Jayne resisted the urge to look at the peephole and stepped nervously from one foot to the other. He knees trembled. She balled her hands into fists inside her pockets, wanting to keep them out of sight because they were shaking.
When the door finally opened, she found herself looking at a young blonde with short hair, holding a baby, its pudgy face red from crying. The woman in baggy, worn clothes frowned at Jayne, clearly confused, and looked her up and down.
“You forget your key?” she asked in English, her accent sounding Eastern European. She did a double take, looking Jayne up and down, her gaze stopping above Jayne’s forehead. “Your hair...”
“I’m not Celeste,” Jayne said quickly, forcing herself to smile and breathe a little easier. “I’m Jayne, her twin sister.”
The blonde—was she a nanny?—looked even more surprised now. “I did not know Celeste had twin sister!”
The baby let out a small cry, gazing at Jayne with big, shiny, blue eyes. For a moment, Jayne found herself scanning his features for any similarity with Celeste, finding none. “He’s adorable,” Jayne said sincerely, then focused her gaze back on the girl. “Do you know when she’ll be back?”
Jiggling the squirming baby on her hip, the nanny continued to stare at Jayne, mouth open and offering a glimpse of gum she’d forgotten to chew in her confusion.
“Soon,” she finally answered.
“Do you mind if I come in and wait?” Jayne tried another smile.
“Uh…sure, I guess this will be okay.” She grinned, still looking stunned. “You are Celeste’s sister, after all!”
* * *
A few minutes later, Jayne was sitting in the living room with a cup of filter coffee and making halting small talk with Oliwia, who Jayne had learned was Celeste’s nanny from Poland. Her gaze kept returning to the silently staring baby being rocked by the nanny, although the apartment itself was interesting to behold, too. It was exactly as she’d have expected it, elegantly furnished with old wood, soft leather and expensive rugs. The windows let in a lot of light, and the gold-rimmed cup with flower patterns in Jayne’s hand looked like it cost a fortune—and that made the mess in the place even more shocking and incongruent. For the costly furniture was littered with baby items of all sorts, some astonishingly soiled. Whatever space was not occupied by pacifiers, diapers, stuffed toys, baby bottles and blankets was taken by clothes of all kinds.
Celeste was apparently working part-time at a Paris fashion design house, which explained the haphazardly strewn-around clothes. But why this mess when there was a nanny? Did Celeste simply not care? Was this some sort of rebellion? Was Oliwia too lazy or not paid for housework? Why live like this?
Not for the first time today, Jayne wondered if and how her sister had changed. She’d find out soon enough, as Celeste was supposed to be home any minute.
All too soon, there was the sound of the lock turning in the front door.
Jayne’s cup rattled in her saucer, and she set it down on one of the few free spaces on the coffee table, straightening up. Suddenly, the airy room seemed to close in on her, making it difficult to breathe.
When Celeste entered and moved straight towards the kitchen, Oliwia called out, “We are in living room!”
Celeste walked through the door carrying a portfolio under her arm. When her gaze fell on Jayne, she slowly came to a stop, a wide range of emotions crossing her face in a matter of a second or two. Shock, anger, confusion, resentment...and then, surprisingly, a smile.
Jayne didn’t know whether Celeste felt it or not, but the mysterious “twin connection” she had mentioned to Rob was real, at least for her. For this very moment, despite all the stress and separation, despite her reason for coming here, an answering smile lifted her own lips, and her heart gave a small leap. And Jayne learned once and for all what she’d been suspecting all along—it was impossible to truly hate your twin over the long term. That person may have been a separate human being, but she still felt like a part of you. It would be like hating your own arm.
Jayne was out of her chair before she’d realized it, taking a step towards her sister.
“Celeste…I…I’m sorry for just showing up without calling, but I didn’t have your phone number...and…”
“It’s all right,” Celeste said in her posh, slightly British accent, the smile still on her face.
