THE DAY ELLE’S PARENTS RETIRED FROM BEING SPIES
Sierra Vista, Arizona, USA 2012
The setting sun stroked the streaky clouds with the hue of coral pink. The pale blue sky prepared for the coming starry night. Out in the Sonoran desert, by a bunker entrance of a southwest intelligence base, stood CIA agents Xavier D. Wace and Mara Taylor-Wace watching the sun pass away unto the other side of the world. All Zave wanted to do was to take Mara’s hand and hold it in the peace of the coming dusk. The words, “I love you, Mara”, tickled the back of his throat, begging to be voiced. As if this very moment was a flashback from the evening they officially became a team. It was that evening Zave knew one thing for certain, that he could trust Mara Taylor with his life. Now five years later, his future depended on Mara trusting him with her life.
Zave could only imagine what it was like to be Mara. Mara knew, however. Angry, that a man madly in love with her was stolen from her soul. She looked at him, and felt guilt and shame. She felt guilty for lacking the capacity to love him back and she felt shame for being unworthy of his love. Aside from her last boyfriend based on fuzzy recall, Max, who apparently has been a dead rogue agent for the past five years, she didn’t do the love thing. She wasn’t even sure if she loved Max. Max was another warm body to lie down with to lessen the sting of loneliness. And he was a great spy… together they were great spies… But Zave claimed he and she were elite spies saving the world side by side. And in terms of the love thing, they set the bar for true love. If endless love were a real thing, they came close to it. And knowledge of such a great romance infuriated Mara! She could never be a good spy in a massive vulnerable state like being-in-love. Yet, somewhere deep at her core, she wanted to know what that felt like and to understand the impact that would have on her life. Therefore, she found a nearby, big rock and took a seat. She looked up at Zave and asked him to tell her a story: the story of them.
Practically bowing at her feet, he sat at the base of the rock and he told her. He saw her for the first time at Langley, when she was given an award for outstanding work in the field. At that celebration, he heard about all her missions and knew she was way out of his league since he was just an analyst. But the day they became a team, was where they currently were and after they got their orders they stood at this very spot and watched the sunset and that’s when everything changed. He talked about all their missions. The first time they kissed for real and not for show, when they thought they were about to die in a vault running out of air. When they were on the run, and they realized they couldn’t be without each other. The time he made his first kill and lost Mara over it, and the time he won Mara back by saving her life… How he proposed the day Paxton’s third child was born. How he saved her life again a few weeks before their wedding day. And how he felt the moment he lost her.
Embracing their current reality, Zave looked up at her and cleared his throat, “Sky made a cute suggestion… you know… she’s at that age where she watches movies about princesses all the time. The prince fixes everything with one kiss. She thought, maybe if we kissed, it would fix us… you might remember us.” He explained as he got up to face her on bended knee.
Those teary brown eyes of Zave intrigued her. It was a stupid idea and most likely wouldn’t work at all, but it was the least she could do for the man that saved her life twice. Swooping down by leaning forward gently, she went to kiss him. He met her lips halfway by cupping her face in his slender, lanky hands. The kiss was infused with passion lacking for nothing and it did stir something in Mara she couldn’t explain, but as far as the faintest memory of Xavier Douglas Wace… the kiss did nothing.
Reluctantly, Zave freed her from his lip lock. Holding his hands up, ready to embrace her in another kiss, he desperately asked, “So, anything?”
Remorsefully, she answered honestly, “I’m sorry… no…” Mara’s honesty surprised her. She’s never been so truthful nor has she ever wanted to be so truthful with a person. Maybe she was in love with him. Unfortunately, only her subconscious knew it. Maybe she needed more of his affection to evoke that love for him. “Maybe if we kiss again…” she said leaning down for another kiss.
He was entranced to succumb to her will, but just as the surface of their lips skimmed each other’s, he pulled himself back and hurriedly stood up. Defensively, he held his hands out as if he could push her away with some invisible force. Wincing with discomfort, Zave knew it wasn’t right, whatever it was they were doing.
“It’s not supposed to be like this, Mara! I know the kiss thing was stupid… It was a little girl’s idea after all, but we’re in love, Mara… People in love are different than this…You deserve better than this.”
