peter. "That would be all Peter. I take it from here." Candy passed the chocolate box to Peter. "Share this with others, would you?" Candy patted the boy's head gently.

Peter took the box and ran into the house.

"Ok. What for?" asked Candy after Peter disappeared.

"To get into your nerve." Neal grinned wickedly. Candy turned on guard instantly and he smiled. "Just kidding. Don't be afraid."

"I am not afraid of anything, least of all is you!" Candy scowled. "MINA!"

She whistled and a large Bernese Mountain came running and stood by her side.

"Mina doesn't like bad people. Be warned! Unless you want to end up in a mess!" Candy whispered threateningly.

Mina growled. Her fur on her back stood up almost burying the humongous bow behind her neck.

"Sheesh! I wouldn't dare," said Neal.

He fumbled in his pocket and pulled out a piece of dog bone.

"Mina. Catch!" He threw the bone the farthest he could. Mina sprang to her feet. In a great excitement, she barked and dashed to fetch it.

"Wuff!" Mina came back with the bone in her mouth, her tail gently wagging.

"Good girl," said Neal, rubbing the back of Mina's neck.

In bewilderment, Candy watched Mina lay down next to Neal's feet and chewed the bone.

"You carry a bone in your pocket?" asked Candy, stupefied.

"I took Eliza and her son to a dog shop. That baby suddenly got cranky and cried." He chuckled. "It was loud! Got me all blanked out and forgot about that bone."

Candy didn't laugh back. Neal looked at her, tickled. Although he tried not to, it's so irresistible not to have a bit of fun with her.

"Do you want to take your guest inside? Perhaps serve me a nice cup of hot drink and snack," teased Neal.

Classic Neal. Utterly disconnected, tone-deaf and very demanding, Candy thought.

"Not sure," she snorted. "If I were the one who came to visit, would you serve me food and drink too?" She sneered.

"I am a man, you're a woman," he replied casually. His eyes glinted humorously but Candy wasn't looking.

"Your ideal type of woman is a servant in the living room, a maid in the dining room, and a slut in the bedroom. That stinks!" Candy put her chin up. "You are not invited to enter the Pony's house."

"My ideal type of woman is," responded Neal flatly. "A slut in the living room, a slut in the dining room, and a slut in the bedroom."

"Get out of here!" She turned to leave but he pulled her elbow.

"Relax. Sit down." Neal pulled his handkerchief and dusted a tree trunk under that apple tree. "Is that good enough, my lady?"

Candy rolled her eyes and sat down.

She saw him pick two sets of china cups from his car. He put a tea bag in each, poured hot water into them and offered her one.

"Thanks," she said, looking at the pretty floral embellishment cup and the matching delicate saucer in her hand.

"Don't mention it." He smiled. "May I sit here?"

She nodded.

The moment he sat down beside her, she regretted her decision to not take him inside the house. The trunk was so narrow that their arms kept brushing every time he lifted his cup to drink his tea. She wanted to shift to the other end but there were prickly bushes.

"How's Happy Clinic?" Neal asked, wearing his most innocent air.

"Great," answered Candy stiffly, squeezing herself in her corner.

"How's Dr. Martin?"

"Good."

"Tell him that we have a new line of vodka coming. It's made with mountain dew, the best ever from our line of beverages."

"Sorry, I won't. Drinking alcohol is not something to be encouraged to a serious addict like him," said Candy coldly.

"Wise thought," Neal said. "More tea, Candy?"

"No, thanks," Candy said tersely. "I don't have a whole day to drink tea. Just tell me why are you here?"

Neal looked down at her little hands. So smooth and white like the finest porcelain. He wanted to hold them and sat with her until the sun would set and longer.

"I like to get to know you better," he said.

Candy's eyes widened before she burst into sarcastic laughter, pooh-poohed him.

"But, I do," he said when she finally quiet down.

Candy crossed her arms, didn't' buy it. But considering he had made the renovation in Happy Clinic possible, she decided to give him a few more minutes.

"Okay, what do you want to know?" asked Candy, giving in.

"Such a lovely place here," Neal said, sipping his tea and looking around. "Myriad of trees… no wonder you're so good in climbing. Would you show me the tree that you first climbed?"

