8. You've Got to Be Kidding Me!
I didn't know whether to laugh, cry, faint, vomit, or flee. Caruso's statement was somehow the most hilarious, disheartening, distressing, nauseating, and frightening thing I had ever heard.
Apparently, my expression was quite obvious, because Ellie clasped my hand a little more tightly and tried to steady me.
"You're - you'd - you've got to be kidding me," I stammered, at a complete loss for words.
Ellie guided me to a chair, and I plunked down heavily.
Caruso seemed as though he wasn't sure whether to be concerned or amused by my reaction. "I'm not," he finally said. "I'm not kidding you. I'm being totally serious. Katie, if you really want to protect your sister, then you have to take drastic action. Something that your older sister would not expect is you getting married. You'd be so much harder to track!"
I shook my head. "No," I said, voice resolute. "I mean, I don't know him from Adam!"
Much to my surprise, Ellie didn't remain silent. Instead, she sat on my lap and said, "I don't want my sister to marry a stranger. I don't want her to marry anyone!"
Ellie's words saddened me. The only thing Ellie knew about marriage was that it ended in divorce. I was certainly just as cynical as she, but how had she become so aware of the world without my permission? I held her just a bit more closely.
"You don't have to be married for a long time," James said, speaking for the first time since the bomb had been dropped. "We could divorce after a year or so. I'm just afraid to leave you alone by yourself."
I was insulted. "What - because I'm a woman?" I challenged him.
"Because even though Caruso's made your fake age to be 22, I know you're younger than that. And besides - two adults are always better than one. Your being a woman has nothing to do with it." James sighed. "Well, maybe it does. I was always taught to treasure and respect women, so that's quite a bit of the reason why I want to...I don't know...protect you."
"I'll have you know I'm very capable of making my own way for myself," I said, jutting my chin out. "I've provided for myself and Ell - for my sister for several years now."
"I don't doubt it," James said, and he fell silent. I wondered if I'd turned him away for good.
"Your fake name will be Katie Edwards, and your fake age will be 22. Edwards is a common enough last name to be inconspicuous, but it's not so dead-common that it'll give you away. And 22 seemed like a nice, even age for you. Not too old, not too young. Your sister's fake name will be Ella Edwards, and she'll stay basically the same age - we'll just move her age forward two months."
I looked at Caruso questioningly. "So you'll help me, even if I don't marry Mr. Oromchi?"
Irritated, I turned to James. "I'm not going to marry you," I said, but my voice was shaky. Was marrying him the best way to protect Ellie? I didn't know.
"If you really love Ella," Caruso said softly, "You'll do what you know is best for her."
I couldn't speak for a moment.
"Katie," Ellie said softly. My heart was torn at the fact that she was already using my alternative name. "I don't want you to do something bad, just for my sake."
It was such a mature statement that I burst into tears. Embarrassed by my show of emotion, I turned away and tried to wipe my face off. It only resulted in my mascara running in rivulets down my face. Maybe I'd put on too much make-up.
"Katie," James said, voice suddenly gentle. "I want you to know that if you would marry me, I wouldn't expect anything from you. We wouldn't even have to sleep in the same room. I'd treat you well, ma'am, and I'd make sure nobody hurt you."
I didn't believe that man.
Just then, a baby's cry split the air. James' attention was turned from me. He darted into the adjoining room, then came out holding a precious little girl in his arms.
The sight of father and daughter jolted my heart. I watched as James cradled his little girl, love evident in the way he held and spoke to her.
If you really love Ella...
"Give me a minute to decide," I said.