Baffled by his reaction, turning down another chance to kiss the woman he madly loved, Mara rose to her feet. Rising, the faint wind caught her hair and rustled her auburn strands across her face like a model picture-perfect-ready for a glam-bam-moment-money-shot. She reached for his hands, but he tucked them safely away into his pockets.
“So what are you saying, Zave… you want me to leave?” She asked, highly confused.
Reacting rapidly, his hands sprang from his pockets and up in the air to gesture to aid his words, “No-no-no-no, GOD, no! That is the last thing I want. And I’m sorry Mara, but I can’t let you go back to being the lone spy. We’re a team. We’ll always be a team. It’s crazy to think that everything we had could come flooding back in a single moment, when it took years to build it.” Coyly, he took her hand and thumb-rubbed the back of that hand, smiling like a dopey Snow White dwarf, and he finished saying, “We should take things slow like Sunday-Evening-Drive slow and along the way take many trips down memory lane.”
Rule number one of dating, never compare, but since her last recollection of intimacy in a relationship was with Max, she automatically thought about what Max would do. By now, they’d either be in his car having sex, or in a hotel room… having sex… But Zave… he probably doesn’t use the word sex in the same context… Or does he? Why did she have to compare, when she could be wooed by his romantic gesture of chivalry? Perhaps, she fell for him because he’s not like other guys.
“Where do we begin then?” Mara asked, wondering where they’d go next.
“Motel 9,” Zave smirked, “We spent the night there before heading to San Diego. There was only one room available, it had only one bed, room 114…”
Fate was on their side. The room was vacant and they took it for the night. Cautiously, stepping into the room, Mara hoped a memory would sprout from the deep trenches of her mind, but her recall remained blank. As Zave scoped out the room, he recreated every detail of their night there five years ago as best he could with what the room had. Disappointed, she fixed her gaze on the newly installed, standard hotel red carpet. The carpet was obviously new because it didn’t even look worn, and what were the odds Motel 9 had champion carpet cleaners?
Zave just closed the egg-shell white drapes, when he turned to Mara to say something, but he noticed her long, drawn out observation of the carpet. Hope burned eagerness in his heart thinking if she could remember what changed about the room, more time together could trigger memories of their life together, and eventually he would have his Mara back: his entire life back. Restraining himself from running over to her, he froze where he was, as if he moved more than his lips he could compromise her potential memory from surfacing.
“What is it, Mara?” He asked.
“The carpet…” Mara started to say it was brand new, but Zave assumed her impending statement would offer more.
He interjected with the truth, “It’s different, isn’t? A different color… what color did the floor used to be?”
Zave bit his bottom lip, wincing with a hint of shame. He knew he shouldn’t forcefully elicit memories from her mind, but he couldn’t help it. If she couldn’t remember the faintest thing about him, he would lose her forever, and life without her wasn’t fathomable.
Mara didn’t have to be a spy to read his face. His face encompassed an expression of total dependency. He depended on her having a recollection about the carpet. She could fake it, but if she was wrong, it could make the evening awkward. Truth would be best.
She was about to confess she only made an observation, but then she noticed the drapes. White would go much better with a deep blue color. It was a Motel 9. Their colors were quite patriotic. And years ago, two years back according to memory, in reality seven years back, she stayed at a Motel 9 in northern Arizona. The architecture of both franchise motels resembled a similar style. Chances were the decorum was the same too.
Mara made a lucky guess, “Blue… it used to be a dark blue…”
Relief reverberated through Zave’s soul, she remembered SOMETHING! He couldn’t contain his joy. He leaped forward and engulfed her in his embracive arms. A cuddling warmth emitted from him and into Mara. Mara’s heart enjoyed such abounding affection, but her mind repulsed the very nature of that adoration resulting in her go to move: the safety of stiffness, which signaled Zave to let her go and step back.
“It’s okay. I’m fine.” Mara beamed a quick, forced smile trying to show she was fine when she really wasn’t.