"That tree is not here. It's in Pony's Hill," Candy answered hesitatingly. After all he had said about Pony's home, now he's praising it? This decidedly is fake!

Candy was thinking how to proceed and saw Sr. Lanne. She was walking in a great rush, looking around like there's something urgent.

"Candy! Candy! Where are you?" cried Sr. Lanne.

"Excuse me." Candy put her cup down and got up. "Sr. Lanne! Over here!" cried Candy, and came to meet her. "You're back. How's Thunder?"

"All healthy and clean," said Sr. Lanne, catching her breath. "Guess what! Bertha is in labor."

"But I thought it's next month," said Candy.

"Oh, who can predict babies," said Sr. Lanne briskly. "They said she's been in labor since early morning!"

"That long?" Candy looked thoughtful for a moment. "When?" Sr. Lanne didn't know the details so Candy stopped asking.

Then Sr. Lanne noticed there's Neal there. "Pardon me. You have a visitor," said Sr. Lanne apologetically to Neal.

"That's alright, Madam Sister." Neal bowed charmingly. Alden once said he had to be extra nice to please Candy. In a way, he could understand that. In the business world that's known bluntly as kissing ass.

"Neal. Neal Leagan."

Candy's eyeball almost popped out witnessing Neal's display of polished manner.

"Sister Lane is fine," said Sr. Lanne, dazed. "Nice to meet you, Neal."

Sr. Lanne turned back to Candy. "I told Jimmy you're here. He invited you to come." She nodded to excuse herself and left.

Candy cleared her throat.

"You heard that," Candy said to Neal. "Get to go. An old friend is in labor." She glanced at her watch. "And I need to mail a letter. The mailman will come to collect the mail at one."

To wait one more day would be a torture. She couldn't wait to hear Neo's comments to the stories she penned last night.

"Alright. Can I come again? Visit you in Chicago perhaps?" asked Neal.

"Probably... I kind of busy, though. Third year of medical school, you know."

"Yeah," Neal exhaled deeply. "Well, if you want I can mail the letter for you."

"How nice of you!" Her eyes lit up like stars, wide and green. "That would be helpful! Could you wait? I get the letter."

"Take your time," said Neal.

Humming a light tune, Candy went back into the house in an upbeat. She was jumping up the stairs when Sr. Lanne called her again.

"Candy!" said Sr. Lanne urgently. She looked distressed, never before Candy saw her that way. "Jimmy just called. Oh terrible! Bertha has complications!"

"What! No! Who's helping her?"

"Her fellow housemaid*. They called a midwife but after examining her she said it's better to call a doctor."

"That serious? I go get Dr. Gerald," said Candy.

"He's not in town, Jimmy went to check already."

"Then I fetch Dr. Pickard."

"Dr. Pickard hasn't come back from France since the war. Jimmy's coworker had checked that. God, we have no doctors in our area!"

"We borrow Mr. Cartwright's car -"

Sr. Lanne shook her head. "Mr. Cartwright brought his car, horses, and most of his staffs with him to the horse fair. Jimmy asked if you can help since you're a doctor. Oh, Candy! They're nice people. Help them. I told Jimmy I'll go to Whiting to see if there's a doctor."

"How?"

"Thunder? Whatever… Candy, you go first! Now!" Sr. Lane left without giving Candy a chance to reply.

Me? An intense horror swept through her. "I'm not a doctor yet," Candy murmured. But Sr. Lane didn't hear her.

Candy watched Sr. Lane's back, overwhelmed by panic. Pregnancy complication was the subject she dreaded the most! It's too unpredictable and could be deadly. What if she mishandled it and Bertha died? She thought of how Bertha was with Jimmy on their wedding day and trembled heavily. And Thunder… That old house wouldn't make a long trip to Whiting.

Oh Albert!, Candy thought desperately. If he were here, he would have known what to do. What about George? No use. He won't get here until it's dark.

Bertha must get a proper doctor. She must find a doctor for Bertha!

Candy ran outside in a hurry, passing Neal who's still waiting under the apple tree.

"Tell Sr. Lanne I look for a doctor for Bertha!" Candy was running as fast as she could when she felt a large hand gripping her elbow.

"Hey, where are you going?" asked Neal.

"Whiting." She tried to pull her arm from his grip but he didn't let her.

"On feet?" Neal asked.

