Serene’s vibrating phone cut off the staring contest between her and Justin. Her brows furrowed as she looked at the unidentified number flashing on her screen. “Hello?”
“Serene Ellis” a raspy man’s voice spoke on the other end of the line. From the background, Serene could hear children crying.
“Yes.” she answered, her voice trembling. Her heart tightened and the angry flush on her cheeks drained.
“We have your children --”
“Please, please, don’t hurt them. Don’t hurt my babies,” she whimpered. She felt her phone snatched from her hand. Justin put the phone on speaker, not making any sound. The entire room listened in silence.
“We won’t as long as you follow everything I say.”
“Yes, yes. I’ll do everything, please don’t hurt them.”
“Two hundred million.”
“Two hundred million?”
“US Dollars. You have 24 hours to ready the money. We’ll call you by then. Don’t dare call the police if you want to see your children alive.” After the man spat his words, the line died.
Serene’s knees felt weak, and she fell on the carpeted floor. Her shoulders heaved. Her children were abducted. Their cries from the background sliced through her. Her breaths became heavier and quicker, as she thought of the fear her children were going through.
Justin held her when she fell on the floor, but she’s too absorbed in her thoughts to even care. He felt her abnormally fast breathing. It felt like she’s gasping for air rather than breathing it. The next moment, Bryan kneeled in front of her and held her hand.
“Shen, listen to me Shen, they will be alright.” he talked to her in a calm voice but she seemed not to hear it. “Shen, look at me. Take deep breaths. Inhale. Exhale…” he continued coaching her to breathe until her breaths finally stabilized. When her breathing became regular, she burst into tears and flung herself at Bryan.
“Bry… my babies” she cried on his shoulder.
“They will be fine. We’ll rescue them.” he assured her.
Justin watched the two with his murderous eyes. When Bryan kneeled in front of Serene and held her hand, he wanted to push him aside. But when he realized what he was doing, he felt helpless. Bryan always knew what to do. He always knew what she needed.
Had he seen this scene before he would have gone amok, but now he knew better. He met Bryan’s eyes, who showed a slight panic.
“Justin, Shen had a panic attack. She usually gets it when she’s in a high-stress situation. I helped her stabilize her breathing.” he explained, then he stood up, leaving Serene with Justin.
After sitting on the floor for some time, her back which was resting on Justin’s chest stiffened. She pulled out her phone and dialed a number.
“Viv, how much money do I have in my dollar account?” she asked, her head nodding as she listened. “I see. What about in other currencies? How much would they total if converted?” Again, she nodded as she made mental calculations. “Alright. Please have those converted to USD.”
She still lacked a hundred million, even if she pooled all her money. She racked her brain on where she would get that sum of money. Standing up from the floor, she walked towards the door without so much as saying goodbye to the people in the room.
“Where are you going?” Justin asked.
She spun around to face him and blurted out her unfiltered thoughts, “I need to talk to Al. I’m still 100 million short. I’ll see if he can —“
“Are you fucking kidding me, Serene?” Justin said, exasperated. She dares ask for another person for money to save her children, when he, Mr. Moneybags, is right there.
“You dare ask another man for money? Those are my children! Why would you think of going to other people for money? What am I here for? A decoration?”
Her initial reaction was to decline him. But she’s pressed for time. Her children were at the mercy of kidnappers. She swallowed hard and pushed all her hesitations. “Alright then. Loan me a hundred million USD. Write the terms on how you’d like it returned.”
Justin wanted to retaliate but Bryan stopped him by grabbing his shoulder, “Let her be. She’s under high-stress situation.”
Serene had not yet stepped out of the room when her phone vibrated once again. Her trembling hands fished it out of her pocket. She did not know when Justin came to her side, she just saw her phone on his hand. He pressed the answer button and put the call on loudspeaker. His eyes met hers and gave her a signal to talk.
“He-hello?” She asked, her voice trembling.
“Ms. Ellis. I hope you’re staying true to your word and have not called the police,” the kidnapper drawled.
“I did not. Please don’t hurt my children,” she pleaded.
“Sure. But you know what Ms. Ellis, the more I look at your son, the more I am convinced that 200 million is not enough.”
“What-what do you mean?” Serene’s already pale face became paler, then her eyes darted to Justin. Her tears welled from her eyes and her heart throbbed in her chest. She felt like she’s having a heart attack.
“Could it be Ms. Ellis, that they’re Rain International heirs?”
“What do you want?” Justin spoke. His voice expressionless.
“Guess we’re right, huh? Well, Mr. Rain, how about we up it to 300 million? Another hundred million wouldn’t hurt you, would it?”
“I want to see them.”
The phone call cut off, making Serene’s knees weak. She almost fell face first on the floor, but Justin caught her.
“Justin…” she looked up to him with her wet eyes. She searched his eyes for strength. She knew she could no longer hold on. Her fear gnawed at her strength.
“I’ll take care of this, Serene. Don’t worry. They won’t hurt them.”
For the first time after a long time, Serene hugged his waist as she poured out all her worries on him. He rubbed her back and kissed her forehead. “They will be fine.”
His calm voice betrayed the storm raging inside him. He’s worried to death about their children’s situation. He’s thankful these people were after money. They’re the easiest to deal with.
Justin’s ringtone broke the room’s silence. It’s a video call. As soon as he answered the call, the faces of their two children showed.
The moment those tiny faces appeared on screen, Serene took the phone from him.
“Lizzie! Pax!” She sobbed. Her children looked distraught, more likely from fear, but they did not look harmed.
“Mommy!” Pax’s voice overpowered Felicity’s. “Mommy, I am scared.” he said, crying. Her heart broke at the sight of her child. Even as a young child, Pax was always composed. So, for him to come undone, he must be terrified.
“Baby, be brave for Mommy OK? Your Dad will get you,” she blurted to calm her child, unaware that she had acknowledged Justin.
Justin who listened to the brief exchange felt a huge rock got lifted off his chest. Dad. He liked the sound of it.
Pax looked at his mother and wiped away his tears. “Yes, Mom.”
“Mommy, I will be brave too.” Felicity chimed. Like her brother, she too looked distraught but calmer than Pax. Her eyes shine against the dark and gloomy background.
“Yes, my baby girl. You need to be brave for Mommy, Ok?”
“Yes, Mommy! I will take care of Pax. I am not scared, Mom!”
“That’s my girl!”
Throughout the conversation, Serene tried to remain calm and composed for her children. She’s relieved to see that they did not harm them, but it broke her heart to see their fearful eyes.
After a while, the video turned black.
“Happy, President Rain?”
“Hmm” Justin replied.
“Good. Please prepare our money and make sure not to involve the police, otherwise we don’t know what we’ll do to these two.”
The call already ended, but Serene continued to look at Justin’s screen.
“You need to rest, Serene. You’ll need all your energy tomorrow.” Justin said as he took the phone from her hand.
He’s right. She needed to be strong for them.