At that moment, Jayne remembered the thrilling yet almost surreal time they had first met last summer, when it seemed as if she was listening to a recording of her own voice.
The baby made an eager “ma” sound and Celeste set down her portfolio to take her son in her arms.
Many times in the past few months, Jayne had wondered whether Celeste would be a good mother. Would she be one of those spoiled brats and career women who had no idea how to even hold a bundle of stinky poop crying its heart out, or would the tiny newcomer have softened her and activated some mysterious mother instinct? The latter seemed more accurate, though Jayne knew she shouldn’t judge a moment that may well have been choreographed for her benefit.
Celeste cradled her baby close, apparently not caring a bit that he was drooling all over her expensive navy-blue jacket. She wore it with a matching pencil skirt and white blouse that had a ruffled collar. She let the infant’s little pudgy hands tug on her hair, which was a tiny bit longer than Jayne remembered it, and without the blonde highlights.
Oliwia was smart enough to understand they might want to talk alone, for she retreated towards the kitchen and asked if she could make them something to eat.
Jayne stood hovering close to her sister, watching her and the child silently, not sure whether she wanted to stay.
“Yes, that would be great,” Celeste said. “Make one of your Caesar salads.” She used the same commanding tone Jayne remembered from a year ago, not really sounding as if she were friends with the girl who cared for her baby.
Jayne said, “I’m…uh…actually, I can’t stay long and I already had a bite to eat, but thanks.” The truth was, Jayne’s appetite was back and was so intense she could have gnawed off one of the door handles, but she did not want to linger here.
“Nonsense. You’ve come all this way...” Celeste waved her hand much in the same way that Jayne remembered their mother doing it, and again she was torn between conflicting emotions. Oliwia left the room.
Celeste said, “So, what brings you to Paris?” as if Jayne was in the French capital on some other business and had decided to drop in for a visit.
Jayne blinked, searching for the right answer and wondering how Celeste could sound so calm. Did her sister know that she and Rob were living together in Oxford? Did she suspect that Jayne had come now, after all this time, for a specific reason? If she had sent the blackmail letter, she was cool as a cucumber, and a far better actress than Jayne would have thought.
Jayne focused on the baby again, sitting on his mother’s knees with his thumb tucked into his mouth. He stared alternately at Celeste and her. Did he, on some intuitive level, realize how alike the two of them looked?
“I’m actually here because of you,” Jayne said truthfully, after the silence had stretched to breaking point. “I’ve been worried about you and just wanted to make sure you and...” She glanced at the baby again. “I don’t know his name.”
“Liam. I named him after my father—I mean, my stepfather.”
“Liam is a wonderful name,” Jayne said, sending a smile the toddler’s way, which made him suck his thumb even harder. “Anyway, I just wanted to make sure you and your son were all right.”
For a moment, she wasn’t sure whether her sister would buy the lie. The silence was punctuated by Oliwia banging and clanging around in the kitchen, humming to herself, almost as if she knew they had important things to talk about and she shouldn’t eavesdrop.
“That’s very nice of you,” Celeste finally said. She lifted Liam and placed him on a blanket on the floor, where he grabbed an enormous, fluffy, blue teddy bear.
Crossing her legs and smiling at her again, Celeste started talking animatedly about how great she was doing now, working her way up from the bottom in fashion design.
Jayne listened with rapt attention as her sister explained how having the child had changed her for the better, brushing a hand over the boy’s brown tufts of hair. She had become much more grounded and responsible. She leaned forward, insisting earnestly that she was not the same person Jayne had met last summer, then told her again how happy she was to have her here for a visit.
Jayne was having a very hard time believing that Celeste had sent the letter. Either Celeste was the world’s greatest actress, worthy of a whole shelf of Oscars, or she was completely innocent.
Celeste gazed at Jayne with an expression that was both pained and distant at the same time. “She wasn’t all bad, you know.”
“I know,” Jayne said softly. Celeste was talking about Eleanor.