Candy looked up at him. Her mouth opened and closed as her lips quivered. Right, Whiting was far.

"What happens?" asked Neal. His calm but firm manner felt like a cool spring breeze in a blistering summer day. For awhile she forgot that he's Neal and told him everything.

"Bertha... S-she needs a doctor. Pregnancy complication."

His feature turned grimed. All playful humors had gone out of his dark eyes. "I have my car here. Tell me what you want me to do."

"I-I am not sure. Sr. Lanne said I should take care of Bertha while she's looking for a doctor. But Thunder is old. Oh, I don't know...," said Candy, completely at loss. She knew she had to get herself coordinated but everything seemed floating.

Seeing her vacant face, Neal spoke up. "I take you to Bertha. You help her. I go to the nearest town to fetch a doctor. Sr. Lanne comes with me. She knows the area."

"Y-you don't understand. Doctors should not attend their best friends+ just like they shouldn't operate their own wife or husband. Heavens, I am not even a doctor yet. I learned about childbirth complication only from textbooks, saw it in class but never really attend one. All I have ever done was smooth, easy, and quick childbirths... Poor Bertha. This is outrageous, I –"

"There... there... there...," murmured Neal softly. He patted her back soothingly. "All you need to do is do your best until the doctor comes."

"But there's no doctor!"

"Not now. There will be later. I'll get one."

"Will you?"

"Yes." Neal nodded assuringly.

Candy didn't answer, still shaking.

Suddenly she felt strong arms wrapped around her.

"Candice White Andrew is not afraid of anything, right?" Neal shook her gently. "If there's anyone who must stay to take care of Bertha, that person is you."

His tone was free of mockery or sarcasm unheard before coming from Neal. She was not able to resist it. For a while, he's holding her murmuring kind words of encouragement, calming her, giving her the confidence she much needed. Slowly, she got her mind sorted out. She remembered Neo. Neo said he was afraid when he started his new job. She remembered his tips. He wrote, stay calm and undeterred, coolly face challenges.

"I'm not afraid!" said Candy through her greeted teeth, pulling away. "I tell Sr. Lanne your plan."

Candy went back to the house. She called Sr. Lanne and at the same time yelled telling Peter to take over Thunder.

Neal watched the little boy smartly took over the horse from Sr. Lanne. He remembered how he laughed at the entire occupants of the Pony's home. At Peter's age, he couldn't imagine being without his parents...

-To be continued-

Thanks for reading.

NOTES:

*midwife and friend: This was around 1920. It was like that especially in tiny towns. They rely on one another when there's childbirth. Doctors are mostly only in big cities (now too actually, no?)

+ Doctors should not attend their best friends…: A doctor once told me…

REMINDER:

In this story, Jimmy worked in Mr. Cartwright's ranch. (Chapter 12)

Thunder: The old horse belongs to Pony's home


Chapter 19: Pony's Home 3

Chapter 19: Pony's Home 3

.

Neal and Sr. Lanne couldn't find a doctor at Burnham and Whiting and had to go all the way to Calumet, the biggest city around there.

While Sr. Lanne was negotiating in the doctor's office, Neal went out to buy gas for his car.

"It's too far," the doctor declined. He asked Sr. Lanne to try other doctors.

But the local people said this doctor was good in handling pregnancies so Sr. Lanne came back to persuade him to come.

"It's too far for my car. I have to come back tonight. One lady in Whiting might deliver her baby tomorrow and I need to visit someone with fever at dawn and an old man…" The doctor went on citing his reasons.

"Oh please... please doctor," pleaded Sr. Lanne desperately. "You can use the latest bus."

"I'm sorry, Sister. There's no bus in the weekend."

"I can take you back," said Neal who had returned and had been listening. He then dropped some number. The sum was stupendous, dwarfing the amount the doctor originally asked for. It ended the discussion and the doctor agreed to come.

It was around three when Neal and Sr. Lanne were back at the ranch with the doctor. Neal then drove Sr. Lanne to Pony's home and came back to the ranch by himself.

oOo

Neal parked his car and strode along the path through Mr. Cartwright's award-winning ranch marveling the colorful flowers, clucking organic chickens, and hearty green vegetables of all kinds. In one neatly kept cottage belonged to Jimmy and Bertha, he entered hoping to see Candy carry the baby and hear good news.