Her headache was more like a migraine now. And on the car ride over, her nausea came back. All she wanted to do was lie down and sleep until the pain, the queasiness, and the tiredness went away. The medical examiner at the intelligence military base said she didn’t have a concussion. She didn’t even need stitches for her forehead, just a big band aid. Normally, even on her worst days, Mara could battle her nausea and prevent puke from pouring out of her mouth, but today wasn’t one of those days. She nudged Zave out of her way, and rushed to the bathroom. Mara managed to pay alms to the poor john with perfect timing.
Highly concerned, Zave knelt behind her and held her hair.
“Maybe we should go back to base to get you checked out again.” Zave suggested.
“I’m fine.” She said standing up. After rinsing her mouth with water, she added, “I think I’m just coming down with something.”
Zave stroked some loose strands of hair behind her ear, faintly chuckling, “Unless poisoned with super-spy truth serum or targeted with bio-warfare by my arch-nemesis, you never get sick.”
Humored and annoyed at the same time, Mara rolled her eyes as she giggled with subtle disbelief.
“You don’t believe me?” Zave huffed. “I’ll have you know, since I’ve known you, aside from the few cases I’ve mentioned, you’ve never been sick. The common cold couldn’t catch you.”
Laughter sprang from the core of her soul without an open invitation, but the way he talked about her health made her genuinely laugh. She can’t remember the last time she laughed this hard… with him it was probably a few weeks ago. Maybe he made her laugh the day she was taken from him. Did she trade in a life of espionage for a life of normalcy? A normal life being something she never really had.
Though the stew didn’t agree with her, she could eat a bacon cheeseburger with extra bacon and no onion. What was the nearest fast food chain with a decent pig-angus-curdled milk-sandwich-galore? When Mara inquired about getting more food, Zave looked at her like she was insane.
“Seriously?” He asked making sure.
“Seriously.” She said as deadpan as possible to stress how important it was she got more food.
“Okay… You sit tight and I’ll go grab us a bacon cheeseburger with extra bacon and no onions to split.”
“No,” Mara snapped.
Confused, he wondered if he was mistaken about her favorite fast food item, “Did you lose your taste buds too? Since when have you ever refused to split such a delicious beast with me?”
“My taste buds are the same. I want my own.”
Zave raised an eyebrow finding her appetite peculiar. He knew if he thought about it, he could figure out what it was, but right now he had to keep his bride happy. “Whatever the lady wants, she shall get… two heart-disease monsters coming up when I return.” Zave promised making his way out the door.
A calmness came over Mara while Zave was out. For protection reasons she was alert, but her tough exterior guise was down, because she felt a slight sense of security. She no longer had to worry about Xavier, deep down in her gut she knew she could trust him.
It wasn’t until she was braless and pant-less lying on the stiff, firm bed an uneasiness began to stir in her. What was she going to do as a civilian now? Xavier had the Plum Tree of course, but what did Mara have? Would she become a Kung Fu instructor to suburban spoiled brats or a cook at any number four star restaurants? Or would she work at a shooting range? Sure, she had a wide skill set and any number of jobs could be hers, but what would become of her? Would she be stuck in a mundane job for the rest of her boring normal life? Could she live a normal life knowing she would be doing nothing to protect the Free World? Sorry Mr. Wace, but Mrs. Wace couldn’t do this… She couldn’t be the wife he needed.
Hurriedly, she got dressed. Before leaving the room, she checked how many rounds she had in her 9 mm. Cautiously, she tuck the gun in the back of her pants. Taking one glance around the room, she took one final glance at a normal life. As a child a normal life was all she wanted. She imagined she wanted that with Zave too. But now, it was the last thing she wanted.
A stone wall in stature and a tank in attitude stood outside the room door, blocking Mara’s quick getaway. That stone wall tank was none other than Colonel Ben Tucker. Standing sternly, with his hands cupped on his belt poking his elbows out at the side, and glaring at Mara suspiciously, he asked, “Where you going, Taylor?”
Mara noticed a bucket for ice in her peripheral vision, on the table near the door. Snatching the bucket, she put on a forgetful act, “I almost forgot this,” she held up the ice bucket. “It would be hard to get ice without it.”
