|Subject: Chapter 231 - Part 1
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Date Posted: Monday, March 27, 06:57:25am
In reply to:
's message, "Dreams in the Dark (chapters 221--?)" on Monday, February 13, 07:24:07am
Dreams in the Dark (231/?)
by Katherine Gilbert
Once more, the outlook wasn't bright. All things considered, the couple everyone seemed to enjoy threatening had had little time to regroup themselves after their latest set of shocks, Michael only just getting a chance to talk to Adrian, before they were off on their tour. It might be a relatively brief one, would only hit a few major cities, but that mattered little. At the moment, it seemed an utterly grueling prospect to have to endure.
Still, their enjoyment, as always, was of only minor concern to their masters, Madeline's desire to lengthen their torment by sending the pair out into their travels with Michael's replacement in tow only too clear. Perhaps it was to be a tense journey, but that was only to be expected. Whatever Adrian's promises about the new man's reliability, there were far too many fears of separation left to haunt Nikita and her husband now.
It was this they were discovering, more and more, as the *Golden State Express* rumbled them across the country, further and further away from both the comfort of their home and the torment of their constant followers. But, even here, there were eyes. While it might have proved difficult enough to have to find a way to cope with Shears alone, the situation between them all certainly awkward, they weren't given even that privilege. Madeline's watchdog, Zalman, was along for the ride, instead.
This fact did little to comfort Nikita, her life growing ever-more difficult. Not only was she beginning to find the rhythm of the rails a bit sickening--her baby apparently not interested in travel--but it was also so wearing to have to constantly be on guard. Of course, this was a burden she frequently faced, even at home, but there--at least--there was always some time to herself, some point in the day when she and her husband were on their own. Here, there was no such comfort. Even in the supposed privacy of their compartment, she felt exposed, never certain who might be on the other side of the wall; her gaze fell, heart sinking. There was just no such thing as breathing room anymore.
This wasn't true in a literal sense, at least, the train well-booked in this holiday season but managing, in its first-class section, anyway, to give an appearance of space which its actual dimensions probably wouldn't corroborate. It was a small sort of comfort--but she would take anything of the type she could find, these days.
She was appreciating this fact again now, was in the Club Car, doing her duty by making her appearance obvious to the other passengers, while waiting for Michael to come settle her again. And she was finding one, more positive, quality here which she hadn't expected--the nightmares which still tended to plague her diminishing. Perhaps, in some ways, these new surroundings would be for the best.
She didn't want to make this a lifetime test of her emotions, however, wanting nothing more than to go back to her little home soon, with her husband beside her. But--rising nausea aside--it might be better to be away from everyone for awhile. Certainly, a few days without Madeline, her grandmother--whatever her mixed emotions there--and the disturbing memories of the attack could be a blessing; her sigh was quiet. She could only hope that the effects of such a bounty would outweigh all of its pain.
It was, for now--at least to a certain extent. Or it would have, if it weren't for the one, terrible addition to their party; her gaze moved up, discovering, to her utter disgust, Zalman walking toward her. It wasn't ever a pleasant sight. While she wasn't at all certain that she would have found him attractive, even had he been the most wonderful man on earth, his current personality destroyed any such notion in any woman with half a brain in her head. Everything about him was goading--even the man's first name making her shiver; she managed to repress it, as he came up to her table. She had had more than enough "Jamies" to last a lifetime.
This fact did her little good, the smarmy man smiling at her--knowing what her answer would have to be. "May I have this seat?" Given her contract with Premier, it wasn't likely that she could decline.
She allowed him a half-nod, then, giving into the inevitable with the bare minimum of expected politeness--her mind turning, as he took his seat. Perhaps, if she quickly agreed to whatever sort of nonsense he had planned, he would leave her. It was probably her best chance, if she hoped to be rid of him before he made her feel even more ill.
This wasn't an entirely likely scenario, but she was willing to dream; it was all she really had left, these days. And, as she managed to maintain her semi-pleasant exterior, her mind turned back to one of her first meetings with the man. It had been on her first, ordered date with Michael--Madeline's toady sliming up to them to remind them to look like the couple they were supposed to be. It hadn't been easy, at the time--Nikita's knowledge of her future partner then heavily shaded by rumor and fear, her own inexperience also worrying. But the memory did give her one piece of hope. If her husband arrived to see this man near her, she would certainly be safe. He alone could be sure of seeing him off quickly.
She kept this bit of a prayer in her heart, as her current visitor's disgusting eyes roamed over her--trying her hardest not to remember how much they resembled Hillinger's typical leer; one more thought managed to squeak through, before he spoke. The first time--one of the only two trips--she had been on this train, she had also had a male protector as well as a sleazy pursuer; she just managed to keep the look of disgust off her face. How far she had--and hadn't--come from the days of Helmut and Wells.
"You don't look too bad, for a woman in your condition." The words were spoken half under his breath, kept secret from those around them. He grinned at her, ignoring her guarded look of distaste. "But you need to keep up your strength." He motioned to a porter, clearly staying for the duration. "We can't have you looking unpleasant for your fellow passengers." Talk, certainly, was what he feared.