But the living room was empty. A grim looking woman entered in a haste bringing a bucket of water into the bedroom leaving the door ajar. Neal heard a moan, low and painful, from inside.

Not yet. Disheartened, Neal went outside and waited in the porch.

Time passed. Every so often he paced the wooden porch. Several women kept coming in and out the cottage bringing cloth, towel, water or something else. They all looked morose. Neal hoped Candy would come out so he could see how she's doing.

"Neal!" Suddenly he heard Candy's voice and she shot out of the cottage.

She looked so different now, not frightened nor nervous but cool and in control of the situation just like a real doctor. He's so proud of her

"Doesn't look good," Candy whispered. "Watch Jimmy. Accompany him!" She disappeared back into the cottage.

Neal swallowed feeling the gravity of the situation and went looking for Jimmy. Someone said he's with the horses. Neal headed to the horse stable and found the father-to-be alone in one of the stalls, looking so pale, quietly brushing a horse.

"Hi Jimmy...," Neal whispered.

Jimmy gave a faint nod.

Neal hesitated but he knew Candy would be furious if he did nothing. Alden would mercilessly criticize him too.

"Has that one been brushed?" Neal asked, pointing to the brown horse in the next stall.

Jimmy shook his head.

Neal moved about and stopped at one tool box to pick up a curry comb. He then looked at Jimmy but Jimmy didn't show objections. So Neal took the comb with him and opened the stall door to the brown horse.

"Hello!" Neal greeted the brown horse.

The horse watched him.

Holding out the brush, Neal reached out to let the horse smell his hand, giving it ample of time to get to know him, before gently stroking its neck. The horse liked humans who understood horses and could tell from Neal's easy and calm way of approaching that he's one of them. It let out a friendly huff and welcomed Neal doing the brushing work.

Together with Jimmy, the two men brushed silently.

Jimmy was worried about his wife and baby while Neal's mind was in turmoil thinking about Candy and Alden. He wondered what Alden would feel if he left her for Candy and stopped writing to her. Would she feel left out and discarded? Poor Alden…

Lost in his thoughts, Neal startled when the horse moved his head up and down.

"What is it?" Neal stopped brushing, asking the horse.

"Max thanked you for brushing him so well," said Jimmy replying for Max.

"You're welcome." Neal patted Max's neck. "Ready to change brush, Max?"

Max flicked his ear back and forth.

Neal returned the curry comb back to the box and picked up a hard brush this time for round two brushing.

"You know horses," said Jimmy who's been noticing how Neal interacted with Max and handled the brushes.

"I like them," said Neal, moving around Max working the brush in short and straight lines.

They continued talking about horses and started to chat.

"Boss is always there for us." Jimmy sighed. "It was her who prepared the choir in our wedding. Now, she's delivering our baby."

"Boss?"

"Candy. That's how I call her." Jimmy grinned, telling Neal the story of why he called her so*.

Neal chuckled. "She is competitive."

"We're taught that way in Pony's Home. But she's just a level above us." Jimmy told Neal many stories about Pony's Home until, at some point, they heard a faint sound of cry.

Jimmy and Neal looked at one another. In a flash, Jimmy dropped everything and ran outside. Neal followed him. It was already dark outside and Neal realized a few hours must have passed.

Then they heard another shout, much louder this time. "IT'S A GIRL...! It's a girl!"

The new father jumped into the cottage in a single step. Neal stayed, taking time to dust of Max's hair from his suit before he entered and waited in the living room. The several women he saw earlier came out from the bedroom, looking joyful this time, chatted with laughter. It seemed they just finished cleaning up. A while later Candy appeared. She beamed and looked lovelier than ever.

"It's miraculous!" said Candy. "Just when we lost hope, the baby decided to come out!"

"Great!" said Neal excitedly. "Aren't you tired?"

"No, I am too excited. Oh, I'm so glad everything turned out nicely for Bertha and her baby!"

They stared at each other and she did something he would have never expected. Crying out joyful words, Candy jumped into his arms. How could such a joy be possible? He hugged her tightly in his arms. He never wanted to let her go. It felt he could try to kiss her, she seemed to be in the mood.

Neal looked down at her, almost bending... and heard footsteps.