“Mmmhmm… And I just stopped by to say hi,” he said condescendingly as he stepped into the room, forcing Mara back inside.
Tossing the bucket back on the table, Mara asked, “What are you doing here, Tucker?”
Working the room, staying on guard, Ben explained, “I figured Mr. Warm-and-Fuzzy would be eager to spark your old memories. This would definitely be the first stop down memory lane, except he forgot one major detail. I was stuck in this room too. I took the floor, and man, I gotta say I’ve slept better in guerilla infested jungles than on this floor.” He grunted disdainfully under his breath with his grizzly gaze upon the floor. Ben positioned himself in front of the door again, looking at Mara with one hand behind his back, she knew he was ready to pull his gun if necessary, she too had a hand behind her back ready to pull her weapon. Ben went on to say, “I’ve been your partner for five years. I know the old you and I know the new you. Old Mara Taylor, would do what your about to do. She’d take off and we’d never see her again. New Mara Taylor, Mrs. Xavier Wace, would stay and give Zave a chance. I decided to embark on the memory journey, just in case Old Mara Taylor got cold feet and wanted to flee.”
“I’m not cut out for this…” Mara reasoned.
“Without Xavier, I’d agree with you. But he changed you… he changed me even… Take it on good authority: think with your heart not your head.”
Mara knew she couldn’t get past Ben without a hassle. Another opportunity would present itself later for her to leave. “You’re not actually going to sleep in here on the floor again, are you?” Mara asked, defusing her defensive stance and resting both hands at her side.
Ben followed suit and reattached his hands to cuffing his belt around the buckle. He answered, “No. But don’t get any ideas in the middle of the night about leaving. Any move made outside of this room, I’ll know about it.”
Taking a seat at the edge of the bed, Mara asked why Ben cared about Xavier so much. Ben took a seat at the table. He took his wallet out of his side pocket. With the wallet open to sheaths of pictures, he handed it over to Mara to look at. The pictures captured the portraits of a genuine, average, American family. There was a picture of a typical couple in love. The man was a scrawny, goofy but cute looking, bearded man embracing a stunning, vibrant woman with Tucker’s soothing, cool sage green eyes. Written on the back was: Paxton and Cory, 2005- 3rd anniversary. Another picture, with the same woman, she held new born twins and on the back of that picture was written: Mommy Cory with babies Sky Leia and Walker Luke, 2007. In the picture after that, Mara held a fairly new baby girl and Xavier stood behind her looking down at the precious little girl. Mara held the child with her left arm and a huge diamond engagement ring sparked from the flash of picture captioning. Written on the back of that picture was: Baby Quorra Tronna with Auntie Mara and Uncle Zave- best engagement gift ever: their new goddaughter, 2010. The final picture had to be a recent one. Paxton, Cory, Mara, Xaiver, two little kids, a toddler, a woman, another man that looked incredible, a young teenager, and Tucker stood in a courtyard of some complex. On the back of that picture was written: the whole gang, 2012. Mara flipped back to the face of the last picture. She stared at it knowing everyone and that place was familiar to her, but like a word on the tip of her tongue, she was at a loss as to who everyone was in relation to her and what that place was to her. Well, wait… Mr. Incredible was a little familiar.
Ben talked about when that picture was taken and who those people were. “Mr. Incredible there-,” Mara stated his name in unison with Ben, “Houston Wace,” which surprised Ben.
“You remember your brother-in-law?”
“I worked with him on a few cases before he retired. Zave and Hugh are brothers? They’re so different. I knew the director had two sons I just never knew Xavier was the other.” Mara was shocked too. Would she really marry to advance her career within the agency?
Ben grumbled a hum… not really sure what to say to Mara. Therefore he played it safe, and went back to talking about the photo. “So Mr. Incredible, and his wife, Bea, threw a party for your first anniversary. Paxton’s buddy Logan from the Plum Tree took that picture. It was a good party. The only one who hated it was Egan, he was on babysitting duty.” He was in the middle of telling a story about the mischief the twins Leia and Luke got into, when Mara interrupted him.
“I get that Cory’s your daughter, but why do I get the feeling Paxton is more than a son-in-law to you?”
