“You’re leaving again.”
Luke’s shoulders tensed. It was like that time she'd caught him working in the campus cafeteria after dark, but warier. He paused mid-packing and turned to face her. Marina was standing in the study doorway with her arms folded. She had gotten home early and was still wearing her blue polo shirt.
“Yes...” Luke had the grace to look guilty. “Sorry. I tried calling you at work, but Nina said you were busy.”
“Well, I’m here now. What’s the plan?”
His gaze returned to his knapsack on the desk. “We’ve obtained the sixth Relic Stone...”
By ‘we’, he meant 'me and the professor'. Marina had never so much as held a Relic Stone. Despite Luke’s agreement to let her get involved, her role hadn’t extended beyond library and museum research.
Even research got put on hold when she started working at the aquarium. Most of her hours were spent scrubbing floors and fish tanks. It was nothing glamorous— certainly not the career her parents had envisioned when they paid for her to attend Duke University— but it was a start and she did like it there.
She tried to sound enthusiastic for his sake, though her arms were stiff, her head was aching and she stank of fish food.
“That’s great. How did you find it?”
“The professor’s former student brought it to him,” Luke said, putting a book in his bag.
Professor Layton had taught thousands of students. “Which one?”
“Which student,” she corrected.
She expected Luke to point out Ambrosia amongst the sea of photos on the wall. His eyes would light up as he re-enacted his past adventure with the professor; solving puzzles, flying in homemade helicopters, escaping giant machines...
Time and time again, he’d shared those stories with her. She never got tired of hearing about them.
Luke didn’t elaborate now, though.
Again, she had to prompt him, “So, six stones... Is that enough to unlock the Relics’ puzzle?”
He nodded firmly and hefted his knapsack onto his shoulders. “The professor and I are going to find it—“
“I’m coming with you. Don’t move!” She pointed at him as if she could pin him to the spot. Still, he followed her as she dashed down the hall into her— their— bedroom.
With a double bed, a walk-in closet and sky blue walls, it was grander than any room they’d ever rented in the States. Marina had missed the closeness that once resided between them, but they were just going through a rough patch right now.
Soon it’ll be just like the good old days, she thought as she grabbed her trusty rucksack and her white cap from the closet.
Together, they would solve the Relics’ puzzle with the professor and everything would settle down. The professor could come home for Kat and Luke could finally take a break.
Luke hovered outside the closet. “Don’t you have work tomorrow?”
“No... Alright, yes. I’ll book the day off.” (Nina would have to cover for her.)
“This trip could take weeks— maybe even months,” Luke warned.
She shoved a pair of boots into her rucksack. “It doesn’t matter. We’re doing this for Kat, right?”
Marina barely knew Kat, but she knew how much Kat meant to Luke. Ten years ago, Luke had welcomed Kat into the world and saved her from a sinking ship. If he hadn’t been so young back then he probably would have raised Kat himself.
Would Marina still have met Luke if that had happened?
“Right.” Luke sighed. He crouched beside her and caught her hand, halting her frantic packing. “Marina... You know this trip could be dangerous.”
She snorted. “Remind me, who got captured by Don Paolo?”
“I’m serious. We could be up against bigger fish this time.”
“Like what?” Marina raised an eyebrow. “Targent?”
Luke glanced away. “Possibly...”
“You said they were history.”
“The last time I heard from Emmy, they were. But Kyle Azan could be their new leader, for all we know...”
With a name like that, it was no wonder Luke was so agitated. He was holding her hand in a vice-grip, like she was his lifeline during a storm. Her thumb stroked his palm.
“Surely, he’s dead?” she whispered. “Otherwise he would have come back for Kat.”
“Unless he wanted nothing to do with her,” Luke huffed, “and Kamilla.”
“Why does he matter? The professor is Kat’s dad. He loves her...”
So why was Layton leaving her behind?
“If there’s a chance her birth father is alive... he could still impact Kat’s life. We need to ensure he and the Relics’ puzzle don’t pose a threat.”
“The professor needs to be there for Kat,” Marina pointed out.
Luke insisted, “He is—“
“What if the Relic Stones are just that— relics?” she argued. “He’s wasted so much time searching when he should be with his daughter instead.”
Luke released her hand. “Are you sure this is about Kat?”
“No— not just her.” She struggled to keep her voice from rising. “Flora knows how she feels. And Alfendi. When was the last time anyone asked about him?”
“The professor rang him just this morning to say we’re leaving tomorrow. Alfendi wished us luck. He wants Kat to grow up in safety.”
Marina’s eyes swam with tears. “What about your safety? The professor’s nearly in his fifties!”
She had watched Layton overpower Don Paolo’s thugs with a fire poker, but even the professor had to have his breaking point.
Marina’s dad had twisted his knee just from playing soccer. How was he coping? When was the last time she’d called him and Mom?
“I miss home,” she mumbled. I miss you. “And I didn’t come halfway across the world to sit on the side-lines while you risk your life.”
Luke looked close to tears himself. He truly believed they were doing their best for Kat. Fighting with him was like kicking a puppy.
He reached for her. “Mari—“
She moved past him and made her way to the study, shutting the door between them. She listened till she heard the front door open and lock.
They didn’t even say goodbye. Maybe that was for the best.
Sitting with her back against the door, she stared miserably at Luke’s photos. There wasn’t a single picture of her and Luke in the house. They didn’t have any wedding photos— just a certificate with their signatures and their parents as witnesses. Luke and Marina Triton.
It had never mattered to her how they'd gotten married. She’d just wanted to be a part of his life— to start this new adventure by his side. But she was nothing like the brave, loyal women from his stories.
She wasn’t as forgiving as Flora. She wasn’t a survivor like Brenda or Arianna. She lacked the patience of Angela Ledore, and grace of Katia Anderson. She would never be selfless like Janice, Melina and Aurora. She could only dream of being as courageous as Claire.
If anything, she resembled Emmy— Luke had told her that once. And now, just like Emmy, Marina had turned her back on him. The difference was that Emmy could handle being alone.
She picked up the phone on Luke’s desk.
Flora answered on the fifth ring. “Hello?”
“Hi,” Marina said in a small voice. “Can we talk?”
“...I’ll be there in a jiffy.”