"Neal!" Jimmy appeared carrying a bundle in his arms. "You want to carry my daughter?" The new father proudly presented his baby to him.

"Oh Neal, you should! You should!" cried Candy. She's pulling away.

Reluctantly, Neal released Candy. "Sure." He cursed secretly for not being quicker.

The moment was lost but it's hard to stay grouchy. The infant was so tiny, even tinier than little Tyler and so pink. She looked peaceful like a little angel. Gently, Neal touched the baby's face with the back of his finger and suddenly she just roared!

"She's asking for food." Neal laughed. Expertly he returned the screaming baby back to the first time father who stood frozen, looking puzzled.

"You know?" asked Candy, impressed.

"From Eliza. She wants Tyler to have a hand-on uncle!" Neal chuckled. And from Alden too ... He stopped there, feeling guilty for thinking about Alden while Candy was being friendly to him.

"He's right. Give her back to the mother," said the doctor who just came out. "She's so strong and has a huge appetite! She'll be fine."

Jimmy nervously went back inside to give the baby to his wife. Candy laughed seeing Neal's proud face.

...

Jimmy offered Neal a dinner and to stay for the night but Neal insisted of going back home. Neal took the doctor back to Calumet and stopped at the ranch to see Candy one more time. She was in the kitchen with several women he saw earlier cooking, working, and chatting merrily together. There's so much happiness radiated off that kitchen. He stood watching her pleasant face until she saw him. She smiled, it was that infectious, and came up to him.

"Bertha's friends. They're making dinner for Bertha and Jimmy," she explained.

"Nice. But, you were fantastic, Dr. Andrew," praised Neal who had eyes only for her.

Candy blushed shyly filling his heart with so much love it's amazing it didn't burst.

"You're fantastic too. Jimmy credits you for helping him survive the waiting torture. Your deep knowledge of horses impressed him. No one could have done it better than you," replied Candy generously.

Neal drew himself up, trying unsuccessfully to look modest. "Should I take you back to Pony's home?" he asked, finally.

"I'll stay here to monitor the mother and daughter. The danger is not over yet, there're still risks for complications."

"But you must be tired."

"Not at all." Candy chuckled. "This is just a regular day in the hospital." She passed Neal a brown paper bag. "I made you sandwiches in case you get hungry on the road."

Neal took the paper bag and looked inside. A ripe apple. Sandwiches, neatly cut. A bottle of coffee, still warm.

"Caffeine kick to keep you awake." She grinned.

"You made these for me?" asked Neal, touched. "Thank you."

"Same to you," said Candy, smiling.

He used to get into her nerve, nevertheless she was impressed on how he handled the problem today. Even Albert can't do it better, she thought.

Neal turned around and stepped away before unexpectedly stopped and looked back.

"Oops...! What about the letter you want me to mail?" He grinned under the moonlight, momentarily dazzled her with his thoughtfulness and smile.

Candy blinked. "Ah, right! That's okay, I'll do it tomorrow," replied Candy. Her heart started pounding for reasons unknown to her. "Drive carefully." She waved.

So Neal… And he understands horses and babies?, she mulled, melted.

oOo

The rest of the holiday moved smoothly and seemed to pass too quickly. Candy heaved a huge sigh. She'd miss everyone in here.

"Goodbye all," said Candy to the children who surrounded her.

She then hugged Ms. Pony and Sr. Lanne who were waiting behind the children. "I'll miss you."

"Send our love to Neal," said Ms. Pony.

"He is such a dear, do tell him that," added Sr. Lanne.

Candy's heart heaved happily. Anything that made her mothers happy made her very happy. "I will!" she answered keenly.

Outside, Alfred was already waiting for her.

"You had a good time, Ms. Candice?" greeted Alfred, taking the suitcase from her.

"Yes Alfred, thank you," replied Candy.

"A telegram for you and some mail." Alfred passed a stack of letters to Candy.

Candy settled herself in the back seat and waved to everyone as Alfred pulled the car out of the driveway onto the street. She then turned her attention to her letters. One thick envelope from Neo stood up. It looked so familiar she could even smell the pages. She smiled, setting it aside.

None from Albert. Candy sighed and read the telegram first.

Will come on Wednesday. Are you ready for the ball? BRING A DATE! Annie

Hurray! They really are coming! Candy clenched her fists.

