by Cami Ostman, 1466 words

Phyllis resented people treating her like she was fragile. She may be in her early seventies, and she may be tired from fighting the good fight as a single mother, mother to a single mother (Amy), business owner, and pillar of the community for decades on end, but she wasn’t sick. Why everyone was always insisting she go to bed early she didn’t know. When she was tired, she’d sleep. She knew her own mind. What she also knew was that she was worried beyond belief about Willoughby harming her beloveds. She was mentally working hard to figure out how to outsmart a man who had been stalking her for years. If she’d made the connection between Dr. Schwartz and Willoughby, she would have been even more concerned and, thus, tired enough to stay in her room with the door locked.

That connection was about to come.

She watched as Bilan wove her way through the small crowd to approach her. Phyllis reached up once Bilan was beside her and they clasped hands. “How are you dear?”

“Phyllis, may we speak,” Bilan asked in that sweet voice she turned on the customers at the Excelsior—that warmth that made her so liked by everyone who encountered her.

“Of course, honey,” Phyllis said. She indicated for Ted to find a chair and bring it near so that Bilan could sit. “What’s on your mind?”

Once Bilan was level with Phyllis, she watched as the young woman’s face studied her, imploring her to be motherly as she started a stuttered monologue.

“Phyllis. I hope we will rebuild Excelsior. So much. We raise money tonight. Maybe a lot?”

“I hope so Bilan,” Phyllis said. “But something else is on your mind. What is it?”

“It is true.”

“Tell me,” Phyllis urged.

Bilan started. “I have some problem. If I have no job, I have no money. And also,” here she paused, because she was about to say out loud what she had never said to anyone in town. “And also, I have a bump. Here.” She indicated her afflicted breast.

Phyllis cocked her head in sympathy. “Oh honey. I’m sorry. I didn’t know.” She fully understood that Bilan didn’t have health insurance.

Bilan went on to explain that her brother worked for a doctor who wanted to study her twins and she wondered if in the United States doctors would trade favors for treatment.

Phyllis shook her head solemnly. “Not typically. But also, it doesn’t sound like the doctor is a cancer doctor—if that’s what your lump is.” Then she thought for a moment. “Someone told me your brother is here. Point him out to me.”

Bilan scanned the party, found him standing with Dr. Schwartz, now near the food truck, and pointed to Tawfiiq. “He is there,” she said.

Phyllis followed Bilan’s finger. When she laid eyes on Tawfiiq, right next to him, she was astounded to see someone else—the man who had saved her daughter during the birth of Alice and Meghan. Dr. Schwartz.

Because Phyllis had been sitting stationary and letting people come to her, she hadn’t greeted everyone at the party. She hadn’t seen Schwartz until that moment. Now that she realized he was there, come from the big city as Bilan’s brother’s mentor, her heart began to flutter. She wanted to rise to greet him. There had always been gratitude in her heart for how he’d worked to make sure Amy made it through her birthing process. She looked at Bilan and asked, “That guy? That’s the man who wants to study your twins? He delivered my grand-daughters.”

This revelation seemed to register something important for Bilan. As Phyllis was rising to make her way to greet the doctor, Bilan seemed to understand something. She may not have a perfect grasp on the English language. And she may not know how things worked in the medical community in the United States, but she had good instincts. She knew that Meghan had a newly revealed twin sister. She knew Doctor Schwartz was studying twins separated at birth and those raised together. And now she knew this doctor had delivered Phyllis’s granddaughters—who had been separated.

She rose at the same time Phyllis did. Suddenly, she had to find her daughters. They were somewhere here, huddled together with the handful of other children in attendance. A protective instinct rushed through her body. She needed to find her girls and get them home. She couldn’t understand exactly what the danger was, but she knew she had to protect her children.

“Astur and Aamlina,” she called through the crowd.

At the same time Bilan was calling for the kids to come to her, Phyllis was wending her way to Dr. Schwartz.

She was intercepted by Dwayne, who stood across the lawn from his father, watching the arrogance ooze off him with every interaction. His dad, he knew, would be bragging about his work, breathing in the narcissistic supply of admiration. 

“Phyllis,” Dwayne said, “it’s a good turnout. Hopefully my father’s presence doesn’t disrupt anything.”

Phyllis paused in her trajectory to look at her dishwasher full in the face. She had no idea what he was talking about. “Who’s your dad, Dwayne?”

“That guy,” he pointed at Schwartz. “Bilan’s brother’s mentor. I swear I didn’t know he was coming. He can be a prick.”

“Dr. Schwartz is your father?” Phyllis was trying to piece this whole thing together. What the hell was going on here?

Dwayne nodded.

Before Phyllis could take her leave from Dwayne to get over to Dr. Schwartz, there was the sound of a loud explosion coming from somewhere nearby. Gunshots. One. Two. Three.

And then yelling, “You bitches have this coming to you,” the voice said. “You all have this coming to you.”

Everyone at the party reflexively responded. Parents began looking for their children. Some people froze in place. Others hustled inside the house.

By the time Willoughby came into view with his rifle pointed at the air, there were only a few people left on the lawn. Phyllis, Meghan, Ted, Dwayne, and Dr. Schwartz were holding ground. Tawfiiq had instinctively grabbed his sister and nieces and taken them to his rental car.

Hearing the noise, Amy emerged from the back room where she and Alice had been talking. Alice was in tow.

Willoughby came onto the lawn waving his gun in every direction screaming, “You fuckers have this coming! You have it coming.”

His shouting was erratic. His blond hair was standing on end, clothing flecked with dirt and blood. His eyes were open wide and darting hither and thither. He was a man crazed by anger and grief and a drive for revenge. Phyllis saw that Willoughby’s eyes were crazed. He was not in his right mind. This made him more dangerous than a calculated stalker. You could potentially outsmart someone with a plan, but a crazy person? All you could do was hope you weren’t in their way when they lashed out.

Next to the house, Phyllis stood frozen, watching Willoughby flail. He spun. Lost a shoe. Yelled, “How dare you!” Spun again.

With the final spin he lost control of his rifle and it fell out of his hand. Dwayne dove for it, throwing himself onto the lawn on top of it until he could get his feet under him, pick up the piece, and run with it into the house, where he threw it under the sofa in the living room before coming back out to the lawn to see what unfolded next.

Without his gun, Willoughby was even more distressed. “Give me my gun!” he shouted. “You’re going to get what you deserve.” His shouting devolved into general screams.

Until he saw Schwartz.

Dwayne, who was observing everyone carefully, was startled to see his father’s horrified expression as he watched the shitshow of Willoughby unfold. Because his dad’s protégé had left him standing exposed when he’d pulled his sister and nieces into the car, the doctor was there alone. The look on his face was something in the family of fear—something Dwayne had never seen that bastard register before.

And then Willoughby saw Schwartz.

Suddenly, Willoughby’s demeaner completely changed. He stopped his screaming and seemed to stumble backwards several steps.

There was a long silence while everyone ping ponged their glances between Dr. Schwartz and Willoughby. Dwayne was the first to speak.

“What the hell is going on here?”

Willoughby spoke next. “You. You set me up,” he said.

To everyone’s surprise, Willoughby spontaneously began to cry—ugly cry. Schwartz remained stiff but did not break eye contact with the crazy man.

“You said she’d be okay if I took her. No one is okay. They all deserve to die, but most of all you.”