Her expression brightened and she looked down at little Liam’s face again. “I have to admit, she was right about one thing—those bad boys are losers.” Celeste gave Jayne a sour glance. “Right after Mom died, I was desperate, and I contacted André...what a mistake that was!”
“André?” Jayne sat up a little straighter.
“André Gaillard,” Celeste said distastefully. “Liam’s father.” She whispered these last words as if the baby might understand.
Jayne vaguely remembered that André Gaillard was the young man that the paparazzi had caught Jayne frolicking with on the beach in Saint Tropez, and how mad Eleanor had gotten when the photo appeared in the tabloid. She also remembered what Rob had told her about André Gaillard—that he was the son of a French movie star, throwing his dad’s money out of the window by living a reckless life and constantly getting drunk. He’d even been arrested several times.
“André wanted nothing to do with me or his son, said I was ‘stupid’ for having the baby, for wasting my great body and money and whole life on a ‘useless brat.’” Celeste cringed at these words but beamed at her child. “That’s when I realized what an asshole he truly was. Liam is truly a gift from God.”
She paused, shooting another adoring glance at her precious baby. “Now I’m dating a nice, quiet, reliable French lawyer. He’s got far more money than I do so I don’t have to worry about that issue. I wish he could live with us, but there are a few things to be ironed out before that’s possible. He’s quite a bit older...he reminds me a lot of my stepfather, actually. And he’s being a great father to Liam, too.”
Celeste paused and looked at Jayne. “Are you and Rob living together now?”
Jayne tensed. Here we go, she thought.
“We are, yes.” She held her breath, studying her sister’s face closely for any signs of resentment.
Nothing. Just another happy smile as she tugged Liam’s thumb out of his mouth with the casual watchfulness of all mothers.
“I figured as much,” Celeste said. “I’m glad it worked out for the two of you. I think you and Rob make a great couple—a far better one that he and I would have made, I’m sure.” At Jayne’s look of surprise, she nodded. “I have no problem admitting that now. You can believe me when I say I’ve changed.” She gave Jayne a warm smile.
They were interrupted by Oliwia poking her head into the room. “The salads are ready,” she announced. Liam made an enthusiastic circular motion at her, wiggling his arms, opening and closing his hands, cooing. At a nod from Celeste, the nanny came to take him into her arms and walk back into the kitchen.
“I really can’t stay to eat,” Jayne said glancing at her watch, torn between wanting to hear more about Celeste and little Liam—she had not processed the heady fact that now she was an aunt—and needing to get to the truth. “I have…urgent commitments in England and need to catch the next flight back.”
Her sister nodded and rose gracefully, absentmindedly kicking a few toys into a corner so she wouldn’t step on them.
“Thanks so much for coming, Jayne.” She held out her hands, and Jayne rose from the couch to take them. “I hope someday we can all be friends—you, Rob, Nicolas and I—and spend some quality time with Liam and maybe your own child.”
At a loss for how to react, Jayne settled on a smile of her own and a nod. They clasped hands, not really embracing but squeezing each other’s fingers, an unspoken message passing between them.
Celeste wasn’t the blackmailer, Jayne was ninety-nine percent sure of that. “Before I go, I would like to ask you something else, if you don’t mind...”
“Yes?” Celeste said, cocking her head and for one brief moment reminding Jayne of their mother and her cool poise.
“I was just wondering if you told anybody the details of what happened last summer.”
“Well, about me impersonating you.”
Celeste frowned. “No, I haven’t told anyone.”
“Oliwia doesn’t know?”
“No, of course not.”
“Not even Nicolas?” Jayne watched her sister closely for telltale clues.
“No, not even him. Why would I talk about any of that? It’s not something I’m proud of or want to remember. Surely you don’t go around spilling the beans to all and sundry either.”
Jayne shrugged, but couldn’t hide the anxiety she felt. “The problem is, someone seems to have found out and they’re... causing some trouble for Rob. We don’t know who it is.”