.

-To be continued-

Thanks for reading. Thanks for the continuous patience.

oOo

NOTE:

Back then husbands/men were not allowed to see their women at labor (now still so in several countries…)

* Candy = boss, a story from Candy Candy manga. That's how Jimmy calls her.


Chapter 20: Ball

Chapter 20: Ball

.

It was a nice afternoon in Chicago when Candy arrived at the train station to see Stear, Archie, Pattie, Annie and their sons. Mr. And Mrs. Brighton were already there. Their faces beamed with happy smiles.

"We miss our daughter. Can't wait to see how tall our grandson is. And of course Archie…," said Mrs. Brighton.

Candy chatted with her for a while and also with other relatives from the Andrews large family who came, some mutual friends, and George.

"Master Stear, Ms. Patty, and their son will stay with Madam Elroy in Lakewood," George explained. "I come to pick them up."

After a while, Candy started to feel tired of making small chats. Worse yet the train still hadn't come. She stood aside to take a break, gazed through the blue sky hoping the perfect weather stayed so the children could play in the lake.

Lucky Annie and Patty! All married and have children, she thought. She would give up everything to have that life with Albert. Suddenly she felt so alone until she felt Neo's letter in her pocket that just arrived today. I'm not alone-

"LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!" Her muse was cut by a loud announcement from the speakers. "THE TRAIN WILL COME ONE HOUR LATE DUE TO HEAVY RAIN IN-"

Everyone groaned exasperatedly. Candy whispered some soft curse, too. She had a class in the evening. It would be tragic if she had to leave without seeing them.

"Oh wretched!" Candy heard someone mutter behind her then louder, "Hi Candy, is that you?"

Candy turned and met a blonde with blue eyes, for a moment she thought she's looking at Albert. It's Jeff, Archie's best friend from St. Paul.

"Good. Hi Jeff, you're here to meet Archie?" Candy extended her hand.

"Yup! Haven't seen him for years!" He smiled, shaking her hand.

"I didn't know that you're in town."

"Just moved here. I am running for Chicago City Clerk." Jeff grinned.

"You are going into politics!" Candy exclaimed. "Well, you were the head of boys student body in St Paul, right? I remember. Giving speech and all that. It suits you."

Jeff laughed. "And you?"

They chatted. He told her what he was up to and she told him hers. Fortunately Jeff spoke so well. Time sped up. All of a sudden she already heard the train loud whistle.

"They're here!" Candy's spirit soared. "Talk to you later, Jeff!"

Candy eagerly walked alongside the VIP compartment until the train came to a halt. She almost couldn't breathe when she finally saw her friends. It felt too nice to be true!

"Annie!" Mrs. Brighton jumped to her daughter and hugged her tight.

Mr. Brighton shook Archie's hands. George came forward to let Stear know he's there to pick them up. Candy struggled to patiently wait for her turn, politely letting the family elders have their turn first.

"Candy! Is Candy here?" she heard Annie scream.

"Annie!" Candy pushed among the crowds. "I'm here!" She rushed forward and the two friends pulled each other in a tight embrace. Annie was in tears. Candy was always the most important person to her.

Candy hugged Patty too equally tightly and Stear. Then Archie came, wrapping Candy in his arms. Aware of Annie's sharp gaze, Candy returned it by patting Archie's back lightly. She was relieved when he finally released her.

"Oh they grow up so quickly," said Candy looking at their sons. She motioned to carry them but they were frightened of her.

"Don't worry," said Patty generously. "I am sure by tomorrow they will not want to leave you!"

Candy laughed. "Oh Annie, look how nice you are." She gently patted Annie's swelling stomach.

"She is marvelous," said Mrs. Brighton holding her daughter's hand. "Annie, my Annie, let's go home dear. You must be hungry now that you are eating for two, tired too. It's such a long trip." She whisked her pregnant daughter with her.

Candy could tell that Mr. and Mrs. Brighton wanted to be with them. And she had to go to her class. Politely, she told them she would come to visit them again tomorrow.

While walking behind them, Candy heard someone tell George that they had more luggage than the cars could carry. Several box of suitcases didn't fit into the cars.

"Alfred can help. Use my car," offered Candy. "My school is nearby."

