It was a long night and Caroline spent most of it lying awake and waiting by the phone, hoping to hear from Xavier or the police about Amelia. Thrice when she called him it went to voicemail. His phone must be dead and the in-car charger for the SUV has not been fixed. They’d been meaning to get round to it. Hindsight is a bitch sometimes.
After dropping off the twins at school, she took the day off work to wait at home. She was meant to present her refined proposal to the Alpine family today, but none of that is important anymore. Amelia is missing and she hopes to God for her safe return. Xavier’s office was also informed of his absence.
She sits in waiting.
Angry voice. Growing louder, angrier and closer.
Door bursts open.
‘YOU!’ She takes deliberate steps towards Caroline. ‘How dare you lose my child. How fucking dare you?!’ She looks vicious, almost deadly.
‘Don’t you dare Penelope me. You lost my child. It isn’t enough that you drove a wedge between her and her father but you just had to get rid of her.’
‘I did nothing of the sort. Amelia was under punishment she shouldn’t have left-‘
‘Don’t blame her for your incompetency. Are you not ashamed of yourself? A simple task of taking care of a child and you cannot even manage that. What kind of a mother are you?’
‘How dare you insinuate that I’m a bad mother?’
‘It was not an insinuation.’ Penelope retorts.
‘What kind of a mother does that make you?’ Caroline demands angrily. ‘Going off to the Caribbean with your lover under the pretext of work and leaving your daughter to be cared for by such a bad woman?’
Penelope’s eyes grow wider, she was not expecting that.
‘Yes, I know all about your “work trip”. So before you go throwing your stones, remember you live in a glasshouse.’
‘Be that as it may, my child was in your care when she went missing. You have never liked her. She will not step foot in this house again. If Xavier wants to see his daughter he will have to make alternative arrangements because by the time my lawyers are done with you, you won’t come within a thousand feet of my daughter.’
‘Good for you. You think you are such a picnic to put up with? You think its easy dealing with the bullshit you tell Amelia about me so she can disrespect me?
‘It is not supposed to be easy!’ Penelope says at the top of her voice. ‘And I don’t give a damn what you think of feel.’
‘Nor do I!’ Caroline’t tone eclipses Penelope’s. She will not be made to feel like a fool for something that isn’t her fault. ‘I don’t give a damn about you Penelope but I do care for Amelia and she is missing. Xavier and the police are out there looking for her. I’m here waiting by the phone hoping to hear something soon. Hoping to God Amelia calls so we know she is safe. Now, you can sit with me and we can pretend for once we don’t want to kill each other or you can get the hell out and wait outside. The choice is yours.’
Penelope seizes Caroline up with the most disdainful look before walking out and slamming the door behind her.
‘Great.’ Caroline mentally kicks herself for losing her cool. That was not her finest moment but the woman is relentless. Still…
Voices. Anxious voices.
Caroline sits up, hoping it is someone coming to deliver some good news. Praying Amelia walks in through those doors.
Xavier, Amelia and Penelope walk in.
‘Oh thank goodness. Amelia are you okay?’ Caroline rushes forward but Penelope quickly plants herself between her daughter and her step-mother. Amelia looks sombre and shaken.
‘Why did you tell Penelope to sit outside?’ Xavier asks Caroline.
Caroline looks from her husband to his baby mama. Great. She thinks to herself. This is going to be one of those situations where she comes off looking like an utter ass and its entirely her fault. ‘She was being difficult.’
‘Difficult? Caroline she was worried about Amelia.’ Xavier’s tone has a little tsk to it, as if he is telling her off. Caroline is not surprised to see Penelope’s sinister smile.
‘She wasn’t helping the situation. All she wanted to do was point fingers and blame me for losing her child.’
‘And that you did. She was under your care and you lost her.’ Penelope snipes.
‘I didn’t lose her. Amelia was grounded she should never have left the house.’
‘You see what she’s doing there Xavier, she is blaming Amelia. She cannot take responsibility for her actions. She ran way because of the things you said to her.’
‘What things?’ Caroline asks, taken aback.
‘That you don’t love her and you never want to see her in this house-‘
‘THAT’S A LIE!’
‘Penelope I told I’d speak to Caroline about that. I don’t believe she would say that to Amelia.’
‘Are you calling her a liar?’ Penelope rounds on Xavier.
‘That is a lie. I never said anything like that to Amelia.’ Caroline affirms. ‘Amelia?’
Penelope pushes her daughter behind her protectively.
‘We’ll talk about this later-‘
‘Let’s talk about it now Xavier. Amelia, when did I say that to you?’
‘My child has been through enough trauma as it is. What kind of a mother are you to say that to a child?’ Penelope continues, angrily.
That does it.
‘I have told you once and I will tell you for the last time, don’t you ever call me a bad mother.’ Caroline’s tone is menacing enough for Xavier to jerk his head towards her. From that look on her face, he knows if Penelope doesn’t leave now she will be in hospital. He puts himself between them.
‘What are you going to do?’ Penelope mouths off from behind Xavier.
‘Keep running that mouth of yours and see what happens.’ Caroline says, taking another step forward.
Xavier turns to look at a his very angry wife. ‘Caroline…’
‘What Xavier? You want to take sides and make me look like a fool. Is that it? You actually believe that I would say that to Amelia?’
‘No. That’s not it. You shouldn’t have asked her to sit outside.’
‘Regardless of how wrong I was, she wasn’t helping the situation. She came in yelling like a mad cow. I understand her distress and I’m sorry about what happened to Amelia but I draw the line at being called a bad mother. It’s not my fault she can’t be bothered about her daughter’s welfare because she has a boyfriend. If I’m such a bad mother you should have made other arrangements.’
‘Well maybe I will from now on. Maybe-‘
‘Penelope that’s enough.’ Xavier’s cold voice puts a stop to Penelope’s shenanigans. ‘Both of you.’ He looks at Caroline who is looking daggers at him. He turns to Penelope. ‘Amelia was grounded. She shouldn’t have left the house.’
‘And why was she grounded?’
‘Because she was being rude.’ Caroline answers with as much attitude.
‘Says me Penelope.’ Xavier retorts. ‘Amelia was being rude to Caroline so she was grounded. I punished her. She shouldn’t have left the house.’ Xavier sighs, tired from the long night he’d had and the longer morning he is having. ‘Look, Amelia’s home safe now and that’s all that matters. Penelope, I’ve told you before, Caroline is my wife and you will respect that. You will respect her when you are in this house and you will tell Amelia to do the same. Am I clear?’
‘Crystal.’ With that, Penelope walks out taking a despondent looking Amelia with her.
Caroline is about to walk away when Xavier stops her.
‘You shouldn’t have told her to sit outside Caroline. Penelope is a trouble maker.’
‘I know that, but she-‘
‘But nothing. She was worried about Amelia, she went missing in our care so she is entitled to get however hysterical she wants to get about it.’
‘Do you believe what she said I told Amelia?’
‘I don’t want to talk about it right now.’
‘I want to talk about it Xavier because its not true and and you not wanting to talk about it tells me you believe them.’
‘I don’t know. I just…’
‘You don’t know.’ Caroline’s heart jolts.
‘Caroline, its been a long night and I still need to talk to Amelia about everything. You may not have said those words to her but I need to know why she would think that way.’
‘I may not have said them?’
‘Caroline, stop it.’
‘You either believe me or you don’t Xavier. Which is it?’
‘I don’t know.’ He shrugs before walking away.
It’s those three words that break Caroline’s heart.