Celeste seemed bothered by this, her expression growing serious. “What kind of trouble?” She read the sick look on Jayne’s face. “No—don’t tell me blackmail.”
Celeste looked shocked. “Well, I haven’t breathed a word to anybody. Not a soul.”
“Are you absolutely sure?” Jayne asked, noticing that she’d hesitated slightly.
“Well, I was just thinking of André...but I didn’t say anything to him about that, I’m positive.”
“Of course I’m certain. We only talked the one time and it was a very short conversation, believe me.”
As soon as Jayne was downstairs on the street and a safe distance away from Celeste’s building, she called Robert. When the phone on the other end started ringing, she realized she had forgotten the time difference again. It was six o’clock now, and must be late at night in China.
When Robert answered, he sounded exhausted. She apologized for calling him so late, but he couldn’t have cared less—he was far too interested to know what had happened with Celeste.
Jayne summarized the meeting as succinctly as she could. When she reached the end, where she questioned Celeste about André Gaillard and said that she felt that Celeste was lying about not telling him anything, Robert said, “But that makes perfect sense!” She could all but hear the wheels inside his head turning. “If André Gaillard knows about what went on last summer, he’ll see it as the perfect opportunity to get some money out of the whole thing. I’ve heard a lot about that bloke. His movie-star father has basically disowned him, completely cut him off financially. That’s your motivation right there. The guy is skint, there’s no doubt about it.”
Skint meant flat broke, one of Robert’s pet expressions.
It did make sense to Jayne. She said, “And he’s been in trouble with the police before, hasn’t he? I think I remember you saying—”
“Yes, yes, absolutely! His criminal tendencies are no secret—he’s been arrested before, he’s a low-life.”
As Jayne continued to hold the phone to her ear, she crossed the street, seeing the metro sign not far away. The late afternoon sun shone down on Paris and gave it that special glow she remembered from her first visit, which had been under such different circumstances.
Robert actually sounded excited now—he seemed sure they had found the blackmailer. “Jayne, I’m glad you went to your sister’s place and that you have that oh-so mysterious twin sense.” She actually heard that familiar smile in his voice now. “I can forward this information to Schröder tomorrow morning—oh, hell, I’ll call the bugger right now, I’m paying him enough! He’ll track that worthless punter André down in no time, hopefully before he has a chance to think to send another letter to us. Schröder is in Cyprus at the moment, still investigating the trail of the first payment. I’ve been waiting for him to report back.”
Jayne could hear rustling sounds—she guessed that Robert was in bed. She pictured him sitting up, with his strong manly shoulders. Was he wearing only pajama bottoms? Sleeping in his boxers? Was his hair all mussed up, perfect to run her fingers through and tug him close for a kiss? Longing cut off her voice for a moment.
“As soon as you call Schröder, get some sleep please.”
“Yes,” he sighed. Now he sounded exhausted.
“Rob, I’m so sorry about this whole—”
“Jayne, if you tell me one more time that you’re sorry and you think it’s all your fault, I swear I’ll cut the call right now.”
His tone was only half-joking, and Jayne closed her mouth. She approached the metro hall and checked the signboard, unsure which line would take her to the airport.
“Are you headed back to the airport now?” Rob asked.
“Yes, I should be back in Oxford sometime in the wee hours of the morning. When will I see you?”
Another sigh. “I’ve been meaning to tell you…I can’t make it home this weekend. With all the stuff taking up part of my time, I have some catching up at work to do.” He paused. “I’m sorry, darling. I miss you terribly.”
With a lump in her throat, Jayne told herself again to hang on, that this mess would all resolve itself soon. Now they had a solid lead. “I miss you too, Rob. But I understand. We’ll talk tomorrow. I’ll send you a message when I’m home safe and sound.”
“Please do. Take care of yourself, Jayne. And be extra careful, now that we know a man is behind this, especially one who may be a bit desperate.”
Read Part 8 here.
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