"But then how will you go to school?" asked Archie gently, looking deeply concerned.

"Er by bus-," replied Candy.

"I can give you a ride, Candy," said Jeff who walked next to Archie. "I'll show you the new city clerk building. You can see how your tax money at work."

"Uhm..." Candy hesitated.

"Don't worry, you don't need to vote for me." Jeff joked.

Candy laughed. That was too funny to be refused. "Okay!"

ooo

The following day Candy came to visit her friends again in the Cornwell mansion. While Archie and Stear were taking care of their urgent family business, Candy, Patty, Annie and the boys spent the whole day in the lake. After lunch and the boys took a nap, Patty and Annie showed Candy photos they brought from Argentina telling her how their lives were there.

"This university is close to our home and is relatively new." Patty pointed to a photo with a new looking building in the background. "It's called Universidad Nacional de La Platae-"

"Oh I love your Spanish accent," cut Candy, clapping her hands.

They laughed as Candy quizzed Patty some words in Spanish which she answered all fluently.

Patty picked another photo. "And this is my office there. I teach English."

Candy showered her with praises until Patty blushed shyly adjusting her glasses.

Then it's Annie's turn. She showed many photos of the new baby room, clothing, and decorations she prepared for the incoming baby. Candy listened with a mix of joy and envy. She wanted that life so badly.

At her turn, Candy told Annie and Patty about the Pony's home, Jimmy, his baby and more. Gesturing at her school backpack with thick medical school books inside, Candy told them about her favorite class in the school of medicine.

"So we prepared the purified drug and injected it to that dying mouse. Guess what–" She stopped looking at her two friends who're watching her unblinked. "Sorry. Am I getting too detailed?"

"Go on. What happens to the mouse? Oh Candy, I think you're so highly intelligent," admired Patty.

Candy giggled, bashful.

"Impressive! But Candy, who are you dating?" asked Annie, straightforwardly. "Any hot brainy researcher in the school of medicine?"

"No. No one." Candy shrugged.

"What about Ben? In your letter you said you went to lunch a couple of times with him."

"He's dating Judy now," replied Candy.

Annie looked at Candy with pity.

"We have an important ball in the governor mansion, remember? One of the reasons why Stear and Archie came home for," asked Annie.

Candy nodded.

"It's a prestigious ball for influential businesses leaders, entrepreneurs, and professionals," explained Patty.

Annie nodded. "Who will you take as a date?"

"No one," snapped Candy. "I just go with you girls."

Annie and Patty looked at one another.

After Candy left, Annie brought up the topic to her husband at dinner.

"Candy said she has no date for the ball," said Annie gloomily.

"Jeff then!" quipped Archie. "They seemed to enjoy themselves yesterday. He gave her a ride and took her to his office."

"I like Jeff too." Annie nodded. "But, any other candidates? The more the better. I'm so worried for her. She's alone in Chicago. We're not here, Albert is not here. No one is here."

They all stayed silent for a while.

"Neal is in Chicago," murmured Stear quietly.

Everyone turned to look at Stear.

"Dad said Neal has been calling the shot since uncle Leagan fell sick. He has been in contact with Neal regularly for family business -"

"So?" cut Archie.

Stear lifted his hand and continued. "I met Neal today to give him paperwork from dad. I think he looks decent. Candy could consider taking him as a date -"

"It's some cringe worthy idea you have there, Stear," Archie snorted, cutting in again.

"Does Neal have a date?" asked Patty meekly.

"Don't know. Men don't talk about these things." Stear grinned. "And we were at a very formal meeting."

Annie nodded thoughtfully several times. "Mom also said she has been seeing Neal in family business meetings. She likes him a lot."

"From how Candy talked, I don't think she hates Neal, right Annie? It seems they're friends!" said Patty enthusiastically. "Let's ask Neal to be her date in the ball!"

Annie nodded, got up to reach out the phone.

"No! Not that hoity-toity buffoon!" protested Archie loudly. Annie immediately returned to her seat. "If Candy wants him, she knows his number there's no need for us to push her! And... Neal! Bah! He's only good to torture a cat!"

Archie talked at length about how much misery Neal caused Candy since the first day they met. "Jeff is better. He'll be in the ball and he just broke up with his girlfriend. Perfect fit."

Silence fell again as everyone thought about Archie's arguments.