“He’s nothing more than an idiot son-in-law to me, but to Zave, his buddy Paxton is more a brother to him than Hugh.”
Unable to work past her slight shock, Mara questioned, “You have a daughter? That bombshell Interpol agent isn’t her mother, is she? What was her name? Amiee Brasseur, right?”
“It’s a long story, wait, you didn’t find out about Amiee until four years ago?”
Huh… that’s the key to unlocking her memories… No pressure.
“Okay, so I remember something within the last five years… I remembered a few things while we were taking down Nee. Is Amiee Cory’s mother?” Mara couldn’t picture Ben with any other woman. Amiee and Ben were perfect together.
“Ah… no… Look, family is worth suffering the slings and arrows of civilian life. Xavier taught me that.” Ben tried to assure Mara.
Staring at those captured moments made Mara think about the woman those people expected her to be. She was a sister-in-law, a godmother, an aunt, a wife, and a friend. By no fault of her own, she failed each and every person because currently she was just a spy. Worried she’d drown in her thoughts, she slammed the wallet shut and handed it back to Ben.
“Tell me about civilian life then…” Mara sighed. A part of her wondered, if a man like Colonel Ben Tucker could manage normal life. Then perhaps she could do it.
Listening to Ben talk about his daughter Cory, and how his eyes filled with joy at the mention of her name, Mara knew he wasn’t the same NSA agent she remembered. She wasn’t sure what to think of him. Was it sweet he was a caring father and grandfather? Or was it just awkward and almost terrifying to comprehend? Ben Tucker had gone soft. It made Mara’s queasy stomach return.
Ben was in the middle of sharing how he found out Cory was his daughter, when Zave walked in with greasy, fattening food delight! Ben closed his lip and rose to his feet quickly. He greeted Zave like a fellow soldier without the saluting part. Serving up the food at the table, Zave asked Ben if he wanted to stay while Mara moved over to the table to get her food. Ben kindly rejected Zave’s offer, but that didn’t stop Zave from trying to convince him.
“Are you sure, Tuck? I can’t eat a heart-disease-waiting-to-happen by myself.”
With the door open, and ready to back out of it within the moment, he said quickly, “As much as I would love to die of a heart attack, I should call Cory and let her know we’re all alright. You two have fun. And try not to keep me up with all your baby-making noises.”
Immediately, after the door shut, Zave asked Mara, “How much did he tell you about our life?”
“Not much… what did he mean by baby-making noises?” Mara asked unfolding her foiled-up broiled burger. She salivated by the aroma alone. Her imagination went wild with high expectations of delicious satisfaction as the sweet memory of the combo taste of angus beef, smoked bacon, and cheesy cheddar awakened the taste buds on her tongue.
“It’s nothing… Obviously, something we’ll revisit in the future, if ever!”
“Anything referring to baby-making is not nothing? Were we trying to get pregnant?” Mara asked with a mouthful of burger.
Blushing ferociously, red throughout his face all the way up to his ears, he took a bite into his burger without saying anything. Mara swallowed her bite ready for more, but taking the time to tease was more appetizing than a bite of food.
“O my gosh… You want little carbon copies of us running around. Taking off their diapers and prancing around naked.” Playfully, Mara fist-bumped his shoulder, “Don’t you?” she egged.
Frustrated, Zave dropped his burger onto its wrapper and clearly stated sternly, “No I don’t… You do or did or do… You know what I mean. I agreed because I would do anything to make you happy.”
Now that was interesting. Zave turned Ben into a family. Zave was head over heels in love with Mara. Zave had an interconnected familial intimacy between his friends and actual family and he didn’t want to have kids and build a family of his own. Xavier Wace was not the open book Mara pegged him to be after all and Mara wanted to understand the reason why.
“How come you don’t want a baby?” Mara asked plainly.
“Because of Theus. A few years ago, he took over my consciousness and I almost didn’t regain control. You made me promise to leave Theus as inactive as possible. I’m just afraid I can’t keep that promise. I know you could survive without me, but it would be unfair to ask our child to do that.”