Nikita said nothing yet, merely blinking--rather impressed. It was amazing how the man could speak so clearly to her without seeming to utter a sound to anyone else in the car. It must be a talent bred solely in slugs.
His fears for her were suspicious, to say the least--especially with Michael's suggestions about Madeline's potential plans for their baby; she managed to repress the shiver. While she had every intention of keeping the child well-nourished, there were certain places where she had to be careful what she ate--not wanting to ingest anything which might cause a miscarriage; her eyes narrowed for half a second. It was impossible not to wonder whether this were yet another of those places.
She didn't address such issues, even if she suspected that the man had spoken merely to raise such fears. Perhaps that was part of Madeline's plan. If she didn't eat, her child could suffer; the sigh was quiet, as she forced herself to relax. But that only meant that she was frightened to take any action at all.
This situation disgusted Nikita, as the porter came toward them--leaving her to wonder at her fate. Either Madeline were the mistress of all manipulation or she herself was simply creating her own trap. Perhaps her--justifiable--fear of the woman was causing her to overanalyze every action around her; she smiled up at the newcomer, trying to see a way through such irony. She was going to have to do her best to keep her sanity in all of this somehow.
She tried to remember this truth, tried to remain calm, her thoughts turning in those few seconds. One of Zalman's other jobs--besides simply making all their lives hell at the orders of his mistress--was to be certain that no bad talk circulated about any of the studio's stars, or at least, none that Madeline didn't want. And it was the rule in Hollywood that the stars should look like stars, no matter where they were. One of the first truths you learned, along with your contract, was that you were always on display. No woman of any status would dream of leaving her house, even if she were only going on the most menial errand, without full makeup, her hair nicely coiffed, and her clothes looking as though she were about to pose for the most widely-circulated fan magazine. It should never be said that a star wasn't a star. Only normal human beings were allowed to be unkempt.
Nikita had learned all of these truths early in her career, did her best to keep them in mind; it was easier that way. And, after awhile, it simply became second-nature to be perfect; she almost laughed. Or, at least, as close to it as she could typically manage.
She felt a nearly tangible ache for the presence of her husband at that moment--an ache made all the more intense by the fact that she would be losing him soon; she tried not to think into it, not needing such fears. Still, she did know one, slightly disturbing, truth. He alone would always love her, even without the makeup; he alone needed no aura of glamour blinding him when she walked in the room. To every other man who might be even passingly interested in her, she was--at best--a representative of the dreams that Hollywood sold; the sigh leaked out. But no real woman could live up to such hype forever.
She loved Michael all the more for this, even if it were only the smallest part of her devotion to him. When the porter asked what he could get for her, she shook her head politely--pulling herself back from the thoughts, stronger for the memory of the man she loved--meeting the steward's eyes. Joe, was it? Zalman's very presence made her feel scattered, making it hard to remember. "I'm sorry. My friend was mistaken. I don't need anything." After all, she could imagine little which would sicken her more than the taste of alcohol, at the moment. Her smile was kind. "Sorry to bother you."
The man nodded to her, assuring her that it was no trouble. And, before he went away, he cast what looked to be a *very* suspicious glance at Zalman. But it only lasted for a fraction of a second, would have been easy enough to imagine it had never occurred. When her unwanted visitor looked about ready to bring him back, ordering for himself, settling in to torment her, she distracted him, letting the porter get away completely. "Mr. Zalman." He glanced back to her, slightly annoyed. "Is your knowledge of my 'condition' a personal one?" Her gaze moved into his. "Just how many children do you have yourself?"
The man looked slightly prickled by the question, which was just as she wanted it; there was no benefit in trying to win him over. "I'm unmarried, Miss . . ." He let the word linger, before changing it--reminding her of all her many months of supposed unmarried bliss with her now-husband. "Mrs. Samuelle." His look was anything but kind. "I'm afraid I don't have the pleasure of such knowledge yet."
She managed not to laugh at such dissembling, although the smile stayed on her lips. Not only did she suspect quite the opposite about the man's part in various women's newfound maternity, but she also imagined that he would see such knowledge as anything but a "pleasure." Even if he ever married, he would be more than happy for his wife to simply take care of all the less-pleasant aspects of pregnancy, childbirth, and child-rearing--which was to say, all of them. This was definitely the sort of man who was solely interested in their breeding.
Still, this evaluation might not be entirely true, she realized in the next moment--an heir, a small carbon copy of himself, probably a necessity to him someday--but he was clearly quite willing to wait. In his job as studio minder, he was allowed free access to many a hopeful, and woefully naive, young girl--the promise of a contract apparently a key to unlock many a young woman's virginity. That such contracts never came about would mean nothing to him--neither would the children he might breed in such affairs; her gaze moved further into the man. No one such as he could ever abide the presence of a woman for longer than the few seconds it might take him to relieve himself of his desire.
This was a disgusting image, her head shaking slightly, as she tried to rid herself of it; she was feeling ill enough as it was. She only put in one last barb--praying for her husband's arrival. "I'm certain you can understand what I mean." And might God have mercy on the souls of all those girls who had vaguely acquainted him with the details.
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