Stear inhaled slowly. "Let's have Candy decide who she wants to date. We have Jeff now. I and Archie can introduce her to more friends later."

oOo

A few days later, they went to the ball. To support Candy, her friends took her to walk on the red carpet together.

"MR. AND MRS. ALISTAIR CORNWELL, MR. AND MRS. ARCHIE CORNWELL, AND MS. CANDICE ANDREW!" the announcer announced through the loud speaker.

Candy and her friends entered the grand ballroom with tables and seats on the sides. Some guests were already inside. They were picking their table when someone called them.

"Hi Archie!" Jeff came. He greeted them by shaking hands and lifted Candy's hand to his lips. "We meet again. Ms. Andrew, you look lovely."

"Thank you. Likewise," answered Candy, cordially. Annie had made her work her look to the meticulous details. The dress, hair, makeup. Everything.

Jeff looked at five of them.

"Yeah. You all were inseparable in St. Paul," said Jeff.

"I wish they didn't have to go back to Argentina," replied Candy looking at her four friends. Those good old times in London. Time flew fast. "Have a seat."

"If you miss them, just ring me," said Jeff, taking a chair next to Candy.

"Oh, I'm relieved to hear that," said Annie. "Thanks Jeff."

"Not at all," said Jeff. "We have a governor candidate picnic in three weeks." He took a piece of paper from his pocket, scribbled a schedule and passed it to Candy. Annie secretly squeezed Candy's hand under the table."If she wants to, I can make sure our busy doctor get some outdoor break from her lab."

They were chatting until Jeff had to leave the table for something.

"JOSEPH WEINHARD!" The announcer loudly announced the newly coming guest over the speakers.

Stear leaned towards Archie. "Hey is that Joey?" They stared across the room looking at the ginger-haired young man who just entered.

Archie nodded. "Let's grab him."

One by one Archie and Stear introduced their single friends to Candy.

"Candy, what do you think?" asked Patty after a while. She and Annie pulled her for a private conversation. "They all are eligible bachelors, university graduates with promising future. Stear and Archie have done thorough screening."

"I know Jeff is nice," whispered Annie. "If you want, I can ask Archie to have him dance with you." She knew Candy had a penchant for blonde hair and blue eyes.

"I don't want to dance. I'd rather chat with both of you," protested Candy, patiently. She only wants to dance with her prince.

"We will dance later and I want you to dance, too. Please…" Annie kept pleading, persuading her. "Just once."

"Well, okay then. In that case… I'd like to dance with-"

"MR. NEAL LEAGAN!" The announcement from the speakers interrupted her words.

Candy, Annie, and Patty immediately turned their head to the red carpet. Neal, straight and cultured, walked on the red carpet.

"Whoa!" Patty whispered. "I must agree with Stear!" She nudged Candy's and Annie's arm at the same time. "Candy look for yourself. What do you think?"

To say Neal was well dressed was an understatement of how he looked tonight. For a minute Candy felt the world stopped and everything ceased to exist except the man who's walking on the red carpet.

Handsome! Perhaps because now we're friends?, she thought, confused.

Curiously Candy was observing Neal. He talked to some blondes wearing the tallest high-heeled shoes who looked more like supermodels rather than entrepreneurs or businesswomen! One, the most attractive one, lingered. She giggled holding his arm and he smiled back at her. They looked absorbed at one another.

The view made Candy's stomach felt like being punched. It struck her that she had wrongly assumed Neal was not involved in mutual romantic relationship with any women.

"Does he have a d-date?" Candy blurted in an goofy high-pitched squeak. Her face felt absurdly warm. She looked at her friends and was relieved that they didn't notice or if they did, they were not showing it.

Annie gently reached out and squeezed Candy's hand. "Wait."

Annie went to her husband who's talking with others and gently nudged his shoulder. "Darling, would you find out if Neal has a date?" she whispered.

-To be continued-

My dearest readers: Thank you so very much for being here and reading :") Thanks for the support and company.

.

REMINDER:

Ben x Judy: chapter 13

Stear, Archie have one son so far (chapter 2). Annie is pregnant, chapter 13


Chapter 21: Ball 2

Chapter 21: Ball 2

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"I want to meet Neal too." Stear got up. "Archie, I go with you."

The t