Theus, if Mara understood the gist of it, Theus was a semi-self-aware-artificial-intelligence that was integrated with cutting edge biotechnology based on Neuro-Science breakthrough discoveries. The goal was to create the Ultimate Spy with only enough humanity to make safe judgment calls. What the human host lacked in skill, Theus made up for it in more than one way. What Theus lacked in judgment, the human host took care of it. It was the intention that Theus and the human host were meant to merge in some way, becoming some new way to be proficiently human, but Theus was never supposed to override the human host’s soul.
But if it weren’t for Theus, Xavier wouldn’t be married to Mara. Yes, Xavier and Mara both work for the CIA at Langley. But they worked in separate departments. While Xavier analyzed intelligence with a task force that cooperated with Interpol frequently, Mara handled clandestine affairs all around the world fighting terrorism. Ben Tucker and Mara had a history of running into each other, since Ben worked in a similar department for the NSA. And though the NSA was supposed to strictly handle affairs directly a threat to the USA, duty called divergent action at times.
Xavier would see Mara around in the elevators or in the cafeteria, but he never had the courage to even say hello. All he could muster was a goofy smile. She always initiated a simple, “Hello, how are you doing”?, and he would stutter in his response of simply being O-K.
Approximately five years ago to the day, Francis Wace, the Director of the CIA called Xavier into his office. Xavier was not made for field work but he was a brilliant analyst. Francis had his son working on some top secret intel that mostly everyone who knew about it was dead. Xavier had to decrypt a highly encrypted file on a flash-drive, Francis wanted to know how much longer it would be until he cracked it. Xavier was about to tell his father, Francis, he had just finished it that night, and if the Theus Sphere from the Prometheus II Project really existed, the entire spy game could change, in the wrong hands, the entire world could change and not necessarily for the better. But Francis made the mistake of bringing up Houston, the golden child… the perfect spy that gave up the spy game six years prior to that day. Francis wasn’t sure what agent he could trust to recover the intelligence on the flash-drive. Xavier offered himself, but Francis chortled at the thought. Xavier was cleared for field work, in his report it’s noted he’s not likely to survive in one piece. Thinking back on his training, he probably only passed because he was the Director’s son. Driven by the urge to prove his father wrong, he chose to lie saying he needed more time with the decryption, and he left his father’s office determined to recover the Theus Sphere and bring it directly to his father.
“New or old me, I know myself pretty well… If I thought we were ready for a kid… then we were.” Mara reassured Zave and pulled him out of the past.
“So what are you saying… you still want to start a family?” Zave genuinely wondered.
Mara couldn’t explain it, but the very thought of motherhood enticed her with a drive for fulfillment. Ben talked about civilian life being worth it for one reason only, family. Family must be sacrificed for spies like Mara and the old Ben, but Mara was no longer a spy, therefore there was no longer any need to make such a sacrifice. A sacrifice she endured too long between her childhood and career choice. Whether she ever remembers Zave or falls in love with him all over again, she could do the kid-thing with him… at least one… and without ceasing to amaze herself, Mara answered Zave truthfully, “A kid or two would give me something to do for at least 18 to 22 years… Sure, I can defuse a bomb but can I defuse a tantrum…” Changing her tone to suspenseful, she added, “That should be interesting to find out.”
Pausing from their nearly finished meal, they lock their gaze on each other with hesitation to laugh, but unable to hold it back any longer, mirth blossoms between them and surges from their cores throughout their soul and created an elevated stated of happiness in their hearts. Mara could feel the connection to them. Zave didn’t feel like just anyone to her. He seemed to be knit from her own soul or rather her soul was knitted to him. Her mind screamed for her to flee, but her heart was grounded by Zave’s side, and somehow she just knew her future rested with Xavier Douglas Wace.
In the middle of the night, around 3 am, Mara jolted up from her sleep, and darted to the bathroom to empty the contents of her stomach again. After she was done puking, and rinsing her mouth out with tap water, it dawned on her… Zave and Mara were trying to get pregnant before Mara lost her memories. Back at the base, in the debriefing they mentioned she was reluctant to take the special mission from Langley… what if she was already pregnant and hadn’t told Zave yet? If that were true, she couldn’t leave Zave now, even if she wanted to.